Mark Ballard

Lessons in positivity and perseverance

Mark Ballard drew this picture of Brach’s candy for an art class.
Mark Ballard drew this picture of Brach’s candy for an art class. Special to The Telegraph

“Fantastic” was what my mother would reply when asked how she was doing. With her enthusiastic comment came a flash of her one-of-a- kind smile punctuated with a sparkle in her eyes. Just hearing her say that word made me and anyone around her feel better.

Mother went through some trying times and suffered a lot during the last part of her life. She was private about the pain she was in. Almost no one knew her level of pain. All they knew was that she said she was “fantastic.”

One day I asked her why she always offered that reply even though she felt bad. She told me it was a choice she made each morning to be more positive. She always shed such a bright light on anyone’s path she crossed. She was an inspiration.

Life is filled with choices; I learned that early on. Mother was always a person who used everyday life as a teaching tool. Her examples made much more sense and were certainly easier to understand than those written about in books. When you experience something firsthand, it seems to stay with you.

Going to the grocery store with Mother offered a plethora of lessons about choices. Piggy Wiggly’s shelves were stocked to capacity with all kinds of things from which you had to choose. Sometimes she made the choices for my sister and me — otherwise we would have chosen items from the candy aisles for breakfast, lunch and dinner. However, we were offered a choice about some things while shopping.

One choice we were given was our favorite breakfast cereal. Perusing the colorful boxes of cereal was always fun and I usually ended up with Peanut Butter Captain Crunch if it was available. We also got to choose our favorite fruit and flavor of Kool-Aid.

One of the areas of the grocery store I liked best was the free-standing Brach’s candy cart filled with bin after bin of small, individually wrapped confections. Each one was colorful and inviting, but we knew we could only choose a few pieces. “Kids, make your choices and come on,” Mother would say while walking away pushing her cart.

By no means was it a life-changing choice. But since sugar was involved, it was a hard one as a child. Before I made my choices, I had to pick up one of each kind and examine it before dropping my choices in the white bag. Once our selections were made, my sister and I would carefully fold over the top of the paper bag and scurry around the store until we found Mother. Besides produce, Brach’s candy was the only thing that ever had to be weighed at the checkout.

Some of Mother’s other important lessons involved sticking a piece of tape to our arm and then quickly snatching it away. “Ouch!” we would say.

“That’s what perseverance is,” Mother would explain. “You have to stick with something to achieve your goals.”

There are too many examples of Mother’s lessons to name here, but each one of them remains with me until this day.

Went I started college and began working on my art degree, one of my first assignments was to divide a large piece of heavy-weight paper in half with a pencil line. Then we were instructed to choose something and glue it securely to one side of the paper. Finally, we had to paint what we had glued on the other half. Our grade depended on how similar the image was to the real item.

I had a million choices running through my mind but finally settled on a bag full of Brach’s candy with the various pieces of candy spilling out. I thought it would be easy because I had years of experience studying each piece up close and personal. Remembering Mother’s lesson about perseverance, I stuck with it until my painting was identical to its real counterparts on the other side.

Of all the things I learned from my mother about choices, the one that has made the biggest impact on my life is how we have the ability to choose each day to be positive. We may not always feel positive, but we have to tell our inside selves we are fantastic!

If you convince yourself, you will have a better chance for a fantastic day. Taking this first step of positivity is key to how the rest of your day will unfold. As with most things in life, it all begins with your attitude!

Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email; follow him at; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.