“The Magic Words,” Nov. 21, 2017

Henry is 6, totally engrossed in building some kind of Lego magnificence. But he stops flat-out and whips his head around to focus, body and soul, on me.

Why? I just whispered in his ear the Magic Words.

What are the Magic Words? They are a long-kept, closely guarded family secret that I share only with family, friends and anybody who asks.

OK, I’ll tell you. But first, I want to talk about the holidays. [Read more…]

“Thanksgiving 2017,” Nov. 14, 2017

Say thank you. That’s the first command I drilled into my children. They’d comply in their baby-speak with something that sounded a bit like “thank you.”

Other commands met with less success: Get off that roof. Stop hitting your brother. Do not put the dog in the dryer. Be home by midnight, or else.

If you’re a parent, much of what you say to your children seems to fall on deaf ears. Then one day your kids grow up and you hear them repeat those same things to your grandkids. [Read more…]

“A Window on the World,” Nov. 7, 2017

Lucky me. My husband and I are spending time in a cottage by Monterey Bay in California, visiting our kids and grandkids and friends in the area. It’s like being on a cruise ship without the motion sickness and shuffleboard tournaments. [Read more…]

“Mail Call,” Oct. 31, 2017

   I hate to pack. I put it off as long as I can. My husband and I plan to drive tomorrow from our home in Las Vegas, to the coast of California, where we hope to help our grandkids polish off their Halloween candy. Assuming there’s any left.
   But instead of packing, I just pulled out a basket of unopened reader mail — several months’ worth — and started reading.
   Opening “snail mail” from readers is always a treat, never a chore. But it can be a bit time consuming, so I put it off until I have a few free hours. Or until I want to avoid packing.
   Most reader mail arrives in emails on my computer or in posts on my website or Facebook page. I’m nothing if not connected. But I still receive a good bit of handwritten mail.
   Readers often write several pages in reply to something  they read in my column: A story from childhood; a memory of a loved one; an image of a sunset or my sister trying to shoot me.
   For a storyteller, it’s a gift to tell a story and have someone tell you theirs in return. I write about things I care about: Family and friends, love and loss and other everyday, ordinary matters of the heart.
   Readers, in turn, write to me about similar things and what those things mean to them. I count on them to do that and I’m never disappointed. Often they write about loss — the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, the closure of a chapter of their lives — and how they are struggling with grief. Those letters are hard to read, but they’re an honor to receive.
  Sometimes readers send me books they’ve written, memoirs that would be fascinating, no doubt, but unfortunately, I will never have time to read them. Let alone, to endorse them.
   One exception is a book I just received: “Barry Baskerville’s Marvelous Memory,” the fifth in a series of mysteries for children, starring a young Sherlock Holmes fan. It was written by Richard Kellogg, a reader/friend in upstate New York. My grandkids will love it.
   Also in recent mail was a note from a reader/friend in Ohio, who sent me a photo of his grandson on his 16th birthday, and a copy of a column I wrote about that boy 16 years ago, the day he entered the world. (Happy birthday, Gregory, so glad you were born!)
   A reader from Kansas sent me a gorgeous photo of a great blue heron, taken by Tom Dorsey of the Salina Journal. (Oh, my!)
   One reader — thankfully, only one — wrote to inform me that I am old and gray and I should go away. (He was partly right. I am old by some standards, clearly by his, but thanks to Julia, my beloved hairdresser, I’m not gray. And someday, yes, I’ll “go away.” But, sorry, not today.)
   A church member in Arkansas asked for a copy of column to reprint in a church bulletin.
(Thanks! It’s on it’s way.) And a kind reader in Ohio sent me a key chain inscribed with a Bible verse I’d mentioned. (“What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” — Micah 6:8.)
   A Clemson grad from Alabama sent his Clemson alumni sticker for me to give to my brother, who is totally blind, but is a huge fan of Clemson football. Somehow I misplaced the sticker and went digging in the recycling bin, until my husband found it by the sofa. You’d be amazed what you can find in a recycling bin when looking for a sticker. My brother doesn’t own a car, but he will proudly display that sticker on his walker.
   That basket of mail held hundreds of letters from readers around the country, who all said, in effect: We’re different in ways that make us interesting; but in the everyday, ordinary matters of the heart, most of us are very much alike.
   I didn’t have time to read them all, but it’s a start. Now I swear I’m going to pack. As soon as I mail that sticker to my brother. 
   Wait. Where did I put it?

[Read more…]

“Children and Fire, Fear and Love,” Oct.24, 2017

   For days, my husband and I followed the news of the wild fires in Northern California. It was our home for many years before a job change landed us in Las Vegas. And it’s still home to many of our family and friends, including our children and grandchildren.
   Despite heroic battles by hundreds of firefighters, thousands of families were being forced from their homes.  We knew all that, but tried not to worry. Then the phone rang.

[Read more…]

“The Gift of Old Friends,” Oct. 17, 2017

Growing up, I would hear old people say, “There’s no friend like an old friend.” I thought they said it because they were old and young people made them feel older.

Now that I am one of them, I know that’s why they said it. Most of us would prefer to be with people who make us feel younger, not older — or at least, more alive than half-dead.

But feeling young and alive is not really about age. It’s about attitude and openess and a healthy sense of humor. And maybe a decent night’s sleep. Friendship transcends age. The years between us make no difference. But time itself — how long we’ve been friends and the memories we share — is the glue that strengthens our bond. [Read more…]

“A Day for Good News,” Oct. 10, 2017

For weeks, the news had been filled with stories of death and devastation, hurricanes in Texas and Florida and Puerto Rico, and earthquakes in Mexico. I was hungry for a taste of good news.

So on Sunday, Oct. 1, I phoned my brother in South Carolina, to hear him brag about Clemson’s latest victory. Joe is totally blind and totally devoted to Clemson football. He told me all about Clemson’s win the previous day over Viginia Tech, how well they’d played and how proud he was of them. He’d have said all that even if they lost, but he’s a bit more enthusiastic after a win. [Read more…]

“An Autumn to Remember,” Oct. 3, 2017

(Dear Readers: This column was written Sunday, Oct. 1, shortly before the horrific massacre that took place on the Las Vegas Strip. I was deeply touched by all of you who wrote to check on me and my family. We are fine, thank you, and you are the best. Please pray for the victims and their families. _ Sharon)

This morning I opened the patio door and grinned like a mule eating briars. The mountains were shining in the west. The jack rabbits had left us a little of the lawn. And the thermometer on the patio registered a balmy 65 degrees.

That’s the same thermometer that only days ago could climb to 115 or more, a condition also known as “slightly hotter than the hinges on the gates of hell.”

We live in the desert outside Las Vegas. Summer is a neon inferno. But autumn can make you think you’re in heaven.

Readers often write to tell me about fall in their parts of the world. It always reminds me of the autumns I knew growing up in the Carolinas.

Once, when I wrote about how I missed seeing fall colors, a woman back East sent me a box of gorgeous red and gold leaves she’d gathered from her yard.

I wish you could’ve seen them. They were almost as lovely as the kind soul who sent them.

But even in the desert, where color is scarce, fall is my favorite season, if only for the memories it brings to mind. For example:

_ When I was 5, I went out to play after days of rain. As the clouds parted, the sun lit up the mountain and I saw for the first time a blaze of fall colors. I ran inside to tell my grandmother the mountain was on fire.

_ On Halloween, when I was 10, I made tacky costumes and took my brothers trick-or-treating. I was a princess with a tin-foil crown. Denton was 4. I gave him a banana and told him to act like a monkey. Joe was 6 and had been blind all his life. I threw a sheet over his head but forgot to tell him why. At the first house, a neighbor lady patted Joe’s head and said, “You’re a cute little ghost!” And Joe shouted through the sheet, “I ain’t a ghost! I’m a mattress!”

_ My happiest fall memory is the October my daughter was born. We lived on the coast of California, an easy walk to the beach. Summer fog had given way to autumn’s glory. On my due date I made a deal with a friend. We each had a 3 year old. They thought they were brothers. We agreed to take them to the beach every day until I went into labor. A few days at most, right?

Three weeks later, when at last I gave birth, my tan was the envy of every woman in the maternity ward. And my baby girl was perfect. She still is. Six autumns ago, she gave birth to my grandson, Henry.

_ The September before my first husband lost his 4-year-battle with cancer, he wanted to go to Yellowstone. He could barely walk. But we flew to Wyoming and rode horses in the foothills of the Tetons, surrounded by snow-capped mountains, gold-leafed aspens and herds of bored-looking buffaloes. I never saw him look happier.

_ After years as a widow, I remarried and moved with my new husband to the desert. Our first Halloween in our new home, I put a pumpkin on the fence, bought a lot of candy and waited for the doorbell to ring. It didn’t. We had zero trick-or-treaters. So we went out back, watched the moon climb over the mountain and ate all the candy. Who knew Halloween could be so much fun?

I could fill a book with fall memories. I bet you could, too. Mine include Butterfly Parades when my children wore wings to march in the street and welcome the monarchs back to town.

Thanksgivings with family, friends, leftovers and so many reasons to count my blessings.

Halloweens where no trick or treaters ever come to our door and we get to eat all the candy.

Those and other memories drift across my mind like falling leaves dancing on the wind.

But the best autumn is never in memory. It’s always the one that’s right outside our door, and how we choose to live it.

I put a pumpkin on the fence by our front gate. You never know what might come of it.

Here’s wishing you and yours and all of us together, the best autumn of our lives — so far.

The Shootings on the Las Vegas Strip, Oct. 1, 2017

To all of you who have written to ask if we’re OK: We were home when the shooting took place last night, and we are fine, thank you! Please pray for all the victims and their families! _ Sharon

“Forgetting My Sister’s Birthday,” Sept. 26, 2017

It’s the middle of the night. I’ve been tossing for hours. I need to make a confession. I’m not proud of it, but here it is: I forgot my sister’s birthday.

Actually, I didn’t forget her birthday. It was posted all over Facebook, so I couldn’t forget it, even if I wanted to. I just forgot to call her. Wait, that’s not true. I called her, but she wasn’t home. Was that my fault? I didn’t think so, either, thank you very much. [Read more…]