Chocolate Spice Cake with Cranberries and Pecans

I spent the entire week trying to find the perfect words to celebrate the life of James Neal Blanton.  Unfortunately, my entire post got erased yesterday, yes a n00b mistake, I know.  A million times Collin had told me “Always backup Joy” “You should write your posts in Word first Zhang.” So I guess after the millionth and one time, it finally stuck and NEVER AGAIN will I make the same mistake.

After screaming a string of cuss words and letting out all my frustrations by punching a few pillows (they don’t hurt your hand and they don’t fight back), I realized, maybe this was for the better. I honestly wasn’t entirely happy with what I had written.  So I decided to start over, and go old school with a tablet in one hand and a pen in the other.  I sat outside on a lawn chair, soaking up the sun and waited for the right words to come to me.

Since I was a young child, a common question I’d ask my parents was “What is the purpose of life?  How do we know what our job is?”  My parents would usually reply “You need to work hard and study and do well in school, so you can become a successful person like a doctor or a lawyer.”  And for many many years I truly believed that.

It takes a man like Mr.Blanton to help you realize otherwise.

Kate quickly became one of my closest friends in high school, her warm personality, kind heart and contagious laugh made it easy for me to immediately “click” with her.  Her house was always the place to be on Fridays after school.  It was conveniently right by school but the best part was she always had the coolest parents.  I am always very nervous when I initially meet my friends’ parents, mostly because I am out of control with the volume of my voice and I guess a bit “rambunctious”.  My usual self takes a complete 180 and suddenly I turn very shy and quiet.

However, Kate’s parents always had a genuine, positive and loving energy that made you instantly feel at home as if you were part of the family.  Back then, my own personal family life was tumultuous to say the least, and I always avoided going home because neither of my parents were ever in a good mood.  Every Friday, I would look forward to hanging out at Kate’s (with her parents) because it always seemed to give me a peace of mind no matter what was going on back at home.

Her parents always took the time to greet us and sit down to see how we were doing.  No matter how boring the story, Mr. Blanton always listened attentively with a big smile on his face.  His eyes never held judgment, and were always filled with much comfort and warmth.

I now realize the solace Kate’s family provided me helped me not only keep my sanity during those years but helped me grasp the importance of having an optimistic attitude in life.  It made me recognize that the purpose of life wasnt to become a doctor or a lawyer, but the positive impact, you as an individual, are able to make on other people’s lives.  Only then does your spirit and being live on after you are gone.

When I heard the news of Mr.Blanton being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s or otherwise known as “ALS” I knew the outcome would not be good.  My heart sank and I had trouble understanding why certain people were given such fates.  But Mr.Blanton never questioned it, all he knew was that he had to make the best out of what he had.

One of the last times I saw Mr.Blanton was around last November, the disease had almost taken all mobility in his legs and his speech was impaired. By this time, I had not seen him in over a year.  I was shocked as to what this disease had done to this beautiful man.  However, he soon made me feel foolish for even feeling pity towards him, for he didn’t seem to let his condition phase him at all.  Instead he was eager to show us his new gadget — a fully stocked recliner that could raise and lower you in and out of the chair.  We couldn’t help but laugh and clap, for his excitement and award winning smile was always highly infectious!  And as always, Kate’s parents took the time to sit down and chat, and as always, Mr. Blanton listened with bright eyes and a smile that brimmed from ear to ear.  I felt a sudden pang of nostalgia, missing the same feelings of comfort that always felt so familiar in their home.

For the two and a half years he fought the battle against his condition, I’ve never seen such determination and bravery come from one man.  And not only was it prevalent in him but the entire family as well.  I am unable to express in words the admiration I feel for this family, but I can only hope I will be able to show the same strength, unity and unwavering faith they held during the challenges we encounter through life.

I was nervous about attending the service.  I was never good at saying goodbyes.  As I was driving to the church, I felt like I was in a complete (panicked) daze.  Before walking into the sanctuary, I paused and took a deep breath — “You can do this Joy, don’t flip out” I kept repeating to myself.

Upon sitting down, I took a look at the program that was handed to me and on the very front was a picture of Mr.Blanton’s bright smiling face.  I completely broke down, for I realized that this was it.  He was really gone.  My heart started to race, the blood rushed to my face and I could barely breathe through the choking of tears that poured down my face.

Then, “Amazing Grace” begun, the angelic voices of the choir singers suddenly filled the entire sanctuary with such magnificence.  I closed my eyes, trying to calm my nerves and it was then that I felt it: a blanket of calm and soothing stillness that permeated throughout the entire room.  Immediately I felt my fears erased and replaced with a sense of serenity I have never felt before.

Kate made the perfect speech about her father that left everyone feeling positive and uplifted.  She shared 4 life lessons that her father had taught her and I wanted to share them with you.

Don’t just talk the talk, but walk the walk

Always give second chances.

Stay in touch.

Sing Loudly.

We are all born with the opportunity to change and improve the world.  Mr.Blanton chose to make a positive impact through his service to not only his family and friends but also to his community.  He always strived to help the less fortunate and always made an effort to make a difference in people’s lives.

He has taught me the importance of sharing and spreading happiness to others, to never assume a person’s situation, and to always love with an open heart.  It’s men like Mr.Blanton that makes this world a better place.  Though he may be gone, the impact he has made will live on forever.

May you rest in peace.

James Neal Blanton

(July 17 1935 – February 22 2010)


  1. Posted 4 Mar ’10 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

    Thank you so much for your reflections. I really needed to read this and remember.

    • Posted 5 Mar ’10 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      Richard it is so nice to hear from you after all these years :) I am glad to know you are doing well and you are welcome

  2. Posted 4 Mar ’10 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

    What a moving post Joy. It’s funny but it’s true in the Philippines, there are only specific careers assured of success. The only so-called “choice” students are “encouraged” to take is one between a career in law or medicine. I had a feeling that everyone expected me to be a lawyer just like my dad but I didn’t pursue it and for the longest time I thought I was a failure because of that mindset. I wish I had someone like Mr. Blanton to tell me otherwise .

    Mr. Blanton lived a full life. Look at how profound his impact is to you.( I’m sure there are many more). His legacy lives on because now it’s you who is walking the talk and making a difference just like he did through your writing, your art and your work.

    My prayers and may he rest in peace

    • Posted 5 Mar ’10 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      Malou, your comment brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for that, truly :) My father expected me to be a doctor as well and recently I Chose not to pursue it, and granted he may not be happy with my decision I am glad I made it. Mr.Blanton did live a very full life, and I think as a result that is how he has made such an impact on so many people. Thank you for your words of comfort, your writing truly warms the soul.

  3. Posted 4 Mar ’10 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

    A very beautiful write up… could feel all your emotions in every word that you’d wrote. God bless…..

  4. Posted 4 Mar ’10 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    I am moved by this almost, almost teary-eyed. I do agree with Malou about the careers for success. I never had a Mr. Blanton in my life but thank you for sharing his story and his impact in your life and lives of others. The life lessons are so valuable nowadays that we tend to forget that we’re here on earth because of relationships. You’ve written it well Joy. I know how it feels to lose someone most especially when I lost my father almost three years ago.

    I know how it feels to lose a file. I lost all my files too including all the photos. :) Your photos are beautiful. Thank you for this inspiring post.

    • Posted 5 Mar ’10 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      Divina — I am sorry for your recent loss, I can’t possibly imagine what it is like to lose a father. But I do know that his legacy lives within you for you will always be part of your father. I couldn’t have said it better myself we are here on earth because of relationships — it’s the people you meet and the encounters you have that ultimately mold you into the person you later become when you are old.
      Thank you for your beautiful words, and I am lucky to have met you :)

      and GAH losing files are the worst, if only there was a computer fairy that could fix everything!

  5. Tammy
    Posted 4 Mar ’10 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    You made me cry. :(

  6. Posted 4 Mar ’10 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

    So, this is sooo touching! I hope he R.I.P. too! This is what we called LIFE! So fast & so short…. not untill you realize it.

    • Posted 5 Mar ’10 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      Life is short indeed Kristy, my mom tells me that all the time. You blink, and it just passes you by.

  7. Posted 4 Mar ’10 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

    Btw, I’ve an award for you. Please feel free to drop by to collect it. Have a nice weekend!
    Cheers, Kristy

  8. Posted 5 Mar ’10 at 3:03 am | Permalink

    This is such a beautiful post…a beautiful tribute you have written…..a beautiful reflection of your life….a beautiful change in your life. Joy, you have been a blessing to me. You have always brought me smiles.

    • Posted 5 Mar ’10 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      Mary, thank you for your comment — I always look forward to your words. Though you may live far away and we’ve only recently met I feel as if you’ve been my friend for a long time and in many ways a motherly figure as well. You always bring me much comfort :) So a big hug and kiss for you and thank you for all that you do!

  9. Posted 5 Mar ’10 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    I’m moved when reading this post and with teary-eyes.

  10. Posted 5 Mar ’10 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    I’m still struggling to get time to back up my blog too. Glad that you only lost one post. I heard something worse like the whole blog was crashed! And I’d be dead if it happened for me.
    Life is interesting. Sometimes you find your life mentor not necessarily be your parents nor family.

    • Posted 5 Mar ’10 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      OH yes lululu it unfortunately happened to Divina not too long ago :( She lost all her previous posts and pictures! You are right, many life lessons are learned from people you least expect — always expect the unexpected right? :)

  11. Posted 5 Mar ’10 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    I know the struggle of the deleted post ACK!

    What a moving post…life is so busy that we often lose sight of how important it is to take a moment and thank those near us and to really be present with those we love. Thank you for the beautiful reminder.

    • Posted 11 Mar ’10 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

      You are right — Life is beautiful because of the relationships we have and the positive effects they’ve made on us as a whole. Thank you for your words Rose they really touched me :)

  12. Posted 5 Mar ’10 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    This is very touching. You did such a great job in this tribute to your dear friend.

  13. Posted 6 Mar ’10 at 2:56 am | Permalink

    Oh how beautiful! Love all your pictures!

  14. Posted 6 Mar ’10 at 6:09 am | Permalink

    Oh Gosh. thanks for sharing this story and Mr.Blanton. From this post, I understand and know you a little more and know that you are a very sweet person yourself. :)

    • Posted 11 Mar ’10 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

      Aw Penny, that is really sweet of you to say. Thank you for that :)

  15. Posted 6 Mar ’10 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    Wow, you just have the most beautiful pictures. Makes you happy and satisfied just looking at them. :) Have you thought about becoming a professional photographer?

    Where did you take these pictures? Why is is spring there? Looks so nice and warm! haha

    • Posted 11 Mar ’10 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

      Hahaha Christina you are making me blush over here!! Thank you very very much for your kind words, they made me smile :) I am thinking of becoming a freelance photographer and writer but am still working on the design for my business cards heh. I took these pictures in my backyard of my apt — it was a really sunny day so it looked very “spring” like but don’t let the pictures fool you it’s been rainy cold and dreary for most of the winter here in Dallas! I am looking forward to some sun!!

  16. Susan
    Posted 6 Mar ’10 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    Neal and I were delighted and surprised that our little house was “the place to be” for Kate and her friends. We always loved you, Joy, and this beautiful reflection is a comfort and treasure to me. We are blessed to have a friend like you.

    • Posted 11 Mar ’10 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

      Mrs.Bizzell you’ve made my day, really. I cannot express my gratitude for the kindness you guys have showed me over these years, I am truly blessed to have met such an incredible family. I love you very much and thank you very very much for everything you Mr.Blanton and Kate have done, the world needs more wonderful people like yall :) *Hugs and kisses*

  17. Marci
    Posted 6 Mar ’10 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    Where can I find the recipe for this fab Choc. spice cake???? Pls let me know………and thanks for sharing this marvelous story, it made me weep with love and hope for the future.

    • Posted 11 Mar ’10 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

      Marci thank you for your words, I will e mail you the recipe!

  18. Posted 8 Mar ’10 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    The post bought tears in my eyes.

    • Posted 11 Mar ’10 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

      :) Thank you soma (not about making you cry!)

  19. Posted 10 Mar ’10 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    Very beautiful post.

  20. Posted 10 Mar ’10 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

    This is a beautiful tribute to your friend’s father, Joy. I enjoy and appreciate your authenticity. I read this several days ago and am just now able to gather my thoughts clearly enough to let you know how much this post touched me – I keep thinking of Mr. Blanton’s four life lessons. I am terrible at keeping in touch and must work on this. I like the phrase “live loudly” for we certainly cannot reclaim passed time – or a passed life and we must therefore shine in the light while the sun is still out and bright. Very beautiful.

    • Posted 11 Mar ’10 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

      Laura, wow you have no idea how happy your comment just made me. Mr Blanton was truly a remarkable man and I am very very glad you enjoyed his four life lessons as much as I have — and I love your beautiful interpretation, your words have touched me and for that, I thank you truly truly thank you. :)

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