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70 is just a number, right?

Screen Shot 2017-08-24 at 7.36.06 AMSeventy. A number on interstate highway signs: Speed Limit 70. The calories in 3 ½ ounces of Greek yogurt topped with a few blueberries, 70. About the cost of a LEGO Ninjago set that several of my Grands might write on their Christmas list, $70. The weight I set on the YMCA leg curl machine, 70 pounds.

Seventy is an easy number to write unless it’s on a form listing my name and age. 70. I don’t like writing 70 years old.

When I celebrated my birthday recently, friends said, “It’s just a number.” Yes, a big number. Someone said, “Seventy is the new 50.” No, I don’t agree. “Age is only in the mind.” And in my body. “You aren’t old. Old is ten years older than we are,” I was told.

Try to tell anyone under age forty that 70 isn’t old. And certainly don’t try to convince anyone twelve or under, the ages of all eight Grands, that 70 isn’t old. My six-year-old Grand asked, “So Gran, you’re really old now, right?”

I think of my grandmothers at 70. When Granny picked beans in her garden, her white hair hid under a broad brim straw hat. Her long sleeve, button-up-the-front shirtwaist dress fell almost to her ankles. She spent her days cutting out quilt pieces, stitching them together by hand, then quilting the quilt on a wooden frame that hung from her bedroom ceiling. Her social life was church, phone visits with friends, and Saturday afternoon talk around the town square.

Grandma Gladys wore black, laced shoes with chunky heels and thick stockings held up by garters. She fried bacon and eggs for Papa’s and her breakfasts and fried pork chops and potatoes for supper. Rheumatoid arthritis and depression prevented most activities outside of her home, but her three daughters visited often and every Sunday Papa took her for a drive. In the 1950s, I thought my 70-year-old grandmothers were old. Just as my Grands think I am now.

But I wear shorts, almost touching my knees, but nevertheless shorts, and tee shirts. I slip my feet into Birkenstocks and my hairdresser makes people assume my only gray hair is the streak front and center. Meet friends for lunch. Exercise at the Y (occasionally). Write and share columns and memories. Travel and vacation with family and friends. Chauffeur Grands. Stitch a little. Search the web. With Grands, play piano and write. Play board and card and word games with anyone who’s willing. Read books. And wish for more time and more energy.

I treasure a quote by Satchel Paige, ‘How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you was?’ Maybe 40? 55? Even 67? Since my days are hardly different than when I retired from teaching eight years ago, I choose 62.

I don’t like how 7 and 0 look together, but I’m working on it and probably when the calendar declares I’m 71 years old, 7 and 0 will look better.

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Eclipse Connects Generations

 “What’s that book about?” I asked my 10-year-old Grand who held a book in her lap as I drove her home from my house.

            “The big extraordinary event,” Lou said.

I frowned. “What big extraordinary event?”

“Gran, the one we’ve been talking about.”

“The solar eclipse?” Lou nodded. “May I read your book when you finish?” I asked.

“Sure, but there are three kids telling their stories. Think you can keep up with three different stories?” Lou asked and said that the kids end up at the same place to watch the eclipse.

While reading Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass, a fictitious novel for students in grades 5-9 and written in 2008, I met Ally, Bree, and Jack, all young teens. Ally’s parents bought Moon Shadow campground because they knew the two-mile campground would be the only patch of land in the United States that would be smack dab in the path of the Great Eclipse. Bree, who was sure she was switched at birth because the rest of her family was science nerds and she pondered ‘If I’m beautiful and no one sees me, am I still beautiful?’ After failing science in school, Jack chose an adventure at Moon Shadow camp over summer school to earn a passing grade.

Ally explained Nature’s Greatest Coincidence. So called because the moon and sun look the same exact size, but the sun is 400 times bigger and 400 times farther away from earth so they appear the same to us. When the moon covers the sun, the air is like dusk, but with an unfamiliar greenish-yellowish cast.

Baily’s Beads were described as tiny balls forming a glowing circle around the black sun like a necklace of pearls and as the last bit of sunshine passes through the deepest valley of the moon, a huge diamond ring formed. The moon’s shadow passed quickly.

In the book, Ally was amazed by the solar eclipse at totality: the pearly white corona suddenly streams out from behind the dark moon in all directions, pulsing, looping, swirling, glowing, a halo of unearthly light. Bree screamed as the moon’s shadow zoomed like a wall of ghosts, and she saw streams of light fanning out behind the darkened sun like the wings of a butterfly. Jack was shocked by the fact that a fiery circle was the only thing that proved the sun still existed, like a big eye beaming down.

“I finished your book,” I told my Grand. “I learned a lot about the eclipse we’ll see next week.”

“Really?” she said. “I never read the fact stuff. Not the introduction or author’s notes. I just read the story.”

“You don’t remember how the characters described the eclipse?”

Elise giggled before saying, “I remember how one threw up all the time! That was funny. Gran, you should read other books that Wendy woman wrote. Some of the same characters are in them.” She told me about two other books.

It’s good when books and events, like Nature’s Greatest Coincidence, connect generations.

 

Can You Go Home Again?

It’s said you can’t go home again, but I did. I sat on a pew on the right side of the church sanctuary beside the middle window. Where as a child I sat between Mom and Dad every Sunday morning for church services.

Byrdstown First Christian Church in Pickett County celebrated its centennial anniversary and invited former members to Sunday service. When I stepped inside church, my shoulders relaxed and I exhaled. The same wooden pews. Light oak pulpit, front and center. Song books in pew racks. People welcomed me and greeted me by name.

The same tall bulletin board displayed the number of church attendees the previous Sunday: 79. But on anniversary day, every pew, even the ones added with a recent addition, was filled. The following week the number posted will be over 200.

The opening hymn, “The Church in the Wildwood,” reminded me ‘No lovelier place in the dell. No spot is so dear to my childhood as the little brown church in the dale.’ Mine is a red brick building with white porch columns, where I memorized the 23rd Psalm and Mrs. Crouch required teenagers to recite a Bible verse at the beginning of Sunday school class.

Bob Emmert, the minister in the 1970s, preached. “I’m just a small thread God has woven into the tapestry of this church,” he said. Aren’t we all? A recent pictorial directory includes pictures and lists of past ministers, deacons, elders, song leaders, trustees, pianists, organists, trustees.

Dad, Taskel T. Rich, was an elder. Many Sundays he made announcements and he taught the adult Sunday school class. Early Sunday mornings at home he sat at the kitchen table holding coffee in one hand, his Sunday school teacher’s book in the other, and his Bible lay open.

As stories were told, my cousin Tootie remembered sitting on the front pew with my older brother Roger during a Christmas Eve service. After the children’s play portraying the birth of Jesus, Santa Claus walked down the aisle offering peppermint candy canes to all. While Santa stood beside Tootie, Roger pointed toward the floor and said, “He’s wearing Daddy’s shoes.” I was probably a toddler, never knew Dad as Santa, and can only imagine my skinny 6’ 2” dad saying “Ho, Ho, Ho.”

Martha remembered Mom as her Sunday school teacher. Mom told the young children to close their eyes and hold out their hands because she had treat. Martha felt something touch her hands and when she opened her eyes, she was so happy to have vanilla wafers. “Ruth always brought something for us,” Martha said. Mom gave. Sometimes a simple cookie, and most often a bouquet of flowers for the sanctuary.

For a few hours, I was home where I was baptized and married. Where I grieved for my grandparents, my parents. Where, as the current preacher said in his welcome, “Over the years, the names have changed, the hearts haven’t.” But some church members are third generation and they welcomed me home.

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Celebrate Friendship Day

How will you celebrate National Friendship Day? It’s Sunday, August 6th and I didn’t know it exists until recently. There’s an official day for almost everything and most I ignore, but friends should be celebrated.

The founder of Hallmark originated a day to honor and appreciate friends in 1919, but it really didn’t catch on. In 1935, the United States Congress proclaimed the first Sunday of August as National Friendship Day. It isn’t known exactly why, but as World War I came to an end there was a need for friendship among countries and people.

In 2011, the UN General Assembly proclaimed an International Day of Friendship with the idea that friendships between people, countries, and cultures can inspire peace efforts and after the UN proclamation many countries adopted Friendship Days. The basic idea of all counties is the same: a day to acknowledge friends’ contributions to your life and to cherish the people you love.

Neither Hallmark nor proclamations are needed to convince me the importance of friends. As a young teen, I learned to appreciate friends when my parents often welcomed my girlfriends for overnight slumber parties. Later, I depended on college friends to get through late night study sessions and unravel tangled emotions.

Neighborhood friends’ visits and impromptu lunch dates carried me through long days of caring for my babies and toddlers. When Daughter and Son played sports and attended scout meetings, my friends and I carpooled. Fellow teacher and writing friends encouraged me when I wanted to throw away red pens and keyboards. All along life, friends have kept me going and growing.

Quotes I’ve heard are true. Friends ‘do’ without waiting to be asked. A true friend knows your faults and loves you anyway. A real friend walks in when others walk away. A friend is a gift you give yourself.

Friends sat beside me while I fretted in hospital waiting rooms. They showed up at my front door with hugs and food when my parents passed away. They said, “I’m on my way,” when I called for help. They stood beside me even when I messed up.

And I’ve heard that friends know us better than family and friends are the family we choose. Friends are family? Yes, according to Kathryn.

I commented to Kathryn that she had a large group of friends from different walks of life and she responded, “Yes, I have a big framily.”  Framily? Did she misunderstand what I said? Did I hear her correctly? Then I realized framily combines friend and family.

“That’s a perfect word,” I said. Friends who are closer than family. Friends who know more about us than family. Friends who shoulder heartache when family stumbles.  Although the word framily was first used in 2006, the concept has been around for a long time. Remember the 1990’s television show “Friends” about six people who resembled a family?

National Friendship Day. A day to honor people you love. People who are your framily.

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Sturgeons, Butterflies, Skittles, and Potties

“Here’s Cookeville and here’s Chattanooga where the aquarium is,” I said, pointing to a map to show Elaine as she, Husband, and I travelled in our van. “Remember what we’ll see there?”

Elaine, age 6, cocked her head. “Lemur. Fish.” Together, we had looked at the Tennessee Aquarium website. “Jellyfish. Otters! And Pop will buy me candy!” My Grand opened her eyes and mouth wide. “When can I have Skittles?” Elaine asked.

“After you eat a good lunch,” Husband said.

“Ah. When’s lunch? Where’ll we eat?”

“The aquarium has two buildings. We’ll walk through one, then eat lunch at a restaurant,” I explained.

“So after lunch, Pop will buy me Skittles?” Husband nodded.

Before exploring the Ocean Journey exhibits, I suggested a bathroom stop. “Do they have flush potties?” Elaine asked. She meant automatic flush toilets, which frighten her and many young children. Upon seeing an automatic flush potty, Elaine decided to only wash her hands.

Elaine bounced through the aquarium. Lemurs crouched high on tree branches. Sea rays glided through water inside a petting tank. Elaine watched as I put my fingers under water. “Hold your fingers straight. The sea ray feels smooth and cool,” I said.

Elaine shook her head, “No thanks. Is it time for lunch?”

In the butterfly room, hundreds of butterflies live in a perfect ecosystem. Elaine slowly turned her head, seeming to study her surroundings. Seeing a butterfly land on a boy’s hand, she moved beside a bush where butterflies fluttered. She stretched her arm, holding her hand under leaves.

Still and silent, she waited until a tiger butterfly lit. “Elaine, look toward me. I’ll take your picture,” I whispered. She lifted her eyes, didn’t move or smile. The butterfly stayed on her hand several minutes while she stood statue still. It flew and she said, “What’s next?”

Elaine led us past huge tanks of ocean life. She briefly watched scuba divers feeding sharks and was mesmerized by penguins diving into water and swimming.

As we walked to the restaurant, Elaine asked two questions. “Do they have flush potties? After lunch, I get Skittles, right?”

Before eating the Skittles Husband poured into her hand, Elaine grouped them by color. Again, she refused a bathroom stop.

In the River Journey exhibits, huge sturgeons circled a petting pool. Elaine held two fingers underwater. For fifteen minutes, she stroked every sturgeon that came close.

Husband doled out Skittles all afternoon and I convinced Elaine I could hold my hand over the motion sensor on a potty. Unfortunately, the toilet flushed before she got out of the bathroom stall.

At Elaine’s home, I handed Daughter a list of twenty-one animals Elaine had dictated that she saw and she said otters were her favorite. “And Gran, where’s the rest of my Skittles?” Elaine asked. I gave them to Daughter. “And guess what, Mom? I’m not afraid of flush potties anymore.”

High fives all around for a fun aquarium trip. For otters. Sturgeons. Butterflies. Skittles. And overcoming the fear of automatic flush potties.

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Who Will Volunteer?

Who can help? Who wants to? Who has time? Hearing these questions, I’ve turned away. Ducked my head. Avoided eye contact. But other times, I’ve raised my hand. Committed to a time and place. Completed the assignment.

            My first volunteer work was before I knew what I was doing was volunteering. When the pianist of my small church went away to college, there was no one to play the piano. Except my cousin and me, neither accomplished pianists and both young teenagers, but we were willing, so we alternated weekly during our high school years.

On the Sundays I played, the song selection was limited. The song leader chose songs written in the key of C or with no more than two sharps or four flats and a song I knew. I carried away two things from that teen-age experience. It felt good to play a role in my church. To serve and not be paid. And church members often said thank you and encouraged me.

Through the years, I’ve taken on volunteer jobs. Visited senior citizens in retirement homes. Served as advisor to my college sorority. Read with and tutored young students. Taught 4th grade Sunday school. Delivered meals to shut-ins. Served on community boards. Helped out during the high school state football championship games. Picked up litter.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, one in four Tennesseans volunteered in 2015. Many organizations depend on volunteers, but does the experience help the volunteer? According to an article in Psychology Today, there are five benefits. Volunteers live longer and are healthier. Volunteering establishes strong relationships. Volunteering is good for your career. Volunteering is good for society. Volunteering gives you a sense of purpose. And I’d add, it’s fun.

People in our community volunteer as evidenced recently by the clean up after May’s wind damage and the rescue of those stranded at Cummins Falls. Volunteers are committed to making their community better and helping others. A listing of almost 400 organizations popped up when I googled volunteer opportunities in Putnam County, Tennessee. We can choose our volunteer jobs.

My next one is at the Putnam County Fair. When I learned that the fair needed volunteers, I signed up. To welcome visitors, offer help, and be an ambassador for Putnam County. No experience is necessary. Just a smile and willing attitude. An opportunity to be a part of a ten-day event where 52,000 people walked through the gates last year.

You can volunteer at the fair, too. Email info@putnamcountyfair.org and give your mailing address and telephone number. (And check out the website: putnamcountyfair.org) Each volunteer will receive a ten-day pass for the event. Volunteers are needed for most evenings. Some for three hours, some five.

When I was 14 and played “In the Garden” on the church’s upright piano, I didn’t know I was beginning a way of life that would span decades and lead to directing Putnam County Fair visitors to the nearest bathroom.

If you aren’t a volunteer, try it. You get more than you give.

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It’s Corn on the Cob Time

“We’ll save Elaine’s corn. She only ate half of it,” I said while Husband gathered dirty plates after supper with Daughter’s family. Elaine, my six-year-old Grand, had completely cleaned one side of an ear of corn; the other hadn’t been touched.

“Want to save mine?” My Grand’s older sister asked. Corn kernels dotted the ear she held. A few here. A few there. The corncob had been attacked from all sides with no rhyme or reason. I shook my head. Looking at Elaine’s half eaten ear of corn, her sister said, “How does Elaine do that?”

Elaine, like many people, eats corn by rows. Starts at one end and eats a whole row, or two or three, to the other end. People eat corn differently. Some people eat around the cob. Chomping all the kernels while rotating the cob. Some bite in a hit or miss pattern.

And there are just as many ways to cook corn on the cob. I grew up eating boiled corn. Dad pulled the ears from the corn stalks in our garden and shucked each ear. My chore was to remove the silks. Mom heated a pot of water while I struggled with thin, damp strings wedged between the kernels and rows. Mom carefully eased several ears, some silks intact, into boiling water. Then she set the timer for 20 minutes.

The cooked corn was starchy and chewy. I thought it was good until Mom discovered that corn boiled for only five minutes was better. Tender and juicy.

I’ve cooked corn many ways. Boiled for a few minutes as Mom taught, roasted, and microwaved. To roast, pull the shucks off and remove the silks. Slather the kernels with butter, sprinkle with salt and pepper and ‘redress’ with the shucks. Or just cut off the brown silks and don’t’ shuck. Either way, place corn ears on a medium hot grill for about fifteen minutes.

Microwaved corn is fast. For years, I removed the shucks and silks and placed the ears in a flat baking pan. Added about ¼ inch of water and covered tightly with plastic wrap. Cooked on high about 2-3 minutes per ear.

Now I leave the husks on and cut off the brown silks. Microwave about 2 ½ minutes per ear. To hold cooked corn, roasted or microwaved, I wrap it in newspaper and place in a thermal bag. Shuck just before serving and the silks almost slide off. Roll each ear over butter. I gave up spreading butter on hot corn a long time ago.

I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to eat corn on the cob, but I have definite ideas about cooking and seasoning. Less cooking is better, no matter how it’s cooked and there are more ways than mine. Removing silks is easier after cooking in the husk. Butter and salt are ‘musts’. Black pepper is optional.

And I know fresh corn on the cob is mighty fine eating and if you eat in rows you might have leftovers for another day.