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

Thanksgiving

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



Thursday, August 27, 2015

Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee



It is time to address the elephant in the room, Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee.  I avoided reading reviews of this book until I was very near the end of reading the book for myself.  My delay in reading reviews was because I felt certain that Watchman was not a newly discovered (or long-lost) sequel to To Kill A Mockingbird, but was the rejected first novel manuscript mentioned in several biographies (all of them unauthorized) on Ms. Harper Lee.  I also delayed my reading of reviews because I wanted to come to the novel objectively and openly…and because I was already hearing rumors that Watchman was flat out ruining Mockingbird forever in the eyes and hearts of southerners, northerners and foreigners alike.  God help us when we discover that our beloved fictional characters are more human (what?!?) than we thought (or desired) them to be.  Gracious.

So, having read Watchman with an objective and open mind, here is what I personally think about the book: 1) I am glad that it was not published before Mockingbird and I would certainly not recommend it over Mockingbird to anyone wanting an opinion of which novel to read first.  And although I’m not even sure that it should have been published in the first place because it reads sometimes in a disjointed, unpolished manner as if it were an unedited manuscript, I’m glad that it was published because it is an excellent historical companion piece (in so many ways) to Mockingbird.  2)  It is dated. And not in a way that a modern author who researched the 1950s in order to write a novel that sounded like it was written in the 1950s sort of way.  If Watchman is the manuscript I truly think it is, it was ACTUALLY written IN the 1950s, so some of the slang and references do not translate terribly well into modern vernacular.  3)  Watchman contains some passages of such exquisite Southern Gothic beauty and humor, I thought I was going to die from them.  

For example:  “On clear days Cousin Joshua read Greek, and he left a thin volume of verse printed privately by a firm in Tuscaloosa. The poetry was so ahead of its time no one has deciphered it yet, but Jean Louise’s aunt keeps it displayed casually and prominently on a table in the living-room.” 

And, “The county and the town were named for a Colonel Mason Maycomb, a man whose misplaced self-confidence and overweening willfulness brought confusion and confoundment to all who rode with him in the Creek Indian Wars. The territory in which he operated was vaguely hilly in the north and flat in the south, on the fringes of the coastal plain. Colonel Maycomb, convinced that Indians hated to fight on flat land, scoured the northern reaches of the territory looking for them. When his general discovered that Maycomb was meandering in the hills while the Creeks were lurking in every pine thicket in the south, he dispatched a friendly Indian runner to Maycomb with the message, Move south, damn you. Maycomb was convinced this was a Creek plot to trap him (was there not a blue-eyed, red-headed devil leading them?), he made the friendly Indian runner his prisoner, and he moved farther north until his forces became hopelessly lost in the forest primeval, where they sat out the wars in considerable bewilderment.”  (As Eric pointed out to me, that second passage sounds down right Faulknerian!  Hey, let’s start a rumor that Faulkner actually wrote Watchman!).

I do sincerely hope that no one took advantage of Ms. Harper Lee in her advancing years in order to make money off of her “newly discovered manuscript,” as so many folks are saying.  Perhaps it is as Biographer Charles Shields hypothesizes, that because Alice Lee felt that their father was represented in such poor light in Watchman, it was she who kept the original manuscript under lock and key all these years.  And that two and a half months after Alice Lee’s passing this book was “found” and immediately put under contract.  Plausible? Yes.  Truthful?  Who will ever know… 

I think Jaimie Pickle Jones of the Rainbow City Pickle-Jones says it best in her Goodreads review, “I loved the way Jean Louise looked at her small town. She loves it because it's her home, but she makes sure not to keep it too precious, she tells its characters, its faults.”  Couldn’t have said it better myself.  I give that a hearty AMEN.