Thursday, November 30, 2006


Nancy White Kelly

I watched the little ole man from the corner of my eye.

On our Thanksgiving journey to my brother’s house, Buddy pulled into a non-descript sandwich shop. We were tired and we were hungry. It didn’t matter what was on the menu or that ambience was lacking. We just wanted food. Turned out that this place’s specialty was spiral-sliced ham.

While we stood in the order line, scores of local people came through the squeaky cabin door to pick up pre-placed orders. That deli must have sold a hundred hams and turkeys during our brief stop. When our order eventually came up, there was only one small table available. Though unwiped, we gladly took it.

A quick sip of sweet southern tea quenched our thirst. Buddy eagerly bit into a savory sandwich stacked high with honey-baked ham. I didn’t. The white-haired man at the take-out counter continued to hold my attention. He was a short, nattily dressed gent plainly misplaced in this Mississippi neighborhood of century-old cotton patches.

When the man’s order came, he paid with a wad full of bills. Then, as if an afterthought, he sat the sacks down and turned our way. There were at least a dozen other people sitting at tables and many more were standing. For some unknown reason he headed our way. Maybe we looked like a long-time married couple who shared similar values.

He greeted us and remarked about the beautiful weather.

“Bet you never had a Thanksgiving serenade.”

“Sure haven’t, “I replied, not knowing exactly what to expect but thinking something unusual was about to happen.

He pulled a harmonica out of his suit pocket and began playing “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” We smiled and thanked him. He proceeded with “Dixie,” and few other whimsical tunes. By then all the customers were fondly watching. We nodded our appreciation. Buddy tried to engage him in conversation, but the focused man was clearly into his music, tuning out any attempt at frivolous intrusion.

Next came “How Great Thou Art” and “Amazing Grace.” And, finally, he reverently played “Taps.”

We were awed. Several patrons clapped. One man wiped away a tear. Without a word, he put the worn, silver harmonica back into his pocket, picked up his sacks, and headed out the screen door.

It was an extraordinary Thanksgiving experience, one of those treasures of serendipity that comes along unexpectedly.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Journal of a Living Lady #286

Nancy White Kelly

Today I am not sitting in a doctor’s office. I am not lying rigid in an MRI tube fighting claustrophobia. No chemotherapy is dripping through my veins. Nope.

At this very moment I am doing what I have always imagined would be the epitome of literary experiences. Alone, on a towering penthouse balcony, I am in a writer’s fairy land. To the left is a majestic golf course. To the right, ocean waves rhythmically lap the sandy dunes. It is sweet solitude, the necessary laboratory of a creative mind.

To top it off, this billionaire ambience, isn’t costing a dime. At least not me. For three days, I get to enjoy such ridiculous opulence. This is in stark contrast to my humble childhood home or current middle-class abode.

In the early 1950’s, there were no high-definition TV’s, DVD’s, i-Pods, or X-boxes to lure me away from the front porch steps. My imagination entertained me and eventually morphed to stories and poems written on torn bits of brown grocery sacks.

While I am enjoying this posh environment, Buddy is not neglected. He is undoubtedly flying high, literally, on this beautiful day. He lives to fly. I love to write. I can fly and have the license to do it. He could write, but lets his Mississippi education chain him to the untruthful idea that he can’t.

A friend is here on business. She invited me to come along to share the journey. Margit is equally awed by the beauty and magnificence of this coastal island in South Carolina. Reservations for the hotels were full. She got bumped up to a resort villa. Sometimes life is better than fair.

While Margit is listening to a seminar speaker at the conference center, I am soaking up the salty air and watching sea birds dive for lunch. Sometimes life is far from fair.

I feel like the Queen of Serendipity. Three years ago, a CEO and regular reader of this column, sent Buddy and me on a first-class trip to the Holy Land.

Old friends and new have been exceptionally nice to this Living Lady. I may never know why, but I am grateful.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Nancy White Kelly

On the way home from visiting an old friend, I chose not to stop by the woods on a snowy evening. Why repeat what Robert Frost so famously did? Instead I stopped by Wal-Mart about forty miles from home.

Christmas is near and I needed to start shopping. Wal-Mart is a bargain hunter’s mecca and I like to save a dollar.

My basket was filled with gifts for friends and family but also included a fluffy bedspread for Buddy and me. It was a nice little splurge.

The clerk had a difficulty scanning the spread. Finally, with a sigh of disgust, she keyed in the numbers manually. Unintentionally, she under-priced the sale price by $9. I noticed the mistake immediately but said nary a word.

I smugly loaded the trunk of my car. It was my quiet little coup. But not for long.

While driving home, an inner voice kept nagging me. Some might call it conscience. I think it was God.

“Thou shalt not steal.”

“But, God." Wal-Mart will never miss $9.”

“Whatsoever is honest, think on these things.”

“It was just $9, Lord. Surely they made more than that in profit on just my purchases.”

“Will you let $9 come between us?”

Throughout the afternoon and part of the night I tried to rationalize keeping the $9. I might as well have robbed a bank. Nobody would ever have known. My children had heard the mantra from my lips many times, “Character is what you are in the dark.” It was dark thirty in the morning when I decided there was nothing to do but make it right.

The next day I penned a note to the Wal-Mart store manager explaining the situation and my need to return the $9. I addressed the envelope, stuck a stamp on it, and dashed in the rain to make sure it went out in the afternoon mail.

A couple of hours later I realized that, in my haste, I had forgotten to put the $9 in the envelope. I dug through my purse. I didn’t have a $5 bill and four ones. However, I did have a $10 bill. That would do.

I went back to the mailbox and retrieved the letter. Using a kitchen knife, I created a small opening in the flap of the envelope and inserted the $10 bill. Mission accomplished. Lesson learned.

Buddy would have noticed the unusual activity had he been home. He left earlier to attend an afternoon meeting. It was almost time for me to join him for our church supper.

I searched through the closet for something different to wear and noticed my mother’s jacket. It was a custom-made, glittery black blazer that I had given her many years ago. My mother loved that coat. When she died, I asked for two things only: that jacket and her cookbook. I use the cookbook often, but the jacket has hung in the closet since 1996.

My dad was the big guy. My mother was small-framed and, until recently, I was much too large to wear the jacket. I slipped the blazer on and, to my pleasant surprise, I could even button it.

With my Bible in hand, I locked the back door and slipped the door key into the pocket of the jacket. Two seconds later the whole community must have heard me shout. Imagine my shock to pull out of the jacket pocket, not one, but TWO $10 bills.

Coincidence? You decide, but I know the hand of God when I feel it.