Thursday, April 23, 2009

I REMEMBER- Summers in Tishomingo

....summers at Grandmother Clara Whitlock's house in Tishamingo, Oklahoma. It was a small white house with a big yard, shaded by many large trees. She never worked at a job outside the home. She was the Harriet of Ozzie and Harriet.

I remember her always wearing an apron and every once in awhile her German would slip out. [The kitchen sink was the "zink."] I loved the summer vacations at her house. She spoiled my sister (Sharon Kay Welton Chamberlin) and me in fabulous old-fashioned ways. Summers in
Oklahoma were hot and humid, and the fans and swamp coolers were always running. We spent the days in shorts and tee shirts. My grandfather bought me a 5 lb. keg of nails (an actual tiny wood barrel full of nails) and brought home a short length of railroad tie. I would sit in the shade of that big tree in the yard and pound nails until the cows came home. Each summer I would take up where I left off the summer before, until there was no more wood to be seen: it was just nails. I could barely move it.
My job around the house was to take the kitchen scraps (eco-composting was alive and well in the early ’50s) out to the garden and bury them. It was mostly egg shells, coffee grounds, and orange peels, as I recall. There were tons of worms in the dirt each time I dug a new spot. The garage was a stand-alone building away from the house and next to the garden. It housed a beautiful root beer-colored early ’50s Plymouth, long cane fishing poles (about 10-12 feet—could have been a lot shorter, but they sure seemed long to a 7-year-old) and mud dauber (wasps) nests in the rafters. On bold days, I would poke the tip of the cane pole into one of those nests to piss off the wasps and then run like hell. I remember vividly [and this is 55 years ago, so it made quite the impression] the last time that I pulled that stunt. The very angry wasps flew right down the pole and into the armpit of my shirt and stung the bejesus out of me. Bees only sting once, and then their guts pull out while leaving the little barbed stinger in their victim [little Kamikaze bees]. Wasps have little needle stingers and can sting you repeatedly. Well, I am running, yelling and screaming into the back door of my grandmother’s house with the wasps fast after me. My grandfather thought it was pretty damn funny and that I deserved it, and my grandmother felt sorry for me and put baking soda poultice into my flaming armpit and made me a sling to keep my arm still. Never did that again...sort of instant and short learning curve.

When my grandfather and I went fishing, it was always a grand experience. I got to ride up front in the old Plymouth (it was of course new then). No booster seat, no seat belts. The seats were made of wool and were as scratchy as hell on my legs (wearing shorts). We went fishing in a little river (stream) a few miles from my grandparent’s house. It had a rickety old swinging bridge that was fun (and scary) to walk across. This one time we did not have the proper stringer to keep the fish on, so we used a length of clothes line (before driers) and a spindle part off my grandmother’s sewing machine. Nobody messed with my grandmother’s kitchen and even fewer dared to touch her sewing machine. My brave grandfather snagged the part with the stipulation to me that we would go fishing for a few hours while my grandmother was visiting friends and get the part returned before she got home. No harm—no foul. Or so we thought. We caught a mess of fish and had a stringer full—until I dropped the stringer into the river and the little horde of strung-together fish just sort of swam away in front of our eyes. Nothing ever happened to me, but I am sure my grandfather paid the price.

One of my favorite pastimes, when I wasn’t pounding nails, going fishing, or aggravating wasps, was to go to Alaska [in my mind]. I mentioned there was a giant swamp cooler in a window in my grandparent’s bedroom. It would blast ice-cold air like a jet engine. I would pull a big overstuffed arm chair up in front of the cooler and fill it with all the goose-down pillows in the house. I would then climb into the chair and snuggle down under the pillows [including one on top of my head] until just my eyes and nose stuck out. I would carefully reach through the pillows and hit the on button. I was in Alaska! Could sit there for hours and imagine trekking to the North Pole. Remember: no day-time TV shows, no Nintendo, game boy, PC’s, computers, internet, etc. We had to use our imagination…it was a blast.
As the summers were hot and humid, my grandmother would have my sister and me take a bath each night, powder us down with foo-foo powder from a big, pink round box, and then we would lay down on a pallet [pal・let (palit) noun - a small bed or a pad filled as with straw and used directly on the floor] in front of the black-and-white TV (giant box, small screen) to watch Lawrence Welk. [We didn’t care for it much, but my grandmother loved it.] We would have root beer floats with cherries in them. 

No way at home would mom let us have a root beer float and watch TV before bed. It’s good to be spoiled by grandparents.

Monday, April 20, 2009

I REMEMBER- Train Your Brain to Have a Good Day

...that each of us has good days and bad days. Regardless of your age and circumstance, we each have unique criteria that determines whether we are "having a good day or a bad day". For some, it might be the weather or their hair, their job, their friends, clothes, money, health, etc. that determines the quality of their day.

A mentor of mine shared a mind trick with me some time ago that has kept me in "good days" for many years.

His advice was thus: "If a good friend, a colleague or trusted mentor called you in the morning, just as you woke up, and said how pleased he/she was with the honor of being your friend, how they admired your skills and work ethic, and how much they valued your character" would the rest of your day go [for me, I would be on Cloud 9 and I would be unbeatable that day]? Conversely, if that same respected and revered acquaintance called early in the morning and said how disappointed they were in your character, your abilities and lack of skills" would your day go [pretty bad I'd say]?

In both scenarios, nothing changed in who you were, what you can do, your skill set or level of experience. It was just your ears and your brain hearing words of encouragement and admiration or words of discouragement and negativity. Nothing real happened, just "PERCEIVED TRUTH". The truth is only just what we perceive it to be. Does the mere fact that someone I admire telling me that I am a great guy, make me a great guy? Does the mere fact that a stranger, co-worker, mentor telling me that I am a rotten guy, make me a rotten guy? No. So why do we let other people's opinion (and that is all it ever is) "make or break" our day?

The trick is to "train your brain" into believing what YOU tell it, not what other people tell it. If you mentally tell yourself every day (just like physical exercise - do it daily to get into shape and keep it up forever to stay in shape) that you are good, you are the best, you can do it, you will do it, etc. You don't get into physical shape overnight and this mental exercise is the same. Keep it up, and you will notice how increasingly immune you become to the discouraging elements that impact all of us daily. Soon you will be in a good mood all the time.

The encouragement of others doesn't necessarily "make our day"...because our day is already "made"...and the discouragement or negativity of others doesn't have to always bring us down...because we should believe something more positive. Thus, we each can always have "Another Day in Paradise".

When I was going through my radiation treatments [five days a week for seven weeks] I had to lie down on a hard, cold metal table and have this custom-fitted, hard plastic mask [covers entire head and tops of your shoulders] snapped down tight to the table, so you are immobile. VERY CLAUSTROPHOBIC! You can't move, scratch your nose, move your head or neck even the slightest inch...and you have to stay that way in a semi-darkened room, alone - all the tech's leave and stand behind a wall. Oh, yeah, and they stick a padded wooden stick deep in your mouth to keep your tongue from moving. All this is to insure pinpoint accuracy in the radiation treatment to the cancer tumors and not your healthy body parts...but, it is still very difficult to endure...I always joked that they probably had a host of S & M patients that paid extra for it. Rubber, leather and whips were optional, only bondage was covered by medical insurance.

You are alone with your over-active brain for about 15+ minutes daily for the radiation. I learned early on to bring my own CDs and have the tech play MY music during the treatment. You don't want to be tied down and trapped listening to [fill in blanks: Perry Como, John Denver, Rap, Country, bad Jazz, head-banger, etc.] music that some tech picked out. I knew each song was about three minutes long, so I counted the songs and when I got to number five, I knew I was about done - it was easier to hang in there if I was uncomfortable, mentally or physically.

My mental mantra during songs number one and three was "I can beat this Cancer", my mantra during songs number two and four was "I will beat this Cancer", and my mantra for song number five was "I did beat this Cancer". I just repeated it over and over, just like every morning, BEFORE you even open your eyes, before the alarm goes off, before you step on a tack, stub your toe, break a shoelace, discover your pants shrunk overnight, see your shoes need to be polished, but you are running late, burn the toast, drink that cold cup of coffee, get teenager back lip, spouse critcisim about what you are wearing today....BEFORE, all of that, conduct your own mental personal phone call from your most respected mentor - YOURSELF. Tell yourself you are great, you can do it, you are the best, etc. It is like a "force field" around you that the longer you practice it, the stronger it gets. Train your brain to believe that YOU are the respected mentor, that your message is the TRUTH, and it is stronger and more virile than any other message you will receive that day.

It certainly protected me in the Doctor's office the day I was told I had Tonsil Cancer. The next day I started my other Blog, "Another Day in Paradise". I reminded myself of all the good things I had in life: family, friends, experiences, stories, memories [say, maybe I should start a blog]. Even through the down side of treatment, weight loss, hair loss, throwing up, totaling my beloved PT Cruiser, falling down the stairs on my back in the night, multiple emergency room trips and hospital staya, etc. I was able to maintain a fairly positive outlook. I wish I had started this powerful practice earlier in my life.

So, here is the segue to stories I REMEMBER...

My daughter Sarah (10) was playing with a friend at our dining room table one cold and overcast weekend day. They had a boatload of colored play-dough and were making a "Buffet". Corn, hamburgers, tomatoes, apples, oranges, etc. ordained the table. The girls were quiet, no need to interfere.

Soon, Sarah was upstairs, crying in Lise's arms, sobbing "This is my worst day, ever".. Asking what happened, Lise soon discovered the problem. Each girl was making playdough fruit for the play-dough fruit basket. Sarah had made a large yellow pineapple with big green leaves sticking out the top. Apparently, the friend's perceived truth about the appearance of fruit was different than Sarah's and in her mind pineapples didn't have leaves (check out Dole sliced pineapple - it's true - no leaves in the can). The "clay pineapple abboration" that Sarah created was just too much for the friend to abide. We all know that feeling when something is bugging us and we just can't take it anymore.

So, the friend reaches over and plucked the leaves off Sarah's pineapple.

Sarah's was stunned, shocked and speechless. With big tears dripping down, she charged up the stairs to find solace in mom's arms [hmmm, I know an adult colleague that acts similarly when a bad thing happens in her day... she charges off to the mall/shoe store, credit card in hand to find solace - with a pint of ice cream thrown in at the end]. Sarah, sobbing in disbelief, cried "Mom, I wasn't doing anything wrong and she just reached over and yanked the leaves off my pineapple!"

What a great analogy for all of us. We all know just how she felt and how tenuous our daily happiness is when we allow others to be in a position to "yank the leaves off our pineapple". This now is a great Welton family story that permeates our lives. Our family conversation at the dinner table each night, now revolves around someone asking the others " How is your pineapple, today? Anybody try to pull the leaves off?"

A good day is when someone/something may have tried, but we were strong and true to ourselves and didn't let it get us down. A great day is when our pineapple was shining all day long...all leaves intact.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

I REMEMBER- Decomposition is Age 40

...about fifteen years ago, Lise and I were newly married and she was still getting adjusted to an instant family when she inherited my three sons (wow, what a great name for a TV show...must work on that) along with me. I was about 46 and Lise was 36.

My mom [a school teacher for most of her life] was a big fan of "educational toys". She had supplied some great tools to read to the kids. At bedtime for the boys [about ages 10 -Ian, 8-Nick, 6-Dustin], we would pull out books, etc. for reading calm down time.

This particular night, the boys were all tucked in (very cool set-up I made - a stacking bunk bed for the older boys with a roll-out bed for Dustin that fit under the bottom bunk during the day) and we were picking out the reading story for that evening. We chose a science game. It was a series of questions appropriate for their ages.

The question and answer that stopped the game and brought down the house was this:

"At what point in the life cycle of living things does decomposition begin"? While Ian and Dustin mulled it over, Nick (8) waved his hand wildly in the air.

" Ok, Nick, when does decomposition begin?"

"I know, I know! At age 40!!!!!!!"

I never felt so old....Hell, I was six years into wonder. I, however, can now attest (15 years post event) and share with the world that there is indeed Life after Decomposition!