Archive for the ‘family’ Category

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And a new tradition begins…

I was never sure if the Christmas sweatshirts were meant as a joke or if my mom was just being festive. She had both a quirky sense of humor and a great love of the holidays so it could have gone either way.

Nearly 20 years ago, she bought herself, my sister and me Christmas sweatshirts on sale at Kmart. They’re exactly what you’re picturing: jaunty red, green and white sweatshirts with plaid appliques of Christmas ornaments or trees or presents. We wore them every Christmas morning through brunch and opening the presents and sometimes for the rest of the day if we didn’t have a need to change. She died 11 years ago this year but I still faithfully wear the sweatshirt every Christmas. Until this year.

This Thanksgiving, I’ll be sporting an ordinary gray t-shirt, plain except for a simple declaration across the chest: “Thankful for: REMISSION! 11/24/16”.  On Christmas Day, it’ll be joined by another declaration: “Blessings for…”.

Some people consciously search for something to be thankful for or someone to bless every day. I’m not one of those people. I’m thankful in the moment, seek blessings on the fly.  I’m not a prayerful person. I did eight years of Catholic school, went to Mass six days a week so I figured as an adult, maybe I was “prayed up” at least until my 50’s. But while my circumstances of the past three years haven’t made me a more religious person, I’ve become a more spiritual thinker.

So starting this year, my 50th on this crazy spinning sphere, each Thanksgiving and Christmas I’ll add a phrase to my new “holiday” shirt. Something I’m thankful for on Thanksgiving, someone I think needs an extra blessing for Christmas.

This year was a no-brainer for thankfulness but it won’t be so easy every year and I’m glad about that. Because it will challenge me to really look at how the year’s gone and give some serious thought about what I’m truly thankful for. And to look outside myself at the people and world around me, take clear note of the trials others are facing and ask the man upstairs to please give them a little help.

I’m interested to see how this project goes for the next 10 or 25 or 50 years. What will a 92-year-old Kelly be thankful for? Who will a 67-year-old me see struggling and in need of a hand?

And the fate of “Jolly Red, the Christmas Sweatshirt”? We’re not totally parting ways. I’m hanging it on my front door instead of a Christmas wreath this year so anyone stopping at our house or driving by will see it. If it makes you laugh or crack a smile, great. If it gives you an extra boost of holiday joy, awesome. I think that’s what my Mom intended all along.

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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…

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sharing big news…

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or just saying “You should be here!”

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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.

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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.

 

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

 

 

Extraordinary stories of ordinary people

Extraordinary stories of ordinary people


“That’s Mary Ford,” I said, pointing to the faded image of the Army nurse on the man’s tee shirt.

He nodded.

“She was my sister. She’s in here, too,” he said, holding up a booklet.

“I know. I’m the one who put her in there.”

We shook hands and both started crying.

In September of 2006, South Dakota dedicated its Vietnam War Memorial with a three-day celebration. Today, the state observes its first “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day”, an official state holiday to honor those who served in Vietnam.

I was on the planning committee for the 2006 event, the third war memorial dedication in our state. I’d worked on the previous two as well, for the World War II Memorial in 2001 (literally days after 9/11) and the Korean War Memorial in 2004. My duties were to design, write and oversee the production of all the printed materials like invitations, signs, apparel, name badges, banners, concert tickets and so on. And the commemorative program booklet which for the Vietnam War Memorial Dedication included the pictures and stories of more than a dozen South Dakota veterans.

Thousands of veterans, along with friends and family members, submitted photos and stories for the dedication website and a book “The Vietnam War: South Dakota Remembers” that was published in conjunction with the event. I read and reviewed all of them.

I knew some of those people. Dennis Foell, Nick Roseland, Dale Christopherson, the Harford brothers (Warren, Jerry and Doug), Dale Bertsch, Francis Whitebird. Others I didn’t, like Mary Ford. But their memories and images were no less compelling or personal to me.

Some Vietnam veterans wouldn’t attend that weekend and given the reception they got when they first came home after the war, that’s to be expected. Sometimes a “Thank you and welcome home” 30 years later is too little, too late.

There are moments from that fall weekend in 2006 that I will always remember. The biker with the Vietnam Veteran patch who saw the “committee” designation on my shirt and asked if he could hug me. I said yes. The quiet man who handed me his “Find a Buddy” card to hang on the board and whose “buddy” turned out to be the older brother of one of my friends. A few quick phone calls later, they were reunited for the first time since shipping out together. And meeting Mary Ford’s brother who had brought his family to the dedication in her honor because she couldn’t attend herself. The smiling, compassionate woman who’d entered the service on Halloween 1967 and served two tours in Vietnam as an Army nurse died in 1998.

It’s March 30, “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day” in South Dakota. Who are you thanking today?