Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Anna's Angel


Somethings are worth saving.  Somethings, no matter how small continue to share their meaning, a piece of someone's heart, or a thought filled moment in our lives.  For eighteen years this angel has adorned our home, even during the heat of summer, she smiles down upon us.

Eighteen years ago I said good-bye to a school district that had accepted me, trained me, guided my creative spirit, and filled me with confidence for which I say thank you to Norman, OK Public Schools.  The school year of 95-96 I  transferred from Jefferson to Truman Elementary, not realizing that my husband would soon be moving me to Hutchinson, Kansas.  In a matter of months those children and teachers had made a difference in my life, and I cried when I said good-bye.  One young girl in a 5th grade class walked into the library and handed me a paper sack with a gift inside.  "This is for you Mrs. Watt.  I made it for you, so you wouldn't forget me."

Tears filled my eyes, my throat, and my heart rendering me nearly speechless.  No matter what, there are times,  many times, when hugs are important.  So Anna and I hugged, smiled, and hugged again.  Then I picked up the nearly flat brown paper bag and asked if I could open it then.  Anna beamed and nodded her head yes.

Slowly, I opened the bag, reached in and pulled out a handmade angel.  "I made it out of wallpaper in the colors you like, and she smiles just like you."  Anna's voice proudly proclaimed.   Even now the tears stream down my cheeks when I remember that moment.

"Thank you Anna.  Thank you." I replied sniffling by now.  Wanting to act like I was in control I continued, "How did you know I liked these colors?"

"You wear these colors in your clothes and jewelry all the time, and they are my favorites, too."  Like an angel Anna stood there smiling.  Her tall slender frame, blonde curly hair, and quiet shy blue grey eyes watched me that day, and everyday since then.

Anna's angel will always remind me of what pure unconditional love feels like.  My Christmas prayer for you, my readers, for everyone is to experience and to know the feeling of unconditional love.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Flashback in Flowers

I often wonder if I missed my calling by not working in a nursery, no not one with babies, but one with fresh moist soil, dirt to dig my fingers into, green plants growing year round, colorful blooms and sweet aromas to
lift my spirits, especially in the dark days of winter.  I prefer to call plant nurseries "Green Houses" because that's why I go there to visit, to feast my eyes on green when all around me stands winter brown.

Needing the scent of moist soil and a way to refresh my soul I drove to Stutzman's Greenhouse this week. Just walking into the building filled with sunlight and moisture I began to breath easier, and the gray feeling that hung around my neck seem to dissipate like fog lifting off my shoulders.  I stopped in awe as my eyes gazed at the Poinsettia tree.

It's funny how the mind slips backwards in time.  Suddenly, I was transported to Nashville and a Christmas scene of giant poinsettia trees filling the lobbies in the Gaylord Family Hotel at the Grand Ole' Opry.  That was the first time I'd seen the red flowers placed in such a glorious formation.  Then just like a time traveler my mind swept me back to my thirteenth birthday in Southern California.  I awoke that morning after Christmas (1960) to sunshine and warmth, having left the winter of Oklahoma far behind.  My sister and I immediately explored our motel, a series of small quaint stucco cottages lined with flowers, ferns, and an unusual tall green plant with the top leaves of brilliant red.  Since my father knew everything I asked him what kind of plant it could be.  "It's a poinsettia plant, Tizzy.  They grow naturally around here," he replied.  I really didn't believe him, since I'd only seen poinsettias in church at Christmas, but a few days later they were growing near the entrance to a Mexican restaurant and my mother asked the owners about the plant.  When they replied, "a Poinsettia" I smiled.  I knew then, that my dad was the smartest man in the world.

In a moment I found myself on the concrete floor and surrounded by flowers. Quietly, I walked around the green house that day sniffing, touching, gazing on shades of reds, greens, pinks, and whites.  Then I walked to my year round favorite corner that is shaded by a blooming bougainvillea tree.  So much comfort can be found in something so simple as nature's beauty.  That day, that moment under the blooms I felt enveloped by love and life, and most thankful for the opportunity to be with God.  I knew why I was there.  My wish is for everyone to be enveloped by love during this blessed season of the year, and everyday to come.  Merry Christmas.  

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Miami Memories: Moments that Connect

The other day I received a notice from Verizon, my phone carrier, that I had  used 100% of my free any time minutes.  I laughed and wondered what it would cost me to keep talking.  I refrained, however, and then borrowed my husband's cell phone and began making phone calls again.

Ellen Gunning Jones
These weren't ordinary phone calls--they were calls to my classmates many of whom I hadn't heard from in decades, from the class of '65 in Miami, Oklahoma.  I have a note over my computer that says, "Make It Happen."  It is suppose to help my finish writing my memoir about growing up at the golf course in Miami, instead it jumped out at me in early November, and I thought of my classmates who were not connecting with us as we organizing for our class reunion in 2015. We are putting together a slide show of our twelve years in school, and Roosevelt school, where I attended grades 4,5,6, had no pictures in the slide show.  I didn't have any to send Richard, so I did the next best thing.  I called nearly every classmate I could find that Sunday afternoon, leaving messages and chatting with many.  Within three phone calls I found Ellen Gunning Jones who knew she still had all six years of photos, knew how to use a computer, and would send them off to Richard Spencer to be added to our class slideshow.  I was having so much fun by then that I just kept calling people until it was dark and my husband smiled and asked, "Are you hungry?"

Two days later, stepping out of the car to go shopping for new shoes, that wouldn't hurt my feet and yet look stylish, my cell phone rang.  Forty-five minutes later I walked into Brown's Shoe store with grin on my face.
Judy Scruggs Mathers
Judy Scruggs Mathers, my best friend for six years, and I were reconnected. We talked again a few days later, and  both confessed through giggles and tears that we were now buying old lady shoes, or at least the best looking old lady shoes we could find, since our feet had aged, not our minds or spirits.  At least I'm not wearing the black lace up shoes that some of my teachers wore!

A classmate I hadn't talked with since graduation, Ann Habeger, called me one evening and my husband fixed his own dinner that night.  Forty-eight years melted as we laughed.  "We must have passed each other in the crowd at the Solheim Cup last summer,"  we both said simultaneously.
Ann Habeger
 She lives in Aurora, Co and Jack and I had spent a week out there watching the international golf event.  Would we have know each other if we had passed?  I told her about the time I was walking to a football game and heard a voice in front of me that I recognized.  I tapped the woman on her shoulder and asked, "Gale?"  Gale Longacre Smith and I have stayed connected since that game.

Scotty driving my old car.
Last week Scotty Jackson,  who was a few years younger than I am, died.  I was stunned and most thankful that I had taken time two winters ago while in Norman to chat and listen to his stories of growing up in the country club.  A great memory we shared was knowing Mickey Mantle, who played golf at our club when he came to town "back in the those days."  After my parents died in 1989, I remembered cleaning out my dad's top drawer, the forbidden drawer, the off limits drawer when I was a kid.  Inside I found old M80's covered up by funeral booklets of the death of his friends.  I felt old that day when I read about Scotty and wanted to see my friends once again.

Each story gets better.  On Thanksgiving morning at 5:30am, when sleep left me tossing and turning, I crawled out of bed and began emailing classmates one by one...connecting.
Bill Oliver
Within an hour Bill Oliver emailed me back.  He was up baking cinnamon rolls for his wife and preparing to celebrate his 67th birthday that day.  I yipped and skipped with joy because we were celebrating my husband's birthday on Thanksgiving, and a once in a lifetime moment with Hanukkah and now with a classmate.  So the cliche's are true, "it is a small world."

Our committee of searchers has grown from 15-40 and one by one we are finding our nearly lost classmates.  Last week as the stories began to filter in to me to update our website, I laughed over and over at a reoccurring theme.  "I found......because he was home recuperating from knee surgery." I can imagine the future conversations..."well I had my knee replaced ..... or I'm thrilled with my new hip that Dr...... built for me."  Somehow I don't see many of us dancing to Chubby Checker's The Twist on the night of our 50th class reunion, but who knows with new joints we may be able to do things we haven't done in some time.

Goosebumps...One by one the stories connected us like the construction paper rings we used to make in grade school to hang on our Christmas trees.  A close friend, C.Ann Richards, died in the early '80's.  She'd been much like the boy in the bubble story, as her body was ravaged with allergies and breathing issues.  Her father and mother had taught her to sing to build her lungs and make her strong.  She was my nature friend who loved to play at Tar Creek with me; and became a golfing companion in our years in junior high.  No matter what she did, she did it with gusto, as my mother would say, and often with complete abandonment.  My father once built a small car for me (shown above with Scotty).  One day on the wide sidewalks at NEO where I had parked my car, C.Ann jumped into the car without me and drove it right into a bush then a building. That wreck nearly cost me my driving privileges, but what do you do with a friend like C.Ann.
C.Ann Richards Ricker
I didn't know when she died so I posted a note on facebook asking if anyone knew when or where she died. With that posting on facebook we found out a few more stories and family obituaries, then I discovered that she had a relative living  in Durant, Ok.  Since I still had anytime minutes I called C.Ann's aunt and chatted for quite some time about C.Ann's life.   I no sooner had finished that conversation when Karen Yoxall called me to say that she had found C.Ann's death certificate through the internet.  Coincidence or meant to be...we will honor our friends who have left this world a better place.  GO WARDOGS!

Cecila Ann Richards Ricker  b. September 1, 1947 -- d. September 12, 1985
Scott Jackson b. May 20, 1952 -- d. November 10, 2013

*Letty Stapp Watt, storyteller and historian

Monday, December 2, 2013

Miami Memories: Moments in Time

We are each touched by another.

There are "moments in time" that connect each of us to something deeper.  With the nation revealing its feelings on the JFK assassination, the media has reminded me of our connectedness with one another.

Mother checked me out of high school that day at noon, so we could drive to Wichita from Miami, Oklahoma, our home, to visit my Aunt Della who was in the hospital and her mother, my grandmother.  The white Ford station wagon with red vinyl interior and a mud flap on the back was nearly packed. My little sister was sitting in the car with the seat belt buckled ready to travel when the phone rang. I ran inside to answer, but mother had reached the phone first and sat transfixed.  Suddenly, her finger was pointing and her voice rang like a bell, "Turn on the TV, Clara Searle says that President Kennedy has been shot in Dallas."

Leaving Jonya in the car, we stood motionless in front of the TV watching the breaking news.  Then I hurriedly called Neva Essex at Miami High School and told her the news.  Mother called dad at the club and told him to listen to KGLC for the updates, then we started our drive to Wichita.  We'd just driven through Chetopa, Ks when KGLC announced that President Kennedy had died. Our hearts throbbed, and before the tears could flow Mother pulled the station wagon off the side of the road.  Then we cried.  In between tears we watched as other cars pulled off the side of the road that day.  It seemed like time really did stand still, and no one could move.

Mother was shaken deeply, and asked me to drive for awhile.  With my learner's permit I proudly traded place with her ignoring the mud as I walked around the car.  When my foot pressed the pedal mud flew in all directions, and the car settled deep into the mud.   At last two men, farmers I thought, walked over to help.  They, too, were crying, and for a moment I realized that something deeper than I could imagine was occurring in our lives.  With their brute strength and coaching I drove the wagon out of the mud and began a long heartfelt journey to Wichita.

We drove first to Grandma's house, where they were still watching the television for news that day.  By evening we were at the hospital, a Catholic hospital were Aunt Della was being treated.  She was so pale and sick, we were worried that with the news of her President being shot, that she would not recover.  Jonya and I sat quietly outside the room, watching and listening as the nuns, nurses, doctors and orderlies seem to move in slow motion, stopping and crying on each other's shoulders.  

We were home by Sunday evening and into our school routine.  I, honestly, have no recall of being at school that next week or even talking with classmates about the assassination.  My memories are clouded by another phone call from from Grandpa one week after Pres. Kennedy was shot.  This time my father answered the early morning call, I hadn't even left for school. Once again I stood watching my father this time, quietly begin to shake and cry as he held the phone in his hand.  

When the phone was placed in the cradle and the house was quiet, my father stood and gently patted me on the shoulder, then turned to mother and said, "Mom died last night, in her sleep."  I watched my father hug my mother and the two of them cried so hard that their bodies seem to melt into one ragged form.

We drove through Chetopa that day on our way to Wichita, and I remarked, "That's where we were when we heard that the President had died," but no one in the car said anything back to me.  Aunt Della was still in the hospital, when this somber and trembling family of four walked into her room.  I could tell she knew, she knew that something bad had happened again.  I know Dad tried to find an easy way to say the words, as he fiddled with keys and change in his pockets.  His hands left his pockets and reached out to take Della's hands,  "Sis, mom died in her sleep last night."  We cried.

Reading the stories of others in the papers, and listening to the news broadcasts for the last two weeks has reminded me of that day and that week in my life.  It may have been the first time I saw grown men cry from their hearts;  it may have been the first time I realized, as a teenager, how much alike we all were, and how deeply connected we were to that tragic moment.

Sadly, in the yeas following November 1963 our nation, like our family, would be stilled by other moments in time.  And we would cry.