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Remembering Where You Come From

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Graduation signifies the ending of one chapter and the beginning of another.

The first time I was totally aware of the meaning of that statement was when I graduated from high school.

June 5, 1963 came so quickly. It didn’t seem possible our graduation day had arrived. But there we were marching across the high school track to the football field, through the junior honor guard, walking past our parents seated in rented wooden folding chairs , marching in time to the processional played by the high school band.

As we filed onto the stage built just for the graduation ceremony, we were happy everything was going as we had rehearsed it. After hearing stories of girls at past graduations walking right out of their shoes when heels got stuck in the grass, my friends and I were happy to hit the stage with our high heels still intact.

The sign to be seated was given and the class went silent. Even the rowdy students were on their best behavior; no one wanting to embarrass themselves in front of school officials, their parents, and friends.

Suddenly it became real. High school days were over. We were really graduating. A chapter of our life was closing, never to be reopened.

The graduation ceremony included the usual speakers reminding us of the highlights of our four years at Norwood High School and describing what our futures might hold. All too soon, we were standing one row at a time, walking across the stage when our name was called to receive our diplomas from the Board of Education president.

Then standing as a class, we completed our last official act, switched our tassels and it was over.

Afterwards, happy graduates milled around, smiling, and laughing. Flashbulbs flashed as cameras captured images of graduates posing with family and friends. Parents were proud and some of our mothers cried. We didn’t understand their tears.

Looking back on that night, the keynote speaker’s comments remain a blur. I wish I had paid more attention to his advice. Bet his talk shared some wisdom that might have helped me somewhere along my way.

Flash forward to 1986 when the keynote talk was my responsibility. The ceremony was no longer held on the high school football field. An increase in graduating class sizes had changed the venue several times; otherwise the format hadn’t changed in the twenty-three years since my graduation. The only obvious changes had transpired in my life. Marriage, motherhood, building a career, and trying to live a good life had kept me busy.

I wrote and rewrote that speech, struggling for weeks to find the right words to inspire and offer helpful advice to the Class of 1986. In the back of my mind, I wondered if anyone would be listening. Would the graduates be more aware than I had been? Would they know a most important chapter in their lives was ending?

Would they understand that after high school, classmates go their separate ways, scattering into the next chapter of their lives; some to college, some to the military, some moving away while others stayed close to home? Classmates marry, have families. Some are never seen again. Never return for class reunions. Some never step foot in their old high school ever again.

As president of the board of education, I had the honor of awarding diplomas to the Class of 1986. While serving on the board, I also had the pleasure of presenting both of my daughters with their diplomas. What special memories.

Another big jump forward to May 25, 2017 when my husband and I attended our granddaughter’s high school graduation at Deer Park High School. The graduation once again, came too quickly. It seemed our granddaughter went from five to eighteen at warp speed.

Watching her sing in the Senior Chorus at the beginning of the ceremony, I cried as they sang For Good, a beautiful poignant song from the Broadway musical Wicked—the untold story of the Witches of Oz. It fit the moment perfectly.

“It well may be

That we will never meet again

In this lifetime

So let me say before we part

So much of me

Is made of what I learned from you

You’ll be with me

Like a handprint on my heart

And now whatever way our stories end

I know you have re-written mine

By being my friend:

Like a ship blown from its mooring

By a wind off the sea

Like a seed dropped by a skybird

In a distant wood

Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?

But because I knew you: have been changed for good.

After the song, the graduation format unfolded with the usual components; the same familiar words. This time I listened more intently to what the speakers were saying. I find the older I get, the better I listen.

I especially related to the words of the keynote speaker and hoped the young people on the stage were listening. Richie Schueler, a proud native of Deer Park and Class of 1996 graduate of Deer Park High School had an impressive life resume. He was an engaging young man who spoke honest, insightful, and inspirational words. It was obvious he had immense pride in his Deer Park roots and attributed the foundation of his life to the community he grew up in. He seemed to be telling my high school story.

His words about the advantages of small high schools; having the opportunity to know everyone in the class, or maybe even the whole school, resonated with me and my memories of Norwood High School.

He asked the 2017 grads to take a look around at their classmates, to recognize after thirteen years together their life was about to change drastically. That night might be the last time they would ever be together as a class. He encouraged them to follow their passion, work hard, and never forget where they were from, and to proudly go and show the world just what a kid from Deer Park could do with their life. He then closed with their traditional school motto: It’s always a great day to be a Wildcat!

Then standing as a class, they completed their last official act. All together, they switched their tassels, marched out with big smiles on their faces and it was over.

Once again, I watched as graduates happily hugged their family and friends, and posed for lots of photos, this time photos were taken primarily with cell phones. Hugging my granddaughter, I told her we were so proud of her and her many accomplishments, but also proud of her eagerness to begin college, her next chapter. Happy she was so excited to be on her way to her future.

I sought out the keynote speaker to offer my congratulations on his wonderful words. As he thanked me, he laughed saying, “That was the hardest speech I ever had to write. I really struggled.”

“You ever have to do one of those talks?” Laughing, I answered yes and told him of my own difficulties to find just the right words. We both agreed it had been a proud moment in our lives.

Norwood and Deer Park are similar; both small schools, both filled with tons of traditions. How exciting to think of the graduations happening all across the nation with millions of graduates, parents and grandparents experiencing similar emotions, going through comparable traditions at their respective high schools.

Traditions tend to create a common bond among fellow classmates because high school is a special time. Classmates together in the same place learning to take baby steps to discover who they are, learning to make their own decisions, discovering new interests, learning to trust, and beginning to find their way.

Life after high school takes us in different directions, down different paths. Experiences after high school help polish and hone one’s goals, one’s skills, and one’s determination to succeed. Smoothing out the rough edges while we are figuring out what kind of person we truly want to become. Those experiences help to define our life.

High school graduation has always been a significant moment. As graduates everywhere close their first chapter and get ready to embark on an exciting next step, I hope they remember the foundation they received from the schools and communities they grew up in.

The carefree days before I graduated from Norwood High School remain inside me. Those years were some of the best years of my life. They helped prepare me to think for myself and to maintain an open mind as I ventured into a very diverse, complex world.

Reflecting on my life, three things stand out. Remembering who I am, where I come from, and what I believe.

Wishing all 2017 grads good luck in their future endeavors and hoping they will influence their world with good by remembering where they come from.

Ending on a Positive Note: The graduation photos and posts all over Facebook for the last few weeks have energized my spirit; given me new hope for the future of this country, this world. A new batch of bright, energized young people beginning their next chapter is cause for celebration.

 

Timing is Everything

“Everything is hard before it is easy.” -Goethe-

Life has been a little crazy lately, so my blog is short this week.

Tom and I are approaching our two-year anniversary of living with less. We are convinced we made the right decision to downsize and get rid of many of our things.

We don’t miss anything that is gone. We sold some, gave away more, and kept enough to fill our small two-bedroom apartment. We have what we need. We know we are where we belong. Our building is filled with nice people just like us, trying to grow old gracefully.

Yesterday, I was reminded our lifestyle is not for everyone. We made a choice that is working very well for us but obviously is not so easy for other people.

At the doctor’s office yesterday, I had a brief conversation with a gentleman struggling to find answers for a dilemma in his life.  For once, I didn’t initiate the conversation. He just started telling me he was trying to convince his wife to move from their house to a condo. He commented, “It is becoming difficult to keep up with my yard work. I’m ready to downsize.”

His comments were quite familiar. Tom and I had that conversation about 2 ½ years ago. Listening to this fellow, I’m just grateful we had arrived at the same place at the same time.

This guy was ready to move to the next level and his wife wasn’t. He wanted simple. His wife liked their current lifestyle. My heart went out to them.

As I listened to him listing pros and cons, I realized he was just speaking aloud a conversation that been swirling in his mind for some time. When he asked my opinion, I told him the truth as I knew it. “You and your wife will know when the time is right.”

When he asked my advice, I replied carefully, “Take it slow, be honest, talk (not argue), and treat each other with respect.” Making rash decisions never seem to work out well.

Hopefully, he and his wife will listen to each other and find a compromise that will work in their life. Life is hard, but treating the person you love with respect and kindness is always the right thing to do.

Ending on a Positive Note: My heart is full of gratitude that Tom and I are almost always on the same wavelength. I am reminded that much of life is working through the small details, but the right timing helps.

To Have and To Hold

 

Wedding DayTom and I have been married fifty-three years today. Taking our vows in front of God, family, and friends on that balmy, rainy Saturday night in 1964 still glows brightly in my memory.

Tom had a head full of hair, twinkling brown eyes, and was a few pounds lighter than today. I wore a pill-box veil and a size eight wedding gown that my mother had to take it in at the waist. It is now carefully folded in my cedar chest; never to be worn again.

Remembering our wedding vows makes me reflect on how young we were in March 1964. Even though we loved each other and were confident we had chosen wisely, what had we really known about spending the rest of our life together?

I, Agnes, take you, Tom, to be my lawful wedding husband…
Fifty-three years ago, that word husband was brand new. At that point, my experience of marriage was limited to choosing the perfect white dress, making an appointment to get my hair done, being excited about picking out new furniture, and putting gifts away in the apartment that was to be our first home. Oh, and hoping Tom would like my cooking.

To have and to hold from this day forward…
That phrase sounded so romantic. Our love seemed so complete. We walked down the aisle. Tom carried me over the threshold of our new home, a feat he certainly couldn’t do today. I was clueless as to what life would be like along the way to spending 19,345 days together. Our love was just so new, I had no idea how much stronger it would need to be to survive what was to come.

For better, for worse…
I thought our life would be all “for better” days. I couldn’t have even imagined the “for worse” days in front of us. Days of having to live with bad decisions and learning to make the best of whatever came our way.

Struggling to understand and live with the loss of so many loved ones; parents, brothers, and close friends who were like family. I certainly could never have fathomed the unbearable pain of losing one of our children.

Our youth made it hard to comprehend that life could not be perfectly planned. We still had to learn we were not in control.

For richer, for poorer…
We couldn’t imagine the hardships that awaited us, the sacrifices we would have to make. We thought if we worked hard and planned wisely, we would always have more money than bills.

The only thing I did know for sure…when we had children, we would love them with all our hearts. Wouldn’t matter if they were girls or boys, we knew they would be the most important part of our lives. We wanted four, but the doctor stopped us at two. God blessed us beyond measure with two beautiful, bright, funny, kind, and loving daughters who were more than enough. We felt complete. However, when our sweet granddaughters arrived, we discovered our hearts could expand with more love, a love that melted into pure joy.

In sickness and in health…
We weren’t thinking of living with heart attacks and strokes. Our young minds had never even heard of cancer, Parkinson’s, or Alzheimer’s; unknown diseases that would impact our future in unbelievable ways.

To love and to cherish…
As we stood before the minister vowing to love and cherish, we thought our love was perfect, as we shared common goals and seemed to be on the same wavelength. How could we have realized our thinking could be so different when we starting sharing one another’s space? We never envisioned being angry over insignificant things like taking out the garbage or the way we organized the garage.

Until death do us part…
Planning to grow old together, we were two young kids who had not lived long enough to have experienced life’s uncertainty, pain, or loss. Death was for really old people and seemed so far away.

This is my solemn vow…
Our life has been a good one, but not without obstacles and trials along the way. Married life starts out on a high note. With a little luck couples mature at the same time and enjoy a long life together.

Our vows were sacred and we meant them to last forever. Although marriage was harder than we ever dreamed, we did grow into one union, promising never to leave or forsake the other. Though our life has been tough at times we are grateful for mostly “for better” days.

Never considering ourselves poor, but certainly not rich, we prefer to use my mother’s definition as a measure. “No one is ever poor if they are surrounded by people who love them.” That perception has given us more riches than we could ever have dreamed possible. Our lives have been all about family, belonging to each other, and to a God that continues to offer strength, guidance, and faithfulness.

Has health turned to sickness? Today, the boundaries of our world together are defined by our health issues. Tom is still the same man I fell in love with so many years ago, but our illnesses have taken their toll on both of us. We struggle to do things we used to take for granted. We walk like those little Weebles; you know the little wooden people that wobble but never fall down, at least not lately.

Tom’s brown eyes still twinkle when he makes me laugh.  Holding his hand still, makes me feel safe and warm inside. He still makes me feel loved. The oldest in our families now, we talk about our myriads of memories, a lot. Memories serving as the fabric that weaves our happy life together.

People occasionally ask for our secret. How did we stay married so long when many others gave up? Our answer is simple. We took vows; honored our commitments. It was the right thing to do. We loved each other enough to work at making it last. But, at this stage of comfortable love, I tease him that maybe I just have too many years of training invested in him to start over.

Just as we vowed, we are still holding on, still together, and just as we planned growing old together. I believe God knew we belonged together and that’s why He gave us the forever kind of love.

Ending on a Positive Note: Today is a special day, but in many ways, it’s just another day; an ordinary day. We are so grateful for each other and thank God for blessing us with fifty-three years of wonderful ordinary days.

The Old Folks at Home

Do any of you watch reality shows? I’ve never liked them much. They feel too scripted and are about as far from reality as one can get. Although a fan of Dancing with the Stars, which really doesn’t count as it seems more of a competition than a reality show. Besides, I enjoy Tom Bergeron’s quick wit.

Seriously, it is unbelievable how many reality shows are on TV. Trying to count them last night, I ran out of fingers and toes. I’ve heard reality shows are cheaper to produce and make a boatload of money for the networks. I guess that explains it.

When Tom gets bored watching TV, he starts flipping channels and sometimes stops on a reality show. That’s one reason I keep books close at hand. When he starts to wander through the TV channels, I find it easier to pick up my book or my Kindle than to have a “what in the world are you watching” conversation.

For several years, I have told him we should do our own reality show. There has to be people out there just silly enough to watch it. I truly think my idea is the only area the networks have missed.

I even have a suggestion for a title for the show, The Old Folks at Home. My reality show idea would cost almost nothing. Simply place an (unmanned) camera behind our TV pointed out to capture both Tom and I sitting in our recliners every night.  The camera could remain in a fixed position as we don’t move much.

Since the remote is always in Tom’s hand, an exciting moment might be when Tom wakes with a start and drops the remote between his chair and the love seat. Watching him trying to retrieve the remote is sure to be good for a few laughs.

Another camera could be set up in our kitchen to capture electrifying moments such what snack would win out for the night. On second thought, that’s probably not a great idea. Our kitchen is about the size of a postage stamp which makes it difficult for two people to be in that room together (comfortably), so adding a camera might prove hazardous to our health.

However, the most entertaining spots could possibly be found in the highly intelligent conversations taking place. An example of recent chats.

Overheard while watching Family Feud:

Me: “Did you see that blonde’s name tag?  It says, Doo Dah.”

Tom: “Doo-da as in Camptown Races?”

Me: “Yeah.”

Tom: “Camptown ladies sing this song, Doo-da, Doo-da, Camptown racetrack’s five miles long, Oh, gonna run all night, gonna run all day. Bet my money on a bob-tailed nag, somebody bet on the bay.” 

Me: Sing it out, hon, you’re on a roll.

A few minutes later during a commercial.

Tom: “What was the name of that singer?”

Me: “Which singer would that be?”

Tom: “You know that guy with the big hit from a few years ago?”

Me: “Country singer? Pop singer? Lots of choices out there, babe. How about a clue.”

Tom: “He also acts once in a while.”

Me: “Tell me a movie he was in?”

Tom: “I think he was in that one we watched a couple of nights ago.”

Me: “Okay, let’s try another route. What made you think of this singer?”

No answer. Commercial is over. Tom is back to watching his show. Meanwhile, I am wracking my brain to come up with an answer to his original question.

I guess old folks have to amuse themselves in some fashion, so our version of Trivial Pursuit might offer some hysterical or confusing moments for people tuning in to watch The Old Folks at Home.

By the way, I would be happy to share the name of the singer, but after going a couple of rounds of Old Folks Trivial Pursuit with my favorite guy, I really don’t remember.

No million dollar salaries for us, just give us free cable.

Ending on a Positive Note: Another cost saver, there would be no need to pay writers to prepare scripts. We could just wing it. You really couldn’t make this stuff up anyway.

Soaring in Red Feathers

My youngest granddaughter, Jessica, just turned 12 years old. The years since we welcomed her into our hearts have literally flow by. Some things have not changed; she is still a sweet little blonde-headed girl with big blue eyes and a million dollar smile.

Last night, watching Jessica perform beautifully at her dance recital, my mind wandered back to her first ever recital when she was three years old. The night before on the phone, I told Jessica I couldn’t wait to see her dance and she replied excitedly, “Ma, I’m so easy to find because I’ll be the one in red feathers!”

In reality, Jessica was one of eight little girls in red feathers, but she was indeed easy to find because even at three, my “Little Bit” knew every step of her dance routine. Her smiling face and big blue eyes never wavered from the audience. She loved every minute of it and couldn’t wait to do it again, and again, and again.

She loved the energy and excitement of dancing. Even at such an early age, Jessica had an intense concentration on learning new skills to make her a better dancer. Over the years, she was never discouraged that learning to do a new step, a cartwheel or the splits didn’t happen on the first try. She seemed to understand that practice makes perfect and had accepted the fact she would master the skills through hard work and commitment.

But, as her flexibility, agility and coordination increased so did her expressive, musical and motor skills. Over the years, Jessica has participated in activities such as cheerleading, softball and soccer, but keeps coming back to music and dance. Experts will tell you that dance can benefit a child’s capacity to pay attention, particularly in reading; and learn new information because it stimulates the brain’s visual, auditory and memory centers.

The experts must be right because Jessica is an honor student; filled with curiosity, loves to read and write. Several years ago, when putting together her Christmas list, Jessica asked for “an overhead projector!” Santa was able to find one and she used that projector to teach school, in her bedroom, until the bulb burned out. At 12-years of age, her career of choice is to become a teacher.

Thank goodness, she and her big sister, Jenna, have always enjoyed coming to Ma’s house. A corner of our family room was filled with lots of books, puzzles and toys that had belonged to their mom and their aunt Sherry. What fun we have had reading books, dancing and singing, working puzzles and playing pretend with the Fischer Price house, farm and schoolhouse; performing puppet shows for grandpa and laughing hysterically when he drifted off to sleep and did his famous snoring symphony. I hope they never outgrow the need for Ma (that’s me).

Whether Jess is defying gravity as she soars through the air at a dance completion or just sitting quietly reading her favorite book, turning 12 is a big milestone in her life. Within her grasp lies her future and the fulfillment of all her dreams, some of which she hasn’t even dreamed yet. She is a kind, caring person with a gift of making people laugh. I am so proud of the person she is at this stage of her life and will watch with love as she grows stronger and more confident in the years to come.

Ending on a Positive Note: I am so grateful for the love and joy that Jessica has brought into my life. I love her with all my heart and pray her future will be filled with many happy and joyful moments.

Special Ordinary Days

Wedding DayToday is my wedding anniversary; a day for celebrating forty-nine years spent with my husband and best friend. A special day, but in some ways it’s just another day; an ordinary day.

I wouldn’t describe Tom as a big romantic type of guy, but throughout the years he has totally surprised me with some special gifts. While those gifts were great, they are not necessarily proof he loves me. He proves he loves me by the way he treats me on the ordinary days. True love shared in small ways, every single day.

Tom shows he loves me when he helps with the laundry or goes to the grocery store (a job he has done for many years simply because he knows I hate it); when he allows me to watch a TV show or movie he isn’t interested in, just so we can be together. He listens, which is huge! Seriously, have you ever heard how much I talk?

Tom gets excited about things that excite me. He believes in me and has always been supportive of my many projects. He respects women. He respects me. He respects our daughters (and our granddaughters); proving his love to them by being a steady, strong role model every day.

He continually makes me laugh and tells me he likes me best with no makeup, in jeans and gym shoes. Tom is a great husband, wonderful father and grandfather, good friend and the most dependable, reliable person I know. Daily, I see in the small ways that really matter how much I mean to him. Oh, and just for the record, I just happen to love him with all my heart. He is truly the love of my life.

Ending on a Positive Note: I’ve heard it said that “Love is the key to a long and happy life.” Well, so far my life has been very happy, but forty-nine years with Tom isn’t long enough. So, here’s hoping we can renew our option for a few more decades to achieve that long life.

A Year Worth Remembering

Dr. Seuss

Today is the last day of 2012 and I am reminded of a sentence I read earlier this week. “On the eve of a brand new year, forgetting about the bad and remembering the good things that happened this past year will make for a better new year.” I can’t seem to get this sentence out of my head. Do I really want to forget the bad? Is that even possible?

Trying to forget the bad things is sort of like burying your head in the sand. Refusing to think about an unpleasant situation and hoping it will improve so you won’t have to deal with it. Life seldom allows us to truly forget the bad, but we do have the option of focusing on what is worth remembering.

2012 has been a challenging year for our family. A year filled with lots of ups and downs. Yes, there were plenty of bad things that happened, but 2012 also was filled with smiles, laughter, joy and lots of love. We tried to take the bad situations in stride and chose to focus and concentrate our energy on the journey and the true joy that can be found in doing life together!

2012 was a year of learning, growth and a new understanding of life; cherishing family and old friends, while making room to connect with so many new friends. Our lives have been blessed by the number of people who have touched our lives and forever changed us. Those are memories worth remembering.

Ending on a Positive Note: I don’t know what 2013 will bring, but I know that my only resolutions are to take the New Year one day at a time. To simplify, live more intentionally, give more than I receive, and focus on the people who matter most.