Reflections Of My Past

This will not be one of my typical blogs about running, although it will certainly be mentioned.  Occasionally I have something else on my mind that I have to get in writing.  Today happens to be one of those days.  I am in Northwest Indiana with my friend Kim.  She is presenting professional development at Merrillville High School, and since I am from this area, I came along to show her the area, and to keep her son company while she teaches during the day.  What an adventure Spencer and I have had!

Yesterday I took Spencer to Notre Dame to see the campus.  I know my way around Lake County WEST of 65; east of 65, not so much.  It looked relatively easy – take the 80/90 east.  I did that.  Or so I thought.  Spencer was snoozing in the back seat, oblivious to our surroundings.  I was cruising along, happy as can be to be back in my hometown area.  Suddenly, a large sign appears before me:  Welcome to Michigan.  Notre Dame is in Indiana.  How the hell did I get in Michigan?  My chest began to constrict; my head began to pound.  Fortunately, there was a Welcome Center just across the state line, so I zipped in to consult my map (and pee because when I am nervous I have to pee a lot).  Spencer awakened briefly, but never noticed all the Michigan signs in the parking lot.  I didn’t want to alarm the young lad, so I just made like it was a potty break, figured out how to get back to Indiana, and ventured on.  We eventually made it to Notre Dame, and enjoyed touring the picturesque campus.

We made it back to our hotel, but not after accidentally going through a rather rough section of Gary.  If you have never been to Gary, let’s just say when I was a kid, my parents would tell us to lock the doors as soon as we hit the city limits of Gary.  It’s scary.  And Spencer and I were driving through.  I instructed him to avoid staring at people, though there are some interesting people to stare at.  Seriously, you do not look at anyone.  Ever.

So, after explaining to Kim about my errors in judgment, and telling Spencer he had been to Michigan, it was time for dinner.  I had plans to meet two of my childhood friends at Joe’s Crab Shack.  The three of us had not been together since I moved when I was eleven!  I was excited, but nervous that it might be awkward.  Let me give you some background that might make the rest of this blog make sense (or not).

When we lived in this part of the state, we were members of Southside Christian Church.  That was our family.  My parents belonged as teenagers; all of their friends were from church; and we spent much of our time at church.  When my father died suddenly, the members were there immediately.  And they never left.  The men and women of the church cared for all of the children of the church, and we respected all of them.  I have never belonged to another church like it.  It really is hard to describe how important our church family was.  Karin, Nancy, and I talked about how we were at church Sunday morning for Sunday School and church, Sunday evening for recreation, Christian Endeavors (youth group), and Sunday evening service, and Wednesday evening for services.  Many weeks there were also skating parties or youth events.  I did not keep in touch with school friends from elementary school; I kept in touch or reconnected with church friends.  So meeting up with Nancy and Karin last night was just wonderful.  We picked up where we left off 34 years ago.  With the miracle of Facebook, we knew some things about one another, so the conversation flowed easily – for three hours!

Today was another day to visit my past.  I don’t know why, but it has always been so important to me to keep those connections to my early years.  The experiences I had – good and bad – and the people who have been part of my journey made me who I am today.  The men and women of Southside taught me and loved me and nurtured me for eleven years.  I so appreciate that part of my life.  I began the day by visiting the cemetery where Dad is buried.  It is a large cemetery, and is divided into gardens.  In this part of the state, they do not use upright headstones like we have in Tell City.  They have brass plates that are flat on the ground.  This makes it very difficult to locate a grave if one doesn’t know exactly where she is going.  I knew Dad was in the Garden of the Last Supper, but had forgotten where.  I was wandering, and beginning to panic (I don’t know why.  It wasn’t as if he were lost!).  The very kind workers asked if they could help, and the began looking, and then called the office to have them look up the location.  They stood and talked with me as we waited, and were just so kind and compassionate.  I was blessed.  They took me to Dad’s grave, and then I was able to locate my grandparents.  Even after all these years, it is still tough to visit the cemetery.  I feel as if I revert back to that seven year old when I stand there.

Enough sadness…I had a great day, and I want to share it!  My next stop was Southside to pay for some books I had ordered and to wander around.  As luck (which I normally do not have) had it, two of my mother’s best friends were there!  I was so excited to see them, and they were happy that I had come in.  They were preparing a meal for the Senior Saints, and asked if I would come back to visit some more.  I didn’t know how the day would progress, but told them I would try.  I then dragged Spencer back to the car, drove by my old house in Munster, and proceeded to Hammond.  I drove by my old house on Van Buren, and then went to another of my mother’s friend’s houses to surprise her.  She wasnt’ home, but I found out she was going to the Senior Saints luncheon.  Then I went by my grandma’s little house and checked it out.  Afterward, it was time to meet my friend Kim for lunch at my absolute favorite burger joint, Miner Dunn.  It is an old, old diner, and looks pretty much the same as it did when we lived there.  The burgers and fries are awesome, and when one orders a deluxe platter, she also gets a cup of orange sherbet.  Yup, I got the platter just like I always did as a kid, and I dipped my fries in the sherbet.  Why grow up?  After a wonderful visit with Kim, Spencer and I struck a deal (this kid was a trooper).  He wanted to go to a fireworks store we had seen, and I wanted to go to Senior Saints (gosh, I never thought I’d type those words!).  We hit the fireworks store where, I might add, the saleskid gave Spencer a bunch of free firecrackers that had come out of boxes.  Spencer was all smiles the rest of the day!

We were then off to Senior Saints.  I have to admit, it was a blast to visit with the Southsiders of my youth.  Mrs. Meisner always brings up that when I was about four, I would call her and ask her to go to lunch.  This lady is 87 years old!  She helps her daughter care for her 16 year old twins who have Aspergers.  Mrs. Meisner told me all about their diagnosis and what they have been through.  It made me tired and I am half her age.  I spent time talking with Mom’s friends, Josie, Bonnie, and Bernie.  They were so much fun.  Bonnie knew my whole family, even all of my uncles and my grandparents.  What a blessing to hear about them.

To be back in my church, where my heart will always be, and to spend time with the ladies who helped raise me, was truly a magical experience.  I love those people, and won’t wait so long to go back.  I have spoken with my sister a couple times today, and we decided we are going to bring our mother up for a visit.  My brother even said he would consider coming with us.

I know this is exceptionally long, and might not be of interest to anyone, but in order for me to ‘process’ my days, I wanted to get it all down.  I have run the last couple of days.  Our hotel has a great workout facility, so I have run on the treadmill.  I was emotionally drained after today, so I cranked up my Jesus music (contemporary Christian) and ran like a gazelle.  Not really.  But it felt really good and helped relieve some of my anxiety.

Who in your past would you like to connect with?  What’s stopping you?  Take the time to start a conversation –  or play bingo at the Senior Saints!  It is so worth it!

Who is your mentor?

The other morning, I happened to catch a view minutes of The View.  Sometimes that show gets on my nerves because they all talk at the same time, but on Monday, each of the hosts had a segment about her mentor.  Shari’s was a spiritual mentor, the minister of her church.  Whoopi’s mentor was a director/producer who helped her get started in the business by introducing her to the right folks, and by casting her in movies.

As I listened, I began to consider whom I considered to be my mentor.  I couldn’t come up with just one name because I feel that I have different mentors for different purposes.  The first person who came to mind was Donna Fenn, a dear friend of mine who died about five years ago from cancer.  Donna was an amazing lady.  She was an incredible teacher, a down-to-earth friend, and someone who made me laugh hard and often.  She is one of the reasons I became a teacher.  My two older daughters were blessed to have Donna as a teacher, and I was fortunate enough to spend time in her classroom, both with my girls, and as an observer when I was working on my teaching degree.  I couldn’t wait to have a classroom and to be able to teach with Donna.  Unfortunately, that never happened.  Donna’s cancer was aggressive, and in much too short a time, took her life.  Her death was truly tragic because she had so much to give and brought such light into our world.  I have missed Donna every day.  I miss watching her with my girls; I miss going to church with her; I miss her laughter when she did something silly; I miss learning from her.  Anytime something comes up at school that I struggle with, I wonder how Donna would have handled it.  I think about how she loved and nurtured children.  I strive every day to be just half as good as she was, and for that, I am a better teacher.  She helped shape the person I am today.

Two others whom I consider to be my mentors have also lost battles with cancer.  One was my Aunt Loretta, and the other was my Great Aunt Martyne.  These ladies were so very special.  They were the type who made me feel better about myself just by being around them.  When I went through hard times, they never judged me, they just continued to love me.  They both enjoyed life, and cherished their families.  I want to be the type of person who uplifts others.  I want to make those whom I come in contact with feel better about themselves after having spent time with me.  I really don’t know how to go about doing that; I hope it is a gift passed down to me by my dear aunts.

I also have running mentors.  My friend Kim is my ‘go-to’ girl for running advice.  She is the one who kept encouraging me to just get to that first mile.  She has been an amazing supporter, and I hope that I, too, can always give her the support she needs.  My boss and friend, Laura, was also a major influence in my early running.  I would whine to her that I would never be able to run very far, and she would tell me that she knew I would run a half marathon.  She was right.  Her belief in my ability helped carry me through when I didn’t really believe in myself.  My husband is an amazing running mentor.  Had he not first laced up his running shoes, I would never have taken my first step.  Seeing this man, who is 16 years my senior AND has an artificial knee, get out and start to run forced me to drop all of my excuses and give it a try.  There are times when running is so difficult for him it would be easy to just give up, but he keeps on getting out there, and that keeps me out there.  When I am feeling ultra whiny and wondering why I ever thought I could call myself a runner, I think about the effort Gary puts in, and I keep putting one foot in front of the other.  My running mentors, along with the girls who listen to me whine while running – Jackie, Kassi, and Jennifer – are so appreciated.  I probably don’t tell them that often enough, so hopefully they’re reading!

Doing the right thing.  It seems like an easy concept, but it isn’t always that easy, is it?  Sometimes we just get pissed, and doing the wrong thing is our natural reaction.  Sometimes we are tired, and doing the wrong thing is just easier.  Sometimes we just don’t like certain people, and THEY do the wrong thing, so why should we do the right thing?  I struggle with this (shocking, I know!).  So I happen to have a ‘do-the-right-thing’ mentor.  And I also happen to be married to him.  My husband has made me a better person.  He honestly lives his life by doing what is right, even when no one is looking.  He is the most selfless person I know.  He is always willing to help someone, even when it is most inconvenient.  When I have a decision to make, I know that I can count on him to lead me in the right direction, even when sometimes that means going the opposite way that my selfish self wants to go.  Gary does all of this, but not many people know about it.  One of the most impressive qualities about my husband is that he is always serving others, but wants no recognition for that service.  There are many people who help out their communities, but every time they do something good, they also have to have their pictures in the newspaper so everyone knows about it.  Not Gary.  He works behind the scenes.  He does it because it’s the right thing to do.

I cannot list my mentors without listing my sister.  I would consider her my faith mentor.  She is eleven years older than I, but rather than think that I was just an annoying little sister (which I was), she has always been so good to me.  She has been my biggest cheerleader, no matter what I have tried.  I have always said I could run a house of prostitution, and she would still say I ran the best one around.  My sister has amazing faith, and it has carried her through some dark times.  The strength she has through her faith in God is incredible, and has, in turn, made my faith stronger.  My sister is also the kindest person I know.  She is just genuinely sweet – though I have seen a little spunk in recent years.  I appreciate my sister and her love so much.  I hope that I have been able to show that love and support to her.  She is a great mom, aunt, and wife as well.  Much of who I am is because of who she is (Feel free to quote me on that !).

Who is your mentor?  Do you have that one person in your life who has influenced you, or are there many?  Who do you mentor?  I don’t know of anyone who would consider me a mentor, but I hope that I can make a difference in others’ lives.  I love my nieces and nephew dearly, and hope that in some small way, I have served as a role model to each of them.   I hope that Donna and my aunts knew how much they meant to me, and that Kim, Laura, Gary, and Bobbi know the influence they have had on my life.  I know that there will be other mentors as I continue on my journey.  I would love to have a writing mentor.  I secretly consider Kristen Armstrong to be a mentor, though I have never met her.  She is a runner, who has the perfect career of getting to write about her running and her faith.  I love her open, honest style of writing.  Maybe she’ll mentor me…

My Sister, Bobbi and I…

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