The scent of a mother

My mother had a delicious smell about her. Throughout my childhood, I climbed in her lap and nuzzled my face in her neck, drew back, smiled, and purred. “Mmmmmmm, you smell just like a mommy. Mommy.”

As I grew into the rebellious age of any number ending in teen, I seldom complimented my mother. Every once in a while, though, I’d feel the old pull of childhood.

I remember when I was in high school and the family would be gathered around our black and white television set watching Miss Loretta Young swirl into our living room. She was so lovely. Probably the most beautiful woman most folks saw. But Mother was prettier. Honest to God.

In those days my mother had long, glossy hair curled on the ends, ebony eyes, high cheekbones, and crimson lips. While three children strained the family budget and made it impossible for her to have the glamours wardrobe Miss Young had, Mother wore big gathered skirts, nipped at her tiny waist, and I saw her swirl them for my daddy.

My mother was as beautiful as any movie star and in fact, she could seem as aloof, though I didn’t know that word back then and could not have described that way. I adored her, but sometimes I felt like I lived in the shadow of an exotic beauty queen instead of with a regular everyday mother. Anyway, it was on nights such as thesewatching television, when I’d give in to the urge, snuggle next to her and murmur, “You smell just like a mommy.”

Mother thought it was her face powder that gave her that sweet mommy smell, but years after she stopped going to Foley’s Department Store in downtown Houston for her custom blend of makeup, she still had that distinctive scent. The warm, loving scent of a mommy. There are many days, like today, when I miss her so much. But all I have to do is close my eyes and breathe deeply. Her scent lingers in my heart.

Singin’ Praises to Jesus

In the Church of Christ, my maternal grandparents’ church, there is no instrumental music to wrap around singing voices. Church-goers sing a Capella  because believers are sure there is nothing sweeter than the human voice lifted in song.

My grandfather had a strong booming baritone, and his voice rang out above most others. The sound rousted my soul.

I remember one Wednesday evening in particular. Caught up in the spiritual moment I sang “Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, jingle all the way…” to the tune of “Onward Christian Soldiers.” My grandfather looked down at me and grinned broadly. He slipped his arm around my shoulders and held the hymnal so I could see better. We both knew I couldn’t read, but it didn’t matter.

Just as the members of the Church of Christ didn’t need musical instruments to sing, I didn’t need the words to the hymn. It was a holy moment between grandfather and granddaughter, and surely God smiled at the sight.

What’s in a Name?

I met new friends at Jung in Ireland (in the week-long seminar I recently attended). One basically told me the story of his life through his name. Here is his account:

“My name is ‘Leonard Robin Clark.’ Both my grandfather and father were also named ‘Leonard,’ so my family called me ‘Robin.’ When I went off to school, the teachers asked me what was my first name? I told them ‘Leonard,’ and that’s what they called me. When I joined the Navy, they called me by my last name ‘Clark,’ which changed to ‘Mr. Clark’ when I finished OTS. Then, after I got my Ph.D. in chemistry, folks called me ‘Dr. Clark.’ And when my wife decided to go into politics I became known as ‘Mr. Rita’.”

Isn’t that interesting? I sure think so. I began to think about my own name changes and how it has shaped my narrative.

I was named “Joyce Elaine Murray, Junior,” after my mother. My dad wanted to call me “Junior” (and he did), but my grandparents called me “Little Joyce” and it stuck during my younger years. I was “Joyce” during my school years, except when my older brother Stone’s friends nicknamed me “Rocks-Ann” (and called my younger brother “Pebble”). I was Miss Murray when I started teaching, and then I became “Joyce Anderson” and “Mrs. Anderson” when I married at 25. My son called me “Mommy” (but calls me “Mother now that he’s grown). I went to court to reclaim my maiden name when I divorced at 30. “Joyce Boatright” became my moniker when I married for a second time five years later. A colleague, Frank Thornton, used to call me “Joyce Murray Anderson Murray Boatright” to remind me I had gone to the altar twice. Guy humor. Sharp with a sting. When Texas A&M University conferred its doctorate of education to me in 1984 I became Dr. Boatright. Through those same years,  I’ve had my share of nicknames: Joycie, Jerse, Juice, to name a few. Now that I’m retired and living with the love of my life, I think I’ve come full circle. Just call me Joyce.

How about you? What is the narrative of your name?

Retirement: reinventing priorities

The best part of retirement is that I get to choose how to spend my time.

My friend Kathy (Bunny) Adkins says she is as busy as she ever was prior to retirement, but that now, she’s doing what feeds her intellectually, emotionally, and physically. For her, that means being involved in leading travel groups (I just went to Italy with her and 20+ other fun women!), actively participating in church and civic organizations (paying it forward!), and working as a Zumba instructor (she’s in the best shape ever!).

Another retired friend, Joyce Wiley, spends her time as a community leader and activist, especially in the Aldine and Acres Homes area of Harris County. Mayor Sylvester Turner takes her call when she phones him—and he listens. Others do as well because she has proven herself as one who wants to improve the lives of others. She continues to do the meaningful work she did when she worked for Lone Star College, but now she does it for the greater good, no longer for a paycheck.

My friend and mentor Jackie Crowley has accomplished so much in “retirement.” She coached me through the last several decades of my profession (no easy task), coordinated the creation and production of the CASA book Just for Now: Kids and the People of the Court to help assuage fears of abused and neglected children caught up in the court system while she served as a CASA volunteer (an amazing feat), served as a Lay Chaplain for Texas Children’s Hospital, and became a certified Laugh Therapy facilitator (to give sick children the healing power of laughter). Now, with three magnificent grandsons, she is sharing her wisdom and unshakable sense of humor with them so they can grow into the men their father is.

So… here I am 91 days into my retirement. What’s on my horizon?

Travel. I am finally mature enough to go to Italy and other places and soak in the culture and history instead of knee-walking myself through a “Bar Crawl,” which is what many young adults seem to be doing. When you read this, I’ll be in my paternal ancestor’s homeland, Ireland, with my sweetie. I’m enrolled in a workshop “Aging with Panache.” My friend Karleen Koen and I are going to lead a condensed 1-day workshop on the topic at the Jung Center later in this month.

Teach. The great thing about my profession is that it’s a lifetime commitment. What makes it so desirable in retirement is that there’s no more grading papers. In addition to the one day April 26 “Afternoon of Life” workshop, I’ll be teaching an 8-week class in memoir writing, tentatively titled “Writing Stories from a Well-Lived Life,” at the Jung Center in the Fall. Prior to that, I will offer a 2-day workshop entitled “Turning Points in the Arc of Memoir” at Writepace, June 22 and 29.

Write. I will continue to blog. All writers need to practice and blogging is a place where I can explore ideas, recall life adventures, and explore the boundaries of my craft. Although I have a novel that needs revision, I’ve decided to devote the summer and early autumn to researching and drafting the story of Lane Murray, a pioneer in correctional education. (I’m still astounded that no one has done this before. Perhaps it is God’s way of inviting me to get a new perspective on my mother (yes, she is)—to understand her challenges as a professional woman in a patriarchal world in the ‘60s.

Of course, there are ingredients in my life that will remain no matter what tomorrow’s plans/goals may be.  I’ll continue to love two men with all my heart: my sweetheart Ronnie and my son Matthew. I am a hard woman to love (I’m bossy and often self-absorbed), but they both possess kind hearts, and they motivate me to be a better person.

I will continue to seek God, both in and outside of religion. I am so happy to find Him everywhere I look in earnest.

I will continue to nourish the friendships I have with the most extraordinary, creative women. They feed my soul with their fierce persistence, endless generosity, and bravely bold endeavors. I am so blessed to be in their company. (Yes, you, “Bunny,” Karleen, Jackie, Wynell, Maya, Barbara Jean C.C., Melanie, Cheryl, Bernice, Dorothy, MelissaCassandra, “M.E.,” Rilla, Susan, Pat, Sandi, and… and… and… Oh heck-fire, this blog cannot contain all your names! But my heart can, and does.)

How about you? What is on your horizon?