I was born and raised a true Southern Baptist complete with dinner on the grounds, summer revivals, and Wednesday night prayer meetings. my week was planned before it even started - days were for school, but Sunday and Wednesday nights, church. but for me, the best part of all, was seeing my friends and getting that extra 'buddy' time that school days just didn't provide. In the disguise of GAs and Acteens, i met my 'bestest' friends, spent hours of doing what teenage girls do best, jabbering. we made some memorable (and questionable) decisions - like when Carol, Pam, Susan and I stuffed into Brenda's Henry (a.k.a. a pea green late 60s mustang) and rolled our Acteen leader's house, or when we borrowed my dad's 48 Chevy and spent my 16th birthday at the drive-in (THAT is a another tale and one that has never been told). Don't tell anyone, but it was fabulous. as an only child, I lived for church because that is where I found the sisters I never knew I had.
At that time, i had no idea what a lucky girl i was. not only did I make some of the most enduring and long-lasting friendships of my life, but I also formed a relationship with God that would carry me through my unpredictable later years. Although I'm not as consistent, shall we say, as I once was, when it comes to walking through the church doors on a weekly basis, there isn't a day that goes by that I don't look UP and converse.
With that said, I am most assuredly not catholic, but my husband is. Much like me, my husband's life was resurrected around the church, its traditions and beliefs. I tell him I would have been a horrible Catholic, with all that kneeling and stuff - terrible knees you know. I have visited St. Patrick's cathedral in New York, purchased a beautiful pearl-like rosary and even lit a candle for my daddy. I'm sure i didn't do it right, but in my simple mind, I was close to God and my daddy.
Every year since the beginning of my life with Len, we have celebrated Christmas by attending midnight mass at St. Joseph's in Athens. much of the time, I was lost, but followed my husband's movements as best I could. It was a long way from my Southern Baptist, Bethlehem Baptist. If my prayers were answered, Rev. David McGinness would lead the service. I first met him at St. Mary's hospital when he comforted Len as his mother was slipping away. such peace, humility and grace he brought with him. even though I wasn't catholic, I knew where he got it.
He's a man of small statue, heavy on the Irish brogue, and shockingly, very entertaining. At masses, he always began his remarks with a comical tale and then shifted into a deeper lesson. He did so this Christmas night when he began with a scale and ended with a birth. "There was no room in the inn," he began matter-of-factly. Such a disappointment for those who missed this blessing, he continued. And why is there no room today? Such clutter. Such unnecessary stuff.
As I go through the daily chores of everyday life, I want that stuff gone. Those thoughts erased. Those people that make me sad. the events that I can't change. The lives that I can't touch. I don't want to miss out because I didn't make room for the important moments, people, events, tears, laughter . . . joy.
I will do my best to consciously make room - daily, moment by moment, breath by breath. For my husband who unselfishly gives me his heart; for my children who still hug me and want to spend time with mom; for family who never forgets the history that glues us together; for my heritage, one that has built my character and won't let me down; for my career, one that gives me such pleasure; for friends who make me a priority in their life, not an option. I don't want to wake up this time next year and realize, with disappointment, that I missed the king.
one of the best elements of our 'job' is that we get to meet people, photograph them and place their story within our collection of narratives - like the dalai lama, florida georgia line and lloyd carter. more than likely, our paths would have never crossed unless opal (our camera's name) or storytelling hadn't assembled us in the same space. that moment in our lives would have been forever blank, but now, it's filled with new faces and sparkling laughter that make our existence richer. sometimes, we click with people; other times, not so much, but that's okay. no matter what the end result, i firmly believe that every chance meeting leaves an impression.
this past weekend we met the haler family. in our short afternoon together, here's what we took away:
and in telling these stories, we have learned a truth - the eyes have it. always. the true story, the authentic story can be found within the eyes. the happiness. the sorrow. the anticipation. the desire. focus there and you'll always capture the true story. that's what we do - find that window of the soul and let the eyes do the rest - sometimes, it's not the story the subject intends on sharing; on rare occasions, the eyes reflect the words precisely.
our parents were great storytellers, not because they were intense talkers, but because they believed the importance of remembering. with no camera, the oral traditions became the record. mama, and especially daddy, would carve grins from ear to ear when the tales became too funny or tears would escape the eyes when the tales became too sad. they spoke with their eyes, their facial expressions, their hands. remember when mama said, "use your words." as a writer, by all means, but frequently, we need help to dig a little deeper. with 'opal' watching and our ears listening, we will strive to capture the entire story.
at the of end of our first year as an 'official' storyteller, and during this christmas season, we are thankful beyond measure for the eyes that have glanced our way and for those who have allowed us to share their story with the rest of the world. we are blessed. our desire for this season and all the days that will follow is that you will take note of the memoir your eyes are sharing. the stories your lips impart. for that is your story, the one that you share with others, and the one by which you will be remembered.
Everyone has a nativity story, a story of birth, of life. For me, there was truly no room in the Inn.
My mother had gone through this before, and it had ended tragically. The next time, she imagined, would be different - circumstances that would center around marriage and a home, an ending that would include life.
She was a few years older yet only one year past her teens. In between days working at the broom factory, she day-dreamed of escaping the tiny north Georgia town for a more romantic world. It was the 1958 Christmas season that introduced her to Dave, a Navy man, and it was as if he flipped a switch. The New Year's Eve party rivaled any tales coming from the big city. The Commercial Hotel, Cornelia's Waldorf, overflowed with beautiful women, elegant men and endless champagne. The songs, the dancing, the dawn of morning. Don't ever let this end, she must have pleaded. Precious time faded, and the good-byes morphed into heart-felt promises, to rest in each others arms until it was his time to ship out. He would return.
These memories held her within that moment, and dreams of their reunion gave her stock in a tomorrow. She waited, and as she did, changes began to happen. She was a little more moody, a little more uneasy, and the signs told a story that would unfold over the next few months. Still, no word from Dave. The two short weeks together were now her catalyst for breathing and the subject of her prayers each night. Although there had been others, he was her first.
Days turned into weeks, turned into months. The baby was coming, but Dave was not.
There was a broom factory worker who knew of an older couple who dreamed of a child. And with pressure from her mother to give away the disgrace, she agreed to a meeting and a beginning to the end. The transaction was simple, the legal documents were few, and in October, a baby was born. The baby traveled to the opposite end of the county, and the birth mother went home to her mother and routine days at the broom factory.
I'm not sure this is how it unfolded, but for the most part, spot on. The older couple are my parents, now long gone, but forever the ones who made room for me.
We all have moments that define us. A chance meeting. A heavenly message. A baby's touch. Those that transform and transfer us to a more befitting place. As with most things in life, they rarely happen as we think they should. There are disappointments, sharp turns. People come, and they go. Rarely is anything black and white. But then, suddenly, as the angels proclaimed, the colors fade into one another, and in the clearing, there's wise men, angels, a heavenly host, and best of all, a star.
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.