Our mail gets delivered mid-morning, brought in and sorted at noon. Bills to the computer room, junk mail to the garbage and personal correspondence to the kitchen table where it waits, unopened, until after work. When I can relax and enjoy it like the special treat it is.  

I email and text, like everyone else. And I handwrite letters. Because cursive is a beautiful way to say what you want to say.

Whether it’s telling a secret…

slim letter 012316

sharing big news…

jay letter 012316

or just saying “You should be here!”

lynnette letter 012316

The time we take to smooth down the paper, get the right pen, choose our words and physically form them on the page adds weight to our message and a personal touch to its delivery. In an age when a thought can be typed, sent, read and deleted in seconds, handwriting gives us the gift of a conversation that can be relived over and over again.

January 23, 2016 is National Handwriting Day.

exercise your right 012316

 

 

Grandma Collins 0116

My gun-toting granny who was also a nurse, a fieldhand, a church organist and a cancer patient.

My grandma flushed out a thief who was hiding under her house, loaded him into her car, and drove him at gunpoint into town to the sheriff.

My dad, who was there, told me the story. Had I gotten it directly from my grandma before she died, I’d have asked, “Were you scared? How did you know he was under there? Would you have shot him?”

Family and friends are the people we think we know better than anybody else. But do we really? Maybe we would if we just took the time to ask.

For the past 12 years, StoryCorps has given ordinary people the chance to find out extraordinary things about the people they know by simply asking questions.

Through the program, people record interviews with someone who’s made an impact on their life, knowingly or unknowingly, relative, friend or acquaintance. The interviewer picks the questions and hopes the interviewee answers them. And most of the time, they do. The interviews (65,000 of them already) are stored at the Library of Congress and some of them air on National Public Radio.

Our lives are a series of great stories. Happy, sad, scary, exciting, funny, unusual. Facebook and Twitter and Instagram are packed with the edited versions of the best (or worst) stories people want to tell about themselves. What about the incredible stories we can tell about others?

In my reporter days, it took tape recorders and reel to reels and notebooks to get the story; today, all you need is a smartphone and an app. StoryCorps has one. It lets you record your own StoryCorps-style interview and upload it to be preserved by the Library of Congress. It even invites you to take a selfie with the person you interviewed.

So, is your grandma tougher than my grandma? We’ll never know unless you ask.

A tale of two houses at Christmas

The light and the dark side of the holidays

 

We’re not Grinches and they’re not the Griswolds. We’re just neighbors with vastly different electric bills for the month of December.

You’ve seen the viral video of the house festooned with thousands of Christmas lights, glowing reindeer grazing on the lawn, neon icicles dripping from the trees, all pulsing in time to Mannheim Steamroller’s “Carol of the Bells”. My neighbors live there. We live in the dark house next door.

When we moved into the neighborhood 20 years ago, we were all on the same level when it came to decking the halls. Icicle lights on the eaves, luminaries lining the walk, wreath on the front door. Every house was different but together we made a companionable display of holiday cheer.

Then about 2010 or so, giant snowflakes appeared on the front windows of the house to the north. In the years that followed, a herd of glistening deer gathered by the shrubs, a forest of spiral rope light trees sprang up in the front yard, and endless rows of twinkling lights crisscrossed the shingles and siding. Then a big electrical box with cords and cables snaking across the snow and finally, the electronic carolers.

As the neighbor’s house got brighter, the rest of the block went dim. It’s not like we couldn’t compete; the rest of us just didn’t try to. 

When their display went up Thanksgiving weekend, my husband asked what we were going to do this year.

“How ‘bout a sign that says Ditto with an arrow pointing to their house?” I asked.

He suggested that maybe they wouldn’t think that was as funny as I did. I figure if you’ve lived by me for 20 years and you’re still talking to me, you must have some sense of humor.

But since they’re not dicks about it – their timer shuts everything off about 11:00 p.m. which is good since our bedroom and guest room both face “Viva La Christmas” – I took the high road, too. Our front deck railing is now wrapped in white lights which cast a soft glow on the “Peace” sign perching on the little wooden bench.

Though the neighbors’ decorations shout and ours only whisper, our holiday spirit is no less heartfelt. After all, it’s Christmas…and it’s the thought that counts. And I’m thinking a little peace on earth is just what we all need this year.

 

On Aug. 12, 2015, I underwent a stem cell transplant, the goal of which was to push my multiple myeloma into remission. The procedure had some unexpected benefits.

Spam, of the non-blue metal can variety.

Spam, of the non-blue metal can variety.

There are 3,277 less emails in my in-boxes.

I have several email accounts, some that I review on a daily basis, others less often. Recovering from my transplant has given me ample time to cull thousands of unread emails. Among the keepers were guidelines on a new writing contest and a chocolate caramel brownie recipe I’d begged from a friend. Long gone are pleas from the Russian brides to help them find rich American husbands, 120 different secrets on how I can be as thin as Jennifer Aniston, and 294 delivery notifications from UPS for packages I never ordered.

I have a new light fixture in my kitchen. 

The fixture itself had been gathering dust in my basement for five years because the house needs new wiring, the ceiling needs re-painting, we’ll wait until the kitchen is remodeled, etc. Prior to my coming home from the hospital, our house underwent a deep cleaning to protect my weakened immune system. I’m not going to question how the light fixture became a part of that project. I’m just going to smile and bask in the inviting glow now emanating from my kitchen ceiling.

Katie, Andy and Bethannie, members of my amazing transplant team.

Katie, Andy and Bethannie, members of my amazing transplant team.

My faith in people finding their true calling is renewed.

It takes a special kind of person to work in a transplant unit. And they don’t all grow up knowing that’s what they want to do.

Barb was an accountant for 20 years before her stepmother had a stem cell transplant. Barb was one of her caregivers, which was enough to convince her to devote her professional life to caring for transplant patients. Glenda’s bank customers often remarked on her compassion and sense of humor. She thought she could use those skills to do more to help others and now she does as a nurse technician in the transplant unit.

Many of the incredible people who cared for me during my transplant had similar stories. It convinced me that we all have a place in life where we’re truly supposed to be and no matter how long it takes to find it or what circumstances will ultimately lead us to it, if you want to get there, you will.

I no longer think every day about having cancer.

Because I don’t know if I do. And I won’t know for sure until Day +100 when I have another bone marrow biopsy. That means for the first time in over a year, I’m not on chemo. Sure, there are plenty of other new meds to get used to, but mentally and physically, that break from chemo, no matter how short, is huge to me.

Little victories. We all have them. Thanks to my transplant, I’m finding something to be grateful for every day until the anticipated BIG victory arrives on Day +100.

What little victory are you celebrating today?

As the last strains of Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride” (released a hundred years ago and now considered classical music) echo through the control room speakers, the paramedics draw the sheet over my faded “Your face was made for radio” t-shirt. They gently remove the headphones from my greyed head before covering my face and wheeling me out the front door I’ve held keys to longer than to any other place in my life. As they slide the gurney into the ambulance, one medic says, “I grew up listening to her.” The other replies, “So did my parents. And grandparents.”

That’s how I imagined my radio career would end. It ends this Sat., July 18, 2015 for reasons I wouldn’t have imagined. 

Running the board at KJJQ, circa 1987

Running the board at KJJQ, circa 1987

Radio is all I ever wanted to do. Growing up, I recorded my own radio shows on a suitcase-sized tape recorder. At 19, I went on the air as an intern at KIMM/Hit 100 in Rapid City, SD and from there to a real announcer’s job with KJJQ/Q102 in Brookings, SD. I ended up at what’s now KCCR/KLXS in Pierre, SD where, with a few short lapses, I’ve spent nearly 25 years, moving from news director to sales rep to promotions director to PSA director and announcer.

For many years now, the radio station hasn’t felt like a job but more like a second home. A place I go to talk to my friends about anything and everything, to play good music, to inform and entertain. When I started in radio, we played the National Anthem before every sign-on, wrote copy on a typewriter, and used reel-to-reels, carts and turntables. That gave way to cassettes then CD’s then computers and satellite feeds. I feel old yet privileged to have been there for all those changes in my industry.

Deciding to leave was hard. Life made the decision for me. Many of my listeners might not know that for the last 16 years, I’ve had two jobs: a full-time job with the State of South Dakota, and my radio station gig. One feeds my family, the other feeds my soul. When I was diagnosed with cancer last year, I didn’t consider quitting either one, although if forced to, which one to leave was obvious. But I’m stubborn and I didn’t want to go. Through testing, treatment, bone marrow biopsies, crappy chemo days and finally stem cell harvesting, I went on the air as many days as I could. Some days they weren’t my best shows ever but they were the best show I could give that day. Thanks for listening, either way.

I have a stem cell transplant coming up next month and I know it’ll kick that cancer to the curb. But when the transplant and recovery period are over, there can be only one. Job, that is. And practicality, which is not always my strong suit, has dictated which one it has to be.

I’ll miss the people, the spontaneity, the pace, the thrill of not knowing what’ll happen during my show and how to tell you about it when it does. And I’ll miss having a place to go to just be myself. I’ve never used an on-air name that wasn’t my real name because I always wanted radio to just be me on the air with an open mic and something to say.

Maybe my departure from radio isn’t for forever but for just right now. I’ve left and been hired back several times over the years. But if it doesn’t happen again, that’s O.K. Life really is about time – how much you have and what you do with it. I’ve spent a lot of my time working. When you catch your second wind in life, maybe you should use it to climb new mountains and conquer new peaks. Some people go their whole lives without ever getting to do what they really want to do. I got to live my dream for well over half my life and it’s been the BEST TIME EVER.

My last “Kelly Thompson Show” this Saturday will be all requests, as many as I can find the music for and fit into two hours and 52 minutes. Those last 8 minutes are all mine for the final “Three Stories Hot off the Wire” and my good-bye song which will remain a secret until it’s played. If there’s something you want to hear between 6:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. CT July 18, please post it in the comments below or email it to kelly@todayskccr.com by noon on July 16.

If you’re within 150 miles in any direction of Pierre, SD this Saturday morning, tune me in on your radio at 1240 AM. And if you’re not, I’ll be streaming live at todayskccr.com. It’ll just be me on the air with an open mic and something to say.

Kel on the air

Talking the talk in my control room

It's all in the attitude, baby.

It’s all in the attitude, baby.

Shortly after being diagnosed with cancer this spring, I was informed I wasn’t suffering enough.

What he said:

You’re not having surgery? Marjean had a double mastectomy.

You’re keeping your hair? Chuck went bald…twice.

You have insurance. Joan didn’t have any; we’re still doing benefits.

You don’t know what REAL cancer is.

What I could have said:

I get a kidney transplant if the chemo doesn’t work.

Hair grows back.

I’ve had cancer insurance since I was 19 because my mother, who died from cancer, was planning ahead.

You don’t know shit about my experience with REAL cancer. 

What I DID say:

Nothing. I walked away and quit telling people I had cancer.

I’m a third generation cancer patient; there has never been a time in my life when a family member wasn’t battling, beating or dying from cancer. I knew what chemo was before I knew where babies came from. I was so used to bald relatives I couldn’t recognize them with hair. Cancer was something people in my family GOT; this spring, it was just my turn.

Publicly I’ve helped with countless cancer benefits; logged miles in numerous cancer walks, including the 60-mile Breast Cancer 3-Day which I’ll do again next summer in memory of my mom if my doctor says I can; attended cancer awareness and memorial ceremonies; written articles and PSAs about cancer; and amassed an impressive collection of “Cancer Sucks” gear.

Privately I’ve shaved heads when the hair started to go; changed diapers on loved ones who changed mine when I was a baby; squeezed hands during chemo treatments; told doctors to go to hell when they announced there were only months left; whispered goodbye over the phone in the middle of the night because I couldn’t drive the hundreds of miles fast enough to do it in person; and been a pallbearer and a eulogist.

Don’t know what REAL cancer is? Screw you.

Many people live with cancer without ever having it. When you do get that diagnosis, no matter how well it’s delivered (and my doctor did a great job with the news), it scares the hell out of you. Because cancer kills people; everybody knows that.

Myeloma’s not killing me and it’s doubtful it will. It’s one of those cancers where the conditions it can cause – in my case, total kidney failure – is worse than the cancer itself. So I take chemo, do IV treatments, have bone marrow biopsies and wait to see what happens. Do I feel lucky that’s the kind of cancer I have? Every day. Do I feel guilty that I’m getting off easier than so many other people with cancer? Every day.

Unless you’re knocking on death’s door, there will always be someone whose burden is heavier, whose suffering is greater than yours. That can’t diminish the impact of a cancer diagnosis on you and the people who love you. Don’t let anyone make you feel like you don’t have enough cancer to matter. It matters to you and that’s enough.

You may not have heard of myeloma, but you WILL know these people who have or had it: Tom Brokaw, Geraldine Ferraro, Peter Boyle, Roy Scheider, Ann Landers, and Sam Walton.   

Nothing to see here, folks, move along.

Nothing to see here, folks, move along.

We were the first to expose ourselves. It was my husband’s idea, as these things often are. One day we were casually talking about doing it and the next day we let it all hang out for the world to see.

We’ve lived in our house for almost 20 years, and in all that time our bedroom window was hidden from the street by an overgrown pine tree. Then the plumber announced that the reason the sewer was backing up into our basement was because tree roots were obstructing the main sewer line to the house. That was the day Jeremy said the pine tree needed to come down. One day later the front yard was carpeted with sawdust and dead pine needles and the dogs were planted at the bedroom window with an unobstructed view of traffic for the first time in their lives.

“It looks wonderful!” gushed the woman next door, who’d hated that tree. “Think what it’s done for your curb appeal.”

“Loving the new siding!” yelled the man from across the street. We sided the house three years ago.

“It looks naked,” I said. “I want a new tree.”

My husband laughed and walked away.

Since then, nude yards are springing up all over the neighborhood. The stripping of a towering cottonwood tree a few blocks east exposed a tidy bungalow. A rambler north of us shed an old elm, revealing a back door and a side patio. And just yesterday, the old woman’s house kitty-cornered from us threw off two dead trees, one in the back, one curbside. We stood in our bare front yard and watched.

“I thought that house was gold,” Jeremy said.

I shrugged. Looks like we’ll be seeing a lot more of the neighbors this summer.
 

Love your neighbor…but don’t pull down your hedge. – Benjamin Franklin