Family

*Today’s post is written by friend and frequent contributor Debra Dickey. Debra is like family to me! Thank you, Debra, for sticking by me all these years closer than a sister.*

Last evening, I had the rare and lovely opportunity to get together with my favorite great-aunt and one of my delightful cousins over dinner, combined with a wonderful two hour visit.  O????????ur conversation of course began with checking on everyone’s children, asking about their lives and their jobs, bragging over their one great-grandchild, all interspersed with comedic tales of my aunt’s recent surprise birthday card party.

We commiserated and laughed and recounted memories of times, family, and events past.  We recalled fun visits at each other’s homes, vegetable canning stories, traveling up north together with the eight of us in one car–what a hoot!–and our recollections of that summer trip.  We had an emotional conversation about two of the brothers of that generation being part of two wars, our losing one to his war, and the other coming home to live with a devastation that would plague him throughout his life.

We talked about the love that is very visible in our families, and the integrity that abounds within our heritage.  We chuckled over early reputations that came from hard-scrabble upbringings and a rough living that made those good folks as we came to know them, who they were, and how those enigmatic layers added character and such great stories to our family tree, and how truly proud we are to be a part of this renowned family lineage.

We caught up on recent news being celebrated and current situations troubling us, and we ambled back in time with ‘dating’ stories and ‘movie star’ photographs that we love.  As our thoughts understandably turned to our mutual appreciations regarding our families, time and distance just slipped away as if we were all standing at the same point in our lives if only for a moment.  Extraordinary.

Our family can create these moments.  Our family has history.  People in our family take time to share these stories that we pass around.  They remind us of the legacies that we connect with, the ancestries that we define ourselves with, and the shared roots that are the light of our heritance.  Heirlooms of kinship.

As we ended our evening, we were reluctant to go — promising to do it again soon, but not quite knowing when soon may come.

I had such a wonderful time that I could hardly fall asleep. These are people of my heart and my soul, and getting to spend time with them is a bona fide adrenaline rush!  Like all of us sharing the same skin for a while in an exquisite timepiece connection.  Beautiful.

Fun times, fun people, fun family!  All of which I always look forward to, and none of which I would trade for anything.

Learning to teach

A wise woman named Mauzelle who managed the Arkansas Methodist Church archives at Hendrix University once told me, as she tried to share her lunch with me while I researched Methodist women in the Ozarks, that she loves history and wants to do everything she can to preserve it.

“It’s so important, you see, because we are who they were.”

Bethany the professor!

Bethany the professor!

That rings true in my life in many ways. Lately, as I prepare to teach two courses on the college level for the first time, I have caught myself reminiscing about the teachers I remember most, teachers who made a difference in my life, either because of their great teaching abilities or because of their huge capacity to serve and care for students.

I’m thankful for Ms. Prim. In kindergarten she spent what seemed like forever unbraiding my hair while I sobbed uncontrollably one morning after begging my mom to fix my hair like Princess Leia. When I got to school and realized that none of the other girls looked like Princess Leia, I was mortified. Ms. Prim didn’t ask any questions. She just soothed my insecurities and gave me chocolate milk in a carton and graham crackers.

I’m thankful for Mr. Ward who took the time and effort to gather worms and crickets so that in fifth grade, when all things gross are very cool, we had the chance to eat cricket pizza and worm cookies. He made science more fascinating, fun, and whimsical. And I’m thankful for Mr. Smith, one of my high school science teachers, who had a true gift for explaining the most intricate theories in dummy terms. From him, I learned that I will earn my students’ respect not by being their buddy but by being a good teacher.

I’m thankful for Ms. Walters who had an infinite amount of patience with me as I struggled to make an “A” in algebra in eighth grade. I still don’t love math, but I remember that in her class, it wasn’t so bad. She helped me to understand that I can’t infuse my passion for my field into the heart of every single student, but I can certainly equip them to be better writers.

Maggie, in 2012, with the book Mr. Tilley gave to me in 2004

Maggie, in 2012, with the book Mr. Tilley gave to me in 2004

I’m thankful for Mr. Tilley who tolerated my huge crush on him. He was nearing retirement when I had him in class in 7th grade, but I just loved that man. He was dignified, smart, had a Grizzly Adams beard, and collected antiques. What could be cooler than that? When I realized that the antique children’s book I’d chosen to use as a prop in Maggie’s newborn photos was the book he’d given me when I visited him several years after graduating from high school, I cried. Mr. Tilley helped me to understand that being a good person is even more important than being a good teacher. He’s the kind of person I’ll never forget.

And that’s not even half of them.

I could spend hours writing a gratitude list solely pertaining to the educators in my life.

Instead, I think I’ll go work on my own courses. I have some teaching to do.

Day 18–True love

*Big thanks to Betty Gail Jones for sharing her parents’ true love story with us today on Day 18 of our 28 days of love project. She’s living out her own true love story today with her husband, Mickey, and their love is inspirational to all of us who know them.*

The war was in full swing – I mean the big one, World War II.  Clif was stuck on the family farm and spent most days dreaming of just leaving it.  He had graduated from high school at 16 and spent a hard winter in the CCC camp at Blanchard Springs.  There was no money for furthering his education, and being the youngest, he was needed at home.

Some local folks knew the young people were restless so they would throw get togethers on occasion at their homes.  They would push back the furniture and crank up the phonograph and have a dance.  Clif didn’t really like to dance, but he was desperate for the faces of the other local youth who were in his same predicament.

Clif and Jane

Clif and Jane

He was greeted at the front door by Violet, a pretty dark headed gal whom he had known in school.  She smiled and welcomed him.  He really wanted to command her attention, but she was quickly swept to the dance floor by one of the gents who had come from Peace Valley.  He looked around to see who else might be there.  Quickly his eye was drawn to a tall, thin, dark haired girl who seemed to be surrounded by some other girls with whom he was also familiar.  They were locally known as the Knothole Gang.  He decided to put on his best smile and join them.

He found out that the beauty upon whom he had gazed was actually Violet’s little sister, Jane.  She looked up at him with snapping green eyes and quipped, “Well, if it isn’t little Cliffy”.  Though not impressed with her jab, he was intrigued by her spirit and really liked the way she looked in her red dress as she engaged him face to face.

One thing led to another and soon he realized that joining the Navy would be his way off of the farm and a ticket to an education afterward.  He signed up without a thought.  As many of the sailors did, he gave a last stab at romance.  He loved himself and Jane suited him just fine.  With this realization, he popped the question, “Will you marry me?”

Just about as quickly, she answered with a definitive and quick, “No.  I’m too young to be a widow and you might…well, not come back.”  She was immovable on her answer, and he was mad.  So they parted – he going to the South Pacific on a submarine, and she going to Austin, Texas with a cousin to work.

He found many girls willing to follow and befriend lonely sailors. He would have his picture made with them and send them home.  He enjoyed the female company and would hang out with other sailors and their girlfriends, but still, his heart was in Austin, Texas, and he knew that wouldn’t change.

His submarine pulled into the bombed out Pearl Harbor following the catastrophe there and he quickly made up his mind.  He found a store on the Islands that sold diamonds and liked to take the US sailors’ money.  He purchased the prettiest one he could afford and put it in the mail.

Back in the US, Jane was living it up.  She was working in an egg candling factory and then found a job as a waitress.  She had a lot of time to think about her sailor sweetheart and how things had ended badly.  Mail call was announced at her cousin’s house as he produced a small package – a box.  She could see that it had been mailed from Hawaii and couldn’t get it open fast enough.  Reflections of the diamond facets danced in her green eyes.  He truly did love her, and now that she had had time to miss him, she knew she loved him, too.

The war was over, and as Clif stepped on the banks of the US, his spirits were high.  He had come home to claim his bride and to finally attend college to be an engineer – his hopes and dreams were coming true.  Jane waited anxiously for his train to pull into the sleepy little Arkansas town with her soldier and future husband aboard.

They did, indeed, marry and had four children, of whom I am one.  It is with a grateful heart that I tell this story of love and romance.  They have been a model for me and my siblings to follow – each of whom married and have lived life with our best friends and sweethearts totaling 147 years of happy marriages.   They were happily married for 66 years.  Clif has once again sailed away to a distant land and so now they are apart once more – but not for long.  This time he will be waiting for his lovely green eyed girl from Heaven’s shore.  Perhaps she will arrive in a pretty red dress, who knows… and they will never have to be apart again.

Who you are is who they were

Yesterday, I sat in a quiet room for five hours, surrounded by musty old books and newspapers.

As I conducted research at the mecca for Methodism in our state for one of my grad school courses, I was lucky enough to meet two kind women who run that section of the library. They volunteer hours of their time each week to help people like me find what they’re looking for.

Both women offered to make copies for me, gave me a free download of three out-of-print history books, and even tried to convince me to eat what they’d brought for lunch because they thought I needed a snack. They were working and giving out of their hearts and serving in a way that many people don’t want to. One of them has been working in the archives for over 20 years.

Why would someone do that–spend all those days spent amongst old books, scanning documents, placing photos in protective pockets?

The woman who has been there for over 20 years told me, as I was leaving, that she loves history, particularly the history of her faith. She said, as she pointed to her desk, “See, I keep that sign with me. It says, ‘who you are is who they were.’ We can’t forget that. We have to know who they were.”

As I left the library, I felt grateful for the opportunity to learn a little about who she was: a grateful, diligent, hard-working, patient, giving, and passionate woman.

I’m hoping her quote will ring true for me someday.Photo by Phoopla