Category Archives: Happiness

Love at First Rinse Cycle, Or How the Arab Oil Embargo Changed My Life

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, I’m affectionately thinking about how my husband and I first met.  Not your conventional meeting, I assure you.

It was February 1974, and I moved from Maryland to Northern Virginia to be closer to my job.  This was also during the oil embargo which left much of the country having to deal with long lines at the gas pumps. To complicate matters further, drivers were assigned odd or even days in which gas could be purchased.  I was tired of dealing with this situation.

With the help of the Washington Post apartment locator section, I found an efficiency apartment in Arlington, Virginia. The rent was $190 a month! Imagine that?!

A couple of days after moving in, I was looking for the building’s communal laundry room.  This was not something I was particularly looking forward to doing.   But as it turned out, going to the laundry room changed my life forever.

I loaded my clothes into a plastic laundry basket, grabbed my detergent put five bucks worth of quarters into my jean pocket, and headed for the laundry room.  Upon entering the laundry room, my first impressions were “Yuck!” The room was steamy, musty and grimy.  Dust bunnies were multiplying everywhere.  I knew that I didn’t want to spend any more time in this place than absolutely necessary.

All of a sudden my focus changed.  On the other side of the laundry room stood an attractive, dark haired young man.  He was busy stuffing clothes into a washer and pulling quarters out of his pocket.  I thought to myself, ‘Hmmm, who’s this?’

I conveniently found a washing machine located not too far from his.  And then with a helpless little smile on my face, I said, “Hi. I’m new to this building. How many quarters does this machine take?”

Bill was more than helpful and brought me up to snuff quickly on everything I needed to know about washing and drying everything from clothes to bathroom rugs.  Such a helpful and pleasant young man! He was very friendly and so easy to talk to – a nice change from guys I had been dating.

Well, that’s how it all started.  Our friendship and courtship began at the Executive Towers Apartments in Arlington, Virginia while we watched our clothes go through the spin cycle.

We would meet up a few more times in the laundry room, chat about life and work and how we hated commuting to our jobs.  Bill eventually asked me out for dinner and a movie. I invited him to my place for dinner, to meet my friends and eventually to meet my family.

A little more than a year later we married.

Our clothes have been spinning around together in the same machine for the last 37 years. So now as I think of it – laundry rooms aren’t such bad places after all!

’Tis the Season to Write Romantically (Guest Blogger)

I bought my husband a Valentine a few days ago, just like I’ve been doing for the last four decades. Yep, we’ve been together that long, and even though it has been that long, I still want him to know I love him in that way.

He shows me in multiple ways that he still feels that way about me. We are lucky, I know, and I don’t take our relationship for granted.

My husband has a romantic side. He likes the Los Angeles Lakers AND Jane Austen and isn’t embarrassed to be one in only a handful of men in the theatre to see a Jane Austen-ish kind of movie. He’s also a generous and clever gift-giver–both clever in the kind of gifts he chooses for me, and clever in the way he presents them to me. I’m sure that store clerks who help him with his purchases wish they were so lucky.

I have lots of stories I could write that illustrate his romantic side. Why would I want to write them? Because I want our children and future descendants to know that we loved each other in that way.

Often our children only see us as fuddy-duddy parents and can’t visualize us having a life before they came into the world. I suspect you know what I mean. I’ve taught personal history writing for the last 15 years, and the majority of my students tell me they’re writing their stories because they want their children to know what their lives were like before they became parents. Writing stories about the romantic aspects of our lives is one way of expanding our children’s vision of who we are.

So write that romantic story. Here are a few story ideas you might consider:

  • Follow my lead and write a story that illustrates your spouse’s romantic side. When I gave this assignment to my class last year, I was greeted by a blank stare…followed by some mumbling…followed by some derisive laughter. “Now listen, folks,” I retaliated, “not everyone’s a hearts and flowers kind of person.” We then discussed various ways spouses show affection, like cleaning the house when you’re sick, or praising you to their children, or always looking nice for you, or watching a Jane Austen movie with you when they’d rather watch the Lakers…that kind of thing.
  • Write about an adolescent “crush.” Reveal your awkwardness and all the embarrassing details. Be real, and your family will see you in a new light.
  • Write about your first kiss. Who cares if it was a bomb? (Mine was!) Write about it anyway. Be sure to put your story in its setting. Let readers SEE where the deed was done. Was there music playing in the background? Johnny Mathis set the stage for my big dud…”The Twelfth of Never.”
  • Write about your first date–or any interesting/crazy/embarrassing/romantic date you had. Teens don’t date anymore. Show your children’s generation what it was like in “your day.”
  • Write about a marriage proposal. Be as specific as you can. Who said what? How did you feel?
  • Write about your wedding day. Think of some interesting, fun, or surprising incidents that made the day stand out so your story is uniquely yours. Keep it personal…and romantic.
  • Write about your honeymoon. One of my students, an 87-year-old widow, wrote about her wedding night in surprising detail. Yes! It was a lovely story, written sensitively, and with great love. Her children will read the story and be happy their parents loved each other so much.

Now, whatever topic you choose, I recommend you do the following:

  • Write honestly and personally. Reveal your feelings, your disappointments, feelings of awkwardness, embarrassment, and silliness. Show the real you.
  • Use lots of detail–about people and settings. Where did incidents take place? Let us SEE it. What were you wearing? What did other people look like? Add “sense details,” if appropriate–sound, smell, sight, taste, and feel.
  • Create scenes, if possible. Don’t just write a summary. Try to remember what was said, and re-create conversations as you remember them, capturing the emotional truth of the experience.
  • Snag readers’ attention from the get-go. Some experts advise beginning in the middle of things. Too often we feel like we need all kinds of back-story before we get to the interesting part. Don’t do it.
  • Don’t be in a rush to get it finished. Write a rough draft and let it sit for a while. You’ll soon think of things you’ll want to add.

That’s it. I think you’ll enjoy this writing assignment. Get into the spirit. Play some Johnny Mathis, or whoever rocks your boat. Browse through some old photos albums to resurrect old memories. Then sit at your desk and put it all down on paper.

Dawn Parrett Thurston has taught life story writing at Santiago Canyon College in Orange County, CA for the last 15 years. She and her husband are co-authors of the book Breathe Life into Your Life Story: How to Write a Story People Will WANT to Read, available from Amazon and the publisher, Signature Books. Dawn is on the board of directors of the Association of Personal Historians. Her blog, www.MemoirMentor.com/blog, was selected as one of the Top 10 Personal History Blogs of 2011 by Dan Curtis. 

Sixty Years, Sixty Letters, Sixty Memories

Last month I reached a milestone in my life — my sixtieth birthday.  Sixty birthdays have come and gone. My two daughters are now adults and successfully living independent lives. I have three adorable grandchildren and that young handsome guy I married so many years ago has a full head of gray hair and remains the love of my life.

There is not much that I need or want at this point in my life. I am well aware that buying a birthday gift for me is not an easy task for my family.  However, this year my elder daughter gave me a gift that will forever be a priceless treasure to me.

Unbeknownst to me, two months ago Annie sent a letter to my family, as well as to new and old friends.

She wrote:

Would you please jot down a favorite memory you have of my mom so that she knows that her nearest and dearest are thinking of her on her birthday? It doesn’t have to be anything fancy — you can just write it down on a piece of paper and sign your name — the more nostalgic the better. The goal: to accumulate sixty years of memories filling sixty envelopes.

On my birthday, after I had blown out the candles on my cake, my daughter hugged me and handed me a thick stack of white business-sized envelopes. Wrapped around the stack was the following note:

Happy Sixtieth Birthday Mom!  

You are loved by so many people and you have made so many people’s lives better by simply being you.  I’m honored and blessed to call you my mom!

Love,
Annie

As I held the letters in my hands, my eyes filled with tears.  I was touched by Annie’s thoughtful effort.  As I read the letters, I was amazed by the number of people who responded to my daughter’s simple request. And as I continued to read, I was astounded by how many events I had forgotten.  I had forgotten – but my family and friends had not. Recollections of simple things done together. Simple, but meaningful.

My aunt and uncle sent me a copy of their formal wedding day photograph taken over fifty years ago.  In the black and white photograph I am standing in the front row and I am seven years old.  My aunt enclosed a note saying “A memorable day – so glad you could be part of it.”

My dear 85 year old friend, Betty reminded me of a sad trip we took together to the veterinarian’s office.  She recalled how I put my hand on hers as the vet administered an injection that put Betty’s cat out of pain.

According to my Aunt Lou, I deliberately omitted gardenias from my bridal bouquet, because I knew she was allergic to their fragrance.

And there were many more stories like these. Touching reminders of the great 60 years of my life. Annie’s effort,  and all of the many memories, touched my heart and mind far more powerfully than a box of chocolates or a bouquet of flowers ever would have.

Think about this simple effort when your loved ones’ birthday is drawing near.  If you choose to follow my daughter’s example, you will be giving the best gift anyone could ever receive —  the gift of sweet memories!

And the winner is…

On behalf of Reel Tributes, the Alzheimer’s Association, and the contest sponsors, we would like to congratulate Carol Amos for winning the inaugural Your Favorite Memory contest. Her story, “The Dining Room”, was an emotional and beautifully-written tribute to her mother’s sense of fashion. Carol’s prize is a customized documentary film, produced by Reel Tributes, to celebrate her mother’s life.

Read Carol’s winning story below:

One of my earliest memories is participating in a fashion show with my mother at the YMCA when I was four or five years old. My mother made us matching poodle style dresses out of a white, blue, and black fabric with a poodle design. We were the hit of the fashion show.

My mother was an expert seamstress but mainly self-taught. She made all of our clothes and also my brother’s Easter suits with matching coats. She transformed our dining room into a sewing room and we spent countless hours together as she taught me to sew at an early age. She taught me the importance of perfection. Even if a mistake was not visible, my mother would say, “I will know that it is there.” So I learned how to remove stitches and took pride in wearing my well-made garment. My mother taught me about fabric, color, fashion, and how to modify a pattern to suit my own taste. I made some of the widest bell-bottom pants in high school. I continue to use my sewing skills today.

I learned to sew in the dining room but more importantly I learned life lessons. Some of the lessons were direct conversations with my mother about God, faith, achievement, honesty, time management, setting goals, and how to be a lady. My mother modeled some of the lessons as I watched her stop sewing to listen or give counsel to a friend on the telephone or to bake a cake for a bereaved friend. Other lessons such as commitment, service to others, and how to treat people, I overhead as she spoke on the telephone to friends. All of these lessons helped transform me as I developed from a girl into a woman.

When my mother began to lose her memory seven years ago, we moved her to an assisted living facility. Her sewing machine was placed in a prominent place in her suite but we soon realized that my mother lost her ability to sew. The sewing machine became just another piece of furniture. Now my mother resides in an Alzheimers facility and the sewing machine resides in my basement, both a reminder of what used to be.

After battling Alzheimers disease for over eight years, my mother still has a keen fashion sense. She sometimes compliments patients in the doctor’s office about their clothes, shoes, or purses. When my mother receives compliments about her outfit, she sometimes responds, “I made this outfit not long ago.” I smile because I know that I recently purchased her clothes and her statement confirms that she truly enjoys the outfit. On one occasion, my mother complimented me by saying, “I like your new suit.” I was shocked because it was a new suit. Glimpses of the mother I used to know are pleasant surprises and give me strength for the remainder of this Alzheimers journey.

Stories to make you laugh, cry, and think

The stories are in! The response to the Your Favorite Memory contest has been simply incredible. Each and every story is a powerful reminder of the ways Alzheimer’s Disease can impact an individual. Even more importantly, they showcase how brave and resiliant a family can be in caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s.

The stories are short, gripping, and inspiring. Click here to read about a mother with an impeccable sense of fashion, a daughter who called her dad Mr. Wonderful, and one woman’s journey that taught her how “Love will safely carry you through the roughest seas”.

And make sure to vote for the story you love. The winning family receives amazing prizes, including a Reel Tribute and gifts from Lacroix, Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons, and Massage Envy. Do them a favor by supporting the writers, and tell your friends about it too. Help us spread awareness for Alzheimer’s, one story at a time!

The website with the stories is www.reeltributes.com/vote. Learn more about Alzheimer’s Disease at www.alz.org/desjsepa/