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Thankfully Blemished

Leaves and hearts symbolizing a thankful heart.

“I’m too old for this,” I said to myself as I added more acne cream to my nose. The stubborn red blemish that took center stage on my face showed no sign of ever leaving, despite the plethora of facial scrubs, creams, ointments, and acne treatments I tried. I was becoming quite frustrated; the unwelcomed nuisance had been there for months – it interfered with my vanity – I wanted it gone.

Little did I know, it had to be there. It had to grab my attention, for without it, I may not be here today.

I grew up in the 70s and 80s – a time where kids spent hours playing outside. I don’t recall  lathering up with sunscreen before heading out the door though, despite my blonde hair and pale skin. It just wasn’t something people did back then. I burned a lot as a kid. As a teenager, I spent the weekends laying on a towel in the backyard, slapping gobs of baby oil on my arms and legs in an effort to tone down my pasty white skin. The oil was supposed to attract the sun so you could tan faster. It attracted the sun all right, but I never tanned – I burned. Same outcome in my twenties and thirties when I traded bottles of baby oil and natural sunlight for bronzers and tanning beds. I was caught in a vicious cycle: lather, burn, repeat.

I figured the spot on my nose just needed a strong, acne prescription from Dr. Neuenschwander, a local dermatologist in town. In a matter of days, I thought, it would be gone, and I would go about my business, never to think of it again. Boy, was I wrong. I am reminded of it every day.

“That isn’t a pimple,” Dr. Neuenschwander told me as he inspected my face with a dermatoscope. “It is a broken capillary. It won’t go away with medicine, but you can have it removed with laser treatment if you would like.”

Darn. Not the quick fix I hoped for, but an easy fix, nevertheless. As I stood up and thanked him for the diagnosis, Dr. Neuenschwander suggested he do a full body skin scan. He could tell I had sun damage and wanted to look to ensure there were no other weird spots. I was happy to oblige; I was there anyways, might as well get my money’s worth.

The blackish-blue spot on my left shin had been there for years, I told him when he inquired. In fact, I had it looked at a few years ago during a routine exam and was told to simply watch it for changes. It never changed, so I dismissed it. The look of concern on Dr. Neuenschwander’s face alarmed me. When he insisted on doing a biopsy, a slight rush of fear entered my body. When the biopsy report came back two days later, I dropped to my knees.

Superficial spreading malignant melanoma, Stage III/IV”, that is what the pathology report said. The blackish-blue spot on my shin had been classified as the most dangerous and deadly type of skin cancer. On the surface, the spot had not changed or grown, however, it had penetrated deeply into my skin and was branching out. I was at risk of the melanoma invading my internal organs if it had not already.

To say I was shocked at the diagnosis is an understatement. In a matter of days, I went from being a healthy woman with plans and aspirations, to becoming Dr. Elliot Asare’s newest cancer patient at the Huntsman Cancer Institute. Dr. Asare is a surgical oncologist who specializes in melanoma.

The first two surgeries were quite invasive. To ensure no cancer cells remained, Dr. Asare had to take an exceptionally large chunk out of my shin. To determine if the melanoma spread, he also had to perform a sentinel lymph node biopsy. In ten business days, he informed us, we would know whether the cancer had spread. We would discuss treatment then, if necessary. In the meantime, he ordered me to remain immobile and heal; I would undergo reconstructive surgery and a skin graft to put my leg back together in five weeks.

Dr Asare and Vivian before surgery to remove melanoma.
Me and Dr. Asare before surgery

Ten days. It felt like 10 years. The emotional pain of not knowing my fate was worse than the physical pain I was forced to endure. I worried. I prayed. I cried. I even begged. Once I exhausted myself, I finally trusted. I remembered my faith and recalled all the answered prayers of my past. Suddenly, my thoughts circled back to that annoying red spot on my nose. Had it been strategically placed to where I could not miss it? Would I have seen the dermatologist if it had not been there? How long would I have gone without knowing I had melanoma? Could it be the red spot was a blessing and not a curse?

I got the call on the tenth day. By then, I had Huntsman’s phone number memorized, so when the number popped up on my phone, my heart pounded wildly. This was it. This was the call I waited for. I had come to a place of acceptance; no matter what, I would put it in God’s hands.

“Mrs. Cumins, this is Dr. Asare’s office. We received the results of your lymph node biopsy. The results came back benign. We have no reason to believe the melanoma spread. You are incredibly lucky; it was caught early.”

For the second time in two months, I dropped to my knees. I managed to thank the nurse and confirm my next set of appointments before disconnecting the call and bursting into tears. This time, my tears came from a place of gratitude, not fear.

Thanksgiving is celebrated in the United States every fourth Thursday in November. It is a day to which we give thanks and count our blessings. Though it was a difficult and challenging time, I learned valuable lessons in trust, gratitude, and humility. I am thankful for that unsightly red spot on my nose. To me, it symbolizes mercy; I have no plans to remove it.

What are you thankful for this year? Share in the comments or hop on over to the Forum and tell us about it! Happy Thanksgiving my friends!

For tips on preventing skin cancer, visit the Skin Cancer Foundation.

~Viv

The Call

Combat helmet boots and dog tags

“Hey Babe, I’m okay – just don’t watch the news. I will call you when I can. I love you.”

That was all my husband, Eddy, said before the old military field phone went dead. I didn’t hear his voice again for over a week. Eight days, to be exact. Eight excruciatingly uncertain days.

Mortar attacks aimed at Camp Taji, Iraq, a military installation used by Iraqi and coalition forces, were a daily occurrence. In fact, they happened so often, the media rarely covered the incidents in detail. On this particular day, however, CNN was on the scene. This time, the devastation and destruction was massive; there were both American and Iraqi casualties. This was news.

As I cradled the phone receiver in my hand, my thoughts immediately flashed back to February 18, 2003 – the last time I saw my husband before boarding an aircraft at the Salt Lake City International Airport. Eddy had been called to serve overseas in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. This was our first deployment as a married couple.

The sense of national solidarity and support that originated after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks was felt the moment we arrived at the airport. The black M-16 carrying case and government-issued green bags Eddy hauled around were telling. Some people offered supporting nods and smiles as we walked by. Others shook Eddy’s hand and thanked him for his service to our country. The airport staff went above-and-beyond for us; they were understanding and kind to our family. They even allowed my daughter and me to go through security and sit with Eddy until his zone was called, a gesture that was forbidden since the attacks.

Silent tears streamed down my cheeks as I sat next to Eddy and tightly held his hand. When the time came for him to go, I gave him a soft kiss and long hug. I didn’t want to let go. For the past two months, we had been so busy going to deployment briefings, getting our legal affairs in order, and meeting with church elders that I failed to prepare myself emotionally for this day. Feelings of immense pride and fear hit me like a ton of bricks as I watched my husband of five months slowly disappear down the jetway.

Eddy arrived at Camp Taji in March following a stint in Kuwait for convoy operations training. He was an Air Force Technical Sergeant at the time, assigned to an Army Fire Department. His assignment was to provide vehicle maintenance, security, and support to the Department as they fulfilled their mission.

Camp Taji, Iraq
Eddy, Camp Taji- 2003

Up until his unsettling call, Eddy and I spoke on the phone once a week. Though our conversations were short, and his words were few, I was thankful to hear his voice. Pockets of silence between our calls were filled with hand-written letters, cards, and care packages my daughter and I put together. We packed small boxes with staples such as Racer X magazines, baby wipes, beef jerky, Chicken and a Biskit crackers, and that squeezy Cheddar cheese that comes in a can. Not everyone deployed to Camp Taji received care packages, Eddy informed me, so I gladly satisfied his request to pack extra goodies so he could share.

I wasted no time searching for information as to the meaning of his call. Against Eddy’s wishes, I flipped through every news channel – nothing. I did Internet searches – nothing. I called Eddy’s Squadron Commander and First Sergeant – nothing. I got the feeling they knew what had happened overseas, however, they were not at liberty to tell me. As a military spouse, I understood Operations Security (OPSEC), nevertheless, I struggled with the fact I was left to wrangle my unsettled thoughts alone. Had my husband been hurt? Was he taken hostage? Had he and his comrades seen combat? My mind raced out of control.

As a woman of faith, I wish I could say that I trusted God that my husband was okay, but the truth is, I was terrified. For eight days, I tortured myself with agonizing thoughts. I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t even pray. Then finally, an angel of mercy, disguised as a DSN phone operator, patched a call from Eddy to our home.

The Defense Switched Network, otherwise know as DSN, is a worldwide Department of Defense telephone system. It allows calls to be sent and received from one military installation to another. We lived on base, so the call was easily patched through the landline in our home. With the 10-hour time difference, Eddy took a chance I would be home. Little did he know, I had been waiting by the phone for over a week.

Eight days prior, he told me, he was awakened by the explosion of two car bombs outside Camp Taji’s main gate. The bombs rattled the entire military installation. The highway was blown to smithereens, along with innocent American and Iraqi pedestrians, drivers, and passengers, of which were left to burn inside their vehicles. Eddy assured me he had not been harmed in the attack. He arrived on scene immediately after the explosions and tended to burning vehicles.

With military casualties, he explained, all communication in-and-out of Camp Taji had to be shut down to allow next of-kin notifications. He was concerned I would see the CNN broadcast and think the worst when I didn’t hear from him.

Even though Eddy was in the middle of war-related chaos, he thought of someone other than himself. He thought of me. He wanted to assure me he was okay. He didn’t want me to worry (sorry honey, I did anyway!) He was selfless – a character of a true hero.

Veteran’s Day is a day to honor our military heroes, both past and present. Regardless of whether one served in a combat zone, each military member (and their family) has sacrificed countless ways for their country. Such devotion is deserving of recognition other than just one day a year. Below is a small list of ways one can show their appreciation to our veterans each and every day. What ideas do you have that can show support to our veterans? Add to this list by sharing in the comments.

Thank you to all who are and have served and thank you to the families who love and support them.

Ways to show appreciation to a Veteran:

    1. Say “Thank you”.
    2. If you see a military member in uniform while at a restaurant, secretly pick up their tab.
    3. Donate to a cause that supports veterans.
    4. Listen to their stories.
    5. Attend local Veteran’s Day parades.
    6. Fly an American flag – fly it properly.
    7. Write. Write a story on a blog, in a public forum, or for a local newspaper.
    8. Volunteer at a military installation.
    9. Offer to help the family of a deployed military member.
    10. Send cards and letters of gratitude to deployed military members.
    11. Pray for them and their families.
    12. If you own a business, offer a military discount. Click here for a list of business that offer military discounts.
    13. Open your home to military members and their families for the holidays.
    14. Get to know the veterans in your neighborhood; be respectful during holidays that include fireworks – a pretty firecracker could be a traumatizing trigger.
    15. Vote 

~Viv

Nervous Redemption

Water represents MemoryBlogger Vivian Cumins being baptized at age 10.

I asked to go last. There were two adults before me, a man, and a woman, both dressed in the same thin, light blue gown. I was only 10 years old, so my gown was a little big and went all the way to the floor. As I watched them take two steps down into the waist-deep tank of warm water, I suddenly questioned my decision.

I should have gone first, I thought to myself – get it over with. I wanted to turn around and leave, but that was impossible. My mom was in the way. Standing in the shadows with a big smile on her face, she held a fluffy white towel in one hand and a bag of dry clothes in the other. She was proud; she had no idea I was having second thoughts.

Panic invaded my senses as I watched my born-again brother and sister lean back trustingly into the arm of our pastor, Brother Gene Strother. Slowly, Brother Gene guided their bodies into the water until they were completely submerged. Shouts of “Amen!” and applause could be heard coming from the congregation as Brother Gene quickly snapped them to their feet. No doubt, I would receive the same reaction from the congregation when it was my turn, that is, if I had the nerve to go through with it.

Aquaphobia is a fear of water, often developed from a traumatic event during childhood. For as long as I can remember, I have had a fear of water. This is the reason I never learned to swim. You read that right: I can’t swim. I have, however, taken swim lessons – twice. Unfortunately, I was kicked out of class – twice, and my registration fees were refunded – twice. I suspect I am partly to blame. I refused to put my face in the water. The thought of it gave (and still does!) me anxiety. I begged my instructors to teach me to doggie paddle instead. Dogs were great swimmers, and they didn’t put their heads in the water! Neither instructor was impressed with my observation and neither complied with my request; one even told me I was “unteachable.” Now that was a little harsh, don’t you think?

I don’t remember the incident, but I learned years ago that I did, in fact, experience a traumatic water-related event when I was two years old. It was a sticky summer afternoon and my dad, mom, sister, and I were out on a boat on Lake Chickasha. My sister liked to lean over the side so the waves could slap against her bare hands. As is typical for a little sister, I wanted to do what she was doing, except I was at a disadvantage. My arms were much shorter. I ended up leaning too far and falling overboard, face-first into the lake. I was only underwater for less than a second before my dad immediately sprang into action and grabbed me by my life jacket and pulled me out. Less than a second, but the damage was done. From that moment on, I feared water.

Toddler Vivian and mom in boat
Before falling overboard

I didn’t think about being immersed in water when I walked the aisle of Maranatha Baptist Church in search of salvation. All I knew was I loved Jesus and wanted to go to Heaven someday. Nevertheless, Brother Gene informed me that the act of baptism followed salvation as a public expression of one’s faith. I understood and agreed it was the proper thing to do; however, I was afraid. Brother Gene promised he would hold me tight, and I could even hold my nose if I wanted to. I reluctantly agreed.

As my turn inched closer, I realized there was no turning back. I decided to go through with it even though I was afraid. Brother Gene was waiting in the middle of the baptismal with his left arm extended. I grabbed ahold of his hand as I stepped into the water. I was shorter than the two who had gone before me. Instead of my waist, the water came up to my chest and caused my heart to beat wildly. Brother Gene leaned down and whispered, “You are doing great! You ready?” I nodded my head, pinched my nose with my left thumb and forefinger, and closed my eyes tight.

I don’t remember going under, but I remember coming up because my foot slipped, and Brother Gene had to grab me to keep me from going under a second time. Once I regained my balance, I turned my head towards the roaring congregation. People were on their feet clapping and cheering for me. Brother Gene offered me a ‘high-five’  before helping me up the stairs and out of the water. Praise the Lord, I did it!

Aside from the obvious, this memory has a special place in my heart. Throughout life, there have been times when I needed or wanted to do something, but fear incapacitated me. As I grow in faith, I find the strength necessary to take steps forward – to do it anyway – to do it afraid.

I still have a fear of water. I still can’t swim. But, I have driven a jet-ski. I have waded in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. I went on a 5-day cruise across the Caribbean for my honeymoon, and crossed the English Channel from Germany to England on a ferry. I have learned that faith plus courage often produces the most precious memories. My baptism 39 years ago is one of them.

~Viv

Baptism Certificate

Best Man

He wasn’t my first choice, though he could have been. His curly black mullet and long eyelashes were more than enough to lure me in Eddy’s direction, but it was his best friend, Jim, who swooped in and made the first move.

Best friends since childhood, Eddy and Jim were students at Ninnekah – a tiny Oklahoma school located in Grady County. I didn’t come along until the 4th grade. Up until then, I attended West Elementary School in the nearby town of Chickasha. I was a year older than Eddy and Jim, so I didn’t know either of them until Junior High when the three of us took Mr. McGuire’s Algebra class. Even then, we did not interact; it wasn’t cool for a freshman like me to associate with 8th graders. For the entire year, Eddy and Jim sat on one side of the classroom, and I on another – each oblivious to the ties that would bind us three years later.

There were two groups of students at Ninnekah High School: those who were destined for college upon graduation, and those who weren’t. Eddy, Jim, and I fell into the second group; we didn’t have the financial backing to attend college until later in life. Thankfully, Oklahoma had a program that allowed high school Juniors and Seniors to learn a trade through occupational training. For four hours every morning, while our peers sat in stuffy high school classrooms, Eddy, Jim, and I attended Canadian Valley Vo-Tech and gained valuable on-the-job training and experience. Eddy was in the Auto Body program, Jim took Machine Shop, and I was in Secretarial Training. I saw Eddy and Jim every morning in the Vo-Tech parking lot. I parked my Chevy Chevette on the south side across from Jim’s 1968 Cougar, and Eddy’s 1971 GMC step-side pickup. It was in this parking lot where the first words among us were spoken.

“You left your lights on,” Jim told me as I hurriedly walked by him and Eddy on my way to class. I turned around and saw that I had, in fact, left them on. “Thanks,” I said, returning to my vehicle. It was still uncool to associate with younger students.

Vo-Tech was half a day; therefore, we took normal classes back at the high school after lunch. As I headed to Mrs. Stockton’s Marriage and Childcare class, Eddy and Jim sauntered over to Mrs. Pruitt’s Typing class. Unfortunately, neither showed any promise of ever learning to type. After two weeks, Mrs. Pruitt kindly recommended they withdraw from her class – and that his how the boys ended up sitting at my table in Marriage and Child Care.

Eddy and Jim were hilarious. Like Abbott and Costello, the comedic duo fed off each other’s humor, charisma, and charm. They started to grow on me; they made me laugh.

Towards the end of the semester, Mrs. Stockton assigned Jim and I to a research project that involved planning a wedding and honeymoon on a fixed budget. We got an “A” on the assignment. Before the semester was over, Jim and I were dating.

Meanwhile, Eddy met a girl named Sheri. She was from Chickasha. The four of us double dated every weekend. When we had money, we went to Pizza Inn and shared two large pepperoni pizzas. When we were broke, we played Wahoo and drank beer at Jim’s house.

The four of us were inseparable, so when an Air Force recruiter promised Eddy and Jim they could sign up and serve together, we were all in. Known as the Buddy Program, this recruitment tool enticed future Airmen with a promise to attend Basic Military Training with a friend. If they played their cards right, the recruiter said, they could even attend the same tech school and get stationed at the same base! The boys took the bait. Both signed the dotted-line, entered the Delayed Entry Program, and got hitched while they waited to go to boot camp.

Eddy and Sheri were married first. I was the Maid of Honor and Jim was the Best Man. Eddy returned the honor four months later and stood next to Jim at our wedding. Everything was going as planned, then the Air Force suddenly changed the play. Eddy was called up to attend Basic Training in December 1991; Jim wouldn’t get to go until June 1992. Uncle Sam failed to keep his promise; we were devastated.Best Man and Groom, October 1991

Phone calls, letters, and Christmas cards allowed us to stay in touch after we went our separate ways. Every few years, we took leave and met up in our hometown. Each visit felt like old times. Eight years passed when the visits came to an abrupt halt at the news of Eddy and Sheri’s divorce. Having known Eddy longer, I naturally gravitated towards him to offer support. Ironically, he did the same for me two years later when divorce invaded my own life.

Eddy and I bonded through our experiences.  We talked on the phone on a regular basis and emailed daily. When I completed my bachelor’s degree in 2002, Eddy sent me a large bouquet of yellow roses with a note that said he was proud of me. The phone calls started lasting for hours; on many occasions, our conversation outlasted my phone battery. It had been four years since our last visit; we decided it was time for a reunion.

I was living in New Mexico at the time and Eddy was stationed in Utah. We decided I would fly to Utah and then he would drive us to Las Vegas for a 4-day mini vacation. Seeing Eddy again felt like home. I had missed my friend.

You know that old saying, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”? Well, in our case, what happened in Vegas did not stay there. In fact, it followed me home. What happened in Vegas was I fell in love with the Best Man.

Soon after our Vegas trip, I moved to Utah. Eddy proposed shortly thereafter. Being the honorable man that he was, and is to this day, Eddy insisted upon receiving Jim’s blessing, to which Jim happily provided. Eddy and I were married in 2003 in a little wedding chapel in Edmond, Oklahoma. This time, the Best Man and Maid of Honor were Eddy’s children – my new bonus children – Wade and Shani.

He wasn’t my first choice, though he could have been. But one thing is true: Eddy was and always will be my Best Man.

Jim, Vivian, & Eddy, May 2017

           Jim, me, and Eddy – May 2017

~Viv

Retake

As kids across the globe are settling into a brand-new school year, I am reminded of a back-to-school tradition that has some students beaming with excitement and others looking for the nearest door. I am referring to school picture day – the one day where every student is expected to look sharp and smile for the camera. As a perfectionist, this day was torture for me. I was one of those kids who searched for an escape.

School picture day dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. It is a tradition that parents love; they enjoy watching their children grow and mature in photographs. From kindergarten to 12th grade, my mom proudly displayed my goofy mug shot in metal TG&Y picture frames. She either placed them on top of our T.V. console or strung them across the wood paneled walls in our home. She lovingly carried my face in her purse, while Dad transported me in his wallet. Additional copies were reserved for extended family and were used as Christmas card inserts.

As if plastering my photo at home and forcing it upon our relatives wasn’t bad enough, it would also be placed among my classmates in the yearbook. Because our school was small, every student, from kindergarten to senior high, was represented in one book. The whole town would ultimately have access to this album of photos and school-age memories.

That’s a lot of pressure – oh how I hated picture day.

For starters, living in Oklahoma meant there was a good chance it would rain on picture day. Hours of hair prep and layers of Aqua Net hairspray were simply no match for the thick, wet humidity. Next was the stressful decision of what to wear. Earlier years (kindergarten through 2nd grade) were easy. I loved to wear dresses back then, so I simply picked out one of my favorites. The older years were tough. The older I got, the more my body changed – finding tops that didn’t draw attention to my maturing physique became a challenge.

In Junior High I wore glasses. At first, I was self-conscious, but friends assured me the thick, round spectacles looked cute. The compliments boosted my confidence, so I decided to embrace my fresh, new look. But when picture day rolled around, I was terrified my coke bottle glasses would cause a blinding glare and spoil the photograph. I guess I didn’t think the photographer was experienced enough in lighting, angles, or body placement. Nevertheless, I took matters into my own hands. Just before the camera clicked, I tilted my head slightly. “Crises averted!” I thought to myself. No glare here!

It took about 6 weeks for the packets of pictures to arrive. I recall seeing mine and thinking the photo wasn’t the most flattering, but I was proud for being so innovative – there was no glare. I took them home to my mom, who as always, fussed over them and replaced the prior year’s photo with the new one.

Every school has a retake day to accommodate students who were absent on picture day or who simply want a second chance at a decent photo. My parents and I were okay with my pictures; I had even exchanged the wallet-sized ones with friends. So, you can imagine my surprise when I heard my name called over the school loudspeaker as someone who needed to report to the library for retakes!

Who made the decision I needed to have my picture retaken? It wasn’t me, nor was it my parents. I ignored the instruction to report to the library. It must have been a mistake – or was it?

Yearbooks were published and distributed during the last weeks of school. It was customary to scan the pages in search of your picture then pass it to friends and teachers to sign. The goal was to acquire as many signatures and well-wishes as possible on the blank pages. I planned to follow that custom, but there was a problem. The right margin of page 33 displayed my first and last name in printed, black letters, but my photo was not there. Instead, the words, “Picture Not Available” filled the square where my photograph should have been. But my picture was available, I thought to myself. I had proof.

Thirty-five years later and here I am still wondering:  if I would have followed the school’s recommendation to participate in retake day, would my photo have made it into the 1986 yearbook? Maybe – maybe not. But one thing is for certain, if it had, I wouldn’t be blogging about it today. Below is my 8th grade school picture. It may not be the best picture. It may not have been good enough for the school yearbook. But none of that matters. I love it.

What is your school picture story? Post your favorite (or not-so-favorite) school photo in the Forum!

Junior High School Photo

~Viv

Sleepy Tingles

Iron and ironing board

Have you ever fallen asleep listening to the sound of rain showering the roof? Do ocean waves crashing on a sandy shoreline trigger feelings of serenity? Has Bob Ross, with his tranquil voice and mesmerizing tutorials, ever lulled you to sleep watching The Joy of Painting on PBS? If so, welcome to the world of ASMR!

ASMR stands for:  Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. It is a non-clinical term that emerged in 2010 by Jennifer Allen, who was simply searching for a way to describe the tingling, calming sensation one feels when exposed to certain audio and visual stimuli. Many claim that exposure to specific sights and sounds lowers blood pressure, reduces anxiety, and contributes to better sleep. While psychologists, scientists, and researchers continue to compare theories regarding the mystical phenomena, Allen’s discovery has ignited an inferno of artistic YouTube videos intended to impart relaxation to an audience triggered by sight and sound.

Most adults who experience ASMR were first exposed to it as a child. I am no exception. I recall many instances where sounds, such as blowing fans, rustling papers, and lingering thunder, would highjack my senses and place me under a sleepy spell; the most vivid memory I have is when I hung out with my mom while she ironed clothes in her bedroom.

I loved to climb all over on my parent’s queen-size bed; it was so much bigger than my tiny twin. I would play Gilligan’s Island’ and pretend I was a shipwrecked castaway. My young, vivid imagination transformed my parent’s bed into a tropical island with sandy beaches and tall coconut palms. Our shaggy tan carpet was turned into an ocean of clear blue water. There was only one dwelling on the island, and it belonged to me. Built out of bed sheets and pillows, my hut was warm, cozy, and dark. Though light was barred from entering, sound was both permitted and welcomed.

The ironing board creaked and clicked with every stroke of the iron. The fabric swooshed. The starch can sprayed. The water-filtered iron bubbled as it converted water to steam. The plastic hangers clunked together. The wooden clothes pins drummed against the sides of a plastic margarine tub. Every movement produced a unique sound. It was an orchestrated symphony of sheer tranquility that ushered me into a deep sleep.

To this day, when I find it difficult to relax or have trouble falling asleep, I pop in my earbuds and tune in to an ASMR recording. Without fail, I drift off in a matter of minutes.

Those who create ASMR videos are called “ASMRists”. Just like every artist, each have their own way of expressing their art. Test your senses by visiting Rebecca’s Beautiful ASMR Addiction found in Viv’s Favorite Things.  Share your experience in the comment section below or tell me about it in the MemoryBlogger Forum!  Good night and sweet dreams!

~Viv

Junior the Basset Hound

Junior Story_1

This story is the first in a series of fun-loving memories involving the life and antics of our beloved Junior.

On June 18, 2002, Magnolia Rose and Buford Beaureguard Didley welcomed their second litter of basset hound puppies. At 10 weeks, four of the six had gone to live with new families. The last two would have as well if it were not for the owners leaving town unexpectedly. Their extended sabbatical, however, did not stop the puppies from growing. In fact, they doubled in size and at four months, they were considered too old for many prospective families. No longer in high demand, the owners placed a classified ad, describing the puppies as ‘discounted’ purebreds.

My husband, Eddy, grew up during the Smokey and the Bandit era, and like every other 70’s kid, he fell in love with one of the movie’s co-stars: Fred the Basset Hound. Fred was slobbery, fat, stubborn, and had long ears and short legs. What was not to love? As a young boy, Eddy had two basset hounds: Thermador and Buford. They were perfect for kids, he informed me as he scanned the classifieds in search of one for our daughter’s birthday.

There were a couple of purebred hounds listed, but their price tags were over $700 – well beyond the perimeters of our military paycheck. Just when he was about to give up the search, Eddy came across the ad for ‘discounted’ bassets. They were only $300, but were located in Brigham City, 45-minutes away from our home. There was no guarantee the puppies would be there when we arrived. Nevertheless, we took the chance.

Both puppies were insanely adorable. They had fat pot bellies, rows of excess skin, droopy faces, long velvety ears, and short, stubby legs. I had never seen anything so cute in all my life. Their comical appearance was complimented by their goofy personalities. We watched the pair chase each other for a few seconds then abruptly plop down in overexaggerated exhaustion. One of the puppies rested quietly while the other rolled onto his back and began wiggling and growling incessantly. He put on quite the show. He made us laugh.

The puppies already had names, though neither responded when addressed. The quiet, reserved one was named Sam and the obnoxious one was named Eddy. The fact he shared my husband’s name was ironic yet confirming. Eddy won us over with his silly shenanigans. He was perfect for us. Since we already had an ‘Eddy’ in the family, we decided to call him Junior.

Junior the Basset Hound became a member of our family in October 2002. For 13 years, he whined constantly, refused to learn tricks or return a thrown ball, and “punished” us when we left him alone too long. He and I got off on the wrong foot. He treated our daughter like dirt. He loved rough-housing with his daddy. He was a master manipulator when it came to snacks. Our lives and decision-making centered around him. He controlled our hearts. We loved him dearly.

I love sharing memories of Junior and I suspect you enjoy sharing funny stories of your pets too. Jump on over the MemoryBlogger Forum and tell us about your favorite furry friend.

~Viv

 

 

 

 

Bessie’s Chicken Wings

Bessie's chicken wings and veggies

I recently read a story from one of my favorite blogs, Pinch of Yum, entitled “Feeding a Broken Heart.” In this story, fellow-blogger, Lindsay, shares with her audience the pain of losing her infant son and her inability to eat, much less enjoy, food after experiencing such heartbreak. Upon learning of the tragedy, angels quickly descended upon Lindsay’s doorstep bearing gifts of hope and love disguised as casseroles, soups, salads, and desserts. This simple act of kindness, Lindsay proclaims, is what helped her find her way again, both physically and emotionally.

Grief has a cruel way of affecting our appetite. For some, a common side effect of bereavement is overeating. For others, appetite is simply held captive by the heartache, thus starving them of nourishment necessary to heal.

Like Lindsay, there was a time when I, too, found it impossible to eat or enjoy food amidst unexpected sorrow. It had been six days since I had eaten a morsel of food. My stomach was tied in an unforgiving knot and my head pounded from dehydration, yet, I had no intention of eating on day seven. Then my angel showed up.

Her name was Bessie – a co-worker at the Regional Personnel Center in Sembach, Germany. I was an entry-level Personnel Clerk, and Bessie was a seasoned Staffing Specialist. From the moment we met, I felt an immediate connection to Bessie. Her southern charm, sassy spirit, and love for God and comfort food were magnets to my soul. It didn’t take long for our newly formed friendship to develop into a special mother-daughter bond.

I managed to keep my sad news from Bessie for an entire week. I guess there was a part of me that was still in shock. When the pain became too much for me to bear alone, I confided in her that my husband of 10 years informed me that he no longer loved me and wanted a divorce. It was an unexpected blow to my heart, one that Bessie knew well from experiencing her own heartbreak. As she held me in her arms, she asked, “When was the last time you ate?” She knew by the look on my face that it had been a while and with that, she insisted on cooking me dinner.

Bessie had our Friday evening all planned – a home-cooked meal, gospel music, and some good ole Christian preaching by Joyce Meyer. I had never heard of Joyce Meyer, but Bessie loved her teaching and was eager to watch her on some VHS tapes she recently purchased. I have watched Joyce Meyer every day since.

I was greeted by a delicious blend of culinary smells as Bessie opened the door and welcomed me inside. I followed her to the dining area where a heavenly feast of chicken wings, salad, bread, and iced tea awaited me. Bessie made one thing clear: my days of involuntary fasting were over.

Bessie’s chicken wings were tender and juicy inside, no doubt the result of being encapsulated within a perfectly fried exterior. I instinctively closed my eyes and listened to the loud and satisfying crunch. The caramelized sauce was a perfect combination of sweet and savory; the flavor was so intense, it aroused my taste buds and sent me on a feeding frenzy.

With each bite, I literally felt solace enter my broken spirit. Joy began to replace depression, and hope assumed control over impending despair. Hours earlier, I was depleted mentally, physically, and spiritually. Now, I was happy and fulfilled. My angel provided the strength and nourishment I desperately needed to move forward. Everything was going to be okay – I was going to be okay. I had been fed.

Today is National Chicken Wing Day! Head over to the Forum and share your favorite chicken wing story or recipe.

~Viv


Bessie’s Chicken Wings

  • 2 pounds of chicken wings (about 20-25 pieces)
  • 1 cup olive oil (or utilize a deep fryer)
  • 1 cup corn starch or flour (I prefer corn starch, it makes them extra crunchy!)
  • ½ cup of packed brown sugar
  • 2 10-ounce bottles of La Choy Sweet & Sour Sauce
  • 1 6-ounce bottle of Louisiana Hot Sauce
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Rinse chicken wings with water and coat with corn starch. Place coated wings into deep fryer or frying pan with pre-heated olive oil.
Fry wings until golden. Set aside.
Combine brown sugar, sweet & sour sauce, and half a bottle (you can use more if you like them more spicy than sweet) of hot sauce in a mixing bowl. Stir until brown sugar is dissolved.
Dip wings into the sauce and place in an ungreased 9×13 baking dish.
Bake in oven for 10-12 minutes or until sauce begins to caramelize.
Remove from oven. Serve hot.

*Note: The above recipe has been slightly modified to cater to my family’s taste buds.

Pom-pom Mom

When I was a young girl, I used to do flips and cartwheels on a blanket in our front yard. The blanket was supposed to protect my hands from getting pricked by stickers, but it failed miserably, as was evidenced by my bloody palms.

I dreamt of becoming a cheerleader, but I had neither the talent nor the financial backing to bring the dream to fruition. So, I improvised. I bought two purple pom-poms with my allowance money, and I choreographed my own routines at home. I practiced religiously and once I had enough confidence, I put on a show for my mom. I could always count on her to dish out overexaggerated compliments. I was never as good as she made me out to be, but her praise was genuine and loving.

Little did I know, watching me tumble, dance, and cheer in our yard brought back memories of her own childhood. Unlike me, however, my mom fulfilled her dream. Long before my sister and I were a glint in her eye, our mother marched in parades to the Broadway hit Oklahoma! and performed halftime shows at local sporting events. Our mom was a pom-pom girl!

It all started in the late 1950s at a high school basketball game. She was there with her family, watching her brother, Dennis, play. My mom idolized her older brother and loved cheering for him at games, but that night, her attention was drawn to something other than the game. That night, she was drawn to the girls with the colorful pom-poms.

Their performance only lasted a few minutes, but that was just enough time to hook my mom. Although it took some convincing, she eventually talked my grandma into letting her try out for the team, and within a few weeks, she became the newest member of the squad.

My grandma went right to work making a pair of pom-poms out of maroon and white strips of crate paper, and sewing my mom’s uniform, which consisted of a white blouse, short skirt, and a pillbox hat with a strap that came around the chin.

The night of her debut, my mom was filled with nervous energy. She marched out with the other girls and stood in her designated spot. Then it happened. She failed to wait for the cue. She was a half-step ahead of everyone else. While the squad danced in perfect unison, my mom heedlessly performed against the grain. It wasn’t until she looked up to the bleachers and saw the horror on my grandma’s face that she realized she was out of step. But it was too late; she had completed the routine. There was nothing left to do but stand there and politely wait for the other girls to catch up.

I am proud of my mom for the resiliency she displayed at such a young age. She did not let embarrassment hinder her. Instead, she paid better attention, practiced harder, and performed with her squad the remainder of her 8th grade year.

I love that she and I share a similar childhood memory. What fun memories do you have in common with someone you love?  Tell us about them in the MemoryBlogger Forum!

~Viv

Marilyn’s Story

Marilyn the pickup truck

She wasn’t much to look at, but her body enticed my husband the moment he laid eyes on her. He saw something others were simply too blind to see. He saw through her shattered exterior. He saw potential.

This is a story of love, devotion, and legacy. This is Marilyn’s story.

For as long as he could remember, Eddy had his eye on a 1971 GMC step side pickup. It rested on blocks at Performance Auto and Marine in Chickasha, Oklahoma. It was just a shell of a truck – no wheels, tires, transmission, or motor. It didn’t even have seats or a steering wheel. The telephone pole imprint embedded in the grill was evidence it had suffered a collision, which would explain the missing hood. Despite its imperfections, Eddy saw potential and every time he and his dad drove by the shop, Eddy looked to see if it was still there.

At age 14, Eddy convinced his dad to drop by Performance Auto and ask the owner, Garry Snow, if the truck was for sale. Garry said he planned to run it across the scales at the Dog Leg Salvage Yard that week. He thought he’d get about $50 for the scrap metal; if they were willing to pay that, then the truck was theirs. With the money Eddy earned roofing houses for his uncle, he happily forked over the cash.

The truck was hauled and stored at his uncle’s mechanic shop, and for the next two years, Eddy and his dad scouted local salvage yards for parts. Piece by piece, the truck was reassembled and slowly brought back to life. However, the build was far from perfect. Although Eddy did his best to straighten the grill, the telephone pole imprint was still clearly visible. It was missing the tailgate, and the wooden liner was so eroded, you could literally see the ground through the rotted holes. The transmission and motor were the final two components needed to complete the project, however, finding ones that fit Eddy’s budget proved challenging. Luckily, both became available the day his dad wrecked the family’s 1964 Chevelle. The car was no longer drivable, but the transmission and motor lived on in Eddy’s ‘71 GMC.

The blue directional wheels and white-letter Daytona Radial tires Eddy bought from Ralf & Sons Tire Center complemented the cheap $400 blue paint job. It was not the prettiest or safest build, but by the grace of God, it passed inspection and was ready to drive just two days before Eddy’s 16th birthday.

Eddy drove and drag-raced his ‘71 GMC until he joined the Air Force at the age of 18. On December 26, 1991, Eddy parked his truck in his dad’s backyard and handed over the keys with the promise he would return soon to reclaim her. He had no way of knowing at the time that this agreement would eventually land his dad in the Grady County jail.

Twelve years of neglect and rodent invasion took its toll and in 2003, an Enforcement Code Officer told Eddy’s dad that the unsightly truck needed to go or else it would be impounded. His dad informed the officer that he had no intention of getting rid of the truck, as it belonged to his son who was currently fighting the war in Iraq. Furthermore, he said, if the officer ever stepped foot on his property again, he would shoot him. Now, threatening an Enforcement Code Officer was obviously not the proper way to handle the situation and his utter lack of judgement cost him an entire evening in a cold jail cell. The next morning when he went before the judge, he provided the same explanation (minus the threat) as to why he was not going to move the truck. Although the judge did not approve of his misconduct, she dropped the charges since the vehicle was indeed owned by a military member deployed to a war zone.

Eddy honorably served our country for 20 years and retired from the Air Force in 2011. He planned to return to Oklahoma and retrieve his GMC soon thereafter, but found it difficult to take time away from his new job. Therefore, in September 2014, his dad hauled the truck from Oklahoma to be reunited with its original owner. Eddy was shocked to see how much it had deteriorated over the years. All four tires were flat, and it had been overtaken with animal waste, nests, and tree remnants. Critters chewed through the wires and left massive holes in the seat cushions and carpet. Eddy immediately began nurturing her and for the next three months, he called his dad every Sunday to brief him on the progress and his vision of turning the ‘71 GMC step side into a ‘68 Chevy short wide bed. Sadly, on December 10, 2014, the phone calls came to an abrupt halt upon learning the devastating news that his dad passed away due to a massive heart attack.

For 7 years, this restoration project was a weekend escape for Eddy. From mechanical to electrical, to paint and body work, he accomplished every bit of the work himself. Though he executed this project solo in our garage, I am confident my husband was never alone. Just like all those years before, my father-in-law was right there with his beloved son – building, smiling, and encouraging. And when the day came to take Marilyn for her first joy ride, he was right there, riding shotgun.

Story also featured in LMC Truck Life.

In loving memory of Pop.

~Viv

 

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