The Threads That Bind Part Two


The Threads That Bind – Part Two

I rewrote a post a few days ago and forgot to change the title. If you haven’t read The Threads That Bind – Part One, you might want to visit that post first. This is a continuation of my journey.

My belief that a common thread connects us all was reinforced during my second life-story recording.

My manager led the way into the patient’s home. After brief introductions, I explained why I was there and handed the man a few papers. “These are questions, prompts of sort, to help you get started, if you decide you want to make an audio tape for your family.”

He drew his brows tight and twisted his mouth, pushing the papers aside. “I’m not doing the recording.”

The response did not surprise me. Few people feel they have a story to tell. Regardless, I wasn’t going to let the visit go to waste. While my role with the hospice group was primarily to record stories, I wanted to make a difference. “How about if I come by for a visit every week, just to talk?”

The man studied my face for a moment. “What would we talk about?”

I smiled. “Anything you’d like. Sports? Movies? Do you play cards or checkers?”

He thought about it and finally agreed. As promised, I returned with no agenda other than to brighten his day. I brought along fresh blueberry muffins, something he’d mentioned on our first visit. I chuckled when he suggested I could bring chocolate on my next visit.

On the fourth visit, he surprised me. He handed me the papers I’d left on my first visit. I glanced at them and noticed a one-word answer after each question.

A half smile pushed his slender cheek up before he spoke. “I’m ready.”

And so began the journey. As he talked, he became more comfortable with the process. When he shared stories of bar-hopping with a group of friends, I was intrigued. The recollections were the same as told by Tom. It turned out that my cousin’s husband was one of this man’s best friends with whom he made the tavern rounds. They had lost touch over the years. Unfortunately, Tom had passed, but his wife was delighted to be reconnected to someone who shared her past experiences.

The validation that I was exactly where I was supposed to be filled me with joy and anticipation of where my journey would take me next. I met many people, some whose stories I recorded, others who I listened to as a friend.

And then it happened. On the initial visit with another patient, the opportunity to achieve my dream presented itself.

It was a sunny Friday afternoon. A middle-aged woman invited me into the quaint, senior-living apartment. A bouquet of flowers scented the room. A young girl sat on the floor cross-stitching on fabric.

The woman made introductions, extending her hand toward the child. “This is my daughter. She likes to sew. Her grandmother taught her.”

I smiled and greeted her. “Nice to meet you. What beautiful work you do.”

The woman directed me to an older, robust woman who was busy rearranging a large stack of assorted papers and clippings. “This is my mother.”

I extended my hand, “It’s so nice to meet you. How are you today?”

“Fine.” Her voice was as firm as her handshake.

My curiosity urged me to ask, “Looks like you have some important papers there.”

“When can we get started?”

The abrupt response surprised me. “It sounds like you’re ready.” I sat down next to her. “I don’t usually start recording on the first visit. It helps if we prepare for it by getting to know each other a little first. That way I can be sure we meet your wishes and make the best audio we can. Would that be alright?”

A pained expression covered the woman’s face. “What I really want…” she hesitated before continuing, tears brimming. “I wanted to write my life story, but I don’t know where to start and I don’t have enough time.” Her eyes pleaded for understanding.

A tingle ricocheted through my body. I touched her hand in reassurance. “I love to write. I’ve always wanted to write someone’s life story or help them write it.” I drew in a breath while contemplating my offer. “Perhaps that’s why I’m here. God works in mysterious ways. Maybe I can help you.”

The words seemed to lift her frown. “Really? Would you? I can’t do it by myself.”

“I’d be happy to help. I’m excited and can’t wait to get started.”

She pushed the pile of papers in my direction. “Take these with you and read them, if you have time?”

“I’d be honored. How about 1:00 p.m. on Monday? Will that work for you?”

“Oh, yes. That would be fine.” She reached for my hand and squeezed it. “Thank you.”

“It’s my pleasure. I’ll see you Monday and we’ll jump right in.”

I spent Saturday, reading the scribbled notes and brief stories, trying to place them in chronological order. The woman’s parents had owned a 350 acre farm in South Dakota and in the menagerie of papers, I found an essay written by her mother. It described the challenges of feeding twenty-five farmhands during harvesting in the 1900’s. It was a piece of history that had been entrusted to me.

On Sunday, I received a call from the volunteer manager telling me that the woman had passed away. My heart ached knowing her wish went unfulfilled. I planned to return all the paperwork to the family, but before I could, I received another phone call from the hospice manager. “The family asked if you could help write the book for the patient. They want to meet with you to discuss it if you are interested.”

A couple of meetings and two months of emails between family members allowed me to piece together the information. Additional stories were shared and incorporated by her children and surviving sister. The woman’s wish had been fulfilled. I have no doubt that a greater force brought us together for that very reason.

The simple act of giving my time returned ten-fold, not in money, but something much more gratuitous. I admire the people who share their life stories to create the audio recordings. They allow families to continue to hear their voice after they’re gone and by filling a void in their lives, they’ve filled the void in mine.

How has volunteering blessed you?  I’d love to hear your stories.

The Essence of Commications


I’ve always believed that the lack of communication creates most of the problems in the world. Today’s use of abbreviated texts, character-limited tweets, and instantly reported news challenges my aging brain and supports my theory. It’s like trying to read hieroglyphics without learning the symbols.

I think one of the reasons is the tendency to half-listen. Someone begins a conversation and the listener’s mind fast-forwards to finish the rest of the story or sentence using the person’s own experiences, certainties, and beliefs.

The same thing happens when a news article or even a post on social media is published. Often, the writer presents one version of an issue or event which may or may not be support by facts. Even if both sides of the story are presented, the receiver reads and applies principles, opinions, and prejudices that influence and sometimes distort the message. This can create conflict, disagreements and misunderstandings.

It happens to everyone. I’ll be the first to admit, I sometimes half-listen, or skim articles, and I misinterpret messages from friends and family. I venture to say everyone does it. I’m pretty sure no one is infallible, nor has anyone ever mastered all of the elements of perfect communications. Is there such a thing?

I offer an example of an event that occurred many years ago when my daughter, who had started junior high at a new school, left a message for me at work. I had gone to lunch and when I returned, I found a brief note on my desk that read, “Pick your daughter up at school.”

Before I left for work, she’d told me she didn’t feel well, but she’d insisted on going to school. I immediately assumed her cold had worsened and she needed to go home. My work schedule did not offer me the opportunity to take off on short notice, so I called my husband and asked if he could pick her up, reminding him of her new location and trying to give him directions.

“I’ll find it,” he reassured me. After nearly an hour of searching, he located the school and went directly to the nurse’s office expecting our daughter to be there. She wasn’t. The nurse directed him to the main office and they paged her on the intercom.

Meanwhile, the woman at the desk said, “I’m glad you’re here.” She presented a piece of to him. I can only imagine his puzzled expression as he looked at the blank personal check.

“We can’t accept this,” the woman folder her arms and frowned.

My husband, who does not write checks, advised her that he’d have me write out a new one. Meanwhile, my daughter arrived, surprised to see her father. When she asked where I was, he explained that I couldn’t get off to pick her up. Without communicating any further, they left, but on the drive home, my daughter inquired as to why she was being taken home. His reply, “Because you’re sick.”

“No I’m not,” she adamantly denied, and asked to be taken back, noting that she had an after school meeting with the Honor Society she didn’t want to miss. “Well, you are now. We’re going home.”

Embarrassed about the blank check and upset that I sent him to the school unnecessarily, he refused to take her back. Eventually, she convinced him and she made her meeting.

By the time I got home from work, I received an earful from both of them. I had failed to ask for details regarding the short note. He refused to listen to my directions for getting to the school, and she could have clarified why he was taking her out of school.

The check was another disaster for which I accepted full responsibility. It turned out that in my haste to take care of business before I hurried off to work, I had grabbed a felt marker and had written a check to the school to pay for my daughter’s weekly lunch ticket. When she turned it into the school, it had all the proper information. Unfortunately, all that had disappeared by the time they were processing the check into their system, making it useless. I had used a sewing marker with disappearing ink. It’s a great invention for marking material, but not very good for writing checks.

We all laugh about it now, but it truly taught me a great lesson about asking questions, confirming suspicions, and only using ballpoint pens for check writing. It saves a lot of time for enjoying the finer things in life.

I work hard on my communication skills even today. It takes practice to listen, ask questions, and clarify the messages received, but wouldn’t the world be a better place if everyone worked a little harder at it?

In my soon-to-be released novel, The Dahlonega Sisters, superstitions, fear, and miscommunications create conflicts and test the bond between three aging sisters. Until then, I have a few questions for you.

Has someone misinterpreted a text or email you sent?

Did it result in a conflict or broken friendship?

What could you have done differently?

The Threads That Bind


quilt

The Threads That Bind

Much like the intricate quilt given to me by an aunt, I believe that we are all connected by a nearly transparent thread of life. If I take the time to look, listen, and ask questions, the delicate tapestry of my world is revealed. I also believe that when I follow my heart, I end up exactly where I’m supposed to be.  I’m reposting a fresh version of a story from a couple of years ago that reinforces those beliefs.

As I skimmed a list of volunteer opportunities in my local newspaper, my eyes settled on two words, Story Keeper. I paused to read more. Story Keepers capture the meaningful moments of a patient’s life. The simple description intrigued me as I’d always dreamed of writing life stories of other people.

As enticing as the opportunity sounded, the thought of volunteering with a hospice care organization weighed heavily on my mind. The pain of watching my mother die a slow, difficult death associated to Alzheimer’s made me question my ability to perform the service and keep my emotions under control. I cut out the contact information and let the thought simmer.

The clipping remained visible near my laptop for the next two weeks, tugging at my heart and urging me to act. Finally, I picked up the phone and called the manager of volunteer services listed in the ad.

“I may be interested in the Story Keeper position. Can you tell me more about it?”

“We’re looking for someone to record the life story of a hospice patient for their family to keep as a legacy after the patient passes.”

“Oh,” I felt a hint of disappointment. “I’m not adept at electronic things, more pen to paper.”

“Why don’t you come in and talk further about it? It’s a new position. We can work through the details. And while it doesn’t involve writing, you never know where the journey will lead you. Maybe it was meant for you.”

The charismatic manager’s reassuring words urged me to make a leap of faith. I met with her to learn more. Within two weeks, I’d completed all the prerequisites: TB tests, study guides about working with hospice patients, and Hepatitis injections.

It wasn’t long before I was assigned my first visit. I studied the manual that came with the small, hand-held recorder. Since I was the first person to fill the position, training had been minimal. The anxiety and nervousness I anticipated never surfaced. Instead, an unexpected tranquility about the process made me excited to get started.

“The patient is hesitant to make the recording.” My manager warned me on the drive to his home. “The wife is urging him to do it for her. I thought you should know before we get there.”

The patient’s wife greeted us at the door and invited us in. The man, already seated in a recliner, extended his hand and nodded as he studied my face.

My manager made introductions and a brief explanation for our visit. The man frowned and grumbled, pursing his lips. Then it was my turn to speak. I wanted to help him relax and feel comfortable about the recording.

“We’re just going to talk today. I’d like to get to know you and your wife.”

“Ok.” The tense lines around the man’s eyes eased.

“Did you grow up in Florissant?” I smiled and tilted my head awaiting his response.

“Jennings. I went to Corpus Christi grade school.”

“I know that school. I attended St. Paul the Apostle. We were practically neighbors.”

“I went to St. Paul’s!” His wife announced with excitement. “Oh my goodness! You’re Dorothy’s daughter. I saw the resemblance to your mother when you first arrived, but couldn’t place who you were.”

My eyes welled with tears at the mention of my mother. I was unable to say anything for fear I’d start crying.

“I’m your grandmother’s niece. We’re cousins. I grew up two blocks from you.”

I realized that I knew her parents well, but because of our age difference, our paths had crossed briefly, probably at a funeral, but at a time when I was too young to remember. The emotional journey over the next hour was emotionally rewarding. The wonderful stories about my mother, who was an only child, and her distant cousins with whom I had lost touch over the years, brought such joy to my heart, I left the visit feeling like I was given a gift, one that I would treasure for life and share with my siblings. I even learned that my grandfather saved my cousin from drowning in the Mississippi River when she was a teenager.

Over the next few visits, I recorded heartwarming and memorable stories told to me by the patient and his wife. From their heritage, to their marriage and their many life experiences, we worked together to create a treasured gift for their children, grandchildren and future generations. I completed the project and presented the audio recording to them on their 65th anniversary.

Although the story doesn’t end there, in fact it is just the beginning of my journey, I’ve learned my readers are busy folks and prefer quick reads. I’ll share more in my next post.

Meanwhile, I’d love to hear from you.

When have you made an unexpected connection with someone?

Do you follow your heart or are you more likely to try and control where you are headed?

Unexpected Visitor


This story is both humorous and true. Life is full of opportunities to laugh and love. Thanks to my hubby for providing both.

Unexpected Visitor

 

The cushion of the dining room chair has a permanent imprint of my derriere on it from many hours pecking away at my laptop. The large bay window in my living room, clearly visible from where I sit, offers enough room for imaginary acquaintances (also known to some writers as characters) to visit me as I sip a steamy cup of java and contemplate my next chapter. Unlike the coffee table that collects newspapers, magazines and soon-to-be discarded mail, the nook must be clear of distractions for my visionary friends.

There’s one item that owns the right hand corner of the nook, but normally I’m able to ignore its presence. My husband negotiated a place for his weather alert radio, the one that only chooses to blast its warnings while I’m writing an intense scene or when I’m sound asleep in the middle of the night. It purpose is important, but its timing leaves much to be desired.

One gloomy afternoon, tired of winter’s thievery, I gazed through the nearly translucent sheers to the barren yard across the street and imagined the towering maple tree budding out with hints of spring. Bright yellow tulips appeared and the succulent smell of honeysuckle filled my senses. I was nearly in the zone when a foreign object interrupted my view.

I furrowed my brow as I focused in on the intrusive disruption, my mind struggling to accept the unexpected sight. I closed my eyes and opened them again. It was still there. Perhaps it was my husband’s idea of a sick joke, I thought. Regardless, it had to go. I pushed back my chair, taking caution to not make a sound, my eyes locked on the stationary object as I stood in place. The reddish-brown, furry creature looked me straight in the eye and then dashed under the nearby couch.

A squirrel! How could a squirrel be sitting in the alcove of my living room window? I did what came naturally. I yelled for my husband. “Honey! There’s a squirrel!”

“What?” his faded response came from the bedroom.

“A squirrel!” I squealed as I retreated from my visitor.

“Where?” he asked as he dragged himself away from the television.

“In the living room.” My voice elevated to a scream as my knight-in-shining-armor made his way to my side.

“What’s he doing in here?” he asked as he searched the room and saw nothing.

I shot him a glare in response to his silly question. “How would I know?” I pointed to the corner of the room where the anxious animal sought refuge. “He’s under the couch.”

“I’ll be darned. We’ll have to let him out through the French doors,” he said as he moved toward the dining room.

“Great thought, but remember?” I tried to keep from doing an eye roll as I pointed to the doors that lead to our deck. Last month when air was coming in around the door frame, I’d asked him to fix it. His answer to nearly every household problem involved a large roll of duct tape.

He avoided making eye contact with me. Instead, he searched the room and found a plastic gate we use to keep our black, sixty pound grand-dog, Hammie, from exploring the lower level of the house when visiting. The energetic dog is deathly afraid of it and won’t get near it.

“What are you going to do with that?” I questioned.

“You’re going to keep the squirrel from going into the other rooms,” he said as he handed the expandable object to me.

I stifled a laugh as I looked at the wide gaps between the diagonals. “I don’t think this is going to do it.” As silly as the idea was, I held onto it as if somehow it would frighten the squirrel like it does the cautious dog.

Meanwhile, the intruder dashed back to the window seat, trying desperately to escape the maddening conversation, I’m sure. I listened as my husband pulled the tape from the door frame, and I tried to decide what to do if the animal scurried my way, knowing I’d drop the gate and run the other way screaming like a little girl. The noise from the tape being ripped away sent the squirrel dashing back and forth from the window seat to underneath the couch.

A blast of cold winter air greeted me as the patio door opened. My husband returned to the living room and tried to lure the errant critter out from his hiding place. I offered him a broom from the kitchen, still gripping the useless gate. He poked the handle under the sofa sending the critter into the middle of the room. Fortunately, it saw the opportunity to flee and made a direct path out the door onto the deck.

“Should’ve got a picture,” my husband suggested as he watched the animal leap off the deck and out of sight.

“Can you imagine if Hammie had been here?” The vision of the dog charging around the room brought roars of laughter as we went room to room looking for the port of entry. There were no holes in the ceiling or walls. The glass fireplace doors were closed. Nothing appeared disturbed. We surmised that it must have slipped in through a door left ajar briefly earlier in the day when my husband filled the bird feeder.

I shook my head in frustration as hubby resealed the door with more gray tape, resolving he’d be responsible for removing the gummy residue come spring, which couldn’t come soon enough for me.

As I sat back down at my computer, I worried the vision of the squirrel would distract me from reconnecting with my characters. I tried to recreate a mental picture of yellow tulips and green leaves budding from the tree, instead a furry fictional friend introduced himself. “The name’s Zippy. Better get typing.”

 

Anxious that the squirrel might find his way back into the house, my husband decided removal of its nest in the tree would reduce the chance of another visit. Perhaps it would encourage the animal to relocate to a neighbor’s yard, he thought. Using a long pole, he poked the sturdy structure. The squirrel lunged from a nearby branch and charged down the pole to within inches of my husband’s face. He tossed the pole to the ground, barely escaping the attack.

 “Maybe it’s protecting babies,” he surmised. A few weeks later, when there was no sign of activity, he tried again. This time he succeeded, but not without paying a price. As spring made its appearance, the irate squirrel began its revenge. Empty nut shells were deposited all over the freshly stained deck. The roots of nearly every potted plant my husband sat outside were bitten off. When tomato seedlings, carefully nurtured for months in preparation of spring, were planted in the garden, it dug them up. Twine, stored in a box on the deck, was strung across the floor, down the steps and out into the yard. Every day the struggle continued between man and beast.

As spring turned to summer, the battle intensified, sending my husband over the edge. In anticipation of the next attack by the enemy, hubby placed two large, flat rocks on the corner posts of the deck, ready to chase the enemy away at the first sighting. The next morning, both rocks were gone, the heavy objects pushed off the posts into the garden, damaging some plants when they landed. A record number of curse words were used and included a threat to get a pellet gun.

Nothing prepared either of us for the final blow. My amateur horticulturist spouse grows Plumeria plants and had the joy of having a seed pod develop on one of the plants. The unique event entitles the owner to name any successful growth of a new plant from one of the seeds. The process is tedious and often unsuccessful. The crazed animal gnawed the roots off the three remaining six inch stems that had survived months of nurturing. It was official. The squirrel won.

As fall faded to winter and skies turned grey, I needed inspiration for my next story. With new cushions on my dining room chairs and a full pot of coffee brewed, I settled down in front of my laptop and gazed out the bay window hoping to reconnect with my imaginary friends. A disturbing object next to the weather alert radio caught my attention. My eyes locked in on it as I pushed back my chair. It did not move, nor did I scream, but the laughter it brought was loud enough to be heard throughout the house. My daughter, who was blessed with a sense of humor too, left us a gift while we were out. The life-size squirrel statue looks just like Zippy.

 

This was another honorable mention contest winner

Saturday Writers Elements in Writing Anthology #9

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