“A Magnet for Life,” Jan. 18, 2022

Are you the kind of person who collects magnets with lots of pithy sayings and puts them on display in your kitchen?

I am. I’m not proud of it. I’m just saying I do that. Maybe you do, too. Or would, if you had a magnet that said something you wish you had said.

I love words. Especially words that make me smile and remind me of things I try to remember, but sometimes tend to forget.

One of my favorite magnets reads: “Don’t let yesterday use up too much of today.” What does that mean to you? For me, it means several things: Let bygones be bygones. Live in the here-and-now, not in the over-and-done. Learn from your mistakes so you don’t keep repeating them. Love who you are today as much as you loved being skinny and young.

Those are things I want to remember. Seeing that magnet helps me keep them in mind.

Here’s another one: “Dance as though no one is watching you; love as though you have never been hurt before; sing as though no one can hear you; and live as though heaven is on earth.”

I like that magnet a lot. It hangs in my kitchen, but I keep its words in my heart.

Here’s one with a message I first read on a condolence card from a friend soon after my first husband died: “Barn’s burnt down. Now I can see the moon.”

Losing the father of my three children, someone I thought I couldn’t live without, was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. But there are gifts that come with loss to help ease the pain.

For me, those gifts were priceless and healing. The kindness of strangers. The love of my children. A realization that life itself is a gift. And a burning desire to live well, truly alive, in honor of my husband’s memory. I smile at those gifts when I see that magnet, or stare up at the face in the moon.

There are two sayings on the wall of my kitchen for which I never need a reminder. The first one says, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” That’s easy. I just look in a mirror.

The other one isn’t a magnet. It’s a big red-lettered sign that says, “Eat.” I have no problem remembering to do that.

Then there’s this one, which is also not a magnet, but it sticks pretty well to the wall. It’s a neoprene cover for a beer can, a souvenir from a Paul Thorn concert. If you don’t know who Paul Thorn is, check him out. Then you can post a sign in your kitchen that says, “Play more Paul Thorn.” The Paul Thorn beer sleeve says, “Don’t let nobody rob you of your joy.”

Can I get an amen to that?

The best words on display in my home hang on the wall in the dining room. Years ago, when I remarried after seven years as a widow, I wanted to find something to represent our new life.

I found it in an antique shop—a wood framed, hand-stitched, beautiful embroidery of a Bible verse I learned as a child: “To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven. _ Ecclesiates 3:1.”

My life—much like yours, I suspect—is a series of seasons, each with its own purpose. Some are dark as a moonless night. Others are dazzling as a day in May.

But they are all meant to be lived well with purpose and gratitude, knowing that in time, every season, dazzling or dark, will surely come to end.

If you made your own magnet, what would it say? Would you hang it in your kitchen or hide it under your bed?

I wish I could see it.

If I made my own magnet, it would say this: “Life is short. Live it well. Lose with grace. Love with abandon. Cry a little. Laugh a lot. Sleep like a baby. And wake up each day just to see what will happen next.”

I keep those words in my heart and take them out whenever I need them. But I would hang that magnet in the kitchen right next to the sign that says “Eat.”

“Life and Love Persist,” Jan. 11, 2022

How do you teach a child to understand something you have never quite understood?

Growing up in a big Southern family, I knew what I wanted to be someday: A grandmama.

I loved my parents. But my grandmothers were the two most important people in my life. They made me feel safe and loved and smart. And they taught me all sort of things—how to read and write, how to listen closely, tell a good story, and look beyond someone’s face to see what’s in their heart.

Mostly they taught me how to love with abandon, holding nothing back, the way that they loved me. I knew they would love me forever on this Earth and someday from Heaven.

Every child needs that kind of love. It was a gift not only for me, but for my children and grandchildren and generations to come. Money helps, but love is a far richer inheritance.

My children never knew their grandmothers. Their dad lost his mom before we met. And we lived 3,000 miles from my mother, and visited only a few times before she died.

I wanted to teach my children all the things my grandmothers taught me. But I was busy being their mom_cooking their meals, doing their laundry, feeding their dog, going to their games and trying to keep my sanity.

It’s hard being a parent. Being a grandparent is easy, as long as the parents do most of the work.

My husband and I share nine grandchildren, all blessed with wonderful parents. It makes our job as grandparents not just easy, but fun. Only two things are hard: Finding time to spend with each child; and saying goodbye when it’s time to go.

Recently, I drove five hours south to spend a few days with my older son, his wife and their two little ones. Jonah is almost 3. Leilani is 8 months old.

When Leilani was born, I spent a few weeks with them and Jonah and I got to be good buddies. Since then, we’ve kept in touch with FaceTime calls. But I needed some real time.

So for four days last week, Jonah and I talked and laughed and played together. We read books, told stories and built tents to hide in from bears. Leilani watched us closely, clapping her hands.

Finally, it was time for me to go.

“Come sit here,” I said to Jonah, patting my lap. He climbed up and put his arm around my neck. Then I asked him the questions that I’ve trained him and his cousins to answer. I’ll teach them to Leilani when she’s older.

“How much do I love you?”

“All!” he said.

“And where is your nana when you can’t see her?”

He pointed to his chest and said, “In my heart!”

“Can you feel my love deep down in your heart?”
He thought about it a moment then nodded and smiled.

“I have to go now,” I said, “but I’ll come see you again.”

He turned away, but I took his face in my hands, smoothed his hair and smiled into his eyes.

“When someone goes away,” I said, “they take our love with them, and leave their love with us. You’ll always have my love and I’ll have yours. So if we miss each other, we’ll still feel loved and it will make us happy.”

Looking down, he pressed his hands together as if to pray. So I pulled him close and whispered, “Lord, bless this boy and his family. Bring us together again soon. And always help him feel how much he is loved. Amen.”

Then we hugged goodbye and I left, wishing we lived closer.

Driving home, the parched hills that were so threatened by wildfire were now drenched with rain and dazzling green.

I wish you could’ve seen them.

If a heart that is hurting feels loved, it’s like rainfall on dry land, a beautiful reminder that life and love persist.

I may never understand it. But I hope to teach it to my grandchildren.

“A Clean Slate,” Jan. 4, 2022

There’s something about a brand new year that makes me want to wipe the slate clean, so to speak—clean house, clean diet, clean body, mind and soul—and start fresh all over again.

Not that I’ll ever do all of that. But I think about it. And I try. Today, for example, I’ve been working on a box of unopened mail from readers who were kind enough to read my column and to write back to me in reply.

These days, correspondence is mostly electronic, arriving daily in dozens of emails and posts on my website or Facebook page. I try to answer them promptly. But there are still, it seems, quite a few of us who prefer to write personal notes by hand, rather than on a computer.

So once a week, I go to the post office and pick up all the cards and letters I find stuffed inside my mail box (P.O. Box 922, Carmel Valley, Calif. 93924.) Then I take it all home and stuff it in another box until I have time to open and read it.

I wish I could reply right away to every note I receive, but it often doesn’t happen. Why? It’s pretty simple: I have a life.

I once received a letter from someone who noted that I might be too busy to reply in person, but they hoped to hear from someone on my staff.

Staff? I looked at my cat. She flicked her tail and walked away. I don’t have a staff. I don’t have a cat any more, either, but that’s another story.

I have a family (my husband, our five grown children, their others, and nine grandchildren.) And I have a few friends that I hope still remember my name.

I’m also thankful for the help and friendship of editors and others at newspapers that publish my column each week. But no one can answer mail for me. Not even my grandkids. I need and want to do it myself.

And yet, there are times when I fall behind. Not just with mail. With laundry. And phone calls. And life in general. I’m not proud of it, but there it is.

Do you ever fall behind, too? It happens, I guess, to most of us. Well, to some of us more than others. It’s not a good feeling. And it’s certainly not a good way to start a new year that we’re all hoping and praying will turn out to be our best year yet.

So today, for hours, I’ve been opening and reading mail from readers who wrote to me in the waning days of 2021. If you were one of them (or didn’t write, but just read this because you had nothing better to do) I want to say thank you.

Thank you for reading something I wrote. Thank you for caring enough to write back and share your thoughts.

Thank you for all the stories you’ve told me about your life, your memories and your family. I love reading those stories. They remind me time and again, that with so many differences, we are all still so much alike.

Thank you for your kind words of encouragement and for being, I am sure, someone who offers them not only to me, but to everyone around you. You make the world a better place. I’m grateful to have you as readers, but I think of you as friends.

I especially want to thank those of you who wrote to share memories of loved ones you have lost. It’s an honor to read those memories. My heart and my prayers go out to you.

Years ago, after my first husband died, a friend sent me a card with these words: “Then, when it seems we will never smile again, life comes back.”

Those are good words for those of us who’ve suffered the loss of a loved one—and for all of us in this weary old world still enduring a pandemic.

Life comes back.

The last note I opened today was a Christmas card from “Helen” in Allegany, N.Y., who wrote: “Thank you for sharing so many wonderful memories.”

Thank you, Helen, for making me smile.

Tomorrow, I’ll go to the post office and hope to find the box stuffed again with mail.

“Moments, Big and Small,” Dec. 28, 2021

’Twas Christmas Day and all through the house not a creature was stirring, least of all, me or my spouse.

We were exhausted. On Christmas Eve, we had hosted dinner for half of our family, the three adults and four children who live nearby.

The big kids helped get the food on the table while the little kids chased my husband around the living room.

Then we took our seats at the table and bowed our heads as my daughter led us in giving thanks for the gifts of family and food and Christmas.

Next came the “crackers”—party favors that popped open with a loud POP! and scattered tiny toys across the table. It’s an English tradition my husband picked up when he lived in London. (I think it’s fun, but where I grew up, “cracker” has a different connotation.)

Dinner included beef tenderloin, mashed potatoes, veggies, salad and rolls; and for dessert, tiramisu and bakery-made Christmas cookies. My husband said I outdid myself. Yes, he is a very smart man.

After dinner, I read aloud the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke, and I loved watching the faces of young and old alike light up with joy at its meaning.

Then we opened gifts. It took work, but we made the best of it. Here’s an odd thing about me and Christmas. I never seem to remember gifts I’m given. I just recall smiles and laughter and hugs from loved ones who are with me in person or memory. For me, those are the real gifts.

As our family drove away, my husband and I stood out front waving goodbye. Then we came inside and watched “Elf.”

Christmas Day was quiet. We slept late, then spent time on the phone and FaceTime with loved ones near and far. Finally, that night, as we sat down to a supper of leftovers, we looked at each other over a wilted centerpiece, lifted our glasses and mumbled, “Cheers.”

Then we just ate. No talking. No laughing. No smiles. It was not what you’d call merry. When we finished, I said, “You want a Christmas cookie?”

He said “sure,” and I went to fetch the few that were left. Meanwhile, he found a couple of the cracker toys—little, plastic wind-up Santas—hiding by the centerpiece. And when I came back, he wound them up and sent them waddling across the table at me. So I wound them up and fired them back at him.

Then, for a while, we talked and laughed, two people of a certain age, eating Christmas cookies and sending wind-up Santas waddling back and forth across the table at each other.

His Santa was faster. But mine liked to spin and twirl.

I wish you could’ve seen us.

Life is made of moments.

Some are big, like falling in love, or giving birth, or hosting a houseful of loved ones for Christmas dinner.

Others are small, like a smile from a stranger you pass on the street, or a pat on the back when you need it, or a little plastic Santa waddling at you across a table.

Big and small, we need them all to cherish and to remember and to make us feel truly alive.

Looking back on 2021, the second year of the pandemic, I remember many wonderful moments—notably, the birth of my granddaughter, Leilani.

But I often felt I had to look harder to find them. To see the smile behind the mask. To sense the warmth in social distancing. To feel the kisses my grandson Jonah gave me on FaceTime.

I don’t want to have to look hard for moments, big or small. I want to see them everywhere, even with my eyes closed.

So for 2022, I have two wishes for us all: First, to be done with the pandemic in every possible way; and second, to be blessed with countless great moments, big and small and full of life.

What will matter most in the year ahead, as it did in the past, is not so much what it will bring, but what we choose to make of it. Here’s to making it the best.

“Christmas All Year ‘Round, Dec. 21, 2021

This story takes place around Christmas, but it tells a truth that is true all year ‘round.
I’ve told it before in various versions. Some of you were kind enough, thank you, to ask me to reprint it from a column I wrote years ago. That would require finding it. And I have trouble finding my own shoes.
So I’m going to retell it from memory, which is always an adventure, because every good story has a mind of its own. You never know at the start where it will lead or how it might end.
This one starts at a picnic on the Fourth of July. I was big, 8 years old. My brothers were small, 4 and 3. Little did we know what lay ahead.
My stepfather, in my eyes, was strong and solid as the trunk of a hickory tree. He earned just enough to keep us sheltered and fed by standing eight hours a day on his big flat feet running a loom at a textile mill.
That summer at the company picnic—when he lost his footing in the Tug-of-War and slid downhill like a jack-knifed big-rig—he also lost his job.
I learned this from my mother, who said, as she watched him fall, “Lord help us! If he can’t walk, he can’t work! And if he can’t work, we can’t eat!”
He was on crutches and out of work for six months. Somehow we still managed to eat.
That December, my mother announced that Santa might be running a bit late.
“How late?” I asked.
“Maybe spring,” she said.
They had ordered a few gifts on credit from a catalog, she explained, but the shipment might not arrive in time.
“It will still be Christmas,” she said, “even without Santa.”
I tried to picture it, Christmas minus Santa. I couldn’t see it.
The next day, some good and caring people from our church came to our door with a ham, a tin of cookies and a tiny Douglas fir trimmed with paper birds.
My stepfather hid in the kitchen. My mother thanked them for their kindness, but forgot to offer them coffee.
After they left, she handed me a cookie. “Life,” she said, “is a bank. Sometimes you put in. Other times you take out. Either way, it’s all the same bank.”
Then she added: “You need to remember how hard it is to receive,” she said, “because someday you’ll do the giving.”
Every day that last week before Christmas, my stepfather would shove his crutches in his ’49 Ford and drive to the depot to wait for the train. I would wait on the porch steps praying.
And every day he’d come back shaking his head, looking grim.
Finally, on Christmas Eve, he limped into the living room holding a box under one arm.
“Merry Christmas,” he muttered, dropping the box on the floor by the little Douglas fir. It was a case of tangerines.
We ate them all. They were good. But that night, for the first time, they tasted like Christmas. And for me, they always will.
I’ve seen a lot of Christmases since then, and received far more than my share of gifts. I’ve also done a little giving and learned my mother was right. Giving is easy. Taking is hard.
In this season of giving, and through the coming year, I hope we’ll all know the joy giving to family and friends and strangers in need. But I also hope we’ll be willing to accept a little help, just to keep us humble.
When you find yourself in need, remember: Sometimes we give. Other times we take. And one day, you will do the giving.
You don’t need to send me a Christmas card or New Year’s greeting (P.O. Box 922, Carmel Valley CA 93924) unless, of course, you really want to.
May your stocking be filled, not just at Christmas, but every morning. And in the toe, may you always find a tangerine.

“Christmas All Year ‘Round,” Dec. 21, 2021

“A Most Wanted and Needed Gift,” Dec. 14, 2021

Early in December, I start watching for my most wanted and needed gift. I never know what it will be, until it drops in my lap like a feather falling from heaven. When I see it, I always smile and shake my head.

The first Christmas I recall, I was almost 4 years old. My parents were divorced. I lived with my mother and missed my dad.

Christmas Eve, as she put me to bed, I said, “Mama, can I see my daddy for Christmas?”

“Not for Christmas,” she said, “but maybe soon. Go to sleep.”

I didn’t sleep. A knock at the door sent my heart flying. But it wasn’t my dad. It was the man my mother hoped to marry.

They went in the kitchen for cofffee. I fell asleep, but awoke a bit later to hear my mother arguing with someone at the door. Then she went in the kitchen and said to her friend, “It’s him. He’s putting together a toy for her. He won’t be long.”

Him? Santa? I tiptoed to the living room. And there on the floor—assembling the doll house of my dreams—was my dad!

I didn’t want to spoil the surprise. So I smiled, shook my head and went back to bed. I loved that doll house. But what I most wanted and needed was to see my dad for one moment and know he was thinking of me.

A week later, when I went to visit him and his folks on their farm, I said, “I saw you fixin’ my doll house Christmas Eve.”

“I saw you, too,” he said, then added with a wink, “and I stole that doll house off Santa’s sled.”

I could tell you stories about every Christmas I’ve been given a most wanted and needed gift. But we aren’t getting younger, so I’ll fast forward to this year.

My sister and brother and I are the oldest survivors of our family. They live in South Carolina. I live in California. We try to keep in touch by phone.

Bobbie recently moved to an assisted living facility. And Joe, who is totally blind and severely impaired by cerebral palsy, lives alone in public housing. Sending them gifts has never been easy, and it seems it’s getting harder.

The only gift Bobbie says she wants is a visit. Or candy. Due to Covid, I can’t visit her. So I sent her a box of candy and a small Christmas tree. I hope by some miracle they will reach her.

Joe is even harder. In recent years, most packages I’ve sent to him were stolen from his porch. Gift certificates and personal checks vanish from his mail box. Even shipments that require his signature don’t always work. Joe moves like a drunken snail with a walker. By the time he gets to the door, the carrier is gone.

“Don’t worry, Sister,” he says. “You don’t need to send me anything. I know you love me.”

It’s hard to picture my brother getting nothing for Christmas. But I couldn’t find a solution.

Then I called Bobbie and found her in rare high spirits.

“Martha came to see me!” she said, “and, bless her heart, she brought me all these treats!”

Martha is my forever friend. We grew up together and have stayed close, despite living miles apart. We don’t talk often, but when we do, it’s hard to say goodbye. When I phoned to thank her for visiting Bobbie, we spent a good hour catching up.

Finally, I said, “Thank you for visiting my sister. It meant more to me than it did to her. And she loved it. Especially the treats.”

Martha laughed. “I will do anything for you. I want to help. What can I do for Joe?”

Suddenly, there it was—my most wanted, most needed gift. I smiled and shook my head.

So I’ll send Joe’s gift to Martha. She’ll drive 30 miles in any kind of weather and maybe get lost looking for his place, but she’ll make sure he gets it.

Kindness is a gift any time of year. But it is especially wanted and needed at Christmas.

I wish you much kindness this Chistmas and always. I hope you get lots of it and give it all away.

And I pray you’ll be blessed, as I am, with a friend like Martha, whose kindness to you and to those you love will keep you smiling and shaking your head.

“A Most Wonderful Christmas,” Dec. 7, 2021

Tomorrow, my husband and I hope to get a Christmas tree. We will decorate it with a flock of fake red birds, some snowflakes that my grandmother crocheted long ago, and a few tacky, but treasured, ornaments.

For me, it doesn’t take much to make Christmas wonderful. I don’t need gifts. I’d rather give them. And I surely don’t need treats. Except snickerdoodles that my husband makes.

Basically, to celebrate, I need just a few things: Family and friends. Movies (“Elf” and “Love Actually.”) Music (“O Holy Night” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”) A Christmas tree. And a candlelight service to remind me that I’m celebrating the gift of a child, who was born in a barn to save the world.

That’s about it. Today I baked cookies, but not for Christmas. They’re an everyday kind I call “The All-Time Easiest and Best Peanut Butter Cookies Ever.”

I make them often. More often than I should. My grandkids love them. Even Wiley, who’s a cookie connoisseur. Once, when I gave him one made of oatmeal, Wiley said, “Nana, I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but this doesn’t look like a cookie.”

OK, I’ll give you the recipe for my peanut butter cookies. I’ve posted it before, but if I don’t do it now, I’ll get a ton of requests. (Readers like to read, but they really love to eat.) Here it is:

Combine one cup of peanut butter with one cup of sugar and an egg. No flour. Mix well. Spoon onto a greased pan to form 12 cookies. Flatten with a fork. Sprinkle with salt. Bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes. Cool, and try not to eat them all at once.

I gave most of the ones I made today to my husband and two of his buddies who are having fun playing music in our garage.

Listen. Can you hear them? I can. They sound good. The cookies probably help.

I like those guys a lot. I especially like what they mean to my husband. They’ve been his friends and fellow musicians for years. Making music is their way to spend time together. It’s like a book club without the books.

Last week, I spoke at a luncheon for a group of women who’ve been meeting monthly for more than 30 years to talk about books and life. During the pandemic, they began meeting only online. The luncheon was their first in-person meeting in almost two years.

I wish you could’ve been there. It felt like a family reunion.

One of things I love best about Christmas is the way it brings us together with family and friends and even with strangers, who smile as we pass on the street, and we smile back and wish each other, “Merry Christmas!”

On his first Christmas album, Andy Williams sang what would become a classic, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

It was 1963, a year much like the present one, when violence and conflict threatened to tear our lives and our nation apart.

U.S. military involvement in Vietnam was escalating. That August, more than 200,000 people marched on Washington, D.C., in support of civil rights and heard the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech. And on Nov. 22, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

Some years, more than others, we need Christmas to be the most wonderful time of the year.

A time that’s filled with family, friends, music and laughter, and candlelight services to remind us of why we are celebrating.

A time that makes us thankful for all we have, and happy to help those who have less.

A time that brings us together, with all our many differences, in peace and hope and joy.

Here’s wishing us all the kind of Christmas we need—a most wonderful time of the year.

Yes, the cookie recipe is your gift.

“My Brother’s Dream of Speed,” Nov. 30, 2021

(NOTE: I’m taking this week off to recover from Thanksgiving. The following column, a reader favorite, was first published in 1993.)

My brother had a driving passion for cars. So to speak. Fords in particular. He was especially fond of speed.

It was enough to make my mother fear that he was crazy. But she feared that about all of us, especially about herself.

When Joe was just a little boy, he would often say to me, “Sister, when I get old enough to get my license and drive my own car, I will fly so fast the angels will run and hide their wings.”

Then he’d grin real big, picturing in his mind exactly how fine it would be.

I could have told him it would never happen. No matter how old he got, he would never get a license, never drive a car. But I didn’t tell him that.

Joe was born blind. He couldn’t see his own face in a magnifying mirror. But he could dream like nobody’s business.

I had dreams of my own, things I hoped for, knowing I might never see them come true. What were the odds I’d get to go to college? Or earn my living as a writer? Or visit strange, foreign lands like California of All Places?

I would bet more money on my blind brother’s chances of getting to drive at the Indy 500.

I didn’t want to be the one to dim Joe’s dreams. Life would do that for him, soon enough. Until then, didn’t he deserve a few happy anticipations?

Joe had trouble not just with his eyes, but with his legs. He was born premature, suffered from cerebral palsy and didn’t walk at all until he was 5.

That’s when he got his first “car,” a red Radio Flyer tricycle that he called his ’49 Ford. He couldn’t pedal it, so he would push it, one hand on the seat, the other on the handlebars, driving daylight to dark, all around the yard and often into ditches, anywhere his dreams and determination might lead.

Come bad weather, if our mother threw a fit big enough to make him stay inside, Joe would drive his other “Ford,” a green, overstuffed armchair. It had a few miles on it, he said, but it ran fine if you knew how to drive it which, of course, he did.

Growing up is a tug of war between disappointment and surprise, a reconciliation of dreams and reality. By the time Joe was 12, I think he knew he would never get a license. As with other hard facts of life, he seemed to accept it without question or bitterness, as if it were nothing more than a card drawn at random from a deck.

One hot summer day when he was 16, Joe went tapping out the driveway with his cane, tap, tap, and tapped into my stepfather’s ’49 Ford. He ran his hand along the hood, felt the heat of the metal, opened the door and climbed behind the wheel.

He looked good.

Rummaging under the seat, he discovered a six-pack of Budweiser. That beer was so hot, he would say later, it scalded the roof of his mouth. Even so, he drained all six cans.

Then he felt along the steering column, found the keys in the ignition, shouted, “Hooweeee!” and fired it up.

To my grave, I’ll regret that I wasn’t there to see it. By then, I was out of college, off in California of All Places, earning my living as a writer.

I have heard various versions of this story, depending on the teller. They all boil down to this:

The Ford’s engine roared. My mother fainted. My stepfather nearly broke his neck running out the door.

And my brother, after a moment of purest bliss, threw up on the dashboard. And the front seat. And the back.

Fortunately, for all concerned, the Ford was up on blocks. It never moved an inch.

But to this day, Joe still swears that when he found those keys and fired that old engine up, he heard the angels up in Heaven running to hide their wings.

“Dreams We Dream Together,” Nov. 23, 2021

It’s not often someone asks for my advice. Especially someone half my age. I wanted to help her. But I didn’t dare risk saying anything that might cause her to make a serious mistake.

In my experience, asking for directions can either get you where you want to go or send you down a dead end road.

But asking for advice doesn’t always mean someone wants to be told what to do. Sometimes they just want you to listen and let them untangle all the chaos in their head and their heart.

“Tell me about it,” I said.

She smiled and stared off into space, as if seeing something that made her happy.

“All my life,” she said, “I have wanted to own my own business. I’ve always worked hard for others. I won’t be young forever. I’d like to work hard for myself, while I can.”

For several years, she has stood at the counter of a small business, selling ice cream and other snacks. She loves talking with customers, especially the children. She’s good at the job and likes to believe that what she does makes people happy.

Her boss comes into the shop to help at times, but he has other businesses to oversee and mostly lets her run the place alone. He’s a good man, she said, trustworthy and fair.

Finally, she took a deep breath and cut to the chase: “He’s offering to make me a partner!”

The deal sounded simple. She would pay her boss a sum of money. It would take all of what she’s been saving for years, but she thinks it would be worth it.

In return, she said, she would be co-owner of the business. They had discussed all the details, and if she agreed, they would put it all in writing. She would still run the counter, but take her share of the income.

Best of all, she said, she hoped that in time she could earn back her investment and save enough money so that someday, when her boss retires, she could buy his half of the place and make her lifelong dream come true.

When she said that, her face lit up like a child’s at Christmas, and her eyes filled with tears.

I wish you could’ve seen her.

I smiled, too, and gave her a hug. Then, for a moment, my mind filled with memories of my own dreams that came true.

My dream of going to college came true with a scholarship.

Then I dreamed of seeing California, and my aunt and uncle, who lived near San Francisco, invited me to visit. So I flew out to spend a week, stayed with them for a year and married my uncle’s friend.

I dreamed of being a mother, though I didn’t know a lot about how to care for a child. Then I had three children—the children of my dreams—who would teach me more than I wanted to know.

Some dreams come true even if we don’t know we’re dreaming them. I never dreamed I’d get to work as a writer. But I got hired by a newspaper, though I had no experience, and ended up with a “dream job” writing a column.

For a while, after my husband died, I couldn’t bring myself to dream of a life without him. But I had family and friends and readers who dreamed it for me.

Soon, even though I grieved for my husband, I began moving forward with my life. In time, I married a man who makes me watch sunsets and does my laundry. Then I dreamed of being a nana. And in 10 years, we had nine grandchildren. Talk about a dream come true.

I didn’t tell my young friend what she should do. Instead, I listened and asked questions. It’s often better to let someone pour out their heart, than to put your own words in their mouth.

I told her I believe in her and want her to believe in herself. It’s her decision to make. And she will make the right choice.

Meanwhile, I’m praying her dream will come true, if not now, then some day soon.

I’ll be dreaming it with her.