Essay Non-Fiction posted November 12, 2015

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A Walk Down Memory Lane

It's The Little Things

by Annmuma

What makes you happy? Contest Winner 

There must be people born happy; maybe most are and some of us just forget it as we are battered by the world's burdens. I've seen babies who appear to smile endlessly, whose every grievance is immediately forgotten with the slightest attention. Too many of the grins fade as the birthdays mount and sometimes make only rare appearances by the time we are lost in the minutiae of living and the stress created by demands of working and rearing families.

So, how do some people keep their joy while others' bliss withers on the vine? I don't know what works for anyone else, only what works for me. When I was young, seven, eight, maybe nine years old, I would become depressed to the point of being physically sick; I remember telling my mother:

"Mama, I am so sad. I have the blues in my stomach."

Such announcements in the late 1940s and early 1950s did not result in a trip to a psychologist or a counselor or a parent wringing their hands with worry, at least not at my house. Although, my mother had the patience of Job, whining rarely produced a hug. It wasn't that it made her angry; it just disappointed her. Fortunately for me, she tackled my sadness with the passion of a general headed into battle, one she had every intention of winning.

"Olevia, get your Big Chief tablet and pencil. Come, sit here at Daddy's desk."

My groans could easily have turned into whimpering were I not afraid she would require even more soul-searching than I knew was already on the table. As soon as I took my seat, she stood next to me.

"Write down all of the things you are glad you have."

"Mama, I'm not glad about anything. I'm sad. I...."

Before I could finish my lament, she interrupted me.

"Olevia, we will talk about that later. First, I need to know what makes you happy. You want to be happy, don't you? So, what makes you happy? Are you happy you have a dog?"


"Then write that down."

I printed, 'Grunt', my dog's name. Mama wasn't satisfied.

"Write the whole sentence."

I wrote, 'I am happy I have a dog named, Grunt.' She approved and asked for suggestions as to what else I might like to list. I sat there listless, staring at the floor and swinging my feet. In spite of my best impression of a starving refugee child I had seen in a movie newsreel, Mama acted as if we were both excited by this laborious and boring activity.

"Oh, oh, I've got one, Olevia! I bet you are happy that Sally had a calf for you to play with. Are you?"

I couldn't lie; I was pretty excited about that. I wrote the shortest version possible and sat up a little straighter in my chair.

"Think of another one, Mama."

"Well, what about when we went to the Alexandria swimming pool with Mrs. Laird?"

"Oh yeah, that's a good one. And we took a picnic lunch."

My heart was getting lighter quickly and the nausea began to fade. She sat with me for another few minutes and then said she had some task to complete in another room. She instructed me to fill the page with things that made me happy. I was not yet old enough to know cursive handwriting, so the undertaking was time-consuming and tiring as I printed out each sunshine moment. Early on, I called out to her a couple of times to say I was finished, only to have her point out blank spaces on the page and redirect me to my assignment. Pretty soon, I was lost in thought and examining every crevice in my brain in search of a joyful moment, however small.

As the page filled, the reasons became less 'real-world' significant as I had to think harder and harder to come up with the next one. I included snow which I had seen only once in my life, along with the sound of rain on a tin roof when we visited Grandpa, another rare occurrence; but I also remembered the everyday things, such as the fun of lying on a quilt in the front yard -with Mama sometimes and sometimes with my brother- as we decided what every cloud resembled. I wrote about baby chicks, newly hatched and fascinating to watch, and dragonflies we caught as they perched on the clothesline; the fireflies, or as we called them, 'lightning bugs', we captured for our imagined, but never successful, fruit jar lamps; the puppies born under the chimney and grasshoppers we hitched to penny matchboxes for races on the porch.

I dug deep and when I called Mama to see the finished product, my mood was almost festive.

"Mama, come see!"

She came in, pulled up a chair and together we read the list. She genuinely seemed pleased to sit with me and talk about my blessings.

"Is that your doll, Susie, you are listing there?"

"Yes. I really like her. She's my favorite."

"What is this one? Picking flowers, what flowers?"

"You know, down by the trestle, the violets; where you let me go last Saturday."

"Oh, that's good. Does this say Miss Curry? What do you like about her?"

"I like that she always fixes me a cup of coffee too, just like yours, when we go to her house."

And so it went for several minutes, maybe an hour or so, before she said:

"Okay, Olevia, let's turn this paper over and you can write down the things that make you sad."

"I don't want to. I'm not sad anymore."

I was no longer sad and I didn't want to write anymore, but more importantly, I didn't want to ruin the atmosphere. She never insisted I continue the list or to even name one thing that made me unhappy. She let me continue to think about the good things in my life.

Mentally dragging out the 'Big Chief' tablet to itemize my blessings has brightened every dark corner, helped to straighten the blind curves and made the valleys of my life temporary and survivable. I've learned that happiness for me is a choice, not a single instance of choice, but one to be made frequently, so when the storms come, I am prepared.

My point is --and it has certainly taken me a while to get to it -- It's the little things in life that make me happy. It's a hot cup of coffee on the back porch; the sound of a thunderstorm at night; children laughing; a birthday card from an old friend; a cardinal on my birdfeeder, my husband unexpectedly bringing flowers to me; a good steak and a glass of wine; and sometimes just reliving an old and pleasant memory.

The list is as endless as life is endless.

What makes you happy?
Contest Winner


The picture was taken by my grandson, George Dellos, in Forsythe Park in Savannah, Georgia. He also enjoys the little things in life and has an eye for sharing them.
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

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