Tag: family history (Page 1 of 2)

Wind Phones

As self-appointed family historian,
I’ve spent my entire life researching in preparation
to write  this book about
what happened to my family in May 1933,
In an attempt to capture information I don’t have,
I pen letters to my daddy,
my Uncle Gene,
my Grandmother and my Granddaddy.
After a brief breathing break,
I take a clean sheet of paper
and channel them,
recording their responses
in letters penned back to me.
It never fails to be an amazing event,
but oh how I long to hear their back door
slam behind me
as I walk into their house,
always invited,
never announced,
to sit with them at their kitchen table.

I ache for one
(okay, 26)
(or maybe 512)
(at least)
more opportunities to sit with them
and ask questions about their loves, their lives.
How did you meet?
Why did you fall in love with each other?
What were your favorite songs, colors, books?
Did you like to dance?
Did y’all  laugh a lot?
What did you wear to your wedding?
Sometimes I’d just like to hear their smiles,
as they answer commonplace questions like
Whatcha doin’?
What did you have for breakfast this morning?
Whatcha gonna’ do the rest of the day?
So many questions I long to ask
especially questions
about that horrific weekend in May 1933.
Were you terrified?
How did you comfort each other?
What thoughts ran through your minds?
How did you stay calm?
What were the emotional after shocks like?
and so on.

Today as I gather
my thoughts, newspaper clippings,
photos, letters, and other ephemera
related to what happened that weekend
and prepare to start writing for real this time,
I remember reading about a telephone booth
installed in a field in Otsuchi, Japan,
complete with a disconnected telephone.
In 2011, the small town of Otsuchi was
eviscerated by a double-whammy:
a tsunami and an earthquake.
They lost everything, including 2000 residents.

Itaru Saski was already grieving,
wishing to share just one more cup of tea with his cousin
who died before the tsunami came.
As others around him rebuilt,
Itaru followed the urgings of his heart,
nestling an old telephone booth in his garden.
Calling it the Wind Phone,
he issued an open invitation for others
to come and place
calls to their deceased loved ones.

On the heels of this memory,
I look around me, and I move as if a puppet at the end of a string . . .
My studio is home to a chair I sat in as a teenager,
reclining in its outstretched arms
talking on the phone for hours.
Next to it I place a mid-century modern
telephone table found in a thrift shop years ago.
I have “a thing” for mid-century modern.
Atop this table now sits the red phone I announced I wanted
on a trip to Asheville years ago.
I didn’t know why I wanted it,
I just did,
and it may or may not surprise you to hear
that it was the first thing I spied upon
entering my favorite shop.
Beside the phone is one of my son’s boots
turned pencil holder
and 2 journals The Engineer
gifted me three years ago.

The front of one journal reads
Fill your paper with the
breathings of your heart.

~ W. Wordsworth

The other journal wears these words:
May today there be peace within.
May you trust that you are
exactly where your are meant to be.
May you not forget the
infinite possibilities that are born of
faith in yourself and others.
May you use the gifts that you have received,
and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content with yourself just the way you are.
Let this knowledge settle
into your bones,
and allow your soul the
freedom to
sing, dance, praise, and love.
It is there for
each and every one of us.

Magic!
And it all happened in the space of 4 minutes.
I’m not kidding.

Now, when the longing punches my heart,
I will sit in this chair,
tucked into the far corner of my studio
where no one can see me without trespassing
and use my personal Wind Phone
to find solace
and who knows –
maybe some answers, too.

 

And you know what else?
I hereby proclaim that One Day
I will install a public Wind Phone
– 2 of them, actually
or maybe 3 –
each with an open invitation
and free long (long, long, long) distance calling.
The thought excites me,
and I look forward to doing just that.
For now, though, a photo goes on my Vision Board,
and when the time is Right
and everything aligns,
the other public Wind Phones will most certainly come to be.

~~~~~~~

This just in:
my friend Margaret Williams
just sent me a link to
a text version of the wind phone.

Losses or Gains?

snow on trees

Snow on Christmas Eve
Icy roads before midnight.
Santa made it, though,
thanks to Rudolph’s fierce
determination.

Snow covered trees around the waterfall

snow covered trees around the waterfall

This morning,
the men are up
earlier than the tots
on Christmas morning,
out to do battle with nature
who’s proving a formidable foe
(just as I warned.)
(I mean foretold.)
In their crosshairs:
getting off our slick mountain road
with little if any regard
for all the other potentially hazardous roads
awaiting them.

While all scurry frantically,
in angst at plans disrupted,
their eagerness to leave
lands like families of porcupines on my heart.

Have they learned nothing from 2020,
The Great Teacher
who gave us so gave us so many
opportunities
to learn
and reframe?

At the knee of 2020,
we learn to
consider plans made as suggestions
or possibilities
to jot task lists in pencil
instead of ink,
to linger.

She gives us countless opportunities
to sample a slower-paced life,
our 2020,
to remember how it feels to
spend entire days letting books
be our planes, trains, and automobiles;
to replace text message with
pen, paper, envelopes, and stamps;
to reacquaint ourselves with
childlike wonder
enjoying games made from bits found
and food made from leftovers
and the awe of trees
newly-defined by snow.

snow covered trees and branches

Now I leave the fantasy land of my studio
and rejoin the chaos of angst –
noses pressed to the
panes in the door,
watching the thermometer,
willing it to reach 32 degrees Fahrenheit,
where –
in their own fantasy land –
the snow and ice will magically poof,
disappearing so they can
hit the road
hours after they’d planned,
moving a little faster
to make up for all the time lost.

Refrigerator Shrine

Short and squatty with a handle that pulled out to open the door, Grandmother’s Frigidaire is home to an important piece of my family history, a story of a first and a last . . .

The first and only time Grandmother Hewell told me “No” was the day I – the apple orchard of her eye – reached to the back of the squatty, boxy, white-on-the-outside-turquoise-on-the-inside refrigerator intending to help myself to the Zero candy bar in the back left corner of the second shelf. Her loud, abrupt “NO” startled me. She offered no explanation, just “You leave that alone,” as she pushed me to the side and closed the refrigerator door.

I was stunned. Grandmother had never denied me anything – not a single thing. My wish was her command, and I didn’t have to clean some funny-shaped lantern to get her attention. But that fateful day, all I got was a resolute, unwavering NO.

a boy holding a baby in front of an old car parked beside an unpainted house

Crawford Jr. plays with 6 month old Baby Gene

William Eugene Hewell – was he my uncle or is he my uncle? I never know whether to use past or present tense when talking about people who are so alive inside me but aren’t readily available to hug or sit beside or laugh with.

Laugh with.

Everybody I ask to tell me about my Uncle Gene says the same three things:
~ I can’t think of him without seeing him sitting up on that tractor seat.
~ I remember him popping wheelies in the front of the school before the bell rang.
~ He was funny. Lord a-mercy how that man did make us laugh. I never knew anybody as funny as your Uncle Gene.

William Eugene Hewell was born on March 31, 1933, a mere five weeks before five armed bandits held the family hostage while waiting on the bank’s vault to open so they could relieve it of its money bags. Uncle Gene was the last of five children born to Grandmother and Granddaddy. Before him, there was Juanita who lived 4 days. Edgar and Earl were twins, one living for an hour, the other stillborn. Then there was Crawford Junior, my daddy. He was five when Uncle Gene was born.

a young boy sits behind the wheel of a tractor

12 year old uncle Gene behind the wheel of the tractor

Zero candy bars were Uncle Gene’s favorite. The morning of December 19, 1951, he pulled the handle to open the refrigerator door, placing his beloved Zero candy bar in the back left corner so it would be nice and cold when he came in later that afternoon. He kissed his mother on the cheek, said something to make her laugh and shake her head, then went out the back door. He hopped up on the tractor and headed off to spend the day pulling stumps up on the property. Though I can’t imagine how he reached the pedals, family lore – those sacred stories that remain forever impervious to logic – holds that Uncle Gene learned to drive a tractor when he was 8 years old. Two years later,  Granddaddy began renting out the tractor, sending Uncle Gene along to operate it. Details aside, it stands true that Uncle Gene knew his way around tractors.

But this day, something went terribly, horribly, unspeakably wrong.

He put the chain too high up on the stump, some tell me. Others say he put the chain too low. Either way, the result remains the same. As Uncle Gene began to move the tractor forward, it reared up and flipped over on him, crushing him instantly. I am told that my wiry, small-framed granddaddy found my rotund uncle, lifted the tractor off him, and carried Uncle Gene back to the house where he laid him on the bed he shared with my grandmother.

Granddaddy Hewell drove a silver stake in the ground to mark the spot. Grandmother kept that Zero candy bar as her private refrigerator memorial to the son she loved to immensely. Years later, Crawford created his memorial to his brother Gene by naming his firstborn child after him. He spelled her name Jeanne.

newspaper article about the death of Eugene Hewell

 

P.S. Uncle Gene died on December 19, 1951. Twelve years later to the day, Granddaddy Hewell died. He died in his sleep, and because the attending doctor couldn’t be sure whether he died before or after midnight, he chose to let Granddaddy’s death stand forever as the same day his younger son was killed.

P.S. 2 I am currently writing a book about what happened to my family on May 5-6, 1933 and having a big time as my daddy would say, learning more about myself as I look back at those who preceded me.

Twenty Years Is Both a Long Time and No Time At All

“In the language of the deaf, the sign for ‘remember’ begins with the sign for ‘know’: the fingertips of the right hand touch the forehead. But merely to know is not enough, so the sign for ‘remain’ follows: the thumbs of each hand touch and, in this joined position, move steadily forward into the future. Thus a knowing that remains, never lost, forever: memory.”
~~~ Myron Uhlberg in Hands of My Father: A Hearing Boy, His Deaf Parents, and the Language of Love

Twenty years.

My daddy died died twenty years ago today, and I still ache with griefcrave one more hug, long to hear him call me Doll just one more time. Every December 2 I become a cauldron of grief – sorrow, anger, pensiveness, no sense of direction.  I usually spend the day doing soft, soulful things like writing, remembering, walking, but with the recent fullness of my life, I had no time to pre-plan. My waking thought was to read something written by someone else remembering and grieving for their daddy, and while that felt like a winner of an idea, what, exactly, I would read remained a question mark. Then, as Magic would have it, I went to the bookshelves in my studio this morning in search of another book for another reason, when the book aforementioned book  leapt off the shelf and into my hands.

Remembering.
It’s what I do.
It’s who I am.
Stories of remembering are my oxygen.

In August 2000, two weeks after delivering the book I wrote about my father-in-law to each of his children and grandchildren, Bones woke me up whispering, “Write a book about your daddy, and do it now.”

“Are you kidding me?” I countered. “I am exhausted, depleted, worn slap out.” (I kept the father-in-law book a secret even from Andy, which meant much writing at night) The Voice of my Bones was not amused or swayed, and I’ve learned (the hard way) not to argue with Bones, so the following week I began gathering stories, photos, newspaper articles, interviews, whatever I could get my ears and hands on, about my daddy. I wrote. I scanned. I wrote some more, and the Monday before Thanksgiving, off it went  to the printer and binder. Everybody in the family would receive a leather-bound copy of this 400+ page book of memories about Daddy.

Four days later – the day after Thanksgiving – Daddy fell, hitting his head. Hard.

The Monday after Thanksgiving, I called Karen, the book binder. “I hear voices, you see, and well, Daddy fell last Friday and the voices I call My Bones tell me I need to get those books back asap. Can you help?” Without a single audible sign of exasperation, Karen said, “I can have one book to you on Saturday and the rest next Monday.”

First-Book-Arrives-Saturday started with all Daddy’s bells and whistles going off, his machine creating a cacophony of alert. I called family members. “If you want to see Daddy alive, you need to get here before noon,” I told them. They came trickling in. Friends followed. Finally, husband Andy and son Kipp walked in, brown package in hand.

In a rather bold move for a Southern girl raised to respect hospitality above (almost) all else, I asked the friends to  leave, gathered family around Daddy’s bed, and opened the package. I began reading at 1:05 p.m. A nurse stayed well past her shift’s end, keeping the machines shushed by holding her finger on the quiet button.

We took turns reading, arriving at “The End” at 4:50 p.m.

Daddy took his last breath at 4:55.

Though he never said a word, I know Daddy could hear his life review because from my position to the left of his pillow, I watched tears make their way down his face throughout the afternoon.

Take from this post whatever you will, just please promise me this:
~ If, God forbid, anybody you love should ever be in a coma or otherwise unable to communicate, take it upon yourself to make sure that only positive loving kindness is spoken within those four walls because I know – know to my very core – that they hear everything, and we all know that words are powerful.
~ You’ll take the time to capture your family’s stories. Start today. Record, write, ask, clip, copy, scan – gather and preserve those stories by whatever means available. You can shape them into narrative later, step one is to capture, and let’s face it: we never know. Preserving these stories will change your life (among other things, you will learn a lot about yourself) and future generations will call you good things and be forever grateful. Count on it.

Unclaimed Hallelujah: Katie Belle Wesley Ballard

 

When the brown paper grocery bag from K. W. McElaney’s corner store was full of fabric scraps, they met in the middle of the road – Mrs. Callaway and my maternal grandmother. After exchanging pleasantries, they swapped bags then returned to their respective homes, spilling the bag’s contents on the kitchen table, marveling at the colors, the patterns, the possibilities. Soon enough, colors were sorted, patterns were chosen, cutting begun. Eventually her Davis treadle machine whirred with life, providing Grandmother the only walls she could lay claim to.

The simple act of me saying “yes” to receiving a garbage bag filled with scraps from an anonymous donor and turning them into quilts made Grandmother smile. I’m sure of it.

 

 

When the box arrived, I had no idea what I was going to do. My mind was a blank slate. I finished a few other projects, and with the calendar ticking, I got up one morning and before anything or anyone else could take the reins of my day, I opened the box, removed the garbage bag, then dumped the contents onto my design table. How I do love a beautiful jumble, the chaos of colors, the cacophony of shapes, the nostalgic imaginings of what the fabric had once been used for. Oh, the possibilities.

But still no ideas.

The calendar ticked louder.

I fiddled with the colorful bits of cloth and eventually began to See.

 

Christmas fabric . . .
Christmas mornings spent in Grandmother’s living room.
Gifts opened only after each of her 14 grandchildren played their two pieces on her black upright piano with the stool that rose and lowered by spinning.
Cousins showing off the 3 Santa gifts we were allowed to bring.
Granddaddy holding up a pair of freshly-unwrapped underwear, hollering across the room
”Katie Belle, are these from you?”
”What William?” she hollers back.
They had big ears – both of them did –
but they were for facial decoration only.
He asks again, “I said Are. These. From. You?”
With a chortle that would not be held back,
Grandmother says, “Oh William, of course they’re new.”

One strip of black and white fabric . . .
88 keys on a piano.
Grandmother’s full-ride scholarship to The Piano Conservatory
an adventure cut short
When her father harrumphed at the end of her first year
That young ladies didn’t need an education
especially in something as frivolous as piano
and declared that she would not be going back
and would instead spend her time in search of a husband.
Even a letter from the Dean
begging him to let Grandmother complete her studies
and telling of her immense talent
could not dissuade her father.
Whether Grandmother’s step-mother influenced the story or not,
we’ll never know.
I doubt anybody thought to ask before now.
She did meet and marry Granddaddy,
and every one of her five children
will tell you without hesitation
that he – Granddaddy –
married up.

Green . . .
How Grandmother enjoyed
cutting grass.
She had her own riding lawn mower
and she used it when the grass needed
cutting
or when she needed the grass to be cut.
Whichever need came first,
she would
strap on her battered straw hat,
take her seat on the mower
and commence to riding.
Another sound
providing her with walls,
a way to close out the world
and giver her space
to create her own.

Flowers . . .
Oh my goodness, flowers.
Grandmother’s entire yard was a flower garden
and how I would love to have just one more
day with her holding my hand,
treating me to a personalized guided tour,
checking on the health of each flowering plant
and telling me the name of the plane
and who gave her the cutting.

The fabric with flames . . .
Even as a teenager
there was nowhere I’d rather be
than at Grandmother’s house.
I stopped by
whenever I wanted.
We all did.
No appointment needed.
Walk-ins welcome.
The back screen door slamming behind me.
Mother forbade it at home,
but it is a sound that didn’t bother
Grandmother at all.

Gray . . .
Color of The South.
She was, after all,
the quintessential Southern Lady
without any of the pretense and subterfuge.

The Jetsons cartoon fabric . . .
Granddaddy died
knowing that Live Atlanta Wrestling
was the real deal
while the man on the moon was
staged.

Sock monkeys . . .
Grandmother always
and I do mean always
had time to stop and play
and talk
and, perhaps most importantly,
listen.

Comfort food could always
be found on Grandmother’s table.
Biscuits made from scratch three times every day.
Leftovers in the center of the table
hidden under a clean tablecloth
always available for snacking
or an impromptu meal.
She entered – and won – cake backing contests.

A rescued tablecloth holds these “scraps”
of memories and love
together
to create the second piece in my new series
called Unclaimed Hallelujahs,
this one a cape honoring
Katie Belle Wesley Ballard.
The woman I call Grandmother.

Did I Tell You the One About

Our Vows . . . 

Forty-seven years ago today, I made my way down the aisle to say “I sure will!” when asked if I willingly made and agreed to keep my vows to Andy, The Engineer. Now I can’t say I thought about it at the time because the words “I sure will” just fell right out of my mouth, but looking back, it seems to me now that saying “I will” might be more meaningful and lasting than saying “I do.” I might’ve said “I sure will” because of authority issues (The preacher who married us was not chosen because I liked him – I didn’t, and the feeling was mutual – but because he was the only one available on the date we set.). I  might’ve said “I sure will” because my brain chose that particular moment to take a nap after the inevitable hecticness preceding a wedding. I’ve had a while to think about it, and saying “I sure will” sure seems like  my heart’s way of saying “For the rest of my life, I will honor these vows I make to you here (and the vows we made to each other in our private-just-the-two-of-us ceremony”) while saying “I do” seems more like a “yeah-sure-whatever-you-just-said-now-let’s-party” commitment to keep the vows at least tonight.

I told the preacher not to worry about the vows, that we were writing our own. (I’d already started mine, but you knew that.) I want y’all to know that man put both hands on his desk palms down, rose up out of his chair, leaned over the desk in my direction, and said in what amounted to a hiss, “I have NEVER let couples write their own vows, and I’m not about to start with you, Jeanne Hewell.” I looked him in the eye back to his retinas and said, “Fine, but know this: if you use the word ‘obey’ or anything akin to it, I will NOT say it.”

I waited till just before the ceremony to tell him we’d be saying our own words when we exchanged rings. Score one for Jeanne.

How We Chose The Date . . . 

My father-in-law was known to harumph and complain quite loudly when a wedding interrupted his weekend, so we got married at 7:30 p.m. on a Tuesday night. He’d promised us the prize – a cruise on the Rhine – if his company won some purchasing contest, so we thought it a good idea to be officially married before setting sail. I wrote dates on slips of paper, and we drew July 31 out of the hat, making July 31, 1973 a date that will live in infamy, as they say.

wedding invitation in frame

The Preparations . . . 

My mother got married in the local jail. Yes, really. Back in The Day, citizens of Fayette County elected the sheriff and got the wife for free to do the cooking and cleaning for the prisoners. They kept expenses down even more by providing the sheriff’s family a place to live instead of hiring extra guards. Well, my maternal granddaddy was the sheriff, so Mother and Daddy tied the knot in the living room at the jail.

While I love that story, Mother? Not so much. So once the date was set, I told her, “I want you to give yourself the wedding you wished you’d had. Go ahead. Knock yourself out,” reserving for myself the job of designing my bouquet, choosing the color (Tropicana. Everywhere we live, we plant a tropicana rose bush.); invitations; my attire; and the place. I asked that the reception be held at home (because I’ve always loved the story of a jailhouse wedding) and  asked that we have watermelon at the reception. We wanted to get married on my family’s land, atop a hill overlooking the lake where my paternal granddaddy and I sometimes fished (and killed snakes) and, it occurs to me as I write this, just in front of the place where the uncle I am named after was killed. Likely thinking of parking, women walking on soft earth in heels, and wondering if the church had enough folding chairs, my mother was not enamored with the idea. As it turns out, the preacher we wound up with wasn’t either, so into the church we went.

And the watermelon? It was served, and Andy and I got to enjoy some only because Donn, Andy’s brother, fetched a bowl full and delivered it to us.

The Photos . . . 

I was hit by a car on the streets of downtown Atlanta five weeks before the wedding. I’ll tell you that story another day, but what you need to know right now is that it broke my left knee and landed me in a full leg plaster cast. Everywhere we went from that date forward to our wedding day, I sat on the backseat with my leg on the seat while The Engineer drove with his left hand so we could hold hands over the seat.

Five days before the wedding, the  orthopedic doc cut the cast off, took an x-ray, then came into the room to tell me with a straight face, “Your leg hasn’t healed the way I’d like it to, so we need to put the cast back on.”

”Oh no you don’t,” I told him. That cast is now an umbrella stand, and I’m outta here.”

My left leg wouldn’t bend willingly, so I was still on crutches when July 31 came around. I used Daddy’s arm to help get me down the aisle. When it was time to exit stage left, The Engineer whisked me off my feet and carried me out of the church. No, it wasn’t planned. I was every bit as surprised as the men you’ll see leaning to the right to avoid my size 5.5 saddle-clad left foot getting awfully close to their faces ‘cause The Engineer had eyes only for me back then.

The Dress . . .

Having missed the memo alerting me that Mothers of the Groom were to wear beige, stay out of the way, and keep their mouths completely shut, I invited my mother-in-law to go shopping for wedding dresses with my mother and me. “It’ll be fun,” I told her, “we’ll snag me a dress then go have lunch somewhere.” She agreed, my mother and I picked her up, and off we went – the bride and her two mothers.

We started at a shop at North DeKalb Mall, not so far from the Chambers’ house. I selected a dress with a higher empire waist, thinking it would hide all my rolls of fat . . . the flesh that only I saw when I looked in the mirror at my 98-pound self. I came out of the dressing room, both women liked it, and I said “Great, we’ll take it.” I stood as the pins were put in place for the person who would make the alterations, then asked, “Where will we have lunch?”

the bride, the groom, a young girl

The Other Dresses . . . 

I also have in my cedar chest, the dress Mother wore that night and the dress her mother wore that night. Three generations of dresses, one pink, one blue, one white. I wish I had the dresses Mrs. C and Nancy wore.

gold journal on old brown, white, and blue quilt. on cover of journal is Follow Your Heart.

The Stories . . . 

I’m delighted to tell you that earlier this year, The Engineer surprised me yet again earlier this year by agreeing to co-write our memories. I found matching journals at the dollar store in Denver, and told him the deadline is July 31, 2022. That’ll give me a year to merge the two journals (likely more, in my case) into one book. What a kick it’ll be to see what he remembers (and how much he gets right)!

red stitched letters on white dress with lace

The Plan . . . 

Oh, the things we keep. I am now stitching memories onto the skirt of the dress – slowly, so far, because there’s something about the possibility of COVID-19 lurking around every corner that slows me down and faster as we move towards the big Five-Oh mark. I have plans for the veil, too, and I still have the shoes (they are on display in my studio)  and the fingerless gloves Mother “encouraged” me to get. Who knows what I’ll do with all those accessories? Though I have no idea what to do with it, it seems I’m staging  an installation  – three generations of dresses, my veil, the shoes, gloves, photos, my wedding planning book, a box of napkins from the wedding, the book, my bouquet, and so many other things – and I’m calling it The State of Our Union. Stay tuned.

~~~~~~~

Post Script . . . 

Today, The Engineer marked the day by gifting me 3 pairs of new socks and 2 replacement bulbs for my photography lights. And me? I gifted him this blog post.

 

Keepsake Writing Tribes Forming, and You’re Cordially Invited

 

If you’ve ever promised yourself that One Day you’ll write and preserve your personal and family stories, good news: One Day is right around the corner on Monday, 09 March 2020. That’s when my new online life story writing course called Keepsake Writers begins.

Writing, telling, preserving your stories is powerful. Stories unite us, uplift us, give us the literal and metaphorical arm’s length distance to better understand ourselves, decisions we’ve made along the way, and how we came to be who we are. Stories connect us with ourselves and others, with our friends and family, and often, in explicable ways, with our ancestors. Stories make us laugh, make us cry, make us think and feel and remember. Stories can show us where we went right and where we may have strayed from our intended path (sometimes – perhaps often – a good, serendipitous thing). Preserving and sharing our stories can be cathartic. Your stories – which is to say your life – has value, and there are so many good reasons to capture and share your stories. I hope you’ll decide to read your way through to the registration button, then commit to joining in what will undoubtedly be a life changing, life-affirming experience.

And all proceeds go to The 70273 Project, a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to commemorating history, good and bad, personal and global.

My Background

Where most of my friends wore necklaces, I wore a Brownie camera. If you don’t count all those diaries, I wrote my first personal history in 2000 when I conducted interviews, did contextual research, and wrote a book of my father-in-law’s stories on the occasion of his 80th birthday. That was in late July. When I woke up one morning a week after delivering a copy of the book into every family member’s hands, a little voice whispered “Write a book about your daddy, and do it NOW.”

”You must be crazy,” i countered. “It’s August, and there’s no way I can do all the work and have a book wrapped and under the tree by December.”

”Ahem,” The Voice said again through what sure sounded like clenched teeth, “Write a book about your daddy, and do it NOW.”

I learned a long time ago that I lose every time I argue with The Voice, so I got out of bed, brushed my teeth, and got to work. The leather-bound books arrived on Saturday, 02 December 2000 while Daddy was in the hospital, suffering from complications from a fall he took a week before. I gathered the family around his bed to reveal the early Christmas present. We began reading the book to Daddy at 20 minutes till 1, finishing at 15 minutes till 5. Daddy took his last breath at 5 minutes till 5 p.m.

After that, I hung out my shingle, penning 22 more personal and family histories for clients and teaching workshops for the more do-it-yourself inclined.

Your Personal Elf

Even though it’s an act of love, I know how hard it is to writing your life in stories to an already full life. I know how overwhelming it can be to sit with a blank sheet of paper or a blank computer screen. I know how lonely it can be to write. I also know how joyful and well, cleansing it can be to spend time with your life stories. I know how exhilarating it is to hold a book of your stories in your hand and how rewarding it is to have other people smile and thank you with tears in their eyes when they’ve unwrapped their very own copy. That’s why in the monthly Keepsake Writing Tribe gathering, I’ll offer whatever support and encouragement you need or want. I will be . . .

  • The Trellis that provides the structure for you to grow and bloom
  • The Drill Instructor who elicits more from you than you may have ever thought yourself capable of
  • The  Fairy Godmother who whispers morsels of support and encouragement just when you really need it.

I won’t be writing for you, but I will make writing your stories fun, enjoyable, and do everything I can think of to help you create a lasting legacy that future generations will thank you for.

How It Works

Your investment of $107.00 USD per month ($26.75 per week or $3.82 per day, if you like that kind of math) includes . . .

  • Once a week we’ll gather on a Zoom video chat for 1.5 hours. With Zoom you can opt in for video or choose to join with audio only, and you make these choices every week. I’ll send you a link to our gathering every week, and when you click on it – voila, you’re in the circle.
  • We’ll warm-up for a few minutes then I’ll toss out a prompt, and you’ll write.
  • When writing time ends, you’ll have the opportunity to share your writing with the group, if desired. It is totally up to you, and you will never be pressured to share.
  • To eliminate the inclination to write to please others, the only audible feedback given by other Tribe members after each sharing is a simply “Thank you.”
  • We’ll have a private Facebook group just for us. In this group, I will post inspirational quotes, writing tips, organizational suggestions, usable information, book recommendations and reviews, and more to keep you stimulated and writing between gatherings. It’s a good place to get to know, support, and encourage each other.
  • Maximum enrollment of 12 to allow time for sharing.
  • Keepsake Writing Tribe(s) begin in March 2020 and will continue through the end of the year. The curriculum is different every month, never repeating or building on itself, so feel free to join at the beginning of any month.
  • Each week’s gathering will be recorded for those who have to miss.
  • Once the Gatherings have started for each month, I can’t offer any refunds.
  • Once you’re enrolled, I will add you to our Facebook group and email you the link for our first Gathering. Each week’s link will be shared in the Facebook group.

Who Benefits

  • You and your loved ones. You will create something that will surely be cherished by current and future generations while reminding yourself and them that you are amazing.
  • The 70273 Project. All monies go directly to The 70273 Project to cover increasing expenses. The 70273 Project, Inc. is a 501(c)3 organization. Contact your tax advisor for guidance in tax matters.
  • Me. I get to do something I love doing – helping you preserve your precious, unique, invaluable stories.

Register now so you don’t miss a single Tribe Gathering.

Imagine holding a book of stories about your mother and her first sewing machine. Or your dad and his first car. Or the special toys that favorite uncle once created. Or about that rickety old chair you remember sitting in the corner of the kitchen. Don’t let your stories and the information they hold be lost forever. Sign up today and let me help you create something of lasting value, something that will be treasured for generations to come.

Make the Big Decision and Register Now for March 2020

March 2020 Keepsake Writing Gatherings:
Mondays 12 noon to 1:30 pm, Eastern Time
March 9, 2020: 12 noon to 1:30 p.m. Eastern Time
March 16, 2020: 12 noon to 1:30 p.m. Eastern Time
March 23, 2020: 12 noon to 1:30 p.m. Eastern Time
March 30,  2020: 12 noon to 1:30 p.m. Eastern Time
Find your time zone here: https://www.worldtimebuddy.com/
Register now and make sure you don’t miss a seat at this very special table.
Important note: Should you find that you have to miss one or more gatherings, you can still join us by way of the recordings. I record each gathering and will post them in our Facebook group for you to listen and re listen any time you want.



Questions? Just holler.

Hostage, The Adventure Begins

Vintage boy’s shorts and shirt, vintage embroidered doilie, two red embroidered circles, all appliqués to the top of a small vintage quilt

 

Till the day he died of natural causes, my daddy talked about the barrel of that shotgun placed against the back of his neck. It was a feeling he never forgot.

Daddy was five years old when bandits came to the house, intending to kidnap Granddaddy and rob the bank. It was a weekend of horror I can scarce imagine. After spending my entire life gathering the stories, photos, and information, I am at last sitting down to write the book about that event that happened in my family on May 5 and 6, 1933. It is a story  of many stories woven together, and I will tell them all in books and in quilts.

The red circles represent the double barrel shotgun he felt against the back of his neck when, on Saturday morning May 6, 1933, five year old Crawford Jr. (a.k.a. Daddy) forgot that the bad men were in the house and did what he did first thing every morning: ran for the outhouse.

When I decided to tell the story in quilts as well as words, I went straight to my closet and began culling through all the things I’ve rescued and adopted over the course of more years than I can count. Quilts someone made for their babies; baby clothing that caught my fancy; embroidered doilies or dresser protectors or coasters – not sure what you call them. In less than 2 hours, four quilts were pinned together, using only what I have on hand. That is one of my intentions for this year, you know, using only (okay, mostly) what I have on hand. It’s an idea I got from my talented friend Linda Syverson Guild, who doesn’t buy any fabric the first six months of every year, using instead what she already has. I smile as I weave these storied, already well-loved items into my family’s stories. I also smile feeling grateful  that I listened to my Bones and purchased these things, even with that dreaded voice of authority on The Committee of Jeanne booming in the background things like “You don’t need this” or “You have too much stuff already” or “What on earth do you plan to do with that?” (The others who sit on The Committee of Jeanne are saving up for a firing squad.) Score one – a great, big, fat one – for my Bones.

~~~~~~~

If you’re wondering about The 70273 Project, we’re still here. I’ve been regrouping and hatching plans that I’ll share with you here next week. Thanks for stopping by and trekking through these adventures – all of them – with me.

76: When Bandits Come to Call

SrJrGeneMontie112533001 copy

My grandparents were held hostage in their own home for two days and one night in May 1933. The bandits put on clothes that didn’t belong to them. They stole Granddaddy’s guns to add to their own formidable collection. They drank the prohibited whiskey they brought with them, imbibing till the bottles ran dry.

I wonder about so much. Oh, I have the facts – the basic facts, anyway. I can tell you the robbers’ names. Thanks to Mrs. Sarah Rivers (daughter of Mr. B. D. Adams who was sheriff at the time), I can tell you what they looked like and things they said. I can tell you when and where they were sentenced. I can show you in Mr. B. D. Adams’ own handwriting when they were brought to the Fayette County jail and when they were transferred to the Men’s State Prison Farm in Milledgeville, GA. I can even tell you how much money the bandits got and why they didn’t get more. But I wonder so many other things that I’ll never find answers for in the old newspapers or log books.

I wonder, for example, how this one event shaped me into the woman I am today. Sure, my daddy was only five years old, but I still just Know in that way that defies evidentiary proof that it helped make me the Jeanne who writes before you.

And Grandmother . . . how did it change her? She had just given birth to my Uncle Gene. Did she look to Granddaddy to do something to make the bad men go away? Did she expect him to take care of the situation, and how did she feel about him through the rest of their lives that he couldn’t do anything but let it all play out? Did that make him less of a man in her eyes? Was she disappointed? Embarrassed? Did she feel let down? Did Grandmother feel she could never rely on him ever again? Did she feel that the white horse rode right out from under her chosen knight, leaving him on the ground with his shining armor scattered in bits and pieces all around him? Or did she love him more than she ever imagined possible?

And what about Granddaddy? Did he hover in fear? Did he try to reason with the bandits? Did he challenge them in any way? How did he handle being helpless? Did he pray? Did he make deals with his God? Did he fantasize about taking one of the guns and annihilating every last one of the bandits, bringing the ordeal over much, much sooner than it actually played out? Did he know hate for the first time? Did he reassure Grandmother and if so, how – what did he say, what did he do that she found reassuring? How did he reassure himself with these trespassers in his home, holding guns to his five year old’s head? What went through his mind when they eventually kidnapped him, leaving his family there under the watchful eyes of two of the bandits? Afterwards, how long did he torment himself by replaying it in his mind, grasping at ways to change the outcome?

How did this change the relationship between Grandmother and Granddaddy as the years rolled on? Did this weekend of terror and vulnerability bind them together in ways they never thought possible or was a wedge permanently embedded?

When he went back to work at the bank, did Granddaddy approach his work differently? Over the years, people who knew Granddaddy tell me the same things about him: There wasn’t a dishonest bone in his body. He helped a lot of people. He was a good man, a real good man. Many remembered how they had come to town and forgotten the checkbook. Rather than make the long trek back home and back to town again, they went to the bank to see Granddaddy who lent them money to buy groceries and the other necessities. “Sometimes he didn’t even make me shake his hand,” they tell me, “he just loaned me the money I needed saying, ‘I know you’ll pay it back next time you come to town.'”

How did Grandmother and Granddaddy trust anybody ever again?

They were victims, there’s no argument or doubt about that. My grandparents were victims. But here’s the thing: they didn’t remain victims. They stepped right back into their lives, though surely it wasn’t the same lives they’d been living on Friday, May 5, 1933 before they answered the knock at the door. How did they go on living? What’s the magic ingredient that kept them from holding onto that victim mentality the rest of their lives? Some people seem to find it so easy to spend their lives in the big, soft victim chair, never having to take responsibility for their own lives, never holding themselves (only others) accountable for what happens to them. It’s always somebody else’s fault. They just can’t watch a break. If it weren’t for bad luck, they’d have no luck at all. Grandmother and Granddaddy had an indisputable free pass to the victim’s chair, but they didn’t take it. Why? Where did they find the meddle to go on?

The more I settle in to write this book I’ve worked on my whole life, the more I see the enormity of it. And I don’t just mean in asking questions that do not come with answers in the back of the book, though that’s surely going to be A Test. This book is going to take me places I never imagined going . . . though perhaps I’ve always secretly wanted to.

Joint Custody

Daddysbracelet3

By the occasion of his first birthday after graduating from high school, Mother had saved enough money to buy Daddy an i.d. bracelet. After Daddy died, the bracelet wound up in my basket, and when my brother trekked off to Afghanistan, I tucked it in his backpack as a link to Home.

Daddysbracelet4

My brother (I call him J3) is home now, home to stay, and when I began to miss the bracelet, I proposed a joint custody agreement. Every year on Daddy’s birthday, we’ll get together, my brother and I, for supper and stories, and right about the time dessert would usually hit, we’ll swap the bracelet, having it in our possession for the next year.

Daddysbracelet1

Tonight, on Daddy’s birthday, I took possession. It is a good plan, if I do say so myself.

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