Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Boy (Based on a true Story)

His blue eyes danced as the excitement of the house made him giggle. Today was a special day and the little blonde haired boy was so happy. He wasn’t sure but it seemed like a really long time since he had been this happy. The mom seemed a little stressed as she packed up the little one lying in the crib. He was still fragile and required a bag full of “stuff” every time he left the house. The blonde haired boy though, loved the little one and even though he was only 5 years old, he understood that the little life there in the crib, almost didn’t make it home.
The boy remembered the many days and nights that he and his older brother had to stay at home while Mom and Dad spent many long hours at the hospital. He remembered the tears in his mom’s eyes when he went to the hospital and they were all told by the doctor that his baby brother might not make it through the day. He was told to say goodbye, but he refused. Instead he reached in the clear crib where his youngest sibling lay and quietly whispered, “You’ll be fine. I talked to the Blessed Mama and she told me,” referring to a long talk that he had, alone in his room with Jesus’s mom.
The boy had been right. His baby brother had come home and in his eyes, that baby was perfect. Since he had come home though, life had been busy and this new little family member took a lot of care. The boy had long since realized that his days as the baby of the family were over and truthfully, it hadn’t really bothered him giving up the title as he never much liked being called a baby. He knew that the new baby had fought hard all those months in the hospital and he deserved a little babying and special treatment in his life, so Mom and Dad fussing over him really wasn’t so bad.
Today though, it was going to be different. Mom and the little one and the older one were all leaving and it was just going to be him and Dad. The boy could hardly contain his excitement. It was just two days until the 4th of July and he and Dad were going to get fireworks….together….just the two of them. He couldn’t wait and he giggled and bounced around as Mom finished packing up the baby and tried her hardest to motivate the older one out the door. Earlier, Mom and Dad had talked about the baby staying home and the boy had stood back breathlessly waiting for the verdict. He would have said nothing and would have shared the day with the little one, but when Mom said, “No….I’ll take him. You guys just need to go have some fun,” the boy’s heart nearly leapt out of his chest. It was going to be just him and Dad and he was so excited.
As Mom drove out of the driveway, the boy stood looking at his dad. He didn’t know if all dads were as great as his dad, but he knew his dad was the best. His dad was his hero. He had a loud booming laugh that rang through the house. He was smart because he worked on airplanes and the boy just knew you had to be really smart to do that. His dad had a beautiful voice and he loved to dance and the boy loved listening to his dad sing with the radio and then grab his mom and dance through the living room with her. Yes, he had the best dad in the world and now standing there looking up at him, he knew that today, this day was theirs…..all theirs and he couldn’t wait to get it started. This might just be his best day ever.
The boy’s dad grabbed him up and said, “How about we go get some fireworks?” The boys blue eyes began to sparkle. Spending time together AND fireworks!!!! This day was going to be so cool.
The dad took the boy back to the master bathroom and told him he needed to get in the shower. The boy quickly undressed and jumped in the shower. He scrubbed himself as quickly as he could and then yelled to his dad to help him turn the water off. The dad came walking back with a cup of coffee and a pack of cigarettes. The bathroom was the only room the mom would let him smoke in. He helped the boy out of the shower, wrapped him in a towel and sent him into the master bedroom where he had already laid the boys clothes out. “Now you stay in here and get dressed,” the dad instructed, “and I will take my shower. Then when I get out, I’ll get dressed and we will get our day started.”
Once again the boy could hardly contain his excitement as his blue eyes were clear blue sparkling pools. The dad was almost as excited as the boy. This after all was one of the first times in a very long time that it felt as if the family was starting to find its way back to a new kind of normal. Now, being able to spend this day with this little blonde haired boy who had stayed calm and cool during the last few months when everyone else was anything but, who had constantly told everyone that would listen that his little brother would be fine and who had welcomed his new sibling without envy or attitude….gave this dad pure joy. He planned to take his son and let him choose anything he wanted at the fireworks stand. Today, money didn’t matter. All that mattered was the two of the spending time together and making his little boy laugh and smile as much as possible.
The dad opened the ventilation window above the toilet and then sat down next to the toilet and proceeded to set his coffee next to him on the floor. The bathroom wasn’t huge, but he had found a comfortable spot between the wall and the toilet to sit, drink coffee and have a cigarette. He lit his cigarette and took a sip of his coffee. Mentally he was planning the day ahead and trying to imagine the boy’s excitement when he told him that he could have ANYTHING he wanted at the firework stand. He put the cigarette to his lips, took a long drag and……..
The boy was hurriedly drying off and trying to dress. He wanted to be ready as soon as his dad was out of the shower. He heard the clank of his dad’s coffee cup hit the floor and he could smell the smoke from his cigarette. He knew Dad wasn’t in the shower yet and that it would likely be a few before he finished his cigarette. The boy felt a twinge of disappointment that his dad didn’t get directly in the shower, but then again….he knew he never did. Then he heard a single word…..”Ouch.” There was another sound but the boy wasn’t sure what the sound was. Gingerly he pressed his ear to the bathroom door and tentatively said, “Dad?” There was no answer. The dad always answered. So the boy knocked. Still no answer. Confused, the boy opened the door.
The dad lay with his head between the toilet and the wall. He held a lit cigarette and his coffee cup sat on the floor by his side. His eyes were closed but there was a slight gurgling sound coming from his chest. The boy’s eyes grew wide as he tried to understand what lay before him. Then he knew, his dad was teasing him. His dad loved to kid around. He carefully walked closer to his dad, expecting at any moment that he would jump up and grab him, all the while laughing his booming laugh…but there was no movement. “Dad,” the boy said. Then more quietly, “Daddy.” The gurgling continued. Maybe he passed out the boy thought. Using the extent of his 5 year old knowledge, he picked up the now luke warm coffee cup and he poured the coffee in his dads face. There was nothing…not even the slightest movement. It was at that moment that the boy knew. He took the still burning cigarette from his father’s hand. He squashed it out in the ashtray next to his dad, just as he had seen him do it a million times.
The boy sat there. He touched his dad’s hand. It was warm and rough as always. At that moment, he knew that hand was the hand he loved the most in the world. He wanted with all of his heart for that hand to reach up and grab his. He wanted to feel the warmth and security of his own small hand wrapped deep inside his father’s big and safe hand. No!!!! He wanted his daddy to sit up and smile at him. He wanted to sit in his lap and feel those arms around him. He didn’t want his dad just to lay there, covered in coffee with that horrible gurgling sound going on. Then it stopped and the boy just sat there, his blue eyes now a steel grey as he continued holding his dad’s hand and watching his dad’s face turn from a pink to a grayish color. Slowly the warmth was leaving his dad’s fingers and the boy just wanted this to be a dream. He kept thinking that he wanted to wake up. He wanted to run into his mom and dad’s bedroom and hug his dad. He wanted to tell his dad about the awful dream and he wanted to hear his dad say, “It was just a dream. I am fine.” He wanted to get fireworks. He wanted to hear his dad laugh and sing and he wanted to watch his dad dance with his mom across the living room floor. Most of all though, he didn’t want to be there alone. His young brain was beyond full and he was trying to process the most unthinkable situation and it simply wasn’t possible. He was alone and suddenly he was scared.
The boy had never been home alone and this was the worst way to have that experience for the first time. Fighting back the tears he looked behind him and the family dog sat quietly, just watching. He obviously had no idea what to do either. The boy tentatively pulled his hand away from his dad. He knew this might be the last time he felt that hand, but waves of reality kept hitting him. He was alone, he was scared and he knew that his dad was gone. He looked at his father’s face, looking lifeless and colorless and he quietly whispered “Goodbye Daddy.” He then made his way to the dog. He buried his face in the fur of the animal and let out a sob. The dog whimpered sensing how devastated his little human was.
The boy, still scared, still alone and still not knowing how to handle the way his world had just changed, slowly walked to his bedroom. The dog followed. As the boy walked in his room, all the things he loved, all the things that made him happy and all the things that made him secure, no longer existed. He just wanted to feel safe and he didn’t know how to do that. The boy walked towards his bed and grabbed his pillow and blanket and then he got down on his knees and crawled under his bed. The space was small, but then so was he. The dog, knowing how much the boy needed him, got down on his belly and pulled himself under the bed too and lay his head on the boys stomach. Together they remained like this for what seemed like forever.
The boy startled awake and the dog whimpered at the boys’ sudden movement. For a second the boy thought it might all have really been a dream. Then he looked up to see the bottom of his bed and his heart sank once again. He had no idea how long he had been under the bed nor did he know when anyone would be home. Then the fleeting thought went through his head, what if they don’t come back? He knew deep inside they would, but what if they didn’t? He continued to lay there, the dog never moving from his side and the boy wondering one thing….Why?

Suddenly the dog whimpered loudly and backed out from under the bed. The boy lay there listening. The car door shut. Then another. THEY WERE HOME!!!!! The boy quickly rolled out from under the bed and rushed down the hall. He ran to the door and opened it just as his mom, with the baby and his older brother stepped in. A huge uncontrollable sob welled up and escaped his chest and then the words that he knew to be true, but the words he hadn’t been able to say finally came exploding out as 
he grabbed his mom and held her tightly. “Mommy, Daddy is dead!” And as she looked into those eyes that had aged a hundred years since she had left that morning….she knew it was true.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Life Isn't Fair

I have been thinking about my mom a great deal lately. It is not surprising since her birthday was just a few days ago. She taught me a lot of things and maybe one of the most important things she taught me was that life is simply not fair.

My mom was not a "sugarcoat things" kind of mom. She knew that once I left home and got out into the real world, that life would not be easy on me and that I would need some sound life skills, so she never let me believe that I was special, deserved special treatment or that life was fair in anyway. On the contrary, she taught me that we are all special in our own way, but no one was above the other. No ones thoughts, opinions or beliefs were greater than anyone else's and that many times in life mine would be trudged through the mud because......life isn't fair. She taught me that no matter what I did in life or how far I went, I would never be any better than anyone else. However....she expected me to always act with kindness, show respect to my elders (whether I agreed with them or not and whether they were right or not), to act with dignity and class under all circumstances and to always remember that the world owed me nothing. She told me that if I were to ever achieve anything that I must work hard for it and that if I really really wanted something in life......I had to work extremely hard for it. I was taught that nothing is really free in this life, that you don't get points just for showing up and that yes in fact.....life is always a competition of sorts whether it is with ourselves or others. That is what makes us try harder and makes us better at anything we do.

So yeah, those were some pretty heavy life lessons and truthfully, they were pretty well instilled in me by the time I was old enough to start school and definitely by the time I hit junior high. It didn't stop life's disappointments.....i.e. not getting to hang out with a certain group of kids because my parents didn't make enough money, not winning a spelling bee that I had studied weeks for, not making the softball team, basketball team, volleyball team. Yes....there was theme there. I was not athletically inclined and trust me....back then not everyone who tried out got to make the team just because it was "fair" and you didn't get a participation award just for showing up. In other words, my mom's lessons helped to keep me realistic in life and helped me to pick myself up when life didn't seem to treat me fairly. Why? Because I had no expectation that life would treat me fairly.

These lessons have continued to help me through the jobs I applied for but wasn't chosen for, the relationships that went south and even the deaths of those I loved. I knew life wasn't fair but I also knew I wasn't singled out. Life isn't fair for anyone. It is what makes us stronger.

Today though, the younger generation just doesn't get this. Maybe because my generation was brought up by parents that didn't sugarcoat anything and because some of life's lessons were very painful, my generation tried to make it easier for our kids. Maybe because at times we got left out, over looked or just plain stomped on, we didn't want our kids to feel that pain. Maybe we wanted our kids to feel special, included and we wanted to help them avoid as much pain as possible....so we forgot to tell them that life just isn't fair. Trust me, we did them no favors.

We now have a generation of kids that think they are entitled and feel no need to work hard for anything. We have a generation of kids that expects the world to hand them things and give them things without having to put effort into getting them. They feel that they deserve kudos just for showing up and that they somehow deserve more than anyone else, their opinion is more important than anyone else's and that no matter what....life should be fair and they should always get their way.

Because of this way of thinking, we have a generation of lost souls sitting on their parents couches and waiting for the world to give them jobs where they are treated fairly and they can call their own shots and make lots of money without putting in the actual work. They want to be taken care of by the government and their parents and get extremely angry when anyone suggests that they take care of themselves. They are out fighting for rights they haven't earned and demanding that they be heard as if their voices were the only voices worthy of being heard.

We have raised a very angry stressed generation of kids because they were never taught one simple rule.....life is not fair. They can't handle job disappointments, being broken up with by their significant other or even being told "No!" Because of the simple fact that this generation doesn't understand that life isn't fair, the use of illegal drugs, pills and recreational marijuana is off the charts. Suicide rates are astronomical and the amount of kids past 18 into their late 20's who are unfocused and often times unemployed is higher than it has ever been. I was also reading that there was a huge decline in church going in the age category from 18 to 35 and a lot of this was attributed to this generation feeling that they are owed. How does that work?

It appears that like everyone else.....God owes these guys something. Forget the fact that He gave up His only son for us. Apparently that was not enough, so when life does what it invariably does and proves that it is often times not fair, they blame God....some to the point of denying His existence. They have no understanding of the fact that their lives may not be great through their own actions or inaction, after all....God does not control us. He gave us free will, but it is so much easier to blame God than to admit that maybe we did something to cause our own situation.

What this generation does not understand is that the way they are going, they will never be better because the unfairness of the world is what makes us better. The fact that I was not good at basketball but some other girl was may not have been fair, but if I had truly loved basketball (I did not) I could have worked my rear end off to have been a better player and I, myself could have evened the playing field a bit. I would also have gotten lessons in hard work, perseverance and self respect. If at the end of the day I still didn't make the team, well then at least I would have known I gave it my best shot and had to admit that maybe basketball just wasn't for me. At any rate....I was not owed a place on the team just because I wanted it.

Yes, I am on a bit of a soap box today. I guess I am tired of people feeling that just because they exist, they somehow are owed. No, my life wasn't always easy and trust me, when I didn't make a team, lost a boyfriend or didn't get a job I applied for, my mom wasn't standing there saying, "Ah poor baby. Those people are mean and awful and you deserved to get what you wanted." No she was standing there saying, "Don't give up. Try again, but remember.....life isn't fair and you won't always get what you want, but it certainly doesn't keep you from trying again now does it?"

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Mulvane Pizza Hut....A Second Chance for a First Time Manager

I am all about my community and whenever I can help, I try to. In a small town, your businesses are crucial and I try hard to promote our businesses and remind people of how important they are to us. I am going to start a new series that will be posted on our local pages that will highlight our small town and the businesses that are helping it to grow and I will throw in a little business love.....whenever I can. So here it goes........

Do you know Billy Carroll? If you don’t, then maybe you should.

Billy is the manager of the Mulvane Pizza Hut. I got to know him back in July when I was having a garage sale and a friend and I were craving pizza. We decided to try out the local PH “again” as it had been a long while since either of us had been there.

To be honest, I wasn’t very excited as I had been there about 18 months prior and I was not only disappointed in the place but I also left angry. I had gone in there for the lunch buffet. There were maybe three customers in there at the time. There were two kinds of pizza on the buffet and it was obvious they had been sitting there for a while as they were cold and dry looking. The salad bar was anything but fresh as the lettuce was wilted and the cottage cheese smelled very suspicious. The one waitress that was working was behind the counter on her cell phone the entire time I was there and I never got the drink I ordered. When I went up to pay for what was edible of my lunch, I asked to speak to the manager who the girl told me was not there. I went home, waited a while and called PH asking once again for the manager. She had apparently returned and when I reported my lunch experience, she basically told me that I was a liar and that my business was not necessary to her. Their delivery service was also on the same par. It was simply awful. So you can imagine that my craving for pizza that July day was pretty powerful to even consider going to PH and trying the buffet again. I can honestly say though, it was one of the best decisions I have made in a while.

Going in that day, the difference was night and day. The place was spotless. The wait staff was friendly and attentive (didn’t see one cell phone), our drinks were brought out promptly and the buffet was fresh and had many varieties of hot pizza to choose from. The salad bar reminded me of days gone by when the PH buffet was one of the best lunch venues in town. I was pleasantly surprised as was my friend.

It was this day that I got to meet Billy Carroll. He was the new General Manager and had only been in charge just a few months. He came out to our table and checked on us making sure we were well served and happy with our lunches. We were ecstatic and told him so. On talking to him, you hear a wonderful southern drawl in his voice as his answers were always enhanced with “Yes ma’am” and “Thank you ma’am.” He was professional, charming and very down to earth. In other words, his management skills far surpassed my last manager experience in the place.

After talking to him that day, I decided that the Mulvane Pizza Hut needed a little love. I knew just from town talk, that many in our community had quit going to PH because of similar past experiences to mine. What used to be the place for teachers, business people and families at the noon hour had become a shell of its former self because of poor service and a lack of desire to put the work in to making it a successful and speedy lunch time choice. I decided to learn more about Billy and the PH of today.

Billy graduated high school in 2008 and decided to make the move from his home state of Alabama to the Wichita area. While he worked several different places, over time PH became a job he knew well and stuck with. Working between the Rose Hill PH and Mulvane, Billy went from cook to shift manager and then finally, general manager. By starting basically from the ground up, he learned the business inside out and knew what made a good employee as well as what made the customers happy. As GM, he began applying the skills he learned.

Billy was very honest about his first three months as GM of PH. “They were awful! Plain and simple.” He spent his time trying to fix what was broken at the restaurant and trying to learn what Mulvane customers were looking for in their PH. In all fairness though, he was fighting an uphill battle within the community as he had inherited a wait staff and bad business practices from past managers. He had to start fresh and give Mulvane a reason to come back and give PH a second chance under his new management. How was he doing this? By insisting on good service and an ever present smile from his wait staff, a fully stocked and fresh noon-time buffet and if a mistake happens (as they often do dealing with humans and all) a prompt and courteous resolution to their problem. Sometimes this means him calling the customer personally and letting them know he knows of the problem and he is fixing it.

Billy’s managerial skills seem to be working, because when I went in there the other day to talk to him, the lunch hour was going strong. As he talked to me about his love for his job and his affection for his customers, he pointed to several in the restaurant and told me, “I know my customers. That guy in the white hat, he gets Dr. Pepper no ice and the salad bar. His wife, tea with lemon and also the salad bar. These people are my customers and I know their orders. I work to give them the best.” All I could think was “WOW!”

So I asked Billy, if he felt that PH was now on the right track and what he would like to see in the future. His reply, “I have a huge mountain to climb to gain back the communities confidence in PH and I don’t feel that I am even half way there yet.” It’s true. Mulvane is like any place else, especially when there is an ever growing number of choices for people to eat. If a person gets burned enough times at a restaurant, they will take their business and hard earned money elsewhere. Getting that business back, even under new management can be a tricky proposition.

As for the future of the Mulvane Pizza Hut, Billy’s ideas and enthusiasm for the possibilities were refreshing. He says he plans to continue building staff. It is a bit of a tightrope as he is also trying to rebuild his customer base. As people are hearing word of mouth that the PH under his management is a head and shoulders above the past and his numbers are steadily growing, there is still that up and down business thing where one day they are packed at the lunch hour and the next they may have only half that number, so keeping the right amount of staff right now is tricky. It is getting better though. PH currently has four delivery drivers, two cooks, two shift managers, three servers and Billy. As business increases, these numbers will change.

He is also hoping down the line to get more use out of his conference room. It is a great place to have a noon time meeting with the buffet for lunch. Quick, easy and efficient. They have also had clubs such as a card club who use the room and enjoy a game of cards and the buffet. It would also be great for a special events or parties. It is a great space that because of past experiences is getting overlooked by the community.

Billy also pointed out that during the lunch hour teachers get a 10% discount when they eat there and military always gets a 15% discount. “It’s all about serving the community.”

Down the line, he hopes to institute a possible 2pm-4pm happy hour where you get a drink and a slice of pizza. He also has a couple of other exciting ventures that he would like to keep under his hat pending corporate approval, but when approved will be great for Mulvane and for business.

The bottom line is, the Mulvane Pizza Hut has been a long time staple in our community. Yes, it has gone through some damaging times, but Billy Carroll is working daily to bring it back to what it used to be……a great place to have a quick and delicious lunch at the buffet, an evening sit down dinner with the family or a convenient way to have hot and delicious pizza delivered to your door.

Please though, don’t take my word for this. Go in there, introduce yourself to this hardworking young man (Billy Carroll) and give our PH another chance. I think, like me……you will be very glad you did!