Archive for the ‘Experience’ Category

A Personal Memorial Day Tribute

In fond memory of: SSgt. Jesse E. (Ed) Jackson

Served in WWII, Polar Bear Regiment 85th Division of 5th Army  – 3rd Battalion, 339th, Company M.

My grandfather didn’t talk about the depression much except to say, “I was hungry alot.”

The only thing I knew of him was that he was a boxer before the war. He had pictures of himself in the gym holding his entire body perpendicular to a post with just his upper body strength. He liked to talk about boxing and even taught me some moves. He used boxing metaphors to describe and teach me about life.

“Sometimes you have to move backwards to move forward.”

“Keep your chin up – unless you’re boxing, then keep your chin down and let ‘em have it.”

“Lean into the punch and put your weight behind it. If you don’t put your weight behind it, why bother?”

“You know why I like boxing? There’s no whining in boxing.”

He never talked about what happened in the war until, at the age of 13, I experienced what today would be called a ‘home invasion’.  Four men broke into my house in broad daylight when I was at home alone. My Grandfather is the person I called on the telephone as it was happening. He showed up, just minutes after the incident ended, with a loaded Luger he had taken off a German Officer in WWII.  He called out my name. I put down my shot-gun and came out of my hiding place. His knees buckled when he saw me step out onto the porch. He looked me over for wounds, then he hugged me tight and sobbed softly as I cried. His broad shoulders heaved with each sob. He waited with me until the Police arrived. He held my hand as I told the Sheriff what happened. He leaned over and whispered to me after the Sheriff left, “Next time, shoot ’em on the porch.”

I had to wrestle with how I got out of that situation and the fact that I was prepared to kill four people to save my life.  I was having trouble reconciling that with my religious beliefs (I was barely 13). And, well, dealing with it in general.

My mother sent me to stay with my grandparents because I couldn’t sleep in my own home.  I no longer felt that warm-fuzzy feeling you have when your life is untouched by violent crime. And, somehow, my grandfather made me feel safe – Luger or no Luger.

I had been at my grandfather’s house for two weeks. I’d barely eaten, hadn’t gone outside alone, and scarcely talked since I’d been there. I think it was the “not talking” that concerned everyone the most as it was most unusual for me.

My grandfather had often scolded me when we were fishing, “Don’t you ever be quiet? We’ll never catch anything if you keep babbling like a brook.” I usually shot back, “Why don’t you ever talk, Pa?” To which he replied with a sly wink, “Still waters run deep.”

In the two weeks since “the incident”, I had done little more than nod my head.

My grandfather pulled up a chair opposite me one night and said, “Kiddo, you’ve got what we used to call in the Army the thousand-yard-stare.  You’ve got to snap out of it.” He tussled my hair. “That’s no way to live.”

“Does killing someone…and wanting to kill someone mean you’ll go to Hell?” I asked.

He paused, stood up, adjusted his belt, and took a deep breath. He sat down across from me in the straight-backed chair and said, “I need to tell you something, and, for once in your life, I don’t want you to say anything until I’m finished.”  I obeyed, and what he told me floored not only me, but my grandmother, who had never once heard him speak of war in the 40 years he had been back from WWII.

My grandfather told me of watching men die around him. Some were his friends, and others he didn’t know. He told me in gruesome detail what happened to some of them, and to him. He was recognized for being injured 3 times, and had the purple hearts to prove it, but according to him he was injured many more times than that. He said the ‘hospital’ was just a tent at the back of the line where most injured men went to die. He said, “I’d rather die standing up facing my enemy than lying down, if I can help it.”

My Grandfather stopped, disappeared for a minute, and returned with old scouting maps, medals, and clippings that he had saved.  He often pointed to the map where certain events occurred as he told me about them. He often uttered, “Well, that was top-secret, but I guess you won’t go telling any Germans.”

He told me about arriving in Italy on the “Letitia” which, coincidentally, was the name of his Granddaughter.

He told me of spending three days and nights on a rocky outcropping just underneath the edge of a cliff. It was about 18 inches wide. He got “cut off” from his unit when he went looking for German positions and found a whole nest of them. More of them moved in and cut him off from his unit. He balanced himself there while German officers and soldiers were camped on the plateau just above his head. He told me about how the enemy soldiers would often come to the edge just above him to smoke. He described how he struggled not to breathe, so he wouldn’t get choked and be detected.

He told me about the Leaning Tower of Pizza and how he still wanted to blow it up after seeing many men die around it. “If you ever visit that God-forsaken place…feel free to blow it up.” That’s just how he felt about it. And rightfully so. He told me about seeing two of his “best buddies” get “hit” by German shells. He said, “One of them just disappeared. Nothing left but his boot. The other…just pieces of him left…scattered all over. I was still trying to reach out to help them when I realized I had been ‘hit’ too.”

He told me about the shrapnel in his body that was still there from a shell that exploded just a few feet in front of him, killing two of his friends. He showed me some of the bullet and shrapnel wounds he had in his torso. He tapped on a piece of the shrapnel beneath his skin and it made a “tink-tink” sound. I never knew until that moment why he never took his shirt off, even on the hottest days.

My grandfather relayed the story of finding precious works of art in an old building by the side of the road. He described in detail how,  just for a minute, the war stopped for him as he held the works of Raphael and Michelangelo in his hands and looked at them ‘up close’ before he turned them over to his commanding officer. “I didn’t know what they were of course.  I just knew they were pretty. You don’t get much that’s pretty in war.” My brother’s name is Micheal, and he often referred to him as “Michaelangelo” – I never knew why until that moment.

He told me how being a boxer was no help at all unless you were in close combat, and how he had to kill as many people as he could, as fast as he could, just to survive.  “In war, your rifle is your best friend.” Then he leaned in toward me and said something I will never forget, “Punkin’ you did what you had to do. Never think twice about it, and don’t second guess yourself.  If you’re going through hell, just keep walking. You survived.  Never be sorry for surviving. I’ve spent too much time on that myself.  Just be glad you’re alive, and live.”

I knew my grandfather was the toughest man I’d ever met, but I had no idea until that night what had shaped him. He talked for approximately four hours with no break.

When he finished, I couldn’t say anything for a few minutes. Finally, the questions came in rapid-fire. I looked at him and said, “What did you do when you got tired? How did you stay there for 3 days and nights and not pee? What did you do when they were shooting at you?  Do you have bad dreams about people you killed? Did any of your friends survive? How did you survive? Were you afraid?  Are you a Hero?”

Some of the questions my grandfather answered, and some of them he danced around like the boxer he was. After a while, my grandfather grimaced a bit, took a deep breath and said, “I told you these things so that you would know you are not the only one. You are not alone in having to do things you don’t want to do. Things happen in this world that nobody really wants, but we’re left to walk through it or die trying.”  He patted my hand, and then he got up and left me there to think about it. He never spoke of the war again.

In the next 24 hours, something strange happened to me. I suddenly felt like I was part of that ‘Greatest Generation’. The generation that wasn’t proud or sorry, but was simply grateful to have survived. My courage returned, and I felt strong enough to go home and eventually to school. I learned to dodge questions as artfully as my grandfather. Most importantly, I forgave myself. I learned to truly “live” every moment and not waste it on the “what ifs”.

Through the years, I often asked my grandparents what got them through all the hard times, and the response that I usually got was one simple quote:

“When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on. “~ Franklin D. Roosevelt

Article About Jesse Jackson from 1945

Article About Jesse Jackson from 1945


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Overcoming Negativity with a Positive Attitude

I don’t write much about my daughter; I feel that having a mother who is a writer is difficult enough and she deserves her privacy. However, this story must be shared. Someone needs encouragement, a few words to let them know that their struggles aren’t forever.

My daughter believes she’s stupid. Most parents have heard their children utter the phrase, “I’m stupid, or, I’m ugly; or, I have no friends.” These emotions are part of childhood and, in most cases, a temporary part of growing up. Her words hurt me. At home saying stupid is a bad word, second only to the word can’t. Can’t is a forbidden word in my home. Once I hear it I immediately respond with the phrase, Can’t never could do anything.Followed with never, ever give up.

Like every person on the planet who is currently breathing, my daughter has one particular aspect of her life that challenges her. In her case it is math. Can get an amen? Math, for many people, is difficult. For some it is english, or science. We all struggle with something. Students continually struggle with classes, tests, and pressure to earn scholarships. Parents struggle with jobs, health, or financial trouble. We are all struggling with something.

I have prayed for my daughter for a long time, knowing and believing that God will provide an answer. If you are a person of faith, I sincerely ask for your prayers.

My daughter can do math all day, working problems with accuracy.However, when test day comes, something terrible happens . . . she freaks out. The ability to work the same problems she just did at the kitchen table vanishes. I imagine she hears little whispers of doubt and those whispers become screams until eventually, everything gets jumbled in her mind.

Enter into her struggle a school employee. This person, who is not a teacher, and has never taught my daughter, said the word “can’t” during a recent conference. “Can’t do math . . . can’t do chemistry, can’t do . . . can’t do . . . Can’t Do.”

Unfortunately, my daughter was in the room.

This type of negativity places students at a crossroads. Take my dear friend, Julie Cantrell. She is the author of a lovely book titled Into the Free. She also is a New York Times Best-selling author who once had a teacher tell her “I hope you don’t waste your scholarship to study writing. You may be able to write a greeting card, but that’s about as far as you’ll ever go.”

Read about Julie’s experience in her own words at her blog post here. intothefree

Julie shares: “I made a mistake that day. I believed her. I put down my pen for nearly a decade and let way too many stories go untold.”

Unfortunately, Julie isn’t alone. When an authority figure tells us that we’ll never amount to anything it is human nature to believe them. In my daughter’s case, the question of whether this employee was unaware that her words had power, or she meant to harm my daughter, or she was just too young and inexperienced to know better remains unanswered. This employee chose the word can’t over a kinder statement. She could have said, your daughter struggles with math and we need to get her the resources to bolster her confidence.Instead she launched the word can’t across the room like a grenade. A shift happened that day. You see, teenagers don’t listen to their parents. In their minds, parents are supposed to say positive things. My daughter didn’t believe me when I said, “Just keep keeping on. She doesn’t know you, at all. You are smart. You can do it.” Instead my daughter retained the negative word can’t.

And yes, the more I thought about the situation, the more I wanted to have a Madea Moment. (See link).

Months have passed since that meeting. I’ve watched my daughter become more frustrated and angry at home. She no longer wears her emotions in a curved smile on her lips. Do you blame her? In fact, after the previously mentioned meeting she said, “Mom, I’ve learned to live with disappointment.” She has been on the edge of shutting down. Exacerbating her emotional exhaustion is physical exhaustion. She suffers from anemia and vertigo. We do not use her illness as an excuse. We work around her exhaustion and dizziness and press on. Most days, she can barely carry that 35 pound backpack around. All of this is why the Tom Zachary VIP award matters to her.

Since 1999, the Zachary award has been distributed to students who follow Tom Zachary’s three keys to success which are: follow the rules, follow your curriculum schedule, and be respectful. According to Mr. Jim Coyle who has been with the high-school for many years, Zachary Award recipients “are the lifeblood of the school. They are the key to our school’s success.” Principal Jerome Huff echoes his praise, saying Zachary Award recipients “show merit and character. They are the kind of students who come in early, stay after school and help other students.”

For those who say we live in a society where everyone receives an award, let me add that this is a teacher-nominated award and my daughter currently has an 86 in the class. While she did not receive the award for math, after the ceremony the math teacher came up and embraced her with a hug. The teacher said, ‘I am so glad you got a VIP award. When I saw your name on the roster I was so happy! I could only choose three students and I’ve only had you in my class for a few weeks. You deserve this award. I am so happy for you.”

This my friends, is the kind of adult we need leading our children. This is the kind of support students need. Both of these teachers are a direct answer to prayer as is Principal Huff.

WP_001377During the ceremony, Principal Huff said, “not every student can be an honor student or a star athlete. When I was in school a lot of people said I’d never be anything. My momma was a single parent. My dad was in jail.”

I admire an adult who can motive parents and students with their honesty, don’t you? This man is changing lives with positive energy and encouragement ! I adore leaders who say: look at me. Everyone counted me out . . . they said I’d be nothing, but through hard-work I showed them.

Then Principal Huff said, “Just because you aren’t at the top of the class right now doesn’t mean you’ll wind up at the bottom. Remember, it’s not what people call you, it’s what you answer to.”

Let’s let his words sink in for a moment.

Just because you aren’t at the top of the class right now . . .

…doesn’t mean you’ll wind up at the bottom.

It doesn’t mean that you’ll fail math.

It doesn’t mean that you’ll be pregnant and drop out of school.

It doesn’t mean that you’ll spend the rest of your life in jail.

It doesn’t mean that you’ll be living on the street, or worse, with your parents forever.

It doesn’t mean that you’ll get hooked on drugs.

It doesn’t mean that no one will ever love you.

It doesn’t mean that you will wear a tattoo on your forehead which reads failure.

Just because you aren’t at the top now, doesn’t mean you’re stuck in the same place forever.

Remember my friend Julie. It takes a lot of courage to pick up a pen after someone tells you don’t bother. Now she is a New York Times bestselling author. Way to go Julie !

For those who struggle for whatever reason, let me say this, “Don’t listen to what people say. Do what is in your heart. Do your best. Believe in yourself. Don’t let someone else keep you from your destiny. God has a plan for you. He knew that plan when he formed you, before your mother held you, or your grandmother changed your diaper. His plan is to prosper you. His plan is good. The word can’t is not in God’s vocabulary. So if you are discouraged, tuck that chin and keep walking the walk. Study more. Be more. Ignore the voices telling you that you can’t do.

Remember: Can’t never could do anything.

But honey, CAN-DO gets the job done every time.

CAN-DO changes lives.

Now you hold up that head and press on, confident. You got this. You CAN-DO anything you set your mind to.

Oh, and for the record. Since the afternoon when my daughter was awarded the VIP award, she has brought home an 88 on her science test, and (today) brought home a 100 on a math assignment.

Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of  In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes. In 2012 she released Stress-Free Marketing: Practical Advice for the Newly Published Author. 2014 will see the release of In the Kitchen with Billy: Farming, Friends & Fried Bologna Sandwiches. She is currently working on her first novel. She would love to hear from you. Visit her at www.reneawinchester.com

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No Luck

For any of you who’s EVER tried to play the guitar, check this kid out: Keep in mind that most of Stevie Ray Vaughn’s songs are so difficult to play that most guitarists have an arm that just cramps up after a short while:

Now check out the master playing the same song “Rude Mood”:

I’ve heard people say, “I tried playing guitar, but I just didn’t have any luck with it.”

There’s no luck. There’s only faith that you will succeed and being prepared by practicing…ALOT.

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