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 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.
on days like today when i feel overwhelmed and anxiety seems to take the place of rational and routine, i look into those baby blues and think, "what would caitlin do?" well, to be honest, she'd poop and pee and sleep, and then do it all over again.
good advice. for now, i'll follow her lead and forget about deadlines and responsibilities and graze upon the fact that somewhere in the world, my little granddaughter thinks i'm cool.
"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.
snow blanketed the ground as i stepped outside my little bungalow on colquitt street early that january morning. i wore a winter white hooded wool cape, the only thing that would cover my bulging nine-month stomach. i was a marshmallow, but i didn't care. i was on the way to the hospital to give birth to my second child, a son. it would be a good day.
i was right about everything except the last part. well, semi-right. everything was going according to plan, the check-in, the prep, but once i got on the table for the epidural, normal morphed into emergency. i remember saying, "i can't breathe" and the world going black.
long story, short - the epidural went up instead of down. i didn't wake until that evening and when i did get to hold my son, it was with assistance. but i got to hold him. and touch him. and the day was good again.
then, i met kathy.
most of the time, when your world is turning upside down, you forget that life continues for others without any regard for your status. it's not wrong; it's just how human nature works. but in the midst of my struggle, kathy and her family paused for me. you see, she gave birth at the same hospital, on the same day, at the same time as me, a fact that her son still holds over my son's head. that's the price you pay forever when you arrive five minutes early.
our families knew each other, but i had never gotten to know her. we attended the same church, sang in the same choir, but ran in different circles. she was old monroe; i was an outsider. i didn't think i fit. but on this day, we fit. our families fit. our concerns meshed. the lot of us leaned against each other for comfort, advice, strength and all the while, we celebrated our two beautiful boys - no matter what the future held next. our bonds were born.
we shared a unique opportunity. learning how to be happy for the other while our world balanced on its side. our friendship multiplied over the years. there were many good moments, but unfortunately, much of our lives were mingled with pain and struggle. again, we returned to the ties that drew us together in the first place; we leaned and survived.
today, my friend is going through sadness. a circumstance that has brought years of anguish to others and now, it has chosen her. it has a history of destruction, but i'm not sure it knows the what it is up against with her. she took care of her first husband, and he was much more ominous than cancer. so there.
i'm not sure what to say or even how i can make it better. more than likely, i can't. i'll leave that to the doctors and the good lord above.
so, i will lean. just as before. i will be there. i'll brush a shoulder or pat a back or touch the back of her daddy's hand. maybe that's a daily exercise we should all engage in. stay on the treadmill, raise the weights, but never forget to raise your arms, hold a friend, lean a little closer. exercise those ties than bind.
kat, i'm leaning today. leaning hard.
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.
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 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.
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.
october 8, 2013
the visit 2013
His Holiness the Dalai Lama
presidential distinguished professor
the arena at gwinnett center
the pillars of responsible citizenship in the 21st century global village and secular ethics in education
over 10,000 in attendance
His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, one of the world's most renowned and revered voices for peace and universal ethics, is the 14th spiritual leader of Tibet and the 1989 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. He describes himself as a simple Buddhist monk.
on my way to the media area, i accompanied two travelers who had come from some distance for the lecture. she told of the last time she saw his holiness and explained how the garbled audio made it nearly impossible to understand his message. "the audio was jumbled," she said, "but it didn't matter. we were in his presence." it was at that moment that i knew that this would be a life-changing gathering for many.
his first few moments on stage were brief. upon seeing his longtime friend, richard moore, founder of children in crossfire, in the audience, he left the stage and reemerged among the shocked audience, embracing his friend and sharing in moments of laughter. at age 10, moore was blinded by a rubber bullet fired at point blank range into his face. "i consider him my hero. the conflict in northern ireland, some soldiers, british soldiers, bullet. and instantly lost his two eyes. and when he recover his memory, he's already in hospital. but then he never felt anger. only he felt now i cannot see my mother's face no longer. so my work is easier just to talk. love, love, love. he practice that as a young boy. so i call him my hero."
he returns to the stage, still chuckling along the way. "sorry. sorry. actually, i always act like that, completely informal, informal way." applause and laughter sweep through the arena.
he speaks of the evils of the 20th century: europe, wwii, japan and hiroshima, victims of nuclear bombs, the korean war, vietnam. "some historians say over 200 million people killed in that century through violence. and then i think thousand year concept of the human being, in order to win yourself, force is the key element . . . the immense sort of violence really brought new world, new shape of world, that way of thinking; force is the key element to win over so-called enemy."
"i feel the beginning of the 21st century, some violence even today, like syria."
"innocent people, children, great suffering. these I believe are the symptoms of the past mistakes and negligence."
". . . very much based on extreme self-centered attitude, individual level, national level. So that's the key element to violence. if you keep others also part of humanity, also brothers, human brothers and sisters. . . "
"there is a possibility to create a peaceful century."
"so I feel not only myself but many of my friends now feel the only way to solve this problem, through dialogue, dialogue, can solve. so there the dialogue means respect others, respect their interests. . . the proper way is whenever we face problems, the potential conflict, and with respect to their right, their view . . . "
"now in order to develop, in order to create a century of dialogue, we need I think we should reduce the extreme self-centered attitude. so the only thing is more respect for others. how to develop respect. if you develop a sense of concern of genuine love not a sense of pity, looking down, no. respect them."
"our survival entirely depends on someone else caring."
he continues to explain the necessity of compassion in all areas of one's life and that the course of lives are often dictated by the influence of the home. he speaks lovingly of his mother, crediting her as the designer of his character.
"i always telling people, i have some kind of - certain amount of compassion, that firstly i learned from my mother."
"maximum affection from our mother, from our parent, and our friends. i think these people deep inside are much happier. those individuals who received less affection or parent abandon, sometimes abused, those of distrust, always remain a little bit distance from others. we are social animals. the very basis of our future."
"outside a very good car and inside a very good television, all these things are there. but if that family even a member of the family, some kind of jealousy, some kind of distrust. husband a little bit of distrust wife. wife, a lot of ornaments, but a little bit distrust husband. then I think that home never by very happy human home."
"build this century as the century of compassion."
"it is not sufficient just to complain about our problems."
"we need enthusiasm, not money."
" . . . peaceful mind, then no need for drugs. If they're mentally unhappy, then this lack of knowledge how to reduce mental problems, then just relying on alcohol or drugs, like that. America I think seems a lot of customers of drugs. So then blame on some other country. if no customers, then they will not bring them."
"common interest is more important than individual nation's interest."
"some emotions are bad for our health."
"action is more important than faith, than prayer."
it was a melting pot of the world's people gathered to hear a very simple message - one of hope which included a charge for compassion, communication and action. i listened with the strength of my fifty years and found myself nodding, hearing reflections not only from a pulitzer prize winning man but also a wise man of an older generation who long ago figured out answers to the world's questions even before the world asked. i watched as others watched and saw the reverence, the admiration, the tranquility in their faces. it would be the beginning of change to those who would listen.
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.