Thursday, May 9, 2019

The Homeschool Lesson

I’ll never forget my eight-grade year of high school. It was such a pivotal year for me. I’d just become a teenager and had entered the world of exploring my independence. It was an amazing school year. Most of my friends and I had known each other since first grade. We’d attended the same elementary school and were so excited to be leaving Indian Creek. We thought we were hot stuff but had no idea what who we were or where we were headed.

My first year of high school was scary. I can still feel those feelings of anxiousness as I wandered down those locker lined hallways. I was a tiny minnow swimming upstream in a sea of hormones. But those scary feelings didn’t last long. Soon I learned my way around the school and began to settle into a comfortable routine.

Not long after I’d memorized my class schedule, I began having strange stomach pains. All through the school year, I struggled with extreme nausea and a feeling of something being not quite right in my belly. My mother thought it was just nerves and encouraged me to push through the pain, which I did for many weeks, but soon the nausea was accompanied by vomiting and the pain grew worse.

Realizing I wasn’t feigning illness to get out of classes, my mother took me to the doctor. After running a battery of tests, it was determined that I had a viral infection. We were sent home and told the infection should clear up in a few days, but it didn’t. Things continually got worse. I think my parents really started to worry when I was unable to keep food down and I’d cry myself to sleep at night as the abdominal pains wracked my body.

Somehow I managed to complete the eighth grade but I was still very ill and we had no idea why. One doctor after another was consulted. My mother was told I had mononucleosis and I was sent home to rest. When nothing seemed to help, I was taken to another doctor who thought I had Hepatitis. That diagnosis involved my entire family who had to endure preventative shots but that diagnosis turned out to be incorrect, too.

I wasn’t getting any better, in fact, I was growing much worse. At that point, my mother decided to take me to see a gastroenterologist. Upon physical examination, he could find nothing wrong. But after several visits to see him, this old country doctor had an idea. He told my mother to take me out a very greasy meal. Both she and I looked at him like he was crazy but he assured us he knew what he was doing and that we needed to trust him.

Mama took me to Matthew’s cafeteria to get a big ol' plate of fried chicken. She’d been told to allow me to eat the food and then bring me right back to Dr. G’s office. Shortly after consuming the chicken, I became deathly ill and was doubled over in pain. In the doctor’s office, I sat on the exam table as he palpated my abdomen. He looked at my mother and said we need to do emergency surgery. Both she and I were dumbfounded.

Dr. G explained that I had gallstones and that my gallbladder was severely inflamed. This was a rare condition for a thirteen year old to be facing, Dr.G said, and that’s one reason it had been so difficult to diagnose.

I was admitted to the hospital the following day and before surgery could be performed, my gallbladder ruptured allowing dangerous gangrene to spread through my body. I didn’t know it at the time, but I almost died. Dr. G told my mother if they hadn’t had a cancellation, which allowed my surgery to be moved up an hour, I would have died.

It was touch and go for many days, but they finally got me stabilized and I was able to go home with a foot long scar and a drainage tube in my belly.

Recovery was tough and I spent the summer recuperating at home.

When it was time for me to start 9th grade, I was still weak and the doctor felt I needed to continue gaining my strength back before returning to school. That meant I would have to be homeschooled so I could keep up with my classmates. Teachers at the high school were notified and a plan was made. The teachers would write out weekly assignments for me, my mother would go to the school each week to pick them up, and the following week we’d submit my work for grading. This plan worked well with most classes and I was thankful to have the opportunity to recover at home.

One day, my Home Economics teacher, Mrs. Sara Lou Jenkins, decided to make a home visit to see how I was doing. She’d called the house and asked my mother if she could stop by after school that day. I was nervous about the visit because I’d never met Mrs. Jenkins before but I was also looking forward to visiting with one of my 9th grade teachers.

Mrs. Jenkins rang the doorbell as Mama was getting supper ready. We were going to have fried chicken, something I hadn’t been able to enjoy in quite a long time. Since Mama had flour on her hands from dredging the chicken, she asked me to invite Mrs. Jenkins in.

When I went to the door, I found a slight little bird-like woman standing in front of me. She was in a 1950's style dress with a string of pearls around her neck. I noticed her perfectly coiffed hair and her earrings that matched her necklace. Inviting her into our home, I led Mrs. Jenkins into our living room. She sat on our sofa and began to chat with me. Mama leaned her head toward the living room from the doorway of the kitchen telling Mrs. Jenkins that she’d be available to visit in just a few minutes. She explained she needed to wash her hands first.

Mama joined Mrs. Jenkins and I as we conversed in the living room. Mrs. Jenkins asked about my health and how I was doing with my assignments. We talked for about ten minutes and then we noticed smoke and a loud pop coming from the kitchen. Mama and Mrs. Jenkins rose at the same time as Mama ran into the kitchen. I was right behind them. Flames were licking the cabinet above the stove as the grease Mama had put into the iron skillet on the stove burned. Mrs. Jenkins was frantic and called out to Mama ways to put out the fire. “You can douse it with flour or throw the lid on the pan,” she cried out in a shrill voice. “Mercy, you have to get that fire out fast!” she screamed. Mama was busy grabbing a towel and trying to get the iron skillet off the gas flame so she could put out the fire and I was afraid she was going to be burned, but somehow she managed to get to it and contain the fire.

My face was blood red with embarrassment as Mrs. Jenkins hurried to leave our smoke filled home. I don’t think it would have been so bad if she hadn’t been my Home Economics teacher. After she left, Mama started to laugh hysterically and as I asked her why she was laughing when our house could have burned down, she said, “Well, at least you learned how to put out a grease fire today and you learned never to leave an iron skillet on a hot stove eye unattended.” I didn’t think it was very funny but I guess Mama was thankful she hadn’t added the chicken just yet. If she’d done that, we wouldn’t have had supper that night.

When we sat down to eat, Mama was telling Daddy all about Mrs. Jenkins visit and as she got to the end of the story, she said, “You should have seen that lady fly out of the house! She must have been so frustrated. I bet she’s never seen a grease fire in all her life and yet she has to teach her students what to do in case they ever have one. I think she got a big ol’ homeschool lesson herself today.”

At that, we all had a good laugh but it took weeks for the smell of smoke to leave our kitchen. I’ll never forget how Mama remained calm that day and how she took care of the fire like it was nothing unusual. That was the day I learned my Mama could teach Mrs. Jenkins a thing or two.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Mother's Day - Memories from my childhood

Growing up, I wasn’t blessed with many material things. Although my Daddy worked long, hard hours, my Mama stayed home taking care of the house, my sister, brother, and I. By all standards, we were poor but my siblings and I didn’t realize it. We had food to eat, clothes to wear, and a roof over our heads. But one day, when I was about six or seven, I can’t recall the exact age now, I found out the truth. I learned that the little amount of money my father brought home was never enough and no matter how my mother tried to stretch it, we always needed more. That need caused my mother to become very resourceful but even with all of her effort, most of our needs were met as God blessed us abundantly through the generosity of others.  

One day, not too long after we’d moved to Clarkston from Atlanta, I met our new neighbors. There were two boys and a girl.  Their only girl was a few years older than I. We became fast friends and soon played together every afternoon after school. One day, as we were playing, she pulled out a large case from her closet and asked if I’d like to see her Barbies. I had no idea what Barbies were but they sounded interesting, so I said yes. As she removed each doll from the case, I marveled at their beauty. Though they were only dolls made of plastic, they looked very lifelike. They had real looking hair, perfectly painted on makeup, tiny jewelry, and beautiful clothes. Oh, how I wanted one of those dolls!

When I got home, I remember telling my mother how desperately I wanted and needed a Barbie doll. As Mama stood over a hot iron skillet cooking our dinner, she listened and every few minutes replied, “Uh huh.” I must have talked incessantly, I had a habit of doing that and although the memory isn’t quite as sharp now, I’m sure, as I got ready for bed that evening and waited for her to tuck me in, I was still talking about how much I needed that doll.

Not too many days after our conversation, Mama gave me a gift. It wasn’t a Barbie doll, but it was a doll that was very similar. The doll I received was named Tressy. Mama had picked her up at our local Sears store. Tressy looked very much like a Barbie doll but had one major difference. She had a button on her belly that when pushed would allow her hair to magically grow.

I was so excited to have my very own doll! It didn’t matter that she wasn’t a real Barbie doll. She had tiny black shoes and a bright red dress. She even came with a miniscule plastic brush to help style her beautiful, blonde hair. I could barely wait to show my friend my treasured possession.

After months of playing with Tressy, her bright red dress began to show wear. Unlike my friend, I didn’t have extra clothes for Tressy. As I brought that fact to my mother’s attention, I’m sure my desire for more material things weighed heavily on her. I had no idea how my wants impacted her, but would soon find out.

Mama was a seamstress. She often took in sewing jobs in an effort to supplement our meager income. Many a night my siblings and I would fall asleep to the gentle hum of her sewing machine as she worked diligently to complete a paying job. Sometimes, if there was an approaching deadline for one of her clients, she’d work into the wee hours of the morning, but Mama always did her sewing while we were at school or after she’d fed us and tucked us into bed for the evening.

One night, as I lay in bed listening to the whirring sound of her sewing machine, I was unable to sleep. Quietly, I crawled out of bed and wandered into Mama’s sewing room. Her sewing room wasn’t really a room. It was a tiny closet that had been converted. It had just enough space for her sewing machine, a few shelves on the wall above it, and a file cabinet tucked into the corner where she stored all of her patterns.

When I entered the small space, Mama looked up. “What are you doing awake?” she said. I replied that I couldn’t sleep. As I stood next to her, I glanced down to see what she was working on and was surprised to see a tiny black and white houndstooth coat. It took a few minutes for me to realize that coat she was making was for me. It was a miniature piece of clothing for my Tressy doll.

Mama seemed flustered that I’d caught her by surprise and hurriedly shooed me out of the room and back to bed.  

The next morning, I pestered her about the little coat I’d seen her making. She told me it wasn’t finished yet and said she had some details to add before it would be complete. I was so excited knowing that in a few days, Tressy would have another piece of clothing, a gorgeous black and white coat.

Mama found some teeny, tiny, black buttons at a cloth shop in Scottdale where she purchased all of her sewing supplies. While watching TV she’d often do her hand sewing for projects and in my mind’s eye, I can still see her fingers working swiftly to sew on those little buttons. Thimble on her middle right finger and needle gripped tightly between thumb and forefinger, the threaded needle moved in and out as she guided it to accomplish the task.

When the coat was complete, Mama handed it to me. I was so proud of that tiny work of art. As I leaned in to kiss her cheek, she smiled a great, big smile. I told her I loved her and ran off to play.

That was the first of many handmade doll clothes I possessed. Mama continued making those clothing items for my doll and soon was making them for my sister’s Tammy doll, too.

At Christmas, we each received a storage case for our dolls and their clothes. Only the suitcase had been purchased, the clothing had all been handmade. Tiny buttons, ribbons, and belts adorned each item of clothing and those gifts of love soon became the envy of my neighbor.

There’s not a price you can put on the gift of love. Those little coats and dresses that Mama made were her way of showing me that she wanted to meet my needs. Even though we didn’t have money for store bought items, she did what she could to make me happy.

As an adult, I can’t help but tear up when I remember how hard she worked to make those little doll clothes. It wasn’t until I began to sew that I realized how difficult it must have been for Mama to make those little clothes. The side seams of the garments weren’t more than 5 or 6 inches long and were less than half an inch wide. It took great skill and precision to maneuver the sewing machine needle without piercing a finger or two.

Every year, when Mother’s Day approaches, I remember those little doll clothes and the sacrifice Mama made in buying the extra materials to make them for me. I remember how she worked hunched over her sewing machine late into the evenings and how tirelessly she added the detailed embellishments to make them look professionally made.

Those little clothes are still around. I’m pretty sure my sister has them packed in her little doll suitcase stored somewhere safe in her home. And although I don’t have any of them in my possession, I have every single one of them etched into my memory.

My mother was a remarkable person and was truly a Proverbs 31 woman. She was very resourceful and talented. She was giving and kind. She loved others and loved God. I am thankful for her and though she’s not with us any longer, I’ll always celebrate Mother’s Day remembering her fondly.

Two years ago, my oldest granddaughter wanted a Barbie doll but her mommy didn’t like the worldliness of the dolls. The elaborate makeup and revealing clothing weren’t appropriate for a little girl, she’d said. So, I bought a handful of Barbie dolls at our local Goodwill and brought them home to revamp. With acetone, I gently scrubbed off their makeup and repainted their faces with kinder, gentler eyes and smiles. I removed their clothing and replaced them with some handmade pieces. As I was working, it almost felt like my Mama was peering over my shoulder whispering, “Add a button there.”

My gift of love was presented to my granddaughter on her birthday. The blessing I received, as she opened the dolls, was priceless. That love that Mama had shared with me had come full circle and hopefully, in the future, will be passed down from generation to generation.

This Mother’s Day, as you celebrate your own Mom, try to think about something she said or did to show her love for you. It may not have been through a material gift. Perhaps it was only a look or a word but if you think about it long enough, I’m sure you’ll understand that a mother’s love for her child is a special kind of love and one that can’t be taken for granted. It’s a love that should be celebrated and cherished for now and for always.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Art, art, and more art!

I never considered myself an artist, although I wanted to be. Since I was a very young child, I'd loved to dabble in all types of art mediums. From the moment I held my first crayon, I'd fallen in love with art.

In grammar school, although I didn't have many tools in the way of art supplies, I found my finger was useful. When I was working on a project for a local social science fair, I chose to do my report on Brazil. For weeks, I read everything I could find on South America. My project was going to focus on the art of bull fighting and the rigorous training fighters must endure. As I compiled my information and wrote my report, I wanted to add a visual aid. Digging through my mother's closet, I found an old canvas and some used oil paints. (She liked to dabble, too.) Flipping through the pages of a large book I'd checked out from the library, I found a photo of a bull. That photo became my inspiration.

I had no idea how to use oil paints back then and was unfamiliar with their properties. But in my haste to complete my project, I sketched the bull's head enlarging it to fill the entire canvas.

I had no brushes with which to paint. My mother's art days had been long ago and apparently she'd thrown out her old and worn brushes. What a dilemma! What could I use? I didn't have time to beg, borrow, or steal brushes. It was after 11:00 p.m. and my project was due the following morning. So, I had to become creative. Ingenuity led me to look at the ten digits on my hands. Maybe they would work.

I took a dab of black oil paint and gently placed it on the canvas just inside the area I'd sketched for the bull's ear. Taking my little finger, I began to smooth and spread the paint into the areas it needed to be and found, by taking extreme patience and care, I could manipulate the paint to do what I needed it to do.

I continued working on the painting until three or 4 in the morning and then lay down to rest. When it was time to get up and get ready for school, I gathered my things and started to head out to my mother's waiting car. As I pressed the painting to my body, I realized the paint had not dried completely! What was I going to do?

When I arrived at school, I went into the girls' bathroom. Their, hanging on the wall, was a convenient hand dryers Holding the painting beneath the dryer, I used the other hand to press and turn it on. I stood there as long as possible trying to dry my painting but knew I'd have to get to class soon or be counted absent.

Thankfully, when I returned to class, the teacher was telling us it was time to go and prepare our displays. That's when I realized no one would touch my painting but me as we set up our presentations. The teacher explained that judging would begin the following week, that would give my art time to dry!

By the time the judges reviewed the work, my painting was dry to the touch. I was thankful I'd had sense enough not to use a lot of paint in my work. I'd skimmed on tiny amounts of paint while using my fingers to work it into the canvas.

I can still see the tips of my fingers that day at school. They were covered in dried paint. I'd scrubbed my hands before school but the oil paint was difficult to remove so I'd gone to school with black, brown, and deep red stained fingertips.

Fast forward to my post active breast cancer stage and I find myself loving to paint again. This time I've graduated from using my fingers regularly to only using them on occasion. I paint with acrylics now instead of oils because I'm an impatient person and don't want to wait for the paint to dry.

Painting has helped me pass the time and I've found, when I'm painting, I don't think about my health.

Yesterday, I participated in a local event called Free Art Friday. It's an event where artists create works of art and then randomly place them around the downtown area for people to find and take home. It's a great way to bless others and my husband and I often enjoy watching the finders as they discover my works of art.

Not only do I hide art and give it away for free, I often send packages to friends or family without their prior knowledge. Giving is a gift I enjoy just about as much as I do creating.

My theme for the past month has been angels. There's a verse in the Bible, Psalm 91:11, that says, "For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways." That verse seems very fitting to write on the back of my paintings. When I send those paintings off in the mail, it is my prayer that the recipient will know that God is always watching over them.

Art is therapeutic and I'm thankful I discovered it at a very young age. I hope I'll still have the energy to create well into my 90s, that's the plan anyway! And hopefully, my hands won't be too shaky to hold a brush, but if they are, I know how to use my fingers.

If it ain't one thing, it's another!

  Trying to smile through the pain I've been AWOL for a while now, so this post will more than likely be longer than most. I don't e...