Tag: memory

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.

they helped make me who i am in ways i may never know

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we’ll never know if granddaddy died on 12/19 or 12/20. he simply went to bed on the 19th and never woke up. the death certificate says 12/19, though, on account of that’s the date his son – my uncle gene – was killed years before. the town’s doctor (the small town wasn’t big enough to have a coroner – shoot, we were glad to have a doctor there) thought it fitting that father and son died on the same date.

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i still ache for them – all of them, even though uncle gene died before i was even an idea. i’m named after him, you know. there are still people around who actually knew him, and when i say “tell me about him,” the first thing they all say is “he was funny.” i have two lamps he made from turned wood, i have his wallet (complete with the photo of his girlfriend), and i have photos of him on a tractor – probably not the tractor he was using to pull up stumps when it flipped over on him, killing him. but maybe. i don’t know. granddaddy reportedly found him, shoved the tractor aside, then my wiry little granddaddy picked up my rotund 18 year-old uncle and carried him all the way back to the house. the next day, in a fit of grief, granddaddy drove a silver stake into the ground to mark the spot.

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when i ask people what they remember about my granddaddy, they all – every one of them – say there wasn’t a dishonest bone in his body. that he was a good man. some even tell me about a time when he (the town’s banker) loaned them grocery money cause they left their checkbook at home. i have the clock that sat on his mantle; the tag he kept on his key chain asking finders, should he lose his keys, to return them to brooks bank; and i write sitting in the chair he sat in at the bank. it still has the original green leather.

nobody seems to know my grandmother very well. they tell me she was quiet. i remember her arriving home from a vacation, getting out of the car and walking straight across the street to see me – even before she went in her own house. later memories are of her being still, quiet, and lethargic, which i now know was a condition resulting from a series of strokes, but back then i didn’t know what was wrong until the day i was converting the pump house into a studio and got stung by wasps several times on each hand. by the time i got to the front door of our house, my hands had swelled up so much i couldn’t bend my fingers, and hurt – oh my goodness how they did hurt. then just like that, my little girl brain knew why grandmother sat quietly in the chair with a washcloth over her hands that were always idling in her lap. i spent three days like that, but the swelling went down, the pain subsided, and i was back out turning over bushel baskets upside down to become stools. grandmother never saw the results of my labor.

granddaddy and grandmother . . . well, if i ever walked as one who was once cherished, it’s because of them. they adored me, their first grandchild, and the feeling was mutual. they clothed me in ruffles and lace (i could seat 6 on the petticoats they bought me to wear under the dresses they bought me); shoes in every color; frilly fold-down socks; dozens of pairs of gloves. i even remember one dress – brown plaid. white collar with piping to match the dress fabric. sash. one of daddy’s favorite stories is of little me driving nails into the floor at granddaddy’s feet as he (granddaddy) sat in his rocker watching the news on tv. “JEANNE,” daddy said loudly, startling me out of my reverie. “junior,” granddaddy told him firmly, (daddy was named after granddaddy, and he hated being called junior, probably because he spent a goodly part of his life working to distinguish himself from his dad) “jeanne is in my room now. she can hammer wherever she wants to.” i rest my case.

i have lots of stories starring grandmother and granddaddy stored in my memory bank, but there are still stories i long to hear, questions i’d love to ask – questions and stories i didn’t know to ask back then.

i’m told that the internal voice that scolds me, saying i should not be living in the past or grieving because these people died long ago and besides, they weren’t my spouse or my parents or my children, they were only my grandparents. i’m told this is actually a caring voice, a voice that just wants to keep me safe. i’m told i should love this voice, thank it for protecting me, for caring so much about me . . . but i’m feeling more like thanking it through clenched teeth (by way of suggesting, you understand) to shut up and leave me to my grief and remembrances. i don’t care how long it’s been, i still miss them something fierce. and i don’t care about any alleged hierarchy of appropriate grief, they were my grandparents and we adored each other. and i don’t care that i never met my uncle, i can and do still love him and mourn him sight unseen.

maybe it makes sense on paper that i should be over this grief all these decades later . . . but on my heart, this grief will not be denied.

[ ::: ]

Jeanne Hewell-Chambers has spent most of her life collecting photos, stories, and information about the day in May 1933 when bandits knocked on her grandparents door and held the family (grandparents, midwife, newborn gene, and 5 year-old crawford) hostage overnight until the bank opened the following morning. next year she intends to pull it all together, and she’s very excited about that because she knows that event somehow impacted her life, shaping her into the women she is today even though her daddy was only five years old at the time and not even thinking about girls and raising a family.

There’s Wicking in Socks and There’s Wicking in Candles

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Tonight my niece Betsey, along with her mom, dad, sister, and brother-in-law, will participate in the Out of Darkness Walk, an event sponsored by American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Beginning at sunset, they will walk 18 miles or so through the streets of Washington, D. C., crossing the finish line about the time the sun rises tomorrow.

. . . The sun rises tomorrow. If I had a magic wand, I’d make sure every single soul has at least that much hope . . .

In November 2010, Betsey got home from work to find that her boyfriend Nick had committed suicide. Mourning for Nick was woven in with concern for Betsey, of course, and how she would go forward. Of course she’ll never be the same – survivors never are. But you’ll be happy to hear that she’s good and getting on with her own life. She continues to accept the support of her family and friends, practice good and unapologetic self care, and now gives support by sharing her experience and knowledge with other survivors. She is amazing, my niece, absolutely amazing, and I love her more than I can count.

I am with them in spirit tonight, members of the Chambers, D’Angelo, Okuliar Team (I’ve already volunteered to come up with next year’s team name) and all the other (perhaps more creatively named) teams. I won’t be walking through the (hopefully well lit) streets of D. C. tonight, but I’m here, with my journal and my needle and thread, lighting a candle in memory of those who could conceive of no other way to deal with the situations, problems, demons, thoughts, people that tormented them relentlessly.

And in honor of the loved ones who are left wondering and wounded by a grief that never goes completely away. Those who curl into fetal positions and weep, sometimes raising fists to the sky, and always, always, always wondering what they could have done to assure their loved ones that nothing is ever that awful or that insurmountable, to convince the loved ones that there’s nothing they can’t get through together. For survivors, the “how” is often immediately obvious, it’s the “why” that plagues them without end. Even if there’s a note, even if there have been indications, even if, even if, even if . . . they never find The Answer that makes sense, that would leave them incredibly sad but understanding. I honor those whose lives are forever changed.

My candle also burns in honor of someone I deeply, hugely, gloriously love who once saw only darkness, who took steps to end that darkness, and who didn’t “succeed”. I honor my loved one and all the others, for that matter, who are brave enough – and hear me on this: it takes a tremendous amount of stamina, determination, and flat-out courage to ask for an ear or a shoulder or whatever else they need to get through any given day. If you’re reading this, I want to thank you for staying, even though I know it’s not an easy thing some days. I know it’s not about me, and I admit my selfishness when I say that despite the fact that you still have the power to drive me crazy with frustration and concern, you also have the power to delight and tickle me . . . and creative as I am, I can’t imagine stepping out into a single day that didn’t have you in it. Thank you for for reaching out when you need to, for making the effort, and for allowing yourself to feel laughter and lightness on occasion, even when the darkness is more familiar.

While others lace their shoes and walk, I sit here in my bare feet beside the candle that’s already burning in memory of those who saw no other way, in support of those who love and survive them, and in honor of those who continue to find just enough light to hold onto.

As we find our way around this big rock called Earth, as we ride on the magic carpet ride called Life, may we all be more gentle with each other than fussy; may we replace the arrogance and condescension with acceptance and (at least an attempt at) understanding. When we find ourselves feeling scared or lost or confused or desperately sad or hopelessly depressed, may we dig deep and find enough strength (a.k.a. dregs of self love) in our vulnerability to ask for help, and if we’re the ones asked, may we check judgment and disgust and to do list at the door and respond with tenderness and patience. May we listen more than we speak, hold hands when the words won’t come, and may our loving concern seep and shine through every pore. Amen.

Just Talk Amongst Yourselves

Phone

I know we’re supposed to live in the present, period. Not supposed to look back, not supposed to look ahead. Well, pfffft to that. I love anticipation, love to look forward to something. And I have a nostalgic streak in me about a mile wide. I love to remember when . . .

Today I got to thinking about telephones. Mother worked for the local board of education, Daddy designed and built golf courses and was quite active in politics. I am the oldest of three siblings, and yet despite all that community and civic involvement and popularity, we had one phone. That’s right: one single solitary phone. In the house, I’m telling you. One telephone to be shared by five people. It was a white wall-mounted phone with a curly cord long enough for me to take the receiver into the living room where I could talk in what amounted to the only privacy anybody could find in the confines of that house.

We didn’t have options for phone service – for the set monthly price, you got to make and receive local calls. Long distance calls had to be placed collect (as when letting my parents know that I, their college coed, had arrived safety back on campus, for example. Funny how they never – not once – accepted charges.) or it was charged to your monthly bill. We didn’t have caller id or call waiting or voicemail. Not even answering machines. If somebody called while one of us was on the phone, they just got a busy signal and had to call back.

Busy signals is what I was really thinking about today, if you want to know the truth. That dreaded beep-beep-beep sound that lets you know the person you desperately want or need to talk to is unavailable. And of course all phones were landlines – we didn’t have mobile phones or even phones that were wired into our cars. When we were out traveling and something happened – like, well for the sake of story, let’s say we ran off the road and into a ditch – somebody would happen by and help. In this particular instance – I mean story – somebody happened by on a tractor, pulled out my green Mustang, and promised faithfully to never, ever mention this to my parents.

My first car only had am radio – which was fine by me. I was just tickled to get a car, period. I think it cost $1260, this 1970 green metallic Mustang, but Daddy was friends with the car dealer, so I trust he got at least a bit of a discount.

But back to phones . . . as a sophomore in college, I attended what is now called North Georgia College and State University. Yup, it’s a mouthful. We had a bank of phones on the hall – 3 campus phones and 2 long distance phones on each floor. Folks would call into the central reception desk in the lobby, and whoever was on duty would direct the calls to the floor on which we resided then page us over the loud speaker and direct us to go take the call.

When I met my husband, I didn’t know his last name. (It’s a long story.) (I’ll tell you later.) It was definitely a case of smitten at first sight, but when folks asked his name, call I could say was “Andy” then talk fast so they would hopefully not think it odd that, well, you know. We met on a Saturday night, and apparently I made a good impression because he called me the following Tuesday to ask me to go to a hockey game with him. “Jeanne Hewell – long distance. Jeanne Hewell – long distance.” came the page, which I like to think I would’ve somehow magically heard even were I not sitting – I mean studying – in room 319 Lewis. Because he was calling long distance, the conversation went something like this:

Him: “This is Andy. You wanna’ go to the hockey game Thursday night?”

Me: “Yeah.”

Him: “Okay, good.”

Click.

Must have cost him the better part of a dime.

I did eventually learn his last name (when he introduced himself to my brother that same weekend), and I’d be happy to tell you the point of this post if only I knew what it is.

gretel never had it so good

earlier this week at unabashedly female, my darling julie says (among many other noteworthy things) “. . . this witnessing of story, of voice, of truth by one woman to another. This is where we find power.”

over at renegade conversations, ronna detrick writes about how coming out of the shadows requires two things: counsel and companions.

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tonight i am going to see a rehearsal for “steel magnolias” performed by the senior apprentice company in the theatre company my daughter started back in 2005. my daughter is directing these 12 teenage girls, and oh the experiences she’s opened up to these girls. oh the opportunities. she divided the girls into two casts, and when cast a is performing, cast b is the backstage crew and vice versa, giving them hands-on experience in providing support and receiving support. each girl has also been assigned a production assignment, not only affording opportunities to learn new skills, but to see that any one production takes an entire village of people that are all too easily overlooked. without the steel magnolias willing to do production, there’s be no tickets sold, no press releases written, no web site updated, no programs, no concessions, no venue, no sound and lights.

three years ago, i played m’lynn to daughter alison’s shelby. to say it was a clarifying, once-in-a-lifetime experience rings hollow and falls way, way short. one day i will write about it and the context around that experience that made it all that it was. but today there’s something else on my mind . . .

“steel magnolias,” as you probably know, is a story of women who support and encourage and hold the space for each other, and that’s why my daughter chose this particular play for these 12 teenage girls: she wants these girls to experience (both onstage and off) the feeling of women coming together in support of one another instead of the cattiness, back-stabbing, nitpicking behavior that too often defines women’s togetherness. as i wrote in a note accompanying the holiday gift my daughter and i conjured up for the girls: Steel Magnolias are a special breed, and we need more of them. Steel Magnolias are strong women who delight and celebrate being female. They own who they are – even the polarities – without explanation or apology, and they encourage and cheer others to do the same. Steel Magnolias are not into woman’s inhumanity to woman, choosing instead to support each other without judgment or personal agenda; listen more than they talk; be available without hesitation at 3 a.m.

by exposing these girls to steel magnolias even before they have the life experiences to fully appreciate and convey it, my moxie hopes to teach them about theatre, leadership skills, communication skills, and perhaps most importantly: female friendship. she takes on big projects, my moxie, and this is one she’s willing to devote herself to because she knows it truly does take a village to make much-needed change, and she wants to do her part to change the way women relate to each other. the rest of us can do our part by supporting, encouraging, and affirming each other. by forging and forming the relationships we want to enjoy.

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i am so so fortunate to have steel magnolias right here around me, women i turn to when i need help or retuning, to laugh or to vent. and today we have something the ladies of chinquapin, louisiana did not have: the internet. since rejoining twitter last december, my steel magnolia forest has grown rich and lush and bountiful. i don’t know when i’ve ever felt so supported, so encouraged, so affirmed. i grow as i find women who share my interests, and i grow as i am exposed to things i never knew existed. if i get lost in my steel magnolia forest, a trail of breadcrumbs readily appears left by women who have experienced the same or similar. if i stub my toe in this forest or if i am stung or bitten, healing ointments and remedies are generously offered. the trees in my forest rise above the little scrubs and ankle-biters, choosing fresh air and light over thorns and sticky bushes that want to draw blood and hog the sun. in the forest with these women, i grow comfortable enough to tell my stories and speak my truth, southern accent and all.

to all of you who are trees in my steel magnolia forest (and most, though not all of you, are on my traipse page), thank you.

thank you.

thank you.

~~~
about the photos:
i tend to commemorate things in cloth, as i did when i took to the stage as m’lynn back in 2007. woven strips of blue sky torn to find the true grain. images of tears born of both laughter and crying – often at the same time. enough raw edges and stray threads to make it real. sparkling beads laid down in the shape of a heart in shades of shelby’s pink. on the back side, we have an earthy fabric, fertile, a place for love to take root, and we see the seemingly randomly-placed stitches that hold it all together. all bound at the edges with soft pink shibori dyed by talented friend, a digital steel magnolia called glennis.

diving in, part 1

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my children can swim
thanks to my checkbook
and the efforts of one intrepid swimming teacher named mr. bob
who taught swimming lessons
in a lake.

a lake with a diving board.

students who arrived on time were ferried across the lake in a fishing boat.

students who arrived late
were walked to the other side by their mother –
one heavy screaming child attached firmly
and completely
to each leg.
(we were only late that one time.)

mr. bob explained
then showed
the would-be swimmers what to do.
“put your face in the water,” he’d say
before putting his own face in the water and blowing bubbles.
some did as they were told,
and they heard mr. bob clapping when they emerged.
others didn’t,
so mr. bob pushed their cute little heads under.
(that was the only time i used the binoculars.)
then, at the end of every hour-long lesson,
he put his sopping wet students back in the boat
and ferried them back to the other side of the lake
where with great fanfare,
he issued blue ribbons
he’d carefully cut
then embellished
with positive, encouraging, supportive words
he’d written in glitter glue.

finally it was the lesson
they’d been waiting for:
time to go off the diving board.
mr. bob ferried the boat to
the other side,
then ordered his students
to climb
one at a time
through the 2.25 clouds
to the tippy top of the diving board.
then he said simply,
jump.
some did as they were told,
and they heard great applause when they emerged.
others didn’t,
so mr. bob pushed them off.
and they emerged with a smile
to the sound of applause.

that afternoon the backseat was filled
with laughter and glee
and other sounds of
confidence gained from meeting a challenge head on.
“let’s go to yea yea’s pool,” they directed
from the backseat,
and so we went straight to my parents’ house
where they dragged the grandparents outside
to watch their new amazing feat.

daughter moxie sashayed to the end of the board
and jumped right off,
emerging with a smile to the sound of much applause.
son slug marched to the end of the board
and stopped.
he flat-out stopped.
he stood there shivering for a few minutes,
looking down at the water,
envisioning himself leaving the board,
entering the water,
and emerging with a smile
to the sound of great applause
and the full body feeling
of downright satisfaction.
but he just couldn’t coax his body to play it out.
so, finally,
with an full body sigh,
he looked across the pool at me, shrugged his shoulders, and said,
“mom, i guess you’re just gonna’ have to push me.”

to be continued tomorrow . . .