I've never been a girly-girl and when I heard these words from Evelyn's mouth, I choked.
"You are simply so lovely to look at," she said, sitting across from me at a crowded table filled with journalists and coffee drinkers in a Myrtle Beach bakery. "You are," she said humbly and earnestly as if she knew it was going to take some convincing on her part.
Truly, I had no words. and those words, I'll never forget as long as I live. At 59, I'm not exactly the me I would love to be, and with 60 on the horizon, I'm literally mortified. As I get older, I feel mortality creeping around the corner like a cat on the prowl. I wonder, "How in the world did I get here?"
Getting here was probably the easy part; staying here might take a little work.
I look in the mirror and see my mama. Although we share no DNA, I see the wisdom of her wrinkles, her concern for everything, her stoutness of character, her want for a world where good outweighs the bad, her adoration for her family, and her desire to live a good and long life. She was all of those things; I am all of those things, too.
I'm glad I'm here. I made it to the double nickle plus four, and if God-willing, twice that. I think about what Evelyn said to me that day, and I realize that other people see us so differently than we see ourselves. Yes, some opinions are for the birds and should be kept silent and if not, ignored. But for the majority of those with whom we share our time and table, their hugs and words and touch lift us higher. We must listen to those who applaud that which we might not even see, and when they suggest, "Fall in love," we do it. I have yet to do that, but I hope I can get there in the next 59 years.
I hear Evelyn's words every now again as they drift through my mind. I'm as amazed this very moment as I was then. And this week, I met a new friend and she made me feel the reality of Evelyn's words. I had a make-over; again, it was a first. Through our mutual connection at the chamber, we had a little fun and formed an alliance that will take us far beyond her dining room filled with beauty.
Feeling good about yourself is empowering. Women empowering other women is even more transformative.
I doubt Evelyn realized the enormity of what she said. I am sure Kirsten didn't know the gift she gave that went beyond powders and gloss. It's about time we make each other feel extraordinary, and (I'm screaming at myself most of all) learn to listen to compliments and internalize them. Feel the weight of their goodness. Let those words confirm and transform us into the women we truly are.
It's about time . . . we love ourselves.
You climb and climb, but do you ever get anywhere.
Meet Bob. He's a climber. He's also one of a multitude of cats that confuses Jack, the beast. That's Jack in the background, eating dinner. Everyday when I take my late afternoon walk to feed our multitude of animals, the cats walk with me. They tease the horses, running along the ground, zig-zagging underneath the feet of the 2,000 pound monsters. Would they really do that if they knew the possibilities? But, everyday, they move in the same fashion, hoping for what, I'm not sure. But, I would be willing to bet, it's fun.
I make my rounds, always in the same order. First the horses, mainly because I don't want to be chided by Lolly (Jack's companion) for being late. And yes, she stomps her right foot and screams at me for making her wait. She starts screaming when she hears the back door open. Being scolded by a horse doesn't quite sit well with me. Feed, water and hay, as the routine goes.
Then, the dogs. My twelve-year-old man Silas is turning gray these days, and like me, old age is bringing arthritis, achy joints and deaf ears. Still, he manages to secure the one bright sunny grassy spot in the yard, plops down and rolls with joy. That's my boy. Cody, the younger, is full of energy and runs at Silas when he sees the food coming, almost saying, "You can't have any." They play for about a second and retreat to their own corners to munch on kibble. Both rescues, the boys are always excited to see me, and for that, they deserve gold for dinner.
Cats are last because, well, they just are. "I feel the earth move under my feet" is more than just a song lyric by Carly Simon. They eat, we sit, and then we fellowship. Every night.
Routine is good. Expectations are good. These guys count on me to be there every day at the same time, and they know I'll be there. They climb, bark, snort, stomp, zig-zag and they do it over and over, day after day. And do they get anywhere different? Not really. But it's the showing up, the doing and the contentment from doing their perfect little thing that keeps them moving forward until the next time they climb, bark, snort, and zig-zag.
So although Bob never gets anywhere in his climb, he still climbs, simply for the joy. I write for the joy of recording my life in words. I photograph, not because you pay me, but because I find joy in capturing moments and doing something I thought I could never do. I make dinner, wash clothes and run errands, not for the joy it brings me (newsflash) but for the joy it brings you.
So keep climbing. Keep showing up. Even though it might be a drab routine day after day, try to find the joy and then think on it. Be grateful that there are horses, cats, dogs to feed. Be inspired to see dogs do cartwheels simply because you show up!
You leave your mark wherever you go. You wonder how many come behind you and really look at your offering (whether a dollar bill at No Name Pub or a promise on the porch) and consider your contribution to the daily grind. I hope that I have added a meager semblance of good to the flow, with very few ruffled feathers, and when the world sleeps at night, people and animals rest assured they have a friend and a caretaker.
As the sun rises along Ramrod Key this Friday morning, I see the universe's contribution and mark upon my day, a projection of hope and light. Hope is a dynamic proposition that much like that of Robert Frost, offers many roads that diverge and it's up to me to make a choice, a good choice. The language I choose. The platform I raise. The character I disclose. Where will I do the most good? What is right for me? Where will my hope lead me? Can I get out of the box that I've created - and my surroundings expect - and fly?
I choose to fly. At this point in my life, flying is the only mark that makes sense. But keep in mind, flying is mighty hard. Tough. Exhausting. Ruthless. Rewarding. I will definitely leave the adventure to those with younger joints and figure out how to contribute in a manner fitting a pub in the middle of nowhere with no name. A mark that fits me.
After all, this life - this choice - this direction - is the only one I have which will lead me home.
Leave the best mark you can.
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."
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?
There are people reflecting all over the place - on Facebook, even in my mailbox that sits at the edge of my driveway. We get letters from friends and family, exuberantly shouting their accomplishments which include obtaining their third doctor's degree, incredible jobs with six-figure salaries and announcing their ump-teenth grandchild. They are proud, and rightly, they should be. However, since none of those broadcasts make my list, nevertheless, I am still proud of where I find myself on the last day of 2015.
It's not "Look at me" but "Look at how far I've come." I am not where I once was nor will I ever be at this point again. I am moving forward, adding to my list of triumphs, which to others may seem insignificant, but to me, monumental. I am making myself accountable for four of my best efforts this year. These feats make me proud. 1. I wrote a book and a publisher wanted it. I dare say I might not get to say this again, so I'm putting it right out front. I did it. I'm not sure how, but the words came, and so did the people; 2. I learned to shoot in manual mode, thus taking control of my photography which led me to my kick-ass 5DMarkiii (a.k.a. Kimsey); 3. I broke into a new travel market (my editorial complemented by Len's photography) with my first major international publication and million+ audience; and 4. I am realizing (albeit a continuing struggle) my place in this world - partner, employee, entrepreneur.
What makes you proud today?
It's the day we give thanks. In all honestly, we should do this everyday. Not just one day a year. We're hundreds of miles from those we hug on, but no matter what, we know how lucky we are. So, in honor of those organizational fools like myself, here's a list:
1. (Len) I'm thankful that we get to travel together.
2. (Judy) Totally agree. I'm glad you're the other half of Two Coots.
3. (Len) I'm thankful for communication with my sons, that I'm able to build a relationship again.
4. (Judy) There's nothing better than a do-over, a second chance. I'm so thankful that you are my second chance at love.
5. (Len) I'm thankful for our good health, which makes us able to enjoy all this.
6. (Judy) I'm thankful that you're the one with the good eyes, good body, good mind, good feet, good pipes. At least one of us should have clear sailing in order to help the other. Leaning is a good thing.
7. (Len) I'm thankful for you because you bring out the good parts in me cause Lord knows they are hard to find.
8. (Judy) Love makes that possible.
9. (Len) I'm thankful for the stories we get to share and the images we are privileged to capture. They will live forever for these people and that's an honor. Long after we're gone, our photos will be hanging on someone's wall. What an honor to have someone look at them and smile.
10. (Judy) What a privilege to share stories and moments. Not everyone gets to look in like we get to.
11. (Len) I'm thankful for Bear, our kitty. When we come home, he yells at us, but I'm thankful he's there to yell at us. He doesn't like us to leave.
12. (Judy) He's a pill, that cat. My shadow. Not many cats get a book dedication.
13. (Len) I'm thankful for Thanksgiving lasagna. Cooking is a great way to remember people and traditions. When you stand in the kitchen and cook what your parents did, what your mom made, what better way to have them with you forever.
14. (Judy) I'm a coverted Thanksgiving lasagna lover. Brings out the wanna-be Italian in me. Food is one of those ultimate connections. My mama made me tomato soup when I was sick or sad. It's been 8 years since I've tasted her comfort.
15. (Len) I think that's all the highlights, dear.
16. (Judy) A good list that is sure to grow.
17. (Len) One more, I'm thankful for family and friends that we have re-connected with. It's great to be welcomed home. And the people we've met along the way, so amazing.
18. (Judy) It's staggering to think of the experiences we have shared and the people we have met simply because three years ago we decided not to sit still. Take that, old age!
They say that gratitude produces happiness. We are happy UP TO HERE! With gratitude . . .
Thank you for supporting and following and sharing Seeing Southern and Two Coots Travel.
dresses. But if the child came first, the mother automatically followed.
3. Never take your eye of the prize. He never left the tent, with the exception of buying grilled corn-on-the-cob near the end of the day. He never moved from his spot.
4. Know your end-game. The women's clothing may have been more expensive, but the dancing animals were golden. I saw him sell one sweater during two days; he sold out of the dancing creatures. Women's clothing was everywhere; only he had dancing neon animals.
5. Have a plan B just in case. He could fall back on selling womens clothing, but he never had to.
6. Be patient. Once he would make a sale, he's go to the back of the tent. Shake it off a bit, and carefully choose the next animal to showcase. Then, he'd walk to the front of the tent and look both ways. He'd spy a small child heading his way, and poof, like magic, the animal would dance and the child would head straight to him. And so did mom.
7. Reel 'em in. No child is going to ignore a dancing neon purple poodle. And even if you didn't notice him and his dancing animals right away, there were three damn dancing puppets/animal/creatures, in a clear box above eye-level, clicking and jumping constantly. Electricity primed their movement. I heard the click. I tried to look away, but I couldn't.
8. Move on. Once the sale closed, he'd do the exact same thing again, in the exact same way, with the same result.
9. Time is on your side. He would take him time with each sale, doing what he had to do to close the deal. It was never time wasted. There wasn't a lot of conversation; just slight smiles from the man. He listened and you could almost see the wheels turning, deciding what must come next. It it was time he needed; then time it was. I watched him spend close to 10 minutes with one kid, and yes, the kid walked away with what he desperately wanted.
10. Believe in your product. There were no dancing neon purple poodles anywhere except here. Be unique. Be purposeful and people (or should I say kids) will come.
So there it is. How to be a success in business (or life) without a whole lot of effort. If we have a plan, set priorities, chronicle the steps to succeed, be patient and believe in yourself (your product OR your life), there's a good chance you'll make the sale (reach your dream). Who knew sitting at my vendor booth in downtown Dawsonville, Georgia, flanked by good ole' moonshiners would I be reminded of how to live life. All it takes is opening your eyes.
Thanks to the man with the dancing neon purple poodle.
I'm sad when I buy something new to replace something old. I feel like I'm betraying the something old.
It was much like last weekend while on a press trip, Len and I visited a distillery in Sevierville. We met the distiller, and he just happened to be from North Georgia. We knew the same people, and we even shared a laugh. I felt like I was two-timing Carlos (North Georgia Moonshine).
On the same trip, we went to Knife Works in Sevierville. Knives, guns, cutlery, even a Katana. The respect I had for Michonne skyrocketed when I saw the size of that thing. But back to knives.
Len always carries a pocket knife. When we met, he carried the one his sons gave him as a constant physical reminder that they were with him. He lost it in the attic during a clean-out, but has never given up hope that it will find its way back home into his pocket one day when he least expects it. Then, he replaced that one with one of his father's blades, a reminder as well. Long ago, his father received it as a promotional piece for his hardware store; it read Carver's Auto Parts before time erased its engraving. Although the blade, even then, was a little rickety, the handle worn, it took its place inside Len's pocket. He decided last weekend, it was time for a knife to call his own.
The new Colt (on the left) is now at home in Len's pocket. His father's knife sits on his dresser, in a plate where all Len's valuables and trinkets sit each night. It won't be tucked away inside a drawer, but will remain in the light. Even though we take things out of commission, parting with them still seems unnatural, so we keep them if for no other reason than to remind ourselves of what once was.
I suppose we can say that about everything: a new pot versus mama's old iron skillet; my death-trap Saab versus the one I'm dreaming about in my mind; daddy's sturdy ratchet set versus Home Depot's newest do-everything singular sensation; the latest ergonomic office chair versus old faithful that was hard as a rock.
I'm not two-timing, I say with conviction. I'm making adjustments, fixing what hurts, retiring the worn. Who am I kidding? This emotional sentimental journey is a long one, and I will continue to replace, but never discard. And really, who am I hurting? I have drawers and acres and cabinets to store the entire lot. So if one day, you see me on Hoarders, just smile and know my heart (like my house) is full.
I looked up and saw the grin. Immediately, I caught my breath and I remembered - picnics under the tree, Grandma Franklin, the Elvis moment - all surfaced. I gasped. She gasped. And the rest was a reunion of best friends.
My memory has never been too favorable; there are jabs at the past, flashes of light that will illuminate certain moments. At this age, flashes of light are favorable. I need jabs. I need reminders. The grin was my jab.
It had been at least 35 years since I had seen Sharon Franklin. She lived in Woodstock; I lived in Clarkesville. The summer brought us together as she would spend three months with her Grandma Franklin on the hill in the little brick house underneath the towering oak tree. I can't for the life of me tell you how we met. All I know is that we were inseparable. We were besties before besties were cool. We swooned over Bobby Sherman and David Cassidy, vowing I would marry Bobby and she, David ( I think Peter Frampton was in the mix somehow?), and we'd be happy forever. Instead, she married Ricky, a pure stud in Habersham speak. I was jealous. I started college with no Bobby in my future and certainly no Ricky along the way. Sharon settled down with Ricky, made babies and well, our lives drifted apart. Until last Saturday . . .
You never forget those who make you feel good about yourself, those that just make you so stinking happy. Sharon make me stinking happy. Our hot summers spent in the shadows of Grandma Franklin and the old oak tree prepared us for life, although we had no clue that that was happening. Those summers taught us to delight in the simple things, the beauty of best friends, the wonder of really old people, that laughter cools just like lemonade, that going places is overrated, and jumping sky-high on beds won't bring down the house. True friendship requires bed jumping and lemonade sipping and secret sharing.
Last Saturday, Sharon smiled and I cried; I felt Grandma Franklin and mama doing their happy dances in heaven for the girls were back together. Time and geography may have separated us, but in a split second, we were back on the hill, underneath the oak tree, running silly. We exchanged numbers, and I promised I would not let time separate us again.
My book has given me earnings that weren't penciled in my contract. I got to return home, to hear heart-felt stories of how much the community loved my mama and daddy, to be part of a family again and visit with relatives that I miss so much my body aches, and this - for this reason - I am most thankful; I made a new best friend with my old friend Sharon.
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.
I love what I do. I travel. I discover stories. I weave tales that allow lives of complete strangers to become an active part of our lives, to change us, to inspire us. Sometimes for the bad, most of the time for the good. Last weekend, we visited the Smoky Mountains. They aren't my North Georgia Mountains, but darn sure close. The temperature drop in the air awakens a dreamer inside me, releasing excitement, evoking memories and charting courses.
We were scheduled to experience a first: synchronous fireflies. After one bump, there came another which shocked me more than the first. Let me set the scene: a curvy, muddy mountain trail after dark when even the sight of your hand is impossible. It's a touch thing. At the beginning, it's a flashlight thing.
We maneuvered our way towards the trailhead, Len with a headlamp and I with a flashlight. We quickly realized the headlamp was a no-no, so dark it went. My flashlight remained on, steadied on my feet, lighting the path until we move some 100 yards further, find a spot, plant our gear, and enjoy the show.
Holding on tightly to Len to avoid a face-plant, my eyes picked up on a woman darting toward me, reaching for my flashlight. "I know you can hear me," she said with such anger. "Turn that thing off." Len quickly pulled me back from her, and without saying what we wanted to say, made our way into the night.
We were excited, and at that moment, I allowed that woman to deflate my experience. Such anger and bossiness from a woman who was the self-appointed firefly queen. We knew the lights had to go off, but let me get to where I'm going without injury. It's not like there's only ONE firefly for ONE moment, and for sure, we're weren't the youngest whipper-snappers on the trail. Did she chastise everyone? Did she grab for other lights? She was rude, disrespectful, and I'm sure the fireflies thought so, too. She was a blemish (on the Park, on the community, on the experience) that needed to be popped!
I thought about her the next day as we toured the historic buildings along the Roaring Fork River Trail in Gatlinburg . . . seeing carvings, permanent marker script shouting "I've been here" . . . all you're leaving behind is proof of your ignorance.
Be polite. Be respectful. Especially when you're not on your home turf. You leave a scar with every word and mark you leave behind. In essence, when your hurt someone else - when you mouth off at someone - when you deface property - you hurt yourself. There doesn't have to be an ugly side. Forget about that . . . I know you heard me, firefly queen.
Happy birthday to me! I realized two things this morning:
Cute is gone, and I feel my mortality.
By that I mean, I understand that the bulk of my life is behind me, and what lies ahead is the icing on the cake, borrowed time to go at Nascar speed in the direction of my dreams. And it's all up to me. A couple of years ago I made a list - a gratitude list - one that bears repeating - or at least its highlights. I discovered that every single item from the original list would make my list again. Now, two years down the road, I add two more blessings . . . here are the highlights and the additions.
1. I get to work at home, at my desk - surrounded by the things I love most - every single day. (Today, it's more decked out than before - complete with an inspiration board, a real desk and twinkle lights.)
2. He's the last sight at night, and my first sight each morning - the glory of second chances. (I watch him drive down the gravel drive way each morning and marvel at how much my love for him grows. 'Bring him home,' I pray.)
6. Bear keeps me company while I sit at my desk. He never complains when I get to sip tea and he doesn't. (As long as I turn on the faucet, he's a happy camper. He still won't turn it off.)
9. I can make as many pots of coffee a day as I like, and every cup is mine. (I've added a Kreurig to the mix. Happy dance - maybe it's the caffeine.)
10. God never left me. (Ditto.)
12. I had the best mama and daddy ever. (Ditto.)
13. My mama taught me how to make homemade applesauce, sauerkraut and cat-head biscuits. (Priorities!)
14. I finally get that doing the right thing is the only option. (Life is easier when this is the decision maker.)
15. God saw something in me worth saving. (Thank you.)
20. I can finally say I'm half-Italian. (Wednesday night is pizza night . . . still. As long as Survivior plays out on Wednesday night, it will be homemade pie and Jeff.)
24. I have three sisters. (I never forget and I want to understand.)
25. Thoreau got it right: simplicity. (I long for my little cabin in the woods to "live life deliberately" with a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Soon . . . )
29. My children transcended what fate threw at them and knocked it out of the park. (I give thanks for this everyday.)
33. Dreams are freakin' amazing, and I will never stop - so there. (Seeing Southern was born during these last two years. This is my dream, our dream, our reality, our vision. Look out!)
35. Mama's words teach me just as daddy's image on the sofa comforts me. (The older I get, the more I return to my years in Clarkesville when the most important thing was listening to the weekly Sunday night countdown of the Top 20 songs in America. I cling to a childhood that almost wasn't. )
45. I let go. (It's hard to hang on, but it's even harder to let go. Peace is a grand thing.)
52. I fell in love for the last time. (My Lenny!)
53. I'm right where I'm supposed to be. (I'm still here!)
Now, for the additions:
54. The dream that I had verbalized to myself and others years ago met paper. I signed my 'first' - yes, 'first' - book contract. And, I made a friend who brightens each step with hand-written cards! Although I'm scared senseless, this is my shot, and if I never get the chance again, I want to knock this one out of the park.
55. I get to tell stories. What an amazing job! Not simply of those who names are recognizable - Luke Bryan, Junior Johnson, Larry Gatlin, Bill Richardson, Tyler Hubbard - but of those whose stories are equally inspirational - Stanley Wood, John Ray Parker, Carlos Lovell, Chaplain Bill Black, Carlene Holder - and me. I get to tell my story. It's not the stuff movies are made of, but it's mine. I learn from it and let it guide me while I pen the sacred material with which others trust in my care.
I feel like I'm in the middle now. This side and that side. Being on 'that' side brings with it some apprehension. So I offer myself this advice for the upcoming year and beyond: get those hormones in check, lose the headaches, keep booking country (or is it really hip-hop in disguise) concerts, stick with the true stories, trust your gut, follow your dream, and hang on to the arm of the man who lights the way. Amen!
September 27, 2014, was a long time coming. It was my dream in December, 1982, and today, it's just a house. Houses grow old, just like me, and if not given love and attention, will die. Such is the tale of Colquitt. After many attempts to spruce up the old joint, it wasn't going to happen without the help of a winning scratch-off. So sell, we shall. After Ty's (gracious and out-of-his-league) attempt to gut and become Mr. Fix-it fell through, the choice of buyers during year one became slim and non-existent. Then, a dreamer like me saw the potential, is taking a chance and will make this little bungalow into a dream once again. I wish him luck and prosperity. I wish the same for us.
So on this overcast fall Saturday in Georgia (while the Dawgs undo Tennessee a few miles up the road), we're loading up and moving out; however, that doesn't come without a few tears and 'remember whens?'
What's a move without a lame attempt at a yard sale?
And then those items that you find that mean absolutely nothing to everyone else, but mean the world to you . . . .
. . . the china cabinet (that began its life as a TV) that mama and daddy transformed (that's what you did in those days). It's been painted a million times. Inside the drawers, you can still see a scant reminder of where "Judy Hill" scribbled her name in crayon.
. . . the oil lamps that sat in my living room in Clarkesville for as long as I can remember. Mama always said, "We must be prepared if the lights go out."
. . . and the table. The table that mama built. She got adventurous, took a class at North Georgia Tech (the Trade School as we called it), and built a table. It took residence in our dining room. We never ate at the table, but always adored it and treated it like royalty. It's gone through three moves now and is a little rough for wear. One day, it's going back home to the mountains - to our little cabin in the woods.
. . . and the ten-ton blue fan that mama kept in the back bedroom window to blow cool air from one end of the house to the other. In hot summers, I would go back to the bedroom, lay at the foot of the bed so that my face would be inches from those steel blades. I would enjoy the coolest place in the house and then start singing into the moving blades. "ahemahemmmmmm"
No matter what this little first house of mine became, it ends as a reminder of my wealth. I remember Mari's first birthday party around the backyard rose garden - stenciling the living room ceiling in purple love birds - mama rocking her first grandchild in the t-tiny living room - the day Challenger exploded and I froze in disbelief - sitting on the front stoop at night wondering, questioning - planting the dogwoods for Logan and Mari and the weeping cherry for Ty - a home for the three of us and mama when there was no where else to turn - where mama took her last breath - where I learned to stand alone.
I haven't left many houses in my life - Clarkesville, Jersey, Monroe - and I have to remember that the most important things I take with me. The boards, sheet-rock and windows are just that and nothing more.
I plan on having only two more in my life time - my current and most important one- Mayne Mill - and another, in Hiawassee. When Len and I get our fill of traveling and photography (doubt that will ever happen), we'll start on our little hideaway in the mountains. After all, mama's table needs a proper resting place.
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.
Every place we visit leaves behind its mark. The tourist draws, the foodies havens, the pillows we rest upon, the ornate churches and once thriving bridges. We snap our photos and we jot down notes, revisiting and recollecting the moments when we upload photos and review the words upon arriving home. Most of the time we get what we seek, but every now and then we find a shocker of a photo that tells more narrative than our quick expected activity demands.
She sits along the banks of the Savannah River by the playground where children climb and squeal in the background. Across the river sits multi-million dollar homes like dominoes, one practically sitting on top of another, all with a history that might be just as unbelievable as hers. However, neither grabs her attention as she stares at her feet, covered on this 100- degree summer day with tattered striped socks and no shoes in sight. She could be any person, in any city, on any day, sitting on any peaceful riverbank.
But she finds herself here. I assume she is homeless and this is a stop before the next stop before the next . . . She slumps in thought as she surrounds herself with natural and man-made beauty. She is attracted to the very opposite of her life. She isn't caught up in the buildings or the slides, but she takes comfort in knowing they are close. Helping her to belong. To cope. It helps her breathe.
And for a brief moment, everything flows, just as the river, to a more beautiful ending. She is me. More than likely, she is you. If we surround ourselves with beauty, we tend to forget the unlovely. Even for an afternoon . . . .
Peace is always beautiful.”
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?
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.