Saturday, December 13, 2008

September 1965...

It was Autumn again. A whole year had passed since I had first come to Memphis State. Things seemed different longer the strangeness of being new.

It had been an eventful summer and one in which I'd grown a great deal. I'd been challenged and come away the better for it. I thought often about the beautiful Pacific Northwest and all that I seen there. I also thought about how God had chosen to work in such a mysterious way...for my good and His glory. I kept the papers from the train reservation for many years...just in case I forgot.

Bill came over before school started back to ask me to speak to his church youth group about my summer in Seattle. I had taken many slides and felt comfortable sharing. He told me about his summer and his experiences at the Air Force flight training. He was taking flying lessons at a small airport in the county. One afternoon he stopped by my house on his way home from his flying lesson. He had completed his first solo flight. In keeping with tradition, they had cut off the back half of his shirt and signed it with the date. He couldn't wait to show me, and I was excited for him.

Once again, the BSU was the hub of activity with everyone returning back to school and sharing the events of their summer. Several of the students had traveled to other destinations as summer missionaries. It was fun sharing stories with each other.

Autumn of 1965 would also be when I realized that my feelings for Bill were more than just friendship...

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A summer in Seattle...conclusion

It had been almost forty-eight hours with nothing more than an occasional nap, but the lull of the train had finally rocked me to sleep. I had fallen asleep in the observation deck surrounded by the majesty of the Rocky Mountains. When I awoke early the next morning, we were just a few hours outside of Portland, Oregon. Trying to bathe in the quart-sized sink in the train bathroom was a challenge but I'd managed and then met my friends for breakfast in the dining car. There was such anticipation and each of us wondered what lay ahead for the summer.

Portland was beautiful...with the beautiful Willamette and Columbia Rivers, snow capped mountains in the distance, the Columbia River Gorge and Multnomah Falls. Over the next two weeks, I would fall in love with the City of Roses...but my destination was Seattle. We were met at the train station and driven to the beautiful estate where the two-week orientation would be held.

Students from all over the United States now joined those of us from the East, South and Midwest who had met in Chicago. I'm sure the agenda over the next two weeks included training for what we would need to know as summer missionaries...but my memories are distinctly different. I remember the dormitory where the girls slept with open windows on three sides, inviting in the cool mountain air. That first night's sleep on a top-bunk was one of the best I've ever had. I remember the unexpectedly delicious meals in the dining room with big pitchers of ice cold milk. I remember the amazing view from the mountaintop setting. Most especially, I remember meeting new friends and having fun touring Portland together during our spare time over those two weeks.

Toward the end of orientation, a group of about twenty college students were selected to stay an additional two weeks in Canada at the end of summer. I was one of them. I changed my train reservation and prepared to stay. Little did I know then, the events that decision would precipitate.
There were several of us traveling to Seattle. We would be together off and on throughout the summer. We stayed with different church families who made us a part of their family while we were with them. I remember each of the families..maybe not their names after all these years, but their faces and their homes.

For the next ten weeks, I worked setting up and teaching Vacation Bible Schools all across the Seattle on Vashon Island. We worked in several underprivileged areas. The children at each one tugged at my heart. It was difficult getting attached to them knowing that we would be leaving and moving to the next church in two weeks. It was a time of growing for me...a time of finding out just what I had to give.

It wasn't all work. Those of us assigned to Seattle got together as often as we could. We took the elevator to the top of the Space Needle and enjoyed the view of Seattle and the breathtaking mountains. We went night fishing at a trout farm. We took a ferry to historic Victoria, British Columbia. I loved it, especially Butchart Gardens. One of my friends, Shelby, rented a motorbike and I remember touring part of Victoria on the back of it with him. Another day, we traveled to Mt. Ranier, where I got an up close and personal look at a majestic mountain. I would laugh later when I got home and had all my film developed. I had taken a full roll of Mt. Ranier. I was captivated by this structure, this unbelievable display of God's incredible handiwork, and in my excitement took at least 24 photos which, of course, all looked alike.

Toward the beginning of my last week there, I began having some serious symptoms...among them fever, extreme fatigue, aching joints and shortness of breath. I had been seriously anemic prior to the trip and had endured several painful injections of iron to be able to make the trip...all the while insisting I was going. I thought the symptoms were related to that, but the "Mom" I was staying with at the time insisted on taking me to her physician. He examined me and ordered bloodwork. There were some issues with the blood work; but the doctor admitted he wasn't sure what it was and diagnosed it as "some type of rare virus". I wasn't a Registered Nurse at that time, of course, and didn't ask questions. I just knew I felt ill. The doctor did not recommend that I stay the extra two weeks in Canada, and he definitely did not want me traveling home by train. My home church took up a collection for me to fly home at the end of that week.

I don't remember whether or not the doctor had given me any medication, but over the next few days, I began to feel a little better and enjoyed my last visit with all the friends I had made there. It was difficult saying goodbye to everyone...honestly, I didn't want to leave the beautiful Pacific Northwest. I remember the Friday evening that I boarded the plane to fly first flight ever. There was a battalion of handsome young Air Force men on the same flight. They had been stationed in Alaska for the entire previous year. With a big smile, the "full bird colonel" sat down next to me saying, "I have a daughter just your age...I'm sitting here." I understood what he was saying, of course, but confess to thinking "oh, heck". What better person to have sitting next to you on your first flight though than an Air Force colonel. He was excited about getting home to his wife and the daughter who was my age and told me all about them. Thankfully, he was there to help me make my tight connection at the O'Hare airport in Chicago...something I've done dozens of times since...but not before then.

Oddly enough, when I arrived at the Memphis airport I felt perfectly fine. There were no more symptoms, and my doctor did not find anything with his examination and blood work.

Two weeks after my arrival home, I was sitting on my front porch reading the newspaper. There in black and white was the account of a serious train accident. I remember running into the house and comparing my ticket, which I still had, with the newspaper was the same train. I had goose bumps for days after that.

Only God knows if I would have been among the injured or dead, had I been on that train...but He intervened and orchestrated an early arrival home for me. I'm thankful for that and for the wonderful summer of 1965 in the Pacific Northwest. Little did I know then, that 43 years later, I would be living in the Callahan Mountains of Oregon.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A summer in Seattle...part one

It was early winter 1965. I was nineteen years old and excited about applying to be a summer missionary through the Southern Baptist Convention Home Mission Board. There were thousands of college students applying across the United States, but only a certain number would be chosen. It was a lengthy process, but I completed it...then waited. We would know in the Spring. The summer missionaries would serve in their appointed destinations for ten weeks. By the time we were notified whether or not we had been selected, we'd have time to prepare to travel.

The Baptist Student Union was a busy place that winter. We'd meet there daily for lunch, NoonDay service and just to relax between classes. Several of the BSU students had applied to be summer missionaries, and there was excitement as we were all waiting to hear the news. Bill would be headed to the Altus Air Force base in Oklahoma for ROTC flight training that summer. Each day during lunch or on our long walks together, Bill and I would talk about our plans for the summer.

Word came in the early Spring from the Home Mission Board. I had been selected. My protective parents were opposed to the idea, but this time I didn't ask. I just said "I'm going"...maybe I should have tried that sooner. As my first choice on the application I had chosen an Indian reservation in Oregon. I didn't get it...I was to spend ten weeks in Seattle.

The Home Mission Board paid for the cheapest transportation to a summer missionary's destination. In my case, that was by train...four days and three nights by train to be exact. I remember the night that I boarded the train in Memphis...the Illinois-Central to Chicago. After traveling all night and then an eight hour layover in Chicago the following day, I would have to transfer train stations by bus. I would then board the streamlined, fully-equipped Union-Pacific train line for the cross-country trip to Portland, Oregon, for the two week orientation...such logistics for a nineteen year old who'd never been farther than 200 miles from home. Although the cross country train came equipped with sleeping cabins, I couldn't afford one. I was hoping I could sleep in my seat...unfortunately, sleep didn't come until the third night in route.

I love the classic movies, usually mysteries, that depict traveling by train...eating in the dining car...enjoying the stars by night in the observation deck. Basically, that's exactly what I did, along with the other summer missionaries that I'd met in Chicago...all headed to the Pacific Northwest. Spending that much time together on a train is a good way to get to know each other and we did. All these years later, I still remember names and faces...although, by now, those faces will have changed no doubt. Together, we all enjoyed the dining car with the white tablecloths and little lamps on the tables. We watched the ever changing landscape from the observation deck as the train steadily made its way to the Pacific Northwest. Since none of us could afford the sleeping cars, we did our best to try to rest in our seats.

As I traveled cross-country at the age of nineteen, I saw parts of this country that I'd only read about before. I was thilled to see my first mountain somewhere mid-way along the journey...and then awestruck going through the Rockies at sunset. I was in the first seat of the observation deck with glass all around me. The mountains stretched out forever before me as the train wove in and out of long tunnels making its way northwest.

Even after all these years, the memory of that train journey remains...

Monday, December 1, 2008

Our birthday...

Today is the first day of December...our birthday, Bill's and mine...and, perhaps, the best time to begin telling our story.

The first time I ever saw his face was on an Autumn afternoon in 1964. I was sitting on the sofa by the fireplace in the BSU with some friends, when he walked in the door. He was wearing his Air Force ROTC dress uniform. He removed his officer's cap and placed it on the top shelf of the coat rack. I couldn't help watching him as he walked over to another group of friends and immediately became the center of attention...talking and laughing. I remember thinking he was handsome, very sharp and self-assured, almost cocky...much like a young Tom Cruise in Top Gun. He had beautiful green eyes and dark brown hair clipped short in the ROTC required style. There was something about him that I definitely found appealing.

His name was Bill. I had no way of knowing at that moment that I would spend thirty-nine years of my life with him. Life is a remarkable gift, but unfolds just one brief moment at the time; and at that time, I was dating Mike (the young Sean Connery look-alike), and Bill was dating a redhead named Linda, who was at least as tall as he was or maybe a little taller. Linda was a home economics major as I recall and it would, in the months to come, be a comment made by Linda that made me realize my true feelings for Bill...but that's later in our story.

The exact moment that Bill and I met is lost in my memory, but over the Autumn of 1964 we became friends. At some point during that season, Bill asked me to go to a church banquet with him which was held at a beautiful campgrounds. Memory is a funny thing...laid down in so many transparent layers...but it almost seems I can remember the drive out there in his little black VW bug. There's a canopy of brilliant colors flashing past as we drive along those winding roads...laughing and talking all the way. Many years have passed, but I remember the beautiful gardenia corsage he gave me. Gardenias would be one of his favorites for years to come.

As the months and seasons came and went, our friendship continued to grow. We would find an empty picnic table on the grounds of the BSU when the weather was good and enjoy our lunch together. He would share his Mom's homemade oatmeal raisin cookies with me, which I loved. After lunch, we'd go for long walks in the neighborhood surrounding the MSU campus. Looking back now, I realize we were wanting to get away from the crowd at the BSU...we wanted time to talk and get to know one another.

Little did I know that while I was growing up on Victor Drive, Bill lived just a few short blocks from me all that time. We went to different schools and different churches, so we had never met until that day in the BSU.

For years to come, I would tell Bill that I had been his birthday gift when he was only two years old...

Saturday, November 29, 2008


Mama cherished the holidays each year, because it meant we would all be together once again. Of course, there were other times throughout the year that the family gathered in one place, but the holidays were special. First, there was the Thanksgiving feast and just a few weeks later...Christmas.

Sometime during the week or so before Christmas, we would go to a small grocery store on Jackson Avenue that sold cut Christmas trees looking for that special tree. As I recall, it was usually a fragrant Cedar. Compared to our next door neighbor's tree, which looked like Martha Stewart would have decorated it, our tree looked a bit like a Charlie Brown tree. There were only the large colored lights, a little red or green garland roping, a few ornaments and icicles, but Sharon and I thought it was beautiful.

As I recall, there weren't a lot of presents each year, but I do recall one special gift. I must have been about fourteen that year. I had wanted my very own shoe skates and had actually found them hidden away a week or so before Christmas. Unfortunately, Mama forgot about them. She forgot to give them to me, and all the time, I knew where they were. I don't remember now when she finally remembered them, but I did, finally, get them that Christmas.

Looking at the elaborate felt stockings I have now, I remember our Christmas stockings all those years ago...nylon hosiery stockings filled with oranges, apples, walnuts, pecans and candy. I remember all those little stockings filled and arranged in front of our Santa gifts under the tree. Looking back now, it seems we opened our gifts to one another on Christmas eve, and then Santa arrived on Christmas morning. Santa didn't bring very much, but it was special all the same.

Our Christmas eve tradition was to have our evening meal, open gifts to one another and then drive around looking at all the spectacular displays of Christmas lights. There was one particular wealthy neighborhood that put up amazing displays of lighted Christmas decorations each year...all across their front lawns, trees and houses. My nieces, nephew and I could hardly wait for our meal to be over and gifts to be opened so we could go see the lights. It seems so simple with the telling, but it was a special time and a treasured memory.

As the years passed and we all grew up and had our own families, the traditions evolved. We took turns hosting the Thanksgiving and Christmas meals. Eventually, the next generations arrived, families grew larger and distances separated it does now. Even so, the memories of those special times live on.

It's a cold crisp morning on the farm today and as I look out the studio windows, I see all those acres of enormous Douglas and Grand Fir, magnificent Christmas trees...but what I'm remembering is a special little Charlie Brown Christmas tree on Victor Drive.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Mama learns to drive...

Mama was a wonderful homemaker, Southern cook and an artist with a brush, needle and thread. Although, she could read music by "shaped notes", she sang and played the piano and organ "by ear". She had a wonderful sense of humor and a quick and ready smile. For the most part, I think she was content to stay at home for she considered taking care of her family the most important role in her life.

Daddy was mellow and easy going. As the father of four daughters, I suppose he had to be. He was quiet but also had a good sense of humor. Sharon and I could easily get him to laugh. He had always been protective of Mama as well as his daughters; and perhaps that was the reason she had never learned to drive. She had never considered the fact she couldn't drive a problem, until Daddy began riding to work with a fellow employee...leaving the car at home.

Having a perfectly good automobile left sitting in the driveway and plenty of places she wanted to go was a different story...a motivating factor I would say. There were the fabric stores she loved, grocery shopping and a local shopping center with nice department stores. I was in college and not there during the day to drive for her, so Mama decided she would learn to drive. When Mama made up her mind to do something, there was no stopping her. The police academy offered driving lessons for adults and she enrolled. Mama didn't do anything halfway and became their star pupil.

She loved her newfound freedom in our 1957 Chevrolet, and now insisted on doing the driving herself...even when I was with her! I understood the feeling of those new wings and it would have been fine with me...if only she had driven faster than 25 miles per hour. With her genteel Southern upbringing, she could not understand why people were passing her or giving her unkind looks when she pulled out in front of them at a snail's pace. I believe, eventually, she did pick up her speed and gained her confidence behind the wheel.

I am my Mother's daughter in a lot of ways (no, not the driving - I drive much too fast). When it comes to a paintbrush, needle or thread, I find joy. It's almost as if I don't have a choice...I simply must be in the midst of creating something. As of yet, my quilting projects have been small ones, but I enjoy the process. I love to sew and made many of my daughter's clothes...and even a few for my sons...when they were growing up. I love to cook, especially Southern style. Most importantly, I have found my greatest joy in my role as a mother...and now as a grandmother.

Looking back after all these years, I think that it took great courage for Mama to conquer her fear and learn to drive at the age of sixty. I hope if I were faced with a similar challenge, that I might just have a little of her courage...

(Just for fun, check out the You-Tube black & white TV commercial on the 1957 Chevrolet link above!)

Life goes on...

It was the first week of February 1965. I'd returned from visiting my friends on the campus in Mississippi feeling more than a little sad. Life had, of course, gone on without me there. All these years later, I remember the long Greyhound bus ride back home. It had given me time to think...mostly about the choices I had made. I made up my mind then to make the best of it at Memphis State.

Memphis State was much larger than the small Baptist college in Mississippi. My friends from church and I sought refuge and friendship at the Baptist Student Union. The BSU met in a craftsman style house which was situated practically right on campus. The house had historical character with its large rooms, built-in bookcases, wood floors and large paned windows that let in lots of light. There was a big front porch with a swing and enormous shade trees on the grounds. In the large front room, there was a fireplace, a baby grand piano, comfortable sofas, chairs and tables. It was a welcoming place.

This was our retreat between classes or any other opportunity we had. We'd gather there for "Noon-Day" services each day, where there would be a brief devotional and music. Afterwards, a group of us would sit around the long oak table and eat the lunches we'd brought from home. Occasionally, we would meet at the cafeteria on campus, but to tell the truth, I preferred the fellowship at the BSU. I was beginning to cherish the friendships I was finding there...with all the laughter and sharing. The BSU would also be where I would later meet the love of my life and the father of my three children...

I was dating a young man named Mike who was frequently reminded that he looked just like a young Sean Connery, and he did. It seemed I always ended up dating ministerial students for Mike was headed to a Baptist seminary after graduation. Most of the time though, there were groups of us who would get together to go skating, bowling or to the movies. One memorable Autumn Saturday night, there was a fun hayride and bonfire at a nearby farm. One long weekend, I went with a large group from the BSU to an international students retreat at Lake Barkley, Kentucky, where I met students from all over the world.

I had decided to major in English with a minor in secondary education. Among my other classes, I was taking a couple of advanced literature classes and history which I basically hated for all the essay questions. Nothing was easy. Honestly, I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do for my future. I thought I wanted to teach high school English and Spanish, and I proceeded in that direction. Little did I know then, that while I would spend time teaching in the classroom, that wasn't what I would eventually end up doing...

Looking back, I wish I had know then what I know now...don't we all?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Saying goodbye...

The last semester of my freshman year was almost over. I had finally accepted the fact that I would have to transfer to a state university there in Memphis for my sophmore year. Financially, there was no other way. I could work through the summer and save enough for my books and tuition and live at home. It certainly wasn't what I wanted to do, but it seemed the only solution.

Jimmy, Linda, my roommate, and all my other friends pleaded with me to apply for a school loan. Looking back, I don't know why I didn't. Perhaps, transferring seemed the "easiest" thing to do at the time, and so I set the paperwork in motion.

It's odd that I don't remember how I got home from college those 45 years ago...there were obviously clothes and boxes to pack, but I don't remember that part. I do remember being sad to leave.

Those were the days before email and instant messenger. So over the summer, Jimmy and I wrote letters. Jimmy also came to visit me several times. He invited me down to visit his family in Florida sometime during that summer, but my parents said no. I suppose it was the distance from Memphis to Florida, for they liked Jimmy. It wasn't easy being the youngest daughter of overprotective parents.

Fall came and I registered at the university there in Memphis. I had close friends from church who were also going to school there and I would be riding to campus with them. It took several weeks before I began to stop missing my friends I'd been so close to for the past year. I became involved in the Baptist Student Union there and slowly began meeting people and making new friends.

Jimmy had been hurt and upset with me that I wouldn't at least try to find the funds to return to college there. Over the weeks that followed, we exchanged a few letters, but slowly grew apart. In February 1965, I had a school break and went back to college to visit my roommate and other friends. Evidently, they had told Jimmy that I was coming. I remember seeing him and briefly meeting the girl he had recently been dating in the cafeteria.

After supper, Jimmy came over the dorm and walked me to the campus movie that night. According to the old diary I'd found, we also stopped at the library for some reason on the way over to the movie. Later, after Linda and I had returned back to her dorm about eleven o'clock, Jimmy called. The dorm was situated around an interior outdoor courtyard. The telephone was in an old-fashioned phone booth on the second floor balcony - outside. We talked for a good long while. Jimmy wanted to talk longer, but it was very cold outside and I was freezing. He wanted to come over, but it was past visiting hours in the lobby...remember this was 45 years ago and boys weren't allowed in the dorm rooms.

I'm trying to remember if when we said goodbye that night was the last time that we ever spoke...I do believe that it was.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Roses in a fruit jar...

Spring had come and with it, the warm days that felt like an early summer. The campus was ablaze with color...beautiful pink and red azaleas, flowering dogwood and fragrant magnolias. Yellow daffodils lined the historical brick streets in the nearby town and all the brick walkways across campus.

Everything on campus seemed in high gear. My weekly routine continued to include 18 hours in class, working 15 hours and trying my best to find time to study. I continued in the BSU choir and kept one mission trip a week in my the nursing home. Trying to find time to even do my laundry was a challenge, and Jimmy continued to make sure that I didn't have any "down" time.

We frequently double-dated with his friend Raleigh and Raleigh's girlfriend. Jimmy was on scholarship and certainly didn't have much money. He was creative and found interesting places to go that didn't cost that the zoo, movies and plays on campus, fishing, flying kites. The photo below was taken at the college swim and picnic day at a large nearby lake in late Spring. It was very warm that day and felt more like summer.
One day after work as I walked into the dorm, the student desk clerk said, "you have flowers". There were a couple of bouquets there - one that closely resembled a funeral arrangement and a beautiful bouquet of wild pink roses. About that time she giggled and said, "yours are the ones in the fruit jar". Thank goodness I thought. They were beautiful...tiny little wild pink roses...dozens of them. I took them to my room and put them on my desk. I was sure they were from Jimmy and certainly meant to thank him as soon as I saw him.

Two or three days passed and each time we were together, I would forget to mention the roses. That Saturday, Jimmy said he had something special to show me. I was swamped with work and needed to spend the day in the library. One look at his face though, and I said yes. He drove to a little lake surrounded by a grove of trees. It seems I remember hiking a long way around the lake to get there and then he said, "look".

There it absolutely enormous wild rose bush covered in hundreds of tiny pink wild roses. I've never seen anything to compare to that bush since that day. I felt two inches tall. I'd forgotten to say thank you, and he had gone to all this effort just for me. I hugged him and thanked him for the roses. I assured him that I had loved them. He said "I thought you hadn't liked them because they were in a fruit jar...that's all I could find". "That was the best part," I said.

I learned a hard lesson that day and one I've remembered all these years - a gift from the heart is not to be taken lightly...especially if they're roses in a fruit jar.

Feeling the wind on the end of a string...

After meeting Jimmy, my life on campus changed. He made sure I was never lonely or bored...not that I had time to be bored. With his energy and pure passion for life, he celebrated everything.

One day, not long after we'd met, Jimmy asked me if I'd ever flown a kite. I had to think for a moment, and then I realized that I'd totally missed that experience in my childhood.

"We'll soon take care of that" he said, and that Saturday morning, he picked me up at the dorm armed with two kites, each with a long tail, and lots of string. It was perfect kite weather...warm with a wonderful breeze. We walked to a large hill behind the campus where he proceeded to attempt to teach me the basics of launching and flying a kite. I'd run as fast as I could and try to get my kite off the ground, and he'd end up laughing at my antics.

Finally, my kite caught an updraft and the wind took it...higher and higher and higher. I felt the strong tug of a kite hundreds of feet in the air and realized what an amazing thing I'd missed as a child.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Meeting Jimmy...

Classes resumed after Christmas at a furious pace. The professors piled on the assignments making up for lost time. I was struggling in botany and hated it. There didn't seem to be enough time to get it all done, not with working three hours each day, and I had no choice about that.

Looking back, it seems that my work at the infirmary helped pay for my meals, because I only received a small check once or twice a semester. So, if I received a dollar or two in the mail, which I did from time to time, it was needed and welcomed. For a brief time, I found another parttime job typing for an accountant there just to have some spending money, but that only added to the frustration of not enough time to study. Two jobs and 18 hours was altogether too much and overwhelming.

The occasional outings with the Baptist Student Union were good for me, and I tried to reserve the time for them. I loved going to the pediatric floor at the hospital where the children always made me laugh. Visiting with the women prisoners at the jail was a heartbreaking experience, listening to the stories of their lives and what they had experienced. I had nothing to compare to it, but I listened and hugged them. Somehow, that seemed to help and they welcomed us back each week. My favorite trip was probably to the nursing homes. Never having really known my grandparents, I had a tendency to adopt anyone older than 75. I loved them all, and they were so excited each week when we came for our visit.

The weeks had tumbled quickly by and it was March already...March 16, 1964. We were having a blowing rain storm...the kind that turns your umbrella inside out and wrenches it from your hands. I had managed to get across campus but was pretty soaked and freezing by the time I got to my speech lab. There, we would sit in our little carrels, wearing headphones and listening to difficult vocabulary words, repeating them quietly into microphones. I wasn't real thrilled with this exercise or too sure of the use of it, but I complied. Sitting there in my little cubicle, I had my sweater wrapped around me, still trying to get warm.

I was quietly repeating the words I heard in the microphone, when I heard these words in my headset: "WHERE have you been?".

"Huh?" I thought to I supposed to repeat that?!

"WHERE have you been? I haven't seen you on campus, and I KNOW I would have seen YOU!"

"Okay, what's going on?" I thought to myself. I looked up and there in the instructor's booth was a very handsome young man, looking directly at me and smiling.

"Where would you like to go?" he questioned...speaking softly into his microphone. "I'll close the lab and take you anywhere you want to go".

Now that I'm older and a little wiser, I would probably say, "you've been watching too many romantic comedies", but I was eighteen and he was cute!

Jimmy did close the lab class that afternoon, making all the students happy. By that time, the sun had come out and a beautiful rainbow made a timely appearance. We went for a long walk around the campus, and Jimmy pointed out things that had been there all along...but I'd never even noticed. A junior and a speech major, he was from the coast of Florida. He was there on a speech debate scholarship, and he was very good at it. A Methodist ministerial student at a Baptist college, his plans were to go to Duke University after graduation for his masters and to become a Methodist minister.

With a quick wit, beautiful blue eyes and a disarming smile, Jimmy was the proverbial tall, dark and handsome. He invited me to go to a play on campus that night...MacBeth. As I recall, it was a lovely evening...and the start of a close friendship.

Home for Christmas

The days on the calendar flew quickly by. Thanksgiving had come and gone, and I was looking forward to a nice long break at Christmas. I was tired and "run down", to use one of Mama's expressions, after a bout with strep throat and a high fever. I had even managed to spend a few days and nights as a patient at the infirmary where I worked. The Christmas break would give me a chance to rest and catch up on all the school work I'd fallen behind on...not to mention preparing for the finals the week after my return to school. Not the best way to spend Christmas vacation, but I was thankful for the time.

It snowed the day before we were to leave for Christmas break. A deep blanket of white covered the campus. Icicles hung from the chapel and other buildings and weighed heavily on the tree branches. Everything glistened in the bright sunlight. It was a winter wonderland in the deep South. No one had come prepared with boots but we still tromped in the snow, throwing snowballs at one another and basically acting thirteen again. It added to the excitement of going home.

I was riding home with Sandra, one of my friends from Memphis, who was also a freshman there. Her boyfriend Mike had come down to drive us back to Memphis. It seems there was someone else with us on the trip...but I can't quite remember who it was. I gently remind myself that it has been forty-five years.

It continued to snow all that day, and the roads had turned into a solid sheet of ice. Driving was reported to be treacherous at best. Under normal circumstances, the trip took four hours. We left school about eleven o'clock in the morning right after our last class. It didn't take long, or very many miles, to know we were not looking forward to this trip. Mike was a good driver but totally inexperienced driving in snow; and now the snow had been packed under a sheet of ice.

I remember vividly that, at first, there was talk and laughter among us on the trip...and then silence as we realized how dangerous it was. We must have only been traveling about 20 miles per hour, but more than once, we slipped and slid totally across the road and into what would have been oncoming traffic...had anyone else been there. We passed dozens of vehicles abandoned on the side of the road or, even worse, wrecked. There were very few stores open and we needed to stop for gas. We also needed to get some food and something warm to drink. Unfortunately, this was before cell phones so we had no way to call our parents or anyone if, indeed, we were to need help.

We finally found a store open and bought some sandwiches and hot chocolate. We also filled the tank with gas. I remember calling my dad collect at that point. He said to find some where to buy chains for the car and that he would pay for them along with the gas. Luckily, we did find a store open and managed to get chains to fit. A little while longer and we were back on the road. The chains did help some, but it was still rough going. Twelve hours after leaving school, we pulled up to my front door. We were all exhausted but glad to be home.

Since that long ago journey, I've lived in Illinois and Iowa where it snows a lot. I've driven in snow storms and blizzards with white-out conditions. I've driven on sheets of ice. Yet, each time I do, I'm transported back in time to a car full of college kids trying their best to get home for Christmas...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

And so it began...

It was Autumn now and the campus was beautiful. The trees scattered all long the winding brick walkways wore jewel tones of gold, amber, amethyst and ruby. There was little time to enjoy it though since classes had begun at a downhill pace. I had to work hard to keep up with all my subjects in addition to working 15 hours a week at the infirmary. Finding a quiet place to study was another challenge in the noisy freshman dorm, so I would often escape to the library to study until it closed at night. I was struggling and frustrated that it was harder than usual for me. I was missing my family and friends at home...and Ross.

It wasn't all hard work though. I got involved with the Baptist Student Union and served on the BSU freshman council (photo below - I'm on far right). We went on special mission trips, such as to the city jail, pediatric wing of the hospital and the nursing homes. I joined the BSU choir (they didn't ask if I could sing). We traveled to several different places giving concerts throughout the year. We were boarding the bus for one such concert when the tragic news of JFK's assasination was announced. Being on that bus with all those students who were as stunned as I was will always live in my memory of that sad day.

Prior to the football games in the Fall, there would be a bonfire and a "hootenanny". When you hear the words "sixties music", it's that legendary 60's rock 'n roll that comes to mind; but the sixties were also a time of serious folk music. Musicians like Peter, Paul and Mary who sang the following songs made the folk music of the sixties also memorable: If I Had A Hammer, Go Tell It On the Mountain, Blowing in the Wind, 500 Miles, Cruel War, Puff the Magic Dragon.

It has been forty-five years, but I still remember those brisk Autumn nights sitting around the huge bonfire singing the words to Cruel War and all the other unforgettable folk songs...

First Impressions

The days immediately preceding my freshman year of college were bittersweet ones. My heart was still tender and nothing was ready for my leaving home. Since I'd given up my scholarship, it meant Daddy having to get a bank loan for my meals, housing, books and tuition; and it meant my having to work on campus at the infirmary for anything else I might need. My sister Gerry helped me with the last minute preparations, remembering many things I hadn't even thought of, such as an alarm clock, iron and ironing board.

A few days before leaving for college, I was browsing through a friend's yearbook from the school. One photo in particular caught my attention - that of a young man whose face was literally, vertically half handsome and half distorted. I'm not sure if he had been born that way or at some point in his life had experienced severe nerve damage. At first glance, his face was disconcerting, and a giggle nervously escaped my lips. My friend glared at me, and said "that's John and he's wonderful".

The next few days were extremely busy as I packed and my parents drove me the four hours south of Memphis to school. The weekend before registration was hectic as I unpacked, set up my room the best I could and slowly met a few people. Honestly, I was still feeling very much alone and lonely.

It poured rain the Monday of registration. We stood in line, outside of course, with a line of umbrellas stretched one after the other. My umbrella accidently hit the umbrella behind me. I turned around to apologize...and there stood John. I looked into one of the sweetest faces I have ever seen in all of my life. He laughed, made some joke about the weather and we were instant friends. John was a senior at that time and a leader on campus...president of half the organizations there as I recall. He was a strong Christian and a great speaker. John became my good friend.

I learned a lot from John that year...I learned about overcoming from someone who had overcome and found great joy. I learned not to dwell on what could have been but to look forward to what my Heavenly Father had in store for me. I learned to look for what's on the inside of someone's heart...rather than the outside...and that first impressions aren't always right.

My friend John graduated with high honors and married one of my closest friends...a sweet and loving young woman who also just happened to be one of the most beautiful girls on the entire campus. I love it when God smiles...

Saturday, November 15, 2008


The first time I saw Josh Lucas in Sweet Home Alabama, I was propelled back in swiftly and surely as any time machine could have managed. It was June 1963 all over again and a Saturday night in Memphis.

Two sisters and friends from church, Diane and Yvonne, and I had just arrived a little late to the Saturday night gathering for Youth for Christ. They were showing the film A Man Called Peter, the story of Peter Marshall's life, and we had been looking forward to it.

It was crowded that night, and so we slipped quietly into the nearest row of open seats that we could find. I glanced around at those seated nearby...just as he glanced back at me...blonde, blue-eyed and a dead-ringer for a young Josh Lucas. I think that was the first time my heart had ever truly skipped a beat. I really did enjoy watching the movie that night, but I also spent a good bit of time checking to see if he was still there, usually just about the exact time he was doing the same thing.

When the film was over, I glanced around to see if he was there, but he was gone. For some reason, I was immediately disappointed. About that time, John, the director of YFC and an Irishman with a lilting brogue I can still remember, made his way over to Diane, Yvonne and me to ask us to go with a group to Pasquales for a pizza. Since none of the three of us had a car, I think we called their dad to arrange for a ride home any rate, we said yes we'd love to go. There was already a crowd in the parking lot waiting to go to Pasquales. John pointed to the car waiting for the three of us. I opened the car door and there he was. It was one of those "you would have had to have been there" moments.

I remember sitting at a small round bistro table in a little Italian cafe named Pasquales in Memphis and falling in love at the age of 17 and a half...with a young man named Ross who was far from home. He was dressed in khaki trousers, a navy blue blazer with a baby blue oxford cloth shirt, a tie and I had no way of knowing at first sight that he was a sailor. I had a "policy" that I didn't date little rule that I would soon break for him. He was from Oregon...of all places...the son of a newspaper owner and publisher. He'd been to college in Oregon and then joined the Navy. He was headed to the U.S.S. the age of nineteen.

Ross and I spent as much time as possible together over the next few months. He gave me a diamond solitaire engagement ring and I said yes. Now, as a mother of three young adults and a grandmother of six, I can see why my parents and older sisters were "fit to be tied". There were two obvious strikes against us from the start: Ross was from much too far away and I was only seventeen. My parents and sisters couldn't bear the thought of my moving so far away. An honor society student, my plans for college had been disrupted when I had given up my scholarship to a college in Tennessee. My life was in turmoil at that moment.

There are crossroads moments in each of our lives...the sad day came when I gave Ross his ring back and temporarily broke both our hearts. I ended up going to a Baptist college in Mississippi. Ross came to visit me once there, and we wrote to one another for a couple of years after that. When the time came, he got out of the Navy and returned to Oregon. My guess is that he still lives in the same little town where he grew up. I truly hope he has had a good and happy life.

Life has a way of turning on a dime. Who would have known that 45 years later, I would be in Oregon anyway.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A moment in time...

Forty-six years ago we were standing there smiling...the shutter was pressed...and a moment in time was captured forever.

It seems to me I can remember that day. I'm not positively sure where the three of us (L-R: Nancee, Dianne and Kathy) were going, but I believe it was the Cotton Carnival. It would have been May or June 1962 and definitely already quite warm in Memphis.

I'm sure we took in a few exhibits, lots of rides, cotton candy, pronto pups, corn-on-the-cob, ice cream and, no doubt, checked out the cute boys. After all, we were almost 16 at the time.

We've all said it a million times...where did the years go? We grew up, got married, had children, grandchildren, joys and heartaches. Each of us had some dreams fulfilled and some disappointments. Life has a way of not waiting for us to realize it's moving on, and before you know it...forty-six years have passed!

Nancee always had the gift of music...a beautiful voice even as a teenager and that has definitely continued. She has worked in the music industry for years and has recorded several CD's. Nancee has also traveled extensively sharing her amazing story through her Whole Life Precepts. You can hear her beautiful rendition of Tennessee Waltz here.

Kathy still has that same radiant beauty she had even has a teenager and the same soft Southern voice. The minute the two of us get together, we're teenagers again and time never's like it's yesterday all over again.

Our graduating class had its 45th class reunion just a few months ago in Memphis. I wasn't able to be there, and I'm truly sorry I missed seeing faces I have not seen since graduation day in 1963! Sadly, we've lost so many during these years...I would like to have known about their lives. The funny thing is seeing photos of one another after all these years. I'm sure my classmates are wondering where the cute, skinny girl went...oh, well.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Chicken and dumplins'...

Just as music can take us back to another time, so can the memory of certain foods...the sweet aromas coming from the kitchen of our childhood...

Mama's kitchen was painted a robin's egg blue with crisp white trim and white curtains. The cabinets, stove, refrigerator and clothes washer were white. There was no dishwasher - that would have been Sharon and me. One of us washing, one of us drying and singing while we worked. There was no clothes dryer...that would have been a clothes line outside and the bright sunshine. I was trying to remember the other day how she would have dried the clothes in the wintertime when the sun wasn't shining. Seems to me, there were clothes lines in the attic for those dreary winter days. I'm sure it would have taken twice as long to dry.

Mama had so many specialties that it would be hard to say which I liked best. She made a wonderful roast, mashed potatoes and gravy, fresh green beans, fresh butter beans...all those fresh summer vegetables. Every Thanksgiving, I long for my Mama's chicken and dressing. My sisters and nieces and I have all tried our best to duplicate it...somtimes we come close. Mama made the best meatloaf in the world which made great sandwiches the next day if there was any left. Her biscuits were legendary, and I loved her desserts.

It's her chicken and dumplings and my longing for those that prompted this post. I tried last night to duplicate them. I sauted a chopped onion in a little butter and added a little celery, garlic and thinly sliced carrots too. I added some water and a nice 5 pound chicken, along with some salt & pepper, and cooked it slowly. After the chicken was done, I deboned it carefully. I sifted the flour, cut in the shortening, added the milk and rolled the strips out to just the right size. I dropped the dumplins' into the boiling stew and put the lid quickly on. After dropping the the temperature to just a little above simmering, I waited patiently for about 25 minutes, resisiting the temptation to lift the lid and peek.

Had I not had the best chicken and dumplins' in the world
, I might have thought these were really good...but I know better.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Early morning quilting...

After the harvest was over and the canning was done, winter signaled the time for Mama to begin quilting again. I remember her piecing together some of the most intricate designs. An artist with a needle and thread, she made some of the most beautiful quilts.

Once Mama had pieced together the quilt top, Daddy would set up the wooden "saw horses" in front of the living room windows. There, I would find her early of a winter morning, focused on her tiny stitch at the time...creating the wonderful quilts that would keep her family warm for years to come.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The boy across the street...

I can't remember when Larry and his family first moved in across the street...Larry, his older brother, two younger brothers and his parents. Not long after they moved there, his Dad died suddenly. I don't remember if his Mom went to work after that, but I'm assuming that she did. I do remember seeing Larry and his older brother frying chicken for their supper and caring for their younger brothers.

I don't know what it was about Larry. Maybe it was that James Dean look, but I was certainly drawn to him...crazy about him. We weren't in the same crowd at school. I was yearbook staff, honor society and Bible Club. He was sports and, most likely, a faster crowd I'd say. Larry and I would sit on my front porch and talk for what seemed like hours or take a long walk around the neighborhood block and talk some more.

After graduation, Larry joined the Air Force and went to basic training. I think I got a post card or two from him after he left. I finished my senior year of high school and went away to a Baptist College in Mississippi. On one of my first visits home from school, my roommate and I took the train home. My parents met us at the train station and told me that Larry was home on a brief furlough. They said he asked them if he could pick me up at the train station, but they had said about disappointment! At any rate, he came over as soon as we arrived home. If memory serves me right, we had a date that the movies...along with my roommate and a friend of his.

I went back to college and he went back to the Air Force. Time marched on, and I heard he had married a couple of years later. I've often wondered what happened to Larry. I hope he's had a good life...a happy one. I've also wondered if he still looks like James Dean. I think I'd rather remember Larry that's best I don't know if he's bald and fat now.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


I spent the summer of 1962 working as a volunteer "Candy Striper" at what was then John Gaston Hospital, now known as the Regional Medical Center of Memphis. I was sixteen years old and had just completed my junior year in high school.

There were only two choices for traveling to the hospital each morning. I could take the city bus, which would have involved transferring at least twice, or my Dad could drop me off very early at the hospital on his way to work. Even though it meant getting up at the crack of dawn and arriving an hour earlier than the other Candy Stripers each day, I chose riding with Daddy.

I was assigned to work in pediatrics helping the nurses feed, bathe and generally help the young patients. Part of each day was spent in the "play room" where the children who were ambulatory would gather. There we would read to and play games with the children as their conditions permitted.

Velveeda arrived a few weeks after the summer began. A tiny little thing, she was about four years old. She had skin the color of ebony, huge dark brown - almost black - eyes and long black eyelashes. Her story was heartbreaking. She lived in one of the poorest areas of Memphis, born to a very young mother who had no idea how to care for her. Velveeda had somehow swallowed lye...literally destroying her esophagus and a large portion of her stomach.

Velveeda and I quickly formed an attachment to one another. She would make the nurses wait until I arrived each day to bathe and dress her. Velveeda's room was the first place I would go when I arrived each morning. Most of the time, she was awake waiting on me, and would give me a big smile when she saw me. If we were in the playroom with the other children, she would try to push her way to the front of the group and climb on my lap. She had a trach but would cover it and talk to me in spite of it.

Mama helped me to sew a special dress for was white with little red hearts on it. Velveeda loved it, and would insist on wearing it almost every day. Unfortunately, with the trach, it meant I would have to wash it by hand almost every day too, so some mornings it wasn't yet dry. One summer morning, I arrived at my usual early time and went to Velveeda's room. It was dark and empty. At the nurses station, I found somber faces and the nurses in tears...Veleveeda had died during the night.

I didn't know then that, years later, I would go to nursing school and become a Registered Nurse. Over the years, I've cared for so many patients...young and old alike; but I still remember that sweet little face with the huge dark eyes and the great big smile.

The photo is a 46 year old newspaper clipping from the old Memphis Press Scimitar! Kathy's mother had clipped it out and saved it for me.

A Saturday in Memphis...with Elvis

It was February 25, 1961 - a bitter cold Saturday in Memphis - and one I'll never forget. It was the day of the "Special Matinee Memphis Charity Show, starring Elvis Presley"!

I had just turned 15 in December and, like every other teenage girl in America, I loved Elvis and his music! My 15 year old best friend Kathy, my 12 year old niece Sharon and I were going to the concert, and I'm sure we'd talked about nothing else for days. Thankfully, Kathy and Sharon still had their ticket stubs, so we're sure of the exact dates. Between the three of us, I believe the story is quite accurate.

Sharon remembers that Daddy drove us downtown that morning, most likely on his way to work, so it would have been early - much too early for the concert. Kathy remembers that we walked to Goldsmiths (a large department store) to purchase our $3.00 tickets. I remember that it was COLD...with the winds coming in across the Mississippi River, carrying with them the type of damp cold that truly goes right through you. What we needed at that point in time were the L.L. Bean down jackets you could get today, but certainly none of us had them.

The tickets were printed: "Special Matinee Memphis Charity Show Starring Elvis Presley, Auditorium Amphi Theater, Admission $3.00. Doors Open 1:30 p.m. No Refund. No Exchange. (as Sharon says, "like we would have wanted to!")

I have a very vivid picture in my mind...yes, even after all these years...of the three of us girls standing in line early at the Ellis Auditorium. The doors didn't open until 1:30 p.m., but we were in line much sooner than that...standing there waiting and freezing to death in that bitter cold. Ellis Auditorium was on Front Street - as in river front - so you can imagine how cold it was. So, there we were...standing there waiting to see Elvis with our little sack lunches in our hands. For some reason, I love that particular part of the story!

As I recall, somewhere around 11:30 a.m., the janitor or some other angel who worked at the auditorium had mercy - or pity - on all of us (and by that time, there was a pretty good-sized crowd) standing in line. He opened the doors for us, and we RAN! The three of us ran like the wind, and amazingly managed to get seats on the THIRD row! Yep! The third row. THAT I can remember. Seems in my mind, it took a good while to warm up...but then we enjoyed our sack lunches.

A young, handsome Elvis Presley sang his heart out and the show was incredible. Yes, just in case you were wondering, Kathy, Sharon and I did our share of swooning and screaming - just like the hundreds of other teenage girls there. Since we were on the third row, it stands to reason that somewhere in the dusty archives of the former Memphis Press Scimitar, the Memphis Commercial Appeal or maybe even the A.P., there is a photo of three young teenage girls who had braved the bitter cold that February day in 1961.

(These two photos were made in August 1962 at the Memphis Zoo...Sharon and Kathy...and Dianne below. For some reason, I don't think we had our cameras with us at the Elvis concert!)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Four sisters...

When I was born, my three sisters were 18, 15 and 11 years old. My parents were forty-one at the time. No doubt, I was their last hope for a son, but it was not to be. There would always be the four sisters. Even with the age difference, we have always been close.

My sister Gerry (left) married at the age of 18 when I was only two years old. At that time, her husband, Sonny, worked for the railroad in Mississippi. He tells the story that every Friday afternoon, Gerry had their suitcases packed and ready for the train trip to Memphis "to go see her baby sister".

Valedictorian of her class and president of the statewide Mississippi 4-H, Gerry married and finished her senior year of high school in Mississippi after my parents sold the farm and moved to Memphis. She won a trip to Chicago through the 4-H and also a beautiful gold Elgin watch. Sonny had just given her a watch as a gift, and so she set the Elgin watch she had won aside for me...saving it as a gift for my 12th birthday. It's engraved on the back with her name and the date she won it, and I will always treasure it.

After my oldest sister Dorothy (Dot) (below left) lost her husband in a tragic ship explosion, she and my 4 month old niece Sharon made their home with us. With that little head of very dark hair and big beautiful blue eyes, Sharon was my baby sister.

Family was always so important to my sister Dot. Maybe it was the fact she was the oldest...maybe it was enduring tragedy at such a young age. Whatever the reason, she was the family historian...the family preserver. She was the eternal optimist...seeking out the hope in any situation. She remembered birthdays and anniversaries and celebrated each special event.

Dot did not remarry until Sharon was in high school, when she married Tom. Each year they would host Mama's 4th of July birthday party. It was my sister Dot's dream to compile our family history into a book. She and I had been working on completing the research for that book, when she was diagnosed with leukemia. She died before we were able to complete it. I want to finish that family history for my sister. We all still miss her terribly.

When I was born, my sister Eunice was eleven years old...the beautiful young girl in the photo at right. She is quiet, soft-spoken and truly a gentle soul. I remember when we were living on Mamie Road, Eunice had a part-time job after school at a drug store which had a soda fountain. She used part of her earnings to buy me the cutest grey wool pleated skirt, yellow sweater and loafers.

Eunice has a quick smile and a ready laugh. Even though she worked as a secretary after graduation from high school, she loves creating a home. She enjoys decorating and excels at it...and like my other two sisters, she is a wonderful Southern cook. When we were living on Victor Drive she married Eddie. They lived in Memphis for a while before they bought a home in Mississippi.

My sisters and I have always had so much fun when we get together. There is always a lot of laughter...sharing...more laughter...eating...and more laughter still. From the time I was about thirteen, during every family get-together, we would have what we called the "sisters' lineup", the four of us girls.

Looking back at them now, through all the years...those photos are priceless.

Scan of a polaroid snapshot. Summer of 1962, left to right: Dot (34), Gerry (31), Eunice (27), Dianne (16)

Friday, October 31, 2008

Moving to Victor Drive...

When I was about ten years old, my parents purchased a larger house about two miles away on Victor Drive. In addition to an extra bedroom, the house had a dining room which was paneled in warm knotty pine and had two built-in corner china cabinets. The sun filtered through the dining room windows and reflected against the pine, casting a warm glow on the large round antique dining table. That table was the scene for so many family meals and special times...(also the scene where Sharon and I would occasionally - well, okay, frequently - get sent from the table for uncontrollable giggling.)

Okay, no comments about my bangs! They sure weren't MY idea!

There was a large back yard with trees and plenty of room for Mama's vegetable garden. Mama and Daddy planted apple, peach and pear trees for a small orchard as well. Mama was an incredible Southern cook, and with the bounty from those trees made the most delicious jams and preserves I have ever tasted to this day. Those pear preserves on one of her homemade biscuits was truly a legend.

Our move to a new home had meant changing neighborhoods, friends, schools and churches. Thankfully, this school was only .31 tenths of a mile (map quest again) and a much shorter walk to school. The fact that we moved half-way through the fourth grade made it especially difficult. As I recall, I wasn't too happy at first, especially since the class was on a totally different subject in math - one I had not had. I had gone from being a straight A student, to having serious problems in math. One day, the teacher hit my hand very hard with a ruler because I didn't know the answer to a math problem. Mama, who was barely five feet tall and very soft-spoken, had a few well-chosen, but totally appropriate, things to say to my teacher. After that, the teacher took a little extra time and patience, and my good grades returned. Honestly though, I never was fond of that particular teacher after that. Unfortunately, I had her again for two more subjects in junior high!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

All too soon...

The seasons came and went on Mamie Road...and the years with them. My Dad had a good job at a manufacturing plant; but like everyone else in the fifties, there wasn't a great deal of money. My mother was a wonderful cook and there was always plenty of good food on the table. She had a big vegetable garden in the Spring and Summer and canned the abundant produce for the months to follow. An excellent seamstress, she made almost all of our clothes, except for my Dad's. As best I can remember the little jumper I'm wearing in the photo above left was a dark blue and green woolen plaid...amazing how far I'm having to reach to produce that memory.

The elementary school was .79 of a mile. I remembered that it was a long way for a small child to walk; but just in case I couldn't trust my memory, I used mapquest and confirmed the actual distance. Rain, sleet, snow or shine...we walked. There were little galoshes and raincoats for the wet days...warm coats, hats and mittens for winter...but we still walked.

One particular afternoon after school, I walked in the WRONG direction and got in big trouble for it! I must have been...maybe 8 years old...just the size of the little girl in the photo. A little friend of mine invited me to go home with her after school. She lived over the bridge (which crossed the large Veterans Cemetery) and down Bayliss Avenue. Altogether, about a mile in the OTHER direction. The days were growing shorter by then and it was getting darker. About the time we arrived at her house, I remember having some serious second thoughts. I called my Mama to brightly tell her where I was and what I had done. FIFTY-FOUR years and I can still hear her words: "you'd better get home right now and you're going to get it when you get here!" Sound familiar to anyone else?! It was almost dark by then, and, needless to say, I ran the whole way home. My grandparents, her parents, were visiting at the time, and she was particularly upset with me that I had done that with them there. I was rarely spanked, but I definitely got one that day.

The Wilson family lived in the house directly behind us. They were a young family with two daughters, Sandra and Katie, who were almost the exact same age as Sharon and me. Sharon and I were happy because now we had each other and two good friends. Mr. Wilson worked at a chemical company several miles away. From time to time, he would work the second shift, and when he did would give the four of us girls a ride to school. He was kind and gentle, and my child's instinct told me he was a very good man. One afternoon, we heard a loud explosion which literally shook the ground. Mama turned the radio on to hear the news. There had been a terrible explosion at the chemical company. She said, "I hope Mr. Wilson is alright"; but he wasn't. He died in that explosion. I was only a small child, but I remember being very sad...especially for Sandra and Katie.

Weekends during the fifties were much more relaxed than now. On Sundays after church and Sunday dinner, we'd go "visiting" OR someone would come visit us. There would be homemade pies or cakes, fresh hot coffee or iced tea for the adults and lemonade for the kids. In the Summertime, there would often be homemade ice cream...with the hand-turned crank. After a few hours, the news would have been exchanged...the memories relived...and we'd go home. Another Sunday afternoon destination was occasionally the Memorial Park Cemetery with its Crystal Shrine Grotto. It was a beautiful setting with a cave with amazing scenes carved out. Trees graced the entire setting and in the Autumn and Spring, it was breathtaking. The trees are magnificent now, much taller than in the photo above. Sadly, now though, it is also where my husband of thirty-nine years and the father of my three children is buried.

We are a composite of every experience we've ever had...every person who has significantly touched our lives...every decision we've ever made - each of us creating our own memories one day at the time. I'm reminded, once again, to enjoy each and every one of those days, because each one is over all too soon.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Summertime in Memphis 1950

If I could turn the clock back here, it would be Summertime in Memphis, 1950. We were living on Mamie Road...then a tree-lined road on the outskirts of Memphis with small homes, large yards with beautiful flowers and vegetable gardens, friendly neighbors and a haven of safety for small children who loved to play outdoors.

If you've seen the Disney movie The Kid, you'll remember the scene when Bruce Willis (who has the once-in-a-lifetime, and only in Hollywood, chance of meeting himself as a kid and sees what his life was like as a child - great movie by the way) is standing with his new young friend (himself as a child) beside the playground slide which used to terrify him. He says "I remember it being bigger".

I'm sure if I could see this house today, I would also say "I remember it being bigger". If I had to guess, I'd say it was at most a thousand square feet...maybe less. It had a small living room, dining room, kitchen, two large bedrooms and one bath. There were six of us living there: myself, my parents, my sister Eunice who was still in high school, my oldest sister Dot and my almost 3 year old niece Sharon (Dot's husband had tragically died in a ship explosion when Sharon was a baby). I was an "Aunt" when I was only 2 and 1/2 years old and I loved it. Sharon was, of course, more like a baby sister. As you can see in the photo at left she was, and still is, beautiful. The four of us girls (Dot, Eunice, Sharon and me) shared one of the large bedrooms. I don't remember it being crowded...I just remember it being fun. Sharon and I would usually get in trouble for giggling long after lights out.

So many stories for Mamie Road...all twirling around in my head...

Once, about three years after the photo above was made, my mother sent Sharon and me down to the small local grocery store. It wasn't far and was safe enough "back then". It was early summertime and Mama was getting ready to plant her garden. She wanted us to buy ONE package of LONG cucumber seeds. Unfortunately, they didn't have LONG cucumber seeds. So, Sharon and I reasoned that you could put two SHORT seeds together and make ONE long cucumber! Remember, they're the ones who took me away from the farm when I was only two years old! How was I supposed to know?! It made perfectly logical sense to me. She sent it into the newspaper for the column "When Our Children Make Us Smile". After that, I was teased mercilessly by all my aunts, uncles and cousins who had been privileged enough to stay on the farm! Years later, I was to find out through sophisticated testing, that I'm pretty much divided down the middle: half analytical and half artistic, but I STILL don't have an excuse for the cucumbers...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Delta blues and cornbread sticks...

Perhaps it's significant that I was born in the Delta of Mississippi, where the blues can be heard from the cotton fields to the Mississippi River. Music has always been such a part of my heart and soul. Granted, I'm thoughtful enough not to sing within anyone's earshot, but when I'm alone, I can belt out a tune with the best of them and have more rhythm than one person should be entitled to. Along with a history of producing its share of the best blues artists in the world, the Delta has some of the richest, most fertile soil in the entire world; and - like the rest of the South - some of the most gracious people.

I was born in Clarksdale, the youngest of four daughters, to the most gentle, kind parents in the world. It was a poor time in the South as well as much of the rest of the country, but not long after my birth, my parents bought a small farm in the little nearby Delta town of Rena Lara. There, they had a variety of farm animals, a large vegetable garden and a cash crop of cotton. I truly wish I could actually remember that time, but I've heard the stories for so many years that, in my mind's eye, I can picture it.

Evidently, the toddler in the photo of the post below (me) loved the farm and was fearless. My sisters tell me that I would march into the barn insisting that the chickens "shoo"! I'd wander across the little country cove lane to a neighbor's farm. Mrs. Hoke was famous for her cornbread sticks and I would ask for TWO of them (no wonder I had such chipmunk cheeks). As the stories go, I gave everyone a scare the day I wandered much too far from home...and they found me up to my ankles in the mud at a nearby farm. I had to laughingly ask them: wasn't anyone watching me?! I believe, after that, my sisters were assigned the task of pulling me on top of the cotton sack as they were picking cotton! That's probably where my freckles began...

Before I was three years of age, they had sold the farm and moved to Memphis. Somehow, there's still a farmgirl deep inside of who longs to have a big red barn, lots of farm animals and a yellow lab who never lets me out of her sight. (see My Southern Heart for more about my longing for a puppy!)