Sunday, December 30, 2012

New Year Ramblings, A Life Well Told

During long walks with Jack this week I have been pondering the resolutions I made last year.  For me each year is probably much like yours, I resolve to spend less, save more, eat less and exercise more. But alas each year ends and more or less my bank account and scale remain unchanged – well truth be told each has shifted in the wrong direction, but I remain forever hopeful that this New Year will be different than the last several have been.

Five months ago I set a goal for myself to write a story each week and much to my surprise it’s a goal I’ve stuck to.  It was a challenge for me since I really hadn’t written a word since my freshman year of college when my English professor informed me that I was a much better talker than writer. But for 22 weeks I have kept my promise to myself and have written a story. Posting the stories on my website was a way for me to be accountable to myself. I knew my mom and dad would read the stories and thought perhaps my siblings might enjoy a chuckle or two and then tell me what really happened. But much to the credit of the world wide web, my readers have surprised me. Mom and dad read my stories – of course – but most of my readers are not those closest to me and many are people whom I've never met, some don’t even live on the same continent. What binds us together are the stories.

Stories are universal. Stories awaken our memories, heal wounds, make us laugh, teach us lessons, remind us of our humanity and open our hearts just enough to hear the next story and share our own. Stories are everywhere. With every click of the mouse you can find a story on someone’s blog, facebook page, inbox, or perhaps (shocker) in a book or newspaper. But long before stories were written, they were told.

Stories told around the campfire, the dinner table and the front porch have, for generations, been the glue that held us together. In some ways, the web is now what holds us together. The web is what connects me to my family and friends miles away. I stay connected to their stories and their lives, and they to mine. It is a wonderful thing, more or less.

I am an introvert at heart and hence the virtual connection, the stories written and shared each week, are a safe, easy and comfortable way to stay connected to my community. And yet I wonder what if I were to spend less time with my virtual community and more time outside my comfort zone connecting to the amazing stories right here where I live. Perhaps more time with actual humans and less time with a key board and mouse would open my heart just a bit more. It’s a risk worth taking I think.

So for this New Year, forget the scale and the bank account, I resolve to spend more time walking with Jack connecting with the stories in my neighborhood and less time clicking the mouse wishing I was somewhere else.

So if you’re in the Florence SC area, come on out to our “Story Swap” at the Clay Pot Coffee Shop the first Wednesday of every month from 7:00 – 8:30. Enjoy a cup, a story and build a community. If you’re not in Florence find a storytelling event near you. It is our stories . . . and the human connection of sharing those stories that binds us.

Happy New Year! And may your stories be bold and your life well told.

And no worries . . . I’ll still post a story each week.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Watch & Surviving Joel . . .

On my mantle sits a beaten, broken and battered watch that has been in my family for three generations. It is a gift that reminds me that life is full of trouble . . . and love and grace. I am ever so thankful for all three.

My son Joel is especially grateful for the love and grace part. He is trouble! He’s been trouble for years. It probably started the day he was born but I remember most the first Christmas he could talk. He was strong willed and singularly focused on what he wanted for Christmas, a truck. The trouble was that he couldn’t say “truck”. His “tr” sound came out “f” – so put that with “uck” and it was a rough Christmas! He shouted what he wanted everywhere we went and at every Santa he saw. Oh my . . . he was trouble.

When he was thirteen, his dad left us the week before Christmas. By this age he could speak his mind clearly and had no trouble pronouncing his words. So in his anger, rage and wounded spirit I heard the “F” word more times than I care to admit. Most often I was the brunt of his anger and times were tough. If it weren’t for the gift of a Christmas watch that sat on my mantle offering love and grace we may not have made it through those difficult times.
The watch was a prized possession of my grandfather and was smashed by my father in 1938 when he was five years old. After my grandfather died, the beaten and broken watch was given to my father. My dad placed the beaten watch on our mantle and when my brothers, sister or I were trouble he would pace in front of the fireplace and stare at the watch. I never knew what he was doing until my Joel was five and destroyed the new wallpaper in my dad’s house. My dad then told me the story of the beaten and broken watch. He then looked at me and said, “I’ve wondered for thirty years who was going to get this watch.  Now I know. You and Joel are going to need that watch.”  He was right and from that day on, when Joel was trouble, I paced in front of the fire place and stared at the watch. I paced, I prayed and I practiced love and grace.  Joel didn’t know the watch had saved his butt many times until he heard me tell the story this year during a performance.  (listen to “The Watch”)

Joel is 19 years old now and until this year, Christmas had been a difficult time for us. Dealing with divorce during the holidays left us feeling most broken. But this year my Joel has moved beyond brokenness and “Trouble”. He has opened his generous, loving heart to make this our best Christmas ever. He decorated our home, purchased our tree and even though he still wants a truck, he gave me a washer and dryer for Christmas. He hugs me every time he walks by and he whispers, “Love ya ma.”

I'm not sure if the change in him has been an invasion of the body snatchers or the gift of the watch, but I do know Miracles do happen at Christmas!

May all your Christmas mishaps and times of trouble be met with love and grace . . .

From my  home to yours, Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Dear Santa . . .

With the news of the Sandy Hook School shooting weighing heavy on my heart it is difficult to think of any story worth telling this week. As a mom and a school counselor I struggle to hold back the tears and wonder . . . what if? . . . And so I think of my boys who are not really boys anymore and feel amazingly blessed to have been allowed to watch them grow into the young men they are today.

I remember when Russell was small and wanted to write his first letter to Santa. He got the idea on Christmas Eve and was smart enough to know that a letter wouldn’t arrive on time. So being the smart omnipotent mother that I am I quickly informed him that it would be ok because I had Santa’s phone number and we could call Santa. Russell thought this was a great idea since he was only two and didn’t know how to write anyway.
We placed the call to Santa (my dad’s good friend BobMorehouse) and I listened in while Russell talked to Santa. He told Santa that he’d been a good boy and that he only wanted one thing for Christmas, a sister. Wow! I was stunned. I was pregnant, but Russell did not know that. There was no sister on Christmas morning but six months later a baby brother arrived.

The next Christmas we placed our call to Santa again. I listened while Russell told Santa that he’d been a good boy. He told Santa that all he wanted for Christmas was a sister. He thanked Santa for the brother but insisted that this year he wanted a sister. Oh my.
No sister, or brother arrived that year but Russell remained steadfast in his belief in Santa. We again made our Christmas Eve call to Santa. I listened in again as Russell told Santa that he’d been mostly a good boy. He told Santa that he only wanted a sister and then said that it would be ok for him to take his brother back and leave a sister.

Again no sister arrived and Joel remained but Russell stayed true to Santa. On Christmas Eve we made our call to Santa. This time Russell did not mention a sister. But as he said his prayers that night I heard Russell, “Dear Lord, I have asked Santa every year for a sister but he’s never gotten me one. He gave me Joel but won’t take him back. I know you probably don’t want Joel either, but can you give me a sister for Christmas? I’ll be good. Amen.”
Needless to say Joel stayed and thanks to the prayers of Russell’s parents, no sister arrived either. But Russell remained a steadfast and vocal believer in Santa long after it was developmentally appropriate. In fact, I remember the year Russell was in sixth grade, Joel came home from school and told me that if I didn’t tell Russell there was no Santa he was going to. He told me that he was afraid Russell was going to get beat up on the playground if he didn’t stop telling everyone that Santa was real and that he knew his phone number!

Through the years I am quite certain that each of my boys would have liked to send the other back to Santa or anywhere for that matter. And truth be told there have been moments in which I’ve wanted to send them both back. But this Christmas as I watch them decorate the Christmas tree and hear them laugh about calling Santa I know we are blessed and I am incredibly thankful.
Today my heart breaks and my prayers go out to the families who have lost so much. This season I will hold the memories of my boys near and be ever so grateful to watch the young men, the loves of my life, decorate the tree. Their presence is my greatest gift.


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Santa's NOT crazy!

Santa’s NOT Crazy! But my family is. And that is why I never had the chance to believe in Santa Claus. It’s my brothers fault. They were sneaky and often snuck through the house searching for their gifts. My dad was always trying to outsmart their sneakiness.

I remember the Christmas I was four. All I wanted for Christmas was a pink ballerina Tutu.  Mom helped me write my letter to Santa. And then I began to wait with the anticipation every child has during the count down to Christmas.
On Christmas Eve my Grandpa Flick and Grandma Dot arrived for the holiday festivities. Grandpa Flick was a big, handsome well dressed man. He was a manly man who loved to hunt and fish. Grandma Dot was tall, happy and had the most wonderful laugh that echoed through the house. I liked when Grandpa Flick and Grandma Dot came to visit.
After Christmas Eve dinner and candle light service, stories were told and we were all tucked in to bed with visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads. Well not really.  I fell asleep with visions of pink Tutus dancing in my head. My parents fell asleep on the sofa bed under the lights of the Christmas tree. Grandpa Flick and Grandma Dot fell asleep in mom and dad’s room.
My brothers retreated to their “pent-house” in the attic and began to plot a perfect plan to foil Santa. My father planned an offensive strategy to ward off their antics. He had somehow gotten wind of the boys plan to sneak down to the Christmas tree in the middle of the night. So he took some fishing line and tied it to our very large dinner bell. He set the bell on the hard wood stairs, stretched the fishing line across the step and tied the other end of the string to the railing spindel. He knew that when the boys snuck down stairs they would trip over the line, set the bell off and he would wake up and catch them.
It was a perfect plan until I woke up sick and wanted my mommy. I teetered out of my room and quietly tip toed into their room only to discover Grandpa Flick’s big head where mommy’s should have been. I remembered mommy was sleeping by the Christmas Tree downstairs so I headed for the stairs. I turned at the landing and continued down the stairs to wake mommy. I was almost to the bottom of the stairs when I tripped over the line, set the bell off and tumbled down the rest of the stairs.
Dad woke up and raced to the bottom of the stairwell shouting and laughing, “I caught you!” I immediately threw up all over his feet. Mom and dad cleaned me up, tucked me back in bed and went back downstairs to the couch. My dad, not one to lose a game, reset the bell across the stairs. It wasn’t long before I was up again. In a repeat performance I threw up all over dad’s feet again.
This happened several times through the night until my mom said, “enough!” and wouldn’t let my dad reset the bell. My grandparents upstairs, not ones to meddle, were quietly wondering what was going on downstairs.

Finally the house quieted and everyone fell asleep except for my brothers. They waited, and waited. And then they quietly slipped downstairs to the Christmas tree. My parents slept soundly while they methodically switched the labels of every present under the tree, except their own of course.

Christmas morning I opened my present with full expectation that I would find a pink ballerina Tutu inside the box. I did not. What I got was a pair of hip high fishing waders that would fit a 6 foot tall man. Grandpa Flick got a tiny pink ballerina Tutu. My brothers got their Army outfits and toy guns.  I may have only been four but I knew Santa wasn’t that crazy. Grandpa Flick slipped the Tutu on his arm. My sister and I slid into the hip waders and the sound of my grandmother’s laughter filled the house. My family was crazy. Santa was NOT!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Fowl Play

The best lessons I ever learned happened right in my own back yard. Dad was a teacher. He wasn’t just a teacher in his classrooms; he was a teacher all the time. Dad never answered our questions. He’d ask another question to get us to find our own answers. Never  one to let a teachable moment slip by, he provided my brothers, sister and me lots of hands-on learning opportunities.

I remember when my brother Chris started asking questions about where our food came from. We were city kids. We didn’t have a vegetable garden, live stock or chickens.  So dad decided that he would take Chris to a farm. They came home with vegetables and a live chicken.

The vegetables were easy. We washed them and chopped them up. No fuss or mess. But oh that chicken was a different story. My brother carried the chicken by its wings out to the back yard. My dad got a hatchet and while Chris held it down over a wood block dad chopped its head off. YIKES! The dang thing didn’t die! It started running around the back yard, blood spurting out its neck. The screams of my brothers, sister and me were loud enough to bring nosey Mrs. Kilman off her front porch to find out what was going on out back.

Mrs. Kilman had seen a lot from the Johnson clan over the years but that scene sent her running back to her porch in a hurry. My dad and brothers chased the chicken all over the yard until the thing finally died. Then the plucking began. I watched from behind a tree, wide eyed, terrorized and yet fascinated as feathers flew all around the yard.

After murdering and plucking the chicken no one wanted to eat it so dad decided that it would be a great opportunity for Chris to learn all about bones and skeletons. The chicken was boiled, the meat removed and the bones cleaned and dried. The chicken puzzle was laid out on a table for a week as Chris reconstructed the skeleton.

It probably was a great lesson except that Chris decided to take a few bones to his science class for show and tell. That probably would have been ok too except Chris decided to tell the class that the bones were the fingers of his brother Eric. His teacher was mortified and never really looked at Chris the same again. I’m sure the parent teacher conference that followed was quite interesting as well. But all in all that chicken provided us with many lessons.

I learned that I  love vegetables and like my chicken shrink wrapped and frozen.