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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Joy Comes in the Morning

It was a typical winter morning for Memphis.  December had been a month filled with days of extreme cold followed by days with highs in the low 70s; a kind a weather-mania which we Memphians have come to expect.  Nothing new.  I awoke at my usual ungodly pre-dawn hour hoping beyond hope that this would be one of those days that I could go back to sleep. Unfortunately, my thoughts didn’t take long to come into focus and deny me that option.
It was the Tuesday after the horrific massacre in Newton, Connecticut.  Part of America’s most precious commodity, indeed part of our soul, had been taken from us in a senseless act of depravity.  I, along with countless others throughout America and the world, had been shocked, shaken, and overwhelmingly saddened since learning of the irrational act that had occurred the previous Friday.  Inured as Americans seem to have become to deeds of this nature, this time was devastatingly different.  These were young and innocent children.  We had heard over and over during the days that followed the phrase that “our hearts are broken.”  And so they were.
I think I was surprised myself at how completely depressed and yes, heartbroken, I was personally at this vile act.  I almost couldn’t get it out of my mind.  I had gone to work the previous day at a school where I have worked for the past eleven years.  Even though our own children weren’t there that day (winter break had begun for them), those of us who were there went about our business, often expressing outwardly the sorrow and shock we felt.  I can remember the depression I felt as I sat at my computer and thought about those teachers and staff members in that school so far away in Connecticut.  I wondered how they would possibly be able to go back to their routine activities when they did have to return to school.  Nothing could ever be routine or normal for them again.
Those were my thoughts as I arose that Tuesday morning.  Then something wonderful and incredible happened.  I drug myself out of bed knowing that sleep had escaped me, went into the kitchen to get my first cup of coffee, and I heard birds singing outside of my kitchen window.  Morning had come, the birds were singing, and life would go on.  Life as we know it may have been changed, but the birds had announced a new day and a new beginning.
I cannot begin to explain to you how much the sound of those birds singing meant to me. The very fact that their singing was unseasonable and completely unexpected brought a sense of peace and joy to me.  We had experienced a few days of what we call a 'cold snap' here in the south, but the birds knew that day would bring higher temperatures and had come out in force.
Very early mornings and the sound of birds singing have been a source of comfort to me throughout my entire life.  After each personal heartbreak, including the overwhelming loss of my grandparents, my parents, and four years ago, my brother, I would always listen for the sound of birds in those first hours of the morning to reassure myself that the essence of life still prevailed.  Sometimes I would have to wait for days and even weeks to hear that sound, but invariably when it did come, an enormous sense of consolation would come to me.
I’ve always associated that glorious sound with one of my favorite verses in the Bible, which is found in the book of Psalms, chapter 30, verse 5: “…Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” (King James Version)
No matter what heartaches, trials, losses, or sorrows we may endure, birds will sing with the dawn of each new morning….and joy will come.
Amen and amen.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Borrowers

The Borrowers are living in my house.  I think they’ve been here for years, and I just didn’t realize it.  I’m sure that all of you readers know who the Borrowers are.  They’re the wee, tiny people who live in secret areas of certain people’s houses and ‘borrow’ things from those people whenever they need something.  They are supposed to be fictional – just made up by somebody for a book.  Well, I can assure you that they’re no fantasy; no way; no how; no sir-ee.  They’re here in my house right now. 
For years the joke around our house has been that “if Mama put it up, it’s lost.”  I never thought that was funny, but I did have to face reality.  Nine times out of ten, if I put something up, it would always be hard to find – that is if it was ever found. That never seemed to happen to my husband, who (with his 160 + I.Q) never forgets anything.
The fact that he never forgets anything is why I’m convinced that the Borrowers are living here.  A few months ago, our hot water heater went out and had to be replaced.  It’s located in the back part of a closet in our main hallway. In order to get to the hot water heater, we had to take everything out of that closet and put those things somewhere.  I had no hand in that….just to make everything clear here.
Well, when I say everything was taken out of that closet, I forgot to mention the fact that everything was in that closet!  Do you have a closet in your house that you’re afraid to open for fear of what might fall out and hit you?  Well, we do – and that’s the one. So, it was difficult to find places to store all of that ‘stuff’ as we worked on putting in the new hot water heater.
After the job was completed, the vision of this wonderfully empty and organized closet was pure delight. We’ve been so pleased with the fact that the closet is now clean and empty that we’ve been procrastinating in our efforts to put things back.  We’ve actually thrown out many things, given stuff to the Goodwill, recycled some things, and really tried to get better organized before putting things back.  However, as we’ve begun to put things back in the closet, we’ve realized that some things appear to be missing. 
How can that be?
I realized the true depth of this dilemma a couple of weeks ago, when I started looking for my small table-top ironing board that I needed to iron a new blouse that I had just washed.  I can’t find it.  So I started looking for the ironing pad that you can use on a table or bed…can’t find that either!  But here’s the best part; I spent days looking for those two things and finally decided to bite the bullet and set up my big ironing board (I do know where that is), but I can’t find my iron!
The Borrowers must have taken my ironing pad, my small ironing board, and my iron!  And to top that off, they took a small Limoges plate that I had taken out of my china cabinet to put with some things that I plan to sell at auction. That’s missing, too, and it wasn't even in that closet. I clearly remember taking that plate out of the china cabinet and thought I remembered where I put it. I even told my husband about it. It’s not there.  Furthermore, nobody has been in our house over this time period that could or would take any of those things.
Now, emphasizing once again how smart my husband is, he doesn’t remember where any of those things are either. He vaguely remembers my telling him about the plate, and he also remembers taking those things out of the closet.  It goes blank for him at that point, so that’s why I’m convinced that the Borrowers did it.  My husband could never forget anything. Right?  So…point made.
I’m afraid to even imagine how many things might be missing that we forgot we put in that closet, but I’m pretty sure that those irritating little Borrowers have been the ones who’ve taken all those socks over the years and the myriad of other missing objects.  Had to be them…
I guess the little people needed to iron some things, too, but if I find out where they’ve been hiding out, they’d better beware!  Of course, I’d never do any harm to them.  I’d just kick them out on their rumps.
But before I do that, please give me my iron back!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Understanding My Writing

I just realized today why I don't write on my genealogy blog more often than I do. It's so very emotionally draining for me. 

After spending the morning writing about my beloved Uncle Lonnie, I have cried, laughed and am now completely exhausted from the process. Oh, how I admire those bloggers who write every single day.

I guess I need to really use this 'Just Writes' blog to write about those 'other things' that I love - like books, politics (oops, nope, I need to steer clear of that!), archaeolgy, Egyptology, antiques and collectibles...and the list goes on and on and on.  Guess that's why it's hard for me to focus on just sitting down and writing.

And I guess I'll just think about that a little more - tomorrow!

Friday, May 25, 2012


I'm convinced that my picture appears next to the word 'procrastinator' in Webster's Dictionary. I used to think it was my husband's.  I've always referred to him as my "Stubborn Scotsman."  In reality, that was just a polite way of stating what a procrastinator he was! Nothing could be done better in his opinion if it wasn't done until tomorrow.  That always drove me crazy.

Now the tables have turned.  Since my retirement, I've noticed that he's getting things done in a much more timely fashion than I am.  Remarkable.  And what the heck happened?  I'm blaming the whole thing on retirement.  Okay, okay... I'll admit that I've become more laidback and not as stress-driven as I was when I was working full time. But why am I not doing all that writing that I wanted to do?

I started my blogs filled with a passion for writing and for getting my ideas and thoughts 'put down on paper,' as they used to say. I still have those 'thoughts,' but I find it harder and harder to actually get them written down.  Somehow, I've filled my days with things that I've always wanted to do:  I've become more involved in my local genealogical society; I'm reading more books (if that's possible) than ever before; I'm having luncheons and dinners with friends that I haven't been able to fit into my busy schedule before; and I'm working on getting my 'proofs' together for a couple of heritage societies.

The list could go on.  I remember what people asked me last year when I announced my retirement.  "What are you going to do with all that time?"  Are you kidding?  I don't seem to have time to think, much less complete all of the things that I want to do. 

Maybe that's the real reason why I've not been writing as much as least I hope it is. I'm convinced that eventually I will get my life organized into the type of schedule I used to keep at work: a couple of hours on this, a couple of hours on that, etc., etc., etc. By doing that, I can work 'writing' into that idealistically wonderful schedule.  I'm pretty sure that I'm smart enough to do that.  Right?  Don't answer that.

I think I'll just concentrate on making sure that the photo they use next to the word 'procrastinator' is a good one. 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Some Thoughts on Shiloh

Shiloh Church.  A place of worship.  Pittsburg Landing.  The Tennessee River.  April 6 - 7, 1862.  150 years ago.  Sesquicentennial.  (I so enjoy saying that word.)
A gathering of forces.  Two days of horror and death. The Bloody Pond. The Hornet’s Nest. The Sunken Road.  Statues and monuments.
Battle plans and strategic maneuvers. Lost friends and loved ones.  Tremendous and continuous noise.  Guns and canons.   Horrific screams as bayonets strike home. Thousands killed.   Others wounded or taken prisoner.  Albert Sydney Johnston – a great loss.  W.H.L. Wallace – another great loss.
An insignificant place not quite one hundred miles east of Memphis and only about twenty five miles north of Corinth, Mississippi.  Momentous now.
Forces from Memphis rushing to help soldiers there and at Vicksburg, leaving Memphis vulnerable and easily taken by Union forces only one month later.
Outstanding generals.  Ulysses S. Grant. Lew Wallace. Don Carlos Buell.  William Tecumseh Sherman.  P.G.T. Beauregard.
Oh, how I’ve always loved his name: Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard.  What a delicious mouthful of words.  But it's no wonder he went by P.G.T.  I used to say his whole name over and over to my students so that they would know it, too.  I took those students as often as possible to Shiloh.  How can you understand it if you don’t see it and feel it?
Being there is an awesome and humbling experience. Knowing that you had relatives who fought and even died there brings you yet closer to the uncanny atmosphere that surrounds you as you stand in the quiet groves, and as you read the markers, walk the paths, and view the memorials.
8th graders running around eating ice cream and having fun, but learning, too; a complete contrast to the reality of what happened there so many years ago.
I wrote about relatives who fought at Shiloh on my sassygenealogist blog. Here I only wanted to share bits and pieces of my thoughts and memories.
If you’ve never been to Shiloh National Park, you should go if you can.  You will never feel the same about the Civil War, or the War Between the States, or the War of the Rebellion, or  the War of Northern Aggression…or whatever you care to call it. 
General Sherman summed the name up best in his now-famous statement concerning his advance on Atlanta:  “War is hell.” 
Without a doubt, Shiloh was hell.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Another Blog?

I decided to start a second blog (only this morning!) because I realized that in my first blog, I’ve done more writing than concentrating on actual historical or genealogical research. Sometimes I just want to write. 
Most of the writing on this “Sassy Just Writes” blog will still be about my family, its history and other aspects of genealogical research and journaling.  I just want to add further thoughts and ideas to my writing. 
Have I lost my mind?

An Ode to Writing: Will You Join Me?

The famous Mists of Avalon author, Marion Zimmerman Bradley, once said that the secret of writing was to “put the seat of your pants in the seat of your chair.”  Boy, was she right.  Once I actually began to do that, I’m finding that I can’t seem to get up from that ‘chair!’
Just a couple of months ago, I told a few friends that my dream in life had always been to ‘be a writer.’  At least one of them suggested I start a blog.  No way.  Not for me.  Never in a million years.  That vision of mine had been to write stories for students at the middle school level, the age level to which I had loved teaching history for many years and also an age level to which my husband swears I belong. (Let’s not even go there right now…)
Those wondrous accounts that I planned to write would be based on the historical research I had completed as a family researcher and historian.  I planned to weave the lives of my own family into tales that would spark an interest in history for those students.  So far, that hasn’t happened; I started a blog instead.   At first, I only started a genealogy blog, but I soon realized that there was so much more that I wanted to say.
I really have no idea why I started this particular blog.  Although I’m ‘officially’ retired, I still work two days a week at the same school where I served for years as the Middle School Coordinator. (Don’t even ask what that is;  I’m pretty sure that it’s the person who does everything that nobody else wants to do.)  But seriously, I gladly left years of teaching history for that position, mainly because it involved writing.  Yep, that’s right.  For the last fifteen or so years, I’ve spent most of that time writing: school improvement plans; curriculum plans; hundreds of letters to parents; letters written for others, allowing them to sign their names instead of mine; articles of public relations that would showcase our school in the best possible light; taking notes for meetings and writing them up for administrative purposes; and the list goes on and on.
I never thought much about it.  It was just something I did.  I didn’t even get too upset when an article I wrote publicizing our school’s championship basketball team appeared in our local newspaper.  I had submitted it to the paper’s educational coordinator, and she published it – under her own byline! However, when more instances like that occurred, I did begin to get a little miffed.  I did my best to make sure that it didn’t happen again. Hey…that’s my work!
I left all of that behind when I retired.  At least I thought I had.  Most of the work I’m doing now in my two-day-a-week stint does indeed involve writing.  But again, I’ve just done my job and haven’t thought much about it. Several times already this year, people have come to me to help them write things, for instance letters of reference, etc. The other day, I was helping a lady come up with phrases to use in her letter of application for a prestigious position when it suddenly dawned on me: I’m not only pretty good at this writing stuff, I also love it!  It was like a light bulb going off in my head.  I need to write…and I need to do it right now! So I started my genealogy blog, and now I’ve flowed over to this one. (Maybe those historical stories for middle school children will come later.)
Obviously, I had forgotten the lesson I learned years ago during a “Writing Across the Curriculum” course I once took.  Our wonderful teacher taught us that if you pick up a pen or pencil, or if you sit at your computer and write – you are a writer. That was a concept I had spent years trying to teach my students and had forgotten myself. That inspirational teacher would begin each session by saying, “I’m going to write now.  Will you join me?”  And we would spend those first few minutes each morning just writing. It was an awesome experience, one that I used often in my history classes.  Yes, I taught writing in history. I used to say to my students, “Just think of that blank piece of paper as your mind. You all have thoughts, so just put your thoughts down on that blank piece of paper.” That strategy actually worked, especially when I would begin writing myself and say to them, “Will you join me?”
I think I know that I’m a writer now. In fact I can’t seem to stop.  Since starting my blogs my mind has just overflowed with ideas that I’ve had to get written down – and quickly. A few times I’ve wanted to yell out, “Will somebody stop me?”  But no, so far that hasn’t happened.  I know that the ideas will slow down, but I also know that I’m going to continue to write in one form or another. I can’t seem to get the seat of my pants out of that chair!
I’m going to write some more now. Will you join me?