Packing It Up

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The packing has begun.  I’m not 100% sure I’m moving yet.  We’re in that due diligence period where the buyer and seller have to argue about who is paying for what.  But I am beginning to organize just in case.

We moved Julie out of her house in March.  She’s in an apartment temporarily while we figure out our next step.  What we’ve discovered in the process is that we have A LOT of stuff.

Mattresses, we have mattresses for days!  Most of hers are younger than mine, so I’m tossing mine out.  The one in my guest room was in my grandmother’s guest room.  She moved out of her house and into a retirement community in 1996.  She built that house, oh, I’d say in the mid 70’s.  My best guess is that the bed was purchased upon arrival.  Although, come to think of it, perhaps she moved that one from the house my dad grew up in.  The queen set is somewhere between 46 and 83 years old.  Who cares?  My guests never stay that long.

The bed in Michelle’s room, which all of my kids have lived in at some point, is much younger.  It was purchased in 1993. 

I have a difficult time throwing things out.  When a pair of boxers no longer has enough elastic to stay up, I synch them for as long as possible.  One day I was jogging and I felt something around my knees.  My boxers had fallen on either side and the waistband was dangling below my thighs. 

I was a sad day when I tossed those little guys.  They had been through so much with me.

For the second time, I cleaned out my koozie drawer in the kitchen. 

Julie: “Honey, why do you have a drawer full of koozies?”

Me:  “I might need them.”

Julie:  “Why would you ever need 35 koozies?”

Me:  “Well sometimes Brad and Tim come over for a beer on the porch.”

Julie:  “So maybe keep three?”

We don’t even use koozies when they come over.  But I hate to see them go.

Julie has about 25% of the cabinet space in her apartment that she had at the house.  And yet, somehow, a popcorn maker the size of a Volkswagen avoided storage and made it to the new place.

Me:  “Why are you taking this enormous popcorn maker to the apartment?  Shouldn’t it go into storage?”

Julie:  “I think I might need it.”

Me:  “We have microwave popcorn.”

Julie:  “I need it.”

It’s ok.  This past weekend as I was packing, some people in my family were trying to toss the massive popcorn tub I won at the movie theater several years ago.  I told them I needed to hold onto it for all of the popcorn Julie was gonna make in our future life.

Together we have 6 hatchets and four axes.  There will be no shortage of firewood at our house.  We’re like a Boy Scout troop.

We’re gonna have to buy a big house.  Or maybe a mini-storage business.  Goodwill, here we come!

“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.

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. 

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.

 

 

Found the Marketplace

It’s just full.  So, so full.  My house.  Brimming.  You can’t walk into the attic.  The basement storage room is storaged out.  There’s a pathway to get to the old kitchen cabinet filled with… NAILS.  Nails and nails all kinds of nails, big ones, skinny ones, sharp ones too.  Why do I have so many nails?  Because I build a lot of stuff?  No.  That’s not the reason.  I honestly don’t know.  I haven’t nailed anything in sixteen years.  But there are thousands of them.

Julie had a friend who got rid of some stuff on Facebook Marketplace.  So I figured, what the heck!  It’s a pandemic.  What else I got to do?  I’ll try it.

I pulled out the old stuff, jammed in closets and hidden in giant Tupperware.  Julie took the pictures and created each item’s description:  Antique Tray with Pair Artistry (i.e. old tray with kid Decoupoge); four sturdy stools for a great painting project!  I think someone already painted a couple of them – so this would actually be a re-painting project.

But people love my junk.  I sold two Pier 1 vases from 1985 for like $30!  I bet they didn’t cost $30 dollars three decades ago when I bought them.  Ap-pre-ci-a-tion!

One annoying guy had me hold an old cabinet for 48 hours and then didn’t show to pick it up!  I was irked!  I lost THREE other buyers in the process.

I had these really old dusty topiaries that had been cluttering the fireplace hearth for twenty years.  Leftovers from a school auction.  I bet I had 35 people after them.  One woman hit me up and immediately drove to my house to get them.  I blew the dust off before she arrived.

I put the item on the porch; they leave the cash under the front door mat.  I fear the neighbors think I’m dealing drugs.  Lots of strangers at my front door.  They drive up, grab their stash, leave the money, and poof, they’re gone!  I haven’t met one of them in person.  I sort of like it that way.  Feels like a mafia deal:

“You want the goods?”

“Yea.”

“$45?”

“Yea.”

“Pick ‘em up on Bellwood Drive.  5 PM?  On the porch, over by the fern.”

“Got it.”

Other than cleaning out, which sort of feels like a household enema, the thing I like the most about this project is the moollah!  I once had a yard sale, stuff in the carport for days.  I sold $170 worth and hauled three minvans full of leftovers to Goodwill.  Last weekend I made $370 on about six items.  My phone dings when someone inquires on Marketplace.  It’s the sound of cash!

I’m cleaning out baby!  I’m ready to go!  Anywhere, actually.  Please…  Anywhere…

Oh To Sleep…

I’ve not slept well the past decade.  I don’t know why.  I’ve tried everything imaginable to help.

I turn the TV off early.  I read.  I don’t drink caffeine after 2 PM.  I limit alcohol.  I take Melatonin.  I’ve tried Chamomile Tea.

Julie heard from a friend that hypnosis helped her battle insomnia.

Why not try?  I thought.   I got nothing to lose.  Well, except for $75 which is what the recording cost me.

The hypnotist told me it could take 21 days to feel the effect, I’m on day six.  The recording is a full 25 minutes.  I listen.  When she is finished, I take my Ambien and Melatonin cocktail and eventually conk out.

The first night of “hypnosis” was odd.  I did actually feel a bit like I was in a trance.  My arms and legs were heavy – my body felt asleep.  But my mind knew exactly what was going on.

My hypnotist actually snapped her fingers and told me every time she snapped and said the word sleep that I would fall more deeply into her trance.

I did not listen to the recording prior to my first try so I was a bit anxious.  As I tried to relax, I considered what she might make me do if I fully went under.

What if she instructs me to disrobe and run down the street in flip flops?  What would my neighbors think?  I wondered.

Why would she do that?  I argued with my awake mind.

People have done crazier things.  I warned myself.

According to this woman, who puts me to bed each night, sleeping is MY RIGHT!  She told me when I was a baby I slept in light and dark, in quiet or in noise.  I guess she’s right, but you’d have to ask my mom to be sure.

She has me walking down staircases, staring up at my own eyebrows, and intentionally relaxing my forehead muscles.  I didn’t even know I had those.

As soon as she tells me to relax, invariably something on my being starts to itch.  Not like a tiny itch, like a baboon at the zoo itch.  And yet, I’m afraid she’s gonna be mad at me if I scratch.  So I lay there – arms and legs heavy as tree trunks, armpit itching like crazy and my mind trying to figure out if I need to relax my knee caps or dig into my underarm.

The other night Julie and I were staying at a friend’s mountain house.  She agreed to listen to the recording with me.  In approximately 15 seconds she was out cold.  That is exasperating.  At one point I talked to her.  She did not respond.  The next morning she said she could hear me but that her psyche told her it was inappropriate to talk.  Her psyche was probably right.  Besides, she was long gone by then.

I am hopeful this will eventually work for me.  Julie tells me I just need to let the force take over.  I will try.  But I’m not going to like it.

COVID Lessons

I have discovered a couple things during COVID.  First, I believe my head is crooked.  I never knew that before.

Early on in this crisis, I ordered a stack of cloth facemasks with elastic that goes over each ear.  I put the device on my head, working diligently to protect my aging self from this deadly disease.  As I walked through the Food Lion, my left ear began to ache on the produce aisle, which is at the very front of the store.  I turned my mask around, thinking that perhaps one side had a shorter piece of elastic.  By bacon and bologna, I had to stop to take a mask break.  The pain was excruciating.  I rested my cartilage and breathed away from the meat.  By the empty toilet paper section, I gave up.  The mask was off.

I assumed it was a faulty item.  When I got home, I tried another.  Again, the backside of my left ear ached like heck.  After multiple masks and multiple tries, there was no other explanation.  I believe my left ear is absolutely positioned further back on my head than the right thus pulling more aggressively and causing pain.  I even tried to measure.  I picked a spot in the middle of my nose and with a tape measure tried to determine the distance between my nostril connector to the front of each ear.  And then, I decided, that perhaps my nose slanted to the left.  I think I need plastic surgery.  Nothing is even.

I prefer the soft masks to the more molded ones.  Those make me look like a resident of Whoville.

I now wear a bandana.

The second thing I’ve learned is that some people are NOT good at social distancing.  My mother and fiancé included.  83-year-old Jean is apparently walking laps at the church instead of her typical haunt, Cross Creek Mall.  Rumor has it, she has been seen hugging men in the lobby – even on weekdays.   Julie, the woman I love, also hugged a friend in downtown Charlotte Saturday and stood in the middle of a very large group of people to hear/see the guest speaker at a good sized event.  I was interested too but could hear just fine from the back – she kept edging up.

“You’re too close to people!” I implored.

“I can’t see,” she explained.

“We are in a pandemic!  Seeing is less important than usual!”

Additionally, the top of her facemask is typically below her bottom lip.  She might as well put on a necklace.  It would do as much good and might likely compliment her outfit more.

What am I going to do with these people in my life?

I am ready to go back – back to normal.  School.  Work.  Bars.  Restaurants. The ability to see my girlfriend’s entire face.  A visit with my parents.  A sassy teenager with too many social plans.  The SAT.  Vacation.  Security at the airport.  Plenty of toilet paper and chicken.  Hot yoga with people sweating all in my space.  Church.  The dentist.  Running late for work and 5:00 traffic.  ALL of these things I miss!  And I miss many of you too.

In Sunday School last week, a friend shared a story.  She is White.  Her son has a very close friend who is Black.  One day, the friend’s mother asked if she had talked with her son about how to respond if he was stopped by a police officer.  My friend said, “No.  I’ve never thought about that.”  The woman said, “You should do that.  Now!”

My friend had never thought about talking with her White son about how to act if he was stopped by a police officer because she didn’t have to.  It’s simply not an issue for her son.  It’s not an issue for me.

I don’t fully understand what my Black friends and colleagues face on a daily basis.  It wasn’t until five years ago that I really began to understand that my life, simply because of the color of my skin, is easier.  At work, staff were encouraged to attend Racial Equity Institute.  I was eager to learn. To say the lessons were eye opening would be an understatement.  For hundreds of years there have been benefits to being white.  We set up the club.  We made the rules, and the rules are in our favor.  When Social Security was passed in 1935, guess who was ineligible for benefits?  Agricultural workers and domestic employees.  Who held most of these jobs?  Black people.

These policies (and individual bigotry) have led us to today.  If you start a Monopoly game two hours after everyone else, the rules may be the same, but the other players have already amassed the wealth.  It is virtually impossible to catch up.

I was out of town last weekend, but my three daughters joined their aunt and uncle at protests in downtown Raleigh.   They are deeply distraught by the murder of George Floyd – who could watch the video and not be?  I share their disgust, but for years have not done all that I should to push for change.

What can I do?  I don’t really know.  Racial Equity Institute was a start.  Maybe reading.  Understanding.  Protesting.  Supporting changes at my place of employment and at my kids’ schools.  Oh, and perhaps most importantly, I can vote individuals into office who will influence change.

This can’t happen again.

 

The Summer of ’74

Julie always says my childhood sounds like Sandlot.  We weren’t playing baseball, but there are some similarities.  As I described our summer activities to the girls recently, I think they were surprised by the simplicity of our long summer days.

Boy Land and Girl Land were a favorite of our crew.  If we played Boy Land, the guys would chase the girls, catch them and take them to jail where they would have to do anything we instructed them to do.  Our general antics were jumping jacks, eating grass or stepping on a stack of sandspurs.  Much to my father’s dismay, our yard was full of them.  I preferred Girl Land for some odd reason.  Because there were fewer girls on our street than guys, and because we could run faster than they could, they typically couldn’t catch us until we willingly gave in.  Which we always did out of pity and a desire to see what sort of dares they would have us participate in.  It seems that ours were always better – they lacked the creativity that my brother and I brought to the table.

If it was horribly hot or rainy, we would head to the basement of our split level house and play Seven Minutes in Heaven.  One person would be It.  I always resented that the older kids chose It.  I dreamed of the day I’d hold that power.  It never came.  We moved before I aged up.

It would go to the closet and the remainder of the group would use a form of “one potato, two potato, three potato, four…” where we’d all put both fists up while standing in a circle while the group leader counted us out.  My favorite counting rhyme was:  Ink a bink a bottle of ink, cork fell out and you stink.  It was so much faster than One Potato.

The last one standing entered the dark space through the dark brown, louvered, bi-fold doors to meet It.  My favorite It was Tracy McDonnell, a skinny girl who lived on the cul-de-sac with her very strict military father.  Everyday at noon, regardless of what we were doing, she would have to immediately head home to feed her three dogs.  It was like Cinderella and the striking midnight clock.  Apparently Rounder couldn’t wait ‘til 12:08 for his dog chow.  His feeding time was noon.  She was always on restriction.  I don’t know what she did to deserve her ongoing punishments, but I do know we avoided playing at her house whenever possible for fear we’d do something that might get her in trouble.  Her dad was omnipresent.  He knew if one little dust speck was out of place.  She and her sisters always seemed happier when he was in Vietnam.

Tracy would kiss me in the closet – which was very exciting for a nine-year-old boy.  The other Its might shake my hand, pass gas for a good laugh, or smack me in the head if they couldn’t get their bodily functions to work on cue.

When I was It I always wanted to kiss Jennifer Fair, she was beautiful.  But she was also three years older and my brother’s love interest.  Had I kissed her she might have vomited, and my brother might have punished me in his own, cunning way.  My mother did not tolerate fights, not even verbal spars.  But he could get to me, and I knew it.  He was sort of like the mafia boss of Berkshire Road.

My kids are too old for those kinds of activities, but facing a summer where they may not have their typical camp experiences made me think about my dog days.  We had no camp.  The most exciting thing I ever did on summer vacation was get my tonsils outs.  But I wouldn’t change a thing about my experiences.  I can still taste Vienna Sausages and my mom’s cherry Kool-Aid (from a powder pouch) popsicles.

Dang, we had fun!

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