The Women Behind Us All

Mary Blanche Greenwell
Far right, my Hot and Happening Aunt Blanche in the Waves

I recently went on a self-indulgent, whiny rant about how it is still not possible for women to “have it all” (career and family).  It was misguided.  It quickly became apparent to me from my friends’ reactions that my preoccupation with the notion of “having it all” is obsolete and a waste of time.  Smart women make use of their talents and available resources to craft “manageable,” healthy lives for themselves and their families every single day.  So what was I bitching about?  Maybe the gnawing feeling I have had since my 30’s that, for me, juggling 2 kids, a household and a career is more than I can handle?  Maybe a sense of disillusionment over a lie the feminists of the 70’s “sold” to women of my generation – that, not only COULD we have it all but we simply MUST?

I was raised by a traditional 1950’s housewife with 7 children.  As the youngest child, I had the unique opportunity to observe from the “caboose” the long train ahead of me that was our family life.  I know my Mother struggled to give each one of us what we needed while also compromising her personal desires to be a writer, artist, social reformer and business woman.  She simply did not have the time in one lifetime to do it all – like the rest of us. Enter my Mom’s greatest personal supporter – her Aunt Blanche.  Born in 1907, the only girl in a family of 8 children, Mary Blanche Greenwell became one of the first Waves in the United States Navy to arrive in Seattle during World II.  Witty, fun-loving and kind-hearted Aunt Blanche was my Mother’s childhood anchor.  She cherished her precocious niece.  For one thing, little Rhetta looked more like Aunt Blanche than her own Mother and this tickled her.  When Aunt Blanche left for the Waves, my Mom was a young girl, an aspiring journalist.  Mom remembers typing victory speeches and mailing them off to Aunt Blanche who was away serving in the Waves. Today, the 70th Anniversary of D-day, is a perfect opportunity to reflect on our heritage and the women who paved the way for later generations to “have it all.”  I am grateful beyond words for my great-Aunt Blanche and her service to this Country.  Above all, I am thankful that she loved my Mom so well all throughout her life.  She gave Mom a sense of meaning, hope and connection through the tough years of raising 7 young children born within a 12-year span.

In a letter written to my Mother in 1960 after she became a mother of 1 child herself, Aunt Blanche wrote:  “Even I with my one, decisions to make work to get done always hanging over me – I get overcome and feel that it’s too much.  Then I get remorseful and feel above all that I’m not a good mother because I get so cross. I’m sure every mother feels this way.”

These were compassionate and comforting words to my Mother from the woman she admired most in all the world.  Somehow, both women carried on, mothering and living and juggling it all simultaneously.  I cannot possibly believe that my silly little rants about “having it all” should be taken seriously with the humbling heritage of strong women I am fortunate to have in my life!

The Neighbors to the East

Image  What do property lines, cemeteries and Memorial Day have in common?  A short poem by me might help illuminate:  

We’ve got neighbors to the East and neighbors to the West

But the neighbors six feet under

are the ones we like best!

I am a taphophile.  The Urban Dictionary defines taphophilia as “a love of funerals, graves and cemeteries.”  So it is no surprise  that living across from one of the most beautifully maintained, serenely perched cemeteries for 6 years brought me immense joy.  Especially since my front door faced East and the light reflecting from the many headstones at sunset cast a brilliant bronze and pink aura across a rolling lawn of native Kansas prairie grass each and every evening.  Sigh.  The sunsets and that special reflecting light from the headstones in the cemetery got into my soul.  And the nagging neighbors did everything in their power to kill my swag (as I have overheard my kids say).

Just West of our beautiful bucolic home and surrounding acreage things were far less pleasant.  The neighbors wanted justice by any means and their leader was “The Gray Man,” innocently dubbed so by my seven-year-old daughter who often witnessed him patrolling our pastoral route in front of our home she named “the twisty road.”  Long before our family arrived in this Land of Wonders called Kansas, a Homeowner’s Association had established covenants about the use of its subdivision land.  Conflict arose over differing opinions when what we believed to be our back yard was, in their opinion, the neighborhood park.  Fighting over a tiny parcel of land that had originally belonged to Osage Indians made life with young children in a small community entertaining for locals and tedious for our household.  But the neighbors could never rob me of my nightly sunsets and fantastic strolls through Highland Cemetery.  

In 2009, our battles with “The Gray Man” and his posse were in their 5th year and, quite frankly, becoming most redundant for me.  I sought solace in the beauty of the cemetery and it was there that I discovered a most wondrous treasure:  the headstones of our newly inaugurated 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama’s great-grandparents, Rolla and Leona Payne.  Ha!  Rememberef as fine, hard-working Midwesterners by neighbors, the Paynes retired to Winfield in 1956 until their death and burial across the street from my future home in 1968.  To me, this ironic fact reduced all the petty bickering with the neighbors to the West to mere folly.  Like the Paynes, my family were outsiders seeking nothing more than the same peace and serenity from a land that never really rightfully belonged to anyone except Native Americans.  Covenants be damned!  Image


Each Memorial weekend hundreds of families visited the beautiful cemetery on the twisty road that was once a haven of peace for mea and a treasure trove of silk flowers, blown by the fierce Kansas winds from their proper places, retrieved by my children and gifted to me to grace our dining room table.  The table which overlooked our beloved neighbors to the East.

Why The Lunch Lady Should Be Every Kid’s Best Friend


I served a six-month “term” (or “sentence,” in some cases!) as a Food Service Aide in an elementary school.  YES, Glamorous JOANIE was a LUNCH LADY!!!  And you know what?  It was my favorite job ever!  Once you get past the weird smells, unpleasant kitchen co-workers, ridiculous rules, loud clanging noises and insufferable heat, being a Lunch Lady ain’t half bad!  Here’s why:  imagine being the ONLY person in a child’s school day who is there simply to pleasantly provide a service with no expectations beyond basic courtesy.  This truth is every Lunch Lady’s secret weapon, but we don’t all use this super power to its maximum potential.

During my six month hiatus from the adult world working as an elementary school lunch lady, I met all kinds of lunch ladies:  young moms looking to earn a little cash while their children attended school; retirement-aged lonely widows whose grandchildren are grown; exasperated older women trying to get away from recently retired husbands, or worse, husbands who had been laid off from long-term careers and possibly robbed of their retirement benefits; fun moms (ME!) and last, complete and total social misfits (also me!) just looking to work 9 months out of the year with few hassles and do whatever weird thing they are into the other 3 months.  So you see, children encountered Lunch Ladies that ran the full spectrum of personal commitment to the HAIR NET SOCIETY.

I first decided I LOVED being a lunch lady when my boss told me not to EVER help any child, for any reason, acquire food that was not paid for.  REALLY?  This sounded odd to me but I soon realized what kind of ridiculous pressure school food programs are under to “turn a profit.”  The goal really is to meet government standards to maximize the school’s reimbursement potential.  Somewhere far down the line is the goal to nourish children’s minds and bodies to encourage and support healthy growth and natural curiosity to learn.  “Charlie,” (I can’t possibly remember the child’s actual name), shuffled toward the lunchroom cash register one day wanting to have a second milk. My boss was glaring “knowingly” at me as if to remind me that this was a major “lunchroom offender” of the worst kind:  he did not have enough money in his account for a second milk!!!!  What’s a compassionate Lunch Lady to do???  What any loving MOM would do.  I slipped the kid an extra milk (so what?) and put 35 cents of my own money in the register.  Big deal.  The next day, “Charlie” did not try the same “trick” again.  Instead, he very sweetly whispered in my ear, “Thank you for what you did for me.”  Our trusting bond was established!  “Charlie’s” body and soul had been nourished (come on, people, kids don’t suddenly become “consumers” when they enter the lunchroom – they are kids and if you aren’t nice to them, within reason, lunch just becomes another set of expectations they have to meet to gain your approval).

I knew I was sunk in my total adoration for the children that went through the lunch line when I decided to place a balloon on my cash register station to announce my birthday and encourage hugs from my darling patrons!  And hugs abounded that day.  So why did I quit this dream job, you wonder?  It was not because of the children or the school environment.  I think at a certain point it just did not feel fun anymore because of the pressure to make the lunchroom a profitable business.  I am not criticizing the school lunch program, I understand it is not all fun and games.  School lunchrooms are almost as heavily regulated as hospitals and long-term care facilities.  To work there requires a commitment to regulatory standards first and devotion to the “clients” next.  That was the wrong order for me.

But I will always have my “invisanet” (ew!  hairnets are made with actual human hair now for a more “natural” look!) to remind me of the most humbling and fulfilling job I ever had. In short, be nice to your Lunch Lady:  there could be an extra corn dog nugget in it for you someday!



My Rescue Dog Rescued Me

I have never been a “dog person.”  But 2 years ago, consumed with grief over the passing of my Dad, I went looking for answers.  For months after Dad died, nothing felt the same.  I was beginning to worry I might not ever experience life the way I had before again.

Draped across my couch one Sunday evening, I turned to The Long Island Medium, Theresa Caputo, for help.  Her readings give surviving loved ones so much hope and comfort.  Her common message is, “Know that your loved one is present with you.”  So, I asked Dad, “If you are present, could you show me a sign?”.

The next morning I got my sign.  Unleashed Pet Rescue placed an adorable, unforgettable photo on Facebook of the canine love of my life, Pudgey, the cocker spaniel puppy.  I reached for the phone and called Mom to ask her what kind of dog Dad had when they met.  “A cocker spaniel,” she answered.  “What was his name,” I asked.  “Pudgey.”  I hung up the phone and never looked back!  Even though I had promised my sweet husband I would never do anything as reckless and irresponsible as adopt a puppy without his consent, that is exactly what I did.

Pudgey and I hit it off famously in that special “meet and greet” room for potential pet owners and their new pets.  Everyone working at the shelter that morning already knew my story and they were all pulling for Pudgey to hitch a ride back home with me.  They explained that Dad had probably encountered Pudgey at the infamous (not to me, anyhow) “Rainbow Bridge” in heaven.  Dad had loved and held his childhood pet then decided to return him to Earth to comfort his baby girl. I BOUGHT IT AND THE PUPPY and off we went from the Rainbow Bridge to my house in Fairway, Kansas.

If Pudgey was my destiny, I reasoned with myself, and my Dad actually was sending me his childhood puppy from the Rainbow Bridge in heaven, then of course Mike would understand.  Wrong!  It took several days for Mike to come around to accepting my totally impulsive, irrational adoption decision.  It was fall and by summer, Mike and Pudgey were inseparable.  And the grief that had once enveloped me like a heavy fog had subsided.

Eckart Tolle, spiritual teacher and author, believes that dogs and cats bring us closer to our Divine selves by helping us be fully present in the moment.  Unlike humans, cats and dogs are not preoccupied with ego-driven fears and concerns such as worrying about whether or not one is liked.  They are too happy having fun in the here and now!  I know I am a healthier, happier person because of the relationship I have with my adorable dog, Pudgey.  I will never live without a canine buddy ever again.  Woof!


Forgot his darling picture!!!!

Cheeky Street

Dickie Have you ever known somebody so interesting, enigmatic and universally loved that they could go by just one name? That was my Dad, “Dickie.” In fact, Dickie had such a quick wit and unique nature he had more followers than friends. When our family was planning a celebration to remember him, friends lovingly referred to the event as “Dickiepalooza!”.

Dickie was one of those guys who preferred to be in his chair at home undisturbed. But when you took him someplace, he was always the funniest, most charming guy in the room. I loved the fact that I was his youngest child and 5th daughter. I felt it gave me a special cache, a claim to fame.

The best part about Dickie was his utter lack of interest in others’ fascination with him. He was just doing what he did. Watching him as I was growing up, I learned many…

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DickieHave you ever known somebody so interesting, enigmatic and universally loved that they could go by just one name? That was my Dad, “Dickie.” In fact, Dickie had such a quick wit and unique nature he had more followers than friends. When our family was planning a celebration to remember him, friends lovingly referred to the event as “Dickiepalooza!”.

Dickie was one of those guys who preferred to be in his chair at home undisturbed. But when you took him someplace, he was always the funniest, most charming guy in the room. I loved the fact that I was his youngest child and 5th daughter. I felt it gave me a special cache, a claim to fame.

The best part about Dickie was his utter lack of interest in others’ fascination with him. He was just doing what he did. Watching him as I was growing up, I learned many essential lessons about life. Here are a few:

1. Always be generous to those in need. Dickie could not stand to see people or animals suffer. One time, our whole family of 9 was at a busy restaurant and our server, a single Mom, dropped the entire tray of food on her way to serve our table. Immediately, Dickie thought about what a huge dent paying for that lost meal might put in her budget. He paid the bill…TWICE!

2. Always dance. All 5 of us girls attended all-female Catholic high schools that hosted annual Father-Daughter dances. It was Dickie’s favorite night of the year. Very light on his feet and possessing lots of rhythm, Dickie was often the last Dad to leave the dance floor, making his daughters so proud.

3. Always keep people guessing. In some ways, maybe he did like being enigmatic. Dickie loved telling the story about the time he and Mom were eating at a well-known New York City restaurant where my sister-in-law was working (Joe Allen). Because everybody loved Linda, the staff made sure Mom and Dad experienced top-notch service. They were seated near a table that included Jeremy Irons, Charles Grodin and Steve Martin. Dad noticed the 3 actors motion to the server as they were watching his table. While nodding towards my parents, Dickie and Rhetta from Portageville, Missouri, one of these fabulously famous actors asked, “Are they anybody?”.

4. He knew me. My sweet husband told me this the day Dad passed away in 2011. This touched me profoundly because Dad was pretty much a mystery to me. I do know Dickie was generous with his words of praise and one of the things he admired about me was that I was “totally uninhibited.”

So, Cheeky Street is dedicated to my generous, dancing, unique and loving Dad, whose magnetism puts him in the company of other people with one-word monikers such as Sting, Cher and Madonna: the one and only Dickie!!!

Welcome to Cheeky Street

Somebody has to be cheeky

Happy at 48!
Happy at 48!

Today is the day I become a Blogger! Welcome to Cheeky Street, a place for us to dish freely about all things, no matter how insignificant. Expect to be amused, entertained, perhaps mildly offended and, on occasion, touched by an observation from a mature heart. As with everything in life, I just want to be honest and have fun! The view from Cheeky Street is twisted and mildly optimistic. I am not trying to change the world or even convince anybody of anything in particular. I am just sharing my experiences and viewpoints for the fun of it.

One of the things I did to prepare for Cheeky Street was schedule a “portrait” session with Cameron Gee, amazing Kansas City photographer. Together with his stylist, Heidi Seager Bowles, Cameron transformed my frumpy middle-aged self into this fun and cheeky blogger pictured above. I highly recommend the experience for any of you facing a career transition after 45. Cameron and Heidi “fussed” over me and talked with me for over two hours (like I was actually cool or something!) until they ultimately uncovered the photo that revealed my “essence.” What a great way to begin this cheeky journey.