Tag Archives: family

My 2020 Vision

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And so many interpretations of that idea…

I am running out of time.

We all are.

Not to sound nihilistic, but it is a fact.  When a person is born, the meter starts running.  We are given a finite, and unknown to us, number of years/days/seconds in which we are to fulfill our life’s purpose.  Some of us never even determine what that purpose is, much less fulfill it.

I remember when we perched on the cusp of THE YEAR 2000, and Y2K Fever was rampant.  Doomsayers warned us that computer systems would fail, grinding the economy to a violent, albeit temporary, halt.  End-time prophets advised us all to lay in extra supplies of food, water, medicines, and cash, to protect us from the coming mini-apocalypse that the start of The New Millennium would bring.  All that the paranoid pundits feared amounted to a lot of nothing.  I am grateful that the predicted collapse didn’t happen.

That was 20 years ago!  Now we perch on the eve of another year that has a zero on the end of it, and I’ve been thinking about the phrase “20/20 vision”.  Medically, the term refers to perfect eyesight.  I have not enjoyed decent eyesight without correction since I was 9 years old and began wearing glasses.

But I have also been thinking about my vision for the coming year…MY 2020 Vision.  I won’t lie; I have no idea what may be coming.  I know that I should be doing all the things: I need a full-time job, in the most urgent way imaginable, and I need to be looking much harder to find one; I should be writing every single day; I should be seeking out the best books and reading them constantly; I should be exercising my body and my voice daily as well to condition them and keep them supple; I should be intentional in keeping my relationships strong, expressing appreciation for every person who inhabits my family/circle/village/tribe.  And all the things seem to require way more energy than I have.  Every day I know I’m running out of time.

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This time last year my emotions were mixed as I anticipated the end of a job I had held for almost 18 years.  I felt uncertain, but also hopeful, looking forward to a road trip that I christened #OperationTakeAMinute.  I enjoyed that trip, but looking back now, part of me feels like it was a waste of time and resources.  I lost a month of time with my precious dog, #OurBoyRoy, and my husband.  (The photo below is from last New Year’s Eve.  We had to let #OurBoyRoy go to Heaven in July.)

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I spent money I should have saved.  It was an indulgence that felt necessary at the time; now I wonder if it was the right thing to do after all.

Hence I recall another adage about vision and sight:

Hindsight is always 20/20.

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And I’m running out of time.

#My2020Vision

 

Tides

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A week of extremes…

As I write this, I am in a northwest Florida condo with a gorgeous view of the Gulf of Mexico.  The temperature is 66 degrees, the sun is bright, and the surf is a bit more active today than the Gulf is most of the time.  Foamy whitecaps dot the surface of the blue-green water, and the sugary white sand is completely devoid of people.

Five days ago I was working at my current temporary assignment at the library and watching a postcard-pretty snow fall just beyond the reference desk windows.  Oak Ridge was whited out, but the streets and pavement were clear and safe, just wet.  It was every bit as beautiful as the setting I enjoy now; it was also about as opposite as one could imagine.

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It has been a week of extremes.  My #FirstEverWorkHusband Martin’s mother passed away on Halloween.  Fort Walton Beach was their home for many years, and Charlotte was a driving force behind the local Stage Crafters Theatre company, so it was decided that her memorial service would be held there.  Hence our trip to Florida in December.  Even though a month and a half has passed since she died, it is still a fresh grief for them, and the gathering of family and friends from decades gone by and miles away seems to have brought a fresh tide of emotion.

At least, it has for me.  I grieve the death of a woman I never met, but feel like I knew.  I grieve because my friend/person is grieving, and, as Truvy said in the film Steel Magnolias, “…no one cries alone in my presence.”  I grieve remembering my own Mama’s death, the anniversary of which was a week ago today.  December always brings a fresh tide of memories.

Since we had not seen each other since I visited him in February during #OperationTakeAMinute, Martin invited me to go with him to his dialysis session on Friday, so we could talk and visit away from the crowd of family and friends.  When I arrived to collect him, he presented me with one of the most precious gifts I’ve ever received…a pair of large, beautiful feathers he had found during the months since my last visit and had saved for me.

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We arrived at the clinic, did paperwork, got him connected and me gowned up, and, as much as possible, we enjoyed short periods of conversation mixed into wordless times of simple shared presence.  About halfway through treatment he began to have some chest pain and, long story short, we ended up taking an ambulance ride to the nearby hospital to have him checked out.  Fortunately, his heart is medically all right.  I am grateful.

While we were in the emergency department, a portable X-ray unit was brought in to examine him in his triage space…and a fresh tide of memory flooded over me as I relived a moment from when Mama was in the hospital and a portable X-ray unit was brought to her room to check her, a moment when she was not stable enough to transport to them, so they came to her.  It was my sweet husband’s one meltdown moment during the whole of Mama’s hospital stay.  A moment of his deep attachment to my Mama, and his mother-in-love.

It is an odd thing, how present grief can churn up past grief, like the foamy whitecaps of a turbulent surf.  The tides are constant, sometimes tranquil, sometimes violent.  But the ebb and flow never cease.

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Catching Dreams

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Or even remembering what mine used to be…

Last year after returning from a vacation trip to Houston for our niece’s wedding, a friend at work asked me, “Didn’t I hear you say something once about collecting feathers?”  I responded that, yes, I indeed collect feathers.  He mumbled something and shuffled to his desk a few seats over from mine.

A moment later he returned with a gift that surprised and warmed me to my core—a Native American dreamcatcher.  I yelled, “Squeeeeeeee!” And hugged him so hard I think it startled him.  He explained that he donates to a mission/orphanage out west somewhere and they had sent him this beautiful dreamcatcher as an appreciation gift for his contributions.  He wanted me to have it.

I was floored, humbled, and touched by his thoughtfulness to share such a beautiful item with me.  This guy has always been a friend to me, but his exterior can be gruff.  He does not like people to get too close to him.  I have often described him as a “cactus with a marshmallow center”!

The legend of the dreamcatcher is that a person is supposed to hang it over their bed at night.  The woven web in the center catches the sleeper’s dreams, trapping the nightmares while allowing the sweet dreams to flow down the strands to the feathers below, allowing them into the mind of the sleeper.

I have always heard tell that my Mamaw’s Grandma Sayne was full-blooded Cherokee.  I have never been able to verify this, although with technology evolving all the time and so many records available online now, it might be possible to do so.  A first cousin I have never met in person reached out to me on social media hoping to learn more about our family, and he might be the person to unravel this branch of our family tree.  Even a tiny portion of Cherokee in my lineage would make sense of a lot of things about me, how I see my world, and the things I value.  Perhaps confirming such a family history would help me to remember the childlike dreams of my past…those days when I thought anything was possible.

As it is, I look at this sweet gift, a reminder of a friendship from a workplace Shinsky and I no longer share, but memories I will value for a lifetime.  I will pray that both of us will conjure and fulfill new, meaningful and happy dreams moving forward.  I will give thanks for his heritage and for mine, for years of shared work and a future that I cannot yet see.

Spin Cycle

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And I don’t mean laundry…

A little over a year ago was when I and many of my coworkers learned that our company was moving several departments away from our facility here.  We were not moving with them. Ample notice and generous severance softened the blow a little bit, but, for me, it also made it easier to live in denial for a longer period of time.

The last six months of work came and went, followed by my road trip, #OperationTakeAMinute.  That month on the road was unlike anything I had ever attempted before, especially traveling by myself.  It was a wonderful, soul-healing time spent visiting some family (blood and chosen) and a few intentional nights alone as well.

Upon my return I began the process of rebuilding my resume’ and searching for a job.  Thus began my experience with Temporary Employment.  My recruiter with the staffing agency has been wonderful to help me find leads.  I spent a couple of months at an assignment that I hoped would become permanent, but timing, circumstances, and internal changes with that company were not conducive to me remaining there.  So I waited for the next assignment while submitting applications and resumes everyplace interesting that I could find (and some less interesting places too!).  This past week I began a new assignment, with hopes for something permanent elsewhere.

After working for so long in one place, this new situation feels a lot like I’m living in the spin cycle.  I have often felt like a dirty garment, tossed into a dark place, drowned in soapy water, agitated and thrown around, eventually to be spun at dizzying speed to get most of the water out.  Then the whole thing starts all over again to rinse the soap—and the dirt—away,  It’s actually kind of a violent process!

BUT…this has to happen for the clothes to get clean.  Perhaps that is what this period of transition, instability and uncertainty is supposed to be doing for me.  Perhaps this process is cleansing me.  I sure hope so.  I hope this life stage is cleansing me to get me ready for the next opportunity, whether that opportunity is professional, spiritual, personal, or something else.

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#OperationTakeAMinute

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The purpose and the planning

After seventeen and a half years working for the same company, my employment ended officially on Friday, February 1, 2019, but my last actual work day on-site was Saturday, January 26.  It was a strange, emotional day, one I had known was coming for six months, when notice was given to me and my department-mates that our jobs would be coming to a conclusion.  Walking out the door that last time, leaving my ID badge on my manager’s desk, felt a bit like I was leaving a piece of myself behind.

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I knew that, after working for so long in one place with a team of people I had come to love like family in many cases, I would need some time to recover after it was over.  That is how #OperationTakeAMinute was born.

My friend and #FirstEverWorkHusband, Martin, was the first person to suggest a road trip.  I had never even considered such a thing.  I am not the person who does any of the driving when Sweet Pea and I take vacations.  For years I couldn’t even stay awake when we traveled by car.  But after thinking about it, talking to my sweet husband, and getting ideas from some friends, I began to think that a road trip would be a great chance to clear my head and get some rest.  Truth told, the last six months had left me feeling much more beaten-up than even I realized, and the despair had taken hold more strongly than I wanted to admit.

If this thing was going to do me any good at all, I reasoned, I would need to do some of the things I never had time to do because I was always rushing to get back to work.  Well, rushing back to work was not really an issue at this point.  So I talked to my “choir boss” at church and asked for a little time off from singing responsibilities there, and he was most gracious and accommodating.  We sat down with a calendar and determined when would be a good window for me to be gone.  Then my planning began in earnest.

I started deciding my route and stops, who I wanted to visit, places I might like to see and photograph along the way.  The more the path and its timeline took shape, the more excited I became.  A forward momentum was happening that I had been missing for a long time, and I was starting to feel…hopeful.

In the television industry, time is truly of the essence.  Not just hours and minutes, but seconds—and every second is divided into 30 frames of video.  Since 1994 when I began my first television job in master control, time has dictated much of my existence.  It seemed only fitting to name my road trip adventure #OperationTakeAMinute.  A minute, to catch my breath, recover, and prepare for the next chapter of my professional—and personal—life.

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Smelling The Roses

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Don’t wait…

My friend Isaac took me to supper this past Saturday night, to celebrate my Sunday birthday.  (#souldate). Visiting with him is always a good time to catch up on each other’s lives, enjoy a meal together and discuss some of the deeper issues of heart, mind and soul. He provides a valued sounding board for my random musings, creative endeavors and family “stuff”.

Over the table, we hash out the dreams and doldrums of life, including the relentless passage of time that a birthday always brings to mind.  I mentioned to him a country song from the 90’s that tells the story of a family at 3 different life stages, and how poignantly it speaks to the changes we all endure and witness.  If you are interested, look up artist Tracy Lawrence’s “Time Marches On”.  It is an intelligently written yet simple narrative of one family’s life story.

Our niece is getting married a month from today, a lovely and accomplished young woman whose birth I remember vividly.  We will be traveling to Houston to gather with the Cutshaw side of the family and celebrate her wedding, as well as my and Sweet Pea’s 32nd wedding anniversary, and Cutshaw Grand Poobah Howard’s birthday.  As I look forward to this wonderful occasion, my happiness is tempered a bit by sadness at the unexpected death of a friend.

Ellen had moved to California at the end of 2012 and I had not managed to keep in touch the way I would have liked.  Still, as I explained to a mutual colleague, just knowing she was “out there” comforted me.  Now, knowing that she is not, is a kind of sad that is quite undefinable.

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Once more I am reminded of an old adage, that I need to stop and smell the roses.  The daily-ness of life lulls me into complacency…until there is a wedding, a birthday…a death.  Every day is an occasion to be savored and shared with the people around me.  God, give me eyes to see and a heart to appreciate both the monumental and the mundane occasions You set before me daily.  Amen and Amen.

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Days And Decades

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How 15 hours became 20 years…

Today is the 20th anniversary of Mama’s death…but just barely.  December 8 was just a couple of hours old when she drew that last breath and moved from here to Heaven.  So while this is technically the anniversary, I always spend December 7 remembering…reliving…her last day of life, and spending it with her.

I arrived at Baptist Hospital around 11:30 that cold, grey Sunday morning, to relieve Dad, who had spent the night before with her.  He told me that, after being unresponsive for over 12 hours, she had awakened in the middle of the night, and they had a conversation.  She said she knew she would die soon, and that she was not afraid.  His recollection of that exchange shook me, hard and deep.  As we chatted briefly, he made a note to send to their financial advisor on Mama’s hospital menu for that day.  I remarked that I probably had a blank sheet of paper he could use, and he said no, the menu would be fine, especially since it documented the date and his note was an instruction for an account change that needed to be done before the end of the calendar year.  He was, and still is, careful and astute in financial matters.  We hugged goodbye and I told him to go home and get some sleep, that I’d see him later.

Just minutes after he left, Mama’s face changed, as did her breathing, echoing through the room with “the death rattle” I had often heard mentioned in older people’s conversations, but had only heard with my own ears a few times.  It didn’t register with me right away that she had begun actively dying, but over the course of the day it sank in.  In about a half hour a nurse came in to check Mama’s vital signs, and she asked how long her breathing had been like that.  When I answered, this sweet nurse just came and put her arm around my shoulder, telling me that she didn’t think Mama was in any pain or distress, that I could talk or sing to her, pet her and love her, because nothing was bothering her now.  I think now that this nurse may have been an angel; I don’t remember having seen her at any other time during our hospital stay; I can’t recall her name or face or hair color; I only remember her words and the feel of her arm around me.

For her last 15 hours, Mama and I shared that little space together, mostly alone except for nurses and CNAs coming in to check her vital signs and to ask if I was all right, if I needed anything.  We only had a few visitors, including a hospital social worker and her husband, who circled around and prayed with us, and my cousins Judy and Ann, who came that night just hours before Mama died.  There were some phone calls through the day, but mostly many hours of stillness.  Mama never awoke that last day, but I spoke to her, and I know she was aware of my presence…my love.

Flash forward to last week when I was messaging with a friend and telling him about Mama’s anniversary coming up.  He expressed understanding of my residual grief.  We talked on about the state of current affairs, the world, and concerns over what we, as individuals and as a culture, may leave behind.  I tried to reassure him that he is sending light into a world that sometimes seems very dark.

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And I realized something.  Those last priceless hours I shared with Mama shaped the way I view my years, and how I want to spend whatever time I have left.  When it is time for me to leave this world, I hope I am remembered for the moments I shared with others…one on one and bunches of us together, moments of music and silence, times we laughed until we cried, ate until we belched and then laughed some more, hugs and smiles and being genuine with one another (I don’t really know how to be any other way).  If my moments are meaningful, then my years will be worthwhile.

In her last 15 hours of life, Mama taught me just as much as she did in the 58 years that preceded them.  What a gift!  If my days and decades are a tiny fraction as full as hers were, I will leave something good behind me here when I leave.

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Dog Days

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Love beyond understanding…

There is a commercial for Subaru that makes me weepy almost every time I see it.  Willie Nelson sings “You’re my buddy, my pal, my friend…”, as a man prepares for a road trip with his dog, with a close-up shot of a bone-shaped birthday cake decorated with the number 14.  The spot goes on to show the man and his dog marking activities off what looks to be the dog’s bucket list.  The tag line is, “Love—it’s what makes a Subaru, a Subaru”.

Now, I realize that that ultimate goal of the commercial is to sell cars.  However, there is a category of advertising known as “image-building”, into which this particular spot falls.  Instead of listing specifications about safety ratings, gas mileage and dealer incentives, spots like this instead help the viewer (or listener in the case of radio advertising) build an emotional connection with the product.  I can imagine the pitch meeting for this particular commercial, with creative service professionals discussing how they could target pet owners as potential buyers for this car.  That’s their job, and in this case, they performed it extremely well.

When I see this commercial, I can’t help remembering our first dog, Ernie The Wonder Beagle.  He was actually a Beagle-Basset mix, adopted from the local shelter and estimated to be 1.5 to 2 years of age when we took him home.  We enjoyed nearly 11 years of unconditional love with him, even as we became acquainted with his emotional issues.

It was pretty clear that at some point he had suffered abuse, and possibly starvation.  He was skittish around people he didn’t know, especially men, for a long time.  But with time and love, he learned that he could trust us, and could trust the people we trusted.  He especially seemed to enjoy it when he had a chance to see The Aunts at Dad’s for Christmas Eve and he was quite affectionate with them.

He was both extremely sensitive and ridiculously funny.  Countless times he emerged from our bedroom with a cotton swab he’d swiped from a wastebasket hanging out of his mouth like a cigar.  He “stalked” his stuffed toys by circling around them on the floor before grabbing and shaking them with all his might, eventually throwing the offending toy down and descending on it in a growling, playful frenzy.  He listened to 11 years of tears, joys, secrets and meltdowns from me, served as a heating pad when I was cold or had backaches or cramps, showered me with kisses and snuggles every day when I came home from work.  He loved me when it felt like no one else in the world did, or could.

For about the last 11 months of his life, Ernie lived with cancer, and we lived with it as well.  We and our veterinarians exercised our best judgement regarding how to give Ernie his best chances for both survival and a decent quality of life.  There were several surgeries to remove tumors, multiple rounds of steroids and other medications trying to keep his cancer at bay.  He was a brave little fighter, much more so than I was during his illness.

In the end, though, the cancer took him from us.  Ten years have passed since he died.  A couple of months after he died, we adopted Our Boy Roy, who came home with us on the same day that Ernie had, September 4…Ernie in 1996 and Roy in 2007. Roy’s adoption is a story for another blog post, one I will get around to writing, eventually.

As wonderful as Roy is and as much as I love him, I still miss Ernie every single day.  Our pets provide us with a kind of love that is beyond understanding or explanation.  We humans would do well to emulate the kind of simple love our pets give us and share that love with other humans.

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Above, me with Ernie shortly after adopting him, September 1996, and on his last night at home, July 4, 2007, before he went to the hospital for the last time.  He died one week later.

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One of the best friends of my life, Ernie The Wonder Beagle.  God rest his little Beagle-y soul.

Respite

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How decades can vanish in an instant…

Last April, Jeff and I went to Destin, Florida for a vacation.  We used to live and work in the area and every time we go back for a vacation, we drive through that same little town on our way to the beach.  And every time we do, I always remember the people we worked with and wonder whatever happened to them.  Last year I finally did some research and found out about my favorite one.

Martin was my first ever “work husband”, at my first radio job, so early in my career that I didn’t even have terminology for what that relationship was!  He worked the same midday air shift time as I did, in the FM studio while I was on the air in the AM side next door.  I couldn’t begin to count the times he put his side on “auto-pilot” for 10 or 15 minutes and came to stand in my doorway to talk and laugh with me.  He left the station, and radio, in 1989, about a year before the company was sold and everyone else was laid off, resulting in Jeff’s and my return to Knoxville.  We lost touch with many of our connections from there, including Martin.  But I often thought of him and wondered how his life had worked out.

Flash forward to last year’s vacation when I searched his name on Facebook and found several entries, including a face with a smile that was warm and familiar.  I sent a message and introduced (or re-introduced!) myself, apologizing if he was not the Martin I remembered and saying to have a nice day, and if he WAS the Martin I remembered, I hoped he would get in touch.  It was, and he did, and we became Facebook friends and began a correspondence.

Over the ensuing months Jeff and Martin also connected on Facebook…but the more substantial communications were between Martin and me. (I was always a letter-writer…now I am also a message-sender!)  We all decided that a trip to Asheville to visit Martin was in order, and I couldn’t help thinking it was a little ironic that we had all met 500 miles away in Florida only to end up living a couple of short hours apart.  Other things developed over the ensuing months as well, resulting in much more frequent messages between me and Martin…changes in his health and home life, a hospital stay, drama, frustration and sadness as he is in a transitional life stage now.  I’ve been humbled and amazed at his transparency and his remarkable sense of humor in the midst of all he is enduring of late…the same humor which endeared him to me almost 30 years ago when I first met him.  He often makes me “snaughle”—my term for the snort-laugh.  We have become family…which I warned him might happen, saying, “We’re bonding and God help you, because my friendship is relentless.”  He has assured me that he is OK with it.

For a brief moment I was nervous about us seeing him again in person, thinking we might end up with nothing to say to each other and the whole situation could become weird and awkward, especially since we had planned for him to spend the night with us.  The exact opposite scenario played out, as we stayed up very late with rarely even a moment of silence amidst all the catching up, storytelling and abundant laughter.  Jeff finally put himself to bed and Martin and I stayed up for maybe another hour winding down and feeling grateful…and decades vanished in an instant.

The next day came, and with it, Martin’s time to leave.  Jeff and I both hugged him goodbye, thanking him for coming to visit with us and for all the laughs we shared.

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Walking out onto the gravel driveway in my stocking feet and watching him pull his car away, I felt happy and sad and a little weepy all at once.  The end of a sweet visit often evokes such emotions in me, and this one, which had been so many years in the making, seemed especially poignant.  The rest of our afternoon was spent poking around in a bucket-list bookstore I had wanted to visit, getting supper and stopping by a fancy chocolate shop for treats, enjoying Jeff and his company.  The whole trip was a much-needed respite from the stressful realities all of us deal with on a daily basis.

The following day it was time for us to head back home, and back to reality.  Messaging with Martin, I admitted that I cried when he left.  He was understanding and sympathetic, as he always is.  And as always, a joke happened.

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How To Make Hot Tamales

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It’s not about the recipe…

 

Making hot tamales is a process

First, you gather in a loved one’s kitchen

and find the well-worn recipe

Stir up the cornmeal, shortening and hot water

while you laugh about how

the generation before you used to

perform this same ritual

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Next it’s time

to roll the meat for the filling

and laugh some more

because somebody thought

the meat logs were funny

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Then comes the assembly line

of putting the cornmeal mixture

onto the tamale wrapper

sticking the meat log inside

and wrapping it all up

repeating until we’re done

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We congratulate each other

saying “these look like

they turnt out right” and

laughing about how

someone ended up with

cornmeal in her hair

Then it’s time to

boil them all up and

smother them in the chili

that’s been patiently waiting

And savor this

Belly-and-Soul-warming meal

seasoned with

Laughter

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