Author: jeanne (Page 2 of 118)

I'm just your basic complicated simple red dirt girl who feels most beautiful when wearing skirts that caper and earrings that dangle. Entering into my Second Life (my tenured phase, I call it), I tell, write, stitch, and perform stories about this time of life when the mythological (and downsized) empty nest is now filled with aging pets, aging parents, a retired husband, and the knowledge that you're living on the finite side of infinity.

Refrigerator Shrine

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

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

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

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

Crawford Jr. plays with 6 month old Baby Gene

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

Laugh with.

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

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

a young boy sits behind the wheel of a tractor

12 year old uncle Gene behind the wheel of the tractor

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

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

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

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

newspaper article about the death of Eugene Hewell

 

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

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

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

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

Twenty years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daddy took his last breath at 4:55.

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

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

The Story of Women Exhibit: Whispering Bones and Aunt Addie

I told you about Cannonball – a piece in The Rinse Cycle, Pivotal Epiphanies in a Woman’s Life Series –  being on exhibit at the the Milford Arts Council (a.k.a. the MAC) in Connecticut, and today I’m here to tell you about the other two pieces that were selected for inclusion in The Story of Women Exhibit  there . . .

 

The Rinse Cycle Series, Pivotal Epiphanies in a Woman’s Life:
Whispering Bones

About the Series:
We all have them – moments that startle us into utter clarity about the need for significant change. And if we’ve made enough trips around the sun, we know that it’s up to us to create the life we are meant to live, so we grab onto the thread that has guided so many before us – the thread that is being offered to us now – and begin. People – even those who initially quake in fear at how our change might affect their lives – fall in beside us, cheering us on. Ancestors gather round to aid and abet. People we’ll never know grab onto the thread, vowing to live a self-determined life, too. I immortalize the spark and the resolve in art quilts I call The Rinse Cycle, Pivotal Epiphanies in a Woman’s Life.

Size:
25.75” h x 18.5” w

Materials:
Scraps of fabric, commercial fabric, batting, embroidery floss

A Note About This Piece:
The “I Matter” note is tacked open in this photo and in the exhibit. When she finds her way back home to me, I will snip the threads holding the whisper open, fold it back into its envelope shape, and tie it closed using the strip of fabric underneath it.

Artist Statement:
When she needed it most, she heard a whispered sticky note.

 

Pink Galoshes Women: Aunt Addie

About the Series:
Pink Galoshes Women are those who, when confronted with obstacles, pull on their proverbial pink galoshes and tromp on through the mud and the muck to get to where they need and want to go.

Size:
19.5” h x 22.5” w

Materials:
Aunt Addie’s letters (printed, then chopped into chunks and reconnected to create background fabric of top) and photo transferred to fabric; vintage gloves and pearls; beads; embroidery floss; thread; batting; commercial fabric (back)

Artist Statement:
Committed to an insane asylum by six men because “she talked too much,” Aunt Addie found ways to quiet her soul if not her brain.

 

Viewing the Exhibit

The Story of Women is a hybrid – virtual AND brick-and-mortar – exhibit. To view the exhibit in person, visit the Milford Arts Council. To view from the comfort of your home, you have but to click right here.. Be sure to look for Black Wedding Dress, well-deserved winner of Best Story, by Karen Kassap. Right after the exhibit opened, Karen reached out to me via Instagram, and we are becoming the kind of friends I like best: appreciative, supportive, and encouraging. Add her friend Gale Zucker to that list, too. Gale went to see the exhibit yesterday, in support of her good friend, Karen, and afterwards she, too, reached out to me with supportive encouragement. Isn’t it lovely to be friends with so many women who are comfortable and confident enough in their own creative abilities that they feel no need to behave haughtily and be mean? I am blessed.

 

Dates and People’s Choice Award

The exhibit is open through November 19, 2020,. Scroll to the bottom of this page to cast your vote for the People’s Choice Award. Voting closes on November 18 to give them time to count the votes before announcing the winner at the close of the exhibit on November 19, 2020.  (Oh the jokes I could make were I one to delve into politics. But I’m not, so I won’t.)

The Story of Women Exhibit: Cannonball

I’m delighted to tell you that three of my girls were selected to be part of  The Story of Women Exhibit at the Milford Arts Center in – you guessed it – Milford, Connecticut. The exhibit opened online and in the brick-and-mortar gallery yesterday and remains open until November 19, 2020. Judge Shanna T. Melton put together a strong multi-media exhibit telling stories of women. Click here to hear from Executive Director Paige, then scroll on down to find links to the virtual exhibit, information about Judge Shanna, and on further down to find a ballot where you can take half a minute to vote for your favorite piece of art in the exhibit, the one you think should be awarded the coveted People’s Choice.

 

The Rinse Cycle, Pivotal Epiphanies in a Woman’s Life: Cannonball

 

We all have them – moments that startle us into utter clarity about the need for significant change. And if we’ve made enough trips around then sun, we know that it’s up to us to create the life we are meant to live, so we grab onto the thread that has guided so many women before us – the thread that is being offered to us now – and Begin. People – even those who initially quake in fear at the thought of how our change might affect their lives – fall in beside us, cheering us on. Ancestors gather round to aid and abet. People we’ll never know urge us on and vow to live a self-determined life of their own. I immortalize that spark and resolve in a series of art quilts I call The Rinse Cycle, Pivotal Epiphanies in a Woman’s Life. I call this one Cannonball.

 

 

“Then One Day she knew she would rather Dive in and make Waves than Drown in silence.”

 

 

Yes, the back of the swimsuit is on the back of the quilt. Of course it is!

 

The Other Two Girls

Swing back by sometime to read about Pink Galoshes Women: Aunt Addie and The Rinse Cycle, Pivotal Epiphanies in a Woman’s Life: Whispering Bones, my two other girls who are in The Story of Women Exhibit.

Travel bans may keep us from seeing the exhibit in person, but there’s not a ban strong enough to keep us from making art, right? I’d sure like to see and hear about what your hands are up to, and if you’re a mind to tell me, please leave a comment and/or connect with me on Instagram and Facebook.  Thank you, Milford Arts Center, for your continued dedication to being a facilitator for the arts that no travel ban can stop or even detour.

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.

There’s Only One Word for Day 2

Today gave me plenty of reasons to smile.

When we picked Handful up from school today, he had a 6 word greeting for me: “Bubbles, today was gooder than yesterday.” And that was before he knew there  were two new monster trucks waiting for him at home..

a young boy opens a box with the help of a woman

First he tries them on as a hat.

a young boy puts two toy trucks on his head

Then he introduces them to each other so they can become friends.

 

the young boy puts two toy trucks together

Sprout enjoys the new Princess Palace her Aunt Betsey gave her. (Aunt Betsey is really Cousin Betsey, but we don’t get tangled up in things like that.

a young girl smiling

a young girl inside a tent

a pink castle tent

Soon the Princess Palace is filled with Handful, Sprout, Bubbles, 3 new monster trucks, an ipad, a music-maker that we call a sound system, 2 small cars, and 2 bottles of water. I texted Betsey and, at the risk of sounding ungrateful, asked if there was a Princess Palace Annex available. With air conditioning.

Handful and I developed a secret password to keep, well, y’all know why we created a secret password – same reason everybody develops secret passwords – and 3 seconds later it became quite apparent that I need to work with Handful on the meaning of the word “secret”.

Grave Digger developed some dreaded tire problems, and Handful knew just what to do, pressing the wolf ear headbands into service.

toys

I mistakenly took possession of 1 of the new monster trucks, and was promptly scolded by Handful who looked at me with a face of disappointment and said “Naughty, naughty Bubbles.”

a young boy

There was tickling.

a man tickles a little girl

Books were read.

a man and a little girl read a book together

Bed covers became garages.

a young boy plays with his toy trucks on a bed

A book from Aunt Fwoozie and a stool became a ramp for the new monster trucks to use for their death-defying tricks.

a ramp for the toy trucks

In another part of the land of our creating, books become stepping stones on a path that lead to all kinds of fantastic adventures.

a girl plays with books ont he floor and makes stepping stones

When in Celle, Germany for The 70273 Project Special Exhibit, I picked up a book on fire engines and fire fighters. In German, of course. It’s in amazingly good shape considering how much it’s been enjoyed.

a little girl reads a book about firemen

It’s back to the big bed for a game of jump-jump-fall with Pink Ellie, who proved to be quite patient and accommodating. Truth be told, I think Pink Ellie enjoyed the game as much as Sprout.

a smiling little girl

The doggie door provides a stellar escape hatch.

little girl looks through door

Because everybody ate such a good supper, there was a walk to the ice cream truck for dessert. Handful and I have a rule about ice cream eating: We only share ice cream with people we love. And that’s the truth.

a little boy eating ice cream from a spoon

a woman feeds a little girl a spoonful of ice cream

Handful and Sprout ran off some of their ice cream by playing chase in the alley where we sat. When Sprout’s 2 year old gait faltered and she sat down on the asphalt with a thump, it was Handful to the rescue with a hug.

a little boy hugs a little girl

I heard from both the other grandmothers today, something that’s always a treat for me. I’ve said it before, and I’m saying it again: I am so lucky to share these amazing chiclets with these two other women. And, if I might say so, these two chiclets are pretty darn lucky to have 5 grandparents with different interests, backgrounds, talents, experiences, and personalities.

From start to finish, it was a day filled with . . .

the word “joy” on an ice cream cone wrapper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Morning Glories, All

So far, today has been

smiles . . . . . .

a young girl smiles

 

a young boy plays with a toy car

 

a man and a dog smiling at each other

art (inside and out). it appears i am the proud grandmother of a 2 year old graffiti artist. And with boxcars not being readily available, a 2 year old resourceful graffiti artist . . . 

a child’s art marks on a brick wall

 

a child’s drawings on a chalkboard

Showing Bubbles (that’s me) all the things he’s learned to do for himself since February . . .

a young boy putting his shoes on

Expressive faces, like what to do when Bubbles says “give me surprise” 

a young child makes a face

and “give me pensive”

a young boy laying on a floor pillow

Serious talks with Bubbles. Seems Handful did not have a very good day at school today, and when I asked if he’d like to talk about it, he said yes. So I asked him why today wasn’t a very good day, and it seems he had to do way too much 2-people, 3-people, and rug work when what he really prefers is 1-person work. Just like his Bubbles prefers.

a young boy

And Morning Glories of the blooming variety. i especially love Morning Glories because that was one of the things my mother called me when i was a tot. other nicknames were fruit loop, peanut, and doll. You can’t go wrong with special names like that. Or “Handful” and ‘Sprout”.

a morning glory blooms

And we still have bedtime to look forward to. Baths to be taken. Books to be read. Songs to be sung.

a young boy sleeps on his fire truck bed

 

a young girl sleeps with Ana from Frozen

I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings here in Heaven.

Making it Through Exhibit at the Southeastern Quilt and Textile Museum

The Rinse Cycle: Pivotal Epiphanies in a Woman’s Life, Whispering Bones
25.75” h x 18.25” w

Artist Statement: As we sheltered in place for more than 60 days, I was the bologna between my mother and daughter in our three generation sandwich. I struggled to keep Mother occupied and find things she could do to feel needed and useful, and I struggled to find way to tend to my daughter who was experiencing adverse reactions to a new medicine – all while keeping my husband from jumping off the nearest ledge. One morning, I declared asylum in my studio, and having zero ideas and even less inspiration – both stomped flat by exhaustion – I checked my brain at the door and  went full speed into haptic mode, turning my hands loose to select fabric and create at will. This is the result. This is what my heart and hands wanted to say. This is what helped me make it through our COVID-190 togetherness . . . and kept me out of an ill-fitting orange jumpsuit.

I am honored and delighted that this piece was selected to be part of the Making It Through exhibit at the Southeastern Quilt and Textile Museum in Carrollton, Georgia. It’s a virtual exhibit, and you can see it on the Southeastern Quilt and Textile Museum Facebook page. While you’re there, be sure to click on the photo to read the artist statement for each piece that will pop up and appear to the right of the image.

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.

 

Loving Kindness for the Win

My growing collection of eye shades that might one day find their way into a quilt.

Wednesday, July 9, my 16th eye treatment. To say that treatments 14 and 15 were not good is a textbook example of understatement. I’m accustomed to the roller coaster – at least as accustomed one can get with eyesight and emotions going up and down. Such is the nature of being in a clinical trial. My vision kept sliding down the mountain, though. The big black thumbprint in the center of my vision came back. Telephone poles curved like mountain roads. Letters ducked and danced. My emotional complexion plummeted. I withdrew. Tucked in. Hid.

I got up early on Treatment Day, did yoga, meditated by the falls, and just before we left, I did something I hadn’t done in two months: I posted on Instagram and Facebook asking for good thoughts, healing energy, prayers.

Four hours later my name was called, and I took my seat before the dreaded Snellen chart. Just the thought of that dreaded chart usually sends me into shallow breaths and glistening . . . sweat. It’s how every treatment begins – auditioning this lens then that lens then reading the letters out loud. It’s usually a slow, laborious process, as the letters become shy and duck out of sight in a game of hide and seek that I seldom win.

But that Wednesday . . . that 16th treatment . . . oh my goodness.

There was no glistening.
No shallow breathing.
No fidgeting.

I felt this delicious, multi-colored coat of calm and loving kindness wrap itself around me with arms and whispers and goodness from around the world. I read Mr. Snellen’s letters, and I read them with confidence and with speed.

Denise, my Main Handler came to fetch me, and when Julia told her about my confident reading – about my 19 NEW LETTERS* – they joined in my cheering and crying. There were tears of relief that this part of the treatment day’s events was over; gladness that I’d read 19 NEW LETTERS,  and gratitude – oh my goodness, the deep, overflowing vat gratitude. How will I ever adequately thank y’all for creating that web, that hammock, that blanket, that coat of loving kindness? For now, all  I can think to do is say “Thank you” for holding me in the best remedy ever . . .

. . . and ask if you’d mind doing an encore on Wednesday, August 5?

 

(*Important note: There’s no guarantee that those 19 letters will be visible on August 5, but they’re here now, and for now, we rejoice!)

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