Starting Over

Starting over is hard.

You think you’ve got your course charted and all you have to do from here on is follow it. But then Life says, “Nope! Start over! You have to reinvent yourself now.” I’ve had to do it – a couple of plenty times.

Mama had to do it too. I came across this artifact of her start over. (First picture – Legal Terminology and Secretarial Procedures Course Certificate.)

This wasn’t in her plan – completing this course to refresh her skills – for this next career she hadn’t planned on having.

She had gone to Business School after high school, then worked as a stenographer and secretary. (Pictured with co-workers at that job below, circa 1945.)

After she married, she again worked as a secretary until she had her first child in 1950. From that point on, the plan was wife, mother, homemaker.

Then, about 25 years into this plan. I said 25. Years. More than half of her entire life at that point – when she had two grown children, two teenaged children, and four grandchildren, Life said, “Start over! Figure out how to work outside the home again! Become a legal secretary, and do that until you retire!”

So, she did that. (Pictured at her desk at West Texas Legal Services somewhere between late 70s and 1991.)

Looking at the framed certificate from 1978 now, I’m so proud of her. She should have been more celebrated for what she accomplished. When she completed this course, she was just shy of 52. I was 16. I knew in part what she was going through – to the depth a 16-year-old could understand it. But I know it much more deeply now. I know how hard that was.

She did the hard things. She didn’t complain. She took care of herself. And she took care of us.

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Mama Said

“Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” That’s one of the things I remember Mama saying more than once. I can still see her one of the times, standing in front of the kitchen sink, saying it to me. It’s from the Bible. It means “Don’t borrow trouble.”

I want to share with you some of the other things I remember hearing her say multiple times. She didn’t originate all of them, but she’s where I heard them all first, and at least a few are original to her.

Mama said, “He can get glad in the same pants he got mad in.” This is one of my favorites. I think it means that 1) everything is temporary and 2) You have responsibility for managing your emotions.

She said, “Well, that’s better than a hole in your sock.” I believe this one is an encouragement to find a way to see what’s good about whatever the current situation is. Maybe it could be better than it is, but as long as it rises above hole in your sock, let’s be happy about it and move on. If it really isn’t better than a hole in your sock, you can move on to another one she said – “Well, it’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.”

She said, “Scat cat! Get your tail out of the butter!” And so do I. It makes my grandchildren smile. It means, “Hey, you sneezed! Let’s giggle about it.” Much more fun than “Bless you.” (I think some people say “get your tail out of the gravy,” but Mama said butter.)

She said, “Pretty is as pretty does” and also “Put on some lipstick.” She didn’t really ever say these two together like that; I just think it’s funny to combine them. But she did say both of them to me fairly often – so I tried to act right and remember to put on lipstick if I was going to be somewhere she thought called for it.

She said, “I was born at night, but not last night!” I think we all know what that one means – basically, “I’m not buying what you’re selling,” if someone was trying to put something over on her. I used this one quite often when I was a teacher of teenagers. She also said, “I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck” which means pretty much the same thing.

She said, “It’s tomorrow?” This was in response to me telling her – on my way to bed – “Oh, Mama I forgot. I need something to wear for Western Day tomorrow at school.” The next morning, on her sewing machine, was a western style, quilt-print pinafore ready for me to wear that day.

She said, “Anything that doesn’t bite me first,” when I asked her what she’d like to eat.

She said “Be still . . . Close your eyes . . . Breathe . . . Don’t talk . . . Don’t think. This was in response to my question, “Mama, how do you go to sleep?” I was seriously fascinated by her ability to do this after watching it happen several times while she read to me at night, or right after reading, as she lay beside me, her eyes closed, mine wide and wondering. This seems like the kind of question many adults might decide to ignore – especially when they were just interrupted from falling asleep – but she gave me a thoughtful, gentle answer. I appreciated her instructions and attempted to follow them. I never could get the hang of it. One of my friends once said, “Yeah Johnnie still can’t get her baby to sleep through the night.

She said, “Wiggle Worm” “Hot House Plant” and “Goofus.” These are all things she called me, and they were all endearments. Goofus is my favorite. (When I was an adult, she called me Morticia once because I liked the smell of a musty room.)

She said, “Y’all clash because you’re so much alike.” Gasp! How dare she?! This was her response to me when I complained about some trouble I was having with my brother Paul. At the time I was very young and greatly offended. But, yeah . . . she knew her kids. What she saw then is very clear now, and I don’t mind at all being very like him. He gets me.

She said, “Come on, we’ll catch him!” Then she propped me on her hip and ran out to stop my brother David just before he began backing out of the driveway, so he could kiss me good-bye first – because I was having a proper loud melt-down that he had left the house without doing so. She leaned me into the car and he kissed me good-bye. Then everything was okay.

She said, “I can’t believe I’m walking alone, with two little children, after dark in this part of town.” She said this as she walked along a sidewalk with me and Byron toward the New Isis theater in North Ft. Worth, to see a movie. I think it was The Cowboys with John Wayne. Or maybe it was that other one she took us to that I’m pretty sure she thought was a completely different type of movie – Monty Python and The Holy Grail.

She also took us to Casa Manana. We saw the musical Porgy and Bess there. We heard Roger Miller sing there. And listened to George Lindsay tell jokes. We must have seen Ruta Lee there too or else I’m not sure why I would even know there is a Ruta Lee.

Mama gave us experiences. She gave herself some too. One day, many years ago, she told me a secret she had kept for many years before that. She told me that one evening on her way home to Azle from her job in Ft. Worth, somewhere along the side of Hwy 199, she saw one of those giant slides that had been put up for people to come pay to slide down. She pulled over, paid the fee, climbed her little self up there and slid down. Then she got back in the car, drove home, and cooked us dinner. I’m so glad she did that and glad she finally told me about it. She deserved a little break and some silly fun.

Once when something happened to me that I didn’t understand, Mama said “Thank you for telling me; I’ll take care of it.” And then she did. And what I did is I just went on with my childhood starting immediately after she finished her sentence. I went with no worry about it or ill effects from it, and it never happened again – because Mama had it. She was a genius at loving and protecting us. I wish I had always been smart enough to tell her everything.

She said something with no words. One of the sweetest and most powerful things she ever said to me made no sound at all. We had climbed up together to the top of the Tree Slide at Six Flags. The climb scared me pretty badly and when we entered the almost completely dark interior at the top, I was absolutely terrified. Overcome. Paralyzed with fear. Until I felt her hand on my leg. That’s it. Just a soft touch. No words. It was some kind of powerful magic. Everything was instantly fine, my fear completely gone. With that touch she said to me, “You are perfectly safe. No harm will come anywhere near you. Because I am here.” I immediately knew this was the truth. We slid down that slide, back into the sunlight, and all was well – just like her hand told me it was.

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Hole In My Heart

This gallery contains 3 photos.

Years ago (months or years into my first round of talk therapy) my therapist gave me an article titled, “The Power To Change The Past.” It was about the healing power of forgiveness. He then gave me a series of … Continue reading

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Heartbreak Ghosts

Heartbreak is my constant companion.

Dreams that didn’t and won’t ever come true walk beside me every day like ghosts.

Sometimes they walk quietly, matching my every step, brushing against me softly to make sure I know they’re still there.

Sometimes something gives them more strength, and then they shriek and cling to every part of me as they try to pull me down under the earth.

Sometimes I want to give up and let them.

Nov. 20, 2022

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What kind of cookies?

I have a very simple, very yummy sugar cookie recipe. I’ve made it lots of times.

Here’s what happened when I tried to make it tonight – while also making a casserole, heating up previous casserole for Evan who couldn’t wait for today casserole to be ready, and holding Callie who couldn’t wait a few minutes for Mommy to get out of the shower.

First, I melted the butter – makes it easier to mix and then you can chill it to get dough to right consistency before baking.

Added the sugar. Stirred it into the melted butter. See? So easy!

Now vanilla. Nope. No vanilla. No problem. Almond extract.

I really thought we had eggs. We don’t.

Did you know bananas can be used as a substitute for eggs in cookies? Yep. I mean they’ll be banana flavored instead of just butter and sugar, (and almond instead of vanilla) but that’s okay. I like banana. And almond. So add mashing and measuring bananas to the doing several things at once fun.

Okay, recipe – What does that say next? Oh yes. 1 and 1/3 cup – but I’m doubling everything, because I really like cookies and we have plenty of bananas, so in goes 2 and 2/3 cups . . . of water. Ummm. What? Yep, that sure was water. It says FLOUR Donna. And you KNEW that! When did you – someone who has made SO many cookies in your life – ever put that much WATER (or any water at all?) in COOKIE DOUGH?!

Me and that bowl of double recipe portions of melted butter, sugar, bananas, almond extract, and water stared at each other for a while.

Finally I decided, Welp! Not sure what it’s gonna be, but it’s gonna be somethin’. And whatever it is it’ll be a a quadruple recipe of it. I put in the same amount again of butter, bananas, sugar, almond extract, oh and baking powder. Forgot to mention the baking powder. Now the flour.

Guess what.

Yyyyeah, not enough flour to quite get another 2 and 2/3 cups. So… oatmeal to finish off the measurement. Then, what the heck, more oatmeal till I get tired of stirring.

So, Evan’s fed, next casserole is in process, and the Meant to be Sugar, now Banana Almond Oatmeal cookie dough is chilling in the refrigerator. I’ll let you know if it turns into cookies.

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Words from one of The Greatest Generation

My mother was 17 years old when she graduated as Valedictorian of the Rhome High School class of 1943. While she delivered her Valedictory to classmates and guests at the graduation, the man she would later meet and marry, my father, was serving as a U.S. Marine in World War II. He had entered service about 5 months earlier, two days before the first anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. (He had to wait until he was 18 to enlist.) He fought in the Solomon Islands. After the war, he was stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Eagle Mountain Lake. Mama went to business school after graduating, then worked as a stenographer on the base. That’s where they met.

What follows is Mama’s Valedictory to her class. Her words take on deeper relevance to me as I consider the history we know now that she didn’t know then. I am struck by the intelligence and maturity her writing demonstrates. Did you know about The Beveridge Plan that Mama references in her speech? I did not until I read this and then looked it up – it’s worth a Google. I already knew Mama was smart, but here is evidence.

I wish there existed a video or audio of her presenting the speech. But you know – 1943. I’ll do my best to recreate it. I’m told I sound a good bit like her. If you’d like to hear me reading her speech, here is a link. (The applause at the end is for her, not me.)

If you’d like to just read it yourself, here it is:


THEME: The attitude of America in the years to come will be that of us who graduate today.

By Grace Imogene Johnston

Ladies and Gentlemen:

We who are graduating in this class of 1943 are facing the most important problems yet faced by any class to graduate during our lives. Many of us will soon be on our way to the fighting fronts. All of us will be doing our share in the great world war effort.

Graduating classes of the past have faced problems of local or national significance. Ours faces problems which can be answered only by considering the world as a whole. Already the airplane has altered forever our concept of time and distance. In the world which we face there will be no barriers of sea or desert. Business transactions and all forms of human relations will be carried on between all parts of a rapidly shrinking world.

Does all this still appear a vision to you? It is a reality. In the sky now are pilots, with their training planes, bombers, fighter planes, and transports. The purpose of it all now is to defeat an enemy and to preserve a way of life, to build the structure for a better world. Out of the victory will come a day bright with opportunity for all. With our opportunity in the future there is an equally great obligation.

Almost more significant, we are the ones who will be gaining our place in the world as the post-war civilization is being built. What the world is to be depends in a great measure on us, on the knowledge we gain in the next few years, on the type of mature adult we become. WE must soon become valuable workers and fighters. We must then develop into valuable thinkers as well.

What pattern the world we enter will have has not yet been fully cut out. Perhaps we shall have some part in the cutting of the pattern.

To be worthy of the responsibility which must necessarily be ours, we must yearn, read, study, evaluate – so that when the time comes, we will be equipped to take this part.

Our national leaders are even now studying, investigating the changes which will come to the world economy in order to make this world a better place, a place where wars of greed will not be necessary. These changes may be immense. They may need to be only small but changes there will be, and every man is but one of many seeking the solution.

We too will be among the seekers when this war is over. A few of us may be preparing the blueprints, many of us will be carrying out the work of these few. Therefore, we must be prepared to be intelligent citizens, informed citizens, so that through the democratic system of selection we may choose leaders who will truly represent us.

We must use wisely the tools of democracy. WE must learn to evaluate those who seek political office. We must learn the operation of the referendum, the recall, the community meeting, and the other instruments which we as American citizens will possess.

Too often do we think, foolishly, that the sort of peace we will have depends upon far-off obscure decisions by men whom we do not know. We hope that it will be a good peace and that it will ensure peace in the years to come.

We must not be content to hope. We must not be lulled into laziness by those who prefer to see us apathetic, disinterested clumps of earth who pay our taxes and believe that our responsibility in government ends there.

Our responsibility does not end there. This very war is being fought to preserve our right to do more than pay our taxes and be silent.

We cannot, however, think of ourselves alone. We cannot say, “Here in our community we have good government, we have a low disease and death rate, we have no poverty, we have no un-employment” and believe that we have achieved all that our position as American citizens demands of us. We cannot sit back and rest on our laurels until we can say this of the world.

There have been presented already many plans to ensure this security, notably the Beveridge Plan, which is intended to bring freedom from want to the people of Great Britain. There have been similar plans conceived in our own country and others.

We may not be the planners of these great reforms, but we will very likely carry them out and, perhaps, plan others. Therefore, we must be prepared.

The next four or five years, more or less, will be war years, and, as such, important years. But the years that will count most in the whole course of civilization are the years which will follow. Let us be ready to make the best of those years.

No high school class has yet graduated during our lives which faced as critical a period as the one ahead of us. No other such class has faced as many opportunities and responsibilities in the life ahead. No other class has had to consider so carefully along what lines it should work.

With the closing of this occasion today we cease to exist as a high school class and it becomes my duty to say farewell to the Board of Education which as so ably directed the school system. We thank you for your consideration and the generous application of your wisdom.

To the members of the faculty, we say farewell. They have endeavored to encourage the good in us and develop our individual possibilities. You have been good friends as well as our instructors.

To our parents we do not say farewell, but we wish to thank you for making possible for us a good public school education. As we say farewell to the school you have provided for us, we hope that our benefits will give you joy and pride and partly repay for your work.

Classmates, we may say farewell but there is no farewell between us. As we go different ways in our lives to come, we will be always held together through bright days and dark ones by the common possession of the principles and ideals taught in this school.

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No, not one.

                   “There is no person you can be sure will never let you down.”

A counselor told me this many years ago. I didn’t necessarily disbelieve it then – but I also didn’t completely grasp how completely true it really is. (I was young.)

It doesn’t mean that EVERY person you know definitely WILL let you down. It just means that no person is incapable of it. And to one degree or another, most everyone will eventually. Because you know . . . people.

These disappointments can range from “Well that was unexpected and didn’t feel great, but whatever” all the way to “Oh look. There’s my heart on the floor broken in a million pieces.”

It’s not fun to know, but it’s safer to know. It’s better to not put anyone up on a pedestal – unless they are actually made of stone.

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Unconditional? Almost Unheard Of.

How uncommon is unconditional love and acceptance?

For how many people walking this earth right now,  do you hold this type of love and complete acceptance?

How many people do you know who have this for you?

Are you sure?

Pick someone in your mind who you love this way and feel returns that love.

Got it? Okay.

What if, at some point, after deep soul searching, you stop believing something that, right now, today, the two of you both believe deeply? You don’t ask them to stop believing what they believe – but obviously you feel they are in error, just like they think you are, because you both believe sincerely in opposing ideas.

Can you do that and still love, unconditionally accept, and even respect that person?

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I Am . . .

by Donna Hunter

I wrote these four “I Am” poems in September 2009 while I was a student at Tarrant County College.

A Mother

I am their mother.
I wonder if I did the best I could have.
I hear them tell me I did a good job.
I see that they love and respect me.
I want them to be happy.
I am Sarah’s Mother.

I pretend sometimes that I’m feeling better than I am in front of them.
I feel so very proud of them.
I touch their faces and hair and hug them.
I worry that I’ve hurt them somehow by leaving out something they needed.
I cry when they cry.
I am Will’s Mom.

I understand them better than anyone does.
I say, “I love you” and they know it is true.
I dreamed of being a mother and my dream came true.
I try to be what they need and not what they don’t.
I hope I’m succeeding.
I am Hunter’s Ma.

A Student

I am a student again.
I wonder where I’ll end up this time.
I hear the sounds of learning and living.
I see sunshine and blue jeans.
I want more of this.
I am happier.

I pretend I am 18 instead of 47 and did this when I should have.
I feel most of the time that things will be ok anyway.
I touch the keys of my laptop, the pages of my books, my hair while I study.
I worry about the future sometimes.
I cry when I worry about the future.
I am determined to keep moving forward.

I understand that there is always more to understand.
I say “What’s next?” and wait to find out.
I dream of a career that thrills me.
I try to plan my life, but life does not always cooperate.
I hope I succeed anyway.
I am having fun.

A Dancer

I am a dancer.
I wonder how I managed to wait so long in life to start doing something that I love so much.
I hear music and feel compelled to move to it – Country, Ballroom, Swing, Salsa, Zumba!
I see others dance well and admire it.
I want to know how to dance every type of dance.
I am happy when I dance. It is my drug of choice.

I pretend sometimes that I’m floating on air when I’m spinning on the dance floor
I feel in my element on the dance floor.
I touch lots of sweaty hands when I go out dancing, so I wash frequently.
I worry about being prevented from continuing to dance.
I cry like a big ole baby sometimes if I don’t get to dance as much as I want to.
I am a little embarrassed about that, but I’m afraid it’s true.

I understand (sort of) that it is only dancing, not life itself.
I say, “No, thank you” to slow romantic dances, until I can dance with one special man who can hold me very close.
I dream of everybody dancin’ in the streets – even all of my boring friends who won’t ever go dancing with me!
I try to fight centrifugal force on spins. (I tend to lean outward and you are supposed to stay under the lead.)
I hope there is a good band next time I go out.
I am pretty good if I do say so myself, but I want to keep getting better.


I am a writer, a questioner, not a rule follower.
I wonder what lies ahead
I heard footsteps; Mama heard them too.
I see my house and my life in order, clean and organized.
I want peace.
I am trying.

I pretend – no, I don’t anymore. I used to pretend I was free when I wasn’t.
I feel hope sometimes, fear sometimes.
I touch my remote control and my pillow and try to relax and fall asleep to mindless TV.
I worry sometimes, but I don’t believe in it so I try not to.
I cry when my spirit is stirred by something beautiful or sad
I am a woman after all.

I understand that the best I can do is the best I can do.
I say I am doing my best but I sometimes wonder if it is true.
I dream of everyone being happy and healthy.
I try to help.
I hope it will happen.
I am here.

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How to do a mean thing while trying to be sweet. Or, how to NOT do that.

How to make someone who is trying to overcome depression feel worse and set them back a few steps in their struggle:

Tell them they are doing it wrong – You shouldn’t take medicine. Just choose happiness! Look at the positives in your life! How can you be sad when you have . . . (fill in the blank) Have you tried . . . ? (exercise, meditation, other – fill in the blank with things that yes they’ve probably tried.)

The most well-meaning, kind, sweet people in the world who would never hurt anyone purposely can make this mistake and hurt someone deeply while trying to help. I know this disorder (yes disorder, not bad mood) is near impossible for some people to understand. If I were someone who had never had it, I think I wouldn’t understand it either. (Sort of like I don’t understand how some people think cabbage is good or don’t like cheese – whaaat?) I have struggled to one degree or another with depression and anxiety all of my life – I remember being depressed, although I didn’t know the word yet – when I was just shy of 5 years old.

Please, if you know someone with depression (and/or anxiety – they often travel together), educate yourself before trying to give advice. Below are some links to helpful resources.

Article by Sylvia Kim

Make it OK. Stop Mental Illness Stigma.

The Hilarious World of Depression. The Hilarious World of Depression is a series of frank, moving, and, yes, funny conversations with people who have dealt with this disease, hosted by veteran humorist and public radio host John Moe.

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