Tuesday, December 13, 2016

2016 Christmas Letter

At Christmas, I like to send a yearly recap to all of my friends and relatives who are now scattered in the different places that life has landed them.  And with life being what it is (life), some years are filled with more milestones than others.  2016 has been one of those years.

Holiday Greetings!
Since I have no idea where to begin this 2016 recap, I’ll start with the passing of my daddy.   He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last November after becoming ill with a multitude of symptoms (almost all of which he kept to himself).  Because of his age and overall health, surgery was not an option.  And knowing that the devastating side effects of chemo and radiation would only hasten the inevitable, dad chose to be cared for at home.   The man who throughout the years taught me important things like how to connect with people through conversation (he never met a stranger), how to rake and burn a big pile of leaves without catching the neighborhood on fire, and how to back up a 24 foot U-Haul truck with a car hitch attached to the back without running someone over, also taught me about how to listen to and take care of someone I love who I know is dying.  Until his last breath in the very early hours of the morning on June 8th, I learned from him how to be a better person.  Lordy, but I loved having him in my life…
 On the Work Front
We finally developed our GPL Park!  We’ve only been dreaming about it since 2008.  But after a series of successful grants and increased public interest this past year, we were able to get a sidewalk, security lighting, sod, raised planting beds, benches and a gazebo.  I had trees and shrubs delivered this morning…
 Our library hosted the annual state library convention in April.  This was a noteworthy achievement for the GPL considering Gadsden doesn’t have a convention center.  We were only able to pull the whole thing off with the help of every single GPL staff member working their fingers to the bone, and almost every local downtown partner loaning us space for events and breakout sessions.  400+ librarians, vendors and authors converged on Gadsden for three days.  We survived.  It was marvelous.
We are about to join forces with friend and educator Chip Rowan to bring his Beautiful Rainbow Catering Company & Garden into the library as a permanent partner in our cafe.  Chip works with young adults with cognitive disabilities, teaching culinary and business skills for future employment.  He is currently working through the Gadsden City School system, but hopes to one day become an independent employer of some of his graduates.  We are renovating our existing café to hold an educational kitchen, a dining area for guests, a classroom/boardroom for additional learning, and an office for the day-to-day transactions of running a café/catering company.  Because Chip and his guys currently grow much of the food they use in their catering jobs, we have agreed to turn over all eight of our raised planting beds that are located in our GPL Park to the Company.  These young chefs-in-training have catered several events for us this year.  They are excited about the amazing food that they create, and are just as excited about sharing it with our community.  I am looking forward to spending my lunch time in their café come January of 2017!
 The final event in our Gadsden Reads is this Tuesday.   With the help of attorney Bryan Stevenson and his Equal Justice Initiative of Montgomery, we are dedicating a memorial to Bunk Richardson, a man wrongly lynched here in 1906.  This all came about through our choosing of Stevenson’s book Just Mercy for our 2016 reading initiative which set into motion a community-wide discussion of the justice system as it pertains to ethnicity, mental health, socioeconomics, gender, and age. We are now openly talking about our local history of marginalizing certain groups within our community.  It has not been an easy series of programs.  Some folks are happy to finally be heard.  Others question why we’re “stirring things up.”  It’s just shameful and wrong to keep sweeping these things under the rug.
 On the Home Front
2016 was another DIY year for us.  I spent a great deal of time staining and painting the rafters and ceiling of the patio Eric built back in 2015.  We ripped out the dropped ceiling of laundry room to expose the old beadboard that was hidden underneath.  Eric built a sliding barn door to close off the laundry from the kitchen should we ever need to.  We added buried electrical out to the garage for a security system.  And after a lifetime of using ice cube trays, I have an icemaker in my fridge.  Eric installed it I’m sure because of some deep desire to provide ice cubes for his wife and dog.   As much as I am enjoying the ice, it still seems unnatural to have so much at my disposal.
Wishing you a wonderful holiday and much love,

Friday, October 14, 2016

Boy On the Bus

I’ve mentioned a boy from my childhood, Jeff Partee, briefly before in my blog entitled We’re Too Busy Singing to Put Anybody Down, describing him as a “usually-good-natured-but-potentially-volatile-bus-ruffian” who rode vehicle number 77-46 with my sister and me during the late 70s.  He was a super sharp guy who was wickedly funny, but quick to bow up on someone should someone need to be bowed up upon.  

There was only one of Jeff Partee, but Ty, our bus driver, always pluralized him by calling him Partees.  She’d yell out, “Partees!  Sit down!”  “Partees!  I done told you once, don’t make me tell you again!”  “ Partees!  Don’t make me stop this bus!”

She was right by calling him Partees.  He caused more shenanigans than one boy alone could.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The One Where Dad Dies Twice

Since Dad passed in June, I’ve not dreamt of him...until night before last.  Eric and I have recently made a habit of watching an episode of Friends each night before bed.  Night before last, we watched the episode entitled The One Where Nana Dies Twice.  Without giving a full summary of what happens in the episode, suffice it to say that Monica and Ross’ grandmother dies twice (in a forced, sitcom-y way) in the show.  

Later that night, I dreamt that I went over to Mom and Dad’s house to do yardwork and Dad was sleeping in their back bedroom with mom standing nearby.  In my dream, Dad had already died once, but was alive again with the understanding that he would be passing away a second time soon.  I felt a joy at getting this second chance to spend time with him.  But, I was trying to be super quite so as to not wake him because we had plans to take him and Mom to Red Lobster later that afternoon.  But wake him, I did.  And when he opened his eyes, he smiled up at mom, happy to see her.  I asked if I needed to stop doing yard work so we could go to Red Lobster and Mom said no, that I should finish doing my work, and that she would feed Dad “two big pieces of chocolate cake” to keep him till we went to eat.  And Dad’s smile got bigger...

This dream made me think of a dream Vicki had about Dad not long after he died.  In her dream, we were all sitting at the dining room table at Mom and Dad’s house, with Dad at his customary head of the table spot.  Dad was talking about something to all of us and Vicki looked over at him and said, “I wish you hadn’t died.”  Dad stopped saying what he was saying, looked at her and responded quietly, “I thought we were pretending?”

I started working on an expanded obituary blog post for Dad right after we posted the concise version in the Gadsden Times.  It has been harder lately for me to revisit it to finish, but eventually I will.  He has such a story, one that cannot be easily summed up. 

Post Script:  In keeping with dreams of Dad, Mom recently shared a dream she had of Dad right before he died.   Her dream was real-time and happened when she was dozing in her chair after having gotten Dad settled in for sleep with his meds.  In the dream, she looked out the front windows from her chair and saw Dad, with his white hair flowing, running down the driveway with the neighbor’s dog Ike.  Ike was a regular visitor at Mom and Dad’s house until he was killed one morning a couple of years ago. Mom and Dad had often commented on missing Ike because it felt like Ike had adopted them.  I’d like to think that dream meant that Ike was waiting on Dad…

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Like Trees, Walking by Ravi Howard

 “He remembered things we had never known.  How to dress rope-burned skin.  How to wire a neck, broken and distended, to make the bones straight again.  Arrange the high, starched collar and necktie so they hid the marks that makeup could not conceal.  I watched him as he worked, cradling Michael’s head in his hands.  He held it like he held mine in the waters along the bay, on the summer afternoon he tried to teach me to float.  I floated for a while, but when I opened my eyes and realized his hands were gone, and what I felt along my neck and back was just a memory of his fingers, I sank like a rock.” (Pg. 101 & 102, Like Trees, Walking, Ravi Howard, Harper Collins)

Ravi Howard’s Like Trees, Walking is a work of fiction carefully constructed around the all too real 1981 lynching of teen Michael Donald.  Two brothers, reluctant potential heirs to the family funeral home business and friends to the victim, search for answers and for a way to deal with their loss.  The results of this search are heartbreaking. 

Although it appears that the incident which Howard poetically presents to his readers is of a specific act carried out in 1981 Mobile, Alabama, sadly, it is a story that represents many acts that have been repeated over and over again throughout history.  Repeated over and over again about different towns in the south, north, the east and the west.  A story told about our very own Gadsden, Alabama at one shameful time in our history.  It is a story that is contemplative, powerful and familiar.  A story to which we can no longer turn a blind eye.

Mr. Howard is scheduled to visit Gadsden, Alabama in April of this year as a part of our state library convention.  I look forward to meeting him.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Patio for The Bungalow

Remember when we retained the Bungalow backyard back in May?  That project was the first of many projects that were recommended to us by Liz Wood Finlayson of Finlayson Landscape Designs (FLD) in the master plan to make our backyard more usable.  The original plan was to build a deck as the first layer off of the house, with a hard-scaped level below it.  For many reasons (drainage, longevity, etc.), we chose to put in a concrete patio for our first layer instead.  So, once we built the retaining wall and installed a drainage system we designed ourselves, we were ready for concrete.

Concrete work that requires something more than opening up a sack of Quikrete and mixing with water is more work than I want to commit to, so our concrete was poured, stamped, scored and sealed on two of the hottest days of the summer by someone who does concrete work for a living.  The pouring went quickly, but still, a bit too slowly for the setting time of the concrete in the heat we had.  Despite the prep work Eric had done to ensure the correct position of the brackets for the uprights,  the guys had trouble remembering where and how to set them.  They were set incorrectly, then corrected as best as they could be set before the point of no turning back.  Thank goodness Eric was home to help.

Several weeks later, friends came to help raise the uprights and the beams.

A Washington Crossing the Delaware moment.

On nights after work and on weekends, Eric attached rafters, placed decking and added the metal roof.  And we christened her many times with wine and beer during the process.

What we began with in 2010.

Friday, November 20, 2015


Had to visit the doctor yesterday.  It seems my old childhood nemesis tonsillitis hunted me down for a long-overdue visit.  After four days of a raging sore throat and a case of laryngitis that left me sounding like a delicious cross between Kathleen Turner and Harvey Fierstein, I couldn’t take it anymore.  Two shots and a script for an antibiotic.  I’ll gladly take it so I can get back into the office (worked from home twice this week) and take care of the mounds of work waiting for me.  Also want to be in traveling form for next week’s Thanksgiving trip.  New Thanksgiving adventures await in Topeka.

A young man whom I had struck up a conversation with while waiting outside the doctor’s office was heading to London later in the day. After thirty-odd years of not having contact with his mother, he had reached out to her for the first time last year.  Taking the time between then and now to get to know her (communicating much via cell phone and social media, traveling alone to visit her last year), he was ready to take his wife and children to meet her.  Their plans included Disneyland Paris.  And a Thanksgiving meal.  A traditional Thanksgiving in a city that doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving.  But one doesn’t have to have tradition to have a Thanksgiving.  And starting new traditions are sweet (and sometimes come with a hint of bittersweet).

When I woke this morning a 2:30AM with a coughing fit that lasted at least a half hour and couldn’t EVER go back to sleep, I prayed for him and his family on their Thanksgiving adventure.  And I thought of all the versions of Thanksgiving I had experienced.

Of course, my mind turned first to my earliest Thanksgivings as a child spent in Kentucky with my Gran and Grandpa.  We’d travel the six hours or so in Dad’s big red pickup truck.  Vicki and I would be safely tucked into makeshift sleeping quarters in the camper-shelled truck bed, food and water to keep us from dying, window cracked a hair (also to keep us from dying), an intercom system rigged from the main cabin to the back bed for communication between the pilots and their passengers.  Sometimes Mom and Dad would let me ride up front when I got ansty and I’d listen to Dad use the CB radio to talk to other truckers on the road.  Among other things, he’d find out where police (Smokey, 5-0, fuzz) were hidden, if there was a traffic jam ahead, or where the nearest rest stop was located (sis and I were all the time needing bathroom breaks as much for a chance to see what candy and tacky souvenirs we could buy with our allowance as for relieving ourselves).

As we got closer to Waynesburg, dad would begin sending out CB calls to my gran, who ran a base station for long-range CB communication that we called Home Base.  I can remember the suspense of his first call out into the darkness of the CB world, “Breaker, Breaker 1-9, this here’s Super Duck…”  Usually, it took several tries over several accumulated minutes (which seemed like hours to me) to finally hear my gran’s voice, faint and then stronger as the miles between us diminished, guiding us in to Home Base.  This is when I acquired my CB handle “The Red Barron” (I was a huge Snoopy fan AND a blossoming WWI history scholar) and was allowed to make calls myself.  By the time we pulled into the long dirt drive in front of gran’s trailer with what looked like every light in the place blazing like a lighthouse, I was bouncing between the seat and the dash from my uncontained excitement.  It didn’t matter that it was often 2 or 3 in the morning when we arrived (M&D thought leaving at night would keep us asleep for most of the trip…it sometimes worked), we’d be wide awake as we piled out of the truck and down the sidewalk-receiving-line that awaited us.  Gran, and whoever else was spending the night (cousins, aunts, uncles, the friends who were like family), would come out to hug us, grab our things from the car and usher us into the toasty confines of the mudroom and spacious living room that Grandpa had built onto the trailer.  There, we’d catch up while we warmed up, the adults drinking coffee or a beer, Vicki and I tucking into the corner of some sofa or recliner with an adult who would show us attention.  Then, when we were almost asleep on our feet, we’d be ushered into a back bedroom that could hold all four of us, or split off into two separate rooms that would become our homes for the holidays.

Because my Gran entertained anyone who walked up to her door on Thanksgiving Day (and really, any day), the house was FULL of food.  A turkey or two, a ham, a couple of pans of cornbread dressing, giblet gravy, green beans with ham bone, creamed corn, baked beans with bacon, pinto bean with ham, black eyed peas, boiled cabbage, cole slaw, potato salad, sliced tomatoes, sliced onions, canned cranberry sauce, pans of cornbread, dinner rolls, cakes, pies, puddings, cookies, more.  If her meal didn’t put you into a comatose state, then she hadn’t done you right.

We’d spend days just eating and communing, listening into the party-line conversations on the telephone, layering up to walk the fields, and hoping for a snow storm to prevent us from returning home and to school.  Many an evening before our morning departure we could be seen dancing the Native American snow dance that dad taught us, hoping, praying for snow.  And because that ridiculous dance brought snow on a few of our Kentucky Thanksgivings and stranded us for an extra day or two, it became a traditional “last dance.”  I can’t remember the steps, but I sure can remember the way Vicki, Dad, Mom, Gran and anyone else we could snare in our gravitational pull looked as we chanted and twirled and fell like snow flakes around each other.  I’d pay an eyetooth to go back for just one minute…

Years later, Gran and Grandpa divorced, and Gran eventually sold the farm to one of the friends who was like family, and she cast her net wider as a nomadic caregiver, a senior who took care of seniors. She lived with and cared for an author who homesteaded on Spruce Island, Alaska, in addition to numerous individuals in California and other people who lived in what seemed like exciting locations. And because of this, my mom and dad started a new tradition for themselves, and began hosting Thanksgivings in their home.  It was always much smaller, but more intimate at Mom and Dad's.  Mom would start cooking everything in the wee hours of the morning.  Later in the day, Dad would carve the turkey, Vicki would set the table, and I would fry the eggplant.  

But then Vicki married, so things changed with an addition.  And then I moved away to New York and had my very first Thanksgiving on my own (which is another story in itself), so there was a subtraction.  And throughout the years, my Mom and Dad have flexed gracefully to the ebbs and flows of the additions and subtractions.  Holidays are beautiful that way, flexible and changing.  When something is taken away, there always seems to be something added. 

Mom still starts cooking Thanksgiving lunch in the wee hours of the morning.  Later in the day, Dad will carve the turkey, but now he sometimes lets me.  Vicki is in charge of frying the eggplant because of the dangers it poses to my gluten free status.  And Eric and I do whatever else that needs doing.  Sometimes it is just playing with my nephew and/or tasting foods as they are being plated.  We all take quality control very seriously.  Especially Dad, who has to be watched constantly in the kitchen.  He is a master thief taste tester.

So, I was back to the office this morning.  My throat felt a hundred times better today, sounding more in the lines of a mezzo-soprano. Very becoming. I could've potentially pulled off an Ethel Merman impersonation.
“Clear the decks! Clear the tracks!
You've got nothing to do but relax.
Blow a kiss. Take a bow.
Honey, everything's coming up roses!”

To hear the lady herself:

And to brush up on your CB lingo, please visit these fine sites:
CB Slang