A soft word, a little kindness for 2019

January 8, 2019

On my walk the other day at Wilmer Park, by the water, here in Chestertown, I ran into a retired English professor from Washington College, also here in town. She told me why Beloved was her favorite book written by Toni Morrison. Years ago, Toni Morrison came to Washington College to speak, and during her talk, she read from that book, unpublished at that point. Of course, after publication, she received the Pulitzer and the American Book Award in 1988 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993.

Some books are classics and timeless. Some behaviors are classic, classy and timeless, something that we need to see more and more of – just to be reminded. A little kindness goes a long way.

Lady Jones…saving her real affection for the unpicked children of Cincinnati, one of whom sat before her in a dress so loud it embarrassed the needlepoint chair seat….

“How’s your family, honey?”

Denver stopped in the middle of a swallow. There was no way to tell her how her family was, so she said what was on the top of her mind.

“I want work, Miss Lady…Anything….”

Lady Jones smiled. “What can you do?”

“I can’t do anything, but I would learn it for you if you have a little extra.”


“Food. My ma’am, she doesn’t feel good.”

“Oh, baby,” said Mrs. Jones. “Oh, baby.”

Denver looked up at her . She did not know it then, but it was the word “baby,” said softly and with such kindness, that inaugurated her life in the world as a woman. p 291, Beloved

On a different walk, probably a little more than 20 years ago, I was walking downtown. I was passing the brown house with a porch where a little old African American lady used to sit. She was outside that day. She was always friendly and we always greeted each other. On that day she asked me how I was, saying, “How you doin’, Sugah?” Well, for me, also, it was that word “Sugah” – another version of “Baby” – that changed my day, and maybe “inaugurated” me in some way, into another place, too. It had been a particularly sad, hard day. I can’t remember why. But I was fighting tears and trying to look up and to be OK. And when that kind, little old lady called me Sugah, I was changed. The day was changed. For a moment, I was a little girl again instead of a grown-up. Her softness and the soft, musical sound of the word lifted me and reassured me that everything was going to be all right, that I was going to be OK. I’ve never forgotten it. I always looked for her and was always glad when she was rocking in her chair. After a while she wasn’t there any more. She was really old. I never knew when she died. I thought I’d know somehow but I didn’t. But that word “Sugah” lived on.

Sometimes a dose of this kind of thing is all we need to get a new perspective or a breath of fresh air so that we’ll know it’ll all be OK.

Christmas Books

December 26, 2018

Under the Christmas tree in Philadelphia this year, at our older daughter’s house, were 2 gift bags with my name on them – and they were full of books! I did finally swim this afternoon, after spending the first half of the day sitting completely still, reading, but not until I was finished my first selection: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adicheie. What a glorious morning, and what a glorious read.

One of the main characters, Obinze, spends a part of his life as an undocumented immigrant, using a false identity, in London. Scared all the time and desperate for regular work, normalcy and hope, the reader is reminded of how much each small thing matters. No kindness is wasted.

One morning in early summer, a renewing warmth in the air, Obinze arrived at the warehouse and knew right away that something was amiss. The men avoided his eyes, an unnatural stiffness in their movements, and Nigel turned swiftly, too swiftly, towards the toilet when he saw Obinze. They knew. It had to be that they had somehow found out. They saw the headlines about asylum seekers draining the National Health Service, they knew of the hordes further crowding a crowded island, and now they knew that he was one of the damned, working with a name that was not his. Where was Roy Snell? Had he gone to call the police? Was it the police that one called? Obinze tried to remember details from the stories of people who had been caught and deported but his mind was numb. He felt naked. He wanted to turn and run but his body kept moving, against his well, toward the loading area. Then he sensed a movement behind him, quick and violent and too close, and before he could turn around, a paper hat had been pushed onto his head. It was Nigel, and with him a gathering of grinning men.

“Happy birthday, Vinny Boy!” they all said.

Obinze froze, frightened by the complete blankness of his mind. Then he realized what it was. Vincent’s birthday. Roy must have told the men. Even he had not remembered to remember Vincent’s date of birth.

“Oh!” was all he said, nauseous from relief.

Nigel asked him to come into the coffee room, where all the men were trooping in, and as Obinze sat with them, all of them white except for Patrick from Jamaica, passing around the muffins and Coke they had bought with their own money in honor of a birthday they believed was his, a realization brought tears to his eyes: he felt safe.
(pp 322-323)

November: A Seasonal Thought

November 4, 2018

From Mare’s War by Tanita S. Davis, a Coretta Scott King Award Honor Book –

Peaches thinks she can change folks’ minds about what goes on here, but I know better. Folks always do believe what they want to believe about everything. You can tell them the truth, then tell ’em again, but they just don’t always want to hear.

Not the middle!

September 7, 2018

We often see parents of college freshmen here at our B&B. Their stories are all different, and yet almost the same. We’ve watched moms and dads come alongside their children, cheering them on, assuaging their anxiety with their favorite homemade cookies and with restaurant meals at all of the best places. Darn. It’s not easy growing up. And now here we are again. September.

It’s back to school time – in the world, even if not currently for you or for one you love. One thing that happens? ‘Tis the season for try-outs – new beginnings – often followed by devastating failures. When I tried out for cheerleading in 9th grade and wasn’t selected, I was sure it was a mistake. When I again showed up as a sophomore in the same setting and didn’t make the cut, I knew it had to be rigged, or just plain unfair. Obviously, (in my mind), those in charge clearly didn’t know quality when they saw it. How could they have not realized how much capacity I had for jumping and yelling like they’d never seen before? So the rejection cut and stung. And deeply wounded me. But I survived, even though my younger sister became a cheerleader as a freshman that same year I was a sophomore. The sister situation exacerbated my pain, but at age 65, it’s been a while since sadness has been equated with a non-cheerleader status. We do grow up.

One of the funniest YA books I’ve read recently, which really hits at the heart of high school heaviness is Ginger Kid by Steve Hofstetter. (I read it aloud recently to my 14 and 18 year old great-nephews, and edited out the PG-13 stuff, so that’s a choice for younger readers. But grab a copy, if you can – just for fun – or share it with a young person you know.) It’s hysterical in places, but there’s also some other good stuff.

When I got home, I was inconsolable. I was upset….at the reality that baseball was not going to be my ticket to a scholarship. As much as I loved watching the game, I wasn’t going to be playing it.

I asked my brother, who was as big of a baseball fan as I was and whose baseball career was just as over as mine, what to do next. And my brother gave me the advice that would change my life.

David drew three parallel lines on a piece of paper.

“Most people,” he said, pointing to the middle line, “live their life here. They don’t go far down, but they don’t go far up either. The further you go toward this top line, the further you will also go toward this bottom line. You decide if that’s worth it. I’ve never been a fan of the middle.”

It was a tough day for me, but he was right. I’d much rather have highs and lows than a bunch of middles. sure, I’d never play professional baseball. But that is true of almost everyone in the world. (pp 74 – 75)

Little Boxes

August 28, 2018

Not Pete Seeger’s “Little Boxes,” but rather, cereal boxes…, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me tell you what happened.

Not only do I cook here at Simply Bed & Bread for our B&B guests, but on Mondays, one can find me at The Community Table here in Chestertown. A free meal (with requested donations from guests who are able to give) for the community at one of the local churches, The Community Table really is what it was designed to be: a place for people to come together to share a meal with those they wouldn’t ordinarily find around their own tables. Diverse across many lines, it’s a happenin’ place where some very cool things occur. I find when I keep my ears and eyes open, I can learn a lot.

A new piece of information might come from Gloria and Jeffrey, retired librarians, who seem to know pretty much everything, from cooking around the world (with all kinds of tips for those of us in the kitchen) to the name of a drummer in a music group from the 60s. John, who’s always got a tune on his tongue, serves up practical advice by just doing what’s in front of him with the pot on the stove, since before he was retired and in the kitchen at First United Methodist on Mill Street, he was serving up suppers for firemen on Long Island. And before that, he was a butcher. So the man knows meat. And don’t be fooled; he knows a lot of other things, too. And these are just a couple of those in the kitchen. I love hearing pieces of their stories as conversation flies around, and sometimes, with the light-hearted banter, other “meat” is served up – like yesterday.

I had my gloved hands in a giant stainless steel bowl filled with flour. Another of our regulars was sitting at the end of the table where I was, so because he’s quiet and I’m not, I was asking him questions about himself and he was answering. Everyone else was quiet. Well, you know how one things leads to another and we started talking about cereal boxes, those cute, little ones that must’ve come out in the 60s, called “variety packs” – wonderful, cellophane-wrapped boxes of Frosted Flakes, Corn Pops, Lucky Charms, along with the kinds no kids in the family wanted, like Raisin Bran, because it didn’t have as much sugar, and since one of our volunteers had brought in some left-over ones from when her grandkids visited, we had some on the give-away table for guests to take. So we started reminiscing about our memories connected to these pre-packaged portions of yumminess. Growing up, our small family of 4 didn’t have very much, so we didn’t hardly ever have these variety packs, but every now and then, we did. And so the love contained in those little boxes has stayed with me all of these years. One said that her grown son had said that it was one of his favorite memories from going to his grandmother’s house when he’d been a little boy. We all had something to say, including our quiet volunteer, Fred (whose name has been changed to protect his privacy). He simply said, “There were 10 of us and there wasn’t much.” Little boxes of individually packaged brand name cereals would’ve been impossible to have been found on his breakfast table. And it hit me squarely in the face what I was seeing, and learning: privilege. We in that kitchen had all grown up privileged. All but one. It was another friend who said that seeing something through someone else’s eyes makes you see new things in a way not possible otherwise. She was right.

No cereal here at Simply Bed & Bread (unless especially requested), but since it’s “all in the presentation,” hopefully guests receive the offerings of cereal lessons..

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