Mama and Me

A photo on my Facebook Newsfeed last week of a “vintage stove” took me back to early childhood and a Saturday night ritual, shared with my mother, that lasted until I was about 12-years-old.

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Saturday evenings were a special time reserved only for “mama and me.”   No, it was not baking cookies, cakes or a special family recipe on a stove similar to the one pictured.   To be honest, mama was not the typical homemaker of the 1950s.   Mama was the breadwinner and I was her only child.

For all practical purposes, she was a single mother and the sole provider of our shelter, food, and clothing.  Mama was able to do this by working six days a week and walking for eight hours around a long table collating pages at a bookbindery.  Most days, she came home, after sitting on a bus and train for one hour, worn out and exhausted.

But, a nourishing meal was always on the table for the two of us with the exception of Saturday.  This day was reserved for mama and me.”   She would cook either hot dogs or hamburgers along with fries; and, she never forgot to bring home our dessert of choice, butter pecan ice cream.

A “gourmet” cook she wasn’t, but growing up in rural Mississippi, my mama mastered the art of “pleasure loving” soul food cooking.   She never used a recipe; and, I am grateful she took the time to teach her Chicago-reared daughter the ins and outs of cooking southern style.

Loved the special meal mama cooked on Saturday nights.  Hated, her obsession with my hair.    Saturday mornings, she never failed, before leaving for work to wash and braid my long, thick, coarse hair in preparation for the “mama and me” time I hated.

See, in those times, no self-respecting mother would send her child to Sunday School with a “nappy” head.  So, Saturday night was dedicated to straightening my hair.  Looking back, it was a laborious task for both “mama and me.”   She placed a chair in front of the stove for me to sit on.  The hated straightening comb was pulled out and placed on the stove burner.

Mama would begin by taking down the first of my 6-8 braids.  She used a large tooth plastic comb to untangle that section of my hair.  Once untangled, she separated into even smaller sections of hair and lightly applied Royal Crown Hair Dressing. 

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Then, she would put a dab of saliva on her fingertip, lightly touch the straightening comb to make sure it was not too hot.  You see, a hot straightening comb could scorch the hair.   While, I don’t recall mama ever scorching my hair, I do remember burns on my ear, forehead, scalp and sometimes the neck.    On those rare occasions, mama would say, “I told you to keep your head straight. “  Yes, I often would fidget or nap during the 1 to 1½ hour process it took to straighten my hair..

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“Mama and me” Saturday nights are amongst my most treasured memories.   Who I am today is due to the lessons learned from “mama” on hair straightening nights.

My mama went to her final resting place on December 8, 1967, four months after undergoing surgery to correct a heart problem.   The heart surgery was successful, but she suffered irreversible brain damage due to anesthesia complications.   Mama was only 42-years-old.

Letter to Mama

I know you worried when I married.  After all, I was only 17-years-old, quickly had two children, and we struggled as a young couple.   Things worked out.  In our mid-twenties, JT and I enrolled in a top-ten university and earned our college degrees.  We are both retired; and April 11, we will celebrate our 53rd wedding anniversary.

Your three grandchildren, now middle aged, are running our family-owned medical practice and ambulatory surgery center.

  • grandson, KA, is responsible for marketing and referring physician relations.
  • granddaughter, PY, is an anesthesiologist and pain physician and serves as the medical director.
  • granddaughter, KO, who carries your name, is an attorney and serves as the administrator and legal counsel.

Mama, you also have five great-grandchildren:

  • EM, male, 22-years-old, senior in college;
  • CY, female, 21-years-old, sophomore in college;
  • GK, male, 17-years-old, junior in high school;
  • CJ, male, 13-years-old, seventh grader in middle school; and
  • AN, girl, 4-years-old, in pre-school.

Mama, thank you for creating the foundation that led to our building a strong family structure.   Rest In Peace.  All is well with us. 

“I thought that I would miss you so, and never find my way.  

And then I heard an angel say, “She’s with you everyday.    

The sun, the moon, the wind, the stars, will  forever be

around, reminding you of the love you shared and

the peace she’s finally found.” (unknown)

Yvonne: A Breast Cancer Story

This week, I planned to write a post on “What’s In a Name.”    The selected name was a bit self-serving, since I chose to use my own – Yvonne.  I wanted to find out as much as I could about the name my mother gifted me with more than 70 years ago.   I began by entering a variety of  Yvonne questions in the Google and Yahoo search engines including “poems with the name Yvonne.”

I discarded the plan to write a post around my name when Google directed me to Finding Hope, www.findinghope.cbcf.org and this poem:

CANCER:  Yvonne’s Poem 

Cancer can you imagine a world without cancer putting you in bed

Anyone, anywhere, anytime is susceptible to cancer rearing its ugly head

No one should have to suffer the heartache & pain

Can you imagine not having chemo ever again

Everyone hopes & prays that one day that will happen for sure

Research surely after all these years will eventually find a cure

Written by Yvonne Thomas, November 1940 – July 2004

(Written with Hope:  Yvonne’s Poem – When looking through her mother’s things, Linda discovered this poem her mother, Yvonne, had written after she had been treated for breast cancer.  Unfortunately seven years later, Yvonne’s cancer returned”…)

I connected with the anxieties, frustrations, fears, hopes and wishes in Yvonne’s Poem.   And,  to my suprise, we not only shared the name, Yvonne, but the same:

Medical Diagnosis:                 Breast Cancer

Last Name:                                  Thomas

Birth Month                                November

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So moved by Yvonne’s Poem, I was driven to match the letters in CANCER to daily positive affirmations and biblical verses.

How I Cope with CANCER

Choose to stay in the fight

Appreciate and show your gratitude daily

Nourish your mind, body, and spirit

Create your own happiness

Encourage yourself and others with positive words

Reject negative thoughts

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My CANCER Bible Verses 

Come to me all that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you peace.” 

As I go forward, step by step, the way will be opened up unto me.”

Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing.”

Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.”

 Encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.”

Renew a right spirit within me.”

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Yes, it is difficult to live life to its fullest with a “no cure” prognosis, but it can be done.  The “Quality of My Life Improved” after I was diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago.  I will talk about this in an upcoming post.

I dedicate this post to the memory of Yvonne Thomas.  She lost the battle, but her message of “hope” and “prayer” remains.  The “fight for a cure” continues.

Warriors in Pink – Angel Wings

“Honor the angels who have

passed after their fight against breast cancer.

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Exciting New Adventure – Yoga Class!!!

When I first signed up for an exercise program at the YMCA more than sixteen years ago, Yoga was my first exercise of choice.  But, I walked away.  Why?  I was . . .

  • Embarrassed about the inability to lift or lower my body to do the floor poses; and
  • Fearful to let others know about this physical limitation.

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Recently, this changed.  First, let me share my story.  Several months ago while perusing the Internet, I came across an article on Chair Yoga DVDs for the elderly and people with disabilities.   Immediately, I went to my favorite online source for DVDs, www.amazon.com, and ordered three — “Easy Yoga for Arthritis,” “Chair Yoga:  A Seated Practice,” and “Yoga for Us.”

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Looking to share my happiness, I e-mailed a friend who has practiced Yoga for a number of years.  She cautioned against trying to do this on my own.  Her advice, which I respect and value, was to find a Yoga instructor who could show me the proper way to do the poses and lessen the chance of getting an injury.

Following my friend’s suggestion, I discussed my dilemma with a personal trainer at the YMCA.  She urged me to attend one of the upcoming Yoga Issues classes.  Mind you, she said the Yoga Issues class was “low key” and designed to meet the special needs of people with “issues” that prevented them from taking a traditional Yoga class.

Imagine my surprise when I entered the class.   There were No Chairs.   Well, One Chair was in the middle of the room.   But, surrounding the One Chair were people sitting on a variety of vibrant and colorful Yoga floor mats.  All appeared quite comfortable in their Cross-Legged seated poses.  The ONE CHAIR, I assumed was for me.  So, I claimed it.   This “issues” group performed poses comparable to the ones I had observed while peeking through the window of the Yoga class at the YMCA in my former hometown years ago.

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In looking around the room, like me, there were,

  • elders in the class;
  • several people were overweight; and
  •  others may have had “invisible” disabling conditions.

But their “issues” did not seem to limit their abilities.

I sit in the CHAIR, fearful and embarrassed.  I watched the flexible and pliant bodies of people with supposed “issues” effortlessly bending, reaching, rising, lifting and twisting their bodies as they did the various Yoga poses.   Following the lead of others, I attempted, when possible, to do the poses in a sitting position.  I was embarrassed by my performance.

Disappointed, but not defeated, I returned to the class the following week.  Alone, in a far corner of the room, and leaning against the wall was the CHAIR.  I claimed the CHAIR.  Clearly, no one else in the class would ever need a CHAIR.   Naturally, I did not seek a spot in the center of the room.  The CHAIR and I went to the farthest corner in the rear of the studio.   I placed my Yoga mat in front of the CHAIR for the comfort of my feet.  Unlike the first class, I chose to do the standing poses without the assistance of the CHAIR.

Then, it was time to do the floor poses.  I sat down in my CHAIR.  After several poses, the CHAIR slowly started to lower toward the floor.  I prayed no one would notice.  But, the CHAIR kept moving down, down, down until my “buttocks” ever so lightly touched the floor.  Several people came to offer help.  Pride made me say NO.  I did not want people standing around trying to figure out how to get me up.  .

Instead, I remained on the floor.  To my surprise, with a bit of effort and a little pain, I got through the poses.  Independent, of any help, I brought my body to an upright standing position.

Now, I don’t want to oversell.  While I lifted, reached and twisted, this body did not always end up where it was supposed to go.  Touching my toes and sitting in a Cross-Legged pose are at the very top of my “Yoga Goal List.”

I am a little nervous about going to the next class.   But, FEAR and EMBARRASSMENT, are no longer problems.  After years of dreaming, I am grateful to finally have Yoga in my life.

Thank you CHAIR for breaking and gently guiding me to the right place.

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I Choose to Rise 

Better Late than Never

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Late Start

At 54 years of age, roughly 16 years ago, I chose to start exercising.   Chronic pain had literally controlled my life for more than three years.  I relied on prescribed medications for pain relief.  While the medications temporarily and sporadically reduced pain levels, I aspired to have a richer and fuller life.  Frequent, pain flare-ups prevented me from carrying out many day-to-day functional activities.  My body was under the control of either Ms. Fibro (Fibromyalgia-muscle pain) or Mr. Arthur (Rheumatoid Arthritis-joint pain).  While I FEARED the prospect of enduring the extra pain likely to come with exercising, the excruciating pain I was experiencing at the time left me with no other realistic choice.

In the Beginning

I exercised three days per week.  I could only endure six minutes on the treadmill and five minutes on the bicycle.  The body was so deconditioned and the muscles so atrophied, 11 minutes of low-impact exercise was all I could tolerate. Those first months were a struggle.  But, as the days, weeks and months passed – the FEAR disappeared — the pain lessened –the body strengthened.

Results

Over time, I have been able to add:

  • 49 minutes to exercise time (11 minutes to 60 minutes);
  • 2 days per week to exercise program (3 days to 5 days);
  • 3 new cardio machines to the treadmill and bicycle (Step, Elliptical, and PreCor); and
  • 10 circuit weight machines

Making the decision to start exercising was not easy.  But, I chose to TRY.

TODAY

Mr. Arthur and Ms. Fibro are no longer in control of my life:

“It is Better to Do Something Late than Not at All”

Why I Blog

Seeking to expand my “Little World,” I entered the “Blogosphere World” in mid-January 2013.   Retired in 2010, my husband and I relocated to a new state thousands of miles away from children, family and friends.

Some three years later, blogging “Launched ME” into Cyberspace.”   My ever expanding “Online World” has “Opened the Door” to new people, places and things all around the world.   Blogging allows “ME to be ME.”  Blogging is the “Voice” that had remained silent for many, many years due to my own self-inflicted anxiety and low self-esteem.

Though, I am a novice blogger, my confidence level is growing daily.   Why – the people, who have supported, aided and guided me since I embarked on this new journey.

  • First, thank you to those who “visited, liked and/or commented” on my posts.  I am grateful and appreciate your taking the time to enter my “Online World.”
  • Second, to those bloggers “I follow,” thankful and appreciative for your enlightening and informative posts.
  • Finally, a “special thank you” to Misifusa’s Blog, http://misifusa.wordpress.com.  I look forward to reading your posts.  I connect with you on a personal level — a “Sister Breast Cancer Survivoras well as your February 19, 2013 “What’s in a Name” post.

So to my new Blogosphere friends the following are a few  —-

Random Facts About Me

  • I am one of the 198,682 people in the U.S. with the first name Yvonne
  • My daily routine upon rising, is writing my “Morning Gratitude Note.”  Beginning with “Bless be the Day for ME and Mine,” and generally followed with a word or sentence expressing why I am grateful.   This note is placed into my “Gratitude Jar.” 

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  • Nightly, just before retiring, I write in my online Gratitude Journal” five things that happened during the day for which I am grateful.  I finish with, “Blessed be the Night for ME and Mine.”   If expressing gratitude to a specific person, place, or thing, I attach related digital photos.

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  • Unrealistic FEAR prevents “ME” from performing monthly self-breast exams.  For the past five years, I have lied to my oncologist when asked the dreaded question about self-breast exams.  Hope, sharing this fact in “Blogosphere” will rid “ME” of this phobia.

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  • I meditate for thirty minutes every day for relaxation and inner peace.
  • On my special “Sabbath Day,” which can be any day during the week, I choose to do only what honors, pleases and uplifts “ME.”

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  • I blog because it makes “ME” happy.
  • I took my first Yoga class this past week.
  • When someone or something enters my space and creates toxicity, my inner voice says either:  (1) “This is the day the Lord has made let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  Psalms 118.22 (NIV), or (2) “I will not allow anyone to steal my joy.”  Then, I will immediately seek a way to disengage.

Loving This Season of My Life!!!!

Dedicated to A Breast Cancer Warrior

Mentor, best friend, and the sister God placed in my life shortly after I married her younger brother more than 52 years ago, died in December of 1988 after a long battle with Stage IV Breast Cancer.  During her four-year fight to survive, I never heard one complaint.  With confidence, I can say every one who watched her go through the repetitive rounds of chemotherapy; radiation treatments and hospitalizations will agree that she exemplified all the following “Pink Warrior Symbols.”

    • Power and Courage
    • Plants for Life, Growth and Survival
    • A Feather for Kinship
    • A Dove for Peace in the Battle
    • War Paint, Showing Readiness to Battle
    • A Tree for Love, Standing Tall
    • A Heart, for Standing Strong
    • Angel Wings, to Honor Those Who Have Died

Four years my senior, she was the big sister I dreamed of growing up as an only child.  What a Blessing!!!  I was gifted with the opportunity to spend quality time with this very, very special person during the last days of her life

You see, in August of 1988, my husband invited her to live with us in Madison, Wisconsin.  She had reached a point where she needed around-the-clock care.  The two of us cared for her evenings and weekends. Her daughter, brother, sister, cousin, nieces, nephews, and aunt provided care on weekdays.  Fortunately, all of them lived in Madison and were available during the day due to retirement, student status, evening work, or paid time off usage.  Our family knew she would prefer a home setting rather than a sterile hospital room.   Although the spare bedroom, in order to accommodate her needs, was set up much like a hospital room with a hospital bed, over-the-bed table, and oxygen tank.   Yet, it was a lived-in home environment.  Family members were providing the needed care.

The best reasons for her move to Madison.  It placed her in the same city as her youngest child, a daughter, who graduated from high school in June of 1988.  She was scheduled to start classes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for the Fall 1988 semester. Though away from her own home, she was able to maintain a close connection with her husband and adult son.  Madison is only a three-hour drive from Chicago.

On November 25, 1988, she celebrated her 50th Birthday in our spare bedroom.  Less than three weeks later, she quietly passed away in this small spare bedroom surrounded by members of her nuclear, extended family and close friends.

This post is dedicated to my sister-in-law, Shirley Mae Thomas Conda, a Breast Cancer Warrior, who bravely fought the fight, but lost the battle.

Through the many seasons of my life, I have faced my share of trials and tribulations.   However, nothing challenged me more than the diagnosis of Breast Cancer in February 2008.

Thank you Shirley.  You were still my “role model, some 20 years later” as I went through a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation treatment.   Being in your presence as you fought Breast Cancer, continues to give me the courage to fight this condition for which there is still no known cure.

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On this 5th Anniversary as A Breast Cancer Survivor,  I am:

  • Thankful for my husband, children, grandchildren, extended family members, PMTC family, and friends who went beyond anyone’s expectations in sharing their love and support as I went through the early, and sometimes scary times, of my cancer treatments.

Finally, I give praise and honor to God.  Thanking Him for bringing me this far.

Living Life as One of God’s CREATIONs

The exact day of the week is unknown, but in February of 2010, I made a decision that would change the course of my life.    I chose to begin the journey of  “Living Life as One of God’s CREATIONs.”     On long-term medical leave, bedridden, recovering from a serious illness, bored, and television channel surfing, I landed on a religious cable network.   Immediately, I was drawn into the commentary and lively discussion on the topic of the day.   I have to admit, the religious cable network is not one of my “go to” networks.  My cable channel programming preferences lean more toward Home and Garden TV, The Food Network, OWN, and MSNBC.   But on this particular day, I chose to channel surf.  Why, I may never know, but the information shared in this program led me down a new path that has improved the overall quality of my life.

The discussion topic was the book by Monica Reed, M.D. entitled, “The CREATION Health Breakthrough.”  Dr. Reed, is a former Medical Officer of Florida Hospital and most recent the CEO of Florida Hospital’s medical facility – Celebration Health.  Having a lifetime commitment to whole health, Dr. Reed suggests there are “eight fundamentally, powerful and scientifically proven essentials to reverse the effects of lifestyle, prevent disease in at-risk people, and ultimately achieve total health and wellness.”

I questioned whether it was possible to “achieve total health and wellness.”   If so, I needed to get on board.  At that time, I was a chronic pain survivor having been diagnosed both with Fibromyalgia and Rheumatoid Arthritis more than seventeen years earlier.    After so many years of being by themselves, I guess these two conditions were getting lonely so in a two-year period, I brought them four new major conditions:  Breast Cancer (2008); Peripheral Neuropathy-Nerve Pain (2008); Epiglottitis-Severe Respiratory Distress (2010); and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (2010).

These last four conditions were due to the side effects from medications prescribed to treat one condition causing the onset of a new condition.  Most over-the-counter and prescribed medications will list the side effects – even some carry the statement, “rare but serious side effects.”   It is my understanding less than 1% of people prescribed a medication will have “rare but serious side effects.”    Four incidents in two years, was I qualified to be the poster child for the “rare but serious side effects” ?    I survived four, but what about the future.  I was even more concerned after reading an article on MedicationSense.com reporting that medication side effects are the #4 leading cause of deaths in America.”   So on this cold day in February 2010, recovering from a life-threatening illness, I was more than ready to look at alternative therapies to manage my existing health conditions.

As soon as the program ended, I ordered Dr. Reed’s book, willingly paid extra for the overnight delivery, and read the entire book in one-day.    What resonated most was the section on Lifestyle Diseases, which Dr. Reed defined as,  “a group of harmful behaviors practiced over time, which result in decreased quality of life and ultimately to the onset of chronic illnesses leading to premature death.”   I had to “fess up” to having more than less of the harmful behaviors.

  • Little or no physical exercise
  • Lack of sufficient or fulfilling sleep
  • Sustained exposure to stress
  • Participate in high risk behaviors such as smoking or drug use
  • Minimal or no personal playtime or time for solitude
  • Limited family or meaningful relationship time
  • Lack of a spiritual connection

Yes, regrettably I had a long-time relationship with five of the eight behaviors as indicated by those highlighted.     Actually, there could well be six, if I were to include “smoking,” a 20-year habit until I quit in 1980.  I was ready to get on board with Dr. Reed and the CREATION Health Lifestyle.”

Some three years later, I am grateful and humbled by the improvement in my life since starting the journey to “CREATION – God’s 8 Principles for Living Life to Its Fullest .

  • I no longer control my long-term chronic conditions with medications that carry the label “rare but serious risks.”
  • On March 8, 2013, I will celebrate my Fifth Anniversary as a Breast Cancer survivor.
  • My pulmonary issues are adequately managed with minimal use of an inhaler and nebulizer.

My personal CREATION plan for living life to its fullest is ever-changing, I am happy  to share the latest with you:

C = Choice – The choices I make, in large part, determines my destiny.  Strive daily to make good choices in all areas of my life.  Choose to be happy rather than sad. Choose to focus on the positive rather than the negative.  Choose to show gratitude and appreciation daily for all of my blessings rather than coveting what other have.  Empowered and in control to make healthy choices relating to my health.

R = Rest –Take time out during the day for “solitude time.”   Reading, meditating, and “total silence” is what I choose to do during this time.  Take a full Sabbath Day on any day I feel my body is in need of rest and revitalization.

E = Environment – Home is a safe haven it brings me peace, serenity and tranquility.   I enjoy sitting on the rear patio looking at the vibrant colorful flowers overflowing in beautiful pots brings happiness into my life.  I love the feeling of “isolation.”  Large trees in the conservation area backing up to the rear of our home and flanked by tall shrubbery on both sides creates my own private oasis.

A = ActivityExercise at the YMCA four days per week for one hour.  Recognize exercise reduces my pain and stress levels.

T = Trust – Trust in God.  Develop healthy relationships based on mutual respect and trust.  Trust my other half.  Trust my children.

I = Interpersonal Relationships – Pursue supportive and positive interpersonal relationships beyond my immediate family.  Stay connected with my Wisconsin friends.  Open the door to attract new friends in Florida.

O = Outlook – Far better to find the good as opposed to the bad in any given situation.   Choose to be optimistic rather than pessimistic.  Keep a positive outlook and visualize the unlimited possibilities available during this season of my life.

N = Nutrition – Continue to develop a realistic nutrition plan.  Limit intake of animal fats and cholesterol.  Limit sweets and refined foods.  Increase intake of high fiber foods.

The quality of my life is getting better every day by – Making good Choices; Taking time for Rest; Enjoying the Environment; Exercising four days per week as an Activity;  Learning the true meaning of Trust; Expanding Interpersonal relationships; Maintaining a positive Outlook; and knowing the importance of Nutrition. 

I Am Gonna Make the Rest of My Life the Best of My Life

In His Own Words

My husband of fifty-two years never ceases to amaze me. Most recently, after a three-year project — on-again and off-again — he completed writing his memoirs and family history.

Married at the young ages of 17 and 18, I have watched him go through the many phases of life. The challenges sometimes seemed insurmountable, but he always kept pushing forward — failure was not an option.  At each stage, his goal was to move our family forward.  He had a strong commitment to ensuring our children were given opportunities that had not been available to us.   Together, we accomplished this.   There were some bumps in the road.  But, I can honestly say we have been fortunate.  In our fifty-two years together, we have shared more lemonade than lemons.  I ask my five Blog Followers, you  know who you are, to join me in congratulating first time author, James Cameron Thomas, on the January 12, 2013 release of his first book, “Son of a Sharecropper Achieves the American Dream.”

In His Own Words

I am a 70-year-old black male who was born in Mississippi in 1941 to an 18-year-old unwed mother with one child.  My parents were sharecroppers.   I did not know my biological father until I was 15 years old.  I grew up in dire poverty in the pre-Civil Rights south, chopping and picking cotton for ten hours a day, eight months of the year.  I was a high school dropout and had my first child, out-of-wedlock, at the tender age of 17.  One year later I married my beautiful 17-year-old childhood sweetheart and by the age of 26 I was the father of four children.  By age 33, I had obtained Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  I overcame many difficult beginnings to become the succesful person I am today.

This year my wife Yvonne and I celebrated our 52nd anniversary.  Thanks to a lot of hard work and God’s blessings, I now live in a suburb of Wisconsin and have a winter home in Orlando, Florida.  I live in a beautiful house , have a large collection of African-American art, photographs and mementos and I am not without resources and material comforts.   I am surrounded by treasured books by William Faulkner, James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, W.E.B. DuBois, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., President Barack Obama, and numerous other authors who have written about the African-American experience in America.  I am truly blessed with a rich network of friends going back to elementary school including my best friend, my loving wife Yvonne.  I have four children, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, all blessed with good health and sound minds, and pursuing careers.

My story and my family’s story is about being black in this country — an honest story about how much progress has been made, but also about how much progress still needs to be achieved.  I faced many hardships and struggles as a poor black boy growing up in 1950’s Mississippi.  But my struggles and hardships didn’t end when I moved to the north and began my professional career in business and government service.  While I was no longer chopping and picking cotton ten hours a day, I was still in many ways treated like a second class citizen.  This book, then, is a cautionary tale for black people about attitudes that have not changed fast enough and the progress that still has to be made.

At the same time, this is not a memoir by an angry black man.  Rather it is a story of hope and perseverance — about how I overcame tremendous odds to achieve success and the American Dream.  Despite the problems I describe, I’ve had many more victories, and I am thankful to my family, friends, colleagues, and country for the opportunities and achievements that have blessed my life.

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A Big Deal: The 2013 Presidential Inauguration

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(Last Monday, I received a special piece of mail. A gold embossed commemorative invitation from “The Presidential Inaugural Committee,” to attend the January 21, 2013 Inauguration. What better way to show appreciation to the Obama campaign volunteers and donors. For me, this was the Grande Obama Collectible. I must confess, my collection of Obama memorabilia probably meets the definition of “collectible hoarding.” But this invitation, outweighs everything else. Why? Because, it is about so much more than an invite to the swearing-in of President Obama for a second term. I was so excited! Then, I shared the good news with my two grandsons’ 13-year-old CJE and 17-year-old GPK. The reaction, “What’s the big deal? It’s only a commemorative invitation. It’s not like you were really asked to be there.” Their indifferent attitude, led me to write then this letter.)

Dear GPK and CJE:

You are right. I will watch the Presidential Inauguration on television like millions of others. I will not sit with those who received the “real invite.” But, it doesn’t matter. This Presidential Inauguration is a “Big Deal.”
In our efforts to shield you, we may have failed to inform you. As famed author, James Baldwin, stated, “Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations where you can go.”

Let’s begin. Prior to passage of the 13th Amendment, Black people were:
• viewed as property – bought and sold like livestock,
• prohibited from marrying, and
• forbidden to learn how to read and write.

So, on this Presidential Inauguration Day, I will say, “Thank You” to President Lincoln for the role he played, so many years ago, in starting the journey from slavery to the White House.
A second Bible, once owned by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was selected by President Obama for this swearing-in ceremony. Also, what an honor to Dr. King for the Presidential Inauguration to take place on the 30th Anniversary Holiday to celebrate his life and legacy?
Another great civil rights leader will be honored at this Presidential Inauguration. The Invocation will be delivered by Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of the civil rights leader, Medgar Evers, assassinated fifty years ago outside of his home. A civil rights activist and journalist, Ms. Evers-Williams, fought tirelessly for over 30 years to bring her husband’s killer to justice.
As I watch the Presidential Inauguration on television, I will take a moment to “honor” Dr. King, and Mr. Evers, two prominent leaders, whose lives were cut short due to their non-violent protest to end segregation. I will say a prayer for the many other leaders and civil rights workers, from all walks of life coming together, to risk and sometimes lose their lives fighting for justice and equality. Also, I will “honor” Ms. Evers-Williams for her many years of advocacy for equal rights and fair treatment. While the Civil Rights Movement was not able to make up for past injustices, it is now possible for many more people to aspire for the American Dream:
“. . . rooted in the United States Declaration of Independence which claims that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. (Kamp, Rethinking the American Dream, April 2009)

This Presidential Inauguration and my commemorative, gold embossed invitation is a “Big Deal.” The road from slavery to the White House has been a “long and treacherous journey.”
It is a “Big Deal,” GPK and CJE, for me to know one day, if you make the choice, it is possible for you to become President of the United States.

My Final Season: How I Choose to Live It

(Recently, I retired from our family business after many years of working closely with my husband and three adult children.   As a 70-year-old, I faced reality.  Approaching my final season, it was time to make a choiceMy final season, as defined by ME is the time to focus on MEJCT, the other half  of ME for the past fifty-two years, supported my choice.  He willingly joined me on this journey.  We packed up and moved thousands of miles away from the business and children.  It was difficult to “Let Go.”  Closely attached to the three of them as friend, mother, co-worker, and babysitter, I knew it would be difficult for all of us.  I needed to write a letter to explain why I made my choice.  Even though I interact with my children on a daily basis, periodically, I will write a letter just to say, “thank you,” I appreciate you” “I want to praise you,” “I love you,” and “I am proud of you.”   This letter written not to long ago was the first about ME.)

My Dearest Children/Professional Colleagues:

These last two days gave me time to listen.  My inner voice spoke to me.   I listened. This season of my life God wants to direct me down a new path.   A new journey.  A new venture.   A time to explore and discover ME.   

In this last season of my life, I plan to open new doors.  Hopefully, some will lead me to a life overflowing  with tranquility, serenity and peacefulness.   When I look back over the years, there were few opportunities to BE ME.   I left my parents’ home at the age of seventeen, newly married, with a baby on the way.  Thereafter, my priority has been that of wife, mother, grandmother and career.   God blessed me with the three of you and five beautiful grandchildren.  I am grateful for all the happiness and joy you guys have brought into my life.  However, before I allow this season of my life to past, I want to begin to tackle my “Bucket List.”

So many things I want to do.  Yet, sometimes I feel there is so little time.  As a beginning, I want to:

  • further develop and sharpen my writing skills.
  • learn how to prepare and cook healthy meals.  The dozens and dozens of health-related cookbooks I have collected is an example of a dream never fulfilled.
  • practice Yoga and Pilates.   For years, I wanted to take classes, but my inability to do floor routines prevented me from doing so.  In November, I discovered Pilates and Yoga DVD chair exercises.   Yet,  both remain unopened.
  • read for relaxation and pleasure.  Both my IPAD and Kindle have 100s of unread books.
  • create a blog as a connection to the diverse range of people in the blogosphere.  The blog is set up, the first post is a work in progress.
  • complete training on my MAC laptop.  Gifted as a birthday present by ME and to ME in November.  It is still in the shipping box.
  • study, daily, the On-Line Bible Program I  bought more than nine months ago.  Though loaded on my computer,  I have not completed the first lesson.

I hope you guys will support my choice to pursue this new adventure.  It took a lot of praying, reading, and more praying.   Many nights, I prayed for God to guide and lead me in the way He would want me to go.   I woke up at 4:00 a.m., this morning, went into the front living room, and opened my IPAD to read a few inspirational quotes on Pinterest.  The first one to pop up:

Letting Go

To let go doesn’t mean to stop caring.  It means I can’t do it for someone else.

To let go is not to enable but to allow learning from natural consequences

To let go is to admit powerlessness which means the outcome is not in my hands

To let go is not to try to change or blame another.  I can only change myself

To let go is not to care for, but to care about

To let go is not to fix but to be supportive. 

To let go is not to judge but to allow another to be a human being

To let go is not to be in the middle arranging all the outcomes

but to allow others to effect their own outcomes

To let go is not to be protective.  It is to permit another to face reality

To let go is not to deny, but to accept

To let go is not to nag, scold or argue but to

search out my own shortcomings and correct them

To let go is not to adjust everything to my desires but to

take each day as it comes and to cherish the moment.

To let go is not to criticize and regulate anyone, but

to become the best I can be

To let go is not to regret the past, but to grow and live for the future

To let go is to fear less.  Trust in God more and freely give the love He’s given to me .

I Am Letting Go to find ME.  My requests to you my children — both as siblings and professional colleagues.  Remember your core values.  Stick together as a family.  Protect each other.  Love each other.  Trust each other.   Respect each other.  Value each other.  Support each other.    I know you will stay connected even when your father and I are no longer actively involved in the business.  Yes, there will be differences as you continue to work together, but never let the bonds of our family disintegrate.  I truly believe you will honor my requests.

In summary, my choice — “cut the apron springs” and “spread my wings” as I journey down a path of self-fulfillment, self-examination, and self-development.  This is the season of my life and the possibilities are unlimited.

Thomas family Portrait
Thomas Family Portrait

(My first blogpost on this new journey.)