An Indelible Mark

A couple days ago I used a quote from the movie Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont about destiny. That movie has stuck with me for a few days now. I keep looking to see when it will replay so that I can record it to the DVR.

The film is based on the 1971 novel, same title, written by Elizabeth Taylor, the novelist. It is the story of the friendship that ensues between Mrs. Palfrey, played by Joan Plowright, and Ludovic Meyer, played by Rupert Friend. Mrs. Palfrey has pretty much been abandoned by her family and lives in the London retirement hotel The Claremont. Ludovic Meyer is a young writer. Fate brings them together when she has an accident outside his apartment. The two friends find they have a lot more in common than they do with people their own age. Through their friendship Ludovic helps Mrs. Palfrey through her past, and Mrs. Palfrey helps Ludovic to his future.

I was genuinely moved by this movie. Being a romantic, yes I can admit that fact, I have always loved a great story that deals with fate or destiny even if it is sappy, e.g.,Serendipity. At the end of the movie Ludovic is walking towards his girlfriend, Gwendolyn, after seeing Mrs. Palfrey, and the voice over reveals to us Ludovic’s thoughts.

“There are people that cross our lives in tiny fractions of time, in the briefest of encounters, and yet they leave an indelible mark in our hearts and our minds.”

I can think of different people that I’ve met over the years that in one way or another left a mark on my life. For better or worse, much of whom we are grows out of those encounters.

One such encounter that I have always looked back on was during my sophomore year of high school in Spring Hill, Kansas. Her name was Mrs. Susan Dortch, my debate coach/teacher. I was in school in Spring Hill for only a semester but that semester made a huge impact in my life in so many ways. I am typically a shy person. People who know me or meet me now find this hard to believe. Up until my sophomore year any time that I had an oral report at school or had to stand up in front of people, I would find some way to skip or get out of the situation. Talking to a female was an even more daunting task.

When my family moved to Spring Hill I was still in the stage of my life that I wanted to be a lawyer and then maybe go into politics. I hadn’t really given much thought to the fact that both careers require you to be in front of people a lot. So, when I registered for school I chose to take debate because I figured it would help with my future career. I didn’t think of the fact that I would have to speak in front of people.

The first day of school arrived. Every first day of school is dreaded. No one, not even teachers, are ready to give up their summer. For me, it wasn’t just giving up my summer, it was the reality that I was walking into a school where I knew no one. I had been in this situation before because my family moved a lot, but every new first day in a new place scared the living hell out of me. That first day meant some teachers asking me questions about who I am and where I’m from in front of the class. It meant my revealing my southern drawl in a place where there was no twang. It meant new girls to want to talk to but never having the balls to even approach them. What I didn’t realize the morning of that first day was it would be the beginning of a new me.

The moment I walked into Mrs. Dortch’s classroom my fear of speaking in front of people came rushing at me like a rabid dog protecting its domain, but there was no turning back. All I could do was stand face to face with this fear. As I took my seat, and Mrs. Dortch began the class I felt a sense of assurance. There was something about her demeanor that relaxed me. I remember she had a smile that made me feel as though we were old friends, and when she spoke it wasn’t just her voice that communicated, it was her face and her hands. She was excited and that made me excited. Slowly the fear was retreating.

The moment I felt safe was the moment I let my guard down, and the fear was biting at my leg, growling louder than ever. Mrs. Dortch told the class that we would each stand up and give a short speech introducing ourselves and telling the class something about ourselves. I was like a little boy who was going to his first swimming lesson. When he gets to the pool he realizes that not only must he face his fear of water, but also the fear of being seen in his swimming trunks in front of the opposite sex. Then, rather than the instructor letting him get use to the water, the instructor tells him to jump in immediately. We all have fears. Some are good, but most are bad. Sometimes, all you can do is jump and trust that the risk that you feel you are taking by standing against your fears will result in a wonderful victory.

I have often thought back on that day in Mrs. Dortch’s class and how that first jump prepared me for many other jumps in life. From that day forward, every day of speaking in front of people got a little bit easier. She taught me how not to be afraid to be me, even if it means saying “ya’ll” or “yonder.” She put in me a love for communicating and speaking in front of people. I never did pursue being a lawyer or President of the United States. Rather, I became a speaker, teacher, and a writer. I don’t know that Mrs. Dortch ever knew the impact of knowing her for one semester made on my life, but she was one person who in the briefest encounter, left an indelible mark on my heart and mind. So I write this in honor of her. Thank you Mrs. Dortch.

Any of you have an encounter with someone or something that left an indelible mark in your heart and mind? Maybe you want to share, but maybe you don’t. Let me encourage you to at least remember that moment and be thankful for the difference it made in your life.


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The Waffle House Universe

When I first started working on my first novel and getting serious about writing I would jot down notes whenever I noticed something interesting or had an idea. I did this at bars, school, coffee houses, etc. One place that was always interesting was Waffle House.

In 2002 I was “spiritual advisor” for Coach Ferrell and the basketball team. Before you knock the title “spiritual advisor,” the team did win State that year. During the state playoffs, late February 2002, Coach Ferrell and I stopped at a Waffle House late one night. The moment you walk in there is three things you notice right off:
1. the sweet nutty vanilla smell of the waffle batter.
2. the cloud of cigarette smoke.
3. the fact that you’ve entered another dimension of the universe in which the majority of people who are in Waffle House only come out at night.

If you’ve been in a Waffle House during the day then you don’t understand. Something happens at Waffle House past 11p.m. It goes through a metamorphosis. I really believe it is some type of paranormal keyhole or alternate universe portal.

While Coach and I waited on our food, we began to make up stories about each person who was present. By the end of the night, we had a story for every person and how they all interrelated to one another. I wish I still had my notes from that night.

Last week my friend Mark and I took a bike trip to Kansas. The first night of travel we stayed in Springfield Missouri, and our hotel was right next to a Waffle House. It was around 11 or midnight when we got settled. We were both very tired but also hungry. As we passed through the doors into the square, yellow universe of Waffle House I noticed the three former things right off. I was too tired to try to think of each person’s story, but I did notice some interesting facts or tidbits that solidify my belief that it is an alternate universe.

First, did you know that Waffle House does have a reservation policy? So please be forewarned that if you ever visit a Waffle House please take a guest. You will want to sit in a booth. Just trust me on this one, don’t go alone!

Second, did you know that Waffle House is the World’s Leading Server of USDA choice T-Bone Steaks? Of all the steak houses in the World, it is Waffle House who serves the most. Seriously? This has to be a false claim. That is unless Waffle House is meaning in their World.

Third, did you know that Waffle House serves America’s Best Coffee? I am a coffee lover. I have had coffee in many different places in America, and it is very hard for me to believe that Waffle House serves the best. This can only be true if Waffle House means the America of its alternate universe.
Fourth, did you know that Waffle House has its own hit music? I will let the pic speak for itself.

Lastly, did you know that Waffle House is a ministry/church? Waffle House’s mission statement is about changing lives. I’m assuming the cook is the minister, the waitress is the worship leader, the visitors are the parishioners, the register is the offering plate, and the waffle is the altar.

So, if you are ever brave enough to cross the threshold of this other universe be careful if it is after 11 p.m. 🙂


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Just a thought about Destiny

People who know me well, know that I have a strong belief in destiny, fate, or sovereignty; whichever word you choose to use. I believe there is no such things as accidents or coincidences, and that things happen in our lives for reasons. Some times we can see the reasons, but other times we may not understand the why. I can’t help but believe that everything that happens in our lives is to lead us to good things in our life.

This can be a tough concept for many people, even for myself. I don’t want to seem as though my attitude is “Que Sera Sera.” The reason that attitude scares me is because it seems to carry with it the attitude of not acting or reacting to a situation. It seems almost flippant. But on the other hand, whatever will be, will be. What I must understand is that I can’t let fear or obstacles stand in my way. There is a call to action and reaction in our lives.

This morning while enjoying my coffee and oatmeal I turned on my TV and stumbled upon a good/sweet movie that I had never heard of. In the movie, Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, there was a quote that got me to thinking on this topic. Mrs. Palfrey is speaking with another character and says, “Things are meant to happen. Destiny might lead us to the pond, but the rest is up to us.”

Anyone have any thoughts on the matter?


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In Memory of Frank McCourt

On Sunday, July 19, 2009, author Frank McCourt passed away at the age of 78. His memoir Angela’s Ashes was the first memoir I ever read. I fell in love with him as a writer as I read Angela’s Ashes. Then I fell in love with him as a person as I read ‘Tis and Teacher Man. In memory of him I would like to quote a few of my favorite passages from Angela’s Ashes.

“When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.
People Everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version: the poverty; the shiftless loquacious alcoholic father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests; bullying schoolmasters; the English and the terrible things they did to us for eight hundred years.
Above all – we were wet.”

“Easter is better than Christmas because Dad takes us to the Redemptorist church where all the priests wear white and sing. They’re happy because Our Lord is in heaven. I ask Dad if the baby in the crib is dead and he says, No, He was thirty-three when He died and there He is, hanging on the cross. I don’t understand how He grew up so fast that He’s hanging there with a hat made of thorns and blood everywhere, dripping from His head, His hands, His feet, and big hole near His belly.
Dad says I’ll understand when I grow up. He tells me that all the time now and I want to be big like him so that I can understand everything. It must be lovely to wake up in the morning and understand everything . I wish I could be like all the big people in the church, standing and kneeling and praying and understanding everything.”

“The master says it’s a glorious thing to die for the Faith and Dad says it’s a glorious thing to die for Ireland and I wonder if there’s anyone in the world who would like us to live. My brothers are dead and my sister is dead and I wonder if they died for Ireland or the Faith. Dad says they were too young to die for anything. Mam says it was disease and starvation and him never having a job. Dad says, Och, Angela, puts on his cap and goes for a long walk….I’d love to be big and important and parade around with the red Confirmation catechism but I don’t think I’ll live that long the way I’m expected to die for this or that. I want to ask why there are so many big people who haven’t died for Ireland or the Faith but I know if you ask a question like that you get you the thump on the head or you’re told go out and play.”

“Then he placed on my tongue the wafer, the body and blood of Jesus. At last, at last.
It’s on my tongue. I draw it back.
It stuck.
I had God glued to the roof of my mouth. I could hear the master’s voice, Don’t let that host touch your teeth for if you bite God in two you’ll roast in hell for eternity.
I tried to get God down with my tongue but the priest hissed at me, Stop that clucking and get back to your seat.
God was good. He melted and I swallowed Him and now, at last, I was a member of the True Church, an official sinner.”

“I think my father is like the Holy Trinity with three people in him, the one in the morning with the paper, the one at night with the stories and the prayers, and then the one who does the bad thing and comes home with the smell of whiskey and wants us to die for Ireland.
I feel sad over the bad thing but I can’t back away from him because the one in the morning is my real father and if I were in America I could say, I love you, Dad, the way they do in the films, but you can’t say that in Limerick for fear you might be laughed at. You’re allowed to say you love God and babies and horses that win but anything else is a softness in the head.”


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