When The Communicator told me… yes, that’s her title… anyway, when Emily told me that it was time for me to write another Blog, I didn’t jump and down for joy (laughing)!

“I just wrote one,” I whined.

“That was in April,” she laughed.

Sigh…Groan… “But I don’t know what to say,” I tried again.

Still laughing, she replied, “No, that’s the name of your Blog, not the subject of your next post!”

Fine!” I huffed, “I’ll try to think of something.”

Always on her game, The Communicator said, “It’s July, Independence Day. Write about that!”

Eventually, after much procrastination, my brain finally started spinning. What do we really know about the US Independence Day, The US Flag, and the US National Anthem? Sure, we’ve all heard the stories about Betsy Ross sewing a flag for General Washington, or Francis Scott Keys writing the Star Spangled Banner, or even that the Declaration of Independence was written on July 2, 1776. But do we really know how it all happened? I was a woman on a mission… I had a puzzle to put together!

Let’s start at the beginning, with Independence Day!

Did you Know That…

So, if you want to be an Independent Sprit and confuse a whole lot of people, you could always celebrate on July or August 2nd and technically, you’d be right. Of course, you might get some strange looks if you had a parade!

Once the fledgling Nation had it’s independence, it was time to consider a flag. Not just any flag, it had to signify that a new Nation had been established… in addition to the 567 Nations that already existed among the 6 million indigenous peoples who greeted them when they arrived… but that’s another Blog!

Did You Know That…

Next time someone tells you that the US flag was designed and made by Betsy Ross, you can tell them that it was actually Francis Hopkinson and that he asked for wine as a payment! Bet that will get you some strange looks also, especially if you are marching in a parade on August 2nd!

Finally, the US established a National Anthem 155 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia. Before that, many songs were used as “anthems” for the US, including Hail ColumbiaMy Country ‘Tis of Thee, and America the Beautiful. Even today’s Star-Spangled Banner has had an interesting and varied history since it’s creation in 1814!

Did You Know That…

Whether you sing Defence of Fort M’Henry or The Star-Spangled Banner you’re singing the same song. Also, because Congress has never passed a law to enforce the code of behavior during the performance, everyone usually does whatever he or she was taught in elementary school during the National Anthem, and that’s okay by me.

So there you have it, all the information you didn’t know that you didn’t know about the establishment of US as we know it today, the flag of the Nation, and the National Anthem! I had fun doing the research and learned things I never knew about the traditions most US citizens celebrate on July 4th.

When I gave it to The Communicator, she smiled and said, “Your next one is due in December.”

Sheesh, some people are never satisfied!!!

Most of us have several names, other than the ones we are given at birth. Throughout our lives, people give us names of affection, nicknames or abbreviations, diminutives and more. What do all of our multiple names mean? What messages do they convey to others and to us? I think they tell a lifetime of stories!

When I was born, my parents gave me the name “Joyce Karen Gillie.” I’ve been called many things during the years between birth and today. Each of my names has a story… I’d like to share a few with you and hear the stories of your many “names.”

At birth, my Uncle Cal called me “Princess” and treated me as one also. Mommy said that when she brought me home from the hospital, he came into my room, lifted the mattress with me on it, into his arms, and stood there for hours, just looking at me with tears in his eyes. She said that he looked at her and whispered, “She is my little princess,” as he held me. Princess is what he always called me.

From about 18 months until I was 6 years old, my name was, “Oh Joyce!!!” Courtesy of Mommy (smile). She uttered it at least 100 times daily, usually in some variation of, “Oh Joyce! How could you…? Oh Joyce why did you…? Oh Joyce what am I going to do with you…? Well, you get the picture (laughing). Problem was, I really did think that was my name, which turned out to be a problem when I got to kindergarten and the teacher asked us to stand and say our names on the first day of school. You guessed it… I proudly announced to the class that my name was, “Oh Joyce!” My teacher, Mrs. Wilson, said gently in that very special kindergarten teacher voice, “No sweetheart, what is your name? What does your mommy call you?” Wait for it… “Oh Joyce!” I forcefully replied (lol). “Okay dear, it’’s all right, you just have a seat,” she replied as she moved on to the next student. That evening, Mrs. Wilson called the house and Mommy called me from my room. “Joyce, why wouldn’t you tell Mrs. Wilson your name?” She asked. “I did, Mommy,” I told her, very confused. “Well,” Mommy said, holding out the phone, “Tell Mrs. Wilson your name again for me.” Completely confused, I spoke into the phone, “Hi Mrs. Wilson, my name is Oh Joyce!” Snatching the phone away from me and not missing a beat, my mother said, “Oh Joyce! How could you…?” I remember clearly just looking at her and she evidently realized what she had said, because she sent me to my room (as usual). And that was the end of “Oh Joyce!”

I became, “Joyce Karen” from about age 6 until about age 15. I think that was for two reasons, the first was so that I wouldn’t grow up thinking that my name was “Oh Joyce” and the second was the birth of a cousin. She was the third Joyce in the family, Aunt Joyce, my godmother being the first; I, Joyce Karen being the second; and now Baby Joyce was the third. I think the other reason I became Joyce Karen is that it was paired with “Gillie” about 100 times a day… as in, “Joyce Karen Gillie, how could you…? Joyce Karen Gillie, get in here this instant…! Joyce Karen Gillie, what on earth have you done…?” Not much had changed from being Oh Joyce! in that regard (laughing).

During the next few years, I added several more names. I became “Godmother” to Max when I was 15 and later to Ramelle; and had my name legally changed to “joyce karen gillie” when I was 16. People still have difficulty wrapping their heads around that one. My favorite of my two favorite names was given to me when I was 23. “Mommy.” My son, Dixson made me a mother and I cried when he called me Mommy for the first time when he was a little boy (still do, but don’t tell him that). Then at 30, I became “Auntie joyce” thanks to goddaughter Kat and nieces and nephew Jaz, Corey, and later Myko. Along the way I added more godchildren, Jordan, Justin, and Alex and more adopted nieces and nephews, Joanna, Tessie, Crystal, and so many others. I love being Auntie joyce. If you remember the movie and play, Auntie Mame, that’s me! I’m the one who gave the noisy gifts, forbidden candy and treats, planned super fun summer vacation visits, and basically drove their parents NUTS! Great fun! They’re all older now, so I’m just waiting until their children come along to continue the tradition (laughing)!

At 40, I became “The Best Gurl,” and eventually had a business named after me when I crossed paths with Thom Gossom Jr, who has plenty of his own name stories to tell! He introduced me to Alfre Woodard that way at the premiere of the film, Miss Ever’s Boys in Los Angeles. After they embraced and shared warm greetings, he reached for my hand. “Alfre,” he said as he drew me forward, “I want you to meet ‘The Best Gurl in the Whole World.’” I was basically speechless… first because I didn’t know he felt that way, since we had only been dating a short time, and second because it was Alfre Woodard and she is as stunning and commanding in person as she is on screen. That February evening, I became Thom’s Best Gurl and it is my second favorite name, right up there with Mommy! 

As adults, Mommy didn’t always call me “joyce karen gillie” or “joyce gillie gossom,” at least not very often (laughter). After our first adult road trip, she started calling me “Louise” and I called her “Thelma”…and she was!! You’d never believe how silly and outrageous she could be away from her school and her staff. 

A few months ago, I added my final name so far. Thanks to Dixson and his fiancée Sissy, I am now a “Grams” and have four grandchildren to love and spoil rotten (laughing)! We’re already planning trips to see them and summer vacations with us… parents optional and not necessarily preferred! 

What’s in a name? Hundreds of relationships and stories. Many, many facets of a life. What’s in my name? An entire lifetime of love! 

What’s in your names? Drop me a line and tell me about them!

I’ve learned that:
Mornings are beautiful! 
Life is good. 
The Future is now.

I’ve learned that:
Life is complicated! 
Ignorance is not bliss. 
Change is messy but necessary.

I’ve learned that:
The grass is green right where it is. 
Love feels best when you give it to someone. 
It’s great to live life as a free agent. 
The back roads of life are as exciting as its superhighways.

I’ve learned that:
Anger doesn’t help a whole lot. 
The fruit you reach for is better than that which falls at your feet. 
I’m just passing through.

“Joyce, please report to Mother Superior” (my name was still legally capitalized then). It was April 1971 and I was in the eighth grade getting ready to graduate. 

My first thought was, Who told? and my second thought was, How much did they tell? (laughing)

I was always getting others to do daring or sometimes, slightly dangerous things with me, just to see if we could do them. The thing is, since I looked so completely innocent, I pretty much never got busted for them, and my classmates never told on me for some reason. Just lucky I guess! Anyway, between homeroom and the Principal’s office, I had to get my face and expression right. Surprised innocence worked with just about everybody except Mommy… she was never swayed and always knew when the antics were the result of my influence (sigh).

“Yes Sister,” I replied and rose from my seat, headed for the door. She smiled at me. Oh boy, this is not good I thought. Sister and I had a mutual dislike fan club of two… This is going to be so bad… trickled through my mind as I left the classroom and started down the hallway.

I reached Mother Superior’s office and stood in front of the clerk. “Hi Joyce,” she said with a smile. “Go right in.” “Thank you,” I replied and knocked on the office door, waited for the response and stepped into the room.

You know those moments where everything seems to shrink into a long tunnel and you only see a part of the room or area? When it feels like the room and the people in it come zooming toward you, only you know in some part of your brain that they aren’t? …I was having one of those moments. I watched, mouth getting dry; hands getting clammy, as Mother Superior and our Parish Pastor seemed to zoom in for a close up. Oh gosh! Wait, Mommy isn’t here, it can’t be expulsion yet, I thought. Breathe, Joyce. Just breathe.

“You wanted to see me, Mother Superior?” I said breathlessly.

“Yes, Joyce. We did. Please sit down,” she replied.

I looked up at her beautiful brown face and thought, as I always did, that she should have been a mother for real instead of a nun. I loved this woman… at least I did before today! Doing the only thing I could do, I sat. Gone was the surprised innocence. The only defense I had for this inquisition was confession. Mother Superior, I could pull off. Father Regan, not so much. He could see through ten feet of reinforced steel, let alone one 13-year old girl!

Father leaned forward in his chair. “Joyce, as you well know, graduation is in a few weeks.”

“Yes, Father,” I replied. Then waited.

He glanced at Mother Superior, then back at me. They both were looking way too serious for my comfort level. Whatever it was is it going to keep me from graduating? I thought frantically. I was ready to confess to everything I’d done throughout elementary school… the broken window at the Rectory, the food fight in the auditorium, using the holy water to wash blood off of Vinette’s scraped knee, trading communion wafers for candy, all of it! I just couldn’t not graduate. Mommy would kill me!

Clearing his throat, Father said, “We have never had a speaker at the graduation ceremony; however, in your case we are making an exception and would like you to deliver the class response before I confer the diplomas.” He stopped and looked expectantly at me.

Wait, what!!!

Give a speech? At graduation? Me? Why?!

“Joyce?” Mother Superior asked. “Did you understand Father?”

“I think so,” I managed to whisper. “You want me to make a graduation speech.”

“Exactly,” she smiled. “You will be the perfect person to address the class and parents and express all of the thoughts, experiences and emotions of the day.”

So it was, that on graduation day May 30, 1971, I gave my very first speech… and received my first standing ovation. More important, I discovered that I could make a difference in the lives of others. I discovered my mission!

In the 11th grade, Miss Hilda Horn, my speech teacher, asked us to prepare a speech for presentation for the next day’s class. When giving out the assignment, she specifically stared at me in my seat in the back of the classroom.

Why was I in a speech class in the first place? Someone told me it was easy and I liked to talk. Sounded like a perfect match.

The next day I gave a speech on How to prepare a hot dog. Everybody laughed. It was funny. It was meant to be funny. But Miss Horn, in that voice that says, “You have crossed the line,” sternly requested that I stay after class. It would be just the two of us. That was not a comforting thought.

Miss Horn was and remains my favorite teacher. She was stern in a friendly way. Physically, she was a large woman and she could be imposing. But, she liked me. She thought I had talent. After that class she told me so. She suggested that I could make a difference in the world, if I applied myself. Exercised my talents. She made me think. She planted seeds in my head that sprouted and grew. She inspired me. Two weeks later, I was writing for the school     newspaper.

Today, I love speaking before an audience. I connect, inspire, motivate and entertain.

As my life has unfolded, as an actor, writer, corporate exec, 30-year business owner, athlete, Dad, husband, son, uncle, godfather, and friend to many, the stories of my life are lodged into my head. When I stand in front of an audience I partner with them, taking them for a ride. Whether it’s The Film Of MY Life (Inspirational), The Moments of our Lives, (Inspirational), I Never Had an Entourage (Educators), The Billion Dollar Man, (Fundraising), Diversity, Access and Inclusion and Leading through Transition with Dr. joyce gillie gossom, I’ve been lucky. I get to do what I love and I’m good at it. Thank you, Miss Horn.