Tag: memories (Page 2 of 3)

the janus approach


we trekked to the cemetery, that stormy morning in april, in search of tombstones to rub, transferring their images to our cloths. as we pulled away from art camp with susan lenz two days later – i mean, we were literally about to back out of the parking lot – i got a call that my friend valerie along with her husband and their daughter had died when their house burned.

who knew cloth could commit foreshadowing . . .


right on the heels of that, another call that my 32 year old cousin billy – who, over the past 14 months had endured everything science had to throw at his cancer and was waiting for tests in june that would determine the success of those treatments – was not doing well. in less than 2 weeks, he went from eating a bowl of grits at the kitchen table to back in the hospital for more tests. that was saturday, 4/26. on monday (4/28) came the news that the cancer had spread to his brain. on tuesday (4/29) came the news the cancer had spread to his spine. a week later on sunday (5/4), billy was moved to hospice. last night he took his last earthly breath.

“come make him laugh,” his mother mary said when she called me. my husband, mother, and i spent that wednesday afternoon at his bedside telling the old familiar family stories. legends, really. i told the same ole’ stories – even used the same ole’ words – and we still laughed till our sides split. stories are like that.

days later, his mother pulled her chair up close to billy’s bed and let the memories spill right out of her heart. for more than two hours, she told billy good memories she has of him. “i just wanted him to go out with lots of good memories,” she told me. i don’t know about you, but i can’t think of a finer send-off.

he’s only 32. billy is only 32 years old, and i just want to go on record saying that i find it especially cruel that a mother has to bury a child (especially so close to mother’s day) and that a 32 year old as good and fine as billy should die in the spring.


today we bury another cousin, a quiet man who served in the vietnam war. he didn’t raise his hand to go, but when he was called, he went. my last memory of theron is of him telling stories about our grandparents. i was throwing a family reunion in my backyard, and i’d asked everybody to jot down their memories of grandmother and granddaddy so i could include them with the cookbook of grandmother’s recipes i’d created. not much of a writer, theron called me and talked for more than 3 hours, spilling one precious memory after another. to this day, i cherish those hours spent sitting on the back deck, looking around at all that needed to be done in preparation for the reunion, but not even really seeing it as i trekked down memory lane with theron.


it’s been an emotionally rough spring.


that’s not the whole story, though . . .

i just got a text message from my sister-in-law, carole, that her daughter/my niece will not be having her baby today – her labor will not be induced, anyway. we’ll just have to see what mother nature has to say about things.

tomorrow we celebrate the anniversary of my beautiful, precious daughter’s birth. on March 19 of this year, she had a partial thyroidectomy. she’s an actor and a singer, so of course we were on pins and needles about someone cutting on her throat. but my brother-in-law donn steered us to a surgeon who did an outstanding job as you can very well hear for yourself.

later this month we’ll join in merriment and shenanigans when my son kipp married the lovely and long-necked marnie. you’ll surely be hearing more about this as the days roll on. (i’m “foreshadowing” over on facebook, if you’d like to connect there. you’ll need to be logged in for the link to work.)


we have memories. oh good lord, do we have memories – and that’s something you just can’t buy, regardless of how much money you have. memories . . . stories . . . those are treasures far greater than any amount of gold or silver or real estate. greater than any fleet of planes or drawers of diamonds or walls filled with paintings.

stories are art. so let’s get on out there and make some art today, why don’t we.

(but maybe forego the tombstone rubbings.)

(just sayin’.)

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


Valerie Voyles Phillips

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


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


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


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



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



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

ValerieVoyles DanTurner

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


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


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


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


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



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





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

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

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

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

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



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


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


Dianna Harrell and Gary Baker


Elender Ballard and Webb Howell


Ginger Jones and Glen Ward


Chris Rollins and Robert Reeves

JimNations DanaDougherty

Jim Nations and Dana Daugherty


Joan Dumas and David Knowles


Kathy Turbeville and Joe Lee


Karen McClanahan and Addison Lester

KathyDettmering BuddyBridges

Kathy Dettmering and Buddy Bridges


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


Pam Burdette and Gordon King

BrendaTyree ButchRush

Brenda Tyree and Butch Rush

SueEllen MikeGable

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


Suzanne Davis and Doug Walker

JeanneHewellDwayneLindsey 1

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


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


Ada and Crawford Hewell


Miss Helen and Mr. Charlie Voyles


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

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 . . .


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.


“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.

of likenesses and lightnesses


when my children were tots, we’d bundle them up and drive around looking at the christmas lights, refining our aesthetic senses, you know, each of us awarding our own best display award that grew more competitive every year under our increasingly trained and discerning eyes. just when i’d definitively declare that i preferred the white lights over the colored lights, we’d come upon a house that was obviously festooned by someone with a knack for design and a love for color. we all panted at the sight of trees (not christmas trees but plain ole’ yard trees) decked out in strands of white lights – initially because even with the gentlest breeze, they look like they’re twinkling and because they were ordinary yard trees pulled into the holiday celebration and what’s not to love about that), but it didn’t take all that long for us to pity the trees given a single, solitary strand of lights, poorly and thoughtlessly placed, preferring the trees lavished in white lights – so many it looked like they were an organic part of the tree, like they were well-lit lichen. (we developed a new degree of respect for the more miserly, haphazardly lit trees though, when we began to imagine them being dressed by a well-meaning but blind mother.)

when the children got too old for such things, andy and i weren’t nearly ready to bring this tradition to a close, so we bundled up my 90-something great aunts, put them in the backseat, and drove them around to look at christmas lights. one year, as we passed through the center of this town in south north central georgia (i’ll wait while you figure that out) (that’ll take too long, so a hint: it’s my clever way of saying “landlocked”) on the way to deliver them home, aunt lucy looked out the window at fayetteville’s main street awashed in well-lit snowflakes and said, “Irene, don’t the people who live on the water have the purtiest view?”

we had one or two trees in our own yard that we festooned with white lights annually, andy and i, and with the repeated effort, we learned how to apply them so that they didn’t look like what it were: trees dressed by a well-meaning but blind mother. as we struggled with ladders and branches and never enough lights, i remembered the year daddy outlined the roof of our house in blue lights. (using a single color instead of every hue in the crayon box simply wasn’t done in those days.) (mother was always cutting edge when it came to design.) daddy put those lights up and didn’t take them back down for something like 949 days.

an aside: that particular story remembered at that particular moment in that particular context is when i learned about what my friend jane cunningham calls reframing – a most helpful tool when dealing with family memories, if you catch my drift.


my christmas decorations this year include the red candle that kicked off this post (a free gift with purchase at a local antique store.) (using my highly trained and discerning eye, i chose the one that hadn’t been burned yet.) (the buckeyes were free, too.) (at lest i think they were.) and these two adorables created by my friend tom smith. i LOVE them, don’t you? there’s such a playful spirit about them. they’re just downright fun. the small santa with the black eye and the blue beard (reference to folktales or temperature, tom?) and the larger santa hobbled together from an assortment of tender scraps and bits. (just imagine this larger santa at the office christmas party. he’s probably the guy hanging out by the copy machine the entire time.) it’s the definition of art for me: taking something out of its intended use and giving it fresh life in a new context. now that i think about it, being friends with tom is like having christmas every day. he’s a treasured friend who challenges me with his thoughtful, well-placed questions that are always asked (or at least received) as gentle nudges and window openings (often windows that have long since been painted shut); delights me with our conversations (which often come together like his artwork – a gregarious pulling together of all sorts of odd things that initially seem unrelated); and encourages me with his keen insightfulness (that always makes me feel like he finds me intelligent and capable and maybe like he sees more in me than i present). (if you find yourself wondering if his mother was also a formidable teacher, you’d be right.)

you know, now that i think about it, what i’m really doing is decorating my studio with self portraits of and by tom. no lights required.

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


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


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.



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.

Just Talk Amongst Yourselves


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me: “Yeah.”

Him: “Okay, good.”


Must have cost him the better part of a dime.

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

catching up (again)


they say that catching-up is hard to do . . . no, that’s breaking up that’s hard to do. whatever.

best rush of 09 was brought on by . . . well, honestly, i don’t have rushes any more. not since that one unfortunate night in undergraduate school when i was drunk on life – the closest to feeling joy i can remember. for the record: there were no drugs and no alcohol involved – just a day of good things. like being asked out by an upperclassman who was easy on the eyes. getting an A on my paper. finding $20 in my wallet when i was hoping to find enough change to make $1. it was just me and happiness to the 7th degree.

maybe to the 9th.

so there i was, humming to myself in the room when my roommate got back with her little entourage of toadies pledglings. humming, laughing, saying whatever funny stuff popped into my head (and it was all pretty damn funny, if i do say so myself). “what’s wrong with her?” sniffed the condescending bitch girl from across the hall who’d just pledged a sorority. “oh i don’t know,” sniffed back my condescending bitch in the making sorority wannabe roomie. “just ignore her.”

they ignored me all right, talking about me as though being drunk on life automatically rendered me stone deaf. it took weeks for them to change the subject, and life was so miserable, i vowed to never disturb the flatlines again. it’s just too dangerous. even now, there are far too many people around here who prefer homogenization. to get a rush and show it is to risk being labeled, and the labels used around here have some more kind of everlasting glue on the back, let me tell you.

i don’t know why this college memory bubbled up. maybe it’s time to:
a) find these gals on facebook, ask them to be my fb friends, then drop them like hot potatoes (that’ll really sting ’em.).
b) learn how to have a rush and keep it to my own self. (i guess that’s possible?)
c) don my big girl panties and get over it.


best packaging has to be anything apple sells. space for only the necessary. the essentials held firmly in place to prevent jarring and breakage . . .

wish they’d create packaging for my life.


best tea of the year . . . well, since no tea has crossed these lips in the past 16 years, i’m just gonna trek down memory lane and tell you that the best tea i ever had was aunt rene’s sweet tea.

down here, when we go to a restaurant and the waiter asks what we want, we say “sweet tea” to which, more often than not, we get a “huh?” eventually followed by “we only have unsweetened tea.” let’s be real clear about this: the term “sweet tea” is NOT retarded. it is a type of tea. a particularly pleasing, desirable kind of tea. sure it’s been a while, but i can tell you this with absolute certainty: you cannot thump all the crystals to the bottom of some colorful little packet, dump it in a glass of tea, whirl it around a few times, and expect to get anything near the quality of aunt rene’s sweet tea. it’s just not gonna’ happen.

aunt rene’s tea was so good, i once gave her a big ass set of drinking glasses when it wasn’t even a holiday. (something that’s unheard of in my cheap economically-correct family.) you could get about 3/4 of a gallon in those glasses, and we’d down at least 2 refills with every meal. the woman had to make her tea in a stockpot, i tell you, it was that good. before i swore off tea, i was known to make a meal off aunt rene’s sweet tea, though i have to admit that like my children, i preferred to have aunt rene’s sweet tea with a side of her blackeyed peas and some of her crisply fried bacon for dessert.

the secret to aunt rene’s sweet tea? sugar. lots and lots and lots of sugar. added while the tea was still hot so it would dissolve. she’d stir that disappearing sugar, and once she couldn’t see it anymore, she’d up and add some more, reckoning that if you can’t see it you can’t taste it.

i guess now folks would call that wrong or unhealthy or something. i mean, we all know that sugar is on the bad-for-you list.

sure. whatever.

i just quit drinking tea cause it was staining my teeth, and i read somewhere that discolored teeth add about a decade to your real age.

yeah, i’m kidding. there’s no way i can talk about age in the same hemisphere as aunt rene cause the best thing that special woman (she was my great aunt) (and i mean that in more ways than one) ever taught me is to not ever tell ’em your age. “it’s none of their business,” she’d declare, the “damn” implied. “besides, just ’cause you can count it doesn’t mean it counts.” (she lived to be 97.5 years young.) (but who’s counting her years or the number of glasses of sweet tea she imbibed?)

the stories are mine, but credit for the kindling goes to gwen bell and her best of 2009 blog challenge.

Technorati Tags:
#best09, #bestof2009

there’s food, then there’s nourishment


best new food has to be the moroccan lunch i recently had at in mouseville. i am not an adventurous eater – my taste buds are old fuddy duddies, stuck in their ways. i have become a veritable magician at disguising pushing food around to look like devouring. but there i was, in epcot with the in-laws. what i’m trying to say is i was outnumbered . . . and the forced moroccan meal was nothing short of delicious. can’t remember what i had, but it was a delicious mingling of sweet and not-sweet. probably could’ve done without the skinny-as-a-rail belly dancer contorting around me as i gorged myself, but the food and the company, well, yes. best food 09 = feasting moroccan with the mouse and the in-law peeps.

but was there some epiphany? did the angels sing down a chorus of “see there” in perfect harmony? am i now forever transformed into a cookbookaholic and someone who orders the most exotic-sounding items on the menu, even if she has to point because she can’t pronounce it? no. oh no, no, no, no, no. culinary adventures are never gonna’ be my thing.

some things never change, and this is one: my favorite meal will always be mashed potatoes and cornbread, what my great-grandmother and i feasted on when i’d visit her in her adorable little termite-infested dollhouse. she would hold the bowl on her left hip, hug it with her left arm and stir and beat and whip all the lumps out before pouring it into a sizzling hot cast iron skillet and popping it in the oven. she taught me how to create the crunchy exterior on cornbread (remember that piping hot cast iron skillet?). she taught me tried to teach me how to peel the potatoes so finely you could see through right through the skin. and she taught me that i don’t have to spend a lot of money or eat exotic things i can’t pronounce to feast.

ps: the picture? that’s me, there, the cute-bordering-on-adorable (well, somebody’s got to say it) one standing on the left, and my great-grandmother, chef mimmy. (the little onionhead she’s holding is my little sister.)

pps: the photo is a snap of an image and emulsion transfer i did in one of my no-fat art adventures.

the story is mine, but credit for the kindling goes to gwen bell and her best of 2009 blog challenge.

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i’ve fallen into challenge and i can’t get up


a snap of tree roots growing in north hollywood, california that look like feet to me. guess it’s all in how you look at things.

just writing this post proves a challenge of the first order as i try to get it from becoming a flat-out pity party.

other top contenders include:

* we moved this year.
* the holidays: overspending.
* the holidays: feeling melancholy instead of the generally preferred (by others) festive.
* the holidays: decorating followed by the dreaded un.
* the holidays: greetings, as in continuing to wish folks a “happy, happy” when around here, anyway, using anything but “merry christmas” can draw blood.
* a to do list that’s about to implode and involve collateral damage.
* settling the estate of a precious, much-loved, childless 97 year-old great-aunt who had two not-really-so-dear-but-just-as-childless-and-tenaciously-long-lived predeceased sisters (a.k.a. you never saw so much stuff).
* learning del.icio.us (the “damn” is implied).
* creating digital social faux pas’es. (which is the way i think you indicate plural, as in a few more than several).
* not sounding too eager when digitally meeting new people.
* not sounding too lackadaisical when digitally meeting new people.
* my weight.
* those little critical, naysaying voices.
* juggling what i need to do with what i want – and vice versa.

i have written this post several times now. the first draft was a clever little ditty about the boot camp i just finished. (or would have had my back not gotten all messed up). the 2nd draft was a wordy wrangle about how the challenge of how much a private girl like me should actually reveal and why opening yourself up is always risky. the edit stage of that version is when i realized my real challenge was how not to appear/feel like a poor-little-me girl. and just now, as i was polishing this off, comes a text message from a friend who underwent surgery for a hernia today telling me they found cancer. and right on the heels of that a call from my brother telling me that his stepson’s face and neck came in direct contact with a full-charged and running drill motor, requiring some 67 stitches on the outside and i-don’t-know-how many on the inside.


now i realize 2 things:
1) in the best interest of myself and everybody else, i HAVE to get this challenge piece posted and move on


2) i don’t really have any challenges worthy of note. (but thanks for listening.)



the story is mine, but credit for the kindling goes to gwen bell and her best of 2009 blog challenge.

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pieces of peace


my grandmother made quilts – one for everybody in the family.

she’d swap fabric scraps with neighbors, decide on a pattern, then dump the accumulated fabric bits out on the bed, make her selections, and start cutting. she consulted with us about our preferred color for the flannel backing fabric, but she and she alone made the decision on fabric for the quilt tops based mostly – okay, solely – on what fabrics she had in hand.

she used a sewing machine – an old treadle machine – to sew the pieces together into blocks then the blocks together into the top. one the top was assembled, she’d sandwich batting between the quilt top and flannel backing and stitch those together, the machine whirring it’s irregular rhythm. the very last thing she did once the quilting was done and the borders finished off, was embroider our name in a corner of the quilt, and that she did by hand.


honestly, the quilts weren’t all that special to us. we figured quilting was just something grandmother did to keep busy. my mother used our quilts to wrap furniture when she moved it out to redecorate and as beach towels when we went to the ocean and as dog beds on cold winter nights. when they got dirty, she’d throw them in the washing machine then hang them on the line to dry.

a few years ago i decided to catalog grandmother’s quilts and asked my cousins, aunts, and uncles to bring their quilts to be photographed. when we held the first one up to the backdrop of the woods and stepped back to have a look, there was an audible collective inhale followed by the most exquisite silence – the silence of respect and appreciation and love-in-a-new-light.


my quilt is in the velveteen stage of life, loved raw in places, the batting spilling out and making a mess all over the place. i’ve thought about mending it, but, shoot, i’ve never gotten around to it. i ought to, though, because let me tell you one thing: some of the most peaceful moments i’ll ever know are enjoying that deep, peaceful, falling-off-the-edge good sleep that comes only on the nights when grandmother’s quilt is wrapped around me. mmm mmm mmm. all those tiny little pieces. painstakingly cut, arranged, then stitched together into something bigger. something much, much bigger.


the story is mine, but credit for the kindling goes to gwen bell and her best of 2009 blog challenge.

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