What we fear most giving up in life may be the thing that is holding us back. The first sign of this happening is when it becomes an obsession instead of a choice in our life.
This Saturday, June 23, from 10:00 to 4:00 p.m., 18 local authors will congregate in Raven Hall on the grounds of the Sam Houston Schoolhouse in Maryville, Tennessee, to sign and discuss their books. The public is invited to meet the authors and browse the books for purchase. Each author will appear in the outdoor pavilion to speak for a few minutes about their writings.
The authors include former AGT members, Joe Moore, writer of childrens books, and Lin Stepp, best-selling writer of Romances set in the Smoky Mountains. The current AGT members who will attend are: Bobbi Wolverton Phelps, who has written her memoirs of her International adventures; Carol McCain, author of dramatic fiction; Kenneth Johnson, writer of his work with wild animals; Jody Dyer, humorist, publicist, and teacher, writer of fiction and non-fiction; Denise Sherriff, writer of a Christian inspirational book; and Cheryl Peyton, writer of mysteries and a thriller set in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
Entry fee is $5 with free parking. Refreshments will be served in the facility.
First schoolhouse in Tennessee where future Governer Sam Houston taught before going into politics.
Sometimes, it’s easier to be angry at the world rather than happy in our life. Being happy requires having to sometimes ignore what makes us upset and that can be difficult. Being angry requires no effort to ignore anything and it can seem so much easier.
Five members of the Authors Guild pose in our tent at the Lavender Festival today in Jackson Square, Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Temperatures soaring into the 90s didn't keep down the crowds or spoil our day of sales which were up more than 90% over the Lenoir City Arts & Crafts Fair on June 2-3. Shown from left to right are: Kaye George, Cindy Leihkauff, Cheryl Peyton, Darlene Underwood and Denise Sherriff. Not pictured is Eva Wike.
Some of our greatest teachers in life have no experience, possess no credentials, and actually look up to us. If you listen to a child explain anything you realize life through their eyes is so much simpler.
We’re only given so many moments in life to make a difference, change something or leave a legacy. Don’t waste your moments on doubting yourself. You have to believe you mean something before you can become something to someone else.
Sometimes, the hardest thing to reach in life is someone’s heart. It hides behind bad experiences, fears, and uncertainty. If you’re gentle in your touch, soft in your words, and secure in your embrace reaching their heart may become much easier.
When you hold someone tightly, your warmth will go all the way to their heart, help melt away sadness, and give them the assurance you will always be there.
The first shift of the AGT authors on Saturday, June 2 at the Lenoir City Arts & Crafts Festival.
I returned home from the Social Security office brimming with optimism. I had been treated courteously, taken seriously, and given a pathway to determine whether I was owed thousands of dollars in back retirement benefits. With my new-found hope I had to remind myself that my record still showed a zero contribution toward FICA (Federal Insurance Retirement Act) for the first four years of the 1970s when I had been employed by the Cook County Department of Public Aid. Agent Pickens’ words rang in my ears: “County departments back then commonly took deductions for a pension fund and didn’t pay into social security”. I was on a mission to find out if that was true in my case. Was it possible I was eligible for a pension?
That evening I emailed my cousin in Chicago. Pat had worked for Social Security when I was with Public Aid and for many years after until she retired. Summarizing my situation in my note, I asked if she knew anything that could be helpful, or did she have any suggestions to track down records from the long-defunct county department.
Checking my computer the next morning, I was pleased to find an email from Pat with the name of a resource she thought might be useful: the State (of Illinois) Employee’s Retirement System, referred to as SERS. Is every government agency known by an acronym? Going to the site, I scanned down the list of thirty-plus topics along the side of the home page to start my search. I selected ‘Tier I Information’ which sounded like a good starting point. Clicking on that, I then had to choose among seven sub-headings. Selecting the first one with the word ‘benefits,’ I was confronted with a chart of mathematical calculations and formulas for various years of employment and income levels. I felt a headache coming on.
I went back to the home page and clicked on topics at random, trying to discern exactly what SERS was and who was eligible for the System. As I bounced around, I came across pictures of attractive grey-haired people, all laughing, as they walked hand-in-hand on a beach, or played with a grandchild, or even as they stared at a computer screen. From scraps of text I picked up along the way, I gleaned that SERS was an optional pension plan for civil service employees. One screen entitled ‘Legislation’ was a listing of House bills that had become laws. Clicking on some from my time and later, I noticed several had been signed off by former governors who were now cooling their heels in the state penitentiary. Were those laws still valid?
I finally decided my best bet was to go to the ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ to see if my query was even relevant. As I read through them I realized most laid out possible scenarios that might impact retired worker’s benefits; such as earning income after starting to receive a pension, or remarrying after the death of the spousal recipient. The most conscientious query had to be from the anxious retiree who wrote, “I am receiving a pension from SERS. If I die, (if?) what should be done with that month’s check?" (The entire amount would go to the estate of the deceased. Even the government isn’t that mercenary.)
Scrolling down to the bottom of the FAQs, I found the phone number for the Chicago office of SERS. I studied it for several seconds, debating whether I should call and how to summarize my situation to be routed to the appropriate person. Unconsciously, I tapped on the edges of the pile of Social Security correspondence to straighten it into a perfect rectangle, then glanced at a hornet bumping against the window screen. Shrugging, I picked up the phone’s receiver and punched in the number with the familiar area code of 312.
Surprisingly, a live female voice answered on the second ring. Startled, I lost my words for a moment. “Uh, I’m a former employee of Public Aid, calling to check on my possible pension benefits from 1970 through 1973.” Silence on the other end. Did she think it was a prank call?
Her voice came back on, but with an edge. “You should be talking to the Cook County Pension Fund office,” she scolded.
“Yes, I think so,” I agreed. “Do you have that number?” She rattled it off like it was her own. “Thank you,” I gushed, grateful to have the number and to be able to conclude the conversation.
Without pausing to think about the next call, I pressed the numbers I had scribbled down. This time I got a menu. I held on to the bitter end when I could hit ‘0’ to speak to an agent. I was informed my wait time would be ten seconds. That’s a wait time? Even sooner a woman came on the line and volunteered her name. The personal touch seemed promising. I launched into my now-practiced spiel, starting with my beginning and end dates of employment with Public Aid, acknowledging the change to the State Department, and ending with the advice given to me by the agent at the Social Security office to check on whether I had paid into a pension fund.
“What’s your name?” she asked reasonably.
I gave her my name, then advised that I had two different names during the four years I was without benefits: my maiden name and my married name. I added the date of my marriage.
She sighed but remained on the line. “What’s your social?” she said, using civil service speak for social security number. I gave it to her. “Just a minute. It’ll take me some time to go that far back into old records.”
“Thanks.” She had to say far back and old like that? I waited.
She came back on. “I see we didn’t use social security numbers back then. Just names.” Egads. I was there before Social Security numbers were in common usage? That program started under Roosevelt.
“Is your middle name Jean?” she said suddenly.
"Yes,” I gasped in amazement.
“I found your record,” she enthused, like it was an archeological discovery.
“Oh, good!” I was equally excited. “What does it show for my pension or social security?”
I heard papers being shuffled. “Here it is. You paid into the Cook County pension fund from March of 1970 through December 31st of 1973. You opted to take it out in a lump sum at that time when the department was brought under the State.”
My shoulders slumped as my mind went back to when my first husband and I purchased a Victorian home listed on the historic registry at that time. It had sloping floors, leaky plumbing, windows that rattled with the slightest breeze, and the odor of cat urine in the back bedroom on the second floor. The offer of a lump sum pension payment had been irresistible. I needed the money and I was decades away from retirement. “That’s right. I remember doing that,” I said quietly. “Do you have the amount?”
“Yes. It was $2,696 dollars and twenty cents.” I wondered how much that was in today’s money; but it didn’t matter.
“Thank you so much for finding that information for me.” I tried to keep my voice positive.
“No problem at all. Anything else I can help you with?” You could call a suicide hot line and they would ask you that same question.
“That’s all. Thanks again.” I slowly hung up the receiver. I had come to the end of my quest. I was no worse off, although it felt like I had just lost something. After a moment, I shook my head and exhaled. I had at least done myself credit to follow through and cut a little red tape. Time to move on.
And that Victorian house? My husband swore he had seen the ghost of an old man several times in the upstairs hallway. We renovated it and sold it after only nine months for a tidy profit. I hadn’t lost my benefits; I had reinvested them in a haunted house. Sounds about right.
What our eyes can’t see, our heart sees clearly. The beauty of a person is not just in their physical appearance. It’s also the tenderness of their heart, the compassion in their life, and the selfless way they treat others. These are the things our heart sees.
Growth in life happens when we push past the limits of our self-confidence and discover how much further we can go. Don’t doubt what you have never attempted. It may add another step forward in your self-confidence.
Having vision in life is more than being able to see. It’s being able to find the path to a dream that others only imagine. It doesn’t fear failure, it fears complacency. Vision sees farther than tomorrow and is willing to lead others to it.
Don’t be afraid to stand up for what you believe. Your voice may not be the loudest one heard, but it may be the one that begins the chant of many. Often, hidden behind the loudest voices we hear are many softer voices that believe as you do. Be the one that stands up and leads.
Love never forgets. No matter how many miles apart, how much time may pass or the number of people you will meet you’ll always remember the voice of someone you love, even if it’s spoken from Heaven.
The most intriguing footprints in the sand are not the largest ones, but the smallest ones. The larger ones may be deeper, but the smallest ones see a different joy every day.
I sat in the car dreading to go inside. I was overdue by ten years, so why go in now? Worse yet, I wasn’t any more prepared to be there than I had been a decade earlier. For years I had regularly passed by the neo-classical grey stone building set behind a car dealership on Kingston Pike, often thinking I should stop. Now I was parked in front of it. The two-story structure looked more like the executive offices of a corporation than a government building. Only the block letters attached to the façade gave away its bureaucratic identity: SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION.
I took a deep breath and slowly exhaled as I glanced at the bulging Pentax folder containing Social Security mailings that was on the passenger seat. Little of it was helpful, but it was all I had. I checked my watch. Almost noon. It was time to go in. I snatched up the file and shouldered my purse. Out of the car I clicked the door lock and started off towards the glass-walled entryway. Reaching into my purse I fingered my birth certificate and passport to reassure myself I could prove who I was if nothing else.
At the door, I glanced back over my shoulder to see if anyone else was coming, but there was no one around. I thought the place would be very busy on a Monday. An hour earlier I had called the agency with the foolish notion I could make an appointment to avoid the crowds. After enduring a long-winded menu of irrelevant options, I was told my wait time to speak to a human being (agent) was 45 minutes. I could make the drive in less time, so I took off. When I first pulled into the lot I cringed to see there weren’t any spaces in the first few rows. Looking more closely, I realized they were all the same two makes of cars and trucks sold by the dealership in front. Chuckling at my stupidity, I drove on and had mhy pick of parking spots.
Now, entering the building, I followed the ceramic-tiled hallway that led to a waiting area where about fifty people sat facing me. The person in charge appeared to be a security guard who was seated behind a counter on one side of the doorway. On the other side stood two machines bearing signs that read, Check In Here. A middle-aged woman was using the first one, so I went around to the second and tentatively pressed the Start button on the glass, worried that I wouldn’t have the right responses. The first screens were straightforward enough: preferred language, name, social security number. The final screen was more challenging: What is the reason for your visit? I wasn’t there to apply for any benefits, or to change my name, or to replace my social security card, or any other listed purpose. The last option was the only one that fit: Other Business. I hit that. Fortunately, I wasn’t asked for any details and the machine spat out a slip of paper with a number printed on it: O366. It seemed depressingly high.
With my ticket in hand, I surveyed the people waiting. Judging by the slumped postures and widespread use of reading materials, it looked like most of them had been there for quite a while. Several young, healthy-looking people interspersed among them had probably come along for company or as drivers. Stepping over to the security guard, I mewed, “What is the typical wait time with this many people?”
He shrugged before answering, “An hour and a half…give or take.” I couldn’t help but jut out my lower lip in response, so he added,. “Could take less, depending what people are here for.”
I nodded and managed a wan smile in appreciation of his effort to be encouraging, then turned and sat down on a chair in the front row that had an empty seat on either side. Setting down my purse and file, I looked around to scope out the room to figure out the setup in case my number was ever called. The two side walls had openings that led to inner passageways fitted with bank teller-type windows about every ten feet. Unfortunately, most of the windows I could see had their shades pulled down. Signs were posted on each side of the room. The sign on the left wall read, Windows 1-11. The sign on the right wall read, Windows 12-22. At the back of the waiting area were five more windows, each with a letter sign, A through E. Twenty-seven windows in all. I brightened. That meant there shouldn’t be more than two claimants waiting for each window.
My cell phone chirped with an incoming email. I pulled up the message: Newsmax wanted to know if I was at risk for Alzheimer’s. Probably. I opened my other emails and answered the few personal ones. After several minutes, a female voice came over the loudspeaker directing number C48 to report to Window 12. C48? I checked my slip again to see if I had misread it. No. Sadly, it was still O366. What kind of numbering system was this? Looking around for some explanation, my attention became drawn to the TV monitor set up in the front of the room. At the bottom of the screen were five sets of letter and number combinations; the first was O354, the second was C48, and three others followed that also appeared to have no rhyme or reason. At least I could see where my number fit into the scheme of things. I was behind O354. Twelve ahead of me. Not great, but not as bad as I thought.
Now that my wait time was measurable I had to mentally nail down my story that would convince an agent that Social Security owed me money going back ten years although I couldn’t prove it. My original Benefits Statement showed zero-taxed earnings for the years 1970 through 1973, the first 4 years I had been employed by the Cook County Department of Public Aid in Chicago. When I received the statement, I had made a couple of phone calls to dispute the record, but hadn’t gotten past the question, “Do you have pay stubs to prove it?” Does anyone keep pay stubs for thirty years? I had given up and regretted that ever since. Recently, it dawned on me that 1973 was probably the year the County Department became a state agency. My Cook County records must not have been transferred. My hope was that the Social Security people could get access to the records of the now-defunct department.
Glumly, I turned my attention back to the monitor that was running a loop of announcements and bits of trivia for entertainment. The list of the current top ten names for babies came on screen. “Olivia” surprised me by coming in at number two for girls, and how could “Liam” be the number one name for boys? Several messages regarding social security policies and procedures for application came up on the slide show. My favorite was, “If you are deaf, call the number below to request sign-language assistance for your next appointment.” Right. Messages were repeated in Spanish, which was understandable, but one version appeared to be in Cyrillic. How many claimants in Knoxville were from Russia or Eastern Europe?
Every few minutes, the same female announcer’s voice called out another number to report to a particular window. I had noticed that few windows were being called: only Windows A and B, 9, 12 and 20 so far. Aha. Five windows corresponded to the five sets of letter and number combinations. Apparently the other 17 windows were unmanned today. Great. However, my number had now crept up to being only two down.
I stretched my neck and shoulders and sat up straight. A few new people were standing in the waiting room doorway. Observing them, I saw they all knew the drill, going directly to the check-in machines, rapidly tapping on the screen and taking their numbers without even glancing at them.
The amplified female voice came back on. “O366 to Window 20.” That was me. I had calculated where Window 20 should be so I jumped out of my chair and headed for the doorway that would be closest to it. I was right. The window screen was up, and I took a seat to face my opponent. He turned out to be a balding, middle-aged bureaucratic type with a pen-protector in his shirt pocket. He greeted me politely and asked for my identification. I dealt out my full hand of social security card, driver’s license, passport, and birth certificate. His head shot back a little. “Just your card and driver’s license are fine.”
After looking them over he glanced at me. Apparently satisfied, he clicked keys on his computer. “What’s your mother’s maiden name?”
“No, her maiden name.”
“Her maiden name and married name are the same,” I responded, wanting to clarify that my parents weren’t related and there are few Swedish surnames, but I refrained.
He made a few more clicks, then leaned back and steepled his fingers. “So, how can I help you today?”
I launched into the facts of my work history, including my exact starting date of March 3, 1969, to give myself credibility. Handing over the Social Security Benefits Statement, I pointed out the “0” amount of contributions shown for the contested years.
He studied the statement with pursed lips for several moments before looking up. “Do you have any pay stubs from this time period?”
I struggled to keep my expression neutral. “I’m sorry. I don’t.”
He waved his hand dismissively. “No, of course not. That’s understandable.” He stabbed the statement with an index finger. “I believe you that you worked these years, and I want you to get every dime that’s coming to you. It’s just that we need some proof.”
I nodded solemnly. “I was hoping Social Security could get access to Cook County records,” I said softly.
He sighed and shook his head. “I think you should go to the IRS for that. We base our payments on their records.”
I was sure my lower lip had jutted out again.
He turned back to his computer, his forehead scrunched in thought. After several seconds his face cleared, he swung out of his chair, and stood. “I’ll be right back. There’s another agent who’s had more experience with this.” With what exactly, I wondered.
As promised, my agent soon returned with another 50-something man in tow who introduced himself as Agent Pickens. He told me he had been briefed on my case, but asked a few questions about my work history. After a short discussion he said, “I don’t want you to get your hopes up,” No problem there. “but I’m going to flag your case for a month to scour any records for your social.” (security number)
I was getting my hopes up. “Thanks. Anything that might help.”
Agent Pickens looked off into space. “What I’m afraid of,” he drawled, “is that prior to 1973 many county departments didn’t pay into social security but into a pension fund instead. I think you should call Cook County pensions and see if you can get connected to someone who’s been around for a while who may remember. Maybe they owe you pension money.”
The ball was back in my court, but I wasn’t going to give up this time. I would call the Pension Board. I would also contact an old friend who worked at Public Aid the same years I did and see what social security she was receiving. I would even contact a cousin who's retired from Social Security to see if she has any ideas.
I thanked both of the agents for their time and help. Agent Pickens handed me his personal business card. “Call me if you learn anything and I’ll do the same.” They both smiled and wished me luck.
Making my way back to the waiting room, I checked my watch. It wasn’t yet two o’clock. Passing by the security guard, I held up my wrist and tapped on my watch face. “You were right about the time.”
The guard beamed and I smiled back, heading out the door no richer, but having a plan and feeling better about myself.
Happiness in life is usually found somewhere between what we learn to ignore, what learn to forgive, and what we choose to embrace. Though we cannot control the actions of others, we can decide if those actions warrant our attention.
Sometimes, there’s peace in knowing the answer to something, even if we don’t like the answer. Unknowns in our life often require us to make our own assumptions and a concerned heart never believes “no news is good news.”
Beginning at 8:00 AM on Saturday, the Kindle version of Motes will be offered at HALF PRICE for the long weekend. The special price ($1.99) will be valid until midnight on Monday.
I won't make much money at this price, but I am hoping to get some more readers/reviewers by offering the book for only two bucks.
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