Imagine a morning in late November. A coming of winter morning more than twenty years ago. Just today the fireplace commenced its seasonal roar.
A woman with shorn white hair is standing at the kitchen window. She is wearing tennis shoes and a shapeless gray sweater over a summery calico dress. She is small and sprightly, like a bantam hen; but, due to a long youthful illness, her shoulders are pitifully hunched. Her face is remarkable, not unlike Lincoln’s, craggy like that, and tinted by sun and wind; but it is delicate too, finely boned, and her eyes are sherry-colored and timid.
“Oh my, she exclaims her breath smoking the windowpane, “it’s fruitcake weather!”
“I knew it before I got out of bed,” she says, turning away from the window with a purposeful excitement in her eyes. “The courthouse bell sounded so cold and clear. And there were no birds singing; they’ve gone to warmer country, yes indeed. Oh, Buddy (as she called the Author) stop stuffing biscuit and fetch our buggy. Help me find my hat. We’ve thirty cakes to bake.”
And so begins one of the few books that Truman Capote ever wrote called “A Christmas Memory” that describes his early years being raised by an elderly distant cousin, Ms. Sook Faulk. Each year she recognized the arrival of “fruitcake season” and commenced baking fruit cakes that she distributed to people about whom she cared. She recognized the characteristics of “the season”: the courthouse bell sounding cold and clear, the leafless trees and the absence of birds singing. She knew that it was time.
There’s something to be said about the importance of “recognizing the seasons” in one’s life, especially when that season is so important, not only for you, but for so many others. We are in one such season now. “Late November” will be too late to recognize the season that we, as Americans, are in. November 9th will be too late. This November, even more importantly than the seasons of four, eight, twelve or more years ago, we must recognize the importance of this season, for it will dramatically affect the future of our country. We must choose the ingredients now, and let them rise in our collective consciousness before November 9th. Make that day a day of celebration. The Season will be over.
Therefore, just as the baker must recognize the difference between “baking powder and baking soda,” we must recognize the difference between “love and hate,” and between “democrats and demagogues.”
Your choice can make life good for so many people.
Recognize the Season.
The Make Life Good Team!
*This blog was originally published on another platform in the fall of 2016.
I love commercials that make me think… commercials that transcend messages about the marketing of products and services. I like commercials that make us all think about life, kindness, forgiveness, or, in other words, making life not only good for us, but for others. This is the very premise of the Make Life Good! Company.
In the 1980’s a commercial appeared on my television set that I didn’t understand. But I do now. Here is my description of it...
A man is sitting on a rocking chair on a porch in some unknown location. He is rocking slowly while reading a newspaper. It is a slow, unstressed rocking. It is all in silhouette. We are left to imagine where it could be.
I know where I imagine it is. It is at a home that is located on the Northern tip of Block Island, Rhode Island. An enviable location for a home that I will never own. Nor will a lot of other people.
But back to the commercial…
Overlaying the commercial was a narrated soundtrack. It described the horrible events of the day. War, financial disasters, and the sad plights of various people. It made our world sound so ugly, and especially, frightening. It was much like Simon and Garfunkel’s closing song “Silent Night/7 O’Clock News” on the “Scarborough Fair” album.
Despite the ugly events of the day, the “Rocking Man” appeared quite calm and unconcerned.
Was it heartlessness? Or was it something else?
It was the image of a secure man. He did something that made his life that way. The commercial suggested that he made the right investments and bought the right insurances. It cleverly urged us all, in a subliminal way, to draw the same conclusions and invest as he did.
Why do I mention this? I imagine that the folks who own the Block Island home had the same life mindset as the Rocking Man. I know, I know, they could have inherited it all, right? Perhaps.
I like to think that it wasn’t that easy. As I tell my students who ask me to “explain America,” I tell them about the Rocking Man, who followed one of America’s prescriptions for success: educate oneself, graduate from college, pursue strong work opportunities, work hard, advance one’s career, make meaningful investments, and be kind to others. There are other paths, with varying levels of risk. Personally, I like the Rocking Man’s choice.
In the meantime, I think I’ll spend some time on my deck, thinking about life.
I might even buy a rocking chair…
The Make Life Good! Team
For those of you old enough to remember, Elvis’ death in 1977 was an emotional disaster for many people. I wasn’t one of them. Embarrassingly, I was late to Elvis, late to the Beatles and late to the Beach Boys. But I came around quickly. What a treasure trove of music for music lovers! I’m still reveling in all of it.
But I was a bit melancholy in the late 50’s when Elvis went to Germany to serve his country. It seemed like his absence was America’s loss. A young neighbor of mine at the time, named “Holly,” pretended to go around the corner at the end of our street to “visit Elvis.” She came back quickly. But time moved on and Elvis came back. We were there waiting for him.
Yet, when Elvis lost his life to substance abuse, it was hard for me to cry. I would come to realize that we want people to safeguard their lives and not fall victim to their own poor decisions. Still, we miss him and his music.
While I may not completely remember my reaction to Elvis’ death, I do recall the Woolworth’s Department Store in Pawtucket, RI in the 1950’s. A big draw was the lunch counter. I still remember the distinctly appealing scent of food cooking and popcorn. The lunch counter was on the left, beckoning us, no matter what our purpose for visiting. I would go there with my mother. We would ride the elevator to the upper floors where the “good stuff” was. Just to look, of course.
It seemed inevitable that we would sit at the lunch counter eating hot dogs with mustard. The “Lunch Counter Lady,” who we’ll call “Rita”, called out to the grill cook “two pigs in a yellow blanket.” My mother and I laughed so hard!
She never said it, but the hot dogs might have been all my mother could afford in the post-War period. Even so, those were great times for a young boy from a brick mill town. I never knew we were struggling to get by. I felt loved, cared for and yes, even rich.
Rita kept the lunch counter clean and shining. In the background, in the center of the floor, the whirring elevator “pinged” when it reached the destination levels. The floors of the departments were kept shiny clean by a young man who loved dancing. We’ll call him “Eddie.”
Eddie fancied Rita. They danced the Waltz together late at night in the aisles of the Woolworth store. They eventually married. They lost a child. They eventually separated. They eventually reunited. Making love stay is difficult when it starts at the Five and Dime. It seems more difficult today. Yet, we all keep on trying. Like Rita and Eddie.
When they danced late at night they would sing...
“Dance a little closer to me
Hey, dance a little closer now
Dance a little closer tonight
‘Cause it’s closing time
And love’s on sale, here at this Five and Dime”¹
“Ping" “Going up!”
To whatever life holds in store for us…
The Make Life Good! Team
¹ R.I.P. Nanci Griffith, Purveyor of Music, Love and “Folkabilly”, 7/6/53 - 8/13/21
(Note: From time to time at the Make Life Good! Company we highlight the lives of people who have made life good for others. Here is one such story.)
“Yesterday… a child came out to wonder….”
She was born in a Rhode Island mill town to parents of modest economic means. They held the kind of jobs that you wouldn’t want. Her father was a textile worker who worked with black silk in deficient conditions that ruined his vision and hearing. Her mother was a “Warper” in the same mill. It ruined her vision and hearing, too. They did it for their survival. They did it for their family.
As a young girl their daughter lived in her family’s simple home that was big enough for five but small enough for building close family ties. Her major transgression in her young life was holding up a bunny rabbit by its ears. (I have the photographic proof.)
She would never do that now.
As time went on, her mother persuaded her husband to leave the textile industry for a better, healthier job. Like any job change, it wouldn’t be easy. He was afraid of the prospect of doing so. It’s so hard to change long-held habits. But it worked. He took a job as a House Man at a local, exquisite country club. People loved him there. He worked well beyond the traditional “retirement age.”
Her mother went back to school at a late age to become an LPN. She became a doctor’s assistant in a local doctor’s office, in a time of life when other people would be contemplating retirement. She worked there into her 80’s.
But the doctor needed a patient receptionist. He hired her daughter. She was fourteen years old. She took the job to gain experience. Her pay rate was $5.00 per hour. The job was more important than the money the job paid. He would later give her advice that would change her life.
Around that time she already knew she wanted more. Not more money, but that would be nice. More life enjoyment. More personal development. She became interested in music and took saxophone lessons from several teachers. It required her to walk or take buses to her lesson destinations. She carried her instrument and books where she had to go. She did so alone. At eleven years old. It was the “old” world when city streets weren’t so daunting.
She joined a local performance group called the “A-Tempo Stage Band.” More practice, more local travel, more time. She performed at her State’s famous venues: Diamond Hill State Park, the University of Rhode Island, and oh, beyond the State in a little place call “N. Y. Giants Stadium.”
Her skills improved over time. More dedication, more time. She became an All-State Saxophonist. Like a World War II veteran with bad memories, she is reluctant to talk about it. Her modesty overwhelmed her achievement. It still does today.
Oh, that Doctor’s advice. She planned to go to college and didn’t know which program to enroll in. But she knew she wanted to become an RN, like her Mom’s chosen path. He advised her to enroll in a bachelor’s degree program at the University of Rhode Island. People weren’t doing that then, opting instead for two - and three-year degree or certificate programs. The Bachelor’s Program would be four years. It would require savings, some modest parental financial help and part time work.
So that’s what she did.
She would complete that program in 1974. Upon graduation she went looking for a job with a buddy. They decided to work at the Miriam Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island. She thought she’d stay there for one year.
But she stayed for forty-seven years, in the ever-changing world of nursing. Through epidemics and now pandemics. Taking care of post-surgical patients with all forms of imaginable conditions and surgeries: eye surgery, orthopedic surgery, plastic surgery. Taking care of those who didn’t feel comfortable in their given bodies. It’s amazing what nursing has become over that time. She persevered and adapted through all of it.
Perhaps the greatest challenge would be the care of COVID patients on the “front line” of nursing over the last year. A world of personal risk. It was never her goal to do so. But she was asked to do so. So she did it. She survived.
Forty-seven years after joining Miriam Hospital, she would retire as an Outpatient Surgical Recovery RN. That would be today: April 2nd, 2021.
And that would be my wife, Dorothy.
Welcome to the first day of the rest of your life! And, knowing you, your life will be filled with overwhelming compassion for others.
And overflowing with personal sacrifice…
“We can’t return, we can only look, behind from where we came…David J. Wudyka
… and go round and round and round in the Circle Game.”
Co-FounderThe Make Life Good! Team
Dover Road meanders its way from Millis Massachusetts through the beautiful countryside towns of Dover and Needham to Newton, connecting with Route 9 at a convenient junction that greatly eases a trip to Brookline, just five miles to the East. Along the way, horse pastures, small ponds, lakes, and patches of yellow flowers punctuate the adjacent landscapes, not to mention multi-million dollar homes and estates. Dover is Massachusetts’ wealthiest town.
I discovered Dover Road about seven years ago, as I sought a route that would avoid Route 495 and much of Route 9. Traveling it for the first time, I couldn’t believe what I found. I pretended that it was my “secret route” that no one else could use.
But my fantasy was short-lived.
Dover Road is a short cut for many wealthy people who live along the route and who travel to the hospitals of Brookline and elsewhere for work. Yet I pretended that I was alone on the road, wearing an “Invisibility Cloak” to hide my fears from others on the Road.
But my destination today is a place of victory. A place without fear.
I love the idea of returning to a place of victory, whether it is in-person or in one’s mind. It is so exciting and tremendously satisfying. Here are some people who returned to their personal place of victory:
It is MacArthur returning to the Philippines.
It is the American Army marching down the Champs Elysees on August 29, 1944.
It is Lovell, Young and Cernan returning to the moon.
It is Brady returning to Gillette.
It is Springsteen’s “Glory Days.”
It is the D-Day survivors returning to the Omaha, Utah, Gold, Juno and Sword beaches, perhaps for the last time.
Today, April 27, 2021, I am all of them. They are within me. My victory is much less spectacular, but no less meaningful. When I arrive at my place of victory, I will meet other victors. I don’t know them. We are a special army. Although we fought our battles independently, we were always connected. We came from around the world to fight our battles, yet we fought in the same war at the same time.
And today, I will be given a new name: “Survivor.”
We survivors will meet each year at our place of victory, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Brookline, to share our stories. Over the last seven years we all took different roads to get there, but one year from now, I know I’ll be taking Dover Road to join them. Wearing my brave face. Wearing my victor’s armor. Shedding my Invisible Cloak. Kicking fear to the pavement.
What a beautiful journey it will be…..
David J. Wudyka
The Make Life Good! Team