Camping out in the ’50s

When I was growing up, the mother of my classmate Nancy Gay Hall was our scout troop leader, and she worked hard to make sure we had good scouting experiences.  I remember well the time Mrs. Hall  took us to the family’s lake house for my one and only camp out.  Girl Scout Troop 15 (Huntsville, TX) camped outside in sleeping bags under the stars while the adult chaperones retreated to the luxuries of the lake house and comfortable beds.

Before bedtime, however, we learned how to cook our supper in a coffee can.

Yes, that’s right.

Under the adults’ watchful supervision, we built a fire and then Mrs. Hall divvied ingredients. We’d been told to bring an empty coffee can, but I’d forgotten mine. My best friend Margaret Prentice’s mom graciously gave me hers. Margaret was fine with this… until the meals were “done.”

Our cooking pots were filled with of ground hamburger patties, chopped carrots, sliced onions, and chunks of potatoes and sealed with aluminum foil. We placed them directly into the fire, screaming excitedly as girls do, while Mrs. Hall and Mrs. Prentice warned us repeatedly, “Be careful. Don’t get burned.” I imagine we looked like little witches circling the fire and asking every five minutes, “Is it done yet? Can we eat now?” We asked at least nine times, maybe twelve before Mrs. Hall gave the go-ahead along with stern admonishes to avoid scorching our fingers when we peeled back the heated aluminum covering.

Margaret remembers how badly her food burned in its can–it was absolutely inedible while my dinner cooked in her mother’s can was “perfectly cooked.” She still recalls how she wanted to claim her mother’s can and its contents. She didn’t, of course, but she was not a happy camper at that point. Thankfully, Margaret was able to fill her hungry tummy with dessert.

The dessert was amazing!

Mrs. Hall laid out graham crackers, marshmallows, and Hershey’s chocolate on the family picnic table, and we broke off chocolate squares to fit our graham crackers. Then, we placed marshmallows on the ends of twisted coat hangers and stuck them in the fire. Mrs. Hall warned us: “Don’t poke out an eye.”

Some of the girls worked hard at getting their marshmallows a perfect golden brown, but most of us let the marshmallows catch fire and burn brightly till the outsides were blackened ash covering a sweet sticky center. (Occasionally, a marshmallow slipped off the hanger and splatted on the ground and we had to start all over.)

We placed the hot marshmallows on our chocolate and smashed down another cracker atop the concoction to make S’mores.  After a couple of gooey cookies, Margaret forgot about the main course, and our friendship survived.

Although I’ve never replicated the coffee can meal, I’ve made S’mores over and over and over again. This may have been the evening I became hopelessly addicted to chocolate.

I recently read there are 2.6 million Girl Scouts today and that in celebration of its 100 years of selling cookies, the organization is introducing new Girl Scout S’mores in select markets during the 2017 campaign. Well, let me say this, they can combine, refine, and tweak all they want, they will never replicate the amazing flavor (and experience) of the S’mores we made on that cookout back in the day.

Re-framing my life story

I attended an amazing LifeLines Retreat last weekend, sponsored by Story Circle Network. We met in the Texas Hill Country in historic Fredericksburg. The retreat was facilitated by Jeanne Guy, an extraordinary woman, who gave the participants permission to dig deeply and become vulnerable because she modeled that openness for us.

Jeanne is a reflective-writing coach who is absolutely masterful at creating a safe place for people to look at the story they’re telling themselves and “re-story” it… that is, reframe the way they see themselves so they can live more authentically. You may think that’s too new age-y for your blood, but I can assure you, it is not.

For me, the weekend was about being honest about the life I want as a creative person. I will admit to you, being honest meant finding the courage to face facts: my roadblocks are built by my own doing. Period. I felt guilty to admit that I put myself last on my list… that I do not take care of myself and as a result, I have some rather serious health issues that are sucking the life from me. It’s humiliating to publicly make such an admission, but the good news is that I can change the direction of this tragic self-sabotaging story.

And I am.

The weekend was life changing. I faced the barriers that throw up roadblocks to my writing.  I met an astounding group of like-minded, courageous women from Ohio, Texas, and states in-between. We shared deeply about the pain of being drained dry, stuck, frustrated, and fearful. We left with renewed energy and the confidence live our creative lives fully… with more joie de vivre and less fear.

Deeply listening with my heart’s ear to other women gave me the willingness to dig deeply into my own story and change its trajectory.  I no longer trapped by my past “bad” choices. I have created a turning point in my story, and I’m headed in a joyful, intentional,  life-affirming direction.

Thank you, Jeanne. And thank you, Marsha, Trish, Linda (both of you), Veronica, Jenn, Laurie, Ann, Hope, Suzanne, Allison… You are truly Wonder(ful) Women.


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?