Russell’s Ramblings

Those who do not hear the music might think the dancer mad

The Greatest Gifts of All

This afternoon, I went to BirkdaleVillage in Huntersville and stopped by a few stores including Kilwin’s for some fudge and assorted candies for the holiday. Then it was off to Cornelius to Honey Baked Ham Company for our Christmas Eve dinner before a last stop at NorthLake Mall.  Look around the lake towns and you’ll find our stores have geared up for the busiest days of the year.  Retailers sell more in the fourth quarter than they do all year and our merchants are hoping for a much better 2011 than the last few years!

The sights and sounds of Christmas fill the air as the Salvation Army rings their bells at the malls and area grocery stores bringing holiday cheer as you approach.  Radio stations are slipping in our favorite holiday classics between today’s modern hits.

I cannot help thinking of Christmas without getting a little nostalgic about how we all went to both sets of grandparents for Christmas.  It started with dinner at Grandmamma Feemster’s and ended with the Russell’s later in the evening.  For many years I was the first grandchild on the Russell side and my cousin’s father was in the military and they were often stationed around the country leaving me with most of the presents.  I was spoiled rotten!

I always believed the best gifts came in the biggest boxes and always delighted when someone put a large box under the tree with my name on it.  When I was just a little tike, and on one of the few Christmas Eve’s when my cousin Jim and Kim Lever were home, I was taken back when my cousins received new toys from my grandparents and I had a stuffed monkey in my box.

I’ve heard the story recounted many times how I cried getting the monkey.  Try as they might, no one could stifle my tears or convince me I had the most marvelous gift.  Mom confided to me years later that Grandmamma picked out the toy herself and actually spent more on it than the other gifts put together.  All four grandparents worked at the mill, but the Feemster’s just scraped by.  But to this day, I’m convinced that both felt they had all the riches of the world.

Granddaddy loved the outdoors and fishing and Grandmother loved her daughters and her family.  The Lord blessed them both and they had all they needed.

After a while, Granddaddy Feemster grew tired of my crying and proceeded to snatch up the stuffed animal and tossed it out into the front yard.  “There, there’s nothing more to cry about.  He’s gone,” Granddaddy proclaimed. 

My tears dried up immediately and with a flash I jumped up and ran out the door to fetch my beloved friend.  I seldom slept without that stuffed animal for many years and ironically it is the only toy left from my youth.  My G.I. Joes, matchbox cars, baseball cards, and comic books have all been lost.  But Grandmamma put away the monkey and re-presented it to me one Christmas Eve in my teens.

Today, it sits on a shelf in my den, not far from a chair with a hand crocheted afghan blanket that my Grandmother Russell made for me.  I suppose some time ago, I realized it’s not the gifts you receive but the love in the gifts you give that matter most. 

Kim, Bill Jr., and Jim Jr.

Over the next couple of days that are left for your Christmas shopping – when you hear that bell from the Salvation Army, drop a little more in for that family that needs it.  Put in a little extra at Church this Sunday or at Christmas Mass.  Bottom line – open your wallets and your heart this Christmas.

My Grandparents are all gone now. I lost Grandmamma Feemster last February.  But nearly every winter I wrap up in the afghan Grandmamma Russell made me and on more than a few occasions I take the monkey off the shelf and hold him.  The cotton has thinned in places and the stuffing pokes out. But almost fifty years later, it’s still filled with a Grandmother’s love.  They both knew, it’s not the biggest gift that counts but the one that comes from the heart that matters most.

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December 22, 2011 Posted by | Personal | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Huntersville needs behavioral health hospital

A couple of weeks ago, I spoke at a certificate of need hearing for a new 66-bed behavioral hospital planned for Huntersville by Carolinas HealthCare System.  I shared with officials from the Division of Health Service Regulation the need for such a facility and the Lake Norman Chamber’s strong support as our community and region continues to see a dramatic increase in our population.

Del Murphy, Jr. vice president of Carolinas HealthCare System’s Management Company shared with our Chamber leaders the overwhelming need for additional beds for behavioral health services.  Murphy pointed out that on an average day between 20 and to 30 patients are held in the emergency departments and general acute care beds at CMC hospitals in Charlotte, awaiting psychiatric bed placement. CMC-Randolph inpatient occupancy exceeds 100%.  There are simply not enough beds to service our growing population.  I pointed out that the community in which I live, Huntersville, was roughly 3,000 people in 1990.  Today there are 46,773 people living in our town.

Granddaddy Russell with my sister Tanya at our farm (1994)

I also shared a personal story that my Grandfather Russell lived the remaining six years of his life with Alzheimer’s and my Grandmother Feemster battled dementia before we lost her this past February.  I loved my grandparents dearly and spent many weekends with them in the twilight of their life.  I  sat by their bed looking in their empty eyes that stared back at me, wondering who was that stranger holding their hand.  It still brings tears to my eyes to think of those final years we had together.  But just as they took care of me as a child, my family took turns staying with them.  However, many families in North Mecklenburg and South Iredell simply do not have that resource.

Mothers Day 2009 with Grandmamma Feemster at her house

Many families have husbands, wives, sons or daughters who battle mental illness who have yet to be treated or in some cases diagnosed.  Their extended family resources may be limited and their options few.  That’s compounded when they have to travel to outlying counties for service when they live here in our lake region.

We are fortunate to have outstanding healthcare providers in the Lake Norman region, but there can be no dispute that we are sorely lacking when it comes to psychiatric health.    As business and community leaders, we cannot settle for anything less but the very best when it comes to the health of our citizens and employees.  The Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce supports this proposed facility

August 8, 2011 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Christmas to Remember

My brother Todd & I at Grandmamma Feemster's

The Christmas Eves of my youth growing up in Rock Hill (SC) seem so long ago.  Every year my parents would load my brother, sister, and myself into the car and take off to our grandparent’s house.  Our first stop was the Russell’s where grandmamma would be playing Bing Crosby or Jim Neighbors on her stereo with the sweet smell of fresh baked cookies, pies, and cakes in the air.

We would have a large supper with all the other relatives including my Aunt Terry and her family.  There was turkey and dressing with vegetables grown from the garden and my grandmother’s specialty – Quail Pie.  My favorite was her little biscuits.  My cousin Kim had nicknamed Grandmother Russell “Bumba” and I affectionately referred to her delicacy as “Bumba’s Biscuits” and there was simply nothing on earth quite as delicious.

The Russell's 1964 Christmas - Guess who's hiding their eyes!

We all had to save room because round two was with my Grandmother Feemster who worked just as hard in the kitchen with her turkey, macaroni pie (Mac and cheese to my Yankee friends), cornbread dressing in little cakes, and a fresh pound cake.

Sadly, the Grandparents are all but gone with Grandmother Feemster in the twilight of her life.  The onset of dementia has robbed her of most of her memories though mine still fondly recall our family Christmas gatherings.

This past week, our Lake Norman Kiwanis Club sponsored a holiday social for our Kiwanis Aktion Club.  The Aktion Club is a group of young adults 18 years of age or older who deal with some type of physical or mental disability.

Growing up, I never thought about the families who face Christmas Season with a loved one who deals with an impairment.  There are 35 million Americans who deal with a severe disability but roughly 46% of those are still employed.  In totality, there are more than 54 million Americans that deal with some type of disability, or one in five.

Last Friday night, we all enjoyed a wonderful dinner and gave awards out to our hard working Aktion Clubbers.  The joy in their face spoke volumes as they stood front and center clutching their awards tightly in their hands.  We then installed our new officers for the year.

One young lady, Chris Hunter, walked up front with the aid of her crutches and “signed” to me with her hands how she would be a good treasurer and promised not to spend all of our money.  She then hugged me as tears of joy ran down her face.

Her mom Tracy explained how proud she was as we both stood there and embraced, her arms wrapped securely around my waist.  I felt her warm tears on my arms as we pulled apart, but not before I saw her face beaming with joy.

One of our Kiwanians had brought an IPAD and they had programmed streaming Christmas Carols.  Our crowd had all but drowned out the music which had been playing softly in the background, but as Chris and I parted, I heard Crosby’s version of, “Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas…” playing in the background.

Chris Hunter, Aktion Club Member

If your family is healthy, thank God and pray for those who deal with their challenges each day.  Spend extra time this coming year volunteering to help someone who needs that helping hand.  Give a little more to the organization of your choice that is trying to find a cure or at least making life better for us all.

The Christmas Eve’s of my past are filled with warm and special memories of those I love and miss very much.   My Christmas Eve’s of the future are filled with hope that we will make strides toward defeating those disabilities.   That would truly be a Christmas to remember!

December 21, 2010 Posted by | Personal | , , , , , , | Leave a comment