The Plan

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A good life is built on family and friends. Some people come into our lives for a particular moment and others stand with us for the long haul. We are who we are because of the relationships that we build and nurture. We learn new things, expanding our horizons because of those who share our moments. We draw our strength from the people who support is in our hopes, dreams and even our hours of grief and despair. There is always someone who surprises us, and those who are the rocks on whom we can depend. As we think about the events and the years that mark our passages there are precious moments that fill our hearts with wonder and gratitude. Without our family and friends we would be set adrift into a world of loneliness and fear. So why, I wonder, do we too often busy ourselves with tasks that are so much less important than the individuals that mean so much to us?

It’s a cliche to mention that dust and dirty laundry should wait in favor of reunions with those that we love, but we also know that it is true. Every one of us has no doubt had one of those awful experiences in which we kept promising to take the time to connect with someone, but never quite did. Then we get the horrific news that the person who meant so much to us is forever gone. We’re filled with guilt and regret for procrastinating. We wish that we had just left the unimportant tasks that we so readily prioritize over spending our hours with people. We far too often think about being with the souls we love, but never quite get there. We have appointment and tasks and routines that we dare not ruffle with interruptions, no matter how important we know it is to pause now and again to nurture our connections.

When I moved away from my old neighborhood I promised to return to visit my long time friends. Once I had left I found myself balancing work, household tasks and any number of events, but I kept putting off going to see my old friends. I told myself that there was no hurry. I would get there once things settled down, but somehow they never quite became less hectic. The next thing I knew my dear next door neighbor was dead. She had battled lung cancer and I didn’t even know of her struggles. I was devastated to learn of her passing. She had guided me with her wisdom and lovingly inspired me to be a better mom and person. Her door had always been open to me, no matter the hour of the day or night. I had loved her, but it must not have seemed so when I left and never again got around to checking on her welfare. I attended her funeral filled with angst in knowing that I never really told her how deeply she had affected me. It might have been comforting for her to hear how much she had inspired me. Instead I sat at her funeral wondering if she ever knew.

I would not feel nearly as bad about this incident if I had indeed been conscientious in other instances, but truth be told I have too often been guilty of neglecting to nurture so many of the friendships that I have known. I wonder how I might do a better job, and if there is an organized way to make my promises actually come true. Surely there must be a method for spending a few minutes here and there and staying in touch one way or another.

My friend Pat was masterful at doing that. She sent little cards to people and constantly took time to plan simple dinners and such. She’d cook up a big pot of chile and put out a call. Even when people were unable to come they knew that she was thinking about them. She thought nothing of asking someone to come along with her on her errands, making her duties more fun for her and sharing laughter and conversation with friends. She was casual and relaxed about such things because her purpose was to keep the heart of her relationships healthy and strong, not to impress.

I keep trying to improve, but I sometimes allow that basket of ironing to overtake the minutes that I might have spent sharing a few greetings on the phone with a person who is important to me. I’ve been thinking that I need to create a plan. Those calls and cards and visits need to find a place on my daily calendar along with my appointments and “to do” list. Perhaps if I designated one individual a day to get my attention I might begin to revitalize connections that appear to be stagnant or lost. It would certainly be worth a try.

We run, run, run through life hardly taking a breath until we fall into bed at night. I sometimes think that our society is as delicate as it is because we have lost our compass. If we can’t even devote time to the people who mean much to us, how can we begin to really care about the bigger problems that face us all? It just may be that the key to solving so many problems is to reach out to the people in our own backyards. We might first begin in neighborhoods and then communities. Simple acts of kindness, remembrance and appreciation done millions of times over just might transform our political landscape, but they have to start with one person at a time.

I am overwhelmed with thoughts of just how many wonderful people have impacted me, but I might reach thirty of them in a single month with a non negotiable plan to make the effort. It’s something I’m going to try. I’ll let you know later whether or not it worked, but right now I’m feeling optimistic. It seems as though the worst case scenario would be only managing to stick to my plan a third of the time. In a year that would mean that I had somehow let people know how much I care over a hundred times. That’s worth trying to do.    

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What’s In A Name?

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My maiden name was Little, a moniker that I milked for a very long time because I was under five feet tall until my junior year in high school. I’d tell people that they would remember my name just from looking at me. It was a bit of humor that actually worked and made me a somewhat unique. It was not until I was an adult that I learned from my grandfather how our family actually got the handle.

My paternal grandfather was born William Mack. His mother died within days of his birth and his father decided that fatherhood was not a good fit, and so Grandpa went to live with his grandmother. Sadly she was advanced in age and when he was thirteen she died leaving him orphaned for all intents and purposes. She left him a small amount of money that required a guardian, and so he ended up in family court choosing the person whom he believed would do the best job of protecting his interests. Since his father had shown given little or no attention to my grandfather’s welfare up until that point, it was decided that an uncle would assume responsibility for both my grandfather and his inheritance.

Grandpa told me that his uncle was an honorable man who graduated from West Point. His name was John Little and he had a grand if short lived military career. In the early 1900’s there was a devastating hurricane in Puerto Rico and Captain Little was sent to head the recovery efforts. He was doing a yeoman’s job until he contracted typhus which unfortunately was fatal. By then my grandfather was a full fledged twenty one year old adult so he no longer required his uncle’s guidance, but he still felt a strong sense of gratitude toward the man who had helped him to reach the age independence. To honor the good man Grandpa had his name officially changed to William Mack Little.

I haven’t been able to find any information about my grandfather on ancestry.com, but I have learned that John Little was born in Tennessee. After attending West Point he married a niece of General Sherman of Civil War fame. The two of them had a daughter but their happy life together was brief. I’ve contacted members of his family to see if anyone ever heard of his guardianship of my grandfather, but nobody knows of any such thing. I suppose the history of his relationship to me has somehow been lost, a reality that pains me. It also saddens even more me to think of how many losses my grandfather had to endure before he was even fully launched into the adult world. He never knew his mother. He was abandoned by his father. His beloved grandmother died when he was just entering adolescence, and the man that he most admired died far too early. 

John Little’s obituary outlines his service to his country. It mentions that his career was promising before his sudden demise. He is buried at Governor’s Island New York on the ground of the West Point Military Academy. I would very much like one day to visit the grave of the man who so impressed my grandfather that we ended up carrying his name.

We’ve struggled a bit to keep our last name going, because only one of the youngest male descendants has married and had children, three of whom are girls. There is a lone boy who will continue forward as a Little and I would like very much to one day be able to tell him how he came to have that name. I think he would bear it even more proudly if he knew of the honor bestowed upon it by my grandfather’s uncle.

There must be other Littles out there who are distantly related to me and my brothers and our children and grandchildren. They don’t know us and we don’t know them. Our connections are lost to unfortunate circumstances and time. Still, it would be fun to find out who they are and to speak of the gratitude that my grandfather had for a long ago member of their family.

A name is little more than a string of letters unless it is attached to someone that we can identify. I feel a sense of pride in knowing what I do about John Little. I can imagine him toiling in the tropical heat of Puerto Rico to help the people of the devastated island. There is something particularly noble about that, much more so than fighting on a battlefield. I’m sure that he saved many lives before he became ill. His was an enormous sacrifice that makes me proud to continue to use his name as the middle part of my own. I somehow feel as though I know and understand him.

His photo shows a handsome, serious individual, but I suspect that he also had a sense of humor and enjoyed a good laugh now and again. How good of him it was to agree to be the guardian of an orphaned boy. Little wonder that my grandfather admired him so. I’d like to think that somehow, some way he knows that I too appreciate all that he did.

I now understand that Little is a grand name, the name of a hero, a compassionate man. It makes me hold my head a bit higher. It tells me why my own grandfather was such an honest and hard working man. In a brief moment he learned the qualities of an exceptional person from an uncle who was there when he was most needed. Thank you, John Little. We will never forget you. 

John Little

All Is Well

 

 

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It’s an amazing thing when someone you knew as a baby becomes a peer and a dear friend. Watching a youngster grow into a remarkable adult is one the the best aspects of life. It warms the heart and instills a strong sense of hope for our future. Thus it is with Scott Scheffler, an energetic, hard working and kind hearted young man who also happens to be the son of long time friends that I have known since elementary school.

Scott was an adorable child with his blonde hair and ready smile., He and my daughters became playmates as toddlers along with his younger brother, Bryan. I’ve got photos of Scott dressed in Halloween costumes and wearing Houston Cougar red regalia when he was still just a little boy. My family spent many a glorious time with his family cheering for our favorite sports teams or just chilling while the kids played all sorts of creative games. In the summers Scott took swim lessons with my girls and the best part of those hot days was visiting the shaved ice snow cone stand on Old Galveston road, and trying out all of the flavors.

Scott was a Boy Scout who eventually earned his Eagle Scout badge. Shortly after that he and his family moved out to California and I missed them so much that I went to visit only months afterward. He was in high school by then and he was the consummate host and guide along with his parents. Always a hard worker he was soon holding down very responsible positions at Magic Mountain and then The Cheesecake Factory. He was and still is a very charming soul, but it has always been hard work that defined him. With a seemingly endless supply of energy, he threw himself into whatever task his employers ask him to do.

Eventually Scott and his family returned to Texas and he enrolled in classes at the University of Houston. As always he worked part time while earning his degree. He’s always had many irons in the fire, including continuing his relationship with the Boy Scouts of America. Perhaps the best aspect of Scott’s personality is his sense of humor. He finds a way to laugh at almost anything that happens, lightening everyone else’s spirits in the process. He liked to joke that the University of Houston was going to erect a memorial bench in his name because he had spent so many years there. The reality is that if they did so it would be because of the successful man that he has become. He took the lessons that he learned there and melded them with his charismatic presence and diligence becoming well regarded in his profession.

Never one to waste precious time, Scott got a real estate license in addition to all of the other things that he does. That turned out to be quite fortunate for me and my husband when we needed to sell some property. With his usual enthusiasm Scott threw himself into the process which turned out to be far more complex than any of us had ever imagined it might be. He went out of his way to keep us informed of developments and to walk us through the minefield of regulations and annoyances. He even spent an entire Saturday helping my husband clear out a garage and yard full of junk from one of the houses. He provided my husband with a sanctuary of sanity during the grueling process. I don’t think anyone else would have been as successful at keeping everyone happy. His calm demeanor and sincere interest in our welfare lead my husband to exclaim one day, “I love that young man!”

Each Christmas we gather with Scott and his family and parents along with our daughters. We have dinner and share stories and laughs. Then we exchange Christmas ornaments, a tradition that we have followed since Scott and our children were quite young. We usually close down whatever restaurant we have chosen and then spend another thirty minutes or so saying our goodbyes in the parking lot. I suppose that it would not be too far fetched to say that in many ways Scott is like the son that I never had. I am as proud of him and the person that he is as his own parents most surely are.

It doesn’t surprise me that Scott is such a fine man. His parents are the salt of the earth, people with generous and kind hearts of their own. They taught him not so much with rules and lectures but by example. He emulates the behaviors that he saw from them, and does so magnificently. It makes my heart my heart sing to see that the key to parenting is being the role model that one wants the children to become. It is a simple concept that is often difficult to follow, but it is clear that in Scott’s case the method worked magnificently.

My husband says that he wants to shout from the rooftops that Scott Scheffler is the best real estate agent in the state, but the truth is that he is so because he is the best kind of individual that any of us would ever hope to see our children grow up to be. We do indeed love him and smile when we see others recognizing him as well.

There is still much of that sweet and innocent little boy in Scott, but there is also a strength and determination and a sense of service that truly makes him special. He is my friend and I am all the better because I am lucky enough to be able to say that. The next time I become worried about the future of our world I need only think of him and my soul will rest, assured that all will be well.

Built On Love

The house

The husband loved his wife and his little daughter so much that he wanted to show his feelings by crafting a strong and beautiful home for them. He ran concrete piers deep into the gumbo like ground, wanting to avoid the shifting motions of the earth in that part of Texas. This would be a place of security, a symbol of just how much he cared for his family. Once the foundation was set, he created a pretty bungalow with curved doorways, warm wooden floors, and windows to allow the sun to lighten each room. It was small, but elegant, a place designed for gatherings of friends and brothers and sisters. It stood on a large lot shaded by trees and within view of the rest of the family homestead. Everyone agreed that it was beautiful, and best of all it made the man’s wife and child smile.

It would be the site for so many gatherings, celebrations, parties, and even times of sadness. It weathered storms, hurricanes, summer heat, icy winter mornings. Inside the family felt comfortable and safe even as life began to change. The man was quite young when he had his accident, a crazy thing really. He fell out of a tree and broke his back. He developed a dangerous infection but could not take the penicillin that might have cured him because he was allergic. He died with so little warning, leaving his wife and daughter bereft and wondering how they would manage without him. They grieved inside the house that he built until they somehow found the healing that they needed. They went on with their lives and the house stood as magnificently as ever.

The man’s wife rose to the challenges set before her. She helped to continue the business that he had built with his brothers. They worked in a back room of that house, loving and laughing and taking care of one another. The daughter grew into a beautiful woman. She set out on her own in a house nearby. She began a family and had a son. Now the rooms were filled with the sounds of play each day as the little boy spent hours with his grandmother. It was still the happy place that the now gone husband had hoped it would be. His memory lived in those rooms.

In a kind of classic love story the beloved wife seemed to long for her husband even as she carried on with courage. She one day discovered that a cancer grew in her body. She was still a young and energetic grandmother, but not able to fight the disease which overtook her body. She died and all who knew her were devastated, wondering how it would be possible to continue her legacy of compassion, love and laughter. They gathered in the house to mourn her and to recall the love that they had shared there.

The daughter moved into her mother’s house. She and her husband and son continued the traditions that her parents had so honored. The house was still as lovely as it had ever been, but the neighborhood had begun to change. Where there had once been a little forest of trees leading to a bayou, an interstate highway had been erected. Neighbors slowly began to move to suburbs far from the center of town. The view of the business district that was only a few miles away began to be dominated by gigantic skyscrapers. The town became a city growing around the little bungalow with a vengeance. Still inside those walls the daughter and her family lived life just as her father had hoped.

The boy grew and fell in love and married, moving to the other side of the city. He and his wife often visited the little house. They loved the Sunday dinners, the Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations, and the quieter times when the boy watched football with his dad and his wife enjoyed tea and conversation with his mom in the gracious dining room of the house.

Eventually there were more children crawling on the gleaming floors and playing happily with their grandparents. They especially enjoyed the times when they slept over and stayed in the room that had once been their grandmother’s and then their father’s. They heard stories of the original owners of the house and played dress up with hats that had belonged to their great grandmother.

Progress moved farther and farther from the center of the city. The streets near the little bungalow grew dangerous. Crime became a way of life. It was time to leave. The bungalow would become a rental, with hopes that one day the area would become as glorious as it had once been. The lovely rooms were emptied of the family treasures, but the walls retained memories of the wonderful times that had gone before.

Things began to fall apart for the house and the places around it. The people who rented it did not love it. They broke its windows and punched holes in its walls. They did not know how precious it had once been. It was only a way station for them, a place to stop over on the route to something better. In many ways the house and the neighborhood around it became unrecognizable to the members of the family who had at one time enjoyed and appreciated its history.

The husband’s daughter died and left the house to her son, who dreamed for a time of making it a wonderful place to live again. Such reveries never came to pass. There were drug dealers walking on the once placid streets, derelicts lounging on the curbs. At night it was a dangerous place where crimes were commonplace. Still, the boy kept the house even as he watched it sag and saw the damage that renters had inflicted on it. He grew older than his grandfather had been at the time of his death. He made repairs on the house and had to struggle with renters who would not pay. It became an onerous task to keep the house alive, and so one day he decided that it was time to sell it to someone else.

He found a buyer, someone who wanted to build his own dream on the land. The house would be torn down. There was a kind of sadness about the whole affair. As the boy walked through the rooms he saw that the little bungalow was past its time. To revive it would be costly. In some ways it would be merciful to just let it go, to rejoice in the memories of its happier days.

The husband who built that house looked down and smiled at the boy who had been his grandson. He approved. He understood that to everything there is a season and the time for the bungalow had passed. The land was not the same as it had been when he created the place with such great care and love. He would smile that the boy had tried so hard to keep it alive, but he also knew that the little house that was his gift had changed long ago.

The boy and his wife walked through the rooms one last time before surrendering the keys. The floors were scuffed and dirty but still so strong. They heard the voices and the laughter of the people who had once passed through the rooms. The house groaned and creaked and spoke of how old it felt. It told the boy that it was time to let go. It was the love that made that house, and that love lives on , not in walls and floors but in the boy’s heart.

It Is Holy

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“Tis a Fearful Thing

‘Tis a fearful thing

to love what death can touch.

A fearful thing

to love, to hope, to dream, to be –

to be,

And oh, to lose.

A thing for fools, this,

And a holy thing,

a holy thing

to love.

For your life has lived in me,

your laugh once lifted me,

your word was gift to me.

To remember this brings painful joy.

‘Tis a human thing, love,

a holy thing, to love

what death has touched.” 

― Judah Halevi

I’ve found myself thinking of my dad, dreaming about him in the last few days. I wasn’t quite sure why, and then I remembered that his birthday would have been this week. He would have turned ninety five had he not died at the age of thirty three. Given that his father lived to one hundred eight, and he shared those genes, he might have had thirteen more years ahead of him. Of course that was not meant to be. Instead he was outlived by his mother and his father. He was mourned by his wife and children, children who are now older than he would ever be. Still we think of him, love him, and wonder what life might have been like if he had hung around just a bit more.

Some might consider it impossible to long for someone for sixty two years. It might appear to be neurotic, unhealthy, but it is a human thing to love what death has touched. My father lives on in me and in my brothers, in our children and grandchildren, We see snatches of him and the power of DNA in all of us. Thinking of him does indeed bring painful joy. We cling to the things that we know about him, even though we still have so many questions about who he really was. We see him through the eyes of the children that we were, idealized in many ways because of our innocence. We have learned about him from secondary sources, people who walked and talked with him. They have forgotten his flaws and now only choose to speak of him with a kind of reverence. It is a human thing to be that way. We all do it.

I try to tell my daughters and my grandchildren about him. I don’t seem to have adequate words to reveal his essence, his flesh and blood. They stare at me with blank looks when I attempt to regale them with stories about a man whom they never met. They do not comprehend because they never heard him telling a joke or smiled at the sound of his laughter. They can’t even imagine how much he loved sports, especially his beloved Texas A&M Aggies. They never sat with him on a fishing pier and literally felt his entire spirit soaring with the peace that being near the ocean brought him. They were not lucky enough to accompany him to a bookstore, any bookstore, and to witness his love, his passion, for the written word. They did not see him devouring print while classical music played softly in the background. They never got to watch him smile at his wife with a love and pride that stirred the heart. He is for them only a story, one that is difficult to fully grasp.

Even my brothers are only vaguely able to create a complete picture of him in their minds. A five year old and two year old are only capable of remembering so much. They often come to me for confirmation of the images of him that pop into their minds. They want to know if they are only dreaming or if they have been lucky enough to actually have a small part of him stored away.

Loving is a fearful thing, because sometimes it is punctuated with loss. Loss hurts. It scars. It shatters a part of the soul. Still loving is something that we never regret. We are always better for it. It is human. It is holy.