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Oklahoma State University bills its Homecoming as “America’s Greatest Homecoming Celebration” with a whole lotta pride and reason to celebrate. As the university celebrates its 125th year, the Homecoming theme for 2015 was “Stillwater…Still Loyal…Still True.” It makes you pause a day later because of the importance of that statement in the aftermath of a year of planning, a week of festivities, a weekend of wonder mixed with unbelievable tragedy.

I’m an alum, was a graduate assistant in the English department back in my day, my first married years were spent in Stillwater, my oldest daughter was born in this town, some of my children and their spouses graduated from OSU, I am now on staff part time, my oldest grandson is a Freshman and I have another grandson coming here next year. I have ties galore. I really hadn’t been back for Homecoming weekend until 2011 when one of my grandsons, who was 13 at the time, and I came up for the weekend. It was such a delight that I couldn’t wait to come back. I only live a little over an hour away, but you have to plan for it. Stillwater is a town of 47,000 population, but there were 85,000 people there on Friday night this year. Yeah!

OSU Homecoming takes a year of planning, thousands of hours of work by student groups, and lasts for a week. There is something for everyone. The festivities kick off on Sunday with a ceremony to dye the water in the fountain in front of the iconic library orange. America’s Brightest Orange is everywhere!DSC_0030Every day is a new activity, with opportunities for any student group to participate. There is the Sign Contest on the library lawn, which shows off the creativity and spirit of the students…DSC_0017DSC_0038There’s a chili contest, a carnival for children, and a Paint the Street night open to anyone. A late week rain washed away some of the work, but the remnants were under our feet walking to the stadium on Saturday.IMG_8787IMG_8789Friday night is the WalkAround, a night where the streets in front of the university are closed and people walk around to see the massive house decorations designed and created by Greek Students. These were here when I was in school, but it’s beyond my imagination to see how these are built. When I arrived in Stillwater for meetings early Friday, it had rained overnight and students were hustling, working with huge equipment and lifts to finish the decorations before the judges arrived at 1:00. These structures are beautiful, inspiring, have moving parts, and are great fun.DSC_0006 It was my grandson’s first time to work on one, so I was sharing his pride.

DSC_0002He’s in this photo in the white shirt. He’s 6’4″ to give you an idea of the size.DSC_0008Before one of my meetings on Friday, Pistol Pete arrived in the building. I’ve shared my love of our mascot, the only college mascot based on a real person. He was in our department to greet alums and I caught this shot of him walking with one of the little fans, who was just learning to say “Pistol Pete.” He had on cowboy boots with the image of Pete and his grandfather was showing him the picture on the boots and then pointing to the real Pete. I don’t know if this little one understood, but he walked off with Pete, to his mom and grandparents’ delight.IMG_8683While I waited for some of my family to arrive in Stillwater for the WalkAround, I took pictures, as I always do, of things that caught my eye. Here’s Old Central, the original building and the oldest on campus, all spiffed up to greet alums.DSC_0020Everything was in place to greet the OSU family.DSC_0010DSC_0013I walked across campus, catching the moon over the #1 Student Union in the country.DSC_0028As the crowd began to build, the strip was ready with its familiar shops, restaurants and bars.DSC_0027The crowds were building, the streets were closed.DSC_0042When I came in 2011, it was harder to find food if you didn’t want to stand in line for an hour at a restaurant. Now there are food trucks everywhere, tents with OSU clothes and gifts, activities for all ages. The lights came on at Theta Pond, way more beautiful than when I was in school.IMG_8686Five of my grandsons did the WalkAround. Four of them, including the Freshman, had never seen it before and it was fun to share it with them. With bands playing, people of all ages filling every street, sightings of campus celebrities, members of the OSU band doing impromptu songs, dancing on the Student Union terrace, alums running into old friends, the memories flooding, the pride swelling, it’s the greatest street party ever.

By 9:00, the major activities are winding down and the crowd can move towards famous Gallagher-Iba Arena for Homecoming & Hoops, the perfect ending to the evening. This is basically a free pep rally for students and anyone else who enjoys the noise. The arena is famous for the noisy atmosphere during basketball season and this pep rally is perfect in that space. As I entered, the students were seated in groups, waving lighted sticks and screaming. The noise level is intense and my friend had ear plugs. I loved it!IMG_8691

The evening begins with the football coach, Mike Gundy, thanking the students for their hard work and inviting them all to the game the next day. I watched the coach while the music was leading up to him talking. He moved with the music, shooting his hand in the air with the spirit of the evening. On the sidelines, he has to watch the game. Here, he’s a Cowboy all the way – former stat breaking quarterback to coach. Here, he gets to be a fan for a few minutes before he leaves to prepare for the game.DSC_0058Pistol Pete is walking the sidelines, the band is playing. The OSU Women’s Basketball team gives a 10 minute preview of their skills, followed by the pom squad, a skit by the OSU Wrestling Team, a lip sync competition, announcement of winners of various contests during the week, t-shirts are shot and dropped into the student sections, small footballs are thrown to the crowds, a big demonstration by the cheerleaders, ending with a preview of the OSU Men’s Basketball Team. It’s a wild and crazy finish to the day.DSC_0062IMG_8694As we left, by luck of who I know and was with, I got to stand on the field, imagining what a young player must think and imagining what would take place the next day. Those goal posts look very narrow and that goal line is far away from the 50 yard line. Wow! IMG_8706By Friday night, for those of you who are into these things, I had walked over 18,000 steps. And, I still felt good. My head was full of so many years of memories and pride in what was going on in this wonderful place.

Saturday morning, I was ready to go to the Sea of Orange Parade. I remember taking my oldest daughter to it when she was a baby and I loved it the last time I was here. This isn’t really something the student body attends unless they’re in it because many of them have been up all night all week getting ready for Homecoming. This parade is more about families, generations. Stillwater is still a small town and this is the best of what a small town brings to a university experience. I almost didn’t go and visited with my friend I was staying with, but decided I didn’t want to miss any of this great experience and headed downtown alone. I stood near the beginning of the parade so I missed probably the first 1/3 to 1/2 of it, including the OSU Marching Band, all the OSU dignitaries, state politicians, Pistol Pete, the cheerleaders, etc. That’s ok because I got the feeling I was looking for. I’m sharing more photos with you than I planned because it really means more now.

Right after the Stillwater High School band, where I came in, was the OSU Polo Team. I bet you didn’t know we had a team, did you? We also have a Rodeo Team. We do horses here.DSC_0068And there were other horse riding groups…DSC_0072and dogs…DSC_0095and trucks and tractors and motorcycles and cars. DSC_0076DSC_0078DSC_0082

DSC_0069DSC_0114Note the crowds along the street. There were decorated flatbeds and walking politicians and others throwing candy to the kids with nobody acting like they were in any danger of poison candy. I moved down the street and stood beside pick up trucks owned by people who came early to park along the street and use the truck for parade watching. There were generations of families, waving to the parade participants, neighbors knowing everybody who walked by. I overheard people telling each other things like, “she does my hair sometimes,” “that’s my former student,” “he lives in Perkins now.” It’s a small town atmosphere, a family setting at its best.

There were beauty queens…DSC_0075and dance schools, and karate students, and little baton twirlers…DSC_0102There was pride in America…DSC_0090pride in our school and pride in our lives.DSC_0118There were local celebrities…DSC_0109and the ever popular marching lawnmower team, doing its routines along the way.DSC_0083DSC_0087And, bands, small town bands. I’m so very impressed with the number of kids who play all these instruments in the very very small towns. That’s a tribute to some teachers, some tradition, some pride.DSC_0106DSC_0096I walked up to the beginning of the parade in time to see the last of it, the mounted sheriffs turning the corner onto Main, to be followed by the Stillwater Fire Trucks. DSC_0123I walked to my car a little after 10:00, drove to McDonald’s to use the restroom and grab something to eat before I drove to the other side of campus to find a parking place for the game, planning to find some students and meet my friends later. I turned onto Hall of Fame and headed towards the stadium, not realizing what was going on or about to happen a couple of blocks from me. By the time I parked my car on a side street north of campus, I was starting to get messages that someone had driven a car into the parade crowds and people were killed. I was totally ignorant of where the parade ended, so I couldn’t place anything. Dear friends and family were contacting me to see if I was ok. What in the world? I walked the few blocks to the stadium, taking my phone charger with me because it was going down fast. This was becoming a strange day quickly.

The campus was crowded with tailgate parties. I can’t begin to tell you how crowded it gets and how many parties are going on. Here was an elaborate set up near the stadium. IMG_8747Families and friends were gathered to eat and hug and share the day. The smells of grills and barbecue were filling the air. IMG_8772I realized most of these people, thousands of them didn’t know anything or much more than I did about what was happening. But there was a subdued feeling beginning to hover over us. I found one of my student friends and plugged my phone into their trailer (Gad – there is so much to tailgating now!) and heard the first rumors, all of which proved to be false. I had heard a few sirens and saw some helicopters that I assumed were news media. As I left to walk around, I lost cell coverage, maybe due to the stadium, maybe due to the mass of people using all these devices. I saw televisions in tailgate tents turned to the news, but most people probably didn’t know unless they were being contacted. I was getting messages on Facebook, texts, etc. I was using power fast trying to reassure everyone.  For some reason, this orange colored dog made me smile in the middle of this strange time.IMG_8790

 

Mostly the campus was Homecoming as usual, maybe quieter when I think back. It was a day of celebration and of shock. It was time for The Walk, the parade of the band, cheerleaders, pom squad, coaches and players walking across campus to the stadium through a line of fans and well wishers. Usually this is noisy and boisterous. Today was quiet. The band wasn’t playing, other than a few drummers with a somber march. They were followed by quiet, respectful cheerleaders and pom squad. IMG_8763Pete arrived, cheering the crowd as always, somehow reassuring that our world is still there, living and breathing.IMG_8760The team walked by, huge kids. One stopped to give hugs to the people next to me. I’m sure they wanted reassurance, too. They may be big, but they’re somebody’s kid. IMG_8766Coach walked by, slapping the hand of the woman next to me who reached out to him.IMG_8769There was no noise at the end, the parade filtered into the stadium in silence. Game Day was here.

I decided to go into the stadium early because it’s fun to watch it get set up and I knew my friends were somewhere on their way. Besides, I was still having trouble with texts and messages getting through. Walking into the stadium early, the first thing that smacked me in my heart was the great flag at half mast. It’s really true and happening to these families so close by. You couldn’t shake that image all day long.IMG_8797So I filled the next hour watching the crowd build, the team practicing with different units, the school fight songs filling the air. The team came out and warmed up in formation, which I think is so coolIMG_8803They went back to the locker room, preparing to make their entrance. The KU and OSU bands played and everyone got in place to welcome the team to the field. IMG_8808I felt curiosity, waiting to see how this was going to be handled. As seen on television, there was a moment of silence, appropriate for all. The game was played, OSU won in a lopsided victory that made it easy for fans to slip out after the half-time. I stayed to the end, holding my friend as we sang and swayed to the alma mater along with the tradition of the team singing it with the students after the game. IMG_8816I stopped at a friend’s house after the game, welcoming the chance to get dinner and talk a little before I drove home. It was nice to be with good people, Stillwater residents, though there is no sense to be made of the tragedy of the day. Someone said this was not just an OSU tragedy, this was a Stillwater tragedy. I’ve been through senseless things before, I’ve lost loved ones. I watched video of the crash, horrified to see how close the children on a parade truck and walking came to being hit. I’m horrified they had to see this, horrified that it will haunt them forever. My love goes out to those who were there because the rest of us can only hold them in our hearts and hope for their physical and mental recovery.

The one thing I do know is that the irony of having something like this happen in the middle of such a great traditional weekend of Homecoming is offset just a little knowing how strong the ties are in the community of Stillwater and OSU. This is a strong family with shared memories and a lot of pride and love. It will help. It will.  IMG_8752

The rituals of our lives are the moments built in to make us stop and reflect, like it or not.  Births, birthdays, marriages, deaths…and graduations.  My oldest grandchild graduated from high school this week, the third generation to graduate at that school, the oldest generation being me.  A cause to pause.  Yikes!

My first thought is disbelief that these years have flown so quickly, these years from my own graduation through all those other rituals to get to this point.  All the memories flood back as everyone in the family compares it to his or her own graduation and all our memories become part of this present day.  My other grandchildren are watching and taking it all in.  I have two more graduating next year and a couple more a few years later and two more on down the line and then a gap until the last of the eight graduates in 2028.  Another moment to pause.  I’ll be in my 80s by that time.  Oh my…

My second thought as I listened to “Pomp and Circumstance” with the same teary eyes I’ve had for every graduations since my own was sadness for those in our family who weren’t here for this moment.  That was replaced with gratitude for all who made it.  This boy was surrounded by both his grandmothers, his parents and brother, three aunts, an uncle, and three of his cousins.  That’s pretty good.  At the party his parents had to celebrate his graduation, he had all the others, all the grandparents, parents, brother, aunts, uncles and cousins, along with friends and family friends.  You can tell he is feeling the love!

My thoughts rambled between happiness for him, hoping that all the good lessons and experiences he’s had are embedded in him to protect and launch him into college, that he’s learned from the less than great experiences along the way, and tremendous love for this kid who is off to see the world, one step at a time.  All of our emotions are running high as we take the last pictures with him in his cap and gown and watch him drive off to the all-night party following graduation.  A sigh, a smile and a full heart for me.

When I watched the seniors proceed to their seats to the music of the student orchestra playing that familiar piece, I saw them all looking around.  There were shouts and cheers and applause from family and friends as they entered the rowdily dignified atmosphere that is a graduation these days.  They all were looking for the familiar faces of those they love, those who were here to celebrate their success.  They all wanted to know where their parents, grandparents, relatives and friends were.  That says something about the experience, doesn’t it? In this picture, my grandson has spotted his parents.  His look says it all.

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So another class has thrown their caps in the air…

DSC_0137The balloons have fallen, because who is ever too old for balloons…

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Another ritual is in the books for my family.  More memories, more fun, more love.  We don’t forget these moments that help us measure the treasured minutes, hours, days and years of our lives.

Going to a Comic Con wasn’t on my bucket list, but you do a lot of things for your grandkids that you wouldn’t ordinarily do.  That, plus the fact that a friend of mine, Scott Wilson, was appearing as one of the guest stars when Wizard World Comic Con came to Tulsa.  And, I was naturally curious about a phenomenon that has grown from a comic book convention to a group of Trekkies and Star Wars fans to a show that highlights a whole pop culture world of comic books, graphic novels, movies and television shows.  These things are huge.  The Comic Con in San Diego draws A-list stars.  There had to be something to it.  Right?

There aren’t so many grandparents there because it’s noisy, you walk a lot on hard floors, the crowds are big, and other things that make it not as attractive once you’re older and more curmudgeonly.  But, there are people of all ages.  It’s a diverse crowd because there is a universality to costumed characters that transcends race, gender, sexual orientation, income levels, age.

I also learned a new word…cosplay.  That’s short for costume play.  There were signs saying that you needed to ask before taking photos of cosplayers.  That amused me because I guarantee that the majority who spend hours and dollars on elaborate costumes are there to have their pictures taken.  This guy strutted around all day, posing with anyone who asked.  I have no idea who the character is, but his costume is cool.  IMG_5513If you go to a Comic Con, take lots of money.  There are booths with everything you want in this fantasy world.  There are toys and action figures.  I loved this little girl in her fancy Robin costume picking out a toy.IMG_5423There are swords and other props, and, yes, the swords are real metal.  Wow!  These guys are armed for any kind of invasion or apocalypse  IMG_5420There are helmets and hats IMG_5419And beautiful masks crafted of leather   IMG_5431and t-shirts and huge tote bags to carry all your purchases  IMG_5454This father showing his kids the incredible light sabers amused me.  The father probably grew up with Star Wars and is passing it down to his sons.  I saw people playing with the light sabers they bought at costs of $200, $300, and $400 and up.  They were definitely cool.IMG_5514And, of course, there are comic books and graphic art of all kinds…IMG_5426IMG_5451Meeting celebrities is another plus.  The Tulsa World featured a piece of custom art for the Tulsa show  5459e1ec5e042.imagecreated by this artist who was selling prints of his other work.  IMG_5521You could meet Lou Ferrigno of The Incredible Hulk, as my grandson did.  IMG_5523Here is Robert Englund, who played Freddie Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, strapping on his sword-like hands for a picture with a fan.  I watched a little boy wearing a mock hand and Freddie Krueger hat gasping in awe as he watched him.  IMG_5505There were lots more stars from shows and movies from William Shatner from Star Trek, to stars from Ghostbusters, The Karate Kid, Superman, Harry Potter, and others I didn’t know.  There were question and answer panels that drew thousands of fans.  My friend, Scott Wilson, has a long career in films and became a Comic Con star playing Hershel Greene in the Walking Dead series.  The four actors from that show who came to Tulsa were by far the stars of the show, with Norman Reedus, who plays the crossbow wielding anti-hero Darryl, being the rock star.  Their lines were continuous.  I have to say that Scott goes above and beyond with his fans, giving them all hugs and personal conversations.  He is a gentleman and a jewel in my book.  Here he’s wearing the t-shirt featuring Tulsa’s iconic Golden Driller that I gave him when he got to town.IMG_5489He also stayed an extra hour to give free autographs and pictures to the show’s volunteers at the end of a grueling weekend of activities.  IMG_5543Comic Con has the reputation among the non-believers of being only for nerds.  Well, maybe, but this is where these fans can meet their peeps and mingle for a delightful weekend.  After all, I’ve been to Renaissance Fairs and re-enactments and the Scottish Games and October Fests which are not much different.  It’s all a festival where adults can remember what it’s like to be a child again.  Comic Con is a place where families can play – or cosplay – together.  IMG_5515Here’s a family with oddly colored children.  IMG_5536Couples can fantasize about whatever or whoever they enjoy being… IMG_5519Children can meet their action toys in person.  IMG_5548And grown men can bring the Oklahoma Ghostbusters out to play.  IMG_5444Some of you are rolling your eyes that people actually do this, but it’s really great fun to watch people enjoy themselves in whatever fantasy they choose.  There was an atmosphere of camaraderie and festivity for all who attended.  I got a huge kick out of watching it.  Way more than I thought I would.  As my little friend, R2D2, said to the crowd…Beep! Beep!IMG_5478My own memories flash.  How many Star Wars figures did I pick up off the floor when my son was little?  Why did my mother throw out all my brother’s comic books?  Who knew?

I’d like to say the ever noble thing and tell everyone to exercise their right to vote, a right that is fundamental to what our nation is all about.  I’d like to say that, but I’m not sure this time.  What I really want is for you to vote for the people I’m voting for.  And some of you won’t.

Normally, I’m pretty good about the majority ruling, but lately I’m not so sure.  I know that the alternative is not so great either, but I’ve been voting for almost 48 years now and I’m not real happy with what is going on in our country.  That’s an understatement.  By the time we actually have an election, we have been listening to candidates speak, throwing away an incredible amount of campaign material left in our mailboxes (hopefully recycling them), been annoyed by the phone calls that come at all hours, and been subjected to the horrendous 24 hour news cycle where so-called journalists have dropped any pretense of objective reporting for voicing their, or their network’s, opinion in the ever present sarcastic news tone used by all these days.  You know what I mean.

I’ve been a good voter through the years, showing up for the most minor of elections, studying the candidates and issues, coming prepared. I don’t know anymore.  I watch the people in office at every level playing the political games, surrendering their pre-office idealism for wheeling and dealing in votes.  They all begin to look jaded.

This qualifies as a rant.  I’m going to vote my conscience because I can’t trust any of the party platforms.  I’ll do the best I can and hope that some of my candidates win and that they do what they promised.  This is a year when I can truthfully say that I’m doing a lot of voting against incumbents, hoping they’ll be voted out before they do more damage.  I’m a negative voter this time around.

We have a great country, made greater by its people.  I’m a forever optimist who hopes we’ll get leaders who inspire us with their dedication to these wonderful people they are supposed to represent.  I’ll always vote because I know how important it is, no matter whether I like the outcome or not.  I vote…

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My husband was a man, a big kid actually, who loved Halloween and everything about it.  Every fall, we drove out into the country, when it didn’t take so long to find the bare countryside, to look for the perfect pumpkins.  Everybody had to have their own, with his being the biggest one.  This was one of those holidays when I was along for the ride because I wasn’t good at making costumes and he was in charge of the carving and I just made popcorn balls and caramel apples and handed out the treats on the big night while he walked the streets with the kids and other fathers in the neighborhood.

We didn’t take as many photos in those days of film and flashbulbs, but I treasure the ones I have, especially now that my husband and son are both gone.  I’m pretty sure they have pumpkins in heaven however.  No doubt in my mind that they are getting ready for the big night in whatever afterlife they inhabit.  Scan 19Scan 16By the time our grandchildren were born, the pumpkin patch had expanded with animals and rides and photo ops galore.  Taking the grandkids to the patch was a way to keep my own kids’ memories alive and well.  So there are lots of pictures of these kids, now in high school, getting their pumpkins, just as their parents did.   Scan 19 86777-PH-5Oct2001-012 86777-PH-5Oct2001-017 Zac

86777-PH-9Oct2002-002And their parents take pictures that are part of the family tradition, the things that remind us of the best of times and hold us together in all times.   All my grandchildren are in middle school or high school now, except for the youngest, my son’s daughter.  He went to the patch with his nephews and niece when he was in college…Scan 19And took his own daughter for her first visit, his last before he died.  IMG_1476She gets to go back now, following family traditions, making her own.  DSC_0051They say that all we can really give our children are memories, and these are some of the best.  These days I look at my family and go back to look at the years that have done by way too quickly and I’m strengthened by the continuity of the traditions and the love I see in the photos.  The Pumpkin Patch is important in our family, but so are other traditions.  We can all make our own…and should.  IMG_5221

Over the Fourth of July, I was watching some of my grandchildren, ages 4 to 15,interact with each other and other kids around.  I have a friend who believes that kids make up games and rules that are always fair.  He believes it’s instinctive for them to be fair when left alone by adults.  I remember this from my childhood and watched these modern day kids who are poster children for organized sports and activities.

Guess what?  They still like to play.  First, at the swimming pool, the 14 and 15 year old made up dunking games, where they dunked each other, basketball games played with a small ball, a large beach ball, whatever they could find.  DSC_0409Then there were games on the slide with the ball, games off the diving board, and games with a sister/cousin and her friend.  They never stopped moving.DSC_0400DSC_0420DSC_0413Everything was discussed for a few minutes and then they played.  And played, moving from one part of the pool to the other with a new idea.  The next day, we added a 12 year old and a four year old cousin to the mix.  This changed it up a bit while they learned the new rules.DSC_0013DSC_0023There was no complaining about being bored, no arguments, no tears or whining.  Later, we met for dinner and I brought Pop-Its or Bang Pops, about 50 boxes of them.  They found more ways to pop them than I could imagine.  Very creative popping going on…DSC_0006DSC_0007And we ended the day with hundreds of kids waiting for the fireworks display.  Impromptu games of soccer and frisbee broke out with boys and girls of all ages playing their own version, mindful of the difference in ages and sizes, but all playing.  They didn’t ask names or wait to be introduced, they just threw a ball out there and it began.  They must have played for an hour or two without anybody stopping before they came back to the blankets at dark.  DSC_0020When I watch kids, all kids, playing like this, free of adults to hover over them or tell them what they are supposed to be doing, it gives me great hope.  If kids can figure out how to get along, shouldn’t we all be able to?  If kids can play together, shouldn’t we be able to live together, even with our differences?  Our children have wonderful imaginations when left to use them.  I’m hoping they use those imaginations plus the happy memories they have to build an even better world.

As their grandmother, all I know is that they are just so much fun to watch!

Loyal and True…to our Alma Mater…O…S…U.  Those are lyrics from the alma mater at Oklahoma State University, where I spent six years, excepting some summer vacations, as an undergraduate and in graduate school.  Fifty-one years after I enrolled there, I have accepted a job working with students on a special project and will be returning weekly for at least the next year.  This is a school attended by two of my daughters, two of my sons-in-law and my daughter-in-law.  We have ties.

Yesterday, I attended the eighth grade assembly at my junior high and high school alma mater, sitting in the same auditorium where I spent another 6 years of my life, from 7th through 12th grades.  The same school I have shared with my children and now seven of my grandchildren.  Two of my sons-in-law and my daughter-in-law also graduated from this school.  We have more ties.

At my age, you can’t walk around these places without images from the past swirling through your memory.  You watch a high school assembly and your own assemblies flash before you.  Teachers and classmates, friends from then, some gone, some still in your life, perform, speak and walk from the 1950s and 6os.  When I walk into the halls of the school alone, I see my friends in groups, hanging out before school, giggling and gossiping, too loud or too quiet.  Making our way through the halls and through life as a teenager.  It’s not even conscious sometimes, but I remember when I get home.  And shake my head at how young we were, how sponge-like in our learning, how desperate to be grown up, to be cool, to know what to do in new situations.

At Oklahoma State, my images are even more varied.  I spent my college years there, my first two years of marriage, and became a mother in that college town.  I did a lot of growing up in that place and had a lot of fun.  It was a big school in a small town and I came from a city.  The students had different backgrounds and I learned from them.  I can’t walk across that campus without being struck by how familiar it is and how much it’s grown, like everything in the last 50 years that’s managed to stay around.

There’s comfort in the familiar…like the first building on campus, Old Central.DSC_0001

…and seeing the steps to Morrill Hall where I had many of my English classes and taught Freshman Composition for two years.  My office was up those steps, I slipped on those steps in the ice when I first got married.  Oh, those steps.DSC_0002Every corner has a memory in that town.  We stood on Main Street to watch Hubert Humphrey drive by or to watch the Homecoming Parade, a tradition that lives on with Pistol Pete still walking strong.IMG_3059The memories are stronger than ever.  Walking from the Student Union, voted #1 in the United States this year, past the library where I spent so many hours going through the card catalogues, researching ever so many papers…IMG_3052I expect to see familiar faces, but I see younger ones, much younger ones.  The dorms where I lived are still there, I can see the window of the room where I first saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan.  I drive by the dorm where I spent two years as a student counselor and can count the floors to my room.  The duplex where we lived when we married and where we brought our first baby home is still standing, still looking like a cheap college rental place after all these years.  The movie theaters we frequented in town are long gone, replaced by a megaplex theatre, The Hideaway, where my husband worked as manager, is still there on campus corner, although it’s moved to a much larger location.  Our friend, the owner, who wasn’t much older than we were recently passed away, a pillar of the community.  At least the Fire Station still owns that corner, a reminder of the old days.DSC_0003It’s a wonderful thing to be invited to return to a place where there are so many memories to warm your heart.  My students will keep me sharp and I can hopefully help them with my experience.  They will teach me a lot, I know.  How fitting that my last job brings me back to my first jobs on this campus.  The old and the new merge into a blur of my life.  I’ve got my new school ID, plastic with my picture instead of the paper one I used to carry.  There’s a comparison of then and now in everything I do.  Then and now.  My past and my present merged into another life experience, into new adventures.  I’m as excited as a freshman…just old enough not to be as nervous.

An Oklahoma orange sunset was in my rearview mirror as I drove home this week.  Lovely.DSC_0004

May is the traditional graduation month for everyone from preschoolers to graduate school.  This month, my daughter-in-law has finished nursing school and is now a licensed LPN and two of my grandsons are moving on to high school.  Everyone else is moving up a grade, just not such a milestone.  It’s the season of recitals and commencements, a time to celebrate what has been accomplished in the school year.

I’m a sucker for these things, smiling through welling eyes, as proud as anyone can be.  I wish I had the guts to jump up like the lady behind me today and shout, “That’s my grandson,” when her smiling boy received a special award. I’m a little more restrained by upbringing and by nature.  But I appreciate the emotion and smile with her and understand completely.

As a grandmother, I’m feeling the same and different emotions than I did at my own children’s achievements. I’m proud for the grandchildren and mostly glad that I can be here to share their achievements.  I’m proud of and for my children, too.  It’s a richness of emotions.

Then there’s that feeling of time flying by, that gratefulness for what you’ve been given and the nagging question of how many more of these you will get to see.  I’ve got a four year old granddaughter and I keep in my heart all the time that I’d like to be here when she gets out of college.  I’ll be about 82.  Not out of the realm of possibility with my genetics, but never a sure thing.  I’m bound and determined to keep up with the grandkids and be as healthy as I can to enjoy everything to the fullest.  That needs to be my mission in life – watching my health.  Not always my priority, but should be.  Reminding myself again now.

Anyway, here’s to May when we share tears and cheers with those we celebrate and make all their achievements our own, when we even celebrate those we don’t know because we’re proud for them and for their families.  We come together to celebrate some of the best emotions that life gives us.  What a joyous season!

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We use social media to brag, to inform, to amuse, to keep in touch, and to vent. The same for blogging. Today, I’m going to vent, so stand back. No, you didn’t do anything wrong – I did. One of those slap my forehead things that keep me humble.

I was sitting at my computer, deciding whether to go take a long walk or write a blog, when a friend texted me for help. I pulled on some dirty clothes and was pulling out of the driveway when I thought of something I might take to my daughter-in-law on the way. I opened the garage door, looked around and didn’t find it and didn’t touch anything, got in the car in the driveway & pushed the garage door control. The door stopped part way down. Rather than get out of the car, I sat there making it go up and down until the door was coming down crooked and making terrible sounds. I found one problem – a folding table had slipped in the way – but that didn’t fix it. I was sure that it would correct itself, so sure that I keep making it worse.

After running my errand, I called my son-in-law to come across the street and help me get the door down until the repair people could get here tomorrow, because this is Sunday, of course. Well, dang it, the rollers on the garage door are gone, GONE, on one side, and caught in the runner on the other, so it won’t go down. This could mean a whole new garage door since I tend to go to worst case scenario in these kind of matters. We covered the crap inside my garage with tarps until help arrives.

Driving to sit with a vomiting grandchild, because who doesn’t love to do that, I thought my car air conditioner was broken because it was blowing hot, HOT, air on me. I don’t know how it fixed itself, but it did. That left me to think about my day tomorrow. The carpet cleaners are scheduled, which I don’t do often enough and which means I have to move a lot of stuff in the areas where they will be cleaning. Not the big furniture, just all the other stuff, a lot of stuff.

And my garage is full of stuff, a lot of stuff, too. And how will they get in there to fix the garage door? I can see having to move some of that stuff, which I just moved in an effort to clean it out and then brought in more stuff to help out a friend.

All I can say is that it’s a beautiful day outside and I’m going to let that rule my day rather than thinking about the stupid things I do that make me roll my eyes at myself. I’m sure there are people who think I’m pretty smart, but I’m not one of them at the moment.

But, HEY! I feel better just sharing this with you. Just telling the story makes me laugh. I’ve had worse things happen to me. My family is ok except for the vomiting grandchild and it’s beautiful outside and most things are good. That’s the best we can hope for some days. I think I’ll have some ice cream…

The days roll by quickly and you don’t realize it’s that time of year again except for the sad feeling that comes out of nowhere. The winter months are my time of grieving, no matter how much I try to ignore it. I lost my husband in March one year and my son in January of another and my heart remembers and my brain starts unreeling memories when I least expect it.

It’s not that I sit around crying because there are so few tears left and I’ve developed a new perspective on life and death through the years. I understand that we don’t all have long lives and I’m grateful for every day, every year. But grief has no rules and we each do it our own way. I don’t criticize anyone, we all just get through it. When my husband died, a friend told me that it never gets better, it just gets more bearable. True dat. (I love that expression!)

So for the past couple of weeks, there’s been that nagging feeling and recognition of what it is and random memories, good and bad, that may happen at any time during the year, but that flood me at this time. I drive by the hospital almost daily and usually don’t think about it, but sometimes my brain fast forwards through a lifetime of memories of births and surgeries and deaths until I can stop it. Sirens will randomly trigger memories of 911 calls to try and save my loved ones. My cell phone ringing early in the morning next to my bed always makes me jump, remembering the call that morning, my son’s mother-in-law telling me he had died in his sleep. I can see my lost ones everywhere in this city where we lived and loved, memories are everywhere.

With all the triggers that could make me sad, there are so many others that make me smile. I still have a slide show of my son’s life that plays on my computer when it turns off so there are images that flash randomly from his life. There are his friends who keep up with me on Facebook and will post a picture or a memory, filling in a blank in his life, letting me see him again through other’s eyes. There are things around the house that he made or he gave me that I may walk by and not notice all the time, but when I do, I remember.

My son’s name was Clayton, or Clay, a family name, a name that pops up surprisingly often. The summer after my son died, I was driving into Clayton, New Mexico. As we got closer to the town, there was sign after sign, rushing by me in a blur, all with the word Clayton on them. It was a nonstop jolt to my senses. When we stopped at the light in town, I turned to my right and saw this window.

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There are towns named Clay or Clayton, street names, such as this one in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

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I stopped behind a truck recently with Clayton in large letters across the back. I went through a town in Texas with my daughter-in-law, past a company named Clayton, with banners along the road saying Clayton, Clayton, Clayton. I never fail to notice. I like to think he’s saying Hi.

If people asked me if it’s harder to lose a spouse or a child, I would hesitate. I lost both to cancer, so there was nothing too sudden about watching them deteriorate. I grieved greatly for my husband, my heart broke, but that loss taught me so much about life, death, and myself to prepare me for the next great loss, just as the loss of my grandparents and my parents and friends along the way taught me. It didn’t make it easier, it just put it more into perspective.

I’d like to get angry about it, but that would be pretty self serving. After all, I look around me every day and see others who have lost loved ones. If you live long enough, you lose someone you love. It’s the way life works, so gird up, girl. You’re just like everyone else and your loss is no greater than theirs. It just gives you more compassion, more understanding of how great our losses are. And, it gives you more gratitude for what we have.

Losing someone has a ripple effect in the lives of that person. I lost my son, his wife lost her husband, their daughter lost her father, my daughters lost their brother, their children lost their uncle, their husbands lost their brother-in-law, his friends lost a friend, and the world lost another soul, every loss great really in the scheme of things.

Last summer, I went to New Orleans for the first time in years, returning to a city with so many fun memories. My in-laws lived there for many years and our family spent time in the French Quarter as often as possible. The streets were familiar and full of my personal images, my own loving ghosts. I could see my son, when we visited for the 1984 World’s Fair, standing by a pole, dressed in one of his usual uniquely Clayton outfits. I’m sure he wanted to break loose from us and explore, which he was able to do in his teens. He loved this city, the place he honeymooned in later years.

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And there was the memory of my son and husband, poking each other and try to make each other laugh, as they posed for one of my favorite pictures, taken in New Orleans years later.

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I wish I had words of wisdom, words to comfort others. You take comfort in your memories, in the solace of others, in nature. You never know what words will be the ones that help. At my son’s memorial, one of his college friends commented, “He just burned so brightly.” She didn’t know how that comment has warmed me through these years. And helped me put his life into perspective. Funny how that comment leaped out at me, how I hung onto it. Irene probably doesn’t even remember saying it, although she’s a songwriter, so she may. We grab for whatever comforts us and hang onto it for life support.

I am comforted by my daughters and their families, by my daughter-in-law and my son’s daughter, now four. They breathe life into my life and keep me focused. He lives on through his family, his friends, and especially that little girl, so much like him in all his impishness and so uniquely herself. She’s hard to ignore and makes us all smile. We smile at her and for ourselves, because she helps us understand that we are all part of this earth and we have our time here with no way of knowing how long that will be. We need to cherish every day.

Dang it. I can try to be philosophical about it, but I miss my son, my husband. I miss hearing them, hugging them, laughing with them. Sometimes I do a double take when I see someone who has a slight resemblance or walks a certain way and there’s a dim flicker of hope before I remember. I wish they were here to see the family grow, to share with us. I wish they’d had more time with us. There are things I want to tell them, so I do. Why not? Grief is an everlasting process at best.

For those who are grieving, for those who have lost loved ones and think how lucky I am, you’re right. I’ve had so many happy memories and have so many loved ones near me and I’m very aware that for others, it’s not that easy. They may have lost the only person in their life and I can’t even imagine what that’s like. Some people on this earth live their life without a day of happiness and I have so much.

I’m not sure about that saying that God gives you no more than you can handle. There was a news story several years ago that stuck with me, that helps me put my whole life into perspective. After a horrific earthquake in Turkey, there was an image of a woman sitting by the rubble. She had lost 18 members of her family, her home and her business. I don’t think there was anyone left. I think of her often. How did she ever stand up? How did she ever put one foot in front of the other? Who reached out to her? Surely someone lifted her up. Her world died that day, but she didn’t. Where did she find strength? Or did she? I still think of her and hope that she somehow managed to survive that unbelievable loss, that she found a way to face the unimaginable. I wonder what I would have done, where I would be.

As I remember my own lost loved ones, I also try to remember I’m not the only one out there. None of our losses are greater than those of others. They all hurt. All we can do is always remember, always reach out, always love. Nobody ever said life was easy.