Good Tidings

Have you ever just taken a moment and thought about how fortunate you are? One of those times where the North Star is beaming down directly on you and everyone around smiles your way and for a little while everything seems right in your world? 

Well, tonight I had such an epiphany. 

I don’t write about my new work often, partly because there’s not much to write about; I rarely have much interaction with customers. But also I don’t write because I like my job and don’t want to jinx myself. And I guess calling it new after a year and a half is ridiculous, but it’s hard to not think of it that way.

When I came onboard, I was unsure. I was scared as a rabbit looking at a pack of coyotes. I didn’t know anybody, I was in a part of town I didn’t frequent, and I was out of my comfort zone working in an office environment. But I didn’t quit, even though I wanted to. I came back every day because I’d made my mind up to, and because it felt like it would be a good gig if I could ever get used to it. I was terrified of the guys, they were all big and kinda scary looking with their tattoos, cigarettes, beards, and low, gravelly voices. They drove trucks that always needed a belt, a paint job, or a tune up. Maybe all three. They used crowbars, saws-alls, and jackhammers like most men use a pocket knife. They swung into skid steers and tore around the yard  like the cows were out. They weren’t scared, and oftentimes the only thing I heard was “Yes ma’am”. One day it was raining as the crews returned. I was watching them out the window over my desk, amazed. They were unloading their truck, throwing cardboard and trash in the dumpster, putting extra material back where it came from, rolling the generator and other tools back to the container. It was pouring rain, but you couldn’t tell by watching them. It never affected them in the slightest as it dripped off their caps. They weren’t moving any faster; they weren’t bothering to stop and wipe it off their faces. They simply kept on, like it was a sunny 70° day. I’ll never forget it.

I soon came to learn they just weren’t big talkers- they were a soft spoken lot. They liked working outside, with their hands, where they don’t have to have a lot of interaction with people and could be left alone to do the job at hand. They liked me because I smiled at them and called them at two o’clock to make sure they were still alive and not dead in a ditch. 

They have families, which amazes me because who are these guys when I’m not around? How do these stoic, silent men even meet women? Are they out living it up on Friday night? Nope. They’re working on their daughter’s car, or they’re working on updating their own homes, or they’re taking their kids to the arcade, or they’re grilling ribs and maybe building a bonfire. They’re sitting in a hard pew, second from the back on Sunday morning, and going to their mom’s house after to fix a leaky faucet and eat their payment in fried chicken and deviled eggs.

I didn’t expect to love them every one. 

There’s a Yankee, there’s a bunch of good ole boys, there’s a Florida gator. The welder is from the flatlands of Middle Tennessee, and one from India that has a sizeable slice of my heart. There’s another girl at our branch in Knoxville who has become a confidante and true friend. The estimator is a trusted advisor and my very most favorite person in this world to aggravate to the point that he contemplates suicide.

It kind of blindsided me how much I would grow to love my position and role with this family owned business. 

Tonight was our Christmas party. 

I loved Co-op. I did. I loved seeing everybody’s kids, and their husbands once a year, and all of us in nice clothes and breaking bread together. I loved when we played games and when we just had a prize raffle, and the year I went onstage and sang. I loved our prayer and the reading of scripture and taking everybody’s picture. And I miss that family. 

But now I have this family, and while they’re different, they’re the same. We’re all just making it, and we get together and see the spouses once a year and watch the kids grow. I’m fortunate to work for a family that believes in God, and the spirit of Christmas, and giving from the heart. I’m fortunate that they make time for us to all get together apart from work and share a few hours, all of our families coming together to socialize and eat and watch the kids run around and do flips in the middle of the floor. 

Not everyone is this blessed. Not everyone works for a company that gives their employees a Christmas party and provide a bonus and make the effort and spend a tidy sum of the profits from the year just. For. Us. 

So, while work isn’t always easy, or fun, or the place we long to be, we have this night. We had a few hours to be together and enjoy each other’s company and stand side by side and grin. 

And I’m sorry I didn’t take a single picture. I wish I had at least gotten one of Taj’s shoes. 

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Good things today: 

My sweet friend Lori made me lunch. Corn chowder, cornbread, bacon wrapped chestnuts (have you ever had a bacon wrapped chestnut??? Holy crap. It’s an experience I would like to repeat very soon. Like maybe right now.), red velvet cupcakes, chocolate chip cookies, and white chocolate cranberry cookies. I was cold and it warmed me from the inside out instantly. 

My calendar at work is more like a placemat.


I got mermaid mail from my sweet friend Donna. She shouldn’t have. But look who is right at home: 

The Goonies is on. I do love me some Goonies. 

Bad things:

We had waterline woes at work today. It was all I could do not to bang my head against my desk. On second thought, maybe I did. My forehead is a little sore. 

I got home and started making dinner- boiling potatoes for mashed taters and decided to turn my crock pot back on to warm. I peek in and notice that things don’t look just right. I raise the lid, give the pork chops a poke, and realize I never turned it on. I guess in my rush this morning I left out a crucial step. This made me crazy mad, as I had purposely pulled out my oldest crockpot for the express reason it cooks the slowest and I didn’t want them to get overdone and dried out. I’ve not got one of those fancy ones on a timer. I now have three ruined pork chops and a pot full of potatoes going so it’s too late to go out and pick something up. I’m committed. So we had garlic mashed potatoes, crab cakes, rosemary parmesan rolls, and broccoli. It was fine. But I’m still mad. I hate to waste food. This is why I should start subsiding on wine and Reese cups again.

Hobby Lobby was out of everything I wanted. I don’t know what I wanted exactly, but I know they didn’t have it.

It’s already 9:22 and I haven’t written the first word of my blog for the day. I’m three days behind. I don’t think it’s three days in order, either. And I haven’t cracked my book. 

I have had the following songs stuck in my head all day: #1) Umbrella by Rhianna, #2) oooo-ooo I’m a rebel just for kicks yeah {I don’t know the name but that’s how it goes} and there was another one but of course it evades me now. 

In going to bed. Here’s to a better day tomorrow. 

Sticky Tape

December Writing Challenge Day 10 (Day 40)

Sticky tape. 

=something I lose more than scissors when wrapping gifts. There is a drinking game based on this very thing. I played it one year and was sloshed in less than two hours. I buy the big packs at Sam’s and just lay a roll on every surface. That helps quite a bit. But what would we do without it? What would we do without a lot of things? 

I used to be an expert tape peeler in my younger days. But mom was on to me and began double wrapping stuff in different boxes. I wasn’t brave enough to unwrap it all the way, just a corner to see what was in there. I don’t know why I couldn’t wait. I’m a little better now. I haven’t went snooping in years. 

Have you ever thought that sticky tape would be highly incriminating if people could figure out how to lift your fingerprint from it? I think about that every time I mail something at work, because I am not about to lick a nasty envelope. Shoo. Who even does that these days? 

Well. I guess this exhausts my thoughts on tape. Thanks for reading my mundane ramblings. There are better articles here, I assure you. 

The Funeral of Joe Woods

Deep breath.

Where do I begin?

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” ~Lewis Carrol, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. 

I will apologize in advance to my long time readers, for I will have to repeat stories most of you all have heard before to get this all told. So let me begin by introducing you to Joe Woods. This is a little piece I wrote on him a couple of years ago for the store’s Facebook page. It paints a more descriptive picture than his concise obituary (not that there’s anything wrong with his obituary, the family is grieving and has their hands full)

MEET YOUR CO-OP!!
This week is the 3rd edition, & we couldn’t pick a more iconic figure than Joe Woods.
I sat down with Joe around 10:30 this morning. Well, “cornered” would be a more appropriate term. He is always in high demand.
I was able to extract some facts about his life over the next 45 minutes, between customers stopping by to chat and tell him how good it is to see him.
Joe was born & raised in West Tennessee, not the land of milk & honey, but of cotton & pit barbeque. Joe has never been satisfied with what passes for barbeque on this end of the state. He graduated high school in 1944, and was promptly drafted. But he was turned down, so he enrolled in what was then UT Junior College, now known as UT Martin. When the second draft came around in September of ’45, he was accepted and shipped off overseas as part of the Signal Corps. He was a practitioner of Morse Code, but by the time he eventually got over there, the war had ended. So he was placed in Labor Supervision, which amounted to “All the German prisoners the Army captured, I turned ’em loose.”
Joe returned to the states, got his degree at UT Knoxville, and worked in Northeast TN until 1964, when he came to Sevier County & was our county agent until retiring in 1989. Joe got to know just about every family involved in agriculture around the state…and some surrounding states, too. While we chatted, one of our outside sales reps came up and was asking him if he knew some strawberry farmers down in Georgia. “What are they doin’ raisin’ strawberries? They’ve got 150 acres of woods!”
“350,” Ben amended with a smile.
“Well, they’ve cleared ’em off another ridge, then.”
As the ag extension agent, he always worked closely with the Co-op. McKinley Ballard, manager in the 80’s, started asking him to speak at the annual meeting during the time the votes were being tallied. He just talked about whatever struck him, including his European vacation one year.
Joe married his wife Jean, on May 3rd, 1952 (“hey, that’s in a few days!” Joe remarked). They have two daughters, Martha and Mary Anne. He is a deacon at First Baptist Church Sevierville, where he has worshipped for 21 years.
Not long after he retired, the manager at the time, Darrell Clark, asked him to come work at the Co-op. He didn’t want to. Joe is an avid golfer (as long as it’s at least 55 degrees outside) & was ready to make the most of retirement. But he committed to working mornings, from 8-12, taking lunch, and going home. Before he knew it, he was working full time. In 1996, he had to have open heart surgery which forced him to think about his lifestyle. He wanted to scale back, but again, Darrell made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. “”Come in when you want to, and leave when you want to.” Well, who could resist that? So here he still is, all these years later, still trucking along. Joe admits that the majority of farmers he knew have passed on. These days he meets the 3rd generation of these families. He’s a consultant of sorts, advising people about everything from trees, ornamentals, pond fish, soil samples, carports, and vegetables. He also serves as our errand runner. Basically, if you have a question about anything that pertains to the Co-op, Joe is our go-to. He comes in around nine Tuesday through Friday, visits customers around the county, eats lunch at Frank Allen’s, and tries to be out of here around three. It doesn’t always work that way. People want his schedule, but I can’t supply them with that, because he doesn’t have one. And now we know why. Or, as Paul Harvey would tell us, the rest of the story.

It is a cold Saturday in December here in the foothills of Appalachia. Snow flurries are still blowing. I was meeting Robin, my former work momma, at Food City so we could ride together. Her husband was gracious enough to be our chauffer. We were anticipating an enormous crowd. We were to meet around two o’clock, and I didn’t want to park way at the back of the lot because Patsy would stick out like a sore thumb sitting there all that time, and I’m not sure what there rules are on unattended vehicles. Or if they enforce them. So I pulled up at the fringe of the cluster of vehicles and looked around for one of their cars. I decide to shoot her a text in case they were already waiting. I had just hit send when this dark colored SUV pulls in next to me. I glance up, gather my things, and flounce over to their car. I pull open the back door saying, “I just sent you a text and-” I was looking at all the packages in the backseat wondering why they hadn’t moved them, they knew I was going to be riding back there, but whatever, I was getting my purse and coat situated when I look at Jerry.

Who is sporting a nose ring and spiky hair and has evidently shed about 50 pounds and 30 years.

I was paralyzed.

I then looked in the passenger seat. There sat some girl who is looking at me, completely terrified.

“You are NOT  Robin and I am soooooooooooo sorry,” I say, moving their bags back, picking my stuff up off their seat, closing their door, and skinning it back to the safety of Patsy.

Needless to say, I wanted to crawl under a rock.

I related that classic Amy story to the real Robin and Jerry when they pulled up to collect me a few minutes later. I was laughing so hard I was crying and that is how we began our Joe Woods adventure. I’m sure he was clapping and hee-hawing at me from the heavens. Because that almost makes me even with him. He went to the post office one day and saw me, and was waving and grinning and got so mad when I wouldn’t wave back. Then a cloud went across the sun and he saw that it wasn’t me he was waving and grinning at. It was some random stranger.

We get to the funeral home, and surprisingly, there is barely anyone there. I figured people would have been wrapped around the building twice. I had dressed accordingly to brave the weather, but I was pleasantly surprised. As we stood in line, I complimented the Co-op’s arrangement (a beautiful wreath), and we remarked on how gorgeous Joe’s spray was. His coffin was very nice, too, a navy blue. {I heartily approve- take note, husband}.

“I can’t believe we’re here,” I intoned to Robin as we stood close. It was preposterous. I had counted on Joe outliving us all.

“I know,” she answered. And she did. She knew exactly.

I made Robin go first, as always. She makes the introductions and it’s a smooth transition for me to be her shadow. And hopefully, if someone is going to cry, they’ll do it on her, because I can’t control my tears at all and I am not a beautiful crier, dabbing daintily at my mascara with a snow white tissue. I’m more of the squalling, hiccupping, a little spit, makeup running, digging through a bottomless purse for a wadded-up, lint-flecked tissue, red-faced variety. And the family of the deceased make me slightly uncomfortable if I’m tied up in line with one while someone ahead is having more than a two second conversation. They say “thank you for coming” to which my standard reply to every other event is “thank you for having me”, which is obviously not appropriate at the funeral home so I stand there with a small stupid smile trying to think of something to say. Heaven forbid I keep a sentiment or two handy. I usually wind up saying something inane like, “You look so pretty” when they are quite stricken with grief. Maybe I should transition to: “that color looks so pretty on you”. Hmm. Something to think about. Martha and Mary Anne both thanked me for coming and told me that Joe loved all of us and OF COURSE the logical thing would have been for me to say, “Nothing like he loved you girls, we heard about you all the time,” or, “He was so proud of you all” or anything of that sort. But no, I had to stand there and say, “Well, we didn’t give him a choice.” How stupid I am. Luckily, they are a forgiving sort and knew that Joe was special to me no matter how inarticulate and mannerless I appeared. At least I came.

After speaking to the family and watching the picture video with two senior gentlemen that I believe attended church with him, we installed ourselves into what I will call the Co-op corner.

And I began to think.

Or reflect, some would say. I was thinking about all the people who had sat in these pews and grieved. We were close to the back, but still. I looked around for tissues as a preemptive measure, but there were none. Too far back. My tissues were in the car, tucked in my coat pocket. Better suck it up, I told myself. I was thinking how peaceful it is, and how nice. Funeral homes are always nice. Or all the ones I’ve ever been in, anyway. I wonder how many people have come through those doors and it’s the fanciest place they’ve ever set foot in? Some of those back holler church going people who ain’t got a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of. Do they bury their people here with Atchley’s? Do they save their whole life in order to do so? There’s only one other funeral home in town. What do they do? I remember hearing stories about how when Atchley’s started they offered a payment plan, and they could secure where you’d spend the first few days after you departed for the low price of a dollar per week and plenty of people took them up on that. But the people gathered today weren’t that backwoods. They were strictly blue collar.

I have attended a mass of funerals in my life. While working at Co-op I became rather close to a great many older people that touched my heart, so I always tried to go for one last visit with them. It became normal to “run by the funeral home” on my way home. I didn’t often stay for the funeral, just went to sign the book, speak to the family, and make my way out. You know, express my condolences. It’s not a big deal. Sometimes it’s awkward if I don’t know the family well, but lots of times I was attending the funeral for a coworker’s or customer’s parent or spouse. I hope people will say at my death, “You can say what you want to about Amy, but she was always good about going by the funeral home.” Since leaving Co-op, I have understood the draw of wanting to attend funerals. It pretty much is the only place where you see everybody. Me and Robin spent a lot of time trying to decide who people were. We figured most of them out. We read the little booklet. What do you call those things? Not pamphlet. We didn’t know the preacher or a couple of the pallbearers. I told Tuletta and Donnie the Food City vehicle mishap with Robin warning me before I started that I should probably go outside to tell it. We got through it, though, and I didn’t pee my pants.

Well, here comes Jack Denton. He did make it. And without Raymond for once, which is just as well. He tends to rub people wrong. But sweet Mr. Jack and his wife with their daughter Mary John. It’s always good to see them. Two of the Sarten brothers. One beautiful lady I couldn’t quite place until ten seconds before she came up and embraced me and told me how glad she was to see me again. She was one of my springtime ladies, I couldn’t tell you her name if you paid me money, but I loved her. Her husband played golf with Joe, and she regularly picked his brain for help with her garden. Dewayne Hodges sat down behind us, and as soon as Clint got through the line he joined us as well. And then Betty and Donnie rounded out our corner. But I was still surprised we weren’t wall to wall in there. We couldn’t figure it out. Was it the cold? Was it just the hustle and bustle of the holiday season? Co-op was open, although they had toyed with the idea of closing, but they got it worked out so the people who wanted to come for the funeral could leave, and the rest could come up and sign the book beforehand. Somebody had slipped a Co-Op pencil into the pocket of his suit jacket, which made us all smile. I hope it was sharp. Dull pencils just didn’t set with Joe. If everybody had come that had ever depended on Joe for advice, Neyland Stadium wouldn’t hold us all. But Robin speculated that although a great many people knew Joe, did they know him well enough to attend his funeral? The answer seemed to be no. Although they would have been welcome. I squeezed Sherri Crawford, who was off to visit her new grandbaby, and shook and howdied with Ann King and a few more. To pass the time, I told my Food City story again. Clint got me tickled and it’s a wonder they didn’t throw us out of there. We were both in the floor. Clint said, “Amy, that’s the funniest thing I’ve heard in a long, long time.”

So Mr. Joe brought us that.

On the whole funerals aren’t sad events until the music starts playing. That’s when I tend to lose any composure I’ve been hanging onto. Of course, it’s different if the person in the casket is young or has been taken suddenly. But the majority are just a catch up time between family and friends. The music wasn’t what I was expecting, but I don’t know why I thought they’d be playing some little jig Joe hummed sometimes. He was a religious man, and I thought back to a time I was worried about a gentleman we had worked with for a long time that was let go. I won’t say he was wrongfully fired, because the reason was solid…but it didn’t make me miss him any less. (And for those of you who think you know who I’m referring to-I’m not talking about the big redheaded guy). So anyway, this particular fellow had been a native of Sevier County, a son of a well-to-do family, and a regular churchgoer. And when he was fired, he was so ashamed, he quit going to church. He didn’t go out at all. It really weighed on me and I went to Joe about it. Because, as I’ve stated before, Joe and I generally agreed on people: who was a good egg, and who was a hoity-toity, and who wouldn’t worth the…well, nevermind. But anyway, Joe set my heart at ease when he said, “I’ll call ‘im.” And he did, that very day. The man hadn’t lost his faith, he had just been embarrassed. So Joe talked to him, and then he talked to me. “He’s alright. He’s alright,” He assured me, then patted me softly. “Thank you for worrying about him, little one.” That’s the kind of man Joe was. You could share a joke, but you could also share a worry.

The preacher began his message by saying, “We’re all here at the funeral of a man who didn’t plan on dying.” Remember, Joe was 91. But evidently he had aimed to go home Wednesday (and that ain’t code), and be driving in two weeks, and then back to work shortly thereafter. And why not? Joe had persevered through bigger trials than this.

The funeral was light, and everybody stayed strong. The preacher didn’t stray far from the subject of Joe’s faith. He reiterated that for as many smarts as Joe had, he could have had his pick of jobs and probably could have led a much more lucrative life. But he chose to stay and help. And help he did. He helped everybody he ever met, and most of us too many times to count. I’m not just talking about with grass seed woes and plant diseases, I’m talking about matters of the heart as I described above. Even though Joe more than 50 years older than me, there were few subjects that were off limits. I can’t think of any, really. I always enjoyed talking to him, and I forever came away better than before. As so many others said today, he was a good man. He was the very best.

If I were a better blogger, this is where I would conclude my tale. But that would leave part of my story untold, and I can’t stand that. And you might not want to finish with a misty eye. So here’s the rest of it.

After the funeral, I was starved. I had brought snacks, but who can eat crackers in the presence of a dead body? Joe wouldn’t have cared, he would have probably asked for one. Thankfully, Robin and Jerry were hungry too, so our day didn’t end here. We went over to Cracker Barrel, another approved station of Joe’s. When I got up to go wash my hands, I made sure to chart where our table was so I wouldn’t sit back down with strangers. I had chicken and dumplins and, of course, carrots. The cole slaw was off the charts. While we perused their Christmas selections, we ran into my good friend’s momma, Ann. I was so glad to see her. This was turning into a capital day. Joe had brought all sorts of us together.

We finished our jaunt by going by the Clark Griswold House of Seymour. Talk about off the charts. Holy cannoli, Batman. It was their entire yard and half of their neighbors they’ve struck a deal with. Evidently they have an agreement with the neighborhood to cut it all off at 10:00 p.m. The flashing would induce seizures to some with weaker constitutions, I have no doubt. It left me a little dizzy. And think of their light bill! Golly gee willikers!! 

 I know what I’d do if I lived in their subdivision. I wouldn’t even try. I’d get me one of those light up arrows, like what the old drive-ins used to have, and put “That way” in clear lights. Kinda like the “Ditto” guy on Pinterest. 

So Joe got me and Robin together for a much needed day of fellowship and good times. It’s always heartwarming to be around those you love during the holidays, especially if you haven’t seen them in awhile.

And so concludes the Adventures of Amy on the Day of the Funeral of Joe Woods.  You should always go to funerals. There’s never no tellin’ what might happen.

“If I had a gal, and she wouldn’t dance, I tell you what I’d do. I’d build me a boat, and set her afloat, and paddle my own canoe.” ~Joe Woods

I Hate Christmas

December Writing Challenge Day 7

Really Day 37

I hate Christmas. 

Well, there are three words I never thought I’d write. Because I don’t. At all. Oh sure, it’s hard to find the real meaning in the hordes of shoppers at the mall, or while being cut off in traffic on your way to the company Christmas party.  But you just have to put a little extra love in your heart and assume that these people making you crazy have had a hard life and weren’t shown the Lord’s way. 

And dontcha know the people who seem determined to chip away at your faith and drag you down in their misery are the people without Jesus. They’re jealous that Christians have eternal hope. They don’t know it’s okay for us to be imperfect, a Saviour was sent for that purpose. So we just have to press on and try to set an example by being our very best selves. That’s what Christmas is about. And carrying it in our hearts all the year long. 

The Mystery Gift

December Writing Challenge Day 6

(Day 36)

The mystery gift. 

We’ve all been given something we didn’t ask for. Usually in my case it’s advice. In Chevy Chase’s Christmas, it was Aunt Edna’s jell-o mold, complete with cat food. The Secret Santa game has become wildly popular in recent years, and my favorite is always gag gifts for several reasons. #1) you don’t have to put a lot of thought into it. Just buy something fun. #2) you don’t have to worry about buying something everyone will like-that’s not the point! #3) I like to laugh. The harder the better. Preferably until my sides hurt and I’m crying. 

I have never been involved with the Secret Sisters group that circulates this time of year. I need no added stress in my life. I’m anxious enough without wondering if my gift was well received. Or shopping for something without going over budget. It’s agonizing enough trying to find the perfect gift for family and friends. 

Don’t make a mystery gift. It stresses people out. Wrap up some homemade peanut butter cookies and clearly label them. It need not be fancy. A zip lock bag inside a plain brown paper one will be as appreciated as anything I know. 

The Man, The Myth, The Legend

My oldest friend turned 91 this past July. This is a picture from his 90th birthday.

Joe Woods was super intimidating when I went to work for the Co-op in 2001. He seemed gruff, no-nonsense, and had the demeanor of the remarkably smart. For someone as wet behind the ears as I was, the best I could hope for was to stay out of the way.

But as you all know, Joe is none of the above, other than the exceptionally smart part. He loves nothing better than a good joke-as long as it’s not on him. He helped me approximately 14,788,923 times during my years there. He probably repeated everything he told me at least twice. I still can’t tell you how to kill duckweed in your pond without killing your fish. I do know that you better put the lime to your garden and water in the morning if you don’t want your tomatoes to get “the rot”. I also learned to never, ever, ever ride with him, even if it’s just to Frank Allen’s. I depended on Joe daily, and I never thought twice about calling his cell phone if he was gone to the post office or “checking on some corn” out in Wears Valley. That’s why he gave it to me. And I was his IT person. This meant I showed him how to get his cell phone off speaker and would open text messages for him.

He was all about email and was ready to learn how to Facebook soon.

This is us on New Years Eve, 2015. I taught him what a selfie was. “Joe, smile!” “I am smilin’!” “You ain’t!” “I am dunit!”

We got along good because we complained about the same people. One coworker, in particular, we liked to joke “would rather argue as eat” 🙂 Me and Joe, though, we’d rather eat. We had many a lunch and learn together, we’d fill up and take our little naps and leave the learnin’ to the newbies. We needed our beauty sleep. He never could stand what passed for barbeque here, and detested Buddy’s. However, there were very few ice creams he would pass on. I remember him talking about some ice cream sandwich that he’d discovered and “one is just enough to make you mad so I always get out two.”

Years ago, before the remodel, I came busting through his office on a shortcut to the main office.

Here it is, decorated for Christmas

Joe was slumped in his chair, as usual, but didn’t snap at me to slow down or quit being too lazy to go around the traditional way. Which made me slow down.

I eyed him suspiciously.

He didn’t eye me back.

I stopped stock-still and waited to see if he was going to bite my head off.

Nothing.

I began to breathe a little harder and watch nervously for his chest to rise. “Joe?” I asked, which probably came out as a whisper.

Nothing. I started easing closer, bent over slightly to see if his eyes were open and he was playing possum. He was turned half toward the wall so it was difficult to make out. All at once, his head began to slowly swivel and he looked over his glasses that were perched on his hawklike nose.

“What do you want?” he croaked.

I was so relieved I couldn’t say. I released the breath I had evidently been holding and ran for the office. I burst in just as the first hysterical laugh left me. I couldn’t do nothing but gasp for a good five minutes. I finally got the story out and we were all rolling.

I’m afraid I’m giving you the impression I didn’t do much at work.

Um, clearly it’s not me you need to be worried about 😉 And that IS three different days.

At any rate, my fears weren’t unfounded. Joe has had many health problems over the years and several close calls. He had a defibrillator put in a few years ago and I spent a good many days worrying about that thing going off and knocking him down and breaking a hip and there we’d be. Robin and I always visited him in the hospital, even though we were half afraid to. He always said “If you’re sick enough to be in the hospital, you’re too sick for visitors.” But we’d creep in, and he’d grin, secretly pleased. Then he’d tell us about all the people aggravating him, from the nurses waking him up wanting to know how he was resting (“Tarnation!!!” he’d thunder) to customers calling his cell phone wanting to know the best way to kill Bermudagrass in their flowerbeds. He’d tell them he was in the hospital, and they’d be all flustered and apologize all over the place and he’s laugh and tell them how to cure whatever ailed them. He has become more and more frail over the years and we’ve all worried ourselves crazy about him climbing those stairs to the Ivory Tower twice a day. But you couldn’t argue with him and you couldn’t do it for him and you SURE couldn’t talk him out of it. I used to have a recurring dream that he had died at Co-op and naturally I’m the one who found him. I was relieved to leave the Co-op partially for this reason. He would still make a monthly pilgrimage up the road to bring me my Co-operator paper. I hugged him if he let me and told him I loved him every time. ‘Cause Joe ain’t gettin’ no younger.

He said he was incognito when he wore this hat.

Joe loved fried pies from the Apple Barn and Mollie the Australian Shepherd. His best friend was Jack Denton and he would probably give some young guys a run for their money on the golf course. He had a passel of books and papers and soil sample boxes that you were welcome to borrow as long as you returned them before he noticed they were missing. He always had the coolest specimens on his desk, maybe a tobacco worm or a jar full of aphids. People were all the time bringing him jars with dead snakes or buckets of pond algae (that stuff STINKS) and ziplock bags of leaves from rosebushes (“why are they so stingy with their plants? I can’t tell nothing from one or two leaves!” he’d often lament). People with boxelder bugs (“they’re so blamed proud of these bugs!”) or termites to be identified under his magnifying glass as flying ants. He taught me that water bugs are just a proud man’s cockroach and that pretty much anything can be killed with Tempo. He could tell you who had every farm in the county, from one end of Gatlinburg plumb to Union Valley in Seymour, what they grew whichever year, who they sold it to, and sometimes for what price. I frequently made him tell me who was who in old pictures. He knew about cotton and cows and stuff like how aluminum foil is made. I would like to know half of what Joe has forgot.

And here he is at the Grand Reopening. The Co-operator used my picture!

He loved to have his picture made, that’s why I have so many! he wasn’t bashful, and one of the few who wouldn’t run from me when I had the camera in my hand. We all joked that he had to be in the Co-Operator every month. He was an advocate for honeybees and common sense.

My oldest friend and greatest teacher left this world today for a new one with golden roads and no pain in his knees. I know he earned every jewel in his crown and that he’s having a big ole time in his new Heaven. But I’m gonna miss my crotchety friend every day and every time I need to know something about growing, healing, or tending anything that takes water. He was always so present, it’s hard for me to think of him gone.

My heart hurts, but it’s light, too.

The Remote’s Gone

December Writing Challenge Day 5

(Day 35)

The remote’s gone. 

We thought the remote had taken a dive this weekend. It’s only about 20 years old, the one I’m talking about. It goes with the surround sound system. All the words are worn off so I just use the buttons on the device. The remote has a bazillion more that I don’t know what in the world it could possibly be controlling, so it’s just safer all the way around if I avoid it at all costs. But it was fine, the batteries had just corroded. Isn’t that strange that it was still working fine until the last few days? 

Scenario 2:

My uncle has a sometimes ghost. He hasn’t been bothered by the ghost since moving to the cabin, but at the old house the ghost was as much as an inhabitant as him or Aunt Bren. He frequently stole/ moved several objects, including the remote. So to hear things like, “The remote’s gone,” and the prompt response of “the ghost has got it,” was not in the least unusual in their house. No worries, he frequently returned whatever he took the day you stopped looking for it. But they’ve moved out on the ghost, and he now haunts The Puerto Rican on a Stick. 

Star

December Writing Challenge Day 4

(Day 34)

Star. 

Neil Gaimon writes in Stardust that a star is a person until it falls to Earth. His take is very interesting, and I strongly persuade you to read it. 

I say stars are magical celestial beings and we all get to be one for a little while. I think they’re shaped like giant kidney stones made of solid diamond, that’s why they sparkle so. I think stars are our hopes and dreams that were fulfilled before we lost our belief in magic. I think stars are the people we lost and missed and they decided to suspend themselves for a few minutes while we look. 

I think stars are beautiful no matter what they are and it wouldn’t hurt us at all to look towards them more often. 

Suicide

December Writing Challenge Day 3 (Day 33)

Suicide. 

Geez. What a topic. I like to make light of things but there’s not a light side to this. So I plan to tread carefully, and let me apologize ahead of time if I inadvertently step wrong with my words. I am rarely eloquent. I am always sincere when it comes to something serious.

Suicide will touch most of us at one time or another. I got a little practice while working as a dispatcher. As much as you can, in any case. We had these books, a protocol of questions to ask your caller for pretty much any life or death situation. But the callers always wanted to ask us the questions. And it was always the same: “WHY???” 

The short answer was we didn’t know, and it wasn’t for us to know. The long answer is as follows:

Debt and gambling problems. People think they are worth more dead than they are alive and that their loved ones would be better off without them. So they take matters into their own hands and we’re left holding the pieces.

Pain. I once knew a mighty fine man. When he was younger, he played professional baseball. He hurt his back. He was never the same. Time went by, he became successful at his career. He married and raised children. The pain never left him. So, at the brink of retirement, he took his own life. He chose to go instead of being a burden on his family and an addict in the eyes of strangers as his pain gradually worsened as he got older. 

People make other people suicidal. It ain’t no wonder. People are crazy, and they make other people crazy. And then they take their life. Only the strong survive. You let someone get to you and it affects your life. It takes over your relationships with others and your social or work life and then there you are. Evil lurks everywhere and loves to prey on the helpless. Or what they deem as helpless. Some people won’t cut their ties to these people because they don’t value their own selves as worthy and instead take themselves out of the equation. Look at the person making you miserable. Are they happy? Do they have a solid group of people they call friends? Or have they run everybody off and nobody can stand them? 

Families are probably the most influential when it comes to pushing someone over the edge. Hopefully in other cases, they are the ones to talk them off that ledge. Families put a lot of pressure on you to be a certain way or do specific things that are important to them. They want you to repress your feelings for the sake of saving face and protecting the family. This is breeding ground for passive aggressive disorder and depression. Some parents don’t cope well with divorce, and whoever has the child has the added burden of looking after them while they grieve. I’ve heard stories of children who passed notes under the door to their guardian because they needed help with homework or fixing something to eat but the door was locked so they had to do what they could to get help. I’ve heard of families unable to provide for their children but also unwilling to ask for assistance so the children steal food and hide it where they can–potatoes in the situation I’m aware of. There are parents who want to put their children in a box like a doll and only get them out when it suits them, when they won’t interfere with the rest of their life. Of course, you can’t blame divorce on shitty parenting. Plenty of crappy/absent parents are still married. They think they’re doing it “for the kids”. The kids are meanwhile down the hall, listening to their parents fight and cuss and say all manner of horrible things about each other and maybe even the children. Children don’t ask for this life, they are without fault. There are children whose routine is so upset that they’ll stay with other relatives just to get peace and calm in their upturned lives. This seems to be happening more and more as drug addiction grows. Those memories don’t just vanish when you turn 18. They continue to haunt you and make it hard to believe in true love and commitment. Divorce can warp you at a vulnerable age in your life. You may not have anyone who loves you.  You may get caught in a downward spiral that you’re unable to crawl out of. More people would probably seek therapy if it were more available. You might be able to get it free, but you gotta work or then you’ve got monetary problems. So if you are caught in a life without love, perhaps you think it would be easier to just leave forever. 

Work. There are people in high stress jobs. Dispatchers for one, but I use them as an example all the time, being as how I have first hand experience. Imagine being on the phone with someone, and you’ve done everything you can possibly do, and they die before help gets there. They might have died anyway, but you didn’t save them. What if you had pushed the button sooner for paramedics? Was there a shorter route? I worked with a few worriers, and they were sometimes haunted at nighttime with whether they sent an ambulance to a caller, or a fire truck to this address. You can’t second guess yourself. What about psychiatrists, listening to someone else’s problems day in and day out? It would wear you down. Don’t forget about farmers. You may see them as laid back, easygoing but they are at the mercy of the Lord and the weather. Investors. What if they put your retirement in the wrong funds? What if the stock market crashes again? What if, what if, what if?? Surgeons. Is there anything harder? Your job is to save lives and do no harm but when someone dies on your table during a routine procedure and you have to answer for it. And there may not be a logical answer. Small business owners. The livelihood of many depend on them. Just making a living is so hard for so many. And if you work all the time, you feel you’re neglecting other areas of your life and there you are…doing your best but feeling inadequate and like there is no hope in sight. And so you sink.

I feel that Facebook is sometimes a catalyst. People see what they want to see, read what they want to read, and interpret it the way they think best fits their views. Narcissists, most especially, are the guilty ones. Facebook feeds the attention seeking addiction. People see other people getting more attention, looking perfect and gorgeous in all the beauty filtered selfies, think they aren’t worthy, and things degrade from there. If you’re constantly getting butthurt on there about some trivial injustice or some stupid trolls on public posts, maybe you need to unplug and get your priorities straight. Or unfriend or unfollow. 

Terminal illness. These are perhaps the most dignified deaths, and understandable to my eyes. I would not want to suffer and if I had a way to ease into eternity, I’m all for it. But many people don’t believe in this unnatural passing and unable to comprehend how anyone could be so selfish.

Church and God and the guilt. We all struggle. Other Christians and atheists alike will make you doubt your faith because you’re unable to live perfectly like Jesus. Well, you only have to do your best. If you’re defeated, that’s just life. It doesn’t mean you’re any less in God’s eyes, no matter what people say about you in or out of church.

Medicines and hormones. To combat mental or physical illness, doctors may prescribe a multitude of medications. These medicines may not agree with your constitution, or each other, and you may be too sick to know it or get help. You think the solution is suicide, and perfectly reasonable.

Depression and Post Traumatic Stress. Think of what our military saw that was widely accepted as the norm. How do they go on? And we think WE have problems? No wonder they can’t sleep at night. I can see wanting to just stop the visions that are on constant replay. 

As a writer, I struggle. People generally love for me to write about them. (Some of these people are egotistical. You can spot them by the overdramatic comments and posts. They’re the ones who check into hospitals and don’t say why.) Sometimes I’m not even aware I was writing about anybody in particular, I’m just telling a story! The narcissistic among us do not to be portrayed in the slightest bad lighting, even in the pretext as a joke. Thankfully, I have thick skin and have no qualms about cutting destructive, toxic people from my life. It would take an impossible to imagine amount of stuff to make me contemplate suicide. The attention seekers desire conflict at every turn and live to torment and guilt. It’s best to ignore completely. And if you can’t do that, or if that’s not working then you have to just move on without them at all. And it won’t be much of a loss if they’ve brought you much strife. I couldn’t stop writing if I had to. Even if no one was reading. I won’t apologize for putting my self preservation ahead of your inflated ego, dramatization, and exaggeration. 

Don’t take the “easy” way out. You gotta fight for the right to live. As I said before, only the strong survive. Surround yourself with people who make you happy, and make you better.