I felt a strong need to go to the funeral of someone I had only limited personal contact with over the years. However, Barbara Jo King made quite an impression on me with the weekly articles she wrote for The Republic which she referred to as Objects of Our Affection, one in particular entitled "Hugs are essential to our well-being."

It was 1997; I was still teaching at Hope Elementary and had just received permission from our principal, Warner Michener, to produce a fifth grade CD with lots of help from my sister and the Glass House Recording Studio. We were using a song Sally was inspired to write while assisting a child with autism every day for years, "Start Smiling," with the chorus below:

"Share a little, share a lot

Shake a hand or give a hug

Just remember when you smile

It makes 'em wonder what's up

Don't give up

Just give a smile"

cdbaby.com/cd/sallywebster3 or iTunes Sally Webster or Hope Elementary Dreams To Reality

Barbara Jo ended her article with the following words: "So why would it be so difficult to exercise hugging? It only requires that you lighten up, maybe take a brick out of that wall you have around you. With each hug, another brick will crumble until finally you are enjoying loving and being loved with the accompanying affection. Hugging is delightfully contagious."

I sent Barbara Jo a letter and a copy of the tape from our fifth grade company, Flyin' V Incorporated, and she responded with a complimentary letter. Of course, I was thrilled as well as my students. You don't always get a response! I suspect it was Barbara Jo's nature. She also sent me a tape and a booklet by one of her daughters. At the end of her letter, she stated, "I am excited that people are able to get their message out to the world in the various ways God has enabled them to minister."

As I listened to Barbara Jo's pastor and her children speak, it was quite evident she had touched them all so much during her 82 years. I thought of my mom, some similarities of the two, and a poem Mom sent me about hugs that I sent to Barbara Jo with these final lines:

"Kittens crave them; puppies love them

Heads of State are not above them

A hug can break the language barrier

And make the dullest day seem merrier

No need to fret about the store of 'em

The more you give the more there are of 'em

So stretch those arms without delay, and

GIVE SOMEONE A HUG TODAY!"

Ironically, I am now writing a column and can only hope Barbara Jo's advice is put to action this Christmas and always. Since her article, I have made a point of trying to be more conscious about the importance of the human touch. When I visit my daughter's kindergarten class, I give them the option of a hand shake, a high five, a hug, or to walk by. None of them just walk by; most give a hug; and all smile. In turn, I smile and feel so much better!