It Was a Moment

1-Buck and BethThere were a lot of wonderful bonuses when Elaine and Neal came to visit us a few weeks ago. Their warmth, sense of humor, commitment to family, and generosity of spirit spring immediately to mind.

Neal took this candid shot of Buck and me on the Sunday morning when they were packed up and ready to drive back to their home in Gainesville. Our granddaughter, (and Elaine’s great-niece), April, a star keeper for the Lady Tigers soccer team at Pensacola High, in her senior year, had joined us for a late breakfast.

I love this picture. We’re not all gussied up for the camera. I had just walked up behind Buck while he sat on a kitchen bar stool and draped around him. Camera in hand, Neal said “Don’t move.” I guess he saw what I see: two folks, not young, just about to celebrate their 29th anniversary, and more in love than ever.

It was a moment, and I’m grateful to Neal for capturing it.

A Simple Walk to the Gate

Mid-December here in the Florida panhandle  has been typical. Temps have ranged from right at freezing all the way into the mid-seventies. There has been some sunshine, but the predominate weather theme has been murky, with thick gray fog lingering past noon like the smoldering remains of a woods fire.

It’s a time when old trees slip the bonds of their worn-out bark, the lithe new being inside escaping through the fog into some sunlit place in the slipstream of time.

A time when leaves, a magnolia seed pod and a stick become art to my hungry eye, arranged as if only for my solitary pleasure.

The blanket of emerald moss evokes the roof of a crofter’s cottage in the Highlands. Oh, to be there, deep in heather, reclining by a blue loch.

But the bright holly says, “Stay. There are children about who might miss you on Christmas Eve.”

Christmas Changes, We Grow

I have always been a tabula rasa when it comes to children, since I never gave birth to or raised any. Heck, I’m still a kid myself, and hopefully always will be. I’ll be turning 60 in June next year, a real mind-blowing experience for a baby boomer babe.

When I married Buck almost 27 years ago, he had one toddler grandson. Now there are seven, with one great grand and another on the way.

These days, Christmas shopping is easy. All we need is money in the bank, a check book and a pen. Actually, that’s pretty nice, because the time saved from shopping has allowed us to send out personal Christmas cards for the first time in years. It feels good to reconnect with some special old friends and connect in a personal way with new ones.

Even a tabula rasa knows it’s a nice thing to have a little uncommitted money in one’s pocket. Nice for children; nice for adults. I vacariously enjoy the feeling they will have, with a little green largesse to spend on whatever they choose.

But I have to say, the shopping part in the old days was fun, too. We used to get detailed Christmas wish lists, mostly handwritten, some typed, from the little kids. I found some of the archived lists today, and smiled at the sweet-cute-funny lists.

Here, a sampling:

Complete Calvin and Hobbes comic book collection

Something cool for my room

Cellphone cover

Hilary Duff CD

Oriental Dress and Chopsticks

Sparkly Purse

Sparkly Belt

Star Wars blasters

X-Box 360

Nintendo DS

Harry Potter wand

Harry Potter costume

Harry Potter firebolt

Dance Dance Revolution for PS2

Army outfit

Fake shotgun

Nintendogs

Shrek superslam

Narnia

Video camera

Polly Pockets

White bunny

Care Bear grumpy bear

Gold locket

White and red clothes

Pink gloves

Hot pink nail polish

Art stuff

Barbie guitar

Earrings

A unicorn

Aquarium

Snow cone machine

Ah, I feel a flush of nostalgia. It was fun to shop, wrap and watch the little guys open their presents.

But, it’s fun, too, to see the teens and post-teens eyes light up when they open a card that holds a check, and to hear them say “Yes!”  No massive paper mountains to recycle, just hugs, with plenty of time to share fancy coffee drinks that we will invent together on Christmas Eve.

Andie Gibson, Aspiring Novelist

  

Andie a senior in high school
Andie Gibson, Aspiring Novelist

 

I only vaguely remember Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition as a series of short pieces excerpted in some of my early piano lesson books, but for some reason, the title has been rolling around in my twilight thoughts, like a  page of music caught by a wind.  I didn't know why my brain decided it wanted to think about Pictures at an Exhibition, or where it was leading me. I just went along for the surprising ride.

When 39 year old Russian architect and artist Victor Alexandrovich Hartmann felt the terrible pain that signalled a fatal aneurysm on his last day on earth in 1873, he could not have known that a great musical work would be created as a monument to his friendship with Mussorgsky. From the depths of grief over the loss of his friend and a visit to a memorial exhibition of Hartmann's work, Mussorgsky created a suite for piano which he called Pictures at an Exhibition. The suite leads the listener, via a repeated Promenade theme, through an imaginary art gallery based loosely on Hartmann's sketches.

Mussorgsky himself would never hear this work performed. He died in 1881 of complications from chronic dipsomania, just shy of his 42nd birthday, and the piece was not performed publicly until five years later.

Mussorgsky wrote Pictures to be performed as a piano solo, but it was composer Maurice Ravel who brought it to the stage in 1922 as a work for full orchestra. There are many versions on YouTube, even one rock interpretation concocted by Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

This one is a classic Ravel-style version performed by the National Philharmonic of Russia, conducted by Ion Marin:


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I promenaded through the Internet, reading about Mussorgsky and Hartmann, and sampling various video and audio renditions of Pictures. 

That is what led me to the astonishing Nobuyuki Tsujii, a 21-year-old Japanese pianist, blind from birth. As I write, I am listening to what has become my favorite version of Pictures at an Exhibition, bought from ITunes. It was performed by Nobuyuki and released earlier this year.The orchestral versions are grand, but it is to Tsujii's solo piano that I will return again and again.

Nobuyuki Tsujii tied for the Gold Medal at the 2009 Van Cliburn Piano Competition with Haochen Zhang, a phenomenally gifted and engaging 19-year-old pianist from China. (You can view the Competition performances on Cliburn TV from Fort Worth, Texas. The sound and video are fantastic.)

Suddenly my brain slammed on the brakes, reversed, screeched around several more hairpin curves and stopped at the phrases: 19-year-old and 21-year-old. Then, as if I wasn't dizzy enough already, it pulled way back on the zoom lens and focused on an evening this past October in Pensacola, Florida.

The scene was a performance by the Drama Club of West Florida High School.

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The Club performed Fog on the Mountain by Tim Kelly and Anatomy of Gray by Jim Leonard. Buck and I attended for one reason: our granddaughter, Andie, a senior at West Florida High, was an actor in the second play, Anatomy of Gray. I knew the efforts of the kids would be sweet and touching, but beyond that, my expectation for professional-level artistic expression was not high. After all, they're just kids. Right?

I laughed, cried, applauded and remembered the almost-forgotten exhilaration of live theatre. My honest brain has now pointed out to me the chauvinism of condescending to the young and denigrating their hard work and, yes, their gifts; gifts that may bloom and may take them away from home and hearth, and out into the wider world.

Andie is a remarkable young writer with fire in the belly for her budding craft. It's a beautiful fire, and one which I wish had burned in me at her age.  It is my joy to  encourage, celebrate and respect the flame of Andie's storytelling gift. Her work, here, with the Drama Club, is a creative extension of writing that has, I believe, taught her structural aspects of telling a story that no textbook ever could.

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Actors Asa Morris-Webb and Andie Gibson grayed their hair and added fake wrinkles for their roles as Phineas Wingfield and Alma Odell .

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Buck and Andie.

 

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Andie and mom, Adele.

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Sister, Julia, and Andie.

All the grandkids bring different gifts to the table: Krista is a graduate student at George Washington University, Ariel a third-year architecture student, Alex a multi-instrument musician and stand-up comedian, Garrett a hardworking good dad, Julia a 12-year-old fashionista, and April a serious soccer competitor.The younger generation doesn't appear to be goin' to hell in a handbasket after all. In fact, wherever they're going, I'd like to go along for the ride.

 


 

Fortuneless Fortune Cookie

Buck and I had a super busy day, and decided to run up to the Nine Mile and Pine Forest intersection to the new Teriyaki Cafe for a take-out supper. I fixed a pot of Gun Powder green tea to go with.

My expectations weren't very high, but the hot and sour soup was great.

Only one "uh oh." There was no fortune in my fortune cookie.  Dum de dum dum, dum! Not to worry. I ain't scared. I've pretty much always believed in paddling my own damn canoe, anyway, and a few silly words printed on a slip of paper mechanically inserted into a fold of baked sugar and flour loosely called a cookie isn't likely to have any effect on a doubting, analytical old head like mine.

Now, if I read a fortune cookie with this message, "Pray to God, but row toward shore,"  I would be impressed.

What do I believe in?

Love, baby. I believe in love.

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I found this bit of love and sweetness while I was shuffling through old stacks of pre-digital era photos, wanting to wave a magic wand so they would all be scanned onto the computer hard drive instantaneously. It's me, at age 42, holding my step-grandaughter, Andie, now a statuesque, gifted young writer, a senior in high school. I wouldn't give anything for these photos and the life stories cradled therein.

 

Sunday Supper

That blur of yellow in the bottom right-hand corner is me In a tank top, sitting at the piano. It’s after one of our Sunday suppers, and the three good-looking folks in the photo are my step-daughter, Adele, and two of her kids, Andie and Alex. Don’t you love their direct looks and flashing eyes? (Yes, Buck is the cameraman.)

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The Boy, a Singing Philosopher, and a Woman in Love

I left the house early this morning to pick up The Boy. Plaid Bermuda shorts, sandals with socks, wavy brown hair, book bag and his guitar in its black ripstop case. The barest essence of designer mens' cologne settled around him.

"Thanks for giving me a ride to school," he said in a deep, masculine voice.The Boy. Guess I can't call him that much longer. Fourteen going on 24. 

Next stop was the post office. Busy angling our key into the proper slot in a wall full of bronze-colored boxes, I heard the song before I saw the singer.

"Grab your coat and get your hat, leave your worries on the doorstep, just direct your feet, to the sunny side of the street. . ."

I looked up and saw a woman with long, gray-streaked blond hair that was twisted loosely into a pile on top of her head, like some state fair funnel cake. She was solidly built, with a gait like a big white duck. And she was singing that song, the one that when I hear it, I see my Daddy's big toothy grin, freshly-shaved brown face, and those high cheekbones that would break a would-be fashion model's heart. W. T. sang that song a lot. Come to think of it, so do I.

The woman stopped singing when she saw me. "Please," I said. "Don't stop. I love singing in the morning. It's a happy sound."

She chuckled and nodded. Then sighed, bending down to pull out the mail from her post office box that was near the floor. "Happy people. We need more happy people."

Catch the mood. . . click here for John Lithgow and company's version. But don't do it unless you want to smile, hum, whistle and dance around. It was written in 1930, surely a time, like today, when we need more happy people. Jimmy McHugh wrote the music and Dorothy Fields the words.

I drove on home, past school buses, and people watering their yards, past machines bush-hogging islands of pasture grass in-between road lanes, past a poor dead armadillo upside down on the side of the road, his useless coat of mail still appearing to be impenetrable.

I was close to our gate when I saw a woman standing almost in the road. She wore beige pedal pushers, a white work shirt rolled up to the elbows, and a broad sun hat. I slowed to swerve carefully around her and to see what she was staring at that seemed to mesmerize her so. She appeared to sway with an almost sensual pleasure. Her hands made slow, palms-up movements by her side. 

It was a house. The tiny, square brick house that has stood half in weeds for years has been redeemed. A front porch and a back addition, plus a new roof are in the process of being added. The profile now is more like a  charming southern vernacular bayou-style house.  The woman had a look of barely contained joy. Of love. And I can see why.

What a morning, eh?

“A bunny & a wild turkey walk into a bar. . .”

The children burst through the front door, running to tell me, “Coming up the driveway, we saw a bunny and a wild turkey!”

“Reminds me of a joke,” I said. “A bunny and a wild turkey walk into a bar. . .” The 11 year old girl cocked her head, waiting, but the 14 year old boy started to chuckle, and his newly deep voice rumbled all the way out to the pool.

The Driver’s Seat: Tales of Food & Fun

Remember I told you about Grandson Garrett's plans to start collecting travel and food stories from his experiences as a long-distance big rig driver? While he is trying to stay safe while driving through frigid Pennsylvania today, I've wrapped a starter blog design to play with around the first story he sent me.  It's on WordPress here. Stop by if you have a minute and say hi to Garrett.

Thinking about truckers reminds me of a time early in our relationship when Buck and I drove a vehicle with a CB Radio in it. Two truckers, Casper and Ragin' River, gave Buck a handle: Southern Gentleman. As for me? You may recall I have (very occasionally) mentioned that one of my nicknames is Twitchy Baby. Yep. Got it from those funny fellows on the CB.

Ya'll be good now. I'm down and gone (or was that down and out?)