Tuesday, March 26, 2013

1003 Boxes of Girl Scout Cookies

While driving down Main Street today I saw two girls standing in the cold and snow flurries dressed up as cookies. One was a Thin Mint and the other was a Samoa. I am a sucker for this scene. Not because I cannot live without the cookies. But because I appreciate the work of the Girl Scouts, like to support their work, and contribute to their entrepreneurial education. The look of satisfaction on the face of a Girl Scout when she makes a sale is worth the $4 price of the cookies. So today I drove around the block, stopped, chatted with the Girl Scouts, and bought 4 boxes.  

I have a soft spot for the Girl Scouts because of my experience with my daughter when she was a Girl Scout. She was the cookie seller and I was her sales manager. Honestly, I think I enjoyed the experience more than she did. I like selling things and I was determined I was going to make a salesperson out of her. I also had a rule that I was not going to sale them for her but that she had to make the contacts and take the orders. So on the first day of cookie sales we would hit the streets together and with my encouragement she would ring the door bell and when people came to the door she would ask “would you like to buy some Girl Scout cookies”?  Some would buy and she would be happy. Some would say no and sometimes she would get multiple “no’s” in a row and would get a little discouraged. I tried to help her understand that often in life the answer was no and that a negative answer just gives you the opportunity to move on to the next door. We learned to take orders in places of business and that the orders were often larger there. She took her order sheet to church and found lots of friendly buyers there. We learned that repeat business was best and having secured phone numbers from the previous year’s sales sheet she was able to take a lot of orders by phone. Over the years she took special interest in some of her customers. Like the widower who lived a few blocks from us, had a house full of cats and always had to show her the weaving work he was doing with rugs. He would buy several boxes but the sale was never quick. You had to give him 15-20 minutes of your life. But he needed that and we were enriched by the experience. We thought she had sold a lot of cookies one year when she sold 737 boxes. But the next year she sold 1003 boxes. To put this in perspective, if you take the back two rows of seats out of a mini-van and fill it with 1003 boxes of cookies you have just enough room for the driver and the Girl Scout. Of course then you have to deliver all those cookies and collect the money. But when it was over she had helped her troop earn some money and she earned for herself some “cookie dough” to pay a large part of her way to summer Girl Scout Camp. Perhaps my daughter would say I was a tough sales manager. But for me it was a treasured experience that I got to share with her. And if I see Girl Scouts selling cookies I am going to buy some.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Reflections From a Cemetery Walk

I am reflecting this morning on yesterday’s walk in the cemetery. I took note of three mounds of fresh dirt (or I should soil. The agronomist in me will not allow me to call it dirt). Each mound represents a life spent. Mixed in with the mounds of soil are mounds of grief. The mounds of grief will linger. But the mounds of soil will not last long. The rains will come, the soil will settle, and the caretaker will come with his rake and level the ground. Grass will grow. I am hoping that everyone associated with the persons buried beneath the mounds of soil are at peace with that person’s passing. I am reminded of an old song written by grandfather Morgan Williams:

If you have any flowers on my grave to bestow
I would gladly receive them today
you may scatter them now while I can cherish them so
Do not wait 'til I'm laid 'neath the clay.

If you have any words that would comfort and cheer
any words that would brighten my way
you may speak them today while I am anxious to hear
do not wait 'til I'm laid 'neath the clay.

If you have any smiles that you freely would give
As an emblem of love's brightest ray
You should give them today while I am tarrying here
Do not wait 'til I'm laid 'neath the clay.

CHORUS: Do not wait 'til I'm under the clay
Let your blessings be given today
Let your kindness be shown ere my spirit has flown
Do not wait 'til I'm laid 'neath the clay.

Friday, March 8, 2013

You are Rich Grandma

Not long after my grandfather Williams died my grandmother moved into a small house in Pittsburg, KY. Though she had moved often in her life and the distance was short I suspect the move was a bit traumatic. It was the first time in all her life that she would live alone. She had gotten married when she was seventeen and had raised eleven children. She was accustomed to a full house, but now everyone was gone. But in moving to the little house in Pittsburg she would not be quite alone for the little house was owned by my Uncle Harve. Only a narrow driveway separated the place my grandmother lived from the larger two story house where Uncle Harve and Aunt Creatie lived. They had operated a store from the building my grandmother lived and upon retirement transformed it into a dwelling.

The house did not have indoor plumbing. Grandma got her water from a well out back. We drew it up with a rope and a bucket. She kept a bucket of drinking water sitting in the kitchen. We drank from a dipper and we all used the same dipper. It was such fun. When we needed to use the toilet we went outside to the little white privy that Grandma shared with Uncle Harve and Aunt Creatie. Grandma had a garden on the other side of the house. She was an avid gardener but this little piece of land did not yield much for her toil. There was too much shade and the soil had a lot of cinders and slate mixed in it. Few means would have been taken to amend the soil structure or fertility. It was just her, a spade and a hoe, and the seed she had saved from the year before.

I would have been between the ages of 5 and 10 when I would go there and spend the day or night. When visiting there I would bounce back and forth between Grandma’s house and Uncle Harve and Aunt Creatie’s. It was only about six “boy steps” from one back door step to the next. Between those door steps I discovered the beauty of my elders. I was full of questions. They would listen. They would take time to answer. I absorbed the answers and marveled at their stories about things and days gone by. It was just them and me. I felt special. I had the opportunity to watch common ordinary folks with meager resources enjoy the simple miniscule things of life.

Both houses sat back no more than 10 feet from the road. Perhaps it was another 100 feet to the tracks of the L & N Railroad. We would sit on the front porch and listen for the trains. Uncle Harve was blind. When the train would come by he would ask me to count the railcars. They were often long trains with well over 100 cars. Each train had a caboose in those days and usually there would be a man riding in the caboose. If you waved at him he would wave back. Till this day if I am stopped at a railroad crossing I will start counting railcars. But there is never a caboose. Uncle Harve would peel the potatoes. I marveled at this blind man’s skill with a paring knife. Sometimes he would sing while doing it. I learned a valuable lesson in those visits that I have to remind myself of quite often. One does not have to have much in life to be happy but you do have to learn to enjoy what you have.

Once when I was staying with Grandma we had to go to town. She had received her check. She called a cab and we went to London. We went to the bank where she cashed her check. I remember the amount. It was $82.00. I looked at her and said “Grandma, you are rich”! I think she smiled. We went to a couple of stores up town, and then we went to the grocery store. The cab came and took us back to Pittsburg. She paid the cabdriver. She would have paid Uncle Harve the rent and I suppose she had an electric bill. I think even then I came to understand that my Grandma was not rich. But I sure am rich for the experience.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

"Catch a Hold of It" - A Tribute to Everett Walters

The journey of my life has not led me to places or people of prominence. I have not found inclusion in the circles of those who possess great power and influence. I have not had the opportunity to sit among many of the rich and famous. Life has however taken me to some interesting places, allowed me to do a wide variety of things, and to come in contact with some wonderful ordinary people. These ordinary people would make no claim to greatness. Yet many of them have been genuine heroes to me and helped to shape me into the person I am.

One such person was a man named Everett Walters. I met Everett when I was seven years old. My family had just moved from southeastern KY to the “bluegrass” area of the state. We quickly became active participants in the Gano Avenue Baptist Church, the same place where Everett and his family attended. The people at Gano were common, ordinary, salt of the earth kind of folks like us. Some were debit insurance agents like my dad. Some worked in the various local industries or for a government agency. A few were teachers or owned a small business. Everett was a farmer.
Everett only went to school through the 8th grade. But he was an intelligent man. He was a fast learner able to grasp situations and ideas quickly. He was well read.  He had been converted to Christ in mid-life and immediately began to study the Bible and biblical doctrine and was quite knowledgeable in those matters.

Everett was a hard worker with the strength and ability to work fast and skillfully. Yet, unlike many people with a strong work ethic he knew how to rest from work and could leave his labors behind him when it was time for play. He had a tremendous love for his family. He was loyal to his church. He was honest in business. His simple intention in life was to do what was right.

Probably ten years before I knew Everett his sister was tragically killed. She left behind eleven children the youngest being a baby. Amidst the grief and the anger of the moment Everett and his siblings had to determine how to best care for those children. Everett and his wife Marjorie already had three children but at the death of his sister they took in three more and raised them alongside their own. Those children grew up together which meant they all started getting married around the same time. Somehow Everett and Marjorie bore the expense and toil of four weddings from one June to the next!

When I got older I worked for Everett. First on the farm and later in a roofing business he started after he “retired” from farming. I worked for Everett two full summers as a roofer. Those were different times but in each of those two summers I made and saved enough money in a summers work to pay all the expenses for the next two full semesters of college. Often during those summers Everett would want something moved and he would look at me and say “catch a hold of it”. Many times I would look at what he wanted moved and think that it was to bulky and to heavy for just the two of us to move but we would “catch a hold of it” and somehow move it. I have never been all that stout but in working with Everett I discovered that sometimes a grunt and will power can make up for ones lack of strength.

It is funny how some phrases will stick with you. After all these years I can still hear Everett saying “catch a hold of it”. It occurs to me that that is how he lived his life. He faced some large tasks. He had to handle to some difficult situations. He had some heavy responsibilities. Sometimes what was in front of him looked like it was too big to move. But with strength and mental determination and God’s help he would “catch a hold of it” and move it.


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