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.
It's that time of year again. If you squeeze your brain hard enough, you'll be able to smell a wood fire, taste fresh apples, feel the steam of a mug of hot chocolate. Oh, but unfortunately, there's more living (and southern sweating) to be done before we get to indulge in these beauties that fall offers.
Len and I are gearing up for another season at Blue Ridge Country Magazine. You didn't know? Well, you should and you have to come along. Not only does Blue Ridge Country provide amazing photography and stories about this mountain stretch, but our bi-monthly column has become a travel go-to for many who are traveling the Blue Ridge Parkway (hence our many trips north to, ourselves, discover gems in the woods). Just click this BUTTON and you'll see where we've been. More importantly, you'll know where we going and how to find us come September.
This photo was taken when an adventure took us to Gatlinburg - not for the snow, not for the mountains but for the history. Gatlinburg Inn is now in the hands of family, and they plan on keeping it that way. You'll hear all about the grandparents and their legacy within this mountain city. We'll also carry you to the Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee; meet Nik Wallenda in Clayon, Georgia; and even uncover all that feuding of the Hatfields and McCoys in the Tug River Valley in West Virginia. Plus, we're planning a very personal love letter to Carlos Lovell as a "thank you" for allowing me to tell his story in North Georgia Moonshine.
So, needless to say, I'm a word factory, pumping out words and phrases of detail and description - working at full speed, brewing numerous daily pots of coffee, researching on travel sites, editing photographs and weaving stories. I'm exhausted! Exhausted, but so enriched and blessed to have met such wonderful people along the way and have the opportunity to be their storyteller.
We all need a storyteller. Someone who looks into our life with an unfiltered lens and shares authentically, the life we have lived. No judgement; just a clear picture (much like that of my camera) of who we are, where we came from and what we will leave behind.
Gotta go. . . .the factory (and another story) calls.
when len bought his trans am back in the stone ages of 2004, the salesman told him an added bonus of the car - in addition to its speed - was that it was a chick magnet. finally, after 10 years, the car cashed-in on its promise.
i preface my chick story with this: i've always told len that when he his beard gets scruffy on vacation (i encourage this behavior and he gives in only when we're away), that's he's a doll. women love it. add that salt and pepper hair, and well, that's one of those george clooney traits that send women over the edge.
departing key west, we made a last minute run to glazed donuts (amazing, but that's another story) for a necessary sugar blast for the 13 hour drive. i had run into the store, a mere two doors down from where len waited in the parked car. i exited in less than 5 minutes with a box stocked with glazed delights. i rounded the corner and i saw a couple eagerly snapping pictures of len. was something wrong? or had that scruffiness finally caught someone's eye, and the paparazzi was going wild. wild, i tell you. knowing that attention is not len's friend, i feared the weird. i creeped closer and the couple continued snapping, and then, i saw her. mounted on the top of the hood, majestically controlling the trans am as if it were her rooster, a hen with as vibrant an attitude as her red feathers. i learned that in escaping a querulous rooster, she flew towards the trans am for a safe haven. taking no notice of len, she strolled on the hood, then coasted downward, finally landing on the ground, ambling away in-between shrubs and bushes.
you see, chickens/roosters/hens/pests - whatever you might call them - are protected by law in key west. they are in the trees, restaurants, in the alleys, scooting down duval, challenging red lights and traffic. if you don't see them, you hear them. when cock-fighting became illegal in the 70s, the chickens lost their job but not their home. consider them a symbol of this southernmost city - irreverent, untamed, spirited, wild, and free.
len's key west chick left her mark on his hood. now, he will always have proof that, if only for a mere moment, he (and his car) was cock of this roost.
the attic is a scary place where boxes turn in to headless monsters devouring unoccupied spaces. inside those monsters, well, that can be equally daunting. once you move past the gray smell of something that has been sealed for far too long and the massive amount of black (and white I have discovered) mouse droppings, it's all downhill.
there's endless quantities of outdated clothes, unused kitchen utensils, unopened (regrettable) gifts, worn-out shoes, discarded computer equipment, lifeless TVs, packaged christmas decorations, busted lamps, unnecessary nick-knacks, and more and more of the same. most you fly right by, but there are some objects that require a closer look.
i can't begin to explain how many hallmark cards can fit into a box about waist high. i believe veta (len's mom) kept them in business. whether it was the sending or the receiving, she did her part in establishing hallmark as a billion dollar enterprise. it may appear to be just paper, but you must attach humans to these mailings. consider those who sent the cards - how they perused the aisle in the grocery store, reading card after card until the right one made them smile. jackpot! and then, days later, veta, sitting in her green lazy boy, going through the mail, finding a colored envelope and realizing it wasn't a bill. with her shinny letter opener, she slit open the envelope and then magic, a smile from ear to ear. thoughts from far away! no matter if the occasion was a birthday, a holiday or even a death, a smile was there because someone cared enough to send a card. not an email, a hand-written card.
and in my mama's old steam truck, one single greeting card that stood out from all the others: the first valentine from what would turn out to be one of many during a very long, love affair. he only signed his name, kimsey, and added no thoughts or phrases. his name was enough. i wonder how many times she read the card while tracing the imprint of his name with the tips of her fingers.
when you least expect it, you will find treasures wrapped securely in 1980s newspaper pages. there's the drag-ula car made by my husband for his pine-wood derby years ago. wrapped securely in browned paper, hours and hours of work lay in my palm. before I even knew he existed, he carved it with his hands and crafted it with his heart. then, there's the sosewsoldier sewing kit that belonged to neil, len's father. he carried this government-issued necessity to france, through belgium and then home again during wwii. both will have a new home, free from stale air.
finally, as i ramble through heaping box of towels, dishcloths and crocheted throws, i stumble upon a beautiful blush linen tablecloth, complete with eight matching napkins - still in its original box, unused with creases still crisp. as with all things cotton packed away, a wash is required. as i toss the tablecloth in the washer, i read the tag: made right in america. not simply made in america like we occasionally see today, but made right in america. pride jumped off the tag and smacked me in the face. i don't recall seeing that wording ever. i'm sure that in 2013, those words aren't added to tags on linens or toys or computers or anything else for that matter.
there are lessons to be learned from the attic. mice can get into any box, i don't care how secure you think it is. most of us have way too much stuff. those clothes you wouldn't wear in the 70s will NOT come back in style and even if they did, you wouldn't or couldn't wear them then so you won't wear them now, so get rid of them. dead tvs and computers are just that, dead. and, when you dig through the clutter, there are gems of lasting worth that must be saved. there are stories of accomplishments and failure, of loneliness and hope, of holidays and dreams - magical seconds of a lifetime made concrete by materials stored in an attic.
i have this - better. me. much better. - on a post-it above my desk - followed by a list of choices that, if handled correctly, will, in fact, make me a much better person. of course, following those is the key.
the list is short but its voice is demonstrative. one connecting idea: don't stop dreaming.
i was once criticized by someone that that was my downfall; i dreamed too much. i dreamed of moments, events, things that would never possible come true, and i spent so much time dwelling on what might possibly happen that i forgot to live in the present. i guess you could say that was true. maybe i didn't want to live in the that present.
time has elapsed and that present is no longer present, and I'm in a much better place, but i still dream. i dream every single day. even though, economically, things are strapped, i still linger over travel sites, search through airline flights, and pray for availability at my favorite little bungalow. i get excited when i get sale emails and i hurriedly go to the website, pick out a few favorites and then, click the 'x' in the top right hand corner. i am satisfied. although I don't go through the official 'check out', i'm happy to have lingered awhile.
i've always said, if i didn't have the capacity to dream, i would have called it quits long ago. i believe it's an innate power given to us mortals [and i believe, especially to women] to reach for those desires that are a tad beyond our reach. henry david thoreau said it best: go confidently in the direction of your dreams. live the life you have imagined. the simplicity of his experiences at walden pond instilled a power within him that he never knew existed. i believe in that key - simplicity.
i like this much better version of myself. it includes peace, happiness, contentment, satisfaction, hard work, busy days, and a dash of pride in the me that i have become. making the right choices, sticking steadfast to a goal, searching and researching a better way, and putting all the knowledge i have to work for the good. i have a focal point, and it's very clear.
i am a better person because i've been to the valley. i now assemble dreams that take me to a higher place.
finishing my novel, organizing and scheduling my life, following my doctor's orders, being beside my children when they need me, offering to help others in any way i can, and remembering how blessed I am to have found my first love in the middle of my life - these dreams, these desires, these goals will help me live the life I have imagined.
once every four or five weeks, my jersey-born husband drives his juiced up trans am into town and pulls over to the only barber shop within miles of our home. right smack dab downtown, on the corner of school and main. he walks in fuzzy and walks out coiffed to perfection. and that procedure includes an air compressor.
after hearty conversation of summer heat and the neighbors found on the police blotter, the cut is done and it all comes down to the 'blow'. she grabs the long blue hose and lets him have it, blowing microscopic pieces of hair from one end of the parlor to the other. people sit and read their papers, unshaken by the blast of air that inevitably whisks right by their ears. they pay it no never mind and wait for their turn in the chair.
the south is an amazing place. i forget that it runs through my veins, sometimes right up until the moment an air compressor becomes part of an unconventional salon experience. we're weird, i get it, and we're solid, too. we carry our traditions out the door and hope no one flinches when we shout our 'y'all' and 'ya hear' on a daily basis. come to think of it, those words warm my heart, just like remembering the aroma of country ham frying in an iron skillet and fluffy cat-head biscuits baking in my mama's kitchen.
i try to convince my husband that he is truly a southerner now. after almost 20 years of being in the thick of our drawl, you can't help but become one of 'us'. every now and then, he'll say my version of 'why' - always a multi-syllable word - and that confirms my suspicions. he'll try to deny it, but i know better.
another reason I know for sure? i'll bet my life that his hair cuts will always include an air compressor.
august 29, 2011 | it's an amazing august morning. the sun is shining and although it would be great to have some rain on my crunchy grass, i'll take the sunshine. a slight breeze blows through me as a sweep the front porch (so like my mother). there's even a stray dog there looking terribly hungry and lost; I quickly grab some bread from the kitchen and hope he takes the bait. he hides in the corner and an hour later, the bread is gone and so is he.
today is one of those milestones for my husband that is calendared later in life. it was two years ago today that his mom, veta, went home to neil; and automatically, i think of my mom, three years ago december, who journeyed home. days like today become a benchmark for children. a day that for some reason we judge all other days upon. a day when a part of one's heart that has always been within a stone's throw, leaves. that seems so odd, something so stable, someone so important is suddenly gone and life must continue.
iI remember when daddy died almost 25 years now, i watched as they closed the top of the casket, a movement very much like one of those slow-motion moments in a horror film - a sign that something ominous was behind the door or on the phone. one inch, then two. as the slick-haired, funeral type physically lowered the top, i felt my body following his direction. i remember thinking how can life ever be the same. it did. the next day the sun rose and cars were actually seen on the highways, and life went on without daddy.
the cycle of life continues, and it's okay. i will be okay. i have to keep telling myself that, that this is the way the good lord intended it to be. what remains will be a testament to the life lived. but no matter the common sense thought, tears still fall and chairs remain empty.
that's when we gather up all the moments over the past fifty-or-so-years, hold them close and never forget. these will carry us through each day, beyond the shadows and away from the fears. thank you mama, veta and all the others that have left. i will be okay because of you.
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.