May 162017

Remarks from Carl Shepherd’s wake, May 14, 2017– Maureen asked me to share a few words tonight. My name is Amy Abbott, and I’ve known Carl for about ten years and known Maureen for nearly thirty years.

The day that Carl and Maureen married was a happy day. I think everyone can agree they each found a fantastic partner.

Carl was, of course, a farm boy from White County. When I met him, we immediately connected as three of my four grandparents lived in White County. My maternal grandfather was born in Reynolds, and my paternal grandparents “set up housekeeping” in Idyville (or Idaville if you are not a local.)

Carl lived a rich rural childhood that influenced his entire life, and he brought these characteristics into his marriage with Maureen.

As a teenager, Carl was an officer in both 4-H and FFA. For those of you who don’t know, 4-H is a national organization, primarily for rural children ages ten to eighteen, that promotes community service, integrity, and learning.  The four “Hs” in 4-H stand for head, health, hands and heart.

While it pains me praise that University in West Lafayette, Carl obviously had to have the smarts or a brilliant head to get through Purdue University.

He struggled with health challenges, particularly in the last year, but he kept his mind healthy and active.  A good fishing outing, dinner with any of his many special friends, traveling with Maureen (which often including fishing, be it on an Arkansas lake or the Gulf of Mexico), studying the Bible with his men’s group, or enjoying his beautiful yard.

The last two hands and heart fully speak to me about Carl’s life.

To build things is a gift.  Carl was gifted.

In all his business dealings, he enjoyed his work and what he could do for his customers. Not everyone is blessed with hands that work in this way.  I know he was on the roof of Brenna and Jamie’s garage just a couple of weeks ago, giving his gift.

When Carl died, the doctors told us his heart was large.

His heart had to be that big for all he held dear.  His lifelong friends who supported him through Shirley’s illness and other challenges. I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone who had so many friends and knew so many people.  Several days after he died I was having lunch at Jaya’s with several business associates who didn’t really know each other and represented different organizations that had nothing to do with Carl.  Both of them knew him.

His love of the arts which was evident in his home and in conversation and in community support.

His family, both his family of origin and the new one he fully embraced when he married their mother.  His heart was big enough to become Grandpa Carl to Addie and Michael Dylan, and an excellent stepfather to Michael and Brenna.

Just weeks ago, he stood at the altar of Holy Rosary with the family as Addie made her First Communion.

His heart brought things to Maureen’s life that I could have predicted.  Like chickens and an ornery and loud rooster. He encouraged and supported the grandchildren in 4-H and showed up at their events, coming full circle to his own childhood.

Carl was not perfect.  I sometimes questioned his fashion choice of cargo shorts, and he often told some questionable jokes.

My father and brother, being graduates of that University in West Lafayette, really enjoyed Carl.  I won’t forget one day when my dad called me and said, “You won’t believe who we ran into at the Louisville Sheep Show.”  You guessed it, Farmer Maureen and Carl.  I didn’t see that one coming.

We will miss you, Carl.

Carl’s obituary is here.



May 062017

Published on Medium, May 5, 2017 — A friend and her husband traveled on a cruise ship to celebrate their April birthdays. A week ago my friend’s husband died near the Bahamas.

I do not wish this horror on anyone. Not do I speculate on the whys and wherefores. For the record, I don’t think things happen for a reason.

My friend is home now, surrounded by loved ones. She prepares for her husband’s wake and service, handles his business affairs, gets back into the routine of daily life.

We who love her have no idea how to help. I’ve ordered pies for next weekend when her extended family show up. I’ll make a huge kettle of vegetable soup she can use now or freeze for later.

I stumble over words for her and for her local family members. I listen and send “I love you” texts and ask what I can do.

Writers often tackle grief in all its glory. For me, the best description of this personal sorrow came from a non-writer who wasn’t trying to be introspective. After a nasty divorce, a family member helped me understand that I cannot walk in his shoes.

He asked me, “Do you remember how you felt when your basement flooded?”

I remembered. Until we got a commercial grade pump, we grappled with several basement floods. We spent thousands of dollars on special gutters, a systems dug into the floor, finally buying the Mother of All Pumps.

He asked me how I felt when I received little sympathy about my flooded basement. I told him it made me so angry because people didn’t have any idea what an inch of water can do to a basement, running under drywall, sometimes ruining the carpet and pad, dislocating tile, and even ruining appliances. Just an inch of water can spread out of an entire basement seeping into hidden places.

I got it. Grief is like that.

No one can see where all the water goes. No one but the person with the clean-up job sees the full impact of the event. One can easily overlook the veiled places. If your basement has never flooded, it’s easy to just gloss over the entire event.

By no means am I comparing a household mess to the loss of a loved one.

My friend will likely be okay. She has dealt with other horrendous losses in her life, and remains a strong person.

Over the next months and years, she will explore the hidden places and find the damage. I will listen and not advise. For better or for worse, my partner is alive. I do not walk in her shoes today. I will bring pies and make soup.

Apr 042017

April 4, 2017 — Today is our son’s 27th birthday. What richness Alex has brought to our lives! He is a wonderful person, full of laughter and intelligence and compassion and love.

As we celebrate his birthday, I’m also reminded of another anniversary.

  • Twenty-five years ago today, we took our son to the Easter Seals Rehabilitation Center for the first time.
  • Twenty-five years ago today, we heard the word autism for the first time.
  • Twenty-five years ago today, our lives — and his — changed forever.

A much-wanted baby, he took his sweet time, showing up nearly two weeks late. His infancy typically processed until eighteen months.

We visited my brother and his family in Iowa. Our nephew, three months younger, was running circles around our boy. Our nephew came early and weighed four-and-a-half-pounds, but at 15 months was stronger, faster, and even said a few words.

While it is never a good idea to compare cousins or siblings, seeing the boys together punched us in the gut. Our nephew nearly solved equations, compared to our son. Alex, the larger of the two, was awkward and had no cogent vocabulary.


Sitting in a high chair during our visit, he looked at my brother’s video camera and said what sounded like, “Hello, Uncle Andy.” That was the last thing we understood him to say until several years later.

That trip woke us up. We noticed Alex loved ceiling fans and watched for minutes at a time. He was highly impatience if he lost a particular toy, his precious Toddle Tots. We named all of them. He had more than one “Jerome,” which he clung to so tightly he rubbed their eyes off. He drank only from his red sippy cup with a particular lid. His eye contact was poor, and while he interacted with others at daycare, his play patterns were unusual. (Later in his pre-school days, a teacher told me he liked to have “meetings.”  She thought this was odd. I thought it was normal for the only child of two parents with lots of meetings.)

I consulted our family doctor who told me I was “a nervous mother and I should get over it.” Over the next few months, our son’s behavior and actions differed from the other children we knew.

After several similar visits with our family doctor, I had had it. I sought a female physician (whom I still see). On our first visit, she suggested we have our son evaluated for developmental issues.

On April 4, 1992, we walked into the Easter Seals Rehabilitation Center for a lengthy evaluation. Alex was screened by a visiting neurologist from St. Louis Children’s Hospital (whom he would see several more times) and physical, occupational, and speech therapists. The specialists felt he had PDD-NOS, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified. In 1992, the word “spectrum” had not come into use.

All we heard was the “A” word, autism, about which we knew nothing. We left the Rehab Center with more questions than answers. Would he ever talk? Did he understand the language? Would he always live with us? What was his ability to learn?

The Rehab Center recommended weekly therapies, and within a year, he also started their therapeutic pre-school. He improved, slowly.

At the Rehab Center, all three of us learned more than Alex’s therapies taught. Our son was by far the least impaired person in his classes.  Many children had severe physical defects, used wheelchairs, and lacked support at home. I am certain Alex’s empathy as an adult derives from learning about others with differing abilities and backgrounds as a small child.

Language came fully along by age four. The child who screamed for his sippy cup now read everything to us, from words on television to signs at Sam’s Club. Many of his behavioral issues may have been caused by his frustration. We believe he fully understood language and read very early, but his inability to communicate made him furious.

At his pre-school graduation in 1995, he spoke to the crowd. “My name is Alexander Abbott, and I’m going to kindergarten at Chandler Elementary School.” His vocabulary was well ahead of his years, yet his ability to speak was still halting and stilted. He stayed in special education until second grade, also receiving an IEP for speech until fourth grade.

His challenges were more social after early elementary school, and those are his stories to tell. We are grateful he had friends from Scouting, who sometimes pulled him out of a bully’s harm. I neither want to maximize or minimize his issues.  Likely, he has Asperger Syndrome, with its bundle of impaired social skills and understanding.

Today he is a college graduate working and living in Washington D.C. His life is rich with friends and activities, kayaking and hiking on weekends, enjoying baseball and board games and nights out with pals. Early intervention from the Rehab Center gave him a self-awareness most neurotypical people lack. He knows his limitations and works through them, which is more than most people do. Unless you know him well, you likely won’t know he is on the spectrum.

On my desk, I have his last Jerome, a late model with eyes intact. I keep it there as a reminder of how fortunate Alex was to have dozens of teachers, therapists, and mentors who care about him.

Happy birthday, son. We love you, as the song says, just the way you are.


On Not Being Milton and Auntie Mame

On Not Being Milton and Auntie Mame

We’ve known about the three family weddings for a year.  Three of our nephews are getting married this spring, each blessed day six weeks apart.  The first wedding is a week from today. Somehow, it evaded me that I might need to have something to wear to these special family events.  My Beloved bought new Florsheim’s […]

Meeting Elton John

Meeting Elton John

March 25, 2017 — Today is Elton John’s 70th birthday.  I’ve been a fan since I was a young teenager and am still a fan.  Randy and I have been fortunate to attend two Elton John concerts, one in Tampa, and the other at the old Roberts Stadium in Evansville. Early in my career when most […]

A 1967 Christmas

This is an old but goodie from my book, “Whitley County Kid,” (available on Amazon).  The time and some descriptions have been changed to protect identity, but the gist of the story from my childhood is true.  And bears retelling every year. In the 1960s, I was an elementary school student. My primary concern each […]

A Democratic Endorsement from a Former Republican

A Democratic Endorsement from a Former Republican

I’ve loved politics since I was a small child.  I am a Baby Boomer, born in 1957, smack dab in the middle of the Boom after World War II, during the Eisenhower administration. My parents were “cloth-coat” Republicans, moderate in all things. (The term cloth coat Republicans came from Pat Nixon’s trip to China, where […]

These Winter Months, An Anthology

These Winter Months, An Anthology

Every life experiences loss.  Those with two parents for much of adulthood are blessed. Writer Anne Born pulled together a collection of essays about the loss of a parent during  adulthood. I am fortunate to have an article included, which I’m reprinting below. If you have lost a parent in your adulthood or have a […]

Jim Cantore, Hurricane Elena,  and the Stuff of Nightmares

Jim Cantore, Hurricane Elena, and the Stuff of Nightmares

August 31, 2016 — I rarely take a vacation by myself.  After a visit to a writer’s conference last spring, I experienced the benefits of a retreat. Getting away alone to read and write for a few days recharged my batteries.  It’s been a long, hot summer and I need a break.  On a whim, I […]

Lowered Standards

Lowered Standards

August 26, 2016 — I don’t like to cook.  Yes, I sincerely mean it.  Being in a partnership means I have my share of responsibility for our food. Frankly, I have about one miserable failure a month. I learned the hard way early in life that you shouldn’t put Saran Wrap in the oven. The […]

My mother's wedding rings

My mother’s wedding rings

August 14, 2016 — My mother’s hands intrigued me.  While she had long, slender fingers, Mom’s hands were smaller than mine and much smaller than her mother’s. My dad gave her a small diamond engagement ring at Christmastime 1954.  She wore it until her 2012 death, and I don’t remember her ever removing it. She […]

Lost Again, But This Time in Comfort

Lost Again, But This Time in Comfort

Last weekend, without any forethought, I recreated the day my husband and I met nearly forty years ago. We met on an early, sticky August 1977 morning in the parking lost of the West Quad building at Ball State University. Both of us had partied with friends the night before; we were both mourning break-ups. […]



July 6, 2016 — Over the weekend, we watched a TV show that features people hunting for a perfect private island. A couple, Larry and Lubya, toured three islands near Fiji, with a realtor.  Each island had fantastic views. Who can imagine purchasing an island for several million dollars? No wonder these shows are popular; most of […]

Gays and Guns and Grief

Gays and Guns and Grief

June 15, 2016 — I  have not been this angry and sad in a long time. The events of early Sunday morning in the Orlando nightclub Pulse stay right with me, in my heart and mind. I can’t stop thinking about the 49 dead young people and their grieving families, who are forever changed. I […]

3 Hackneyed Pieces of Advice for New Grads

3 Hackneyed Pieces of Advice for New Grads

So I’ve grabbed you with my pithy headline. Not so much? Likely I’ve attracted your 50-plus mother. She’s reading with pink rhinestone readers she bought at Costco. She sat next to me — stifling hot in a black mortarboard and gown — on a humid May day in 1979. Like your mom, I’ll never give a […]

Irreverent travel advice from an unsophisticated rube

Irreverent travel advice from an unsophisticated rube

June 1, 2016 — With the kids grown, the dog dead, and the mortgage whittled down, midlife tourists are off to exotic locations this summer. As an unsophisticated rural dweller, I’ll shares experiences from mistakes made and lessons learned. June 1 is the official start of the Rube Travel season. Middle-aged men pack Sansabelt pants, while […]

When you want to dislike your father’s girlfriend, but she’s lovely

We were in the Detroit airport, ready to board our flight to Rome. My cell phone rang. Figured it must be an emergency, as we headed over the pond. It was my father, so I answered immediately.  “What’s wrong?” “Nothing,” he said.  “I just want to talk to you about something.” “Okay, but we’re boarding […]

Where Are They Now? Ms. White and Crew

Where Are They Now? Ms. White and Crew

May 14, 2016 — Yes, it’s me, Snow White. Do you remember I won an Oscar in 1939? Child star Shirley Temple presented Walt Disney a special Oscar for his first film-length animated feature “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”   Seven small duplicate Oscars accompanied the larger one. The diminutive Oscars were for my dear […]

Fundraising, Schmundraising

Fundraising, Schmundraising

This week I’ve been approached to support a children’s dance class, a high school mission trip, a college sports trip, an elementary soccer league, and a private school fundraiser. Are we solicited because we have a soft touch, or are we simply soft-headed? My husband is worse than I am. He’s contributed to “Laplanders for Botox” […]

Our Being and the Nothingness

Our Being and the Nothingness

May 7, 2016  Perhaps the planet Mercury in retrograde is the reason today is not a good day. Or, perhaps it is the more prevalent and less cosmic force “Shit Happens.” I’m on call for work, so the Administrator on Call iPhone is my constant companion.  And I’m in the middle of a multi-hour asthma […]