A second unusual winter storm named Pax (Yeah, I don’t know when they started naming winter storms) blanketed my southern hometown of Charleston, SC with ice. Unusual is a rather mild word for this historic weather event. We typically deal with hurricanes and tropical storms, not ice storms. When we woke this morning, the ground was wet with rain, but everything above 2 feet was frozen. Icicles filled the tree branches where leaves once flourished. As time moved on so did the ice in the trees and bushes until everything was beautiful, yet frightening shade of white. Loud cracks and booms filled the day as branched broke and fell to ground shattering ice like broken glass on the ground. Reports of power outages began filling social media and the news. By early afternoon, we lost power at our house along with most of our friends in the area. Schools, business, and bridges closed for the second time in just a few weeks.
The magical wintery scene outside my window was stunning as well as alarming. As I sat and watched the trees and branches bending under the weight of ice and blowing wind, I thought about my mother. She spent most of her adult life in California and Nevada. She claimed and cherished our Native America heritage and loved to share her knowledge. When I lived in Nevada, we experience snowstorms frequently and ice storms from time to time. When ice would cover the landscape, my mother would remind me of the Native American story of “pogonip”. Pogonip is a Shoshone word meaning cloud or ice fog. They also refer to it as “white death”. The Shoshone know the dangers of people who become disoriented, get lost in the ice fog, and die from exposure. The early settlers believed they could inhale the small white crystals into their lungs causing death. The beauty of the high desert when it was covered in the white crystals and the stories, fascinated my mother.
In the next day or so, the white cover of ice will melt and the Winter Storm Pax will become a memory to share with family and friends. Each winter when the weather calls for snow or ice, we will talk about the year we had not one, but two icy winter storms. We will share pictures and memories, talk about the hours we spent without power in our houses, and debris covering our neighborhoods. We will even recall the beauty of a winter wonderland in our bit of the South.
The same thing happens when I think about my mother. I remember her life and share pictures and memories. I have been thinking about her more than usual the past couple of weeks. September of this year will mark six years since she passed away. I have often heard that grief touches grief; one grief event will trigger others. This week in the same year my mother passed away, my childhood friend’s husband died unexpectedly. Just a couple of weeks later, my best friend passed away unexpectedly, and a few weeks after that my childhood friend’s mother (my “other” mother) died.
The first part of March, I will be participating in an audition for LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER: CHARLESTON. Those chosen will bring their original, true accounts about motherhood to the stage. I haven’t finished my piece for the audition, but in preparing, my thoughts have turned to my mother, and to others who became “mothers” to me during my life. Just as I will with this year’s winter storms, I look back and remember those who touched my life, sharing them others and telling the stories one more time.
I was determined to take some time to catch up on reading for pleasure over the holidays. I looked at the titles of books I want to read or reread trying to decide what to start today. I was drawn to a book I “read” last year. When I first downloaded the book to my Kindle, I didn’t take the time to really read and focus on the book. I skimmed some and read some. It wasn’t that the book wasn’t good; it was that the book hit too close to home. I needed to really invest myself in reading this story. I decided to start “Peace and Freedom are My Names” by Irene Frances.
I “met” Irene on the internet last year. I read her blog and knew this was someone I wanted to get to know. I connected with her in reading that first post and made contact through the blog and facebook. I was excited to find that she, like I, at our delicate ages were both going to college. I am doing undergraduate work, while she is attending the Brisbaine School of Theology in her home country of Australia. I have loved watching her posts about studying Hebrew and taking tests. She has encouraged me when I felt overwhelmed at times. You can see her faith and genuineness in her smile.
I also connected with her in other ways. She is a survivor of an abusive childhood and learned to live with mental health issues, all while maintaining a strong and steadfast faith in God. We have both had our challenges with religion and church, but God has never given up on us. Her faith and journey have been an inspiration to me.
As I began to read her book again, I was reminded in the first paragraphs of the similarities in our stories. Many facts are different, but the feelings and ways of surviving were much the same. This passage pulled me in today: I was a nothing and a nobody. Nobody wanted me; I didn’t even have my own name. And I was worth nothing. It was a pitiable start to life of hell and torment that would eventually send me into a pit of madness from which it would take a lifetime to claw my way out.
Nobody wanted me. I felt that way much of my life. I didn’t even have my own name. I was reminded of that just this past week. A while back, I wrote a post about my name being changed a couple times in my childhood. You can read it here. My parents named me Carolyn Ann, but at the age of four my grandparents changed it to Cathy (Catherine Ann) when they adopted me. Just a short time before my mother died, she told me that while my name was Carolyn Ann, but they called me Lynn. I wasn’t sure if that was true or the imaging of an old woman. In the blog post above, I shared about finding my old shot records listing my name as Carolyn Ann and (Lynn) listed on one page. I also realized that I lived in Flat Top, W. Va. at my grandparents farm for a couple of years.
Last weekend, Jan and I were working on genealogy sites when I decided to try something to find an old newspaper article I remembered. The article was in the newspaper in W. Va. and featured a picture of my brother and I when I returned to W. Va. to visit when I was 8 years old. Imagine my surprise, when the article appeared in a site with filmstrip from old newspapers. I quickly signed up for the week long free trial and printed the article.
I decided to do a bit more searching when I discovered an article from 1952 about a meeting of the Flat Top Farm Women’s Club. After a brief description of the meeting and food served, the meeting attendees were listed. I froze when I read these names: Mrs. Grady Keaton (that’s my grandmother), Mrs. Joe Keaton (that’s my mother) and her daughter Lynn. LYNN…there it was in black and white…proof that my mother’s memory was intact, and that I was indeed called Lynn for the first 3 to 4 years of my life.
This has been on my mind ever since I found the article. I wasn’t sure why I couldn’t let it go. And, then I starting reading Irene’s story again. In her book, she explains changing her name after her marriage. I am thinking about reclaiming my birth name of Keaton when I finalize my divorce, and I am now thinking about adding Lynn to that name in some way.
I know this will not make sense to many of you and that’s OK. You see, somehow, just seeing that name makes a connection to the childhood that was taken from me. I now know the truth about many things, in spite of all efforts by some to keep it from me. JanF. told me that my life was life a huge mosaic puzzle. I had the easy pieces in place; I had the outer edges. I would continue to add pieces as they were revealed, and one day I would see one of God’s most beautiful works of art. I asked her what piece of art that would be, and she replied, “Why, your life of course. ”
For more information on Irene Frances and her book available on Amazon, please check out her page on Peace and Freedom are My Names.
Although I may be inconsistent in posting on my blog at times, I traditionally post on New Years, March 7th, my birthday (both belly button and recovery), Thanksgiving and Christmas. Remembering the past year, I am reminded to “be careful what I ask for”, because 2013 brought many lessons about trust. As I began this post, I read the post for New Year’s 2013. This is what I wrote:
A blog challenge for 2013 is to find one word to focus on through the coming year and incorporate that into your writing. I have several words that seem appropriate, but the one word that keeps coming through is trust. It isn’t something that comes naturally for me. I learned a tremendous amount about trust in 2012; some of it bad, yet much of it good. I am going to embrace the challenge and put trust into my daily life- trust in God, my friends, my family and in myself. I survived the end of the world in 2012, so welcome 2013. Let’s see what you have in store!
I began the year trying to recover from the flu, and in spite of getting the flu shot, it was my Christmas day gift. For the next few months, I would battle one round of bronchitis after the other. Breathing treatments, antibiotics, injected and oral steroids became constant companions. I would battle each round coming ever so close to victory, only to find myself pushed back into a corner once again. In May, only two days before I was to take my grandson to the live auditions for X-Factor complete with Simon Cowell and Demi Lovato, I was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia.
All of these battles with bronchitis occurred as I prepared to begin my lifelong dream of going to college. I stepped onto the College of Charleston campus in early January not sure if I would be able to survive as a college student. I can now tell you that I not only have survived, but I have done well. I have enough credits to apply as a degree student instead of a “non-traditional” student and I am only a few credits away from being a sophomore. Did I mention that I have a 3.82 GPA?
Being sick for so long took a financial toll since I wasn’t able to work during that time. The cost of COBRA for me to keep my insurance was over $500 a month, and I still had deductibles and copays. In October, the biggest financial hit came when my car blew the transmission. Being without a car for close to two months was devastating, but I managed to finish school for the semester and keep my part time job.
As summer approached, I was healthy again and was able to start a new fitness program. It was another step in learning some great ways to exercise without a gym, and it was a thought-provoking experience in learning balance. I was reminded that fitness goals and healthy living are a work in progress, not something to achieve overnight.
I managed a couple of very short trips this year. Jan, Anna, and I took a day trip to Savannah. We laughed, talked, shopped, discovered “Your Pie Pizza”, and walked all around Savannah even though it was still a bit cool that day, and had a great day. I had to take a trip, have an adventure, and see a play for my three of my classes, so a short weekend trip with Ginger, Sassy, and Jerome made getting an A on all three papers easy. Jan and I continued to have Friday adventures including doing some genealogical research, climbing an old haunted staircase in a house that was built in early 1800, and visiting a couple of library archives. We did manage to find some great food along the way, as well.
So, what does all this have to do with trust? If you look at most of last year, you may begin to see that I wasn’t able to do things for other people the way I usually do. Money, health, and time took away my ability to take care of others and do things for the people in my life. All that was left for me to give was myself. I have always been sure that “I” was not enough. Last year, I had to trust my friends and my family with my vulnerability. Every time they stayed by my side, supported me, bought me lunch, visited me, called me to make sure I was OK, took me where I needed to go, went beyond everything I expected, I thanked God for showing me what trust and love are really about.
I didn’t learn to trust anyone as a child. I didn’t understand love until I had children of my own. I did not trust God, and I was not convinced that God would or could love me. I do not believe God sends catastrophes, broken cars, financial problems, etc. into my life, but I do believe God has used all of these things to help me learn about love and trust. God continues to be patient and understanding with me.
I do not think I am going to choose a theme for 2014, but I will be writing to tell you about my year. I will give you one sneak peak at the upcoming year. The “three stooges” (we must think of a better name) are going to see JILLIAN!
I hope you all have a blessed and wonderful New Year!
It is close to midnight on Sunday night and I am sitting in an empty office room. During the day, the room is filled with volunteers and staff talking on phones and with each other. But, at night there is only one person covering the phones, and tonight it is me. I work for local hotline crisis center. I have done this for over 13 years now. We talk to people who are in pain, hurt, scared, angry, lost, and sometimes suicidal.
I chose this work because without a line just like this one, I might not be here today. In March of 1987, I made a call to a local crisis line because I wanted to die. I thought I could no longer handle the pain and guilt that ruled my life. I felt that God had long since given up on me, as had everyone else. A wonderful woman spent a long time on the phone with me that night and kept me safe until morning. In my post on Christmas past, I shared some of the things that lead me to that night.
Just the other day I was talking with my friend Jan, and I was shocked to hear that she had never seen “A Wonderful Life.” This is the movie when life takes a devastating turn for Jimmy Stuart, so he stands on a bridge thinking that his wife, their young children, and others he loves will be better off with him dead. He is contemplating suicide when a guardian angel named Clarence comes to his rescue. Clarence shows him what life would be like if he was never born. Stuart’s character comes to realize the impact his life has had on all those in his life, and realizes that he does indeed, have a “wonderful life.”
As I prepare to share this Christmas with my family and friends, I wonder what might have happened if I had succeed that night. I would have missed an amazing life, and the opportunity to share my hope and faith with others. I wouldn’t be here for this Christmas. This year, I will spend time with my church family as we host several services leading up to the Christmas Eve candle light service. I will spend time with my friends Anna, Jan and her kids. Christmas day, I will be blessed to share the day with both of my children, their spouses, and my three amazing grandchildren. If I had succeeded that night, I would never have known the joy of sharing my life with all of them.
I won’t be able to buy gifts as I did last year. I had the most fun shopping last year, but some financial setbacks including a bout with pneumonia in spring and having my car breakdown beyond repair, make it impossible to give the way I did last year. I have been fortunate to find a car I can afford with some serious budget cuts. I have made peace with the situation and believe that Christmas will still be special this year.
Christmas this year will be about sharing special times with those I love and care about the most.It will be remembering the true gift of Christmas was the gift of Jesus It will be enjoying the sounds of Christmas music and singing along to carols as I drive down the road. It will be finding those special small gifts to give to others. I love seeing the Christmas cards and greeting on facebook from all those in my life. Phone calls with people I should talk to more often will add to the holiday excitement. I will of course eat too much chocolate and other baked goods, in spite of Anna telling me how much sugar, gluten, and other harmful things fill my plate. I promise to listen more after the first of the year.
When Christmas day is over and everyone heads to bed, I will log into a computer, pull out my headset, and cover the crisis hotline. Maybe, I will talk to someone who feels lost and alone this Christmas. Whenever I talk to someone like that, I remember the night I made that call and the person on the line that gave me hope. I think of the life I have today, and like Stuart’s character I can say, “It is a wonderful life. “
My childhood memories are scattered in pieces across my mind. While I have some of my own memories, others come from the stories told by family members or friends. For a long time, many of the pieces didn’t make sense, but letters, pictures, and stories helped put the snippets into a more complete picture
From what I learned, my first Christmas was spent with my parents at my father’s parents farm in West Va. We lived with them for the first few months. My mother had just turned 17 and my father was barely 20. After the holidays, they moved back home to Charleston to live in the projects in downtown Charleston. My father was in the Navy and gone for weeks at a time. When he came home, he would drink and there would be fights…verbal and physical. As I got older, I would be in the mix. My mother taught me to hide under a table. The next few Christmases included bringing two more abusive alcoholics (Mother’s parents) into the mix. The Christmas before my 4th birthday, my mother played out a plan that included leaving and separating my brother and me between grandparents.
My parents were in and out of my life. Holidays, particularly Christmas brought dreams and wishes that my mother or my father would somehow miss me enough to come and see me. I do remember many times looking out the window and hoping. Any time I heard a car, I would look to see if it might be one of them; it never was.
My grandmother found “religion” when I was about 7. Christmas meant going to church service at midnight Christmas Eve and coming home to my drunken grandfather. When we got home, I could open one gift under the ugly silver tree with revolving color wheel with a manager scene carefully placed underneath. Gifts were practical for the most part, with one “frivolous” gift like a doll or bike. The only present I cared about was the one my mother would send me. Later, I discovered many phone calls and gifts were never received because of my Grandmother’s intervention.
Christmas finally took on new meaning when I had children of my own. The greatest joy I had was finding gifts for them, yet because of our own financial problems, I often wasn’t able to give them all they wanted. They didn’t seem to care. They loved the tree and decorations. They always took part in the Christmas music and scenes at church. My husband’s parents were so very generous with gifts for the kids and they always had what they wanted, even if I couldn’t give it.
All of that changed, when I started drinking and in time, became a full-blown alcoholic. In the fall of 1986, my husband took custody of my kids, and I was left with visitation only. The pain and heartbreak was overwhelming. December of 1986, I made the decision to move to Baltimore to try to find a better job and get my life together in order to provide a home for children and get them back. But alcoholics can’t move away from themselves. That Christmas, I was able to get gifts and send them back home to the kids, but I drank everyday to numb the pain of their loss. During the next 3 and 1/2 months, I drank and drugged daily, put myself in dangerous places with dangerous people, and lost all hope. I wondered if my children watched out the window to see if I was coming that Christmas, even though they knew, just as I did, that it wasn’t going to happen.
I got sober in April of 1987. My husband told the kids they could come and stay with me for Christmas if I could get them to Baltimore. I didn’t have a car and he knew I didn’t have the money to fly them there. Jan F. told me to pray and talk to my support group and just “let go and let God.” I hated her telling me those thing, but I learned to trust her. I did what she said.
Two weeks before Christmas, a friend invited me to lunch. She pulled out two round trip airline tickets for my kids. She told me that she drank away her chance to ever have children and wanted to help me get mine back. That weekend, we had our Christmas party at work. My coworkers, who had watched me drink myself almost to death and now watched me in recovery, gave me an envelope with $100.00 cash and a $100 gift card to a grocery store and another to Penny’s. That Christmas gave me hope and helped me believe that perhaps God hadn’t given up on me.
It took over 20 years before I would be in a church at Christmas. I wonder if God watched out of the window sometimes to see I was going to come back . Even though I found a new relationship with God and Jesus, I struggled with the idea of church. I started visiting a few churches and a couple of years ago found a church home. Last Christmas, I attended all of the Christmas services and found a new appreciation for Christmas. There was one service that touched my heart. It was the Blue Christmas service. You can read about it here in an article that my friend Jan wrote about that night. It has been a long journey.
In a day or so, I will share more about my Christmas “Present” and then shortly after that Christmas “Future.”
What does Luke Bryan have to do with “Must Be Present To Win?” Those who know me won’t be surprised when I explain. This post is obviously about winning. Jan and I were in the car the other day and I mentioned that I was really getting tired of the song, “Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner.”
“I don’t think I know that song? Who sings it?’ I was confused by her response since she is a county music fan and knows all the current songs.
I tried to sing a piece, but she still had no idea about the song. I decided to Google it and let her listen to the chorus, so that she would be terribly embarrassed when she realized she knew the song. I found it and played the snippet of the song I found. I then discovered that the song is That’s My Kind of Night by Luke Bryan. Here are the lyrics:
‘Floatin’ down the Flint River/catch us up a little catfish dinner/gonna sound like a winner, winner.” So, I had it almost right. And, she did know the song, of course. I still haven’t lived that one down.
On a more serious note, two years ago I attended a day conference here in Charleston presented by Google. As a surprise, they donated two newly released Samsung Galaxy Android Tablets. The first was given away at noon and the second at the closing session of the day. I had an appointment that couldn’t be changed, so I left just as the last half hour of the session started.
When I left my appointment I had several text messages and a couple of phone calls telling me that my name had been drawn to win the tablet. HOWEVER, YOU MUST BE PRESENT TO WIN! As you can see, I am not over it still.
You may know that it has been a rough few weeks. Several things are going on, but primarily I am struggling because my car died. Living in Charleston (very little public transportation), tying to go to school and work, and do all the other things I do is now a true challenge. I have cried, screamed, and prayed a lot- trust me!
Yesterday, I received a call from the local pharmacy where I fill my prescriptions. They announced that there had a been a drawing from all the people who used the online refill email last month, and I was the winner. My prize is two tickets valued at $20.00 each to a trolley tour around Summerville on what is known as the Sweet Tea Trail. While it isn’t a Samsung Tablet, I did win. As odd as it many sound, that phone call changed my mood. I didn’t do anything to earn this prize nor do I really deserve it. I won simply because I did what I needed to do.
I began to think that life is like winning both of those prizes-you must be present to win. If I choose to withdraw and be miserable or simply focus on the negative because I don’t have a car…or money…or my own home…you get the idea, then I lose. I can’t enjoy those things that make life worth living…family…friends…laughter…you get the idea.
Being present simply means getting out of bed each day, doing the next right thing, being part of the lives of the people I love, laughing out loud, acting like a kid, working, going to school, helping where and when I can, having faith that God is present in my life no matter what the circumstances, and praying. Some days I am going to be more present than others; we all have those days when we need to retreat and regroup. We might even need to cry sometimes. A friend told me that everyone has a bad day; you just don’t want it turn into bad weeks and months.
Today, I have been present. I got up early because I didn’t sleep well, but used the extra time to get a few things done. I went to school with all of my assignments for the day complete. I met my friends for lunch. We talked and laughed and just enjoyed hanging out. Right now I am supposed to be working on ten short summaries of essays for one class and critiquing three stories for another. Instead, I decided to write this blog post, first. (Please don’t tell on me!) I doubt I will have chicken or catfish for supper today, but all in all, I would say I was a winner.
If you don’t have cable TV, visit retail stores from Walgreens to Ace Hardware, or talk to other human beings, then you may have missed a phenomenon called Duck Dynasty. You have missed getting to know the Roberston family including three brothers named Jase, Willie, and Jep who run the family company “Duck Commander” in Louisiana. The company makes hunting products and are most known for making duck calls with the same name as the company. The fourth brother Alan is a preacher. The family leader is the father, Phil along with mom, Kay. Si (Silas) is Phil’s brother. All the men, except for Alan, are known for their long beards and country living and values. The show also includes all the wives and children of the brothers. A&E reports the show has broken many rating records and in the fourth season has over 11 million viewers.
Si is one of the most interesting characters on the show. He is never without his pitcher of tea and Tupperware tea cup. He starts every sentence with “Hey” and ends most with “Jack.” He is also known for off the wall comments and an odd sense of humor.
I recently passed a mobile home sales lot and saw the newest Si-Pad advertized with large banners. The Clayton Homes description of this home says, “Camouflage wall panels. Check. Si Security Locker for your hunting gear. Done. “Si’s Stash” safe for valuables. You bet. It’s an affordable, quality home designed with the needs of “the outdoorsman” in mind, inspired by Duck Dynasty® star, Si Robertson. Robertson has endorsed Clayton Homes as a “good call.”
You can find almost anything that uses the cast of Duck Dynasty including T-shirts, jackets, hoodies, bandanas, tea cups, calendars, fake beards, posters, watches, coffee mugs, hats, booble head dolls, DVDs of all seasons, and last, but not least, and most surprising…books. It seems almost all of the cast have written books. As someone who strives and longs to have a book published someday, it makes me take a deep breath and wonder if there is hope when I see the Duck Dynasty books on sale at every book store and Amazon.
You will find a book by Si called “Si-cology 1: Tales and Wisdom from Duck Dynasty’s Favorite Uncle.” Does that mean there will be a Si-cology 2? Other titles include, “Happy, Happy, Happy”, “The Duck Commander Family-How Faith, Family, and Ducks Built a Dynasty”, “Miss Kay’s Duck Commander Kitchen: Faith, Family, and Food–Bringing Our Home to Your Table”, “The Duck Commander Devotional”, “Duck Dynasty: Family, God and Guns”, “Faith in the Duck Blind”, “The Women of Duck Commander: Surprising Insights from the Women Behind the Beards About What Makes This Family Work”, and we are assured that there will be more.
A friend recently pointed out that Mama June from the show Honey Boo Boo (another interesting reality TV show) got married, and Si Roberson and the rest of the family have published books. She also pointed that neither of us were married nor had we published anything. I shook my head, shrugged my shoulders, and really couldn’t think of anything to say.
I won’t give up, however. I look at it from a different perspective. If Si Robertson and the Robertson family can write and publish books, then certainly a smart, talented, amazing person like me can make it happen. Right? Maybe, I just need a new Si-Pad as to “relax” and write. So, in the words of Si Roberson, “This thing is gonna be a humdinger. I’m talking ’bout this thing is gonna be a pants-off dance-off, Jack. We fixing to have a hootenanny like you ain’t had in your lifetime. Hey, this is going to be like the wedding from Deer Hunter. Hey, this thing is gonna be good.”
I saw this picture/statement on a facebook post from an organization that works with families and individuals facing challenges of mental illness. Often, we read these simple statements, smile and say, “Oh, isn’t that sweet,” without really thinking about the message. What I read in this statement is, “Suffer in silence, don’t ask for help, and God forbid, don’t tell anyone!”
I was raised with that philosophy. Tears and fears indicated lack of faith in God. Accepting help was a sign of weakness and asking for help was a sign of a failure. Accepting help made you a slave to the one who gave the help. In my family, there were definitely strings attached to accepting help and in some cases ropes or chains.
Fighting battles no one knows about was a way of life as a child. I learned to cry in private or not cry at all. I learned that God didn’t like little girls who were afraid. Adults who abuse children make sure the children don’t tell anyone or ask for help. Depression, anxiety, fear were all from the devil, so there was no help other than perfect obedience and faith. Seeking mental health help was admitting that your faith was weak.
I grew up strong…according to the definition in the quote here. I learned to always put myself last. I almost died because I was so strong. I was 35 years old before I learned to ask for help. Walking into a room of people when you are disheveled, hung over, and smelling like alcohol (not because you were drinking right then, but the smell coming from your pores and breath), and looking at people through squinted red eyes makes it difficult not to ask for help. Yet, I didn’t ask for help or want help from anyone. A wonderful therapist and 12 step programs taught me to ask and accept help. I am 62 now and still find asking or accepting help a challenge.
I also know that friends and family who love and care about you want to help. It gives them joy and pleasure. When I offer help to someone, I get so much from the experience. At the same time, when I offer help to someone and they refuse it, I feel as if they don’t trust me or feel connected enough to accept what I offer. When I don’t ask for help or refuse to accept help, I do that same thing to others.
PAUSE…I was going to go into a rather lengthy theological and philosophical discussion, however, I think I will leave that to the philosophers and preachers.
The past year has put me in a place where I have needed help. At times, I reached out and asked for it and in other cases, it was offered without petition. It is still a challenge to admit that I need help sometimes. Pride and ego are powerful adversaries. I am a work in progress. I do not want to “smile through the pain, cry all alone, and fight in silence.” I don’t want to be “strong” any more.
I’ve heard the phrase “there’s a light at the end of the tunnel” expressed in several ways. I once heard, “the light at the end of the tunnel is a train coming right at you.” Another explanation is that there is a way out of the darkness or through the challenges. On Tuesday, I was floundering and felt that I couldn’t even begin to find my way to the tunnel. At one point I was sitting on a bench outside at my college, crying and feeling very alone. Let me back up and tell you what happened.
Sunday, we went to the Corn Maze. Jan and her kids rode with me, and as we were headed home I heard a beep. I thought it was my car telling me it wanted gas, but as I looked at the dash I realized my check engine light was on. The car was still running normally and all the gauges seemed fine. We laughed because the last time my car broke down, Jan was in the car with me. The next morning I drove to an appointment and called the car dealership to make an appointment for my oil change and have them check the light. As I started the car when I was leaving, the check engine light went out. I was so excited. I called my daughter and my friends proclaiming that my car was healed.
I drove on toward my work and I pulled off the interstate into the exit lane. Before I could get to the top, the car made some chugging noises and jerked a couple of times. As I rolled towards the light, I heard a pop and a puff of white smoke came out of my car like a smoke signal from an old western. The engine was running, but none of the gears worked. Soon the tow truck was taking my car to the dealership. Let’s just say that my experience with the service department was not a good one that day. They gave me a ride home and promised to look at the car as soon as possible.
I have been going to a local park and ride to get to my college classes this semester, so my daughter gave me a ride to the bus stop the next morning. I finished my first class and saw that the dealership had called. I called them back on the way to my next class. The news wasn’t good. The transmission would need to be replaced or rebuilt. The estimate was $3800. The blue book value of my car in good condition is about $2800. I dont’ have $3800 to repair it or enough to replace it since I could only sell it for about $800 at best. I still have to come up with $130 for the diagnostic labor to get it out of the dealership, plus a tow truck. All of that to say, I no longer have a running vehicle.
This is where the sitting on a bench alone in the middle of school campus and crying comes in. Some very kind maintenance people working outside that day came to check on me, offered me coffee, a ride home, smiles, and wishes for a better day. I called my daughter and she helped me realize that this was not the end of the world. She assured me that she and her husband would be there to assist until I could figure out the next step. She was caring but wouldn’t let me give up on school and work. I have been without my car for 5 days now. I miss my car; I loved that car.
Yet, I haven’t missed work or school. I have everything I need. I have a place to live and money to pay my bills. My daughter has been strong for me and is working with me to use her car when she doesn’t need it. Her husband is changing his schedule a bit to drop me off and pick up at the bus stop on school days. My 16 year old grandson gave me a hug, told me he loved me, and asked if I wanted to use his car…his very special car that he loves. They have all encouraged me been there for me. My son has offered his help. He found a program that may be able to get my car on the road. He made the contact and is helping get the information and paper work.
My friend Jan, came today and picked me up for Friday adventure day. Funny thing happened on the way to adventure day; we went to the store, came out, and her car wouldn’t start. True Story! We found a nice man dressed in camouflage, driving a big truck, with jumper cables and he was able to get the car started. We spent about an hour getting a new battery with a very talkative, somewhat clumsy sales person, who installed the battery. We then rushed to pick up her children from school. They smiled and told me they had missed seeing me. Jan has encouraged me and checked in on me all week, in spite of a busy work week and activities.
My friend Sonia and another friend Erica have offered me their cars when they don’t need them and rides to work. Lindy has emailed, texted and offered encouragement. Other friends have offered ideas, let me know they are praying for me, and that I am not alone.
Yes, I don’t have a car in a world that requires a car to survive, particularity in a city with very little transportation options. I have no idea how or when I will be able to get my repaired or get another vehicle. Yes, I could get a car loan..maybe. I don’t really make enough money to qualify for a loan, but if I could find one, I couldn’t afford the payments. Yes, I do know this for a fact. Like all of my other friends, I am looking at Christmas coming very quickly and I need to put every dollar aside that I can for this car. I don’t know what I will be able to offer others this year and that makes me sad.
Yet, I am grateful and know that I am blessed. I have fairly good health for a woman my age. My mind is sharp (don’t ask my close friends about that) and I am fulfilling my dream of going to school. I love going to school more than I have ever loved anything I have done and I have a 3.82 GPA so far. Most importantly, I have family and friends that I trust and know in my heart love and care about me. There were times in my life that I couldn’t say that. While I may not be able to even find the tunnel right now, maybe I dont’ have to find it. And car or no car, maybe, just maybe, I am finding another way to get to where I need to be with the help of those people in my life.
“Mom, this came in the mail. A real card, in an envelope, in the mailbox!”
No one in our family or circle of friends does that anymore. Occasionally we buy a an honest to goodness, hold in your hand, made of recycled paper card, but more often than not, we send an online card, post happy birthday wishes on facebook, send a text message, or if they are special enough, we will call and talk to them. The card was from my daughter’s aunt, who lives in our town. However, she chose to mail it. She knew my daughter would not receive the card in the mail from her Grandmother that year. She passed away only months before my daughter’s birthday.
I remember watching the mailbox every year for birthday or other special holiday cards. I loved seeing the cards, but more importantly, the accompanying note or letter from the person sending the card. Over the years, I have saved letters or special cards from family and friends. I pull them out from time to time, remembering the people and events of my life. I lost an entire box cards and letters when I moved from Nevada, but I managed to save one small box. I have added to the collection over the past 16 years, but I rarely receive cards or letters anymore.
I have been helping my friend Jan with searching for stories about her ancestors. We have been to historical archives, libraries, and old houses in our search. In online programs for recording family trees and genealogy as well as in archives, letters have been an amazing source of family history. I love reading about the people and their lives. Letters have been part of our history since there was pen and paper. We would be missing a great deal of our New Testament in the Bible were it not for letters. Novels and poetry books are about or taken from letters. We had songs growing up about letters. “Take a Letter Maria”, “Please Mr. Postman”, “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh (a Letter From Camp)”, “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter”, and more. Of course, we can’t forget the yearly letter to Santa.
I pulled out some of my letters this morning and as I read the words of encouragement and support from my friend who passed away five years ago, I felt her presence and smiled. I read about her fear when the Beltway Sniper shootings were happening in the Baltimore/DC in 2002. I laughed as I read the things she shared about her family and friends. I still have copies of the letters from my mother when she left my father, my brother, and me. The words helped me understand her and the decisions she made at that time in her life. Another letter she sent much later explains more about her life.
I love being able to keep up with friends and family, who are spread across the country, on social media. Of course, we can always call and talk but it seems that we are often doing other things while we talk. Writing letters requires time and attention. When I sit down to write a letter, I am focused on that person for the time I am writing. When I read a letter I am connected to someone in a different way than any other. I miss cards and letters.
No, I am not a postal employee trying to encourage you to buy more stamps. I am challenging myself and all of you to write a letter or card to someone special. In fact, why not pick several people and write one card or letter each week for the next few weeks. I have a feeling that once we start, we won’t want to stop. Once you do, write a blog post about it. Let’s save an empty mailbox today.