One of my friends says we should impose a rule on how long we can discuss health issues when we talk. The older I get, the more I see the wisdom of such a rule. No one really likes to hear another person drone on and on about their aches and pains. So, when I catch myself doing this, I’m reminded uncomfortably of my grandmother’s neighbor, Mrs. Oglesby, and I try to change the subject.
My grandmother, Meme, insisted I visit Mrs. Oglesby regularly. “How are you doing?” I’d ask.
“Not well. Not well at all.” And she’d launch into a litany of complaints. As I listened and commiserated, I’d vow never to become so negative.
This past year was particularly challenging. It all started one day at the beach when I was boogie boarding like a kid instead of the past-middle-age citizen I am. My right knee began to trouble me, but the waves were so enticing, I ignored the pain, assuming it would be gone on the morrow.
It was not. When I visited the sports doctor, he predicted a torn meniscus and ordered an MRI. When the torn meniscus turned out to be on the opposite side from the pain, I should have been wary. Instead I followed his recommendation to see a surgeon, who suggested a surgery called a partial meniscectomy.
“A chance to cut is a chance to cure,” my husband, a retired veterinarian, always jokes. “That’s the surgeon’s motto.” He did a lot of surgeries himself, and I know he didn’t abide by this motto, not when he thought another approach worked well.
I’m writing about this largely because I’d like to caution anyone considering this surgery to think more carefully than I did before leaping in. While I was recovering from the surgery, I made my second mistake. I became overly zealous with the exercises recommended by my physical therapist and strained my opposite hip. With pain in both my right knee and my left hip, walking and exercising became challenging in a totally new and not very pleasant way.
Now for mistake three. We were scheduled for a tour of Costa Rica, but had not purchased travel insurance. Because the pain was pretty severe and I knew the trip involved a fair amount of hiking, I looked into the cancellation options. They were not appealing, so we decided to go ahead with the trip.
During the hikes, the pain in my left hip was so intense, I shifted far too much weight to my still-recovering right leg. Result? Now the other meniscus in my right knee has indeed torn. Another surgery? I don’t think so. Not unless it’s a total knee replacement, but am I ready for that? By the way, Costa Rica is beautiful, but that’s a subject for another blog.
The surgeon who performed my partial meniscectomy told me he saw very little osteoarthritis in my right knee at that time. Unfortunately, one of the side effects of a partial meniscectomy is an increased risk of osteoarthritis in the future. But so soon? It had only been a few months.
At this point I decided rest was my best friend. The less I exercised, walked, or climbed stairs, the better both my hip and knee felt. I’ve lost count…is this mistake number four or five? My fit bit informed me that some days my step count didn’t even reach one thousand, and my exercise minutes were often zero. But my hip and knee were feeling better.
Next problem? After my annual physical, my primary physician ordered blood work, and we discovered my “bad” cholesterol, total cholesterol, and triglycerides had increased significantly. Could this be due to a lack of exercise? We still don’t know, but it’s been about a year now since that lovely day on the beach when the boogie boarding waves proved irresistible.
Because I’m back at the beach this week, longing to be on my boogie board once more, the year’s events have come flooding back. But I’m realizing I’ve done what my friend advised against. I’ve spent way too much time and space discussing health issues. So, I’ll stop whining for now. Take-away message? Count your blessings on your good days, exercise even if it hurts a little, and think twice before getting a partial meniscectomy on your knee.
One of the most beloved characters in my fiction is the grandmother in The Ticket, who always puts a positive face on the bleakest of circumstances. As the apostle Paul challenged, “Rejoice always… in everything give thanks.” Let’s not allow a little discomfort to spoil the joys of life—like children, grandchildren, beaches, reading, and, yes, if you feel so inclined, even boogie boarding.
Mine was the last toast. The preceding ones were great, full of emotion and kind words. I thought I’d go for a touch of humor.
I daresay I’ve known Clay longer than anyone here. His dad and his sister come close, of course, but I knew him in the womb. Even then he was difficult, always kicking as if he wanted to get the show on the road. Then, when I decided I was ready—after all, his sister had been almost three weeks early—he decided to wait for the due date. He’s always struggled a bit with decisions, as do I. We think and analyze. Then we rethink and reanalyze. Was he doing all this in the womb?
Skipping ahead to age five…I got a ping pong table for my birthday that year. You could reposition the table from a two-person table to a one-person backboard if you knew how. We instructed Clay and his sister not to try this without adult supervision. However, we did not instruct Clay’s friend Michael. I’m not saying Clay was a tattle tale, but he was a reporter.
He came flying up the stairs. “Michael broke my favorite table!” he said.
“Where is Michael?”
“I don’t know.”
Michael had fled the scene. On the following day, the phone rang, and Clay answered. His end of the conversation went something like this.
“Who? Who is this? Jay?”
Clay put the phone down and turned to us. “Bust my butt, he’s changed his name.” He sighed as he picked the phone back up. “I’m never going to remember this,” he muttered. Then, into the phone, he said, “Hello? Jay?”
Over the next few months, Clay and I played a lot of ping pong. He was too short to reach a lot of shots, so we moved a couch to his side of the table. He ran back and forth, and he became quite good. He always wanted to keep score and play to 21.
However, if he didn’t like the way a point went down, he’d call out. “Do over!”
Consequently, after about an hour the score might be 4 to 3. Clay wasn’t content just to win the point. Oh, no, he needed a good rally and the ball to go more or less where he intended.
“Disallowed!” he’d announce.
“At this rate, we’ll be here until midnight,” I often complained.
Finally Clay would begin to tire. “I think the score must be 18 to 17 now,” he’d say.
When Clay was six [a few good-natured groans from my audience at this point] we threw a party for his sister’s tenth birthday at a hotel with a swimming pool. Clay, as usual, wore his water wings, or floaties. My dad was convinced it was time Clay swam without the aid. He suggested, he encouraged, and finally he tried to shame Clay. “You don’t want the big kids at school making fun of you, do you?” (By the way, my dad and mom just left before the toasts, but they were here for the wedding. They’ve been married seventy-two years.)
“I don’t care,” Clay said. “One of these days, I’ll be a grown-up daddy with kids of my own, and I’ll still be wearing my floaties.”
Less than a year later, his sister had taught him to swim, and soon he was doing backward flips and dives into the pool.
Clay loved sports of all kinds from an early age. He played tee-ball and then baseball, basketball, soccer, and tennis. He loved being part of a team. He was very patient and supportive of his teammates. Not so much, though, of himself. When he messed up—for example, failing to strike out the batter in baseball—he took it too much to heart. He gave up baseball soon after, but continued to enjoy the other sports for several years. Still does, I think, and loves watching baseball.
At age nine, he had an opportunity for an audition in Townsend, Tennessee. Unfortunately, it was the same day as a soccer match. This was around the same time he had proclaimed, “Soccer is my life.”
“Can’t I do both?” he asked.
I shook my head. “They’ve already seen you on tape. Now the director and producers want to meet you in person.”
Tough decision. After much deliberation, he went to the audition.
By the time he was eleven, he’d done a television series, a few commercials, and a movie or two. We decided to go to Los Angeles for pilot season. His dad was working back in Tennessee, so it was up to me to navigate LA traffic. Problem was I had (and have) absolutely no sense of direction. North, south, east, and west are meaningless to me; I think in terms of right or left. And there was no GPS back then.
I would drive, and Clay would direct me, using a paper map. “You’re going to need to go to the right up here. You can change lanes now,” he’d say. I trusted him.
But, from time to time, he’d fall asleep at the job. When I could see the roads splitting up ahead, I’d try to rouse him. “Clay! Clay! Wake up! Which way do I go?”
Eventually, he’d lift his head and mumble a direction, then fall back to sleep. Half an hour later or so, he’d rouse. “Where are we?” he’d ask.
“You told me to go this way,” I’d say.
“Oh, Mom, what have you done?”
Perhaps I should have suspected even then that his future might lie in this city, where the traffic terrified me so much more than him. Still, I clung to the belief that after film school at U.S.C., he’d probably return to Tennessee—if not immediately, in a few years, surely.
Then he met Sarah.
As I looked around at the wedding guests, our family was vastly outnumbered by Sarah’s. “We may not be as numerous as the Hagans,” I said. “But we’re loud. You can hear us coming. And we say what we think.”
When we met Sarah, we all said to one another, “I like her.”
“I like her.”
“I really like her.”
We also said, “How in the world did he manage to find someone who is more like Clay than Clay himself?” They are both perfectionists, with immense patience for artistic endeavors and meticulous attention to detail.
They keep on striving for perfection, long after Clay’s dad, his sister, and I are saying, “Come on. That’s good enough. Be done with it, and move on to something else.”
When Nikki was in elementary school and had to make a poster, she’d get it done in a hurry. If she messed up a little, she’d just write over that letter with the correct one. When Clay made a poster, he’d measure carefully the space between each and every letter. Then, if he messed up, he’d need a do-over. Throw that one away, and start fresh.
If I had to pick one quality that most impresses me about Clay and Sarah as a couple, it’s how supportive—and patient—they are of each other.
This next part is an addendum. I didn’t say it at the wedding, but I should have. Clay, your dad always claims you got your brains, your competitiveness, and your artistic inclination from me. I should say you get your heart—big as Alaska, your generous nature, your humility, and your powers of observation from him. And your sense of direction.
Your sister always says you’re my favorite child. But that’s only half true. You’re both my favorites.
A toast… to Clay and Sarah… and a long, happy life together. I love you so much it hurts.
“I just don’t think those current hairstyles are becoming on anyone,” my mom often says. To prove her point, she’s maintained more-or-less the same bubble haircut over the past, oh, fifty years or so.
I never agree with her out loud. Indeed, I do usually think the current hairstyles look fine on most people other than myself. Young, fresh-faced news commentators, actresses on my mom’s “stories,” and the younger generation of women at church wear these styles with aplomb.
When I look in the mirror, however, I’m beginning to agree with my mother. Would I look better if I reverted to one of my older styles? Or were they becoming only because my face was once younger, fresher?
I don’t think about this question too often, mainly on days when I’ve scheduled a haircut and need to tell the stylist what I want. This year, though, my son has planned a big wedding event and invited a lot of his California friends and fiancée’s family members I’ll be meeting for the first time.
Staring at myself in the mirror, I ponder the question. Should I follow my mom’s habit and revert to an old hairstyle, or ignore my face and be more contemporary? And does it really matter? Ah, the vanity, the vanity.
In my novel, Joy After Noon, Joy worries that she’s being compared unfavorably to Ray’s first wife, now deceased.
Joy After Noon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08TL79RPJ
Who among us doesn’t suffer the occasional pangs of self-doubt, whether they are about our weight, our face, our hair, our social skills, or our cooking? Only God ignores the outer shell and focuses on our inner being. Let us strive to keep it young and fresh.
I wrote this short piece a couple of days after Christmas a few years ago. Recently I ran across a notepad from an International Film Festival I cannot remember, where I’d scribbled these thoughts. I decided to share them …
I pull the fringed moose throw Nikki made me for Christmas a year ago (or was it two) down around my lap. It’s time to put it away for another year, and yet it seems only yesterday I got it out and positioned it neatly on the back of the blue recliner. When I did so, it felt as if the Christmas season would last forever, though of course I knew it would not. Do others have this same denial of the inevitable as I? When I was a child and Meme (pronounced the way people now pronounce Mimi) was old—very old, she seemed to me, though she was younger than I am now—it seemed impossible that I should not be always a child and she always alive and with me.
Perhaps it is this denial that makes the relentless march of time across our days bearable. Sometimes I look in the mirror and see the fine cross-hatch of lines beneath my eyes and think, can this really be me? Am I not still the little blond-haired girl whose grandparents doted on her so? Even when I face the reality that indeed this graying, not so firm body belongs to me, I find it difficult to believe that I won’t remain frozen at this particular stage of aging, that either I’ll die or else continue to grow older, flabbier, grayer, more forgetful. It’s too painful to face and so, more often than not, I reject the truth in favor of the more palatable illusion of timelessness. Reading C. S. Lewis, I came across a reference to the idea that a thousand years are like an hour to God. And the converse. And so they will be to us. Someday. I hope.
Inimitable. This is the word that comes to mind, and I’m not sure I know what it means. I want to use it to describe the march of time, and when I’m feeling sufficiently energetic to retrieve a dictionary, I’ll look it up. Perhaps I’m thinking “inimical,” though I’m pretty sure that word has a much more negative connotation than I want to give in to. Ah, now I’ve located a thesaurus. Inimical means unwelcoming, cold, ill-disposed. Inimitable means unique, matchless, incomparable. I suppose it’s neither or both, depending on one’s frame of mind.
As always, pouring out my thoughts on paper (or screen) makes them feel less bleak. I did this after Meme passed away, when I could hardly think of her name without tears blurring my eyes. Even now, all these years later, the tears will come. Nonetheless, today I’ll choose inimitable to describe the march of time, as I know she’d have wanted me to do.
On a lighter note, I can see myself becoming (or am I already?) one of those older women in my family who embarrassed me as a kid by asking questions of shoppers that were intended for store employees. It seems harder and harder these days to tell the difference, or perhaps I just don’t care as much as I once did about the proprieties. Whereas once it felt humiliating to be laughed at, now a good laugh is appreciated, even when it comes at my own expense. My mom, who has her share of faults, has always been a great one to laugh at her own foolishness. I admire this quality more and more as I become increasingly foolish, or merely more aware of the foolishness that’s always been there.
My daughter, who is one of my best critics and also my strongest supporter, tells me I should write these blogs more as memoir and less as travel facts. I’ve been contemplating her suggestion, but unable to make it happen as yet. So, I thought I’d post this in the meantime, and I welcome any feedback, positive or negative.
I originally planned to begin with New Zealand or Belgium, as I’ve been to both many times over the years and have friends in both places. However, I’ve decided to start with something much nearer home—Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
Since we were there quite recently (December 2021), my memories are still fresh. My husband Norm and I go to Gatlinburg almost every year around the time of our wedding anniversary, December 19. Things didn’t work out so well in 2020. I’d reserved a log cabin in the next town over, Pigeon Forge, and we started in that direction. Our kids (adults now with families of their own) were anxious. Sevier County, they told us, was setting records that week in new cases of COVID-19. So, we turned back, hunkered down, and spent a cozy week at home in Clarksville, Tennessee, instead. The proprietor who rented us the cabin was gracious enough to give us a full refund, and I hope to try that log cabin, if God wills, in 2022.
In 2021, however, we decided to stay at the Zoder’s Inn in Gatlinburg. This was one of our favorite destinations when our kids were small. It is in walking distance of many Gatlinburg attractions, no small deal since parking can be expensive and hard to find. Also, we always enjoyed the features and amenities at Zoder’s, which included balconies overlooking a rushing stream with the Smoky Mountains in the background, and a large recreational facility with racket-ball courts, a fitness room, an indoor pool with a bridge, a waterfall, and a hot tub, and a breakfast bar that provided a brief menu where you could mark your choices of juice, cereal, toast, etc.
Upon arrival in 2021, we were told that almost all the amenities were closed, with the exception of the pool. Nonetheless, we stayed at Zoder’s, planning to spend most of our time away from the room anyway. Over the years, we’ve had far more good, or even great, experiences in Gatlinburg than disappointing ones, though we’ll never forget the year (we were at Zoder’s that year as well) when I contracted food poising or a wicked stomach virus. But I digress.
I won’t attempt to describe every activity or every meal from our recent visit, so I’ll focus on two of each.
Not everyone loves a theme park, but I do…
The first December that we went to Dollywood around Christmastime, many years ago, almost all the rides were closed for the season. We had a pleasant time walking around at night, taking in the lights and the nativity scenes, listening to some Christmas carols, and shopping for a few souvenirs, but that was about all that was happening. Now Dollywood brims with choices.
Buying online tickets for the park and for parking was easy and saved us a bit of time as we entered. Prepaid parking wasn’t clearly delineated, but we veered into a lane to the far right where an attendant appeared to be waving people through, and it worked. The lights were more spectacular than ever, and the live entertainment choices abounded.
With the exception of the water rides, most of the rides were up and running. My attitude toward theme park rides, roller coasters in particular, differs from Norm’s. Although we both suffer from some neck and back issues, as well as a predisposition for motion sickness, I’d be willing to take my chances in exchange for the thrill of the adrenalin rush. He would not. The last time I talked him into a vintage roller coaster ride that looked relatively tame, the old-fashioned wooden coaster proved more jarring to neck and shoulders than some of the more dazzling modern coasters.
Another memory surfaces. One year when I was a teenager—or preteen, perhaps—a traveling carnival came to my hometown of Mayfield, Kentucky. My best friend Laura and I fell in love with the tilt-a-whirl. We rode it over and over, embracing the feelings of spinning, of dizziness, of lightheadedness, of being out of control. When we got off, we’d stagger around, laughing, and get back in line.
Years later, I talked Norm into a similarly spinning type of ride. His face turned white, then almost green. Watching him throw up when we got off, I promptly followed suit. Now, when we see those kinds of rides, we shake our heads. “No, thank you,” we say. “Not for us.” But still I hold onto my appreciation of roller coasters and only reluctantly pass them by.
I focused my efforts this time on mapping out the sequence of showtimes that would enable us to see as many as possible, without missing the fifty-foot Christmas tree, the Merry & Bright fireworks display near closing time, or the train ride. By accessing the showtimes online for the week we were there, I was able to map out a tentative schedule the night before we went.
Although I’ve seen it many times, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas remains one of my favorite shows, and this year was no exception. I was a bit disappointed in the acoustics for Christmas in the Smokies, but we managed to do almost everything on my list, with the exception of taking a peek into Santa’s List, to find out if I’d been naughty or nice (Norm says that’s a no-brainer). We caught the last train ride of the day, and it was so crowded I’d swap it for the peek at Santa’s workshop, or the concert by the Mistletones if I had a do-over. This was the first time we saw the show, Heart of the Holidays, featuring some of Dolly’s relatives, and it was worthwhile.
We were so busy taking in the sights and sounds, we nearly forgot to eat. But on the way out, we stood in a relatively short line for a steak panini with caramelized onions and peppers. Delicious! No wonder Dollywood is often ranked as one of the best theme parks and one of the best Christmas attractions in the world.
Not sure if Anakeesta would qualify as a theme park, exactly…
I’d never been to Anakeesta before, and I loved every minute of it. This is a relatively small park atop, you guessed it, Anakeesta Mountain, in downtown Gatlinburg. The price is very affordable. Here too we were able to buy our tickets online, and reserve a time for the Chondola ride to take us up the mountain.
This time the lanes were clearly marked. Anakeesta was booming when we arrived, but almost everyone was in the line to purchase tickets. We were able to move straight on to the Chondola. I’d been wondering if they offered open-air chair lifts or enclosed gondolas, or both, until I figured out that both (hence the name) are on the same line.
We chose the open-air chair lift, and we were blessed with great weather, which made this ride quite pleasant. As we went up the mountain, we passed families with small kids moving down, and the children usually called out greetings or waved. One chair held a Christmas elf. Another option was to ride up in a Ridge Rambler adventure truck. At the summit, you’re about 600 feet above the heart of the city. The views are great, especially if you climb Anakeesta Tower.
You can spend more money inside the village, if you choose. For example, the bobsled looked like fun. But one admission ticket allows you to ride up and down the mountain as many times as you like on the Ridge Rambler or Chondola. We chose to go once in daylight and once at night. In our first visit, we explored the challenge courses, traversed the hanging bridge, climbed the tower, and took in the view while splitting a burger and fries at the Clifftop café. Then we returned late that evening to see the lights ablaze.
The evening visit was magical, as you could choose between rockers overlooking the city and those around a fire, sip on a mug of hot chocolate with marshmallows or indulge in a fried pie or scoop of hand-dipped ice cream (we chose the latter, and it was yummy). If I go again, I may have to try the dueling zipline adventure (extra fee for this), which looked like lots of fun.
Although I’d already joined the kids earlier in the day in the tree-venture challenge, the bear venture, and the treehouse, we retraced our steps to see what was now illuminated. I was so intent on not missing a thing, Norm said he feared my head might pop off my twisting neck. When we prepared to leave at closing time, the line for the Chondola looked long, but it moved quickly. Downtown Gatlinburg, all lit up as viewed on the way down, was more captivating than in daylight.
Looking forward to new places to eat, or old favorites, is one of the joys of travel.
Every time we go to Gatlinburg, we plan at least one midday meal at the Old Mill Pottery House Café in Pigeon Forge. My usual order is the spinach and muenster quiche with a spinach and strawberry salad, and a thick slice of cinnamon raisin bread. Everything there is made locally, if I recall correctly, from the dishes, tables and chairs, to the delicious breads and pies. Although spinach is not usually on my diet (kidney stone unfriendly), and raisins are not one of my favorites, this dish is so tasty I make an exception here. Norm loves their pimento cheese and fried green tomatoes.
This time we also tried a new restaurant located in one of our old hangouts. Townsend, Tennessee, is a little village nestled in the Smokies about twenty miles from Gatlinburg. We spent a lot of time there in the 1990s, when our son was cast in the TV series Christy, based on the Catherine Marshall novel. To learn more about that enchanted period of our lives, check out my first published book, The Past Ever Present. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B091F3MN3R/ref=reader_auth_dp
We usually plan one semi-fancy evening meal to celebrate our anniversary. This year we chose the Dancing Bear Appalachian Bistro in Townsend. We read the reviews and made a reservation. What I’d forgotten was how winding the roads are between Gatlinburg and Townsend, and how long those twenty miles can seem if you’re prone to motion sickness.
When our son Clay was involved in Christy, he bonded with Andy, the child who played Little Burl. Clay played his brother, Creed Allen. Andy’s mom loved for Clay to hang out with them because Clay managed to entertain her toddler, Alex, in a way that lessened her parenting burden—understandably so, as Alex was a handful by any definition. I always remember going out to eat with them once when Alex was inconsolably howling his head off. I was at a loss as to how to ease the situation. But his mother smiled calmly. “I love this restaurant,” she said, taking another bite. “Anywhere else, I’d have been asked to leave by now.”
Clay often accompanied Andy, Alex, and their mom on outings. On one memorable occasion, they returned to our hotel in Townsend from a trip to Gatlinburg. Their car, and Clay’s clothing, exuded a decidedly foul odor. Motion sickness runs in our family. Andy’s mom took this calmly as well.
By the time we arrived at the Dancing Bear, I was beginning to regret our choice. Once inside, my nausea subsided, and I ordered modestly but with a growing appetite. Norm had the filet, which came with a foie gras glaze. He ordered it without the glaze, as he eats virtually anything but liver. (I was tempted to ask for his glaze on the side but resisted). I had looked forward to the scallops, but they were only a starter on this evening, so I ordered them plus a pear salad. Both were amazing. I left the restaurant, no longer thinking that I’d never voluntarily undertake that drive again, but wondering what I’d order next time.
In 2020, when we didn’t go to Gatlinburg, Norm baked me a crustless quiche at home.
In past anniversary trips, we have made different choices, including the free-standing shows in Pigeon Forge, the craft circle in Gatlinburg, the outlet mall in Sevierville, the Titanic Museum, and more. Next year we plan to go to the Aquarium in Gatlinburg. So, I anticipate another blog at some point about this quaint and intriguing part of our home state of Tennessee.
In one of my newsletters, I related a humorous incident that occurred in a bed and breakfast near Dublin, Ireland. I received more positive responses to this piece than usual, and an idea was born. Travel has always been one of my joys, though the pandemic has taken its toll, of course. I’ve kept countless detailed journals over the years, intending to incorporate the settings into novels.
While not abandoning that idea, I’m thinking of starting a travel blog in which I take the reader to a few of the places I’ve been. My travels have been varied, from taking bus trips or river cruises to renting cars or traveling by train. Because my work has taken me most often to New Zealand (eighteen visits, averaging a month each) and Belgium, I’m likely to begin with those.
If I do this, in my newsletters I’ll incorporate a snippet and a link to the more detailed blog for those interested. In the blog I may talk about where I stayed, what I saw, food, history, what went well, and what turned out disastrously. Because I always figured I could see more places if I was cost conscious, I’ve stayed on occasion in hostels and campgrounds, but when the prices were right (Thailand, for instance) we stayed in some magnificent hotels.
As I keep writing, I’ll also keep you updated on my books, of course. Let me hear your thoughts on this. If you don’t like the idea, please don’t hesitate to say so. I haven’t decided.
In Song of Sugar Sands, Acadia and Peter run out of money on a trip to Gatlinburg and laugh over steak that’s too tough to chew and swallow. Their car breaks down, as did ours on our honeymoon (though we were in Nashville rather than Gatlinburg)—and, yes, I remember that grizzly steak, which was on an anniversary trip to Gatlinburg.
Here’s a brief excerpt from the novel. In this scene Acadia and Peter are on their honeymoon:
Our resources had dwindled considerably by the time we shopped for men’s clothes. Determined to be as generous as Peter had been, I encouraged him to spend most of our remaining dollars on shirts, ties, and trousers. More from necessity than choice, we dined at an inexpensive fifties-style diner decorated with photographs of Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, and old cars. I stared at a huge photo of Marilyn. How short her life had been, how sad too, judging from what I’d read.
We were starving by the time our food came, and I speared a particularly large steak tip. The meat was so full of gristle, I had to chew for what seemed an eternity before I could swallow. “This must be one of those foods where you burn more calories than you consume.”
“Yeah? What are some of the others?”
“Celery, I think,” I said and Peter grimaced. “You never heard that? They’re great diet foods because you chew for so long you can’t gain weight on them.”
“Maybe we should complain,” Peter said. He was still working on his first bite. “This is ridiculous.”
I giggled. “I’m trying to look on the bright side.” [end of excerpt]
That wasn’t the only time we ran out of money on a trip. I also remember having to ask my dad to wire money to eastern Kentucky when we visited the Red River Gorge. Nonetheless, I’m glad we didn’t wait until we could afford it to start traveling, or we would have missed a lot of adventures.
Let me know what you think of the idea; and, if you like it, which of the places listed you’d like to hear about first:
England—London, Lake District, Bronte Country, Cliffs of Dover
Italy: Tuscany and Umbria, Florence, Rome, Venice
New Zealand—north island
New Zealand—south island
Gulf Shores, Alabama
France—Monet settings, Van Gogh
Rio de Janeiro
Tennessee State Parks
Kentucky State Parks
Canada: Nova Scotia, Maritime provinces
Christmas markets in Europe
Land between the Lakes
Gems of southeast Europe: Croatia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia
As I look over the list, I’m amazed by how many places I’ve been. I also see some big gaps. I’ve barely touched on Asia, and not on Africa at all. These remain on my wish list for future travel.
The next person to cross the yard was a grown man—a parent, perhaps. He wore a plain black mask covering only his eyes and nose. A sparse, scraggly growth of a reddish blonde hue adorned a weak chin. I glanced past him in search of his child, but none was in sight.
I shivered with foreboding, then scoffed at my fear. His kid was probably just lagging behind. A group of children in the next yard laughed and chased after each other, the contents of a small witch’s bag tumbling onto the lawn. None of them appeared to be connected to the masked man.
I shook off my premonition. Surely the general eeriness of the holiday was working on my imagination. When he showed no sign of slowing his pace, I took a step backward and started to close the door. The man caught the door with his foot and shoved it open.
A scream froze in my throat as he pushed inside. He was broad-shouldered and strong. My heart banged in terror. I found a voice, though it didn’t sound much like my own. “What do you want—who are you?”
“I just want to talk to you. Give me a little cooperation and you won’t get hurt.”
Like a nightmare where my feet felt glued to the floor, I found myself unable to move or even scream. The din of happy children sounded farther away.
“All right.” My voice came out in a raspy squeak. “I’ll cooperate. Do you want money? We don’t have much, but—"
“I don’t want your money. I just want you to stay out of my life.”
My husband and I recently watched a TV series about a sociopath. We looked up the distinction between a sociopath and a psychopath. One source tells us that a psychopath has no conscience, while a sociopath has a weak conscience. I don’t find this particularly enlightening, but it does suggest the notion that conscience is, like many conditions, a spectrum.
When I was eight, I was baptized for the remission of my sins. When I was in my thirties, I was baptized again in case I didn’t know what I was doing the first time. But, looking back to remorse I experienced as a young child, I’m pretty sure I knew right from wrong at a very early age. Doesn’t everyone?
We’re not all the same, though we are also all the same in so many ways. We have a tendency to expect others to react as we would in a particular situation. And sometimes they do, which reinforces the notion of sameness. But sometimes they don’t, and we’re stunned, or at least surprised. When we get to know someone intimately—a spouse, a child, a parent—if we have an open mind, we grow to understand those differences, to expect them. Yet not always. We still find ourselves surprised on occasion.
I remember reading Little Women for the first time and being heartbroken by Jo’s rejection of Laurie. “We’re too much the same,” she said, or something to that effect. Having married someone very different from me, I understand what she meant, though I still wonder on occasion. Are we better off, or worse off, when we’re quite similar? We know the adage: opposites attract, but does that lead to a happy forever? Does anything?
In my family, I’ve seen plenty of evidence to the contrary. After being married for well over fifty years, my parents continued to try to change each other to be more like themselves. Did this spring from excessive narcissism, or from a lack of understanding? Both, perhaps, or the former in my mother’s case and the latter in my father’s, though I really don’t know.
Among my earliest memories are those of my parents fighting. Verbal fights mainly, with insults being hurled freely, which occasionally became physical for a moment with my mother striking out and my dad defending himself. Into their eighties, they would visit me and the quarrels would resume. Were they oblivious to my presence, I’d wonder, or did they prefer an audience?
I think of my Uncle Prentice, who has witnessed plenty of their spats, and who is known for his clever country saying. One of them comes to mind: That’s why we have chocolate and vanilla.
When I was a kid, I wrote this poem about spring. Not long after that, I realized I wasn’t a poet and dismissed it as embarrassing and sentimental with its obvious rhymes and optimistic viewpoint. As I looked out at the budding trees and flowers this morning, though, the words of the first verse came back to me and I thought I’d share them. (Keep in mind that I know I’m no poet.)
Spring is an awakening,
An awakening of life.
Spring is a forsakening,
A forsakening of strife.
Spring spreads across the earth,
Bringing joy where e’er she can.
Spring rejoices in her rebirth
In the heart of every man.
As I look back over my past blogs, I found one I wrote one year ago. I’m copying the last bit of that one below, written on March 30, 2020:
By the time we left Auckland on March 22, we knew the virus was indeed serious. Where would it end? What would we find when we arrived in the U.S.? Should we wear masks on the plane even though reports indicate the masks aren’t helpful? Would we be able to buy toilet tissue or hand sanitizer?
We’re here now. We feel safe much of the time. But we are saddened to hear how many people in the world, in the nation, in our state, even in our city, have contracted the virus. When will it end?
My morning walk, despite the absence of people stirring, wasn’t without splendor. Flowers and trees are budding and bursting into full bloom. Spring surges into our world, oblivious to this threat to our health. Let’s enjoy the beauty around us and, yes, let our hearts sing.
I wrote this Valentine to my husband a few years ago. However, in this past year of COVID-19, when we have been shut up together for days on end, we often get on each other’s nerves. It’s easy to forget the bright side, to overlook the qualities we love. So I thought I’d remind myself and share it with you.
I may not always tell you, but I hope you always know.
I love the way: