Running late, my normal these days, I found myself in Robert's funeral procession traveling from the funeral home some 10 miles to Center Hill Baptist Church near Rosebud.
It was about 10:30 a.m. and blue lights blocked the intersection. Walton County Sheriff Deputies sat quietly, stopping traffic from all sides. I knew it had to be a funeral this time of day. People paused in respect, a Southern practice that always makes me proud to be a Southerner, and, a little teary-eyed no matter who it might be. I didn't expect it to be Robert's procession. I waited, looking at my watch realizing I was getting later by the second, but it didn't matter anymore. They surely wouldn't start without Robert.
I observed each car go by - the hearse, the family, the friends - and then finally, I was allowed to fall in behind. On this very road, about 40 years ago, I traveled to meet Robert, his wife Josephine, his family - Renee, Rodney, Lance and Kelly - for the very first time.
As a sophomore at Truettt-McConnell College, I was selected by the Southern Baptist Convention as a summer missionary to Massachusetts. My stranger-side-kick and myself infiltrated the Catholic world of New England, working during the summer in backyard Bible schools, leading church services, ministering to young people who were basically the same age we were. It was life-changing. Service and ministry seeped into my skin, and I decided to do it again - just not so far away. So during my second summer at the University of Georgia, I interviewed with Center Hill Baptist Church for a youth ministry position. They liked me. They invited me. They kept me. For two years.
The first year, I commuted from Athens with the occasional spend-the-night with a church member. The second year, I had to have a home. They made sure of it. So Robert and Josephine - with four children of their own - turned their living room into Judy's bedroom and that was that.
Today, as I sat in the packed sanctuary, I heard Rodney, his eldest son, speak of his father's character. I glanced at Josephine. She was nodding her head in agreement. So were Renee, Lance and Kelly. Unconsciously, I'm doing the same thing. A quiet man, his convictions - his love - his service to mankind was palpable.
I struggled to remember the small details of life with the McCarts, but I do remember how I didn't feel like a stranger. When the car pulled under the car port to unload groceries (and, man, were there a lot of groceries), we all helped. It was an event. Evenings around the dinner table included everyone with tales of the day and usually, lots of laughter. I hated squash, but Josephine cooked it just right - paper thin and fried, and I caved. The sweet tea was addictive, but not as addictive as that strawberry cake. I can still taste it.
Being a Ford man, I understood why Robert loved my little red and white Mustang so much, but not as much as he loved Renee's. Anything I asked him to do for the youth group, he did it with joy. Anything. He loved the outdoors, and he loved to laugh. I remembered that hearty laugh. His children had it, too. I suspect, they still do.
Even after they converted my bedroom back into a living room, it was still home. And when I would return to the church for visits over the years, Robert and Josephine were the first faces I searched for. They were the first people I grabbed.
It's incredible how, even though years have passed, the depth of love I have for this family has never wavered. Time has been the greatest divider but not the conqueror. Just like that, I'm back and it's summertime at Center Hill. The youth group is preparing for some big event, gathering in the parking lot underneath the big oak tree. I'm eating squash and strawberry cake. I'm sitting in the house on the hill where a family took me in and gave me exactly what I needed - love.
Part of that scenario goes home today, but the legacy of Robert remains. He leaves a very important lesson with me - when you think you are full, and there's just not room for anyone or anything else, there's always an opportunity to change a living room into a bedroom.
Having a place to lay your head is life-changing. Just ask me.
There are people reflecting all over the place - on Facebook, even in my mailbox that sits at the edge of my driveway. We get letters from friends and family, exuberantly shouting their accomplishments which include obtaining their third doctor's degree, incredible jobs with six-figure salaries and announcing their ump-teenth grandchild. They are proud, and rightly, they should be. However, since none of those broadcasts make my list, nevertheless, I am still proud of where I find myself on the last day of 2015.
It's not "Look at me" but "Look at how far I've come." I am not where I once was nor will I ever be at this point again. I am moving forward, adding to my list of triumphs, which to others may seem insignificant, but to me, monumental. I am making myself accountable for four of my best efforts this year. These feats make me proud. 1. I wrote a book and a publisher wanted it. I dare say I might not get to say this again, so I'm putting it right out front. I did it. I'm not sure how, but the words came, and so did the people; 2. I learned to shoot in manual mode, thus taking control of my photography which led me to my kick-ass 5DMarkiii (a.k.a. Kimsey); 3. I broke into a new travel market (my editorial complemented by Len's photography) with my first major international publication and million+ audience; and 4. I am realizing (albeit a continuing struggle) my place in this world - partner, employee, entrepreneur.
What makes you proud today?
It's the day we give thanks. In all honestly, we should do this everyday. Not just one day a year. We're hundreds of miles from those we hug on, but no matter what, we know how lucky we are. So, in honor of those organizational fools like myself, here's a list:
1. (Len) I'm thankful that we get to travel together.
2. (Judy) Totally agree. I'm glad you're the other half of Two Coots.
3. (Len) I'm thankful for communication with my sons, that I'm able to build a relationship again.
4. (Judy) There's nothing better than a do-over, a second chance. I'm so thankful that you are my second chance at love.
5. (Len) I'm thankful for our good health, which makes us able to enjoy all this.
6. (Judy) I'm thankful that you're the one with the good eyes, good body, good mind, good feet, good pipes. At least one of us should have clear sailing in order to help the other. Leaning is a good thing.
7. (Len) I'm thankful for you because you bring out the good parts in me cause Lord knows they are hard to find.
8. (Judy) Love makes that possible.
9. (Len) I'm thankful for the stories we get to share and the images we are privileged to capture. They will live forever for these people and that's an honor. Long after we're gone, our photos will be hanging on someone's wall. What an honor to have someone look at them and smile.
10. (Judy) What a privilege to share stories and moments. Not everyone gets to look in like we get to.
11. (Len) I'm thankful for Bear, our kitty. When we come home, he yells at us, but I'm thankful he's there to yell at us. He doesn't like us to leave.
12. (Judy) He's a pill, that cat. My shadow. Not many cats get a book dedication.
13. (Len) I'm thankful for Thanksgiving lasagna. Cooking is a great way to remember people and traditions. When you stand in the kitchen and cook what your parents did, what your mom made, what better way to have them with you forever.
14. (Judy) I'm a coverted Thanksgiving lasagna lover. Brings out the wanna-be Italian in me. Food is one of those ultimate connections. My mama made me tomato soup when I was sick or sad. It's been 8 years since I've tasted her comfort.
15. (Len) I think that's all the highlights, dear.
16. (Judy) A good list that is sure to grow.
17. (Len) One more, I'm thankful for family and friends that we have re-connected with. It's great to be welcomed home. And the people we've met along the way, so amazing.
18. (Judy) It's staggering to think of the experiences we have shared and the people we have met simply because three years ago we decided not to sit still. Take that, old age!
They say that gratitude produces happiness. We are happy UP TO HERE! With gratitude . . .
Thank you for supporting and following and sharing Seeing Southern and Two Coots Travel.
I looked up and saw the grin. Immediately, I caught my breath and I remembered - picnics under the tree, Grandma Franklin, the Elvis moment - all surfaced. I gasped. She gasped. And the rest was a reunion of best friends.
My memory has never been too favorable; there are jabs at the past, flashes of light that will illuminate certain moments. At this age, flashes of light are favorable. I need jabs. I need reminders. The grin was my jab.
It had been at least 35 years since I had seen Sharon Franklin. She lived in Woodstock; I lived in Clarkesville. The summer brought us together as she would spend three months with her Grandma Franklin on the hill in the little brick house underneath the towering oak tree. I can't for the life of me tell you how we met. All I know is that we were inseparable. We were besties before besties were cool. We swooned over Bobby Sherman and David Cassidy, vowing I would marry Bobby and she, David ( I think Peter Frampton was in the mix somehow?), and we'd be happy forever. Instead, she married Ricky, a pure stud in Habersham speak. I was jealous. I started college with no Bobby in my future and certainly no Ricky along the way. Sharon settled down with Ricky, made babies and well, our lives drifted apart. Until last Saturday . . .
You never forget those who make you feel good about yourself, those that just make you so stinking happy. Sharon make me stinking happy. Our hot summers spent in the shadows of Grandma Franklin and the old oak tree prepared us for life, although we had no clue that that was happening. Those summers taught us to delight in the simple things, the beauty of best friends, the wonder of really old people, that laughter cools just like lemonade, that going places is overrated, and jumping sky-high on beds won't bring down the house. True friendship requires bed jumping and lemonade sipping and secret sharing.
Last Saturday, Sharon smiled and I cried; I felt Grandma Franklin and mama doing their happy dances in heaven for the girls were back together. Time and geography may have separated us, but in a split second, we were back on the hill, underneath the oak tree, running silly. We exchanged numbers, and I promised I would not let time separate us again.
My book has given me earnings that weren't penciled in my contract. I got to return home, to hear heart-felt stories of how much the community loved my mama and daddy, to be part of a family again and visit with relatives that I miss so much my body aches, and this - for this reason - I am most thankful; I made a new best friend with my old friend Sharon.
It's the best Saturday postal delivery ever!
In a small brown box, six copies of North Georgia Moonshine arrived via my postman in his little red Jeep. The first copies to see the light of day. They were all mine.
Surely, I would rip open the box, but no. It was a slow, savoring process. Securely wrapped in brown paper was the dividend of my last year. I touched, and as any book lover will do, I smelled. Then, I turned to my favorite parts. True, there were sections I wrote because I had to, but then there were the sections I wrote because it was the natural story. The narratives that painted a picture of a man and his legacy. A memory. A history. A story. If pushed, I probably could recite the entire book; I can't count the times I have read the finished book in one sitting. However, my favorite sections still give me chills. As a writer, you know when you nail a line, when the words are balanced in order and time. I nailed quite a few. I still read and ask, "Did I write that? Man, that sounds good."
It was just about this time last year that I switched from low to high gear and began working night and day putting words on the page that would tell a man's life story. It was a real test. This time, no procrastinating would be possible for I had signed on the dotted line. I had to do what I had never done before - finish the book.
I interviewed scores of people, recorded thousands of hours of interviews (and then transcribed them all), read dozens of books, drove thousands of miles to find experts, scoured through archives and captured thousands of photographs - all in the hopes that each little tidbit would contribute to the final story. Some did. Some did not. To this day, evidence of work remains: a tower of books sit on the floor beside my desk, a crate of notes and rough drafts shoved underneath the far corner of my desk, hundreds of files remain on my hard drive. What do I do with them now?
I am proud of the story and the finished product. It was hard work, probably some of the hardest work I've ever done. I hope those involved will feel the same; if not, I still have to be proud of myself, happy with the chapters I wrote, the stories I told, the photographs I captured of a family whose story is fleeting. The story, both the good and bad parts, is complete. And that's all any writer can hope for - a complete story. I have come full circle, and I am a better person that I was a year ago. Not that I'm a better person, but I have fulfilled something that was nothing more than a dream before. I finished the book.
I am a writer; better yet, I am an author. I did it. Yes, Judy, you did it. Enjoy this moment.
Happy birthday to me! I realized two things this morning:
Cute is gone, and I feel my mortality.
By that I mean, I understand that the bulk of my life is behind me, and what lies ahead is the icing on the cake, borrowed time to go at Nascar speed in the direction of my dreams. And it's all up to me. A couple of years ago I made a list - a gratitude list - one that bears repeating - or at least its highlights. I discovered that every single item from the original list would make my list again. Now, two years down the road, I add two more blessings . . . here are the highlights and the additions.
1. I get to work at home, at my desk - surrounded by the things I love most - every single day. (Today, it's more decked out than before - complete with an inspiration board, a real desk and twinkle lights.)
2. He's the last sight at night, and my first sight each morning - the glory of second chances. (I watch him drive down the gravel drive way each morning and marvel at how much my love for him grows. 'Bring him home,' I pray.)
6. Bear keeps me company while I sit at my desk. He never complains when I get to sip tea and he doesn't. (As long as I turn on the faucet, he's a happy camper. He still won't turn it off.)
9. I can make as many pots of coffee a day as I like, and every cup is mine. (I've added a Kreurig to the mix. Happy dance - maybe it's the caffeine.)
10. God never left me. (Ditto.)
12. I had the best mama and daddy ever. (Ditto.)
13. My mama taught me how to make homemade applesauce, sauerkraut and cat-head biscuits. (Priorities!)
14. I finally get that doing the right thing is the only option. (Life is easier when this is the decision maker.)
15. God saw something in me worth saving. (Thank you.)
20. I can finally say I'm half-Italian. (Wednesday night is pizza night . . . still. As long as Survivior plays out on Wednesday night, it will be homemade pie and Jeff.)
24. I have three sisters. (I never forget and I want to understand.)
25. Thoreau got it right: simplicity. (I long for my little cabin in the woods to "live life deliberately" with a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Soon . . . )
29. My children transcended what fate threw at them and knocked it out of the park. (I give thanks for this everyday.)
33. Dreams are freakin' amazing, and I will never stop - so there. (Seeing Southern was born during these last two years. This is my dream, our dream, our reality, our vision. Look out!)
35. Mama's words teach me just as daddy's image on the sofa comforts me. (The older I get, the more I return to my years in Clarkesville when the most important thing was listening to the weekly Sunday night countdown of the Top 20 songs in America. I cling to a childhood that almost wasn't. )
45. I let go. (It's hard to hang on, but it's even harder to let go. Peace is a grand thing.)
52. I fell in love for the last time. (My Lenny!)
53. I'm right where I'm supposed to be. (I'm still here!)
Now, for the additions:
54. The dream that I had verbalized to myself and others years ago met paper. I signed my 'first' - yes, 'first' - book contract. And, I made a friend who brightens each step with hand-written cards! Although I'm scared senseless, this is my shot, and if I never get the chance again, I want to knock this one out of the park.
55. I get to tell stories. What an amazing job! Not simply of those who names are recognizable - Luke Bryan, Junior Johnson, Larry Gatlin, Bill Richardson, Tyler Hubbard - but of those whose stories are equally inspirational - Stanley Wood, John Ray Parker, Carlos Lovell, Chaplain Bill Black, Carlene Holder - and me. I get to tell my story. It's not the stuff movies are made of, but it's mine. I learn from it and let it guide me while I pen the sacred material with which others trust in my care.
I feel like I'm in the middle now. This side and that side. Being on 'that' side brings with it some apprehension. So I offer myself this advice for the upcoming year and beyond: get those hormones in check, lose the headaches, keep booking country (or is it really hip-hop in disguise) concerts, stick with the true stories, trust your gut, follow your dream, and hang on to the arm of the man who lights the way. Amen!
"You're a travel writer?" she said with an elevated voice. "What an amazing job."
Yes, Nessa, it is.
When we get really lucky, we get to lay our heads at B & Bs. We dine at the breakfast table with strangers from who knows where and talk about mostly unknown things and more than likely, we'll never ever see them again. We have one moment to uncover a lifetime.
Nessa Pettyjohn and Nihshanka Debroy from Gwinnett County celebrated their one year anniversary, and at breakfast, we celebrated, complete with candle-topped banana bread. After an amazing casserole, intense coffee and our own slice of banana bread later, we discovered they were IT people. I could tell. It was like looking in a three way reflective mirror - Nessa, Nihshanka and Len. Triplets. I, on the other hand, was the elephant in the room, but that's alright. We learned about Nihshanka's love for rare books and Nessa's skill at preparing Indian food; we wanted to go home with them.
Hosts, or innkeepers, are rare breeds we are told. There are ones that are nice and do their job well. Then, there are those who could be your Aunt Sally or Uncle Frankie. Family, in other words. You hear it in their voice, see it in their eyes, in the little touches - like complimentary this-and-that, fresh baked cakes always available tempting and calling your name, exquisite "I never want to get out of bed" sheets, binoculars for bird watching, or smiles no matter the time of day. And if they accidentally lock you out of the Lodge at bedtime, you know deep down they really didn't mean to. And when they say, "Come back," they expect you to.
Janet and Ric came to Blue Ridge by way of Key Largo and Colorado. "This [Aska] makes us happy," Janet says with a visible sense of contentment radiating from her face. Calling them adventurists would be an understatement - climbing Mount Rainier and Mt. Hood, caving, scuba diving - and this little piece of heaven, satisfies their longing to be close to nature. They have even changed roles; Janet who once handled all the cooking now serves as sous chef for Ric and his morning masterpieces.
All this thinking and processing and editing, and well, deciding on concepts that we can live with for a lifetime is exhausting! It has had feet a little over 18 months, but it's the last few months that we've stuck our toes deeper in the sand to make this adventure (not sure if that's the correct word) a reality. Our first finalized piece of two coots: our Seeing Southern logo. We're tweaking on this a bit for other uses, but this is us. Whenever you see this, it will represent us - Len and Judy - and our commitment to excellence, to the South and to the story. Not too shabby.
We hope you agree.
"what cha' doing?" i looked up, contemplating the silver strips mama held in her hand. her head was arched upward, and with one hand she held tightly to her face, and with the other, she placed the two long silver metal things against her chin and tugged. she grunted and jerked.
"plucking my face," she uttered.
'what in the world is that,' i thought, my mouth twitched to the side as i stretched higher on my tippy toes to see if i could see plucking. i wasn't sure what i was looking for, but assuredly once i heard a grunt, i knew i was close.
she did it over and over again until finally, she placed the silver things down on the bathroom counter, grabbed a washcloth that had been soaking in the sink and touched it to her face.
"what cha' doing now," i questioned again.
"making it feel better," she responded.
i wasn't exactly sure what she was making feel better, but i watched her repeat this worrisome process every day from the moment i was ten until, well, forever.
this morning, i looked into the mirror, arched my head upward, and with one hand held my face and with the other, placed what i now know to be tweezers against my chin and tugged. i grunted. and knowing what came next, i ran the hottest water possible into the sink and watched a cloth float until it filled with the weight of the water and sank. i gathered the cloth, twisted it tightly until all the water escaped and placed it against my chin. it felt better.
i'm not sure when i looked into the mirror and saw her staring back at me, but i'm glad i have those stalwart eyes showing me the way. even though they have been closed for nearly six years, not a day goes by without my remembering. and as sure as hogs love slop (a favorite saying of hers), she's peeping down from heaven and watching my morning ritual and declaring, "don't forget the cloth. it makes it feel better." mama always knew what made the grunt feel better.
happy birthday mama. i will never pluck without thinking of you.
she's here, as i'm sure her parents can confirm. it might be the sleepless nights heard round the world that provides the proof that a six-pounder can cause all kinds of havoc to normal human beings. what a disruptive little cuss she is, this caitlin cutie. and just so you know, at a week-and-a-half, mama and daddy still don't get the concept of 'step away from the baby' or 'put the baby down' even though she's just too cute. mari was cute once, as i'm sure phelim was. i didn't learn until my third child that what my mama told me was the gospel. never rock, never walk, never tote a baby - no matter if it kills you not to cuddle and snuggle with that mystical lump of joy. but as mari will tell you, sleep is overrated and cute wins out every time. let's see if she feels that way in, say, a month!
you see that adorable pink blanket? that's been soaked with kisses by her grandparents, grandma judy and papa len, so technically [in my mind] we've touched. that's the only consolation at the moment for the thousands of miles separating us. it was her christmas present before we even knew of those ruby red lips or those big feet [yes, i said big feet]. i will give phelim the credit for those [or her uncle ty, not sure which one gets the most credit].
still rockin' that pink blanket, i see. that, my dear caitlin, will be the object that brings you the most comfort (even if mama and daddy tell you differently, always reach for grandma and papa's blanket - it's where dreams are born)!
she's only a few minutes old. i recognize that look on daddy's face. the one that says 'you are wrapped around my finger' and 'you can't date until you're 25' and 'sure, just one more popsicle' and 'i'll love you until the twelfth of never'. i have that same look, only it's going to take you a little longer for our peepers to connect. until then, papa and myself are leaving you in good hands. see you soon.
happy birthday caitlin - march 22, 2014 - 6 lbs. 1 oz. - sydney, australia
by this time next week, i should be a grandmother. some 28 years ago, i remember the same anticipation, only i was to be a mama then - a realization that scared the gravy out of me.
so what did i do? i wrote about it.
i was the lifestyle editor at the walton tribune and got a shot at writing my first editorial. after all, as a woman, i had lots to say, so why not open the flood gates. in a newsroom full of men, the female perspective might draw new readers, and it was an easy assignment for those floundering leaders. so, i wrote.
for some reason, i didn't keep the article. however, my mama did because as excited as i was about being a mama, she was more excited about her first grandma role. her baby was having a baby. i get it now.
i cringe at my writing, but i sure do remember the hormone roller-coaster. i'm sure baby j (mari) is thinking many of the same things at this very moment. i'm not sure she ever read this, so here it is - your mama being nervous because you were on your way.
no need to be nervous, baby j. you'll do great.
dear baby j,
without quite knowing what to say, i would like to begin by saying i'm glad to be your mom. with mother's day just around the corner, i have been thinking of the significance of what is actually about to happen.
no, i'm not backing out, but a few shivers have been running up and down my spine for the past few weeks. the closer i get to seeing your face, the more worried i become that i won't be able to live up to your expectations.
i guess all moms go through the same stage - wondering whether or not they will be able to fulfill baby's every need, calm every doubt and fear and be around to wipe away all the tears.
the fear of the unknown, they call it. . .
i remember when i first found out that you were here . . . talk about the unknown. my emotions went haywire. i didn't know exactly how to react. your dad couldn't believe that what he had been dreaming of for years was about to become a reality. you brought quite a lot of excitement to our home in october. we knew then that all of our tomorrows would never be the same again.
we began planning from day one. what will the nursery look like? what about day care? what doctors do we use? what happens if we can't afford the baby? the house is a mess.
now almost nine months later, we still have the same questions with no definite answers. now we simply look above for guidance and assurance to those questions and for the calming of our fears. we anticipate your arrival with joy and determination that all things will work out for the best.
you see, baby j, being a parent in the 80s is quite different from the time i great up. now mothers shuffle their time between career and family, while the father must do the same. finding someone that i can trust to keep you while i'm at work poses a problem. how can i make sure you're getting all the love and attention needed while at the same time leaving a little room for me?
i can remember how my mother had to be everywhere at one time, while at the same time she was always tugging me along for the ride.
to this day, she tells me that i was her responsibility and no one else would get the pleasure. for that reason, she sacrificed all else for me.
i never had a baby-sitter. i guess mom was everything to me - babysitter, mom, playmate and best friend. it makes me exhausted just recalling what she did for me. over all these years, the things that she did for me then were never more important that they are right now.
i want to be that kind of mom to you, baby j. one that be exactly what you need when you need it.
the countdown is beginning. i guess anytime that you decide to make your grand entrance into this world is the day when my world will take on a whole new beginning. sometimes i wonder whether or not i am willing to make such a sacrifice.
then i feel you kick me with just enough force to let me know that your wants are not to be forgotten. i can almost smile because you feel my insecurities and know that they exist only in my mind.
you definitely will be a bundle of joy, baby j. our own little bundle. one that will change our lives in a way that only experience will dictate.
i look forward to meeting you face to face and touching you, and caressing you only as a mother can do. moms have that special touch, or haven't you already guessed that.
so for this mother's day, i can only dream of what my mom's day will be like when i first get to hold you. we'll have a lot of days together for the rest of our lives, baby j.
i'll see you real soon.
yesterday is a funny thing. it holds that time-space-star trek-weird kind of leverage. something i'm almost positive sheldon and leonard could explain. however, in my mind, yesterday, when provoked, flashes in-and-out on a daily basis. like when i drive by schools and see the suv express dropping off kids, or pick up a bottle of v-8 in the grocery store, or drive down the road and see bubbles of black topping the ground.
those school drop-offs put me behind my suv wheel, tapping patiently, waiting for three happy-go-lucky kids to doddle from the house to the car, offering no attempt to be a little early - just once. i was frazzled by my first period roll call. len's mom had v-8 every day, mango and peach only. i buy it now when i need more veta love in my life. and those black bubbles. as i drive into town, i see calves lying everywhere in green pastures, my first indicator that spring has rescued us from a terrible winter. even though i'm an outsider, I get to watch those shaky legs take their first steps. if i was lucky once upon a time, daddy would get me close enough to touch the newborn's tender skin.
those happy-go-lucky kids were just babies yesterday. heck, i was only twenty-something yesterday. where did the in-between go?
now, my baby is going to be a mama which makes me a grandma. in about 10 days or so. as much as i hate not being there to welcome my granddaughter, i cry at the thought that i won't be there for mari. to tell her everything is going to be okay. to assure her that the hurt won't last forever. and don't forget to just breathe, as drew barrymore said in your favorite movie. just to be her mama, to hold her and be proud of her and remember when she was nothing more than a promise.
i struggle with that, and also, not being involved in a mother's ultimate wish. i won't be there to welcome her or snuggle with her. and she won't get to learn my touch or feel my care. so until we breathe the same air, introductions must be made and words must be exchanged. and i will have faith that my images and words will allow caitlin to know that somewhere, there's a lady just itching to rip off those socks and play with her toes.
my life has always been centered around words and images. now, i put all that i have learned to the test. my mission - to not miss a thing. it's much more complicated than that, but that's it in a nutshell.
so when my baby becomes a mama and this mama becomes a grandma and len puts on his grandpa hat, it will all be as it should be. and until the plane ride becomes nothing more than a drive around the corner, get ready for lots of words and photos and love from mayne. grandma and grandpa's got lots to share.
i like endings because as sure as rainbows follow rain, a beginning is just around the corner. i'm one of those crazy women who loves a new calendar. the crisp, white paper screaming for me to deface its surface, with highlighters and off-the-wall colored inks, to make lists and appointments, followed by fruitful mark throughs and completed to do's. here lives proof i made a goal and its success [or failure, in come cases] is in black and white.
it's the last day of 2013 on mayne mill and the heavens are a little cloudy and i'm beginning taxes and finishing laundry. oh, the envy i sense in your eyes. i'm recalling a few of those lists and goals during the year that was and all of the good things that happened, the adventures taken that were not even anticipated this time last year, the children who broke my heart for the millionth time and those who stopped me in my tracks with utter amazement, friends who came and went and those who reappeared when my heart needed them the most. there were journeys to places i had only heard about from others and now, i stood on the same island where wild horses roamed, the same bridge where forest gump crossed, the same doorway through which a governor traveled each night. quite spectacular for this old coot.
remembering is a powerful tool, one that should be used for good. to learn. to change what went wrong. to build upon went right. however, don't let the past interfere with the present, i tell my children, for if we let it, it most certainly will take over today. i teach them that it is important to revisit the past for only one reason, as a reminder of what will happen if our actions never change. if we allow people to run over our emotions and thoughts, then they will. if we put ourselves in precarious situations, more than likely, we will fall. if we fail to use common sense, well, we deserve what we will eventually get. if we don't put ourselves first, no one else will. those are some fairly simple certainty's that took me a half a century to nail down. in the course of a year, i tend to forget them. but on this day, when all is said and done, i reflect and remember, and most of the time, i kick myself in the butt for not listening to myself. i like to blame it on menopause.
i look forward to a new year. i predict 2014 will be good. i'll share just a bit of my calendar ink with you:
i can feel a beginning on its way. i guess whatever kind of beginning is up to me. happy 2014 and here's to all the full calendars and fruitful mark throughs.
my birthday week of men
i've always thought it kind of cool to be the lone girly fish in a sea of men. surrounded by testosterone, manly men sporting guns (the arm-candy kind), smiling and being shifty. if you're a woman and reading this, tell me i'm wrong. you can't. i know you too well.
it's my birthday week - yes, when you're this old, you get a week - and i started thinking about all the men that i have been around these past seven days. so, here's a list, in order of appearance :)
1. lloyd carter: he's my touchstone to my past. a father of a friend who reminds me just how good life was and is. his smile is contagious and his attitude, inspirational. len and i spend last sunday afternoon with his family, at the family reunion. since our parents are gone, we've adopted new parents plus an entire family. i can't think of any better than this man. thank you lloyd for loving me and showing me the way. you're a 91-year old-pistol!
2. his holiness the dalai lama: i know what you're thinking. you really weren't with him, but i like to think sharing the same air space counts for something. after all, a year ago, if you had told me i would be 'shooting' this man, i would have laughed in your face. so there's two moments here; one of opportunity and one of inspiration. being in gwinnett arena on wednesday proved that you're never too old to dream. if you want something badly enough, well, then, go get it. today, i'm 54, and i - along with my husband - want to be tops in the travel/writing/photography industry. i'm on my way because this week - i photographed THE dalai lama. wow. secondly, it never hurts to hear some common sense preached. simple concepts of love, compassion, respect - that's all it takes to solve the worlds greatest ills. sounds like the thoughts of another who changed the world. i'm overflowing with gratitude.
3. ty johnson: yes, he's my son, and i'm partial. as a mom, i have that right. over the past few months, he has been my inspiration. len and i have been watching him map out his life, attempting to figure out the path that will lead him to where he wants to go (and, yes, it has nothing to do with spelling). it's not where he wants to go that's impressive, it's the steps he's taking to get there. the old adage of "it's not the destination but the journey" rings true. he has taught me the importance of commitment to a goal and the risk of being steadfast and to jump when all those risks line up. i'm proud of him, and i'm proud to be his mom. i'm tickled-pink to find a hand-written note on the counter before sunrise. again, so much gratitude.
4. len garrison, sexy man: that's his listing in my phone. when i call upon my voice commands to dial him up, she always asks if i want to dial "len garrison, sexy man". i always giggle, and say yes. and then i giggle more when i realize that he's mine. and as he reminds me on my birthday card, he's "my own personal sheldon". and then i remind myself of just how lucky i am. rock-bottom was my only option until i found him - or rather, he found me. then he raised me up, allowed me to dream, and promised he'd be there every second. that - my friends - is the gift that keeps on giving. overflowing with gratitude.
so these are my men of this birthday week. a distinguished assortment of testosterone.
the 11alive forecast told of a perfect day in georgia. an "11" on the wizometer. i tend to agree. it's only a few hours old, and perfection is rising.
"judy, you are favored," my new friend eagerly told me. i just sat there without a clue as to the next word that would come out of my mouth. so, i waited.
"judy, you are," she said more convincingly. "i don't use puffy words. I mean it." i think she did. the longer i sat there in silence, the more i heard those words resounding over and over. i was favored.
the backstory is simple. i'm going to a birthday party at a monastery tomorrow - the 102nd birthday of the founding father for the only monastery in georgia. i suppose my friend recognized something i didn't. i admit, it is kind of cool that i am being allowed in a part of the cloister where no one is allowed to visit, but i have been down this road before - a journalist asking for access for a story. but then i thought, of all the people in the world, this man - this father - would be the least impressed with my credentials. he couldn't care less. it was his birthday, and as i was told, he - as well as all those around him - wanted to share his life with me. in fact, who am i kidding - yes, i got access to jason aldean in sanford stadium, but he didn't know me from the faceless armadillo crossing the highway.
i realized that these two events are as different as night and day. the aldean concert was a media circus, his moment to flaunt before the home crowd just who he had become, and the more eyes on him, the better. it would make him a better man, a better entertainment. a better paycheck.
for father luke, his invitation is personal and selective. more than likely, he will not understand my role at his celebration, but he will hopefully catch my eyes and hear my greetings. he'll answer my queries, and with his wonderful humor, he and i will both laugh when he answers. he will care enough to bring me into his space, and hope that i will return the respect. he will not need my approval or presence to authenticate his life.
i am favored. not simply because i get the opportunity to do things many don't, but because i get to tell stories of a generation that still has so much to teach us. i'm allowed the opportunity to sit with the sages of this world, to photograph them and capture moments when they are happiest, and to write down their words so that when they have gone on to greener pastures, their legacy remains.
yes, my new friend, i am favored, not because of who i am but because of those i have met.
what a smile from father luke. happy birthday. august 3, 2013.
Besse Cooper turns 116 on Sunday, August 26, 2012, and I'm honored that she has shared a tiny bit of her extraordinary life with me. She is the oldest living person on record. Amazing, don't you think.
Now, a bridge in Between is sharing her spotlight. Yes, in Georgia, we have a town called Between simply because it found itself in between Monroe and Loganville. Ah, I do love my South. Another town where its geography and setting influenced its name, much like my mountain oasis located in Possum Hollow, Georgia. Opossums, agh!
Nevertheless, as of Friday, August 24, 2012, it is the Besse Brown Cooper Bridge. It re-opens after months of repair to fanfare and frivolity. Honestly, I would be shocked if frivolity will be present in this out-of-the-way location, but a girl can hope. The piece of real estate now holds the honor of bearing the name of the oldest person in the world. A heavy burden for a whisper called Between.
It took only four minutes, thirty five seconds, for the county commissioner to commission the bridge's namesake. Three of her four children accepted the honor in her name. Grandson Paul Cooper was at Besse's side (at her residence) hoping to provide the crown an up-to-the moment comment. However, no call came, but her previous statement said it all: "I'm glad I gave them a reason to name it."
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.