When I've been away from my blog and away from you for oh so long, too long - I always want to begin as my friend Kaya McLaren does in her most excellent facebook posts - For Friends Who Like Long Letters - because I can let you know right up front that way this will be long and it will be rambling in the same wonderful way that Kaya unravels the threads of her life before us in her words to share what is happening in her world. I often try to share her posts and am always frustrated and surprised when I find I can't share them because she hasn't set the post to share. And I also admire the fact that she basically is saying you don't own my words and can't free fling them into the universe where people may not understand me. These words are for my friends and for them alone. They have come here to this page of their own accord and are kind and gentle souls who understand the wildness of my spirit and the pathos of my soul. She is a warrior I would follow into battle and sit with in peace. Friend her and you will be able to discover these wondrous musings of hers that I am unable to share.
Where do I begin? The world has shifted seemingly overnight or in a week in our country. Although it only seems this way. I'll show you where I've been. Many of you know that last year I went to Scotland for research on a book titled The Ancient Way. It was a wondrous journey and the telling of it became more than research the journey became the story. I can't wait to share it with you. I think its even available for pre-order now but that's not the purpose of my post. Those will come later, closer to pub time. Today I am thinking of the things that happen that we don't realize are happening as they are happening. Like, if we are saying our last words for the last time but we don't know that we are. Or if someone is leaving us before our very eyes and saying goodbye in so many ways but we're blind to this happening because we are going about our normal in our natural habitat. Like, I am right now. Writing to you from my office upstairs that looks out over the hill where the skies today are grey. Yesterday they were bright blue and the day was glorious and I wanted to go outside and soak up some sun to heal me from all manner of maladies - a sinus infection, and general aches and pains and such but the sun she heals me all the time. Always has. Lying on a beach, suntan oil drenched, gulf coast waves washing in and the sun warming me all the way through to my bones. Me and cousin Deb laughing and that AM radio blaring WDLP - Here Comes The Sun - And I say it's Alright. We lived in glory days. Our entire community of Panama City Beach - high school one big rambling group of chill if you ask me. Neighborhoods and clubs and clicques aside - all I remember was we were just all alright together. That there was natural weaving in and out of our days. And whatever darkness any of us were dealing with at home was somehow left behind when we entered those doors at Bay High or hit the beach. Life was good.
Where was I? The sun. I wanted to go sit on the hill. Take a book. Let the sun heal me inside and out. But instead I opened a paint can and started again. The kitchen cabinets that have been a busted dirty brown for God knows how many years. All my years of being here and all the years before - suddenly I decided they must be white. Could be white. Would be white. Granted I didn't have the money to rip them out and replace them like they needed but by Glory I could hit that little boutique down the street known as Wal Mart (love it or hate it it's what we got) and get a gallon and a brush, put on my ball cap and my jeans and earphones and start knocking it out. And out and out and out. And yesterday was my finishing of a sort. Got them covered. Most with a couple coats. Patched the holes. Silcone. My hands look like - well a working woman's hands. Like a cabinet maker. Skin ate up with scrubbing paint off. Gloves slow me down. Paint thinner burns a little but it works just fine.
I woke Mama up most mornings and said - Time to Go to Work. I drug her rocking chair in the kitchen where she could drink coffee and watch me. She said - You got a talent for this. You might be able to make some money at this you know. (Last year I painted the living room while she watched amazed that I could cover the walls, climb the ladder, roll it out, trim and tape.) Yep, I tell her. There's some hope in that. Maybe I could make some money painting. - -
I think you like it, she says. Seems so.
Let's my hands busy while my mind thinks Mama. Right now I gotta story running through my head. It involves a woman in the woods feeding wild coyotes. She's got a plan. Is up to something.
Hmmm, she says.
She is better with the concrete manner of things. Let the painting just be the painting, no stories hiding there. Let it all be what we see. Just what we see, nothing more and nothing less. An honest days work where at the end of the day something can be weighed and measured for its worth.
Hard to do that with words. So nebulous. So quiet.
Mom says look at all that hard work. You did that. It's amazing.
And I think - writers need someone who says this when they close their laptops at the end of the day. When they've done good work, when the work just wouldn't come out right. When they had to start over and over and over again. One more time.
So yesterday, there was that glorious sunshine and me on my knees with the paintbrush, me on the stool with the paintbrush, over the stove with the paintbrush. One more cabinet, one more inch, one more cabinet. Then the knobs. Take off those thirty year old knobs with stripped screws. Screw in new knob. One drawer, one cabinet, one drawer, one cabinet. One by one. One more time.
Before the glory of my Bay High days I went to a little Middle School called a Jr High then by the name of Jinks Jr. High. Hornets were our mascot. I don't know why. But they are formidable I'll give you that. It's just yesterday and I'm in 7th grade and I tell my teacher that I want to study Dante and read it in the original language. I think he asked me what I planned to do when I grew up or what I wanted to study in college or some such thing. He looked at me a little strange and said - Why would you want to do that?
To which I'd have to answer as the beautiful Robert Mirabal of Taos Pueblo once told me over lunch when I lived there - In our language there is no word for Why.
Let's just call it a Divine quest for lack of better reasons. Dante's Divine Comedy. A journey through the Inferno, Purgatory and on to Paradise. Must be a reason.
Life goes on. The beach waves roll in. Baby's come along to rock and raise. Life threads between our fingers all the time. Songs to be said and laughs to share. Tears to weep and weep and weep. And then to wonder - why was I crying? I forget now.
The birds outside the window on the hill are fussing something serious. We've been out of seed for days and it seems they've had enough of it. Demand that we restock supplies. Get back on schedule. Some kind of schedule. But schedules are strange things. They're there until they aren't. Till the world shifts into shadows.
Thursday I'll be on a plane heading to Seattle and then on to Whitbey Island to SPU MFA program. This quarter we are studying Dante. We are studying the translation that features the original Italian on each facing page. Imagine. Divine quests. In due time.
January China made public notice that a new virus was wrecking havoc in Wuhan. The news reports were sketchy - far apart. But the twitter feed. Different story. Escaped footage. Whistleblowers. Real faces in real time saying - it's not what you hear. It's not what you see. It's fast. It's worse. Seven people dead. Ten. Seventeen. The city of Wuhan shut down. Bulldozers pulled in to tear up roads. Blocking escape. Go home, speakers said. Stay home. Infected. 1000. I looked at the roads. The videos. The police. The healthcare workers sending out illegal pleas that were soon erased. I poured a glass of wine, went to bed. Called my sister. Told her forty million people are locked down. She asked the number again. I repeated it. Caught my breath. Then I went downstairs. Showed my mother videos of funny dogs, kittens, flowers.
Went back to bed. Watched the lock down in real time. Watched the last planes leaving Wuhan. Watched the actual flights in real time and where they were landing - everywhere. Around the world. I woke up, picked up my phone. Checked the numbers out of Wuhan. Numbers I couldn't trust as far as I could spit. And made a cup of coffee and said my prayers.
I went on Twitter. Searched for the top virologists, the experts, the people paying attention. Starting making a list. I stopped when I got to 100. I followed people who had thousands. I followed people the experts followed. I checked that list, that feed. I watched the leaked videos. of Mothers in china having to say goodbye to children to go to the hospital in another city to work never expecting to come home again. I watched the doctors on the front lines working until they were infected and died. They were thirty five years old.
I made Mama coffee, said - Look at the birds.
It's a woodpecker, a red bird, a new bird.
I wrote a story. Made more edits to -The Ancient Way. Lingered over the words about the light. The light. The light. I thought about the light of Iona. The eternal everlasting light. Here I found some peace.
I wrote a blog on Psychology Today about praying everyday at noon for the people on the front lines of the Corona Virus that still didn't have a name. I went to sleep praying for those people - the sick, the frightened, the healthcare workers, the first responders. I watched videos of houses being nailed shut. With people inside. Nothing to see here. Nothing to see.
I stared at my plane ticket for Seattle. I read Dante's Inferno. Thought about divine plans. And how the world spins and spins and spins and something spins out of control.
I recorded a radio show with my friend Kaya about her radio show - The All Women All Country radio show and was proud of that. Giving space and airtime to these great women of song often overlooked or not known. I read a book. Watched an episode of The Expanse - series set in the future far out in space. It seemed a good place to be. Far, far away.
I cooked peas and cornbread and collards and corn for Mama and she said - Boy, that was good. I think I'll have some more.
I made coffee and sat on the porch with dirty old wild dog Kevin. We looked out over the hill and thought about one day soon it would be spring. And we waited for what we knew was coming.
Seattle. Ground zero. The first case of the unknown virus made itself known. The patient was being treated in isolation with a robotic arm by health care people wearing hazmat suits. Do tell. I poured a glass of wine. Said my prayers. Started thinking how great my life has been. How damn great. Regrets. Not so much. A shadow here, a turn there. Wish I had been a little wiser in some ways. For the most part I've been decent. Stayed true.
Back when I grew up that beach was a paradise. That's what we grew up on. Sand dunes far as you could see. Sea Oates that rustled. Sandcastles down by the wash of the waves. There was no better place to be. I've seen a thousand sunsets over that Gulf. Can hear the waves down deep in my soul. They'll never be erased.
This day is not going to see the sun. The grey has settled, planted its cloudy feet. Determined. A hawk sails over the sky searching for red birds, tiny bits of things, mice. Rabbits on the run. One day last week a flock of vultures landed in a tree. Nothing dead. Hopeful, resting, waiting. Kevin barked wild, non stop, circled the tree. They flapped their black wings. I laughed at his insistence. He was out of breath when he climbed the hill but smiling, successful. I said - Good dog.
Another country, another case. I checked the numbers in China every morning like the stock market. Then went on instagram. Found something pretty to look at. Tried to push the novel, Station Eleven from brain as I told everyone you should read it. Now. Listened to people say this is just a little virus. Like the flu. Nothing but a virus. Don't you know - nothing but a virus is also called a plague. But what are words? So light. No weight. No substance.
I wore out my prayer beads until they broke. In and out of my pocket. My purse. My fingers. Finally they are unspooling. I try to keep them but the beads fall to the floor, the sheet, the chair. One by one, roll and disappear. I make a note. Need new prayer beads.
I found a funny photo of puppy. Mom thinks it is the funniest thing. A Siberian husky and he is so little but looks so mean. I understand they are not. They are friendly to a fault. And trouble. I think someday I'll get one. For company when Kevin's gone. I hope that is a long, long time. He is unruly and some trouble. Is not big Dog Titan. Doesn't sleep in my room but on the hill watching over all as we sleep. But he love me something fierce like I am something special. Everyone should feel like that.
I check the numbers, watching the cases lighting up in countries around the globe. Pack my bags in faith. In that bizarre follow my destiny kind of faith. I watch the calendar of days. I know science. I know what fourteen means and twenty one. I understand the world exponential.
My mother used to managed a restaurant on the beach. Right on the water. I worked there when I was eleven, twelve, and so on. Eventually graduated in age from morning shift to night shift where the college kids worked. Spent all those years, every summer right there looking at the waves in sunlight, moonlight. Rain or fog. Saltwater in the air. Paradise.
When I was a kid and then a teenager there was the Miracle Strip Amusement Park. That is a mouthful but it was a big deal. A family affair. My Memaw road through the Haunted House. You could hear her scream all the way to the Ferris wheel. The night, the lights, the spinning rides, the smell of corndogs and cotton candy. Paradise.
This hill has been a comfort to me and to mine. For years The Adorables came every summer for a month and played furiously in their 'clubhouse' out back. Spun stories, arranged rocks in odd patterns. I left them there for seven years. Couldn't bare to unstack them. Like they might come back, return to their childhood and expect to find them there, like I did my sandcastles. And the baby boys - those Charmings have done the same. Their clubhouse, their little three dollar swimming pool, the water hose, watermelon dripping down there arms, their faces wide in happy grins. Paradise.
My Mama though, she misses Florida and always will. She misses flat land. But still she says look out there today - It looks like Old London Town - when the fog is rising, lingering, settling around the house. Or the wind is whipping up the hill, whistling through the house. Just listen she'll say. Just listen.
It's almost time to plant the window boxes again. Just yesterday the trees budded out all over Nashville. New life. New season. The world goes on in spite of. In the middle of.
I check the numbers out of China. Check Italy. Iran. New Zealand reports first case. Brazil reports first case. Argentina reports first case. I buy Mama tulips just because.
I show Mama funny pictures of a little dog leaning to howl, a little girl crying because she got a new kitten saying, Can we keep him? We can? We can keep him?. And I cry and she cries cause the little girl is crying.
I look at the cabinets. Put in my earphones, put on Willin by Little Feat, open the paint can. Dip in the brush. Make a difference where I can. A little white paint. A hard days work. Something to show.
I get quiet. Go off line a bit. Don't write much on the socials. Don't post on my Reader posse videos. Cause I'm painting and thinking and thinking and painting. And praying.
Just the flu someone says. And I watch the numbers. Count hospitals beds, healthcare workers with hazmat suits. Healthcare workers with no hazmat suits. China called in the army. Italy closed all the schools. Locked down. A doctor in the US calls the ER and says - I've got a fever, I' think I've got it. They tell him to stay home. They can't provide quarantined space right now. He calls back, is transferred to a recorded line about CoVID 19.
I open the paint can at night. Pour a glass of wine. Paint another cabinet. Another coat. Mama says - I sure am proud of you. That's looks so good. Thanks Mama.
I got a storm rolling up in my soul. Do you feel like a do? I turn the music up.
I think about things. What's important. What's not. What's lest and what's most. What adds up and what needs to be laid down. Now. By everyone. While there is still time. All those sharp edges. Degrees of you and me. Me and them. This side, that side and upside down. We're down to us. Us and us and us. Now and now and now. Here's where we stand.
Now I check Seattle numbers every morning instead of China. Then I flip to Italy. Watch Italy. Real time in real numbers.
It's better to use paint with built in primer. Makes it easier anyway. Still. Sometimes you need more than one coast. More than two. Sometimes it take a whole lot to make something old look something new.
Got a new baby one the way. He's growing everyday. The Adorables have cornered the market on that pet name. The Charmings are a little ahead of him. But I know he will be adorable. He will be charming. Already is. I watch the videos of his ultrasounds in wonder. He sucks his fingers. Hungry to be alive. To see the world.
I think I'll plant Ivy again. It's something green I can grow. Something enteral. And I'm gonna try something new this year. A butterfly garden in the flower boxes. Because I can. Because you never know.
The world's going in quarantine. The schools in Seattle close - go to online classes. The University of Seattle goes to on line classes. The University of Seattle Pacific goes to on line classes. I read Dante. Watch my plane ticket go up in smoke. Unpack my suitcase. My calendar still has the two weeks blocked out in red - SPU MFA - DANTE.
I go to the church, pull up to buy new prayer beads. As I'm about to get out the first case of COVID19 is reported in my city. The next day the first case in my hometown. No place it seems is left untouched.
I come home. Tell Mama let's find a movie to watch. Cook something I don't remember. Breathe. Just breath. Kitchen's looking good she says.
Getting there, I tell her.
It's March. On the inside I'm getting quieter. Stiller. In January - way back in January I was calling my sister, talking to friends, my sons sounding a little panicked. I'm not panicked anymore. I'm painting. Earphones in. Little Pink Houses. Ain't that America. Home of the free.
I've been working on that story about the woman, the coyotes. Yesterday - out of the blue in turned into a full blown novel. In the split of second. Seven sisters. Each one with a story that leads into a story. It just might be a Southern Gothic Tour de Force. Never know. It can happened.
Back sometime in one year me and Cousin Deb drove up to Dothan Alabama to see Joe Cocker in concert. Feelin' Alright - turn it up. I just can't waste my time. I must get by. There's too much to do before I die. Feelin' alright. Not feeling too good myself. Feelin' alright.
And so it goes up on this hill. Everything's just as normal as it ever was. Same as it ever was.
And in the middle of it I've never stopped thinking about you. Wondering how you are. What you're doing. Thinking about time and destiny. About this amazing life I've lived. This charmed hard knocks down and out up and down life I've lived. Counting my blessings like precious stones.
I want to tell you everything's gonna be alright, stay alright. It's gonna be what it's gonna be. We've reached a turning place. But everyday we have a choice. To walk into the day with brave hearts, to say our prayers, to lay down our swords. Need a little holy, healing water out there we do.
Wishing you peace and light, peace and light, peace and light in spite of everything. And a way for you to settle what's most important in your heart. To talk to your family and your neighbors. I don't know. Maybe plant a tree. Make some soup. Write a song. Cause all in all - the world must go on.
Think I'm gonna go write now. There's a baby boy on the way ready to be born soon. And, he needs some stories to be told.
A little fast and furious news from the Hill.
Three wonderful things happened yesterday. Ok, more than three. But these particular three I want to jot down for you.
Our very own Parnassus Peter Taylor returned from South American from his gap year abroad. I don't have time to do the before and after pics here but he left very clean cut and clean. He returned with a big grin and wild hair looking like a man of the world. AND because I screamed OH MY God and basically went running to him he gave me one the best hugs ever. Like a real hug. Like a I JUST GOT BACK FROM SOUTH AMERICA hug not one of those weak fish tiny pats on the back that says geez I wish you wouldn't hug me. Way to go Peter on all good and wonderful things. I can't WAIT to hear about his stories, his writing, his reading, and all about this totally life changing experience. So much so I want to invite him to come on Clearstory Radio and share them with all of us.
A three year old little girl yesterday that was cuter than pie approached me on the sidewalk in front of whole foods to explain she was looking for a blue car and had I seen it. I got a real kick out of this because I was wearing shades and cowgirl boots and don't know why out of all the people she smiled and waved to me and decided I was the person to ask. But I'm glad she did. Her mother was right there with her so she wasn't lost. But obviously was hot and a little over the lines and crowds and ready to find the car and get the heck out of there. I felt Charmed. Chosen.
Friend Silas House had an exquisite reading with musical guests last night at Parnassus to a standing room only crowd. His words were pure honey. They always are.
I'm entering into final edits for Confessions. Excited to be at this stage of the game where we get to wrap up this odd, quirky little book about faith and fiction and fast rides through the lightning storms of nights in the high desert of New Mexico. My deep thanks to awesome Ms. A. and the mighty Grace for bearing with me through my process. Can't wait to get on the road to visit readers, see old friends and make new ones when the book finally arrives in March. Before that you can find me in a few places and I'll be back for more on that later.
TODAY - I'll be live with Clearstory Radio, a literary show with soul - at 1:00 Central on 107.1 and 103.7 in Nashville or streaming through radiofreenashville.org So excited that author Joy Jordan-Lake will be joining me in the studio today to talk about her most recent novel and all things writing, reading, and living in a creative space. Please Join us!
Hope you are living this day with arms wide open and celebrating the light wherever you find it.
It's been the kind of regular old life that gets away from you. All the details in the doing. So here's a few of my doings and runaway thoughts and wandering hearts consternations.
Last week I had the awesome honor of being with a group of women that have been a taproot in my life for two years. It was a fast and furious weekend as I was speaking at the Anglican Church event in Alexandria, VA. What a BEAUTIFUL PLACE. And how many photos do I have from the event? Not one. Not one of the gathering of women at their annual event. Not one of the beautiful neighborhoods. Not one of the country club where I spoke that was decorated for Christmas and the Holidays from top to bottom and beyond. Not one with my friends and most important of all - not one with the beautiful faces of the women there and with them as they were buying books! All my new friends! Where is my self-promotional selfie mode? I just don't have it. One of these days as Shellie Rushing Tomlinson and I joked on book tour we will have that brilliant kid from the genius bar somewhere that does a great job covering those things. You'll have to believe me when I say - the women were beautiful. I looked out on that crowd while speaking and thought what beautiful faces of all ages from all places. Next time I promise myself I'll do better. (I have promised myself this at the last five speaking engagements I've had.)
This semester I have had the great honor of teaching students from A Novel Idea program for their Pen and Paper Writing Clubs. I've grown attached to EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM. How can young people be so smart now? Why wasn't this program a part of my growing up years? It would have changed my life back then to be so involved and encouraged as a writer. This has been one of the highlights of my 2017! How many photos do I have with these students? None. Just one shot from visiting them this Summer at A Novel Idea. I'm looking for that one.
Capturing the Christmas Tree for Mom
We come from a big, live tree family. I was determined to get Mom a real, big live tree. One big enough to hold her thirty years of ornaments. I haggled and bagged the tree in subzero weather - ok - it felt like subzero - the wind was blowing. I drove home twenty miles an hour the long, slow way up River Road with it on top of the car. It was eight feet tall. The only problem is my ceilings are NOT eight feet tall. Somehow I was imagining our old ceilings at home in Panama City. We basically lived in - the Den which was an add-on with higher ceilings than the rest of the house and a big fireplace. I miss those ceilings. I miss that fireplace. Not an inch more than Mom though. Which is why I was trying to get the big tree. That is now smaller. It looked so perfect out in that big, wide open field. Now, if I can only find all those ornaments it will finally be finished. We will leave it up until it is a real fire hazard and has to go. (I have not taken any photos for social media of the work in progress. I am promising myself that soon and very soon I'll do this)
Oh, then this happened. Tom Hanks dropped by Parnassus Books in Nashville on the day I wasn't happily in the store helping customers purchase great gifts for the giving season. REALLY. He went shopping and signed a few copies of his new collection of short stories, Uncommon Type. I actually have cried, teared up, had a moment, about this because HE is one of my favorite famous people. He writes stories. He collects old typewriters. He's still married to his wife. He made a movie about baseball. What's not to love? I DO HAVE THIS PHOTO of me missing Tom Hanks. Who is not in the picture? ME, me, me.
In light of this and keeping it in perfect perspective - I've been reading the Facebook posts almost daily of my friend author Kaya McLaren who is battling and winning the war on Cancer. She writes honest, funny, heartbreaking, raw posts like long letters. She is so much braver than I am. I wrote her and told her this. That I have a diagnostic mamogram next week and I hate that. Kevin the rescue dog starts his official heartworm treatment the same day now that he has finished meds and is strong enough for treatment after his near death scare. We are going to the doctor the same day and then I am attending a Christmas party with my sister and then my son has tickets for me to see Star Wars with him later that night and I think this is a good way to reward myself for doing something I hate doing but must do. There are only two things I hate more than the mamagram. One involves a doctor. One involves a dentist.
I wrote my friend Kaya and told her how stupid it was for me to cry about missing Tom Hanks because her posts about losing her hair and fighting for her life put everything in perspective for me. She wrote back that she loved me. And that missing Tom Hanks is still missing Tom Hanks.
The reason I am able to love Kaya so much is because I know her. I know her because of this little thing called The Pulpwood Queens and their annual celebration known as GIRLFRIEND GETAWAY WEEKEND. There is nothing in the world like this experience. It happens again January 2018. I will be there. If it is not too late to get a package I encourage to try to do so although it may be sold out. It always is. I have made more lifetime friends - both writers and readers - at this event than any other event or happening in my life. The founder, Kathy Murphy is also a writer, a world changer, a ball of fire and energy and is officially this year known as The Comeback Kid. She went back to college when life tried to take her down and out of the game. Tomorrow she earns her degree in Art and the work she has been creating and posting on Facebook the last two years BLOWS MY MIND.
As a quick side-note - you can check out the teaching page on this site for more info on the writing class I've been teaching, The Mastermind Path: Following Your Muse and Finding Your Audience. What a sweet surprise to work with these writing creatives as they explore their voice, write their words, and walk the path of their writing journey. We've had great conversations with other writers including Bren McClain, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, Michael Moore, and Joy Jordan-Lake and it's not over. We have a few weeks left in the course and a new one will begin in February.
That's my Wednesday Wild Card! Which didn't go out on time. And is now posted on Thursday. I have no pictures to prove it was actually written on Wednesday.
Sometimes you miss out on meeting famous people but the most important thing is to not miss out on loving the wonderful people in your everyday life.
Love and peace!
(*This blog was picked up by Psychology Today and chosen as one of their essential reads. You can catch it here.)
I came into the world in the month of September. The great time of hurricanes. My birthday is only a few days away and Florida is heavy on my mind. Weighted on my heart. Saltwater runs through my veins and as I write this looking over this hill from Tennessee I can see those waves crashing, hear the pounding of the Gulf growing angrier by the minute, the slash and snap of the Palms wild from the wind. Along with the rest of the nation my eyes are now turned to the devastation that Irma has left in the Islands and fearing what is yet to come.
I’ve ridden out more tropical storms than I can remember. For about fifteen solid years I’ve made Tennessee my home but right now it’s in my blood to stock up on batteries, water, canned food. To Hunker down and hope.Had our little brick house turned into Noah's Ark full of cousins and animals and family year after year. My mother managed a restaurant right on the beach where I worked every summer. People sat at tables by the water and watched the moonlight on the waves as they rolled up on the shore. Every year we saw that it was bordered up and prayed for the best through the hurricanes. Every single year. A part of life.
I witnessed the destruction first hand after Hurricane Camille - a raging category five - hit the coast of Mississippi on the way to see my Daddy at Ft. Polk right afterwards. My mother crept the car by a warship that had been tossed onto land and into someones yard like a toy boat. The destruction was eerie. It was like driving through a graveyard at the close of day.
Hurricane Opal was downgraded to a three before it hit but the storm surge of Opal came in at high tide and carved molehills out of the backside of condos. From the front they looked perfectly fine but when you walked around to the back of the building there actually was no building there. The storm surge is a deadly thing.
The first time I actually moved away from Northwest Florida was to transfer with my company to south Florida. A world away. The palm trees were taller than the buildings from my hometown. The scent on the air intoxicatingly exotic. The night blooming jasmine, the orchids. I was 21 and didn’t know what to expect. North Florida is a land of old oaks, beautiful beaches, slow talkers, and porch rockers. Pine trees. Ft. Lauderdale was fast. It became home. I gave birth to a baby boy there in Hollywood just north of Miami where I had friends.
I evacuated one time when it looked like a ‘cane was coming in fast and furious and might land as a strong four and my daddy wanted me to get out. Me and sister packed up two cars with two little boys, two dogs, four puppies, one cat, and all the family photos I could carry. My brakes went out as I skirted storms that sent crashing limbs into the roads. Tornadoes chased us all the way to my Aunt Kate’s door up in Georgia. It was days upon days before we could get back (with new brakes), the National Guard still in charge, the power still out.
The world is full of refugees. It’s a clamoring world problem but sometimes a distant drum from our side of the pond. Until Katrina sent refugees scattering everywhere trying to find a toehold to hang onto. Until Harvey just hit and took our breath away. After the big show, when all the tv crews have moved on, the recovery begins. Recovery is slow. Harvey’s price tag might be close to 190 billion. But crunching the numbers says nothing about the amount of lives that will have to be rebuilt. And here’s Irma with Jose right on her tail and barreling up the same path. This time - we are the refugees.
Millions have evacuated. Millions. I can’t even fathom that number on the move in this country trying to avoid disaster, trying to save their loved ones. That’s a lot of tired, scared, thirsty, hungry people. I saw on the news where a city in another state opened a shelter and advertised for Floridians to keep coming north, they have arms open. I was watching the news from Tennessee but I was watching it as a Floridian. Worrying about family and friends there in different counties. Watching the path of the storms twists and turns. Then I realized, I’m not the only one watching. That the entire nation is watching.
Should you be a praying kind of person, now would be a good time to give a pause, to say hello to God for a good cause. For the children losing homes, for the parents clinging to their children, for the first responders everywhere and those that are standing at the ready to work to rebuild what is about to be destroyed and can’t be held back. For order, peace, provision.
Frank Sundram posted on Facebook a reminder from the old movie Starman. When the alien is asked why he wanted to come to Earth he replied, “Unlike the rest of the Universe, the people of Earth are at their best when things are at their worst.”
With a storm that will be felt across the entire state of Florida barreling its way toward us I see the news reporting that campgrounds, hotels, shelters, cities are all opening their gates to evacuees, I cling to that truth. In the survival against what might be the worst to come that we may prove in a million ways be our very best.
Pennies and prayers. They both count more than you know. Give what you can, where you can from the heart of who you are.
Praying for your peace in the middle of all of life’s storms within and without.
On the backside of Father's Day I have to write about what was heavy on my heart yesterday. It was father's day and this is a photo of my father better known as my Daddy and my sons who knew him as Pawpaw. He sits on his boat which after 22 years in the Army (including twelve years in Airborne) was the best place to be. Those cocky little kids on the boat were the best present I ever gave him.
All of our growing up years on Panama City Beach were spent making weekly pilgrimages a stones throw back up in the woods to Holmes creek. This eight acre little spread was down on the water lined with Cypress. The creek was filled with fish, nested by long legged herons and swamped enough to hold a few alligators. It was the beating of my Daddy's heart. And, now - it's gone.
This property has been in the family for generations. My great-grandaddy pulled the ferry across the creek with his old horse, Maude. Back then the creek was just slightly wider and cars would ferry on and ferry off. Years later my daddy as a young man would be one of the first on the crew that built the first bridge that went across. My young years were spent exploring the creek and like every kid and cousin for miles around hanging out under the bridge was a part of that ritual into adulthood. We read the names scratched underneath. Who hearted who. Years of graduation. Simple things. No F-bombs. Nothing crude, lewd or something you'd find in a bar at 2 am. Just kids being kids. The ground underneath the bridge was filled with piles of sandbags filled with cement that had solidified into a thing of it's own. This mound. Which is where we sat listening to the rare car coming a long way off and then thump, thump, thump as they slowly crossed the bridge checking the water.
Checking the water has been a part of that ritual of growing up. Is it high? Getting higher? Reaching flood level? Is it low? Are the fish biting? If they are - what's biting? Catfish, shellcrackers, mullet? What you usin' to catch'em?
When I was a little girl this tiny place was an actual working farm-ish. There were plenty of chickens, a big pig that always had little pigs back in the pen, a horse named Maude (still alive) and a barn we called the corn crib. There were barn cats which meant barn kittens that were beautiful and ferrel and meant to be mouser's not cuddle cats. ON more than one occasion we caught one and took it home to our house where they learned not all cats are born to be barn cats. It's where my sister had a little horse, where old Maude went wild one day with me riding her bareback, where family reunions were held down by the water but where ever day was a reunion. It's where Memaw worked hard and then watched her stories then we would all take a nap with the box fans in the window cooling us in the heat of the day.
Our Memaw cooked three meals a day the old fashioned way. That means with a stove. Her's being gas and an oven that turned out seven layer peanut butter cakes that we would fight for. The supper meant fried chicken and peas, fresh corn, and cornbread. Or fish caught that day from the multitude of folks that paid to launch their boats. When my great-grandaddy was alive he had a few boats he rented out for the day. The last chore of the evening of his was to bail those boats out and pull them to the shore.
My Daddy was raised here, in this place. My sister and I also. My sons, her children. My grandchildren have visited, played in the creek, listened to the stories. All of them. Of the Christmases past and of old lying Uncle Eddie Lewis and of so many silly wonderful simple days.
I once asked my Daddy where of all the places he'd been in his Army days was the best of all of them. Without hesitation he said - right here - with a grin that was his trademark. He was serious. If a person can be a place itself then Daddy was the creek.
As we got older a slew of teenage friends went with us spring, summer, fall to paddle the creek. Kids swam near the bank and we hang out in this paradise that we took for granted because it always had been and therefore always would be.
When Daddy died there was a comfort in knowing that as long as we had the creek, we had him. That somehow having the creek tied us to the past of every good thing. It was our north star and our touchstone. Our taproot. it tethered us to our lives and to each other.
But times, they do change. Old people die. Sometimes way too soon and too young. The Corn crib barn fell to ruin eventually. There hadn't been a hog in the hog-pen for twenty, maybe thirty years. Maude died finally before Grandaddy Skipper. Memaw passed away. The little house that had housed a multitude and fed an army every week got older and tired like people do. Even though it was propped up and nailed and had a new tin roof, it still leaked and sagged. It was ready I think to give up the ghost.
We have a few photos that all belong in a big immortal album but they are yet to be collected. Of us growing up and then our children posing down by the water or running across the sandy yard in a game of something born straight out of imagination. The photos that are missing are ones that are still in my heart. The time my sister and I were on the boat with Daddy, fishing just there at the edge of the bank on a quiet summer day. The dragonflies flitting at the waters edge. The wind stirring the surface so that I'd lift up my pole, check my hook, plop the red cork back down. Daddy would say - It's just the wind, not a bite - but I couldn't tell the difference. I was more aware of the song of the cicadas, the sun on my shoulders, the sound of my mother a lullybye softly as rocked one of the baby's to sleep, the melody but not the words lilting and finding their way to our ears.
I once told my mom we could tear it down and build something new. Maybe just put a little trailer there. She said that she wouldn't even want to be there anymore without the house there. It wouldn't feel the same.
Last night I dreamed of I was driving in storms, lost and trying desperately to find my way home. I finally pulled over and asked someone to help me. "I have to get to North Florida," I told them. When I woke I understood. My crush and longing from yesterday filtering into my dreams.
The creek was sold last week to a lovely family. Word is they are distant relatives, that somehow if this is actually possible their people owned the creek before our people did and then the families married and so on. I hope this is true. It helps take the sting out of the heartbreak.
It was time. It had to be done. But as much as my sister and I, my sons, my niece and nephew and kept a stiff upper lip - I'm afraid we've come undone. At least for Daddy Day. Maybe this week we'll all get back on track. I hope so. There's things to be done.
As a writer I know that all our memories have not disappeared but will now cross over into the place of myth. Where the power of story grows stronger with each passing year. Nothing can take away this from us. Our stories are ours to tell and tell well. It's the way legend's are born and men like my Daddy live forever.
Once upon a time there once was a Creek - and that story is never-ending.
But if you happen to be out for a drive in North Florida and find that you've wandered your way back up in the woods, turn down Miller's Ferry Road and drive till you come to a bridge - you'll know the one. When you cross please do us a favor, slow down to a crawl, roll down your window and check the water. Honk the horn twice to let folks know you've arrived. That you are crossing that bridge, making your way home.
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