A Year of gifts
SOMETIMES THE ROADBLOCKS, SETBACKS, AND HEARTBREAKS OF LIFE TURN OUT TO BE THE GREATEST GIFTS OF ALL . . .
We have an unsolved mystery at the office. Nothing significant, but a mystery nonetheless. After some time away over the holidays, I was back at the office on the second day of the new year. As I filled my coffee cup and prepared to face a full inbox after nearly two weeks away, I spared a glance at the still-decorated Christmas tree as I made my way back to my office. I remember thinking I should find twenty minutes to pull off the ornaments and stow the tree away until next year. I’d get to it if I could.
Later, when the light faded outside my office windows, I realized it was time to head home. I flipped off the lights as I was the last one to leave, again passing the still festive tree on my way out the door. Maybe I’d get around to it the next day.
I didn’t have to. When I returned the next morning, the tree stood bare. Someone had taken down all the decorations and stowed them away. No ornaments remained except one lone little bulb, still hanging on a lower branch. There was something about that single bulb that spoke to me.
Curious, I asked around. We only have a small group in our office area. No, none of them took down the decorations. Perhaps it was the woman who does such an amazing job cleaning our offices after hours. But she wouldn’t know where to put the tub of decorations. Whoever it was, they left a little something behind.
That one little gold bulb reminded me of how we almost always leave something behind us as we move through life, even when we don’t realize it.
Think about how many people we interact with each day. Regardless of whether our encounter is brief or lengthy, the quality of our interaction has at least the potential to impact us both. A kind word or a smile may be all it takes to brighten someone’s day. We’ve left a little something positive in our wake. On the flip side, if we’re having a crummy day and get impatient with someone, we can pass those bad vibes on, too.
It’s like we leave a little trail of breadcrumbs behind us, everywhere we go. We seldom leave things exactly as they were before we pass through. Sometimes the impact we make will be fleeting, sometimes it will endure.
We see this in nature, too. A dropped candy wrapper here, a trampled flower there, and suddenly a tiny bit of beauty is lost. Over time, the effects of carelessness can compound. We need to tread carefully, doing what we can to nurture and not destroy.
Nearly everything we do will leave at least a small imprint on the world. Our spoken words have the power to have an immediate impact on someone else. Our written words record our thoughts and could impact others, possibly for years to come. A kind gesture that perhaps seems almost inconsequential could literally save someone's life.
I’m saddened and mystified by the dilemma we find ourselves in right now in the US due to the partial government shutdown, but it warms my heart to see men, women, and children stepping forward to help others who suddenly find themselves in difficult positions through no fault of their own. Stories abound of people and businesses doing what they can to help. I heard about a restaurant in an airport offering free meals to TSA workers. I saw an interview with a woman who's faced hard times herself in the past, and now she's providing financial assistance to people who gave her a job when she needed it the most.
There are many similar examples, playing out all across the country. I hope the media continues to focus on the positive stories because, as we all know, what you focus on grows.
We’ve seen strangers helping strangers, countless other times. People helping people in times of struggle. Whether it’s a fire, a flood, or horrific acts of violence, people come together in times of need.
These are the kind of footsteps I hope we can all strive to leave behind us as we travel through life.
Make someone’s day, don’t ruin it. Plant a tree, don’t cut it down. Write a funny story and make someone laugh instead of dashing off a scathing comment meant to force your opinion on someone else.
Attitude is everything. Your own attitude can make or break your day. Just as importantly, it can make or break someone else’s, even when you don’t mean for it to.
We still don't know who undressed our tree. I could keep asking questions, but sometimes a little mystery is fun. I took the tree down and stowed it away later that morning, but I brought the small gold ornament into my office. It will serve as a reminder to me.
Everything we do leaves something behind. Make it count. Kim
What are some of your favorite childhood memories? Who is a part of those memories? Do any of them include special places?
My hope is we all have those times we enjoy traveling back to in our minds. Back to a time when we’d play more and worry less. If there was any screen time, it was Saturday morning cartoons.
When I close my eyes and let my mind wander back to my early years, I scan my memory banks for the things that still bring a smile to my face. The scenes I see in my mind's eye almost always include sunshine, warmth, and water.
During my pre-teen years, we had a camper parked in a spot on a reservoir just outside of the small town where I grew up. I can’t remember too much about the camper other than it was silver and curvy on the outside and walls were lined with wood paneling inside. It wasn't anything fancy (and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t one of those coveted Airstream models), but boy did we have fun.
Mom worked half days, and we spent almost every summer afternoon out at the lake. We didn't care that the beach consisted of coarse sand or that the lake bottom was first rocky then mucky the further you walked into the water. We didn’t know anything different.
I remember my cousin trying to learn to water ski off the end of the wooden dock. Based on the wipe out he suffered, that was a flawed plan. I’ll never forget how my brother, who was no more than five at the time, chased my poor mother along the shoreline with a harmless garter snake in his hand, laughing all the way as she screamed in horror. And then there was the time Mom lost the diamond out of her wedding band. She was pretty sure she lost it somewhere at the campground. We scoured the grounds, hoping to find it for her. Talk about looking for a needle in a haystack! It may still be out there somewhere.
Eventually, my folks must have sold the camper. I think it was when they took up golf. Instead of lake time, we began spending summer afternoons at the swimming pool. Every hour, on the hour, the lifeguard would blow her whistle and kick us out of the water for ten minutes of "adult swim." We didn't care because that meant snack time. Snickers and Mr. Pibb were my snacks of choice back then.
There were also early morning swim lessons. I still shiver at the thought of the chilly air. The water often felt warmer…until it was time to get out. Our city pool also had two diving boards. One was low and extremely bouncy. The other was a high dive. I’m not sure which part scared me more: the climb up the stairs, that first gut-wrenching walk out to the end of the board, or the free fall into the water below. Eventually, I came to love those diving boards, but not until after I pushed through my initial fear.
My memories morph again as I enter my teenage years. Summer days transitioned into a combination of time in the sun and time spent at what would be my introduction to the working world. By the way, this reminds me of something else. Everyone should wait tables at some point in their lives. Until you do, you can’t truly appreciate how challenging it can be. I’m a generous tipper today because of my experiences at sixteen!
When I wasn’t working, I was often back out at the very same lake from my younger years. The public beach, south of where we used to camp, was a favorite hangout. Instead of hanging out with my parents and brothers, my memories include great friends, bikinis, music, and suntans. There were cute boys and boat rides, water skiing and inner tubes. Ah, those were the days!
Well…except maybe for our tanning techniques. I need only look at the many sunspots now marring the skin on my arms and legs to concede the baby oil we doused ourselves in probably wasn’t the best idea.
As happens to so many of us, time spent at work grew from part-time hours to full-time careers. Cute boys were replaced with a cute husband and little ones of our own. We knew we wanted our kids to have their own childhood memories of time at the lake. We just needed to figure out how to make it happen.
We started with week-long vacations, taken with extended family, at various resorts around Minnesota. Certain things stand out when I think back to the different places we rented. One place had two functioning cabins, which served our needs well, but there were also three or four older cabins, ringing an old fire pit, that had fallen into disrepair. The new owners hadn't yet had time to rejuvenate the quaint little structures, but if you've read my novel "Whispering Pines," those small units were the inspiration behind the cabins ringing the fire pit in my story.
When one week at a resort was no longer enough for us, and with baby number three not more than a month old, we took the plunge and bought a camper of our own. We enjoyed ten, fun-filled summers in that camper, parked in a campground an hour and a half from our home and not far from our hometown. I’ll always be thankful our kids had the opportunity to develop precious memories of their own from those times with friends and wonderful 4th of July celebrations.
Our family outgrew the camper and we took the next big step. We bought a cabin of our own. It was essential for us to have a place at the lake. Our cabin, which is situated on the very same reservoir where I spent so many of my childhood summers, is now our favorite gathering place. Our hope is it’ll draw our kids back, with their own families, for years to come.
Wow...I need to pause for a moment. Thank you for allowing me to bring you along on that trip down memory lane. Honestly, before sitting down to write this piece, I hadn’t really thought about the many different ways I’ve spent my life, or at least the summers of my life, around water. It’s a bit surprising, living my whole life in landlocked North Dakota!
I also never would have guessed those memories would eventually become such an integral part of the novels I write. Heck, up until the last five or six years, I’d never even considered writing books. One of my favorite things to do at the lake has always been to sit in the sunshine, or swing in a hammock, with a good book in my hands. Now, instead of only reading them, I’m writing them too.
I love the fact I’ve been able to take something I enjoy and use it to feed my creativity. I incorporate so much of myself and my memories into my books. I sincerely hope I’ve been able to capture some of the magic of time spent at the lake in my stories.
This can serve as a wonderful reminder of how our life experiences, both good and bad, can someday serve us in surprising ways. It also brings me back to my original questions. What are some of your favorite childhood memories that never fail to warm your heart when you allow yourself some quiet time to think back to when you were a kid? Or do memories pop into your brain when you least expect them? When that happens, pause for a minute. Dust off those old memories and give yourself time to experience them again, even if it’s only in your mind.
I’d love for you to share some of those things that make you smile in the comments below.
I've had so much fun incorporating my love of lake-time into my writing over the past couple of years. I thought I'd drop a link in here for you, just in case you haven't yet read my free novella "First Summers at Whispering Pines 1980". I invite you to take a little mini-vacation with me back to a simpler time to enjoy some summertime fun.
There’s more than one way to beat the winter blues! Kim
Hello everyone and welcome to my blog! My name is Kimberly Diede and I'm a self-published fiction author and family girl. When time permits, I am happiest with a great cup of coffee in one hand and a book in the other. I love to alternate between reading and writing. Winters here can be long, dark and cold. Summers are unpredictable, lovely and always too short. Every season of the year, as in every season of life, is a gift. Let's celebrate it together!