Monday, July 30, 2018

Let's All Have a Meet and Greet

I'm prompted today by a small stirring in my heart to write about something I witnessed yesterday at my son's Matt3756 meet and greet at the Replay FX event in Pittsburgh.

What is a meet and greet you may ask? Well, at conventions, they are celebrities of some sort sitting behind a table with their manager signing random autographs or taking photographs with fans. Most of the time if you are fortunate, some of the celebs are very kind and engaging, spending a little more time with you especially if you are the "fan girl" type like myself upon meeting Sean Astin from the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Yes, sadly this fifty-something-year-old lady made a fool of herself but Mr. Astin took it all in stride and even told me how adorable I was. (I can live on that forever!)

My son, Matt is a YouTuber for those of you who don't know him. YouTube is the new television for young people these days. They watch hours upon hours of this, and Matt is very popular to the point that he has done meet and greet events nearby and out of state as well. Children and their families have come from several hours away to meet with him. When I am with him, it always makes a mom smile. For I see him spend quality time with each child and their family, as if they are the only people who matter in that moment.

Yesterday at the event, I was playing a skee ball type of game, when I saw a mother and son who had already visited Matt's booth for autographs. She told me that the only reason they had come to the event was to meet Matt and how much her son loves him. Her son is a special needs child. I wasn't sure she knew that they could go back and "hang out" with Matt at his booth. He encourages his fans to stick around, chat, and play games. She hadn't known that, and was very glad I told her. So I noticed that they came back to his booth eventually, almost in a shy way as if they were bothering Matt.

Not only did Matt engage the little boy in more conversation, he cheered him on when he played Matt's table top claw machine. He encouraged him and made him feel special. I secretly watched as Matt talked with others, his loud and crazy voice and zany ways, that the little boy was grinning from ear to ear watching his favorite YouTuber acting silly.

At the end of the day, the mother thanked Matt so much for his time and making her son's day. There was a glow in my heart for God giving me such a good son; for letting me help mold him into a wonderful human being even though he doesn't realize it sometimes.

You see Matt wondered when he was a young child what he was good at. And I honestly didn't know at the time when he posed this question to me. I told him "wait and see." A pastor friend of mine from several years ago spoke words of prophecy when Matt was in a particularly depressed time, "Hold on for the ride!" he said. We had no idea those words would come true in a major way. We had no idea that what Matt would be good at, was to be a light in the darkness for many children. Yes, it's wonderful that he's able to make a living with his YouTube channel. But for me, it's the fact that he is doing God's will in this crazy world, meeting and greeting kids all over, and helping them to feel special.

I'm reminded a little of Fred Rogers. I've often told my son this. That he is a cross between Mr. Rogers and Jim Carey. Zany and crazy fun, with a heart attached. I can only hope that I touch lives like he does someday.

May we all be a "meet and greet" type of person. May we help the friend sitting near us telling us their troubles to feel like they are the only person on earth as we listen, truly listen to them. May we meet others with a cheerful greeting and enthusiasm. May we greet each day with the opportunity to be a blessing in a world that sometimes seems a little darker every day.

God, please use us to be your light.

This young man recently interviewed Matt. His name is Colton DeBiase and he has begun a movement that encourages people to "Live Like Fred." (Rogers, that is.) I love the idea.

Matt's YouTube channel:

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Eighth Street Dairy

Newspaper clipping of when my parents took over the store. It says: An old fashioned store with a new old fashioned look.

A tiny corner Mom and Pop grocery store seemed like a magical place to my brother and I in the early 1980's. Especially since it was so out of character that our parents would decide to purchase the little business. Dad thought it would be a good venture for our mom to run. And even though he had a full time job at the local post office, he seemed happy to help her out during any time he had off from work.

First glance inside the old place, our family realized that it was in dire need of fresh new paint and many upgrades. Also, the flooring was bad and the look overall was outdated. Our parents put their creative thinking caps on, and purchased multi-color remnants of carpeting from a rug store in town. The end result was an adorable patchwork-type splash of color for the floor. Shelves were painted, plumbing restored, new fun items were purchased to add to the theme of a fun place to visit and set a spell.

With the help of several others, the new look of the store came together in an old-fashioned way. A glass case sat off to the left when you walked through the door; an old-fashioned tinkling bell announcing your presence. Within the case was an assortment of the magic of childhood. Penny candy sat in colorful cardboard boxes. Gum, candy cigarettes, chewy taffy, and those flying saucers that had an outer shell which reminded us of communion wafers and tiny little candy beads on the inside. Red Swedish fish, gummy bears (Mom swore we were the first to get them in the area!).

Because the store was situated across the street from our town high school, we pre-counted bags of one hundred with the most popular penny candy. After the last bell rang, the kids would flock to the store, and we tried to keep up with them as their fingers pointed out what they wanted as they clutched a wrinkled dollar bill in their hands.

We had the usual staples: bread, milk, pop, a few canned goods and cereals. Mom made fresh daily coffee behind the counter where a few stools stood sentinel. An antique game called "Kicker/Catcher" sat at the edge of the counter where we amused ourselves for long periods of time.

Nothing was as wonderful as the video games near the back of the store. One game in particular stands out in my mind. This was the time of the big standing arcade games. It was called "Super Astro Fighter" and it quickly became the major competition for me and my brother and all the kids who lived nearby. We would try to beat one another's scores. We would proudly place our initials at the end of each game, hoping to 'one up' the previous person's score.

The aroma of simmering sloppy joe greeted everyone who walked through the door. For Mom cooked the meat at home, and then placed it into a crock pot which she brought to the store daily. In a crude handmade sign, she cartoonishly drew a picture of a bun with meat inside, steam rising from the top. For some reason, this drew truckers and many others into the store for a quick lunch of one of her tasty sandwiches, a small bag of potato chips, and a pop.

The memory that is most vivid to me though, is the outpouring of good conversation with the folks that walked through the door. My mother loved people, was a good listener, and a great one to give advice. She had several friends that would stop daily for laughter and a good cup of coffee. Some of the warmest memories are of seeing my mother's beautiful face light up when a favorite friend or special young person walked through the door. She knew when they were having a bad day. She knew the right words to say, or promises of prayers for some of their situations.

I feel for the young people of today. For this bygone era of old-fashioned values is headed by the wayside. With the fast-paced world, electronic devices in front of our faces, we are losing something very precious. We are losing the ability to be kind to one another, to listen, learn and be in the moment. My mother had the right idea. She made everyone feel as if they were the only person that mattered in the time she had with them.

I miss the dairy. I miss the people we all grew so close with at that time. My brother and I were fortunate to make lasting friendships with some of them. And yet there are others that we know we will never see again. Perhaps they've moved on with their lives. Perhaps they, too, knew there was once a place where everyone truly did know your name.

On a corner of Duss Avenue and Eighth street in the small steel town of Ambridge, there once was a place of magic. A place that many could come and share their cares, dreams, hopes and troubles. And there once was a woman and man who made the magic happen. Eighth Street Dairy, I will always remember our time. Thank you for being more than just a building, an establishment. Thank you for being a home, a safe haven for many.

One of the only photos we have of the inside of the dairy during our time there. Our dear old friend, Albert Jones.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

It Will Be a Year

I'm pretty sure on this day last year, a Sunday, I was sitting with my mom at her care facility. I wheeled her around outside, listening to the chirping of the birds in the trees, and enjoying the warmth of the sunny day. I told her stories about the birds we listened to, the butterflies floating nearby in the little garden of flowers, and the cute dog that was a part of weekend visits there. When we went back inside for her lunch, I sat content by her side, enjoying the time with my mother and learning all the different oddities of the others seated around her.

There was a man who wheeled himself around and around the room as if searching for his lost love. There was a boisterous lady who reminded us of an old family friend with a biting, sarcastic humor. There was a sweet black lady who was blind, and had a marvelous singing voice and a huge sweet tooth for candy. A Chinese lady who befriended me and tried to get Mom to talk more. These people had become a normal part of my life. I'd grown fond of them, and looked forward to seeing them as I visited my mother.

How was I to know that in one week my mother would be gone? How do any of us ever know? No, her health wasn't great, but she seemed stable. It had been easy to picture heading into fall and Halloween at the facility, and then Thanksgiving and Christmas. In my mind I planned all sorts of fun things for Mom and the other residents. I would read stories to them, and make little gift bags. I couldn't wait.

Friday of that week, I got a very serious phone call from the Home. Mom began bleeding, vomiting actually. They wanted to know which hospital to send her. I chose an older hospital that we had used most of our lives; I knew that they knew her history best, and would give her good care. I phoned my work office and told them I wouldn't be in. I told them my mother had another emergency.

By the time I got to the E.R., Mom was doing better, rather quiet and calm. A doctor pulled me aside and much like our decision with Dad, told me it may be time to let the Good Lord intervene if He so chose. She had lost huge amounts of blood. They would only give her a blood transfusion if the family requested it, but in observing her failing health, her passing would be inevitable anyway. My brother and I spoke about it, and as long as Mom was comfortable and not vomiting any longer (they had given her something for that), we would begin the vigil of letting her go.

I remember sitting with my mother back at the care facility later that day. She told me that I looked pretty in the color I wore. She would fall asleep, become agitated, and then awaken where I would reassure her with words of comfort. I sat by her side quietly for hours.

The next day my husband and I visited with Mom. She did not wake up. Her breathing was shallow, the gurgle in her chest had begun. I laid my head upon my mother's shoulder while tears found their way out of the corners of my eyes. I began singing softly to my mother, silly songs she'd sung to comfort me as a child. Later that night, I received a phone call around three a.m. Mom wouldn't be here much longer. I live an hour away and wanted to leave immediately. My husband was worried for me driving at that hour and in the state I was in. My brother was able to be at our mother's side, and we remained on the phone together for a long while.

My brother later told that a sound like soft footsteps seemed to enter the room though no nurse was there. A napkin blew down from Mom's table, though no breeze created it. And in our mother's hands was clutched her Miraculous Medal necklace though we couldn't imagine how it had gotten there. Mom passed very peacefully.

I remember being strong for myself and other family members during the preparations for her funeral. I remember holding up well and greeting loved ones and friends with my own comfort for them and the words, "I know she is with God and Dad now." And my mother looked beautiful--radiant almost. I had no difficulty standing near her casket and soaking in every last detail that I could of her.

Why is it that I am having such a rough time right now? What is it about this first anniversary of her passing that has thrown me into a black hole of despair? For I find that I am not the same person. I am easily offended, sad and depressed. I cannot find the laughter that was such a big part of my world--of my family's world. Why is grief refusing to let me go of it's ugly grip?

I have many emotions when I think back on all that our family has gone through in these last two years. Two years of losing both parents. Two years of Mom's dementia and failing health. Part of what I feel is guilt, you see. Guilt over relief that a burden has been lifted. Guilt over not being there for my mother's final breath. Guilt over making the decision about the blood transfusion. But what is it that Mom always said?

My mother wrote me many notes and little letters in cards through the years. And one that I found recently said this: All our love always and forever. I want you to know all bad things pass but good thoughts last forever. Hold those good thoughts in your heart.

 And another: My Dearest Karen, I'm not the writer you are, but I speak from my heart. We grew together not just mother and daughter, but best friends also. We had laughs over the years but most of all, love. When you tell me I taught you compassion, you already had it when I was sick in your early years. I have been proud to be your mother. We are human, Kar, the Lord didn't mean for us to be angels on this earth. To me being kind and sympathetic as we all are is what I believe the Lord wanted for us. Don't waste this precious life on past mistakes; live it with joy and laughter as much as possible. All my love, Mom

These tangible reminders of how my mother saw life, are guides, beacons to me,  of how she wants me to live. Would she want me to remain guilt-ridden? I think not. Would she want me to wallow in depression? No. I think Mom is speaking to me through these little notes. I think she always knew how I would feel--how I would take her passing. As always, she is there to teach me and guide me. And in my heart, I know that these feelings will pass.

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. (And in the mourning.)