Remembering Where You Come From


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.


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.

Encounter of the Best Kind

Recently, Tom and I went out for lunch. The restaurant choice was easy. We both said, “Cracker Barrel” almost at the same time. One can always depend on their food to taste good; never any surprises at Cracker Barrel.  Only downfall is I always like to take a quick look at the merchandise in their store. While I shop, Tom pays the bill and heads for the rocking chairs out front. We’ve got it down to a science.

About halfway through our meal, an elderly gentleman was seated at the table next to us. I saw him walk in. His steps were a little wobbly. He was alone. Finishing our meal, the waitress brought my walker to me. She had placed it by the fireplace, out of everyone’s way.

As I was pushing my walker past this fellow, he asked, “How do you like that thing?” I answered, “It’s sort of a pain to get in and out of the car, but using it means I can walk without falling. If I get to a point where I can’t stand, I turn it around and plop down on the seat. It’s pretty handy.”

 He gave a little wave toward the empty chair opposite him and said, “She always wanted me to get one.” I assumed he was talking about his wife, but his comment made me wonder if his wife was deceased or just not able to accompany him to lunch. I wasn’t quite sure what to say.

Taking the safe route, I asked if he would like to try my walker on for size. He declined saying, “That’s really nice, but I’ll wait for her. She likes to pick out my stuff.”

He had a few questions, so we discussed insurance coverage and where he could purchase one. Then he announced with confidence, “I think I’m going to get one as soon as she gets home from her trip.”

Politely, I asked if she would be home soon. His answer surprised me. “She will be home on Sunday. She is eighty-two and on her way to Washington. She and our daughters are participating in the Women’s March tomorrow.”

Not wanting to discuss politics, I just said, “Wow.” His face lit up with the biggest smile as he went on to talk about how proud he was of her for wanting to be a part of the March. “She’s always been a little feisty. One of the reasons I love her.”

 “If I had one of those walkers, I think I would have gone with her to offer my support.”

 As I told him how lucky he was to have a marriage that obviously was filled with love and respect, he just beamed. He asked how long Tom and I had been married and when I told him almost fifty-three years, he smiled again. “Then you know what I’m talking about.”

As I said goodbye and took my leave, I found Tom waiting patiently outside. For years, I have been accused of being able to talk to a rock. The accusation is pretty accurate. I make no excuses because having short conversations with nice people is fun.

I’ll never know his name. Pretty certain I will never see him again. But, that little 15-minute encounter made my day. What a joy to see a husband’s eyes light up with love and respect for his wife of sixty-one years. I bet she knows how lucky she is.

Ending on a Positive Note:  How lucky am I to have a husband that understands the enjoyment I get from talking to a few “human rocks” every now and then.

A Pollyanna World this Christmas

Hayley Mills as Pollyanna

A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled onto the old classic Disney film Pollyanna. I loved the movie as a child and enjoyed watching it again. The story is a simple one. A little girl comes to live with her wealthy Aunt Polly after her father dies. A stern perfectionist, Aunt Polly is used to intimidating the whole town, even the minister by suggesting scriptures and themes for his weekly sermons.

Aunt Polly is not prepared for Pollyanna’s optimistic attitude that she learned from her father. Her philosophy of life centers on what she calls “The Glad Game,” a game that consists of finding something to be glad about in every situation. The Glad Game has seen Pollyanna through the toughest of circumstances in her young life, including the loss of both her parents. Seeing the good in people around her, despite their negative outlooks on life, slowly wins over even the grumpiest residents of the town. Pollyanna’s sunny personality and sincere attitude literally transforms the community into a pleasant place to live.

The term “Pollyanna” is usually thought to describe someone who unfailingly finds the good in life, no matter the circumstances. In today’s fast paced, success-oriented, complicated world it often takes on a negative connotation, as if finding the good was hopelessly naïve and unrealistic.

In this Christmas season of love and giving, what if we all took this simple lesson to heart? What if we absolutely insisted on seeing the best in each other? What if we always looked for silver linings and knew, just knew they would be there? What if we took it upon ourselves to always bring good cheer, always lend a hand when needed, and always, without fail, without regard for what was in it for us, love others? Life would be transformed for us and for those around us.

Ending on a Positive Note:  The point of Pollyanna’s Glad Game was the challenge to discover something in any situation you could be glad about. I don’t think my mother ever saw the movie, but she had the same philosophy because she used to tell me, “Look for the good in people and you will always find it.” Think I’ll take a lesson from Pollyanna and my mother and play the Glad Game this Christmas and throughout the coming year.

Hands of Love

Gratitude Journal-Day Twenty-Three

My oldest granddaughter Jenna is 12 years old today. The years since she made her first appearance into the world have literally flown by. It seems like yesterday she was just a tiny baby and now at 5’ 7” she is almost as tall as me.

At her family birthday party last Saturday, I was looking at her hands, thinking how tiny and miraculously perfect they were when she was born. Little hands that reached out to touch the smiling faces of those who loved her or gently touched my cheek if she wanted to wake me from a nap.    

As she grew, those little hands explored and inspected everything around her. Little hands that played in her sandbox, banged on my pots and pans, turned light switches on and off, and hung on tightly in her swing as she laughed and begged me to push her higher. Little hands that could bring tears to my eyes as she hugged my neck and said, “I love you Ma!”

Her little hands opened books that unlocked doors to knowledge. They learned to push buttons on her toys, the computer, and her CD player. They helped her learn to climb steps, ride her bike and open the back door so Buster, the family dog, could go in and out.

Her little hands learned to measure the ingredients and crack eggs for making strawberry cake, brownies and my special pancakes. Pancakes that she thinks are “the best pancakes in the whole wide world.”  

Year after year, I have watched as her hands improved in their skill of throwing, catching and hitting a softball, dribbling and shooting a basketball. Watching her determination to improve her skills in the sports she loves.

Saturday, I noticed her hands are comparable in size to mine. No longer does she need to hold my hand when crossing the street, but I still remember how precious it was to hold her little hand in mine. How good it felt to protect her and shield her; to make her feel safe.

Today, Jenna has reached a landmark. Within her hands lies her future and the fulfillment of all her dreams, some of which she hasn’t even dreamed yet. Her hands look grown up, but they still reach out with gentleness and love to those around her. 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 Jenna has brought into my life. I love her with all my heart and wish her the happiest of birthdays today and always.

Twice Blessed

Gratitude Journal–Day Twenty-One

Tom and I are celebrating Thanksgiving today with my brother’s family. The menu is turkey with all the trimmings. My contribution is two butterscotch cream pies, my brother’s favorite.

I know you’re saying, “Ag has finally lost it. She doesn’t even remember that Thanksgiving is next Thursday.” Well, my memory isn’t that bad, YET! We will be doing Thanksgiving again next Thursday with our kids, but I have listed a few reasons why celebrating Thanksgiving today is a good thing too.  

 1 – We were invited.

2 – My sister-in-law is a terrific cook and food always tastes better at her house.

3 – It will be great to see their family.

4 – The day you celebrate isn’t as important as who you celebrate with.

Tom just gave me another reason – two celebrations mean two great meals. Two great meals that will take hours to prepare, but will be consumed in less than fifteen minutes.

After eating too much, the men will excuse themselves to watch football (which is jargon for taking a long nap with the TV on). They keep the volume turned up to cover the sound of their snoring.

The women will clear the table and put the dishes in the dishwasher. They wish they could take a nap, but know they can’t because that would be rude. And after all, someone has to entertain the guests!

Ending on a Positive Note:  I am grateful for being able to spend two different days celebrating Thanksgiving. To eat too much, laugh at old family stories and just enjoy spending time with people I love and cherish.