This is a collection of columns written by Sallie Rose Hollis for the Ruston Daily Leader newspaper. “The Journey” is printed on Tuesday, every other week. Beginning in April 2020, the column also started appearing in The (Famerville) Gazette.
The columns in this anthology were published from August 1, 2016, through April 14, 2020. More will be added in the future.
Here is the bio that is printed at end of each column:
Sallie Rose Hollis is a longtime Ruston resident, Union Parish native and retired Louisiana Tech associate professor of journalism/News Bureau assistant director. She can be reached via email at email@example.com.
Country livin’ and dreamin’
I grew up in the country. Union Parish to be more specific. Rocky Branch to be precise. I cherish the memories of my childhood there.
Winding backroads, swimming holes on both Bayou D’Arbonne and at the junction of Bayou D’Loutre and the Ouachita River, hay fields, a peach orchard (my father’s), a school house with two grade per room (my mother was the principal), several country stores, and a handful of churches.
Many summer days, my sister and I climbed the fence for the short journey to play cowboys and Indians with our neighbors. Or we’d play in our own yard where French mulberries and weeds that resembled fried eggs served as the fictional food of choice during tea parties.
I’d ride my bike to the top of the hill behind our house and coast all the way down to the cattle-gap at the end of the driveway. Little did Mama know that often I went wa-a-a-a-y out to the middle of the highway that passed our house – strictly forbidden.
Under one set of trees, we’d sweep the leaves into patterns that formed “houses” and eat huckleberries from bushes that served as make-believe shrubs. Under another huge oak, we’d build frog houses by framing our feet with mud and then carefully withdrawing them.
There was firefly chasing, watermelon eating, and bushels and bushels of purple-hull peas. At night, my pet banty rooster and hen opened our screen door so we could place them in peach-basket beds.
You’d think all these rural activities surely would have provided every single outdoor pursuit a child could desire. But looking back through the dimness of time, I envision other possible feats. Things I saw in movies or read about in books. Things that still sound, oh, so fun.
My biggest unfulfilled wish: to while away the hours beside a babbling brook, creating sailboats from leaves and watching them drift around the bend – far away into some unknown world.
Of course, I could still do that. I could find the brook. I could find the leaves. But it wouldn’t be the same. An adult’s mind just doesn’t process things as a child’s.
And therein lies the lesson: Why not seek to fulfill our dreams when we can? Why tarry? True, oft-times we’re hindered from doing this or that. But after an assessment, if dream pursuit IS an option, why not begin the quest?
Want to sing? Find a choral group. Act? Join the community theater. Swim? Take lessons. Travel? Buy that ticket. For the frugal: Read that classic. For the eternally minded: Get your spiritual life in order.
Who knows what the morrow will bring? You owe it to yourself – and your dreams.
Stepping in the light – or not
I turned the corner during my walk down the street beside our house, and something looked different. At first I couldn’t tell what was wrong, but then it hit me: The streetlight near the end of the cul-de-sac was flickering. Everything seemed dark.
Initially, I didn’t quite know what to feel. Was I supposed to be scared? After all, the latter stages of twilight had descended. But ever since my cousins and I chased fireflies during my childhood, I had never really considered darkness as frightening. Now, however, I wondered: Must I proceed with caution? Should I turn around?
Then I realized I could now see the stars much more clearly than during any of my earlier cul-de-sac excursions. And the crescent moon shone crisply through an opening in the pines that seemingly had been created just to frame it. I relished the image, delighted in the dusk.
Of course, the end of the street quickly approached, and I started back toward the gleaming streetlight on the corner. Yet somehow, even though I had walked toward – and past – that light many times, its glare now seemed invasive.
The next decision came easily: I would continue to walk in the darkened area. Talking to God felt so effortless there. So I pondered …
… Things like, the need to sometimes escape the glare that the busyness of our lives can bring. Maybe without all that, it’s easier to see God, as I now saw the moon and stars.
… Things like, maybe God can use a darker time in our lives to reveal Himself more clearly. And maybe those times aren’t nearly so scary if we can just trust that He’s really still there for us. Again, cue the moon and stars.
But what about going back into the glare? Undoubtedly, we’ve got to walk past the blazing streetlight sometime.
Driving through Bastrop, admiring the city’s courthouse while returning from our Sweet Adelines chorus gig in Oak Grove, I saw those infamous, pretty blue lights flashing.
“I couldn’t possibly have been speeding,” I thought. But I dutifully pulled over, thinking the officer would pass us for the real culprit. Nope. Pretty blue lights pulled up behind me and my four Piney Hills Harmony compadres.
“Where you coming from, Ma’am?” the officer asked.
“My chorus and I just finished a rock ‘n’ roll show in Oak Grove,” I responded. I thought he’d find that amusing because, well, I’m of retirement age. So were two of my companions, and we all sported 1960s costumes. I figured I’d explain we sing a cappella – then perhaps everything else would disappear in resulting chuckles.
No dice. “Ma’am, did you know that light was red when you drove under it?”
“No-o-o,” I said, truthfully. “I thought it was yellow.”
“No ma’am, it was red (a fact my Singing Sisters later disputed). May I see your insurance card?”
Dutifully submitted, although I noted, “Uh, I think it’s expired.”
“No, ma’am, it doesn’t expire for six more months.”
“Oh … yeah.” (Must have been the excitement and darkness.)
“And your driver’s license?” Again, submitted. “Anything amiss with your license?”
Thinking he was referring to speeding tickets, I mustered only a ho-hum “no.”
“Well,” he intoned, “your license IS expired.”
I almost ripped the plastic from his hand. “Noooooo!” But yep. I had celebrated a birthday the previous week.
I must admit: In my youth I became acquainted with the recitation of more than one violation. But experience had shown that sometimes the more grievous offense was overlooked and only the smaller one enforced. So I felt relatively safe.
Then came the clincher. “Did you know your inspection sticker is expired, too?”
“Oh, ma-a-a-nnn,” I thought wildly. “I’ll never get away with three violations.”
In a few minutes, returning to my window, the officer asked – because of my expired status – if anyone else could drive. From the backseat an Edith-Bunker voice shrilled, “I cain’t see at night!”
In rapid fire from the Singer Riding Shotgun (in a refurbished ladies’ bathrobe), “I cain’t see at night either!”
Finally, the Singer Wearing the Letterman Jacket and High-Tops offered, “Well, I can see at night, and my license isn’t expired.”
Appropriately chastised – and confused – I exited the vehicle. “I’m not going to get a ticket?”
“Do you want a ticket?”
“No,” I said softly. “But I think I’m going to cry …. Thank you.”
As my SUV edged into traffic, the Singer with the John Lennon Glasses said, “I knew he wasn’t going to give us a ticket. He was laughing too hard walking back to his patrol car to check your record. And he’s going to have such a good time telling all the other officers about this.”
My only real regret: When he stopped me I had already removed my madras plaid headband.
Routes to respite, reflection
If you turn off Ruston’s Kentucky Avenue onto Cedar Creek Road and glance immediately to the left before reaching that little bridge, you’ll see a seemingly neglected trail leading through the woods.
Every time I pass there, I try to peek at that ever-so-slightly open space among the trees. In the daytime, sunlight dapples the leaf-covered ground. In the evening, the mystery of the place deepens as dusk descends. Each time, I contemplate what it would be like to walk there.
I seem to have always been enchanted by forgotten routes through the woods. Where I grew up, Louisiana Highway 143 ran right in front of our driveway. From my earliest days, however, my parents informed me that the road had originally run behind the house.
Ever the educator, Mama showed me where the course of the original road could still slightly be seen through the thicket of oaks and pines. One day, fresh after consumption of “Hansel and Gretel,” I armed myself with brightly colored thumbtacks – rather than breadcrumbs – and set out to explore. I probably managed to go about 50 yards before my pioneer spirit wavered.
But that attitude revived itself in my high school years. Oddly enough, the idle-road phenomenon also existed at my grandparents’ house near Spearsville. Their driveway (and I use the term loosely, though I suppose people do drive wagons as well as cars) ran up a steep hill, crossing a little creek where Mama used to keep watermelons cool in the summer. Then, finally on level ground, the little dirt throughway passed the house, headed straight toward the barn. A 90-degree turn led it past a vacant house on the right. Then left – and presto – you were on another deserted road that had once served more than just my family.
That day in my teen years when I went exploring again, I almost felt as if I were the only person left on Earth. I felt so isolated. So alone. But not in a bad way. The experience even inspired me to accomplish something I’d longed to do for months – write a poem that contained the word “inevitable.”
Obviously I’m captivated by such roads. My favorite poem is Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” The less-traveled paths always seem to beckon. Thoughts about roads and journeys even come to mind when I’m at Tech’s Lambright Sports Center on the elevated track above the weight room where a row of treadmills stands. People of all ages seem to be racing to get somewhere. Yet they’re actually going … nowhere.
I wonder: What road are we traveling? How much do we really ponder our destination? And, as Frost mused, what difference will that make?
The chubby engine that …
The concept seems odd when I reminisce. As a child, I stood at the kitchen sink, washing my hair (this was pre-shower days), while an idea slowly materialized. If I were to write a book, the theme would be: “You can do anything you want to – if you try.”
I say “odd” because many times in my life I haven’t embraced that notion. What’s more, for a tween with some of my characteristics, such thinking seems rather lofty.
See, I weighed 110 pounds in the fourth grade.
When President Kennedy instituted his Council on Physical Fitness for the nation’s youth, I couldn’t even do one sit-up. My older sister tried to coax me through the process, to no avail. So I concluded that many athletic and other physical feats were just beyond me. I tried valiantly to master free throws for high school P.E. and worked tirelessly on my tumbling skills (although I’m surprised that some of my classmates weren’t crushed), but I was never really much good at any of that. Lofty aspirations apparently lay dormant.
I did somehow stay at 110 pounds until the seventh grade, so that helped – but I still wasn’t a real contender. I’m the only person I ever heard our high school band director yell at from the bleachers during marching practice. His patience button descended when the rest of the band turned 180 degrees and – even after two more run-throughs – I kept marching boldly forward.
During the first day of my first P.E. class at Louisiana Tech, I achieved fame – as the first person to get her birdie stuck between the top of the wall and the ceiling. I hope my professor, Dr. Sylvia Stroops, remembers, instead, the day during our tennis class that I beat Mickie DeMoss (now a successful women’s basketball coach).
Who knows? Maybe that’s when my childhood philosophy rekindled. At 25, I joined a church softball league – after the coach told me what hand to put the glove on. With hard work, I advanced from being a miserable outfielder to a passable second baseman and learned to drop the ball smack between right field and first base.
Thirteen years later I joined another group, Piney Hills Harmony Chorus of Sweet Adelines International. Little did I know that, at times, members execute choreography. Yikes. Surely those physical movements wouldn’t be my cup of tea. One night when asked to write down something we’d like to learn more about, not even considering my childhood philosophy, I scribbled “choreography.” To her credit, the director set about making that happen.
Incomprehensibly, this particular physical activity is something I can do. When attending a workshop on chorus showmanship, the instructor asked participants to extend one hand as if trying to stop a Mack truck. Amazingly, when indicating the first person to achieve that energy level, she pointed at … me.
Years have passed, and wonder of wonders, I’m now the chorus’ Assistant Director of Showmanship and Visual Expression in charge of creating and teaching … choreography.
I write this not to brag, but to encourage others to try some seemingly daunting task one more time. Give yourself grace to learn and to seek assistance. Until you do, you may never know what talents are waiting to bloom.
Ummmm, what did you say?
While deciding “what I wanted to be when I grew up,” I faced a quandary. Should I concentrate on working with words – or with paint? Be a writer – or an artist?
Funny. I ended up being a writer who married an artist.
Around 17 years old, I decided I could influence the world more with words than with images, although I don’t know if that’s really true. I also copied off my friend Sybil Richardson’s paper (an application for college?) and checked “journalism” as my major interest.
Also funny. Because of that plagiarism, I ended up teaching 34 years in the Louisiana Tech journalism department.
Working or playing with words has been a major part of my life since childhood. I wrote my first poem in the third grade: “Waiting.” It was about a tiny brown rabbit who stood by the door; he waited for Mother, but knew not what for.
(Sorry. I know the suspense is killing you. Maybe I’ll share the rest of the poem when/if I share the verse I wrote as a teenager that included the word “inevitable.”)
I guess I’ve almost always known the power of words, but that truism hits home every time I do the dishes. As I’m rinsing or washing, I try to use as little water as possible because in my head I can still hear the words I read in a Leader column by the late Mary Margaret Storey. While writing about the declining Sparta Aquifer, she pledged to save every single drop possible. As I read, I pledged right along with her. Now that she’s gone, I’ve promised to continue the vow.
Words matter. Words impact.
For straightforward folks, well, like me, that’s sometimes hard to deal with. Sometimes the ol’ words just come a-tumblin’ out. And sometimes we wish we had the ability to immediately rewind them, like Jim Carey in out-takes on “Yes, Man.”
The power of words is proclaimed everywhere from the lyrics of Cher (“Words are like weapons; they wound sometimes”) to the Bible (“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing”).
These days, I’m trying to fulfill the latter category. To everyone who’s known me a while, I ask forgiveness if you’ve encountered the former type of words emanating from my mouth. As someone told me in the ’80s when I queried her, “No, you’re not sweet.” Part of the translation: “Soft answers” and “words like honeycombs” are hard to come by. But by the grace of God, I’m learning.
Meanwhile, in this political season of words, words and more words, maybe we should all ponder their power – and pledge to use their influence for good. Someone just might remember your words one day while washing dishes. You could change a life.
What if this, what if that?
The hubby and I were watching the movie “The Tooth Fairy” the other day – not for the first time, I must admit. We’re fans of such fare.
I also must admit that I can watch a movie repeatedly and still be surprised by some of the lines and scenes. I’ve just always had that kind of memory, or lack thereof. At least it makes for interesting viewing.
One line from the film hit me for the first time this go-round: “You’re afraid to say, ‘What if?'” Ashley Judd’s character was speaking to Dwayne Johnson’s character, chiding him for not seeing the possibilities in a plethora of situations – in his life and in general. I’ll not give away any more of the plot, but suffice it to say, that line is resurrected as the film progresses.
It set me to thinking. In life, so many of us are afraid – or unwilling – to say, “What if?” Now, this could be about many things, including something as mundane as “What if I tried a type of food that I hated as a child?”
I also realized that a lot of folks may be frightened to say “what if” concerning much larger issues. For example, “What if God really exists?” And “What if Jesus really came to Earth as described in the Bible?”
I know this presentation is extremely simplified, but the question remains: What if these two views, these two beliefs are true? Wouldn’t it make sense to at least consider them? Even if you’ve considered them before? Because if they’re true, to quote the poet, that could make all the difference.
Numerous agnostics and atheists have considered these questions and concluded that their beliefs were incorrect; numerous non-Christians have come to believe in Christ. Of course, the opposite is true as well. Numerous believers in God have become agnostics or atheists, and numerous Christians have lost their faith.
It’s kind of like being on a jury in a murder case (which I was). When you listen to the testimony from one side, it seems to make sense. But sometimes when you listen to the other, it makes sense, too. In the end, however, you must analyze the facts and come to a conclusion based on the evidence presented in court. A life hangs in the balance.
Outside the courtroom, in this world we now call home, much evidence of God exists. Much evidence of Jesus exists. When considered as a whole, a beautiful picture emerges.
Why not give those thoughts – those questions – another chance? Try reading “The Case for the Creator” and/or “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel, a lawyer and former atheist who researched these elusive questions – and who’s now a Christian. Or another such book. Think about it.
Still counting after four days
Thanksgiving morning, I updated my Facebook cover photo with an image that urges folks to “Count Your Blessings.” It’s a black-and-white illustration that’s completely filled with tally marks. You know, those simple lines clustered in groups of five.
Being the curious – and literal – person that I am, I decided to count all those marks. I came up with a total of 230, with some additional marks peeking over the bottom of the frame, almost hidden but with a promise of things to come. Hmmmm. I had thought the total would be higher.
But that caused me to ponder: Most of us agree that we’re tremendously blessed, ofttimes with an almost infinite number of blessings. So how in the world can we possibly count them all?
Maybe the Facebook illustration provides a hint. When you sit down and take the time, it’s actually possible to enumerate a large – yet finite – list.
Again, taking the literal approach, I determined to stroll around our house and focus on whatever came into view that brought forth the idea of a blessing.
… the beauty of the reds and yellows and oranges of autumn leaves outside our windows, the almost neon effect of sunlight streaming through the trees, the luxury of watching a single leaf or straw slowly swirl to earth.
… the pink of the camellias beside the deck, the green of the pines against the blue of the sky, and the barest whisper of a white brushstroke straight overhead.
… pictures of Mama and Daddy and Sister displayed in the master bedroom, snapshots from Hooshang’s and my wedding day in Santa Fe, Facebook photos of my extended family – and my friends.
… an overstocked refrigerator and leftover biscuits on the counter that bespeak bounty, piles of clothes waiting to be washed and shoes that need storing – all silently testifying to a bank account that allows such purchases.
… sheets of music awaiting the opportunity to produce harmonies that soothe the savage breast … and my husband’s artwork that undoubtedly does the same thing.
… news on the TV and in the papers, although many times unpleasant, but which still shows we live in a country that’s been blessed more than any other at any time in history – no matter your political persuasion.
Bibles and study guides stacked by the recliner, and the collection of cross necklaces on the dresser that points to our Hope and our Salvation and the forgiveness we all so desperately need.
… And the ultimate thought emerging from these observations – that a loving Heavenly Father has provided all these blessings and more. That He has promised if we draw near to Him, He’ll draw near to us (James 4:8). No matter if we’re currently wandering in the wilderness. No matter if we can’t even manage to feel thankful at the moment.
Now, four days after Thanksgiving, I truly hope everyone reading this column is able to give thanks – that you can amass a virtual cornucopia of tally marks.
If not, I’m sending up a prayer for you. Because as my reader, you see, one of my tally marks designates … you.
Let me have cookbooks
I love cookbooks. Rather strange, perhaps, because I really don’t cook that much. We even went out for Thanksgiving dinner this year.
But, then again, maybe my cookbook mania is not so strange. Hollises are known for really appreciating – and devouring – food. One of Daddy’s favorite sayings after a huge Thanksgiving or Christmas repast was, “I think I’ll survive if we have an early supper.”
I just counted my cookbooks. Forty-two wonderful volumes line a shelf in my pantry, along with multiple booklets, a recipe box, and three color-coded folders with recipes I’ve torn out of magazines and newspapers. (Now, I know that many of you have oodles more than this, but then, you probably actually cook.)
When I die, folks are going to think, “What a good, busy cook she must have been. Look at all the recipes marked in her cookbooks with those cute, colorful Post-It flags.” Little will they know (unless they read this) that I just sat on the couch watching TV, carefully placing my Post-Its – and it was all just a fantasy.
Then there’s Pinterest. You know, the computer online service that allows you to share images through social networking. Images. Pish posh. I have 23 boards, and 13 of them are devoted to recipes. Out of 1,658 pins, recipes account for 1,326 entries. And I’ve only recently gotten ensnared by this Pinterest pastime.
Sometimes I get fixated collecting recipes for foods I rarely even cook – like pumpkin dishes. See, there’s always the possibility I might need something for holiday fare, even if it’s a food my husband can barely tolerate.
Then sometimes I begin a quest for the perfect recipe for something I’ve rarely even considered – like Tuna Noodle Casserole. I just cooked my second one in as many months, although it’s never been a favorite. (Post-supper pondering: Ever notice how many recipes are titled “Best Ever,” even though it becomes painfully obvious the claim is counterfeit after you cook said “Greatest Ever” dish?)
At least a few things repel me from particular recipes so it’s easier to fathom what I’d like to try – or flag – or pin. Here’s a partial list:
– “separate eggs”
– “stiff peaks” (usually those two are related)
– “cut butter into flour”
– “deep fry”
– “candy thermometer”
– multiple sticks of butter
– online ingredients that necessitate scrolling
– more than one ingredient I can’t pronounce or whose definition I don’t know (including the name of the recipe, which creates issues when I read my New York Times Cooking e-newsletter).
There’s more, but excuse me while I go plan my Christmas dinner – and I don’t even need any recipes. I’m going to cook most everything we used to have at Mama’s, except I’ll substitute my trademark Rosemary Chicken Thighs for her turkey or hen. To complement them: Green Bean Casserole, Holiday Dressing, Good as Pie Sweet ‘Taters and Five-Cup Salad (which Daddy called ambrosia). Plus, one of Mama’s desserts.
‘Til next time, Merry Christmas and happy feasting. And among all the festivities and food, remember the first six letters of “Christmas.”
It’s the big one, Elizabeth!
It happened last week. Actually, it had been sneaking up on me for some time. Something I couldn’t avoid. Even so, when it finally occurred, I felt kind of like Fred Sanford when he used to clutch his chest on the TV show “Sanford and Son” and call out to his deceased wife, “It’s the big one, Elizabeth!”
Of course, he was merely faking a heart attack to get out of a tight spot – or work.
Me? I turned 65.
Does any self-respecting woman freely admit that? Well, yes. I commented to one Facebook friend, “I’m not unhappy to be this age.” Then another Facebook friend one-upped me. She wrote, “U shouldn’t be unhappy … This is our happy time. (I just turned 67 in Dec.) … I’m lovin’ life!!!”
So as I toddle on toward adulthood – don’t we all really still feel we’re about 18? – I’ll try to use that as my motto: I’m lovin’ life.
Really, truly, I’m OK with the big 6-5. I weigh considerably less than I did seven years ago. I’m married to a wonderful man whom I didn’t meet until I was 40. I can sleep late almost every day if I want to. I’m still passionately enjoying my favorite hobby – singing. I have grown closer to God in the past few years. All good things.
One writer in Forbes magazine who examined turning 65 termed that particular age as “seasoned”: “I rather like being seasoned. It certainly feels a lot better than being anxious, fearful that we won’t make it, unsure of our skills, or pressured to climb whatever ladder is before us. I’ll take seasoned any day.”
And then there’s the Polish poet who mused, “Youth is the gift of nature, but age is a work of art.”
Ofttimes when I sit at the dining table for lupper (our late midday meal), I observe the scene on the hill above our patio. At that time of day, the shadows from the pines have lengthened and appear slightly less focused than those at noonday. Yet they’re exceedingly beautiful as the wind moves through the trees’ branches, and the shadows dance gracefully on the lawn.
I dance with them.
The panorama reminds me of a stanza from the gospel hymn “I’ll Fly Away”:
“When the shadows of this life have grown,
“I’ll fly away;
“Like a bird from prison bars has flown,
“I’ll fly away.”
I love that. Especially because another stanza includes the phrase “to a home where joys shall never end.” I believe that.
But back to everyday life down here on Earth. I just found this quote from the late, great baseball pitcher Satchel Paige, and I appreciate its insight and wittiness:
“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?”
I’m lovin’ life.
‘I was hungry, and ye pondered’
The idea occurred to me as I pulled into the Super 1 Foods parking lot. So I said a small prayer that if someone was in the store who could be blessed by my speaking with him or her, for me to recognize the opportunity and act appropriately.
Then I hurried inside and promptly forgot about my request. At least until I came to the checkout. Realizing that I hadn’t spoken to anyone at all, I tried to engage the checker in conversation. Monosyllables resulted. Oh, well. I tried.
Paid for groceries. Check. Pushed buggy to car. Check. Unloaded groceries into vehicle. Check. Pulled out of parking space. Check. Saw an obviously homeless man standing near the highway with a sign. Whhaaaaaa???
With my car idling right where I had backed out, I thought, “Oh, no, I don’t have any McDonald’s gift cards to give him.” I had recently heard this was a good thing to do. You know, so the person won’t have the opportunity to use actual spending money for something unsavory. Also, no peanut butter, which I had heard was good to give folks because of its nutritional value and longevity.
Hmmm. What to do? What to do? I wanted to fulfill Jesus’ words, “For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink.”
With car still idling (thankfully, no one was behind me yet), I thought, “Maybe I can just give him a dollar or two, and that won’t be enough to get him into trouble, but will help him out.” A $5 bill is all I found.
“Goodness, I really don’t want folks to see me giving him money because they may think I’m doing something wrong,” I reflected. But wanting to do something – even if someone else judged me – I pulled out the fiver and drove toward the man.
With window rolled down, scarcely mustering a smile, hoping no one was watching, and not even stopping to read his little sign, I handed him the bill. “God bless you,” I said. He barely smiled back. (Who could blame him?) Then I headed toward the highway.
I hadn’t gone 10 feet before it finally hit me: This was the answer to my prayer.
How could I have not seen that? How could I have gotten so caught up in everything else that I didn’t see what was put smack dab in front of me? Why should I care what anyone else thought? How did I not realize I could have taken many other actions? (Like actually reading the man’s sign, asking him what he needed, asking if he could wait a few minutes while I went to buy a few items – and more.)
Hopefully, this incident taught me several things. I won’t list them all here, and you can probably figure out most of them yourself.
One of the biggest? I’m a slower learner. But I trust that God will keep leading me anyway. And I pray the next go-round, I’ll be listening. After all, this time he gave me a literal sign, even if I didn’t read it.
Take this literally … please
When I was a tyke of 5 or 6, I found a tick on the left side of my chest. I was terrified.
I had heard that ticks suck your blood, and there sat a tick – right on top of my lifeblood. Surely he was going to drain my heart dry. I was going to die.
I ran screaming bloody murder (pun not originally intended) all the way up the hill from the house, through the trees, searching for Daddy, who was working in the chicken house. Looking back, I’m sure my screams of “there’s a tick on my heart, and he’s sucking out all my blood” were unintelligible. All I know for certain is that, in the end, Daddy’s anger flared. For a few minutes, he, too, probably had thought I was dying, only to learn that his baby merely had a small tick attached to her plump frame.
Perhaps this was one of the first signs that I’m a literalist. I pretty much expect that what I hear is literally what the speaker means.
Now, this doesn’t mean that I don’t get jokes or that I can’t engage in and enjoy banter. It’s just that sometimes the literal meaning gets in the way.
Fast forward to the third grade. My teacher, Mrs. Albritton, had written an assignment on the board. She was requesting that we “Read Pagel.” Completely mystified, I asked her for assistance, and (rather like Daddy) she became impatient.
I’m not sure how the meaning finally came to me, but eventually I figured it out. “Page1” was written very close to the edge of the blackboard, and Mrs. Albritton was running out of room. So she squashed everything together, virtually omitting the space. She had wanted us to read “Page 1.” How was I, the literalist, supposed to know that?
Fast forward again, to early adulthood when I joined the church softball team. Mind you, I didn’t even know which hand to put the glove on. But I liked to win, and I was a people-pleaser. Combine those traits with those of my coach, who was a weight-lifter, P.E. professor and fierce competitor, and interesting things were bound to happen.
One day he tried a new drill, something I’m sure was designed to help push us to the next level of greatness. He asked each of us to run toward him as fast as we could while he guarded home plate – and to use our shoulder as we plowed into him. (Glancing through the mist of history, I now see why my team members let me go first.) I took Coach Jackson at his word and hurled myself forward.
The crash was probably heard in Grambling. I bounced off him like a big, fleshy basketball, my glasses rocketing through the air. This time, though, it was Sallie Rose’s anger that flared (like father, like daughter). I couldn’t believe Coach had asked me to do something so perilous. I also remember that none of the other young women who literally followed in my footsteps took him literally.
So I must advise: Be careful what you tell me. I just might believe it.
‘Play it … for old time’s sake’
All this Oscars brouhaha has set me to thinking about my love affair with classic movies. If you’ve known me a while, you’re aware of this fascination.
My perceptive students at Louisiana Tech observed Humphrey Bogart posters on the door to my office closet. A former co-worker disregarded a faux pas concerning Ethel Merman in one of my stories that she proofed because, she said, “You’re the one who knows about old movies, not me.” And a good friend gifted me with the VHS collector’s edition of “Gone with the Wind” when she downsized.
As best I can figure, it truly was Bogie who alerted me to my old-movie ardor. I recall that after a late night of TV movie viewing in the ’60s, I stood in the hall at Farmerville High waxing eloquent about “The African Queen,” which brought Bogie his Best Actor Oscar.
The epiphany had occurred (even if that conversation was strangely one-sided).
Actually, my mother gets partial credit for my fondness of classic films. A staunch there-every-time-the-church-door-opened Christian, she let my sister and me stay home once a year on Sunday night to watch the annual TV broadcast of “The Wizard of Oz.” That’s probably what contributed to my decades of tornado dreams, but we shan’t hold that against her. The trauma was worth it.
Over the years I’ve accumulated Bogie bags, Bogie buttons and Bogie “money” – and even contemplated buying a replica of the Maltese falcon. Sidney Poitier’s “A Patch of Blue” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” – also viewed via 1960s TV – helped form my values on race relations. I possess 33 self-taped VHS Bogart movies, along with countless other standards such as “Psycho,” “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Citizen Kane.”
Over the past few years, I’ve dragged friends to multiple installments of TCM’s Big Screen Classics. By now, the names are familiar: “The Maltese Falcon” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Gone with the Wind” – oh, and “Miracle on 34th Street” and “The Ten Commandments.”
I must admit: I did not boycott last week’s Oscars broadcast. I thought I’d give the bedazzled affair another chance because, you see, it’s provided such fond memories. In 2002 when my husband was at a 10-week art show in Phoenix, I flew out to visit, and he and I reserved the apartment complex’s game room for our own private Oscar party.
I’ll also admit: During this year’s Super Bowl, I became enmeshed in a TCM showing of “Casablanca.” Yes, I got sidetracked and missed the most exciting climax in Super Bowl history, but I got to listen to all those classic lines, see that beautifully filmed black-and-white masterpiece, and have my heart blissfully bruised by the time the last scene faded into fog.
Which leads to Nov. 12 and 15 when, in celebration of its 75 anniversary,” Casablanca” will join TCM’s Big Screen Classics series. The past couple of years, I’ve missed several favorites on the silver screen because, ahem, no one wanted to accompany me. Classic film fans are sometimes hard to find.
So, please, consult your calendar, and if I call you up, say, around Nov. 8, would you be my date?
Small events equal big joy
The other day, I happened to glance at the odometer, and there the numbers sat in all their radiant glory: 111,111.
Instead of being annoyed that the miles were multiplying on my vehicle, I instead savored their symmetry. I’d never before seen that dashboard display.
The numerical combination reminded me of the digital watch heyday, when one of my roommates periodically called me over to observe her wrist at 11:11. Didn’t matter if it was a.m. or p.m., she knew that I, the woman who now ironically sports an asymmetrical haircut, would revel in the numbers’ rapport.
Yes, small occurrences often provide great delight. Another event this spring provides additional proof of this phenomenon in my life.
While driving the interstate from here to Monroe, I caught myself gazing a tad too long – for safe driving purposes – at North Louisiana’s spring-green, rolling-hill pastures. They’re a vision to behold: speckled with cows, intersected by creeks and held neatly into place with wooden fences. I tried to burn the scenes into my brain so they could nourish me in the hours to come. Obviously my country upbringing still lingers in my senses but, then, anyone with an appreciation of nature’s beauty would probably feel the same.
Not all these enjoyable moments are quite so poetic, though. I get a momentary thrill every time I turn out a perfectly browned pan of cornbread from my grandmother’s cast iron skillet.
And what about opening a new bar of soap? Ahhh, the aroma.
And hugging the bed sheets as they emerge so warm and welcoming from the dryer …. Then, the fresh, clean feel when you’re engulfed in those same sheets after they’re on the bed.
Of course, don’t forget freshly vacuumed floors. (OK, that particular moment may seem enchanting because, in my life, it doesn’t happen that often.)
The laws of physics can also enter in. A special favorite: getting chill bumps when my chorus locks and rings a chord. Sound-wave perfection.
Thankfully, some such events are people-oriented. Listen …. Can you hear it? The laughter of a child. I even wrote a poem about this when I was a teenager. It begins, “The laughing eyes, the turned-up nose can make one’s lose one’s cares and woes.”
On a higher plane, what about the moment you discover something new in a scripture that you’ve already read numerous times?
Undoubtedly we all have such lists of small things that bring bliss. My own brief cataloging barely touches the surface. Yet whatever our list and whatever its length, a line from writer Rudyard Kipling might serve us well, “Teach us delight in simple things.” Add to that this suggestion from “The Daily Motivator” blog: “Find delight in the little things. And you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how delightful the big things turn out to be, too.”
I have a theory that clichés – such as “big things come in small packages” – exist because they’re true.
So now I’m trying to get excited when I glimpse my digital clock bedecked with the numbers 12:34.
What small box is waiting to be opened in your life?
Meandering path to harmony
By time you read this, I’ll be back from my chorus’ annual regional competition.
In case you haven’t realized, let me explain. I’ve had a 28-year love affair with Sweet Adelines International and the local chapter, Piney Hills Harmony. The organization – both globally and locally – lives up to its name. We make sweet four-part a cappella harmony, throughout the world and here in North Louisiana.
I first attended a Piney Hills Harmony rehearsal in 1989 with a friend from church after the elderly woman sitting in front of us mentioned the organization. My friend and I both sang alto. After that rehearsal my friend never went back – and I never looked back. Sweet Adelines and Piney Hills Harmony have blessed my life ever since.
Frankly, my vocal progression followed a meandering path. I didn’t like to sing in grammar school. Actually, couldn’t sing is more like it. While everyone else gleefully belted out “Fifteen Years on the Erie Canal,” I was just concerned my voice wouldn’t hit the high notes. Mama talked about singing that upper range in falsetto, but the term fell on unresponsive vocal cords.
How was I to know I was an alto trapped in a child’s body? Someone with the acute, yet unrecognized need to harmonize below the melody.
Thankfully, fate smiled, and when I finally found alto in the ninth grade, I thought I’d already died and gone to heaven. In college, I sang every chance I got with friends from the Christian Student Center, even cranking up the harmony while walking in the woods (“This is my father’s world, and to my listening ears all nature sings and round me rings the music of the spheres”).
Granted, I still couldn’t use my head voice and was still in that predicament in 1989 when I joined the chorus. The problem was, as a baritone – sometimes the one and only baritone – I had to sing notes that could be reached in no way other than head voice.
I was desperate. Though I had never before been much of a visualizer, one evening at rehearsal while trying to reach a particularly high note in “Swing Down, Sweet Chariot,” I pictured my voice as a piece of mountain climber’s equipment. I threw it up, aiming as high as possible – and hoped it would stick. Incredibly, it worked.
These days, doubtless because of longevity, I’m baritone section leader (now that there’s actually someone to lead). No one really wants to hear me sing a solo, but I can harmonize like crazy. Sometimes because of my fog-horn quality, however, I don’t always blend. Which means that even though I can do choreography, I don’t often get to stand on the front row (ahem, closer to the judges).
But this past weekend, for the first time in about 20 years, the plan was to have me there, beaming at the judging panel, and trying to do my moves with precision and energy. And blending. And having fun.
That last part is the most important. If you’re a woman who’s looking for a place to park her voice – and have fun in the process – shoot me an email. Singing four-part a cappella harmony provides one of the best buzzes on earth.
The little birdie and the grave
While enrolled in a college creative writing class, I penned a short fictional piece about a little boy who, in the vernacular, worshipped his father.
This boy wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps, and literally tried to do that in his parents’ country garden. He’d tag along after his father, stretching his little legs so that his own steps would fit as closely as possible into the big impressions his father’s feet made in the dark, rich soil.
Then one day tragedy struck. At least, it was a tragedy in the little boy’s mind: He found a dead bird. The child was devastated.
The father, seeking to soothe his son’s sorrow, helped him bury the bird in a corner of the garden with assurances that it would go to heaven. The boy believed him and, mistakenly and unfortunately, assumed the bird’s remains would magically disappear after they’d been put into the ground.
Of course, the boy shared that information with his best friend. Not as naïve as the little boy, the friend tried to dissuade him of the notion that the bird had gone to heaven and that the hole in the ground was empty.
But the boy remained convinced. “Daddy told me it would go to heaven,” he said to his friend. “And he knows everything.”
So the duo decided to dig up the cardboard box in which the father had placed the bird before burying it.
Now, as adults reading this story that I’ve paraphrased and only partially recounted, you know what happened. They dug up not only the box, but also the dead bird.
As the story continued, our brave lad headed home, through the garden where his father had again walked and where his father’s footprints remained. But, somehow, when the child saw those footprints, they didn’t look so big anymore ……
I’ve often wondered why I wrote that story. It conveys nothing of my philosophy of life. It doesn’t remotely resemble my own life. It’s depressing.
But, for some reason, this spring I thought about it and wanted to retell it to you – because this day after Easter, I’ve got a totally different story to share.
It’s about another death. Another burial. Another grave. Only this time, when the tomb was explored, it was, indeed, empty. This time an exit to heaven truly occurred. And this time, the story is filled with as much hope as is humanly or supernaturally possible.
To believe this is not naïve. Evidence abounds, and countless people have conducted research they thought would lead one way, only to find that it led another – to belief in the Son of God who came to this Earth to put us back into the right relationship with our Father.
I encourage you to read “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel to see the abundance of evidence concerning Jesus. Strobel also wrote the book I recommended in an earlier column, “The Case for the Creator.”
Regardless of what happened to our little tragic hero, in our lives we do have trustworthy footsteps that we can follow. In fact, they’re the biggest footprints the world has ever known.
Lessons from the orchard
I was a POK – a peach orchard kid.
News of Mitcham Farms’ planting new trees has set me to reminiscing about my childhood peach connection.
In the late ’50s my father, Flavil Hollis, who never completely got the soil from his family’s Union Parish cotton farm out of his veins, joined the ranks of North Louisiana peach growers. Yes, prior to Lincoln Parish’s becoming the region’s consummate peach capital, multiple area orchards thrived.
Daddy planted 12 acres. I remember Mama’s hand painting two black-and-white signs that proclaimed the approach to Hollis Orchards as people drove into Rocky Branch.
In retrospect, I’ve realized the lessons I learned from Daddy’s endeavor might be titled “A Lot of What I Really Need to Know I Learned in the Peach Orchard.”
For one thing, I learned the joy of consuming fresh-off-the-farm produce. In fact, I learned about fresh-off-the-tree produce. I recall plucking peaches from low-hanging limbs, breaking them open and slurping the warm, juicy goodness. Who needs cobbler?
I also learned that bigger isn’t always better. In our peach haven, the sweetest, most glorious downy bites came from the first crop of the year – a small, reddish clingstone appropriately named Cardinal.
And what about the value of teamwork? At the height of the orchard’s success, Daddy enlisted a band of neighborhood boys to help harvest the crop. Even though they were paid helpers, I saw what a group of people with a common mission could achieve. Then when Daddy returned to teaching, I participated in teamwork of another kind: He let me and my sister, Dianne Lundy, pick all the peaches our hot little hands could grab. The toil of those sweaty days taught initiative, too (probably more hers than mine). We had to get up, get out of the house and get cracking to get anything done.
That summer also taught the value of saving money – and delayed gratification. I don’t recollect if I put my hard-earned money into the quintessential piggy bank, but I did stash it. At summer’s end I had enough to buy a hair dryer. You know, the kind with what’s termed a “hard hat bonnet.” Loved that thing. Kept it ’til young adulthood. And when I no longer used it for my hair, it served as my own mini clothes dryer.
The list goes on. Like, learning that people want to join the fun. A young neighbor seemingly thought sitting at a small white wooden peach stand under a huge elm tree looked enticing. He – who called me “She” – wanted to be there every time the counter opened. And what about realizing you have to take care of things to keep them in shape? The Two-Sister Harvest yielded many more worms (yuck) and insect-damaged peaches than the years Daddy sprayed them.
Now, as Joe Mitcham tends the trees he’s planted as part of an experiment to combat oak root rot, I wish him well. Surely we all want Lincoln Parish’s peach orchards to be more than just a memory. I want the local peach industry to be more than what’s now seen in the pasture where Daddy’s orchard once blossomed – rows of terraces ever so slightly visible in the grass as the sun heads to the western horizon.
Never, ever, ever say ‘never’
We’ve all done it. We’ve said we’d never do a particular thing, and then – bam – before we knew it, we were eating our words or eating crow and doing exactly what we said we would “never, ever do.”
I’m eating that humble, crow-tinged pie as I’m typing, staring at fingernails that sport clear gel polish on about an eighth of the nail. It’s chipping off a speck at a time and, frankly, not very attractive.
This is the remnants of the second manicure of my life, which occurred right before my chorus, Piney Hills Harmony, went to regional competition in April. The original result was lovely – a French manicure provided by a gift coupon from several ladies in my Bible class. (They obviously knew this was something I didn’t normally undertake. My only other manicure was immediately before I got married 25 years ago.)
This spring when I called to make my appointment, I chatted with the staff member about what to expect. I wanted gel polish – to last longer – but I’d heard it was hard to remove. I queried, “Will I have to come back in to have it taken off?”
“You could,” the young man said. “But some folks just let it wear off.”
“Oh, I’d never do that!” I was certain. Yet here I sit, in June, in all my radiant un-glory.
The experience has made me realize how often we can toss about the phrase “Oh, I’d never ….” And how often we might criticize others who are doing something that we’ve reasoned we’d “never do” ourselves.
The thought was also fed by my reading the book “Can’t Run Any Faster” by J.J. Turner, a little volume of devotionals about grace. Our church book club read it this spring. One of the main thoughts presented through its 52 chapters is that God is in the business of giving second helpings of grace.
“Second helping.” How sweet that sounds when we’re at the dining table and our hostess says, “Would you like a second helping? There’s plenty.” She’s pointing to our very favorite dish – and it’s being given away for free.
In fact, J.J. quotes from the song “Amazing Grace” quite often in the book and, of course, one of the tune’s most well-known phrases is “how sweet the sound.” He also often quotes James 4:6, “But he (God) gives more grace ….”
So with only marginally polished nails, I’m realizing this minor “failure” joins multiple other things I’ve done that, in my piousness, I thought I’d never do. Some things might bring chuckles (like stealing candy cigarettes from my parents’ store when they wouldn’t let me have them), and others might curl your hair (which we won’t discuss in polite company).
Now, if I’ve done such things, who am I to be ungracious? If God himself dispenses more grace, who am I to be legalistic – about my own life or others’? Certainly we have to ensure that the pendulum doesn’t swing too far either way, and undoubtedly we need to repent of our transgressions. But to know that second helpings of grace are available is a good thing.
Let’s never, ever forget that.
Hacking through life’s maze
Wednesday marked the official beginning of summer, so in the spirit of the season, I thought I’d offer a bit of advice as you’re probably spending more time in the great outdoors these days.
If you’re wondering how much daylight you’ve got left to burn, just fully extend an arm, and count the number of fingers between the horizon and the sun. Each finger equals approximately 15 minutes, which means each hand width totals an hour.
I learned that bit of wisdom from the late Professor Lloyd Blackwell, longtime director of Louisiana Tech’s School of Forestry. Now, I don’t know – maybe every single Girl or Boy Scout also knows that bit of trivia, but in my mid-20s, I thought it was one of the coolest pieces of info ever. I always felt kind of special knowing it and wondered who else had the privilege.
Obviously I like that kind of stuff because I was also fascinated by another such measuring scheme I encountered in high school. While reading “Gulliver’s Travels,” I was intrigued by how the teensy Lilliputians managed to make clothes for a much larger Gulliver. The secret? They knew that “twice around the thumb is once around the wrist” and so on. I remember furtively taking my own measurements in our English classroom and observing that the calculations were, indeed, accurate. (And I wondered why I suffered a dearth of dates.)
I also remember gleaning handy pieces of information at workshops while a young journalism professor. One such nugget: Change your physical location to open your mind and solve a problem. For example, walk from one room to another or go outside.
Nowadays, of course, you can find any of these ideas – and much more – on the internet, which, to me, takes part of the mystery and excitement out of the process. I mean, the entire world now has the potential to latch onto what you thought were your own quirky informational treasures.
Just recently I read online that research shows that walking of any kind – on the treadmill or through verdant hills – can unleash your creativity. Doesn’t that sound a bit familiar?
But I’m not really complaining about the internet because, certainly, it often brings enlightenment.
Yes, the maxim about public bathrooms that I heard years ago is true: The cleanest stall is the first one because it’s used least often.
Today, entire sites are dedicated to such life hacks, which refers to any trick, shortcut, skill or novelty method that increases productivity and efficiency in all walks of life. From lifehack.org: When heating leftovers, space out a circle in the middle, and they’ll heat more evenly … Put a stocking over the end of a vacuum to find tiny items like earrings … Don’t burn yourself on hard-to-reach candle wicks; light them with a piece of flaming spaghetti … And (best of all) finish off a jar of Nutella by filling it with ice cream.
I end with two other pearls:
- “You either plan to be early or you plan to be late.” – Peggy Gram, former Sweet Adelines International president
- And “The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on. It is never of any use to oneself.” – Oscar Wilde
Here, hold my Coke while I …
Warning: Whatever is mentioned in this column, do not try at home.
I was a perfect child. Great grades, went to both Sunday school and church camp, obeyed my parents. Everybody probably thought, “She’s so boring – that goody-two-shoes.” But when you put two and two together, sometimes you’re left with just two shoes, minus the goody.
That thought was reinforced July 1 at the 50th reunion of Camp Ch-Yo-Ca (Christian Youth Camp) in Calhoun. I was one of the campers at the very first session in 1967 and attended the next three years as a camper, then counseled as a college student and taught Bible as an adult.
But even that wonderful environment and my sometimes being in a leadership position didn’t stop me from doing stupid things, right there on the campgrounds.
While reminiscing at the reunion with the Louisiana Tech engineering graduate who was Mr. Technical/Mr. Fix-It at the camp for decades, I asked, “Remember when we used to form a human chain at that light pole on the path to the girls’ village? And the person at one end of the chain would touch the pole, and the person at the far end would get shocked?”
Not even a glimmer of recollection.
“Hmm … Well, maybe we didn’t tell you,” I said. “Mama said it was dangerous, but we didn’t care. It was fun!”
“Well, it was dangerous,” Mr. Technical/Fix-It said – and then spiraled into some high-falutin’ concepts about the dangers of electrical currents, grounding and how things were in the old days.
Frankly, I was disappointed when I went to where the light used to be and found an empty spot in the woods and a new pole about 30 feet away. Just for posterity, I had a one-time accomplice – er, friend – take my picture in both locations.
Now, I don’t know. That light-pole thing may seem pretty tame, but would the following activities have been committed by someone wearing that infamous pair of shoes?
– piling matches into a bonfire shape on the family’s bathroom floor and lighting them (Mama never noticed the dark spot on the vinyl.)
– breaking out the many-paned windows of our neighbors’ storeroom with rocks (I just loved the sound of tinkling glass.)
– driving the family’s ’68 Bel-Air 120 mph on that straight – but undulating – stretch of road between Crossroads and Farmerville (We barely touched the tops of the hills.)
– climbing the fence at Tech’s Aillet Stadium at night so my buddies and I could roll downhill on the luxurious green grass (Journalism department head Wiley Hilburn had told me just that afternoon I was becoming editor of the university newspaper and warned that I would be in the campus limelight and needed to behave myself. Thankfully, my friends and I were a stealthy lot.)
– breaking through the window (see a pattern here? but no broken glass was involved this time) and TPing Wiley’s office in Keeny Hall (Later, he just laughed and let us take his picture amid the chaos. I’ll classify these last two as a Hilburn two-fer.).
Believe it or not, this is just a partial collection of the really foolhardy things I’ve done. Maybe I’ll tell you more over a game of “Truth or Dare.”
‘Help, I’m turning into my parents’
Mama’s birthday was Saturday. She would have been 104.
For this reason – and several others, as you will see – the song “Help, I’m Turning into My Parents” has been on my mind. My Sweet Adelines chorus sang this song several years ago, and I’ve never forgotten the concept.
Here are the key lines: “Help, I’m turning into my parents, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, turning into my mom, turning into my dad. I like my folks a lot; that doesn’t mean I want to be ’em. This situation’s very sad.”
– “I crocheted the cutest little house to cover my Kleenex box; I thought those things were stupid; I guess I just forgot.”
– “I went looking for a new set of wheels, took a Corvette for a spin; I ended up in the big sedan with the lumbar support built in!”
And let’s not forget the short-but-sweet notion that “my happy hour is a nap.”
I have resembled those remarks for quite some time.
A few years ago I glanced at my car’s steering wheel and observed that my thumb and index finger were rubbing themselves together, making the same small rotating motion that Daddy’s used to make. What’s up with that? I always wondered why he did it. Still don’t know, but I find myself unconsciously replicating the motion from time to time. It’s both weird and comforting. (OK, all you armchair psychiatrists, please keep your diagnoses to yourselves.)
And speaking of digits, within the past few weeks I’ve developed “trigger thumb,” just as Mama had “trigger finger.”
But, you know, I really don’t mind the resemblance to my parents. As I indicated, I’ve been like them for decades. When Daddy was in the hospital in 1986 and we were having to stay with him 24 hours a day, I walked down the hall one night around 11, and the nurse became disconcerted. She told me later she thought she was seeing a vision. She didn’t know Mama had left, and she said I looked like Mama’s much younger incarnation. Cue the “Twilight Zone” music.
As my Facebook friends know, though, I consider that comparison a compliment.
Actually, I have so many things for which to be grateful about my parents. Mama had one of the best alto voices ever to grace a church, and I inherited my love of singing from her. Concerning Daddy, one of the first things many people say when they find out I’m Flavil’s daughter is, “He was the smartest man I ever knew.” Undoubtedly, I can’t live up to that mental description, but it’s nice to be associated with someone who was so highly regarded.
Of course, no one’s perfect – not even my sainted mother and my sometimes-out-of-the-lines father. But to be their daughter, well, there certainly could be worse things in this life.
Now, let’s blow the pitch pipe and begin the song: “Help, I think I’ve already turned into my parents, and I am delighted.”
Flailing through life’s embarrassments
I stood in front of my chorus last Thursday, as I have for the past three weeks, demonstrating choreography for a song we’re returning to the repertoire after several years’ absence.
In my best Julia Child voice and with flailing arms, seeking comedic effect, I had introduced the segment by encouraging members to move with reckless abandon. I intoned the words with a high, lilting cadence: “Just moooove with joy to the music.” My body movements likely resembled the wacky, waving inflatable tube men who often twist and turn near car dealerships.
“It doesn’t matter right now,” I said. “We’ll fix whatever needs fixing later.”
The song we were rehearsing was “Dancin’ in the Street,” so we found plenty of room for movement.
Then, of course, as happens in this old universe, after I’d finished the part I had diligently practiced for that particular night, the director suggested that we go through the whole song – which I definitely had not rehearsed.
Oops. When the CD player started, I couldn’t even tell when to begin the moves.
The solution seemed simple: Stop. Run to boom box. Start again.
But I still couldn’t get it, and as I began running the second time, multiple chorus members yelled, almost in unison, “You said it doesn’t matter. We’ll fix what needs fixing later!”
“Yeah, but I’ve got 25 pairs of eyes focused on me right now. No one’s looking at you but me!”
Then, however, I took my own advice. I turned from the chorus, flailed for a few seconds, turned back around – and we finished the song. And a good time was had by all.
As I reflected later, this incident brought to mind countless other times I’ve been embarrassed over the years. For example:
– Taking a drink of fountain water after school, swallowing some air, reeling around the corner, bumping directly into the chest of history teacher Mr. Hudson, looking up straight into his face – and burping loudly.
– Driving the quarter mile to our village’s little country store before I knew how to work a stick shift, and going all the way in first gear – right up to where the old men were sitting outside on the bread box, laughing. (Daddy had wanted cigarettes.)
– Being caught in mid-air as two young men tried to propel my desk, against my will and with me still sitting in it, into another row while they thought chemistry teacher Mrs. Albritton wasn’t looking. (My only D in conduct.)
– Unintentionally substituting a sexual term for a scientific word while at the library studying with a boy I had a crush on during college. (And, hey, it wasn’t Freudian because I was pure as the driven snow.)
– Getting flustered and dismissing class when as a young journalism professor I mispronounced “watermelon-seed-spitting contest.”
What I realized when contemplating these moments – except for last Thursday’s – was that they all occurred in my younger years. So maybe that should tell me something.
It’s possible that after six and a half decades of living, I’ve become too dull-witted to be embarrassed. Or hopefully the better explanation: I’ve grasped that we should just live our lives the best we can and not care so much how others assess our everyday bobbles.
Who made me do it – and who knows best?
Today’s column is serving as a Happy Anniversary wish to myself. Oh, and to my husband, too.
No paper will be printed this year on our actual anniversary, Sept. 4, because it falls on Labor Day, so I’m celebrating early – in print, anyway.
Yes, 25 years ago my husband, the artist Hooshang Khorasani, and I tied the knot in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I was a 40-year-old blushing bride.
But it almost didn’t happen.
When I first encountered Hooshang, he’d been in Ruston awhile, visiting his brother. We met at a friend’s house in a way many folks would call “accidental.”
But what others call “accidental,” I call “divine guidance.” You see, I crashed a party my friend Michelle Phillips was having for all her Persian friends – and Hooshang happened to be there. In retrospect, I’m flipping the late comedian Flip Wilson’s “The Devil Made Me Do It” and maintaining that God led me there.
I mean, why else would I crash a party (which is so unlike me) where a mass of people I didn’t know were gathered (I’m shy, you know) when I was wearing absolutely no makeup and gray sweatpants and sweatshirt (I couldn’t possibly have been very attractive). Something was in the air, though, and Hooshang ended up asking me out.
He’d been planning to go to California within the next few days to claim a graphic design job with his former boss from overseas – but he didn’t leave Ruston for two months. The rest, as they say, is history.
Finally, he did head for the Golden State and found an apartment in Santa Monica not far from where in 1978 I had gone on one of my best vacations ever. When I visited him, it almost felt like home.
Looking back, we can’t remember who said what to whom about marriage, but we arranged to meet in Santa Fe to say “I do.” I told only one person of our plans (didn’t want anyone to talk me out of it) – my good friend and then-secretary at the Louisiana Tech journalism department, Michelle Emery. Michelle even let me borrow her wedding dress, and as “luck” would have it, she and husband Cordell had already made plans to vacation near Santa Fe at the same time we were there.
Again, details elude me, but for some reason before I left Ruston, I called off the wedding. I canceled the chapel, the flowers, the minister – and returned the rings to Baldwin’s.
But, hey, we still had plane tickets, so why not make the best of it? Hooshang and I met up in New Mexico anyway, and I left a message on Michelle and Cordell’s hotel phone: “Please call me.”
Michelle later said, “I told Cordell, ‘They’re not getting married.'” How she fathomed that I’ll never know, but fortuitously, I then did another 180. The wedding was back on.
I had packed the dress even though there wasn’t supposed to be a wedding, we bought new rings, and I wangled a small spray of flowers. Judge Lily Gonzales conducted the ceremony in the historic Santa Fe courthouse with Cordell and Michelle standing up with us.
A rooftop restaurant celebration followed, and Hooshang and I then proceeded to have an eight-month commuter marriage. Once more, God’s wisdom showed through: He knew it would be best for that independent 40-year-old to ease into marriage.
Hooshang moved back to Ruston the spring of 1993, and two houses and 25 years later, we’re still happily headed into the future. To paraphrase a 1950’s TV show title, “Our Heavenly Father Knows Best.”
River of de Nile runs deep by Cedar Creek
Perhaps I should be commended, considering that someone once told me, “I can always tell when the housekeeper has been here – because your bed is made up.”
You see, over the past 465 or so days – and now without a housekeeper – I’ve skipped making my bed only five times. That is, if we count when I spread the covers up around midnight right before I went nighty-night. Of course, that means the bed was ofttimes “made up” for only about five minutes. But let’s not quibble.
Knowing my weakness in this area, last summer I convinced myself to launch a bed-making streak. It was after my sister had visited with me several days, and her presence led me to try to turn over a new leaf – or bedcover, as it were.
So every day, I’d mentally mark off one more day that my life had progressed without being totally rumpled. I even congratulated myself when I heard about the Navy admiral who this year published the book “Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life.”
Yet because I rarely return to the bedroom after getting the day started, unless I made the bed early on, I’d often forget the bedroom even existed …
… until I began my late-night readying-for-bed ritual. Hence, the midnight maneuverings, just to keep the streak going.
Over this period of 465 or so days, I’d often muse while simultaneously brushing teeth and spreading covers while in my PJs, “Denial isn’t just a river in Africa.” (I know. That’s a weary, worn-out pun but, hey, it’s hard to be creative when you’re fixin’ to hit the hay.)
Even with that glimpse of punny insight, however, I continued the ritual.
And depending on what else was on my mind, I’d contemplate other things in my life here on Cedar Creek Road that might reek of denial.
Such as the refrigerator. Surely that dead-body smell will go away if we simply wait – and burn a candle – and open the fridge door enough times.
And surely the scale gives a more accurate reading when pushed around the bathroom floor this way and that, until the numbers decline.
And certainly if only I had more and bigger closets, my “stuff” problem would just vanish, and I wouldn’t repeatedly dredge up the words “Imelda Marcos” while viewing my shoe collection.
And, really, I’m going to eat more vegetables and fruits tomorrow – or the next day – or the next. Along with drinking more water and taking my vitamins. Seriously. I mean it.
And, if you think about it, 16 years isn’t that long a time not to have re-done your interior courtyard. Is it? I mean, who really needs a flower bed that actually sports flowers?
And let’s not forget my mantra when listening to a recording I’ve made of myself singing with my chorus: It’s just the recorder. I know I sound better in real life.
What’s more, I’m going to repudiate the notion that “if I throw it out, I’ll need it.” (Except that, if I hadn’t thrown out last year’s calendar a couple of weeks ago, I would now know the exact number of days I have made my bed, minus five, instead of saying “465 or so” – because the calendar had a notation of when my sister visited.)
And, finally: I’m retired, so surely I can devote the time and energy to clean my house. I do not need a housekeeper.
After all, after only three weeks of wondering where the vacuum cleaner was, we just found it. In the garage.
Trick or treat with ‘The War of the Worlds’
Let me be the first to wish you a Happy 80th Anniversary of Orson Welles’ famous – or infamous – “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast. I feel pretty certain I’m the first to issue these wishes.
You see, today is actually the event’s 79th anniversary. I just wanted to get a head start on the stampede that will undoubtedly occur in approximately 365 days.
In case you aren’t familiar with the broadcast, here’s a summary of the 1938 program and its aftermath, taken from Smithsonianmag.com:
“Welles and his ‘Mercury Theatre on the Air’ … performed a radio adaptation of H.G. Wells’ ‘The War of the Worlds,’ converting the 40-year-old novel into fake news bulletins describing a Martian invasion of New Jersey. Some listeners mistook those bulletins for the real thing, and their anxious phone calls to police, newspaper offices and radio stations convinced many journalists that the show had caused nationwide hysteria.”
What better topic for a night-before-Halloween radio show – or column?
The anniversary has also caused me to reflect in general on what’s known as old-time radio.
For example, the only broadcast medium my grandparents had access to was radio, even though my family had possessed a television from my earliest years. Papa would sit on his straight-backed chair with the cowhide bottom, leaning slightly toward the radio in the corner, trying to catch its every word.
I never had much interest, though, because during my youth in the ’50s, the Golden Age of Radio was ending. It began at the birth of commercial radio broadcasting in the early ’20s and lasted until TV became the medium of choice for scripted programming.
For some folks, though, old-time radio is a passion. One such fellow is Ruston resident Eddie Blick, a former colleague from the Louisiana Tech journalism department. I’d like to call him the city’s most knowledgeable citizen concerning radio’s Golden Age, but we ultimately decided on “an avid local old-time radio fan.”
(He has written more than 100 articles on old-time radio for Wikipedia and edited countless others. You be the judge.)
“I grew up when old-time radio was current,” he said. “Before we had a TV set, I listened to it with my parents live.”
Now, he listens via internet streaming, downloads or self-made CDs. In earlier days, he collected reel-to-reel tapes and then cruised through the cassette era after the recorders could no longer be repaired. On road trips, he and his wife, Lynda, still listen to CDs – most probably mystery or detective shows because they’re his favorites.
When I asked him about “War of the Worlds,” he was familiar with every single fact I cited, including the view that the Welles-inspired panic was not as widespread as originally reported. He even knew the asserted reason for what was perhaps misleading reporting: that newspapers had wanted to cast aspersions on the new medium because it was siphoning off advertising.
But I digress. Suffice it to say that I now plan to download or stream several old-time radio shows – maybe the ones that later inspired TV series and movies, such as “Gunsmoke,” “My Favorite Husband” (the precursor to “I Love Lucy”), “The Adventures of Superman” and, naturally, “The War of the Worlds.”
Eddie says you’ll find a plethora of shows on archive.org, otrr.org (Old-Time Radio Researchers Discipline) or even YouTube. So why not join me?
You’ve got only about 24 hours to bone up on (ha – a Halloween skeleton pun) the most celebrated Halloween broadcast of all time. You wouldn’t want to run out of conversation at tomorrow’s Halloween party, would you?
Please eschew the luminous heebie-jeebies
I’m falling down on the job. But hopefully, you haven’t noticed.
You see, I keep a computer file of column ideas, rather skeletally sketched out. At the top of the list, though, is a mere inventory of words I’d like to use in future columns. Oh, I know, we writers aren’t supposed to eagerly search our thesauri. But if you’re a word-lover – a logophile, if you will – a sesquipedalian word every now and then doesn’t hurt.
Currently, only two words remain in my list, so that means either I’m a good girl for having used all the other words, or I’m on the naughty list for being too lazy to add additional entries.
Oddly enough, the two remaining words both begin with “e”: “eschew” and “ethereal.” I don’t know – maybe I was reading the dictionary one day, like Daddy used to do, and happened to stop in the “e’s”. Or maybe life is just strange.
By the way, here are some words I’ve already utilized in the past 17 months of column writing: “brouhaha” (used once), “Lilliputian” (used once) and “plethora” (used twice, which my former students will appreciate as they know it’s one of my favorites).
Actually, working with words has been a key part of my life for more than 40 years, beginning with majoring in journalism in 1970. Later, while a journalism professor at Louisiana Tech, I discussed with my feature writing students how to achieve colorful writing. We addressed connotation and rhythm, strong verbs and concrete nouns, and rhetorical devices from allusion and alliteration to onomatopoeia and zeugma.
I loved that section of the course. I’d employ a plethora (!) of methods to pique students’ interest. It didn’t matter if sources were from decades earlier, as long as the examples were good. I’d trot out Mark Twain, for instance, who’d implore: “Don’t say the old lady screamed. Bring her out and let her scream.”
I also introduced students to Wilfred John Funk, president of Funk & Wagnalls encyclopedia company from 1925-1940. He coined a list of “The Ten Most Beautiful Words in the English Language,” in regard to both sound and meaning: dawn, hush, lullaby, murmuring, tranquil, mist, luminous, chimes, golden and melody.
As a bonus, I’d then use that moment to acquaint students with “Look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls!” from the 1960s TV show “Laugh In.”
I even drew upon “Late Show with David Letterman.” For whatever reason, for years I remembered two of the “Top Ten Words That Sound Great When Spoken by James Earl Jones.” Each year, I would quote them to my students in my best James Earl Jones voice, drawing out each syllable: “mellifluous” … and … “heebie-jeebies.”
Incidentally, I just looked up the rest of that list and even got to listen to James Earl himself pronounce them. A new favorite: “verisimilitude.” Just because it was “Late Night,” of course, they threw in “guppy,” “pinhead” and “Oprah.” (Yeah, they still sounded pretty good when J.E. pronounced them, but I don’t think they’re going into my computer list.)
While cruising the internet, I also found a series of books I never knew existed – 12 volumes that list 100 words for this or that. I’m putting on my Christmas list “100 Words Every Word Lover Should Know.” For future years: “100 Words Almost Everyone Mixes Up or Mangles” and “100 Words to Make You Sound Smart.” But I don’t think I’ll be ordering “100 Words Every Middle Schooler Should Know.”
Meanwhile, as we approach next Thursday, one particular word comes to mind:
– noun: the expression of gratitude, especially to God.
Hearing the thumpety-thump of Christmas
I must admit: I cringed when I saw the glut of Christmas decorations and paraphernalia in the big box stores before Halloween. I winced when I witnessed the Hershey’s Holiday Bells ringing several weeks ago on their seasonal commercial. (But that lead bell’s clearing its throat is the cutest thing.) And I chided the folks whose house was suddenly outlined in white – more than a week before Thanksgiving.
As a child of the ’50s and ’60s, I agreed with my mother, who thought it odd that her hairdresser put up the Christmas tree on Thanksgiving afternoon. We couldn’t understand why Linda was that wild about moving from one holiday to the next at supersonic speed.
Yet somehow, through the last few days, this year is shaping up differently for me.
When I first heard the all-day, all-Christmas music on one particular radio station – starting a couple of weeks ago – I didn’t utter the words, but they were in my heart: Bah humbug! What I did say was, “I can’t believe they’re playing all this Christmas music already.”
Almost before the words exited my mouth, though, my heart did a funny little pitter-patter. I realized I was actually enjoying what I was hearing.
Then a week or so ago when my husband and I drove past the house with the snowy-white silhouette, I complained, “They’re putting up decorations too soon.”
“I like it,” he countered. “It’s pretty.” Glancing over to observe the sight more studiously, I had to concur. Curiously, that little pitter-patter happened again.
The denouement occurred when I saw a post on Facebook from one of my former students, Louisiana Tech journalism graduate Sarah Morrison Stephens, owner and publisher of Alabama’s Elmore/Autauga News. She wrote:
“Once upon a time there was a lady who learned that her son was going to be deployed over the Christmas holidays. So the family decided to celebrate early. In September, actually. They went all out, putting up a tree and decorating their house. People complained. How dare they start celebrating Christmas even before Thanksgiving … and blah, blah, blah.
“Many years ago, my work schedule did not allow me to get home at Christmas. Two months after Christmas when I did make it home, my mother still had up her tree, and her blue angel was lit in the front yard when I drove up. She had a lot of questions about it from neighbors, and I am sure that someone complained. But it meant so much to me that my mother’s Christmas was not complete until her baby came home.”
Bam. The pitter-patter became full-scale thumping.
Next year I probably still won’t watch the Hallmark Channel’s Christmas movies that begin in October. And I won’t press my husband to put up our meager Christmas lights in early November.
But I’ll eagerly await the radio’s first playing of “Please Come Home for Christmas,” which for me – since the 1960s – has somehow always signaled the start of the holiday season. I won’t even mind if that moment occurs Nov. 10.
I’m even into the holiday spirit enough to (successfully) urge my husband, Hooshang Khorasani, to give a 30 percent discount on all his original paintings during the upcoming Holiday Arts Tour. What better time to do so? It’s the 20th anniversary of the event, set for Dec. 1-2 in downtown Ruston as well as at Hooshang’s and Doug Walton’s studios. See the Holiday Arts Tour 2017 Facebook event for details.
When you walk in the studio door, I might even greet you with what’s now my signature tag line for the season: Gubmuh hab!
Afternoon shadows and twilight amblings
During a performance by my chorus last Sunday night, one of my singing sisters experienced a strange phenomenon. And, no, I’m not talking about the woman on the back row who got faint and had to sit down on the floor while we were singing. (You know, the show must go on.)
I’m talking about one of my chorus-mates who was standing in front of me. She has only partial hearing in one ear, but she’s so accustomed to the sensation that it doesn’t bother her. Only thing is, Sunday night – unbeknownst to her – the chorus member near her good ear was just lip-syncing because of left-over cold symptoms.
Singing Sister #1 thought she was going almost totally deaf.
But, again, the show must go on, and she performed like the trouper that she is.
After the performance, I shared with her a similar incident. My optometrist said I’m doing a pretty good job of developing a cataract in my left eye but that it’s still several years away from surgery. I believed him – I mean, why shouldn’t I?
About two weeks ago, however, while driving at night I mused, “Man, I’m really having a hard time seeing the left side of the road. My cataract must be getting worse faster than expected.”
I was briefly chagrined but figured, “Well, it’s gonna happen sooner or later. I’ll just tell the doctor about it during my check-up in January.” And I kept on a-truckin’.
Then a couple of days ago when I hit the auto-open button on my car’s key fob, I noticed the left headlight was out. Whew. Ophthalmological crisis averted.
It reminded me of another chorus experience – intertwined with another eye experience. Several years ago I was rushing around, trying to get to rehearsal on time, and as I hastily settled my glasses onto my nose, I realized, “I can’t see! Everything is blurry. I must be having a small stroke.”
But it was one of the final rehearsals before a really big show so I reasoned, “I’ve just got to go anyway. Hmmmm … Wonder if I can see well enough to drive.”
Through the mists of time I can’t remember exactly what happened next, but at some point I comprehended: I had on my husband’s glasses. Another “whew” and another chorus/sensory crisis averted.
Those of you out there who are of a certain age may have experienced similar phenomena. At my ladies service group meeting Tuesday night, one woman who is younger and more agile than I am said she recently told the doctor, “Every day something hurts. It just depends on what day it is what part of my body is aching.” Ouch. I feel for her. I really do.
Actually, things like this have me pondering my own mortality. One of my favorite times of day is late afternoon when I look out the dining room window onto our tree-studded hill. I love the way the shadows are less distinct than at mid-day, how they sometimes sway slightly in the breeze in abstract, mutable, exceedingly lovely shapes.
Likewise, my favorite time to walk is at sunset, dusk or twilight. It’s almost magical. I much prefer the later hours than sunrise or full daylight and its UV-bearing rays.
So, I ask myself, if these environmental occurrences are so delightful, why do we get so worked up about aging? There’s beauty in the afternoon and evening as well as the morning and mid-day.
That quotation that often makes its way to Facebook speaks volumes to me: “Do not regret growing older. It is a privilege denied to many.”
Nature abhors a vacuum and holes in lives
When it rains, it pours. Or as we found out recently, when it snows, drifts can pile up.
A couple of weeks ago I was without both a computer and my eye glasses. That meant I could communicate by email and call up websites only on my ancient Iphone 4. And I couldn’t even sign into many sites because my list of passwords was stored in my catatonic laptop.
It felt akin to when our old-fashioned phone would go out in the pre-cell days. Even though I may not have wanted to call anyone before the outage, suddenly when unable to actually perform that feat, I became discombobulated.
I got anxious. Restless. Ill at ease. Out of sorts. I felt isolated. At loose ends. Marooned.
You get the picture.
The same thing happened while I was growing up and the electricity went out. When you live in the country – at least back when I was young – an ice storm almost always meant several days without electricity.
Cue the list from above.
Now, consider that this recent lack of a computer was combined with an absence of glasses, and the effect was magnified (even though the things I was looking at were not).
I couldn’t even drive – another loss – because my operating a motor vehicle depends on my wearing corrective lenses. Unfortunately, it had turned out that my “newest” pair of glasses that I thought I could use while my others were in the shop actually made me see worse than no glasses at all.
Need I say cue the uneasy list again?
After a week, of course, my glasses were once more perched on my nose. I could see and I could drive. Then, after just three days, my computer made its way home as well, and I could easily surf the web and email again.
Nonetheless, on that bitterly cold morning last week, another discombobulation occurred.
While trying to head to a doctor’s appointment, after frantically searching the house for the car keys, I finally found them in the ignition, ever so slightly turned to the “on” position. They had been left there two days earlier. Needless to say, the battery was depleted.
“Let’s just take the Jeep,” I told my husband. What I hadn’t counted on, however, was the thick sheet of ice accumulated on the windshield.
“Let’s try the van,” he said tentatively. His cargo van was inside the garage but hadn’t been driven in a while.
We were right to be dubious. When Hooshang tried to crank it, the engine barely turned over. But he persevered, and we kept the appointment.
They say things occur in threes, so I hope I’ve reached my limit for now: the computer, the glasses and the SUV.
As usual, all these events set me to thinking. When my life (dare I say “our lives”?) develops a hole in it, even regarding mundane things, I feel the void keenly. I – we – somehow feel empty.
But what if the vacuum is something we’re not even noticing? That we haven’t even really perceived?
How many times have I gone days without letting God speak to me through his word? Did I feel as much emptiness as I did without my computer? Or my glasses?
How many times have I not talked to God as steadily as I should? Did I miss that relationship as much as I recently missed my car? Or as much as electricity in bygone ice storms?
In considering this, I’m not pointing a finger. I’m just asking – about myself. But is it possible that you could have questions, too?
Revisiting the powers of positive thinking
If you had been a fly on the wall of my chorus director’s house recently, you’d have witnessed her dumping a basketful of small paper pieces into a metal container in the sink and then setting them ablaze.
“Is she secretly a pyromaniac?” you, the fly, would probably have wondered. “What’s going on?”
Well, you, the person, can actually view the event – and its explanation – on our chorus Facebook page, Piney Hills Harmony / Sweet Adelines International, because our director, Sheila Nugent, videotaped the event.
The premise was simple. Each chorus member wrote down one negative thought she had about herself and put that piece of paper into the basket. Then with the flick of a utility lighter, the negativity went up in smoke.
You see, our chorus is undergoing a positive-thinking campaign as we approach our regional competition March 17. Out with the negative, in with the positive. The next week we all wrote down one positive thought in the present tense, as if it were already a reality, such as “I am an excellent singer.” Or “I can do choreography.”
The inspiration for this positivity campaign came from a workshop in Dallas conducted by the director of the No. 1 Sweet Adeline group in the world, Sweden’s Rönninge Show Chorus. Britt-Helene Bonnedahl spoke of mental strength and how to attain it, of creating a positive-zone culture, of winning attitudes, of the power of shared thoughts. Now, really, who wouldn’t want to take part in that?
I’m one of the facilitators for this local campaign, and life, as it often does, has offered the chance to practice what I preach.
I’ve had a hard time getting one of the contest songs under my belt. Oh, I could sing it well enough by myself or with the learning aid that features my part predominantly. But when singing with the other three parts or when trying to add the choreography, the correct baritone notes just vanished. (I even helped create the choreo, so it’s not as if I don’t know the moves.)
I have therefore found myself creating new personal affirmations: “I am singing the uptune well” … “I am singing and doing choreo at the same time in excellent fashion” … “I am ready to ‘wow’ the judges.”
Again, life is backing me up.
One of our newest chorus members, Michelle Jones, just posted to Facebook a saying from Joyce Meyer: “Being negative only makes a difficult journey more difficult. You may be given a cactus, but you don’t have to sit on it.” Bingo.
Another Facebook friend and also a neighbor from childhood, Karen Howard Stephens, just posted a link to “Power of a Positive Attitude” from the blog boundblessings.com by Madison Bloker. I now have it bookmarked.
The healthy living site sparkpeople.com sent me the email “50 Ways to Be Happy.” Copy that.
Of course, I realize that sometimes it’s not as easy as literally torching your negative thoughts, as creating an affirmation, as reading someone’s positive Facebook post or blog. We sometimes need to talk to a professional; we sometimes need medication – for either physical or mental ailments; and it sometimes takes a long time to battle through our circumstances. But it can be done. We all need to believe that.
And even though the research has largely been debunked that said amazing leaps in confidence can occur after striking a power pose for two minutes per day, I still like to assume the stance at times. So here goes. I’m planting my feet widely, I’m stretching my arms overhead in a V shape and I’m smiling to beat the band.
My tale as a polio epidemic survivor
During the horrible polio epidemic that peaked in the 1950s, I became one of the victims. But since then, thank God, I’ve been the picture of health.
For those who lived through the epidemic, today’s coronavirus pandemic is hauntingly familiar. An unseen, highly infectious attacker is spreading fear and wreaking havoc.
Mirroring today, swimming pools and movie theaters in the ’40s and ’50s were closed. Playgrounds lay dormant. Families were quarantined. Invitations to birthday parties remained unsent except – and I never understood this – Mama took me to “Happiness Exchange,” an on-air children’s birthday party sponsored by KNOE-TV in Monroe.
She always figured that’s where I caught the virus, and I’ve often wondered if she blamed herself, even though I never did.
I became ill in 1955. That’s ironic because the creation of a successful vaccine against polio was announced that year. As the news was broadcast on both radio and television, church bells resounded across the nation.
And I lay in an Alexandria hospital. I was 3 years old.
For some reason, the day I got sick was unusual in more ways than one. I wasn’t staying with my regular day-care provider, “Miss Annis” Smith. I was at her daughter Erma Jean Richardson’s house, and when normally hungry little Sallie Rose wouldn’t eat breakfast, Erma Jean knew something was wrong.
I remember tales that, later that day, Daddy was sitting on the breadbox at the Rocky Branch store, and someone – probably Mr. Rob Smith, the only person in the village with a telephone – came up and said, “Flavil, go home. Sallie Rose has polio.” Again, I often wonder. Was there terror in Daddy’s eyes? Perhaps tears? All I know is that my whole life, I was his “Babe.”
I remained in the hospital for a month. The memories are few, but poignant.
The watch on the nurse’s arm as she held me during the spinal tap (Mama said I screamed). I loved the way the second hand moved.
The huge hospital room with rows of beds. The pretty little blonde beside me didn’t make it.
Being inserted into a big metal machine. Because I came out of the polio experience relatively unscathed, I just couldn’t imagine, until recently, that it really was an iron lung.
The small black boy – a fellow patient – whom I kissed on the cheek when I left. I always cherished that experience.
Mama repeatedly told me that three forms of polio exist and I had contracted the least dangerous kind. From what I’ve recently read, though, I think I probably had the second-most dangerous. The third type is the one that leaves you paralyzed – or kills you.
Now, I can’t even tell you which of my legs was affected. I’m just glad it turned out that way. I mean, I’m so spoiled that when I got home Mama and Daddy didn’t make me wear my corrective shoes because I thought they were so ugly. What hutzpah for a 3-year-old. The exercises on the kitchen table were cut short, too. I wasn’t a fan.
Regardless, I’ve journeyed through life with virtually no after-effects.
As a polio survivor, I’m a member of a non-elitist club. The World Health Organization estimates 10 to 20 million of us are alive worldwide. At its peak in the 1940s and 1950s, each year polio paralyzed or killed over half a million people globally. But since 1979 the United States has been polio free.
That’s the news I want to spread. The COVID-19 cure is coming. Maybe not this year. Or next. But it will come. We are resilient. There is hope.