If you read my ‘about’ page you may remember me mentioning that my father would be making contributions to my blog.
Today, he decided to share a ‘feel good’ story from his time as a conductor on the railroad. It is important to note that this is a true story; andfrankly, it is my favorite.
The Coal Toss
Many years ago, I was a young railroad conductor who was in charge of a train running between two major cities in the South. At that time, I had a beautiful wife and together we had two healthy children. I felt very fortunate to be able to provide a comfortable living for myself and my family.
Anyway, I had been working the same train route for several years so I was very familiar with the surrounding areas. Oftentimes, I would get to know the people who lived and worked in the smaller towns along the way. But of all of those places, one place sticks out in my mind for sentimental reasons. Basically, it was a tiny ragged shack where a mother and several small children lived. I remember how the children, whose clothes were always torn and tattered, would run outside and wave to me and my crew whenever we passed by.
When winter came, I would think about this poor mother with her children. I thought about how cold they must have been at night. I also thought about how warm my own children were in my home. Just as I had completed that last thought, it suddenly occurred to me that there was something that I could do to help.
The very next day, while gathering supplies for work, I packed an extra bag of coal and tossed it to the family when we passed by. I knew that the mother could use the extra coal for her potbelly stove to help heat the home and keep her children warm.
I continued tossing coal to those children for quite some time. I’ll admit that tears welled up in my eyes every time I did it. I am sure that the railroad wouldn’t have been thrilled to know what I was doing but I felt good about doing it anyway.
More than 40 years have passed and to this day I often think about that family and I wonder if they remember the conductor who tossed the coal.
Halley’s Comet travels on an elliptical path throughout our solar system. Its journey carries it from; a close encounter of the hottest kind with our own roiling star; to the blackest, most frigid corners of the solar system. It makes this journey about every seventy-six years. Its closest approach to old Sol is called perihelion. It’s at this point of its sojourn that this ghostly apparition makes itself visible to the, astronomically challenged, human eyeball. Since 1066, human eyeballs have witnessed this apparition twelve times, thus establishing a pattern. This pattern is how we know, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the comet will be back to see us again in the year 2061…or not. What if, somewhere out in the farthest, darkest, coldest reaches of our solar system, something happens; some disaster of epic proportions befalls our friend? How would we know? Well we wouldn’t know, would we? At least, not until the year 2061 arrived and, old Halley was a “no-show”!
Newton tells us that for every action, there is an “equal and opposite reaction”; the opposite action of perihelion is aphelion. Halley’s travel through the aphelion phase of its journey is like; you’re riding through the “hood” on a dark, cold, and stormy night; without a cell phone! Anything could happen, right? And, the absolutely horrible thing is that no-one would know until, after a period of time—hopefully not too long—someone noticed that you were missing. “Poor Halley, he was such a good boy; so reliable; so punctual, and now he’s gone” I can hear the “Street Committee” saying. “Lord have mercy; what happened to him honey? His future was so bright!” they’d buzz.
Some memories are like Halley. I experience them often. I experience them more, and more as I ascend the creaky, unsteady, and decaying staircase of life. Sometimes, just as quickly as a thought or an idea surfaces from the murky depths of my mind, it’s gone; just like that! Those of the hoary head; those above me on this stairway tell me, “Don’t worry, its only natural; we’ve all experienced what you are experiencing now. Just keep on climbing and learn to make notes and lists!” Well, I’ve learned to take their advice, but what happens when, even before I can grab a pen and paper, the idea or thought is gone; fleeing as if on eagles’ wings. Even worse, sometimes I succeed in making a note or list before the thought takes flight and then…forget where I placed the list. Oh Heavens! Where in dickens do these thoughts go? Oh memory, where art thou? What’s memory? It is nor hand, nor foot, nor arm, nor face, nor any other part belonging to a man. Thou blossom is beauty to me yet thou thorns prick me sorely and what leaks thereof are my thoughts and ideas. O, be kind hither.
Where do these things go? Are they like old Halley on its elliptical journey through the solar system; travelling to cold, unknown depths and eventually, returning at dusk of a warm spring evening, like the fireflies that sprinkle the spring night with their tiny lights? Will they travel to parts unknown, returning to me some night, as my head rests on my pillow and sleep flirts playfully with my eyelids? Yes, perhaps that is it! After all, there have been times when, after giving up on retrieving a particular memory, it returns. It just pops up, seemingly out of nowhere! “Where have you been little thought?” I ask, but it holds its dark secret close to its vacuous heart; leaving me to ponder its trip to aphelion!
I believe that each of us plays a specific role in our family. In my family, my role is ‘entertainer/storyteller.’ Even as a toddler, I would stand in the midst of a room full of people and babble incessantly! My uncle, the ‘bon vivant’ (life of the party), would cheerfully egg me on. My parents, who were relatively quiet, would watch in horror as I danced and sang my way all over the house. Now if you were to ask my mom and dad where I got this ‘talent’, they would say “Oh she got that from Leroy!” Surprise! Leroy is the uncle who was egging me on.
Anyway, let’s move our attention away from me, Uncle Leroy and all of our foolishness so that I can tell you about my cousin Ron, aka ‘The Professor.’ As a child, Ron was that cat who sat in the back of the room watching everything but saying nothing. That doesn’t sound like much of a professor, huh? Well, as they say, still waters run deep! Even though he wasn’t talking much, he was, most assuredly, thinking and thinking and thinking and thinking! So while I was running my mouth, he was quietly making observations and formulating theories.
As children, Ron and I really didn’t have much in common. Remember, I was Princess Running Mouth and he was…..NOT. There was also a bit of an age difference. In addition, we lived in different cities so we rarely saw each other. However, all of that would change for the better.
When I was twenty-something, Ron, who was in the U.S. Air Force, was stationed at a base about 30 miles south of where my parents and I lived. His mom, my dad’s sister, called to let us know that “Ronnie” was nearby so we immediately made the connection. By this time, Ron had traveled the world, having served tours in San Antonio, Italy, Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Best believe that ‘The Professor’ was now in full swing! His work, education and travel experiences had helped him to develop a great deal of insight and knowledge on various topics. Now, let’s hit the ‘pause’ button! Our grandparents, Mrs. Annie Maude and Mr. Leroy, had five children-not one dummy in the bunch- grand and great-grandchildren included. Knowing this, I considered myself to be pretty sharp; I had a couple of degrees and had engaged in academic debates with some of the best of ‘em. BUT Ron took the cake and the bakery! Okay, so let’s hit the ‘play’ button and continue with the story! Seriously, Ron and I would have these long intellectual talks and I was right there with him…until I wasn’t. Homeboy would have to ‘drop back down’ to help me catch up. I wasn’t used to that but I loved it! Trust me, during those days, we were always together.
Unfortunately, my time with Ron came to a halt when he retired from the military and moved back to his hometown. I missed him so much! He had become more like a brother to me than a cousin. That said; whenever I got the chance, I told everyone I knew about Ron and how deep he was. Truth be known, I loved the way his mind worked but I failed miserably at trying to recall the things that he had taught me.
Today, we still live in different cities but technology has brought us closer. In fact, I recently asked him if he would start guest blogging here. He said yes! So with that said, I am so happy to introduce ‘The Professor’ to all of my readers while uniting them with his Facebook friends.
By the way, Ron’s ‘spot’ on this blog will be called “Ron’s Time Tunnel.” In his posts, which will appear on Fridays, Ron “will relate stories, memories, experiences, and anecdotes of the “older” generations, as well as (his) past experiences and memories; sprinkled with the occasional political, theological or social commentary.”
No doubt, he will include a deep message for all of us! I can hardly wait!
Growing up, I was the little girl who always looked upward. I would stare at the night sky for hours and imagine myself sitting on a star looking back down at Earth. On crisp fall and winter nights I would seat myself on my “tree bench” so that I could get a better look at the moon. By the way, in case you are wondering, I had a “tree bench” because my dad didn’t have the time or the money to build a tree house, so he nailed two 2 X 4 wood boards crosswise on a branch for me to sit on as I gazed at the sky. Anyway, to say that I was obsessed with all things celestial would be putting it lightly.
As I recollect memories about my interest in the sky, I can’t help remembering the time that my mother’s friend pointed her finger and said “Gwin, do you see the Big Dipper?” I recall looking up and immediately feeling transfixed! I mean, I was totally gripped! You see, at that point in time, I had no idea that the stars could configure various forms and shapes. This was a huge revelation for me! At any rate, that night, mom’s friend continued to “school me” by pointing to the “Little Dipper,” Orion and the North Star. In addition, she told me that our black ancestors had used the North Star as a guide to freedom from slavery. Believe me, from that night on, I was an official sky gazer.
As a sky gazer, my first order of business was to find other people to join me in my endeavor. I knew not to ask my mom. God love her but she couldn’t have cared less about what was going on in the sky. And although my dad liked that kind of thing, he was too busy working. So, my only other option was to ask my baby brother. Frankly, finding him was the hardest part; this kid never liked to stay home. He was always gone somewhere else! That aside, I was eventually able to pin him down. I did this by convincing him that we could watch “satellites” travel across the sky. Now a Rocket Scientist might say that it was impossible for us to watch or track satellites with the naked eye. My response to that is “whatever!” All I know is that we observed heavenly bodies travel across the sky in a predictable pattern and concluded that they were satellites. That said; Mr. Rocket Scientist, please do not waste your time trying to convince me otherwise, I simply cannot be bothered with technical details, inaccuracies and probabilities. Furthermore, if these objects were not really satellites then they must have been extraterrestrials–which certainly makes this story all the more interesting-don’t you think? End of rant 🙂
I am proud to report that my love affair with the sky continues. In fact, it’s not unusual to find me taking long nighttime treks. Quite frankly, I find these walks to be very meditative. I have worked out countless problems while looking at the sky. In addition, I find that my children and I have much more open conversations whenever we walk on a starry night.
Clearly, I’ve been admiring the sky for a long time and I am sure that I will continue to admire it until my spirit decides to join with it 🙂
Hopefully, you woke up this morning feeling refreshed and excited about how life will unfold. Of course, many of us will take time today to observe the Sabbath. Some of us will do this in a formal way and others of us will do it in a more personal way. In any case, I would like to invite you to take a moment to review the quote at the beginning of this post and think about how it might apply to your life. As for me, I believe that Alice Walker, in this instance, is strongly urging us to expand our spiritual practices beyond the narrow space and time couched between Sunday morning and Sunday afternoon.
Before I move on, let me stress that it is not my desire to come off as pious. If that is your impression, please know that it was not my intention. A quick glance at my previous posts should assure you that I am not the preachy type. But with that said, I feel inclined to share my personal experience with you.
For the past few years, I have been shifting away from self-reliance while shifting toward ‘Creator reliance.’ To be truthful, I am really just shifting back to what I was taught as a child. Why you ask? Because time and experience has taught me that if I want to live a fulfilled life I have to engage in spiritual practices that bring me into alignment with God on a daily basis. For me, things seem to flow so much more smoothly when I maintain this alignment. By contrast, when I am out of alignment, I find myself lacking sufficient sustenance. Frankly, it just doesn’t work for me to shove my spiritual life into a folder labeled “Sabbath” to be opened only on Sundays. Suffice it to say, I have to open that folder everyday!
Now if you are curious about how this all looks in my life, no worries, here is a list of things that I strive to do in order to keep the Sabbath and stay spiritually connected with God on a daily basis:
Keep an open heart
Pray and meditate
Give and receive love
Practice generosity of spirit
Practice forgiveness of myself and others
Explore and maintain reverence for nature and the animal kingdom
Frankly, anyone who is willing can work toward meeting these objectives –seven days a week. Of course, I will be the first to admit that I don’t always hit the mark, but when I do, my life is really good!
What can you do to expand your spiritual practices beyond the Sabbath? How do you stay aligned with God?
I have always believed that music is magical! Seriously, take a moment to think about how it can overtake your body and immediately transform your thoughts and mood. According to Merriam-Webster, magic is “an extraordinary power of influence seemingly from a supernatural source.” To me, this same definition could, just as easily, describe music.
In any case, I learned about the magical influence of music at a very early age. Actually, my mother said that I used to sit in my crib and rock back and forth– keeping perfect time with all of the songs that were played on the radio. She used to say that I really started rocking when the disc jockey played Marvin Gaye’s “Heard it Through the Grapevine.” Now, let’s take a second to pause right here! I realize that I am dating myself by using words like “radio” and “disc jockey” –I can’t help the fact that I am in the midst of my fourth set of teens. You should be so lucky! Back to the story! I can assure you that the baby me had not studied dance prior to rocking out in my crib. So where did I learn this? Hmm… You might say that I learned it by watching my mother. My response to that notion — RUBBISH! I learned it from the music fairies that lived in a nearby forest. No seriously, the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. No laughing-you can’t prove me wrong 🙂
Anyway, as I grew older, I learned that I could use the magic of music to process my feelings. To do this, I would ramble through my mother’s record collection (there we go again with those ancient references) to find the perfect song to match or change my mood. Whenever I felt sad I would play “I Love Music” by the O’Jays. Boy when those bongos started playing at the beginning of that song it was ON!!! And when the O’Jays began harmonizing “Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh …Oh Oh…I love music” it was OVER! I was flying! Depression GONE! Don’t get me wrong, music didn’t solve all of my ills, but it did assist me with creating a more positive mindset for managing difficult situations. With that said, music and I were now lifelong partners; traveling through space and time. Together, we dealt with relationship issues, friendship issues, money issues, spiritual issues, issues of loss and anything else you might imagine. In each case, I simply let music work its magic and all was well.
At any rate, when my children were born, I taught them to enjoy and appreciate all kinds of music. I hoped that they would learn for themselves how it could magically dissipate or transmute negative thoughts, beliefs and feelings. I secretly wished that they might also develop a lifelong partnership with music.
As for me, music and I are still together! Rest assured, I will continue to take it with me everywhere I go. So, if you see a forty-something year old lady dancing and singing The Police’s “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” in the frozen aisle at Publix, smile and join me her; she just might be casting a magical spell!
Have you ever wondered where the nut that almost hit your car after speeding in and out of interstate lanes is rushing to? Surely, he or she needs to get someplace in short order-right? I mean, maybe this person has received an extremely distressing telephone call. Maybe he or she is a physician on the way to an emergency. Maybe this person is trying to seek medical attention for himself or a family member. Or maybe….NOT!
This weekend, I had the opportunity to get an up-close answer to these questions. Do you wanna read about it? I am sure that you are now on the edge of your seat! I’ll try not to disappoint— so here we go!
This past Saturday, while driving on a busy thoroughfare, I noticed a huge black tank of an SUV speeding up behind me. This behemoth was moving so fast that I thought it was going to slam right into me. Fortunately, the driver didn’t hit me, but he did tailgate me for a while before swerving left into the passing lane. Needless to say, the motorist at the helm of that intimidating monstrosity continued barreling down the highway- darting in and out of traffic with very little room between cars to spare. I thought to myself, surely something urgent must have happened. Little did I know, I was about to witness the end result of all of this hurried insanity.
After traveling another mile or so, I exited the interstate in order to stop by my favorite bookstore to grab a cup of coffee and to look for a new book. As I was parking, I noticed that the same black SUV that had nearly hit me on the interstate was parked in a nearby parking lot! How do I know that it was the same truck? Because this truck had several distinct decals, stickers of stick people, stick dogs, stick cats, memorial notices and ornate monograms plastered on the back window. If you had seen it, I promise that you would have remembered it too. Anyway, since I could see the driver’s shadow as he or she sat in the truck, I decided to wait a few minutes to spy. Before too long, a very slender lady dressed in workout gear emerged from the truck and walked toward the bookstore where I had planned to go. I ramped up my game of espionage by quietly following her. After entering the store, I watched closely as she ordered a cup of coffee–savored it, browsed through a few magazines and lingered near a bookshelf. My dearest friends, I can assure you that there was NOTHING hurried about this woman’s actions. In fact, she looked quite relaxed.
Which brings me to this question, what was her rush? Why was she trying to mow down every car on the interstate? I am asking you these questions because I got nothing!
After this little mini-drama ended, I decided to make a concerted effort to question myself whenever I start to rush. I vow to ask myself questions like: Why are you rushing? Are you late for something? Even if you are late, what is the worst that can happen? By doing this, I hope to avoid creating a sense of urgency where there is none. Sadly, it appears that the lady in the bookstore was rushing to relax; which seems sort of contradictory. Don’t you think?
Alright, I’ll admit that the picture above was NOT taken in Germany-at least not the real Germany. Of course, If you are familiar with the flora and fauna native to Germany then you probably already knew that. Now, if you feel that I led you astray, please accept my apologies. Maybe I can make it up to you later. So, with that said, I hope that you will indulge me a little bit and join me here as I tell you about my imaginary Germany.
Now, you might be wondering why I created an imaginary Germany. Well, in order to answer that question, I’ll need to offer a bit of background. By the way, now is a great time to go get a beverage to enjoy while I regale you with this nostalgic tale. Anyway, when I was a little girl, my dad used to tell me all about these magnificent German castles that he saw as a young military police officer in the United States Air Force. If memory serves, dad mentioned being stationed at Sembach Air Base which was located near Kaiserslautern, Germany. By the way, he also mentioned a place called Grunstadt. Now I can’t tell you a thing about how these places are related, all I know is that Kaiserslautern and Grunstadt are both located somewhere in Germany. At any rate, Dad’s castle stories were the perfect foundation for my imaginary Germany.
Interestingly, Dad wasn’t my only source for tales about Germany. As fate would have it, when I was about 4 years old, we moved next door to a lady who was from Pirmasens. Where, pray tell, is Pirmasens? You guessed it! Germany! Needless to say, as I grew older, I worried this poor lady to death with all kinds of questions about Deutschland. One of my biggest thrills was listening to her speak German with friends and family. Even though I couldn’t understand a word they said, I had fun pretending that I could.
As the years progressed, this neighbor, as well as her son, became like a second family for me. Whenever I visited them, I would admire the beautiful steins that she kept in a huge mahogany cabinet near a big brown cuckoo clock. I remember being so curious about the German artisans who crafted each item. Though I didn’t know anything about them, it was pretty clear to me that there was some manner of sorcery involved in the creation of that cuckoo clock. Why you ask? Because it accurately predicted the weather! You heard me! That clock predicted the weather! My neighbor told me that if the little man popped out of the clock it would be sunny and if the lady came out we could expect rain. Believe it or not, the clock was never wrong! Now if that’s not magic, I just don’t know what is!
By the time I was a teenager, my neighbor would ‘hire me’ to water her garden and care for her dogs whenever she went back to Pirmasens. To say that she had a green thumb was an understatement. Every spring and summer her garden was filled with a wonderful array of vibrantly colored flowers. Needless to say, when she was away, I did my best to keep everything just as she had left it. Who cares that she paid me with German chocolate bars! I didn’t mind! I enjoyed the work. By the way, have you ever tasted genuine German chocolate candy bars? So good!
Suffice it to say, after years and years of secondhand exposure to Germany, my imaginary Germany grew to be quite robust!
Right now, I can only dream about going to the real Germany. But, while I wait for this dream to become a reality, I go to imaginary Germany to take alpine hikes and dream of castles, steins, psychic cuckoo clocks, gardens and chocolate bars.
Could somebody please ask Rick Steves if he needs a co-host for his next tour in Germany.
I am obsessed with eating good food! This is not news to anyone who knows me personally. In essence, one might say that I possess a significant gastronomic appreciation for every morsel of food that I gulp down. Some folks might take offense at the thought of watching me gulp down a plate of food. If you fall into that category, you probably should avoid inviting me to breakfast, lunch or dinner. Now, if you do choose to invite me for a meal please know that I am just as comfortable at a roadside rib shack, a working class diner (I see you Waffle House!), casual restaurant (I see you too Carrabbas!) or a fine dining establishment that specializes in haute cuisine. You should also know that I take the multicultural approach when it comes to my eating proclivities. In other words, I am equally happy eating good ole Southern cooking or Italian cooking or Asian cooking or French cooking and so on and so forth. In short, I can find something to enjoy on just about any menu.
Bearing this in mind, I must ask you: Am I a foodie or just downright greedy? Please note that the word ‘greedy,’ for the purposes of this post, is exclusively applicable to a person’s behaviors relative to food. Black families often refer to anyone who is overly interested in eating as ‘greedy’. For example, you might hear us say something like: “Don’t forget to buy extra chickens because Gwin is coming… with her greedy self.” If this example doesn’t make grammatical sense to you, please grab a couple of Black folks and listen to them talk for a while; trust me, you’ll soon grow accustomed to the particulars of our vernacular. I apologize for the digression! Let’s get back to the story! I would submit that our dearest Gwin might not describe herself as being greedy. In fact, she might refer to herself as a foodie simply because she revels at the idea of savoring good food in a visually appealing environment.
Secretly, I can’t help wondering if both of these descriptions are possibly opposite sides of the same gluttonous coin. By the way, in case you haven’t read the ‘about’ page of this blog, Gwin and I are one and the same!
Okay, by now it should be abundantly clear that I have a great affection for good food. So if I were to ask you something like “Whatcha got good to eat?” Please believe that this is NOT a rhetorical question! I really expect you to answer me by following up with something good to eat! In fact, if anyone from my family asks you this question, he or she is looking for a similar response.
All jokes aside, the question of foodie or greedy remains unanswered. No worries, I’ll just sit back and let you answer the question. Am I a foodie or just downright greedy?
Hell for that matter, are you a foodie or just downright greedy? Do tell.
I have loved dogs for as long as I can remember. In fact, one of my earliest memories was of my dad asking me to name our newest pooch. I was only 3 years old and my vocabulary was considerably small so I blurted out the first thing that came to mind and that was “Sheppy!” You might be wondering where I got that name. My best guess is that it was a childish corruption of the word ‘Shepherd.’ Clearly, I must have overheard my parents mention that our new dog was a German Shepherd. ‘Sheppy’ was the closest approximation to ‘Shepherd’ that I could muster.
Believe it or not, Sheppy was one of my first and greatest teachers. Unfortunately, I can’t say that I was always the best student. But that never seemed to matter to Sheppy; he simply kept repeating the lessons. Now you might be wondering how a dog could act as an instructor. Well let me answer that! Sheppy used a teaching technique called ‘modeling.’ In essence, Sheppy modeled the traits that I, and most of you, will spend a lifetime trying to acquire. Let’s get specific! Sheppy modeled unconditional love, acceptance, loyalty, affection and fierce protectiveness. Frankly, I don’t have enough space to write about all of the traits that Sheppy modeled; dog owners will know what I mean. Regardless, Sheppy was determined to lead by example. Alas, after years of repeatedly attempting to teach me these important traits, my dear Master Sheppy Flowers ultimately shuffled off this mortal coil. For those of you who dislike Shakespearean references, Sheppy died. Needless to say, I was sad for quite a while.
But, as you might have guessed, Sheppy wasn’t the last dog in my life. In fact, he was the first of at least fifteen. And, as a result, I learned that every dog is essentially a teacher who is trying to convey the traits that I mentioned above. With that said, I would eventually take lessons from other “teachers” like Champ, Lil Gal, Princess and Frisky. One of my more memorable teachers was Bones. My dad brought Bones, who was very ill, to our home with the intention of caring for him until he died. In essence, dad was providing doggy hospice. Dad and I loved, fed and nurtured Bones until he peacefully passed away. From this experience, I learned that all sentient beings deserve to be cared for and loved; even unto death. Although it was tough letting Bones go, I took solace in knowing that his last weeks were filled with affection, love and comfort. Aha! I had begun to catch on! Lesson learned.
At any rate, I am happy to announce that my current teacher is Angel. She is the Pomeranian pictured above. I can assure you that age has taught me to pay closer attention to the lessons this time around 🙂
What have your pets taught you?
In memory of my dogs (I included their breeds for those interested in knowing):
Bones, Princess and Demon–Doberman Pinschers
Lil’ Gal and Frisky–Beagles
And all the other dogs that Daddy cared for over the years.