“I’ve Got The Memories…”

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The Folks

Vaccinations abound!  We were finally able to celebrate Christmas this past weekend with my parents.  Although masked, I walked into their house in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and gave my mom and dad a BIG, FAT hug.  I’ve seen them a couple of times over the past twelve months but not much, and the only physical connection we’ve had was a slight bootie bump at departure.

My folks are aging, like us all.  They’re pondering a downsize.  This is great news for them!  They will get all of the Christmas eating without nearly as much fuss.  I turned 55 this year, the minimum age for most retirement communities, and if I could get Julie to go, I’d sign up tomorrow.  Food, food, food!  BINGO and a built in Uber.  Who could ask for more? Some even have a a soft ice cream machine with all-you-can-eat sprinkles. My mom will be in heaven.

It may be this year or maybe the next, but they’re considering options which is good I think.

As I watched the seven grandchildren this weekend, I pondered the good times we’ve had on Meadow Wood Road.  And, I pondered the memories from my grandparents’ homes.

One had a screen porch with a black swing, and as I remember it, a patterned orange and green plastic cushion that would withstand nitric acid.  My brother and I would sit on the swing and count the many cars that flew by on Hoffmeyer Road.  We would each pick a color and could only count our colored vehicles. Each car was one point. Most points won. Chad would always choose white.  He’d encourage me to go with my heart – a color that fit my personality – like orange or yellow or purple.  Who wants to count boring white cars?  I’d think to myself.  In an afternoon, he would rack up 80 points rubbing it in as the hours passed by.  I might have one, maybe two if the Dukes of Hazard drove by.

At my other grandparents’ house, I have distinct memories of a powder green naugahyde couch, my brother and I in matching blue silky pajamas my mother had made for us, trying to knit.  My grandmother was a master and looking back on it was likely working to break typical gender roles.  Why couldn’t a boy enjoy knitting?  I concur.  But this boy did not.  It’s actually hard.

As I begin to ponder moving from the house where I raised my girls, occasionally I find a hint of melancholy set in.  The same is true as I think about my parents’ and my grandparents’ homes.  My eldest niece said it best on Saturday, “I have the memories.  That’s all I need.”  Pretty sweet.

CURAD Ouchless

My fiancé, Julie, finally sold her house.  We moved her out this weekend into a temporary place in Charlotte.  Now, it’s my turn.  It’s like dominos – one step forward puts the next in motion.  When we finish, the plan is marriage and ONE house.  After five years of dating, it’s probably time.

I’ve had workmen at my house shoring up odd jobs, and I’ve been cleaning out like a crazy person.  I’ve watched Julie do the same.

It’s interesting what you find – it’s fun, it’s dirty, and sometimes it pierces a heartstring.

Last night I was shoring up the Rubbermaid band aid container.  Does everyone have a band aid box with various shapes and sizes of stick ‘ems and gauze?  In my quest to clean out, I came across an old tin of CURAD Ouchless Bandages.  I started to toss it without looking in.  But that’s not my style.  No, I look in everything to see if there is any feasible reason I might want to save something.  I hate to throw things out – what if I could reuse it?  An old towel could become a new rag.  What if someone else could use it?  My junk is another’s treasure.  What if it conjures up a memory that I might otherwise lose?  A hand drawn card from Michelle dubbing me the “best father” of all time!  That’s like an Oscar for me.

I opened the can and there were no boo-boo strips.  Instead two bills, one dollar and a five.  On the dollar, my grandmother had written:  This bill was in my father’s wallet on the day that he died, July 30, 1965.  On the five the same message but for my great-grandmother, This bill was in mama’s wallet on the day that she died, June 21, 1970.  Also rolled up with the money was a note in my great-grandmother’s writing saying keep this bill always to remember your dad.  I was not yet 1 when my great-grandfather died and only five when his wife passed.  But how cool to have a physical remembrance of their love and our family history.

It is hard to move out of a house that you’ve lived in for nearly thirty years.  The laughs that we’ve had.  The tears that we’ve shed.  The victories and losses.  The weekly totes in of the groceries.  The fall nights on the screen porch.  All are special.  Comfortable.  Warm.

And yet, the danger of gripping so hard to the past is the possibility of foiling the future.  We have to pack our CURAD tins in a cardboard box, and take them with us as we move forward.  Our past can stagnate or add delight to what comes ahead.   I choose delight all day long!

My At Home Physical

It’s time to renew my life insurance.  Gotta have it, but there is nothing fun about the process.

I have a physical every single year where they poke and prod me, why, why is it necessary for the insurance company to repeat the process?  I sign a form releasing my medical records to them.  But they insist on coming to my house to inflict more pain.

Last week, a little old lady strolled up my driveway at 9 AM.  She works for a company that makes house calls.  It’s like Grub Hub but for bodily fluids.

The woman told me she was a retired nurse and took this on as a part time job just for fun.  She had white hair and a suitcase full of syringes and vials.  She asked me six hundred questions, that I’d already answered online, and then asked if I wanted to pee first or have my blood drawn.

I freak out at the sight of needles, and blood, so I chose to get that out of the way. 

“Can you please take it from my hand?  My arm veins like needles less than the rest of me.”

Phlebotomists don’t like hands. 

“It’ll hurt worse that way,” she scolded.

“I’ve been told that before.  But the idea of a hunking piece of medal shoved up the crease of my arm makes me pass out so the hand it will be.”

“Suit yourself.”

I turned on the TV for a distraction.

It didn’t hurt.  It never does.  It’s just the thought of it.  Blood is supposed to be INSIDE you.  Just like your spleen.  I don’t want to see it.

She then gave me a cup and told me to fill it.  At the doctor, you pee in a small container and leave it in a little metal cabinet where it magically disappears.  I had to bring this one back out and hand it to her like I was serving a cup of tea.

“Would you like a sugar cub or dash of cream?”

She didn’t finish it.  I had to pour the leftovers back down the toilet.  I felt like she’d seen a very private part of me.

My home nurse then informed me she had to perform an EKG and told me to remove my shirt.  She lay me on the couch.  Sadly, that day I’d hire men to replace a significant portion of my roof.  As she stood over me, her hands on my bare chest, out of the corner of my eye I saw one of the roofers walk by my back windows.  We made eye contact.  He quickly walked away.

I could only imagine what he was thinking.  I’m grateful she didn’t check my prostate. 

The Vice President

I recently watched a documentary on Prime Video called The Antidote.  It’s about kindness.  Now is probably a good time for all of us to consider that word:  kindness.

Kindness really isn’t about being nice to people you like, it is more active than being polite.  It takes action and perhaps action with people you don’t have that much in common with. 

The Antidote follows several stories of people and organizations that are truly working to serve others.  Two of the stories jumped out at me.

The first is Boston Healthcare for the Homeless, a medical clinic that serves people who live in abject poverty.  The staff walk the streets of Boston finding homeless folks who need medical care.  When they take these people to their clinic, the first thing the medical staff do is wash the patients’ feet.  They actually remove their often damp socks and shoes, get on their knees and soak and WASH their feet.  They say that this act, physically kneeling before these people, changes the dynamics – building trust.

I don’t even like to touch my own feet, much less the feet of someone I don’t know!  Imagine how meaningful that could be to someone who is often overlooked, ignored, or looked down upon.

The other vignette that stood out to me was of a community that has fully embraced people with disabilities.  The Center for Discovery in Sullivan County, NY, provides care for adults and children with the most complex medical disabilities.  One of the participants in the program shares her experience.  She says, “They are listening to what I have to say.”  She then describes a group of about eight friends who convene weekly at the Pickled Owl restaurant.  They call themselves the Self Advocacy Group.  This participant proudly boast:  “I am the Vice President (of the group).”  She is so proud.

I was touched by how simple it is to make someone feel relevant and loved.  Listening – making people feel heard.  It’s not that hard.  And don’t we all want to be the Vice President of something? 

Years ago I was the Sargent at Arms of my 7 AM rotary club.  I hated the early meetings, but dang, I was THE Sargent at Arms!  I bet there aren’t that many people who can boast that they have held that position.

I’m wondering how I, how we, can give more people the opportunity to be the Vice President… of something.  It just can’t be that hard.

Michelle’s College Essay

The youngest, Michelle, is a senior in high school. She has been doing some major essay writing recently. The one below made me laugh. Maybe the apple didn’t fall far from the tree!

This is the prompt from the university:

Beyond your impressive academic credentials and extracurricular accomplishments, what else makes you unique and colorful? We know nobody fits neatly into 500 words or less, but you can provide us with some suggestion of the type of person you are. Anything goes! Inspire us, impress us, or just make us laugh. Think of this optional opportunity as show and tell by proxy and with an attitude.

This is the essay:

       I like to think of myself as the funny sibling in my family. I am the youngest of three girls, and as the youngest I have made it my duty to keep family dinner conversations, holidays, and hangouts exciting. You can always find me carrying a speaker around the house blasting music or convincing my sisters to play my favorite game, the No-Smiling-Game. The rules of the No-Smiling-Game are simple: the players try to make each other laugh while also simultaneously trying not to laugh in the process. No matter how annoying my sisters say the game is, they always give into playing because they know it is a guaranteed laugh. However, most recently I’ve found a new way to entertain my family and me: word mashing. 

            One may ask herself, What in the world is word mashing? Like the No- Smiling-Game, it is just as it sounds, taking two words and mashing them together. I’m not really sure where my word mashing, or as I like to call it “washing”, habits started. I think it was sometime during quarantine when I was extremely bored. I got my sisters in on the joke early on because I was constantly combining words around the house. However, my extended family wasn’t exposed to it until our annual summer vacation to the mountains of West Virginia. 

            The first word mash of the week was random, but in my personal opinion, the best of them all. My grandpa was telling a story about his very close encounter with a bear and mentioned bear territory. So naturally, I created “bearitory.” The beauty of word mashing to me is the accomplishment felt when finding a really good match.  After announcing a new word mash to the family and explaining exactly what word mashing was, everyone got in on the fun. 

One night at dinner my family and I were on a mashing roll. It all started when our waitress announced we were having spaghetti for dinner. The spaghetti noodles and spaghetti sauce came to the table thus “spoodles” and “spauce” were born. My uncle, Jesse, catching onto the trend, added that we were also having a “vedley” for dinner as an alternate way of saying vegetable medley. My 75-year-old grandma even joined in when she was inspired by the toppings on her salad: “Oh! I’ve got one,” she said tentatively, worried her word mash might not meet the high expectations of the experts at the table. She proceeded with caution, “Blumbles? Like blue cheese crumbles?” The entire table busted out into laughter. That night we came up with quite the list of “washes.”           

Throughout the week the list grew. Each day brought dozens of new and brilliant mashes to add to the collection. We even created a sort of point system for our new game. For example, the more obscure the word mash the more points earned. Additionally, if the word mash included two large words put together or if it consisted of two innocent words that sounded inappropriate, such as dill pickles (I’ll leave it at that), there was extra credit.

Once we left West Virginia, it was hard to return to a world where word mashing wasn’t commonly used by those around us. However, I’m not sure I would want everyone in on the fun. I sort of like the uniqueness of our family. Little things like “washing” or the No-Smiling-Game often bring the most laughter and create the best memories for me. 

Stamps and Memories

This is weird.  Maybe a bit morose.

Several years ago on a Sunday morning at church, the preacher that day mentioned several folks in our church who had passed away.  As he spoke, I began to write down names of people I know who have died.  I keep the list in my nightstand.  I add to it when someone who has meant something to me at some point in my life passes away.

Everyone on the list has influenced my life in some way.  Most in a positive way.  Some have made me stronger.  Some were significant to me.  Some were acquaintances – like Jamille,  a young woman who worked at the front desk of the Cary Y when I was the director there.  She had significant health problems here entire life that she eventually succumbed to – but the years she had on this earth were spent abundantly sharing joy. Always a smile, an eager greeting. You would never of known of the physical pain inside.

Mr. Gardner was an old man in the church I grew up in. He and his wife never had kids so he invested in my like I was his own.  He gave me a stamp collection book and a couple of times a year helped me place the unique ones he selected on the correct page.  I think my dad tossed that book in a move twenty years ago.  I bet it was worth millions.

I went to high school with Alice.  She was THE COOLEST girl at Terry Sanford.  She also went to my church.  She made me feel special because I was a nerd but that never stopped her from walking down the hall with me or hanging out at ten minute break.

The older I get the longer the list becomes.  When I add a name, I glance through and the memories pour. 

If you believe in heaven, and if you consider all those who are already there, it gives great comfort.  I imagine they are all having a time of it waiting on us.  They inspired me on this earth and I anticipate they will greet me in the beyond, maybe with a heavenly stamp collection.

Blessed by God

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You know that maybe you’re aging when CBS Sunday Morning is your favorite TV show. 

This morning they had a segment about hunger in the US.  There is a photo from earlier this year with thousands of cars in San Antonio in line waiting for a food distribution center to open.  THOUSANDS.  Thousands of hungry people right here in the US.

Last Tuesday I spent several hours at the YMCA in Garner, North Carolina, helping to distribute boxes of food to people in my community.  They drove up and volunteers loaded a small turkey, hamburger meat, a large casserole and a box of fresh produce into their trunk.

My job that evening was greeter.  As each car drove up, I welcomed them, determined how many folks were in their family and logged the amount of food they would take. 

I arrived at 4:30 PM, the distribution was slated to start at 5.  There were about 30 cars already in line.  For two hours I did not stop – greeting family after family after family.

A few of the folks I met were a bit reticent, seemingly fearful I would ask a ton of questions – maybe auditing who they were picking up for or logging their address.  Some seemed a bit embarrassed to be there.  Understandable.  I might feel the same way if in that position.

The great thing was that we had no questions for them – they just told us how many people they were feeding, and we loaded. 

I worked really hard to put folks at ease asking if they had a good day or if they were feeling well.  I thanked them for stopping by the Y as if they could have chosen to pick free food up from a competitor.

What I noticed is that many of these folks who are concerned about where their next meal might come from seemed joyful.  Not all, but many.  I could see it in their eyes, the way they lit up at my questions or expressed massive gratitude for our work.  A genuine smile, one you can see in the eyes; a belly laugh; or happy kids singing in the backseat. 

When responding to my question, “How are you doing today?” one lady responded, “I am blessed by God.”  She then added, “I just have to keep reminding myself.”

A friend shared with me that they were lamenting about a problem in their life when another friend suggested:  You should go volunteer, help someone else.  (i.e. – take the focus off yourself!)

It is surprising to me that I don’t always readily see how blessed I am by God.  Last week was certainly a good reminder for me.

TikTok Nuggets

I hate to admit this, because I long to be cool, but perhaps… I’m not.  And frankly, I thought, maybe, if parent-cool was on a one-to-ten number line, perhaps I was a seven.  I’m a little too Type A to ever be an eight, but still, compared to other middle agers I know, I felt like my cool factor was above average. 

There have been several moments over the years that have made me ponder my coolness.  A while back when I was dating, a “cool” guy at work told me I needed to stop dressing like a 50-year-old man if I ever wanted to find a woman.  But I was a 50-year-old man, and I scored a pretty fine lady even in dad jeans, a V-neck sweater, and a button down shirt.

But this month, Michelle turned 18.  Two weeks ago to celebrate, Julie and I set up our porch to host a couple of her friends.  When we asked about food, she requested a smorgasbord of chicken nuggets and French fries.  Yes.  Julie and I were each assigned three fast food restaurants.  We were instructed to purchase chicken nuggets, fries and dipping sauce. 

I was timid about requesting too many sauces.  Julie, not so much.  Chic Fil A gave her 30, six of each kind.  She’s a salesperson, not afraid to ask for what she wants. 

We brought them home, masked ourselves and dumped them all on a tray. 

I soon discovered that the food choice had nothing to do with chicken or potatoes.  Apparently, this meal is a TikTok trend. 

Some of you are wondering, what is TikTok?  I’m learning it is a video sharing app.  You take 15 second videos and the world can see them. 

So before wolfing down the nuggets, and drenching them in Polynesian, everything stopped.  Videos were taken.  Videos were retaken.  And only then, did they partake.

I don’t understand the TikTok.  I like TV shows and movies.  And thus the divide:  18 vs. 55. 

The Beast

It is as tall as me, less limber (and it is hard to be less limber than I), wider, heavier and more substantial.  This massive armoire was, I believe, Lisa’s first furniture purchase out of college.  For her, it held a TV – likely a thick, knobbed booger with no remote.  For DJ, our hope was it could hold her 600 sweatshirts and sweaters in her new bedroom in her new brownstone in DC.

Let me clarify.  The bedroom is not new and neither is the house.  It was actually built in 1890, 47 years before my eighty-three year-old parents were born.  When DJ decided to move in with friends and toured the place, it was evident that although the overall place was significantly larger than her current apartment, the bedroom was smaller, and the slanted closet might hold 15% of her wardrobe. 

The armoire was in our basement, and I’m currently looking to purge, so it made sense to relocate the Beast.  Little did I know.

DJ wondered if I’d consider painting it.  Of course, for a daughter of mine, the answer was yes.  My incredible fiancé, Julie, jumped in.  She is a really good sport and loves our kids too.

We purchased what’s called chalk paint, removed the doors and knobs, drug the dang thing to the carport and painted… and painted… and painted.  Three stinkin’ coats.  And then, each morning for a week, I’d rise early to put on a coat of shellac before work.  With rain coming, Michelle begrudgingly helped me shove the beast back into the basement one Tuesday afternoon several weeks into the project.  I propped the doors on a ledge.  Two days later one fell and the paint chipped in four spots. 

“$%^%&^^%%.”

I repainted the door three times and again, awoke to shellac.  Shellac, shellac, shellac.  I HATE shellac.  My nostrils hurt from shellac.

With great might, we lay the beast down in the Budget rent a truck and drove her to DC. 

When we arrived, it was discovered that DJ’s bedroom was on the third floor of this new, err old, home.  A human with slightly large bones or a couple of extra lbs on the hips would struggle to fit up the two 19 step stairwells and could hardly make the 340 degree angle at the top into the bannistered hallway.  I had no idea how we might get this enormous piece of furniture from floor one to floor three, especially with the muscle group I had assembled:  Julie, DJ and Michelle.  A boy was called over.  He was skinny.

When I discovered that one of DJ’s roommates had movers bringing in her belongings (I won’t even go there but seriously who gets movers for a 23-year-old? They simply can’t have that much stuff yet.), I devised a plan.

As they pulled up, I had the clan of five drag the beast to the bottom of the steps.  As the Mayflower men walked in, we were strategically on about step 14 between floors one and two.  The two gentlemen, picture the Rock, ran to our rescue.  We attempted to help, but they scoffed at us.  Within seconds the Beast was resting peacefully in DJ’s bedroom ready to be filled with fleece and wool. I tipped them $40 which was the best money I’ve spent in years.

When the time comes to move again, the Beast will again be relocated.  But next time, perhaps in little pieces and perhaps to the landfill.

All In For the Y!

I’ve been working at the YMCA in Raleigh, NC, for thirty 35 years.  My first job was driving a Y bus into marginalized communities, picking up kids and bringing them in for activities in the gym, swim lessons and a nightly devotion.  The program was called Y Boys, and we certainly had come characters including Budda and Meatball!  It’s been a long time, but I remember my kids well.

This past year I’ve run across two of my former campers.

Sarah, a teacher, has raised three kids of her own.  She told me she didn’t know she was poor until after she left her neighborhood.  Her generation was the first to attend college.  Her brother is an engineer, now living in Texas.  Her sister has a degree and lives up north.  Two of her children are in college, one working on her master’s degree, and one is thriving in high school.

Sarah told me that the Y was her respite.  When the Y bus drove into her neighborhood on Thursday afternoons, you did not want to miss the bus, she said.  She even remembered the boots I wore on a regular basis and several of the devotions I shared!  Who knew they were listening?

I also ran across Albert.  He was working at a restaurant – he came over to me and gave me a huge hug.  We grabbed lunch the next week to catch up.  Every time the Y was open, Albert was there.

Albert wasn’t a lucky as Sarah.  He had been sexually abused by his uncle for years.  His mother suffered from mental illness with no treatment.  Like too many other kids in tough situations, Albert had no idea that what was going on in his house was abnormal.  He just assumed everyone’s experience was similar to his.

He’s in his thirty’s now, and he said to me:  “Coming to the Y was the best thing that ever happened to me.  It was the best time of my life.”

When he told me that, my first though was How sad.  I then thought that perhaps is our sole role for some kids, to provide light in a dark world.  I’m grateful our organization has been able to do that for so long.

Since the mid 80’s, we have expanded our service in marginalized communities to include academic assistance after-school for 1,800 children at 55 different program sites here in the Triangle area.  We run full day summer camp where children get breakfast and lunch, learn to swim and receive an hour of academic remediation each day.  They pay $10/week (if they can).

Today at noon, the YMCA of the Triangle Areas kicks off our 48 Hours of Giving.  If you are in a situation where you might be able to contribute and help me meet my goal of raising $5,000 by Friday at noon, I encourage you to click on the link below.  And if you need assistance from the Y, please let me know.  We are open for ALL, regardless of your ability to pay.

MY GIVING LINK

Oh, and Scotty McCreary, a former Y camper, is holding a concert Thursday at 4 on Facebook for the Y.  Join in if you can.

 

 

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