Tag: tribute (Page 2 of 8)

46: What a Woman Wants Sometimes Has Little To Do With Logic. Or Age. Or What Anybody Else Wants Them to Want.

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The second year I was a Chambers, Nancy (who was then 15 years old) wanted a doll for Christmas.

“No,” declared her dad. “You’re too old for a doll.”

Her mother turned to me with tears in her eyes.

“I’ll handle this,” I assured my mother-in-law, and that fine Christmas morning found not one but two dolls under the tree for Nancy – one a big girl doll, the other a baby doll. Nancy’s joy was obvious, and my mother-in-law’s gratitude was palpable.

What about Mr. C you ask? Well, I like to think Mr. Chambers and I learned something about each other that year.

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Several years later, Nancy was a resident at Stewart Home School in Frankfort, KY. The Engineer and I attended Parents’ Weekend, spending the days on campus and taking Nancy with us to spend nights in the hotel room. We talked non-stop, Nancy and I did. Talked and talked and talked.

Now back then, Nancy would get fixated on one subject and kinda’ wear it out. That particular weekend, she was keen on talking about what good care she took of Baker and Terry Lynn – how she helped them in the shower, how she brushed their teeth, how she put them in the bed.

When we checked her in with her dorm mother at the end of that weekend, I asked Ms. Catherine if I could meet Baker and Terry Lynn. Giving me a puzzled look, she asked “Why do you want to meet them?”

“Because Nancy and I have spent three days talking about them. I know how important they are to Nancy, and I’d just like to meet them.”

“Follow me,” she said, and we headed off down the hallway, stopping at the foot of Nancy’s bed. “This right here is Baker,” Ms. Catherine said, patting a big stuffed polar bear on the head, “and Terry Lynn has been dead for about 12 years.”

I had spent the entire long weekend talking relatively intelligently – at least continuously – about a stuffed animal and a dead person.

That’s when I knew for sure I was a writer.



To this day, Nancy loves her “babies”. When she started spending her days at the ARC a couple of years ago, I got a call from her teacher informing me that Nancy was regularly taking a classmate’s baby doll without permission, which, of course, upset the classmate. “We issue Amber Alerts when we see Nancy headed that way or catch her with the baby doll in her hands, but we just can’t continue like this and wondered if you could shed some light on this,” Mona kinda pleaded.

I told Mona about Nancy’s affinity for babies, how she likes to “take good care of them”, then promised to get a baby doll for Nancy that could live at the ARC. Every morning when Nancy arrives, Mona gets Nancy’s baby down from the top of the metal storage cabinet, and Nancy grabs the baby by the throat and slams places her on the table at her place. At the end of the day, Mona returns Nancy’s baby to the top of the cabinet, tucking her in for the night, and Nancy returns home to check on the 72 or so babies that wait for her on her bed. And in her chair. And on her dresser. And in her closet.


IOOL4 14

In Our Own Language 4:14

Nancy (my developmentally disabled sister-in-law) draws.
I (the woman who flat-out loves her) stitch.



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40: When I Miss Him Most


I am scared of thunderstorms.
Not just scared

And when I became a mother,
I took a lot of deep breaths
and used every ounce of
self control I could muster
discipline I didn’t know I had
love I knew was big but not that big
to not let my children see my fear
so they wouldn’t inherit it.

It’s when I miss him most,
you know.
My daddy.
When thunder shakes the house
and lightning leaves us in the dark
and rain comes in a deluge that finds Noah
backing his ark out of the garage.

If he was home when a storm came up,
Daddy would just appear at my door
without saying a word about the storm.
He was just in the neighborhood, you know.

If he was away,
he’d call.
Just to talk.
“You okay, hon?” he’d ask
then settle into a conversation
about this and that.
He just happened to be thinking about me,
you know.

I’m lying.

It’s not when I miss him most.
It’s one of the times I miss him most.



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32: A Surprise Encounter

AlexFamily2 14 15

Facebook Post

So there I am, looking at pocketbooks, arguing with myself that I surely don’t need another pocketbook but gosh darn, it’s my birthday and I can be frivolous if I want to be, when a young teenage girl crosses the store to get to me and hands me a purple square of paper on which is drawn a heart holding these handwritten words: Don’t forget to smile. Don’t forget to love. Happy Valentine’s Day from Alex.

I want to know more, but she is gone. I don’t see her anywhere. I kick myself for not asking her what she was handing me. Eventually, though, I spot her and run to catch up. She is with a woman and a tall, lanky young man. “I’m curious,” I tell her. “What’s the story behind this valentine?”

The woman tells me that Alex is her son who died last October. His last words were “Don’t forget to smile. Don’t forget to love.” As she tells me more of the story, tears spill. I’m quite sure we’ll soon need to call for clean-up on aisle 14, and I don’t care.

“Today’s my birthday,” I tell her, “and this is the best gift ever.” Hugs are swapped and enthusiastic wishes for a happy birthday come from Alex’s sister and brother (who’s wearing a t-shirt with a photo of Alex on it, and you know, nobody thinks it the least bit odd when I reach out and touch the brother’s chest.)

Alex’s mother asks to take a photo, then more tears are shed and hugs exchanged before we part ways. I don’t even know their names, but Alex will live forever in the mind and heart of this woman called Jeanne who never had the honor of knowing him in this life.

Atlanta, GA

Today Alison and I go to the surgeon’s office on the twelfth floor to have the drainage tube removed from her throat. When the elevator doors open on the eleventh floor, a woman pushes a stroller from the back of the crowded elevator to the front, and as she’s exiting, I see that she’s wearing a shirt that says “Don’t forget to smile, Alex”.

It all happens so fast.

I see the shirt, the memory floods me just as clearly as if it happened yesterday. She pushes past me, exits the elevator cab, and in a split second decision, I go after her, turning around to hold the doors open long enough to assure Alison that I’ll be along in a few minutes.

“Excuse me,” I say to the young woman in the t-shirt. “I see your t-shirt, and well, last February on Valentine’s Day, a teenage girl stopped me in a store in Newnan to give me a purple piece of paper bearing those same words: “Don’t forget to smile. Don’t forget to love, Alex.'”

The young woman’s face lights up into a broad smile and in her best broken English, she says “That’s my sister.” She goes on to explain as best she can that the t-shirts and valentines are how Alex’s family deals with their grief and how they keep Alex’s memory alive. She reaches out and hugs me warmly just like her sister did 6.5 months ago.

And just as I did 6.5 months ago, I leave smiling and blessing Alex’s family for honoring his memory in such a fine, meaningful way and vowing that though I’ll never have the privilege of knowing Alex in this life, I’ll never forget him – memorializing him by remembering to love and remembering to smile. Seems a fine legacy to me, Alex. A mighty fine legacy.

28a: Birthday Boy

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4:51 a.m. August 28. It’s a moment that my boy Kipp Chambers and I share. It’s the very minute he was born. I call him every year at the exact minute (time zone is his problem not mine) to tell him the story of that day – his genesis – and to remind him of how, in his very own precocious way and in the only language he had at the time, he declared his independence effectively saying “Y’all can schedule the date (Cesarean), but I’ll decide the time.” Happy birthday, Slug*. I love you more than my pocketbooks.

* Slug, the hottest coal that keeps the fire burning.

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25: To Rub Her Feet Would’ve Cost Her a Quarter

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on hot, muggy summer days,
she would cut a hole in the air,
loosen the bobby pins,
and shake her head
back and forth
and forth and back,
her hair spilling out
as though trying to escape
to somewhere,

she’d sit in the afghan covered chair,
sighing as she
hit the chair with a
plump and a grunt.
she put a hairbrush in one hand
of the grandchild,
and a dime in the grandchild’s
other hand,
turned herself around
and smiled
in keen anticipation.


Today marks the one quarter mark of my 100 stories in 100 days. I appreciate y’all reading along, and if you’d like to get them delivered to your e-mailbox, just mash the black “right this way” button in the orange strip across the top of the screen, enter your email address, and press the submit button. It’s absolutely free, costing only about 3 minutes of your time.

15: Recalling the Essence When the Specifics Escape Us


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

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

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

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

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


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

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13: Pink Galoshes Portrait: Maude Hewell


Allow me to introduce you:
Starting with the adorable little boy in the left forefront
and working our way around:
Crawford Hewell, Jr., who would grow up to be my daddy
Crawford Hewell, Sr., a.k.a. Granddaddy
The woman is Maude (Montie) Gay Hewell, a.k.a. Grandmother
And the chubby little baby she’s holding is the fella I’m named after:
my Uncle Gene

. . . . .


When it was time to bury Juanita, her one-day old daughter,
she tied a knot and hung on.

When Edgar and Earl, her twin boys, were born dead,
she tied a knot and hung on.

When the tractor turned over, crushing and killing her 18 year old son Gene,
she tied a knot and hung on.
When her beloved granddaughter reached for the Zero candy bar kept in the back of the fridge,
she tied a knot and told her “No” for the first time
because that is the candy bar Gene was going to have for an afternoon snack
after he finished pulling up tree stumps with the tractor.
She kept it as her private memorial to him,
thinking of him every time she opened the fridge to get
or milk
or just to remember a spell.

When the bank robbers came and held her family hostage over night,
when they kidnapped her husband,
when they put a gun to her five-year old’s head,
when they drank their prohibition liquor and rebel-roused and threatened
her mother,
the midwife,
and her newborn baby boy,
she tied a knot and hung on.


Meet Maude Gay Hewell,
My grandmother
and the first woman featured in my
Pink Galoshes Portraits of Irrepressible Women series.

. . . . .

This picture was taken in November 1933,
six months after the bank robbery and kidnapping.
As with all my Pink Galoshes Portraits, I’m also identifying how these women remained irrepressible in the face of devastation and hardship. For Grandmother, she had a loving family, and she loved her family. Plus it was 1933, right smack dab in the middle of The Great Depression, so she had no time to wallow and settle herself into the victim chair. She had babies to feed and a husband to love, so she pulled on her pink galoshes and tromped on through the mud and the muck to get to where she needed to go.

. . . . .

Pink Galoshes Portrait, Maude Gay Hewell
20.25″ x 16.25″
photo transferred onto fabric
pieces of a 1930s double wedding ring quilt somebody started but never finished
French knots (36 hours’ worth)
hand stitched

. . . . .

I’m penning 100 stories in 100 days, limbering up to (finally) write a book about that weekend in May 1933 when the bandits came knocking and held my family hostage, including my daddy who was five years old at the time. Had things gone horribly awry, I would not be sitting here today, penning these words – think about that for a minute. Kinda’ makes your head hurt, doesn’t it?

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12: First Day of First Grade: A Once In a Lifetime Happening


Jeanne, First Grade

We didn’t need have kindergarten or pre-k or pre-pre-k or pre-pre-pre-pre-pre k. We just started in first grade, and that was that. The ensemble of first grade teachers stood in front of the room (by “the room”, I mean the boiler room which was also the lunchroom which was also a storage room), dressed in their finest and smiling their biggest. The air was filled with Important Occasion vibes, for this was surely a turning point in our young lives and a new beginning for the teachers.

We sat on the lunchroom freshly-painted benches with our parents, nervously awaiting our name to be on the slip of paper pulled out of the soup pot. Though she never said anything, it was fairly obvious to me that my mother wanted Mrs. Peeples to draw my name. Oh Mrs. Peeples. I still kinda’ swoon at the memory of her always-smiling (but then I wasn’t in her room) (sorry for the spoiler) countenance. Those cat-eye glasses. That perfectly coiffed hair with the little spit curls on each side of her forehead. Lipstick to match the dominant color in the shirtwaist dress she was wearing on any given day, always with a petticoat. That thin white embroidered handkerchief that was always starched, ironed, and on the ready, tucked under her belt. She wore high heels, too, and stockings (well, everybody wore stockings back then, and I don’t mean pantyhose. I mean stockings.) every single day. Yes, my mother, who’s always had a keen sense of style herself when it comes to fashion, prayed that she would hear Mrs. Peeples pull out that slip of paper and read aloud the words “Jeanne Hewell” at which time I would leave my mother and go stand with My First Grade Teacher and Classmates, my new tribe.

But the woman who called out my name was Mrs. Mae Bess Price. I don’t know how long Mrs. Price had been teaching, but I’m pretty sure she invented it as a profession. That woman was o-l-d. Ancient. Beyond ancient. I never saw so many wrinkles, and she was the only woman I knew besides my grandmother who had gray hair. Old, I tell you.

There’s a chance I wouldn’t have behaved the way I did had I been standing with Mrs. Peeples. At least that’s what I tell myself.

The first thing we learned in first grade was How To Line Up Straight. Straight was Important. Each teacher would hold her right arm out for us to use as a guide, and we didn’t move one iota until there wasn’t a single shoulder or toe sticking out to one side or the other. Once we’d mastered that, we followed the teacher up the steps to the hall that ran down the center of the building, a space wide enough to parallel park a 1957 Buick. A hall with a floor so shiny, it could’ve been covered with glass. That hall floor was a piece of art created by The Janitor, to my first grade worldliness way of thinking, the janitor was The Strongest Man Alive. You should’ve seen him operating that floor machine – sometimes guiding it with a single finger, I’ll have you know. And when somebody threw up, who do you think the teacher called but The Janitor who would come scatter those red shavings over it, leave it a bit, then sweep it all up and dispose of it.

With every step up from the boiler room, my enthusiasm for this social experiment wavered. I couldn’t stay here all day, I thought nervously, I had things I needed to tend do. How would the pets survive a day without petting? What would my grandmother do without me readily-available to dote on? And perhaps most pressing of all, how would I ever know if Loretta Young was cured enough to get out of that iron lung if I wasn’t home to watch tv at 1:00 in the afternoon? By the time we reached that shiny, creaking hardwood floor, I thought it a good idea that Mother stay with me a while longer. And I was quite vocal about it, too, so Mrs. Price found an extra first-grade-sized chair for Mother and pulled it right up beside my first-grade-sized desk. And with that taken care of, I could breathe again.

Mrs. Price pointed each one of us to a particular desk, and I needed a step stool to get up into mine. The front of the room was covered with wall-to-wall blackboard with a wooden chalk tray holding an assortment of colorful chalks and erasers. Big cards with every letter of the alphabet – both upper case and lower case – decorated the top of the blackboard. Mrs. Price’s wooden desk and swivel chair with arms sat to the left side of the front of the room right under the window. Oh those windows. The left wall of the room was filled with windows lined up one right next to the other. Each window was the size of a football field, but only a little ole’ rectangle in the center of the bottom of the glass actually opened to let any air in.

The door was on the right wall, up near the front of the room. The silver wall-mounted pencil sharpener was mounted to the left of the door, and The Janitor kept it so clean and free of fingerprints, it shone like a mirror. Shoot, if she had an extra hand and were interested in such things, a girl could fix her hair, get the peanut butter out from between her teeth, and sharpen her pencil all at the same time.

We tended to the business side of being in first grade first. Mrs. Price pulled out her roll book, which once spread open had a wingspan of about 4 feet. Using her fountain pen, she wrote our names in alphabetical order, last name first, in the rectangular spaces to the far left, wrote the date in the appropriate space at the top of the page, then put the first of many check marks in the date box to indicate that we were present and accounted for. For the rest of the year, every day started out the same: we’d put our lunch boxes in the designated area in the back of the room and hang our coats, sweaters, or raincoats up on the pegs. Then we’d each go to our desk, pull out two yellow No. 2 pencils, go sharpen them if needed, then place them in the trough at the top of our desks. We’d yell out “here” when we heard our name during roll call, then we’d stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance to The Flag in unison.

Mrs. Price handed out the spelling cards, square sheets of cream-colored card stock filled with seven columns of words – one column for each day of the week. We were to learn how to say each word, spell each word, and use each word in a sentence. I loved those spelling cards like you wouldn’t believe. What I wouldn’t give to hold one in my hands right this very.

Once we each had a spelling card, we were given our reading book. Reading about Dick and Jane and their mischievous little dog Spot quickly came to be my favorite time of the day (next to recess, lunch, and going home, of course). Soap operas for first grade, that’s what it was. I couldn’t wait to open that book every day and see what those two rascals had gotten themselves into or where they’d go next.

We were given a primary tablet for writing filled with sheets of thin gray newsprint covered with pink and blue lines, some solid, some dashed. It had a blue horse on the front, and I later learned you could save those blue horse pictures and redeem them for all sorts of fantastic prizes like more tablets, pencils that were red on one end and blue on the other, big chunky erasers or pointy pink erasers with a hole in the bottom that was just the right size for sliding over the eraser Certain People had already chewed off in their nervousness.

Mrs. Price then went over the Mae Bess Rules Of Order:
1. Thou shalt always make a straight line when coming in from recess or going to and from the lunchroom.
2. Thou shalt raise thy hand before talking.
3. Thou shalt keep thy pencils sharp.
4. Though shalt not talk to thy neighbor.
5. Thou shalt ask permission before going to the bathroom.

And before you knew it, all necessary business was tended to and it was time to learn our first foreign word: recess. We lined up at the door – in a straight line, of course – and marched out into the hall, and down the steps at the each end of the building. Without any further ado, Mrs. Price went over to the bench under the one tree on the vast expanse of the hard red clay playground to take her seat with the other first grade teachers. There were slides as high as the Empire State Building. There was this thing made of red and blue boards that you stood sat on to go around and around the central metal pole. Swings hung on chains from a metal A-frame. We stood there for a moment, our eyes getting used to the light, then we took off in all different directions. Actually, it’s They took off in all different directions. I was quite content to stand there and watch, noting things like who played with who, who went to which piece of playground equipment first, who let who break in line, what the different laughs sounded like – all those oft-overlooked things . . . but my mother (who we learned that day likes being in the thick of people a whole lot more than I do) was decidedly less content to observe.

“Why don’t you go slide?” she asked, giving me a firm push in the direction of that gleaming metal contraption.

I stumbled about two steps from the shove then stopped.

“Go on,” she said, giving me another hard shove. “You know you like people.”

In the spirit of compromise, I grabbed her hand and pulled her with me to the sliding board. There were about four people in line, so it took a little while to get to the top rung of the ladder, but I made it, checking with every inch of ascension to make sure that Mother was still standing at the base, waving to me. Finally my little white tennis shoe clad foot with the lacy fold-down white socks on it hit the top of the slide. I did like I’d seen the other kids do, placing each hand on one of the metal rails then hoisted myself up, swinging my legs out in front of me so that when I came down, I was seated on the top of the sliding board. With August being by far the hottest month of the year and school starting just after Labor Day, my new panties with the rows of ruffles across the back provided absolutely no insulation from the heat of that metal sliding board that had been baking in unfiltered sun for more than 31 days.

I looked down to make sure Mother was still watching, determined to make her proud. Her daughter would be The Best Sliding Board Slider Ever. I could just hear the supper table conversation. “Crawford, you should’ve seen her. She went down that slide faster than anybody else alive. She just zoomed, and nobody had run wax paper over it either. She’s got real potential. I’ve always said so.” My daddy would beam as he leaned over to give me a kiss on the top of my head. I hoped we were having cubed steak, mashed potatoes, cornbread, and corn on the cob for supper. This exchange just HAD to happen over cubed steak, mashed potatoes, cornbread, and corn on the cob.

Sure enough, Mother was still there, smiling and waving. I released my grip on the handlebars, giving myself a little shove to get me started. Just as I’d imagined I would, I broke the sound barrier with my rapid descent. When my feet touched the ground, I turned and started running back to get my congratulatory hug from Mother . . . but she was gone. I instinctively looked in the direction of the Oldsmobile she’d parked on the street at the beginning of This Most Auspicious Day, and there it was, pulling away, the hem of her dress sticking out where she’d closed the door on it. I tell you what: abandonment like that could’ve stunted the growth of lesser 6 year olds.

The bus bringing me home from a long day at school got to our house about the time that big ole’ Olds pulled into the driveway bringing Mother home from a long day afternoon at the office. I was so tired, I just walked directly over to the sofa and took myself a good, long nap. Mother woke me up with a call to supper, and I salivated in keen anticipation the whole way from the sofa to the kitchen table, but when I slid into my chair it was not a meal of cubed steak, mashed potatoes, cornbread, and corn on the cob I saw on the plate before me, but a plate full of weenies without buns cut into bite-size pieces.

I learned enough lessons to fill a book on that first day of first grade . . . and not all of them were lessons Mrs. Price was gonna’ grade me on.


The dress I’m wearing in my first grade picture? It was the most fetching shade of royal blue cotton fabric you’ve ever seen. The collar and cuffs were white trimmed with red rick rack. The embellishment around the waist had ever color in the rainbow with the possible exception of orange. I loved that dress, and I still love those two-tone-blue-and-white-cateye-with-silver-sparkles glasses. You know I do. Making my way through 100 days of stories, and you can tune in daily if you want by mashing the button in the orange box at the top of the screen and following the directions. I’ll see y’all tomorrow.

What Love Looks Like With 42 Years on the Odometer


being heard meant being able to repeat back to me what I just said.
being heard means that without prompting, you remember that I need to take photos of my Hymns of Cloth and you talk to the neighbor about using his barn, rig up a system, gather the tools, and make it happen.


being seen meant you noticed the scar on my nose (a visible reminder of when I ran into the bridge) and thought it adorable.
being seen means you secretly find the address for the fabric store in London and walk me there, bringing along a book so I can take all the time I like to delight in (and decide on) the gorgeous fabrics.


being held meant holding hands or resting your arm around the back of my chair or letting me snuggle up close when we watched scary or sad movies.
being held means that when we get separated at parties, you keep an eye on me from afar, knowing how much this introvert you married longs to be in the corner watching the stories unfold.


I felt butterflies when you walked into the room.
I feel butterflies when we’re apart . . . when you’re working on the roof . . . when you don’t answer your phone.


“till death do us part” meant nothing, not even a page on a calendar we would buy One Day.
we know that “till death do us part” might mean tomorrow morning, this afternoon, or tonight
is precisely why we keep filling our togetherness with adventures, discoveries, and always, always, always . . . laughter.

Like Mama Helen said this past weekend: I sure knew which ones to kick to the curb and which one to keep. Forty-two years later, and you’re still The One, My Engineer. Oh my goodness gracious yes – you are most definitely still The One.


Starting tomorrow, I’m gonna’ pen 100 stories in 100 days (#100Days100Stories). Why? Because I’ve been longing for a challenge, that’s why. Join in or read along, I’ll be tickled to have your company either way.

Joint Custody


By the occasion of his first birthday after graduating from high school, Mother had saved enough money to buy Daddy an i.d. bracelet. After Daddy died, the bracelet wound up in my basket, and when my brother trekked off to Afghanistan, I tucked it in his backpack as a link to Home.


My brother (I call him J3) is home now, home to stay, and when I began to miss the bracelet, I proposed a joint custody agreement. Every year on Daddy’s birthday, we’ll get together, my brother and I, for supper and stories, and right about the time dessert would usually hit, we’ll swap the bracelet, having it in our possession for the next year.


Tonight, on Daddy’s birthday, I took possession. It is a good plan, if I do say so myself.

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