Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Joys #6 - My Grandmother's Christmas

One of the greatest gifts I have received (for Christmas or otherwise) is a heavy book which contains "An Autobiographical Diary" written by my grandmother, Mary Elretta Hardin Reagan.  "Mom", as we knew her, was born near Crockett, Arkansas in 1891.  To her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, the volume is "Mom's Book".  The first half is the story of her life, written in great detail and including poetry and the words of songs she enjoyed.  The second half is a journal or diary, written after she and my grandfather had moved from their farm near Kennett, Missouri, into town.  There they opened a grocery store, and Mom recorded her days as she sat behind the counter.

I have been preparing a post about my childhood Christmas, which I will post in a couple of days.  I decided that I also wanted to write about Mom's Christmas.  I recalled that my dad would often go and pick them up and bring them to our house, if they weren't already with other family members.  I wanted Mom's description of her typical Christmas.

As I mentioned, Mom wrote about her early life in great detail.  As read through the entries for her Christmases in the diary section, I found little description.  (I love reading about Christmas in the south as written by Truman Capote or Rick Bragg, or A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas, but I knew that Mom would be less eloquent than they, but I had hoped for more detail that she provided.)

Then I got it.  I believe that I got it because I am so apt to get caught up in all the (religious and secular) facets of the Christmas season that I have little time or energy to enjoy and appreciate the basics.  Mom had it distilled down to the essence, as recorded in her journal.

Her Christmas was Christ's birthday.  She only missed church when the weather forbade going out.  It was the reason for Christmas - period.

Her Christmas was family -- all ten children and dozens of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.   She recorded every family member she saw or heard from on Christmas, or lamented their absence.  Mom often wrote about being "homesick" in her book, even when she was at home.  I believe that home, to her, was having her family around her, and when she hadn't heard from them for a while, she was "homesick for them."  The more of her family she saw on Christmas, the merrier it was.

Her Christmas was food, lots of it, and the opportunity to eat it with those she loved.  She didn't record any individual dishes in her diary, but she did mention how she enjoyed sharing meals with those who lived close by.

Her Christmas wasn't about gifts.  I found only three mentions of specific gifts -- one, a pressure cooker and the other, pitchers for her collection.  I think she enjoyed the pitchers because they meant that the giver had knowledge of and appreciated her collection (which eventually numbered over 300).  It also wasn't about shopping, or holiday parties, or Christmas movies, or Christmas outdoor light displays, or any of the other things that can distract us. 

At first, I was a bit disappointed that Mom didn't record more.  But she was a farm wife and a store keeper, not Dylan Thomas.  Her eloquence was in her simplicity and that is what makes her book precious to me.  Thank you, Mom, for your book, your memories, and the life lessons you probably didn't know you were teaching. 


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Joys #5 - My Perfectly Imperfect Christmas (and Life)

This morning Tom asked me what I would like for Christmas.  I have received a tablet from my son and a gift certificate for new books for my Kindle from my stepson and his bride-to-be.  I thought that some new books for my Nook would be a fine thing, so we negotiated an amount and I was ready to start shopping.  I had read about a new book called My Perfectly Imperfect House and had added it to my to-read list.  It turned out that it isn't available for the Nook, but I am ordering it in regular format anyway.  Which brings me to the subject of the post.

I believe that we continue to do ourselves a disservice when we demand perfection of ourselves in decorating our homes, living our lives, and preparing or celebrating Christmas.  Most of us know the damage that trying to live the perfect life can do, yet we continue to consider the highest praise to ourselves, our children, our spouses, and others in our lives, "Perfect!"

I'm going to do my part to celebrate the imperfect holidays by coming out of the closet.  I have and will continue to stage photos of our Christmas (which, by-the-way, never seem to meet the standards of some of the lovely photos I see on others' blogs).  I will also edit my posts about memories of Christmases past to leave out anything that would embarrass family or friends.  But just for today, I am offering a glimpse of my perfectly imperfect Christmas through the photograph above.  This is untouched, except for the addition of the Christmas cards, which I brought in from the office.  It is actually a little less of a mess than it was last night, when some of the grocery items were still there.

The little lights were found with some old Christmas decorations.  I thought I needed them for a particular drab location in the house.  I asked Tom to buy some batteries and he did, but the lights are so old (marked down, according to the pricetag, to $6.95 about twenty years ago) that they go from dim to dark the further down the string you go.  I'm tossing them, and that drab location will remain drab.

I'm also tossing the little trees next to the lights.  They look like they've been through an Oklahoma tornado.  Maybe they have been; we found them with the lights.

Next to the trees are two cans of room spray, in Christmas scents.  I like to use candles and natural greens for their aroma.  There are very few natural greens in my yard and I haven't had time to go collecting in other places.  I'm not sure where those other places are; I picked up some pinecones one year at rest stops when we driving from Memphis to Oklahoma but I'm not sure that was legal.  I would like to have some greenery and pinecones for the bowl in the center of the table.  Anyway, natural scents and candle aromas are nice, but sometimes you just need a spray!

The box of candy next to the spray is for my dad.  My husband bought it, even though I am planning to make peanut butter fudge for my dad.  Tom says that dad likes the storebought candy and I'm not going to take that personally.  By the way, we're giving my brother-in-law and his companion two potatoes and two sweet potatoes for Christmas.  Maybe I'll explain that later.

In the back are the ingredients for chicken tortilla soup that I'm making for Christmas Day.  I gave up on Christmas dinner years ago, because we couldn't get everybody together at one time.  This year, I'm doing soups.  This one is a no-brainer, which I will need.  We are also having desserts.  I got one relatively complicated recipe (for me) from a high school classmate who is a wonderful cook.  She has already answered a couple of questions for me, such as "How do I keep the cake from sticking to the bundt pan?"  (Answer:  let it cool before you try to remove it.)  Thanks, Helen!

Next to the soup ingredients is a box of green tea.  I'm trying to drink more tea and water and less Diet Coke.  Notice that the box is unopened.  I have had two glasses of eggnog and three Diet Cokes since the tea was purchased.

Now for the Christmas cards.  You'll note that there are two boxes of cards and a list of names.  Some of the names are checked off and some aren't.  If you don't get a card from me, assume that you made it to the list, but not to those checked off.  I tried to get those out of town mailed first, so if you don't get a card, it's just that I ran out of time.  Or stamps.  Or money.

Hope you have a Perfectly Imperfect Merry Christmas!  If you have a Perfect Christmas, I don't want to hear about it.  (Just kidding -- I'll just clean up my own description to leave out the imperfect parts, just for you!)



Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas Joys #4 - Holiday Guest Room

I always enjoy decorating our guest room at Christmas; the curtains and bedding are already red and white, so I just add a few Christmas pieces and I'm done.  It's ready for family and friends, and extra guests are welcome in the other rooms decorated for the season.  (That means air mattresses in other other Christmasy rooms, since we only  have one guest room.  Our guests are always very gracious with their humble accommodations; we haven't had a complaint yet!)

These handmade wooden Santas were Christmas gifts from my daughter, additions to my Santa Claus collection.  The smaller one is displayed with some antique spools.

I had been looking for a red and white pillow for the bed, when I found this one in the Coldwater Creek catalog.  The reindeer on the pillow is company for the plush one on the bed.  He is many years old and used to be very fragrant, but has lost his scent.

Hope you are blessed with Christmas guests, or provide that blessing for your loved ones!


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Christmas Joys #3 - Norman Rockwell

Norman Rockwell has brought us images of American Christmases from the past.  They are very special to me, since so many were depictions of Christmas during the 1950's and 60's -- my childhood -- as featured in another staple in our home, The Saturday Evening Post.

These two favorites are part of my collection of Christmas books.  The one on the right was originally a Christmas gift to my stepmother, Jo Ann, who passed away last November.  It was given back to me as a keepsake and a reminder that we both loved Christmas and Norman Rockwell.   It contains Christmas stories, carols, poems and recollections, all illustrated by Rockwell.

The other, smaller book on the left is a collection of more than seventy of Rockwell's holiday paintings.  The buildings in the foreground are also featured on the book's cover, part of Main Street, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where the artist maintained his studio. 

Here's hoping that your holidays are as peaceful and magical as those portrayed in Norman Rockwell's work!


Monday, December 5, 2011

Christmas Joys #2 - Church Christmas Pageants

I have always loved Christmas presentations of all kinds.  I have participated in many myself, and have enjoyed the experience of being part of a living Christmas tree, and in the background as accompaniment to the Christmas story.  My favorites are the children's programs and my own children have provided some of the most interesting memories.  There is a certain level of stress involved before your own child takes the stage.  Hoping that the angel wings will stay put, the halo won't get caught in the scenery, and your husband's bathrobe won't provide the perfect opportunity for tripping can put you in a state of hypervigilance.  My own nervous tendencies have probably contributed to the pageant mishaps in our family.

Two cases in point:

The angel wings were lovely and attached as instructed.  The halo was attached to the headband.  The child truly looked like an angel.  She was ready to perform and I left her in the backstage area, confident that everything would go well.  Her sister's Sunday School class sang their sweet songs and I knew that the next group would do equally well.  The angels entered from the right.  My child was not among them.  I was in the middle section of seats and fought the temptation to climb over those in front of me to find out what was wrong.  Then, there she was -- running onto the stage and taking her place.  I didn't have to ask what had delayed her; part of her white angel robe was tucked into her panties.  The group's performance was -- well, angelic.  And so was she.

Another time involved a peppy song which was emphasized by enthusiastic clapping of hands.  Delightful!  But why was my child clapping by holding one hand open and bringing the other down in a vertical motion instead of the sideways clapping of the other children?  And why was she watching her hands carefully with each clap instead of keeping her eyes on the choir director or searching for her parents?  It was as if she were trying to kill a bug that had landed in her hand.  At least she wasn't picking her nose, I reasoned.  Then it came to me.  She had a loose tooth that she had been wiggling all day.  It was still in her mouth when we left the house.  The tooth was in her hand and she didn't want to lose it!  The up and down clapping was insurance that the tooth fairy would come. 

These stories are illustrative of my own joy in children's pageants now that my children are grown.  I can enjoy the performances of my grandchildren and the young members of our church without worrying about what could go wrong, while having the hard-won wisdom of knowing that those little incidents make the our Christmas Joys even more "perfectly imperfect."

May you have some happy pageant experiences this year!


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Christmas Joys #1 - Sweet Little Jesus Boy

I'm beginning my Christmas Joys this year with a song. I first heard "Sweet Little Jesus Boy" at a high school Christmas music program 50 years ago.  I had enjoyed the seasonal selections sung by the various choral groups and ensembles and was probably thumbing the program to see what was coming next.  I heard her voice -- softly, sweetly, hauntingly beautiful -- as if she were singing a lullaby.  My attention shifted and I was there with her and the child to whom she was singing, "Sweet Little Jesus Boy."

As I write this, I am struggling to explain the effect this song had on me then, as it does today.  It stopped me in my tracks in the middle of the Christmas season when, even 50 years ago, so much was going on -- holiday concerts, shopping, parties, music, anticipation, stress -- all the good and not-so-good about that time of year.  Margaret Green's beautiful voice stopped me and her words spoke to me, "Sweet Little Jesus Boy; We made you be born in a manger; Sweet Little Holy Child, We didn't know who you was."

Today, hearing those words brings me back to the real meaning of Christmas -- not just to the manger scene, where the baby Jesus was born, but to the cross where he died:  "You done told us how, we is a tryin'!  Master, you done show'd us how, even when you was dyin'".

That's the point that this song helps me remember, to celebrate Christmas and to be thankful for that Sweet Little Jesus Boy, but that even during this season I'm going to fall short: "Just seems like we can't do right; look how we treated you."  But I know that the greatest gift he gave us is forgiveness, for all of our lives.  All we have to do is ask, and accept.

To provide a musical link, I listened to several artists' versons of  "Sweet Little Jesus Boy".   I was led back to Mahalia Jackson's.  I hope you enjoy it.


Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Night the Martians Landed: A Family Story from 1938

I am reposting this story in memory of my Grandmother and Aunt Lona Mae, both of whom were born on October 31.

My Aunt "Sister", who would have been 101 years old on Halloween, shared this story at her birthday celebration the summer of 2010. Those who can remember the night of October 30, 1938 are becoming more rare, and it was a true gift to hear her first-hand account of family members' responses to a phenomenon of wide-spread panic and fear as a result of the radio broadcast of an adaptation of HG Wells' novel, War of the Worlds.

I had heard and read about the broadcast and its effect on individuals and families across the country. It was planned as a 60-minute Halloween radio drama, an episode of the Mercury Theatre on the Air, and was directed and narrated by Orson Welles. The first two-thirds of the broadcast was presented as news bulletins which suggested that an actual invasion by Martians was taking place. There were no commercial breaks, which added to the sense of realism. The use of the news bulletin format also contributed to the believability of the story, as well as to the resulting panic, since people were accustomed to legitimate newsflashes, but not those used as part of a work of fiction.

According to Wikipedia, historians have calculated that six million people heard the broadcast, 1.7 million believed it to be true and 1.2 million were genuinely frightened. According to my aunt, a number of those who believed it and were frightened resided in southeast Missouri, and were outside that Sunday evening, gazing toward the sky.

Aunt Sister, Uncle Jesse, and their three children stayed home from church and were listening to the radio, probably doing the equivalent of today's "channel surfing" between the Chase and Sanborn Hour, featuring ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and singer Nelson Eddy, and the Mercury Theater. The first comedy sketch on the Chase and Sanborn Hour ended about fifteen minutes into the program and was to be followed by a musical selection, presenting a good time to change the station. This would have taken them directly into the middle of the Martian invasion on Mercury Theater, with no reassurance that what they were hearing wasn't really happening.

This is a part of what they heard:

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the most terrifying thing I have ever witnessed. . . . Wait a minute! Someone's crawling. Someone or . . . something. I can see peering out of that black hole two luminous disks . . . are they eyes? It might be a face. It might be . . . good heavens, something's wriggling out of the shadow like a gray snake. Now it's another one, and another one, and another one. They look like tentacles to me. There, I can see the thing's body. It's large as a bear and it glistens like wet leather. But that face, it . . . ladies and gentlemen, it's indescribable. I can hardly force myself to keep looking at it, it's so awful. The eyes are black and gleam like a serpent. The mouth is kind of V-shaped with saliva dripping from its rimless lips that seem to quiver and pulsate.

How many of us have thought about what we would do if the world was coming to an end? Their instincts were to gather with other family members, so they left in their car to travel the few miles to the my grandparents' home.

On the way there, my aunt noticed that baby Sandra's shoe was missing, that she must have dropped it or left it at home. Uncle Jesse reassured my frightened aunt, that Sandra "wouldn't be needing her shoe."

She also noted that people standing out on the dirt roads as they travelled, looking at the sky and exclaiming, "They're coming! They're coming!"

When they arrived at Mom and Pop's, the house was empty. Mom and Pop had gone to Arkansas to church and hadn't yet returned home. After a short time, they and the rest of their children arrived, asking what was going on.

According to Aunt Sister, Pop didn't believe a word of the story. He also scoffed at his oldest child's fear, declaring, "I didn't know that I raised a child who would be afraid to die."

Little brother Earl, then stepped up and joined forces with his sister, put his arms around her and said, "You raised two of them!"

The family story ends here, and we can imagine the relief they and others like them felt when they learned the truth. We can also understand their panic and fear in a time when modern communication was still in its infancy. We might also want to temper any thoughts or comments we might have about naivete or the willingness to believe the unbelievable -- at least until after Halloween!


p.s. You can hear the Mercury Theater broadcast on YouTube. It is in multiple parts, so I am not including links.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Pre-Surgery (Halloween) Shopping is Done -- Be Back Soon!

This little Halloween Witch is helping to take the sting out of my upcoming surgery on Monday.  We bought her from the hospital gift shop when I went for my pre-op appointment.  I will be back to blogging soon.  In the meantime, here are some photos of Halloween and autumn decorations. 

Note:  Framed graphics and cards are from The Graphics Fairy .

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Black Hole Decorating Challenge: Large Screen TV

I knew that it would be a big, flat, black presence in our living room when we purchased our large screen tv.  Tom has no man cave, so we really had few options for its location.  Especially in our downsized home, the mantel has always been a favorite decorating spot, particularly for holidays and seasonal decor.  I was willing to make the sacrifice, though, to make my hubby happy during his retirement years.  (And, I must admit, I'm enjoying seeing the programs and movies on the large screen, too.)  So up it went, and it has been a continuous presence in our living room ever since.

I believe in "use what you have" decorating and am doing what I can to integrate the black hole into my scheme.  This is one option:  use its capabilities to bring more visual celebration of and to the times of our lives.  Ours came with instant access to Flickr and I have put together seasonal slide shows to play to coordinate with my mantel decorations.  Here are a few from my Halloween show.  I have used about 20 photos of my granddaughters in their costumes through the years and some pretty shots from free photograph sources on the Internet.

Works for me, with my resources.  Maybe you have some other ideas for the tv or other decorating black holes.  I'd  love to see your solutions, if you do.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Saving My Place with My Bookmark Collection

I started collection bookmarks at the same time I started collecting books.  As a new librarian, I had opportunities to attend conferences, book fairs and festivals, book signings, and other events where bookmarks were given away.  Our libraries also provided bookmarks to our customers celebrating our summer reading programs, special author visits and other events, such as the Red Dirt Book Festival and Pioneer Library System's 50th anniversary (50 special bookmarks highlighting the progress of the system, such as the year we first reached circulation of 1,000,000 items, the year one of our librarians was selected one of the New York Times Librarian of the Year, the year our system won the American Library Association John Cotton Dana Library Public Relations Award, and the year one of our branches won the Outstanding Rural Library Award from ALA).

My bookmark collection was much easier to transport home than the books I found myself buying when I traveled and they provided reminders of the accomplishments of our libraries and others across the country in guiding people to the best in reading and information.  I found myself looking for bookmarks in museums and other places I visited on vacations and found they served as miniature pieces of art and history.

My collection grew as I received bookmarks as gifts and enjoyed the expression of love they represented.  Those that are handmade are the most precious, as well as those produced as commemorative of special days in family and friends' lives.

Now that I'm retired and we have downsized, I find myself "weeding" out some of the books that I carried home from conferences.  I no longer have room for 1,000 books (although I have room for thousands on my Nook and my Kindle).  I also continue to use my hometown library and use my bookmarks to mark my place.

I'll keep my bookmarks until books are obsolete; that is to say, I won't ever give them up.  I don't believe books will ever become obsolete, but if they do, my bookmarks will be even more collectible!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I Have Sirius Envy, but Stitcher Helps!

I'm talking about radio; specifically talk radio.  I don't have a SiriusXM subscription in my car, and probably won't purchase one.  NPR keeps me happy for the most part, with a mix of CD's and favorite commercial radio stations for music.  But I have wished for more radio stations that focus on my individual interests and have found that Stitcher is a wonderful source.  I discovered it while exploring apps on my smartphone and feel like I have struck gold.

Stitcher is like Pandora (music internet radio) in that you can select talk radio stations based on your own preferences and create your own station.  Then you can choose the particular program and podcast from your own station's menu when you are ready to listen. 

My own Stitcher station has a mix of programming about books, health, gardening, politics, writing, food, travel, and news.  When I go to my station, I can choose the program and the most recent podcast, or other podcasts that I may have missed.  I can also choose live radio by state or front page news.

I usually listen to my own station.  It was created by selecting programming from broad categories including Comedy; Business and Industry; News and Politics; Education, Society and Culture; Entertainment, Games and Hobbies, Lifestyles and Health; Local; Music Commentary; Parenting, Family and Kids; Science and Medicine; Spirituality and Religion; Sports; Technology; In Spanish; and World and International.  Many of these broad categories are broken down into subcategories, so that you can find just the kind of programming you want to put in your own station.

The problem may be that you will need to winnow your list down, there are so many choices -- but that's a good problem!  For example, there are about 40 programs about books and authors alone!

My radio listening has been pretty much limited to my car in the past, but now I am listening more often on my smartphone as I get dressed in the morning or work around the house.  I can also listen to my personal station on my computer through Stitcher's website.  I think that radio is pretty much like tv in that the deciding factor is the quality of the content.  Of course, "quality" is subjective, so if you want to listen to 18 hours of talk about sports or even just football, that's your call.  I can accept that, while I listen to hours of talk about books!

You might want to give Stitcher a try.  The smartphone app is free, so you could add it and explore the possibilities.  You can also download Stitcher to your computer through their website at 

In future posts, I will tell you about some of my favorite Stitcher programs.

Happy Listening!


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Why We Cook the Way We Do

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My mother had an interesting recipe for strawberry shortcake.  I never questioned the fact that there was no cake involved; it was simply the way she prepared a fresh strawberry dessert -- with pie crust.  She rolled out pie crust squares and baked them on a cookie sheet and layered them with the syrupy sweetened strawberries and topped it off with freshly whipped cream.  It was delicious, and to our family, it was "strawberry shortcake."

Recently, a mention of strawberry shortcake on Facebook led me to ask my cousin if his mother (my aunt) prepared strawberry shortcake with pie crust.  It turns out that she did, and he had grown up the same way I did, thinking that the absence of cake wasn't unusual.  I also determined that the recipe must have come from my grandmother on my Dad's side.  Dad confirmed that he had been the source of my mother's strawberry recipe; he had always had it with pie crust and had asked Mother to continue making it that way.  In other words, "It's a family thing."

Cousin Terry Joe also mentioned that his mother had always baked a pie with sweet potatoes and called it pumpkin pie.  Same spices as pumpkin pie, but made with sweet potatoes.  Another "family thing".

I began thinking about why we cook the way we do.  Some of us are Food Channel followers, may have developed into vegans, or have espoused other dietary traditions.  The Internet makes thousands of recipes at our fingertips, and many of us experiment with newly available food choices, or we grow our own.

During our earliest cooking experiences, we may have looked to our family members for advice or ingredients.  That's how we may have come up with pie crust strawberry shortcake or "pumpkin pie" made with sweet potatoes.  It's also how we may have a family tradition of "American spaghetti" (without Italian seasonings) or removing the skin from chicken before frying, years before healthy eating dictated it. (Both of these are further examples from my childhood.)

I have never been known as a great cook.  I'm the person who puts together a holiday meal for a large group, who provides the meat and most of the side dishes, and wishes for that specific compliment, "This is really delicious."  Sometimes it comes; more often, it doesn't.  My corn bread dressing will never measure up to my stepmother's, and my chocolate cake and fudge will always take second place to my mother's and my sister's.

I do have the edge with two dishes, though.  The first is what our family always called "gunk".  Gunk is that pie that you make with Eagle Brand milk and lemonade.  I like it best with a graham cracker crust that I make myself, with extra butter and sugar.  It's called "gunk" because my kids could never wait until it set up into a pie (and because it was calling me, too).  So we spooned it into bowls and dug in.  And it was really delicious -- really!

The other dish has been designated the best meatloaf my husband ever had.  That's a recent designation.  My mother's meatloaf recipe is a mixture of ground beef, chopped onion, ketchup, egg, oatmeal, salt and pepper, with ketchup poured over the top.  One day I was watching Paula Deen and noted that her recipe was very similar to mine, except that she mixed ketchup, brown sugar, and honey dijon mustard for the glaze.  I tried it and the rest is history -- I have joined the ranks of complimented cooks and now I am adding ingredients everywhere!

Back to the subject of this post:  some reasons we may cook the way we do -- to please our families and because our mother (grandmother, great-grandmother, etc.) did it that way.  You may have heard this story, or a variation:

Alice was baking a ham for Sunday dinner, and called her mother for the recipe.  Mom told her to first cut off the ends of the ham.  She did so, followed the recipe, and the ham was delicious.  Later, she asked her mother why she needed to cut off the ends of the ham.  Her mother said that Grandma did it that way and Alice should ask her why.  Alice was visiting her grandmother in the assisted living center the next week and asked her why it was necessary to cut the ends off the ham before baking it.  Grandma gave her an odd look and said, "I always cut off the ends because otherwise, it wouldn't have fit my roasting pan."

What odd recipes or food preparation traditions are in your family?


Monday, August 29, 2011

Learning to Savor is Worth the Effort

I recently posted about words that I have installed on the walls in our bathroom and living room to remind myself and, hopefully, to define myself.  I have added another word to my personal lexigon, one which may be most important to those of us who now understand that we don't (and never really did) have all the time in the world to decide what is important and what kind of lives we want to live.

The new word is "savor".  I'm adding it to the other words -- believe, learn, listen, touch, dance, sing, relax, imagine, touch, trust, teach, dream, and "enjoy", which is listed as a synonym in the dictionary.

Maybe it's my age, but "to savor" means much more to me than "to enjoy."  It's probably because the primary definition of "to enjoy" in the dictionary I consulted was "to have a good time."

I remember being asked, when I was a child, if I had a good time at a birthday party or a school picnic.  The answer was usually "yes", but I didn't have the capacity to describe what it was that made the event notable.  (This was before today's often outlandishly expensive children's parties, which will be the subject of a future post.)  If nothing went wrong at the parties I attended (such as falling off the swings, or being chosen last for one of the games); if my friends were there and the food was good, then I had a good time.

"Savoring" an event, or even the daily routine of our lives, puts much more responsibility on our adult selves, but the reward is much more satisfying than simply "enjoying ourselves" or "having a good time."  Savoring implies that we take the time and employ our senses to seek out exactly what it is that flavors the event -- what it is that makes it special.  Call this mindfulness if you will, and we are told that the more mindful we are, the happier our lives will be.

"Savoring" isn't limited to an expensive cruise or a once-in-a-lifetime gathering; it can be experienced with a really outstanding cup of tea.  It's a practice, and it requires practice.  I love to hear and read about people who have mastered the art of living and I believe that savoring each positive moment is a part of their lives that they have cultivated.  I appreciate the examples they set for the rest of us, especially when I note that the "good life" they demonstrate is within the grasp of most of us.

What do you savor in your life?


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"Odd Girl Out" or "One of a Kind"?

Dear Friends,
When I first posted this, I left out an important point.  It is now included in red print.  Thank you to my Facebook friend who reminded me of his own experiences and to Nance for her comment.

I imagine that most females in our culture have experienced the pain of exclusion.  Maybe we've been the "odd girl out" in a friendship trio; maybe we've been rejected by the Queen Bee and Wannabes; or maybe at some point in our lives, we've been outside the charmed circle of sorority or club membership, or that happy little group of women who lunch, shop, or play cards together.

If you haven't been the excluded one, you may be just a generation or two away.  The probability of being the "odd girl out" is high for our daughters and granddaughters.  The shifting sands of "best friends forever" and junior high and high school cliques may be a training ground for self-doubt in adulthood. That self-doubt may promote that same behavior of exclusion in ourselves and our children.

Probably most of us have been on the giving as well as the receiving end when it comes to exclusion.  In my mature years, I can now see where I have been guilty.  I congratulated myself on being open to friendship when I was a girl and actually described my "group" that way.  But the fact that we were a "group" has implications; there were girls I didn't know, girls I didn't make the effort to know.  The loss was mine.

There's another term that I like: "One of a Kind".  It implies, to me, the type of person who sets herself/himself apart.  It's an internal quality over which the individual has control.  You can make yourself "one of a kind" by paying attention to your own special gifts/interests/values and developing that part of yourself that is like no other.

"One of a Kind" is an insurance policy.  I believe it protects us from feeling "less than" because of someone else's determination that we are the odd girl out.  It transcends friendship because we are always centered in ourselves, but it can enrich friendships because it recognizes the unique qualities that we treasure about ourselves and others.

It is important for adults to guide young people in finding and developing that "one of a kind". Some young people are fortunate to have that special adult in a teacher, counselor, or older friend. When that isn't the case, some (rare) young people are able to nurture themselves; others can turn to bad substitutes.

We can ask ourselves the question, the next time we feel like an outsider:  Am I the odd girl out or one of a kind?  And whose decision is it?  Whose decision should it be?


Monday, August 1, 2011

Father's Day and Birthday Gift Report - Ice Cream and Appreciation

Some of you may remember that I posted at Christmas about our gift to my Dad.  He has been having some age-related problems with his vision, which have interfered with his reading.  As a librarian, I have always taken pleasure in selecting books for him, but had decided to buy something else until his vision problems were addressed.  For Christmas, we gave him 13 12-packs of Caffeine Free Coke Classic.  CFCC is hard to find in the small town where my dad lives and he really appreciated receiving a good supply.

When Father's Day came, I decided to repeat the purchase of something I knew he would really appreciate and enjoy.  Sometimes when we go to visit Dad, we stop by the local Braum's and pick up a pint of his favorite ice cream, Braum's butter pecan.  In Oklahoma and some locations in Texas, Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri, Braum's is the local gold standard for ice cream.  (They have really good hamburgers, too.)  Since Dad lives in a town without a Braum's, he didn't have a regular supply of his favorite flavor.  We fixed that (temporarily) at Father's Day with a dozen individually-packed pints.

Dad's birthday is in early July, and I was again thinking about his gift.  This was to be his 90th, and I wanted it to be special, but I knew it would be difficult because he has everything he needs and most of what he wants (except good vision, hearing, and the stamina he used to have).  He is also planning to move soon and is trying to divest himself of most of his household possessions.

I asked him how his ice cream supply was holding up and he replied, "It's gone." 

We decided it was time for another supply of ice-cream and made plans to stop at Braum's on our way to his birthday party.

The other part of our gift was appreciation.  We were the messengers of greetings from several people who had known Dad during his business life in my hometown.  Dad was a building contractor and I had several photographs of homes he had built in the 1950's and 1960's, at the time of their construction and more recently.  I had posted the photos on my hometown's group page on Facebook.  I had originally posted them for the enjoyment of the group, but was elated at the comments of appreciation for my dad's work and the homes that several group members had lived in over the years.

I decided to share that appreciation with Dad at his birthday party.  He was moved to tears by the comments and good wishes from the kind people from our hometown.  I felt good that we were able to give him a special moment, just by being the messenger, and am grateful for the wishes sent for that special day.

Ice cream and appreciation:  I guess it's a pretty good gift for any of us, isn't it?


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Concerts and Karaoke

I remember a concert I attended in Memphis the mid-1970's.  I remember it so well because I am not a regular concert goer.  It also stands out because the artist was Cat Stephens (and I loved his music) and because I felt so old.  I was about 30 at the time, but the other people at the concert were younger -- much, much younger (in outlook, if not in age).  I was an adult, with two young children at home, and had to be told that the sweet smoky aroma around me was marijuana.  I had never experienced the effect of thousands of cigarette lighters in a darkened arena, not to mention dodging Frisbees when the lights came back on.  I loved it -- absolutely loved it -- and felt younger at heart for a while.

I had the same feeling, and a similar experience, last week.  I attended an American Idol concert in Oklahoma City.  Our tickets were a retirement gift for my husband from his brother.  We usually watched Idol and then would predict who would get voted off each week.  We had our favorites, of course.  Mine were Casey and James; Tom really liked Haley and Lauren -- imagine that!

I looked forward to hearing Casey and James again, even though we were to be seated in the nosebleed section.  My brother-in-law showed us the arena plan and I was set all to watch the show on the oversized screens.  There was no way we could see the performers faces from where we would be sitting.

Mike decided we should try for a last-minute seat exchange and managed seats on the second row, center section.  I couldn't help but wonder at out good luck and did a quick Google search to see if there was anything negative about seats that close to the stage.  Nothing except the probability of having to stand throughout the concert and being on the receiving end of bodily fluids and other by-products of idol worship (American style).

I kept (tried to keep) my thoughts to myself  and determined that I would enjoy the concert as much as possible.  And I did enjoy the concert, except for the presence of my brother-in-law to my right, who blocked my view as he took dozens of photographs on his iPhone.  I can't blame him, though, because he paid for two sets of tickets (he wasn't able to dump the nosebleed tickets) and he loves to take photos (lots of photos).  I handed my phone to Tom and asked him to take a couple of Casey and James, which he did.  And I sat.  And I stood.  And I sat.  And I stood.  I loved hearing Casey, and stood all the way through anything James performed.  And I felt younger at heart for a while.  I feel younger at heart even now, as I write about it.  Maybe I'll go to another concert in 30 years or so!

Something else I have rare experience with is karaoke. I recently read an article in a local magazine about a young entrepreneur who has developed an app for smart phones. I remembered her from my daughter's Honor Choir days when they were both sweet little girls with the voices of angels. Now she has developed an app which translates into my having my own personal karaoke recorder. I downloaded LaDiDa to my phone and recorded my first song: It goes like this: "This is my song, this is my first song, probably not my last song, but this is my song." (Not very creative, am I?)

Sometimes I download apps and don't use them. I thought that this might be one of those. This time, though, I did find a very happy use for LaDiDa. On vacation, in Alabama, I showed it to my daughter and asked her to record something so she could see how it works, which she did (Patsy Cline's "Walking after Midnight".) Lovely! Part of the app is that you can save the songs and share them. I also asked my granddaughters to record some of the camp songs they were singing in the backseat of the car, after we picked them up from church camp. Wonderful!

When you use LaDiDa, you can choose different ways of recording and somehow, it adapts to your choices and to your voice (more or less successfully). You might want to try it for fun. (Search the app store for LaDiDa.)

As for me, the non-karaoke grandma, I'm happy for this app and for these songs now stored through my iPhone. I am now carrying around (once again) the voices of angels!



Friday, July 15, 2011

Adding Years to Our Lives and Life to our Years

I've been feeling at the mercy of outside forces recently.  My natural tendency is to let circumstances feed mental chaos, which leads me to a state of  "brain fog".  That's where I've been for a few weeks, with enough mental energy to check in and comment on Facebook, but not enough to sit down and post to my blog.  Many, many thanks to those of you who have visited here recently and apologies that you have found me "not at home".  I'm so grateful for those of you who are still around and I'm ready to join the blogging community again.  My brother recently asked me how many read my blog and my response was "not many", at least as compared to the thousands who visit some other blogs.  That's only part of the equation, though.  I know (as you do) that the other important thing is visiting others' blogs, making new friends, and gaining new insight.  That's why blogging will continue to be part of my life and why I'm happy to be back!

One thing that happened recently is two deaths in our extended family.  Both were beloved women who will be greatly missed. 

Terry was 62 -- much too young to die.  She was my former sister-in-law and we had lost contact during the years after her divorce.  I attended her funeral and was impressed by what her family members and friends said about her -- that she enjoyed her granddaughter's overnight visits, particularly racing through her home -- in her wheelchair.  That she was very important to a young woman who saw her as a mother figure.  That her nephew loved and appreciated her taking him in and loving him when he had nowhere else to go.

She had been in ill health for years.  I don't know all of the circumstances and I want to be clear that there is no judgement in my writing about her health.  She was overweight and so am I.  There are often consequences for being overweight and most likely, Terry's early death was one of them.  We know that statistically is often the case.

The other death in my family was my Aunt Lona Mae (Aunt Sister), who died recently at age 100.   I have posted about my aunt earlier; her life was one of good health, hard work, and involvement in her church, her family, her friends, and a concern for others.  She enjoyed life and lived it to the fullest.

During her funeral, many stories were told about Lona Mae.  Many were quite funny.  An example:  When she and my Uncle Jess were expecting their first child, they moved to a small home on a plot of land on her parent's farm.  One day, Jess went into town and ran into a local nurse, who told him that she was going to visit Lona Mae the next day, just to see how she was doing.  Jess went home and told Lona Mae that the nurse was coming and that she would check Lona Mae's blood pressure.  Lona Mae asked what checking her blood pressure meant; Jess responded, "I'm not sure, but you'd better take a bath."

A more recent story had the minister telling widowed Lona Mae that he thought it was time that she met a new man.  She told him that it would be difficult, because she liked older men and there weren't any around older than she was.

The same minister asked Lona Mae what her rules were for long life.  Her responses:
  • Have a routine.  Eat regular meals, get up and go to the bed at the same time.
  • Have a passion.  Lona Mae's was the Dorcas class at her church and the work they did for the community.
  • Stay away from doctors.
Her third rule was interesting.  Lona Mae was seldom ill and was healthy until a few months before she died at 100.  I think that she was able to stay away from doctors, for the most part, because she lived a life that contributed to good health.  She didn't let things upset her, she worked and played hard, and she ate good food (most of which she prepared herself, out of her garden's bounty.)  She had no bad health habits.  She had a circle of family, friends and neightbors who checked on her and participated in her life.  (She enjoyed playing cards regularly until the last weeks of her life.)

That's not to say that any of the rest of us would never need a doctor, even if we did live a healthy life.  But if I may expand on her words, "Stay away from doctors as much as possible (by being responsible for our own health) and seek medical help when you need it."  That would include all of the normal checkups that can keep us on track, and any of the medical procedures we might need because of circumstances beyond our control.  If we all followed these expanded rules, maybe it would also help with the crisis in health care our country faces.  At the very least, it might add years to our lives and life to our years!

Hoping for a long and healthy life for you and those whom you love,

Friday, June 10, 2011

Tywhappity, Two Mile, and Bark Camp

My cousin, Terry Joe, is the most charming country boy you'll ever meet.  I still think of him that way, even if he is 68 years old.  He sounds like Johnny Cash when he sings (even Johnny Cash said so) and was a member of Mike Huckabee's band for a while.  He's now retired from Arkansas state government and has a knack for storytelling.  He grew up on the family farm at Bark Camp, not far from my hometown of Kennett, Missouri.  I've recently learned of a place called Tywhappity from Terry Joe and I'll admit that I thought he was pulling my leg.  Tywhappity sounds mythical, doesn't it?  Like Glocca Morra or Yoknapatawpha County.  It turns out that Tywhappity is a real place and is also not far from Kennett.  I'm embarrassed to admit that I had never heard of the tiny community of Tywhappity.

It happened because of Facebook.  I had recently become Facebook friends with Chris Kimbrow.  I had known Chris as a child and had lived next door to her in Kennett.  Chris made the connection and sent me an invitation to become Facebook friends. Terry Joe noticed that I had added Chris to my friends list and sent me an e-mail:  "Was Chris one of the Tywhappity Kimbrows?"

I wrote him back and told him that I didn't think Chris was a Tywhappity Kimbrow, but I wasn't sure since I didn't know what that meant.  Terry responded that Tywhappity was a place and shared this story: 

I remember a presentation I gave to the Rotary Club in Fort Smith in which I mentioned where I was born.  I told them the best way to find Bark Camp was to look on the map. We were four miles from Poole's Chapel, eight miles from Tywhappity and two miles from a place called Two Mile. The president of the club asked if that statement met the 4-Way Rotary Test, the first question of which is "is it the truth?"

I invited him to come with me to do some quail hunting.  After breakfast at Bark Camp and hunting at Poole's Chapel, we were driving down the road and I saw the Two Mile Church in the distance.  My brother, Tony, was with us and I asked him what the building was. He replied, "The Two Mile Church." I asked if anything significant had happened to him there and he answered ,"I was married there." Then I asked where his wife grew up and when he replied "Tywhappity".  My friend the Rotary President nearly fell out of the truck.

Back to Terry's original question:  Is my friend Chris one of the Tywhappity Kimbrows?  It turns out that she is, by marriage.  Her husband and his brother went to school with Terry Joe and Tony, after they moved from Tywhappity and Bark Camp Schools to a rural consolidated school.  Both Bark Camp and Tywhappity Schools closed years ago.

It's a small world -- made even smaller by Facebook, blogs and other tools that bring us together through technology.  But it's hard to imagine a place (in the real world) any smaller than Tywhappity or Two Mile or Bark Camp.  The only thing harder would be to imagine a world without such places.


Saturday, April 30, 2011

Following Severe Weather from Oklahoma to Georgia and Points East

I will admit it -- I'm a worrier.  I am also a person who will not let anyone leave without hearing these words from me, "I love you.  Be careful."  And I urge my family to check in with me when they get where they're going, or when bad weather is in their neighborhoods, or when I know that something is not right in their worlds.  We have a large family, so that means a lot of checking in, but that's okay with me.  I need to know -- as if knowing what's going on is a charm against something really bad happening.  (I also want to hear from them at other times, but that's another story.)

When I started writing this, my daughter and her family in northern Alabama were under a tornado warning, the second one they had been under on Wednesday.  I thought that I could work on a blog post as I watched what was going on in Alabama.  I was wrong.  I was so wrong that I never got dressed on Wednesday; I stayed in my pajamas all day. I didn't go to the library program that I had planned to attend.  I needed to stay with her family, in spirit, as much as I could. 

You know what happened in Alabama.  There were many who lost their lives, their family members and friends, their homes and their businesses.  My daughter and her family and their home were unscathed and I am so grateful for that.  I also weep for those who lost so much in Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia and Virginia.  I feel wrung out, as if I personally witnessed a tragedy.  In a way, I did -- at least much more so than we have ever been able to.  For me, it started last week.  Maybe it did for you, too.

We knew what was coming in Oklahoma -- the possibility of tornadoes.  That's not unusual; the town I used to live in before we moved here, the town whose library I managed for 13 years, received heavy tornado damage in May of 2010.  We were under warnings that night, as we were last week.  We were a little better prepared this year; we had enrolled in our city's "blackboard warning system", which called us on our cell phones to tell us to take cover.  We could hear the sirens going off, and we were listening to NOAA radio.  I knew it was time to take my little dog into our "safe spot" (our walk-in closet) and stayed there for 45 minutes.  I had time to get really uncomfortable, take a couple of calls from Tom, who was at work, and think about the possibility of some sort of portable "safe bubble" (similar to what the astronauts have when they land in the ocean) that would be affordable, reinforced, padded and comfortable, and life-saving for those of us who don't have cellars or safe rooms.

As the storm system moved on, my attention was drawn to my home town and the surrounding area.  Kennett, Missouri, is about 45 minutes from Poplar Bluff, where the levies were breached on the Black River.  It is also 30 minutes from the Mississippi River.  The entire area was drenched from rain and my friends on Facebook expressed great concern for the lives, homes and businesses as more storms approached them.  Tornadoes in St. Louis and Memphis affected friends and family, but we were relieved to hear that everybody was safe after the storms.

Then came Wednesday.  We had all heard that a monster system was heading towards eastern Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia and this takes me back to the beginning of my post.  I was the beneficiary of information from many sources the day of the tornado outbreak, as I had been earlier in the week.  This time, I was watching my daughter, her husband, and three grandchildren from a great distance, with a growing sense of alarm and helplessness.  They seemed to be in the direct path of the tornados and I was able to talk with Mary by phone during the first round, making sure that they were in their safe place and had their weather radios close by.  She reassured me that they all were together except Adam, who was at work.  She directed me to the website of their local television station so that I could watch live reports of what was happening.  Then we said good-bye and told each other we would stay in touch.

I watched the channel Mary recommended on my computer and also went to Google Maps to zoom in to exactly where the tornados were.  I could see Mary's street west of town and follow the tornado path which went northeast.  It appeared that they were in the clear, but the weather crew said that more storms would be coming.  I took a break away from the computer during lunch.

When I went back, they were under another warning.  As I started tracking the storm, they announced that electricity was out in some areas and that would affect the sirens; people might not hear them.  I tried to call Mary and couldn't get through.  I told myself that Mary had her weather radio and would be tuned in, so she would know they were under a warning.  Then they announced that the NOAA weather station closest to Mary's home was out and would probably be until Thursday.  I was in a panic and all I could do was watch and pray.  At one point, as I watched, the electricity went out at the television station I was watching and the crew was in the dark.  They were still broadcasting, but they couldn't continue with the radar tracking because their lights were out.  They found someone's iPad and were able to focus their tv cameras on its screen, continuing to follow that way for a few minutes until their electricity came back on.

Finally, I was reassured again, as the tornado went east of Mary's home.  My son Cory (who lives in the Washington DC area) was able to keep in contact with Mary through most of it, and relayed to me that  they were safe.  I later found out that they had no damage.  They did have some debris, including some pretty good sized pieces of metal siding.  As Cory texted me about Mary and family, I heard that the DC area was under a tornado warning and he signed off.

At this point, we were learning about the tornados that had hit Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, south of the Huntsville area where Mary lives.  Eventually, we knew what the rest of the country knew, that this was the second-worst tornado outbreak in recorded history and hundreds of people lost their lives along its path.  Their are thousands of stories like mine about the storms, many of them will be told by people who were there and personally experienced the horrors of that day.

My story is one of a mother and grandmother who watched from a distance and cried and prayed for her children.  Technology has given us so much, including the ability to know (when it's working) minute-by-minute what is going on.  Sometimes that's a blessing; sometimes maybe it's not.  Now I know (as I always did, deep inside), that saying, "Be careful. I love you!" is a protective charm that doesn't always work.  The most I will say about that is that "I love you" is always worth saying.   

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Enjoying the Season: Easter and Spring

I love seasonal decorating but in Oklahoma, we sometimes need a reminder about what season it is!  Today it's warm, but it's not too late for a cold spell.  With that in mind, I will share what is going on inside our house -- bunnies and chicks everywhere!  (Note:  The printed cards in these photographs are from The Graphics Fairy, a wonderful source of vintage illustrations, many in color, that can be printed out for your projects.)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Wall Words: Instructions and Reminders of What is Important

As I was getting ready for church this morning, I was also trying to decide on a topic for my next blog post.  I was uninspired as I went through possible post subjects; one was discarded because the timing wasn't right, another because it was too similar to another recent post, and on and on.  I looked to my left, to the wall next to the shower and there they were -- wall words, those rub-off decals purchased when we moved into our home and installed in the bathroom and living room.

Wall Words come in many varieties, including hundreds of quotations on dozens of topics.  You also have the option to custom order individual words in your choice of color and font.  I decided that I wanted instructions to myself for the bathroom.  These words, then, are what my "best self" would do if she didn't get bogged down in worrying, regretting, borrowing trouble, negative ruminating, and the other habits I have that can make me miserable. 

One wall in our living room has words that remind us of what is important.  These words include kindness, serenity, strength, love, patience, freedom, peace, hope, courage, wisdom, compassion, friends, and family.

I feel that words have power -- words that we say to ourselves, words that we say to others, words that we write and words that we read.  Sometimes we just need a little reminder or a little nudge to encourage ourselves to dance, or sing, or dream or believe again.

What are your "wall words"?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Book Recommendation: Living with What You Love: Decorating with Family Photos, Cherished Heirlooms, and Collectibles by Monica Rich Kosan

I have always been enchanted by homes that, rather than having a "decorator" look, reveal the personalities, tastes, and values of the family members who live there.  The presence of family photos, heirlooms, and collectibles illustrate the author's observation that "a house is not a home unless it displays our most cherished possessions."  Living with What You Love gives us the inspiration, tools, and suggestions to approach our own possessions with the goal of reminding ourselves (and others) of who we are, and how we can display our precious objects with creativity and style.

I have years of accumulating photographs, books, and other precious items behind me; my challenge is to be selective in my choices for display.  We are reminded, though, that "cherished objects are not just things of the past.  Whenever we take a photograph, add a personal touch to something that belongs to us, or select a new piece for a collection, we are in the process of creating heirlooms."

A section of the book shows us the value of mixing the old and the new all around the house, especially in regard to photographs; mixing generations of family members can introduce discussions of the past and present.  Also within the pages of the book, you'll find ideas for displaying large and small photos, as well as using technology for always-changing photo display.  Photographic illustrations include an heirloom silver tray holding small, intimate photos framed in silver and a large tv screen devoted to rotating family photographs.

Since my home is filled with books, I was particularly interested in the ideas for mixing them with photos and other items. 

I was also reminded that other precious items can be framed, including certificates, letters, and diplomas and placed on the wall with treasured photographs.  For a start, I'm going to copy the back of my and my husband's birth certificates, showing our baby footprints, for a photo area in our guest bedroom.

Other suggestions included leaving albums and loose photos out in  open boxes or baskets for friends and family to thumb through.

A chapter heading called "Intimate Landcapes"  refers to little areas that remind us of what is important to us.  Tabletops, shelves, mantels, buffets, wherever there is a flat surface can be used to put together family vignettes, which can include memories to hold in your hand, such as individual or collections of rocks, jewelry, or other mementos.

Devoted space can be places individual members of the household use for their own purposes, including personal offices or studios or spots as small as a closet or even an open drawer -- any place that can be used to reveal and enjoy the individual's personal choices of photos and memorabilia.

I would highly recommend this book for anyone interested in decorating the home with a more personal touch and especially for the beautiful photographs, which can serve as a springboard to more ideas for creativity and personal pleasure in our surroundings.

You can purchase Living with What You Love from Amazon or borrow it from your public library, as I did.

Monday, March 7, 2011

"Going to Gobler": Before There was Walmart, There was "Missouri's Most Famous Country Store"

When I was a little girl, growing up in the bootheel of Missouri, I loved to hear the words, "We're going to Gobler."  Gobler Merchantile Company was a central location of commerce in southeast Missouri and northeast Arkansas from 1937 until 1956 and its success was nothing short of amazing.

Just a visit to the store was quite an event for a young girl.  I remember a huge (today, it might be called humongous) building that had grown from 30x60 corrugated tin structure containing $900 worth of merchandise.  It had grown into multiple buildings by the 1950's, housing everything needed by the farmers who were its main customers -- groceries, housewares, farm implements, hoes and other tools, and space for new departments and lines of merchandise.  According to Virginia Branch, who has written a tribute to Gobler Merchantile, it eventually covered about five acres and contained a grocery store and meat market, drug center and dry goods section, furniture, housewares, and hardware departments, a restaurant, television shop and lumber yards.

People came from miles around to Gobler; cars were often parked on both sides of the highway for almost a mile distant on the county line road.  Entertainment was scheduled to attract even more customers, which included the Slim Rhodes show and other fairly well known country and gospel performers.  Many families planned their Saturday afternoons around a 4:00 prize drawing.  Later, a drawing for a car brought the largest number of shoppers in Gobler's history.

Gobler Mercantile's popularity was largely due to business partner and proprietor, Dennye Mitchell, who was primarily responsible for building the store from one small structure to what was larger than many "superstores" today.  Its reputation also grew when Mitchell began advertising on KBOA radio in Kennett, Missouri; thousands of households regularly tuned in to "Old Camp Meeting Time" while eating their breakfasts and heard what the 18-wheeler trucks had recently delivered to "Missouri's Most Famous Country Store."

My stepmother told me that there was also a smoke-filled night spot called the B&B Club in Gobler, to which young couples in the area would go for entertainment.  Elvis Presley performed there twice early in his career.

The shortcut from my home in Kennett to Memphis took me by Gobler during my years of driving back and forth to the University of Memphis (then Memphis State).  There was nothing to remind me of Gobler Merchantile and the time I spent there because Missouri's Most Famous Country Store burned to the ground in 1956.  Today, the farm community has a population of fewer than 300.

If you happen to drive north of Blytheville on Highway NN, you may recognize the little town by "The Soul Shack", Ragins Salvage Yard and Trucking, or the Gobler Baptist Church.  Nothing remains of Gobler Merchantile.  If you stop and listen carefully, though, you may hear the country and gospel performers, The Slim Rhodes Show, or even Elvis himself entertaining hundreds of people there..  You may also hear the children, the young couples, and the old farmers sharing the excitement, their voices celebrating that special weekly event, "Going to Gobler."

Photographs of Gobler Merchantile and Virginia Branch's entire tribute, as well as a history of KBOA and its assocation with Gobler, by Joe Bankhead, are available on KBOA's website.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Book Recommendation: So Much for That by Lionel Shriver

So Much for That is a precautionary tale for any of us who have health insurance, who don't have health insurance, or who don't have enough or the right kind of health insurance.  It's about Shep Knacker, who has worked most of his life building a successful business.  He has reached the point that he is ready to proceed with the second part of his life, which he has dreamed about -- a place where he and his wife can live the good life for dollars a day.  He has been exploring possibilities for years, and his wife has not found any of his choices suitable.  He has finally sold the business and invested the proceeds, but has remained as an employee to the buyer (who once worked for him), waiting for the perfect time to leave.  The time has arrived and he is ready to tell his wife that he is going, whether or not she will accompany him.  He leaves work and goes home, ready to make his announcement, but his wife beats him to the punch.  She says that she is going to need his health insurance.  She has cancer.

Shep was a good employer, who provided good health insurance for his employees.  It turns out that the new owner has downgraded the health insurance.  It turns out that Shep's wife has mesothelioma and her prognosis is grim.  Shep lives with this fact, although the doctors don't choose to be completely open with his wife about her chances.  They feed her hope.  She is also buoyed by a possibility of a settlement, due to her exposure to asbestos.  Who could blame her?

Shep, in the meantime, must deal with the reality.  Thus, the title, So Much for That.  He must continue to work for his former employee.  The reader is kept apprised of Shep's investments, through an account statement every couple of months.  We despair with him (and think, "so this is what it's like") as his account balance goes from about $750,000 to about $3,500.  Remember, he does have insurance for his wife -- although it's not the insurance he(we) would like to have.

You will want to read this book.  It's an interesting story of a couple living through a very rough time in their marriage.  You'll want to know if they, and their marriage, survive.  But, as I said, it's also a precautionary tale -- for the rest of us.

You can find this book at your local library or purchase it below.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Some Gifts and Blessings and a Warning

I love white stoneware.  My stepmother knew this, and gave me the beautiful soup tureen and pitcher before she passed away in November.  The sweet creamer and salt and pepper shakers came to me more recently, and therein lies the warning.

We were visiting my dad on Friday and when we walked through the kitchen, a disturbing sight stopped me in my tracks.  One entire cabinet in the kitchen was gone, leaving only the bare wall (really bare, with unpainted wall and screw holes showing). 

I asked Dad, "What's this?" and he told me that the kitchen cabinet had fallen off the wall.  He said that he had thought there was a car accident out on the road, the crash was so loud.  All of the dishes were broken except a pitiful few that were on the countertop: four small dinner plates, three salad plates, one cup, the salt and pepper shaker and creamer.

The cabinet held dishes, quite a few of them, but it also held some of Jo Ann's collection of cookbooks.  Dad said that the cookbooks completely filled a fairly large box; I think that there was an entire shelf of them.  The bits and pieces of the dishes filled another box.

Lest you think that this was shabby construction, let me explain that my dad was a building contractor and built this house almost 35 years ago.  No other cabinets have fallen.  It was just that the tipping point was reached.   You may want to check your own kitchen cabinets for overloading.  I have, and acknowledge that I'm just about at that point.  I'm going to redistribute some things.

I asked Dad if I could have the salt and pepper shakers and the creamer and he said I could.  I brought them home and noticed that the salt shaker has a small chip in its base.  Not bad, for such a small item taking such a big fall.  They all have a place of honor now in my house and a story that can be told about how they got here.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Girl Scout Cookie Season: A Poem from PePaw

It's Girl Scout Cookie season!  I don't have Girl Scouts in my neighborhood, but have memories of selling them in the 1950's and 1960's.  I also got involved as a parent (buying many, many boxes) and as a troop leader in the 1970's.

My Dad let me bring home a folder of  newspaper clippings, cards, and drawings from and about his children and grandchildren. Included were several poems he had written when the grandchildren were small and the following is one of them:

To Jeannie, A Super Cookie Salesperson


"Hi, PePaw, This is Jeannie!"
"Hello, Jeannie, How are you?"
"I’m selling Girl Scout cookies, PePaw."
Would you like to buy a few?"

"We have many kinds to choose from
Surely, there are some you need.
Chocolate chips, you can rely on
For a group you want to feed."

"One they call a sandwich cookie
They’re chocolate, one stuck to another.
Then we have one called Savannah
They’re delicious, peanut butter."

"Chocolate mints are tasty also
They disappear with great speed
Then we have a new one this year
A cracker called Sesame Seed."

Jeannie’s only eight years old
Not old enough to know
How much she means to PePaw
With her youthful voice aglow.

She could sell him anything
For a dollar or a penny
It’s worth the price to hear her say,
“Hi, PePaw, this is Jeannie.”

What was/is your favorite Girl Scout cookie?


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