Tag: personal history (Page 1 of 2)

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.

Memories of Makings, part 1

Corallamp

From our front window, I watched Granddaddy’s Ford come up the dirt road – slowly so as not to kick up the dreaded red dust that was bad to seep in and cover everything with a veil of grit – and pull into their driveway. We lived right across the road from them on land Granddaddy and Grandmother gave Daddy as a site for his first house. Their mailbox was a standard issue mailbox on a wooden post that leaned a little to the left and wobbled when mail was put in or taken out, but our mailbox was special. Daddy welded a chain with big, thick black links to stand up straight and hold our mailbox securely. Our mailbox didn’t lean or wobble, and with both men being named Crawford Hewell, I suppose this difference was more than aesthetics.

Because you could pull right up to it, we all used the side door instead of the back or front doors, and when the Ford stopped, Granddaddy turned off the engine, put on the parking brake, and pocketed the keys. But instead of going into the house – even before they took their suitcases out of the boot – Grandmother and Granddaddy headed straight for me – their first granddaughter – and they never once came empty handed.

Having buried four of their five children before I was born, they delighted in me and I in them. Usually it was dresses they brought. Frilly, ruffly shirtwaist dresses with a big sash that tied in the back. Whatever the fabric – plaid, polka dots, dotted swiss – the dresses always came with a petticoat that spread my skirt out big enough to seat six. And I ask you: what dress is complete without patent leather shoes of a color that matched the dress, and fold-down socks with rows and rows of lace? Sometimes there were gloves and a pocketbook. Maybe even a hat. Oh yes, I was well dressed and heavily accessorized.

But after a trip to Florida, they came bearing nothing wearable but a lamp festooned with colorful shells, dyed coral, palm trees, a plastic flamingo or two, and sometimes a seahorse – all set in plaster and celebrated in light when plugged in. I never, not once, slept in the dark thanks to Grandmother and Granddaddy Hewell.

As a child, I had an impressive collection of these lamps, and I adored every one of them. My eyeglass-clad hazel eyes glazed over at the site of these emblems of being cherished. I mean shoot, Grandmother and Granddaddy didn’t bring Mother and Daddy back a souvenir.

Yes, these lamps and these people were special to me, so you can imagine my delight and surprise when I came across another special book on our outing yesterday: Kitschy Crafts: A Celebration of Overlooked 20th-Century Crafts by Jo Parkham & Matt Shay. Just look at that cover, would you!

Bookcover

As a child, I was bad to make things. I turned the pump house into a veritable palace, using bushel baskets for stools at a counter I created from well, I don’t remember what, but something I found laying around. Not only was I out of Mother’s hair as I puttered around bringing order to the chaos of that pump house, my creativity blossomed in the process. I was never happier than when using whatever I had on hand or could lay claim to to create private spaces for myself.

Between the covers of this book are page after page of things I’ve made in my lifetime.

Stringart

Remember string art? I still have the boat I made for my father-in-law. I’ll show it to you next time I head to the attic.

Macramepocketbook

And macrame pocketbooks? As a flat-broke newlywed, my mother-in-law tore an article out of a Southern Living magazine and gave it to me cause she thought I’d like to make a macrame headboard for our bed. She was right. Again.

There’s more, but I’ve gone on way long enough, so I’ll show you more tomorrow.

~~~~~~~

I’m preparing to dust off and rev up an online trellis I offered two years ago for folks interested in finally sitting down to pen their life stories. If you’re interested, leave a comment here or on facebook or shoot me a note so I’ll know to let you know when I finish with the details.

15: Recalling the Essence When the Specifics Escape Us

WebbHowell

He chatted with his mama in her room at the nursing home for a while. Realizing that she didn’t recognize him, he asked, “Betty Jo, do you know who I am?”

“No,” she said after studying his face closely, “I don’t.”

“I’m your son,” he told her, pointing to the big picture she had of him on her wall.

Miss Betty Jo looked at the picture, then back at him, then at the picture, then back at him. “No you’re not,” she said confidently, “but he’s a real good man so I can see why you’d want to be like him.”

This was, as it turns out, the last thing my childhood friend Webb Howell ever said to me. His mama was right, you know – he was indeed a good man, and a fella could certainly do worse for a role model.

~~~~~~~

Jeanne Hewell-Chambers is bad to tear up at tender stories.

100 Days, 100 Stories. If you want them to land in your e-mailbox every morning, avail yourself of the free subscription by mashing the button in the orange bar at the top of the screen or become friends with Jeanne on facebook.

Calendar Schmalender

FamilyAKC1

In the beginning, there were two grandmothers (his and mine), two mothers (also his and mine), and three Other Mothers (all mine. I think it’s a girl thing.) to honor and celebrate by way of food, flowers, gifts, cards, calls, and visits. Then one fine year, I had a baby on Mother’s Day, and I thought “Yay! Now that I’m a mother, I’ll be able to sleep in, have breakfast served to me in bed, get all kinds of goodies, and spend an entire day doing whatever I want when I want.” Wrong. There was now a daughter, two grandmothers, two mothers, and three Other Mothers to honor and celebrate.

As time rolled on, there was a daughter, one grandmother, two mothers, and three Other Mothers.

Then a daughter, two mothers, and three Other Mothers.

Then a daughter, two mothers, and one Other Mother.

AlisonAda2003

AdaKipp1

AlisonHelenVoylesJeanne2013

And now: a daughter, one mother, and one Other Mother.

In a Velveteen Rabbit kind of way, what started out as balm for my I’m-worn-slap-out-and-who-needs-a-Mother’s-Day-for-herself-anyway soul has gradually become Real: I don’t ever want to guilt my children into obligatory public displays of affection for me on one particular day of the year, and I don’t want fancy, expensive gifts that I’ll just have to find a place for then dust. I lean towards gluttony – I want them to love me every day in a myriad of ordinary ways, and I’ll take cheap trinkets and baubles and handwritten notes that show they were thinking about me throughout the year.

AK1978053

When I gave birth to my daughter and 14 months later to my son, it was Mother’s Day, regardless of dates on the calendar. (And yes, I realize she is standing on the kitchen counter, unattended. I learned everything I know about child safety from my mother.)

AK047

Every time my son brought me a dandelion bouquet or my daughter brought me roses picked from her grandmother’s yard, it was Mother’s Day.

AKCottonPickingFair052

When my daughter insists I try on new makeup, it’s Mother’s Day.

When my son calls me just to check in or texts me the title of a movie he wants me to see so we can talk about it or emails me a link to an article or app he knows I’ll like, it’s Mother’s Day.

When my daughter asks if she can come up to the mountain top for a while or when my son calls to insist that I fly out for this particular arts festival he knows I’ll love: Mother’s Day.

When my children tell me it was not easy having me for a mother when they were in high school because I am creative and not at all like anybody else’s mom, it’s most definitely Mother’s Day.

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When my daughter-in-law gets on the phone to wish me a happy birthday, it’s Mother’s Day.

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When my answering machine is filled with messages that my daughter and my Other Son Whit have scripted as part of the elaborate prank they orchestrated (instead of doing their homework): Mother’s Day.

When the son manages enough breath support to beg me “Stop, stop. I need a minute” then falls on the floor literally rolling in uncontrollable laughter, eventually composing himself enough to climb back in the chair to take his place beside me and says, “Okay, you can continue now” so we can finish reading Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby: Mother’s Day.

When my daughter saves a place for me down front and introduces me from the stage, when she thanks me publicly for my support, it’s Mother’s Day.

When my son asks me to help him weave a basket for a cub scout badge, and when my daughter picks out the fabric for the dress she wants me to make, and when we move to the farm and they invent elaborate games to entertain themselves – you betcha, it’s Mother’s Day.

When my children unabashedly introduce me to their friends and their friends become my friends, it’s Mother’s Day.

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Both children and maybe even my daughter-in-law and Other Son will check in at some point today to bid me a Happy Mother’s Day, and I’ll be tickled to hear from them. But what I ache for, appreciate the most, and never tire of is hearing them tell me that I’m still a part of their lives wherever they may be and that they’ll always love me, regardless of who they may be sharing their lives with — hearing their laughter — hearing them use the familiar words and phrases that never fail to send us into gales of chortles — seeing their bright eyes — having them call to say “I’m coming for a visit.” — cupping their precious faces in my hands — swapping stories that all start with “Remember the time when . . . ” as we sit with a bowl full of photos in our laps — growing a strong, loving relationship with my daughter-in-law — feeling their arms around me or their hand wrap around mine — hearing them purr when I scratch their backs — listening to the delights and angsts of their lives — having them ask me questions, even though my answers become increasingly thin and worn and run the risk of showing I’m not half as brilliant as they once though I was (oh those were the days) — watching them move through this world with grace and intelligence and compassion and creativity . . . I’ll put a flower behind my ear and raise a forkful of cake to that kind of Mother’s Day any ole’ day of the year.

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I’m feeling prolific today, which makes this the third post du jour in a day that has all the markings of being a 4+-post day, so scroll on down if you’re a mind to . . .

Mothers Loved Us Differently Back Then, I Guess

AdaJeanneAtBeach

Growing up, I swam in The Cow Pond where snakes roamed freely amongst the bovines, where I was serenaded by frogs of every size and ability, and where I made my way to the deep end with God knows what squishing up between my toes. Mother had a rule that the maid had to go with me to The Cow Pond, and looking back, one can’t help but wonder if she made the rule to make sure she’d have a witness who would put her hand on a Bible and testify to her of my certain and undeniable demise. There were no swimming pools in the entire county at that time, plus I had outgrown the bathtub and hadn’t read enough books to think otherwise, so it was A Very Good Day when I could get the maid to take her hand out of the starch box long enough to accompany me to The Cow Pond for a swim.

We are a hardy bunch with longevity genes running strong, and every cat who’s using up one of her allotted 9 lives reading this will turn green with envy when I tell you that I survived not only The Cow Pond, but riding bicycles without a helmet; drinking water straight out of the garden hose; a bicycle with no brakes (my birthday present one year. Kinda’ makes you wonder, doesn’t it?); getting hit by a car; roller skating without knee pads; taking the stray cat for a ride in the car (Take your time. I’ll wait.); eating raw cookie dough; sleeping in the back window of the car on road trips; swimming in The Cow Pond, of course, but I forgot to mention that I didn’t wear sunscreen; and, in the case of my brother, one particularly memorable Alberto VO5 hot oil hair treatment that I’ll tell you about later. Right now I need to go shopping for a Very Special Mother’s Day card.

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This week I made a guest appearance over at Linda K. Sienkiewicz’s blog and talked about what I do, how I do it, and why I do it. Bop over and say Hey if you’re a mind to.

Coloring My World (Outside the Lines) With Brilliant and Vibrant Goodness for Forty-one Years (And Counting)

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(Andy, less than a month after we met. I asked him to hold my birthday cake so I could take a picture of it.)
(Honestly, it’s a wonder the cake even made it in the photo
cause all I really wanted was a picture of HIM.
I’d known him 18 days at this point in time,
and already I knew I loved him with my whole heart.)
(And then some.)

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(Alison, Andy, and Kipp)

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(Kipp, Andy, and Alison at Sliding Rock in NC.)
(He told them about sliding down the wet boulders, but he kinda’ “forgot” to mention how cold the water is in the pool at the bottom.)

Dear Andy,
For the way you . . .

  • continue to hold my hand after 42 years
  • drive me to workshops
  • never fuss (at least not on the outside) about how much something costs if it makes me smile
  • laugh at things I say
  • sing along with me (this is not a metaphor)
  • walk closest to the street on sidewalks
  • open doors for me as an act of consideration and respect, not from a place of condescension
  • find us the most remarkable places to live
  • continue to rouse and rally the butterflies in my stomach with your kiss
  • see my strengths and abilities when I can’t or don’t
  • sharing my love of quirky and odd. (It makes life so much easier.)
  • encourage and support me towards self-determined life (even though so many times it would undoubtedly be easier not to)
  • love Nancy so openly and tenderly and share her with me so willingly
  • never had a business meeting more important than your child’s soccer game
  • never once were too tired to attend a performance
  • gave piggyback rides till they were tired instead of till you were tired
  • worked two and sometimes three jobs so I could stay home as a full-time mother and find outlets for the kids to explore their varied interests and become their best, most creative selves
  • drove home from the office, picked us up, then drove us back to wherever the kids needed to go just so we could have extra together time in the car
  • use your creativity so brilliantly and profitably, always crafting situations where everybody is satisfied
  • continue to show our children what a real, honorable, good man looks like, sounds like, acts like – not just occasionally or when things are going swell, but every minute of every day through every smile and tear . . .

Thank you.

I couldn’t’ve found a better husband
or a better dad for our children
if I’d had a million years to look.

Happy Father’s Day.

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(Kipp, Andy, Alison)

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(Nancy and Andy, 1999)

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(Andy, Alison, and Kipp)

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(Andy at the Grand Canyon.)
(Let it not escape your notice that I stopped him before he backed out over the edge.)

“Rock On” Means So Much More Now . . .

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Valerie Voyles Phillips

This is Miss Helen’s favorite photo of Valerie. I can see why, can’t you? Isn’t she beautiful, our Valerie? And the thing about Valerie: her beauty is inside and out. It’s organic. It’s through and through. It’s authentic. All the makeup and plastic surgery in the world can’t create this kind of beauty. It just can’t.

~~~

When I think of Valerie, I think of her faint stutter, the hesitancy with which some words fall out from between her lips. I never really thought of it as a stutter until today. It’s always been just the way she talks.

~~~

She is smart, you know – brilliant, really – and that brilliance is woven together with the homespun wit and wisdom of her mother. What a combo: intelligence and wisdom.

~~~

When sitting, Valerie rocks gently, as though she’s in a front porch rocking chair we can’t see. I don’t know why she does it, but I think it might confirm that she’s an old soul, living deeply and authentically far ahead of her years. Even in high school, she’s lived from a place I’m still trying to get to.

~~~

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This is Valerie’s little brother, Larry. He had a crush on me once upon a decade. I still have the love letters he wrote me – those big, deliberate words written with a little boy’s hand using a big, chunky pencil on pages of 3-ring paper snatched from Valerie’s notebook. Funny, I don’t ever remember Valerie being embarrassing, even when he asked her to deliver his love notes, though she certainly didn’t offer any commentary when she tossed them in my direction.

~~~

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My birthday is February 14, and Valerie’s is February 15, you see, and for reasons I can’t explain – maybe time just got away from them, maybe they just wanted to be different, maybe they just weren’t all that good at math – our parents huddled up and threw us a Sweet SEVENTEEN birthday party.

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Valerie was dating Dan Turner at the time. Dan is now married to Kathy Turbeville who was at the party with Joe Lee that night, a guy I’d dated previously.

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I was dating Dwayne Lindsey who Valerie went on to take as her first husband after we graduated from high school.

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Growing up in a small town you learn that everybody has history and stories and a life before you, and you don’t let things like former boyfriends get in the way of a good girlfriendship. Shoot, you learn early-on not to let anything get in the way of your relationship with a girlfriend cause good girlfriends can be mighty hard to come by. When you love somebody, you weather storms, you deal with whatever comes up, and you never, ever cut the ribbon of connection. You don’t even consider it. Our mothers, friends forever and a day, taught us that.

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It was such the well-orchestrated ruse, that Sweet Seventeen Shindig, that Valerie and I were totally and genuinely surprised. Dan and Dwayne planned a double date at some exotic destination that allowed us to dress up for the night, and they picked Valerie up first because she lived “in town.” Mother and Daddy had other plans (wink, wink) that coincidentally had them leaving in dress-up clothes and leaving the house before I did. Just before Dwayne’s white GTO pulled up in my driveway, Daddy called (from the clubhouse, of course, but it was before caller id, so I didn’t know that at the time) to say shoot – he’d forgotten to lock the gate at the golf course and wondered if we’d mind going by to lock up. “Oh, and be sure to check the clubhouse doors, too,” he said without a trace of a smile.

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Nobody minded, especially since the golf course was within walking distance from my front door, so that little side trip wasn’t going to make us late. Well, you’d think we would’ve noticed something when we pulled up and saw cars in the parking lot – and maybe we did – but we never dreamed that we’d hear a riotous SURPRISE when we walked through the unlocked clubhouse door. It only now occurs to me to ask Why did we even go inside at all?

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With all the tape and construction paper the local 5 and 10-cent store had to offer in those days before Amazon and Walmart were even ideas, Miss Helen and Mother, along with Mr. Charlie and Daddy and even our boyfriends who’d been let out of school for the afternoon to help (Our mothers worked at the local board of education, so they simply called the principal and told him they needed the boys’ help. It helps to have friends in high places.), transformed my family’s small town golf course clubhouse into a festive haven where we teenagers could be young adults for a night – even holding hands and slow dancing right in front of our parents – without all the responsibilities, trials, and heartbreaks we now know are inherent in adulthood. Did our parents think about that as they watched us that night, I wonder? Was that the real gift of that night, the gift it takes decades to realize?

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In addition to friendships that have lasted a lifetime, our friends chipped in and gave us each a heart-shaped pendant with sparkly little diamonds to mark the occasion. I still have mine. I think I’ll wear it to the memorial service.

Valerie, you see, died in the dark thirty hours of Sunday morning, along with her husband, Darrell and her daughter, Emily, when their house burned to the ground.

Because there’s an ongoing investigation and unimaginable things must be tended to, we don’t know when the service will actually take place. So in the meantime, as we wait, let’s hold our own collective service, swaddling the friends and family of Valerie, Darrell, and Emily in our warmest, most loving and kind thoughts and prayers, why don’t we? What say we pay tribute to Valerie and Darrell and Emily by letting our friends and family know how much we love them. Many of my elementary and high school friends still live in our not-so-small-anymore home town. I’ve moved away, but there’s still a strong connection, a groundedness that means the world to me. There’s something quite comforting about having friends who’ve known you through thick and thin, though feast and famine, and love you regardless.

As Miss Helen (Valerie’s mother) and Larry (Valerie’s brother) along with Darrell’s family members tend to the business at hand that must precede planning the service, let’s do what we do best: tell stories. Please pull up a chair and share your favorite stories and memories about Valerie, Darrell, and/or Emily in the comments here or in the comments on my Facebook posts. Miss Helen and Larry are reading, and your words are a balm to their souls.

And as we go forth, let’s all rock gently in a rocking chair only Valerie can see.

~~~

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You know, I’ve long said that my children made me the best friends. Now I realize that my mother did, too.

~~~

Other photos from the photo album of That Sweet Seventeen Party: (cue Those Were the Days music)

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Dianna Harrell and Gary Baker

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Elender Ballard and Webb Howell

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Ginger Jones and Glen Ward

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Chris Rollins and Robert Reeves

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Jim Nations and Dana Daugherty

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Joan Dumas and David Knowles

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Kathy Turbeville and Joe Lee

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Karen McClanahan and Addison Lester

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Kathy Dettmering and Buddy Bridges

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Markie Swafford and Terry somebody (whose name I can’t remember)

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Pam Burdette and Gordon King

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Brenda Tyree and Butch Rush

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SueEllen Daniel(s) and Mike Gable (They are now married.)

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Suzanne Davis and Doug Walker

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Dwayne and me, changing the music
(Yes, those really are vinyls.)

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and last, but definitely not least:
the people who made this all (right down to the two guests of honor) possible:

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Ada and Crawford Hewell

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Miss Helen and Mr. Charlie Voyles

~~~

Dear Valerie, I’m betting . . . hoping . . . that with the arrival of you and Darrell and Emily, your daddy now knows how you and I felt when we walked through that clubhouse door. I love you, and I miss you already.

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