Or So it Seems … How to Say ‘Thank You’

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.

Nicole is my second daughter, and she’s allowed me to tell a few tales about her. There’s one in this collection about how tiring I can be to talk to.

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.

Robb Lightfoot
December 2013
Palo Cedro, CA
robb@robblightfoot.com

Photos by Karin Lightfoot

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.

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Robb Lightfoot is a humorist, author and educator. He and his wife raised a family of four kids, a dozen or more dogs and a zillion cats. He 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 teaching at Shasta Community College, and his former 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 in national competitions. His screenplay, “One Little Indian,” Was a top-10 finalist in the Writer’s Digest competition. Robb presently lives and writes in Chico where he manages ThinkingFunny.com. He also hates referring to himself in the third person, and will stop doing so immediately. I can be reached in the following ways: Robb@thinkingfunny.com PO Box 5286 Chico, CA 95928 @_thinking_funny on Twitter
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11 Responses

  1. Avatar EasternCounty says:

    You said to drop a line; so here's mine — though you won't appreciate it. You wrote: "But Mom was determined to find all the great deals out there to cloth my brother and I for the coming year". "Cloth" could well be a typo, but it should be "clothe." And "I" should be "me" since it's the object of the prepositional phrase "to cloth (sic)." I know, I know: picky, picky, picky. But I really enjoy your columns!

    • Well, actually, I DO appreciate it. My stint in the newspaper trade taught me that the important thing is to get in right. You helped me do that, and thanks to Joe Domke, this is now cleaned up. That's one of the great things about a blog. 🙂 And it shows that "looking good in print" often takes, if not a village, then a team of people. Thanks, Eastern County, for spotting this early and giving me the chance to clean it up. Happy New Year to you!

      • Avatar EasternCounty says:

        You're too kind. Bethany Chamberlain had it right when she chastised me. (Point taken, except that those who both write and edit, teach.) Did you cut your newspaper teeth at the Bakersfield Californian? My parents subscribed to it and the L.A. Times all the years I was growing up in Taft. I deplore not having a newspaper to read at breakfast, but we ended our subscription to THAT paper when Doni was let go. Electronic news is better than nothing, but I miss being able to pore over a print edition. A prosperous New Year to you, the newscafe staff, and all my fellow readers.

    • Well, I accept responsibility for doing a lousy editing job. I should have caught the "cloth" vs. "clothe" reference. We ALL need editors, after all. 🙂

  2. Those who can, write, those who wish they could write, edit. Seriously. Come on. Great, moving, funny column, Robb. Thank you and happy New Year (capitalizing NY is a style choice I consciously made, EasternCounty).

  3. Thanks for catching the errors. I'll see that they get fixed. Filed a bit early because of the holiday, and didn't give it the last once-over. Robb

  4. Avatar Budd Hodges says:

    Hey Robb, Keep those funny columns of your life coming in the new year. I've enjoyed your stories since you started with Doni and find them amusing. Have an uplifting New Year of 2014.

  5. Avatar jaonnesnyder says:

    Thank you for a wonderful, warm article. I love your stories and your articles, but it is the way that you write that keeps me coming back to read and re-read what you have to say. I edited a local newsletter for years and I always claimed that the letters were scrambled on the way to the print shop. I could never see an error as a writer, but the errors were glaring when I opened up a copy of the newsletter that was printed and already in the mail. I had the same problem as a sign painter. On one job, I finished my work and then walked around the corner to turn and walk back around and get a fresh look at what the sign looked like. What I read was "Big Sidwalk Sale!" groan!
    Again, thank you for sharing your writing with Anewscafe.

    • Oh, Joanne, your comment made me laugh out loud. Thanks for sharing about the sign error.

    • OK, I have a sign story involving my two octogenarian friends. They were very active in their local Lions Club and took the job of organizing a cakewalk for a club fundraiser. It was a huge undertaking and late the night before the event, they finished the last task… making a large banner for the cakewalk.
      It wasn't until the next day and the giant sign was hanging way overhead that someone (quite uncharitably) pointed out that the banner read, "Loins Club Cakewalk."
      The most prudish of the pair, already exhausted and now embarrassed and hurt by the harsh editing, found herself a ladder, climbed up, and dramatically tore down the sign.

  6. Robb, I'm honored to be counted among your friends. Not only have I enjoyed everything you've written, you have been a positive part of my erratic writing life. I can always count on you for valuable and encouraging feedback. Looking forward to many more laughs in 2014!