Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Very Personal Questionaire

One of my sisters sent a thought-provoking questionaire out to the family to spur some discussion. As usual I've used this meme as a jumping off place for musings that go beyond single answers to the questions asked. So why not make a post of it:

1. Who influenced you the most when you were growing up?

I have written two posts about non-family influences on my life that you can read here and here. But like most everyone, the biggest influences on my life have come from my family. I see in my behavior and in the mirror some of the genetic influences of my parents every day. Growing up in a pastor's family means I grew up confronting big (even eternal) issues very early. I remember distinctly, at about six-years-old, trying to force my mind to comprehend the enormity of the universe as I pressed my cheek against the back window of the car, staring into the milky way on a cold clear night drive to Kentucky. When I could stand the terror of such thoughts no longer, I looked around the warm Chevy's interior at my calm parents, and my sleeping siblings, and realized that there are things beyond my imaginings and, for me, love is enough. (See "Beyond Stars" here.)

I practically worshipped my two older sisters and have always had great admiration for them, their husbands, and for their strong marriages. I wanted something like that for myself.

And I am still growing. Truth be told, Sheila has probably been my greatest influence. And both my daughters have, just by coming into our lives, opened up experience to me that I treasure. They have also influenced my life through their independent interests and experiences.

2. Tell about your favorite childhood memory.

There are many. The earliest is foggy, but I walked hand-in-hand as a toddler with Jan and Joan to take Daddy his lunch when he worked at Callaway Mills in Milstead GA. I hope that is a real memory. I was three when we moved from there. Vacation Bible School at Antioch Methodist near Mackville KY and at Midway and Sunnyside churches near Griffin GA. Walking to school that first day hand in hand with my Mama in Mackville KY. Swinging on a huge swing in a tree at a little house we rented near Milstead one summer and drying peaches and apples in the sun there for fried pies. People-watching and listening to stories in my grandfather's barber shop. Going to drive-in movies with Uncle James -- I remember he went to sleep during one! Listening to stories at my Daddy's feet in his little outbuilding study in Griffin GA. Listening to Bible stories at bedtime from my mother. Listening to family stories as my grandmother and her sisters crocheted on a porch in Porterdale GA.

3. What was the saddest time in your life?

My father's death. My grandfather's death. The death of our dear friend, Carolyn Burton. Like everyone else, I suppose, our family has suffered several very sad premature deaths. My cousin Jack in a hotel fire. My uncle Jack from a heart attack. My cousin Ray in a plane crash. Sheila's cousin Leland in a bicycle wreck. Just a few week's ago a teenage cousin was killed in an auto accident.
The failure of our first business in 1977 was a time of sadness.
The 1968, 1980, 2000, and 2004 presidential election results were very sad events for me.
I have had two other periods of self-pity and depression that were tough times -- mostly of my own making.

4. What was the happiest time in your life?

- that week at Cape San Blas in 1971,
- giving first baths to two little girls in 1983 and 1988,
- making up stories for my two daughters in the late eighties and early nineties.
- of course, those heady moments on stage as Charlie Anderson or Tevye or Archibald Craven.
- I was ecstatic that November night in 1976 when we celebrated with Jimmy Carter in Atlanta and when the next January I watched from home as he, Rosalynn, and Amy walked hand in hand down Pennsylvania Avenue. (And the Wyche Fowler and Bill Clinton victories)
- curtain calls

But I've had some blissfully happy days very recently, for that matter.

5. What was the best advice someone gave you?

I have received a lot of advice from family members that I value.
I have had the privilege of hearing an awful lot of very inspiring sermons from my father, my mother, my brothers-in-law, and pastors at our church and my college.
The Bible stories my mother read and lessons/discussions at VBS, Sunday School, and Camp Glisson.
My mother passed along advice from her mother that I try to follow:
Today is the first day of the rest of your life.
Don't borrow trouble, with yesterday’s strife.
Take time, smell the flowers.
It makes life worth while
Then pick up each new day.
With love and a smile!

- Ruth Baird Shaw
from "A Ballad for My Mother"

The advice I read in Erick Fromm's book, The Art of Loving, about the nature of love rang true with me and empowered me to answer the next question very definitely.

6. If you are married, how did you know your spouse was "the one"?

I knew Sheila was "the one" when I decided she was "the one" and she agreed to make me her "one". As I have waxed eloquently in the past, I believe that love is a conscious deliberate decision. It is a choice. It is a commitment. Anything less is ... well , a lot less. Pheromones or fate are cheap, available to boars, bats, and butterflys, and not at all romantic. As humans, we get to choose to love. To me that is the only love worthy of the name.

7. Tell about your favorite vacation - or a trip you've taken.

Our rail trip across the country and back in 1979. Our Greater Shaw Family vacations at Mexico Beach, Sunset Beach, and Topsail Beach, and our Roman Holidays were wonderful, especially for our children.

8. If you could relive any part of your life, which part would it be?

That rail trip would be fun to repeat. A few moments with a toddler Brannon or Lillian would be great. Another week at San Blas as a 24-year-old would be great. To listen to Daddy Shaw, or Mama Baird, or Daddy again.

9. Tell about a childhood friend, pet, and/or experience.

My best friend, as a toddler, was Galen Foster. My mother declares that Galen and I invented our own language.
Terry & Galen and Galen & Terry

In elementary school my best friend was Marty Teem and yet I do not remember a single picture of Marty except for those in yearbooks. He and I were working on our bikes at his uncle's "filling station". Oiling the moving parts was part of the procedure, and in the process one or the other of us started squirting the other with oil. Tempers flared and we angrily agreed to meet at the football field at such-and-such time to settle the issue with our fists. I wanted very badly out of the predicament when such-and-such time arrived, but pride forced me onto my bike and on my way to the rendevous. I had hardly started my reluctant journey when I spied Marty coming on his bike toward me with a sheepish grin on his face and an offer to let bygones go. I was very happy to agree. I believe it took more courage for Marty to make peace than it did for me to climb stubbornly onto my bike and head for an unnecessary fight.

10. How did you choose your vocation?

Since I have been so vocal about "choosing love" it is incongruous that I did not choose my profession until 1999. Until then I was searching for a calling.

In 1969, a few days before graduating from college with majors in English and History, I was quarrentined in the Asbury College clinic with the mumps and NO idea what I would do the next year. My friend (and fellow blogger on the Limb) Mike Bock showed up at the clinic door and announced that he had picked up an extra Teacher Corps application in Lexington, in case I was interested. Taking a couple of years to serve my country by helping poor Appalachian kids sounded much better than trying to get into a standard graduate program or, even worse, going off to Vietnam to fight to save one dictator from another, so I filled out the forms and sent them in. Having no direction in my life at that point, and feeling really very unprepared for adulthood, I chose to do something useful while I looked for my calling.

I came out of the Teacher Corps with a Master's Degree, a fiance and, after a one-minute (or less) "interview" by phone with Judson Frost, a teaching job in Rome Georgia. Two years later at 26, Judson asked me to be his assistant principal.
"What would that entail," I asked.
"Well, you'd have to watch the late bus every afternoon, and lead the prayer at PTO meetings."
For a $400 a year supplement to my salary I accepted Judson's offer, though he failed to mention a few other responsibilities - toting children with busted or dislocated bones to a doctor's office or hospital, administering paddlings, filling in as the acting principal when Judson took off that week for a conference every year or when he was out for some other reason, and finally filling in for him for a bit longer when he died of a heart attack at 45. The superintendent asked if I'd be interested in filling in permanently. I responded that I had never considered going into fulltime administration. I've frequently wondered how things might have changed in our lives if I had responded differently. Today I would answer the question differently, but I can't wish I had done differently then. (See #14)

After 19 years of teaching and one failed business sideline, I decided that publishing would be my calling - I quit my teaching job to try to make my sideline my career. Eleven years later, my second business venture having failed, I took another look at teaching, and at fifty, decided this teaching thing is something I'm good at, that is rewarding intellectually and emotionally, and that pays the bills.

As a career teacher for nine years now, I am happy. I am so involved in several teaching projects close to my heart, that even if retirement were possible right now, I might not choose it. On the other hand, I could audition for lots of theater roles!

11. Of what event/accomplishment in your life are you most proud?

Brannon and Lillian, of course.

I was very pleased with my performances in Shenandoah and Fiddler on the Roof.
I am glad that I was able to lead the effort to construct a Braille Trail at Marshall Forest (I was the first recipient of the Marshall Forest Stewardship Award in 1981.)
I am pleased to have led, in the seventies, a very wide-ranging survey of Floyd County teachers, crunched the results ad infinitum (without a computer), and presented recommendations based on the results to the Board of Ed. I suspect I put as much work into that project as some have their doctoral dissertations. And that meeting with the superintendent and board may have been as stressful as a dissertation defense!
I am proud of my race for State Representative in 1984 -- even though I lost that race it helped me grow and become more confident, especially in public speaking and debate.
I am glad of having the fortitude to take the risks involved in our two business efforts.
I am pleased that I have been able to play a role in some of our school's environmental efforts.
I have tried very hard to stand up for what I believe is right even when it elicited namecalling from classmates in high school, or lost me votes in my one political race, or put me at odds with some of my loved ones and, a few times, spurred hurtful words.

12. How have you changed as you've grown older?
I am the same guy. As my mother reminds us, as we grow older we keep our earlier selves and just add new ages to them. A couple of my siblings may be surprised to read that I think I have grown more conservative with age. I suppose my most important growth has been in self-confidence. I have definitely grown fatter and achier.

13. What was your most difficult accomplishment? Three come to mind that were all failures, in a way.
The 1984 campaign-- I had to speak publically many times - my worst phobia. I participated in debates. I was interviewed by the Rome News and radio newsmen. I was wined and dined by assorted fat cats, and had to tell one well-heeled group that I opposed their primary cause. My opponent accused me of dealing unethically with some of his political enemies. (I listened to their charges against him but I did not repeat them.)
Business venture #1 and #2 were both very challenging and I am very proud of some of our accomplishments.
Our newspaper (#1) was the first in Rome to send a reporter to cover the state legislature for the whole session. The Rome News followed suit and has continued to cover the legislature more fully since that time. We published several investigative reports that were important for their time. Our most controversial one foreshadowed a major scandal that did not fully break into the public eye until after we stopped publishing.
Our magazine (#2) filled a real need in the community. When the big publishing company in town noticed they appoached the Chamber of Commerce and managed to persuade the Chamber, with no notice before the fact to us, to drop their sponsorship of our magazine and sponsor instead a big publishing company/CC collaborative magazine with, in my opinion, a nearly identical format. That magazine is still going strong. So our idea worked, but others reaped the benefit.

14. Tell about any regrets you've had.
I wish I had stuck with piano, even though I was very uncomfortable under the wing of Miss Mable Henslee.
I wish I could have overcome my teen angst sooner.
I wish I had taken voice lessons in my adolescence.
I wish I had gotten back into acting twenty years sooner.

I wish I had given up on my business venture a few years sooner.
I wish I were less of a pack rat.
I wish I had taken my girls on a big vacation out west while they were 8 and 13 or so.
I wish, I wish, I wish...but ...
I am almost obsessed with the ways in which all things work together.
I could have taken a voice scholarship at Berry, according to the judges at the Region voice competition in 1965 .. .but Sheila did not attend Berry. I cannot imagine. Philosophically, I know I could have found another love, but would I have read Fromm? Would I have learned that lesson? And more importantly, I know the love I've experienced with Sheila and the two little girls that resulted from our union. I cannot wish the tiniest change that might have affected those relationships! So I'll just take all 61 years, the good, the bad, and even the boring.

15. How do you approach death? It makes me angry that life is so brief. I have barely discovered my voice and I am already losing it. Youth is wasted on the young. My legs and feet and arms ache. The world is peopled so differently now when I am so much better equipped to tell my heart to those absent. And I swear I'll do better with those that remain, and another year passes and Don is gone, and young Tyler, and I still miss the mark. Whether it be this year or twenty years hence, soon it will be my turn. I want to have said and done the things I should.
I suppose it is an odd thought, but I have often sorrowed that, while I hope they will live long and therefore outlive me, I will not be present to support and comfort my younger loved ones in their final battles. I want them to hold on to my love in that hour.
I am not frightened by death, but I certainly want to live.
Life is too short. But how grand it is... hear Grady Shaw's stories, see the pride in Ieula Baird's eyes as she greets me, feel Brannon or Lillian's tiny fingers clasping one of mine, taste Sheila's lips on mine,
...or to smell the mingled joys of turkey and yeast rolls on the counter, and vegetables still simmering on the stove as my big extended family join hands and Mother offers a thanksgiving for all the blessings of this too short life.

16. What do you want the family to know about you (and/or how do you want to be remembered)?
When I step through those pearly gates, it would please me if St. Peter were to holler "Y'all look coming yonder! He may be a champion sinner, and sometimes an unmitigated ol' fool, but how 'bout that heart! Ain't that a load of love the ol' boy is carrying for his family, his friends, his students, his country, and that whole beautiful blue marble down there."

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