Sunday, December 26, 2010

Nana Kay's Christmas Secret

After celebrating my first Christmas without Dad I came home from my sister's house, put on warm pajamas, poured myself a glass of wine and grabbed a box of old photo albums from the basement. I felt the need to reminisce, remember Christmas and times long ago. I laid the box of photos next to me on the floor, wrapped myself in a warm blanket, stretched out on the couch while Raider snuggled at my feet. I smiled as I looked at images of my sister and I when we were younger. I chuckled at the photo of me when I was eight years old in my first pair of glasses, white cat eye glasses. When I finished browsing through the first album, I reached down for the next. It was Grandma's brag book, Nana Kay's photo album. The album contained photos from the summer of 1973 and Christmas 1972. My mind was no longer seeing the photos, it was wondering back to days of ole, Christmas 1972. The time I woke up in the middle of the night and discovered Nana Kay's secret. The night when I first learned no matter how much time passes the heart never forgets, it always longs for the one it loves/loved. The night Nana Kay first taught me it is not the number of years we share with a person, but the depth of the love we shared with them. Thirty eight years later I wonder if Nana Kay would be upset if I finally shared her lovely secret?

Nana Kay lived in a wonderful old duplex on Weidman Street in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. Behind her house was the Bethlehem Steel factory, down the street was a playground, a corner drug store sat two blocks away. The back door lead to a porch that overlooked a beautiful side yard. In the summer the yard was full of blooming flowers and trees. In the winter it seemed to always be covered in peaceful white snow. Her front door had a nice stoop where as a young child I would often sit and talk to the neighbors as they walked by. At Christmas time it seemed like every stoop in the neighborhood had greens and Christmas lights adorning their railings. To me it was the most beautiful sight. Nana Kay lived in what could easily be described as the picture perfect American working class neighborhood. Everyone knew and looked out for each other especially during the holidays.

I loved Christmas at Nana Kay's house, it overflowed with Christmas spirit. Looking back I realize it must have taken days to remove all the nick knacks from her numerous shelves and curio cabinets and replace them with Santa's and Angels. The banister leading to the second floor was always perfectly wrapped in holly and lights. In the living room the nativity sat on top of the television, the main Christmas tree sat in the corner next to the window. Every room had a tree and was decked out in beautiful holiday decorations, even the bathroom. It was pretty marvelous to take a bath in the old claw foot bathtub with a small Christmas tree in the corner. Nana Kay allowed me to turn the lights off so the only light in the room was from the tree and the three candles that warmly glowed in the window. I often thought this must be the way royalty lived as I bathed myself in the wonderful glimmer of the blinking Christmas lights. The phonograph in the parlor always serenaded us with Christmas carols being sung by Dean Martin, Burl Ives or Bing Crosby. Norman Rockwell could not have painted a better portrait of Christmas.

Christmas 1972 I was nine years old. The world to me was perfect. I was oblivious to cancer raging within my Nana Kay. We arrived late Friday night to find Nana Kay still putting up some last minute decorations. No matter what time of year, Nana Kay always had a small gift waiting for my sister and I on the bed in Uncle Bill's room. The room we shared whenever we visited. After a quick hug, Debbie and I darted up the stairs to see what spectacular surprise awaited us. We quickly turned the corner at the top of the stairs nearly wiping ourselves out, my eyes first caught sight of the two feather trees Nana Kay had placed on the nightstands on either side of the bed. I felt grown up, it was the first time she put a tree on my side of the bed! I stopped and stared in amazement at 'my tree' when I spied two wooden boxes laid upon our pillows. I jumped over the foot board and bounced onto the bed next to my respective box. Inside the box was an old fashioned Santa Claus with changing faces. Each face matched a country, some had short beards, others had long. My sister of course put the American, traditional face on her Santa and stood it next to her tree and headed back downstairs. I sat there for several minutes changing each face trying to determine which one I liked best. I was not like my sister, I knew my Santa was breakable but I was not going to leave him standing alone next to the tree, I took him downstairs with me so I could continue to play with him. I sat Santa on the table next to me as my sister and I enjoyed homemade Christmas cookies and hot chocolate. I sat in the kitchen watching Dad help Nana Kay hang the Christmas Bell lights in the front hallway. It was then that I realized for the first time since I could remember Nana Kay did not have the house fully decorated.

The next morning, Mom and Debbie went shopping, Dad and Herm (Nana Kay's friend)hung the last of the Christmas lights and decorations while Nana Kay and I made more Christmas cookies. I remember Nana Kay apologized over and over to Dad for not finishing the decorations before the family arrived. She was feeling more tired than normal and was thankful for his help. She wanted everything perfect for her girls (Debbie and I). Dad called me into the living room and I felt so special when he lifted me up and for the first time I was the one to put the star on top of the Christmas tree. I stood there in awe of my "star", it seemed higher than normal and I had done that! The rest of the afternoon was spent with Nana Kay filling tin canister with homemade cookies to be delivered the next day to neighbors and friends. After a wonderful family dinner, I stayed in the kitchen watching the adults play cards while my sister watched television and read a book in the living room. I always wanted to be part of the 'fun'. At bedtime Nana Kay accompanied my sister and I upstairs and knelt with us as we said our nightly prayers. Dad came up a few minutes later to tuck us in and wish us sweet dreams. My sister was soon fast asleep. I laid in bed staring at my feather tree counting all the shiny red balls on it. I could hear the laughter from the floor below me. I soon climbed out of bed, grabbed the blanket from the rocking chair. I spread it out on the floor next to the coal grate and fell asleep watching and listening to the card game in the kitchen below. A few hours later I was awoken by the shift change whistle of the Bethlehem Steel factory. I rubbed my eyes, noticed the lights were off downstairs, the house was quiet and peaceful. Everyone had gone to bed.

I folded the blanket and when I placed it back on the rocker I noticed Debbie's Santa standing next to her tree. I suddenly realized I had left my Santa downstairs. Not wanting to get in trouble for being irresponsible I quietly opened the door and headed downstairs to retrieve my Santa. I had tip toed halfway up the stairs when I stopped, I heard Christmas music. I stood there for a few seconds trying to determine if the music was coming from the adjoining house or Nana Kay's. I placed my ear against the wall, there was no noise from the neighbor's house. They were all asleep as well. I continued up the stairs, the soft music became a little louder. When I reached the top I saw Nana Kay's bedroom door was slightly ajar, her light was on and Bing Crosby was softly echoing from her room. I walked down the hall and spied into her room. She was unpacking a box and laying it's contents neatly on her bed. After a few moments I heard my Nana Kay say, "Well come in my little Christmas mouse."

Nana Kay's room was her sanctuary, her place where no one was allowed to wander, explore. Since I was the inquisitive grandchild this was stressed to me on more than one occasion. Before that night I only remember being in her room one other time. My eyes were wide open in wonderment as I entered. She continued to unpack her box as I ran my fingers down her dresser. I walked alongside it and admired all the photographs. There were school portraits of me, my sister, my cousin Janet, a picture of mom and dad's wedding, my uncle Bill in his Air Force Uniform and several portraits of my Grandfather. I noticed placed in front of each of my grandfather's photos was a poinsettia bloom with greens. Nana Kay's voice broke into my silent thoughts. She asked me if I could keep a secret? Since I was now older, named after her, she thought now was a good time as any to share her special Christmas tree with me. I smiled, shook my head yes I could keep a secret. I asked her if my sister Debbie knew the secret, I felt even more special when she replied no. What she was about to tell me would be our secret alone. If I was good, kept our secret, it would be our Christmas tradition from then on. I felt so wonderfully adult when I promised not to tell anyone.

I helped Nana Kay as we removed the small lamp and ceramic dogs from her night stand, wrapped them gently in a cloth and placed them in the now empty box. In their place on her nightstand we began to put together a small Christmas tree. I helped insert the branches in the holes on the trunk of the tree. She handed me a small handmade tree skirt to wrap around the base. I can still see the small gold stars sewn on the red felt skirt. As we put the tree together Nana Kay explained to me this was her tree of love. A tree she put next to her bed every Christmas for Marlin, my grandfather. A reminder when she felt lonely at Christmas of how lucky and blessed she was.

For the fist time I can remember my Nana Kay talked about my Grandfather's death, how deeply it hurt her. He had made it safely through the war, it was 1946 and she was no longer worried about his safety. They had a lifetime ahead of them to share their love, have more children. She explained how shocked she was when she received the telegraph that my Grandfather died of a heart attack at the Army base. It was November a short time before Christmas. My Grandfather was not old, he was a young man. Men of thirty six never have heart attacks, yet her Marlin did. The last letter she had received from my grandfather he wrote how excited he was to be coming home from Camp Lee and spending Christmas with her. After the war, after his time spent away in military, he was happy they were finally going to be a family again. After he died, she felt overwhelmed with emotions. She was depressed as Christmas approached. She was filled with doubt, not sure how she was going to raise their children alone, without the love of her life.

I listened intently as she told me the story of how the tree came to be. How one afternoon when she was feeling especially despondent walking to the corner store. She was lost in a moment of self pity when she noticed the number of Gold Stars still hanging in the windows of homes along the walk to the store. Seeing those stars, understanding what they stood for reminded her how lucky she was. Yes her Marlin had died, but so many of these stars represented young men, boys who never married, never had children. Young men who had never experienced the love she had shared with my Grandfather. She reminded herself as she continued to the store of the many wonderful years she had shared with her Marlin. She was walking aimlessly through the store, lost in thought remembering my Grandfather, when she saw a stack of boxes. She looked up and saw a sample of what was in the boxes, a small Christmas tree. Next to the trees were boxes of satin Christmas ball ornaments. It was then she came up with her idea to decorate a tree for her Marlin. She bought a tree, a box of red ornaments, 3 boxes of the white ornaments and 4 boxes of blue ornaments. Nana Kay said she didn't really have the extra money to spend on the tree but "then and there" she needed to buy the tree. She needed a reminder of their love. She needed a tree for her Marlin.

I watched as she gently wrapped a small string of white lights around the tree. First we hung fifteen white satin Christmas balls on the tree, the number of years she had been married to my Grandfather. White because their love was faithful, pure and eternal. I was asked to count out twenty seven blue satin Christmas balls. 1972 was the twenty seventh Christmas she would spend without her Marlin. As we hung the balls together I remember saying to my Nana Kay that it was so sad, there were so many more blue ornaments than white. Nana Kay asked me to count the number of white satin balls that hung on the tree again. When I answered fifteen. She explained to me fifteen was a mighty big number, it was better than fourteen, much more wonderful than one or none at all. She was indeed sad that my Grandfather had missed so many Christmases but she was blessed to have shared so many glorious Christmases with him. So many people spend their lives searching for true love, but she found hers. She would always hold the memories of her Marlin close to her heart. If it wasn't for my Grandfather I would have never been born. Their love together gave my Nana Kay two wonderful gifts, my Uncle Bill and my mom. If my mom had never been born, neither would I or my sister. She continued, she knew if God had given my Grandfather a choice, he would have to die or my Nana Kay. He would have said without hesitation to God, take me. He loved Nana Kay so much he would never want to take the joy of watching their children grow up from her. She knew my Grandfather was upset he missed watching his kids grow to become adults, meeting us. She was positive he wished he could be here with us but God called him home, he was with Jesus. One day we would all meet in Heaven.

Together we placed seven red balls on the tree, one for each of the joys in her life. My Uncle Bill, his wife, my mom, my dad and her grandchildren. Next I was handed seven gold stars, the number of years my grandfather proudly served full time in the Army. In his short life he had accomplished his goals. He graduated college, thanks to ROTC he had escaped the future of the coal mines. He found his home in the Quartermaster Corps, he was an officer in the United States Army. I was surprised when my Nana Kay handed me the small Angel to place on top of the tree. She put her hands on my waist and balanced me as I stood on her bed and placed the Angel on top of Marlin's Christmas tree.

She explained to me as she helped me off her bed, on top of the tree in the living room was a star, a reminder of the star that lead the wise men and shepherds to Jesus. On top of Marlin's tree was an Angel to remind her my Grandfather was in heaven with the Angels watching over all of us. She had faith, she knew her Marlin was always with her. If I was still I would be able to feel my Grandfather as well. Nana Kay was happy knowing he was making a place for her, for all of us in heaven.

After we finished decorating the tree, we packed up the left over satin balls, placed them in the box. I sat on the bed for a few moments staring at the beauty of our secret tree while Nana Kay carried the box up the stairs to the attic. I remember walking over to the dresser, staring at the photograph of the man I never met, the love of my Grandmother's life, my Grandfather, Marlin Robert Kopp. I picked up his photograph carried it back to the bed and began to talk to him. I thanked him for loving my Nana Kay, for my Uncle Bill and mom, for watching over us. I promised him I would try to be still so I could hear him but if not it was okay I knew he was there. Nana Kay walked in, I looked up afraid she would scold me for removing his photograph from her dresser, but she didn't. She smiled at my last remark, then took his framed picture from my hands, patted me on my head, then remarked how handsome my Grandfather was as she placed his photograph back where it belonged. She walked over to the switch and turned out the lights. She told me the first year she decorated Marlin's tree it only had fifteen white ornaments, two red ones and a single blue ornament on it. Then remarked at all the life and love the tree had on it now. Then asked what I thought of my Grandfather's tree, our secret tree. The white lights warmly filled the room as I smiled proudly and told Nana Kay there was definitely a lot of love on my Grandfather's tree. I fell asleep that night laying in bed staring at my Grandfather's tree curled up in the arms of my Nana Kay.

Sadly my Nana Kay died the following August from cancer. Christmas 1972 was the last Christmas I shared with her. It was the last time my Nana Kay would decorate her secret tree for my Grandfather and I was blessed to have shared that night with her. It is a night, a memory I will cherish forever.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Henry J. Wilson and Amanda Jane Dent, Soul Mates

Written on the night of November 22, 2010

Why today of all days am I trying to sort how I feel about soul mates, about fate? Are the two interchangeable? I have spent several hours pondering the question does everyone marry their soul mate? Or do most people only marry someone they love? Is there a difference? Are we all destined to meet our soul mate?

Though out time people have written about searching for their soul mate, finding true eternal undying love. In Hebrew a soul mate is called a Bashert; your one predestined mate. The person who is determined by God to be your destiny, your fate. When you meet it is kismet. It is believed when soul mates meet they share a love so deep it spans all time. They are forever bound in life and in death. Soul mates complete each other what one lacks the other excels at. They are in a way two opposites that come together to form one soul, one perfect love. When a soul mate dies, the other has a pain so deep they feel lost, empty without the other.

With the common knowledge of what or rather who a soul mate is, I wonder does everyone have a soul mate? Will we know instantly when we find them or do we realize it over time? What happens if we never find our soul mate? Why are some people lucky and live happily ever after, while others are destined to live their life always longing for a person they have lost or searching for the love they never had?

These are questions that have been fueling my thoughts all day. Maybe it is because tomorrow is an anniversary of sorts for me. Most people would think since I am 47 and have never married I do not believe in soul mates, true love. It is quite the opposite, I believe in love, soul mates. There are days like today when I have a hard time believing in the "happily ever after". I wonder if soul mates have a love so deep that it will eventually lead to unbearable sorrow.

One love story that has always captivated my heart is the story of my great great grandparents, Henry J. Wilson and Amanda Jane Dent. Theirs is a story of love and heartache. A love so strong that neither family, poverty not even death could separate the two. They were I believe, soul mates.

Henry John Wilson was born in Ireland and immigrated to Philadelphia in 1850 at the age of thirty. He worked successfully in Philadelphia for several years before he moved to Iowa. There is no explanation why Henry left a good paying job in Philadelphia and moved to Iowa. From the stories I have been told, I learned Henry felt the need to head west. He felt something calling him, later he would say he felt someone calling his heart. Henry settled in Troy Township next to the home of Samuel and Anna Dent. It was there that Henry first saw Amanda Jane Dent, Samuel's daughter. Henry was a poor Irish emigrant and Amanda was a descendant of one of Maryland’s founding families. He had grown up in poverty and starvation in Ireland. She had been born to moderate wealth in Indiana and later moved with her family to Iowa. In Iowa she lived on a large farm. Life for Amanda was easy compared to most women her age. She was educated, Henry was not. She was a vibrant young woman, he was twenty years older than her. According to family lore, it was love at first sight for both Henry and Amanda. When he first saw Amanda talking to her brother he could not take his eyes off her. When she turned and smiled at him, according to each, they had both found their soul mates. She knew when she looked into his eyes she had found her home.

Afraid of what her family would say, Amanda hid her relationship with Henry, her father's new farmhand. When Henry gathered the courage to ask for Amanda’s hand in marriage he was immediately fired, shown the door and told to stay away from Amanda by her father Samuel. Even though she was heartbroken, Amanda obeyed her father and agreed to court other men. No matter how many men came calling she could not stop thinking about Henry. Their love was too strong. She felt lost without him by her side. Once she was of age, Amanda disobeyed her father and began to see Henry again. On March 24, 1864 Henry and Amanda were married. They were two opposites deeply in love joined in the bonds of holy matrimony. Together they were complete, happy.

Amanda’s family did not understand her attraction, her love for Henry. She was a beautiful woman who could have married any young man in the county. Several young men made it clear they wanted to marry Amanda but once she met Henry her heart was taken. No man could compare to Henry, he was the love of her life. She believed he was her destiny from the start. The day after Amanda married Henry, a letter was delivered to their house announcing she had been disowned by her family. To her father she had married beneath her status, he was after all poor and Irish. Her marriage was a dishonor/shame on the family. It did not matter that she was in love, only that she had disobeyed her father.

Amanda cried for days when her family disowned her but she would not give in to their demands to leave him. Even in poverty she proudly stood by Henry's side. She wrote to her father, tried to convince him she was where she belonged. Her heart told her she was meant to be with Henry, he made her whole, he completed her. She wrote without Henry she would not be able to breathe, he was her world, her life. If her father truly loved her he would understand such love and want his daughter to be happy.

When Amanda married Henry she gave up a large comfortable farm house with plenty of land to farm, plenty of food to eat and moved to a small house that she shared with Henry, his sister and his sister’s children. Amanda never looked back or regretted her decision. Henry devoted himself to Amanda; she loved him with all her heart. They were happy, in love and soon were expecting a child.

While she was pregnant Amanda knitted a baby blanket. On two opposite corners of the blanket Amanda embroidered her and Henry’s initials, on the other two hearts. It was a symbol of two soul mates coming together to form a child, their child. Sadly, Amanda Jane died giving birth to my great grandmother Amanda Jane Wilson. She would never see her child swaddled in the blanket she had made with love.

The story of Amanda's death was recorded in a neighbors diary and has been passed down through the generations. Amanda had been in heavy labor and struggling for several days when she finally gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. Henry sat on the bed with his arms around Amanda as she held their daughter. As Amanda held her baby in her arms she began to hemorrhage. She died a few minutes later still holding her child. In his grief, Henry picked up both Amanda and their new born daughter carried them to the rocking chair he had built for them. For hours he would not let anyone come near them. He held them both, rocking back and forth, kissing Amanda on the forehead begging her to come back to him. His cries of pain could be heard through the silence of the Iowa night. It was written even the animals cried when they heard the anguish in his tears. He held his two “girls” until the sun came up, praying for a miracle. Finally a little after sun rise his sister convinced Henry he had to let Amanda go, she was in heaven. He needed to take care of his daughter. His little girl needed him. He had to be strong for her. Henry would name their daughter after the love of his life, Amanda Jane.

Amanda was buried in Selection Cemetery in Iowa. Her father agreed to pay for her funeral but refused to come or see his granddaughter. Samuel made it clear he blamed Henry and their child for his daughter’s death. He would never forgive Henry for taking Amanda away from him.

In the 1800s when a spouse died it was common place for the surviving spouse to remarry. It was expected. Henry was devastated by Amanda’s death. He wrote to his brother he felt lost without her. He could never imagine sharing his bed, his life with another woman. No matter how deeply he loved his daughter, Henry still felt empty and incomplete without Amanda. He had lost half his soul. Henry would never re-marry; he would live the rest of his life alone.

After Amanda Jane’s death, Henry came onto hard times. It was almost impossible for an Irishman to get a good paying job in the late 1800s. Plus, no one wanted to hire the farmhand that the Dent family had fired. He worked odd jobs the best he could to keep food on the table. Henry’s family was near starvation when he found a chicken roaming the street and took it home to feed his family. In Ireland before coming to America Henry had watched most of his family die of starvation, he was not going to watch his daughter starve to death in Iowa. A few days later Henry was accused of being a thief, stealing the chicken. He was considered even more of outcast in Monroe County. The summer of 1867 he wrote his brother he was planning on heading back to Philadelphia to find a better job, a place he could properly care for his daughter. Since Amanda had died there was nothing in Iowa for him. He felt empty without Amanda by his side. He had lost faith, he had lost hope. Everyone saw him as a thief not as a man trying to care for his family. When he had given up all hope, when he was preparing to head to Philadelphia fate stepped in and stopped him. Jeptha Robinson heard about Henry's plight and offered him a job as a farm hand. Jeptha did not need a farm hand he had enough brothers to handle all the work on the farm. For some reason he could not explain, Jeptha felt in his heart he needed to help Henry. He needed to keep Henry and his daughter Amanda in Iowa. Amanda and Henry would spend the rest of their lives in Monroe County, Iowa.

Amanda was even more beautiful than her mother. During school, several young men would try to court Amanda but her heart was set on Jeptha’s oldest son Jacob. She said since she was a little girl she knew she would marry Jacob. It was love at first sight. In 1885 Amanda and Jacob were married in the living room of his parent's house. Jacob had a Celtic knot wedding ring made for Amanda. Their love was eternal, a love with no bonds, no end. Jacob toasted his father on his wedding day thanking him for keeping Amanda and her father Henry in Iowa. For without that one kind gesture he would never have met the love of his life, Amanda Jane.

After they married, Jacob built Amanda a small house on the family farm. Jacob moved Henry into their home. Henry would spend his nights rocking on the porch, talking to the stars, talking to his soul mate, Amanda. He would tell her of his day, how much he still missed her. When Henry died in 1900 the Dents would not allow him to be buried next to his wife, his soul mate, Amanda Jane. Henry was buried in the Robinson Arnold family cemetery in Urbana, Iowa. On either side of him lie strangers. When his daughter Amanda Jane died in 1921 she was buried two rows away from her father. Several years later her husband Jacob would be buried by her side. Henry's body lies alone for all eternity.

When I first heard the story of Amanda Jane and Henry I was left feeling sad, my heart was broken for them. Henry was married to Amanda for a little more than a year before she died. After her death he was never able to find happiness again. This seemed so sad to me. Then I realized Henry and Amanda Jane were lucky, they found each other. They shared a passionate deep undying love for each other that few people ever experience. I would rather have one year of passionate eternal love followed by a lifetime of sorrow than never to have experienced such love at all.

I know in my heart Amanda and Henry have finally found eternal happiness together in Heaven. They are sharing peace and happiness they could not find here on earth.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Anywhere But Here

Once again another day blurs into night as I sit here staring out the window of room 640 at Baltimore Washington Medical Center. To the right of me Dad is sleeping in his bed, to the left an orange glow of sunset is settling over Baltimore. For a moment I have to think what day it is, what month. Time is moving outside my window, but here on the 6th floor it feels like it is standing still. Life is on hold waiting for Dad to get better.

Halloween has come and gone, the clock is beginning to tick away at November. The orange of sunset is now being replaced by darkness expanding over the horizon. The landing lights are now visible and I can see the planes as they line up for the final approach at BWI airport. One, two, three, four, five, six planes I count waiting for their turn to land. They form a straight line of bright dots. I wonder where the flights are coming from? I try to imagine an exotic location warm and beautiful. Where the nights are filled with gentle ocean breezes. I try to envision a hamlet full of laughter and life. A place where I can escape the sounds and smells of the hospital. For right now I long to be at any locale, any city, any abode, anywhere but here.

Looking out the window I am lost in a day dream, a place unknown when the cries of pain from my father transport me back to reality. I call for the nurse, ask for more pain medication. Feelings of helplessness envelop me as I take his hand. I understand there is no physical comfort I can give him. I can only wait with him until his medication takes effect.

I hold his hand and look out the window at the traffic on route 100. I look away so my Dad will not see the tears forming in my eyes. His moans of agony break my heart, tear at my soul. I squeeze his hand, try to comfort him with words. I remind him I love him, everything will be okay. I hear his breathing begin to slow, his moans begin to fade, the medication is slowly taking effect. His grip begins to loosen on my hand, I know he is now asleep. I continue to peer out the window and begin to have selfish thoughts. I look at the highway below and wish I was on it. I long to drop the top on my Mini, crank my iPod and feel the wind on my face, through my hair. I am surrounded by sickness and I hunger to feel alive. I yearn to drive to distances unknown, somewhere fun. I wish I was anywhere but here.

I am lost in a memory of spring break when I am awaken by the red and white flashing lights of an ambulance as it arrives at the emergency bay below. Several times a night I see the lights reflect off the windows in the distant darkness. Every time I see the lights, even though I do not know the passenger I still say a prayer. I pray that whatever injury or illness brought them to the E.R. can be fixed and they can return home. I pray their family never has to stay here. I pray they have the choice to drive anywhere but here.

3:27 a.m. a cry breaks the quiet of the night, I hear the nurses call to each other. I lean forward, I can see the family crying. I can’t remember their names, only where they are from, how they like their coffee. I learned the day before their mother had stage four lung cancer. I witness them consoling each other. I realize their mom has passed. I squeeze my Dad’s hand tighter. I feel tears begin to pour down my cheeks. 4:00 a.m. the ding of the elevator reverberates through the hall. I look out and see the gurney with the unwanted empty burgundy bag turn the corner. A few minutes later the gurney returns, the bag no longer empty. It carries what was once a mother, grandmother, the love of someone’s life. The sight is more than I can endure. I let go of my Dad’s hand and rush to the bathroom to regain my strength, my composure.

I lock the bathroom door, I need to be alone. I feel everything closing in around me. I am afraid I am not strong enough to handle another day, another night. I am scared I am moments away from losing my sanity. I wash my face, stare at myself in the mirror. The reflection I see is not me. My face is so tired, my eyes appear sad. I look like I have aged a hundred years since Dad first arrived on the sixth floor. I hate this place. This floor is taking everything out of me, I am losing hope. I fear the optimist in me is slowly dying. I lean against the wall, catch my breath and ask God why can’t I be anywhere but here?

After a few moments of self pity I remind myself I need to have faith in God, in myself. No matter what the outcome it will be God's will. He will not give me anymore than I can bear. I grab a paper towel and remove all remnants of tears from my face, take a deep breath and head back to Dad’s room. I grab another pillow and sit in my chair between Dad’s bed and the window. I change the play list on my iPod, try to get as comfortable as possible. Once again I take Dad’s hand, stare out the window hoping to find a star to make a wish on. I slowly drift off to sleep, dreaming of happier times when life was the way it was suppose to be. I am almost off in peaceful slumber when the tech wakes me, she has to take Dad’s vitals. I need to move my chair. I stand and continue to gaze out the window. Light is beginning to penetrate the darkness. Another day has arrived. I feel a gentle squeeze on my hand. Dad is awake. He smiles at me. As the warm glow of the sun enters his room I realize here is the only place I want to be.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Simply a Song

The past nineteen days I have spent with my father in the hospital I have been serenaded by the song of cancer. The bleeps of his monitor, the whirl of his feeding tube, the bubbling of the oxygen line, the alarms on his IV, the sounds of the suction machine clearing his airway, the elevator's ding outside his room. Dad's constant chants, his malignant melody, the easy sounds to hear. Strange as it may seem, I have come to appreciate this anthem. For I know as long as I hear these notes Dad is holding his own, he is still here. No matter how much I hate the tune, I know it is much better than the song of silence that awaits me. For now, I cherish his lullaby.

The harshest refrains are the echoes that resonate through the halls at night.  They breach the silence of sleep. The chorus of urgency is so loud, so constant it causes me to stop whatever I am doing to pray. The ward's bewitching waltz; cries of pain, alarms alerting nurses of a patient in need, deafening code blues, and the swift shoof of shoes as they rush to divert darkness' dance partner. Attempt to save the song for one more day.

There are sad ditties as well, the melancholy psalm of despair that tears at my soul and causes me to weep for the unknown person. The sobs of a patient a few doors down. He cries from loneliness every night. He longs for his son to visit. His chorus never changes, please God. His is one of many falsettos released from the open doors. They reverberate from room to rotunda. The intonations of pleas pierce the middle eight and change the composition.

I have learned there is a certain rhythm to tears. Everyone cries in beat as they stand in the hallway, gather their courage to call family members, disclose the diagnosis is cancer. The vagueness in their voice, the uncertainty of fate, solicitation for prayers, a lyric I have lived. They are at the beginning of the song, the first stanza of cancer. Christened the new frontmen in the fight; surrounded by those who await the closing curtain, pray for one more bridge, one last chorus. The crescendo of confusion and desperation, sung in rounds, fills the theater, circles the heart and submerges the soul. No mater, they continue to play, hope for harmony between life and death.

The opera that rages deeps and cuts like no other, the heartache of the final farewell. The last verse written. The cry is a note unlike any other. When the anguished aria is sung, there is silence in the ward. A sound everyone recognizes and fears. The final lyric is the heartache that we all must face. It is life's ending hymn that none of us are ever prepared to sing. We understand once the final note is sung, there is no encore, the ballad, the battle, is finally over.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Holding Dad's Hand

Usually when one thinks about two people holding hands they envision lovers, boyfriend/girlfriend walking together. The first realization that a guy is interested in you is when he first takes your hand. The first contact between a boy and a girl. The first sensation of their touch, their skin against yours. Holding hands is the beginning of a relationship. Sometimes it is a relationship that only lasts a short time, other times it signifies the beginning of a lifetime together.

The first time we "hold hands", our first lifelong relationship, is with our parents.
The inaugural touch outside our mother's womb happens usually moments after birth. It is our parents caressing our arms, hands, placing their finger inside our hands, the first time someone holds our hand. As a small child our parents hold our hand to keep us safe, keep us from running off, keep us near. Holding our hand is in essence a safety net between us and the outside world. As we grow older, as we feel safer, we reach for our parent's hands less often. They too relax their "grip" on us. With continued independence we no longer seek the contentment, the safety of our parent's hands, we seek the comfort of a companion's hand.

Over the past eighteen days I have lost track over the number of times I have held my father's hand. Late at night when Dad has trouble breathing he reaches out for my hand. Anytime he is in pain or scared I reassure him everything is okay by simply taking his hand, caressing his fingers gently as they wrap around mine. The simple gesture of holding his hand let's him know I am not going to leave him. I will always be with him.

Thursday night as he was sleeping I sat in the chair next to his bed staring at our hands entwined together. I could tell when my Dad was in pain, I could feel him squeeze my hand in his sleep. I noticed how frail, how thin his skin had become. I began to wonder when did I stop holding my Dad's hand? When was the last time I remembered reaching out for him? I searched my brain, trying to locate the answer to my question.

Over the past five years as Dad has battled his cancer, I have caught him when he has fainted. I have put my arm around his waist helping him in and out of his wheelchair. He has leaned on my shoulder when he needed help walking. I have placed my hand on the small of his back, balancing him, shadowing him as he walked up the stairs, walked down the hall. I was there ready to catch him if he fell. I have sat with Dad stroking his arm while he was waiting for a doctor, while he was getting chemo. Until he was admitted to the hospital my Dad never reached for my hand, I never reached for his. The last time I remember holding my Dad's hand was in 1985. I had just given birth to my daughter. I was excited to be a mom, Kathryn was beautiful. As I laid in the recovery room after having a c-section the realization hit me I was going to be a single mom. I was going to be raising my child on my own. I suddently felt alone and scared. When I saw my Dad come into the recovery room I reached up for his hand. I needed him, holding his hand was my safety net. When he took my hand, when I felt his fingers around mine, I knew everything was going to be okay. I was not alone.

I continued to stare at our hands. I was amazed at the difference time had done. Our hands had drastically changed over the past twenty five years. My Dad's hands went from being strong and tan to frail and covered in bruises from all the injections and IVs. I thought to myself, twenty five years later our roles were reversed. Before his hand was the reassuring grip, now it was mine. In the past it was the gentle squeeze of his hand that let me know I would be okay, he would always be there for me. Now it seemed, it was me letting my Dad know I was going to be with him, I would help him through every final step he faced. He would not be alone, I would always be with him.

In my mind I was trying to recall when did this transformation take place. When did I become the parental/sheltering figure. The longer I laid with my head against the back of the chair staring at our hands, the more tears began to form in my eyes. I began to comprehend the truth, our roles had not reversed. Dad may have reached for my hand in comfort but he was giving me more. When he was squeezing my hand he was letting me know he was okay. I began to understand, as long as I could hold his hand, no matter how weak his grip was, I felt safe. As long as I could hold his hand, I could still hear his voice. Over the years, hearing my Dad's voice always made any bad day better. Dad had a way of making me feel like everything would be fine. I could handle it.

Ever since I was a little girl, Dad was my umbrella protecting me from all the frightening storms that lay ahead of me. He was always there when I needed him. I slowly began to comprehend looking at his frail fingers wrapped around mine soon I would no longer have his hand to hold. I would no longer hear his voice ask how my day went, how I was doing. We would no longer share our talks on Thursdays. My lifeline, my safety net was slowly leaving me. The man who in my eyes could make any and everything better, help me solve any problem was no longer going to be here with me. I was going to miss him more than I could ever adequately describe in words.

While I sat next to his hospital bed, holding his hand, Dad's grip tightened around my fingers as if he understood what I was thinking. What I was trying to accept. I smiled, told Dad everything would be alright, I would be alright. I promised him once again I would be right next to him holding his hand. The rest of the night while I sat with my father, I longed to have those twenty five years back. I wish I could regain all the times I neglected to reach for and hold the most wonderful hands I have ever known, my Dad's.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Remembering Our September 11th Luminary Memorial Lighting Ceremony

This afternoon I went over to my parents house to install a new printer for my mom. I had been meaning for several weeks to search for several boxes of mine that I had left behind when I moved out. I decided while I was waiting for the printer to initialize, when the LCD screen read it would be 12 minutes until the next step I decided now was as good of a time as any to search out my boxes. As I waited I opened the closet in what use to be my bed room to see if any of my stuff was still there. Most of it had long since been moved to the basement or shed. I was surprised to see in the top corner of my closet, next to a bunch of my Dad’s stuff an old box. I pulled it down off the shelf and began to search through it. There was a myriad of long lost treasures in the box. A photo box containing some photos and a bunch of my old postcards sent to me by family and friends. Several of my old diaries from my twenties. My coach's notebooks from when I coached cheerleading at GORC. At the very bottom of the box was a copy of the West County News dated November 1, 2001.

At first I wondered why I had kept the newspaper, the lead story was “Party finds cats and dogs getting along” Then I flipped the paper over, where it had been folded in half and recognized the bold story line that read, “Letters, Luminaries Show Patriotism.” The smaller section headline read, “GORC lights up field” Immediately my mind began to remember October 26, 2001. The day a group of coaches, cheerleaders and parents lit 1,000 luminaries on the GORC football field to remember the lives lost on September 11, 2001.

Every year in conjunction with the AAYCA County Cheerleading Championships each cheerleading organization is asked to raise money for a charity. We had debated for several weeks which charity the GORC cheerleaders should raise money for. After 9/11there was no doubt, no question we were going to raise money for the Pentagon Relief Fund. Normally the way we would raise money was to pass a can around at football games. I was insistent passing a can around was not going to be enough. We needed to raise more money and we needed to make a statement. Not quite understanding how much work was going to be needed I suggested we sell luminaries, light our football field up to remember those lost on September 11. Everyone was in agreement, we all went about making this the most successfull fundraiser ever.

Over the next several weeks the cheerleaders and coaches canvassed their neighborhoods, football games, schools any where they could selling luminaries. Our original goal was to sell 500 luminaries. The cheerleaders smashed that goal and sold 998. I remember the morning of the 26th the truck driver who was delivering the sand to the field, when he learned we had sold 998 luminaries, he asked if we had two more. When I told him yes the bags came in packages of 10. He said good and bought the last two. He smiled and said, “1,000 is a much better number than 998.”.

Putting together and setting out 1,000 luminaries is anything but fun. We started with four of us at 8:00 a.m. filling the bags with sand. By lunch time we were beginning to wonder if we were going to have enough time to fill every bag, place a candle in them and then place them all on the field by the time the ceremony was scheduled to begin 7:30 p.m. As the afternoon wore on, more adults showed up to help. By three p.m we were all exhausted. From all the shoveling, bending and carrying the luminaries, our backs felt like we were all in our sixties. Luckily the kids after school headed to the field to volunteer. It is amazing how much energy and how much faster bags get moved onto a field by 13 and 14 year olds than by thirty something year olds!! To them it was a contest, they had to beat the clock, make the deadline. Everything was going perfectly, we had placed the last luminary on the field just before six. Then a few minutes later the wind began to kick up, we began to worry, wind and fire are never a good combination.

Slowly the guests started to arrive at the field. The police from the western district, the volunteer fire fighters from Odenton, the chief from the Waugh Chapel firehouse. The kids were excited to see the marines bring a hummer to the field. The air force, army, navy, every branch of the military sent several representatives to the ceremony to honor those lost on September 11th. We watched in amazement as families from the neighborhood began walking over the hill to the field. We were worried no one would show, but that night the top of the field, and surrouding areas were filled with people. WMZQ made a compilation of mixes and patriotic songs for the DJ to play during the ceremony.

One of the clearest memories I have from that night… we began to light the candles in each luminary at 6:45 p.m. Each person was assigned a row to light. Unfortunately the wind began to kick up even more as we began walking down the rows. As each person progressed down their row lighting the candles, some of the candles behind them were being blown out by the wind. Kim Johnson kept pushing us on. Don't worry, don't look back keep lighting. I looked at my watch, it was 7:20 p.m.. We had ten minutes before the ceremony was to begin. As I looked out over the field I estimated over a quarter of the luminaries had been blown out. I remember feeling extremely distressed. I thought it would not be right, kind of sad, if all of the luminaries were not shining bright during the ceremony. I was looking at the field in despair when an army soldier in uniform took his lighter and begin to light one of the luminaries that had gone out in front of him. By his small gesture, lighting the luminary in front of him, it started a small wave, a chain reaction. Part of the crowd that had gathered around the top of the field waiting for the ceremony to begin, walked unto the field and began to light the candles that had blown out. I looked in amazement at probably forty to fifty people circling the field making sure every candle was burning bright. Some were using lighters, some matches. I laughed at the marines who picked up some broken branches. Broke off smaller pieces, lit the ends and used them to light the candles.

The Star Spangled Banner began to echo through out the night. The wind just as suddenly as it had started stopped. My eyes filled with tears as I looked out over the field and saw every luminary shining bright. I stood there with my hand over my heart, proud to be born in the greatest country on earth. As the minister said a prayer, I felt several of my cheerleaders put their arms around my waist and take my hands. I was so proud of my girls, they worked so hard. They understood how important this night was, how important it was to remember. As the 1st Sgt. was giving his speech, thanking everyone for their donations, asking them to please remember the families of those who died in their prayers one of my cheerleaders tapped me on the shoulder. At first I said shhh, but Danielle was always persistent. So I leaned over to hear what was so important. “Miss Denise don’t worry you taught me well. I promise I will never forget.” My other girls who overheard her comment chimed in “Me too” until I heard a small whispered echo from each one of my cheerleaders.

I understood that night listening to my cheerleaders promise to always remember September 11th, the future of that day, the future of our country was more in their hands than mine. At 13 and 14 they would carry the memory longer than anyone of us. Anyone younger would probably not clearly remember September 11th when they were older. People my age would pass on long before they did. So the history, the lessons learned were in their hands. They would carry on the memory the longest. We had to do our best as adults to keep reminding them, reinforcing how important it is to always remember, honor and hold dear those that lost their lives that day. And those who have sacrificed their lives since then. If we were lucky, if we were blessed, they would remember what we taught them.

As part of the ceremony the director of cheerleading, asked since I had come up with the idea to light up the football field, if I would make a speech. Any one who knows me, understands I do not give speeches, I do not like being recognized, especially publically. I do my best to avoid getting in front of any kind of video camera. There was no way I was making a speech. Every week leading up to the ceremony she would ask, “Denise will you please make a speech.” Every time my answer was the same, thank you but no thank you. Finally I came up with a happy compromise I told her I would write a speech, but I would not deliver it. I asked a good friend of mine Michelle Bogovich to give it. She agreed. Tonight as I was looking through my 2001 coach's notebook, I found placed in the inside pocket the speech I had written for that night. I know it is a few weeks after the anniversary of September 11th but I thought I would share my speech with everyone. Please understand, I will never be hired as a speech writer, it’s not the most eloquent speech but below are my thoughts, my feelings from the fall of 2001 a few short weeks after the attack on September 11th.

The speech from 26 October 2001
The other night as I was driving home I was wondering what I could possibly say tonight at this ceremony. It was a beautiful evening, the sky was clear, the air warm, the kids were out playing basketball, laughing enjoying the weather. People were out walking enjoying each other's company. American flags were flying from any and every surface that they could possibly be hung from. I marveled at how life goes on. I have always known it, but at that moment I realized I was truly blessed and lucky. My life goes on but for thousands, life stopped/paused on September 11. They are still waiting for their life to return to normal, to go on.

For the rest of my life, like you, I will always remember September 11, 2001. Where I was, what I was doing when I first heard of the terrorist attacks. The images of the planes hitting the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the crash in Western Pennsylvania will forever haunt me. It is a ghost I will never forget. The emotions I felt that day terror, fear, anger, frustration, loneliness and uncertainty, I shared with millions across this nation. That day has changed me, in ways I am sure I still have not yet fully acknowledged, realized. We have all changed. Our nation has changed.

These images may haunt me, but what I choose to remember, to remind myself of that day are the images of the people. The faces of the firemen, policemen, military personnel, every day citizens reaching out to help those in need. Those who did not think about their own welfare instead choose to risk their life for another. I choose to remember the images of the people lined up for blocks to donate blood. I choose not to remember the destruction of that day, but the good that grew from the root of the destruction (evil). I choose to remember the hope that arouse from the ashes on September 11, 2001.

When I close my eyes I can still see the faces of the missing. Families/loved ones holding their photos for the television cameras, asking if anyone had seen them. I see the woman sitting outside the pentagon, her silent vigil, waiting for her husband to come home. All of them wanting the same thing, a miracle, praying that their loved ones would some how survive, come home. Thousands did not come home September 11th. Many fathers and mothers will not see their children again, never have the joy of watching them grow up. Thousands of children will never again have a kiss goodnight from their mom or dad. Never have a hug of reassurance after they fall. Babies will be born never knowing the touch, the love of their fathers.

When I think of all the children whose lives are forever transformed by that day I cry. Children should never be touched by such tragedy but life sometimes is not always gentle. And yes there is evil in this world. Now is our time to do something about it. Now is our time to make a stand.

Now is the time to decide. We can choose to hide, run scared, close our hearts and do nothing, after all, our life goes on. Or like tonight we can choose to do something, make a difference. No matter how small the act, no matter how small the gift it can and will always make a difference. When you give of yourself the world changes. Those around you change.

We may not be able to change what happened September 11th but we can make a difference what happens after September 11th. We can as a community take responsibility, stand together, let our voices be heard and make that difference. We can thank God that we are here tonight to remember those who are not. We must teach our children that like this country, through out our lives we will get knocked down, people will try to hurt us but that doesn’t mean we have to stay down. What matters is how you get up. What you do after you get up. What matters now, is what we choose to do after September 11th.

These luminaries we light tonight are here to represent the lives that were lost on September 11th. Tragically, we would need five football fields to place a luminary for each life that was lost but for tonight we only have one.

When I was younger I was told that each person has an effect, no matter how small or large on someone else’s life. As I look out on this football field I wonder whose life will never be touched, will not be changed because of the lives that were lost on September 11th.

I am going to tell you what I believe the victims of the September 11th attack would be saying tonight if they were here.

To the adults present: call your brothers, sisters, your parents. Visit your relatives. Plan that long over due family reunion. Forgive what you thought was unforgiveable. Lend a hand to a stranger. Most importantly, hug your children, tell them you love them, you are proud of them. Never take the words I love you for granted. You may never get a second chance to say them.

To the children here: go home tonight, hug your mom and dad. Tell them you love them. Never give up, you can do anything you set your mind to. Write your dreams down on paper then do everything you can to attain your dreams. Never set your goals to low, always aim high. If you fail, try again. Nothing is impossible if you truly want it.

To everyone here: Take care of the families left behind, their future is in your hands. Please, take care of our country, it's future is in all of our hands.

Thank you and God Bless.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Inner Debate Begins: My Thoughts on Deja Vu and Parallel Lives/Universes

Last week I was talking to an old friend on face book when the conversation turned to karma. He was worried that karma was, in a way, biting him in the butt for mistakes he had made in his past. I explained to him while I may love the idea of karma roaring it’s angry head, serving justice to a few folks who I consider not the nicest of people. I can’t accept karma or believe in it. After ending our conversation my brain kept churning away at the philosophy/idea of karma. Maybe I had too much coffee that day or watched one too many episodes of LOST. My brain not only began thinking about karma, it began to debate within itself the concepts of déjà vu, the butterfly effect, parallel lives/universe and reincarnation. To me, they all seem to be, some how connected.

Who hasn’t had a déjà vu moment or had a dream that contained people we knew from our past who were suddenly in our present or future? Waking up, feeling a bit lost and confused? Even though I hold strong in my beliefs, I must confess there are times when I find myself wondering, well…what if? So I thought over the next week I would post my wonderings, informal debate within myself on these subjects. Today I thought I would begin the debate with my thoughts, questions on déjà vu and parallel lives/universe.

Déjà vu means already seen. It is the feeling that one has previously met a person, been to a place or done an act when in reality it is the first time it has happened to them. Most people have had a moment where they have felt like they are reliving an experience. Have you ever met someone for the first time, the conversation flowed easily, it feels like you have known each other your entire lives? Some experts believe this is another aspect of déjà vu. Yes I found it hard to believe there are actually experts in déjà vu. Their profession is to study déjà vu. Most experts believe we will continue to live our lives over and over until we make all the right choices, meet the correct people and live what has been determined to be our correct path. In their realm, when one experiences déjà vu, it is a lesson or person that was previously missed. When you experience déjà vu it is important to pay attention to the feeling, follow your instincts so the same mistake is not made and the experience/moment never needs to be relived. The more correct decisions one makes allows them to become one step closer to fulfilling their destiny and finally moving on to heaven.

There are scientists who believe déjà vu is easy to explain. It happens when a person's brain is out of sync. One side of the brain sees the imagine, experiences the moment before the other. The brain sees the imagine twice creating the déjà vu feeling. I can only recall two déjà vu moments in my life. One I will not share because of it’s extremely personal nature and happened very recently. The other occurred in January 1999 when I was vacationing in Oahu for the first time. As soon as I landed in Hawaii I felt very at ease, very similar to the feeling one has when one returns home. The next day my daughter and I headed to Waikiki beach, as I sat there looking out over the pacific, it felt like I had been there before with someone else. Something about the air, the beach, the sunlight, everything about that moment was very familiar and at the same time different and strange. So now I wonder, was it really déjà vu or was my brain tapping into the me in my parallel life?

In 1954, Hugh Everett III came up with a theory that there are parallel universes. These universes are just like ours with the same people but with different lives. Call it our life with an alternate ending. Everett called his theory the many worlds interpretation in quantum physics or his relative state formulation. At the time he developed his theory he was ridiculed by his peers. They concluded what he believed was nothing more than science fiction, the ramblings of a crazy man. The rejection of his peers drove him to leave the field of physics and no longer speak on his theory. Many years later, leading physicists believe that yes indeed there are many parallel universes. Some physicists believe our parallel universes are populated not with people but with extinct species and plants. While others believe that we are living duel, even triple lives all at the same time just millimeters in front of us, yet we can’t see or have knowledge of our parallel self. In this theory, in one life you may be sitting at home watching television, the you in the next universe over may have a different spouse and children and out shopping. Another parallel universe theory, when a person comes to a cross road in their life, when they have to decide which direction to take in their life, they create another universe. If they go right, another parallel universe is created where they go left. No matter what theory a physicists may believe, they all agree, the laws of physics keep us locked in our current universe unable to travel to our parallel life. Many physicists believe that when we dream, when we see ourselves with a different spouse, job, child, we are actually “in tune” with our parallel self. We are not dreaming how we wished our life had gone but rather we are seeing what our other self is doing/living in our parallel life. Our bodies might not be able to cross the laws of physics but our brain can. Our brain and our soul are always in sync with our other self if we allow them to be.

So if this theory is true, do we have to be asleep to see our parallel self? While on vacation this past summer, Cole was having trouble falling asleep. I turned on music and began to slowly dance with him, hoping to rock him to sleep. As I held him next to me, I closed my eyes. When I did I saw me when I was younger, in a room I had never been before. "Watching myself" I knew I was holding a baby boy, my son. A son I never had in this life. As I danced with him, I saw a familiar man standing in the doorway watching the two of us. He was smiling with pride as I held our son. I could see his eyes light up when we made eye contact. I heard my daughter Kathryn yell “Daddy’s home” as she jumped into his arms. He caught her, as he held her close he asked how her day at kindergarten had been? I knew what I was seeing was not possible but for those few moments, while my eyes were closed, what I was watching felt real. Was what I saw/felt simply a day dream or was I able for those few moments to somehow connect with my parallel life where I had taken a different path in my life.

Fans of LOST spent the last two seasons tracking the parallel lives of Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Hugo and the rest of the survivors of Oceanic flight 815. They traveled between life on the island after the plane crash and the life they had if/when the plane safely landed in California. Many of us watched week after week, anxiously waiting for the two worlds to collide, for the final resolution. Watching the show I am sure countless fans wondered if we all have some sort of parallel life? The show made me wonder, what if we do have a parallel life, but not as the leading physicists think. What if our parallel life is actually spiritual? As I interpret the show LOST, the writers I believe suggest, we are all in fact living parallel lives, one here on earth, another in purgatory, eventually one in heaven or hell, depending on the choices we make. The character of Desmond was able to tap into his parallel life and take action in this universe to change the outcome of his other universe enabling him to make his final journey to heaven. The two characters who portrayed my thoughts on realizing heaven are Sun and Jin. They die in a sub off the island while their parallel selves continue to live in the other universe. Many episodes later, as Sun is having a sonogram, the two are 'awakened' to their dual lives. They are suddenly aware they have already had their child, they have a daughter. They have seen the “light”, they know in the other life they went on to heaven together. They are no longer worried about life and it's eventual outcome. They are at peace. Sun and Jin understand and are prepared to move to the next phase of their life together, heaven, eternity. Sun and Jin make me wonder if the creators of LOST believe when we are awakened to our dual lives, the other part of us, we are ready to relinquish our self, merge together and move on to the next phase of life, heaven?

Is it possible when people say they see their life flash before their eyes before they die, they are actually seeing their parallel lives merge? The calm peaceful feeling they experience is the acceptance of our split selves finally joining? Is it really possible that there are multiple universes. multiple us? Or are people just using crazy ideas to justify insane dreams and wishful thinking?

I must ask is déjà vu real? Have you ever experienced it? Do you believe in a parallel life/universe? Any LOST fans out there? Did you read the writers theories/beliefs differently?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Our Crazy Girl Scout "Camping" Trip

When one spends nine hours in a car, you have a lot of time to think, contemplate and remember. Driving back from Ocean Isle, North Carolina, as Kathryn and Cole were sleeping I had time to myself, to reflect and remember the many times in the past when I had visited the ocean with family and friends. As I was driving down interstate 40 I couldn’t help but to recall one of my favorite trips. The year I took 16 girl scouts on a “camping” trip to Ocean Isle. We shared a fantastic week at the beach, but I believe most of the fun for me was gearing up and preparing for our beach week.

I still remember the phone call, summer of 1995. My daughter's old Girl Scout leader had retired, they needed someone new to take over the troop. Margaret was convinced I was the perfect candidate, the kids loved me, I had a great imagination and was extremely responsible. I was flattered by her invitation but I reminded her that I don’t camp. Over the years if she had recalled, I had volunteered at bake sales, dances, slumber parties everything but the yearly camping trip. I had done my camping duty when I was younger, now I preferred my accommodations to have running water and electricity. Margaret informed me the yearly camping trip didn’t have to be a “roughing” it through the wilderness trip. As long as the kids and their parents agreed, the Girl Scout Counsel approved the trip, I could take the girls camping anywhere. That was definitely a challenge I could not pass by. I told Margaret I needed to talk it over with my daughter, make sure she was fine with me being the leader of her troop. That evening after dinner I sat Kathryn down and asked her how she felt about me possibly becoming her Girl Scout leader. She was definitely my child, she had no problem with the idea as long as I didn’t embarrass her. Then after a long pause she added, “I guess there will be no camping trip this year?” I assured her there would be some kind of “camping” trip. I was going to work on something special. Something they would always remember.

The next week I went to meet with Margaret to pick up my leader handbook. Learn all the ins and outs, dos and don’ts for a Girl Scout leader. I went home that night and with my highlighter marked all the important regulations that I was going to need to address for the “camping” trip I had in mind. I also went through my daughter’s handbook and marked the badges I wanted to work on during the year. I had three weeks to prepare for our first juniors meeting. I had a plan, I needed to show the parents we were going to address major badges during the year, and as a reward for such great service and hard work at the end of the year we would take a trip they would remember fondly for the rest of their life. Hopefully the girls would chose a one week stay at the beach. I looked through rental books, found two perfect houses, one was ocean front, the other across the street. I came up with a week itinerary complete with jeep tours, day at Myrtle Beach including a lunch at the Hard Rock, water park, “sea shell” hunting and other goodies. I estimated a budget and cost. It was then that I decided I needed the perfect Assistant leader, a person who thought like I did. So I called a good friend of mine Cindy Pulls. I filled her in on my agenda/thoughts and she agreed to help. She like me realized that if we did a good job, this would be a year the kids would never forget. She was also like me, she did not like to "rough it" either.

The day finally arrived for our first troop meeting, the room in the basement of St. Joseph’s Church was filled with excited parents and girls. I outlined our theme for the year, democracy/government and how to become a more responsible citizen/person. I reviewed the badges we would be working on, guest speakers, volunteer work and goals for the year. I was a bit nervous when I approached the last item on my agenda for the meeting, the yearly camping trip. Before I brought up my idea I asked my parents keeping it in the context of a democracy, the kids had two choices for their annual camping trip. I had already agreed with myself that I would honor the kids wishes which ever trip they choose. I asked the parents if they could do the same, they all agreed. I then presented my two “camping” trip ideas. The first, we could go to Rocky Gap State Park in Western Maryland, we would stay at the youth campgrounds complete with outhouses and group showers. Hopefully the weather would be beautiful, it wouldn’t rain or be too cold. OR we could rent two beach houses down at Ocean Isle, North Carolina. We could enjoy a week of fun, sun and sand. If it rained there was plenty of other options, Hard Rock Café, shopping, movies. I put the two choices up for a vote. Not surprisingly, the vote was unanimous, all the girls wanted to go to the beach. I then handed out my budget, how much it would cost each girl to spend a week at the beach. The parents were surprised to discover the cost for the week was only $231.00 per girl, or $33.00 a day. This did not include any souvenirs the girls might want to purchase. We recommended that each girl have at least seventy five dollars spending money, just in case. I reminded all the parents at that price, it was a bargain vacation!! The one problem I had not counted on, how many parents wanted to volunteer to go on this “camping” trip.

Before I continue with the rest of my beach story, the continued comedy that can only be described as “only Denise” I should point out the other projects, lecturers we hosted during the year. I had a police officer talk to the girls about safety. How to protect themselves. How making smart choices can save your life, safety in numbers, what to do if they saw someone being abducted, what to do if they were abducted. We had a small class on self defense. At Christmas the troop went Christmas Caroling in the senior citizens development. A few girls and I went to a retirement home to visit with cookies and cards.. When the Girl Scouts had a food drive, our troop collected the most donations. In the spring I had a Holocaust survivor speak to the girls. The next several meetings were discussions on how to stand up for what is right, how people out of fear allowed the holocaust to happen. Cindy and I tried to stress the importance of personal responsibility, how it is our duty to not allow anything like that to happen again. A Vietnam veteran came and spoke to the girls about patriotism and the sacrifices the military makes everyday for our freedom. Throughout the year, I tried hard to find a good balance for the girls, a true learning experience in perfect symmetry with fun projects. No one quit so I must have done something correct?

I had eight months to organize our trip to the ocean. I made my way through all the rules and regulations, the forms I needed to complete, to have the trip sanctioned by the Girl Scouts of America. I was very well aware that the troop needed the sanctioning to allow us to hold fundraisers through out the year to cover the cost, more importantly to have their insurance cover our trip. I submitted my proposal, cost and safety plan. Ten days later I received tentative approval, one hurdle down several more to go.

Over the course of the next few months, I can honestly say I don’t think the Girl Scouts of America were quite prepared for me and all my “gray” area exceptions. I knew I had to have everything sanctioned or our trip would not be covered by their insurance or the girls would not enjoy it as much. I started first with their requirement that whenever the troop traveled together on an excursion they must all be wearing the same “identifiable” girl scout t-shirt. When you are at the beach, shopping center, just about anywhere in public, between the ages of 11-13 the last thing you want to be seen in is a girl scout t-shirt. I petitioned the counsel to allow me to have the girls where matching bright color easily identifiable t-shirts. I reasoned, the standard girl scout t-shirts were white and grey, two colors that would easily blend into a crowd. Since we would be traveling in well populated sights I needed something I could find quickly and easily. Bright colors were a much safer option. Three weeks later I received a letter stating that an exception was granted. A personal note was written on the paper by the local administrator, she simply wrote, “That was brilliant. Have fun.” With my exception in hand I went online to Hot Potatoes and purchased fun beach stamps and bright color fabric paint. A week later the girls were told to bring a white t-shirt to the next meeting. The girls had a blast creating their own beach themed t-shirts with stamps. No two shirts looked alike, but when they all had them on, you could tell we were a group! They fit the Girl Scout standard, they were "easily identifiable."

Next up on the exception list, bathing caps. According to girl scout regulations when swimming each girl must wear a color coded bathing cap. The color of the bathing cap would correspond to their swimming ability. In 1996, no one wore bathing caps anymore, especially at the beach! The Girl Scout reasoning for the swim caps, the leaders and chaperones would be able to tell who should be allowed to swim in the deep end and who should only be allowed to swim in the shallow end of the pool. The Girl Scouts mistake, not defining how many levels of swimmers are allowed. Once again I submitted my request for an exception, this time my argument was that we had 4 levels of swimmers in our troop. I searched in vain, but I was only able to locate two different colors of bathing caps. For safety reasons I was not comfortable combining moderate swimmers with novice swimmers. I requested that we be allowed to make brightly colored hair scunchies for the kids to wear when they swam. The colors would allow us to find them easily in the water or on the beach, at the same time the colors would help us keep them in “swimming groups”. I also pointed out at the beach there is not shallow or deep end. No one would be allowed to go in water deeper than their waist. A deep end was defined by the Girl Scouts as five feet and over. Additionally we would be with them at all times. I included a sample scunchie. A little over two weeks later I received permission to use scunchies instead of bathing caps. This time the local administrator wrote on the approval sheet, “You are good, next”. On a side note, all the girls in my troop could swim, very well in fact. Each girl had to do a test to see how long they could tread water. (the average was five minutes twenty seconds) As a group, the bottom girl was within a minute of top girl. Since the girl scouts did not define how to break up the levels of swimming it was up to me.

The last hurdle with the girl scouts was their policy on swimming. Understandable they had a rule that did not allow the girls to swim in any areas where there was not a life guard present. Ocean Isle Beach has no life guards. I had planned a swimming day at North Myrtle Beach, where the city supplied life guards. I understood the rule, but at the same time I wanted the girls to be able to enjoy the beach where we were staying. We had planned another swimming day, a trip to the water park. Keeping in mine that there were no lifeguards in Ocean Isle, I wrote a letter asking the counsel to please define swimming. Would seashell hunting be qualified as swimming or an outdoor activity? I stated that as part of a “learning” experience I had planned an afternoon of seashell hunting where the girls would collect seashells and learn about the ocean. The best area on the island for shell hunting did not have lifeguards available. A few days later I received a letter stating that swimming and sea shell hunting were two different activities. Only if the girls were swimming/diving would there be a requirement for a life guard. I took due note of swimming and diving. The local administrator once again left me a hand written message, this time it read, "Can I go on your trip?"

I need to add, I don’t want anyone to get the wrong impression. I was not trying to “break” the rules, put the girls in any kind of danger. Every chaperone, including myself could swim and would be willing to die trying to save one of our girls if need be. Their safety was my number one concern. At the same time I did not want any rigid unreasonable rules to stop them from having a fun time or make them embarrassed to be on a girl scout trip. I wanted my girls to have a trip that when they looked back on when they were older, they smiled.

As the trip got closer Cindy and I prepared the rules and regulations for each girl and her parents to sign. My rules of conduct were strict and no exceptions would be made. If a child broke a rule, their parents would be required to meet me at the Virginia/North Carolina border to pick them up. I informed my kids, break my rules and fifteen minutes later you will find yourself in my car heading home, the time of day or night does not matter. I remember as I said this Christina, who was I believe 12 at the time, added, “She means it folks” from the back of the room.

The last problem to overcome was the rental policy in Ocean Isle Beach. Before I placed a deposit on the houses I called the realtor, told her I noticed their no group policy. I asked, since I was coming down with my daughter, a friend of mine and her daughter was it allowed for the girls to bring “friends” with them. Her answer, of course it was, friends are always allowed. I asked her name, wrote it down, said thank you very much and hung up. Yes we were a Girl Scout troop but I was Kathryn’s mother and the girls were all her friends. So technically we were not breaking any rules.

The day finally arrived, all the paperwork, exceptions, everything had been handled in the appropriate manner. We arrived in Ocean Isle a little after 4. I went into the realtor's office to pick up the keys. As I was signing all the paper work, Mindy came running in the door and asked to use the bathroom. Mindy’s parents, as well as herself, were all born in Guam. While she was in the bathroom, the realtor very sweetly said to me, “You are aware that we do not rent to groups” Without hesitation I answered, “ Do you have a problem with my daughter? Do you not believe in inter-racial marriages?” I could tell she was embarrassed, she didn't say another word. I did not lie to her, I never said Mindy was my daughter, I just asked if she had a problem with my daughter. She just assumed by the nature of my questions that Mindy was my child and her father was my husband. You know what they say about assumptions.

We arrived at our houses. We sat the girls down, reminded everyone of the rules. Gave each girl a job to do to get the houses in order. We also went over the schedule for the next day. We were to set everything up (kitchen, bathrooms, bedrooms) tonight, order pizza , watch a movie, go to bed. Sunday’s alarm would be set for 8:00 a.m., we would all have breakfast then head to the grocery store. At one am that night my house was still wide awake and giggling. I walked across the street to Cindy’s house and discovered the girls in their house were also wide awake. So I made the executive decision, Food Lion was open 24 hours, we would go grocery shopping now. We told everyone to get dressed and we headed out to the grocery store. When we arrived at the store I looked at my watch it was a little after two. We divided the girls into 4 groups, each group was given a grocery list. They were instructed to find the best value. At that time of night, only one door was open at the store, Kim stayed at the front to make sure no one tried to leave. There was one poor cashier working at the time, 16 giggling girls tend to liven a very dead store up very quickly. Instead of reading the signs at the end of the aisles to find out where certain foods were, many of the girls would run up to the cashier and ask her where the items on their list could be found. I think we may have given the cashier a headache. The kids were having fun, she was being paid, so no harm in my book. I was standing in the back of the grocery store next to the bacon/ lunch meat area when this older woman was being escorted by 4 of my girls to me. As they approached I heard them say, "That is Miss Denise, our leader." My first thought was oh no I am going to be driving some kids home tonight. It was just the opposite. The woman thought it was just great I was taking them grocery shopping in the middle of the night. The girls were having a blast and she wanted to shake my hand. I learned a valuable lesson, in the middle of the night, teenage girls can find the best bargains. They actually divided price, weight and numbers to see what item had the best value for the dollar. I had estimated our groceries would total a little over three hundred dollars. With coupons, their best bargain shopping, the total was less than two hundred dollars.

The next afternoon as low tide was coming in, my Uncle Chuck arrived to take the girls sea shell hunting. Uncle Chuck had retired to live on Ocean Isle full time several years prior. He knew all the prime locations to find the most seashells. More importantly Uncle Chuck knew all the sandbars, drop off points, crevices and gullies in the ocean. All the girls were lined up, instructed to not stray away from the group, follow Uncle Chuck’s lead. All the chaperones were evenly spaced between the girls. Since I had been on the island and knew the sandbars as well, I brought up the rear. I reminded everyone we were not swimming, we were sea shell hunting so no diving in the water or chasing waves. As we were wading through thigh high water Natasha asked me, “Miss Denise what is the difference between seashell hunting and swimming. They are both done in the ocean.” I smiled and said, “It’s simple Tasha, as long as you can walk and there is no diving or swimming, then we are seashell hunting. And that my dear we are allowed to do without a lifeguard” She smiled then answered, ”Okay that makes sense.” After several successful hours of seashell hunting, as the tide started to change, everyone headed back to shore with their many treasures in tow. They had bags full of sand dollars, whelk shells, scallops, olives, moon snails, a couple conch shells and Mindy even found a starfish. (after everyone took a look, the starfish was gently put back on the bottom of the ocean.) When we arrived back at the beach in front of our house, all the girls bid Uncle Chuck goodbye. In unison they very loudly said, “Thank you Uncle Chuck”. As he was heading down the beach to his house a woman stopped him and asked, “Are they all really your nieces?” Uncle Chuck replied, “Yes they are! Wait until next week when my nephews arrive!” The wit and humor is definitely a family trait.

The rest of the week was filled with much adventure and fun. The girls toured a haunted grave yard, took an alligator jeep tour, spent the day at a water park, invaded Broadway at the Beach and Hard Rock Café. The kids had a blast swimming in the water at North Myrtle Beach. (They all wore their color coded scunchies.) Took a couple midnight walks on the beach with flashlights. Celebrated mid week with a BBQ. A BBQ which I am proud to say, I did not burn anything or catch anything on fire. (I am not grill savvy) On Friday we even invaded Crackel Barrel with the left over money the girls saved from shopping. The girls bought me a hot fudge sundae and sang Happy Birthday to me. To this day it is still one of my favorite birthday memories. I am happy to say we only had two small "incidents" while at the beach. Molly our fair skin redhead, forgot her sunscreen and did not bother to tell anyone. Within an hour on the first day her skin matched her hair color. Luckily we noticed before she was too burned. Heavy duty sunscreen and a long sleeve t-shirt solved all future problems. Christina our one child with braces had a wire break. That is when I discovered how hard it is to find a working orthodontist in a resort town at night. Through all the side trips, tours and detours we never lost a child. (my biggest fear). Nor did I ever wish to lose one. The girls were complimented on their brightly stamped wild t-shirts and their polite nature. I was extremely proud of them. The main goal was accomplished, everyone had a safe and fun trip.

Saturday morning, as we were packing up the vans to head home, Michelle, Mindy and several of the girls came up to me and said, “Miss Denise we want to let you know, we like your camping trips best. Can we do this again next year?”

Thursday, August 5, 2010

My Nicknames

The wonderful world of nicknames. When you are born your parents bestow on you a proper/given name, your full name. Most likely the only time our full name is ever used, other than graduation and other formal settings, is in a moment of anger by a parent to a child. When we hear our full name, we know instantly we are in trouble. At one point or another in our lifetime if we are lucky, we will all be given a nickname. The origins of some nicknames are easy to determine, the shortened version of the first name or perhaps a play off the last name. While other nicknames upon first hearing them it is hard to determine their correlation to the person. These nicknames, the ones that leave no clue to their inception, are usually the ones with the best stories behind them. They give you a glimpse into the persons life, their friends and most likely the crazy antics of a person’s youth. Well loved nicknames will accompany us from our youth into our old age. Many people have multiple nicknames, each corresponding to a time or group of persons in their life. I would be one of them.

Nisey Kay
My given name is Denise Kay Robinson. My middle name came from my grandmother, Nana Kay. I feel very honored to be named after such a remarkable woman. When my daughter was born I passed on the honor, I gave her Nana Kay’s proper name, Kathryn. Growing up my parents, cousins, sister and friends called me Denise. My Dad’s sisters, my aunts, called me by another name, Nisey Kay. When I was younger I hoped in time I would out grow Nisey Kay. I believed the name sounded young, immature, a name you would call a baby. I never outgrew the nickname, even at the age of 47, at family gatherings, beach week reunions, my aunts still call me Nisey Kay.I wouldn’t have it any other way. With time I have come to embrace my nickname. With age, came the understanding Nisey Kay was given to me out of love. It is my aunts' term of endearment towards me. My family nickname continues and has been 'passed down'. I look forward to the day when the newest member of our family will lovingly call me Nisey!!

When I was younger, other than Nisey Kay, I was never given any nickname that stuck. In high school, when I lost my voice Alex Militich dubbed me Mr. Ed. He called me that his entire senior year, when he left for college he would address his letters to me Mr. Ed Robinson. Thankfully the name never caught on with our friends. It would be during my college years that three nicknames would be bequeathed upon me. Each has it’s own crazy history. The first nickname was given to me by my gymnastics team, the second by a group of friends I hung out with at Navy Football games, the last was given to me one crazy night while walking through the yard at the Naval Academy. These nicknames have managed to survive the past twenty five plus years.

When I first enrolled at U.M.B.C. I had no idea they had a competitive gymnastics team. Every freshman was required to take a gym class. Wanting at least one class where I could guarantee myself an easy A, I registered for gymnastics. The first day of class, I changed and arrived at the gym early. That would be one of the few times I was ever early for a class. As I entered the gym I noticed the floor mat was set. To me it was inviting me to ‘play’. There was only one other person in the gym, a small blonde woman dressed in warm-ups sitting against the bleachers. She looked very young, I assumed she was another student waiting for class. I stretched for a few minutes, then began to tumble from one corner of the mat to the other. I wanted to unwind, have a little fun before class.

Back in the old days, when a gymnast tumbled we did a three step run with a power hurdle. The run allowed a gymnast to get the most power out of a short run, maximize the length of the mat. A few passes later, when I ended in the corner of the mat closest to the blonde she smiled and asked, “I am just curious why do you turn your feet out before your hurdle?” I told her I never realized I did. She laughed, said I reminded her of a duck running. Then she added I should never change my run, it worked well for me. When the class began a few minutes later, I was shocked when the small blonde stood up, introduced herself as Kathy. She would be our class instructor, she was also the gymnastics coach at the college. After class I was invited to join the gymnastics team, I was informed the next practice was that afternoon at three she hoped I would come.

I was nervous as I walked into my first college practice. The girls had been conditioning together all summer, I was a freshman, a newbie, I was afraid I would not fit in. As the team began to stretch Kathy called me over, I stood next to her as she introduced me to the team, announced she had seen me tumble earlier, they were going to love the height I got on my tumbling passes. After the introduction we were all told to line up in the corner of the mat to start floor drills. Slowly standing tumbling progressed into running tumbling. As I took my turn I could hear a couple of the girls confirm, yes she does turn her feet out. Apparently the coach had already told several of the senior members of the team about my unusual tumbling hurdle. At the end of drills, before the team broke off to practice on individual apparatus, we were allowed to let loose, show off a bit. Each girl after completing their fun pass, would return to line and receive high fives from the rest of the team. As I returned to the line after one of my passes, Teresa a senior on the team, gave me a high five then very loudly congratulated me with, “Way to go Waddles!” From that moment on, at every practice, every meet, every road trip I was no longer Denise, I was Waddles.

Dinker would be the one nickname that has stuck with me through the years. I have come to love the name, Dinker. The name was given to me by a group of friends who I hold dear. They are truly the nicest bunch of people I have ever met and known. For those of you who do not know me personally, I graduated from Arundel Senior High School in 1981. Growing up a good friend of my sister and I was Gary McCarthy. Gary grew up a few streets over from us. After Gary graduated from Arundel he attended the United States Naval Academy. He became a member of the class of 1983, 7th Company. Some of my fondest memories are the tailgaters in the parking lot of St. Paul's church just off of Farrragut Road with the guys from 7th company. I cannot recall the exact date it happened, or the football game when it first occurred. I am positive I recorded the occasion in one of my old diaries but for now all I remember is one afternoon after a football game I was standing in the parking lot enjoying the food and company when several of the guys from the class of 83 instead of saying hi Denise as they walked by, they greeted me with “Hey Dinker”. Every time someone would call me Dinker I was puzzled but I also laughed. I was positive beer had something to do with the guys strange behavior, that or a bet. After my high school friends began to address me as Dinker or Dinker Doodle at the tailgater I confronted the first person who called me Dinker, Jeff Armstrong. Puzzled I asked him why all of a sudden everyone was calling me Dinker? He informed me the guys had determined I had been hanging out with them long enough, I needed a nickname. They voted, it was Dinker.

As time passed more and more people began to call me Dinker. I soon found I was no longer introduced as Denise, only Dinker. The more the name stuck, the more I wondered why that nickname? Many times I would ask the guys how they came up with Dinker? Each time I would be met with smiles and laughter but no one would give me an answer except it fit me perfectly. The beginning of 1983, I convinced Jeff he was not allowed to graduate from the Academy without telling me why Dinker, what did it mean? Finally a few weeks before he graduated, after 2 years of being called Dinker I was told the origins of my nickname. As the story or reasoning behind my nickname was revealed I was not sure if I should be embarrassed or laugh. I determined it was better to laugh. Some women might have been offended by their reasoning, how the guys of 7th company derived Dinker, I was/am actually flattered. Jeff revealed to me the guys admired the fact I was a gymnast, more specifically they loved my gymnast butt. It was, as he described it, perfectly dinky, not too big, not too small. 'It' sat upright, looked great in jeans. Hence the girl with the great dinky butt was dubbed Dinker. I never asked exactly when and where they came up with the name, or how the subject even came up, some things are better left unknown. I enjoyed the compliment from some very dear friends. With age I no longer have the small perfect dinky butt, but the nickname Dinker has stayed with me and I wouldn't have it any other way!!

White Works
For some reason during my college years, I could flip, turn and leap on a 4 inch wide piece of wood, the balance beam, and rarely fall. On that piece of gymnastic apparatus I was graceful. Take me out of the gym, in normal life, I was a klutz. Hand me a drink minus a lid, ask me to walk further than a few feet some how or another I ended wearing it. Either I would spill it on myself or someone would bump into me. I seemed to be a magnet for flying liquids. I won’t complain, my being a klutz led me to meet one of the nicest men, who gave me a crazy nickname and an even funnier story.

Throughout my college years, I spent many weekends with my best friends, Valerie and Mary at the home of Captain and Mrs. Flight. The Flights lived on ‘Captain’s Row” on the grounds of the United States Naval Academy. Weekends at their home consisted of good food, the ‘beverage of your choice’, great conversation, Trivial Pursuit, pool, all kinds of fun and hanging out with friends.

Normally when something was spilled I was able to move, avoid the drink that was heading in my direction. Only a drop or two would end up on my clothing. This particular Friday night in the fall of 1982 I was not so lucky. I was sitting against the wall, between two people when I reached across the table and knocked a glass over. I was unable to move out of the way of the cascading liquid. I was drenched from the waist down. Thankfully the glass was filled with water and not beer. Mrs. Flight offered me her son Fred's white works pants to wear while my skirt was in the dryer. It was going to be a while before the skirt was dry and I would be able to head downtown. To pass time while we waited, for some unknown reason the three of us decided to walk across the Academy to the sailing center to see if the rumors we had heard from other girls were true.

There sits on the deck of the sailing center several pairs of huge binoculars. They were installed so tourists could look at the sailboats on the Chesapeake Bay. The previous summer one of our friends discovered by ‘accident’ the binoculars had another useful purpose and passed the information on. If you turn the binoculars inward, you get a great view of Bancroft Hall. I can't remember whose room we were trying to find, but we were all enjoying the search! I laughed hysterically at the commentary as my friends scanned the rooms of 'Mother B'. After a successful mission, the room located, the message taped to the window read, the three of us headed back across the yard towards the Flight's house.

As we were walking through the yard, next to Bancroft hall, we heard a loud voice with a deep southern accent yell, "Hey White Works!” I froze, I knew the statement was directed at me. We all looked up trying to see who was yelling at me. It was nighttime, the light from his room was behind him, we could not make out who was yelling, or what he looked like. As I stared up at the darkened figure in the window he pleaded, “Hey White Works, talk to me! Tell me your name!” I laughed in embarrassment when he asked me to go out with him. When I didn’t answer, he began to plead his case for a date. He told me numerous times "I was the best looking thing he had ever seen in white works." He asked again what my name was. Not knowing who he was, or what he looked like, I didn't give him my name. I simply told him thank you for the compliment but no thanks. The four of us yelled back and forth for a few minutes as he tried to persuade me and/or my friends to at least give him my name. Give him a chance and some hope to find me again. It was a simple request, he was harmless. That was the least we could do for him. If not he was going to have to go through his life only knowing the woman of his dreams as white works the woman who refused to tell him her name. I still remember the sound of his sexy southern accent call out as we walked away, "White Works come back I just want to know your name!" Later at Fran’s the three of us laughed over drinks at our adventure through the yard, the unknown mid calling me white works. We didn’t know who he was or what he looked like but we all agreed we loved his southern accent.

A week later, Mary, Val and I found ourselves once again hanging out with friends at Fran’s. Along the far wall of Fran’s is a row of tall bar tables. As I made my way through the crowd along the tables, searching for a friend, I noticed a guy was staring at my butt as I walked by. A minute later I heard a very loud southern accent exclaim, "Hey White Works!” Just as I had done the week before, I stopped when I heard him yell. Apparently I do not have a good poker face. I tried to act innocent, like I didn't know what he was talking about. I was unsuccessful, Bo busted me. When I froze, the look on my face, he knew I was the girl he had seen in the yard the week before. He jumped from his bar stool, grabbed my hand and announced I was not leaving this time until I gave him my name. He kept laughing out loud repeating over and over he knew I was white works when I walked by, he recognized my butt. There was no way he could ever forget what my butt looked like in “them white works.”

After I promised I would not walk away if he let go of my hand, he introduced himself as Bo Stephens, 16th company. He added he was the best looking, most charming man I was ever going to meet. Then asked what my name was, I smiled and introduced myself. Even though I had finally told him my name was Denise, he preceded to introduce me to all his friends at Fran's as White Works. With each introduction he would tell his buddies my butt was the best damn thing he had ever seen in “them pants”. As the drinks flowed, the night became later, I was even introduced several times as White Works the future Mrs. Bo Stephens.

I met his brother Billy Bob a few weeks later at UMBC. I learned at the party where Bo got his wild outspoken nature, it seemed to run in the family. Billy Bob was not shy and just as outspoken and forthright as his brother, Bo. I learned in the course of our conversation, somehow I had been the topic of discussion between brothers a few times. When I turned to walk away, go get another drink, Billy Bob said loudly, “Yep Bo is right you do have a great ass!”

I would run into Bo and his friends numerous times before he graduated from the Academy. Each time he would greet me with the familiar call, "Hey White Works!” Bo made me laugh, he made me smile but I would never go out with the handsome man with the sexy accent from Ozark, Alabama. He found a much better match for himself the summer of 1983. Later he would marry his beautiful nurse!!

Fifteen years later at the USNA class of 1984 reunion tailgater I ran into Bo. He was still handsome, still had the same sexy accent. I laughed when he introduced me to his wife as, “This is White Works! The best damn thing I have ever seen in them pants!”