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.
I have loved you since the mid-1980s when I saw you drive across the big screen with Paul Reiser and some actress in some movie. He drove while "she" (whoever she was) rode in the passenger seat of that cobalt blue rag top, hair blowing wildly, and delight radiating from both faces. For the life of me, I can't remember the movie, but I remember that car.
"I want that car," I uttered.I promised myself that very second, that at some point in my life, I would own a convertible Saab and my hair would do that, too. And, I would be happy.
In December of 2007, my mama, Ty and I sat in the showroom at Loganville Ford, contemplating my financial suicide which included a used fire red convertible Saab 9/3 that by all accounts, I could not afford even on my best day. I had no home, no vehicle, no money, and I had only landed a job two weeks earlier; my divorce from crazy had been finalized two months before, and now, the crazy in me was asking my 95-year-old mama to co-sign with me on a car.
I had penned this very point on my six-month goal list back in October when Cheri and I sat outside a Lawrenceville Starbucks. Maybe not a Saab, but a vehicle of my very own. Then, I saw you.
"You just don't understand. I have to have this car." I finally convinced my mama, my son, and the salesman of this life-altering event. The salesman chuckled as he told me how absurd the situation was. "I don't care how good her credit is, she's 95." And then he laughed more. He disappeared, as all auto salesmen do, to the back and remained behind closed doors for what seemed like an eternity.
Then, he appeared and walked toward us, head bowed, papers in hand. "I can't explain it," he said, looking bewildered. "We'll put her name first. Give me a couple hundred down. We might just make it work." I'm not sure who was shocked the most, the salesman or me.
Since that evening when I drove you home from the dealership, I have loved you, cared for you, washed you and protected you. You were the first miracle that I needed to rebound from a long, dark past. Years later, I still tell the Miracle Saab story. 'If I could get that car, I could get anything.' My beautiful red turbo jet ushered me quickly into a future that I couldn't see coming. You squeezed the excitement out of me when I needed it the most, and when days were just drab, I'd push a button, and the sky would open up. Your canvas roof folded back, and the wind would sweep away all the negative thoughts. I felt fearless. You gave me that.
You warmed my buns on cold mornings. And that endless display of buttons - I could mute, change, fold, open, skip - the accessories alone freaked me out! Your cracked leather seats cradled and cushioned me on the long drives home from my Decatur job. You gave Silas shotgun seating as we'd swing through the drive-thru at Brewsters, begging for his ice cream topped with a doggy treat. You were always the topic of conversation with your Swedish backwards design. I convinced people that different is stylish. Not to say you were perfect, for you left me on the side of many roads; Wilson's Towing was on speed-dial. You cradled my sobs when I needed space to let the frustration escape. You raced down city streets, expressways and finally down a country road and landed me on Len's doorstep. What a life you lived. What a life you allowed me to live.
Today, you are leaving. You will be another's jet and hope. I would never leave you behind at a dealership, so I'm sending you off with love to the local Make a Wish foundation. Seems like the perfect landing strip for a jet with super powers who gave life to a lady who had crashed and needed refueling.
As I watched you go down the driveway for the last time, I crumbled to the gravel and cried. Then, the sunburst broke through the trees. You came into my life when I needed a jolt of "get going, life won't wait." You gave responsibility and purpose and happiness. Yes, you're just a car, but then, Jesus was just a man.
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."
Hobo Kitty (lower left) had a litter of kittens almost two months ago. About three weeks later, this little one (right) showed up right along side of her. Since we're in the country and all kind of critters are around, we thought that maybe the others didn't make it. We named the little one Bo, and mama kitty's name, well, we shortened to Ho. Yes, we're bad.
A week later, a jet black one with white socks appeared.
And just yesterday, two more appeared. Both looked to have had bad hair days since birth.
This morning, little Bo's screams led us to the front porch where his hind leg had become tangled in the yarn which Ty left as a toy. Len scooped him up amidst the screams and tantrums (Bo, not Len), and brought him into the house for the first time to operate. Once free from string, Bo took to us nicely, even slept a little while I fretted that in a few moments, I would have to let go.
I let go and he's back with the three others that have long scampered back underneath the chest on the porch. Bo did look back. In my mind, he said, "Thanks. Let's do the holding part again. It really wasn't so bad." Then, he slipped quietly underneath the chest with the others.
Kind of like mama's do - they let you play at will. They pray that if you get in trouble, there will be someone to scoop you up, fix the boo-boo, and then let you be on your way once more. Soon, you'll begin to trust those who have been kind to you. You'll remember them fondly and understand where you can live without fear. Open your eyes to all the possibilities and the people in your world. But you'll never forget that mama that made you do and go and be what you never dreamed possible.
"Thanks, mama. Let's do the holding part again, soon."
The case took wings as though it was as light as a feather. Flying through the air, daddy swerved the car to dodge the light blue bullet. It landed with a thump, rolling a couple of times before landing in the grass. "Stop," I screamed at daddy. "Let's get it." Knowing that you never pass by anything of worth, daddy pulled over onto the shoulder as we watched the car that once carried the case snug on its roof disappear into the horizon. It never slowed down; never paused. In my little girl mind, it was fate; the case was meant to be mine.
I bolted from the car as mama and daddy followed. I picked it up as if it were glass, taking care not to disturb what was inside. I held it tightly to my chest. I couldn't wait to open the latches to see what treasure was inside. For a split second, I felt sympathy for the lady who, around sunset, would discover she no longer had a traveling case and what was inside would be forever gone. That second passed, for now, whatever it was, was mine.
Mama grabbed it from me. "Get back in the car," she said.
I was devastated. I not only wanted, but I needed to see what was inside.
I sulked all the way to our cabin in Hiawassee. I pouted the entire night. Not once did mama open the case, or even offer to let me open it. It was a weekend of ignoring the case. I was mortified.
Sunday night, we loaded the car and traveled back home. The little blue case was shoved into the trunk, right beside my suitcase. "Open me. Open me." I couldn't stand it.
Before we went to bed that night, mama called me into her room and there it sat. On her bed. Top open. "Come look."
Inside was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Pastel pink. Chiffon. Ruffles. A long-flowing nightgown which I immediately held to my chest; it even had a little jacket. It whispered of a lady. In a pouch, lipsticks and powder, and even a mirror. I touched everything. I felt the softness between my fingers. All I had ever know was cotton; chiffon only lived in the movies.
That was the last time I saw its contents. The case was emptied and placed in the garage among things that were no longer needed. There it sat - on top of the pile - for the rest of my days.
Today, the case rests on top of other oddly shaped, nostalgic suitcases in my hallway. Every time I pass by, I remember the day it came into my life. The excitement that was born. The beauty and mystery it brought. I keep it as a reminder to keep that same childlike wonder inside me every single day. Granted, that's a stretch some days; but others, just seeing those silver latches makes me smile. I call it my "ten year old Grace Kelly moment." It was then I realized that suitcases + travel = chiffon. Who can deny that rationalization?
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.
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.
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.
she's here, as i'm sure her parents can confirm. it might be the sleepless nights heard round the world that provides the proof that a six-pounder can cause all kinds of havoc to normal human beings. what a disruptive little cuss she is, this caitlin cutie. and just so you know, at a week-and-a-half, mama and daddy still don't get the concept of 'step away from the baby' or 'put the baby down' even though she's just too cute. mari was cute once, as i'm sure phelim was. i didn't learn until my third child that what my mama told me was the gospel. never rock, never walk, never tote a baby - no matter if it kills you not to cuddle and snuggle with that mystical lump of joy. but as mari will tell you, sleep is overrated and cute wins out every time. let's see if she feels that way in, say, a month!
you see that adorable pink blanket? that's been soaked with kisses by her grandparents, grandma judy and papa len, so technically [in my mind] we've touched. that's the only consolation at the moment for the thousands of miles separating us. it was her christmas present before we even knew of those ruby red lips or those big feet [yes, i said big feet]. i will give phelim the credit for those [or her uncle ty, not sure which one gets the most credit].
still rockin' that pink blanket, i see. that, my dear caitlin, will be the object that brings you the most comfort (even if mama and daddy tell you differently, always reach for grandma and papa's blanket - it's where dreams are born)!
she's only a few minutes old. i recognize that look on daddy's face. the one that says 'you are wrapped around my finger' and 'you can't date until you're 25' and 'sure, just one more popsicle' and 'i'll love you until the twelfth of never'. i have that same look, only it's going to take you a little longer for our peepers to connect. until then, papa and myself are leaving you in good hands. see you soon.
happy birthday caitlin - march 22, 2014 - 6 lbs. 1 oz. - sydney, australia
by this time next week, i should be a grandmother. some 28 years ago, i remember the same anticipation, only i was to be a mama then - a realization that scared the gravy out of me.
so what did i do? i wrote about it.
i was the lifestyle editor at the walton tribune and got a shot at writing my first editorial. after all, as a woman, i had lots to say, so why not open the flood gates. in a newsroom full of men, the female perspective might draw new readers, and it was an easy assignment for those floundering leaders. so, i wrote.
for some reason, i didn't keep the article. however, my mama did because as excited as i was about being a mama, she was more excited about her first grandma role. her baby was having a baby. i get it now.
i cringe at my writing, but i sure do remember the hormone roller-coaster. i'm sure baby j (mari) is thinking many of the same things at this very moment. i'm not sure she ever read this, so here it is - your mama being nervous because you were on your way.
no need to be nervous, baby j. you'll do great.
dear baby j,
without quite knowing what to say, i would like to begin by saying i'm glad to be your mom. with mother's day just around the corner, i have been thinking of the significance of what is actually about to happen.
no, i'm not backing out, but a few shivers have been running up and down my spine for the past few weeks. the closer i get to seeing your face, the more worried i become that i won't be able to live up to your expectations.
i guess all moms go through the same stage - wondering whether or not they will be able to fulfill baby's every need, calm every doubt and fear and be around to wipe away all the tears.
the fear of the unknown, they call it. . .
i remember when i first found out that you were here . . . talk about the unknown. my emotions went haywire. i didn't know exactly how to react. your dad couldn't believe that what he had been dreaming of for years was about to become a reality. you brought quite a lot of excitement to our home in october. we knew then that all of our tomorrows would never be the same again.
we began planning from day one. what will the nursery look like? what about day care? what doctors do we use? what happens if we can't afford the baby? the house is a mess.
now almost nine months later, we still have the same questions with no definite answers. now we simply look above for guidance and assurance to those questions and for the calming of our fears. we anticipate your arrival with joy and determination that all things will work out for the best.
you see, baby j, being a parent in the 80s is quite different from the time i great up. now mothers shuffle their time between career and family, while the father must do the same. finding someone that i can trust to keep you while i'm at work poses a problem. how can i make sure you're getting all the love and attention needed while at the same time leaving a little room for me?
i can remember how my mother had to be everywhere at one time, while at the same time she was always tugging me along for the ride.
to this day, she tells me that i was her responsibility and no one else would get the pleasure. for that reason, she sacrificed all else for me.
i never had a baby-sitter. i guess mom was everything to me - babysitter, mom, playmate and best friend. it makes me exhausted just recalling what she did for me. over all these years, the things that she did for me then were never more important that they are right now.
i want to be that kind of mom to you, baby j. one that be exactly what you need when you need it.
the countdown is beginning. i guess anytime that you decide to make your grand entrance into this world is the day when my world will take on a whole new beginning. sometimes i wonder whether or not i am willing to make such a sacrifice.
then i feel you kick me with just enough force to let me know that your wants are not to be forgotten. i can almost smile because you feel my insecurities and know that they exist only in my mind.
you definitely will be a bundle of joy, baby j. our own little bundle. one that will change our lives in a way that only experience will dictate.
i look forward to meeting you face to face and touching you, and caressing you only as a mother can do. moms have that special touch, or haven't you already guessed that.
so for this mother's day, i can only dream of what my mom's day will be like when i first get to hold you. we'll have a lot of days together for the rest of our lives, baby j.
i'll see you real soon.
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.
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.
i found a letter today as i was cleaning through some old boxes getting them ready for trash pick-up. it wasn't in a ripped open envelope. it was simply a folded sheet of white paper with the date at the top, with - "judy & children" - scribbled beneath.
i don't remember ever seeing it, although since that time in my life, there have been more battles and combat than i care to remember. there's a good chance it might have passed by my sight rather quickly and i forgot. but, i doubt that. this i would have remembered and kept in the box where you keep things you must remember for a lifetime rather than finding it layered in between the bills and the opened birthday cards.
i can see how it evolved. mama had returned home from lunch at the senior center - the joy of each day, and now, this was her quiet time. she took her spot in her tan recliner with the arm pads draped over each side. they conveniently held everything she might need at a moment's notice - the remote, her glasses (and dark visor in case the mail ran and she had to walk to the mailbox), pencils and pens, a larger-than-life crossword book turned to the exact page where she left off, tissues and maybe a piece of candy for when her sugar got too low. and, each was in its proper place. she always scolded the kids when they would use something and not return it to its place.
i can see her with a writing pad and pen and her thoughts racing. in the later years, it grew harder for her to script much more than a few letters or numbers, and connecting them into conversation or a letter meant more time and effort. it was exhausting, and i knew if i received something, it meant something. pay attention.
i still have the birthday cards she gave later in life where she had scribbled "mama" in her arched, weary style. one still makes its home in my wallet just in case i need a reminder.
this note makes plain her wishes upon death, but it's the between-the-lines that tell my mama's story. her long life - 96 years - how lucky she was to one that juxtaposed struggles and triumphs; the love of a good and hard working man that never left her side; a child in later years that completed the home; many brothers and sisters who were the delight of her existence; grandchildren that made the lonely later years
never lonely; she was rich beyond the numbers in her bank account or the visible earthly possessions, and she knew it. she wanted us to know that stuff didn't mattter; it was what was inside that was most valuable.
her faith was as stalwart as the magnolia she and daddy planted when i was a child. television was not good for anyone, she contended, but every now and then, something other than the nightly news would be alright. we would always watch the billy graham crusades, and i always wondered why mama wasn't standing beside brother billy and brother george on that podium. she was as steadfast as either of those men. she wanted for us the eternal life that she knew was coming to her sooner than later. a chance for all of us to be together again. she was counting on that.
her abrupt end puts her life in perspective. she was tired, and it was time to go. nine month later, she did. in that same tan recliner that she spent most days in.
yes, i cry each time i read this. i miss her every time i read this, and i love my children more and more each time i read this for i'm afraid that we may have let her down. she provided such an amazing example of how to tackle life and win, and when it's time to go, how to exit with grace and contentment.
although i'm tired, mom, i'll try to finish this life, this existence in a manner that i hope will make you proud. just for you. just like you.
thomas wolfe said, "you can't go home again." for the most part, i think he's right. right in your twenties, your thirties and even your forties. but in the high noon of your life, when you find yourself alone in a big house and it's the memories that must offer contentment, you remember. however, yesterday, i got out of the big house and took the green jeep home.
my current project took me to mt. airy, a small town near clarkesville where i grew up. mt. airy and its sidekick cornelia were always where the rich kids lived, so needless to say, most of my friends were not from here. but, habersham was a small county with one high school, and clarkesville, cornelia and mt. airy kids were heaved together in the new habersham central which today has been replaced by a newer habersham central - conveniently located across the street. at one point, cornelia turned into mt. airy before you could shift from third to fourth gear. it's the home of lake russell, where my daddy (kimsey) and his brother (lamar) spent their last afternoon together, fishing. on the way home, lamar's heart gave out and daddy recovered the truck just in time before the huge oak took his own life.
this is the time to visit the north georgia mountains. they are especially beautiful in the fall with the leaves on the verge of turning. some have let go and whip through the air. i'm not sure what melds with the leaves in the wind, but i know it's enchantment and my memory explodes.
i hopped in the car with susan, headed to a girls halloween party at the lewallan's house way back in the woods. i tagged along with daddy to the trout stream after he watched the county truck go by to stock the river. i played baseball with ricky in the front yard, often opting to be the cheerleader so i could run (my first dramatic role) to him when he was hurt. i watched mama skillfully sew my newest dress on her mama's pedal singer and then turn the reigns over to me so i could learn, too. i walked behind daddy in the fields, dropping corn as he guided besse the mule in the straight-and-narrow. i ran up and down the front sidewalk after daddy added it so mama wouldn't have to get her feet wet walking to the mailbox. i helped daddy plant the magnolia by the garage apartment and wondered how in the world that little thing could possibly be a tree.
that sidewalk went on forever years ago; it seemed like that magnolia tree never grew. perception is everything, i suppose. today, i look with grown up eyes and mountains of experience, longing to return to running up and down that walkway, or to become that child whose daddy was superman and the master of my happiness. i miss them so much it hurts. i miss the simplicity that comes along with mountain living. i miss the learning experience i had each and every day of growing up - i wish i realized then how rich i was.
yes, thomas, you can go home again for god has provided mankind with a beautiful memory-machine for moments when yesterday is out of reach. i can go home again, and i will, every chance i get.
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.
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.
this was mama. one of those rare moments when silliness took over her staunch demeanor. she was a tough lady, one that rarely shared emotion, but when she did, you soaked it up as it if might never come again.
this is what i posted on facebook this mother's day:
Mama never cussed - at least not until she turned 95 and then evidently she saw reason to let one slip now and then. Mama never judged - never to my face although I'm sure she spoke her indomitable opinions to the mirror in the bathroom on countless occasions. Mama never told me she loved me - not out loud anyway, for her 1920s upbringing didn't see outward expression of affection necessary. But I knew, I knew she did. The cards with her jagged signature of "I Love You Mama" sit safety in boxes. So just in case I need a little push, a little strength of character, I go to the boxes, run my finger over the signature, and say "I love you, too." Happy mama's day, mama. I miss you and need you more with each passing day. Oh, by the way, my roses bloomed just in time for this day. You always said that was the true test of a good rose.
a kind woman, who i do not know, responded with wisdom beyond mine:
Judy, the dear ones of that era did not express love for fear the object of affection would be taken away. Your mama, my mama, they loved us too much to say it out loud. Now everybody says , "love you, bye," when they hang up the phone. Somehow the phrase doesn't mean the same as the signature of an elderly Mama who had lived long enough, without losing you, to be able, at last, to write "I love you," out loud.
how it is that she knows my mama? maybe because hers enveloped the same character, the same drive, the same conviction. and it's is true, the "love you, bye" flows from my mouth when i end conversation with my children, my husband. i will think of this more carefully next time.
it's been almost 5 years since i've heard mama's voice, heard the bellowed "aew" when she grabbed my knee, the shake of her head instead of a vocal reprimand, the touch of her beautiful wrinkled hands.
"i love you mama. bye."
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.