Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Amazing...Gracie

It's hotter than hell here and I'm not talking about politics.  (I will NOT be discussing politics today).  This morning began oddly, in a rather depressing way.  This hot weather has half my head and one ear clogged up: happens when I go from hot to cold and back again.   I haven't even read the news yet.  I'm almost afraid to.

This morning I turned on the water in the tub, got in and the water....quit.  It happened the other day to Hubby when he was in the shower, but he said after a few minutes it came back to life.  Living in the country with a pump and well, you're use to the occasional hiccup.  This morning, the water didn't come back on.  I didn't want to wake Hubby, as he has a horrible ear infection, is on antibiotics and not sleeping well.  Then again, I didn't want to be the reason the pump burned up if this was something else.  I dried off, got dressed and checked the breakers.  Nothing flipped.  But something was wrong.  So I tiptoed into the bedroom, stood near the bed and quietly called his name.  That only startled him awake.  I'm glad he didn't come out reflexively swinging.  He drug himself out of bed, went outside, checked the pump and went into his shop for tools.  I came outside to see if I could help.  He was shaking his head.  

Yep, the pump had kicked back on.  He put in a call to his friend the plumber to make it work.  A man with an ear infection doesn't need to stand on his head to fix a pump.

I got to work and was told a co-worker's wife had dropped dead at work yesterday.  She didn't feel good, went to the restroom, came out having trouble breathing and was soon gone.  Although I didn't know her well, we went to school together.  She's only 2 years older than I am.  

Another co-worker came by and asked me if I'd heard a local restaurant had caught on fire.  The same one Hubby and I were talking about Sunday, musing if we should wait another day because Sunday was a country buffet.  Odd for a seafood restaurant, but probably smart business wise.  He suggested we go eat there on our anniversary this year, which is next month.  It's where we went to eat the night he proposed to me.

I just checked a newspaper.  The restaurant burned to the ground.

Sort of in a "three strikes and you're out" mood, I jumped when the sound for a text rang out on my phone.  It was my brother.  The one who rarely answers texts and only contacts you if necessary.  I took a deep breath.  I realized I was wincing as I opened the text.

"It's official!  And heeeeere we go again.  lol."

Attached was a photo of him, his wife, my nephew...and the baby girl they've been working to adopt.  They took her home when she was 3 days old under an agreement with the mother.  When they'd adopted my nephew, he'd been one day old.  This year he turns 17.  Now, after the usual legal mumbo jumbo, the almost 5 month old "Elizabeth Grace" is now a part of our family.

I am the oldest.  My brother is the youngest.  We have an 8 year age difference.  There's now a 16 year age difference between my niece and nephew.  Fortunately, bro and I have the same sense of humor... and hope.  You see, my brother turned 50 in May.  Even after doing the math, they decided that baby deserved the life they can provide for her.  Lucky baby.  

Last week I bought a t-shirt for the baby for Christmas.  She won't be able to use it for another year or so, size wise, but the sentiment was too funny to pass up.  It reads, "My Daddy says I can't date until I'm 30."

Okay, so I didn't buy it for her so much as to pick on my brother.  When she is 30, he'll be 80.  That's funny.

Welcome to the family, Gracie!  You were the spot of joy this day needed.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Southern Discomfort

It's an understatement to say the U.S. is going through a difficult time right now.  I've always believed that there is more good than evil in the world.  I'm not going to say the heightened agitation between law enforcement and it's citizens doesn't exist. Yet I'm not going to get pulled into a "them" vs. "us" mentality which accomplishes nothing. I still smile and speak to strangers, no matter their race or occupation.  After all, it doesn't take anything to be kind.

Yesterday, that smile got wiped off my face momentarily when I was thrown into a situation like I've never encountered.

As the Line Dance class finished and began leaving, one of the younger women came into my office.  Very hesitantly she said, "I think you should know there are a couple of cars outside the fence with some young men in them.  They're just....sitting there."

If you've ever worked with senior citizens you know they have two responses to young strangers just hanging around: (a) viewing them as a threat while clutching purses and scurrying to the car or (b) marching up to the individuals to demand an explanation while commanding them to get on their way.  Honestly, their Plan B scares me the most.  Coming from a generation raised to listen to their elders, they are not prepared to be ignored or scorned.  Or worse. 

I casually walked outside with the woman, mostly to reassure the pair of women hovering anxiously by the door.  I watched them get in their cars and called out a friendly, "Have a good day!" loud enough for our uninvited guests to hear.  Because now there were three vehicles and four guys glaring at me.  I went back inside to advise the remaining women I'd walk out with them...mostly so Plan B didn't get put into play.  My presence made the women act normally, even though the men scowled.  I stayed there until each car made it's way out the drive.  Why?  Because our center is surrounded by a fence with one way in...and the same way out.  The men, while parked outside the fence, had chosen spots on either side of the driveway.  The way they looked at each car clearly showed an attempt to intimidate the drivers.  As the last car passed, I heard them laugh.

In the past, I would've called out, "Can I help you guys?"  Obviously not senior citizens, there was no reason for them to be there.  Yesterday, I did not.  Because, as much as I hate it, the world is not a nice place right now.  Too many people are angry about too many things.  As the guys surrounded one vehicle to bob up and down to music which had some pretty vulgar lyrics, I went inside without a word.

About five minutes later, I went out the back door to put something in my car.  I noticed one of my seniors had yet again manipulated the chain on our parking row, pulling one section toward the ground in order to step over it rather than walk down to the entryway.  As I tugged it back in place, the music was turned up louder, this song worse than the first.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw three of the men turn towards me as they screamed in unison, "Kill that bitch!  Kill that bitch!"

Sigh.

One of the first things I learned from law enforcement friends is when NOT to engage.  Pretending I hadn't heard them, I simply turned and calmly walked at a normal pace back into the building.  They wanted a reaction. I wasn't gonna play.

Back in my office, I glanced out the window, which gives me a semi-obstructed view of the front gate/drive.  Two of the men were now marching back and forth across the driveway, pointing at the building.  One kept pulling his shirt up over his head, then down.  Repeat and march.  Their expressions reminded me of a kid smiling as he pulled wings off of flies.  My inner voice, the one my law enforcement pals always said to listen to, was clearing it's throat.  I know, I huffed back at it.  I needed to at least tell my Dept. Head what was going on, even though I was safely locked away in my building.  In the past I would've simply asked what they needed, then politely advised them to move along.  But I didn't.  I hesitated.  Not because I was white and they were black.

Because I didn't want to cause trouble.

My center is the only truly integrated one in our system and we jokingly refer to ourselves as the United Nations: black, white, British, Irish and Scottish.  (We use to have Cuban and Filipino, but God needed them back).  Our center was built in 1956 as a school for black kids; a monument on the front lawn testifies to such. I've even got a photo of the original school posted on the hall bulletin board. My seniors have lived through WWII, the Civil Rights movement and worse.  We've learned from each other, had discussions on how to make life better.  The bottom line is, no matter what they've faced in life,  all have come to the same conclusion:we're in this together, so we need to work together.  I agree.

No, I hesitated because, for better or worse, I feared asking a Deputy to join us might be like adding a match to gun powder.  Six officers cover a shift, meaning only one would be driving into a dead end to confront four guys with an attitude.  

There's too much anger in our world right now.  Though purposely taunted,  I had the the choice of refusing to respond.  I called my Dept. Head and calmly related what had been going on for the past 20 minutes.  He was shocked.  I heard concern in his voice.  He chose to call our contact at the Sheriff's Department. 

I went back to work, wondering how in the world we fix this country.  A few minutes later, the men starting yelling at the top of their lungs and racing their car engines.  I sat at my desk.   I felt tears burn my eyes.  Not ones of fear but of frustration.  What the hell is wrong with people?

Taking a deep breath, I reminded myself  how many GOOD people I know.  How they vastly outnumber the four idiots outside my window who thought yelling at a short white woman made them big, powerful men.

The group revved their engines once more and were gone.  Ironically my fear for the Deputy's safety didn't pan out.  In fact, I waited an hour and never saw a Deputy.  Then again, maybe he'd driven by trying to locate our building, which is set back off the road, and they'd seen him, causing them to move along without a confrontation.  

If you'd told me 10 years ago I'd have to attend a mandatory training on "What to do in an active shooter situation", I would've suggested you see a doctor for your paranoia.  Instead that training reminded me that we do have a choice when thrown into an odd situation.  And sometimes non-confrontational silence is the best one. Some will view that as cowardice.  I see it as refusing to stoop to someone's level when they try to intimidate.  

So today I will continue to see the glass half full and believe most people are good.  It's my job to be vigilant and keep my seniors safe while they are at the Center to have fun.  Yesterday, as uncomfortable as it got, I did my job while keeping my dignity.  And everyone went home.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Country Commute

For almost 19 years, I've commuted 25 miles (one way) to work.  It started when we decided it would be easier to move closer to Hubby's business. It made more sense for me to go back and forth oncee a day instead of him running up and down the road the same distance 3-4 times daily.  Besides, we got the house of our dreams out in the country and eventually Hubby gained an even better perk: he relocated the business on our property.  His favorite thing to tell people is that I make him walk to work.  That was true until, prior to knee replacement surgery, I got him a golf cart for Christmas one year to make his backyard commute easier.  Now Bou (our 12 year old chocolate lab) has discovered the joys of riding shotgun on the golf cart.

To be honest, I like my commute.  In the peace of my car I am in control.  Well, to a point.  I get to pick the temperature, radio station and whether or not I sing along.  I've planned for holidays, made a million mental lists and discovered a thing or two about myself during moments of self imposed silence.  Oddly, the silence is never uncomfortable.  The other drivers sometimes.....

The joy of country commuting can be summed up by this morning's drive.  It's hot right now.  Like 101 in the shade today, which will make the heat index about 110.  (37 to 43C).  So life in the country moves early, while it's cool.

I wasn't a mile from home with a Bobcat gracefully crossed the road from woods to cornfield.  I haven't seen one in years and it was almost mesmerizing to watch that sleek cat glide through the air and slip into the corn.  Ever heard a bobcat?  They sound like a baby crying.  How do I know?  When I was still a "city slicker" I told Hubby I kept hearing a baby cry in the woods behind our house.  It was a mournful sound.  Who in their right mind would leave a kid alone in the woods, I'd demanded? He took one "listen" and smiled...which is how I learned that nugget of info.

Several miles down the road, a Great Blue Heron silently rose up and flew next to me, keeping pace as if we were commuting together.  Well, silent if you're inside a vehicle.  The first time one flew overhead when I was outside, a huge shadow appeared, accompanied by the sound of huge wings flapping....slowly.  For a moment, I thought a Teradactyl was looking for a place to land.  After a moment of sharing the same lane, the heron crossed over the hood, high enough that I wouldn't touch him, and sailed out of sight.  To this day the sight of one makes me smile.  Hubby once took a friend's young son hunting.  While Hubby usually makes sure kids know the right names for everything, he decided to see if the boy was paying attention, so he made up a name for the heron.  When they got back, Hubby told the boy to tell his dad what they'd seen.  "We saw a Long Necked Blue Goose!" the boy exclaimed in excitement.  To this day, when I see that heron, that's what I hear in my head.

Half way to work, I caught a Turkey off guard, making him stop in mid wobble to fly into a tree.  Turkeys are an ironic mix of talents: when the males strut their stuff, they are a magnificent display of puffed up pride and feathers.  When they "speak", not so impressive.  When they run, they resemble drunken cartoon characters being chased by Elmer Fudd.   But when the fly, they soar like eagles.

My commute becomes a chore 10 miles from work, where traffic increases and living animals have often become flattened question marks in the road.  However, I'd give a "10" to the two squirrels I encountered a mile from work.  Rather than do the suicidal I-going-this-way-no-that-way-no-back-from-where-I-came skittish dance, they gracefully skipped from one side of the road to the other.  I swear one of them looked back over his shoulder at me to see if I was impressed.

Wonder what I'll see on the way home?

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Current Policy....self inflicted

Like most folks in an election year, I sometimes feel suffocated by all the bad news that floats to the top.  Even an ocean hasn't stopped kerfuffles from drifting across the pond to land on our shores with a plop of dismay.  And poor Canada!  I heard from a buddy the other day who stated, "While you're making room for Americans, make sure to save some space for us Aussies...our politicians are nuts!"

So I've challenged myself to put into practice what Mama always said, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all".   I'm trying to focus on the positive and ignore that which I cannot change...which is mostly the rantings of people who have not given a thought to their words before launching them into space.  Instead I will focus on:

"Hey!  Ponita has a new member of the family and he has a cool name."

"Did you know  Kim Ayres has tried his hand at sculpture and done an excellent job?"

"Have you seen the latest photos of Savannah's grands?  Guaranteed to make you smile."

"Wow...this week I found that Rachel Fox has returned to Blog world."

"In spite of being drawn into the Twitter Universe (where I will not travel), Ken Armstrong is still leaving us a weekly jewel of thought."  

"Has anyone seen the photo of maurcheen looking like a wise Obi-Wan Kenobi?"
(Now he'll need to post it here!)

I will try to keep positive.  True, as the election gets closer, odds are I'll crack.  Until then....

Sunday, July 3, 2016

4th of July wish


...will one day get our act together again 
and remember our original goal was for 
ALL Americans to have the opportunity to live a good life.

Until then, Happy 4th of July!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Uncle Gene

On June 6th, I posted this photo of my great Uncle Gene, not only to commemorate D-Day but because it was also his 93rd birthday.  The youngest of 11 children (my "Memaw" was the oldest) he played the role of eternal bachelor. I always wondered if that was because there were all girls in the family until the birth of the last two: Joe and Gene.  The only one to move away from his native North Carolina, he live in S. Miami, where his country sisters worried that some bathing beauty would turn his head and steal his money.  Truth was, he'd been engaged, she broke it off and his new hometown became his haven.  With a sense of humor somewhere between witty and wicked....those of us who share it refer to it as the "Uncle Gene gene".
Yesterday, June 9th, he flew into the great beyond.  Okay, in my head, I envisioned his passing as Uncle Gene jumping into this plane and roaring into the wild blue yonder.  That's the way the Uncle Gene gene works.  

All my life we lived a state or two apart.  I probably only saw him once or twice as a child because he didn't relish returning to North Carolina and his sisters didn't want to visit his residential Sin City.   Every time we went to visit Memaw in N.C., anywhere from 2-3 of her sisters would drop by.  When I was 16 and answering their obligatory questions about school, I mentioned my foray into Spanish 101.  One of the sisters brightened and said, "Gene is taking Spanish too!  After all these years living in that place.  You should write to him.  Maybe you could practice together."

Little did I know I was about to enter a carnival ride that wouldn't end until he did.

Armed with his address, I wrote (yes children, back then we used paper, pen and cursive writing), explaining which of the myriad of grand nieces and nephews I was by referring to my Mom as his point of reference.  He wrote back, claiming to be delighted and set down the ground rules: the first paragraph of each letter HAD to be in Spanish, no matter how hard or how many times we had to use a dictionary.  I agreed.  About three letters in, I asked why he was just now learning a language which had been swirling around his ears for years.  He replied that a lovely Cuban woman had moved into the apartment next door and she didn't speak English.

A month later I received a letter which began, "Stop Spanish.  Woman wasn't worth it."

But that didn't mean we stopped corresponding.  In fact, the most recent note I sent him was last week, just before his birthday.  (I never could persuade him to switch to a computer).  Uncle Gene was a Charlie Brown fan (Peanuts cartoon character for you non U.S. folks).  He'd sign his letters, "Love Charlie Brown and Gene T.".  I would address his letters to "Mr. Charles Brown, c/o Gene Davis."  When I graduated from high school, he sent me $50, which sensible me spent on every day stainless steel silverware.  Yes, Hubby wouldn't propose for another 3 years but I had a hope chest...and hope.  We used that silverware until 2 years ago. 

As life progressed so did the addresses on the envelopes.  When Hubby worked at a donut place, I'd get letters to "Mrs. X. and the Donut King".  When he became manager of a pest control outfit, I got "Mrs. X. and Bug Man".  Oh, did I mention that Uncle Gene wrote my address in brightly colored magic marker? Sometimes a different color per line?  I'm sure both of our mailmen thought we were crazy.

But it was good crazy. Well, if you asked his nieces and nephews: his sisters believed him somewhere between eccentric and plain nuts. My favorite "embarrass the sisters" moment came during a visit to see Memaw.  It was customary to go out to lunch and one of the sisters came with us.  So there we sat: Memaw, her son, one of the sisters, my Mom, and myself in a N.C. Cracker Barrel.  I name the restaurant because it fits with the country theme.  A very young waitress came to get our order.  Uncle Gene, who to me often sounded like Garrison Keillor, asked very cordially,"Is the possum fresh?"

As the waitress looked perplexed, in my head I thought, "And we're off!"

Uncle Gene repeated his request with a warm smile as those of us who have the Gene gene bit our lips and tried not to laugh.  The waitress said she was unsure and scampered away.

Head held high, she came back to inform him that they did not.  To which Uncle Gene replied, "Surely someone scrapped one off the road on the way in this morning.  They're everywhere."

The flustered waitress scampered away and Uncle Gene was admonished by his sisters to behave.  He acted surprised that they would think he was being otherwise.  Out the corner of my eye I saw movement.  Through the kitchen door, the waitress was talking to the cook and pointing in our direction.  The cook had a gleam in his eye.  The waitress returned and firmly stated, "I'm sorry we're out.  But the cook says it tastes just like chicken and we have plenty of that."

Uncle Gene sighed and deadpanned,  "I was born here.  And on my visit I was looking forward to some home cooking.  I don't suppose you have any rattlesnake?"   Before the poor girl could RUN back to the kitchen, one of the sisters snapped, "Gene!" in that maternal tone which leaves no doubt that trouble is about to rear it's head.  "Fine," Uncle Gene had replied.  "It tastes like chicken too.  Guess I'll have the chicken."  The waitress disappeared and an older waitress appeared at our table.  She took one look at Uncle Gene, recognized our family, then admonished, "Behave yourself.  Today is that poor girl's first day!"

If nothing else, Uncle Gene was compassionate.  He left her a large tip.

As I worked on the family tree (still am) he'd send any nuggets of information he found.  We shared a genetic need-to-know about life and reading was how we discovered.  He answered my questions, offered a few stories I'd never heard and busted a family myth...his sisters proudly declared for years he was once a writer for "LIFE" magazine.  He laughed and said he'd once written a Letter to the Editor to LIFE, but that was the extent of his literary career with them.  He always teased me with, "One day, I'll let you in on my secret project.  I've been working on it for years.  It's not ready to see the light of day yet, but when it is, I'll let you know."   I heard that speech for years.  The family rumors and theories about what that might be were amusing, hysterical and sometimes fearful...I think his sisters feared he'd write a book calling them country bumpkins.

Nope, he never came clean about his project.  But I finally figured it out.  His secret was that every day was an adventure.  You just kept going...even if it meant moving on to a higher plane for the next adventure. 

 So lift a glass 
(as Uncle Gene, pictured on his 91st birthday, did daily)
and help me celebrate the gift of the Uncle Gene gene, 
which lives on in me.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

I was wrong. Sorta

I previously mentioned that my employer was probably unaware that I was hitting the 29 year mark of employment.   Yesterday I found a letter from the Human Resources office which had been sent while I was on vacation.  It began,

"Congratulations!  
You have been identified as an employee who is eligible 
for retirement on or before July 1, 2016."

O-kay.  Should I feel good (hey, they know I work for them!) or worried? (Here's your hat, what's your hurry).    After all, I was officially eligible for retirement last year.  The next paragraph "reassures" me that the decision to retire is a personal one.  (Translation: Even though we're an "at will" state and can fire you whenever we please, we'd rather not push you out the door and have you run to an attorney). 

I'm then fed the standard governmental we're-here-to-help-you line which offers me the option of attending a workshop provided by our State Retirement System to aid in planning my retirement.  But it is MANDATORY I reply by June 17th in order to retire by July 1st.  And the date of the workshop?  

JULY 18th.  After work, of course.   Except technically, that's also after retirement.  I wonder if they suspect trouble?  The workshop is being held at the Sheriff's Department Training facility which....wait for it...use to be the old jail.  

No wonder people don't embrace government or public service as a career choice any more. 

For the record,  I politely declined.  Just think how much more comical this could get if I stick around a little while longer.