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."
So, in an effort to not lose the past, the next project begins. Syncing photography and words, Seeing Southern will capture the stories and the people who helped shape most of us Baby Boomers. For that, we do not apologize nor do we shrink from the changing times. For people like me, we still have stories rumbling inside that have yet to surface. And for the current generation that right now seems to be moving too fast to listen, there's much to learn. Even if times change, people, for the most part, do not.
I like to think that there are people like me.
Happy birthday to me! I realized two things this morning:
Cute is gone, and I feel my mortality.
By that I mean, I understand that the bulk of my life is behind me, and what lies ahead is the icing on the cake, borrowed time to go at Nascar speed in the direction of my dreams. And it's all up to me. A couple of years ago I made a list - a gratitude list - one that bears repeating - or at least its highlights. I discovered that every single item from the original list would make my list again. Now, two years down the road, I add two more blessings . . . here are the highlights and the additions.
1. I get to work at home, at my desk - surrounded by the things I love most - every single day. (Today, it's more decked out than before - complete with an inspiration board, a real desk and twinkle lights.)
2. He's the last sight at night, and my first sight each morning - the glory of second chances. (I watch him drive down the gravel drive way each morning and marvel at how much my love for him grows. 'Bring him home,' I pray.)
6. Bear keeps me company while I sit at my desk. He never complains when I get to sip tea and he doesn't. (As long as I turn on the faucet, he's a happy camper. He still won't turn it off.)
9. I can make as many pots of coffee a day as I like, and every cup is mine. (I've added a Kreurig to the mix. Happy dance - maybe it's the caffeine.)
10. God never left me. (Ditto.)
12. I had the best mama and daddy ever. (Ditto.)
13. My mama taught me how to make homemade applesauce, sauerkraut and cat-head biscuits. (Priorities!)
14. I finally get that doing the right thing is the only option. (Life is easier when this is the decision maker.)
15. God saw something in me worth saving. (Thank you.)
20. I can finally say I'm half-Italian. (Wednesday night is pizza night . . . still. As long as Survivior plays out on Wednesday night, it will be homemade pie and Jeff.)
24. I have three sisters. (I never forget and I want to understand.)
25. Thoreau got it right: simplicity. (I long for my little cabin in the woods to "live life deliberately" with a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Soon . . . )
29. My children transcended what fate threw at them and knocked it out of the park. (I give thanks for this everyday.)
33. Dreams are freakin' amazing, and I will never stop - so there. (Seeing Southern was born during these last two years. This is my dream, our dream, our reality, our vision. Look out!)
35. Mama's words teach me just as daddy's image on the sofa comforts me. (The older I get, the more I return to my years in Clarkesville when the most important thing was listening to the weekly Sunday night countdown of the Top 20 songs in America. I cling to a childhood that almost wasn't. )
45. I let go. (It's hard to hang on, but it's even harder to let go. Peace is a grand thing.)
52. I fell in love for the last time. (My Lenny!)
53. I'm right where I'm supposed to be. (I'm still here!)
Now, for the additions:
54. The dream that I had verbalized to myself and others years ago met paper. I signed my 'first' - yes, 'first' - book contract. And, I made a friend who brightens each step with hand-written cards! Although I'm scared senseless, this is my shot, and if I never get the chance again, I want to knock this one out of the park.
55. I get to tell stories. What an amazing job! Not simply of those who names are recognizable - Luke Bryan, Junior Johnson, Larry Gatlin, Bill Richardson, Tyler Hubbard - but of those whose stories are equally inspirational - Stanley Wood, John Ray Parker, Carlos Lovell, Chaplain Bill Black, Carlene Holder - and me. I get to tell my story. It's not the stuff movies are made of, but it's mine. I learn from it and let it guide me while I pen the sacred material with which others trust in my care.
I feel like I'm in the middle now. This side and that side. Being on 'that' side brings with it some apprehension. So I offer myself this advice for the upcoming year and beyond: get those hormones in check, lose the headaches, keep booking country (or is it really hip-hop in disguise) concerts, stick with the true stories, trust your gut, follow your dream, and hang on to the arm of the man who lights the way. Amen!
Tonight, I am pondering Georgia or North Carolina. Which one is it?
I've spent the last week immersed in North Carolina's Yadkin Valley, the lush green soy-beans/grapevines/tobacco mecca of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Rolling hills which obviously furnish these plants with the nutrients required set the stage for a simpler way of life that many have left the Fort Lauderdale's and New York's to find. Walk in any shop in Elkin or Mount Airy or Dobson and you'll understand the excitement which propels these shopkeepers on a daily basis. They laugh. They smile; no, they grin - that lippy grin that can't suppress the joy that lives deep down. They've found it here. Miss Angel and Ed Harris and Tony Bowman understand and hope you will, too, once you eat the freshly prepared heavenly treats, sit upon a hand-carved leather saddle, and praise God in person while thousands listen out there in radio-land.
That was yesterday; tomorrow begs the question, Georgia or North Carolina?
Georgia whiskey or Carolina moonshine? The war of words and spirits has raged since prohibition reared its ugly head in the early 1900s and continues today while the now legals still allege their dominance. Then, there's cars . . . Which one raced cars lightning fast around those snaky mountain strips of road and escaped the suits? Which is the purest? Which is just rot-gut crap? It all depends upon who you talk to, I imagine. Tomorrow, I'll get to meet another legend, Junior Johnson. We'll talk and he'll know quickly that my allegiance lies within the peach state; I'll give North Carolina a chance, but you'll never out-shine my Georgia.
No matter where you leave your heart, we do have this in common: it lives in the South. Our deep abiding, soul-inspiring, can't get enough of my South. It's a place where pumpkin pie ice cream is a reality, and it is so good that you'll forget about all the rest; where sonker makes sweet ice tea seem rather ordinary; where French, American or Italian grapes are the choices and they are all correct; where you perfect your mama's skill of monogramming and change the lives of an entire generation; where you can make history simply by what you choose to do with corn, water and sugar.
And these stories are only the beginning. On warm summer evenings like tonight, I can't believe how lucky I am.
Walt Whitman never resonated with my students. That stilted verse, oh but what about all that sex and Leaves of Grass nonsense. Of course, if they cared enough to read between the lines and discover his racy lifestyle or questionable choices, they might have given him a chance.
So when all the textbook poems had been read and the brief synopsis of an 19th Century icon had been offered, it was time for a break.
Then and every single time (3 times a year in as many classes for 20 years) I watched a video tape disappear into the void, and I would bite my lip to hold back the tears for I feared the inevitable: I would cry and my juniors would get to watch.
Collectively, we watched as an amazed class of timid boys ripped pages from a textbook. What joy! Rip. Rip. Rip. Void the analytical explanation of the assemblage of words - excrement! Yes, sir, Mr. Keating, excrement. "Words and ideas can change the world," he offers. The human race is full of passion. We must write. We must live. "You will contribute a verse. What will your verse be?"
He reached out to Mr. Anderson - to put him out of his misery. And then a student's worst fear realized as he "sounds his barbaric yawp" - and the barbarian slips out - loudly, to his amazement. "You have a barbarian in you after all." Don't you forget this, the teacher reminds.
The power, the self-less dedication of Mr. Keating to his students and to the poets of yesterday never got old. Never was a chore to watch. "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may." "Carpe Diem" - seize the day. That is their legacy. "Seize the day, boys. Make your life extraordinary."
Every time I watched, I was renewed. I vowed to do seize every single day, to grab hold and make it count, to become extraordinary. The irony of these words haunt me today, as I cry for Williams. It is unbelievable that "his verse" ended this way.
I will remember the laughter and the tears, and be so very thankful that you shared your genius with me. That you provided a way - though Dead Poets Society - to awaken my "yawp" as well as that of my students. You were a master of transcendent wonder. I thank you. I will remember that "words can change the world" and I will do my best to do just that.
My verse will be extraordinary. What will your verse be?
a good friend reminded me yesterday of my promise to learn to spit. actually, it was poet jenny joseph who got the ball rolling, and once those immeasurable words of genuineness became part of my daily vision, i knew it was a matter of time before i, too, would grow old and become everything i said i would never become.
i will not be my mother. who am i? i am my mother.
there are things we must do. bills we must pay. jobs we must finish. celebrations we must attend. noses we must wipe. but soon (and my soon is coming quicker than anticipated), all the routines will change, and i will fall in love with the serendipity of it all. i'll turn the corner, and be sucked in by the inescapable fortune before my eyes.
nevertheless, i'll walk the expected road for now, but soon, when you least expect it, i'll be spitting and wearing purple. don't get in my way - for your own sake.
when i am an old woman i shall wear purple
with a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
and i shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
and satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
i shall sit down on the pavement when i'm tired
and gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
and run my stick along the public railings
and make up for the sobriety of my youth.
i shall go out in my slippers in the rain
and pick flowers in other people's gardens
and learn to spit.
you can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
and eat three pounds of sausages at a go
or only bread and pickle for a week
and hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.
but now we must have clothes that keep us dry
and pay our rent and not swear in the street
and set a good example for the children.
we must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
but maybe i ought to practice a little now?
so people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
when suddenly i am old, and start to wear purple.
thank you, dear friend . . .
"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.
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.
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.
his face splattered across my big screen tv. still recognizable. i gasped. that's all i could manage.
my thoughts shifted to 1978 and a souped-up baby blue nova. to the guy with arms the circumference of watermelons (maybe this explains the temptation of dan uggla), with demonstrative movements that roared "i'm the man"', azure eyes as intense as the grand canyon, and a compact body that rendered me powerless and weak in the knees. then, there was that smile, a sly, edgy slope of the lips that was rare, but spoke volumes of intent. i made excuses to be in the same room as he, and i found myself carrying a crush that would endure for years. he became an inferno not easily doused by water or common sense. long before i knew what a 'bad boy' was, i had my very own.
while my fire continued to blaze, he remained comfortable in the field. the choice of every warm-blooded young teenage girl who registered a pulse. in the end it became clear, there was no prescription to tame a guy like that. what was i thinking? however, there were a few moments when his resolve withered and good old-fashioned desire won out. it was nice. in fact, it was too nice. on one cold november night, he even seemed normal, just like the high school quarterback, offering a christmas gift of overly expensive earrings, opening the car door, and then, altering his sly smile to one of genuineness. then, on that same night, the bad boy met a bad girl, and i was history.
fast forward almost thirty-five years. there was an accident, a fiery crash on atlanta's perimeter, and it was his moment. there are lots of descriptors for bad boys; most follow the usual stereotype. and for right or wrong reasons, most labels include running into catastrophe, attempting to save the day, which is what he did on this day when he saved a man from a burning vehicle. he was labeled a hero by the man and a community. and in true bad-boy fashion, he abated his response, giving credit to instinct. to god. to his parents.
my knees buckled when i saw my bad boy, just as they had years ago. i hadn't thought of him in years, but i had always wondered what became of his cherished nova and about the girl that finally crippled his heart. from the on-camera interviews, i could see his sly smile had been replaced by one of compassion. from the neck up, he looked much the same. as for the rest of him, my imagination will have to kick in.
congrats to my bad boy. now, the world knows exactly what i know.
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.