Len's mother has been gone eleven years. Today is her birthday.
Although I didn't get to spend many birthdays with her, the one that I did brought strawberry cake and purple balloons. Purple, her favorite color, was splattered on everything that was special to her: gloves, blankets, broaches.
She lit up the room as she rolled in. By the time I knew her, her feet has given out and all those classy pumps that I saw her wearing in photos were a distant memory. But oh my, what good taste she had. From her suits to her lingerie, she showed her delight in being a woman.
Not long after her death, I took an online poetry class at Northwestern University. NOTE: I am NOT a poet. I took the class for credits because it was online and I figured the worst that could happen would be the teacher reading my horrible scribble in the quiet of her own home; I would never have to face her or people. Oddly enough, I enjoyed the class and garnered everything I wrote from the events of my life and the lives of those around me. Some made me cringe; others, delighted me.
When Len reminded me that today was Veta's birthday, for some reason, my mind went to the time she inspired my writing.
I loved her name. VETINA. It just speaks to beauty. It sounds beautiful. Soft like a Rembrandt painting. It floats off the tongue. You can't imagine anyone not falling in love with a woman named Vetina. Len often spoke of his father Neil and how the love between his mother and father superseded everything in life. The kind of love that all of us want but rarely find. During her last year, Vetina longed for Neil. It was almost as if he was waiting for the right moment to come get her. And in August of 2009, he did.
So in reality, it was a joyful time. As casual as that might sound, it held us together. Reunited lovers is always a good thing.
So here's my tribute to that one great love that we all want. I'm lucky enough to say I found it in you.
Come to Me
Come to me, Vetina, come to me.
Shed those earthly effects and fly.
Fly home to me on the wings of doves, and with the longing of a thousand yesterdays,
I will meet you.
Come to me, Vetina, your time is done.
Wither not anymore, my love, the pain is complete.
Ascend to the heavens, and know that my arms will be open wide and
I will hold you.
Come to me, Vetina, let our moments carry you.
Climb out of today and abandon the hurt.
Remembrances of homecomings, thoughts of a lifetime only intensify my love and
I finally catch a glimpse of you.
Come to me, Vetina, you are almost here.
Lament not for those who remain.
Short-lived is their pain, forever does your spell linger, and
They will never abandon you.
Come to me, Vetina, I feel you near.
Say goodbye to earthly sorrows and pain.
Forever is truly complete, and with your face to shine upon me,
We are both home.
I have no doubt I was a handful. Yet, she chose to bring me home—60 years ago today.
I honestly believe she and Kimsey had no idea what was before them. In their 50s, they were just excited that the number at the table would be three rather than two. They didn't realize how exhausting a child could be, how annoying, difficult, obstinate, self-serving, messy, needy, pushy, demanding . . .
And as I grew, I realized how old they were. None of my friends has parents the age of mine. No one had white hair except my mama. "What was with that?"
"Why do I have to go with daddy and Besse (the mule) and mama gets to stay home? That corn patch doesn't need me. Daddy doesn't need me. I'm only 10! I don't want to go . . ." I went because mama said to — and, she pointed toward the hickory tree.
"It's noon already?" Mama would bang on my bedroom door and urge me to get up. It was Saturday. Saturday's were for sleeping or so I thought. It was also for washing clothes and then hanging them on the line, ironing, picking beans, washing the car, cutting the grass, and anything else that needed to be done. Idle hands (children) are the devil's handy-work!
"Daddy, turn that radio down!" Every school morning like clockwork, the Pentecostal preachers on WCON Cornelia would be daddy's school enthusiastic wake-up call! He would turn the radio on full blast, make his coffee, and sit at the end of the dining table—waiting for me to get up.
By the time I graduated high school and moved on to the big leagues of junior college, I started feeling a twinge of sadness. Could it be I actually missed my parents? The parents - that to me - we equally as annoying, difficult, obstinate, self-serving, messy, needy, pushy, demanding - as I.
Years came and went, and I was the weird kid that always went home on weekends from UGA. Then I married, and I was the girl who had to see her parents at least every other weekend.
Then daddy died, and I wasn't sure I would be able to catch my breath again.
When my life fell apart in 2003, mama stood beside me. She'd offer me tidbits of wisdom (from the Bible of course). Some I took to heart; others, I just let flow through me like the wind. She stayed until Len picked up me and my three children, gave us a home, and made everything alright.
Then, mama died, and I wasn't sure I would be able to catch my breath again. And, when my daughter disappeared, well, I was sure that family was simply an illusion.
Somewhere in the back of my heart, words rose to the surface when I needed them the most. "You can do anything you put your mind to," I would hear mama say often. Never words of love, but always words of encouragement. She knew that more than love, I would need encouragement in this life. Love would find its way to me, and with her prodding, so would happiness.
I love baby's toes. When I see a little one, I always reach for the toes. There something unique and tough about toes.
I looked at my 60-year-old toes yesterday while I was out feeding the animals. "These toes have been around for 60 years." Think on that. I never in a million years would have imagined making it to the old age of 60, yet there are my toes. Holding me up like they have always done. Celebrating 60 good, hard, rough years.
Thank you Juette and Kimsey for giving those toes a home. For teaching me right from wrong, for teaching me how to live.
These toes aren't as cute as they once were, but they're still standing. From the tip of my toes to the top of my white head of hair, I'm grateful to see another decade. I'll keep standing.
"You know he waited for me," Ty said as he cussed and chiseled at the cement-like red Georgia clay.
"He did," I answered in between sobs.
Thirty minutes later, the young man cradled the old man reverently into the top of his dog house and moved him next to Bear, another old soul that broke our hearts when he left. Even though Silas had lost weight, he was still hefty and he was going to make Ty work for it. Ty laid him into his space within sight of our front porch. We borrowed Bear's rock - just for a while, we assured Bear - and placed it on the broken dirt. "Grow old with me. The best is yet to be." Thank you for growing old with us, old sport.
Silas was about 13, at least that's what we think. The kids found him at Pet Smart in 2008 during one of their pet adoptions, and assured me, he was the one. They forced me to take a look, and when I saw him, I was afraid he would eat all of us. His pit-bull/boxer mouth was primed for force, and I wasn't sure. I caved, of course. He came home with us and never left our side, except for when he chewed up all my leather shoes within the span of one week. You can't do something like that in front of the world.
He was a happy chap, but it was obvious when you went to reach for him, that he had been hurt once upon a time. He would draw back as if he expected a slap. We tried to work through that but that reflex never left him.
We became a family of five when Silas came home with us that day. The three kids, me and a dog. All of us were broken, and miraculously, Silas mended all of us. Who says God doesn't send what you need when you need it?
Thank you for your extraordinary life. When I speak of the important people in my life, you'll be at the top. Companionship, loyalty and unconditional love sat on your mighty shoulders.
As Ty and I walked away, he turned, "No more animals. You got me?"
I nodded. They give you everything and then in one swoop, they take it all back.
No more, that is, until the next time I need mending.
Yesterday, I found myself in an online conversation actually defending my opinion against profanity.
Here's the backstory.
Sundays belong to me and Len. We choose very carefully the spots where we land. After a bridal show in Dahlonega and since we were in the area, we decided to go to an Irish pub in town, one that had been called the best one in the state. We consider ourselves somewhat of a pro at this. Having traveled to Ireland several times - and upping the count this fall - we know about pubs. Their ambience. Their food. Their charisma.
Seated, we scanned the menu although we all know the only thing you order is Guinness. For what seemed like a long wait, the waitress showed up, took our order and within five minutes, we had our coveted black ale.
It's what happened next that changed the tale. At a table to the left of us, a restaurant worker (hence the labeled t-shirt) was chatting it up with a table of four. Somewhat young but not on the twenty-side, she spoke in steams of four-letter words, punctuating her tale with f-bombs, c-bombs, d-bombs. Loudly. Proud. I finally looked at Len and said, "Can we leave?" Without finishing our drinks and food, we walked out the door.
On the drive home, we talked about how life has changed. Neither of us grew up in a home surrounded by foul language or even raised voices. It wasn't until we both were well into our 20s that we heard the possibilities and even then, they were random. It wasn't a declaration of power or youth but of filth and trash, of ignorance and want.
My "What Would Jesus Do" turned into "What Would Juette So." In fact, what would I have done had my mother been sitting beside me in the restaurant? I scream at my children when they say these words. They tell me, it's different now. It's acceptable. Not by a long shot.
And yes, we're all human and there are moments when we all let them fly. Hopefully, it's not in a setting where people from all walks of life gather. Assuming it's okay with everyone is as ignorant as the words themselves. In private, do as you wish. In public, take the high road. It has nothing to do with taste. My view is not discriminatory or prejudicial but my opinion on the way I live my life. I might be older. I might be a little wiser, come to think of it. That happens when you've been taught high standards and values by America's Greatest Generation.
The last time I went to Panama City Beach was 30 years ago - several pounds, children, husband and family ago.
Today marks a new relationship with this city.
One of the hardest things for me is returning to a destination where I had ventured a lifetime ago. Seeing places with long-ago relationships walking through the door, old memories of people who have been removed from my life sitting beside me. Cringing at laughter that moved through the doors.
Soon, I decided that rather than let the old take over the new, I had to rewrite the memories. Rewrite the places and my association with them. It's not easy. There's a barrier you have to break, but it doesn't take long to knock it down. You simply have to bring your posse with you and infiltrate the setting with all your being. Eat it all. Soak up all the sun. See new places. Hear new laughter. Let these moments define this place.
Panama City, you no longer belong to the past. You belong to me and my boys and my honey. Like the big trucks on the strip, we're taking back the land and we're doing it loudly!
I'm not sure what is holding their attention, but it must be spell-binding. After all, there's a wade pool involved and they are on the floor. How mundane could it be?
The boy is in Laos. He's accompanying Som to Som's school where he teaches English. Ty said during his last call that he will help Som, do whatever is needed and maybe, take a turn at teaching himself. I predict that is a story in the making.
Go. Learn. Teach. Change the world. Change yourself.
I've never been a girly-girl and when I heard these words from Evelyn's mouth, I choked.
"You are simply so lovely to look at," she said, sitting across from me at a crowded table filled with journalists and coffee drinkers in a Myrtle Beach bakery. "You are," she said humbly and earnestly as if she knew it was going to take some convincing on her part.
Truly, I had no words. and those words, I'll never forget as long as I live. At 59, I'm not exactly the me I would love to be, and with 60 on the horizon, I'm literally mortified. As I get older, I feel mortality creeping around the corner like a cat on the prowl. I wonder, "How in the world did I get here?"
Getting here was probably the easy part; staying here might take a little work.
I look in the mirror and see my mama. Although we share no DNA, I see the wisdom of her wrinkles, her concern for everything, her stoutness of character, her want for a world where good outweighs the bad, her adoration for her family, and her desire to live a good and long life. She was all of those things; I am all of those things, too.
I'm glad I'm here. I made it to the double nickle plus four, and if God-willing, twice that. I think about what Evelyn said to me that day, and I realize that other people see us so differently than we see ourselves. Yes, some opinions are for the birds and should be kept silent and if not, ignored. But for the majority of those with whom we share our time and table, their hugs and words and touch lift us higher. We must listen to those who applaud that which we might not even see, and when they suggest, "Fall in love," we do it. I have yet to do that, but I hope I can get there in the next 59 years.
I hear Evelyn's words every now again as they drift through my mind. I'm as amazed this very moment as I was then. And this week, I met a new friend and she made me feel the reality of Evelyn's words. I had a make-over; again, it was a first. Through our mutual connection at the chamber, we had a little fun and formed an alliance that will take us far beyond her dining room filled with beauty.
Feeling good about yourself is empowering. Women empowering other women is even more transformative.
I doubt Evelyn realized the enormity of what she said. I am sure Kirsten didn't know the gift she gave that went beyond powders and gloss. It's about time we make each other feel extraordinary, and (I'm screaming at myself most of all) learn to listen to compliments and internalize them. Feel the weight of their goodness. Let those words confirm and transform us into the women we truly are.
It's about time . . . we love ourselves.
One thing I have discovered that aids me in writing, flowers of any kind. This week it was roses, two-for-one at Publix.
I have a dozen white roses to the left of me, just outside my vision yet close enough that I can see a few petals. They have been there a week, so wilting and leaning is more prominent. Their lives are almost complete. All they have done it sit and be. And they have done it marvelously.
Seems somewhat insignificant but their influence, massive.
My life could be these roses. I'm mostly insignificant to the masses. I haven't done anything truly extraordinary. I haven't changed the world. No discoveries that I can acclaim. I'm only here for a short time. At the end, I will wilt and fade and stoop and lean. And, I hope I will have done my job. If it's nothing more than to sit and be, I hope I have done it well.
A writer's life is solitary. The four walls actually do move in when you need them be balanced and calm. I keep relics of travel to inspire my words, family photos to remind me of faces I won't see again, tons of pens and pencils each with a power of its very own, post-its of reminders and stubs of what once was. I live for the future, and I memorize the past. Living in the present seems to be hardest part of all.
Only another writer understands the writer's enigma. The quiet and seclusion are not only our necessities but also our demons. A paradox of sorts.
Nevertheless, I will sit and be and let the words escape. And when those demons appear, I'll look to my left - to my roses - for inspiration and reassurance - that I'm right where I am supposed to be. 🌹
They do say, "when one door closes, another opens." AND they also say, "be careful what you wish for."
In this honest-to-God, not-as-easy-as-it-looks, NO-you-can't-make-millions-with--travel-writing, NO-you-can't-travel-the-world-for-free, travel writer's world, I'm giddy this morning. Although many out there tell you how easy it is, it's not. It's tough. It's competitive. It's ruthless.
With that said, I freakin' love it! ❤️
Len and I chose to give it our all about five years ago. We're a package deal! Team player and all. And just now, we're finding ourselves reaping the result of our hard work, proving that never giving up is always the best course of action. We closed a couple of doors in the past few months, and wildly enough, windows are flying open. This morning, in my INBOX, a long-sought-after contract! Delta Sky. Can this be real? On my face, a smile.
Don't give up folks. I say that loudly enough that it reverberates within my four writing walls. I'm so thankful. I'm so grateful, especially to those who have helped along the way and to those who believe in Seeing Southern.
Gotta go write! 😍
It's the day after Thanksgiving, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring - especially Judy and Len. On this day, the house is a little cabin tucked away in the North Georgia mountains, with only a vague view of neighboring structures and a few vehicles in sight. And by creatures, we mean animals and the occasional blast of the house phone which we never answer yet still rings incessantly.
No creatures equals quiet, which is a very good thing.
As you can tell, we have discovered - or should I say re-discovered - the Polaroid camera and the art of shaking (like a Polariod picture!) Everything instantaneous. Who knew that would be such a thing thirty years down the road. It's the little things which make us grateful.
But that's only the beginning . . . teeth. Again, not so significant for those which have but for those of us gummers out there, it's a chance to live again. It's kind of cool not to second-guess a smile.
We're relatively healthy. We're not the Chrissy Tiegen-John Legend look-a likes, but we'll give them a run for daily joy!
Len and I get to travel together and see the world arm-in-arm, crutch-in-crutch, boot-in-boot, to tell stories and capture images. I get to see Len's face as he experiences the Acropolis for the first time. And, experiencing it together, reaching out for his hand and holding on, tells me all I need to know about this moment and the many more to come.
Our children are moving forward with their lives, and we are thankful. Although, for the most part, we have faded in the background, we give thanks that they are living the life they choose.
Possum Hollow is in full swing. My dream. Uncle Ivet's dream. Soon, in these very mountains where we are now, our little cabin will sit with a welcome placard reading, "Welcome to Judy + Len's Dream."
We are thankful for Bailey + Cody, Kelly + Joe, Renee + Michael, Mandy + Jason, Leah + Rich, Dani + Andrew, Joanne + Tommy, Claudia + Casey, Emily + Jay, Meagen + Ricky and Chelsea + Austin. We are honored and thankful that you are part of our 2018 story.
There are more things of which we are grateful, but these are the biggies. I hope that the changes that will happen in 2019 will be moments of gratitude when I write this a year from now. I pray that each day I will voice my gratitude for even the most insignificant things in my life so that I will realize how truly lucky I am. I yearn for more courage and a louder voice in my life.
So as we watch our fire and count our blessings, we're making our third pot of coffee and reaching for our vanishing pack of Oreos (okay, the healthy thing is being thrown out the window this morning). We're also dabbling in a little portrait photography before the rains begins and then heading toward the Old Sautee Store. Why? Because it's there - and that's the only reason you need!
You climb and climb, but do you ever get anywhere.
Meet Bob. He's a climber. He's also one of a multitude of cats that confuses Jack, the beast. That's Jack in the background, eating dinner. Everyday when I take my late afternoon walk to feed our multitude of animals, the cats walk with me. They tease the horses, running along the ground, zig-zagging underneath the feet of the 2,000 pound monsters. Would they really do that if they knew the possibilities? But, everyday, they move in the same fashion, hoping for what, I'm not sure. But, I would be willing to bet, it's fun.
I make my rounds, always in the same order. First the horses, mainly because I don't want to be chided by Lolly (Jack's companion) for being late. And yes, she stomps her right foot and screams at me for making her wait. She starts screaming when she hears the back door open. Being scolded by a horse doesn't quite sit well with me. Feed, water and hay, as the routine goes.
Then, the dogs. My twelve-year-old man Silas is turning gray these days, and like me, old age is bringing arthritis, achy joints and deaf ears. Still, he manages to secure the one bright sunny grassy spot in the yard, plops down and rolls with joy. That's my boy. Cody, the younger, is full of energy and runs at Silas when he sees the food coming, almost saying, "You can't have any." They play for about a second and retreat to their own corners to munch on kibble. Both rescues, the boys are always excited to see me, and for that, they deserve gold for dinner.
Cats are last because, well, they just are. "I feel the earth move under my feet" is more than just a song lyric by Carly Simon. They eat, we sit, and then we fellowship. Every night.
Routine is good. Expectations are good. These guys count on me to be there every day at the same time, and they know I'll be there. They climb, bark, snort, stomp, zig-zag and they do it over and over, day after day. And do they get anywhere different? Not really. But it's the showing up, the doing and the contentment from doing their perfect little thing that keeps them moving forward until the next time they climb, bark, snort, and zig-zag.
So although Bob never gets anywhere in his climb, he still climbs, simply for the joy. I write for the joy of recording my life in words. I photograph, not because you pay me, but because I find joy in capturing moments and doing something I thought I could never do. I make dinner, wash clothes and run errands, not for the joy it brings me (newsflash) but for the joy it brings you.
So keep climbing. Keep showing up. Even though it might be a drab routine day after day, try to find the joy and then think on it. Be grateful that there are horses, cats, dogs to feed. Be inspired to see dogs do cartwheels simply because you show up!
See those HORRIBLE brown spots on my face? A product of being 20 and stupid. To those of you my age, remember laying out in the sun, slathering on baby oil, and dare I say it, a stick of butter. Stupid takes on an entirely new meaning now, am I right?
Yes, we did that. I'd turn a lovely brown, but it took some work. Taking more hours to turn golden than it took my friends, I'd lay out in my back yard, turning randomly (I was a lay-on-your-back girl because I had big boobs), turning bright red almost immediately. Red came before brown.
And I was a bored sun bather. I hated it, but because everyone did it, I did it. I wanted to be pretty, because everyone knows that everyone looks better (and smaller) with a tan.
I grew older and tanning beds took the place of my lawn chair. They were quick. In and out. Nice and brown. I liked that. Then, I became bored of that, too.
Kids plus jobs plus no me-time put an end to my relationship with the sun, real or man-made.
However, it has left it's mark.
Brown spots all over, but the only ones that make my skin crawl are those on my face. Two weeks ago, I (with a push from Len) decided to fix this. After all, I have a new set of beautiful teeth; I need a face to frame them. After a consultation (checking for melanomas and other skin issues) at Georgia Skin Cancer and Aesthetic Dermatology, I called back for an appointment. It's not a cheap procedure (three to do the trick), but it definitely wasn't as much as I had imagined. After a quick first treatment (15 minutes), my face was on fire, and it stayed that way for about three hours. Then, I was fine. Well, then the brown spots became brown boulders on my face, much like Skittles-pox but less tasty! They have to get worse before they get better. Why don't I just engrave that on my forehead for this is the story of everything I've ever gone through.
I keep thinking this; next time I look at my photograph, I'll see me and not brown spots.
It's been two weeks, and the brown crusty spots have all but disappeared. Some color remains underneath, thus the need for additional treatments. It's amazing how much better I feel about me. Who knew brown spots could hold so much power?
This is also my birthday month, and I've made myself a promise for this 59th year. I will learn to love me. I will believe that I'm important and worthy and good. I will treat myself with the respect that I deserve, not because of anything I've done, but because of whose I am. I will take care of my well-being in such a way that as my aging body challenges me, I can hit back . . . hard. I will listen to my husband and my son (NOT to those whose opinions really don't matter) who tell me of my worth and my capacity to do great things. And those great things must start inside me.
Brown spots on face ✔️
Next,a healthy body and lifestyle . . . 😱
I think that scares me most of all.
Let me Listen to Me and Not to Them.
Whether it is exploring this amazing world or being content on my own piece of real estate near Athens, Georgia, I'm spinning stories and fashioning tales from a Southern perspective. As an editor and writer, I get to meet incredible people and share their stories. As a photographer, I get to cement these moments in time. As a wife and mother, I'm always excited to see what's around the next corner, For it's anything but ordinary.