“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!

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.

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.

 

 

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…

Sixty Years Strong

I can’t believe they have been married for sixty years.  I can’t imagine doing ANYTHING consistently for sixty years, except maybe eating.

That’s 21,900 nights together!  10, 950 Jeopardy shows they’ve watched through the years.

I wonder what makes them still like each other.  I asked my mom, what is the secret sauce?  She told me that she wants my dad to be as happy and full as he possibly can be, and he wants the same for her.  Maybe a lesson on selflessness, putting others’ needs before your own.

My dad’s advice?  Never go to bed angry.  I don’t think that’s a problem for them because they hardly ever argue.  Oh, they have differing opinions about things.  My dad makes a mess in the kitchen and cleans it all up when he’s done.  If my mom uses a spoon, she washes it before another utensil comes out of the drawer.  There is no mess in the kitchen – ever.  They had to replace their counter tops because she wiped the marble off.

I think, after sixty years, they’ve just come to accept each other’s flaws.  I probably have more than dad – that may not be so easy for my wife.

All of us likely develop our first impressions on what a marriage should be based on what we see at home.  What I saw as a kid was parents who showed affection for each other – yes, it was gross, but they kissed and hugged and flirted on a regular basis my whole life.  They worked as a team – cooking together, cleaning up together, teaching Sunday School together, hosting parties.  Mom and Dad LOVE to host a party!

They still scheme over what they get each other for Christmas, always trying to surprise the other with some little something special.

They laugh and laugh about the simplest things, like calling out my name as loudly as possible in the middle of K-Mart when I was a very embarrassable teenage boy.  They thought that was hilarious.  It actually wasn’t.

They studied the bible together, teaching Sunday School class at our church.  They read devotional books and prayed with us.  They showed me that a strong marriage is rooted in faith.

They have known each other since before high school.  In fact, my grandparents always told me they were in the same baby room at First Baptist Church in Florence, SC.  They were friends in high school, but never dated.  And then one Christmas, must have been about 1958, when dad was home from college, he randomly called mom to go out to catch up.  The rest is history.

I love their story.  I love them.  I am so thankful they are my parents and am so thankful that they showed me what a really, really good relationship looks like.

Vaccine, Please Lord, Vaccine

The other day, Julie was leaving Raleigh to head back to Charlotte for an in person meeting at work.  As we snacked for breakfast, she said, “What are you going to do today?”

I responded:  “Well, I’m gonna work a little and eat lunch…”, I paused a second, and finished my sentence, “and then, I’m gonna… eat dinner…”

She busted out laughing.  I was totally oblivious.  That was truly all I had planned for the day:  lunch, then dinner.  My life is centered around two mediocre meals that I prepare by myself, at home, in my recently worn out kitchen.

My stove must be exhausted.  My ice maker grunts at me.  I had to buy a new dishwasher.  Because, ALL I do is WORK and EAT.  My internet is even beat.  Today it sputtered and flickered off and on all day.

We are all just so tired.

My mother told me if we didn’t let her out of the house soon she was going to make a break for it.  I fear she will pick up a friend and go Thelma and Louise on us.

You can’t even go outside to walk.  It’s 97 degrees, but the weatherman reminds me daily it actually feels like 106.  RUB IT IN DUDE.  It’s like exercising in the Y sauna.  Unbearable.

I’ve become addicted to the news.  I want to know – and I don’t.  But I can’t turn it off.  I record it so if I miss it at 6:30, I can watch it at 7.  But I never miss it at 6:30 because I’m always home – thinking about what I might eat for dinner.

And to top it off, the political ads have started.  If I see the poor old lady about to get attacked because no one is answering 911, my brain will explode.

I can’t do this ‘til November 3.

Netflix, where oh where art thou new movies?  I don’t want to watch He’s Just Not That Into You.

I record CBS Sunday morning, arguably the best show on TV, and the dad-est show on TV.  In January I had 34 episodes stored.  I have three left.  And they are reruns of reruns.

My PJ pants have a hole in them.  I work at the Y and am running out of t-shirts.  That’s not right.

This whole thing’s not right.  We aren’t supposed to be in our houses this much.  We aren’t supposed to be with our family this much.  We shouldn’t be cooking all of our meals and exercising at home.  My biceps are growing as is my waistline.

Vaccine.  Come on.  Come on BABY.  Inject me!  Gooooooo Maderna!!

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.

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.

 

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