Monthly Archives: December 2016
There are times when all of us look back over the high and low points of our life. Ideally, the highs are much more prevalent than the lows, but not always the case. I know in my own case, I could have been a cat I have lived so many lives. Some I am proud of, some I hope no one ever discovers.
In high school, I was middle-of the road popular, had auburn hair, big ole brown eyes and a quick wit. I was a class favorite I suppose, got along well with most I attended classes with and the teachers seemed to place me in their top 20% of students. Grades were decent, I did have to dig a bit in some cases, but usually came out well when tested. I had several boyfriends over the four years of high school, and loads of girl friends. All in all I had a great high school experience.
I loved to read, was actually an avid reader since the grade school years. In fact, I made friends with the librarian at Westhaven Elementary in my third grade year and she always let me check out more books than was commonly allowed in a week because I read them so fast. I would start with a topic such as women in aviation, then read all I could about girl pilots like Amelia Earhart. When no more books could be found on the shelves, I would switch subjects or take on a particular author such as Louisa Mae Alcott or Emily Dickinson and read everything the dusty ole shelves held. I had a kind of lonely childhood, a bit hard at times and characters such as the Bobbsey Twins or Trixie Belden became my whole world of escape from the difficulties of the world around me.
When I entered high school, I was given a list of clubs I could join during orientation. While most of the high school girls gravitated toward the pep squads and Tri-Hi-Y clubs, I involved myself in the annual staff or newspaper club because I found that reading was second only to writing. I adored writing and would spend hours upon hours spinning tales in my free time, writing lyrics of songs for an unknown guitar player, or make up diabolically morose stories about my “sworn enemies”…of which there were truly few.
My created world became much my real world when the days grew long and hard.
A high school class I took changed my life in many ways. My teacher was Jan Knight, and she was already a writer of sorts. She taught us the honing of our skill and we put together a book of poetry and prose that year in high school. We excitedly bound it all into a book that was sold to friends, family and patrons of the school. I felt “published”, and it lit the fire of journalism forever in my soul. That book sits on my bedside table all these years later.
As time went by, I majored in journalism in college at Memphis State (now University of Memphis…I have no idea why the name change was necessary). I also took night classes in creative writing from time to time just because I couldn’t get my fill of writing during the day classes. One class was conducted by Ed Weathers. At the time he was a writer and editor for Memphis Magazine. He gave us basic skills and information for the first part of the semester, then the final part of the semester was putting together actual pieces for possible publication.
I was never so excited when Ed asked me to stay after class one night. He had my submission in his hand and it didn’t have any marks on it. I actually thought at first he was going to turn it back into me to do over again. “This is an excellent piece of journalism, Rhonda”. My knees were shaking, and my mouth went dry. I was stunned, because this was a really big deal to me. He then said he was going to take it, with my permission, back to the main editor of the magazine and suggest it be fleshed out for a piece to run in the next month’s issue.
When I got to my car that night, I had to sit for a few moments, the tears rolling. I knew my life was about to take a turn in a wonderful direction, if I let it. When I got home to my new husband and told him what had happened, he was very happy for me and took me out to dinner, which we rarely did at that time because finances were so low. As happy as he was, I knew he didn’t really get the importance of this one moment in my life, and never would. It was my big break.
I continued to write for Memphis Magazine, and several articles were published. I also wrote for Mature Living Magazine, Modern Maturity, Highlights for Children, Humpty Dumpty Magazine and others. I received my share of rejection letters as all writers do, but I was making a bit of money and doing what I loved so those really didn’t affect me. Marriage rolled on, a baby came, and suddenly there were just not enough hours in the day to write, read or anything else much.
I made a choice to be a mom, and placed my first calling on hold for many years to give my life to my second (in chronological order only) calling.
As I raised my daughter, homeschooled, participated at church over the years, I thought often of returning to the writing field. I did dabble here and there with church publications when they fit my schedule, but that was not often. I dedicated myself to the tasks at hand and loved every minute of those years. When time came that Samantha grew up and left home, I once again thought about taking up my pen. But things, people and situations got in the way and I veered off my true life path quite a while. I guess those years will be fodder for an autobiography, or not.
After my divorce and remarriage, I opened a business and became associated with a business group in my hometown. One of the group members was involved in a magazine start-up. My ears perked up when he presented the BLINK Magazine prototype, and told it would highlight leaders of our community, places to visit and so forth. It would be a really comfortable writing space for me since most of my work had been human interest stories and I loved to interview people. I talked with the editor after the meeting and he asked me to submit a few pieces I had written recently. I hesitated, then was honest and said I hadn’t written in a while but I knew this was something I was supposed to be involved in. I guess Jim saw the hungry look in my eye because he placed me on staff as a writer without looking at any work at all.
I spent my days running a large residential cleaning company and spent my nights and weekends interviewing high caliber community leaders. I wrote cover stories and inside issue pieces about local chefs, hospital administrators, the yearly regional festivals, people in the arts and theater. I was in my element and as time went on, I felt more and more that my day job was really just a way to pay the bills so I could do my real job, as a writer. My day job almost became an annoyance as I longed to get home and write.
One fork in the writing road for me came with my interview of Preston Lamm. He had come from an accounting background in college, got bored with it and started to pursue his greater interests. Over the years he had developed many properties in Memphis and the surrounding area and rubbed shoulders with people of class and wealth, and was known as a premier builder and business mogul. He was about to open an upscale restaurant in the area and he was my assignment. I had always gone on the interviews alone with only a photographer in tow. This time, Jim, the editor said he was coming with me. I don’t know why, but this worried me for days before the interview. I didn’t sleep, I researched and researched until facts and dates concerning my subject were all running together. I was certain I was going to make a fool of myself and Jim was going to be there to try and save the day if I did. I didn’t know why Jim wanted to be there unless this was a really big deal and he didn’t want me to blow the interview. I knew I had to find a hook, something to pull Lamm into my camp, and drag Jim back over with him. I had to do something unexpected.
On the day of the interview with sweaty palms, I met Preston Lamm. I could tell he was a little gruff, maybe a bit obnoxious if the need arose, and I was secretly terrified, but plunged into the interview. It went ok, no major stumbles. I could feel my adrenaline rise and fall many times as he answered my questions and I could hear the mild boredom in his answers and see it in his eyes. I could tell he had been interviewed to death, he felt this was nothing new, I was just another hack wanting a story, asking the same old dry questions.
We got to the end of our time and I said I had one more question. He looked relieved, leaned back a bit, crossed his arms and said “Ok, shoot.” I pulled a photo out of my briefcase and slid it over in front of him as I said “This young man is coming to you as a mentor. He is asking for your best piece of advice concerning his future, what he should do, if he is pursuing the right path for himself. What would you advise him, knowing what you know today?”. He looked down, and was taken back. He let out his breath, kind of coughed and said incredulously, “Where…where did you find this?”
It was a black and white photo of an 18 year old Preston Lamm, right before he started his first construction job out of high school, before college detours into accounting, before marriage and kids, before all of it. I told him I had researched for other articles about him, but had randomly run across this in my search and wondered if he would have had his dream job years earlier if he had turned away from the norm, and followed the road less traveled, the harder road, the road more challenging.
“Well, I would have to say, having hindsight, I would tell this young man to follow his dream rather than following what makes the stable money or satisfies family, or obligates you to a standard. I was the lucky one, I was given a second chance to do what I longed to do. Most are not afforded that second chance. They have to see into the future, 20/20 and without blinders on.”
I have never forgotten that advice, although I haven’t been able to implement it, as yet, in my own life to a great degree. If I had a choice right now, as much as I love what I do as an estate liquidator and seller of vintage items, I would lay it all down to write…day in and day out. I could find no greater contentment than to find myself like Jo March in Little Women….scribbling away with pen and ink in a drafty attic and crying over a half eaten bowl of russet apples, as fall leaves fly by my dormer window.
Maybe one day, it can happen for me. As I get older, my eyesight does get a bit better every day. If I look at my own graduation photo, I can almost see that journalist shining through. One day maybe I will have enough of the mundane and reach for my star regardless of the consequences. True happiness won’t really cost me a lot…just a notebook, an idea, heeding my own inner advice, and perhaps my one moment in time.
Being in the junk business can be quite interesting. You meet lots of fun folks, see loads of uniquely cool items, and go places like muddy, rusty junkyards, underneath overgrown chimneys out in fields, and dilapidated barns to uncover the honey holes of junk. I love what I do, even if it can contribute to one of my biggest weaknesses….a tendency to hoard that junk.
I really, today anyway, am not all that big a hoarder. At least not as big as hoarder as most and not even as massive a hoarder as I used to be. I have always placed large value on preserving the past, and would save things from destruction by purchasing or picking them up roadside even if I didn’t have an immediate use for them. I like to help others by giving away junk, and this was always my modis operandi, till I went into business and had to start selling it to make my living. Things have changed, due to the premium on space at my home and no storefront. Pretty much everything I now purchase at yard sales, find on the side of the road or dig for in those interesting barns goes into my storage units and everything has a price. And NOTHING is above getting sold.
It is that time of year when I am purging my booths, rearranging the existing storage units (four to be exact) and trying to eliminate one by the end of January at the latest. Since closing my shop in the summer and moving items to storage I have been selling a lot in various booths and online. But there are always those items, for whatever reason, that don’t turn right away and sit, and sit, and sit some more in storage. By the time they do sell, they are not worth anything because the initial value is gone, and the storage fees paid come off that bottom line. I abhor storage, always have, but it is a kind of necessity in my business right now. My job is to stay ahead of the game so the stuff doesn’t rule me, and rather I rule the stuff. Things were complicated a bit when my ideal number of two 10 by 10 storage units swelled to an additional two units that are 10 by 20 due to the sudden closing of one of the stores where my booths were located. I had to shove it into storage just to vacate in awful, blistering weather during our Indian summer, and now I am dealing with it again in the extreme cold.
They are not fun, those two units.
I was watching the TV show Hoarders the other day. Being a professional organizer in my former life, I understand the psychological side of hoarding. The affected person has a deep seated need of some sort that surfaces in the hoarding. It affects not only that person, but also their family, their finances, friends, social life and even their spiritual life as they struggle to free themselves of the ties that bind them to their unnecessary possessions. A common thread that is voiced is “I can’t throw this out, SOMEONE might need it.”
Sometimes they are their own someone. Other times it is this faceless child or old person who cannot afford those headless dolls, moldy Tupperware pieces , defunct cell phones, or volumes of sports rackets that just need restringing to be good as new. In one episode I watched the other day, the psychologist pried opened a huge tote and found it was full of Chex mix. It had been stored over five years, the hoarder said, and she was saving it for “entertaining”. It was the leftovers of other parties she had hosted and she just kept dumping stuff in because, well…someone might need it…that someone being her.
After watching that episode, I was pretty reflective and have pondered a lot about the units I have. I think there are legitimate reasons for me to have those units in some cases, I do have to have backstock from my estate liquidations and have ongoing inventory to sell. But…is anyone REALLY going to want most of what is in those units? Highly unlikely, or if they do it will be a needle in a haystack finding the right buyer at the right time on most items. Just because it CAN sell sometime, doesn’t at all mean that it WILL.
And in all honesty, it is a LOT more fun buying something new and turning it right away because I purchased with someone directly in mind, instead of buying on a maybe or because it was cheap.
I also thought about how most of us hoard in intangible portions of our lives, too. We keep things in our minds that should have been thrown out long ago, things that are past their prime, no longer productive and in fact costing us dearly every single day. We hold grudges, we save words to be used in “that” conversation we want to have with our enemy, we have dark thoughts about our growing up, or we harbor ill toward a person who said a cross word to us on the wrong day in high school. We hold onto them for the same reason as the Chex Mix lady held onto her salty, stale snacks…someone might need it someday. And sadly, we are that someone.
It would be so much better to hold onto those things worth saving, rather than hold onto those things that weigh us down and make us sad. We don’t need those memories of the past, they only inhibit a beautifully sound future. And that is my plan for both my physical and my spiritual storage as 2016 comes to a close.
As I purge the storage units, I plan to hold things with light fingers. If it is not an object I can put right into a booth, or get photos of and list online, or list on ebay within the next month, then it is going right out to donation. Let someone else deal with it and find the right person to purchase.
And as I contend with those old memories that want to suffocate and dampen my bright future, I plan to toss them into the old mental Chex Mix tote, and then toss that sucker right out. I’d much rather spend my time saving things that are truly worth it to me. No more renting space in my mental attic to those things that are not making a contribution to my future.
And it won’t be that difficult, once I really get started with the ruthless toss task. I have always been a much better owner than renter anyway.
It’s funny how traditions start in a family. I married in the summer of 1979 as a young girl of 19 to a slightly older man of 21. We lived in an apartment in Memphis near Graceland. The apartments were within walking distance of my parents’ home and also his, but we still felt pretty independent, although close enough to reach out for a Mommy hug if we ever needed one.
The upstairs apartment was considered large, for the day. There was a huge great room (wasn’t called that then, it was still called a living room), with a dining room large enough to seat 6 comfortably at the end of the long room. The kitchen was tiny but adequate and there were three bedrooms and a bath and a half. There was a common complex washroom, which was not a great thing when you had to lug the laundry downstairs and over the hilly lawn. But during the heat of the summer, I could wash and dry clothes while lying by the pool just off the washroom, so it kind of balanced out. We couldn’t believe our first apartment, in a community mostly of old folks, was actually within the budget of two newlyweds living on a bakery clerk and grocery customer service guy’s salaries.
There was one thing we both hated about the apartment though…the stairs. It wasn’t bad enough to have to come up two flights at the front door. We were up THREE flights at the back since it was built into a hill and over a small storage area we shared with the other tenants of our particular building. If we wanted anything out of the storage or needed to take the trash out, it was down those three flights or we otherwise had to go way around the entire building, through a small alley, over a hill and to the back of the building.
Being young, we often chose the second path.
But there was one glorious thing about that back stairwell. It had a long, wide balcony at the top just off the kitchen door. From that balcony, I could see all the way to the Mississippi riverfront, many miles away. During the summer, I’d sit there while my husband worked the late shift, and watch the traffic amble by on Winchester Road. On July Fourth we had a birds’ eye view of the fireworks display over the west end of the city from battered up webbed lawn chairs. In those days, at those times we loved those stairs that shoved the balcony way up high over our end of the city.
I spent a lot of time out back because of the view. I’d read Woman’s Day and Redbook magazines while supper cooked, or watch the apartment dwellers going in and out of the apartments I could see from our back door. When my husband would get ready to leave for work, he’d know he could find me there most of the time. He’d say goodbye, head down the front to the car, and drive around the building. Then he’d stop at the bottom of the back stairs, lean over to the passenger side of the car and look through that window up to where I was hanging over the banister waiting. I’d wave, he’d wave, then take off down the street…and that was the beginning of the tradition called “waving goodbye”.
Through the years, we always waved goodbye. Once my daughter was born, she joined me on that balcony when Daddy left, and we both waved. We moved from that apartment to our first home. It had a big front window, and Samantha was big enough to go to the window on her own, which she did, and she waved until Daddy (or me if gone to run errands) would clear out of her sight. When people visited, or grannies and granddads left, we all went out onto the porch, and we waved goodbye. Now that my child is grown and her little ones live with me, when I go to work, the littles let me know they will wave to me out the big arched window. And I always look back, and I am never disappointed with an empty window.
I was reminded a few weeks ago about this tradition when I was leaving for errands. Only Lorelai was home with her Mom, the boys were at the sitter’s for the day. I got in the car, mission-minded, list in hand and started to pull back down the driveway. I caught something out of the corner of my eye. It was my sweet granddaughter, inside the garage doing her morning chores, but she had paused to wave at me as I was leaving. I stopped the garage door with the remote as it got halfway down and was going to raise it again so she could see me. But quickly she leaned down, looked at me under the big steel door and flashed her hand in the “I love you” sign language, which changed into a furiously pumping goodbye wave. As I let the door go on down to the ground, I mused about how the times change, but this tradition stands.
December is a time to celebrate the birth of a Savior, someone who came to earth so we could say goodbye to unhappiness and fear, and say hello to a bright new future with Him, if we so choose. It is also a time of reflection and usually a time to wave goodbye to the year we have just flown through. This year is no different. I have said goodbye to customers who have passed away, friends also who have gone on. I took a partial retirement and waved goodbye mid-summer to my retail junk shop, and said goodbye to a profitable booth space in a nearby city when that thrift shop closed. I said a forced goodbye to a friend I had had for almost 15 years…still don’t know why that friendship went away, but it did, so I chose to just wave and go on down the street. Leaving something behind is the hardest part of waving goodbye.
I look forward to 2017 and hope it is a year of many new hello moments. It feels like it will be a year of promise, potential, and peace just waiting for us to embrace it, and savor it. Wonder what is waiting just around the bend? I don’t know about you, but I am getting my hand ready to flash the “love” sign next December. Something tells me this is the year to add that to the goodbye tradition, no matter what the year does or doesn’t bring…even if it means we had to climb an extra flight of stairs to get through it.