Wonder, the Dog…

My Father has always been a quiet, gentle, soft-spoken man. In the past, whenever I would visit my Mom and Dad at their home, it usually ended up that Daddy mostly “listened” as the rest of the family did the talking. As my Mother’s Alzheimer’s progressed, and she eventually had to enter a nursing home, it meant that our family had to make yet another change in our “dynamics.” Instead of my Mother and I “running our mouths” a mile a minute, it was now my sweet Father and I in front of the TV watching so many westerns, that I actually felt bow-legged at times. I kept having an irresistible urge to say, “Howdy, Partner!” to everyone I met…

I thought, you know, you’re wasting precious time with your father, just watching TV. Why not try to draw him out and actually talk? So, I began the plan for “conversation” during  my next visit. Much to my delight and surprise, he began telling me stories from the past…stories that I had never heard before. I discovered that he asked Mother to marry him by writing the words, “Will you marry me?” on the inside of the windshield of his car one night. He was a “romantic” young man, and I never knew that. One of our discussions has led to my story and challenge for this week…

Daddy and I were sitting in the living room, watching another western, when he turned to me and said, “you know, I used to have the prettiest little dog when I was a boy.” (This was the first time I had ever heard that Daddy had a pet as a child, and being an “over the top” animal lover myself, he had my undivided attention.) He said, “it just came up one day, and never left my side…a little collie…followed me wherever I went.” He said that they tried to find out if the dog belonged to any neighbors, but no one claimed him, so my Dad got to keep him. He continued with his story, and said, “oh, how I loved that little dog.” I wanted to know more, and asked, “what did you name the dog?” He said, “Wonder.” Now, I was expecting to hear “Spot,” “Rover,” or anything else, but “Wonder?????” I then asked the obvious question, “Where on earth did you come up with the name, Wonder?” He looked at me as if that was the most ridiculous question he had ever heard, and said, “Well, we always wondered where he came from….” I was laughing so hard, that he got to laughing with me; and the more we laughed, the more tickled we got. It was a pretty wonderful time, and a great memory for me to hold in my heart.

Families are losing their histories because younger family members don’t really talk to their older relatives – grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, etc. As a result, no one hears, or takes the time to listen to, these wonderful stories. If you have ever watched the face of an older individual telling their story, it is as if they are actually reliving the event – their faces are full of wonder, and at times seem like a video that you are able to watch yourself, firsthand. So here is my challenge for this week: Start talking to your older family members! Ask them to reminisce. There are guides and books everywhere on the Internet to assist you with “topical suggestions” for conversations, if you can’t come up with your own. If you no longer have older relatives, there are THOUSANDS of precious elders living in nursing homes, assisted living centers, even in your own neighborhood, who would love to tell a story and have someone listen. I am going to see if I can learn more stories like “Wonder, the dog.” Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

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You don’t even KNOW me!!

Hope all of you have had a good week! I just returned from a conference in Texas, and it was so gratifying to hear people speak of this blog, and to hear their stories. So, we may definitely affect our world in a positive way, week by week..

As we celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. tomorrow, I thought this particular story and challenge would be most appropriate.

I have lived most of my life in Mississippi – a beautiful state, filled with wonderful people. I am quite aware of the horrible reputation that our state has across the nation. For example, there is not one, educated person in the state that a newscaster could ask to comment on a recent tornado. Nope, it has to be someone with three teeth, spitting tobacco, stating, “Yep, I heared it come over the roof of the trailer…(spit) sounded like a freight train…(spit) we all got in the tub….”  Or, most people think that every single person in the state is prejudiced. So, I would like to correct a few misconceptions. 

Like most states we have the good, the bad, and the ugly…however, I, like numerous others, was not raised to be prejudiced. I was taught that we were all God’s creations, and that none of us were better (or worse) than anyone else. It offends me to be given a negative label, especially when it is simply based on where I lived. I’ve actually been “flipped off” by someone in another car, passing by on the interstate, just because I had a Mississippi state license plate. I wanted to roll down my window and scream: “You don’t even know me!” Course, if I had done that, I could have gotten shot, or worse…so some things best left unsaid…The point I am trying to make is this: why do we make those needless judgements based on color of skin, or an accent, or a geographic location, or anything?

Recently, I went to a local play, “Ragtime.” The plot covered a number of issues during a certain time period of our country – unions/strikes/unfair treatment of women and certain ethnic groups. During the play, part of the dialogue included calling one of the African American characters “nigger.” It had been so long since I had heard that awful name, that I flinched as if I had been slapped. I noticed that almost everyone around me did the same…a flinch and audible gasp. And I thought to myself, how WONDERFUL!! They were as offended and appalled as I was. So… just for this week, I will make an extra effort to reflect the feelings of my heart when I encounter anyone of a different race, ethnic group, or culture than “mine.” I will try to convey that all I see is another human being…period!! I was not raised with prejudice and I want others to know that truth in my actions each day. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

Are you feeling lucky…..

It has been wonderful hearing from everyone this week, either by comment here on the blog, or by FB, or email. So we are off to a good start. I hope that many of you did things this week that would make your Mama’s heart “go thump.” I did, and am doing, a number of things….I’m taking care of a friend’s house, plants, and mail while she is out of town. Earlier, I made a fresh pie for a neighbor who had lost her mother and 17-year old dog within the same week. I gave free tickets to some neighbors who had never been to a UT Lady Vols basketball game.  Just a few of my “heart thumpers” this week. So little things can make a difference – they don’t have to be BIG actions. Since last week’s blog was a little sad, I thought we might have a lighter story and challenge this week. AND this is a New Year’s story, so I have to get it in the blog this month. So, here we go…

I need to give you a little “background” for this particular story. Although I am a public speaker and communicator by trade, my close friends and family know that if anyone has a talent for saying the wrong thing, and putting not one, but two, feet in their mouth…..well….that would be me. Now, on to the story…

If you are from the South, you KNOW that black-eyed peas MUST be eaten on New Year’s Day in order to have “good luck” for the coming year. If you were to ask most Southerners “why” we eat black-eyed peas for good luck, not many would be able to give you a rational answer. We just know that if that black-eyed pea does not cross our lips on New Year’s, all is lost, and gloom and doom will surely follow us the entire year. My Mama used to always call me on New Year’s Day to wish me well, and she would always begin the conversation by saying, “Have you had your good luck yet?” And of course, I would always respond, “yes, I ate them at lunch.”

This particular year, I was out of town visiting with friends over the holiday. Most of us had not had very good “luck” the prior year, so it was pretty much a unanimous decision to include black-eyed peas in our New Year’s menu. As “luck” would have it, we did not have any peas at home, so a trip to the grocery store was required. My friends sent me into the store (by myself), knowing that I cannot go into a store without talking to everyone in the building. (They waited for me in the car.) As I finally located the aisle containing the black-eyed peas, I started walking down it. I saw a man walking up from the other end of the aisle, and for some reason, I came to the conclusion that he was also looking for black-eyed peas. I smiled at him from a distance away, and he returned the smile. As we got closer to each other, within “talking” distance, I gave him a great big ole’ smile and said….”Hey, are you looking for some good luck?” The minute the words were out of my mouth, I KNEW they were the WRONG words! The man smiled at me, started at my feet with his eyes, going slowly over my body to my head, and said, “I might be…” I raced out of the store before he could go any further! I hopped into the car and said the words my friends have heard on more than one occasion…”leave rubber!” They peeled out of the parking lot not saying a word. Several blocks later, they all turned to me and said “what did you do??” Of course, New Year’s rolled around the next day, and my phone rang. It was Mama. The first thing she said was, “have you had your good luck?” I said, “Mama, don’t even go there.” The phone line got really quiet, and then she said…”what did you do?”

So, JUST FOR THIS WEEK, I am going to realize that I cannot read peoples’ minds, and know what they are thinking, or even what actions they might be thinking of taking. I’m NOT going to jump to conclusions!! I’m going to let people communicate their thoughts and actions to me with no bias or anticipation on my part. In other words, I AM GOING TO LISTEN….just for this week. Won’t you join me?

It always begins with Mama….

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I have worked in long term care for over 30 years, and am recognized nationally as an expert/educator/motivator in the field of aging services. My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease five years ago, and I have struggled to cope with the loss and overwhelming sadness that seems to fill every part of my being. I can’t seem to figure out where to put my sadness. None of the “prevailing” coping mechanisms seem to work for me, so I have turned to what I know to be true…what my Mother has taught me…I got to thinking that maybe I could help myself by giving to, or doing something positive for, someone else each week, for the next year. And then I thought, wouldn’t it be wonderful, if others would join me.

This blog is an attempt to recharge my faith and spirit, by committing to a year of “doing for others,” week by week. It is also my goal to inspire others to join me in this journey. Imagine…my friends and family, the friends and family of my friends, and the friends and family of their friends, and the friends and family of those friends….(you see where I am headed with this, right?) ALL giving of themselves to others in some small way – week by week – for a full year! In my travels and interactions with people, I have discovered that almost everyone has some type of sadness or struggle in their own lives. So I am asking all of you to join me…”just for this week.” You may choose to follow and be involved all 52 weeks of this coming year; or maybe you will just visit us for a week or two at a time. Doesn’t matter! We will celebrate whatever you do! Just think..we could have thousands of people who are giving to others, and/or being positive in our world. The possibilities are endless! As I said, I am committing to a full year. Each Sunday evening I will post a story  – sometimes long, sometimes short, sometimes happy, sometimes sad…but almost always, there will be humor. Along with each story I will issue a specific challenge and will want to hear of your successes, frustrations, or just “happenings.” At the end of the year, we will decide whether to continue for another year. We are asking you to follow this blog, and forward it on to your friends and family. So here is my first story, and my first challenge to you…

My sister and I were taking my Mother to yet another appointment with her neurologist. I was driving and my Mother was sitting in the passenger seat; my sister, Beth, in the back seat. As we neared the downtown area, traffic began to increase, and I realized that we might be a little late for the appointment. As we were waiting at a stop light, I quickly called the Dr’s. office and explained that we were running a little late, but that we would be there, and that I was sorry for the inconvenience. When I ended the call, my Mother (who I had not realized had been listening to my side of the conversation rather intently) turned around and said, “that’s how you should do it…that’s the right thing to do.” I commented that “someone” had taught me to do those type of things when I was growing up. My Mother teared up, and was struggling to find the words that she wanted to say to me. She finally got it sorted out in her head, placed her hand over her chest, and said…”it makes my heart go thump.” So JUST FOR THIS WEEK, I am going to do something that will make my Mama’s heart “go thump.” I challenge you to do the same. Even if your Mother is no longer alive, you remember what made her “heart go thump,” so do it!