Remember in TV ads long ago in the 70s when product-makers would tout their "unconditional money-back guarantee" for their product that might work three days after receiving it. As a kid, I remember hearing those jumbled words, not really understanding its significance. However, if old age has taught me one thing, it's the price of unconditional and how its longevity factor is much more valued than any monetary replacement.
Yesterday, our cat died. Bear. I've known Bear as long as I've known my husband. In fact, Bear met me at the door before Len could get there. So, I guess I've know Bear the longest. My heart is broken. Len's heart is broken. Here's the way I look at this. Last week my ex-husband died. I didn't cry. I didn't mourn. He was a horrible man who treated his children and family as if we were trash. Not an unconditional fiber in his being. It was a very sad ending to life.
Today, I can't stop crying. I can't stop mourning. Bear was a companion who never judged or belittled or wandered; he simply loved his family the best way he could. And, he did. Until yesterday at 4:00 p.m. when he just couldn't handle it anymore.
He's simply a cat.
I mean, really. What we had to put up with!
I can have a white bed comforter. Yes, a beautiful, hotel-like, cushy-cottony comforter that will make our bedroom a beautiful place to relax. No worries of black hair being left on the foot of the bed or paw prints messing with its whiteness.
And, I can put away the towels that I used to cover all upholstery where he stretched out every day. The pad at the bottom of our bed or the chair in my office where he spent most of his days don't have to be covered anymore. The upholstery can now breathe.
Real flowers. I can have vases upon vases of real flowers on every table in the house. I don't have to put them 7 feet high in hopes that Bear won't climb and eat every last bloom. What do I buy first?
I can open doors again! I don't have to race in from the car, quickly closing the outside door before I open the kitchen door just so Bear won't escape. He did that one time, and luckily I found him. If not, I would have been the one that was homeless. I can take my time, leaving a door open a millisecond longer than before.
And, I won't have to say goodbye each time I leave the house or tell him when I'll return or to take care of Ty or to take a nap; I'll be right back. I can just walk out the door and be on my way.
No more paw prints on my floors. Less mopping to erase his steps and the floors will thank me.
No more litter box to clean. Can I get an Amen?
During the night, no more cat chases to wake us. We never knew what he was chasing, but when he settled down, we figured he caught it. Oh, and no more sweeps of the house after Len and I laid down. He always laid down with us and then immediately got up to check the house. Again, crazy cat in that nothing was every there. He just made noise.
I don't have to share my sweet peas with Bear anymore. I can keep them all to myself.
And don't get me started about the water. Leaving the water running in Len's sink for him to drink - he was insistent that it be running so he could get water. Never mind that he had a water bowl in the kitchen. It was never good enough.
What a nosey ghost. I couldn't go anywhere in the house with him following me. Now, I can do anything, all by myself.
Life is strange in that we think we know what we want. And when we have it, we want the complete opposite.
I look over my left shoulder to the chair that Bear occupied for close to eight years. It's empty. I can't read my work to him. No more meows for approval or a head tuck for disapproval. And when its time for a break, I'll not have a partner to accompany me to the kitchen for a cup of coffee or a guy to help me harass the outside cats through the glass door. And no one who races me to the bathroom. And no one to tell "good morning" or "let's go to bed."
And this is where the unconditional comes in. He was that. Bear defined that. For no matter what we needed - a head kiss or a cold nose on my arm - he always showed us that he was there. Even when I told him how annoying he was, he didn't care; he simply remained Bear. He had the longevity factor. Until the very end.
Lessons from a cat, I suppose. Constant. Remaining. Loving. Caring. Unconditional.
He leaves all those lessons behind and a family that became whole because he was there.
Who needs a white comforter and flowers? Not me.
Running late, my normal these days, I found myself in Robert's funeral procession traveling from the funeral home some 10 miles to Center Hill Baptist Church near Rosebud.
It was about 10:30 a.m. and blue lights blocked the intersection. Walton County Sheriff Deputies sat quietly, stopping traffic from all sides. I knew it had to be a funeral this time of day. People paused in respect, a Southern practice that always makes me proud to be a Southerner, and, a little teary-eyed no matter who it might be. I didn't expect it to be Robert's procession. I waited, looking at my watch realizing I was getting later by the second, but it didn't matter anymore. They surely wouldn't start without Robert.
I observed each car go by - the hearse, the family, the friends - and then finally, I was allowed to fall in behind. On this very road, about 40 years ago, I traveled to meet Robert, his wife Josephine, his family - Renee, Rodney, Lance and Kelly - for the very first time.
As a sophomore at Truettt-McConnell College, I was selected by the Southern Baptist Convention as a summer missionary to Massachusetts. My stranger-side-kick and myself infiltrated the Catholic world of New England, working during the summer in backyard Bible schools, leading church services, ministering to young people who were basically the same age we were. It was life-changing. Service and ministry seeped into my skin, and I decided to do it again - just not so far away. So during my second summer at the University of Georgia, I interviewed with Center Hill Baptist Church for a youth ministry position. They liked me. They invited me. They kept me. For two years.
The first year, I commuted from Athens with the occasional spend-the-night with a church member. The second year, I had to have a home. They made sure of it. So Robert and Josephine - with four children of their own - turned their living room into Judy's bedroom and that was that.
Today, as I sat in the packed sanctuary, I heard Rodney, his eldest son, speak of his father's character. I glanced at Josephine. She was nodding her head in agreement. So were Renee, Lance and Kelly. Unconsciously, I'm doing the same thing. A quiet man, his convictions - his love - his service to mankind was palpable.
I struggled to remember the small details of life with the McCarts, but I do remember how I didn't feel like a stranger. When the car pulled under the car port to unload groceries (and, man, were there a lot of groceries), we all helped. It was an event. Evenings around the dinner table included everyone with tales of the day and usually, lots of laughter. I hated squash, but Josephine cooked it just right - paper thin and fried, and I caved. The sweet tea was addictive, but not as addictive as that strawberry cake. I can still taste it.
Being a Ford man, I understood why Robert loved my little red and white Mustang so much, but not as much as he loved Renee's. Anything I asked him to do for the youth group, he did it with joy. Anything. He loved the outdoors, and he loved to laugh. I remembered that hearty laugh. His children had it, too. I suspect, they still do.
Even after they converted my bedroom back into a living room, it was still home. And when I would return to the church for visits over the years, Robert and Josephine were the first faces I searched for. They were the first people I grabbed.
It's incredible how, even though years have passed, the depth of love I have for this family has never wavered. Time has been the greatest divider but not the conqueror. Just like that, I'm back and it's summertime at Center Hill. The youth group is preparing for some big event, gathering in the parking lot underneath the big oak tree. I'm eating squash and strawberry cake. I'm sitting in the house on the hill where a family took me in and gave me exactly what I needed - love.
Part of that scenario goes home today, but the legacy of Robert remains. He leaves a very important lesson with me - when you think you are full, and there's just not room for anyone or anything else, there's always an opportunity to change a living room into a bedroom.
Having a place to lay your head is life-changing. Just ask me.
Hobo Kitty (lower left) had a litter of kittens almost two months ago. About three weeks later, this little one (right) showed up right along side of her. Since we're in the country and all kind of critters are around, we thought that maybe the others didn't make it. We named the little one Bo, and mama kitty's name, well, we shortened to Ho. Yes, we're bad.
A week later, a jet black one with white socks appeared.
And just yesterday, two more appeared. Both looked to have had bad hair days since birth.
This morning, little Bo's screams led us to the front porch where his hind leg had become tangled in the yarn which Ty left as a toy. Len scooped him up amidst the screams and tantrums (Bo, not Len), and brought him into the house for the first time to operate. Once free from string, Bo took to us nicely, even slept a little while I fretted that in a few moments, I would have to let go.
I let go and he's back with the three others that have long scampered back underneath the chest on the porch. Bo did look back. In my mind, he said, "Thanks. Let's do the holding part again. It really wasn't so bad." Then, he slipped quietly underneath the chest with the others.
Kind of like mama's do - they let you play at will. They pray that if you get in trouble, there will be someone to scoop you up, fix the boo-boo, and then let you be on your way once more. Soon, you'll begin to trust those who have been kind to you. You'll remember them fondly and understand where you can live without fear. Open your eyes to all the possibilities and the people in your world. But you'll never forget that mama that made you do and go and be what you never dreamed possible.
"Thanks, mama. Let's do the holding part again, soon."
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.
How do you fix a GRAY Japanese Kubota tractor that has been abused, destroyed, ignored, hammered, wrecked, knocked around, bruised, shattered to the point that IF the right parts were found, would it actually work? Would that key turn and that starter roll IF all the pieces were in place? Would papa's tractor - now a sad pile of metal - be reborn to dig and haul and move?
Would the memories of riding in the driver's seat, feet dangling, while papa made sure the brake was mashed and the gears were changed, do the trick? Sitting on the laps of Titans have been known to change lives before. Will those memories propel us to finish what we've started?
And even though this rescued tractor has sat on that trailer for the more than a year, three of its four tires are flat, and for the life of us, that key still won't turn and that motor won't sing, can we do it? Will we do it? It won't be for lack of trying.
So this tractor fixin' project has been in the works for well into two years now. As time allows, Len and Ty piddle and poke and search for the right parts, the right key, affordable replacement tires. I watch Ty and I know that bringing this tractor back to life is a way of keeping his papa close at hand. Len knows that getting this tractor in working order has nothing to do with it's ability to work, but everything to do with keeping his step-son's memory of his grandfather alive. That's enough reason for him.
I watch Ty wipe the years of time-stamped dirt from the tractor's once vibrant shell, knowing that it will never be as beautiful as it once was. For one reason, time has added layers that scrubbing just won't erase, and for the most important reason, his papa isn't around to make it shine.
So, if they get it running, great. If not, then great, too. It's home, and it's loved. Just like papa.
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.”
"You're a travel writer?" she said with an elevated voice. "What an amazing job."
Yes, Nessa, it is.
When we get really lucky, we get to lay our heads at B & Bs. We dine at the breakfast table with strangers from who knows where and talk about mostly unknown things and more than likely, we'll never ever see them again. We have one moment to uncover a lifetime.
Nessa Pettyjohn and Nihshanka Debroy from Gwinnett County celebrated their one year anniversary, and at breakfast, we celebrated, complete with candle-topped banana bread. After an amazing casserole, intense coffee and our own slice of banana bread later, we discovered they were IT people. I could tell. It was like looking in a three way reflective mirror - Nessa, Nihshanka and Len. Triplets. I, on the other hand, was the elephant in the room, but that's alright. We learned about Nihshanka's love for rare books and Nessa's skill at preparing Indian food; we wanted to go home with them.
Hosts, or innkeepers, are rare breeds we are told. There are ones that are nice and do their job well. Then, there are those who could be your Aunt Sally or Uncle Frankie. Family, in other words. You hear it in their voice, see it in their eyes, in the little touches - like complimentary this-and-that, fresh baked cakes always available tempting and calling your name, exquisite "I never want to get out of bed" sheets, binoculars for bird watching, or smiles no matter the time of day. And if they accidentally lock you out of the Lodge at bedtime, you know deep down they really didn't mean to. And when they say, "Come back," they expect you to.
Janet and Ric came to Blue Ridge by way of Key Largo and Colorado. "This [Aska] makes us happy," Janet says with a visible sense of contentment radiating from her face. Calling them adventurists would be an understatement - climbing Mount Rainier and Mt. Hood, caving, scuba diving - and this little piece of heaven, satisfies their longing to be close to nature. They have even changed roles; Janet who once handled all the cooking now serves as sous chef for Ric and his morning masterpieces.
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.