Just Breathe

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky.  Conscious breath is my anchor.”–Thich Nhat Hanh 


“Yeah I’m a lucky man/ To count on both hands/ The ones I love . . . Stay with me/ Let’s just breathe . . .” as performed by Pearl Jam, lyrics by Eddie Veder


“Now, what was I going to do?” 


I was talking to myself, but loud enough for one of my EW! (Elevate Writing) Club members to overhear me.


“Mrs. Hill, just do what I do when I can’t remember what I wanted to do.  Sit down and say, ‘I am breathing. I am living. I am me.’”


“Hmm, Amanda, I am impressed,” I replied.  “Does it work for you?”


“Aw, I just made it up here on the spot.  But, it sounded good, huh?”


She turned back to her writing as I froze at the profound wisdom this 13 year old had just so casually tossed my way.


“I am breathing. I am living. I am me.




I hastily jotted down the words before I forgot them, and then rolled them forward in my mind as a kid rolls a kickball toward a kicker in a game. Unfortunately, it was Friday afternoon, my EW! students were good-heartedly, but loudly, teasing one another as they wrote, and so it was a strike–at least for the moment–as my tired and distracted brain could not connect with the words.  Still, I tucked the yellow sticky- note in my school bag for later retrieval once home. 


In fact, as soon as I was home, I placed that sticky-note on my kitchen table, so that I would be reminded of those words for the next few days.  Throughout the weekend, though, my mind, along with my body, was rushing about. Laundry seemed to be overflowing. Errands needed to be ran. There were meetings to attend, groceries to get, and a nearly forgotten, nearly overflowing cat litter box that pretty much summed up my mindset when I finally got around to cleaning it.  That, of all places, was when it hit me.


“I am breathing. I am living. I am me.


I reflected over the discussions I often lead at the start of the yoga classes I teach.  How frequently have I stated the importance of the breath as a reminder of the presence of God in our life. Our breath, like our heart beat, is automatic.  Both the breath and the heartbeat occur without us ever thinking about them–pulsating and filling our life with living energy. What a marvelous miracle that is in and of itself! 


calm blue sea during golden hour
Photo by Sasha Martynov on Pexels.com


In yoga, the breath is often referred to as prana, a Sanskrit word that means “vital life force.” It allows us to bring in vital energy and expel out that which does not sustain life.  In yoga practice, the breath is often considered, “the anchor,” the “thing” to come back to–to refocus upon–when the mind begins to wander into thoughts rather than clearing. Stooped as I was, looking down at the waste that needed to be removed from the litter box, it occured to me that perhaps my own mind needed to return to its anchor.


“I am breathing. I am living. I am me.


As I went through the motions of scooping and cleaning, I began to slow down my breath and simultaneously attempted to clear my own racing thoughts. I began to reflect on a story for which I had asked my mom earlier in the day.


“Tell me about Papaw Musick,” I had asked her.


Papaw Musick alongside my Mamaw as they proudly hold their newborn son, my Dad, Larry Musick.


He was my paternal grandfather who passed away not long after I was born.  Asking my mom’s impressions about her former father-in-law may have seemed odd, but we were talking about the closing of a local facility, Bellefonte Hospital, which had been the sight of care for many of my loved ones who have now passed on to their heavenly home.  For whatever reason, our conversation made me think of Papaw Musick, and before I had time to think, I had blurted out those words. 


My mom smiled immediately. 


“Oh, he was a good man, Steph. He was just crazy about you,” and she proceeded to share a few sweet anecdotes.


Papaw Musick holding/feeding newborn me


Reflecting on mom’s stories of the small, but stout man who I never really knew, but who once held and cradled me in his arms, tears momentarily filled my eyes.  In fact, I was reminded of one of my favorite photos of him in which he is doing that very thing with my tiny newborn body while holding my a bottle. 


Mamaw Musick with me at her house, 1-2 years after Papaw Musick had passed. I remember Mamaw once telling me that Papaw Musick had always wanted a daughter, so he was happy that his first grandchild was a girl.


I am fairly certain that I have Papaw Musick’s large rib cage, as does my Dad, and I further suspect that I have his shoulders and arms–again, like my Dad. I also have the Musick eyes, like my Dad and siblings; and yet, like my mother, I have my Grandmother’s face and lower body shape.  I talk with my hand like the Slaters, my maternal family; but I have the Musick volume; and, both sides of my family gave me the love of Appalachian food and the power of a good story. In fact, without both the Slater and Musick clans coming together, I may not have ever met my husband and shared my life with the Hill/Moore family and . . .


My Dad and me when was about two or so.


I was overcome with emotion at all of these thoughts, so I stood up and walked through our home thinking of what a miracle my life, and all lives for that matter, truly are.  As a child, I blamed myself for my parents’ ultimate difficulties. I used to think that if I had never been born, then they would not have been brought together. However, in that moment, it occurred to me that if there had not been a me, then there may not have been my brother and two sisters–for which I am continually grateful.  Which also means, there would not have been such a rich tapestry of relatives with all of their wonderful experiences and stories that now connect me to distant states such as California, Texas, Louisiana, Virginia, Florida, and others, in spite of all of us being rooted, at one time, in Kentucky.


My brother, Scott, top center; my sister, Traci, left; me right; and our baby sister, Rachel, bottom center.


“I am breathing. I am living. I am me.


Thank you Mom and Dad for the gift of my life.  I hate that your married life, while I was growing up (and I suspect, you too, were likewise growing), was so challenging and difficult.  However, there is not a doubt in my mind that you loved us. Despite those trying times, you still provided me with many rich memories, stories, recipes, and the love of extended family for which I am thankful.  


I hope that one day, I will meet Pappaw Musick, and all those who have gone before me, and perhaps hold them all in some form of an eternal embrace.


I am not sure Amanda knew the inspirational power of the words she shared with me, but I certainly do appreciate that I was there to hear to them. *****


Amanda Day, an eighth grader at St. Joseph Catholic Middle School, is also an EW! Club member, writer extraordinaire, and the source of inspiration for this piece.

img_0620  Sigh, just breathe.

The Lesson of The Little Prince

“One runs the risk of weeping a little, if one lets oneself be tamed…”Antoine de Saint-Exupéry


“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry


          “If you love a flower which happens to be on a star, it is sweet at night to gaze at the sky. All the stars are a riot of flowers.”Antoine de Saint-Exupéry




My love for children’s and young-adult literature is no secret. As a veteran educator with nearly 35 years of classroom experience, books have centered at the heart of what I do.  In fact, books are quite typically the unifying thread that binds, and has bound, the vast majority of lessons I teach. Good literature has the power to inspire lessons in geography, math, biology, physics, history, politics, psychology, sociology, and so much more. Additionally, a great story can even offer a life lesson, or two, that pulls at the readers’ hearts and challenges the reader to reflect, contemplate, and evaluate both their internal world as well as their external actions.


Many years ago, I was once asked, during an interview, to name my favorite book.  To this date, though I do not recall for what I was being interviewed, I vividly remember my response, Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White, and the stinging silence that followed.  Afterwards, I remember inwardly cringing because I am certain, given the context of whatever adult-situation in which I found myself, the interviewer made certain assumptions about me–namely, I must not be very bright and/or well-read. 




Later, I thought of all of the phenomenal and influential novels I have read for which I could have responded, making me sound, at the very least, more mature–and certainly more well-read–than the beloved children’s classic.  Still, E.B. White penned a story in 1952 with two strong female characters who saved a life, motivated by their passionate desire to rid the world of a wrongful death. More importantly, White’s characters illustrate to readers what it means to live a compassionate and loving life, how to develop and foster lasting relationships, and, in the end, how to sacrifice one’s self to the greater good of another–even if that means letting go and saying goodbye.


I was reminded of this interviewer’s question from the 1990s when I overheard a piece on public radio regarding inspiring spiritual books that aren’t, per se, considered “religious,” but still offer readers lessons for the soul.  While I was not able to listen to the entire piece, it was of interest to me that of the six or so titles that were recommended, at least three of those titles were considered children or young-adult literature. Huh, maybe I was on to something years ago and only now is the rest of the world catching up to me!



Two of the juvenile titles, I had read within recent years, but one title, The Little Prince, by Antoine De Saint-Exupéry, I was not sure if I had read or not.  I felt as if I had, but memory, like the morning fog rising above the Ohio River, fades as time passes. The person being interviewed on the radio stated that it was this particular book that continues to help him in times of grief.  That was all it took, and I decided in that moment to read–or perhaps, reread–this classic.   



They make me wonder where you are


Up on heaven’s boulevard . . .”–Grace Potter


There is a song, written by Grace Potter, and performed by Potter and the Nocturnals, for which I have found great comfort when missing a relative who has slipped their Earthbound chains.  While I suspect the song is actually about lost love, since the writer states she cannot look at the star without wondering where her former love is, her lyrics, instead, remind me of how I prefer to think the opposite.  Whenever I look at the night sky and see my friends, Orion, Libra, the Little Dipper, and even Mars and Venus–though they’re not stars–I am reminded of those I have lost. It often seems to me as if the twinkling of the stars is God’s way of allowing the heavenly souls to wink at those of us still bound to Earth’s gravity as if to say, “We are okay, and you are okay.  You’re welcome to join us, but there is no rush. Time is endless in the heavens.” 


blue and purple cosmic sky
Photo by Inactive. on Pexels.com


Ah, but I am a silly, ingenuous adult at my heart, I suppose.  Perhaps that is why from the very first chapter of The Little Prince I was transfixed.  The author’s opening scene describes, in great child-like detail, why the main character, an adult pilot, abandoned his budding career as an artist as a child due to grown-ups who could not understand his art; and therefore, the character was encouraged to pursue more serious matters such as, “geography, history, arithmetic, and grammar. “Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is exhausting for children to have to provide explanations over and over again.”  Thus, at the ripe old age of six, the main character begins to lose sight of matters of the heart and soul–which cannot be seen by the eye–until his plane crashes in the desert where upon he meets a Little Prince from another planet.


I can recall the nagging feeling, after that unknown interview, that has always nagged at me, if I am to be honest.  That feeling is called, “You, Stephanie, are not smart.” And while I do not want to create some glorified fictional version of my childhood–and adulthood, for that matter–I certainly can look back throughout the years and recognize my dreamy nature.  My desire, which is perhaps equal parts strength and Achilles heel, to go into my head, to dream, create, and think–really, heartfully, soulfully think–has always been my comfort, ally; and at times, has given me the ability to withstand certain difficult situations.  It is probably that very quality that makes me immensely sensitive, and perhaps ultimately, it is what called me to education. Then, again, perhaps this is my over-active imagination wanting to believe this. . .


It is often juvenile literature which challenges us to think deeply on matters of the heart.


What I do know is that I will no longer apologize for adoring children’s literature.  I have cried more real tears, felt more deeply, and have often been more motivated–upon reflection of a work–to evaluate and rethink my actions or motives due to well-written books geared for younger audiences.  My interviewer was merely, in the words of The Little Prince, a serious adult who could not see, or find value, in the matters of the heart and soul.  He could not look up at the stars and see what I see; he could not feel the depths of real love; the joy of true friendship; what it means to really sacrifice for another; and I am quite certain, he could not pick up a children’s book and allow himself to imagine, dream and grow.  And that, Dear Reader, is a sad story, for he is missing out on the joy of seeing heaven’s boulevard and other inner-worldly experiences.


May we all celebrate great books, even those written for the unfledged mind.




The Girl with the Pink Fuzzy Socks

“Hope is an adventure, a going forward, a confident search for a rewarding life.”–Dr. Karl Menninger


“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul–and sings the tunes without words–and never stops at all.”–Emily Dickinson


animal avian beak bird
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com



It was her pink fuzzy socks with the swath of white encircling the top of her long ankle that kept drawing my attention–well, the socks and her face–imploring, seeking, and open. Those socks spoke of youth, vibrancy, and a healthy need for warmth–except that the weather was quirky for winter and, on this particular day, the temperature was exceptionally warm.  Plus, this was a warm yoga class with the temperature set at 85 degrees. Still, it wasn’t unusual for people to prefer to practice yoga in socks rather than bare feet.


pink and white sock with pink flower hanging
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com


In direct contrast with the cute socks and her youthful visage framed by long locks, the shade of flax intermingled with goldenrod, were her eyes, that darted, jumped, and searched.  Her energy was frenetic and animated. It appeared that she spoke with the entirety of her body. In fact, she needed little invitation to talk as one small question seemed to release the valve to the unseen dam within her soul.


My level of empathy and compassion are part blessing and curse. When someone is truly suffering, I can feel it emanating off them as steam rises from the soup pot when the lid is removed.  With age, I have tried to learn to develop emotional bubble wrap, especially when faced with angry, negative, or heartbroken energy. Try as I might to seal myself insides off, like the scent of garbage drippings that cling to blacktop in the summer, long after the truck has collected the refuse, so often do other’s emotional dross sink into me leaving me affected for hours and even days.


Her socks reminded me of socks like my daughter likes to wear around the house, especially in the winter.



Thus, when the girl with the pink socks, that I shall name Sarah for the sake of this story, began talking, it was as if offshoots of her pain gradually began to stretch and grow within me.  Her story came out as quickly as an overturned cup of wine; and, just as swiftly as that proverbial glass of wine, it had rapidly and permanently stained her life. Without revealing too much, her husband had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer for which he had undergone one radical and brutal treatment after another. It had been exactly a year since his initial diagnosis, and now, she explained, hospice had been called in.  The couple wasn’t yet in their third decade of life, and they had two young children! 


As I write Sarah’s story, I can still feel her sadness and anxiety deeply within my gut. Sarah was taking a yoga class that I was teaching. It was a recent visit to her doctor that had prompted Sarah to yoga.  The doctor, she reported, wanted to prescribe numerous medications to help reduce her anxiety. Sarah had refused, and instead, decided to give yoga a try.


“My mind is never still.  It won’t settle; it is so restless. I can’t pray anymore.”


woman doing yoga pose on pink yoga mat
Photo by Burst on Pexels.com


She went on to explain that she was hoping that yoga would help her quiet her mind, so that she could, once more, meditate and pray.  Ironically, the theme of my class on that particular day was focused on the fact that health encompasses more than just the physical body, but it also includes the well-being of the mind and spirit. Additionally, I had planned to read a short passage explaining that one of the traditional purposes of yoga was not only to strengthen the body and make it more supple; but ultimately, to quiet the mind, so that afterwards, one could sit and meditate and/or pray for extended periods. After hearing her story, I just wasn’t sure if this was the appropriate way to proceed, but I decided to give a try anyway.


And while this is an imperfect story, just as life is also rarely defect-free, Sarah did sit still, if only for a few moments, at the end of class.  The other exercisers and I gathered around her afterwards. Sarah talked more, and we listened more. We looked at the pictures of her beautiful, and oh-so-young family.  One person typed the correct spelling of her husband’s name into her phone, so his name could be added to the prayer-list at her church.  


My daughter’s variation of pink, fuzzy socks.



Meanwhile, I still keep thinking of those fuzzy pink socks, and I am reminded of my own daughter who loves to wear those types of socks in the winter.  Like my own child, this young couple were once children of parents who loved and cared for them. How those parents must have envisioned their children’s future with such hope and promise.  Most likely, those same parents must have felt that same hope rising when the young couple were married, and even more so with the birth of each child–their precious grandchildren.


I can’t understand this story; I only feel the pain, the hidden hurt of this child with her pink fuzzy socks; the beautiful strands of  her wavy, tousled hair; her darting eyes; and all of her words–pouring out of her soul in search of the path of least resistance like excessive rain water travels down hill.  However, for this child–there is no path of least resistance–she traverses a path few would want to trudge.  



As I write her story, I think of all the events in my life for which I could complain, I could whine, and snivel.  In fact, I could write a tale or two of woeful, personal tragedy, but those stories would be nothing, nothing compared to Sarah with the pink socks.  Wherever she is, may she somehow be comforted, her pain lessened, and I further pray that her mind will find peace, so that she can focus on being a mom who is full of hopes and dreams for her own two children as well as herself.


aquatic bloom blooming blossom
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Welcome 2020 Bluegrass Style: Another visit to Lexington, KY

  “New year—a new chapter, new verse, or just the same old story? Ultimately, we write it. The choice is ours.” –Alex Morritt


“And now we welcome the new year. Full of things that have never been.”–Rainer Maria Rilke


Hosts Dawna and Dave added thoughtful touches to celebrate the New Year.



By now, it has become fairly clear that John, my husband, and I are truly enamoured with Lexington, KY.  Part of the reason could be due to the fact we both have family roots tied to the Bluegrass state. It could also be the part Appalachian/part southern hospitality that puts us at ease–including the great food.  Then again, it could be its size as Lexington is big enough to have a few “big city offerings,” and likewise small enough to not feel overwhelming. Plus, like home, it still has plenty of hills, farmland, and areas of natural beauty.


John and I are beginning to wear down a path from our home in Chesapeake, OH to Lexington, KY much like this worn path I discovered while walking the local neighborhood park in which our Airbnb rental was located.



Our previous Airbnb hosts, David and Dawna, had incentivized a return visit.  We had only recently stayed in their Uptown Retreat, a cozy accommodation perfect for couples, for a few days during Thanksgiving week.  Therefore, we made a fairly last minute decision to see if these same gracious hosts had a few days of availability for the New Year’s holiday.  As luck would have it, Uptown Retreat was not available, but The Corner Pocket, a larger two bedroom/two bath property–complete with pool table, was available, and a very reasonable price point.


The Corner Pocket comes complete with a pool table.
Jelly beans anyone? Complete with your own supply of pennies . . .winning!!!


While the rainy, chilly weather was a bit of a bummer, The Corner Pocket, did not disappoint!  It was meticulously clean with a full size, fully stocked updated kitchen. As they did with their Uptown Retreat property, David and Dawna offered plenty of thoughtful touches to make renters feel right at home, including plenty of snacks, coffee, tea, toys for kids, cards/games for all ages, three large flatscreen TVs with access to all your favorite subscription channels, plenty of paper and toiletry products, and so much more.  They even had an old fashioned, coin operated candy dispensing machine loaded with jelly beans, and a cup full of pennies! Plus, the property is located in an attractive, well-kept residential area with plenty of places to walk, jog, and/or ride bikes, and it is conveniently located to nearby downtown Lexington as well as multiple shopping/dining attractions. Plus, did I mention how attentive David and Dawna are to their renters? While they live right next door, they respect your privacy, but if you find you need anything, they are Johnny-on-the-spot.





Since the weather, except for the first full-day, was not conducive to out-of-doors explorations, we took advantage of the time to hunker down a bit in the comfortable accommodations and to also explore several of the Lexington shopping areas.  These areas included Lexington Green, Fayette Mall, The Summit at Fritz Farms, and Hamburg Pavilion. Each of these attractions offered numerous shopping, dining, and entertainment options. While each location had its own personality and appeal, depending upon the established and desired purveyors, all were attractive, offered ample and convenient parking, and were easily traversed.  


The first day in Lexington offered delightfully sunny, albeit chilly, weather.  This gave me time explore the neighborhood and discover a delightful walking trail/park.


As self-ascribed foodies, John and I, with our divergent food interests, were once more like kids playing in a food park wondering which ride to choose–our known favorites or new thrills?   It pleases John that Lexington offers plenty of the three Bs: beer, bourbon, and barbeque. Meanwhile, I prefer more plant-based options; and, due to celiac disease, I need gluten-free offerings (ruling out beer and bourbon for me).  No need to worry in Lexington!  

We did stop by a local favorite, Pies and Pints; however, we forgot to picture of most of our food!


Of course, we patronized our old favorite, Pies and Pints, (gotta support a WV based business) and our new favorite, Carson’s, in which bar-tender/waiter extraordinaire, Kyle Ostrander, was once again at our service!  Dining at Carson’s, John was able to enjoy a mouth-watering, massive plate of ribs, mac n cheese, and fries. Meanwhile, I was able to once more get my tummy filled with their wedge salad (with a few modifications for me) and, from their Vegan and Gluten-free menu, Chickpea Curry–so, so good!


Kyle Ostrander, of Carson’s, provided excellent service and good conversation. I enjoyed both Chickpea Curry and a Wedge salad while John enjoyed ribs and all the sides!


While exploring The Summit on New Year’s Day, John discovered a restaurant called, World of Beer!  We were greeted and waited upon by Owen Weyl and Kasey Belleman. These two good-natured and gregarious souls were warm and welcoming, especially considering they were working on a holiday!  They offered outstanding suggestions and tips. John warmed up with a bowl of chilli while I noshed on their Spring Greens and Kale salad. Thanks to Owen and Kasey, as well as our yummy food, this is sure to be spot we will want to visit again!


Owen Weyl and Kasey Belleman of World of Beer provided outstanding service      while we ate lunch at World of Beer at The Summit at Fritz Farms.


Inside World of Beer.

Spring Greens and Kale salad for me and a bowl of chili for John. 


We traveled to Wild Eggs for brunch the following day.  Janelle Foltz was our waitress, and we had a blast chatting with Janelle as she is a new transplant from Florida who loves to hike.  (Of course, shared several spots in KY in which we loved to explore, but we also could not say enough about all of the offerings found in good ol’ WV and OH.)  And, yes, by the way, the food was delectable, once again, at Wild Eggs! John enjoyed the An Ace of a BLT–avocado, cheddar, egg, bacon, lettuce, and tomato eat-with-a-fork super-sized sandwich that was served with a side of cheesy, chorizo and bacon grits.  Meanwhile, Janelle brought me the Gluten-Free menu, and, with a few modifications, I was able to dive into the Surfer Girl, veggie-loaded and sprout topped, egg-white omelette served with a fruit cup and surprisingly tasty gluten-free bread! YUM!


Surfer Girl, veggie-loaded and sprout topped, egg-white omelette served with a fruit cup and surprisingly tasty gluten-free bread and An Ace of a BLT–avocado, cheddar, egg, bacon, lettuce, and tomato eat-with-a-fork super-sized sandwich that was served with a side of cheesy, chorizo and bacon grits while we dined at Wild Eggs.



Janelle Foltz, an avid hiker and out-of-doors adventurer, was our fabulous waitress at Wild Eggs.


One really nice touch that David and Dawna offer at their Airbnb rentals is plenty of information, brochures, pamphlets and menus of popular Lexington and surrounding area attractions, restaurants, and establishments.  Additionally, in a booklet they created for each rental is a listing of their local favorites, one of which is a restaurant called Nick Ryan’s.  


Dawna and David provide plenty of reading material regarding area attractions.


Located in what appears to be a former home, Nick Ryan’s is a beautiful restaurant with an expansive food and drink menu that appealed to both John and me.  Our super-sweet bartender/waitress, Skylar Mays, a UK senior, was attentive, affable, and at-the-ready with suggestions if asked. In fact, it was Skylar who said we would love our appetizer, The Trio Dip.  It was a classic combo for John and me including beer cheese, red pepper hummus, cucumber dip, tortilla chips, baby carrots, and celery sticks. No need for a dinner salad after this! What’s more, John was surprised to discover he liked all three dips, not just the beer cheese. 

Nick Ryan’s is a beautiful restaurant located in what appears to be a former home.


Skylar Mays, a UK senior, was an affable and attentive waitress.


Meanwhile, for dinner, John savored the Local Smoked BBQ Pork Butt.  This dish offered generous chunks of pork butt, slow smoked in-house, and it was served open-faced on Texas toast with BBQ sauce, country green beans, mac-n-cheese, corn fritters, and cole-slaw. While I dug into the Quinoa Vegetable Bowl overflowing with sauteed, seasonal vegetables on a bed of quinoa, and topped with sweet chilli sauce.  Given the atmosphere, attentive service, and ample, and scrumptious food, Nick Ryan’s is sure to be another Lexington restaurant John and I will want to visit again.


The Trio Dip was our appetizer, John enjoyed the Local Smoked BBQ Pork Butt, while savored the Quinoa Vegetable Bowl.


Local art adorned the walls of Nick Ryan’s.

Once more, Lexington proves to be a close-to-home getaway for food, shopping, and adventure.  There are numerous out-of-doors and historic adventures/attractions still beckoning us, and of course, John has yet to visit any of the local Lexington distilleries and/or breweries.  In fact, he’s already spied a beer trail walking tour, Lexington on Taps tour as well as the Brewgrass Trail. Of course, with the Rupp Arena at the heart of downtown, University of Kentucky, nearby horse farms, and numerous other attractions, Lexington has much to offer visitors.  Hmm . . . I wonder when we can return?




I Can’t Stay Long

 o“Time has no divisions to mark its passage, there is never a thunderstorm or blare of trumpets to announce the beginning of a new month or year.  Even when a new century begins, it is only we mortals who ring bells and fire off pistols.”– Tomas Mann


“Time is a sort of river of passing events, and strong is its current;  no sooner is a thing brought to sight than it is swept by and another takes its place, and this too will be swept away.”–Marcus Aurelius


This polaroid of Uncle Leo is of unknown source to me.


“I can’t stay long, Mom.”  


His words were a familiar phrase meant to be part greeting and part warning.  A rush of winter’s chilly air crowded in around him like flies swarming picnic food.  Despite the fact he quickly closed the back door, the entrance through which all family, and most friends, entered, the temperature of the room temporarily lowered, and I was momentarily reminded of the thin layer of ice lining the single pane windows. I shivered in reaction.


My Uncle Leo and Aunt Janet during Christmas at my Grandparents’ house during the 1990’s.


“What’s wrong, Sis?  You act like it’s winter,” he teasingly questioned me as he wiped his feet on the doormat. 


He had entered directly into the kitchen table area of my grandparent’s kitchen.  Uncle Leo was the middle brother of my mom. Uncle Ralph was Mom’s oldest brother, followed by Leo, one and a half years later, and then Mom was born some eleven or so years after Leo.  


Uncle Leo, Uncle Ralph, and Grandmother, holding my mom, Dolores, who was born eleven years after Leo.



Leo had thinning hair, but that which remained was nice and mostly salt, with an occasional strand of pepper throughout.  His eyes, like his daddy’s–my grandfather–and his brother, my Uncle Ralph, twinkled when he spoke; and yet, unlike Pappaw and Uncle Ralph, Leo possessed a bit of intuitiveness/sensitivity–a trait of his mom’s–my grandmother–that I only now begin to realize/understand  . . .


My Pappaw and Grandmother, “Check” and Helen Slater; their oldest son, Ralph; middle child, Leo; and my mom, Dolores, was the youngest.


My first recollection of Uncle Leo’s emotional sensitivity occurred when I was fairly young. I recall him gazing intently at me as I passed him in the back hall of the evangelical, small town church we attended until I was twelve years.  We were between the preparation activities for Sunday School and the actual classes. I was walking with my peers to my class, and Uncle Leo was traveling with the adults in the opposite direction. While I do not remember his exact words, he knew I was sad/upset, and he further seemed to know the reason why, though I had not spoken a word to him.  As he walked by me, he ruffled the top of my head and began singing to me, as he was known to do, in his best baritone/bass-like voice. Oh, how that man loved to sing and make others smile.



Uncle Leo; his Grandfather, my paternal great-grandfather, Wesley; and Uncle Ralph


In fact, later, I recall my mom asking me what I had said to Uncle Leo, and I began to panic because, for the life of me, I didn’t know what I had said/done wrong.  The subject was dropped; but later, I overheard adult conversation after church regarding how I wore my heart on my sleeve and was an open book for him to read . . .



Back Row: Pappaw; Grandmother; Uncle Ralph; his wife, Patty; and their son, David   Bottom Row: Uncle Leo with Ralph’s oldest, Candy, on his lap; Leo’s wife, Janet; my mom, Dolores; and Ralph’s middle child, Carol.


It was this sensitivity, well, and let’s be honest, Grandmother’s cooking, that I now understand motivated Leo to drop by and visit my grandparents–sometimes unexpectedly, but also when my Grandmother called. While Leo was funny, witty, and charming, like Pappaw and Uncle Ralph, Leo had these eyes that knew, understood, and offered empathy when needed.  He could take a 30 minute visit with my grandparents, spend 25 of those minutes swapping funny stories with Pappaw, making both Grandmother and Pappaw laugh.  However, Leo could likewise skillfully interject a sentence of some serious nature to either gratify or reassure Grandmother–though, truth-be-told, due to her instinctive nature, she often knew he placating her.  Still, she nonetheless relished the respect of my uncle’s gesture regardless of his intent.



Uncle Leo and Uncle Ralph–ultimately, Ralph would move Dallas, Texas where he was a pilot for Braniff International Airways; and Uncle Leo worked for Amtrak Railway.


When Leo arrived at my grandparents’ backdoor on that wintry afternoon, I do not remember if it had been a snow day closure, a Saturday, or an afternoon after school hours, but I was not at my place of work–the first teaching gig of my career–a two-year stint at Greenup County High School School, a mostly rural county school in eastern KY, during which time I lived with my grandparents.  Leo, in his typical fashion, had entered the kitchen with great flourish, his blue/gray eyes ablazin’ and a song emanating from his throaty voice–always a church hymn that could be sung in four-part harmony. He habitually spoke in-between the lines of a song.


Leo lived nearby in the same quaint town of Raceland, KY, situated in the eastern, and less rural, part of Greenup County.  He worked on the railroad, so he wasn’t home often. However, anytime my grandmother made one of his favorite foods, such as vegetable soup, as she had on this day, and she knew he was home on a lay-over, she gave Uncle Leo a call on her black rotary phone to invite him over “for a bite.”

Uncle Ralph, back home visiting from his home in Dallas, Texas alongside Uncle Leo a lifelong resident of Raceland, KY. This photo was taken at my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary.


“I don’t want much, Mom,” he said, as he always did, winking at me comically because we both knew that Grandmother’s servings were typically large enough to feed at least two people. 


I was already sitting at their kitchen table working on something, presumably lesson plans or grading papers, and he sat down across from me.  Grandmother bustled around the kitchen–as if suddenly energized by an unknown source–first gathering his soup and saltine crackers, followed by more flurry as she gathered a clean, plastic tub, most likely a former container of some sort of meat or salad, and she began filling it to the brim with more soup to cool on the counter, so he could take it home for later.


Eventually, Grandmother would sit down at the head of the table, her usual spot to the left of me, with Pappaw already sitting to my right. 


“Whatcha’ know, Pop?” Leo would ask with another wink and easy grin as his eyes continued to gleam. 


Grandmother, Pappaw, Aunt Janet, Uncle Leo, and Janet’s bridesmaids, including my mom, second from left, on the day of Leo and Janet’s wedding.


Pappaw, with eyes matching his son’s starlight sparkle, would, in his classic entertaining manner, share some sort of silly story, based on partial truth, but exaggerated and stretched out like the colorful salt-water taffy sold at every beachside tourist gift shop.  Together, these two beloved men would alternate who treadled the proverbial story spinning wheel creating long, colorful yarns knitted together in one expansive fabricated story that enfolded Grandmother’s kitchen with warmth and laughter. Grandmother could be heard saying,“Oh, Check,” my grandfather’s nickname, or “Now Leo,” shaking her head in feign disgust, but her eyes betrayed her as they filled with love and appreciation for the moment.


Uncle Ralph and Leo at the foot of their new driveway and house. After the great flood of theOhio River, my Pappaw swore his family would never live on low land again.


Soon Leo with dart away with as much fanfare as when he entered.  A hush would quickly settle over the kitchen like a summer rain settling the dust after a dry spell. Grandmother would sigh, pick up his dishes, carry them to her sink, pour another cup of coffee in her unbreakable, mostly white and blue Corelle coffee mug, and return to her chores, shoulders slumping as she went. Pappaw, with crestfallen face and sunken chest, would return to either the work desk in their bedroom, or disappear to the basement to complete a seemingly urgent task, with the fire embers that only moments ago had burned brightly in eyes now gradually extinguishing.  Meanwhile, I remained in the kitchen as the frosty air filled the room once more. The moment was gone, flowing on as the winter waters do along the mighty Ohio River that unites the three states–Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia–in which I have spent a lifetime–working, playing, and loving.  


Uncle Leo and Ralph, but I am unsure of the context of the setting.


As I look back at that moment, I am overwrought with colliding emotions regarding the passage of time as I reach back, trying to hold on to the memory a bit longer.  However, as I age, my memories are becoming more fluid, like water slipping through space and time.  


I love this picture of my Grandmother and Uncle Leo. This would have been a Christmas Eve, possibly 1994 or ’95. Grandmother had dozed off to sleep after dinner. She always pushed too hard during the holidays, but loved being surround by family. I wish my camera could have capture Leo’s twinkling eyes.


Another decade of life is on the horizon.  1999 once seemed an eternity away, much less 2019; and by the time you read this, Dear Reader, another new decade, 2020, will have arrived.  I still remain on this earth, surrounded by loved ones, and filled with the memories of those who were once here with me, full of the knowledge that soon, I too, will drift down the eternal flow of the river of time because in the words of Uncle Leo, I can’t stay long.


Uncle Leo’s oldest daughter, my cousin, Michelle born in February of ’65; and I was born is September of the same year. This was taken in 1967 at my grandparents’ home.
Uncle Leo’s youngest child, Clifton during the same mid-1990’s Christmas Eve gathering.
My mom, Aunt Patty, and Uncle Ralph sharing a laugh, probably due to a story that Pappaw, Ralph, Leo, or perhaps all three men, must have shared as they were all three big story tellers. Again, this was probably around 1995.