A Picture Tells a Story

A picture tells a story.

At the end of every year since I got an Instagram account, I go back through all the photos I posted for that year. Recently I went back through my Instagram photos for 2019, and I truly realized that some of the pictures really tell stories.

My first post for 2019 was a photo at the Charlotte airport…not much of a story except that we were starting vacation…meeting friends from Ohio in LA. But the next picture, a photo of me and my friend from Ohio, Jenn, tells a real story.

img_9558

Sure, looking at the photo above, all you see is two friends on a chilly day with the Pacific Ocean in the background. But what I see is love. Having just survived the first anniversary of my mother’s death (she died December 30, 2017), I was still reeling. I was feeling lost. And then we arrived in Los Angeles, and Jenn and her daughter arrived. After telling her what a terrible day that first anniversary on December 30 had been (there were additional factors at play)…and crying…Jenn made me feel better. Jenn, the perpetual ray of sunshine, hugged me, listened to me, and made me feel loved. So every time I come across that one single photo that looks completely nondescript and meaningless to everyone else in the world, I remember how much better she made me feel. I can look at my face in that picture and see the pain melting away. I see the relief in my eyes and in my face. That picture reminds me that good friends are hard to find. And that picture reminds me that when we find good friends like Jenn, we need to keep them.

There are other photos from 2019 that stand out for me. In fact, any photos I post on Instagram, I share for a reason…maybe I think they’re funny or cute…maybe I want to share something cool…or maybe there’s another meaning behind the picture. Of course, when I posted the picture of me and Jenn, I had no idea how powerful the picture was for me. It was only when I was looking through pictures a few months later that I saw it again, and the meaning behind it floored me. Instagram photos certainly tell stories…maybe not to the casual observer, but to the originator of the post. Most of my photos tell stories of family, friendship, and love. And then there are some that tell different stories…like this photo of me and my daughter in front of Mars Cheese Castle in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

The story? In 2015, I took a crazy road trip with my friend, Mary Ann, and our kids. We spent a few nights in Chicago, and while we were there, I had hoped to get the kids up to Wisconsin…just so they could add another state to their list of “states visited.” There was a Six Flags amusement park we could have visited just over the line, but that would have taken too much time, so instead, I suggested Mars Cheese Castle, a giant cheese store shaped like…you guessed it…a castle. We never made it in 2015, and I regretted it. So in 2019, when I was in Chicago with my daughter and one of her friends, we made a quick trip up to Kenosha to visit Mars Cheese Castle. You can see how happy I was!

Those are just a couple of examples of how pictures tell stories, but I can look at every picture on my Instagram account and remember stories and conversations behind them. Right now, though, I keep going back to that picture of me and Jenn. I need to call her and thank her for being a good friend.

 

Take Ten Seconds

A friend just shared on Facebook a video of Mr. Rogers accepting a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Daytime Emmy Awards in 1997. In his acceptance speech, the beloved Mr. Rogers asks if everyone will take “just 10 seconds to think about the people who have helped you become who you are…the ones who cared about you and wanted what was best for you in life.” And he silently keeps time on his watch…just ten seconds to think of the people who helped you become who you are. You can see a clip here.

I loved Mr. Rogers. It’s no secret. My friends have known that for years. In Pittsburgh a few years ago, I forced everyone in my party to visit the Heinz History Center to see the Mr. Rogers exhibit…some of the pieces from his television show. I was happy. I looked at all of it and thought how much my little girl self would have loved to see it all in person back in the 1970s. Mr. Rogers was a part of my childhood. If you are close to my age, he was likely a part of your childhood too. You likely know the theme song for his show. You likely remember some of the characters from The Neighborhood of Make Believe. Sure, we sometimes made fun of Mr. Rogers and his cardigans and practical shoes, but we all learned something from him.

And as it turns out, Mr. Rogers, in his acceptance speech, was still affecting people. In fact, he’s still affecting us today. That very video made me stop and think about something I hadn’t thought about before…the people who helped me become who I am.

For me, there are many…my parents, my family, some of my teachers, my college friends, other friends…you know, the usual. I won’t name any names, but there are other people who helped me become who I am, and some of them did not do it intentionally. You know who really helped me become who I am? People with whom I had a disagreement of some sort. Seriously. Think about that. When you have a disagreement with someone, it changes who you are…hopefully for the better. And I truly believe that, when I’ve had disagreements with folks, I have been introspective afterward…thinking about where I might have been right and where I might have been wrong. There are also people with whom I had a chance encounter…maybe they helped me carry my groceries; maybe they blessed my day; maybe they stopped me from doing something stupid; or maybe they encouraged me to take a risk I wouldn’t normally have taken. The list is long.

But the list of people who have cared about me along the way? I have a small family, so that list is not particularly long. I have some great friends with whom I will be friends till I die. And I’ve had other friends who aren’t still around, but they cared about me at some point, and I cared about them…and deep down inside, I truly care about anyone who was my friend at one time. Truth. And even if they don’t care about me, they still shaped me in some way.

I’m a firm believer that everyone we encounter affects us and shapes us in some way…maybe it’s a positive and maybe it’s a negative.

So stop and think about the people who have made you who you are. Sure, some of them cared about you. Some of them just affected you in a chance encounter. Be restrospective and introspective. And then, get out and go see A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers. Just seeing the movie trailer makes me cry, so when I go see it, I’ll have lots of tissues. I plan to see it within the next few days.

Daddy’s Birthday

“Tough row to hoe.” I’ve heard it my whole life. My daddy loved idioms, and “tough row to hoe” was one of his favorites, and sometimes he would say it as “long row to hoe.” Either way, it means someone is facing a difficult situation. If you’ve never been on a farm, you might not get it, but to “hoe a row” on a farm means you’re turning the soil in a row for planting.

Someone might say, “They have a long/tough row to hoe cleaning up the Bahamas after the recent hurricane.” You get it.

I thought of that just now, because I’m watching a news show, and one of the commenters said “tough ROAD to hoe.” That would have driven Daddy crazy. Who ever heard of using a hoe (the farm implement) on a ROAD?!? It is clear that commenter hasn’t ever spent any time on a farm.

Daddy’s birthday is today…his 81st birthday, but he is no longer with us. He died 2 1/2 weeks after his 68th birthday….pancreatic cancer. I’ve written about him before, and I’ve written about the misery we all experienced as he suffered. I don’t like to dwell on that, though. I like to think about the things Daddy taught me and the things we all learned from his illness.

For many years, on his birthday, I remembered the illness, the suffering, the sadness, but I am finally at the point that I remember happy, healthy times. I remember how he laughed…something I couldn’t recall for a long time. He did love to laugh, and he loved to tell stories. Most of all, he loved to tell stories that made us laugh.

And that’s one thing we learned from Daddy during his illness: laughter can cure a lot of ills. It can’t cure cancer, but it sure can make it easier. He said it. He wanted us to keep laughing with him as much as we could. We talked about old times. We laughed about old stories. My brother told his usual crazy stories. Having my then-two-year-old daughter and my brother’s then-eight-year-old twins around helped too. They gave him something to smile about. He loved those grandchildren. When we were growing up, he had to travel for work a lot, so he wasn’t able to enjoy us as much, but after he retired, he got to spend time with his grandchildren…and that brought him great joy.

Incredibly, we have a lot of happy memories from his illness. He turned 68 a few weeks before he died. His brothers and sister came over to Alabama from Florida to be with him on his birthday. He didn’t know they were coming, and when we awoke from a nap to find them standing in his room, he looked around and said, “Well, this is a motley crew!” We have laughed about that for years. In fact, I recently visited his oldest brother in a rehab facility (he broke a hip) in Florida, and I reminded him of that moment…and we laughed again.

But I have lots of happy memories of Daddy in general. When we were little and living in Brewton, Alabama, he would take us to the “candy store” on Saturdays. It was really a locally owned convenience store called Murphy’s. In fact, now that I think about it, we only called it the “candy store” on Saturdays. The rest of the time, we called it “Murphy’s.”  Sometimes, he would take us to fly kites in a nearby pasture. I remember holding the kite string one time, and of course, I accidentally let it go. I can still see Daddy chasing it and catching it! He took us fishing at the pond in our neighborhood and cleaned the fish we caught. Mother would fry it up in the kitchen afterward. He helped us climb high up in the sycamore tree in our backyard. He rode a tandem bicycle with us. We had a lot of fun.

And when I was an adult, he helped me whenever I needed it. Heartbreak? Call Daddy. Bad day at work? Call Daddy. Stressed out about a test in college? Call Daddy. Sometimes, I just needed to talk. Sometimes, I needed him to “rescue” me when I had a flat tire or a car accident. And whenever I visited my parents, he always gave me WAM (walking around money) as I left. It was usually $20 or $40, but I was happy to have it, and he was happy to give it to me. In truth, we were always fortunate to know Daddy was our safety net…emotionally and financially.

Just like Mother, Daddy loved the happy faces of sunflowers. Most of my Mammoth Sunflowers have already bloomed this year, but there is one that’s holding out. Incredibly, one of my Evening Sun Sunflowers started opening today…the first of that variety to open. I’m in New York, but I called my husband in Charlotte and asked him to walk outside and see if it was opening, and it is…on Daddy’s Birthday. It made my day when he sent the picture of the bloom just beginning to open.

We have lots of great memories of Daddy. His laughter was contagious, and his sense of humor was awesome. His strength was unrivaled, and his love for his family was great.  I hope God lets him get little glimpses of his beautiful grandchildren. He would be so proud of them. And I remind them all the time that Big Ken (as they called him) would want them to enjoy life…sure, save for a rainy day, but enjoy today.

Happy 81st Birthday to Daddy in Heaven.

 

*****

The Moon Belongs to Everyone

The moon belongs to everyone…the best things in life are free.

That line is from the song, The Best Things in Life Are Free, which was written in 1927 for the musical, Good News. I wrote it down a few weeks ago when I was watching an episode of Mad Men in which the ghost of one of the characters, Bert Cooper, sings the song and dances in front of Don Draper. It’s one of the most memorable scenes from the series. You can see the clip from Mad Men here.While I was on vacation this week, I was reminded of it.

We were in Cancun for Spring Break, and every night, the moon was glorious over the water!img_1689-e1553395245246.jpg

Years ago, my parents lived near Mobile, Alabama. I live in Charlotte now and lived here then too, but whenever there was a beautiful moon high in the sky, Daddy would call me and tell me to walk outside and look at the moon. We would talk on the phone while staring at the exact same object while we were hundreds of miles apart.

Daddy died in October of 2006. That night, as I drove from my parents’ home to our bayside condo, I looked up at the moon in the sky and thought, “Daddy will never see the moon again. He won’t be here to see anything that happens after this date.” It made me sad to think about that, but it was also comforting to know that every time I looked at the moon, I would think of him.

After Daddy died, my brother started referring to a big, full moon as Big Ken’s Moon. Both our parents are gone now, but every now and then, my brother will send me a picture of the moon high in the sky, and I know he and I are thinking of Daddy at that same moment.

When my brother was helping with cleanup efforts after a tornado wreaked havoc on his town in Alabama, he sent me a picture of the moon in the background while the were working. I knew what he was thinking…Daddy was with him in spirit.

img_2067

Moon over tornado damage. Big Ken’s Moon

Yes, the moon does belong to everyone, and yes, the best things in life are free….including that moon. You know some more great things in life that are free?

  • Sunshine. Yep, it’s free. It warms us up and helps flowers grow…and it’s free!
  • Love…also free. I love my family and friends, and I expect nothing in exchange for that love. It’s free.
  • Faith. Faith is free. I won’t get into the meaning of faith, but if you have it, you know  you have it…and it’s free.
  • Rainbows. Also free. Walk outside after a storm. Sometimes you’ll find a rainbow. God’s promise…it’s free.
  • Laughter…free. Nothing makes me feel better than laughter. Having a good laugh is “the best medicine,” and that medicine is free.
  • Hugs…hugs are free, and somewhere I read that hugs help lower blood pressure and decrease stress.

There are lots more great things in life that are free. Get out there and enjoy some free stuff. I’ll be looking for the moon.

 

 

 

 

 

*

 

The Moon Belongs to Everyone

The moon belongs to everyone…the best things in life are free.

That line is from the song, The Best Things in Life Are Free, which was written in 1927 for the musical, Good News. I wrote it down a few weeks ago when I was watching an episode of Mad Men in which the ghost of one of the characters, Bert Cooper, sings the song and dances in front of Don Draper. It’s one of the most memorable scenes from the series. You can see the clip from Mad Men here.While I was on vacation this week, I was reminded of it.

We were in Cancun for Spring Break, and every night, the moon was glorious over the water!img_1689-e1553395245246.jpg

Years ago, my parents lived near Mobile, Alabama. I live in Charlotte now and lived here then too, but whenever there was a beautiful moon high in the sky, Daddy would call me and tell me to walk outside and look at the moon. We would talk on the phone while staring at the exact same object while we were hundreds of miles apart.

Daddy died in October of 2006. That night, as I drove from my parents’ home to our bayside condo, I looked up at the moon in the sky and thought, “Daddy will never see the moon again. He won’t be here to see anything that happens after this date.” It made me sad to think about that, but it was also comforting to know that every time I looked at the moon, I would think of him.

After Daddy died, my brother started referring to a big, full moon as Big Ken’s Moon. Both our parents are gone now, but every now and then, my brother will send me a picture of the moon high in the sky, and I know he and I are thinking of Daddy at that same moment.

When my brother was helping with cleanup efforts after a tornado wreaked havoc on his town in Alabama, he sent me a picture of the moon in the background while the were working. I knew what he was thinking…Daddy was with him in spirit.

img_2067

Moon over tornado damage. Big Ken’s Moon

Yes, the moon does belong to everyone, and yes, the best things in life are free….including that moon. You know some more great things in life that are free?

  • Sunshine. Yep, it’s free. It warms us up and helps flowers grow…and it’s free!
  • Love…also free. I love my family and friends, and I expect nothing in exchange for that love. It’s free.
  • Faith. Faith is free. I won’t get into the meaning of faith, but if you have it, you know  you have it…and it’s free.
  • Rainbows. Also free. Walk outside after a storm. Sometimes you’ll find a rainbow. God’s promise…it’s free.
  • Laughter…free. Nothing makes me feel better than laughter. Having a good laugh is “the best medicine,” and that medicine is free.
  • Hugs…hugs are free, and somewhere I read that hugs help lower blood pressure and decrease stress.

There are lots more great things in life that are free. Get out there and enjoy some free stuff. I’ll be looking for the moon.

 

 

 

 

 

*

 

Saying Goodbye To Celebrities

Yesterday, we got the news that Luke Perry of Beverly Hills, 90210 fame had died after suffering a massive stroke last week. Friends all over Facebook were posting about how sad they are. They were posting about how Dylan McKay, his character on the show, was their “first love.” And I get it…

When the original Beverly Hills, 90210 debuted, I had been out of college for a year. I was working for an airline and living in Atlanta. It premiered on October 4, 1990. I was 23 years old, and life was good! The target audience for the show was teenagers. I was older than most of their viewers, I think, but I loved it! Who didn’t want to live in Beverly Hills then? Heck, I want to live in Beverly Hills now! If you’ve never seen the show, you can start with the pilot on Amazon Prime Video here.

I’m not surprised to see how many people are mourning the loss of Luke Perry/Dylan McKay. It’s sad. He was only 52. And I’ve done it lots of times…felt sadness at the loss of a celebrity. I felt it when Prince died a few years ago…I was having lunch with my friend, Linda, at Fenwick’s in Charlotte, when we heard the news. Sometimes, we remember where we were when we heard the news, because strong emotions lock events into long-term memory. I’ve learned that the hard way; my husband has no short term memory (a tumor and brain surgery to remove it), but he has long-term memory.

I’m not a psychologist, but I’ve thought about how we mourn celebrities, and I’ve decided that when I’m mourning a celebrity’s death, I’m not really mourning the loss of the individual as much as I’m mourning the loss of a certain time in my life. I didn’t really know the people. I knew how they made me feel. Maybe sometimes, we mourn the fact that we never got to meet the celebrity, but we don’t really know these people. I can’t speak for everyone else, but I think, when I mourn a celebrity, it’s because I’m mourning the loss of a time in life, or because I never got to meet the person.

For example, I hadn’t kept up with country singer Roy Clark’s career over the last couple of decades, but when I heard he had died last year, I was sad. Roy Clark was one of the hosts of Hee Haw, a show we watched when I was a little girl. Lots of kids watched Hee Haw in the 70s…maybe it was just southern kids, but people watched it. If, right now, I started singing, “Where, oh where, are you tonight…” people my age would chime in. Someone from my generation would immediately sing, “Why did you leave me here all alone?” We all remember getting excited about that segment of the show… and the raspberry in the song. To see it, click here. Roy Clark, as the Hee Haw host, was part of our childhood.

When Dean Martin died in 1995, I reminisced about his variety show that I loved watching as a child. Of course, watching those episodes as an adult, I realize I probably didn’t get most of the jokes, but I enjoyed the show. And I thought Dean Martin was handsome. In fact, I still swoon when I watch videos of him. His death is one I mourn because I’ll never get to meet him.

Penny Marshall…Laverne from Laverne and Shirley. When I heard she had died this past year, I was transported back to third grade, singing, “1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8…schlemiel! schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!” You can see it here. I still make references to Laverne and Shirley regularly. When Penny Marshall died, I lost a piece of childhood.

Marlin Perkins died in 1986. Who is that? If you were born around the same time I was or before, you likely remember him as the host of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. If his show hadn’t aired right before The Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday nights, children likely wouldn’t have known who he was, but when he died in 1986, children who were born in the 60s and early 70s remembered spending Sunday nights in front of the TV, watching Marlin Perkins tell Jim Fowler to approach an animal or two. Mother let us have TV dinners on Sunday nights…and only on Sunday nights…while we watched those two shows. Of course, we had to pick our TV dinners from the grocery store on Saturday, because back then, in Alabama, grocery stores weren’t open on Sundays, due to blue laws.

When Patrick Swayze died, I mourned his death, because he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer the year after my daddy died from the same disease. I didn’t know Patrick Swayze, but when he was diagnosed, I remembered how terrible it felt when Daddy was diagnosed. Obviously, I didn’t relive the pain of my daddy’s diagnosis, but I knew the pain his family was feeling. When I was in college, we loved watching him in Dirty Dancing, and when he died in 2009, on my daddy’s birthday, September 14, it hurt.

So yes, celebrity deaths affect me, but it’s not because I love them like I love my family. No celebrity death could ever carry the same weight as the death of my family members, but they’re memorable…not because I knew the celebrity, but because they represented a time in my life…a time I can’t return to. Or maybe I’m sad because I never got to meet them.

So, Rest In Peace, Luke Perry/Dylan McKay. You created some great memories for us, and you’ll always be a part of my youth. And apparently, lots of my friends considered you their first love…

 

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

What I Learned in 2018

Every year, I’m glad to see the old year go and ring in a new one. This one is no exception. There are lots of great things that happened in 2018, but there were some not-so-great things too. No matter what happened, I learned a few things along the way (these are things I’m trying to apply to my own life…not preaching to you, per se):

  • Celebrate every year. I don’t mean blow horns and throw confetti at midnight tonight. I mean celebrate every year. Sure, we’re all getting older, but turning 50 or 60 or 70 is a gift. Celebrate your life by living it! As my parents would say, “Life is not a dress rehearsal.” It’s not, folks. Is work important? Yes! But should your entire life be about work? No. Do the things you have always wanted to do. Want to go skydiving? Do it! Want to write a novel? Do it! Want to drive cross-country? Do it! And for the record…only one of those things is something I want to do.
  • Spend money on experiences instead of things. I actually learned this a long time ago, but I stop and think about it regularly. Do you remember most of the things you’ve purchased this year? Probably not. But you likely remember most of the experiences you’ve had. I bought a lot of things this year, and I remember some of them, but I have memories from every experience.
  • Don’t sleep your life away. This is one of those things my parents used to say. This year, I slept through the month of January, after my mother died at the end of December, because that was how I grieved. At the end of that month, though, I knew my mother would be disappointed if I didn’t “pull myself up by my bootstraps.” Sleep used to be one of my hobbies, but every minute you sleep is a minute of your life ticking away. You can’t get it back. Live it, people. Sure, we need sleep, but too much of it is just laziness, unless you have some health issues. And if your napping or frequent sleeping is affecting others by delaying get-togethers or slowing folks down, rethink it. Do you really need that rest? Or it is just laziness? Or selfishness? Don’t be a Lazy Daisy.
  • Be coachable. Nobody knows everything about anything. I certainly have a lot to learn about life, in general. This is one of those things I heard retired Alabama football coach, Gene Stallings, say…be coachable. Listen to others, and actually hear what they say. He talked about how the best players had good attitudes and were good listeners…the ones who did what he, as the coach, wanted them to do, instead of what they wanted to do. Were they always the best ones on the team? Not necessarily, but sometimes, they got to ride the travel bus just because they were coachable. He also said that, as a coach at a high level, he needed to be coachable too. Sometimes, he had to listen to others to learn…and he certainly had to be “coachable” at home. Be coachable in life. Stay in your airplane seat when the seatbelt sign is on. Don’t pass on the double yellow line. All of those “rules” (or laws) are in place for a reason. Someone before us knew we would need to know. Be coachable.
  • Give grieving people a break. If you haven’t lost a loved one, you don’t understand what grieving people are experiencing. Even if you have lost a loved one, you don’t know what someone else is feeling. We all grieve differently. In grief, I lost my mind. Generally speaking, I have a good memory, but not in 2018, after losing my mother in December 2017. And I lost a dear friend six months later. As scary as it sounds, many times I didn’t even know what month it was. I have been angry. I have been sad. I have been hateful. Maybe someone was complaining about something I considered trivial. In grief, I would think, “Really? Who gives a flying fig! My mother just died!” Every emotion I’ve had this year has been amplified tenfold. And I have been forgetful. I have thought on several occasions I might have dementia, but then I realize it is grief. I have been crazy. I have tried to fake it till I make it. I have tried to hold it together for family. But I’m still grieving, and I know that, because when my brother calls to tell me he loves me, I cry. If I forgot something important to you, or if I was unkind, some of it (not all of it) might have been grief. If you have never lost a parent, I hope that if you do, I can help. I will remind you grief makes you crazy. In fact, I’ve wanted to go back and apologize to people I know who experienced it before me…because I didn’t get it. You can laugh or say I’m making excuses if you want, but we all grieve differently, and obviously, mine manifests itself in crazy. A friend texted me yesterday, “Grief sucks.” And she’s right. I like to think I acquired some coping skills after Daddy died, but I’m not sure. You can read all the self-help books about grief, and you still don’t know about another person’s grief, so don’t throw that mumbo jumbo out there. It’s insulting. You might have some understanding, but every person is different. I have a friend who lost both parents a month apart earlier this year, and even though I lost both parents twelve years apart, I cannot even imagine what she must feel. Cut your grieving friends a break, because you do not understand. Grieving people keep putting one foot in front of the other, because we have to, and sometimes, we think we are OK, but then something happens, and we know we are not. Maybe we’re putting on a brave face. And if you think grief ends after one month or six months, you need to know now it does not. I have been more sad the month of December than I was any other month of the past year. I don’t need people to understand that, and frankly, you don’t have to cut me a break, but I will forever cut grieving people a break. 
  • Fake it till you make it. I mentioned this above in my rant about grief. I still believe “fake it till you make it” is good. I still believe you start to feel happier if you act happier. I still believe you might be able to do something if you convince yourself you can. Just trust me on this one. Fake it till you make it.
  • Let it go. The new year is the perfect time to let go of excess baggage. I’m not one of those people who carries anger and resentment, but a lot of folks do. Get over it. It’s hurting you. Someone was snarky to you? Who gives a damn?!?! Move on. That doesn’t even begin to compare to real problems…like losing a loved one. Let it go!

And with that, I bid you a Happy 2019. My daughter and I are meeting friends in Los Angeles on New Year’s Day to celebrate new beginnings. We hope to have fun and laugh and celebrate, because that’s what I want to do this year. I’m kicking 2018 to the curb. I wish I could say I’m kicking grief to the curb too, but only time will help with that.

 

 

 

 

*