By Wendy Hodge

Usually Wednesday night finds me and my best friend at our favorite Mexican restaurant, at our usual table, eating my #22 and his #54. There is something comforting about walking into a place where you don’t even have to order – your margarita and quesadillas show up like clockwork, and the staff know you well enough to notice if you aren’t there when expected.
They will miss us tonight at our table on the left because Christmas has changed our schedule a bit. My best friend is on the road, so now I sit and write what I realize will be my last column of the year.
My previous column exceeded the allotted word count – again. I’ve been reminded to do better at limiting myself… I am not very good at this, at least not when it comes to words. Or chocolate. With chocolate, I know no limits.
When I was young, it was my grandmother more often than anyone else who listened to me chatter and ask questions and repeat myself and just be a nuisance in general. My words must have washed over her in waves, but she never let on, even for a moment, if she grew tired of me.
There was one long winter afternoon when the weather kept us cooped up for hours that I remember with perfect clarity. The two of us, Gussie and I, were sitting on the hardwood floor of her living room with a 1000 piece puzzle between us on the coffee table. The puzzle was a picture of a horse running in a pasture. It irritated me, this puzzle, because while I very much loved horses I did not have much room in my heart for the color brown. Brown was a boy color and had absolutely nothing to do with my pink and purple, Barbie and glitter, little girl life.
In my memory, I can hear myself asking my patient grandmother, for at least the twelfth time, if there were maybe some way… if I was really, really good… we could possibly buy a horse of my very own!
“Tell me where you think we might keep a horse and how would we take care of it, Wendy Lynne,” my grandmother said.
“Well, I know exactly what to do!” I answered…. and proceeded to tell her, at great length, about what a wonderful horse owner I would be and where in back of her house would be the perfect spot for a stable and what time I would feed it in the morning and ride it in the afternoon and the perfect names for a girl horse and for a boy horse…. until finally I breathed, and my grandmother said, “Wendy Lynne, you have a word or TEN for everything!”
She said it with a smile and kindness in her voice, and I knew she was absolutely right. I love words. Just about all of them I’ve ever heard. I like learning new ones and using old ones nobody ever utters anymore. I am in awe of the sounds words make and the emotions they can evoke. Think of the word ‘home.’ It conjures up images immediately, whether comforting or not, for all of us. The word ‘love’ can make you smile or make you weep. The word ‘goodbye’ can bring us relief or bring us to our knees with grief. Words are powerful things indeed.
About 40 years after that conversation with my grandmother, I was offered a monthly column in a Tennessee newspaper. In her honor and memory, I named it A Word or Ten. I think she would have been very proud. Through that one phrase, I carry her with me every time I write.
The New Year is approaching. The year that is ending is being recapped and analyzed, and resolutions are being made for the year to come. Tonight, as I sit here, watching the word count meter go up with every letter I type, I wonder what my verbal word count for 2018 would be. How many words have I spoken since January 1?
For that matter, what if we each had a lifetime word count? If every word we ever uttered was tallied up on a giant scoreboard that flashed above our head, what would that grand total be on your last day on this earth?
If you ask my best friend, my total number of words spoken would be higher than the average person’s.
He says this with a smile and kindness in his voice, and I know he is absolutely right.
The real challenge, in a world filled with so much noise and so many voices clamoring to be heard, is to make each word count.
It’s easy to forget, in a modern technical life with apps and emojis and virtual reality, that spoken words still carry weight.
All of them, I am convinced, whether another soul is present or not, are heard somewhere in the universe. And every word changes the fabric of the universe for us all.
So my resolution for the New Year is two-fold:
First, I resolve to embrace the word count.
On my last day, I will be glad for the sheer volume of my words because they are the truest expression of my soul.
And second, I resolve to make each word count… to say everything, every little thing, with all of my heart. Say it before the chance passes me by, and say it loud and clear.
Happy New Year to you all!
Wendy Hodge is an Opelika native, an empty nester and lover of all things Opelika. She previously had a column titled A Word or Ten, which was featured in the Tennessee Star Journal and is currently awaiting release of her first novel with Harper Collins Publishing Company.