Mimi’s influence

My former student, Sarah Humway, wrote this post as an essay for English Comp I class last fall. I loved it and asked if she’d allow me to share it with all of you. She agreed. Thank you, Sarah!

The most influential person in my life was not only someone who could pick me up from my lows, but she was also my best friend; that person is my grandmother, or Mimi. When I was around seven, my parents went through a divorce; therefore, I spent a lot of time with all of my grandparents, but My Mimi and I formed an instant bond. I could rely on her to keep my secrets as well as rely on her to always be willing to get ice cream at the drop of a hat. To this day, Mimi has been extremely influential to my personality and character, which I believe is most important gift I could receive from someone with such wisdom. Needless to say, she is my other half; we share common interests, similar physical attributes, and opinions. The list could go on and on.

vinyl-record-player-retro-594388As I said, my parents went through a divorce when I was seven, causing me to spend time with both my maternal and paternal grandparents. Mimi and I have always had a special bond since I was her first grandchild. So, for as long as I can remember, I have felt as though a string were tied to my heart, and the other end tied to hers. We especially enjoy going antique shopping despite the odor of mildew and mothballs that cloaked the dust-filled rooms. Typically, we just find odds and end items, but once, we found a few pieces of a dish set called “Lochs of Scotland,” and we were both captivated; the radiant blue detailing against the porcelain white enchanted our inner beings.

I can remember exactly how the shop looked; it was a split level shop on the main strip of Mountain View, Arkansas with wooden floors that made a high pitch creak every time I took a step, clutter filling every square foot of the shop, and dusty antiques littered the shelves. Now, it has become almost ritualistic to go to antique stores on a quest for the dainty dishes, yet we still aren’t tired of it. Antiquing has to be my most fond memory with Mimi because she taught me that even though things might be old, they are still perfectly functional and that I shouldn’t covet new things.

pexels-photo-1352272Mimi and I not only share hobbies- we also have a passion for ice cream. No matter the day, time, season, issue, or whatever may be the case, we are always down to get ice cream; we typically go to Baskin Robbins in my hometown, Jonesboro. We typically choose Baskin Robbins because they serve the creamiest true ice cream as well as the perfectly seasoned “homemade” fries in town; another factor we enjoy is that we can watch the midday traffic rush by as our entertainment. The smell of freshly cooked french fries and sandwiches is deeply embedded into my brain along with the precious memories of giggling whilst eating a frozen treat. I can remember this was always our secret “don’t tell Mom place.” For example, if she picked me up from school, we would head over and devour ice cream and french fries until we were content.

Mimi and I also share quite a few physical attributes; we are even mistaken as mother and daughter more often than grandmother and granddaughter. Mimi is my father’s mother, but she resembles my mother as well. Mimi and I both stand about 5’5” with the same stature, as in broad shoulders and a long torso. We also have medium length red hair-which she dyes- pale skin, and bright eyes, which is actually extremely uncommon with natural redheads, since both red hair and blue/green eyes are both recessive genes. Our physical similarities have also encouraged our close-knit relationship because it has provided bonding about how we hate the sun, the redhead jokes growing up, and other silly things like that. I can say with confidence my Mimi and I have a closer relationship than most people have with their spouse because we truly connect on every level.

Lastly, Mimi is the type of person to speak from her mistakes and give an honest opinion, therefore I have been motivated by every thing she has supported me on thus far in life because I value her encouraging thoughts and actions. I have learned to treat the janitor with the same amount of respect as the CEO as a result of Mimi. She has taught me how to find my own happiness and “blossom where I was planted” because she understood my struggles throughout junior high and high school. Our relationship isn’t “earth-shattering,” but she has definitely significantly impacted my life for the better by encouraging and showing me to be a headstrong and self sufficient young adult.  I consider Mimi my role model, yet also my best friend, which is the best gift someone could ask for.

pexels-photo-164470Overall, I have expressed my adoration for my grandmother, but she still continues to amaze me with her love and support, therefore I believe she will further impact my life and others around her as well. Mimi is a significant figure in my life because of her devout support for those around her and myself. I will always remember our memories, secret and not secret, because of the immense joy she has brought to my life. At times, I smell someone wearing her perfume (a lavender scented aroma), and I do not feel sad because I’m not with her. I feel inspired to act with compassion as I was taught. I feel it is important to treat others with mercy as if she had engraved it into my soul, yet she simply just showed me the way, and I could not be more grateful.

Dear Nana

Today’s post is by one of my male students who prefers to remain anonymous. 

Dear Nana,

I know I am not the best at showing appreciation to you, but during this time of year thankfulness is a common subject that comes up.  I want you to know that I am very thankful for you.  You have always been there for me.  You have always made sure that I have had everything I need.

I am thankful I got to spend the first four years of my life with you before starting to school.  Not having to go to a babysitter while my parents worked was pretty awesome.  I also enjoyed the camping trips we would go on during the 4th of July.  You were pretty good at making worm beds so my brother and I could go fishing together.

pexels-photo-42428

Photo courtesy of Pexels

You are also a very good cook.  You make the best banana pudding, from scratch, just the way I like it.  I am also thankful for your ability to sew.  You have patched a few knees for me over the years and have sewn a number of patches onto my letterman’s jacket.  We all know my mom can’t sew, and it would have never been done without you.

I also enjoyed all the family time we got to spend together at your house.  You have always opened up your house to others.  You have accepted my friends and treated them just like they were your own grandkids.

Recently, you purchased a camper for me to stay close to my college so I would not have to drive three hours a day.  I really appreciate that you didn’t get mad when I decided living alone was not for me, and we brought the camper back home.  I found driving easier than loneliness.

I am also thankful for your general knowledge of “life.”  You always have good advice to give, even when I didn’t think I needed any.  I have found in the end, Nana is always right!

Thank you for being my Nana!

Love,

Your grandson

Give them their flowers

Today’s beautiful post is written by Latresha Woodruff Johnson, one of the most encouraging people I know. Latresha, thank you for continually pointing me to God and reminding me that there is always hope in Him.

IMG_7283My grandmother was named Jewel, and how fitting, because she always gave us little pearls of wisdom.  She also left us with some funny saying as well, some laced with a few four letter words (I won’t repeat those here), but I will share these:  When talking about my uncle, whom she said couldn’t keep a secret, she would say, “That boy couldn’t hold 5 ounces of water in a 10 gallon bucket with a lid on it,”  or for people who think they know it all, “His head is bigger than yours and he don’t know everything so neither do you.” And this is what she would say when you were “testing her nerves” by doing something she told you not to do: “You don’t believe fat is meat greasy!” 

Momma, as we all affectionately called her, tried to teach us to always be grateful to people even for the small things that they do.  Now here is where I insert a pearl of wisdom from Momma, “Give them their flowers while they are here.”  

 

Latresha Woodruff-Johnson

Latresha Woodruff-Johnson

That’s pretty self explanatory, but I will further break it down. She meant — say thank you to people while they are living on this earth; don’t wait until it ‘s too late.  I  know what it feels like to smell the flowers of gratitude.  I spent 16 years as a television news reporter, and now my job is to keep news reporters informed.  There was one particular reporter who I saw some promise in, but she tended to be very inconsiderate of my time and would show up unannounced.  I am a matter-of-fact person, so I definitely put her in her place, nicely though.  But again I saw promise in her, so whenever she would come by, I gave her pointers on being a great reporter and putting her stories together to make them effective.  I have watched her grow into a seasoned reporter, always thinking some veteran reporters at her TV station really must be spending time mentoring her.  Well, to my surprise, she sent me flowers this week – not literally but figuratively the way momma sent flowers.  I got a card (a nice handwritten one the way I like them–all personal) from this young reporter which read:

 

LaTresha,

You have taught me so much!  Your encouragement and feedback has helped me grow over the last 3 years into the reporter I am today.  I’ll be sending you my work from Cincinnati for more tips!  Thank you for always being so sweet, so accessible and such a joy to work with. I wish you all the best! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year…..

 

I can still smell those flowers… the fragrance will linger in my mind for years to come.  I feel like a proud parent. She is going to one of the largest TV markets, and I, the little ole girl from Mississippi, played a small role in molding someone into not only a master at her craft but into a kinder person. 

 

*So Lisa, I am giving you your flowers and showing you gratitude for making me proud of you and for making me feel that my words to you resonated and made a difference.  

*Bethany, I am showing you gratitude for being that person who isn’t afraid to share with the world your struggles with raw and pure emotion and honesty and allowing us to celebrate your victories and milestones and sharing that beautiful baby girl with us.  I know you, like us all, are a work in progress, but it’s clear GOD has his hands on you.  It’s so nice to be there to watch you continue to evolve.  You are a wonderful person and a woman of GOD, and I love you.  Smell the flowers!!  

*and God,  I try to show you gratitude daily by praying, reading your word and being an elevator person to others instead of a basement person.  Thank you for looking past my faults and seeing my needs.  Thank you for your Grace and Mercy (or as momma would say “thank you for dem old twins  — Grace & Mercy”), they are new everyday.  I love you Lord, I have your flowers, and I know one day you will call me home to heaven, and I will be there with a big bouquet saying,”Here I am Lord; smell your flowers!”

 

LaTresha Woodruff Johnson

Day 20: Dear Grandma

*Today, we have the pleasure of reading a post from fellow blogger Mark Luker. Be sure to check out Mark’s blog!*

Grandma,

Mark Luker grandmaThis is a letter I should have sent you a long, long, time ago, and even though you can no longer remember your life, or who I am, and you can’t even read anymore, I still feel a need to write it because I want to thank you. But in saying thanks to you, I will also be thanking God for your presence in our lives. I want to say thank you for being in my life, for taking care of us kids when our mother couldn’t. I thank you for being willing to be my father and mother – it must have been so hard to do, and I know I didn’t make it easy for you either.

I thank you for always managing to provide wonderful food on the table and for patching up my jeans and making those hand me down clothes somehow fit and look nice. I was too young to notice that you really didn’t have the means to feed us – and I was really too young to see how you trusted God to provide! But I guess I learned how to trust God from your example even though I didn’t know it.

I want to thank you for sacrificing your life, your wants and needs, at a time when you should have been retired and enjoying us like “normal” grandmothers would – from a distance. I am so thankful you never let there be a distance between you and us kids. I need to thank you for each instance when you gave away your own life so that you could care for ours. I need to thank you for not only caring for our physical needs, but also for keeping us focused on God.

You tried so hard to protect us from this world and I was so selfish; I thought you were just being mean. I’m sorry that when it came time for going to church, I was more like Tom Sawyer and gave you so much grief. I am so sorry I forced you to use that willow switch on me, because I know now that it really did hurt you more than it hurt me. But I am so thankful you never gave up on me! I apologize for not taking church seriously at a time when you were trying to keep me before God. I wish you could know how important God is to me now and how he has redeemed me.

I thank you for literally saving my life when I was so close to death- oh I know that you have always said it was God who saved me – and I agree – except now I know that God chose you as an instrument to keep me in this world, and I am so thankful that you answered his call. I remember all those times when I tried to sneak out the front door with nothing but my t-shirt on, with sleeves rolled up like the “cool” kids. I could never quite get past your door, could I?

Looking back, I remember how you would say that you wanted me to remember that God saw me before anyone in the world did, and that was all that mattered. I want to thank you for teaching me things that I ended up using in raising my own daughter – except I haven’t been as good at it as you were. I wish you could see her today, Grandma – using the very same things you taught me as she serves God herself. I see a lot of you and hear you speaking to me at church when I see her.

I thank you, Grandma, for showing us what serving God really means. I want you to know that all those times of struggling were not in vain. I need you to know that you can rest now from all the time you’ve spent in this world. Please know that you have served us well; now it’s time for you to have peace and look forward to going home. I know God is going to reward you in heaven for all the great work you have done on earth!

I love you.

Day 7: Dear women

*Thanks to my friend Kenton Adler (AKA Ken Doll) for utilizing his wit while writing this heartfelt post for Day 7 of the Dear Gratitude project this November.*

Dear Women,

Thank you.  Thank you VERY much.  I am not kidding.  I am so thankful for women; it’s kind of ridiculous.

Obviously, my mother was a woman.  I thank her for my very existence.  That’s a given I guess.  I also thank her for exposing me to so many things, like the car trip with her and my dad to South Dakota the summer between second and third grade in 1964.  I got to see the Great Plains, Dinosaur Park, Mt. Rushmore, and then we went down through Wyoming and Colorado where I saw the Rockies,  a volcano in New Mexico, and a different kind of desolation in north Texas.  I thank her for the trip to New York City around my 13th birthday, when we went up in the Empire State building, and later I got a copy of “Yellow Submarine.”  I thank her for letting me sit in the kitchen and play the latest Beatles song I’d learned on guitar while she cooked dinner after a long day at work. I’m thankful for the spring car trip with her and my brother in 1974 when we drove all over New Mexico and down to El Paso and Juarez.  My whole life she took me to parties with artists and crafts people from around the world.  She taught me manners, which I occasionally use, and a thing or two about good taste.  I thank her for putting me up on trips to Dallas in the early 1980s when she was living there.  Later in the ‘80s she sent me an airline ticket to San Francisco that accompanied tickets to the San Francisco Opera to see all four nights of Wagner’s “Ring Cycle” in one week.  She could be a little bit annoying at times because she liked to have everything her way, but overall she introduced me to a lot of remarkable things that a lot of other people I knew never experienced as I did growing up.  I thank her for talking frankly with me about her  terminal cancer when I was taking a class on death and dying in 1986.  She died at the age of 52 in 1988.  I’m nearly 58 now, and that weirds me out a little bit.

I’m thankful for my grandmother, Mam Ma Deaton.  She was my mom’s mom, and she taught me how to drink coffee.  We would often be the first ones up when I stayed at her house sometimes on weekends.  She was raised a farm girl and got up real early.  My coffee was mostly milk and sugar, with just enough coffee to turn it a little brown.  She would play country gospel on the radio, or sometimes sing herself as she fried sausage or bacon, or made eggs for breakfast.  She gave me my early love for harmony and fried food.  I’m also thankful for her teaching me about gardening by handing me a little shovel and letting me work with her in the dirt while she planted flowers and vegetables.  She let me go off and play in the woods down the street from her house, and she would hand me a hatchet and let me chop on an old stump on the side of the house until I was worn out.  Sometimes she would make me get a switch and would put a few welts on my calves.  I usually deserved it, and it made me a terrific dancer.  I thank her for nickels to take up to Mrs. Walker’s store, for MANY stories and songs and for unconditional love for the short time I knew her.  She died at the age of 60 in 1967.

I want to say thank you for every single girl I ever loved.  From kindergarten on, I always loved somebody.  I never really bought the whole, “Girls have Cooties,” thing.  Thanks to the little girl across the street who let me kiss her, even though my baseball cap kept whacking her in the forehead.   Thanks to the girl in third grade who didn’t die of embarrassment when I wrote a song about her and got the local radio station to record it and play it on the air.  She let me kiss her by the apartments up the street. Thank you to the little girl who liked me when we moved to Colorado, and let me walk her home from school and tell her about Batman and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. with my funny Arkansas accent.  I never did get to kiss her, and that bothers me a little, but I did sing songs to her over the phone.  I am thankful for my high school girlfriend who was a great kisser.   I’m even grateful for the girls who didn’t love me back, for whatever reason.  All of those I wrote love notes to that didn’t get answered, or those who already had a date to the dance, those who had to wash their hair on nights when they could have gone out with me, or those who met someone else and went away.  I learned something from every one of them.  Or at the very least had the pleasure of seeing them and appreciating whatever the beautiful thing about them was that fascinated me in the first place.  Thank you to every girl who ever kissed me in a car, or her front porch, or on the couch,  in the middle of a bridge, on a mountain pass, or out in the woods by the river, or wherever else we might have had a romantic moment or two.  To every woman who ever inspired a poem or a song to work its way out of me, whether happy or sad, I thank you.

I spent a year in 1978 and 1979 living on an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean.  There were no women there except for an occasional visitor.  I’m thankful for the singer from a USO band that had to stay over an extra night because of a mechanical problem on the transport plane.  She talked to me for over an hour at the radio station, just sitting on the floor in the hall outside the studio.  It was my birthday.  I’m also thankful for the governor’s administrative assistant on another island off the coast of Indonesia.  She was Australian, looked a bit like Olivia Newton John with dark hair, and even though she didn’t drag me off in the bushes, she told her friend that she wanted to.  That was quite a nice compliment.  Not being around women most of the time was really strange.  Not just because of the obvious, but because there was no feminine influence of any kind out there.  It made me appreciate even more the softness, or the different kind of strength, the emotion, and the nice smells that women bring to the table. Thanks for the nice smell that T.J. brought to the table after I got back to the U.S. and was out at a bar one night with my buddies.  She smelled really great.  It got to where I could find something wonderful about just about every woman met after that year.  Thanks to every woman who never realized that I appreciated some aspect of her being and just WAS.  Like the beautiful blonde girl on The Tube in London in 1989 who smiled at me when I gave up my seat to an older woman carrying shopping bags.  That girl validated what my mother had taught me.

Thank you especially to my beautiful, brilliant and talented wife who finally found me when I was about 48 and eventually agreed to marry me and be around all the time.  I enjoy looking at her pretty face, appreciate her wit, and relish her excellent ideas which inspire me to try harder to do cool things.  I enjoy her cooking, and her musical talent, and I am extremely thankful for her skills as a grammarian and editor.  She’s the world’s greatest traveling companion and musigator.  She’s off right now getting an advanced degree, and I will be thankful when she comes home and is able to keep me in the manner to which I would like to become accustomed.

I could go on all day.  I’ve known hundreds, or more likely thousands of women over the years.  Some friends, some fellow students, some co-workers, some bosses, some relatives, and finally one who is my wife.  I am thankful for every single one of you and what you brought to enrich my life.

Seriously.  Thanks.

Kenton

Godmothers

Godmother

Henry with his godmother and mother after his christening

*Thank you, Henry Petty, for serving as today’s guest contributor!”

My Godmother, Dr. Estrella Aesjo, had a major influence on me and my cousin (her daughter).  She is a pediatrician in Southern California, but she exhibited such warmth and kindness that it resonated in my being.  Like myself, she is also Filipino.  I guess us Filipinos are made that way.  I also have her to thank for having me Christened and Baptized as a Catholic.  While It took 31 years to fulfill the requirements to become fully Catholic, I thank her for influencing my grandma, who was predominantly Baptist, to go the Catholic way.  Not knocking Baptists, but it means a lot that she had a vested interest in my faith as an infant.

While I write to her and my Godfather regularly, and she has friended me on Facebook, I haven’t actually “spoken” with her since the last time I saw her when me and grandma visited there in 1992-3ish.  There was even a time when I almost was adopted by her, but luckily it never came to that.  I must believe that if I, God forbid, lost everything and had no place to turn, she would still take me in with open arms, or genuinely tell me,”You’re a grown A man – here’s the classifieds, you can crash here while you’re figuring that out.”

So let’s remember the moms around this time, of course, but also remember the other “mother figures” in our lives that aren’t just mommies by bloodline.

Day 19–Love is a drug

Henry with his love, Shannon

Henry with his love, Shannon

*A big thank you to Henry Petty for stepping in today as the guest writer for the “28 days of love” project. Henry is one of the most loving people I know; so grateful to call him a friend! Check out his blog.*

Love is a drug – it’s euphoric, and I give and receive lots of it.

I’m grateful for those who love me because without love, there would be no reason to live.

I’m grateful that love is free of charge.  You can’t buy love.  I can’t pay my doctors to love me; they’re only there to help me and because I pay them for their time.  I can’t pay my physical therapist to love me. Although the massages are amazing, there are no hugs or endearing soulful connections.  While it feels great at the time, and is quite physically helpful, when I walk out that door, that is it.

Arguably, chocolate is about as close as one can get to buying that euphoric feeling of love, but even then it falls short of opening those floodgates to allow the love to pour in and nearly drown me.

My grandma raised me, and she is a person who gave me unconditional love.  She loved me no matter what I did or what interests I had – I was and always will be “Grandma’s peter punk”  (I still don’t know where that name came from). It was an overwhelming feeling, a lot of times taken for granted, to be unconditionally loved by someone.  I was always in good hands, and I always reciprocated that love.  I’ve encountered other people in my life that came very very close to that unconditional love, but there’s something about Grandma that is unexplained.  Not to knock anyone I’ve known since then, as I am also grateful for their love.

I’ve given love to many and received love from many – neither costing a penny.  I’m always awkward when talking business with friends, because I don’t want love to override a good deal or for them to feel I’m taking advantage of their friendship.

A friend once gave me a “get well card” and wrote “your Grandma’s love is powerful, but not touching the surface of the love of God. “  I have experienced overwhelming love while in deep prayer, and it has brought me to tears.

While I am a frugal person – love is always something that has been free of charge and thus readily available to me.  The feeling of knowing that I am good enough to be loved and to give love to others is completely awesome.

And it doesn’t cost a penny.