Move over Birkenstocks, Vibrams are here! (ick…)

(Originally posted June 11, 2011)

The following post began as a short comment to a Facebook photo recently posted by my good friend Tony Walker. To the Dallas throng, yes, this is THE Tony Walker, who along with his talented Artist/Designer partner Max Jones have created the Urban Chic not-to-be-missed, recently christened winner of WFAAList’s Best Furniture Store in north Texas, Jones-Walker Home.

Check out their website to see what I’m talking about: http://www.JonesWalkerHome.com

(I’m hoping this shout out for the family business will appease Tony, as he is not likely to be pleased with what I am about to tell him. The truth sometimes hurts…)

Oh, Tony, Tony, Tony…as you are surely aware, my love and affection for fabulous footwear has spanned the decades, beginning with my Mother’s Crocodile high heeled pumps, deep brown, (with matching handbag). Why, I have stopped more than one Dallas fashion maven as she flit about town from the Chanel boutique to her appointment for the next stage of implants, to her obligatory logging of this years volunteer hours at the Chi Omega Christmas Market, each time asking her to pause as I photographed her most stunning footwear!

I feel it my civic duty as I duly note when exceptional fashion statements in footwear are being presented. Some may consider this sort of compliment to have come from the shallow end of the pool. I say the naysayers are more than likely schlepping down the aisles of Piggly Wiggly in SAS granny shoes, Birkenstocks or heaven forbid Plastic-like foot encasements from Wal-Mart with velcro closures! Sadly, I must now add the toe separating Croc-esque whatever-they-ares to the list of optically offensive choices for footwear. Please take no offense dear Tony, as this continues to remain a free country and errors in judgement can even be celebrated! Why, heck– in a country where Sarah Palin is even remotely considered as a viable choice for President, butt ugly shoes are the LEAST of our worries!! Your new toe shoes may be as comfortable as walking on air, but they are ugly. Damn ugly. I thought someone who cares should let you know.

Yet Tony, with your sense of style and flair for design that would leave Dorothy Draper and Julia Sugarbaker second guessing her fabric choice for the Parlor draperies, if ANYONE can pull off this most questionable of footwear trends, it is you my friend!!

So hold your head high! Continue thinking your new shoes are just the best looking things ever…I’ll try my best to humor you.

But you know, come to think of it, this shoe peril could be worse…you COULD be thrilled over Wal-Mart’s latest shipment of Plastic-like foot encasements with velcro closures. THAT would be worse than the toe-separating Vibrams. Much, MUCH worse…

Sometimes it helps having a little added perspective to assure proper planet alignment, not to mention keeping the nose of one particular Dallas Shoe Queen out of the air! Just be careful wearing your newfangled toe-separators around prospective decorating clients. They could give off toxic vibes of a Bohemian gone mad…unless the design style being sought is Butt-Ugly, at which point your individual toe protectors are a MUST WEAR!!

Tony, your personal sense of style is surely the envy of designers world over! Too bad it’s only from the ankles up…

P.S. Tony, you know that this was all meant in love, don’t you??

P.S.S. If Tony isn’t too mad at me, perhaps I can persuade him to lend a photo of the storied shoes to add to this post.

Advertisements

Graduation Day: Pomp & Circumstance, Sheepskin and Tuna Salad

(Originally posted June 10, 2011)

It had been a long time coming…Graduation Day, May 9, 1992! That was the day I received my Masters Degree in Early Childhood Education from THE University of Alabama.

As in most states, the state University would have satellite campuses around the state to make it more accommodating for people to attend and attain a chosen degree. Alabama is no different, the main campus in Tuscaloosa (hence, THE) and other campuses in Huntsville and Birmingham. Not to pass over the acclaim and accolades of the satellite campuses, as an Alabama native, getting a degree from THE University, in Tuscaloosa, brings just a bit of extra pride.

Never a fan of the sports from my states Universities, Auburn OR Alabama, I truly became a fan of THE University of Alabama, if only by default. During my tenure there, I even learned the words to THE University of Alabama’s fight song as recounted in an earlier blog post entitled “I’ve got Spirit in my Britches!” So yes, I guess I am an Alabama fan! ROLL TIDE!!

Now, with the requisite allegiances paid, let me share with you the momentous day when my hard earned Masters Degree was bestowed. The moment itself can only be described as anti-climactic at best. Let me just say that it was due to NO fault of my own…and I’m not kidding!!

My final semester at The Capstone (the nickname of THE University of Alabama), was spent student teaching at a wonderful school near Birmingham, so I was not on campus except for the occasional meeting with supervisors. Periodically I would receive information in the mail regarding the official commencement ceremony. Perhaps the oddest thing I received was a small postcard where I was to indicate whether or not I would be attending the commencement. I checked ‘yes’ and dropped it back in the mail as requested.

I thought this odd because why in the world would ANYONE work their tail off for an advanced degree and NOT attend the commencement to note the huge milestone achieved?? Get my diploma through the mail?!? I think NOT… So all my ‘T’s were crossed and my I’s were dotted in anticipation of the big graduation day! Or so I thought…

I was the first in my family to receive a college degree, much less a Master’s degree so this was a BIG deal! Of course my parents were coming, my sister, my Granny, my Aunt Connie, and even my good friends Della and Jimmy from undergraduate days were coming from Florence and Auburn. A big day, OH MY YES!!! I have to admit I was quite proud of my accomplishments as well!!

On graduation day at such a large university, there were two separate events. The first was the grand, huge production at the university Coliseum for EVERYONE receiving a diploma, and then a smaller commencement event for each school where each graduate actually received their diploma. Sigh…. If only it were to be that easy….

After the big cattle call at the Coliseum, it was off to the site for The School of Education’s commencement, the large Recreation Center at the east end of campus. Once inside the building, graduates were directed to the check-in location. I got in line for “Master’s Degree, A-K.” When I reached the table, I gave the lady my name and the searching began. She searched. And searched… My name was nowhere on the list. At least not on the list of those attending the commencement. “We didn’t receive the postcard indicating that you would be here today…” the nice lady said.

WHOA!!! WAIT A MINUTE!! HOLD THE DIPLOMA!!! “I returned that postcard the moment I received it! I have worked my tail off for this! There is no way that I wouldn’t attend this!! I’ve invited everyone on the eastern seaboard here today!!! And they CAME!!!,” I pleaded. “What does this mean?!?”

What it meant was that the one alphabetizing the stacks upon stacks of diplomas did not include mine in the stacks upon stacks of diplomas. The nice lady informed me that my diploma was safe and sound at the Rose Administration Building and I could pick it up there…after graduation. After. After the names were called. After all was said and done at the commencement. After…

There I stood in my cap and gown, family in the audience waiting for the festivities to begin. There I stood BEGGING to be added to the list of those walking across the stage. Paper shuffling ensued and I was assured that my name had been inserted for today’s list of graduates. The best I could hope for was a handshake from the Dean, but he would be handing me nothing but his hand. The diploma was, for the time being anyway, in the Rose Administration Building alphabetized among those slackers hanging out at the beach who could care less if they had a sheepskin in their hand or not.

Following begging, I was in line with my fellow classmates waiting for the regal strains of Pomp and Circumstance to begin.

First, the doctoral students were given their hoods, then it was time for my group, those receiving Master’s degrees. As the line crept forward and names were read, I began to have a sinking feeling. I noticed the list of names that the person was reading from…that was NOT the list from earlier where I saw the lady write my name. Oh this was going to be bad…I could just feel it…

The line crept closer to the point of where my name was to be read. The name was called of the girl standing in front of me and she walked across the stage, shook the hand of the Dean and was handed her diploma. I was next in line. Guess what??

A name was called. It was not mine. The person standing behind me walked around me to receive their diploma. Surely my name would be called next, a minor glitch. Nope, a name was called and ANOTHER person standing behind me walked around to get the expected handshake and diploma.

A NIGHTMARE! THIS WAS A NIGHTMARE COME TO LIFE! The officials on stage began to appear as uncomfortable as me. I began telling my tale of diplomatic woe in hushed tones to the Dean… “They didn’t get my postcard and didn’t think I was coming to graduation, but I was never NOT coming! I promise! They said my diploma is over at Rose Admin!” My eyes HAD to be pleading, “PLEASE RESCUE ME!!!”

I whispered my name, they called my name, I walked across the stage, shook hands and walked off to the applause of the crowd. They probably thought, “Imposter!! Probably cut class one too many days…”

My poor family had to be wondering what in the world happened…and I had to wait for the ENTIRE rest of the college to receive their degrees before I could relay my plight. Sigh…

After it was all over, I couldn’t wait to high tail it over to pick up my diploma! I left my family all huddled in one space while I raced over to the Rose Admin building. I have to admit, though anti-climactic, walking up the steps of the Rose Administration Building alone was an experience within itself. No one was around, it was just me. I opened the big entry door, it echoing into the expansive marbled entry hall. My dress shoes continued the echo as my footsteps walked the path to the Registrar’s office, where I was told my diploma could be found.

Opening the door of what appeared to be an empty office, at least there was a light on behind the glass window where my hopes for receiving my Master’s degree diploma were hinged. I called out, “Hello? Hellooo? Is anyone here? I need to pick up a diploma.”

Then, from the back of the cavernous office a lady walked down this long corridor to the window where I stood. She was eating a tuna salad sandwich. As she chewed, I explained the never-received postcard, standing in line while everyone else’s name was called, almost in tears. I was told that I could get my diploma here. The lady with a tuna salad sandwich told me to wait there. So I did. I mean, what choice did I have??

In what seemed like forever, I again heard footsteps approaching from the depths of the Registrar’s office. Here she came…the lady who had been eating a Tuna Salad sandwich, now holding a large folder. As she handed it to me, I asked her if she would mind sharing this moment with me…I had worked so hard for this. I was the first in my family to graduate from college and then to receive a Master’s Degree. She quietly stood there, smiled and congratulated me. I thanked her, turned and walked out of the Rose Administration Building clutching my Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education close to my chest. It had been a long road getting there, but I had done it! Although not the Dean of the College, receiving my diploma from a lady eating a Tuna Salad sandwich, in that quiet moment of reflection ended up being one of the most poignant of my life.

It can even bring tears to my eyes, now nineteen years later.

Places NOT to pop the question, #1: Funeral Home

(Originally posted June 9, 2011)

Most people would have taken this as a bad omen. Looking back now, it was an imposing sign, becoming engaged in a funeral home. Did I happen to mention that this momentous life event also occurred next to the deceased? No? Well, as usual, elaboration here will be most helpful in connecting what SURELY must be quite a few unconnected dots in your head just now.

Back in the day–the day being post college graduation–illusions of what all those college graduates should be doing came down to one thing: Pairing off and getting married. I held that illusion myself…for a while…until I came to my senses. Thank the good Lord above that I did just that, lest more than just myself be tossed into a life of misery!

Becoming engaged. For me, the entire process was akin to ice skating up the wrong side of a freeway…backwards…blindfolded…in July.

Thoughts of planning a wedding and diving head first into all the trappings thereof, was indeed a heady experience. Registering for china and crystal (Waterford), selecting the perfect silver pattern (was Francis I too much to ask?), venues for the Rehearsal dinner, floral options. Rest assured it wouldn’t take long for my brain to wrap itself around the reality of “the day AFTER the wedding.” Ugh. Ick. From that day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness… Yes, it would ONLY be sickness if THAT event would have taken place. Me…married…to her.

Now back to that “handwriting on the wall” during the engagement. At a funeral home. Beside a dead body. I have to say that ‘dead body’ sounds a bit crass, as the departed was the wonderful father of my dear friend Mary Gist. Her father, Hogely Gist had been in ill health for quite some time and it was at the funeral home visitation where I became betrothed.

At the time when all this ill-fated betrothing was on the horizon, I was living in Birmingham, Alabama. I had purchased “THE ring,” and plans were laid for popping the pensive question. Mary’s Dad was in the hospital at The University of Alabama, Birmingham. Mary and her mom, Augazelle (what a precious lady!!) were staying in Birmingham near where her Dad was hospitalized. I met them for dinner one evening and since they both knew “her” I showed them the ring, where all the expected “Ooohing” and “Aaahing” ensued.

Fast forward a few weeks, location: Florence, Alabama. Mary’s Dad had passed away and the funeral home visitation was coincidentally scheduled a few days prior to the weekend when the question of betrothal was to be popped. As ‘she’ and I were waiting in line to pay our condolences, I had no idea what was coming next…

Before ‘she’ and I could convey our sadness to Mary and her Mom, Mary’s mom blurted out to ‘her,’ “Well let me see your ring!!” Augazelle reached for ‘her’ left hand expecting to see the engagement ring she saw in Birmingham a few weeks back perched on ‘her’ finger. In the background, I am giving the pantomiming performance of the century! Motioning, NO! NO RING YET! Shaking my head, silently, feverishly trying to change the subject. I get confusing glances from ‘her’, Mary’s mom, Mary. Then, I gave up…and there, in the funeral home, next to Mary’s departed father, I whispered the words to ‘her,’ “Wanna get married??”

Yes, I know… I should have…we ALL should have stopped right there and cut our losses. Thankfully, it didn’t take too many more days post funeral home engagement for us to realize that very thing. This college romance wasn’t going any further. Looking back, it couldn’t have worked out more perfectly!

Epilogue: Yes, there is an Epilogue, but hey…I gotta keep a bit of mystery about me, no?

Here, you be the Flower Girl!

(Originally posted June 1, 2011)

Little known fact: I have been a Flower Girl in a wedding.

There. I said it. Now the world knows my gender-bending little secret.

You may think it took years of therapy to reach this moment of soul-bearing confession. Perhaps it should have. Bitter, you ask? Well, HELL yeah I’m bitter…but not for the reason you might think.

Please…if you plan to read on, pick yourself up off the floor and QUIT laughing!! It’s not what you think, really…it’s not…and just wipe that vision from the white board that is your brain of me tra-la-la-ing down the aisle of the church in layers of tulle, satin sashes and black patent MaryJane’s flicking rose petals into the air. Yes, it does paint a picture worthy of decades on Dr. Freud’s couch. (Or maybe it should have… Such as it was, being a flower girl wasn’t such a bad gig. Perchance I should elaborate.
Way back when, I believe the year was 1967, my Aunt Connie and Uncle Fred announced their upcoming nuptials. The big date was on New Year’s Eve! As Connie’s only nephew and niece, we were given the most important jobs of Ring Bearer (me) and flower girl (my sister, Amy) for the momentous affair. As a young tot barely four years old, this big family event called a wedding was a first for me, and as I could quickly tell was going to be right up my alley!

New, fancy dress up clothes with a bow tie? OH yeah!

A frilly pillow, complete with his and her JEWELRY attached?!? OH yeah!

A slow walk down the aisle to the wafting notes of Wagner’s Bridal Chorus with EVERYONE who was ANYONE (in our family anyway) watching my every move?!? OH YEAH!!!!
I mean, what could be better?? I was to be The Ring Bearer! Bearer of the Rings! From what I was hearing, they couldn’t get married without the rings, so they couldn’t even HAVE this big Hoo-Ha without me!! Ah yes…life was good!! Four years old, and the entrusting of the marital rings rested on my frilly pillow!

Had the story played out as originally written, we would not be here today, me recounting a duty that should have been, you walking me through the sad tale that should have been told on a therapist’s couch… But hey, you’ve made it this far, and I would like to think you have a flicker of interest in how this sordid tale unwinds.
For weeks, I practiced my unwavering glide down the church aisle. I was to make sure that no rising in the carpet or unsuspecting pebble brought in by wayward shoe would mar the ascent of the marital rings to the high altar, nestled as they were sure to be atop my satiny, frilly pillow of great importance. Prepared! I would be prepared!!

As wedding day neared, I watched in awe as the hustle bustle of what was known as a wedding swirled all around me! Unfamiliar vocabulary became my lexicon of choice: ‘Showers’ delivered gifts of china and crystal, and not necessarily in the rain. ‘Reception’ meant lacy tablecloths with a tiny bride and groom waiting to preside over a big fancy cake, and had nothing to do with television antenna. ‘Matron of Honor’ meant my Mother in a special velvet dress with shoes dyed to match. ‘Sad’ meant my Grandfather, not wanting his youngest daughter to leave the nest. ‘Flower girl’ meant my sister, sprinkling flower petals down the aisle in preparation for my Aunt Connie, THE BRIDE. ‘Velvet’ meant my new favorite fabric, soft and fleecy to the touch. ‘Ring Bearer’ meant ME!

On the morning of the wedding, I remember my Aunt Connie calling out to my Granny, “Where is my Train??” Good Lord, I thought! There is even going to be a TRAIN to take her to the church, and it’s not that far away! These weddings are big time stuff!!!

Before we knew it, all the family was off to the church for the event of a lifetime! It surely seemed that way to a four year old! My sister, Amy was two years old, and hadn’t had much to say in all the ‘Rinktum’ we had been experiencing. ‘Rinktum’ was my Granny’s word for craziness that would erupt around big events like weddings, cemetery decorations and the like. Amy apparently didn’t like ‘Rinktum,’ though no one knew until it was just a bit too late.

Waiting at the back of the church, music began to play. I watched as each Bridesmaid walked slowly down the church aisle. My mother, The Matron of Honor, walked down the aisle last. The place where my Mama was standing was the destination for me, the Bearer of the rings, and my sister, the petal pusher.

A lady who was serving as the Director of this shindig, handed me the pillow I had been longing to hold for weeks. “Excuse me,” I asked the lady. “Where are the rings? There are supposed to be rings on this pillow!,” I implored. The lady bluntly replied, “The Ring Bearer pillow is just for show. The actual rings are with the Best Man. They would fall off the pillow if you were carrying them. Just hold the pillow and go when I tell you.” Fall off the pillow?!? I THINK NOT!!! Lady with a bad attitude had not seen me practice gliding down the aisle, rings nestled securely atop the Frilly pillow…which wasn’t too frilly of a pillow after all…yet another disappointment of this ‘Just for Show’ duty.

Finally, it was the moment for me and Amy to head down the aisle, each for our appointed role. However, I learned there in that crowded church vestibule, the power of an obstinate two year old. Amy let it be known then and there that she was NOT ABOUT to go down the aisle. Not now, not later. No way, no how…. Panic immediately set in. It was Amy, me, Lady with a bad attitude, my Aunt the Bride and my Grandfather. EVERYONE started sweet talking Amy. Coaxing her with promises of chewing gum, lollipops, trips to the Moon, Mars, Disney Land, WHATEVER would get her down the aisle! Music continued to play. My Mama stood there, motioning Amy to come on down the aisle and stand next to her. No way, no how. That cherubic, deep green velvet and lace draped two year old was not moving a muscle. There would be no flower petals strewn at this soiree, not by her tiny fingers anyway…

As the big brother, I offered to walk down the aisle together, balancing my pillow on one hand, holding her hand in the other. (Thank goodness I had logged so many hours of practice, the balancing act shouldn’t be a problem.) Well, then all hell broke loose…at least that’s what it seemed like at the moment. Without warning, Lady with a bad attitude pulled the not-too-frilly pillow from my hands and tossed it across the vestibule onto the floor. Then, plucking the white wicker basket from my sister’s tiny fingers, she thrust it into my hands, and voiced the sentence that would forever shape my identity as a wedding participant: “HERE! YOU be the flower girl!”

Not knowing what to think, I clutched the basket and with a push from behind, Lady with a bad attitude propelled this Ring Bearer turned Flower Girl down the aisle. With what I am sure was a shot-out-of-a-cannon look on my face, and a frightened, confused smile at best. I walked…scratch that…I glided down the aisle dropping yellow chrysanthemum petals until I reached my destination: standing next to my Mama, in her special velvet dress, with shoes dyed to match.

Epilogue: Now for the bitterness.

A detailed newspaper article was to follow this event, as was the tradition for all southern weddings of note. This being the Mayor’s daughter wed, every detail would be noted, from the Bride riding in on a train, to the harried last moment transfer of roles from the distraught Flower Girl to her trusted understudy, the Bearer of the Phantom Rings. Local townsfolk would be abuzz for weeks over the pomp and pageantry woven by the Lady with a bad attitude at the Bethlehem East Baptist Church on New Year’s Eve.

In that newspaper article, the list of wedding participants noted each Bridesmaid, Groomsman, Officiant and parental relation. Then came the icing on my multi-tiered cake of discontent: Listed as Flower Girl, Amy Leigh Creel. She of the last minute ‘I’ll-show-them” stint. She of not scattering even ONE teensy flower petal. She of stealing my big ring bearing moment…sort of. The Ring Bearer? Nada. Not mentioned as existing. Omitted. Left off the list. Given the frilly pillow shaft.

I mean, if I was going to be the Flower Girl, shouldn’t I have been noted as such? I certainly thought so. Bitter? You’re DAMN RIGHT I was bitter!!! Perhaps some thought it was doing me a favor of sorts, this gender role-swap, before gender role-swapping was the hip thing to do. Perhaps, in some southern non-genderbending circles, it was. Be that as it may, I WAS THE FLOWER GIRL, THANK YOU VERY MUCH! I held my head high, proud for saving the day and I walked…scratch that…I glided like a big boy to claim my post of honor…right next to my Mama, in her special velvet dress with shoes dyed to match.

Decisions, decisions…what should I write about next??

(Originally posted May 23, 2011)

Heaven’s to Betsy!  I guess I’m just going to have to start making a list. Now that I have several folks, many of them friends who are following my blog, I’m getting requests!  With the diversity of craziness that makes up my life, at times it becomes difficult to choose which tale to share next.  With countless Granny stories yet to be posted and other family laundry to be aired (Though none too sordid about MY family. That would be tacky. Other families, well, that’s entirely different.  Bless their hearts…)   Serving as wedding coordinator at Oak Lawn United Methodist Church for the past several years has provided it’s own laundry list of shockers from a missing Mother of the Bride, inebriated groomsmen, homeless vagrants wandering into the bridesmaid line up, and recounts of what I have said come from the pages of “I can’t make this stuff up!” The list of topics is getting longer…

There are innumerable anecdotes laced with morsels of wisdom gleaned from 16 years hanging out with 5 year olds, and observations of life that I feel are worthy of sharing with the world.  Blog stats tell me folks from Texas to China to Australia as well as Brazil, Argentina and Costa Rica are finding their way to Facing Alabama.  Bless their hearts…I hope I can make the journey worth their while.  

Check back later tonight…I’ll see if I can’t post a tale that will tickle your funny bone.  Whether it will tickle the funny bones from Dallas to Shanghai to Sydney, well, the readers will have to let me know…

Tornados, Hurricanes and other destructive forces of High School

(Originally posted May 18, 2011)

This past Saturday evening was the 30th Reunion of the Cullman High School class of 1981.  It was never a question of whether or not I would attend…after the Epiphany that was the 20th Reunion a decade ago, I had signed on to be at the 30th months ago!  Life sometimes has other plans.  Such was the case of “The trip to Alabama that was never meant to be!”  Beginning with my original travel date to Alabama being cancelled due to the devastating tornados on April 27 and the crazy feeling of not knowing what to do about anything that engulfed my brain post weather disaster left life in limbo.  


So the 30th Reunion is living on through photographs and warm ‘I missed you’ messages from classmates. Receiving so many messages all including wishes that I could have made it to the big event, have surely been as heartwarming as the hugs that were missed!  I still have trouble comprehending that I even wanted to attend my high school reunion. When I left the Cullman High School campus after receiving my diploma on May 22, 1981, the feeling of pure euphoria that washed over me was palpable.  There have been few days filled with such overwhelming joy in my life as was the joy I felt in leaving high school. Possibly, for that reason, it makes the happiness felt in that moment all the more special.  For those who might not know,  High School was not a pleasant place for me.  Where classmates were reveling in special friendships, I for the most part was alone.  I had many acquaintances, but very few friends. Alone is a term that well-describes my social status on the school scene.  


Beginning elementary school in Hanceville, Alabama was a pleasant place for learning.  That is if learning to be Bullied is on the class agenda, and boy did I learn!  From about 3rd grade on I became the source of repeated harassment and bullying at school. Day after day, week after week, school year after school year it continued…hateful name calling, anonymous mean-spirited notes slipped into my locker and between the pages of my textbooks.  There were notes taped to my back, prank phone calls made to my home phone, laughing at me behind my back.  But by far the worst…”blessed” with especially rosy cheeks, more than once I had someone come up to me and take a finger, rub it across my cheek, and say, “I just knew you had make-up or rouge on your face!” then laughing as they walked away.  This was just one type of incident that I would endure over the months and years that was my experience of school.  


Things truly reached a point where I contemplated suicide as the only way I could imagine to get away from the hell that greeted me each day.  I began pilfering over the counter medicine from my parents medicine chest, with Sinutab being the mind numbing elixir I would take by the fours, fives, sixes in the morning before leaving for school. Drugging myself up at least provided the emotional numbing I craved.  Had it not been for my parents providing a place of unconditional love for me at home, Sinutab would have only been the beginning of my ending.  The love of my Mama and Daddy is what brought me through those days, and nothing more.  Well, that and the fact that there was nothing stronger than Sinutab in the medicine cabinet!


The worst years in high school were my freshman and sophomore years, as might be expected.  Upperclassmen flexing status–bringing another down was apparently the way to the top of the social strata.  By my Junior year, when underclassmen were joining the bullying bandwagon, it just became insulting.  It was not in my DNA to fight back.  Taking the ‘high ground’ and ‘turning the other cheek’ sound like a noble path when faced with a personal attack.  Bull shit.  Besides not being in my nature to retaliate, standing up for myself was uncharted territory as well. I have never been a confrontational individual, and that trait remains with me even now.


During the spring of my Junior year, I began to get so tired of the constant, never-ending onslaught of demeaning comments and being the one singled out for ‘assault.’  Gradually, it began to reach a rolling boil.  In more recent years, I have identified this time as the boiling over point–the point where the students at Columbine took out their rifles; the point where a bullied student at numerous school campuses across this country entered classrooms and opened fire.  Thank the Lord above, that I chose another avenue to express the rage boiling inside my soul.  


There is some insight I have gained by living through this that I must share with my readers.  When you are the victim of bullying, enduring relentless verbal, physical or emotional attacks for months, even years at a time, that “boiling point” WILL be reached at some point.  I mentioned the Columbine shootings above, as an event where the attackers had been victims of school bullies for years.  When I heard the stories of how they had been treated by their peers and classmates, I could totally understand why they did what they did.  


**PLEASE KNOW THAT I AM IN NO WAY CONDONING OR EXCUSING THE TERRIBLE ACTIONS OF THE TWO COLUMBINE  ATTACKERS.**
But I DO understand why they did it.  The pain endured through bullying by adolescents is so deep and the wounds can take years, even decades to fully heal.  If they actually ever do heal.


I hope by pointing out that my ability to understand the motive behind the Columbine shootings is a result of the bullying I endured in school.  The marks left on my soul and spirit were…are, as deep as the wounds of those who chose to use weapons. 


Please allow me to share with you my boiling over point that was reached my Junior year.  Although 31 years have passed, its details are as fresh in my memory as if it were yesterday.  


It was late on a spring Sunday evening.  Homework was looming, due on Monday in my third period English class.  An oral report, summarizing a news article or topic of interest and was to be presented in front of the class each Monday.  Every week I would present my report before the class, watching as several of those in the back of the room would mock and make fun of me while I struggled to endure my assignment to the end and return to my seat.  


Sitting at our kitchen table searching for an report topic, my entire soul was churning and anger building with the weight of years of being the tormented.  I honestly did not think I could take it one more day.  Then, the perfect topic for my report was lying right in front of me: a news article about the upcoming Hurricane season.  In that moment, I knew what I was going to do, because I was mad as HELL and I wasn’t going to take it ANYMORE!!


Here was my plan: when it was my turn to present my report, I would do just that, but when finished I was not going to sit down.  This week there would be a ‘personal agenda’ item tacked on after the Hurricane report.  Cullman High School didn’t know it, but Hurricane season was starting a bit early in 1980 with Hurricane Barry making landfall in third period English!  I was going to tell them all off once and for all!  I would call names, point fingers and let this class  spread the word that the Police would be notified if there was ANY problem from that day on.  By the time I had got the entire script in my head of how it was to play out, no doubt my blood pressure was approaching stroke level, full tilt!  I remember that I couldn’t sleep at all that night, the adrenaline pumping faster than I ever dreamed possible.  


The next morning I arrived at school about to explode from the nerves and apprehension of it all. In my Homeroom, the Art room, my seat was between two girls that I had only gotten to know that year, Micki Denney and Lisa Crawford.  These girls had become good friends and I shared with them my plans for standing up for myself for the first time. I remember Micki and Lisa were most encouraging and supportive, something I desperately needed at that moment!  It was only two periods until Hurricane landfall!  

Then, the unthinkable happened.  An announcement came over the loud speaker in the classroom.  The voice said:  “Third period classes will not be held today as everyone will be attending The National Honor Society in the school auditorium.”

NO WAY!!

THIS HAD TO BE A MISTAKE!!  FINALLY FOR THE FIRST TIME IN MY LIFE I WAS TAKING THE LEAP TO STAND UP FOR MYSELF!! 

I WAS READY!!

NO THIRD PERIOD?!?  

I sat there absolutely stunned, feeling the adrenaline draining from my body.  Lisa and Micki looked almost as shocked as I did.  They knew what a big step this was for me.  

Adrenaline depleted, I sat through the assembly knowing that it would be yet another day until my life changing moment would take place.  Similar to the Hurricane brewing off the coast before making landfall.  

Actually, the delay was the intervening hand of God no doubt telling me to cool off and simmer down! Composure was the best attire for this performance.  

Tuesday dawned much calmer than Monday, yet the resolve and determination were as focused as ever!  Third period arrived, and before I knew it, it was time for the Hurricane season update, to be quickly followed by an insurmountable tidal surge….ME!

At the end of report, I stood tall, my entire body quivering.  Voice focused to be concise and clear, eye contact deliberate. 

Thirty one years passed, I can still recite word for word:  “There is something I need to say now to some people in here who know who they are.  I have come to school for the last time prepared to take the harassment and abuse I have been receiving every single day for years.  It will stop today.  If anyone continues to harass me in ANY way, I will not hesitate to report the names to the juvenile authorities for charges to be filed immediately.  If there is anyone else you think might need to hear what I have told you today, be sure and let them know, because I mean business!”

You could have heard a pin drop as I was talking.  Mouths were hanging open on folks sitting at the back of the room.  Never in the years any of these people had known me had I took a stand like this.  My entire body was trembling, and my feet were like jello as I walked back to my seat. For effect, I had managed to have my report fall at the end of class, so after I sat down third period was coming to an end.  

After class, I walked over to my teacher, Mrs. Linton’s desk.  I apologized to her for using my report time as a platform, but these were things that needed to be said.  Mrs. Linton, usually a bit gruff, was so kind assuring me that it was quite all right and here are the words she said that shocked me:  She said she had NO IDEA there was any problem at all.  She had no idea.

As I walked away from Mrs. Linton’s desk, she returned my report paper to me. My grade:  A+

Leaving English class, heading for American History, my next class was a short walk  to the end of the hallway.  As I arrived in American History, there was a buzz in the air.  Faster than the speed of light, news had spread regarding my newfound backbone.   

Can I say there was never another bullying problem? Of course not.  However,  I CAN say that there in my third period English class there was a line of sorts drawn on the asbestos floor tiles…a defining moment in my life that I still view as pivotal in my growth as a human being. 

The damage had been done.  Being harassed and abused verbally and emotionally, for years just about did me in.  

I survived.  Battered.  Banged up.  Broken.  Then, just as I had been praying through tears for so very long…It Got Better.  

It Got Better.  I SURVIVED!  I didn’t think I would.  BUT I DID!  

I SURVIVED.  I SURVIVED!  I SURVIVED!!!!!!!!!!!  Now, I could LIVE!  FINALLY!

Facing Alabama…with a heavy heart.

(Originally posted May 11, 2011)

It has been two weeks since the proverbial rug was ripped out from under everyone in Alabama. The tornados that tore through my home state, as well as many other states, has left a wound that will not be healed in this lifetime.  Towns were wiped off the map.  Hundreds of Alabamians perished, thinking that huddling inside a bathtub or closet would protect them, never imagining the ferocity of nature that was barreling their way. Thousands of the grand, majestic trees which made up so much of Alabama’s landscape have been pulled from their roots, twisted into mulch, leaving behind what many have described as a “War Zone.”  Indeed, one of the beautiful churches in Cullman, First United Methodist could just as easily have been in war-torn Europe in 1945 as Cullman, Alabama in 2011.   


For several days prior, my Mother would mention that Wednesday, April 27, was predicted to be “one of the worst days ever” for severe weather in Alabama. Every time I spoke to her she would note with apprehension the impending forecast. Allow me to note that my Mother being up-to-date on the weather forecast is akin to the sun rising in the East each morning.  ‘Reliable’ doesn’t even begin to describe.  Mother and the folks at The Weather Channel are on first name basis. I have often said, that if I want to know the weather here in Dallas, Texas, I call my Mother in Alabama!  Mama KNOWS whats supposed to happen!  As Wednesday drew closer, I began to worry about my Mother and Daddy being caught in the dangerous weather.  Amy, my sister lives in Cullman, Alabama not too far away from Hanceville where my folks live.  She and my brother in law, Rex have a large, wonderful basement that would be far greater shelter in severe weather than Mother’s bedroom closet, the usual spot of refuge during tornado warnings.


On Tuesday evening, April 26, I called Mother and suggested that she and Daddy go out the next morning and spend the day at Amy’s home where they could be close to her basement should tornadic weather develop.  A ‘homebody’ of the first order, my Mother would far rather stay in her familiar surroundings than go out to Amy’s, but between Amy and myself, we would push the issue and insist.  


The next morning, I did not feel well and slept in later than normal.  My cell phone had been turned off after battery charging the evening before.  When I got up mid morning and turned on my phone, there was a voicemail from my Daddy that froze me in my tracks.  Sounding very serious and a bit rattled, he said that a tornado had hit Hanceville early that morning.  From what he could tell, it caused terrible damage in Hanceville as well as on the street where they lived.  The house two doors down was completely destroyed, trees falling into the house, crushing it to bits.  Hundreds of trees were down, completely blocking their street as it goes toward Highway 31 toward town.  Shingles were blown off their roof and a large pine tree was toppled at the back of their yard.  He told me that he and Mama were heading out to Amy’s basement as many more storms were predicted. 


I could hardly breathe.  A tornado had hit Hanceville.  Hanceville, Alabama.  Surely Daddy was stretching things a bit.       


Multi-tasking has never been my forte, but in the next few moments, I managed to untangle my iPhone headset, plug it into my phone, locate The Weather Channel on the TiVo, find my sister’s phone number and dial it, albeit frantically!! Thankfully, both he and my Mother were out at Amy’s safe and sound.  Whew!!  After an update of what everyone knew regarding the Hanceville tornado (which wasn’t much,) I was able to take a breath, saying a prayer of thanks that Mama and Daddy along with their precious little home were safe!  Little did I realize that the Hanceville tornado was just the beginning of Alabama’s most horrific weather day in history.


The next couple hours found me glued to the television watching and listening to The Weather Channel’s tornado guru Dr. Forbes and Mr. Weather Channel himself, Jim Cantore detail the catastrophic march of this powerful storm across Alabama.  Here in Dallas, Texas, 700 miles away, I was on the phone back and forth with my sister as I watched the developing storms get closer and closer to Cullman.  In the kitchen trying to make a quick lunch, I could still hear the reports being clearly broadcast on The Weather Channel. Then, words that still ring in my ears as if just spoken, The Weather Channel announces “Live shot from a tower cam in Cullman, Alabama shows a tornado on the ground!”  It was noted that the tower cam was located at the water treatment facility in Cullman.  I knew exactly where that was: on Highway 278, only a few miles from Amy’s home, and it was heading exactly in her direction.




Fumbling fingers couldn’t locate Amy’s phone number quick enough.  The first words out of my mouth were “Are all of you in the basement?!?”  I then detailed the info I heard and the photo that was showing on the television.  Thank goodness for TiVo, I was able to run the live TV back and take a picture with my phone of the tornado heading toward Amy’s home, sending it to her via text.  The electricity at Amy and Rex’s home was already off and they were relying on the radio to give them weather updates.  

Then, I just stood in front of the television and watched the radar of the huge storm and the video replay of the tornado that was moving right through my hometown. Helpless. Horrified.  Holding my breath.  An F3 tornado heading directly toward my family, and here I was 700 miles away watching it all unfold.  

There has never been a moment in time when I felt as terrified or as helpless as I did in that moment.  Countless phone calls back and forth to Amy helped ease my fears as the afternoon progressed.  For after the main tornado went through the area, there would be one after the other moving their way for the next several hours.  

Facebook posts were frantically being sent as alerts from myself as well as other friends.  What we were hearing on the television, as the tornados approached and in the aftermath, began to reveal what a monster storm we were witnessing.  After the Cullman tornado, I logged my computer on to the Birmingham weatherman that any self-respecting Alabamian was listening to that day– James Spann.  The lives Mr. Spann helped save that day due to his continuous, informative and life-saving reporting are surely countless.  Hearing him describe the strength and power of the tornados moving through Tuscaloosa, then through Pleasant Grove and Birmingham was bone chilling.  His monologue never stopped, warning those in the storms path to take cover, offering suggestions for places of shelter and words of caution about remaining safe in such deadly weather.  

The days following this horrific weather event are filled with a continuing sense of disbelief.  Viewing the photographs and videos of the devastated towns and communities make the reality so many are facing seem like a long, never ending nightmare, totally ‘unreal.’  Usually, when watching a news report of a town hit by a tornado, it is just that:  town.  One town, maybe two.  Not this time.  This time it is hundreds of towns.  Hundreds.  My home town. The town where I went to graduate school.  The hometowns of many of my friends.  Yesterday, I happened to come across an article listing those who died in the storms.  Again, hundreds.  Such tragedy, such loss.  Alabama is grieving now for lives lost, for places lost, ways of life lost.  

Already, the clean up has begun.  As my Mother says, just “Back your ears and get to work.”  The good people of Alabama are collectively “backing their ears” and helping clean up the mess, and lending a hand to help family, friends and neighbors piece broken lives back together.  How proud I am to be from Alabama!  How proud I am of the people of Alabama!  Alabama will always be my ‘home’, and facing Alabama will ALWAYS make me proud!   

Give me a dozen Hail Merry’s and call me in the morning!

(Originally posted April 15, 2011)

Long past due, I must give a heads up to all my friends!

In the quest for a healthier you (and me, so I can fit into my 30th High School Reunion outfit!), its time for PANTRY PURGE!

Dump the Doritos!

Flush the Fritos!

Obliterate the Oreos!

Yes, you heard right! It’s time we all embrace our inner Vegan! I must confess that it wasn’t too many years ago that my idea of a Vegan included distributing pamphlets in major airports while wearing unattractive sandals and a tie-dyed caftan rumored to be worn by Mrs. Roper on Three’s Company. Why, even Oprah’s staff at Harpo Studios are testing the waters in the Vegan Pool!

Now, before friends from Sea to Shining Piggly Wiggly place their Tennis Ball can of Pringles in a death clutch or search for the closest defibrillator, let me assuage their collective fears once and for all: No, he who can eat a platter full of Fried Green Tomatoes in one sitting, or when dining at Lucky’s order his Chicken Fried Steak with gravy on the steak AND on the side, Vegan is just a little too daring for THIS Son of the South!

While I may not be composting my bacon grease or cultivating organic whatnots in my bathtub, I have been introduced to a most wondrous line of Vegan products that are just darn tasty, and I’m not making that up! One of the coolest of cool Mom’s from my days at The Lamplighter School has developed a line of snacks and other food products that are just going gangbusters!!

Hail Merry!

No, I did not just have an impure thought while typing, and yell out the Virgin Mother’s name in search of penance.

Hail Merry! is the name of the healthy snack line developed by Susan O’Brien, the aforementioned coolest of cool. When Susan’s middle son was working on perfecting his stand-up comedian routine in my Kindergarten class, Susan was working on perfecting Vegan to just that–Perfect! All in the name of research– as Susan needed more opinions ‘Yea’ or ‘Nay’ on the road to royal readiness, I became an unofficial taste-tester!! My, oh MY…were those delectable mint chocolate tarts ever GOOD!! (Yes, they were free, but that did not influence my opinions…usually…)

Near the top of the Hail Merry! homepage, is the Vegan answer to Wall Street’s Dow and NASDAQ updates: A stock market ticker, of organic sorts that reads ‘Raw, Vegan, Gluten-Free, Raw, Vegan, Gluten-Free…” Tiny hearts in place of boring commas are used (pining for Vegan love subliminally??) between each iconic word. (If only the website had streaming motion for the Vegan Holy Words and perhaps just a bit more glitz on Merry’s Tiara…but that’s just a personal preference.)
Yes, Susan O’Brien has expanded not only my culinary vocabulary, she has also lessened the chances of my glowing in the dark during my golden years. Having squandered my snack time in early days with such shallow activities as comparing and contrasting which side of the Oreo cookie would have the most frosting when pulled apart, and clogging my innards with all manner of Refined Sugars, Heated Oils, and Gluten, when I had no frickin’ CLUE that Gluten even existed, I now know better… I will, as Merry says, “Get Glowing!” Soon to bask in my inner glow from newfound Vegan luv instead of an accidental 3-Mile-Island overdose of Ding-Dongs, Twinkies and Ho-Ho’s!

Here’s a challenge for you…if you’ve felt left out in recent years from not jumping on a pop-cultural bandwagon–donning a Meat dress, a la Lady Gaga for your next fete on the town, or buying into the most tragic fashion trend of all time (in my opinion), white framed sunglasses, make THIS your lasting mark on your Community at large: Harass your neighborhood grocers and supermarket managers to stock Hail Merry! snacks in their store!

Not only will Susan love you for life and possibly even friend you on Facebook if asked nicely, I will figure out some way to thank you personally for your efforts in paying forward the gift of Vegan luv… so GET GLOWING! Gift and prize selection is currently underway for those selfless souls seeking to do their part to deliver the huddled masses yearning to be free of Gluten and the telltale afterglow of Heated Oils! So spread the word, ye ‘Friends of Merry!’ Be the one that gives your neighborhood grocery manager the Hail Merry heads up! Facebook friends with a penchant for thoughtful gift giving must be informed–Hail Merry is the answer to prayer! Think of this like being the one to bring the most visitors to Vacation Bible School–except this time, instead of the King James Version, you might nab a handwritten Thank-You from me, thoughtfully composed and inscribed with organic, gluten-free ink on planet-friendly stationery!
So, as my duty to those I love, I’m sending your way the Hail Merry! website info so that you may try something bold and new this year! GO RAW! GO VEGAN! GO GLUTEN-FREE! Or at least get hooked on Susan’s uber-healthy Hail Merry snacks!

https://hailmerry.com

Kindergarten Reflections: The Bailey Year, Birthdays and Bedtimes

(Originally Posted April 7, 2011)

Everyone lived to see the second week of Kindergarten. Even Bailey Elizabeth Norsstrum. Nearing the dawning of the 5th birthday, I began to have wistful remembrances of a kindergartner many years past. My first year teaching Kindergarten, at Heritage Elementary in Keller, Texas, there was one dear little girl who began the school year much like Bailey, a few weeks short of her fifth birthday. Amy, a sweet, shy little girl sobbed and boo-hooed the entire time she was at school. Amy’s little brother, who I believe was not much past his third birthday, would have gladly traded places with his sister. Amy’s poor Mom was caught with dragging the three year old brother out of the room each morning, and pushing wailing Amy, the 4 year old into the classroom!

For days this sobbing ensued. Amy went through multiple boxes of Kleenex as the days turned into weeks. As a first year teacher, I was thinking this entire school year would be replayed back in my head with the mournful wailing of Amy as the soundtrack.

Then, a new day dawned…Amy’s 5th birthday!! When Amy walked into Kindergarten on the morning of her 5th birthday, her eyes were completely dry. No more tears! NONE!! From that day forward, Amy was one of the most confident children in my morning Kindergarten class. She OWNED that new number chronologically attached to her identity! Four year olds cried when they went to school, five year olds did not. Who was I to argue with that?!? Hey, after those first weeks of red eyes, dripping noses and sobs worthy of a mistaken amputee post-op, I would not take this smiling child for granted! Amy’s Kindergarten year was nothing but success and growing self-confidence from the birthday onward.

I wonder if this could possibly hold true for Bailey so many years later? Maybe? Possibly? Pretty please?!?!?

The birthday morning for Bailey was greeted by all with smiles as wide as Texas! Hopes of this bedraggled Kindergarten teacher for a Texas sized Epiphany for Bailey’s rapid progression toward a well-adjusted, mature Kindergartner was tightly pinned to the coattails of a little girl named Amy. Bailey was bouncing higher and faster than usual on this anniversary of her earthly arrival. Early warning signs of a Bailey birthday breakfast: Birthday cake topped with a triple scoop of cotton candy ice cream. The Queen of Kindergarten thought she had arrived at her own personal kingdom for the day. Every child and adult crossing her path that day was informed that it was THE day of days. BAILEY ELIZABETH NORSSTRUM was having a birthday folks, and you better not forget it!! Four no more…the number of note had been kicked up a notch to the all important FIVE!!

In my Kindergarten class, when a child would celebrate turning another year older, we would certainly acknowledge the momentous occasion. The morning message would open with the child’s name, the new age and how elated we were to be joining the celebrant in commemorating this day of birthday bliss. Later, classmates would make a Birthday Book with each child drawing a picture of the birthday girl and dictating to me a reason they liked the birthday girl.

Only two weeks into the school year, multiple reasons for “I like Bailey because…” were indeed limited. One child sheepishly whispered to me, “I can’t think of anything….she’s not very nice.” Indeed, offering suggestions for completing the “I like…” sentence were difficult for me as well. Somehow ‘excellent pouting,’ ‘forceful pusher of friends in line,’ ‘very loud screamer,’ though achingly accurate would not be appreciated when Bailey took her book home to share with family. In the end, the birthday book was filled with “She has a pretty smile,” and “she is in my Kindergarten class.” That was as good as it was going to get.

By afternoon’s going home bell, Bailey, had suffered multiple meltdowns. Usually centering around why the world in Kindergarten was not bowing and scraping, showering our newly crowned 5 year old with worshipful adoration from morning’s reciting of the pledge of allegiance to the hug goodbye at day’s end.

Nope, sorry Amy. Twice in one lifetime was not to be. At least not in the dawning of newfound maturity for Bailey as a 5 year old. It’s time to call home. Let’s get the lines of communication well connected between the Norsstrum home and Denton Creek Elementary room A-108.

“Hello Mrs. Norsstrum? This is Mr. Creel, Bailey’s teacher. ……Yes, we all survived the birthday! She was one happy little girl today, that is for sure! (I gave details of how we celebrated the day, yet not quite reaching Bailey’s lofty expectations of birthday’s when merged with Kindergarten.)

NOTE: Before those Kindergarten teachers out there reading this begin jumping to chastise, this was NOT the first phone conversation I had with Mrs. Norsstrum! Not by a longshot. Probably the twelfth…or twentieth…of that week.

Trying to get more info on home life routines for Bailey would hopefully help me figure out what I was actually dealing with in efforts to live until school year’s end (both Bailey AND myself). THAT was the driving force behind this parental inquisition.

Question: “What does Bailey have for breakfast each morning before leaving for school?”

Mrs. Norsstrum answers: “Sometimes it a bowl of Cocoa Puffs or a doughnut. Sometimes she refuses to eat if we are out of her favorite cereal, and I just can’t get her to eat anything else!” (My guess would have been Fruit Loops as the cereal of choice.)

We did find out that she enjoyed a special birthday cupcake this morning, chocolate with oodles of pink icing…and sprinkles. Uh-huh. CHECK!!

I must add here that when I received the answer to the next question, my mouth fell completely open, as in jaw-dropping. Finally, everything began to make sense…

Fishing for more information, I asked: “What time did Bailey get to bed last night? What is her usual bedtime?”

Mrs. Norsstrum answers: “Well, last night was a little later than normal. She got to bed a little after 11pm, but usually its never later than 10:00 or 10:30.”

I could not believe my ears!!!! USUALLY never later than 10:00 or 10:30??? P.M.????

HEAVEN’S TO BETSY!!!!!

My response: “Our day is a very busy one. To be at her best, Bailey could definitely benefit from an earlier bedtime. MUCH earlier. What about 7pm tonight??”

Mrs. Norsstrum responds: “Bailey just usually decides when she is sleepy enough, she will go and crawl into her bed.”

Bailey’s evening routine usually would be sitting in front of a Disney princess movie for the hundred thousandth time, deciding for herself when would be the optimal time to greet the Sand Man. Surely not!!! Surely YES!! It was true. How sad.

My response: “As her Mom, you certainly know what will best benefit Bailey and a good nights sleep is surely paramount. I think you will be amazed by what enforcing an early bedtime will make for Bailey’s mood in the morning, as well as the mood of your entire household! Also, a breakfast free of sugar will add to her school day’s success!”

Mom and Dad were not even remotely in charge at the Norsstrum home. The Norsstrum roost was ruled by a newly crowned five year old, and had been for quite some time. Possibly for the past four years….

Four no more. Five years old. It was still August. Lord, deliver me…

Remembering Cherryl, telling her story (at least part of it…)

(Originally Posted April 7, 2011)

For the past several years, my partner Daniel has worked for Gilda’s Club of North Texas. (Although now known as Cancer Support Community, it will always be Gilda’s to me!) Named in memory of Gilda Radner who lost her battle with Ovarian cancer in 1989, Gilda’s Club is a haven for those living with cancer, as well as family and friends of those affected by cancer.

Today was a special day at Gilda’s Club– the annual Remembrance Ceremony, where those who have lost loved ones to cancer in the past year come together to remember, honor and share the lives lost. It was a most special time, with amazingly touching music by Resounding Harmony, stories and memories shared by family and friends, and words of comfort from my dear friend and Pastor, Kerry Sumpter Smith. At the end of Kerry’s message, she said, “The memories of those we have lost live on when we tell their stories!” That is why I am sitting here tonight.

As friends and family members shared memories at today’s ceremony, I had not planned to speak. Then it hit me that it was early this year that my Denton Creek Elementary Faculty family endured such a big loss with the passing of our dear friend and fellow teacher, Cherryl Sigwing. While I cannot begin to share all of Cherryl’s story, I must share my small part. So I stood and shared a few of my memories of Cherryl.

Before I actually met Cherryl, I learned a lot about what would be the basis of my knowledge about her just by walking by her empty classroom. My fourth year in the Coppell ISD found me moving to a different elementary in the district, Pinkerton Elementary. My new classroom was at the end of a VERY long hallway, and the first time walking to my new room I passed the First Grade classrooms. I glanced into all the classrooms, stopping to gaze into Cherryl’s ultra-organized room, then I peered into the room across the hallway.

Whoa. Wait a minute. The room across the hallway, that of Jenny Woods, was as close to a mirror image of Cherryl’s classroom as you could possibly get. My first thought: these two teachers must REALLY get along! I had no idea how much!

I learned early on that Jenny and Cherryl were a pair of ladies who had their game, teaching First Graders, down to an exact science, and I do mean exact! The names alone, Jenny and Cherryl, one was rarely mentioned with out the other. I must say, I was rather intimidated by them for a few years, always feeling that they were surely thinking what in the world is that guy down there doing in Kindergarten? They were “old school,” I was this renegade-esque guy down the hall doing all this new-fangled stuff they would end up having to correct with the next crop of First Graders I would be sending their way!

As the school year progressed, Jenny and Cherryl’s classrooms would carefully and systematically evolve, yet still the mirror image of one another. As I would pass their classrooms, I would sometimes think, “Oh, I wish they would do this or that…,” but it wasn’t too long before this Kindergarten teacher realized he just might have been a bit too big for his britches. Walking by Jenny Woods and Cherryl Sigwing’s classrooms provided much learning for this teacher, as much as their students. I do believe that a valuable lesson I learned from watching these two Master teachers, is “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it!” Yes, they had their craft down to a science, and their craft worked. For years they honed and tweaked, polished and perfected the art of teaching First Grade. That I were as strong a Kindergarten teacher as Jenny and Cherryl were in First Grade, would be my job well done.

The team- Jenny and Cherryl as teachers- was not the greatest gift they had to share with the faculties at Pinkerton and later at Denton Creek Elementaries. The gift they shared in such a constant and shining way was that of friendship. You didn’t have to be around them long to know that they had been friends for a long, long time. Privileged to share lunch with them in the teacher’s lounge for years, it was so heartwarming to always watch them have lunch together. Daily they would share an Arizona iced tea, Cherryl usually splitting it between the two. Dividing an apple or warming soup, then sharing with the other, it was always done without what seemed to be conscious action. It was just what they did. Apparently, lunch was only for starters.

It was only over these lunch periods that I learned that Cherryl and Jenny’s families traveled together, attended each others children’s activities, and were as involved with the others family as she was her own. Cherryl and Jenny were more like sisters than friends. Jenny has told me that this was so very true. I dare say they could finish each others sentences, and probably knew the other as well as she knew herself. What a gift their friendship seemed to be to each other!

It was only a couple years after their retirement that Cherryl was diagnosed with cancer of the liver. When I heard of Cherryl’s diagnosis, my very first thought was of Jenny. My heart certainly went out to Cherryl’s husband Rick and daughter Lauren, but my heart truly broke for Jenny. In our lives we are lucky to have a few good friends, some of course growing closer than others over time. To have a friendship through the years as close as that between Jenny and Cherryl, truly is a gift of a lifetime. Whenever our close faculty group will get together for lunch, it still seems like Cherryl should be right there, splitting that Arizona iced tea with Jenny.

There is so much more to Cherryl’s story than I can begin to share here. What a precious soul she was! The gift she gave to hundreds of First Graders, their families, her fellow teachers, family, friends, and especially to her dear friend, Jenny Woods, is immeasurable beyond words. How blessed I was to teach down the hall from her and gain from her wisdom in teaching young children!

“The memories of those lost live on when we tell their stories!” Why don’t you share with someone today the life of someone whose memories you hold? We all will be the richer for the telling!
This remembrance is in memory of Cherryl Sigwing and in honor of Jenny Woods. May the knowledge I have gained from each of them continue to make me a better teacher.

 

L-R: Cherryl Sigwing, me and Jenny Woods at my going away reception at Denton Creek Elementary, 2005.