Saturday, November 5, 2016

Last words

Dear Scott,

I’m sorry it’s been so long since I last wrote you. Well, it hasn’t been too long if you count the few Facebook messages I sent you, but that’s nothing like paper and pen, eh? Whatever happened to those good old days when we took time to sit down and scribble out a letter, even it was only to get a few words down on paper, stick a stamp on an envelope and leave it to the Post Office to deliver the message?  We used to do that.  In fact I found your letters to me and read them again tonight.  I have them stored in a dusty old suitcase along with probably every other letter and card I ever received in the mail.  It was fun to read your words again and remember simpler days when school and part-time jobs were our biggest worries.  You wrote often of your baby brother, documenting his birth through first steps.  It wasn’t long after that we lost track, but I never forgot your friendship all of these 30+ years.   Sometimes I get out the old photo albums and reminisce about our Mexico trips and reunion parties.  Those were some good times with good people.

When I saw you in June I told you how sorry I was you were sick.  We talked about a lot of things in that short afternoon, didn’t we? I heard all about your trip to Universal Studios and you listened to some things I told you about my life.  I was sure nervous going to see you that day, I mean, what do you say to someone you haven’t seen in three decades?  You don’t know this but I even prayed for the words to say.  But when I walked in the door and you said, “hey, girl” I knew I didn’t have anything to worry about.  We just picked up where we left off and that was that.

Another thing you probably don’t know is I felt led to reach out to you, divine intervention and all that stuff.  I thought God must have needed me to get a message to you, but I think it turned out the other way around.  I think He needed you to get a message to me.  I’m not sure what that message is yet, but I think it has something to do with kindness and reaching out to those in need.  Now that you have his ear maybe you can find out for me and send me a message in a dream.  That would be so cool.

I read your sister’s post on Facebook a couple of days ago, and I knew things were getting worse for you.  She asked your friends to send her their memories of you and well wishes so she could tell them to you to keep your spirits up.  I sent her an email right away because I wanted to make sure you knew I was still thinking about you and praying for you. 

Last night I prayed real hard for you before I went to sleep.  I prayed God would release you from your pain and hold your family tight during this hard time.  Little did I know that you were already gone; released, relieved, free.  When I woke up this morning I was thinking about you again and reached for my phone for an update before I even got out of bed.  That is when I knew.  I appreciate your sister sending me a personal message.  That was very thoughtful of her.  I wrote her back, just like you used to ask me to do so long ago when we wrote letters to each other.

Scott, I hate that you had to go so soon.  I know how much you loved your job and your family, especially your nieces and nephews.  I know because you told me.  And that day I saw you in the hospital telling the respiratory therapist what he needed to do for you I knew that you had a good life and were well respected by the people you worked with for so many years.  You had so much to left to give, but your body didn’t cooperate.

Well, I’ve got to go now, it’s getting late even though we are setting our clocks back an hour tonight.  I get an extra hour of sleep tomorrow!  You?  You get eternity with an Almighty God.  I think you get the better end of this deal.  Speaking of deal, don’t forget ours.  I hope she was waiting for you.  I went shopping today and stopped by the Clinique counter and took a big whiff of her perfume.  It made me cry to think of you and her there together, but they were tears of happiness not sadness. 

I don’t feel sadness for you, Scott, because I know you are wrapped in glory now.  I do feel sadness for your family’s loss, and my loss of you as a friend.  It will be really hard for your family for a while now, but I know from experience they will one day fill that loss with good memories and find joy in the place of their sadness when they speak your name.  It will get better for them in time, so don’t let it worry you.

I’ve stayed too long, I know, so I’ll sign off now.  Tell everyone up there “Hi” for me and write back real soon.  I’ll see you in heaven.

Love, Your Friend,


Monday, October 24, 2016

My life as I wore it

Over the past year I have lost a little weight, so as the scales go down so goes the inventory in my closet.  Last week I finally found time to donate my stockpile of clothing.  Honestly, I felt a little ashamed at the amount of clothing I own.  Even after culling for the last 10 months my closet is still full and haven't even cleaned out my winter clothes I packed away in the spring.  How did that happen? I wasn't always this way. Growing up I didn't have many clothes.  My parents had six other children they also had to feed and clothe, so fashion for the youngest child wasn't a priority.

In my final push to prepare for donation day I decided I had better lift the lid on my cedar chest, one of the first grown-up Christmas gifts my mother gave me.  I don't know when I last actually opened the chest, but I can say for certain it hasn't been opened in the 10 years it has sat in my closet where I put it the day I moved into my current home.  In the spirit of adventure, I popped the heavy lid to take a look inside, allowing the earthy scent of cedar to waft over me. Pilfering through the contents was like working an archeological dig, each layer like sediment of an era of my life.  At the top of the pile were more recent acquisitions like a quilt I had forgotten I owned and my children's baptismal outfits.  The next layer were things I wore in the 1990s right before I put on the weight I have carried for 20 years, then further down still were things from days even longer passed.  I decided to take everything out and weed through the wreckage, so to speak, all the way to the very bottom.  Here a few of the treasures I found long forgotten and locked away enveloped in darkness and fragrant wood.

Because of my shortage of clothes the things I wore were worn often.  Then again, I tend to only wear things that are comfortable, so even if I did get something new I probably wouldn't have worn it much if it was scratchy or felt strange on my skin.  Polyester was not my friend.  Those who have known me the longest will recognize different versions of me here.

These are my oldest pieces; remnants of the childhood I often recollect.  The first is the dress I wore for my First Holy Communion.  I remember getting dressed on that important, sacramental day.  Some girls wore veils, but I wore a halo of flowers around my head.  I was supposed to have a special prayer book to carry, but the order never came in.  I guess it went by the way of the abacus I was supposed to get in first grade that was lost in the mail as well.

Yes, I was a National Enquirer TV Blooper Spotter and I have the shirt to prove it!  I don't remember the TV show I reported, and I certainly don't know why I was reading the National Enquirer at that age.  Apparently lots of children reported bloopers because that shirt is child sized.

The bottom two shirts were results of school art projects.  The flying initials were screen-printed in the eighth grade, and the other was the result of having too much fun with paint on another project.  If my old Sacred Heart Elementary School buddies look closely they will surely find their fingerprints.  I wore those two shirts for years.  Don't think I didn't hold them up to me to see if I could get them on, because if they still fit I would be wearing one right now.

The flashbacks continued as I pulled out some things from my high school years; Army-issue fatigues, a souvenir shirt from a trip I took to Mexico, some shirts I bought in Mexico, and a preppy monogrammed sweater given to me by my oldest sister.  Then there is the sweatshirt.   My OFTP had one with her name, too.  Why did we? I have no idea. I tried to put it on, too, but I'm not quite there yet.  Maybe it will fit by the end of winter; it's given me a new goal.

Here are my college years in a nutshell.  A credo, purple cotton parachute pants, cabbage-rose printed skirt, and British Studies.  The only thing missing is a multi-color striped button front shirt. The pants and skirt were my very favorite because they buttoned down the back.  No, I did not wear them backwards, they buttoned down the b-a-c-k.  Sadly, my purple pants have a little dry rot in the elastic, but I returned them to the safety of the cedar anyway.

Then one day I went from a First Communion dress to wearing my mother's vintage red velvet fitted dress to a Christmas party. Then, in a blink of an eye I was a maid of honor. Actually I was a maid of honor twice but I loaned out the pretty green one and didn't get it back.

Sometimes it is good to take out things that are fond reminders of certain events in your life.  Enjoy the memories but do not dwell there.  It is necessary to find the balance and learn to let go.  There is happiness right now that needs to be captured so don't waste time trying to squeeze happiness out of a moment from a lifetime ago.  Don't miss the here and now or you'll have nothing to make fond memories for later.

My cedar chest is only half as full as it was, I am proud to say.  I let go of many things, but some things are worth keeping and revisiting, like the things here.

There is one more thing I found, and I will just leave it here like an Easter egg that's been left in the weeds and found the following Easter.  That's all I have to say about them; they speak loud enough for themselves.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

My life in a lunch hour

Most anything can spark a memory; scents, textures, colors, or even a beautiful clear blue-sky day in October.  Yesterday I spent my lunch hour with a friend at the Lucky Rabbit, a monthly indoor flea market in downtown Hattiesburg. Our route from work was down W. 4th Street to Main so we had to pass my childhood home street on the way.  As we came closer to my street I couldn’t wait to point it out to my friend and claim it as my first home. Funny, because there was a time in my teenage years I would have been embarrassed, maybe even ashamed, for my peers to know where I lived.  Today I would empty my bank account to have one more day in that old damp and drafty gray house with my parents and my extended family who also called it home.  One more of my mama’s home cooked Sunday dinners and a lazy afternoon on the front porch would be a priceless gift no amount of money could buy.

My friend isn’t very familiar with downtown Hattiesburg so I directed the way. Each block, every turn brought back some childhood memory, and even though I know I sounded like an old, lonely woman facing senility I narrated my memories as we went. 

Daddy drove me to school every day, and on the way we stopped at the post office so he could get his office mail.  I don’t remember if there was parking in front of the post office or not in those days, but if there was he never used it.  He always stopped at the corner on Main Street and walked down the block.  In hindsight, and with a better understanding of the man, I now realize it was so he could continue going straight to my school and avoid unnecessary turns.  Daddy did not like anything that was unnecessary.  Some mornings I walked with him and explored the cold, marble halls of the old building and peeked into the tiny glass windows of the perfectly aligned boxes.  Some mornings I waited in the car, or jeep, or truck or whatever he might have driven home from the armory the previous evening.  In those days it must have been safe to leave your child alone in a vehicle on Main Street, even if that vehicle did not have doors or a roof.  It must have also been safe for your child to be the first one dropped off at school before the doors were opened and she had to sit on the steps and wait for the principal.  Surely, or else my father would have never done such things.

Leaving downtown, my friend and I headed west on Hardy Street back to our jobs at the university. We passed the cemetery where my grandparents are buried, Triangle store where my mother shopped for her Lenten seafood suppers, and the old Blue Ribbon Bakery building where we stopped with Granny for French bread on Sunday mornings and rainbow cookies on random days on the way home from school.  I always wanted a cupcake but my mother wouldn’t buy me one for fear I would poke my eye out with the plastic stick decoration. 

Further up was the cinema where I saw my first film, Alice in Wonderland, the old Winn-Dixie grocery store where my mother would sometimes, but not always, give me pennies to buy gumballs, a.k.a choking hazards.  Next to it was the laundromat where my mother bought me Sprites and Bugles and I fished for changed under the vending machines.  A little further down on the right is the old Pizza Hut where I ate many meals with high school friends.

My friend needed lunch so we went through the drive-thru at Wendy’s and my mind was back in the 11th grade when going to Wendy’s for chicken sandwiches with mustard and pickles after school and before play practice was like a ritual. Those days of play practice were the highlight of high school for me.  Across the street from Wendy’s is the local zoo and park, a place for senior parties, long conversations and first kisses.

Onward west we drove back to the university I attended, the place where I met new, interesting people who were born in places other than my hometown.  I met people who made me laugh until I couldn’t breathe, love until my heart ached, and loathe enough to have to ask God for forgiveness; and that was just my first year.  My university years taught me more than just fascinating history or how to start a story with a lead.  It was then I learned there was life outside of the boundaries of Highway 42 and Interstate 59.  I learned how to be an adult and take responsibility for my accomplishments as well as my mistakes.  I learned money truly doesn’t grow on trees, but student loans will you send you to wonderful places around the world.  It is the same university where I have spent a career introducing generations of burgeoning adults to these same life lessons.

Yesterday’s lunch hour took me through a lifetime of memories and left me with one conclusion.  No matter where I am, who I’m with, or what I’m doing, at the core of my soul I am still and will always be that girl from the damp and drafty gray house on Rawls Avenue four lots down from W. 7th Street.  That place and those years are what made me who I am today.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016


On my way to work today I had to first stop and pick up my car from yesterday’s oil change.  It was blocked in by a double-parked truck, and although I tried to wriggle my car free, I know when I’m beat, and I graciously allowed the owner of the shop to move it out for me.  To my good fortune I found five pennies from heaven in the parking lot while I waited on his expert driving skills to get me on the road to work.  At some point during my drive the largish chocolate-banana-protein shake I took time to make this morning spilled over in its carrying bag, and even though I righted it quickly I guess it was not soon enough.  Because…walking in from the parking lot, as I was holding the bag closely, I began to feel the wetness seeping through.  I rinsed my blouse as best I could in the first-floor bathroom sink, and I’m hoping I do not reek of soured chocolate-banana milk by the end of the day.  This part reminded of a short story I dearly love by Miranda July called “Roy Spivy.”  If you’ve never read or listened to it, please do.  Four, is all I have to say about that.

Spilling, dripping, tripping, or dropping are not new to me, so why should I even note my botched morning on this day?  Well, because today is June 1st, and exactly 27 years ago was the first day of the job I have held ever since.  I admit 27 years is a long time to be in the same job. I think to some people it marks me as unambitious or incompetent to do anything else.  True, ambition has never been my strong point, I’m still trying to figure that one out.  But lack of ambition isn’t the anchor that has kept me moored to The University of Southern Mississippi for 27 years. The fact is, (shhh, don’t tell) I like my job.

When I walked into the ELI building, the one with the rotunda, 27 years ago I didn’t know what to expect. All I knew is I needed a job other than the retail job I had, and this one presented itself by pure fate.  I had only a few encounters with international students in my undergraduate years, not for lack of interest but more because I didn’t pay attention to the world outside my bubble in those days.  I had traveled and studied abroad, but my global interest extended only to those particular countries I had visited. Suddenly, in a cramped office that was once a storeroom off of the kitchen, I found myself face to face with international students with a myriad of accents, some heavy, who amazingly to me were not hard to understand.  Three days after my first day on the job the Tiananmen Square massacre took place, and for the first time in my young life my bubble burst, and I began to pay attention to the world outside my new office door.  A desire was lit in me to learn everything I could about the cultures of the people I would be meeting.

Not a day on the job has gone by in the past 27 years that I have not learned something new about a country, a culture, a religion, or a personality.  I’ve had to talk students through breakdowns, meltdowns, depression, grief, and joy, and these things aren’t in my job description.  I’ve met South Americans, Central Americans, further North Americans, Africans, Eastern Europeans, Western Europeans, Asians, Southeast Asians, Pacific Islanders, Caribbean Islanders and people from every other nook and cranny of the world in between.  They have been Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Christians, and godless people who have lived under communism, socialism, republics, democracies, and dictatorships. 

I have learned that religion and politics really do not mean a thing when it comes to the soul of a person.  Sure, some students I’ve met have been narrow minded when it comes to these things, but the vast majority of them have displayed big hearts and open arms ready to embrace their new experiences and the people they meet along the way.  To me it all boils down to a story of hope.

International students are the embodiment of hope and optimism.  Maybe that’s why I have stayed in the same place for 27 years.  Negativity is not for me.  Bring on the hope.  It assures me that, yes, the world IS an awesome place after all.  I’ve got 27 years of experience to prove it.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Time to get up

There’s something about me only a few people know.  I tried for a long time to keep it secret by staying away from crowds, sitting in dark corners, and dressing incognito.  Sadly, word got out, people began to talk, and photographs were circulated.  So now my secret is out, and there is no turning back.  Now the world knows I am fat.

Being of surplus weight is painful both emotionally and physically.  For the past few years the physical pain and exhaustion prevented me from doing anything that would cause exertion.  The one activity I actually enjoyed that I had to give up was gardening.  Not that I’ve ever been good at it, but I do enjoy sprinkling some seeds around and watching them grow into colorful flowers.  At least I tried for a while.  Then I stopped trying anything at all.

The good news is I’ve done something about the weight, and it’s dropping off slowly but surely. The pain is fading on all fronts.  I’m enjoying life again after a long time of not enjoying anything except the taste of sugar.  It’s like waking up after a long sleep and realizing I forgot to set an alarm and almost missed my life.

The husband is waking up a little bit, too, I think.  He’s begun to think about cleaning out the garden beds that have sat neglected for over two years.  He even bought me some chickens to liven up things around here.  If I could bottle and sell the stress-relieving feeling I get from watching chickens, I would never have to work again.

The husband has started the long-term garden plan by tilling up the side yard, so I’ve finally got some bare, tilled dirt I can sprinkle a few seeds in to watch them grow.  I’ve even gone as far as to plunk some tomatoes and peppers in the ground, something I did not even consider doing last year.

The front gardens are still in a sad state, and it will be a long time before I can do any planting in them.  Even then the plan is to make a lawn instead of flower beds.  Instead, to satisfy my garden cravings I put some new things in old pots, spruced up some old things that have been languishing, and put all the pots along a brick wall outside my breakfast room window so I can enjoy them and remember to water them.  I know I’m going to water the chickens, so it makes it easy to water the plants at the same time.

For the first time in a very long time, I’m finally feeling myself again.  I’m shedding the bad Halloween costume I’ve been wearing and emerging from the shadows. Like those seeds I sprinkled around I’m growing in a good way, and allowing myself to show my colors again.  What a relief it is.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Passing it on

 Having been raised in a Catholic school I probably have just as many memories from being in church and religion class than I do of anything else that happened in all those eight years.  In fact more than fifty percent of my entire fifth grade year was one long religion class, but that’s a story all of its own.  Back in those days the songs we sang in mass and in class tended to lean towards the peace, love, and harmony motif; think “Kumbaya.”  There was one song we sang quite often called “Pass it On”.  It starts, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going / and soon all those around can warm up in its glowing.”  I liked the song, but I couldn’t sing it because it was always in a key too high for me.  So it became a joke to sing it really high and ridiculous.  Maybe that’s why I have remembered it all these years.  And still, when it replays in my mind, it is in my too high and ridiculous voice. Ironically that song came to mind in mass tonight in a moment that was definitely not ridiculous.

Easter Vigil mass is my favorite mass of the year.  It starts in complete darkness and after the first few readings the new Paschal candle is lit and the flame is shared to light the candles we are given before mass begins.  Bit by bit, flame by flame, the light spreads until at last the entire congregation is warming up in the glow of candlelight.  That one flame is enough to share with everyone in the church, and yet it is never depleted.  As long as the flame is fed it will burn brightly and sustain a light that can be infinitely shared and multiplied.  In the end that single flame is responsible for bringing the church from total darkness to a light bright enough to see clearly.

Like the song says, “that’s how it is with God’s love, once you’ve experienced it.”  The light from the Paschal candle is meant to symbolize God’s light.  Substitute the word, love, for light, and the meaning is the same.  Just like the flame, God’s love can be infinitely shared and multiplied as long as it is fed and protected.  God’s love is alive.  It can’t be hidden away or abused.  It must be fed through prayer, reading His Word, and sharing it with others.  Spread His love to everyone.  Pass it on. Pass it on.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Lucky Jar

It’s a little late to be suggesting New Year’s resolutions, but a resolution can be made at any time, not just beginning on January 1.  For example, right this very minute I resolve to not leave my seat to get a cookie!  I would probably break that resolution in the next five minutes if there were actually cookies for me to get up and get.  I do have a suggestion though, for anyone interested in keeping a three-dimensional journal of sorts, and it’s fun.

I’ve mentioned countless times of the spare change I find, mostly pennies, I attribute to my mother sending me messages from heaven.  My sisters have similar things that happen to them so last Christmas, not this past one but the one before, the pesky sister made us jars to keep our found money in throughout the year.  I left it on a side counter with a wee pencil and pad given to me the same Christmas by the Godchild Number 1, and I took the exercise a step further.  Not only did I put my money in it, but I also used the tiny paper from the tiny pad and wrote myself little notes with the tiny pencil to remind me of my blessings.  I added the notes and other mementos to the jar throughout the year.  I call it my Lucky Jar. 

A few days ago I finally got around to emptying my 2015 jar and reminiscing over my year.  Here are some of my memories:

There are many notes such as:

January 2nd – “A lazy day. My cat loves me.” 

January 7th – “My work life is peaceful”.  Unbeknownst to me at the time only a few days later my work life went from peaceful to hellacious trying to balance two demanding job positions for the next nine months.  It was a relief to deliver that baby.

January 8th – “I saw the sparkles in the kitchen.”  Sparkles need no explanation. Either you see them or you don’t, and I prefer to say I do.

January 17th – “The Goldfinches are here!”  If I were to write that again this year I would have to make a comment like “the ground is moving” because we have so many they are impossible to count.

January 31st – “Lucky to have friends, good food, and the Mona Lisa and Moon Pie parade.”  

The note from February 7th has a pink puffy heart sticker given to me by a little girl at church who was sitting behind me.  How lucky was I that day?

March 5th - I won my first and ONLY game of nine-hole-golf.  Stacy’s house is lucky.

April 3rd - I saw my first live skunk, or at least I think it was.  It was in the back of the yard and it was dark, so I can’t be sure, but I thought it was important enough to write it down.

June 10th - I got to see the 6:00 a.m. deer crossing my yard.  They are so silent and stealthy it is always a treat to catch them.

August 22nd – “I bathed a cat”. My first and last time.  Sadly, she had to be put to sleep in December.  I miss her.

The notes dwindled over time because I was too tired from work to think about it.  But I left more in the jar than just notes.  There were ticket stubs from movies, concerts, raffles, and ball games.  My favorite was the ticket stub and a piece of red crepe paper from the Weird Al Yankovich concert my family attended in May, a birthday gift to my youngest.  My note on the stub says “Got to see them smile.”  It was a great night, and I regret there have not been more times like that over the years.

There are losing lottery tickets, five fortune cookie fortunes, sea shells from beach trips, a ribbon from a rice bag from a friend’s wedding, and a paper napkin from the Morning Call coffee shop in New Orleans from May.  We were in New Orleans that day to buy me a new phone, and took a detour from shopping to spend a few stolen moments with my husband's aunt, uncle, and cousins on their way to take his cousin Sheryl to the airport.  It was a good visit over beignets and coffee with good people we do not see as often as we should.

There are wristbands from ball games and a hospital stay.  There’s also a pink rubber wristband in honor breast cancer awareness I bought for students to wear in the university’s homecoming parade in October.  That was my last official event as their director, and I thought it was a great way to end my career in that role.  It was an exhausting but rewarding experience, but like I said, I was relieved when that overdue baby was finally born.

Oh, and then there’s the cash: 55 pennies, 12 dimes, and three quarters.  I also kept an Island View Casino Cashout Ticket for 11 cents because I refused to leave empty handed.

There’s a souvenir penny with the impression “I love you” I found in my couch.  No one will claim it was theirs, so I declare it was from Mama.  Also include is one Sacagawea dollar, a gift from my aunt when she moved to St. Louis.  As far as paper money goes I kept the $1.00 from my cousin Hope, seed money for my cousin, the Artist, and I to start our ice cream parlor.  It sounds nice, but it was actually a matching insult for the Artist telling the highly successfully CPA she could be our bookkeeper.  Last but not least is the $100 bill I found in an old purse before I tossed it in the donate pile. Mama watched out for me on that one!

One of the last things in my jar was a St. Louis souvenir tintype with the faded image of a man I think is my dad.  I found it my mother’s things, so it is probably him.  Even daddy found a way to send me a little gift.

Looking back over the contents of my last year I remembered fun times with exceptional people, and realized I had a pretty fine year after all. There were days when I was doubtful, but the proof is in the jar.  How many others received a puffy heart sticker from little girl, and found $100 in an old purse?  How lucky is that?  Not really.  Life is what you make of it, and if you want to feel fortunate then you have to look for the small things to make you happy.  My jar overflows.