Friday, May 22, 2015

Start What You Finish

  It goes without saying that good parents teach their children to finish what they start.  My own children have discovered how difficult this can be, just days after receiving their soccer jerseys and realizing that soccer wasn't what they wanted to do.  They have completed a season on a team, giving their all, even when they did not enjoy that which they had signed up for.  It's a life lesson that will carry them far.

  My son was only six years old when he landed a solo in the school play.  He had practiced and practiced and had his three minute song memorized and perfected.  As luck would have it, a seasonal cold left him hoarse the day before the play. He reserved his voice, communicating only with finger points and head nods, in an attempt to heal his vocal chords in time for the big event.  There was a morning practice and an afternoon performance.  He made it through the morning with only a few crackles in his voice.  When afternoon came, and the auditorium was filled with proud parents, my shining star stood at the top of the stage and began belting out his solo.  The first few words were beautiful and delivered in perfect pitch.  And then it came, the harsh crackling of a voice being torn from the performer and suddenly, no sounds came out.  Had I been in his position, I'm not certain I wouldn't have left the stage and hoped that the director would move to the next scene.  It was first grade after all.  No parents would have judged him.  Instead, that tiny child with the once big voice, continued to sing without sound and never missed a word.  A stunned audience watched as a child moved forward, finishing what he had started, delivering a silent performance worthy of a standing ovation.   I could not have been more proud of him.

  My daughter, an outstanding gymnast, who spent the most part of her early years upside down in half twists as she catapulted herself from room to room, has also lived this philosophy of finishing what you start.  After years of gymnastics and after school practice, five days a week for long hours, her twelve year old bones began to creak and pop.  On a grey November day, she shared with me that she was tired.  This wasn't the kind of tired that a nap can cure. Her body was tired.  She finished the season and finished what she had started with the completion of the Spring program on a Sunday afternoon in May.  It was, indeed, a grand finish.

  I've taught my children to do these things, and yet, I find myself in a quandary, unable to start what I have finished.  Let me explain.... I've written a 25,000 word book that has been finished for over two years.  The ending is great, but the beginning keeps changing.  It has changed shape and form while the characters come and go.  Edits are made and just when I think the beginning is good, I change it all again.  I've finished what I started, but I can't seem to get the start right.  And then.... I gave up.  I shelved it.... left it in a digital folder.  Had my children quit what they started, I would have placed them back in the proverbial saddle, put on that jersey, or cheered them on from the stands.  Perhaps I need a good dose of my own medicine.

   My long lost book characters call to me from their digital silence and I find myself ignoring their call.  I should remember that I heard my child when no words came out.  Sometimes you need to listen even when you believe there is nothing worth listening too.  I suppose I should follow my guidance to my children and listen to what is calling me and truly finish that which I keep starting over and over again.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Frog Giggling

    Warm spring nights in the South wake us from our winter slumber and give us back our desire to be outside with Mother Nature.  My husband is much more of an outdoorsman than I, as my adventures are fairly limited to camping, boating and fishing.  That was not always the case, however.  I was invited, once, to participate in a frog gigging trip.  The thought of spearing a frog did not appeal to me, but, I was young and imagined that the outing might be fun.  I must remind you that I was only invited once, for very good reasons.

    My future husband, his nephew and I headed off into the flooded fields and ponds that teemed with spring frogs, snakes and alligators, none of which I actually wanted to be near. When we had motored out to the middle of a large body of water, the two men stepped outside of the boat and began walking around the dark, shallow lake with gigs in hand.  This was most unexpected and I was left in the boat with only a lantern and a prayer.  Uncertain what lurked in these waters, I feared at any moment I would see both of these men eaten by a large alligator. I watched as they flung snakes out of their way with the tips of their gigs and I wondered how crazy one must be to do this.  And then it hit me, I was alone in the boat and never asked the very important question, "Are snakes drawn to light?"  I doused the lantern and sat there enveloped in darkness.  I could hear the many unfamiliar sounds of the night and feared that the snakes might crawl in the boat with me and immediately turned the lantern back on. Still afraid I might be a beacon calling out to all the night critters, the light went out again.  For the next few hours I can only guess that it appeared as if someone was sending Morse code signals for help as a light flashed on and off from the middle of the darkness as I hid from view and repeatedly checked for incoming snakes.

    Eventually, the men returned with their catch and announced that it was time for me to go frog giggling.  This new sport, not quite the same as frog gigging, involved snatching a frog out of the darkness with your bare hands.  They motored us close to the bank and told me to watch for glowing eyes. Once I spied a pair, I was instructed to reach out and quickly grab them.  I blindly followed this instruction and safely nabbed an unsuspecting toad.  An afterthought occurred to me that I should have asked another important question, "Do snakes have glowing eyes?"

   With a boat full of frogs, it was soon time to leave.  Being the only one wide awake from an adrenaline rush, I drove us home as the two hunters slept. Still uncertain how this can happen, I, apparently, never noticed when the boat slipped from the trailer and slid onto the highway leaving the boat, motor and frogs miles from home.  As we cut through the night, traveling down back roads, I sang softly with the radio unaware of what was missing.  As I drove the vehicle over the railroad tracks in town, I looked back to make sure the boat was okay.  You can only imagine my surprise to discover that the boat was gone.  In a panic, I woke the men and asked the brilliant question, "Where's the boat?!?"  I whipped the truck around, crossing back over the tracks in a frenzied rush, sending the front of the vehicle down hard into the pavement, knocking the bumper and winch off the truck, bringing us to a sudden stop.  Much like a wounded animal, the vehicle moved slowly off the road, dragging the broken parts with it, shooting sparks into the night.  We were now boatless and broken.  I retired myself to the back seat and the men took over, placing the front of the truck into the back of the truck and returning us to the highway to find the boat.

    About twenty miles out of town, we pulled up to a very happy motorist who was loading an abandoned boat in the back of his truck.  The frogs croaked from the sack that still sat on the side of the highway.  We retrieved out boat and our frogs, but the motor was long gone.

    Warm spring nights still remind me of that time in the middle of the pond where I sat with my light and my faith listening to the symphony of frog songs, crickets, and night noises.  I think everyone should try this at least once, because sometimes once is all you get.   But most importantly, sometimes once is all you need.

Early Retirement and the Great Resignation

        At the age of 57, I stared at my 35 year career, whispered a polite thank you to the heavens and hit the send button on my retiremen...