Friday, July 31, 2009

The Most Fun, Sad Road Trip

When Nana died, on July 12th, I was already scheduled to fly to Florida on July 15th. I had been planning for months to spend her birthday (July 18th) with her and then fly to Dallas for the annual Mary Kay Seminar (July 21st - 25th). What I had not counted on, obviously, was that Nana would die 6 days before her birthday. Immediately, it became obvious to Mom, Dave, and me that the best way to celebrate Nana was to have her Celebration of Life Service in Crystal Beach, Florida (where she had lived since 1956) on her birthday and then fly her to Batesville, Mississippi, where she was from and had always planned to be buried.

Services were scheduled in Batesville for Tuesday, July 21st and everything seemed to have fallen into place perfectly. I'd get to Dallas on Wednesday the 22nd, the day I really needed to be there and wouldn't have to miss any of the fun or any of Nana's services. That is until I called American Airlines to add in this one little stop in Memphis (the nearest airport to Batesville).

American informed me that to add a quick 24-36 hours in Batesville via Memphis and then on to Dallas would cost me an ADDITIONAL $1100 PLUS $150 to change my ticket. Ugh. I had bought trip insurance, but it wouldn't come close to covering this.

Quickly, I resigned myself to the fact that I couldn't be there to bury Nana. That is until I spoke with my cousin Elesha in Dallas. She had the brilliant idea to change the Dallas leg of my trip and fly in, not on Tuesday, but on Sunday the 19th and she would drive me to Batesville and back all in time for my Mary Kay event. This wasn't some quick Sunday afternoon drive. Batesville is almost 9 hours each way from Dallas. This was HUGE. I argued for a second, but only a second, and then I called American. For only $300, I was able to change my arrival in Dallas and I'd be able to go to Batesville. Wow. (Elesha's grandmother and my Nana are sisters and in addition to attending Nana's service, Elesha also wanted to see her grandmother who's no spring chicken herself.)

I flew into Dallas on Sunday afternoon, and bright and early Monday morning, Elesha and I piled her two kids - ages 7 and 4 - into her car and off we went. Now, I drive to Watervale all the time. But that's only 6 hours max. And I've driven back and forth to DC (12 hours) plenty of times, but it's been almost a decade since I've done that and I never did it with kids. I honestly wasn't sure what to expect.

But her kids were amazing. Sure, they had their moments, but there weren't any meltdowns or major fights. We heard a couple "I gotta go to the bathroom's" and "I'm bored," but all in all, the kids got an A+ for their behavior. I was mighty impressed. That got Elesha and me to talking about road trips when we were kids.

Today's kids have DVD players in the backseat with a library of movies. We had License Plate Bingo. Today's kids have air conditioning they can personalize for their seat to stay cool and comfortable. We hoped our brother didn't fart in our face. Today's kids have roadside oases with every fast food restaurant they can imagine. We had Stuckey's with cardboard "food" if we were getting a treat. Otherwise, we had picnics that consisted of warm, but homemade fried chicken and potato salad made three days earlier. Today's kids have 6-disc CD changers in the car. We had AM Radio. Maybe. Today's kids can count on clean bathrooms. We carried on old coffee can that the whole family used in the car as we were driving down the highway. (I swear I am not making that up). Today's kids have Nintendo DS's that talk to each other. We entertained ourselves by motioning to the truckers to blow their horns. Today's kids have individual car seats. We didn't use seatbelts, slept in the back window or on the floor, and were constantly whining "Mom! He's on my half on the backseat!" Today's kids are well behaved and don't fray their parents' last nerves. We had Mom yelling "If you don't stop that right now, I'm going to turn this car around!" and "Don't make me come back there!"

Now, of course, I still counted the number of Waffle Houses (11) and Stuckey's (1) we saw, but some things never change, no matter how old we get and I did it more out of curiosity than anything else. For the record, we didn't stop at either.

Reminiscing made us laugh a lot, which I desperately needed. Even though it was for a sad reason, I had a blast with Elesha and her adorable children. She's a great mom, a great cousin, and an awesome friend. I can't believe I thought for one second I wouldn't go to Nana's burial and I'm eternally grateful that she made it possible for me to attend.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

I've Been MIA on LMS

You may have heard . . . my Nana died. Almost 3 weeks ago. It seems like a lifetime ago right now. BND and AND . . . Before Nana Died and After Nana Died. The world kind of seems to have stopped.

Since her passing on July 12th, I've been to Florida, Texas, Mississippi, back to Texas, and finally home. I was in Florida and Mississippi for the Celebration of Life services and burial of Nana and I was in Texas (the first time) so I could go to Mississippi (more on that in another post) and the second time for the annual Mary Kay Seminar. I've been back in Chicago since Saturday night and am feeling like I'm just going through the motions.

I've started multiple blog posts, but none of the topics really excite me. I couldn't even write about Sarah Palin quitting on July 26th! I've started to write thank you notes, but writing them makes Nana's death entirely too real and permanent to me. I've worked some, but feel like I'm not really in a place where I can make other people feel pampered. I've gotten one really good night of sleep, but the rest have been hit or miss.

Yes, I've put on a pretty face when I've needed to this week. Last week it was easy - I didn't have one moment alone and believe me, Disneyland's got nothing in comparison to a Mary Kay Seminar when it comes to being the Happiest Place On Earth (TM). I've hung out with and talked to a couple friends and I've seemed okay.

Until today. Today I've pretty much been a mess of tears. I thought the tears were gone. I thought that when I left Batesville I was done crying. I thought I would get back to Chicago and easily jump right back into my routine with both feet. I thought that having a B.A. in Psychology and having read On Death and Dying by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross would have prepared me. I thought that having already buried two grandparents and a cousin when we were kids would have made this easier.

Everyone keeps telling me I need to find a grief support group because I won't just magically be done grieving. I've actually done some searching, but all I've done is talked to voice mail and, in the one instance I spoke to someone, learned that I can't join a group until September. That seems strange to me. As I said to the woman on the phone, I didn't realize I had to schedule grief. I don't think she thought I was funny and I wasn't trying to be. I just didn't understand that these things were done in series and you couldn't just start going, but had to commit to an entire series and start when the series started. I'll keep searching because too many people have told me going to a grief counseling group will make it all better.

Maybe now that I've written about how difficult this is, it will get easier. Maybe it's like anything else: the first step is admitting I've got a problem. I hope so. I miss feeling like me and I hate feeling like I'm MIA in plain sight and on LMS.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Last 10 Days By the Numbers

Since July 15th, I have . . .

Traveled 4,293 miles (conservatively) . . .
To and through 5 states . . .
Slept in 7 beds . . .
Seen 11 Waffle Houses, but only eaten at 1 . . .
Seen only 1 Stuckey's and 2 Starbucks . . .
Attended 2 Celebration of Life Services and 2 Visitations . . .
Given 1 Eulogy twice . . .
Buried 1 Nana . . .
Shed at least 1 million tears . . .
Attended 1 Sunday church service and was anointed with oils once . . .
Attended 1 Mary Kay Seminar . . .
Received 3 awards for being #1 in sales in our unit and area and achieving the Company's Princess Court of Sales - all for the 3rd year in a row.

Now I need 1 vacation.

Proving Once Again You're Never Too Old for True Love

I saw this article online in the Daily Herald today. I love it. I love that these two people found each other again after 85 years and even at 93 years old are living their lives so fully that they seem genuinely in love and are getting married. I hope they quite a few years of good health and happiness together. Given how vibrant they both look, I'll bet they make it to 100 together.

8 Decades Later, Couple Takes the Leap

93-year-old from Arlington Heights pops the question to former sweetheart, 92

By Barbara Vitello, Daily Herald staff, July 23, 2009

Roland "Mac" McKitrick proposed to his beloved Lorraine Beatty on Wednesday morning.

The proposal took Beatty completely by surprise.

"He said he would like to talk to me," she said, "and very sweetly he said, 'I'm asking you to marry me.'"

A few hours later, the couple picked up their marriage license at the Rolling Meadows courthouse. And as soon as McKitrick's pastor can accommodate them, they'll be married. In fact, by the time you read this, the twosome may have already tied the knot.

But don't let their spur-of-the-moment wedding fool you. McKitrick and Beatty's courtship is hardly the whirlwind affair it appears to be.

In fact, the romance between the 93-year-old McKitrick and the 92-year-old Beatty began more than 80 years ago, in a one-room schoolhouse in rural Wisconsin.

"She was my third-grade sweetheart back in 1921," McKitrick said. "We knew each other for about one year. Then, for all practical purposes, we lost contact for 85 years."

During the intervening decades, they each married and had children. Both were widowed when fate brought them together again several years ago.

At the time, McKitrick and Beatty each had brothers who lived in Connecticut. The brothers knew each other, said McKitrick, who wasn't sure how their siblings became acquainted. About three years ago, McKitrick's brother received a card from Beatty addressed to Roland in care of his brother. It contained a snapshot of the couple as children.

McKitrick asked his brother to forward the card, but it never arrived. After a few months, McKitrick called his brother, who put him in touch with Beatty's brother. McKitrick called and asked for Beatty's number.

"He told me he didn't have it handy," McKitrick said.

An hour later, the phone rang.

"It was Lorraine," McKitrick said.

The two resumed their romance, dividing their time between Beatty's home in Georgia and McKitrick's home in an Arlington Heights retirement community, where the couple plan to reside after they return from their honeymoon at McKitrick's Wisconsin lake home.

Their kids don't know about the nuptials, but Beatty doubts the news will surprise her 64-year-old son and 58-year-old daughter. McKitrick says his children will be "very pleased."

"He's very loving, sweet-natured and generous," Beatty said of her husband-to-be.

For McKitrick, marrying Beatty marks the culmination of a lifelong love story.

He recalls a day, many years ago, when the two of them stood in the Wisconsin sunshine and talked about how one day, they would marry each other.

"I still picture her as my third-grade sweetheart. I've carried that in the back of my mind since that time," said McKitrick, who counts among his prized possessions a photograph taken of the two of them about that time.

"That snapshot stayed in my memory," he said, "and her face stayed in my memory."

Monday, July 20, 2009

Life Imitates Art or Check Your Facebook Settings NOW!

Remember the song "Escape - The Pina Colada Song" by Rupert Holmes from the mid-1970s? You don't? I'm the only one who likes super-cheesy screwed up love songs from the 1970s? Oh, okay. You don't have to admit it.

Anyway, if you honestly don't remember or you weren't born then, let me refresh your memory. "Escape - The Pina Colada Song" is about a man who is bored in his marriage. Sitting in bed one night, he opens up the paper to the personals (These were in the Classifieds section of the newspaper, for all you young whippersnappers, and were the 1970s version of and found an ad that piqued his interest. The woman sounded perfect. She was everything that was missing from his marriage. He wrote a letter to the woman and set up a date to meet her at a bar. When he walked in to the bar, sitting on a barstool was his wife. Needless to say, it brought some magic back into their marriage, which is more than I would think would happen in real life, which it kind of did . . .

Fast forward to 2009. A husband and wife are both registered on Facebook and one day the husband opens up his Facebook account to see a sidebar ad for "Hot Singles Near You!" The picture in the ad? His wife. Oops.

Now this isn't a story about a wife (or husband) looking for love in all the wrong places (yep, I'm gonna squeeze in every single cheesy 1970s song reference I can!). It's actually a story about Facebook privacy settings. Check yours. You may be unwittingly allowing Facebook to use your picture in their ads, like the wife in this story. She had failed to pay attention to her Facebook settings and allowed Facebook to use pictures of her in their ads that were shown to her friends.

Personally, I don't want Facebook to do that with my pictures. I don't want to be endorsing things I'm not really endorsing. So I've opted-out of all Facebook ads and so should you. I mean, what if that happened to you and your boss saw it? It's probably not the message you want to send, even mistakenly. It's simple really. Just 6 short steps.

How to opt-out of Facebook ads:

1. Click Settings at the top right of your screen;
2. Choose Privacy;
3. Select News Feed and Wall;
4. Then Facebook Ads;
5. Almost done when you check Appearance in Facebook Ads;
6. Finally choose No one.

Fortunately, in this real life scenario, both the husband and wife had a decent sense of humor. It could have turned out badly.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Count Your Blessings Every Day

Today was Nana's Celebration of Life Service at Crystal Beach Community Church, in Crystal Beach, Florida. She loved this church and was proud to be one of its founding members in 1957. My mom and I both spoke at Nana's service and these were my comments. I'm proud to say I only cried three times and wondered if I could finish my talk just once.


For those of you who don't know me, I'm Jessica Gardner, Frances' granddaughter. I'm the oldest of her four grandchildren, the only granddaughter, and Virginia's daughter.

My memories of Nana span almost four decades and I could stand here all day sharing stories with you, but rather than do that, I want to focus on what I believe made Nana the woman she was . . . counting her blessings every day.

Late last week, as we were preparing for Nana's passing, I spoke with Denise McCloud, here at the Church. She shared with me how she and Pastor Susie went to visit Nana recently. Nana was sleeping with the most peaceful expression on her face and her hands were folded neatly across her chest, as though in prayer. I remember smiling through my tears, as I heard this story and then shared with Denise that for as long as I've known Nana, she always slept that way - on her back with her fingers interlaced across her chest as though in prayer. I've never seen anyone sleep as peacefully as Nana did.

As we spoke, I continued to share that it was my belief that the reason Nana slept so peacefully every night, never suffering from insomnia or other disruptions to her sleep, was because she always spoke kindly, found the best in others, focused on her blessings rather than what she didn't have or trying to keep up with the Jones's, treated people with respect and the way she wanted to be treated, lived her life with humility, and turned her struggles over to God every night. I never heard Nana gossip, speak ugly about anyone, curse, complain, or hold a grudge, even at times when no one would have faulted her for it. One of her favorite proverbs was Proverbs 15:1, "A soft answer turneth away wrath; but grievous words stir up anger." It was one of her most fundamental beliefs.

She was a devout Christian, but you didn't know it because she was constantly telling you about it. You knew it through her deeds and the way she lived her life. Whether she was finding a low-cost, good home for a family in financial distress, bringing a table to a newlywed without any furniture, or dealing with her customers at the bank, Nana was selfless in her actions. She thought of others before she thought of herself and, in my mind, was the originator of the question "What would Jesus do?" I know she asked herself this question many times every day.

Every night, she ended her day the same way. She dropped to her knees, thanked God for the many gifts he had given her (even if sometimes those gifts took the form of "opportunities" or "challenges") and asked for His blessings for all of her loved ones - naming each of them individually. Nana's prayers were never pre-scripted. Each one was unique. She never asked God for material things; rather she thanked him for giving her strength, courage, patience, humility, and providing for her and her family. She knew he had a plan for her and she never questioned it.

For Nana, family always came first. Even when she was working, if any of us would call her, she would always take the call. She may not have been able to speak at that moment other than to say, "Jessica, dear, I'm with a customer now. Can I call you back?" in her sweet Southern drawl, but she never asked anyone to take a message from her family.

I remember that Nana used to always tell me that I was her favorite granddaughter. Now, the fact is that I am her ONLY granddaughter. At first, I didn't like it when she said this to me, but I came to understand that this was her way of telling me what a special blessing having a granddaughter was and I began to look forward to the compliment. When she retired from NationsBank, now Bank of America, a customer presented her with a gift of drugstore chocolates. I remember standing there as she accepted the gift, held the box like it was a rare jewel, looked at the man, and sincerely said, "Oh, that's JUST what I have wanted! A box of really fine chocolates! Thank you so much!" When my parents divorced, she reached out to my dad to let him know that she still loved him and that he was always welcome in her home. Twenty-five years later, he still remembers those words and the impact they had on him, as he related the story to me for the first time, just the other night. He wasn't her ex-son-in-law. He was and has always remained the man who married her daughter and gave her two beautiful grandchildren. Paying you a sincere compliment was one way she counted her blessings every day. She filled herself up by sincerely lifting you up with heart-felt, soft words.

Nana wasn't rich in material goods, but she was rich in all the things that mattered: love, gratitude, compassion, friends, and family. She loved to tell us that we must always count our blessings every day and that included the things we might not think were blessings. She taught me to always find the bright side of life. I might have to search for it, but it was always there. I think my own optimism in life came from her.

One of my favorite things about Nana is how she loved to write letters. I would receive letters from her weekly, no matter what. Sometimes, those letters would be personal letters written just to me. Sometimes they would be copies of letters she had sent to someone else, but thought I'd be interested in. Sometimes, they'd simply be newspaper clippings that she thought might be relevent to my life. I've kept the letters that touched me most and found one recently that I'd been saving just for today.

She wrote this letter seven years ago, in April 2002, as she was recovering from a stroke and just before she went blind. What I love about this letter, is how rather than focusing on her aches, pains, and new limitations, she chose to count her blessings and share them. I think she sent this letter only to me, although it reads like a letter she copied and sent to multiple family members. Maybe she somehow knew this was the perfect way to remember her today. It was simply titled "Happy Days I Recall."
Of course, a happy day was when Daddy (Jesse Paulk) and I married on September 30, 1938.

The happiest day was when I knew Jesus was my Lord and Savior - my strength and my redeemer.

I do not remember being baptized, but when I was a little girl about 6 or 7, Momma had a new dress for me and Momma and Daddy took me to Sunday School. We sat in little chairs in front of churt - about 7 or 8 children and their parents talked to us. I am sure that was the day I was baptized. I have always loved the Lord, but as I grow older, I realize each day - He is my strength and redeemer. He will never leave me or forsake me, if only I believe and I do.

Another great and happy day was when the nure handed me a darling baby girl - Virginia - September 12, 1948. Daddy and I thought we owned the world with Virginia, so sweet and precious.

Another day to remember was when a bouncing baby boy was handed to me, February 22, 1951 - Michael. Daddy thought the whole world was handed to him with that special baby boy. Virginia and Michael have both given us great pleasures then Daddy was taken away on September 12, 1961.

With dear thoughts of Daddy and God's help, they grew up and were a real pleasure, dear children. Never any trouble. I had many smiles each day.

Then came along another darling baby girl in Tampa on June 16, 1971, Jessica. (My first grandchild.) She was so cute and sweet. I remember driving over to Tampa to see the precious new arrival. Such a pleasure you have been. Then came another bouncing baby boy in Ft. Myers, Florida on October 5, 1974, David Gardner. All these dear little babies have made life worth living.

A few years ago, Jessica invited me to Washington, DC for Christmas. As the plane reached DC, I stood by the window and looked at the Capitol, never expecting to see it with my own eyes. I stood there in awe thinking about all the goverment under that dome. It was a sight I shall never forget. That Christmas she got many wonderful passes for us to see all of DC. David, bless his heart, got a wheel chair and pushed me all over Washington. Sights I had only studied in school - never expecting to see with my own eyes. Potomac River was real. All of the beautiful sights of DC and thanks to Jessica and David for all these wonderful sights. Even Christmas Eve services in the beautiful National Cathedral and then a drive to Roanoke, Virginia. I slept in the back seat all the way, but the next day, going back through all those mountains. Had I known I sure would not have slept. Anyway, was a wonderful Christmas - being with Virginia, Jessica, and David. Will always be a wonderful memory.

Then I think of Jesse and Ryan, (my grandsons from my son Michael). I only saw darling pictures of Jesse for a few months with Michael holding him in his arms. Such a precious picture. Then I few to Colorado when he was baptized at home. The preacher came to the house and Maureen (Michael's wife) and Michael had a few friends in. Jesse arrived November 30, 1981 and was named for his grandfather, Jesse Edward Paulk, and someone in Maureen's family was named Michael, so was a nice name - Jesse Michael Paulk - from both sides of the family.

Ryan arrived in a Dunedin, Florida on May 1, 1985 and named Ryan Thomas Paulk. I remember driving to the hospital when he was only a few hours old. He was so dear and sweet.

Happy Birthday Nana!

I told you I'd be here to share your 93rd birthday with you. I just didn't realize I'd be eulogizing you today. Don't worry, we aren't having a funeral. We are having a Celebration of Life. You wouldn't have wanted a somber funeral anyway. You lived 93 incredible years. I love you and miss you terribly, but cherish all my precious memories with you as I count my blessings everyday.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Nana in My Dad's Words

Originally published on Remembering Frances, July 16, 2009.

My parents divorced when I was 12. It wasn't anyone's fault. It was just one of those things and, all in all, everything has always been quite amicable. We've all even spent some holidays together - birthdays, graduations, and even a Christmas in the mid-90s. Nana always believed that when you married into our family, you were family forever. No matter what. She always asked about him and continued to have some contact with him over the years.

Early last month, things took a serious turn for the worse and we didn't think she would make it through that week. I called my dad because he always wanted to know how she was and has even spoken to her a few times over the last few years. As broken up as I was, my dad was too. Unbeknownst to me, he then sat down and wrote my mom a letter. I read it today and was moved to tears. My mom said I could share it because he perfectly captured Nana. Needless to say, this is a letter I will cherish forever.
Dear Virginia,

I understand from Jessica that time is getting short for your mother. I can't tell you how sorry I am.

Virginia, Frances is a great lady! She has always done what she thought was best for everyone else - always thinking of herself last. She has always been so gracious and caring. I guess that is what I'll remember most. Even after we split up, she told me she loved me and I was welcome in her home. Even though I haven't seen her in years, the thought of her being gone makes me very sad.

Brief pause while I wipe my eyes . . .

The contributions that Frances made to Crystal Beach and Tarpon Springs will be difficult to match. She touched so many lives. She will be leaving behind a legacy of kindness, caring, and thoughtfulness!

I'm sure in God's eyes she has successfully completed his plan for her. Isn't that what life is really all about?!

Virginia, as we miss her, and we will, be happy for her also. Frances will be entering a Kingdom greater than we can imagine and she will be at peace!

I write this with great love and affection!


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Nana's Retirement from NationsBank (now Bank of America)

Originally posted on Remembering Frances on July 14, 2009.

Nana retired from NationsBank (initially Ellis National Bank and now Bank of America) on her 80th birthday, July 18, 1996, after 40 years of employment at the bank. During her long tenure, she was the first woman to become Vice President of any bank in the Ellis Bank Group and she mastered three different computer systems in 15 years - a feat for anyone of any age, but especially for a woman of her generation.

I remember when Ellis National Bank initially merged with another bank in the early 1980s to become NCNB. As part of the merger, the bank, for the first time ever, went to a computer system for banking. Each banker had to learn the new computer system and pass a computer competency exam in order to continue their employment. At that time, Nana was about 65 and thinking about possibly retirement. I remember sitting around her dinner table in Crystal Beach listening to her talk about whether or not she should retire and her beliefs about whether she could pass the computer exam. She honestly wasn't so sure.

But Nana was no quitter. She was a lifelong learner and believed education was everything. She was not going to let some computer system best her into retirement. So she studied and practiced everyday before and after work and when it was time to take the computer test, she passed it with the highest score of any banker, including many bankers 30 or 40 years her junior.

Over the years, the computer system would change two more times during her tenure with the bank. Each time, she had to pass a competency exam to keep her job and each time she scored the highest of any banker.

Before she retired in 1996, she learned how to use email. I'll never forget the day I looked at my email at Hogan & Hartson in Washington DC and I had an email from Nana. We emailed back and forth a couple of times before she retired. Although she never used them again, having those computer skills was a source of considerable pride for Nana. She didn't know any other 80 year old women who could use a computer and send emails across country.

The video below was made on the day of her retirement. The local ABC affiliate station came to NationsBank that day and did a story on her. It aired that night. We stayed up and watched it together. Enjoy!

Frances Paulk Retirement from Orange Video Guest on Vimeo.

Frances Scruggs Paulk Bredemeier - July 18, 1916 - July 12, 2009

This is the obituary that will appear in the St. Petersburg Times and the Tampa Tribune. It first appeared on Remembering Frances.

Frances Scruggs Paulk Bredemeier was born July 18, 1916 in a log house out in the country in Batesville, Mississippi to Robert and Lily Scruggs. When she was 16 years old, she canned the most greens beans in all of the State of Mississippi 4-H Clubs. This won her a trip to the 1932 Chicago World’s Fair where she met and had breakfast with Amelia Earhart a few month’s after Miss Earhart’s historic solo flight across the Atlantic. She was Class Valedictorian and Commencement Speaker when she graduated from Batesville High School in 1934, with a full scholarship to Bellhaven College in Bellhaven, Mississippi.

She married Jesse E. Paulk on September 30, 1938. They lived in Batesville where her husband was head of Paulk Brothers Well Drilling and Plumbing. On April 23, 1956, Jesse Paulk brought in the largest gas well ever to be brought in the Southeastern United States. They were members of Batesville Presbyterian Church and she was a member of the Batesville Woman’s Club, which helped get the phrase “under God” added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954.

In 1956, Mrs. Paulk and her husband Jesse and their children, Virginia and Michael, moved to Crystal Beach, Florida. She worked for Ellis National Bank in Tarpon Springs, Florida (later to become Bank of America), where she was the first woman Vice President in the Ellis Bank Group. She retired from banking after 40 years on July 16, 1996, just two days before her 80th birthday.

In Florida, Mrs. Paulk was a charter member of the Crystal Beach Community Church, which was founded in 1957 by the Rev. C.W.A. Bredemeier, whom she later married on August 28, 1971, after her husband Jesse Paulk died on September 12, 1961. She was Church Secretary and Sunday School Teacher. She was a member of the Tarpon Springs Hospital (now Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital) Women’s Auxiliary. Mrs. Paulk was also a member and secretary for the Palm Harbor Junior High School PTA; secretary-treasurer of the Crystal Beach Chapter of Boy Scouts of America and received the Mother of an Eagle Scout Award; and a member of the National Association of Bank Women, Inc. having served as Treasurer of the Gulf Coast Group of N.A.B.W. She was nominated for listing in Who’s Who of American Women; she was the first recipient of the Courtesy Award given by the Greater Tarpon Springs Chamber of Commerce; she was named Woman of the Year by the American Business Women Association Tarpon Springs Charter Chapter; and Mrs. Paulk was also a Kentucky Colonel, having been awarded this honor by the Governor of Kentucky in 1974. She was selected for lifetime membership in the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels for her work as an ambassador of good will and fellowship, based upon her strength of character, leadership and dedication to the welfare of others and for “living a life that placed others above self.” Frances was also a member in good standing in the Kentucky Colonels’ Good Works Program.

Her daughter Virginia was with her in Florida since she went blind as a result of macular degeneration and glaucoma in 2002. In October 2003, Mrs. Paulk, with the assistance of her daughter Virginia, was responsible for causing Verizon, Inc. to set up Call Centers for Customers with Disabilities in all 50 states. Also, due to the diligent efforts of Mrs. Paulk and Virginia, Verizon, Inc. since 2003 allows all customers who are unable to dial telephone numbers to simply “0” and the operator will then dial the number for them without any extra charges or fees.

Mrs. Paulk was best known for sweet Southern drawl, her kind and gentle ways, her honesty and dependability, her willingness to “go the extra mile” for friends and acquaintances alike. She was also a talented seamstress, who made all Virginia’s clothes until after she went off to college, as well as her own. She enjoyed reading, walking, cooking, sewing, needlepoint, working in her garden, playing the piano and bridge, travels to Germany, Chicago and Washington D.C. She enjoyed most her time spent with her family and friends. Her favorite activity, however, was participating in weekly church services and devoted her life living Christ’s word through her actions.

Mrs. Paulk is survived by her daughter, Virginia P. Gardner of Arlington Heights, Illinois, her son Dr. Michael E. (Maureen) Paulk of Payson, Arizona, her 4 grandchildren Jessica Gardner, David Gardner, Jesse Paulk and Ryan Paulk, her sister Dixie Gladney, her nieces Bobbie Ruth (Charles) Lavender of Roanoke, Virginia; Charlayne (Richard) Lamb of Batesville, Mississippi; her nephews Robert Harold Gladney and Vernon R. (“Sonny”) (Elizabeth Ann) Butler; her 5 great-nieces: Robbie (A.G.) Nichols, Dixie Lamb, Mazie Lamb, Elesha (Troy) Tucker, Mary Elizabeth Butler, her 3 great-nephews Yancy Butler, Garth Gladney, and Tom (Andrea) Gladney; her cousin Cornelia Waldrup DeFrances of Baton Rouge, Louisana; step-son-in-law Jim Erdman, step-son-in-law Jim Erdman; step-daughter Betty Earle (Don) Bredemeier Huffman; step-grandchildren the Rev. Chris Erdman, James Erdman, Julie Huffman, and Paul Huffman; and other family and friends. On the Paulk side of the family, she is survived by Buddy Paulk, Pam Paulk Kuiper, Gene Paulk, Dennis Paulk, Katie Paulk, Ronnie Pinder, and Dixie Gilpen. She was preceded in death by her brother Robert Scruggs, Jr.; her sisters Robbie Scruggs, Mazie Scruggs, and Johnnie Scruggs Butler; her step-daughter Margaret Ann Bredemeier Erdman, and her husbands Jesse E. Paulk and Rev. C.W.A. Bredemeier.

Visitation will be at Vinson’s Funeral Home at 456 E. Tarpon Ave. in Tarpon Springs, Florida on Friday, July 17, 2009, from 6pm – 8pm.

A Celebration of Life service will be held on what would be Mrs. Paulk’s 93rd birthday at Crystal Beach Community Church 625 Crystal Beach Ave., Crystal Beach, Florida on Saturday, July 18, 2009, at 2pm. There will be a refreshments and a Birthday Cake in the Fellowship Hall afterwards for Family and Friends. The Reverend Dr. Susie Cashion will officiate.

Following services in Florida, her daughter Virginia & her grandchildren Jessica and David will accompany Frances’ body to her hometown of Batesville, Mississippi.

Complete details of the services and internment along with many memories and pictures of Mrs. Paulk can be found at Remembering Frances.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Crystal Beach Community Church, P.O. Box 571, Crystal Beach, Florida 34681 for restoration & protection of the church’s 60-year-old stained glass windows. Please write “Frances Paulk Memorial” in the MEMO section of your check.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Rest In Peace Nana

This is my favorite picture of Nana. It was taken on Thanksgiving Day on Caladesi Island, but I don't remember what year.

Yesterday afternoon at 3:10pm ET, my Nana, Frances Scruggs Paulk Bredemeier, went home to be with God. She passed away peacefully after opening her sparkling blue eyes for the first time in 5 days.

At the time of her passing, Nana was just 6 days shy of her 93rd birthday, which I had planned to celebrate with her on Saturday. I will still celebrate with Nana, but the form will be just a bit different from what I had planned.

As I have written about extensively, Nana was my rock. My heart aches and the hole in it is almost unbearable tonight, more than 24 hours after she died. I know I have been extremely fortunate and blessed to have had 38 mostly wonderful years with her and I cherish each one of my memories with her.

In Nana's honor, I have created another blog to celebrate her life. It's called Remembering Frances and on it you'll find many of my memories, newspaper stories, pictures, and even some videos will be appearing in the next day or so. Remembering Frances is also where I will place up-to-date information regarding her services in both Crystal Beach, FL and Batesville, MS.

Amazing Grace was one of Nana's favorite songs, so it seems fitting to end this post with it.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Mr. Bellito Signs Ten Again at Barnes & Noble!

If you went to John Hersey High School any time in the last 30 years, you may have had the wonderful fortune of being taught by Michael Bellito in the English Department. I had him for both creative writing and speech classes. He also coached the Speech team.

Mr. Bellito has recently published his first book - Ten Again - and has been touring the local library circuit doing readings and book signings. I had the great pleasure of seeing him in May at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library. I also ran into him again at the Arlington Heights 4th of July Parade this past weekend and learned that he's got a book signing at Barnes & Noble on Saturday. Trust me, you don't want to miss this.

Ten Again Book Signing by Author Michael J. Bellito
Saturday, July 11th from 11am - 3pm
Barnes & Noble
The Annex of Arlington Shopping Center
13 W. Rand Rd.
(NW Corner of Arl. Hts. Rd. & Rand Rd.; between Panera & Trader Joes)

Arlington Heights, IL 60004

Buy a copy for yourself and someone you love. Trust me.

I'm not going to go into a book review at this point because I haven't finished the book yet, but you can read my earlier comments here and here. Suffice it to say, if you grew up anywhere, but especially if you grew up in Arlington Heights, you will see yourself in Ten Again. Although he doesn't say so in the book, I can tell you that Mr. Bellito grew up in Arlington Heights and so when you hear references to the "Old People's Home" and the field behind it, know that's what today is Lutheran Life Communities (aka the Lutheran Home).

Oh, and when you see Mr. Bellito, be sure to wish him a happy anniversary. He and his beautiful bride are celebrating 33 years of wedded bliss this weekend!

John Hersey High School Class of 1989 20th Reunion!

It's been 20 years since we last walked the halls of John Hersey High School and that means it's time for our 20th Reunion!

The reunion has already begun over on the JHHS Class of 1989 Facebook page. If you're not on Facebook, we've got almost 50% of our class already registered, catching up, and even sometimes meeting up for pre-reunion get-togethers. Facebook is the place to be for all the latest news and Reunion plans.

Thanks to Kelly (Kent) Horna we will have a 20th High School Reunion! She has taken the lead and made all the arrangements, so all the rest of us need to do is (1) reach out to our friends and encourage them to attend and (2) show up!

We will be celebrating during the same weekend Hersey celebrates Homecoming Weekend - October 9-10, 2009.

The fun begins at Friday night's home football game against rival Buffalo Grove. Kickoff is at 7:30pm.

Saturday night we're having a pub crawl!

The night starts off at Pete's of Palatine (POP'S) Bar & Grill, 19 N Bothwell St, Palatine, IL, at 5 pm with cocktails for 1 hour. This is a cash bar.

At 6pm, the party continues at Lamplighter Inn Tavern & Grille, 60 N. Bothwell St., Palatine. There will be a $3-$5 cover charge per person to rent the entire upstairs of Lamplighters. We will have our own bartender and servers. We have 4 hours of catching up, drinking and eating to do. To keep costs down, this will also be a cash bar. A band will move into the upstairs room at 10 pm and you have your choice of staying and listening to the band or you can head over to Durty Nellie's to finish off the night.

Kelly will need a head count and money for the room by October 3rd. You can contact her through Facebook.

For many of us, it's been 20 years since we last saw our friends from high school and quite a few of us had known each other since Kindergarten - or before. Whatever feelings about high school remain, whether our individual experiences were good, bad, or ugly, we all share the unique history of having grown up in the 80s in the idyllic Northwest Suburbs of Chicago. I bet we can all remember what class we were sitting in when the announcement was made about the Space Shuttle Challenger. For me, it was Mrs. Sharer's French Class. A couple of years later, we cheered the football team on to Hersey's first Football State Championship with the quarterback from our class - Duke Tobin. Is it any coincidence that no Hersey sports team has won a State Championship since we left? Some of us spent two days during Senior Year being interviewed by the Today Show as part of Marriage and Family Class and got up early on New Year's Day 1989 to watch whether we made the cut.

Band trips, ACT's and SAT's, Wag's, debate touraments, open campus and lunches at Nikko's, school plays, driver's ed, student council, football games, Orchesis, Homecoming, Turnabout, Prom, smoking on the corner. These were all part of our collective Hersey experience. That we weren't all in the same social circles matters little with the benefit of 20 years of life between then and now. What's important now is coming together to celebrate how far we've come and rejoice in all that we share. It's far more than what ever divided us in the first place.

Yes, it's a busy time in our lives with careers, kids, and many other things. But if not now, then when? Our 20th Reunion only happens once and it will certainly be another 10 years before we're all together again.

I hope everyone will be able to attend. Please reach out to your friends from Hersey Class of 89 - even if it's been 20 years - and know about this event and get registered on Facebook. You can find some on the JHHS Alumni Database, Facebook,, My Space, and the JHHS directory that was published a few years ago. If you can't find them in those places, try calling their parents if they are still in the area. We don't have a reunion planning company, so the success of our 20th Reunion depends on each of us. The more people we personally connect with and invite, the more fun we'll have in October.

See you in October!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Sarah Palin Screwed Women

Let me be clear: I do not like Sarah Palin. I don't agree with the positions she attempts to articulate. I believe she's a hypocrite (e.g., against premaritial sex and birth control as she paraded her pregnant, unmarried teenage daughter all around the country). I believe she was so far in over her head as John McCain's running mate that she had no idea she was in over her head. I believe she was condescending and disrespectful on the campaign trail. Mostly, I believe that she wasn't even close to being ready for the glare of national politics.

But for all the reasons I don't like her, she has also been a trailblazing woman. She's a member of an elite club of 31 women who have ever served as Governor. Can you believe that? In the almost 250 year history of the United States, only 31 women have ever been the CEO of their state. Although the list of female vice presidential candidates is longer, only two women have ever received the vice presidential nomination of a major party - Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin.

As everyone knows by now, she resigned last week as Governor of Alaska. Rumors had been swirling for weeks that she would not run again in 2010 because she wanted to focus on running for president in 2012. Okay. Maybe she'd use the time between November 2008 and early/mid 2011 when she might declare her candidacy to bone up on the issues and crystalize her positions on them, develop a platform that was more than soundbites and had actual substance, have a solid track record of performance, practice her public speaking skills, grow some thicker skin, and learn how not to make mountains out of mole hills.

And then she quit, which took me by surprise as it took many people around the country, including some of her closest advisors if the media reports are to be believed. According to her word salad resignation speech, one of the reasons for quitting the job she was elected to do for four years, could essentially be boiled down to "people picked on me." So what.

Any woman who has ever accomplished anything in life has been picked on. Does Sarah Palin think that Suffragettes were greated with open arms? They weren't. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was rumored to have been a lesbian. So what if she was. Rosa Parks was arrested and lost her job for not giving up a seat on a bus. Ask any of the handful of women running Fortune 500 companies if the red carpet was rolled out for them or if they had to worked harder and overcome more obstacles than their male counterparts. Supreme Court Nominee Sonia Sotomayor has endured horrific comments including a statement by G. Gordon Liddy (of Watergate fame) hoping she doesn't have her period during her confirmation hearings (for the record, she's well past the age of menopause, so there's not much chance of that happening). And, of course, the woman Sarah Palin liked to compare herself to during the campaign, Hillary Clinton, has had a lifetime of people picking on her and her family. In fact, it was Sarah Palin who essentially said Hillary Clinton just needed to suck it up and get over that she had a tough road to hoe.

But it's not just women who publicly broke glass ceilings, but ordinary women who achieved any success in their lives who have faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles. We each have our own stories of when people tried to beat us down, but we kept going. Partly, we kept going for ourselves. But I'm sure that each woman who ever faced any sort of harassment or discrimination in her life and fought through it, did it not only for herself, but at some level, also for the daughters and granddaughters she had or may have and the millions of women who would come after her.

By quitting her job as the CEO of Alaska, and including Sarah Palin there are currently only 7 female Governors, Sarah Palin just added one more obstacle for any woman wanting to hold a position of significance. Who among us hasn't heard the words, "oh, don't mind her. She's just emotional because she's got her period" when we were appropriately outraged. It's not enough that we know that people wonder if we'll leave when we start to have babies or if we have thick enough skin, but now there is rock solid evidence that when the going get tough women leave. I mean, if Sarah Baracuda can't handle the stress, how can the rest of us?

Sarah likes to speak about how she took the difficult road and quit because she could have more impact outside of the state house. She claimed that hunkering down and getting to work in the face of great challenges was the easy way out. I can't imagine that Hillary Clinton ever thought the obstacles and humiliation she faced were "easy." Or that Rosa Parks thought being arrested and fired was "easy." Whether or not she knows it, Sarah Palin is a role model. And she just told countless girls across the country that when the going gets tough, the tough walk away.

Thanks Sarah.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

America The Beautiful

The other morning, I watched Tomorrow (and here), the final episode of The West Wing. In it, Keb Mo sings America The Beautiful at the inauguration of President Matt Santos. It's seems a perfect way to commemorate Independence Day. Happy 4th of July!

Betsey & Ross are 13 Today!

Betsey and Ross earlier this year.

Today is Betsey and Ross's 13th birthday. Oh God. I have teenagers. Well, not really. They're cats. And unlike teenagers, these 13 year olds have begun to slow down a little. Sleep now occupies the vast majority of their day and night, although they do still manage to squeeze in some Indy 500-type racing through the house a few times a day and night. (For more on Betsey & Ross and how they came to be my cats click here).

As I type this, Betsey is laying next to me on my desk, with her little head on my arm. She'll relocate onto the love seat, which she pretty much owns, shortly. Ross is sleeping in a chair. He'll move into the linen closet in an hour or so where he'll stay through the heat of the day. At some point, they'll stop to bathe each other and then curl up on my bed when I go to bed tonight. It's a rough life they live.

Please join me in wishing them a very happy birthday and another year of good health.

Because Betsey and Ross believe that all the 4th of July celebrations are truly for them, please enjoy these festive fireworks, obviously in their honor.*

*I cannot certify that no peeps were hurt in the filming of this video. All I can say is that it's not my fault.

Happy Unindepedence Day!

Most Americans around the country are celebrating Independence Day today. They are gathering at the steps of the National Archives to hear the Town Crier read aloud the Declaration of Independence. They are going to parades, town festivals, bar-b-ques, family gatherings, and watching fireworks. All in all, today is a day of celebration.

We recall that day in 1776 when a small group of thoughtful men stood up for what they believed in, declared us free from taxation without representation, and that each of us is born equal and with the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But not thousands of citizens of the State of Illinois who rely on human services for their survival. In the State of Illinois, they are unequal and without these rights we all hold so dear.

At the hands of selfish, egotistical legislators, who have failed to do the jobs to which they were elected, the most vulnerable citizens of our state have had their rights ripped from them in the cruelest of ways. In case you're unaware, on Tuesday, the Illinois General Assembly failed to pass a full budget that would, among other things, guarantee full funding of human services programs. On Wednesday, Governor Quinn vetoed the 50% budget passed by the General Assembly that would allow some, but not all funding, and all the politicians fled Springfield on vacation until July 14th when they'll return for yet another special session. Really.

Well, except that not everyone went on vacation. Thousands of social service workers across the state went to work on Wednesday morning committed to their causes, yet unsure whether or not they had jobs and could provide the lifelines to the state's most vulnerable citizens. Governor Quinn issued a statement giving them the option of continuing to provide services with no guarantee they'd ever get paid or shut down. Many agencies are now operating with a skeleton staff, but many more, already grossly underpaid by the State, were forced to shut down leaving their clients with no jobs, no assistance, no way to get to doctor appointments, and wondering how long they'll have a roof over their heads.

As I prepare to march in the Arlington Heights 4th of July parade in just a few hours, I know I'll see quite a few politicians in attendance. Parade participation is a favorite politician pastime and today will be no different. I don't know which politicians I'll see, but there's a huge part of me that's tempted to walk up to them and let them know that if they want my vote in the next election, they'll decline to participate in the parade and get back to Springfield and do the job they were elected to do: represent all the people, not just the healthy ones.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Give a Kid a Lunch and He'll Eat for a Day. Deny a Child Food and He'll Get A Job.

I believe that's the proverb I learned in Sunday School once upon a time. Oh wait, it's not.* Although Missouri State Representative Cynthia Davis (R) believes it is.

In her June newsletter, Rep. Davis actually says that schools providing free lunches to kids who qualify for them is a bad idea because it tears families apart and that hunger is a positive motivator, so kids should get a job.

This is what I love about those fun-loving Republicans, always showing their Compassionate Conservative side in the most adorable ways. Remember folks, this is the party of traditional family values and morals (see Mark Sanford and Larry Craig for more on this). This is also the party of God as they like to tell us. Can anyone please show me where in all of Christ's teachings he denied anyone food?

Enjoy Stephen Colbert's take on this.
The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Tip/Wag - Cynthia Davis & Fox News
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorJeff Goldblum

And Keith Olbermann's view . . .

*The actual proverb is "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." Supposedly it's not actually found in the Bible anywhere, although I distinctly recall this from Sunday School. Evidently, it's a Chinese Proverb.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

It's Not a Democrat or Republican Issue. It's a HUMAN Issue.

The State of Illinois is currently operating without a budget because the General Assembly failed to pass one that Governor Quinn would sign. In fact, he vetoed the partial budget they sent him and so as of yesterday, social service agencies across the state were without funding. Many of them have given their employees notice that their jobs will be cut in the next few weeks and others laid people off yesterday.

People who rely on the services provided by many of these agencies - already operating on a shoestring budget given the work they do - will be going without services. That may not seem like a big deal to you or me, but the help developmentally disabled and mentally disabled people receive through these agencies is truly their life line. With assistance, a lot of people are able to live to the fullest of their abilities, have a sense of self-worth and accomplishment, socialize, work, and not be confined to a nursing home or lost in their own brains.

Private agencies that rely on state money in order to provide service had to choose between staying open and providing services and hoping they eventually getting paid by the State (which may never happen) or to shut down and eliminate services. What a horrific choice.

The General Assembly will come back into special session on July 14th to possibly consider overriding Governor Quinn's veto, but that's two weeks away. That's a disgrace. Why should they get to take a two week vacation while thousands of people across the State are suffering because of the lack of action by our lawmakers?

Lawmakers should get back to work and fix this mess they created. Stop holding the most vulnerable citizens of Illinois hostage.

This isn't a Democratic or Republican issue. It's a HUMAN issue.

Related blog posts:
We Must Have Human Services in Illinois
What You Do To The Least Of These, You Do To Me

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

My Love Affair With Michigan

It's no secret that I love Michigan. Well, possibly not all of Michigan, but certainly the northwest corner of the state that includes the Traverse City area. Most specifically, I love Watervale. In fact, I'm counting down the days until I get to sit on the beach and do nothing except count the grains of sand during the day and the stars at night.

Normally, when I watch TV, commercials annoy me. I don't have TiVO or a DVR, so I don't have the option of skipping them. However, when the "Pure Michigan" ads come on, I always stop what I'm doing and watch, longing for the days when I experience my own version of Pure Michigan.

I've collected my favorite Pure Michigan ads for you to enjoy.

Lost & Found

Pure Michigan Backyard

The Potential of Water

A Simple Sunrise