On caregivers, faith, family, and writing…

Published in the Rains County Leader on September 22, 2020:

Masks used to be something that appeared on the store shelves sometime in September in preparation for Halloween, something worn to prevent frostbite while skiing, or something worn during the commission of a crime to hide one’s identity. In the last few months, they’ve become a life and death matter to some, a symbol of the loss of individual freedom to others, and a matter of regulation to the government.

We didn’t have to deal with masks in Rains County at first because it took us a while to reach the threshold of 20 active cases for mandatory masks. However, well before I had to deal with covering my own face, I was very aware of the controversy that surrounded the little pieces of cloth that have caused such a kerfuffle. Even I don’t spend that much time with my head in the sand.

Our neighbor Connie had given us several of the medical-style masks before anyone ever heard of COVID-19 just because she believes in being prepared. David always wears one when he mows, but other than that, they stayed in the kitchen junk drawer or the console of the car – just in case. I never really gave them a thought until the day I stopped by the Senior Center to pick up a couple of grab-and-go meals and received an unusual greeting. Instead of Margaret’s usual cheerful hello-how-are-you welcome, she was waving a pleated rectangle with loops on either end and saying “Gotta have a mask to come in!” The Center is operated by the East Texas Council of Government and is subject to their rules.

I stopped in my tracks. “I have one in my car. I’ll go get it.”

“No,” she said. “I’ll give you one.” Read the rest of this entry »

Published in the Rains County Leader on September 14, 2020:

I love books. There weren’t a lot of them around the house when I was little, but I loved the ones I had. Dr. Dan the Bandage Man, The Little Red Hen, and The Little Engine That Could were my favorites. We had a set of Book of Knowledge Encyclopedias, and while I wasn’t interested in the boring factual stuff, I discovered there were fables and fairy tales scattered among the pages. I spent many afternoons reading them over and over. During the summer, I went to the library as often as Mom would take me. I checked out stacks of books, continuing to read long after my Summer Book Club requirements were completed.

I was in the fifth grade the first time I bought a book of my own. Once a week we each received a publication called “The Weekly Reader,” and once a month it included a list of books we could order. My first purchase was The Red Pony by John Steinbeck for $.50. I enjoyed the story, but I knew there was more to it than I understood. For the next several years I read more Steinbeck, Faulkner, and Michener, some of them voluntarily and some of them assigned, but my taste still ran toward the recreational rather than the intellectual. When I discovered Agatha Christie, I was hooked. I love books, but I really love a good mystery. Read the rest of this entry »

Published in the Rains County Leader on September 8, 2020:

David and I haven’t visited with our dog friend Spike since February when his human family went to Israel. They were supposed to go again in June, and I’m sure they had other fun trips scheduled, but COVID messed up their plans along with those of everybody else on the planet. But life goes on, and Spike’s family was called to the bedside of a terminally ill family member in Kentucky. On Wednesday I received a text asking if we were available to stay with Spike. I took a minute to check with David to see if we had anything planned. I knew the answer since we stopped making plans after the first half of the year was cancelled, but I wanted to include him in the decision. I told her we’d be glad to come and play with our buddy whenever their schedule was finalized.

Apparently, even though travel has been curtailed, finding an affordable rental car isn’t easy. They finally left Friday afternoon, late enough that we didn’t need to go check on the big pup until after Home Group. We went to the gym after lunch, picked up a grocery order on the way home, and prepared to relocate for a few days. I don’t do much packing when we go visit Spike. Stella has a great laundry room, so I stuff the contents of my hamper into a pillow case or two, and I’m ready to go. By the time the week is over, everything is dirty again, and I pack to go home the same way.

Read the rest of this entry »

Published in the Rains County Leader on September 1, 2020:

I was supposed to meet Harold G. “Tex” Midkiff at Reka’s at 9:30, but as usual, I was running about five minutes late. Hoping I’d recognized him from the author photo in the back of his newly published book, I rushed in the door. I needn’t have worried. Sitting on the sofa was a gentleman dressed in neatly pressed jeans, a long-sleeved starched button-down shirt, boots, and a black cowboy hat with a unique metal headband. He was indeed, as his media package had described, the consummate Texas man.

Midkiff is a native Texan, born in Houston and raised in Palestine. Although his career in homeland security has taken him all over the country, he has always returned to East Texas. He and his wife LaJuana now live on Lake Fork near Yantis in a house they built twenty-four years ago in anticipation of their golden years. Ultimate withdrawal from the work force was slow in coming as Midkiff retired in 2005, again in 2009 and finally in 2017. Several situations contributed to his various returns to work including the stock market crash in 2008, but the main reason was that he enjoyed his work and he was very good at it.

After graduating from high school, Midkiff’s intention was to study physics at the University of Texas. He said that when he walked into his first physics class, instead of 500 students like there were in most of his classes, there were seven including him – and they all had slide rules clipped onto their belts and pocket protectors in their shirt pockets. He had a pretty good idea then that he was in the wrong field, and his grade at the end of the semester confirmed it. In the meantime, he had become a married man and needed to find a way to support his family, so he went into the family business.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Published in the Rains County Leader on September 1, 2020:

Ostrich head in sandWhen it comes to politics and current events, especially those outside the safety of small-town America, I tend to be of the Pollyanna/ostrich persuasion. If I can’t see the bright side of a situation, I stick my head in the sand, hoping it will go away. It has become difficult if not impossible to find a bright side or to hide from what is going on in our nation today when media of all types is saturated beyond capacity with anger and hatred. The country where I grew up prided itself on being a melting pot where different peoples, styles, theories, etc. were mixed together. But it has become a seething cauldron where anyone who looks, thinks, acts, or votes in any way that is not in lock step with the herd becomes a target of that anger and hatred.

Our pastor’s daughter has a Shi Tzu that has a sweet little face, and every time I see a Quintpicture of her on Facebook, I get a case of puppy fever. I mentioned it at Home Group Friday night but added that Kitty would probably not be pleased. Our host said she would get used to the newcomer and they would probably become fast friends. That sent my writer’s brain off on memories of the relationship between my dog Lucky and my son’s cat Miles when they became housemates for a few months. There was a short period of warily getting acquainted, but then they began to play and wrestle and even sleep in a pile of fur and paws. I began to mentally compose an article about successful friendships that develop and endure in spite of, if not because of, differences. As sometimes happens when you’ve written over a thousand blog posts and newspaper columns, the thoughts began to sound familiar, so I did a search. Here’s a column I wrote in April of 2018, and it seems more pertinent today than it did then. Read the rest of this entry »

Published in the Rains County Leader on August 25, 2020:

low-carb-dietSeveral months ago, diets became a popular topic of conversation at our weekly Home Group Bible Study. It’s not surprising since food is the second most important reason for getting together next to the actual study part. Well, maybe the third since we do enjoy each other’s company a lot. Anyway, it seems that, during the lock down, many of us shared a common experience – we ate too much. David and I attacked our few extra pounds by returning to the gym as soon as it re-opened, but going on a diet seemed to be the remedy of choice.

I sometimes got lost in the discussions of the finer points of the various weight control smoothieprograms, but they all sounded like some version of an Atkins/Keto/low carb regimen. One thing they all seemed to have in common, though, was smoothies. When I thought of smoothies, I pictured concoctions invented by body builders consisting of various powders and additives, some of which have been banned by professional sports associations. But David heard fruit and easy weight loss, and he was interested.

“Maybe we should try smoothies,” he said one morning while I was fixing breakfast – if getting out bowls of cereal and fruit can be considered fixing. Read the rest of this entry »

Published in the Rains County Leader on August 18, 2020:

best of timesA Tale of Two Cities, the epic historical novel by Charles Dickens, begins with a famous opening sentence:  It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. If you ask most people which of these two choices would best describe 2020 so far, a huge majority would probably choose the latter. Up until last week, I would have readily agreed – but now I’m not so sure.

One night I couldn’t go to sleep, so I left David deep in the land of Nod and went into the living room. After reading for a while, I picked up my phone and began scrolling through some of the posts I don’t usually take the time to look at during the day. Fortunately, few political or controversial posts show up on my timeline – probably because of the type of posts I respond to. Whatever the reason, most of what I get are photos of birthdays, anniversaries, vacations, weddings and other family gatherings. Read the rest of this entry »

Published in the Rains County Leader on August 11, 2020:

we're in this togetherDuring this time of pandemic, social distancing and isolation, the slogan “We’re in this together” has become popular on the news and social media. Many YouTube personalities use it as a tag line to end their videos. However, after seeing people in action, I wonder if we really understand what being in something together really means.

One example of why I wonder happened recently at the gym where David and I work out wipe down equipmentregularly. Before you begin to compose your critique of our workout habits, let me say that the Anytime Fitness in Emory is probably safer than my home. The 6,000 square foot facility allows plenty of space for the machines to be placed at an acceptable social distance from each other. Containers of disinfecting wipes and spray bottles of disinfectant are placed throughout the gym, and clients are required to wipe down machines before and after each use. In addition, the manager Kim is constantly vacuuming and wiping down anything that doesn’t move – so don’t rest too long between sets. And finally, at the time David and I work out, there are usually between two and six other patrons there.

Pig lifting weightsAmong those patrons are two men who work out together, alternately pumping iron and encouraging and spotting for each other. They use the free weights while I stick with the machines on the other end of the building, but I sometimes face in their direction, and watching them takes my mind off my own pain. On the day of my example, they were pressing dumbbells of a size I wouldn’t be able to lift with both hands. Man #1 lay down on the bench and begin to work while man #2 stood at the head of the bench. The headphones of #1 slipped into an uncomfortable position and #2 stepped up and repositioned them without disrupting the flow of the repetitions. As #1 reached the limit of his strength, his arm muscles began to quiver a bit and his speed slowed as he struggled. On the last repetition, he stopped halfway, unable to complete the lift. But #2 stepped up and placed the tips of his index fingers under #1’s elbows and applied just enough pressure to get #1 past the hard spot and allow him to finish.

I smiled as I watched this example of working together, and I looked forward to seeing the interaction when #2 took the bench. Let’s just say I was underwhelmed. As soon as #1 stood up, he grabbed his cell phone and stared at the little screen the entire time #2 went through his presses. In it together? Maybe not.

Another example is further away geographically but closer emotionally. My son and his quarantinefamily live in Granbury – a five hour round trip – so we don’t see them very often, especially since COVID. But Christian and I text regularly, and we recently had a conversation about people we know who have been infected. He told about a couple who invited them to dinner and then tested positive the next day. Thankfully, he had declined the invitation. The heartbreaking part about the situation is that the couple had recently returned from a trip to Mexico and had opted not to quarantine for the suggested fourteen-day period.

Another popular subject on social media, the afternoon talk shows, and the evening news is “my rights.” Some people seem to think that the Constitution grants them the right to do whatever they want to do. But as my brother used to say, my right to swing my arm stops at the end of the other person’s nose. And being in this together may require you to give up some of the things you want to do for the good of someone else.



Kitty’s Story

Fallen Angel Salvage

Tatia’s Tattoo

Mom’s Long Goodbye

A Long and Winding Road

Published by the Rains County Leader on August 4, 2020:

dogs multiplyingOur next door neighbors have dogs. First there was one, and then there must have been a visitor because there were puppies. All the puppies went away except one, so then there were two. One is black and is chained under a tree, and the other one is brown and is normally kept in a pen. Apparently, the two resident dogs had visitation privileges or the originally visitor returned because there were puppies again – five of them. They were cute little things. Four were brown with black faces and/or paws, and one was black. For reasons unknown to me, these puppies stayed, and now there are seven.

At first we didn’t see much of the puppies. We had to move the motor home from behind the house because David got tired of digging the tires out of the gopher runs. Now it’s parked between us and the neighbors and blocks our view of what I’ve unofficially dubbed as the Puppy Patrol. When we drove by their yard on our way to town, we would occasionally see them tumbling around in a pile, but mostly they stayed in the pen with the brown dog who is apparently Mama. Read the rest of this entry »

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