Special Squeezes

We all know the family secret handshake—4 squeezes, 3 squeezes, 2 squeezes, and finally a really hard single squeeze— but I don’t know how it originated. Grandma taught it to all of us when we were young, and all five of us taught it to our spouses and our children.

About two years ago, I asked two of my cousins if they were familiar with the handshake, and one knew it while the other did not. Today, I posed the question to cousins representing the children of Grandma’s four brothers. None were familiar with it, so I have concluded that it must have been a thing between sisters.

At what point in a relationship do we all feel secure enough to share the secret with that special person in our lives? It is very special and should not be taken lightly.

Do you love me?

Yes I do.

How much?

(The final two squeezes is followed by a very tight squeeze which shows the depth of your love.)



I hope you all continue the tradition.

What Will Each Year Bring- Wow #7

“I can’t wait ‘til I’m a grown up because…” says four-year-old Bryce. He has already began making plans and dreaming about his future. We talk about his thoughts on a career—“Being Dad’s work friend” and “Helping Mommy hold her camera.” He tells me that he wants to be an adult, because “I am excited to be a dad.” He has told me that he is not interested in drinking wine now, but when he is a grown-up, milk will no longer be his preferred beverage.

When you are young, there are so many milestones to look forward to, such as getting a driver’s license, being able to vote, drinking legally, and becoming independent. Each birthday is eagerly awaited.

At what point does that excitement turn to antipathy? For me, it was each new decade beginning at forty, when I truly knew I was no longer a kid. I watched my parents age, and with each passing birthday, new wrinkles appeared, trips to the doctors increased, and their memories deteriorated.

Grandpa’s travels became primarily limited to walking from the living room window to observe the neighborhood activities, to shuffling into the kitchen for a cup of coffee or his afternoon glass of wine. Grandma now spends most of the day in her recliner, with the television tuned to whichever station was last turned on by one of the nursing home aides or a visitor.

If this is my future, it saddens me. However, my gloom turns to hope when I dine with our new friend, a ninety-four year old gentleman with a perpetual smile on his face. He greets me by name and with a hug, and we have animated discussions about our lives—mostly his because he is so fascinating—and he tells me about his travels. He has seen the world—China, Thailand, Alaska, Germany, and Ireland. He does not look just backward on his life, but happily anticipates his future trips.

At this moment, he is on an adventure in New Zealand and hopes to visit the Galapagos Islands or Ireland in his ninety-fifth year. I asked if his family is uneasy with his solo travels, and he admitted that they are. He dismissed their worries telling me, “If something happens to me while I am away, what’s wrong with that? I have lived a long life, and I am happy now. I am doing what I want.”

What a great attitude, and what an admirable and memorable man! He is my hero! If I can still be physically and mentally fit enough to still travel and socialize thirty years from now, then birthdays will become a day of pride.

Humble and Fun- Wow #6

We meet many people during our lifetime—some for just a brief moment while others remain in our lives. I would like to discuss another person who has touched my life and is among the Top 10 Most Fascinating and/or Admirable People I Have Met.

She is not famous and I know that she will be surprised upon reading this. You all know her, but only since we moved down here. I always knew “of her” but I don’t recall ever meeting her until we were both Southern Belles and officially met at her husband’s funeral. We bonded at a genealogy conference near her home, which was so fitting since we are leaves on the same family tree.

What has impressed me the most is her attitude. Life has thrown a lot of big bad stones along her path, but she has somehow managed to remain an upbeat person. She has faced unimaginable loss in her lifetime, but can still smile. If I look at all the people I have known and was given the task of labeling each as an optimist or pessimist, there is no question that she is the former.

One of you was involved in an accident several years ago, and I knew I could not be there for you, but she could. I reached out, and she did not hesitate to help you, even though I worried it would bring back memories of one of those stones thrown at her. But she is one of those special people that you just know you can count on in times of need.

As someone who had served in the navy and worked as a police officer with the navy, I knew she had the experience to handle the situation better than even I could have. She calmed you and when we all assembled at a Cracker Barrel after all the dust was settled, we were finally able to relax.

She is a wonderful mother, grandmother, aunt, cousin, and friend. Aunt El sent me a quote, which inspired me to write this story about the other Ellen in our family.

cactus negative quote

An Incredible Artist- Wow #4

I told you how shy I used to be, and I am happy that I have overcome the severe shyness of my childhood. I explained in The Shy Bug, which is when I chose to be the bird who quietly sat in the corner instead of my hero, the bunny, in my kindergarten play. It took years and was a slow evolution. Dad knew that version of me, which still exists, but to a much smaller degree now.

When I travel alone, I enjoy striking up a conversation with my fell passengers when I get an inkling that they are more interested in speaking to me than reading their book or listening to the music on their device.

Last year I was sitting in the middle seat between Dad and an older gentleman. Neither the stranger nor I spoke to each other during the early part of the flight between Dallas and Palm Springs. Sometime after the flight attendant delivered our beverages, the man began to make small talk with me.

Although originally from Great Britain, he told me he was an artist who had lived in Africa, where he specialized in painting the people and animals of that great continent. He explained that his father discouraged his passion for art during his youth, but he persevered until he became a success.

Over a shared glass of water (I drank from his glass by accident), he told me about his most famous work, which was a life-sized portrait of Queen Elizabeth, which he painted in 1992. He mentioned parking his car inside the gates of Buckingham Palace, where he was approached by a man who told him to move his vehicle before the changing of the guard.

He took out the airline magazine so he could show me where he now lived, which was on the island of Malta, just off the southern tip of Italy. I told him about my book, and he encouraged me to continue. As we prepared to leave, he handed me his business card.

I admit I had doubts about his incredible story, so I checked him out when I arrived at my final destination. He was who he said he was —an artist named Don Heywood– and is included on my list of “wow people I have met.”

The Main Man From Castlebar

I mentioned that I met two people during my 2014 visit to London that have made my list of the most interesting people I have met. The first was my globe-trotting friend who goes by the handle of “Bumblebee,” and the second was the Prime Minister of Ireland, known there as the Taoiseach (pronounced “tea-shock). I have tried to understand their government, particularly since they recently had their own election and no one got enough votes to be elected. But I am not trying to teach you the ins and outs of Irish politics but to explain my story of meeting the man.

The invitation was from the Mayor of Castlebar and the Prime Minister. My first thoughts were of fashion. What do we wear? I was told “business casual,” so after carefully researching what this meant in the UK, I decided on a suit with a nice scarf. For men, all that we could deduce was it meant “no tie needed”, just a sport jacket and a shirt with a collar. So Dad did not pack a tie, and he was the only man at that ceremony not in a suit with a tie. He felt awkward, but everyone was so happy to have a relative, even the distant cousin in-law, that it did not matter.

Would I meet the Prime Minister? Oh yes. In fact, we were seated in the first row of the church with him, and later at the Irish pub, at what Aunt Ar refers to as “the meal of mercy, we were seated in a roped-off area with him, several local mayors, and a prince.

When he learned where we lived, he called me “Carolina,” and when I mentioned that I was originally from New Jersey and Dad said he worked for Merck, we were surprised with his comments. He told the story of meeting the CEO of Merck, and he stated that he wanted to meet his boss. “I don’t mean Chris Christie,” he said. “I want to meet ‘The Boss’—Bruce Springsteen.

Now I have no idea if I would agree with him politically. I know only that he supported gay marriage in a Catholic country, so he can’t be all bad. And he gave me a present, so how nice was that!

So even though he may not be the most fascinating person I have met, he is the most influential in his world. I thought it was very cool! (By the way— I like the idea of bagpipes at my funeral!)At cemetery

An Intriguing Woman- Wow #3

The trip to London in 2014 is where I met two of the most fascinating people on my ever-growing list of “Wow People I Have Met.” I knew about the possibility of meeting one man in particular, but the woman I am writing about today was the big surprise of the trip. She was the woman from New Zealand whose blog I had been reading for some time because she had traveled on the Trans-Siberian Railway like Grandpa had done over eighty years ago.

I was following her as she traveled through China, Russia, Turkey and Iraq. Shortly before Christmas she wrote that she was signing off as she headed off to Iran for a month. When I turned the page on the calendar to February and realized she was still off the grid, I began to wonder if she was okay.

March came and still no word for her, and then Dad and I left on our trip. On Saturday morning I opened up my email and learned where my friend “Bumblebee” went after Iran.

This is just a quickee but I am in London and will be all March, at least until the 24th anyway.

Let me know if you would like to catch up!

 Oh my goodness! I was stunned. Never did I imagine that I would meet this stranger from the other side of the world who so kindly spent time in Russia taking photographs for me.

We decided to meet outside my hotel on our last night in London. As I said in my story,The Stars Were Aligned in London, “Never in a million years did I ever believe I would be able to convey my gratitude to Bumblebee in person.”

We spent the day together, beginning with lunch, followed by a walk along the Thames. She told me about her travels since Iran as well as explaining her decision to quit her job and meander around Europe and Asia. I was in no hurry to end the day, so we stopped for coffee and then ended the day with dinner at a Chinese restaurant near our hotel.

Since then, we have kept in touch via Facebook and email. She spent time in London working at a bank and house sitting, which was such a clever way to find a place to live. I know she was in the Balkans and Sri Lanka in 2015, where I believe she helped out with the refugee crisis which I could only read about here. Now she is living and working in Sarajevo.

This is certainly not the life I would choose, but there is a part of me that is jealous of what she is doing, who she is meeting, and the places she is seeing. I have never met a woman like Bumblebee. I guess she will be my eyes to the world.

Wow People I Have Met #2

I used to be very frightened of air travel. While my stomach would begin to churn and my palms sweat when the doors of the plane closed, that is when Dad would begin to relax. It would really annoy me when I would see his eyes close and hear his rhythmic breathing as he dozed off before the wheels of the plane even left the runway. That was the moment my prayers would go into high gear and I would squeeze his hand in fear as he slept.

Every sound would make me jump and every minute change in altitude would make me imagine that it was the beginning of the end. When you were all young, I tried to fake bravery because I did not want to instill my fears in any of you.

Jamie was the only one of the three of you who was, and still is, a nervous flyer. Those anxieties temporarily abated after she sat next to that pilot who explained the principles of aerodynamics and warned her of every impending bump. She left the flight saying, “I want to be a flight attendant.” Unfortunately, I think her airplane jitters have returned. She will fly, but is not comfortable.

For me, the more flights I took, the calmer I became. I learned what noises meant wheels up and what meant wheels down. I realized that, like bumps in the road, a little up and down motion is normal on any flight.

On one flight several years ago, I was relaxing with a book when the lights above me stopped working, and I fiddled with the switch until the flight attendant announced that “there was no need to worry, but we lost one of our engines.” The plane got eerily quiet, and then suddenly everyone became best friends with their seatmates. I guess the unspoken thought was that no one wanted to go down alone. But the pilot landed the plane with no problems, so I headed to the bar for a glass of wine, and then boarded the final leg of my flight home. I guess I had become a more relaxed traveler. I was impressed with myself.

Then I met a man in Arizona who I have added to my list of “most memorable people I have met.” He had worked as a travel reporter for the New York Times and when we got to his house, he showed Dad a model of an airplane. It was a smaller version of a plane similar to one Jamie walked onto one time, looked around, and announced, “I’m quitting this flight.”

He told us his extraordinary airplane story.

While on assignment in Brazil, his plane was involved in a midair collision with another plane while flying at an altitude of 37,000 feet. The plane lost a wing and part of the tail, and before it miraculously landed thirty minutes later at a military base in the jungle, he and some of his fellow passengers jotted notes to their loved ones. I don’t think I would have the presence of mind to do that. I would be too busy crying and praying. Now I realize my little incident over Georgia was minor. He was the impressive traveler at that dinner party.

This is a true story and it definitely helps make me feel better about air travel. I never thought anyone could survive a midair collision. If you doubt me, just Google “Joe Sharkey.”

Wow People I Have Met

We all know Jamie loves her celebrities. Looking back on my life, I have met some interesting people, but none that were Hollywood celebrities. One of the first on my list of memorable individuals I have met was a a distant cousin of Dad named I.J. Wagner of Salt Lake City.

Some of our earliest trips together were company trips to interesting places, and in the very early years of our marriage, Dad was able to bring me along at minimal expense to us. On two occasions, I accompanied him to Salt Lake City. On our second trip there, we met his cousin Izzi and his very interesting wife Jeanne. (To this day, I have not figured out how he was related to Dad, but he knew Dad’s father.)

I. J. Wagner was a very well-respected man in his community, and shortly before we met him he was named one of the twenty most influential men in Utah. He made his fortune in a family business, Wagner Bag Company, that began recycling years before it was the norm. He told Dad that his business bought burlap bags used to hold grain from farmers who were going to throw them away, and then he resold them to the company that made the original bags at a lower cost than the new bags. His company was later sold to a company called St. Regis paper.

The legacy of Izzi Wagner was that he cleaned up Salt Lake City of oversized signs and billboards, he created a major shopping center called Trolley Square, was a major donor to the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, and he made significant contributions to the Jeanne Wagner Jewish Community Center as well as several hospitals, an industrial park, and the University of Utah.

The day we met him, he showed up at our hotel to take us out to breakfast for what he called “the best French toast in Salt Lake City.” He drove a Rolls Royce, which he bought his wife as a gift on a trip to Los Angeles, and I recall that the carpet on the floor felt like a fine fur coat. His wife told us that she preferred driving her old Ford Pinto because the wheel was nice and slim and so much more comfortable than the Rolls.

They were very nice and down to earth. Everyone knew him and treated him with great respect.  That was my first introduction to people who lived the high life and showed me that not all of the rich were showy and ostentatious.

That is how I would like to be if I ever won a big lottery. I was very impressed and I will someday figure out where he fits on Dad’s family tree.