Reframing: Giveaway to Gift

You see it everywhere– Free stuff in exchange for something. Audiences on The Ellen Show jump up and down with excitement as she gives one thing away then another to her raving fans. Dr. Phil gives a book by a professional that’s under the audiences’ chairs.

Giveaways also come in meager forms like raffles at the local Swing dances for a free admission or for the potted plant on the table at a women’s luncheon. I used to cringe when there were raffles at our school staff and our regional school nurses’ meetings, thinking to myself, Aren’t we supposed to just do this because we’re professionals?

Those giveaways seemed gimmicky to me.

But apparently, I’m in the minority and that’s an older way of thinking, because that’s not how our world is now. Every business offers something to engage their audience and writers are no exception. Listening to many Indie author podcasts over the past year, the importance of connecting with readers via email has been emphasized. I’ve been slow to engage in this, not because I don’t want to connect, but because it’s been hard to figure out what kind of ‘giveaway’ I would offer that wouldn’t feel gimmicky.

Recently, my friend who has done this before with his writing business, suggested I form a collection of my blog posts into an Ebook. He felt that would ‘offer value,’ another catch phrase, to have a representative sample all in one place. So, over the past couple of weeks, I’ve crafted 9 posts from three categories—cancer, family, and solo journeys into my first book with 41 of my photos. I’ve named the book, Saturday Posts: Inspirational Essays and it will be offered exclusively to subscribers. The cover picture is of Tibbett’s Point Lighthouse in Cape Vincent, New York where I took my seventh solo journey.

cover

I think of the hours of learning then loading the pictures and text into Vellum—a formatting software, and creating the cover with Canva—a graphic-design tool, and loading the files and setting up technical support with BookFunnel. Today, I spent over an hour in a chat with tech support at WordPress to put that Giveaway button on this blogsite.

And can you believe, after all that back-and-forth with them, that neither of us saw we’d misspelled Giveaway as Givway ?! Correcting that will have to be put off until another day.

As I think about the time and care I’ve put into this Ebook, it feels like the same kind of attention I pay to creating a homemade gift. I thought about the recipient, my readers, and what stories to include. I scrolled through hundreds of pictures for the ones that helped to tell the story and made it more visually attractive. The accompanying card is the “Letter to My Readers” at the beginning of the book.

While I want to grow my email list and give my readers updates on publication of my memoir, I also want to provide something they’ll enjoy– a gift to say “Thank You.” They’ve trusted me with their email, having faith that I won’t misuse it or load up their inbox in an annoying way.

So, please accept my Gift, that is a Giveaway since it’s FREE if you provide your email and become part of my mailing list. I hope you’ll enjoy my first book and share my site with others.

fullsizeoutput_461

Solo Journey, June 2010

 

How about You?

Have you ever had to design a ‘Giveaway’ to attact people to your business or event?

What did you create and how did people respond?

The People in our Path: Unlikely Friends

Ten years ago, I gave myself a birthday gift of attending a writing conference in Greensboro—about forty minutes from my home. I didn’t know anyone going to the conference and decided to approach it like my solo journeys—praying that God would bless me and the people in my path, trusting that things would unfold as they should.

I arrived late, and had to sit at the back of the meeting room of the hotel. I don’t remember what that particular session was about, just that the focus of the conference was finding faith-based publications for our writing. I hadn’t published any of my creative non-fiction at that point, so it seemed to be the right next-step for me. They closed that session with a Q and A and I remember that a woman who sat at the front table seemed to have a lot to say.

Later, when we took our lunch break, they instructed us, “Sit anywhere.”

There were tables for four and I planted myself at one and was joined by a mother and her eighteen-year-old daughter. The woman who’d sat at the front of the room and was so vocal in that Q and A, joined us. Her name was Erika.

We talked about where we were from and what we were writing. While Erika was originally from New Jersey, she had moved to North Carolina to attend Duke University, then later, she and her husband settled in the area.

No wonder she sounded forceful, I thought. She’s a Northerner, from New Jersey and had gone to Duke. As a native North Carolinian, a graduate of UNC, our most fierce rivalry is with Duke, especially in basketball.

fullsizeoutput_1189

At lunch last week with Erika

While eating together, Erika seemed more relaxed, smiling and laughing easily. The mother and daughter finished and left to join some folks they knew. Erika and I became engrossed in conversation. I learned that she lived within eight miles of me and had grown children who were close in age to mine. She’d been caring for her father with dementia while I was doing the same for my mother. Erika talked about how her father coming to live with her had changed things.

“Now, since I have to be home with Dad, I’ve found time to write. I can easily pen my essays and take care of him.”

She’d taught English for years and had that spirit of a teacher, wanting to help the curious student, offering suggestions for places I could publish my essays. Sometimes other writers can be competitive and don’t share publishing sites, but Erika freely told me the places she’d been published and encouraged me to send them my work.

When we left that day, we exchanged emails and made plans to meet for coffee. Our cars were parked across from each other. The political sticker on the back of her Cadillac was as polar opposite to the one on my Camry as our universities!

Since that meeting at the conference, we’ve had many afternoons of coffee at Starbucks and lunches at local restaurants, sharing about writing, and lately, our new roles as grandmothers. We’ve attended several writing conferences together. Erika’s been supportive of my memoir and I’ve supported her writings.

She’s been very prolific in publishing her essays in anthologies such as Chicken Soup for the Soul and regional magazines like Sasee of Myrtle Beach. Her advice on writing humor has been published in The Writer, and her essays on craft published in the online Funds for Writers Magazine and the Writers Digest website. She’s used her talent for teaching with her adult education course for Olli at Duke University on composing the personal essay. These are just some of her accomplishments and now she’s getting ready to publish her mystery. She’s generously given to me over the years and now I want you to know my friend and fellow author:

 

Erika Hoffman’s mystery, Why Mama will be published by Library Press Partners of Wake Forest University this April.

Unknown

Erika Hoffman

Why Mama emits a gothic southern, nostalgic aura.  The story revolves around Fancy, a fifteen- year- old figuring out who killed her parents in 1974.  Three narrators tell the mystery.  One is Fancy, an upper -class teen who becomes orphaned on a summer day with gusting hurricane winds. Forced to live with her 19 -year- old sister Eve and sis’s lecherous husband in a duplex way off the wrong side of the tracks, Fancy begins her quest.  The mission is clear: to discover the identity of her parents’ killers despite the sheriff’s ruling it was a murder/suicide and despite doubts expressed by many townsfolks regarding her sanity. People, Fancy assumes, are allies betray her. Others, viewed as enemies, help. Another narrator is her sister Eve, whose judgment isn’t sound and who’s subject to panic attacks. Fancy’s best friend Judy is the most objective reporter of the murder and ensuing action.  During it all, Fancy follows leads provided by an albino doe whose soulful eyes remind her of her mother and make the teen question the idea of reincarnation. Because of her mother’s strong Christian faith, Fancy believes her mother could never have committed the crimes she’s accused of. Fancy has many questions she’d like to ask her deceased mama, but the main question is: “Why? Why did this happen to us?”

(Watch for Why Mama on Amazon and wherever you purchase books)

 

You never know who you’ll meet in your path or how they’ll impact your life.

I didn’t have any idea that the greatest thing I’d walk away with from that conference was meeting Erika, my mentor and friend.

Now, all these years later, we’re still unlikely friends who’ve navigated our relationship around university and political party affiliations, and the regional differences of our backgrounds. Instead, we’ve focused on the things we share, building our friendship one conversation at the time, one writing success at the time–as we cheer each other on.

How About You?

Have you had a chance meeting with someone in your path that turned into a long-term friendship?

What ways have you shared support of each other’s dreams over the years of your friendship?

 

All is Calm

It’s just two days until Christmas. This year will be quieter than past years, since our dinner will be postponed until our son and his family return from spending the holiday with his in-laws. We used to have gatherings with larger numbers of  relatives, but now we’re in that phase of life where our children have married and cousins have new traditions and shorter visits due to their adult work schedules that replaced long college breaks.

Besides the decrease in the numbers of gatherings, I haven’t baked a single Christmas confection since the adults in the family are on diets and our seven-month-old grandson isn’t eating cookies—not yet. There’s no need to keep working to perfect Christmas—the foods, the decorations, the magical memories because we’ve all moved on to a different place. Part of me feels like something’s missing, but a bigger part of me says, “This is the quieter holiday you’ve been wanting.”

There are still things to be done but I don’t feel the push to keep doing more. What I want this year is time for quiet. This reminds me that my favorite Christmas carol is “Silent Night.” I think the focus on a quiet night in a stable has a settling effect on me, partially because of my childhood growing up on a farm.  I love the “all is calm all is bright” because so many times in the past the hype and intensity of holiday preparations have worn me down and I didn’t feel calm.

Over the years, I’ve attended many Christmas programs, worship services, and cantatas.  Of all of them, the one that had the most lasting impression was the simplest. It was back when our sons were very young and we were trying to manage the busyness of the holiday while working in our professions. Our small Presbyterian church had a mid-week vesper-type service. The contemporary building had lots of windows that provided a great view of nature during Sunday morning worship but were a blackout of darkness on a December night.

We sat with little inside light and one lone, dark blue candle burning — the focal point of the altar. We sang a few quiet carols to the simple accompaniment of the piano, which was in sharp contrast to the continuous playing of Christmas songs on the radio. The minister gave a homily about our season of Epiphany—waiting with an expectant heart. Inside that room, gathered in that drafty church, the glitzy lights and holiday fanfare of shiny reds and greens that screamed out Christmas was far away. We sat together and watched the flicker of that dark blue candle. I left feeling settled and strengthened, ready to disregard the overstimulation of the holiday and follow the call into the long, hibernating nights of winter.

IMG_2621

This year, when our family is not gathered like before at Christmas, I hope to draw into the silence of a blue candle, experience the calm, and breathe in deeply the quiet of the winter night. I want to exhale any trapped expectations from bygone holidays and accept with joy what is.

Whether you’re like me and having a more quiet, slimmed-down holiday or you’re in the bustle of many celebrations, may you take the time to feel the warmth of the flame of that blue candle, calling you to calm and making your Spirit bright.

Peace and Blessings to You All.

 

How About You?

How have your holidays changed over the years?

What are the things you miss? What are the new opportunities afforded by having time opened in your holiday schedule?

Three Great Gifts

One of the surprises for me of Going Social are the connections I’ve made with people and organizations around the world. After one of my post concerning my journey with breast cancer, an organization in the United Kingdom, Cancer Care Parcel messaged me and invited me to do a guest blog post. Looking at their site, I saw they offered a service for people wanting to buy just the right present for someone going through treatment. Cancer Care Parcel provided a community of support beyond the gifts they were selling. What a great service.

In thinking about what I’d write for them, I considered all the gifts I was given over my eight months of cancer treatment that is now eighteen years ago. How could I represent so many kindnesses in one blog post?

IMG_2568

After pondering this for a while, it came down to three types of gifts that represented the whole: the gift of time and being present during a difficult day, permission and the means to purchase myself a gift, written words in cards that were just enough hope for the moment.

I hope you’ll read about those specific gifts at the link posted below, and spend some time browsing the resources of Cancer Care Parcel. Perhaps it will help you with what to get someone special on your list.

Also, please know that my readers are a gift to me, providing support and encouragement that keeps me writing, that keeps me crafting stories.

Blessings to all of you at this special time of year.

https://cancercareparcel.co.uk/breast-cancer-suhrvivor-gifts/

 

How About You?

What are some of the gifts you’ve received that made an impact on your life?

Who needs a gift from you at this difficult time in their life?

Related Blog post

Surprised by #GoingSocial

 

 

 

Family Ties: Someone’s Favorite

I’ve been decorating my home for Christmas and I keep finding special things that remind me of my Aunt Polly: an engraved ornament, my blue porcelain angels, woodland birds. On Saturday evenings when my husband and I watch movies, I work on my crewel embroidery pillow and remember how she taught me the stitches when I was a senior in high school. Later she gave me the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Needlework and wrote in her artful script, “To Connie Riddle with lots, and lots of Love.”

IMG_0146

Polly in our farmhouse kitchen around 1966

While Polly never told me I was her favorite, as every child hopes they are, I always felt a connection to her because she ‘got me’ and I ‘got her.’ Her attention toward me made me feel special– a great thing when you’re growing up and going through the ups-and-downs of figuring out who you are. How reinforcing to feel that you have someone’s favor.

When I was a girl, Polly told me about visiting the Teton Mountains in Wyoming. I felt like I was there when she described the snow-capped mountains and the open space. I’d seen those vistas in Westerns and imagined myself as one of those cowgirls riding a horse. Years later, as a ‘girl’ of  fifty-six, I took my solo journey to Wyoming chasing that dream that had started with Polly. I rode a huge horse named Tequila on a trail ride in the Grand Teton National Park. How I felt Polly’s spirit with me in that place.

IMG_1538

Remembering Polly’s descripton of the Tetons and feeling her presence

My memories of Polly are strong, especially during the Christmas season. Last year, I was feeling the same way and wrote a post, Polly’s Gift. I’d love for you to read it and get to know more about her.  I’ll end this post early in hopes that you’ll read on about Polly and her painting that hangs on the wall in my kitchen every December.

Polly’s Gift

 

How About You?

Is there a family member or another person who has treated you as if you’re a favorite?

What were things they did that communicated that you had a special bond?

How did their favor on you impact your life?

Do you have that type of relationship with a  niece or nephew or some other person?

 

Being Present: Stay in Touch

Years ago, when I was writing part of the eulogy for my father-in-law’s funeral service, I asked for each of the five grandsons to share a special memory of their ‘PaPa’.  My younger son, Ross told me that his Papa was a really good listener. His example to support this was that when he told his grandfather about a trip to the store to buy a baseball, his PaPa took the ball Ross had purchased and held it, moving it around in his hands and examining the surface. Ross believed his PaPa wanted to understand what his grandson valued by taking it in and experiencing it in the only way he could. Since PaPa was bedridden, he was not able to go outside and throw the ball with his grandson, but he could give his undivided attention by listening and touching the baseball.

affection-baseball-boy-1481358

While it was a simple example from an eighth-grade boy, it impressed me that by that act my son made the judgement that his PaPa was a really good listener. He was totally absorbed in what my son was telling him with his ears and his hands. I’ve thought of how many times I’ve looked at something without taking the time and effort to engage it with my hands, my sense of touch to experience something more fully.

Now I watch my six-month old grandson as he discovers the world. He’s not content to just look at things; he fully engages by touching each thing multiple times, trying to figure out what it is. When he touches the metal tile on the wall, he fans his fingers back and forth across the surface, examining the raised areas, learning by experience that it feels different from the wooden handrail by the stairs. And on flat surfaces like the table, he slaps his hands down hard, perhaps liking the sound, feeling the power of his own force.

IMG_2498

I copy him and close my eyes and touch the same surfaces, wondering what it feels like when you’re at the beginning of life. By the time you’re sixty-three, you know the uses for the objects, how they’re constructed, and have childhood memories associated with each: sliding down the wood bannister of our farmhouse, the coolness of the surface of our Formica kitchen table, opening the tin vents on the side of our tobacco barn and being stung by wasps.

Last year when I traveled to Iona, Scotland, I wanted to totally engage my senses. I touched things in my path to increase my memory of that pilgrimage. I rubbed my hand across the ancient carvings in the oldest tall cross at Iona Abbey, MacLean’s Cross. Now, when I close my eyes and think of being there, I remember the rough texture and feel that ever-present breeze on my face.

fullsizeoutput_875

When we hiked into the hills near the Abbey, I picked a piece of heather, and felt the scratchiness of the plant while enjoying the visual beauty of the small bloom. I made sure to put my hands in the cold water of Iona Sound, feeling the sugar-soft sand and searching for a special rock to take home.

Now that winter is approaching, I think of how important the texture of fabric is to feeling warm when the temperatures drops. I look forward to wearing my corduroy coat and remembering how much I liked that fabric as a child. I think of the ways the touch of fabric brings comfort, like the fleece throws that volunteers have made for Mama and others at Parkview, and prayer shawls knitted for survivors going through cancer treatment. Those warm coverlets of care have a way of making you feel grounded.

I think of how my grandson is re-teaching his ‘Grammy’ the importance of touch for engaging more fully with the world. It’s not enough to look at something and keep going. Now I need to slow down, be in the moment, and ‘Stay in Touch’ with what is around me to be fully engaged in life.

IMG_2503

How About You?

How can you slow down and be present through the use of touch?

What objects have you rediscovered by taking the time to fully engage with them?

 

 

 

 

Celebrating a Life

Today I’m remembering a solo journey I took back in 2009 to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. My desire was to visit the place that had been significant for my mother. She and her  cousin, Yvonne traveled there by train when they were both nineteen to prepare for work in WWII as civil servants.

Throughout my childhood, Mama told stories of their adventures in Harrisburg. It was the first time those two farm girls had been outside of North Carolina. They returned to work at Pope Air Base, living on site and enjoying the lively community that included handsome soldiers. It was quite a change from rural Harnett County.

Before I left on my trip to Harrisburg, I took Mama to see Yvonne. At that time, they were both still living in their homes. We sat at Yvonne’s dining table and shared a meal of chicken and biscuits and I told them about my plan.

fullsizeoutput_928

Yvonne Gilchrist Casto (sitting) and Mama, Mary Smith Rosser

While Yvonne had more physical problems than Mama, Yvonne was mentally sharp. Mama was in the early phase of dementia and understood that I was going to Harrisburg, but had a hard time recalling the specifics of living there. I felt an urgency to go then because I wanted her to be able to enjoy some of what I discovered while she could still savor those memories with Yvonne.

“We lived on McClay street. I hope you can find the house where we rented a room from the Flutes,” Yvonne told me.

Later, she shared one of their familiar stories. She was a clever prankster and often seemed to be the ‘set-up’ person while Mama took the bait. They were a real duo.

When I arrived in Harrisburg, I took pictures along the path by the Susquehanna River, remembering what an impression it made on Mama that frigid January day when they arrived. Mama would often say, “That river was frozen solid.” It would have been a real contrast to their partially-frozen farm pond in central North Carolina, which she would have be warned to stay away from when she was a girl.

While I walked along the streets abutting McClay and visited the Capitol where they’d had their photo taken, I imagined Mama and Yvonne, nineteen years old, the young women in the photo coming to life.

fullsizeoutput_1007

(L to R) Yvonne, their new friend, Mary Willis, and Mama, Mary Rosser at PA Capitol 1943

I tried but couldn’t find the training site. When I returned with my pictures, they listened in rapt attention as I told them what I saw and ways the city had changed since 1943.

Mama and Yvonne remained close over the years. We often said they were more like sisters and best friends than merely cousins.

How they loved each other’s company, able to finish each other’s stories from their time together as young women starting out in the world. After the war ended and they finished working at Pope Field, they went to Kansas City, Missouri to work for the airlines. While there, Yvonne met her husband, Bill and eventually moved with him to California.

Years later, we received the tragic news that Bill had been diagnosed with Huntington’s Chorea/Huntington’s Disease, a fatal genetic disorder (https://hdsa.org/what-is-hd/). He lost his job as a NASA contractor due to the  changes in his functioning caused by the break down of nerve cells in his brain. Yvonne and Bill, along with their six-year-old daughter, Kim moved back to North Carolina. Mama was heartbroken for Yvonne and was supportive of her through the eighteen years of Bill’s decline and eventual long-term care and then death. During that time, Yvonne was there for Mama when Daddy died suddenly from a heart attack.

As widows, they’d often visit each other and take trips to see friends and family that lived both nearby and faraway. They enjoyed each other’s company, often telling their stories from Harrisburg and Pope Field like a well-rehearsed tag team. We enjoyed watching them.

Eventually Yvonne’s diabetes and other physical problems, and Mama’s dementia led to both of them going to live in nursing centers. As long as they were able, we still tried to take them to see one another. When they were no longer able to visit, Yvonne would ask Kim about Mama, and Mama would smile when we’d tell her news of Yvonne. They were separated but we felt their spirits remained together.

Today I remember Yvonne because tomorrow I will attend her memorial service. She passed away last week in her nursing home thirty miles from Mama’s. Yvonne had just turned 95 on November 1st, catching up with her cousin who’d turned 95 in July.

For Mama and Yvonne, their strong cousin bond, shared adventures as young women, and support for one another, lasted a lifetime.

What a testament of  kinship, friendship, and loyalty pursurvering through the good and difficult times of life. What a priviledge to have learned from watching them.

Tomorrow we will celebrate Yvonne. Mama doesn’t know that her cousin is no longer living. She is spared from that grief by her dementia, so we daughters will go in Mama’s stead, supporting Kim, our cousin, as we honor the life of her incredible mother.

seagull-2394636_1920

How About You?

Have you ever made a journey to discover more about a person you loved?

What did you learn about that person?  What did you learn about yourself?

Hope and a Future

A new chapter in our lives began six years ago when Mama went to live at Parkview Retirement Village in Sanford, our hometown. That day when we three sisters took Mama and faced the reality that we could no longer keep her safely in her home, was one of the most difficult days of my life. But God gave me the hope I needed when I spotted a verse of Scripture tacked to the bulletin board, Jeremiah 29:11(NIV):

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

At the time, I was surprised by the verse being posted in a residence for elderly people with health problems, a place where they’d spend their last days. How could there be hope or a future in that place of decline?

Over those first months, Mama adapted to her new community. Always enjoying the company of others, she reached her hand out to touch fellow residents in greeting when she passed in her wheelchair. She offered some of her food to the women sitting next to her at meals. Staff loved Mama’s sweet smile and how she often laughed after saying something that wasn’t understandable to others, but seemed to be humorous—a tale she would have told back when her words were more intelligible.

IMG_1196

Mama at Parkview watching Bobby Flay

 I came to realize that six fellow classmates from my high school, were all experiencing this same phase of life with their mothers. We’d see each other, sometimes bringing in fresh laundry, or in the dining room coaxing them to eat, or pushing them in their wheelchairs. We jokingly said we could have a high school reunion at Parkview.

Mama and I got to know most of their mothers. We’d stop our stroll down the hall  and visit in their rooms. I learned that Beth’s mother had been a math teacher and Darrell’s had been in a canasta group in her neighborhood. Visits with Sue’s mom, Joanne were always entertaining as she told us about raising and training dogs. She had a special love for Golden Retrievers, and while Joanne couldn’t remember many things, she could list the names of the five Goldens’ she’d had over the years. When my Madison was living, it was a special joy to take her to visit Joanne who asked me once to let her keep Madison, saying, “You know I’d take good care of her.”

IMG_1158

Madison visiting at Parkview

My classmate, Randall, visited his mother on the locked Memory Unit of Parkview then went by to visit his best friend, and our classmate, Bragg’s mother, Pauline.

Back when we were growing up, I would have called her Mrs. Cox. But since meeting her as an adult, befriending her at this point in life, Mama and I know her as Pauline. What I didn’t realize until our visits, was that Pauline and my father were in the same first grade class, in the same school as Bragg and me. I remember the first time she told me about knowing Daddy.

“In our first-grade class he sat in a row to the side of mine. He was nice looking and quiet,” she said. I could imagine our classroom in that school building with the high ceilings and creaky wooden floors, the clanking of the radiators in the winter.

Pauline and Daddy were born in 1920, and now as she approaches her 98thbirthday, I’m amazed at how well she’s doing, at her memory of past and recent events. Pauline’s very kind towards Mama and listens when she tries to add to the conversation.

On one occasion, we happened to visit Pauline when Bragg was there. How good it was to see him, the first time since our thirty-fifth high school reunion. He hadn’t changed much since we were teens, appearing healthy and doing well.

Back in May when Mama and I went to see Pauline, she was disappointed that Bragg couldn’t visit her for Mother’s Day because he wasn’t feeling well.

Then on a Saturday in mid-June, she told us she had bad news.

“Bragg has thyroid cancer. They took him immediately to surgery and have started chemo,” she said. “It makes him really sick.”

We sat there in her room, quiet, Mama watching Pauline as she sat in her chair in shock and disbelief.

“I wanted to go see him but he says he’s too sick. He wants me to wait until he’s feeling and looking better.”

I could only imagine how hard it was for her to not be able to see her son, her mother urge to comfort her boy being thwarted. She said Randall had researched thyroid cancer and it seemed to be very treatable.

“Bragg has always taken such good care of himself. He thinks he’ll be better in a few weeks,” she said, “And he probably will. I just have to wait.”

She talked about him as a child, how they’d always been close, planting the garden together, playing games when he was home from school on sick days.  She remembered he’d worn a fashionable-for-the-seventies, plaid tuxedo jacket to our prom. I was amazed that Pauline could still recall the name of the girl who was his date.

The next time we visited her, we joined Randall, and Pauline’s daughter and son-in-law.

“Come on in,” Pauline greeted us, seeing my hesitance to interrupt. “I always love seeing y’all.”

After we settled in, positioning Mama in the wheelchair so she was part of the circle, I sat on the side of Pauline’s bed next to Randall, and he told us that they’d just been getting an update on Bragg.

“He says he wants to go to hospice now, Connie. They’ve done all they can do,” Pauline said, then shook her head and continued. “Sometimes we just have to hope and pray.”

We sat together and tried to rally our hope, commenting that his physicians at Duke did  amazing work, that Bragg was getting the best care possible. It was a difficult conversation, but we were all together in that place, providing a community of tenderness at a tough time.

The next week I made a point of inviting another classmate, Donna, to join us for our visit with Pauline. Donna had been Bragg’s girlfriend from first until fifth grade. Pauline had often mentioned she’d like to see Donna. For a short while, Pauline was distracted from her worry by talking about Bragg and Donna’s elementary courtship. Randall joined us that night for our visit and for a little while we got to escape the sadness of Bragg’s illness and tell funny stories of childhood.

IMG_2125

Friends since First Grade– Connie, Randall, Donna

The next day, Randall called me to tell me Bragg had gone into a coma. Soon after that, Bragg died. It was hard to believe our classmate was gone.

I felt badly for Pauline’s pain. While it was wonderful that at ninety-seven she had an amazing mental ability, the down side of that was she was fully aware of losing her son. When Mama’s brother had died a year ago, she was spared the suffering of that, the only bright spot of dementia.

The next time we visited Pauline, after we hugged she said, “I just can’t believe it. The doctor said there are three types of thyroid cancer and he had the bad kind.”

She talked about the one visit they had while he was at the hospice facility, when he appeared to be improving. But soon, she returned to her better memories.

“I just have to remember all the good times. He was a wonderful son.”

IMG_2129

Visiting with Pauline

I think back to the Jeremiah verse and the memories of the past six years since bringing Mama to Parkview. Her future and our future since that time has been filled with lots of interactions in her new community. It has helped me to know my classmates through getting to know their mothers, as we’ve shared this phase of life while we’ve become seniors ourselves.

We have had a ‘high school reunion’ while we’ve provided each other support and dealt with the realities of aging, of losses, expected and unexpected.

 

How about You?

How have you helped to provide hope for someone in your community?

How has that experience impacted your life?

 

Sit With Me for a While

That morning I headed out from the hostel on my bike, passing by the picnic table where Ruth was sitting in the sun.

“Sit with me for a while, Connie,” Ruth said from her perch.

I leaned the bike against the table and sat down. Ruth was eighty-three, a Canadian staying at the hostel while her apartment was being renovated. She’d told us when we talked around the kitchen table that she’d started staying in hostels during the fifties. She’d done a lot of traveling over the years since she’d never had children and was divorced.

“Nice day for you to ride your bike,” she said. “I used to love to ride but I can’t since I had my knee replacement. Lots of things change when you get old.”

fullsizeoutput_461

She’d hung the sheets on the clothesline, and the steady breeze that was constant off the St. Lawrence River that flowed in front of the Tibbett’s Point Lighthouse Hostel, whipped the sheets. We watched as if waiting for them to dry. Then Ruth continued.

“I got some sad news today. My friend died. She suffered with Alzheimer’s,” Ruth said, and shook her head, looking down at the grass. “You just don’t know how things are going to go when you get to this point in life. At least you have children.”

There was nothing I could say, no cheerful remark that would change anything.

This was the exact situation that I knew that I, like many people, avoided because of not knowing what to say. It’s hard to witness someone’s pain and not be able to do anything. We want to fix things and sometimes we can’t.

We sat there in silence. Being present was what I could offer.

Eventually she changed the subject, moving to something brighter.

“Where are you going on your next journey?” she asked.

“I’m not sure, Ruth. But like you, I’m sure I’ll be thinking about it by the time I’m leaving New York, catching my flight back to North Carolina.”

She smiled and nodded in agreement.

“You should get to Europe. They have some fabulous hostels there,” she said. “Go before it’s too late. I’ve stayed in hostels in many countries, but now those days are over.”

 

fullsizeoutput_464

Tibbett’s Point Lighthouse, Cape Vincent, New York

I’ve thought of that conversation many times over the years. I was glad that I had those moments with Ruth, even though it was hard to listen to her pain, to the reality she presented about the passage of time.

I think of my discomfort in situations where I fear that I will have no way to fix the situation. But now, as I consider this, it assumes that it’s about me, about my ability to make something happen. It takes control away from that person and gives it to me.

They don’t need me to control the situation. What is needed from me is to be presnt. To sit with them for a while. The presence of another person, in itself, reassuring, that they are not physically alone, even though they may be alone in their situation.

I don’t need to say anything. Many times I’ve overvalued words and undervalued supportive silence. Whether it’s a person in my path during my solo journey, like Ruth, or visiting with my mother at the nursing home, or listening to a friend share a struggle, sitting with someone and being completely available to them is invaluable.

I will always be glad I accepted Ruth’s invitation to, “Sit with me for a while.”

fullsizeoutput_b9c

How About You?

How do you deal with listening to difficult topics?

How can you be present for someone who needs you?

 

 

 

Tobacco Barn Morning

These mornings when I rise before six and walk, it reminds me of late July days as a child on our North Carolina farm. Mama would wake us when it was still dark to get ready and eat breakfast before we went to work in tobacco either on our farm or for one of our neighbors in our rural community. Part of me hated getting up so early, and part of me was excited, wondering who would be working that day—perhaps one of the girls in my class at school or a good-looking teenage boy.

When I was eleven, the summer after fifth grade, I became one of the paid handers,which were  girls or women who gathered several of the tobacco leaves by the stems, and handed them to the loopers. They took the hands and with cotton twine that was threaded to a wooden tobacco stick, they’d wrap the bundled hands and slide them to the end of the stick, going back and forth between the two handers that were stationed with each looper. Most of the time there were four loopers placed around the trailer loaded with the green leaves that had been picked or primed, as we called it in central NC, by the teenage boys and men that did the back-breaking work in the field.

IMG_0484

Participating in the demonstration of handing tobacco last September at Duke Homestead Harvest and Hornworm Festival

The community of barning tobacco was always interesting to me. There was such a variety of people, some you knew and others you didn’t. That was during the sixties, and while there were racial tensions going on around the country and in our town, whites and blacks worked side-by-side in tobacco. During those days of needing to fill the barn with the 500 sticks that would be cured, we were all laborers, no matter our color. While we returned home to different circumstances and faced different realities, for those hours we were a group working toward a common goal.

IMG_0503

One full stick of handed tobacco, Duke Homestead Harvest and Hornworm Festival

I loved listening to the women talk about the latest news, or gossip. Some of them spun lively stories with more personal details than I would ever hear at home from Mama or Daddy. Sometimes the teenage girls would show up with their hair in curlers, most saying they had a date that night. How they made me want to grow up!

Sometimes there would be a pause in the chatter, only to be interrupted by a shriek when one of the handers picked up a leaf with a hornworm, those tobacco worms with chunky green bodies and a red horn on their tailend. They would be camouflaged in the bed of green and were difficult to pull off once they wrapped around your finger.

More menacing than the hornworms, were the occasional black snakes that the primers put in the trailer just to hear the women screaming at the barn. They were always proud of their trick when they came in from the field later to congregate at the barn, smiling and asking, “How’d you like that present we sent you from the field?”

IMG_0541

Before tractors, mules pulled sleds through the tobacco fields.

The day of work seemed to stretch on forever with the increasing heat and humidity. Between ‘growing pains’ and the umpteen hands of tobacco to fill the barn, I often went home with my arms aching. Mama would rub them with alcohol. I don’t know if it helped, but I think it did, just having Mama to acknowledge my pain and validate it with her care. Now, I chuckle when I see clips on the news about child labor laws being enforced. When you were the child of a farmer, there were no child labor laws, only the understood need for everyone to help.

And there was also a sense of pride that you were contributing, even as a fifth grader. We saw the barn full of the sticks that we’d filled by our steadfast handing of one bundle at the time. We knew that there was no stopping, no quitting the job until it was done. I think those summer days of working hard taught me life lessons of not giving up, of working with others toward a common goal.

That summer when I was eleven, I wrote in my diary that I earned a total of $55.00, paid in cash at the end of each week by the farmer. I used the money to buy school clothes, an adequate amount in 1966. How proud I felt when I went shopping with my own money.

Now, in this new world that we live in, I’m glad I had the experience of the tobacco barn community, the rich memories and lessons of a hard day’s work, the feeling of excitement and possibility when I walk in the cool of the morning.

 

IMG_2151

3-D Mural by Chris Dalton in Sanford, N.C., my hometown.

Yearly Hornwood and Harvest Festival at Duke Homestead

http://dukehomestead.org/harvest-and-hornworm-festival.php

 

How About You?

What special childhood memories do you have of summer?

What aspects of those days do you still carry with you?