Joy comes from hearing other people’s stories

Day by Day

Joy comes from hearing other people’s stories

By LIZ THOMPSON

November 14, 2016
This Week News

Every day I’m reminded there are miracles.

When I put my cochlear implant voice processors on my ears, sounds of life flood my brain — voices or music on the radio, water running, the coffee pot dripping and my husband talking to me or our dog — and I smile.

All these sounds were happening, even when I couldn’t hear them. They went on much like people’s lives, even though I don’t know them.

One important fact I learned as a reporter years ago is that everyone has a story with many chapters. The stories range the full spectrum, from celebration to sorrow.

Before my first implant, in 2002, I was a deaf reporter relying on several things: one ear that had some hearing with a hearing aid, my ability to lip-read, pen and paper, computers and people’s patience.

I let people know I wanted to hear their story and they all complied, doing whatever was necessary to get the story right.

My favorite interviews were when friends and family gathered to remember a loved one. I looked at photos, old newspaper clippings, scrapbooks and more. I heard and saw laughter and tears while writing a story of a legacy worth remembering. Legacies born of hard work, loving their families and respecting life.

Once I had my first implant and the ability to understand speech made conversations possible, I treasured interviewing others even more. The strain was gone for both parties, and I developed a deeper interviewing style that was a joy for me.

The local politicians might not have liked that I could understand, but I did. News also ran the full spectrum, and 15 years ago, I reported the facts — both sides, unbiased and without commentary.

Especially since my second implant in the other ear, I love engaging in conversations with others. When I ask, “How are you?” I really want to know and wait for an answer.

Last month, we were camping in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. One day, we stopped at a picnic grounds by a creek for a snack. A woman was reading a book, and I asked what she was reading.

“A book by Lisa Wingate,” she said. “I love her writing!”

“I’ve read all her books and am one of her early readers,” I replied.

She saw my cane, I think, and came over to our table. We chatted for a bit and she sat down. She was Junella from Indiana, named for relatives June and Ella. I told her Ella is the name of the protagonist in my fiction book I’d recently finished, and she smiled.

I felt I’d known her for more than the moments we talked about books and life in general. All too soon, we had to be on our way. I left her my card and told her I’d love it if she emailed me.

This conversation would have been impossible prior to 2002, unless she knew sign language, and I was never proficient in that.

Throughout our camping trip, we had various conversations with people from all over the U.S. We talked weather — it was much warmer than usual and very dry — and about our dogs, campers, music, children and grandchildren, trips we’d taken and even politics, which was a hot topic this year.

It thrills me to be able to catch every nuance of the conversation and hear the different accents and still understand the words.

Most of us know the tradition of Thanksgiving began as a way to show gratitude for the harvest. In an era of at least presumed plenty, we need to think of those who don’t have enough to survive well. There are many ways to help — food pantries and missions, to name a couple.

But the need might be on your street or nearby.

The list of what I am thankful for is too long to write here, but hearing and understanding again tops the rest. Each new day, I’m reminded of this blessing. I don’t take it lightly.

If you tell me your story, I will listen. Count on it.

When I start asking people questions, my husband teases me that I’m in my reporter mode. But the truth is, I’m interested and intrigued by other people’s experiences. I may not write one of your stories, but I’ll count it a blessing that I understand your words.

Local author Liz Thompson writes the Day by day column for ThisWeek News. Reach her at lizt911@gmail.com.

 

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‘Unplugged’ vacation recalls carefree youth

Day by Day

‘Unplugged’ vacation recalls carefree youth

By LIZ THOMPSON
This Week News
June 28, 2016

I’m glad I was born in the early 1950s.

I didn’t appreciate it then, but times were much simpler than today. Choices were fewer, true, but I never felt deprived.

The doors to our home were never locked; we played outside till after dark — barefoot in the summer. Our parents never worried and since everyone knew us, we couldn’t get into mischief without being caught in the act. We were too busy having fun to think about messing around.

Our social “media” consisted of extended family and friends from school, Scouts and church.

Speaking of church, its doors were never locked, either.

When we camped in the Smokies this past May, we watched children play with abandon — running up and down the hillsides laughing and chattering and helping the younger ones up and down the steep hills.

All the while, they were talking to each other face to face, hugging playfully with arms flung around the shoulders of siblings and friends. As I listened to the chatter, I realized I couldn’t understand a single word spoken in rapid fire. I asked several other adults if they could understand and they all smiled and said, “No, not a word. But they seem to understand each other!”

I was walking our dog and a young girl said to me, “I’m looking for my brother. He’s 4 and riding a (indiscernible) bike.”

“He went that way,” I said, pointing.

I knew this because the whole crew of children had gone by our campsite many times.

I saw the girl again and asked if she found her brother.

“Yes. He was already back at the campsite.”

Another young girl rode by on her small, pink bike numerous times, always singing at the top of her lungs with a smile.

No worries. Fresh air. Freedom. And no distractions. In today’s vernacular, unplugged. No Wi-Fi (oh horrors!), so no Internet or cellphones that worked. The campground had a pay phone if you want to call someone and that worked just fine for me.

It was about 10 years ago when the first smartphone came on the market. Before that, cellphones made calls and texting was cumbersome, using a keypad like a regular telephone, so I didn’t text. I still only do it as a means to get a quick message to someone.

The first pay telephone was installed in 1889 in Hartford, Connecticut. By 1891, there were more than 2 million pay phones in America, according to Smithsonian.com. By some estimates, there are now fewer than 300,000 pay phones in America (one in the Smokies!)

But being unplugged is refreshing. When someone walks by the campsite, they are talking to the person next to them, not into a phone. People actually wave and smile, just like when I was growing up, and people walked for the simple joy of it or to actually get somewhere without a car.

I got a sense of how adults might have felt raising children in simpler times in small-town Westerville, which was a village when I was born. Or in the thousands of small towns across America. A campground can mimic a small town, albeit for a short time. Campers come and go continually, unlike the days decades ago when families stayed put for generations.

We saw several retro campers — Scotties and Shastas, mostly. One was aqua and white pulled by a 1956 Chevrolet Cabriolet (I only know this because my husband told me) painted to match. The inside was decorated like a diner with a mini jukebox.

For days, people walked by it taking photos and talking to the owners. The man said his father used to take him camping in the Smokies in a camper like that, and he wanted to recapture those good times.

Retro trailers, and days of old, for that matter, don’t have all the bells and whistles the new trailers and our current society have. But something about this era charms us.

I think it’s possible to keep a lot of what we loved about the simpler times by remembering that talking with someone is more interesting than staring at a phone screen and that looking at the trees and enjoying the breeze can bring more peace than hundreds of texts.

And taking a walk and waving to our neighbors can hold the same allure as it did when we baby boomers were young.

Camping, fires naturally inspire story swapping

Day by Day

Camping, fires naturally inspire story swapping

By LIZ THOMPSON

November 11, 2015

This Week News

Nothing sparks storytelling like a campfire on a cold night. The flames reach toward the sky and faces are lighted by an orange glow.

Step away from this ring of fire and cold and dark greet you. A friendly voice might call you back and you gladly comply.

Conversation is easy, often animated, and uninterrupted by cellphones, computers or televisions. The only “electronics” would be a flashlight to push back the darkness outside the ring.

Most adult campfire stories hold none of the spookiness children have shivered to for ages. Adult stories are history, with a little embellishment thrown in to make it more interesting. History, no matter the timespan, is best told by those who lived it, or what’s passed along generation to generation or camper to camper.

Gather people in the same campground — campfire or not — who are invigorated by fresh air and an unhurried pace, and the stories begin.

As my brother-in-law, Richard, says, “You get complete strangers, with almost nothing in common, together in the campground and suddenly you are best buddies!”

He’s right on target.

“Did you know there’s an 82-year-old woman who camps here all summer? Pulls the trailer herself and her grandson sets it up for her.”

“I thought you could only camp here two weeks?”

“Well, don’t cha know, after two weeks, she goes to town for a day and comes back!”

Did you hear about the woman who hiked every day and to the 6,593-foot summit of Mount LeConte in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park 718 times, the last time in her 80s? Many people hiked with her over the years and remember her as a gentle leader.

In our much younger years, we hiked almost all the trails in the Smokies, with three children leading the way. We never hiked as far or high as Mount LeConte, but made it partway.

Those days are gone for us, but we have the sweet memories of long, quiet hikes with our children in nature. Yes, blisters, too, but those were long since deemed part of the experience.

These days, we walk the campground roads while we look, listen and take it all in. Twice we set out for such a walk but we got no farther than two campsites spaced a good distance apart, where we stopped to talk with fellow campers as young as 2. Twice we talked long enough that it was time to head back to our site.

“Your goldens (retrievers) are beautiful,” I said from a fair distance.

“They’re old, like me.”

I moved closer to visit. This man, Bill, reminded me of my late father-in-law, a great storyteller. Bill and his wife, Jean, were from Knoxville and their goldens were 12-year-old brothers. That I learned in less than two minutes.

All it takes is a wave and, “It’s a beautiful day,” or “Did you hear the storm last night?” or something similar. Then you wait and listen.

People camping in a national park are typically from all over the U.S. and beyond. In the Great Smoky Mountains, we have met people from Canada, the West Indies, Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, Indiana, Illinois, Virginia, West Virginia, North and South Carolina, Michigan, Mississippi and, of course, Ohio.

Regional accents abound. Of course, being from Ohio, we have no accent, right? Wrong, or so I’ve been told.

“You from up North?” someone might ask. But it sounds more like “Noruth.”

Listening to a story told by a man from Mississippi was a real experience. Correction, stories. Once he got started, he couldn’t seem to stop. We had nowhere to go and nothing to do. The lilt in his words made us want to listen; made us “smaale (smile).”

My cochlear implants allow me to hear speech clearly, and accents from different places in the U.S. and from other countries are music to my ears. I take every opportunity to listen.

I wonder if Southerners go home and talk about the Northerners they met?

During our October trip, we also met an X-ray technician who has retired five times; a photographer from Florida waking early to capture the sunrise over the mountains; friends from Tennessee we’d met two years ago; and others whose stories still crop up in conversation.

But mostly we met people yearning to feel a connection to others and to nature, if only for a short time.

Thanksgiving is near. After the pumpkin pie, why not swap a story, or two? Campfire optional.

 

Slow down and enjoy life’s read

Day by day

Slow down and enjoy life’s read

By LIZ THOMPSON
Wednesday June 18, 2014

What page are you on?

I can tell how much I’m enjoying a book when I don’t want it to end. Slowing down only delays the inevitable; the last page, the final word. Next I’ll be searching for the sequel or another book by this author.

Some people struggle to read and find it hard to study and learn; it can be a real problem to overcome.

But I’m also talking about those who can read fine but don’t want the task. They stop and look to see how many pages they have to read, bemoaning the fact they aren’t close to being finished — wasting time being frustrated instead of enjoying the read. The end will come soon enough.

We do that same thing when we check our watch every few minutes or wish our days away, when we spend time worrying or wanting a bad day to end. We’d be better off by making the most of the moment.

Maybe it’s a human condition where we push forward, in essence, to simply get all the pages turned and the book finished.

As a teen, a reading test showed I was a fast reader, yet my comprehension lagged. Reading fast has served me well in some respects, but proved detrimental when typing what I was reading. By reading so fast, I often skipped entire lines. The same proved true when playing the piano while reading the music.

In time, I learned to pace myself for accuracy in typing and playing music. As a result, my comprehension improved and I enjoyed more what I was reading or playing.

Our personal life is a unique book, one I believe is written by God. Not one book, or life, is identical. That’s remarkable. We need to listen and watch thoughtfully as each page is turned, knowing the end will eventually happen.

In May, we were camping in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. On our campsite, we had a screened room but we kept the front open during the day.

A yellow butterfly was darting frantically in this room, seeking an exit. I tried to help it out with my hands and hoped it would alight on my cane when upheld, to no avail. It was almost painful to watch as it hit the top and sides, coming so close to the exit and starting its mad path over again.

Finally, it escaped. We sighed with relief. Two days later it happened again, and I was able to use my hands to ease it to freedom. The flutter of its wings was both a thrill and a warning.

I found my heart rate was up after it flew away, and it reminded me how we sometimes spend a lot of time flying around seeking freedom, often refusing help. We see children acting much like the butterfly until they realize accepting help and guidance is good.

Life lessons are a gift.

I’m reminded of the final page analogy when someone dies and I attend the funeral, memorial service or wake. In April and May, I attended four such events, although in the same time frame six people I knew left this life: three friends, a brother-in-law, a neighbor who was also a friend, and the pastor who performed our wedding ceremony many years ago.

In retrospect, we think of these lives and their legacy.

I believe it’s unhealthy to compare ourselves to others. That would be like saying all the best books, poems and the like have been written. Why should we try to write anything?

I refer to other writers who inspire me; I don’t stop writing, thinking it doesn’t measure up, although I often choose to toss writings or completely rework them.

So with our lives. We spend time reworking ourselves and tossing out the garbage, so to speak. That’s a good choice.

When I attend memorial services, I try not to compare my life to theirs but I take inspiration from them. Those who volunteered — I might support these causes. Those who had great humor — I might catch myself when I grumble. And those who were humble — I’m reminded to check my ego at the door.

The list goes on.

When I fail to do what is good and true, I look to change that, often thinking of those who were positive influences on me.

Life moves fast enough; no need to push ahead. Turn your life pages slowly and enjoy the read.

 

Government shutdown turned park to crime scene

Day by Day
Government  shutdown  turned park  to crime scene

By LIZ THOMPSON
THISWEEKNEWS
Thursday, October 24, 2013

We’d planned our trip for about six months. My Girl Scout training of 10 years taught me to “Be Prepared.” In any case, reservations at a national park can only be made six months out.

The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is a feast for the senses. October is our favorite month to camp. Crisp sweet-scented air, cold nights, rustling leaves underfoot, fewer campers and mostly the older set, like us, who are ready for conversation at any time and respectful as to when to interrupt others to engage in that chat.

Campfires are welcome as the temperature dips throughout the day and we get a lot of reading done while listening to the rushing creek.

We arrived on Sunday, Sept. 29 and planned to stay two weeks. Our campsite was all set and, a little weary from a long drive and the work, we were about to claim our chairs to relax. Before that, we walked to get a newspaper at the camp store. That’s when we read the headline that the government might shut down at midnight. If that happened, all the more than 400 national parks would close.

Tuesday morning the park ranger confirmed the outcome. We were told to pack up and go home; or wherever your next visit was to be. Home for us.

We headed to town for a cell phone signal only to be met with rangers at the visitor center setting up the orange cones, yellow tape — it felt like a crime scene actually — and we made sure we could get back into the park to retrieve our gear.

“Yes, but make your arrangements and be out by Thursday noon,” he said.

So the task of taking down what we had just put in place began. Campers started to vacate quickly. The local news station came through the park to get on-camera interviews asking the question our lawmakers should be asking, “How does this affect you?”

We enjoyed our last day as much as possible and when we drove out Wednesday morning, only four trailers were left in our area. To see the rows of vacant campsites was eerie at best. As we left the park, roads were blocked and when we got to one point, we had to open a metal gate and shut it after we passed through.

We didn’t see another car until we hit town, about 10 minutes or more out of the park. Not the usual occurrence.

While we were packing our campsite, it brought to mind what I’d heard over the years; different versions of, “If you had to leave your home quickly, what would you take?” The thought being, if you were to never return or if the house was on fire, what would you deem most important or irreplaceable? As long as my family was safe, the things don’t matter, in the long run.

Would I pack a suitcase full of the things of my life? Could I really do that? Pack the important things in a case or box? Not really. It’s the people and memories that matter.

While I sat by the rushing creek at our campsite, I was surrounded by memories we had made in the Smokies since 1977. I was sad we had to leave so quickly and 12 days before planned.

The sadness also came on another level that is difficult to put in words. I could almost see the people who carved out this particular national park so many years ago. In my mind’s eye, it was in black and white like a documentary. Then I realized if the park were to never reopen, the forest would reclaim all that man had made for access to this natural wonder.

The few campers still remaining on Tuesday milled around and talked. One couple from Arkansas were traveling all around the country visiting national parks for another few weeks and would have to figure out whether to go home or find a state park.

A couple from Illinois came to enjoy the sound of the creek. He had gradually lost most of his hearing but five years ago got a cochlear implant. A man from North Carolina had questions on details about leaving and said, “I don’t want to get political but …”

How could we not get political when the whole mess was just that? We all agreed, shook our heads and kept packing.

Will we return again? The Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, yes.

Local author Liz Thompson writes the Day by day column for ThisWeek News.