Tag: remembering (Page 1 of 2)

Happy Fifth Birthday to The 70273 Project!

white cloth embellished with pairs of red X’s that are all different sizes and shades of red

The 70273 Project Quilt 52, a Middling made by Margaret Williams

Can y’all believe it was FIVE years ago today when I mashed the publish button on the blog post launching The 70273 Project? So much has happened in our lives, in this project, in the world since then. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be unveiling several new adventures happening in The 70273 Project and introduce you to the volunteers who are carrying the torch for each adventure. If you haven’t already subscribed to the blog, perhaps you’d like to. Or maybe you’d like to join join The 70273 Project Campfire, our Facebook group or like our Facebook page

I’m sure you have questions, so I’ll celebrate our Big Day the way I began it five years ago: by posting and answering questions you may have.

Q: How many people have been commemorated to date?
A: We have issued numbers to slightly over 72,000 pairs of red X’s, though there are some gaps in the numbers that will be filled in and we still have blocks and quilts to be processed, so check back often for updates.

Q: How many quilts do we have?
A: We have given out up to Quilt #850, though again, there are some gaps in the numbers that will be filled in as new quilts come in. The Engineer still guesstimates we’ll have around 1200 when we’re done.

Q: How on earth do you track numbers and blocks and quilts?
A: I am delighted to tell you that I don’t! We have a merry band of Data Angels, and I will be introducing you to them over the next couple of weeks. They are a group of women who are creative, dedicated problem solvers, and what they are doing is nothing short of phenomenal. Just wait’ll you hear.

Q: Are you still accepting blocks and quilts?
A: We are mostly focusing on catching up with all we have going on right now, plus the pandemic makes it rather hard to host exhibits and block-making parties, but yes. If you’d like to make blocks or quilts, we won’t turn them away because we know that 70,273 is the number of murdered committed and documented by Aktion T4. Actual numbers could easily be more than 300,000. Chilling, isn’t it? There are other ways to become part of The 70273 Project, though as you’ll see in the next Q and A. And there are some new adventures opening up this year that might captivate your interest and attention.

Q: Is there anything you still need help with?
A: I love this question, and the answer is a hearty Yes! Read on, and click here if you’d like to raise your hand and offer to help. We need:
~ volunteers to take bundles of blocks and turn them into tops and/or quilts.
~ folks to quilt the tops.
~ people to create quilt labels (from information we send). This is something done on the computer using email, so it’s something that can be done from anywhere in the world.
~ We need hands-on volunteers who live in the vicinity of Fayette County, Georgia to print the labels on fabric that’s been specially treated to go through inkjet printers then sew them onto the backs of the quilts. Or you could just offer to print the labels and deliver them to whoever is going to sew them onto the quilts.
~ We need folks to add or amend hanging sleeves on some of the quilts.
~ We also need money. We keep our overhead low, but there are still expenses. There’s some annual overhead, and now we need things like the fabric for the labels and storage. Oh my goodness do we need storage! If you’re willing to make a donation, you can send a check (U.S. banks only, please) to The 70273 Project, Inc. / POB 994 / Cashiers, NC 28717. We are an official 501(c)(3) organization, so with your thank you note, we’ll tuck in a tax form you can use next year. You can also make a donation via the PayPal Giving Fund.

In closing, a question from me to you:
Q: Would you like to see where in the world The 70273 Project has touched down in one way or another?
A: Scroll all the way down to the bottom of this page, you’ll see a world that’s revolving on its axis. See all those red dots? People from all those dots have come to visit our web site, seeking info, volunteering to participate, sharing stories, commemorating lives we honor, and/or keeping up with our progress.

We’re not done yet, y’all, so please keep showing up and sharing the project with others.

Now go treat yourself to a cupcake. Me, I’m headed to my mother’s house where she is doing what she does every Valentine’s Day for I’m not gonna’ tell you how many years – baking my birthday cake, using the pan and recipe that her mother before her used to bake my birthday cake. You can bet your sweet patooties I’ll be raising a forkful by way of toasting y’all with gratitude.

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.

Rainbows of Gray

ocean breaking on huge, jagged rocks

When her daddy refuses to let her return for the last three years of her full-ride scholarship to The Piano Conservatory saying sternly, “Women need a husband not an education – especially an education in playing the piano,” my grandmother agrees to marry Granddaddy who agrees to let her keep her piano. When we are old enough, Grandmother teaches each one of her grandchildren to play the piano. On our assigned day, Granddaddy picks us up after school in his white and gray Ford F-150 and takes us to their house where he treats it to Co’ Colas (in the small bottle, of course, because they taste better) and ‘cream (vanilla ice cream) before our lesson.

From small bottles of soft drink, I learn about forming  relationships over food.

”We weren’t allowed to buy soft drinks at the local store,” he tells me, “but there was one shop owner in town who would sell us a case if nobody was looking. His delivery boy had to carry them to the car, though. We couldn’t risk being seen toting a wooden case of Co’ Colas out of his store because black people didn’t buy enough groceries to keep him in business and white folks, if they saw him selling Co’ Colas to us, would stop shopping there.”

From small bottles of soft drink, he learns about discrimination.

~~~~~~~

”Which bus do I ride home?” the seven-year-old me asks Mother as she drops me off on the first day of second grade.

”Just ride the bus you rode last year,” she tells me, and I do, waking up just as Mr. Dan Phillips pulls the snub-nosed, rounded bus #5 into his barn at the end of his route.

”Mr. Phillips,” I say as he turns the silver upright handle to open the door and let himself out, “am I spending the night with you?”

”Where did you come from Jeanne?” he asks.

I point to the third seat on the row behind him, still rubbing my eyes awake.

”C’mon,” he tells me, chuckling softly. “I’ll take you home.”

”She was sound asleep,” he tells my mother, and she’s so short, I couldn’t see her in the rear view mirror. The routes changed this year. She needs to take bus #2 home now, Robert Storey’s bus.”

From riding a school bus, I learn to ask for help.

As a fourteen year old, he drives a school bus, stretching to make himself big enough to reach the pedals and shift the gears. “We didn’t usually have enough gas to get us through the entire week,” he tells me, “so Friday afternoon I had to zig-zag back and forth across the road to slosh what little gas was still in the tank to keep the engine running and get us all home.”

From driving a school bus, he learns resourcefulness.

~~~~~~~

Harriett Dean, mother of my best friend Dianna, takes us swimming at Lake Spivey. Harriett Dean spreads out a towel and settles herself with a good book while Dianna and I run to the water. Quickly tiring of the pick-up game of Marco Polo and knowing it is too early to get the inevitable grape snow-cone, Dianna gets out of the lake, climbs onto the concrete block wall, grabs her nose, and leaps feet first into the water.

The smile that wraps around her face as she comes to the surface, shaking the excess water from her curls-from-a-box hair tells me this is some fun I want to have, too. I hoist myself up on the wall, walk out to where I think Dianna jumped from, and leap. When I come to the surface, I’m too far out in the dreaded deep end. My feet can’t find the bottom, and every time I try to yell for help, my mouth fills with water leaving no  room for sound. Dianna is making her way back out of the lake for another jump. Harriett Dean is laying face down on the towel now, tanning her back. Nobody else knows or notices me. I am going to drown, and I’m not even sure how they’ll find me because this is a lake, not a swimming pool.

Eventually I dog paddle my way to the shallow end. I will need a nap, but I will live.

From swimming, I learn that just because my friend friend can do something doesn’t mean I can do it, too..

They were to jump from the 40-foot platform because that’s roughly the same distance to the pool as the ship’s deck is to the ocean. He wasn’t afraid because he knew how to swim – his mama made sure of that – but he was puzzled when the Navy survival course instructor barked, “Black people can’t swim, so those of you who can swim form a line over here, and those who can’t swim, fall in behind the two black boys.”

Surprised to learn that black people can’t swim – something he’s been doing his whole life – he watches as self-declared non-swimmers fall in line behind him while his friend Austin, the only other black man within sight, takes a place at the front of the Can Swim Line. One man jumps in, comes to the surface, and swims to the side of the pool. Another does the same, and now it’s Austin’s turn. Austin leaps into the water easy enough, but he goes straight to the bottom and stays there. “We have a rock,” the instructor calls out before he and his assistant dive in to pull Austin to the surface.

Sputtering and coughing as one is wont to do after spending unplanned time under water. Austin catches his breath, looks up at the instructor, and asks wryly, “Which one did you say is the line for those who can’t swim?”

From a swimming training session, he learns stereotyping.

~~~~~~~

Excerpts of stories from the memory banks of two people – a black man and a white woman who are roughly the same age and who grew up not too far from each other. I learned a lot about racism, racial inequality, and the power of listening and bearing witness that story-swapping afternoon.

I asked which term I should use: desegregation or integration. He prefers desegregation. Why?  Because desegregation brought us together, allowing black to keep their own culture and community. Integration implies they must lose their culture for us to live side by side.

It was the best conversation about race, racism, racial inequality, segregation, and integration I’ve ever had. It happened with a stranger, and it happened because it was true conversation – no attempt or need to convert; no accusations and anger; no finger wagging. Just good old-fashioned back-and-forth conversation, complete with deep listening, bearing witness, and asking questions that rose from a place of curiosity, of sincerely wanting to know more. Chalk one up to the reaffirmation of the  power and value of storytelling and good old-fashioned conversation.

Juicing the Third Half of Life

IOOL4 7

In Our Own Language 4:7
She (Nancy, my developmentally disabled sister-in-love) draws.
I (Jeanne, the woman who flat-out loves her) stitch.

ChambersMyers

While in Michigan for my brother’s stepson’s wedding this weekend, we reconnected with friends we haven’t seen in I don’t know how long. We knew them in undergraduate days when we were all young and free and confident. We knew them in that time when our parents were busy creating their own life without children to wait up for or pick up after and when children weren’t even an idea. We could carry little ole’ tiny pocketbooks in those days ’cause we were only responsible for ourselves. We were juicers, extracting every bit of fun and goodness and laughter out of life.

It was so much fun remembering and reminiscing with Bruce and Linda, trekking back down memory laugh. Oh my goodness, the things we did Back Then. And I want you to know that we told the true stories this weekend, with my mother and my son and my daughter-in-love sitting right there listening. I figure they’re old enough to hear those sorts of things now.

I’ve decided I want to keep the body of information and wisdom I’ve acquired and recapture the absolute joy of living as though One Day is Right now. I think it’s possible.

I may have to increase my insurance, though.

Remembering Walter in 3-Part Harmony

~ 1 ~

WalterAdaAtChristmas

Though I’ve been physically hit and emotionally scarred by some real scoundrels, it’s far more important to note and remember that I’ve been lucky enough to be loved by some genuinely good and decent men. Men who have more quirks than flaws. Men who are trustworthy, generous, kind, loyal, and caring. Men who want me (and every other woman, for that matter) to shine our own lives out into the world, dimming our lights for nobody, not a single person. Men who do much more good than harm. Men I wish I could clone because we all need more like them.

WalterAdaTavernOnTheGreen

One of those men took his last breath Friday night (12/19/14), and while I know it means there’s one more guardian angel who has my back, it’s an awfully painful transition from . . .
feeling his arms wrap around me and his dry lips brush mine,
hearing him clear his voice and say “Oh, honey”,
seeing his beautiful mustached smile that stretched from his forehead to his chin
watching him shake his head as he begs me to get more sleep,
having his curved, bony hands wrap around mine
. . . to recalling these things from memory.

WalterAlison1

Walter Mashburn (my stepdad) was . . .
a good, fair, knowledgeable, and wise “big dog” at the Ford Motor Company
an interesting and affable friend to many
a loving, supportive father and grandfather
a tender, loving, deeply caring mate to my mother
an enthusiastic, never-wavering encourager, teacher, and friend to my daughter, Alison
a good example of how to suck the marrow out of life.

TJAdaWalter

Walter will live on in stories, but right now, that feels a mighty poor substitute.

~ 2 ~

WalterInCanada

5 Dec 2014
5:47 a.m.

Dear Walter,

I miss you.

I woke up this morning thinking about all the things I miss about you – all the bright, shiny things that are absent in my life now that I don’t see you nearly as often – and I quickly realized it’s a list of all the things I love about you, so consider this a love letter . . .

  • I love your quick laugh and constant smile.
  • I love that you love to dance.
  • I love that you love music and know the words to more songs than I can count.
  • I love that you sing along – right out loud, even in the grocery store.
  • I love the stories you tell of working at Ford. Stories about Mr. Cannon’s support. Stories about outsmarting and working around the union. Stories about giving people a second chance to prove their worth or prove you right.
  • I love your knowledge of cars.
  • I love how when we visited the car museum in Asheville, you paid no heed to the “Please Do Not Touch the Cars” and placed both hands right smack dab on each car so you could get a better look.
  • I love that when Andy asked what was the best built car ever, you answered without a moment’s hesitation: a Packard. And you recounted that their slogan was “Just ask the man who owns one.”
  • I love how you unabashedly love to shop. Do you have any idea how rare that is and how much fun Mother had shopping with you?
  • I love that you love your birthday as much as any 6 year old I ever knew.
  • I love that story about the hard-top convertible pace car at the Atlanta Raceway – how when the early morning call came, you knew just who to call to get it fixed and how you always end that story by saying that top was “one of the worst mistakes Ford ever made.”
  • I love that you love dark chocolate. And Maker’s Mark.
  • I love your foot-stomping drinks.
  • I love talking politics with you.
  • I love that you love Georgia Tech.
  • I love that you owned a Jaguar.
  • I love that J3 now loves owning and driving your Jaguar.
  • I love how you take such good care of Mother. You let her be herself. You accept her as she is. You love her without conditions or strings attached.
  • I love that you take such care, take such an interest in your appearance.
  • Though I find it baffling, quite honestly, I love your willingness to push your plate away and turn down desserts.
  • I love that you and Mother are on a first-name basis with so many waiters in so many different restaurants.
  • I love that you were my elf last Christmas when I bought Alison your floor radio. I love that she went to the estate sale and bought one of your leather jackets.
  • I love that I can’t think of your face without seeing your smile.
  • I love that you won’t wear a hat from any place you haven’t visited yourself.
  • I love how you listen so deeply, so attentively, and without interrupting.
  • I love hearing you say “Oh, honey” to Mother and Alison.
  • I love being hugged and kissed by you.
  • I love remembering you coming out in Alison’s Christmas pajamas, something a lesser man would never have done.
  • I love the way you speak up and speak out.
  • I love how you love life and suck the marrow out of it.
  • I love remembering you dancing at the World War II Days event.
  • I love remembering how you loudly (because, really, your volume control button got busted a long time ago) said “There’s no way he can be that old” about the one veteran who beat you out of the oldest veteran in attendance recognition at the World War II Days event year before last.
  • I love how you know all the female singers, actresses, songs, and movies from the 40s, and how you share your stories and knowledge with Alison.
  • I love how you once told somebody that Alison is your best friend. Obviously I wasn’t there.
  • I love how you took my shoulders in your hands, looked into my retinas, and thanked me for giving you a second chance after you and Mother divorced. I mean, really, Walter, how could I not have given you a second chance?
  • I love how easily, frequently, and sincerely you say “I love you.”
  • I love how your ringtone on Mother’s phone is a car horn. Ford, obviously.
  • I love talking with you about leadership and management skills, something we both agree is sorely lacking in today’s world.
  • I love how you share your opinions on matters large and small and always give others a chance to voice their opinions, too, knowing that differing opinions diminish neither person.
  • I love how tirelessly and enthusiastically you supported Alison when she ran for political office.
  • I remember this one lovely spring day when Andy and I met you and Mother and Alison for lunch at Planterra Ridge. I remember the feel of the warm spring day on my skin as we sat outside and enjoyed a leisurely lunch with libations. It was one of many such lunches, of course, but this particular day stands out in my memory.
  • I love how thoughtfully and carefully you shop for cards, taking the time to read every card on the rack until you find Just The Right One.
  • I love how you sold your car to pay for The Twins’ birth.
  • I love how you and Jim have lunch every Thursday.
  • I love that you called Mother every morning at 9.
  • I love that you religiously went to the gym.
  • I love that though you spent most of every day together, there is still space in your togetherness with Mother.
  • I love that you attended the Daytona 500 when it was run on the beach, and I love that when a car would flip over while making the turn, y’all would run down, set it right, and it would get on back into the race.
  • I love your hands and how carefully and deliberately you use your fingers.
  • I love the rituals you and Mother created. I love that they were every day ordinary rituals.
  • I love being out with you and witnessing the respect you command just by your demeanor, by the way you carry and conduct yourself.
  • I love that you tried to learn to use the computer and send emails.
  • I love how you feed Jason and Clyde and Phoebe, too, when she’s there, a treat just before you go home every night.
  • Even being the feminist (of the woman’s libber variety) I am, I love how you never fail to appreciate a pretty woman.

  • I love how I make you laugh when I channel Vickie Lawrence’s character on the tv show Mama’s Family. (It’s not all that hard to channel her, really, since I think there’s a big ole’ streak of Mama running through me, don’t you?)

And that story about the Daytona 500? Of all the stories you’ve told me over the years, that one is my favorite because it typifies how you walk around this earth : You do things that interest, entertain and delight you, and when something goes off track (as it invariably will), you don’t hesitate to offer assistance, then you get on back to your seat to enjoy the rest of the race.

Nothing much gets past you, does it Walter Mashburn, and I love that because it means Mother didn’t get past you which means that you are a part of my life. An important part of my life. You’ve a man who teaches me, by example, how to spend time on earth filled to the brim with living, loving, and laughing. I must’ve done something good in another life to have had you be a part of this one.

I love you so much, Walter. More than I could ever quantify for you.

[kissed and signed by JHC]

~ 3 ~

WalterAda2004

I’ll be seeing you
In all the old familiar places
That this heart of mine embraces
All day and through.

WalterCheersWhileAlSings

In that small cafe
The park across the way
The children’s carousel
The chestnut trees, the wishing well.

WalterReadingPinUpMagazineCropped

I’ll be seeing you
In every lovely summer’s day
In everything that’s light and gay
I’ll always think of you that way.

AlisonWalter1

I’ll find you in the morning sun
And when the night is new
I’ll be looking at the moon
But I’ll be seeing you.

WalterInAlisonsPJs2005

I’ll be seeing you
In every lovely summer’s day
In everything that’s light and gay
I’ll always think of you that way.

WalterChristmas2012

I’ll find you in the morning sun
And when the night is new
I’ll be looking at the moon
But I’ll be seeing you.

CandleForWalter

(“I’ll Be Seeing You”: music by Sammy Fain and lyrics by Irving Kahal)

featuring phone pranks that don’t involve prince albert in a can

P GenerationsOfBallards11 1979

at the backdoor in grandmother’s kitchen, L to R: Grandmother Ballard, me (Jeanne Hewell-Chambers) holding my daughter Alison Chambers, Kipp Chambers (my son) being held by my mother/his grandmother Ada B Hewell

she was known for many things, but humor was not one of them. to my knowledge, nobody ever used the word “funny” and my grandmother’s name in the same sentence. she did not abide nicknames, was not a prankster, and never told a joke, but there was something about new year’s day that turned my grandmother downright hilarious . . .

HandwrittenAddressBk3

with breakfast out of the way, she settled her short, wiry frame onto the yellow pine telephone chair that was positioned under the wall-mounted telephone, pulled out the baby blue notebook from the cubby, unzipped it, and turned the pages in her handwritten telephone directory until she found the list she was looking for. she cleared her throat then dialed the black rotary phone, the clear plate making its familiar soft clicking sound as it registered the numbers in the order she dialed.

“hello?” answered the (often sleepy) (grandmother was an early riser) (and it was new year’s day, after all. think about that.) voice at the other end of the line.

grandmother sat up straighter. this was serious business, this call.

“is this 2-0-1-4?” she asked, not a hint of a smile in her voice.

“no.”

“oh yes it is,” she said, barely hanging up the phone before erupting in laughter.

(and to think, she’s the one who delivered an emphatic and flat-out NO when i told her i wanted to be an actress. huh.)

[ ::: ]

where cousins wore necklaces, jeanne hewell-chambers wore a brownie camera. her grandmother spent summers preserving food to feed the family, and in her own way, jeanne carries on the tradition by preserving stories to feed and nourish the souls of generations now and later. if you’re ready to do the most important job of preserving stories from your life and your family, stay tuned ’cause jeanne is cooking up a little something special that just might help . . . and she hopes it will be ready by 2/14.

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

GeneCrawfordSrMontieresized

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.

GeneOnTractorPortrait001 copy

GeneDogsTruck1

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.

HCHSrFeedsChickens001

CrawfordSr001

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.

A Belated Homecoming

Memorial

Shorter Version for those with little time:

~ Stories are the shortest route between two people.
~ It’s never too late to thank a Vietnam veteran, ask them to share a story, then thank them again.
~ Listening deeply, attentively, and without judgment to stories from anybody (but especially veterans) can be healing for the teller and educational for the receiver.

Longer Version:

Our daughter loves history and hates injustice, so last spring when she discovered that this year is the 40th anniversary of the last US troop withdrawal from Vietnam, she decided to throw a belated Welcome Home for the Vietnam veterans, including a parade and a program. It took place last Saturday, 9/28/13.

Mustang

The parade boasted fly-overs by Vietnam helicopters and airplanes, along with various other Vietnam War vehicles. There were cars – now vintage cars – that veterans ordered while they were in Vietnam to have waiting on them when they got home.

Some Vietnam veterans (including some of my friends) couldn’t bring themselves to be in or even watch the parade – they just couldn’t – but others did, some at the very last minute. Wives came with husbands and beamed with pride as their veteran stood in his uniform when his branch was recognized. Adult children came and were amazed at some of the things they learned that day. Parents and grandparents who have no ties to the Vietnam War brought their children and grandchildren, giving them an opportunity to learn history from primary sources and encouraging them to talk to the veterans then quizzing them about what they learned.

Stories floated through the air. Oh my goodness did we hear stories . . .

Flags

You may remember POW/MIA bracelets, and how we wore them until our soldier came home. The program started by remembering those who did not make it home, and David, our first speaker, told us about his brother Gary who was Missing In Action for 41 years – forty-one years – then he thanked the US military for not giving up until his brothers remains were found, identified, and given appropriate burial.

You may remember that returning soldiers were spat on, shunned, had tomatoes thrown at them. We heard story after story of how badly they were treated by people who were actually angry with the decision makers but took it out on the veterans. It was not America’s finest hour.

Tom flew missions over Vietnam, and he’s still very angry (as are many other veterans). We heard lots of anger, and I don’t know about you, but I think these fellas have earned the right to be angry.

Billy was responsible for sweeping mine fields, and he closed his story by telling us that while they may joke about Air Force people getting manicures and pedicures, they were and still are brothers. It took a team, he says. Without one branch doing their job, the other branches were in peril and unable to do their jobs.

You may remember the casualty counts reported at the end of the daily 6:00 newscast. Stubby drove a truck and told us bout making deliveries. They’d unload the trucks, then wait while their trucks were loaded for the return trip. Other people loaded the trucks so that Stubby and the other drivers wouldn’t know which ones were carrying supplies and which ones were carrying the KIA’s (Killed in Action).

In between the stories my daughter and her trio, Bombshells United, performed period music specially requested by the veterans. The number one request? The Animals singing We Gotta’ Get Out of This Place. After hearing their stories, I understand more than ever why that song holds such a special place for them.

It was a magical day, a healing day, an educational day. It was a day when grown men cried, and we cried right alongside them. It was a day when we came together to honor these men and women, giving them the homecoming they should’ve received 40 years ago. If you know a Vietnam veteran, how ’bout thanking them for their service for me, will ya’? And ask them to tell you a story cause their stories need to be told . . . and heard.

[ :: ]

Jeanne Hewell-Chambers is at the International Storytelling Festival this weekend, which means she’s a happy, happy girl.

Pull Your Soapbox Right On Up To The Table

TreeBeauty

9/11.

A day we Americans stop and pause in a moment of silence, in a day of remembering.

Let me be clear about this: I mean no disrespect when I tell you that as much as I enjoy the stories of where you were and what you were doing when you heard, I want more. I want to remember with a wider lens. I want to move forward as we look back. I want . . .

I want to know what you learned on That Day or because of That Day.

I want to know how you changed since 9/11. I want to know if it’s a lasting change or was it a well-intended but short-lived change.

I want to know how you think our country changed on That Day and if you think it changed for better or for worse.

I want to know how you think the world changed on That Day, and again – did it change for better or for worse?

I want to know why countries and people can’t leave each other alone to live according to their own belief and economic and political/governmental systems. I want to know why people don’t just move to another location that suits them better rather than strike out in a desire to take down those who would not be, think, or worship like them. I want to know why it’s not enough to live with Epictetus’s notion in mind that a noble life is one spent being the best woman, the best man you can be. I want to know what it will take to end the conquering mentality, the arrogance of my-way-or-the-highway mindset.

I want to know how we teach people that the way to change an undesirable life is to push up your shirtsleeves and get to work changing what you don’t like about your current situation. Will that be easy? Most likely not. But since when do we turn away from hard work? Which reminds me of another thing I want to know: when did “earn” become a 4-letter word?

I want to know how – on a community level, state level, national, continent level – we instill in ourselves and our children open-mindedness, and not just a tolerance but a love for difference and individuality. How? Tell me how. Please.

So much of what we hear and read today will be about lives lost on That Day. I want you to tell me about your loved ones (people and/or pets welcomed) that have died. Maybe they died in that horribleness we’ve come to call 9/11. Maybe they died somewhere else for some other reason on that infamous day. Maybe they died before the tragedy, maybe they’ve died since. Tell me about them. Tell me why you miss them and how they touched your life. Introduce me to them and tell me why you wish I could have known them. Tell me and know that your missing them today does not in any way diminish the tenderness we feel for all those who lost their lives and whose lives were irrevocably changed on That Day.

[ :: ]

Jeanne Hewell-Chambers has a wildly inquiring mind. Always has.

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