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Since childhood I have always sensed energizing, protective, and unseen guiding presences in my life.  For several years a lovely lady visited me regularly during my sleep – or at least, what I thought was my sleep.  Today, at age forty-seven, I can still vividly recall this kindly woman’s moments shared with me from the age of four years until I was nearing junior high.  Often, these meetings included singing without any concern for waking my parents.  Other times, stories were told, Bible stories about the heroes were read, poems recited, or general small talk shared.  It was a year or so into junior high school that I realized the sweet lady had not paid a visit.  It seemed, however, she had been replaced by other motivators in my life, mainly music.

One day, perhaps around my sophomore or junior year of high school, my grandmother pulled out old family photos.  Many, many Sundays were spent going through the treasure trove of our family’s history told through photographs, but this particular Sunday, there was a different box, one I didn’t recognize.  Grandma Donna handed me some photos and after thumbing through several I recognized the sweet lady who visited me as a child.  It was my great-grandmother, Thelma Daugherty Barmes.

Sadly, seven years before my birth, Grandma Thelma was involved in a fatal automobile-train accident, expiring the following evening, January 16th, 1957, at 5:05pm.

Grandma Thelma was a wonderful musician; a pianist and vocalist.  One of my first vocal lessons came from my Grandpa Leroy as he relayed watching his mother teach a voice lesson when he was a small boy – Grandma Thelma instructed the student to keep the tongue down, and to sing towards the teeth.

In college, I became fascinated with the possibility of angels.  Several professor friends recounted personal anecdotes related to angelic activities in their own lives, prompting me to wonder if the visits from great-grandmother were – well, angelic visitations.

There are so many arenas dedicated to the study of angels.  I’ve scoured the topics, the varying beliefs, and the Biblical history of angelic beings, and I finally decided that since there will never be one consistent consensus on the topic, it would be my choice to accept the fact angels exist, knowing they had personally appeared throughout my life.  Today, I still believe I have an angel team that assists me in a variety of activities throughout my life-journey.  I have no idea who they are, or whether or not the same ones continually accompany me. Quite simply, I do not doubt their presence, and I trust them.

Over the past twenty years, or so, I have also come to recognize that fellow humans also serve a similar purpose just as the unseen-beings on my “angel team.”  I have countless experiences of brief encounters where someone, or some unexplained incident, has briefly, even momentarily, appeared alongside me on my life-journey to offer guidance, encouragement, or specific information I needed at that moment.

Coincidence?  Perhaps.

God acting anonymously?  Perhaps.

I do believe these positive beings are off-shoots, working on behalf of The Great Spirit.

Regardless who they are, what they are, from where they came, whether they are winged or wear halos, they simply exist in my life.  And how damned lucky I am for these special moments!

Last summer I was terribly ill, and it took me through mid-Autumn to fully recover my strength, and stamina.  My spirits sagged because I just did not have the mind-effort to write on the Wright Brothers musical.  I would open the file.  I would look at the words that suddenly appeared foreign and click shut the file.  It seemed as though my great-passion for this particular craft had died a sudden, unexplainable death.  I began searching for answers to the questions I proposed:

Does this musical suck? (Considering the combined talents of my wonderful, patient co-writers, Gail & Leslie, I knew the lyrics and music elevated my work)

Am I suppose to even be doing this?

Is something trying to tell me I should do something else?

It was a frustrating Autumn, and early Winter.  The most infuriating thing is that I have the ideal life as a writer, something not often afforded my friends and acquaintances who have been published, or produced.  I have my mornings and early afternoons free, and teach private lessons from approximately 3:00pm until 8:00pm.  One day a week I am at a middle school.  Since my sons have always been involved in extra-curricular music activities that often keeps them busy on Saturdays – another full, free day of writing.

My life is ideally set to fully, and passionately embrace this craft.  However, from the end of July, before I discovered my illness, to early winter, I felt absolutely dead inside.  I coasted through the holidays, and my post-Christmas vacation still found me emotionally uninvested, and dealing with the same illness, again.

This past Saturday morning I was reminded by my calendar text that there was a Writing Workshop set for Sunday at 2:30pm.  The workshop was geared for middle grade/young adult audiences, nothing actually to do with playwrighting.  I dismissed it.

Sunday morning something caught my eye while scrolling down Facebook. A terrific author, and inspiring personality, Katrina Kittle posted:

“Dayton Area Writers – TODAY (Sunday) at Books & Co from 2-3:30pm, hosting a free mini-writers’ workshop, taught by myself and the lovely Kristina McBride. The topic: Writing for Middle Grade and Young Adult Audiences.”

Meh.

I sort of dismissed it.

The sun, despite doing its thing on the opposite side of my house, was filling my bed/sitting room with a glowing radiance.  It seemed to beckon me for a hike with my teenage son and the three dogs. For several days I’d been dealing with a nasty situation involving an individual who felt compelled to self-appoint a mythical reign over a project for which I was serving as coordinator. That morning, after two nights of minimal sleep, pulsating pressure in the head, and the inability to fix the situation, I stepped back and handed over the reins.

Freedom.

A renewed energy quickly flooded my brain, my entire being.

Katrina Kittle’s reminder of the writer’s workshop reappeared on a later Facebook scroll.  For the first time in over six months I actually felt life creeping back into my soul.  I remember how invigorated I was when I heard Katrina speak about her novel, THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS, during one of our ACTION Adoption Service training sessions.  I had also attended several theatrical performances where Katrina played a psychologist assisting a patient through the horrors experienced both during the London Blitz of WWII, and years later on 9/11.  Katrina’s voice is captivating, and her spirit is invigorating, and infectious.

At this point I knew that my angel team was kicking in a God-wink.  Quintin and I discovered a movie he wanted to see (I did not) was at the same time, so we killed two birds with one stone. He hit the cinema, and I hit Books & Company.

As I grabbed my keys, preparing to leave the house, a song – one of my favorite songs – on Spotify began playing.  I sat down, and absorbed the message.

When a thing is wick, it has a life about it.
Now, maybe not a life like you and me.
But somewhere there’s a single streak of green inside it.
Come, and let me show you what I mean.

When a think is wick, it has a light around it.
Maybe not a light that you can see.
But hiding down below a spark’s asleep inside it,
Waiting for the right time to be seen.

You clear away the dead parts,
So the tender buds can form,
Loosen up the earth and
Let the roots get warm,
Let the roots get warm.

~ ~ ~

And all through the darkest nighttime,
It’s waiting for the right time.
When a thing is wick, it will grow!

The words to “Wick,” from THE SECRET GARDEN, was another God-wink for the day.

The workshop, led by Katrina Kittle and Kristina McBride, was my final remedy.  Within minutes of the workshop beginning, I realized the dead parts encasing my spirit were breaking through the earth.  That spark, as lyricist Marsha Norman explained in THE SECRET GARDEN, had been hiding down below, sleeping within… It was the right time.

After a meeting with a good friend I respect and admire, and another fun dinner with Quintin, I quickly returned home with the joy of the workshop’s reassurance beating within.  I opened my laptop, clicked on the file titled THE BIRD LET LOOSE, and opened the script.  Everything was familiar once again. There seemed to be a chorus of voices calling out from the pages, thrilled that I had returned. A reunion began.

It seems my angel team had led me, at the right time, to Sunday, January 8th, 2012.  Were Katrina and Kristina serving as angels?

Who can say.

For whatever reason, these two lovely ladies, as countless others throughout my life, were a piece of the puzzle that has continually courted me on this wonderful journey.  Perhaps some people, much like my family and teachers have always been, are the golden bricks that pave my own personal yellow bricked-road.

The passion is restored.  I am acknowledging, appreciating, and adoring my apprenticeship once again.

Can I say life is wonderful, and that I am so blessed?

You betcha!

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Today, June 2nd, would have been my great-great grandmother’s birthday. Anna Greenlee Jones, the daughter of Andrew Taylor Greenlee and Prudence Anna Ball, was born in 1875 in Boone Township, Madison County, Indiana.

As young girls, Anna and her sisters, Carrie, Mary and Esther, were quite a tribe of pranksters and, in some ways, holy terrors. The stories passed down from my grandmother about her own grandmother were generally quite funny, but also somewhat unbelievable.

One story was of a young Anna and her sisters taking darning needles and piercing one another’s ears. They took a piece of straw to stick through the new openings. However, Anna’s ear became infected. Now, in 1890, this was serious, but Grandmother Greenlee (my third great-grandmother) took the opportunity to gently box Anna’s ear when she got out of line.

Anna was fortunate to marry a jokester, and prank-loving man, Joel Monroe Jones (1873-1946). Together, Anna and Joel were a fun-loving, jovial couple that instilled an incredible sense of humor in their own three children: Mary Bell, my great-grandmother, and her younger brothers, Alphie and Harry. Their brother, Henry, died at age two.

As a grown woman, Anna was known to have thrown buckets of water on unsuspecting farm-hands walking around a barn’s corner, or stringing a line of tin cans from the front screen door and up the staircase only to come crashing down on a timid maid coming home late in the evening from a date.

When my great-grandmother was a teenager, she held a Sunday school party at her home, the Vinson-Jones farm just south of Forrestville Cemetery, and down the road from the Greenlee farm in Boone Township. All the teenagers arrived in their horse and buggies – the kind where the wheels in the rear were larger than the wheels in the front. While the party was going on, Joel kept himself, and several farm hands busy reversing each buggy’s wheels. Considering the amount of work to change these wheels, it had to be an incredible task! So, when the party disbanded, the teenagers were forced to drive home barely able to see over the dash of their buggies! The funny thing is, Grandpa Jones was very stern looking, and the photos taken of him do not reveal his wit, and devilish humor.

Photos of Grandma Jones (1875-1950):

I am certain my great-grandmother, Belle Jones Clary (1897-1968), had a sense of humor, but it was surely eclipsed by the orneriness of her younger brothers, Alphie and Harry. I can only imagine the laughter, and many pranks in the Jones family home.

In 1973, my great-great uncle, Alphie Jones, died on his mother’s birthday.

Although Belle married the slightly witty, John William “Garrett” Clary (1898-1997), I don’t recall Grandpa Garrett being as much of a prankster as he was the target of so many pranks. His two daughters, Donna (1924-1992), my grandmother, and Aunt Joyce (1932) were forever creating a plethora of hilarious stories that still keep our family howling to this day. Poor Grandpa Garrett never knew whether he would find his shirt sleeves buttoned to other shirts, or his bed short-sheeted or filled with corn flakes. His standard response was a comical growl, “Those damned girls!” That phrase continued clear through the years when Donna and Joyce were grandmothers, themselves!

My Grandma Donna and Grandpa Leroy Barmes (1921-2004) maintained the legacy of humor, instilling it in their own three children: Diana, my mother, Uncle Ron (1952-1987) and Uncle Tom (1954). Grandpa Leroy came from a long line of practical jokers, as well, and the stories of my great-grandfather, Virgil Barmes (1900-1971), could fill a book! Grandpa Virgil, along with his brother-in-law, Harry Daugherty and some of the other Daugherty brothers, filled a completely separate treasure chest with memorable stories!

One of my most treasured impressions of my grandparents will always be their sense of humor. As a little boy, my earliest memories are filled with family laughter, mostly stemming from my grandparents. I often tell, and retell the hilarious moments that accompanied me through the years. Although my grandparents are no longer living, their spark of humor and laughter is eternal.

The one thing I have so enjoyed as a father is laughing often, and heartily! Fortunately, Jose has an incredible sense of humor, and there is scarcely a day that is not filled with three-fourths laughter. We have our serious moments, but we continually find them merged with chuckles, or outright laughter.

I am so grateful that part of my DNA has included a sense of humor. I do hope I will one day be remembered by my grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren for my sense of humor, and pranks!

Today is a day I have always enjoyed celebrating – the birthday of my great-grandmother, Mary Belle Jones-Clary.

This is a post from December 20, 2005…

Once upon a time, there was the most darling little lady, christened Mary Belle Jones, the daughter of Joel Monroe Jones & Anna Greenlee Jones. Mary Belle, or Belle, as she was to be called all her life, was born December 20, 1897, (one hundred eight years ago today) in Boone Township of Madison County, Indiana.

Belle, though a beautiful young girl, had a somewhat sad expression,but was always full of cheerfulness and tremendous kindness to all who knew her. Little is known of her early years – childhood or teens. We know she had three younger brothers, Alphie, Henry (who died at age two years) and Harry. However, beyond that, the accounts are thin.

In September 1920, she married John William Garrett Clary, also of Madison County. Garrett’s maternal family, the Nobles, were prominent pioneers of Clearmont County, Ohio, having lived in Snow Hill, Maryland since the 1600’s. The Nobles moved near the Ohio River settling Clearmont County in 1801. One of the Noble sons went on to become the first mayor of Cincinnati. Despite his “noble” ancestry, Garrett was a farmer, working a variety of odd jobs as a young man in Elwood, Indiana. How Belle and Garrett met is unknown.

A month past their first wedding anniversary, Ronald Monroe Clary was born, followed two years later by Donna May Clary (Barmes). Nine years after Donna’s birth, Joyce Ann Clary (Riser) was born. There are plenty of accounts about Belle and Garrett as strong, fun-loving, practical-joke-playing and loving parents. Still to this day, anecdotes of their humor is a familiar topic after family dinners.

In 1937, tragedy struck when fifteen year old Ronald was thrown,or fell, from a horse. Belle, a short woman standing barely 4′-10″, and 13 year old, Donna, who barely reached 5′-0″ as an adult, trampled a wire fence to recover the fatally injured Ronald. Sadly, Ronald died and was buried in Forrestville Cemetery with five previous generations of his family. Fifty years later, Donna’s son, Ronald, named for the uncle he never knew, was killed in a tragic automobile accident.

The years passed and Belle became a deeply beloved grandmother, and by 1964, a great-grandmother, when I was born. In the home of their family farm, there was a coo-coo clock. As a little baby, Grandpa Garrett would hold me up to the clock, wind the hands so the little bird would peek out to my delight. As I began talking, they were dubbed, “Mamaw & Papaw Coo-coo.” Until he died in 1997, I was the only one who could call him “Grandpa Coo-coo.”

Although I can barely hear the sound of her voice in my memory, her spirit is still very much a part of my life. Those who knew her often comment on her extreme kindness towards everyone. I can still remember the day in December 1968 when she was wheeled from her home in Elwood to the hospital for the last time. I was instructed to remain on the davenport in the living room and as they wheeled her past me, she reached out her hand for mine. “Be a good boy.” The following January, one of earth’s own angels went to be with the heavenly angels.

Every December 20th, I remember this darling little woman. Unlike the women in my previous submission who served as first ladies, Belle Clary never attained national prominence, and the only monument to her memory can be seen in Forrestville Cemetery. However, thirty-six years since she passed away, her indefatigable legacy of kindness and compassion is still enriching the lives of her family – even those who did not know her.

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