Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Beach

****I wrote this on Monday while at still at the beach. This morning, we packed up our things and headed home - I wish we had come home yesterday! I didn't want to change what I wrote on Monday, so here it is.****

I am sitting on the balcony of our timeshare condo at Ormond Beach, Florida, listening to the constant roar of the ocean. I look out and watch the waves rolling in and breaking on the sandy beach. It’s a clear, sunny day. The ocean is reflecting the blue of the sky, and a cool breeze makes me want to move my chair out into the sunshine where it’s warmer. It’s a beautiful day.

The beach – it used to hold me in its grasp, and I felt like I couldn’t survive unless I made my way to the ocean a few times each year. As a young woman, I found strength and peace on the seashore, and our summer vacations to the shore were therapeutic and healing for me. When we would take our vacations, it would almost always include a beach somewhere, either near Mama and Daddy’s house in Clearwater, or at a beach cottage along the North Carolina shore. Never much of a sunbather, I’d spend my time walking along the water’s edge collecting shells, playing in the sand with the boys, body surfing, and simply sitting and gazing at the water.

I realize on this trip to the beach that it no longer holds the power over me that it once had. I’ve been here two days, and am already thinking about going home. The constant roar of the waves is not soothing to me as it once was – it is becoming irritating and monotonous. I miss the sounds of the birds singing, the whisper of the wind blowing through the pine trees surrounding our house, the mooing of the cows in Mr. Ernest’s pasture, and the faraway whistle of the train passing through Social Circle. Instead of soothing as it once was, the sounds o f the ocean are somehow intrusive to my senses now, and block out other sounds that I know are out there.

It’s not that I don’t like the beach. I feel the greatness of God and sense the vastness of creation when I am walking on the beach. I enjoy watching the sandpipers at play and interrupting the seagull conventions as I walk. I love to feel the wind in my face. I still look for shells to pick up, and watch for jellyfish to avoid stepping on. My beach walks are invigorating and stimulating, and very refreshing. It’s just different somehow than it used to be.

I think what has happened is that I don’t need the beach or the ocean anymore. I’ve moved on in my life, and over the years have learned many lessons about myself. I am thankful that the beach was always here for me when I needed it, and that it gave me the strength and courage that was missing from my life at the time. But today, while sitting here, I long for a quiet path to walk, to listen to the sounds of a running stream, the chirping of birds, and the song of rustling leaves from a passing breeze.

Things certainly have changed for me. I’m ready to go home.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

My Aunt Bernice

Every little girl should have an Aunt Bernice.

Phil and I stopped to visit my Aunt Bernice on her farm in north Florida on our way to the beach this past week-end. As we drove down the country road toward the farm, I remembered that it was once a dirt road, now paved, and we used to cross three small bridges, not there anymore, before we reached the new farmhouse that Uncle John had built for his family. Uncle John is no longer with us, but Aunt Bernice still calls the little house her home. It is no longer a new house, either. Aunt Bernice is now in her 80s, and it has been her house for 50 some-odd years.

Phil and I recognized the farm, not by the house, because you could hardly see it behind the huge magnolia trees that hid it from view from the road. We saw the familiar shed as we approached where Uncle John used to store lumber, feed, tools, machinery, anything that needed a roof over its head. As we turned up the driveway, the little gray house didn’t look new as it always does in my mind, or as big. But despite its age, it still invited me to visit, and the screen door still creaked when I opened it to knock on the front door. I could hardly wait to see Aunt Bernice, wrap up in her hugging arms, and have a couple of homemade biscuits I knew she was keeping warm for us in her oven.

As a child, I loved my Aunt Bernice beyond measure. I still do, and I treasure her more now thinking of all of her many acts of kindess toward me when I was a little girl. I remember getting on a Greyhound Bus in Atlanta as a little girl and riding all by myself to Jasper, where she and Uncle John would pick me up at the gas station that served as the bus terminal for the small town and place me between them in their pick-up truck for the ride to the farm. I loved my visits to the farm. It was there that Aunt Bernice taught me how to make butter from cream and to make buttermilk biscuits with milk from their cows, how to feed a baby calf from a bucket with a nipple attached to it, how to thread tobacco leaves onto the long stick for drying in the tobacco barn, and then how to unthread them when they were dry and stack them for taking to the tobacco market. I also learned how to wash clothes in a wringer washer, collect eggs without breaking them, and how to call pigs. I also learned how to amuse myself on hot summer afternoons when it was too hot to work in the garden by swatting flies on the front porch, playing pick-up-sticks, and reading books from the bookshelf in their livingroom.

Uncle John was my mother’s younger brother, and he and Aunt Bernice lived on a wonderful farm in Jasper, Florida. Uncle John also had a mail route, but I never thought of him as a letter carrier – he was always a farmer to me. Aunt Bernice worked with him on the farm, and my cousins Paul and Barbara, worked, too. On my summer trips to the farm, I was assigned jobs, but I didn’t work nearly as hard as they all did. I was their little cousin from the city, and they knew that I didn’t have a clue about what living on a farm was really like. Aunt Bernice always came to my rescue when they teased me, and found something that I could do very well to praise me for. One summer I was the champion fly swatter, another summer, I was the best calf baby-sitter that she knew. She even helped soothe the sunburn I got from sitting in the pasture all afternoon one day with a baby calf asleep on my lap.

Aunt Bernice has a wonderful sense of humor and a comedic timing that is second to none. I think this probably served her well during periods of hard times on the farm. I love visiting her, because I know that she will make me laugh, will bring the funny out in me, and we’ll laugh and cut-up and have a wonderful time together.

While I can’t relate all of the wonderful memories I have of my Aunt Bernice (and my Uncle John, too), in this short blog space, they live in my memory and are there to pull out whenever I think about her. She has always been a wonderful role model for me - a strong woman, both physically and spiritually, and as beautiful a person as I’ve ever known.

The world would be a much better place if every little girl could have her own Aunt Bernice.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Global Warming?

So far this October has been the coolest one I can remember in all the years that I have lived in Georgia. I don’t ever remember switching from air-conditioning to heat on our thermostat before Halloween, and we had to do just that last week. I also made my first pot of homemade chicken noodle soup of the season last week-end, which I usually don’t make until November or December!

It’s delightful, and I’m not complaining. I love the nippy mornings and the cool breezy afternoons when I am outdoors going around and about in my job and my personal life. This morning is very chilly and a steady rain is falling – I am very happy to be working at home today! I am also liking a cooler house at night. Phil and I put the electric blanket back on the bed last week, mainly for him. I haven’t turned my side on yet. He is very cold-natured and sleeps with the thing turned up to dark toast while I stay over on my side of the bed where the sheets are cool and refreshing. All summer long I fought night sweats, throwing the covers off of myself and then pulling them back up several times every night. For the past week, I have slept through the night without waking up, and am much more comfortable with the lower temperatures. I also feel more rested when I wake up in the morning!

We hear a lot about global warming, and it may be the case globally. However, in Georgia this month there is no evidence of warming. The long-sleeved shirts, light-weight jackets, and flannel pajamas have made their way from the back of the closet and drawers to the front, pushing back the tank tops, summer skirts, and shorty p.j’s.

We leave tomorrow for a short vacation in Florida, where I am sure the temperature will be warmer than it is here. I am looking forward to a few days on the Autumn beach, where it won’t be dreadfully hot, but nice and warm during the days. tells me that evenings in Florida will be cool, so I’ll pack a couple of sweaters and sweatshirts in case I need them for evening walks on the beach. I need to bring my plants indoors before I leave, because the forecast for next week calls for temperatures near freezing in Georgia while we are away.

Global warming? I don’t know about global, but certainly not locally this month in Georgia!

Friday, October 17, 2008

It's All in the Eyes

Diamond, my German Shepherd, is sitting on the rug next to my desk this morning, gazing at me with her big liquid chestnut brown eyes. She isn’t happy, because Phil drove off in the truck a little while ago and didn’t take her with him. She’s here for the day with me, to keep me company and guard me from any possible intruders into our domain.

It’s been a long, hard week for me. We had “staff collaboration week” at CoreNet Global, where I work, which meant getting up before dawn every day, traveling the 52 miles to the office in Atlanta, and then sitting in meetings a good portion of the day. I was late getting home in the evenings, so Diamond and I haven’t been on a walk together since last Sunday. She is patiently waiting for me to finish whatever it is that keeps me occupied at my desk. Her ears are perked up; she is on alert – ready to go! She’s even beginning to make her signature sound – a little whining noise to remind me that she’s here, and not so patiently waiting for me.

For myself, I am tired. It’s not that I’ve been that busy at these collaboration meetings, but that I’ve been off my schedule, eating food that I’m not accustomed to eating, and not getting enough rest at night. I've missed my evening walks with Diamond. In addition, on Wednesday evening after the workday was over, we had a staff bowling party, and of course I couldn’t miss it. Bowling was a riot – I was on a team with two good bowlers, myself, and another co-worker whose bowling style was just about as clunky as mine. The most entertaining part of it all was that Elaine and I (the two who couldn’t bowl) had the highest scores for the first game! Nicki, the bowler, remarked that she couldn’t understand how two people with such weird techniques could beat her at her own game! For the second game, I redeemed myself and bowled a pretty terrible game, with a low score to match. I even dropped the ball at one point and it went backwards! Everyone around us laughed and cheered. I took a bow and tried again, this time managing to aim the ball in the right direction. It really was lots of fun, and a wonderful diversion from the intensity of the week’s activities at work.

But back to Diamond. She doesn’t understand work or bowling, or anything about my job at all. All she knows is that she‘s bored and irritated that she’s not in Phil’s truck this morning. I can’t stand the sad look in her eyes another minute.

We’re going for a walk!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Another 60th - And a Stroll Down Memory Lane!

60th birthday parties do this to me – send me on another visit to my childhood.

Friday night was my friend, Gayle’s, 60th party, and of course Phil and I had to be there to celebrate with her. It was a wonderful evening, and a perfect place for a party, at a special events facility on the bank of the Chattahoochee River on a clear autumn evening. Tables were set out on the patio, and we all gathered in small groups and large to chat, visit, and catch up on one another’s lives. There must have been over 100 people at the party – Gayle is very outgoing and caring and is loved by a host of people!

We Decatur folks flocked together to talk, laugh, and relive our childhood and teen-age years together. It was great seeing a few that I haven’t seen since I was 16 years old, and several who have become part of my life since I’ve returned to Georgia. Photos passed from hand to hand as we saw ourselves as kids and teen-agers in old black-and-white glossies, and in yellowed newspaper articles from the local paper. What fun!

One of the highlights of my evening, however, was seeing a childhood friend from elementary school, Dan. He came to the party with my friend Lisa, and did we ever take a stroll down Memory Lane together! Dan lived on Avery Street, which was about a block from my house on Winnona Drive. I only had to cross one street to get from my house to his. We both attended Winnona Park Grammar School, and were in many of the same classes together from first grade through seventh. Dan and I shared many common memories and caught up with each other on the neighborhood – who’s still there and who’s gone – and relived some of our childhood memories. He is one of the few people I know who remember that Margaret Bowen had a roller coaster in her back yard and that Betsy McCammon fell off her shed roof trying to fly, fracturing her back and cracking a front tooth. However, I think the one thing that got to me the most in seeing Dan again was when he gently touched the birthmark on my face, and noted that it’s still there.

My birthmark – I hardly ever think about it anymore, but yes, it’s still there. As a child, people were always either telling me I had a smudge on my cheek, or taking a finger to try to wipe it off for me. It’s a small grayish round mark, about the size of a dime, but as a child it sometimes felt like a huge thing to me. When I was a teen-ager I tried to cover it up with make-up, unsuccessfully, and often felt self-conscious about it. Then, as I grew up, I learned to embrace it and claim it as my own unique identifying feature, and now in my “older” years, I haven’t even thought about it in ages! When I look at myself in the mirror, I don’t even see it anymore. Dan’s small gesture and remark took me by surprise, but it touched me that this was one of the things he remembered about me.

Birthdays and birthmarks. The year of our 60th celebrations is almost over, but birthmarks live with us for a lifetime. And Dan proved to me that friendships can also endure for a lifetime, even when there are decades and miles that separate us. Thank you, Dan.

Reunions can be very, very sweet.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Storm Named Rachael

It was a quiet and calm Friday afternoon until my friend Rachael arrived at the house to help put together snack mixes to give away at Relay for Life later that day. When she walked through the door, it was like a tornado had blown into the house.

Rachael is a loving and giving young woman who becomes personally involved in her friends’ life traumas. She also is a member of a family that seems to have one crisis after another. She gets caught up in all of the drama, and as a person who cares very deeply, she sometimes finds herself frazzled and at her wit’s end. I never had a daughter. but Rachael is the closest thing to one that I have and I love her dearly!

I had a pizza prepared when she and her little girl, Lillie, arrived. We sat down to eat, and the dam broke. Rachael ignored her cell phone's incessant ringing while she talked, and Lillie, finishing her pizza, went out onto the deck to play with Uncle Phil. Rachael filled me in on all of the happenings in her family, in the preschool where she teaches, and in the lives of her friends. After about twenty minutes of venting, she looked at me and asked, “How are you doing?”

I caught my breath from all that I’d heard for the past several minutes. Thankfully, things in my life have been pretty calm lately. “Except for Phil’s mom calling me Alice now, nothing much is going on around here,” I answered her. There have been times during our friendship where the tables have been turned and I’ve unloaded on Rachael, so I was very glad not to have anything to burden her with from my own life. I caught her up on Mom’s condition at the nursing home, and how she is doing o.k., but slipping mentally and losing weight. Being called Alice is pretty mild compared to the stuff Rachael has dealt with the past few weeks. I also gave her a quick update on Wade and Brian, giving her the Cliff Notes version of their lives to-date.

“I need to come over more often,” she sighed as she settled down in her chair and began to relax. I agreed. There is something about our house that is calming to Rachael, and it is a kind of sanctuary for her. I do my best to make our home welcoming and comfortable for all who visit, but for Rachael there is something special about coming over to spend some time with me. I treasure my time with her, even when the intensity gets to the Level 4 hurricane ranking. My house seems to be a good place to ride out the storms, and the calm afterward is sweet and serene.

We finished our pizza, and got to work on the snack bags. The storm was over, and the sun was shining again.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Change is in the Air

October arrived today and with it came a bright blue sky, a brisk cool breeze, and the promise of a chilly night tonight. The seasonal change from summer to autumn is in full swing. On the way home from work I noticed some yellow and red in the trees alongside the interstate. I also felt the need to open my car sunroof to let the wind blow through my hair and the afternoon sun shine on my head.

There are other changes, which aren’t associated with nature. Gasoline is still scarce in our parts, although we have the promise that this crisis will last another two weeks at most, and the assurance that the worst is now behind us. A few stations were operational on my route home, and even one in Social Circle was open this afternoon. It’s quite a change to have to ration our gasoline and plot our course as we make the most of each trip we take in the car. It’s a good lesson in conservation and stewardship of our resources.

With all that is going on in Washington D.C. I sense changes that I am not able to identify or clearly anticipate as Congress struggles with creating the bailout package that is supposed to save our economy. I don’t think anyone knows what is going to happen, and it appears to me that the blind are leading the blind up there in D.C. We’re in a big mess, and nobody really knows the best road to take or if the plan they are drawing up will work. My plans for retirement aren’t as clear as they were a few weeks ago, and I wonder just what kind of changes we may see to our way of life within the next months and years.

Change - - - Phil is planning his garden for next year with the intent that we will become more self-sufficient. I am planning ways to cut our costs and sock a little more away in a rainy day safe place. We both know that change is in the air, and we hope that we can weather whatever this wind blows our way.

I had my semi-annual exam with my oncologist yesterday, and she asked me if anything had changed since she saw me last. This brought my thoughts back to my health and how the lack of change in this part of my life has been a blessing thus far. While all of this change is going on all around us with the approach of winter and the change in the political and economic forces of our country, I am thankful for my health. I won’t get the results from my bloodwork for another few days, but I don’t anticipate any change here.

As I write this, I think about all these changes and wonder what will be next. I hope that whatever happens, I’ll continue to be able to say, “At least, I still have my health!” When all is said and done, this is one area where no change looks pretty good!