понедельник, 18 ноября 2013 г.

Blue Line Blues

By Gregory Ryan
The game is bigger now, but it will never be bigger than a small boy's dreams.
~Bobby Hull
I almost spit out my Cap'n Crunch at the breakfast table when my dad told me he'd signed me up. From that moment on I thought of almost nothing else. For an eight-year-old boy growing up in Toronto in the fall of 1967, it was understandable.
I'd been tearing up the rink at our school for a couple of years already. On our street I thought I was road hockey's answer to Bobby Orr. The garage door looked like it had been used to stop cannon balls. Most vertical surfaces in our house bore the scars of a hockey-mad kid. Of course, Saturday nights were spent in the den with my dad watching the Toronto Maple Leafs on Hockey Night in Canada. But all of that was a mere prelude to the glory to come.
I was going to play house league hockey!
That's where men suited up and clashed just like titans on frozen oceans. Well, not quite... but it was where future stars were born. I wanted to be Bobby Orr. I wanted to be Dave Keon. They were my heroes long before the Great One and Sidney Crosby came along. But they all had to start somewhere and, in hockey, that's house league.
Unlike titans, nobody had to try out for house league. If you could put one skate in front of the other you'd have a good chance of being a star. The kids who could barely stand on skates played goal.
House league also had dressing rooms, benches, nets, blue lines, red lines, referees, penalties and fans. Just like the Leafs. But more important than all of those things, the key to a boy's happiness, fulfillment and self-esteem: team sweaters with matching socks! Putting them on for the first time would be a thrill I'd never forget. However, that moment didn't come off quite the way I'd hoped.
Saturday morning my dad drove us to the sports store to buy hockey gear. Seeing all those shelves full of helmets and pads was exciting to say the least. I walked out of there with all the stuff I needed: a helmet, gloves, shoulder pads, elbow pads, kneepads and hockey pants. Actual Maple Leaf Blue hockey pants! My dad explained to me why the jockstrap was a must. I couldn't wait to add my new team sweater and show my stuff to the world.
I had only one month to practice before the season began. Would the school rink be ready in time? Then one morning there it was. They'd put up the boards and flooded it overnight. The ice was so clear you could see the frozen grass underneath.
Shortly after my first day on the ice kids started showing up to play every morning. We'd go at it and then it was off to class. The school day took forever; much of it was spent in a trance staring out the windows at the rink. Getting through the day without a detention would get you back on the ice by 3:35 p.m. On the weekends, we'd spend all day on the ice, tossing our sticks in the centre, choosing teams and playing every game for the Stanley Cup. I'd be late for dinner, trudging home in my skates on feet that were numb from being tied up in those skates for eight hours in sub-zero temperatures.
The never-ending month finally passed.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: O Canada The Wonders of Winter
I woke up during the night before my opening game — my big day — feeling funny. I had a strange taste in my mouth. I spent the next few hours throwing up with guttural cries my mom later described as "quite a performance." She nursed me through it. At some point, I fell asleep.
By the time I got up, the night was a vague memory. It was early and no one was awake yet. I felt just fine, excited as heck despite my overnight stand at the toilet bowl. I took my equipment out of the closet, put on my pads, stepped into my hockey pants and went downstairs to the den. (In a couple of hours, I'd be playing my first game in my brand new uniform.)
All I remember about the next few minutes are two things: Mom saying something like "Don't worry Sport, You'll be all set for next week." That and crushing disappointment.
She said I had the flu and I was too sick to play. There'd be no house league this day. No referees' whistles or cheers from the crowd. And no new sweater. Not for another week at least.
Over the years I'd often remind my dad about what he did for me that day, how he made sure at least part of my dream came true.
I spent the day in bed and was sick one more time. At some point I drifted off to sleep. When I awoke, on the end of my bed sat a bag. Inside I found a brand new hockey sweater and socks! They were white with blue stripes. Leaf colours! The team logo read "Simpson's Cartage." On the back was number 14. My dad had not only gone to the arena to get my new uniform, but he made sure it had the number of my hockey hero on the back!
The following week I finally made my debut. I even scored a goal in my very first house league game. It was a great season and we ended up league champs.
I continued playing organized hockey for many years, and have lots of great memories. But none will ever compare to that first season when I got to live my dream, had a dad around to make things happen, and wore the coolest team sweater I ever had.

Learning to Love My Messy Life

By Suzanne De Vita
Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.
~Jane Howard
I slowly open my front door, praying I'll find some sort of normalcy when I enter. No such luck. Two children fly past me, my sister chasing after our brother, screaming for her doll back. There is pasta sauce splattered on our kitchen wall — artwork, my dad calls it. And my mom has set up shop smack in the middle, ironing a mountain of clothes while Law and Order blares from our television.
"I have five siblings," I mutter to my new neighbor, Michelle. "Sorry for the mess."
I whisk her away to my bedroom. It's really a room shared with my two sisters, but that was nothing a good bribe couldn't fix. They were "gone for the day" as Michelle and I flipped through magazines and painted our toenails. Mercifully, none of my brothers came barging in, and the smell of acetone was enough to keep my dad away. When it was time for dinner, Michelle skipped back to her house, telling me she'd call tomorrow.
She did, and I happily accepted her invitation to go to her house. Any place would be better than my house. Soon, I was standing at her front door, ringing the bell. A strange woman answered.
"Hello, Miss Suzanne," she said in broken English. "Michelle is upstairs."
That couldn't be her mother. I looked up at a gleaming white marble double staircase. Michelle appeared at the top, a huge smile on her face, motioning for me to follow her. I wanted to thank the woman who had opened the door, but she had disappeared.
To say Michelle's bedroom was huge is an understatement. It was more like a hotel suite, complete with king size bed, a sparkling chandelier and every toy imaginable. I had never seen anything so glamorous. She explained to me that the woman downstairs was her nanny, Marion. I wondered if Marion was going to hang out with us, but it quickly became clear that we had total freedom. The only interruption that day was Aura, the housekeeper, who was putting away freshly-folded laundry. A nanny and a housekeeper at her disposal? Michelle was living the life.
I went over to Michelle's almost every day that summer, playing with her insane toy collection, unknowingly becoming more and more like family to her. I loved being in her immaculately clean home, having our lunches prepared for us like we were royalty. No chores, no siblings to annoy us, no parents to constantly nag us. I never noticed that her own parents were rarely home, and her nanny and housekeeper ignored her.
On one of those days, Michelle called me over earlier than usual. Her dad had given her something amazing called an Xbox, and she was dying to play it.
I raced over, flung open the door and announced my arrival. Aura crept up from the basement, greeting me the way she and Marion always did.
"Hello, Miss Suzanne. Michelle is upstairs."
"Thanks, Aura!" My voice echoed in her empty house.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Positive for Kids
It dawned on me. As I bounded up that glorious staircase, I thought, what did Michelle do when I wasn't there?
Sure, she had an endless supply of the latest gadgets. Sure, she had dance classes to go to. Sure, she had a nanny and a housekeeper. But who did she talk to? Who did she laugh with?
We spent all afternoon playing that Xbox. Time slipped away from us, and before we knew it, my mom was calling to tell me it was time for dinner. I looked over at Michelle, rolling my eyes as I begged my mom to let me miss dinner. This was not a battle I was going to win.
"Fine, Mom, I'll be home in five minutes," I grumbled through my teeth. But before I could slam the phone down, an idea popped into my head.
"Wait, Mom!" I said. "Can Michelle have dinner with us tonight?"
We had to squeeze in an extra chair for her, but she didn't mind. Her eyes shined as she looked around at our table, talking excitedly with my sisters, shoveling food into her mouth like she hadn't eaten in days. She laughed at all the things that embarrassed me. She laughed at my dad's cluelessness. She laughed at my brothers flinging lettuce at each other. She even laughed when my sister tripped over our oven door, which had a broken latch that made it fall open every five minutes. Another thing to fix on our list of things to fix.
When our meal was finished, and all the dishes had been washed (assembly line style, the custom in our house), she turned to me and whispered, "You're so lucky you have such a big family. Can I have dinner with you all tomorrow night?"
I looked over at my sloppy siblings; my brothers were making a fort with our couch cushions, knocking over everything to make room for it, and my sisters were jumping up and down in the other room, dancing to a boombox that skipped whenever they hit the floor too hard. My parents were making espresso that bubbled over every time, adding yet another layer to the permanent coffee stain on our stove. Suddenly, my house — my crowded, messy, loud house — seemed like paradise.

Unexpected Friendship

By Lynne Jones
In a world full of people who couldn't care less, be someone who couldn't care more.
~Author Unknown
When school started on that warm August day, I was ready for it, maybe even excited about it. It was senior year after all. I threw myself into everything I did for those first couple of weeks, including playing volleyball, which I loved.
I decided that year that I was going to fix myself. So I started my quest for perfection. I was desperate to be successful. I had to become beautiful, or at the very least, skinny. I stopped eating completely. I knew what anorexia was, but somehow I looked up to the girls who could do it. I was jealous of their willpower and drive. I knew I would never go that far. I had control.
After a while, my newfound diet started to take a noticeable toll on me. I was losing weight, which thrilled me, and I even grew to love the lightheadedness and tiredness that came with my poor diet, because those feelings meant that I was winning, that I was overcoming.
As the season progressed, things had become tense between my head volleyball coach, Coach Smith, and me. She was becoming suspicious. I felt like I was losing control. She confronted me about my eating and was angry that I wouldn't listen to her when she tried to make me eat. She knew I had a problem and yet she couldn't understand it. I was angry and hurt and she was suspicious and worried. We fought constantly. She just wanted me to eat, and I wanted to prove that I had control over this.
My malnourishment started to affect my performance. I was so tired that practice and games were becoming a struggle. I was still trying my best, but my best was slowly declining. Every practice, every game, I felt myself being watched. I hated it.
Then one day, with hurt in her eyes, Coach Smith approached me after a game.
"Why are you doing this to yourself? Do you want to lose weight?"
I felt like I had been slapped. I fumbled for an answer using my usual excuses, but I could tell that she didn't believe me. She felt sorry for me. This was something I didn't know how to handle. I could argue all day long, but it was the pity that I couldn't stand. I stood there and did my best to convince her I was fine. She asked me what I had eaten and I told her nothing yet, but I was going to. She looked at me, disappointment in her eyes, knowing she couldn't make me stop, and walked away. I didn't stop. By the time our last game of the season rolled around I had lost twenty pounds.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just Us Girls
A couple of weeks later I attended the volleyball banquet. I didn't eat anything, but I sat and listened to the awards and laughed at the prank gifts. I even stood there as my coach managed to say something nice about me. I realized then that I had ruined my senior year by being disrespectful and hateful, and I had probably ruined hers as well. Volleyball was supposed to be fun and instead it had turned into a battle.
After the event ended, I approached her and apologized. I had to admit that I was the one who was wrong and that even though I wasn't going to change, I told her it wasn't the way I wanted the year to go. She just looked at me with tears in her eyes and gave me the biggest hug ever. I couldn't believe she was being so nice after all of the terrible things I had done. Then she said it. She gave it a name. "Eating disorders are hard," she told me trying not to cry. "If you ever want to talk let me know."
"Thanks, but I don't have one of those," I responded. She just looked at me with sympathy and heartache and nodded, knowing she couldn't change my mind. She thanked me for the apology and we went on with our lives.
Right before graduation I was thinking about all of the people who had influenced my life and I thought back to the volleyball season. I decided I had to let her know. So I wrote her a letter apologizing and thanking her. I gave her this letter on the last day of school, at the end of the day, and left thinking I would probably never see her again.
The summer after senior year was all about college. I had so much going on that the last year was almost forgotten for a while and I was glad to be getting away from it. Then one Saturday, I felt someone gently take my arm and say softly, "Lynne Jones... how are you doing?" And I looked up to see that familiar face. "Thanks for the letter," she said. "It meant a lot."
When I think of a coach, I think of someone above me, someone who gives instruction — not a friend. But Coach Smith refused to give up on me, and like any good friend, she confronted my problem even when I hated her for it at the time. I didn't deserve her kindness, but she gave it anyway. I will forever be grateful for her help, and now for her friendship.

Riverside Ritual

By John Forrest
The thinner the ice, the more anxious is everyone to see whether it will bear.
~Josh Billings
The rumours began circulating at afternoon recess. A brisk November breeze was deepening the already bitter cold temperatures on the school playground and battering the seventh and eighth graders, who huddled in small groups speculating excitedly.
Winter had arrived in the form of light snow and sub zero temperatures on Remembrance Day and the frigid weather had stayed with us for more than a week. I was new to Riverside Public School, which, true to its name, was situated hard on the bank of the Credit River near where it emptied into Lake Ontario. Our family had moved to Port Credit during the summer and I had enjoyed my first few months at Riverside. My teacher was cool, my classmates were friendly and I had already earned a position on the village's peewee ice-hockey team. But I was still getting used to the customs and traditions of the school and I was about to discover a new one.
As a sixth grader, I was able to wander close enough to the seniors to overhear the words, "tonight, after school" and "at the river." Something was up.
The recess bell rang. We lined up to enter but the teacher had to quiet the buzz of conversation before admitting us. Once seated things settled down until one of my classmates entered late from a visit to the washroom. He brought with him important news. A hastily scribbled note began to make the rounds. I noted the interest and smiles as the message made its way toward me. My friend Bill received it, read it and then passed it to me, whispering "Great news!"
I opened the note. "After school, at the river, hares, ice. Be there." I had no idea what it meant. I started to pass the note on when a voice of authority brought me up short.
"John, you know my rule. If you pass notes everyone gets to know the contents. Please read your note to the class." There was no escape.
"Yes sir. It says: 'After school... at the river... hares... ice... be there.'"
"Really?" said my teacher. "That's terrific and about time! I think I'll go myself to watch the fun. Now let's get down to work."
I still had no idea what was up, perhaps a fight, but I doubted a teacher would want to watch or permit it. I looked to Bill for more information but he mouthed, "Meet me after class." I would have to wait.
Dismissal came. Bill had already crossed the street that ran between the school and the river and called for me to join him on the bank. Many other kids followed, and everyone's attention began to focus on a group below us, near a large boathouse and dock at the edge of the frozen river.
"Okay Bill, what's going on?"
He pointed, "See those kids? That's the Hare family. They're getting ready to test the ice. It looks good, but there is a pretty strong current here and you can never be sure when it is safe. The Hares own that boathouse and are experts on testing the ice, but it's their way of doing it that attracts all the attention."
Standing on the dock, the group of kids was dominated by a very large teenager. I knew one of them; a seventh grader, Don (Duckie) Hare, and the others were his brothers. The big guy was Albert (Albie) the oldest, and he had a coil of rope slung over his shoulder. The ritual began with Albie tying the rope around the waist of his little brother Billie, a first grader, and then lowering him onto the ice.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: O Canada The Wonders of Winter
Billie did not seem reluctant and, with the rope trailing behind, he began inching his way out onto the ice. A hush fell and conversation ceased as little Billie made his way toward the centre of the river. About twenty yards off shore he stepped on some crunchy shell ice, stopped and looked back. But his brothers encouraged him until he reached the middle of the river. Turning, he then scuttled quickly back to shore to cries of, "Way to go Billie!" and mitten muffled applause from the watchers.
Next up was Duckie. Secured to the rope, he too began carefully, mincing his way gingerly away from shore, one tentative step at a time, until he was well out onto the ice. His return to shore was a tad more dramatic. After making a running start he then slid back to the dock, finishing with a flourish, grasping a piling with one hand and waving to the crowd with the other. He also was heralded by the gathering.
Then the crowd began to chant, "Albie, Albie!"
Albert Hare responded by tying the rope to his own waist and securing the other end to the dock. He stepped down to the ice and, like his brothers, his first few steps were tentative.
Then he stopped suddenly. A loud "crack," like a pistol shot, sounded and a sudden fissure appeared in the ice.
The crowd gasped. After pausing briefly to assess the situation, Albie carried on. Once he reached the centre of the river he turned to face the shore and began to jump up and down. The ice held. Suddenly a mighty cheer went up from the onlookers; the test was complete. The ice was safe. Let a winter of fun begin!
Before I graduated from elementary school I witnessed this ritual three times. Not once did a Hare fall through the ice, and their validation of safety was the signal for hundreds of us to begin enjoying winter on our booted blades of steel.
Years later I moved north to begin my teaching career. I pleasure skated, played hockey and coached my children's hockey teams indoors, on artificial ice.
To this day, when winter descends and the lake near my home freezes, I dig out my skates and hockey stick and take a trip back in time on natural ice. And when I make those first tentative strokes, along with the snick snick of my blades carving the ice, I hear chanting — "Albie, Albie" — and remember the simple joy of knowing the ice was safe and my winter fun could begin.

His Name Is Samson

By Terri Lacher
We could have bought a small yacht with what we spent on our dog and all the things he destroyed. Then again, how many yachts wait by the door all day for your return?
~John Grogan
A fuzzy little Golden Retriever arrived in our driveway one cold mid-December morning as I was taking the trash to the curb. He weaved in and around my ankles as I tried to shoo him away, and then he moved back a few feet, sat down and wagged his curly tail so hard it almost toppled him over. Soft brown eyes watched me, contemplating whether I was friend or foe, and then he inched his way toward me and sat on my stocking feet, looking up wistfully with what appeared to be his best smile. When I moved, he moved, as he began to follow me back up the drive.
I kept thinking he must have wandered off from his owners. Surely, they would be out searching for him. Scanning the surrounding streets and yards and seeing no one, I placed him in our backyard for safety. Someone would probably be coming to claim him during the day, but my fear of him bounding into the street was put at ease with him secured behind a fence. A cardboard box with an old rug made a perfect bed. And a bowl of fresh water would have to satisfy him until I could decide what to do with him.
Before leaving for work, I called my husband to let him know what I had done, just in case he came home for lunch before me and discovered a "surprise." We had been talking about getting a dog for weeks, but couldn't decide on a breed. The night before, I had shared how much fun owning a Retriever would be and what a wonderful and kind pet it would make.
"Hi, it's me. You will never believe what happened. Remember how we had talked about getting a dog and I said how much I loved Retrievers?"
"Yes, I remember" he said, with hesitation in his voice.
"Well," I began, "the cutest little golden Retriever puppy I've ever seen showed up on our front porch today! I'm sure he's lost and his owners are out looking for him right now, but if they don't come, can we keep him?"
Teasingly, he said, "You went and bought a puppy, didn't you?"
After much reassurance that the puppy really did magically appear from nowhere and that I would give him to his rightful owners as soon as they came for him, we hung up and I went on to work. I kept telling myself all the time not get too attached to this puppy and to not give him a name because he wasn't mine.
This precious little puppy had survived at least one night in the frigid cold December air before he found me. He was small, but he appeared to be very strong. Driving by our church it suddenly hit me, "His name is Samson!"
No one ever claimed Samson, and so Samson became our dog. It was surprising to learn just how much a free dog could cost. From vet bills to dog collars to leashes to toys, and many bags of food, this cute little eight-pound puppy had many needs. And he ate and ate and ate. It didn't take long for him to graduate from a small bag of puppy food to the extra large economy-size bag. Every time we thought that he was just too much to handle, he would sit, looking up with his soft brown eyes, and give us his best grin and melt out hearts.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: What I Learned from the Dog
One fact most Retriever owners don't share is that their loveable pets seem to live to dig. Samson dug foxholes all over the yard wherever he found a soft spot that would yield to his strong paws. Tunneling long wide holes with dirt flying everywhere, I guess that somehow he just couldn't figure out how to dig down. Our yard was a disaster.
He chewed up everything... from the wooden patio furniture, a freezer cord, outside computer lines and any and all greenery that stuck up from the grass. But, after the most mischievous behavior, he would lean into us, loving us, knowing that when all was said and done, we would reach down and stroke his fuzzy ears and forgive him.
Samson has lived up to his name. He is strong in so many ways, but easily distracted. After chasing a squirrel up a tree, he ran across an open pool of water before he realized it wasn't solid. We have learned to make him sit before opening the door when he wants to go outside, after he nearly knocked us over like bowling pins many times, rushing his huge body past us to go for a walk. He still thinks he is a lap dog, climbing on top of us whenever we sit down in the recliner. He's always at our feet anticipating every move we make and causing us to trip over his bulky torso. He's ready to play, and eagerly awaits our praise and a treat for every new thing he has learned from us.
But in reality he is the one who has taught us important lessons that we find ourselves using in our everyday lives. He does not judge us and only asks that we give him love and loyalty. We love and laugh at his antics, even when we are experiencing hardships in our own lives. He has taught us patience and gentleness. When he is outside and wants to come in, he will sit outside the window peering in. Have we forgotten him? I think he would wait for us forever. He wants to be close to us and he has given us companionship when we have needed it the most. We delight in watching him squeeze his sixty-five pounds underneath his favorite hiding spot, our living room coffee table. When we move, he moves. If we leave a room, he is right beside us, wagging his huge tail and sharing more love than we could have possibly imagined. How lucky we are that Samson found us on that cold winter morning. Our lives are so much richer for it.

A Walk in the Park

By Judy Ann Eichstedt
Faith is not without worry or care, but faith is fear that has said a prayer.
~Author Unknown
I am not a person who puts too much faith in dreams. I always seem to find a logical explanation for them. However, something happened that made me realize that God talks to us in dreams, as do our loved ones who have passed away.
It happened when things were at an all-time low for us. We had become homeless just months before, and we finally were able to save enough to get back into a house. My husband had not found work, and we had no money. Many times I went to the Dumpsters in the back of grocery stores to find food for my family. It was a dark time.
I wanted to give up and throw in the towel. It was hard to see how things would improve. When you're eating from garbage cans, it's hard to stay positive. However, my faith in God and reading the Bible kept me strong even in difficult times.
We were living in Oregon in a two-bedroom house with six children and no utilities. With no running water, I had to get water in a bucket from a neighbor's house. I needed $150, as a deposit, to turn on the water and lights. I just could not come up with the money.
On a Sunday night I poured out my heart to God and told him how much money I needed for the utilities. I felt as if I was at the end of my rope. I did not know what to do. That night I had a very strange dream. In the distance I saw a campfire with men sitting around it. As I walked closer, I saw tents and horses as well. It looked like they were soldiers in the Civil War. All the men wore uniforms that fit the time period. The men were looking down at the fire as I walked up to them. Then one man looked up at me and smiled. He had a very big smile and he acted as if he knew me. I just stared at him. He had a pleasant face, but he looked tired. We looked at one another for a moment or two before he spoke.
"Take a walk in the park," he said. His voice was strong.
"What did you say?" I asked.
He repeated, "Take a walk in the park."
"Who are you?"
"Parkhurst," he said. "I am called Parkhurst. It's a family name." And he laughed.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miraculous Messages from Heaven
I woke up and remembered every detail of the dream.
The next morning I walked to the store to return some bottles for the deposit, and right next to the store was a little park off to the side. I froze as I stared at it and recalled my dream. I walked away, into the store. As I headed home, Parkhurst's words came to me. I turned around and went back to the park. I did not see anyone in the park, so I started on the walking trail. Around the corner I saw a woman jogging toward me so I moved over for her to pass. I kept walking and looking for some reason I was there, but found none. Then someone touched me on my back and I turned to see the jogger.
"Hello," she said. "You must be the one."
"I don't understand," I told her.
"I dreamt last night that someone needed some money, and I handed it to them at a park," she said.
My mouth fell open but I did not say a word. She handed me an envelope, said "God bless you," and off she went. I yelled "thank you" when I could talk again. I opened the envelope, and there was $150. I had to sit down.
I went over and over what had happened. I prayed and had a dream with a message from a strange man, and this woman had a dream and knew how much money I needed. I could not believe it, for nothing like that had ever happened to me. I hurried home to tell everyone.
It was not until twenty years later, when I took up genealogy, that I discovered a man named Parkhurst Shurlock who served in the Civil War. He was a sergeant in the 100th Co. D. I could not believe what I was reading. He was my great-great-grandfather.
As I did more research I learned the name Parkhurst was a family name, and to keep it alive they used it as a first name. About three years ago I found a photo tintype of Parkhurst Shurlock. It was without a doubt the man in my dream. I had come face to face with my great-great-grandfather.

воскресенье, 17 ноября 2013 г.

The First in the Neighborhood

By Nancy Hatten
Decide that you want it more than you are afraid of it.
~Bill Cosby
I saw the woman again when I looked out the kitchen window. She appeared to be around my age, and she was with the same little girl I'd seen her with on several occasions. They walked to their mailbox, and the woman helped the girl as she reached up on her tiptoes, opened the door and stuck her small hand in the box to pull out the mail. The woman smiled and stroked her daughter's hair. I turned to look at my toddler son who played on the floor beside me as I washed the dishes.
He and I could both use a friend. I was born and raised in a small Midwestern town with friends and family surrounding me, and no need to reach out to meet anyone new. Jason's friends were ready-made when he was born — children of my friends and former coworkers. But my husband's job had recently relocated us a thousand miles away, and I had no idea how to begin to make the connections with other women that are so important when raising a child.
I had seen the woman across the street a number of times in the several months I had lived in this new home in a strange town. She looked like a person I could relate to, and she was my neighbor after all. If I could only get over the fear that gripped me when I thought about knocking on her door. I am an outgoing person and talk to people easily, but something about starting this first move towards making a friend in this new place paralyzed me.
One day after playing with my son all morning, I felt so strongly the need for us both to have someone near our own age to relate to. I picked Jason up and told him, "We're going on a little visit."
He looked confused — the past few months we spent all our days alone together until his father came home after work. I realized Jason had likely forgotten the time before our move, when family or friends dropped by with regularity. It was something I had not forgotten, and missed more than I could express.
Now that I had announced our intention to visit, there was no turning back. I locked our front door, walked across the street and knocked tentatively on the woman's door. I secretly hoped no one was home or no one answered, so that I could tell myself I had given it a try.
I was about to turn away, but the door swung open. Standing in the doorway was the woman I had seen at the mailbox. The little girl had her arms wrapped around her mother's leg, and she looked as scared as I felt.
"Hi, we're your new neighbors from across the street," I said, as I gestured at our house and Jason gave a little wave. "We've seen you outside — just thought we'd come over and say hello."
"Well, hello," the woman said. "I'm April and this is Katie. Come on in." I was grateful for April's genuine smile.
I set Jason down and Katie grabbed him by the hand as they ran off to play with her toys. I was left without the buffer that children give in such situations, and had no choice but to get to know April.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just Us Girls
"Do you drink tea?" April asked as she led me towards her kitchen.
We settled in and began to compare notes. April had not been in the area long either, and had lived all her life in a city far away like me, so there was common ground. And of course we could talk about our children. I had forgotten how good it felt to compare notes on child rearing with other mothers. A couple of hours went by very quickly. Jason wasn't ready to go when I told him it was time, so I knew he needed these moments with someone his own age as much as I did.
Before we left, April and I exchanged phone numbers. The simple fact that I now had someone to call if I had a question about the neighborhood or a problem during the day gave me a peaceful feeling.
"I enjoyed meeting you both," April said as Katie smiled. "Let's get together again soon," she added.
"Next time it's our turn, right Jason?" I replied as Jason nodded. "I'm sure Jason wants to show you his toys, Katie, and I have lots of tea to choose from."
As we walked across the street Jason turned to wave at Katie several times. I smiled. The whole thing didn't hurt after all, not a bit.

суббота, 9 ноября 2013 г.

Pay It Forward

By Alison Karlene

The little unremembered acts of kindness and love are the best parts of a person’s life.
~William Wordsworth
Every fast-food employee knows that the drive-through window is the worst position. Perching at the frost-covered glass, a fierce wind spits mercilessly in your face. You press the headset closer to your ear and repeat the order perfectly only to be greeted with a harsh "What? Isn't this Timmies?"
I glared at my Starbucks supervisor every time she handed me the headset. On the early morning shift, the headlights of pick-up trucks blinded me as rig workers sped through in a rush to their well-paying jobs. I frothed milk and ground espresso for minimum wage.
I wasn't bitter. I loved my job. But I hated that drive-through window.
It was a freezing Tuesday afternoon when everything changed.
Every once in a while, the sub-zero temperatures of northern Alberta seal a vehicle's windows shut. Drivers don't exactly enjoy having to stand outside in the cold, screaming their orders into a speaker box, when they had expected to cruise through on their heated leather seats. In such cases, most customers tend to take out their frustration on the employees.
This woman was different.
"I'll get the next car's order as well," she said as she came up to the window to pay. She stood outside, gathering snowflakes on her hair and eyelashes. Though she was obviously freezing, her bright smile lit up her face like a fire.
"You can't take their drinks," I said, confused and fatigued. My breath evaporated into a dense fog around my face.
The lady laughed, her chubby cheeks turning crimson with cold. "No, but I'll buy them," she said. "Pay it forward and all that."
Chicken Soup for the Soul: O Canada The Wonders of Winter
Completely dumbfounded, I charged her as requested, and when the next customer arrived at the window I explained what had just happened. I watched as his expression changed like a succession of photographs on a choppy slideshow — first enraged to be out in the cold, then surprised at the random act of kindness, and finally, delighted by his luck.
"I suppose I'll pay for the next order then," he replied, nodding and waving at the impatient driver behind him. He handed over the cash and received his pre-paid beverage.
The trend continued throughout the entire rush. Customers arrived annoyed and hasty, only to leave humbled and calm. No one had any idea how many beverages they would have to purchase. Some customers were shocked to spend much more than they had anticipated, while others ended up receiving their order for less than half the price.
Five cars passed, then ten, then twenty. No one refused to pay. Customers stood at my window emptying a fist-full of change to buy coffee for a complete stranger. Cars rounded the bend as they drove off, honking and waving their anonymous gratitude, knowing they would likely never see each other again.
Every fast-food employee knows that the drive-through window is the worst position. The window sticks with constant ice, the roar of engines injures your ears; your words are lost in the howling wind.
It only takes one customer, one person, to change the entire flow of traffic. It only takes one moment, one smile, to warm up even the coldest of days.

My Circle of Friends

By Sioux Roslawski

There is no surer foundation for a beautiful friendship than a mutual taste in literature.
~P.G. Wodehouse
Her skin is the color of milk chocolate. Mine is the color of café au lait... without the café. She is short in stature, trim of figure, and fond of exercising. I am a bit taller, a lot wider, and allergic to jumping jacks. She is reflective and introspective; I shoot from the hip (and as a result, often blast myself in the foot). We're as different from each other as we can get. And yet we're best friends.
However, despite being a daring duo, Darice and I were each stuck in workaholic ruts. Neither one of us had a life outside work, and the stress was slaying us. Determined to spend part of our lives doing enjoyable, non-work things, we formed a book club. And although it started with the two of us, we were merely the beginning of something incredible.
We envisioned a high-falutin' group. Once a month or so, we imagined getting together and discussing a piece of literature over dinner. We had lofty aspirations, we anticipated civilized conversations, and we looked forward to expanding our minds. In reality, what we ended up with was, uh... different.
Darice invited two of her friends to join us. For our first gathering, we met for dinner at a restaurant near a bookstore. I was a bit nervous. Would they be witty and fun or deadly dull? Would the four of us gel? Most importantly (from my perspective) since they were already close friends, would they widen the circle for me?
I needn't have worried. That evening, Donna and Pat made room for me at the table at McCormick & Schmick's. They tossed barbed remarks in my direction as well as Darice's. When they saw that I could dish it out just as well as I took it, I was in. I was one of them.
Later that evening, we scoured the shelves at the bookstore, each of us eventually plopping down a pile for the other three's perusal. We spent a long time picking up books, reading the blurb inside the jacket, discarding some, and putting others into the "serious contender" stack.
Over the next six months, we read several books, including Their Eyes Were Watching God andThe Help. Never relying on the discussion guides at the end of the books, we preferred to forge our own way. There was nothing snooty about our talks. We were loud. We were bawdy. And we were passionate. The words we highlighted and noted with Post-its struck chords with our own lives. Sometimes a couple of us, having been extra busy that month, would have to scream out, "Don't spoil the ending!" as the story was discussed, because we weren't quite finished with the book, but we all understood. There were times when work and family would sap all our time and energy, causing us to have to set the book aside.
Soon we invited two others: Diane and Karen.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just Us Girls
It was apparent from the initial meeting that we were too rowdy to meet in public, so we moved. Most of the time we met at Darice's — a large, old, graceful home — and everyone brought a dish. Over appetizers and dinner, the talk flowed just as freely as the wine. One month Pat hosted our get-together. Because Pat is fiercely private with her personal life, I felt honored. Another month, Karen kicked her husband out for the evening, and we met at her house.
But when fall came, the hills of our state's wine country called to us like a siren's song. Why not take advantage of the cool autumn days (we were all menopausal, after all) and spend a Saturday touring the wineries?
For the locals who saw us meandering around town, they probably wondered what tied us together. People might have speculated, but a cohesive group we obviously were.
Pat has such a formidable face and active eyebrows, she could slice you up with just a glance. She also is a sharp dresser. Donna is so bubbly and her eager brown eyes always peek out over her reading glasses. Karen's gray hair is unfailingly pulled up in a bun, but some curling tendrils always escape. And Diane rounds out the group. Her bright blue eyes are often crinkled in laughter. That Saturday we tasted wine, and bought some. At each vineyard, we'd sniff and swish and sample, saying either, "Ugh. That's too sweet. Darice and Sioux, you'll love it," or "Yuck. That's dusty and dry. Pass that over to Donna and Pat." We wandered the streets and stopped in the shops. We ate a leisurely lunch and, reluctantly, headed back home in the late afternoon.
Now we call ourselves a "social club" instead of a book group. Some months, we bring a few books we've already read, and each of us borrows a book. This month, we're planning to go to the Black Repertory Group. And I've invited Jackie to join us. She's quiet, but is capable of getting spitting mad when she's passionate about an issue. Unfortunately, she feels like she doesn't fit in with her work colleagues. Just as the circle widened for me, we can enlarge our group to embrace Jackie.
It was books that brought us together. And part of me begs to compare our group to a bookshelf. The books that are lined up on the shelves are rich with texture and images, and they're varied. Darice compares us to wines — some of us are sweeter, some have more of a "bite," but we're all delicious. But it was Donna who made us all whoop with delight. She says we're like a sampler box of chocolates. Some of us are nutty, some of us are as soft and giving as the cream-filled candies, but we're all delectable.

Wanted: Mom Friends

By Melissa Zifzal

Are we not like two volumes of one book?
~Marceline Desbordes-Valmore
For me, the early days of motherhood were isolating. I had quit a rewarding job to become a stay-at-home mom, and while I loved being with my six-month-old son, what I missed most was adult conversation. Every day, I pounced on my husband, Dwayne, the moment he came home from work, anxious to hear news from the outside world. We both knew I needed to make "mom friends." But how?
Although I often took Ethan with me on errands, shopping at the grocery store didn't exactly provide a chance to make a new friend. Ethan was content to smile at the other customers and look at the brightly colored displays, but I wasn't. "We need to find something better to do," I told him.
Surprisingly, the solution was just a few miles away.
"I want to pick up a few things at the library. Let's all go," Dwayne said on one of his days off. He didn't need to ask twice. I loved to read, but hadn't had much time or energy since Ethan was born. Perhaps a good book would lift my spirits.
After choosing a novel, I decided to venture past the adult department. The children's area looked inviting, and with Ethan in the stroller I felt qualified to take a closer look. A decorated wall displayed schedules of activities for children of all ages, even babies. I picked up one and noted an upcoming playgroup for babies and toddlers. I doubted I would know anyone there, but it had to beat sitting at home.
The next week I gathered my courage, and Ethan and I headed to the library. "We're going to go play, and we'll have a great time," I said to him, partly to convince myself. "Da, da, da," he babbled in agreement.
The library's community room was filled with a play kitchen, a small ball pit, lots of toys for babies and toddlers, and half a dozen moms and their children, none of whom looked familiar. Uh oh.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just Us Girls
"Welcome to playgroup. I'm Misty, the playgroup coordinator," said a smiling woman about my age. "How old is your baby? What's his name?" she asked, her friendliness instantly putting me at ease. Misty introduced me to the other moms, and we began chatting about our children's milestones, their favorite baby foods, and their sleep schedules while the babies and toddlers played around us. I left the playgroup feeling energized and excited about these potential new friendships.
After that first playgroup, Ethan and I rarely missed a date. As he grew, I added "Tot Time" and preschool "Story Time" activities to our schedule. And when his younger sister and brother were born, our calendar filled up even more. Together we've learned about gardening, met small animals from the local zoo, played math and alphabet games, and most importantly, we've all made new friends.
I'm grateful for the moms I've met at the library. We share similar backgrounds and interests, and with children in the same age group, we can offer each other a sympathetic ear and advice. To help pass the time when our children were younger, we met at a different park each week during the summer so they could play and we could chat. Nowadays, my friends and I get together for dinner or shopping without the kids so we can enjoy each other's uninterrupted company. And we still attend lots of library activities with our children.
I'm still amazed how one small act of bravery made such a huge difference in my level of happiness. Go ahead and strike up a conversation with the mom at the next park bench. Seek out other moms at your church or your child's school and start your own playgroup or book club. And don't forget to check for activities at your local library. You just may meet some lifelong friends.

She Stopped to Say Goodbye

By Joan Leotta

Grandmas hold our tiny hands for just a little while, but our hearts forever.
~Author Unknown
Grandma was the center of my childhood world. My mother was often too tired to talk or do things with me when she got home from work, but Grandma had endless time to listen and talk, with a limitless supply of funny stories. I loved home and my mother, but life was more exciting with Grandma. The only downside to long afternoons or overnights at Grandma's was leaving. I especially hated to say goodbye. She knew that and when she died in November 1973, she made a special effort to reach out to me.
All of my friends were welcome at her home, but I most enjoyed spending time alone with her. While watching her knead bread or make soup, we talked. She shared tales of her own life, silly poems, and deliciously "naughty" stories about the exploits of my mom and her siblings. We fed the birds from her back porch. But whatever we were doing, we stopped to watch her soap opera, The Guiding Light, at noon.
On shopping forays into downtown Pittsburgh we haunted shops large and small. Lunch was my choice — chicken à la king at Kaufman's or barbecued chipped ham at Horne's. We rode the streetcar into downtown. If laden with packages, we often splurged on a cab to go home.
When I stayed overnight we stayed up late together, watching old movies from the perch of her bed on the tiny TV in her bedroom.
"We can eat cookies in bed if you want," she'd offer. We often did, and shook out the crumbs from the sheets in the morning. Then we'd eat cinnamon buns fresh from bakery home delivery.
Grandma took each grandchild, in turn, on a vacation with her. When I turned ten, Grandma and I waved goodbye to my parents as we boarded the train for a two-week trip to Atlantic City. My "turn" stretched into several years of vacations — Atlantic City before it was a gambling venue, a cruise to Nassau, a week in Miami, and more time in Atlantic City until my parents thought it too seedy for us to continue our trips there. The hardest part of any of these trips was returning home, bidding goodbye to Grandma and returning to regular life.
College took me away from Grandma and my parents for most of the year. While I was away, Grandma and I visited by phone almost as often as my parents and I did. After college I went to graduate school, using up all of my savings and taking out a loan for the first year. Grandma waved her magic wand and made my second year of graduate school possible by lending me part of my tuition. When I got a job and presented her with a repayment schedule, Grandma said, "Consider the money a gift."
After graduation in 1971, I moved to Washington, D.C. She visited once, with my mother. We talked about her visiting me alone. I wanted to take her to all of the new places I was discovering. Of course, we talked regularly by phone. She listened, as usual, never judging, but simply supporting and gently offering advice.
Late in 1972 she became very ill. For most of 1973 she was so ill that my mom and her siblings had to take turns staying with her. I took time off from my job that August to spend all of my leave with her. Alone again, we talked and laughed. She knew she was dying. When it was time for me to leave at the end of the weekend, neither one of us wanted to say goodbye. It seemed too final. When I left, Grandma simply hugged me. A few weeks after my visit, she took a turn for the worse and went into the hospital.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miraculous Messages from Heaven
Mom and I spoke daily, not unusual in today's world of cell phones, but a difficult and expensive activity in the early 1970s. Each evening after hospital visiting hours ended, she gave me a report on Grandma's progress. On Sunday, November 11th, my mother told me I should fly back to Pittsburgh the following weekend.
"It might be your last chance to say goodbye," she said.
I didn't want to wait for the weekend. I decided that Monday morning I would ask my boss if I could leave on Tuesday.
Monday morning around 7:30, as I got ready for work, I rehearsed my request for leave. I had no roommate, so I wasn't disturbing anyone with my monologue. Suddenly, I "felt" someone in the dressing area with me. I was brushing my hair and my arm remained suspended in mid-air as I listened to a voice direct two words at me. Grandma's voice. She spoke what she had not wanted to say when I left her in August. Two simple words: "Goodbye, Joanie."
Filled with overwhelming sadness, I dropped the brush. I ran to my nightstand and picked up the phone. I dialed my mother. The phone rang and rang. When she answered, I blurted out, "How is Grandma?"
"As I told you last night, same, but growing weaker. Why did you call so early? I don't have any new information."
An hour later she called me at my office. "Grandma isn't fine. She went into a deep coma this morning about an hour ago. The nurse called to tell me not long after you called. This is the first chance I've had to get back to you."
On Tuesday I flew to Pittsburgh from Washington, D.C. and rushed to the hospital. Grandma's body was being kept alive. I sat with her until she was officially declared dead on November 15th. But I know that her spirit had left her body three days earlier on Monday when she slipped into the coma. I know, because on her way to heaven she stopped to say goodbye.

Polar Plunge

By Lynn Dove

Winter is not a season, it's an occupation.
~Sinclair Lewis
When we moved onto our acreage just north of Cochrane, Alberta in the spring of 1994, we were enamoured by the 180-degree view of the Rocky Mountains to the west of us and the beauty of nature surrounding us. While planting my first garden and watching my children chase gophers around the yard I thought this had to be the most idyllic lifestyle I could ever imagine.
We spent many evenings that summer sitting on our deck, listening to the yipping of nearby coyotes, and later, when the leaves turned colour in the fall, we took long walks and marveled at the Northern Lights. Having grown up in Calgary, I knew winter was just around the corner, but after having spent those memorable first few months enjoying our new home, I pictured an equally tranquil winter scene, curled up by the hearth, sipping hot chocolate and watching silent snowflakes flutter by our window as we remained cozy inside.
We had just finished the Thanksgiving turkey in October when the north wind blew in strong and fierce. And the list began. The walls around our house were not as well insulated as we thought. As ice started to form on the inside of the windows, my husband added "replacing windows in spring" to the growing list of "to-do's." When the first major snowfall hit in November and the snow blower the previous owners had left us refused to churn through the cement snow drifts, my husband added "buy a bigger snow blower."
As the snow accumulated in front of our house so his tractor couldn't even clear a path, we parked our vehicles at the top of the driveway and trudged through knee-deep snow and minus twenty-degree temperatures to get to our cars. The weatherman called it a Polar Plunge. I had more descriptive terminology for the weather, as I slid on my backside, yet again, carrying groceries from the end of the driveway to our front door. The bruises on my derriere were starting to add up.
A couple days after Christmas, a Chinook blew in from the west. "Snow Eater," as the natives call it, chewed a huge swath of snow down our long driveway and we were finally able to move the cars into a warm garage. The melting snow ran in rivulets around our yard, and the temperature rose to a balmy 2 degrees Celsius. We wrestled the kids into their snowsuits and we built snow forts and snowmen and finally experienced the winter scene I had always imagined in our new home... at least for a few days.
On New Year's Eve the temperature plummeted, the snow fell yet again, and the frigid north wind whistled and whipped the house with ferocity. We watched helplessly as roof shakes blew across the yard. My husband added, "Replace roof in spring" to the now lengthy list. When our son's plastic sandbox blew past, I added, "Buy new sandbox too."
Chicken Soup for the Soul: O Canada The Wonders of Winter
I had never seen six foot drifts before, but on New Year's Day there they were, like mountains in the middle of our driveway. With no snow blower to dig us out, we were in a quandary how to get the cars out of the garage again. My husband bundled up and started to shovel. The kids and I watched him from a window as he struggled with the heavy snow, the wind kicking up whirling vortexes of white twisters all around him. It was a valiant attempt but after breaking one snow shovel... I added that to the list... I thought our only hope would be for another Chinook to blow in or we would be snowed in forever. He pointed a mittened hand and yelled at me through the window, "Add... buy snow fence for next year!" and obediently I wrote that on the list.
My husband managed to find another old snow shovel in the garage and in a fit of insanity I thought I should go out and help the man. I don't know what I was thinking; perhaps it was the fact that he was braving the elements and I was warm inside. I pulled on my coat, toque, mitts and scarf and thought that my presence outside would somehow lift his spirits. We were a team and we would accept this snow-clearing challenge together, even if there was only one snow shovel between us.
No sooner had I stepped out the front door, than a powerful gust of wind blasted me from behind, and catching my winter coat like a sail, picked my body up and blew me head first into a snow bank. Try as I might to regain my footing, the wind kept battering me back until finally I had to crawl on my hands and knees to the front door where I finally collapsed in a heap. It was only my pride that was hurt, but my ears certainly stung by the sound of my husband's hysterical laughter and my kids waving and pointing at me. Still, I like to think that it was my "polar plunge" that was just the comic relief we all needed to get us through that long, cold winter.

Texas To-Do List

By Dana Sexton

The nice thing about teamwork is that you always have others on your side.
~Margaret Carty
Promptly at 6:00 a.m., I stepped out of my car and into one of the hottest July days ever recorded in Houston, Texas. My thick cotton T-shirt was soon drenched in sweat as I waited in the local church parking lot. Experienced runners surrounded me, all wearing appropriate attire for intense heat and humidity. At the age of fifty-three, I was about to train for my first half-marathon with the assistance of an organized program. This was my plan for building friendships in an unknown city!
Houston was quite a change from Southern California, where I grew up, went to college, married, and raised two daughters. It's home to the world's richest rodeo, glorious barbecue, and bedazzled wardrobes. I had bravely faced my husband's job transfer, at a time when many couples were contemplating retirement. However, the last checkmark on my Texas "to-do" list was daunting: "Find friends." My future no longer consisted of PTA meetings, team mom activities and my children's' high school social functions. What would each day look like? Would two aging Labrador Retrievers be my sole companions?
The answer arrived one week after a moving van spilled musty cardboard boxes throughout our new suburban house. Annie, the real estate agent, phoned. "Dana, would you be interested in joining the local chapter of USA Fit here in town?" Honestly, I had no idea what she was talking about. What I did know was that Annie was a runner. I had even heard her mention marathons. I felt anxious already.
"What does it involve? I mean, is this about running? Because that's just not my thing." I was hoping she would hear the disinterest in my voice. Not Annie! She didn't give up easily.
"Come on! You'll love it! It's a group of both runners and walkers who meet for six months, training for the Houston Marathon and Half-Marathon. I think you would meet some nice friends. I'll be there!"
Excuses filled my head. "Annie, I am a walker, but who in their right mind walks a marathon? I've never heard of such a thing." It didn't matter. I was about to get schooled in the brilliant ways of USA Fit!
That day in the church lot, the beauty of Annie's plan came to light. We were divided into groups according to marathon or half-marathon, and pace. I decided to stand amongst the "purple people." That's code-speak for half-marathon walkers. I had a group. I had friends!
From the first day, four women with experience took me on as their personal project. Diane, Karen, Jill, and Betsy walked every step with me that initial Saturday. When we returned from the steaming three-mile course, my face was an unusual shade of red. Diane noticed immediately. She sat with me in the shade and covered the basics of proper clothing and hydration. I marveled at her kindness as I sipped a thick, green sports drink.
For the next six months, those four women never left my side. When fall arrived, we rejoiced in the beauty of the changing leaves and inhaled the scent of crackling fires as families rose and prepared breakfast. By now, our Saturday morning chats had become more personal. Kids, jobs, houses, dogs — no subject was off limits as we raced past the tranquil lakes surrounding our town. The sun rose, great blue herons soared, and deer wandered on the edge of the woods. I came to believe I could actually walk the half-marathon at the rapid pace required by the sponsors. My confidence grew not only from strict preparation, but also from a collective courage.
The USA Fit training schedule was taped to my kitchen wall. Every day for six months was recorded, with the required activity listed. I diligently crossed off each square until only the final week remained. With that realization, panic set in.
That was also when I understood just how supportive my purple friends were. On the Monday before the race, I saw Diane in the busy produce aisle of the grocery store. "I'm so happy to see you!" I gave her a massive hug and, without warning, the tears started. They came from a place deep inside, from insecurity and the realization that I might not be up to the challenge ahead.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just Us Girls
Diane steered me toward the racks of bread. The air smelled delicious, and a soothing calm enveloped me. "You are going to be just fine. You're ready! I'll be waiting for you inside the convention center first thing that morning. I'll help you through the whole process." Another hug and I was on to cereal and canned goods.
Then came a piece of bad news. Karen was experiencing knee problems. On Wednesday, she made the tough decision. "I just can't walk the course. Look for me at mile seven. That's when you'll need a cheering section the most. I'll be there." I wasn't certain I could accomplish the enormous task ahead without the full team; each woman added a different component to the group's success. Karen was steadfast. "Do not let this take away any of your joy."
Race day was exciting. Spectators lined the streets with noisemakers, banners, and loudspeakers. I found my purple friends at the designated meeting place without any problem. A group photo was taken, and then we clung to each other as 24,000 racers made their way to the starting line. The four of us huddled in the early morning chill, pep talks were given all around, and then the gun sounded. Finally, I would face the challenge Annie had invited into my life.
Back in July, my target had simply been to finish the half-marathon. At some crazy point, I decided to complete the race in less than three hours. In order to meet that goal, Jill and I kept constant watch on the time. "Dana, I have a plan. We need to walk for five minutes, then jog for one. That should keep our finish time to three hours." We grinned at each other, knowing that this rather large detail should have been worked out in advance!
The last mile was nearly intolerable. Our pace had been much quicker than during training. Luckily, the final stretch was bursting with enthusiasm from the crowded sidewalks. I sped along to cheers from Elvis impersonators, sumo wrestlers and a youth group dressed as chickens. Diane yelled from far ahead, "It doesn't get any better than this!"
Six months of preparation finished with one step over a thin black line. An aquamarine spiral of balloons reached into the cloudless sky. Confetti blanketed the road. On the other side of the line, my friends waited, patient as always. Enthusiastic volunteers, who had been so generous with their time, placed heavily inscribed medals around our necks. I fingered the shiny, grosgrain ribbon with an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. At that moment, I realized I had become part of my new community. A town where strength is a team effort and a dear friend will dry your tears in the grocery store.