Good Things About Dad

Recently, a friend and then a student’s mom passed away. Because my mantra is books help us know how to live, I gave each surviving family the picture book, The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst. In their card, I wrote about the importance of memories with their loved one and how I hoped this book could help them make their list of all the good things about their loved one, gone too soon from their life.

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Thursday is my birthday. Thursday is also the 30th anniversary of my dad passing away from this world. I decided to take my own advice and write down my list of good things about my dad.

The Good Things About James Herbert “Bert” Stallings, AKA Dad

  1. He was a great salesman – of John Hancock Life Insurance, of Gerber Baby Food, of janitorial and carpet cleaning services of his own companies. He could convince all that they needed what he was selling!
  2. He was a Big thinker. When our neighborhood in 1965 didn’t have a community pool, he worked to gather the support, find the land and get it built. “Go High Point!”
  3. He loved playing cards, especially Pinochle and the game called Aquire.
  4. He loved hosting parties, especially our Annual New Year’s Eve Party.
  5. He loved attending Redskin Games at RFK stadium, cheering loudly from the upper level end zone seat with my mom. A few times I got to be his partner!
  6. He loved extravagance. Once took my mom, younger brother and me to NYC for the weekend. We saw Annie on Broadway and then the Christmas Spectacular show! Very extravagant and fun!
  7. He loved the beach. Each August, he took us to Bethany Beach. We enjoyed the sun and waves. Then each evening, we drove to Philips in Ocean City or The Avenue in Rehobeth for a family dinner out and ended with a walk on the boardwalk!
  8. He loved to eat out and not just on vacation. Sometimes simple – Hot Shoppe Cafeteria. Sometimes fancy – Clydes of Tysons.
  9. He had the best handwriting, his own calligraphy style! I always wanted him to sign my report card! and loved how he made our Christmas card envelops look.
  10. He worked hard and put me through college and bought me a little blue Mustang car to drive.
  11. He happily threw me a very festive wedding and enjoyed it as much as Brian and I did!
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  12. He courageously stopped smoking cold turkey after the first heart attack when I was in High School. He pushed on after the 2nd heart attack a few years later. But the 3rd one took him, at age 55, on my 25th birthday.

My list is just a few of the many memories I can rattle off about my dad!

 

Traveling to CA

I tagged along with my husband who was attending a conference in CA.

I saw seals and sea lions in La Jolla:

I enjoyed a day and evening at Huntington Beach in Orange County, CA:

But my favorite part of the trip was watching the sun set on axis with the Salk Institute’s water feature on the first day of Fall.

Lots of nature time.
Lots of outside time.
And a magical time, thanks to the architecture genius of Louis Kahn.

 

Mimi

Mimi –  It’s what her adorable grandchildren call her.
I wrote about her HERE when the 5th was born a few years ago.

I call her Evelyn.
She was assigned to be my CCD teacher’s aide randomly.
Or maybe not so random?
I believe now it was more of Divine Providence at work,
knowing I needed someone like Evelyn in my life,
maybe Mary.
Evelyn had such a devotion to Mary, the Blessed Mother of Jesus.

I was in my late 30s, she in her early 50s.
I had a 4th grader and a 7th grader, both girls.
She had a married son, a daughter in her 30s and a son finishing grad school.
I learned so much from being with her.

I learned, through her actions, how devoted she was to her husband.
“Too June Cleaver for me” others might judge.
But I appreciated someone showing how to be supportive of a smart businessman.

I learned, through her actions, about beauty.
She was traveling in France when my oldest graduated high school.
The biggest, most exquisite bouquet of flowers arrived from her.
I can still see that vase on the coffee table, its beauty filling my small, little house.
Thinking now, their exquisiteness matched my oldest’s dreams.
She was headed to an Ivy league school to an world bigger than one I knew.
Evelyn’s flowers were the perfect foreshadowing.
Evelyn’s travels were the perfect foreshadowing of my youngest who lives in France now.

As the years went on, we stayed friends.
I loved being invited over for brunch.
I loved being in her bright, warm home.
I loved sipping tea and eating her simple brunch fare.
I loved hearing about her grandkids and sharing photos.
We both had a LOVE of books.
She’d share The New York Times Bestselling list with me.
I’d share the latest read-aloud picture books her grandkids would enjoy.

Her illness manifested first through her lack of words.
She just couldn’t retrieve the word at the end of the sentence.
Soon, only a word at a time would come.
I wrote about one such time HERE.

Last week, she took a turn for the worst.
A hospital bed was placed in the first floor study.
She comfortably slept in her favorite room in her house.
Surrounded by her family and her books.

I had the pleasure of sitting with her twice.
Bringing her an exquisite small vase of flowers.
Holding her hand.
Praying the rosary.
Reading to her poetry.

In her end, she taught me what really matter in life:
Being surrounded by beauty.
Family and friends to hold your hand.
Belief in things bigger than yourself.
And stories to read and share.

Thank you, Evelyn.
I’m better for having know you.

Funeral Notice

Pop

I just found out that my friend –
my Tech teacher when I first started teaching in a new county in 2001
my AP four years later for the next seven years
because I followed her when she was promoted
my model of how to retire from teaching to being a super grandma
and now the mom to my current MS colleague
I just found out that my friend’s dad died.

When she told me
as her mom and her were helping her daughter set up her classroom
my thoughts were sad, for sure.
Losing another family member is hard.
But this is different.
This is the man married for years and years to her mom.
Together, they both left New Jersey
when my friend turned the lower level of her home
into a beautiful apartment for them.
Currently my colleague is living in this home, too to save money.
Three generations under the same lovely roof.
Four when the other sibling comes over with the 2 grandkids.

In our busy global world, families aren’t always crossing paths so much.
A day, here and there.
Thanksgiving turkey is shared and quick pleasantries.
But my friend provided that special home where all gathered.
Daily they could dine, chat, or not.
But all safely slept under the same roof.

“What did the grandkid’s call your dad,” I asked her.
“Pop. The youngest, a toddler, keeps calling for him.
The older sister by just a year reminds, ‘Pop is not here. He’s in heaven now.’
That clear, definitive, honest remark filled my eyes with tears.

My friend’s mother lost her husband.
My friend lost her father.
My colleague and her sister lost a grandfather.
and her sister’s kids lost their Pop.

All have their memories spending time under the same roof.
All are trying bravely to make more memories with their mom, grandma, great-grandma.
But all are sad, for now.
As they remember…

Pop has a new home.
“He’s in heaven, now.

More with Roscoe Goose

“This is it, Donerail.” Roscoe said as he patted the left-side of his black colt’s mane.  The sky was clear. The stands, lining the race track, were filled. Roscoe led Donerail to their assigned starting gate. His booted legs straddled the number 9. He leaned down closer to his horse’s ear and whispered, “According to the posted odds, they think we can win once out of 91 races. But only once. How about we win this first one to show them they are right.” Then Roscoe pulled back on his saddle, gripped the reins tighter, and raised his eyes toward heaven. In his view were the Twin Spires. White, elegantly proportioned to match this elegant event. Today was the 39th running of the Kentucky Derby and Roscoe and Donerail were about to have the race of their lives.

“And their off,” was announced as 20 thoroughbred horses shot out of the starting gates. Their hooves galloped quickly across the dirt track. One complete time around the track and then another quarter run to the finish line.

Just prior to racing, the cheering crowd placed their bets. Three kinds are bets are made: to Win or come in 1st, to Place or come in 1st or 2nd, and to Show or come in 1st, 2nd or 3rd. Today, May 10, 1913 Donerail crossed the finished line first in just two minutes and four seconds, surprising the crowd. Those who placed a $2 bet on her to win, earned $184.90. Never in the history of the derby had a horse won with such long odds.

 

“We did it! We did it! Donerail, we won!” Roscoe slowed Donerail to a trot as he scanned the stands. The ladies wearing their finest Spring hats were standing and cheering. The men, sipping their mint juleps, were cheering. The owners and supporters for the favored-to-win horses were speechless.

“You ran and ran and out ran them all!” Roscoe now shouted as he directed Donerail to the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs. Once there, a large bouquet of red roses, the official flower of the Kentucky Derby, was handed to Roscoe.

Next, a circle of roses was held in front of Donerail’s nose. He sniffed and felt the flowers go up and over his ears and settle around his neck. Roscoe leaned forward and whispered, “Smell that, Donerail. It’s the smell of our race, our sweet, sweet race. Just like you, a sweet, sweet horse!” Owner and trainer, Thomas Hayes proudly stood in his bowler hat and suit, posing for photos. The fans and sportswriters, in awe of this hometown jockey and strong thoroughbred, cheered for this winning team who surprised all to win the 38th running of the Kentucky Derby on May 10, 1913.

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Roscoe Goose, Part 2

Last week, I tried a writing strategy suggested on Kate Messner’s TeachersWrite blog. Today I revised it a bit and added a second paragraph. My goal is to make a picture book biography of Roscoe Goose, my mom’s cousin’s grandfather’s brother.

My opening page from last week, with a few revisions:

“This is it, Donerail.” Roscoe said as he patted the left-side of his black colt’s mane.  The sky was clear. The stands lining the race track were filled. Roscoe led Donerail to their assigned starting gate. He leaned down closer to his horse’s ear and whispered, “According to the posted odds, they think we can win once out of 91 races. But only once. How about we win this first one to show them they are right.” Then Roscoe pulled back on his saddle, gripped the reins tighter, and raised his eyes toward heaven. In his view were the Twin Spires. White, elegantly proportioned to match this elegant event. Today was the 39th running of the Kentucky Derby and Roscoe and Donerail were about to have the race of their lives.

“And their off,” was announced as 20 thoroughbred horses shot out of the starting gates. Their hooves galloped quickly across the dirt track. One complete time around the track and then another quarter run to the finish line. Just prior to racing, the cheering crowd placed their bets. Three kinds are bets are made: to Win or come in 1st, to Place or come in 1st or 2nd, and to Show or come in 1st, 2nd or 3rd. Today, May 10, 1913 Donerail crossed the finished line first in just two minutes and four seconds, surprising the crowd. Those who placed a $2 bet on her to win, earned $184.90. Never in the history of the derby had a horse won with such long odds.

 

Roscoe Goose, Generating Ideas

Monday, July 23rd I read the post to Kate Messner’s TeachersWrite blog and met biography author, Sarah Albee. Sarah’s advise to writers is to jot down ALL you know about the topic. Then make choices about what to include. It felt freeing to hear that I don’t have to include every single detail. She also mentioned how she likes to include details about what people wear. This made me think for me, I’d like to include details about buildings because I like architecture.

Your Assignment: Choose someone to write about. It might be a famous person, a little-known person from history whose story you want to tell, or yourself. Write down 8-10 facts about this person’s life. Birth, family background, all that basic stuff, sure. But include at least a few pivotal moments in the person’s life—triumphs, disappointments, adversities that shaped him or her (or you).

And now, write the first two or three sentences of this biography—but make some choices before you start writing. Where will you start your story? Which facts from your list really sum the person up and give your reader a sense of who they are? What voice will you use? How will you hook your reader? Share a bit of what you wrote in the comments if you’d like!

Generating Ideas: I just returned from a trip to Louisville, Kentucky with my mom so she could visit with her cousins. Her one cousin took us to see the historical marker set at his grandfather’s brother’s house.

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I decided I’d pick ROSCOE GOOSE as my person. Here’s the beginning of my assignment, my biography of ROSCOE GOOSE, the winning jockey of the 1913 Kentucky Derby.

First, using the historical marker and some online research, I made these notes:

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My opening page:

“This is it, Donerail.” Roscoe said as he patted the left-side of his black colt’s mane. “They think if we race here 91 times, we will win just one of those races. How about we win this first one to show them they are right.” Then Roscoe raised his eyes to see the Twin Spires pointing straight to heaven. Today was the 39th running of the Kentucky Derby and Roscoe and Donerail were about to have the race of their lives.

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Potluck at the Pool

Screen Shot 2018-07-10 at 11.24.16 AMAs a kid, I lived at the pool in the summer. Morning swim team practice. Afternoon games of sharks and minnows in the deep end. Break time reading and swapping Nancy Drew Mysteries. Sunday morning donuts which was also the one time they allowed rafts in the pool. Games on the 4th of July. The Greased-watermelon challenge was fun to watch but seemed too hard to ever win. The penny dive was more my speed. But the very best summertime activity of all at the pool was Saturday Evening Potlucks.

As I climb out of the pool after hearing the lifeguards blow their whistle for the 6pm break, I notice the long line of rectangular tables stretching from one end of the deck to the other. Already a line was forming and I see my dad in it toward the front. “Yes,” I thought to myself. I hurry to grab my towel, dry off and join him to help hold our place in line.

As I walk, I notice Mrs. Francis place one lasagna casserole on the table, followed by her oldest, Amy, placing the second casserole on the table and her next oldest, Tom adding a jello mold and her next oldest, John adding a bag of rolls to the table. The remaining 4 – Ray, Anne, Meg and Catherine followed in line like little ducklings. All the girls are dressed in matching sundresses. I look and marvel. How did the Francis do it? All 7 kids helping. All 7 dressed and ready for Saturday dinner. My family was so different. Dad and me at the pool all day. Mom helping to orchestra. Me with a towel wrapped around my still dripping swimsuit. I had no idea what being in that family was like but I am sure glad Mrs. Francis and her kids are here with not one, but 2 casseroles of lasagna. It’s my favorite.

All along the long table sit more platters holding food. I see my mom’s homemade fried chicken and potato salad, next to 2 buckets of chicken made by the Colonel. I’m definitely not choosing from a bucket when I can eat my mom’s, I thought. And so many salads – 3-bean, pasta, tuna with noodles. And because it is summer, lots of fresh vegetables – sliced tomatoes from pool members’ gardens. Corn on the cob right off the grill.

Suddenly, I notice the long table seems to be filled. I turned around and now see the line extends back for what seems like a mile. I smile at my dad who smartly got our family a spot toward the front. After the lifeguards are kindly invited to go first, the line begins to move. I get ready to take as much food as I want. My dad’s motto is “Take all you want but eat what you take!” So I grab a chicken leg made by my mom, a scoop from the jello mold. a spoonful of tuna-macaroni salad, and a 4 inch by 4 inch cube of Mrs. Francis’ lasagna. YUM!

Summers growing up for me meant hours swimming at the pool. Endless hours. But the best hour of all was the 6pm Saturday Potluck hour. A meal shared by a community of pool-goers is the best!

 

Summer Rainstorm

A constant grinding sound came from my basement. The sump pump. For the last hour it churned non-stop as rain poured down outside. Every few minutes, a loud boom was heard. Then I glimpse a bright light of lightning. If my grandma was still here, she’d say, “It’s the angels. They’re bowling.” As I looked through my kitchen window, instead of gentle drops falling, it appeared to be a wall of water surrounding my entire front yard. Maybe instead, it was Wash Day and a miles-long, clear sheet was hanging down from the angels’ clothesline in heaven.

Some scientist, I’m sure, can explain exactly what causes some storms to be filled with the lovely, soft pitter-pat of raindrops and others to be so violent, like this storm. For now, I’m blaming it on Wash Day at the Hotel Hilton in Heaven.

Time to throw those sheets into the warm dryer.

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Inspired by Memory Chain Post

I read the 6/25/18 Two Writing Teacher’s post by Stacey and then tried out her Generating Writing idea.

I picked an object: my swimming google and my Memory Chain ended up looking like this:

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Then I picked “practicing for All Stars – pool had different feel” and I wrote this story:

All Star Practice

“Have a good swim practice,” I heard my mom say as I climbed out of the car.

“Thanks,” I replied and then headed into the pool area. Last week at this time there were kids everywhere. The 8 and unders were in lanes 1 and 2 with their coach calling out directions. The 9 and 10s were in the deep end doing half-length sprints with their coach. And the 11-12s, 13-14s and 15-17-aged swimmers were at least 6 to a lane across the six lanes in the lap pool. Each lane looked like a game of Follow the Leader. The leader headed swimming down on the right and back on the left and just like the cars on the beltway, a safe distance was between each swimmer.

But not today. Today there was Ryan, a 15-17 backstroker, there was Megan, a 13-14 breaststroker and there was me, a 11-12 butterflyer. Only 3. Why? Because only 3 were lucky enough to swim so fast at the last team meet of the season and qualify for All Stars. The good news: We get to swim in All Stars. The bad news: We have swim practice, just the three of us,  for one more week.

“Pick a lane and start your warm-up. A nice and easy 500-free,” the coach announced.

Ryan walked over to lane 3, dove right in and started swimming freestyle. Megan pulled on her swim cap, adjusted her googles and jumped into lane 4. After bobbling up and down a few times, she took off, too. I quickly put my towel on a lounge chair, removed my warm up pants and t-shirt and jumped into lane 5. After I dunked down, getting my hair wet, I put on my goggles and began my warm up.

At the opposite wall, I did a flip-turn, pushed off and set into this freestyle pattern.
Stroke-stroke-stroke-stoke-breath on the right.
Stroke-stroke-stroke-stoke-breath on the left.
Back to the starting wall, I flipped and counted, 2 laps down, 18 to go.

After about 10 minutes, I reached the wall for the 20th time and stood up. Ryan and Megan were at the opposite end of the pool with a kickboard. “Sally, grab a board and be ready to join us,” the coach shouted out to me.

I pulled myself out of the water, walked over to the stack of blue kickboards in the corner and grabbed one. I hurried back to my lane and watched my older and faster teammates kicking toward me, Megan just a tad ahead of Ryan with a smile on her face.

“OK, be ready to take off together on the top,” coach announced. I glanced at the pacing clock at the side of the pool. The red hand was on the 7 and sweeping toward the 12.

“Ready, go,” coach shouted as it reached the 12. I pushed off and moved my legs up and down as quickly as I could while keeping my arms perfectly stretched out holding the kickboard on each side. Ryan took the lead this time and together we looked like the right side of a flock of geese flying south. Except we were flying through the pool, preparing for All Stars.


Thank, Stacey for helping me recall this memory “chained” to my swimming googles!