Posted in Friendship, Reality, Sittin Ugly

Sittin’ Ugly

 

     In the early morning hours, before anyone else is up, while the cat is still stretching languidly in her chair, I begin my day.  In this quiet early hour, I can hear the thud of the newspaper being thrown on the sidewalks, the coffeemaker finishing the last few drops and I hear the solid, steady tick of our clock on the mantle. This is my selfish hour.  This is my cherished solitude. I must have it!!  This is my time to drink coffee and absolutely, unequivocally “sit ugly.”

     Sittin’ Ugly is a family tradition passed on by my 88-year-old Auntie Sue.  Her mother did it, she does it and now I do it.  I’m sure lots of other people on earth are doing it, but to do it correctly is an art.  The skill of sittin’ ugly is learned and perfected through years of practice. There are rules of course, and above all, one must respect another’s right to sit ugly.  There should be no judgment, the fact is, one just simply does…..sit ugly.

     Everyone has their own way to sit ugly. But there are guidelines that I find very comforting and helpful to follow. Anyone that is new to the art will surely want to comply. The rules are as follows:

1. There must be coffee. Preferably freshly brewed with everything extra that you need, (cream, sugar, etc.) and of course the favorite mug.  I’ve never known a tea drinker to sit ugly, but I suppose it could be done.

2. No talking!! No one speaks to you-you speak to no one. Sometimes it may be necessary to point or grunt especially if you have small children and they absolutely must encroach on your time. But, the only talking truly allowed is to yourself.

3. You must sit. My favorite spot is an oversized chair by the window. Above all else, you must pick a comfortable, familiar place to sit. It is always good to be able to put up your feet and have a little table nearby. Your sittin’ area should be away from anyone else who might be awake.

4. You may be asking yourself, now what?  I have the coffee.  I’m sitting quietly. Now what? The “what” to do part is really up to you.  Sometimes I just sit and stare while sipping my coffee. Staring is perfectly allowable and even encouraged.  I also read my daily devotionals and have long conversations with God.  I contemplate my day and my life.  I think.  I don’t think and then I may stare some more, all the while continuing to drink my coffee.  This part may go on for as long as necessary.  One hour is perfect for me.

5. Lastly, about this “ugly” part.  Sittin ugly simply means that you come as you are, straight from bed.  No primping allowed!  One must be ones’ self.  Tattered nighty? That’s ok!  Acne medicine dotted on your face?  Beautiful!  Scruffy old favorite robe and slippers?  The older the better!  Sittin’ ugly is actually a super-natural phenomenon that makes you more good-looking.  The longer you have time to sit, the better you will look and feel. Try it and see!

     Sittin’ ugly is my personal time.  It is my favorite time of the day.  Sometimes I can hardly wait to get up in the morning just to sit ugly.  I am always at my best while sittin’ ugly, mainly because no one is speaking to me or me to them.  What a joyous, peaceful time!  What a perfect way to start your day, in fact for me, it is a necessity.

     Some mornings my little Auntie will call me and ask, “Honey, are you sittin’ ugly or can you talk?”  It is always good manners to ask first, in case one is not ready for conversation.  Attempting dialogue before ready may result in hurt feelings, premature agreements, or regret, so approach your morning chitchats with caution.

     My friend, here’s to “Sittin’ Ugly”, to having this special time each and every day and to the millions of us who find it necessary for the sustainment of sanity.  And, here’s to my precious Auntie Sue and all the beautiful ones who “sit ugly”.

My little Auntie Sue passed away after her 90th birthday.  She always had a kind word to say about everyone; she always looked for humor in every situation; she was always grateful and she always sat ugly…every morning and claimed it was the reason for her good health and good fortune.  I miss her every day.  RIP Auntie Sue!

Posted in Reality, Truth

It’s Not Always the Way It Looks

            She sat slumped over on the red-flowered couch in my office.  Her hair, a dingy blonde with dark roots, was greasy and her face was stained with old make-up and fresh tears. 

            The police officer stood between us, his rough hands resting on his thick belt which held handcuffs, a radio, and the ever-present tazer.

            “I found her behind the school, near the apartments.  She had an illegal knife on her,” he said and laid it on my desk.  “We can press charges.”

            “I wasn’t doing anything wrong.  I missed the bus,” she said.

            As an Assistant Principal in a large high school, I could tell by looking that the knife was over the five- and one-half inch legal limit.  The knife was an older-looking switchblade with dirt and a little rust on the handle.  It had obviously been used before and needed a good sharpening.

            “What’s your name?” I asked and turned my chair to face her.

            “Pepper.”

            “Pepper, is that your real name?”

            “No. My friends call me Pepper; everyone else calls me Charlene Davis,” she said and sucked in a jagged breath before tears started to fall.  “Please.  Please.  I had it in my purse.  I wasn’t going to hurt anyone unless they tried to hurt me.”

            “Thanks, Officer,” I said.  “Let Charlene and I talk for a few minutes.”

            “I’ll be right outside your door if you need me,”  he said.

            I brought up her student information on my computer and turned toward her,  “So, Charlene, tell me your story.  I see you don’t live at home.”

            Charlene took another deep breath and straightened her tank top, which didn’t quite cover her voluptuous body.  I asked her if she had a coat since it was cold outside.  She shook her head no. Handing her the sweater draped behind my chair I said, “Start from the beginning.”

            Forty minutes later I knew a lot about Charlene and a little about the knife.  I have spent thirty-six years of my life in education, and I’ve heard stories from students that made me cry.  Stories that haunted me and shook me to my core.  But Charlene’s story broke my heart.

 Charlene did not know her daddy, but her mother had known a lot of men who wanted to be called that.  It seems her mom had run off three years ago and left her and her three siblings alone.  CPS stepped in and separated the four sending the younger ones to one foster home, the brother to another, and Charlene to another.  Charlene had run away from four foster homes since then and was now living in a state-owned, group home for teenage girls in Austin, several hours away from her brother and sisters.  Not ideal by any means.

 “It’s ok,” she said.  “I’m leaving as soon as I graduate, and I’ll get my brother and sisters back.  I’ll take care of them myself.”

“No more running away though, or the next stop will be juvie.”

“I know. This is my last chance,” she said.

            “Graduation will be your ticket for a better life, Charlene.  I’m proud of you for staying on track with your grades in spite of everything that has happened,” I said.

            “I’ll be the first one in my family to graduate, Miss.  I’m really smart, and I have a job at Mcdonald’s on the weekends.  That’s where I met my boyfriend.”

            “Do you mind if I call you Pepper?”  I asked.  And she smiled for the first time.

            “Tell me about this boyfriend, Pepper.”

            “His name is Ryder and I love him.  He lives in those apartments by the McDonalds,  and after work, I go over to see him.  He gave me the knife.”

            “No flowers or candy?  But he gave you a knife?  And what do you do when you go over to see him so late at night?”

            “We do stuff.  You know, we love each other.”

            Before I could stop myself, I said, “Charlene, you know what causes babies, don’t you?  I hope you’re using some form of protection.”

            “Yea, mostly.  We try, Miss.  Anyway, usually, the bus is not running when I see him after work, so I have to walk home. He gave me the knife so I would be safe walking home from his apartment.  He’s sweet that way.  That’s why I need the knife back.  He gave it to me.”

            “Pepper, let me get this straight.  You work the night shift at McDonalds, then you walk over to his apartment.  You stay there for a few hours and then you walk yourself back to the home?  Why doesn’t he take you home or walk with you?”

            “He doesn’t have a car, Miss.  That’s why he gave me the knife, so I can be safe walking home.  He’ll be mad if I don’t have it.”

            “Oh Pepper, you are worthy of being safe and being walked home by your boyfriend.  This knife may cause you more trouble than you’re ready for.  Like today.  You know I have to take the knife.”

            “I know, Miss.  But I need it and I promise to hide it better when I come to school. It’s only four more months till graduation.  Please?  It’s scary walking home late at night.”

            We talked a few more minutes and then I sent her to class, while I kept the knife.

            Charlene flew way under the radar for the remainder of the semester.  I would see her walking through the halls occasionally, and she would give me a half-smile or a shy wave, not wanting anyone to know we knew each other.  But I wanted to hug her.  Feed her a healthy meal.  Keep her safe.  Ask about that damn boyfriend.

            Instead, one week before graduation, I called her into my office.  I knew she only had one more final exam to take, and I would never see her again.

            “Hi Miss,” she said as she knocked softly on my door.

            “Pepper, you look gorgeous today!” I said as I noticed her fresh hair and new outfit.  She was wearing a short, blue, flouncy skirt made out of layers of thin material.  Her top was buttoned up the front and covered the waistband of the skirt, with room to spare. Then I saw what I thought was a slight bump beneath her blouse.

            “The house mother gave me some money to buy a few new things before I graduate and have to move.  I’m having a baby, Miss.  See?”  And she cupped her small round belly to show me.

“Ryder wants a boy.”

“Wow,”  I said.

 “I have something for you.”  And I handed her a pink gift bag with ribbons and a small ‘Congratulations’ balloon.  She smiled the biggest smile I’d ever seen and asked, “Can I open it?”

            “You sure can!!”  I said.

            She sat on my red-flowered couch and put the bag on her knees.  She took the fluffed tissue paper out of the bag one by one and pressed them flat.

“I’m going to save this paper.  It’s just like new.”  She said.

I had individually wrapped each gift: a set of lip glosses, JLO body wash and spray, a new hairbrush, and a precious stuffed teddy bear with I Love You embroidered on the stomach. And at the very bottom of the bag was one last gift.  “Don’t open that one until you get home, ok?  I think you’ll remember it.”  I said.

“Thank you, Miss.  This is my only graduation gift.  I love all of it and the baby will love the teddy bear!”  She hugged me and I hugged her right back, neither one of us wanting to let go.

“I’m so proud of you, Charlene Davis.  I knew you could do it.”  I said, as she blushed and smiled a soft, beautiful smile.  Wide-eyed, and a little teary she responded quietly, “That means a lot, Miss.”

We had a quick hug the night of graduation and I have not heard anything from her since. 

As with Charlene and the knife, it’s not always the way it looks.  Everyone has a story to tell if we will only take time to listen.  It is an honor to hear someone’s truth and hold space for their thoughts and feelings, whether we agree or not.  Our stories matter, we matter.  And for Charlene, I wanted her to know she matters in this world. 

Charlene ‘Pepper’ Davis matters.

Posted in Confessions, Contemplations, Growing up

It Is What It Is

Fourth Grade

Fourth grade was not a flattering year for me.  I had just survived 3rd grade and having my teeth be bigger than my body when this happened.  I swear, no one bothered to tell me that those tight, plastic headbands were not complimentary to my face shape.  Sometimes my grandma and I would ride the bus downtown to Woolworth’s Five and Dime, and she would let me pick out something for twenty-five cents.  Perhaps that is why I had such a classic selection of headbands.

The Five and Dime Stores----ours was the Woolworth at NE shopping center… |  Childhood memories, Memories, The good old days

Grandma and I would walk up and down every aisle in Woolworths and after we made our purchases we would sit at the counter and eat lunch.  Grandma always got a tuna fish sandwich with the ‘best cup of coffee in the world.’  I would get a grilled cheese sandwich and a root beer.  Simple fare for simple folks.  After we ate, I would spin myself around and around seated on that bar stool at the lunch counter, while Grandma enjoyed her last sip of coffee.

The red, button-up sweater from Sears that I loved was all kinds of wrong, yet I have the pictures as proof that I was determined to look my best. Glancing back, I clearly see my stylistic mistakes, but at the time I felt well put together.

Still, I had a delightful smile, don’t you think?  

My 4th grade teacher was Mrs. Batson.   Mrs. Batson was no-nonsense all day every day.  She was a small but sturdy force, short in statue and long on obedience, and wore dark-colored, perfectly fitted suits with structured shoes.  She was tough and I was afraid of her, except that I kind of knew she liked me.  I was always the only one in my class who didn’t have a mother and because bad news travels fast, I must have been pegged as someone who needed a little more encouragement.

I knew this because even in her strictness, she would look at me and almost smile. Her eyes would tilt ever so slightly, and the corners of her frown would swing upward for only a second.  I always wondered if anyone else saw it, but I think it was just for me.  I mean, come on…. looking at this picture, Mrs. Batson was probably thinking, “Bless her heart!”

I learned during 4th grade that I had something called ‘buck teeth.’  And when I told my dad that Stanley Steinkruger called me that, he said, “Nancy Lynn, you just have an overbite.  And someday you will have braces that will help you have the most beautiful teeth in the world.  Don’t listen to the likes of Stanley Steinkruger.” 

Bless my heart.

This 4th grade photo was not to be my last ‘less than stellar’ school picture.  I had an overbite with a large space between the front two teeth, and a few more years of the plastic headbands. I even had another year of a red sweater in which I discovered turtlenecks are really not for me either. 

When I arrived at Wolflin Elementary School in Amarillo, Texas, for my first day of 5th grade, I found out I had Mrs. Batson for my teacher again.  How could this be true?  But it was.  Mrs. Batson moved up to teach 5th grade and I was in her class.  5th grade turned out to be a doozy of a grade for me.  Somewhere between the first day of school and Thanksgiving, I woke up one day needing a B-cup bra and I was 5’5” tall.  I tried all year to practice the art of slumping down, so as not to look so much taller than the boys.

Top row, second from right

One more sad little piece of information was that as a baby I had had ankles that turned in toward themselves and because of that, I wore orthopedic shoes, even into the 5th grade,  like these black velveteen saddle oxfords.

Those shoes were heavy on my feet and so sturdy/clunky that as much as I tried to scuff or wear them out, they wouldn’t.  Nothing could penetrate those toes of steal.

 Just when I thought it could never get worse, the 5th grade girls had to see “the film” and as my luck would have it, this was also my year to become a ‘woman.’

Culminating my 5th grade school year, I was a full 5’6” tall.  I also found out I needed glasses. My dad let me pick out my glasses which were brown sparkly glitter, cat-eye frames.  I adored them and took special care to keep them in their case when they weren’t on my face.

 Next, came the years with braces and tight-lipped smiles to hide them.  It is what it is, y’all, and I have the pictures to prove it!  The day we got out for Christmas break my 6th grade year, Stanley Steinkruger was deep in his throws of flirting with me.  But bless his heart, he teased me by grabbing my glasses and using them to play catch with another boy.  You can guess the end of the story.  Broken glasses and hurt feelings. My father admonished my carelessness, and I was never friends with Stanley Steinkruger again.  The good news was I finally got a pair of slip-on flats and was allowed to give up my orthopedic saddle oxfords.

My later elementary grade years left me with a few scars, as much of growing up usually does.  Often, the ‘awkward’ years last longer than one would wish, and in the throes of adolescence, we do not see our own light.  We let other people tell us who we are and hush the swan’s song inside of our ugly duckling.

But Hans Christian Andersen knew what was true for all of us when he wrote:

It is only with the heart that one can see clearly, for the most

essential things are invisible to the eye.

The Ugly Duckling

Ugly Duckling
Posted in #Confessions, Aging

The Bee’s Knees: Continued

The first Monday meeting with Mitchell, my young, handsome physical therapist, started off with a bang.  “Have you been to the restroom yet?  You know, pooped?”  he asked.

“Not yet,” I said quietly.

“It’s really important, so let’s keep taking what you’re taking and drink lots of water.  The more you walk the better it will be.” 

Ya’ll, I have a friend who swears her mother used to ask her, “Have you do-do’d today?” Every time she feigned she was too sick to go to school, her mother would point her finger right at her face and ask the dreaded question, “When is the last time you do-do’d?”

Mitchell and I walked a loop through my house, with me on my walker and Mitchell right behind me, holding a white, thick belt tied to my waist so he could keep me from falling.  He evaluated my uneven gait and chanted, “Heel-toe, heel-toe.”  We then went through a ‘lofty’ set of exercises, to be done three times a day.  Next, he checked my incision and reminded me, “When the pain ball runs out, probably Friday, you’ll feel a slight surge in pain levels.  Just want you to keep that in mind.”

I was starting to get really scared.  Scared about the pain ball (how much will it hurt to take it out?) and what will happen to me if I don’t, you know?  Pain and poo, two very big topics that dominated my thoughts day and night.   But, because I am a doctor on Google, I read everything I could about both topics and I must say I found out it could go either way…good or bad. Good, like an easy-peasy potty time and absolutely no pain in removing the wire inside my leg.  Or bad, like missing the toilet and landing on my butt and twisting my new knee, causing me to have corrective surgery.

Friday morning Mitchell arrived with a smile. “Let’s check your pain ball.”

“No need,” I said.  “It’s empty.”

“Ok then.  Let’s take it out.”

“Should I take a shot of whiskey? Or bite a bullet?” I joked.

He laughed and said, “I know, right?”

I laid on the edge of my bed, closed my eyes, and he peeled the surgical tape off my thigh to reveal the wire, which had been threaded down the front nerve of my leg.  I was trying to mentally prepare for the pain, when he said, “It’s over.”  And just like that I was freed from the pain ball and looking forward to a new surge of discomfort.

“Remember,” Mitchell said, “Stay ahead of the pain and go to the restroom.  See you Monday.”

After Mitchell left, I drank one more glass of Metamucil on top of all the other laxatives, just for good measure.  Sadly, I realized too late, that it had not been necessary.  At five o’clock, my stomach started to rumble, tumble, roll, and grumble.  For some reason, I felt the need to tell Boo, “Something’s happening.”

“Let the games begin!!” he laughed.

Five o’clock also marked the onset of the dreaded ‘surge of pain.’  I will spare you the gory details, but when I felt I’d better head toward the restroom, I immediately knew my speed on the walker, was not as it should be.  Never in my life could I have planned that the pain and the poo would happen on the same day and same time and stay all weekend long.  Boo, hollered from the den, “Do you need some help?”

Banging my walker into the door frame, I screamed back, “Leave Me Alone!”

Truthfully, I have only screamed once during this whole ordeal, and this was it. 

“No problem,” he answered.

The infamous ‘surge in pain’ was like my knee was waking up a week later from the surgery.  Shooting pain, dull aching pain, and stabbing pain settled in on my incision and the very back behind my knee.  I took every pain pill allowed me and still prayed to fall asleep.  The pain came in waves, like a rolling storm off the coast, battering and ramming my body until I thought I would break.  The only rest from the pain was from the sudden urge to run to the restroom because I needed a level head to maneuver my way through the bathroom door with the awkward walker.  I was a very hot mess!

 Things could only get better after this extremely low point because, after all, this was just the first week of my recovery.

Monday morning, Mitchell said I looked a little pale, but applauded my efforts and we set up a new pain med plan.

“Let’s get rid of the walker and go to a cane,” he said.

“How about tomorrow?  I need a few more hours,” I said.

“Deal.”

That night I went to my closet and found the cane my grandpa actually carved for himself.  It was the same cane my grandma used as well, and now I was the proud recipient. Who would have guessed it?  The cane was a perfect simple shape and sanded smooth as silk.  Grandpa had painted it a dark brown and shellacked it to a beautiful sheen.  The grip was worn in places and as I stood to try it out, tears rolled down my face, imagining my grandparents’ touching this very same cane.  I felt their spirit with me. This cane fit me just right and I felt safe and secure knowing my grandparents had in some way, been sent to take care of me.

I practiced that night and the next day it was trial by fire as I learned to walk with the cane.  Does anyone remember Festus from Gunsmoke? 

At the end of week two, I saw the physician’s assistant and she took off my bandage.  I was predicting a Frankenstein scar, but it wasn’t quite that bad.  Turns out my surgeon was a brilliant seamstress.  One surprising thing about my knee now is that it feels hot at times from the swelling and has a slight pinkish color.  They promised it will go away.  But, part of my knee is numb, and that will not go away.  As I was leaving, the P. A. said I could begin practicing driving.  It was music to my ears, and I felt the breeze of freedom floating in my near future. Although it was another two weeks away, I had hope that I could recover and finally go somewhere by myself.  No offense, Boo.

Soon Mitchell and I began to go for walks outside.  On my 2nd walk, we ran straight into my neighborhood friend, which you may remember as my Walker Stalker.  John wanted to know what had happened to me, where had I been, and “Who’s this?”

“This is Mitchell,” I said. “My physical therapist.”

 But John never really registered what I said, until finally, he asked, “Now, who is this? Is this your grandson?” 

We just smiled and said, “Well, I’ve gotta keep walking, John.  See you soon.”

As time went on, I begged Boo to ride with me a half-mile down the road to our community mailboxes.  “I don’t need to practice anymore,” I said, as I slightly hobbled to the car.  But once to the car, I had to pick up my leg to actually get in.  Bending my knee was torturous, in the beginning.  I really didn’t realize how strenuous getting in and out of a car and driving one mile could be.

“I don’t think you’re quite ready,”  Boo said as I came to a stop.

I knew he was right, but I also knew I was very close to my independence.  “I’m on my way back, baby!  Just wait and see!”

I finally graduated from Mitchell to outpatient physical therapy.  My weeks of exercising, icing, resting, and walking have now turned into two months.  My out-patient physical therapist is a seemingly sweet-looking, young woman named, Thea.   Don’t let her smiling, girl-next-door exterior fool you, she’s no-nonsense and hell-on-wheels.  But, thanks to her and Mitchell, I’m making great progress.  At my 8-week check-up, my doctor was very pleased.  “You’re one-third of the way healed.  Keep up the good work.”  He also told me it will take one full year to feel normal and strong, and I’m starting to believe him.

Everyday, there is a little less pain and stiffness, and everyday there is hope for better sleep. I’m walking, driving, sitting, standing.  I’m off my addiction to Cheetos.  I’ve gone on a trip, grocery shopped, and been to Costco twice.  I’m still telling Boo, I may not be able to cook for another month or so, but he’s fine with that because it means fewer vegetables.

I’m grateful to have insurance and Medicare.  I’m grateful to all my friends who loaned me the walker, icing machines, and tall potty chair.  The friends who brought me food and visited when I was still in my wrinkled pajama pants and greasy hair, and I’m grateful to Boo who never left my side, even when he wanted to!  Who has put up with my groaning and moaning and talking about myself until we are both sick of it. 

Sometimes Boo is a saint.

Originally, I planned to have my other knee done in March, but as time goes on, I think it best to wait until July. We have a trip planned for the end of March and one in June. Feeling stronger and having a little fun will put me in the right frame of mind to do this all again. (I hope).  And Boo will have a chance to rest up before his next nursing duty.

People continue to ask me, “Aren’t you so glad you had the surgery?” 

“Not yet,” I answer, “But, I know I will be.”  And that really is the truth.  I know I will be, especially after the next surgery.  As my grandma used to say, “If the good Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise.”  I will be so, so glad I’ve had the opportunity to get my new pair of knees!”

My girls, my grandma, and my cane.
Ready for an outing with Grandma and her walker!

Posted in #Confessions, Aging

The Bees Knees

The Bees Knees: Part I

I come from sturdy stock. I’ve survived a lot from my childhood and growing up years.  My threshold for pain is high, like natural childbirth high, but the last thirty-eight days have brought me to my knees.

Grandma

My arthritic knees, a gift from my grandma, have been a source of pain and embarrassment since my thirties.  I have repeatedly rubbed Aspercream, Voltaren cream, and Icy Hot on these bony knees  I’ve had cortisone shots, rooster cone shots, and rotated ice with heat.  I would slowly rise from chairs and avoid all stairs in favor of an elevator.  Worrying about my knees has consumed a lot of my life for thirty-plus years.

On a vacation to Washington D.C. a few years ago, I clung to Boo’s arm as we made our way up the eighty-seven steps from the Reflection Pool to the Lincoln Memorial.  Rubbing my knees and reverently limping around while snapping photos, I told Boo, “There’s got to be an elevator somewhere.  I don’t think I can make it back down.” 

I looked all around and found a small sign that said Elevator.  It was in the back, back corner of the monument.  One lone person in a wheelchair was parked right in front of the elevator doors. “I’ve been waiting for the elevator to come back up for quite a while,” she said.

            “I’m going to get my husband and grandson; will you hold the door?”  I asked.  And she gave me the thumbs up.

            Rushing to find Boo and Sam, I called, “Come on guys, I located the elevator!”

            Turning the corner, I saw the back of the lady in the wheelchair rolling into the elevator.  With her was an assortment of people on crutches, walkers, and canes.  I grabbed Boo and my grandson Sam, urging them to get in.  All of a sudden Boo says, “Uhh, we’ll meet you at the bottom,” and they walked away. “Chicken!!!”  I called after them.

 I squeezed myself into the tiny steel trap, making the other riders move closer together.  It took a good 5 minutes for the trembling, creaky doors to finally close and I pushed the dirty-looking number ‘one’ on the wall of the elevator.  Casually, I glanced to see if there was a number to call if we were to get stuck, but it was too faded to read.

  Another long minute later, the elevator jolted and then shuddered as it began to move.   S l o w l y, the airless box moved downward, while the wafting July body heat and odor settled heavy on my skin. The smell of old, tarnished metal and flattened carpet that may never have been vacuumed, made me feel claustrophobic.  My fellow riders exuded smells from Bengay cream, onions from lunch, and cigarette smoke.  I felt a little throw-up in my mouth but managed to hold my breath for the remainder of the ride.

 It felt like an eternity as we bumped and gyrated to a stop, waiting another eternity for the doors to open.  Luckily I was the first one-off, cursing under my breath at Boo for leaving me and my knees for causing me this stress.

“What took you so long, Nannie?” my grandson asked when I jumped out.

“I’ll tell you later,” I said and took a gasp of fresh air.

            So, when my doctor told me this October, “You can take shots and rub creams until you are one hundred years old, but nothing will ever heal your knees.  You need knee replacement surgery if you want your life back.” 

I cheerfully said, “Let’s do it!”  I felt certain this would be my answer as I halfway listened to his explanation about the surgery.  I must have blocked out the warnings about throbbing discomfort afterward and tortuous rehab exercises.  I zeroed in on the statements, “You’ll be so glad you had the surgery.  You’ll be better than brand new.”

On November 8th I arrived at the hospital at 4:45 a.m. and went directly into Pre-Op, where things started to move way too fast. When the anesthesiologist came in to do a nerve block, I started asking, “When do I get the happy juice?”  

Wire threaded down the front of my leg.

The nerve block is started at thigh level and a wire is threaded down a major nerve on the front of the leg. Then pain medicine is released through a ball of meds that completely blocks pain in the leg for one week. The nurses and doctors were so kind and thorough and when they told me to sit up in the operating room to get my spinal block, I remember asking, “I hope my doctor had a good breakfast.”  That was the last I remember.

Two- and one-half hours later, I was in the recovery room asking when I could eat. I felt drowsy but happy. I told my surgeon, “This was a breeze. Thank you. I’m going to be your best patient ever! You’ll see.”

He smiled and patted my foot, “Keep the good attitude!  You’ll need it.”

When I got to my room, I noticed something was attached to me.  “What’s this?”  I asked the nurse.

‘It’s your nerve block pain medicine.  It’s stopping all of the pain right now.  You’ll have it for one week and then it comes out.  You’ll be so glad you have it.  By the way, you have to take a stool softener and a laxative starting today.  Pain medicine stops you up.”  Still on my ‘happy juice’ high, I didn’t really soak in the reality of what she had just said.

Approximately ninety minutes later, the physical therapist came in and suggested we go for a walk.  “Sure,”  I said.

As I sat up the nurse helped me with my IV and the nerve block pain ball that I had to wear around my neck because it was attached to my leg. The pain ball was in its own little black bag, like a purse.  I tried to move myself to the edge of the bed and discovered I had to use my hands to lift up my own leg to place it in position.  The therapist put that stylish white cotton belt around my waist so I wouldn’t fall, and off we went down the hall for a 10-foot walk.

The whole twenty-four hours I spent in the hospital was full of walks and threats.  “Be sure to drink your Miralax and take your stool softener.”  “If you don’t pee, you’ll get a catheter.”  “You have to eat.”  There were pages of information given to me and more “Be sure to..” reminders and then poof, I was discharged and going home.  Still a little loopy from pain medicine, I asked Boo, “Please stop and buy a bag of Cheetos.  I need them.”

Boo gave me a sideways glance, knowing I forbid Cheetos in the house due to my addiction to those orange, crunchy sticks of deliciousness. 

“Right now?” he asked.

“YES.”

The next day, the at-home physical therapist came by to begin my three times a week sessions.  I wanted to make a good impression, but sadly my greasy hair, old sweatshirt, and baggy pajama bottoms were all I could muster.  Oh, and did I say I was wearing a thigh-high pair of white compression hose?  When I answered the door using the walker a friend had loaned me, I saw a handsome, thirty-something, young man with a beautiful smile. 

“ Hi, I’m your physical therapist, Mitchell.  Ready to get started?

To be continued….

Posted in Family, Relationships

Great Aunt Lena

            My great-aunt Lena, born Karolina Katharina in 1890, was one of nine children born to hard-working dirt farmers in Kansas.  In her youth and early adulthood, she was demurely beautiful, with large brown eyes and long brown hair that went nearly to her waist .  She was a humble soul and quiet by nature. She had the sweetest heart of anyone I have ever known.

            The story goes that in her twenties she married a good-looking man from Chicago.  They lived there, and Lena soon got a job as a seamstress at the Conrad Hilton Hotel.  She made draperies, napkins, and tablecloths for the hotel when she began her life as a city girl.  She was extremely talented and made all of her own clothes, coats, slips, robes, and nightgowns too.  In fact, I only knew her to have two store bought dresses in her lifetime- one for my brother’s wedding and one for mine.

Grandma, me and Aunt Lena

            Aunt Lena had only been married a year or two when that handsome husband went out late one night for the proverbial ‘pack of cigarettes’ and never came back.  Heartbroken and afraid of living in the city by herself, she packed up and moved to Amarillo, Texas to be near her sister, my grandma Martha Margaretha.  It would be years before she would divorce that wayward husband, and somewhere inside, Aunt Lena made a vow to never fall in love again.  She never did.

 She rode the train from Chicago to Amarillo bringing with her a large, black steamer trunk packed full of her belongings.  She also had a small, light brown suitcase with a darker brown stripe woven into the fabric that held her clothes.  Everything she owned came with her on the train, except her faithful, black, push-peddle Singer sewing machine, which would arrive at a later date.

            I remember well the small efficiency apartment she first lived in after arriving in Amarillo.   Lena made do with her tiny apartment complete with a hot plate, and Murphy pull down bed.  Complaining was not in her vocabulary, so Lena settled in, got a job, found the bus route, and waited patiently to move closer to her sister.

            My daddy, J.C. Claughton, Jr., was a lot of things, but one of his best qualities was being faithful to visit his parents and Aunt Lena once or twice a week.  He would drink coffee with them before work or stop by with some groceries on his way home from work.  He was loving and faithful for all of their days.

            My Grandma and Grandpa lived in a small duplex, apartment A.  Side B finally became available, and Aunt Lena was given first choice.   When she moved into apartment B, life truly began for Aunt Lena.  Most of her eighty-eight years on this earth were spent in that little, stucco duplex on Hayden Street, twenty-five steps away from her bossy, older sister.  Grandma and Grandpa had only one child, my dad, and Aunt Lena, never having children of her own, loved my dad something fierce.  She adored him, and when my brother and I came along, she adored us as well.

            Aunt Lena never said no to us, but she and grandma would go round and round when Lena would get tired of her bossiness and rules.  If Grandma prepared a Sunday lunch, she would tell Lena what side dish to bring.  If Grandma invited her friends over for Canasta, she would sometimes accuse Aunt Lena of cheating.

            “I see you looking at my cards, Lena!” Grandma would announce.

            “I don’t need to see your cards to win the game.”  Lena returned.

            “Well then, keep your eyes on your own cards.”

            “Same goes for you.”

            And this would go on until one of them either quit the game or Grandma would say lunch was ready.  I’ve been witness to Aunt Lena throwing her cards on the table and stomping off.

            “I’m going home.  I don’t have to put up with your nonsense.”  And she would walk the twenty-five steps home to duplex B.

Aunt Lena bought a television and Grandma had a phone line with an old black rotary phone, so they shared both the TV and the phone for the entirety of their duplex days.  If Aunt Lena needed to use the phone she would have to ask Grandma, and if Grandma wanted to watch one of her ‘programs’, like Lawrence Welk, she would have to ask Aunt Lena.  And I do recall Grandma paid for the newspaper, which Lena could read the next day when Grandma was finished.  The two sisters negotiated their daily life decisions as sisters are prone to do.

            Aunt Lena always let my brother and me have a Coca Cola at her house.  (Those small 6 oz. Coke’s that came in a bottle.)  Jimmy and I would be in her tiny little kitchen shaking up our coke bottles and spraying them into our mouths.  Once, I recall a rather messy incident when one of us, probably my brother, shook his Coke but missed his mouth.

            “Watch this,” he said.  And he stuck his thumb in the coke bottle and began to shake it.

            “I bet you can’t do this,” he taunted me.

            And all of a sudden he missed his mouth spewing the sticky, brown liquid all over Aunt Lena’s kitchen-walls, curtains, ceiling, and floor.  We stood frozen in time with our shoes stuck to the floor when Lena walked into the room. She never told on us, just helped us clean up and  made us promise not to do it again. 

Aunt Lena would patiently let me sit at her treadle sewing machine and sew straight lines on fabric until she taught me how to make skirts and aprons.  I would have to sit up close so my feet could touch the foot pedal giving me the control.  I would watch Aunt Lena take down her hair in the evenings and brush it, then braid it into one long plait down her back.  In the mornings, she would unbraid, brush, then put her hair into a bun at the base of her neck.  Always.  No variations.

            When my brother and I came by for a visit, we were supposed to go to Grandma’s house first.  Grandma would get terribly jealous if we saw Aunt Lena before her.  Aunt Lena would wave at us through her front window curtains as we bounded up the steps to the duplex and wait patiently until Grandma had her fill of us.  This was another of Grandma’s rules:  she wanted her grandkids all to herself at least for a little while.  Aunt Lena never complained, but we knew it seemed unfair.

            Aunt Lena was a sweet and pure soul.  I never knew her to say an unkind word about anyone, not even when she was mad at Grandma.  Her life was small in a lot of ways.  She never drove a car, always depending on the bus, my dad or walking.  On grocery day, she and Grandma would pull a little cart up the sidewalk, three blocks away to the Furr’s Grocery Store.  And after their shopping, they would take turns pulling the loaded cart all the way home.

            My Dad, till the day Aunt Lena died, would slip money into her checking account to supplement her small Social Security stipend.  He wanted her to feel independent.  She and grandma both, as they got older, would hand a blank, signed check to the grocery cashier and let her fill out the check and then they would show Daddy the receipt so he could balance their accounts.

1961 Lake Williams Colorado National Forrest Park

            Daddy was insistent that Grandma and Aunt Lena travel with us on our summer vacations-camping in Colorado.  Although anxious about heights, Lena was a trooper and participated in everything.  Once, we all rode the train from Silverton to Durango Colorado, and Aunt Lena refused to look out over the mountains, praying loudly and repeating, “Oh, the heights, the depths and the altitude!  God help us all.”

            Though Aunt Lena never spent money on herself, she was always generous to my dad, brother, and me.  On our birthdays, she would choose a card from her box of all-occasion cards from Woolworths, and sign it: Love, Aunt Lena, slipping a crisp five-dollar bill inside.

            As Aunt Lena got older, her fear and anxiety took over in ways my father could not understand.  She refused to wear her dentures after going through the painful process of teeth removal.  She refused to get hearing aids although she couldn’t hear what anyone was saying.   And eventually, she refused to eat anything besides what she wanted:  Coca Colas, peppermint candies and Tapioca pudding.  And at eighty-eight, won’t we all have earned the right to eat, live and love exactly as we wish?

            Dear, sweet, great Aunt Lena passed from this earth forty-four years ago.  I have her black, steamer trunk still packed with her sewing shears and threads, lots of old photo albums from my dad and assorted miscellaneous items from my youth.  When I pass by that old trunk, I think about a shy, young woman  riding the train from Chicago to Amarillo.  I think about her bravery to live life when many things seemed so scary.  And I think about the way she loved us with unconditional love and devotion.

Even if our worlds are small, and the ones we love turn out not to love us back; even if we have bossy siblings and no children to care for us in our old age, we can still have kindness and choose to love those close to us.  We can dare to be brave even when it hurts.  We can be generous of spirit and share our worldly belongings, knowing there is always enough for everyone.  Aunt Lena seemed to know all of this intuitively and perhaps that is why she was loved so dearly. 

Deer Hunting in Llano, Texas
Aunt Lena in the front seat

Posted in #Confessions

I’VE NEVER BEEN A GOOD SLEEPER

Photo by Anete Lusina on Pexels.com

            I’ve never been a good sleeper.  As a baby I’m quite sure I awoke every few hours wanting to be walked and patted, fed and talked to.  As a toddler and up until I went to school, I would lay on my bed at naptime and draw on the wall or wipe my boogers in a design hoping no one would notice.  By the way, they did notice and soon I no longer had to lay there ‘trying’ to go to sleep.

            I’m still not a good napper.  I’ve tried, but it rarely happens for me and when it does, the neighbor’s lawn service pulls up and 3 guys with a mower, weed eater and leaf blower jump out to attack his yard and assault the air waves, leaving me resentful and just a tad grouchy.

            I can’t remember ever sleeping past 6:30 a.m., although I probably did in college. Once on daylight savings time, lightening turned off our electricity, stopping my alarm clock, and I woke up at 8:00, disoriented and late for work.

            I tell myself I’m going to sleep in, and at 5:50 a.m. my eyes pop open and I can’t wait to brew some coffee.  I think I will turn off my alarm and fall back to sleep, but I lay there thinking of all the things I could accomplish if I would just go ahead and get up. I love being up early before anyone else is awake.

            I do have guidelines for myself.  For example, if I wake up at 3:00 a.m., I make myself try to go back to sleep.  If I’m still awake at 4:00, I wait till 4:30 and then get up. 

If I wake up at 4:00 a.m., I make myself lay there until five.  5:00 a.m. is my earliest time to get out of bed, but I have started the coffee pot at 4:30, so basically my guidelines are nil and void.

            The last few years I worked, my school was on the north side of town, meaning I needed to leave my house at 6:45-7 a.m. in order to miss the morning traffic.  I was in bed by 9:00 p.m. and read until 9:30, then lights out.  I jumped out of bed at 4:30 every morning and repeated the cycle.  I have tried to blame my early rising on those last few years, but friends, I’ve been retired since 2010.  Clearly, that is not my problem.

            If we are on vacation, I can never sleep the first night in a strange hotel room. Before I get ready for bed my mind goes toward bed bugs, lumpy pillows and unclean sheets.  Neurotic sounding, isn’t it?  I check the bed, check the air conditioner, check the pillow, make sure I’m on the best side of the bed, and then I can crawl in. 

Hospitals, cars, planes, and trains?  No zzzz’s.

            Hammocks, lounge chairs by the pool, and cruise ships?  Wide awake and rubbernecking, so as not to miss anything.

            I like my own bed.  I have a mental checklist that asks, is it dark enough?  Cool enough?

Do I have something to read?  Ear plugs?  Bite guard?  My mind asks these questions and explores situations, always jabbering away when I should be snoozing.    Shhh, I tell myself, but I’m just not a good sleeper.

            No discussion about sleep would be complete without talk of the dreaded CPAP machine.  Once upon a time, Boo used a CPAP.  If you have ever been near one, you know what I’m about to say is true.  When Boo had it on properly, it was quiet, steady, and reliable.  However, some CPAPS have ‘user error’ when it slips sideways, or there is trouble putting it on in the dark.  When this happens, it is extremely loud.  Loud like a howling wind, tornado, and roaring ocean, all at once.  This occurred more than once and when it did, Boo would use a few choice words, rip it off his face and fall back into a dead sleep.  Meanwhile, I would be shockingly awakened with the roaring sound, curse words and velcro ripping apart. I would sometimes be wide awake until dawn, praying not to smother him in his blissful slumber.

            In my golden years, will I be one of the little old ladies at the home who bothers the night shift or complains that I have been waiting for the cafeteria to open since 4:00 a.m. wanting my coffee?  Maybe they won’t be able to find me a roommate who will adapt to my schedule saying, “She’s a little particular about bedtimes.”  And I surely do not want someone who likes to talk in the mornings, because that is my sittin’ ugly time, and one cannot sit ugly and talk at the same time. 

            All this talk about my future as a nursing home resident may keep me up tonight.  One thing I do know for sure is that no matter what time I go to sleep, I will always wake up between 3 and 6 a.m.  I’m a creature of habit, and I happen to love mornings. But the plain and simple truth is, I’ve never been a good sleeper.

Posted in Family, Grandmother

The Power of Plants

Lee, Grandma, and Courtney (in Grandma’s apron)

            My grandma used to grow zinnias and nasturtiums in a long strip of a garden in her back yard.  As soon as you opened the side door, the colors and fragrance would greet you, instantly brightening the day.  The Amarillo, Texas soil was hard caliche, but Grandma had raked and tilled it in preparation for her flowers, so they would have the best chance to grow.  She cared for them maternally and took great pride in their beauty.  Grandma’s garden was in direct contrast from her years growing up on a dirt farm in Kansas.  The zinnias brought her pure joy.

            Grandma and I would go to the back yard and stand on the walkway surveying her garden.  “I sure wish it would rain,” she’d say. “We really need it.”  She talked a lot about rain, the lack of rain and when it was supposed to rain, and then we would turn on the hose and water her plants by hand.  “Be sure to give each one a good long drink,” she’d say.

            Bending down on her old, arthritic knees, Grandma would pick the weeds that dared to creep into her domain, and as she did, she talked to her zinnia’s as she would a child, “There you go, little girl.  Now you’re safe from those bad weeds.” 

“Help me up,”  she’d say, and I would.  Then we would stand on the sidewalk and just look.  I can see her now, standing tall, with her red and white checked gingham apron on, squinting into the sun, her detachable sunglasses flipped up, admiring her work, feeling satisfied at a job well done.

           “You know you can eat nasturtiums, but they sure are spicy,” she said.

  “Why would you eat a flower?” I asked.

  “I think some fancy people like to do that, but I just like to look at them.  They’re beautiful,” she answered.

            Before my grandpa died, he would let us go out to his vegetable garden and use a hoe or rake. It was a his and hers garden situation.  I don’t remember as much about his garden because Grandma made me help her outside and in the kitchen, her empire.  Not only did she have her flowers, but she also had a peach tree and a pecan tree.  Come June, the peaches would be ready to pick, and Grandma would begin her peachapalooza.  Peach pie, peach cobbler, peach ice cream, whole peaches, sliced peaches, poached peaches, canned peaches, peach preserves, and jam.  It was the same with her pecan tree too, as pecan pie was her real specialty, right up there with homemade cinnamon rolls and oatmeal cookies.

            When my girls were little, I had an outside plant or two, and the usual ivy growing in the kitchen window, but I had little time or thought for gardening.  I don’t recall feeling any kind of way about plants except for how much trouble they might be.  My friend, Chrys, used to have her whole patio covered in plants and I was always in awe.  How was she able to do it all with seemingly so little effort and so much joy?

            When I moved to Austin, twenty-three years ago, I fell in love with plants again. Even when Boo and I were dating, we would have competitions on who’s plants would grow the fastest and stay alive.  And although I would never call Boo Mr. Greenjeans,  he has taught me a lot about caring for plants.

            Our backyard and deck are home to thirty plus flowering plants that both give me joy and cause me angst.  Like Grandma, I fuss over watering or when it will rain and why it hasn’t rained.  I pick weeds and prune back.  I cover and uncover in the winter, and I coax the baby sprouts in the spring.  And as Grandma would, I often stand outside and survey my plants, talking sweetly to them as if they could hear me.

            “Will you water my plants in the front yard?” I recently asked Boo.

  “They are ‘our’ plants, you know.  You’re not the only one who takes care of them.”

 So, I corrected my wording to include “our”, but in my heart they are mine.  Mine and Grandma’s.  And when I see my flowers bloom or a tree branch with buds, I smile knowing Grandma would be proud of me. 

            The true meaning of the zinnia plant is affection, everlasting love, and remembrance. The zinnia symbolizes qualities that remind us to never take those we love for granted, and whether Grandma knew that or not, she lived it, wholeheartedly with her garden and with me.

My brother Jimmy, Great Aunt Lena, me, and Grandma under the Pecan Tree

Posted in Boo, Confessions

There’s Nothing Wrong With That

            “Try these,” my husband said.  “Try on the Brooks or Saucony shoes; they’re really good brands.”

            “I  like ASICS,” I said.  “They feel great on my feet, and I don’t have to think about trying on something else.  They always fit.”

“Try something new, for Pete’s sake!  It’s good for you,”  Boo preached.

“Mother, you always get Cajun Shrimp on your toes, every time we get pedicures.  There are hundreds of other colors, and you pick the same one,” my daughters chide me.

            “I like Cajun Shrimp,” I said.  “There are too many choices and besides I know I already like it.  It’s my signature color!”

            When I go to the grocery store, I try to park in the same aisle, in approximately the same place so I’ll always remember where my car is.  I’m a creature of habit and maybe a little OCD, but there’s nothing wrong with that.  I don’t want to be that person searching the parking lot, looking for my black Honda Accord among all the others.

            Once, on a trip home from seeing the grandkids, we stopped at Buc-ee’s for a snack and some gasoline.  We’ve stopped there many times before, so I utilized the pristine restroom and then perused the many aisles of snacks, chips, nuts, candy, sandwiches, and jerky.  Boo waltzed by and called, “I’ll meet you at the car.”

            When I finally paid, walked out to the car, and plopped down in the front seat, I heard him say, “Ah ha!  I knew it!  I knew you would get Chex Mix.”

            I felt a little sheepish, but before I could defend myself, Boo started in, “Every time we stop for a snack, it doesn’t matter where we are, you take forever to look around and then you buy a water and Chex Mix.  I don’t understand you.  Why don’t you just go straight to the Chex Mix?”

            “I might miss something good if I don’t look around.”  

            “If you ask me, you did miss something good, EVERYTHING except Chex Mix.”

            “I didn’t ask you,” I lamely injected.  “But not that it’s any of your business, I did shake it up this time.  I got the Bold flavor.”

            “Oh Boo,” he said with a tsk tsk.

            “Oh, Boo yourself,” I snapped.

            I admit only to you and myself that I am set in my ways.  Life is full of so many decisions, do I really need to add more?  I like what I like.  Does that make me mistaken or worse, boring?  Maybe, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

           In my mind, I am spontaneous and adventurous.  I try new things and live on the edge, but the truth is I appear to be stuck in my ways. Don’t get Boo started on asking me where I want to eat out.  For some reason, I always say I don’t care, but if he mentions a place, I usually don’t like it.  Ugh.    I have my favorites for just every day, and I am pretty set on what I eat at certain places.  Chick-fil-A: Market Salad. Panera: Chicken noodle soup or Strawberry Poppyseed salad. and Luby’s: Roasted chicken or fried fish, broccoli, and cornbread.  Just saying this makes me cringe.

Am I just an old, retired schoolteacher too addled to try something new?  Have I become boring and comfortable like melba toast and an old brown sweater?  I prefer to think of it as ‘Don’t fix what ain’t broke,’ but seeing the truth about myself is a hard pill to swallow.

            Not too long ago, we went out to eat at Cheddar’s after church. “What looks good to you, babe?”  I asked. 

 “Oh, I don’t know what I’m hungry for.  What about you?” he asked.

            “You tell me first,” I said.

            “Nope, I want to see if you try something new.”

            “Oh, don’t worry about me, I will!”  I defied him.

I scoured the menu pretending to think about what I might want, but I already knew what I would get.  I ordered a predictable standby: Miso salmon, broccoli, and green beans, while Boo ordered something new.   He made his choice from a separate menu insert labeled “Three NEW Shrimp Feasts.”  And they used words like ‘Ultimate’ and ‘New twist on old favorites.’  His choice was a delicious looking shrimp pasta dish that was absolutely beautiful.

When our lunch came, I was already jealous.  

He looked at my salmon and broccoli and I drooled over his shrimp dish.  

“Can I have a bite?”  I asked.  “I can’t help it.”  

“Oh, Boo,” he tsked.

As of late I have really been trying to shake things up.  I now wear Brooks tennis shoes exclusively and even admitted to Boo that he was right.  I do like them better than ASICS.  I branched out at Panera and got one of their new ‘bowl’ lunches with chicken and quinoa. I’m also thinking about getting something different at Buc-ee’s next time we stop, and I painted my toe nails a Caribbean Blue, even though I felt conspicuous.

 Change is very hard for some of us and although I like the idea of being ‘out there’ to some extent, I am mostly a brown sweater with melba toast kind of girl.  I don’t mind being predictable and safe.  It’s just who I am.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Posted in Contemplations, Dreams

A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes

            I was talking to Diana, one of my teaching friends, when the bell rang.  “I’ve got to get to the hallway,” I said, and my feet lifted off of the ground.  The next thing I knew, Diana and I were floating above the students, our arms down by our sides, watching the throng of noisy teenagers below us.  Flying felt effortless and while I seemed to be going so fast, I knew subconsciously, I was right on time.  I didn’t say it, but I was thinking how great it was to be able to fly through the hallways.  It seemed so natural.

            When I woke up that morning I was elated!  Finally, I had had a flying dream.  I’ve always heard people say that they flew in their dreams, and now I was one too.  Through the years I have had several life-changing dreams.  Dreams that taught me a lesson, enlightened a dark place, and even a recurring dream that I had for several years.

            Sleep studies show that our brainwaves are most active during the REM sleep cycle.  Dreams occur when there is stimulation to the brain that brings thoughts to our awareness.  But in just the same way I could fly instead of walk, I have had dreams that I was digging my own grave, but the shovel kept breaking.  On the surface, dreams may seem obscure, even outlandish.  But look a little deeper, and there might be a lesson to learn, or an answer to a question.  Sometimes vivid dreams are a result of eating spicy food or binging on too much TV.  Sometimes they are a direct result of stress or anxiety.

            When my mother died in January of 1958, I was four years old.  One of the only memories I have is of her funeral.  My daddy had picked me up to look at her in her casket and then he leaned over and wanted me to kiss her goodbye.  I distinctly remember kicking and crying, trying not to get that close.  I clung to him like a second suit jacket, turning my head away from hers. 

            I am not here to judge my father, for right or wrong, he was doing the best he knew how.  But the trauma of that incident caused me to have a dream that returned often to me over the course of several years. In fact, I still recall it perfectly.

            It was night-time and I stood perfectly still inside my small, drafty, stucco house on Crockett Street.  I could hear the howling winds and the icicles breaking off of the eaves from the roof.  As a little girl of four, I knew I shouldn’t have been alone, but I was.

In the living room, the big picture window began to rattle, and I heard a scratching, clawing sound of something trying to get in.  The scratching and rattling dared me to peek outside, and when I did, a gust of arctic air blew toward the window and froze everything with a sheet of snowy ice.  I couldn’t tell where the ice came from, but it didn’t matter because soon the knocking and scratching was at another window.  Again, and again, at each window I would peer out to find it frozen shut until that last window when I looked out into the face of a stern, frozen Jack Frost.  His face was contorted and iced over, and he appeared angry and grimacing.  His eyes looked right into mine and challenged me to look away first.

I was petrified and barely able to breathe, when suddenly there came a loud knock at the door.  I stood completely still, heart pulsing in my ears, and my feet glued to the floor.  This time someone or something was pounding on the front door.   As if another force was pushing me toward the door, I felt my hand on the knob turning, turning until it opened and standing there was a coffin …open…empty and icy.  It was standing upright, open all the way and although I didn’t see anyone, I knew Jack Frost was near, and I knew who had been in that coffin.

This was the recurring dream that I had over many years after my mother’s death.  The same sequence of events, and the very same dream, year after year.  I’m sure a psychologist would tell me the icy Jack Frost symbolizes the chill of death.  It doesn’t take much to make that correlation, but what I’ve never understood, is why the dream returned to me year after year.  At some point between the end of grade school and puberty, the dream stopped, as suddenly as it began.  Perhaps it took that long for my mind to make sense of my harsh reality.

I have often dreamed of hosting a party at my home and the party gets out of control.  More and more people start arriving, and the music gets too loud.  I usually run out of food, and everyone is asking me questions all at once.  I’m frantic and trying to make things turn out okay, and then a tall, dark, and handsome stranger appears.

Once, after a particularly stressful day at work, I dreamed that a giant Olive Oyl head was talking to me.  (Olive Oyl, the girlfriend from the Popeye cartoons.)  Her huge head was filling up my dream space and she was yelling at me.  “Get a backbone!  Speak up for yourself!  Don’t let them get away with it!”  When I woke up the next morning, I knew exactly what I needed to do in order to solve a problem with a co-worker.

I count myself blessed and lucky to be able to dream.  I usually try to write them down as soon as I wake up.  I love being able to look back at some of my dreams at certain times of my life.  The more I remember and record my dreams, the more dreams I have.  Silly, scary, frustrating, or fulfilling, my dreams are a window into my mind and soul.  They are an extension of me.

After my father’s death, twelve years ago, I had three very distinct dreams of him.  They were so real that I call them visitations.  In my dreams we would sit very close together and hold hands.  He looked so happy and healthy, a huge difference from his worn and fragile body before he died.  On the first visit/dream, he told me not to worry about him.  “I like it here,” he said.  “I’m doing good.”  That one dream has been a wonderful source of comfort to me. 

I feel such gratitude for the messages, and insights I have received from my dreams, and I wish the same for you.  As Cinderella encouraged her woodland friends, I encourage you to follow your dreams, listen to your dreams and thank yourself for the wisdom that comes from your heart.

A dream is a wish your heart makes, when you’re fast asleep.” — Song written and composed by Mack David, Al Hoffman and Jerry Livingston for the Walt Disney film Cinderella (1950).