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Loving Two Sams

I have had the honor of loving two Sams in my life. They made me laugh and cry and wonder. This is the story of my beloved Sams.

Sam A. grew into one of the finest men I’ve ever known. His family was kind of a mess when he was little, six or seven. So Sam A, with his curly blond hair, spent a lot of time with us, along with his beautiful big brother. We listened to a lot of Jimmy Buffet and snuggled on the couch with a giant stuffed Elmo doll.

Sam A. grew up and was my daughter’s, Alexis, first love. I trusted him with my beautiful girl because Sam A. became a young man of unerring integrity. He had a moral compass that was golden and unyielding. He always chose what was right.

For almost twenty years smiling Sam A. was a crucial and pivotal part of our family.

Sam A. taught us all to close any knife we opened, to  bring a treat for the family dogs and to always do what was right. No questions, just do what was right. He was rare.

Sam G. was a super skinny little boy when we met him. He was one of my son’s, Sandor, best friends from second grade. Sam G. had swoopy blond hair, a brilliant grin and he didn’t talk much. But he hugged.

Sam G. had a pretty messy family life so he stayed at our house at least four days a week. Sam G. was part of our family, he ate dinner with us, went to foot ball practice. I took him to get his physical every year and he had his own drawers. He talked to us but not many others because he didn’t trust many others.

Sam A’s curly blond hair turned brown. But his integrity and and honor stayed gold. He graduated from college and in his very early twenties took his own life. The weight of that moral compass was too much, I think.

Sweet Sam G is a big ol teen ager now. He’s moved to another city to get away from bad kids and that’s a good thing. I hadn’t heard from him in a couple of months, which hurt my heart. I always worry about Sam G. , pressure, forces and good decisions.

This past Sunday I was missing Sam A. so much. And I texted his old phone. “I miss you, buddy.”

An hour latter some dude called me. He said that was his brothers phone now. I explained things. He listened then asked me to delete the number.

Just four or five minutes latter my phone dinged. It was a text. “Hey Miss Diana, It’s Sam. This is my new number. I love you and I’m doing good.” There was a picture of Sam G and his cute new girl friend. His long blond hair is brown now. But he looked so good.

Maybe big Sam A. is helping my Sam G. Guiding, nudging offering him a look at that beautiful shining moral compass.

I will love you guys forever. Thank you.

Make Him Dance, Damn It

Tonight my husband, Alex, and I took our youngest son, Sandor, who is handsome and sixteen and his girlfriend, Haley, downtown for Halloween.

Alex and I hung out in the lobby of a grand old hotel, The Arlington, while they explored our historic district. The Arlington was built in the 1920s and is extravagant, tacky, magnificent, beautiful and historic. Everything about the Arlington screams “Great Gatsby,”. I love this place.

There was a redneck looking guy (seriously wearing overalls and camo) with a guitar on the stage. He really didn’t match the soaring ceilings and exquisite architecture. But he was good, especially when singing Bob Seager.

When Haley and Sandor showed back up and sat down at our table, we talked about the history of the Arlington and watched the trick or treaters who wandered in and out, in costume.

Then redneck dude on stage played Stand By Me. Haley and Sandor immediately moved to the dance floor. He’s tall and she’s short and they looked adorable slow dancing. She clung to his purple and gray letterman jacket and they both had love sick expressions. It was beautiful and silly.

I grabbed Alex’s hand, “Come on, we’re dancing.”

“No, I don’t want to dance.”

“I Don’t care Alex, come on sweetie. Please?”

“Fine,” he mumbled but he was obviously miserable and half pissed.

For two or three minutes Alex and I clung to one another. He almost smiled. I was truly happy. Then the song ended.

The truth is, I’m worried about my husband. I don’t know if he feels joy anymore and I don’t know if he enjoys living. But I want him to stay here with me, for a while anyway. Because I love him. And we’ve been together for more than 25 years.

I’m terrified, but I’m going to keep dragging him into weird situations and forcing him to slow dance with me….because I don’t want to be alone, in this world, without him. And he’s a really good dancer.

I have a theory. If you want to be happy, no matter how old you are, you have to actively take part in life. Choose to dance. Make a decision to stop watching this world and the people in it, then dance….jump in…and try to be a part of the magic swirling around us all. It’s the only chance we have.

Things Are Different in Fountain Lake

A Recent Addition At A Motorcycle Shop

This is fairly new to the neighborhood. It’s parked outside a motorcycle repair store on Highway 5.

I’ve lived in the community of Fountain Lake, Arkansas with my husband for 25 years. It’s about ten miles outside of Hot Springs.

Fountain Lake is on Highway 5/Park Avenue, which used to be the old Little Rock Highway. For more than 150 years (I’m guessing) wagons, stagecoaches then cars traveled to and from from the state capital on Highway 5/Park Avenue.

All this to say, Highway 5 is one of the oldest roads in the area. And it shows.

Nice Windows, Nice Door…No Roof

Everyday for 25 years I’ve driven past all kinds of unusal/funky and quirky landmarks in Fountain Lake. Some old, some newer…but all of them are beautiful, interesting or weird.

I believe Fountain Lake is  different than  other Garland County Communities. Kids who grow up in this area generally stay here and their kids go to Fountain Lake.

Often times we are a little suspicious of new folks.  We have lots of churches, one bar Buzz Too but the heart of the community is the school and the Shell Station at the Junction of Highways 5 and 7.  For a long long time that gas station was called David and David’s, and still is by old timers.   And the ladies that worked at David and David’s seemed to have a pretty tight clique that favored men.  It took me a long time to gain acceptance at the gas station when I first moved in with Alex.  But the ladies loved him!

Most of us have driven past all of these locations so many times we really don’t pay much attention.

Fountain Lake, it’s really kind of different out here.

A failed pizza joint that tried to turn into an Escape Room. For a while there was no “e” on the big escape room sign. This is what it looks like now. A little creepy. But it’s right there on the side of the road.

 

Arbordale was a terrific swimming destination in the 30s and 40s, with docks, diving boards, paddle boats. People danced to live music back in the day!

Arbordale was a terrific swimming destination in the 30s and 40s, with docks, diving boards, paddle boats. People danced to live music back in the day!

Fountain Lake used to have a Motel! This sign still stands on the side of the road across from the Fountain Lake Middle School.

I just love these mailboxes across the street from the school. Not sure who’s they were.

 

I really don’t know what this sign means. Either they have questions or maybe answers.

 

I absolutely  love that this big tent pops up several times a year, right in front of the bar, Buzz Too for a church revival, and after the revival it sometimes turns into a fireworks stand!

 

The Problem with Luther in Prison

I have a friend who is in prison. He’s in the custody of the Arkansas Department of Corrections.

Upfront, I’ll say my friend Luther, got caught up in something stupid. He was guilty and now he’s serving his time.

I got to give Luther a hug in the courthouse before he was sentenced. And he promised me he would make good use of his time in prison. He really wanted to learn woodworking and get some training in HVAC , so he could come home, get a job with an air-condition/heating company and take care of his daughters. That was the plan. He was going to make the most of the situation.

His plan was a good one but I’ve learned that’s not the way the prison system works. In six months Luther has been moved seven times. He’s signed up to take classes and to work on his GED when he first went in….he’s still waiting…six months later to attend a class. It seems to me teaching an inmate a new trade, a way to better himself, a way to support himself , should be a priority. But that’s not how it works….at least not for Luther.

If a man can support himself, maybe he won’t end up in prison again. Maybe he will change his stars, change his life, and never go back to prison. Isn’t that what they want?

I don’t know….if that’s what the Department of Corrections wanted wouldn’t they make that a priority?

In the beginning, while Luther was waiting to go to an Arkansas State Prison, he was held in several county jails. The first was fine. The second, in Camden Arkansas, was insane. Inmates there were not allowed to have books. BOOKS! Generally jails and prisons allow inmates to receive paperbacks via Amazon. I would think jails and prisons would want inmates to read instead of other things. Not Camden. No books….at all.

Finally, I called to ask some tough questions about that policy. The deputy on the phone admitted inmates could have a Bible or Koran….soft cover…but I had to hand deliver it. So I drove three hours to give Luther a Bible.

In the last four months Luther has been moved in and out of several Arkansas prisons. He always asks for classes but has never gotten into any, and then he’s been moved again and again.

Luther told me last week he’d been moved again, this time to Texas. They didn’t tell him why. Nobody has to explain things to inmates. So far, no classes, no learning just more of the same.

We all know Einstein’s definition of insanity. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Our prison system is not just flawed, it’s a nightmare. The Luthers of the world admit they’ve done wrong. They go to prison hoping they can learn something new, but the system won’t allow that to happen.

America locks up more people every year than any other country in the world. There are countries like India and China, who are much bigger…but we lock up more. And most who go to prison in America end up going back, over and over. Check out the numbers 50 to 75 percent of inmates end up back in prison.

It’s a big business keeping people locked up. A lot of people are making a ton of money keeping Luthers locked up.

Maybe nobody wants my friend Luther to learn a new trade. Maybe they don’t want him to become a better man. Maybe they are betting their future on Luther returning to prison.

Romantic Gazpacho

Today, as my husband, Alex, fell asleep on the couch watching Michigan football, I made a batch of Gazpacho. It’s a cold Spanish soup with pureed tomatoes as a base then peppers, onion, celery and cucumbers.

Twenty five years ago, when Alex and I were first dating, he was trying to renovate his five acre redneck ranch. (We still live in the same house) Alex is a chef, not a contractor, so it was slow going. I called him, “Hey, since you bought dinner last night I’m bringing you a surprise lunch.”

He sounded excited that I was coming out to check out his house and bring lunch. He gave me explicit directions and the address.

I stopped at a little café in Hot Springs and bought some Gazpacho and fancy grilled cheese sandwiches. I felt very sophisticated and confident that Alex, the handsome, swarthy chef would be impressed.

Finding the entrance of our driveway has always been nearly impossible. It’s like finding the entrance to Narnia. With my gazpacho and sandwiches on the front seat I drove past the driveway over and over, finally I drove four miles back to a little gas station and asked to use the phone

Frustrated and embarrassed I called Alex in tears. He laughed at me gently and said he would stand at the bottom of the driveway, so I couldn’t miss the turn.

We sat down in the living room and I tried not to show my concern when I looked around the house. It was a wreck. There were so many half finished projects and power tools everywhere.

But I proudly presented my lunch. I poured the Gazpacho into bowls, carefully placed the crotons on top and handed Alex a plastic spoon. then I unwrapped our delicate little grilled cheese sandwiches.

Alex smiled at me, “Wow, thank you. This is great.” He took a bite of soup. “It’s really good. You want a beer?”

We shared a cold can of Bush and ate lunch while he told me all the things he planned for the house. He ate the Gazpacho so fast I barely got any and that made me so happy.

Alex and I have been married for 23 years now. We’ve raised four kids, buried dogs and watched a lot of football. What I didn’t know all those years ago was that Alex absolutely hates tomatoes. He picks them out of everything. When he saw me making Gazpacho today, he gave me a hug and whispered “gross.”

Love, it’ll make you do all kinds of crazy stuff.

Almost The Sweetest Valentine…Ever

There seem to be two kinds of women in America, 1. Those who hate Valentine’s day; they think it’s a commercial ruse that inflicts ridiculously high expectations. Lots of women boycott the holiday on principal.

2. Then there are those who buy in and go hard. Their men must spend at least a hundred dollars on candy, flowers, food and cards or he clearly “doesn’t love or appreciate you enough.”

Both ideas are kind of dumb and unnecessarily harsh. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a holiday that encourages love. But taking a second mortgage out on the house to prove our love seems kinda moronic too.

Yesterday, after being “together” and married for 25 years, I think, Alex got it absolutely right.

First, there was a scribbled note on half a sheet of notebook paper next to the coffee pot.  All it said was, “Will you be my Valentine?” Nice! And there were two Hershey kisses. Perfect, he remembered the day! Pretty immature and adorable. Well done sir!

When I got home there were daffodils he’d picked in a vase and he fixed dinner! I’m trying to lose weight on the low carb diet right now and he took that into consideration…steak and lobster while we watched a new episode of The Big Bang Theory. Killed it.

But the best part of this Valentine’s Day? He changed the sheets on our bed…all on his own…without me asking. I woke up in the middle of the night and thought about how great those sheets felt as he snored next to me like a jacked up Harley Davidson.

Thank you Alex. You get a 10 out of 10 this year!

Immigrants vs Plastic Water Bottles

Three weeks ago I bought a 24 pack of bottled water. Then, I had a conversation with my adult son, Jack. He asked me to start teaching my youngest child, Sandor, about the dangers of water bottles and plastic bags. Plastic bags and bottles take roughly 1,000 years to decompose. That means those 24 bottles will be gone from our land fills and oceans in 3018. Crap, this planet in trouble.

Everyone has heard of The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a massive island of trash, made up, for the most part of plastic, and it’s bigger than the state of Texas.

Eighty five percent of sea turtles die because of plastic stuff in the ocean.

Plastic crap is destroying our beautiful little green and blue planet. And that’s what all my kids are afraid of….not immigrants. I have four kids and not one is worried about immigrants taking something away from them. They are all smart, educated young people. They are not naïve or stupid. And they simply understand the dangers of plastics and pollution.

They also understand that the likely hood of an immigrant or refugee ever doing them physical harm is statistically minute. According to Business Insider, ” The chance of an American being murdered by an undocumented immigrant terrorist is 1 in 10.9 billion per year. ”

Not one of my children wants a minimum wage job, so they are not worried in any way, about immigrants or refugees taking jobs. Plus, they appreciate the beautify and diversity new cultures bring to America. They love and thrive on new experiences and ideas.

My husband and I will be gone in 20 years and we’ll be leaving the great country to our kids and others like them. So I’m going to follow their lead.  They are not worried about immigrants and know with smart laws and restrictions there’s room in America. But they are terrified of the destruction brought on by plastics pollution. Plastics will take more form them, entire species of animals, clean water, air and land, than immigrants ever will.

You want something to be afraid of? Each day, people in the U.S. throw away more than 60 million plastic water bottles, most of which end up in landfills or as litter in America’s streets, parks and waterways.

We can only make things better when we recognize where the true danger and threat lies.

Door Knobs

Our house, Hampoland, is a comfortable mess. A strange, unorthodox home that’s served as a sanctuary not only for our four children, but for many of their friends, kids, stray dogs and young adults, who have sometimes needed a safe and happy refuge from the world.

Structurally, it’s miraculous the house still stands. Walls are cracked, so we spackle and paint. The floors rise and fall with the seasons. The answer…more throw rugs. Hampoland, is a five acre redneck homestead, our youngest daughter, Lex, who is 22, compares to a Dr. Seuss “Who House”.

This morning, I realized what I’ve known for years.  Most of the doors in our house can’t be fully closed and most of the door knobs are splattered with paint and are  a rattling, jacked up mess.  Our knobs are unable to fully close and lock any interior door in the house, much less keep it secured. They are loose and jangle in their holes, incapable of keeping anything inside or outside a room. Our doors can be pulled closed, then just as easily pushed open.

Years ago, we could have replaced all these useless door knobs, I suppose. But it never seemed important. New furniture has been moved in and out, cars have been bought and sold, kids have headed off to college, graduated and started their lives. But replacing the ten dollar door knobs was never a priority.

In this house, doors can’t really be closed. Push just a little and you’ll always be able to get in.  And maybe that’s a good thing. So, when Alex and I die and this house is demolished, I hope each of our children will take a trashed and useless Hampoland doorknob. Because, when there is love, doors can always be opened.

A Tragic Doggy Tale

We have three dogs and two lovely new couches. I bought the couches last week and I’m very proud of them.  But the world is not the same not in our home.

I’m only going to write about two of our dogs today and I’ll change their names. I don’t want them to be upset by my story about them.

  1. Bert is a white dog with brown spots.  He’s some sort of pit bull mix, which is funny because I always swore I’d never have a pit bull. But God has a sense of humor. Bert showed up in our yard a few years ago. He’d been so abused he wouldn’t let us touch home for two or three weeks.  Bert is an uncomplicated dog and now so happy with his life. His thick white tail wags constantly and thumps joyously on furniture and our legs. He sleeps on his back, untroubled by serious thought, and snores like a freight train.
  2. Hamlet is a brown boxer mix who Lex rescued from starvation several years ago.  He’s an exceedingly handsome dog with expressive ears and six toes, that kind of freak me out.  He is hopelessly in love with Lex and I suspect he has rather complicated thoughts.

When the new couches were delivered all the dogs were very excited and sniffy.  They watched as we tried out different positions, trying to discover “the perfect spot.” Then they all returned to their doggie lives. Except for Hamlet.

For several days he’s been very unhappy and out of sorts. He paces back and forth in front of the couches, annoyed that he’s not allowed to curl up on them.  There are lots of other comfy places for the dogs, in the house.  Rugs and doggy beds.  They can even snuggle with Sandor in a real bed. But Hamlet doesn’t care about those places any more.  He only wants to be on the new couches.

At night we literally have to put shoes and chairs on the couches to keep him off.  If I walk into the kitchen, he immediately jumps into my spot. I tell him to get down and he moves very very slowly, obviously annoyed with me.

Sure, Bert made a move for the couches a couple of times. But we yelled at him, so he got down and has moved on.  He doesn’t even care about the couches anymore.

Bert rolls and wiggles on his back, cheerfully scratching a hard to reach spot, while Hamlet sulks in front of the couches.  Bert happily pesters me for a treat in the kitchen, while Hamlet stares dolefully at the off limit couches.

Bert and I have both tried to get Hamlet to play, but he refuses. I sit on the floor, looking into his handsome eyes and scratching his favorite spot. He ignores me. Hamlet is obsessed with the couches he can’t have. He has the Garden of Eden and all the delicious fruit, but only wants the forbidden apple.

The moral of the story? I don’t think God planned on all of us having everything.  We each have different gifts and wonders to enjoy. Love what you have, add to your world, make it bigger and better if you want. But don’t lose a single day being jealous of those who have what you do not.

Be a Bert.

 

 

 

 

A Miracle on Central

Yesterday while listening to Alan Alda discuss his Parkinson’s diagnosis and I remembered a miraculous story from a long long time ago. If you fact check this story I’m sure it’s loaded with inaccuracies but it’s a true story.

My grandfather, Dr. Jack Stell, was a surgeon in Hot Springs, Arkansas. He studied at Ouachita Baptist University and Tulane, then opened his practice here, between 1915 and 1920. As a surgeon at St. Josephs’ , he was loved, even adored by his nurses, who were all nuns at the time, because it was a Catholic hospital.

As a Baptist in the early 1900s my grandfather was not a fan of the Catholic church and he did not approve of the Pope’s power or position. But he loved, respected and needed  his nurse-nuns.

During the early 1940s something started happening. Many of the local surgeons were enlisted during WWII and working to put soldiers back together elsewhere. So, there something of a shortage of surgeons in Hot Springs. Daddy Jack (the grandkids name for him) was extremely busy.  He and his habit clad nurses worked almost constantly.  But, Daddy Jack started noticing that something was wrong.  Tiny tremors in  his fingers then hand hands, began frustrating him. At first, no one noticed. But he knew something was terribly wrong.

After a year or so he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s . But Hot Springs and the hospital still desperately needed his surgical talents.

When I was a little girl, in the 60’s, my mother, and ancient withered nuns, would tell me stories about my grandfather. Old nuns in  dark  heavy habits , would  take me into their offices, give me ice cream or pudding from the hospital kitchen and tell me stories.  The one repeated to me so many times was simple and beautiful.

Daddy Jack told his nurses about the diagnosis. Together, they decided before each operation, they would all kneel, on the cold tile floor in the operating room, and they would pray, as one, for his hands to be steady and true. The Baptist doctor and Catholic nuns joined hands and asked for a miracle.

God listened. For almost two years Dr. Jack Stell and his nuns prayed and continued with the life saving surgeries.

Once Hot Springs was repopulated with a few more surgeons, Dr. Jack Stell retired to his home on Prospect avenue.

As a little girl, I would eat my pudding, listening to the old nuns as they wiped their eyes with handkerchiefs they miraculously produced from their sleeves.

Today, I understand the power of their faith, love and conviction. Back then, I only knew I had to sit and listen to their stories in order to get any goodies.

 

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