Sunday, June 22, 2014

Becoming Mrs. Gilman

God help me! I’ve become “Mrs. Gilman”!
Mrs. Gilman was our next door neighbor on Magnolia Terrace who spent hours sitting on her porch yelling at all the kids in the neighborhood.
“Does your mother know where you’ve been?” . . . “Does your mother know you’re playing in mud puddles in your Sunday clothes?” . . . “Does your mother know you’re climbing that tree?” UGH!! I still hear her voice echoing through the neighborhood.
But even worse than her yelling at us was that she’d call our mom and tattle on us. She drove my mother crazy! Mom knew exactly what we were doing and in fact she’d taught us all about playing in mud puddles and climbing trees.
As a kid I could never understand why Mrs. Gilman sat on her porch all the time staring at the neighborhood. Now I have become her!! I sit on the porch each evening watching the neighborhood go by as I write, sit, daydream and just breathe.  However, in a strange twist of fate I find myself wanting to yell at the moms, not the kids!
“Geez Mom! Back off and let the kid ride his bike!” . . . “Stop stressing the kid’s not gonna bleed to death!”
“Why can’t she play outside?!” . . . “She doesn’t want to wear that stupid dress!” . . . “Why can’t he jump off the swing?”
Even worse are the evenings I look out at the neighborhood or walk through the park and there are
no children playing outside at all. No kids on the playground, no one playing ball and no one climbing trees! Why? Those are the times I want to yell at the world, "Where is everybody?" But I know exactly where they are . . . inside watching TV and playing video games. It breaks my heart.
Thankfully my thoughts are just thoughts and I don't yell at the neighborhood. Parenting is a tough enough job without the old lady on the porch telling you she knows better than you. So I keep my judgments, opinions and snippy comments to myself and simply laugh at myself for becoming Mrs. Gilman. But each night I am forever thankful that I raised my boys in the woods of West Virginia with no one to yell at them, or me, and I am equally thankful I was raised by parents who taught us how to get dirty and gave us plenty of room to roam.

So for now it's time for me to get up off the porch, I've got a tree to climb!   Get out and PLAY!!

 photos and content (c)06.2014 Martha Reed Johnson


Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Wink of a Rainbow

Kermit the Frog sings, “Why are there so many songs about rainbows and what’s on the other side?” I like to think of my dad “just on the other side”. Dad was a scientist, dreamer, stargazer, rainbow chaser and photographer. Throughout his life he had a childlike wonder about the expanse of the universe. Whether it was staring at a night sky from our backyard, a national park or from the dock of our cabin on Hunter Pond, or chasing rainbows after the rain, dad had a way of creating awe in the beauty and wonder of this small home we call earth. It was no wonder that on the day of his death double rainbows appeared in the sky above his home and in the skies above his family members from Chicago to South Carolina and throughout New England.
There have been moments during the months since his death that I have caught a glimpse of a rainbow or looked up at the night sky and felt my father’s presence break through the numbness of grief and whisper in my ear, “be in awe of the world you live – don’t miss a moment.”

No moment has been quite as strong as this past weekend when I took my mother and sister to the Granite State Story Swap in Rye, New Hampshire to hear Jay O’Callahan tell his story, “Forged in the Stars”.  Jay was the first storyteller my parents ever took me to see – my father adored his stories!
“Forged in the Stars” is an amazing celebration and love story of the 50 years of NASA. Beautifully told and masterfully crafted it is a tale that holds you firmly in its grasp for a life changing 75 minutes (rarely does anything hold my attention for that long).
As I listened to Jay tell the story of Christa McAuliffe and The Challenger, tears streamed down my cheeks as I thought of my father the science teacher and how much he would have loved to fly into space. It did not surprise me to look to my right and see my mother and sister both wiping their tears away.
With those tears still streaming down our cheeks we walked out of the building and cast our eyes on the ocean my dad so loved to sail. We looked up at the cloudy skies and much to our surprise caught a quick glimpse of a rainbow. It was as if dad was sending us a wink from heaven to say, “I was there . . . I heard . . . I was with you . . . be in awe of the world you live – don’t miss a moment.””
Seven days later, I am still in awe. I am awed by the power of story to bring science, imagination, love and loss together and leave me dreaming of the wonderful expanse of the universe. I am awed that even in the vast expanse of this universe I can still feel the close presence of my father in the words of a story and the wink of a rainbow.
(c) Martha Reed Johnson 05.11.2014

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Josie Up!

I’ve been stuck in middle school for decades! It is my job as a school counselor to help students through the daily challenges the world of middle school provides. It is a job I love and yet if truth be told, I often learn far more from my students than they learn from me.
One of those students was Josie. When Josie arrived at school I was worried for her. By all middle school standards Josie was a student who could have easily been a target for all the teasing, taunting and bullying the world of middle school offers, and yet she wasn’t.  Josie was small in stature, looking more like a fourth grader than a seventh grader. She had unruly wildly curly frizzy hair that looked liked she’d cut it herself with playschool scissors, 80’s style glasses and had speech challenges that left her words extremely difficult to understand. Her wardrobe and hygiene issues were a reflection more of her family economic challenges than a lack of care. However, in spite of her small stature and significant situational challenges, Josie’s spirit soared high.
Josie was a lover of story and each time I came to her class or she saw me in the hall she’d hug me,  smile up at me and say, “Tell me a story.” Some days Josie would arrive at my office, knock on the door, grab a photo of my mom and dad and say, “Tell me another story about them.”
One day as she left my office she approached a group of teachers standing in the hall. She walked right into the middle of their conversation, smiled and looked up at them with her hand outstretched and said, “I need a pencil.” However, as a result of her speech difficulty her words were initially incomprehensible to the teachers. They just stared at her while she stood perfectly still with her hand out. She didn’t repeat herself; she just waited. 
Kristie is the teacher all the students love. She’s creative and kind and as she looked into that smiling face, Josie’s words finally unscrambled in her brain and she quickly offered Josie a pencil. Josie smiled, nodded a thank you and continued down the hallway to her class.
Kristie is sometimes too kind and the ADD brain we share often gets us in trouble and there are times that Kristie finds herself bullied by those around her. So as I walked up to Kristie and she asked, “Who was that?” I quickly answered, “That was Josie. She knows how to get what she needs. Perhaps Kristie, we need to learn how to ‘Josie Up!’ sometimes.”  We laughed and “Josie Up!” became our mantra for overcoming the challenges our middle school world, ADD brain and daily life offer us. So when either of us was called to the principal’s office we’d look to each other and say “Josie Up Girl!”
As much as Josie loved to hear stories of my parents, my dad – a retired teacher, loved to hear stories of Josie. One day when I was with him in the rehab hospital as he was struggling through the process of gaining strength to get back home, he looked up at me with pain filled eyes, smiled and said, “I’d better Josie Up!”  He did and we got him home.

Three weeks after we got dad home, he died quietly surrounded by his family who adored him. He was freed from the pain in his body and my heart was broken. As I returned to school I wondered how I was going to get through each day and I wondered how I would ever tell Josie that my dad was gone.
When I returned to school I discovered that Josie had moved far away. She wouldn’t be there to smile at me and ask for a story. How would I get through the tough days ahead without Josie’s smile and spunk? And then I heard that ever-present, strong voice of my father whispering in my head, “Josie Up! Girl . . . you’ll be just fine.”
Sometimes life is hard and we just have to “Josie Up!”
(c) February 2014 Martha Reed Johnson
(stay tuned and see what happens when Josie meets Willie Claflin)

Monday, January 20, 2014

Stay Tuned . . .

Stories under construction  . . .
     Stay tuned!