Even As You Do Unto Them, You Do Unto Me….

Thanksgiving! What a wonderful time of the year! However, this year will be just a little sad, as this is the very first Thanksgiving that I will experience without my Mother. Thanksgiving was OUR time! Thanksgiving is the holiday that ALL of our family members come home to celebrate. Mother would prepare each child and grandchild’s favorite dessert for this occasion (so we had quite a lot of desserts). She would begin a week ahead of time, cooking. I would arrive a couple of days before the holiday, and she and I would cook and cook, laughing and enjoying our time together in the kitchen. The night before Thanksgiving, I would tell her to get some rest, that I would get up throughout the night and check the turkeys and hams in the oven. One of my favorite, funny memories is of our entire family playing charades the night before. It was Mama’s turn and she had to act out the movie, “The Exorcist.” She turned her back to us at first to prepare herself, and when she turned around, she had contorted her face and body to where she DID look possessed!! All of us were just on the floor, killing ourselves laughing. She had nailed it!! And she had never even seen the movie! Of course, NONE of us guessed the correct answer…

We never knew how many people would show up for dinner, as Mother would invite ANYONE in the community who would be by themselves, or they had no family. We have had over FIFTY people present at various times for Thanksgiving dinner! Mother taught us that it was always better to give and share, especially when you had the means to do so. Her favorite saying was, “the word is compassion.” She lived by that Bible verse…”Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” She instilled that belief in all of us. So, here is the story for this week…

A couple of years ago, I was visiting my folks in MS. Although Mother had Alzheimer’s, she was still able to live at home. Whenever I visited them, the visits were always filled with my making repairs around the house. Mother and Daddy had always relied on me to do these things, and would have a “to do list” for each of my visits. Mother understood that this was one of the ways that I expressed my love for them, and that I enjoyed doing these jobs for them.

I was outside the house, completing some work on their carport. As I was working, a man walked up the driveway, and introduced himself as one of our new neighbors. He told me his name and we visited for a few minutes, as I welcomed him into the neighborhood. Then he got down to the reason for his visit…he explained to me that his family had just moved in, and he was starting a new job on Monday. However, he had a problem…the alternator in his car had gone out, and he was going around the neighborhood, attempting to find some “handyman jobs” in order to get enough money to pay for the alternator. He explained that he had just completed some work for one of our neighbors, and was wondering if he could do anything for us. He indicated that he was about $35 short of the amount he needed. Now, I will admit, I was not born yesterday, nor did I fall off of a turnip truck, so my first instinct was that this was a scam. The only problem was this…what if he was telling the truth, and what if I could help him, and I did not. Then there was that Bible verse that kept repeating itself in my head….”Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” I was in a quandary as to what to do. Adding to the “drama” unfolding before me, was the knowledge that I had exactly $40 in cash in my wallet, and I NEVER, EVER have, or travel with, any cash on my person. As I examined all of the information, I realized that I had only one course of action…I excused myself for a moment, went inside the house, and got the $40. I simply gave it to the man. I told him he did not have to earn it. His eyes filled with tears, and he starting crying as he began thanking me. I went over, placed my arms around him, and we cried together…perfect strangers. I told him that all of us find ourselves in situations at times where we need a little help from others…that I had been in his situation numerous times myself. I explained that I did not want him to do any work for me, but that at some time in the future, maybe he could help someone else in need. He promised that he would. He left, thanking me again for my kindness.

Was I taken in by a very good con artist? Did I give good money to someone who would abuse it? Who really knows? Maybe so, but I think not. And anyway, I could not have done it any differently…you see, there’s this Bible verse…Life lessons, those taught to me by my parents, still drive my actions today. I do feel that I made the right decision that day. I am thankful, and will continue to be so, for those wonderful lessons that have shaped my character, integrity, and have molded me into the person that I am at present. Each day I will continue to try and do the “right thing!” Won’t you join me? Just for this week….

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Please…don’t EVER lose that look…

My brother has two children – one girl and one boy. As you know, from earlier posts, our little girl (now a Mommy with two children of her own) was adopted. And as you also know, we, as a family, have never known the difference…She is truly, completely ours, just as the little boy. He came afterwards, and was quite a surprise to my brother and sister-in-law, as they had been told that it would be impossible for them to “create” a child. Enter, the little blonde-headed, brown-eyed rascal boy. He was named after both my father and my brother, which made him a “3rd.” He opted to be called Jay. So he is my “Jay-Man,” and this post is about him…

You probably have figured out by now that I am known as the “Cool Aunt.” I don’t have grandchildren, so my nieces, nephews, great nieces and nephews receive the benefit of that situation. I can spoil and love as much as I want, and we do, indeed, do that. Most of them realized early on that I was not truly an adult…that I was really a kid, who would take time with them, and PLAY with them. I was the one that got the “Christmas Lists.” They knew that if it was in my power, I would make certain they received whatever they “requested.” I have told each of them that there is nothing they could ever do that would disappoint me, or keep me from loving them. And…that if they were ever in trouble, they could call me from anywhere, at any time, and I would be there! And, yes….I have received some of “those” calls…

Jay was so tenderhearted from an early age. He was, and is, such a daredevil that he takes my breath away (like attempting to ride his skate board off the roof of a house…), but you will not find a sweeter, more gentle young man. When he was little, he would get so excited to see me, that his body would almost vibrate, and the minute I left to go home, he would say, “I already miss her…” But the thing that always got to me, and touched my heart, was the way he would look at me. Those big brown eyes would just latch on, and follow me the entire time we were together. And, oh my, the expression in those eyes…If you have ever heard the phrase, “eyes full of love,” his would be the definition. Even as he got older, the “look” remained the same. I often tell him, “Promise me this…as you get older, don’t ever stop looking at me that way.” And each time he responds, “I promise!” He is now a Sophomore in college, and yes, he still looks at me that same way…and for that, I am very thankful!

I had always wanted to take him to Disney World when he got to be the “right age,” just like I had his sister, but my financial situation could not afford the trip. He will never know the disappointment and sadness that I have felt over that. I wanted to do something, and it just so happened that I was going down to the beach for a 4-day weekend. I called his parents and said, “Pack his clothes…he’s going to the beach with me.” He was 8, and just a ball of energy and excitement. He had never been on vacation with Aunt Cat. The first thing we told him was…”there are no rules on vacation…” We play the entire time, get up when we want, go to sleep when we want, and eat whatever we want…(I’m sure you get the idea…) Oh, he had the best time…making memories that will hold me for a lifetime. We were in a huge pool, playing with other family members, and he swam over to me. He wrapped his arms around my neck, hugged me so tight, looked at me with “those” eyes, and said, “Aunt Cat, this is the best vacation I have ever had!!” I hugged him back tightly, willing him to not grow up!!

I learned a valuable lesson that day. I was so disappointed that I was unable to take him to Disney World, that I had almost decided to do nothing. I realized that it is not necessarily WHAT you do, but that you DO something…anything, as long as you are spending time with a child that loves you.  We had the best time together, and I am hoping that the memories will remain fresh in his mind for all of his life. I don’t want to ever take for granted those wonderful gifts in life. In this case, those beautiful brown eyes, full of love, looking at me…Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

So you say you want fried chicken…

It is a well known fact…if you are from the South, you LOVE fried chicken! For most of my young life, my father pastored small country churches. Almost every Sunday, some family in the church would invite our family into their home for Sunday dinner…and almost always, it was fried chicken…HEAVENLY!!! Imagine my dismay, as I got older, and realized that a continual diet of “fried” anything, was bad for your health. Nowadays, I “splurge” maybe once a month and eat something fried…usually either fried chicken or catfish. Yum! So it may be a little surprising that this week’s article does involve fried chicken…

I can remember when Kentucky Fried Chicken first came to our town. Oh my, that “original recipe…” finger-lickin’ good…I have gotten a chuckle out of the chain’s more recent marketing techniques, in that they no longer use “Kentucky FRIED Chicken” in their advertising. They simply refer to themselves as “KFC,” as if we will not KNOW what the “F” stands for…

Since I was Choir  Director at our church, my Sundays were always the busiest day of the week. I usually cooked a nice meal for friends and family, but there were other times when we either went out to eat after church, or picked something up to take back home. On this particular Sunday, I was simply going to pick up some chicken (yes, fried), and fix a few “sides” myself for the meal. Now, let’s remember, it was on a SUNDAY, and it was around 12:05 p.m. – “prime” chicken time…

I walked into the KFC just like I walk into any place of business, with a smile on my face, and a cheery greeting to the employee. That was the first problem. The woman looked as if it were her very last day on earth, and she had to come to work! She looked at me with an expression that said, “you’re going to want something, aren’t you?” She said, “Can I help you?”…not really meaning it… I smiled brightly and gave her my order. She made a heavy sigh and turned around to walk over to the counter where the chicken was, which was about three feet away. It took her almost five minutes to make the walk. I could have just laid on the floor and gotten there quicker than she did! I could have gone out back, chased a chicken down in the yard, caught and plucked it by time she made her journey! Once she got there, she looked into the bin, turned around, came back to where I was standing (another five minutes), and said, “We don’t have any.” I looked at her incredulously, with disbelief, and said, “You don’t HAVE any fried chicken, on a Sunday, at noon?” She said, “No, Ma’am.” (What I wanted to say was, “This IS a Kentucky Fried Chicken in the South, for goodness sakes!! What is wrong with you people? You KNOW people want their fried chicken after church! Why didn’t you have some made, prepared for all of us? We want fried chicken on Sunday!!”) However, I am a nice person, who believes that you should treat people better than you would like to be treated, so I paused for a moment, and asked, “Could you make some?” She looked at me, almost giddy with relief, and said, “Well, yes, but it will take 10 minutes…” It was obvious that she thought I would not wait for her to cook the chicken, and she would not have to exert any more energy working. I surprised her, and said, “That would be great! I will be happy to wait.”  She turned around and ever so slowly went to the back to cook some chicken. TWENTY minutes later I had my chicken and was on my way home…with a promise to myself that I would never go back to that particular KFC, especially on a Sunday. But the incident got me to thinking…

Most of you know that I am a huge Pat Summit fan (former UT basketball coach for the Lady Volunteers). In one of her motivational speeches, she said, “You can control how hard you work.” I truly believe that! Some people just “show up” for work. You’ve seen them, and maybe you work with some of them. Who knows, maybe you ARE one of them…they basically say through their actions, “I’m here – what else could you possibly want?” I was taught that if you were hired to do a job, you did the job to the best of your ability. This means, that if someone hired you for an 8-hour day, you gave them your best for the full 8 hours.

Most of us spend so much of our lives working. I cannot understand individuals who continue to work at something that they don’t enjoy. I do understand that we don’t always have opportunity or means to get the position of our dreams; however, it takes us right back to that earlier thought…if someone gives you a job, and pays you for that job, whether you like it or not, you promised to do the job to the best of your ability. This KFC employee made a choice that Sunday as to how hard she was going to work…and she obviously decided “not to.” She was just going to “get by” with doing as little as she could.

I’ve been fortunate, and very blessed, to be in a field, and a job, that I enjoy…every day! But you know what, I’ve also had those jobs that I did not like as well, but I wanted to eat and be able to pay bills, so I worked. Those employers got the same level of energy, enthusiasm, and hard work that I give when I am doing something I love. Life is short…find a job doing something you enjoy. Just as Pat says, I control how hard I work, so you know what my choice is…Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

You’re going to Barney Fife this; aren’t you??

It’s a good thing I just have a little more than a month of my commitment to this blog…It seems that I am finding it more and more difficult to hit that Sunday night deadline. Please accept my apologies, once again, for being late.

I have had the same best friend for 45 years! Throughout the years, I have gotten her into more “snafus,” embarrassing moments, and humiliating situations than she expected, or was prepared for. She is the Laverne to my Shirley…the Ethel to my Lucy…Given our history, I am amazed that she will still go anywhere with me…We travel a great deal in our business, so this is one of those travel stories…

Unfortunately, after the September 11th tragedy, we had to fly to Minneapolis, MN…only about three weeks after the incident. Anyone flying during this time was pretty apprehensive and a little fearful. We entered the airport with armed military personnel standing at all entrances, and scattered throughout the airport. For the first time, we were almost strip-searched at security. (As an aside, you need to know that I am not the world’s best air traveler to begin with, even though I have to fly quite a bit. I am quite aware that the machine I am flying in, could go down in a huge fiery ball, at any given moment. So, when I get on a plane, I do several things to take my mind off of the “obvious.” I will play trivia onboard, if that is an option, or soduko; but mostly, I get a good book and read the entire time that I am in the air.)

We made it through security, and boarded our first flight with no problems. Of course, our connection was in Atlanta, so we had a little layover before boarding the next flight. All passengers had been told to be “alert” and mindful of the “goings on” around you…that if you saw anything “suspicious,” it would be better to err on the side of caution, as opposed to doing nothing. So….as we were sitting at our gate, two separate individuals caught my attention. Yes, I WAS profiling…whether you agree or disagree is not a factor…you weren’t the one flying three weeks after the terrible tragedy in NYC! At that point in time, here was my thought…if it walks like a duck, looks like a duck, quacks like a duck…it probably IS a duck! The two individuals, who got my attention, were not seemingly together. Both were pacing back and forth around the gate area, and talking very “furtively” on their cell phones. To me, they DID look and act a little suspicious…I did not say anything to my travel partner at the time. I just continued to observe, and process…

The agent announced that it was time for us to board the plane, so we gathered our briefcases and books, and lined up to enter the jet bridge. As we were in line, I turned around to get one more look at my “suspicious” characters. Much to my dismay (or relief), I saw that both men had been pulled over by security, and were being asked questions. I thought, “Aha! You called that one right!!” I was extremely relieved to know that they were not getting on the plane with us! We got to our seats and got settled in. I happened to be sitting in the aisle seat. We put our briefcases under the seats in front of us, buckled our seat belts, and calmly began reading our books. I took that moment to comment that “those men that I had been watching” had been pulled out of the line, and were probably not going to be on the plane with us. The comments and questions began.  “What men?” “Who were you watching…and WHY were you watching them?” “And what do you mean, they have been pulled out of line?” My friend patiently listened (as she always does when I seem to be overreacting or panicking), and reassured me that everything was going to be OK…to stop worrying. I felt a little sheepish that I might have been a little overly concerned…that is, until I saw the first man enter the plane. His seat just “happened” to be directly in front of mine. 

As my brain was processing this new turn of events, I began thinking of how I could subdue the man if he began any “terrorist” actions once we got up in the air. I was trying to remember all of those wrestling “choke holds” that my little brother used on me a number of times as we were growing up. I was trying to remember how to use a pencil or pen as a deadly weapon if you hit the “right” spot on someone’s neck! I was planning out my moves, step by step, “just in case…” Just as I thought I had everything under control, the second man entered the plane and sat in the seat, across the aisle, right beside me! Of course, I was thinking…I am going to have to take both of them out at the same time!! Naturally, I did NOT mention any of my meandering thoughts to my traveling buddy…

The plane took off, and we were on our way! Everything seemed as it should be, and I relaxed a little and began to read my book. Unfortunately, I finished my book about 30 minutes before we arrived in Minneapolis, so I had a little extra time for “observations.” Minutes before we began our approach into the Twin Cities, the man in front of me got up and went to the rear bathroom. Within moments, the second man got up and went to another bathroom, also in the rear of the plane. After a while, I thought maybe I should mention this situation to my friend. It went something like this… Me: “Both of those men went back to bathrooms quite a while ago.” Her: “What? What are you talking about? Which men?” Me: “The men that I was watching at the Atlanta Airport…the men that got pulled out of line for questioning…those suspicious men!! They have been in the bathrooms long enough to take care of whatever business they needed to do!!” Her: “You’ve finished your book; haven’t you?” Me: “Yes, but that does not negate the fact that they have been back there too long! I timed them! I think I need to alert the stewardess.” Her: “You are going to Barney Fife this; aren’t you? You’re going to make a Citizen’s Arrest!” Me: “No, but they told us to speak up if we observed anything suspicious, and I have observed quite a lot of ‘suspicious’ this trip!” Her: “Just give it a few more minutes, and if they have still not returned to their seats, then talk with the stewardess.” Me: “Ok, I will wait a few moments longer.” It’s a good thing I waited! Both men returned to their seats, and we landed safely in Minneapolis…Me, without making a Barney Fife Citizen’s Arrest, and my friend, with no humiliating or embarrassing moment where I drew unnecessary attention to us. As always, the story now is so much funnier (and safer) than it was when in the moment.

Fear can control our lives if we let it. It can cause us to misinterpret someone’s actions. It can paralyze us to the point that we can do nothing, when action is absolutely vital. It can keep us from taking on new challenges, and make us unwilling to try “new things.” It keeps us from being adventuresome. What are you afraid of? And how does it impact your life? I want to live a life without worry and fear of what “may” happen. I will certainly exercise good judgment, but I will NOT let fear control who I am, or who I want to be. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…