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Braking Points

Exploring the Adventure of Aging

Porch Story

rocking chairsAugust in southwestern Oklahoma comes in like a steam bath and goes out like a sauna. Steam rises out of the soil in the early morning like ghosts materializing to be swept away by a wind so hot and dry that even shade provides little comfort to man or beast.

At sundown the wind dies and a dense stillness blankets the region, wringing the remaining drops of moisture from every pore and holding them against the earth to start the whole cycle again.

In August people go a little crazy. Minor arguments turn into brawls. Abusive incidents swell as many reach for another cool one and then another until they reach their boiling point. Even the ones who swill sweet tea lean to short temperedness. Unable to punch the weatherman, the boss or God, they settle for whoever’s handy.

Farm accidents, home accidents, and car accidents increase with every degree on the thermometer. Old timers dread August, because the month brings heartbreak. It was only the fifth, but August had claimed its first victim.

Chapter 1

Pete and Dewayne discussed the accident on their way from the field to the house, and then fell silent as they poured their tea and settled on the front porch.

The two men chose spots that shielded them from the afternoon sun and provided at least a whisper of a breeze. Their two hound dogs stretched out near them. Darcy languished between the two men while Max lay draped on the first step of the porch. Pete swirled a mason jar of sweet iced tea watching the ice evaporate, taking a swig every so often but mostly content with pondering the movement of the liquid. His bare feet perched on the porch railing and he tilted backward in the chrome vinyl covered kitchen chair, he’d dragged onto the porch with his tea. His boots caked with red clay rested just outside the door, socks soaked with the sweat of a day in the fields draped atop them to dry.

Dewayne, the younger of the two men and the larger, sprawled on a similar chair, legs splayed, and the waist of his jeans resting below the swell of his belly which was bare. The tail of his t-shirt had been tugged up so that the edge rested even with his arm pits.

Dewayne was a man of ill defined itches prompted more by his need to scratch than by any irritation. With both hands he scratched the expanse of flesh, while picking with one pinky finger or the other into the pit of his navel. Periodically he’d examine the contents of his belly button, flick bits of dirt away and return to his main task, scratching.

No words passed between the two men. By all appearance they seemed content, one to swirl his tea and the other to rub his belly. Pretty soon they’d need to get cleaned up for dinner, but for now just sitting barefoot in the shade met their requirements for rehydration and rest. Neither Pete nor Dewayne expected any visitors. The farm butted up against the town limits and the house set close to the state highway, but the folks that did drop by would not be inclined to do so on an afternoon as hot as this one. Nevertheless expected or not company came.

The dogs alerted first to the girl’s approach. Max, the hound on the porch step, lifted his head to bark, but his attempt sounded like a cross between a yawn and an abbreviated yodel. Darcy lifted the lid of one eye, puffed a big sigh, spotted the visitor before she shifted her position and settled down.

Pete removed his feet from the railing, scooted the chair down onto all four legs and stretched with one eye closed and the other focused on the approaching figure. Dewayne tugged his dirt encrusted t-shirt down to where only half of his bulging mid-section remained exposed. Otherwise he remained settled except for a shift in his scratching spot. He moved that activity to a tuff of curly hair that peeked through at the neck of his t-shirt. With a tilt of his head he, too, could observe as the girl moved steadily toward the porch.

Even with the sun to her back and her face fully in shadow, both men recognized her familiar sway and stride. Neither moved nor spoke. However, as the child drew closer the dogs roused, first banging their heavy tails on the clapboards of porch and steps. They lifted their heads and their bodies followed. With Max leading, the two hounds shuffled down the steps across the patches of dirt and grass that served as yard for the farm house.

The hounds revived by the prospect of attention, loped toward the familiar figure. She didn’t disappoint them, leaning forward without breaking her stride, rubbing first Max then Darcy between the ears. Reaching the bottom step to the porch, she shaded her eyes and stared up at the two men, who nodded and grinned.

“How you doing, Jessie? What you packing?” Pete asked leaning forward with his arms on the porch rail, pointing to the bundle she carried in her arms like a baby.
Jessie glanced down at the parcel and then back at the two men. When she spoke, her voice quivered.

“It’s a tree. Is Miss Nancy home?”

Dewayne moved to get a better look at Jessie and the package, shifting his scratching from his chest hairs to the back of his scalp.

“You say there’s a tree in that wrapping? Must be a miniature.”

Pete shook his head at Dewayne and regarded the girl who had fallen silent her eyes first on the package and then on a tuft of grass at the toe of her penny loafers.

“Don’t mind him, Jessie. He thinks trees come full grown. Nancy’s not here. She headed into town for,” he hesitated, “some groceries. Should be back real soon.”

He swirled his iceless tea and inquired, “You want a glass of iced tea while you wait on her? I’m going to get some more before I get cleaned up for supper.”

Jessie shook her head, still studying the ground at her feet. She mumbled something unintelligible.

“You’re going to have to speak up, Jessie.” Pete said.

She lifted her head and looked up at the two sets of eyes that stared down at her. She attempted a smile but it faltered.

“Could I just sit here and wait for Miss Nancy? I could just sit here on the steps, if it wouldn’t trouble you any?”

“Sure,” Pete said, “Come on up on the porch. Take my chair.”

Jessie shook her head again, sat down on the bottom step, and placed the tree between her knees. The hounds flanked her trying to edge as close as they could to vie for her attention as both attempted to use her lap as a pillow. She stroked both their heads automatically as she watched the road for Miss Nancy’s car.

Pete started toward the backdoor motioning to Dewayne to get up and follow. The younger man grumbled but he reached out for the railing using the leverage to wrench his massive frame into a vertical position. Once standing he tugged upward on the waistband of his jeans, accomplishing little in the process. Before heading into the house through the screen door Pete now held open, Dewayne looked back down at the child on the bottom step.

“Where’d you get a tree anyway?”

Initially, Jessie didn’t speak. Dewayne started to repeat the question, but then thinking, ‘What’s the use? Who cares where the tree came from anyhow?’ he batted his hand at the air dismissively and turned to move across the threshold. Before he got inside the door, as Pete slipped behind him to follow, Jessie spoke.

“I got it in Sunday school last Sunday. Miss Ellie gave all six of us one to plant.” A low sob punctuated her words. Pete and Dewayne halted, their eyes met as her words registered. Both stepped back onto the porch and edged toward the steps.

Jessie had buried her head in the curve of Darcy’s neck and though her crying was muffled by the dog’s coat, the heaving of her back revealed her sorrow. Neither man knew what to do when females cried and their experience lacked many first hand encounters, so they stood shifting from one foot to the other in the masculine equivalent of wringing the hands.

Dewayne pushed by the masculine instinct to do something even if it was wrong, asked, “So why haven’t you planted yours? Why are you still carting yours around?”
Jessie lifted her head out of the dog’s fur but did not turn at the two men. Instead, she adjusted the tree to a more secure position between her knees before swiping at her eyes with the back of her hand.

“Daddy won’t let me plant it at home. He says it would be a bad omen to plant a tree given to you by a dead person. He says it would bring all sorts of bad luck and we sure don’t need any more than we already got.” She paused, stroking the trunk of the tree which was hardly bigger than a grown man’s thumb before continuing, “Bad luck, not trees. He says if he didn’t have bad luck he’d have no luck at all, but that he doesn’t intend to offend God or the devil with a tree that was a present from a woman who was dead two hours after she gave it.”

“I think that’s a song, isn’t that a song? ‘If it wasn’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.”

Dewayne interjected, singing the line off key then with a snap of his fingers, “Ray Charles! That’s who sang it.” Pete jerked his head around in Dewayne’s direction with a look that probably had a half life greater than uranium. For his part Dewayne basked in the joy of having remembered the song and the artist lifting a shield of pride so dense Pete’s poison tipped expression merely bounced off.

Jessie turned to consider the two, unable to recall a tiny flicker of a smile before it lit her face. She knew Dewayne meant no harm. Even at ten she knew he was like a defective piece of equipment that needed a discontinued part, but still worked even though it was slow and awkward. His burst of song dried her tears and though the redness around her eyes and the streaks on her cheeks remained, her spirit rebounded slightly.

“So, what are you going to do with the little tree?” Pete asked keeping his eyes averted to a distant spot on the horizon.

“I was hoping; I mean, I hope Miss Nancy will help me plant it around here. Everyone knows how good she is with growing things.”

“That’s true,” Pete said drawing the words out as if pondering them. “She’ll be along in a little while. Will you be okay out here? Dewayne and I need to get cleaned up or she will skin us alive.”

“I’ll be just fine.” She returned to staring off down the road and petting the dogs.

Pete thumped Dewayne in the shoulder, pulling the backdoor open again, prodding his brother inside.

Chapter 2

Nancy noticed the slight figure on the bottom step the moment she turned into the driveway. Pulling closer, she recognized Jessie Adams and a second later she spied the sapling the girl balanced between her knees.

A little knot formed in her throat as she recalled helping Ellie carry the tiny trees from her car to the fifth grade classroom, Sunday.

“Goodness, Ellie, what on earth do you have planned this morning?”

Ellie laughed, “Why I am going to help start a forest, a stand at least.”

“Well if you’re going to be planting trees, I would have thought you might pick something other than Poplars. They grow fast, but. . .”

“They are perfect for what I have in mind.”

“Is it a secret?” Nancy asked, her interest piqued, Ellie had that way about her.

“No, I chose them on purpose; Poplars are perfect for the children to plant,”

Ellie’s smile faded, her expression growing more serious as she paused before continuing, “because, well because every one of their families have been hurt by the closing of the Mar-Val plant. Rex and Macy’s moms both worked there; Richard’s dad was a foreman; Sandra’s dad manages the Piggly Wiggly—folks without steady income don’t buy as many groceries; Les’s dad has been asked to relocate his whole family to Mexico to start up the new plant down there; and, Jessie, well in some ways her family’s taken the hardest blow. Both her parents had good jobs there and they just bought their first home. I hear James especially is taking it hard, which just compounds the problem.”

“Hitting the bottle again, huh?”

Ellie shook her head and sighed, “I saw him coming out of the liquor store. I didn’t see him drinking, but I know he’s had a problem in the past. Anyway, that’s why I dug these little fledglings from that stand of Poplars along the creek at my house. I chose Poplars intentionally.”

Nancy had been ready to press her about her reason for choosing the poplars when the children started arriving for Sunday school and the commotion of their greetings and questions interrupted their conversation. Ellie bubbled with energy and excitement as her attention shifted from Nancy to focus on her students.

“Catch you later.” Nancy mouthed as she caught Ellie’s eye for the briefest of instants. Ellie waved and smiled then returned to the children.

Nancy regarded the child on the step and waved at Jessie, who returned her greeting. The child, the sapling and the hole in her heart burned. She knew the children in Ellie’s class and so many others were mourning her sudden death, but Nancy despite scolding herself resented sharing her grief with any one else. Her loss hadn’t settled yet. What on earth did she have to offer the child on the stoop?

Nancy inhaled deeply, blew the air out through pursed lips, before opening the car door and stepping from air conditioned comfort to the afternoon furnace.

Chapter 3

On warm days Granny and I would walk through that grove, and she would point out the fledgling trees that sprung from the shallow but widely spread roots of the older trees. Not only were they temporary, she’d tell me, they were prolific and rapid growing trees. The adult trees in the stand were children and grandchildren of earlier family members. Poplars, she told me didn’t grow from seeds, but emerged as the spawn of a mature tree’s root stock. “A lot like humankind, we grow best when we stick together and when we come into this world we bring a lot of what’s happened before with us.” From Eleanor Brown’s Journal

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No Maps for Grief

“I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, hoever, turns out to be not a state but a process.” ~ C. S. Lewis

For 25 years we were parents [in-law, in-heart, in-love] to a beautiful woman with a quick wit, a kind, loving heart and the capacity for drawing us into a circle of love. I want so much to write about her, but collapse in tears every time I try. My son is writing, but I cannot share that yet.

When she died this summer, we each plunged into land of shadows, which it turns out exists right in the smack dab center of every day life. The path loops and circles like a maze. Out there somewhere we will individually emerge into the sunlight, if we just keep putting one foot in front of the other and getting on with life. The shadows, however, shift and change our perceptions, still we climb out of bed in the morning or we don’t. We find diversions. We grapple with our grief which feels like anger at times or fear or like we have been filled with rocks. We are people of faith. That should make it easier, right? And it does in some ways, but my Lord, Jesus broke down in tears over the death of Lazarus and the grief of Mary and Martha. He knew within the hour Lazarus would walk out of the grave. I know our Martha laughs, leaps, dances and sings in heaven. Knowing, Believing fails to take the pain away.

And so we walk, sometimes Terry and I walk hand in hand. And we talk to each other, with our son, with others. We pray. In spite of the love and support of each other and others, we are on this journey through the valley of the shadow of death on separate winding paths. There are intersections where we meet, but the greater part of our time we are traveling solo, sometimes on roads that parallel but are so different .

Over the span of my 70 plus years I have experienced grief, but no two journeys through the valley of shadows has been the same. Over this past summer death has stolen from not only our family but from the families of people we know and love. I have felt a diminishing of myself with each loss.

I know I am not alone. Sometimes the shadows comfort me, pull me close, let me rage and I feel God’s presence. I know I am protected. I know I am under the wings of the Almighty, my refuge. Sometimes, however, I find myself stymied by the simplest choices, I walk into walls, I drop things and I break down and cry. Jesus said, he had overcome death, I know that in my head, but here and now on this journey, I want a MAP. I don’t wander well. Just saying…

THE WEIGHT OF GRIEF BY CELESTE ROBERGE

Her Hands Were Clean; She Drove a Mercedes; God was too Goody-Goody: The Snob Within Me

Not her pretty dresses or styled hair, not her Momma’s Cadillac or her richness, I envied her perfectly clean hands. Her hands with not a hint of dirt, no ragged, chewed nails encrusted with grime like mine, I envied her hands. She was kind. She was sweet but I stood away, because her hands made me feel unclean. I hope you who read this hear me. She did nothing to push me away. Why! She even came to my house one time to play. The whole time she was there, all I could see was our poverty. She was like a princess and I was a mere peasant with dirty hands. I knew no matter how hard I worked to get my hands as clean and well groomed as hers, it wasn’t going to happen. So, I backed away.

Hear me if you will. I AM THE REASON, SHE AND I WERE NOT CLOSE FRIENDS.

Years later, when I was doing my Clinical Fellowship Year in Audiology at the University of Tulsa, a beautiful young woman joined the academic teaching staff in Deaf Education. She was tall, slender and she drove a Mercedes convertible. At the time I was doing well in my fledgling career, still poor, but things were looking up. With no provocation on her part I erected a wall of professionalism to protect myself lest she find out how insecure, how poor, how much lesser I was than she. I even parked my ten year old car on another parking lot so she would not know how poor I really was. One day when my guard fell after we finished working with a child together, we began to laugh together.

She looked at me with tears in her eyes, “I am so glad we had this moment. I thought you were the worst snob I had ever met.”

Hear me if you will. I AM THE REASON SHE AND I WERE NOT CLOSE FRIENDS SOONER.

When I am really honest with myself and God, I know I stayed away too long because I didn’t really believe I was worthy. I was too much of a sinner. I had nothing to offer. God was all goody two shoes and I, well, take my word for it, was not. All those years of Sunday School and Church had failed to grab me until I was face down in the dirt of my own making and God saved me.

Hear me if you will. GOD NEVER REJECTED ME, I REJECTED GOD.

I don’t know if a single person will have any similar experiences but if you have and would share with me, I would love to hear your stories. Even if you have not had an encounter with God, but relate to the human story I would love to hear from you.

My Mantra for Today from Bob Goff: ‘Love like you were made of it’

Sunset by Doris Faircloth King, 2019

Sunset Fascination–A Season of Good-byes

Lately, I have been collecting pictures of sunsets as I juggle a tub full of conflicting thoughts and emotions. After completing my last small book of poems, remembrances, and thoughts, Storytellers and Dreamers, I flew into hyperdrive to complete and mail two small quilts to my grandson Joshua and granddaughter Gabby as well as pack and move us to our Florida abode. I also piddled around writing the sequel to Braking Points, as yet unnamed. But collecting photos, some I have taken, others pulled from others’ posts, trying to tag them so I remember who to give the credit to, a new book undulates in my head like a swirling flock of birds, a book about those last whispers of light in the evening sky of life.

Hard as it is to write it, this past several months has been a summer/autumn of good-byes. Many of these are still too raw to put the words on paper, so that will come later. Each one, even the more distant ones, challenged me yet again to face with courage, but not rush toward the last sparkles of flaming light on the horizon. So the swirling flock of thoughts in my head carries me forward even as it baffles me. Every sunrise should fill me with hope and thanksgiving in anticipation of a new day—the day the Lord has made—and most days it does. There are things to do, people to see, daily challenges, and the anticipation of the unexpected, of adventure. Most days I want to cram as much as I can into every hour. Some days I want to fade into the background and hibernate. With each day’s passing, after the sunset, late at night before I fall asleep, I pray like I did as a child. “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

For each time I close my eyes to sleep brings me closer to that reality. No twenty one year old or even fifty year old in good health thinks like that. There are dreams I have yet to complete. I have so much more love I want to give. Adventures I never would have considered in my youth capture my attention. I told Terry recently after friends of ours here in Florida went parachuting that I wanted to do that. He looked at me and said, “Where is my wife and what have you done with her?” If I cannot go out with bang not a whimper, I at least want to make some noise and accomplish some goals before I go.

But it really isn’t up to me nor should it be.

Sunsets fascinate me. The western sky broadcasts each day’s good-bye. For every glorious ending there are hundreds of days that end in lackluster gloom. Dark comes quickly without any fanfare. Who takes pictures of dreary sundowns? I am thinking maybe there should be a few in my collection. Certainly my life like most others consists of flares of wonder, uneventful seasons, flashes of terror, and dark tunnels so it is reasonable to expect the ends of the days to follow the pattern.

Did I mention, there have been way too many good-byes this past summer? I am grieving and what is worse, my child and his children are grieving, my friends are grieving loss of soulmates, and even the more distant losses add to my grief. God has me and those I love, but still I see the writing in the sky with every sunset and don’t want to waste a moment.

Western Plains and Mountains Adventure Part One Kentucky to South Dakota

JUNE 2019

Waterfall Yellowstone National Park
IMG_2395

Dear Friends and Family,

Experience tells me that vacations like relationships are not necessarily made in heaven, but Terry and I both agreed that we would do everything possible on our end to make every moment of this trip fulfilling if not restful [it was not restful] for each one of us, Terry, Tom and me. We knew the country we were covering by van would have vistas worth stopping to take in. We also know our vacation may not pique the interest of friends and family. Remember the days of slide show gatherings when someone shared every single slide of their fabulous vacation. Well, I do. Enough said. I have tried to select a few photos as I write this letter that capture some of our travels. But it is a letter and you are free to put it down at any time.

Our western adventure began on June 1, 2019. My plans to have the van fully packed and the crew ready to go by 8 am had to be adjusted due to last minute packing details. How on earth did the early pioneers get their whole household into a covered wagon? I am not naming names but some of us in our little band do not understand the concept of minimalism or even sufficient when it comes to packing for a week. Nor do any of us really believe they have stores in Missouri, Iowa, South Dakota, Wyoming and Nebraska where they sell pretty much the same stuff we can get in Kentucky. Folks we were loaded for bear, well, actually not, since they don’t carry that at the local Big Lots or Rural King. Suffice it to say, the van was full.

IMG_2033The first stop of our trip heading west came in St. Louis. Tom had never been to the Gateway Arch, so we exited I-64—it was the wrong exit, but hey! We still had a visual of the Arch. After traveling many back streets in downtown St. Louis, we arrived and Terry found a great parking space, which was really a surprise.

We walked up to and inside the lower entry hall to the Arch, visited the facilities—something we do at every stop whether we need to or not—after which Tom declined trying out the elevator car they had set up in the lobby. He decided his size and the interior of the elevator were not compatible. We took a few pictures and then with careful attention to our WAZE app managed to get onto I-70 West.

Traveling west on I-70 challenged our defensive driving skills. Obviously, I-70 provides a major route west for trucking, there were a few moments of near freak-out—Me, both when Terry was driving and when I was driving. Then turning north onto I-29 we discovered that much of that interstate was closed due to flooding along the Missouri River and its tributaries. We traveled bunches of back roads both that evening as we approached our first night stop in Council Bluff, Iowa and the next morning as we headed to Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Our hotel in Council Bluff had a very friendly even funny staff when we checked in late Saturday evening. So, with that in mind I give it ONE star. It had no elevator. They gave us rooms on the second floor. A bunch of college students who were there to party, trust me on that, offered to help Tom and I carry our bags up the stairway. Terry was parking the van.

Pride—ugly beast that it is—got the best of me and I refused. By the time I reached the second-floor landing, I was having visions of toppling over backwards or even more frightening, Tom toppling over backwards hitting me and both of us plummeting to the bottom of the staircase, where Terry would discover us dead in a heap. The rooms were clean enough, but the hallway carpet was filthy, and this is from a not so hot housekeeper’s perspective.

WE Survived. The pioneer spirit in my family died after my great grandparents traveled by covered wagon from Iowa to Southwest Oklahoma to homestead in 1901. The Americinn qualifies as wilderness as far as I am concerned. The pictures of hotels on Expedia do not depict the actual property or they did not in this case.

Reaching Sioux Falls, we intersected with I-90 which took us on our adventure into South Dakota, where among other things we encountered our first real glimpse of miles and miles of Wind Farms. Terry drove while I researched a bit. These babies are huge:

“How big is a wind turbine?
Industrial wind turbines are big

The widely used GE 1.5-megawatt model, for example, consists of 116-ft blades atop a 212-ft tower for a total height of 328 feet. The blades sweep a vertical airspace of just under an acre.”

Our first outing in South Dakota turned up at Mitchell just off I-90. We had decided before we left Kentucky that we would be on the look out for interesting places to explore that were not specifically on our itinerary. The Corn Palace in Mitchell was the first stop like this. It is a monument to CORN, but so much more
Annually, a committee s58118732899__89634366-F7EB-466C-8CD5-7B9044598155
elects a theme and the sides of the palace become murals with using every part of an ear of corn to create the art work. The 2018-2019 theme honors the Armed Service Branches, with some special attention for the two ships christened the USS South Dakota.
So, if you are traveling on I-90 through South Dakota, you might want to take in the Corn Palace in Mitchell.

Our trip took on some extra concerns on our second day. Our son Scott called to let us know that our daughter-in-law Martha had had another and this time more damaging stroke. We stopped where we were and prayed with him, asked him if we should abandon our trip plans and drive to Tulsa, Oklahoma. He said not to do that. They were still waiting to hear back from the neurosurgeon as to a plan of action. So, we continued on, but our hearts were heavier. Terry and I had decided together before we even began our westward journey to pause often, take in the new and wonderful sites we were seeing and no matter what to accept the blessing of being able to travel together. Tom was at times like a kid looking forward to experiencing places he had only seen in pictures.

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By early afternoon Sunday June 2nd we arrived at the turnoff for Badlands National Park. The sun had disappeared so I am unsure how this odd stark country with its myriad of rock layers and colors would have looked in the sunlight. The gathering storms around us created another worldly atmosphere almost like being on another planet—if that planet had earthlings, automobiles, tour buses, scenic turnouts and rattlesnakes, all of which the Badlands boasts.

 

We drove the loop that led us out of the park at Wall, SD where the iconic Wall Drug Store resides. The establishment dates back to the 1930’s when a Nebraska pharmacist and his wife Dorothy purchased it. They were looking for a town with a Catholic Church in which to start a business. Business in Wall with 231 persons in residence was slow at first until Dorothy thought of advertising free ice water to folks traveling through to the brand-new Mt. Rushmore monument some 60 miles away. Parched travelers welcome the rest stop and soon business picked up and. If the crowds we encountered there are any indication, it has not slowed down. Billboards all along I-90 from east to west advertise the store. YeS! They still offer free ice water.

We settled in Rapid City for the night. Word from Our son suggested that surgery the next day would scope the cranial artery that was blocked and put in a stent. Unfortunately, the next day we learned the artery was nearly completely closed and a stent would be impossible. Throughout the remainder of our trip west we were on alert, calling in all the prayers we could for our sweet Martha. And as of today, she has been moved to Rehab in Stillwater, Ok, their home town. Left side remains paralyzed, but she has not had another stroke. So, given all the horrible outcomes we had been given, we are thankful she is still with us and fighting. She also has retained her quick wit and personality.

While in the Rapid City area we visited Mt. Rushmore which truly represents the talents IMG_2148of its designer and the skilled labor that chiseled those distinguished faces into the side of a mountain. When we entered the park, we received a ticket that clearly told us to retain it so we could pay prior to exiting. Terry had the ticket. Climbing the steps to the gates, he remembered he needed another lens for his camera and returned to the car. I never have this problem because I only use my iPhone. We explored the area, took pictures and descended multiple steps to reach the artist’s studio—all of us—Terry, Tom, and I made it to ground level for the monument exhibit. In the process, Tom became turned around a bit and thought we were on the parking lot level rather than 5 floors down. After Tom begrudged me the fact that we were not just a few steps from the parking lot, we consulted a Ranger who offered to let us go get our vehicle and drive it down an access road to pick Tom up.

IMG_2149NOOO! Tom said. So, we started the laborious ascent on uneven rock stairs. Fortunately, about 2 levels up there was a walking trail with a smoother paved although elevated path with rest areas along the way. So, we took the path less traveled by and after some time made the top. Take my word not one of us considered highland hiking as a new hobby.

At the top I asked Terry for the ticket. He looked at me, his face a portrait of confusion. My stomach sank at least two of the levels we had just climbed. “yes, remember I gave it to you when we got out of the van. We pay here to get another ticket to exit.” He lifted one eyebrow, clearly questioning whether I had really given him the ticket or was just joking around. We searched. Alas. After thoroughly exhausting every pigeon hole we could have stuffed a slip of paper into, we agreed. Neither of us had the ticket. A visit to the Visitor’s Center confessing that the ticket that had bold print on it admonishing us to HOLD ON TO THIS TICKET had been lost. She barely made eye contact sending us to the payment kiosk.

At the kiosk I met a charming Japanese young lady with a bright smile, who evidently had heard ‘lost ticket’ many times before, helped us generate a new ticket and pay to exit Mt. Rushmore. I thanked her and then jokingly said, “I bet we are the first people to ever lose their ticket.” Her smile grew even brighter as she affirmed my suspicion that either her English was limited, or we were indeed the very first people to ever lose their parking ticket at Mt. Rushmore on her watch. The voltage of her smile amped up as she vigorously nodded her head and said, “YES! Have good day!”

At the van, Terry leaned over before opening his door and picked up our LOST ticket. He had apparently dropped it when he returned to get his lens.

We ate lunch at Peggy’s in Keystone, SD Where Peggy greeted us and our waiter directed us to Graffiti Mural Alley in Rapid City. Entertaining and the. Food was good.

That afternoon we explored downtown Rapid City and the murals/graffeti

Coming to this portion of the walls gave me pause. I do not know if you can see but faces of survivors are in every square.

And because I am tired, and I bet some of you are too. I am going to leave you with that message HOPE…you can live several days with food and shelter. You can live 4 days without water. You can live a few minutes without air. But you cannot live a single second without hope. No matter how slender the thread is, hold on.

I will write another letter soon with the second half and conclusion of our Western Adventure. I suspect you are all waiting with bated breath.

Grace and Peace,

Carolyn, Terry and Tom

My High School Reunion has Thinned

I wrote this a while back, but with all the graduations around me I felt the urge to share it. To all the grads from kindergarten to Doctorate Live don’t just Exist.

My high school reunion has thinned

There aren’t quite as many as there were back then

My high school reunion has thinned

My high school reunion has thinned

Our paths to this moment littered with sins

My high school reunion has thinned

My classmates have grown quite old

So have I, if I believe what the mirror unfolds

We were young and now we are old

My high school reunion has thinned

We are and we aren’t who we were back then

My high school reunion has thinned

My classmates like I have experienced loss

Parents, spouses, children, health some of the cost

We are who we are because or in spite of this loss

My high school reunion has thinned

Paths diverged have merged, once again friends

My high school reunion has thinned

Our faces hold stories that beg to be told

Our faith has been tested, refined like gold

Memories compiled that long to be told

My high school reunion has thinned

We notice whose missing not like back then

My high school reunion has thinned

We are the survivors, torchbearers of then

Who remember most of it with a grin

My high school reunion has thinned

If you read this and you are still young

Don’t let a song in your heart go unsung

Believe me you won’t always be young.

My high school reunion has thinned.

Organizing the Unmatched Sock Drawer that is My Mind

How can a drawer full of white socks not match? These are questions that often occupy my thoughts in the moments early in my day. It takes a few minutes to pull them together into pairs, choose a pair and put them on my feet.

It is the same scenario with my mind. How can a brain that floods with streams of consciousness be unable to construct one clear sentence? Organizing my thought patterns takes a bit longer than a few minutes in my sock drawer. And that is just so I can put a few sentences on a page, so you can imagine what happens when I need to verbally respond.

Let’s just say, I trip over my own tongue more than I trip over my own feet. This does not happen as often when I am fully engaged in a conversation, going with the flow, responding and listening. No! This tripping usually occurs when I am asked a question that requires forethought.

Truth is, I am a writer not a speaker. I can speak. I have spoken–even at national conventions. I enjoy speaking to audiences. But that type of speaking has already been filtered through and sorted out. I do not do a manuscript because I find my speech patterns hampered by being tethered to podium or script. Nevertheless, mental structuring does happen. I do insert it into a file in my mind.

However, in front of an audience or in casual table conversation, when asked a question that requires a quick construct, I babble a bit–ok, sometimes I babble a lot. Last night I was asked by a friend what I was writing now. Now, I know what I am writing. I know what it is about. But give a synopsis off the cuff. Did not come out clear at all. I wasn’t even sure what I was writing. Old people, chickens, murder–let’s just say my newest attempt at a novel, Fowl Play left a foul taste in my mouth and baffled expressions on my dinner companions. Now I know I need to plan out a synopsis, file it in my brain, in case I am ever asked that question again.

How do you organize your thoughts to write or speak? I always begin with a bottle of water, a cup of coffee, and my quiet time with God. My devotional today explored, believe it or not, James 1:19:

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,”

‭‭James‬ ‭1:19‬ ‭NIV‬‬

I kid you not. And that verse got me to these few blogging words. How do you organize? I am always looking for new ideas that might help me clear the clutter of unmatched thoughts in my head.

My Laundry Basket and My Brain Overflowth

From Prayer Warriors Thanks to Donna Sidle for Sharing

We just returned from a three day trip to Oklahoma. We experienced the

hospitality of friends–thanks again, Jeanne and Eddie. We celebrated our

granddaughter Gabby’s graduation from high school. We had a much

Needed visit with Terry’s brother and sister-in-law. And we made it back to

Kentucky ahead of the storms.

During that three days we stuffed our dirty clothes into plastic trash bag

Which I have now stuffed into our bathroom hamper–not a pretty sight, it

Kind of looks like it is oozing out over the sides. But, hey! I was one tired

Old hen by the time we got home.

During those three days, our mail stacked up, our routines changed, and our

hearts experienced a deepening of love with all its nuances. From the

celebration of accomplishment and young adults with all their

potential setting out in life to the recognition of how the experiences of life

shape the lives of us on the other side of the mountain of life, we stuffed it all

in.

Our life hamper overflows.

On top of that, we ate differently and we ate more, SO my body overflowth.

As I contemplated how best to reset my physical being, God gave me the

path and outcome for resetting my whole system.

This morning my devotional pointed me to Isaiah 58:6-11

The path:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”

‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭58:6-7‬ ‭NIV‬‬

The outcome:

“Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.”

‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭58:8-11‬ ‭NIV‬‬

And THEN on FACEBOOK my friend Donna shared the image you see with this

post. AMEN

And so these thoughts came:

When life gets out of control

When the hamper of life overflows

When the brain goes chaotic

When the body bulges

When the spirit sags

Get up, Get out, Go, Go, Go

Reach out to friends

But don’t stop there

Orderly life comes one clean sock at a time

Healthy eating requires more than dieting

Abundant life comes

from abundant giving and forgiving.

And

It’s the ones who won’t cross a puddle for you who need it most.

Not an easy path, but the right one.

Mystery Dwells in Every Story

At least that is my experience.  E.L. Doctorow had it right.  The story being told often surprises the author.  You round a curve, headlights on, only to discover a divergent sequence of events unfolding.  I think for me it is God’s way of humbling me.  Oh, you thought, Max was headed to Knoxville.  Where did that log truck come from?  

Writing this I realize that if you’ve met one writer, you have met one writer.  Not all, maybe not any, experience writing a short story or novel, like I do.  Some authors exercise precise control over characters, plot, setting, the whole design set before putting the story into words.

I plan, but I glimpse only a twinkling light at the end of the tunnel.   I plan, but the story finds new characters who deserve attention, perhaps more attention than I care to give them.  I plan but the most joyful experience happens when the words, images, characters carry on as my fingers tap the keys.  With Braking Points daily I printed the new pages and read them to my husband.  Together, he and I, for he is a far better editor than I am, eliminated words, corrected grammar and awkward sentences.  He was and is my greatest encourager.  Watching him react to the plot kept me going for it said at least one person on earth liked the story.  A sprinkle of magic happened in those times. We both became involved with the characters, often discussing them as if they were real.  And therein lies the mystery and the magic of writing fiction.  Truth emerges, even in make believe.  The stories around us fuel the imagination and fire up the engines to create.  So that, what we write like what we read takes us places that are as real as the air we breathe.

Let me encourage you whatever your method of prep and writing to look for the stories, listen to the stories already blooming in your mind, and WRITE them down.  Go with God and discover the mystery that is writing.

 

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Where Stories Dwell

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First, Stories Dwell in the Lives of Others

Recently, with the published copy of Braking Points In my hands, I sat down and reread it.  That may seem odd to some, but it refreshed me and it reminded me of the  bits and pieces of others’ lives lived on those pages in the lives of Max and Lily, Amanda, Millie, Sophia.  Why?  Because in listening to the stories of friends and acquaintances over scores of years and sometimes even writing them down, I had a vast treasure trove that I barely tapped writing the novel.  I woke up this morning filled with gratitude for the experiences of others that tap into my imagination and fuel my expression of those in words.  I especially was thinking of my friend Judy, who has a gift for relating every day events in ways that never cease to make me laugh.  In my early morning meandering a story, she told me over lunch last week, brought a smile to my face, then a chuckle and then diabolical as I am I started to think how I could use it in my current novel.

Second, Stories Dwell in the World Around, in the News, in Books

Beyond the political news or maybe sometimes even in the midst of that, there are stories that beg to be told.  Writers tend to be observers.  Not all are introverts who watch, listen, read and turn it all over in their heads.  Some are extroverts who jump into every fray, expounding of every issue, gathering others around them, but it is in their approach to life that stories later to be transferred into words on a page or these days words on a screen are conceived.  There are folks who scour news stories, magazine articles, and travel guides finding kernels of ideas,  ‘what if’s’, that beg to be fleshed out and written.  For me, even a turn of phrase in something I hear or read will set my writer’s wheels turning.  I recently read the following quote in my morning quiet time from a devotion by Christine Caine:

“Our race would be easy if God kept us in the “strength zone” in our lives, but instead, he consistently pushes us into our “weakness zone,” because it is in our weakness that he is made strong” Christine Caine

What caught my attention was her use of the words, “weakness zone,” which started my thoughts rolling around in my head.  With that as a starting point I began to create a story, with setting and two characters to start, a mother and a daughter–always a complex situation.  Later that day, I read on Facebook about what a Rainbow Child was, the child born after a miscarriage, stillbirth or early demise of a sibling.  And I began the construct of a story I wanted to jump into and write.

Third, Stories Dwell in Who I am, in My Faith, My Worldview, My Backstory

I read a lot, both fiction and non-fiction, and usually it doesn’t take me long to get a feel for the author’s worldview.  I learn a great deal that way, even from worldviews widely separate from mine.  I find at the core we are all more alike than different.  I find life stories similar to my own but told from a point 180 degrees out from my own.  I seek to understand others by reading a divergent crop of material.

However, when I write, I cannot adopt another worldview and have words, thoughts, conversations flow onto the page.  I do at times include characters with different worldviews.  My reading and conversations with friends, family, random folk do, I hope, allow me to portray other views truthfully and with empathy of our shared humanity.  Even then my faith in God and Jesus Christ guides me.  Above all else to love.  Want to know what books I discard quickly, books that bleed animosity and hatred onto the page, especially toward people groups.

Stories dwell everywhere.  Stories that long to be told.  In everyone there lies a true story of their life, and in everyone’s story there is also a novel to be written.  I may have started later than others but I long to tell the stories that will capture even a few readers’ hearts.  And I intend to read all the stories others write as well–at least as many as I can.

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