Never been to heaven.

Dear friends,

Since I’m back in my hometown today (unfortunately, to attend a funeral), I’m offering an encore presentation of an essay about living in my favorite little town.

I’m feeling nostalgic. And teary, as you might imagine. I think this will perk me up.

With gratitude {for happy memories},

Joan, who’s glad to be home, even for a day

Never been to heaven.

First published May 10, 2009.

I get a strange feeling sometimes that I can’t quite explain.

In an instant, time rolls back 30 years and I’m transported. Wait, that’s not exactly right because 30 years ago I was precisely where I am now. It’s more like time doesn’t exist, the years and miles never intervened, and I am transfixed in a place where I’ve always been.

It’s not quite deja vu, because instead of feeling a compelling sense of familiarity or repeated experience, I feel an odd sense of time standing still. It’s not that I’ve experienced the moment in the past, but more like the moment never passed.

In December 1978, I turned 16. A few months later, my mother and father pooled their savings to buy me a 1968 Mustang with a price tag of $900. With a 289 engine and a three-speed on the floor, my little pea-green, notchback pony was a fast ride. The only problem was it took me months to figure out the clutch. During most of the summer of 1979, I could be seen killing my car on hills, railroad tracks and at stop signs all over Mayberry. My neighbor Steve, who I mention often in this space, was at that time my friend Steve. And after a few weeks of seeing me repeatedly pop the clutch, he nicknamed my car “the Frog.” I didn’t get it at first but then he explained: it’s green and it hops around town.

Like most 16-year-olds with wheels of their own, I spent every spare moment in the Frog, often accompanied by the Js. When gas shot up to 50 cents a gallon, my mother tried to put a moratorium on my excessive driving, but I somehow found a way to drag Main more often than not. And somewhere along the way, I developed a dangerously leaden foot.

One of my friends dated a boy who lived just a few doors north from the home I live in now on Pecan Street. And one evening while cruising in the Frog with the Js, we decided to drive by his house after a Sonic run. For reasons I don’t now recall, I cruised down Pecan at 80 miles an hour. A slight crest in the road just south of the boy’s home sent us airborne. Back then, nobody wore seat-belts, so a split second after our fannies landed back in our seats, our drinks landed on our heads after having splashed off the Frog’s headliner.

Some days when I sit on my porch and watch the lazy traffic roll past Magpie Manor, I try to imagine what I would do if a car full of young girls drove down my street at three times the legal speed. At those moments, I feel alarmingly old.

But sometimes, when I’m driving my current low-slung coupe with its quick clutch and six-speed manual transmission, the strange feeling of time standing still envelops me.

Once it happened on a snowy night while driving home from work. At a stop sign two blocks south of my house, the heel of my sling-back pump caught on the floor mat and I accidentally popped the clutch. With my left hand on the steering wheel and my right hand on the stick-shift, I was suspended in a moment of silence after killing my engine. There was no one else on the street. It was just me, lulled in the moonlit hush of a town taking refuge indoors on a winter night, watching the faint sweep of snowflakes on my windshield. And in that hypnotic moment when I didn’t even breathe, I was not 46 years old with a husband and two kids awaiting my arrival at home. I was 16, and stopped at the intersection between my mother’s home and the 30 years that would carry me to big white house on Pecan Street.

Last week it happened on the long stretch of blacktop that runs north from Tulsa to Mayberry. I was driving home after Fleetwood Mac and it was nearly midnight. I rarely listen to music in the car, but in my post-concert exuberance, I turned on the radio and found it was already tuned to a ‘70s station. The music brought back memories of the many days and nights I burned up that same highway in the Frog, including one late night when curiosity got the best of me and I pressed the accelerator all the way to the floor until my speedometer was pegged.

As that memory flooded my mind, it crowded out my better sense. And inexplicably, an old favorite song — Never been to heaven — came on the radio. I rolled down my window, turned up Three Dog Night, shifted into sixth gear, and pressed the accelerator all the way down to the floor until my speedometer was pegged.

I’ve never been to heaven. But I am living — deliriously and dreamily — in a place called Oklahoma.

Somebody tell her to step away from the computer.

Dear friends,

I beg for your forbearance.

I’m adrift in a sea of unrestrained nostalgia. It all started with this post and the photos of my kids I took last weekend before the Sweetheart Dance.

After creating that post, I spent a couple of hours wading through the hundreds (thousands?) of photos we managed to recover after my computer crash.

You know that beautiful 18-year-old girl who looked so grown up in her party dress and sensible Toms?

Yesterday, she looked like this:

I promise it was yesterday. I remember it like it was yesterday so it had to be yesterday.

And that 6’4″ handsome boy in the shirt and tie? He looked like this last week.

I bet you won’t be surprised to hear I cried — big ol’ weepy tears — on the day Parker insisted on cutting off those curls. It broke my heart and I’ll never be the same. (I’m praying for a grandson with curls. It’s my only hope for emotional redemption. Once you’ve lived with beautiful-boy curls like those, you never want to live without them.)

Oh, and I found this photo:

It’s the best photo I’ve ever snapped on the best family vacation we ever took. This photo was taken on our mountain. Our mountain that I don’t talk about anymore, lest I cry. Someday . . . someday I’ll tell you the story.

And just look at this little slice of heaven:

I grew a wildflower garden in my backyard for several summers in our old home. It made me happy every single day of the growing season. And it’s the only old photo that didn’t make me want to cry . . . because I can’t make my teenagers babies again, but I can plant another wildflower garden in our new place. You can bet I’ll be getting on that as soon as the last freeze is safely past us. I should warn you, though, if I’m successful, you might be seeing a lot of wildflower photos on my blog this summer.

I also found this shot, one of a series of photos of our former home I took one evening at sunset. I had seen a similar photo in a magazine and desperately wanted a shot like that of my home. A photographer-friend gave me tips on using a tripod and a long exposure — and two hundred photos later, I had a handful of photographs that perfectly captured a summer evening at our home.

I’ll never forget that evening, or that view of our house on my hometown’s brick-paved streets.

I’ll never forget any of these moments, actually. They are treasures all, entwined around my heart so tightly it takes my breath away.

With gratitude {for a lifetime of mostly happy memories, many of them captured on film},

Joan, who loves her words, every single one of them, but knows these photos say it all

Thirty days.

Dear Friends,

I was browsing Pinterest on Sunday.  (Is it my imagination, or has the internet gotten a whole lot easier and more fun to surf with Pinterest?).  And I tripped across this image, pinned by my cousin.

Source: Inchmark

Somebody suggested capturing happy memories throughout the year on pieces of paper saved in a jar. Then, on New Year’s Eve, pull out the memories and savor them, one-by-one.

“What a great idea!” I thought, before realizing that’s what I’m doing here.

This is my 30th post. The month has flown by and, so far, I’m delighted with my little gratitude project. My readership is small but devoted, though readers aren’t why I started Debt of Gratitude. I launched this blog because I wanted to deepen and enrich my appreciation for life’s small blessings and, on that count, I can say without hesitation it has worked.

It sounds too simple to be true, but it is: the discipline and routine of journaling every single day make a difference in my attitude that is distinct and profound. As I have reflected more and more on what I have to be thankful for, petty annoyances and frustrations have receded from my attention.

Every day, I find myself thinking “What will I write about tonight?” And after writing every night, I find myself thinking I’m the luckiest girl on the planet. My plan has worked like a charm, with growing contentment and balance as side benefits.

With gratitude {for each and every one of you — friend, family member or visitor — who have shared my first 30 days with me and who keep me motivated to blog on},

Joan, who wishes she could turn gratitude-discipline into fitness-discipline but needs a whole lot more than 30 days to achieve self-mastery

In contrast to my leisurely Saturday, I had a very productive Sunday. Head over to Domestic Dilettante for the evidence.