Category: Jeanne’s Barefoot Heart (Page 1 of 97)

Jeanne’s personal creative pursuits of stories stitched, written, and spoken

Straight Lines to the Rescue

the fabric pull Kirk/Curt really likes

To say my life is a little chaotic right now is to become the poster child for understatement.

I haven’t picked up cloth and thread in about a year and seriously wondered if I ever would again. Then in the middle of yet another insomnia-filled night, an idea: I need straight lines. So today, while The Engineer headed to the DIY home improvement store, I browsed the quilt store, and because you’ve never seen how fast The Engineer can move through Lowe’s when I’m at the fabric store, I snatched – and I do mean snatched – bolts off the shelves if they made my heart sing. That was my only criteria. My. heart had to SING, y’all, cause I have no earthly idea what I’m going to make with this fabric, only that I am going to cut it in straight lines, step one.

As he was cutting, Kirk/Curt(?) – a man I’ve never seen before – kept saying “This is my favorite. No, this one if my favorite.” and so on. When everything was cut, he said he’d made a list of the fabrics I selected, then he came around the counter and snapped a couple of photos. “These are beautiful fabrics that are even more beautiful together,” he said, “and I don’t use the word ‘beautiful’ ever.” (For the record, I’ve never been complimented for my fabric pulls or my sense of color.) He took my money, then gave me his card making me promise to either bring in the finished quilt or at least email him a photo, something I promised faithfully I’d do . . . if he still works there 14 years from now when I get it finished.

His kind, encouraging words were so incredibly appreciated today, y’all, which just goes to show that you never know whose day you will brighten and steer back on the path of hope and promise with a few well, chosen, heartfelt words of praise. What say we make a pact to sow a daily kind, uplifting word garden to folks we know and folks we may never see again? Can’t hurt, might help,doesn’t cost a thing, and you just never know the powerful gift your words might deliver to someone at just the right time.

the audio version, read by Jeanne herself

So Glad I Got to Know Her

a woman (my grandmother) playing the piano

 

To hear Jeanne read this post (4 minutes 12 seconds)t:

 

  • A full-ride scholarship to The Piano Conservatory . . . and a father who refused to let her return after her first year, declaring that she needed to find a husband more than she needed an education
  • Teaching each of her grandchildren (except the one in NJ who played trombone) to play the piano
  • The Program (a.k.a. piano recital) on Christmas morning
  • Completely ignoring my pleas and letting my cousin Cynthia play the coveted “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” every. single. year.
  • Newbury’s in Atlanta where she’d send my mother to purchase the sheet music she pre-ordered by phone
  • Award-winning cakes made from scratch
  • Rolling the pink and white washing machine out into the kitchen, hooking the hose up to the sink faucet, and washing clothes, putting them through the wringer (my favorite part).
  • Her refusal to touch or consider using the electric dishwasher her children gifted her
  • Plants calling at least one-fourth of her kitchen home
  • Biscuits made from scratch three times a day, cut out with the top of an empty jelly jar turned drinking glass, dipped in flour
  • “Why of course they’re new, William.”
  • Leftovers in the middle of the table, covered with a clean tablecloth
  • New potatoes from the garden
  • Easter egg hunts
  • The piano bench that twirled up and down, adjusting the height for each individual player.
  • The piano bench turned stage for the Ooey-Gooey Game as seen on The Popeye Club with Officer Don
  • That ever-present smile that covered her entire face . . . most of the time
  • How she held my hand as we walked through her yard, using her free hand to point out and identify every flower, plant, shrub, and tree in her voluptuous, colorful yard
  • New Year’s Day phone pranks
  • Buttered sugared biscuits
  • Sticking our finger in the side of leftover biscuits, then filling the hold with sorghum syrup
  • Milk toast
  • Her adult children grumbling after every meal about how she used every plate and bowl she owned at every meal
  • Her waking us up to say, “It’s Saturday morning, so you just sleep as long as you want to.”
  • The glass of water and flashlight that spent every night on the floor beside her
  • Milk money left in the little bird house attached to a column on the front porch
  • Sitting on the front porch glider to shuck corn, shell butterbeans, or just simply count the cars passing by
  • The bubble-blowing fish adorning her bathroom wall
  • Making preserves and pickles every summer
  • The dark  pantry off the bathroom, always filled with all kinds of food
  • Her laugh that came quick and often
  • Sitting on the floor playing plastic Army men with Jerry and Scott
  • The floor-length powder blue long-sleeved dress she wore to my wedding 48.5 years ago
  • The rimless glasses she wore every day of her life
  • Hearing about the one time she went on vacation – to the ocean in Florida with her sister
  • The sound of the back screen door slamming behind us when we dropped by to visit unplanned, unannounced, yet always welcomed
  • Parchment-like skin that bruised if you looked at it too long and too fast
  • The treadle sewing machine tucked into a corner between the bedroom and living room, the whirring sound providing the walls needed to create a room she could call her own
  • Brown paper bags of fabric scraps from Mrs. Callaway who lived across the road being dumped on the kitchen table, sorted, and moved this way and that till at last an idea emerged and another quilt begun
  • The word “Jeanne” with a period after it, hand stitched in a corner of the quilt she made for me

Were she still drawing breath, we would spend today celebrating the 128th spin around the sun made by my maternal grandmother – Katie Belle Wesley Ballard. How very lucky I am to have known her.

a man (left, my granddaddy) and a woman (right, my grandmother) smile at each other on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary

My Book of Astonishments: Daily Goodness, Grins, and Gratitudes

2 red journals, one large and one small on a blue surface in front of a leopard-print chaise pin cushion, a blue pin cushion, and a piece of amethyst

Book of Astonishments: Daily Goodness, Grins, and Gratitude v1 (small) and the larger v.2

In August 2018, I began keeping a journal I call The Book of Astonishments: Daily Goodness, Grins, and Gratitudes. It was a small blank journal, one that fit nicely inside my small pocketbook so I was never without it. I didn’t write complete sentences and paragraphs, just bullet notes and phrases to remind me. Before the fist month ended, I was filling page after page after page after page after page. In April 2020 my Book of Astonishments: Daily Goodness, Grains, and Gratitudes moved to larger quarters . . . and in less than a week, I was filling page after page after page after page in the new, larger journal.

I have long believed that the more you say Thank you for, the more reasons you have to say Thank you. These journals are my evidence, my proof.

Relishing goodness begets more goodness to relish.
Grinning often begets more opportunities to grin.
Saying Thank you begets more reasons to say Thank you.
Living in joy begets more joyful living.
Welcoming happiness begets more happiness on your door step.
You get the idea. It’s the very best kind of Magic.

 

drawings of eyes, football, hearts, and words in a child’s journal

words and drawings of a bicycle, a wooly mammoth, a bouncing ball, a riding toy in a child’s daily journal

 

I got to spend several weeks with my grands recently, and one day I told my grandson about my journal, explained my aforementioned philosophy to him, and asked if he’d like to keep his own journal. He said yes,, so I whipped out a small blank book I’d taken with me for story writing, and we began.

Me to Grandson: What do you want to put in your G3 Journal for today?
The Grandson, without a moment’s hesitation: Doughnuts for breakfast! The awesome, wonderful surprises you give me! Getting hugs from you every day and getting to give you hugs every day. James’ birthday party. Walking around the lake and throwing rocks in it.

I don’t know if his parents will be able to work this addition into the nightly bedtime ritual, but I assure you that it will be part of the nightly ritual when we are together!

Do you keep a Gratitude Journal? A Goodness, Grins, and Gratitude Journal? Does the Magic happen to you, too?

On the Eve of Eye Treatment Days

a drawer filled with dark shades to protect eyes after dilation

my growing collection of dilation shades

As the day before Wet Macular Eye Treatment Day finds its way into the higher numbers on the clock, the voices in my head grow louder, speaking through clenched teeth:
”What if it hurt tomorrow?”
”What if the hemorrhage has grown larger?”
“What if he nicks a blood vessel again?”
”What if the needle slips, and I go completely blind?”
”What if my eye gets skewered on the needle and comes completely out of its socket?”

And so on and so on. I consider developing a headache, an upset stomach, lose a limb – anything that would be considered an excused absence from tomorrow’s treatment.

It’s exhausting doing battle with my brain.

Eventually and at just the right time, the sure, quiet voice of the Wise Woman on the Committee of Jeanne speaks in her soft, calm voice, her words giving my brain laryngitis and my tattered spirit a balm of comfort.  “Jeanne, Bubbles, Sugar. You are strong Enough to handle anything that comes tomorrow or any other day, and besides, you’re not doing this alone. People near and far are cheering you on, lending you support, propping you up, whispering fortifications to get you through. And if all that isn’t enough, you are smart enough,” she says with a twinkle in her tone, “to ask the doctor right out loud to pretty please not pluck your eyeball out when he removes the needle.”

A small chortle makes its way to the surface and falls out of my mouth.
A full-body exhale comes.

I turn a corner and begin to imagine the relief that will consume my body tomorrow afternoon when all is said and done, the delicious sleep that will overtake me before we leave the parking lot, the swell of gratitude I already feel for the thousands of supportive, encouraging messages, the candles lit in my name, the photos and comments that leave me laughing right out loud, all woven into a shawl of kindness and caring that I keep wrapped tightly around me. To all who walk this path alongside me in one way or another, thank you. Your presence is the best medicine ever, and I thank you for being there with me tomorrow and every Treatment Day yet to come.

My Trees of Shes: Aunt Rene and Aunt Lucy on Parties

 

 

 

Aunt Rene dances with The Engineer

My granddaddy had one brother – Uncle William – and three sisters – Aunt Rene, Aunt Lucy, and Aunt Mary. Aunt Rene was the fun one. When ever we were with Aunt Rene, life was a party. Aunt Mary was the school marm. She knew she was put on earth to make rules that children were to obey implicitly. Aunt Lucy was the veritable encyclopedia of knowledge on everything – including raising children, which was surprising, given that she had none of her own.

The three sisters were very close. When they weren’t in the same room, they were writing letters to each other. When Aunt Lucy’s husband died, she moved in with Aunt Rene, and the two of them spent all day every day sitting by the same heater, eating at the same table, sleeping in the same bed.

When The Girls hit their mid-nineties, they began to take more naps, and every time they woke up from a nap and found it light outside, they were sure it was morning, so they took their morning tablets. Which meant 2 things: overdose and time to find another place for them to live where others could be responsible for disbursing their medications.

We found a lovely assisted living home close by so we could visit often. As the annual Christmas party approached, Aunt Rene got more and more excited. We made an appointment for her to have her hair fixed,  her nails done, and went shopping for a new gold lame outfit.

The night of the Christmas party, Mother and I went to join in the festivities. We wiped The Girls sitting in the back corner of the room in front of the drink table. On our way to them, Mother made a wide right turn and stopped by to get herself a cup of wine, then we took our places standing behind them. Aunt Rene turned around to greet us, and did a quick double take. “Darlin’, is that alcohol?” she asked Mother.

Mother held the cup out in front of her, looking at it as though wondering what it was and how in the world it got into her hand. Thinking of nothing to say, she went with the truth: “Why yes, Irene, I guess it is.”

”I’ll be right back,” Aunt Rene told us, then took the cup of lemonade she and Lucy were sharing, and headed back to the drinks table where Mr. Joe, the facility’s maintenance man, was ladling out punch. “Mr. Joe,” Aunt Rene said, putting her cup down on the table and pushing it over towards him. “Put some Southern Comfort in my cup, if you please.”

”We don’t have any Southern Comfort,” Mr. Joe told her.

”I think if you’ll go look under that end of the table,” Aunt Renesaid, pointing to her left, “I think you might find some. I’ll wait.”

Mr. Joe obligingly went to the far end of the table, lifted the tablecloth, and looked around to see what was under the table. He came back shaking his head. “I’m sorry, Miss Irene, we just don’t have any Southern Comfort.”

”Well, in that case, I guess you better give me some more lemonade,” Aunt Rene sighed.

The music started, and we all knew that meant time for dancing. Aunt Rene sat up a little straighter, dialed her smile up a notch or two, and handed the lemonade off to Aunt Lucy,. She was ready for the line of men to form in front of her. That woman did love to dance. I knew that, and that’s precisely why when we first got to the party, I asked every able-bodied man to ask Aunt Rene to dance. To a person, they said the same thing: “I sure will take Miss Irene out on the dance floor, just as soon as a slow dance comes on.”

While Aunt Rene was out for her first slow dance, smiling to beat the band, Aunt Lucy decided she wanted to go to bed. “Where’s Irene?” she asked. “I’m ready to go to bed.”

”Aunt REne is at a party, Aunt Lucy. Y’all can go to bed when the party is over,” I told her.

Aunt Lucy got increasingly cranky and louder. I spied a post on the other side of the room, drug an empty chair in front of it, and told Mother to take Aunt Rene over to sit in the chair behind the post so Lucy couldn’t see her, then I took my place in Aunt Rene’s vacated chair next to Lucy. Being the self-appoint4ed family historian, I thought this a fine time to get some stories from Aunt Lucy.

”Aunt Lucy,” I started, “when you and Aunt Rene were teenagers, did y’all go on a lot of dates?”

”NO,” Aunt Lucy barked. “Now where’s Irene? I’m ready to go to bed.”

”Aunt Rene is at a party. When the party is over, she’ll come get you and y’all can go to bed. Now Aunt Lucy, when you and Aunt Rene were teenagers, did y’all like to go to parties?”

”NO. WHERE IS IRENE? I’m ready to go to bed.”

”Aunt Rene is at a party,” I reminded her. “When the party is over, she’ll come get you and y’all can go to bed. Aunt Lucy, when y’all were teenagers, did you like to dance?”

’NO. WHERE IS IRENE? I’M READY TO GO TO BED,” Aunt Lucy screamed at me.

That was the third strike as far as I was concerned. I whipped around in my chair and said in what my children call my meanest teacher voice: “Aunt Lucy, I’ve told you that Aunt Rene is at a party. I’m sitting here being very nice to you, and if you talk that way to me one more time, you’re going to bed all right, and I am going to be the one to take you. I’ll take you upstairs, get your ready for bed, and tuck you in. Then I’ll sit with you while you go to sleep, and when the party is over, Aunt Rene will come in and join you. You’ll already be asleep, so you can see her in the morning. How does that sound?”

In the sweetest voice I’d never heard come from Aunt Lucy’s mouth, she said, “Well, we didn’t party all that much, but when we did, we did enjoy dancing.”

My Trees of Shes: Aunt Rene, on Age

This year for Women’s History Month, I’m gonna’ be celebrating women in my life who make me a better woman. To get us started, meet my Aunt Rene (short for Irene). She was a mess, and today I tell you her view on age . . .

 

If you can’t or don’t want to play it out loud, here’s a non-verbatim version . . .

 

Here we see Aunt Rene flirting with the statue of a handsome man.

My Aunt Rene was a mess, which is the highest compliment you’ll ever hear at my Southern table. When Aunt Rene was rounding the corner headed to 100 (we think), my daughter Alison would often show up at family meals and events with a date. Aunt Rene would always end the conversation she was having, pull her gold lame jacket up on her shoulders, and walk in her gold lame shoes straight over to the date. She’d sidle up to him, flash her biggest smile in his direction, and ask, “Darlin’, do you have a younger brother?”

Yeah, Aunt Rene taught us how to flirt. She also taught us a little something about age: don’t tell anybody.

The first time I was with her and an adult bent down to my face level and asked, “How old are you, Sugar?” Aunt Rene put one hand on each of my shoulders and turned me to face her. She didn’t squat down with her hands on her knees, instead she used one of her hands to tilt my face up to look at her. “When somebody asks your age, don’t tell ‘em, Darlin. They do’no need to know ‘cause you see, when you give them a number, they’ll reach way down into their bag of stereotypes and pull out a description – a preconceived notion – of how people who are that age ought to act. Make ‘em treat you the way you are when you’re with them, cause age is just how many trips you’ve made around the sun. That’s just a number. Life is what matters, and life is how much sparkle and sass you put into every spin.”

Wind Phones

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ W. Wordsworth

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

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

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

 

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

~~~~~~~

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

Losses or Gains?

snow on trees

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

Snow covered trees around the waterfall

snow covered trees around the waterfall

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

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

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

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

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

snow covered trees and branches

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

Refrigerator Shrine

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

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

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

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

Crawford Jr. plays with 6 month old Baby Gene

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

Laugh with.

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

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

a young boy sits behind the wheel of a tractor

12 year old uncle Gene behind the wheel of the tractor

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

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

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

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

newspaper article about the death of Eugene Hewell

 

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

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

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

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

Twenty years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daddy took his last breath at 4:55.

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

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

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