A place where I can share interesting ideas and maybe get a few things off my chest

I recently joined the Top of the Morning Toastmasters group. It meets right here in Oldsmar, at 7:30 on Wednesday mornings. I understand your disbelief in the idea of me being anywhere (besides my own bed) voluntarily at 7:30 a.m., but Wednesday is also the day that Mother goes to the senior center, and I have to set my alarm for 6 a.m. to make sure she’s up and has coffee before her van arrives. I’m up anyway, so it seemed like a good plan.

And so it has proven to be. This morning I gave my Icebreaker speech, which is the first project in the Competent Communicator’s workbook. I have actually done this project before, but that was over two years ago in Kerrville, so I thought I’d just start all over, since I hadn’t gotten very far anyway.

The Icebreaker Speech is supposed to be for four to six minutes. I ran through it last night with Steve, who clocked me at a little over five minutes. He cautioned me about being nervous and talking faster than normal, which would speed up my time. This morning, I concentrated on speaking at an even pace, and ended up talking for 8 minutes and 12 seconds. There’s a timer’s light box that gives the speaker cues on how much time is left depending on what lights are lit. I didn’t even notice the light box until all the lights were lit – and I had no idea how long they had been. Oh, well.

I’m including the prepared text of the speech below, but since I didn’t practice it as much as I should have, it’s not exactly what I said. I missed a couple of things, and added a couple more, but it’s basically the same.

One of the things I found very interesting was my opening. I’ve been trying to figure out who I am and where I am going, outside-world-wise, for the past few years. Maybe this is the answer, and I just have to figure out exactly what that means.

My name is Kay St. John, and I am a story-teller. My friends and loved ones are well-acquainted with the phrases “I have a story about that” and “Do you want the short version or the long version?” The short version will tell you all you need to know, but the long version is usually much more entertaining.

The memories of my childhood and the knowledge of events in my family are stored in my brain as fables, cautionary tales, fairy tales, and bedtime stories. I’d like to share a few of those with you this morning.

When my Papaw, Daddy’s daddy, was a small child, his father was killed in a logging accident. He left a widow with three young children, one still a babe in arms. Her husband’s family members offered to take the older children, as they were old enough to put to work but she would have to figure out something to do with the baby. She thanked them, kept all her children with her, and did laundry for men in the logging camp to support her family. This story taught me that mothers in our family take care of their children.

When Momma and Daddy first married, he was fresh out of the Navy, and worked a small farm as sharecroppers. I grew up hearing about how Daddy had chopped wood for the stove and Momma had used the pump on the porch to draw water to be heated on that wood stove for my sister’s baths when she was a baby. After a few years, Mom and Dad packed up and left Magnolia, Arkansas for Lubbock, Texas, where my brother was born. Mamaw, Daddy’s mother, was very upset and told them they were going to starve to death in Texas. Daddy replied, “What’s the difference? We’re starving to death here.” That story taught me about taking initiative.

After Lubbock, where my brother was born, the family moved to Houston, where I was born. When I was about a year old, Daddy was laid off from his job. He went to Dallas, where he found work, worked for a week to get a paycheck. Mother had packed up the house while he was gone, so when he got off work that Friday, he rented a truck, drove to Houston, they worked all night packing up the truck, and then drove back to Dallas with Daddy driving and Momma, my 14-year-old sister, 7-year-old brother, 1-year-old me, and the dog, all in the cab of the moving truck. When we got to Dallas, to the house Daddy had rented, they unloaded the truck so that it could be returned within the 24-hour rental period, so they wouldn’t have to pay the 2nd day truck rental. This story taught me that sometimes you’ve just gotta do what you’ve gotta do.

With my sister being fourteen years older, I heard many stories about her childhood and adolescence, many of which had to do with her being a normal rebellious teenager – and being vocal about her opinions and intentions. I don’t know that there was much difference in how many times each of us was grounded as a teenager, but I was NEVER grounded for something I had yet to do. The stories of my sister taught me that if I could control anything, I could control what came out of my mouth.

Now I tell my own stories – of how while my children were growing up, I got my bachelor’s degree on the 17-year plan. I attended school and worked part-time, taking college classes in between PTA meetings, piano and swimming lessons, and serving as Lutheran Sunday School and Vacation Bible School teacher, Cub Scout Den Mother, Girl Scout Leader and High School Band Mom. I sewed summer play clothes, Easter dresses, and Halloween costumes. My alter-ego was OmniMom – omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent Mom. I loved it.

My degree plan was based on the idea that as I had been reading anthropology, sociology, and psychology for fun, it would be nice to have a piece of paper indicating that I knew a little bit about at least one of these subjects. After only four years at the University of Texas at Dallas, I graduate with a BA in Psychology, with a Sociology minor.

I spent five years working in a small halfway house for people coming out of the psych ward, and then another five years working at a much bigger halfway house for parolees and probationers. My pay was about the same, sometimes a bit less, than I had made as a bookkeeper while I was working my way through college. And after ten years, I was quite ready for a break from direct client contact. I went back to bookkeeping.

A little over three years ago, my long-widowed mother decided she no longer wanted to live by herself way out in East Texas. I had moved from Dallas to Kerrville shortly before that, and we agreed that she would sell her house and move to Kerrville to live with me. I thought I would be getting a roommate, but during the move I realized that she really shouldn’t have been living alone as long as she had, and I had to become accustomed to being a caregiver for my mother. We have both come a long way in our new roles since then.

I also have a great story of how I came to move to Tampa, but it’s a pretty long tale in and of itself, so I will save it for another time, except to say that I will be getting a new name in less than three weeks.

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