My Own Personal Time Capsule

It’s my stored-in-the-Cloud hard drive. I stick stuff in there from year to year and, like some favorite pair of old jeans, or the perfect black t-shirt you’ve packed away, you forget where it is, and eventually you forget about it altogether. Until, like ebony and ivory dominoes zig-zagged on a hard tile floor, you go looking for one little thing, and a line dance begins with a clatter and continues until all the rectangular pieces have hit the floor and confetti falls from the ceiling.

Yesterday, it was old photos. Today, it was the flash videos I made mostly in 2009 with my tiny cheap wonderful Flip Video Mino (sadly discontinued shortly after Cisco bought Pure Digital in 2011). I thought these little film snippets had been lost to my impulsive tendency to eat my children, but I should have known my hard drive, the Cloud, and the Internet itself are like a landfill or layers in the geologic time table, our individual thoughts encased in amber.

Some of the old videos were embedded into posts; others are like the one below — there’s no evidence I can find it was ever posted, but maybe it was. Things were pretty chaotic in 2008 and 2009, what with the collapse of financial markets knocking us and many others out of our Masters of the Universe role-play game.

By the time I filmed this bit, which I called “Walking Meditation,” the ship was right-side up again, we had modified our investing strategy, and have slept soundly at night ever since.

Teetering on the bed’s edge, curled into a paperclip  her pulse sounds loud; antiphon to the tiny kettle drum pounding her skull’s hollow.

Aromas of Well-Being

The three-cheese chicken with marinara sauce and whole grain baby penne is assembled and resting in the refrigerator until 5:30 , when it will bake in the oven and fill the house with a primal, comforting, smell of garlic, red wine, fresh basil, and tomatoes. It is one of the scents of well-being; of fortitude. It builds us up.

Family cooks are lucky. We get an early infusion of the raw ingredients. They are stronger than sadness, sweeter than sunshine, amulets and taslisman for the mountain climb. I feared the challenge of climbing a mountain until the first time I made it, panting, sweating and bleeding, to a ridgetop. Then, I knew joy beyond joy.

One Drop of Water

I plan to blog on the fly today, streaming consciousness while chopping garlic. No editing. No worries. Here's the first walk-by thought at the all-you-can-eat buffet of Christmas.

Christmas Eve morning finds me unprepared, up in the air, down on my knees, exhausted and exhilarated. It is dark outside. I hear the steady thrum of a farmer's rain.

Eleven kids and grandkids will be around the table tonight for our traditional Christmas Eve pasta supper. I walk from bedroom to kitchen, turning on lights as I go.

Pick-Up Sticks

As a young girl, I loved to braid pine needles, skate on the sidewalk, and play jacks and pick-up sticks. There was a mysterious trick with the pick-up sticks that fascinated me. If you piled six of those sharp sticks together on a hard, flat surface and carefully added one drop of water, the broken-looking pile of disparate sticks would rearrange itself into a star.

Store-Bought Teeth

Have you ever looked through a raggedy old family photo album that’s been dragged from pillar to post and wondered if you are descended from the Tribe of People with Huge Teeth? It took me a few minutes to figure out why my handsome Daddy’s smile looks so strange in some of the pictures. It’s the false teeth. He had to have been young when he got them. I see the same thing in some of the smeary black and white snapshots of his brothers.

My Daddy grew up near Jay, Florida, on a farm in a wide spot in the road known as Dixonville — so close to the state line that a crooked crayon line of overzealous gerrymandering would create new Alabama voters. W. T. had nine brothers and one poor girl sister.

In 1991, a year after selling Aladdin Communications, I registered at the University of West Florida in Pensacola and finished the degree in psychology that I had started 24 years earlier and left a third incomplete.  What a blast. I was an “old lady” of 40, hanging out with a bunch of 18-25 year old kids. The learning was one hundred percent mind candy. I loved walking the rangy campus, using my library card, buying supplies, sitting in the cafeteria with my stack of books, drinking coffee, writing and immersing myself in the buzz of life finding itself.

There was a blind girl from Jay in one of my classes. It was an organizational development class. We formed small groups to work on a project. That gave us a chance to get to know one another. When this young woman found out I came from the Jones family in Jay, she wanted to know “which” Joneses. When she found out, she said, “Your Uncle Gordon was the sweetest man in the world. He came over all the time to cut my mama’s grass.” She went on to tell me what “everybody” said: “Those Jones boys were sweet as sugar, but they sure were a wild bunch.”

I think of that when I see those faded photos of those good men, holding up a line of fresh caught shellcrackers , or dressed up for Easter church and striking a pose, smiling big to show off their store bought teeth.

 

Mother and Daddy in front of our home in Miami Springs (1954).
Mother (Nettie) and Daddy (W. T.) in front of our home in Miami Springs, Florida, 1954.

W. T. and Nettie Jones, Miami Springs, Florida 1954

The Joy of Becoming

 A Cybex rotary calf machine can claim credit for my decision in February, 2008 to begin taking writing "more seriously" (code for stake a claim on all my time, all my thoughts, all my nights formerly used for sleeping — you all know how it goes with this happy obsession).  Truth be told, I was showing off for Buck. He was over in one corner, bench pressing to beat the band. I would flash a grin and a confident thumbs up, and throw another five pounder on the stack. "Yeow! What the heck is that pain?"

That was the end of my time at the gym for awhile. The heating pad may be partially responsible, too. Maybe its warmth caused words to sprout. Whatever happened, I am deeply grateful. I finally know what I want to be when I grow up, and I am very happy to spend the rest of my life becoming.

My first electronic submission came on February 11, 2008. I wrote to author, editor, and publisher Kathy Rhodes. Kathy is editor and publisher of the e-zine Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal.

"I appreciate the opportunity of submitting one of my small stories about life at Longleaf Preserve to Muscadines (sic) Lines. It is called The Pond Builder's Son.  . . "

Kathy wrote me back on February 27. Despite my typo, she said, "I'd like to publish it in the May/June issue of the e-zine," I felt that fizzy feeling in both my ears that signals surprised exhilaration. "Grinning from ear to ear" is a cliche that fit me just right that day. I will always be grateful to Kathy, and look forward to thanking her in person at the 2010 Mid-South Creative Nonfiction Conference in Oxford, Mississippi this coming October. It will be my first writer's conference, and I can hardly wait.

I've always liked that little story because the boy in it, Walt, is so fine. It's nonfiction, and Walt is as real as his red baseball cap. And so, I'm pleased to report that another e-zine, Long Story Short, will publish The Pond Builder's Son in their March edition and more folks can get to know Walt.


 

Don’t Bring Me No Bad News

 Stage 2 is always better than Stage 3, and I’m not talking about live concerts. Cancer, baby. Is there any scarier word? Any word that scares the bejesus out of me more than that? My brother’s walk on the wild side has just begun, yet he has already picked up a substantial new vocabulary: bladder cancer, rare type, squamous cell, aggressive, nonbilharzial, suspicious, holistic, second opinion, M. D. Anderson Center, work the process, one day at a time.

Some among us have fought the monster and won. Kudos, Kathleen. And to your partner-in-health, Denny.

I Google, refine my searches, drill deep. The medical journal jargon grows more arcane by the inch. This is stupid. I only have partial information, and besides, the cheap comfort of data doesn’t add up to a hill of beans, or was that a bucket of warm spit? Whatever. By mid-afternoon, I feel like my brain has been chopped up into little pieces and fed to sharks, like my heart was thrown whole and beating into a trash compactor. 

Around 4 o’clock, I turn to Buck. “Yesterday, we said we were going to treadmill at 10:30 this morning,” I said.

“Yeah. But you were too wrought up at 10:30 this morning to do it.”

“That’s true. But I can do it now. Let’s go get on the damned things.”

I pull my hair back into a pony tail, stick ear plugs in my ears, and start walking. Not the time for literary podcasts. I need music. Loud. Full of life. I put the iPod on “shuffle” and every time it starts up with something soft and sweet, I  stab it with a finger to force it to the next song. I listen to the Gypsy Kings, Van Morrison, Nina Simone (ever heard her sing Blues for Mama?), and then — then I hear Patty Griffin, wailing out her song, No Bad News. Turned me right around. Reminded me of what I know, but forgot in the emotional melee. Here it is:

My brother has cancer. He is either going to survive, thrive, or die. And you know what? I don’t have cancer. I am going to survive, thrive and die. We all know this. Once we’re born, it’s too late. We’re in it for the ride. The point is to make it a good one, not just a long one, to figure out how to love each other and then, by God, do it.



Excerpt from Patty Griffin's lyrics to No Bad News

Don't bring me bad news, no bad news
I don't need none of your bad news today. . . 

I'm gonna find me a man, love him so well, love him so strong, love him so slow
We're gonna go way beyond the walls of this fortress
And we won't be afraid, we won't be afraid, and though the darkness may come our way
We won't be afraid to be alive anymore
And we'll grow kindness in our hearts for all the strangers among us
Till there are no strangers anymore

Don't bring me bad news, no bad news
I don't need none of your bad news today
You can't have my fear, I've got nothing to lose, can't have my fear
I'm not getting out of here alive anyway
And I don't need none of these things, I don't need none of these things
I've been handed
And the bird of peace is flying over, she's flying over and
Coming in for a landing



Another Day

The year was 1979. My first husband and I had moved from Tallahassee to Atlanta. He had been the "advance man" for a candidate in a close but losing gubernatorial race. The town flipped. It was time to move on.  I got a job as personal assistant to the chairman of the board of a large hotel chain corporation.

My boss had political as well as entrepreneurial ambitions. He needed someone like me: a voracious reader, decent writer, and good researcher. Someone with no ties to the rest of the sharks in their executive suites. Someone who wouldn't tell his secrets, especially the one that made him most vulnerable: dyslexia. He could read, but slowly, awkwardly. Achieving an engineering degree from a decent school must have been tough.  I read, digested, and regurgitated verbal summaries. His focus was complete; his memory a camera.

Most of my assignments involved corporate and political research. But sometimes, I was called upon for services of a more personal nature. No. Not that. Never a hint of that. My boss had a daughter, barely a toddler, who had been diagnosed with a type of cancer in her eye. The whole family traveled to Sloan-Kettering in New York City regularly. The outcome was far from certain. Several times, I drove from the corporate headquarters over to Emory University to pick up a man who ran the hospice there, and brought him back to visit with my boss.

It was great for me. I had a chance to talk with this man about many things, including his perception of the value in having a chance to "say goodbye" to someone you love. I shared my own experience of losing my Dad so suddenly to a heart attack when he was only 51. He told me that it can take as long as 25 years to resolve and finally "say goodbye." I told him how I didn't remember crying then, but years later, in 1973 when I walked by the television set in our small apartment which was set to the funeral of former President Lyndon B. Johnson, strains of old gospel hymns grabbed me by the throat, and all those sobs I had stuffed way down when I was 12 came pouring out in a catharsis of goodbye to my Daddy. 

The hospice director was an interesting guy. He didn't drive a car, spoke quietly, and his standard dress was a casual short-sleeve shirt, khaki pants and hush puppies. One time, when I brought him into my boss's office and led them both over to a sitting area with two facing sofas with a glass coffee table between, I couldn't escape quickly enough before my boss completely lost his composure. He was nearly incoherent through his tears. His voice shook. He feared for his little girl's life and worried about whether he could survive her death. There was rage, anguish, near panic. I had gotten trapped between the sofa, the men and the exit in the speed of his disintegration, and had no choice but to remain in the room, as invisibly as possible, until I could slip out.

From that day forward, my boss acted as though he could barely look at me or speak to me. I continued to do my job, but a few months later, moved back to Florida. Before leaving, I called the hospice director and told him about my boss's strange behavior. He assured me it was quite natural. He said, "You caught him in a vulnerable moment, and he'll never forgive you for it."

I since learned that his daughter recovered, he sold the company and went on to more expansive dreams.

In times of worry and stress, we humans sometimes go crazy for a little while. It's probably a healthy way to cope. We go to extremes of emotion and we come back. Sometimes, as Buck might say, we "holler before we're hit." It's a kind of dress rehearsal for "the worst," even though "the worst" may not come. We can forgive ourselves for that, and much more.

Last night, I read "The Way to Love," a small book of Anthony de Mello's last meditations, and then went to sleep listening to Pärt: Alina – Spiegel im Spiegel. (Thank you, Dick Jones, of Patteran Pages for turning me on to this remarkable music.)

Early, in the foggy mist of a warm dawn, a fragment of a stalwart meditation from the Book of Common Prayer rises, unbidden, to my lips.

"This is another day, O Lord. I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be. If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently. And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly. . ."