1989 Florida Diary

Trip at age 40 with my mother, age 72


February 17, 1989 @ 3:00 AM —Atlanta suburbs are still sleeping which is what I should be doing. But crazy me! Here I am alone on a stupid highway south of Atlanta. I’m on my way to pick up Mama for her long-awaited, many-times-promised trip to visit Aunt Lois in Florida.

9:00 AM — We are somewhere in Florida on I-75 headed for the Gulf Coast. It takes about four hours to go from the Atlanta airport area to the Florida state line. We are traveling a little behind that average, because we ladies have to make a lot of pitstops. I think I’ve already had breakfast twice or was it three times? We stop to fill up and a few miles down the road, we have to stop and empty.

11:00 AM —I think we are near Gainesville Florida, and yes, we stopped for a breakfast snack and a gas fill-up for my new car. I am so sleepy that I am afraid to drive any further without a quick nap. So I reluctantly relinquish the wheel of my new Mazda to my mama, who only ventures out in her 1976 Monte Carlo to go to the store or beauty shop. Boy! Talk about riding at your own risk! I decided not to try and explain what ‘cruise control’ was to her for fear I’d wake up holding the engine of my car while sitting in the trunk o someone else’s!

1:00 PM — I stayed awake only long enough to make sure she could handle my car, then I dozed off. In fact, I dozed for about two hours. I enjoyed the peace and quiet. Ha! When we travel, she always insists I bring a notebook and pen so she can talk to me. Since I’m hearing impaired, I can understand her better if I read her lips. That’s difficult to do while I’m driving.

She opened the new notebook and started to play school. 1 + 1 = 2. I laughed and said, “Very good! Now practice your ABC’s.” So she wrote A B C. Then she wrote, “School’s closed.”

Mama wrote, “Ask me a question.” She knows I always use our trips to find out about her past life…when she was a school girl, when she fell in love with Daddy, her first job, and sometimes secrets my other sisters might not have thought to ask her about.

This morning’s topic is “old sweethearts”. Yes, she had one other special guy she always dated when she broke up with Daddy. His name was Dan Combs. She said Daddy’s other sweetie was a girl named Lisa Sunday, whom Daddy said he would have married if he hadn’t chosen Mama.

Next question — “Mama, I used to play games like Hide and Seek, May I, Simon Says, and Red Light. What did you play?” She wrote down her answer and stuck it in front of my face “Post Office all the time!” She makes me laugh so hard my side hurts!

“Mama, I met a man recently, and he had an unusual name. Davey Crockett.”She must have thought I was joking, so she shot back with one of her own. She wrote, “Well, there’s a weatherman on TV named I.P. Rainwater.” I needed a break from the talking and laughing. That’s another reason I took a nap.

Rest area, just outside of Tampa, Florida — I woke up when Mama pulled in for a pit stop. She apologized. “I wanted to surprise you and be able to drive the rest of the way, but I’m tired and sleepy.” I went to the ladies’ room to wake up and comb my hair. An elderly man came in while I was there and another lady told him that he was in the ladies’ room. Bless his heart, he was so embarrassed. He kept apologizing as he backed out the door with his walker.

When I got back to my car, Mama was carrying on a friendly conversation with the couple in the car next to mine. She has never met a stranger.

I took over to drive the rest of the way, and we stopped at McDonald’s for lunch in Sun City, Florida. Ninety percent of the people inside were senior citizens. Most of them were in Florida for a winter vacation, but good old McDonald’s also has the good sense to employ senior citizens, too. We sat down at a counter with high stools. Mama never finished her salad because she and the lady sitting across the counter talked through lunch and shared pictures of their families.

When we got in the car, she commented, “I just don’t understand it, but everywhere I go, people want to stop and talk to me.” She’s so friendly and outgoing that people find her easy to get to know.

2:00 PM — I-75 South, approaching our destination. I’m reading the road signs and love the names of Florida’s cities. Fruitville, Osprey, Venice, Punta Gordy, and Flamingo Bay. Finally, after we pass the Ft. Myers sign, we exit at Estero onto Corkscrew Road. This road goes up to Highway 41, also known as the Tamiami Trail.

We turn into an orange grove beside a small, red hotel sign. Slowly, we wave and pass a couple of silver-haired bikers on 3-wheelers. Not ATV’s but like bicycles complete with baskets on the back.

I pulled up in front of my aunt and uncle’s winter home. They have a mobile home with a screened porch surrounded by 13 fruit trees loaded to capacity with nature’s bounty. Orange, tangelo, lemon, tangerine, grapefruit, and avocado trees abound. Even a tiny grapefruit tree was bearing fruit already. Florida still amazes me!

3:00 PM — Gosh, I feel so old and tired. I’ve been up and riding for almost 12 hours. I need another nap. I’ll leave these two girls to talk. Poor Uncle Lloyd! He has to sit and listen unless he can find an excuse like I did. These girls are 72-years-old now and have been friends since the 5th grade. That was 62 years ago. They used to take turns spending the night at each other’s house and walked to school together. Lois introduced my mama to her brother (my daddy), and my mama ended up married to him for 43 years before he passed away.


February 18 @ 2:00 PM —The girls and I have gone to Fort Myers Beach for a little sun and sea. Uncle Lloyd complained it’s too hot on the beach, so he stayed home. My mama has still not stopped talking since we arrived.

I’m tired of listening, so I take my hearing aids off. The ocean breeze is wonderful, and I believe my lack of hearing makes my other senses much more aware of my surroundings. The sand on every Florida beach is different. Here in Fort Myers, it is a mixture of fine white sand and crushed seashells. Seagulls walked up to within a few feet of us, so I got out my camera. When I aimed at one seagull, he wobbled toward me for a close-up snapshot.

I must have dozed off in the peaceful surroundings. Mama tapped me on the shoulder. She and Aunt Lois were going to watch people dance to the rock music played by a band on the beach. I went back to sleep. On the way home from the beach, we stopped to buy fresh shrimp for dinner. I was happy someone had already “dismembered” the little creatures for us!

Mama wouldn’t rest until we finally found a copier. She had to give my aunt a copy of her two-page food list from the doctor entitled “How to Lower Your Cholesterol.”Then she gave my aunt a bottle of Niacin and proceeded to write her a prescription on how to take it. When we got back to the trailer, they sat down to talk some more. They have talked nonstop now for two days. I decided to sneak away and pull some air plants out of the tree to take home.

Saturday night after the shrimp dinner—Uncle Lloyd and I decide to take a spin around the neighborhood on the three-wheelers. I said, “How many times around?” “Oh, about 10,” he grinned. I winked, “How about two times?” I could barely keep up with him. He zoomed over the speed breakers. Not me! I tried to go around one and ended up in the grass face-to-face with a tree. As I ambled off the bike with every muscle in my legs cramping, he boasted, “Pretty good for a 75-year-old man, huh?!”

We all got in the car later and rode to another trailer park to meet some of their friends. Most of them were Yankees with big, fine cars like Uncle Lloyd’s. He has a 1987 Cadillac Fleetwood Limited Edition with leather interior. They like to talk about Medicare, doctors, and compare foot surgery. I hadn’t much in common with them, so I just sat and smiled a lot.


February 19 @ 8:30 AM —Breakfast time. Every meal here starts by joining hands around the table to say grace. Each person takes a turn so one person says the blessing for each meal. Boy! Was I rusty. Quietly to myself in preparation, I said, “Lord, teach me to pray. Yes, Lord, again.” Then He helped me with words from my heart to bless our meal together.

Aunt Lois has made biscuits from scratch almost every morning for the past 50 years. That’s quite a few biscuits! This morning she is serving eggs, sausage, biscuits, gravy, and her own raspberry jam. She and Uncle Lloyd have six rows of raspberries growing at their other home in Tennessee. She makes raspberry jam, while he makes raspberry wine. We have fresh brewed coffee and my aunt’s version of fruit punch. I affectionately refer to her concoction as “Florida Brew.”I’ve helped her make it before. Get a jar of fresh squeezed orange juice, pour in a little tangerine and lemon juice. Then, add a little grapefruit and any other juice you can find in a Mason jar in the refrigerator. If it tastes a little sour, add a handful of sugar. She cooks just like Mama never measuring ingredients but always pleases my taste buds.

I inquired about Uncle Lloyd’s free time we gave him yesterday by going to the beach. He handed me a large bag with more air plants than I know what to do with. If these things multiply, I’m in big trouble. I set to work matching air plants with shells of appropriate size. My uncle went out to his shed three times and gave me more shells. When I asked him where he got all the plants for me, he whispered, “I climbed a tree.” I believe he did. Pretty good for a 75-year-old man, huh?!

3:30 PM —I’m trying to get the girls out of the kitchen to take little me back to the beach. They want to shop for shells, and I want to get a tan. Mama is still talking. It seems that last night, Uncle Lloyd introduced Mama to a man named Clyde Grayson from Michigan. He is a neighbor and became a widow about eight months ago. I wasn’t there, but I can picture my mama tuning on her southern charm. Pity that poor Yankee gentleman! She told me she let him know she is a widow, too.


February 20 @ 7:00 AM —We’ve said goodbye with hugs, kisses, tears and a promise to come back soon. We’re leaving 80 degree weather to go home to freezing rain. We feel somewhat sad and solemn now that our trip is almost over. I know that because of their ages, every visit may be the last we share, so I have learned to cherish every moment.

I remember 10 years ago, my oldest sister was privileged to take a trip back to Tennessee with Mama and Daddy. They looked up all the relatives and had a grand time. When she brought my parents home, Daddy dropped dead of a heart attack while unpacking his suitcase.

I guess if there’s a moral to the story that came from my Florida diary, it is this: A family is a treasure, and life is full of simple pleasures for us to enjoy. We need to make room in our lives to experience the special moments. Enjoy these blessings while there is still time.

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Alma Mater

The paint is peeling and the wood is cracked
On all the doors in the front and back

Small brown spiders spin webs in the windows
Wondering why there are empty rows

Room after room, no students are working
None are running, laughing or lurking

There are no books or paper on the floor
No one cheering and no points to score

Just a cruel sign over to the right…
“Building Condemned — Demolition Site”

(Written in 1980, age 32, after the local news announced my school was scheduled to be torn down. In 2002, we had a plaque dedication ceremony, and the school was honorably added to the National Register of Historic Places)

Sign Language — A Piece of my Puzzle

In my early 20’s, the reality of my impending deafness sunk in. I became more dependent on reading lips because the hearing aids made everyone’s speech sound distorted. If I had to answer our home phone, I would just pick up the receiver and say “I’m sorry but there is no one here to take your call. Please call back after 6 pm.” That was long before everyone had answering machines and voice mail. My little girl had to make calls for me and relay what the other person wanted to tell me. This included medical consultation over the phone. She was 6 years old when she had to start helping me with phone calls. As a preschooler, my son would kick me under the dinner table to let me know the blessing for the meal was over, so I would know to open my eyes.

Hearing loss was with me day in and day out. I kept participating in activities and social interaction as long as I could. While leading a women’s bible study in my home, I asked my group to pray that I could find someone to teach me sign language. One of them introduced me to her deaf neighbor who taught me 3500 signs from a textbook in one year.

As I learned the language, I began to share it with others. Three 14-year-old girls whom I taught in Sunday School came to my home after school to learn signs from me. One of the girls said they ran into a favorite former teacher and told her they were learning to sign. The teacher got in touch with me and asked for lessons to refresh her sign language skills. She had taken a course in college and needed to brush up. I enjoyed helping her especially knowing that she had applied for a public school teaching position to utilize those skills. When she started her new job teaching hearing impaired children, she asked me to be her teaching assistant. We spent 7 years working side-by-side, and I loved the children and my work there.

Once I was comfortable communicating with sign language, I prayed that God would send me an interpreter for church services. I didn’t understand many words from the sermons, and I dropped out of the adult choir. I mentioned my prayer request to the bus driver who picked up our hearing impaired students daily at school. Her eyes got so big. She exclaimed that she had been praying for a church where she could interpret. A match made in heaven for sure! We got to know each other and teamed up to teach Sunday School for hearing impaired children. She personally picked up every child that needed a ride to our class on Sunday morning.

Many years later, the deaf lady who taught me sign language recommended I take the civil service exam, and I was able to work for the government for over 25 years until retirement. At lunch, I taught classes in the health clinic of our building for employees of other agencies. Some of my coworkers also learned some sentences from me. We had fun with sign language. For a brief time, I taught basic signing to hearing visitors at a deaf church, a public library and even used a beauty salon for evening classes.

Learning sign language opened many doors and led me to opportunities I’d never dreamed of before. Gradually losing my hearing meant giving up the things I had always enjoyed. Yet, in deafness I grew so much. To me, those were puzzle pieces in my life by the hand of God.

Bucket List…check, check, check!

Shutting my office door, I turned off my cochlear implants so I could daydream about retirement without distraction. I finalized the paperwork and probably signed my name a dozen times. I recalled my daughter’s concern that I find something to do and not lie on the sofa. She said she did not want me to let my brain rot. So I asked myself, “What would I like to do when my days are free?”

My love of arts and crafts led me to search websites about origami. I taught myself through online videos and purchased books, but I yearned for a class or tutoring from a true origami artist. This really interested me so it became Goal #1 on my retirement bucket list.

A few years of my career were spent in software support, and I was always eager to improve my skills and teach others at work. Even at the end of my working life, I still planned to use technology at home. In thinking about my love for learning and teaching, I decided to find a way to teach other senior citizens about mobile devices and computers. This was Goal #2 for me.

After living in the metro area of my hometown all of my 63 years, I longed for the adventure of moving somewhere new. I enjoyed some travel over the years and often dreamed of what it would be like to live elsewhere. I did not have a specific location in mind. I just wanted it to be out of state. Although I was skeptical about this dream becoming a reality, I decided to make it Goal #3.

My daydream that day in October stayed alive in my mind, and by the time I retired the end of November, things began to happen for me.

I found a Japanese club and communicated with the leader of the origami group. She invited me to the monthly paper folding session and lunch at her home. I learned modular origami from the skilled ladies in the Konnichiwa Club and had so much fun learning about Japanese culture. Did they bring fish food and octopus for lunch? No, thank goodness. We had pizza and salads. They also asked me about cooking southern food. We volunteered and taught origami at a college craft day demonstration, at an art school weekend event downtown, and sold our paper models at the annual JapanFest. Two of them wrapped me in a kimono for a photo shoot. It took about 30 minutes to get dressed. So much fun!

In my community, I discovered a nonprofit organization that offered computer classes for seniors. It was exciting to join the staff of volunteer instructors and teach classes at two senior centers. I also served on the Educators’ Advisory Committee, wrote workshop materials and assisted with revising in-house manuals. I met so many wonderful volunteers and students. Patience and repetition were the tools that worked for us. My students had fun playing school with me. A correct answer to the end of class quiz earned the student a quarter. I told them they were so smart that I was going to have to bring more quarters. We laughed while learning.

Three years after retiring, I put my condominium on the market and flew to California to spend Thanksgiving with my son. While I was there, my realtor emailed an offer, and I accepted. My home sold in six weeks. I was so surprised! I only had a month to find a new home and move out. Since my daughter and family had moved out of state a year before, I decided to move there, too. She helped me find an apartment near a senior center knowing I would like that. After emailing with staff members at two churches there, I was comfortable visiting within two weeks after the move. Finding a new church home blessed me more than I ever dreamed it would.

Now here I am in beautiful North Carolina living my dream. Everything on my retirement bucket list came true. I have a nice apartment, many new friends, a new church and new volunteer opportunities. I am a technology tutor for individual senior students on smart phones, tablets and computers. I work with a nonprofit that helps struggling women overcome poverty and injustice. As a volunteer there, I have helped make jewelry or package it, trained staff members on using spreadsheets, and created an interactive spreadsheet of community resources. Also, I just started entering project data for a nonprofit that helps veterans obtain housing.

For me, life after retirement means paying my blessings forward and blooming wherever I am planted.

The Story of Princess Two Ears

This describes my hearing loss. My journey from deafness back to hearing again. I created a separate category and will share stories about what it is like to be hearing impaired, deaf, and hearing again. It’s been a wild emotional roller coaster of experiences as I have made this journey. I hope to give normal hearing readers sensitive insight and a new appreciation for hearing.

Moderate loss: At age 12, my parents took me to 5 different specialists, and all said I had sensorineural hearing loss (nerve deafness), would eventually need hearing aids, and might possibly lose all my hearing. I requested preferential seating in all classrooms through my high school years.

Severe loss: At age 17, I started wearing 2 hearing aids and depended on lipreading. Words were distorted, and I couldn’t distinguish the d and t endings on words very well.

Profound loss: At age 27, I was no longer able to understand words on TV, radio, telephone and increased difficulty with voices in person. I began learning sign language in anticipation of deafness.

From age 32 – 42, I worked a full time job and went to college at night. During the first 2 years of going to college at night, I always requested a seat in front of the professor and did okay. The college said they didn’t have funds to provide a note taker or sign language interpreter, so I dropped out for 7 years. When the college became a 4 year university, I went back to their special needs counselor knowing they couldn’t refuse assistance to me while they were getting federal funds. They gave me a note taker and sign language interpreter to finish my Associates in Business Administration degree. I had an interpreter at church and at work whenever training classes were required. I used a TTY/TDD to make telephone calls at work and home.

At age 47, I chose an ear specialist out of my insurance directory because I was experiencing some dizziness. The doctor I randomly selected just happened to be a renown cochlear surgeon. After he examined me for the dizziness and found no cause, he explained the cochlear implant process to me. I had never heard of it before. He said my hearing aids weren’t doing me any good anymore and that he could put me back into the hearing world and he did! I had a successful cochlear implant on my right ear on September 27, 1995. At that time, I did not have any hearing in the left ear, and I was totally dependent on the implanted ear. My children were in their 20’s before I was ever able to talk to them on the telephone!

I am now bilateral after my 2nd implant on February 13, 2008. I can hear and understand voices on the telephone, radio and TV. I now have a stereo, radio, cell phone, and an iPod with 4,000 songs . The implants enable me to hear my two granddaughters sing, my cats meow, birds chirp, wind chimes, rain, wind rustling the leaves of a tree. I never heard those sounds with hearing aids. I no longer need a sign language interpreter or phone relay service, but I am thankful I know how to sign when I encounter deaf folks who are not oral (able to speak).

I love living in stereo!

Jonah

Jonah was a student I tutored at a Title I elementary school. He was small in stature and a few grades behind his peers. He had a traumatic brain injury which slowed his growth and ability to learn. Challenged but not defeated.

His teacher warned me that he had difficulty retaining knowledge, but I discovered a student hungry to learn new things. We discussed new words in his stories, what they meant and how to use them in other sentences. He never ceased to impress me. Every child can learn something on their level.

Every Monday when I worked with him, he greeted me with a smile, asked how I was, and pulled out my chair for me. He lives with his father who is doing an amazing job raising a respectful boy with manners. I wish I could have met him but never had the opportunity.

I watched as he tried to participate in playground games only to be shunned by the other children. He would come to me with his head down hurting from rejection. Sometimes I would ask him to walk with me around the track pretending I needed his encouragement to exercise. Jonah’s step quickened every time I let him know I needed him to “help” me. Whenever he felt lonely, he asked me to stay and sit with him at lunch. I made sure we sat with the others in his class, and I tried to engage some of them in our conversation.

Each week I taught him one or two new words in sign language. It was a treat after we finished his reading and quizzes. He asked how to sign the word banana. It takes 2 hands, and one of his doesn’t function normally. So he held up the index finger for the banana and asked me to peel it so the sign would be complete.

The other sign he asked to learn was the word awesome. Then he signed to me, “I am awesome.” He did great with one hand. He said, “I’m always awesome.” I think he is, too!

Firstborn 

We were married almost 3 years before our daughter was born. We had difficulty conceiving, but God finally gave us a beautiful baby girl.

Our little blonde princess was born on Wednesday, and when I woke up in the hospital recovery room, her beaming dad was the first blurry vision I saw. He got close to my face and said, “It’s a girl, and she looks just like you!” I was relieved that he took a week off work to help me take care of our new living doll. Back in those days of cloth diapers, I don’t think I had to change many that first week. New Dad stepped up to the plate. He spoiled me, and I missed him and his help when he returned to work.

After reading a few books about motherhood before she was born, I thought I was prepared to take care of her. I was excited to try, but I didn’t really follow the books’ advice. The first month I called the pediatrician’s office a few times to ask if I was doing it right. I was thrilled she survived and thrived in my care.

She actually met her first friend the night before she was born. It’s true! Our neighbors brought their 4-month-old daughter over to visit and invited us to church. They played together as babies, and we took turns babysitting for each other. We were having coffee while our little ones were playing on the bedroom floor. We heard them crying and found my Princess pulling her friend’s hair, and her little friend was biting her hand! They developed a lifelong friendship, and I loved watching them grow into young women. My daughter also had her first crush on her friend’s dad. She would toddle over to him with opened arms whenever we got together for visits.

I still remember her first boo boo. She was riding her tricycle on the walkway to our front porch, and she went off the curb. I cleaned her skinned up knee and kissed it just like my mother did for me. I know for a fact that helps in the healing (wink).

She loved helping in the kitchen by standing on a chair to wash dishes or make cookies. Life skills can be taught very early. Reading to her everyday was also a favorite thing we did together. Eventually she could recite each page as I turned to it. Children are sponges and amazing little people!

When my little princess started school, I realized how thankful I was to be a stay-at-home mom. I had her to myself to train and love to prepare her for socializing and learning outside her comfort zone at home. I’ve been blessed watching her grow. She still makes me proud to be her mom almost 50 years later.