When memories collide with reality, it's unsettling, and that's exactly what I witnessed recently when I drove along the Toccoa River in Blue Ridge, Georgia and saw the charred remains of a restaurant I used to visit with my parents. I remember how we dined overlooking the beautiful river. I remember how it was often chilly sitting at our table. I remember lots of laughter and talk about how blessed we were to eat together in such a pristine area where we could enjoy each others' company along the relaxing river.
Today the restaurant's foundation is covered in ruins. . . a bottle here, a glass there, chairs stacked along the riverbank, garbage cans behind a screen, large timbers down the hill, and the naked concrete block foundation. The smell of smoke permeates the air two months after the restaurant burned.
I don't know what happened to the restaurant; I only know that its destruction initially ripped away my cheerful memories of family, place, and security.
Initially, I thought of the pain of the family that lost their livelihood, the community that lost its meeting place, and scores of people like me who lost cherished memories. As I stood on the riverbank and tried to envision the restaurant as it once was, however, three other images captured my attention.
I saw daffodils blooming at river's edge.
I saw a bright yellow chair sticking out among the ruins.
And, finally, I saw the tattered American flag flying beside the restaurant's remains. In the poor economy we have endured the last few years, it's hard not to see the flag as a metaphor of our rough times. Just as the cherished flag continues flying despite its holes and tears, I choose to believe that America will also prevail.
Yes, I know this is nostalgic and Pollyannaish, but I CHOOSE to believe and hope that better days are coming. And, I hope one day soon, the restaurant owners will rebuild and open their doors to a new generation of diners who will make new memories.
Recently when I mentioned the golf courses I play frequently, several people responded with disdain, "Oh, that's a muni course!" as if respectable golfers should avoid such inferior municipal courses. I suspect most private courses would be prettier and better maintained than the municipal courses I play, but I could never afford to play golf if I did not have municipal courses nearby. I suppose the parking lots filled with pickup trucks and older cars instead of newer luxury cars may bother some people, but not me. I don't have to worry about playing too slowly in front of players equipped with the most expensive clubs who think golf courses should restrict new players (or even women!) to only the late afternoons. Municipal courses may have wilting greens, fading flags, and cracking cart paths, but the friendly people who treasure the opportunity to enjoy a few hours of golf more than make up for the few problems I see on the course.
The photo is from Indian Trace, a municipal course in Chatsworth, Georgia. When I left the course yesterday afternoon, the driving range exhibited the diversity usually found on muni courses. A father was teaching his young son to play, a young couple who may have been playing golf for the first time helped each other as they struggled to hit the ball as far as others on the range, and an older gentleman in plaid shorts and black socks struck the ball awkwardly with a swing that apparently had declined through his later years.
While most municipal courses still require collared shirts, most now allow blue jeans. Maybe that's it - municipal courses are the best courses for the blue-jean crowd, and I'm just fine with that crowd.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to hike in Cloudland Canyon in north Georgia. It was a gorgeous day, and my Aunt Gloria and I hiked for hours and only saw two people on the trail. One of the many benefits of retirement is having the chance to escape to the hills in the middle of the week when most people are at work or in school.
The leaves are just starting to change. In a couple of weeks, the canyon should be spectacular!
Here's my beautiful aunt who visited Cloudland Canyon for the first time yesterday and took an added unplanned trip to Chattanooga and a ride along the Tennessee River in north Alabama because of my faulty navigation skills. Mapquest and Tom/Tom weren't much help!
I have become very lazy about blogging now that I'm retired. Maybe I can stop playing golf long enough to post a photo every now and then, kind of like the photograph a day strategy. I suspect, however, that I'll probably forget and post a photo a week . . . or month . . . or year. So much for good intentions!
With big blue eyes and a shock of blond hair, he looked just like Dennis the Menace. In one of my favorite photos, Luke is four or five years old, shoeless, and dressed in a cute little yellow outfit. You can almost see the dichotomy between the faint halo over his head and the mischievous squint in his eyes. He was all boy! Before he could ever walk or run, we sat in the floor and rolled a ball back and forth.
He was faster, smarter, stronger, cuter, funnier, and more endearing than any other little boy in the history of the world, but maybe I was a little prejudiced since he was my only nephew. As he grew older, he idolized his father and often appeared at family outings dressed exactly like my brother. The two were inseparable, and, just like my brother, Luke became adventurous.
The charming and daring little boy grew into a handsome young man who despite the concerns of his family enlisted in the military, just as his father had enlisted in the 1970s, just as his grandfather had enlisted in the 1950s, just as his great-grandfather had enlisted in the 1940s. My father and my brother, served during a time of peace. Like his great-grandfather, however, Luke serves in a time of war.
Today Luke says good-bye to his beautiful wife as she boards an airplane to return to Georgia.
Today Luke boards a different plane that will eventually take him to Iraq.
Today my family begins our prayers for Luke’s safety.
In the past nine years, tens of thousands of American soldiers, airmen, marines, and sailors have said good-bye to their families and traveled to far away lands to serve their country just as their ancestors did many years before. We honor these brave men and women, but it’s impossible to understand fully the fear, anxiety, sadness, and apprehension unless one of those brave souls is someone you love.
Only a few days from now, before we can even adjust to Luke’s departure, Joe, my niece’s husband, will also say good-bye to his beautiful wife and six-month-old baby to serve a tour in Iraq.
It doesn’t seem quite fair that one family must say good-bye to two young men, but how many other families have endured similar sacrifices? We are just one more family in the long line of American families who have watched their loved ones march off to war. We are just one more family who will begin each morning and end each night with prayers for loved ones in harm’s way.
Please keep servicemen and women and their families in your thoughts and prayers and pray that peace comes soon.
Dear Lord, please protect and strengthen Luke and Laura.
Dear Lord, please protect and strengthen Joe, Danielle, and baby Sophie.
For several years, Retha’s office was next to my classroom, and we popped in to talk to each other daily. In addition to being an organized and efficient secretary to an assistant principal, Retha served as school mother to hundreds of high school kids. When they were excited, she listened to their stories. When they were upset or concerned about something, she always found time to listen patiently and offer support. When they misbehaved or acted irresponsibly, she gently exerted her mom authority.
For many years, Retha was involved in organizing and supervising scores of school activities. From school dances to monthly character education lessons to honors assemblies, Retha worked behind the scenes tirelessly for weeks to help arrange events and then stayed on the sidelines during the affair in order to allow other students and faculty members to shine in the spotlight. She always deflected the credit to other faculty members although all of us knew that many school activities would have collapsed or failed without Retha’s hard work and heart.
Schools need teachers and administrators, but secretaries and aides who help to create a family atmosphere are priceless. Retha was invaluable and irreplaceable, and students and teachers loved her. In recognition of her contribution to the school, a couple of years ago Retha was selected Cobb County Support Person of the Year in a district of over 100,000 students!
A couple of weeks ago Retha and her husband packed their car and set off on a family trip at the end of a very long school year. After several hours of driving, Retha started going through the stack of mail they had brought with them and opened a letter from the school district. Shockingly, the letter contained the sentence, “We regret that your job has been eliminated.”
Yes, Retha, found out in a letter from an individual she had never met and whose name she did not know.
No one from the school called Retha to prepare her for the possibility that her job might be cut.
No one from the school contacted her to tell her personally the life-changing news.
Just a letter in the mail
Severe economic problems forced my school district to cut over 700 jobs at the end of the school year. In such a bad economy, what choice did they have? These aren’t evil people. They are good people doing the best that they can do to educate students in a suburban community with climbing unemployment and shrinking tax dollars.
That’s why it is so hard to understand how good people could have been so heartless to inform Retha by mail. I have no doubt that school administrators were upset about losing Retha. They know how much time and love she devoted to the school and know how much the school will suffer because of Retha’s loss. I also suspect that they were uncomfortable and didn’t want to have to tell Retha personally. Oh, what difference it would have made if school officials had remembered and practiced the Golden Rule.
Retha is angry and hurt because she has lost a job she loves and also because school officials relied on bureaucracy instead of compassion. Retha, however, is resolute and optimistic. “God has a plan for me,” she told me. “I just have to be patient until He reveals his plan.”
Retha’s story is heartbreaking and illustrates only one of the stories of thousands of teachers and school personnel who have lost their jobs across the country in the last couple of months.
After my golf lesson on Friday afternoon, I teed off at the first hole with every intention of utilizing the skills I had been practicing. By the third hole, however, I caught up with an extremely slow player about my own age. David told me that he had not played golf for almost a decade and was having to relearn everything. Since he had never been on this mountain course, he had to study each marker to determine the length of the hole and where he should hit. We decided to play together.
When David pulled out his driver and hit the ball over 200 yards straight down the fairway, I knew something was strange. How could someone hit a golf ball like that after a decade’s absence from golf? Since he was trying to play without his glasses, I had to help him find his ball on many occasions. He didn’t just lose sight of it; he had no idea where it was. He was frequently surprised that he had hit the ball more than 100 yards from where he thought it might be. At times I had to read the markings on the golf ball to prove to him it was the ball he had hit.
We played on.
We let one group pass us since we were so slow.
And then another group.
And then a third group.
Usually, I would have become exasperated or embarrassed at such slow play, but David just said, “Since I retired a couple of years ago, I don’t worry about hurrying anymore. It’s a beautiful day, and I don’t have anything pressing to do.” He was so affable and enthusiastic, that I had to agree with him, and I stopped worrying about the idea that I was embroiled in such a slow round of golf that we might be approaching a Guinness world record. “Embroiled” is a fitting word particularly since we were sweating in the 90+ degree Georgia heat at 3:00 in the afternoon.
By the sixth green, the heat must have gotten to David because he grabbed MY putter from MY bag that was attached to MY cart and walked up to putt his ball. “David,” I laughed. “I think my clubs might be a little short for you.” He looked up and was clearly baffled.
I stopped laughing.
David quietly turned to me and said, “Sometimes I get mixed up. I have Alzheimer’s. That’s why I retired.”
Astonished, I replied, “That’s okay. I only laughed because we all make the mistake of grabbing the wrong club. You’re doing fine.” When he thought he had taken too long on that hole, he told me he would just pick up his ball and move on to the next hole, but I encouraged him to stay and putt. Oh, how he could putt! I have never played with anyone who popped 5-foot putts into the hole with the same lackadaisical effort that most of us reserve for three-inch putts.
After another hole, I realized that David wasn’t drinking water, a dangerous omission on such a hot day on a course that does not put out water for golfers. (That’s a story for another day.) David told me that he had forgotten his water, and I handed him the extra bottle of water I always carry just to be on the safe side. (See! It’s not stupid to carry extra water!)
We played for two more hours. David hit beautiful drives straight down the fairway while I chili-dipped, punched worm-burners, and took mulligans. “Take your time and don’t get frustrated,” he repeatedly encouraged. Regardless of how badly I played, he was my cheerleader and found something nice to say even after my worst shots – and there were many. We played leisurely, but my frustration changed to laughter. I played dreadfully, but I didn’t care. It felt good to just play a game with someone who had such joy for life.
When rain approached around the 14th hole, David picked up his ball and said, “We better go fast before we get wet.” Normally, I would have continued playing until lightening approached, but I, too, picked up my ball. For the next few minutes, David followed my cart as we circled up and down hills and valleys on a sinuous, steep, and confusing course cut among the beautiful North Georgia Mountains. I turned around often to make sure that David was right behind me because I knew he would never find his way back to the parking lot on his own.
We said good-bye and told each other how much we enjoyed playing together, and I waited until David put all of his gear back into his car and changed his shoes. He was unsure how to get back to the main road, and I offered to lead him there.
Most people reading this story will probably think it was a blessing that I happened to be on the golf course right behind David on his first adventure of playing golf on a new course. He couldn’t find his way around the course, and I helped him. He often lost sight of his ball, and I found it for him. David was just as much a blessing to me. While I guided David around the course, he taught me to be thankful for the simple opportunity to enjoy a beautiful carefree afternoon. How could I let a topped shot, a mishit, or an errant ball (or two, or three) into a lake spoil a glorious summer day?
In the months ahead when I see a slow player ahead, instead of complaining, I’ll say a prayer that maybe I’ve found David again.
I’ll say a second prayer for the amazing souls who endure misfortunes with such grace, persistence, and joy while I too often am sidetracked by silly and insignificant concerns.
Today as I opened the mail, I discovered my first retirement paycheck and gulped. A few weeks ago when I reluctantly decided to retire, I pulled out the calculator and started figuring out whether or not I could survive financially during retirement. I ascertained that I would be fine, but I was still slightly uncomfortable today as I opened my first retirement paycheck and worried momentarily that I may have made a math mistake weeks ago that might force me to share my cat's food in the future.
As I opened the envelope and peered at my first paycheck, I discovered three important items.
First: The paycheck print is HUGE! Georgia's Teacher Retirement System obviously knows it is dealing with the squinting bifocal/trifocal crowd. Forget the magnifying glass that I had to pull out to read the fine print of all of the deductions in my working paycheck. This print is so large that I could post it across the room and use it as an eye chart. In fact, since I have little else to do these days, I might start practicing for my next eye exam.
Second: I won't have to fight my cat for the tender morsels in his food bowl. I may have complained for years and years about all of the money that TRS (Teacher's Retirement System) pulled from my monthly paycheck, but today I celebrated since my paycheck is 79% of the take-home pay that I received just one month ago. Imagine that! Each month I'll receive 79% of my pay without ever grading an essay, assigning homework, holding detention, returning a parent phone call, battling students afflicted with senioritis, attending a staff development session, recording grades, or supervising students in the cafeteria. Add to this paycheck the 1.5% pay raise I will receive almost every six months for the rest of my life, and I'm starting to think that I might learn to like retirement.
Lest I become too excited about this retirement check, I discovered one final thing when I opened the envelope and looked at my first retirement check today.
Third: I found a thorny warning typed in the same large print at the bottom of the check:
If payee is deceased return check to TRS.
Well, I don't plan to kick the bucket before I deposit my first retirement check. In fact, tomorrow, I may just write to TRS and point out the necessity for a comma in their warning. It's not like I have anything else to do in the next thirty years.
If I don't find some new students in the next few months, I may go insane!
Because of the bad economy that led to hundreds of teacher lay-offs in my school district, I decided to retire in June of 2010, the end of my 32nd year of teaching. I'm still trying to discern how I feel about retirement. Until recently, I maintained a blog about teaching. If you would like to read my thoughts about teaching, please visit: http://www.gladlywoulditeach.com/