Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Looking Back, the Way I Saw It

They were all there: the Cute Boys and the Mean Girls, the Wallflowers and the Late Bloomers, The Ones Who Tried Too Hard and the Ones Who Gave Up Too Soon,  the Golden Ones and the Ones Whose Lives Got Tarnished. The Cool Kids clustered together, and those of us who looked from the outside in back then still spent part of our evening 40 years later doing it now.

That's how it looked if you didn't bother to look again, anyway. I am learning that we all felt like An Other in 1973 and the only difference between the Wallflowers and the Mean Girls was that we let our insecurities eat away at us while they let theirs feed on others. That's a bit of wisdom I wish I could time travel back and impart to my 14 year old self.

But now, all these decades later, we discovered cracks in the walls where grace has gained some foothold. Time has a way of softening the edges of all the hard memories, just as it has softened our jowls, blurred our vision, and dulled our hearing. Forty years is plenty enough time to hold a heartache before letting it go, and more than enough time to watch a bridge burn and be grateful that the embers no longer have the power to burn our feet.

My own handful of closest friends back in those days were there, and I hope that they know just how much their presence in my life -- when we were all trying to find our safest places --saved me. They let me in their boat back then, when all the rules had changed for me, and I cannot thank them enough for letting me right back in despite all the time we let get away from us.
There were folks I hardly recognized. Some had grown into the awkward features their teenage years had saddled them with, and others had finally relaxed and let themselves go, and yet what had changed about none of us were our eyes and our smiles. There were so many of those last Saturday night. 

There were shared memories, good ones, mostly, because it was a night for fun. I cannot speak for anyone else, but the older I get the more the more delighted I am to find other people who remember why we weren't supposed to go out with the boys in Chisholm (although I did) and how disobeying our mothers and driving "across the bypass" was just about the most exciting thing ever. There was talk of Shakey's Pizza, of teachers who pinched and paddled, of harmonies sung in the cafeteria, and of the classmates who died too soon. 

We snuck out of houses together, yards got rolled, we suffered through slam books and sweltering days in class with nothing but squeaking metal fans to keep us cool. We wondered aloud if Sadie Hawkins dances still happen anywhere, and if kids might still be as in awe of any of the adults in their school as we were of Mrs. Jones, Mrs. McClurkin, Mrs. Rahn, or Coach Garner. 

If pressed, I'm sure The Cheerleaders would have remembered every step to the routine they did to "Tears of a Clown" as easily as we Glee Club Members would have remembered all the harmonies to "Battle Hymn of the Republic." I am not so sure the Football Team would have fared well in a scrimmage, but I have no doubt they'd have been game to try. 



There was a supermoon the night of the reunion. It was apt. 

We shone so brightly in 1973, and for a couple hours last weekend we did again. 

Photographs courtesy of Thomas Lucas Photography

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

What I Didn't Miss Today

I took a walk late this afternoon. It was, as some of us are wont to say, hellahot, but I'm glad I went because here's what I didn't miss. 

I didn't miss seeing two little bitty birds whupping up on this Big Boy until they had him back where they wanted him. He was so humbled he sat up there in this tree long enough for me to -- literally -- run across an open expanse to get this picture of him. Badly lit, I know, but he did not appear to be of a mind to cooperate himself into a more advantageous lighting position. 

I also didn't miss the football drills these two were enjoying. I watched them as I lapped the park several times, watched the man throw the ball, watched the little boy almost catch it, and then watched the man jog over to him over and over.  He'd lean down, talk to the boy, whose head would nod eagerly. Then a fist bump would get shared between the two, a nicely thrown pass from the little boy would make its way to the man, and the whole process would begin again.  

I was getting ready to do my last lap and decided to jog down and let them know I'd enjoyed watching them. The man is the little boy's Daddy, and the little boy wants to be a wide receiver when he grows up. 

I asked, as we tend to do here in Alabama, "Bama or Auburn?"

"I'm gonna be a Bulldawg!"

And with that heartbreaking bit of news I took one more shot of this future SEC standout.....

.... and he caught it. 
Watch out, Nick.  

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Art of the Thump

This morning I took my granddaughter to the Curb Market, something we do just often enough for her to remember that there's a lady there who always gives her a free treat (today it was an apple). It's a fun way to spend some time on a Saturday morning, and you just can't get better fresh produce at a fairer price anywhere else. It's a real "come as you are" place, as most folks spend time there early, before a day at the lake or out gardening, and certainly before hair fixin' and make-up become important.

I like for Rosemary to see the people behind the food we bring home, and I want her to grow up knowing that folks from every background you can imagine are good people who enjoy visiting together, that when it comes to admiring and selecting good tomatoes and pretty squash we are all alike. 

We were selecting our watermelon by the  traditional "thumping" method when a woman standing next to us said, "My father always did that - what does it mean?"

I am most assuredly not the person you want as your tour guide through the culinary world, but as much as I try not to be judgmental I could not help but wonder who in the world RAISED this woman, that she wouldn't know this. 

What I did instead was try to explain what a person listens for when thumping a melon, but it's sort of like describing a color or a fragrance. What you're listening for is that sound that the best watermelon you ever had when you were 3 years old made, the one you helped your Grandmama thump at a roadside stand and heard her say, "Perfect!" and then you went home and had it and all its sticky glory outside in her back yard when it was too hot to do anything but eat watermelon. LIKE THAT.

At least that's the way I see it. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

What She Chose

The last Mothers' Day I had my Mama I wrote a blog post about what she had taught me. If you are so inclined, you can click here to read that.

I took a long walk this morning and I wore her sun visor. In the interest of truthfulness, I did not wear it for any sentimental reason -- I just could not find mine anywhere. Because I was wearing her sun visor, though, and because it is Mothers' Day, I thought about her a whole lot over the course of the nearly 7 miles I walked.

That  picture in the top left corner was taken at a family wedding reception in Atlanta a few years ago. I had driven Mama and Daddy over for it, and it was a very nice day. Mama's hips were giving her fits back then, and walking was painful and even more so after sitting in a car for a few hours, but by Gum, she was going to that wedding. She never let me forget that I was stopped by a State Trooper on our way home, either, for failure to signal a lane change. Of course, she also talked him out of giving me a ticket, and as we were pulling back on to the interstate she launched into a story about the speeding tickets she got when she was younger, and every one of the stories made her laugh.

The one in the top right hand corner was from the days when she was a terror on the tennis courts at Montgomery Country Club. She excelled at singles. She was a favorite doubles partner. She was very good. She wanted me to learn, but athletic endeavors were not my thing. I also considered myself Too Cool for the Club. I am sorry now that I never learned, because I know how much she would have enjoyed wiping the tennis courts with me.

The picture in the bottom right corner captures her so perfectly as Granny, which was her favorite role of all. That's my nephew she's smiling at. The one with the bottle. The other critter was her much-beloved Prissy. The look on her face is so stunning I hardly noticed that she was sporting her curlers.

The one on the bottom left hand corner is The Look. If you were raised by her, you know what it is you might have said or done that elicited it. We also saw it a lot if she was trying to tell a story that we were interrupting for some reason. She took her storytelling very seriously. I'd pay a handsome reward to know who is responsible for this moment being captured. It was not me. I am sure of that.

And that one in the middle puts her in what she always said was her least favorite place to be -- in the kitchen -- but was also the place where most of our memories take us when we think of her. She held forth in her kitchen. She did not like anybody else fooling around in it. Ever. For any reason. When it was beyond her to handle all the work of a big family get-together we tried in vain, always in vain, to make her stay in the den while we handled everything. She would take her place on one of the stools and point at what we were looking for, and very often, for some reason, somebody would be sure to get The Look.

I thought, while on my walk, of all the wisdom Mama threw my way. I wish I could claim to have caught and held on to more of it than I did, but the one bit I at least try to live as well as she always did, which is evident in those pictures up there, is this:

When you have a choice, choose joy. Goodness knows, she had as many reasons as most of us do to complain, and goodness also knows, she did her share of it. But she always chose not to live mired in the worst or hardest or saddest or most disappointing moments life sent her way. She chose joy, and every time I choose the same, it's because she taught me how. Today, it's how I honor her.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Why I Did It

This emblem really made the rounds on Facebook today. I chose to use it as my profile picture as a show of support for folks I know and about whom I care. They have been spending their day listening  to arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court, hoping for a ruling that will insure gender blindness when it comes to being able to formalize and legalize relationships that, in many cases, have proved to be more stable than the last 200 or so opposite-genders celebrity marriages.

I don't use Facebook as a political platform, as a rule. And I agree that plastering this doesn't do a thing to change a thing. Unless the Justices decide to decide based on how many of these they see in social media today, it's an empty gesture. (Let me be clear here -- the Supreme Court Justices should not bow to pressure from the populace. They are the one branch of the government that never should, not even when it means we might be disappointed by its rulings.)

So, why'd I jump in when I typically don't?

1. I am tired of hearing that Conservative Christian Southerners are the problem. I am a Conservative Christian Southerner. I am not part of the problem.

2. I do support the right of people to marry the person they choose. Opening the door to this no more opens the door to abuse of the institution of marriage than letting people marry in Vegas after an evening of heavy drinking and a run at the tables. Or giving any Kardashian a legal license to do so, either.

3. I trusted my friends who disagree with me about this to respect my decision to use the emblem for a period of time, just as I have respected their decisions to post photographs in support of issues with which I fundamentally disagree. As I started the day with 353 Facebook friends and seem to still have them all, my trust was well-placed. I have chosen my friends well.

Sometime in the next day or so I will change my profile picture again to something else, maybe back to the blue ribbon that I've had up since March 1, in support of Colorectal Cancer Awareness month.

The one nobody ever asked me about.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Today's surprise in the garden.

The interesting weather patterns these last few months have had me despairing of seeing my dogwood tree bloom at all this year, let alone in time for Easter, which is just a thing with me. 

Look what I came home to today.

"After all, I don't see why I am always asking for private, individual, selfish miracles when every year there are miracles like dogwoods." 

~~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Memory and Possession

I'm working my way, however slowly, through Family Ephemera that was entrusted to me as we emptied our parents' home. Much of what I have surrounding me in my home office are things of no particular interest to anyone (including me!), but which, taken as a whole, provide some new insights into folks gone on ahead.

This morning, I have turned my attention to a rather impressive box filled with my Nannaw's journals. I started by turning through them page by page. I had to abandon this practice when it became clear I'd be glued to my chair all day, so I began just flipping through at random, considering as gifts some of the things she thought important enough to record.

I have discovered, and been reminded of, so many things about her. Her note-making bordered on the compulsive. Not a year went by that she didn't elaborate on dates of particular significance to her: her parent's birthdays, her own anniversary even decades after my Grandpappy had died, annually noting "Oh, my."  The anniversaries of their deaths--and that of many others whom she knew, loved, and lost--were always noted, as well.

For nearly a year the biggest ongoing crisis in her life was finding a hairdresser to replace Mr. Olds when he retired. From this effrontery she never fully recovered.

She followed sports, particularly horse racing, SEC football, and baseball, with particular passion. I have no explanation for her fascination with President Reagan's bowel surgery, and was surprised by the enthusiasm she expressed for the Rev. Jesse Jackson's speech at the 1976 Democratic Convention. She did not care, particularly, for Geraldine Ferraro.

About her grandchildren and great-grandchildren she said very little, although she certainly kept close tabs on us all. I did find reference to her having attended my piano recital in 1973, with which she seemed to have been impressed.

More telling than any diary entry at all were the things she clipped from newspapers and magazines, and tucked away, sometimes with the help of a paper clip, sometimes taped to the day on which she must have run across it.

You can tell a lot about a person by the things they clip and underscore and save.

I found this poem, written on the back of a ledger entry. I did a bit of Googling, and actually happened upon the very newspaper column from which she copied it. Astounding, this merge of old handwritten notes and modern technologies. This appeared on October 13, 1970, in Phil Kelly's syndicated column, Growing Old Rebelliously

The Memories of Things Precious
by Jean Ingelow

The Memory of things precious keepeth warm
The heart that once did hold them. They are poor
That have lost nothing: they are poorer far
Who losing, have forgotten; they most poor
Of all, who lose and wish they might forget. 
For life is one and in its warp and woof
There runs a thread of gold that glitters fair
And sometimes in the patterns shows more sweet
Where there are sombre colors. It is true
That we have wept, but, O, this thread of gold,
We could not have it tarnish; let us turn
Oft and look back upon the wondrous web
And when it shineth sometimes we shall know
That memory is possession.


Saturday, March 9, 2013

When You See One, Take It!

It started with all that rain. I stopped taking my walks/jogs in the mornings because of it, kept thinking the afternoons would be warmer and drier. That didn't happen, of course, not for days and days, anyway.

I got on our old treadmill instead. I had forgotten what a number it always does on my joints. So I stopped that, too.

I don't know about your life experience, but mine is that reasons have a way of turning into excuses which morph into not being able to zip my jeans. But maybe that's just me.

Today there was no reason whatsoever for me not to get out there. The weather is simply beautiful. I am not on babysitting privilege this weekend. I knew I wouldn't be running today, I just wanted to get back out there and remind my legs how good they make me feel when they move. I also wanted to get back out there because if you know me at all, you know that my morning walks work like Prozac for me and Lord knows, I needed an  infusion.

It didn't take me long to be glad I had, and as often happens when I'm out on these things lessons present themselves to me. Moments of clarity. Things that make me say HEY LET'S BLOGGITY THIS WALK.

First, I came to a fork in the road.


Forks in the road lead to choices, ofttimes.

I opted for neither. 

I knew when I got home I'd be fixin' this for myself instead.

Not very dramatic, I know. But hey! Reading this blog is free and you get precisely what you pay for in life, right?

But there was another fork in the road this week that involved making a decision about a pharmaceutical solution to a problem very common among Women My Age: a diagnosis of osteoporosis.

The potential side effects of the drugs offered to me (either Fosamax or Actenol) are downright frightening, and among people I asked who had personal experience with either of them, almost without exception what I found was that taking these drugs had affected the quality of their day to day lives in varying degrees, and not usually for the better.

Used to be, it was only women over 65 who had these bone density tests done. And they are comparing our bone density to a standard for 30 year old women. Tell ya what, medical profession:  you compare my bone density to other 55 year old women, then we'll talk.

I have opted to continue only with my regimen of calcium supplements, enjoying dairy products in my diet, moderate weight-bearing exercise, fresh air, and accepting the fact that I may regret this choice many years hence.  But until I get there? I want to feel good, and I do.

Especially after that cup of coffee. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Who's your bully now?

Unless you've been living under a rock over these past many years you know that one of the important issues of our time is bullying, which has reached new levels of ugliness thanks to social media.

In the "good" old days, it used to be that those of us who were bullied, or about whom rumors flew, knew that no matter how horrible it was, it was self-limiting.

We went to school with our tormentors. They all lived in our neighborhood. We all went to one of a handful of neighborhood churches. There was only one Slambook, which teachers could -- and did -- retrieve and trash. The damage was done, of course, but it had a shelf life and some parameters.

But today? Rumors, innuendo, and knee jerk reactions in which we join so we can be one of the "cool kids" spawn and multiply and fly before we can wake our SmartPhones up from hibernation. Children have killed themselves because an otherwise inconsequential, off the cuff remark, blew up all over Twitter and Facebook and MySpace and in text messages. Adults haven't been exempt from this phenomenon, either.

It's bad enough when the 50 or so people you see every day have heard you are a slut, a liar, a jilted lover, a buffoon. When ten,, twenty, a hundred times that many people -- most of whom don't even know you -- are given the opportunity to pick up that ball and run with it, what do you do with that?

Every time a young person takes their life because they have been bullied or teased, regardless of the truthfulness of whatever their "deed" may have been, we adults get all puffed up and swear our kids would never do this; that something needs to be done, that we cannot imagine the heartbreak of even one parent who loses a child because of the carelessness and thoughtlessness and cruelty of the pack mentality.

And yet.

Here we were -- and I have been in the pack, too -- jerking our knees, jumping on a bandwagon with the other cool kids, trying to outdo one another in clever jabs, all to get and stay at the front of the line when news broke about Manti Te'o's phantom girlfriend.  I cannot deny I have been one of them.

But yesterday I began to be bothered by something, bothered by the possibility that he was, in fact, the victim of a cruel and elaborate hoax. The one bit of the puzzle that got me hunting for my boost up onto the bandwagon were the pieces where he had described the moment they first saw each other. How could he not be lying, since we all know that there never was a she?

Yesterday, as I read through his first real response to the news, where he said he had embellished the story about meeting her because he was embarrassed about getting this caught up with someone he'd never met, my heart began to break for him. I could completely understand how and why this might have happened, how it all got away from him, how he could talk himself into believing so very strongly that there was so much truth here.

I understand, because I count among my truest and dearest and most trusted real friends a group of folks with whom I commune every day online. We are scattered all around the country. We come from very different walks of life. We have grieved together. We have rejoiced together. We have supported one another through some of our hardest trials. Although it is true that after all the years we have been "together" that most of us have now met one or another in the flesh, even before that began to happen our presence in one another's lives was as authentic as it gets.

So yes, there is enough of Te'o's response that does ring true with me. And I am ashamed that with my approval and participation, a young man who by all accounts leading up to this one pitiful story is a good kid from a good family who may now have lost everything for which he, and they, have worked so hard.

If he was in it from the get-go, and as black a liar as ever there was, what difference does it make to any of us? He did not profit from it, and may be destroyed by it. If he lied, that goes on his personal list of shortcomings. Nobody else's life was ruined. He doesn't owe an apology to anybody but his family, if that's the case.

But if he was the naive and hopeful victim of a cruel joke, and we have all joined in laughing at him before the whole story could come to light, shame on us. And if Manti Te'o's life ends because of this -- literally or figuratively -- we will have had a hand in it.

Shame on me. Shame on us.