THUMBS UP!!!

When I first started driving, Granny cautioned me NOT to pick up hitchhikers.  “You just never know,” she warned.  I disobeyed her, but only once.  That day, I was feeling pretty independent behind the wheel of my stick-shift, Chevy Nova, clunker when I saw a guy with his thumb out on the highway. 

No dummy me:  I checked him out top to bottom first, before I stopped.  He was clean, handsome in a rough sort of way and looked very fit.  Seemed harmless.  So, I pulled over.  He gave me a big, wide grin, and said, “Hey, Thanks for stopping.  I’m just going about two miles straight down.  I sure appreciate this.  It’s hot out here.”  Had manners, too. 

As he squeezed himself into the front seat I realized that he was MUCH bigger up close.  He was also staring at me, hard.  So, I did what I normally do when I’m nervous:  made conversation.  “Your boots are really cool,” I enthused.  “Thanks,” he smiled.  “Where’d you get them?” I continued.  “Um.  I made ’em actually,” he said.  “No way!” I blathered.  “Yeah.  It took me a long time to do this part,” he indicated, raising his jeans to show even more detailing higher up.  “I worked on ’em while I was in prison.  Actually, I just got out a few hours ago.” 

The oxygen suddenly went from the car.  ‘No wonder he’s so strong,’ I thought to myself, ‘It’s all those sit-ups in his cell.’  Fortunately, his stop was just ahead.   “Well, here you are,” I said in a breezy,  extra-loud voice, pulling over about five times faster to let him out than I had to pick him up.

That incident crossed my mind today when I picked up another hitchhiker; an elderly redhead.  She was standing umbrella-less in the pouring rain.  “Where are you going?” I yelled through the downpour.  But she didn’t pause to answer because she was already arranging her five foot self into my front seat.  As she snapped on the seat belt she turned to me and said, “Do you have any idea where Verizon is?” 

During our ride, I learned that she was 85, had a daughter,  moved here recently from New York and loved to read.   “I was just too impatient to wait for the bus today,” she confided as I pulled up to Verizon, “so thanks for picking me up!”   You’re welcome, Alma.  Anytime.

Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,” now available on Amazon.

http://www.amazon.com/Kissing-Tomatoes-ebook/dp/B007CMNJKW

Advertisements

IT TAKES A LOT OF NERVE

It takes a lot of nerve to steal from someone but it takes even more to give what you’ve stolen back. Both scenarios occurred to an 83 year-old friend of mine yesterday.  She arrived at the pool as she has, “for the last 40 years,” with her purse stuffed inside of her gym bag.   She put them in her locker and headed out to swim. When she returned her purse was gone.

Inside, besides $60 in cash, were two gift cards from her grandchildren totaling $200, along with her ID and all of her credit cards.  Bereft, she drove straight home to cancel everything. When she finished, she walked out to her mailbox and found her purse sitting inside. The cash and gift cards were gone, but everything else was just as she had left it.

I thought about the girl who returned it in broad daylight. Someone could have seen her, including my friend. It took nerve but it also meant that she had a conscience. Nowadays you don’t see much of that. Just read the news. Not much conscience around.  Some of our politicians and PEOPLE idols could have used a grandmother like mine.

When I was five, I stole a piece of Bazooka bubblegum from the open jar at the checkout stand as Grandmother paid for our groceries. I unwrapped it, stuffed the pink sweetness into my mouth and began to chew. However, as we approached the car, Granny looked hard at me and asked, “What are you chewing?” “Gum,” I answered guiltily. “Did you pay for it?” she asked. “Um. No,” I replied, “but it only cost three cents.” “That is stealing,” she said. “The amount doesn’t matter.”

She reached into her handbag, took out a Kleenex and had me put my gum inside of it. “Now take this back and tell the clerk that you are sorry for stealing it.” Then she took three pennies from her purse and pressed them into my hand. “And here is the money to pay for it.” “But Grandma,” I protested, “You mean I have to give the gum back AND I have to pay for it, too?” “Yes,” she replied. “But why?” “Because you won’t enjoy it anymore. Your conscience won’t let you.” I’m kind of hoping that girl has that same feeling with the stuff she buys on my friend’s cards.

Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,” an Alzheimer’s memoir.

CLEAN YOUR ROOM!

A friend came by to see our new house last week  Nothing really ‘new’ about this 50’s ranch but I welcomed the chance to show it off.  She marveled at the view from all the windows of the grand trees which surround us and we giggled at the constant creaking of the floors.

As she opened the door to my daughter’s room, my heart sank.  Clothes were heaped everywhere, dresses flung on the floor, dirty Kleenex, candy wrappers, a half-eaten apple, and an unmade bed.  Her bathroom, however, made the bedroom look like the Sistine chapel.   

Her room has looked like this for so long that I didn’t even cringe when my friend said, ‘Gosh, she’s as messy as my son!’  And while I have asked her to clean it hundreds of times, it still looks as if the person who lives there is careless and uncaring.

Now experts on the subject say that kids’ rooms are messy because they, “have too much” or because they are “exerting their independence.”  And while both points of view have value, my take is this:  Your room reflects who you are. 

As a teenager, my own room had a posters of Led Zepplin and the Doors on the walls.  An incense burner sat on my dresser, love beads hung from my desk lamp and my stuffed animals snuggled on the paisley bedspread.  Granny even let me tape peace symbols across the windows.  Those were my statements of independence. 

So truth is, I don’t really want my daughter to just ‘clean her room’.  I want her to value her clothes like her friends and not just dump them on the floor when she is through with them.  I want her to realize that not capping the toothpaste or nail polish is like hanging up on someone without saying, “Good-bye.”  I want her to understand that leaving gooey trash on a strand of pearls or a white, silk blouse, is like cussing in the middle of a Keats poem. 

When my daughter walks into this room of her own, I want her to own it as the full expression of who she IS.  So that anyone who crosses her threshold in the future will see her best self not the one on view at present.  Before I post this, though, better be sure that I made my bed this morning.  I have to lie in it.


NEVER SAY NEVER

‘We’ just got a puppy for Christmas.  In the last two days I have bent over with a paper towel and wiped or picked up at least 12 different ‘gifts.’  According to my research, I will be doing this for the next 3 months—if I’m lucky.

Now I am not particularly wild about dogs, never have been.  Like ‘em from a distance.  Up until yesterday, I have never owned a dog AND NEVER BEEN TEMPTED.  Nope.  Never.  Never walked a dog.  Never picked up after one.  Never took care of a friend’s dog.  Over the years, I have actually plugged my ears in the presence of a barking dog, even when the sound was coming from a movie screen.

I was bit by a dog once.  Still have the scar.  Did I mention that besides their bark, I also loathe their smell, particularly when they are wet?  Oh, and I REALLY can’t stand it when they jump up on me and sniff everywhere.  Not my idea of a good time.

Broke up with a guy once because I couldn’t stand his dog.  Walked away from several apartments over the years because they allowed dogs.  Won’t stay in hotels that allow pets.  Have moved twice because a neighbor’s dog would not stop barking.  Had to sit next to a dog on a plane once and asked to be moved.

Not long ago, I pulled up to a friend’s house and was greeted by their very, loudly barking, BIG dog.  I did not get out of the car.  Too terrified.  So, rolled up the windows. . .and waited. Finally, my friend heard the racket and came to rescue me.

You get the gist.  But, did I mention how my daughter’s face lights up whenever she sees this (as of yet unnamed) pup?  Or how she rushes to play with it and doesn’t seem to mind cleaning up the messes?  Right now I can hear her saying to her little mutt, “Wanna go on an adventure?’  She has put it on a teeny, tiny leash and they are, ‘Going for a walk.’

Granny always told me to, “Never say ‘never.’”  That was 40 years ago.  If she could see me now running after this four-legged rascal with yet another paper towel in hand, she would just smile that knowing smile.  (Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,” a memoir of her grandmother’s descent into Alzheimer’s.   http://www.helen-hudson.com).

 

 

 

STARLIGHT, STAR BRIGHT

      The noted astronomer began harmlessly enough.  Proudly, he held up a steaming, baked potato in front of us.  It symbolized a white, dwarf star, gazillions of miles away from our uncomfortable, folding chairs.  By calculating the rate at which the potato, and thus the star, cooled, science could assess the age of our galaxy.  When he excitedly announced that our good, old, planet earth has been around for at least 13 ½ billion years, ‘Yippee’ did not come to mind.  Black holes did. 

     As the others lined up to gaze at M-13 through the telescope, I lost my zeal.  I kept imagining all the billions of people who weren’t here anymore.  They were now like those faraway stars:  infinitely, irrevocably untouchable.  With all the eons of TIME out there, we’re stuck in ridiculously short ‘time shares,’ one breath away from being obsolete.  ‘Is it possible to feel any smaller?’ I wondered.

     Yup.  “Stars don’t die all at once.  The larger, densely packed, intense ones die the fastest.”  (I’m thinking James Dean).  “The smaller, less dense, more demure ones last longest.” ( Betty White?)  Uh Oh.  According to my family, I’m as high-strung as a key on a kite in lightning.  My oldest said just last week, “Mom.  Why don’t you return to Disney and ask them to remove your animation chip?”  My time may be shorter than I thought.

     Now I’ve had stars in my eyes.  I’ve stepped on the stars in front of Grauman’s Chinese.  I’ve dated stars.  I‘ve stuck the glow-in-the-dark ones above my children’s cribs. But never have the stars seemed less appealing.  So, when the astronomer finished, I asked:  “Okay.  Now that we know how old the galaxy is, and that one day, billions of years from now, the universe will go dark and there will be no stars—what does this mean personally, for you, right now?’  “Um. . .Well. . .I guess. . . I. . . just don’t know the answer to that,” he said sadly. 

     But I do.  Tonight the Perseid meteor shower will be in full view and I will watch all those falling stars fall.  It will remind me that dying is pretty from a distance.  But mostly it will remind me of the nights Granny and I used to look up at those same stars and say:  “Starlight, star bright.  First star I see tonight.  Wish I may.  Wish I might have the wish I wish tonight.”  (Hudson’s memoir, “Kissing Tomatoes,” recounts the 13 years she lived with her grandmother who had Alzheimer’s).  http://www.helen-hudson.com.

JUST DRIVE

     I just handed my oldest the keys to the car and sent her out to the market.  For a brief moment, she just stood there and looked at me as if uncertain what I meant.  “Here’s the key,” I repeated.  “Just drive.”  I figure she’s had enough of me sitting in the passenger seat making her nervous.  She now has her license and it’s time for me to let go.  Ha!  Do we parents ever really let go?

        Okay.  So she’s been gone over an hour.  I’ve replayed the entire drive to and from back and forth in my mind several times.  But no amount of my worry will amount to a hill of beans when it comes to, ‘the other guy.’  If I add up all of the worrying I’ve done about everything over the last 40 years, it is quite clear that I have wasted months, maybe years, of precious time.  They should have been spent laughing, creating and exploring instead. 

        The really good decisions I’ve made in my life were mostly done on the spot out of a sense of responsibility, joy or love; like the day we moved Granny in with us.*  We didn’t work out a budget or decide how much time we would have to devote to her.  We just moved her in, Alzheimer’s and all.  In hindsight, it’s better that we didn’t know we’d have to add Depends to the shopping list, or that just bathing her might take an entire hour.  Love far outweighs anything on a balance sheet or a shopping list.

        And it was love that propelled me to send my daughter off an hour ago.  She will never spread her wings if I keep her tethered and I want her to fly.  She needs to feel that sense of full accountability when she is behind the wheel, to know there is nothing between her and the other guy but her own good judgment.  As a driver, she will have to make many ‘on the spot’ decisions.  If they’re done with responsibility, love and joy she will be okay.

        Oops.  Gotta run.  I hear the garage door opening.  My bird is returning to the nest; the same one I used to buckle into her pink, fluffy, car seat with her stuffed elephant.  My heart leaps with both joy and gratitude.  (*From, “Kissing Tomatoes,” by Helen Hudson.  http://www.helen-hudson.com).

P. S.  An hour after I posted this blog, I discovered that Wisconsin has launched a, “Just Drive,” campaign for teens.  It comes with its own yellow road sign and points out that while teens only account for 7% of all drivers, they cause 14% of all accidents.  How comforting.

THE LAST WORD

     It’s not everyday the girl in front of me at Starbucks is long, lean, wearing running shoes and almost 80 years-old.  Yes, her pure, shiny, white hair was a bit of a clue, but other than that she was all girl.  From the way she ordered her decaf cappuccino with a sweet, slow, southern drawl to her gentle, “I think y’all forgot my drink,” when the guy behind us was served first.  She had the powdery, white skin of a woman who’s always worn a hat in the sun and the straight posture of a good upbringing.

      I told her that she looked much younger than 80, but she gave me the typical, “Oh no.  You’re just sayin’ that,” response.  I told her that I’d “seen my share of 80’s” and she didn’t even come close.  When she questioned my experience with ‘older people,’ I told her about this blog.  She sighed and said she didn’t own a computer and that was that. . .

      Until I was leaving and noticed that she’d spilled her cappuccino on the floor.  An employee was cleaning it up, so I went back and ordered her another one.  As I brought her the new drink she was thrilled and said she would, “never have thought to ask for another one.”  She asked me to write down the name of my blog and said she would have a friend look it up.  As she read what I had written on the scrap of paper, she looked astonished.  “Well, how on earth did you know my name?” she asked.

       Well, Helen Hudson, you may have seen a few more sunrises than I have, but no one would ever know it to look at you.  There.  And you can’t take back THAT compliment.  I get the last word here.  (Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,” an Alzheimer’s memoir.   http://www.helen-hudson.com)