Enduring a Not So Happy New Year’s Day

I had planned to write an upbeat post for the New Year, but situations that occurred during the past few weeks changed that. And although last year was generally a wonderful ride, the road got bumpy toward the end, and that’s an understatement.

Since a few weeks before Christmas, I’ve talked with many of my close friends and relatives and learned that a lot of folks are dealing with illness, death, and grief in their families during this holiday season, and joy is elusive. I am no exception. I have a dear friend who was perfectly healthy a month ago, but she suddenly became ill and is now in hospice. Aside from that, I lost someone dear to my heart. Right now, I find that my ability to lift anyone’s spirits (including my own) with encouraging words demands every ounce of my mental energy. As my cousin, Vanessa, said to me this morning. “It’s been a rough ride.”

It is times like this when I must keep repeating to myself a mantra that I’ve so often said to others, “Count your blessings.” I’ve been blessed to live to see the beginning of another year, and if you are reading this, then so have you. However, my gratitude doesn’t ease the burden on my heart.

Few people know this, but for decades, my Aunt Ida called me every year at midnight, or not longer then a minute after that, to wish me a Happy New Year. If I wasn’t at home, she would leave a message on my voice mail. In more recent years, she stopped calling precisely at midnight, but without fail, either she or I would initiate the call a few hours later on New Year’s Day, and exchange well wishes for the coming year. It was our intimate tradition.

This year the tradition was broken because my beloved aunt died three days ago. Few people, except maybe our immediate families, hers and mine, will know how close Aunt Ida and I were. She was my friend, my confidant, my “other mother.” Always encouraging me to follow my dream; always praying for me. I miss her immensely; as I write this I am fighting back tears. Our traditional “Happy New Year” exchange is over. Therefore, instead of publishing the New Year’s post that I intended to put on my blog today, I am dedicating this one to my aunt, Ida Staton White, and including one of my favorite photos of her taken during her younger years. I know it may be futile and it may even seem silly to some of my readers, but I am going to say it anyway, one last time.  “Happy New Year, Aunt Ida!” This one is for you.

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Being Still

“Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10

The other day I took time to relax. What’s unusual about that, some will ask. It’s unusual for me because it’s something I rarely do. Perhaps it was mental fatigue that led me to stop scurrying around and be still for a moment.

Being still is difficult for me. I’m a little bit hyper. I feel compelled to always be doing something because doing nothing seems like a waste of precious time.

When I am at home and not out and about, typically I am undertaking several tasks simultaneously. Doing laundry and house cleaning. Cooking and reading. Taking online classes, researching something on the web, or composing essays while listening to the TV – generally a political talk program – always on in the background. I know that so much busyness isn’t conducive to flawless productivity. So, I decided to take a break. Give it all a rest. Do nothing, but be still, sit back in my recliner and relax for a while. Some would equate that to meditating.

But it wasn’t working.

Feeling determined, yet antsy, I decided to add some music. I closed the blinds and turned on an all-music station. Appropriate for the season, they were playing Christmas songs.

Most of the tunes were popular during my childhood and early adult years. Christmas oldies, I call them, though those songs never get old. Music stations play them annually. Sometimes they combine the old school Yuletide hits with contemporary Christmas music by Fantasia, Taylor Swift, John Legend, Mariah Carey, and others of a younger, hipper generation. In my opinion, there is no comparison. Ask any boomer, and they will tell you that our generation had the best music.

I remember as a child hearing Eartha Kitt seductively purring Santa Baby, and Bing Crosby croon about dreaming of a White Christmas (Do the PC police now consider that phrase politically incorrect?) Kitt and Crosby were great artists in their time. However, their songs don’t compare to Darlene Love belting out Christmas (Baby Please Come Home). I love having Luther entertain me with At Christmas Time, but nothing beats a melody of hits from The Temptations’ Give Love at Christmas album. And how can I not tap my foot and sing along to Donnie Hathaway’s version of This Christmas? When Gladys Knight and the Pips sing, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” I whisper, “Oh yeah. I  hear it.” My blissful mood continues as Carla Thomas exclaims Gee Whiz, It’s Christmas. There is no better way to relax than to be serenaded by old school R&B Christmas hits and slow jams.

My self-imposed, quiet times don’t last long. I suppose it’s nervous energy that compels me to constantly move around, do something, keep busy. I think (too much) about the chaotic state of the world and I need a distraction to help take my mind off of it.

I was a child of the sixties. I am a boomer. And as bad as some of my fellow boomers may think that our formative years were, given a choice, I prefer the sixties decade over the current era.

Back then, time seemed to move at a pace slower than an impeachment hearing. Sure, there was social unrest. People were protesting and fighting for civil rights, women’s rights, and anti-war, while politicians were posturing just like they do today. Wars abroad, crime and discrimination in the states, and the assassination of prominent leaders; for the generation of my youth, that was our normal. Mass shootings in schools and a cocktail of other “new norms” were not.

When Charles Dickens wrote his book, A Tale of Two Cities in the Nineteenth Century, he was recounting the period leading to the French Revolution. I don’t know how many times I find myself thinking that he could well have been describing the present. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness . . . it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness.”

These days it looks like we are cursed to live under a spell of Darkness ruled by the Dark One. The tranquility that many of us relish is quelled by irreligion and ungodliness. If we are wise, we will bring God back into our society instead of trying to erase Him. Perhaps then, we will survive our “winter of despair” to see the “spring of hope.”

My readers, I thank you for continuing to read me and support this blog.

I wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza, Feliz Navidad, Joyeux Noël, whatever your preferred greeting. May your holidays sparkle with peace, love, laughter, goodwill, and light, and may the year ahead be full of happiness.

Now turn up the volume on your speakers and enjoy this, my Christmas gift to you.

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Reminiscing Thanksgiving Holidays Past

Thanksgiving is a traditional American holiday. Not everybody celebrates it, and if you are one of those bodies who don’t, that’s okay. It’s your prerogative.

But tradition is ingrained in my soul, and every year around this time, nostalgia embraces me like a Snuggie blanket. As I write this, Thanksgiving Day is slightly more than 72 hours away. And I remember.

I remember when I was a very young child, Thanksgiving was the time when our family would often kiss the city goodbye and head south to visit our relatives in the Tar Heel State. Usually, we stayed with our maternal grandmother at her farmhouse. Some of grandma’s other grown children would arrive with their families, and we would reunite with our numerous cousins and other relatives, those who arrived for the holiday weekend, and those who lived in the small town near grandma’s farm.

During the years when my family did not go to grandma’s house for the holiday, Mother would sometimes prepare the Thanksgiving meal and we would pitch in to help. As her children grew older and we had families of our own, we’d sometimes bring a dish that we prepared at home; creating sort of a pot luck Thanksgiving dinner.

I remember one year when I volunteered to bring the collard greens. What I did not realize after cooking what I thought would be a chef-d’oeuvre, not only were the greens undercooked, they were poorly seasoned. I had failed to add any of the staples for making a delicious pot of southern-style greens. No ham hocks or fatback or smoked neckbones. Minus those cholesterol clogging meats I should have seasoned the greens with table salt, but I didn’t think to do that. Can you say bland?

I don’t remember anyone complaining about the greens during the meal, although some of the suddenly wide-eyed expressions by folks when they began eating them should have been a giveaway. One forkful and everyone around the table knew that those were not my mother’s collard greens. Mother was born and raised in North Carolina, and back in those days, if southern women learned nothing else, they surely learned how to cook. And when it came to cooking collard greens, my mother could burn. She put her foot in it. If you are not familiar with the vernacular, those latter expressions are compliments, meaning mother’s greens were supreme.

After dinner, mother pulled me aside and trying to spare me from hurt feelings; she gently told me, “The greens were okay, but you should have cooked them a little bit longer and added some seasoning.”

That was my first attempt at cooking fresh collards. (Canned and frozen greens were the norm for this busy working mom.) Lesson learned. Do not volunteer to prepare a dish that you’ve never cooked for a family holiday dinner. Since then, thank God, I’ve learned to properly cook and season greens.

Sometimes, after our holiday dinner, we would clear the table, cleaned-up, and enjoy playing Bid Whist. (A note for the uninitiated — Bid Whist, is a card game where bidding partners strive to earn high points to win).

My younger brother was often my partner. Sometimes mom and dad played against us or my sister would be mother’s partner. If other whist-playing relatives, like my Aunt Sarah and Uncle James, were visiting, they would be partners. When there were enough people playing we would play rise and fly. That’s when you lose, and if there are other folks waiting to play, the losing partners get up, and another couple sits down to play.

I cherish those good times.

Unfortunately, as unavoidable as it is, things change, and so do people. Our family Thanksgiving holiday gatherings at my parents’ home ended way too soon. I’ve tried to maintain the tradition with my immediate family including grandchildren with the hope that after I’m dead they will have as many treasurable memories of family holiday gatherings as I have, and the tradition will become part of the family legacy for them as it did for me.

Due in part to PC and sometimes to religious beliefs, Thanksgiving Day, like Christmas and so many other festive occasions, has become a cause célèbre. I see the day as a time for gathering, to be with friends and family. If the history and origins of celebrating Thanksgiving Day bother you, then don’t think of the day as celebrating Thanksgiving. Think of it merely as an opportunity to get together with family and friends, some of whom you may not have seen for years (except at a funeral) and enjoy a good meal. It certainly is a convenient time to have the family gathering on a day when a lot of working people have the time off.

Life is short. IMHO sometimes, we need to temporarily set aside our convictions and seize the opportunity to enjoy spending time with those we love because opportunities don’t last. We never know if a loved one that we spend time with today may be gone tomorrow. A missed opportunity can sometimes be a huge regret.

I don’t wait for a particular day to acknowledge things for which I am thankful. I am thankful every minute of every day. I am thankful for my family and friends, including my blog and Facebook friends. Some of my online friends are people who I’ve known for much of my life. Perhaps we met in grade school or grew up together in the old neighborhood. We were friends long before there was social media. And some of the friends who I’ve met online, I’ve known them long enough now to consider them to be genuine friends. They are friends with whom I occasionally talk on the phone, and sometimes exchange birthday cards, email messages, or notes. I am thankful for real friends and also for good neighbors.

I am thankful for good health. I am thankful every day of my life.

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Giving Forethought to Never Saying Never

“Nothing like that ever happens in this neighborhood.” How often do we hear someone being interviewed during a TV news segment say that?  The thoughtless statement always makes me shake my head in dismay. Don’t folks know that there is a first time for everything?

I’ve lived in the same neighborhood for 43 years. (Obviously, I like the place.) During that time, I have never seen so much as a fistfight in our complex, not even among the children when they were growing up here. (Correction, I do recall one fight among two sisters.) Overall, ours has been a sedate place, where neighbors feel like family and look out for each other. The milieu changed yesterday.

It was around 10:15 a.m. I was doing what I normally do, sitting at my computer, zoned-out in my literary domain, composing essays that I hope would bring me extra bucks like they sometimes do. Suddenly, a deep male voice yells “Get your hands up!” And I nearly fall off my chair.

I had been so focused on what I was writing that the first time I heard the order I thought it was coming from the TV since the set was turned on. But the volume was low. Had the volume suddenly jumped up? I wondered. That thought got nixed when I looked over my shoulder at the screen to see an animated bear shaking its rear and singing about a clean hinny. Then, I heard the booming voice again. Shouting twice. “Get your hands up! I won’t say it again.”

In temporary bewilderment, I almost raised my hands, until it dawned on me that I was home alone, and my door was chain locked. That’s when my frayed nerves relaxed, and I realized that the voice was coming from outside my window. I got up from my chair and looked through the Venetian blinds. What appeared to be a platoon of police officers was standing strategically all over the yard and on the sidewalk outside the gate that surrounds our complex.

I backed away from the window, turned, and hurried downstairs. I opened the door, a few inches at first, in case shooting started, forcing me to retreat inside. After a few seconds, I summoned the courage and went outside on the porch. Some of my neighbors also began coming out. Cops were everywhere. Some of them guardedly glanced at us.

A young man who looked to be Hispanic and was wearing all black, including a black hoodie that partially covered his head was pinned face down on the ground beneath my window. One officer was handcuffing him while others stood vigilantly nearby. A second Hispanic man similarly attired, was being led through the courtyard. He, too, was handcuffed and flanked by a trio of officers. Both men appeared to be in their late teens or early twenties.

The commotion of what could have been filming for an episode of Cops was over in about 10 minutes, although some officers stayed around for at least an hour searching the grounds. During that time, a truck with “Investigation Unit” printed on its side arrived on the scene. I never found out what the two suspected lawbreakers did that led the cops to chase them onto our property, but I later learned from one of my neighbors that the cops found a gun near the trash bin. One of the two fugitives had accidentally dropped or purposely ditched the weapon after jumping the fence during the chase.

Yesterday’s event was the most attention-grabbing incident to occur in our neighborhood since one afternoon, in 1988, when a homeless advocate affiliated with Mitch Snyder’s CCNV climbed the 761-foot transmission tower (that is higher than the Washington monument) and hung a banner from it that read, “Housing Now.” We stood outside for a few hours, until sundown, as did police until the tower climber was eventually persuaded to climb down. He was promptly arrested.

Unfortunately, the state of this world provides no safe haven. Whether you live in a gated suburban community or an upscale urban neighborhood, you should never say never. Due to factors over which we have no control, none of us can predict what will happen from one minute to the next.

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Give Them Something to Talk About

Steve Goodier says, “A sense of humor helps us to get through the dull times, cope with the difficult times, enjoy the good times and manage the scary times.”

Humor is not an antidote for everything, but like Goodier, I believe that doses of it help ward off physical and mental woes. Since I’ve been blessed, thus far, to age healthfully, I feel obligated to share with my geriatric peers some lighthearted tips for surviving happily ever after you’ve climbed the hill of life, rounded the top, and are repelling down the other side. Observing these 12 dos and don’ts will help the mature person waylay worries about aging and live life to the fullest.

  1. Don’t make a side-by-side comparison of your high school yearbook photo with the headshot you’ve recently taken at your grandchild’s wedding unless you want to hurt your feelings. No matter how your mirror and mind fool you into thinking that you look decades younger than you are, reality checks can be shocking.
  2. Do write on a notepad what you are going after in another room. Then, tear off the sheet and carry the note with you. If you forget to bring the note and can’t remember what you came into the room for, go back and get the note, if you can remember where you left it. If you can’t find the note, backtracking will often refresh your memory of what you went to get in the other room.
  3. Don’t store something important in a particular place in your home, thinking that you’ll remember where you put it. You won’t. Hide it in plain sight.
  4. Don’t fume over your arthritic knee or bursitis hip and then angrily shout, “What next?” As sure as you ask the universe that question, your next doctor’s visit will reveal gout, hypertension, cataracts or some other age-related ailments.
  5. Don’t pluck your gray hairs. Stop fighting them. After a while, it becomes a losing battle anyway. Just resolve to make hair color your new best friend.
  6. Don’t tempt fate by getting down on the floor to exercise, thinking that after you’ve finished you’ll jump right up. You won’t. If there is no one nearby who you can call to come and help you up, roll over on your side, get on your hands and knees, crawl to a chair or sturdy table and pull yourself up. A similar principle applies if you have been sitting for a long time and feel stiff when you rise from the chair. Sometimes this is embarrassing if you are in a room with other people. After standing, pretend that you are doing the robot dance until your joints feel limber enough to allow you to walk naturally.
  7. Don’t be embarrassed about taking a nap in the middle of the day. After spending over half your lifetime in gainful or unprofitable employment, you’ve earned the right to rest whenever you feel like it.
  8. If you are home alone and your favorite party song from back in the day comes on the radio, go ahead and dance like nobody’s watching. Just make sure you’re wearing your medical alert bracelet.
  9. When your architecture has gone from a brick house to a falling hut, stabilize it with appropriate props. And banish the cropped tops and spandex leggings from your wardrobe. Chose comfortable clothes over stylish ones. If you are tempted to dress like a juvenile, remember the Bonnie Raitt song “Give them something to talk about.” Don’t.
  10. Don’t curtail your love for books because you hate wearing reading glasses. Order books in large print.
  11. Don’t’ worry if your children gifted you with a smartphone, a smart TV, or a smart Fitbit watch, and you feel like an idiot because you can’t properly operate it. You have plenty of company.
  12. Don’t despair. Even as we age, in our minds, most of us remain essentially our younger selves. Aging isn’t just a number, it’s another challenge. The secret to aging gracefully is to remain young-in-heart and youthful in spirit. For as long as you can, continue doing the things that you enjoy even if others think that you look ridiculous. Eventually, you may lose your hair, your teeth, and your looks; just hold on to your faith and your sense of humor and you’ll be all right.
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