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Christmas: It’s More Than Baubles and Stuff

December 17, 2009


Christmas comes around quick enough if you are not a child who still believes in Santa. Of course if you are still just a little grasshopper it seems to take forever and a day for the holiday to get here. As holidays go, this one is a biggie.

Halloween (oops, I used the “H” word) is barely over before Christmas decorations and colorfully lit trees start going up. It seems almost obscene. Thanksgiving is all but blown off in order for merchandisers to start hawking the latest techno gadgets, mechanized toys and all the lights, tinsel, garland, beads, baubles and other “stuff” that goes with it. Some radio stations even start up with the Christmas music the week before turkey day. Elvis’ “Blue Christmas” gets way, way too much play time. You just can’t help but feel blue-oooh, when you hear it. Puhlease! I’ll be wanting to take the word “blue” totally out of my vocabulary long after the holiday has past.

And, here’s a phenomenon I still can’t understand. There’s always one neighbor who is the first to get up the outdoor Christmas lights (and yes, I’ve seen this occur before Thanksgiving, too). Then, the next neighbor will take the first neighbor’s lighting idea and expand further on it and so on and so on. By the time the entire block gets gussied up with festive colored lights, animated reindeer and blow up characters, the night is so brightly lit you can see the neighborhood from the space station.

I’m not giving Christmas a “bah, humbug,” but I do think it should be celebrated with some modicum of taste and discretion. Jesus was born in the most humble of accommodations and the only Christmas light that shone was one very bright star over Bethlehem. In the midst of 21st century hype, it seems the biblical accounting of Christ’s birth gets a bit trampled on. He was born on a silent night – no fancy blinking colored lights, no eggnog, not the slightest crumb of a fruitcake to be found – just the sound of new life shared in the company of animals in a stable.

What is the meaning of Christmas? Charlie Brown certainly felt the stress and disorder of trying to produce something marvelous on stage in the Peanuts annual Christmas play. Charlie’s mental dishevelment is not unlike what I see and feel every year. It can be sheer chaos trying to pull together a wonderful holiday for friends and family. Fortunately, Charlie has always had one true, insightful little friend through the years.

Linus put it out there plain and simple by quoting the good book itself: “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

‘And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’

‘And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly host praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

In his quirky little voice Linus says to his pal, “That’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.” Right on! Can ya dig it?

Many people are concerned with gift giving and the hubbub of the holiday, especially in these hard economic times. Yet, the greatest gift of all costs absolutely nothing, the gift of love. Remember the reason for the season; it truly isn’t about baubles and stuff.

Peace . . . and good will toward humankind.


Strictly Speaking: Just One Person’s Opinion

November 12, 2009

Greetings and salutations readers!

Let me begin this piece by simply meaning what I say and saying what I mean. I have been a member of the Focus roster since 1986. Okay, now do the math, that wasn’t just yesterday. I had the distinct honor and privilege of working for this paper’s creator, the late John E. Tucker, Sr., a man of whom I will speak fondly until the day I die. Indeed, that dude had such an impact on so many lives I’m certain we will all meet again in lives yet to come to laugh, cry, and ponder the miracle of the universe.

I was, at one very momentous time in my life, the editor of Focus. That position now belongs to Carys Bowen, a highly talented and versatile individual who continues to do an exceptional job with John’s “baby”. Tammy Panther, John’s widow, is Publisher. I can say, with firm belief, that today’s Focus continues to be a product of which I am darn proud to be a part. It is a legacy that continues to remind its readers that while Tucker, the man, the legend, the icon, is no longer among us, his spirit remains through the undying love of a good wife and woman.

That being said, I am hence, a contributor to Focus. I am blessed to be able to deposit my literary “droppings” at the office to this day. And, while I welcome comments from readers, I must emphasize that once my work is published it is no longer my own, it belongs to Focus.

Oddly, while I was actually in-house at the paper I seldom had anyone approach me on a very personal basis about my work. In the present day (as in real life) I do not work in the building where the paper is housed and my legal last name is not Mawyer. My work now is in public service and is not, by any long stretch of the imagination, literary in nature. By the grace of all that is good, I am still at liberty to write.

In recent months, I have had comments passed along to me by readers. Yes, those sweethearts at Focus do know how to reach me but are ultimately discreet in not divulging that information to anyone. Why not? Because my work belongs to the paper, it does not belong to me and because…my work belongs to the paper. It is copyrighted. Copyrighted work is protected for the lifetime of the author or creator and for a period of 50 years after his or her death. Focus has exclusive rights. All that information appears in the staff box just beneath Tucker’s photograph in the paper.

The reason this comes up now is because a missive was recently passed to me regarding my column which ran on October 29th. It was titled “Goblins of the Night Cometh.” For the record, I am an editorial writer. That means what I write is my opinion or is based on my take on life. This column was intended to be an overview of Halloween in general and certainly not intended to be hurtful or offensive to anyone. Yet, one can not reasonably expect to please all the people all the time.

A reader who says that he/she is a follower of Wicca took my column on the festivities of the last day of October personally. That person who proclaims to be a “pagan” found my comments on pagans to be “rude and unjustified”. Excuse me? I also referred to the following in that column: Michael Jackson, Sarah Palin, Robert Pattinson, Barak Obama and Bernie Madoff. Um, sorry celebs if I offended you. Also noted from days of my childhood were my dad and brother. My general information on the Celtic holiday of Samhain (the origin of Halloween) came from browsing Google. And the reference I made to wearing a goat’s head and more specifically making “goat’s head soup” came from the title of the Rolling Stone’s LP, “Goat’s Head Soup,” which was released August 31, 1973. “Goat’s Head Soup” is a title befitting a hedonistic era of hippies and hashish. (Okay, anyone who was once a hippie or knew a hippie, is still a hippie or knows a hippie raise your hand. Closet hippies don’t count, just sayin’. If you fall in the hippie category, be it then or now, and are offended by this then uh, um….ah, dang! I forgot what I was just sayin’.)

According to proper definition, a pagan is a person who is not a Jew, Muslim, or Christian. A pagan may worship more than one god. It’s a free country. If you have not committed a murder, physical and/or emotional abuse of a child, spouse, partner, friend or animal, far be it from me to point a finger. At any rate, I am glad people of all types are reading my work and, more importantly, are reading Focus. It is still the best free read around. (Strictly my opinion.)

I would encourage anyone wishing to comment on the contents within the pages of Focus to address their accolades or criticism to the paper, the entity that owns the published content. Send a letter addressed to the editor and copy it to the publisher. Sign your real name and attach a phone number where you can be reached so management can verify the authenticity of the letter.

Peace.

P.S.

At this point I am straying off the subject of this column to acknowledge and give thanks for the service and good works of all men and women serving in the military, military reserves, and all members of rescue personnel. May your path be clear, your resolve strong and may you always walk with light. Know that you and your families are appreciated and the freedom of the democracy for which you stand is cherished beyond words.

 

Goblins of the Night Cometh

October 29, 2009

The cool winds are blowing many colored leaves across the hollows and foothills. Pumpkins, big and small are sitting on door steps waiting to be carved into the lanterns to light the paths of youngsters and their parents as they travel from door to door for Halloween treats and glad tidings. The smallest fairies and goblins that are too shy to say anything are coaxed by big brothers and sisters on what to say. Sometimes the tiniest visitors of the night can only muster the word “Treat” as they peer from behind the adults and bigger kids.

At last, I’m able to pull out the old broom and prepare to fly into the night. That broom’s got a lot of miles on it, too! I love Halloween because it’s a fun celebration to herald in the chilly days of autumn and the holidays to come

Many of my friends and associates mark Halloween as the beginning of a long “eat fest.” First there’s Halloween, followed by Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and Valentine’s Day. That really is a lot of elongated chow time! Who can resist the miniature chocolate bars, peanut butter kisses, and bubble gum given out on Halloween? It’s difficult to stand at the door all night with a big bowl full of goodies and not dive in for a Cherry Tootsie Pop!

Halloween used to be a simple, less commercialized day of fun. Kids had to use what they could find around the house for costumes and pumpkins were not carved in advance but on the day of Halloween itself. I remember Dad coming home in his business suit on Oct. 31, and even before he could change or eat supper, my older brother and I would join him in the basement for the carving of the “punkin.” He’d spread out the newspaper, roll his sleeves up, and before you knew it he’d scooped the slop out of it and carved a nice, happy face. Of course it was the standard jack o’lantern happy face – nothing gory or out of ordinary.

We couldn’t eat supper fast enough either. We just wanted to hit the sidewalks and go about our merry way with our bags to collect goodies. Our costumes consisted of a brown grocery bag worn over the head with eye and mouth holes cut out and a scary face painted on it. I was always the one who went out as a ghost. That was easy – just throw a white sheet over me, cut some eye holes out and call it “done.”

Of course, it was only a matter of time, in the modern day world, until advertisers and marketers would take Halloween and turn it into a gold mine of sales. The very first day of October decorations in neighborhoods go up. Just around the corner from me, ghosts are hanging from trees for days, gravestones have been strategically placed and orange spot lights are dotted throughout the yard. The main street where I live is decorated with hay bales, pumpkins and scarecrows.

And, here’s the thing about starting the month buying for Halloween. You go to the store, get a couple bags of candy. You eat one entire bag of it way before Halloween night, so then you have to go back to the store and buy more candy. Arrrgggh! It’s a conspiracy!

Here’s the skinny on Halloween. It was originally a pagan holiday. It has roots in the Celtic festival of Samhain. The Celts that lived more than 2000 years ago in what is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and Northern France celebrated their new year on November 1st. The Celts believed the night before the new year the boundary between the living and the dead got blurred and the dead became dangerous for the living by causing problems such as sickness or damage to crops. So, they celebrated Samhain. The traditional festival was a time used by the ancient Celtic pagans to take stock of supplies and slaughter livestock for winter stores. The festival involved bon fires in which the bones of slaughtered livestock were thrown. They would don costumes consisting of animal heads and skins in an attempt to copy evil spirits or to placate them. From there, all kinds of symbols and myths arose, eventually resulting in the convoluted meaning of Halloween today, which seems designed for Wal-Mart shoppers especially. (Attention pagan shoppers! If you really want to celebrate the season, you’ll have to go the farm to get your animal heads and skins.)

You might not have anyone show up at your door wearing a goat’s head or cow hide, but here is a list of costumes you may see:

• Barack Obama (hail to the Chief!) • Michael Jackson (hail to the King of Pop!) • Sarah Palin (hail to the Pit Bull wearing lipstick!) • Kate Gosselin (hail to who ever created that funky haircut!) • Robert Pattinson (from “Twilight) • Any character from Star Wars (the movie from the mid-70s that just keeps giving) • Any character from Star Trek (Didn’t Scottie beam them up and outta here a long time ago?) • Last, but certainly not least, Bernie Madoff (a.k.a. Beelzebub, Mephistopheles and SATAN!)

After reading that list, wearing a goat’s head doesn’t seem all that bad. At least the next day you could make Goat’s Head Soup! What??? Does that make me a pagan? Then let’s light the bonfire and party on!

Boogity boo!

A Generation’s End

October 8, 2009

There comes a time in everyone’s life when your parents’ generation takes leave of earthly bounds for life everlasting.

When these losses of elders occur it leaves those of us who were just small children running amongst our moms and dads, aunts and uncles, playing at family gatherings, picnics and holidays, when times were merry and cares were light, to come to our own reckoning with mortality.

My immediate family and I traveled to Ruckersville, a small town near Charlottesville in north central Virginia, recently to witness the laying to rest of our maternal Aunt Blanche. She was the second oldest of four girls out of a family of eight children.

We left just past the crack of dawn to drive the 5 ½ hours it took us to get there and arrived just 15 minutes before the service began. The small country church was packed and we were told by the funeral home staff that we needed to view the body, as they were about to close her magnificently beautiful wooden casket. I stepped up with my mom, took a brief look and then we joined my mom’s sister, my only living aunt, on the front pew. My brothers and sister-in-law were positioned somewhere else in the crowd.

The minister stood before us and told us Blanche had only two wishes: that they not dye her hair and the funeral service be kept short. The church was so small I could reach out and touch the casket with no difficulty so I was glad my deceased aunt had instructed the service be kept short. And, upon viewing her, her hair was still gray.

No matter how “together” I thought I was when I walked into that church, the longer I sat there on the front pew with six cousins, my aunt and mom, the more unglued I felt myself become.

The pastor made some wise cracks about my aunt’s notorious bad driving, which evoked laughter throughout the place. Having known her all my life, I’d heard plenty of harrowing stories about what happened whenever she got behind the wheel. And, I did recognize that she couldn’t park a car straight worth a hoot. “I don’t know how she ever got her driver’s license in the first place,” my mom said later.

And, that is where her two requests ended. The pastor told us that she was just shy of her 87th birthday which would be Sept. 23, which was wrong. She would have been 87 in January 2010. (If you’re going to preach a funeral, at least read the person’s obituary so you can get your facts straight.) Blanche had been a parishioner there for years and I feel certain the pastor had known her fairly well. She was an absolute “no frills” kind of woman. If she said, “keep it short,” I am pretty darn certain that’s what she meant. She was never one to mince words. Nonetheless, the pastor proceeded to launch into a diatribe so lengthy I zoned out – didn’t hear a word we had driven so far to hear.

The pastor’s eulogy began to sound like Charlie Brown’s elementary school teacher, “Wah, wah, wah, wah.” As I sat there, in my prim black dress and pearls, my mind began to roam through the memories of a woman who was a big sister to my mom and an interesting character to me. I was in a fog of times gone by.

Blanche and her husband, Uncle George, lived on a very old family farm consisting of 110 acres situated in the pastoral Virginia countryside. For years, there was no indoor plumbing and it was there I became familiar with the outdoor “Johnny.” It was a two seater no less. Whenever my family would visit, as a small girl I found it treacherous business when it came to having to go “take a leak,” so to speak. The two-seater didn’t have a hole made for small people, just adults. I would peer down below into that hole in horror, hoping and praying I could hold on well enough to keep from falling through. And, while I was out there, I would wonder who in the world would want to be in there with another person on that spare seat?

I recalled a time when the family gathered at the farm for a reunion and a big cast iron kettle of Brunswick stew was hung over an outdoor fire. I could see my kin folks sitting around the dining room drinking coffee. I could hear Uncle George talk about how he’d lost three head of cattle that were unfortunate enough to be standing under a large tree during a lightening storm one summer.

I could see the high antique headboards of the bedsteads in the bedrooms and recall the house having a front stair case and a back stair case leading up from the kitchen. In the walk-in pantry were various home canned items and other sundries.

I recalled the swing on the front porch where visitors gathered in the warm months. My brother told me later that he recalled all the men folk sitting out there chatting while the women folk stayed in the house.

And during the bitter cold days of January when it was hog killin’ time, my dad and mom had occasionally gone out to the farm to assist in the major undertaking. Back then, I thought my bacon came from a nicely wrapped package from the butcher or grocery store. So, to keep my mind safe with that illusion, I was always left behind.

Blanche worked as an editor at the small town newspaper. She took pictures and wrote about the news, as well as features. Likewise, I had done the same in my lifetime. She always seemed pleased with that idea. Well into her older years she stayed current with what was going on in the world and was an avid reader. Her laughter was frequent. At least to me it was. And it had a sound to it I will never forget. It was like she was laughing at the world and all that was in it.

Eventually, I began to fidget and shift my weight on that hard front church pew, as did my mom and aunt. As my tail bone was going numb, I sensed the service was about to end and after a final prayer we got up to follow the hearse to the cemetery where Blanche was laid to rest by Uncle George.

As I stood at the graveside, I remembered exactly the last words she had spoken to me sometime during the past year when she called my mother while I was visiting her one day. “Do you ever get up to Charlottesville much?” she asked. I replied, “No, not too often anymore.” “Well, when you do, come see me,” she said. “I will,” I replied. She ended the conversation with three words I can’t ever recall her saying to me before, as that side of my family is pretty stoic. “I love you,” she said. “I love you, too,” I replied.

I don’t attend many funerals, only those for people of whom I am most fond and then it’s out of respect for a good life gone by. These days, it always seems to be later than I think. The generation before me is passing its way through time into eternity.

I believe Blanche probably knew I had come to see her one last time and all of us who knew her for the true person she was were there that day sitting on those hard church pews. As a former newspaper woman, she would probably be glad to know I wrote about her. And, I hope she knows I had to restrain myself with every fiber of my being from getting up in front of the packed little church to tell the preacher “She said keep it short, so just zip it.”

That night I sent a few words out to Blanche. I told her I was sorry to be so late in coming. And, that she didn’t get but one of her two last requests granted. But, we who are left behind do the best we can with what we’ve got and from there we go on.

Peace.

Look It Up – It’s Called ‘Etiquette’

September 24, 2009


It seems to me there is a there is a lack of politeness, a slackness of concern if you will, for everyday observance of common etiquette.

Etiquette is a word I heard a lot growing up. For those who are dictionary resistant, it’s a word of French etymology meaning “the conduct or procedure required by good breeding or prescribed by authority to be observed in social or official life.” My mother so firmly believes in “etiquette” she has given me at least two large volumes on the subject. Not exactly what you want under the Christmas tree, but they have come in handy nonetheless. I suppose she thought I’d need to know the benefit of good manners over the years. Correct. They can get you pretty far in life.

The more intensely fast-paced society becomes the more prevalent lack of good manners seems to be. A recent example was when South Carolina Republican Congressman Bill Wilson shouted “you lie” at President Obama during his health care speech to a Joint Session of Congress on national television. As a result, the House voted to formally rebuke him. Is that something you’d really want to have in your biography? That was an infamous lack of etiquette and respect for the man who holds the highest office in the land.

Can you imagine what would happen, for example, if someone in the British government had done that to Queen Elizabeth as she was speaking to her subjects on national television? Heresy!

I’m not an expert on etiquette by a long stretch, but I do take notice of the most common breaches. Allow me, if you will kind readers to share.

When you take your trash to the curb, make sure it is in a proper trash can with a lid on it. For some reason, folks in my area can’t seem to understand that simply dragging trash to the curb in plain tied trash bags and leaving it there overnight for trash pickup the next day not only invites a dog’s curiosity, but raccoons and other vermin as well. Not to mention, it’s unsightly.

Put your shopping cart in the designated place in the store parking lot. If it’s a flip-up model then flip it up before stashing it with other carts. Leaving it abandoned in the open parking area is crude, rude and socially unacceptable.

Don’t take up two parking spaces with one car. Whether you’re drive a jalopy or a high-end luxury auto, we all prize our vehicles as much as the next person. What if everyone in the parking lot did that?

If you have children, make sure they are well attended-to while out in public. That’s all I’ve got to say about that, as I’m not looking to pick a fight.

If you pass someone on the road and they throw their hand up in friendly greeting, wave back. I’ve found this is very common when driving country roads and byways. After all, this is the genteel South. The same thing applies if you are out boating on any of the local lakes.

Seriously, if you are on the road and you hear a nearby siren, try to discern if it is coming from behind you. If it is, pull over to the side of the road and come to a complete stop. The person riding in the back of the ambulance or the person whose house is on fire would appreciate it. Of that I am certain.

Pay attention to which grocery store check out line you get in. If you have a full grocery cart and get in the lane that says “Express, 15 items or less,” nine times out of ten the cashier will pleasantly go ahead and check you out, instead of busting your chops for it. Meanwhile, the people behind you carrying their light baskets, and that one guy groping a case of beer are mentally using all sorts of nasty adjectives for your mistake. Not to mention the daggers they are throwing your way with their eyes.

Here’s one I get a lot, as I travel the interstate: Allow folks to merge into traffic, even if it means you have to slow down or speed up to for them to do it. It’s a pretty sick feeling to get to the end of the merging lane with your turn signal blinking away, frantically hoping someone will let you into traffic.

Don’t ask someone to e-mail you or call you if you have no intention of returning the courtesy. Although you may be a wonderful person, kind to animals and old people, this faux pas will only land you in the “What a jerk” category.

Last, but certainly not least, is the quintessential thank you note. In this day and age when e-mails and instant messaging rule, thank you notes are still a must. It means a lot to the recipient to know you actually took the time to sit down and thank them in your own handwriting, put a stamp on the envelope and trotted it out to the mail box. For this, you will be fondly remembered.

Peace and good wishes.

Meditations On Life

September 10, 2009


I have been a practitioner of meditation for many years – more than half my life. Sometimes I meditate to achieve a calm blankness in my mind where all thoughts and distractions are erased. I become aware of my breathing, simply being in the present moment. Ahhh…. This serves well both as a method of survival from the chaos of outside civilization and as a way to center my being, thus keeping me balanced.

Other times, I find myself meditating on the stuff of life, those things that make life sweeter, more comfortable, indeed, bearable. This stuff scrolls across my radar screen all the time – every day. So, I jotted some of it down, basically so I could have a permanent reminder of the best of what’s around.

Here’s a list derived from my musings:

• Sitting around a bonfire with a group of friends, enjoying each other’s company while taking bets on when that one dude who likes to constantly stoke the fire is going to accidentally step in it.

• Comfortable shoes – need I say more? After a certain age, you don’t care what they look like, just as long as they are good to your tootsies. You know the ones, you wear them so long they’ve been super glued and even duct taped to hold them together and throwing them away is like saying goodbye to a best friend.

• A reliable car. It doesn’t have to be luxurious or fancy, it just needs to get me from point A to B. A 1997 Honda CRV does it for me. It runs like a champ and we are planning to grow much older together! It also happens to be Duke blue (Go Blue Devils!).

• A good, hand-pattied cheeseburger. I like mine with lettuce and tomato, Heinz 57 and …well you get the gist. I take mine the same way Jimmy Buffet does.

• The sound of a baby’s laughter. If that doesn’t delight your soul, what will?

• The pledge of allegiance to the flag of the United States of America – as it was originally written.
• Venus, the brightest first evening star.

• Orange jack o’ lanterns. I never tire of seeing these festive orbs that herald the end of October.

• A good hairdresser – every bit as valuable as a good doctor, lawyer, or dentist! And it’s true; there are things only my hairdresser knows for sure.

• The smell of rich earth after a spring rain.

• Family – you’ve got to love them because God will get you if you don’t.

• Sitting by a wood stove on a cold winter’s eve with a Ken Follett novel and, being a baptized Lutheran (the kind of which author Garrison Keillor has made so famous), sipping a good 15-year-old single malt scotch on the rocks. If I were a smoker a fine cigar would be a nice complement, too. (Father John Tucker, FOCUS founder, can you hear me??? I know you’re checking in on us from the “other side.”)

• The magnificent beauty of a rainbow trout caught on a natural fly from a cold mountain stream. And, the wonder of seeing one of God’s glorious creations as it’s released back into the stream from which it came.

• The famous “Peanuts” cartoon beagle, Snoopy, as he is perched atop his dog house hard at work in front of a typewriter. There he is, living out his daydream as an author in which the first line of his work always begins: “It was a dark and stormy night …”

• The gleam in my mother’s eye when she’s with her only two young grandchildren.

• Fireworks – in celebration of anything.

• Military war veterans – the sacrifices they make and the effects that linger after their tour of duty is over. Ditto for their families.

• Sunday morning coffee.

• Charlottesville, VA., my home town and also home of our nation’s third president, Thomas Jefferson. His home, Monticello, is a fascinating place to see. I used to say that when I died I wanted my ashes spread among the splendor of the spring flower gardens there. Hmmm… but I think that might be illegal so I’m going to need a change of plans.

• Blue moons.

• Long naps in a warm bed with a fluffy pillow and an old hound named Astro to keep me company.

• Sunrises. There’s one every day!

• Ocracoke Island – heaven on earth.

• Friends. It is true what they say – at best you can count the real ones on one and a half hands.

• Hugs that are warm and heartfelt be they from friends, relatives or complete strangers!

The incense stick is burning low and the Buddha is smiling on my countenance, so I will once more breathe deeply, and retreat inward back to a place of white light for now.

Namaste.

 

A Tribute To Duke -

Friend, Funny Guy, Loving Light At The End Of The Day

August 20, 2009

Enough time has passed, at last, when I can draw from the inner strength and tranquility bequeathed me by a quirky little 20-lb. dynamo named Duke and write about him in celebration of his life.

I have no human children so anyone who knows me well asked, “Will you write about him?” “Yes,” I’d reply, “When the world is no longer gray. Thanks for asking.” I had gone into emotional lock down.

I knew, though, one day the pain would pass – as it always does – and I would be able to put into words what a wonderful friend this little canine had been to me for 10 good years. That boy saw me through bad times, days of celebration, and days when I could have cared less about the rest of the world. He was my rock. He could read my emotional barometer perhaps better than most people. (Duke below, showing his love)

My husband and I had just returned from vacation, having left our dogs in the care of a good friend. Duke, as always, was tickled to see our return. I patted a wooden bench for him to jump up on, beside the rocking chair on the porch where I was sitting. I noticed he jumped up facing the wrong way and seemed confused on how to turn back around. I waited long enough to allow him the dignity to figure it out and he did, but slowly.

As usual that evening, Duke and his brother Astro joined me in going to bed. We turned in early because Duke seemed very tired. And I was, too, having just returned from the North Carolina Coast.

I was off the next day and that morning my husband stuck his head in the door on his way to work and told me when I got up to look down the hill to the kennel. “Make sure you see three heads looking back up at you because if you don’t, you need to check on Duke. He was staggering badly and slammed into the stair railing when I called them downstairs to go outside last night.”

Minutes later I had the house to myself. But something told me I needed to get up immediately, go downstairs and look at the kennel. When I looked down the hill to the fenced-in area there was a “missing man” formation. I flung the door open and ran down the hill calling for Duke, but got no answer.

I found him stretched out in front of his little dog house as if he’d just gone to sleep and got called to a higher place in the quiet wee hours of April 28, 2009. I realized that our precious dog had hung on long enough for us to come home from our trip.

I picked him up and cradled him in my arms as I had done thousands of times before. I was in my night gown and bare feet, the hair on my head sticking out all over from sleep. I didn’t care what anybody would think of this sight if they saw me. He was still warm and for those few minutes while I stood there in front of his dog house with him in my arms the world ceased to rotate on its axis.

I carried him up the hill and placed him on the dog bed on the porch and promptly called my husband. For a short time, before his “brother” dogs came around or his “dad” came home to bury him, it was just me and Duke there on the porch together. I kissed him on the forehead and told him what a good dog he’d been and how very much I loved him and would miss him. It was a sad day.

We adopted Duke from the Humane Society and brought him home as a playmate for a puppy we had adopted from the Humane Society the previous year, Astro (a.k.a. Huckleberry Hound Dog). The first day we brought him home, Duke walked up on the porch, snagged one of Astro’s real steak bones and went up under the rocking chair where he knew he’d be safe with it and proceeded to take a nap with that bone lying in front of his nose.

Every evening when I got home I’d go down the hill to the kennel to let Duke and Astro out after having been penned up all day. Duke would run up the hill as fast as his little legs would take him, and then turn around and look at me as if to say, “Hey, can’t you move any faster?” So he’d proceed to run back down the hill, literally flying through the air with his feet touching the ground only about every 10 feet, and then leap into my arms and make me carry him back up the hill to the porch where the dog food bowls were. We’d “snoodle” together the whole way.

A year later we adopted a 4-year-old chocolate Labrador named Sam and he and Duke became pretty tight running buddies. Duke was the alpha dog, though, and he didn’t take it lightly when Sam would accidentally step on him. He’d spin around and snarl as if to say, “Look, I’m really the big dog here, see. This show is gonna run the way I say ‘cuz I’m the baddest 20-lb. alpha dog around.” And that is pretty much the way it went from then on.

Every Christmas the dogs are given Christmas presents. Every year, Duke’s Christmas present would be some variation of a stuffed squeaky toy Santa. It was uncanny how that little dog loved his Santas, and not just at Christmas but all year long. They were kept in a basket by the deck door. Eventually, there were so many stuffed Santas they had to be crammed tight into the basket in order to accommodate them all.

Every once in a while Duke would get a hankering for his very most favorite Santa and would dig through that basket, all manner of stuffed Santas flying into the air, until he found his favorite ratty ol’ Santa which he would throw up on the sofa and lay beside of for a couple of days. The den floor was a virtual mine field of stuffed Santas and I’d say, “Duke, you need to clean up this mess.” He’d just look at me as if to say, “Hey, can’t you see me and ol’ St. Nick are up here chilling on this fine leather upholstery? I haven’t got time for those other Santas.”

Somewhere along the line Duke became part dog/part cat. I’d give him a bowl of cold milk in the peak of summer time to cool him come down and he’d lap it up, then look up at me with those brown eyes as if to say, “May I please have some meow…uh, I mean some more?” He’d hop up in your lap in a heartbeat, too. But just long enough to cop a little cat nap.

Some evenings when I got home the dogs would already be roaming in the yard. Duke would always be the first to run to the car to greet me, his whole body just wiggling. The minute I’d open the door he’d jump over my lap and into the passenger side for his daily ride around the block! He wouldn’t budge on that matter. I’d look down at him sitting on the seat next to me, pat him on the head and say, “How was your day little man?” and he’d look back at me as if to say “Hey, it’s a groovy dog world Mom.”

Duke had his night time ritual, he and Astro always joined me in bed to see me off to sleep until their Dad called them downstairs around 11:30 p.m. to go outside. Often, if I was otherwise occupied washing my face and brushing my teeth, I’d come to bed to find Duke with his little head just lying on the very corner of my pillow. I’d thank him for keeping my place warm and he’d move over beside me, curl up in a ball and go to sleep. He was the light at the end of my day.

I believe, beyond a doubt, that we are sent many blessings in our lives. They are meant to enrich us and sometimes teach us lessons. Duke taught me to love better and without judgment. He taught me to remember and cherish some little expression of endearment on a loved one’s face. And to take pleasure in seeing the joy of something as simple as dog lapping cold milk from a bowl on the kitchen floor.

Occasionally at twilight I walk out to the little mound where Duke is cradled by Mother Earth. Sometimes I’ll sit down there and look up at the sky waiting for the first stars to come out. I often get the feeling I’m not really alone. And I am always reminded of a quote by the famous Will Rogers: “If there are no dogs in heaven then when I die I want to go where they went.”

Amen brother. Amen.

Peace.

Something About Blue

July 30, 2009

When I was a small girl, I was intrigued with the various colors of blue found in the 64-count Crayola box. Despite all the other wonderful colors in that count I found my favorite to be “midnight blue.”

I was fascinated by that. I’m an insomniac so when the sky is very clear, during the winter months, I look to the heavens and find there really is such a thing as “midnight blue!”

Oddly when someone asks me what my favorite color is my immediate answer is “green.” It’s a universally benign color. But I have a deep secret love for blue. Blue is like Godiva chocolate. It’s kind of decadent. It can be cold, intimidating and dark. But it can also be soothing, tranquil and serene. It’s an enigma.

Sometimes when people are down they say they have the “blues.” “Why the blues?” Blue is not that bad. When I feel down, I feel the intensity of the one color that encompasses every color in its make up – black. Hence, I guess I have the “blacks” instead of the “blues.”

I think everyone has a place to go when they need to refresh themselves and take a break from the constant barrage of “stuff” life throws at them. This is where the color blue really comes into play for me.

I work in Morganton. Many of the fine folks in this area are certainly familiar with the one beautiful icon that says “Hey, you are in the hill country now!” That icon is Table Rock.

When I need to breathe there’s a place just a stone’s throw from my office where I go to take in the beauty of God’s natural creation and refresh my mind. It’s behind a very old, abandoned brick building where there are back steps. There, I sit, breathe deep, and behold the beauty of Table Rock. I savor the view before me: a field of yellow hay stacks, red barns, church spires, the state flag flying at the local community college and, beyond that, blue hills and Table Rock.
Looking at the tranquil beauty of those blue hills calms me. Their beauty sings out to me like a lullaby. Some days they are gray-blue, other days they are deep-sea blue. And on a good day, when the air is clear, cold and crisp the most distant hills are “midnight blue.”

Life is short, and the colors of that childhood Crayola box are everywhere. They are beautiful – every one of them.

Next time you’re feeling “blue” or “black,” or just need a little breather, look around for a visual treat. You never know, it might be “carnation pink,” “salmon,” “spring green” or “sienna,” but somewhere out there there’s a color waiting to soothe you and take your cares away.
Peace.

Sickies Stay Away!

February 26, 2009

By Sara Mawyer

I have spent the majority of the month of February trying to dodge two types of crud – the stomach/intestinal kind and the respiratory kind. My hands are chapped from washing consistently after handling money, public door knobs, and bathroom use. I’ve used antibacterial gel by the dollops, sprayed Lysol until it’s starting to smell like perfume and still to no avail. The problem is that folks at work catch the bug and drag in barking, whooping, and sneezing into the air and everything they touch. Why? I cannot fathom.

I work for the state. State employees get one sick day per month – that’s 12 sick days per year, and if you don’t use them all they carry over into the next year and so on. Some of these people have weeks – even months - of sick time accumulated and yet they still come into work, bleary eyes, red nose and all. This is annoying. Some of us don’t have that much sick time accrued and yet those who do are sharing their “bugs” with anyone and everyone they come in contact with. Don’t get me wrong – I’m fond of most of the guys and gals at work. But, when I’m lying in bed snorting, hacking, sweating and eating Mucinex like candy, it’s hard not to be a little miffed.

I’m sure this plight is not limited to my work place alone. And, given the times, some people can’t afford to miss work, as they don’t get sick days or only have a very limited number of sick days.

If you can, you need to take time off when you come down with the cold or flu to rest and try to recover instead of insisting on pulling a full 40 hour-week while dealing with the crud. Very often trying to endure work while you’re sick only prolongs the illness.
Colds and flu are prevalent in winter. I’m happy to share the best ways to treat the symptoms. I pretty much have them down pat by now. They are as follows:

  • Get plenty of rest, especially if you have a fever.
  • Stop smoking and avoid secondhand smoke, which can make cold symptoms worse.
  • Drink a lot of fluids such as water and clear broth. Fluids help loosen mucus and prevent dehydration.
  • Gargle with warm salt water to relieve a sore throat.
  • Avoid alcohol. (I take exception here, as mom’s home remedy of a little shot of whiskey mixed with sugar helps relieve a cough and provides a nice warm feeling going down. It’s called “elixir.”)
  • Use saline nose spray to loosen mucous and moisten the nasal lining.
  • Make sure to have cough lozenges and tissues on hand.
  • Make yourself comfortable. Slip into some warm pajamas, have some herb tea and curl up with an afghan and a good book or movie.
  • Above all, be conscientious. Try not to pass the “creeping crud” on to your spouse, loved ones, friends and co-workers. That can make you a little unpopular until the cough and flu season passes. (Aaaaachoo! Excuse me; I’ll just be getting back into bed. Now, where did I put the vapo rub?)

 

Looking For Good News

February 19, 2009

By Sara Mawyer

The United States seems to be in a spin of gloom and doom. Watching the nightly news has become a vexation, its dark portraits of financial ruin, inflation, recession, depression, crime and natural disaster are heaped on the heavily laden plates of those who are struggling just to maintain.

Good news is hard to find and I’ve begun to fervently look for it anywhere I can find it.

Along the way, I encounter folks who have become so jaded by bad news it seems impossible for them to see any good news at all. Case in point: Someone recently tried to convince me that when U.S. Air Captain Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger had to ditch his U.S. Air jet into the January cold of New York’s Hudson River in a gallant and successful effort to save all 155 souls on board it was not a “miracle,” but just a matter of the pilot and crew being exceptionally well trained. I don’t think so.

A well trained crew and the fact there was a flotilla at the site of the crash to immediately assist all aboard were a big factor. But, I contend there was a higher power visiting Capt. Sully in the cockpit that day. That was what gave him the focus to do what he had to do and that was what aided him as he walked through the rapidly sinking plane not once but twice to be sure all passengers were out. That is why people refer to this event as a “miracle.” Yes, he is a hero, but in my mind’s eye he’s a guardian angel.

It’s wonderful to read and hear about people doing things out of the kindness of their hearts. For example: the news story about an abandoned dog named Kujo, who must have been using his best instincts when he decided to park his malnourished carcass beside Cecilia Miller’s house one bitterly cold January day. Attached to the dog’s collar was a note written in a child’s handwriting that read: “Hi, my name is Kujo. I am a nice dog. My owner can’t feed me. Please help me. I’m great with kids, too.”

A spark ignited in Mrs. Martin’s heart. The 77-year-old grandmother determined Kujo was way too large a young dog to handle by herself. So, she called her 79-year-old neighbor (and dog lover) from across the street to help her take care of the gentle giant until they can find a good home for him. When I saw them on the news with this huge dog lying on the sofa between them having his ears softly stroked I couldn’t tell who was really more blessed – Kujo or these kind women.

In Australia, where wildfires have been burning out of control, a volunteer firefighter named Dave Tree befriended a frightened Koala bear. Her paws had suffered 2nd and 3rd degree burns and she appeared weak and about to give up the fight for life. Tree offered her a bottle of water and held it for her while she drank. The grateful bear gently laid her paws in Tree’s cool hands while drinking the water. This simple act between man and bear was one I’m sure that firefighter will never forget. The Koala, whose name is Sam, was snatched from near death and will receive the care and attention she needs before returning to the wild.

The year started off with big news, the inauguration of our nation’s first African American president. As I watched this event on the television I was moved by the intense emotion of millions of people gathered around the Capital. People from every walk of life, color, class, religion and political party had joined together to see Barack Obama take the oath of office. I can’t recall ever having seen that many smiling faces at one time. It was a big “warm fuzzy” day of days! This singular event in American history is a shining example that we are now all equal and free to aspire to the highest office in the land. God bless America!

Anyone who knows me knows I am a consummate dog lover. The latest joyful bit of news for me was “Stump,” the 10-year-old Sussex spaniel and winner of Best in Show at Westminster’s 133rd dog show at Madison Square Garden in New York, This old fellow (real name: Ch. Clussexx Three D Grinchy Glee) was probably lounging on his master’s sofa a couple of weeks earlier, just dreaming of dog bones and rolling in tall grass. He’d already won 55 Best in Shows and Westminster’s Best in Sporting Group in 2004. Shortly after that, through the grace of God and good veterinary help, he barely survived a rare bacterial infection. Without training for his return to the Garden, he stole the hearts of dog lovers everywhere. Winning Best in Sporting Group, he then charmed judge Sari Tietjen as he made his proud circle by her. “I love them all, tonight the Sussex.” Stump is a star, having taken home the biggest trophy of all – a huge silver bowl (perfect for kibbles!).

Times are hard, unbelievably so. People are desperate for good news and for millions of Americans the light at the end of the tunnel seems weak. We must have faith. Without it the stars on the flag will no longer twinkle.

Good news and miracles are everywhere – some big and some very, very small. Many go unnoticed and are right at our doorsteps. Take care. Stop. Look closely. Do what you can to help yourself and your fellow man.

When darkness comes knocking, I often resort to the comfort of a crumpled, tattered print-out of Max Ehrmann’s poem, Desiderata. The last few lines sum it all up - “With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”

Peace.

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Badges!

By Sara Mawyer

2005

To John:

November did not slip by me unnoticed this year as is has countless times before. Someone had left my sphere and slipped the bounds of earth on a chilly November day in 2004, and I've spent more than a few days pondering the meaning of life because of it. John Tucker - my friend. Now, more than a year later, I wish he could parachute down from heaven and tell us what he knows now that he didn’t know before. He had a blue million stories to tell while he lived among us. I bet he's got at least twice that many now!

Always highly intuitive, I’m not so sure John hasn’t touched my shoulder once or twice, or maybe blown in my ear to get my attention. He was the diamond in the rough, a one of a kind. He was the good, the bad and the ugly, but he was one loyal friend. The memories are like crystal, unblemished by the giant clock that ticks away each moment of our own lives.

I can still see him standing in the doorway to the composing room at Focus, his long skinny legs sticking out from his red polyester shorts. He was wearing a huge burgundy sombrero with a smokin' cigar in one hand while quoting a famous line from one of his favorite movies, "Badges!? We don't need no stinkin' badges!" Ah.... he's looking down on us now with that famous smirk lurking underneath his handle bar mustache. Now that he has joined a higher light, he must know how much that line stuck. The staff was perpetually quoting that line behind his back (only we couldn't say it with nearly as much bravado!).

To everything there is a season. The ebb and flow of life continues on. And we, whom Father Tuck has left behind, are each getting older. For me, he graced me with his wisdom, we enjoined in seeing the ironies in life, we laughed at the utterly ridiculous folks who took themselves so very seriously. If ever I knew a person who could take chicken poopie and make chicken salad out of it, it was Tucker.

His death, of course, reminds me of my own mortality. I hit 50 this year (actually it felt more like hitting a wall at 50 mph. than just another birthday). I'm a bonafide card-totin' AARP member. And as I sit here writing this now, I know John's hovering over me getting a chuckle out of it.

And, well . . . just because he up and left us here on this unstable earth doesn't mean we might not hitch up again somewhere further on down the line to tell a joke, and have a good laugh. And, the people left behind on the planet below might hear these whispy faint words as they blow on the wind through the hills and valleys, "Badges!? We don't need no stinkin' badges!"

 

A Pirate's Birthday Tribute

April 2005

John Tucker's birthday is coming up - April 10.   Having lost him this past November, the date of his birth rings the bell of signficance to those who knew him.   It reminds me of the loss in my life and the lives of all who knew him.  

To feel the loss is a natural human instinct.   But, alas, it is a selfish one.   He lived as long as his own life force allowed.   Now he is free from grueling pain and is in a more comfortable place.   And, he's off the hook on paying taxes.   That's a good thing.

Anyone who knew "Father Tuck" at close range knew his favorite song was Jimmy Buffett's "Pirate Looks At 40." I've always thought John equated himself particularly to one of the lyrics of that song: "Yes, I am a pirate, 200 years too late.   The cannons don't thunder, there's nothin' to plunder.   I'm an over-40 victim of fate arriving too late, arriving too late."  

That's the way I thought of John.   He was a pirate riding the high seas of life. Seemingly fearless he captained his ship with a savage sense for business.   He had a talent for pulling together a crew of diverse individuals to work the riggings. (Although every once in awhile someone would cry mutiny and John would lower the boom.)

From what I've heard, and what I know.   John had a life that is worth celebrating.   He was a mutli-layered, complex individual who, among other things, boldly struck out on his own.   He went where no publisher dare go. He created a free weekly entertainment paper from nothing that, 27 years later, still remains.  

As master of his ship, he weathered the storms and negotiated the reefs and sandbars of daily business.   And, he did it his way - nay sayers be damned.   He kept a sharp eye on the horizon and this is what kept him ahead of the times. He navigated by the stars and fate and allowed himself to take whatever came his way.  

Ayyyh, but the pirate he lingers, watching over the ship from the ethers, making sure it's tight and it coordinates are charted for a safe and successful voyage.

What would he say, Tucker the Pirate? "Blimey people! don't grieve, go forth and party on my behalf . . . and drink one for me!"

That's the way he was.   Tuck would not have us grieving   - that would mean having to walk the plank.   He would rather have us partying, celebrating his life and remembering fondly the times we spent with him.

And. . . that's what we'll do at Yesterdays Friday, April 8, 2005, at Father Tuck's Birthday FOCUS Jam. The captain would be most happy to see those he left behind having a laugh and throwing down.   That's the kind of guy he was. And, anyone who knows it will be there!


Dear God

April 28, 2005

It’s me again. You know me, right? Distant relative of Eve.

I just wanted to take some time out here on my lunch break and have a chat with you Father. See, I know you know I’m not a “regular attendee” at the church to which I belong.

Actually, as I sit here in this beautiful park where I normally dine, I’m surrounded by huge old hardwoods - maples and oaks. There’s a flock of geese gathered over on the hill and a small creek that runs along the hiking trail. There’s a duck pond and picnic tables strategically placed through the woods. Right now, as I’m writing this, I’m watching a handsome little male Carolina bluebird fly through the branches of the tree in front of me. Off to the side, a little whirlwind is spining leaves in a gentle circular motion, making them rise from ground. Hmmm . . . it’s actually this beautiful, natural place that seems more like “the church to which I belong.”

I just wanted to let you know. (Of course, you being who you are, you probably already know) there’s a reason why you haven’t seen me at my cathedral-like “church home,” which is nestled on prime piece of Hickory real estate and surrounded by stately “old money” homes. There is a very high profile congregation there (lawyers, doctors, a winning Nascar driver). Some of your flock (the sheep) would say this church is one of your “bigger houses” in a little Southern town where tradition demands that “appearances are everything.”

Since I was a young girl going to a small church in my hometown in Virginia, I always sensed the purpose for being there was to feel ministered to. And, when you left Sunday morning service, you were supposed to feel somehat better about your soul and fate than you did when you arrived.

That did not happen the last time I attended the church where I have been an official member going on 32 years now.

At any rate, on that particular Sunday, there were “volunteer cards” placed along with the “donation” envelopes in the slots at the end of the church pews. A list of topics on which church members might want to volunteer was on the cards with little square boxes for you to check off. I checked several topics of interest and included my name address and phone number then plunked it in the plate with my $5 donation. My thinking was if I couldn’t give the church money, at least I could give it my time.

And, let’s be realistic. A $5 donation is nothing compared to the millions donated by our “upper crust” toward a new addition or fancy church steeple or whatever high falutin’ thing the congregation might want to purchase to make your “house” more beautiful. After all, this church has got to compete with other holy mansions around town. However, $5 to me is worth 2 home-packed lunches, 1/4 of a tank of gas, or new pair of panty hose.

I digress. As time passed I thought I would hear from someone at the church regarding my volunteering for some of the things I checked off on the volunteer card. I got nothing, nada zip.

And, as I look back on my last experience at church, I remember I did not leave there feeling my spirit had been enriched in any way. Heck, the sermon wasn’t even worth the $5. It was distinctly unremarkable.

Actually, I was very disappointed. God, I feel that to be part of my church “family” means one must have the correct social status, belong to the proper clubs and organizations, and have the credentials required to have knowledge of the hobnobbing and politics it takes to be in the “inner circle.” Plus, it probably wouldn’t hurt if you drove a Lexus, Mercedes, Volvo, etc.

Certainly, there are no huge amounts of dollar signs listed by my name in the account book. However, the church used to send me a newletter every month. Hm, now they don’t even bother with the postage. Really, God I just wanted to vent about this because I don’t think there’s such a thing as a true suggestion box - at least not in this regard.

Well, God . . . lunchtime is about over. Maybe one day I’ll find a little church somehwhere that gives a flying flip about my soul and not my pocket book. I know they do exist, so I have to take part of the blame here by not actively seeking them out. But, I’m jaded God - you now that.

I’ve always believed (and I always will) that if I want to find you, all I have to do is turn around. (Pssst . . . and it doesn’t cost a red cent!) I’ve felt you tapping me gently on the shoulder many times. And in the dark of night, when my mind is troubled, I feel you lay your hand on me and the words “Be at peace” come into my mind. I’ve seen your work in the beauty of nature, the kindness of strangers and in the eyes of my family and pets.

I also know God, your work exists not just in white bread America but around the world. And your divine love touches everyone no matter their color or faith. In fact, instead of whimpering, I should probably be spending my energy praying for victims everywhere who have suffered because of the violence of nature and man.

I have strong faith that you will guide me. I feel your presence everyday leading me to be a better person and also I’ve paid careful attention to the personal lessons you’ve sent me.

So, God, I’ll be signing off for now. Thanks so much for taking the time to be with me and for listening. Bless those who are suffering and bring them peace.

Namaste.

 

 

 

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