Many years ago, when I was in grammar school, fund raisers consisted of sending kids home with order forms for different kinds of flower seeds. My dutiful mother always bought a few packs to save me the embarrassment of turning in blank forms with zero sales. When orders arrived, Mom and I covered the kitchen table with newspapers and jumped into the task of planting seeds. Problem was, city slickers like us—both being born and bred in the Bronx—knew nothing about the proper way to plant anything.
We brought in the flower pots that had sat on the fire escape of our top-floor apartment through the winter, broke up the ball of last-year’s roots, shook off the dirt, and planted our seeds. Spindly shoots fought a good fight, grew a few inches, and died a hard, neglected death.
My uncle owned a florist in Staten Island, New York. Though we didn’t see him often, I thoroughly enjoyed traipsing through his shop, smelling the fresh scent, and seeing the wonderful array of colors. Even though he didn’t grow the flowers himself, he’d evidently been born with a gene my mother and I seemed to be missing.
I’ve always loved flowers. When it came time to pick an occupation for the heroine in my book, Christmas at Dumpster Corral, I chose her to be a florist.
Here’s where I get to sneak in a little plug for my book. Tee-hee. The kindle version is on sale for 99¢ through July. You can buy it HERE.
Oh, by the way. My favorite flower is the stargazer lily. What’s yours?
Be careful, little ears, what you hear, eyes what you see, and tongue, what you say. Our brains are like sponges, taking it all in. It’s easy to be disheartened by the hate and discontentment all around us.
Bad news sells. Or so I’ve always heard. Seems the stories of stellar behavior, excellent character, and goodwill toward men are always tucked away in an obscure corner of the newspaper or given twenty-seconds’ air time on the evening broadcasts.
And so, precious readers, I propose to reminisce for you a few random acts I’ve witnessed over the years that have restored my faith in mankind. These memories are like refreshing wells that bring me joy.
The Woman in the Wheelchair
The customer in line in front of me at Walmart was confined to a motorized wheelchair. Apparently, whatever injury or illness had taken away her ability to walk had also limited the usage of her arms. The cashier rang up her purchase and leaned way over the counter to accept the payment. Seeing the woman’s difficulties, she came around the counter and asked if she should stow the bag in a cargo pouch attached to the chair. The lady said, “Yes, please.” After that, the cashier took an extra minute to adjust a blanket that had partially slid off the woman’s lap, then tucked it around her so that it wouldn’t easily fall off again. It was a small thing yet done with a heart of compassion and the utmost respect. It touched my heart in a huge way.
Breakdown in the Rain
Everything seemed to be going wrong that day. My Honda Civic sputtered and died on the hill of an overpass. I had my three kids with me –one just a few months old—and a hatch full of groceries. All I could do was put it in neutral and steer onto the shoulder as the car went backwards. In those pre-cellphone days, I was stuck with no choice but to walk to the nearest pay phone in the drizzling rain with my kids in tow. I already knew my husband, Jim, who worked nights and was sleeping in the basement bedroom, would never hear the phone ringing upstairs. After calling multiple times, we all trudged back to the car.
A motorist stopped and asked if we were all right. Normally, I wouldn’t dream of getting in a car with a stranger, but I felt an overwhelming sense of peace when the man offered to drive me and the kids home. His kindness didn’t stop at safely delivering us (and the groceries) to the house. No, he then drove Jim to the car, then to the parts’ store for a fuel pump, and waited until the car started before leaving. This nice fellow wouldn’t accept any payment but a handshake of thanks. I will never forget his generous heart.
Benefit of the Doubt
While sitting in church listening to the sermon, my mouth dry as a bone, I decided a stick of gum would give some relief. I turned slightly and started digging through my purse like a squirrel looking for a nut. The woman sitting on the other side of the purse smiled sweetly at me. It was then I realized this wasn’t my purse, but hers. I apologized profusely and even showed her the similarities between our bags. She leaned and told me not to worry, and that she knew I’d made an honest mistake. She’d chosen to give me the benefit of the doubt regardless of the fact that she’d caught me red-handed.
I’m sure you have similar experiences, memories small and large that water the seeds of joy, peace, and hope in your heart. Leave a comment if you’d like and share a short story that made a difference in your life. I’d love to hear from you.
…Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there beany praise, think on these things. Phil 4:8
I was bummed when my daughter, Fawn, and her husband announced they were moving from Louisiana to Texas. Okay, more than bummed. My heart was broken, and I began missing her before she even left.
But as months went by, I got used to her being gone. If I really gunned it, I could be at her house in Arlington in seven or eight hours. Not bad. And staying with her felt like a vacation from the mundane. The arrangement didn’t seem so awful.
Fawn had her first baby in Texas, and I was able to be there to watch my granddaughter, Destiny, enter the world. I can vividly remember the baby coming out, making a quarter turn, opening her eyes, and looking straight at me. The moment is etched in my mind as one of the most beautiful in all my life. My love for this child was instant, strong, and would last a lifetime.
Not long after that, Fawn made another announcement. This time, she and her hubby, along with their new baby, were moving to Malaysia. My first thought, after “OH, NO!” was, “Where on earth is Malaysia?” Turns out, it was on the opposite side of the earth from the United States.
Once again, I grieved losing my daughter, granddaughter, and son-in-law to the many miles (this time, with oceans) that separated us. I hate flying. Do you hear me? I HATE it. Scares me witless. But I pushed aside my fears and boarded a plane. Several planes, as a matter of fact.
I visited my daughter in Malaysia four or five times through the years. The flights were long and grueling, but it was worth it. I was able to stay three months when their twin boys were born. Later, I went over shortly after the youngest (another boy) made a surprise arrival by deciding to pop out in my daughter’s bedroom instead of waiting for a hospital delivery.
Thirteen-plus years from when she had announced their departure from the U.S. to Malaysia, Fawn made another announcement. This time, they were moving back to the States. I was elated, yet deeply concerned.
You see, the gracious people of Malaysia had taken them in as their very own. The children had grown up there. They knew no other home. Friendships—some deep and infused with love—had formed. My daughter’s best friend cried at the news of their pending departure. Of course, my daughter cried too.
Me? I wept over Facebook photos of my daughter’s family farewell-party. More than a hundred people came to bid them goodbye. People they’d grown to love. People who loved them.
My thirteen-year-old granddaughter—the one who’d imprinted on me the moment she’d first opened her eyes to the world—would be saddened to leave the only home she’d known. That fact alone broke my heart.
Shakespeare said, “Parting is such sweet sorrow.”
I’ve always understood the sorrow part. But sweet? That required some thought. Here is my conclusion:
We have loved and have been loved.
The pain of separation is great.
Despite those two facts, relationships are worth it. And therein lies the “sweet.”
It was easy to make friends when my kids were little. Gregarious and full of life and energy, they made friends with kids in the neighborhood and, as a collateral benefit, I made friends with their parents. Minimum effort, maximum benefit. Life was good.
When my youngest son was sixteen, I rejoined the outside-the-home workforce. The job provided a pool of people to rub shoulders with, and as a result, friendships were born. Again, minimum effort, maximum benefit.
The changing seasons of life have brought new challenges in the area of personal relationships. My adult children have lives of their own and are no longer a link to people my age with whom to make friends. And as sweet as retirement has been, it also has the downside of having erased the camaraderie of work. No more watercooler chatter, after-work meetups for dinner, or locker room banter with the girls.
In short, making true and lasting friendships has become harder. Much harder. Maximum effort, minimum benefit.
As a result, I found myself withdrawing into my safe place where I could be alone while alone VS being alone in a crowd. For me, there is no greater loneliness than being in a group setting, a church service for example, and feeling overwhelmingly disconnected.
Like a pot-bound plant, the flower of my life was withering and my roots were dying for lack of nourishment. My safe place became a self-imposed prison, and I’d stopped growing as a human being. Something had to change. I had to change.
Out of the blue, or so it seemed, (Thank You, God) I got a text from a VERY nice lady I’d met at church months before. She asked if I’d like to meetup with her and two other ladies for dinner. Just a girls’-night-out sort of thing.
As tightly as I’d cocooned myself, it took a bit of effort to say yes, and even more effort to actually show up on the designated night. How utterly happy I am that I went! It was a joyful gathering with lots of laughs, some prayer, and a really good meal to boot. The dinner get-togethers have turned out to be a monthly affair, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
I have to admit, I was ecstatic when a U-Haul truck backed up the driveway to my next-door neighbor’s house, and they began the process of moving out. I won’t go into detail as to why their leaving brought such joy as I’d already written about it in another blog. It took the neighbors three days to shuttle their things to wherever they were going. By the time they’d pulled out for the last time, they’d created quite a huge heap of discarded stuff at the curb.
The trash pile drew a lot of interest. Pedestrians stopped, pick through it, and some walk off with a few books, a DVD, or a kitchen gadget. Drivers parked their vehicles beside the heap, got out, and loaded odds and ends into their trunks and hatches. One guy put three black kitchen chairs into his truck, examined the fourth matching chair that had an obviously broken leg, then shrugged and threw it in to the truck bed with the others.
As I stood peeking through the living room blinds watching people gather like vultures around a fresh kill, my husband walked in and asked what I was doing.
“Just checking out all those garbage pickers,” I said with an added snicker and huff of disdain for good measure. Turning, I said, “You know that box of books I’ve been meaning to donate? They’re old and kind of yellow. I think I’ll just get them out of the closet and toss them on the neighbor’s junk pile.”
Minutes later I heaved the box of books on top of the heap, and…
(here I pause for a sigh of resignation)
…came home with a small, green and white Coleman cooler.
Our vehicle had broken down, our funds were exhausted, and we had nowhere to go. My husband Jim and I backpacked down a dirt road surrounded by woods and arrived at Four Lake’s primitive campground. The night was dark and frightening with my overactive imagination conjuring up lions and tigers and bears (oh my!) peering through the thicket, ready to have us for dinner.
The heavens opened with a punishing downpour replete with finger lightning and howling wind. Jim grabbed my hand and we dove under a concrete picnic table for shelter. Soaking wet and shivering, we rolled out our sleeping bags in the pitch darkness and eventually fell asleep.
I greeted the morning with a shrill scream as my eyes opened to the sight of hundreds of spider webs hanging on the underside of the table and benches. Weird-looking beetles and bionic cockroaches scurried as I thrashed about, desperate to get out of my sleeping bag.
Still screaming, I rolled out from under the table. Once on my feet, I ran around in circles, lunatic-style, while swatting real or imagined bugs from every inch of my body. Later, when I regained my composure, we took a closer look at some of the spiders we’d slept in such close proximity with and discovered black-bodied arachnids with the ruby-red hourglass trademarks of the black widow. I was shaken to the core.
Later that day, we hitchhiked into town, bought a pup tent, and proceeded to live in the Ocala National Forest for the next ten months. We bathed in the lake, ate lots of peanut butter, hitchhiked everywhere, and picked oranges for a meager living.
Oddly enough, the thought never occurred to me that we could, theoretically, be labeled “homeless.” We had taken the situation we were dealt and did the best we could with it. Life wasn’t always easy in the woods, but the resilience of youth, coupled with hope for a brighter future, kept us going. It was an adventure I’ll never forget. Ever.
I often draw on personal experiences for inspiration when I’m plotting my next novel or novella. Also, I listen to other people’s stories of triumph, tragedy and adventure, and incorporate tidbits of their lives into my characters. And so it was when I wrote my latest book, Christmas at Dumpster Corral. The main character, Noel Dupree, finds herself in an unfortunate predicament but does her best to rise to the challenge. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
My first introduction to the new next-door neighbor wasn’t the typical, “Hi, how are you, my name is…yada, yada, yada.” There were no pleasantries traded. Not even an exchange of names. But for this story, I’ll call her Ann. It went something like this:
I was on my way back from my mailbox when a Shih Tzu trotted onto my front lawn, squatted, and left me a little present. Ann walked over, picked up the furry little trespooper, and said, “I’m so sorry. Sweetie seems to like doing her business on your lawn,” and took the dog into her house.
In light of the fact that the pooch was caught red-handed, one would think that Ann would have done the considerate thing by coming back to clean up the dookie. But that didn’t happen. That was two years ago, and true to Ann’s observation, Sweetie really does like using my lawn as her personal toilet.
You’re probably wondering why, after years of being dumped on, I haven’t gone over and politely asked Ann to keep her dog in her own yard. After all, she has a fenced-in back yard, so there’s no reason for Sweetie to run loose. Fair enough, I’ll tell you.
Simply put, Ann scares the mess out of me. Since she and her teens moved in, there have been fist fights in front of her house, police interventions, arrests, and plenty of loud arguments at all hours, all profusely laced with “F” bombs.
So, how do I love my unlovable neighbor? For one thing, I pray for her. With all the chaos in her life, she’s got to be miserable.
Another way of loving her is by not mirroring her bad behavior. Sure, I’d like to throw open a window at 1:00 a.m., shout “Shut up!” at the top of my lungs, and pepper my language with some choice words of my own. The evil, vengeful side of me wants to put Sweetie’s droppings into a paper bag, put it on Ann’s doorstep, set it on fire, then ring the doorbell and run. But those things would be wrong, childish, and wouldn’t solve anything.
In short, it’s sometimes hard to “love thy neighbor.”