This is me

Cheryl (177 of 418)-1
Special thanks to Koli Nichols Photography 

I love children, flowers, and conversation.   I don’t watch tv and I don’t iron.  I am tender hearted and hard headed.

I believe in marriage, foster children, and adoption.  Despite that fact, I have failed at all of them.  I do not regret anything I have attempted and, of course, there are things that I would do differently.

Thirty days ago I didn’t know much about a podcast.  Things have changed.  I obviously don’t know much about a blog either, but I have a precious baby girl who is loyal to her mother.

I love being Southern, at least in the mindset of all that is good.  Relationships are the best and it all began with my Aunt Genevieve.  She lovingly called me by my middle name of Suzette my entire life.  She was my dad’s baby sister.  She spoke her own language-Genevievian.  It was tons of small phrases followed with laughter.  I try to speak it with my close friends whenever possible.

A funny story was always preceded by “Don’t laugh, Suzette”, and I knew that I was about to.  I would love to share the best of us with you as well.

Don’t laugh,

Cheryl

Numbers…

Today is August 12th.

I have dreaded today for a few weeks now.

There is something about knowing I have lived a year without my sweet Daddy.

I have told myself that I would relive every painful moment of his loss just to feel a glimpse of his presence again.

But that is not to be.

And so I sit in my house and I would really just love to curl up in a ball.

And then the phone rings.

“Cheryl, do you still want some okra?”

It is Mrs. Irene.

In Smitherman terms, this means you are about to get a truckload of okra.

Reagen and I like to laugh and call it “roka”.

Koli Nichols’ twin girls were eating fried “roka” last year. Janie had eaten all of hers and started side swiping off Ellye’s plate. When Ellye informed her to “quit eating my roka Janie”, it has been roka ever since for us too.

So I head to Blocton in the middle of the day in the middle of August to cut me some roka.

I have not cut any in about 40 years, but it will “come back to you” real quick like.

The heat.

The prickly itch.

On a day, when “you can’t buy a breeze”, I am in the middle of 4-100 foot long rows.

I don’t remember okra being this tall when I was a kid…

Me, my clippers, and a 5 gallon bucket.

Before long, Mr. Bobby comes to check on me.

My face is so red that he wants me to come sit down and rest before I leave.

I am thankful for the offer of his golf cart ride back from the garden.

“Let me show you a little trick”, he stomps the gas and we make a loop up the road and back. He chuckles and tells me that is how he cools off after he has been messing around in the garden.

The breeze did feel wonderful and reminded me of riding with the windows down.

I go home with “a mess of okra” and enough corn for several households.

I come back to church tonight and my granddaughter Hadley is sleepy.

I rock her to sleep and I think about today.

She has my Daddy’s eyes and she feels like lead when you hold her.

I smile and think about the fact that if you look at the numbers when it comes to DNA, I have 12.5 % of Daddy in my arms right now.

I will take it.

Thank you Mr. Bobby and Mrs. Irene for breaking up a long day.

Just a little glimpse of today’s harvest…

And if you like “roka”, come on over…

Free Soup…

In the last few months, Jeff and I have made many changes. We sold our home of 18 years. We moved into a small apartment. And now we are about to build our new home.

This has been one of the things we always said we would love to do one day. Now that day is here.

When you have to downsize, there are so many decisions to make. The most difficult task for me is letting go of sentimental things.

My favorite possessions have handwriting. A few weeks ago, I found this recipe from Daddy.

Free Soup

A little pen and ink can make me teary eyed.

I loved his handwriting with the capitol letters. He underlined words like an old card from my Aunt Mamie. And then when he doesn’t put any measurements for the ingredients, it makes me smile.

That is just like Daddy.

This is the perfect recipe for him because he loved to cook for the crowd. Big pots of concoctions that you ate for days.

“Go in there and fix you a bowl, it’s on the stove. And cut the light off when you come out of the kitchen.”

I guess the soup was free, but the “juice” a.k.a. electric bill wasn’t…

A prized possession…

Reagen “woke up” a little late this morning.

Sometimes she does not listen when I try to wake her up.

When she asked about breakfast, I had to admit that we are out of everything.

The grocery store has been on my to do list for more than a few days.

I bribed her with breakfast from Jack’s and I would take her to school.

On my way home, I passed my old house.

Years ago, Mother bought the house next door to me.

It was wonderful to have her and my brothers living next door to me over the next few years.

I remember how she had a friend who quoted her a price on landscaping.

I thought Mother was spending too much money and I did not agree.

Mother planted her flowers regardless.

Life goes on like it always does.

Last spring, Daddy and I drive by the two houses.

“Sister, look how pretty that tree is…”

I told Daddy that Mother had planted that tree over 20 years ago. He did not remember.

I have always loved the saying,

“the true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit”

If we weren’t running late this morning, I would not have taken Reagen to school.

So today I am thankful for my daughter and my Mother for not always listening to me.

Mother may not be here to enjoy the blooms, but it feels like she sends them to me every year.

If you want to leave your children a prized possession, go plant something…

The search for red plum jelly…

Saturday, February 29th, 2020.

6:42 a.m.

The phone rings.

It is my Aunt Pat.

She wants to go to Clanton Outdoor Flea Market.

Daddy always kept her well-stocked in red plum jelly. And not just any red plum jelly, the kind the Amish make.

I want to give her an excuse.

I have not been since my Daddy died.

I am not sure if I can face his friends and deliver the news even if it is 6 months old.

This particular month has been hard. He has been gone 6 months and it was the first time I had to spend his birthday without him.

But if you know Aunt Pat, she is persistent.

And her good days are rare.

I get up, get dressed and wake up Reagen.

She is less than thrilled.

“Why Mom?”

I explain to her that when Aunt Pat has a good day, this is as close as she will ever get to the Aunt Pat who helped raise me.

Aunt Pat always tried to make sure I was dressed and ready to go.

From dances to beauty walks, everything was special.

There was no stopping me when I had her Estee Lauder Private Collection powder dusted on my shoulders.

I don’t know if the Queen of England has jewels that felt any more precious than Aunt Pat’s pearl earrings.

“Now you keep up with them…”

I was instructed and nervous until they were placed back in her jewelry box.

I may not have been the best, but I felt like a million bucks.

“I love it when Cheryl thinks she looks pretty,” Aunt Deborah would laugh because I had no shame about smiling at myself in the mirror.

I hope you are as blessed as I am to have an Aunt Pat.

And I hope if she calls you in the middle of the night, you answer.

Maybe it’s the fact that Mother and Daddy are gone.

But there is something about death that make the little things in life so very special.

Like red plum jelly.

Oh yeah, and a jar of pickled beets for Uncle Terry.

We bought them out by the way.

And it was four hours of laughter and recipes and the best part- Family.

Sometimes your “cup runneth over”, when your jelly jar is empty.

Be Mine and Be Kind…

Valentine’s Day 1979-

Do you remember how exciting Valentine’s Day is to a second grader?

I remember the excitement of choosing which Valentine to give each of my classmates.

And I also remember the joy of reading mine.

We decorated bags and boxes in the days ahead and had playground conversations about what you were sending or receiving.

But in 1979, my parents divorced. I was already on my 3rd school that year by Valentine’s Day.

And we had moved in the days before.

There was no email update about the new kid.

No text message.

I simply was not on the class list at my new school.

I remember the party beginning and there I sat at my desk.

I also remember some type of excited conversation behind me.

To this day, it makes me teary-eyed.

I turned to see my teacher from my previous school.

It makes me sad that I can’t even remember her name.

But she tracked me down at my new school and there she stood excited that she made it in time to my party.

She brought me my valentine bag from her class.

There was no Facebook post.

There was no pat on the back.

But I remember it 40 years later.

True kindness is so much more important.

Today I hope you celebrate that.

And a kind teacher.

There are so many things they are expected to do, but the going above and beyond with a simple kindness can heal a broken heart in a child.

And an old woman.

Struggling for imperfection…

I have wasted so many years on a life that doesn’t exist.

I remember being around 12 years old and I questioned why God made people who were different.

My friend Sheree Goggins scolded me quickly and strongly enough that I remember it 30+ years later.

She was so very right back then.

Your truest and best friends don’t tell you what you want to hear, they tell you the truth.

The truth that you need to hear.

And they still love you.

Clarence Reach has been a part of my life as long as I can remember.

Our little town has taken him and loved him like family.

And he has loved us back.

He walks the streets of West Blocton and makes the world better just by being his beautiful self.

He was there when we laid my Daddy to rest and he wanted to help.

He grabbed a shovel and offered his own version of comfort-a helping hand.

He was there again to help me move furniture and decorate for the Woodstock Music Festival.

Always willing.

I guess what I am trying to say is this-

If you feel that you are wasting your life to acquire things or the pressure you are under is too much to bear, I have an answer.

Find one good friend who will help you slow down and one good friend who just loves you.

I am so very thankful that I have both.

It only took me 40 years to figure out the value of a simple life.

I hope you find it much sooner.

If you are going to struggle,

Try struggling for imperfection…

Much love,

Cheryl

My Valentine…

Valentine’s Day-1978.

He was my parents 4th baby.

He came into this world at over 10 lbs.

He held his breath and turned his face red when he cried.

We used to laugh at him constantly.

He turned the tables on us and made everyone laugh with him.

There is something about the baby that can do that.

I was always amazed at the things he could say to Mother and Daddy that I would never get away with.

Everyone’s favorite.

I told Jeff I miss him so much.

And he knew exactly what to say.

“Everyone misses Johnny.”

Oh that laugh. 

Even when it was on me.

So today I celebrate the day you arrived.

You took this world and my heart by storm forever.

It is so hard to imagine that you would be 42 today.

I would say that you were forever 29 but it was more like forever 17.

Happy Birthday and Happy Valentine’s Day to one of my greatest blessings.

I miss you baby brother.  Always.

Your Daddy’s Prayers…

28 years ago…

There is something special about your Daddy’s prayers.

Especially knowing you were in them before you were born.

A Daddy that prayed for you. A big, tough hard-working man wearing overalls and covered in sawdust.

When he started out as a newlywed with your Mother he made $100 a week.

He laughs and corrects me.  “Don’t cut me short, I made $120.”

He was one of 3 boys. And then, he had 3 boys.

A baby girl was all that was missing.  For two generations.

And then you get that wonderful news.

On the morning she was to arrive, he walks out of the bathroom and he had shaved his beard.  When his wife asks, “What are you doing?”, she gets one of the sweetest moments of her life…

“I want to feel her face on my skin.”


She is now grown with two girls of her own, but he tells that baby girl he prayed for her until this day and she loves her Daddy.

I don’t blame her.

When I told him, I was about to be a grandmother, he told me-“You’re about to get wealthy.”  And he was so right.  He should know.




Sometimes in the middle of a busy life you can’t see that your prayers are being answered. 

Sometimes you can’t see the priceless value and riches that come in the health of your children.

That alone would be enough and all that you could ask for…

But sometimes you are fortunate to live long enough to see and realize the blessings you have may just be the answered prayers of your sweet Daddy…

The Burt Boys changed places and got outnumbered with 8 little girls.  Never underestimate the love and prayers of your Daddy…

Whatever it takes…

It is never easy to be a single mother.

Especially to not just one, but 3 young girls- ages 10, 7 and 4.

Sometimes it took 3 jobs.

You waited tables, cut hair, and worked at the garment plant.

You hung up sheets and lived out of one room with a space heater.

You walked in the woods and cut down a skimpy Christmas tree.  It was so skinny it wouldn’t stay in the stand.  You used bricks to prop it up and it fell every time, so you finally stapled it to the wall.

Just a few years before, you were Junior Miss WBHS.


You probably had no idea what life was about to send your way.

Through it all, you would be kind to those who faced hardships along with you.

You would stop at the food bank and deliver it to local households.

No one was watching.  You did it because it was the right thing to do.

Throughout your lifetime, you continued.

From local group homes to the Bibb County jail, you have been a mother to those without one.

You have spent your check on simple things like socks and underwear because you know how good those feel to someone without family and money.

You may even be seen buying spices at our local Wal-Mart to make bland jail food taste better.

In titles, you have been the jailer, the cook, and the transporter.

But in life, you have been the hero.

You have been called in to talk to inmates who would not listen.

But they would listen to you.  They saw that you truly cared.

You have even been the recipient of someone’s one phone call from jail.

They used it not to ask you to bail them out.  They instead called to tell you they were sorry for how they acted and thank you for what you have done for them.

Kindness is so much greater when it is done for those who can give nothing in return.

You don’t even know I am writing this, I did not interview you.

When Candi messaged me, I was more than happy to do a story about you.

After all, you have been a mother to me too.

You set a wonderful example of how to love not only your own children, but everyone.

I am sure that behind closed doors, there were many times with tears and prayers and despair.

But on the other side of that wall, three little girls were paying attention.

And that is all that matters in life, when you know that whatever comes your way, you have a Momma that will do whatever it takes…

Thank you Miss Patsy for loving all of us.

Take notes…

Early Summer-2019.

Somewhere along a Bibb County Backroad…

Daddy calls me.

“Sister, what are you doing Wednesday?

Jason and Shea went over to this restaurant in Montevallo. It is a little pricey. But nothing is too good for my baby girl…”

Just typing that makes me cry.

But at the time, I remember laughing about it to my husband Jeff.

Daddy and I had two different ideas on the definition of “pricey”.

He loved to plan ahead our little adventures.

They usually revolved around payday and a Wednesday or Saturday. (These are the two days that the Clanton Outdoor Flea Market is open.)

We would agree for me to be at his house at 7 a.m. (To Daddy this meant 7 a.m. and to me it meant 7:15.) There were always distractions that delayed my arrival.

I usually got a phone call about a mile before I got to his house. “Just checking on you…” I would let him know what I was passing or that I was about to turn in by Reach’s service station.

He would let me know to park in Shelenia’s yard. His neighbor was kind enough to allow us to park in her yard because Daddy did not want his freshly scattered birdseed disturbed.

He fed dogs and and cats and birds. And to my amusement, two possums he had nicknamed Jack and Jill.

I always loved to see him and listen to his observations.

Daddy was a simple man.

The same man everywhere you saw him. Every day of the week.

No high horse. No “putting on airs”.

This particular day something triggered his memory.

He began to talk about things he did as a child.

“We didn’t have cars or trucks to play with, we would push a brick around in the dirt track we made up under Mama Reach’s house.”

I am so very thankful I pulled out my little notebook I kept in my purse.

He asked me what I was doing. I told him I was taking notes.

There are 7 tiny pages with his own sweet language.

Memories of doodlebugs and penny balloons.

How everyone would get excited on days the “rolling store” came around.

Collecting glass bottles for spending money.

Making sure his chores were done so he could go camping and fishing…

I did not know at the time, but this would be our last carefree day together.

In July, he would get sick and by August he would be gone.

I say all of this just because life is so busy and hectic.

We all need more riding around and porch time.

A little less hurry.

If you have someone special in your life, I wish you would schedule a few hours with them-

And take lots of notes…

Farnetti…

It is 1902.

You are a young girl who only speaks Italian.

You are about to arrive in America.

Ellis Island-Early 1900’s

You have bronchitis. Your doctor told you America would be good for your health.

Your husband Caesare came over a year earlier to prepare for you.

You are required to have $35. You have $45.

You have a sign around your neck with your name Maria Farnetti and it also says deliver to West Blocton, Alabama.

You would later say you were treated like cattle as you were directed to the train station.

When you walked the Brooklyn Bridge you had your possessions in one hand and your 18 month old in the other.

As if that wasn’t enough, every other board is missing due to the fact that it is under construction.

Brooklyn Bridge-under construction

I cannot imagine.

I called Mrs. Hilda to thank her for last week’s story. We talked for 2 more hours and I learned this one.

I have replayed this image in my mind over and over.

I have always admired the determination and perseverance of those who came before us.

I also wonder when we are faced with similar obstacles can we rise to the challenge?

Mrs. Hilda told me many stories that involved her grandmother.

Caesare and Maria Farnetti

One thing that stands out to me is that she says they didn’t intend to stay.

They hoped her bronchitis would be cured and they would return home.

That was not meant to be.

Five generations of Farnetti children are now here.

They may have faced different challenges but I believe they have stayed true to their bloodline.

Charles told me his Dad was the kindest man he ever met.

I personally know hundreds of local boys who would say the same about Charles.

My boys Colby and Jacob cried at their last little league game when they thought their days to play for him were over.

A few years later they would also look back on playing for the West Blocton Tigers and Charles’ son Gregg.

I believe Colby said it best,

“I would suit up again knowing I was going to lose every game.”

Records go on paper, but the best part of life is what lives on in our hearts.

I looked in the trophy case at West Blocton High School today. I saw Jodie Farnetti in a football uniform and wearing the Homecoming Queen Crown.

Jodie and Charles Farnetti

I have to think Maria would think every difficult step was worth it.

Thank you so very much for the love your family has given our community.

I know we are all very thankful for the Farnetti’s…

Built to last…

The Strand Theatre-West Blocton, Alabama.

You are a 14 year old girl at the movies. The movie stops suddenly and a man walks onstage to make an announcement.

We have been attacked at Pearl Harbor.

It is December 7, 1941.

You would have to wait until the next day when the newspaper comes out to tell you where Pearl Harbor is even located.

You remember being afraid of bombing and mandatory “blackouts” that required covering your windows with blankets at night.

You move first to help an Aunt and Uncle with six kids that summer in Arizona. Your family would later follow.

The mining community better known as “Little Italy” would become vacant.

Little Italy-Early 1900’s

You later work at a grocery store where you separate and tally ration stamps. These coupons were required for meat, sugar, coffee, and canned goods. Even gas and shoes.

You remember that blue ration coupons were canned goods and red were for meat.

You remember and remember and remember.

You are Mrs. Hilda Holland Tozzi.

A local historian who has not lived here in over 70 years.

At 92 years old, you have given many of us the priceless treasures hidden in your memory.

Technology has allowed you to share not only your grandparents but mine.

I am amazed that you gave directions to your grandparents bread oven. (An oven that you had not seen in over half a century. )

Caesare and Maria Farnetti

When the rock was stacked and bread was baked, you told me that you could smell it all over the hillside.

People would find excuses to visit your grandparents when bread was baking.

I love to imagine you at a computer giving directions to your cousin Charles. Go to the bend in the creek, turn around, go 200 feet, turn left, there it is…

Charles Farnetti in front of the original oven

It is so wonderful to know that it would be moved and enjoyed by 5 generations of Farnetti children over a century later thanks to you.

The relocated oven at the home of Charles and Judy Farnetti

It was Charles that said I needed to write a story about you.

After I talked to you for an hour and a half, I agree. But I have to admit Mrs. Hilda-you deserve a novel.

I have 8 pages of notes, a few hours of my time, but my heart is still so full.

The beauty in your comments stands out.

When you talk about the Great Depression, you say “we never went without”.

“We pooled our resources and we kept each other alive. Life was different. Simple. No distractions.”

And I believe you.

You tell me how Fonso Farnetti bought all of the punch board raffle tickets to help raise money for my grandmother Maudie to have a glass eye.

I remember my Aunt Genevieve and my Dad both saying how much her eye bothered her.

But to me, she was a beauty. I never knew your family played a part in that.

Just for a moment, you gave me my grandmother. Not just her pain, her healing.

There is always a desire in all of us to understand who we are and where we came from.

When someone like you shares your stories, it is more precious than gold.

Thank you for sharing your time and memories with me Mrs. Hilda. I hope your New Year is as wonderful as you.

And I am so thankful that your memory is just like that bread oven,

Built to last…

More than Christmas…

There are many reasons I love Todd Jones.

It would be very difficult to name them all.

When you think of a friend, everyone needs a Todd in their life.

I am so very thankful for mine.

In our 30 year friendship, we have shared a love for local history, antiques and hometown hospitality.

And a love for Music. Music. And more Music.

And then, there’s Christmas…

Todd’s love started at an early age.

If you are stressed and don’t enjoy Christmas, I invite you to step with me into Todd’s Main Street home.

Todd lived here as a teenager. And in a twist of fate-the former owners, (the Ambrose family), introduced his parents.

When he bought the old Ambrose place, he was handed a skeleton key.

I think that sets the stage for everything you will find inside.

Everything has a story-a connection with the best of days gone by.

A Christmas Tree for every time period. A time capsule of our happiest days.

You can search for your childhood and find it.

I have spent the holidays mourning the loss of a loved one, but there among the clumps of tinsel and large vintage bulbs I find them again.

Staring at a vintage tree, I am warned by my grandmother not to touch the hot bulbs. The colorful glow and I am automatically a child again.

A simpler time that seemed so very magical.

Suddenly my memory unties a paper sack. I can smell a clove-covered orange and see an apple. A candy cane, a few pecans and walnuts. And if you’re lucky, old fashioned vanilla creme drops.

My Aunt Genevieve always made sure we had a sack. She wanted us to see what they had growing up. I was amazed at what they were thankful for that we now take for granted.

Thank you Todd for doing that very same thing for us now.

Because somewhere among the many red and green tubs, lies a different ornament or decoration that brings back a similar memory for someone else.

I know it takes all of your free time every year to put this together.

But the fact that you do it doesn’t surprise me.

You have always given this town your whole heart.

Whether it is a yard full of guests for the Homecoming parade or 700 trick-or-treaters, they are always welcome.

And that my friend, is what makes me and this town love you back-even more than you love Christmas.

Merry Christmas Todd. Nobody does it better.

And my wish for you and my friends in Bibb County and all around the world-

May we all feel the joy you share this Holiday season.

That is what we are all searching for after all-the joy of having each other.

The Basketweavers…

A few years ago, I dreamed of this wonderful job. I could share the people I love with the world.

When I woke up the next morning, I felt silly. No one would want to hear what I have to say.

I didn’t think anything else about it and then a few years later, I started a blog.

The first person I wanted to tell everyone about was Mrs. Mary Ann.

I don’t know why I never did.

And then we have an announcement recently at church, Mrs. Mary Ann and Brother Bill are selling their home and moving back to their “happy place”.

I am happy for them, I am just sad for me. Their happy place is a few states away.

Their home was just like them.

A refuge.

Mother Nature would be proud.

Simple, earthy, and crafted.

If you were invited over, you felt honored.

It was magical.

I think it was because you could see their love and handiwork in everything.

When I had surgery years ago, they arrived that evening with a meal featuring a mixed berry pie for dessert. Back then, most people would not volunteer to feed my large family. It was very appreciated and still the best pie I have ever eaten.

Mrs. Mary Ann is everything I have ever wanted to be. I love her beauty and sense of style. She marches to the beat of her own drum.

When others have walked away from me, she has come over and encouraged. A compliment from her heals my soul.

Always a good sport. After all, I have accidentally spilled not one, but two gallons of sweet tea on her.

She changed into a pair of my yoga pants and rocked on in good humor.

And her husband is just as sweet.

A simple smile and a nod of his head always welcomes you.

After he retired, he devoted himself to teaching recovering addicts a trade.

I just love them.

And I have always admired them for their anonymous good deeds.

I hope North Carolina knows how blessed it is to have you.

And for the time I and my family have had you both in our lives, I can think of nothing better to say than Brother Bill’s own words,

“We are so truly thankful.”

We love you and miss you already.

Enjoy your happy place. I can think of no two people who deserve it more.

The Dodsons

Purpose…

Summer of 1993.

I am heading to a blind date.

I am in college.

I am feeling a little bit lost in this world.

And someone says, “I know this guy…”

This guy was different.

He came with two kids.

He had lost his wife in childbirth.

We got along well.

I think we were 2 broken souls.

And then I met the baby boy who would give me purpose.

I don’t know why terrible things happen.

I don’t know why you lost your mother immediately.

She was a beautiful girl.

And then 18 months later you got me.

A broken-hearted kid.

An absolute calamity.

But I do know I needed you back then.

And as far as that goes, I need you now.

Today is your birthday.

And I know you don’t like to celebrate it.

If you don’t mind, think about me.

I am so very thankful for you.

And this year is even more special, because I think you are about to get your own purpose.

I love you Jessi.

Always have. Always will.

Always.

Great days are ahead.

And that baby girl is about to rule your world.

Just like you ruled mine.

Happy birthday to my first baby boy.

I love you,

Mom

The instructions…

1989-no particular weekday, 3:00 p.m.

The school bell rings.

We, (meaning as many girls as possible), pile into a car, make our mandatory laps on Main Street and go home.

I would always ask them to drop me off at my grandparents house.

One day I remember standing in the driveway. Right before they pulled off, they laughed and asked, “Why you wanna hang out with those old folks?”

Not really sure, I shrugged my shoulders and went on in.

Daddy would later swing by and get me on his way home from work.

I remember leaving their house one day and he said, “Sister, this is time you are never going to regret.”

He was so right.

Unconditional love. Papa and Granny were so good at it. I didn’t know how to explain it to my friends back then.

I just knew I needed it.

My home was broken, but theirs was not.

Inside those grey walls, all was right in the world.

When they were both gone, I was so sad.

Who is ever going to love me like that again?

And the sad answer is noone.

But it dawned on me this week with Hadley, I get to love her that way.

No expectations. No criticism. Just love.

Inside these walls this week, the world was right again.

I turned on my bluetooth and introduced her to her great granddad through the Bellamy Brothers. I sang and she laughed.

I don’t know where the past 30 years went but it was okay.

Daddy also told me the older you get, the faster it goes. Right again Daddy.

But the one set of instructions that gets me most, was the set he gave me for days like today.

He told me, “Don’t you feel sorry for me. I feel sorry for you. I remember what it was like to lose my parents and I know you are going to miss me.”

Oh Daddy, nothing you have ever said has been more true.

I do miss you.

And I am trying my best not to feel sorry for myself because I had you.

Your sweet simple mix of common sense and contentment made life so good.

I can hear you tell me to listen to the words of this song. We laugh. We always listened to people who misbehaved. Bob Seger, Eddie Raven, Earl Thomas Conley…

I promise I will get a better playlist before Hadley can repeat anything.

But for now, we are going to just sing.

Thanks for the instructions. For the first time in my life, I am really trying to follow directions.

I hope you dance…

June 1, 1990.

Graduation Night.

I was a rebel with white shorts under my cap and gown.

Crossing the stage 1st as Cheryl Acker and taking my seat.

The other rebel was at the other end of the alphabet.

Speeches, blurred voices, claps…

You know the ceremony.

And then, William Thrasher is announced.

Better known as Bubba, he checks his diploma and shakes hands.

But he doesn’t exit the stage.

He turns, faces the crowd and does “a celebratory dance move” which left us all laughing.

You don’t remember much about graduation, but you remember that.

Years go by and we live our lives.

Then 12 years ago, we cross paths again.

In tragedy.

We lost our classmate-my ex-husband Wade and his best friend.

We arrived at Mr. and Mrs. Dailey’s driveway at the same time. We walk in together in silence.

I always think when the worst in life shows up, so does the best.

We have shared a Mom in Mrs. Dailey for a few years now.

And then the dreaded news-Cancer.

But do you lay down?

Absolutely not.

Just like the rest of your life, you show up and show out.

I have never seen anything more beautiful than you and your daughter last year at Homecoming.

Facing battles with courage and laughter.

Your journey ended here yesterday, but your story didn’t.

I hope you left this world and showed out in Heaven.

I can think of several friends and family who were glad to see you.

And when Bubba Thrasher’s arrival was announced, I hope you danced.

We will miss you.

Always.

And we will also always remember you with a smile,

The Class of 1990

Getting it wrong…

I see posts on social media where young parents are worried about their mistakes.

Not being able to provide what they think is normal and necessary.

Let me tell you something.

There is no normal.

Don’t stress and waste your time on it.

Just being you is enough.

Your kids don’t want titles, status and stuff.

They will never thank you for what you bought them.

They will remember the times you loosened up and let them play with water balloons.

Those are the times that will leave them wishing for more.

Not bankrupt birthday parties.

I am going through pictures and scrapbooks and I love the days Daddy got it wrong.

I asked for a stereo for Christmas one year.

I imagined a black or silver pile of plastic with 2-don’t laugh-cassette decks.

Christmas morning arrives.

I walk into the living room and to my horror was a big wooden cabinet version.

Daddy was so proud that he had hid it at the neighbor’s house for 3 weeks.

I hid my shock the best I could.

Sometimes getting what you want is not what you need.

Your kids have not learned that yet.

And it’s okay.

Someday they may stare at a piece of paper just like me and love you more for the times you got it wrong.

Good luck and if you ever listen to anything I say, listen to this-

Don’t stress it.

I promise your time and love are enough,

Cheryl

Ballad of the Wildflowers…

Imagine feeling like you let a friend down.

A friend who took their own life.

Now imagine 90 million people knowing about it.

For 30 days, I didn’t talk about it.

Losing sleep, feeling guilty. Ashamed.

I was having some trouble with what I was reading online. Negative comments were replaying in my mind over and over.

Then imagine someone miles away understanding exactly how you feel.

Across an ocean.

“Cheryl, I usually share my music with my wife”…

I can’t describe how it felt. All I can think of is-

Healing.

Sitting in my car after work and playing it over and over.

Calling my friends.

And telling them to listen to this.

We played Ballad of the Wildflowers when we cut the ribbon to celebrate Alabama Suicide Prevention and Resource Coalition locating in Woodstock .

And we will play it again tomorrow.

Live and in person.

I told Jeff we should invite Spencer to play.

Jeff said he is not going to come over here from England.

He arrived Tuesday.

And my friend Georgina arrived yesterday.

We have been working to show them our way of life.

The Turnip Green Supper.

The Homecoming Festivities.

And friendship. And hospitality.

Food and Music.

Now I am asking you to listen.

Come see Spencer play tomorrow at the Woodstock Music Festival.

And come meet Georgina with me at the hospitality tent.

It’s going to be wonderful.

I just know it.

And you will too.

See you tomorrow,

Cheryl

Here’s to 51…

I know that it isn’t easy being married to me.

I would have to think it would be like living in a daily episode of “I Love Lucy”. Except Lucy would be hosting a home improvement show gone bad.

Jeff has arrived home to the yard on fire, the ceiling torn out, and just this week-the bathtub disappeared.

Much like Ricky Ricardo, he spoke a foreign language when he assessed my latest project.

I can always see the finished product.

As much as I love him, he lacks my vision.

Reagen’s advice was simple. “Mom, just get it back together. He’ll be okay.”

She was right. And he is.

Today is his birthday.

51 years old.

I will try to give you a break today Jeffrey.

I know that I have aged you in 16 years.

But if I do say so myself, you have aged well.

I love you for the way you light up with a baby.

And when special needs kids attract to you like a magnet, I have to think they see your heart.

Your reputation has always been a tough guy and I loved that.

It made me feel safe. And protected.

With Daddy gone, you mean more to me than ever before.

But the best of you is behind the scenes.

The advice.

The common sense.

And the fact that you will take care of this family and all that it requires.

I love you Jeffrey Lynn.

And so do the kids.

And the grandbabies.

From the voice of the West Blocton Fighting Tiger Band to the Mayor of Woodstock, you wear many hats.

I apologize for the need for the hard hat earlier this week.

But you are going to love it, just trust me…

Charlene

Dear Mr. Coal Miner,

I am writing to say thank you.

I know you don’t know me, but I have been a Coal Miner’s Daughter for 47 years.

I learned alot about my Daddy’s living through second hand information.

Loretta Lynn always made me proud to be a coal miner’s daughter. Jimmy Dean made all of us kids respect and sing “Big Bad John”.

And every now and then, Daddy would call and say, “Sister, turn it on Channel such and such, Harlan County, USA is on. Watch it. That is what we went through.”

Sometimes he would tell me to keep a certain United Mine Workers Journal magazine that told the history of their struggles.

Talk of times past and safety and strikes were normal language when I was young.

And there was always a nagging worry if you heard about news of an accident.

Your mind can worry terribly in those moments of not knowing.

It was your worst fear.

But, Daddy always told me that when the day came that I would be without him that you would take care of him.

I just didn’t realize that you would also be taking care of me too.

I found out personally how special it is to be a part of this family. I feel like I have become a daughter of many of you.

Daddy was proudly named after the United Mine Workers of America President John L. Lewis.

John Lewis Acker or John L. Acker was given his coal miner nickname of Luke.

Growing up, he would come home with those dark lines under his eyes. A teenage friend told me once that she thought it was so cool that my Dad wore eyeliner.

I thought that was hilarious.

I was used to seeing coal dust on his work clothes. His sweet hands. And under the rims of his blue eyes.

That was my normal.

What I could not see was in his lungs and in his mind. The consequences from earning a living down in the dark depths of a mine shaft.

What I do know though is the brotherhood that develops in those situations. You don’t work together in that environment without becoming close.

After his service in the U.S. Navy, he served 30 years with his United Mine Worker Brothers.

Jim Walter Resources Mine #7, Brookwood, Alabama, to be exact.

Uncle Terry gave me a phone number and I called them to find out what I needed to do after he passed away. I expected to be speaking to just someone in an office.

When the voice on the other end of the line questioned me in a surprised voice, “Did John pass away?” I then realized I was talking to someone that knew him.

He kindly said, “You don’t have to do anything, we’ll take care of it.”

And you did.

Some of you showed up to his funeral.

But ALL of you paid for it.

Almost 500 men gave $25 to take care of Brother John L. Acker.

I don’t know who you are.

But I wish I could send each and every one of you a thank you card.

In a world that seems cold and distant at times, it is incredibly beautiful to see rough and tough souls join together to take care of their own.

My Daddy was always so proud to be a part of all of you. Now I understand why.

I regret not asking him more or trying to understand what he was doing all those years that he paid his part of this fund.

I am so very thankful and proud to be a Coal Miner’s Daughter-Forever.

May God Bless Each and Everyone of You. May God keep you safe and may all of you know how much my family says-Thank you.

Cheryl Acker Dodson

Sharp Dressed Man…

Graduation Night-1969.

Mother was headed to a party after her high school graduation.

Daddy was a wild sailor home on leave.

They crossed paths and the rest is history.

A few days. A few letters.

And the next thing you know, it is August. Mother is on a plane to San Diego to get married.

My grandmother calls ahead to her close friend we lovingly called Aunt Nell. Aunt Nell lived in Lakewood, California.

Aunt Nell was asked to meet my parents at the airport and stop the wedding.

I loved to hear her tell this story.

She said she got to the airport and took one look at Daddy.

“He stepped off the plane and he was wearing his dress blues.”

“Your Daddy was sharppp…..”

She said, “I told myself there would be no stopping this wedding…”

We all laughed.

She was right.

They were married in her backyard 50 years ago today.

Daddy always loved for me to tell that story and copy Aunt Nell’s voice.

He would smile.

Aunt Nell came to Johnny and Angelica’s wedding 30 years later. She made no secret about the fact that she was looking for Daddy.

Still makes me smile.

I guess ZZ Top was right-Every girl’s crazy about a sharp dressed man.

Young girls, old ladies and brokenhearted daughters.

Neither one of my parents made it to see this day.

But I will celebrate you both in my heart today.

I got the best and worst of both of you.

Thanks for the rebel heart. I use it daily.

I love and miss you both dearly,

Your baby girl

One-Hour Photo…

When my brother chose his wife, I knew how much he loved her.

We all did.

And we still do. Twenty years later.

Today is her birthday and I just have to say how very thankful I am for everything she has been in my life.

One of the toughest challenges we have faced is living our lives without the very person who brought us together.

Johnny.

I found a disposable camera when I cleaned out Daddy’s house.

I called Wal-Mart today to see if they were ready.

“Can you tell me something? I know this is unusual, but what is on those photos?”

I explained that I lost my Dad and I just wanted to be prepared for what I would find in the envelope.

She told me it was kids playing with rocks.

I had secretly hoped for one last glimpse of Johnny.

No such luck.

On the ride home, I shuffled the pictures and realized that what I was seeing was Daddy’s life after Johnny.

The grandbabies were throwing rocks.

He was throwing himself into them.

I think he was looking for one last glimpse himself.

When I think of it now- Everytime I see those boys, I have not only him. I now have Daddy.

Thank you Angelica for loving those precious boys. My brother. My Daddy. And me.

Happy birthday. I love you Always.

Sister

Don’t tell your Momma…

We have cried until our cheeks burn and our eyes feel swollen.

We have been fed by the best local cooks for almost a week.

We have spent more time together in the last 30 days than we have in the 12 years since we lost Johnny.

Sitting around numb and unsure how next week will go without a daily dose of Papa.

The adults are in one room and the kids are in the kitchen.

We hear a roar of laughter that symbolizes wrongdoing.

Curious as to what confession was made, we find my nephew Jared telling on Papa.

Years ago, Papa took the grandbabies down to his favorite place-the Cahaba River Road.

He let them ride in the back dangling their feet off the tailgate.

He would hit the brakes and sling them forward.

And he would “goose” the gas and sling them back.

The kids loved it.

On one occasion, Papa got carried away.

He slung out Jared and Joah.

He panicked and hit the brakes. They said he run around and dusted them off. After making sure they were okay, he warned them not to tell their momma.

“If your Momma finds out, she ain’t never going to let y’all go off with me again.”

Jared was laughing because he never told.

I am laughing because he did.

He would have been so proud of his grandchildren this week.

They wore overalls, took care of him one last time, but most of all-they kept his secrets.

I am personally hoping we are about to find out a few more.

Thank you so very much to everyone who has supported us this week.

For everything- the love was abundant.

We found your love and kindness everywhere. We found it in hugs and in the flowers and the food.

We even found it in true Southern Style- with a little money in the sugar bowl.

I don’t know if we can return it all, but I promise you we will try to keep it going.

As we have been reminded so very often this week, love is eternal.

And so is gratitude.

Forever grateful,

The Acker Family

Good people…

I was about 7 years old and we were driving past a sad little house and I laughed and said, “that’s where so-and-so lives”.

Daddy hit the brakes.

“Don’t you ever let me hear you say anything about someone or where they live. That kid has no more control over that than you do where you live. If someone is working and making an honest living and that’s the best they can do, that is all that matters.”

In 47 years, I got many of these life lessons.

Whenever I thought I knew better, Daddy reined me in with humility.

He was not perfect.

But I never had to point out his mistakes, he was always first to do that.

“I could have done a better job raising y’all”, he would start an apology and his voice would make that familiar sound of regret and heartache that was barely holding back a few tears.

We could all do better.

My favorite thing about my sweet Daddy though was not doing better. It was not being better. It had nothing to do with any of that.

It was being simple.

His best days were spent rounding up a yard full of grandkids. They chopped wood, started fires, and Luke ran a weedeater until his hands trembled. Reagen a.k.a. Ikebod rode her plastic horse Buttermilk in the front yard.

He changed more diapers than most women.

And like everything else in his life, he did it his way.

Nascar style.

When a sagging diaper was noticed, he would announce that it was time for a pit stop. Jacob, being the oldest, stood by in the pit crew holding a diaper and baby wipes. The guilty party ran to the ottoman and threw their legs in the air like they were competing for the fastest time. Daddy made various air wrench noises and entertained while cleaning. He changed a lot of flat tires and blow-outs as he called them over the years, then the fresh toddler got a pat on the butt as they were put back down and a “Back on the road!”

I was always amazed at how the kids cooperated.

But we laugh because he did not fix hair. Shea would get a call, “Baby, I am going to Clanton. Come over here and do something with this baby’s hair.” Shea said Papa would have a hairbrush and ponytail holder waiting.

If Daddy had extra money, he would obsess on how to share it. He would let me know how he was going to divide it. We all got our part.

There would never be enough time or words to describe what he taught me.

But if I could tell you something that would honor him, it would be sit on your porch.

Watch the birds. Feed stray animals. Ride down to the river. Often.

He always reported to us if the Cahaba River was up or down and whether or not the lilies were about to bloom. When we look back at pictures, they are mostly of Daddy holding fish.

He always told us to drive careful and when it would rain. I have told myself I will now have to watch the weather.

My Daddy planted flowers with me, danced with me and taught me to be proud of who you are. As long as you are “good people”.

That was how he described people he was fond of. “Sister, go over there and meet Mr. and Mrs. Townsend -They’re good people.”

He knew the names of waitresses and janitors and truck drivers.

He leaves behind a family who will miss him the rest of our lives.

But we know exactly what it takes to be Good People.

Thank you Papa. For miles of trotlines, duct tape creations and endless hours of arm wrestling and riding horsey.

It was a blessing to be a part of your Acker family.

Where do we go from here?

When everyone listens to the podcast, they are left with that heavy feeling.

I always want them to know about the beautiful things I have shared with you this week.

This really is just a tiny drop in the bucket of this story. I could never tell you everything. It is unbelievable.

Connections.

Friendships.

Support.

Awareness.

Education.

Simple acts of effort.

And even laughter.

I was sent this screenshot and it still makes me laugh.

Our united effort was to not only memorialize John but also to publicly state the fact that one person lost is one too many.

I wanted to end this week with another group project because we have done that so well.

Tags.

Wildflowers.

Music.

They were all a part of celebrating the impact John had on your life.

I would love for us now to commit to educating ourselves.

Whether you know it or not, there is a John in your life. Maybe one in your mirror.

Educating myself helped me understand John and my own depression.

I saw a quote where a celebrity was asked about whether or not talking publicly about her depression was difficult. And she said that actually it was the opposite.

It was almost like every time she talked about it, she spit out a little of the poison.

One day this discussion group will be a thing of the past in your life.

When you look back on the impact of this podcast, I want it to be a turning point.

Just like it was for me. When I saw my own words out there by my friend Julia.

I want you to promise me this.

I want you to listen to the birds sing.

I want you to appreciate a sunset.

I want you to smile.

I want you to do all of those things that are an immense part of living and we take for granted.

And then when it rains.

You trip.

You run late.

I want you to work on your inner voice.

I want you to take a deep breath and shake it off.

I want you to forgive yourself.

But most of all I want you to keep going.

And know if you did it for no one else, you did it for John.

We are all now your forever friends because at some point or another we all live in a mental S-Town.

But it doesn’t even matter, if we are all in this together.

So many of you have said if I just could have talked to him.

I remember thanking Joy Langdon Gray in a private message for understanding that John had issues and still loving him.

Her reply has echoed in my head ever since, “We all have issues.”

Yes we do.

And he would love that.

So here’s to all of us and our issues.

If you can’t share your story, share his. Or share both.

And that’s all I have to say about that for tonight.

Meeting of S-Town Anonymous is now adjourned.

Beauty and the Bee…

When John introduced himself, he would say my friends call me John B.

The B. meant you were his friend.

We used the B. in several ways. It started with note cards.

I found 30+ business cards in John’s workshop over 2 years ago.

I mailed them out to people who were kind as a thank you. Needless to say, they were appreciated.

When I went to have some reprinted, I met David at the counter.

“Did you know him?”

I was nervous when I told him that I did know John.

I told him I was trying to help people and he said so was his sister Katie Beaugez. He asked if he could give her my number.

I am so thankful.

She has been a precious gift.

Katie B. (that is how she is stored in my phone) was a student at the University of Montevallo.

She also happened to be the grant coordinator for Alabama Suicide Prevention and Resource Coalition.

She was the first to say forgive yourself.

We met to brainstorm on several occasions about what we could do to promote suicide prevention in Alabama.

She encouraged me to take the at-home study course for QPR training.

She coached me through the presentation. She said people will forget a slideshow, but they will remember a story.

I have now spoken in over 10 cities in Alabama.

Every time I put a card in a new hand, you feel that John’s story is helping others.

People thank me.

I think you should thank Katie. Or maybe I should say Katie B.

She is now a counselor. And I know she is going to be a great one. I consider myself her first client.

And when she asked if I thought it was okay if she used the bee on her business card, I was thrilled.

Looking at it this morning, I am a little emotional. It is one more symbol of the ripple effect. One more beautiful sign that we are all in this together.

John’s story is told when I introduce myself thanks to Katie B.

My name is Cheryl Dodson and let me tell you why I am here today…

That is the beauty and the bee,

Love and big hugs,

Cheryl

To know John-You have to know about the Music…

The first time I remember seeing John B. McLemore, he was standing behind his mother. Believe it or not he was quiet.

He had been casually mentioned as a clock repairman and I told him I needed him to “fix” a clock I found at a yard sale.

She wanted gossip. He wanted to leave.

He seemed to be looking at me like he wasn’t sure if he was going to speak.

But once he did….

Pretty soon he would bust in the town hall walking sideways and blurting out whatever had been in his head all night.

He was a night owl.

White t-shirt.

Faded blue jeans.

Unbrushed bed hair.

Dirty glasses.

He would bring me CD’s wrapped in construction paper.

To Cheryl A.

From John B. ❤

John had a large music collection. I always felt it was a beautiful part of him that really was not shared in the podcast.

I introduced him to my friends Todd and Crystal and music was always our common ground. We had some fun.

Years later it would lead me to another friend who shared his love for music.

Andrew Warnberg.

It was so nice to hear new stories and laugh again.

The support group began.

My all-time favorite Andrew conversation.

And there were many.

I opened messenger today to replay the conversations.

I am so very thankful for him.

He gave me lots of advice. Good advice.

We lost Andrew to cancer this year. I wish I could capture in words what his friendship meant to me.

I can’t.

But I can show you what he felt we should do about John.

And I think we have.

And we still are.

Thank you for helping me do that.

All of you.

Big hugs. Big love. Big playlists.

Cheryl

I want to show you something…

When Ch. 7 ended of the S-Town podcast, there were so many questions.

At the time, everyone was so very emotional.

Local people were defensive. People who had lived a small town life and moved away were in agreement.

I remained silent on a lot of questions that I could have answered, but it was simply because I did not want to argue.

I think enough time has passed and I also think there is something many people need to know.

I look at the podcast differently now.

When I lost John, I lost my friend.

The painful thing is that he was not my first friend to lose to suicide.

I have lost several.

Each one was a beautiful individual with their own story.

John’s story is different in the fact that his voice and pain were documented. I have personally seen his story help others because people can relate to what he was feeling.

It is my hope that they can see that what they feel is not isolated inside them.

That is where we save lives.

If you want to share John’s story, use it to make a connection.

I challenge everyone of you to give him that legacy.

I know we all have an inner voice that doubts and fears.

I have found that when I am most vulnerable, I later became the most understood.

Things that were painful to share became the very way I connected.

Mostly, to a lot of you.

I want to thank you all for that.

And I want to show you the power of connection.

It started with private messages and ended with lifelong friends.

I expected a tag. Or some wildflower seeds. I never expected the sweet little notes and heartfelt encouragement.

Some of you have shared with me some painful things you have experienced.

We understood each other.

So if there are any who are struggling, this is what I want to show you.

As my precious friend Bec told me, “grief is love with nowhere to go”.

Somehow it came here to me.

How it ended up in my laundry room is strictly because I couldn’t pack it away.

But when I saw the door with all the names guarding this beauty, I thought it was appropriate.

So here is a little glimpse of the love from everywhere.

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.

This is why I wanted to share this week.

If you want to talk about John, let’s continue with what happened afterwards.

I think it is just as important.

Love to all,

Cheryl

Big baby…

I was walking into Foodland over 10 years ago.

A lady was sitting behind a table before you went in the entrance.

I think I thought she was selling doughnuts.

I asked what she was doing.

“I am signing people up to be foster parents.”

I wrote down my information.

She later told me that I was the only person that signed up.

I am so very thankful that I did.

I imagined a little six pound baby in my arms.

I got my groceries and plotted how to break the news to Jeff.

It was easier than you think.

Jeff loves kids. All kids. Hyper. Disabled. Angry. Even teenagers.

We try to count and never agree on the number that have been in our home.

Our kids are asked about their siblings and the answer is well- complicated.

His. Hers. Ours. Theirs. Foster. Adopted. Exchange. Short term. Permanent. Etc.

I can tell you stories that would rip your heart out. Jeff says they are not ours to share.

The past of a child is just that-Theirs.

And I agree.

But what I can tell you is this- your heart doesn’t have a fuel gauge.

It will never be full.

As a matter of fact, the more you love- the more you can.

As for the baby that I brought home ten years ago- he was 6’2, 300lbs., 14 and angry.

Not anymore.

For a while we were known as the blindside family, now we are just us.

And as far as my heart, it was almost as close to full as you can get today.

When he reached and smiled to hold his baby niece, life doesn’t get any better.

I wish I could capture the beauty, but a picture will have to do.

Thank you Lord for my brand new baby girl and my big baby boy,

Cheryl

The store porch…

It is funny what triggers your memory.

I walk in the store to pay for gas and I am as excited as a kid when I see a glass bottle.

All of a sudden I am seven years old and have been sent across the road to Freda’s.

The official name on the front of the store was Hunt’s Grocery.

Most of the time, we just said we were going to sit on the store porch.

We didn’t have to specify, there was only one.

And most of the time we just sat.

It didn’t seem like we had enough money to stay inside long.

And if you did, Mrs. Freda was bound to get onto you.

My first destination was the drink box.

I loved to open it up and stick my head in it. I can still smell the cold metal.

Drinks always seemed to be just beyond the reach of my arm.

It felt like I had to tiptoe to reach one.

About the time I had cold wet glass in my hand, I was already in trouble for leaving it open too long.

Then I would love to wander around dark aisles and stare at racks of Goody hair accessories that I did not know how to use. It seems like nobody else did either, because they were dusty.

If someone was at the register to distract her, I could make it back to the scales and the rack where you could tear off the butcher paper.

Those were fascinating. I have tried to think of a reason to purchase one.

Maybe a lifetime supply of gift wrap in butcher paper? The Christmas tree would look like I gave everyone a pack of hamburger meat.

I may have just found a reason!

Anyways.

One particular day Mother sent me across the road to put something on her charge account which we called our “ticket”.

Yours truly gets the bright idea to charge a bottle of fingernail polish (of all things) to Momma’s ticket.

Mrs. Freda looks about 9 feet tall on the other side of the counter.

“Did your mother give you permission to charge that?”

I lied and said “Yes”.

Uh-oh.

“Yes what?….” Double trouble.

I forgot to say “Yes, mam”.

I got out to the road, checked for cars, took a deep breath and braced myself to run across the road barefoot.

As the outside temperatures increased, so did my speed in crossing the road.

When I proudly gave mother her purple-brown fingernail polish, she was not impressed.

She told me to go right back over there and take that back.

Talk about a walk of shame, hanging my head and facing Mrs. Freda.

She was smug as she said, “Your mother didn’t say you could buy it, did she?

“No, mam….”

Over the years, Freda seemed to grow shorter and not so scary.

It was probably because I remembered to say “Mam” to her even if I said it to noone else.

She would rock on the porch and talk to whoever was in the next chair.

I would sit on the back corner and eavesdrop.

You could find out lots of things on that porch.

Who was fighting, honeymooning and drank too much. We shared everyone’s business but our own.

I think that was a rule.

If I could go back, I would run behind the mosquito truck and breathe in all the carcinogens again.

I believe the smoke must have helped our immune systems.

I would just love to go back to the store porch for the advice of everyone and better yet, I would love to ask for a few more memories. Tell me more.

There are so many things I forgot to ask.

When the cars go by faster now, noone is there to fuss about their speed.

It is an empty ghost of a building.

Don’t they know there should be a historical landmark sign there?

It was our community center, our neighborhood watch, and etiquette training classroom.

But mostly it was just ours.

It belonged to Mrs. Freda, but she shared it with everyone who crossed the road.

Here’s to dusty dark shelves, metal containers and paper sacks.

I wish I could shop there again just long enough to get in trouble.

Don’t laugh, or it makes it worse-

Cheryl Suzette

Stay tuned…

My favorite Father’s Day weekend was a few years ago.

It didn’t revolve around gifts. It was the toughest challenge of parenting- Discipline.

Our kids only loved it when it applied to someone other than themselves.

Our middle daughter Lea is continually teased for being Daddy’s favorite.

So it comes as no surprise that her brothers loved to be spectators of her being in trouble.

One big fib about her whereabouts late one night and a pair of short-shorts caused all of her siblings to chime in.

She happened to get grounded on the Saturday night before Father’s Day.

So as they visited, they had to comment.

“What did you think you were doing?”, asked our oldest Lauren.

“How’s it going party animal?”- big brother Jacob.

The famous, “I would never…” from little sister Reagen.

Lea took it all in stride with plenty of eye rolls.

But my favorite was finding out that when they found out she was in trouble, her older brothers were texting a play-by-play.

Jacob said when he got a text from Colby late on a Saturday night that said-

-Stay tuned-

-She has poked the bear-

He looked at his phone and the late time and he called for details. Still makes me laugh.

Jacob says Jeff knew what they were doing before they did it.

They would tell him where they were going and his reply would be, “Now where are you really going?”

We use all of these stories to warn Reagen and hopefully save us some energy.

Because we are tired now.

But we are proud of all of you.

(Minus the shorts that went into the trash.)

Happy Father’s Day to you Jeff Dodson.

I know our children are thankful for all of the times you said yes.

I, however, believe they benefitted the most from your love on the times you said “No”.

Looking forward to the grizzly bear becoming the teddy bear with our grandbabies.

It is a beautiful thing.

Now the “No” belongs to all of you.

Don’t laugh kids,

I am just kidding- (I already know that all of you do not think I am funny…)

The dressing room…

I can remember opening the door without permission.

My right hand would swat the air softly searching for the string.

When you felt it, you pressed down slowly, held your breath and hoped Granny didn’t hear the click or see the light come on.

Otherwise, “Cheryl Acker…” and her Indiana Jones adventure was over.

For most of my life, my view was only from the doorway because I would not behave.

And she was right, I would not have.

There was a hairpiece and rows of scarves to the left.

To the right were racks of clothes squeezed in tightly.

But if there was a treasure map, straight ahead would be where X marks the spot.

As she would say-“Pocketbooks, brooches and earbobs” were all in their place.

Rows of white boxes filled with thin cotton and treasure.

I strain to remember their contents. My mind thinks there was a fox and maybe an owl or both with enamel and rhinestones.

I know there were many clip-on earrings, but how many I am not sure because there were even more strict instructions of “Do not touch”.

As I grew older, I was lucky enough to be handed a pair of vanity fair pajamas from that same closet.

She would be putting on her face cream and she would giggle at her reflection.  I can still smell the Avon rich moisture when I close my eyes.

Something about that all felt like such a luxury and I don’t think I could ever feel so rich these days.

I know that my greatest wealth today is in my memories, not possessions.

I was at the thrift store earlier today and the display case held a pair of earrings that I just knew would have belonged in her closet.

I smile now because I am wearing them as I type.

Thank you for donating whoever you are.

I just used them for time travel.

And I stayed in the closet, as long as my heart would let me.

That’s all of my thoughts for today, my vision is a little blurry.

Big hugs to all of you who know about the forbidden…

She really didn’t have much, but what she had she appreciated.

Trying to remember that myself and quietly enjoying my collection,

Cheryl Suzette

What she has…

January 4th, 2019- Daddy and I have just left the doctor for a follow up from his lung cancer. We eat lunch and I am driving him home.

A few miles from his house, the phone rings.

“Mr. Acker….”

He answers the phone and the volume is so loud that I hear them say they want him to come back next week and meet with an oncologist.

I am thankful to be wearing sunglasses and I hope he does not see the tears I can not stop from rolling down my face.

Fear.

After losing mother two years ago, Daddy has become more precious than ever before.

Approximately 40 doctor visits later and the doctor has given us wonderful news. The cancer has responded to treatment.

I don’t think I would be typing otherwise.

Our daily trips to the doctor have given us a lot of time.

Daddy has shared more about his life than ever before.

He talks of my mom. He talks of his.

It makes me happy to hear about good days.

We listen to a lot of Earl Thomas Conley.

He tells me a song reminds him of his mother.

A lyric stands out to me.

“And what she has, she thinks is enough. ”

I long to be as content as the grandmother I never met. This December will be 50 years since he lost her.

When he says, “Mother would have loved you,” it makes my eyes water.

She was kind and humble.

When you hurt her feelings, you should be ashamed of yourself.

My other grandmother came over and belittled her when my parents married.

She ridiculed the house.

When I think of that, I think about what we value.

She was content with what she had. She passed away 4 months later.

My other grandmother lived another 40 years and was never content.

When I told her I was pregnant with Jacob she said, “I don’t want to hear it. I thought you were going to make something of yourself “.

It has taken a while to get over her hurtful words.

I am very thankful to be Jacob’s mother. I have also learned the priceless lesson of contentment.

I try to enjoy my home and flowers and I am thrilled about my grandchildren.

Miss Hadley James will be here Monday.

I want her to know the kindness of Maudie and the laughter of Genevieve. The resilience of Theo and the adoration of Jackie.

And hopefully what she remembers of Cheryl will guide her long after I am gone.

Here’s to healing and Hadley. This world needs both.

I love you so very much already,

Your Mamie

Breakfast Blessings…

Frog Level, Alabama.

Approximately the Summer of 1984.

I am standing on the ground pointing my finger and saying every cuss word I can think of.

My two younger brothers, Jason and Johnny, are laughing down at me from our treehouse.

That only makes me madder, so I cuss louder.

I could not understand why they shook with laughter after everything I called them.

Until I heard a voice behind me.

“Sister…”

My knees went weak and I began to cry.

Daddy was standing behind me.

Nothing like the disappointment of John L. Acker to break my heart.

“I can’t believe my baby girl would talk like that.”

I am ashamed to this day just thinking about it.

Daddy will be the first to tell you of mistakes he made.

He has a survivor’s grit to him combined with tender hearted kindness.

These days he grows and cooks collards. If you are lucky, he will deliver them to you.

He makes sure to ask if you ate all of them because he doesn’t like waste.

“Those are a lot of work.”

I divide them up and share to avoid leftovers.

There were years where I felt like I was a failure. No degrees, certificates and titles.

Sitting down to breakfast with him and my baby girl this morning, I am so very thankful.

Lung cancer came along 5 years ago and I never thought I would have mornings like this.

When I think of the unknown of tomorrow, I am unsure of what lies ahead with his health.

But I have decided that I will not allow that worry to steal my joy from today.

So here’s to 2 eggs, bacon, grits, toast and coffee for $4.95.

Breakfast with my Dad and Jeff’s.

We are sitting in a small restaurant like VIP’s.

They might not know who I am, but I do.

I am Sister.

Hugs to you all and Happy Saturday!

Cheryl

A New Year with Old Memories…

I received a gift of trendy household cleaning products.

So I mopped.

There was a familiar smell when I sprayed the floor.

I kept mopping and tried to figure it out.

I called Jeff over.

I told him this smell reminds me of my grandmother’s kitchen.

I was so puzzled.

I flipped the bottle over to read the ingredients and found out the mystery scent-almonds.

Ah, that’s it…

Almond extract.

Suddenly, my grandmother is standing to my right.

She is squinting at a cookbook as I read the recipe.

I can’t remember the dessert.

I have looked in my cookbook trying to “trigger” my memory.

But I remember her beside me.

From deciding what we would cook and driving to our local IGA for the ingredients to actually following the recipe.

It was one of those rare occasions that I actually followed instructions.

“Cheryl Suzette” was actually behaving.

It has been almost 30 years since I stood in that kitchen.

But I smile at the thought of it.

When I close my eyes I can hear the metal cabinet in the corner open and close.

I remember what and where she kept everything in her fridge.

Once a week or so you could get a Coca-Cola. It was a real one in a glass bottle. But you had to ask permission to go in that bottom drawer.

Flannel backed tablecloths protected the kitchen table.

Wealth was measured by the contents of your deep freeze. And it was always full.

We saved bread ties and reused tin foil.

Most people remodel their kitchen for state of the art appliances.

I did the reverse. I removed my cabinets. I searched for an antique sink.

I went with state of the heart I guess.

Her words and wisdom echo when I wash my dishes.

I laugh at my own absent minded actions.

I try to water my plants with my dishwater.

On several occasions, I have found a spoon on the ground the next day.

Yesterday I was aggravated at someone littering only to find it was my own dishrag hanging on my camellia.

So here’s to another year of memories and calamities.

I don’t know much about keeping a resolution, so my hope for you is that you search your heart and mind.

And maybe, just maybe, you will find your grandmother…

I hope you have a Happy New Year. I hope it is so good that it will become a “Good Ole’ Days for you,

Cheryl

Spring came early on my street…

I moved to my little house on 50 Rotenberry Lane over 16 years ago.

I spent the first few years apologizing to the neighbors for our bad manners.

My boys loved to play football in Mrs. Lela’s yard instead of ours.

I would “holler” at them to come back in our yard.

I would walk over and apologize and Mrs. Lela would tell me she loved to watch them play.

When my dog stayed at her house, I found out he had a food bowl at hers. I don’t blame him for staying.

She always wanted you to stay and visit.

We shared a few things in common.

My first husband Ward lost a wife in childbirth. He had two children when we married.

Mrs. Lela would talk of her husband Robert. He lost his wife and had 4 children to raise.

When she talked about painful things it was more than just wisdom, it was with understanding.

When I walked over after my brother Johnny died, she told me about her sister she lost unexpectedly in a car accident.

When you live 90 years, there isn’t much you have not seen.

I admired her grit. She would rub her knees and say she ruined them playing softball. She played in her 50’s with women 20 years younger than her.

She mowed her lawn and would use a pushmower until she was 86 years old.

And I adored her sense of humor.

A visit never left you empty handed.

Our yards bloom together because of what she has sent back home with me.

Old maids, 4 o’clock’s, lilies, etc., etc…

The Saturday before Thanksgiving I was planting bulbs.

I heard a familiar, “Hey…” coming from across the road.

I walked over and planted her a row of tulips around her birdbath and told her I would be back on Monday to plant some daffodils.

She bent down and pulled up a few weeds while I planted.

I remember thinking how nice it would be for her to look out from her porch and see the tulips this spring.

I didn’t go back on Monday and I can’t remember why.

Wednesday she fell and went to the hospital.

Thanksgiving was so sad to see her yard empty.

Normally cars and family are everywhere.

When we heard the news, my heart broke for myself and for her sweet family.

I will have to wait for my flowers in April.

She got hers in December.

My town, my street, and my heart won’t be the same without her.

I will be forever grateful for my address and my sweet neighbor that came with it.

Some people dream of Heaven with streets of gold, but I believe it is lined with little houses like hers.

A cake always ready.

A yard in full bloom.

And someone waiting and so happy to see you.

I hope to live my life to join in you Heaven one day Mrs. Lela, and I hope the Good Lord lets me be your neighbor again.

Love and prayers to the Rotenberry family,

Your neighbor Cheryl

Just add water…

Every year has life lessons.

I think this year has been the year for gratitude.

Especially when I think of my grandmother.

My grandmother Maudie was a twin. She was born in 1920. Her father passed away when Grandmother and Aunt Mamie were only 5 years old.

How would you like to be a widow in 1925?

My great-grandmother said they would have starved to death if Mrs. Thrasher wasn’t always sending food over because she accidentally “cooked too much”.

I also remember my Granny Acker’s automatic response when we told her someone else was coming to eat.

“Well, we will just have to add a little water to the soup.”

It always confused me.

“But we aren’t eating soup”, I would think to myself when I was a kid.

I now understand.

Sometimes it’s your soup, sometimes it’s your heart.

There’s always room for one more person.

Thanks Mrs. Thrasher.

True kindness that lives on almost 90 years later.

Not because anyone patted theirselves on the back bragging about a good deed.

I never met my grandmother or Mrs. Thrasher. The story was just passed down.

My Aunt Genevieve had a great memory, a good way of telling things, and a niece that loved to listen.

Don’t laugh, be thankful…

Cheryl

Watch your step…

It is funny what triggers my memory, one of those things where a door sticks or a step is crooked.

Some imperfection that needs to be fixed, but at the same time you think about how good we have it.

Now we work to add themes and style to our homes, when we used to only be concerned with function.

We lived in simple little houses. And a roof over your head was enough.

Enough.

I don’t think it exists anymore.

Back before the DIY network, when it was do it yourself or it doesn’t get done.

I think that is one of the reasons I love my father-in-law so much.  I respect him.

You can still visit a crooked little house a little ways down the road.

The roof is low.

The rooms aren’t “square”.

Before he was Paw Paw, he was Jim.

The oldest son to Thurman and Essie.

Thurman was crippled.

When you see that little house, it is pretty impressive.

Paw Paw says it doesn’t look too bad for it to be built by a 12 year old.

Well that’s not completely true. There was a 10 year old and his mom and dad.

Together they tried. Together they built it.

It’s far from today’s perfect.

But it housed 10 kids and more grandkids than I can count.

Sixty years later and I am not only impressed, I am humble.

I can’t imagine.

Most grown men could not build that house.

The biggest reason is they would not try.

I wish there was a network for trying.

When you are thankful this Thursday, be thankful for those that tried.

Sometimes when I think about where life is taking me and things feel a little unsure, I just need to remember to remind myself-

You will get there, even if you’re steps are crooked…

Cheryl

Seems like old times…

When we were growing up, Daddy did all the cooking.

And as my Jacob says, “If you were hungry, it was your own fault. ”

Papa as he calls him, has always made sure everyone had plenty to eat.

He is even famous in the family for making lunches. I cannot say they are traditional, but they definitely make for a heavy sack.

When my brother Johnny was alive, he framed houses and worked close to home at times.

It was not unusual for Daddy to pull up in his big red truck he named “Boodreaux” on a jobsite and hand Johnny a sack.

What was unusual, however, was what the sack contained. We have laughed about Johnny opening his sack to find famous contents like a butterbean sandwich.

As Johnny got teased about his Daddy bringing him lunch, he could shrug it off with a simple “Yea, he loves me”.

And Daddy did.

So when Johnny’s son Luke called Papa last week and asked if he would fix him a lunch, Papa was more than ready to fill up a sack.

I believe Daddy said he put vienna’s, snack cakes, and even an egg mcmuffin in that bag.

No butterbean sandwich. (I did ask for the sake of my readers.)

Daddy was so pleased about being asked, he looked at me and he smiled.

When he said, “It seemed like old times…”, I knew exactly what he meant.

He had to share the story with me. And I had to share it with you.

So here’s to my little brother Johnny.

We love you, we miss you and you still make us smile.

Even over something as simple as a sack lunch.

I am so very thankful for you, your boys and last but definitely not least-butterbean sandwiches.

Don’t laugh brother,

Sister

Trick-or-treat…

Halloween in West Blocton, Alabama, is so very special.

Main Street was made for it.

My friend Todd estimated 700 trick-or-treaters tonight.

Once Main Street gets blocked off at 5 p.m., the fun begins.

Not only do we trick-or-treat, we visit.

We tailgate. We eat hot dogs and chili. And dips and desserts.

So tonight when we give directions, we tell you how to get to Main Street via the backstreets.

And when you turn on Hickory, you will find Daddy.

He plans ahead.

He starts a fire in the front yard.

He sits on the porch.

He passes out goodie bags he has made in advance filled with miniature candy bars.

And then for the grand finale, you get your choice of flavors of a small can of vienna sausages.

The first year Daddy passed out “Vi-enners”, I think I cried laughing. And I was embarrassed.

The grandkids absolutely loved it.  It is now a tradition for well over a decade.

Daddy buys a few cases every year and I think it is now a novelty stop for the littlest of locals.

Take your pick.

Take your flavor.

And take your hug.

Thank you Papa. For being you.

I am no longer embarrassed.

I am proud of you and all that you do-your sweet way.

Happy Halloween from Hickory Street,

Cheryl

Homecoming…

I was 14. Reagen’s age now.

I was National Junior Honor Society 9th Grade Maid.

I had my dress, posters made for the side of my car. But no car.

Nobody we knew owned a convertible.

Big Ack said you can use my truck. A grey GMC pickup.

We put our dining room bench in the back. The kind with the wooden frame and velvet type cloth with pictures of deer and grist mills scenery on the material.

My dress was borrowed from my friend. I thought I was a rebel with “high top tenny shoes” underneath.

Aunt Genevieve could not stop cringing and laughing about my parade ensemble. She would shake her head and laugh some more.

I remember her fussing because the truck was dirty. I can’t remember if we even had time to wash it.

But what I can remember is looking to my right. (I was facing backwards on the bench.) There on the block wall of Kathy McCulley’s house sat my granddaddy. I can still see his overalls. His head tilted sideways when he smiled at me. And that sweet little wave.

Aunt Genevieve was still laughing.

We get so many things wrong in life. We stress about finances and things and stuff.

Stuff.

Who cares?

My most prized possessions are in my head.

My memories.

Throw away your bad ones.

Declutter the garbage and the mistakes and the abuse and the regret.

Find the Main Street in your life.

And Come Home,

Cheryl

Go!

One year ago.

I am sitting in my car looking at myself in the visor mirror.

No makeup. Yoga pants. Fever blister.

True recipe for avoiding any appearance in public.

I was just going to run in Reagen’s school and back for a second. And I did.

(In the 4 years that Reagen went to West Blocton Middle School, I probably averaged one appearance per year. I usually rank high on Bad Mom Awards when my sister and I compare parenting mishaps.)

But of course, on the day I want to see no one, I see State Senator Cam Ward and State Representative April Weaver. I avoid eye contact and head to my car.

When I get in my car, I ask myself-“What are the chances that I will see Cam and April again?

I know the answer, so I flip up the visor and go back into the school.

I explain myself to Tammy Donner, who is not only our school secretary, but also a personal friend.

Tammy is also a very cool former First Lady of West Blocton, who has supported me behind the scenes and publicly.

I tell her that I would love to ask them to help with our suicide prevention efforts and she encourages me to hang out until they are finished.

About the time they are leaving the school, I am standing at her desk and she is saying, “Go, go, go, go ,go, go goooo…..!”

I catch them outside on the sidewalk.

I stammer out who I am and my famous, “I have an idea”, without catching my breath.

Jeff always says I should slow down and catch my breath when I get excited. My middle age memory scares me. I feel that if I don’t get it out quick, I will forget what I am saying.

Needless to say, I did not overwhelm them too bad. They smiled and ended up encouraging me with their support .

April attended the Wildflower Walk and shared her story. Mental health is important to her because she was a registered nurse prior to being our State Representative.

She also shared a John B. McLemore story with me.

She attended Cahawba Christian Academy. John was much older, but she remembers him and she remembers Mary Grace being the librarian.

What else she remembers about him, makes me smile. We’ve all been the target of dodgeball gone bad. There is always the one kid who is a terror. She remembers John getting that kid out immediately. Then John was a good sport and willing to let them throw the ball at him.

Coincidence? Divine intervention? Or just plain no shame on my part, either way here we are one year later.

State Representative April Weaver is bringing a check for $2,500.00 for the library and suicide prevention.

My heart is full. But my eyes, well they are overflowing.

On behalf of everyone we can reach, Thank You Cam and Thank You April,

Cheryl

Even when I know you’re wrong…

Some friends come and go out of your life and that is only natural.

I am very thankful that I have a friend who has stayed.

Through the good.

Through the horrible.

Through the worst fashion statements, relationships and finances.

She loaned me my down payment on my house.

She showed up and stood by my side at moments I know that she was wincing and shaking her head.

And she talked about me in golden moments with pride and love.

Thank you for being my friend.

But, mostly thank you for being you.

I have called you at 6 a.m. repeatedly with my late night bright ideas.

You have made signs, took pictures and helped pay the bills.

You have had to deliver heartbreaking news to me but it was okay because I knew you loved me.

Our time together as single mom roommates was unbelievably precious.

I love you and I hope you have the happiest of birthdays.

Please don’t ever tell our secrets.

Don’t laugh,

Cheryl

If that Mockingbird don’t sing…

An envelope arrived in the mail a few weeks ago.

A small certificate of completion, but it represents a completely unexpected detour in my life.

On behalf of Alabama Suicide Prevention and Resource Coalition(ASPARC), I will be working with several friends to present the QPR training in a few cities in Alabama over the next few months.

QPR training stands for Question/Persuade/Refer which is basically CPR for mental health.

I signed up to travel to:

Jacksonville

Montgomery

Florence

Demopolis

Guntersville

Huntsville

And my beloved Monroeville.

I would say it was home to Aunt Genevieve, but her home in her heart was always Blocton.

Monroeville was, however, her mailing address. Summer visits to stay with her included many yard sales and a few trips to the downtown dollar store. Across the street, she would point out the courthouse to me.

Much like Scout, I didn’t fully understand.

As an adult now, when I think of a return to South Alabama, I remember her encouraging me to watch “To Kill a Mockingbird”.

I know every character in the book, but I also lived with them in real life. Harper Lee brought every small town in Alabama to the stage of Hollywood.

Time for change through the innocence of a child.

I wish I could do the same thing for suicide prevention. I happen to know and love a few people who are the Boo Radley type, or maybe I should say they are mockingbirds.

I will be practicing next week in Woodstock. Feel free to reach out anytime and join me. I would love the input.

I have to admit that I worry that I am not a very good listener, even though I come from a long line of eavesdropping.

Aunt Genevieve said people loved to confide in my Grandmother. One young couple sat at the kitchen table and told her quietly that they were running away to get married.

Aunt Genevieve ran faster than they did apparently, because after she listened she went straight outside to tell their secret.

When she “let the cat out of the bag”, Grandmother tore her tail tore up. Still makes me laugh. It was so Genevieve.

I had a sweet request recently for more Genevieve stories. I smile because her stories were so wonderful. They were not prideful stories of how wonderful I was way back when…

They were stories of mistakes and regrets. But somehow when her heartache and mischief mixed together, they were soon followed with belly laughs and smiles that made your cheeks sore.

More Genevieve…

Yes, we were left wanting just a little more. Makes me so thankful for my memories.

And hers.

There was no need for ancestry. com back then, we only had to place a phone call to Genevieve. You not only found out how they were related, you got a side note of scandal. “His grandmother Minnie and your grandmother Laura were sisters and one time, he broke both his arms when he…” (Names and details have been changed to protect the guilty, haha.)

I missed her last phone call. I am sure I avoided it due to the length of time her phone calls generally took.

I would love one long call today to tell her that I met Mary Badham a.k.a. “Scout”.

I can hear her say, “Ooh Suzette” right now.

I would also love to share my latest bright ideas and adventures with the former Scout of Smith Hill. I know she would appreciate and laugh.

I am very hopeful that after the presentation, I can swing by the Monroeville courthouse. I don’t think I could leave Monroeville without a glimpse of it and then back across the street.

In my mind, I can still see a woman in a sleeveless turtleneck pointing out to a young girl how you stand up and do the right thing even when it is not easy.

Even if you have to do it alone.

Because if you don’t,

Well, it’s kinda like it’s a sin to Kill a Mockingbird…

Suzette

Don’t try this at home…

We spent the day together at a high school band competition. Three hours in a car and even more than that on concrete bleachers gives you time to think.

And one thing that I realize is that I get more credit than I deserve for getting things done.

I have to admit that my secret weapon is my sister-in-law Shea.

She probably never knows what to expect when I call.

Coming from me, “Whatcha doing Shea?”, is pretty dangerous.

We laugh because in over 20 years, Shea has only told me no once. (And I guess I don’t blame her, because I really shouldn’t have asked her to remove stitches.)

That is just one more example as to why I am kinda famous for calamities and impatience.

But every other time, I can call up that sweet girl and she will show up-regardless. My friends say they wish they had a Shea.

And I have to agree, everyone needs a Shea. Just please don’t take mine.

Together, I am positive that we have moved more furniture than most professionals. I have to give her credit for saving my life just last month from a run away headboard.

When we have a family get-together, she usually brings whatever dish we request-usually her green bean casserole. She even washes dishes so that after everyone is gone, my house is clean.

When she has brought me homemade chicken and dumplings along with her sweet self, I find out she has already delivered some to my Daddy.

But one of her miraculous feats was the summer that she babysat all of our kids.

NINE KIDS. ALL SUMMER.

Talk about babysitting, that is definitely worthy of an Olympic Gold Medal. Or maybe a Congressional Medal of Honor.

I am not sure, but I would definitely argue that it qualified her for a Lifetime Achievement Award and 2006 Aunt of the Year.

Stories of her patience and rewards for good behavior with indoor hide-and-go seek are still told to this day.

She could definitely tell so many stories about my shenanigans.

I called her one time and told her to stay on the phone while I took a light fixture down. I managed to drop the light fixture and scream and the phone went dead. We laugh because she says she remembers thinking, “Do I call 911?”

Believe it or not, 911 was not necessary that day.

But, we have come close a few times more than I care to admit.

I should definitely be a “Don’t try this at home…” spokeswoman. Shea could vouch for that.

She has made emergency rides and met me halfway with kids who had broken arms and broken braces.

Just last night, she stayed up until 2 in the morning and washed four band uniforms for competition.

So when we came home tonight from band competition, one trophy was missing.

Where do you find an award for running forgotten lunch money to school? Burying my Dad’s beloved dog? Cutting a cake for party of 1,500? Hiding a mattress? Not telling Jeff about my bright ideas gone bad?

You don’t.

Over the years, we have shared everything from a wedding dress to responsibility for filling out paperwork for Papa.

I would not have it any other way.

And if there is a gold standard for friendship and family,

Rikki Shea Acker- I rank you all 1’s.

Superior.

Best in class.

It really would not have hurt you to remove just a few stitches Shea,

Don’t laugh and I love you,

Cheryl

Happily Ever Acker…

I was often told to put that boy down because I was holding him too much.

I remember crying when he was little. I thought this child is just too good to be mine.

I always feared losing him.

His love for me was more than I deserved. He climbed in my lap when other boys had grown out of that.

When he took Spanish in school, he started joking and lovingly calling me Madre.

I remember thinking how much I would dread the day when he no longer loved on me.

He is 23 now and I am so thankful that day never came.

I guess our bond was brought on by the struggles of being a single mom and an only child for 8 years.

I always wanted more kids. He always wanted a dad.

We got blessed with both.

But my memory travels back to my wealthiest years.

All we had was each other.

No car. No phone. No tv.

It took everything we had to pay a house note and a light bill.

My prayer was that he would not make my mistakes and find a good woman for a wife.

He found her.

Two years ago today.

I sat on the couch the night they were married and let it sink in.

I told Jeff, “Well, my baby boy is married now.”

And then there was a knock at the door.

I wish I could describe how it truly felt to open the door.

“Momma we’re too tired, can we stay here tonight?”

I busied myself making them a bedroom fit for newlyweds.

I will always treasure that moment of loss followed by unimaginable gain.

It was the closest I ever came to a fairytale.

She looks at him the way I wanted her to. She says his name with laughter in her voice.

She has a heart of gold and a rare beauty.

And she loves babies. She works at a children’s hospital to take care of them.

She is so tender hearted that she almost quit early in her career. Sometimes the heartache was too much.

It pleases me so much to know that hopefully one day she will be the mother of my grandbabies.

And I hope I get to hold them too much.

Happy anniversary to my blessings,

I love you both,

Madre

Somewhere beautiful…

I was around 8 years old and I remember thinking Kellye Smitherman was the prettiest thing I had ever laid eyes on.

I am 46 now and I still believe it.

When I was lucky enough to go somewhere with her and my cousin Tammie, she was always kind. They were 8 years older and the coolest of teenagers.

Years later, I remember riding with them to the store as a teenager myself. I sat in the car while they went in. Kellye comes out with a red lipstick. “Here Cheryl, this will look good on you.”

There is a special kind of beauty that she owns and you feel when you are in her presence. I can only describe it by saying that she makes you feel beautiful.

When the prettiest woman in the room walks up to you and compliments your outfit or your makeup, you feel special.

She makes mental notes and wants to help. She has brought me extra silverware when it was needed without asking.

She has laughed at my jokes before I told them. She starts laughing and says, “I know it’s going to be funny.”

But even sweeter is the Kellye you get to know when you are hurting and brokenhearted. She has a comforting nature.

She would and has run errands for me and helped clean my house. Most people don’t volunteer for that, especially in a way that makes you feel relieved.

Some friends love your kids, but old friends loved your grandparents.

She can see beauty in scarred furniture and scarred people. That is what makes me love her even more. She does not discard, she mends or finds beauty in the flaws.

When I started working on my blog, she bought me a journal and let me borrow a laptop. When I said to someone that my blog was born from heartache, she said,” Sometimes the best things in life are, look at songs…”

Always encouraging. Always.

Not many people can take care of 3 generations and carry laundry baskets full of dishes. Jeff picked up something she sat down once and said, “I have a whole new respect for Kellye Burt.” I laughed and said, “She carried it wearing high heels.”

She is hard to keep up with and has been my hero my whole life.

Happy birthday Kellye Burt!

Wherever you are, just because you are there, it is somewhere beautiful…

I love you forever,

Cheryl

Welcome home…

I know what it feels like to get “that” call.

I also know what it looks like when someone delivers “the” news.

My dear friends. My sweet cousin. My precious classmates.

One is too many.

I do not bear this burden alone. Our community bears it with me.

The guilt. The blame. The shame. The pain. The loss. The aching misery of their absence.

You are missed.

And we are determined to use this loss to reduce the risk of it happening to anyone else.

And yes I have heard, “You can’t make a difference.”

I don’t listen to them.

I listen to the 160 plus names in my address book that say “thank you”.

“Keep going.”

“I am proud of you.”

Thank you so very much everyone.

I am about to meet sweet Katie from the Alabama Suicide Prevention and Resource Coalition at our Woodstock Community Library.

I have no doubt that Katie and our precious librarian Michele are going to be a wonderful team.

Michele said it last night to Katie when the ASPARC board voted unanimously to locate our local office in the Woodstock Community Library.

“Welcome home.”

John’s hometown has become the home of suicide prevention.

I am so very proud.

For me. For us. And for one little spunky spit-fire of a librarian, Mrs. Mary Grace.

And when that ribbon is cut on September 29th, Mrs. Mary Grace McLemore, it is for you.

For you and everyone else that has dealt with this unimaginable loss.

You are not alone. You are loved.

We are here.

Right here at home.

If you are experiencing a suicidal crisis, please call the Crisis Center.

1-800-273-8255

You have an invisible army supporting you my friend.

Let’s talk. Let’s hug. Let’s get through this together.

From my town with love,

Cheryl

Your legacy…

“I cry more lately”.

We are standing around the food our community brought when we lost Jeff’s mom.

I made this statement and then I think Gail said it best. “The older you get, you look at your life and you can see your legacy”.

It is a great thing Gail does every day.

She feeds our seniors. She delivers meals. These meals will be funded by the Woodstock Music Festival.

Sometimes she is the only person these people see. But if I had to choose one person, it would be Gail.

Over the years, she has probably listened to the troubles of our entire community. Including my own. She is the type of person who you can tell about your heartache and she can say just the right thing.

I know.

Because she has. And still does.

And she still laughs. And loves. And you can’t get that just anywhere.

But you can get it our Senior Center.

Thank you Gail.

Your legacy is worth crying.

Just like each one of them.

I am so very thankful for you and so are our seniors!

Please come out and support the Woodstock Music Festival.

The meals we deliver may be to your grandmother.

Hugs, Peace and Love,

Cheryl

Maw Maw Nature…

When you lose someone there is that unquenchable thirst that comes along with a loss.

You just want to find a trace of them.

A picture.

A memory.

People spend their lives trying to chase big dreams and at the end, they reminisce the smallest joys.

Their temper tantrums become understandable. Their big mistakes are suddenly laughable.

We have laughed about Maw Maw turning over a piano she was moving. Jeff said it sounded like the house was falling down.

I personally love this memory.

I feel a strong urge to move my piano but I will not push my luck.

After all, my boys are now grown.

There is no one here to hide the evidence before Jeff gets home.

But I still owe her a big thank you.

Jeff is more understanding of my need to relocate the furniture thanks to her.

We ate supper last night and wanted to search for a handwritten recipe.

Something to preserve.

Where is her sour cream pound cake?

The one that is better 3 days later- if it makes it that long.

Giblet gravy?

No such luck.

Kinda makes you sad.

When Reagen was small, we went over to their house to help Paw Paw load up a donkey named Jesse. She had taught Jesse to count.

It was one of many animals at their house.

As a matter of fact, the animals often changed and going to their house was like a petting zoo field trip.

In the middle of the struggle, Reagen says, “Maw Maw would make a great Mother Nature.”

We all smiled and agreed. It always seemed to sum up Maw Maw and her sweet influence.

So there in the midst of her recipes, we found a precious gift. Stuck between Uncle Darrell’s salsa and Uncle Stan’s secret seasoning was a little touch of her hand.

A recipe for Orphan Kitten Formula.

This is so her.

Thank you for loving African violets. And baby birds. All sorts of plants and animals. And me. And us.

You would have made a great Mother Nature, but then again you kinda did-especially if she was a grandmother.

Grandmother Nature?

I prefer Maw Maw Nature.

Makes me smile.

Love,

Us. All of us. Etc…

P.S.  I got Paw Paw to cut the legs off my card table and make it a coffee table.  He was a good sport thanks to you.  Jeff shook his head and smiled.  Double thanks.

 

 

Paste board boxes…

Our family shares a story of a 14 year old girl named Kathy.

She was “porch dating” a young man named Jim for a few months when her mother told him she was going to send her and her 2 younger brothers to a foster home.

Jim met her parents at the courthouse the next day at noon and they were married.

Over fifty years go by. Along came 5 children, followed by 20 grandkids and now 6 great grandbabies. Her life was blessed.

She started out unloved and unwanted and left this world so much better than she found it.

Jim says they had no furniture in their first house and she used “paste board” boxes for furniture.

She was so young when they got married that she was scared to stay by herself. She would leave all of the lights on and the doors open and hide in the closet until he got home from work.

When her first two boys came along, she began to go to church. She said she could not raise them without God’s help.

I have no doubt his help arrived.

I have had the privilege to be her daughter in law for fifteen years.

For that, I am so very thankful.

We all are.

We spent the last few weeks surrounding her. She was not given any hope as her life began to leave her.

But sparks of life continued to bless us.

Heartache was present. But it was never outweighed by the whispers of “I love you”.

I have never witnessed anything more difficult or more beautiful.

If you ever have any doubt about direction in your life, choose love.

When all else fails, it prevails.

And it never ends.

Well done Kathy Dean. Well done.

No more Parkinson’s. No more pain. No more paste board boxes.

I will miss you dearly. We all will Maw Maw.

I love love love you,

Cheryl

Happy birthday Genevieve Darling…

Aunt Genevieve would have been 68 this past Friday.

I think of her in so many situations.

I often feel like I take after her more than Mother.

If I step on a creaky board, I can hear her tell me how she used to come in late and try to tiptoe around a board like that in the old house on Smith Hill. When she hit it and it creaked, grandmother would say her name from her bedroom, “Genevieve…”.

I have been working on my house and I can hear her comment on everything I do. “Suzette that is beautimous”. When most people ohh and ahh, she said ewwww, in a good way.

Daddy said he hears her when he cooks. “What you fixin’ John?” And no matter what he said, she would reply “Ewwew”.

I have been sitting here for 10 minutes trying to decide how to type it, the way she said it. It was always a compliment. “Oooohh” just doesn’t look right.

She told me about love and regret and survival with Gone with the Wind.

Her second home was Monroeville and I learned about To Kill a Mockingbird.

I still love Scout and Scarlett.

When Scarlett gives up her wedding ring “for the cause”, I laugh.

Aunt Genevieve had her own “cause” years ago.

She was decorating her fish tank and wanted a small turtle. We went to downtown Monroeville.

She pawned her wedding ring and bought a turtle. She told me not to tell Uncle Ernest.

Still makes me laugh.

And when Scout dresses as a ham, I think of her wearing Grandmother’s swimsuit to Holiday Beach. It did not go so well.

There was only one Genevieve…

She could scare us all with ghost stories and wring her hands with worry.

We could make her a nervous wreck at times. Glen Walter a.k.a. G-Dub was a handful especially when you added Cheryl, Jason and Johnny. Throw in half of West Blocton’s teenagers and you would wring your hands too.

Main Street, Haul roads, Cahaba River, McCulley Hill and Frog Level were travelled heavily.

I wish my own kids could have just one night of “Ghost Bustin’ “. Scary stories and a gorilla suit make for a lot of screaming kids.

I missed her last phone call. I will always wonder what she had to say. But deep down I know.

If only I could hear “Don’t laugh Suzette…” just one more time.

Her last few years, she became Facebook famous. She friended and liked everything.

She traced family trees and could tell us about something happening in Blocton before we knew about it. I love to see her comments on my old posts.

But what everyone remembers were her daily menus. Old fashioned home cooking made everyone reminisce and hungry.

They became her trademark.

When she was gone, Lynn Moore said it best with a final menu:

Today’s Menu

Meatloaf

Butterbeans

Cornbread

Sweet Tea

And Tears…

I will always treasure sharing a bed on nights so cold you could see your breath. Lying under so many quilts that you could not roll over, I got to pour out my heart to someone who understood and encouraged.

I love and miss you,

96 Tears and counting…

Suzette

Irreconcilable differences…

I made a vow a year ago, that I would not be negative on social media.

First and foremost, I have a 14 year old daughter who watches my reactions.

Do I always act appropriately?

I have feelings so I can honestly say that I do not.

But I do my best to take a deep breath and sometimes I even have to get a good night’s rest, but I try to respond with love.

Because of that, I do believe some people including my own children think that I handle things better than I actually do.

I am sharing this for the sole purpose of letting my children and anyone else know that is not the case.

Just because I do not share my dirty laundry does not mean that my hamper is not overflowing.

I just feel that when you have an opportunity to encourage, you take it.

That being said, here are a few of my secrets. My coworkers can confirm.

I spill my breakfast and lunch on my clothes daily.

I have worn my shirt inside out to work on multiple occasions.

I am famous for hiccups and tripping.

My first reaction is never the one I type.

I overeat, I underdust, I am very impulsive and the list goes on and on…

Very unlike my mother in love.

Billie Dailey.

She is also known around here as Jomammie to my children. Pappy called her Jo. Wade added Mammie. And it stuck.

When Wade and I divorced in 2001, that could have been the end of my relationship with her.

I am so thankful that it was not.

Irreconcilable differences are only irreconcilable if you let them be.

We lost Wade in 2007, 3 months after my brother Johnny. 2007 was a tough year.

She stepped in during the worst of times and became the Ultimate Grandmother. Friends have actually made a few sly comments to me about they don’t have a grandmother like her.

I am sad to say that they are right.

She can “doctor” just about anything, get out the worst stains, she gives great advice and can make you a banana pudding all in the same day.

The world would be a better place if we could learn to clone grandmothers. Jomammie we need your DNA.

If you have a broken relationship, I hope you can mend it.

You just might mend yourself in the process. Not to mention your entire family.

Thank you Jomammie. I love you and so do my children.

Here’s to starting a new generation of love,

Cheryl

Behind the wildflowers…

I got a phone call earlier this week. It was my neighbor Mark Gilbert. “I saw some pretty flowers…”

Thank you Mark. He replied, “It was rewarding.”

The Wildflower Walk was a bright idea one evening. Katie and I had met for dinner back in late December/early January to plan what we could do for suicide prevention this year.

We sketched out the calendar for 2018. We began with a training class in January and then the Wildflower Walk for April and the ASPARC annual conference in June. We ended the year with the Woodstock Music Festival in September and the Out of the Darkness Walk in November.

But by the end of March, I was in a panic. I didn’t think anyone would come. I wanted to cancel.

How do you invite people to talk and learn about a subject everyone wants to avoid?

And another big problem, I did not have a site to plant the seeds.

I remember telling my sweet sister-in-law Shea if it came down to it, I was going to plow up my yard.

We were camping at Tannehill State Park for Reagen’s birthday when all that changed. My first cousin Tammie has two daughters, Robbie and Kenlee. They were camping with us and called their Dad, Kenny, to bring them something.

Kenny brought it and stood by the fire to visit a minute. (Kenny also was the realtor when I sold and bought my houses.)

It never hurts to ask. “Kenny, do you know of any land near the highway I could plant some wildflowers?”

He replied, “I have that piece right across from you.”

As we say around here, “if it had been a snake, it would have bit me”. I can see that land out my kitchen window.

It sits at an angle from my house and is directly across the road from the old Woodstock Garden Center.

It is also easy to park and access. When Kelly Hicks and I planted seeds in spots last year around town, the highway made you nervous.

We wanted spots people could see, but I could not endanger a group of volunteers to plant these seeds.

I told Kenny about Lady Bird Johnson and S-Town and suicide prevention and our beloved seeds from everywhere. He agreed to let me plant them on the property.

My hope kicked back in. Invitations were printed and I began to plan this event.

Typical me, I wait until the week of the event to call anyone about the land.

I call Mark Gilbert.

He could not bush hog due to tractor problems, but he could plow it.

I called Sibley Equipment. Do you know anyone? (Sibley Equipment is owned by the family of sweet Mr. Hancock. I used to clean his house. Best boss I ever had.)

Shana said to try Wade Antonio and gave me his number. The phone call began with me leaving a voicemail rambling about really needing his help.

He called me back.

He had a death in the family of his wife, but he sent his Dad.

Shea took this picture. If a picture is worth a thousand words, this one represents a thousand worries.

But it was done.

And they would not accept any money. They said it was for a good cause. I have never met them but I am forever grateful.

We get to the day before the event and we still have not plowed it because of rain.

I prepare to deliver an apology at the Wildflower Walk.

We are at the town hall setting up the food and the display.

Jeff comes up to me and lets me know Mark is plowing it up while we are speaking-literally.

Don Wilson is helping pick up around the site.

A huge sigh of relief. And a smile.

This is going to happen.

We scatter the seeds.

The next day someone spotted a flock of birds.

I feared they ate all of our seeds.

Each day I looked over there.

Nothing.

I was asked repeatedly, “Any flowers?”

No.

No.

No.

And then one Sunday. I see something pink on the way to church. Jeff was quick to say, “You just about wrecked the car trying to look.”

I go back after church and walk through the tall roadside weeds.

I find that Hope does bloom.

Each day it seems there are a few more. Even a precious forget-me-not.

What I am trying to say is thank you.

There was no charge for the land, the bush hog, the plow, and the seeds.

I wish that the entire property was covered in blooms, but I am so proud of the ones that are there.

So, if I have learned anything, it is that you can’t tell wildflowers what to do.

I must be a wildflower. And I have a few friends…

So here’s to wildflowers. May we plant them, may we enjoy them, may we be them…

Don’t laugh,

Cheryl

P.S. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Everyone. Thank you.

We are Chapter 8…

I received a letter today from Canada. My precious friend Laura writes again.

Never in my life do I remember buying an international stamp until last year.

But my Encourager Rob in Australia requires one.

And England there’s still love to send Spencer and Georgina and Jaq and Nellie.

Mischievous Lenor needs one in Ireland.

My address book has love that I never imagined.

Nancy, Chelsea, Ginger are spread out in the states…

Right down the road with Carla and Jennifer and Sarah and Kelly…

When anxiety and fear reign about an upcoming S-Town movie, I remind myself that I feared the worst last year with the podcast.

I am thankful to say I was wrong.

The worst is over.

June 22 is this week though.

Three years.

Send a prayer for Mrs. Mary Grace.

I don’t know what to expect, but I am hopeful that my address book will expand.

So many of you brave friends have shared your stories with me. I am forever grateful to have met you even if it is only through social media.

My virtual passport has been stamped repeatedly. I have souvenirs from places I only travelled with my heart.

So when private messages and emails question the transition from podcast to film, your guess is as good as mine.

I have not been contacted.

But I hope they do.

Because I know that songs and tags and cards and wildflower seeds are just a small part of it.

They are just tiny examples of the hope we all have. The hope to recover from this suicide crisis and fight this epidemic.

I told myself that I will not allow that negative inner voice to continue to be my CEO.

I will allow all of you to be my inner board of directors. That makes my heart smile right along with my face.

When the podcast ended at Chapter 7, it began to be written one way or another for those that refused to accept an ending.

We are Chapter 8 my friends,

And I just have to believe there will be beauty in these ashes…

Let’s keep writing it.

Sending My Love to All,

Cheryl

The Greatest Gift…

I always love to call a rare and precious day, a “Unicorn Day”.

The day we took Lea and Reagen for homecoming dresses was one. Our two youngest children laughing in the backseat and twirling in the store is something I appreciate now that we have empty bedrooms.

There was a time here at the house that we had a girls bedroom with 3 beds and a boys bedroom with 2 sets of bunkbeds. I like to remember and say that we had kids “stacked like cord wood”.

One day back then I had a full blown meltdown, and I hollered “NO ONE ELSE CAN SAY MY NAME!” Jeff pulled me aside and calmed me down. He has a way of making me calmer than anybody. (He can make me madder too, but that is a different story.) We both laugh about it now.

Most days around the house now, all I have is Sir Oliver at my feet. He follows me everywhere. He gets on my last nerve just like the kids, but he keeps me company.

I have been thinking of how Daddy must feel now that his house is empty of kids and he has lost his little dog “Killer Joe”.

So I got up early yesterday, with the intent of buying Daddy’s breakfast and lunch. He wouldn’t have it.

We talked about Father’s Day presents when the waitress brought our ticket. Daddy looked across the table at me straight in the eye.

He has a way of lowering his head and leaning in when he talks serious. This was serious.

“Sister, I don’t want for anything. The greatest gift you could give me is this right here. A day with you. Your time.”

Powerful.

If that don’t make you put your phone down and pay attention. Well I lied a little, I picked it up to D.J. his memories. We drove and he called out songs. I looked them up and played them.

Ronnie Milsap made him tell me how he felt when my Mom loaded up the kids and left him. He lets me know, “I was in a bad place,” talking about his state of mind.

And Bob Seger made us laugh about Uncle Joe with Fire Lake. That one was played so often and so loud when I was growing up that my friend Todd Jones said he thinks of Daddy when he hears it.

I told Daddy that I played it for my buddy A.J. at work and got him hooked. Daddy really laughed when I told him A.J. played it so much that his wife Mandy had to say no more.

I love to make Daddy laugh. It is my second favorite thing.

My first is to hear him pray.

I have no doubt of his love for me and that is the greatest gift I have ever had.

LOVE.

Some people never have a father, much less a sweet Daddy. I am so grateful.

Happy Father’s Day to all of you.

May your heart and your memory get you through today if you are without yours.

You are in my heart and prayers and better yet, my Daddy’s…

Cheryl

Heroes…

My 14 year old daughter Reagen and I spoke at the ASPARC (Alabama Suicide Prevention and Resource Coalition) Annual Conference on Friday, June 1st. Our topic was suicide and social media.

I think we have a perspective on that like no other. And I hope that will help someone.

When you write a presentation, you have to consider your audience.

What could I teach them?

I don’t know what to say myself most of the time.

But, Reagen takes after me on a project. She made a slideshow with our story. I wish I knew how to share it. It really tells it well.

I got nervous and she took it over. I have never been so proud. Hearing her tell of how our lives were changed makes me realize how well she has dealt with a lot of public scrutiny.

What we found out though is that this is normal.

We learned that every suicide has an impact called complicated grief.

There are two factors in the aftermath.

The Why?

And

The Blame.

Sound familiar to S-Town fans?

It actually put me at ease knowing that what we went through is normal. Ours was just on public display.

I was nominated along with Katie Beaugez and Angela Sullivan to the ASPARC Board. We were all approved and I am so very honored to serve.

I wish everyone knew these special people. Behind the scenes they are working to save lives.

They are overworked and underfunded. They are committed to the most noble of causes.

I never thought I would be among them.

I feel inadequate and untrained.

I gave them all a thank you note.

Our precious librarian Michele Dickey helped me make 35 of them.

We included my normal stamps and stickers and a John B. McLemore business card.

I felt silly passing out my cards to professionals. But I do believe in the power of connection.

I am so thankful to say they were well received. Teachers asked for extra copies to take back to their students.

There were discussions about social media and empathy.

I met Belinda Kock. She is a precious individual who offered her services to our community. You can find her information on my resource page.

We left there with a renewed hope.

I was devastated a week later with the news of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain.

And I know that it may sound silly, but when those seeds bloomed across the road I cried my eyes out.

Never have I needed a flower more.

I want to end this post with a thank you to everyone that has reached out to me.

Sometimes heroes save lives by doing great acts of heroism.

But sometimes they just mailed wildflower seeds.

You are all my heroes and I am so thankful to have you as my friends,

Cheryl

Love can build a bridge…

The Woodstock Community Library is very small. I am sure most people would not believe it to be “up to standard”.

But, I have never been or never will be like most people.

Most people don’t smile.

Most people don’t love recklessly enough to tell you they love you over and over again.

But our honorary librarian assistant Dauton does.

Dauton will teach you how to talk like a pirate.

He will also put up books and read one out loud to you.

If you are lucky, he will even sing to you. His playlist has a wide range from “Bad to the Bone” to “Amazing Grace”.

And he builds towers.

The world would be so much better with a few more of Dauton.

But people like Dauton are always rare.

They cause you to slow down.

Appreciate.

And smile.

Smiles that you only get when you feel them deep in your heart.

So in heart standards, our library ranks heavenly.

Because we host a few Angels daily.

If you need an award winning smile stop by, I am positive you will leave with one. And probably a hug.

Thank you Kathy and Blane for the donation of the blocks. You chose to be paid in smiles.

(My new friends, Dauton and Carson, are playing with the blocks of my friend John B. McLemore. It does my heart so much good to see this. I also saved some for my house because I have a red headed grandson Douglas and my little man River that I need to see play with them myself.)

Here’s to healing and hope for all of us. If you have never met an Angel, drop by the library. It usually has several including our Librarian Michele Dickey.

Who knew?

Maybe I should have hung out at the library more myself growing up. Oh well, it’s never too late to start trying to BEEhave. 🐝

Sign a door, make a tag, check out a book or build a bridge.

Love can build a bridge, one tiny block at a time…

Don’t laugh, just start stacking…

Cheryl

Happy Birthday Papa…

Daddy called me on the phone before I went to work this morning.

“Do you know what today is?”

“Yes sir. Today is Papa’s birthday,” I remembered.

My grandfather, Glen Vance Acker, would have been 103 years old today.

He passed away at 75 years old on June 30, 1990. Three weeks after I graduated from high school.

I remember him calling me “Baby”.

It is so wonderful to be “Baby” to a mean tough old man.

After he passed away, stories about him were passed around like tall tales.

Strength. Grit. Hardheaded. Tough.

Just like his nickname.

Big Ack.

When he got to where he couldn’t drive, I took him to see his brother who lived in Pea Ridge.

Uncle J.B. would be so happy to see his baby brother that he would sit and cry during most of the visit.

Aunt Gladys would fuss at him for crying.

And I would sit there and wonder why Uncle J.B. was crying.

It has been 28 years since I was your Baby.

I named my son after you Papa.

Jacob Vance Acker makes me so proud. You would absolutely love your namesake.

And now I am crying just like Uncle J.B., except I no longer wonder why.

I know.

I miss you.

Love,

Cheryl, but I once was Your Baby…

You may be right, I may be…

Crazy.

We throw that word around these days.

I understand and cringe at the same time. I have said things myself that when you think about it, you really should not say things that way.

Well you can call me crazy. It’s okay. Just don’t say that about the people I love.

S-Town is going to be a movie? I walked around like a wet cat and took a few Tums. I had a similar feeling last March.

But I had a worse feeling two years earlier. When I heard the news about him originally. I still have a text on my phone.

I want no one to get that text.

I want no one to know that feeling.

I hope that they tell this story to heal the 80 million people that miss him now.

I hope they respect his memory and more importantly, his momma.

And if a few more seeds get sent, I am crazy enough to think I can plant them.

May need a few more Tums.

Don’t laugh,

And let’s help someone else,

Cheryl

Grandmother Acker…

I never met Maudie Mae Reach Acker. She died in 1969. She was 49 years old.

My older cousins Tammie and Buddy remember that she squatted to greet them with open arms. They could run into her arms as she said, “My Angels!”

I also heard that she always had grape bubble gum and ice cream sandwiches waiting for them.

To get her approval, was always a family compliment. Daddy could not talk of her much. He was only 20 years old when he lost her. But as a teenager, I remember him looking at me and saying, “Mother would have loved you.”

Melts my heart even now.

I showed him this picture today.

He looked at her and his shoulders flinched. He does that when he tries to hold back a tear. He does that a lot.

She has been gone as long as she was here.

Life is as fast as they say.

I also remember my grandfather calling me in the living room. He talked with me in his bargaining voice.

“I will pay for you to go to the beauty shop and get a permanent. You look like your grandmother with curly hair.”

There was no need to bargain Papa. I was at the Step-n-Style before he could change his mind.

I remember talking and Aunt Genevieve interrupting me. “Suzette, what did you just say?”

Puzzled, I said, “I just love him so good.”

She told me mother used to say that about people and you could not have known that.

I didn’t.

But I believe love does. It lingers and it lives on in all of us.

Even 49 years later.

Until we meet in person Grandmother, thanks for loving people so good.

I am trying to love them so good myself.

Cheryl

Fine things…

I have always loved fine things. The kind you pick up and put back down after you look at the price.

I always look. I am just hoping I will get a surprise that I can afford.

I also hope the saleslady isn’t watching me pick up 5 things in a row.

And/Or, I compliment myself with a smile and I think to myself to put that back down very, very carefully.

I have always heard that referred to as “Champagne Taste”. I don’t know why because we don’t have much champagne around here.

I have more like sweet tea taste. Daddy made the kind you could pour on pancakes.

I wince at the thought of it and laugh.

It is probably the reason I order unsweet now. It does feel unnatural though. Some things you never get used to.

I would have never thought I would order it. It feels like I should apologize to somebody. I am sorry Daddy.

But, as you can see above, our tea service is multi-purpose.

Afternoon tea? No.

We used it to separate our boiled peanuts on the porch this evening. And we had a good laugh at our fancy container.

You can’t eat boiled peanuts on the porch without thinking of our Lea. And we were lucky enough to have her drop by today. Double win.

Most of our possessions are useful instead of decorative.

Like my prized purple cup.

It used to rinse many a soapy head.

Nowadays it rinses a soapy little dog and waters neglected plants.

It used to make me sad to look at it.

Just one more reminder of little boys and girls who are no longer all mine.

I now cherish it. Some people never had a need for a purple cup. They would have loved to wrestle a four year old who doesn’t like baths.

Or second baths that come after you thought you were finished with the first one. The kind where you need a personal assistant to hand you a towel.

I have now been the proud owner of that purple cup 20 plus years and “it ain’t going nowhere”.

Notice the distressed finish. The way it fits perfectly in your hand. Holds just the right amount of water to prevent frequent refills. But not too heavy or cumbersome. Purple plastic perfection.

Drop by the house sometime. I’ll let you pick it up and check out the bottom for the markings like fine china.

However, you can ease it on back down to the shelf very carefully because there is no price-because you can’t afford it.

Don’t laugh,

Cheryl

Splendor in the grass…

I had a wonderful birthday today. I am 46 years old. And grateful.

Five years ago next month, Daddy was diagnosed with lung cancer. Today we went to Clanton and shopped the local outdoor flea market. He likes to go twice a week and I have never been with him until today.

But, Daddy lost his little Jack Russell terrier over a week ago. So the first part of the morning had an overwhelming sadness. Daddy had not told me because he did not want to tell me over the phone. I was so sad that I had not been over in almost two weeks to find that out.

As we rode the miles to Clanton, it was beautiful to connect over song lyrics and conversation.

We shared memories of my grandfather and the Cahaba River. We admired the voices of Elton John and Karen Carpenter.

We ate breakfast and walked around the flea market. Daddy rested in the shade while I toted a sack that would make Santa Claus proud.

Daddy bought me this beautiful blanket for my birthday. I told him he bought me a flower bed.

The rest of my treasures ranged from an Avon bottle to a wooden horse to Wygelia.

I love to watch Daddy speak to people and joke. And bargain. He knows the vendors and the waitresses by name. It makes me smile even now.

I always promise myself that I will slow down and be more aware of my family and nature.

I was proud of myself last week with my lightning bug observations. So proud that I made an extra effort to lay in the grass and soak in the sun while Jeff painted our shutters.

I was not so proud a few days later.

So along with the splendor in the grass, there is plenty of poison oak. ivy. sumac.

Whatever you call it.

Don’t laugh, never mind go ahead.

Extremely Grateful but itching,

Cheryl

Listen to me…

I believe that I am one of the most fortunate people in Alabama.

I attended the ASPARC- (Alabama Suicide Prevention) conference in Homewood on Friday.

When someone says, “This is the first time I am able to share my experience. ”

You listen. You know you just heard something you will never forget.

Thank you to everyone that has the courage to share their experiences.

I hope you are received with beautiful encouragement.

Thank you everyone that shared Friday.

Your courage and survival will help those who help others.

And if someone ever shares with you, let them know how brave they are.

If someone trusts you with something that they have held inside for 10 years or more, you are trusted with unimaginable pain.

I have a few new heroes in my life now.

We all need a hero, don’t we?

I will continue to share as I process this day.

Reagen added a resource page to my blog.

Just in case you need to talk to a hero.

Many answer the phone.

Others make you an appointment.

Some just read blogs and reply with emails that keep me going.

Listen to me. All of you.

THANK YOU.

Cheryl

Porch time…

It was almost dark. I am in a t-shirt and yoga pants. I am barefoot with a cordless drill. I give you permission to laugh. I am sure the neighbors do.

I was halfway finished with my porch redecorating. I am famous for distractions.

Something catches my eye. I see a few flashes of light. Lightning bugs!

All of a sudden, I am 7 years old on Smith Hill again.

I apologize if there are less of them these days.

I did my fair share of catching them as a child. Mason jars held the damage I did. Mother even paid for us to have fancy catchers that had our names painted on them.

I remember laying on my back in the grass to watch them blink with my brothers and the neighborhood kids.

I caught one tonight. (Without injuring myself, I might add.)

I did not dissect it like my brother used to. Still gross. 40 years later.

I let it go.

I sat on the porch and thought about how you don’t see them like you used to. In all fairness, I also realize I don’t slow down to look much either.

I am about to go in.

Wish we had been able to catch “skeeters” years ago.

Don’t laugh,

Cheryl

Little Women…

“Ooh, get down Little Women I said. I remember reading that.”

I would be the only one to ask Andrea to get something off of the top shelf of the bookcase. She is my shortest sister, but has the determination to climb mountains. I had faith.

She called me back a few minutes later and she was crying. “I think I broke my hip. But I got it.”

That fits us. Calamities and laughter. Tears followed by giggles and “Did you just snort?”

She spots things just like mom. My birthday is in June. And just like mom, she brings me a present in April. “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!!” “I saw this and I had to get it.”

Mom celebrated everything.

You always had a surprise. Some gifts puzzled you. But they were a gift all the same. Crocheted contradictions were her specialty.

Jacob’s shoulder pad cover will go down in history. Why he did not want to model that at a high school football game is understandable. And hysterical. I should have took a picture of that creation.

Amye is the sister that is the best about being proper in public. She could not take being singled out for attention. Her middle school horror of mom chasing her down wearing leg warmers and Amye trying to pretend mom was not her mom- well that is just true gold.

Well here we are today without her.

Or are we?

When I see all of us, I see her. I hear her. I feel her.

When we are together, I know she would be happy.

Even if we have to dial 911. That story is for another day.

Happy Mother’s Day to you Andrea and Amye. The best presents mom ever gave me were sisters.

I love you,

Cheryl

Sink washing wisdom…

“You have not been writing much lately.” I look at my teenager daughter Reagen and respond to her question with a puzzled “Why?”

Her answer was enough for me. She said, “I like reading them.”

My blog renewed this week for another year. My little sister Andrea said she loved my blog. It reminded her of how mom always kept a journal. That makes me smile.

Even on a week, when you reach for a Mother’s Day card off the rack and pull your hand back because you realize you don’t need one.

So from the motherless to the childless, I hope this Sunday is special to you.

I guess I can also can tell you a little secret as to why I have not been writing.

It all started Christmas Day. My house was empty and that bothered me. I am in the kitchen making all kinds of noise when Jeff asks, “What are you doing?”

I reply that I am taking down “just one” kitchen cabinet.

How that turned into several months later and a remodel that looks a lot like my grandmother’s house, I do not know.

Somehow one cabinet snowballed into a new wall, and then an antique sink and at one point even a toilet sitting in the dining room.

Everything is back where it belongs including my precious door. It now guards the laundry room again.

I can also tell you a well known fact around here. I don’t have much common sense.

It is a true gift to me.

My grandmother loved to say your full name and slap your shoulder when absurd things came out of your mouth.

Needless to say, “Woooo, Cherylllll Ackerrr…” made you brace yourself and kinda still makes me wince to this day.

But in all honesty, I would give anything to have my shoulder slapped.

We would stand at the sink and wash and rinse. We planned meals and grocery lists.

She told me of mistakes she made as a mother and as a mother-in-law. I can still hear the regret in her voice.

She told me, “Cheryl Acker, You ain’t gonna find no perfect man. If he works and don’t drink and he’s good to you, that is about all you can ask for.”

And long before I had Jacob, “be good to your daughter in law”.

Oh Granny, you were such a genius.

She ran a store in West Blocton, Alabama. It was a small town that knew all of your business.

Like the affair her husband was having.

She told me she begged him to stop.

Her mother begged her not to divorce him. She went against her wishes.

She said she could not live with him knowing that he would not quit seeing the other woman.

She told me, “I didn’t see anybody and I didn’t marry your granddaddy until after he passed away.”

The heartache of public scandal. She didn’t mention it much.

Aunt Genevieve, however, loved to “stir the pot”.

We were standing at the sink. Me and Granny.

Aunt Genevieve was sitting at the kitchen table. I will never forget this as long as I live.

She said, “Granny, I thought you run into the other woman on Main Street.”

Granny kept washing dishes with her back turned to Aunt Genevieve and replied, “I did.”

“I thought you hit her in the head with a coke bottle and got fined $5.”

A pause and then, “Was it worth it?”

My sweet Granny got up every day and dressed up from her earbobs to her pocketbook-she was a class act. She was elegant.

She put her hair in a scarf. She smelled like Avon’s rich moisture. She kept her Cape Cod dishes dusted and her house in order.

To my great surprise, she kept washing dishes and said, “Every penny.”

I never saw that coming. We never mentioned it again.

I wondered about betraying her by sharing her heartache. But I firmly believe that we are not defined in our success as much as our failures. How we walk through life after we stumble and fall is a greater legacy than any plastic trophy.

If you are hurting now, just know that one day it may encourage someone to keep going like your granddaughter or your friend.

I am not endorsing bad behavior, just knowing that so many people now go through things so publicly. Social media has given small towns a run for their money.

Pain is not something easy to share with an entire town. It was not easy to share 30 years later with a little girl who loved you.

I hope she knows her life lessons echo in my head and my heart to this day. We don’t have to be perfect, we just have to be US.

Happy Mother’s Day to the sweetest grandmother I could ever ask for. We were not related by blood, but love.

Your example is one I love to follow. I have a soft spot for scarves and a smirk for Blocton coke bottles.

I miss you Theo. All of you.

You would probably slap my shoulder for telling that story.

Thank you for putting up with all of your Acker family, even when we stirred the pot.

My kitchen makes me think of you. And smile…

Somehow I just know that we will get through this crazy world. Even if it is one dirty dish at a time.

The Wildflower Walk…

It is no secret. I am impulsive. I have bright ideas quickly followed by panic attacks. Because of my latest dreams, I also have pounds of wildflower seeds and very good friends.

365 days ago I did not believe that you should talk about suicide.

I now believe you should so that we can help and comfort.

If you can spend an afternoon with our community to bring awareness and help, we would love to meet you.

We will share food and stories.

We will have information.

And we will have each other.

I hope you will join us.

To learn.

To remember.

Some days you grieve, some days you smile, and some days you plant flowers-Wild ones…

I hope to see you Sunday,

Cheryl

Happy Valentine’s Day…

We met this morning for a fancy breakfast.

Me, my sister Amye, my sister Andrea, and Angelica-my sister in law.

We were all united in love through my brother Johnny.

He would have been 40 today. Valentine’s Day never fit anyone better.

He has been gone 10 years. Sometimes getting together makes his absence so clear.

But today we celebrated his presence. Long overdue.

His iguana named Elvis. His cartwheel. His hating to be woke up. His love for giving presents. His walks through the house singing.

Him.

I sent out Valentine’s this week. I have decided that I will remember him through sharing love-small notes and simple joys.

Happy Valentine’s Day to you and Happy birthday brother.

Cheryl

Lasting impressions…

My first job probably taught me the most about life. It left me with a lasting impression. It was a nursing home.

I was about 19 years old and “green as grass”. I remember sweating from running around like a chicken and I made my job twice as hard. It was my job to bathe 6-8 people and it took me the entire shift.

The ladies that were there were mostly black and older and kind. I am sure they laughed at me. A lot. As a matter of fact, I know they did. But they laughed in a way, that made me laugh too. Some of their advice, I can repeat. Some still makes me giggle.

Their wisdom and little comments stuck with me.

I remember how sweet they were when we lost a patient I loved. Mr. Roosevelt.

He was an old black man with both legs amputated. He did not speak much. But I loved him.

They were gathered at the counter when I walked in to tell me.

I went to his room and cried. It was over twenty-five years ago and I am crying now.

One lady told me she was an artist. She wanted to sketch me. I let her.

When I was taking my Christmas tree down last month , I remembered one sweet soul. I gave her a vanilla ensure and I guess in her in her mind she thought it was eggnog and Christmas.

She also thought I was her daughter.

She promised me that she would walk to see me when I got married soon. That I did not have to worry. Momma would always come see me. She brushed back my hair. I will never forget it.

I am thankful for the few minutes that I was her daughter.

I used to think losing your memory was a terrible thing.

Then again, when little smells and tastes take me back to the best years of my life-

I find it is better not to think. And instead, Just remember…

Cheryl

Crocheted flowerbeds…

Years ago, I went down an old familiar street. I wanted to catch a glimpse of our family home. I was not prepared for an empty lot.

No more dirt trail to a dusty porch. A squeaky door. Fabric scraps and doilies. Crocheted flowerbeds. Everywhere. On the tops of the chairs-red roses.

That dark-eyed girl on the left is my great grandmother Mae James. I don’t remember that face, but those eyes-they haunt me.

I look in that face and see someone who lived a hard life. She buried several children. That alone is enough.

My grandmother Louise was her baby girl and she was spoiled rotten. I always thought it was so funny that she belonged to my Granny James. I considered Granny James as close as you could get to knowing heaven.

She called me Sharon. From the earliest time I can remember to my last walk into the hospital. I didn’t correct her. I loved how she said it.

She made me want to be better. And not just in front of her.

Crystal was kind enough to print her picture this week for me. I framed it tonight.

I wanted to look in that face and try to make her proud. It shames me to think of what she faced and how she was not bitter. I never want to know her pain. But I so admire that sweet spirit.

Her voice was raspy and she replaced goodbye with, “Don’t forget to pray.” My mother did the same. I wonder how many times I was the subject of their prayers and I think of my own children.

I ordered me a pair of crocheted house shoes today.

I thought of them and smiled. Thank you Granny James. I won’t forget.

The last game…

Our hometown football season is over. I have spent this entire season reliving my boys senior year.

My mind remembers the last game of 2012. West Blocton vs. Greensboro. I don’t remember the score. I don’t remember the details of any of the games at all. I remember my feelings.

The game was over. We were walking up the hill towards our car. The crowd slows down. I was having my own pity party. I would never see my boys suit up again. Three seniors-Colby, Jacob and Jaeyoung.

Someone says, “What is the exchange student doing?”

I turn around.

There is Jae. My Jae.

On the field. Asking permission to kick one last fieldgoal. And he does.

Not to win a championship. Not for points. For love.

One more time that child showed me how precious life can be.

I have spent many years living. I hope I can spend the rest-loving.

That fieldgoal still wins my heart,

Cheryl

Counting Blakes…

We have a large family around here that everyone knows- the Blake’s. One of them was Maynard a.k.a. “Foots”. He was my favorite. He was one of my dad’s best friends.

He was a big man who did not like to wear shoes. And he loved Daddy. And me.

When Maynard pulled up, he left that big green metal car and headed into the house. He did not park the car. He left it in the road. He did not close the door. A pile of red-headed kids followed him.

And I am not going to lie. You tried to beat him to the kitchen. “What you got to eat John L.?”

It was too late. If you were saving something for later, he had found it. You can’t help but miss him. Especially when you throw away leftovers. Back then we did not have any. We do now and it makes me sad.

When someone loves you and they are gone. You miss that.

Unfortunately, the older you get, the more people you miss.

I should be asleep right now. I think about Aunt Genevieve. When she could not sleep, she laughed and said she did not count sheep.

She counted Blake’s.

Kinda like counting blessings, I suppose. Family, friendship, and don’t forget the food.

We miss you,

Cheryl

What a difference a year makes…

One year ago today, I walked into a hospital room. Mom had not spoken in a week. Jeff said we need to go and I agreed. But, I dreaded it.

My last two visits were silent. I just watched her breathe. A struggling breath.

One visit, I climbed into her hospital bed and cried on her shoulder.

After all the years of her failing health, I struggled with admitting she was sick. My denial did nothing to change the reality.

I walked into her room the last time and said, “Hello Mother”. She opened her eyes and said, “Hello Baby Girl”. It took my breath. I told her I thought I would never hear her voice again. And she apologized. We talked for 30 minutes.

The next night I got the call that she was gone.

I miss all of the things that made her-Her.

She would call you to her bedside and say I have something for you.

There was no telling.

Her creations were unique to say the least. Sometimes I cringed.

But not Reagen. She was always a good sport. A crazy hat?

She put on the hat and smiled.

I spent my lifetime wanting her to be someone else. I spent the last year missing who she was.

If you are fortunate enough to have a sweet and loving and crazy mom, hug them for yourself. But add an extra squeeze from me.

I am so thankful for 44 years sweet Jackie Lou. And even more thankful for 13 years of a little girl that acts like you. Reagen has your middle name.

But more importantly, she has your heart. And, I am trying to be more like the both of you. One day at a time.

Good night, Sweet dreams and God bless you Mother.

Your Baby Girl

Oh my heart…

I have not said much on my blog lately because I have been “running my mouth” to raise money.

I cannot begin to thank everyone. Everyone is so wonderful and supportive. Our cause is difficult to discuss, but these conversations must happen.

I am constantly asking people- Will you join us. Will you give? Will you walk with us.

But one question yesterday got me.

I asked someone if they have lost someone to suicide.

The answer was not just Yes.

It was, “Yes, the love of my life.”

That was enough for me. Please join us today. She did.

Oh my heart,

Cheryl

The Bee Team…

If you are old enough to remember the A-Team, you will remember a group of misfits with a mission and a side of humor. I personally think the Bee Team will be just as awesome.

But who is the Bee Team?

The simplest answer is we don’t know.

There is me.

Katie. Crystal. Bec. Rob. Kelly. Boozer. Stewart. Anne-Marie.

And last but not least…….

YOU!

There is no US without U. There would only be an S. And we know what that stands for.

S-Town can be US-Town.

We are an odd bunch. But we are together. A group of friends you did not know you had.

There is no charge to participate. Donations are welcomed. And no amount is too small. $10 can put a DVD in a high school. I personally think every school should have one.

Wear a white T-shirt and get ready for a hug. Everyone involved said they felt comforted in a way they can’t describe.

And as far as that valuable real estate-It is your for free. Everyone who registers on the Bee Team. My gold pen is ready to put your name on my door.

Sign up online and meet us November 5th.

https://afsp.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donate.participant&participantID=1452064&referrer=bfDskFbPfStream

Your friends are waiting,

Cheryl

Save the porch!

Of all the things we are saving in this world, no one has mentioned the porch. That breaks my heart.

Maybe the conversation is repetitive, but I need it. Porch conversations are an endangered species and it makes me sad.

That is where I got my weather forecast and local news long before “the Google”.

My great-grandmother’s porch was small. A shotgun house that is now only in memory.

The porch was dusty and the dog did not move. Too hot to do anything but swing. Excuse me, “swang”.

My porch has enough junk to make John L. Acker proud. And that makes me smile.

If you would like to save the porch, come on over about 2. We will watch the rain and wave at cars.

I will try not to interrupt you or blurt out random thoughts. And if I don’t get distracted by something, I will finish my sentence. If not, we will laugh. I predict we will be laughing.

Don’t laugh,

Cheryl

Google maps…

I think the boys told me about a co-worker who asked if he should use “the google”.

They laughed. I understood.

If only “the google” worked on directions for your life.

Trying to find a purpose or your purpose can be quite difficult. You can become so involved in your own circumstances, you overlook those who are struggling.

Compassion is key.

Passion is easy for me. When I believe in something, I am obsessive. Jeff says that was probably my strength in raising the kids.

The direction for your passion is difficult. It requires a compass.

Something I have never had. Until now.

An incredibly kind and caring package arrived earlier this week. It was as close as I have been to one of my mom’s.

She sent great care packages to me when I was at the University of South Alabama.

I found one of her letters the night I lost her.

It took my breath. It still does.

I have been on my own now for close to a year mom. Our family has added a beautiful new daughter and a grandson.

And I have a few new friends you would love.  Some are right down the road.  Others are halfway across the world.

I know you would be proud.

If you are depressed, there is help. You are not alone. I would love to send you a packet, a card, a tag, a dime, etc.  Or maybe just some encouragement or compassion.

Reagen’s compass will help her find her way home.  But it helped me remember that one of the best things you can give someone is yourself.

Your friend,

Cheryl

50 Rotenberry Lane

Woodstock, AL 35188

cdodson6672@yahoo.com

It’s not too late-to procrastinate!

Unfortunately, several tags did not make it to be displayed at the Woodstock Music Festival.

After they were taken off the gate, I still have requests. I am about to be mailing some to Dubai!

If you have a tag and have been busy, I completely understand. When you have time, go ahead and send it back.

We love them and are trying to determine the best way to display long term.

If you would like a business card, pamphlet, and maybe a little gold dime. I believe I have one to spare.

Let’s make an effort to spread unity.  We can add information that will help people struggling with depression.  And I find that it helps me to share laughter and love.  sweet.  love.

So get creative.  Find your beautiful.  And put it on a tag.  Express yourself.

Looking forward to hearing from you,

Cheryl

50 Rotenberry Lane

Woodstock, AL 35188

cdodson6672@yahoo.com

Time to Change…

The Woodstock Music Festival was a huge success. I am so very proud. The Town raised money for our Senior Center and our Youth Ballpark.

I was involved in 4 booths.

  • Photo Booth- for fun and a souvenir picture with a Woodstock logo
  • Bibb County Pet Welfare- a cause not only I support, but John did as well.

The other two booths I wanted to focus on hospitality and education. I have learned that higher suicide rates in rural areas are due to several factors. One being lack of health care services and the other being it is not comfortable to be discussed.

We discussed it all day yesterday. We did not avoid S-Town. We embraced it as an effort to look in the mirror and improve.

That is all we can do.

Brian Reed called me when the Woodstock Music Festival opened at 10 am and I described this in great detail for 30 minutes. And I asked for him to support this.

I am doing my best to raise awareness.

I have lost friends other than John. Each one is missed.

I did not intend to become an advocate.

I am just a person who misses my friend. You are not forgotten is something that echoes in my head.

I probably looked like a crazy woman at 1 a.m. painting dimes. I painted them gold for John. The fingernail polish made it from me.

Sweet Jaq Davis thought of “Time for Change”. Isn’t that perfect?

Katie “B” and her brother David Sides, were both S-Town fans that I did not know before the podcast and they voluntarily staffed the tent along with 4 friends. I am so proud of them.

All I did was talk. And talk. Ironically, today I am hoarse. So I will type.

Crystal Moore Phipps thought of “Opening Doors to Awareness”. She drew the message at the top. We then used the doors to graffiti our guests names and messages.

We also had a guest book and address book and a sign up sheet for more information.

My sweet friend Kellye Burt lost her father-in-law in the middle of preparations this week. She still provided the decorations and furniture and souvenir cups because her family knows this cause personally.

It also did not prevent her from making her biscuit pudding and delivering it personally.

Mrs. Billie Dailey lost her husband of 48 years last week. Her banana pudding was served in the afternoon.

In the midst of their losses, their “comfort food” was served all day long. We should have been comforting them and they were encouraging others.

We felt that serving up the food made it easier to discuss. And it did.

We put you in the guest book, on the door and the gate with tags.

A souvenir bag included pamphlets along with a ceramic cup. That cup had a small take home tag that was stamped with our symbolic bee and candy.

If we helped one person, I would feel that it was successful. And I feel that we did.

I did not make it to the stage or music until the latter part of the day. I had 3 hours sleep Friday and was up to 2:30 a.m. today. This has been the wildest weekend I have had in years.

I hope you enjoyed it. Thank you everyone. So many people helped that I could never begin to thank you all. This little town could not have done it on its own.

And it did not. The love and support came from overseas and next door.

Have a great day!

I am going back to bed.

Don’t laugh,

Cheryl

What the world needs now…

I am staring at the tags that came in the mail today.

You can see the love. You can feel it.

Thank you so much for your time. I am just amazed.

One of the sweetest things my mother did was sing to me. Rocking me in a chair and holding me tightly. “What the world needs now, is love sweet love…”.

How true.

Woodstock is ready for you.

Our churches have picked up litter on the side of the highway.

Our Elementary students have made inspirational signs.

Our teenagers and seniors have made tags.

And, we have a lot of people ready to make some music.

I can’t wait to meet you and welcome you to Our Little Town.

This Saturday, September 23rd, I hope you will join us for one day. Let’s triple the population of Woodstock.

I have a few people I would love to introduce to you.

I have a few foods I want you to taste.

I have a few tags for you to see.

And, I have a few spaces on a door.

The wonderful thing about your heart is that it has no maximum capacity. There is always room for a little more love.

I need it. Our town needs it. And so does our world.

From Woodstock with love,

Cheryl

Peace, love and fun Hun…

My precious Rita was the Queen of fundraisers. She walked up to everybody and you bought cookie dough or candles. And she finished her sentences with “Hun”.

When she found out Jeff was running for Mayor, it makes me tear up because she said, “My Jeff?”

Yes Rita. Your Jeff.

I know many of you have offered to help with our Woodstock Music Festival. We thank you and appreciate it so much.

The Woodstock Senior Center feeds about 30 Seniors at the Woodstock Town Hall and delivers to about 20 more every weekday. 50 Precious People. But, there is so much more than eating. We talk to them. We laugh with them. And we LOVE them.

Jeff Dodson got in the kissing booth with Mrs. Lela on Valentine’s Day. You have to watch those two.

If you were here in Woodstock, you would see our Woodstock Elementary School working on signs. Positive and encouraging messages to greet everyone that attends. They will line the fence at Holiday Beach Raceway.

I absolutely love it!

Phone calls are crazy. Messages are constant. But, it is still so unbelievable.

Can I help?

What do you need me to bring?

We are getting asked these questions constantly. I have a few answers.

Bring:

Your Groovy Smile & Chill attitude

Psychedelic Clothes and Sunglasses

Flowers for your hair and a tote bag for your souvenirs (I have a few surprises!)

And your blanket or chair.

We’ll provide the good time.

I can hear Mrs. Rita now. If she was asked, “What are you going to do at the Woodstock Music Festival, Mrs. Rita?

“Just gonna have a little Peace, Love and Fun, Hun.”

Yes we will.

Love,

Cheryl

Have you seen our Gate?

The Gate made its debut tonight. We loaded it with tags. And we invited over a few special guests.

Andrew from WBHM came over. I talked for an hour and a half. But, that is nothing unusual. That is just me.

Jeff said I should have stopped to breathe. Hush Jeff. You know I am excited. I can’t help it.

I can not think of a better way to spend this Saturday. Music. Art. Food. Conversation. Does it get any better than that?

It kinda does.

You get to meet new people who share a common ground. And you get to do something beautiful.

Like Casey Thrasher.

Saturday you will get to see him on stage at the Woodstock Music Festival. Our local American Idol alumni is absolutely amazing. I was lucky enough to have him over tonight. So you know me, I put him on the door. And I handed him a tag.

I told him about our cause. One that he knows personally. He handed his tag back. And then I read it.

I did not know you would get my heart. But you did.

I have a feeling there will be a “Throwdown” in S-Town Saturday night. I can think of no one who will be more proud than me.

Don’t laugh,

Cheryl

Fit to be Tie-Dyed…

I am so excited. I am fit to be tied. But this week, in honor of the occasion- I am fit to be tie-dyed.

Next Saturday at the Woodstock Music Festival, I have a few people I would love to introduce.

They share my last name.

From left to right, they are:

  • My husband Jeff
  • His sister Shelly
  • Their Dad Jim
  • Their Brother Mike
  • Sweet Friend David
  • Mike’s son Brandon

And that young man on the end, he would be mine.

Colby Dodson became my son on August 20, 2003. He is my heart. We have argued Green Day versus the Beatles. We both won. When he takes the stage next Saturday, you will too.

Three generations of Dodson make my heart smile on stage.

Paw Paw showed up to a two bedroom house with 4 kids and one on the way. He made a dining room a bedroom. I will be forever grateful.

Shelly has cleaned my house for me to bring Reagen home from the hospital. Just wanting to make you feel special.

And then there’s Mike. He has been Jeff’s hero for many years. He has become mine. I am so very thrilled that he agreed to play the Jimi Hendrix version of the Star Spangled Banner for you.

Mike has never been one to show off. Even though he could. That makes him even more special to me. Unselfish. Talented. Dependable.

He will be here Friday setting up the event. That makes Jeff and I know things will be alright.

David is a great friend of the family obviously. A good man. You will see him twice. He also opens the Woodstock Music Festival with the Cahaba River Band.

If you get too serious, find Brandon. He will make you laugh.

If he doesn’t, find me.

I will make you laugh.

I will feed you.

I will put you on the door.

That is where I put people I love.

And, there’s room for you.

Don’t laugh,

Cheryl

Spend the night party at Papa’s!!!

I am so absent minded. I have been going to the post office daily. I have been worried that I have overlooked a request.

If you don’t receive your tags or cards or pamphlet this week, feel free to send a message.

When I was growing up, we went to the circus. Mom took me, Jason, Johnny, and I believe our cousin Danny. We went and got our faces painted. Took pictures. Bought the light up toys.

We get home and the next day my Granny said that mom came to borrow money to pay the power bill.

Granny was so mad. She said she told her, “Jackie- if you did not have the money to pay the bill, why did you take all those kids to the circus?”

Mom’s famous reply was she did not have enough to pay the bill. Granny would later laugh and tell that story as an example of mom.

It fits her. I miss her. I remember the circus. I don’t remember the power being off.

But more importantly, I remember a mom that loved me and did things she could not afford.

Mom was spontaneous. When I look back, I so wish I had been too.

I was the oldest of six kids and thought I knew it all. Ha. Ha.

Time has a way of making me want to call my mom and apologize daily.

Fast forward 20 years –

I am sitting at the Step-n-Style beauty shop on Main Street in lovely West Blocton, Alabama.

Amy Crocker was doing my nails. (I did not have a car, but I was getting my nails done.) I have always said the beauty shop is therapy for me, so I justify the expense.

I begin to tell Amy how when I have extra money in the bank, it is usually because I have forgotten to pay something.

Amy nods and laughs. She gives me a ride home.

I walk in the door to see the family lined up on the couch. I assume they are waiting on me.  I use my best smart aleck voice and say, “Why y’all sitting in the dark?”

Jeff calmly said,

“Try cutting a light on.”

Oops! We had to have a spend the night party at Papa’s!

My friends love that story.

Jeff does not find it as funny.

The kids? They probably would have preferred the circus.

But, Amy Crocker laughs. And, so do I.

Don’t laugh,

Your new absent minded friend,

Cheryl

P.S. Seriously, I will check my list if you do not have your mail by this Friday. I promise I will get your requests to you.

There are no coincidences…

When I went to the workshop of John B. McLemore and found 34 business cards, I was not sure why but I picked them all up.

I gave one to Kelly Kearley because she was the first person to send wildflower seeds for the Forget Me Not Wildflower Trail. She framed it and sent me a picture. She also said, “There are no coincidences.”

Makes me smile.

I asked Kellye Burt could I send out the rest. She said I could. I chose to send them anonymously.

Kindness was a very important reason for me. I felt like I had the Willy Wonka golden tickets.

When I was almost out, I asked Crystal Moore Phipps what she thought about reprinting them. She said, “Some people will always criticize you, do it anyways.”

So I did.

When I arrive to pick up 150 cards, my order is on the counter waiting on me. A young man walks up and points at the card. “Did you know him?”

I did.

I scramble for words to explain to David what I am doing. He replies that his sister Katie is going to school to help people like John.

When you come to the Woodstock Music Festival on September 23rd, you will get to meet me.

And David. And Katie. And the volunteers that they have recruited.

Katie says a lot of people look at the information and keep going. Let’s hope that will not happen on the 23rd.

Let’s talk and laugh.

Decorate a tag. Take home a card. And a pamphlet.

And a hug.

Let’s make a difference. Together.

Love your friend,

Cheryl

P.S. I will be glad to mail you a tag, a card, and a pamphlet. And an invisible hug.

A six pack of toothpaste…

My Aunt Genevieve was as unique as her name. She loved to visit and when she was alive, we did not need ancestry. com. We relied on her memory.

Her memory was miraculous.

Recipes. Ghost Stories. Gossip.

She also had all kinds of things she was particular about. Salt in beans. Turtle necks year round. Music that featured an organ. She bit her lip and bent her head down and played “96 Tears” in the air.

We would pick up Mrs. Lillie Mae Seagle and then we would go visit Mr. Fabjon in Primitive Ridge.

Mr. Fabjon had one of those dogs that would drive you crazy. He would smell you all the way into the house. Mrs. Lillie Mae would fuss and it makes me laugh just thinking about it. “Fabjon, get that dog! He’s done smelled everything I got twice!”

I was already in the house because Mr. Fabjon would let us eat all of his miniature Butterfinger candy bars. For some reason, they always tasted like soap.

The mother in me now wonders if those candy bars were well past their expiration date. I am thankful that we will never know.

Sometimes though, I do believe that the reason I am never sick is we ate anything growing up.

Mr. Fabjon would tell us about people he gave quilts to because he was worried about them in the winter. He later found out they had sold them for a profit. It made him mad. His mother made those quilts.

I love to remember how he told us that the water truck wrecked during the Korean War and they had to brush their teeth with Flagstaff beer for six weeks.

How funny is that? A six pack or toothpaste? I am guessing it doubles as a mouthwash.

Don’t laugh,

Cheryl

Total Eclipse of the Heart…

It has been 24 hours since kick-off! In West Blocton, there are four seasons-Winter, Spring, Summer and Football!

There is the game. The halftime show. The memories. And the heroes.

When you live in a small town. We know your football number the rest of your life. It is your legacy. It looks odd when I see #13 and #53. Where are my boys?

And don’t even get me started on field goal kickers. JaeYoung Kim. Enough said. For now.

But, there is so much more. To open the season with the story of Billy Joe Young. I remember him. Oh my heart! If that will not humble you, nothing will. The Brookwood field is named after him. A young man paralyzed from a football injury who inspired and befriended for years.

We are so much more than the Tigers! Every small town has their heroes. I am so proud of mine.

In my lifetime, nothing has made me prouder than to be from West Blocton.

For I have had the honor and privilege of watching Sonia Grogan cheer for the Tigers.

I have watched Jodie Farnetti kick a field goal and be crowned Homecoming Queen.

Speaking of Homecoming Queens, Caitlyn Marchant steals the show.

We do not let anything stand in our way. Love has and continues to guide us.

Liam absolutely melts my heart and I am proud beyond words of Emily.

Earlier this week, we scrambled to find last minute glasses to view the eclipse. Priceless on Monday and worthless on Tuesday.

But on Friday night, I needed them again to cover the mascara.

Don’t laugh,

Cheryl

All is FAIR in Woodstock…

We came. We saw. We ate. We got the T-shirt.

I have learned that true love shares their funnel cake, but not their philly steak.

Sometimes all is not fair at the FAIR.

But I learned that years ago.

I did not win the Bibb County Fair Queen. I rocked those blue sequins and shoulders pads if I do say so myself. And I do.

I wanted that crown. Angie wore it home that night. Oh well. Those days are over.

Or so I thought.

The fair is in Woodstock this week.

My mind and memory walked around tonight missing pie contests, 4-H displays and days gone by. Just like my waistline.

Biscuit Pudding too frequently I suppose.

I hope tomorrow on the last night of the FAIR, you will come out. I would love to see this BEEcome a new attraction.

My favorite ride tonight of course. But then again, I am a little biased.

Come see us tomorrow for the last night of the Fair and September 23rd for the Woodstock Music Festival.

Maybe you will leave with some memories and a souvenir cup.

Don’t laugh,

Cheryl

Sometimes you just need to throw the mattress in the floor…

Ten years ago today, I got a phone call that brought me to my knees.

I don’t know if I have “stood up straight” since, but I am trying.

My baby brother Johnny left this world, but not my memory. Not my heart.

He was born on Valentine’s Day. How appropriate. He was the world’s biggest flirt. He embarrassed us with women from the moment he could talk. He was three years old commenting on panty hose at the beauty shop. You would almost think he was put up to it, until years later when you realized it was just Johnny.

At his funeral, a broken hearted girl came up to me and said Johnny was my first love. Three or four people later was the next first love, and the next, and the next, until the tragic moment was almost comical.

His mother-in-law Mary, finally said out loud, “only Johnny Acker could have this many women in a room crying over him”.

It wasn’t just women, it was teenagers and elderly.

When he pulled up to the house, he did not have to knock. The boys ran to me to announce his arrival. “Uncle Johnny’s here!” (Which really meant- Can we go wherever he is going?)

I let them go, even though I winced. You don’t turn down a babysitter when you have a house full of kids. I am sure that I do not want to know what he allowed them to do. But, I can definitely picture dangerous dares and shenanigans. And, lots of “don’t tell your mother”.

He was the type to pull the mattress off of the bed and let you jump from the couch to the mattress. When the boys were grown, they confessed they broke the couch jumping from the loft. (A loft that he framed for me.)

I am sure, Uncle Johnny would have laughed.

I always wanted him to straighten up and be serious. But, I must admit he was a fun partner in crime.

He would help me pull cabinets off the wall and leave. Jeff would come home and shake his head at my remodel demolition work. I took the blame on my own.

We all need that person in our life. He was and always will be a mess. A fun, shocking, silly mess.

I have no doubt he would be roaring with laughter over S-Town. He would say something that would tick me off and then laugh. You could not stay mad at him.

He would call me “Cheryl Suzette Acker Hallman Dailey Dodson”. You have to smile. It is funny.

I am trying to make the bed with a tray. Picture perfect. Maybe I should just throw the mattress in the floor.

Today, more than ever, I realize that memories are so much better than pictures.

I love and miss you baby brother.

So very thankful for 29 years,

Sister

Is that an acronym?

When the S-Town podcast came out, I thought Woodstock and our way of life would forever be tarnished.

I, however, love a little tarnish. My single gardenia bloom is in a tarnished tea pitcher right now.

In preparation for the Woodstock Music Festival, we discussed a keepsake.

Trying to find a way to reach people. Recognizing the fact that Bibb County has a suicide rate higher than the national average.

Be glad that I have become friends with precious Jaq Davis in England or you could be going home with a KARL.

Instead you will receive a LARK. The bird that represents a new beginning of a beautiful new day.

The most important thing that we can do as individuals, as a community, a town, a nation and now our world-LOVE.

It conquers. Every obstacle. If anything you say or type is not filled with it, stop. You can change yourself. I know personally. I will never be the same. The outpouring of support has changed my life. I wish the same for each of you.

AWARENESS -Realize the struggles we all face. Be sympathetic. Be observant. Encourage.

REMINDER -Change your way of thinking. Go forward.

KEEPSAKE -Take home a little piece of Woodstock. A song, a souvenir, a smile. A full tummy.

Step into town and leave a little slower than you entered. We live life a little slower, but we like it that way.

We are weeks away and I can’t wait to meet you. If you can’t attend in person, send your heart in a note or tag!

Your friend,

Cheryl

50 Rotenberry Lane

Woodstock, AL 35188

It isn’t a good party, until you break something…

When I was a teenager, we decided to have a party. A no-parents, bright idea gone wrong, just now able to talk about it (30 years later) party.

We decided to make punch in a crystal punch bowl that belonged to my friend Todd’s mom. Bad idea.

We also decided to make that punch on the bar that was next to our tv with our brand new, state of the art VCR.

Todd was a nervous wreck over the punch bowl so we washed it very carefully with hot water. By now, you know where this is going, Don’t You?

Well it went.

When we put that lime sherbet in the punch bowl, it sounded like we had shot it with a gun.

Just the thought of it, makes me scared of Jonette and John L. right now.

Jonette, if you have been looking for that punch bowl for the last 30 years, I am sorry. Todd, if you have not told your mom after all these years, I am even more sorry.

You can get even with me if you want to. Go tell John L. why there was green stuff in a brand new VCR back in 1987.

We sent it back to our neighbor Neil Gardner to clean. (He was our tech support in Frog Level, Alabama. And yes, that is where we lived. Frog Level is a neighborhood, no post office. Back then it was: Rural Route 1, Box 95-B, West Blocton a.k.a. Shaw Town.)

Neil returned it and when Daddy questioned us we had no idea what he was talking about. Green stuff? We looked around at each other and shrugged our shoulders and lied “like dogs”.

Years later, Daddy’s next VCR broke on its own. No party of mine was to blame. I bought him a new one. I did not really explain why. I just said, “I owe it to you”.

Today’s party had its own excitement. We just moved a little slower.

I thought I should move 2 gallons of sweet tea out of the center of the table so I could see Carla when she was talking.

Let’s just say, I should have held the bottom of that container.

Next thing I knew, I was hunting Mrs. Mary Ann something to wear. She was a great sport and rocked my yoga pants the rest of the party.

We decorated tags and laughed.

Mrs. Mary Ann even told me to get the pitcher out of the trash because it was too pretty to throw away.

I am thinking about repurposing it as a planter.

Don’t laugh,

Cheryl

P.S. I am still mailing tags! Message me if you would like one. Peace, love & joy will be mailed your way!

Did somebody say Tea?

I hope you will join us for tea this weekend. I will be serving tea around 12 on Saturday and 2 on Sunday.

We will be decorating tags, eating and laughing. We may cry and we may comfort and then we may go back for seconds.

Come by the house and bring your heart and your scissors and glue.

We will create something beautiful-lasting friendships. And, I am sure the tags will be pretty too!

Michelle at the Tin Roof Restaurant is making us a Chicken Dish and a side salad.

I can’t wait to see my new friends and hopefully make some more.

Just remember, that you have a few friends in Woodstock, why don’t you come meet them!

Love your friend,

Cheryl

Once upon a mullet…

Now that people have started receiving their tags, I have received a few questions.

The tag is for you to decorate. Make it beautiful, funny, sentimental,artsy-completely up to you.

The beauty of this project is what it represents-the common bond we all have.

All ages, all walks of life, and we all get it. I love that.

Be sure to send it back so that it can be on the gate for all to see at the Woodstock Music Festival on September 23rd.

We will have pre-decorated tags at the festival for guests to write on as well.

Do what you do.

I won’t tell you how to do it.

I made that mistake once with a beautician. “Just layer it up”, I said, “but leave the length”.

She did what I said. I went to work and told my best good friend Cynthia to take a picture of my hair.

I will never forget my horror. Billy Ray Cyrus was jealous.

A heart attack and 2 more haircuts followed.

It all turned out okay, and I still laugh about it. I will not tell you how to cut hair and I won’t tell you what to put on your tag. Surprise me.

Don’t laugh,

Cheryl Cyrus Dodson

The night sky has never looked the same…

There will always be people who influence you. I am so very thankful for one young man who absolutely changed my life and my heart.

From the very first night, Jae Young Kim was a blessing. I was asked earlier that day if I had ever considered hosting an exchange student.

We met him later that day and my life changed forever.

There is no doubt that 2012 will always be one of the best years of my life.

I laughed so much the first week my cheeks were sore. Let me just say, Google translate will get you into serious trouble.

But I can not deny the fact that my eyes were worse the week he left. That final airport trip was devastating.

He entered the military this past week to serve his home country of South Korea. I am proud and worried.

When he first arrived, I asked him how he ended up in our little town. He said he asked for country. I can say this. We gave it to him.

I was embarrassed to think about a child from a wealthy and powerful family coming to our home. He reassured me that in his country, a home like ours was “many zeroes”. That gave me a different outlook.

But nothing compared to the first night he arrived. He looked at the stars and said, “I have never seen them until I came to America.”

I initially thought this is going to be a long year. He doesn’t speak “good English”.

It took my breath when he explained that city lights in Seoul and pollution prevented the stars from being seen.

When I looked back at the stars, I saw them for the first time myself. With gratitude. With awe.

We took him to the darkest spot we could find later that week, a hunting club in southern Bibb County. I could not watch the stars, because it was more beautiful to watch him.

I have never failed to look at the night sky without thinking of him. Just like the meaning of his name, “Let there be light”. Jae Young Kim taught me to look for it.

Stay safe young man. Your American mom loves you with all of her heart. If I wish upon a star, it will be to bring you back to me one day.

I love you for real,

Cheryl

45 is the magic number…

I just mailed my 45th tag! It makes me smile because I am 45. With all these stickers and stamps, I wonder if our post office thinks I am having a child’s birthday party.

Well happy mid-life crisis party to Me!

We are going to have a beautiful gate to show everyone at the Woodstock Music Festival.

I love the fact that it represents so many beautiful people. Thank you for your support and your kindness.

Can’t wait to meet you and check the mail. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

I LOVE your friendship and your precious time,

Cheryl

50 Rotenberry Lane

Woodstock, AL 35188

cdodson6672@yahoo.com

Tag! You’re it!!!

I’d love to see all of you long distance S-Town fans represented at the Woodstock Music Festival!

Our gate will be displayed and decorated. In appreciation, I promise to post pictures and send thank you notes!

Please send me a note, a postcard or if you would like a tag sent to you to decorate and return, please let me know.

I can’t wait to see your thoughts, art, and most of all your love!

Let’s show the world something beautiful!

Thank you for your support, your friendship and your precious kindness!

Peace, love and gratitude from Woodstock, Alabama!

Cheryl Dodson

50 Rotenberry Lane

Woodstock, AL. 35188

Email me your address: cdodson6672@yahoo.com

Bee our guest…

I wanted our booths at the Woodstock Music Festival on September 23rd to be interactive. I just love the idea of meeting you and talking to you while you sign a tag and place it on our gate.

Debra Nichols Love worked on our inspiring guest book. She made us a Pinterest board and encouraged me and all of my random text ideas.

Kellye found us a gate like this!Kellye Burt found a gate and Donna Bowling Horn came and is working on our tags.

We are all abuzz in Woodstock!

Is this not beautiful? I did not know Becky, Donna or Carla before the S-Town podcast. I now enjoy their friendship, support and ideas.

I hope you will join us for something beautiful again on August 12th at the Tin Roof Restaurant in Woodstock at 12:00 for lunch and laughter.

I want to have a “I gotta have me some Tea” Tea Party. As always, we can share stories and encouragement.

If you love mischievous silliness, you will enjoy our conversation.

I want to have a good time and make sure we are ready for the Woodstock Music Festival. I just know you are going to love It!

Our entrance, booths, decorating and souvenirs have been the subject of my thoughts. It is wonderful to get to meet people who are so eager to help. We are looking forward to meeting you!

Please send me a postcard if you are long distance and I will display my friends from afar proudly.

I just know Love is in the mail!

Cheryl

50 Rotenberry Lane

Woodstock, AL 35188

Therapeutic Planning…

If you love to talk, blurt out bright ideas and dream up a good time, I would love to meet you.

We are going to have a party/therapy session Sunday, July 30th at 2:00, at my house. I am excited because Crystal is making a cheese ball.

If you want to come by the house, we can talk about lots of different things in the same conversation. (Mainly because I have trouble staying focused.)

Between the Woodstock Music Festival on September 23rd and the Forget Me Not Wildflower Trail and S-Town and a grandbaby, conversation and life are good.

Come to Woodstock and I promise you will laugh a little, and I just bet you will end up with a new friend or two.

Starting with me,

Cheryl

Still accepting seeds,postcards and chocolate with great appreciation at:

50 Rotenberry Lane

Woodstock, AL 35188