Monthly Archives: September 2012

Peace!

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“Are you mad?”, my husband would ask, after some infraction.

“I’m not MAD,” was my usual reply, “I am HURT!”

“Oooooh, Mommy’s REALLY mad,” he’d wink toward our daughters, who were too young to understand, “she used the ‘H’ word!”

It’s true, hurt feelings are the worst.

It’s not that I don’t get angry.

I get angry about war, drunk drivers and world hunger. It doesn’t feel personal, though.

Hurt feelings are personal, caused by unfair or unjust treatment, or by unkind actions or comments.

It always feels – to me – that if I were a better person, I would not be subjected to poor treatment. That doesn’t make sense, I know, but that’s what it feels like. All childish feelings of inadequacy come to the fore. Tears follow; then defensiveness; then anger.

Then (my husband of thirty years ago would tell you), “Watch out!”

What follows then is a rant.

I was raised in a household where “speaking up” and “talking back” were strongly discouraged. As a fairly shy person, I’ve never been particularly good at it anyway. I can’t think of the right thing to say or the right way to say it. I can’t speak out without crying, which doesn’t give the correct message. The hurt feelings will not go away without getting it out. Fortunately – or unfortunately, as the case may be – I’ve always been pretty good at writing.

As a child, with sibling rivalry running amok in our family, I’d write long diatribes about the unfairness. I’d imagine running away from home…or maybe even dying…leaving nothing but the pages. Reading them, my parents would realize how unjust they had been. “She was our best child!”, they would mourn, “Why didn’t we realize it in time?”

As a teenager, every single bit of distress was put on paper, usually in the form of extremely bad poetry.

I started keeping a journal as a young adult. It was used as my sounding board, whenever my husband wasn’t listening.

Most of the time, I was smart enough to keep my writings to myself. The act of getting it all out was usually enough to dispel the feelings of hurt, frustration and anger, and I could move on.

There are exceptions.

Once, when I felt my mother had unfairly criticized my parenting, I wrote her a lengthy letter saying, basically, “you have no room to talk,” and outlining the reasons why. The next time I saw Mom, she patted my arm and generously said, “Let’s just let it go for now. We’ll talk more about it when your kids are older.” Well, of course, by the time my kids were older, I realized my pompous attitude was based on simple ignorance. I wanted to do nothing but whimper an apology for ever trying to tell this woman – who somehow managed to raise nine healthy children and keep her sanity – what she might’ve done wrong!

When I was in the process of getting divorced and was unable to keep up the payments on my land here on Beaver Island, I was served with foreclosure papers. I countered with a twenty-six page tirade to the man who held the land contract about his shoddy plumbing, poor book-keeping and inability to get me a working well. He called me right up when he received it. “Christ, Cindy, you sent me a whole book!” he said, “I could send it off to the lawyer, but even though she’s my daughter, she’s still gonna charge by the hour to read it…”

Last weekend, when an unfortunate encounter at work left me feeling sad and frustrated, I wrote it out.

Here.

On my blog.

Without a single thought besides venting my hurt feelings.

Of course, I assumed it would be read…by the forty-seven people that subscribe to my blog, up to a half-dozen family members that look in on occasion, and four or five Beaver Islanders that read what I write.

I watch the statistics. On the day I publish, I get my peak readership with about 25 hits. Over the next few days, a few others check in, less and less each day until I publish the next post; then it jumps up again. A nice little wave.

This particular post evidently struck a chord with many people. It was shared and copied and re-printed. It was read by people from a dozen countries on five continents. It may have been read by every single person living on Beaver Island! My statistics chart changed from measuring by tens, to measuring by hundreds of hits. I heard from former in-laws and old friends, from servers and chefs and restaurant owners, and from people in other areas of the service industry. Many told of similar encounters that left them feeling bitter. I was shocked at how many people jumped to my defense. I was amazed and overwhelmed at the understanding, the sympathy and the support.

Usually when I go on a rant about my own hurt feelings, I’m thinking primarily about myself. That was the case in this instance, as well.

I didn’t think about every Beaver Islander reading it, and drawing conclusions about who I was referring to. I certainly never considered repercussions for him, or the fact that I might hurt his feelings.

I should have.

I bear no animosity toward “Harry”. I was “over it” the moment I hit “publish”. I have since received an apology from him. I countered with my own explanation and apology, for any discomfort I caused him. I hope we can all move on, perhaps all with a bit more awareness and consideration.

The next time I go on a rant, I think I’m going to tackle World Peace!

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Dear Harry…

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Hey, Harry, it’s me, Cindy.

We know each other, though probably not well.

You’ve been coming around to the island for at least ten years, maybe more.

We’ve run into each otherĀ  in several island businesses.

You were always the customer; I was the service person.

I’ve helped you find what you needed at the hardware store; I’ve waited on you many times at the Lodge; I believe I’ve checked out your purchases at the grocery store; I think I served you at the deli, perhaps at the Old Rectory Restaurant, and maybe even at the Shamrock, when I was serving breakfast there.

My point is that we have a bit of history.

From that history, you could gather enough information to know that I work hard at doing a good job, no matter what job I’m doing, and that I always try to keep my customers happy. I’m actually kind of famous for it, on this little island.

Beyond that, you don’t really know me, anymore than I know you.

We know each others names and faces, and say “hello” if we meet on the street.

We’re, I guess, more like long acquaintances, rather than friends.

You probably don’t know, for instance, that I am college-educated, qualified to teach at university level. You may not know that I successfully wrote and then administered a good sized grant for our school here on Beaver Island. Or that I teach art classes at the school.

You may not be aware that I’m an artist but, yes, I am, university-trained in painting, printmaking and ceramics. I have work in a half-dozen permanent collections, and about the same number of galleries.

That’s okay. All of our encounters have been with me serving you. You know what you see.

You may or may not be aware that I am a self-supporting woman, without a partner to help with expenses. Don’t worry; I am proud of my ability to take care of myself.

You probably don’t know that in the last two and a half years, I lost two siblings and a parent and that in many ways I’m still reeling with the sadness. That should not concern you; I manage my grief, continue on through the sorrow, and it doesn’t affect my performance at work.

You are no doubt unaware that in just this last week, my grandson was hospitalized for a serious (thankfully treatable) condition, one island friend died and another was given a dire diagnosis, my aunt continues to fight a lung infection and I got into an argument with a dear friend. These things all weigh on my mind, but they should not bother you.

You probably know I am no longer working at the hardware store, but I doubt you know the details.

I turned sixty a month ago. You may be able to imagine how difficult it is to put one’s self out there in new and unfamiliar jobs…especially at this age. That is my problem, not yours.

One thing you should know – not that it should make a bit of difference to you – is that a server in a restaurant makes $2.75 an hour, plus tips. That’s not a wage we can take home, you understand. Because tips are also income, subject to all the same taxes and with-holdings as the wage, our pay envelopes generally just hold an accounting of which government agencies our money has gone to, but no check.

I know there is debate about tipping in general. Some people insist that the servers should be paid solely by their employers, and not depend on the generosity of their customers. The other side of that debate suggests that if that were the case, food would be so expensive, no one could afford to eat out. I don’t know the answer, but I depend, for my survival, on the system as it is.

“TIP”, I have heard, is an acronym for “To Insure Promptness”. Whether that is true or not, we all understand that good service warrants a good tip, and that sub-standard service can be penalized by withholding part or all of it. As there is also debate about what the correct percentage of the bill a good tip should be, it’s all understandably unpredictable.

Even at that, you surprised me last Saturday night, Harry.

We both know how it went down. At table #7, you and your wife were in an ideal location to see all the activity going on in the restaurant. We had quite a few “walk-ins” in addition to the several reserved tables, and two large groups of eight or more diners. There were two servers, BethAnne and myself; we were both obviously busy. Simon was alone in the kitchen, manning the salad station, the saute pans, the grill and – when time allowed – acting as dishwasher. Ray was the host, over-seeing the dining room, but he was also the bartender. He was navigating from one area to the next, assisting and trouble-shooting wherever he could be of the most help and – when time allowed – acting as dishwasher.

I greeted you both, told you about the specials, and took your drink order. I entered it into the computer; Ray prepared the drinks. When he saw that I was tied up with my large table in the back dining room, he delivered the drinks to you, bless his heart. None of us want to watch ice melting while drinks wait at the bar. I went back to your table, acknowledged that you had your drinks, and took your food order. I entered the salads into the computer.

There may appear to be pauses, or lapses in movement,as I relate the story… but you know that’s not the case. I had other diners in various stages of their dinner at tables right in your line of vision. I had a large group in the dining room directly behind you. No-one was pausing for any reason. This time of year, with less staff, we do our own table-clearing; and re-set the tables with linens and silver. With drink in hand, you could easily watch all the activity from your corner table.

I was delivering salads to my large group when your salads came up. Ray delivered them, so that you’d have them in front of you with time to enjoy them before your main dishes arrived. Again, I went to let you know your food order had been placed and that I was glad to see you had your salads. “I certainly hope to see more of you this evening,” you said, “so far we haven’t seen much of you.” I apologized, explained how busy we all were, then teased – as I thought you were teasing – “You’ll have to give Ray the entire tip, if this keeps up!”

Well, I was distributing meals to nine people in the back when your entrees were put up in the window, and out of the goodness of his heart, not wanting your good food to languish under the light for even a couple minutes, Ray delivered them to you.

You were clearly angry then, not wanting to talk to me about whether your meals were done to your liking, not wanting to talk to me at all. You turned away, scowling. Again, I apologized, explaining that our goal was always to get the food out to you as quickly as possible, hot and freshly prepared. You continued to look away, your face set in a frown. I didn’t have time to do more grovelling; I had other customers.

Now, the bottom line is, you were served good food in a timely fashion. Your drinks were cold, salads fresh and entrees hot and good. That is our goal, and what all of us work together to achieve. We were successful, though it perhaps didn’t happen in exactly the way you thought it should.

When I approached you later about dessert, you refused, and curtly demanded the bill, which I provided. You gave me your credit card; I ran it through, and returned with your receipts. You signed, then you and your wife went in and sat at the bar. From that stool, you watched and scowled after me for the next hour.

I cleared your table, and went to the computer to apply the credit card charges. In black lettering under your signature, you had written, “NO SERVICE – NO TIP!!!” Underlined three times. In the line where the tip belonged, you had put -$5.00…and in your total, you hadĀ deducted that five dollars from the cost of your dinner!

I have been waiting tables for over thirty years. I have been over-tipped and under-tipped. I have been “stiffed” on the tip. Never have I been “docked” from my own money until now! This is a new one on me, Harry.

Now I am still learning, every day, new things about myself…but some things I know. In whatever job I am doing, I always strive to do the best job possible. I don’t always succeed, but it is never from lack of effort. If I disappoint anyone, it is an even greater disappointment to me. I truly want to please. Everyone. Always.

When I tell you about my personal difficulties, it is not to gain your sympathy and it is certainly not to provide an excuse for not doing my job well. I still insist that you were given good service! It is only so that perhaps, the next time you choose deliberate and unnecessary meanness, you might stop and think that life itself might already have given that person a beating, and you could save yourself the trouble.

One thing has become very clear in my mind, having experienced so much death in the last couple years: Life is Short.

We all have a very short time on this earth to provide the information that we will be judged by and remembered by forever after.

I hope that you gained enough satisfaction from your treatment of me, Harry, to justify how I will now think of you.

Personally, I want to be known as someone who is thoughtful, generous in spirit and kind-hearted. I try to make sure that my words and actions stay in line with those goals.

I am making an exception to that, Harry, in writing this, because I so badly want you to know that, though we don’t know each other well and have never been friends, I never thought unkindly of you. After your actions of the other night, I will now and forevermore think of you as a big asshole.

I hope it was worth it.

A Day on the Mainland

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The day before yesterday, I traveled with my aunt to the mainland.

Aunt Katie had medical tests scheduled, an appointment with her lawyer, and plans to do some visiting and shopping. She can still drive, but prefers not to when off the island. She invited me along to be her driver.

She mentioned it first a few weeks ago.

“I’ll bet you’d like a trip to the mainland!” was how she worded it.

It’s not easy for her to ask for help.

“I’d love it!” was my reply.

The “mainland” is thirty-two miles away by ferry boat or small plane, to Charlevoix (the Beautiful), in the northwest corner of Michigan’s lower peninsula. Two hours by boat, twenty minutes by plane. When I came to Beaver Island on vacation, I always took the boat; since I’ve lived here, the plane is the most practical means of transportation. From Charlevoix, it is a half-hour drive north to Petoskey, to the clinic where Aunt’s medical tests were taking place. Her friend, Rose, is in Petoskey, too; the lawyer, in Charlevoix. She had a list to fill at the grocery store, and another for the pharmacy, based on sales she had found advertised in the paper.

I made arrangements to have the day off work.

I started thinking of all the things I’d love to do, with a little spare time on the mainland.

Maybe, since our flight was early, we could drive through McDonald’s for breakfast.

I know it’s not healthy, but it’s a rare treat. When I’m on the mainland, I allow myself the indulgence of a McDonald’s breakfast sandwich. If I’m traveling downstate to see my family, I also allow myself a large bag of Mesquite Barbecue “Krunchers” Potato Chips…but that’s another story.

A quick run into the second-hand store would be fun.

I’ve been watching for clothes suitable for work. We have a nice re-sale shop here on the island, but the one in Charlevoix is good, too. My daughters (who would have scorned the idea back when I was buying their clothing) discovered second-hand shopping when they realized their children grew faster than the cost-of-living, and they’ve turned it into an art! “Look at the labels first,” they tell me. There is no sense spending two dollars on something you could buy brand new for ten. The goal is to find good labels that speak of excellent quality and high prices…then you know you have a “steal” at two dollars. There are rules about checking for working zippers, missing buttons, split seams and stains. Of course, things like size and style come into play, too, and the best things won’t last, which makes the last rule very important: “Go often!”

What a treat to find time to visit a bookstore!

We used to have a nice bookstore here on Beaver Island, run by my friend, Mary Blocksma. She offered wonderful books and art, yoga classes, writing groups and great conversation in a room attached to her little home (where she often fed me lovely meals based on her knowledge of Indian cuisine or local mushrooms). She found self-publishing and book tours too costly to run from the island, and moved to a city down-state. I was broken-hearted when she left. We have an excellent library, but I love a good bookstore. When I get to the mainland, I like to stop at Book World in Charlevoix, Horizon Books or – my favorite – McLean & Eakin in Petoskey.

A quick run into Cherry Republic for their (absolutely wonderful) Cherry Scone Mix, and a dash into American Spoon Foods for a couple jars of salsa and their Cherry-Berry Conserve would be fantastic. If time allowed for a trip to The Grain Train in Petoskey, I could replenish my supply of rice, barley and beans for winter.

I’d check the grocery store for sales while Aunt Katie shopped. There were a couple personal care items I needed from the pharmacy, too.

I arrived at Aunt’s house at 8:25, with my first cup of coffee in hand. It is suggested that passengers be at the airport a half hour before the flight. Ours was scheduled for 9AM, so we were already rushing.

A few big raindrops started coming down as we drove to the airport, but the winds were calm.

The plane left on time and the ride was smooth.

I picked up the key at the desk, and wandered through the parking lot to get Aunt’s car. We – those of us that use her “mainland vehicle” – are always instructed to park as close to the terminal building as possible, in the long-term parking. For some reason, this day it was parked in the farthest space, in the most distant lot. By the time I found it, and drove around to the terminal to pick up my aunt, she was more than anxious to get underway.

Scratch McDonald’s, on to Petoskey.

First stop, the clinic. We were almost an hour early for Aunt’s appointment, but she checked in at the desk, and the receptionist said she might be able to get in early.

“This will take at least two hours,” Aunt Katie said, “Don’t you have some running around you’d like to do?”

She’d said that same thing to me the last time I brought her to this clinic. I’d headed for the gas-light district, went to my favorite bookstore, brought my purchases next door to the “Roast ‘n Toast” for a cafe mocha and a croissant, and got back to the clinic in a little over an hour. My 83 year old aunt was standing outside on her poor, wobbly legs waiting for me. “You’re late!” was the greeting I got.

Aunt Katie was the one that taught me how to handle disagreements with “stubborn Germans” like my father. “Don’t argue,” was her advice, “You’ll never win. Lower your eyes, bow your head, say ‘you are absolutely right’, then go on and think however you want to.”

Turns out, it was great advice.

Recognizing Aunt Katie as another “stubborn German”, I just said, “Sorry, Aunt Katie, I missed the turn.”

Not wanting to find myself in the same position this time, I said, “Thanks, Aunt Katie, but I think I’m just going to catch up on my magazine reading.”

This time, her tests took over two and a half hours.

Probably especially true in an election year, but Time and Newsweek magazines are pretty worthless if they’re more than two months old. People magazine is not much better.

By the time we got out of there, we had directions to Rose’s new home, but no time to go there. Aunt Katie was hungry. So was I, but I’d have happily settled for just another cup of coffee. No time for any of that, we had to get back to Charlevoix for the appointment with the lawyer.

Paperwork reviewed, signed and notarized, copies made, instructions given, pleasantries exchanged and we were off to get some lunch.

One bowl of soup, each: navy bean with ham. A beer for Aunt Katie; coffee for the driver.

Back to Petoskey, then, to see Rose. We found the place without incident, and had a good visit.

Aunt Katie’s legs were bothering her quite a bit by the time we left, so it was decided I’d do the shopping and she’d wait in the car. The pharmacy first, as it was right on the corner. I managed to work through her – very specific – list, in that – totally unfamiliar to me – store in what I thought was record time. “We’re running out of time!” was the greeting I received as she opened the back door for me to deposit the armload of boxes and bags. “We’re doing okay,” I told her. “A half hour to get back to Charlevoix will leave twenty minutes for me to run through the grocery store, and we can still get to the airport by five o’clock, with plenty of time to park before our 5:30 flight.”

“But you had stops you wanted to make!”

“No, Aunt Katie, nothing specific. I’m good.”

“The re-sale shop!”

“I think they closed at four o’clock. That was only if we had extra time.”

“You wanted to go to the bookstore. Well, you have too many books already.”

“You’re right, there!”

So, on to the grocery store with another list, and on to the airport (where I found a nice, close-to-the-terminal parking spot) and on to the small plane for a nice flight home.

A LOVELY day on the mainland!

Brandon

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Brave.

Exuberant.

Funny.

Kind.

These words all describe my grandson, Brandon.

I saw him first when he was only a few hours old.

It’s hard to believe that was seventeen years ago!

Moments stand out:

The first time Brandon and his older brother came to stay with me for a week on Beaver island, he was only 10 months old. Wiggling toes in the grass was as wondrous as wiggling toes in the sand! I got as much pleasure out of everything he saw and experienced as he did. He was such a joy to watch!

For many years, the boys came every summer.

We’d start our days at Iron Ore Bay. For me, a thermos of coffee and a book. For the boys, hours digging in the sand, making bridges and trenches and rock walls, finding stones and feathers and shells. Breakfast scraps were thrown to the gulls. When we were too hot, or too sandy, the water was right there.

We walked every day. My arsenal included sunscreen and insect repellent, and plastic bags to be fashioned into waterproof capes in case it rained.

We worked in the yard and garden. The grape arbor was transformed into a fort each year. The compost bin often harbored garter snakes. The big toad, George, could be observed most evenings on the kitchen stoop. Moths would gather on the windows at night.

Evenings, we’d fix dinner together, play cards, read or watch a movie before bed.

I know it wasn’t perfect. There were hassles and arguments and tears folded in among the good times. It lives in my memory, though, as an almost perfect time.

As I watch these boys grow up, with all the issues that go along with that, I hope they, too, have good memories to sustain them, when things get hard to deal with.

Tomorrow, my grandson will be seventeen years old.

Happy Birthday, Brandon!

#38 Johanna Spyri and Heidi

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My life has been greatly influenced by Johanna Spyri and the character she created, Heidi.

I cannot separate them.

I cannot separate them, even, from the book that brought them into my life. I have it here in front of me. The cover has illustrations from other children’s books – Alice in Wonderland, Treasure Island, Pinocchio – in many colors over a gold background. A large blue rectangle in the upper left hand corner displays the title in bold white upper-case letters. The binding is torn and the edges of the pages are discolored. Inside, there is only one color illustration, at the front. There are a very few black and white pictures at the ends of some chapters. Some child wrote “T e e” in pencil on the page that lists the contents; lines in red ink frame the word “HEIDI” on the title page. On the last page, in a childish scrawl in blue ink, I wrote, “A very very good book!” My name is written in cursive on the top right hand corner of the first page, just inside the cover. The “Y” in Cindy has a curled flourish at the end of the tail and the “G” in Ricksgers looks much more like a “Q”. The entire signature looks a little wobbly. I had just turned ten-years-old when I wrote it.

I received the book from my mother and father, for my tenth birthday.

I was an early reader, and enjoyed books, but had never owned one all to myself.

I don’t know if I’d ever read a chapter book before.

Heidi was sassy, smart and kind. She loved animals and the outdoors. She was not intimidated by her gruff Grandfather.

I fell in love with the mountains and the meadows and the wind in the treetops; with Meadow Nuncle, his cabin and workshop, and with the goats. I cried when Heidi was sent to the city, and suffered through all of the horrors of loneliness, confusion and sadness with her. I despised Miss Rottenmeier and pitied little Clara. I rejoiced when Heidi was able to return to her mountain home and read with interest how her new knowledge and worldliness improved the lives of those around her.

I remember the feeling of wonderment, that words on a page had such power over my emotions.

I wonder at it still, though I’ve learned to expect it.

This was the beginning of a lifelong love of books and reading, that has enriched my life beyond measure.

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#1 Mom

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It happened when I was twelve or thirteen years old.

I was a gangly, shy and clumsy kid. My hair was too straight, my eyebrows too thick and my lips too thin. I had a pug-nose. I was flat-chested. Short. My feet were too wide. I was pigeon-toed. The Catholic school skirt length accentuated my skinny legs. My knee socks pooled around my ankles. Pimples were erupting on my chin.

A last look in the round vanity mirror before heading for the bus-stop was a new nightmare every day.

Finally, I’d had enough.

I rushed down the stairs, fueled by the indignity of the image in the mirror and all the angst of a melodramatic almost-teen-ager. I confronted my mother in the kitchen.

“I CAN”T go to school!”, I wailed, “I’m TOO UGLY!!!”

My mother glanced around the table at the babies to feed and bathe and the small children to dress and get ready for school. She probably thought of the one hundred other chores and obligations waiting to fill her day. She looked at the clock, which told her my school bus would be arriving at the bus stop across the road in less than five minutes.

She said, “Well, you can’t stay home FOREVER, you’d better just get out there.”

Well! I huffed and rolled my eyes and slammed out the door and went to school.

At the time, and probably for about twenty years afterward, I thought of this as a perfect example of the absolute height of bad parenting.

Where was the encouragement? Where was the support? Could she not have thrown me a bone? A little compliment? A hug?

I never forgot it.

Eventually, I started noticing how much I used it.

When a really bad, unrepairable hair-do made me want to drape all the mirrors and never go out.

When I embarrassed myself with a stupid action or remark, causing me to want to hide from the world.

When a relationship’s end left me feeling unlikeable.

Whenever I felt intimidated by a situation, the words going through my head were my mother’s words.

Last year, getting ready to give the eulogy at Mom’s funeral, I glanced in the mirror. My face was puffy and red from crying; my eyes were slits. Sleep deprived, sad, preparing to speak in public in borrowed clothes and too-tight shoes, I worried about how many ways I could mess up this one opportunity to honor my mother.

I heard her voice.

“Well, you can’t stay home FOREVER, you’d better just get out there!”

I laughed out loud.

In anticipation of my sixtieth birthday, I compiled a list of the 60 most influential women in my life. My mother made the top of the list for a thousand good reasons. This is only one of them.

This year, I left a job I’d felt pretty comfortable in for the last ten years, and went back to working as a server in restaurants. It had been a few years since I’d worked as a waitress, and I felt pretty rusty. I was a good thirty years older than most of my co-workers.

My first day, I stood in front of the mirror. My thinning, gray hair was already coming loose – in a not attractive way – from the twist I’d pulled it into. My face wrinkled when I practiced a smile. My pot belly sent the little waitress apron out in an odd direction.

With all the angst of a melodramatic almost-sixty-year-old, I thought, “I CAN”T go!”

And there were Mom’s wise words, still influencing my life.

So, I got out there.