Stephenville Empire-Tribune and Glen Rose Reporter, March 2019
Snow skiing. It was something I had heard about when I was growing up but the concept was rather foreign to me, having grown up hundreds of miles from anything ski-related. After a job landed me in New England, it became obvious that this was something I wanted to try. So I learned how to ski when I was 23 years old, on the side of an icy mountain in Maine.
The sun was bright in the sky warming the slopes to a crisp 25 degrees and I was semi-toasty in my newly purchased black thick down pants and puffy pale pink jacket. I felt like a snow bunny but the reality of it was, I looked more like the Michelin Man. No lessons for me as I had a very quick rundown of the do’s and don'ts of mountain etiquette while putting on rental boots and skis and then we were off and it was up to me to figure it out; a trial by fire—or ice in this case.
We waited in a lift-line and I felt butterflies in my stomach as my boyfriend—now my husband—his mother, and a family friend explained to me with large gestures and booming voices how to move forward in skis while staying upright. The line edged forward and I kept a hand on the shoulder of anyone brave enough to enter my personal space.
“Use your poles and slide your legs!” was shouted at me from various helpful bystanders. It was an exercise in coordination like patting your head while rubbing your belly and I couldn't quite master it. The skis were one and a half times my height, as was the fashion back in the early 1980's, and they had a mind of their own bumping and undercutting the skis of anyone within a six-foot radius of my legs.
Our destination was the top of a hill with gentle terrain—a “bunny slope”—designed for beginners like me. The only way up was the dreaded T-Bar. It required using coordination to side-step and lean back—skis still on the ground—while holding on for dear life, as it pushed the skier uphill. The trick was to hold ski poles in one hand, then use the inside hand to grab the center-pole, trying to time it just right.
The lady ahead of me slid into the approaching space grabbing the center-pole while leaning back on the T-base. She was propelled forward in a graceful stance while I fumbled, sliding and crouching and lining my body into position—poles in my right hand as my left hand hovered—ready to grasp the center-pole as it whipped past. I missed the first one, slipping sideways out of reach, and heard a collective groan behind me as the growing line of skiers shuffled and stamped ski-clad feet trying to maintain body heat. This may take a while was the thought in everyone's mind.
I slid back into position with a little help from the lift operator as he slowed the lift down to a snail-like pace. This time, my timing was better and I was able to maintain my footing and get my mittened hand around the center-pole. I heard and felt a thud as my arm spun me outward and away from the lift, when my flailing pole smacked an unsuspecting person in the stomach. “SORRY!” I shouted as I was falling and spinning into the crunchy Maine snow.
I was frozen and needed a break so the crowd of mostly children with their parents, began to cheer as I rolled away from the lift and then struggled to get back on my feet. My boyfriend loudly announced, “She is from the South,” and I saw heads nodding and sympathetic looks directed my way.
The lift operator, jaded from years of dealing with whining children and demanding parents boarding his lift, looked at the ground and I heard him mutter under his breath, “Yup. That shah ‘splains a lot,” as he increased the lift back to its usual fast pace for the fidgety children ready to ski the mountain known as Sunday River.
By Lisa H. Owens
Stephenville Empire-Tribune and Glen Rose Reporter, April 2019
It was very hard being raised by a former NASA rocket scientist. I could never say to my dad, “It's not rocket science,” because it just...was. Every aspect of our lives being dictated by logic, he once got out his T-square to hang curtain rods. No “eyeballing” it for us. This was also the reason we usually lived in homes without curtains. It was quite exhausting to live with a perfectionist.
I remember one time when my dad was helping me with math homework; I contemplated an alternate solution to the problem at hand. My dad's eyes lit up with hope—maybe another engineering mind in his household.
Running to get a pad of the graph paper he always had on hand, he sat furiously measuring and drawing and erasing and redrawing with the mechanical pencil, usually housed in the pocket of one of the short-sleeved button-up shirts he wore to work. (The ensemble was typically completed with a clip-on tie and clear plastic pocket-protector.) He then maniacally thrust the pad of graph paper toward me, “Here; draw this as if you are looking at it bisected.”
“Erm, what?” I asked, beginning to question my sanity at trying to speak mathese with my dad.
“Cut in half,” he explained.
“Oh, yeah. I knew that,” I laughed, then frowned, looking down at the graph to find a complex multi-faceted pyramid-like structure. There were angles, little diamond and octagon shapes, and shadows turning this 2-D drawing into a seemingly full-on 3-D structure.
“Looks like a spaceship?” I questioned. My dad was nodding furiously, the hopeful gleam still in his eyes.
I was boggled by this challenge. My mind didn’t work this way and I could not see beyond the penciled drawing in front of me. I tapped my forehead, come on, think, think. Crickets chirped and the silence became deafening.
“I can't seem to…”
“Just try,” he pleaded.
“OK,” I nodded with eyebrows furrowed.
Taking up the pencil, I tried to imagine being an astronaut inside of that tiny space shuttle—a quick flash of claustrophobia—then haltingly began to pencil what was in my imagination. First the flat edge where it had been bisected. Next, little diamonds, octagons, a couple of weird angles, and a shadow here and there and I might be close.
I handed it back. I saw the light dim a bit in his eyes and he chuckled, “It’s pretty good, but it's not rocket science. Now getting back to this math problem; how many times have I told you? You have to show your work.”
By Lisa H. Owens
Stephenville Empire-Tribune and Glen Rose Reporter, June 2019
Do you hear music? I mean really hear music. I am not talking about recognizing a song from a popular band on the radio and then singing the lyrics. If you are anything like me, you mumble along with the song on the verses until the chorus comes along. Then you belt it out word for word and note for note, only to return to mumbling along when the next verse begins.
Or you might be absolutely certain that you know every word to your top song only to find out decades later, when you hear a slower acoustic version, that you have been singing it wrong—not just a little bit wrong. Nonsensically wrong, inventing words, butchering and changing the meaning until it is unrecognizable.
A few years ago, returning from an outing with my sister and her family, one of my longtime favorite songs began to play on the car radio and I mumbled along to verse one then sang out loud and proud on the chorus…
"We all jam in a lighthouse,
Don't carry me too far away.
Oh, oh, oh, we all jam in a lighthouse,
Cause it’s here that we want to stay."
My nephew turned to stare from the front passenger seat with his mouth hanging open and looked at me with a mixture of horror and confusion on his face. My sister burst out laughing; only stopping when she couldn't catch her breath and gasping for oxygen, she said, "That’s not how that song goes.” She began to belt out the real lyrics…
“Big ole jet airliner,
Don't carry me too far away.
Oh, oh, oh, big ole jet airliner,
Cause it's here that I've got to stay.”
I felt like an idiot especially since the words were actually in the title of the song...Jet Airliner by The Steve Miller Band. However, being skeptical, I said, "Next you’ll tell me that I've been singing Bennie and the Jets wrong."
"Well everyone sings that one wrong, but how do you think it goes?" my sister inquired.
"Like everyone else, probably,” I break out in song:
“She's got electric boobs.
She’s got a rabbit and a Pakistani."
"What the heck is a Mahazoo?" asked my brother-in-law. I thought it was a type of machine gun. I will never live that one down. It wasn't until Pink's more clearly pronounced version of Bennie and the Jets came out in 2018 that I truly understood the lyrics. ([actual lyrics!] She's got electric boots, a mohair suit, you know I read it in a magazine...B-B-B-Bennie and the Jets...)
One afternoon as we were lounging by the pool, I decided to come clean to my musically inclined daughter, letting her in on some mistakes I regularly made with the lyrics of pretty much every song I sang. She was always well-spoken for her age and as early as three years old, she pointed out to me, "This is the song where Ariel grew her legs," as we listened to The Little Mermaid soundtrack on a record. I never even heard music playing in the background of the movie. I only really noticed music when someone was actually singing!
More recently, we gave my daughter two tickets to "The Music of Ramin Djawadi," creator of the music for The Game of Thrones and Westworld. She really hears and appreciates music. She took a friend who also hears the music.
After my confession, she shook her head and looked at me with concern.. "Don't beat yourself up, Mom. We can't know the words to all the songs. I thought Bennie and the Jets said 'She's got electric boobs' until the Pink version came out.
By Lisa H. Owens
Stephenville Empire-Tribune and Glen Rose Reporter, July 2019
Kayaking sounds fun and relaxing. I always pictured a lovely placid lake without even a hint of a ripple when I heard people talk about kayaking...but that was before I tried it. My first experience in a kayak was not on a placid lake but instead, on a river in Maine appropriately called the Crooked River.
River kayaking is a different animal altogether. There are factors to consider such as annual rainfall, proper gear for a full day, and the actual length of a river named the Crooked River—things we (my husband, my daughter, my son, and I) considered in hindsight.
We were all excited for the day to begin and awoke early, packing sandwiches for lunch along with four bottles of water and Deep Woods Off mosquito repellent. Since this was in the days before cell phones, we had already mapped where Nana would drop us off and a designated pick up point—just before the dangerous waterfall. We unloaded and set the kayaks at the water's edge, generously doused our bodies in Deep Woods Off, and waved goodbye. “See you in a couple of hours, Nana,” we shouted up the hill, and then we were on our way.
The water seemed a little shallow for the time of year, early summer, when the snow-melt along with normal rainfall would typically have it full to the top of the river banks. It was well below that level but it didn't daunt our enthusiasm at all as we paddled and enjoyed being surrounded by nature—birds, trees, and peaceful sounds of four paddles as they slapped and splashed the water in synchronization with the wind and buzzing bees.
Things were going great until we rounded one of many curves and spied a pile of brush blocking the entire width of the river, the water so shallow at that point, that we were scraping sand and rocks with the kayaks’ bottoms. We had to step out into the frigid, ankle-deep water dragging our kayaks up onto the bank and around the dam of branches. It was exhausting, in cheap water shoes, to slop through sand, muck, and poison ivy to bypass the blockade and then relaunch on the other side.
This set the tone for the rest of our trip. Early on, we had consumed our food and water, and my daughter and I were slowly lagging behind my son and husband after circumventing multiple shallow dam-like areas and miles of low-watered, crooked terrain. The kayaks were heavy and our arms were shaking from the effort of paddling then carrying those bulky monsters.
At one point, my husband excitedly yelled back to us, “Hurry. A mama moose and her baby!” but by the time my daughter and I arrived, we caught a glimpse of the backside of both mama and baby as they were disappearing into the woods. My son and husband were so far ahead by now that my daughter and I could barely make out their silhouettes through our tears. A drink of water had been the most important thought in my mind for seemingly hours and the thought of thrusting my face and slurping up the shallow sandy water entered my mind more than once, but fear of flesh-eating parasites quickly squelched that idea. My daughter and I even stopped sweating as dehydration began to set in. My husband and son could be heard in the distance laughing and enjoying the exercise while the two of us cried and prayed that the pickup point would magically appear in front of us.
Finally, after one final kayak drag around rocks, we heard water rapids in the distance indicating the dangerous waterfall hazard was ahead. We laughed and cried in hysterics as we realized that this kayak-trip-from-hell was ending. We could see my husband and son already safely onshore and Nana's truck at the top of the hill.
The waterfall was getting louder and we heard shouts from the safety of the bank, “Paddle, paddle harder. This way! Don't get close to the falls.” They began to sound frantic as my daughter and I, with arms as weak as kittens, struggled to get to the safety of the bank. We were just a few feet from death and dismemberment and this gave us both surges of adrenaline needed to make it ashore.
We were so happy to still be alive but also so thirsty we could barely speak. “Wow! Kayaking is fun!” exclaimed my husband and son.
By Lisa H. Owens
Stephenville Empire-Tribune and Glen Rose Reporter, August 2019
If you’re gonna’ attend a North Carolina Southern Baptist Church covered-dish-supper, bring your A-game. You don’t want to take the “walk of shame” with a dish, still full of food, at the end of the night. This was a fact my Aunt Sue had apparently forgotten after years of living in Dallas, working as a flight attendant.
According to a Mebane, NC urban legend, she created a monster trying to make a calorie-conscious version of her mother’s famous Apple Brown Betty; using healthy ingredients (more than likely expired) from a health food store; then a crazy lady stole it, Pyrex dish and all. Town speculations of the reinvented Betty ran amok, at one point not even including “apples” as an ingredient.
Wanting to hear the real story, I cornered her at my Uncle Bill’s house following the funeral of Uncle WT (pronounced Dubya T) a few years later, where the family reconvened to reminisce and share a meal. Uncle Bill, always aggravating his four sisters, immediately hit her with “Bring us some of that Apple Brown Betty, Suzie-Q?” So diving in, not wanting to miss a perfect opportunity, I simply stated, “Tell me."
Aunt Sue immediately debunked what I’d heard through the rumor mill by stating that apples were indeed in the compromised recipe. Sweet tea in hand, we sat in a quiet-ish corner, rare in a family of loud interrupters, while she filled me in. I already knew some details:
She began, “Bill took me all over town trying to find whole wheat flour. The recipe was just like mother’s; only missing white flour, sugar, and butter.” (Not the same at all, I thought.)
"I couldn't find exactly what I needed, so I decided to just wing it." (This was beginning to make sense...)
“I baked it in a Pyrex dish. It was surprisingly dense and a weird gray-brown color.” (Gross, but I nodded and smiled.)
“I put it on the table with all the fattening desserts: ambrosia, pies, banana puddings, strawberry shortcakes, and pound cakes.” (I felt the beginning stage of diabetes but my mouth still watered at the mental image.)
“We all lined up to fix our plates and I was toward the back with Vicky (Sue’s childhood best friend) and her mama. My plate was pretty full by the time I got to desserts.” (An understatement since 102-pound Aunt Sue typically ate her weight in food at these events.)
“I’d just picked up the spoon to put a dab of the Brown Betty on my plate, and that’s when it happened.” (Images of a hero throwing himself on the table to save her from “The Betty” ran through my mind.)
“Vicky’s mama said, ‘Ewww, WHAT is THAT?’” Sue, reddening at the memory, continued, “I threw down the spoon and said, “I DON'T KNOW BUT I DON'T WANT ANY.” (Sweet tea shot out of my nose and mouth. Sue looked puzzled so I said “I saw a bee,” swatting at nothing.)
“Naturally, I pretended to get another napkin later so I could get that little dab without anyone around, and honestly, it wasn’t that bad.” (“Honestly" means a lie will follow…)
“Your Uncle Bill and I had to hang around for over an hour so I could get my dish off the table without witnesses because—IT WAS STILL FULL.” (I pictured her in sunglasses—a scarf covering the lower half of her face—slipping the full dish (only missing the one little dab) into a plain brown paper bag.)
“I needed the Pyrex back, but I don’t think there were any witnesses.”
And so, a mysterious “witness” started the legend of the healthy Apple Brown Betty and how it was stolen by a stealthy lady in sunglasses and a scarf.
*I've always had a hunch that the witness was Uncle Bill...
In loving memory of Aunt Minnie “Sue” Fox. [1945-2016]
By Lisa H. Owens
Stephenville Empire-Tribune and Glen Rose Reporter, September 2019
I gingerly lean reaching down to grasp the spoon held up high, barely within my reach. My friend's face below her painted straw cowboy hat, popular in the 1970's, resonates sarcasm as usual. Next, she hands up a brown, speckled chicken egg. It is raw, as dictated by the rules of this event. She turns to walk away then glances back over her shoulder, “Break an egg...I mean leg,” she giggles. After carefully balancing the egg in the spoon, I focus on my friend, tracking her movements, and watching as she takes a seat in the front row. She may be a wise-guy but she will cheer me on.
The loudspeaker screeches before a voice begins to speak, punctuated by bursts of static. “All riders for the egg-and-spoon race...repeat...egg-and-spoon race, enter the arena at a ‘walk’ please.” I focus my attention down, to reins resting on the wide dun neck belonging to the horse I will partner with. His mane is roached in 1970’s horse grooming fashion and it tickles my left hand as I lift the reins. Using my heel, I tap Sandy Oklahoma...Okie for short...gently in his side. He awakens, refreshed after a nap, and we follow a line of participants, holding spoons that are holding eggs, into the arena.
This stout gelding is a seasoned pro and champion in the Pensacola small-time AQHA western pleasure circuit. He will make me look good. I only have two jobs. Keep that egg in that spoon and don’t fall off.
Entering the ring, he is smooth in the walk and my confidence rises as my legs are situated firmly in the stirrups just behind his massive shoulders. I look to my left, simultaneously watching the judge, centered in the ring and the horse and rider just ahead of me while shifting my gaze to the spoon in my right hand periodically. Keep it level, I coach myself.
“Trot your horses," crackles from speakers and Okie begins his slow trot. No cues are necessary from me. He is lazy and we are moving so slow that other riders are passing as if we are standing still. Around me, eggs are splatting into the sand and egg-less riders sullenly exit through a hidden side gate. We trot through broken eggs in the sand but our egg is steady and we continue on.
“Reverse your horses.” I slightly shift the reins and maintaining the slow trot, Okie reverses inward toward the judge. We make a tight circle and hug the rail once again in the opposite direction, the egg still cozy in the spoon.
“Canter your horses,” and my stomach flutters. Okie has a stilted, lopsided lope and it is difficult to look smooth and stay balanced while hanging onto that spoon. The transition seems easy as he takes his right lead and we continue clockwise around the judge. Eggs continue to splatter all around and it is down to the wire now. Just Okie and me and one other horse and rider pair. We are still in it to win it!
“Reverse,” bursts from the speaker and we begin a slow circle inward. I shift my weight and Okie complies by taking his left lead and we are rotating the ring counterclockwise now, all while maintaining a canter. My egg has survived this difficult maneuver.
“Stop your horses,” and I smile knowing how Okie and I had perfected this move. We slide to a perfect stop, Okie’s haunches sitting low. The egg wobbles but stays put. I hear a burst of applause and look toward my opponent. Her egg AND spoon are lying on the ground. She shakes her head and makes a slump-shouldered exit.
My friend is standing now, two fingers in her mouth emitting an ear-piercing whistle. I collect my blue ribbon and exit through the side gate. I have just won my first competition and now I have a hankering for a fried egg sandwich.
By Lisa H. Owens
Stephenville Empire-Tribune and Glen Rose Reporter, November 2019
Our family was recently invited to an event unveiling a historical marker for the home in which we raised our children; our home for just over 17 years. The marker deems it the oldest home in Parker County; built in 1854 by the Woody family originally from Roane County, Tennessee. The details state how this family set out on foot with just a few possessions; the mother, Elisabeth, having given birth six weeks earlier to a son. They walked for six months until they reached the spot where some of their other family members had begun a homestead in Fannin County, Texas. The Woody’s all pitched in to assist finishing the working farm, then moved on to White Settlement where they resided temporarily until their dream home was completed on a tract of land overlooking and encompassing a lovely creek in the Veal Station community.
The final result was a sturdy dogtrot style dwelling; still standing today, having a few modifications over the decades to bring it up to modern standards.
It consisted of two rooms, each containing a fireplace and yellow pine hand-hewn floors imported by oxen from Louisiana. The rooms were separated by an open breezeway...for the dogs. An upper room periodically rented out to weary travelers as they passed through via stagecoach and later by students attending Parsons College, was accessible through an exterior staircase and doorway.
Up until 1995, the year we purchased, the home had only been owned by members of the Woody family. Soon after moving in, we began to discover many unique features of our homestead, known only to the Woody’s up to that time.
After the initial foundation inspection of our home's crawl space...also "questionably" referred to as a pier and beam foundation...our inspector struggled to pull himself out of the tiny trap door located in the floor of a closet in the original portion of the home. He was covered in cobwebs and a little sweaty but had a big grin on his face. "This house isn't going anywhere," he said. "I have never seen anything like it. Your house sits on fossilized logs and stacks of stone, but it is as solid as the day is long."
One weekend, we met some members of the local Archaeological Society, who had ongoing dig sites alongside the creek and at the back of what was soon to become Woody Creek Estates...the subdivision envisioned by Chuck Fowler and Arvil Newby, the men who had partnered to renovate the dogtrot house and plat the surrounding land, acquired by them at an auction. Many Indian hearth sites were discovered as the dig unearthed grinding stones and arrowheads; tools indicating food preparation and temporary campsites mainly for the hunt.
We also found that the creek never ran dry, even during times of drought, and the water was always cold indicating it was spring-fed, probably the reason the Woody’s chose this spot to settle. The well, utilized by our home as its only water source, ran cold as ice and was as pure as any water bottled and sold. It soon became evident that the Woody’s had been fortunate enough to hit an underground spring at a depth around 100 feet; the result of prayer or good luck. As homes were newly built in our subdivision, this luck was realized, as well after well consistently had to be drilled 250 feet to the Paluxy or 400 feet to the Trinity aquifers.
Then there was the time that a tornado in our area downed trees and utility lines in front of and behind our home, but we emerged from the underground tornado shelter to find that the house itself sustained no damage at all. We were without electricity for 24 hours which when you consider the hardships endured by the pioneering Woody family, was not a hardship at all.
For 17 years we enjoyed our home, continuing to make improvements to the house, barn and land, raising a family, and contributing to our community in various ways; but I never really thought about how we were honoring the sacrifices made by this brave family with a spirit of adventure. The historical marker put it all into perspective; how the Woody’s traveled so far out of their comfort zones to expand horizons and pave the way for future generations. We have so much to be thankful for.
By Lisa H. Owens
Stephenville Empire-Tribune and Glen Rose Reporter, December 2019
It is Christmas morning and anticipation is in the air. I stand in front of the coffee pot—willing it to brew faster. It does not comply so I yank it off the hot pad, quickly dousing a wave of the black brew into my cream and sugar-laden cup, as coffee droplets sizzle as they hit the hot plate. I have done a great disservice to those unfortunate enough to drink from this now significantly weakened pot. My cup is thick and strong enough to put hair on your chest...just as I like it.
I ease over to my usual place on the floor, next to the chair holding my stocking, and carefully lower myself to the ground. I hear my husband filling his coffee cup. He takes a gulp then asks the empty kitchen why it is so weak. "Tastes like weak Dunkin’ swill," he says to no one. I quickly cover the top of my cup with my hand as he passes, close behind me, headed to his spot on the love seat. He looks suspicious as he hovers attempting to gauge the strength of my brew through my clasped hand. He has experienced the let-down of drinking the flavorless coffee-colored water before, and is not exactly thrilled.
The kids, home from college, have been patiently watching the coffee drama unfold and are ready to dive into their stockings to see what Santa brought them. They have been pretending to still believe in Santa for at least a decade since we informed them, early on, that Santa only comes to the homes of those who still believe. Stage one of our tradition dictates that we do stockings first so we can stuff our faces with unique sweets, straight from the North Pole, fortifying our bodies with nourishment to enter stage two of our tradition...opening the presents.
As usual, there are too many gifts piled under the tree. Every Christmas, my husband and I vow to buy less the following year. I make the cursory comment, "Whoa! Looks like someone went overboard again with the gifts.” (This could easily be any one of the four of us.) “Next year we should dial it back a notch." Three heads nodded in agreement, in the traditional way.
Gifts are passed around and we take turns opening. I open one…my husband opens one…our daughter opens one…followed by our son. The dogs even get involved as they beg for another strip of the "Bacon" left for them by Santa.
We open gifts, taking turns until it gets around to our son again. The three of us watch with bated breath as he slowly unwraps the gift from me, taking care to not actually rip the paper, a somewhat annoying but thrifty habit, and removes the lid. As he lays back the tissue paper to reveal his gift, his eyes widen in surprise and the three of us make brief eye contact as we wonder if this will finally be the year.
"Thanks, Mom," he says with a genuine smile, lifting the charcoal-colored flannel winter scarf out of the box. "This will match my gloves."
Later on, when the festivities die down after the traditional holiday meal, I stack the gifts. We each have our own little pile and the kids' take theirs upstairs to ready them for upcoming trips back to colleges. They usually leave around New Year's Day and then it's back to the empty nest for my husband and me.
A day or two after they leave, I go upstairs to remove sheets and towels to launder. I remember something of great importance and turn around, reentering my son's room. I spy the gray flannel scarf sitting atop his dresser along with some unwanted toiletries and discarded price tags.
I can't believe I almost forgot the most important tradition of all. I gently fold and place the scarf—price tag still intact—back into the original box...until next year...when he will open it for the fourth time on Christmas morning.
By Lisa H. Owens
Stephenville Empire-Tribune and Glen Rose Reporter, January 2020
I can feel the eyes staring at me. The eyes are accusatory. The eyes are judgmental. I avoid looking in their direction. In fact, I have tried to keep my eyes averted from the uncomfortable stares for a few days now. I quickly pass through the living room...my eyes peering straight ahead...on the way to the kitchen.
The eyes of dozens of crafty school-made Christmas ornaments are staring me down. Attempting to weaken me. Willing me to give them my full attention. I glance over to see the little cherubic Christmas Angel with my son's kindergarten picture's face hot glued to the winged body. I recoil but then meet the eyes of my daughter's second-grade yearbook picture, forever encapsulated in a tiny clear acrylic Christmas tree frame, hanging near the top of the tree; her gaze looking longingly somewhere off in the distance. A full-body shot of my son in his Dallas Cowboys tracksuit stares at me for a long time until I notice his sweet smiling face begins to turn sinister.
The Santa hats on tiny heads and construction paper peppered with strands of green and red yarn, along with foiled-gold pipe cleaners—surrounding tree-shaped frames—are making my head spin. In my mind, I hear a chorus of voices pleading, "Take us down. Take us down." Little lispy preschool voices. More demanding first and second-grade voices with an authoritative fourth-grade voice mixed into the works. I am ashamed that it comes to this every year, starting on New Years’ day and continuing on until mid to late January—on occasion.
I give the sulking tree one last look as I resign myself to the fact that it is time. I head out to the garage to pull down the dreaded attic stairs and begin the long process of gathering up the ornament storage boxes. Soon the memories of Christmases past will be quietly nestled away in cozy little plastic bins...each ornament with its own corrugated cardboard partition...until next year, when the merry cycle will start over again.
By Lisa H. Owens
Stephenville Empire-Tribune and Glen Rose Reporter, February 2020
It is that time of year again; it's time to organize the end of year paperwork for the taxman. As I stack receipts, W-2 forms, and the like in a discarded shoe box, hastily labeled “2019 Taxes” with a black Sharpie, I begin to contemplate some of the various jobs that I have held over the past few decades. So many part-time and random jobs that shaped my life and work ethic. Many were short-lived but aided me on my path to get a college education; thereby, changing the course of my life.
Having had years of experience watching my younger siblings, the first logical job as a young teenager was babysitting. This was really nice for me since I got to relax away from the ongoing drama in my family’s household. It almost seemed like I should have been paying my clients for the privilege of eating their snacks and watching shows I was not allowed to watch at home like Night Gallery and Twilight Zone...but only after the kids were snuggled away in bed for the night. Those shows were terrifying and left me with nightmares for weeks on end.
As I got older, the jobs became more lucrative and more suitable for a young adult. While working full time at a Burger King within walking distance from my home, I was presented with the opportunity to be an "Avon Lady". This was my gap-year after high school and I spent it earning as much money as I could before attending college. Avon immediately hit me up for $25.00 to purchase the required sales-kit filled with cosmetic samples before assigning my territory which consisted of a few streets in a low-income neighborhood. This was troubling because these families had a hard enough time just paying their bills.
Avon Ladies always dressed…well…like ladies; churchy outfits were recommended. The neighborhoods—depicted in the Avon commercials running in the late 1970's—were brick homes with green grass for miles, verandas with double doors front and center, and doorbells that rang loud and clear…"DING DONG, AVON CALLING!"
The reality of my territory was; it was early summer in Largo, Florida, and blazing hot. A light film of humidity covered every surface and, to make matters worse, there was a rain shower lasting five to ten minutes each afternoon. The mosquitoes were always biting and sometimes a palmetto bug or two would keep me company, dive-bombing my head. Just utterly sweaty and itchy.
So here I was...after Avon’s short “Selling Stuff. It’s Easy!” training session...walking from my house to my territory in hopes of making a few sales. Being a practical person, I substituted the “lady-like” outfit in favor of the “heat-stroke-resistant” outfit: Bermuda shorts, cotton t-shirt, and sandals.
Approaching the first house on the street, my first thoughts were Where is the doorbell? and How do I get to the door without knocking over the carefully stacked Budweiser bottles destined for the nickel-bottle-deposit-return? I wanted to make a good impression on my first call. After safely maneuvering the porch obstacles, I was nervous but ready to give my spiel. Not finding anything that resembled a doorbell, I knocked while shouting, “Avon calling!” It took a while but just as I was turning to leave, a puffy-eyed lady with a toddler slung low over one hip opened the door and politely told me that she couldn’t afford to buy anything, as the door was closing in my face. This went on for a while, poor stay-at-home-moms overwhelmed, tired, and broke. My heart went out to them but I had to remember my goal...college money.
I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that there would be no sales for me in this tiny weed-laden neighborhood. Walking up to my final house of the day, I heard children fighting inside but a well-dressed energetic mom yanked open the door before I even had a chance to knock. She looked excited to see me which, in turn, made me excited that I might actually sell something. I felt like a true professional. My luck was about to change. Maybe I could make a go of this makeup selling thing after all. Just as I reached down to open my as-of-yet-unused Avon Kit displaying blushes, lipsticks, and eye shadows, she said, “Good. You are here. Are you the babysitter?”
Lisa H. Owens