Category Archives: Tribute

Celebrating Ann Burke

I was lucky to meet Ann in 1969. I started teaching a first grade class in the middle of the year at an all Black elementary school on the north side of Tulsa, Oklahoma. I had just received my degree and was in the right place at the right time to get a teaching job right away.

I was scared spitless. It was a ‘self-contained’ 1st grade class, which meant that I was responsible for teaching those sweet kids EVERYTHING during the day – reading, math, writing, spelling, gym, art, music, current events, holiday stuff, etc. I met Ann the first day and we bonded instantly. She took me under her wing, listening to my fears, funny stories, questions and gave me her best advice. She taught 4th grade. I’m not sure how long she had been teaching at that point, but I was delighted I had someone to go to for help and guidance.

We learned new things about each other as our friendship grew. I learned that she had a daughter and a son. She thought the world of both of them and would do anything for them. She was divorced and raising the kids alone, working full time, taking care of the house and yard and pets.  I kiddingly asked if she could JUGGLE, as well!

As the years passed, things happened and we went our separate ways. My husband and I moved to Arkansas because of a job offer for him. Ann and I had one of those RARE friendships that didn’t fade away. It didn’t matter how long it was between letters, cards, or visits, we took up where we left off, happily chatting and continuing to share our lives.

Over this time, I also was lucky enough to get to know her daughter. We are friends, now, too. She’s a lovely, strong lady I’m proud to know.

Over the years Ann’s health became more and more of a challenge. Lately, things went downhill quite rapidly. Her daughter kindly kept me in the loop on how she and Ann were doing and what was happening. Ann went to hospice and died yesterday. Her daughter, who has done everything possible to make her deteriorating condition bearable, was at her side.

Ann’s and my friendship almost made it to 50 years. I’ve been richer for knowing her and sharing her love for her children. I hope that she is now “Dancing with the Stars” (one of her favorite programs), looking down and smiling at us, having found peace and the welcome absence of pain.

Thank you, Ann, for being my friend. Dance your heart out!

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Charles Krauthammer 1950-2018

Chalres Krauthammer – photo credit – charlierose.com

 

AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM

“America is the only country ever founded on an idea. The only country that is not founded on race or even common history. It’s founded on an idea and the idea is liberty. That is probably the rarest phenomena in the political history of the world; this has never happened before. And not only has it happened, but it’s worked. We are the most flourishing, the most powerful, most influential country on Earth with this system, invented by the greatest political geniuses probably in human history.”

“I leave this life with no regrets. It was a wonderful life — full and complete with the great loves and great endeavors that make it worth living. I am sad to leave, but I leave with the knowledge that I lived the life that I intended.”

I always wanted to hear Charles Krauthammer say what he thought about an issue. He spoke clearly, calmly, and many times with humor. If he disagreed with someone else, he told them, but with respect for them and their opinion.

His book, “Things That Matter,” is one you shouldn’t miss.

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A Delightful Man

John Dennis

You can’t choose your family, but if we could, we would have chosen John Dennis in a minute.  John was my husband’s cousin, but he was much, much more than that. He was our good FRIEND. He and my husband exchanged letters – yes – real letters that came in the mailbox.  We would see his return address on an envelope, drop everything, sit down, and I would read it aloud, always laughing at some point, if not more.  My husband would then sit down at the computer and compose a letter in reply. He asked me to check it for grammar, paragraphs and spelling, because John was a history professor and my husband didn’t want to make any more mistakes than necessary. We would print the letter and send it off, already anticipating when we would hear from him again.

He was smart in other ways, too, marrying his wife, Murray – our cousin-in-law (I think), but again, much more importantly, our dear FRIEND. When we could arrange it for our house sitter to take care of our house and animals, we would drive to Thibodaux, Louisiana, 9-1/2 hours one way, to visit. We wanted to stay there forever. The Dennises make you feel SO special, SO welcome. We just loved to go talk to them. We didn’t want to be ‘entertained,’ we just wanted to be able to catch up on all the little things that were happening, and be able to hug their necks. John was quite a cook and would feed us as if we were royalty, yet seemingly without effort. I never understood how he did that. And Murray topped off MY visits there by making cheese grits. I’ve never liked grits. My husband has told me for years that I didn’t add all the things to them that made them wonderful. Each time I tried, adding bacon and whatever else I could think of, they still tasted awful. When I tasted Murray’s cheese grits, I immediately LOVED them, eating like a pig. (If we DID live there, I wouldn’t be able to get through the door now from stuffing my face.)

John and Murray have been such a part of Thibodaux that I imagine it will be hard for everyone to pay respects. Both John and Murray volunteer their time and effort to countless community events, charities, sitting on boards to help make Thibodaux an even better town. They have had small gatherings when we’ve been there, put together again seemingly without effort, but missing no detail. Their ‘small gathering’ included more people than my husband and I KNOW! And the friendship and laughter flowed around the room, people visiting and then moving around to visit with someone else. A truly beautiful experience.

I wish I could have sat in one of John’s history classes, kind of like a fly on the wall. You could tell from his general conversation that history was alive for him, and that he would radiate that to his students, making THEM see history in a different, interesting light. He and my husband shared an interest in genealogy – a more personal history.

He had a beautiful attitude even at the end, saying, “I’m ready for the next adventure.”

We are so lucky to have known John. Our lives have been richer for sharing a small bit of his.

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Any Time You Can

Max Eastman via sayingimages.com

“A sense of humor… is needed armor. Joy in one’s heart and some laughter on one’s lips is a sign that the person down deep has a pretty good grasp of life.” ~ Hugh Sidey

“Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.” ~ Mark Twain

I don’t know why, but I’m thinking of my dad today.

Part of his life was hard. He fell off a horse when he was three and busted his arm in three places. Back then, the doctors did the best they could, but his left arm was much shorter than his right, curved, and his hand almost useless. He was teased about it in school. He felt bad because they wouldn’t accept him to serve in the military because of it. He learned to use humor as a way to break through people’s initial reaction to his arm. In fact, there were whole patches of time I would forget that others might consider him ‘handicapped.’ He learned to use his humor and wit to make his living- carving out a space writing radio advertising spots. He billed himself as the second worst radio voice in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He went from barely making a living to never having to look for clients again, winning Addy awards – plus a silver one for “Lifetime Achievement.”

He couldn’t control his alcohol consumption and smoked heavily, ending up an alcoholic with emphysema. He joined Alcoholics Anonymous. He learned to carry an oxygen tank.vHe still kept his sense of humor, drawing cartoon drawings of himself, making others laugh. He taught my brother and me to appreciate humor – puns, jokes of all sorts, funny stories, funny situations, sarcasm, and to practice the ability to stand back and look at things, trying to see the funny side. This has been a lifesaver for me.

When he died, he wrote on a scrap of paper, “Remember me laughing.” And I do. I remember him telling stories, laughing so helplessly he could hardly finish. He and the lucky people listening would all be exhausted when he finished – stomachs hurting from laughing, cheeks hurting from smiling so hard – at the stories, but also enjoying the joy we all experienced as he told them.

“A day without laughter is a day wasted.” ~ Charlie Chaplin

“I have always felt that laughter in the face of reality is probably the finest sound there is and will last until the day when the game is called on account of darkness. In this world, a good time to laugh is any time you can.” ~ Linda Ellerbee

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She Made Such a Difference

We heard tonight that our long time treasured dental hygienist, Shannon Faulkner, and her husband died in a light plane crash last night. She and her husband loved to fly around the countryside, soaring like a bird, enjoying the weather, the incredible view, and being with each other.

We treasured her because not only was she competent, she was compassionate and showed it in so many ways.

My mom died of oral cancer. Shannon did my oral exam first so that I could breathe a huge sigh of relief and we could go on with my teeth cleaning. She remembered details my husband, son, and I told her and would ask questions as if it hadn’t been six months or more since we had seen her. She loved her patients and it showed.

I hadn’t been to the dentist in years and years. I insisted that our son go regularly. My husband went regularly because he had had trouble with his teeth and harsh care in the Marines. He wanted to be proactive about any problems and he appreciates the wonderful care we get with Wes Moore, DDS in Fort Smith, and his staff.

Finally several years ago, Harvey insisted I go. I can’t remember what he promised to do that I really wanted for his health, but my going to the dentist was what I needed to do in order to get his cooperation. I met Shannon, shaking in my boots. I was shaking so hard I could barely lie on the chair. Shannon was really, really kind. She was gentle, too, and, as I mentioned, compassionate about my fear of dentists and the possibility of oral cancer.

It was because of Shannon that I kept going back. I met Dr. Moore, a truly NICE man. I told him that I liked him, and enjoyed talking to him, but hoped I would never need his services. I DID need his services when I developed a problem with my wisdom tooth this year. He removed it for me, making the procedure as painless as humanly possible. Shannon came into the room to hug me before my procedure when she discovered I was there.

I can’t imagine ever lucking out again as we did in finding Shannon and being lucky enough to be her patients. Shannon will always hold a special place in our hearts. She made a difference to us, and many others. We’ll miss you, Sweet lady.

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Happy Father’s Day, Jim

Jim Wheaton

My dad’s left arm was shorter than his right and his hand was curved, almost useless, from a fall from a horse when he was 3. I almost forgot that he might be a bit challenged from time to time. He never talked about it, never brought attention to it. He just lived with it. We saw a panhandler on the street when we were on vacation when I was a child. He walked up to the man, who had an arm just like his. The man asked for money, holding up his arm. My dad simply held up HIS arm and said, “Get a job.”

My dad loved to tell jokes and stories. He loved puns. He loved sarcasm. He survived by humor when he was a child, dealing with kids on the playground, who made fun of his arm. He made them laugh so hard they finally accepted him and quit bullying.

He brought his family to Tulsa, Oklahoma from Chicago/New York/Long Island with a dream of having his own advertising agency. 25 years later, he won a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “Unique contribution to the advertising world in Tulsa, OK” shortly before he died, having supported his family and putting two kids through college.

He came to a class when I was going for a Master’s Degree as a Reading Specialist. My talk in that class was teaching children to listen wisely to advertising. My dad was the guest speaker. He was a bit of a celebrity, billing himself as “Tulsa’s 2nd worst radio voice.” His radio spots got people’s attention because they made you listen, sometimes making you laugh. You always remembered the companies lucky enough to hire him. At the end of the class, he said something to the effect – “It’s fun to write advertising commercials. It’s fun to come and talk to you today. But the thing I love the most about today is getting to watch my daughter give a speech. My daughter is Linda Lewis.” You could have heard a pin drop at the surprise  – and then delight  – in the room. They erupted in applause and I cried.

My dad was unique. He was ahead of his time. He wanted my brother and me to call him “Jim” because “dad” kind of embarrassed him. He was an only child and didn’t figure he was that great as a dad. He set an example of honesty, integrity, determination and courage in living his life every day. He said, “Remember me laughing.”

I do, Jim, even with tears in my eyes. Happy Father’s Day.

“He didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.” ~Clarence Budington Kelland

 

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Emily – the Power of “YES!”

Emily Wright Cumming

Emily Wright Cumming

Emily was from my husband’s family. We’re not great on relationships, but we’ve decided that Emily was a cousin of my husband’s mother. She lived to be 90, happily married for 68 years. A life well lived.

I didn’t know her well. We went to visit the family at Tate, a private community toward the top of a mountain in Jasper, Georgia. There was a beautiful lake, and members of the family were allowed to purchase land and build homes around it. Emily’s family had a beautiful home, and her sister, Miriam, and her family had a home on further down the road that went around the lake. I don’t know how many relatives lived there. We visited twice – once when I was pregnant with our son and again when our son was about 8. Otherwise, our contact consisted of Christmas cards once a year.

The reason I’m writing this is that Emily changed my life.

I have rarely seen anyone so full of life. She simply glowed. When I met her, she didn’t smile and say she was glad to meet me. She gave me a huge hug that brought tears to my eyes, making me feel I had made her day by coming. I learned quickly that this was the effect she had on everyone, and it was sincere .

There was a large dock by the lake that had a roof.  This was the meeting spot for picnics, swimming, canoeing, painting, reading – however you wanted to enjoy the day. At night the family would gather, instruments in hand, playing and singing together long into the night. I will never forget the happy faces of each member of the family as they would suddenly think of another song, start it, and the others would join in.

Emily was the center, it seemed to me, of whatever was going on. I’ve never seen such exuberance, such enthusiasm, such honest delight. Her pride in her family knew no bounds. She would introduce me to one of her children, telling me what their passion was in life. It was beautiful to watch and hear. Her reaction, when someone would suggest an activity was, “Oh, YES! That would be fun!”

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My gut reaction to breaks in routine, suggestions, surprises is, “No.” I have no clue why that is, and I really don’t like it about myself. My husband learned early that if he wanted me to do something, he should ask, listen to my “no,” and then let it go. I would usually keep thinking about the suggestions, usually coming around to ‘yes’ after I had a chance for the idea to settle.  I met Emily, and I decided that I would really work to change myself. I wanted to be more like this wonderful lady who brought smiles everywhere she went, getting people off their duffs, moving them along with the happy force of her enthusiasm.  It’s the power of ‘YES!” AND living life to the fullest, missing as few opportunities as possible.

I was sad to learn that Emily left us last week. In MY mind, though, she will always live at Tate, happily fishing off the bridge that went over the lake at one spot, working in the vegetable garden that was right outside her door, cooking mounds of food to feed anyone who came, making people laugh and enjoy themselves.

I hope she knows what a difference she made.  I never told her that she became a role model for me. With a hug and sweeping me into the family, she changed my life, making me want to be a better person. What a treasure was Emily!

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