Wednesday, November 04, 2009

In Praise of Al

I am not an angry person by nature. In fact, those who know me well will probably say that they’ve never seen me angry. Usually, when something upsets me, I just internalize and fume and pretty soon forget what made me so angry. If you asked me to recall the last time I was angry at a person, I probably couldn’t tell you unless you were asking about this morning. Just a little background . . .

Around this time last year, my friend and editing partner Grace Hollen asked me to join a group called the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA). She assured me that editors who are serious about getting business join it. I joined. And I’ve been so happy about my membership. I’ve applied for some jobs through the organization, but nothing has materialized yet. I still have one application out, and I would love to get that job; however, even with the references that I have, I doubt that I’ll be hired. That’s okay, though, because I’m now going back to work for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (my old company and the one that I sent the application to) in inside sales, conducting WebEx presentations. As usual, I digress.

One of the perks of being a member of EFA is belonging to the EFA Digest, a group list that comes out almost every day. I have learned so much from the people in this group, everything from how much to charge to errors in the Chicago Manual of Style to whether we should call ourselves copyeditors or copy editors to sharing of jokes about editors. All sorts of helpful as well as funny stuff there! I look forward to reading the list every day, and I have even asked some questions and received great responses, even though I had a terrible typo in my first post (spelled proofreader, proofreaded). No one even mentioned my error, though one person did correct my spelling in the headline before answering me. I liked that!

I have written to several of my co-members in emails . . . personal topics that I didn’t want to share with the whole group and have received kind answers. One of the members, Al Sabado, is a member that I really wanted to get to know because it was very much obvious to me that she is a dynamic Christian. In the public sector, it’s not the usual to find a person who has in her signature John 3:16, written out in words for everyone to see. This Scripture is attached to every post that she makes, and I’m sure it’s on everything that she writes, including correspondence with customers. She’s surely not ashamed of Jesus. Because of her signature, I wanted to get to know her outside the EFA digest. Because of her name, I was afraid to pursue a friendship since I thought she was a man, and I certainly didn’t want a man to interpret my correspondence as “hitting” on him. I bit the bullet, though, and sent an e-mail. I can’t remember if I asked if she had a Facebook page or if I suggested that she get one, but soon I saw a picture of this “man,” Al, on Facebook and discovered that she was a beautiful young Filipino woman. Whew! What a relief.

We immediately became friends and did some sharing of editing business as well as Christian beliefs. I loved her from the beginning, and when I heard about the devasting storm in the Philippines, I, along with members on the digest, was was concerned about her safety. Many days after the storm, one of the members posted that she had heard from Al and that she was safe, having suffered mainly water damage in her house. She had a mess to clean up, but she didn’t lose family members. I think she might have lost a dear friend, though. I gleaned this from something that she said on Facebook.

So back to my anger. I wish I could find her first post after the storm, the one that rankled a few members and caused their vituperative comments about Al. If I remember correctly, she was thanking God for sparing so many even though others were lost in the rain and wind. Those few attacked her for her beliefs and then latched on to their feelings about her signature. My heart broke for her. I even prayed that she wouldn’t see the comments, that she wouldn’t bother to catch up on everything. But in my heart of hearts, I knew she’d read them and that she’d be terribly hurt by them. In my heart of hearts, I also know that she relied on Jesus to get her through. In all of her posts previous to the storm, she has never proselytized; her witness is only in her signature. She has given excellent editing advice, but her advice was never mentioned in the back and forth criticism of her . . . only her relationship to Jesus. I must hasten to mention that there were several members who stood firmly by Al’s side through all of the comments. I couldn’t even tell if any of them shared her beliefs. I do know that Jews and atheists came to her rescue, and I am forever thankful for these friends, these kind people who recognize that all of us are entitled to our beliefs.

Al’s post either today or yesterday is what put me over the top in my anger. This is what she wrote:

Dear listmates,
Thank you for all your messages. I regret that this is going to be my last post here. I wish you all the best.

Al Sabado
Freelance Editor
Your personal editor online...
Marikina City, Philippines
_http://www.alsabadohttp:_ ( (

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that
whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." -
John 3:16 (KJV)

I cried for at least an hour after reading this. Just could not stop. What an injustice to a sweet, Christian editor! I’d love to post a message on the list pointing members to my blog post to see my feelings about the whole thing; however, I’ve decided that there’s no need to stir the pot any more. Probably wouldn’t do Al any good. I’ll write to her and ask her to read my post. Maybe she will, maybe she won’t.

Al, if you DO read this, just know that your friend Sandy is so sad not to be able to read your posts on the digest but that she is so proud of the mature, Christian way that you handled the whole matter. No venom, just a kind good-bye. I’ll still be asking for your advice through Facebook, and I’ll be counting on your posting more good places for me to link to for editing advice. Your leaving the EFA digest is our loss.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Tie That Binds

Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.
John Fawcett

As I think over the past couple of months and the visitors that Frank and I have had in our home, I'm reminded of this old hymn. Our hearts truly are bound to those of our visitors in Christian love because all of us are believers. However, the common beliefs that we hold were just part of the reason that we had so much fun together. Let me share our friends with you.

Our first visitors, Anne and Bill Duncan, came in May. I've known Anne for years, but I didn't become close friends with her until after she retired from teaching English at Gulf Breeze High School. Shortly before she retired, her husband died; however, after a few years, she met Bill, and soon they were married. A better match I've never seen! They are so happy, and that makes all of their friends happy, too. This summer, they took a trip to the Southwest, with stops in
Texas for Anne's reunion with college friends, Taos, the Grand Canyon, and Cerrillos, NM. What an honor that they'd include the Youngs in their itinerary! There was no dead air in this house while they were here, I assure you. Since Anne and Bill are members of our dinner group in Pensacola, The Taste Buddies, we had lots of folks to catch up on, plus they filled us in on Pensacola goings on. Naturally, we gave them a tour of Cerrillos, Madrid, and a little bit of Santa Fe, always our pleasure with folks who visit us for the first time.
They arrived on Monday afternoon, May 26, and left on Thursday morning, May 28. What a great time we had!

Next came Judy and Bob Sanders, from College Station, Texas. They, too, were taking a vacation in the West and made our house one of their stops, actually, the first one. Again, we were honored. Judy, Frank, and I have been friends since Mississippi College days, back in the late '50s and early '60s. In fact, Judy was our "wedding director." In college, we called Judy "Mookie Mae," but that's a story for another time. I remember Judy always talking about Bobby Sanders when we were in college, so I never thought she'd marry anyone else. They've been married just about as long as Frank and I have, and that's a long time. They have four children and a veritable gaggle of grandchildren! Such a beautiful family! Again, there was no dead air in this house from the afternoon of Monday, June 8, to Thursday morning, June 10. We took Judy and Bob on the same tour that we took
Anne and Bill on, and all four loved our new digs. Where we live now is so very much different from our Southland, where all of our visitors still live, that it's quite a shock to find the Youngs in their new surroundings. The villages of Cerrillos and Madrid are shockers to them because they're such "wild west" places in comparison to Pensacola and the green parts of Texas. We'll see Judy and Bob again Labor Day Weekend, when my family gathers only about 30 miles from them for our Kolb Family Reunion. It'll be so much fun to be with them again after such a short time.

Sandy and Joe Dorsett were our third visitors. I've actually known Sandy the longest of the "girls" who came to visit; however, I really didn't know her well until last year. She and I graduated from Pensacola High School in 1958, but we really didn't know each other in high school. When we wrote our bios for the PHS Web site last year, we discovered that we had something in common -- both of us had lost our sons. Her son, Tom, died in an Air Force plane crash in 1990, and our son, Jay, died in 1992. We immediately connected. When she and Joe told me last year that this summer would be their "westerly" vacation, I immediately invited them to come to see us. They are RVers, so they parked their motor home in Santa Fe. We met
them for dinner on Wednesday, July 8; the next day they went to Durango for the train ride to Silverton; they returned to Santa Fe on Saturday, July 11; and we spent all day Sunday, July 12, together. So much to catch up on! Again, we gave them the tour . . . just Cerrillos and Madrid, though. One thing different for them, though, was that they were here on Sunday, so they could go to church with us. As good Episcopalians, they expected to find Rodeo Road Baptist Church stuffy and stodgy -- the way they thought all Baptist churches would be -- and were ever so pleased to find our little church quite lively and our pastor right on target with what they believe. I managed to squeeze in a couple of hours of visiting with them at Starbucks on Tuesday before they set
out for home in south Texas on Wednesday, July 15 (today). Another great visit!

Before these three visits, the ladies were the ones whom I knew best. Now, however, the husbands, too, are good friends. We're all very much different in personalities, looks, ideas, but we all have that "tie that binds," and these three couples will always have a special place in our hearts! Anne and Bill, Judy and Bob, and Sandy and Joe . . . I hope you know that we love you and welcome another visit anytime.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

(6) Seventeen Years Ago -- July 2, 1992

(continued from 7/1/09)

I'll begin the entry today, July 2, 2009, with a quote concerning what I was feeling one year after Jay's death (July 2, 1993):

"To continue the last sentence from yesterday . . . Tomorrow will be difficult. Last night I had the hardest time going to bed. I don't really know why. Maybe I thought I'd just lie there and cry, and I really didn't want to do that. I detoured by Jay's room and sat there for a few minutes, just holding the soprano sax and looking around. It was almost as though I could feel his fingers on that instrument. That physical closeness is one of the things that I miss the most because there was hardly a time that Jay came into the room where I was that he didn't stop to give me a hug. Homesickness is one of the worst illnesses in the world. I know because I've been both homesick and physically ill, and in most cases, I'd choose the physical illness over the homesickness. I'm homesick for Jay . . . have been for one year now, and there is no way that the feeling can be eradicated. Someday when I'm 'home' with him again, the feeling may abate. This morning, I called Mrs. Gaines to check on Fred and Jo's progress in moving. During the course of the conversation, I mentioned that today is the anniversary of Jay's death. Once again she told me that it would get easier to bear but that the grief would never go away. I believe her. She knows. I suppose it's been twenty-five years or so since her daughter Nelda died in that tragic accident while she was on the way home from college for Thanksgiving. At the time, I didn't have even an inkling of what the mother was feeling. I couldn't imagine ever losing a child. Nothing like that would ever happen to one of my children."

To continue my narrative . . . Most of you who are reading this don't know the people whom I mention in this entry. Just know that they are all either relatives or very dear friends and that we couldn't have gotten through our ordeal without them.

"Frank and I got up rather early and started for home. I have a few impressions of the day . . . nothing really specific until later that evening. Breakfast at The Cracker Barrel on the way out of Nashville, many naps because of the medication that I was still on for vertigo, a quick ice cream just before leaving I-65 (the last 'meal' we would have for almost twenty-four hours), still more dozing, the 'maintenance required' light going on in the van just after we turned on to Wilde Lake Blvd. . . . could that light have been prophetic?
"We arrived at home around 5:20, just about ten minutes after Jay and Todd (the drummer in Velvet Melon) came in. As I was walking up the stairs with my suitcase, I asked Todd where Jay was. He told me that he was asleep, but I didn't think anything strange about that; many times he went straight to bed after getting home from a road gig. How he did love to sleep! Not at the times that I would choose, but he lived on a different clock from mine. I went into our bathroom and did something that I rarely do: I unpacked my suitcase immediately and set it on the ledge just outside my bathtub. I wish I hadn't been so industrious. My laziness might have saved my boy's life, but I doubt it. Then I went downstairs to read mail. Frank had gone outside immediately after we got home, and when he came in, I asked him if he'd be satisfied with Pizza Hut pizza for dinner. Of course. I still wasn't feeling well, and he was concerned about me. Shortly after he came in, Frank heard a thud in our bathroom, went to check -- fearing that I had fallen from my dizziness -- saw my suitcase on the ledge, and assumed that he had heard me drop it after unpacking. These actions don't really coincide, but we were both tired and not thinking very clearly. I don't think I've written things exactly as Frank tells them, but that's not important. Frank then lay down on the couch upstairs to watch the news. We had been out of touch with the world for a few days.
"I called Pizza Hut with our order so that I would be ready when I went to pick it up; then I went upstairs to brush my teeth, forgetting that my overnight bag was still downstairs. Oh well . . . I thought I'd just go to the bathroom while I was there, and that's when I discovered Jay. We don't really know how long he had been there. Was it he that Frank heard fall when he thought it was my suitcase? We'll never really know, but it wouldn't have made any difference anyway. When I cried out Jay's name, Frank ran in and told me to dial 911 and to ask Todd what Jay had had to eat that day. Todd was coming up the stairs at the time. When I asked him, he told us that Jay had had nothing to eat that day but that he had had an awful lot to drink the night before and had been sick all day. As I was giving directions to the 911 operator, Todd began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on Jay, to no avail, of course, because he was already dead. Poor Todd. He tried so hard to revive his buddy, all the time crying and begging Jay to respond. An eternity passed, so it seemed, before the paramedics arrived. They hooked up all sorts of mechanical and computerized things to my boy, but he never responded. He was breathing, but only with machinery.
"Frank wouldn't let me go back into the bathroom, but every once in a while, I would walk around just to see for myself what they were doing to my child. I was numb. Actually, the operator stayed on the phone with me for a long time, until the paramedics arrived. It really wasn't very long . . . probably only five minutes or so from the time that I called until the first crew came. To a mother, it seemed like forever. I sat in my recliner most of the time, praying. My immediate prayer was, "Oh, Lord, please don't let him die!" Then I thought about what I had said, and I added, "But please don't let him be a vegetable." Death would be far better for Jay Young than life if he could not live it the way he wanted to. He would not have been a gracious paraplegic. Who knows how long his brain had been without oxygen? But then, who knows what the Lord could have done in the way of miracles? I certainly don't.
"The medics had done all that they could do. I could hear the flap-flap of the helicopter blades. What a shame that Jay couldn't enjoy the ride! I remember thinking that, realizing that he was dead. Frank didn't know that I knew, but I did. He knew, but he was trying to protect me. This is so strange, but as I followed the stretcher down the stairs, I saw mud on the carpet and thought, 'Maybe I should get out the vacuum and get this up before it leaves a terrible stain.' What weird things the subconscious does! The stain is there to this day. It will not come up, but do I wish I had stopped? No. It's just one more reminder of my boy. I don't worry about it. Frank claims that it's a different stain, but I know better. To me, it's a reminder.
"Another strange thing . . . As they were taking Jay across the front lawn to the preacher's yard, where the helicopter was parked, Adrian Webb and someone (I don't remember who) came up to see if something was wrong with Frank. He discovered that it was Jay, disappeared, and never came back. How strange. I don't know. Maybe he couldn't face the death of one so young. I've seen him in the grocery store several times during the past year, but he has never mentioned Jay.
"I remember calling to the last of the paramedics to ask him if Jay was breathing. His reply was, 'Not on his own.' I knew what his answer would be. I remember walking over to the mailboxes and watching the helicopter take off with my boy in it. What an empty feeling. And I hadn't even hugged him as he left the house the night before.
"Before we left to go to the hospital, I tried to get in touch with Wendy. No answer. A brief message on the machine telling her and Steve that we had gone to the hospital because of Jay. Got through to Jimmy, though, and he beat us to the hospital. Todd rode with us. Silence. As we parked, Frank turned to me and said, 'Don't get your hopes up.' I wouldn't. I already knew. But every time that the nurse came into the little waiting room where Frank, Jimmy, Todd, and I sat, my 'mother hopes' rose, thinking that I might hear her say something like, 'We were mistaken. He's fine. He sat up, looked around, and said, "What's happenin'?" You may take him home now.' Instead, each time she entered, she said something to the effect of 'The doctors are trying everything . . . They're doing their best . . . .' Then, 'They did everything that they could. I'm sorry.' Would we like to see him? Of course. The room was so cold; no wonder he was blue. No, it was just death on him. Death on my precious little boy. I hope I don't sound maudlin; I don't mean to be. I just remember the awful color, his cold skin, no life. No life here, that is. I knew immediately that my boy wasn't in that cold, blue, hard body. My boy was with Jesus. Jay said, 'I don't mix drugs with rock and roll/I've got Jesus in my heart to save my soul' . . . said it right in 'I'm Not Crazy' . . . right out where everyone could hear him. He was not ashamed of his God.
"The ride home was quiet. Before we left the hospital, I remember clinging to Frank and begging him not to leave me. I really don't know why I did that. Guess I've read one too many stories and articles about families falling apart after the death of a child. On the way home, I recall saying that I didn't want to put the pictures away. Again, too much reading. Frank probably thought I was crazy.
"When we arrived at home, I called JoAnn. Naturally, she was devastated. She agreed to call the relatives for me. We had so many calls to make. I think we called Fran and Bob next, but they weren't at home. Maybe we left a message on the answering machine . . . anyway, they returned our call soon, and Frank told them what had happened. Almost immediately our phone started ringing. Frank called Wendy Bennett, who called Sophia, who called Melrose . . . etc., etc., etc. Anyway, our friends were with us immediately. Frank had called Bob right after he called the Crumptons, and he and Deb were here for us just as soon as they could get themselves together. Others who came immediately were Tim Key, the youth director at church; Bill and Louise Santo; and Jim Wilson. I had called for Carol, but she was at her mother's house in Alabama. Jim came just as soon as he could. What a relief!
"I remember sitting at the dining room table with Bill Santo, discussing arrangements. We had decided on Harper-Morris Funeral Home, with the funeral itself being held there, as well as the visitation. The Fourth of July weekend would pose a problem for us. Even though Jay died on Thursday, we couldn't have the funeral until Monday because of the holiday on Saturday and because no funerals are held on Sunday in Pensacola. Bill and I talked briefly about how it would be all right to have the funeral there instead of at the church because numbers would not be a problem. Wrong! My mother had instilled into me the idea that it's not good to have a funeral at church because you'd always think of it during the services each Sunday. I concur; however, it might have been a good idea to make an exception in this case.
"During the evening, I tried to get myself together enough to call someone in the Singles department at our church; however, I never could muster up whatever it was I needed. Around ten or eleven o'clock, I looked around to see several of them walk in. What relief! My best friends in the whole world were here! They have come to our rescue after a death so many times. Maybe that's why God put us together so many years ago. They have seen us through Grandpa, Mother, and now Jay. I always get the feeling that I've never done anything for them when they come to our rescue. Truly, the only thing we've ever done is to open up our hearts and our home to them. Maybe that was enough for them; it doesn't seem like much to me.
"I vaguely remember calling Mike in Nashville. I didn't handle it well. The words 'Mike, Jay died' just tumbled out . . . no warning . . . just the fact. Just as we feared, they started for home immediately. Terri was pregnant, and the night travel worried me. Sure enough, when they arrived, she didn't look well; she hadn't slept at all. Jay was dead. Who could sleep?
"One of the Singles vacuumed up the paramedic mess for me. I was thankful. That mud really bothered me. Wendy and Rob Bennett went out for survival equipment -- breakfast food and paper goods. What would we have done without them? I don't even want to think about it. The Hinkleys arrived with 'guardian angel' pins in hand. I wore mine gratefully. The Hinkleys, the Bennetts, and Bob and Deb would be our salvation during the weekend. There was hardly a time when at least one of the families wasn't here. Angela handled all calls. Superwoman!
"The biggest problem after we came home from the hospital was finding Wendy. Frank called Patti and told her what had happened. She didn't know where Wendy was either, but she called Joy Waters (Wendy's co-worker in pre-school) to see if she had heard Wendy say anything about where she was going after pre-school. She hadn't. I've always been thankful that Patti made that call because Joy and Bill are the ones who let the Singles know about Jay. We were so worried that Wendy would hear about her brother from someone besides us because word was spreading rapidly. Finally, around nine o'clock, Wendy and Corey came in, wondering what kind of party we were having because of all the cars around the house. I can't even remember how we told her. I'm afraid, though, that I just blurted it out the same way that I had done to Mike. What can I say about Wendy's reaction? It was what any normal sister's reaction would be, a sister who loved her brother unconditionally. She was devastated. Corey just didn't know what to think. She wanted to know where Jay died, and I told her; however, I said, 'Grammy just can't go back up there right now, though.' She wanted to go alone, and she did. When she came back downstairs, she said, 'Look what I found, Grammy.' Opening her hand, she revealed Jay's cross . . . the one that matched Tara's. She wanted to keep it, but I told her that I needed it. No problem. Todd had already attached himself to Jay's watch and bracelets. That was fine. The nurse at the hospital had given me Jay's earring, the one made from Tara's ring. I wanted her to have that.
"Speaking of Tara, Frank made the call to her. I could tell that it wasn't going well. Her dad had died just a year ago, and she was still grieving for him. This wasn't fair to her. Once again, life had been jerked from her grasp. Not fair. I can't remember if Cheryl brought her over on Friday or Saturday."

So here I am at the end of my writing from June 27, 1992 - July 2, 1992. I actually have lots more in my "One Year Journal," and I may post what I wrote about other days someday. I'll let you know if I do.

Thank you so much, dear friends, for joining me in my "Jay Week" reminiscences. And thanks for all of the beautiful responses that you wrote on Facebook and as comments on my blog. I'd have a difficult time telling you just how much you lifted my heart. Just trust that you did!

Frank, Jackson, and I were in Santa Fe today, and as we were eating lunch, Frank said, "It's so nice that Jackson's with us today." I heartily agreed and replied, "Little did we know at this time on July 2, 1992, what was in store for us later that day; and little did we know how much God would bless us thirteen years later by giving all of us Jackson." He's named for Frank and Jay, you know, and reminds me so much of my boy from time to time.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

(5) Seventeen Years Ago -- July 1, 1992

(continued from 6/30/09)

"I lay on the floor most of the morning. I remember Jay coming to check on me occasionally and Frank wracking his brain about what to do for/with me. We remembered that Bill Puryear mentioned his ear doctor in the office on Monday, so we called him to get the doctor's name. I was so happy when Frank discovered that the doctor could see me around three that afternoon. Diagnosis -- vertigo. He prescriber something . . . I forget what . . . for me, but I don't remember taking very many doses of it.
"Eventually, I began to feel better. After showering, I felt much better. Frank and I had decided to accompany Jimmy (the sound man for Velvet Melon) and a girl (Mimi, I think) from Chattanooga to a neat restaurant that night because Jay and Todd were leaving around six to go back to Chattanooga to hear Steve Ebe from Human Radio play drums with Head of Phineas Gage at Yesterday's. As Jay left, I remember looking at him and thinking that I understood exactly why the girls loved him so much. He never looked cuter -- denim shirt, jeans tight rolled, and multi-colored belt . . . and those shoes . . . the ones that he said that people in the audience always commented on at gigs . . . the mustard colored ones . . . the ones that the other guys liked so much that they bought their own. They were in such a hurry that I barely told him good-bye. I've always been sorry about that. I don't think I even got a hug. That means that he didn't either."

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

(4) Seventeen Years Ago -- June 30, 1992

(continued from 6/29/09)

"We awoke, after a wavy night, to the scent of bacon frying. Jay was cooking breakfast for us! It was delicious, mainly because of the cook. I'm afraid that he hadn't yet developed much of a sense of the proper way to put a meal on the table, but it tasted great. Bacon, eggs, toast, juice . . . just what he liked every once in a while when he saw the world in the morning. Since all they were doing that week was writing and recording, he had no late, late nights; therefore, he could get up at a reasonable time in the morning, say 8:30 or so. Therefore . . . breakfast!
"That day was probably the laziest, most unproductive day for us. We just lay around all morning and into the afternoon, reading and listening. I remember getting antsy some time in mid-afternoon because my old body just has to be up and doing occasionally. I really didn't feel comfortable tackling housekeeping chores in someone else's house, but I'm sure that Jay wouldn't have minded. Actually, they hadn't been there long enough for things to get too dirty. And let's face it . . . I was on vacation and really had no desire for hard labor.
"About four o'clock, we decided to get out of the house for a little while. I think we went to some book stores just browsing. We had dinner at a really neat Oriental restaurant near Jay's house. I've never seen so much food! I took about half of mine home to Jay, who promptly devoured it. He asked where the restaurant was so that he could go there himself sometime. The time never came.
"That night was our third one on the perilous water bed. Around three o'clock in the morning, I awoke with my world spinning around me. I could barely lift my head from the bed. After spending a long time in the bathroom, trying to throw up my stomach, I finally relegated myself to the floor in hopes that the room would settle down. What a night! It was probably my most miserable night ever; however, I would look upon it later as sent from God."

Monday, June 29, 2009

(3) Seventeen Years Ago -- June 29, 1992

(continued from 6/28/09)

" . . . we just lazed around reading and listening to the guys. I always loved to hear them write and record, especially write. Since I have virtually no musical ability, I have the utmost admiration for those who do, and it never ceased to give me a thrill to listen to those talented musicians compile their abilities and come out with a beautiful song. So much of it was trial and error, give and take, play and record. Then re-record because the first one didn't sound just right. Someone didn't come in exactly when he should. Someone missed a beat. Someone hit a wrong note. Always perfecting. Sometimes shouting. Always laughing. Always laughing. That laugh that I can't forget. I love it. Does Jesus love it just as much as I do? Oh, how I hope so. (My friend Ellen Lett died yesterday. I'm so selfish since Jay died. I want him to be the first one to meet everyone who goes to Heaven. As soon as I heard of her death, I'm ashamed to say that I didn't immediately mourn. Instead, all I could think of was that she would see Jay . . . that maybe he was the one to meet her. I doubt that he was because she has so many closer loved ones there, and I know that they were scrambling over each other to get to her. He had to wait in line. But I know he gave her one of those great Jay hugs as soon as he reached her. I just know that's what happened! I guess I've gotten a little off track, haven't I?)
"Sometime during the morning, Frank looked at me and said, 'These kids need a washer and a dryer in this house. It's not right for Terri to have to carry clothes out to the laundromat in her condition.' (Terri was Jerry's wife. He was the guitar player in Velvet Melon. And Terri was very much pregnant, as if she could be a little bit pregnant.) Thus, the washer/dryer idea was born. Jay concurred, and we approached the guys. They agreed to make the payments each month if we would put the appliances on our Sears credit card. We also suggested getting a mower since their rental agreement stipulated that they must keep the lawn up. To this they agreed, also. So later that afternoon we would run errands with Jay, including going to Sears for our purchases.
"I might mention here that I thoroughly enjoyed myself by reading to my heart's content during the days that we were with Jay. The two books that I definitely remember relishing were Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man, by Fannie Flagg, and The Outer Banks, by Anne Rivers Siddons. I laughed all the way through Daisy Fay, and I worried all the way through Outer Banks. I firmly believe that both were intended for me at this very time. I needed to laugh -- the greatest tragedy in my life was just around the corner. I needed the Siddons book because of the ideas presented, namely dealing with the death of a child. Isn't it strange how you can pick up a book and not know the treasure that awaits you? That book is about a woman's dealing with the death of a young child, not exactly what I would deal with very soon; however, her negative reactions came to me frequently in the immediate days as I tried to cope positively with Jay's death. I didn't copy the heroine in her attitude; rather, I tried to avoid her feelings. This probably sounds very strange.
"That afternoon, we went with Jay to see Bill Puryear from Crescent Moon Talent Agency. Bill very much wanted Jay to sign with him exclusively. We sat for about two hours in his office, listening to Jay and him talk business. I remember sitting in the background, saying nothing, just listening to my boy in his adult role. He was a peer with this thirty-something man. Proud is a mild adjective to use for what I felt. I was puffed up! Why was this very successful businessman pursuing my boy? He's just a boy. Just my little boy. Just my son. WRONG! He, too, was a man. He, too, was a businessman. He was important. He had something that Bill Puryear wanted -- talent. And he would have gotten that talent exclusively had Jay lived. Probably within a couple of weeks. But it was not meant to be.
"Later, we went to Sears and made our purchases, with the promise that they would be delivered on Thursday, July 2. Jay and I acted silly while Frank did the business of the day. We invited the saleslady to be on the lookout for Velvet Melon in the Nashville area and to attend a gig. I wonder if she ever thought of that again. Probably no. I feel sorry for her because she never got to see Jay in action. ('No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.' -- John Donne) We went to eat at a great restaurant afterwards. It was so wonderful to be with Jay alone. I always got a real charge out of watching him eat. He would eat for a while and then rest for a while. When resting, he'd put his arm over the back of the chair and just sit there as if he were waiting for the food to digest before continuing. All the time, he'd be talking, entertaining, laughing. And he'd tell stories . . . just little scraps of things that had happened during the past days, little things that people had said to him . . . but they would become great things, wonderful tales. Nothing was ever ordinary with Jay. Nothing. (He certainly 'gathered rosebuds,' evidently realizing that 'old time is still a-flying.' I surely am literary tonight. It's difficult to read that 'stuff' for as long as I have and not have some lines to slip in every once in a while.)
"I know that what we did together that afternoon probably sounds ho-hum to many, but even as it happened, I felt that it was a gloriously important day. I felt fulfilled as a mother. It's been a long time since that afternoon and evening. Monday, June 29, 1992, was the last time that we would have alone with our son. Does the 'glory' of that day need further explanation? I doubt it."

Sunday, June 28, 2009

(2) Seventeen Years Ago -- June 28, 1992

(continued from 6/27/09)

"On the morning of June 28, 1992, Frank and I got up, had a leisurely breakfast somewhere, I'm sure, and headed for Nashville to spend several days enjoying Jay and his new home. Notice how I always refer to the house in Nashville as Jay's home. To me, that's just what it was . . . his home . . . the others just lived with him in it. We stopped at a little winery on the way to Nashville, and I gloried in the gift shop while Frank looked at and tasted a bit of the wine. I bought Jay some special hot sauce, if I remember correctly.
"When we arrived at the house, Jay was like a little kid with a new toy as he showed us around. I had seen videos, but the real thing was ever so much better! He was especially proud of his room and his water bed. I must admit that his room was the most special to me. He had up some pictures that have always been favorites: the one of the lady of the evening in New Orleans very obviously being paid for her services, the Boardwalk picture with Jay leaping in the air, the cute picture of Tara looking over her shades, and the lovely photograph of the four of us . . . Frank in his brown suit, me in my pink dress and pouffy hair (wig!), Wendy in her brown dress with the leopard collar, and Jay in his red plaid jacket --- what a lovely family! That water bed would play an important role during the next two days.
"The main goal of the guys for the time that we would be in Nashville was to write and record. I could hardly wait to listen. In fact, they were just taking a break when we arrived. Listen we did for a while; then we decided to go out to eat and to take in a movie . . . a rare treat for us. We ate at Chili's and then went to see Patriot Games, an excellent thriller. Afterward, it was home to bed . . . the water bed. Jay's was very much different from ours. Ours is waveless, but his was wavefull. I have never been on anything so wavy in my life! So ended our first day in Jay's home."

Saturday, June 27, 2009

(1) Seventeen Years Ago -- June 27, 1992

Seventeen years ago from right now, Frank and I were sitting in Yesterday's, a popular bar in Chattanooga, watching Jay play his last gig. In 1993, I wrote a piece that I titled "One Year Journal -- A Piece of My Heart." Here are a few paragraphs from my recollections of that night:

"I remember feeling the usual thrill of pride as Jay strode into the club, flipping his hair, and looking around claiming his territory. If only I had the words to describe exactly how he looked as he walked into those clubs. All who knew him know exactly what I mean. Usually the first sound that we'd hear after he walked in was either a "Hey, man! How ya doin'?" or that laugh that started in his toes and traveled up to that Jay smile . . . the same one he had had since he was a baby. There's not another one like it. Sometimes in the strangest places I hear that laugh, and I laugh through my tears. I know that somewhere on all these videos that laugh is recorded. Someday I'll listen, but not yet . . . not yet. When will it not be too soon? Someday.
"That June 27 gig was just like all the others that we attended at Yesterday's . . . young people wall to wall, too much drinking, lots of noise, so many people that it was almost impossible to get to the restroom, great rock 'n' roll music, love flowing from the stage to the audience, especially from Jay. I recall that there was one guy who kept throwing money at Jay; someone told us that he was absolutely captivated by my boy. Not anything weird . . . that's not what I mean. He just enjoyed watching Jay perform. He was one of the first to buy one of the new t-shirts that had the guys in the band on the front and Jimmy on the sleeve. Frank and I were wearing them, too. Actually, mine is different; it has only the VM logo on the front. I don't know why I didn't want the other kind. Maybe a little premonition . . . I don't know. I don't really enjoy wearing the shirts with Jay's picture on them. To tell you the truth, I don't like the one I was wearing that night either. Crazy lady, I guess.
"The audience was wild that night . . . absolutely wild. I remember that Jay came to sit with us during the second break. I can never understand parents and children who don't have the relationship that we have always had with our children. Jay was always proud to have us in his audience, and he always found time to sit with us for a few minutes. As he sat with us that evening, sweat dripping from him and the hands going in the usual manner through his hair, he said something that I will never forget. Neither will Frank. We've told so many people those words. He was sitting there with the chair turned backwards, between his mom and dad, and he said, 'You'll never know the feeling . . . the feeling of having the crowd right in your hands. It's so great! There's nothing like it!' With that, he pushed away and was off to table hop, making everyone feel special That was just his way. We all know that."

Just feeling a bit nostalgic today and wanted to get some ideas down, even if the original words came from so long ago. It's hard to believe that Jay has been gone almost as long as we had him here with us. I still miss him every day.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Bonds of Friendship: A Tribute to Gary Powell

Frank and I belong to an exclusive group. It’s one into which we have no desire to induct new members, and it’s one into which no one wants to be inducted. We have no formal meetings encouraging all members to be present. Occasionally, we seek each other out, especially looking for those who have recently found themselves members. No one pays dues once he or she is a part of the group—all of us have paid lifetime dues before becoming members. Those dues are an absolute necessity before joining the group, and they are dues that we pay kicking and screaming. You see, we are all members of the Parents Whose Children Have Died Society.

On May 29, 2009, Betty and Ward (Wop) Powell became members of our group. None of us are happy that they have joined, but we all welcome them in the sense that we love them and know that they need the steadfast support of those of us who truly understand how they feel right now. Their wounds are raw and green, and they need our assurance that they will survive. And survive, they will. If they will accept the love of their friends and if they will allow God to wrap His strong arms around them during this tender hour, they will get through this unhappiest of times. Please note that I didn’t say that they’d ever get over the death of their son. They’ll get through the active grief period and on to—not life as it was with Gary—but a different life . . . one without Gary but one with each other and their sweet daughter Debbie, who loved her brother with a love that only sisters and brothers share.

By the time that I met Gary Powell, he had been a quadriplegic for several years. His paralysis was the result of a tragic, fluky accident when he was fifteen-year-old sophomore, just two weeks away from his sixteenth birthday. Gary was a runner on the Pine Forest High School track team; and one Saturday morning in 1983, while he was waiting for a race to begin, a policeman suddenly lost control of his motorcycle, the vehicle hitting Gary, bruising his spinal cord and causing the injury that would change his life forever.

My introduction to Gary was during the heyday of Velvet Melon, our son Jay’s band. I knew that he and Jay had been friends in high school; however, I was unaware of the strong bond that had developed between these two young men. One Sunday afternoon, Jay informed me that Gary and his mother, Betty, would be at the gig that night at Coconut Bay, a local bar. I immediately began to worry about how Gary would get through the crowd, where he would sit, how the “kids” would treat him—all those mama worry things. I should have known that there was no need for concern.

Jay knew exactly when Betty was scheduled to arrive with Gary, about half way through the first set. Just before Gary’s arrival, Jay stopped the music to make an announcement. “OK, everybody, here’s what’s gonna happen. In just a few minutes, Betty Powell will be coming through the door with Gary, so you need to spread out to make a path for him. Hey . . . those of you right next to Jimmy and the sound board, make a place for him. Thanks!” And so it was every time Betty and Gary showed up for a gig. Jay took care of his friend. The bond was still there, stronger than ever. As soon as the set was over, Jay would head for Gary to visit for a few minutes before he began to “work the crowd,” as he called making the rounds from friend to friend.

Through the years, Frank and I came to love Gary and Betty and were always so happy to see them coming into Coconut Bay. We also felt great respect for this mother and son, neither of whom ever complained about their lot in life. Instead, both of them always had smiles on their faces and upbeat attitudes—such beautiful examples to all of us.

When Jay died in July 1992, Gary and Betty came to our house. I wish I could remember exactly when they came, but I can’t. From almost seventeen years’ distance, it’s difficult to remember exact times of visits. In my heart, I think it was a few days after the funeral. We were so happy to see them. We needed them. In the South, almost everyone who visits the bereaved comes bearing food. In my memory, I see them coming in with a ham, something that could help feed the hoards of young people who made themselves at home in our home for days. They stayed for a long time, reminiscing about Jay and making us know just how much both of them loved our boy. They made our hearts happy at a time when happiness was elusive.

Just before Christmas that year, Angela Hinkley and our daughter, Wendy, presented Frank and me with what has come to be called The Jay Book, a collection of stories about Jay, written by friends. Angela had gotten in touch with many of Jay’s friends and relatives and had asked them write remembrances of Jay. Gary was one of those friends. His recollections about Jay show the personalities of two good friends:

"Back at the time of my accident, all my friends kind of dumped me. My sister’s friends kind of picked me up. Jay was one of those friends. Jay always, no matter where he was or how busy he was, would take the time to sit down and talk with me. Not everybody did that. Even if Jay was runnind late and supposed to be someplace else, he would make time for me. It was enough to know that he cared that much for me.

"One time in high school, Jay was late for band practice. I was in the commons and Jay sat down to talk. We were discussing running before my accident. I was telling Jay that although I could not run any longer, I would often push my wheelchair on the driving range for exercise. I would go fast, then pop the brake to spin around. I told Jay I couldn’t really go very fast, though. Jay got up and told me to get ready because I was going to come as close to flying as I would ever get! Jay took off, driving my chair at top speed through the hallways. We flew so fast that I thought we were going to crash! I was so scared I almost lost my water. My heart was in my britches!

"I really appreciated that no matter how large the crowd around him was, Jay always made time for me. He wanted to get personal with people."

During his short twenty-four-year life, Jay had hundreds of friends. Some of them were just acquaintances to us, and I hate to admit that I have trouble remembering them. Gary wasn’t among those whom I can’t remember. I’ll never forget him and his family—Betty, who was always by his side, who devoted her life to him after his accident; Debbie, who was such a caring, loyal sister and who told me just this evening that she’d happily do all that caring all over again and do it even better; Ward, whom I never met but who I know was right there for Gary along with Betty and Debbie. The Powells are such a special family to Frank, Wendy, and me.

God has promised that when our lives on earth have ended and we Christians join Him in the heavenly home that he has prepared for us that these old bodies that we’ve had here will be perfect . . . free from illness, pain, infirmities. We’ll have new bodies, whole bodies. On May 29, Gary Powell went to be with Jesus. He welcomed Gary with open arms and gave him that new body with strong arms and legs and absolutely no pain. I picture our friend running and leaping and having the time of his life. I also picture my boy greeting him with a huge smile, throwing his arms around him in a big Jay hug, the kind he used to give to me, saying, “Gary! What took you so long? We’ve been waiting for you. You’re gonna love it here!”

Saturday, May 30, 2009

A Good Day at Grammy's House

When Jackson comes to Grammy’s house, it’s a good day.  If you ask him what makes Grammy the happiest, he’ll tell you in a heartbeat that she’s the happiest when he’s at her house.  And he’s absolutely right.  Jackson Matthew Yocham brings sunshine to his grandparents, and here’s how . . .

The day starts when he gets out of bed and announces, “It feels like I need to go to Grammy and Pop’s house today!”  You know what that little declaration does to our hearts.

As this bundle of energy hits the front door, he heads for both of us with hugs.  Now, don’t get me wrong—his hugs aren’t with his arms; they’re more a leaning in to us with his head.  But we know that they’re hugs.  Most days, he comes in dragging his Handy Manny suitcase (really a backpack with wheels) filled with extra clothes and underwear, snacks, and a toy or two.  The only part of the contents that he needs is the clothes and underwear because he wants only two snacks at Grammy and Pop’s house—chocolate milk and round crackers—and both of them are right here.  He seldom needs toys of any kind because he’s far too busy helping us.  And no toys are required for that.

He immediately asks for chocolate milk after his daddy leaves, and you know he gets it.  Since he knows where it is, he goes directly for the pantry.  The organic chocolate milk box has rows of three little individual boxes in it.  If Jackson is trying to get his milk from a full row and is having trouble, I remind him of our motto:  If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.  Yes, I know it’s an old mantra, but it’s new to him, and he likes for us to use it, and he likes to use it on his parents at home.  Round crackers—Ritz Crackers— come later.

After being rejuvenated with chocolate milk, he goes to Pop’s garage to help him with some project, like wiring, putting in circuit breakers, putting up lights, examining and learning about tools, hanging garage doors, and installing the garage door openers.  Or maybe he’ll help

 outside with moving sand or laying flagstone or watering the trees in the “orch-red,” as he calls the orchard.  He can tell you the names of almost every fruit tree there.  He and Pop may take a little break to rock in the wicker chairs on the portal.  Since I’m not invited to those sessions, I don’t really know what those boys talk about, but I’m sure it’s important.  It may be that they talk about the mama bird and her eggs, the growth of the grape vines, the inadvisability of messing up Pop’s sand on the terrace just down from the portal, or the name of the bird making “that” sound.  They talk about all sorts of things.

At least twice during the morning, he’ll run inside wanting to know if it’s time for lunch yet and if he can have tomato soup and croutons when the time comes.  That’s what he has every day that he’s here.  Never tires of it, and the little sweetheart eats almost a whole can of soup and croutons made from two slices of bread all by himself.

I think you need to know that five people in Jackson’s life have nicknames for him and that no one else can call him by these names.  To his dad, he’s Little Man; to his mom, Sweetie Boy; to Pop, Buddy; to me, Sweetheart and Darlin’; and to Chris, one of our good friends, he’s Short Round.  Quite a range of names, huh?  I’m not sure why I thought you needed to know all of this, but now you’re educated and know not to use those names yourself.

When lunchtime does roll around, right at noon, the three of us gather, and Jackson says the blessing:  “God is great; God is good.  Let us thank Him for our food.  By His hand we must be fed.  Give us, Lord, our daily bread.  Ah . . men!”  When he first began to be in charge of this part of the meal, he kept his eyes wide open to be sure that everyone else had his/her eyes closed.  Lots of pauses to remind folks.  Now he squinches his eyes closed, but if you dare to look, you’ll know that he’s still peeping out through little slits so that he knows what we’re all doing.  His intonation reminds me of that of a television evangelist. 

After lunch, it’s naptime.  You might think that he can twist Grammy around his little finger and avoid snooze time.  Not so.  We have a little ritual that we follow, and I think the pleasure of completing it makes taking a nap worthwhile.  First, we get the bed in the guest room ready:  one pillow with a sham on each side of the bed, his special pillow between them, the colorful blanket (an afghan crocheted by my mother) ready to cover him, the ceiling fan turned on (even in the winter).  Now we’re ready for the next step.  “I’ll turn the dryer on, Grammy!”  We put his towel in the dryer for about two minutes so that he can snuggle up to it.  Now he’s all set, and we each say, “’Night, ‘night, I love you!” about three times, and he’s off to dreamland.  He used to sleep about three hours, but nowadays, an hour and a half is a good length.

When he wakes up, he comes very quietly to wherever I am . . . sometimes in my office, sometimes here on the sofa answering email, writing on Facebook, or writing for my blog.  If I’m in my office, he plays office while I work.  That means that he punches holes in paper with my hole punch or sits there pinching the staple puller together, listening not too carefully to my admonishing him not to poke his fingers.  If I’m working on my laptop in the family room, sometimes he begs to write on his blog.  I pull up a new page in Word, and he types away.  Here’s an example of his talent:


Beautiful, isn’t it?  I love having him work with me, no matter what we’re doing.

Just a few minutes after he gets up from his nap, he asks me if he can have a “little treat.”  Actually, he asks several times during the morning, but the rule is that he can have it after his nap.  He seldom forgets.  Now, you may be thinking that a “little treat” is a handful of cookies or a bowl of ice cream.  No . . . his “little treat” is one Junior Mint, not one box of Junior Mints . . . just one little piece of nickel-sized candy.  He’s perfectly content with only one.  In fact, he knows where the boxes are stored and will go there and get his one “little treat.”  Wendy and Todd didn’t give him any sweets until just a year or so ago, and he’s now four.  The only kind that they let him have then were cookies that I made because they knew what was in them.  He’s not really attracted to sweets much . . . just his “little treat” and sweet biscuits on Sunday morning at his house . . . ones that I make.  He calls them cake. 

Another thing that Jackson almost always does when he comes to Grammy’s house is  work with me in the kitchen.  Oh, my goodness, can he ever bake biscuits!  On second thought, I guess I should say, oh, my goodness, can he ever make a mess!  He pulls his little stool up to the counter where I’m cooking and announces that he’s going to help me cook.  That means that I need to get two bowls, the sifter, a measuring cup, a couple of measuring spoons, and some

 flour ready.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that he can stand there for 30 minutes or more just sifting flour from one bowl to the other.  And is my kitchen covered in flour?  Oh, yes, and so is he!  After we finish cooking, he just moves his stool a few inches back and helps me wash dishes.  That process is very similar to biscuit making:  he has one sink, and I have the other; he has a measuring cup, a spoon, and lots of suds to pour between them.  And is there soapy water everywhere?  Oh, yes.  But does he have a grand time at Grammy’s house.  Double or triple that yes!

When Jackson’s daddy comes to get him, Grammy and Pop are a bit weary but ever so happy for the good day.  Jackson, named for both Frank and Jay, is so precious to us.  I don’t even let myself think about what our lives would be like if we hadn’t moved to Cerrillos in 2003.  So many things would have been different.  Perhaps the most important one would be our not being close enough for Jackson’s proclamation, “It feels like I need to go to Grammy and Pop’s house today” to be fulfilled almost every time he makes it.  You see, it is, indeed, a good day when Jackson comes to our house.


Friday, May 15, 2009

AR the Blogger Boy

Just as I make “new best friends” everywhere I go, I find “new favorite blogs” almost every time someone mentions that he or she has started one.  Just this week, I’ve added Pardon Power, Our World in 3-D, and The A-train Journal.  Pardon Power is authored by P.S. Ruckman, a former student, and concerns presidential pardons; Our World in 3-D is Rodney Taylor’s blog, and like mine, concerns a little bit of everything; The A-train Journal is being written by Andrew Reed Waltrip and is a photo journal.

This morning when I checked my email, I found a message from Beth Waltrip, one of our best friends in Pensacola and the wife of our “son,” Andy, one of Jay’s best friends and one of “my boys.”  The purpose of Beth’s email today was to let friends know that Andrew Reed, her and Andy’s little 71/2 year old boy, is posting to his very own blog, The A-train Journal.

As soon as I read Beth’s note, I went to Andrew Reed’s blog.  What a work of art!  Since his momma’s a photographer, he’s already traveling with camera in hand and taking really good pictures.  GrammySandy, the name he gave me years ago when he was just a little boy, immediately posted a comment telling him how proud she is of him . . . especially of his composition skills and of his great vocabulary.  All of us bloggers love comments, so I know he’ll like hearing from me.

I also told him that I’m happy to see him calling himself a redneck.  The dictionary definition of a redneck isn’t very complimentary; however, people from parts other than the South have used the term about us for so long and so unkindly that we Southerners are tired of it and have decided among ourselves that it’s not such a bad term.  We like rednecks.  They’re good country people.  And little AR is a country boy.  He and his family live out from Pensacola in the Perdido area.  I love to go to their home because it’s so peaceful, a bit like our place out here in The Land of Enchantment, in solitude and quietness, that is.  In appearance, quite different . . . think “green, lush” when you try to get an idea of their place. 

I hope you’ll check my blogroll sometime and give yourself the pleasure of reading Andrew Reed’s blog and looking at his photos.  Tell him that you read about him on GrammySandy’s blog.  He’ll get a real kick out of that!

(Just a little aside . . . AR isn’t an only child.  He has a very creative, energetic, equally-as-handsome-as-he younger brother, Wil Tyler.  Someday I’ll write about him!)



Thursday, May 14, 2009

Facebook, the Great Connector

Almost thirty of my friends on Facebook are former students.  The majority of them I have not seen since they graduated.  They are all dear to me in one way or another, but for today’s post, I have chosen to write about only three of them.  They just happen to be the three with whom I’ve been in touch the most recently.  If I know myself, I’ll wind up writing about everyone before my blogging days are over.  You’ve heard the expression “Let the buyer beware”; there’s another one—“Let the reader beware”—and I’m invoking the latter today.  Why?  Because this is one terribly long post.  Consider yourself warned!

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

True confession—I have a MySpace place, but I much prefer Facebook.  MySpace is too hard for me.  I don’t know why.  Maybe the reason is that I haven’t really tried to learn how to use it and haven’t given it a chance.  One thing I didn’t like had nothing to do with my learning ability:  I didn’t like the query as to my mood for the day.  Silly, huh? 

Ordinarily, I don’t think of myself as having moods, so I don’t want to choose a mood for the day.  I’m certainly not a moody person, but I don’t guess being in a mood necessarily means being moody.  Today, for sure . . . I’m in a mood.  And what mood would that be, Mrs. Young?  Nostalgic, that’s what.  And why do you address yourself as “Mrs. Young,” to be pronounced “MizYoung” or better yet, something like “Mizzhung.”  Because my nostalgia is caused by former students, and these young people are the ones who, for the most part, pronounced my name that way. For thirty-two years, I was MizYoung to a host of teenagers, mostly at Woodham High School in Pensacola, Florida. 

 Thanks to Facebook, I have been reunited with many of these youngsters, some of whom are between the ages of 40 and 50.  To me, they’re still young.  Three of them are rooted so firmly in my mind and heart today that I’m impelled to write about them.  If they read this, they don’t need to worry about my telling any deep, dark secrets.  I doubt if I knew any back when I saw each of them every school day during their senior year, and even if I knew secrets back in 1986, 1979, and 1977, I wouldn’t remember them now.  You know the elderly and their memories!  And so to my Thursday nostalgia . . .


I’ll begin with the young man most recently my student, Todd Cathey, who was in my Advanced Placement English class in 1985-86.  Todd found me on Facebook earlier this year, and we’ve been playing catch-up ever since, especially during the past couple of days.  If any of you who are reading this are now teachers or were teachers in the past, you’ll understand when I say that teachers grab firmly to any compliments that they receive.  When I engage in this action, savoring every positive word aimed in my direction, I feel really guilty for not going back to my teachers to let them know what an impact they had on my life.  This is what Todd wrote on the “25 Things” questionnaire on Facebook, and I immediately got the big head: 

High school was so intellectually unchallenging for me that I missed half of my senior year from sheer ennui. AP English was the saving grace - and I'm not saying that just because Sandy Young is one of my friends on Facebook!

How I do love a big head! 

Two other reasons for Todd’s being on my mind today are his being an author and his connection to my boy.  He pointed me to a Web site called, where I was able to see his Web-published pieces.  I thoroughly enjoyed a story/memoir titled “It Was Always Tommy.”  I’d love to teach that story!  And then Todd mentioned Jay and how he found out about my boy’s death from Todd Laws, the drummer in Velvet Melon at that time, in a chance meeting at the airport . . . how shocked he was—as were we all.  This is what he told me about Jay:   He'll forever be that vibrant young man, singing and playing his heart out and reaching for the stars.”  Thank you, Todd Cathey.  You have made my heart sing today.  I hadn’t forgotten you through the years, but I hadn’t thought of you for a while at the time that you found me on Facebook; however, I can assure you that you won’t be far away from my thoughts now.

The nostalgia for the next student has been building for weeks.  One Saturday evening just before I went to bed, I had two Facebook friend requests from former students from the Class of 1979.  In case you need math help . . . that’s 30 years ago!  Robert Sims and Candy Bellamy Carter found me, and I was ecstatic.  I could hardly sleep that night.  I’ve been in touch with both of them a lot during these weeks: with Robert mainly because of their Class Reunion this summer; with Candy because of so many things.  Today, I want to talk about Candy.  Robert will come in another post, I’m sure. 

Candy Bellamy . . . what a beautiful, smart, friendly young lady in my Honors English class from August 1978 to May 1979.  I remember her as an excellent English student and one of the few students through the years (few in comparison to the hundreds, maybe thousands, of young people that I taught) who actually wanted to get to know her teacher.  Candy and I became friends.  I’m sure that I, along with others during that year, was a bit disappointed that Candy wouldn’t go to The University of South Alabama the next year because she would marry Arthur Carter even before graduation since he was going into the Air Force and wouldn’t be back in the Pensacola area.  Adults shouldn’t be criticized for being doubtful about young people getting married this young because the track record for them isn’t all that good.  We didn’t need to worry.  The marriage of Candy and Arthur was meant to be, and none of us should have been overly concerned.  They are still happily married and will be celebrating their 30th anniversary by spending five weeks in Europe this summer.  And by the way, Candy told me that she still uses the pie plate that I gave her as a wedding plate.  A pie plate!  It must have been a good one.  I just hope it was pretty, too.

Early in their married life, they were stationed in Germany; Candy tried to keep up with me while she was there, but I was a pitiful correspondent.  Just think . . . I could have been keeping up with Candy through all of these thirty years instead of just re-connecting lately if I had just answered her letters.  Yes, I have apologized, and she has graciously forgiven me.  Candy is another student who has heaped accolades on me, especially for making grammar finally make sense to her.  What a great compliment to one who became an English teacher largely because of being able to teach our language to teenagers and possibly helping them to love the language as much as I do.  Candy credits my grammar instruction with making it possible for her to learn the German language.  An English teacher’s dream is to be able to claim such credit! 

Candy is the first former student to share a certain happiness with me:  We are both grandmothers!  We have become such good friends because of Facebook, and once again I’m so thankful that I took the leap and joined.  By the way, envy is not a Christian virtue, but I’m certainly feeling a bit envious because of her trip in August!  Candy and I will not let ourselves get out of touch again. 

Isn’t it funny that memory can pick up on happenings from decades ago and transform them into nostalgia?  That’s exactly what has happened to me with a young man who must be at least close to 50 by now.  Pete Ruckman (AKA Peter Ruckman and P.S. Ruckman, but always Pete to me) graduated from Woodham High School in 1979, and I will never forget him . . . or his cohort, his “partner in crime,” Chris Tredway.  They were unstoppable and unpredictable.  Today’s post is just about Pete, though; maybe someday Chris will admit that he lives in the twenty-first century and join Facebook.  Then perhaps I’ll write just about him. 

Pete Ruckman . . . my goodness, what a character!  If you’re familiar with the USA Network, the expression “Characters welcome” won’t be unfamiliar.  Pete was truly a character, and he is truly welcome to my nostalgic mood today.  Unlike other students from long ago, Pete has almost always been within my reach.  I don’t know exactly how I knew where he was . . . maybe he dropped by school to keep me up to date.  I don’t know.  At some time, I found out that he was living in the Chicago area, teaching in Rockport, IL.  I always intended to get in touch with him when I’d go to Chicago for McDougal Littell sales meetings to see if he might come to see me, to let me take him and his family to dinner; however, deep down, I’m a bit shy, and I didn’t want to hear that he couldn’t come.  Pretty silly, now that I think about it.

Before I talk about having him in my College Prep class, let me hasten to say that Pete was an excellent student, a student who could do well with anything I was teaching but who could bring hilarity to the subject, making it fun for us.  I don’t necessarily mean fun for the whole class, but for the two of us.  Most of the time the fun was in writing because Pete was relatively quiet in class with just an occasional comment that would break us all up.  His sense of humor was wonderful but still in the developmental stages.  I noticed on his Facebook Profile that he belongs to a "sarcasm" group.  I'll bet that today both his humor and his sarcasm have fully flowered and are a work of art. I hope so, anyway.

I don’t always have very specific memories of students’ activities in my classroom, but Pete Ruckman was different.  I’m thinking of one day, probably on Thursday before research papers were due on Monday.  Pete spoke up and asked if the class could have an extension on the date.  I don’t know what happened to my head, or maybe my heart, but I gave them a few more days.  Before I knew what was happening, that young man was at the front of the room.  He grabbed my foot and kissed it . . . well, he didn’t literally kiss it.  He just pretended, but the class thought the action was real.  They cheered.  Another time, he saw me in the hall and fell down at my feet, probably begging for something.  What a character!  The last memory that I’ll mention is gleaned from my memory of a day shortly after the students received their yearbooks, the Mnemosyne.  My habit during those early years at Woodham , if a student happened to ask me to sign his or her yearbook, was merely to write something like “I enjoyed having you in class this year.  Have fun at college!  Come back to see me . . .”  Well, when I wrote this inane comment, or something similar in his book, Pete once again ran to the front of the room, this time to chastise me for not writing a more personal comment.  After all, we had enjoyed the year, and I should give him more than an enjoyed-the-year little nothing.  You guessed it . . . I wrote something with meaning.  This young man taught me a valuable lesson:  I needed to be able to think back over the year quickly and mention something personal in each student’s precious Mnemosyne . . . and that’s just what I did for the next 20 years.  For re-connecting actively with Pete Ruckman, thank you, Facebook.

I can’t believe that I forgot to tell you what these folks did after high school, what they’re doing now:

·      Todd lives in California and dubs himself  “musician by day, nurse by night.”  He’s a registered nurse who loves playing bass.  Check out this video, in which he’s playing in Seville Quarter with Joey Allred, Darin Boyd, and Mike Magno, original Velvet Melon members, along with Jay:

·      Candy Carter went to law school, passed the bar, and became a lawyer.  After an automobile accident, she was left with disabilities that caused her to close her law practice.  She’s hopeful, though, to do some mediation work after updating certifications later this year.  She and Arthur have two sons and one granddaughter, Alli, the light of her life.

·      P.S. Ruckman is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Rock Valley College in Rockford, IL.  He is married and has two little boys.  At the risk of sounding simplistic, I’d term Pete an expert in presidential pardons.  I’m sure I’m supposed to say that differently.  He has written a forthcoming book: Pardon Me, Mr. President: Adventures in Crime, Politics and Mercy.  Check out his blog at

Nostalgia is “a bittersweet longing for things, persons, or situations of the past”  (The American College Dictionary). Today, nostalgia set in, and these three persons of the past, along with their situations, were very much a part of it.  I loved today, and I’m very much grateful to Facebook for re-connecting me with these young people, my link to a past made up of some of the best years of my life.