воскресенье, 26 сентября 2010 г.

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Smacked with the Obvious

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings

BY: Sarah Hamaker

From a fallen tree, all make kindling.
~Spanish proverb

Brushing my teeth, I heard the scratching of what sounded like branches tickling the roof. I paused, wondering what it could be, given that no trees were close to our house. I attributed the sound to a stray branch that must have been flung onto our roof by Hurricane Isabel, which was blowing her way through our city in September 2003. Being pretty far inland, we were not too alarmed by this display of nature's fury.

Then I heard the faint sound of breaking glass. A split second later, the entire house shook. My husband and I stared at each other in frozen horror before bolting to check on our baby daughter asleep in her crib across the hall. The sound had jolted her awake -- never had a cry sounded so sweet -- and my husband gratefully snatched her up and darted back to the relative safety of our room.

Peeking down the darkened hallway, we could see remnants of our attic lying on the floor of our living room. After grabbing a few essentials, my husband ventured out, flipping on the hall light. We picked our way out of the house and into the still-raging hurricane.

My husband started the car while I hurried across the street to let a neighbor know we were okay and heading to a friend's home. Shaking but grateful to be alive, we drove away, skirting fallen trees and downed power lines.

The next morning, bright sunlight starkly displayed the storm's destruction. We returned home to see that a giant tulip poplar tree in the center of our yard had effectively split our house in two, crashing through our kitchen window with its long branches extending over the front of our house.

We had hoped to go inside to check on our cats, one of whom I had seen in the kitchen just moments before the tree fell, but we were uncertain of the house's stability. As we stood on the sidewalk gaping at the damage and wondering what to do, a local fire truck pulled up. The firefighters had heard about our house and informed us, with a note of awe, that our home had received the worst damage in the city. They volunteered to go inside to check for our cats, and we were thrilled when both felines were found unharmed, although plenty scared.

In the days and weeks that followed, we remembered the feeling of relief when we realized that everyone in our lives who mattered was unscathed -- me, my husband, our daughter and even our two pets. We clung to that memory as we navigated the long and sometimes exhausting road to recovery.

Family, friends and neighbors -- most of whom we hadn't yet met given that we had moved in only six months earlier -- expressed amazement at our calmness throughout the ordeal. Words cannot fully express how utterly grateful we were to God that He had spared our lives. Yes, we lost many things: books, toys, furniture, dishes, computers, and a fridge and freezer full of food. But those things were replaceable. Our home was rebuilt better than before -- and I even had the chance to make a few improvements during the reconstruction.

The damage inflicted by Hurricane Isabel -- the costliest and deadliest hurricane in the 2003 Atlantic season -- was temporary, but the opportunity to witness God's goodness in the midst of our trial is something we still cherish. When we meet neighbors for the first time, their eyes pop when they realize we live in "the house the tree fell through."

Every so often we pull out the photos of the tree's destruction and marvel at how blessed we were -- and still are. Whenever we begin to feel ungrateful or unsatisfied with what we have, those photos and memories offer a reminder of how we came through that trial. Especially during this time of economic uncertainty, reflecting on our close call with that tree makes us all the more thankful for our lives and for the things that matter most.


Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Tree Fell Through It

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings

BY: Sarah Hamaker

From a fallen tree, all make kindling.
~Spanish proverb

Brushing my teeth, I heard the scratching of what sounded like branches tickling the roof. I paused, wondering what it could be, given that no trees were close to our house. I attributed the sound to a stray branch that must have been flung onto our roof by Hurricane Isabel, which was blowing her way through our city in September 2003. Being pretty far inland, we were not too alarmed by this display of nature's fury.

Then I heard the faint sound of breaking glass. A split second later, the entire house shook. My husband and I stared at each other in frozen horror before bolting to check on our baby daughter asleep in her crib across the hall. The sound had jolted her awake -- never had a cry sounded so sweet -- and my husband gratefully snatched her up and darted back to the relative safety of our room.

Peeking down the darkened hallway, we could see remnants of our attic lying on the floor of our living room. After grabbing a few essentials, my husband ventured out, flipping on the hall light. We picked our way out of the house and into the still-raging hurricane.

My husband started the car while I hurried across the street to let a neighbor know we were okay and heading to a friend's home. Shaking but grateful to be alive, we drove away, skirting fallen trees and downed power lines.

The next morning, bright sunlight starkly displayed the storm's destruction. We returned home to see that a giant tulip poplar tree in the center of our yard had effectively split our house in two, crashing through our kitchen window with its long branches extending over the front of our house.

We had hoped to go inside to check on our cats, one of whom I had seen in the kitchen just moments before the tree fell, but we were uncertain of the house's stability. As we stood on the sidewalk gaping at the damage and wondering what to do, a local fire truck pulled up. The firefighters had heard about our house and informed us, with a note of awe, that our home had received the worst damage in the city. They volunteered to go inside to check for our cats, and we were thrilled when both felines were found unharmed, although plenty scared.

In the days and weeks that followed, we remembered the feeling of relief when we realized that everyone in our lives who mattered was unscathed -- me, my husband, our daughter and even our two pets. We clung to that memory as we navigated the long and sometimes exhausting road to recovery.

Family, friends and neighbors -- most of whom we hadn't yet met given that we had moved in only six months earlier -- expressed amazement at our calmness throughout the ordeal. Words cannot fully express how utterly grateful we were to God that He had spared our lives. Yes, we lost many things: books, toys, furniture, dishes, computers, and a fridge and freezer full of food. But those things were replaceable. Our home was rebuilt better than before -- and I even had the chance to make a few improvements during the reconstruction.

The damage inflicted by Hurricane Isabel -- the costliest and deadliest hurricane in the 2003 Atlantic season -- was temporary, but the opportunity to witness God's goodness in the midst of our trial is something we still cherish. When we meet neighbors for the first time, their eyes pop when they realize we live in "the house the tree fell through."

Every so often we pull out the photos of the tree's destruction and marvel at how blessed we were -- and still are. Whenever we begin to feel ungrateful or unsatisfied with what we have, those photos and memories offer a reminder of how we came through that trial. Especially during this time of economic uncertainty, reflecting on our close call with that tree makes us all the more thankful for our lives and for the things that matter most.


Chicken Soup for the Soul: My New Life

Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cancer Book

BY: Debra Manford

I live in Canada, in a small town called Atikokan in northwestern Ontario, surrounded by lakes, rivers, and streams. We have a human population of about 3,000, and a mosquito population of three billion. At the present time, we have a huge black bear wandering the streets and making a nuisance of itself. It was spotted about six houses down from me last night. That's just one of the many benefits of living in the wild, like having the nearest fully equipped hospital three hours away by car.

I am a fifty-three-year-old woman. I have two part-time jobs and always thought I had all the time in the world to go on trips and take a holiday or to make things right and get in touch with old friends. I always thought I had all the time in the world to do the things you plan on doing -- someday, tomorrow, next week, or perhaps next year.

In one day, with one phone call, my life has changed. I will never be the same person again and that is a strange, mixed-up feeling. I still have so much left to do!

I was too busy to visit the doctor on a yearly basis, too busy to listen to my body, too busy to be sick. Finally, I listened. My body was telling me that something was not right and I made an appointment for a physical. Ever since, I've been on a roller coaster of blood tests, urine tests, ultrasounds, and then, the phone call. They found a large tumor on my right kidney and are sending me for a scan to find out whether it is cancer or not.

I do not know what the diagnosis will be. To say that it does not matter would be a lie. Of course it matters, but probably not in the way most people would think.

When the doctor first called, I felt as though she had kicked me in the stomach. For a moment, I thought I would be sick. I definitely had to tell myself to breathe, and a million and one thoughts raced through my brain, fogging everything else she said after the word "tumor."
I realized I might not have all the time in the world, after all.

So, what do I do? I have decided I will live a fuller life, regardless of the outcome of my scan. Today, I will write a letter to my best friend and tell her how much her friendship means to me. Today, I will phone my sons and daughter, and tell them how very much they mean to me. And today, I will plant my flowers.

Is there a support group for people who wait?


The tumor is not in my kidney as they originally thought. I do not have kidney cancer. The tumor is confined to my adrenal gland, and as far as they can tell, there is no spreading. They will be removing the whole adrenal gland and doing a biopsy afterwards. It is my understanding that removing an adrenal gland is complicated, so I continue to have blood tests, urine tests, etc. Apparently, there is some medical preparation that needs to take place before this operation can happen; I am probably looking at two more months of waiting, depending upon whether this tumor is functioning or non-functioning. The doctor tells me adrenal cancer is very rare.


There is a certain amount of freedom in accepting what you cannot control. When I tried to explain this to my daughter, she became angry with me. I told her I was not afraid of death, just pain. I guess that is part of my faith. I have learned from this experience -- no matter how much you and your family love each other, there are certain thoughts that are difficult to share, for whatever reason. Some of my family members do not mention the word "cancer." They do not ask me how I feel because I guess they are more afraid than I am of what I am going to say. My mother and I, on the other hand, have discussed all the possibilities, good and bad, and I appreciate her honesty.


Today, when I woke and my feet hit the floor, I thanked God for the good life I have had, and hopefully, will continue to have, and I realized I don't do that often enough. Today, I think about how I am going to live the rest of my life as a more loving, giving, and thankful person. Strangely enough, mixed in with all the other emotions I have at the moment, I have joy. All in all, I feel more alive than ever.


Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Sanctity of the Run

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners

BY: Luci L. Creery

Sweat cleanses from the inside. It comes from places a shower will never reach.
~George Sheehan

I ran competitively as a teenager. I was the daughter of a struggling single parent, and running was my escape from a broken home and the burden of never having enough money. Running was relatively cheap, and it took me places I would not have gone otherwise. I was even banking on a track scholarship to get me through college since my mom, then working as a minimum-wage clerk, clearly couldn't afford my tuition.

Then, at the beginning of my senior year, I was in a terrible car accident. Before I knew it, I was stranded in a hospital bed with a shattered lumbar, a cracked pelvis, a punctured lung, and several broken ribs. Needless to say, the accident quelled my dreams.

But life moved on, as it always does. My body slowly healed, and I struggled to finish high school and carve out a new identity for myself and forge new hobbies. I eventually worked my way through college, got married, and began having a family, another deep aspiration of mine. Growing up for the most part alone, I yearned for a home full of the bustle of family life.

As a mother of five, my life has moved from the open trail into the kitchen in a race to get meals whipped up before children begin a hunger howl. When I want to go running, I have to sneak out of my house. It's a rapid-fire affair of throwing on workout clothes (clean or otherwise), lacing up shoes as I'm going out the door, and darting off without anyone (except Dad) noticing I'm gone. The youngest of my brood gets miffed if he notices Mommy leaving without his approval or companionship.

I don't marathon run. I don't have a schedule or a ritual. For me, I usually look around the house and think, "Okay, everything's under control here... It's nice outside... I'm going running." And I dash off. I'm not training for official races; I'm training for my life.

I try to run three or four times a week. Aside from the obvious health reasons, I run to keep sane. I knew I wanted to be a mother, but I didn't know love in a big package comes with a price tag: emotional and mental instability. There's something grounding about the steady rhythm of my feet hitting the pavement accompanied by the sound of my breathing that is close to music -- close to meditation.

My house is a bustling den of undone chores. There's always that load of laundry that begs to be done and a meatloaf that needs to be made. There's always a diaper to change, a floor to mop, an argument to mediate, and a missing toy to find. And, if I still have time, there's a bathroom that needs my attention.
The demands can be overwhelming at times. I love my family immensely, but I don't love getting hit in the head with a phone by a baby who's just learned to use his arm. I love my boys, but I tire of piles of smelly socks and scattered unmentionables. I don't mind cleaning my house, but I do grow weary of toothpaste smeared lavishly on bathroom mirrors and unidentifiable sticky spots showing up on freshly-mopped kitchen floors.

So, when I'm feeling especially anxious and irritated, I take off. I run. Sometimes I run hard and fast, pumping my arms to push up hills as if to punish myself (or to escape a dog). Sometimes I jog slowly and luxuriously, enjoying the scent of blossoming peach trees and the feel of a spring breeze, or taking in the heavy wet scent of an approaching storm.

Sometimes when I run, I look up, enjoying puffy clouds, a glaring sun, or the ominous darkness of approaching storm clouds. Sometimes I look out at the horizon -- at the mountains blanketed in a green that never goes away -- and I am happily reminded of my diminutive existence. Sometimes I look down because of dangers lurking in the form of potholes, loose gravel, or stray rocks. Sometimes I delightedly notice lizards crossing my path or butterflies resting silently on oleander bushes. I see children riding their bikes, elderly couples walking their dogs, women in pairs wearing colorful track suits, walking and chatting. With all of these observations, I am reminded of the wonders of the world and the steady existence of life beyond whatever small calamity befalls mine.

When I get myself into a rhythm of striding and breathing, I begin to feel the invisible, heavy layers of stress shed. I leave them behind to eat my dust, and I am a lighter being, pushing on ahead. By the end of my run, I am wet with perspiration, my heart is beating rapidly, and I am feeling new and alive.

My life as a mother is like an endurance sport. My runs always remind me of what life is: always putting one foot in front of the other, even when I'm exhausted. It's about running up the hill, however daunting, and congratulating myself for not stopping. Life, like running, is about getting up and pushing on ahead, even if I've tripped on a pothole. It's about keeping the rhythm and setting a pace. It's about minding my injuries and allowing myself time to heal, but not letting injuries get the best of me. Running is like life; it is a glorious, albeit sometimes painful, act of always moving forward.

When I finish my runs, I return home happily to the energy and bustle of my lovely family. My house seems warmer and friendlier. My children are chatting and playing, and I smile and hold them close. They tell me they missed me and wonder where I ran. I tell them I've missed them, as well.

I feel refreshed, grounded, and sane. I feel victorious. My mind is clear and my heart is happy. Everything is right with the world, and I'm ready to tackle that laundry pile and scrub that bathroom.


Chicken Soup for the Soul: Fishing for Rainbow Trout

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Book of Miracles

By Brittany Newell

We live in a rainbow of chaos.
~Paul Cézanne

Okay, so maybe it was a little irresponsible for my dad to embark on a fishing trip and leave his pregnant wife alone at home. My mother was seven months swollen with twins. Other, more rational couples might've promised to stay side-by-side, but we babies weren't due until August, and this fishing trip was a graduation present for my brother. Before the little girl duo was to come into the world, the two males of the family needed to bond in the manliest way they knew -- fishing for rainbow trout.

So my dad bade goodbye to my very pregnant mother and set off for Oregon with my older brother. Perhaps Dad was oblivious to the foreshadowing of sudden rain and hot whistling winds, finding satisfaction in the masculine angst of raging seething rivers. Either way, it must have come as a shock to return to his lodge one evening and receive ten frantic messages left by my mother. It's hard to guess exactly what she babbled, for a hysterical woman in labor is not usually known for her eloquence, but my dad knew instantly he had to get home. He and my brother leapt into the car and rocketed down the road, racing off in less than five minutes for the fifteen-hour car ride to San Francisco.

Meanwhile, my mother felt her babies' impatience and rushed to her car. She was so enormous she couldn't even buckle her seatbelt and her stomach constantly set off the horn. Our neighbor had agreed to drive my mother to the hospital in case my dad was unavailable but Mom chose not to trouble her backup chauffeur and instead drove herself.

Meanwhile, my father and brother sped down the highway. Despite all efforts to surpass the speed limits as quietly and cautiously as possible, Dad was pulled over by a cop just as my mother teetered into the hospital. My parents' despair was mutual as Dad pleaded with an unsympathetic policeman and my mother hid in the elevator, embarrassed by her frazzled state.

At last, speeding ticket begrudgingly accepted, my dad was on the road again just as my mother leaned over and grasped the nurse's desk, mumbling, "I think something's wrong."

The nurse was a warm and no-nonsense woman. If her husband had asked to go on a fishing trip seven months into her pregnancy, she would have said, "You think some darn fish are more important than staying home and rubbing my feet? I don't have cravings for trout; I need chocolate ice cream!" The nurse told my mother to remove her pants and with one mighty sniff declared, "Honey, this ain't no false alarm. Your water broke!"
At the same time, massive rain clouds broke over Northern California, and a sudden downpour impaired my dad's speeding. This was enough to discourage anyone, for despite the near-slapstick calamity of our impromptu births, this premature labor was serious. There'd been another of us, my unknown brother, but our trio was reduced by a miscarriage before he even had a name.

As Dad's car flew through the rain, however, we decided we'd been patient long enough. My mother begged for painkillers. My father must have sensed her despair and agony. He sensed that he would never get to San Francisco in time for our births. Though the rain slowly let up, he knew he could never drive fast enough to make it... assuming we made it too. He was frightened and discouraged and tired. Just as his weary mind considered the worst possible scenario, he looked out the window and saw a glimmer on the horizon.

Across the sky stretched a double rainbow. Not one, but two radiant arcs, one on top of the other. My father stared long and hard at this double rainbow, two for his double dose of Gemini girls. He knew just by looking at that pair of rainbows that everything would be all right. This was a sign, and with hope restored he continued down the road, slowing his frantic speed to gaze at those rainbows a little longer.

He arrived at the hospital seven hours after we were born. Two months premature, I weighed three pounds, fifteen ounces; McKenzie was four pounds, three ounces. Though the double rainbow calmed my father, he was still terribly on edge until he saw us, our tiny wrinkled bodies warming under the orange glow of incubator lights. When Dad arrived, Mom awoke to hold us, and we smiled, brown eyes all around, except for my mother's glistening wet violet ones.

Dad's fishing trip had been cut short but he didn't mind. All he needed at that moment was the tenderness only two baby girls could give.

After that day, Dad never saw another double rainbow.


Chicken Soup for the Soul: First Failure

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Campus Chronicles

BY: Emily Ruffner

I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.
~Thomas Edison

I leaned my head on my hand and stared with large, blank eyes at the overhead in Professor Chang's physics lecture for electrical engineers. I was completely lost. There were drawings and equations, all in pretty colors, but all complete gibberish to me. I had no clue why semiconductors worked, nor did I care to know. Was this what engineering really was? My mind swirled.

As I sat in class scrunching my eyebrows and rubbing my temples, I became more and more stressed by the fact that I did not understand a single sentence leaving Professor Chang's mouth. How could I not understand these equations? I had always excelled in math and science in high school, and now, as I looked around the lecture hall, I seemed to be the only one drowning in the material. The other students asked intelligent questions that raised good points with the professor, while I sat back attempting to scribble everything down from the slide before we moved onto the next topic I would surely not understand.

As a freshman in college, I was actually failing a course for the first time in my life and I didn't know where to turn next. Did I really want to be an engineer? I knew they designed systems to make things work. What things? Apparently everything. Did I care why my microwave, cell phone, or car worked? No, it just worked, and I didn't care why as long as it wasn't broken.

I picked my college major back in freshman year of high school. I excelled in math and science, knew I wanted to make a difference in the world, and discovered the profession of environmental engineering with the help of my guidance counselor. I was entranced by the fact that it was an up and coming field, great monetary potential, and would help save the world, but I didn't realize what engineers actually did... until now.

Throughout my eighteen years of life, I always had a goal and I always worked hard until I achieved that goal. Because of my AP credits from high school, I was already technically at the sophomore level in the engineering program. How could I throw that all away? I would have to start at ground zero. Did that mean I would need an extra year of college? What would my parents think? And if I wasn't going to be an engineer, what was I going to do? I felt my whole world crashing down around me in that lecture and began to feel like I was going to hyperventilate.

I left the class and immediately ran over to my advisor's office. I let her know that I simply could not be an engineer. I had to drop the physics class immediately. She informed me that I was too late. I was too far into the course to drop and no matter what, the grade would be going on my permanent GPA.

Oh dear God, I was going to have an "F" on my pristine report card. An F. An F! F for big Fat Failure! I knew I had to go home and call the only people who could possibly make me feel better, my mom and dad.

As I dialed the number, I felt the tears welling up in my eyes, debating how I would tell them that their perfect straight A student was failing a class!

The phone rang and then my mom answered. With my throat tightening from the tears I was holding back, I managed to squeak out "Hi, Mom."

"Honey, what is wrong?"

"Mom," I sniffled, "I'm failing physics and I don't want to be an engineer anymore."

"That's it? Oh dear, sweetie, you almost gave me a heart attack. I thought you were pregnant or something... which, if you ever are, we will work through as well. Okay, what happened?"

I explained to my mom about how lost I was and how engineering was not what I expected. She explained that I was being harder on myself than I needed to be. It was okay not to be perfect all of the time, and she and my dad would support me in whichever career path I chose. She recommended I go to the career advising center on campus to take some career tests to give me ideas on other options.

Feeling like a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders, I followed her advice. I took a few career tests and realized that there were jobs out there that I never even knew existed. I wondered how seniors in high school could possibly be expected to mark a box on their college applications signifying what major they were choosing, when we truly hadn't been exposed to more than a quarter of the possible occupations that existed.

Each test actually pointed me in the direction of teaching, a career I thought was an easy way out before. I pondered the fact that I still enjoyed math and sharing my knowledge with others. I liked the idea of helping high school students realize their potential and I could also coach swimming, which I loved.

A few weeks later, I journeyed back to my advisor to inform her of my decision to switch majors. Unfortunately, she reiterated the bad news that I would still have to finish the dreaded physics course and it would stay on my record. I started utilizing the physics tutor lab on campus and even thought about visiting my intimidating professor during office hours. I was afraid he would think I was stupid and would not understand why I was so far behind, but my grade was on the line, so I swallowed my pride and timidly showed up at his office one day. Although at first he seemed perturbed to be taken away from his research, he warmed up to the fact that I was making an effort to succeed in his class.

After a grueling semester, with every spare minute devoted to my physics homework, I passed with a C. I began my second semester of freshman year on course to become a math teacher and graduated on time, three and half years later, on the dean's list.

Surprisingly, after one year in the "real world" as a teacher, I discovered that wasn't the profession for me either. I went through the same breakdown as I did in college, not knowing what I wanted to do next. Over my summer break, I took a part-time job at a local radio station and decided radio was more fun than teaching. I realized that failing is part of learning and that it's okay not to have your whole life figured out, as long as you work hard and rise to whatever challenges you face. I'm now in my third year as the human resources manager at the radio station group, wondering where my career path will take me next.


Chicken Soup for the Soul: From the Only

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

BY: Heidi Durig Heiby

Dad, your guiding hand on my shoulder will remain with me forever.
~Author Unknown

I thought I might die. It was the first semester of my second year in college, and my freshman-year boyfriend had just broken up with me. I didn't know what to do. I had not been without a steady boyfriend since my sophomore year in high school, and this one was special. I had seen it as my first legitimate adult relationship, being that I was almost twenty. I was miserable, unable to eat or sleep. My roommates were worried, but had given up after trying to cheer me a thousand different ways. I had even written my estranged sweetheart a poem about an old doll that had been left on the shelf. Me. I was so hurt and so young.

I began to call home almost every day after the break-up to muster sympathy from my mom. My dad and I, however, continued to have those bare bones dad-and-daughter phone conversations during our official Sunday phone call, the ones where I reassured him each time that I was studying and had enough money. My mom and I, on the other hand, really talked. She wanted to know everything that was happening around campus, what I was learning in my classes, and what was good in the cafeteria. These were the days before cell phone "anytime minutes" and unlimited long distance, so we began racking up some bills. I waited for the "other fish in the sea" speech that, thankfully, never came. My mother was supportive and patient through my tears, but after weeks had gone by, she finally told me that I was being silly continuing to pine. I knew she was right, so I tried to mend my broken heart by burying myself in my studies even more than before, and joining a few more college organizations. Dad stayed away from the topic altogether. I knew that he felt bad that I felt bad, but he generally left emotional rescue to my mother.

One day when I returned to my dorm room from an afternoon class, I found my roommate sitting at her desk, grinning up at me. An arrangement of pretty, pale flowers sat on the table in the middle of the room.

"For you," she said. My heart stopped. This was it. My ex had finally realized the error of his ways and wanted me back. He hadn't actually fallen for that Barbie doll freshman in his RA orientation group after all. I approached slowly and lifted the fragrant basket, opening the little card with shaky hands. Written there was simply: From the only man who has loved you for twenty years. My eyes filled with tears. My roommate looked at me with confusion.

"These are from my dad," I choked, sitting down to cradle the bouquet in my hands and gaze at the delicate blooms.

"Your dad? What for?" My roommate crossed the room and sat down next to me, arm around my shoulders. I handed her the card. She smiled again.

"Your dad's so sweet."

"I know," I sniffed. Right there something shifted in me. I gained perspective. My mom's steady counsel had aided in my slow recovery, but this was the shot that I needed to heal completely.

Many years have passed since then and I am happily married with a daughter of my own. My father has had his own battles to face in recent years, with failing health and forced retirement, but the grand image of Dad as protector never really goes away. As it turns out, a father's physical strength is just a metaphor for what he really gives his children. I don't think I realized the absolute fortress of my dad's character, the strength of his morals and convictions, until he began to fail physically. Mom had been telling me over and over again how my father never complained about the deterioration of his quality of life, no matter how bad he felt, but that he often lamented no longer being able to do things with and for us. I wanted a way to reassure him that not being as active anymore had nothing to do with his ability to be a great father. We had traveled together all our lives, Dad and I, and I did miss that aspect of our relationship. But the foundation and support that he had given me had never weakened. In fact, it had strengthened.

I had all but forgotten about the boyfriend, my desperation, and Dad's flowers, until I saw a picture in an old album that jogged my memory. My eyes filled with tears again at my father's sweet gesture. It was just a week before Father's Day and I had an idea.

My dad opened his simple card with a weak smile, as smiles come harder with Parkinson's. The flowers had surprised him, although he had always been the rare man who appreciated flowers as a gift. The card read: From the only woman who has loved you since the day she was born.

Then I hugged him, asking him in a whisper, "Do you remember?"

"I remember," he assured me softly. We nodded at each other. As always, there was no need for words.


Chicken Soup for the Soul: Because You Were There

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom

BY: Stephen Rusiniak

There's a lot more to being a woman than being a mother, but there's a hell of a lot more to being a mother than most people suspect.
~Roseanne Barr

I shivered on the sidelines as my freshman high school soccer team played on. Snow began to fall as the playing conditions deteriorated. It was a close game so I knew there was little chance of my entering the action. Across the field I saw a few spectators -- including my mom. How I longed to score a goal for her, or for my coach to praise my athletic prowess in her presence, but instead, I never played -- that day or many others. She was used to this. I wasn't much of a baseball player either. Thawing out in the car on the drive home and feeling guilty about her coming "for nothing," I told her she shouldn't have bothered. She replied, "I had to." And, when I asked her why, she simply said, "Because you were there." It'd be years before I'd realize the significance of her words, and all it took for this spontaneous epiphany to come to pass was for me to become a father.

With age comes wisdom, and now, after many years as a parent, I've come to recognize and appreciate many of the sacrifices that both of my parents, but especially my mom, suffered for the sake of my siblings and me. To this end, and almost four decades later, I can easily identify with why my mom spent so many autumn afternoons braving the elements to stand on the sidelines during my none-too-stellar high school soccer career. I've also come to understand how her daily existence revolved around the lives and wellbeing of my brothers, sister and me, and how her adult wants and needs took a backseat to the wants and needs of her children. This was an invaluable example I'd come to follow when I became a father.

My friends with kids acted as if they possessed a special knowledge simply because they'd sired offspring. They felt compelled to offer their knowing opinion of how my life would forever change upon my entrance into the world of parenthood. Of course, I simply discarded their warnings; after all, no child could ever have that much influence over the life of an adult -- or so I thought.

And then one morning, I became a father. With Michael's birth, as foretold, my life changed. His birth became the catalyst that sparked in me the need to become more keenly aware of all that was happening within my immediate world. Do the cars really travel too fast down our street? How good are the schools? His birth prompted me to focus more on the greater world, too. What was happening in our country and around the world? And how would the totality of all I'd begun to notice impact the life of this precious child for whom I was now responsible? His life mattered more than mine and his wants and needs immediately surpassed my own. I found parenthood to be rewarding, fulfilling, a blessing and sometimes, a scary proposition. The world was a frightening place, and I quickly realized that I could only provide my son with a minimal amount of security, and for a limited amount of time. The birth of my daughter, Tracy, compounded all that I'd been feeling.

Eventually, I became more comfortable in my role as father, protector and provider. And, I also learned that, as my friends with kids had predicted, parenthood had forever changed me. My children came first, and to this end, I gladly surrendered whatever I might've done for what I knew I had to do -- echoes of my own childhood and of my mom's devotion. My willingness to participate in various facets of their lives sometimes surprised me, whether it was taking time off to be a "class mother" for the preschool pumpkin picking trip, crafting an edible castle complete with a moat filled with Goldfish crackers for a Cub Scout bake-off, or corralling a herd of out-of-control hormone-raging middle schoolers while chaperoning an overnight class trip.

As time went by, I began to realize that long before I'd even become a father, my education in proactive and participating parenting had already begun -- the result of the unconditional love, guidance and example set forever in stone by Mom. So many subtle and yet valuable lessons were being taught during my childhood.

My son was a four-year member of his high school lacrosse team. He'd played in almost every game -- mostly as a starter, but during his last year his playing time evaporated. Still, I attended his games, celebrating when he had a few minutes of field time and commiserating with him when he didn't. Sometimes I wondered if he ever felt awkward about my attending, but if he did, he never mentioned it. Regardless, I simply had to be there. It was a dad thing, but it was taught to me a lifetime ago by my mom. I was always proud of him for his dedication to his team and to the game. Maybe one day he'll ask why I came to all of his games, his elementary school plays and field trips, his scouting events and every other thing that he ever did. If he does, I'll respond to his question with the same answer Mom once gave me, "I had to, because you were there."


Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Bottle of Cologne

Chicken Soup for the Soul: True Love

BY: Toni Somers

Grow old with me! The best is yet to be.
~Robert Browning

The bottle sits on my bathroom counter next to my comb and brush. It is three-quarters empty now. "Casaque by Jean d'Albret" proclaims the label, its blue color faded over forty years.

I use my special cologne sparingly now and only on very important occasions, because there will be none to replace it when these last few precious drops are gone.

It is the second bottle of this particular scent that I have owned. Jack gave me the first bottle... a very small one... on our first anniversary.

I'd heard the sound of the noisy muffler on our old maroon Ford and the crunch of its worn tires on the gravel of our driveway. He'd come home from his medical school classes early that Wednesday afternoon many years ago. After pausing for a moment to sniff his appreciation for the pie I had cooling on the kitchen windowsill, he handed me a small paper sack.

"Happy anniversary, honey! I brought you something special."

"Special and expensive, I think! The bag says Suzanne's. You know we can't afford anything from there."

"I can't afford NOT to give something special to the world's most beautiful bride. Especially for one who baked such a wonderful-smelling dessert for our anniversary dinner."

His arms circled my waist and he untied the strings on my apron.

"Now come in here and sit down and open my present."

He led me into the only other room in our tiny apartment and sat beside me on the worn old sofa.

My hands trembled as I took a small package from the bag. I hesitated to disturb the artistry of the elegant gold foil wrapping paper and black velvet ribbon.

"Open it, honey. Open it."

"But I thought we agreed to save the money for your tuition and not get each other anything," I protested somewhat half-heartedly.

"Open it, honey," Jack persisted.

The lovely wrappings fell away to reveal a bottle of French cologne. I knew it must be very expensive. I held it to my nose and smelled the most delicate odor I could ever imagine.

"Oh, Jack! It's heavenly! I'll never wear any other cologne as long as I live."

Looking down at my faded blue jeans and ugly, ragged tennis shoes, I wondered if I would ever be worthy of this marvelous scent. I would certainly try.

I used my precious Casaque carefully and sparingly over those early years of our marriage. Even after Jack's medical school and postgraduate training were completed and our life was easier financially, still, I was frugal. Even when we had a new sofa in a big, new house and five children to fill that house, I continued to jealously guard my fragrant treasure, a symbol of the foolishly extravagant love of a young husband.

And then one day three-year-old Jim drank my precious Casaque!

The day had been depressing because of the gloom and the rain. The new puppy had kept me awake half the night with his whining and barking. And I had just looked in the refrigerator to find we were out of milk. I went into my bedroom to get my purse and car keys only to discover that Jim had drunk my Casaque! The evidence was clear. He was sitting on the floor holding the empty bottle, his lips were wet, and he was making an awful face.

"Jack, come quick," I wailed. "Can cologne hurt the baby? Jim just drank the rest of the bottle of my Casaque!"

"It's mostly just alcohol, honey," Jack reassured me. "But we'll take him to the ER just to be sure."

Little Jim was fine, and my concern for my child assuaged, I now mourned my empty cologne bottle.

"Don't worry, hon. We can afford another bottle."

A few weeks later Jack came home, again with an elegantly wrapped package... this time a much larger bottle of my beloved scent.

"Sorry it took me a while to replace it. The lady at Suzanne's had to order it from Kansas City. They don't sell a whole lot of it anymore."

Though life was good and worries about tuition payments and cars with noisy mufflers were long past, I prized my new bottle of Casaque as much as I had the earlier one and used it with care bordering on parsimony. Still, one day it reached the half-empty mark, and I thought it best to get another bottle. It might have gotten even harder to obtain than it had been years ago.

The young lady at the counter at Suzanne's smiled what I'm sure she considered a charitable smile as she said, "Casaque? We haven't had any of that for years now. In fact, I don't think there is even a Jean d'Albret maker any more. We have some other lovely scents for a woman of your age, though."

"Is Miss Suzanne here? Maybe she knows how to order it. She got some for me a few years ago... from Kansas City, I think."

"It must have been quite a few years ago. Miss Suzanne has been dead for five years. The shop is now owned by her son George."

Time goes so quickly. One day I look at the cologne bottle and there isn't much left. I've been so careful of it over the years. Jim and his four siblings are all grown now. He is a successful lawyer and doesn't drink cologne anymore. He has moved on to more sophisticated drinks. Jack's hair has grown gray. He goes fishing and spends time surfing the Internet and would still buy large bottles of Casaque for me if Jean d'Albret still existed. I think he is perhaps even foolish enough to think I'm still a beautiful bride.

My bottle of Casaque is not three-quarters empty. It is still one-quarter full. Perhaps at over seventy years of age... if I'm very careful... I can count on using it for the rest of my life.


Chicken Soup for the Soul: Roses for Wendy

Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Book of Miracles

BY: Wendy Delaney

So they asked him, "What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do?"
~John 6:30

I lost both of my parents in a tragic car accident when I was five. Fortunately, at that age a child doesn't comprehend the finality of such an event.

Many years later, at age twenty-three, I was planning my wedding to Shelly (actually Sheldon), a wonderful twenty-eight-year-old who came from a complete loving family, the type I envied. Shelly and I had already purchased our first home with a spacious, beautifully landscaped yard and patio, perfect for an outdoor celebration. As the date grew closer and we took ownership of the home, we began to clean, arrange, trim, and discard inside and out. However, neither of us had any expertise in landscaping. We only knew how to cut grass, so we learned pruning, trimming, and plant care.

The day before our wedding we were putting the final touches on the yard. Flowers had been planted, the grass cut, and the hedges trimmed. We were so pleased with the neatness of it all. But one plant perplexed us. A rosebush located just outside our front door, obviously carefully chosen for such a place of prominence, was completely barren of leaves or buds. It looked like it might be dead, but since neither of us could be sure, we reluctantly decided to keep it for the time being.

That same evening, after the traditional rehearsal and subsequent dinner, I was too excited to sleep. Instead I decided I needed some quiet time to reflect on the next day. I got up and retreated to the backyard and sat in the warm, clear, star-filled night. It was there I realized the only thing missing from my wedding day would be my parents. There had been no time to think of this up until now and the thought filled me with sadness. After all, every girl dreams of having her father walk her down the aisle and her mother there to comfort her nerves. Overcome with emotion and alone in the yard, I began speaking to my mom and dad, just as if I knew they were listening. I asked them for a sign, something I had never asked from them before, but now felt compelled to do.

"Give me a sign on my wedding day to let me know you're with me."

The next day Shelly's excited voice repeatedly called my name. I rushed to join him at the front door.

"I can't believe what I'm about to show you!"

He stood aside. The barren rosebush had two huge roses in full bloom.

There was no doubt in my mind we were witnessing a miracle... a miracle of love.


Chicken Soup for the Soul: Low and Left

In youth we learn; in age we understand.
~Marie Ebner-Eschenbach

"Do you think I should wait or go ahead and hit?" I asked my friend Mike.

"I don't know," Mike said. "He's pretty close."

"Yeah," I answered. "But he's on the left side of the fairway. I never hit it left."

Just ten years old, my golf skills were still in their embryonic stages -- as was my knowledge of etiquette. My drives all tended to drift weakly high and right. My occasional well-struck tee shot would start straight, but then always fade to the right edge of the fairway.

Low and left? Never.

So as those last heedless words left my lips, I started my backswing. A brief turn of the hips, a subtle rotation of the shoulders, and the ball rocketed off the clubface -- low and left.

Rarely in life are we afforded the divine power of foretelling the future, seeing events unfold before they occur. Like maybe when the car ahead on the freeway abruptly stops, and no amount of brake pressure would have avoided the impending collision.

So as my small, white missile streaked down the left side of the fairway, I saw the future for an instant. I no longer hoped the ball wouldn't hit the fellow golfer in front of me -- that was a foregone conclusion. No, instead, I hoped it would merely hit him in the thigh, the butt, or at least the upper arm, someplace fleshy with some padding. Just, please, not directly on bone, I thought. And not on the head.

I would like to believe I heartily yelled "Fore!" But, in reality, I barely mustered a weak and reluctant "Hey." Mike heard me, but the fellow 170 yards down the fairway certainly did not.

Maybe if I just closed my eyes and prayed, I could pretend this never happened, that I never hit a golf ball with this man -- possibly a husband, a father, a favorite son -- just down the fairway.

But no such luck. The ball continued the seemingly eternal flight toward its human destination. Now just yards away, I realized that my Pinnacle was on a beeline toward the center of the man's back, as if his shoulder blades were goalposts for a descending football.
In a matter of milliseconds, my mind feverishly raced through dozens of potential outcomes, each more horrid and life altering than the former: broken bones, newspaper headlines, prison time, a funeral. What will Dad say? Will I be banned from the course? Will I ever play again? Do juvenile detention centers have golf courses?

Then, with a dull and horrid thump, the ball struck right in the middle of his back. Dead center. The lump in my throat grew two-fold. Though I tried to swallow, every ounce of moisture in my mouth relocated to the palms of my hands. I simply thought, "I'm screwed."

The man's stride halted mid-step. He never fell down. He never slumped over. He hardly even flinched. As if superhuman, some sort of mythical golfing god, he slowly turned around with his head slightly tilted toward his right shoulder. He stared at me with eyes that seemed to judge my entire brief life.

I wanted to run. I wanted to point at Mike. He's the one who hit you! I wanted to take some practice swings and nonchalantly act as if nothing happened, as if I were simply warming up for my drive, that the reckless offender must have been playing from some other hole.

But, instead, I waved. "Sorry about that," I sheepishly hollered, waiting for the man to bolt into a sprint back up the hill.

But the brute never said a word. He just continued to stare.

"Is he OK?" Mike asked. "That had to hurt."

"I think so. What should I do?"

"I don't know," Mike said, turning toward his golf bag, as if washing his hands of any guilt by association.

"Sorry," I yelled again, hoping a second apology would render the matter resolved.

We waited a few more seconds, still expecting him to charge back up the fairway, crazily waving a pitching wedge in his hand. You stupid kids! What do you think you are doing! But, stunningly, he turned back around and began a slow gait toward the green, leaving my ball lying in the sparsely mown rough behind him. In silence, I lowered my head and stared at the ground.

The man hadn't shouted. He hadn't thrown my ball into the woods. He hadn't offered any animated hand gestures. And after his round he didn't report my actions to the pro shop. He just walked away and continued his round, leaving me to wallow in my guilt and idiocy.

Twenty years later, I have no idea why that man walked away. Maybe he just dismissed me as a stupid kid, a ten-year-old not worth wasting his time on. Or perhaps the ball just hadn't hurt that much. Although I can't imagine how a line-drive tee shot from 170 yards wouldn't bring pain. Whatever the reason, I learned a fundamental rule of golf etiquette that day: don't dare hit into the group ahead.

And, on the rare occasion when someone hits into me, I don't yell or throw a fit. I simply stare.


Change of Address

Chicken Soup for the Soul: True Love

There is no such thing as chance; and what seem to us merest accident springs from the deepest source of destiny.
~Johann Friedrich Von Schiller

After being "on the bench" and not dating for quite some time, with the exception of one disaster, I decided that marriage wasn't for me. As I drove home from work one evening, I suddenly found myself briefly looking towards the sky through my windshield and telling God, "Lord, I'm not getting married." Afterwards, I felt a huge sense of peace and continued making my way home down Los Angeles' 101 freeway, feeling sorry for all those other women in their forties who were practically howling at the moon every night because they wanted a husband so badly.

Two years later, my life had changed quite significantly. I was making less money and had just moved to an apartment in Burbank after selling the beloved condo I had lived in for nine years. I simply couldn't afford it any more. If that weren't enough, the oldest of my three cats, Risqué, had just been put to sleep. She had cancer and I didn't even know it. I was exhausted from all of the crying. I missed her so much. And, as if my heart wasn't already broken enough, it would break a little more every time I saw my two remaining cats, Esther and Joseph, looking for their sister.

After I had unpacked the last of the boxes, it dawned on me that while I had notified all of the appropriate parties regarding my change of address, I had yet to notify Bed Bath & Beyond. I needed some stuff for my new place and didn't want to miss getting any coupons they would be sending out in the near future. I called and was greeted by a very friendly voice. "Thank you for calling 1-800-GO-BEYOND. This is Jason. How may I help you?"

Jason proceeded to assist me with my change of address, but couldn't hold back his response when he heard the name of the street was I now living on. "Screenland Drive? Sounds like you live near a bunch of movie theaters," he said.

I quickly responded, "Oh, actually, I live by all the studios, like Disney, Warner Bros. and NBC."

"Well," he said. "I work here during the day, but I'm actually a musician. Would you like to see my website?"

I seized the opportunity to drum up some business for myself. "Sure! I'm a freelance writer, but I work a full-time day job for steady income, so I completely understand where you're coming from. As a matter of fact, if you're a musician, I can help you with your bio. Would you like to see my website?" Jason and I exchanged our website information and he completed my change of address request.

When I got home that night, I had completely forgotten about my promise to check out Jason's website. That is, until I logged into my e-mail and found a message from him. "Ah!" I thought to myself, "I forgot to check out that dude's website." I typed the URL into the address bar. Alright, so he was handsome and I noticed. The photo I was looking at was the cover of his latest CD. I then proceeded to read the page, which by the way, was written very poorly.

I could see that Jason was based in New Jersey and as it turns out, is a vibraphonist who was mentored by Lionel Hampton. I was familiar with his music. Jason also had a couple of Grammy ballot nominations under his belt. Quite impressive, but the guy really did need some help in the writing department. His website was a mess.

I responded to Jason's e-mail and complimented him on his accomplishments. I then closed my message in a businesslike manner, stating that I was looking forward to possibly serving his writing needs in the future.

The next night, there was another e-mail from Jason waiting for me. This time, he asked me if I was married with children. I started typing a response. "If you read my bio then you saw that I am studying to become a licensed minister, which is something I take very seriously. So, if these e-mails become inappropriate, I will let you know! I am not a desperate woman." My keyboard was practically smoking! Then my phone rang.

"Hello, Anji. This is Jason Taylor. I just sent you an e-mail, but I thought I would go ahead and give you a call. I know you know the Lord. That's why I wanted to talk to you. I know we were discussing you doing some writing work for me and I still intend on having you do that, but there is something else I want to talk to you about." I couldn't imagine anything this guy would need to talk with me about besides writing. So, I braced myself, ready to hang up, if necessary. He began to speak. "I don't know how to say this, so I'm just going to say it. I went to your website last night, and after reading your bio, I do believe you're the woman I've been praying for." Jason then began to speak in a language he knew I would understand -- scripture. "Don't limit God, Anji. Because with God, nothing is impossible." Those words immediately warmed my heart and in spite of the way I felt about marriage, I was willing to listen to what he had to say.

After a few conversations with Jason, he and I decided to give a long distance relationship a try. Because of the distance, he jumped through a lot of hoops and met a lot of people who were interested in my wellbeing. We all needed to make sure he was the gentleman he presented himself to be. After we got married, I moved to the East Coast, making it necessary for me to change my address again.


понедельник, 6 сентября 2010 г.

Date Night

Chicken Soup for the Soul: True Love

BY: Stefanie Wass

Reflect upon your current blessings.
~Charles Dickens

"Bye guys," I say, kissing my two girls in the church hallway before heading outside to the car. "Have fun."
It's Wednesday evening -- church choir night for my daughters. I have two hours until pick-up time, and like a teenager, I am giddy with anticipation.

"Where do you want to meet?" my husband asked at breakfast. "It's Wednesday, you know."

As I drive to the neighborhood café, I find myself singing along to the radio. Free from my usual dinner-making routine, (thanks to a church choir program that serves my children nuggets and noodles, along with a hefty dose of praise and song) I am carefree. I park the car, then rummage through my purse for some lip gloss. Glancing in the visor mirror, I fluff my hair, tucking a pesky white strand under my (mostly) brown locks. It's silly, I know: primping and fussing for a dinner date with my husband of thirteen years. But, as I walk in the restaurant, I know it's worth it.

"You look nice," my beloved smiles, handing me a dinner menu.

For the next hour, we feast on pizza and salad, swapping family and work stories between bites of pepperoni and cheese. My usual calorie-conscious self, lost to the revelry of the day, eyes a glass case full of cheesecakes and brownies.

"Want to get dessert?" I surprise myself by suggesting such decadence.

My turtle cheesecake, a tower of chocolate and caramel topped with pecans, is sweet and indulgent -- just like this evening.

"Can I taste a little of that?" I say, poking my fork deep into my husband's peanut butter pie.

After dinner, we linger over cups of hazelnut coffee. I am full -- of good food, companionship, and the comfort in knowing that my spouse is still my very best friend.

I glance at my watch. "We still have a half hour," I say, hopeful to go for a walk or do some window shopping.
Holding hands, we cross the street and enter the public library. I head straight to my favorite section -- nonfiction, and give thanks for time to peruse the newest releases without being pulled into the children's room. My husband flops into an armchair and relaxes with a newspaper.

Thirty minutes pass in a flash.

"It's time to go," I reluctantly announce, peering over the top of my spouse's paper. In my arms I hold a stack of books -- souvenirs reminding me to return again next week.

"I can pick up the girls if you want," my husband says. "You take your time. We'll meet you at home."

I sigh a bit, sorry to see the evening come to a close. At home, it will be the usual routine: baths and bedtimes, stories to read and lunches to pack. I love motherhood, but I relish this respite.

Despite conflicts and commitments, (I do, after all, have to take a turn as parent helper at children's choir) I will do my best to continue dating my spouse. Although my girls are jealous when they hear tales of cheesecakes and pizzas, deep down I know they benefit. Secure in the knowledge that Mom and Dad love each other, they are free to grow up in confidence, surrounded by the very real possibility that romance can last forever.

Although marriage may be made in heaven, I think its maintenance must be done here on Earth.

Thank goodness for Wednesday choir night: an opportunity to fine-tune the most sacred of bonds.


Where's Your Notebook?

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Wisdom of Dads

BY: John W. Stewart, Jr.

One father is more than one hundred schoolmasters.
~George Herbert

I was thirteen years old when Dad called my two younger brothers and me into the game room of our house. I was excited! I thought we were going to play pool or pinball or maybe even watch movies together, just us guys! "Bring a notebook and something to write with," my dad bellowed before we reached the game room. My brothers and I stopped dead in our tracks and stared at each other in horror! His request was unusual, and our excitement turned to dread as we became well aware that games or movies were not the reason we were pulled away from watching Fat Albert. This felt more official and tedious, like schoolwork, chores or worse, a family meeting.

As we each retrieved a notebook and pencil, we continued to ponder the reason for this summons. We ruled out a family meeting because Mom was still out shopping. We entered the game room to find three metal folding chairs facing a huge blackboard. Dad instructed us to sit in the chairs and NOT on the cushioned sofa just inches from us. 

"I want your full attention. That is why I have you sitting in these chairs," he stated, businesslike.

Immediately we began to pout and whine.

"Where's Mom, aren't we gonna wait for Mom?" my youngest brother asked. 

"Is this gonna take long?" my other brother sighed.

I silently squirmed in the uncomfortable metal chair.

"Your mother won't be back for hours, and if you must know, she has nothing to do with this," he said calmly. "And how long this takes depends entirely upon each of you. The more you participate, the more you'll learn, and the faster we can move on and be done. Understood?" 

"Yes, sir," we responded unenthusiastically.

"Now," my father began, "we are going to have a weekly meeting with just us guys. We will have these meetings every Saturday morning, but if you have school or sports activities on Saturday morning, we'll reschedule for Sundays after church. I'm going to teach you what I have learned about life. It is my responsibility, before God, to prepare you to be strong, proud, African American men who will be assets to the community and to the world at large. It is a responsibility I take very seriously." 

I just had to jump in, "You're going to teach us everything about life?"

"Everything I can." 

"But that will take forever."

"Maybe." He turned to begin writing on the blackboard. "Maybe." 

For the next five years, rain or shine, in sickness or in health, Dad taught us about life once a week. He instructed us on a wide variety of subjects -- personal hygiene, puberty, etiquette, the importance of education, racism, dating, respect for women, respect for those in authority, respect for our elders, Christian salvation, a good work ethic, what it means to be an adult, what to look for in a wife, landscaping, minor home repairs, auto repairs, budgeting, investing, civic duties and the list goes on. We begrudgingly filled notebook after notebook after notebook.

As I approached my eighteenth birthday, the weekly lessons became monthly lessons and then every other month, until they slowly drifted away. My brothers and I were older, we had girlfriends, school activities, sports activities and job responsibilities that became extremely difficult to schedule around. I'm not sure when it happened, but the importance of our weekly lessons and notebooks began to pale in comparison to our busy teenage lives. Soon the classes and the notebooks were mere memories.

It's been years now since we had those classes with Dad in the game room. We are grown with careers and wives of our own. At every challenge in life, my brothers and I have frantically looked in attics, basements and storage sheds for our notebooks. We can't find them anywhere.

At least once a month one of us has a situation where we need to call home and ask Dad for his advice or guidance. We hesitantly pick up the phone to call him, knowing good and well he's going to laugh and say, "Where's your notebook?"


A Canine Nanny

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Moms Know Best

BY: Christine Henderson

Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.
~Roger Caras

I was physically and emotionally exhausted. At night, I was awake more than I slept, caring for our three-week-old daughter, Abigail. By day, I chased our older daughter, Bridget, an active two-year-old. My already taut nerves began to fray when Abigail developed a mild case of colic. Bridget demanded attention each time her sister fussed. Our dog, a purebred Brittany named Two, was constantly underfoot, and stumbling over her repeatedly did not help my state of mind.

I also felt isolated. We were new to the area, and I didn't know anyone in town. My parents, our nearest relatives, lived 150 miles away. Phoning my mother on the spur of the moment to ask if she'd drop by and watch the kids for an hour while I got some much-needed sleep wasn't realistic. My husband helped as much as he could but needed to focus on his job.

One day Abigail woke from a nap. As babies sometimes do, she had soiled her clothing and crib bedding. I tried to clean her up as fast as possible, but her cries developed into ear-shattering wails before I was through. I wanted to comfort her, but I was at a loss. I had to wash my hands, I couldn't put her back into the crib and the floor hadn't been vacuumed for days. Strapping her on the changing table, I wedged a receiving blanket between her and the railing. I promised I'd be right back. As her screams followed me into the bathroom, I neared complete meltdown. Women had handled this for generations -- why couldn't I cope?

I had just lathered up with soap when Two trotted purposefully past the bathroom door. A moment later the crying ceased. Hurriedly, I dried my hands and entered the nursery to find the Brittany standing on her hind legs, tenderly licking Abigail's ear. The baby's eyes were opened wide in wonder. Two dropped down and wagged her stubby tail in apology. With a canine grin and her ears pushed back as far as they could go, she seemed to say, "I know babies are off limits, but I couldn't help myself."

At that moment, I realized why I had been tripping over Two all the time: she wanted to help! When Bridget was born, Two had enthusiastically welcomed the newest member of her family. But because she had difficulty curbing her energy, we had watched her closely. Now, at six years of age, with a more sedate disposition, Two understood she had to be gentle.

That day marked a turning point for me. During Abigail's fussy moments, I laid her blanket on the floor and placed her next to Two. Often Abigail quieted as she buried her hands and feet in the dog's warm soft fur. Although Two relished her role as babysitter, objecting only when Abigail grabbed a fistful of sensitive flank hair, I still kept a vigilant eye on them, or Abigail would likely have suffered a constant barrage of doggy kisses.

When Abigail turned four, we enrolled her in preschool. Her teacher as well as several of the other parents commented on how she was always the child who reached out to those who were alone. Extending an invitation to join in play, Abigail often stayed by someone's side if she didn't get an answer, talking quietly and reassuringly. I like to think that Two's willingness to remain lying next to a screaming infant somehow contributed to our daughter's sensitivity.

I admit I've spoiled Two since that first day when she comforted Abigail. If I leave the table and a half-eaten meal disappears, I know who the culprit is. But I don't have the heart to punish her for being an opportunist. I'm indebted to her, and losing out on several bites of cold food is a small price to pay.

Two is still part of our family, and although we all dote on her, there is an unmistakable connection between her and Abigail. Now nearly twelve years old, Two has more than her share of aches and pains. During winter, she often rests in front of the heat register. When Abigail wakes in the morning, she covers her dog with her old baby blanket and fusses over her. And when Abigail wanders away, Two trails after her, the tattered blanket dragging along on the floor. Two still considers Abigail her special charge, and I'm happy to have her help. I hope they have many more days together, looking after each other with such loving care.


By Accident

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Stories of Faith

BY: Candace L. Calvert

Once you choose hope, anything's possible.
~Christopher Reeve

The instant my horse bucked, I knew I was going to die. As the reins were wrenched from my fingers, I felt myself thrown violently over his head and onto the ground. With sickening clarity, I heard my bones break. I thought of Christopher Reeve.

"Help me," I cried. "Please, someone help me." Searing pain in my chest and back strangled my words into a whisper. I'm alone, I thought. No one heard me. I raised my head, and the movement sent an electric shock coursing down my right arm. And then the arm went numb.

In a daze, I struggled to my feet and crawled through the arena fence. You are strong, I told myself, and you can do this. Pain contorted my posture, but I forced myself to walk the distance back to the ranch house. Doctors told me later that I'd done all of this with seven broken ribs, a fractured spine, a bleeding lung and a broken neck.

"Mary, I fell off ‘Nate,'" I groaned into the phone. "I think it's bad. I can't feel my right arm anymore." I'd called my coworkers at the hospital, knowing they would be my lifelines.

An hour later, I lay strapped in the CT scanner with a stiff foam collar around my neck and oxygen tubing in my nostrils. I was no longer a nurse; I was a patient in my own emergency department. An unexpected wave of fear washed over me. Confusion compounded the pain -- fear? Hadn't I conquered fear? Buoyed by morphine, I let my memory drift back some four weeks.

"Okay, just roll out," Duke commanded. As I crouched in the doorway of the plane, the wind whipped against my face. I squinted down at the ground, thirteen thousand feet below. Today I would prove how strong I was. Today I would be a skydiver, not a cast-off wife and an empty-nest mother.

"Let's do it!" I shouted back from the plane's open doorway. I gave my instructor the "thumbs up" and I jumped.

The jolting stop of the CT scanner table interrupted my memory. I let the medical team, my friends, do their jobs while I was forced to do my own personal evaluation: Why did this have to happen to me? In the past eighteen months, I'd survived the loss of a twenty-four-year marriage to infidelity, and the ravages of a flood that had threatened to take my home. Was this some sort of cosmic triple play to make me prove how strong I could be? Or three strikes and I'm out? Again, that shadowy fear surrounded my heart. What was I afraid of?

I took inventory: I was a single mother, a veteran emergency-room nurse, and a sturdy ranch woman who could haul a horse trailer, stack hay and deliver a foal. The misfortunes of the past two years had required me to stand taller, to be more assertive and, when necessary, to take it on the chin.

And now that chin was tucked into a foam collar, and there were whispers of "spinal cord injury, permanent weakness." I began to realize what that icy, nameless fear was -- I was losing control. A strong woman stays in control and doesn't have to fully trust anyone. After all, I'd trusted my husband, and he left; I'd trusted the security of my home, and the floodwaters came. I had to ask myself the big question now: Did I trust God? I prayed to him, I worshipped him, but did I really allow myself to depend on him? A little card on my dresser mirror read, "Let Go and Let God," yet how desperately I'd fought to keep life's reins in my own hands. Now those reins had been yanked from me.

In the following months, as I worked in physical therapy to regain the full use of my arms, I had time to ponder and to pray. I wondered about my need to feel strong. Was it simply armor to ward off other unimaginable hurts? My cavalier leap from the skydiving plane certainly hadn't left fear far enough behind. I began to set new priorities, to evaluate success and survival in different ways. With great relief, I let God take the burdens from my sore shoulders; I began to trust again.

I hadn't been alone that day in my riding arena, and someone had heard me when I cried out. The accident stopped me from being strong, long enough to find my strength.

Months later, I returned to work at the hospital to find I'd become a local legend. The story was told and retold. "She walked into the hospital with a broken neck," they'd say. One day a new employee heard the story -- heard that I'd been alone in the riding arena -- and he asked me, incredulously, "Who picked you up off the ground out there, after you fell?"

I felt myself take a deep breath -- it was warm and alive in my chest. "Who picked me up?" A knowing smile spread across my face. "Think big," I told him, "really big."


The Cheslatta River Race

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

BY: James S. Fell

Don't wait to make your son a great man -- make him a great boy.
~Author Unknown

There is something about shared pain that can bring two people closer together. In this case the two people were my dad and me, and the pain was a canoe race.

My parents split up when I was young. I ended up moving to the city with my mom and my sister, so I didn't get to see my dad nearly as often as I would have liked. Summer was great because my sister and I spent several weeks visiting him out in the middle of nowhere in central British Columbia where we would go fishing, horseback riding, hiking, camping and canoeing. The quantity of time we spent together may have been low, but the quality was always high.

Sometimes I question if the river race was one of those high-quality moments. My arms hurt just thinking about it.

I was fifteen and not an athlete, so actually using my muscles to engage in competition was a new experience. My dad and I had spent many an hour in the canoe, but not in fast-flowing water and never in a hurry. Entering the Cheslatta River Race was my idea, and an impromptu affair that was more of an excuse for a bunch of people to have a party than a real competition. The event was mostly populated by people in tubes and rafts, only some of whom bothered to use paddles. My dad and I, however, opted to be one of the four teams who wanted to go fast.

I sized up the other canoe racers. There was little doubt that first would be taken by the two men with the high-tech canoe that looked fast just sitting there on the beach. I was also certain that second belonged to my dad's German friends, Klaus and Dieter, who were big, strong forestry workers. Granted, their boat looked to be older than dirt, and held together with duct tape, but I figured their logging-sculpted muscles could power a Buick down the river at a good pace.

The last of our competitors was another father-son team, and we seemed to be evenly matched in physical size and quality of watercraft.

"Looks like we're battling for third," Dad gave voice to my thoughts.

Soon after, the race got underway and I blew it.

I'm not sure what I did wrong, but my coordinative abilities reverted to that of a six-week-old puppy. We launched ourselves toward the first turn and I nearly capsized us. The canoe dipped perilously close to the waterline and we ended up with eight inches of water in the bottom of our boat.

"Beach it!" my dad called out from the rear. "Starboard side!"

We ran the canoe aground and leapt out to dump the water. "Sorry, Dad," I said as we climbed back in. The other teams were all rapidly disappearing from view down the river.

"Don't sweat it. We'll catch them."

I wasn't feeling so optimistic, but I dug in with all my strength in the hopes that we wouldn't be the last ones across the finish line. Fortunately, we had a long straight stretch after our near swim, and I was able to get a feel for how to handle the canoe in rough water before we came to the next turn. My dad called out instructions and encouragement from the rear. "Hard right! That's it, dig in! We're gaining on them."

And we were. The other father-son team looked a lot closer.

The dwindling gap and my dad's exhortations motivated me to paddle harder. My shoulders ached already, but after a while they went numb and operated more on autopilot. About halfway into the race, we caught up to third place, coming around a sharp turn where I almost blew it again.

I was anxious to pass these guys, but my dad stopped me before I could cause another catastrophe. "Hang back," he said. "We'll pass them in the straight stretch."
And so we did.
They didn't let us pass without a fight, but my dad and I poured on the gas and we took over third place. I was determined to not lose it; we'd fought hard to make it that far and I had the sense that my arms could last the rest of the race. There was no question in my mind that my dad's would.

I was happy.

Then I saw Klaus and Dieter not far beyond, and I felt another competitive surge of adrenaline. "Let's catch them."

My dad laughed in that way of his that couldn't help but shake the canoe. "I'm game if you are."

Klaus and Dieter may have been tough as nails, but so is my dad. It was a brutal battle of screaming shoulders and creaking vertebrae. We paddled hard to catch them, but when they saw us pull up alongside, their pride would not let us beat them. They had looks of hard determination, refusing to lose to a team that included a teenage city boy. For a few seconds we inched ahead and were in second place, but they renewed their efforts and matched us again.

We hit shore simultaneously to a cheering crowd, and the final torture began. To complete the race we had to carry the canoe over 200 feet off beach and cross the finish line. I jumped out, grabbed the front handle and started to run, but my dad knew better. We may have been able to match them in the water because of our better boat, but he realized we didn't have a hope against them carrying it across land. "It's okay," he said. "We got third. We gave them a good run."

Klaus and Dieter had taken off like two kids who had just heard the school bell ring on a Friday afternoon, and I could see that he was right. Still, I felt victorious because I never knew we could make it so close.

We jogged across the finish line and my dad and I shared a bear hug. Then he gave me a mischievous grin and said, "That was fun."

And he was right. It was fun.

An hour later I was feeling sore and exhausted and working my way through my third hot dog when my dad came up to me. "You've got a big glob of mustard on your face," he said.

I was about to tell him that I was too tired to care, when his eyes flicked off to my left. I took the hint and looked to see Mariah, my teenage crush, walking toward us.

Unlike a mother who would have grabbed my chin and meticulously cleaned my face with a spit-moistened tissue, my dad was discreet. He cupped a handkerchief, did a quick wipe of the mustard then turned the movement into a shoulder clasp.

He spun me toward Mariah, still gripping my aching shoulder, and said, "This boy paddled his heart out today." Then he walked away.

Mariah gave me a smile. "I saw you finish. You almost beat Klaus and Dieter."

I could have said many different things at that point, or I could have suffered from a tongue-tied teenager attack, but I opted to give credit where it was due.

"My dad did most of the work."


A French Cat

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Loving Our Cats

It is impossible for a lover of cats to banish these alert, gentle, and discriminating little friends, who give us just enough of their regard and complaisance to make us hunger for more.
~Agnes Repplier

Recently, my husband Gene and I traveled throughout Europe. We rented a car as we always do and drove along the back roads, staying in quaint, out-of-the-way inns. The only thing that distracted me from the wonder of the trip was the terrible longing I felt for our cat Perry. I always miss him when we travel, but this time, because we were gone for more than three weeks, my need to touch his soft fur and to hold him close became more and more intense. With every cat we saw, the feeling deepened.

We were high in the mountains of France one morning, packing the car before resuming our trip, when an elderly couple walked up to the car parked next to ours. The woman was holding a large Siamese cat and speaking to him in French.

I stood watching them, unable to turn away. My yearning for Perry must have been written all over my face. The woman glanced at me, turned to speak to her husband and then spoke to her cat. Suddenly she walked right over to me and, without one word, held out her cat.

I immediately opened my arms to him. Cautious about the stranger holding him, he extended his claws, but only for a few seconds. Then he retracted them, settled into my embrace and began to purr. I buried my face in his soft fur while rocking him gently. Then, still wordless, I returned him to the woman.

I smiled at them in thanks, and tears filled my eyes. The woman had sensed my need to hold her cat, the cat had sensed that he could trust me, and both, in one of the greatest gifts of kindness I have ever received, had acted upon their feelings.

It's comforting to know the language of cat lovers -- and cats -- is the same the world over.