When my sister was four, Mom took her on an all-day back-to-school shopping spree. Mom towed little Pattina through the aisles, hunting bargains. At store after store, Mom waited her turn in line while my sister grew ever more restless.
“Cash or charge,” the salesman would ask.
“Charge it,” Mom said, and slapped her new plastic charge card on the counter.
It was a Visa card, Mom’s first, and it shone youthful innocence as the day began. Pretty soon, though, the card lost its luster. The charge-plate machines click-clacked away the glittery gold numbers, turning them a dull grey.
Spending money, even when you don’t have it, is hard work.
But Mom was determined to find all the great deals out there to clothe my brother and me for the coming year. By noon, my sister was spent and had to be carried. This pretty much put an end to that outing, but Mom still had to make one more purchase, our lunchboxes. She slung Pat over her shoulder, and juggled shopping bags in one hand while extracting her wallet with the other.
My sister squeaked out a small complaint. “When are we going home?”
A kindly salesperson took pity on my Mom and offered my sister a piece of candy. Pat stirred, popped the sucker in her mouth, and slumped back into Mom’s embrace.
A bit embarrassed, Mom prompted my sister. “And what do you say to the nice lady?”
Pat pulled the sucker from her mouth, sighed, and said, “Charge it.”
We have to learn good manners, and my Mom did her best to teach us. She detested the “attitude of ingratitude,” and expected us to be polite and appreciate. But even so, like my little sister sometimes we need to be reminded.
How important is it to say “thank you?” They may be the most powerful two words in existence. Second only to “I love you,” they have the power to light up a person’s day.
The next time you use them, try this.
Look directly into the eyes of the person who has done you a good turn, whether it be a friend or a stranger, and smile.
Hold the eye contact for a second before you move on to your next chore, next stop, or next item of conversation. Be mindful of your gratitude, and savor the moment.
You’ll probably find this a powerful experience.
Why do I bring this up? Well, I’ve a confession to make. I’m writing this piece as I craft the “Acknowledgements” section in my next book, Potholes on Memory Lane, and I’m wondering if I’ve told the people in my life just how grateful I am to them. How much do I owe them? It’s easy to answer that question:
My book wouldn’t exist without their help.
So, then, how DO you thank people who allow you to do what you love?
(HEAVY SIGH) I wish I knew.
I believe in the power of the written word, but in this case, words alone don’t seem to be enough. Alas, they’re all I have. So I’ll take a shot at it here as the year ends.
One of my writing mentors, author Tony D’Sousa, once said to his students that “No one makes it alone.” It took me a long time to realize this. But once I embraced this idea, I let people into my creative process. No longer did I feel I had to prove that I was “oh-so-clever.” I decided it was more important to try and capture the world as I see it—or wish it was—and to wrestle onto the page moments I wanted to preserve.
I now have a team of people who help me do this. I’d like to take a moment to tell you a bit about them.
First up is my wife, Karin. We’ve been a couple for the past 32 years. Karin not only encourages me to write, she also tolerates my moods when things are not going well. She’s the world’s best sport for letting me put my own, quirky spin on stories about our shared experiences. She’s often busy with her work as a nursing educator in the field of public health, but she continually makes time to help edit my work, offer ideas, or provide many of the photographs I use in my weekly column. She’s my first reader, my best friend, and my secret superpower.
Next, there’s my extended family, which also falls victim to my tales.
My oldest daughter, Amanda, is a visual artist and scientist who lives on the California coast with her husband Austin. She’s realizing her dreams by working in a state park and teaching in an outdoor education program. But despite her busy schedule, she’s made time to edit and illustrate my work.
So generous of her that she let me tell you that.
Nicole’s working as an outreach educator with the local woman’s shelter. She teaches anti-bullying and safe dating. She enjoys singing and continues to grow by exploring other visual and creative arts. Nicole is following in her mother’s path by helping grow a stronger, healthier community.
My youngest daughter Rebecca is currently in art school and is hoping to make a splash in the world of cinema. She’s busy with her own film shorts right now, but I’m looking forward to the day that she can help me translate some of my material into video suitable for YouTube.
My son Joseph is currently away training for his career in the US Navy. He has matured a great deal in the past couple of years. But he’s always been a loving—if not a bit irritating—brother to his big sisters and a talented musician in his own right. He has supported my writing by allowing me to write about some of the more lively periods of our family life where he finds himself in mischief… just like his father was at that age.
Outside my immediate family, I am privileged to share company with talented writers who offer both criticism and encouragement. My weekly meetings with Jim Dowling, Kathryn Gessner, Carla Jackson, Melinda Kashuba, and Charlie Price help me polish my prose. All of them are teachers in the fullest sense of the word, but have rich life experiences outside the classroom. These five friends have been instrumental in making my work publishable, and I am profoundly grateful to them.
Then there are the teachers and mentors I’ve had over the years in school and in the journalism profession. The late Anne Passel taught my first creative writing course at California State College Bakersfield. She was an accomplished author and educator with extensive experience in the world of publishing. Dr. Passel gave me tools to begin my journey as a writer. She imparted a great deal in just one course, and her novel-writing workbook remained, for many years, the most treasured item in my library. More recently, other teachers such as Tony D’Souza, and humor coaches Mike Price and Dave Fox, have shown me how to go about refining my work.
I wish I could repay them in full measure the many gifts they’ve given to me.
Finally, in the world of journalism, there are some stand-outs, too. Of all the editors I had early on, Mike Stepanovich alone took the time to help me develop my style. He coached me and became my friend, and he did the same for many other freshly-minted journalists. He’s still writing, too. Look for his wine column, “Life Is A Cabernet” in Bakersfield Magazine and elsewhere on the web.
About the same time, now-retired ABC-TV newsman Jonathan Mumm taught me to write for the ear, a hugely-helpful bit of advice. He provided this instruction at Bakersfield Community College.
More recently, Doni Chamberlain has given me miles and miles of creative space to try whatever I pleased. It’s been a wonderful headache having weekly deadlines. But doing so has allowed me to amass this present collection. I thank her for her faith in me, her encouragement and friendship.
All of these dear friends and family members have helped more than I can say, and I don’t know that I’ve said “thank you” nearly enough.
Finally, I want to thank those who drop in regularly to see what I’m up to, especially those of you who offer comments and constructive criticism.
So here it is shortly after Christmas and all the gifts under the tree have been unwrapped and tucked away. But the real gift, of course, is the love and friendship of those who share our lives. And it’s a wonderful thing that THAT gift happens all year round.
And the best thing is there’s no monthly payment.
With that in mind, I wish ALL of you a Happy New Year. Best wishes for a terrific 2014.
Drop me a line if you’d like to say hello. Stop in if you’re out in Palo Cedro.
Just watch out for those potholes.
Palo Cedro, CA
Robb has enjoyed writing and performing since he was a child, and many of his earliest performances earned him a special recognition-reserved seating in the principal’s office at Highland Elementary. Since then, in addition to his weekly column on A News Cafe – “Or So it Seems™” – Robb has written news and features for The Bakersfield Californian, appeared on stage as an opening stand-up act in Reno, and his writing has been published in the Funny Times. His short stories have won honorable mention national competition. His screenplay, “One Little Indian,” Was a top-ten finalist in the Writer’s Digest competition. Robb presently lives, writes and teaches in Shasta County.