Things I Wish I had Said

Today I went to a memorial service for my dear friend, Pam. I won’t say that I said good-bye to her, because I didn’t. And I won’t. I don’t believe in good-byes.

I can only say, “I’ll see you later, Pam. I will. I promise.” I wish I had said the things to Pam that I’m about to tell you and if I’ve learned anything over the past two weeks it’s this: tell those you love that you love them while you have time. Pam’s brother delivered the message today and these are the very points he drove home as if he knew my thoughts. Never pass up the opportunity to tell someone that you appreciate them and more importantly, never pass up the opportunity to SHOW someone that you appreciate them. My mother used to say, “Give me my flowers while I’m still living.” I keep asking myself if I gave Pam her flowers while she was in her earthly form. It seems like that no matter how much time we have with a person, it is never enough.

The following is my tribute to Pam, one of the most authentic and unselfish people I have ever known. It has taken a week for the reality of her leaving this mortal realm to actually hit me. I suppose it all seemed like some sort of twisted dream up until this point, but I will not be hearing Jimmy Buffet on my cell phone and looking down to see Pam’s name anymore in this life. It’s the little things like that which make it all too real. I somehow believe that my sentiments are shared by many others, and that my thoughts will ring true with you.

I first met Pam when I was interviewed for a job in our school district, about 12 years ago. From the moment I met her, she was my friend. She believed in me and backed me, (along with another precious friend, Kim, whom I love dearly, even if I haven’t told her yet), before the site-base council that hired me. From day one of my internship, Pam made sure that I was a success. She was located right across the hall from me and we were both there until, 5, 6, 7 or 8 o’clock several nights a week that year. She mentored me and invited me to be a part of her world. We went places together. We did things together. She took me to KEA meetings and introduced me to people to help me in my career. It seemed to give her joy to see her interns become successful. For the next four years, she, Debbie and Gayle (the other wonderful members of our primary school “family”) really were my new family. I went to them with questions and probably drove them all insane in one way or another. I certainly came to love all of them.

In time, Pam and I were no longer across the hall from each other as she moved into the gifted and talented position and I was sent to teach music, then writing, then first grade, yet we continued to attend conferences together, were on site-base together, went to Mighty Dollar together and attended weekly yoga classes together. Pam brought me lemons from Florida and when I said I was going to write a book and I was sure that people would laugh at me, Pam and Debbie both encouraged me to “do it,” so I did. Pam read my works and recommended me to her friends. We had long talks in her car. A couple of times, I went on trips with her for the gifted and talented program. When my dad had a heart attack, Pam called a sub for me. I never even had to ask. She just did it. She was like that. She anticipated a person’s need and was there before the person even realized they had a need.

Pam believed in adventure and whenever I had a crazy idea, she encouraged me to go for it. She had a strong set of values and she never cared about impressing the “big wigs.” She cared about the kids in her classes and she cared about the young teachers under her charge. I was one of those. She cared about doing what was right and being fair. She cared about what was best for all and was a strong advocate of “best educational practice.”

I wish I could turn back the hands of time and tell Pam how much she meant to me, more importantly, I wish I could show her, but I can’t. All I can do is move from this moment forward and live a life that honors the things she deposited into my life. I can tell people that they matter to me. I can touch the lives of the children who come through my door, and like Pam, encourage them to work toward their dreams, to believe in them and never give up on them. I can encourage them to try new things, to explore, create and imagine. I can tell my co-workers that I value them, love them and consider them my friends. I can tell my Green River Arts family that I thank God for them coming into my life and that I consider them to really be “family.” I can tell my church family how much I love them and look forward to seeing them every Sunday morning, how much I LOVE singing praise and worship and that it brings me pleasure to see them happy and blessed, and most of all, I can tell my flesh and blood, family, the one I was born into, that they are the most precious people in the world to me.

The last time I saw Pam was in the hospital, but I’m not sure it was really her. The last words I spoke to her were “I love you and I’m sorry I didn’t eat lunch with you last week,” but I’m not sure she heard them, but then again, yes, I am, because I know the spirit hears even when the ears no longer can.

Pam saw the potential in others, the good in others and she worked tirelessly to help others see those things, too, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

No dream comes true and thrives unless someone is willing to support it. My friend, Jeanne Lane​ [kinship to the poet, Robert Penn Warren] and her daughter, Dawn Osborne, have had a dream for many years, to keep the oldest country store in America operational. Located in Gravel Switch, Kentucky, in the heart of Kentucky’s Knobs region, at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, is Penn’s Store. It’s a tiny building that sits on the corners of three counties with history dating back to before the 1850s.

101_6754Jeanne Penn Lane, speaking with a guest author.


Dawn Osborne, Performing.

Jeanne and Dawn haven’t tried to keep the store open to make a profit. No, their desire was to keep something of heritage and tradition and family alive. Jeanne Penn Lane is a true historian, a curator of what made central Kentucky special and unique, a preserver of culture. But she is so much more. Jeanne and Dawn have always had a passion for the arts and for Kentucky. As a part of that, they initiated the Kentucky Writers Day held there each spring, in hopes of giving Kentucky writers, artists and musicians a place to share their voices, to make connections and to remember.

Jeanne’s one desire has been to give something of beauty and value to her community. Kentucky has long been the birth place of world renown artists, novelists, poets, musicians and actors. Jeanne and Dawn want the world to know this, to understand the caliber of people that come out of these hills, hollers, swamps, tobacco patches, saw mills, corn fields, hayfields, coal mines and creek beds. Throughout the years, celebrities have trekked from all over the world to sit around the pot-bellied stove in Penn’s Store and share their music with a receptive audience, even before they shared it with record labels. Prize-winning authors have sat on her porch and eaten a famous “balony sandwich” while bouncing story ideas off each other. Even modern day celebrities have graced the aged porch of Penn’s Store. In 2009, Turtle Man answered the Call of the Wildman and showed up with his Team Turtle to enter the annual Great Outhouse Blowout, a fun event that Jeanne has hosted for years in order to bring in much needed funds in order to keep the store operational. It’s a time when vendors can come and set up and people of all ages from all over the world can watch the outhouses race for the Golden Throne Award.

308719_2170075930448_722707637_n Animal Planet’s Turtle Man and Yours Truly, goofing around.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Call_of_the_Wildman

If you don’t live in the state of Kentucky and you are passing through, unless you check out Penn’s Store, you’ve missed a part of what makes Kentucky culture unique. It’s not the kind of thing with buttons, bells, whistles and all kinds of hoop-la, no, it’s real Kentucky, both the way it was and the way it is. It’s a piece of American history that has survived into the New Millennium and it’s a good piece, a piece worth keeping.

101_6807Me, posing for a shot with the timeless poet, H.R. Stoneback, who has worked diligently to keep Kentucky Writer’s Day and Penn’s Store operational. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H.R._Stoneback

However, keeping a dream alive isn’t free nor is it cheap. Jeanne’s dream is to give others a piece of heritage, a piece of culture, an outlet for the arts but she needs help. I’m posting a link to Penn’s Store’s website where you can find all of their contact information. Most people could donate a few dollars to the store and help Jeanne and Dawn continue to offer events and opportunities for artists, writers, musicians and actors without it ever making a huge dent, but many small gifts could be the difference in whether the dream continues to live or whether it becomes just another forgotten paragraph of American history. I can’t help but reference Audrey Hepburn who said, “People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone.” In this case, the people are those who have come before us in our human family. By preserving this piece of the past and the this hub of community in the present, we preserve something for ourselves and our children. And, she did also say…things. But Penn’s Store is more than a thing. It’s a piece of “life.”

101_6799Sarah Elizabeth Burkey, and I, hanging out at Kentucky Writer’s Day. Sarah is the Assistant Director of Music for the Cherokee Historical Association.

Here’s the link:http://www.pennsstore.com/history/history.htm Help in any way you can. No effort is too small. Sponsor an event, send a gift, go visit the store, be a vendor…anything helps.

Jeanne and Dawn have no idea that I’m writing this article. It was my own idea, but I want people to realize that this precious little gem has been buried in the hills of Kentucky all these years, this little unselfish piece of living history and heritage that seeks to help artist, musicians, writers and actors build a foundation for future endeavors. Let’s not throw it out. Country stores have become a thing of the past in most places, but here is one, still operational, that has existed since the 1850s. That’s living history. I hope some of you who read this will contact Jeanne and Dawn today and become a part of it.

You can contact Jeanne or Dawn via the contact info on their website, on their facebook page Penn’s Store.

101_6752When a person visits Penn’s Store, he or she travels back in time and feels a connection, not only with yesteryears but also with the earth itself.

Hole Makers

We’ve all heard that old saying, “Kids can be cruel.” And it’s absolutely true.

As a teacher, I’ve seen it all from children; you name it, I’ve probably seen some version of it. There’s not much that kids do that can surprise me. I’ve had to hand out my share of discipline in order to keep the classroom functioning. Now before I go on, let me say discipline is not the same as punishment. Punishment is a grown-up’s way of getting back at a kid. It is often harsh and severe. Discipline, however, is redemptive.  It’s meant to help a child understand that there are consequences for our choices. Discipline builds respect, over time. Punishment breeds fear, resentment and rebellion (I think it was Paul who admonished early Christians, “Provoke not your children to wrath.”) Punishment leads to abuse. Discipline leads to understanding, eventually, hopefully…and sometimes, it takes some ingenuity and often words are the strongest tool at our disposal.

This past week I may have administered the best discipline in my entire teaching career. I was at my wits end on how to handle the bickering of some students. We’ve had trouble with some children saying mean and hurtful things to others. I had already talked and taken away privileges, but none of that worked. So, when one little girl told a little boy that he was weird and that everybody hated him (words that crushed his spirit), I got that teacher look on my face, then I closed my classroom door. I shooshed them and stood there with my head slightly bowed and my hands behind my back. I was secretly praying to get through to the kids about how cruel words, criticism and unkindness take a long time to get over, a lifetime. Then I saw a hammer, board and nail in my mind’s eye. I didn’t have those objects for my demo, but I did look up and see a screw in the wall.

I showed them the screw in the wall and asked them what would happen if I took out that screw. Everyone said, “It will leave a hole.”

“That’s right,” I replied. “In the same way, every time we call another person weird or stupid or ugly…every time we say ‘you can’t do anything right,’ or ‘everybody hates you,’ we are making a hole in that person’s heart. Maybe I could fill this hole in with putty but underneath the putty, the scar is still there. When somebody says something mean to you it feels like they put a hole in your life, in your heart, and it never goes away. And pretty soon people are going around putting holes in people because that’s all they know how to do.”

Then I asked them,  “Who in here has ever had someone put a whole in you?” Every hand in the room went up. Every one. And the oldest one is only eight years old. Wow! Our words have such power.  I told them that if they put holes in people with their words then whenever the person they hurt grew up, they would remember them as the person who hurt them. I went on. I told them the poignant story of how someone had said mean things to me when I was their age and how I never forgot those mean things and how every time I thought of some kids I had known then, I always remember that they made holes in my heart with their words.

They sat, 24 first graders, in stone silence. It was remarkable. Some of them had downcast eyes, others near tears. I think they really understood. We ended up having what may have been the best week out of this year. On the way to the playground yesterday, I overheard one little girl say to another one that a thought had crossed her mind but she didn’t say it, because she didn’t want to make holes in people. It was the same little girl who had spoken so unkindly before. I knew she meant it. And I knew that some of those kids would never forget that unkind words are like screws that bore into our lives, leaving scars, and just maybe a few less kids will be cruel.

Storms and Stars

No storm lasts forever


of how hard  wind blows

or  thunder bellows

regardless of how violently

lightening rips clouds

or rain pounds earth.

Every tempest eventually whimpers,

whimpers then surrenders

to steadfast stars




of temporary tantrums.

longing for home

Headed down the highway.

Rain is coming down.

In the mirror I can see

the lights of our town

another lump in my throat

another knot in my chest.

The hardest part of going

is always leaving home.

never knowing where

how far or how long.

No road can ever take me

where I really want to go,

a quiet, still place within

that all spirit travelers know.


I am Raven

always hearing

spirit words

a phantom




I conjure wind

in dry grasses

rolling clouds

and drops of rain

ancient keeper of wisdom.

I am Aniwayah, Wolf,

holding closely

songs of my pack.

She Who  Walks

With the Sun upon

the earth and heralds

morning light.

Whose Clothes do You Wear?

I’m sitting here at the kitchen table. Outside an October rain is coming down in torrents, and I’m reminded of an observation I made about myself years ago. I once said in a journal that I rarely wrote about what happened to me but rather what happened in me. I remember thinking that if someone in the future tried to piece my life together by my journal entries they would find it difficult. However, a person would be able to see a pattern of internal changes and growth.

Through my journals, I can see a spiritual journey and whether we want to believe it about ourselves or not, we are all on a spiritual journey. A part of being on that journey is discovering truth about oneself, true truth, not what the people around you say. My daddy used to say, “People say a lot of things about William Henry.” Then he would get a soft sad look in his eyes and, for a moment, press his lips together in quiet determination, “It don’t matter what people say about him, it only matters what God says about him.” My dad gave me an understanding that has shaped my life, possibly more than any other single revelation.

Everybody has his or her own version of reality and they will try to force you into that version, which may not be what’s best for your spiritual journey and if they are trying to force and manipulate, it’s not best for theirs either. They just don’t know it at the time. Some people may say, “Yes, but this is a good thing.” A good thing is not necessarily a God thing, meaning that just because somebody suggests something or wants you to fulfill a certain role, does not make it right for your life.

In a way, life is like women on a shopping trip. They often travel in pairs, packs or trios. One of the ladies looks at an outfit. She likes the colors, but she knows inside herself that the attire is not for her, so she starts to hang it back but her friends tell her that it’s in style and that it will flatter her figure. They talk her into buying it, because they all like it; they think it suits her. She gets home, wears it once and feels uncomfortable all day. She hangs it in the closet and it remains there until it goes out of style; she ends up selling it at a consignment shop or donating it to charity. She wasted her money on somebody else’s version of what fit her best when she should’ve listened to her own instinct and been true to herself. In life, many people do this. We listen to what others think will “suit” us. Sadly, others don’t always know what suits themselves; much less what suits someone else.

I once had an acquaintance walk up to me and say, “I’ve got an outfit and some shoes to give you. They were my daughters.” I responded with a thank you and pulled the outfit out of the bag. It was ugly. It was the boldest, brightest thing I’d ever seen made of cloth and the shoes were totally not me. In addition, the clothes were five sizes too big and the shoes were three sizes too big, but she was certain these things would “fit” me and “suit” me. She stood there going on and on about how good I would look in them.

I was flabbergasted. Had she not noticed that I was smaller than that? Had she not noticed that I never wore flashy things like that? Internally, I reminded myself that her intentions were probably good, so I said, “Thank you, but I’m sorry. These won’t fit me.” At first she acted a little shocked. Then she said, “Well, can’t you just take them anyway and give them to somebody else?” And I got a little angry. She wasn’t looking out for me at all. She was just looking for a convenient and guiltless way to get rid of her daughter’s old clothes. I put them back in the bag and handed it to her, “Take them to Good Will.”  That lady’s gift was like a lot of things that people try to push on us in life, it was convenient for her agenda and she wasn’t thinking about weighting me down with the unnecessary baggage of something I couldn’t use.  She just wanted to dump her baggage on me and be on her way.

In the same way, people often try to ascribe things to us, project things on us that are not true of us and if we believe them we will find ourselves living someone else’s reality. I think it takes courage to say, “This doesn’t fit me.” There is a freedom we find in the things we leave behind.


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