Our lives together started at this very spot, 10 years ago.
Well, technically, we became legal on this very spot, 10 years ago.
About a month ago, Len said, "Let's recreate our first photo."
Me, "Sure," thinking he would forget about it.
Sure enough, he came from work and yanked his suit (that was still in the dry cleaners bag from 2010) out of his closet and looked at me and said, "Get ready.'
"Oh, you're serious?" I responded. And with that, I reached inside my closet for my white flowing dress, still with its safety-pinned dry cleaning tag from 2010. It had been months since I had worn make-up, so the usual five-minute application was bumped to seven minutes, carefully covering those annoying sunspots and wrinkles that weren't there 10 years ago.. Len would pop his head into the bathroom every now and then, grinning from ear to ear, amazed that his suit still fit him like a glove. All I kept thinking was "Oh God, please let my dress fit."
It did. So the girl with the now white hair and the boy with the salt-n-pepper hair went to the exact spot on the porch where (now) Superior Court Judge Eric Norris hitched us to a star in front of a few family and friends.
And when the vows were said, everyone went inside our home, drank champagne, ate cake and celebrated the creation of a family. It was mostly unicorns and rainbows that day, and for the most part, the rainbows have still remained over our heads. Hailstorms crept in from time-to-time, but we figured that if we kept our focus on God and on each other. we'd be okay.
Dreams have changed. We're living through a pandemic. Parts have been tweaked and shifted. More geography separates us from those who joined us that morning, but the one constant - our front porch.
Still, there's white rockers for sitting and reflecting. And every morning and evening when I plop down in my rocker, I remember that moment on a June morning when the humidity was so thick you could cut it with a knife, that two very lost people found a reason to live.
And live we would for the next 50 years - IF we are very, very lucky.
2010 Photos: Bennett Brian
Remember in TV ads long ago in the 70s when product-makers would tout their "unconditional money-back guarantee" for their product that might work three days after receiving it. As a kid, I remember hearing those jumbled words, not really understanding its significance. However, if old age has taught me one thing, it's the price of unconditional and how its longevity factor is much more valued than any monetary replacement.
Yesterday, our cat died. Bear. I've known Bear as long as I've known my husband. In fact, Bear met me at the door before Len could get there. So, I guess I've know Bear the longest. My heart is broken. Len's heart is broken. Here's the way I look at this. Last week my ex-husband died. I didn't cry. I didn't mourn. He was a horrible man who treated his children and family as if we were trash. Not an unconditional fiber in his being. It was a very sad ending to life.
Today, I can't stop crying. I can't stop mourning. Bear was a companion who never judged or belittled or wandered; he simply loved his family the best way he could. And, he did. Until yesterday at 4:00 p.m. when he just couldn't handle it anymore.
He's simply a cat.
I mean, really. What we had to put up with!
I can have a white bed comforter. Yes, a beautiful, hotel-like, cushy-cottony comforter that will make our bedroom a beautiful place to relax. No worries of black hair being left on the foot of the bed or paw prints messing with its whiteness.
And, I can put away the towels that I used to cover all upholstery where he stretched out every day. The pad at the bottom of our bed or the chair in my office where he spent most of his days don't have to be covered anymore. The upholstery can now breathe.
Real flowers. I can have vases upon vases of real flowers on every table in the house. I don't have to put them 7 feet high in hopes that Bear won't climb and eat every last bloom. What do I buy first?
I can open doors again! I don't have to race in from the car, quickly closing the outside door before I open the kitchen door just so Bear won't escape. He did that one time, and luckily I found him. If not, I would have been the one that was homeless. I can take my time, leaving a door open a millisecond longer than before.
And, I won't have to say goodbye each time I leave the house or tell him when I'll return or to take care of Ty or to take a nap; I'll be right back. I can just walk out the door and be on my way.
No more paw prints on my floors. Less mopping to erase his steps and the floors will thank me.
No more litter box to clean. Can I get an Amen?
During the night, no more cat chases to wake us. We never knew what he was chasing, but when he settled down, we figured he caught it. Oh, and no more sweeps of the house after Len and I laid down. He always laid down with us and then immediately got up to check the house. Again, crazy cat in that nothing was every there. He just made noise.
I don't have to share my sweet peas with Bear anymore. I can keep them all to myself.
And don't get me started about the water. Leaving the water running in Len's sink for him to drink - he was insistent that it be running so he could get water. Never mind that he had a water bowl in the kitchen. It was never good enough.
What a nosey ghost. I couldn't go anywhere in the house with him following me. Now, I can do anything, all by myself.
Life is strange in that we think we know what we want. And when we have it, we want the complete opposite.
I look over my left shoulder to the chair that Bear occupied for close to eight years. It's empty. I can't read my work to him. No more meows for approval or a head tuck for disapproval. And when its time for a break, I'll not have a partner to accompany me to the kitchen for a cup of coffee or a guy to help me harass the outside cats through the glass door. And no one who races me to the bathroom. And no one to tell "good morning" or "let's go to bed."
And this is where the unconditional comes in. He was that. Bear defined that. For no matter what we needed - a head kiss or a cold nose on my arm - he always showed us that he was there. Even when I told him how annoying he was, he didn't care; he simply remained Bear. He had the longevity factor. Until the very end.
Lessons from a cat, I suppose. Constant. Remaining. Loving. Caring. Unconditional.
He leaves all those lessons behind and a family that became whole because he was there.
Who needs a white comforter and flowers? Not me.
I think writing is a family thing. My mama was a reader for sure, but I never thought of her as a writer. However, I could spot her writing a mile away - arched characters, stiff, solemn. I never knew my grandmother and I never heard my mama talk about her mother very much, only in quick anecdotes regarding her upbringing.
Going through boxes of photos and chests of keepsakes, I unearth three treasures. One, a short story called "The Bridge," written in my mother's handwriting. The faded yellow paper held together by a rusted paper clip held the aroma of yesterday. Almost 8 pages of carefully crafted single spaced story line, complete with dialogue and a moral. I don't know if this is original or if she copied it from her memory or a newspaper or magazine she found. Scriptural in tone, I'm fairly certain it was her Southern Baptist mantra landing on paper. For the two boys that found themselves in a situation that was the result of driving too fast around mountain curves would be the exact type of story I can see my mother sharing. Mortal lives ending in death but saved by their Heavenly Father. That was mama.
Remember those Blue Horse writing pads, the one with the visage of a horse covering the front on top of just enough advertising to make a young one question its coolness? Evidently, my grandmother, Mattie, wrote her life story in these writing pads. Each pad held one month; each page, one day. I found two months worth of memories, one dated January 1, 1945.
It begins "Bad wind this morning with rain. All gone back to their work. Rather lonely. Opportunities for 1944 are gone. I start on the new yr."
The entries are always one page, never more. Most of the time, the second line reads "Done my work." And the last line, a Bible verse that sums up the day.
On January 1, 1945, she ends with this: "Phil.3:13-14 comes to my mind. 'Brethren, I count not my self to have comprehended but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forth unto those things which are before. I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.' "
I would have like to have known my grandmother Mattie Logan. She is brief, to the point, not mincing words and never holding her heartache or joy back.
A lesson, I suppose, here. Begin the day by finishing your work first and end your day in leaning toward God"s grace. It'll make what follows much easier.
Thanks Mattie. I feel writing inspiration oozing from your words. There's work to be done. Time to get started. There are stories to be told.
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.
Isn't it the way it always happens. You on your way to one place when you find yourself in another. That is me. Today. July 19, 2016. Len and I are heading to Maryville, Tennessee, to report on a Rock City barn being painted. On our way, I see signs. The signs begin to jog my memory. No, it can't be. It is.
Crazy thing is, I never knew where in the world it was until today.
The 10 Commandments scripted on the side of a mountain in mammoth white letters was a yearly visual. Big enough that anyone could see and understand. Of course, we'd have to climb the mountain and read each commandment for the billionth time. I am not one to keep my feelings to myself. I whined and complained just like every other ten year old around me. After all, they hadn't changed since last summer when we visited. I knew what they said and it was hot. The crowds were huge (just like the letters). Finally, we would finish reading and stroll to the gift shop - which is always the last stop for any Southern attraction.
Then, after a day of hopping in and out of the car, we'd find a little motel. By little, I mean one room, two beds. I was the odd man out. I got the sofa, but worse than sleeping on the sofa was sleeping on the sofa while listening to a freight train barreling through the room. That would be my Uncle Ivet. All 250 pounds jiggling to his own beat. It didn't take long to figure out how to fix this. I put my 10-year-old brain to work and solved my problem.
The only place that would separate me from the rattling, the bathroom.After everyone was asleep, I'd grab a pillow, a blanket and hop in the tub. It seemed like the perfect idea except for the half-dozen bathroom visits Ivet made during the night. I kept my eyes closed, but even the pillow couldn't suffocate the sound.
And today, on my journey to somewhere else, I remembered those trips with the four people I loved most in the world. I climbed up the white wash staircase and thought of mama and daddy. "Don't go too far away," she would say. "Stop whining, Judy. Be respectful." I couldn't believe this is where I stood almost 45 years ago. I cried as I do often these days.
"Look at me, mama. I'm here on my own and I'm not whining one bit."
Five years ago, I hugged my daughter and said good-bye in the middle of Hartsfield-Jackson airport in Atlanta and truly believed that would be the last time I would see her; that is, until I grabbed her in the darkness in the parking area in Donegal Town, Ireland, on a cold and windy night in February.
Years and distance make a difference; they toughen the heart. Never would I recommend it to anyone, but as the young ones tell you, "the world has changed" and living next door to granny just isn't the norm. I think about all the moments she took away from me; not intentionally I'm sure, but simply to follow her dreams and her life's road. That is what me as a mama should want, but that's so damn hard to accept. Mamas and daddy's should want that butterfly effect; grow up, spread your wings, fly away.
Be careful what you wish for. For when they do exactly what you have preached for them to do during those years of childhood and adolescence, don't whimper about the outcome (my loud whimper). Accept that those wings are carrying them exactly where they should be and trust they will carry them back home.
It's easy to say now; a few months ago, not at all. I credit my change of heart to one thing: proximity. I get it why mama and daddy insisted on family reunions, getting together with aunts and uncles Sunday's after church, making a visit during Christmas, even popping up at Uncle Ivet's for no reason at all. Southern family's understand that if you can see faces, hear jokes, eat food, hug necks, distance just evaporates. I got to squeeze cheeks and hug necks; I am renewed and that has made all the difference. All that complaining I did as a child, well, mama, I'm sorry.
After our visit with Mary, Phelim and our grandchildren, we hope for more visits. We pray for more visits. After all, Caitlin needs a gramps and granny around when mama and daddy just won't give in. Next time, I - or you for that matter - whimper about visiting family, going to that annual family reunion, gathering at the lake in the summer, remember that that family, that reunion, that lake might not always be there. That absence will change you the course of your life. You will miss it.
I'm sad when I buy something new to replace something old. I feel like I'm betraying the something old.
It was much like last weekend while on a press trip, Len and I visited a distillery in Sevierville. We met the distiller, and he just happened to be from North Georgia. We knew the same people, and we even shared a laugh. I felt like I was two-timing Carlos (North Georgia Moonshine).
On the same trip, we went to Knife Works in Sevierville. Knives, guns, cutlery, even a Katana. The respect I had for Michonne skyrocketed when I saw the size of that thing. But back to knives.
Len always carries a pocket knife. When we met, he carried the one his sons gave him as a constant physical reminder that they were with him. He lost it in the attic during a clean-out, but has never given up hope that it will find its way back home into his pocket one day when he least expects it. Then, he replaced that one with one of his father's blades, a reminder as well. Long ago, his father received it as a promotional piece for his hardware store; it read Carver's Auto Parts before time erased its engraving. Although the blade, even then, was a little rickety, the handle worn, it took its place inside Len's pocket. He decided last weekend, it was time for a knife to call his own.
The new Colt (on the left) is now at home in Len's pocket. His father's knife sits on his dresser, in a plate where all Len's valuables and trinkets sit each night. It won't be tucked away inside a drawer, but will remain in the light. Even though we take things out of commission, parting with them still seems unnatural, so we keep them if for no other reason than to remind ourselves of what once was.
I suppose we can say that about everything: a new pot versus mama's old iron skillet; my death-trap Saab versus the one I'm dreaming about in my mind; daddy's sturdy ratchet set versus Home Depot's newest do-everything singular sensation; the latest ergonomic office chair versus old faithful that was hard as a rock.
I'm not two-timing, I say with conviction. I'm making adjustments, fixing what hurts, retiring the worn. Who am I kidding? This emotional sentimental journey is a long one, and I will continue to replace, but never discard. And really, who am I hurting? I have drawers and acres and cabinets to store the entire lot. So if one day, you see me on Hoarders, just smile and know my heart (like my house) is full.
How do you fix a GRAY Japanese Kubota tractor that has been abused, destroyed, ignored, hammered, wrecked, knocked around, bruised, shattered to the point that IF the right parts were found, would it actually work? Would that key turn and that starter roll IF all the pieces were in place? Would papa's tractor - now a sad pile of metal - be reborn to dig and haul and move?
Would the memories of riding in the driver's seat, feet dangling, while papa made sure the brake was mashed and the gears were changed, do the trick? Sitting on the laps of Titans have been known to change lives before. Will those memories propel us to finish what we've started?
And even though this rescued tractor has sat on that trailer for the more than a year, three of its four tires are flat, and for the life of us, that key still won't turn and that motor won't sing, can we do it? Will we do it? It won't be for lack of trying.
So this tractor fixin' project has been in the works for well into two years now. As time allows, Len and Ty piddle and poke and search for the right parts, the right key, affordable replacement tires. I watch Ty and I know that bringing this tractor back to life is a way of keeping his papa close at hand. Len knows that getting this tractor in working order has nothing to do with it's ability to work, but everything to do with keeping his step-son's memory of his grandfather alive. That's enough reason for him.
I watch Ty wipe the years of time-stamped dirt from the tractor's once vibrant shell, knowing that it will never be as beautiful as it once was. For one reason, time has added layers that scrubbing just won't erase, and for the most important reason, his papa isn't around to make it shine.
So, if they get it running, great. If not, then great, too. It's home, and it's loved. Just like papa.
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.
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!
September 27, 2014, was a long time coming. It was my dream in December, 1982, and today, it's just a house. Houses grow old, just like me, and if not given love and attention, will die. Such is the tale of Colquitt. After many attempts to spruce up the old joint, it wasn't going to happen without the help of a winning scratch-off. So sell, we shall. After Ty's (gracious and out-of-his-league) attempt to gut and become Mr. Fix-it fell through, the choice of buyers during year one became slim and non-existent. Then, a dreamer like me saw the potential, is taking a chance and will make this little bungalow into a dream once again. I wish him luck and prosperity. I wish the same for us.
So on this overcast fall Saturday in Georgia (while the Dawgs undo Tennessee a few miles up the road), we're loading up and moving out; however, that doesn't come without a few tears and 'remember whens?'
What's a move without a lame attempt at a yard sale?
And then those items that you find that mean absolutely nothing to everyone else, but mean the world to you . . . .
. . . the china cabinet (that began its life as a TV) that mama and daddy transformed (that's what you did in those days). It's been painted a million times. Inside the drawers, you can still see a scant reminder of where "Judy Hill" scribbled her name in crayon.
. . . the oil lamps that sat in my living room in Clarkesville for as long as I can remember. Mama always said, "We must be prepared if the lights go out."
. . . and the table. The table that mama built. She got adventurous, took a class at North Georgia Tech (the Trade School as we called it), and built a table. It took residence in our dining room. We never ate at the table, but always adored it and treated it like royalty. It's gone through three moves now and is a little rough for wear. One day, it's going back home to the mountains - to our little cabin in the woods.
. . . and the ten-ton blue fan that mama kept in the back bedroom window to blow cool air from one end of the house to the other. In hot summers, I would go back to the bedroom, lay at the foot of the bed so that my face would be inches from those steel blades. I would enjoy the coolest place in the house and then start singing into the moving blades. "ahemahemmmmmm"
No matter what this little first house of mine became, it ends as a reminder of my wealth. I remember Mari's first birthday party around the backyard rose garden - stenciling the living room ceiling in purple love birds - mama rocking her first grandchild in the t-tiny living room - the day Challenger exploded and I froze in disbelief - sitting on the front stoop at night wondering, questioning - planting the dogwoods for Logan and Mari and the weeping cherry for Ty - a home for the three of us and mama when there was no where else to turn - where mama took her last breath - where I learned to stand alone.
I haven't left many houses in my life - Clarkesville, Jersey, Monroe - and I have to remember that the most important things I take with me. The boards, sheet-rock and windows are just that and nothing more.
I plan on having only two more in my life time - my current and most important one- Mayne Mill - and another, in Hiawassee. When Len and I get our fill of traveling and photography (doubt that will ever happen), we'll start on our little hideaway in the mountains. After all, mama's table needs a proper resting place.
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 would be a mama - 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 Ii 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.
I have this daily ritual. not because I particularly like doing it (especially in 5 or 95 degree weather), but because Lolly is pacing. Our Appaloosa has this internal time clock (or growling stomach), and every afternoon about 4:30 p.m., she begins her pounding of earth at the the fence. Back and forth. back and forth. She's nailed the dirt down for years, and the others thank her for issuing my call every day. It's feeding time on Mayne Mill.
she is first at the fence. first to be tied. first with the bucket. it's the royal pecking order and i never deviate. all the others understand. and as speedy as she is, woody [pictured above right] is that slow. he towers above the others and takes twice as long to eat [well, ok, he does get twice the feed]. but i must wait, so the witchy [b] one [cheyenne] doesn't steal his food - which woody would give up in an instant because he's a hulking chicken. so i wait. and wait.
waiting allows me my time, the first of the day without pressures and deadlines. my alone time. and this waiting time begins my evening conversation with mama.
i'll usually tell her things she already knows, explain events she already understands, and finally, i'll inquire as to "what are you doing up there." i'll hear her move through the trees, see her in the animal's eyes, or just hear nothing, which mama would agree, is the best melody at the end of a long day. it must be amazing, i ponder, to live in the night sky surrounded by twinkle lights and the heavenly father, knowing all the why's and why not's. there are times i'm jealous of that. not that i want to leave earth, but i'm envious of the "no-pain, streets of gold, great companionship and all the answers" kind of existence. i think if we're all honest, we all would like that life - down here. but, as i've always heard, you can't have your cake and eat it, too.
my rambling continues, and i explain it's a new year, and we're knee deep in obamacare. "too much to explain now," i offer. "just know it's a bunch of hooey." i can't help but think if i'd only taken care of myself a little better, this wouldn't be as important an issue. having hundreds of dollars in prescription drugs wouldn't be a reality. or how I wouldn't have my own neurologist or cardiologist or gastroenterologist - more gist than i knew existed. who would have thought 54 would be this old?
"what's that, mom?" i ask.
"remember what i said?" she repeats.
i just look at lolly - all content with her bucket of sweet feed and heaping pile of hay - and realize mama, as usual, is pointing out the true horse's ass.
if i heard it once, i heard it a million times . . .
1. sitting that close to the tv will make you blind. or at the very least, a requirement of reader glasses in every room of the house, including all bathrooms.
2. eating too much creamed corn will make you fat - why do you think they feed hogs corn? yes, mama, i enjoyed every creamy bite, and you were right. it did make me fat.
3. go play outside and don't come home until it's dark. she should have thrown me out of the house more often, not just to go fetch a hickory.
4. you can eat at home. my incessant pleas to stop at the mcdonalds in commerce on the way to my uncle's house were annoying, and always, fell on deaf ears. you go, mom.
5. if you cross your eyes, they will stick. i think i win this one.
and these little gems went far past the health of it all, straight into living life . . .
6. if you swallow a watermelon seed, you'll grow a watermelon in your stomach. by mama's account, i should never go hungry again.
7. if a you hear a hoot owl cry three times, someone will die. i hear owls and i still wonder who will die during the night. my northern husband laughs at me.
8. if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. i should have listened to this one a little more closely.
9. you're going to grow up and have a daughter just like you. curse you, mama.
10. never wear dirty underwear. and i never will.
11. there's only one right way. and it was mama's way. who could have imagined the word right and mama could be interchangeable?
12. you'll always catch more flies with honey than vinegar. every single time.
13. i'm not going to tell you again. . . and she didn't. i knew the second time meant a visit to the front yard for that hickory switch.
14. life isn't fair. how did you know?
and probably my favorite of all . . .
15. you'll see. she was right. she was always right. god has a delightful sense of humor.
it's funny as you get older you remember all those things your mama told you when you pretended not to hear. and now, you'd give your right arm just to be able to listen to the cadence of her voice once more. even if she had to end the conversation with "you'll see", that would be fine and dandy.
and when you find yourself alone with just yourself, the horses and the sky, those long-ago words will return and keep you company. you'll see.
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.
my uncle ivet, my mama's brother, was my hero, or my second daddy, depending on which day you asked me about him. he was a teddy bear, towering over me and his norwegian wife, sophia, and his hugs enveloped me so that i couldn't breath. i loved them and as i climbed up the steps to his living room, i would barely get in the door until he had his arms wrapped around me. the logan family never said the "i love you" phrase or held much affinity toward public displays of affection, so i craved this moment.
he was what you would call today, a picker. he had every do-dad imaginable. those 'dads' weren't just small either. they were bird houses, cars, even mountains. he told me of one auction where he purchased land in north georgia, a mountain, an entire mountain. crazy, i thought. then he told me of his dream to build an underground house on the side of his mountain. warm in the winter, cool in the summer - heaven in his eyes. then, he told me he had never seen it, but he was certain it was a good deal. he died still believing in that deal and wishing for his underground house.
lost without him, his wife sold most of the mountain, but gave me a lot as a gift. he would want you to have it, she told me. he knew the mountain girl that lived within me, and she would be always be at home here. this would be my resting place. whenever time came.
time has come. it's time to change the possum hollow sign to population 22. not sure the time frame, but everyone has to start somewhere. today, we start with a dream, a goal, and the dream of ivet pushing me and this mountain girl to make my mountain retreat a reality.
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.