Going Up?

This morning I saw a young guy have difficulty getting on the elevator. His overloaded cart stubbornly refused to make it through the door. I grabbed one end and helped him push it through the doors and onto the elevator. He thanked me, a random stranger to him, and we went our separate ways. He needed help. I helped. The end.

The flashback made me reel.

Almost thirty years ago I pushed a similar cart onto an elevator at my first job – or attempted to. I had difficulty with my cart until a random stranger helped me out.

When I got my first job at A.H. Robins in my hometown of Richmond, Virginia, family and friends alike applauded. How lucky I was, they said, to have been hired by the pharmaceutical company owned by such a well-known and respected Richmond family. They were correct.

I had friends and family employed there and had always heard stories of the close relationship employees had, not just with each other, but with members of the Robins family themselves. At the time, E. Claiborne Robins Sr., already in his seventies, still came to his office each day. I’d never met any of the Robins family and wouldn’t have known them had we passed on the street, but stories of their kindness and goodwill were heard in the halls daily.

It was during my first week that I took that overloaded cart and headed to the sixth floor of “the Tower”. I knew there were people of importance up there… but as the new guy in my early twenties, everyone I saw in the halls seemed important. Still, each one smiled and said hello. It was that sort of place there at A.H.Robins.

Stella, my supervisor at the time and now almost thirty years later still my friend, had helped me load the cart.

“You take it on up and I’ll meet you at the front desk. I gotta talk to Helen a minute.” Stella said. She was sure I’d have no trouble.

I wasn’t so sure.

Trouble started for me about the time Stella waved to a friend in Employee Health as she passed by on her way to the front desk. The wheels of my cart became lodged in the track of the elevator door and there I stood, embarrassed, stuck, and jolted each time the elevator door closed on me, re-opened and closed on me again.

I was mortified.

As I pondered simply leaving the cart wedged in the door and doing the army crawl through the cafeteria and straight home, a hand pushed against the door. An old man tossed his briefcase into the elevator and grabbed one end of the cart. He said very little. In fact I don’t know if he even spoke at all – but he smiled – and I knew he was there to help.

In a matter of seconds the old man helped me dislodge the cart and get it onto the elevator. With little room then left inside, he told me to go ahead, he’d take the next one up. I made my trip to the sixth floor and back down to where Stella stood leaning against the front desk. She had a grin on her face.

Assuming she was going to laugh at my getting stuck in the elevator, I confessed.

“The cart got stuck but an old man helped me.” I said quickly, awaiting her response.

“Uhhh, Stuart”, she began with an excited smile, “that was no old man. That was Mr. Robins!”

That was the first time, but I’m happy to say not the last, that I met E. Claiborne Robins, Sr. Each time, he had a smile on his face.

Employees smiled there too. I’m still impressed with the way past employees remain in touch, gather several times a year, and keep each other informed on topics of all sorts. All these years later, I still have several friends from that era. We shared a unique experience being employed there together.

I was spoiled by the Robins experience. In the time that has followed my nearly eleven years there, I have yet to encounter a work environment that comes close to encouraging, rewarding, and supporting its employees the way A.H. Robins did. I’m sure the credit goes to the smiling old man who helped me get my cart onto the elevator.

A man who took over a family business, spent decades building it to national and international prominence, and who undoubtedly had more to do that particular day than “unstick” a cart for an embarrassed kid, still took the time to do just that. Smiling all the while.

I needed help. He helped. The end.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Great Pants

I recently took several pairs of pants into a store’s fitting room. One really great pair required a lot of effort to get on. In fact, I broke a sweat. They were tight but I got them on – success! But I rolled my eyes at my reflection in the full length mirror as I remembered the last time I’d had such “success”. That was a great pair of pants then too, just not for me.

On that particular shopping trip I’d chosen a pair of pants that although I managed to get on, and zipped, I still wasn’t positive they really fit. The fact that I couldn’t draw a breath should have told me they did not.

I bought them anyway and wore them to work the next day.

I still couldn’t breathe, I felt a slight numbness in my left leg, and I was certain I’d heard a stitch pop. However, I was fairly convinced that the pants looked fine.

An hour or so later I began to have second thoughts.

Were they fine? Too tight? Looked ok? Looked hideous? I decided I should ask someone, but I winced at the number of possibly embarrassing responses. I didn’t want those. I just wanted to be told the pants were fine!

And I knew just the person to ask.

I’ve known Cathleen for decades as a friend. As luck would have it, we had also been coworkers for a few years. Cathleen is as nice as they come, fun, funny, fashionable, and saturated with the inability to tell anyone anything that would upset them…

Just the person I needed.

Cathleen has a way of erasing the personal panic of others. Many times I’d seen her in action with mutual friends if they expressed a concern:

“Does my hair look bad?” – “No, not at all!”

“Did I overcook the chicken?” – “It was delicious!”

“Is my driving ok?” – “You’re a great driver!”

“Sorry the house is a mess?” – “It looks spotless!”

Cathleen knew the words they wanted to hear. Now it was my turn. I’d go find Cathleen.

A second stitch popped as I stood to leave my desk. On my way to find Cathleen I hugged the walls like a rat, aware that passersby might mistake my new pants for nothing more than a coat of paint. Thanks to the blood flow that remained in my right leg, I staggered into Cathleen’s cubicle.

I was hopeful as I recalled the words of reassurance I’d heard her give to others. Each time they had doubted, Cathleen was there to give them a verbal pat on the back. I was ready for mine.

“Do these pants look ok?” I squeaked with the last of my lung capacity.

Cathleen turned from her computer with a smile.

Her smile suddenly disappeared. So did the blood flow to my left foot.

Eager to hear her encouraging words, I asked again.

“Do these pants look ok?”

“Well.” she began. “Um. Turn around?” she asked hesitantly as she made a spiral motion with her finger.

I managed to turn, dragging my numb foot, and waited for the words I wanted to hear.

“Do these pants look ok?” I asked yet again.

Cathleen looked me up and down one last time and began to speak. Finally, I thought, I would get some reassurance.

“Sooo…” she leaned towards me and whispered, “…maybe you better go home and change.”

She quickly turned back to her computer.

Those were not the words I wanted to hear.

I remembered all of this there in the fitting room as I peeled off the pants I had just tried on. Great pants, just not for me.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Filed under blog, friend, friends, news

Write It For Her Anyway

My grandmother, Nannie, died over twenty years ago but I still tear up at her memory. At the time she died I had never written much at all, and certainly not attempted poetry, but the urge to express what she meant to me kept surfacing. Her love of God and her insistence that we would all be together again were on my mind as I thought about writing a poem. Nannie was a second mother to all of her grandchildren, helping our mothers raise us, watch out for us, worry over us and pray for us.

Just after Nannie died I mentioned to a friend while she and I were at lunch that I had a poem in mind about Nannie, one that kept surfacing when I least expected it. I wished I’d written something for Nannie before she died so she could have read it. My friend had one response.

“Write it for her anyway.”

And so I did.

Today, that same friend called to let me know her mother died. In discussing what the family intended to do for a service, my friend said she wanted to write some things to say about her mother but she wished she’d written them while her mother was still here. I had one response.

“Write it for her anyway.”

My friend had long forgotten that she’d given me the same suggestion, one that would encourage me to write the first poem I’d ever written. Nannie wasn’t there to read it, but I wrote it for her anyway.

Hand in Hand

You held me tight in times I might
Not have wanted to stand.
A child so young, life just begun,
You there to hold my hand.

Your years flew past, painfully fast,
Sooner than I had planned.
Effort in talking, weakness in walking,
My turn to hold your hand.

But there’ll come a time, both yours and mine
To see wonderful things, so grand.
We’ll meet in that place, a smile on the face
And we’ll hold each other‘s hand.

Stuart M. Perkins

160 Comments

Filed under Family, family faith poem, Nostalgia, poetry

Who’s It Gonna Hoight?

“Ah, who’s it gonna hoight? Me, I got enough.”

He wasn’t looking for an answer. His rhetorical question was more of an explanation. Not that he needed one.

The old fellow in a grease-covered uniform had an accent I hadn’t heard since Archie Bunker. I smiled and waved to the sweaty man who seemed very tired.

Evening walks through my neighborhood take me mostly by houses and condos, but a few blocks further along is an industrial area with the usual mix of manufacturers, package delivery services, and even a brewery. On one corner is an auto repair shop. By that time of day the mechanics are rolling in tire displays, hosing down bays, and performing general closing procedures.

For a couple of weeks I’d noticed the Archie Bunker mechanic walking from the repair shop and up a grassy slope toward an overgrown fencerow. The small hill was an effort for him, especially because he carried a plateful of something in each hand. I’d seen him walk up that slope so many times that my curiosity got the better of me. This time I stopped on the street to watch him.

He first lit a cigarette. Holding it in his mouth he made his way to the top of the slope, careful to keep the plates steady on his way up. When he reached the top he stood for a moment to catch his breath. He leaned down towards the overgrown fencerow and in a voice more high-pitched, yet soft, than one could imagine coming from an elderly, oily, mechanic with a cigarette dangling from his lips, he very sweetly called “kitty kitty?”

Instantly, three scrawny kittens rolled from the brush and bounded over one another to get to the plates he had set on the ground. The Archie Bunker mechanic stood up straight, flicked ashes from his cigarette, and in fine falsetto continued to baby-talk the kittens as they inhaled the plates of food.

They were still eating when the mechanic took one last puff of his cigarette, flicked it aside, and stepped carefully back down the slope. He had seen me watching and as he passed by he smiled, nodded his head, and summed up his simple, kind effort in the one rhetorical question.

“Ah, who’s it gonna hoight? Me, I got enough.”

A couple of weeks later I was walking to lunch with a coworker. As she and I passed the front stoop of a small convenience store, an old woman sitting on the step with a styrofoam cup asked if we had any change. My coworker kept walking as I slowed up just a bit. I knew why she kept walking. We’d had conversations about panhandlers. Neither of us had ever given any of them money. She was very adamant on the subject.

I thought, stopped, and took a couple of steps back to the woman on the stoop. I had no cash and the little bit of change in my pocket couldn’t have been more than a dollar, but I dropped it into her cup. She thanked me and I turned to go to lunch.

My coworker didn’t say anything. The shocked look on her face said it all.

I wasn’t looking for an answer. My rhetorical question was more of an explanation. Not that I needed one.

“Ah, who’s it gonna hoight? Me, I got enough.”

Stuart M. Perkins

86 Comments

Filed under charity, donate, help, life

Award Season!

one-blog-lovely-award

A few days ago, Sherry Bibb at http://akalunchlady.wordpress.com/ nominated me for “One Lovely Blog Award”. I thank her for that! In my one year of blogging I have been graciously nominated for various WordPress awards but never officially “accepted” them. The reason is deep, serious, and deserves mention: I had no clue how to download the award image…a “requirement” of acceptance.

I could write all day, but ask me to “simply copy a URL” and you may as well ask me to build a space shuttle using only a spoon and a sheet of plywood.

I’m happy to say I figured it out! Thanks again, Sherry Bibb!

This is how the award works:

1. You must thank the person who nominated you and include a link to their blog.

2. You must list the rules.

3. You must add 7 facts about yourself.

4. You must nominate 15 other bloggers and comment on one of their posts to let them know they have been nominated.

5. You must display the award logo and follow the blogger who nominated you.

Unlike the Liebster Award which is aimed at newbie bloggers, this award has no restriction as to who you can nominate.

Seven facts about myself:

1. I have two hilarious, kind, intelligent, fun-loving, good-looking children. My daughter Greer will soon be 18 and my son Evan turned 16 earlier this year. Both are driving, dating, and growing up. None of which thrill me…

2. I was born and raised within the city limits of Richmond, Virginia, but was lucky enough to grow up in a very rural way and my grandparents’ small farm was the focal point for my extended family. We lived in houses surrounding my grandparents and the memories of good times in a huge family are some I will never forget.

3. I work at Georgetown University and am immersed daily in the serious paperwork surrounding clinical trials for cancer research. While I don’t work directly with patients, I work closely enough with their doctors to be reminded every day of what we all already know – cancer is no joke.

4. I always loved birds. As a kid I once had in my bedroom two parakeets, two finches, a quail I’d hatched in an incubator, and in a corner by the closet I had made a temporary pen in which I had several baby chickens and two baby turkeys. Mama claims that she still finds feathers… some 35 years later…

5. I always loved birds, but cows are the best. We had a few at home, but my uncle had a huge farm with many, many more. I wrote a paper on “herd society” for an Advanced Biology class in high school. I used what I knew of my uncle’s herd as a basis. I still have that paper – maybe because it was one of the few A grades I got in that class!

6. I eat too many sweets. Ice cream, pound cake, cheesecake, and donuts are a few. I walk/run daily to counter the effects, and since I also love Diet Coke I like to think that cancels out a few calories…

7. Blogging has been one of the most interesting things I’ve ever done. It’s given me a forum in which to share memories and thoughts, enabled me to interact with people all over the world, and allowed me to remind people that we all have something to say about what we’ve seen, laughed at, or been affected by. Good grammar and punctuation skills are nice, but they don’t tell the story, you do. So write it down.

And my nominations, in no particular order, are:

http://yvonnesmusings.wordpress.com/

http://kerryswindingroad.com/

http://unhonest.com/

http://chesapeakejournal.wordpress.com/

http://philipshiell.wordpress.com/

http://thepracticalpsychosomaticist.com/

http://theminstrelscitadel.com/

http://storytotellya.com/

http://pondblog2011.mlblogs.com/

http://mccallumogilvy.wordpress.com/

http://clarabetty.wordpress.com/

http://stockresearch52.wordpress.com/

http://giftsofthejourney.com/

http://poemsandpoemes.wordpress.com/

http://elleturner4.wordpress.com/

Thanks again,

Stuart M. Perkins

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Filed under award, blog, blogging, nomination

A Three Dog Night

I agreed to dogsit for two friends while they vacationed in Greece. I stayed in the home of The Mama, a beautiful, independent, occasionally indignant, red Siberian husky. Staying with us for the duration were two miniature long-haired dachshunds. Effie Mae and Pearl Jean are two cream-colored half-sisters, short, pretty, and comical as only weenies can be.

Directions on the care of these three took some learning. Pearl Jean, deaf since birth, understands several hand signals which I had to master. The Mama is blind in one eye and requires a daily series of eye drops. Effie Mae has an uncontrollable urge to lick people. Anywhere. Anytime.

My traveling friends have known each other for years. Their dogs are well acquainted and see each other often so it was no major production when the weenies were brought over for their stay with The Mama and me. Pearl Jean, a bit shorter in length than her half-sister, waddled over to greet The Mama. Effie Mae, who outright adores The Mama, raced ahead to reach her before Pearl Jean.

The weenies sat and looked up admiringly at The Mama.

The Mama stood and looked down on the weenies with disgust.

She huffed, blowing just enough air from her mouth to make her cheeks puff. With obvious loathing she left the kitchen to go to the living room sofa – her throne. The Mama knows weenies are unable to jump onto sofas.

They can’t jump onto beds either – which I was reminded of that first night. The Mama slept on her regal pad beside the bed. I assumed the weenies would be happy with the beds I made for them on the floor near The Mama.

They were not.

Instant yapping indicated that they expected to sleep with me. I lifted them onto the bed and their yapping mercifully ceased as they dug here and there, balling up the sheets into acceptable bedding. They curled up in silence. I couldn’t believe those two diminutive divas demanded to sleep on the bed. Neither could The Mama.

She huffed from her regal pad.

In the silence of the night and in a state of half-sleep I was awakened by the piercing yap-howl of Pearl Jean. I looked at her, unsure of what a deaf dog would bark at in the night. She looked back at me, puzzled that I wasn’t as alarmed by what she wasn’t hearing as she was. Effie Mae, used to such nonsense, did no more than lift her head momentarily before going back to sleep.

The Mama huffed.

In the wee hours of the morning, after having slept for less than half the night, I was roused by very strange sensations. Through the fog of sleep deprivation I became aware of something licking my feet. Even more disturbing, something was licking the inside of my mouth. With flashbacks of a party I attended in my college days that I probably should have skipped, I instantly awoke. Both weenies halted their licking to waddle closer to be petted, tails wagging.

I hadn’t slept enough, my feet were wet, and my mouth tasted like, well, I shudder to imagine. It was a miserable night and I knew no one on earth could be as disgusted as I was at that moment.

The Mama huffed.

The next day, like every other for two weeks, The Mama had to be given her series of eye drops. For “allowing” this, she was given a treat of a few chunks of rotisserie chicken. I was left several chickens’ worth of meat in the freezer for this purpose. Each day I shook the eye drops to mix them well. The Mama endured them graciously and awaited her chicken treat.

The weenies soon learned that the shaking of eye drops meant the presence of chicken.

I could hardly give The Mama a treat and not give one to the weenies…

With that policy in place I went through all of the chickens in the freezer, bought several more, and realized Pearl Jean’s collar was fitting a bit tighter than when she first arrived. She also waddled more slowly. Effie Mae loved the chicken too, but obsessed with licking my ankles she missed many treats.

In addition to her licking obsession, Effie Mae liked to stare. I never knew at what precisely. She sat in the yard and stared into the sky, at the grass, or at a tree. In the house she stared at walls, the refrigerator, and herself in a full length mirror in the bedroom. She was staring at the leg of a table one night when the phone rang. It was a call from Greece.

As I described how smoothly things had been going, I yawned. It could have been the sleep deprivation that made me drop the latest rotisserie chicken purchase that I had been holding when the phone rang. Effie Mae stopped staring at the table leg to stare at the fallen chicken. Pearl Jean barked at something she didn’t hear. Things were going just fine, I reassured my friends.

The Mama huffed.

By the time my two week dog sitting stint wrapped up, the dogs and I had worked ourselves into very comfortable patterns. The weenies learned to get on and off the bed by themselves using a “ladder” I fashioned from a chair and some cushions, occasionally I placed something new in the floor for Effie Mae to stare at, and Pearl Jean’s collar fit a little better because I had learned to shake the eye drops quietly. The Mama? Well, she’s The Mama.

My friends returned bearing unbelievable gifts from Greece for my watching their dogs. They were glad things had gone well, commented that The Mama seemed fine, that the weenies looked particularly well fed, and they hoped it hadn’t been too much trouble.

I told them of course it was no trouble at all and that I’d do it again without hesitation. During a pause in our conversation, Pearl Jean barked at absolutely nothing and Effie Mae stared at my leg and then licked it. They really were comical. Who wouldn’t enjoy spending two weeks with those two dwarf divas?

The Mama huffed.

Stuart M. Perkins

51 Comments

Filed under dachsund, dog, friend, friends, husky, vacation

Try Writing

“Thousands of people who write believe they are better than thousands of others. They believe they will pen the next great American novel but their writing is dull and full of grammatical errors. Why do they write anything intended to be read by the public? Why do they write?”

I read those lines and was impelled to respond. The blogger’s entire post was arrogant and sarcastic, but those lines were the cherries on top. After I acknowledged that he can post what he likes on his own blog, I then asked if rather than squelch ambitions with a negative message about imperfection, he could instead applaud people for their attempts, for our attempts because I am one of the imperfect. But, we still try.

I don’t necessarily like being serious because, well, it’s not funny. I love a little arrogance and sarcasm as much as anyone, maybe more than anyone, but his post was nasty at its core, humorless and discouraging.

For me, playing with words to form sentences in an attempt to evoke anything from laughter to sadness in a reader is “magical”, and I rarely use that word. Writing is simply another way to make thoughts available to a reader. I don’t believe I will pen the next great American novel, “dull” writing is subjective, and I am certain I end up with grammatical errors in my writing. But, I still try.

I started blogging less than a year ago and up to that point had hardly read one, much less considered writing one. With encouragement from a good friend, I gave it a start. As an adult I’ve never taken a writing class and in high school English I was at best mediocre. So why do I write? Because I want to. That should be answer enough for the judgmental blogger.

When I have thoughts to express, nothing stops the freight train of desire to write them down. I imagine everyone who writes experiences the same at their own levels. If one’s writing could use some pep or have the grammar refined a bit, those things can be remedied. Writers can learn to amp up their styles and they can become more familiar with grammatical rules. Those things can be learned. What can’t be taught is desire. People who need to write come pre-loaded with the desire to try. And so we write.

I sent my comments to the blogger expecting to hear nothing back really. I simply felt the need to counter a little of his discouragement. That freight train of desire to write my response just couldn’t be stopped! In less than an hour he replied. I hesitated for a second to read what he’d written, but the optimist in me thought why not, it could be he’s given some of his overly critical attitude a second thought! I clicked on his response and read the one line from him:

“Your comments contained two grammatical errors.”

He didn’t even tell me what they were!

It didn’t really matter that he’d paid no attention to the point I’d hoped to get across.

But, I tried.

Stuart M. Perkins

225 Comments

Filed under blog, blogger, blogging, writing