My 92nd Birthday

On September 17, 2022, now that the Coronavirus numbers were improved, my friends held the big birthday celebration that they’d been trying to have for me since 2020.  My 92nd birthday party was held at the Hilton DoubleTree in Whittier, California.  Eighty-four friends and relatives helped to make this event one of the highlights of my life.  I wrote the following poem for the occasion:

My 92nd Birthday

It looks like the third time’s a charm

We finally made it here.

What a way to commemorate

My 92nd year!

I’m happy that you’ve come

To help me celebrate.

I think that being 92 

Is really kind of great!

As a nonagenarian, I get to do

Whatever I want to do.

Nothing embarrasses me,

But I might embarrass you!

I say anything I want, and

Don’t always do as I’m told.

People just smile indulgently

And say “It’s okay, ‘cause she’s old.”

I’ll remember this night forever

As I’m basking in its glow.

Let’s all do this again when

I hit the big one-oh-oh!

Lois McKinney

September 2022

Kids Do Say the Darndest Things

By the time I finished my education and was ready to begin teaching kindergarten, I was a married woman with two children, ages 8 and 12.  When the principal asked what my long-term plans were, I told him that this was it and the only reason I’d leave teaching would be if I got pregnant, which didn’t seem likely.  As it turned out, after five years of teaching, my daughter Jeannette came along, and I left the profession.  During the five years, though, I was an audience to some delightful moments with these sweet, imaginative youngsters.  I kept a notebook on my desk in which to write the clever things that came out of the kids’ mouths (my knowledge of shorthand came in handy).  I’m sure there were many clever things said that didn’t make it into my book. These are the ones I recorded.

The first incident didn’t involve the children.  It happened during my very first orientation week.  As I sat in an auditorium listening to welcoming talks, I was cutting out nametags for my kindergarten children.  The gentleman in front of me kept turning around and looking at what I was doing.  I started cursing under my breath, wishing he’d mind his own business.  I was hearing everything that was being said and if I wanted to use the time to get my nametags cut out, that was nobody’s business.  If he didn’t approve, too bad!  Then the gentleman turned around once more and said “Could I cut out some?”     

On my first day as a kindergarten teacher, I was introduced to the vivid imagination of Michael.  He was manipulating a key game and said to me, “Mrs. McKinney, I’ve locked you inside this box.”  I protested, saying, “Michael, I need to watch the children.  Please let me out.”  He responded, “The only way you can get out is if I turn you into a mouse.”  I agreed to this, so, as he waved his hands back and forth in front of my face, he said, in a voice filled with mystery: “You are a mouse.”  As I continued on my way, I felt a presence behind me.  I turned to see Michael stealthily creeping toward me, saying “Meow!”

On the first day of school, Theresa told me that she’d thought she might cry but she didn’t cry and really liked school.  Albert volunteered, in a voice loaded with enthusiasm, “I think school is really ordinary!”  As they left that day, Kevin took his mother’s hand and said, “Good-bye, Mrs. McKinney.  I may see you around school again sometime.”

We were discussing the word “couple.” Matthew volunteered, “Sometimes my Daddy asks Mommy for a couple coffee.”

I asked who knew what a fire drill was.  Randy said, “I know.  It’s what you cook steaks on.”

As soon as she arrived at school, Debbie nudged me and said, “Mrs. McKinney, I have a loose tooth.”  Later, a punch on my side, followed by, “Mrs. McKinney, wanna feel my loose tooth?”  This went on all day.  Then, during a science lesson, we rubbed two rocks together, and the children were telling what they thought we’d see through the magnifying glass.  Grant raised his hand.  I called on him and he said “I think we’ll see sand.”  Michael offered, “I think we’ll see dirt.”  Debbie raised her hand.  I called on her.  “Mrs. McKinney, wanna see my loose tooth?”  The following day – punch, punch.  I apprehensively looked down to see Debbie pointing to a blank space.  “Mrs. McKinney, look – I lost my tooth.”

Less of a chatterbox, one day Mark stated simply, “I got a bendable tooth.”

Gilbert, newly arrived from Cuba, was learning English.  Each morning I would call the roll by saying “good morning” to each child, followed by the child’s name.  Each child would reply, “good morning, Mrs. McKinney.”  Not knowing the language, Gilbert would remain silent when I said “good morning” to him.  I explained that this meant the same as “buenos diaz.”  One morning, Gilbert replied, “good morning, Mrs. McKinney.”  The children were thrilled.  Each morning after that, when I said “good morning, Gilbert,” he’d reply “good morning, Mrs. McKinney.”  Then one day during Activity Period, Michael walked over to him and said, “Good morning, Gilbert.”  Gilbert looked Michael straight in the eye and said, “Good morning, Mrs. McKinney.”  We explained the proper response to Gilbert, and for the rest of the week, our lessons were interrupted by Gilbert’s voice singing out “Good morning, Michael,” “Good morning, Sally,” “Good morning, Tina.”  By year’s end, Gilbert was able to interpret for his parents.

Early in February, I asked if anyone knew whose birthday was next week.  No one knew, so I gave them a hint.  I said, “Honest . . .”  “To God” was Shelley’s suggestion.     

We were exchanging valentines when Randy came to me and said “I don’t deserve valentines.”  I responded, “Of course you deserve them, Randy.”  After he persisted, he was finally successful in conveying his message.  What he meant was that he didn’t observe Valentines Day.  His religion forbade it.  On the other hand, he would often arrive at class holding some small gift for me – a ceramic planter with a plant, a handkerchief, or a cut flower, for example.  This was in keeping with his religion, which wasn’t against the giving of gifts – it was opposed to observing special days. 

Easter was coming so the children were going to make bunnies by pasting various shapes onto a large piece of construction paper.  Before turning them loose on the project, while they watched, I created a bunny on an easel.  After a step-by-step demonstration, my project was complete.   As I looked it over, I said, “I guess I’ll call my bunny done.”  Winston responded with “That’s a funny name for a bunny.”

I made small green paper shamrocks that I pinned onto the children on St. Patrick’s Day so that, as I explained to them, they wouldn’t get pinched for not wearing green.  By the same token, I decided it was my job to educate these children about April Fool’s Day. I used as an example “There’s a spider on your shoulder!”  “Oh, my, where?”  “April Fool!”  There were approximately thirty children in my class so I’d estimate that at least thirty times I was excitedly alerted about a spider on my shoulder.  Actually, the number thirty is probably low because I neglected to account for the serial alerters who weren’t satisfied with only one spider but told me again and again about the ding-blasted spider that I had created.

During a discussion about Thanksgiving, I asked if anyone knew why Pilgrims left their country and came to America.  Michael said, “To eat turkey.”  Later I reminded the children to think of something besides turkey on Thanksgiving.  Suzy said, “Yeah, pumpkin pie!”

Paul showed me a disk of clay that had a design on it.  He said, “I want to keep this.  It’s an emblem.”  Noticing that he had incorporated the initials “ER” into the design, I asked, “What does ER stand for?”  He answered, “How should I know?  I can’t read.”

While we were standing outside, Mark had quite an animated conversation with me, telling about their vacation trip.  When he talked about Smokey the Bear and how awful forest fires are, I inquired as to whether either of his parents smoked, thinking that if they did, I could ask him how he could help them to be careful.  He responded:  “My dad doesn’t smoke cigars; my dad doesn’t smoke cigarettes; my mom doesn’t smoke cigars; my mom doesn’t smoke cigarettes; and Holly – she’s only three – she doesn’t smoke either; and I don’t smoke, too.”

During a parent-teacher conference, I was told that Bobby came home from school one day, very excited because he had a story to tell his parents.   He said, “Mrs. McKinney was really disappointed today.  She had to put a kid in a chair ‘cuz he was bad.”  His mother responded, “Oh, that’s a shame.   Who was the kid?”  At this point, Bobby’s shoulders drooped and he stared at the floor as he muttered “me.”

All the children were sitting, ready for the start of a new school day, when I asked, “Did you all get lots of sleep last night so that you won’t be tired today?”  Pauline responded, “I didn’t need to – know why?  ‘Cause I’m always full of fun and excitement.  I don’t ever get tired – only sometimes my feet get hot.”

The children loved to make up songs, and because I never limited sharing, if a child had nothing to share but wanted to get up in front of the class, he or she might just create a song on the spot.  Carla sang, ”Along came Cinderella, and she fell over a barrel and she fell in the water and a shark ate her and she was scared and her mommy missed her.”  And then there was Randy.  He was the king of made-up songs.  I could almost see the wheels grinding in his head as he’d look around the room and incorporate whatever he saw into the lyrics.  I shared this with my family, so now any time we hear a song that rambles and hasn’t much of a tune, we call it a “Randy song.”

During a duck-and-cover alert, after they’d been under the tables for a while, Mark asked, “Where’s Mrs. McKinney?”  Pauline said, “I know!  She’s over there, hiding inside of her dress.”

Robert proudly announced that he was learning to spell, saying “Y-e-s, yes; Hell no, no.”

While discussing a movie we’d seen about the harbor, I asked if anyone could tell me what “gangway” meant.  Walter said, “Come on, people, let’s go do something.”

I told the children to sit down.  Pauline asked, “What are we going to do?”  I responded, “We’re going to take a walk as soon as everyone sits down.”  Quite earnestly, Pauline asked, “How can we take a walk with everyone sitting down?”

I was reading a book to the class.  There was a picture of a tiger tearing the seat out of a man’s pants.  Claire said, “Turn the page and see if he’s wearing red polka-dot underwear.  They always are!”

Alan shared the following: “Well, I’m the real batman from now on – well, not all the time, but when batman is sick, I take over.”  I asked “When did all this happen?”  “Last night they came to my house and told me.”

I pitted boys against girls in a game of “Johnny Jump-Up,” using the tally method of score-keeping.  The girls had four strokes; the boys, none.  The girls got another point, so I put a diagonal line across the first four strokes.  Bruce heaved a sigh of relief and said, “Good, she crossed them all out!”

When I asked David to go next door to borrow a paper punch, he queried “Paper punch – what’s that?  Maybe you drink paper.”

From turning the teacher into a mouse to being able to drink paper, while teaching kindergarten I learned that kids really do say the darndest things.  I also found a lot of insightful, clever, and funny things said by children outside of my kindergarten classroom.

Jeannette was born after I taught kindergarten, so I’d learned to write down the cute things she said.  Recently, I took all the scraps of paper on which I’d written these notes, making a list of Jeannette’s cute utterances.

When she had just learned to talk, instead of “heavy,” Jeannette would say “heddy.”  When asked to do something that she thought was too difficult for her, she’d say “too heddy.”  To this day, the family refers to extremely difficult tasks as “too heddy.”

When she was four, I recorded several cute or clever things said by Jeannette, including the following:

“When my father goes to work, I have to get in bed with you because two people need to be in your bed because we love each other.”

“Do you stand by my bed at night and watch me grow?”

“My dress is too long. You should stem it.”

With arms outstretched, Jeannette said,  “I love you this much.  You love me more because you have longer arms.”

When Jeannette was five, she said:

“Your eyes don’t look like you can see through them.  They just look like a decoration on your face.”

“When I’m holding a pickle and I’m going to try it, sometimes my mouth gets sort of worried.”

While we folded clothes, Jeannette said, “Remember when I was little and I thought I was folding them but I just crumbled them?  You said, ‘Honey, see how I’m folding’.  You kept and kept and kept showing me how but I kept crumbling them.  That’s the way it goes.  Little kids can’t understand.”

In talking about her grandfather she never knew, Jeannette asked if she was in my tummy then:   “I was melting away just like nothing – just like if we didn’t have any furniture or anything to sit on or anything.”

At age six, Jeannette said, “When ladies get married to men, they snootch all the time.”

While watching television, Jeannette said, “How do they get those horses to walk in such a straight line?  They must be girls to learn so easily.”  

Any time we needed to use a restroom while traveling, I’d admonish my kids not to touch anything other than necessary, explaining that this was a public restroom.  Consequently, when Jeannette’s first-grade teacher asked if anyone knew the meaning of the word “public,” Jeannette said it meant “dirty.”

When she was six, Jeannette said:  “I got a whole bunch of sow bugs.  Is it okay if I keep them?”  I responded with a question:  “What are you going to do with them?”  “Oh, teach them tricks.  I already taught one a trick.”  When I asked what, she said, “To stand on his behind legs.”

The first time Jeannette experienced kelp while swimming in the lake, she became frightened.  I explained that it was seaweed and was harmless.  After that, when she spotted kelp, she’d say, ”Pee-wee won’t hurt me – huh, Mommy?”

Many years before Jeannette was born, our son Lynn came up with his own expressions.  At the age of two, he had words for his three favorite things:  oil wells, powder, and Safeway stores.  When he saw an oil well, he’d say over and over and very fast:  “See wow-wow, see wow-wow!”  I don’t know why he had a fascination with powder.  I believe he watched his grandmother apply it to her face, and asked her what it was called.  He’d say rapidly “See pow-doo, see pow-doo!”  He recognized Safeway stores by the yellow and black tile fronts they had at that time.  When we passed one, he’d say “See Way-way, see Way-way!” over and over until the store was out of sight.  When we took a cross-country trip, we were reminded again and again that there were Safeway stores in many states.

As is true with most little boys, Lynn got really excited when he saw a fire engine, which he called an “enger-funjer.”

When he was a little older, as we were driving, Lynn would point and say, “Mommy, who made that tree?”  I’d respond,  “You know who made the tree,” whereupon he’d say, “God made the tree.”  Or “Mommy, who made the sun?”  “You know who made the sun.”  “God made the sun.”  Then one day when we passed an excavation project with a mound of dirt, Lynn asked, “Mommy, who made that big pile of dirt – God or the tractor man?”

Lynn coined a word that I found to be quite appropriate.  I really believe it should be added to the dictionary.  That word is “lasterday.”

When I was studying to become a teacher, Lynn asked what grade I planned to teach.  When I told him I wasn’t sure, he said, “Whatever you do – don’t teach fifth grade.  Fifth graders are monsters!”  I said, “Lynn, you were a fifth grader last year,” and his response was “Yeah, and remember what a monster I was.”

When Lynn was in middle school, he was the victim of a trouble-maker who told him that Robbie wanted to fight him, while telling Robbie that Lynn wanted to fight him.  Lynn later told me that he’d had no intention of fighting, but when Robbie grabbed him by the collar of his beloved Pendleton jacket, Lynn saw red and a battle ensued.  Lynn punched Robbie in the mouth and seriously cut up his knuckles, requiring a trip to the emergency room.  When he was moaning in pain, I asked if he’d learned his lesson.  He said he had.  “And what is that lesson?”  “When you punch someone, don’t punch him in the teeth.”

We were in the car with Lynn and his friend Steve in the back seat.   Suddenly, Lynn said, “Steve, know what?”  When Steve asked “What?” Lynn said “Watermelon.”  A little later Lynn said “Steve, know what?”  Steve replied “What?” and Lynn said “Watermelon.”  Again, a little later, “Steve, know what?”  Steve said, “Yeah, I know what – watermelon.”  Lynn said “No, cantaloupe.” 

When she was quite small, our daughter Michelle was good at creating her own expressions.  Once while riding in the car in the rain, she said, “The tick-tocks make the windows clean, don’t they, Daddy?”  She left the crust when she ate a sandwich, stating that she didn’t like “sandwich skin,” and when she was thirsty, she said her mouth was melting.

When Michelle’s big brother Lynn caught a grasshopper and asked for a container in which to put it, I gave him a coffee can.  Each time she looked at the can, Michelle excitedly said, “Gaspopper.”  One day at a market there was a display of cans of coffee, and Michelle could hardly contain herself because she was so excited to see so many gaspoppers.  That wasn’t the only time she had people staring at her in public.  She spoke in complete sentences at an early age, and people would turn and stare, thinking, “Did that come out of that tiny person?”

At the age of four, Michelle said to me, “Do you know why the streets are clean in the middle?  Because the cars make wind that blows the dirt off the middle of the street.  That’s why the street cleaner just goes along the edge.

When Michelle was in first grade, she came home from school and said, “Help me write ‘My father is a butcher,’ and I’ll read it for you.”  I said, “No, I’ll help you write ‘My father is a coach’.”  Michelle said, “You don’t understand.  I want to show you how I can read.  I know my father is a coach.” 

Another time Michelle said “Karen, Debbie, and I are the best workers in the class.”  I asked her if her teacher had said that.  She responded, “No, the teacher said Karen and Debbie are the best workers – but I’m a good worker, too.”

When Michelle was learning to water-ski, we asked her if she was ready for a lesson.  She replied, “No, there are too many white cats.”

When she was around seven, during a trip to Mexico, Michelle was fascinated with the language, and before long she said to us, “I can speak Spanish – ‘Goleta-golota’.”  From then on, Michelle regularly displayed her knowledge of Spanish by repeating her own original phrase:  “Goleta-golota.”  She never shared its meaning with us.

Before she was a year old, my granddaughter Laura lived across the yard from a baby also named Laura, who was the same age. Whenever my granddaughter saw neighbor Laura, she would excitedly say, “Ba-ba, Ba-ba.”  One day, while in a grocery store, Laura started pointing and saying, “Ba-ba, Ba-ba! and there was neighbor Laura pointing and yelling, “Ba-ba, Ba-ba!” Laura’s parents looked at neighbor Laura’s mother and she looked at them, and they all were thinking: “Wow!  She calls Laura Ba-ba, too!”  From then on, both baby Lauras were “Ba-ba” when they were together. 

When she got a little older, Laura had her own words for her favorite foods:  yogurt was “yorgut”; spaghetti was “gabobbi”; and zuchinni was “kamimi.”

 Grandson Matt’s language began with one word, “dah-deesh,” that he used for just about everything, which reminded me of his father, who also had a one-word vocabulary at that age, which I interpreted as “tah-deesh,” but may have actually been the same pronunciation.  Fathers often pass traits on to their sons, but I find it unique that Lynn passed on this unusual first word. 

As he got a little older, Matt had some sophisticated expressions. One began with “Well, actally, …” and then there was, “In a manner in fact,….” 

Once when Matt was sitting in his high chair in his grandmother’s kitchen, watching the rain outside, his mother mentioned that his voice was kind of high.  Right then, he said in a deep baritone, “Look at da rain.”

When granddaughter Sara was around two or three years old, if someone teased her or said something she didn’t like, she’d point her finger at the offending person while saying, in a menacing voice, “Don’t!”

My granddaughter Kassie showed dogs with her grandmother.  When she was two years old, the judge asked to see the dog’s bite.  In her most authoritarian voice, she stated, “My dog doesn’t bite.” 

Kassie was good at math.  When she was about five years old, one day when we were going to an event and she asked what time we were leaving, I said “It’s 4:30 now and we’re leaving in 45 minutes.  What time will that be?”  She responded: “I need a piece of paper to write it down because then I could always get the answer almost probably.”

After hearing her mother call me by my name, Lois, my granddaughter Laura immediately started calling me “Grandma Belois.”  She was the only one to calm that, though.  To most of my grandchildren and great grandchildren, I’m “Maw-Gaw,” which is the name given to me by granddaughter Kassie when she was beginning to talk.  I considered that unique until my niece Terry brought her grandchildren to visit.  They had also dubbed their grandmother “Maw-Gaw.”

Another name for a grandmother occurred while my grandson Matt was visiting his mother with his son.  “Who’s that, Joey?” Matt asked.  Knowing that there was another woman he called “Grandma,” after thinking about it, little Joey said “Buggum,” and it stuck! 

To great-granddaughter Hailey, a lawn mower was a “mow-lawn” and a finger was a “thinger,” which seems appropriate when using a finger to point at some thing.

My two great-grandchildren, cousins Hailey and Joey, were sitting close together on the couch, deep in conversation. Everyone else in the room stopped to listen, and heard Joey say, “It was vewy funny, but vewy inappwopwiate!”

On his fourth birthday, Jaden, totally engrossed in practicing hitting the ball off his new tee, was heard to say, in a deep “Dad’s” voice, “Ya hafta bend your knees.”

When great-granddaughter Sara was small, if she didn’t care for something, her method of communication was to say the word “like” while vigorously shaking her head back and forth as if to say “no.”

Again, relying on one word to convey her message, being an independent little tyke, Sara would say “self” when people offered assistance that she didn’t want – her way of saying “I’ll do it myself.”

My great-grandson Daxon came up with a very perceptive observation when he pointed out that it is the reckless drivers who have the most wrecks.

My great-granddaughter Maelle was doing an experiment in which she made certain things float.  Her mother said,” Wow, it’s magic!”  Maelle said, “It’s not magic – it’s science.”  She has said this many times since, when we marvel at things that seem special.  In fact, “It’s not magic – it’s science” has become a part of our family’s lexicon. 

While putting up Christmas decorations, when she was five, after taking ornaments from two layers of a five-layer box, when my great-granddaughter Natalie saw another layer, she said, “Oh my gosh, this is going to take forever!  I need a drink.”

When Natalie asked her mother to get down cornstarch and food coloring, saying she was doing an experiment to make slime, her mother reminded her:  “You need an adult.”  In her “well, duh” voice, Natalie said, “You are the adult.” 

Natalie spilled some water while watching a movie.  When asked to pick it up, she responded, “I’m picking it up with my mind.”

During Art Linkletter’s heyday, we were watching him interview a little girl.  Art said to her, “Let’s pretend you’re Cinderella’s wicked step-sister.  Wicked step-sister, why are you so wicked?”  The little girl wrinkled her brow, thought for a minute, and then said in a gruff voice, “Because I wike to!”  That really stuck with my family.  When a family member is asked why he or she did something, the answer is very likely to be “because I wike to!” 

I’m sure I’ve heard many more adorable and thought-provoking expressions from the mouths of children, but can’t think of them now.  I’ll consider this a work in progress and will add more when I remember them or hear new ones.  If you asked me why I record all of these fascinating stories, my answer would be “Because I wike to!”  And Art, you were right – kids do say the darndest things!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Lois McKinney

August 2022

What’s In A Name?

My Grandson and I

Sometime in late 2015, my grandson Jacob and his wife Rebecca announced that they were expecting their first baby, a girl. They had selected a name but were keeping it secret. They had plans to have her name on her bedroom wall in large letters. I was given one of those letters to decorate – a “T.”

I began referring to the forthcoming baby as “Tabitha.” Several weeks before the baby was born, in the middle of the night I suddenly sat up in bed and uttered the word “Natalie.” The next morning I texted this event to Jake. His response: “What about Tabitha?”

On June 14, 2016, my grandson telephoned me to tell me that my great granddaughter had been born. He said, “You were right, Grandma; her name is Natalie.” Jacob’s wife Rebecca announced to family and friends that Great Grandma Lois had figured out the name. I explained that I hadn’t figured out anything. It came to me. This was a case of ESP – Jacob had obviously shot thought waves all the way from Texas to California.

Over five years later, in October 2021, Jacob and Rebecca announced that they were expecting their second baby, another girl. Again, they didn’t reveal the name that they had selected. Again, they planned to put their little girl’s name on her bedroom wall, and again, I was given the letter “T” to decorate; Grandma Mish and Grandpa Bobba were given the letter “E.”

Knowing that Michelle, her daughter, a friend, and I play Wordle each day, Bob suggested that we play Wordle to determine the baby’s name, so I created an informal Wordle game. As with the New York Times Wordle, the name was limited to five letters. I chose the name “Katey.” Michelle, Sara, and Chris would each give me a guess privately and I’d let each of them know when they had correct letters and when the letters were in the right place. Their guesses were Emily, Kerry, Kacey, Natey, Janey, Sadie, Mabel, Haley, Tilly, Stacy, Kaley, and Kathy. I was sure that the name hadn’t been guessed – in fact, chances were pretty good that the name selected for the baby wasn’t five letters – but I sent all of the names that were guessed to Jacob, telling him that his Dad had suggested a Wordle game and these were the results.

I continued to think of names, but didn’t really pursue the subject.

On the day the baby arrived, April 14, 2022, Jacob sent us a very sophisticated Wordle game that he had created, which would reveal the new baby girl’s name. According to the game, the name consisted of six letters, and I knew it contained a T and an E. When I looked at the Wordle, the first name that came to mind was “Violet,” a name I hadn’t even considered before. Michelle and I both excitedly began our puzzles. After I entered “Violet,” all six letters turned green. I GOT THE NAME ON THE VERY FIRST TRY! When I told Michelle of my good luck, she was so eager to know the name that she didn’t even finish the puzzle but came running over to view it on my phone.

What could have caused me to select this name? It’s clearly another case of ESP. Jacob had again shot thought waves, this time from Texas to Oregon. Obviously, my grandson and I have an extra-sensory connection. There’s no other explanation.

Lois McKinney
April 19, 2022

Not Just Another Monday!

On Monday, March 7, 2022, I left my Zoom Writers’ Group meeting and got into the car to be driven to my cardiologist appointment. In October, because of a heart irregularity, I was having breathing problems, so my daughter Michelle called 911. After the EMT found I was in atrial fibrillation and my heartbeat was 160, I was off to the hospital. There, a heart echo revealed that I had an ejection fraction of 10-15%. I didn’t know anything about ejection fractions, but was told by the hospital cardiologist that he had never heard of a conscious person having an ejection fraction that low, the normal range being 50-75%.

After receiving excellent care, including cardioversion to get me out of atrial fibrillation, I breathed better and we were sure that my ejection fraction had vastly improved. Four months after my first heart echo, cardiologist Dr. Virgilio ordered a second echo, which was performed. An appointment was made to go over the results, and that was the reason for the March 7th visit.

Dr. Virgilio discussed the results of the latest echo, which showed an ejection fraction of 45%, close to normal. After asking me a series of questions, she was pleased that I was feeling good and back to normal activities and routines. After listening to my heart and noting a heart rate of 40 beats per minute, she ordered an EKG (electrocardiogram) which revealed a sinus arrest with a slow ventricular rhythm. Dr. Virgilio was very concerned and said I needed to go to the hospital at once to get a pacemaker. She explained that I was suffering from heart block, and because my natural pacemaker had stopped doing its job, I needed a new one. After checking, she advised us that the cardiologist who performs pacemaker implantations was on vacation, so I would need to go to a hospital near Eugene, an hour and fifteen minutes away, for the procedure. She arranged for me to be under the care of a cardiologist at that hospital. Then she added that because I take Eliquis, a blood thinner, I’d need to wait 48 hours before the operation. Stating that my situation was precarious, Dr. Virgilio insisted that I couldn’t spend those two days at home, but needed to be in the hospital where I could be closely monitored.

Michelle drove me to the PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center in Springfield. We arrived there around 6:45 PM. I was admitted into the E.R., awaiting a hospital room. I was put on a monitor that revealed that my heart rate averaged 35 beats per minute, a far cry from the 160 beats per minute that I had experienced when I went to the hospital in October (the normal range is 60-100). In addition to the heart monitor, I had a 12-lead EKG, got a chest X-ray, and blood was drawn for testing. External pacemaker pads were placed on my chest and back to be used in case temporary pacing was urgently needed. At two minutes after midnight on Tuesday, March 8th, I was moved from the E.R. to a hospital room.

When I awoke at 3:00 AM Tuesday after a short sleep, I was hungry, having had only a light dinner before coming to the hospital. When I requested food, I was advised that doctor’s orders called for fasting, which made no sense when the surgery wouldn’t be until the following day.

Later in the morning the cardiologist who was to implant the pacemaker, Dr. Karenem, came into my room and advised me that he would perform the surgery on this day. When I inquired about the 48-hour wait because of the blood thinner, he told me that the danger of bleeding was less than the danger of waiting. Then Dr. Karenem explained exactly what would be done, in terms I could understand. Before our discussion began, I called my daughter, Michelle, and put her on speakerphone so that she could be a part of the conversation and, based on her knowledge as a former Cardiac Intensive Care nurse, could explain anything that wasn’t clear to me. I was also shown a pacemaker so that I’d know what I would be wearing (what alien being would be inhabiting my body).

For the surgery, I was given a sedative and a local anesthetic, so I was awake but groggy. I marvel at what a wonderful invention the pacemaker is and the amount of skill it must take to be able to string wires through veins to the atrial and ventricular chambers of the heart. The surgery took a little over an hour.

After the post-procedure chest x-ray, I was delighted to learn that I could go home – the same day as my surgery! I didn’t need any time to decide. Funny thing, after I was admitted, I was asked to sign a form stating that I had been told I could decline leaving when a doctor cleared me to go home. This was a new Medicare requirement. I was incredulous to think that anyone would want to stay in the hospital when allowed to go home. In thinking about it now, I remember cases when patients were released and reluctantly left before they were ready and became dangerously ill.

On the way home, Michelle asked if I wanted to stop to see my granddaughter’s new home in Springfield. I was tired but didn’t want to miss this opportunity and, after all, I could do lots of resting when I got home, which is exactly what I did.

Shortly after returning home, I experienced a side effect from the agent that was used to cleanse the area prior to surgery. I developed a rash and the area itched, keeping me awake several nights. So it appears that there is yet another substance that I have difficulty tolerating.

On Wednesday, the day following my surgery, I accompanied Michelle when she was walking Banjo. After going just a short distance, Michelle noticed that I was shuffling instead of picking up my feet, so she suggested that it was time to turn around and go back home. We did this and, although it was a really short walk, I was exhausted. I grumbled a bit because of my incapacity to walk farther, and was reminded that I was expecting too much too soon. Two days later, I was capable of walking farther without getting winded.

Now that I’m healed, I have more stamina and my life is back to normal. It’s strange that the two times in the last six months when I’ve been in danger because of my heart, I felt generally good and had to be told that my situation was precarious by medical professionals, who then proceeded to get me out of those precarious situations. God bless medical professionals!

Lois McKinney
May 2022

School Memories

Young Lois

My first memory of school is kindergarten. I adored my teacher. Her name was French, Diapere (pronounced Die-a-peer’). My father would tease me by calling her Miss Diaper. I would object, of course, because I didn’t like anyone disparaging my teacher; in my eyes, she was the smartest person in the world. Many years later when I taught kindergarten, I learned that most kindergarten children feel that way.

I was fortunate to be taught first grade by Miss Bowman, who had already been in that position at Roxbury School for many years. Teaching was Miss Bowman’s life. During my first grade year, I contracted Scarlet Fever and missed months of school, during which time Miss Bowman had the children cut pictures from magazines and bring photos from home in order to make a scrapbook for me. She would print something clever under each picture or photo.

I still have the scrapbook, which I treasure.

We moved from Roxbury to Moxham, a different section of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, right before my third grade year at Cypress Avenue School. One day after school when I was in fourth grade, I decided to play with my ball before going home, because one of the walls on the outside of the schoolhouse was perfect for bouncing the ball. I liked to play a game in which I’d throw the ball against the wall and let it bounce on the ground a certain number of times while I’d perform various activities such as clapping hands or turning around, going from number one to number ten. On this particular day, I was in the midst of this game when I made a wild throw and the ball hit a window and broke it. I began to cry, and a boy who was nearby said, “Ooooo, you’re in trouble! The principal is going to use his spanking machine on you!” Just then, fifth-grade teacher Miss Geiger came out of the school with my ball in her hand. She ran over to me, put her arms around me and told me that everything was fine and that she knew it was an accident. I asked her about the spanking machine, and she assured me that there was no such thing. Then she handed my ball to me and told me to go home and forget all about the accident.

The following year, Miss Geiger was one of my teachers. We changed classes in fifth grade, with Miss Geiger teaching some of the subjects and Miss Burns teaching the others. As nice as Miss Geiger was, that’s how mean Miss Burns was. We were fortunate in having a gymnasium in our school, so we were able to play games, even in winter or rainy weather. One day, we were having a relay race in the gym, when I had my finger in my mouth. Miss Burns stopped the game to tell me to take my finger out of my mouth. A little later I just had to take care of that hangnail, whereupon Miss Burns said, “That does it! Your parents need to know that you bite your nails.” On another occasion, when our class marched into Miss Burns’ room, I had a big wad of bubble gum in my mouth. I didn’t want to throw this fresh gum away, so I put it on a piece of paper and slipped it into the desk at which I was sitting, planning to retrieve it before returning to my homeroom. After changing classes, I suddenly remembered my bubblegum. I ran back to Miss Burns’ room, just in time to see Ray McGraw handing the piece of paper with my bubblegum to Miss Burns. She said, “Your parents need to know about this!” Sure enough, when I received my report card, in the deportment section, even though there was no area for remarks, Miss Burns had written in pencil. “Bites fingernails – Chews gum.” I wondered why she used pencil, when the grades were written in ink. I really think she was hoping I’d erase the penciled remarks so that she could use the opportunity to shame me again. Funny thing, though, my parents didn’t make a big deal about the comment. In fact, they laughed about it.

On another occasion, we were having a geography test for which I’d failed to study. Our Dad had taken my sister and me to a movie the night before. When he had asked if we had homework, I’d said I didn’t, so we went to a movie, leaving me no time to study; therefore, I was ill prepared for the test. We’d been given explicit notes, so studying for these geography tests was easy – we just needed to memorize the notes. I was sitting at my desk drawing a blank, when a boy in the class went up to the teacher who, fortunately, was the nice one, Miss Geiger, and said he didn’t feel well so could he take the test later? Miss Geiger said he could come in before school the next day to take the test. I went up to her desk and told Miss Geiger that I, too, didn’t feel well, so she said I could take the test the next morning also. That evening I memorized all my notes and was well prepared to take the test. I went to school early, but when I got there, I couldn’t conjure up the nerve to go into the school. To this day, I don’t know why I couldn’t go in, unless I feared someone would ask me why I went in early, or perhaps I was afraid I’d run into Miss Burns. As a result, I got a D in Geography on my next report card – the only D I ever received.

Cypress Avenue School had only grades K through 5, so we had to go to Village Street School for sixth grade. This school was some distance from our home, but not too far for us to walk. My mother didn’t like packing lunches, so she gave us money to buy lunch. My sister was in junior high school, where there was a cafeteria, but there was no cafeteria at Village Street School. As I think about it now, I don’t know why I didn’t pack my own lunch – probably because I pretty much did what my mother suggested. So each day I walked to the Dairy Dell and bought lunch. After several days of this, Mr. Miller, the school principal, who also ate there, saw me and suggested that we eat together, and he even drove me to and from the restaurant. My family had never gone to a restaurant, so I knew nothing about tipping. One day I noticed some change on the table as we were leaving and pointed out to Mr. Miller that he’d left some money. He said, “Let’s just leave it there.” One day he asked me if any of the kids teased me about eating with the principal. I responded that I didn’t think any of them knew. I really didn’t have any close friends at this new school. In addition to being principal, Mr. Miller taught sixth grade math. There were two boys in my math class who hadn’t learned the basics they should have learned in lower grades. Mr. Miller was determined to catch them up, spending our class time on remedial math for these two boys. Consequently, the rest of the class never learned our sixth grade math, so we went to junior high school knowing nothing about decimals or pre-algebra.

Cochran Junior High School consisted of grades 7 through 10. My 7th grade math teacher, Miss Brown, was extremely overweight, had a manly voice, never left her desk, and was kind and an excellent teacher. She began each math period with a quick written quiz, with each student running to the front of the room and lining up when finished. We each kept a personal graph showing our accuracy and speed in these quizzes. The first few weeks of her class, she quizzed us on the things we should have learned in sixth grade. I’ve always been good at math, but did poorly in these quizzes, when the questions were about sixth grade basics, which we hadn’t learned. As a result, I received a C in math on my report card. It didn’t take long for me to change that C to an A. Also, the accuracy markings on my graph had a sharp incline, although I didn’t do too well on speed.

One of the first things I learned in junior high school was that I loved physical education class. We were required to buy gym suits that were one-piece blue shorts overall-type outfits. There was a pocket on the front left side of the top, and we were required to have our names in yellow on the right side. Embroidery was preferred, and Millie, a distant relative who lived with my grandparents and was like another grandma to me, did beautiful embroidery, so I asked her to perform this task for me. She suggested that my mother, whose penmanship was spectacular, should write the name for her to embroider. My mother wrote my name with a special flair, which Millie caused to be even more beautiful with her meticulous needlework. Whether it was true or not, I believed I was the envy of every girl in my gym class. But the uniform wasn’t the only thing I loved about this new phenomenon – physical education! This class was responsible for my favorite ninety minutes of the week. We had PE class twice a week, which was two times a week too often for most of my friends, but not nearly often enough for me. I didn’t even mind the compulsory showers at the end of each PE class, even though this gave me a chance to compare and see how far behind I was in the area of physical development; and I wasn’t embarrassed when we lined up according to size and I was the very last one in line. I did well in every activity in PE, and I excelled in tumbling, which was a rather tame introduction to gymnastics. Much of the tumbling was done on mats. One event involved a student crouching at the end of the mat, with arms and legs tucked in, with the other students jumping over the crouching student, tucking their bodies, and ending with somersaults. Then another student would crouch beside the first croucher, then another, and another, etc. Each time, all the other members of the class would run, jump over all the crouching students, tuck their bodies, and end with somersaults. We had a tumbling assembly, in which I was the champion tumbler, clearing ten crouching students, after all the other tumblers had dropped out, one by one, as the number of crouching students increased.

At the insistence of my mother, I enrolled in the Commercial Course, rather than College Prep. At this point of my life, I’d been forced to give up any idea of college or becoming a physical education teacher. I actually enjoyed the Commercial Course, though, and excelled at Typing, Shorthand, Bookkeeping, and Business English. I received awards for fast and accurate typing and shorthand. I would practice shorthand for hours every evening, loving every moment. In my senior year, my shorthand teacher was so impressed with my characters that she’d ask me to write examples on the blackboard. I’m still quite proficient at shorthand and find it helpful when taking notes and creating stories and poems. At the beginning of my tenth grade year, the boys who had no college plans and were enrolled in the Commercial/Technical Course decided to stage a sort of rebellion. They were tired of being represented each year in student council by College Prep students, so they selected one of their own to run for student council president – a very nice looking, soft-spoken, intelligent young man by the name of Don Irons – who won the election. Don was a buddy of mine, he and I being a part of the group of kids who played softball almost every evening at a local playground. Neither of us had a steady at that time, so he asked me to accompany him to the tenth grade prom. The student council president and his date had the responsibility of leading the grand march at this prom, which was quite an honor. I was thrilled!

I spent my junior year at Johnstown High School, with the friends with whom I’d spent four years of junior high. I belonged to the Leaders’ Club, a group of girls who loved physical education, and I’d been assured by the PE teacher that I’d be a cheerleader the next year when I’d be a senior. Then my family moved to a different part of town, and I decided to spend my last year of school there instead of finishing at Johnstown High. I later regretted this decision, when I decided it had been a mistake not to spend my last year of high school with my long-time friends. I did have a good year at Westmont-Upper Yoder High School, though. I made a few friends, and I lettered in athletics, based on a point system for individual and team sports. This was unique to this school. Girls didn’t receive sports letters at Johnstown High School. I also set a record for receiving a letter in one year, which happened because I was fortunate in being on many winning teams. Another happy event for me was that I was cast in the senior class play, which began my enjoyment of theatrical performances that would last for over 70 years.

My parents refused to finance the college education I desired, believing that they could afford college for only one of their two daughters and that my sister was the logical one to receive such an education. After I was married and had two children, at the age of 30, I began college. In four years I achieved a B.A. and earned a teaching credential. I couldn’t have done it without my husband’s support. He believed in me, even though my parents hadn’t.

Lois McKinney
January 2021

You gotta have heart

We didn’t recognize the signs. I was cutting down the length of my daily walks because I’d get winded; and while on vacation, the short walk across the sand, using walking sticks, did me in.  And when my legs swelled, despite my low-salt diet, I asked my nurse daughter, Michelle, if my heart could be the cause. She said it could.

We returned home from our Texas vacation on October 16th.  That night I had difficulty going to sleep because I was short of breath.  I considered waking Michelle, but decided to power through.  The next night I again had breathing difficulties.  This time I panicked, so I woke Michelle.  She asked if I wanted her to call 911.  That seemed to be a bit extreme for such a minor problem, but when I became more frightened, I said she should call.

When the paramedics arrived, they put me on a heart monitor, revealing that I was in atrial fibrillation with a heart rate of 160. Atrial fibrillation was a new heart rhythm for me, and Michelle breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that they could easily get my heart rate under control, relieving the cause of my distress.  As soon as I got into the ambulance,  was given oxygen, and a sedative and heart rate medication were administered via IV, I began to feel better. I was admitted to the hospital. 

The next day, I was seen by a visiting cardiologist, Dr. Rowe, who lives in Utah.  I feel so fortunate to have been under his care.  He started me on Eliquis, a blood thinner that doesn’t have all the requirements associated with Warfarin; and a great drug for ventricular arrhythmias, Amiodarone.  Dr. Rowe performed an angiogram and inserted a stent close to one that I had received about fifteen years ago. Instead of going through the groin, Dr.Rowe went through my wrist.  

A cardiac echo revealed that I had an ejection fraction of 10-15%.  I was told by my cardiologist that 50-70% is normal; 30% is dangerous; and 10-15% is extremely unusual in a conscious person.

After a week, I was released from the hospital.  It was great to be home until it was time for bed. I had difficulty getting to sleep because my breathing was labored – nothing like it had been before I went to the hospital, but it was scary for me.  My daughter Jeannette was visiting from California, and she volunteered to sleep with me if that would relax me, and this was a great help. I hadn’t had this problem in the hospital because I was on oxygen.  When I saw my GP, Dr. Meyers, he prescribed Trazodone for sleep.  He said that I should take melatonin until my prescription was filled.  I found that melatonin works for me, and not wanting to begin another medication with possible side effects, I never took the Trazodone.  I continue to take a melatonin each night.

Being relatively new to Oregon, I needed to find a local cardiologist.  Dr. Virgilio was highly recommended, and she was available.  I’m very pleased with Dr.Virgilio.  She explains everything in great detail, sometimes making drawings.  She emphasized the need to never miss taking my Eliquis, and she explained the value of the anti-dysrythmic drug I’ve been taking, Amiodarone. 

On November 17, Dr. Virgilio performed cardioversion, an outpatiet procedure to stop the atrial fibrillation I’d been experiencing since my first symptoms. The procedure was successful, but I had a bad side effect from the Propofol, an anesthetic I’d had   previously without incident.  While lying in recovery, I began having a feeling of pin pricks on my arms and legs, followed by a feeling of burning on my skin, followed by extreme pain all over my body, some of the worst pain I’ve ever endured.  I couldn’t stand to be touched, and when the nurse removed the electrodes that had been stuck to my chest, I felt as though she was tearing out pieces of flesh.  Fortunately, the symptoms gradually subsided and were gone in an hour or two.

During a conversation with the anesthesiologist when we had time to kill prior to the cardioversion, I mentioned that my sister was a doctor.  He asked if she was living, and was incredulous that someone my age had a living older sister.  He said we obviously have good genes.  I told him that our parents died at 47 and 52 – but I added that they both smoked.  Then the anesthesiologist asked what kind of doctor my sister was.  I responded, “She’s an anesthesiologist.”

As I write this, I’m feeling good.  I’m back to exercising and taking daily walks.  I get stronger every day.

I’ve been fortunate in receiving good medical care throughout this ordeal.  Even though I would rather have been at home, my hospital stay was pleasant.  Also, I received nice ego boosts when several doctors and nurses told me that they had told hospital staff members who were coming to see me to not turn around and leave – “You’re in the right room.  She really is 91.”

Lois McKinney, December 6, 2021

When the Cat’s Away

“When the cat’s away, the mice will play.”  Bob and I had an opportunity to check out this maxim, as Michelle – the sheriff, the mayor, the boss, the superintendent, or, in this instance, the cat – went to Yosemite National Park with friends for a week, and we were on our own.  Michelle and Bob are my daughter and son-in-law, and I live with them.

When Michelle is in charge of our food, it is delicious, but, more important, it’s nutritious.  You don’t see very much junk food in our house – until now.

The first evening, Bob said he likes to support local businesses, so it seemed fitting that we have pizza.  In truth, we sometimes indulge in pizza when Michelle is home.  The two pizzas provided one dinner and two lunches.   Bob, no stranger to the kitchen, prepared dinner the next two evenings.

The following day was my turn in the kitchen.  I baked cookies, and for dinner I prepared meatloaf and twice-baked potatoes.  Bob steamed vegetables to complete the meal.  The meatloaf and potatoes provided two dinners and two lunches. 

Foodwise, we weren’t being terribly naughty, but that was about to change.  Our traditional Sunday brunch is usually omelets, salmon patties, turkey bacon, oven-fried potatoes, and the like.  This Sunday I suggested that brunch consist of donuts.  Bob was quick to agree and bought a half dozen assorted donuts plus some donut holes, which we managed to polish off in one day.  A few days later, Bob produced a recipe he wanted to try:  Watergate Salad, which is a misnomer.  It should be called Watergate Dessert.  The Watergate name is appropriate, though, as this dessert is criminal, the main ingredients being Cool Whip and pistachio instant pudding.  Bob didn’t agree that this wasn’t a healthful dish, pointing out that we used “Lite Cool Whip” and the dessert contained fruit:  pineapple and Mandarin oranges.  We managed to finish this treat before the boss returned.  Whether we’ll confess to her that we indulged in this sinful conglomeration remains to be seen.

Later Bob decided to support another local business, and he wanted to verify the new Oregon statute that allows take-out alcoholic beverages, so he ordered from a Mexican restaurant.  The marguerita was definitely to Bob’s liking, and the food supplied our last dinner and lunch before la policia returned.

The first two days, I didn’t take my daily walk.  Bob walks often, but I hadn’t realized that all I had to do was suggest we walk, and he and Banjo happily obliged.  So on the plus side, while Michelle was gone, I walked every day except two.

My grandson, Jacob, recommended a movie he thought we would enjoy:  Mitchells vs the Machines.  I shouldn’t have been surprised that a movie recommended by the father of a four-year-old would be animated.  Although I’m not crazy about animation, and am definitely not a sci-fy enthusiast, I agreed that we should follow through on Jake’s suggestion.   I rather enjoyed the film.  It had many funny moments.

In the past I have watched Dancing with the Stars, which is where I became acquainted with Nev Schulman, who hosts a TV show called Catfish.  I was aware that this show certainly isn’t for everyone, so I decided the best time to binge-watch it would be in Michelle’s absence, so that’s what I did.  Bob, being a normal human being, wasn’t a fan; however, he’d be in the living room from time to time during my watching marathon and would see bits and pieces, which led to some discussions between the two of us about the stupidity of people falling for these cons and the unconscionable actions of those implementing the cons.  These aren’t the scams performed by people in India, who fleece victims to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Money seldom changes hands in this TV show, the main things stolen being affection and time.  As with all so-called “reality” shows, this one is obviously scripted, which is a good thing because that makes the show move along.  I haven’t quite finished the season of Catfish, so Michelle will need to indulge me.

To say that Bob, Banjo, and I missed Michelle would be an understatement.  We missed her like crazy.  At the same time, we were happy that she got to spend time with her good friends who worked with her in Arizona, and whom she hadn’t seen for over a year.  And we knew that we could text Michelle any time we had questions – she was just a click away.  We did take advantage of that option – maybe too often, but Michelle didn’t seem to mind.  She also kept photos of beautiful Yosemite coming to us regularly.

Bob wasn’t home when Michelle walked in the door on her return.  I got a big hug and then said, “I wonder if Banjo remembers you.”  Stupid question – Banjo ran in circles, bumping into Michelle again and again, while whimpering his message:  “I missed you soooo much.  Don’t leave me again.”  I feel the same way, Banjo.

All in all, Bob and I did a pretty fine job of fending for ourselves.  We didn’t starve   (actually, we each may have gained a few pounds); we’re still good friends; and neither of us got injured.  This was a great experience for us.  We had an adventurous week, which I think can be summed up in one word:  donuts.

Lois McKinney, May 6, 2021 

My Email Correspondent

Her name was Lois, the same as mine, and, when we were teenagers, she was one of my best friends.  So when my husband and I attended a class reunion in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, we got together with Lois and Jim, her husband.  Jim was in the class ahead of us, and I had known of him but he hadn’t known me.  Every time my husband and I attended a reunion, we spent time with Lois and Jim, and we exchanged Christmas cards every year.  After Lois died a number of years ago, the Christmas card exchange continued.  Then, almost two years after my husband’s passing, Jim wrote a note on his Christmas card and included his email address.  This was how our email relationship began.

I realized at the outset that I was in for a treat, knowing that Jim had been a newspaper writer and still occasionally wrote columns for the local newspaper, and he certainly doesn’t disappoint.  His messages are full of reminiscent stories about our younger days, philosophical musings, testimonials of his faith, anecdotes and opinions.   Each time I see his email address in my inbox, I get a twinge of excitement, wondering what he’ll regale me with next.  I love reading his communications; likewise, he seems to enjoy what I write and doesn’t hesitate to tell me so. 

A childhood friend invited me to visit her in West Virginia this past September and October, promising to drive to our hometown of Johnstown, where we could meet with Jim and another friend.  The four of us met for lunch, and it was so nice having a face-to-face conversation with Jim after almost a year of email communications.  When Jim and I found ourselves alone for a few minutes, he leaned in and gave me a kiss which, I must admit, was welcomed.  In the first email I sent to Jim after my return home, I told him that I planned to write about my trip East for my writers’ group and said, “I have a dilemma:  do I or do I not mention the kiss?”  He was very forthcoming in his answer, so I don’t think he’ll mind if I quote him verbatim:

Dear soft-lips:  You have to mention the kiss.  It undoubtedly had to have been the shortest kiss in your illustrious kissing background with those with more than a passing interest in your life.  I would like a second chance.  I know I can do better.  I truly was taken aback with the tenderness of that brief spontaneous exchange.  Actually, on my part the “move” was not that unplanned.  I had been thinking of such an exchange and pondered briefly discussing the possibility with you via email.  I decided “no”– — better to let nature run its course.

Right after receiving this email, I took a 2 1/2–week trip.  When I returned home, I found myself very busy and didn’t get around to emailing Jim until almost two months after I received his last email.  I apologized profusely, assuring him that I thought of him often; nevertheless, I received no response.  Then, conformity be damned, even though it was his turn to email me, I sent Jim an email on Christmas day.  Still not having heard from him, I sent another email on January 14th.  Okay, Jim, I get it – I made you wait almost two months for an email, but come on, I sent you three emails.  Doesn’t that count for something?

I decided to Google Jim to find out if he’d written any columns recently for the newspaper.  There was nothing new written by Jim, but something written about him.  According to his obituary, Jim “passed away peacefully the evening of January 6, 2016, as a consequence of heart failure,” after “being stricken” eight weeks prior.  So he never received any of my last three emails, and he’ll never get that second chance to “do better.”

I always say:  the internet gives us all sorts of information, some good and some bad.  I’ll take the bad with the good, though, because without the internet I would not have formed a warm friendship with this very special man.

Lois McKinney

January 20, 2016

Bedtime Story for Lynn and Michelle

St. Peter rushed up to the Lord and said, “My books are quite a mess.
Could you please send out right away a very urgent SOS.”

Before the Lord could answer Pete, St. Francis said, “I’ve troubles, too.
The children all are crying and I really don’t know what to do.”

St. Michael said, “I’d like to add that Heaven doesn’t look so neat.
It seems an age since anyone has even swept the golden street.”

St. Anthony was next to speak:  “There’s one more thing, for Heaven’s sake:
The food they’re serving here of late gives me an awful tummy ache.”

The good Lord sat and thought and thought; the saints stood waiting breathlessly;
And then He turned to them and said, “We’ve problems up here, too, I see.”

“St. Michael thinks we need someone to tidy up the place a bit;
St. Francis feels the children need someone who’s sweet to baby-sit.”

“St. Peter wants a bookkeeper; St. Anthony, the best of cooks.”
Then all the saints said, “Please, Sir, while you’re choosing, pick someone with looks.”

And then the good Lord smiled, and there was a divine celestial glow.
“I know the perfect one, “He said, “Though she’ll be sorely missed below.”

Then as the angels sang, the Lord called Grandma to her heavenly home,
Where she looks down and watches us, no matter where we chance to roam.

She’s happy – she has lots to do.  She sweeps and dusts and sews and cooks;
She tells the children stories and she straightened out St. Peter’s books.

She made the angels all new robes and did so many other things;
And just the other day, I’m told, she mended St. Cecelia’s wings.

But she has not forgotten us; she looks down on us every day.
And someday we’ll be joining her in that Great Place so far away.

Lois McKinney
1958

            

Moonlight Park

School had just let out for the day, and as I was ready to start my walk home, I saw several of my friends having an earnest discussion.  As soon as I walked up to them, Donna turned to me and said “We’re thinking of renting a cabin for a week as soon as summer vacation begins.  Want to join us?”  Of course I wanted to join them!  Donna continued, “I’m pretty sure my Mom will be our chaperone.”  I can’t recall exactly what assurances my parents needed regarding competent adult supervision, but my mother probably spoke with Donna’s mother before saying I could go.  For the next several weeks, the upcoming trip was all we girls talked about at school.  After an interminable amount of time, summer vacation finally arrived.  We would be going to Moonlight Park, which was just outside of town, and Donna’s mother and father would be in the cabin with us, her father commuting to work each day.  I’d never heard of Moonlight Park, but as soon as we arrived there, I recognized it as the place with the swimming pool where my Dad had taken my sister and me many times.  New management had built the cabins and turned our favorite swimming hole into a resort known as Moonlight Park.  The pool was small, with lots of inlaid rocks giving it a rustic look.  To six teenage young ladies, this was paradise.

The cabin consisted of two rooms, a bedroom that was claimed by the two adults, and a large room that, after we set up our six cots, became the kitchen/living room/dormitory.

Most of our days were spent at the pool.  Much of the time, we were the only ones there.  On one occasion, though, while I was sitting by the pool, chatting with my friends and trying to get a tan, one of the girls said “That guy over there just took a picture of you.”  Those were innocent times, so we thought nothing of it.  When we weren’t at the pool, we would spend our time playing games and reading.   We’d discuss and share our books.  I guess one could say that we had our own little book club.

I was the entertainer of the group.  I liked to do impressions of singers, and after we all got in bed at night, the girls would ask me to sing Ink Spots songs to lull them to sleep.

Donna’s parents would retire before we girls did, so we’d sit around talking for hours before going to bed.  Donna’s mother was a smoker, and one night we helped ourselves to her cigarettes.  We all tried smoking, blew some smoke rings and thought we were hot stuff.  I personally hated the taste but said if I married someone who smoked, then I’d learn to like it and would be a smoker, too.  Thank goodness I didn’t marry a smoker.  We thought we were putting something over on Donna’s mother.  The next morning after breakfast, as she extracted a cigarette from the pack, she said, “Shall I pass them around?”

One night after Donna’s parents had gone to bed, while we were sitting around talking and being silly, someone said “Oh, your mother’s army boots,” which led us to say all sorts of crazy things – “Oh, your aunt’s mustache wax” or “Oh, your uncle’s silk stockings,” and things of that nature; whereupon, Donna said “Let’s say only things that are true.”  She followed with “Oh, my father’s wooden leg.”  Of course, we all reminded her that she was only to say things that were true.  Donna got up from the table, went into her parents’ bedroom and came out with her father’s wooden leg.  Until then, we had no idea that he wasn’t walking around on his two original legs.

One evening we were all outside when a rather nice car drove up and three boys, a little older than ourselves, hopped out.  I thought the driver was kind of cute, and when he said that he owned the car, he became even more attractive.  His name was Roy.  He and I hit it off, and he came by every evening after that.  On one occasion, when we were all running outside, I slipped and fell rather hard on my hip.  With Roy’s assistance, I hobbled into the cabin and lay on a cot.  He sat beside me as we talked, and who should walk in but my parents.  It turned out that my mother’s new boss, who had just moved to town and hadn’t yet bought a house, was staying in one of the cabins.  My mother was horrified.  She told me that a nice young lady would never lie down in the presence of a boy.  After she left, my friends commiserated with me as I laid out my plans.  If my mother wouldn’t allow me to date Roy, I’d sneak date – that’s what I’d do.  When I returned home and talked to my mother, she said she knew Roy’s mother through business and she had no problem with my dating him.  With the intrigue gone, that relationship was soon over.

One of the girls suggested that we go skinny-dipping one night.  Three of us agreed to do it.  This idea was not shared with Donna’s parents.  We went to bed the usual time, but at around 2:00 a.m., three of us wrapped beach towels around our naked bodies and all six of us stealthily made our way to the pool.  We three daring ones dropped our towels and slid into the water while dodging the flashlight beams that the other three kept shining on us.  It was very exciting, not only the swimming, but the fear that we would be seen, not trusting our friends to keep their eyes peeled, and we weren’t sure they would warn us if anyone did appear.  A popular song at the time was “Her Bathing Suit Never Got Wet.”  I wrote my own verse:  

 Then one night, ‘twas down in Moonlight Park;
 Three girls went swimming and it was so dark,
They went in and while some girls stood guard,
 They found that swimming isn’t hard.

 But their bathing suits never got wet,
And the reason, of course you have guessed it,
But they did it just once just to test it,
So their bathing suits never got wet.

Lois McKinney

October 2019

                                                                                                                            

                                                                                                                           

Just the Kind I Wanted

When our boy Lynn was four years old,
His Dad and I said, “Son,
We know that you love babies
And we’re going to soon have one.”

Lynn’s baby sis came on the scene
After a little while.
Lynn took one look at her and said,
With the biggest, happiest smile,

“She’s just the kind I wanted,”
As he patted her little head.
“She’s just the kind I wanted.”
That’s exactly what he said.

Lynn grew up to be successful;
He played ball and practiced law.
His physical appearance was
Almost without a flaw.

Then cancer ravaged his body,
With odds he couldn’t defy.
His family’s hearts were broken
As Lynn said his last good-bye.

The Lord looked down and all around,
And said “I need someone
To talk sports and play ball with me
When my busy day is done.”

“I need someone to make me laugh
And give me inspiration.
I need someone to steer the boat
When I go on vacation.”

Lynn said “I’m here for you, Lord,
But the big C did me in.”
The Lord said “Here with me
You’re absolutely perfect, Lynn.”

That’s how they got together
And became the best of friends.
Before too long, Lynn even learned
The way to make amends.

Lynn’s hearing what the Lord says
And his heart is filled with joy.
He tells about his memories
Of when he was a boy.

The Lord politely listens as
Lynn has a lot to say,
And, of course, the two of them find time
To play ball every day.

The other day Lynn tossed the ball,
And as the good Lord bunted,
He turned to Lynn and said, “You know,
You’re just the kind I wanted.”

Lois McKinney

April 2020

Tom in Stone

Nancy Cowardin, an artist as well as an excellent writer, is a member of Friends Memoirs Writers Group.  I also belong to the group, so had the good fortune to receive a personalized rock that she painted for me, to commemorate one of the beautiful drawings by Raoul Pascual that appears in the book I wrote.  She painted a personalized rock for every Group member.  Nancy is a treasure, and the rock she painted just for me is my treasure.

I Had a Dream

(With appreciation for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)

I don’t think I will soon forget
A dream I had the other night.
I dreamed I was caring for six little boys;
Three were black and three were white.

The smallest boy kept running off,
With the biggest, happiest grin.
He thought he and I were having a race,
And he was determined to win!

I picked him up by the back of his shirt
And as he squirmed and wiggled,
He became a suitcase as I carried him,
And plopped him on the grass as he giggled!

Then a little black boy fell to the ground.
His new friend said “You’ll be okay.
Let’s find a spot where you can rest,
And after that, we’ll play.”

The white boy helped his new friend
To sit beneath a nearby tree.
Then ran and got some water
And washed the injured knee.

The two of them talked and laughed
At riddles, and silly things that rhyme.
It seemed as though these two little boys
Had been good buddies for a very long time.

The other four kids found a ball
And tossed it all around.
They’d cheer each boy who caught the ball
Before it hit the ground!

Such sportsmanship warmed my heart.
It made me feel so good
To see that respect for everyone
Was something these kids understood.

Six little boys hadn’t known each others’ names –
Tom, Ralph, Satchel, Sam, Stu, and Wade –
But later that day they knew all the names
Of the new friends they had made.

I felt so honored to be in charge
Of those precious little guys,
And by the end of this wonderful day,
They had opened up my eyes

Wouldn’t it be great if we weren’t closed-minded
If assumptions didn’t get in our way?
We’d think the way those young kids did
On that really special day?

We’d judge people by the things they do
And not by the way they look.
If that could happen, all lives would matter,
And prejudice would be a closed book!

Lois McKinney
June, 2020

My Tears Come at Night

You whispered good-bye;
Then you faded from sight.
My days drift on by,
But my tears come at night.

My friends see me smile
And they think I’m all right.
I’m brave for a while,
But my tears come at night.

When I think of our love and devotion
My heart overflows with emotion.

You whispered good-bye;
Then you faded from sight.
My days drift on by,
But my tears come at night.

As I slip into bed
And I turn out the light,
Thoughts of you fill my head
As my tears come at night.

Lois McKinney

April 2020

A Trip to NYC – But Not for the Usual Reasons

I had it marked on my calendar for several years: Diana, a friend of my daughter Jeannette and myself, would swim the English Channel in August, 2019 – and I planned to be there to see her off from the English shore and to greet her in France on the completion of her swim. It seemed only right because six years ago, I was one of her many friends and relatives to greet her on a Palos Verdes shore in California upon her completion of a swim from Catalina. Although the song says Catalina is “26 miles across the sea,” her swim was registered at 20 miles because of the point in Catalina from which she started and the point in California where she landed. This swim took her 17 hours and 9 minutes.

So, for four or five years, my daughter and I planned to be in Europe for Diana’s English Channel swim. As the time drew near, we began to study the logistics. The first problem would be traversing the Chunnel, a trip that would prove difficult because of my claustrophobia. I planned to handle this situation with massive doses of Xanax. Then we talked about my needing a wheelchair for long-distance walks, which could cause another problem. Travel agents confirmed that England and France aren’t extremely wheelchair-friendly. Add to that the indefinite timing of the swim. Diana couldn’t be guaranteed a certain day to make the English Channel swim. The date and time would be determined based on several things, including the number of swimmers attempting the channel swim this year, and the weather. Diana only knew that it would probably be some time in August, hopefully during the week she had planned.

While we pondered whether or not to make this trip, Diana came up with a solution. In addition to the Catalina swim and the English Channel swim, there is a third event that completes the distance swimmers’ triple crown. It is circumnavigating Manhattan, known as the Twenty Bridges Swim, a feat she planned to complete in July. The window for this event was much smaller than the one for the English Channel swim, and it was likely that her swim would take place within that window.

Jeannette and I decided that instead of flying to Europe in August for the channel swim, we would fly to New York in July for the Manhattan swim. I felt that was a wonderful idea, especially since New York is one of my favorite cities. So Jeannette and I flew to New York on July 14th, arriving on the 15th. Diana swam around Manhattan on July 16, 2019. We saw her off from a dock, as she entered the boat that would stay with her during her swim. The boat carried her to the spot where she would begin swimming. We spent the day doing touristy things, knowing that Diana would be swimming for hours. When we felt she was within an hour or so of finishing the swim, we went to a lovely park that was next to the dock where she would land. As we waited there, we saw another swimmer, a young man who had begun at the same time as Diana, as he finished the swim. We knew it would be a while before we’d see Diana because she admittedly is a slow swimmer. We were so excited when we saw the boat and then Diana in the distance, and we watched her finish the 28.5-mile swim in 9 hours and 34 minutes. Everyone knows that the water around Manhattan is contaminated. For that reason, in preparation for the swim, Diana was put on a regimen of antibiotics, and after the swim she rinsed her mouth with diluted hydrogen peroxide.

Obviously, a great deal of training and planning go into these long-distance swims. Also, boats and kayaks are needed for each swim. Their crews set the route, watch for obstacles, and toss bottles of liquid nourishment to the swimmer. During the Catalina swim, one of the kayak crew’s tasks was to watch for sharks. The boat crews are hired, but Diana was fortunate in having volunteer kayak crews, for the most part. The rules in order for long-distance swims to be officially recognized are very strict. No one was permitted to touch Diana once she entered the water, and when she reached the California shore on her Catalina swim, as she struggled to navigate the rocky beach, all of the spectators were told, via loud-speaker, to not go near her until the swim was declared official. She began the Manhattan swim by jumping off the boat into the water right next to a pier, and she ended by climbing into the boat at the same spot.

After her New York swim, Diana was justifiably proud, and Jeannette and I were equally proud and decided it was our responsibility to share Diana’s accomplishments with the world. All of the waiters, waitresses, hotel personnel, and cab drivers the three of us encountered were apprised of the important person in our midst, as Jeannette and I regaled them with the details and statistics of Diana’s past and future swims. Everyone was understandably impressed.

As I said, New York is one of my favorite cities. While there, we decided to see things we’d never seen before. Although I’ve been to New York City many times, I’d never been to Coney Island. Jeannette and I decided that during Diana’s swim would be a good time for us to visit this world-famous playground. While there, we saw the New York Aquarium, shared a Nathan’s hotdog, and had some of the best soft-serve I’ve ever eaten.

At the top of Diana’s list of things to do in New York was to take a sightseeing boat around Manhattan, over the same route she swam. Jeannette and I readily agreed. This would be new to us, although we had previously boated to Ellis Island and back. It rained off and on that day, so I looked like a drowned rat. Nevertheless, the photo of the three of us standing on the boat deck with the Statue of Liberty in the background is one of my favorites.

Diana, Jeannette, and I agreed that we couldn’t leave New York without visiting the 9/11 Memorial, dedicated to the almost 3,000 people who perished as a result of this infamous event. The last time Jeannette and I had visited New York was in December of 2001. At that time we saw the direct aftermath of that horrible disaster. This time, along with Diana, we visited the 16-acre site where the 9/11 Memorial sits. It was so nice to see the beautiful memorial that turned this hellish spot into a lovely park, with an impressive tower and two magnificent square reflecting pools, set within the original Twin Towers footprints, with waterfalls cascading down the sides. By the time we left the memorial, I was exhausted from all the walking. There didn’t seem to be any place in front of the memorial where a taxi could stop. We saw a small building, which housed a police officer, with a sign warning that no one was to speak to the officer, so we walked up and began a conversation. We explained that one of us was an old woman who was very tired and that we needed a cab. The officer told us that cabs aren’t supposed to stop there; however, if we could get one to stop, she said she would look the other way. Fortunately, shortly after, we were successful in hailing a cab.

Diana and I believed that a trip to New York would be incomplete without taking in a Broadway show; Jeannette, not so much. Even though she had gone to Whittier College on a drama scholarship, at this point of her life Jeannette prefers the silver screen to live performances She likes to quote a line from the movie ” Sabrina.” In seeking favor with Sabrina, Linus, played by Harrison Ford, decides to take her to a musical, definitely not in his comfort zone. When he asks his secretary to get the tickets, she says to him, “You realize, don’t you, that the characters will periodically break into song, and dance about,” which pretty much reflects Jeannette’s attitude toward musical theater. Nevertheless, Diana and I prevailed, and a decision was made that we would see the hilarious musical “Tootsie.” Whether or not she would admit it, her reactions revealed that Jeannette really enjoyed the show. My daughter remembers just about every line of every movie she’s ever seen, so after the show, she was able to explain to us all the differences between “Tootsie” the movie and “Tootsie” the play. Later, Jeannette and I watched the movie. Although I’d enjoyed this movie many years ago, most of it was new to me. Jeannette, of course, vividly remembered every scene.

On August 3, 2019, Diana went to England to swim the English Channel. She was accompanied on her trip by another distance swimmer, her friend Carol-Lynn, who was fortunate in getting to swim the channel on August 8. We excitedly watched Carol-Lynn’s progress on a website that followed the boat that accompanied her. Due to weather conditions, Diana had to extend her stay in England an extra week to have her
opportunity to swim the channel. After being in England nearly a month, she finally began her swim on August 21st at 2:00 a.m. We followed her progress online, all 21 miles of it. After swimming 16 hours and 32 minutes, Diana touched down in France, completing the third and final event in the distance swimmers’ Triple Crown.

I am so proud to be able to call Diana Qualls Corbin my friend. I’ll always remember my excitement when she completed her three major swims. I feel privileged to have personally witnessed two of these – the first, on a California shore surrounded by twenty of her family members and closest friends who vicariously experienced this wonderful adventure with her; and then, just the two of us, my daughter and I, in a New York City park, watching with great anticipation to get our first glimpse of our super-hero friend swimming toward us, and then following her progress to the end of the swim. Thank you, Diana, for giving us entertainment and inspiration, and for being a role model to show what can be accomplished with determination, dedication, diligence, and drive. Thank you, too, for providing me with an excuse to visit New York.

Lois McKinney

July 2019