Graduation 2020 Style

This was written for my Close to Home column in my local weekly paper. Granduation was held outdoors with grids painted on the football field for families and friends. The graduates were in chairs spaced six feet apart. The ceremony was livestreamed via Current River Broadcasting – the school’s media broadcasting class – for those ot comfortable mixing in a crowd, even though a spaced-out one.

The Doniphan High School graduation ceremony will have happened by the time you read this column. I hope you are looking at lots of graduation photos in these pages. If it didn’t happen because of rain, it will have been rescheduled, again and again…till our seniors have their moments in time. The district has a ‘we’re gonna do this in a safe way no matter WHEN it has to happen’ attitude.

What a different set of memories for this year’s graduating class! They are not paving the way for future classes; they are clearing a path as they go.

My brain has been getting a workout remembering the hoopla surrounding commencement for the Class of ‘70. Here is a mini-view of my recollections.

*Was the ceremony held in the armory? Someone will remember, maybe. Remembering the color of our caps and gowns stumped some of us till a photo revealed the combo was blue.

*Who to walk with? If one was going steady, not a problem. Otherwise, a big deal. For me it was a big deal.

*Who would rebel – opting to dress casually underneath that gown? I was not one. For me it was a dress-up affair all the way. Of major worry was keeping my cap on without having too many bobby pins showing.

*About that cap. We were given strict orders NOT to throw them in the air after we switched the tassels. We ALL rebelled! Perhaps it did detract from decorum, but it was the end of the ceremony. How else to show our unified jubilance and prove we were beyond school rules once and for all?

*After all the photos were taken and families and friends dispersed, there were parties and sleepovers. We worried about grades and credits, sports wins and losses, scholarships and car insurance during our senior years, but we engaged in all the pomp and circumstance of graduation, too: senior photos, the quote beneath it that would define us forever, yearbook signings, announcements, our senior trip to Big Spring (the last school bus ride for some), all the hugs and “Remember you always’” scribbles and whispers.

In an instant it was over. We felt liberated, though some of us didn’t know what we were doing. We DID know what was ahead: work or college or military, and for many a move to somewhere else and marriage. Life was somewhat predictable.

But it certainly isn’t now. COVID-19 has dragged the needle of life across the record of the future for 2020 grads. It’s warped before they get to compose any nostalgic tunes to play back now and then. All these years later, it is even messing with the grads of ‘70. We have postponed our fiftieth class reunion until ??

I wish for the grads of 2020 some hilarious moments of dealing with the small stuff and some carefree fun. With circumstances as they are, I am not sure how liberated they can feel in all this uncertainty. We can help by keeping hope alive and guiding by example as we all struggle in these times. We can show them how to be flexible, optimistic, creative, kind and loving, forgiving of self and others, unafraid to ask for help – and always with a Plan B in a back pocket.

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The Familiar vs The Uncertain

It’s a hoot for me to run across phrases with universality – ones written for now, for me, for my life. Like this one. “…we are all drawn to the familiar in moments of disruption and situations of uncertainty.” Though from a book printed in 2019, it fits these days we are trudging through. Often I sense time sailing by. Not lately. Time is a square clock being kicked through a soggy feed lot.

What do I know about a soggy feedlot, you ask? Enough. Having lived on a farm for a brief time with a son active in high school FFA and jazz band, I had the fun of doing some of his chores when he was on field trips. It was fun for real, but it could be messy, too. One afternoon, still in teaching attire – skirt/sweater/ hose/heels – I stepped out of my shoes into my boots, grabbed a bucket and traipsed back and forth twixt the feed in the barn and the troughs in the lot. Cows are creatures of routine with exceptional hearing and timing. They were lining up at the troughs by the time I reached the gate. The farther into the lot I stomped, the soupier the muck was. I don’t walk fast in optimum conditions, so when I stepped out of one boot grabbed by the swampy mess, I had time to back up and reboot before I lost the other. All the troughs were finally filled to order and surrounded by lots of big cows. As I turned to lock the gate, I saw some stragglers, some little ones who couldn’t find space at the table and looked at me with those hungry longing eyes. Back to the barn for one more bucketful to pour into an unused trough. The way the calves were watching me, I felt confident we could pull it off – sneak food in so they could have some dinner before the big cows caught on. Wrong. Looming ever larger behind the younger ranks were the bigger noisier ones. I had to get out of the way FAST. This time the slurpy muck grabbed BOTH boots and down I went. I made it to the target trough pretty much using one hand, two knees and stockinged feet, emptied the bucket between a couple of curious calves, slung it over the fence and headed to the gate. Not the mud bath of ritzy spas. Little short on aromatic oils and plush bath robes. Thankfully the sprint in the altogether to my front door was without witness, since I was out of options and my clothes.

Where was I going? Oh, yes, to being “drawn to the familiar in moments of disruption and situations of uncertainty,” a thought penned by Tim Schenck in Holy Grounds. During the last couple of months I have leaned on some favorite familiars and re-discovered some former comfort-inducing activities and foods.

*Raisin bran – The last run I personally made to the grocery, I grabbed some. After years without even thinking about it, it’s my breakfast each morning and on every grocery list.

*Coffee’s aroma – Yes, I am drinking it, too, not making it purely to sniff, but it’s the smell that brings me comfort since that was a consistent part of my life long before drinking it was.

*A sunny nap – This one has been harder to come by, but napping on a rug in the warmth of the sun’s rays is a nostalgic nod to the security of my childhood.

*Pepsi – Gotta be cold, poured into a glass with real ice cubes and sipped infrequently since it is full of sugar that my grownup self doesn’t need. It satisfies like none other sitting on the porch after a round of mowing.

*Listening to the radio – Mom always had it on when I was a city kid, listening to big band stuff. Dad listened to Cardinal games, sometimes watching them on TV with the sound turned off, preferring the radio commentary. After settling in Doniphan, we lived several years without an antenna, so without TV. KDFN kept us connected to the outside world and helped us become friends with our new one. Radio rocks.

What familiar favorites are encouraging you these days?

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This Boomer’s Summer Rap

It is Memorial Day 2020. Due to lay-offs and job losses in these pandemic times, more of us might be experiencing the great outdoors on this much-appreciated warm sunny day. The holiday is depicted as the start of the summer sseason though the summer solstice is some days away. Whatever your circumstances and attitude toward the establishment these days, I hope you don’t take for granted our rights and privileges that members of our armed forces died to protect. Ripley Countians have been among them.

Denim derrieres and tie-dyed tees
Remind me of summers of the younger me,
When all was fun, no worries or fears
To cloud the summers of my early years.

Shorts were cutoffs made at home;
Halters and tank tops screamed Coppertone,
Sandals on my feet and radio in hand,
I walked the streets in a different land.

Bikes and skates and kick the can
Kept me on the move and somewhat tan.
SIdewalk gangs played out till dark,
Home wasn’t far from the neighborhood park.

As a boomer I work to stay active now,
And avoid the sun no matter how
White I am at the end of the day,
Sometimes before dark, surprising to say.

Life is good with friends about;
I might move slower and have to shout
So some can hear the fun that’s near.
Grateful for the summer of another year.

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Friend & Foe – Remembering 2017 Flood

Friend and Foe – Remembering 2017
Posted Monday, May 25, 2020, at 7:58 AM
You’ve been here for ages,
Your rages and seduction shared in pages of time.

Rains falling with vengeance,
Increasing the strains on your banks
Along with the pains of change.

Your dark churning water races,
Removing traces of life, love, joy,
Leaving spaces disgracing your allure.

Our brains can’t fathom your destruction –
Physical, emotional,
Individual, communal,
Economical, spiritual.
Hope tied to rejuvenation,
Searching for safety, sanity and
Lemonade.

Ravished:
Seized by force or filled with delight – the Jekyll and Hyde of our Current River.

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All Grown Up?

One chilly damp May afternoon I was amused to find myself reading about coffee from a cool book by Tim Schenck titled Holy Grounds. For me, drinking coffee is hardly habitual. Almost to the end of my sixty-sixth year, I have infinitesimal coffee consumption compared to that of most adults. For more comic relief in my dismal kitchen on that dreary day, I pulled from the back of a bottom pantry shelf a coffee bean / spice grinder still in the box, purchased three or more years ago on an impulsive whim at the same time I purchased a coffee maker. I broke the coffee pot before its first use, thus the reason the grinder was stored away.

Fast forward to 2019. After enjoying coffee from a Keurig and realizing I could savor various flavors without wasting a drop, I purchased one. Several 2020 calendar pages were ripped away before I decided to use it. Having a morning cup is a marvelous coping tool, giving me moments to focus on ways to make my days productive. And I have discovered coffee naps. Not the contradiction it seems. In early afternoon, I wind down with another cup, then set a timer for a 20-minute power nap and wake rested and energized all at the same time!

Not drinking coffee wasn’t a conscious decision. My parents never failed to offer me some when I would pop in to say hello and visit for a few minutes. “Want a cup of coffee?” was always asked and my answer was always “No, thank you” as I opened the fridge hunting for a Diet Coke or the milk to make a glass of chocolate from the Nestle Quik in the cabinet. Years later I realized it wasn’t really an offer of refreshment. They were showing acceptance of and my graduation to the camaraderie of adulthood. It didn’t dawn on me till it was too late to enjoy a cup with either of them. Perhaps in my own mind I remained their kid as long as I drank pop or chocolate milk, a welcome mini-reprieve from being all grown up, which is not always what it’s cracked up to be. They did teach me to make it, though, in their Guardian Service percolator. Those sounds and scents will be forever nostalgic.

On a birthday trip to New Orleans (the birthday that qualified me for AARP membership), I savored cafe au lait with my beignets, and long before I sampled espresso on the banks of the Seine in Paris, making and serving it in an authentic demitasse was part of French class lesson plans late in my classroom tenure. Neither ever became routine in my household, though.

Coffee is in my cupboard now. Keurig is getting a workout. My first bag of coffee beans is on order from Equal Exchange and the coffee bean grinder is out of its box and instructions are read. Coffee drinking has gained a priority status in my household now. Does that mean I am finally all grown up?

Coffee cup

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Turning Twenty

The twenty-first century is maturing.
Time flew through its adolescence.
Will we manage a world hopefully enduring
With love, peace and effervescence?

At its birth we used the word ‘millennial’
And we all survived the Y2 Scare.
But the growing pains seem perennial.
Humanity and AI make quite a pair.

Human connection is digitized.
Lovers’ gazes aren’t face to face;
It’s via devices now romanticized.
The world’s becoming a peculiar place.

Paper is out, screens are in;
Reality is increasingly virtual.
Privacy’s walls are growing thin.
Finding the truth’s a trek unusual.

Will its emerging adulthood provide a break
From time and technology speeding?
Are there lessons for humanity’s sake
We should slow down and start heeding?

We’ll ponder after the countdown and cake –
This century IS turning twenty –
No doubt we’ll have adjustments to make
And wish for more birthdays a’plenty.

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A Time Sublime?

“How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?” This quote by Dr. Seuss inspired the following.

Up at 6, going through the motions.
When skies are bleak and gray,
It’s tough to work up locomotion,
To keep track of the parts of the day.

When noon seems like morning,
Is it cereal I will eat?
Soon, without warning,
I will seldom raise my feet.

Is it naptime or bedtime?
Does it really matter?
Is this a time sublime?
No! I’m just getting fatter.

All this eating and sleeping!
I’m not enough on the move!
A routine I am not keeping.
I need to find a groove!

Covid-19, are you still there?
For sure, how do we know?
Here, there and everywhere…
You seem to stalk us so.

We miss our routine
But guards can’t go down.
Hands must be clean
If we venture to town.

EVERYONE I want to hug
Whether friend or not!
But I don’t want this bug
So stay on your spot.

We’ll learn new ways
To share our love.
We’ll survive these days
With guidance from above.

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Battling the Gray-sky Blues

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I have flipped every switch and turned on every lighted appliance in every room. For some reason Mother Nature has taken a hankerin’ to a dark shade on her beloved sun lamp. Time to redecorate, Ma’am! And time for ME to signal the troops.

When we have too many cloudy, dreary days in a row, covid-19 or no covid-19, this scout declares war on gray-sky blues. Before the lights settled in on the front lines, I gathered equipment used in dire sitations. Among the items in my pack is a full-spectrum daylight bulb that helps, whether scientifically or through the placebo-effect. (Does it matter)? That staved off the enemy while I searched for handy reinforcements.

First, a uniform that might seem to make me a conspicuous target. I donned the brightest boldest tie-dyed tee I own. Motivation booster – imperative in this struggle. There are a lot of us in the boomer-hippie army, so I am sufficiently camouflaged.

Second – the timeless weapon – music. I have to be strategic here. Music too loud might convey a desperate vulnerable situation, which could rally the opponent’s troops. Music too soft or too melancholy or too reminiscent of carefree days could lead to retreat. There is a time for retreat to the bunkers, but not today. Instead I will march to tunes upbeat with a classic rock rhythm yet without a steady stream of too-familiar lyrics. (99.1 KQJN – LP provides great backup). Gotta stay on my toes and alert for any movement by the enemy and strike first. Timing matters in this fight.

A third surprise element in this battle is the housecat, at times unnervingly wary and at other times deceitfully calm. This soldier is emulating Sergeant DaVinci. Fake it till I make it, and curl up in the foxhole for a nap when necessary.

This mission relies on my scouting abilities regardless of the weather accompanying the darkened skies. I am prepared. Bring it on, Mother Nature. I will be here when the sun returns.

“Every light in the house is on
Just in case you ever do get tired of being gone
Every light in the house is on…” Lyrics by Kent Robbins, Recorded by Trace AdkinsIMG_20200424_172645

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Appearances and Assumptions

When I hear the name Shel Silverstein, I think of Where the Sidewalk Ends or A Light in the Attic, and I visualize the poignant cover of The Giving Tree. What I DON’T think of is Playboy contributor and songwriter. A Grammy-award-winning tune recorded by Johnny Cash – “ A Boy Named Sue” – is Silverstein’s!

Appearances and impressions can be misleading. We assign labels mindlessly, putting folks into confining boxes and assuming they stay there, that they WANT to stay there. We might even let those boxes others create for us determine our paths.

Preconceived notions can be hazardous to ourselves and others in these bizarre times of abrupt life changes. Really listen and look at neighbors and really pay attention to self, too. There is a lot of struggling and juggling going on even though the struggles and juggles might not be obvious ones.

Stress can be a trigger of depression for some of us. In the midst of it we don’t readily acknowledge that depression warps reality. These times are chaotic enough but thoughts can go in a snap from ‘what-iffing’ to “when’ another imagined disaster will occur. We might feel fear and sadness and question why and how others seem to carry on in spite of circumstances when we sense an incredibly slippery slope ahead. Those seeming to carry on might sense the same slippery slope but camouflage it better. Managing can be exhausting. So can pretending to be managing.

John Moe, humorist and author of a book entitled “The Hilarity of Depression” and creator of a podcast by the same name, was interviewed recently on the NPR program Fresh Air. He clarified that depression is something he has but it does not define him. A friend of his offered a grand comparison. Having depression is like having a bad back. Time can go by with no problems, perhaps because one learns what to do and not to do to keep both at bay. When flare-ups happen, we pull out our ‘tool kit’ of medications, physical therapy or mental therapy to tackle the pain till it again subsides.

There are ways to manage depression.Talking about it prevents it from growing unseen like a cancer. Keep in touch with your neighbors, for them and you.

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Tribute to a Friend

Jack-of-all-trades, master of none
Didn’t fit this particular one.
When and where did he learn all he knew?
Anything you needed it seemed he could do.

The tasks he tackled at times were grand
But were perfected with his talented hand.
Determined and hard-working, high he set the bar.
To find another you’d have to look far.

Our ‘sweat breaks’ from RRR and KC’s
We’re often filled with hilarity
From his keen observations and unique wit.
Never boring, not one tiny bit.

His knowledge deep, wisdom deeper still,
No one his shoes will be able to fill.
If one looks, there are hints he was near.
Heaven has gained him; he’s no longer here.

A generous spirit, an enduring heart,
Kind, creative, fun-loving and smart.
If you knew him, you’ve stories to tell.
I’m glad I knew him. Rest in peace, Wayne Bell.

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