Words from a Reader

The “Writing Life Stories” e-mails I receive are such treasures. As soon as I see there is one in my inbox, I read it immediately. I look forward to them and never know how they will touch me. They can be interesting, informative, humorous, and/or touching.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Many Kinds of Grief

A Gift Returned

 

I hear him singing on the deck,

That rich baritone that won me

the first day we met.

Like Sinatra’s fans I mellowed

as I listened to those tones.

 

Music-making was his talent

taken for granted like breathing

and the beating of his heart until

the surgeon’s knife nicked a nerve.

 

We both wept, losing more

than if he’d lost a limb.

His voice is who he is,

has always

been.

 

The purple wreath of grief hung

over us a year or more until

one day the notes rang true

above the strum of his guitar,

a lovely instrument restored.


Thursday, February 18, 2021

Not Just Yet

Here it is February 17 and I am still unpacking from my two months visit with my sister and brother-in-law. While it is always good to get home and back to real life, I am a bit overwhelmed with all I have on my calendar for the next two months.

Being away from home is such freedom from responsibility. That is why I always loved our vacations. If you own a house, it really owns you. When I look at the list of things I must do to my place this year, I am tempted to sell it and move to a rental. Some advice I received recently: Don't spend your savings on the house. 

Someday I will likely downsize, pack up what is left and go to be with family. 

But not now. Today I begin teaching a second writing class on Zoom. 

Perhaps I was meant to teach even when I found my early experience stressful. I began teaching fourth grade at Sylvester Road Elementary School. Mrs. Gotko, a slight woman who had been injured in a car accident and left with a limp, was the principal. She was easy to work for and I liked that she stood up for her teachers when parents complained. I only had one set of parents complain about me. Their daughter made up a ridiculous story, and Mrs. Gotko and I sat down with the parents to hear their gripe. 

I loved my kids and we had a great relationship. Sometimes a child having problems at home came in early and sat on my lap while I listened to her tearful fears and concerns. Martin, a child who could not read, had a special place in my heart. He sat near my desk so I could work closely with him. 

I don't remember the imagined event told by the little girl to her parents. I think she might have tried to find a way to excuse a less than perfect grade she had received. Mrs. Gotko praised me highly and assured them I was a wonderful teacher. The matter was settled. 

In later years, I was co-director and teacher for a private kindergarten. I enjoyed this teaching experience more than I had enjoyed the fourth grade. For ten years I helped plan lessons and prepare the kids for big school, for working and getting along with others, as well as develop eagerness for learning. I loved this job, not only because of the children, but also because I was my own boss. I could use my ideas, my knowledge and experience in doing the best job possible for my students.

Many years later I found that I could teach and enjoy teaching mature adults to write. Again, my classroom was filled with eagerness, with students who wanted to learn, to accomplish goals, to create something of their own.  

At this time in my life, retired and free to do anything I can afford to do, one might think I would want to sit on the deck of my mountain home and relax or travel to those places I have not been but want to see. Perhaps I will do that one day, but not just yet. 


View from my deck






Friday, February 5, 2021

Virtual Funeral

Even though I gripe and complain about all the new technology, today I deeply appreciate the ability to see on my computer screen a special occasion taking place many miles from me.

I attended the funeral of my brother's wife, my dear friend, Salita, because Mathews Funeral Home in Albany, GA. live-streamed the service which took place, not inside, but outside at the cemetery.
It was as if I were there with my brother, Max, and his family in the Council Family Cemetery on the farm where I grew up.

To see the old oak tree in the background and the pastures where I rode my horse, brought up a longing to go back to the time my mother and daddy were living, my brothers, my sister, June, her husband Stan were still here. I watched a much-loved friend and family member laid to rest. I heard her granddaughter speak of the love she poured out for all those around her. 

She was loved and she loved.
My eyes brimmed with tears as we listened to the tribute for a woman who was a homemaker, mother, wife, and friend to so, so many. We heard how generous she was to children in need. When her four sons were growing up, their friends filled the house, and Salita always welcomed them to the table loaded with good southern cooking. Christmas was a special time, and she wanted the biggest tree decorated and surrounded with gifts for her family. Wrapping gifts together until the wee hours of the morning and being there for that big breakfast on Christmas morning are memories that will linger with her children and grandchildren and will be passed down over the years.

The minister spoke of the love her sons had always felt from their mother and the love they had for her. All four sons still live nearby and so do their children. Only one grandchild is far away and he is in the Marines.

I feel that I went home today.
I had heard others say they have attended virtual funerals and weddings, but this was my first, and it took place on the land where I spent more than half my life.  I liked that I could hear the remembrance I wrote for Salita read by her granddaughter.

Having lost so many family members and realizing there are only three of the seven siblings living today, my own mortality looms darkly on the horizon. One day my ashes will probably be there in the serene country cemetery with those who have passed on. My heart aches for my brother and his family. And I mourn for a friend I have known since I was twelve years old. 


Salita and Max Council and their granddaughter, Carrie Council
 
One doesn't have to be famous, have thousands of friends on Facebook, have great wealth, win awards, or change the world to be important and special. If one loves freely and helps others when and however they can, that is all that is needed. Salita will forever be remembered as one who loved and gave all she had to make others happy, especially those who needed her. What more could one ask?



Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Bad Weather and Bad Day

What a dreary day, rain and extreme cold. But, I am inside and warm. I have Lexie cuddled beside me and we are fine.

I am avoiding the news and listening to Podcasts when I want entertainment. I have been at my computer too long and need to get up and move around. I read stories sent to me by my students and that was enjoyable. I look forward to the class tomorrow afternoon. 

************************************************************************

I just heard that my sister-in-law passed away this afternoon. I am sad for my brother and his children and I am sad for me. In our family singing group, she and I sang alto, and she led me to hit the right notes. She was a devoted mother to her four boys and was one of the best cooks ever. She learned to cook much like my mother in order to please my brother. They married when she was twenty years old. On her birthday in May, she would have been 87. 

My brother and his wife when they were young with two of their boys
 
Sadly, we lost her twice. She fell victim to dementia some years ago and was no longer the person we knew, but she never lost her love for music. She played piano and sang old songs and remembered all the words to them. Music is such an important part of our lives, even when we forget almost everything else. 

I understand losing someone twice because my mother lost her short term memory when she was seventy due to an aneurysm on her carotid artery. She was never the same person again, but I loved her so much and did the best I could to take care of her. I mourn her to this day. Those we love are with us always.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

My Week in Roswell

Here I am on Saturday night after eating Take-Out from a Chinese restaurant in Roswell, Georgia. I will miss the different places to eat here. We often find restaurants nearly empty around three o'clock in the afternoon so we can go in and feel safe.

It was a beautiful almost spring-like day with temps near seventy. Lexie and I had a short walk, not long enough for her, but long enough to stir up some pain in my foot. 




By the time this post is published, I will be home in Hayesville. I will get my COVID vaccine on Monday! I am so excited about that. My friends on Facebook are also being vaccinated and showing photos of their doing it. Maybe the more we see it being done, the more people will want to take it. I believe that now we are on the path to putting an end to this chaotic time and bringing some order into our lives. 

Life here at my sister and BIL's house is easy and fun for me. Having lived alone for more than ten years now, having conversations after dinner instead of turning on the TV or going off to bed to listen to Podcasts, is a treat. I interviewed Stu last night about his life before I knew him and, as I was sure it would be, he told of an interesting youth growing up outside Chicago, going to school, running track and he even had his yearbook handy so I could see the teenaged boy who has become such a fine man.

Gay and Stu Christmas 2020

I didn't interview him as if I were going to write an article about him, but I am encouraging him to write about his life. He remembers the names of all the friends he had in high school, the girls he dated until he met my sister years later in Mississippi. 

Every year until the pandemic, he has met with his closest buddies from high school for a reunion. The men and their wives have gone to various cities for several days together. The amazing part of this is the women get along well and have become friends.

After Stu finished high school and four years of college, he joined the United States Navy and became part of the Seabees where he used his Engineering education in various places in the US, but he also spent months in Vietnam. Right after his marriage to Gay, he was sent to Guantanomo in Cuba. He was twenty-three years old and in charge of 150 men. That says something about the leadership he possessed at an early age. At the same time, Gay earned her Masters Degree in Counseling. Stu went on and earned his Masters at Georgia Tech. 

Gay told me she had learned more about her husband in the past week because of me than she learned in the forty-plus years of their marriage. Stu said she had never asked him the right questions. 

We all have stories to tell and nobody can tell them except us. Stu has nieces and nephews who love him and would like to have his life stories to pass down to their kids one day. 

I will begin teaching a new writing class on Tuesday, January 26, on Zoom. I have six students and that is a good number for the two-hour session each week. 

With the help of prompts or ideas given to them to stir up memories, each week everyone will write a true story about their life.  I look forward to the interesting people and their stories.

*******************************************************************************
Our first prompt is to write about a birthday, yours or another's, and tell us the details, the fun or the bad parts, the people who were there, what happened, where it happened, and ask yourself why do you remember this particular birthday.  

Readers, if you aren't in my class, you can try this prompt at home. It will be fun. Send me your story. I would like to read it.


Monday, January 18, 2021

Never too late to learn our history

My sister and I discussed how much American history we are just now learning. Why did we not learn this in school?
A Native American served as vice president 92 years ago.

Charles Curtis was inaugurated as America's first (and only) Native American vice president. Curtis was a member of the Kaw (also called Kanza) Nation.

Curtis was born in 1860 in what was then the Kansas Territory to a White father and an Indian mother. His mother died when he was just three, and he was left in the care of his Indian grandmother.

"He lived with the Kaw people on the reservation," said Pauline Sharp, a member of the Kaw Nation. "He learned how to ride horses, he could speak the language."

But he was sent to live with his white grandmother and that changed his life.


I have become aware that our history lessons in school were chosen by white men who wanted us to learn only what they felt was important and necessary. 

In recent years, we have learned about many women who were notable and should have been in the history books. Books have been written and movies made about the lives of females who were important to our world. 

I don't remember hearing of any black people who were worthy of notice when I was growing up and attending all-white schools. 
I am learning now that some of the most important inventions for farming were made by slaves, but they were not allowed to claim the invention. The law at that time stated that because the slave belonged to his master, his invention belonged to his master also. 

Recently Charlayne Hunter, the first black woman to enter the University of Georgia where my sister, Gay, and I were in school, discussed that day in January when she and Hamilton Holmes integrated the college.

I have always felt grateful that I lived and was so close to history in the making. It was an experience that helped to make me the person I am now. I became interested in civil rights and realized for the first time that privileged white people were often haters of people they did not know and hated them only because of their race. They also hated people who supported the rights of minorities. 

I didn't grow up in a hateful family. My mother was the most loving and caring person I have ever met. My father championed the underdog and was a supporter of human rights even though he never used that term. 

Gay and I hung out with a diverse group of girls in college. My Indonesian roommate, Rulia, was intelligent, kind, and generous. She had the dusky skin of the Islands and long, jet black hair. A delightful Chinese-American girl, who is still our close friend, was dear to all of us. Also in that group was a girl from Dalton, Georgia. We laughed and enjoyed it when we gathered to cook and eat in the kitchen of the dorm. Rulia cooked food similar to what we find in Asian restaurants today. She also danced native dances holding lighted candles in her hands. So beautiful and graceful.

Rulia, my roommate in college

This is how a sheltered girl from South Georgia learned to care for people who looked different from her and found them interesting and loving. I seem to gravitate to others who can teach me something about their way of life.

We have far more things in common than we have differences. I wish we could embrace the differences in people and live together in peace in this land where immigrants from all over the world come to follow the American dream. 

I hope you are safe and healthy and that you can get your virus vaccine soon. I appreciate your visiting me here and I love to hear from you. 






 


Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Grieving over what we lost January 5

Like so many Americans, I am sick about what happened in our Capitol.
It was horrifying to me. How could these rioters break into our government buildings? What will happen now? Will this seditious act bring our legislators together, make them work together now to heal this division in our country? I can only hope.

It seems that among the peaceful protestors were hate groups who have grown rapidly in the past four years. I am sure those who were there to govern for us were frightened for their lives and angry that they had to leave their posts to a mob of angry dangerous people who had no regard for them or the United States seat of government. The legislators were meeting to count the electoral college votes and to pronounce the final decision in the presidential election. This was to be the ceremony that takes place every four years no matter who is elected president.

The fact that both houses of Congress were in the building when the attack took place gives me chills. This attempt to force a change in the recent election is something unheard of in a democracy like ours. We are known as the example to all the world of the way citizens in a democracy change leadership peacefully as we have done for over two hundred years.

I find myself grieving for something we have lost, something extremely important to all of us. While there are those who say it was no more than a romp of a protest gone wrong, I feel far differently as do most of my friends. Five people died there and that was awful, but the fact that we have people in this country who want to overthrow our way of life, our government, is what has me feeling like there was a death of someone I love.

Where do we go from here? What do these people who were screaming at the cameras want? I am not sure they know. Some said they were following their "commander's orders."

My fear is that there is a darker, more malicious group using these protesters as a cover to see how far they can go. Could there have been people in that crowd with thumb drives to steal important information from the computers in the empty offices. They would not have been yelling into the microphones and cameras as those who wanted to be seen and be on screen. The more sinister types would move quietly and stealthily using the loud ones as cover. Could this have been a far more dangerous attack than we know? Only time will tell as the investigation continues.

My hope is those good people who supported the president in the past will recognize the way his words whipped up the crowd to do real harm. My friends who voted for Trump are not rioters and criminals and would not have tried to overthrow our government. 

When we let politics transform us into people like those we saw on camera January 5, we must stop and decide who we really are. Is one person able to change us into someone who lives in fear, to someone who distrusts everything in our world? We must not be caught up in a mob society, and become brain-washed like gang members in the big city. 

We are good people. We love more than we hate. 
With cable news, online trouble makers, and talk radio, it is easy to fall into a place where we find others who are unhappy or complaining about everything. Especially with the restrictions of the pandemic, more people are at home watching TV all day. What they watch or who they listen to for hours every day will change them into followers instead of free thinkers. I know some men sit in front of FOX news all day long. Their anger is going to be aroused, they will be taught to hate people they have never met. I am sure the same thing happens to people who are obsessed with other networks. Moderation, folks.

I am grateful I was born in the United States of America and that I have had the freedom and opportunities to do what I want with my life. I am grateful that I have a home, a car, and loved ones who care about me. (that includes Lexie)

Doing what I can provide for those who have needs brings me joy. I don't judge others by their religion, their political opinions, their race, creed or color. I choose friends who are open-minded and who love their fellow man. I like people who don't judge others because of who they love, who are empathetic and caring of those who face injustice or those who have no voice in society. If we reach out to help others, we help our country, our community, and sometimes, the world.

I have been judged and hurt by people who pretended to be my friend while doing harm behind my back. But I have not lost my trust in my government, in leaders who show me they care about me, and who want to make lives better for all of us.  Although I think the news media and online publications have too much influence, I don't let myself become afraid of everything and distrustful of what has worked in this country for a long, long time.

Change is inevitable. Change is constant. Things will change. 
If we don't like changes we can do little but accept them if the rest of society wants them. We don't give one person control of change in this country.

The people rule by making decisions at the polls on election day. Our elections are fair and moderated carefully. Sometimes my favorite wins and sometimes my pick doesn't make it. But, in the end, the voices of the people in this country have the final say. That is who we are and I hope it never changes. 







   

Friday, January 1, 2021

Facecovering in 2021?

Christmas is over and now we face a new year.
While we still face uncertainty, we have hope that all will be better in the coming months.

My word this year is Adapt.
I must adapt to many changes in my life and in the country. I am not good with changes, especially those that affect my daily life. It seems everything is changing from what we knew a year ago.

Even with the vaccine available now, we will not want to gather in large groups or in any groups with people who are not part of our Pod or bubble.  I have self-isolated for all these months and hoped to get out with friends and go to restaurants again. But that will not be happening here in the United States - not in my world. Certainly not soon. 

Some ignorant people who do not care about protecting others will continue to act like the pandemic ended with 2020, but I don't have that luxury. I don't think anyone should ignore the CDC guidelines that will help end this virus that has disrupted our lives in every way.

In a great news magazine, The Week, I read this: 
In a salon in Missouri, two hairstylists, unknowingly worked a week with COVID, but wore masks as did their 139 clients. No clients developed signs of the virus. All 69 of the clients who volunteered to be tested received negative results.

Kansas counties that mandated wearing masks, saw the cases of COVID drop six percent in six weeks. Counties that did not mandate wearing a mask saw their cases double.

One day this past week, my sister and I decided to go to a restaurant at 2:30 PM for a quick lunch. We were out running errands and felt that it was safe to go in. The restaurant was large and few people were there. The staff wore masks and the tables were distanced so we would not have to sit near anyone.

I was disappointed when we lined up to order. Three middle-aged men were ahead of us. They wore no masks. We waited until they had completed their orders and moved away. I did not feel really safe since they had polluted the air where we had to stand to order.  I was really angry when one of the men came back, stepped in front of us, and talked with the server behind the counter, still with no face covering. 

The cloth masks I wear do not protect me from those who don't wear a mask.
I only feel safe when in the company of caring people who wear a face covering.  I wanted to tell the intruding man to get away from me because he might be spewing virus into space where I stood.

My doctor said I should assume everyone I meet has COVID.

We found a table far removed from others and enjoyed our lunch, but I can't understand anyone who will not wear a face covering when out in public. As we left the restaurant, we passed several young women who did not wear masks. It seems there is an age group that refuses to try to protect others. At Office Max I stopped in to quickly make a copy. The woman who came in behind me wore a mask, but took it off once she was in the store. In Georgia, no one is told to wear face coverings. The government says for people to use their own good judgment! When has that ever worked?

I so appreciate the people I see wearing masks. I think those people are also following other methods to protect anyone they meet. 

Hopefully we will be more caring and want to protect others. If we all followed that guideline, we could beat this virus much sooner. Don't we all want that?



People in my Pod, Gay and Stu wear masks when they go out even to an outdoor restaurant











Saturday, December 26, 2020

The Day after Christmas

While Zoom is not my favorite way to communicate with family, I am glad we have it.
Today I saw family members who respect our need for isolation at this time, and we laughed and talked as if we were in the same room. 

One couple just moved this week and they are painting and unpacking. Another couple is young ones who graduated from college in 2020. One is waiting for that job he had expected to be there for him. One is in grad school and working two jobs.

One is champing at the bit to get out and work again and meet with her friends for coffee. Eight of us have not been sick with COVID. It is very likely I had the virus just before testing began in late February and early March. My doctor said it is very possible. She diagnosed me with a virus at the time and my symptoms were the same as COVID, fever, wheezing, extreme fatigue and now loss of taste much of the time.
My garage in the snow

With winter hitting us down here in the south and covering my home and those around me with snow for Christmas, it is a good time to settle in, make hot chocolate, and watch movies on TV, but I don't like most modern movies. I hunt for programs that are educational or warm and loving. 

I did watch Hillbilly Elegy recently and The Queen's Gambit. Although many thought the first was a putdown of native Appalachian people, I looked at it as a story that could have taken place anywhere in the country. Drug abuse, child abuse, and addiction are prevalent everywhere now. The author of the book that the movie was based on lived in the mountains and told about his life. It was his story to tell and I am sure that parts of it were hard to put on the page. 

I saw the love of family and how far family members will go to take care of their own, much as my family would have done. We saw at the end how all survived, except the wise grandmother who died. I think Ron Howard is a master storyteller who draws us into the movie and into the characters. 

I, like many others I know, said they would not watch The Queen's Gambit because it was about Chess. But the movie was about so much more. I don't play Chess, but I was glued to the screen from beginning to end. The movie was about the characters bonded by the game. A little girl orphaned by an automobile accident ends up in an orphanage where the janitor teaches her to play Chess. Unbelievably smart the girl becomes obsessed with the game. The story of her life as she grows up becomes adopted and begins to play and win tournaments had me totally drawn in. For anyone who likes character-driven movies, this one is for you.


Tonight, I can take my choice - read my new book, An Hour Before Daylight by Jimmy Carter, which my BIL gave me for Christmas, continue to write my mother's story, or work on plans for the class I will teach in January. Life is never boring and it is filled with things I enjoy doing. 

What are you doing these days following Christmas 2020?