#BringItHome and Elect Andrew Gillum

AndrewGillumIn usual circumstances, I wouldn’t endorse a candidate via my blog. However, we are not in usual circumstances these days, and are in need of fresh voices speaking for the best in all of us. Besides, in this case, I have a personal connection to Florida’s Democratic candidate for governor. And I believe the state where I’ve mostly lived since 1980 is in serious trouble with its dangerous gun laws, under-performing schools, low-paying jobs, horrible health insurance options, and nonexistence environmental protections on a very fragile state. We need a governor who can take charge and bring Florida into this century and reality.

I had the privilege of teaching Andrew Gillum during his sophomore year of high school at Gainesville High School. I saw in him all the qualities I see today whether on the debate stage, on CNN, ABC, or Noah Trevor’s show. I recently wrote about my memories of him for his campaign. Today, I share it here as the deadline for getting out the vote is less than a week away.

Whether you agree with me or not, please get out and vote on November 6, 2018. Our future depends on who we elect next.

Memories of Andrew Gillum

When Andrew Gillum walked into my honors English class at Gainesville High School as a sophomore more than twenty years ago, I sensed something different about this male teenager. His focus on his education and his drive to be a leader within the school became evident in everything he did. I am not surprised by his meteoric rise within the Democratic party, but I am in awe of his forward movement as a compassionate leader, and his dedication to his family and community.

I watched him grow from a fifteen-year-old student government officer to become the student body president of a school with a population of 2,000. I watched him show compassion for and offer friendship to a fellow student who was challenged by a physical handicap and who was often ostracized by her other classmates. Rather than worrying about what others might say about him, he stood up for what was right and fought hard for all students. Without any doubt, I can attest to Andrew’s maturity beyond his years when still in the impressionable and difficult teenage years. He never gave into peer pressure because he had his eye on becoming a successful man who made a difference. After teaching thousands of teenagers over the years, I can’t think of another student in his category.

As I watched him give his acceptance speech after he won the primary, my eyes filled with tears of joy and pride, and I remembered a younger Andrew coming to me one day after school. He hadn’t always been encouraged by his teachers to go into honors and Advanced Placement classes, but he knew that’s what he wanted for himself. Even in the 1990s—and probably somewhat today—students were often put in tracks at a young age based on cultural and racial considerations. But Andrew didn’t believe in letting others define him by anything other than his determination to work hard and get the job done. In his sophomore year of high school, he registered for honors’ classes, but within a short time, he realized all on his own that his past years in his English classes had not given him the skill set to master more analytical essay writing required in the honors and Advanced Placement courses. He knew he had the motivation and talent to succeed but he also acknowledged he needed help.

So, one day this gangly fifteen-year-old male student stood before my desk after the final bell had rung to end the school day. I don’t remember his exact words, but I do remember what he wanted. He wondered if I would help him work through his essays if he stayed after school a day or two each week. I don’t know if I showed my shock or if I fell off my chair, but I do remember that I took notice because in all my years of teaching never had a student asked if he or she could stay after school to learn how to be a better student. Yes, I’d had coaches ask me to tutor star athletes and parents request extra help for their children, but never had a young man asked me all on his own for help. Teenage males don’t often admit weaknesses, especially to female teachers. But that’s what Andrew did.

And unlike the other students, Andrew showed up. He came, and he listened, and he learned. And he applied what he had learned to his writing. Not only was he the first in his family to graduate from high school, he graduated with a superior record of achievement. That’s the Andrew I know, and more than two decades later, I still see in him that young man willing to learn, listen, and work hard to make the world better for all Floridians. I believe he has the energy, common sense, intelligence, and perseverance to be the best governor in the history of Florida.

In fact, I believe so strongly in Andrew Gillum that one day I predict I will be telling this story about the President of the United States.

#KINDNESS LIVES IN THE MOUNTAINS

DSC03894I called it the “dam trip,” and dragged my husband along. Labor Day didn’t mean we had to work–me at my computer writing and Robert in his garden gardening–and besides, the day held the promise of perfect weather. Temperature in the seventies, cloudless sky, and a slight breeze all indicated to me it was time to do something in nature. Kayaking was out because of some back pain for Robert. The next best thing? A dam drive in the Smokies.

Three major dams in western North Carolina provide power for the TVA all within forty miles of one another. The drive took us through towering mountains as the road hugged the shores streams, rivers, and lakes. But one stop at Yellow Creeks Falls did more to restore my faith and hope in mankind than viewing breathtaking vistas.

We hadn’t brought our walking sticks for hiking, something we always do here in the mountains. We started out on the short hike to the small falls, and the path was rocky and narrow. A young couple came toward us, and I pulled up next to a tree to let them pass. He carried a walking stick, and I said. “I wish I’d brought my walking stick,” and nodded to his.

“Here–take this one,” the young man said.

“No, no. That’s fine.” I was sorry I’d made my thought public.

“No,” he insisted, “I don’t need it anymore. It’s yours. I just made it.”

He handed it to me. The stick had been stripped of its bark with one end sharpened into a point. Then he walked on leaving me with his work of art and a much appreciated implement for me to use on the rest of the hike.

Nothing on our dam trip came close to inspiring me more than one young man’s kindness on the waterfall trail. I brought the stick home. It will be my reminder to  pay it forward at every opportunity.

The dam trip renewed me. The young man whose path crossed mine gave more than just a piece of wood he found near the Yellow Creek Falls.

DSC03892

Yellow Creek Falls, Cheoah Recreation Area, North Carolina

THE MARK OF A MAN

I’m feeling nostalgic today as I honor the anniversary of my father’s death, which occurred on August 29, 1981, sometime around the noon hour. It was a beautiful late summer day in Michigan. The morning had been cloudy but when I stepped outside into the backyard at my parent’s home moments after he took his last the breath, the sun came out from behind the clouds and the child I carried in my womb moved inside of me for the first time. Thirty-six years disappear when I remember that day and when I remember my father.

I spent much of my time this summer compiling a collection of essays that represent my writing life over the past two decades when I began my writing career. It began with the publication of an essay about my mother’s hands six months after her death in 1998.

ECLECTIC LEANINGS finalOn September 5, 2017, Eclectic Leanings–Musings from a Writer’s Soul will be released on Amazon.

The Introduction to the book explains why I decided to publish my nonfiction (and several short stories) writings.

Excerpt from Eclectic Leanings

INTRODUCTION

Eclectic Leanings spans the length of my professional writing career. Most of the pieces were published in newspapers, magazines, and blogs from 1998-2017. For years, I wrote a column for small newspapers and regional magazines in Florida. Many of the essays come from my column, Another View, which won several awards. In 2012, I began writing several blogs, and many of those pieces also appear in this book.

Recently, while packing to move, I came across all my saved clippings. Many of them were only in hardcopy and hadn’t been saved electronically. I decided saving yellowing newsprint and fading magazines not only created more boxes to move, but it was a very unstable way to save some of my life’s work. Eclectic Leanings seemed to perfect way to preserve a digital copy of my nonfiction works. I hope readers enjoy a book where they can pick and choose to read whatever might be of interest.

I’ve also dabbled with short story writing over the years, so I’ve included a few of those that have survived. Unfortunately, several that I wrote twenty years ago are missing from my collection. Perhaps they will surface one day.

When I published my great grandfather’s Civil War journal several years ago, I realized the importance of recording our histories. His journal—which covers only three years of his life—and one photo are all that remain of this man. I have even less from his son, my grandfather. And I sorely yearn to know more about all my relatives. There is even less from my female ancestors.

It has been said that when a person dies, a library burns down. While this book is not my autobiography, it does give an indication of my beliefs, values, and passions. It represents one wing of the library of my life. I hope you’ll consider leaving behind a portion of your life’s library. Your progeny will be the beneficiaries.

If you should find even one of the offerings within these pages worth the read, I will be grateful. It has been a pleasure to put together Eclectic Leanings, which is truly a testament to my love of language and its power to express a gamut of emotions and portraits of life.

Patricia Camburn Zick, 2017

The book contains stories about my family, and in particular, essays about the life and death of my father, my first hero. Here’s one I wrote for my newspaper column on Father’s Day in 2002.

DadFather'sDay

My father on Father’s Day holding the tie I had made for him.

REMEMBERING MY FATHER NOT AS SUPERHERO, BUT AS A MAN

Published in The High Springs Herald, June 13, 2002

My father never leaped over tall buildings.

But he would have tried if I had asked him, and two decades after his death, he remains a hero to me.

But when I think of my father, even today, it is tinged with sadness because only in his dying moments did he come to the realization that what he had right in front of him made him a success in the eyes of those who mattered most.

In the days before his death, he knew he had only a short time left with us, and he made the most of those hours. He called my four brothers and me, along with his wife of forty-three years, into the dining room we had converted into his bedroom. The room, not more than nine-by-ten feet, could barely contain the hospital bed and the accoutrements of a dying man, let alone my tall brothers.

But he wanted us there, and he wanted us to touch him. All of us. I stood at the foot of the bed with one of my brothers. When my father saw us there, he lifted his head from the pillow with difficulty.

“You two down there, grab my big toes,” he commanded.

He then told us that he loved us all and always had. But he said he wished the rest of the family could be there. And he meant our spouses and his grandchildren. The only grandchild present that day was the one I carried inside of me, barely visible during the fourth month of my pregnancy.

I found out I was pregnant exactly one week after we found out my father had liver cancer. My first husband and I had been married only a year and hadn’t planned to start a family quite yet. But that was not to be.

In fact, I thought my nausea when my father received his death sentence was the result of my great sorrow as I contemplated losing my father, the first man in my life and in my heart.

The day I found out I was pregnant, we drove to the hospital immediately to give my father the news. He didn’t say too much but right after we told him, his cousin walked in the door.

“I’m going to have a granddaughter,” he told her.

From that moment on, I never considered that I was carrying anything but a little girl inside my womb. I told my father one day during his last summer—one month before he died—that I had picked out the name for the baby.

“We’re going to name her Anna, after your mother,” I said.

His eyes filled with tears, and he turned his head away from me. “I never cared for any girl’s name but Patricia Ann.” My name. And that was the last he ever talked about my pregnancy and his seventh grandchild.

At first, I was hurt by his refusal to talk about my child. But then I realized that my father’s refusal came from the very simple fact that he knew he would never see my daughter. He would be gone from this world before her birth.

After a few weeks in the hospital, we couldn’t bear walking into his room to find soiled sheets and food caked on his face, lying there all alone too weak to do anything. So, we decided to bring my father home to die. We took vacation time from our jobs, and we all stayed with our mother through his final weeks.

One day my father called me into the small room and asked me to read his favorite Psalm to him, the twenty-third. I needed help remembering, so I opened the Bible from his bedside table and began to read. I choked at times overcome with the beauty of the words and their meaning now that my father lay dying. When my voice faltered, my father’s voice came out strong and sure as he spoke the words from memory.

His pale face lay against the pillow, and with eyes closed, he said the Psalm in his old voice, the one before the cancer, the strong authoritative one. He gave me the strength to continue reading.

The year before, when I came home to tell my parents that I was getting married, they both hugged me and began talking excitedly about the wedding ceremony. I wanted to be married in my parents’ home in the garden where my mother grew flowers of extraordinary proportions.

My mother mentioned my father giving me away. And I, fresh out of college with newfound feminism beating on my consciousness, said, “I don’t belong to anyone. No one has the right to give me away.”

My father didn’t turn away fast enough for me to miss the bullet I shot through his heart. Never have I wished more that my tongue and brain worked in unison. However, I never regretted what I said on my next visit home.

“Dad, would you walk me out to the garden on my wedding day?” I asked.

My father never made a whole lot of money, and he never found a job that made him happy. But he always worked, and he kept a roof over our heads. And even though he slaved long hours for other people, he never forgot he was a father.

He attended every game my four brothers ever had a chance of playing during their high school years. And they played them all:  football, basketball, and baseball. Some of them wore out the courts and fields, and others wore out the benches. But my father attended every game, home and away.

And while my brothers will say that my father spoiled me, I will say that I always had my father on my side. When I was sixteen, I took my father’s 1962 Chevy station wagon out for the evening. Even when I came in the house and told my father the car had four flat tires, he never got mad at me.

“Must have been bad tires,” he said. “You don’t know how it happened?”

“No, Dad. I just heard something funny about a block from the house,” I told him.

I didn’t lie. I just didn’t confess that an hour earlier, with fifteen friends stuffed into the back, we’d taken a joy ride through a recently harvested cornfield. He never questioned me again, and I never told.

But two years later when I got my first car, he took me out to the driveway before he would let me drive away.

“Open the trunk,” he commanded. “Now you’re going to learn to change your own tire.”

And I did.

My hero. He never flew through the sky or changed clothes in a phone booth, but he didn’t have to do those things. He just had to be my dad.

ECLECTIC LEANINGS final

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ECLECTIC MUSINGS FROM A WRITER’S LIFE

words-on-skin

When we made the big transition two years ago to leave Pittsburgh and move to the mountains during the summer and Florida for the winters, lots of decisions had to be made about what we kept and what we tossed. The hardest task for me personally came when I had to address the file cabinets and boxes filled with two decades of published writings.

For more than two decades, I’ve written either columns or blog posts and the major portion of those are not available electronically. I moved most of my archives, but as I hefted box after box of yellowing newsprint, I decided they would not be moved again except to my circular file, which is emptied every week.

I hadn’t done much of anything with those things until this summer after a visit home to Michigan where I presented the journal of my great grandfather to audiences interested in the Civil War and Michigan’s role in it. The only thing I have left of this man is his written word and one photograph. I have even less left by his son–my grandfather–who died in 1956.

ECLECTIC LEANINGS finalSo I’m typing madly to electronically keep a portion of my “library” as I compile many of the pieces into one book, Eclectic Leanings, Musings from a Writer’s Soul, which I hope to publish by summer’s end. Whether anyone buys it or not, I will have preserved a major part of my thoughts, values, and philosophy for my daughter and anyone else who wants to remember me after I’m gone.

Here’s one piece that I unearthed that I find relevant today. We are in danger of taking gigantic steps backward in the movement to end bullying if we don’t stop the cycle being set by those with a Twitter account and a lack of impulse control.

WORDS MATTER

Published in The High Springs Herald, January 2001

The biggest lie from childhood:  Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. Hit me with a stick or throw a stone at me anytime rather than tell me that my face is ugly or my clothes are old or my mother wears army boots. Tell me those things, and I crumble.

Yet the insults and ridicule begin at a very young age whenever someone does something outside the norm of behavior. Where do we learn to insult one another for our differences? Does it come from somewhere deep inside our psyche, and is it so ingrained in our personalities that it begins with the acquisition of language?

Many times, we throw the slings and arrows of words to protect ourselves. They serve as a red herring for the soul, deflecting those slings and arrows from coming directly back at us. And so, we are taught the old adage about stick and stones in order to make ourselves tough and to let go of those insults. But how often do they really just roll off our backs? Those words pierce their way into our hearts and souls, leaving wounds. Some of us can heal those wounds over time; others never can.

The wounds which never heal become festering blisters of pain. And words serve, not as the sticks and stones of our childhood, but as the timber and boulders which threaten to come crashing down to smother us.

As I write this column, a young man of seventeen is hanging onto his life by a thread. One morning, he woke up and decided he no longer wanted to face the timber and boulders of his daily life at school because he was different. It doesn’t matter how he was different, but he was. And he was ostracized and ridiculed for it. He would hide it, deflect it, and strike back because of it. But finally, the struggle to do all of those things while still living the life of a teenager became too much, and he couldn’t face another day.

So he woke up that morning and decided he had had enough of his life. He swallowed four hundred Tylenol pills in an effort to end the pain and struggle. And for more than two weeks now he has lingered in and out of this world.

The repercussions sent out ripples, and the emotions come in waves of guilt. Other teenagers wondered if they could have done something for him while the adults wondered why they didn’t do something more. Hopefully, soon we will realize that we could have done nothing immediate to stop him from wanting to die. But maybe we can do something now to change the course of the future.

Still the insults continue as I go about my day as a teacher. The slingshots of words continue their banter across the classroom aisles, and I wonder how to stop it all. How do we stop years of learned behaviors where the standard for wit and attention resides on the yardstick of derision and ridicule?

We are a society founded on the tenets of individual freedom yet we have become something else in our struggle to protect the rights of a diverse people. We do not applaud the standard bearers or the trail blazers until they have made lots of cash from their achievement. Then we are ready to join the bandwagon as we erect statues to their heroism. This we do for the ones who can survive their differences. We put on pedestals those who are different only when they have achieved the status which we can appreciate in our little superficial souls.

As I struggle to put a positive light on a tragedy beyond human comprehension, I wonder how I can reach out to change this situation. How can we all finally figure out that words and language and actions have far more power than anything else? They have the power to kill and the power to heal.

Each morning when I rise I pray to be given the ability that day to say the right things. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t. The conscious effort on the part of us all to recognize and accept the differences of others, and the willingness to praise individuality instead of mocking it can go a long way in the process of changing our attitudes. The sticks and stones of our childhood can then be turned into something constructive from which we can build a structure with a strong foundation, relishing the differences which make us whole.

  • §§§

Author Note – I wrote this column seventeen years ago. My student survived and is now happily living his life with a partner and enjoying success in his career. His attempt at ending his life motivated me to leave teaching to pursue my passion. The opinion I expressed seems quite timely now. Campaigns against bullying were being implemented in schools. And then a man was elected as the President of the United States who conducts himself in times of adversity as the Bully-in-Chief. We must be vigilant and fight it because if the highest office in our country condones name calling and personal insults, then our job on the ground must be to conduct ourselves with the utmost care and kindness toward others. I pray we don’t sink to the low level of the high office of power.

IN PURSUIT OF THE WATERFALL

DryFalls10.JPGWe’re in our second summer of living in the Smoky Mountains, and we still have so much to learn and explore. Yesterday, we took a day away from canning and cooking to chase waterfalls. And we ended with a short kayak paddle on Nantahala Lake.

First, we headed east on Highway 64 toward Highlands, North Carolina. This road becomes curvy narrow, and extremely busy once past Franklin. But it’s worth it. Three waterfalls are within ten miles of one another and can be seen from the highway.

Bridal Veil Falls

A road goes under this fall, but it is currently closed. However, there are pull off spots and we were still able to walk under the falls.

Dry Falls

A paved path leads down to the falls as well as a great observation deck to see the falls in its entirety. Once down at the bottom, visitors can walk right under the seventy-five-foot foot falls.

Cullasaja Falls

We couldn’t figure out how to get to the bottom of these falls which are supposedly 250-feet. We could only pull off and view a portion of them, but still a beautiful sight.

Rufus Morgan Falls

We headed back toward our cabin via Wayah Bald Road and hiked almost a mile to the Rufus Morgan Falls. The path becomes wet and rocky after about a half a mile so I sat on a rock and meditated while Robert climbed to the top of the sixty-foot falls. Here are my meditative photos.

Nantahala Lake

Our day ended with a refreshing swim in Nantahala Lake. Then we hopped in our kayaks and paddled around a bit before heading home. The next day trip will include a trip up to one of the highest peaks in the area, Wayah Bald at 5,300+ feet.