Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge

Today is February 2nd, 2021, and I am participating in the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Story Challenge.

Death has, once again, laid its icy hands upon my chest.

It was just last Tuesday she called me. “You didn’t write this week,” she said. No, I had not written. It had been a busy week, I explained. Had she read my post from the week prior? I asked. “The one about the mandoline?” she queried. “Oh, yes. My friend printed it out and read that one to me. I gotta tell ya, I never heard of a mandoline for a kitchen in my life!” she laughed. We both laughed.

That small laugh – our final one – was one of hundreds, maybe thousands I enjoyed with my 100-year-old Grammy. Besides my mom, Helen Abner Callaway, my dear Gram, was the woman I had known the longest.

Until last Friday.

Yes, she had lived nearly four months beyond the age of 100. Yes, I am so lucky to have had her in my life for so long. Yes, I should have been ready, prepared somehow for her passing.

But still.

Perhaps one can never prepare for the icy fingers of death. I don’t know. But I do know the phenomenally long life my grandmother lived stands as nothing less than remarkable. Born during the year of Women’s Suffrage, Gram bore witness to so much change across her century-long life. She gave freely; she raised three successful daughters; she contributed to her community. She was an incredible woman.

Tears still fresh in my eyes, I returned home last Friday after receiving the terrible call from my aunt. The sun had retreated behind the clouds, and the frigid air bit at the tips of my ears. Reaching my front door, I cast my gaze downward. There, I noticed the thin, nondescript package lying in the snow. Tearing at the edge, I slipped my hand inside the mysterious package and removed a fresh, new button-down shirt. And a card. It read,

“Happy Birthday! Love, Grammy.”

That was her. That was my Gram. Never forgot a birthday. Even mine, which isn’t until March.

I know the icy grief will remain for a while. But I await the warm memories that will eventually replace the sorrow I feel now. I love you, Gram.

Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge

Today is January 19, 2021, and I am participating in the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Story Challenge.

The lady in front of us looked to be around 80 years old. To the clerk at the checkout counter we heard her say, “I’m here to pick up my order.” The clerk, wearing a blue vest and dark-rimmed glasses, instructed the lady to move to the side; her order would be brought to the front of the store shortly. She then turned to my two girls and I and motioned us forward. It was our turn to check out.

Moving toward the check-out counter of the cavernous Ocean State Job Lot, an east coast discount retailer known for selling household goods and apparel, my two oldest daughters and I placed our items in front of the clerk. Suddenly, turning her head toward the woman waiting for her order, the clerk asked, “What was your order?”

“Two mandolins,” came the response.

As my daughters and I exited the store, my nine-year-old asked me, “Papa, what’s a ‘mandolin’?”

“Well, it’s like a small guitar,” I answered, placing my arm around her shoulder as we crossed the parking lot toward our car.

From there, the questions came flooding out from all three of us: Since when did Ocean State Job Lot sell… mandolins? And why would an 80-year-old woman be ordering two of them? What would she do with two mandolins? Who were the mandolins for? Such a mystery!

Driving away from the store, my daughters and I began to laugh and laugh and laugh. The questions continued, tumbling out one by one: Was the old lady a music teacher? Were the mandolins for her grandchildren, perhaps? But the biggest question resurfaced over and over: Why was she buying musical instruments at Ocean State Job Lot?

A few dozen more questions must have escaped our lips as we made our drive home that day. As we walked in the front door of our house, my daughters both agreed this would be a shopping trip none of us would ever forget.

EPILOGUE: Later that evening, my wife explained that a MANDOLINE was a kitchen device used for slicing.

Okay, then.

Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge

Today is January 12, 2021, and I am participating in the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Story Challenge.

These moments will not be forever.

“Put on a song, Papa!” It had been a long day. No longer working remotely, I had spent two hours driving, worked a full day in my building, and just finished loading the dishwasher. But the innocent, raw joy imbuing my four-year-old daughter’s invitation to dance quickly overcame my fatigue last night.

Her eyes glinted as I fumbled with my iPhone, trying to locate the music app, connect to my portable Bose speaker. “Put on a fast song,” she instructed, already sending her little body and hair into motion with enthusiastic dance moves. Arms waved. Legs kicked.

Suddenly the speaker burst to life, as the Pandora app on my phone selected a Meghan Trainor tune. Setting my phone on the counter, I turned to move to the dance floor. There she stood. Hand out. Four-year-old delight radiating from her entire being, as she waited for me to take her hand and dance with her.

These moments are fleeting. She is my third daughter, and so I speak from experience when I make such a statement. I must always remember that when it is time to do a puzzle, play in the dollhouse, or dance to Meghan Trainor, I need to do it. No matter how tired I am. I need to do it. Because this time will not last. And these moments will not be forever.


With the new year comes a new One Little Word…

Slipping into my sunroom, I have arrived at what is sure to be a temporary moment of silence and solitude.  I settle into the quiet, creasing my lonely notebook back.  It has been awhile, a while since I have written.


And that’s okay.

But the time has come to write again.  To shake off the mental cobwebs.  To be intentional.  Perhaps ask forgiveness from all of you reading this…for disappearing.  But know, I needed a break.

It is January now. And little words have begun to bubble up through what feels like a bit of a swamp, the swamp of my consciousness I will call it. I suspect many of us are experiencing this confusing, swampy inner being.  For me the swamp is a combination of gratitude and persistent worry, of wonder and unexplained panic, of hard-won confidence and metastatic stress. Perhaps those words aren’t quite right.  But it does feel more paradoxical than juxtapositional, if that makes any sense.

In 2020, we all suffered in some way. Or many ways.  And I am quite confident that the quiet desperation I feel to somehow begin anew, to turn a page, to turn a corner- turn something!– is shared by nearly all of you, dear readers.

We are all hopeful.

So I have now studied the bubbles that, for me, quietly ascended from the swamp as potential One Little Words for the coming year. What will be my word to guide and inspire me in 2021? The first (oddly) was BOLD. I considered that word for days, allowing it to roll around inside my head. . . wondering if it might be something to organize around. But, although I do love the aesthetic this word summons, the timing does not feel right to choose it.  Also, I do not want to select a word that could become some sort of didactic cudgel, which I see as possible. No, BOLD is not for this year.

Another bubble was RENEWAL.  Though this word felt somewhat comforting, such as the defining terms “restore” and “replenish”, it also exudes shades of fixing something that is wrong, which is, as you may know, a quality I consciously work to avoid.

And then the bubble I had been waiting for: POSSIBILITY. Yes! Although this word, for me, could be described as a dormant term from some powerful past personal training I completed, this word is perfect for 2021.  As I once learned, POSSIBILITY can be employed as an antonym for “attachment.”   When one takes a stand for possibility and remains distinctly detached from specific results, one is far more likely to experience the present with more freedom, more affinity, even more joy.

To say we exist in an uncertain world would be to utter an almost laughable understatement. But possibility exists. It is all around us. And I find that inspiring. As the title of my current read intimates, Looking to Get Lost, by Peter Guralnick, I find myself ready to get lost somewhere in a place teeming with possibility.

Yes, I am once again ready to believe in what is possible.

Let’s see where that takes me in 2021.

I wish you all a happy and prosperous New Year.


Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge

Today, September 1st 2020, I’m participating in Two Writing Teachers’ Slice of Life Story Challenge.

A few days ago, my phone rang.  It was my father. “Lanny,” he began, “the University of Arizona called me today.” Suddenly my mind raced back in time.  My only brother Sean had attended and graduated from the University of Arizona.  As a brilliant musician, Sean had received a full-ride scholarship for double-bass.  Tragically, on a rainy night shortly following his graduation, Sean was taken from us in a terrible car accident.  My family was devastated.  But during our time of grief, we, my parents and I, were able to generate an idea, an idea to keep Sean’s memory alive.  What if we were to create a scholarship in his name?

Following a conversation with a close friend from college about how to go about this, I phoned the university to speak with them about the idea.  We discussed the difference between a one-time award and an endowment, which would live on indefinitely, thereby meeting my family’s ultimate goal.  Although feeling terrible grief for the loss of my brother, we set to work raising money.  My  father created 56 pieces of art and had some of the images transferred to greeting cards and t-shirts.  We held a benefit where I and some of Portland’s top musicians performed.  Friends and family pitched in to help, both logistically and financially.  In the end, we raised over $20,000 that we were able to donate to the university.  Over the next several years, mostly thanks to the perseverance of my parents, the Sean K. Ball Memorial Scholarship for Bass was awarded to several young musicians.

But over time and through some of our country’s financial hardships, the scholarship seemed to fade.  A few years ago, we heard that there was no longer enough money in the endowment to offer an award to any up-and-coming bass student.  And with my mom’s passing three years ago, my father and I have not been able to find the energy or interest to pursue the topic any longer.

But a few days ago, my father called.  “I heard today that there has been an award made this year,” he said.

“Sean’s scholarship?” I asked incredulously.

“Yes!” he answered. He read me the name of the recipient.  “Sean’s scholarship has been awarded this year!  I don’t know how much the award is, but his scholarship is going to be helping a young bass player this school year.”  

Amidst the current difficult times, I think my dad and I both felt good that day.