Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Childhood Memories of Summer Nights at the Drive-In

Last night I dreamed that my family went to the Twin-City Drive-In Theater. It was more a collection of memories than a dream, I suppose. Those Saturday night adventures were the best of summer family times. 

I felt the excitement of "getting ready to go to the drive-in". Ok, just shoot us -- we were too cheap to buy from the concession stand; Dad owned Morton's Grocery Store (112 Pennsylvania Ave., across the street from Kay's Ice Cream and Oakley-Cook Funeral Home near downtown; anyone from "home" remember it?), so he always
gauged the price of food in wholesale dollars and thought it was highway robbery what they charged for snacks. Mom boiled Valleydale weenies and steamed Kern's buns (both were local businesses) in that old stove-top bread steamer with a brass lid. I'd help her top each with ketchup and wrap them in aluminum foil, then put them all in a large paper bag with lots of napkins. Dad popped the popcorn -- kernels in hot oil, on the stove, not in the microwave (nope, no microwave ovens back then, but there WAS Jiffy Pop, which I'd sometimes be treated to at Mamaw's house). He'd constantly keep that large pan rapidly moving back and forth over the hot eye and knew it was ready when the lid slowly rose above the now-white, fluffy morsels. He'd pour melted butter on top and salt it, and put it in 4 individual grocery store paper bags - one for each of us. (Sarah was just a baby and usually she would stay with one of our grandmothers on drive-in nights but I remember sometimes they brought a small portable playpen for her and Mom would sit outside the car next to it in a folding aluminum chair with colorful webbing.) Anyway, the movie food-prep sometimes included John filling up the cooler with ice and putting in individual glass bottles of soda (2-liter bottles and cans hadn't been introduced yet), and slip a small bottle opener in his pocket. (He was the official bottle-popper ... a very important job!) We usually took our own Kool-Aid or lemonade or sweet tea in a large Tupperware pitcher with Tupperware tumblers, but Dad (getting the drinks wholesale) would sometimes splurge on bottled soda.

John and I would grab our pillows and Mom would gather some blankets. Ok, ready to go! We'd travel the few miles down Volunteer Parkway to the drive-in. We'd always get there an hour early, and Dad made sure to find the BEST spot -- right in the middle, and not too close and not too far back -- and park and re-park the car so all of us had the best angle on the sloped hill, no matter which seat we were in. 

John and I would race (literally) down to the little playground at the very front of the theater, just under the huge white screen. We would laugh and play, usually with other Avoca Elementary School friends who were there with their families, and enjoyed the swings and a slide, a "go-'round" carousel, a couple of see-saws and painted animals on huge spring coils.

As dusk settled around us, the cartoons began! We'd race back to the car and crawl in the back door -- the one without the speaker. (Yes, for you youngins' who have never been to a drive-in, you would take the speaker off the stand, roll down one window half-way and hang the speaker on it.) 

We'd enjoy our hot dogs and popcorn while watching the black and white cartoons and corny commercials. There was always a double feature, and the first movie would be family-oriented, "G-rated" (did they even have ratings back then?). We'd all watch it together, laughing and enjoying our time in those close quarters.

During the break between movies, we were taken to the bathroom in the concession stand building, and if we had behaved very well, we'd sometimes be treated to a candy bar from the concession stand. Then we'd all pile back in the station wagon. John and I were expected to snuggle with our pillows and blankets and sleep in the back while Mom and Dad watched "the adult movie". Probably a "PG-13" type, but I do remember one time when we were a little older (turns out it was 1974; I just Googled it) they showed a more "risqué" movie -- "Blazing Saddles" and Mom and Dad kept us awake with their laughter and John and I peeked above the back seat and secretly watched the entire thing. I smile as I still hear their laughter during this irreverent satirical Western comedy. My brother and I couldn't hold back our own laughter during the farting scene and were busted! John and I felt so sneaky (and proud) that we got to watch that movie.

We'd get home very late and Mom and Dad would wake up two sleepy children, but sometimes I would feign slumber just so Dad would carry me in. :)

Those hot summer nights in Tennessee were among the best growing up, and they also included catching lightnin' bugs, flying June bugs on strings, cranking homemade ice cream, swimming at my Aunt Ruby's house, camping at the lake in our pop-up camper, annual vacations at the beach, eating vegetables from Dad's little garden (and from Ree-Ree's BIG garden) and picking strawberries, grapes and cherries at Mamaw's, ice-cold watermelon, church camp in Unicoi, and running through the sprinkler in the backyard. Thanks to my wonderful parents for the memories. Good times. I miss them. And Dad and John ... I miss you, too.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Preparing Our Young People for the Real World

Your baby is all grown up, will soon be finishing high school, and going out into the “real” world. College or their first real job and home away from home is looming in the near future. Are they ready? Are they armed? 

If we don’t focus on teaching our kids responsibility, respect, and character, and give them necessary life tools, we have fallen short as parents and are setting our kids up for failure. If your child isn't prepared, it’s never too late to start shaping them. The goal is teaching skill sets and values; encouraging critical thinking and creativity; and building character, integrity, and maturity -- not expecting perfection or overnight success. Life is a journey, and learning how to live it successfully and happily is a process in learning through trial and error. We need to be the best possible role models and life coaches for our children. They will remember, and appreciate us. It may not be until we’re old, but they will thank us. :)

AT THE AGE OF 18, kids should be honing preparedness for adulthood in these areas:
  • Writing and maintaining a budget. Start with the basics. I taught my son about income, budgeting, and bills by using Monopoly game money and a list of monthly bills so he could tangibly see how it all works. Help them understand and pay bills/financial obligations, having a basic understanding of the economy and their role in it.
  • Balancing their bank account and having a clear knowledge of how credit & debit cards work (finance charges, fees, etc.). Help them open a savings account when young and contribute to it regularly with their own money to understand the value of saving.
  • Preparing a simple, well-balanced, nutritional meal themselves. (COOK, not make a cold sandwich or zap something in the microwave.)
  • Basic courtesy, manners, and etiquette.
  • Holding at least one part-time job. Discourage instant gratification and a sense of entitlement; encourage the value of self-sufficiency and rewards of hard work.
  • Doing laundry (sorting colors/whites, water temps & cycles, stain removal methods, folding, etc.).
  • Performing CPR.
  • Relationship building, to include respect, compromise, communication, trust, values, encouragement, personalities, commonalities and differences, etc.
  • Demonstrating effective communication skills (written and oral). Includes being able to hold an intelligent and articulate conversation with an adult and be able to effectively debate while respecting others’ opinions.
  • Maintaining a clean and tidy room/home, and effectively organizing personal belongings.
  • Completing their own college entrance exam, essay, etc., or job resume and cover letter, with minimal help from parents.
  • Feeling confident in an interview. Role play with the parent or other adults.
  • Expressing themselves emotionally, articulating their feelings.
  • Demonstrating ethical judgment and integrity.
  • Formulating their own personal belief system and be able to express their convictions of faith.
  • Possessing intercultural skills, communicating and having respect for others who differ from them in race/ ethnicity/culture/nationality, religious and political values, etc.

  • Showing an interest in giving back to the community. Get them involved, take them with you to volunteer
  • Having good study skills and understand researching and filtering information to effectively source and cite factual information.
  • Having personally written and sent hand-written thank-you letters/cards via postal mail.
  • Showing respect for authority – adults, teachers, law enforcement, political leaders, etc.
  • Realizing it's OK to fail. Every mistake or wrong decision is a learning experience.
  • Confidence in themselves and others. Teach them to express their individuality, and that what their peers think about them shouldn't matter too much, as long as they are authentic to themselves.
  • Practicing and valuing effective time management, prioritizing, and calendaring.
  • Effective problem-solving, critical thinking, and analytical reasoning. Present real-world challenges and talk through and coach them how to effectively solve a problem. Role play with different problem–solving scenarios/challenges and options, regarding such issues as relationships, physical, intellectual, social, emotional, educational, etc.
  • Demonstrating creativity and innovation.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Christmas Miracle ... a True Story by Santa Mark

The Christmas Miracle

A true story written by Susan Morton Leonard, as told to her by her husband, Santa Mark Leonard

It is so humbling to realize that –- as flawed and ordinary as we are -- God can use us in miraculous ways. This very special story represents the magic and glory of the season. This is a true story, as told to me by my husband, who was a professional Santa Claus, of a real Christmas miracle which he was blessed to have experienced. A story that I think will cause YOU to believe ...

Thank you, Dr. Lisa Christiansen, for having your team create this video. They used the audio version of this story (below), created by WCLO News-Talk-Sports Radio, and photos from our "The Christmas Miracle, a True Story by Santa Mark" Facebook page*.
For the audio version of the story and the podcast 
of the interview, scroll below the story. 

The Christmas Miracle ... 
a True Story by Santa Mark

In December 1997, a little boy and his grandmother came to see Santa at Mayfair Mall in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, near Milwaukee. The child climbed up on his lap, holding a picture of a little girl. "Who is this?" asked Santa, smiling. "Your friend? Your sister?" 

"Yes, Santa," he replied. "My sister, Sarah, who is very sick," he said sadly.

Santa glanced over at the grandmother who was waiting nearby, and saw her dabbing her eyes with a tissue.

"She wanted to come with me to see you, oh, so very much, Santa!" the child exclaimed. "She misses you," he added softly.

Santa tried to be cheerful and encouraged a smile to the boy's face, asking him what he wanted Santa to bring him for Christmas. When they finished their visit, the Grandmother came over to help the child off his lap, and started to say something to Santa, but halted.

"What is it?" Santa asked warmly.

"Well, I know it's really too much to ask you, Santa, but …” the woman began, shooing her grandson over to one of Santa's elves to collect the little gift which Santa gave all his young visitors. "The girl in the photograph, my granddaughter ... well, you see ... she has leukemia and isn't expected to make it even through the holidays," she said through tear-filled eyes. "Is there any way, Santa, any possible way that you could come see Sarah? That's all she's asked for, for Christmas, is to see Santa."

Santa blinked and swallowed hard and told the woman to leave information with his elves as to where Sarah was, and he would see what he could do. Santa thought of little else the rest of that afternoon. He knew what he had to do. "What if it were MY child lying in that hospital bed, dying," he thought with a sinking heart, "this is the least I can do."

When Santa finished visiting with all the boys and girls that evening, he retrieved from his helper the name of the hospital where Sarah was staying. He asked the assistant location manager how to get to Children's Hospital. "Why?" Rick asked, with a puzzled look on his face.

Santa relayed to him the conversation with Sarah's grandmother earlier that day. "C'mon, I'll take you there," Rick said softly.

Rick drove them to the hospital and came inside with Santa. They found out which room Sarah was in.  Rick said he would wait out in the hall.

Billy Ray, Noah Cyrus and Santa Mark
Santa quietly peeked into the room through the half-closed door and saw little Sarah on the bed. The room was full of what appeared to be her family – there was the Grandmother and the girl's brother he had met earlier that day. A woman whom he guessed was Sarah's mother stood by the bed, gently pushing Sarah's thin hair off her forehead. And another woman who he discovered later was Sarah's aunt, sat in a chair near the bed with a weary, sad look on her face. They were talking quietly, and Santa could sense the warmth and closeness of the family, and their love and concern for Sarah.

Taking a deep breath, and forcing a smile on his face, Santa entered the room, bellowing a hearty, "Ho, ho, ho!"

"Santa!" shrieked little Sarah weakly, as she tried to escape her bed to run to him, IV tubes in tact.

Santa rushed to her side and gave her a warm hug.  A child the tender age of his own son – 9 years old – gazed up at him with wonder and excitement. Her skin was pale and her short tresses bore telltale bald patches from the effects of chemotherapy. But all he saw when he looked at her was a pair of huge, blue eyes. His heart melted, and he had to force himself to choke back tears. Though his eyes were riveted upon Sarah's face, he could hear the gasps and quiet sobbing of the women in the room.

As he and Sarah began talking, the family crept quietly to the bedside one by one, squeezing Santa's shoulder or his hand gratefully, whispering "thank you" as they gazed sincerely at him with shining eyes. Santa and Sarah talked and talked, and she told him excitedly all the toys she wanted for Christmas, assuring him she'd been a very good girl that year. As their time together dwindled, Santa felt led in his spirit to pray for Sarah, and asked for permission from the girl's mother. She nodded in agreement and the entire family circled around Sarah's bed, holding hands. Santa looked intently at Sarah and asked her if she believed in angels.

"Oh, yes, Santa, I do!" she exclaimed.

"Well, I'm going to ask that angels watch over you," he said.

Laying one hand on the child's head, Santa closed his eyes and prayed. He asked that God touch little Sarah, and heal her body from this disease. He asked that angels minister to her, watch and keep her. And when he finished praying, still with eyes closed, he started singing softly, Silent Night, Holy Night, all is calm, all is bright.  The family joined in, still holding hands, smiling at Sarah, and crying tears of hope, and tears of joy for this moment, as Sarah beamed at them all. When the song ended, Santa sat on the side of the bed again and held Sarah's frail, small hands in his own.

"Now, Sarah," he said authoritatively, "you have a job to do, and that is to concentrate on getting well. I want you to have fun playing with your friends this summer, and I expect to see you at my house at Mayfair Mall this time next year!" He knew it was risky proclaiming that, to this little girl who had terminal cancer, but he had to. He had to give her the greatest gift he could – not dolls or games or toys – but the gift of HOPE.

Richard Gere and Santa Mark
"Yes, Santa!" Sarah exclaimed, her eyes bright.

He leaned down and kissed her on the forehead and left the room. Out in the hall, the minute Santa's eyes met Rick's, a look passed between them and they wept unashamed. Sarah's mother and grandmother slipped out of the room quickly and rushed to Santa's side to thank him.

"My only child is the same age as Sarah," he explained quietly. "This is the least I could do." They nodded with understanding and hugged him.

One year later, Santa Mark was again back on the set in Milwaukee for his six-week, seasonal job which he so loves to do. Several weeks went by and then one day a child came up to sit on his lap. "Hi, Santa! Remember me?"

"Of course, I do," Santa proclaimed, as he always does, smiling down at her. After all, the secret to being a ‘good’ Santa is to always make each child feel as if they are the ‘only’ child in the world at that moment.

"You came to see me in the hospital last year!"

Santa's jaw dropped.  Tears immediately sprang in his eyes, and he grabbed this little miracle and held her to his chest. "Sarah!" he exclaimed. He scarcely recognized her, for her hair was long and silky and her cheeks were rosy – much different from the little girl he had visited just a year before. He looked over and saw Sarah's mother and grandmother in the sidelines smiling and waving and wiping their eyes.

That was the best Christmas ever for Santa Claus. He had witnessed – and been blessed to be instrumental in bringing about – this miracle of hope. This precious little child was healed. Cancer-free. Alive and well.

He silently looked up to Heaven and humbly whispered, "Thank you, Father. 'Tis a very, Merry Christmas!

© 2000-2016 Susan Morton Leonard

All content in this blog post is copyrighted and may not be copied, used or distributed, whole or in part, without written permission. However, sharing of the URL http://susans-sea-of-dreams.blogspot.com/2011/12/christmas-miracle.html is permissable.

Santa Mark was a natural-bearded, professional Santa Claus 1993-2003 in Danbury, CT; Franklin, TN; Wauwatosa, WI; and Long Island, NY. Santa Mark was blessed to have been featured as Santa Claus on The Green Bay Packers’ Christmas Special, a syndicated "Pack Attack" TV special taped at Brett Favre’s Steakhouse, Lombardi, in Milwaukee in 1999.  He enjoyed being asked to portray Santa Claus, with scripted lines, in Nashville for the Billy Gilman Classic Christmas TV special which aired in 2000 on TNN. Santa Mark was voted "The Best Santa in the Greater Milwaukee Area" from 1995-1999 (five years in a row) by radio station WOKY through a listener call-in poll. He has also been featured in many local newspapers and by local TV stations in each city where he has served as Santa, and additionally in Knoxville, TN, where we lived most of those 11 years while he was "Santa". While these were wonderful experiences and are fond memories, the single most significant occurrence during Mark's time as Santa (and in his entire life) was when God used Mark in a true Christmas Miracle that we are so humbled to share with you above. God can use all of us, as ordinary and flawed as we are. We are mere vessels through which the Holy Spirit can operate in this physical realm. This experience has blessed us beyond measure! May God bless each and every one of you and have a very Merry Christmas!

* Thank you, WCLO News-Talk-Sports Radio in Janesville, WI, for contacting us to do an on-air interview next week to share our "The Christmas Miracle" story.  Thank you, Timothy W. Bremel, WCLO Operations Manager / Talk Show Host, for being so gracious and kind, and for your desire to bless your listeners with this uplifting story. We asked our new friend, Dr. Lisa Christiansen, to join WCLO Radio for this on-air interview. She featured our story on her Facebook Fan Page on Dec. 7, 2015, and at present, in just nine days,  it has reached more than 50 million people, has been shared more than 200,000 times, and has more than 100,000 "Likes". Wow, amazing! ISN'T GOD GOOD? :)  Dr. Lisa is a best-selling author, life coach, motivational speaker, business consultant, and personal empowerment expert. After the segment airs, we will post a link to it. Thank you, WCLO, for producing an audio narration of the story, which was used in the subsequent making of a video by Dr. Lisa. Both follow.
-- Susan Leonard 12/16/15

For the audio version of the story, click on the audio icon below,
courtesy of 
WCLO News-Talk-Sports Radio in Janesville, WI*:

Here is the podcast of the radio interview 12/21/15 with WCLO News-Talk-Sports Radio in Janesville, WI, featuring Talk Show Host and Operations Manager Tim Bremel, Santa Mark Leonard, Susan Morton Leonard, and Dr. Lisa Christiansen:

This story is featured, along with other heartwarming stories, in the hardback book Christmas Miracles. 
Guideposts, New York; 2008 ISBN 978-0-8249-4742-2 (pp. 204-210) and can be purchased here: http://www.amazon.com/Christmas-Miracles-Various/dp/0824947428

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

My 22-year-old son is moving back home ...

My son is moving back home. He'll be 22 in a few weeks. I know you're wondering how I feel about this. After all, I've been an empty-nester for more than a year.

I am glad he's coming home. Ecstatic, actually.

We get along very well. Thank God he's not 17 anymore. 17 was a bad year. To use his own words, he had a lot of hormones he didn't know what to do with. And no, we're not talking about fixating on girls ... not those kind of hormones. The raging, I mean raging ones. He was über rebellious, defiant, and disrespectful. He is none of that now. He is thoughtful, loving, respectful. He is now five years older and wiser. And so am I.

He doesn't "cramp our style." The three of us still will live our lives pretty much the same, as far as having our own schedules, coming and going as we pretty much please.

So what will change? A lot. Unable to sleep until I know he's safely at home. No matter how old he is, I will always worry about him. He delivers pizzas for a living, is constantly on the road, and regularly pulls the closing shift. Yes, I will worry. And I will wait.

The noise. Ohhhh the noise. :) Loud music booming from downstairs. Loud TV coming from downstairs. Bedroom and bathroom doors and cabinet doors and refrigerator doors and microwave oven doors, all shutting loudly.

Cabinet doors left open. My bedroom door left open during the day (subjecting my belongings to the cat and dog). Lights left on. Lights shining in my bedroom from the hallway at 3 a.m. (I do not like to have my bedroom door closed at night.)

Higher electric, water, and food bills. Oh, and of course, we MUST upgrade to AT&T's U-verse so he can have the latest in HDTV fiber-optics, all the premium channels, and faster internet. Old fogey speed and no high-def just doesn't cut it.

Do I sound like I'm complaining? I'm not. :)

Our washer and dryer will return to getting a daily workout. Clothes will be left strewn around the bathroom, the living room, the kitchen. There will be stumbling over size 14 boats shoes left in the hallway. Dishes and empty bottles and cans will be scattered around his room.

Yes, all signs that my boy is home. :) 

Ever since he moved out, this house has seemed empty. Silent. And there's a constant, impending sense of unfulfilled anticipation. I've thought about converting his large bedroom with gigantic walk-in closet and french doors leading to the fenced-in yard. A work-out room would be nice. Another office (since the one upstairs has been completely overtaken by hub's pack-rat "stuff"). A den. But, instead, it has remained just the way he left it. Including his full-size fridge, still uncleaned. (Hey, it's his kitchen! I have my own to clean up here!) But we won't go there; I'll spare you the details.

And there are lots of ways this arrangement will be beneficial to all three of us. He will be paying the difference in cost to get U-verse, yet we will all benefit. In fact, we get a huge credit to bundle, so he's upgrading to a 4G I-Phone and giving me his 3G I-Phone, woo-hoo! He will help with cleaning the litter box and taking out the trash. He'll help carry in the groceries and will be able to lift heavy things for me and reach tall things and change light bulbs (he's 6'3" and doesn't need a ladder). He can cook ... very well! He'll empty the dishwasher (when I ask and he has enough time). I can holler downstairs, "Corey, will you put the clothes in the dryer, please?" and save myself a trip up and down the stairs. I know by now that, "Sure, Mom!" means "remind me again in 10 minutes."

Yes, my adult son is moving home. And continuing college. And working (nearly) full-time. Sacrifices will have to be made ... by all of us. But I couldn't be happier. My boy is HOME. MY boy is home. :)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Blogging ... Or a Lack Thereof

I knew blogging wouldn't be easy. Putting your thoughts and feelings out there -- for the whole world to see. Will they judge you ... your thoughts and feelings? Your writing skills, your wit, your sanity (or lack thereof)? Will your ramblings be a waste of their time?

Because my mind goes a mile a minute, and I'm always multi-tasking, the one thing I never considered to be a roadblock in my blogging was thinking of something to write about. People who know me would agree: Susan never is at a loss for words! Except, it appears, when it comes to blogging. What do I write about??!!  What a conundrum.

If I were a young mother of several children ... what fodder for blogging that would be! If I were a worldly traveler ... what experiences I could share! If I had interesting hobbies ... If, if, if.

Write about that which you know. That is the advice of writing coaches, of those in the publishing world.

Hmmm ... what do I know?? I will think on that, and get back to ya. In the meantime, I suppose that today I'm blogging about not blogging.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Random things I know to be true ...

Random things I know to be true ...

1. Family is the most important gift you will ever be given. Treasure your family. If deeds or words separate you, make amends ... BEFORE it's too late. Otherwise, you WILL have regrets.

2. You can get by on charm for about 10 minutes, but after that, you had better know something.

3. It's not what happens to people that's important. It is what they do about it. You can choose to be victim or a conqueror. Either you control your attitude or it controls you. Our background and circumstances may have influence on who we are, but we are responsible for who we become.

4. Free will is the most crucial characteristic God created in us; it can be either a blessing or a curse, and ultimately will determine our eternal course. We must use it wisely.

5. Money and material possessions are a lousy way of:
a) keeping score,
b) determining one’s true value, and
c) validating cause for respect and admiration.

6. The easiest way to grow as a person is to surround yourself with people smarter than you are, and to read good books.

7. Keep your words both soft and tender, because tomorrow you may have to eat them.

8. Everything happens for a reason. We may not see it right away, but in time we will come to realize that it was for the best. Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers. The course of our lives is like a huge tapestry. But we can only see with our human eyes the back side, with its gnarled threads and knots and mish-mash of patterns and colors. In heaven, God will turn over our life’s tapestry and it will be a beautiful work of art, and then we will understand … from “the other side.”

9. Know when to be serious, but remember to have fun, too.

10. Life, happiness, and love is all about balance. Good things, as well as bad, can often be double-edged swords.

11. Life and attitude is all about perspective. Everything is relevant. When you think you’ve got it rough, think about visiting a children’s trauma unit … or staying in a third world country for awhile.
Some people are always grumbling because roses have thorns; I am thankful that thorns have roses. ~Alphonse Karr

12. Never forget where you came from. Your family, friends, and teachers helped get you where you are now. Take the time to let them know how.

13. Don't care too much what other people think of you. Try not to compare yourself to others – most of ‘em are more screwed up than you think.

14. The only way to experience every emotion capable of a human being is to raise a child.

15. Take time to be in touch with your inner child. Stomp in a puddle, build a sand castle, jump into a pile of leaves, and make a snowman.

16. If you can find during the course of your lifetime five people who love you unconditionally AND like you, too … then you are a very blessed person.

"The Help" ... and Me and My Maimee

The Help,” by Kathryn Stockett, recently number one on the NY Times Best Seller List (49 weeks on the Best Seller List), is an absolutely incredible book about race relations in the South during the Civil Rights Era. Although a book of fiction, it draws from the author's own experiences of being raised by a black nanny in Mississippi.

I decided to read the book because my sister-in-law, Donna, raved about it. She wanted to read it because Kathryn Stockett is a fellow Phi Mu sorority sister, and was featured a couple of issues back in our national magazine, “The Aglaia.”

I’ll tell you a bit about the book (hopefully enough to compel you to read it without revealing too much) then I’ll share my own experiences growing up with a black nanny.

The book features a complicated theme of blacks and whites living in a segregated South. Even a century after the Emancipation Proclamation, black maids raised white children and ran households but were paid poorly, and often had to use separate toilets from the family. They even suffered to watch the children they cared for, and loved as their own, grow up to commit bigotry. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, “The Help” is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don’t.

These women of color were suffocating within the lines that defined their town and their times. But sometimes lines are made to be crossed. Led by the Stockettesque character Miss Skeeter, they bravely came together for a clandestine project that put them all at risk. Their determination to start a movement of their own forever changed a town, and the way women —mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends — viewed one another.

“The Help” is addictively, compulsively readable. Stockett’s debut is well-written, and it is abundantly apparent that she truly understands Southern life and has made great efforts to understand what life was like for black women who served white families. She presents sad, even shocking, stories that leave a great glimmer of hope. And though she examines our differences and our mistakes, she also reveals our commonalites, highlighting our humanity to wonderful effect. And while this is a serious book, it also has wonderfully lighthearted moments, humorous moments, and strikingly funny insights into women and their behavior.

Reading this book, I realize that these themes helped me shape my own values and opinions:

• Racism is not inherent; it is learned. Until a certain age, children may wonder why another child’s skin is a different color, or why their culture or physical appearances are not the same, but there is no regard for inferiority or prejudice until someone puts the idea in their heads or dictates that standard. Usually that “someone” is a person of authority, someone they respect, or fear.

• A person’s character is greatly shaped by the times in which they live. That is evident by the stories shared in “The Help.” It is demonstrated in Miss Skeeter’s own personal struggles against the lines drawn by the culture and times in which she lived. I rallied around her, as a reader, in her personal convictions, which totally defied the expectations and boundries she was supposed to live within as a white woman.

• I believe vestiges of racism still remain in relationships where people of color work for people who are white. However, racism has also become a double-edged sword. As “equal rights” have marched across time and history, prejudices against all colors have also evolved. Many of us, despite the color of our skin, have experienced (while an oxymoron) “reverse discrimination.” It makes me see how awry the purpose for equal rights has become. Generations of men and women worked so hard to bring about racial justice that was long overdue and well deserved, but which has at times since been distorted. Equal does not mean “fair.” I have deep respect for, and advocate, equal rights for everyone no matter their color, gender, culture, religion, etc. Everyone deserves equal opportunity in the work place as well as in society. But equal rights don’t translate to “better rights.” But that is where our society has evolved.

• The book caused me to examine myself, and question my own discriminations and intolerances in the past and present.

As I mentioned above, I had a black nanny growing up. That may come as a shock to some of my northern and overseas friends. But it was commonplace during the early ‘60s in the South. Though I was very young, I have a few beloved memories of Maimee. My overall impression of the experience was that I deeply respected and was very fond of Maimee. She made me feel very loved. Maimee came to live with us when my mother went back to work as a school teacher, a few months after my brother was born. She was big and round, with a hearty laugh, and looked like Aunt Jemima without the do-rag. She seemed a content woman and smiled a lot and I remember how very white her teeth looked against her pitch black skin. She stayed with us during the week, sleeping on the couch in our small house because we didn’t have an extra bedroom, and Mom would take her home on Friday nights and pick her up Monday mornings. She spent the weekends with her husband in their home. She was unable to have children, and loved my brother and me as if we were her own.

Maimee sometimes let us do things that my parents wouldn’t allow … like making mud pies. I remember one time while making mud pies, I smeared mud all over my face and gleefully squealed “Look, Maimee! Now I look like YOU!” She just slapped her knee and laughed and laughed and said, “Yes, sugah, you sho’ law do!” Not long after that, she gave me a doll. A "black mammy" homemade cloth doll. I remember it well. But I don't remember it making its way with me to the new house. I hadn't thought about that doll for years ...

At the tender age of five, I could recognize the difference in the color of our skin, but it never dawned on me that Maimee’s skin color, or that her vocation, was cause for anyone to look at her in a negative light (bullet two above). I loved Maimee and she loved us and she loved taking care of us. I remember one night, when my brother took a nose dive into the lower bunk bed and his eyebrow made vicious impact with the window sill, Maimee held me against her ample bosom, assuring me that John wasn’t going to die, despite all the blood his wound yielded. She made me warm milk and cuddled me the entire time my parents were in the emergency room with him. He came home sporting stitches, but he hadn’t died. Thank you, Maimee, for your reassurance.
I remember one time while making mud pies, I smeared mud all over my face and gleefully squealed, 'Look, Maimee! Now I look like YOU!' She just slapped her knee and laughed and laughed and said, 'Yes, sugah, you sho’ law do!'
Mom told me that sometimes Maimee would bring her teenage niece to work with her, and that she remembered not approving of that “wild rock and roll music by black singers” that she played, and didn’t like her showing off her “suggestive dancing” ("dirty dancing"). She was afraid Maimee's niece was a bad influence on us kids. I chuckled when she told me this recently. I don’t think it had anything to do with the niece being black; it was a youth revolution. That generation was rebelling and creating a new culture, black and white alike. The times, they were a-changin’! Right, Dylan?

Mom treated Maimee with utmost respect. She asked her to do things, never told her to. She said please and thank you, and showed her sincere appreciation for all Maimee did. This was rarely the case in Stockett's book, set deeper south down in Mississippi, and that was startling to me ... that so many maids and nannies were treated so disrespectfully, even inhumanely. I don't think I ever have witnessed that.

I know Maimee didn’t work for a white woman, taking care of her children, cooking for her family, and cleaning her home, to get rich. And it wasn’t for prestige. It was the early ‘60s in the South, and that’s what black women did. It was hard for an uneducated black woman in that era to get a job doing little else. And for that, I am remorseful. But I also hope it was because Maimee loved us and wanted to help mold us into children who had a bit of herself in them. I’d like to believe that was true.

I regret that Maimee moved on, and we moved to another area of town after my sister was born, and that we lost touch with her. I doubt that she's even still alive, but I sure would like to be able contact her today. I'd love to hear in her own words what it was like to be a nanny to white children. Of the horrific segregation rules she had to abide by ... how it made her feel.  I'd like to hear the stories of triumph when, for the first time, blacks were allowed to sit at the same counter as whites at Buntings Drug Store and eat hot dogs together. Of how it felt to not to have to ride in the back of the bus, or to be able to use a "white" bathroom or water fountain, or be able to shop in the "white folks grocery stores" without having to wear your white uniform. And, ultimately, what it means to her to see a black man be elected as President of the United States. Did she ever fathom that it could happen in her lifetime?

But most of all I'd like to be able to tell her, "thank you.” Thank you for your sacrifices and your love. Thank you for being my Maimee.