Nowhere Boy Thoughts

 

 

I mostly agree with Anne Lamott on her Mother’s Day thoughts. To clarify, I agree that it’s a tough day for many people—motherless children; childless adults; parents of wayward, lost, deceased, or disappointing children; children of abusive, mean-spirited, dismissive, or absentee mothers. Then too, there are the mothers who cannot let their children go. Not now. Not ever.

You get the picture. We live in an imperfect world, and sometimes it’s a wonder people turn out as well as they do.

One of the things I recall from SOC 101 is that one of the primary functions of the family is to raise the young. The family, not just the mother, has the responsibility to look after the development and well-being of children. It takes a village and all that. Aunts, mothers’ friends, neighbors, grandmotherly types (ha ha—like me), and other females can all play the mother role.

In church Sunday a woman who happened to be holding a baby for a young friend was asked to say the opening prayer. She didn’t hand the baby off to someone but promptly stood, walked to the stand, and babe in arms, said the prayer. Her husband later remarked that he couldn’t recall ever seeing a man give a prayer holding a child but had seen several women doing so. Women are coded differently, he intimated. Maybe they have a nurturing gene—or something.

On Mother’s day evening, I watched Nowhere Boy, a movie about John Lennon’s youth and his complicated and sometimes stormy relationships with his aunt who raised him, Mimi, and his mother whom he hardly knew. I’ll use estranged to describe the relationship between Lennon’s parents, Alf and Julia, and complicated to describe the one between Mimi and Julia, Lennon’s aunt and his mother.

For many reasons, John Lennon lived with Aunt Mimi and her husband for most of his childhood and adolescence. At some point, he became increasingly involved with his mother, to Mimi’s disappointment and concern, and Julia encouraged his musical gifts. A fun and free-spirited woman who eventually gave birth to three other children, Julia doted on John, and with her he felt acceptance. In the movie, he moved in with her and her family for a short time (just a few days as I recall), and Mimi was heartbroken.

I wasn’t there so anything I write is based on the movie and on my subsequent reading, but from my “research,” it appears that John was a resilient child who had the love of many adults, including his mother and her four sisters, especially Mimi. Julia loved him ferociously and was overjoyed to have him back in her life. As an aside, when John was finally reunited with his father, twenty years had passed.

Tragedy struck one afternoon when Julia was struck by a car leaving Mimi’s house. I have no knowledge of the effect on the rest of the family, but John and Mimi were both devastated. Distraught, he cried out, “I was just getting to know her, and now I’ll never see her again.” (paraphrase). Much of his music was influenced by Julia, and his older son Julian was named after her.

The point of the above? I don’t know except to say that mothers, however imperfect, can and usually do make a difference in a child’s life. But so can aunts and grandmothers and teachers and others with the desire to nurture. According to what I’ve read, John stayed in close contact with Mimi until his death in 1980.

 

A Heck of a Day

Jim Valvano says there are three things everyone should do every day. “Number one is laugh. Number two is think — spend some time in thought. Number three, you should have your emotions move you to tears. If you laugh, think and cry, that’s a heck of a day.”

I liked the advice the first time I read it and resolved to do these three things each day—and more, like exercising and expressing gratitude and spending time with family and/or friends. Getting out of Dodge to laugh, think, see, exercise, and experience life with special folks can double the fun. That’s what happened on a recent weekend when my sister Ann, her daughter Katherine, and my daughter Elizabeth went to North Carolina for a Vintage Market Sale and spent a few hours in Chimney Rock.

Just being in the car together was a treat. We sang, told stories, ate snacks, philosophized on life, and shared family secrets. Around and around the curvy road from Hendersonville to Bat Cave we went, impressed with Katherine’s driving and the gorgeous sights. I mentioned that an aunt’s husband, a policeman, had been killed chasing a speeding car along a mountain road, and the atmosphere became hushed as we considered Aunt Doc’s loss.

Someone asked about going to NC with grandparents, and I said I remembered making the trip many times, a lone little traveler in the back of their light green Chevrolet, probably a ’53 or ’54. Ann began singing “See the USA in Your Chevrolet,” and I joined in. One of our daughters remarked, “I knew they’d start singing,” and her comment was all we needed to continue belting out Dinah Shore’s jingle.

Soon we were in Chimney Rock and under its spell—again. Having climbed to the top of the Chimney one steamy summer day, we looked up at it with awe and appreciation, knowing that we’d conquered it. Katherine parked the car, and we hustled across the street toward a bridge.

The bridge was barely wide enough for one vehicle at a time, but there was plenty of room for pedestrian traffic so we started walking across it, the sounds of rushing, gurgling, bubbling water all around and below us. Loved that experience—the four of us connected by blood and love and memories standing in such a sacred place. We took pics of the place and of each other.

After crossing to the other side, Katherine and Ann turned left and began walking up a hill into a quaint neighborhood I’d often spied from afar. Our morning stroll on that street nestled between mountains and situated by a creek was marvelous. “What would it be like to wake up and see such a sight each day?” Katherine wondered aloud.

The small houses were unique and charming. Elizabeth took a photograph of one of the picturesque homes and the for-sale sign in front. “No worries, I could never live this far from the coast,” she said. I understood. The mountains and the beach are both “thin places” where a person can feel the presence of the divine. And yet, living near the edge of a continent is awesome, grand, and humbling.

We were in high spirits. We laughed, exclaimed over the beauty around us and the sweet charm of the houses. Takeaway: that beauty has been there just waiting to be seen and felt, but we had to cross the bridge to do it, something none of us had done on previous visits. Cross over and enjoy the journey.

 

After coming back to the main drag, we visited a couple of shops, and the younger set purchased a few treats including a pearl ring and a geometrically designed shawl. When we went into a shop of gems overlooking the creek, I scarfed up some colorful glass rocks that were free. They’re now in an Easter dish reminding me of those moments.

Next stop: Riverwatch Bar and Grill. We sat on the second story porch, and although we couldn’t see the water, we heard its ever-present roar and glimpsed the Carolina blue sky with its white puffy clouds. A couple of times, I got up and sauntered over to the edge of the porch for a peek at the creek. A young boy around twelve years old tried to go from one slippery rock to another. Eventually he was successful, but it made me feel kind of encouraged to see that he, like us, had to struggle a little.

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Lunch behind us, we got into the creek itself…or stood on some huge boulders, that is, joining about a dozen other people taking advantage of the setting for photo ops. Seeing and hearing the “alive” water wasn’t enough for Katherine, and before we left the area, she dipped her toes in the freezing, rushing water.

I think I can speak for the other three “girls” when I say it was a heck of a day.

Tell Me About Yourself

When I was in my late 30’s, I finally got around to reading Dale Carnegie’s classic How to Win Friends and Influence People. I’m not saying it’s rocket science and that everyone should order a copy from Amazon ASAP. Well, maybe I am saying that…at least the last part of the sentence. Rocket science is rocket science, but Mr. Carnegie’s book is the go-to book for getting along with others, maximizing success, and developing relationships.

Its theme is based on fundamental principles of fairness, kindness, courtesy, civility, and good old-fashioned common sense. I’m glad I read it. Like Voltaire said, “Common sense is not so common,” and I needed a few reminders.

I didn’t intend to write a book review. It’s just that I was thinking of the influence that book had on me at an earlier time of my life. I need to go back and reread parts of it, and I think everyone alive could benefit from doing the same thing. By the way, an up-to-date version, How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age, is now available, but the reviews aren’t that positive. Most of the ones I skimmed advised the reader to stick to the original edition.

But here’s my story. This weekend, I’ll be attending my 50th high school reunion (gulp), and I’ve been reflecting on other reunions. While they’ve all been fun, I recall the 20th with most affection, and I think it’s because my former classmates all seemed to be practicing the concepts of Mr. Carnegie’s book.

Example:

“Hi Jayne, you look great! What have you been doing with yourself? Where do you live? Do you have any children? Really? What are their names?”

While speaking to me, the person was smiling (one of Carnegie’s instructions), spoke my name (another one), and seemed genuinely interested in me as a person. That last behavior is of utmost important in Carnegie’s literature. He believed people should show an unfeigned, genuine interest in the other person. It’s not always about you. In his words, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

I first read the book because I was teaching Human Relations, PSY 103, and was always on the prowl for a little something extra to spice up my classes. As years passed, I was happy to see that some (much?) of Carnegie’s work fits in nicely with cognitive psychology and the importance of one’s thoughts. I’m going out on a limb and professing that his tried and proven methods of friendly, sane, and measured behaviors are in line with Goleman’s ideas about emotional intelligence. There are definitely some similarities although Goleman’s work is research-based.

Question: Is there anything new under the sun?

I hope everyone who attends this weekend’s activities feels acceptance, interest, and inclusion from his and her classmates. If you’re a sister or brother graduate, you can be sure I’m going to greet you with a smile, mention your name, ask about your life, and listen attentively while you tell me…not because I’m a manipulator but because it’s the human thing to do.

So tell me. What have you been up to since we last met?

Backyard Wedding

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I went to a beautiful backyard wedding last night, Carol and Randy’s.  On the way home, we talked about what made the event especially nice, and we finally decided that it was EVERYTHING. From the setting to the music and food and special combination of people, we loved it. Oh, and then there’s the fact that love was involved; that always adds the icing on the cake (quite a cliché, but still true).

It rained all the way to Sumter, and the closer we got to the house, the heavier the showers became. When we arrived, the bride’s son-in-law was standing barefoot in the drive, umbrella overhead, directing guests back to their cars to wait it out. The family had been closely watching the weather reports, and all were confident that the storm would pass by 5:00.  Sure enough, the downpour turned to a light sprinkle, and by the time we made it to the backyard, we put our umbrellas away. I loved the symbolism of the cleansing rain followed by the life-giving sun.

The back yard was beautifully decorated, and as we waited for the nuptials to begin, we watched as several close friends and family members wiped down tables and chairs, one of whom was Marna. She had come from Wilmington and at the moment, clad in her wedding attire and white tennis shoes, was working diligently to help sop up the rain with a thick towel. In case you’re wondering, yes, she later changed from the wet tennis shoes to a pair of stylish white sandals. (Marna, we miss you at CCTC!)

The music was provided by two of my co-workers, T-Bo and Jackson, and by Brent, a fabulous DJ; all three did a great job of adding just the right musical ambience to the evening. The co-worker duo played their guitars, and T-Bo sang a few of Carol’s favorites including “Love Remains.” It was beautiful, and I became quite emotional as I listened carefully to the words of the song. I think the setting beneath the trees, glistening after the spring showers, added to the sentimental feelings. And lest I forget, two birds soared high between the treetops during the vows, a sight that seemed to say, “We’re in love too!”

Vows complete, Carol’s brother, a minister who had conducted the service, pronounced them husband and wife, and everyone clapped.  As the afternoon and evening progressed, people chatted, danced to the DJ’s selections (each carefully selected by Carol and Randy), reunited with old friends, ate scrumptious barbeque and the fixin’s, shared stories, and laughed a lot. Everyone was happy for the couple and grateful for love, sweet love. I met a couple who met (or re-met?) at their 15th high school reunion a few decades ago and married not quite two months later. We chatted briefly about the importance of timing, but before I could hear more about their romance, my hubby snagged me to go to the drink table with him.

I must share this. While we were eating, Nancy, a friend and techno-savvy person, came to our table and asked each couple for advice to give Carol and Randy. It was impromptu, but I think we did “okay” in our brief videotaping segments. Rex and Patricia advice was to remember that each of them loved the other more than anyone else in the world. In their case, whenever either of them gets perturbed, they think, “No one loves me more than Patrica (or Rex),” and that thought quells acrimony or annoyance. Patricia went on to say that although he doesn’t drink coffee, Rex gets up every morning and fixes it for her. One day when he didn’t have time to prepare it (can’t remember the reason), he went to Baker’s Sweets, a local eatery and coffee shop, and bought her a cup. That’s love. The rest of us gave some pretty good advice too, but I don’t have time to write about it now. Maybe later.

People drank peach tea and wine, ate fruit and wedding cookies, and savored barbeque and rice. They thought about love and families and connections. “The sun comes up and seasons change, but though it all, love remains.” A good time was had by all, and I hope the Brileys have a long and happy life together.

One Last Hurrah

While walking yesterday morning, I listened to a podcast in which J.R. Havlan, a former writer for The Daily Show, shared some advice for storytellers. Whether writing comedy, a short story, a journal entry, or a blog about traveling, the writer would do well to take Havlan’s advice seriously.  If I hadn’t heard that podcast, I too might be wondering, “Why  am I writing about our Girls’ Trip to TN?”

Havlan says that a writer should always look beyond the facts. What’s important are the emotions and the feelings beneath the facts and not the facts themselves. ASK: What does this piece of writing mean? What does the story mean to you? What’s the reason you’re writing about it? Make it about something. Otherwise, why bring it up?

I’ve been writing a chronicle of our three days in the mountains that happened a couple of weeks ago but why? Do I have aspirations of becoming a travel writer? Not at all. Then why?

  • Time is fleeting and we need to just do it. It’s a big beautiful world out there and yet too often we stay securely in our own narrow little worlds.
  • Also, traveling is a huge memory-making thing. I’ve known my fellow travelers all of their lives, and now we have some extra special memories outside of our regular environment. When’s the last time you rode with someone on a chair lift up and down the side of a mountain, sang in a diner at 10:30 at night, or laughed so much that your stomach hurt?

Back to my story. Since this was our third and final day of our mountain Girls’ Trip, we wanted to make hay while the sun shone. Up early, we packed the car, checked out, and headed towards the downtown area.

After locating the sky lift, we parked the car, and my sis and I plunked down our $15 and headed up the side of the mountain oohing and ahing over the majestic beauty of it all. While we steadily rose up, up, up for a better view of the surrounding mountains, including Clingman’s Dome, our daughters explored some shops along the “Tourist Strip.”

By now everyone had done something on her bucket list except for my niece, and Katherine really wanted to visit the Apple Barn in Sevierville. I’m so glad we stopped there. There are a number of enticing shops where one could buy food, wine, and all manner of apple-related products. Lunch was nice, and although the meal itself was tasty, I have to admit that I most enjoyed the fruit julep and the soup.

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I can’t recount all of the fun things we did and saw, but here are a few:

  • We took turns taking pictures with fellow travelers. Cars careened off of the road onto the overlooks and people sprang out of the car for a quick look and photo op before heading off to continue their mountain adventure. Most of the time, they volunteered to take our picture if we would agree to reciprocate, but sometimes one of us approached them first. Our favorite group was a couple with a young child who stopped for the sole purpose of taking our picture. From about an hour away, they said they made the trip every month or two and gave us some tips for our next visit.
  • We survived the parking nightmare at Tanger, a shopping mecca so crowded that traffic cops were there to direct traffic, both automobile and pedestrian.
  • We found a Bible that had been left at a church in Cades Cove; the owner had written a special passage about his fervent desire to marry someone and his concern over whether she would say yes.
  • We tasted fried pickles, ate the most decadent chocolate brownies ever, and shared a huge banana split to honor my other daughter’s 39th birthday.
  • I watched an adorable Chinese child crumble her saltines in a small plate and eat them with a spoon.
  • I learned that my sister wants to change the spelling of her name to Ayan and that my niece has developed an interesting accent. According to her mom, Katherine now adds an “a” to the end of many of her words, and soon we were all doing it.

The story beneath these facts is that road trips are worth every dime and every minute of time that you spend. I know without a doubt that there are three other South Carolina gals who are still singing Mickey’s “Hot dog, hot dog, hot diggidy dog” and remembering one last hurrah before heading back to school.

 

 

 

Shining Moments

Nothing big or major here. Just a few observations on life.

I’m at the beach for a few days and have relished every moment of my time here thus far. Despite being overly fatigued, my daughters and grandchildren have added much joy to my life. Here are some thoughts, not too deep but worth considering.

On the way to the coast, I stopped in Conway to visit with an old and dear friend. One of the many things I’ve always loved about her is her ability to hear about a situation and assess it “spot on” without all of the emotional fringe stuff.  Then too there’s the fact that she’s wise, spiritual, philosophical, and practical. If that sounds like an interesting combination, well yes, that’s what makes her so special.

Before we had our conversation, I turned the corner (more like a soft curve) and spotted two women walking down the middle of the tree-lined street, and I recognized them as my friend and her expectant daughter. Immediately I recalled a moment that happened 35 (?) years ago when I saw her cross Main Street from Ninth Avenue cradling this same daughter in her arms. Catherine was a baby, and her mom was taking her to daycare before work. Those were the days—the crazy days of childcare and working that somehow we managed to get through.

Decades later there were two blond, beautiful women ambling down a Conway street, one expecting a baby in less than two weeks. So in a sense, I was walking behind three generations although I couldn’t see the tiny one’s face or form – yet. Plus, they were in Conway. Conway. A city with a lot of history for these two and many, many others. You could almost sense the spirits of their ancestors hovering about.

Early the next morning my daughters and grandchildren were up and about making preparations for a couple of hours on the strand. I was in beach attire, and Colton, the little five-year-old kept playing (best word here) with my upper arms. “Why does your skin shake like this, Grandmama?” he asked as he flicked it back and forth.

“Leave Grandmama’s arms alone,” his mother instructed. “Do you think she’s enjoying that?”

Ah, the challenges of getting older. It’s neither fun nor attractive to have flabby arms, but what are my choices? Some people have surgery, but then there are scars to deal with. Plus, there may be more limited use of movement and strength. My intention right now is to keep them covered and focus on the wonderful things my arms have allowed (still allow). For starters, hugging people. I love that. Also driving my car, picking up things, and chalk painting furniture. I started to say “typing,” but I know there are people out there who might remind me of stronger souls than I who have learned to type holding a pencil in their mouths.

That same day I went for a walk on the beach, and four older ladies (75?) stopped me and asked me to take their picture. Happily, I complied. I snapped about four pictures, and hopefully one will be flattering of all four. When I handed the camera back, one of the foursome asked, “Can you even see her face?” She was referring to one of the group who did not want to have her picture made.

“Yes, she’s trying to hide, but she’s there.”

“Hey, it’s a memory,” I said. “Y’all are gonna love looking at it later and remembering this beautiful day when you were together and happy,”

“Yeah, listen to her. She understands,” one of the women said as I turned away to continue my walk.

That little five-year-old is now on the patio with me—no more writing for hours—maybe days. But life is good. I have great friends, arms to embrace this little fellow, and some good beach memories.

Doing my best to “seize the shining moments.” What about you?

Waiting for the Rat to Die

When I was a young mother and had to miss church for some reason or another I always felt a tinge of remorse. My mother would often say, “The church isn’t going to fall down if you miss one Sunday, Jaynie.”

I knew that. And truthfully, I wasn’t worried about the church. I was worried about good old Jaynie. I needed help and guidance and support. And I needed to feel the love that was there. I didn’t want to fall down.

I remembered that conversation a week or so ago when I went to church despite being stressed out with preparation for a family reunion. Laugh if you want to, but for me, food preparation on that level is a stretch. Plus, because of the time of the reunion, I knew I’d have to leave right after Sacrament, and I found myself wondering, “Is it really worth it to get dressed and hustle to the church for only an hour?”

I went. And as soon as I walked in the back door from the parking lot, I felt peace. I slid in beside my former mother-in-law who told me she had been saving a seat for me. While that wasn’t exactly true, her statement made me feel good and happy and all of those other positive emotions. While we were singing the opening hymn, I remembered something I had read years ago.

If you make the effort to listen, the Spirit will speak to you. It might not even be about what the speaker is saying. But you’ll know it. You’ll get the message.

So we were singing “In Humility Our Savior,” and when we got to the second verse, I got choked up on these beautiful phrase “Fill our hearts with sweet forgiving, teach us tolerance and love.” Some specific situations were on my mind, and I thought “YES!” How could I convey the importance of this forgiveness, tolerance, and love to others without being a know-it-all self-righteous prig?

And then I was sitting there minding my own business when the thought “seventy times seven” popped into my head. I don’t think I’m holding on to grudges right now, but some people are. Let it go. Harboring feelings of unforgiveness and resentment are like eating rat poison and waiting for the rat to die. I didn’t make that phrase up, but I like it.

I looked around me and saw all sorts of people. Big ones, small ones, rich ones, poor ones, black ones, white ones, brown ones, pink ones. Lots of variety. I thought of a friend who teaches at BYU-Hawaii who once mentioned that most of the women wear flip flops to church. She said many of the teachers kick them off while teaching and teach barefoot. I smiled to myself and thought, “He’s got the whole world in his hands.” The whole world, not just the select few who happen to look like you and mirror your background.

That was the first Sunday in June. I’ve had a lot of interesting insights sitting in church since then too, especially about love. What about you?