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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Never On Sunday

My little Gram had a lot of different superstitions. I'm sure that she learned them all from her father, who learned them from his Irish mother. Some revolved around holidays, and the various times of year were marked by her rituals. I remember her insisting that any food left out in the open, like fruit in a bowl, be covered up with a dishtowel on Halloween night. This was to protect us from eating anything that had been touched by visiting spirits, as I recall. Anything left uncovered that night would be thrown away in the morning because it was food for the souls of those gone by.

She had several New Year's Eve/New Year's Day rituals as well. The house had to be tidied and swept and the trash taken out before midnight. Throwing out any trash or sweeping any dust out the door on New Year's Day was strictly forbidden, as it meant sweeping away or throwing away one's luck. After the last family member returned home on New Year's Eve, she would (try to) sneakily hide some money outside on the front porch, usually in the milk box. First thing in the morning, she would retrieve the coins and distribute them to every member of the household as lucky money that was hoped to bring good fortune.

Another strict rule that Gram had was to start the New year by eating something sweet. Whether it was cake or cookies, we had to start off the year with a sweet treat so that our year would be a sweet one. Even the dogs were given a piece of cake on that morning. They had no understanding of why they were given this rare treat, but they didn't care; it tasted good and they loved it! She also performed a ritual that she described as the cake of the winds. Before anyone went outside, she went out in the back yard and threw cake in all four directions. I don't know if any prayers or declarations were made, because this was done privately. I imagine it was an old pagan ritual from her Irish forebears. Again, the dogs were beneficiaries of her actions as they came upon bits of cake in the yard and ate up every delicious crumb.

There were many other superstitions that were part of everyday mundane life. It was bad luck to come in one door and out the other. If you came in the front door, that's the door you should leave by to avoid bad luck. One must never kill a cricket - any crickets that made their way into the house were captured if possible and released in the yard. From time to time I would have an elusive cricket in my bedroom, singing me to sleep at night. One morning I woke up feeling a tickle on my arm from the cricket who decided to cuddle up next to the warm sleeping human!

Although Gram wasn't a stickler for us going to church on Sunday, she had some Sunday rules as well. Gram was a woman of faith, and she had seen her share of people who attended church regularly but weren't very nice people. She often said that she'd rather have people just be decent seven days a week rather than be "Sunday saints and weekday sinners," as she called them. She had no problems with me working on Sundays, either, but there were more bad-lucks connected to that day. One couldn't cut their hair or nails on Sunday for fear of misfortune.

Every-day superstitions covered any number of things. From time to time, Gram would take us by the hand and lead us outside to look at the New Moon over our shoulder. She stressed that one's first look at a New Moon must not be through glass if it was possible to avoid it. And it was bad luck to have shoes on a table or a hat on a bed. I remember telling Gram once that I thought those two were created to help people have better habits. What better way to make your kids keep their feet off the table that to say it's unlucky? Or to make them put away their hats, for that matter? Gram would smile and say that maybe it was so. I'm sure that she thought that whoever came up with that was a clever, clever mother.

I don't make any judgements of Gram's superstitions, and I honor some of them. At the stroke of midnight on New Year's, I will drink a sip of water if I am awake. I enjoy starting the day and year with a bite off sweetness. And after so many years of being told not to do so, I have to think twice before trimming my fingernails on a Sunday. Gram's there, in the back of my mind, reminding me that there are six other days of the week to cut them. Just never on Sunday.



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Friday, May 20, 2016

I Was First

After I wrote about the inequality of pay regarding males versus females, it made me think a lot about my manager in the training department. She had been my manager when I was on the phones as well, and the promotion of both of us did little to improve my interactions with her. I remember a day when I was still a fairly new phone banker and couldn't find the procedure or information I needed for the customer I had on the phone. Jane, as I will call her, was a bit unhappy to be disturbed and proceeded to essentially tell me that she thought I was stupid, saying something to the effect that I had a slow learning curve. This only reinforced my natural desire to be the best possible performer of my job, as well as really chapping my backside. With my personal history, as well as the fact that I am not The Village Idiot, I hate having someone treat me as though I am stupid. 

There was one other time that she really burned my backside when I needed some help. Jane, like many managers, would wait until the last day to complete her various reports. From time to time, she would inform all of her team members that she would be working on reports the next day and should not be disturbed unless absolutely necessary. I was pretty self-sufficient, and many of my teammates would come to me for help on the days that Jane wanted to be left alone. Naturally, I received a call that involved some issues I had never experienced before. I combed through all of my available resources to try and find a solution, but there was nothing to be found. When I gave in and went to her desk, I said, "I'm sorry to bother you." Her reply? "Then don't." I went and found another person to help me, but harbored some resentment because of her unwillingness to help someone who was always so self-sufficient.

When the training position became available, we both applied, along with one or two other managers. I had been told that I had the position, but I knew that I had to keep it under wraps. When Jane told me that she and another manager didn't get the job, she made a comment to the effect that someone must have been hired from outside the bank because she knew that I didn't get the job. That was way too dismissive and insulting for me. Let's put it this way - I'd had it! So I looked directly at her and said, "Actually, that's not quite true." She continued the insulting attitude by saying, "You're kidding me! You got the job?" And I told her that I most assuredly was not kidding her, I had indeed been hired for the training position.

I think that seeing the person whom she considered to be so unworthy hired as a trainer before she was was an unforgivable sin. Through the years, especially after she became my manager again, she found ways to undermine me or to punish me in her own bizarre little ways. When my fellow trainer, whom I referred to as J in my last piece, lost his job, she came to work the next day completely flummoxed. Jane had no idea what to do next or how to handle the situation. I told her that I knew exactly what we needed to do, and that we should go to a private place and discuss it. She was so lost she asked me if she should bring a pad to write on, and I had to tell her to do so. We went to an empty office and I laid out the plan that would get us through the next days and weeks. She left to speak with the site manager about how the training department needed to handle the situation, and was told that what she proposed would be just fine. 

She came back to our area and told me that he accepted her proposal. Jane then proceeded to tell me that she didn't let him know that it was my idea. She glibly told me that she said it was her idea because it would be more likely to be accepted if it came from her. I was furious but didn't show it. After all, this was the same woman who told me, the most successful trainer in the department, that none of the management in the call center had any respect for me whatsoever. It did my heart good when I asked one of the managers if it was true that nobody respected me. She looked at me as though I was speaking gibberish. I told her why I asked, and she told me that Jane was confused. Not only was I respected, I was beloved, and routinely respected far more than my manager.

This was to be a common and ongoing part of my relationship with Jane. I came up with all of the great ideas, and she routinely took the credit. I have to wonder about how much her creativity dried up after I left. It put me in a terrible position. If I tried to tell everyone that all of the ideas were mine, I would look like a childish, jealous, and unprofessional person. And I would make the whole department look bad.

It made me think of when I was much younger and my best friend and I went shopping. I took her to a store that had a jacket that I really wanted to buy. Come next payday, it would be mine. Boy, was I surprised when I came to work the next day and my best friend was wearing the jacket I wanted so much! She was apologetic about buying it first and I told her it was okay. I never bought the jacket because if I did, it would look like I was copying her. Telling everyone that I was first wouldn't make any difference.

This was just a jacket though, not the appropriation of knowledge, skills, and ideas. It created a resentment that burned deep within me the entire time I worked for Jane. I still came up with ideas, though, because I had pride in the work our department did every day, and wanted it to be the best that it could be. When my doctor put me on a leave of absence because of depression (as well as PTSD and anxiety) and I called her to let her know, she told me to "get over it." This was followed by "I'm kidding," but I knew that she wasn't. In fact, she let a rumor circulate through the call center that I was dying of cancer because she found it too embarrassing on my behalf to tell the shameful truth that I had mental health problems.

I occasionally wonder if Jane has continued climbing the corporate ladder on the backs of other people. Then I remind myself that wondering about her is not worth my time. And when it comes to her possibly continually taking advantage of others' ideas and skills, it gives me no pleasure to realize that in all likelihood, I was first.


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Sunday, May 15, 2016

Getting Paid

Once again, I feel it necessary to remind you that these Ravings are all inspired by my life and experiences. Sometimes a fleeting moment will start a chain of thoughts that sends me to the keyboard. Why am I saying this yet again? Because I feel it important to stress that the particulars in this post are in no way a fiction, because they all happened to me.

The subject of pay is very much on many minds these days. One point of much discussion and dissension is that there is still no universal parity for females in the workplace. I have read and heard that there are still legislators who say that a male should be paid more for the same job than a female because he has a family to support. No matter, apparently, that many females also have families to support, and in some cases as a single parent.

Another issue being raised across the country is the possibility of increasing the required minimum wage. Both sides of the issue are debated vehemently. It is often impossible for families to provide for themselves while earning minimum wages today without the assistance of federal nutrition assistance programs. Of course, the people who avail themselves of these programs are frequently derided as freeloaders that are being supported by tax dollars. The same people who feel this way often say that the minimum wage should not be raised because someone who works in a fast food restaurant does not deserve to earn ten or more dollars an hour. They also think that if the wage is increased no one will be able to afford anything and all of the restaurants and other businesses will raise their prices and all sorts of businesses will fold. Let's discuss that at a later time, shall we?

What is on my mind most often is the unequal pay scales in these so-called modern times. I think there is some deep-rooted philosophy or belief that places a higher value on the work of a male than a female. In fact, let me just say it as I see it: all over the world, men are simply valued more than women.

I learned fairly early in my life that women were considered to be of lower worth than men. How else was it possible that my father could bludgeon my mother to death and spend less than five years in prison? Prisons are filled with people serving far longer sentences for selling marijuana. How is the death of a woman of less importance than an ounce or two of marijuana?

During my career as a telephone customer service trainer, my eyes were very harshly opened regarding the inequities of salaries. When I was working on the telephones, I got paid for every hour of work performed. If I was asked to work overtime, I was paid one and one-half times my salary for all overtime hours. When I became a trainer, I was excited to become a salaried worker. Little did I realize that salaried doesn't just mean that you are guaranteed a certain wage. What I like to say jokingly, but mean with all sincerity, is that when you are a salaried worker, you get to work as many hours as your boss wants without getting paid for them. This may sound bitter and small, but I generally worked a minimum of sixty to seventy-plus hours a week and made less than telephone bankers that I trained who worked a few hours of overtime every week. 

But this isn't about being a salaried worker, it's about getting paid. After I had worked hard and learned my job well, I was hired for a training position. After I had been a trainer for about a year, one of our trainers left the company and we had a training position to fill. The trainer that was hired had absolutely no experience in the field, but had taken some training courses. I actually taught him in more than one new hire class, and helped him when he was learning to train new hire classes.

At some point after J was hired, I was given a raise of a few thousand dollars a year and felt like I was the queen of the world. As time progressed, I found that I felt a bit resentful that another trainer and I had to carry more of the load than J. At that time, I was training new hires, senior bankers who serviced loans and equity lines and other products, business service specialists, and an occasional IRA servicing class. J was training new hires.

One day shortly after we had received our packets for the annual insurance enrollment period, J was experiencing some confusion about the individualized paperwork he had received for enrollment. These packets included one's name, employee ID, and annual salary information. J was asking me questions about the paperwork and put it right in front of me. I had no idea what anyone's salary was; discussing such matters was not done. When he placed the paper in front of me and I realized that his salary was several thousand dollars a year more than mine, I was stunned and furious. If you are wondering, I never said a word about it to J, but I did to my manager.

My skill set and knowledge base was several times over what his was. I routinely trained far more than he did, and with greater accuracy. And then it really sank in - he had been hired off the street a couple of years before at a salary of about ten thousand dollars a year more than I was earning. I had a great deal of experience and knowledge, but I lacked the one thing that he had when he walked in the front door - a Y chromosome.

Within a short time after this revelation, J was no longer with the company. I went on to train two more trainers, and when I left the company a few years later I still wasn't earning what J had been earning. In fact, I was earning about four to five thousand dollars per annum below his parting salary.

My sister Liz (who worked for the same bank but different departments) and I have talked about how hard it was to get a raise. We kept hearing about how times were hard and we all had to do our part to keep the company afloat. Although my classes were always well-trained and scored well on their exams, my manager always scored me harshly so that I never got a large raise. As I recall, my last combined annual bonus and annual salary increase was two or three hundred dollars. 

A month or two after that, Liz and her husband showed me a small article in the business section of the local newspaper. The CEO of this bank that needed me to know that costs needed to be cut so that we could survive as a company had received his annual raise and bonus. Are you sitting down, folks? The man who told his employees that we couldn't afford to order pens, we should just steal them from other businesses we frequented, had received a combined raise and bonus of about three and a half million dollars. Our bitterness could have ruined a year's worth of products from a large candy factory.

I know that you will all take this for what you will. I think it is time for everyone to be paid well for a job well done. And someone who does more work and has more to contribute in a department should be rewarded for their efforts. It is high time for fairness in all things, and especially when it comes to getting paid.



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Friday, May 13, 2016

Friggatriskaidekawhozits

If you looked at the title of this post and decided that I am making up words, you need to know right now that I am not. Okay, well, just a little bit, at the end. I have made up words on more than one occasion, and hope to keep on spontaneously doing so, but the title is based on an actual word. Friggatriskaidekaphobia is that real word, and its roots break down like this:

Frigga, the Norse goddess after whom Friday is named,
tris or treis, which means three
kai, meaning and, 
deka, or ten, and
phobia for fear.

When you put them all together into friggatriskaidekaphobia you get fear of Friday the 13th. If you use all Greek roots, the fear of Friday the 13th is paraskevidekatriaphobia, but that word is just too darn hard for me to write, and friggatriskaidekaphobia sounds so sassy. The little sibling of these words is triskaidekaphobia, which is simply fear of the number thirteen.

Today is Friday the 13th and lots of people are nervous about going to work or out with friends. Many people will call in sick to work or cancel airline or other travel reservations on this date. Some folks, I've heard, will refuse to leave their home because they are so convinced that something terrible will happen to them on this date. As a result, there tend to be fewer accidents and mishaps on Friday the 13th than on other Fridays. 

There's no definitive explanation of why people are afraid of this date. Some think that it dates back to Friday October 13, 1307 and events involving the Knights Templar, but I have read that this only became part of the legend behind the superstition in the 19th century. And in some countries it's Friday the 17th that's considered bad luck, or Tuesday the 13th. There are undoubtedly loads of reasons for the varying days of the week and numbers, like Tuesday being the day of Mars, the god of war, (hence the name martes for Tuesday in Spanish, for example) but I really didn't want to delve too deeply into that today. If you wish to do so and learn something interesting (or better yet, fascinating), please do let me know.

As for me, I love the number 13. My birthday happens to be on the 13th of a month, just not this one. I wasn't born on Friday the 13th, it was a Monday, but I love it when my birthday falls on a Friday. And how's this for fun - my thirteenth birthday was on Friday the 13th! Awesome! Other people that I've met over the years who have a birthday on the 13th also seem to enjoy Friday the 13th, as well as the number 13 in general. My cousin Viki's birthday is on the 13th, and I know that she loves it, too.

Because of the fears and superstitions surrounding the number 13, many hotels do not formally have a 13th floor. They may be more than twelve stories tall, but the elevator numbers and floor/room/suite/office numbers go straight from 12 to 14. If it makes people feel safer and more secure, it doesn't bother me. And I'm hoping that it doesn't or didn't bother others who share my birthday, meaning month and day. I don't imagine that one of my Hungarian heroes, Erno Rubik, inventor of the mental torture device known as Rubik's Cube, quits creating new and exciting things because it's Friday the 13th. And Julius Caesar (date not wholly confirmed but strongly rumored) probably didn't refuse to go to battle because Friday the 13th had rolled around.

And if Sir Francis Drake (again, unconfirmed as to exact date of birth) had said, "Nay, men, take thee down the sails. Friday the 13th hath befallen us. We doth not sail on this wretched and cursed day," well, he wouldn't have gotten very far. And some screen characters would probably be remembered differently if Cheech Marin, Patrick Stewart, and Harrison Ford refused to work on Friday the 13th. Very few directors would want to work with actors who refused to leave their hotels during a day of filming.

My point isn't to brag about the people with whom I share birthdays. It's simply this - if we let the concept of a number and day of the week in combination rule our lives, we might miss out on a lot. So pet a black cat, grab your Rubik's Cube, and invite 13 friends and family to go out for dinner. Maybe if you leave your frigging friggatriskaidekaphobia behind you'll have a lot of fun!



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Monday, May 9, 2016

Going Back

It was getting to be late afternoon on a rainy Saturday two days ago. Trent and I had spoken briefly about what we might possibly throw together for dinner. There were things to eat, mind you, but we hadn't taken anything out of the freezer, nor had we gone to the supermarket to buy something that we could whip up that night. About half an hour after realizing that we might end up making salads topped with hard-boiled eggs (we weren't thrilled with that option, but willing if necessary) or simply eating eggs and toast, Trent's phone rang. It was our friends Thayne and Marie asking us if we might be able to go out to dinner with them on very short notice. Like in about fifteen minutes. Could we? Heck, yes, we could. Let us slip on our shoes and we'd be ready to go. It was serendipitous timing. Usually when we get this type of call we have already eaten an early dinner, or dinner is in the process of becoming a meal on the stove or in the oven.

We had a good time during dinner, catching up on things and enjoying everyone's company, as friends do. Incidentally, I ended up eating a salad, but instead of being a handful of lettuce and a hard-boiled egg, it included mango and grilled chicken and fried wontons and peanut dressing. It was tastylicious, and not at all sad-looking.

When we were almost done with dinner, Thayne took me by surprise. He had read my most recent blog post, Things I Miss, in which I had waxed rhapsodical over the loveliness that was my Gram's yard and garden(s) and how much I missed it, especially at this time of year. Apparently this post made several of my readers feel nostalgic as well, reminding them of their little Grammies or Nanas or Grandmas. Some were also reminded of the homes in which they grew up. One friend asked if I had gone back to see the old place. I admitted to being a bit of a coward about that, and we both observed during our brief online conversation that after you leave, it's no longer a home. As I said, with Gram gone, it changed from a home to just a building. But I said that I might check it out some day.

As I began to mention before we took this detour, Thayne surprised me at the end of dinner by asking if we needed to take a drive by Gram's house before we headed to our respective homes. If I had been given any time to think about it, I might have said no, but since it happened so quickly I allowed myself to be swept up by the benevolent hurricane that is Thayne, and we set out to drive to the old neighborhood.

As we came within a dozen blocks of the major intersection nearest the old home place, we noticed that the flower shop that had been on one of the corners for twenty or more years (Apricot Halves, the one that sold bo-kays) was gone and a new building was under construction. As we grew closer, we passed by the street on which Gram's daughter Jackie had lived for many years. The old family-run fish and chips restaurant that we still enjoy was in its old spot a few blocks from Gram's old home, a faithful friend serving delicious food.

Before we knew it, we were turning on my old street. The yard on the corner was so different, I noticed. And across the street, as I told the others, was the house where the couple locked us in with a deadbolt lock when we babysat. It scared me because there was no way to open the front door if there had been an emergency. And Liz used to say that they parked their twin Mustangs back-to-back so that they could compare how much liquor they had left in the trunks of their cars. Maybe she'll comment about that.

When we passed the Phillips' house, next door to Gram's, I was surprised to see that the beautiful tree was gone from the front yard. And the hedge that ran between their yard and ours, which Mr. Phillips had always kept beautifully trimmed and squared off, had ballooned out and looked quite unlike its normal fastidiously-groomed self.

And then Gram's house. My house, but not my house. So much had changed. The front yard, which had been a lovely expanse of green lawn, was so much smaller now. It isn't because I have grown taller either, although I have gotten a bit larger around just like the hedge. I was an adult when I last lived there. Gram's was the only house on the block in those days without a driveway. It made the front lawn so much larger and the house a tiny bit cooler in the summer. That area of lawn has been removed and a driveway now goes all the way from the hedge to the side of the house.

Gram's incredible lilac bush is only a memory. Where the wisteria vine once clung to the southeast corner of the house, there is no plant life. Only a small satellite dish, perhaps one-tenth the size of the lovely vine, blooms on the lonely kitchen wall. The immense plum tree that reigned over the larger side of the back yard has been deposed, and now a garage sits where it once lived and gave of its shade and delicious fruit.

The evergreen tree that was at the northwest corner of the house, in the front yard, has also undergone a transformation. The top has been lopped off, along with all of the branches, leaving a knobby barkless trunk several feet tall. A peek from the street showed me that Gram's beloved irises and rose garden are also gone. Where the beautiful roses of so many colors once lived wild and free, there is a small chiminea and a few other scattered pieces of pottery. The metal awnings over the front picture window and Gram's two bedroom windows still remain, shading the house from the hot afternoon and evening sun as they've done for so many years. And a new storm door guards the front door with white-painted wrought iron.

Seeing all of the changes didn't depress me. As I've said, and Luther Vandross sang, a house is not a home. The shell that resides there is not where my memories take me. My memories occur on a different street, in a different home, at a different time. The things that are changed still live in the home of my memory. And it is good that the newer residents have made the house their home, their castle, their oasis. That is entirely as it should be. The places from our past are only historical monuments in our own hearts, not everyone else's. Perhaps fifty years from now, someone will write about how they miss sitting in their Granny's yard after dark, lit only by the softly glowing embers in the pottery chiminea. I hope so.

After we left my old street, we drove by the elementary school I attended so many years ago. I was surprised that I still remembered which classrooms I had been in, although I can't remember the name of my sixth-grade teacher. This may because she had a tendency to be quite cranky and often threatened to take the rest of the year off and leave us at the mercy of subs because she had lots of sick time saved up and we kids were terrible, darn it!

Within a short time, as we headed north, the time shifted fully to the present. I am glad that I had the chance to see my old home again. While it does make me a bit sad to see how drastically different it is, I hope that the families who live there in the coming years love it as their own home. In a way, I think it might have been more potentially painful to see it looking as it did back then, but with different people living there. It would be like walking in your front door and finding all of the usual furniture but seeing strangers living there among your things. 

So to the people living at 7--- No-name Drive, be happy. Make the home your own, but make something even more important. Make memories that your family can cherish for years to come. Love it as I loved it. And when the time comes to move on, do so with your head held high and your eyes looking forward. The future is in front of you, and only memories lie behind. 
 



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The Tip Jar:

As always, I am happy and honored to write for you. It brings me great joy, and I hope that it gives you joy and/or food for thought. If you'd like to support the cause, please visit:

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Friday, May 6, 2016

Things I Miss

Sometimes we are reminded of things that we loved which are no longer a part of our lives. Time and experiences have their effects on us all. Some of the changes are welcome, and some leave us with a sense of longing weeks, months, or even years later.

As we drove to my monthly finger-poking at the doctor's office today, there were so many reminders of things that I miss. I thought, I need to write a blog post about things I miss. Before long, I was distracted from my original thoughts of things I miss, and the list had taken an entirely different direction. But they all tie together in their own odd way. When I lived with Gram all of those years, I became used to the environment we lived in and the way we lived. Things that I didn't realize were unusual or special were a part of everyday life. 

As we made our way to the doctor's office, we saw numerous lilac bushes in bloom. I remembered Gram's lilac bush that straddled the fence between the front and back yard. I wondered if the subsequent residents of the house knew what a special thing it was, and whether they kept it or removed it from the yard. I remember how my friends and I decided to leave flowers on people's front doors on May Day, ringing the bells and running away so that the neighbors wouldn't know who left the floral gifts. The bouquets always included some of Gram's lilacs.

Gram's lilac bush was the most impressive I've seen until I saw lilac trees in Hungary. Perhaps if left alone, Gram's bush would have grown that large as well. At the time Gram died, the lilac bush must have been at least seven feet tall, and even larger around. I am sure that it could easily fill up what is an average-sized bedroom these days. Almost every year it was laden with gorgeous and fragrant blossoms. We would often cut some and place them in various vases or bowls in the house, but it was always best to experience them outside. The bush was visible from one of the kitchen windows, and sometimes the gentle breeze would waft the fragrance of the blooms into the house. A delight of late spring, though, was to stand out in the yard and smell them. The sun gave a warmth to the lovely lilac scent and the shades of purple and green were a beauty to behold. You had to reach out and gently touch the blooms, involving as many senses as possible.

Another thing that Gram had in the yard, right next to the corner of the house, was a wisteria vine. It had grown over the years to have a stem as thick as a young tree trunk (several inches in diameter), especially because some of the seeds fell and added to the size of the vine. After the lilac bloomed, the wisteria clusters of light purple flowers would open, looking like little cornucopias made of blossoms. The tendrils of the vine reached over to the back yard gate a few feet away, and there were cascades of the flowers all over. Since the vine was on the corner of the house where the kitchen was located, you could get a view of it from the windows on both the south and east sides of the house. 

I didn't realize until I was well into adulthood that Gram's wisteria vine was more special than I had realized. Yes, I loved it, but I didn't realize how unusual it was. Gram told me several times that wisteria vines didn't grow well in Colorado, but this thing was almost a monster ready to swallow the entire house. I thought perhaps she was exaggerating her ability to grow things with her benign neglect. I will tell you that I never see wisteria vines around here. Okay, maybe once in about twenty years, and about one-tenth the size of Gram's.

In the space of just a few yards between the lilac and wisteria, as well as along the side of the house, was a riot of plant life. Along the side of the house were various shades of peonies that usually bloomed the first week of June. Gram picked a bouquet for me to take to my teacher on the last day of school more than once. After the blossoms of the peonies faded, the canna lilies came into their own. With their glossy multicolored leaves and their bright red flowers, they were a riot of color. After the blooms faded, we neighborhood kids would pick off the seed pods and peel them to reveal the small white marbles which were immature seeds.

Closer to the lilac, on both sides of the fence, were an amazing variety of blooms. The geraniums that Gram would keep alive all winter by breaking off stems and shoving into pots of dirt that would become blooming geraniums on both kitchen windowsills all winter. There were purple hyacinths and daffodils that looked like sunshine on stems. Amidst them were the snapdragons and behind them, climbing the fence, were the sweet peas. Many late afternoons, Gram would send me out to cut a handful to place on the table before dinner. Ruling over them all was a rosebush with long canes that would bend over when it was covered with red blooms. That bush and I got into several disagreements because it was even more prickly than it was beautiful, which almost made it seem like it had a bad disposition when it tried to grab you as you walked by. Pruning it was like getting into a sword fight because it had multiple thorns on every inch of stem and branch.

On the other side of the fence, in the back yard, were tomatoes and onions and garlic and chives. The onions, garlic, and chives were allowed to bloom beautifully and go to seed and come back every year. The back yard had no lack of color either. There were plum trees that grew like weeds. Every year we had enough Italian prune plums to feed many families as well as birds and insects of many types. What a delight it was to walk out under the largest plum tree and pluck off a sun-warmed plum, wipe the dusky bloom on your shirt, and bite into it, the sweet juices flowing. And the jam and jelly made from them was wonderful.

Gram had more than one bed of roses as well. There were white, red, pink, yellow, and silvery-lilac roses, among other colors. They grew like weeds for her. Incidentally, one of her secrets was fish heads. Whenever we had whole fish given to us by people who caught trout or pike and didn't eat them, she would cut off the heads before they were cooked and have me bury them in the rose gardens to feed the bushes. There was a forsythia bush shading a patch of rhubarb alongside a stand of gorgeous day lilies and tiger lilies. At the other end of the main rose garden were her incredible iris plants in multiple shades including bronze, along with Michaelmas daisies. 

There was a riot of mint plants and strawberries that both seemed poised to take over the world. There were other plants, too, plants whose names I can't remember. It almost sounds like a mishmash as I write this, but it was a glorious mixture of colors and sizes. And in the front of the house, the crocuses that peeked their heads above the snow if necessary to bloom, mixed in with pansies of all colors. Vibrant red tulips yielded to four o'clocks that opened hundreds of blooms late every afternoon. After dark, they attracted hawk moths that looked like striped hummingbirds as they hovered and sipped the sweet nectar. On more than one occasion when I went out to turn the garden hose on or off, the moths would be there, dancing around me in their incredible aerial ballet. On more than one occasion I danced in circles in the yard while they hovered around me, following me even after I walked away from the plants. It was a moment that brought me to tears every wonderful time it happened. I still long to have one fly near me as it did then, just a couple of inches away from me and unafraid.

I don't want to relive my youth, like some people do. I just miss some of the wonderful things I had at my disposal then. If I were of a more wholly practical nature, I would say that I miss my healthy legs and flexible knees. I could walk all day on those legs that Gram described as good-looking, and come back for more. I would also say that I miss my stamina and my good health, both mental and physical. What I miss even more, though, is living in a little old lady's beautiful little paradise. May we all be able to have or create a place that means so much to us.



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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

A Tale Of Two Bosses

I've thought a lot over the years about what motivates people to perform well in their jobs. Of course there's the obvious things like paychecks, raises and bonuses. Most people also perform to the best of their abilities because of having pride in a job well done. It certainly is difficult to hold your head up at work if you aren't pulling your weight, at least for most of us. I think that there's another factor involved in performance - how much respect you have for the managers of your department or workplace.

For some reason the other day I remembered a department head that I last worked for over twenty years ago. C was the head of the teller department in our bank in downtown Denver. This included a teller line, a drive-through facility, and a small teller line in a private banking area (you know, for those high-wealth customers). As a person who was a couple of levels up the management chain, she had a great deal of power and therefore a lot of people had the tendency to be yes-people around her. Although I had the utmost respect for her authority, I've never been that kind of person. I fondly remember the time that she told me that she always liked me because I didn't act afraid of her. I gave her the respect necessary in the business setting, but I always spoke my honest opinion to her. Anything else, in my mind, would have been unworthy of both of us.

Something that was great about C was that she never considered herself too important to chip in and work on the teller line when it got busy. You see, in those days if the dozen or more tellers had more than two people in their lines, it was considered unacceptable. There was a doorbell near the support area where C and others had their offices, and a manager would ring it when it was quite busy. In fact, C would sometimes ring it when she felt that the lines were too long. When the doorbell chimed, all of the people in the support areas would come out and open a teller window so that the customers could get through the lines quicker. C often joked that people tried to keep her from running a teller window, because every time that she did, her cash drawer was out of balance.

When you work for someone who is a higher-level manager (and may even have words like assistant vice president in their job title) but knows how to do the job that you do, it's very impressive. C was definitely a team player who led by example. The customers were important, and she did not consider herself to be too important to serve them. This was something that I found truly impressive, and it made me want to work harder and better.

When I first started working in the support area, I used to react negatively and with anger when I heard the doorbell go off. It didn't take me long to realize that the interruption would be what I made of it. I would hear the doorbell and smile, happy to return to the customer contact that I so loved. And it was always a good way to prevent having to figure out the errors in C's cash drawer!

When my health began to decline, C was a kind supporter. After I came back from a week's vacation which I had spent with pneumonia in both lungs, C heard about it and changed that week of vacation time to sick leave. And the following month when I ended up in the hospital because lupus was attacking my kidneys, she personally got the paperwork rolling so that I would receive short-term leave coverage for my absence. It was because of her fairness and care for her staff that I was willing to stand up for her until I fell down. Seriously, I think that she is part of the reason that I went from being hospitalized to returning to work in about two weeks. I know that it wasn't because I felt good or strong!

Several years later, after taking some time off from banking, I found myself in a job for the same banking corporation, but doing a different type of customer service. I had wanted this job for a long time, but Liz had been working in the area that was the predecessor for this department, and in those days siblings and other relatives weren't allowed to work together. This was telephone customer service, and after I finally got used to the various procedures I absolutely loved it. Something that's interesting about banking customer service - from time to time even a seasoned representative will receive a call that involves something unknown or new. 

When that happened to me one day, I couldn't find the people I reported to at their desks, so I went in search of someone to help me with my call. The first person I saw was P, the head of the entire Denver call center. Now, I liked P a lot. Whenever she asked me to work extra hours as I was walking out the door at the end of my shift, I never said no. And when Gram was dying and I couldn't get approved for FMLA time because Gram was not my blood relative, she approved the unpaid leave anyway so that I would be able to keep my job. And when Gram died on a Friday evening preceding my week's vacation time, she told my manager that three days of the vacation should be changed to funeral leave.

So, as I said, I was seeking some help with a problem and saw P heading out of her office. When she realized that I had a question, she said not to bother asking her for any help because she had no idea how to do our jobs. Not only that, but she seemed to be proud of not knowing anything! It made it difficult for me in the following years, especially when I became a trainer, to have her setting performance quotas for the phone bankers. She knew the bottom line, but nothing about the service experience. How could she expect half a dozen requirements to be filled in ninety seconds when she had no idea what steps and efforts were involved? She never knew that I felt this way, but she knew that I dealt with her with the respect that her position deserved and required.

Yes, we do a lot simply because it's the right thing. We do it because we are paid for it. We do it because we have our own self-respect for a job done to the best of our abilities. But a manager that treats people well will often get something from their staff that goes beyond all of these things. This is the person you will gladly work yourself to the bone for, because of what they do for others and what they do for you. It is because of who they are, and having a boss like that is beyond comparison.


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As always, I am happy and honored to write for you. It brings me great joy, and I hope that it gives you joy and/or food for thought. If you'd like to support the cause, please visit:

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Thank you for reading!