Whaaa? you say? C’mon, you’re an English teacher, for heaven’s sake, Jan. You can’t just make up words like that.
And I would tell you this: Sure, you can. That’s the fun of playing with words. Writers do it all the time.
But I didn’t make up this one. Dick Schmidt did. It’s lovely to have a life partner who took photos all his professional life and is also no slouch as a wordsmith (wordschmidt?!), too. I can’t remember when he started telling me that he was “gratitudinous” for me, but I loved it as a synonym (or corruption, depending on how you look at it) for “grateful.” Because he is. And I am for sosososo much.
Tis the season for giving thanks now, and I often give a prompt to my writing groups this time of year to make a gratitude list and then write into one or more things on the list. Here’s one of mine: Just last Friday night, I stood behind a microphone at the Sacramento Poetry Center and hosted a reading of a bunch of those writers who call themselves Team Haag.
Each year my friend Laura Martin designs a lovely chapbook for us, a little journal of our writing called Soul of the Narrator. We put out the word and filled SPC with 54 folks who came to listen and applaud. And I overflowed with gratitudinousness to see all those people, some of whom are strangers who don’t write with us, who don’t even know us, enjoying the work of people I adore.
That’s a biggie on my gratitudinous list: people who come to write with me, read their brand new baby work aloud and are so supportive of each other (and me). And because they’re really fine writers, people who come to hear us, who think they don’t like “poetry readings” leave astonished at what a good time they had. “You guys are good!” more than one person says, which is always nice to hear.
I am also gratitudinous for experiences that change my life. The biggie this year, as many know, was when I traveled this summer to China with Nikki Cardoza as she brought home her newly adopted daughter Annie. Nikki volunteered in orphanages in Hong Kong and China for a decade. There she met Annie, who has cerebral palsy and is now 7. Annie, who is getting regular physical and speech therapy, is making great progress.
Look at this! Annie can stand a bit with her snazzy pink butterfly leg braces and push herself up with her forearms on her chair as her mama steadies Annie’s shoulders.
I also recently had the great pleasure of introducing Annie to “Annie,” the 1981 movie version (we need to show her the newer one, too). The irony of showing a movie about girls in an orphanage to a girl who lived in orphanages certainly struck me. And Annie seemed somewhat interested. And then the Annie on the screen started singing “Tomorrow,” and Annie brightened in her wheelchair. She let out a squeal. She knows that song. I sang her that song as we traveled through China with her, especially when she was having a hard time. Her mama sings her songs from “her” musical, too.
Look at that smile. “The sun’ll come out tomorrow,” indeed. Nikki and Annie changed my life this year, and I am beyond gratitudinous to them for enlarging my world and deepening my heart.
I continue to be thankful for my good family (“them what’s made ya,” as one of my college professors used to say), this good looking group below, of whom my mother, seated on the right, is the matriarch at a spry 85. (Do not call her a senior citizen; she plans to live to be a healthy 120, she will tell you.) She sings in two Sweet Adelines’ choruses each week. Barbershop harmony’s her thing, and she’s been a baritone for 52 years. My sister, Donna Just, married Eric 32 years ago, and the produced two fabulous children, Lauren and Kevin, whose partners Gerald and Ashley, respectively, are also fine additions to the group.
And I cannot complete my gratitude list without thinking of two dear friends who have moved on to their next incarnations this year: Dick’s former wife, Mary Lou Mangold, a dear friend to both of us, and the oldest member of the Team Haag writing group, Heide Juchnik. They died a day apart in February, and they occupy significant spaces in the hearts of many, including mine.
Though I am also gratitudinous for my longtime good teaching gig (thank you, Sacramento City College) and my lovely old house (now a spritely 94 years old), I find that when it’s time to make my list of thankfuls, what appears on it most are names of loved ones. It is a list tattooed on my heart of those here and gone but who never disappear because the companion spirits stay with us always… as do the living ones whom we see only occasionally. They are part of the warp and weft of our lives, and they make even the most difficult days the best reason to hang around and see how it all turns out.
Chief among those loved ones, of course, is this fella, posing with me on our favorite stretch of beach on the north shore of Kauai:
We love Hawaii, but we have a special fondness for this particular spot where the land meets the sea, framed by the triangular peak locals know as Makana and “South Pacific” fans know as Bali Hai (it did a famous stand-in for the mythical island in the 1958 movie of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical). This man takes me to places like this in the depths of winter to warm up my feet and be restored by those turquoise waters. He has been my loyal supporter and best friend for three decades. And if I had to choose one person to whom I am most gratitudinous, it would be Dick Schmidt, ace photographer, superb partner and truly the best man I know.
And to all of those who read these blog posts, who follow along and want to know what happened next… thankyouthankyouthankyou. Here’s to a fine Thanksgiving for all.