Oh Christmas Tree, how lovely is your… ceramics branches?

You may recall that some time back I mentioned my grandmother.  Well, I guess I have mentioned them both but this story is about my mom’s mom.  She is the one that worked in a hosiery mill in Elizabeth City for 70 years.

Being an employee in a mill is not the kind of work that is going to make someone rich.  My grandmother had a very modest house on a street surrounded by other modest mill workers houses.  There weren’t a lot of flashy and elaborate Christmas decorations on her street.  Actually, her Christmas decorations consisted of 4 things:  A poinsettia, a nativity scene, a Christmas tree and a single, five pointed star that was completely covered in shiny silver garland.  In my mind’s eye, I can still see that star hanging on her front door.  I always knew that Christmas was getting close when I saw that star appear.

Every year the decorations were always the same.  The live tree was replaced with an artificial one as was the case with most folks but other than that, nothing really changed.  But as she began to get older it was harder and harder for her to deal with the tree.  Eventually even the artificial tree gave way to one of those small ceramic trees.  I’m sure you’ve seen them… the one that has a single light bulb inside it and each branch has a little colored transparent tip that the light shines through leaving the impression that there are many different colored lights on it.

So one year around 1980 I guess… when I was on my sabbatical from college (other story, for another day), I was sitting around her house and we started talking about Christmas as it was getting that time of the year again.  The conversation drifted to the topic of the tree and I could tell by how she was talking that the little ceramic tree bothered her some…. it was a symbol I think… a symbol of her failing health and loss of abilities.  I knew that there possibly wouldn’t be too many more years that she would be in that house so I ask her if she would mind if I went out and bought a tree for her.  I was shocked that she didn’t put up much of an argument… but I guess that just shows me how having that ceramic tree had affected her pysche.

So I headed out to the local Booger Mountain Christmas tree lot and picked the perfect tree.  Then I realize I had nothing else… so off to get a stand…. and lights…. and garland… and decorations.  When I showed back up at her house, she had already cleared the space where the tree has always been before.  She and I laughed and talked and had a grand old time messing with that tree.  I remember that as the sun went down she said, “Come on, let’s go outside and look at it through the window… you know that’s what really counts.”   While I have seen, bought and decorated bigger and more elaborate trees, I have never had one that meant as much to me as that one did.  I stood there, staring at the tree with my arm around my granny’s shoulder.  I could see the lights reflecting in her glasses as she said, “We done good, didn’t we?”  I just smiled and replied, “Yes ma’am, we did.”  As we walked back up on her front porch to walk back in the house… there was that star…. inviting us back inside to the warmth and comfort of our Christmases past.

  ceramic Christmas tree


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Love me some twinkling….

I remember Christmases from back in the 60’s when we lived in Ahoskie.  Not that the images are extremely clear but one of the things I remember the most vividly are the lights.  There were 2 types of lighting configurations that people used back then.  First there were the traditionalist.  Those folks that would string red, blue, green, and some sort of yellowish / orange looking color lights on their tree.  The trees back then weren’t the well groomed trees of today.  No, the ones I remember looked more like Charlie Brown’s tree.  Very scraggly with big holes without limbs in them and lots of space between the rows of branches too. The other lighting configuration was well.. I don’t know how to explain it.  The trees were a shiny silver metal looking thing.  They typically had just one kind of decoration, like all red or blue balls on them.  And there were no lights on them at all.  No, what people did was set a flood light on the floor under it shining up through the tree.  The light had a rotating filter that went around over the top of the bulb.  the filter was usually 2 or 3 different colors (red blue and green I think) and would change the color of the tree.  This was not my idea of what a Christmas tree should be and fortunately neither was it my dads.

So, back to the traditional tree lights… they started out when I was young being very dark colors.  They looked like they had been dipped in color paint to reflect the various colors.  As a matter of fact, I’m thinking this is true because I can remember scratching some of them and the bulbs actually appeared clear underneath.  As technology advanced, the bulbs became made out of clear color glass.  This was when you could start getting the twinkle lights.  This was not the “all on or all off” type you see today.  This was each individual light would twinkle separately.  Not only did they twinkle, they even made a little faint sound.  These were may favorite lights of all.  I can remember sitting on the floor for hours, listening to Bing Crosby and Perry Como and just staring at those lights,  filled with the anticipation of it all.

We were still using these lights when we moved to Elizabeth City.  My dad and I even burned a hole in the carpet with these old lights, but that’s another story!  But alas, this technology passed too.  and then the little lights we all use today became more popular.  Some go with all white…. some with color…. some that will twinkle entire sections of lights.  And now LED lights are coming too.  I know they are much more energy efficient… but boy, all I can tell you is my individual twinkle lights beat them all!

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It’s gotta be the shoes….

“My momma always said you can tell a lot about a person by their shoes, where they’re going, where they’ve been. I’ve worn lots of shoes, I bet if I think about it real hard I can remember my first pair of shoes.” ~ Forest Gump

I feel a bit like Forest Gump some days.  I have no earthly idea why but I have had shoes on my mind.  There were tennis shoes and those tremendously uncomfortable sunday shoes that your parents always made you wear.  There were Bass weejuns or penny loafers as we called them… and Sperry Top Siders (the dark brown ones with the white soles, not the multitude of colors and styles they have today).There wasn’t a lot of variation in the clothes I wore as a kid.  Blue jeans and tee shirts made up almost my entire wardrobe.  What seemed to really change though over the years were the shoes that you would wear with them.

There were always the knock offs that some of us wore but when I was young the really cool elementary set wore Keds.  You remember the ones with the little blue and red tab on the outside edge up close to the toe.  But as we got a little bit older we had to move on to something slightly more sophisticated… we would wear PF Flyers… the black ones, of course.. the shoe that made you run faster and jump higher.  Or that’s what the ad said anyway.  And you knew that when you got home from the store you just had to check that out.  And there was never any doubt in your mind… you could tell you were faster than your friends.. and you could in fact jump higher.. maybe even a foot or two more.  They had a thin red line that followed the white rubber edge all the way around to the toe.  Next came the king of all tennis shoes… the epitome of coolness… the shoe that everyone had to have… Chuck Taylor Converse.  As the years went by they started making them in suede in red, blue and green.  The original ones they made had such lousy dye in them that they faded onto everyone’s socks.  But even as tennis shoes began to change, there has never been a tennis shoe made that could compete with the original Chuck Taylor shoe for popularity and coolness.

It sounds like all I wore was tennis shoes and that is pretty much right… with a one exception that comes to mind.  In high school, Clark Wallabees with their comfy crepe souls were the shoe of choice.  Those shoes weighed a ton but were the only shoe I would ever wear except for tennis shoes.  Loved them so much I have a pair in my closet today.

Sitting next to those Wallabees is the oldest pair of footwear that I own.  It is a pair of work boots.  We called them brogans back in the day.  I bought this pair of boots the summer I graduated from high school.  I don’t wear them that much any more but I just can’t get rid of them.  They have traveled thousands of miles with me… slogging through swamps… doing work in the yard… cutting and splitting enough wood to provide winter fuel for a thousand years,  The toe of one of them is a little charred.. having spend a few minutes a little too close to a camp fire trying to dry off one evening.  Funny how something as simple as an ugly old pair of boots, tucked away in a back corner of a closet can take you back over years.  I think I need to take them out and put them on just to feel it all again.

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When you receive this…

I have to confess… I didn’t write this.. but it has affected me.. and I hope… and pray that it will add to your life too!

Just another contribution to my journey towards living life on the narrows..


Kelly Adkins

I envy Kevin.   My brother,  Kevin,  thinks God lives under his bed.    At least  that’s what I heard him say one night.    He was  praying out loud in his dark bedroom,  and I stopped to listen.

‘Are you there, God? ‘  he said. ‘Where are you?   Oh,   I see. Under  the bed…’ I  giggled softly and tiptoed off to my own room Kevin’s unique  perspectives are often a source of amusement.  But that night  something else lingered long after the humor.

I realized for the  first time the very different world Kevin lives in.   He was  born 30 years ago, mentally disabled as a result of difficulties  during labor. Apart from his size (he’s 6-foot-2), there are few  ways in which he is an adult.   He  reasons and communicates with the capabilities of a 7-year-old,  and he always will.

He will probably always believe that God lives  under his bed, that Santa Claus is  the one who fills the space under our tree every Christmas and that airplanes stay up in  the sky because angels carry them.

I  remember wondering if Kevin realizes he is different. Is he ever  dissatisfied with his monotonous life?    Up  before dawn each day,  off to work at a workshop for the disabled,  home to walk our cocker spaniel, return to eat his favorite  macaroni-and-cheese for dinner, and later to bed.    The  only variation in the entire scheme is laundry, when he hovers  excitedly over the washing machine like a mother with her newborn  child.  He  does not seem dissatisfied.

He  lopes out to the bus every morning at 7:05, eager for a day of simple work.  He  wrings his hands excitedly while the water boils on the stove  before dinner, and he stays up late twice a week to gather our  dirty laundry for his next day’s laundry chores.

And  Saturdays – oh, the bliss of Saturdays!  That’s the day my Dad  takes Kevin to the airport  to have a soft drink,  watch the planes  land,  and speculate loudly on the destination of each passenger  inside.

‘That one’s goin’ to Chi-car-go! ‘ Kevin shouts as he  claps his hands.  His  anticipation is so great  he can hardly sleep on Friday  nights.

And so  goes his world of daily rituals  and weekend field  trips.  He  doesn’t know what it means to be discontent..    His  life is simple.   He  will never know the entanglements of wealth or power, and he does  not care what brand of clothing  he wears or what kind of food he  eats.  His needs have always been met,  and he never worries that one day they may not be.

His  hands are diligent.  Kevin is never more happy than when he is working.  When he unloads the dishwasher or vacuums the carpet,  his heart is completely in it.  He  does not shrink from a job when it is begun,  and he does not leave  a job until it is finished.  When his tasks are done,   Kevin knows how to relax.

He is  not obsessed with his work  or the work of others.  His heart is  pure.  He  still believes everyone tells the truth,  promises must be kept,  and when you are wrong,  you apologize instead of argue.   Free  from pride and unconcerned with appearances, Kevin is not afraid  to cry when he is hurt, angry or sorry. He is always transparent,  always sincere.

And he trusts God.   Not  confined by intellectual reasoning,  when he comes to Christ, he  comes as a child.  Kevin seems to know God –  to really be friends  with Him  in a way that is difficult for an ‘educated’ person to  grasp. God is his closest companion.   In my  moments of doubt and frustrations with Christianity,   I envy the  security Kevin has in his simple faith.    It is  then that I am most willing to admit that he has some divine  knowledge that rises above my mortal questions.    It is  then I realize that perhaps he is not the one with the handicap.     I  am.

My obligations, my fear, my pride,  my circumstances – they all  become disabilities  when I do not trust them to God’s  care.  Who knows if Kevin comprehends things I can never learn?   After all,  he has spent his whole life  in that kind of innocence,  praying after dark and soaking up  the goodness and love  of God.

And  one day,  when the mysteries of heaven are opened,  and we are all amazed at how close  God really is to our hearts,  I’ll realize that   God heard the simple prayers  of a boy who believed that  God lived under his bed.   Kevin  won’t be surprised at all!

When  you receive this, say a prayer. Thank God for all. Prayer is  one of the best free gifts we receive. There is no cost, but a lot  of rewards.

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The internet and my lousy handwriting…

I just can’t help but feel that this new technology isn’t all it’s cracked up to be…  yeah, it’s great to be able to connect with people you haven’t seen in forever and to make new friends… to have news at your fingertips… to be able to diagnose your latest ailment once you figure out how to spell it.  To be able to work, nonstop, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  But I can’t help but feel that something has been lost.  As we run along at a neck-break pace to get to wherever it is we are going, things just don’t feel quite right some how.

As you may have read here, I have spent the last couple of years basically dismantling my past.  My dad past away 6 years ago and my mom’s health has been in a steady state of decline since then.  My sister and I have gone through the house of our youth, sorting things into piles of things to throw away, things to give away, things to sell and things we just can’t let go of yet.

In all of the stuff we were sorting out, there was this box… an old Heiress Hosiery box.  My guess is the box itself may have come from my grandmothers house.  It is all stained and yellowed.  Hidden in the back of a closet,  forgotten for decades…. But once I opened it up, memories came pouring out…  there were letters, cards and hand written notes… from my past.  Cards in celebration of birthdays and a high school graduation… notes of teenage angst, dreams revealed and broken hearts.  I smiled and I laughed a little and I cried.  The richness of these simple handwritten notes are a true treasure to me.  And I can’t help but wonder… why did it all stop?

Today, we have a million pictures of every event that happens in our lives.  Simple dinners with friends… endless sunrises and sunsets.  And yet, we seem to be a little more distant from those in our lives even when we are more connected than ever.  I really need to get out my note cards and write to my friends… there are things they need to read… in my own hand writing.


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Just a typical Sunday….

Sundays were always pretty predictable when I was a kid.  My mom would get us up so we could get ready to go to Sunday school and Church.  Once we were up, we would get breakfast and then she would prepare a large roast with just salt and pepper, wrap it up in Reynolds Wrap and put it in the oven at about 250 degrees.  We would leave for Sunday school and let that roast just slow roast from about 9 a.m. until somebody could get back to the house after church to pick it up.

I can’t really tell you much about Sunday school back then… it really didn’t seem to hold my attention much.  There was a ping pong table at the church and I did play a lot of ping pong but I don’t know that I really developed a real strong faith in anything.  Church was a bit different… I was an acolyte when I was really young… lighting the candles what seemed like every Sunday.  It was kinda fun getting to play with fire in the church though. Once I got too old to do that, I would be the usher in the balcony… collected the money during the offertory.  It was a bit weird.  I would sit there during the service prior to the collection activity and think about what pattern I would use to work my way around the balcony collecting the money.  Once that was completed I would just get lost in thoughts about what the rest of the day would hold for me…

So the service was over, we would head back to the house and get the roast to take it over to my grandmother’s house for lunch.  By the time we got there quite often my aunts, uncles and cousins would be there so there would be a crowd for sure.  The kids would get to get our food first.  The reason for that was so we could get out of the kitchen so that the adults could sit at the table and we all could head to the kids table set up in the other room.

Once we had finished eating we would quickly clean up, run back to the house and change into our bathing suits and grab towels and chairs and head down to a small beach on the Albemarle Sound called Sandy Point.  I don’t remember exactly how much you had to pay but I think it was like a buck or two per person to get in.  They also had a small camp ground where people would come and stay over night or maybe even for a week I guess.  We never stayed there over night but I always thought that would have been so cool.  There was a snack bar and a game room with a pool table and a jukebox.  Every time I hear “In the Summertime” by Mungo Jerry, I think about that place.  So many of my family and friends would show up down there and we would hang out and play in the surf.  Some times my uncle would bring his boat and we would go for short boat rides too.  We would hang out there until the sun would start to set and then we would pile back into the car and make the trek back to Elizabeth City.  I don’t remember the trips back because I would be asleep before we even got out of the parking lot.  Oh don’t I wish I could sleep like that again!


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Father lesson #3 (All you need is…)

We just never know whose life we will touch as we go through our day to day activities.

I guess to tell this next part I need to talk a bit about that “sabbatical” I referred to yesterday.  Back in ’79 I had left college and returned home. I partly went home because of the cost of college but also because I was struggling.. struggling trying to figure out life…. Maybe that’s just how life works for some of us or maybe I was just one of the confused ones… but life was a real struggle back then.  Living at home with my parents and now I was working at Coastal Office Equipment with Mr. Bill well…. as luck would have it, I would end up with the tires on my car all going bad at once.

I was struggling with what to do.  I had just started working and didn’t have much if any money at all.  It just felt like one more thing to pile on top of all the issues I was already dealing with.  I knew my mom and dad couldn’t really afford to help me either but I thought I should ask my dad what I should do.  My dad suggesting I go visit Mr. Willis Owens to see if he could help me out.  Mr. Owens owned the local Goodyear dealership.  I had gone to high school with his daughter.  He sang in the choir at church with my mom but we really weren’t close.  I was afraid to go talk with him.  I had no money and since I was just barely out of high school I had no credit either.  But once I explained my situation and he looked at my tires without hesitation he offered to extend me credit so that I could get my car back on the road and could get to work.  I was shocked.   He didn’t have to do it.. as a matter of fact, I now know that it wasn’t necessarily a wise business decision to extend credit to a 19 yr old that couldn’t figure out what he should be doing. But it’s like he didn’t care.. he could tell I was in need… and he helped me out.. without hesitating… and I will never forget his kindness toward me.

Mr. Owens will always hold a special place in my heart too…. we never know how we touch a life.

So there you have it…  3 men that weren’t my father but yet profoundly touched my life… one showing me the importance of love for yourself and having confidence and believing in yourself… another one that taught me that love for your children is more important than making money and running a business… and another that taught me to love others… to help people when and how you can… guess it’s true what the Beatles said… All you need is love.

And finally…to all my “dad” friends out there… never underestimate the affect you are having on those that you encounter every single day… be sure the example that we are setting is the one the world needs.

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