Tag Archives: Inspiration

Virginia Living – The Greatest Show!

Just a little announcement:

I’m excited to let you know I have another essay appearing in the current issue of Virginia Living magazine!

It was a thrill to work with the kind folks at the magazine again (my fourth essay for them) and as a Virginian, like my parents and theirs, it was especially fun to contribute to a publication I’ve had in my own home over the years.

Below is a link to my piece in the online version of Virginia Living.  Check it out, and if you like please comment on their site in the space just below the essay. I’d love to hear your feedback!

http://www.virginialiving.com/home/the-greatest-show/

Thanks to all those who’ve asked what I’ve been up to lately. Blogging continues to be fun and has proven to be an exciting pathway to some great opportunities.

I’ve included some garden photos (before-ish and after-ish) from the experience.

Stuart M. Perkins

23.4.5.1

7.8.9.11.6.

 

 

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A Bucket of Teamwork

Several summers ago for work, I attended a week-long team-building conference held on a college campus. Attendees were divided into groups of five and members of each group were to collaborate on various projects for the duration of the conference. Small assignments began on day one and we were informed that the conference would culminate with a day-long special teamwork exercise. On the last day of the conference a project unique to each group would be assigned and required to be accomplished by day’s end.

“To demonstrate how your group has become a solid team.” the instructor explained with an evil grin.

Groans echoed through the classroom. My group’s leader was the most vocal.

None of the five in my group had met before the conference. In fact, we each came from a different state and attended the conference for various reasons. My group leader made it clear that he had been told to attend and he voiced his annoyance often.

“Is the teamwork project on the final day mandatory?” he frowned as he asked our instructor.

“Yes.” the instructor said sternly. “Don’t skip the final project.”

In spite of a rocky start my group worked through the assigned projects for the day. Everyone got along and was very nice but there was little interaction besides working together on the assigned tasks. At the end of class we left together but nothing was said as we walked from the conference hall across campus to our quarters.

The campus was beautiful. It was well landscaped, surrounded by woods, and a huge lake was its centerpiece. As my group neared the lake on the route to our rooms we passed a small dilapidated brick shed tucked into the edge of the woods. One side of the shed had collapsed to expose what was once a cellar. We got closer and heard a slight rustle from inside. Two of us stopped to peer over the edge of the brick wall that surrounded the old cellar hole. When we did, a duck flew up and out, nearly hitting us in the face as it headed towards the lake. Down in the cellar hole, surrounded on all sides by the tall brick wall, was a nest with several eggs. Interesting, we thought, and continued on to our rooms.

The next morning my group met at the conference hall to begin our day’s assignments. Once again my group leader voiced his opinion about the massive project scheduled for the last day.

“Don’t ignore the final project.” the instructor reminded.

Each day that week was pretty much the same. Our group met, completed our tasks, said little else to each other, and returned to our rooms. We did well with our assignments but it was difficult to see progress being made towards becoming a cohesive team.

We stayed very late, almost until dark, on the eve of our final day. My group leader once again grumbled loudly about the next day’s massive assignment.

“Don’t dodge the final project.” the instructor warned.

We left the conference hall to head to our rooms no more a team than on day one. We approached the old shed, something we’d done every day, where one or two of us would peer into the cellar hole to look at the eggs. This time we heard the mother duck before we saw her. She paced along the brick wall, quacking loudly. When we got closer she hesitated a second before flying away, not to the lake, but to an old azalea just a few yards away. She quacked frantically as we, this time as a group, peered over the wall and into the cellar hole.

Huddled together in a corner were nine tiny ducklings.

They were hard to see since it was late evening but we clearly made out nine fluffy balls of duck. We weren’t sure how they would get out, but darkness, preparation for the final day’s project, and the hope that the duckling’s mother knew more than we did swayed us into simply heading back to our rooms.

The next morning we met to head down the path one last time to the conference hall. The only sign that we were a team was our mutual dread of that day’s final project. We ourselves weren’t even convinced that we’d come anywhere near being a “team” capable of working together when presented with an impromptu task.

In a fog of dread we marched towards the conference hall. The loud and frantic quacking we heard near the old shed snapped us out of it. The mother duck once again paced back and forth along the brick wall and flew to the old azalea when we approached. All nine ducklings still huddled at the bottom of the cellar hole. We as a group peered over the edge of the wall together.

“They’ll die in there” our group leader announced unceremoniously.

I looked around the collapsed shed for a board the ducklings might use as a ladder but found nothing long enough. Inside the collapsed portion of the shed though, was a gripper used to change light bulbs on a rusted, but very long pole. I pulled it from under bits of the collapsed roof and took it back to the group.

“Maybe we can use this.” I said.

The pole could actually reach the ducklings – which scattered and peeped loudly causing the mother duck to quack more frantically than before. Rust prevented the light bulb gripper from closing, so it was impossible to actually grab a duckling and raise it from the hole without it falling from the gripper. They could be scooped out maybe?

As we planned our approach there was a crash in the old shed. Another group member emerged with an old bucket.

“Can you scoop them into this?” she asked.

As the mother duck quacked incessantly, the five of us looked at each other and launched into action.

I used the long pole of the light bulb gripper to herd the ducklings into a corner closest to me. One group member, held tightly around the waist by another group member, leaned into the opposite end of the cellar hole as far as she could, the old bucket dangling from her hand. I leaned into the hole, scooped one duckling into the light bulb gripper, and passed it into the bucket. Success.

One by one I scooped ducklings into the dangling bucket manned by two of the team members. With each scoop, the remaining ducklings scattered. The other team members, using long sticks they found in the woods, leaned into the cellar hole to herd scattered ducklings back towards me. It took quite some time but we finally had a bucket of ducklings. The mother duck continued to quack frantically from under the old azalea as her babies peeped louder and louder in the bucket.

Together, the five of us walked towards the mother duck with the bucket. She backed away, frightened by so many of us, so our group leader went alone. He made his way slowly to within a few feet of the old azalea and gently dumped the nine ducklings onto the ground. They huddled motionless. The mother duck kept up the frantic quacking, moving closer to the fuzzy huddle, until one by one each duckling stood to run directly to her.

Her frantic quacking ceased instantly. She waddled slowly but steadily towards the lake with a mass of ducklings following closely between her legs. We actually applauded!

“Now that was teamwork!” our group leader said.

And with that comment we realized we were late for our last day’s mandatory project.

We hurriedly made our way to the conference room. Covered in rust, mud, and duck poop we mentally prepared ourselves for what the instructor would say about our tardiness. A feather floated silently in the air as we opened the door. The instructor turned to face us.

“Well!” the instructor began. “I was certain your group was going to duck out of this final assignment.”

“We did duck out!” our team leader responded.

The instructor didn’t understand why we five laughed in unison, as a team.

Stuart M. Perkins

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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

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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

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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

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Filed under blog, blogger, blogging, writing

A Load of Fun

It was still cold the day I noticed that in spite of an unyielding winter determined to wear out its welcome, the local hardware store had taken a leap of faith by filling its storefront and walkway with a grand display of all things summer. I saw birdbaths, a gleaming row of new lawnmowers, and a stack of wading pools depicting smiling cartoon elephants spraying water on laughing cartoon hippos. Closest to the sidewalk was a row of huge, bright red wheelbarrows with glossy black wheels, price tags swinging in the still chilly breeze.

As I hurried past the hopeful display and on to the grocery store one building over, I passed a small boy waiting for his father who was busy admiring an array of shiny new grills. The father turned to catch up to his son who had stopped at the row of red wheelbarrows. With both of his little hands gripping the side of one wheelbarrow, the boy stood on his tiptoes to peer over the edge.

“It’s a toy?” he asked into the empty wheelbarrow.

“No.” the father said as he took the boy’s hand to lead him into the hardware store. “You only use that for work.”

“It’s a toy.” the boy said with conviction.

“No, it’s not.” the father repeated. “It’s only for work.”

“No, it’s not.” I thought to myself. “It’s not only for work.”

One of my earliest childhood memories is of my grandmother, Nannie, helping me and a cousin into her wheelbarrow for a ride. She pushed us to the pear trees in the pasture where we helped her pick up fallen fruit. Riding back to her farmhouse in a pile of pears, we held on to the sides of the wheelbarrow during the bumpy ride and pretended we were on a boat. That was no wheelbarrow only for work. It was a toy.

As older kids, cousins and I took turns pushing each other in the random wheelbarrow that always leaned against Nannie’s barn, maybe the chicken house, or sometimes left under a tree. If lucky, we came across two wheelbarrows and races began. Those wheelbarrows were not only for work. They were cars or planes or motorcycles. They were toys.

My aunt Noody once gave me and my cousins a package of little plastic sailboats. Having nowhere to float them, we soon lost interest until Noody suddenly appeared with her old wheelbarrow. As we watched, puzzled, Noody unrolled her garden hose and filled the wheelbarrow with water. Instant lake! Her old wheelbarrow was not only for work. It was a toy.

Years passed and when my own two kids were small I spent as much time behind the wheelbarrow as I ever had inside the wheelbarrow. I pushed first one, then the other, but usually both at the same time. The wheelbarrow became a train, a rocket, and once it was a dinosaur they rode. The wheelbarrow was not only for work. It was a toy.

I was still thinking about these examples as I left the grocery store and headed back towards the summer display next door. As timing would have it, the little boy and his father were leaving the hardware store when I approached. As the father walked on ahead, the little boy lagged behind just a bit when he got to the wheelbarrow display. Once again, he gripped the side of a huge red wheelbarrow and craned his neck to peer over the edge.

The little boy looked up and grinned at me as I neared him. His little hands never let loose their grip on the edge, but one tiny finger rose up and pointed down into the wheelbarrow.

“It’s a toy?” he asked as I walked closer.

I leaned down just a bit as I reached where he stood.

“Yes, it’s a toy.” I said grinning as I walked past.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Filed under funny, Humor, kids, toy, wheelbarrow

I Had a Slice of Fruit Cake

Mama grinned when I brought up Daddy’s past fruit cake project to her a few days ago. She instantly recalled the many details he had described to us before, during, and after production of his masterpiece.

“My lands.” Mama said. “That fruit cake was all he talked about for a while.”

She also remembered my promise to Daddy that I would eat a piece of his fruit cake on Christmas day. The sight and smell of fruit cake are enough to make me retch, but Daddy had been so proud of his cake and so eager for me to taste it that I finally gave in and promised a Christmas day tasting. At the rate Daddy was already eating his culinary work of art, I was sure the thing would be gone by the holidays and I could then shake my head and tell him I was sorry to have missed it – while silently cheering.

When Daddy suddenly passed away a few months before Christmas, the fruit cake and all of our inside jokes associated with it were soon forgotten and replaced by the sad details of the loss. It was only a week or so ago that I remembered my insane promise to taste the awful thing and reminded Mama.

“Mama,” I began, “I know Daddy had some fruit cake left. Do you know where it is?”

“You don’t want it do you?” she asked. Her eyes widened as she looked at me and grinned just imagining my reaction to tasting the cake.

I reminded her that each time I visited them Daddy asked if I wanted a slice. He and I would joke about what I considered to be a downright awful cake. My answer to his question was always an emphatic “no” until I finally broke down and agreed to taste a piece on Christmas day. Daddy has been gone for four months now, but for what it was worth I intended to keep my promise.

Mama said what remained of the fruit cake had been put in the freezer. My sister Vicki soon presented me with a large chunk of Daddy’s masterpiece, still wrapped in wax paper and aluminum foil, and tucked inside a fruit cake tin.

My feelings were mixed. The sight of the fruit cake reminded me of the crazy conversations and silly jokes that Daddy and I shared about his making the thing. The sight of the fruit cake also struck me with shivers of disgust. But, I had promised to taste it, so taste it I would.

But maybe later…

We all knew Christmas would be odd, sad, and definitely not the same without Daddy. Unfortunately it turned out to be all of those things. Although Mama knew I was going to taste the fruit cake, I didn’t want it to become a big production so I didn’t mention it to anyone else. I would just discreetly fulfill my promise before the day was through. Admittedly, I planned to put it off as long as possible. Fruit cake is not fun.

Mama’s house filled with more and more family members as the day wore on. Periodically, she grinned and asked me, “Have a slice of fruit cake?”

“Later.” was my standard response, usually accompanied by a dry heave.

The first holiday after someone passes away is hard on any family. Each of us had to again process losing Daddy when faced with his absence. We missed the jokes he would have told, the snappy one-liners he would have had ready, and the simple sight of his empty chair was enough to upset some. In spite of the void, everyone tried to make it as normal a Christmas as possible, especially for Mama who is still struggling with major complications from her knee replacement surgery earlier this year.

I was afraid that memories stirred up by my fruit cake tasting might upset Mama, but she seemed fine. In fact, she found humor in knowing that the last thing in the world I wanted to taste, regardless of the day of the year, was fruit cake.

As the day wound down I summoned the necessary courage to remove the lid from the fruit cake tin. I began unwrapping the cake and wondered how I might be able to cut a tiny slice without actually having to look at it. The sight of those unnatural neon colored fruits was not appealing. A particularly ugly red one fell out just as I finished unwrapping.

I took a deep breath and tried to cut a paper-thin slice, not easy to do with a heavy cake chock full of bizarre fruits and too many nuts. For fear the smell alone would cause me to lose my courage, I quickly popped a piece of the cake into my mouth and chewed as rapidly as possible. Just as I finished swallowing the hateful concoction, I heard Mama call my name.

“Have a slice of fruit cake?” she asked, laughing when she saw the look on my face. She continued grinning as I washed the cake down with several gulps of water.

“I had a slice of fruit cake.” I confirmed as I exhaled and wiped the vile crumbs from my face.

I have never mixed turpentine, cake batter, and a splash of Drano together, but I believe it would taste exactly the same as fruit cake.

Daddy would have enjoyed the look of misery on my face and would have compared my rapid chewing to “a possum eating briars”. Mama got a good laugh out of the tasting in spite of the emotional reminders. I felt good that I had fulfilled my promise to Daddy and was glad that Mama had not gotten upset.

That came next.

The family made it through the day with only a few spoken comments about Daddy’s absence. Even Mama had been able to talk about him some without completely losing control – until my sister Donna gave her a gift.

A few months ago Donna asked Mama if she could take some of the flannel shirts Daddy had always worn. Donna planned to make a quilt from the material. Even though Mama knew the plan, she hadn’t expected it would be her Christmas gift.

Mama opened the box Donna handed her and saw the quilt. Naturally, she was instantly upset. It was a beautiful quilt in its own right, but as Mama examined patch after patch that came from shirts she had seen Daddy wear on a daily basis, it was more than she could handle. She cried heavily as she held the quilt, occasionally touching one patch or another and softly saying words most of us couldn’t understand.

“I love it.” Mama said through her tears, “But I can’t look at it anymore right now.”

Everyone understood and after a few silent minutes the conversations slowly began to flow again. A grandchild or two gave Mama a hug and we all continued opening presents.

I can usually manage to make Mama laugh, or at least smile, regardless of the situation. In this case I knew there was nothing I could say that would give her any relief or distraction from her upset, so I thought I’d try being practical rather than comical for a change.

“Mama, do you want some water?” I asked. “Is there anything that’ll help?”

Her eyes were still teary and her face was still red but a partial grin showed itself when she responded.

“Have a slice of fruit cake?” she said.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Filed under death, Family, fruit cake, fruitcake, grief