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.

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

Beyond Lucky

Special thanks to Dr. Teresa Burns Murphy, my former professor and fabulous author, for agreeing to write for the Daily Dose of Gratitude blog.

Beyond Lucky

My maternal grandmother’s name was Emma.  She could shine a sunbeam through my gloomiest thought, sprinkle a soft rain onto my smoldering temper, and splash a dash of magic into my most ordinary day.  She was short on formal education, but long on experience when it came to nurturing young children.  Though I dearly loved my grandmother, I didn’t consider myself fortunate to be placed in her care from the time I was three until I started first grade.  I felt I was missing out on getting an education because everyone else in my family left me behind when they went to school each morning.  It took me years to realize that my grandmother was providing me with the education of a lifetime.

 

Emma Wheelis Norris, 1910-1989, Teresa Burns Murphy's grandmother

While my grandmother read to me, sang to me, and engaged me in conversation, her greatest strengths as an early childhood educator were encouraging me to participate in imaginative play and captivating me with her storytelling.  One of my favorite flights of fancy was pretending to be my grandmother’s dog, an activity she fostered by talking to me in such a friendly voice I was convinced I was her little pet dog.  She’d put my “dog” bowl on the floor, so I could lap water from it.  Then I’d lie down on my special “dog” rug so she could sprinkle some of her good-smelling powder on me “to get rid of the fleas.”  Once I was flea-free, I’d lie still while she ironed the white shirts my father wore to his job as a teacher, the blouses my mother wore to her college classes, and the puffy-sleeved dresses my sister wore to elementary school.  As she ironed, my grandmother regaled me with stories about what her life was like when she went to school in the early twentieth century.

“When I was a little girl,” my grandmother would say, “my hair was so long I could sit on it.  Mama used to take hold of my hair and yank that brush through it so rough I’d cry.”

This was how the story of my grandmother’s school day always began.  Even now I can see my grandmother as a girl – little Emma with tears streaming down her cheeks, sitting in front of a fireplace in a straight-backed wooden chair as her mother pulled her long, sand-colored hair into two thick braids.  When her hair was braided, Emma picked up her lunch bucket and walked out into the cool morning air.  The sun was not yet shining on the flat delta farmlands; only the moon and stars lit the path Emma took through the thickets and briar patches.  Emma’s feet would come down on something that felt like a copperhead snake.  Just as the slithering devil was about to strike her ankle, she’d look down and see a branch fallen from one of the trees that bordered her path.  She breathed a little easier once she got off that path and onto the gravel road that took her to school, but she was still in the dark woods.  As Emma walked along that road, the moon and stars faded into a foggy dawn.  In the mist she saw a panther ahead.  He was sitting by the side of the road, poised and ready to pounce.  She crept closer to him, never once taking her eyes off him, showing him she was not afraid.  When she got close enough to that old panther to look him in the eye, she saw a hollowed-out stump.  She had to stop a minute while her thudding heart slowed down.

In the story my grandmother always made it to school safe and sound, but her telling of the trek there was nonetheless riveting.  Sadly, I also knew how the story of her schooling ended – she didn’t have the opportunity to finish school.

“Get an education,” she always told me.  “Nobody can take it away from you.”

Dr. Teresa Burns Murphy, summer after first grade

I followed my grandmother’s advice and eventually earned a doctorate in education.  Through the process of my formal education, I learned that my grandmother’s methods for educating me were “research-based.”  In fact, many experts in the field have long advocated fostering learning through imaginative play and storytelling – activities America’s public schools have all but abandoned in favor of more highly prescriptive modes of  instruction and an obsession with standardized testing.  Though the political winds of change seem to be shifting in the direction of allowing teachers more autonomy in shaping their students’ learning experiences, the price American children have paid in recent years has been a high one.  All good teachers know there are teachable moments that if missed can never be retrieved.  While I was under her tutelage, my grandmother seized those moments daily.  Having received such a vibrant early education has left me feeling beyond lucky.

Teresa Burns Murphy is the author of a novel, THE SECRET TO FLYING (TigerEye Publications, 2011).  Her short fiction has been published in Gargoyle Magazine, Pulse Literary Journal, Southern Women’s Review, THEMA, and Westview.  She won the 1996 WORDS (Arkansas Literary Society) Award for Fiction and was a finalist for the 2006 Kate Braverman Short Story Prize and the 2009 Janice Farrell Poetry Prize.  Her short story, “Halloween Gift,” was recently published in an anthology of Washington, D.C.-area women’s writing, AMAZING GRACES (Paycock Press, 2012).  To read an excerpt from THE SECRET TO FLYING, visit her website at www.teresaburnsmurphy.com.

Dr. Teresa Burns Murphy, author. Photo by Margaret Murphy.