Never Forgotten

The story I’m about to tell is part fact, part fiction. Much is derived from my Grandfather’s story of his time in the military during WWII, but some is artistic embellishment. Some of you may recall from this post that my grandparents actually married as he was headed off to war. Parts of these are from actual stories he shared with us, but most of it is fiction.

Rock Island National Cemetery

Rock Island National Cemetery

“Hey dad! Where ya goin’?” Kevin raced to the black Cadillac. He turned to face his son, leaving the keys dangling in the door. “The party’s gonna start soon.”

Adam reached down and ruffled his son’s blond hair. “I’m going to visit with an old friend for a while. I’ll be back.”

“Can I come?” His carbon copy hopped from foot to foot with the unbridled energy only a ten year old possessed.

He stared out at the festively decorated street for a moment as he debated his answer. Was Kevin old enough to understand? To appreciate? He turned the key in the heavy metal door and yanked it open. With a shrug he decided there was no time like the present.

“Get in, kid.” With a sweep of his arm, he gestured for him to slide across the bench seats to the passenger side.

“Yes!” Kevin’s small fist punched the air in excitement.

Adam called out to his wife through the screened front walk up. “Elise, I’m taking Kev with me, okay?”

Her voice came through the front door. “See you boys soon. Don’t stay out too long. Company will be here soon and I’ll need your help on the grill.”

He reassured her quickly, got into the car, and backed out of the driveway. As they drove down the road, he half-heartedly listened to Kevin chatter about the parade, the cook out, and his excitement at nearing the end of the school year. The rest of him prayed he’d find the right words to share with his son.

As he turned the car into the drive, past the large stone walls and open wrought iron gate, he felt his son’s eyes go from the letters on the wall to his face. “Hey, dad.”

“Yes, son?” He glanced over at his son. For once, the boy was still, his blue eyes, solemn.

“That sign said Rock Island National Cemetery.” He paused, his small fingers pulling nervously at the edges of his denim shorts. “Are your friends meeting us here?”

He parked the car and motioned for his son to get out. “You could say that.”

Adam stepped from the vehicle and walked around to the passenger side where his son stood waiting. He slung an arm around the boy’s shoulder and guided the way down the familiar path. It was time.

“Kevin, do you remember when I told you that I used to be in the Navy?” He slowed his gait as they walked through the grassy areas and wove their way around tombstones.

His son nodded.

“Your mom and I had just gotten married when I was called away to war. You and your sisters weren’t even born yet.” He smiled down at his boy. “In fact, your mom found out she was pregnant with Katie while I was on a ship heading to Europe. Of course, I didn’t know that. All I knew was that Hitler was trying to take over the world and it was my turn to fight. It was my duty to help keep our world safe.”

He swallowed hard. “There were a lot of guys just like me on that ship. Young. Excited. Wanting to make a difference in the world. But we were also a little bit scared. I mean, it was war. People could die in war. Not that we really thought it could happen to us.”

He stopped in front of a tombstone, placed his hand gently against the white, worn marker and closed his eyes for a moment. “Hey Charlie, I brought some company today. This is my kid, Kevin. I wanted him to meet you.”

He watched as his son stepped forward and traced the name carved into the hard marble, blue eyes squinting with focus and curiosity. “Charlie was one of my first friends on our ship. When we found out we grew up a few miles apart, we became best buds. One day, we were put on duty to clean the hull of our ship. We were scraping away when my stomach began to bother me. Charlie sent me back up to go lie down until I felt better. He said he’d finish everything off. I’d just headed for my room when we came under fire. I ran as fast as I could to see what happened. A missile had hit our ship right where I’d been just minutes before. Charlie didn’t stand a chance. It could just as easily have been me.”

His son wrapped his arms around him, and he squeezed back, running a hand through his son’s blond hair. “Two times while I was at war I almost died. That was the first time. I guess God was sending me a message to let me know he wasn’t ready for me yet. But in the meantime, I come here every Memorial day to hang out with my friend. To make sure he’s remembered. To tell him thank you for saving my life, even though he had no idea at the time. I pay my respects, then come home to enjoy your mother’s parties and count each and every one of you as my blessings.”

Kevin took a deep breath; the long ago conversation with his dad feeling like yesterday, rather than 40. He watched as the honor guard folded his father’s flag while a lone trumpet played “Taps” in the background. As the soldier marched toward him and presented him with the cloth triangle of red, white, and blue, he accepted, holding it close to his chest. Sixty years later, his dad would be reunited with his friend.

“Charlie.” His smile was bittersweet. “Wherever you are; thanks for giving me this time with my dad. Hope you guys are enjoying a beer together in person. I know he was looking forward to seeing you again.”

Lessons in Life and Love from Once Upon a Time

I wasn’t the girl who was hooked on Once Upon a Time from the beginning. I’d recorded it with the intent to watch, but somehow, I never did. Until the end of this last season. What I found was brilliant script writing, fairy tale characters I remembered, but spun to be virtually unrecognizable in the coolest way possible….and some awesome lessons in living and loving well if you paid attention.

If you know anything about fairy tales, you know that there are certain inalienable truths.

According to Shakespeare, “The path of true love never did run smooth.” The folks in Storybrooke, Maine would agree with that. In fact, they don’t even know it, but they’ve been trapped by a curse placed upon them by the evil queen to gain her revenge on Snow White, a local school teacher. Yes, when she activated the curse, she moved her world of magic into our world, a place where magic didn’t exist. In this world, no one remembered who they were or got happy endings…well, not until the “savior” arrived and the curse was broken.

Lesson: True love takes a lot of work, faith (both in yourselves and each other), and sacrifice. Problems and challenges don’t just disappear because you’ve found your true love. In fact, there will be times when you will lose sight of what’s important. In those times, the other part of you will rise up to the challenge–to believe and fight enough for you both.

Charming said it best. “I will always find you.”

Then there are the villains, Regina, the Evil Queen, and Rumplestiltskin…and even, to an extent, Regina’s mother, Cora. They’ve made some terrible, hateful decisions in the name of anger and revenge. But they are capable of love…and when they embrace that rarely used part of their souls, amazing things happen.

Lesson: With the power of love, no one is irredeemable. Flaws are there, and seen, but true love is acceptance, warts and all. Love means letting go of hate and anger, sometimes sacrificing yourself, to put someone else’s happiness and well being above your own.

Sometimes people will lose their way, forget who they are. In Storybrooke, this has happened quite literally. Charming lost his memory, for a while the entire town had no memory of their life in The Enchanted Forest, and Belle literally lost all her memories of Rumplestiltskin and their love. Sometimes losing their way can also be metaphoric. Snow lost sight of who she was in her quest for revenge, Pinnochio forgot his path and his responsibilities, even Red (yes, that’s Little Red Riding Hood) lost sight of the true meaning of family and acceptance when she met her mother.

Lesson: Those who love you will remember who you are and hold on to you. They won’t let you stay lost for long. They’ll remind you of just how important you truly are.

In life, we’re all bound to make mistakes. They don’t have to define us. In Once Upon A Time, Emma had given Henry up for adoption, thinking she had nothing better to offer him. He found her, and she fell in love. He was adopted by Regina, the Evil Queen, who had cast a curse of vengeance against Snow and Charming, Emma’s parents.

Lesson: Everyone has an opportunity to redeem themselves if they’re brave enough to take the chance. Love means owning your mistakes and moving forward. They don’t have to define who you are.

And finally, the most important lesson of all– “True Love is the most powerful magic of all.”

Yes, I’ve definitely got a soft spot for fairy tales. Always have. I love the way these ones are being told and blended into this beautiful tapestry. Are you a Once Upon A Time fan? Are there any lessons from the show that you’d like to impart? Is there another show that’s gotten you hooked? What life/love lessons did you catch?

 

What My Mom Taught Me

I'm the girl in the pink t-shirt

I’m the girl in the pink t-shirt

My mom is responsible for so many of the passions in my life. The background in this picture shows two of them…my love of books and my thirst for knowledge.

I suspect that she also inspired my love for writing, particularly poetry. As often happens when we’re young, we emulate what we see. My mom used to write these long, drawn out odes…probably inspired by reading Psalms. All I know is that I was enthralled with the idea that she had created something that other people wanted to read…with her mind and her imagination. And, as happens with the oldest child, I attempted to emulate her…with my own little twists. My sister would tell you that I took it a step further and spun tales to entertain her and my brothers.

Mothers and daughters are complicated relationships…and I suspect it will always be that way. Through her I learned to be timely because it’s a trait she lacks. Yet there were other things that would blow me away…like when she told me how she chose my name. My passion for music comes from her, too. Every member of my immediate family is actually vocally talented. She and my dad used to sing all the time. She was disappointed that I didn’t take more interest in learning an instrument, too. Even when we didn’t have much, she found ways to help my sister and I pay for our voice lessons in high school.

My mom also has a love for cooking and baking; one she passed on to my sister and me. My first memory of making bread with her was when I was 3. She made sure she had mini-loaf pans and tart pans to go with her pie and bread pans. As she would make hers, she’d double the recipe so my sister and I could make “ours”. We loved that. In fact, baking is something we both do to relax us. Like my mom, I’m an intuitive cook… a pinch of this and a dab of that are commonplace in my cooking. It’s all to taste, which makes it difficult for me to share recipes, but it was always fun.

As some of you realize, my dad wasn’t really a presence in my life. She was the one who never missed a concert that I performed in, she who told me that I could be anyone and do anything I wanted. She did everything she could so that his absence wasn’t missed too much. She found a way to support us with nothing more than a high school diploma…and chose not to take advantage of “aid” agencies, though we qualified. She believed there were others that needed it more and that as long as she was working, accepting things like food stamps would send us the wrong message. She wanted us to be strong and independent. She taught me the value of hard work and dedication.

Don’t get me wrong…we had our ups and downs. Having me so young made us more like siblings than mother/daughter sometimes… We both had our tempers and we knew how to push each others buttons. The single mom in her gave her a very vivid imagination. (She thought my catnip was marijuana and that my sister’s contact lens enzyme tabs were birth control pills that I’d procured without her knowledge or permission.)

Thanks to her, my sister and I were independent enough to spread our wings and fly from the nest as soon as we were old enough. Unlike most kids, we didn’t do it because we were rebelling or needed to escape. We did it to exercise the independence she raised us to crave.

Even then, we knew she was always just a phone call away. If we ever truly needed her she’d drop everything and try to find a way to help us. She still would.

She’s not perfect… In fact, she’s a bit of a hypochondriac. She gave us vitamins one year for stocking stuffers. She’s spiked my sister’s OJ with fish oil to “enhance her memory” when we were in high school preparing for finals… (Yeah, that was hilarious for me, disgusting for her.) She has a brutal temper. She’s beyond protective. She jumps to conclusions and has a tendency to shoot first, ask questions later (a trait common in single moms who want to keep their kids safe).

Through her, my sister and I gained a very clear vision of what a loving God looks like. She raised us to do what was right, even when it wasn’t always easy or comfortable. She taught us to be tough, resilient and self sufficient. She also showed us what commitment looked like.

When we lost our brothers she was there…strong and steadfast. She knew that as long as we had each other and faith, we would survive. She never let go.

Watching her over the years I’ve learned so much about strength, resilience and love….and the kind of mother I’d like to be (if I ever have any children). It always chokes me up and blows my mind a little when she hugs me and tells me that my sister and I inspired so much of what we inspire in her.

May I grow up to be as inspiring to someone as she’s been to me.

Now it’s your turn…. What traits have you inherited from your mom? What inspires you? If you’re a mom, what do you love most about being one?

Boiling Points And Slaying Dragon Ladies

I’ve realized I have a cantankerous side. People who know me well will tell you that it’s a rarity for me to lose my temper. In fact, one of my biggest flaws is that I’m too controlled. But I have this line…and once it’s crossed, all bets are off.

Why am I telling you this? Because tonight someone asked me how I wound up in Florida.

My buddy Robert will relate to this story as he believes in turning the other cheek…but only twice since he only has two.

I took a job at the hospital I worked at back in the late ’90’s. I guess you’d consider it a promotion and I should’ve been pleased, but I enjoyed the position I held prior to this one and wasn’t in any rush to leave it. The thing was, there were only two people in that particular hospital that were capable or qualified to do the job. One was only part time and in school. The other person? Me.

I liked my direct boss, so when she asked me to take on the role as a personal favor, I agreed. Then a new executive came in to run our group of departments.  We’ll call her The Dragon Lady. (And I use the term Lady loosely) Her people skills were so strong that she kicked off her first, introductory meeting with the departments by sitting everyone down and saying, “You should be happy to be here. If you’re not happy to be here, find a reason to be happy to be here. If you can’t find a reason to be happy to be here, then maybe you should leave.”

Yeah…definitely gave ME the warm and fuzzies…and that was Strike 1.

My position with the company required that I go over every single in and out patient registration with a fine toothed comb and ensure proper segments and insurance was billed properly. When the information was incorrect, it was my job to correct it, coach the employee and re-drop the bill. This meant I had anywhere from 800 to 1000 registrations per day to review. I was about 6 days out, but the ideal was to be no more than 5 days out. Unfortunately there was only 1 of me…

One day my boss calls me into her office. Waiting inside…you guessed it…The Dragon Lady. Here is how the conversation with her rolled out.

DL: I want you to be no more than 3 days out an all registrations. Where are you now?
Me: I’m 6 days out.
DL: How soon will it take to get you to 3 days out?
Me: With overtime? Probably 3 days.
DL: Then get that done.
Me: Ok.
DL: I can be the best friend you had or the worst enemy you’ve ever made.
Me: Okay…
DL: I can make your career or I can break it. And I support the people I like. Otherwise I can crush you.
Me: Okay…
Direct boss pipes in: Dragon Lady, in her defense, she was perfectly happy in the job before she took this one. She took it as a personal favor to me and because she was one of two people in the entire place qualified and the only one able to do the job.
DL: If you want me on your side, you’ll get that done.

What she couldn’t see was that in my head she’d just gotten Strike #2!

My husband was my boyfriend back then and knew how miserable I was. Between the long hours I was working (10-12 hrs and 6 day work weeks) and the way she talked to me, he knew something had to give. He gave me the green light to post my resume online. So I did! I didn’t even apply for any jobs…just posted it….when I got a call. A hospital on the west coast of Florida wanted to interview me. So, I walked into my direct boss’ office and told her I needed a personal day and reminded her that I had never taken any time like that before…and that I couldn’t answer any questions about the why. She gave it to me.

When I got back at 8 am, the Dragon Lady (who, incidentally, was never in before 10 am) was in my office waiting for me.

Now if you know the arrogant management types…then you know the power plays that come along with them. Often, if you’re told the boss’ boss is in your office…and said boss is a douche…you can count on them taking “the power position”…the seat at your desk. They leave you with the guest chair…their way of saying it’s their universe and you’re just lucky enough to be living in it.

This move would have been typical of her breed of people. Oddly enough, when I came in, she was sitting in my guest chair. Between the being at work a minimum of 2 hours prior to her normal time and sitting in my guest seat, I knew something was up.

As I sat my bag down our conversation happened:

DL: So, a little birdie told me that you went on an interview.
Me: (Thinking…so THAT’S what this is all about) Your little birdie heard correctly.
DL: You know, we absolutely love you here.
Me: (Looking at her in disbelief) Thank you. (She was fishing and she wanted to know how serious I was about leaving. In fact, if I’d have mentioned a raise, I would’ve gotten it.)
DL: You’re a hard worker.
Me: I’m glad you think so.
DL: We don’t want to lose you.
Me: Well, you know, you said something at your first meeting that really resonated with me.
DL: (Her ego puffing up) Oh, really? What did I say?
Me: On your first day you told us “You should be happy to be here. If you’re not happy to be here, you need to find a reason to be happy to be here. If you can’t find a reason to be happy to then you should go somewhere else.” So I took your advise!
DL: Oh.

I don’t think very many people had ever talked to her that way…and used her words against her. But I meant every word…because I never forgot. And it felt good! I then gave my two weeks notice and moved to Florida.  Oddly enough, it took 3 people with overtime to replace the one me. And one of them ended up in the CCU unit because of the stress.

As for the Dragon Lady…she only lasted another year or two longer in her position. Every time I’ve gone back to my old stomping grounds and run into someone I know in that department, I’m offered a job. Funny thing…I left in 1999!

What about you? Where is your temper threshold? What happens when you get pushed? What is the closest you ever got to saying Eff you to a boss?

 

“Attitude Reflects Leadership” And Other Life Lessons

Some of the most important life lessons can be learned from Remember The Titans. For those of you who don’t know the story, it’s based on a true story about one of the first integrated football teams in the south. This entry onto the football field, to this day, is one of my favorites of all time. It shows the beginnings of acceptance and teamwork that were beginning to take root during a very tough time in our history. As I thought about the this movie, I saw a lot of pertinent things to today in both acceptance and leadership. Today I’m going to try to share with you some of the lessons I picked up along the way…see if you don’t agree.

To understand a bit of what the tensions were like during that time, a black child had just been killed by a white shop owner. The local high school was being integrated and they’d hired their first black coach. This particular school’s pride and joy was their high school football team and their All American defensive player, Gary Burtier. Here is what the intro to the new coach looked like.

And even in leadership, sometimes there’s division. When faced with antagonism and disdain, you have a choice in how you proceed. Handling things with class and grace is vital for success.

Sometimes bringing someone to the scene of past battles over similar causes can create understanding…and a little respect. Some people are starting to understand the bigger picture. If we don’t look back on past mistakes, we could be doomed to repeat them.

Sometimes a bit of cold, hard honesty can wake you up and change you for the better. Although this scene seems negative…it’s actually a healing moment. It’s the first time the two biggest leaders from both sides of this team have talked…and truly communicated with each other. They both had great points. To this day I remind myself of that quote. “Attitude Reflects Leadership.” Although I don’t lead a team anymore, I try to remember it every day.

As you can tell, acceptance was far away. The coach recognized that the first step was going to require him to be tough…and to gain the compliance of the leader of the white side of the football team in order to get the rest of the team to follow. Unfortunately, sometimes this requires making an example of someone. If you’ve ever been around teenagers, you know how that can work. If you can get the “king or queen bee” in line, the rest will follow. Sometimes that lesson can be painful for the teenager.

The most rewarding thing is seeing when someone listens to you, acknowledges their need to change…and then acts. Especially as a leader. Because if leaders can find a way to come together, everyone else will follow.

And now they’re starting to understand each other… it helps when there are a couple people on the team don’t know how to hate. Love the big guy, Lastik. Sunshine, too. Both kids were military brats, so had been forced to learn to get along. Of course, sometimes whole other issues come up…LOL! (BTW, the kiss was revenge for Burtier’s comment when he first got to camp, assuming he must be gay to wear his hair long…Sunshine had been in California…lots of hippies there.)

I love this part. Coach Boone setting expectations. Does he believe these kids are going to be perfect? No. But he realizes that striving for it every time is the best way to get them there. Excuses will not be tolerated. Repitition is key to making things happen. It’s like a quote from a commercial I heard a long time ago. “Amateurs practice till they get it right. Professionals practice till they can’t get it wrong.” Set your expectations, then practice, practice, practice. (I remind myself of this daily with my writing)

Look at what can happen with a little honesty and support. This is when you know it’s real. It’s what you do when no one is watching….and there’s nothing in it for you. That’s when you define yourself as a person and as someone worth following.

There will always be people who will not change. Who don’t care who they hurt. And there are those who will step up and define themselves. This is one of those moments for two different people. Rev is the quarterback, in the beginning scene, one of the kids holding on to hate chooses to ignore an audible causing Rev to get hurt. Sunshine steps in and shows his greatness.

Integrity defines you as a person. I think Gary Burtier learned that. Growing up requires you to make the hard decisions. He stood up for his values, even though it was probably one of the hardest things he’s done. Sometimes the lesson is…there are hopeless causes in the world. And hard as it may be, you have to let them go or they will continue to be the toxic poison in your life.

Coach Yoast stepped up for a cause he believed in at great personal cost. By speaking up he lost his opportunity to be nominated into the Hall Of Fame and to take the team back. He chose to do what was right…and be the example he expected his team to live up to.

Remember The Titans taught me that there are no odds that can’t be overcome…you’ve just got to be willing to fight for it. This movie isn’t about football. It’s about life and friendships and overcoming adversity.  What do you guys think? What movies have inspired you? What quotes have changed your life…or maybe your outlook? What did you take away from these clips… If you didn’t get through them all, that’s okay. If you did…it was worth it, wasn’t it? I loved that this was based on a true story. If you haven’t watched this movie yet, I strongly recommend you do. If you already have, what did you learn? What did you like best?

Making A Difference

Recently I read an awesome Blog Post by Julie Glover honoring teachers in high school that have made a difference.  I thought it was great!  Teachers are like many military personnel…rarely is their work appreciated or recognized unless something goes wrong.  It made me think of the teachers that have helped challenge, encourage and develop me over the years.

I began to wonder.  How do they know when they’ve made a difference?  When their lessons have sunk in?  Sure, every once in a while a teacher will have some thoughtful student come back and thank them.  But more often than not, life happens.  Then all they can do it hope that the lessons they taught are practically applied.  And it reminded me that sometimes, through life, teachers can be taught, too.

So here’s a scene from one of my favorite teaching movies, Renaissance Man…mixing teaching and military.  It touched my heart.  Never ceases to choke me up.  Because DeVito’s character is the teacher.  The kids he’d been given were called the Double D’s…standing for Dumber than Dirt.  The drill seargent thinks that teaching these kids Shakespeare isn’t going to help them.  Won’t help save their lives.  And then there’s the lightbulb moment for both of them…and it’s beautiful.

In my life I’ve been blessed with wonderful music and English/Language Arts teachers.  The one who recognized my love of writing and poetry was a wonderful lady named Mrs Vorwick.  She saw something take root in me and encouraged it.  She even chose me, in eigth grade to go to a writers workshop at one of the nearby high schools to inspire me.  I remember being so honored.  I was the only one of my class of over 300 students that she picked to go.  Wow!

I hung on to many of my poems…even from back then.  Now a few of you who’ve been reading me for a while have read my most current stuff as I often share my poems immediately following it’s conception.  So here’s a flashback to my writing from the ’80’s.  Still very innocent and fraught with idealism and sweetness…  But this is to honor her for how far I’ve come today.  Because really, how can you appreciate the present if you don’t benchmark it against your past?

Set Me Free

“Give me wings,” you said to me,
“Let me go.  Please set me free.”
I looked at you with teary eye
And knew I had to let you fly.
So slowly, but surely I let you go
Hoping that you’d always know
I’ll care for you my whole life through
No matter what you say or do!

Then, one day, someone I once knew
Said, “I am coming back to you.”
I was so happy on that day
That I didn’t quite know what to say.
And since I know you’re back for good
I’m glad that I had understood.
You wanted me to set you free
So that you could come back to me.

So this was written nearly 20 years ago.  I still like the first verse…  Yes, you can tell I was young…but it still blows me away.  A teacher saw that and recognized my potential.  What about you?  Do you remember the teacher or person who influenced you and helped you to become the person you are today?  Or who encouraged you to chase your dream and shoot for the stars?  I’d love to hear about it.  And while you’re at it?  Thank a teacher.  Or a serviceman.  Give them a hug.  They don’t hear it often enough.  I think you’d be amazed at how much it will mean to them.