When the Soul Dares to Breathe

In high school, I was somewhat of a wallflower, afraid to take any steps forward or, perish the thought, step apart and outside any socially-approved box.  Yet my proclivity to whimsy eventually gave me away in my senior year’s art class when the teacher noted that my sculptures – while exhibiting a rather orderly framework – still possessed a “whimsical quality”.  Through his pair of greatly thickened eyeglass lenses, he had perceived my soul’s gasping for air.

My college art teacher was the first to explain why we students were so sensitive to criticism regarding our artistic endeavors…  “These are your babies. You created them. Because they come from within you and are an extension of your own hands, you will naturally be protective of them.”   So, we learned to listen carefully, weathering the stinging critiques from peers and mentors, as one might glean some new direction for a future work.

Of course, I did better when I kept my glasses off and used the watercolors to wash the shapes and block images in place…we were painting along the estuary, so the sailboats and docks were far more interesting when I stopped looking at all the details and captured only their essence.  So, too, were the Victorian homes that we painted on location the next week’s assignment.

“Keep your glasses off, Annette” was my teacher’s friendly admonition.  Thus, I followed his advice and discovered a freedom that corrective lenses had long denied me.

These days, I am emerged in the practice of creating; this time as a writer and soon to be published author.  As in anything I perceive worthwhile, I tackle the task head-on with a child-like optimism, followed by learned self- doubt, then a convicted “I can do this” on to a more cautious “I must be crazy to think I can pull this off!”  I am reminded of a story shared in English class about the relationship between the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda; on days when her mental acuity often lingered on the fragile precipice between real and imagined, threatening imagery, she was comforted by her husband’s assurances that it was indeed the world that was crazy, not she; not his beloved!  The guy was obviously pure genius.

Most hours are spent in unending repetition:  edit; edit; proof; rewrite; edit; toss; rewrite; edit; walk away; edit; bury for twenty-four hours; reread;  edit; , proof some more… Eventually, the essence makes itself known …and Voila!  Like my watercolors years earlier, images slowly emerge and juxtapose with some surprising happenstance of words.  To write is to find out what one thinks.

So, I The Implementer – the one who has walked others’ ideas from beginning to end, breathing life into others’ goals –  is now at the helm; it is my turn to be The Visionary.  My first collection has gone to print; I have successfully communicated a “vision” and, with God’s hand, found an illustrator who could translate my words into a breathing pallet.  We “meshed” and her paint brush picked up where my pen left off.  Such is the grace of God watching over the smallest of our human endeavors.

Thirty plus years later, I still remove my glasses often, so that I may cull the necessary from the excess weeds constantly blurring my thoughts; hoping again to find the right words to cut through into that whimsical realm of my soul…




The Census Takers

Contrary to today’s penchant for overdoing all things, Halloween was pretty much a one day dress-up event years ago.  Beyond the costumes, trick or treating and the two-dimensional pumpkins and black cats hanging in the windows, the holiday itself was no big deal.

We didn’t jump in vans, didn’t hop from one area of the city to another, didn’t Trick or Treat until we were high school age; nope, Halloween Trick or Treating was for kids only.  We loved running from porch to porch, up the stairs where the lights were on to welcome us, quickly spitting out an audible thank you before running back down to the next walkway.  Our Trick or Treat bags were small, often plastic pumpkins or small paper bags we’d decorated, but they were adequate size for the amount of candy collected.

People knew people and neighbors didn’t move very often; generations watched second generations often grow up on the same block.  Cookies wrapped in wax paper or foil, home-made candies…one didn’t need to go through the bag to sort “safe” from “unsafe” treats.  Kids normally didn’t roam very far beyond the initial home front (about a three block area); if we even thought about going up another street or extending our route, believe me it had to be done with more than one parent’s blessings.  Neighborhood parents were just as watchful as your own.  It was a good time to be a kid as someone was always looking after your safety and holiday fun.

On occasion, Mom would let us help pick out the candy to give away.  Some years we’d have to remind Mom that raisins, no matter how cute they were in the small little boxes, were not really what we kids wanted in our bags.  She tended to go after the familiar:  Tootsie Pops, hard candies, peppermint sticks, bubble gum, things that were familiar to her when she was a kid.  We had a shallow wooden bowl that Mom used for the candy every Halloween.  She’d place it on the desk with a small notebook and pen; she liked to keep count of how many kids came to the door each year.  So did our next door neighbor.

It didn’t help that Daddy had already checked out the next door’s bowl of goodies; he’d return home, reporting how great the candy assortment was next door; none of his remarks improved either our home atmosphere or our bowl assortment.  Mom could be oblivious when she chose to be; just what was wrong with our candy selection?

At the end of the evening, when the porch lights had been turned off, Mom and the neighbor conversed via their respective kitchen windows (across the driveway) and compared their totals.  The variance was the same most of the time: for some peculiar reason, our neighbor always logged a higher number of Trick or Treaters.

These census counts became somewhat of a contest for the women, though none of us understood what the big deal was.  Certainly, the men were not interested in any of this nor were we kids.

Mom, always the one with the investigator mind, couldn’t figure out how any kids would have stopped next door to ring the bell without then following up our porch steps; both houses were in the middle of the block.  Likely, their methods differed; one ticked off numbers, the other counted the small number of candy bars left in her bowl.

Also very likely, Daddy had eaten more than one candy bar on his earlier visit…



The Camel Has Left for the Chiropractor

As it was after any three-day weekend, the following week was just another big blur of Mondays… 

Americans are optimists so, when any previous Sunday showed the slightest promise of Spring, the would-be campers could emerge from their winter berths,  pull out the old camping gear, and take stock of what equipment still worked and hadn’t rotted or mildewed over the winter. 

Memorial Day was around the corner! The great outdoors was calling!

The first long camping weekend of the American vacation season had officially begun. Thankfully, a majority of campers experienced good weather.  Others were not too happy, never mind that they picked up the tent on the same cashier slip that listed the buns, canned beans, hotdogs and marshmallows!  As a manager of a call center, I could plot the calls coming in by areas of the country, depending upon where the sun has peeked from behind a cloud and whispered ‘Summer is coming”.  I could also plot the patterns of “just a little wind” or “a light rain” but that’s another chapter.

Some consumers using their break/lunch hour continually dial the same 800 numbers, hold for a short period of time, then forget about their initial mission of the week. Call centers are slammed for the first seven hours of an eight hour Monday; Tuesday is busy too, but calls tend to taper off by late afternoon.  By Wednesday’s “hump day”, people’s priorities have changed.  Work and family events take over, because the numbers drop to a predictable sum in the middle of most weeks.  Thursdays just slip by.  Whoa! It’s already Friday …time to pick up the phone and complete this honey-do before going home for the weekend! 

So began the call center race each week. The Caller’s Objective: to reach a real live representative in less than 5 minutes.  In the consumers’ minds, there were hundreds of phone representatives just waiting for someone to talk to. But more often than not, there were only a half-dozen –   COUNT THEM! – six workstations inside of time worn cubicles, the majority filled with unsuspecting individuals working the consumer service lines for the first time. Some of them wised up over the years, and became seasoned reps among the fold.  Others lasted only a season; my personal peeve was that some of the best and the worst were cut from the same cloth: all had previously sold cell phones; they had learned to use their gift of gab to “sell up” rather than fix any minor problem.  Cell phone types were never seriously regarded as keepers in my long-term, managerial perspective.

In a customer service scenario, the ability to problem-solve was imperative.  As a manufacturer, we provided both the human connection and the physical part(s) to make one and one’s product “whole” again. Hence,

Defective was the only word most callers voiced.  Comprised of more than four letters, defective was a surefire adjective meant to satisfy the reps’ ears and our data base criteria.   

This is covered under warranty, right? 

What do you mean you can send parts?

We depended on reading updated, accurately prepared specs… But even then, servicing our clients was an extremely Neanderthal process, failing to offer us a means from which we could click our mouse and “presto” make our caller happy…

Please hold for one moment, Sir. (He’s not happy, he’s asking questions… )

Any unusual scenario was considered on a case by case basis; the many repetitive descriptions that implied there could very well be some type of legitimate flaw jumped from the reps notes onto my spreadsheet!  There was little coincidence, but much that was considered anecdotal at best.   It promised to be another long summer.

Among the majority of seasonal temps, anyone who had an intelligent quotient of ten points above a tree could only stomach one season. If they managed to return again the next year, chances were good that they couldn’t get a preferred job elsewhere or had decided they could bluff their way through the eight hour day with little attention.  

Not so their illustrious leader – me – who retained a yearly optimism that our corporate systems would improve, as would not only the seasonal temps but also the callers’ expectations!  The optimism each season was infectious! We’d have a better run this season; of course we would! 

Nevertheless, I remained on the phone and on emails,  tracking down the last major parts orders, dealing with the wrong parts received,  and succumbing by the end of the season to a personal depression; was I really this trusting? (I hesitated to insert “stupid”, but with hind sight, one could substitute for the other).

Relatively few details escaped discovery in our service center.  Scripts, and many hours training to pursue the correct course of questioning normally satisfied a normal, run of the mill caller’s situation.    

·      Did you review the contents of the box to make sure everything was complete?

·        Did anyone practice pitching the tent before leaving?  

·        You sprayed it with what?

We customarily asked questions and in turn hoped that we were “educating” the consumer in a polite, albeit often too late, manner.  Didn’t anyone read Consumer Reports anymore? Or simple care instructions?

Yep, that all-in-one vacation package promised the outdoor experience of a lifetime; so much so, that when the unsuspecting purchaser read the bullet point sales pitch and assured his significant other of a fantastic week in the wild for her and the kids, she was game!  Now, which aisle has the hot dogs and the chips???

The next Monday, it was obviously OUR FAULT (as the manufacturer) that their dream weekend had become a nightmare. Never mind that two layers of cloth won’t protect campers from most freaks of nature;  nor that the weather warnings that had predicted thunderstorms were dismissed by the campers who had braved rains back in the day. Now, lesser issues were often involved, including a tent bag full of bad judgment calls that piled up like proverbial straws to finally break the camel’s back; enough so that Wednesday’s Hump Day smiles disappeared entirely from our summer season’s work week. 

Ultimately, educating the masses was downright idealistic, especially when hundreds of dollars spent on camping equipment didn’t guarantee a successful experience; the entire exercise had burned a distasteful hole in pocket books and taste buds.  “Teaching callers” via a taped greeting was optimistic at best. The Labor Day Holiday ended the season, but a closed Monday always overwhelmed a normal Tuesday’s call volume; lines overflowed and calls backed up; once again, optimists chose to hang up and redial…there was no end to explaining how they had lost their place in the main queue. 

On a brighter note, the next seven months would again include only one Monday per week…


Internet emails continue to circulate long after they first debut; so, I was recently reminded of a vacation highlight that we had visited during 1980; this was on the same trip in which my parents and my daughter would share their first Disneyland experience together.

Victorville was one of our stops.  We purposely deviated from the main highways toward Apple Valley to see the recently relocated Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum. From the moment we entered, we were in a place that was very un-museum like in its displays and its life size exhibits.  I have never again experienced the same feeling in any other historic collection.

I’ll never forget watching my mother “take in” a glass memorial case at the beginning of the self tour.  For some reason, I only remember two of the three children honored in that case: the military-clad elder son that the Rogers had lost and one other (also adopted) little Korean daughter who had died in a church-sponsored bus trip crash.  The third child was their little daughter with Down’s syndrome.  A sign of the times, medical technology was limited and she had lived only until age two.

As mothers, there was nothing more heartbreaking in our minds than the death of a child.  Mom and I let the men walk on ahead to keep My Only occupied; but we both knew what the other was thinking.  It had been a year of medical challenges for Only Bro, so we’d planned this vacation to temporarily remove our folks apart from the day-to-day concerns that were quickly wearing them down.

We had no idea what was in store that coming holiday season; for now, it was enough that we could step away from a glass encased memorial and move on to the next chapter.

With each turn, there were both recognizable artifacts and the family’s real lifestyle possessions, replicated in a respectful and welcoming manner.  We were not intruders; rather, we were guests invited in to observe and linger where we wished for as long as we cared to, in what I can only describe as the closest thing to walking inside the pages of a 3D family photo album that I’d ever experienced.

Signs helped narrate their home style.  George Montgomery had purposely designed the lovely wooden dining set with a spinning center lazy susan to accommodate a family with nine children. I was old enough to have remembered George Montgomery in his own movies; that he was a master wood crafter was not well known beyond the immediate movie industry.  So, the table setting was there, surrounded with the quintessential dining room wallpaper and décor one would have expected to find in an American family’s 50’s home. Roy and Dale were no different than their fans, it seemed.

I’ve never been good with fur; alive or dead.  So, to see Trigger still in the flesh and the family pet Bullet sitting there to greet us was a bit alarming for me!  I tried hard to hide my discomfort; but as children can be extremely perceptive, my daughter soon picked up that Mommy wasn’t really smiling very much as we discussed the two animals.  I’d never make a taxidermist, nor would I ever want to live in any room with glass eyes staring at me!

Thankfully, we passed the fury critters and came upon an old friend. This next object I gratefully admired; it was the very inanimate but precocious Nellie Belle.  Now, this was a hoot!  I could just picture ‘ole Gabby having left the parked vehicle right there!  The Sons of the Pioneers history wasn’t too far from this main arena; also adjacent were some of the lovely costumes that both Dale Evans and Roy had worn.  We adults even recognized the movie titles that they came from; only now we saw their actual lovely detailing in living color.  Once again, we were reminded of what it felt like to visit old family friends and gleefully await for the host and hostess to join us.

The day we visited, the greeters shared that Roy still came down to the museum to chat with his fans. This was not one of those days, but we were okay with that and thanked the greeters for their warm hospitality. The entire ambience of the museum was engaging enough for us, as the inside décor reflected honor and good taste; both personal and movie collectables had been preserved for the public to enjoy.   And enjoy them thoroughly we did.

Sadly, the two year old email that colored my memory of the Victorville attraction was the Christies Auction House summation of the demise of the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum in Branson.  Per Roy’s wishes, his children had promised that the exhibits would be sold off and the museum closed once the attraction could no longer pay its own upkeep.  Seems that not enough lil’ pardners even knew who Roy and Dale were;  not even in a tourist town like Branson, a place known for its traditions and reverence for all things Americana.

While few of us understand our personal stewardships will one day end, Roy had realistically foreseen that his earthly fame would eventually be replaced.  Like any good steward, he had prepared his children, lovingly giving them permission to make the difficult decisions when the times changed.

How fortunate we were to have shared some of the happier trails of yesteryear…

THIS SOLDIER HAD A NAME; a Memorial Day Tribute

Dear Readers,

The month of May brings attention to our fallen; and additional families each year endure the Memorial Day Weekend in a new and solemn light, when a loved one has only recently joined the ranks of those honored at the end of this month.

It is because of the never-ending toll that strips away our country’s youth that I humbly submit this tribute.  While I wrote this piece for a specific young man, I hope that sharing it now will – in some small way – bring a sense of comfort to the many military families forever blanketed in sorrow each year on Memorial Day.

May God continue to Bless and Keep our Military Families in His care,

Annette Brochier Johnson






“Another soldier fell this Friday” and the broadcast continued on;

This time the news became surreal, for the war had touched us, too.

This soldier had a name.

For those of us without a son, the past had met the present

Releasing a stream of déjà vu.

His son would be well cared for, as would his little girl.

Friends and family would come forward

To reassure each other as a generation had before.

“I’ll share my room with my

Cousin, Mommy. I’ll share my daddy, too.”

This soldier had a family.

Ever resilient, the ever constant family values

Were embedded on the hearts of all who shared this surname;

A covenant simply scribed in red, white, and blue.

Camping trips are a summer tradition;

This year will be no different, as summer will not hide.

The campfire will burn and crackle

When branches again entwine,

Sharing growing pains with Siblings,

Watching Cousins meet anew,

Recalling Grampa’s keyboard melodies,

And laughing at what campground antics bring!

This soldier had a voice.

Let each heart in its own tempo listen closely,

So that occasional off-keys and tears may soon transform

To joyous song and comfort all in reverie…

Save a chuckle for that chorus when you congregate and sing!

Peace within will bring forth smiles,

Finding solace now in small hands clasped

Tightly ‘round the photos of One of America’s Finest.

He is forever their very own soldier.

Remind them that there are others, too, who thank God for soldiers like their daddy

Whose service and sacrifices keep us safe in a world of war-torn strife.

This soldier had a mission.

And in serving, he shared The Word with whom he shared a common fellowship and duty.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.   John 3:16 KJV

Political Passionist

My principal in elementary school must be rolling over in his grave.  Today, the Pledge of Allegiance is not necessarily a daily routine; few school children across our nation can recite it.  Some districts suggest that replacing older, thread-worn flags isn’t in the budget, so they do not exist in all classrooms.

But for the children attending Laurel Elementary in the fifties and sixties, the Pledge was recited daily and immediately followed by our principal Mr. K’s favorite song, “I Love You, California” at each and every assembly.  We all groaned but we sang it loud and clear, never once realizing what made this song so great.  It was years later before I fully realized the song’s importance.  Mr. K was a veteran of World War II; in his eyes, we children had good reason to sing about the wonders and fullness of our Golden State.


Dear Readers:

These are two veterans’ organizations that serve our military families past and present that I am particularly fond of!  One is Honor Flight which transports WWII,  Korean and now also Vietnam Vets  to Washington D.C. to visit their respective war memorials.  The other is Veterans Airlift Command, a group of volunteer pilots who transports our current wounded military members’  families to the hospital (often several hundred miles from home) in fully modified planes to accommodate the loved ones and, upon release, their very own hero or heroine in perfect comfort!

Our service men and women serve year round and their needs are greater than the traditional May and November months in which they are traditionally remembered; please give WHATEVER you can, WHENEVER you can, to an organization of your choice.  Remember that within any gift in any form you share, the smiles are free…

the FrogHavenLady xoxox

A Family Affair

I remember walking around the corner shoe store repair, heading back up the street on the way home with Mommy that day…she was really excited! Mommy had her carryall filled to the brim with lots of good things.  An aunt and uncle who lived very far away would be coming to visit us in the next few days.  I asked who they were.  My mother told me that I had been too young to remember when they last visited.

You know your little pink rocker, Annette?

Ohhhh…the light bulb was beginning to turn on…  They were the ones who had sent me the small rocking chair with its rattan seat; something especially for me from very far away.  So, I knew of them by the little rocker that was mine.

One thing about listening to my mother – you got a textbook history in any and all topics – and their story was no exception.

Originally from Georgia, my uncle had been stationed in California many years before. This Georgian absolutely loved kids and noticed a little guy in the neighborhood playing all alone.  Apparently, my future uncle asked the little guy’s mother for permission to play ball with him; that’s how my uncle met my aunt, who was my father’s baby sister, a young WWII widow.  Eventually, the two adults fell in love and married.  Years later, my cousin would follow in his new father’s footsteps and also choose a Navy career.

Mommy continued on…Uncle was now a Lieutenant Commander.  Mommy stressed how very important his new position was.  Actually, my mother stressed about almost everything!  Aloud, she hoped she had picked up enough French bread and that the meal she was planning for the night at our home was different than what another sister-in-law would be serving, and that she hoped we had enough cheese and salami on hand…Mommy’s excitement was absolutely infectious!

There were a few times that I “connected” well beyond my four years of age, with the particular significance surrounding our household events.  Hence, I was starting to pick up just how very important their visit would be, so I asked Mommy:

Will we have to salute him?

Naturally, that made the rounds pretty quickly once their visit had begun.

By the time I was growing up, Armistice Day had been renamed Veterans Day; my mother made sure that I knew the historic background of our country’s holiday at a very early age.  I had a cousin who was born on Armistice Day when it was Armistice Day.  I was born on Christmas Eve; thus far, no one had renamed it.

This would be the first of many visits from Uncle Bake and Auntie that I would actually remember.  So, I listened quite intently as Mom explained that because Uncle was still in the Navy, they couldn’t visit us very often – like around the holidays – when most families gathered.

Because their visits with us were always limited, the days took on a holiday feeling when these two returned to the West Coast.  Each visit might be short, but that wouldn’t stop any of the siblings from filling it as full of family good times as the suitcase full of comfort foods returning with Auntie.

One of the things that Auntie missed most was the sourdough French bread; no matter where in or out of the country they had been stationed, she still claimed nothing ever came close to the bread from California.  Over the years, the older siblings would chip in and help fill up one suitcase going back with Auntie and Uncle to their next post; it would be filled to the brim with Larraburu French Bread and enough salami to feed a company!

Each May Americans remember Memorial Day with a quiet moment of reverie for the family members who have passed on; the same ones we used to hug and kiss goodbye, then send off with a suitcase full of Home.  Today, there remain several opportunities for those of us who want to support our living Veterans and current military men and women; they, too, would appreciate receiving “a bit of Home” now and then.   None of us need wait until May or November to remember our military.  Their calendars have twelve months, just like ours do!

So, when a few extra dollars can be found, at any time of year, send them on…the internet makes it easy to find a favorite charity, adopt a soldier, gift a military family, or send a donation to your local VFW or USO.  Then pack that picnic lunch and give thanks for another holiday in this precious land…