3 Reasons Why I Will Always Cheer for University of Kentucky Basketball: Not the reasons you might think.

I’m sure I’ll hear from some haters on this topic, but just bear with me before you get your drawers in a wad. This is not just about scores and records. Not about championships or losses. This is about loyalty, pure and simple. Hear me out before you try to argue some point from an article you’ve read or anything else, for that matter. Three reasons. Here they are:

1. Kentucky basketball is pretty much the only sport there is in the Eastern Kentucky mountains. As a kid, the nearest professional team of any sort was Cincinnati Reds baseball, and our ears were tuned to the radio for those games in the summer. Although I’ve been away for 27 years, UK basketball is still in my blood. I grew up in those mountains, in an environment where television wasn’t an option. I can remember working feverishly to get school work done in our two-room elementary school where we attended on Saturday rather than Monday, so that we could listen to Cawood Ledford “Voice of the Wildcats,” call the games. Even if the guidelines had allowed for it, the technical and logistical option of watching any TV was fuzzy, at best. Literally. When I finally had the option of TV as an adult, the ribbon wire that ran nearly a mile up the mountain to an antenna shorted out every time it stormed. We eventually made the then-exorbitant purchase of the 10-foot satellite dish to watch the games and invite others to watch with us. Those are some good memories, with my dad getting caught up in the excitement, and passing along that loyal excitement to me. Cawood Ledford was from a county near where Dad and his brothers grew up, and he talked about him like he knew him personally. There is something about watching games now that makes me feel close to Dad.

2. Somehow cheering on the Kentucky Wildcats makes me feel a loyalty to the mountain people. Life is hard in those mountains and survival is a result of loyalty and courage. Coal-mining is hard work and it can damage health in many ways, but it’s been an industry that has sustained the area for a significant period of time. I have nothing but respect for those who have taken care of their families this way, no matter the risk.

Furthermore, if you’re a stranger visiting the area, and you mistakenly drive up the holler, pulling up to someone’s house, you might be met with a rifle-toting homeowner. However, if you have the opportunity to get acquainted and step inside, the refrigerator will be emptied onto the table, day or night, to make sure you never have a pang of hunger while in their company. If you eat what is provided, you have most likely made a friend for life. And I do mean life.

So when the Wildcats win, those loyal, hardworking, highly-hospitable people of the mountains win. Even if it is just to get noticed in a world where so many run to the city and miss the calm, laidback, stunning beauty of a frequently-underrated part of our country. Did I say beautiful? There is nothing like casually driving the winding mountain roads, enjoying the green foliage in the spring and summer, or the rainbow of colors in the fall. It’s a truly magical place to get in a relaxing vacation.

3. Because of UK Medical Center, I know the miracle of motherhood. I suppose there are plenty of other places that could have assisted in making that happen, but they didn’t. In 1987, after multiple fertility drug trials, tests, and diagnostic surgeries, I had major surgery at UKMC to repair blocked fallopian tubes. Just over twelve months later, the most beautiful baby girl was in my arms and my life has not been the same since. And if I could turn back the clock, I would go through it all again.

So there you have it. You can tell me about the money spent on the program. You can question my loyalty to a school I have never attended. (Maybe I should take an online class just to say I did.) I don’t care. I love to see them win. For the Commonwealth. For the caring, loyal, hospitable people who deserve some nationally-noticed bragging rights. For some great childhood memories. For the gift of motherhood. And win or lose, I pray they represent Kentucky with grace.

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Every Story Matters

Twice a year, I have the opportunity to work a side gig and gain a few extra dollars for my pocket. NASCAR is not an event I follow or even enjoy. Watching it on TV is akin to watching paint dry in my opinion. Watching it in person is an exercise in LOSING MY HEARING! (Sorry. Just wanted to make sure you heard me!) While the biggest reason I work at these events is the paycheck, which is decent, given the temporary/part time status, the other benefit is the people. Every size, shape, economic status, ethnic origin, regional dialect, fashion style, and hairdo is represented at a NASCAR event. The people watching is a calendar event. (I’m talking rednecks, executives, mullets, drunks, celebs who fear they might get assaulted by the autograph-seeking crowd. You get the picture. Oh, and people who think the employees were born yesterday and come up with some interesting schemes to reach the suites for free food.)

I’ve been participating in this gig for nearly eight years, and each time I gain some insight regarding the people I see from a distance, interact with briefly or longer, or work alongside. This weekend was no different. I sometimes imagine what kind of story is behind each human that shows up in that venue. And then there are times when I have the opportunity to hear a story that I never imagined.

This weekend one person I’ve worked with this entire time shared a very personal story with me. I’m not at liberty to re-share it, but I have to say that it gave me a new perspective about this person. He is a fun-loving, always joking, intelligent guy. And for eight years I did not know anything about a very difficult time he had been through as a teen. I always enjoyed working with him and anticipated catching up before each event. After this weekend, I feel inspired to know what he shared, as well as honored that he felt the freedom to share it with me. His making himself vulnerable just confirms what I attempt to drill into my clients. Every story matters.

Every time  I get a new group of clients, they look at me in horror when told they will be writing their life stories and sharing them with the group. Some have developed so many defense mechanisms and so much distrust that the process is excruciating. Some don’t want to share because they feel like they didn’t experience something bad enough to explain their drug use and behaviors that resulted in their incarceration, especially after hearing some of their peers’ stories. What they discover is that every story has something that can relate to their own. Every story matters.

This weekend as I heard an unusual and unexpected story of courage and strength, from someone I’ve known for years, I was reminded that my story matters, too. Someone needs to hear it because maybe it will be at the exact time they needed it. Your story is important, too. Someone out there needs to hear it. Please share it. It could save someone.

Painful Pleasures of Moving

In the first 19 years of my life, I moved once, (not counting the year I lived in the dorm on the college campus where I grew up), from a small apartment to a larger house when I was age 9. Since that time, I can count nine times, soon to be 10, with the longest time in one place being nearly 11 years at the previous address. Whether a move has been of my choosing or not, each one holds a level of stress different from any other. 

The move to the current address was the second as a single mom, but given the length of time in one place, more stuff had been acquired, making the packing and planning a challenge. Added to it was the fact that the process included selling two houses – mine and my mother’s – and packing massive amounts of belongings. Fortunately, it was to a house that was slightly larger with room for all the aforementioned stuff.

A newly anticipated move now includes downsizing and simplifying, also known as purging said stuff. Making decisions to save, toss, sell, or give away belongings is painful at best. Coming across reminders of memories long past and having to choose creates major conflict, sometimes because the people with whom those memories were made are no longer physically in my life. The flood of memories is pleasurable. The choosing to let go, not so much. The stuff would mean nothing to a stranger, but hold so much meaning for me. But alas, the decisions must be made to let go and move forward. In contrast, the process cannot be rushed, but the stuff prioritized for its value. Fear comes in thinking the beautiful memories will be forgotten and the stories not passed along to the next generation.

Seems like the perfect parallel of life – letting go of the baggage that weighs me down: choosing the people who add to my life through encouragement of my efforts in making my dreams come true, releasing those who negatively challenge the positive activities I want to accomplish in life. The less stuff I’m attached to, the more free I am to be the person I was intended to be. This process is making me more aware of who I am, what my purpose is, and the kind of people with whom I want to surround myself. 

Besides, the memories cannot be erased. They’re just stored away in the files of my brain, to be accessed when needed most. I’m implementing a defragmentation for better focus!

Piano “Lessons”

I grew up with a father who was naturally talented when it came to music. His childhood was spent in the economically-depressed mountains of Eastern Kentucky. At a young age, he picked up a guitar and sang with his older brothers. He only saw a piano once before being sent away to a Christian boarding school at the age of 13, where he fell in love with the keyboard and the beautiful sound it produced. At one point when the newness wore off, he told his piano teacher, Miss Reed, a stern single lady, that he was quitting. She promptly relayed his wishes to the fiery little lady who was in charge of the school, Miss McConnell, who threatened to send him home. He knew his parents would never stand for that, so he agreed to keep up the lessons.

He started teaching me piano lessons when I was five. I remember wanting to play, but my attention span was short, making practice excruciating. Mom would set the kitchen timer to 30 minutes, and when she wasn’t looking, I would take off a couple of minutes (okay, maybe more than a couple). As I got a little older, he would have Bible college students teach me. One teacher was instructed to push me to learn my notes, and I got significantly better that year because she was firm but patient. (Thanks, Denise Adkins, and later on, Patsy Major and Aneta Morey!) At best, I was progressing at an satisfactory rate. (Even when he would yell, “Sharp, sharp,” or any other correction from the other room when I was practicing. Talk about frustrating!)

Things changed drastically in 9th grade. One teacher had moved away, and I didn’t want to take lessons at school, particularly when the school year began with the accident and subsequent death of my only sibling, Chris. I was devastated and used piano practice as an outlet for grieving, playing with force when my parents were out of the house, through sheets of tears. It was survival and an important activity in my grieving process. But, Dad was my teacher that year, and lessons were sporadic, because he was broken and grieving himself, and I was perfectly fine with it.

When 10th grade started, Dad insisted I take lessons during school hours to have consistency. When I looked at my schedule, who do you think was the only available teacher for that study period? That’s right! Miss Reed! The same stern, no-foolishness teacher who taught my dad many moons before. I begged to get out of lessons that year, just imagining how tough she would be. But, there was no convincing Dad. And so, I showed up, greatly fearing what drastic measures she might take to get me in line. And my worst fears were confirmed. She would slap my wrist up, directing me to lift between phrases. And she would put her hand to her ear to inform me that she couldn’t hear me counting out loud. Horror, I tell you. (I think she and Dad were plotting this torture, or she was paying him back for wanting to quit years before!)

At any rate, I survived long enough for her to present me with choices for a recital piece. She played through several numbers, waiting for me to choose, but none were any challenge, so I waited, spotting the Nocturne in Eb by Chopin at the side. When she finished the others, I pointed to it and asked about it. She shook her head and tried to give me a little sample, explaining that she wasn’t sure her attempt was a good representation. When she stopped, I immediately told her I wanted that one. She proceeded to tell me she wasn’t sure I could do it. My reactive thoughts were what drastically improved my playing that year. I remember thinking, “I’ll show her. I’ll do it or die trying.” (Very threatening, right?)

And I did. It was probably my best performance. Ever. And to think that it was because she made me mad. When I think of it now, I wonder if she did it on purpose. I mean, as a teacher, that is what she wanted, right? When she questioned my ability, I took it as a challenge and it motivated me to do my best. (Again, I wonder if she and Dad were in cahoots!) And then I wonder how many times since then I have experienced someone questioning my abilities or motives, and allowed their words to discourage me and cause me to throw in the towel. But why?

I’m not certain why I have let others have that kind of power over me or why it has taken so long for me to figure it out. Late bloomer, I guess. Maybe I need to write in red lipstick on the bathroom mirror: DO IT OR DIE TRYING. It might be the only way I remember not to let other’s negative expectations take up too much space in my head. I’ll take that challenge, thank you, with Caramel Macchiato ice cream on the side!

Thanks for reading my ramblings!

P.S.  Additional thanks to Beth Finney for leading me on to better hymn playing in the two following years.