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.