Category Archives: Personal

A Mix Of Things

One of the benefits of having hundreds of extra full-size candy bars is that it is easy to reward the growing list of delivery people showing up at the house. It’s rare for a driver to respond without appreciation as I hand them a couple of candy bars. It’s like a tip, except it’s for people we wouldn’t normally tip. If I were left to my own devices, I think I would have a basket of chips, cookies, and candy bars – and let the driver choose. If you’re interested in experimenting with it, I recommend you give it a try. It’s a benefit to the driver and it will lift your spirits a little. It might make the driver make a little more effort for your deliveries in the future.

Note: I have hundreds of full-size candy bars. But I haven’t eaten a candy bar in at least seven months.

Potato chips are a bigger risk than candy bars ever will be. The easier method to deal with temptation is to simply not have unhealthy snack choices in the house. I can’t make that decision for everyone, even if the presence of ‘real’ chips is akin to a bag of cocaine lying on the counter. The same is true for real cheese of any kind.

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I visited a Dollar General store the other day. As I often do, I grabbed a helium balloon from the party aisle, took it to a huge cemetery near my house, and let it go. This time, I wrote words on a scroll of paper, rolled it up, and tied it to the truncated balloon string. (Sort of like the “write-the-letter-you’ll-never send.”) I didn’t plan on getting a balloon that day. But the balloon corral on the ceiling was stuffed with innumerable balloons. I’ve done the balloon thing on and off my entire life. It’s a stupid bit of fun trying to see how long you can spot the balloon against the immense backdrop of the sky.

It was damn near impossible to take good pictures that day, being close to noon. The sun was relentlessly beating down, washing everything out in a bright pattern. I planned to park on the newer section but the caretaker was struggling to mow the 4,500-gravestone cemetery on that end. I walked out to a random section and took a couple of selfies. I noticed by coincidence that I was standing in front of one of tombstones of one of a friend’s grandparents. It gave me a laugh, the coincidence.

Recently, I told a therapist that I loathe the entire concept of burial, but that I love cemeteries. She laughed. We could have talked for four hours about the absurdity of our rituals. Cemeteries fascinate me. Not just the range of names and types of stones, but the idea that there are thousands of stories buried where I’m standing, lives as complicated as mine, and all of them extinguished.

Like the life on this eye-catching stone. Leonard “Cowboy” Kilpatrick. I could discover so much about his 37-year life. Were I to kick over a few clues, I have no doubt that I might find myself with a longer list of questions. He had a lot of siblings. Whenever I go deeply into someone’s story, one like Cowboy’s, it never fails that a strange series of revelations and coincidences would align. I’m still in awe of how many ways all of us are both separated and overlapping. I don’t find it macabre that we’re all marching toward oblivion, although the loss of so many stories continues to bother me.

I forgot how much I love the terse prose style of Robert Parker, and of his Jesse Stone character. Most people seem to know him from the CBS movies starring Tom Selleck. While Pat Conroy’s purple prose resonates in my heart, the stripped-down way Parker wrote fascinates me.

My cat Güino stares at me from his perch in the bedroom window. The sun is making sporadic appearances this afternoon. If the rays are bright enough, the prisms cast their rainbows around me. The absurd thickness of the pillow is amusing.

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Take a hard look at the circumstances and context of the words, “You’ve changed,” or “You’re not the person you used to be.” Clinically speaking, it is possible that the person saying this is saying it because you’ve stopped behaving in a way they want you to.

This isn’t necessarily an indictment of you – or the other person.

Sometimes, though, it is.

There’s no two ways about it. We all need to grow, change, adapt. Especially if any part of our behavior isn’t reflective of who we are or who we want to be.

I was asked to examine the phrase intensely: “You’re not the person you used to be.” It’s a therapy response. One of the things I came away with is this: IF someone says it to you in an emotional or angry way, it can’t be taken at face value. There’s no proper defense against it, and not just because all good adults change significantly.

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I almost forgot to start taking allergy medication again this season. Allergy medications confound my hunger response. And no matter what the packaging says, it causes both sluggishness and excitedness, no matter what it is supposed to do.

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Someone related to my deceased wife went back to prison for something related to her parole. I don’t have any details but it’s distracting and needless. A few years ago, I spent a lot of time trying to keep her connected to her old life and to imagine there was a reason to hold out hope. I can’t imagine going from living a normal life to being put back inside. She’s 26 with a young daughter.

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One of the objectives of me going to therapy is to figure out cognitively what shifted in me that makes it harder for me to sleep. I’ve never been one to require eight hours. But having gone through a phase where sleep evaded me taught me that it is very dangerous for me to go very few nights with inadequate sleep, especially less than five hours. I learned that it is stupid of me to try to make decisions or to hold conversations while in such a state. Trying to keep a sleep record is harder than it sounds, too.

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Regarding men on social media: As the tendency to post a profile picture of himself wearing sunglasses increases, so too do the odds he is a narcissist.

Corollary: the greater your resistance to this idea, the more likely that you tend to think such men are more attractive.

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I letter bombed Ford Motors. They chose to not do the right thing in regard to a failed transmission with my Ford Focus, which had only 55K miles on it. I bombarded their social media people first. When that went nowhere, I shifted to a comprehensive letter containing the history of the failed transmission design and my involvement. I mailed that letter to several different people within the company. It was like the old days, when “Letters From A Nut” was something I aspired to. I finally got a tepid response back from Ford. Just like Andy Dufresne did in “Shawshank Redemption,” once he got his foot in the door with the bean counters, he started writing TWO letters a week. After all, what is it really going to cost me to try to get Ford to do the right thing? Shame on Ford. Callous behavior is expected of large impersonal corporations, of course. But that’s why I shouldn’t take it personally: they screw everyone equally. Or mostly equally. There’s comfort in that.

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I bet you will find something interesting in this article:

https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2021/04/deep-friendships-aristotle/618529/

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UnderWhere

Some milestones are preposterous. The one I reached today is both ridiculous and noteworthy: I bought new underwear. It’s not a life event, the act of buying new underwear. But it can make you feel markedly different, especially if you fail to put on pants while wearing them. It’s best to skip over any accidental mental image the last joke might have inspired.

Not to be stylish or because my other underwear was old and worn; quite the contrary. My last set of underwear was remarkably new, at least on a timeline representing men’s underwear. There are two types of men: those who need stylish and updated underwear and those who change underwear with each new president. (If they’re lucky.) As I do with my socks, I buy an entirely new set when I buy them, discarding all the old ones. It’s quite the ritual, one that people mock until they try it.

It hasn’t been that long since I replaced all my underwear. I did it because I had lost so much weight and size that I floated in them. The same is true today. I put off buying another set, as it seemed stupid and wasteful. (But not ‘waistful.’ Ha! I just added ‘waistful’ to my dictionary.) For reasons unknown to me, a woman at work said, “Hey, you look amazing!” as I retrieved a diet soda from the case. We briefly chatted, and I shared my deep secret of weight loss with her. (Don’t open your mouth so often.) She told me I was starting to look invisible, and she wished me luck in the future. She’s older, so she well knows that the yo-yo effect is no laughing matter, especially as we age.

Almost all my clothing is different now, over the last several months. It didn’t occur to me that I might need to downsize underwear twice during the process.

The picture on this post is of me wearing another vest. This one makes me look a bit pastorish for reasons that are hard to pinpoint. (I added ‘pastorish’ to my dictionary, too, because I am one of the millions of owners of this language we share.)

It’s hard to believe that I had trouble tucking in my shirt six months ago.

It’s even harder to believe I let myself stay fat for so long. I’m still processing why that was the case.

But for today, it’s new underwear – and bragging about it on the internet. Some people run marathons. The rest of us take our small victories where we can get them.

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“Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”
― Mark Twain

A Cure For Insomnia

Serious question: which vehicle do you suppose is mine? 🙂

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One of the lesser-known laws from the Murphy collection…

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“I’m sorry I hurt your feelings when I called you stupid. I really thought you already knew.” – This one is for anyone needing a scathing insult. Someone used it on me and I laughed.

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The cold surprises me. What a great morning for an early morning walk, though. You’ll note my awesome command of both my phone’s camera and photography in general in this photo.

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The Transformation of Downtown Springdale

It was an unexpectedly cold morning. Even so, tulips were everywhere downtown, giving me splashes of color in bursts as I walked. It was beautiful to witness so many installations of canopy and outdoor lights in alleys and nooks and crannies.

There are places in Downtown Springdale that startle you with a mix of form and function. If the right people are involved, this could be amazing. I’m hoping that color finds a better home here.

Downtown Springdale is substantially different than it was a year ago. Entire blocks and buildings have surrendered to history, while others sprouted in their wake. It feels like the area is awakening. Even as the national economy falters, it’s difficult to miss the fact that Downtown64 (as it should be called, by the way) is the focus of a lot of energy and attention. Art, storefront displays, food, outdoor dining/drinking, public spaces, the Apollo Events Center, a trail, bike shops, lofts/apartments off Emma, a marathon, murals, and outdoor dining events; the area is markedly different than it once was. That’s a good thing.

The Arts Center of the Ozarks, often overlooked. Even though the picture is blurry, I’m leaving it, if only because I didn’t have my glasses on when I took the picture.

One of the many murals showing up all over Springdale. If I had a say, every wall would be covered in color and beauty.

Perhaps the ugliest logo in human history. Not quite the ugliest, but I still hate how this logo somehow made it through the process of becoming the city’s logo.

Don Guero’s is no Mr. Taco Loco, but it adds flavor to Emma.

Out of the last several times I’ve dined out, it’s been on Emma. Fair or not, living in East Springdale isn’t conducive to fine dining.

The one thing that is missing for me is a coffee shop for early morning. Such a place would bring visitors to Emma at an earlier hour. As the number of people working near Emma increases, it is inevitable. The question is who’ll realize the pull of such a place first. Art economies require copious amounts of both alcohol and caffeine. I included Bike Rack’s picture because the hours posted on the door don’t coincide with them being open. Trailside Coffee inside the Phat Tire Bike Shop is the other competitor, located off of Shiloh Square and Turnbow Park. Maybe we’ll get back to normal when the pandemic is over.

Speaking of ‘open hours,’ the barbershop adjacent to the Apollo had the same problem the other morning. Unless the clientele is vampire-oriented, someone forgot to turn the light off by 4 a.m.

That is a fox in the middle of the picture. I heard yipping and scampering behind me for at least a minute. I assumed it was a dog following me. It wasn’t. It was Mr. Fox. He was mostly unafraid of me. I took the picture near the intersection of Grove and Quandt, where the vacant church that should be a private residence sits. Years ago, I lived on Grove Street, near the Arts Center of the Ozarks.

I like Emma much, much better now that someone wisely installed multiple 4-way stops and mostly eliminated the one-way street nonsense that once plagued downtown.

Taken from the creekside portion of the trail approaching Huntsville Avenue.

Many people are unaware that there are loft apartments above James & James off Emma.

Storefront art installations; this one is across from The Odd Soul and Mr. Taco Loco on Emma.

Small house tucked away near the Apollo Theater. I love such residences, along with upper story apartments and condos in urban areas. A smart developer built a row of apartments near the old Washington Elementary building past the Community Clinic and near the Jones Center. I think it’s brilliant. (Little Emma apartments) They look sleek and modern. The picture I snapped of them looked terrible.

The old Layman building property. Except for the corner on Water Street, the entire block is gone. For Springdale residents, the absence of anything here is striking.

… as does the block that once held the Bank of American and HelpCard building, along the railroad excursion depot.

If you’re interested, you can still go back to 2007 using Google Streetview and ‘drive’ the old Emma and its old buildings. It’s worth the time to do so if that sort of thing interests you.

No matter how you feel about the changes to Downtown Springdale, you should prepare yourself for ongoing transformation. Millions of dollars will continue to funnel through this corridor. I predict it will be both functional and beautiful. That Springdale is building its new Criminal Justice Center within pitching distance of the Shiloh Museum and Turnbow Park is genius. It anchors downtown and adds an element of safety to visitors. It’s possible to walk for thirty minutes and witness millions of dollars of investment happening right in front of us.

If you’re a fan of Springdale, I recommend that you walk the area when other people are still asleep. It’s another world an done conducive to discovering new things about our common geography.

P.S. You’ll discover things about yourself, too.

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https://www.springdalear.gov/595/Downtown-Springdale

https://www.downtownspringdale.org/

https://www.facebook.com/DowntownSpringdale/

Unsolicited Advice

The anonymous internet sent me this message today:

“When you start advancing, moving toward goals, shit is going to get broken. Things will go wrong because your new behavior will disrupt the status quo and the routine you’ve previously lived. All of that is who you used to be and reality hasn’t caught up to the fact that you’re not going to be that same person. As you change, especially when the results kick in, the disruption will increase. Most of us judge that disruption to mean that we chose the wrong goals or we’ve chosen incorrectly. And then we often go backward. In the aftermath of anything positive, the result always looks like it was inevitable. But while we’re living it, it seems like the disruption (if not chaos) is a sign we’re doing it wrong or doing the wrong thing. All progress, personal or otherwise, makes a mess.”

Oops, I Did It Again!

I foolishly decided to go to one of the home improvement stores after work. I opted to go to the one that isn’t a mission impossible to enter or exit the parking lot. Walking and looking for an item via the “it will magically appear in front of you if you wander long enough” method, I trailed behind a 50-something white male. His mask was in his hand, not that I cared. He had already told someone to “F-off” when they asked him to pull his mask up from his neck. Being the mature citizen that he is, he not only didn’t pull it up but yanked it off defiantly, probably to imaginary applause in his head.

For this story, I’ll call him Randy. He looked like a Randy more than any Randy in the history of the world. If your name is Randy, and you’re reading this, write me off as a jerk in your head.

Coming past the paint aisle, I noted that store employees had reduced the walkway space arbitrarily by placing pallets of things that no one possibly wanted to buy. Randy had one hand on his cart, pushing it. The other arm swung exaggeratedly as he walked; it swung almost cartoonishly. Coming from the other direction, I saw a woman walking with her presumed son. She held his left hand with her right. He was about eight. I am not sure what ethnicity or nationality she was.

Randy saw them approaching and precipitously moved to the wrong side of the walkway. The woman moved over without looking directly up. Randy swung his arm even wider. The mom pulled her son as close to her as she could and slowed. Randy ran into the son with a glancing blow. Instead of addressing her, he sneered, “Get the eff out the way, boy, that’s not how we do it here.” After he passed, I stopped and looked back. The mom pulled her son to her and gave him a quick hug. The hurt look on his face turned to a smile. The mom whispered something to him that I couldn’t understand.

Randy didn’t know it, but he was about to experience a bit of shenanigans, courtesy of me. I followed him to the area by the lights. He left his cart in the middle of the aisle (of course) and went down the shorter lengthwise aisle with the rakes. I grabbed his cart and took off, walking away with it, laughing as I did so. I left it two aisles over and put a bucket in it so that it looked like it belonged to an absent shopper. I returned to the area by the lights and watched. A minute later, Randy popped out of the rake aisle, looking for his cart. He turned in two complete circles. Cursing under his breath, he high-stepped his way through the entrance and grabbed another cart. His movements were angry and ridiculous.

At this point, I should have disengaged and left. That, however, wasn’t possible for me. I casually followed Randy back around the rear of the store. Randy left his cart by electrical and went down the aisle. He could still see the cart had he turned. He didn’t turn, though. Without thinking, I grabbed the cart, wheeled around, raced down six aisles, and left the second cart sitting out of sight. I kept myself from laughing as I walked back toward Randy.

Before I could see Randy, I heard someone shout, “Where is my @#$damned cart?!” He was furious this time. Because I had on my work badge, I turned the corner and politely asked, “Are you okay, sir?” Randy said, “No, @#$damnit, I’m not. I’ve had two carts taken from me in less than five minutes.” Because I was already neck-deep in this one, I offered to get him another cart. “Yeah, do that,” he said. I walked to the front of the store and retrieved another (his third) cart from the entrance, and took it back to him. People often mistake me for a store employee because of the way I dress. Now that I tuck my shirt in, it happens with greater frequency than ever.

Randy put a couple of items in the cart, and without saying “Thank you,” he turned and went the length of the store. I found my adhesive and walked through the outdoor area. It was there I encountered the woman and her son, both of whom were talking to the presumed husband and father of Randy’s victims.

In a flash of inspiration, I knew that my afternoon of tomfoolery wasn’t over. As all of you who know me are aware, I always carry flashcards and a permanent marker on me. They are perfect for notes, reminders, doodling, and all manner of communication.

I stood next to a stack of fans and wrote on one of the flashcards: “I saw what you did. Don’t be a jackass, especially to children. Good day!”

I decided that if I saw Randy in the store again, I would find a way to put the card in his cart. I knew it was a risk.

I walked the length of the store and saw that Randy was still inside. I laughed and tried to convince myself to leave and be satisfied with my efforts to that point. Instead, I walked toward Randy. He stood near the tool aisle, looking fixedly at a power tool. He was about ten feet away from his cart. Since he had placed several items in it, I doubt he was concerned about a THIRD stolen cart.

Before losing my nerve, I placed the flashcard I wrote on face-up in the top portion of his basket, pivoted like a ballerina, and marched away from him at a breakneck pace.

It’s true that I desperately wanted to see his face when he read the flashcard. I’m dumb, but not stupid. I didn’t turn until I was back in the outdoor area. The woman and her family were checking out at the outdoor register. As they left, I paid for my three or four items, laughing.

I sat in my car for ten minutes, hoping to get a glimpse of Randy. He didn’t exit the store while I waited.

While my tomfoolery didn’t improve the world any, I felt immensely better.

Love, X

Under a Filtered Sun

This afternoon, I waited and sat in the shade of a leafless tree, and read the handwritten copy of Ecclesiastes that Mary Emma transcribed for me some seven years ago. The sky above me was clear, blue, and reminded me that serene as it is, it masks a volatile and unpredictable world. It’s still my favorite book, in part because not even scholars can agree whether it is highly optimistic or pessimistic, coherent or incoherent. It is not a religious text. Each time I read it, I realize that I’ve become a different person and interpret its optimism and pessimism in equal doses.


And I read Mary Emma’s passage from John I that she added: …”the light shines on in darkness, a darkness that did not overcome it.”


I sat in the filtered sun and read. And pondered.


It’s amazing the big circle that life places us in.


All those years ago, when I asked her to write it for me, I could not have imagined the place and time I’d find myself in today. I hope her world has blossomed into a spectacle for her, too. .

The Day Of The Last Word

He turned to look back at the table. He didn’t remember resolving to leave the note there; he supposed instinct had taken over. The note remained on the table, face up, its small blue script unreadable from several feet away. The tone was etched in his heart. The specific words written there could have been redacted to contain a single word: pitiless.

He resignedly shrugged, turned, pulled up his mask, and exited the restaurant. He’d been callously reminded that life seldom follows one’s expectations and that the cliché regarding risk sometimes had real fangs with which to pierce us. Even when guided by our best and most noble intentions, life sometimes holds no discernible reward. “Intentions don’t change consequences,” he whispered to himself. It had become a mantra for him, as his resolve and confidence dissolved into confusion and hurt.

As he departed, a weight lifted from his body, one he hadn’t realized he still carried. Words hold no power without our minds to empower them. Some words are talismans and should be kept carefully. Or released, along with the power they may hold. The letter was the latter. It might as well have been blood-stained.

He looked up into the light rain as it fell past the awning overhanging the facade of the eatery. The skies were grey, but he didn’t notice. His pace quickened as he crossed the brilliant white crosswalk.

He hadn’t learned any lessons, other than that of his own naiveté. There would be no moral of the story, no exhumed realizations, no voiceover takeaway in his head. Just a series of lurches as things unraveled and as entropy exerted its morbid control over things. Even when a person realizes he’s on the wrong path, he can’t always turn and walk the path back to safety. The road is often invisible, unpassable, or closed. And sometimes lined by savages with rocks aimed at your head, seeking revenge for a crime you’ve already paid for. Sometimes, we throw rocks at ourselves.

“Me,” the note was signed.

Indeed.

It was a fitting last word of communication between them.

For all the reasons.

Somewhere, perhaps in a day, week, or month, he knew he’d look up and find himself again. The autopsy of moments would conclude. From time to time he might wonder what it all had meant. As time’s fog rolled in, the question would lose focus and recede into history.

Time is the kindest revisionist, giving us space to maneuver our heads around our stumbles, fumbles, and falls.

We learn our lessons in reverse. And sometimes, there is no new lesson, other than accepting that life is going to throw inside curveballs with surprising frequency, no matter who you are or the choices you’ve made.

He laughed as he neared his car. It wasn’t exactly true, that part of learning no lesson. He pulled out the notes shoved in his jacket pocket. There they were: “Don’t be a dumbass,” and “Choose your hard.” He hadn’t worked out the formula for which might take predominance in his life but he knew that both would mold his choices as he moved forward.

It occurred to him that he should tattoo the ‘dumbass’ one on his arm as a constant reminder – and then he wondered if the temptation to do just that was an affirmation that it wouldn’t stop him from continuing to be one.

He would do nothing, and that would be perfect.

Time would have to wash over him and hopefully remove the detritus of dumbassery from his shoulders.

And if not, life always moves forward, carrying us into unseen corridors.

He could work with that.

And if not, life didn’t ask for his opinion.

My Story

Periodically, I take the time to write about writing.

The safest writing rule is: “Don’t.”

Everyone who writes struggles to avoid deliberately hurting people when they write. Most writers incorporate bits and bites, if not from whole cloth, from their lives. Good people don’t intentionally stab at others if it can be avoided. Good people also take a breath and consider that they might be filtering the words in a way that’s unintended.

I write stories that combine disparate elements of life. There have been times when I’ve written a story that is one hundred percent fiction and still had people criticize me for ‘stealing their stories.’ In others, I hide the truth in plain sight, as is the case with the stolen baby story, or the one about the vengeful abused girl who grew up to exact her revenge. People share a lot of secrets with me. I am grateful and don’t set out to repay that sharing by hurting them.

It is possible that people will personalize some of the writing. This happens even when their story wasn’t in my head when I wrote it.

That’s part of the reason I remind people to stop raising their hands if they think I’m talking about them.

Chances are, I am not.

Either way, raising your hand or objecting instantly removes the doubt as to whether my writing applies to you. Or more succinctly, that you think it does. (It becomes self-identification.)

While everything that happens to me is fair game for me to write about, anyone who reads what I write should easily see that I am judicious in my restraint and especially so for current shenanigans and goings-on. Time always morphs our initial reactions. We need time to process events; though the immediate ‘take’ we have gives us insight, so too does the passage of time.

I could be fearless and accountable to no one and spew out a wildly true and interesting blog. But it would also result in needless anger, harm, and hurt feelings. That similarity to shouting in anger does have its payoffs – but the consequences to the payoffs are invariably bad and reveals our lesser selves. I fail sometimes to take enough time to consider. Don’t we all? I try not to. But it is critical to understand that we all own our own stories.

So, if you read my blog, you’re going to have to trust that what I post is well-considered, even if ridiculous.

I would write a list of recent “I thought he was talking about” stories, but there are too many.

To be absolutely clear: it is possible that I’m being an asshole and that it isn’t your imagination. If that is communicated to me, I will probably rectify the confusion or applicability. Contrary to what many people think, being an obtuse asshole does not pay off in the long run. Or conversely, I could tell the story in its unvarnished form.

Hey, I’m not perfect. Just give me some leeway here, okay?

Another Lemon Moment

I didn’t want to be awkward about it, but I needed the Lemon Moment in my head to become a reality.

As I wandered the aisles of Hobby Lobby, a dad with his daughter of about eight years of age wandered around near me. The girl asked a lot of questions. Her dad answered each of them attentively. Several times, she said, “Ooh, Mom would love this!” The dad then commented on the price and calculated how much of a predetermined amount might be left for the girl to spend as she pleased. It seemed evident to me that it was a ritual they often practiced.

Everything about the way they talked and interacted told me that they loved each other. The girl smiled often, and the dad wasn’t distracted by his schedule, phone, or other people.

On a whim, I took out my stack of index cards and wrote, “You don’t have to say anything. Take this $20 and surprise your daughter with something whimsical. And pay it forward? – X” On the next aisle, the dad and daughter meandered up the aisle toward me. I sat the index card on the shelf with the $20 bill. As the dad approached, I pointed at the index card. He reached to pick it up, reading it. His eyes jumped up to mine as I pulled my mask down and smiled. “Y’all are great together!” The dad said nothing as I walked away, though he smiled.


Whatever he might have thought, my Lemon Moment became a reality.

I wish I had a thousand dollars to reward them. I know they’d appreciate it and undoubtedly use some or all of it to surprise Mom, wherever she was. Somehow, I knew that they shared a lot of moments together.

Love, X