Published in the Rains County Leader on June 2, 2022:
The people of Uvalde suffered a great tragedy last week, and we suffered along with them. When something like this happens, there is so much that needs to be said, but too many words are the wrong ones. Words spoken or written during times of shock, horror, grief, pain, and anger often come out wrong or are misunderstood by those who hear them or read them, and they end up causing more harm than good. I was reluctant to write about what occurred, but so much heartbreak can’t simply be overlooked. First, though, I want to share some thoughts about my grandson “T”.
T is eighteen years old, and he graduated from high school this weekend. Even those who are not doting grandparents recognize that he is an amazing young man – intelligent, handsome, talented, ambitious, loving, and caring. A family friend who has a beautiful home with a stunningly terraced back yard overlooking the Brazos River hosted a celebration for him on Saturday, and it was attended by friends and relatives from all over the country. One of the highlights of the evening was when the small professional jazz band that provided entertainment took a break and T and several of his friends took their place. We had missed the concert where his group won the best jazz ensemble award, so I was thrilled to hear them perform in person. I was also thrilled to watch him interact with a dozen of his peers as they played volleyball, engaged in a photo scavenger hunt, and generally enjoyed one another’s company. It was’t always this way.
Life was hard for baby T. He was temperamental, going from sunny to stormy without warning. He was super intelligent from the beginning, but his emotional development sometimes lagged behind, and he found processing life very difficult. But his parents and others who loved him found ways of helping him cope. As a baby, they discovered that swaddling him tightly in a receiving blanking and making a loud “shhhhhh” noise in his ear to mimic the sounds of the womb settled him when nothing else would. As he outgrew that method, T responded to a different kind of swaddling. His mom or dad would take him into their lap with his back against their chest, align their arms with his, and wrap him in a tight kind of reverse hug. Like the swaddling, this contact soothed him, and even though it was often a kind of disciplinary action, he sometimes asked to be held.
Published in the Rains County Leader on August 24, 2021:
Back-to-school week made me feel older than usual this year. Maybe it’s because my grandson is a senior, and my granddaughter is entering 7th grade. To emphasize their maturity, their first-day picture was taken in front of his car as he prepared to drive his younger sister to school. His own car? He just learned how to walk!
All of the returning student pictures on Facebook didn’t help matters. Many of them were of children I worked with in AWANA at church, and some of them were moving into their first college dorm room. I couldn’t help but remember those heart-rending moments when I cut those final apron strings myself – and my “student” will hit the half-century mark on his next birthday.
Aside of reminding me of my age, back to school has reminded me of how very much school has changed since I was a student. One picture showed a new fourth grader pulling a wagon full of supplies toward the school. I checked the supply list for Kindergarten in Rains ISD, and there were 29 items on the list if you include the extra items for boys and girls. The list included, among other things, 4 boxes of crayons. Not the generic 8-count box, but 4 of the 24-count boxes of the big-name crayons. Are they planning to color the entire building before the end of the year? It’s no wonder there are drives to help families who might otherwise have to choose between buying supplies or shoes.
Published in the Rains County Leader on August 10, 2021:
There was a time when children were to be “seen and not heard,” especially in church. The only thing I was allowed to do in church other than sit quietly and listen was lean against one of my parents and take a nap. Since I have always been able to drop off to sleep any time I get still, that was never a problem for me.
When Christian was born, we attended a large church in Dallas that had Sunday School for children only. The classes were during the worship service, so I didn’t have to worry about his behavior for the first few years of his life. By the time he was around four, we were living in Garland and began attending a smaller church. A Children’s Church might have been available, but I was a bit over-protective, so I kept him with me.
He was no trouble. First, he knew what was expected of him and second, he was easily entertained. I carried a plastic bag of cereal – non-crunchy if possible – and a special notebook that was saved for Sunday only. Christian was an early reader, and he enjoyed the children’s puzzle section from the Sunday comics. I cut them out, pasted them into the notebook, and gave it to him when he got wiggly.
Published in the Rains County Leader on March 22, 2021:
One of the responsibilities of the President of the Friends of the Library is to submit a Year in Review Report to the Commissioners’ Court. My predecessor, Lyn Baldwin, made this submission in the form of an in-person PowerPoint slide presentation. Last year, because of COVID, I submitted the report for 2019 by email. It worked out well, and since I’m not much of a public speaker unless I’m talking about my books, I’ll probably do the same thing this year –assuming I can gather enough material.
2020 was the year of cancellations, and that included FOL plans. From April through September, FOL correspondence alternated between announcements of new plans and announcements of cancellations. I ended the year with a few photos of the October Book Sale, but not nearly enough for a presentation. So I made a plea for photos of any FOL or Library events. I heard the sound of crickets, but as usual, Library Director Wendy Byrd came through. She sent me pictures of the Tween Photo Contest display boards, Summer Reading winners, and little bitties enjoying story time early in the year. Her offering was more than enough for a decent PowerPoint and also for a bit of column inspiration.
Christian Piatt, my own son, was a great fan of Library Story Time. I was never sure which was the bigger attraction, the books or the children’s librarian who he planned to marry one day. Actually, he was a big fan of anything that involved words. He watched Sesame Street and the Electric Company, and he went to bed without a fight as long as I promised to read two stories and a poem.
Published in the Rains County Leader on January 5, 2021:
For the last few days, Facebook, email, texts, and all other social media have been full of messages related to the beginning of another year. Although most are similar in content, there is a definite difference in attitude. Some are simply the traditional Happy New Year, others are full of excitement and anticipation of a clean slate and a new start, and still others are full of pessimism if not downright despair, expecting 2021 to be nothing more than a continuation of the cancellations of 2020. As I looked for a good illustration of this difference in attitudes, and how those attitudes can affect outcomes as well as those around you, I came across some holiday pictures of the Marshall family.
If you are a fan of good barbecue, you’ve probably met Aaron and Sarah at their Barbecue Pit, but the real stars of their family are their children. Blakely, 6 years old, is outgoing and enthusiastic about life. Her sister Gracie, 5 years old, is a little more reserved on the surface but underneath is equally lively and excited to be alive. Then comes 3-year-old Lane who brings up the rear in age only. Lane is adventurous and fearless, and Sarah has pictures to prove it. She has posted photos of him climbing a ladder clad only in a pair of cowboy boots, sitting astride a full-grown horse in full western regalia, and petting the nose of a cow whose head was bigger than the he was.
Published in the Rains County Leader on March 17, 2017:
I don’t mean to make light of serious circumstances, but let’s face it, some of the situations that have arisen because of the Corona Virus are hilarious. The first time I saw a Facebook post that mentioned toilet paper, I thought it was a joke. However, a day or two later, Facebook and every other social media platform was flooded with stories, pictures, and jokes about empty shelves, hoarding, and panic at the possibility of being caught short of this bathroom necessity.
Two posts in particular fired my writer’s imagination. One was a narrative of a man who was in a Walmart about forty miles from his home. He noticed a stock of toilet paper, so he texted his wife to see what kind she usually bought. When he received his instructions, he bought six cases. Another post was a picture of two men in a checkout line. One was pushing a cart loaded with a stack of toilet paper higher than his head. The other one had a case of Corona beer. The caption was something about different coping mechanisms, and though the thought was funny, it wasn’t what caught my attention. I wondered if the first man had checked with his wife about the brand of tissue and, if not, what happened when he got home. (more…)
Published in the Rains County Leader on February 11, 2020:
I had a new experience Sunday morning – I helped with KIDZ Church, a program at Believers’ Baptist for children from four years old through second grade. These children begin the service in the Sanctuary with their families where they experience worship in prayer, singing, and presenting offerings, and on the last Sunday of each month, they stay in the Sanctuary for the whole service. The rest of the month, though, they are dismissed to the KIDZ Church room in the Family and Children’s Building when Pastor Jason stands up to preach, and there they experience worship aimed at their level of understanding.
In order that no adults consistently miss Morning Worship, volunteers serve as teachers and helpers on a rotating basis – usually two adults and two of our older students for one month a year. This week they were short one adult, and when Betsy sent out a request on the church Facebook page, I said I would help. It wasn’t a difficult task – mainly to be present to help maintain some semblance of order. One thing to keep in mind when working with young children is that you will never achieve perfect order. There will be noise, talking, wiggling, inattention, and more, but the goal is to walk the narrow line between tyranny and anarchy. (more…)
Published in the Rains County Leader on June 18, 2019:
I’m home with all bones intact but with a heart that has more marks than I can count. Let me back up a step or two in case you didn’t read my last column. I went to Royal Family Kids Camp last week, a very special place where kids in foster care can spend five days and four nights just being kids and having fun in a safe environment. In 2013 I served as a counselor and came home with a broken ankle and a broken heart. This time I was the camp scribe. I wasn’t as actively involved in the organized games and other strenuous activities – and David was home praying that he would get his wife back in one piece – so I came home physically undamaged. But as I watched and listened with the eyes and ears of a writer, I saw and heard the struggles, heartaches, and triumphs of more children and counselors than before when I was focused on the two campers that were my responsibility. There are more stories than I can write, but here are a few.
“Jane” was so afraid of the water that she brought her own life jacket and continuously questioned her counselor about the lifeguard’s ability to save her if she got into trouble. All campers are required to pass a swim test in order to venture into the deeper end of the pool or to go over to the pond. She wanted to take the test, but she was afraid, so she practiced long and hard. By Wednesday, she was ready to try. Everyone in the pool area had seen her struggle, and they all stopped to watch. When she passed, the cheers and applause were deafening. The wrist band she earned became her pink badge of courage, and she showed it to anyone who would look the rest of the week. (more…)
Published in the Rains County Leader on May 7, 2019:
Last month, I participated in a photo challenge with some of my Facebook family and friends. We were given a topic for each day of the month and were supposed to post a picture related to that topic. It was especially challenging for me since I usually think in verbal images rather than visual ones. Some of my pictures were just something to check off the list, some were pretty good, and a few were almost inspired. It was fun, but it was also a bit of relief when it was over. I guess I’m still thinking in visual images, though. Sunday morning I saw the perfect image for the topic “mom.”
We have a number of young couples in our church and lots of children. In fact, you have to be careful in the halls not to step on a little one or knock over a toddler who’s just getting his legs under him. I’m way out of that circle, but based on Facebook posts and other evidence, I think there are lots of play dates and sleepovers among our kids. There’s also a lot of seat swapping in church – you never know which kids will be sitting with which family. (more…)
Published in the Rains County Leader on July 25, 2017:
As children, finding joy is as simple as picking a dandelion or coaxing Daddy into being the Tickle Monster for a few minutes. As the years pass, however, joy sometimes becomes more elusive. More joints hurt, more friends develop debilitating or terminal illnesses, and social calendars have more dates for funerals than for weddings. Joy is still possible, but it takes more work, and it sometimes requires an attitude adjustment.
If you’ve spent any time on Facebook, you know it can be a joyless place if you’re not very selective about what you read. Some users post nothing but political tirades and negative news while others give more information than most of us want to know about their long list of medical complaints, medications, and procedures. I’m all for being well informed and also for keeping up with friends and praying for them in their times of need. However, caution is necessary in order to keep all that negativity from sucking all the joy out of life. (more…)
The story of a lonely, innocent girl who gets tangled up in the sex trafficking trade in a small Texas town. It’s about her relationship with Eric, a slick suburban pimp; Jesse, a Christian tattoo artist and motorcycle rider; and Mrs. G, a compassionate but tough attorney and foster parent.