Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A Valentine for Darlene

When my children were young and in grammar school, I would sit down with them near Valentine's Day and double check to make sure they had not forgotten anyone on their Valentines list and that everyone in their classes would receive a valentine.  

I would tell them how very important it was that no one was overlooked or left out.  This may seem strange to some.  But the reason I would do this was because of a little girl named Darlene who will reside in my memory forever.

Darlene was an ugly little girl.  I say this now, not to demean her as we did then, but to describe her as we thought of her.

She was fat.  She had brown hair that was never combed.  She wore clothes with holes.  The soles of her shoes were separated from the rest of her shoes so that when she sat at her desk you could see her toes.

My parents had moved into a new home and I had to change schools and I was new to the fourth grade class.  I knew no one on that first day.  When I sat down at my desk, I heard all the boys laugh.  And when I dropped my pencil and the plump little girl next to me handed it back, I heard them laugh again.

At recess one of the boys came up to me and filled me in.  He told me if Darlene had touched one of his pencils he would have thrown it away; that the cooties from her hair could jump at least as far as my desk and only the most unlucky person in the world would be caught sitting next to her.

I saw her on the playground, standing alone, watching the other girls as they stood in bunches and talked.  A few of them would cut sideways glances at Darlene, then whisper into another girls ear.  Darlene would turn her head away and pretend she didn't see.  Once she turned and looked at me.

When I think of that moment now, when our eyes met, I wonder what would have happened if I had walked over to her and spoken to her?  But I didn't do that.  I looked the other way and found someone else to talk to .

And when we went back inside, I slid my desk away from hers.  And I didn't speak to her.  I don't think I ever spoke to her.  But I did join the others in the class who made fun of her, who ridiculed her, until any self-esteem and confidence that she had were totally gone.

When she sat down at an activity table, the children at that table would slide their chairs to the opposite end so that all the chairs were bunched at one end with Darlene at the other.  And the class saw to it that she always ate lunch alone even though she was sitting in the middle of us.

On Valentine's Day, I threw her valentine away.  I didn't give her one.  Neither did anyone else.  I remember her sitting at her desk with her empty valentine bag while everyone else opened their valentines.  And we all thought it was funny.

This continued throughout the year and the next year, and the next.  Year after year.  I can't remember if she ever had a friend in school.

Looking back on this as an adult, I have often wished that I could go back in time to that playground long ago and reach out to Darlene and write her a thousand valentines.

Such wishes are to no avail.

So, the valentine that I hope I have given Darlene has been to teach my children the lessons I have learned; to respect everyone;  don't believe everything someone tells you about another person; to treat other people the way they would like to be treated; to speak to people on the playground; to slide your desk toward people, not away from them; and to give everyone a valentine.

Happy valentine's day, Darlene.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Snow in the South

Snow is a rare event in the South.  It is something that causes great joy and panic; great dread and anticipation.   We both love and hate to see it snow.  Snow has a transforming effect on us.  We become a people mad for bread and milk.  The slightest hint of a snowstorm and people rush to the nearest grocery store and clean the shelves of these two items.  I have never understood this, but it happens, for real, every time it snows.

Snow changes us from football watching couch potatoes to olympic bobsledders; flying down every nearby hill on trashcan lids, cardboard boxes, upside down aerobic step boards, fire pit bowls and whatever else we think will slide down a hill with us in them.  People don't seem to own sleds here.  I even saw people riding a person down the slopes.

Snow makes everyone a child again.  We are amazed at how snow lays on the branches of trees and how it piles up on the hood of the car or the porch.  We know deep in our hearts that each snowstorm is snowing harder and deeper than any time in the history of our lives.  And the worst of each snowstorm is directly over our houses.

Snow for us is magic.  Sound is muffled and a strange quiet pervades.  Leafless trees are coated in wonder.  A walk in the forest is a walk in wonderland through which the wind whispers something that you can feel but you don't quite understand.  A hill becomes an adventure.

Snow in the South is temporary and fragile and most snows are on the ground no longer than a day or two.  It is sad when temperatures change from freezing to sixty degrees overnight and the snow is suddenly gone.  And with it the magic.

And life is too soon back to normal.

And the whisper of the wind can no longer be heard.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Most Beautiful Christmas Tree

The tree lot was empty that night except for us.  “Find a tree,” I said rather foolishly to Jeremy and Erin.  They ran among the rows of trees.  “I want this one!” cried Erin.  “No, I want this one!” yelled Jeremy.

Erin ran to another tree.  It was a huge tree meant for a room with a vaulted ceiling, not for our den.  She stared at it longingly, but she knew it was not to be.  After a while, Erin and Jeremy ran to the same tree.

“I want this tree!” shouted Erin.

“I saw it first!” said Jeremy.

Melanie and I looked at the tree.  It was the right height and shape.  Melanie envisioned how it would look in our den.  I untied it from the stake and turned it around, and she looked at it from all angles.  She pulled her hand across the needles to see how dry the tree was.  

“It looks good,” she said.  And that was that.  We bought the tree.  I helped the salesman load the tree into the trunk of the car.  Once home, I stood the tree up in a bucket of water outside on our deck.  

Two nights later we pulled out the boxes from the storage room under the stairs that held all of the tree decorations.  Each decoration holds a memory of a Christmas past.  So, as we placed each decoration on the tree, we relived all of our Christmases together.

When we finished we stood back to look at it.  It was beautiful, not because we had done such a good job but because of all the excitement and joy of the event itself.  The tree could be nothing but beautiful, no matter what or how we had decorated it.

The children ran to the lamps and turned them off so they could see the full effect.
“Let’s go outside,” said Erin, “ so we can see what it looks like from out there.”

We bundled the kids in blankets, just as we had done since Erin was a month old, and carried them down the steps onto the front lawn.   We looked at our Christmas tree, shining through the window into the night.

“I remember when we first did this,” said 4-year-old Jeremy beneath the blankets in his mother’s arms.

“No you don’t,” yelled eight-year-old Erin, looking over my shoulder at him.  “I’m the oldest and we’ve been doing this since before you were born.  I remember when we first did this and you don’t.”

“Hey, it doesn’t matter.” I told them.  “Let’s look at the tree.”

As we stood in the dark in the front yard, the lights on the tree seemed to shimmer and dance.  “This is the beautifulest tree we ever had!” exclaimed Jeremy.  His words turned to steam as he spoke.

We all agreed.  The tree was beautiful, more beautiful than any other tree we had ever had.  But they all were, and all had been, and they all would be more beautiful than the last.

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Thursday, November 2, 2017

Refrigerator Love

Our refrigerator is getting some age on it and soon it will be time to replace it.  I dread that time because I remember how hard it was for me when we replaced the last one.   My wife and I have been married 40 years and we have replaced only one refrigerator.

When we replaced it, it was on its very last leg.  A noise came from it that began with a low hum then slowly progressed into something that sounded like someone banging a hammer on an anvil while a jet raced down a runway.  We were always having to explain the noise to any company that visited us.  "It's our refrigerator.  We are going to replace it."  But we lived with that noise for years!

Why?  It was not a very spacious refrigerator.  No ice maker.  But, I had my reasons for keeping it.  It was part of the family.  It was here before we were here.  It welcomed us into our new home, even though it had been rejected by the family that had moved away.  It served us well, providing us with food and cold drinks when we needed them.

But, most of all that refrigerator was rooted in the memories of our children; our children learning that they could open it, gaining access to forbidden foods such as soft drinks and desserts; our children, their faces lit by the light of refrigerator, searching for something just beyond their reach, standing on tip toe in their onesie pj's.; me, getting the ice trays from the freezer and making slushies using our ice crusher as watchful little eyes followed my every move; me, holding my children up so they could find their favorite juice.

And when the delivery men came with the new, spacious, modern refrigerator with an ice maker and carried our old, empty one out the door, it was as if they were carrying a coffin that contained part of my life within it.

It is funny how we give life and love to an inanimate object.  But I swear to you, some mornings when that refrigerator began to hum, I know that it was a love song.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Saddest Song

The saddest song I ever heard was sung by a little, blond haired girl named Jackie in my third grade class during Talent Day.  The teacher had asked us all to prepare a song, a story, a poem, or something we made and present it to the class.

I wrote a very short story about a dog getting lost and finding his way home (aka Lassie) and one of my friends planned to sing the song "Teenage Idol", recently made popular by Ricky Nelson.  When I asked him why he was singing that song, he said, "Because that's what I am.  Just a teenage idol."  I could not understand how an eight year old boy could be a teenage idol, but I let it rest.

The class spent several days preparing for the big event.  During that time I noticed that Jackie, who sat near me, was not at school.  She did not return to class until the day of the big talent show. Normally, Jackie was a ball of energy, talking and laughing.  But on that day, she sat with her head down on her arms.  The teacher would occasionally come by and pat her on the head, as if she knew why Jackie was so sad.

Finally I was able to ask her what was wrong.  "My daddy is leaving us," she said.  "He is moving away and leaving us."  And she started to cry.  

The talent show began; stories and poems, songs, and kites, pictures of kittens and trees floated in front of my eyes but I could not see them.  I had never known anyone whose dad or mom had left them.  I didn't even know such things could happen.  And then I saw Jackie stand up and walk to the front of the class, the teacher asking, "Are you sure you want to do this?," and Jackie shaking her head, "Yes."

And then she began to sing, without music, in the sweetest voice I had ever heard, the words of the song that I will never forget.

*"Why does the sun go on shining?
Why does the sea rush to shore?
Don't they know it's the end of the world?
If you don't love me anymore."

And I felt the hot, burning tears choking me and I put my head down, but I could still hear her voice.
"Why do the birds go on singing?
Why do the stars glow above?
Don't they know it's the end of the world?
It ended when I lost your love."

And I was lost in the thought that if her dad would leave, mine might leave too, and the tears burst out of me.  And then I heard the angry voices of my parents arguing in the middle of the night as I lay in the darkness of my room, listening.
"I wake up in the morning and I wonder.
Why everything is the same as it was.
And I can't understand,
No I can't understand why life goes on the way it does."

And still she sang, and the teacher's tears streaked down her face and she wiped them away with the back of her hand.
"Why does my heart go on beating?
Why do these eyes of mine cry?
Don't they know it's the end of the world?
It ended when we said goodbye."

Jackie came back to her desk.  I could not look at her.  And I could not read the story that I had written.  Lassie would remain forever lost.
*Song- "The End of the World, written by Arthur Kent and Sylvia Dee, sung by Skeeter Davis

Thursday, June 8, 2017


My mom died this morning.  It is hard to believe.  I no longer have a person on this earth that I call mom.  Hopefully she is in heaven.  Or maybe she is in the heavens.

Alan Sandage, quantum physicist wrote,  "Every atom in our bodies was once inside a star."  Maybe mom's atoms have been released into the heavens and are again part of the stars.  I would enjoy looking at the stars and knowing that mom is part of them.

Mom grew up on a farm in the 1930's.  Life was not easy on a farm in the depression.  They had little to do for entertainment.  I am sure that she and her siblings sat on their porch at night looking at the stars, wondering about the universe, wondering about God, wondering about their lives and what would happen to them when they grew up.

I hope that mom's life turned out the way she dreamed it would as a child.  I hope that as the darkness was closing in during her final moments, that she remembered the stars.  And I hope that as her atoms were taking flight to the heavens, a child, sitting on a porch somewhere, saw the stars grow suddenly brighter.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A New Day

Each day is a new day.  Unlike any other day.  Yes, the sun comes up in the east, but as it rises there is a newness about it, as if it had never risen before and I am seeing the sunrise for the first time.

Each day I am reborn.  Reborn with the new dawn.  Reborn as the rays of the sun run slowly across my yard, piercing the darkness of the dark woods.  Reborn in the light.

A new beginning.  A chance to be made new.  A new day to get it right, to say the right things, to walk the path of righteousness.  A new day to show the love and forgiveness that I did not show yesterday.  A new day, a new gift from God.

The possibilities are endless.  As this new person, on this new day, I can choose anew.  I can choose to be different.  Old habits are fallen away.  All things are made new.  Old problems can now be seen in a new light, approached from a new angle by this new person that I now choose to be.

Old relationships can be made new.  Forgotten friendships can be renewed.  Words never spoken can be spoken.  Frowns can become smiles.  Rejection can become love.

And as this new day progresses, I am either a force for good or a force for bad.  I am a stillness or I am a movement.  I am a scratchy noise or I am a symphony.  I am a shout or I am a calming hum.  I am the warmth or I am the cold wind.  I am a unifier or I am a divider.  I am an encouraging word, or I am the voice of destruction.

At the end of the day, do I find myself at peace?

As I watch the sunset, am I inspired by the promise of a new day?