I have a friend who, like me, is a frustrated meteorologist. He lives in Seminole; I live in St. Petersburg. When there is a storm coming, we communicate and pray that the squall line doesn’t weaken as it approaches the coast. I watch his area to see when he’s experiencing exciting weather, and he does the same regarding my area. After the rains, we communicate just how much rainfall we each have received. Both of us have weather stations that indicate not only the rainfall but also the indoor/outdoor temperatures. Today is a chilly day in the Tampa Bay area so I have been checking the outdoor temperature periodically, hoping this Florida sun will pierce the Siberian cold and warm us up. Calling my friend, I wanted to check to see if it was colder or warmer in Seminole than it was here. We each sat beside our weather stations and talked about the similarities and differences. While we were talking, his outdoor temperature vacillated between 50.3 and 48.7. Mine was pretty steady until it dropped from 50.9 to 50.7. When we ended the call, we were only .1 apart. What a joy it was to hear from my friend and to compare digital temperatures with him.
I love words. That’s why I’m an English teacher. I have stressed vocabulary learning in every class I’ve ever taught. “The limits of my language are the limits of my world” was one of my favorite axioms I employed in my classes. I emphasized the importance of using words in context rather than memorizing the definitions. I also taught that some words are to be spoken while others, such as the words “facetious” and “penurious,” are more commonly found as written words. I remember too encountering words repeatedly without being able to determine their exact meaning, such as the word “ubiquitous.” I saw that word everywhere. What a surprise to learn that was what it meant — everywhere. Some words are difficult to remember, such as the word “funicular,” which I first heard when I was in Norway and rode a funicular up the side of a mountain. I have trouble remembering the word for artistic sculpting with plants such as is done at Disney: “topiary.” That word always escapes me. Then there are the words that I abuse by overuse, such as “really.” I think the abuse of “really” is southern, and I certainly have availed myself of it to the extreme. I have even had to “de-really” my journal. My brother’s favorite repeat word is “again,” which he uses to show contrast. Language is magical, and I love it. I REALLY do.
I don’t know when the tradition started, but it began sometime after I learned to enjoy eating spaghetti. I was a picky child regarding food and couldn’t stand the smell of spaghetti sauce (or so I thought). However, there were times when that was the only item served as a meal so I learned to eat spaghetti by holding my nose. Once I learned to appreciate the taste, spaghetti became more and more delicious to the point that every time we had it as a family meal, we always commented, “That was the best we’ve ever had.” Once when I was visiting my brother and sister-in-law in Perry, GA. Terry made spaghetti knowing how much I enjoy it. However, she substituted turkey meat for the usual meat. The spaghetti was good but not quite up to par, and I finished my meal and said only “Thank you. That was delicious.” My brother told me later that Terry’s feelings were hurt because I didn’t say, “That was the best we ever had.” I would never want to hurt my sister-in-law’s feeling so you’d better believe that I will never have spaghetti at my brother’s home without complimenting the “chef” by saying….well, you know what.
I recently saw a segment on TV about the correct pronunciation of the town of Bangor, Maine. The natives there are on a crusade to have their city’s name pronounced correctly. The typical pronunciation we have heard was “Banger.” They insist that it is pronounced as spelled “Bangor.” In my state one of the most mispronounced cities is Kissimmee. This town near Disney World is pronounced with the accent on the 2nd syllable and not the first. In Georgia, there is a city near Atlanta named Albany. The natives insist that it be pronounced “Albenny,” again with the accent on the 2nd syllable instead of the first. My hometown in South Carolina is named Clinton. Well, now what can you do to change the pronunciation of that town? Well, here’s how the natives do that. They completely eliminate the “t” and pronounce it Clinnon. Pronunciations may vary from place to place, but the natives know what is the correct pronunciation of their towns, villages, and cities.
If I tell you that you are smart and good-looking, you probably will try to deny the compliment, teasing me about needing to get my eyes checked. However, if you talk to a mutual friend, and he/she says, “I heard Thom talking about how smart and handsome you are,” then the impact of the compliment can sink in. I call these “indirect compliments,” and I think they are much more powerful than regular compliments. I have also learned something else about compliments: Don’t return them immediately. If someone says, “You look so good,” don’t immediately say, “You do too.” I made that exact compliment once to a dear friend whom I hadn’t seen in a long time. She had gained a great deal of weight in the interim, and I could see in her face the disappointment my “you do too” empty compliment created. We need to compliment each other, but we need to find ways to do so–perhaps a card, an e-mail, or an “indirect compliment” through a friend. Be clever in designing sincere compliments. I assure you that you will get them in return.
When I went into the hospital to have my knee replacement surgery, I was told that I should leave behind all jewelry. I am not a jewelry person and wear only one piece of jewelry, a very thin gold bracelet. When I started wearing the bracelet years ago, I took off my watch and have not worn a watch since then. When Dimitris unhooked the bracelet I warned him that it is very difficult to re-latch it. I was in the hospital over two weeks and checked once with my partner to insure that the bracelet was in a safe place. Finally, I was released from rehab, and I came home. I didn’t even think of the bracelet the first couple of days but, after a shower one morning, I asked where the bracelet was. Dimitris brought it over and tried his best to re-attach and lock the safety lock. He gave up quickly, and we agreed that we would “hire” the first lady who walked in the door to restore my bracelet securely to my left arm. That turned out to be Brandy Bitar, my housekeeper. Brandy took the bracelet, looked at it for a few seconds, snapped it right into place without any effort at all. There are indeed things that women can do that men cannot.
I remember when I was growing up, I had a little Kodak Brownie automatic camera that I got for Christmas. I have very few pictures from that era as it was awkward getting the roll of film into the camera, and it was difficult taking all the pictures you had to take in order to finish a roll of film for processing. Next was the wait for the processed pictures to be returned. I was in college when my Uncle Jerry gave me a Polaroid camera. Wow! Instant pictures. However, there were drawbacks such as the price of film and the quality of the pictures. Then as an adult, I discovered the Sony Mavica cameras that used floppy discs as film. Now, we were getting somewhere. When I visited Amsterdam in the Netherlands, I carried a case of floppies with me everywhere I went and then transferred the pictures to my computer. A few years ago, a good friend gave me my Casio Exilim with 7.2 mega pixels. That is the camera that made me a photographer. The camera is tiny but takes excellent pictures. I take it everywhere and am teased about taking pictures when no one else brings a camera to an event.