my best gifts received, part one

In high school, my friend Sue gave me an ornament for Christmas. I remember being a bit disappointed. It wasn’t much of a gift in my 15-year-old estimation.

angel ornamentSue assured me I’d value it more each year. What she didn’t know was her friendship had far greater value.

At a time when I was awkward and insecure, she made me feel important. The first time I met her was as the new kid in sixth grade. I huddled alone in the corner of the playground, the only girl wearing a dress, waiting for class to start.

Shaking, my back against the brick wall, hands clasped tightly together, I was wishing I’d worn jeans as my mom suggested. All these kids had gone to school together since kindergarten, I was sure of it. I’d never fit in.

Sue with her pigtails & bows and another girl, Nada, approached me.

“Are you new?” they asked in unison. We all giggled.

“Yes!” I said, incredibly happy someone had noticed me.

Turned out we were in the same class, with the same scary teacher. They gave me the scoop. She was fat (apparently important information for sixth-graders) and this was her first teaching job.

I don’t know if I was the friend to her she never stopped being to me.

The next summer Sue’s mom was killed in a plane accident. Her father remarried soon after, and certainly the adjustment must have been hard for her. I don’t know if I was the friend to her she never stopped being to me.

A seventh-grade diary entry early in the school year noted she seemed okay. At least I wondered how she was doing. I hope I asked her about it, gave her a chance to talk. I don’t remember.

In high school, my mental health problems arose. As I started to lose confidence, gain weight and sink into a series of deep depressions, she did her best to make me feel better. “You look real nice today,” she’d tell me on days when my dirty hair was held back with a scarf or my outfit played up the extra pounds. I saw through it and appreciated her thoughtfulness. It meant I had a friend.

Every Christmas I think of her and cry a little, missing our friendship and how much it meant to me.

The last time I saw her was about a year after we graduated. I was walking around a lake near my home and she came from the opposite direction, with a boyfriend, I think.

She was genuinely happy to see me. We had an enthusiastic and chatty catch-up conversation, then moved on in our separate walks. I haven’t seen her since.

I’ve tried to look her up, with no success. Every Christmas I see that ornament, think of her and cry a little, missing our friendship and the opportunity to tell her how much it meant to me.

Still means to me.


Photo Credit: (background) © Diana Rich; (ornament) © Stuart Monk, both —


hold your child’s hand, talk a little longer

Last week, our hearts were broken.

In response, my friend Wanda organized this silent vigil in our community for the victims of the Emanual AME Church shooting.

Silent Vigil at Crystal Bridges Museum

Silent Vigil for Victims of Mother Emanuel AME church shooting, June 24, 2015. Photo by Ali Wingood

Wanda has two daughters, ages 12 and 14. They’re learning what it means to be black in America. They’re black, so there’s that, and then there’s the bigger picture Wanda is helping them understand.

More to teach everyday, no doubt. It’s hard to be a parent.

In November of 1960,

Ruby Bridges made history. Many of you know the story. Six-year-old Ruby was one of the first black children to cross the lines at an all-white school in New Orleans to claim her right to an equal education in the public school system.

U.S. Marshalls with Ruby Bridges, November 14, 1960

U.S. Marshalls with Ruby Bridges, November 14, 1960

U.S. Marshalls escorted her & her mother to the classroom that first day amidst rioting protesters, including one woman who put a black baby doll in a makeshift casket and shoved it at Ruby as she walked by.

Ruby was brave, no doubt about it. But when I saw this picture all I could think was how much courage her parents had, how deep their conviction and love must have been.

Her mama probably didn’t sleep much the night before. She likely ironed and starched that dress until it could stand up by itself. There may have been a petticoat, given the same care.

The little white anklets, perhaps with flowers embroidered on them. The patent leather shoes, polished until light bounced off them at every step. The bow pinned firmly in the hair.

When I picture Lucille Bridges, I see a woman who believed in what she and her baby girl were about to do. Ruby was going to shine, inside and out, as she changed history.

And she did change it. Today, countless doors have been opened for children everywhere, and each of us has benefited at one point or the other from the education they’ve earned.

All in my lifetime

Ruby’s story never would have happened if it hadn’t been for Abon & Lucille Bridges, her parents. I wouldn’t care so deeply if not for my parents, who raised three children in the turbulent ’60s and taught us about equality and justice as best they could.

We stumble through, work together and listen to each other.

That’s all anybody can expect, to teach the best way — and words — we know. Perhaps down the road we learn our lessons were somehow off the mark. Yet we stumble through, work together and listen to each other.

I’ve kept my heart, mind and eyes open for increasing understanding because of the foundation my parents laid. Whatever mistakes they may have made, at its heart, their message was right. They believed in equal opportunity. They saw people as individuals with value. They recognized the problems and knew the solutions were bigger, but would take time.

It’s hard to be a parent, but you make a difference. May it change your child’s world, and that of those around you, for the better.

Thanks to the Ruby Bridges Foundation,, for facts on her story.

behave (as) yourself! whaaat?

During Christmas break when I was in seventh grade, I added bangs to my one length-fits-all hair style, and for most of my life since then I’ve kept them.

I’ll never be sure how much this plays into it, if at all, but I distinctly remember one boy complimenting me when we returned to class in January.

Beth, Thom & Me Summer 1972

My sister, brother and me (far right) the spring I was in seventh grade

“They look really nice,” he said. “They make your face look less round.”

He was a year older than me, and all through junior high, high school and until the last time I saw him, two years after I graduated, he was particularly nice to me.

I didn’t clue into it until about twenty years later, but I think it was more than just a kind nature.

This very popular, somewhat bad, really good-looking boy quite possibly liked me, the socially awkward girl whose weight fluctuated with the changing tide and insecurities overshadowed everything about her.

It makes you think. I’d realized it already on some level by this time (the age of 36 or 37), but it brought home a valuable truth: no one is who they appear to be on the outside. Why one kid is popular in high school is a bizarre combination of the “right” talents, good looks and circle of friends. He’s not better than the girl with none of that, and if he’s lucky, he knows it.

That continues throughout life. The seemingly perfect couple gets divorced. Most of us knew the Duggars would fall eventually (although perhaps not as far). There’s always the pastor who walks away from his church in shame…that’s just a given in any community. Okay, I’m being facetious with the last one. A bit.

The hooker with the heart of gold. A cliché to make a point.

A close friend of mine made the observation a few years ago that who we are is “not about behavior.” It rang true for me instantly.

In her case, her husband had had a benign brain tumor that affected the entirety of his behavior, including his ability to hold a job or even help with household chores.

Their church, in a gross misuse of its authority, directed him to leave his family until he could figure out how to become “the man of God his family needed him to be.”

He had a brain tumor. He had brain damage. His behavior had nothing to do with who he was.

Now, that’s an extreme example. But there are plenty of people, say, with mental illness, who do things that later shock and humiliate them. Virtually everyone I know, mentally ill or not, has done something so “unlike themselves” they have a hard time confessing it to others.

I wish I’d known that boy liked me, if in fact he did. I wish I’d had the confidence to openly reciprocate his feelings, because I probably would have felt something for him if I’d let myself. I could have learned, early on, one of life’s most valuable lessons: who we are is more than what others see, it’s more than how we behave, and it’s more than we’ll be able to discover in a lifetime.

multiplication rocks!

I’m good with math. That’s important to note at the beginning.

I can calculate approximate percentages in my head at the snap of a finger. I can add 168+437+12 in 20 seconds. That’s the simple stuff. The more complex things are harder to show off, but I can do it.

numbers icons

I come by this skill honestly. My dad was a mathematics major in college (in case you’re wondering what on earth you can do with a math major, this was 1958 and he ended up with a lifetime career at IBM.)

Still, while I ultimately mastered every math class from grade school to college, it took most of the semester to get it right. I hated math for that reason.

Once I got it, I got it. In grade school, my teachers gave up on me. My dad, fortunately, also had a strong ability to teach and took over. Division frustrated me and word problems, forget it. If there’s one thing I probably still would struggle with from those years, it would be which train got there first and how many apples did they deliver per person. Or whatever.

In high school, my one math teacher – both years – figured out my struggle, was patient and gave me the final grades I deserved. He’d grin and say, “I know you know the answer” when I can guarantee you, I did not. I was frustrated but ultimately his belief in me and patience paid off.

In spite of failing half of the quizzes and tests throughout the semester, I achieved 100% on the finals. If he’d averaged my grades through the semester, I would have barely passed, but he gave me a fairly earned “B+” each time.

In college, my learning experience was the same. However, although I told my professor throughout the semester this was typical and I wasn’t worried, he assumed I’d cheated on the final (again, 100%) and gave me a D- for the course.

Today, my final grade in that course is irrelevant. I achieved the skills and still use them. I USE ALL THOSE SKILLS TODAY.

Why is this worth noting? Because no doubt many students share my learning curve, but in today’s teaching environment don’t get the chance to ultimately succeed. Math matters. Like a cheerleader I’ll say it again: Math Matters!

(Thanks go to a fellow blogger, whose blog inspired today’s post.)

Image credit: © Gstudio Group – Fotolia

bored? maybe. board? no!

You don’t want to play board games with me.

Not because I’m so good. I’m above average with most, but no superstar. You have a decent chance at beating me.

Board game player isolated.Wherein lies the problem. I don’t like getting beat in board games. Really don’t like it. I pout when I lose, so no one else likes it either. But they’re none too thrilled when I win. I can’t help myself. I gloat.

For some reason, success and failure at Parcheesi & Trivial Pursuit, Scrabble & Monopoly, mean way too much to me. This isn’t a side of myself I’m proud of, so I haven’t played a board game in years.

(Last time I did, by the way, I was partnered with my brother in a game of Trivial Pursuit. We won in one round – the first round. Yes, I’m smiling a little too smugly as I recall this.)

Another place you may not want to be seen with me? Hockey games. I get really low-class in my bloodlust at the rink. I want to see people get hurt going after that puck.

So I don’t go to hockey games anymore either, because in that case, I’m actually a little scared of myself.

Where on earth does this behavior come from? I can’t point to anything, especially the hockey. No offense intended to the sport, but any other time I have virtually no interest in it. I don’t know the rules, the strategies, nothing. Get me live at a game, though, and I’m not me.


Okay, the gloat/pout thing could be a bit of perfectionism, and it’s a competitive side of me that doesn’t have much of a chance to show itself elsewhere, since I am definitively non-athletic. Fit, yes, but I can’t throw, hit or catch a ball. I’m not fast. You get it.

Ah, it’s becoming clearer. I’ve been on the bottom when it comes to sports my entire life. With board games, I have a shot (so to speak). Take that, mean girls!

I know, I know, I hear it. My conclusion here should be, “well, best thing is to give up this desire to beat everyone else. Just enjoy the games and the company with it.”

Rather, I find myself thinking, I need to discover something I can almost always win at.

Almost? Always.

I have a little work to do.

Photo Credits: (top) © isuaneye; (bottom) © carballo, (both)

jaunty…or, my best gifts given, part two. my best gifts received, always.

Ten years ago my friendship with Mary began, and two years ago it ended when she passed away at the age of 53.

Mary had outlived the odds from the day she was born, when her birth mother was told she wouldn’t make it more than six months. Later, her adoptive parents were told the same thing repeatedly throughout her childhood — and as an adult, Mary heard it so often she stopped telling her husband, Mike.

Mary was one of those people who had hundreds of “best friends.” Selbu Modern - pink & gray tamShe would do whatever she could for any of them, including me. She was gutsy and kind. When she went into the hospital for what turned out to be the last time, Mike asked me to make her a “jaunty beret” because her treatment had caused much of her hair to fall out, and she was self-conscious about it.

I immediately set out to find the right pattern and right yarn — something soft for what I imagined might be sensitive skin — and knit up this little hat here.

Actually, this is the second hat I knit in this pattern. I never took a picture of the first one, which went to Mary. When I asked Mike if she liked it, he said she hadn’t had a chance to try it on. After a short time, I caught on. She was too sick for this to matter the least bit.

She maybe never saw the hat at all, or the slippers I included with it. However, I don’t feel anything but gratitude I had a chance to show her my love by knitting this for her, in the off-chance she knew about it.

Last week another Mary in my life died, one month shy of her 41st birthday. It was stunningly sudden. Perhaps we shouldn’t have been entirely surprised, however, for this Mary had lost her eldest son ten years ago to leukemia, and hadn’t been the same since. In many ways she’d moved on beautifully, but her heartache showed itself quietly. It’s possible that pain influenced the way she cared for herself. I don’t know, and it would be wrong for me to assume.

Kims Slippers red rose IIOne day on impulse I gave her a pair of slippers I’d knit from a pattern I designed. She started to cry.

“You don’t know what this means to me,” she said.

They were only slippers, so I really didn’t, but I was touched it meant so much. And oh-so-glad I’d done it. If my one small gesture made even a tiny part of her life better, I only wish I could have done a hundred times more. She was special and deserved to know it.

I’m lucky I have a skill I can use to show my love to others, and far luckier for those I have to receive those gifts. Rest in peace, my friends, your suffering is over. You were a gift and a blessing to me. My life is better because you were in it.

one man’s shame is another man’s glory

Ah, guilty pleasures. If you don’t have one, shame on you.

guilty pleasureFor me, it’s currently the TV show “Jane the Virgin.” I know, I know. That’s why it’s a guilty pleasure. To those of who you feel a need to start talking about PBS when I mention it, phooey. There’s a reason I like it. It’s fun. It’s good. It’s pure escapism.

There are a few songs I’ll blast when need be…well, actually, my apartment has thin walls and bitchy neighbors (including me on occasion), so I don’t really blast the music. It’s just played a wee bit louder than usual.

“Money for Nothing.” Hmmm…maybe not so much to feel guilty about there.

“Sugar Sugar.” A little closer. (Completely irrelevant to this piece, my friend Tom uses this as the ring tone for his wife.)

“It’s Raining Men.”

That’s what I’m talking about. I think that’s as bad as I get, but I’ll stop just in case.

Now there are other things I like that confuse some people as well, but I don’t think of them as guilty pleasures, anything I’m going to hide from the public. I have all seven seasons of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” on DVD. When the cable guy came out (on time – what do you know!) he looked at them, looked at me, and said, “well, I used to watch cartoons.”

Again, phooey! Frankly, I don’t get the comparison.

Now some of you have guilty pleasures I don’t want to know about, and thank you for keeping that information to yourself. Others of you are just plain boring. Ice cream is not a guilty pleasure. You may feel guilty about eating it, but that’s not the same thing. There has to be something a little shameful, a little “what the what?” about it.

In some circles, “Jane the Virgin” isn’t going to be a guilty pleasure. In my friends’ elitist little world, it is, so I keep quiet. Yet those snoots have their favorite less-than-esoteric television shows I never give them grief about.

Oh, I’m not going to list them because one man’s shame is another man’s glory. (I just made that up.) Like Jane. The more I think about it, the less guilty I feel. It’s funny. It’s campy. It’s a telenovela.

Wait, I just watched last night’s re-run. It IS a guilty pleasure…but a really good one.

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