Cherish your unexpected memories of loved ones

With Mother’s Day approaching and Father’s Day a month away, I am repeating a post from two years ago. Memories of loved ones have a way of popping up when you least expect them. Tissues may be needed.

I watched a poignant video where a young woman was presented with a birthday gift of a talking teddy bear. The bear had a prerecorded voice and she soon realized the voice was her father’s speaking to her using her name. It brought tears as her dad had passed away a year before.

This beautiful story made me think of two poignant movie scenes and a real story. The first movie scene is from “Peggy Sue got married.” Kathleen Turner played Peggy Sue, who went back in time to avoid marrying her boyfriend who eventually left her. The poignant scene occurs when she answers the phone at her mom and dad’s house and hears her grandmother’s voice, who had died years before her time travel occurred. It gives me chills to write this as she spoke to a departed loved one once again.

The other movie scene is from “Field of Dreams,” with Kevin Costner. After building a baseball field in his corn crop, the now deceased players of the Chicago White Sox, who had been banned for gambling, appear to play. But, the real reason he is inspired to build the field is his father comes to play as a young man and former ballplayer. When he asks his dad for a game of catch, it is a very emotional for me as I used to play catch with my father.

While these movies are dramatically poignant, we came across an old cassette tape of my father-in-law singing. Before he passed in 1997, he used to play guitar and sing in clubs, bar mitzvahs, birthday parties, church, senior living centers, etc. So, we just sat and listened to his crooning, as he performed old standards from the 1940 – 60s. It was a treat for my wife and me. One of my favorite memories is returning from New York at night, with him and my mother-in-law singing old songs like these while riding in the back seat.

Cherish your memories, especially when they unexpectedly pop up. Sometimes, all it takes is a prompt – a song, a movie clip, an old friend, or an old piece of clothing – to flush out the memories. Or, it could be prompted by a simple question about “do you remember….?” I grieved my favorite aunt’s death in a restaurant about two years after she died when my wife asked me one of those simple questions. Remember them well.

A man will never be shot while doing the dishes

Truisms. Sometimes we overlook obvious truths, as we look for deeper enlightenment. Here are a few to sink your teeth into regarding relationships.

  • A man will never be shot while doing the dishes. Even if he has driven his wife past the breaking point, she will at least wait until he finishes to do away with him.
  • The first sign of thinning hair for man is when he spends a day on the beach building sand castles with his kids. He will wonder that night why his scalp hurts so much – it is called sunburn.
  • A woman does not want a man to fix her problem, which is in our nature. She wants him to shut up and listen as she vents. The man’s job is to nod or say “uh-huh” on occasion.
  • A man is officially overweight when his belt buckle is more parallel than perpendicular to the floor.
  • A woman who can laugh at herself is far more desirable than a woman who cannot. The same holds true for a man.
  • Women tend to be in better shape than men as they work at it more. Drive down any road and compare the number of female joggers to male ones.
  • A man who can fix something or who is willing to crawl under a house may have discovered that he is at his most desirability to his spouse. Just do not let the tool belt reveal a fanny crack as you stoop over as that will end said desirability.
  • A woman who can cook will end up with a heavy husband unless she discovers low-carb cooking. See above comment about the belt buckle.
  • That honeymoon period does wane and the love ebbs and flows, so you better like your spouse or significant other as much or more than you love him or her. That will help greatly between the ebbs and flows. The ability to laugh will come in handy.
  • Finally, true equality in marriage will occur when LGBTQ plus couples get divorced at the same rate as heterosexual ones. Doing the dishes will help lessen the divorce propensity for all types of couples.

There are two secrets to good relationships above. The first is that word “laugh.” The second is that word “like.” Both work with all types of marriages and relationships. They will help sand over the rough patches when love and lust hide in the closet for a time. Just don’t let them hide too long. An unexpected hug or caress might get them to wander out for a spell.

None of the above is intended to offend anyone. If I did, please let me know. After thirty-five years of marriage, I have been blessed with a woman who still stands the sight of me and can laugh with me even when she has heard my jokes many times before. I do need to find some new material, though.

I am looking for a hard headed woman – a Valentine’s Day reprise

This post was written about seven years ago. I thought of it when I was recently commenting on how our life partners lift us up and make us better. They complete us..

One of my favorite Cat Stevens (Yusuf) songs is “I’m Looking for a Hard Headed Woman.” I tease my wife (and she returns the favor) about being hard headed. But, if you look at the lyrics of this song, you will note that Stevens is singing about looking for someone who is real and not contrived. He wants someone who is hard headed about being true to herself and seeking the same in her partner.

I’m looking for a hard headed woman,
One who will take me for myself,
And if I find my hard headed woman,
I won’t need nobody else, no, no, no.

I’m looking for a hard headed woman,
One who will make me do my best,
And if I find my hard headed woman
I know the rest of my life will be blessed — yes, yes, yes.

I know a lot of fancy dancers,
People who can glide you on a floor,
They move so smooth but have no answers.
When you ask “Why’d you come here for?”
“I don’t know” “Why?”

I know many fine feathered friends
But their friendliness depends on how you do.
They know many sure fired ways
To find out the one who pays
And how you do.

I’m looking for a hard headed woman,
One who will make me feel so good,
And if I find my hard headed woman,
I know my life will be as it should — yes, yes, yes.

I’m looking for a hard headed woman,
One who will make me do my best,
And if I find my hard headed woman…

Two lines jump out at me in the song, one in the beginning and one in the end. First, he says “one who will take me for myself.” He does not want someone trying to make him into something he is not. Yet, in the final stanza, he sings “one who will make me do my best.”  He wants a partner that will help bring out the best in him. He wants his lover to believe in him and help him do the best he can. To me, that is what having the right life partner is all about.

I have used two other songs to describe my wife of now thirty-five years. In Loggins and Messina’s “Danny’s Song,” also made famous by Anne Murray, they sing in the last stanza “Love a girl who holds the world in a paper cup, drink it up, love her and she’ll bring you luck. And, if you find she helps your mind, you better take her home, don’t you live alone, try to earn what lover’s own.” Holding the world in a paper cup is a terrific metaphor for someone who is genuine, such as my wife.

The other is from Gordon Lightfoot, “Rainy Day People.” He sings “Rainy day people, always seem to know when it’s time to call. Rainy day people don’t talk, they just listen until they’ve heard it all.” My wife is the best of listeners. In fact, she would rather hear you talk about yourself, than the other way around. And, it is raining right now and she is out helping a friend, which is not unusual.

Like Stevens sings about, once he finds the hard headed woman, his life will be blessed. My wife is one who holds the world in a paper cup and knows when it is time to call. Thank goodness she is also hard headed, as well. For I am blessed…and equally hard headed.

Those what if questions

As we age, we sometimes reflect on what might have transpired if something happened differently. It is an interesting exercise, but also makes you ponder what is important to you. With this in mind, here are a few what if questions.

  • What if the girl or boy you felt madly about reciprocated with the same fervor? If that happened, then you may not have met your wonderful spouse and had your terrific children
  • What if you turned down a drink invitation from someone who would become the most important person in your life?.
  • What if you got the job you desperately wanted in another town? Would your career path have dramatically changed?
  • What if you had not changed your mind about leaving a job and went to another employer? Would you have shortchanged yourself?
  • What if you had not said yes to joining a charity group to help people in need? Would you be less open minded about the plight of others?
  • What if you not said no to a road less traveled and did not veer off to explore some wonderful venues?
  • What if you did not mend a fence with an old friend or relative before it was too late?

We are the compilation of our life experiences. Some of those experiences were heart breaking and some were exhilarating. Yet, we benefit from the learning. We benefit from the relationship, even if it ended some time ago. We benefit from the reflection we could have handled something better than we did. We benefit from opportunities as they teach us so much.

We each have loved and lost. We each have had relationships with people who cared either more or less than we cared about them. That is one of time’s oldest stories. Relationships are hard work. Finding and keeping one where you are on the same path forward is also hard, but oh so very rewarding.

Oh, those dating miscues

My wife and children seem to love stories about my dating miscues. I share them to impart an important lesson is to always carry with you a sense of humor. Laughing at yourself, means the world laughs with you. As I have gotten older, I think on some of my miscues, faux pas, etc. in the dating arena.

My loudest miscue occurred at a community theater which was held at a church hall. The fold out chairs were placed on elevated choral risers to give an amphitheater effect. My date and I were on a double-date sitting on the back row, about two feet elevated. After intermission, where we picked up a plastic cup of wine, we proceeded back to our chairs Unbeknownst to me, one of my rear chair legs had moved off the riser. So, when I sipped my wine, it appeared my date was moving forward. To my surprise, I was falling backward to a loud crash. Fortunately, I was alright, but the whole theater and my three companions got a huge laugh later.

Another funny incident happened at this same woman’s parents’ home, which I had to tell her about later. She had moved back home for a time living in a basement apartment in her parent’s house which was outside of the city.. Since she had younger siblings, her mother asked me to leave before the night was over, so as to avoid their seeing me the next morning. Leaving the first night, it was very dark outside and the drive way was near a fence. As I sheepishly opened my car door, a horse in the pasture close by snorted and scared the life out of me. If I had to go, I probably would have. The next day I called her and said “I did not know you had a horse”

Different woman, same city. I was supposed to be on a date with someone who I had gone out with a couple of times in college. I had traveled early with some friends back to the city before classes started and asked her if we could use her car, so my friends could use mine. She said no. After driving thirty minutes to her house whose drive way was diagonally up this hill, I learned my request to use her car was offensive, so she did not want to go. So, in a huff I tried to back down this diagonal drive way. Bad move. I ran off into a rock garden and my car got stuck. While she fumed at me from the window, her father had to tow me off the rock garden.

Blind dates can be a challenge. After moving after college, I met many good friends, many of whom were married. And, what married people like to do is set single people up on blind dates. I met a lot of nice folks on such dates, but chemistry was lacking in many cases. Of course, this goes both ways. My favorite story is about a lunch date who was quite the conversationalist, asking many questions about what I did and liked,. When I said, that is enough about me what do you do? She said I am minister. I did my best not to flinch. I am a Christian and have been a church goer, but meeting someone who is already minister is different than falling in love with someone who becomes a minister. I recognize this is petty, but I felt I would not measure up and lusting after a minister might send me to the bad place.

It is funny how different one can become. If I met the minister later, I would have been more mature and handled it better. My wife and I met at the right time. I had been through dating some folks who were very nice, beyond the blind dates, but was not ready for the one. The irony is my wife asked me for a drink as our first date joining her brother and his wife. Then, she asked her brother to join us. He came alone and they worked out a signal for him to leave if our date was working out. He left and the rest his history.

Laughter is the best medicine. It can salve many funny situations. And, it certainly can remind us of our frailties and shortcomings, then and now.

More on that kindness thing

Following up on my previous post about “fierce kindness,” I think many of us could look to our mothers, fathers, teachers, mentors, etc. as exemplars. A blogging friend lost her mother this month and she said her mother’s final words to her were be kind to others. That is profound and telling advice.

Even with the ravages of Alzheimer’s, my mother and mother-in-law remained kind. Yes, Alzheimer’s can cause a brief temper snap, but it is more due to confusion or as a defense mechanism. Both mothers were heavily involved in outreach for the churches to which they belonged. They helped others through tough times.

At the memory unit of the long tern care facility, the teacher in my mother always showed through. She would help the facilitator by first paying attention, but also in participating and helping others do so. To her, it would be rude to ignore the facilitator who went to great lengths to be there.

One of my late memories of my mother-in-law is we took her to my daughter’s school function in a large hall. I remember her telling one of the mothers, who must have come from work, as she was well dressed, how lovely she looked. This woman just beamed. That was not an unusual occurrence.

Although my father had a drinking problem, he was the kindest of men. He went out of his way to bring food to work for pot luck lunches, usually smoking a turkey or ham. Before his drinking got the best of him, he was heavily involved in our sports programs, coaching, practicing, leading and attending. He had a hearty laugh and was helpful to people in need or friends with homework or other problems.

Let me close with a nickname I got on occasion when I followed my parents’ example and fought for people – Don Quixote. I knew I would fail to save someone from being let go in our matrix managed organization, but on certain occasions, I had to try and fight that windmill. I did help save one (who is still there twelve years later), helped lengthen another’s time, but far more often it was for naught. Yet, invariably I would do my best to help these folks get placed elsewhere. When my boss said I was ruffling some feathers (and actually had a comment placed in my HR file), I noted I would do the same for him. I was kind, but firm. And, foolish on more than one occasion.

Kindness is not a weakness. Helping people is a good idea, even if you are not successful. Just trying means something to people. One thing companies fail to realize is how you treat someone when he or she is forced to exit is important. Fellow employees see it. Clients see it. So, even when tough decisions are made or push back is needed, be kind. Treat people like you want to be treated.

A seventy-one old toaster (and marriage)

It is just a toaster, a Sunbeam T-20 model, which toasts two pieces at a time. Yet, it was purchased and given as a wedding gift in 1949. And, it still works. Two slices of toast are still needed each morning, because Frank and Gloria Witt are still married after seventy-one years.

Per the article by Nicole Brodeur of The Seattle Times called “After 71 years, marriage – and wedding gift – endures,” the 92 year-old Frank and 93 year-old Gloria, are enduring well. A picture accompanying the article reveals Frank, with his World War II Veteran ball cap, and Gloria, and her large smile, placing her head on his shoulder.

They met when Frank ventured to Tacoma after the war to attend college and went to the dentist. Gloria was the dentist’s niece and was working behind the desk. Frank said he made more appointments to find out who she was. Good dental hygiene can be a matchmaker.

Per Brodeur, “It’s not just about a toaster. It’s about marriage, and anything of value. It’s about taking care of something – or someone.” Their son Christopher adds, “‘if you treat something really well, then it will last.'”

Frank added, “‘we try to take care of everything and keep using it. We came from the Depression days. You used everything you could for as long as you could take care of it.'”

Frank said they had only purchased a refrigerator before they got married. Everything else was provided by others. They planned their purchases as well as when they wanted children, five years hence. They ended up with three Victoria (now 66), Christopher (now 62) and Margaret (now 56), but note the spacing in ages, which also looks to be the product of planning.

A vintage Sunbeam toaster like the one they have is worth about $300 today. This one is worth far more than that as a symbol. Yet, my guess is, if it goes before them, they will be practical and just go buy another one.

Shut the front door – common ground can be found

I am not sure when it happened, but “shut the front door” became a funny euphemism for a more colorful saying. I have witnessed it being offered up as an excited way to say the person cannot believe what has just been uttered. I will leave you to your own devices to substitute the more colorful metaphor.

So, with this in mind, please feel free to utter “shut the front door” on these truthful events or comments:

– Novak Djokovic, the top-seeded men’s tennis player in this year’s U.S. Open, was disqualified after accidentally hitting a line judge with a ball during his match. On occasion, tennis players are prone to slam a ball with their racquet when they hit a bad shot. Djokovic hits the ball harder than almost anyone on the planet. The good news is the judge is alright and Djokovic was concerned and contrite after he did it, he apologized afterwards and spoke of his poor judgment later. Common ground after an unfortunate incident.

– Ruth Bader Ginsburg is an American hero, especially for her groundbreaking work for women’s rights. She had a colorful and exemplary career, and her love of opera is renowned. Apparently, she and her conservative justice Antonin Scalia both loved opera, so attended performances together. Common ground can be found if we look for it. Note, it is reported she was allowed to participate in a few operas in full costume, but only in a non-singing background role.

– Joe Biden and John McCain were friends. McCain was renowned for his Senate trips to visit troops or improve relationships abroad. Given McCain’s POW status for five years, where McCain refused to be released unless others were, he was against torture and maltreatment of prisoners of war. Biden accompanied McCain on these trips, along with a few other Senators, and mutual respect and friendship blossomed. Again, common ground can be found if we look for it.

– I read Leo Tolstoy and Mahatma Gandhi used to write letters to each other. During 1909-10, “Gandhi solicited permission to redistribute Tolstoy’s writings among Indians, and Tolstoy in turn was pleased that his ideas were being put into practice. This collection of letters gives the reader an insight into this meeting of two great minds,” per GoodReads. Going one step further, Martin Luther King was inspired by Gandhi’s civil disobedience approach. Common ground over standing up to disenfranchisement.

Shut the front door. Common ground can be found in the unlikeliest of places. I did not mention the line judge’s name, as fans of Djokovic have been less kind. Yet, unlike an infamous politician, he recognized his mistake and made up for it and told his fans to cool their jets.

The Buffalo Soldier – a good read about relationships in tough times

The recipe is simple, but tragic. Mix in a young couple living in Vermont who loses their twin daughters to a terrible flood. Season with a ten-year old African-American foster child that they take in two years later. Understand the couple grieves differently and the husband has a one night affair that produces a pregnancy. Finally, layer in a kind, retired couple across the street, one of whom is a retired history professor who introduces the boy to a book on an African-American regiment called the Buffalo Soldiers. What results is an excellent book by Chris Bohjalian called “The Buffalo Soldier.”

The book is told in first person, through the eyes of five sets of characters. Laura, the young wife, works at a pet shelter. Terry, the husband, is a Vermont state trooper. Alfred is the young boy who has moved from foster home to foster home. Phoebe is the woman who Terry becomes infatuated with and is the expectant mother of his child. And, the Heberts, Paul and Emily, are the retired couple whose view is told together. Bohjalian alternates the first person narrative by chapter which provides perspective.

Alfred becomes fascinated with the Buffalo Soldiers, especially after Paul tells him the Native Americans gave them that name as an honor. To them, the buffalo gave life – food, clothing, shelter – so they revered the animal. This becomes important when Paul and Emily get a horse and ask Alfred to help. Alfred is treated differently by others because there are not many African-Americans in this small town or his school, so the Buffalo Soldiers intrigue him and give him a connection.

The story has many relationships, but the foster family is at the heart of it. As noted therein, losing one child is trying to a family, but losing both of your only children can cause relationships to end. As noted above, people grieve differently and for long periods of time. So, while Alfred helps bring Laura out of her grief, Terry has still not stopped being mad at the world and misses how his relationship with his wife was before the death of the twins.

Each chapter begins with a little paragraph on the Buffalo Soldiers, so we see what Paul and Alfred find so compelling about them. I will stop there so as not to reveal any more of the plot. Give it a read and let me know what you think. Please avoid the comments in case others have already read it.

Eight habits of the heart – a quick review

Recently, I revisited an old post about “The Porch People.” This was a summary of the book called “Little Cliff and the Porch People” by Clifton Taulbert. One of his other books is called “Eight Habits of the Heart.” It’s subtitle adds “Embracing the values that build strong families and communities.” When I met him, he was meeting with executive groups to go over these eight habits.

Below, I will summarize these eight habits and repeat the phrase Taulbert uses on each chapter page. The book is a quick read, so please do not let this summary get in the way of picking up or downloading the book. Each chapter has questions at the end for self-reflection and the end of the book has an outline on how to pass along these habits in small learning groups.

1. Nurturing attitudeIn the community, a nurturing attitude is characterized by unselfish caring, supportiveness, and a willingness to share time.

2 and 3. Dependability and responsibilityWithin the community, dependability is being there for others through all the times of their lives, a steady influence that makes tomorrow a welcome event; and responsibility means showing and encouraging a personal commitment to each task.

4. FriendshipWithin the community, friendship is the habit that binds people together when they take pleasure in each other’s company, listen, laugh, and share good times and bad.

5. Brotherhood or sisterhoodWithin the community, brotherhood or sisterhood is the habit that reaches beyond comfortable relationships to extend a welcome to those who may be different from yourself.

6. High expectationsWithin the community, high expectations involves believing that others can be successful, telling them so, and praising their accomplishments.

7. CourageWithin the community, courage is standing up and doing the right thing, speaking out on behalf of others, and making a commitment to excellence in the face of adversity or the absence of support.

8. Hope Within the community, hope is believing in tomorrow – because you have learned to see with your heart.

Whether you agree with these eight habits, they provide a great foundation to better understand yourself and become a better community citizen. I like the inclusion of high expectations, as we look to lift each other up. A spouse, parent, grandparent, friend or mentor can inspire someone to be better than they would otherwise be, settling for a lesser plateau.

Each of these habits, if practiced and reinforced, will make our communities better. As Gandhi said, a community’s greatness is measured by how it takes care of its least fortunate. Thinking of the classic movie, “It’s a wonderful life,” do we want to live in Bedford Falls or Pottersville? Do we want to emulate George Bailey or Mr. Potter?

As you think of these habits, also consider paying forward good deeds done for you. I recall the story of someone paying for the college education for a young person in poverty. She asked how could she repay him and he said, pay it forward doing the same for someone else. And, as noted under “Nurturing attitude,” if you don’t have money, the gift of time is so very valuable.

What is not said above, is practicing these habits has a psychic income for the person so doing. Being a better person, being a better community citizen, being a friend to many, will be rewarding in and of itself.