The Power of Hello

I go to the grocery store, on average 20-21 days every month.  That’s like going every single day for 3 weeks and then taking a week off.

My shopping frequency combined with my New Year’s Resolution to not use the self check-out has given me ample opportunity to get to know the people at my local store.

One cashier is coming up on her 50th high school reunion.

Another was at work shortly after surgery, telling me, “I can’t afford to take three weeks off. My family needs the money.”

A male cashier thanked me for shopping at Safeway — but I was at Price Chopper. His eyes widened and he put his hand over his mouth. “I can’t believe I said that. I haven’t worked at Safeway for over 10 years.” Plus, for the record, there are no Safeways in our area. He and I laughed about it. “Your secret is safe with me,” I told him — except, I guess, it wasn’t because I just told all of you.

One of the deli guys took up the challenge of slicing my swiss cheese thin. “Is that thin enough?” he asked, holding up an imaginary slice of cheese held between his forefinger and thumb. We both laughed.

Then there was the cashier with the sugar-daddy. (See “In the Parking Lot“)

I now recognize most of the people who work in the meat department, the flower shop, the service desk, and produce, and I try to greet them. It was an introvert hurdle — but I think I’ve gotten over it.

The other day, one of the produce guys greeted me. I had grabbed my bunch of bananas and was headed out when he said, “Are you Sally?”

“Yes,” I replied, wondering how he knew my name.

Then he asked again, this time adding my maiden name.

“Yes,” I said, “How did you…”

Before I could finish, he introduced himself. He had graduated with me from high school.

Boys can undergo a dramatic metamorphosis between high school and life. I doubt I would recognize many of the boys-turned-men with whom I graduated just on sight. He was no exception.

As soon as he said his name, of course, I remembered him. I remembered when his family moved to Cooperstown. They were from a strange place called Lon Guyland. In fact, it was always referred to as “down Lon Guyland.”

Besides my mother’s Boston that snuck into her speech every once in a while, and a local doctor who was decidedly southern, I couldn’t have identified any other American regional accents. Now I could add Long Island to the list.

That day in the grocery store, I was so happy that he said something to me. It was the day I wrote “Bleh” and was feeling just like that.


A mess.

A failure.

And then someone reintroduced himself to me. As we caught up on each other’s lives, it turned my day around.

The power of a simple hello.

Last night, the local guy behind me in line said, “Remind me why we like Cooperstown in the summer.”

The store was crowded with tourists. The couple ahead of us in line, probably grandparents come to watch their grandson play at the Dreams Park, hadn’t noticed the Express Lane sign for the register — 15 items or less.  But all the registers were busy like that.

Cooperstown in the summer: Busy. Crowded. Baseball teams. Tour buses. No parking spots. Few familiar faces.

Across the store, I could see Mark putting out tomatoes in the produce section. I thought about how nice it is to live among people who have known my family for nearly half a century, and especially how nice it is to be recognized and greeted.

“Because it’s lovely,” I replied.

Red-Winged Blackbird

The red-winged blackbirds begin check-check-check-ing at me as I walk down the road.

With dog, without the dog — it doesn’t matter. I’m a threat and they need to let the world, or, at the very least, their fellow blackbirds know that danger approaches.

They sit on fenceposts, telephone wires, tree branches, cattails, and other tall weeds.

Red-winged blackbird speck

I have stopped on multiple occasions to try to snap pictures of them. I either end up with a tiny speck of a bird or empty wires, branches, etc.

They flee from the fenceposts when I stop walking. I can’t focus on taking a picture while walking. My phone is my camera, nothing fancy for zooming in. Walking pictures are a mess.

Frankly, I’ve given up on photographing them.

For me, the red-winged blackbirds must be enjoyed from a distance or in my periphery. As abundant as they are, they are also too elusive for me to photograph well.

Sometimes life is like that, don’t you think? It simply can’t be tackled head-on. We can’t stop and savor each little thing, but we can enjoy the brief moments as they pass.

Now the birds that have taken up residence in our birdhouse tease me in the same way. One tiny nondescript bird sits on the chimney of birdhouse, singing merrily, until I get out my phone/camera. I look to find the camera icon on my screen, look back up, and she’s gone. Either both birds in the pair are blasé brown, or I haven’t seen the mister.


I need to improve my mental camera when I see them or my memory of their song or create some other method if I ever hope to identify these occupants.

Or, maybe I need to stop worrying about it and enjoy the moment.

Does everything have to have a name? Does everything have to be captured and held?

In our instant electronic gadgety techno age, we’ve lost the looking-out-of-windows and being-in-the-moment.

Sometimes I wonder if children riding in the car down the east coast of the United States even see the Pedro billboards. Or, in rural Nebraska or Iowa, if they see the monotony of corn fields. Or is that when they’re busy watching Frozen for the umpteenth time?

Because if they miss Pedro and the corn, they’ll most certainly miss the many red-winged blackbirds check-check-check-ing from the fencepost.

First Aid

I took a lot of first aid classes back in the day.

First Aid.

Advanced First Aid.

First Aid and CPR.

First Aid for lifeguards who work at camps in the middle of nowhere.

First Aid for ambulance dispatchers.

Okay, I may be making some of those up. But I WAS an ambulance dispatcher at one point in my life. And I worked as a lifeguard at more than one camp in the middle of nowhere. I think my title at one was lifeguard and the other was Aquatics Director, which sounded lofty and important, but I basically did the same job at both camps. Lifeguarded.

My grandmother came to visit me at one of the camps where I lifeguarded.

My one rescue in all my years of lifeguarding was at a camp. A little boy with Down Syndrome zipped past me while I unlocked the gate to the pool. He jumped right into the deep end. His eyes widened when he realized he couldn’t touch the bottom, and, as he floundered there, I reached in, grabbed his arm, and pulled him to the side. I actually didn’t need any lifeguarding classes to do what I did in that moment. It was all instinct. After that, his counselor made sure he had on his lifejacket before they headed to the pool.

Once, when I was coaching high school girls, I had a swimmer that had donated blood earlier in the day. Her puncture wound from donating opened while she was swimming and started bleeding. A lot.

“C’mon out,” I told her, and placed my hand firmly over the wound to apply pressure.

Meanwhile, another swimmer started feeling light-headed from the sight of the blood. “Stay at the wall,” I called over my shoulder to the woozy girl as I walked the bleeding swimmer to a bench. A couple of swimmers stayed with Woozy.

I wondered where the lifeguard was when I saw her hurrying toward me, pulling on latex gloves as she came. I looked at my hand on the girl’s arm. I was holding the arm up while she lay on the wooden bench. I had blood on my fingers. There was blood rivulets down her arm. A trail of blood drops led from the pool to the bench.

The lifeguard stopped. She blew her whistle and cleared the pool, helping Miss Light-Headed out and shepherded the girls away from all the blood.

My first First Aid classes had been pre-AIDS and pre-blood-borne-illness precautions. My instincts and early classes kicked in long before I thought about getting gloves on. Apply pressure and elevate.

I don’t know if that makes me a good responder or a bad one.

I guess I’m a gut responder.

Then I spend the next ten years second-guessing myself.

Back to Bleh — this morning I thought, I’m going to look at the Daily Prompt, and if I’m inspired, I’ll write. The prompt was “Puncture,” and I immediately thought of Sucking Chest Wounds — doesn’t everybody?

I had learned about them in First Aid a long time ago, and found them fascinating, although I always thought it a little silly to learn about them because they fell into the category of Probably-Information-I-Will-Never-Use.

The initial title for this post was “Sucking Chest Wounds,” but when I started writing, well, you see what came out. Nary a word about sucking chest wounds.


And no good conclusion.

Double bleh.

Chalk Throwing

Three teachers that shaped me used the not-socially-acceptable technique of throwing chalk at the students.

One teacher threw a piece of chalk at me for passing notes during class. He threw it, and then he called me a “stupid Pollak”, an ethnic slur for someone of Polish ancestry — which I wasn’t — and a mispronunciation of my last name. I was angry. I vowed never to take another class in that subject again. And I didn’t — until college. Trigonometry was the last math class I took in high school.

Another teacher threw chalk, erasers, whatever was handy — and called students “Harry Lipschitz”. Maybe because I was never the target of his missiles, or maybe because I liked the subject matter more, I worked really hard for that teacher and have a lifelong love of music, largely because of his influence. Not every former student shares my opinion though.

The third teacher smacked yardsticks against the chalkboard and broke them on a regular basis — the yardsticks, not the chalkboards. He threw also chalk. And erasers. He had a large wooden machete that he would rest on a student’s shoulder and gently tap the “blade” against his or her neck, all the while asking him or her to solve a problem or answer a question. We loved this teacher. We paid attention. We laughed. We learned.

Sometimes, I think, we try to over-simplify problems or solutions.

I had a teacher that threw chalk at me and he made me want to quit learning, therefore all teachers should be forbidden from throwing chalk.

But I also had a teacher who threw chalk who made me love learning, therefore all teachers should be required to throw chalk.

Or, I had a teacher that threw chalk, and some students really liked him, while others did not, therefore chalk-throwing should be discretionary.

But why is it that one teacher can throw a piece of chalk and we laugh, and another teacher can throw chalk and we want to quit? The answer lies not in the throwing of the piece of chalk.

I don’t even know where I’m going with this. I just know that nothing is simple.

I mean, is social media bad, or is social media good?

Are guns bad, or are they good?

Are drugs bad, or are they good?

Is chalk bad, or is chalk good?

Are teachers bad, or are they good?





What I do know is that when we know something for sure, we are most in danger of being wrong.

For the record, in my opinion, chalk throwing is not a great idea for teachers… yet I learned a lot from a couple of chalk-throwers.




A Run With Andrew Peterson and Friends

Laurel told me something about wearing exercise clothes making you want to exercise, so I bought the uniform of the runner — leggings — and it sort of works. Once I put them on, I feel like I’ve made the commitment to run.

This morning I really didn’t want to run — and when I say “run”, I mean “walk-run”, with more walking than running at this point in my 5K run app.

So, I didn’t want to run, but I had on the leggings and my father was still sleeping and Mary was downstairs in case he got up anyway and I had no other excuses. I headed out the door and down the hill.

About 5 minutes in, I heard a *ka-pling* from my phone, so I checked to see if I was supposed to start running, but it was a message from a friend. I barely had time to see her name when I heard the *ding* signaling time to run. I shoved my phone back in my pocket, and began running and praying for her.

Lord, I don’t know what’s going on with my friend

Meanwhile, in the background of my run, Andrew Peterson was singing, “Keep to the old roads, keep to the old roads, and you’ll find your way…”

I focused on a distant tree, telling myself I could run that far. It’s a thing I do because I really hate running – set a short-term goal.

*ding* — I could walk again. I pulled out my phone and read her note. “We are very lost and hurt…”

“Keep to the old roads,” sang Andrew. He was on the last chorus.

Lord, help her to remember the old roads. Help her find her way.

I know that lost feeling, when it seems everything is wrong and wasted. I thought of another friend who recently lost her home in a fire and the heavy ache she must feel, sifting through ashes. I’ve gotten those heart-wrenching phone calls and driven to far emergency rooms. I sat with my mother through her last breaths.

*ding* — Time to run again. I picked a barn to run to. Andrew was singing “Dancing in the Minefields.”

“This is harder than we dreamed…” Indeed, it is. Marriage, parenting, life.

It all is so hard and no one warns us about that.

Or they do, and we don’t believe it because we have stars in our eyes and hope in our hearts. But the stars are replaced with the pollution of life, stinging our eyes. And the hope in our hearts withers like an unwatered plant.

Lord, walk with her in these shadowlands.

And so my walk-run went.

Andrew sang, “So when my body’s weak and the day is long, When I feel my faith is all but gone, I’ll remember when I sing this song, that I believe….”

And I prayed.

Andrew sang, “Isn’t it love?”

And I prayed.

The last bit of my run-walk is miserable, absolutely miserable. I start off going downhill which means I finish going up.

I thought about a comment Jonathan Rogers had recently made when someone praised him for being an encouragement.  He said something like, “I’m like the cross-country coach who pulls alongside in the golf cart, takes a drag of his cigarette, and tells you to keep going.”

I thought about a new friend who wished me Bon Courage and explained that it’s not about bravery, but strength and resolve.

I thought about my friend who is lost and struggling, and that we’re all like the guy in the golf-cart, smoking our cigarettes and encouraging from our comfort, while we really don’t understand the pounding on the pavement pain of the runner in that moment, and that we need strength and resolve, and to be able to set our sights on reachable goals.

We also need to remember the ultimate goal — that running with endurance the race that is set before us. We have a cloud of witnesses — not riding golf-carts. We need to focus on Christ for our strength and resolve, our bon courage.

And so I prayed for my friend as I finished that final hill.



Maggie in the Way

“Maggie,” I said, “you’ve got to move. I’m doing my stretches.”

I’m trying to ready for my upcoming trip to Croatia and Bosnia so I went for a walk-run this morning.

When I sat on the floor to stretch, though, Maggie plopped herself right in the middle.

Look at that face. I think she was peeved that I didn’t take her with me, but walking with Maggie means stopping at every woodchuck hole along the way, and I wanted to push myself a little.

I finally shoved her away and stretched, reaching toward my left toes, and feeling every bit of tightness that comes from not stretching regularly.

As I shifted around, folding my left leg and stretching out my right, Maggie quickly got up and plopped herself in the middle of things again.

Then she feigned hearing loss when I tried to encourage her to move.

This getting buff thing is going to be harder than I thought.


Memorial Day


In 1943, Antoine de Saint-Exupery traveled with an American convoy to North Africa.

He later wrote this “Letter to an American” which is fitting for Memorial Day.

at the Musée du débarquement Utah Beach

… If your soldiers had gone to war only for the defense of American interests, the propaganda would have emphasized your oil fields, your plantations, and your threatened commercial markets. Instead, it scarcely touched on such subjects. If other things were being spoken of, it is because your boys wanted to hear something different.

And what were they told that could motivate them to sacrifice their lives? They were told of hostages hanged in Poland. They were told of prisoners shot in France. They were told that a new form of slavery threatened to extinguish a part of Humanity. They were told not about themselves, but of others. That gave them a sense of solidarity with all mankind.

The fifty thousand soldiers in my convoy went to war not to save American citizens, but rather for Man himself, respect for Mankind, liberty for all men, the greatness of Man…