That’s What Friends Are For…

That’s What Friends Are For…

images-1By Cheryl Mattox Berry

I feel sorry for people who say they don’t need friends. I can’t imagine my life without them.  Friends make life more fun, interesting and bearable.

The importance of friendship was driven home recently with two poignant stories in the media.

In one story, an elderly woman wrote a letter to a neighbor, whose name she didn’t know, asking the younger woman if she would be her friend because everyone she knew had died.

The neighbor, who was married with children, was so moved by the request that she immediately befriended the woman, who is now like a member of the family.

This story broke my heart, and then lifted my spirits. Can you imagine how many lonely seniors are out there?

The second story was about the eight* patients who died at a Hollywood, Fla., nursing home after Hurricane Irma due to a power outage and failure of portable air coolers. Three of the women, ages 78, 48 and 99, had no family and relied on friends to look after them when they became ill.

Without friends, who would have marked their passing with fond memories, tears and a toast?

Researchers have found that having friends improves your physical health, extends your life, keeps your mind sharp, helps you cope with rejection and gets you through the tough times.

My first best friend, Jackie, and I met in Mrs. Cloyd’s fourth grade class. That was more than 50 years ago. Although we live in different cities, we’re in constant contact, and I know what’s going on in her life and vice versa.

A minister, Jackie sends texts each week with beautifully written prayers for me and my family. She has filled the prayer warrior void left by grandmother, who passed away in 1991.

I’m still close to friends from junior high school, high school and college. We might not speak for three or four months but pick up right where left off when we do talk. We have honest discussions about children, parents, men, aging, weight, hair, makeup, etc. No subject is off limits, and we value each other’s opinion.

Although I cherish my time alone to read, write and meditate, I make a point of coming out of my cocoon to connect with friends. They energize me, challenge me and uplift me. They make me a better person.

*A ninth patient died Sept. 19 at a local hospital.

I Am a Hurricane Irma Refugee

I Am a Hurricane Irma Refugee

By Cheryl Mattox Berry

I was one of the lucky ones. I snared a one-way plane ticket out of Hurricane Irma’s path and headed to my mama’s house in Memphis. After 25 years in Miami, I couldn’t live through another hurricane.

Hurricane Andrew was bad enough in 1992. I remember huddling in bed with my 2-year-old daughter. “I’m kerd (scared,) Mommy,” she whispered, clinging to me as the windows next to the bed rattled.

My hyperactive son, 6, slept through the whole thing. Thank goodness.

The potential devastation from Hurricane Irma scared me. We live near the water, and the threat of a storm surge swallowing my townhouse was foremost in my mind. (On Thursday afternoon, an evacuation order was issued for my complex.)

I thought about going to a hotel, where we hunkered down in recent years during a hurricane. They were all booked. I was going to hit the road and drive far away from Miami. Everyone else had the same idea, and roads were clogged. A three-hour trip to Orlando took seven hours.

All Wednesday afternoon, I scoured the internet, looking for a ticket. Five minutes after I booked a flight on SmartFares, I got a call from a number with a California area code. I thought it was a telemarketer and ignored it.

The person kept calling so I finally answered. He informed me that I didn’t have a ticket because the American Airlines plane had been overbooked. However, he had the last seat on a flight that left Thursday afternoon. That was even better. I hate early morning flights.

There was a catch: It cost $150 more.

I hit the ceiling and demanded that he honor the $414 rate I paid for the original ticket. I told him it wasn’t my fault that I was allowed to buy a ticket for a seat that didn’t exist. He caved in and sold me the seat. Yes, I was an angry black woman and worked that stereotype.

The trip was smooth as could be expected these days. No traffic on the road. No long lines at Fort Lauderdale International Airport. There was a 15-minute delay before we took off, but I made my connection in Charlotte and arrived in Memphis on time.

I leave behind my husband, Jim, who will move from the sports anchor desk to cover the hurricane for CBS4. He’ll be stationed at an emergency operations center, which is supposed to be safe. I feel guilty about leaving him behind, but now he doesn’t have to worry about me while he’s working.

Last night, I dreamed that I was buried beneath hurricane debris. I screamed for help. In the distance, I heard someone calling, “Cheryl Annette, Cheryl Annette.” It was my mom in the next bedroom.

I woke up and realized that I was safe in my mama’s house.

Humanity on Display in Texas

Humanity on Display in Texas

downloadBy Cheryl Mattox Berry

A man opens his home to strangers with two young children. Volunteers rescue a family stuck in the attic as floodwaters swirl a few feet below. Good Samaritans pluck drivers from flooded cars. These acts of kindness by ordinary people in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey don’t surprise me.

During the 25 years I’ve lived in hurricane-prone Miami, I’ve seen the goodness of strangers when disaster strikes. What astonishes me is how quickly compassion disappears and ugliness re-appears when things go back to normal.

It reminds me of a monologue I said for my sixth grade Christmas program. I told the audience that everyone goes overboard to recognize the less fortunate during the holidays but forget them come Jan. 1, because we become busy with our own lives.

The message: Help people every day of the year.

Mrs. Bernice Harris, my teacher at Walker Avenue Elementary School in Memphis, wrote that speech. I’ve tried to live by her words and pass them on to my children and others my entire life.

The long-lasting destruction caused by Hurricane Harvey will make it difficult for people to forget the victims. It will take months and even years to rebuild homes and buildings, and lives.

Hopefully, Hurricane Harvey will jolt Republicans in Congress into doing their jobs. They must work on behalf of all citizens regardless of their political affiliation, income, religion, gender and sexual orientation. They weren’t elected to kowtow to a wannabe dictator, Donald J. Trump.

Trump, who wants to run this country like one of his cut-throat business, can’t relate to losing the roof over your head, going without power and scrounging for food. He shows no empathy for those outside his wealthy circle of friends and business associates.

And he lies.

For a minute, we’ve put politics aside to render assistance to the people and areas hit by the hurricane. We must remind Washington lawmakers that the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina need to be applied in Texas, and there’s no room for political shenanigans by Trump and his cohorts.

 

Keep Emotions in Check During Troubling Times

Keep Emotions in Check During Troubling Times

By Cheryl Mattox Berry

Still.

That’s what I become when the world turns chaotic and ugly. I withdraw from the voices that spew hate, intolerance and lies. I find solace in music, inspirational books and Bible verses.

I make a point of smiling and being nicer to people. The driver who is honking behind me, I switch lanes so that he can get by. The lady who darted in front of me while I was standing in line, I let her go first without uttering a word. A shopper headed toward me in the grocery store aisle, I back up and let him pass. (He smiled and thanked me.)

In this highly charged political climate, you don’t know what will set off another person. I don’t want it to be one of my sarcastic remarks or stank-eye. People take offense at the smallest things these days.

I also refrain from discussing Donald Trump with people I used to engage in light banter. There’s no point. Voters who supported Trump stand by him no matter what he says or does.

The other things I do are get up from the computer and turn off the TV. Silence is beautiful.

Nuts, berries and twigs

After watching the documentary, “What the Health,” I decided to give meat, poultry and fish a break, and follow a plant-based diet.

My decision wasn’t based solely on the controversial documentary, which was co-directed and narrated by a vegan who misreported statistics and did some sloppy reporting overall. The Netflix film was supposed to examine the link between diet and disease but went overboard on the perils of meat, poultry, fish and dairy products.

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with meat all my life. I’ve gone meatless for days at a time. I often eat what my vegetarian friends order at restaurants. Because I like most vegetables, a plant-based diet isn’t a stretch for me.

Although others claim they feel so much better a mere two weeks off meat, I haven’t noticed a difference at almost three weeks. Perhaps it will take me longer to feel any effect. I’ll keep you posted.

Eureka!

I’ve found a pair of no-show footies that don’t slide down to my toes. They’re called Feetures! performance socks, but I wear them with my cute sneakers. They come in an array of fashion colors and different cushion levels, from ultra light to max cushion.

I can’t tell you how many no-show socks I’ve tried that didn’t work and were promptly returned to the store for a refund. Not Feetures!

Cost: $7.97 a pair (Nordstrom Rack) to $15.99 (stores that sell athletic footwear.) Feetures! is family owned and located in North Carolina. Check out the company website to find a store that sells the socks near you.

Give Someone Access to Your Medical Information STAT!

Give Someone Access to Your Medical Information STAT!

unnamedBy Cheryl Mattox Berry

My daughter’s godmother, Rosalind, experienced the most frantic 48 hours of her life when her only living sibling, Dianne, fell ill in another city. She was unable to provide medical information to aid doctors treating Dianne.

At first, doctors thought Dianne, a contract instructor at a professional school, had suffered a stroke when she was found unresponsive at an Oklahoma City hotel on July 31. She was rushed to the hospital and placed on a ventilator. They found Rosalind’s name as an emergency contact among her sister’s belongings.

Doctors needed specific information about Dianne’s heart surgery before they could perform an MRI. However, Rosalind didn’t have all the information, and hospitals that she knew about wouldn’t release Dianne’s medical records because of privacy laws.

Rosalind turned to Facebook, hoping friends and relatives could recall dates and hospitals while she prepared to fly from Houston to Oklahoma City. Several responded with bits and pieces that turned out to be incorrect. Dianne’s former boss heard about her situation, called the number listed in the Facebook post and gave Rosalind the information doctors needed.

By then, 36 hours had passed.

Doctors ruled out an MRI because Dianne had a metal aortic valve. They traced her illness to an infected peritoneal dialysis catheter that had been removed earlier at another hospital. The infection had spread to her brain, causing encephalitis.

“When she was finally removed from the ventilator, she had lost four days of her memory and couldn’t remember her address, phone number, where she had been found or that she had a car,” said Rosalind, who spent two days at the hospital.

Dianne is being treated with strong antibiotics, and her condition has improved. She is working with a physical, occupational and respiratory therapist and might be discharged this week if she can remember her address. Dianne was staying at the hotel temporarily because her apartment was infested with fruit flies.

Having gone through this experience with Rosalind, I urge readers to do the following:

  1. Carry identification and the name of an emergency contact with you at all times, including at the gym and while walking, running and biking.
  2. Give the emergency contact information to your children and keep it in a prominent place in your home.
  3. Choose a medical power of attorney, which authorizes one person to make health care decisions.
  4. Write down your passwords and give them to a family member, trusted friend or store them in a password vault.
  5. Designate a personal representative to access your health information under The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA.)
  6. Tell a family member and trusted friend about your medical history and where they can find the records.
  7. Keep your doctors’ names in a place that someone can find easily.
  8. Make sure that your medical records are accurate and up to date.

With so much technology at our fingertips, information can be found with a few clicks if you know where to look, how to get it and have permission to do so. In an emergency, time is of the essence. Be prepared so others can help save your life.

Dating, Marriage, Etc.

Dating, Marriage, Etc.

downloadBy Cheryl Mattox Berry

I’ve overheard and engaged in the most interesting conversations at the gym.

Before my Zumba class started one day, Tony, a Venezuelan in his early 20s, said he liked my hair. We wear a similar curly hairstyle except his is blond.

He asked if he could touch my hair. I let him, and then, I felt his tight coils, which were dry and crunchy from bleaching and hair products. Jokingly, I said, “Now we have to get married since we’ve become so intimate.”

“You want to marry me?” he asked.

“No, I was just joking,” I assured him.

“I thought you knew I wanted to get married so I can stay in the United States. If you know someone who will marry me, let me know.”

At first, I got a good chuckle out of the encounter. Then, it saddened me to know that people are so desperate that they would go to such extremes.

The New Dating Game

A fitness trainer with a young woman trailing behind him walked up to another trainer.

“Aren’t you bisexual?” he asked the man, who was working with a client.

“Yeah,” the man said.

“She’s bisexual, too,” he said, pointing to the woman. “Y’all should get together.”

I laughed and asked, “Is that how introductions are made these days?”

“Oh, yeah. You have to know right away what you’re dealing with,” said the first trainer.

That was dating among the thirty-something crowd.

Dating in Your Fifties

Michelle’s father, age 84, is her example of a true gentleman. He’s courteous, respectful, attentive and treats every female – no matter her age – like a lady.

If a man doesn’t measure up to her dad, forget about it. One man in particular lost his chance when he sent her an email with the following salutation. “SUP.” Translated, it means “What’s up.”

MIchelle didn’t think it was cute or funny, and she deleted the email.

The lesson: Use proper English and not slang when addressing women unless you know that she speaks that way.

Shopping Off the Beaten Path

It’s too hot to wear tight, black capris to ride my bike. When I went shopping for shorts, they all looked like panties. I haven’t worn athletic shorts since I was a serious runner twenty years ago so I didn’t know how hard it was to find shorts that hit me at mid-thigh.

I told my daughter, and she suggested that I buy the cotton shorts she was wearing. They’re sold at H&M and come in all colors up to a size large. A couple of days later, I went to the store and tried on a pair. They’re still a little shorter than I like, but I don’t feel like I’m riding my bike half naked.

Boycott R. Kelly

Boycott R. Kelly

By Cheryl Mattox Berry

Here we go again. New allegations of sexual abuse have surfaced against R&B crooner R. Kelly. This time, Kelly is accused of holding several young women – all of them legally adults –  in a cult-like environment at homes in Atlanta and Chicago.

The parents of these young women claim Kelly was supposed to be helping them launch musical careers. Instead, he reportedly has brainwashed them to be his sex slaves, and they’re not allowed to contact family members.

In 2008, Kelly was acquitted of 14 counts of child pornography. The charges stemmed from a video that showed him having sex with a teenage girl and urinating in her mouth. Detail accounts of his sexual relationships with underage girls were reported by Chicago journalist Jim DeRogatis and available for all to see on the internet.

Also, stories have been written about Kelly settling lawsuits filed by the families of his alleged teenage victims, who were targeted because they were unattractive and no one would care about what happened to them.

So, why would any parent think that Kelly is a changed man and hand their daughter over to him? Did they forget that he married the late singer Aaliyah when she was 15, and he was 27?

It amazes me that Kelly’s female fans, predominantly black, ignore his lurid past and buy his CDs and concert tickets. They call radio stations to request his music. He should be shunned by listeners. Female fans need to rise up and let stations know that playing Kelly’s music is an affront to women.

Staying silent means that you believe – like so many others – that a young black woman’s life is worth nothing. Is that how you feel about your daughters, sisters, nieces and cousins?

Two years ago, I went to the Chosen Few Old School Reunion Picnic in Chicago, where Kelly was one of the acts. I enjoyed the other performers but left before he took the stage. One of my friends didn’t understand why I didn’t want to see him. She called him a “musical genius.” My mouth flew open. “No, he’s a pedophile,” I replied.

Some folks (women) need to stop being so forgiving and money hungry (parents,) and use common sense. R. Kelly has shown us who he is. Open your eyes, and close your wallet.

Read more about the R. Kelly case and timeline: http://www.mtv.com/news/1586932/r-kellys-child-pornography-trial-a-timeline-of-events-before-and-during-the-courtroom-drama/

Dress Codes Are Necessary

Dress Codes Are Necessary
Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama

By Cheryl Mattox Berry

A dress code has been on the books for women and men working on Capitol Hill since forever, but now women who want to bare their shoulders are making a big deal out of it.

Last week, a TV reporter was barred from the Speaker’s lobby, which is a room outside the House chamber, for wearing a sleeveless dress in violation of the dress code. Other female journalists have been turned away for the same infraction.

I don’t see a problem with the dress code. Without it, who knows what women and men will turn up wearing in the halls on Congress. If you’re going to conduct business, it’s not too much to ask that you dress like a professional.

I think public schools, colleges, government offices and especially TV stations should adopt and enforce a dress code.

Since the day former first lady Michelle Obama appeared baring her shoulders, reporters everywhere have followed this trend. Some TV anchors have taken the style to an extreme by wearing tops and dresses with tiny straps that belong in a club not on a newscast.

I’m sick of seeing women on TV wearing sleeveless dresses that are too tight, cut too low and too short. Often, they don’t have the body type for such outfits. They look like sex symbols instead of journalists.

When I was a TV reporter in the late 1970s, we were told not to wear clothes and jewelry that would distract from telling the story. Nowadays, it appears that some women wear outfits to call attention to their bodies. I’ve often wondered if the skimpy attire is a ratings gimmick designed to attract more male viewers.

It’s sad that you have to tell grown men and women how to dress, but some didn’t learn when they were young that there are clothes for school, social activities, church and work.

I’m not advocating that women wear burkas. I simply want them to be more modest and look professional.

Keep Fears to Yourself

Keep Fears to Yourself

By Cheryl Mattox Berry

Be careful what you say around your children.

I’m not talking about disparaging remarks about other races and ethnic groups because we know our offspring tend to believe what they hear at home. I’m referring to phobias and insecurities.

Many parents unwittingly saddle their kids with their own issues, which can have lifelong consequences. For example, my mother was afraid of going to the dentist. She got anxious the day before her appointment, expressing her dislike of the drilling noise and the discomfort of keeping her mouth open for long periods of time.

After each visit, she described in detail everything that happened, from the prick of the needle to the dentist asking her to stop shaking her foot out of nervousness. I absorbed every word.

Needless to say, I grew up deathly afraid of the dentist. I scheduled routine visits and showed up on time, but I was a nervous wreck. Soon as the dentist set foot in the room, I told him that I hated coming and urged him to hurry up and finish.

It didn’t matter what the visit was for – braces, cleaning, filling, root canal or scaling – going to the dentist struck fear in my heart. I even found myself shaking my foot like my mother did during her dental work. Her anxiety became mine until this week.

For the first time in my life, I wasn’t afraid to go in for a cleaning and X-rays. I even scheduled an appointment in a couple of months to replace a filling, which I’ve put off for two years.

My bravery surprised me. It didn’t happen overnight but rather over the years. My current dentist deserves a lot of the credit. He knows how to calm me (talking about our kids and vacation spots) and lessen my anxiety (scheduling long procedures over two visits.)

Also, I reminded myself on each visit that I never had a bad experience at the dentist, and there was no reason to be scared. I would even jokingly say, “Mom, get out of my head.”

I’m relieved that this issue is behind me. Because of how my mother’s experience affected me, I made a point to not pass my fear on to my children when they were young. Do your kids a favor and keep phobias and insecurities to yourself.

The Green Sundress: A Tale of Determination

The Green Sundress: A Tale of Determination

By Cheryl Mattox Berry

Every now and then, a challenge presents itself that reminds me of the green sundress. I can laugh now, but it was a serious matter at the time. Here’s the story:

One summer, I decided that I would learn how to sew. My mother, grandmother and sister made beautiful clothes so I figured I must have inherited the sewing gene, too.

I picked out the pattern and a bright green, floral fabric, and went to work. Pinning the pattern on the material and cutting out the pieces was a snap. When it came time to actually sew the pieces together, I encountered a major problem. I couldn’t sew a straight line. If a seam wasn’t perfect, I ripped it out and started over.

The ripping and resewing went on for several days. I got so frustrated that I threw the fabric in the garbage can only to get it out minutes later and start all over again.

My mother offered to help, but I told her that I had to make this dress on my own. Meanwhile, I berated myself for thinking that I could sew. How did I forget that making that three-armhole blouse in Home Economics when I was in eighth grade was sheer torture? And I got a C on the project.

I made everyone in my house miserable complaining about how hard it was to make the dress. Whenever someone suggested that I give up and buy a sundress, I lashed out at them and returned to the sewing machine more determined than ever to finish the darn thing.

My mantra: “One stitch at a time, concentrate, work slowly and don’t get ahead of yourself.”

After about three weeks, I finally finished the green sundress to thunderous applause. My mother made me promise never to try making anything again. No problem. I was done with sewing.

I wore that green sundress numerous times over the summer. My grandmother used leftover fabric for patches in a quilt. Whenever I see the quilt, it reminds me of the green sundress and how it taught me to handle difficult tasks by taking them one step at a time.

That lesson came in handy recently when I had to rewrite sections of a manuscript for my soon to be published first novel. In fact, I’m thinking about dedicating my book to the green sundress.