“All Is Grace,” March 21, 2023

This column is from 2014:

We make the world a better place by being better people _ kinder, gentler, slow to judge, quick to offer grace. I believe that. But somedays, it’s easier said than done.

Last week, I stopped at the market to pick up a few things. I was in a rush to get home and start dinner. Yes, that’s a lame excuse, but it’s all I’ve got.

I grabbed what I needed and dashed to the check-out stand. Lines were long, except at the 15-items-or-less counter, where only one customer was ahead of me: A man with just one item, a small jar of some kind of salve. He slammed it on the counter.

“I bought this yesterday,” he told the clerk, “and you didn’t give me points. I want my points.”

I hate points. I’m never sure how to use them. Apparently, if you save them up, you can get 10 cents off a gallon of gas under a full moon at a Speedy Mart 40 miles across town, if your membership card will scan at the pump, which mine will not.

I hate those cards. I can never find them when I need them. Then I get dirty looks for holding up the line while I paw through my purse for something that will give me a discount that everybody ought to get anyway.

But back to the man and his points. The clerk smiled and said, “Sorry, sir, you need to take that to customer service.”

“No,” he snarled, “you do it!”

So she spent five minutes punching in numbers for the refund, and then re-rang the sale.

Meanwhile, the man ranted a blue streak on his cell phone to some poor soul (his wife?) about the audacity of the store, the ineptitude of its employees and the general unfairness of life.

“Here you go, sir,” the clerk said. “I gave you the points.”

He studied the receipt. “I had more points before. What did you do with them?”

I started to offer him all the points I never use, but a manager showed up to take him to customer service.

I told the clerk I admired her graciousness and she laughed. “It goes with the job,” she said.

Driving home, I thought about her answer. It made me wonder. Is it really our “job” to offer grace to someone who is being so completely ungracious?

I’ve been asking myself that question for days now, and the answer keeps coming up “yes.” Not because, like the clerk, I get paid to be gracious. But because grace is a gift that I have been given countless times in my life with just one condition: That I give it back to others in need.

I have no idea why the point man behaved as he did. I know nothing about him or what might’ve been going on his life to make him lose patience so quickly.

Years ago, when my first husband was battling cancer, I lost patience for lots of stuff. The December before he died, a friend came to stay with him so I could do some Christmas shopping. I promised to hurry back. In line at Macy’s, I heard a woman complaining that she always had to buy her own gifts because her husband never gave her anything that she liked.

I bit my lip so hard I tasted blood. Then a man cut in line to ask the clerk a question and I heard myself say, “Hey, buddy! There’s a line here!”

Every head in the store turned to stare at me. I was mortified. I wanted to crawl under the counter and hide.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, I burst into tears. And the woman who had complained about her husband said, “It’s OK, honey,” and handed me a tissue.

No one that day could’ve known why I behaved as I did. I couldn’t believe it myself. But somehow it seemed they all agreed, God bless them, to give me a little break.

I wish I’d done the same for the man who wanted his points.

Everybody needs a break once in a while. We don’t have to know the reasons why. We just have to remember that sooner or later, it will be one of us _ yes, you or me _ desperately in need of a little grace.

Not to worry. It will probably be me.

“Finding Peace,” March 14, 2023

This column is from 2018.

If you have traveled for long on this rocky road called life, you might’ve noticed that it is a beautiful and baffling blend of conflict and peace.

It’s not just one or the other. It’s both. To experience both conflict and peace, and embrace them as gracefully and honestly as we can, is what it means, I believe, to be truly alive.

Some 30 years ago, I was a feature writer for a newspaper when my editor called me into his office and said he wanted me to start writing a column.

“About what?” I asked.

“Think about it,” he said.

So I thought about it all evening while keeping score for my son’s baseball game.

There were many fine columnists writing about all sorts of things. What could I possibly have to say that wasn’t already being said by someone who was smarter and far better at it than I would ever be?

The answer to that question would change not only my job, but my life. It came to me at the end of the game when I heard the coach tell his young team (who had lost another “close one”) not what they did wrong, but what they did right:

“You guys gave it your best today,” he said. “I was proud of you, and you should be proud, too. See you at practice tomorrow!”

It occurred to me that most newspaper columns, not all, but many, focus on conflict — on the countless things we get wrong in this world and the ways that we might make them right.

That is as it should be. Someone needs to write about conflict, clearly and honestly and compellingly, to help us understand and resolve it. But that was being done, and done well, I thought, both then and now.

So I decided instead to write about peace. About ordinary, everyday matters of the heart. Things most of us can agree on, rather than argue about. Things that tell us who we are and how we are alike. That bring us together rather than drive us apart.

I’ve never done it half as well as I wish I could. But in every column I’ve ever written, I’ve tried in some way to say this: We are all in this life together. We need to care for each other, rely on each other, and put up with each other as best we can. It’s a matter of faith and humanity, practicality and survival.

In my personal life, I don’t ignore conflict. It refuses to be ignored. Somedays, perhaps like you, I feel as if I’ve reached my limit. When that happens, I turn my face to the sun, listen for the laughter of those I love, take a deep breath, and begin again.

We never need to search for conflict. It will always find us. But to understand and resolve it, we need to begin by finding peace within ourselves and offering it to those around us.

How do we do that? I don’t know what brings you peace. I usually begin by reminding myself (yes, once again) that I am not in charge of the world. There are some things I can do (pray, mostly) and a lot of things that I can’t. Either way, life goes on with or without me.

How do we find peace for ourselves and, in turn, offer it to one another and to the world? Sometimes I think it helps to practice some of the things we were taught as children:

_ Stop shouting and say clearly how you feel.
_ Stop name calling and speak your mind with respect.
_ Use your words, not your fists.
_ Ask questions. Don’t interrupt. Listen to the answers.
_ Seek first to understand before trying to make yourself understood.
_ Be polite, but persistent. Never give up, or give in to injustice. Speak the Truth for others who can’t speak for themselves.
_ Do your best everyday in the game of life. Be proud of your efforts and those of your teammates. And always show up for practice.

More than just an end to conflict, peace is an act of forgiveness for ourselves and for others. It’s a gift we are given, free and clear, every time we give it away. May we all find it together.

“Sisters,” March 7, 2023

This column is from 2017.

There she was, my best friend in the great state of Nevada, the kindred soul that I call my “oasis in the desert,” beaming up at me from a photo she posted on Facebook with two women she’s known even longer than she’s known me.

Linda might not say she likes them better than she likes me. But I can’t blame her if she does. They’re her sisters. Blood kin. They’ve known each other forever. They grew up together. Skinned their knees on the same rocks. Dried their backsides on the same towels. Buried their faces in the same pillows. And fought, laughed and loved each other in everything and nothing.

They know each other’s stories and played major roles in most of them. And three years ago, when they lost the mother they adored, they held each other close, dried each other’s tears and promised to get together again soon. It’s hard to forge a stronger bond than that.

I know the feeling. I have a sister, too. Mine lives in South Carolina. Linda’s live in Kansas. It’s a long way from Vegas to South Carolina or Kansas. We don’t get to see our sisters as often as we wish we could.

Maybe that’s why Linda and I have become so close. We live a few miles apart. When one of us calls the other to say, “Wanna meet for lunch?” the answer is usually, “I’m on my way!”

Our husbands are friends, too, so when the four of us get together, they don’t seem to mind that Linda and I talk nonstop and ignore them.

But our friendship is far more than just one of convenience. Spending time together helps to fill the void that comes from missing our blood sisters. It also allows us to tell our stories.

Ten years ago, when my husband’s job took us from the coast of Northern California to the desert outside Las Vegas, we left behind, not only our grown children (my three and his two) but a wealth of friends we’d known and loved for years.

Good friends can never be replaced. If you move far away from them, you stay in touch as best you can. And when you get together, you pick up where you left off. But at the same time, if you’re lucky, you make new friends to share your new life.

More than lucky, I was blessed to be befriended by Linda. We met through our husbands who worked together. From the start, we felt a connection, as if we knew things about each other we had no way of knowing.

Turns out, we have lots in common. We grew up in small towns in families that struggled to make ends meet, but always had “enough.” Our values are remarkably similar. We care about the same things. And though we can’t prove it, we like to brag that we’re the only two women in the Las Vegas Valley who ever used a real outhouse.

Mostly, we like to laugh. And we love to tell stories _ stories about growing up, raising our children, becoming who we are.

In the past 10 years, we’ve spent hours every few weeks or so telling each other our stories. And we still have more to tell.

Sharing stories can turn strangers into friends. It can also turn friends into sisters.

Linda and I aren’t sisters by birth. We’re sisters by choice. I have one birth sister and a whole family of chosen ones.

I hope you do, too. You can never have too many sisters.

The photo Linda posted is a keeper: Three women of a certain age with the same smiles, same eyes, same history and same joy at being together.

In their faces are the same little girls they once were, and will forever be, holding onto each other, come what may _ and having too much fun.

I wish you could see them.

And I really wish I could’ve been in that photo with them.

(Sharon Randall is the author of “The World and Then Some.” She can be reached at P.O. Box 922, Carmel Valley CA 93924 or www.sharonrandall.com.)

“The Spring-Green Persistence of Life,” Feb. 28, 2023

(Note: I wrote this column in 2015, while living in Las Vegas of All Places.)

For me, two of the loveliest words in the English language are “Life persists.”

I happened on them years ago as a college freshman, sitting in the library on a gorgeous spring day, bored spitless, working on a history paper. I don’t recall what I was researching. Funny, isn’t it, the things we find while looking for something else?

Out of nowhere, those two words came dancing off the page in a quote by Gandhi from his essay “On God”: “In the midst of death life persists, in the midst of untruth truth persists, in the midst of darkness light persists.”

Suddenly I wasn’t bored any more. I reread those words a dozen times. Then I closed the book and left the library. Outside in dazzling sunshine, I kicked off my Weejuns and danced barefoot across a spring-green lawn back to the dorm to call my granddad.

A man of many talents, and the father of 12 children, he’d been a baker, a shoe salesman, a restaurateur and a sometime Baptist preacher, who, as my grandmother liked to say, “worked for the Lord when he couldn’t find a paying job.”

Growing up, I loved to talk with him about what he called “the things of God.” I was pretty sure the Gandhi quote fit that category, and I couldn’t wait to hear what he’d think of it. He was a mite hard of hearing, so I had to repeat it a few times, but once he got it, he laughed.

“All I can say to that,” he said, “is amen and amen and amen!”

We talked for a while about other things, my schooling, his checker playing, the weather. I told him how glad I was, after a long winter, to finally see spring and especially to find that quote.

“Why is that?” he asked.

I was feeling all full of myself, a big college freshman, so I said, “Well, spring is a sure sign that, like the quote says, life persists. And it just makes me happy.”

He chuckled again, the way you might laugh at a slow-witted dog that finally learns to sit up and beg for a bone.

Then, in his lovely baritone preacher’s voice, he recited just for me his favorite “springtime” verse, words from the prophet Isaiah: “The desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose … even with joy and singing.”

My granddad. I wish you could’ve known him.

I told you all that to tell you this. I love spring. And this year, I was especially hungry to see it. Maybe you were, too.

Flying home last weekend to Las Vegas, after 10 days in California, I looked down on hills that were so green I could almost taste them. Nearing Vegas, the green turned a drab desert brown. We landed after sunset, and the only green to be seen was neon.

But the next morning, to my surprise, I awoke to find signs of spring all over my yard. In my absence, all sorts of things had sprouted and leafed and budded and bloomed. I’d tell you their names, but I’m sorry, I don’t know them. I just call them Lucy or Ethel or Fred.

Three days later, my husband and I drove to Scottsdale, Ariz., to see the Giants play the A’s in spring training. The drive across the desert was flat-out spectacular, a profusion of wildflowers and blooming cactus. I could almost hear my granddad laughing, “The desert shall rejoice.”

Sometimes we need to be reminded that we’re still alive.

After my first husband died, a friend sent me a card that made me want to kick off my shoes and dance barefoot on the grass. It read, “Just when you think you will never smile again, life comes back.”

Life persists, and so do we, in the green of spring and the dead of winter; in the birth of a child and the passing of a loved one; in the words and deeds we leave behind and in the hearts of those who will remember us.

Spring reminds us that life persists and we’re alive forever.

Amen and amen and amen.

(Sharon Randall is the author of “The World and Then Some.” She can be reached at P.O. Box 922, Carmel Valley CA 93924 or www.sharonrandall.com.)

“An ‘Oh My’ Kind of Life,” Feb. 21, 2023

(This column is from 2015.)

A covey of quail skitters across the lawn, spooked by my arrival. Or maybe my lack of makeup.

A dozen finches wait turns at the feeder, chattering like tourists in a buffet line.

A breeze rustles the palm fronds and sunlight streams through silver clouds to shine like beacons on the desert.

I wish you could see it.

On a spring-like day in the dead of winter, I’m sitting on my patio feeling lucky. I’ll tell you why, after a bit of background.

I spent my first 20 years in the mountains of the Carolinas, one of the places God meant when he looked at his creation and said in effect, “Oh my.”

For the next three decades, I lived on the coast of California,  another “oh my” kind of place, in a house near the beach with three headstrong children and their basketball coaching father.

Then the children grew up to be headstrong adults, and we lost the coach to cancer. So I spent some years alone in my “family museum,” with four bedrooms, five sets of dishes, a silent basketball court and a whole lot of great memories.

During those years, to my surprise, I discovered that “alone” can also be an “oh my” kind of place. Or so it was for me. I had family, friends, a job I liked and, as we say, my health. It was a good life, vastly different from the life I had loved for so long, but it was good none the less, with an abundance of blessings to keep me humbled and grateful and happy. I had no need, no plans to change it.

Then, as the old Elvin Bishop song says, I fooled around and fell in love. Dangerous, I know, but don’t even try to tell me you’ve never done it yourself. 

Next thing I knew, in a blind leap of faith, I remarried and moved with my new husband to the last place on Earth I ever dreamed I’d call home: the desert outside Las Vegas of All Places.

Perhaps you’re wondering what sort of woman grows up in the Bible Belt, rears her children in Paradise, and ends up on the outskirts of Sin City?

That would be me, a woman who has tried, come hell or high water, to follow her heart wherever it may lead.

I blame my grandmother. Growing up, if I felt confused (as I did much of the time) she’d say, “Honey, follow your heart. It’s a good heart. Trust it.”

I had no idea what she meant. I’m not sure I do even now. But in Sunday school, I learned that the heart is a repository for love — the love of God, the love of family and friends, the love of all that we hold dear — and that it speaks to us with the voice of love, always in a whisper.

In time, I learned to listen for that whisper. It’s hard to hear it sometimes over other voices — logic, anger, envy, jealousy, insecurity and such. They don’t whisper. They yell. But listen closely. You can spot it. 

What it tells you might not be easy to do. In my case, it almost never is. But when you hear it, you’ll know it’s right. That’s the test. The right thing always and only comes from a place of love.

So why do I feel lucky? Here I am in an “oh my” kind of place on an “oh my” kind of day. I followed my heart from the mountains to the coast to the desert where — with a good man who makes me laugh and slow down to watch sunsets — I’m living a new chapter of my life.

I miss family and friends and mountains and beaches and seasons, especially fall. But I visit them often, if only in mind.

There is peace in knowing that today, for now, I’m where my heart led me to be. Who knows where it will lead me next?

Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow’s a dream. All we have is this one, sweet, lovely “here and now.” Why not enjoy it?

This morning I heard from young woman asking advice on a life-changing decision.

“Follow your heart,” I told her.  “It’s a good heart. Trust it.”

Here’s wishing her, you and all of us, an “oh my” kind of life.

P.S. Five years ago, after 12 years in Las Vegas, we moved back to California to be closer to our growing family and live in Carmel Valley, a truly “oh my” kind of place.

(Sharon Randall is the author of “The World and Then Some.” She can be reached at P.O. Box 922, Carmel Valley CA 93924 or  www.sharonrandall.com.)

“The Birthday Express,” Feb. 14, 2023

(This column is from 2019.)

Lately, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about birthdays. Why? From the end of December to the middle of February, our big “blended” family celebrates eleven birthdays. The birthday people include my husband and me; three of our five children; three of their spouses; and three of our eight grandchildren.

That’s a lot of cake. Not to mention, cards and presents and dinners and parties. I call it the Birthday Express. It’s quite a ride. Only two more celebrations this week, then the grand finale, which happens to be mine.

The remaining eight family members were wisely born at other times of year. Some have a whole month to themselves.

Few things are more fun than celebrating the birth of someone you adore. My standard wish (besides “Happy birthday!”) is “I’m so glad you were born!”

I started saying that to my kids when they were small and now they say it to me, too. I love getting cards that were handpicked just for me, or handdrawn by grandkids with stick figure drawings that make me look skinny, and don’t joke about getting old.

Aside from good wishes and a lot of hugs, I don’t need gifts. When you’ve blown out as many candles as I have over the years, your mark of a great birthday isn’t presents or parties. It’s hearing “happy birthday!” from someone you love, then getting to take a nap.

But there’s one birthday ritual I try to keep every year. I take time to think about my life’s journey, places I’ve been, people I’ve met, things I’ve learned along the way.

Then I ask myself this question: What do I know now that I wish I’d known long ago? Here’s my latest list:”

_ My children would grow up healthy and strong to be people that I like as much as love. Had I known this, I’d have gotten more sleep and less gray hair.

_ We shouldn’t take things so personally. Not everything is about us. Let’s give others, and ourselves, a break.

_ Actions are more important than looks. It’s better to be kind than beautiful. Unless you can manage to be both at once.

_ Things change. Count on it. The best we can do is change with them, and pray that we are changing for the better.

_ If you need help, don’t be too proud to ask for it. And if someone needs your help, try not to be too busy to offer it.

_ It’s OK if someone doesn’t like you. Chances are, they’re not very likeable themselves.

_ Hair is like a child. It has a mind of its own. You can try to change it, try to make it do what you want it to do. But it’s better just to let it be what it is.

_ Say what’s on your heart, and make sure you say it like you mean it. Some words are better left unspoken. But there are three things that need to be said often and sincerely: “Thanks.” “I’m sorry.” And “I love you.” And to telemarketers, “Please don’t call me again.”

_ My mother was right about all sorts of things that I was sure she was wrong about. I wish, not only that I’d known it, but that I had told her so before she died.

_ We don’t need someone to complete us. We can be whole on our own. But if we share our life with someone who is also whole, the sum of us can be greater than its parts. And that can be a whole lot of fun.

_ Those of us of a certain age shouldn’t fear that a birthday means the end of youth. Age is only a number. Forty (or 60 or more) is not the end of youth. Thirty was the end. The payoff for aging is getting to stay alive, and maybe, if we’re lucky, getting grandchildren.

_ Finally, the best thing about birthdays is realizing we’ve been blessed to live another year and had a chance to keep learning, loving and laughing.

Here’s wishing you a happy birthday whenever it may be. Yes, I’m so glad you were born.

(Sharon Randall is the author of “The World and Then Some.” She can be reached at P.O. Box 922, Carmel Valley CA 93924 or www.sharonrandall.com.)

“The Torch Lunch,” Feb. 7, 2023

Dear Readers: In December, after 32 years of writing a weekly column, I decided it was time to stop. To all of you who’ve written to congratulate me, I can’t thank you enough. I also can’t answer all your mail. But I’m trying. And I’ll keep trying for as long as it takes.

Meanwhile, I’m posting past columns each week on this site. The following is from 2007. It was written, not by me, but by my former editor, who is also my husband. Tomorrow is his birthday. Yes, this is his gift.

“The Torch Lunch”
by Mark Whittington

I am not Sharon Randall. Sorry to disappoint regular readers of her column. She is sick. Not the “I got sniffles, but I can still write,” sort of cold, but the “I ache all over and am going back to bed” kind of flu.

At one point she actually said, “Don’t look at me, I look like a mangy dog,” and described how her old mangy dog would look at her over its shoulder. She does not look like a mangy dog. I’m just saying that’s the look she gave me when I asked what I could do to help?

“Nothing,” she said. Then she whimpered. So I dragged home canned soup and fruit and juice and every remedy suggested by family, friends and the doctor. I even brought her peonies like the ones she carried at our wedding. They almost put a smile on her cold-sore-crusted lips. But she got sicker every day.

Finally, I volunteered to write her column. Either that or she’d call in sick. So rather than disappoint her readers across the country, she agreed to let me tell you this story about the day we call “the torch lunch.”

Years ago, before we were married, when we both worked for a newspaper in California, I invited her to meet me at Ferdi’s, a lunch joint that serves New Orleans style food hot enough to make you sweat on a foggy day. The place was a newsroom favorite, so she expected a crowd from work to join us. When she arrived (20 minutes late) she was surprised to see just me _ in a starched white shirt and big goofy grin.

Later she’d recall thinking, “Well, this is different.” Also, she claims I was sweating and she had never seen me sweat. She ordered jambalaya. I got the barbecue shrimp, extra hot, floating enough oil to guarantee that I would stain my tie.

I wasn’t sure what I was going to say. It’s funny. At the most important times, the right words are often just beyond your reach, even if you work with words for a living.

So I asked her about her recent trip to the Carolinas, and she talked about visiting her family. She also talked about a man she’d met who wanted her to make those visits permanent. I figured it was now or never.

So I blurted out, “Before you up and get married, you should know there’s a line of guys stretching around the block waiting for you to say you’re ready to go out with them.”

Or something like that. I had slipped into that underwater zone where you can’t hear anything and you’re sure your ears are going to burst from the pressure. Then, in the distance, I heard myself say: “You know, I’ve been carrying a torch for you for a long time and I think you ought to give me a chance.”

I don’t know who said what next. I was trying not to pass out. I looked across the table and she was smiling. I took it as an encouraging sign. Or maybe pity. I was sure the lid had popped off the cayenne bottle while the cook was peppering my shrimp. My starched white shirt was soaked clean through.

Maybe those weren’t the exact words I wanted to say. “Carrying a torch” is not the same as “I love you.” I was, after all, just a boy from California of All Places trying to win the heart of a Southern girl _ a heart that had been broken two years ago by the death of her first husband.
But somehow she got the message. And so it began, a five-year courtship. (After the torch lunch, it took a while to get the nerve to ask her to marry me.)

A year after our wedding, we moved to Las Vegas of All Places, where I work for a newspaper and she writes her column at home in her pajamas.

We spend most evenings at home watching sunsets together over the desert. In all the years I’ve known her, I think this is the first time she has been sick enough to miss writing her column. After she reads this, I’m sure it will be the last.

“Darlene on the Run,” Jan. 31, 2023

(This column is from 2022.)

Do you ever dream of doing something big, but feel too small to try? Whenever I feel that way, I like to think about Darlene. I wrote this story about her years ago. It goes like this:

Long after it was all over and done, folks still liked to wager on what possessed her to do it. Some said it was the mower. Others blamed the bull. But there was more to it than that.

One summer, while visiting my family in the Carolinas, I stayed at my sister’s house, but spent a few hours each day writing at my friend’s place.

Jane lived out of town on a few quiet acres surrounded by cow pastures. I’d show up early, we’d drink coffee, then she’d leave for work and I’d stay behind to write, free of distractions. At least, that was the plan.

One morning, I’d just written a lead, when I heard a truck coming up the road. It was Jason, the teenager Jane hired to mow her yard. I’d not met the boy, but I knew his parents.

“Hey, Jason!” I said. “I’m glad to see you were lucky enough to get your mama’s good looks!”

He laughed, thinking it was a joke. I offered iced tea (in the South, not to do so is a sin.) He said, “No thank you, ma’am,” and fired up the mower. I watched him cut a strip by the fence. Then I went back to work.

Minutes later, the mower stopped. I looked out the window and saw Jason sprinting across the yard, flapping his arms like Big Bird on fire.

“Lord help us!” I said, “the cows are out!”

For the record, I grew up with cows. I could still milk one, maybe, if need be. But milking is a far cry from catching.

Once, as a child, I got chased up an apple tree by a nasty herd of Herefords that held me hostage until I handed over every apple in my bucket. Since then, I’ve been a bit wary. It’s not that I don’t like cows. I just don’t trust them.

Still, I’m a country girl, born and raised. When cows are on the loose, I can’t ignore them. Besides, poor Jason was pitifully out-numbered. I’d have given better odds to Custer.

The culprit was Darlene, a sassy little Holstein, all black and white and full of herself. For some reason, she’d apparently decided to jump the fence and lead her sisters in an unarmed, four-legged rebellion.

“Jason!” I shouted, running out the door, “What’s the plan?”

“I’ll try to cut ‘em off!” he yelled. “You go call Mr. Lee!”

I found the number. A woman answered on the third ring.

“Tell Mr. Lee his cows are out,” I said, “and it looks like they mean business!”

Meanwhile, Jason, bless his heart, had managed to corral most of the escapees under an apple tree where they now milled about munching apples, looking all guilty and glum.

Suddenly, in the corner of my eye, I saw a black and white flash moving fast: Darlene was making a break for the road!

Not one to be cowed by a cow, I grabbed a stick, planted my feet and met her head on.

“Stop!” I ordered. Much to my surprise, she did.

Lowering her head, she turned her muzzle to one side and stared, as if sizing me up. And then I saw it: A fiery hot gleam in her eye. When she twitched her tail and charged, I threw down my stick and ran.

Darlene never looked back. She kicked up her heels, trotted across the road and jumped clean over a barbed-wire fence to join Bubba, the neighbor’s bull, in what I hope for her sake were far greener pastures.

What do you think? Did she do it for love? Or for adventure? Or because the mower scared the bejeezes out of her?

No. I saw the gleam in her eye that day. I wish you could’ve seen it, too. She did it for one reason only: Deep down inside her big, bovine heart, Darlene believed in herself.

“A Time to Remember,” Jan. 24, 2022

(This column is from 2012.)

Out of the blue, the boy phoned to ask a question about a moment we shared years ago, a moment so momentous we would never be the same.

I remembered it well. How could I forget? He said it wasn’t important, he just wondered what time it took place. I smiled. He had no idea how important it was to me. Or how long it would keep me awake, flipping dusty, dog-eared pages of my mind, to find the answer.

What kind of mother forgets what time her child was born? It’s not like I wasn’t there. Yes, I had a few distractions. I didn’t check my watch. But still ….

Here’s what I clearly recall. I was 23 years old, married almost three years, living 3,000 miles from my family in a town so new and unfamiliar I’d get lost going to the grocery store.

My husband was teaching and coaching at a local high school. We had health insurance and a steady paycheck. We’d bought a house for about two years’ worth of his salary. It would shelter our family for nearly 50 years.

I was absolutely over the moon thrilled to be pregnant. All my life, I’d wanted to be a mother (and a grandmother, but first things first.) My experience with caring for children was limited to two younger brothers and a year as a substitute teacher.

But I’d done some reading about parenting and felt ready for whatever lay in store.

Basically, I had no clue. It didn’t matter. What I didn’t know, the boy would teach me.

On the day he was due to be born, his father had to coach a basketball game. At half-time, I was sitting in the bleachers, like a whale riding a see-saw, when I felt the first contraction.

I sent a note to the coach in the locker room: “In labor, might need to leave.’’

Minutes later it came back: “In foul trouble, game over soon.”

The game went into overtime. When his team finally lost, I bit my fist trying not to cheer. We rushed home to get a bag for me and a burrito for the coach, then drove to the hospital in the same car our soon-to-be-born baby would drive 16 years later to get his driver’s license.

By 2 a.m., I was in hard labor. Then it got harder. The nurse was a woman whose son had been my husband’s student.

“Don’t worry, child,” she told me, “I’m gonna take good care of you.” And she did, not only for my first baby, but for my second, three years later, and my third, three years after that.

On the second day, when I was still in “hard labor,” my husband made the mistake of asking if I could “hurry it up” because he had another game that night.

He claimed he was joking. I was not amused. Then I heard him on the phone telling one of his players he was “stuck” at the hospital and needed him to fill in that night as coach.

“I can hear you!” I said.

“Gotta go,” he whispered into the phone, “good luck!”

Things got a bit fuzzy after that. Somebody told me to push, so I did, for a really long time.

Next thing I knew, the coach was laughing and I was holding a little person who had hands that were tiny, but huge, like a King Kong action figure, and a lop-sided head like the rag doll that went through the wringer of my grandmother’s washer.

He was looking in my eyes as if he knew who I was, someone he had searched for and was so glad to find. And I found myself falling, falling, fast and hard, forever and always in love.

His life was just beginning. Mine would never be the same.

What time was it? I don’t know. All I know is this: It was the right time _ not a moment too late or too soon _ just when he was needed by the world, by his dad and, most of all, by me.

But according to his birth certificate (that I finally found in a box after searching half the night) it was 5:57 p.m.

Happy birthday, Josh. I am so glad you were born.

“Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” Jan. 16, 2023

This column is from Oct., 2020.

Seems there’s always something to worry about. As my mother used to say, “If it’s not one thing, it’s two.”

At times, it’s enough to make you want to put on a flea collar and hide under the porch with the dogs. I would never do that. I don’t have a porch. Or a dog.

But some people seem to worry a lot less than others do. Take, for example, Jonah.

My husband and I share eight grandchildren. Jonah is our youngest. I’ve been watching him closely since the day he was born 18 months ago. It’s one of my favorite things to do.

We live 382 miles apart, Jonah and I, so I mostly watch him in videos that his mama and daddy send me. Almost daily. Several times a day, if I’m lucky. And we FaceTime fairly often.

Jonah in video is not as much fun as Jonah in the flesh, but it’s a lot better than no Jonah at all. I wish I could’ve sent my mother videos of her grandkids. Maybe she’d have worried less and lived longer.

Watching Jonah has taught me a lot about how to avoid the ill effects of worry and stress. Here are some things that seem to work well for him:

_ First, he doesn’t watch TV. Except an occasional episode of “Peppa Pig.” And he doesn’t own a cell phone. He loves to grab his mom and dad’s phones, but they try to keep them out of his reach. So, unlike some of us, he isn’t glued to an electronic device. He’s far more in touch with the real world. The birds outside his window. The tickle of his dad’s beard. The smell of his mom’s hair. The temptation to try the big slide at the park or the joy of mastering a new word. (His latest favorite is “no.”)

_ He gets more exercise than a team of sled dogs. Runs more than he walks. Dances on tables. Splashes in a puddle or a bath or a lake. Keeps his mom and dad laughing and on their toes.

_ He sleeps like a baby. Limp as an over-cooked noodle. Naps if he feels like it. But sometimes he will wake in the night and try to rouse his dad to play.

_ He eats a healthy diet. Lots of veggies. No sugar. Only stuff that’s good for him. His parents make sure of it. He likes most everything they offer him. If he doesn’t like it, he spits it out.

_ He spends a lot of time outdoors, playing in the yard, going to the park with his mom or taking walks with his dad. He stays engaged with people who make him happy, not sad, and with things that are beautiful, not ugly. He cuddles with his mom. Reads with his dad. Plays with his cousins. FaceTimes with his nana. And loves to help. You should see him vacuum.

_ He never hides his emotions. He yells if his mom leaves the room. Gets mad if his dad won’t let him put the iPad in the fireplace. And if he falls down the stairs and bumps his head, he screams bloody murder. But when he stops hurting, he quits screaming and climbs back on the stairs. He cries when he feels like crying. And he laughs a lot more than he cries.

_ Finally, Jonah knows that he is loved. He has learned that the world isn’t perfect. It can be a painful and frustrating place. There are bees in the grass that can sting his feet. Stairs he can fall down. Cell phones and iPads and other expensive stuff his parents try not to let him break.

But mostly he sees the world as a good place—a place not for worrying, but for learning and exploring and being happy.

Jonah doesn’t have time to worry. He’s too busy having fun, living his one, sweet, beautiful life.

As adults, we seldom get to enjoy the kind of freedom we knew as children. We have jobs and responsibilities. Families to care for. Bills to pay. Decisions to weigh. We need to be vigilant and informed and involved.

But worry gains us nothing, and it robs us of peace and hope and joy. We can learn a lot from a toddler.

When I grow up, I want to be just like Jonah.