Monday, February 26, 2007

What I truly treasure -- jcarolek

A song my father taught us when we were very young, in part, describes my personality. The song, "Don’t Fence Me In," is a simple one:

Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above
Don’t fence me in,
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love,
Don’t fence me in,
Let me be by myself in the evening breeze,

Recurring dream -- jcarolek

I had a recurring dream when I was young. I began having the dream when I was in Jr. High and continued throughout highschool.

I was trying to make my way down the halls of the school, trying to get to my next class before the bell rang. The halls were so crowded I was feeling overwhelmed. In my dream I

Saturday, February 24, 2007

I carried the burden of the United States of America -- jcarolek

Have I ever mentioned how I carried the entire United States of America on my shoulders when I was only ten years old? Well, I did, or at least I was convinced I did.

As we prepared that spring of 1967 for our move to Cheltenham, England, Dad explained very carefully to his brood of six, “Everything you say and do, while in a foreign country will be judged to be that of the ‘typical American.’ You represent your country when you are on foreign soil and I trust that you will represent it well.” (or something along those lines)

Well, that’s pretty heavy stuff for a ten year old. Even my big sister, at eleven, was not strong enough to carry

Friday, February 23, 2007

Either Yale or FSU -- jcarolek

“Please arrive at the band room in the high school at 10 AM to be fitted for your band uniform.”

It was with no small amount of excitement that my son awaited fulfilling this invitation. For three years he had been playing the saxophone - the one owned by my brother who passed away when Stephen was just six.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Stephen did it! -- jcarolek

One day, more than 18 years ago, I came home from work to find life as usual at my house. Hubby was comfortably positioned in the rocking recliner, feet propped up, TV blaring. Kids were “somewhere,” but no noise over the TV, so, sort of “peaceful.” As I crossed the living room to my roll-top desk, the desk that served as my complete office in those days, to put my briefcase down and sort the mail, I was greeted with the standard, “What’s for dinner?”

Well, as I was winding up for my just as standard

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Stealing 101 -- jcarolek

I am sometimes amazed when look back at the old photos and see the beginnings of the works of art that each of us is. We were once so small and yet, even in our very early stages, we were filled with that personality that would grow and define us, set us apart from all the other artwork that is humanity.

Jen was always my little outgoing character. Walking at

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Fat Tuesday -- jcarolek

Well, as I prepare for another Easter season I think back to one about ten years ago. I worked with a great guy who was of the Baptist faith. One afternoon, he decided to go over to the drink machine and purchase a soda. Being the gentleman he was, he asked if he could get me one as well.

“No, thanks, Byram,” I said, “I gave up sodas for Lent.”

Do as your father says! -- jcarolek

Do as your father says!

I was raised with that admonition and, by Jove, so were my children!

School picture day arrives and Stephen dons his favorite shirt, under which he is sporting a T-shirt. Dad says, “It’s too cold out there. Put on this sweater vest!” Stephen objects,

Monday, February 19, 2007

James Store -- jcarolek

When we moved to Virginia from Florida in 1988, we bought a house in a little place called “James Store, VA.” It is one of several “po-dunk” places in this neck of the woods and I was drawn to its rustic, quiet “ambiance.” We did not have the luxury of mail being delivered to our house, but had the opportunity to go each day and chat with Mr. Cox at James Store, where, as the postmaster, he carefully rubber banded our mail together each day.

Getting out mail was an activity we all looked forward to and it was with a little sadness that we accepted the news,

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Finding the Gum Drop -- jcarolek

When we were very young, my father used to play a game with us. On a brass tray he turned over three or four small, fluted brass “goblets” and under one he tucked a gum drop. Carefully we watched as he moved the goblets around on the tray. We followed every move and finally, when Dad had finished all the troop movements, we were invited to guess which goblet covered the gum drop.

We became very good at this game and it, of course,

Friday, February 16, 2007

Pretending it wasn't happening -- jcarolek

When I was in ninth grade, I was seated next to a girl named Jean Hostetler in science class. This was simply because my teacher believed in seating everyone “alphabetically”. I was Judy Fletcher, and her name came right after mine. Jean was a big girl and I was not. She was also a bully. On a regular basis she would casually slam me on the head with her science book; you know the big heavy one!

Well, I was never a fighter and I believed in that whole, “turn the other cheek” thing. But, to be honest, I was really just scared of her. So, I PRETENDED

Thursday, February 15, 2007

With these eyes -- jcarolek

When I was born, it was with eyes severely crossed that I first viewed my world. There was little question I was going to need help or never have reasonable vision. As luck would have it, the leading authority at the time for my condition was resident at the hospital in which I was born. Dr. Marshall Parks performed my first surgery when I was eight months old. Both eyes were affected and so surgery was performed on both.

I recall all my childhood, when I would look in the hall closet, amongst the band-aids and aces bandages, cotton balls, gauze and the likes, were two odd looking navy blue fabric “things” with ties on either side, and something akin to Popsicle sticks encased in the cloth. When asked, my mother explained that these were the splints I was required to wear for that time immediately after my eye surgery. They were tied around my little arms ensuring I could not bend my elbows, thereby further ensuring I could not pull my patches off, etc. Why she kept them in that closet all those years, is beyond me, because I could see no other “alternative use for such devices.”

The surgery to straighten my eyes and the glasses I began wearing at ten months were designed to have me glasses-free by ten years old. Well, apparently, nobody told my eyes this and, still in glasses with one lazy eye at twelve years old, my mother took me to the eye doctor in England. This guy was a local and chosen either by word of mouth or randomly…not clear on that. His recommendation was that I have surgery on my “lazy” eye to further correct that eye and help me achieve binocular vision. (with a lazy eye, the brain cuts off the signal from one eye, so as to achieve a single image, rather than the double vision produced when both signals are trying to be accepted. The person therefore, has no depth perception, as vision from both eyes, binocular vision, is required to have depth perception.)

Well, Mom let this UK doc know in no uncertain terms that he would FIRST have to get it approved by our US doc. When Dr. Harte asked the name of my US doc, Mom told him, and he started to laugh. It turns out that in 1970 there were seven leading experts of in this area. Dr. Parks and Dr. Harte were two of them. So, I had the surgery, at age 12 ½ and recall the whole experience vividly.

The results of the surgery? Well, I have permanent sutures in my right eye (as opposed to the soluble ones used in the US by Dr. Parks), and most of the time my right eye does not “wander” any longer, but neither does it work in conjunction with my stronger left eye. So, I remain a monocular person, seeing everything in only two dimensions.

One day, when I was 21, I was at work when I was struck by an excruciating pain in my “good” eye. The vision was going in and out and I was scared. My boss told me to go to see the company doctor, which I did. The company doc looked at my eye and, in the tone of a parent, accused me, “You’ve been RUBBING that eye!” OK, so sue me! He was right, I had been rubbing it, because I had allergies and they made my eyes itch!

So, he took a closer look and declared I had a cyst on the eye and needed to see an ophthalmologist immediately. I called Dr. Parks, but he was in Australia so that was out. I had to select a new doctor and fast. I did and was told to come to his office in two hours.

Upon my arrival, the receptionist asked to look at my eye. I showed her and she gave me paperwork to complete (pretty hard to do when the vision keeps going in and out on your only good eye.) As I completed the paperwork, the phone rang. It was the doctor. The receptionist conveyed to him that the cyst was indeed on the eye and not the eyelid. In just a few more minutes, Dr. Gonzalez made his entrance, still clad in his hospital scrubs.

His examination of my eye revealed a cyst too large for him to feel comfortable removing in the office, so I was immediately admitted to the hospital for surgery the next day. The concern I was informed, was twofold. The cyst was pressing on the optic nerve, disturbing my sight, and the cyst was fluid filled, and should it burst (like from rubbing my eyes) it would contaminate and infect the whole eye.

My surgery the following day went well, though it took three times as long as the doctor had anticipated. Still, the cyst was removed and the eye stitched to ensure rapid healing and reconstruction of the shape of the eye. (cysts are like icebergs…what the doctor could see on the top was the smallest part.)

When I went for my follow-up visit, just after being discharged from the hospital two days later, the doctor told me he believed that cyst had been growing there for 7-8 years!

And so it was that my vision in my only “seeing” eye was recovered just short of real trouble. As part of my recovery, I was not allowed to read ANYTHING for six weeks. I challenge ANYONE with seeing eyes to successfully adhere to that one. I mean, street signs, advertisements, you name it, we are constantly reading.

I can honestly say, I have never taken my vision for granted. At 48 years old, I am thrilled my vision is correctable to 20/25 in my good eye (20/50 in the bad one). I marvel every day at the fact that I can see as well as I do and have NEVER disliked wearing glasses. They are as much a part of me as my eyes themselves.

My friend’s son will be undergoing surgery soon for a condition related to the one which made me cross-eyed. His eyes wander out, rather than in. This was referred to as “wall-eyed” when was young, though I think it has a nicer sounding Latin name. My friend is worried about her six year old son – worried that the surgery will ‘hurt.” As told her, even at twenty one when I had my most recent eye surgery, I do not recall the pain being overwhelming. I have encouraged her to prepare him with love, letting him know that he is in good hands and that the surgery will help him see better for the rest of his life.

I always feel I am operating on borrowed time with these eyes, and I use them as much as I can. I try to make what I am viewing, something worth viewing and remembering. For I have always been certain I will spend the latter part of my life without the luxury of vision. When that happens, I most assuredly want to have memories of things worth remembering.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Murph -- jcarolek

When I was 21 I worked for an insurance company in Washington, D.C. It was a boring job, but made “fun” by one of the characters who worked with our group. Our task was to transfer paper files to microfiche. This was a boring, boring job and I was thankful that “Murph,” as he called himself, was on the team. He was an old guy (56) and we were mostly a young bunch.

Murph was quite a story teller. He regaled us with stories of his current living conditions. It seemed his wife had died the year prior and he now lived with his brother-in-law, George, George’s wife, Renee, and their pet poodle “Poopsie.”

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

When he was young -- jcarolek

His happiness could be achieved with a simple red balloon. He's all grown up now...takes more to impress him! LOL Sorry, old crummy photos, but, still, fun to look through!

Nothing profound, just a little change -- jcarolek

My daughter was five when we moved from Florida to Virginia. We moved to a home on a little over 6 acres of woods. We traveled a dirt road on which ours was one of three homes. Our mail came to the little “general store” at James Store, VA. We stopped in daily to collect our mail, which Mr. Cox, the postmaster, had neatly rubber banded together for us.

And in the winter we tarried a while in the warmth of the wood stove and chatted with this older gentleman. He was a funny, wise, southerner who loved to talk abou

Monday, February 12, 2007

It could have been me -- it might still be -- jcarolek

I graduated college at 20, armed with a degree in Political Science and minors in German, French and Math. I had taken 2 ½ years to complete my college education and I was SURE the world was mine for the taking. Then came that pesky little thing called applying for jobs.

Well, I’m sure most of you have experienced the “hmmmm, educated but unskilled, don’t call us, we’ll call you,” reception as did I during that first round of job hunting. It wasn’t that I didn’t have experience working, for I had been working

Sunday, February 11, 2007

I challenge you to a duel! -- jcarolek

As children, we were not allowed to play with sticks. I’m uncertain where exactly in the rule ranking this particular rule fell, but it was well up there. Being perfect children, the six of us adhered closely to those rules (of course we did!)

Background information: We moved to England in 1968, when I was 10 and took with us our pet Capuchin monkey, Chico. In those days, the monkey had to be quarantined for about six months, I believe. At any rate, Dad was busy making Chico

Sunday, February 4, 2007

The Tugboat Cookie Jar -- jcarolek

The cookie jar sat atop the refrigerator. It sat there my entire young childhood. It was a ceramic cookie jar made to look like a tugboat. Mom and Dad received it as a wedding present. The cookie jar held the home-made sweets that Mom made. It sat atop the refrigerator, out of sight (sort of) and out of harm's way.

Out of harm’s way, that is, until the day I found the PERFECT hiding place. Yes, hide and go seek was a favorite