A little News From the Hill
Recently FACEBOOK popped up on my phone with a notice that said - While you weren't looking - and then went on to explain in detail what people were doing in my absence. I found this slightly strange. Oddly disconcerting. As if there was a tad of guilt attached to that observation. But I thought I'd use that on this update sans the guilt. No guilt here. Besides, it's hard for you not to be looking when I'm not sending you words. While you weren't looking . . . storms rolled through Tennessee that have left thousands of us without power. It's an inconvenience to be certain. We are geared for things being charged and ways to see around the dark corners. Thankfully there has to my knowledge been no breakdown of civility. Case in point I stopped my car in the middle of the road after making a coffee run this early am to talk to some strangers I saw in their yards.
"Morning. Ya'll got any power?"
"No, honey. This here is my daughter's house and she is with CEMC. They got lights on. I live back down the road that away." She points in the direction of where I'm headed up the hill to my house. "And we got nothin."
"Me neither. Well, ya'll hang in there."
I drive up the hill thinking how pretty and green everything is. Wondering who bought that house with the pretty yard that looks out over the meadow and the river because my thoughts can go that way. Then I make it in the dark house and wake Mama up to say, "If you want your coffee at least lukewarm you better sit up in bed and drink it now." She does and asks me if I will bring mine in the bedroom to sit with her and so I do. Cause I can be like that too.
We talk about how by now everything in the fridge and freezer has gone bad. She wants to know if the Power company is gone give us some kind of credit for these days in the dark and tells me it's been too long now. I agree. It's been too long. Too long for comfort. And I think about all the friends and family who endured no power for weeks after Hurricane Michael and the residents of Puerto Rico who went months without power and how life can change on a dime or with a storm.
For just a moment I have enough charge to reach internet. Enough charge left on laptop to write. Imagine weeks of nothing. No communication. No way to connect with the outside world. To tell the news or receive it. Share a story or a recipe. The new dark ages they would be.
A slight breeze picks up, finds the window. It's still early enough that the air is cool compared to what it will be. Maybe I should open all the windows now. Try to fill the house with air while there is air to be had.
Yesterday. The storms rolled in again. Me and Mama sat in the dark of the living room. She asked me if I wanted to go sit awhile on the porch and I said ok but we have to hurry before it hits. She hurry's as best she can. Then we sit and the dogs sit. They will tolerate a little of this - the wind whipping and the trees blowing - but at the first loud clap of thunder they are ready for shelter and not the silliness of watching a storm roll in.
Mama says - "Do you remember me rocking with you and us watching the storms through the window?"
"I do Mama."
"I never wanted you to be afraid. I was so afraid of storms so I didn't want my child to afraid like me so I rocked you but I'm sure I put the chair back away from the window. We weren't in danger or anything."
"You also held me in your arms and we stood right by the window and watched them."
"Well, I just didn't want you to be afraid." She rocks and thinks a minute. "When I was six and that's a big girl to be so afraid I started crying and I remember I went to another room, we called it the side room cause it was just a little room on the side of the porch where company slept and that's where I went to cry cause I was ashamed and didn't want anyone to see me. John found me and come and picked me up and told me it was okay. Was nothing to be afraid of and I was alright."
I can tell by the way she is telling it that the memory is up close. Something that feels like right now and yesterday. John was the Uncle John of my stories. When we happened to both be living in South Florida close to Miami he pulled me outside during a storm to watch heat lighting in the clouds putting on a show worth laying your money down for. He was about ten years older than Mama but died now what seems like over twenty years ago. How does that happen? These people of ours passing though leaving such big footprints behind. We never imagined in all of our years, in all of their coming, there would come the day of there going and staying gone.
"One night during a big storm lightning struck our television and a ball of fire shot out of it and rolled across the floor. A ball I tell you. There was a big sound like an explosion when it hit and then I watched as this ball of fire rolled out of the TV set and across the floor until it disappeared."
"Where was I?"
"I imagine in a storm like that I had you in my arms because that's what I would have done unless I had laid you down for a minute. But you weren't on the floor with the fireball I can tell you that much."
"And I guess that television was history."
"Oh, it was history alright. Wasn't nothing left of it."
"Well, Mama that was something to see."
"A fireball rolling across the floor."
"Yes, it was sure something."
A fireball. Vaguely I have a strange memory. One of the air changing with the hiss of expectation to explosion, of a ball Made of all the colors of red and orange and yellow at once stirred together into something alive and magnetic, something powerful escaping the confines of that old Zeneth tv console. At the edges of my mind there is my mother young and frightened and full of wonder. The memory is either mine from ages past or something I've inherited now. A story passed down for the taking. As all stories are.
We sit till the trees bend low, the birds find shelter and the dogs lead us back inside where we will spend the night in silence that come with a street tossed to the darkness of dreams. Where everyone hopes and imagines they will wake suddenly to the flash of lights, the hum of machines kicking on again, the air conditioner sighing with relief as it resumes its long, trudge uphill against the summer.
Blessings to each of you as you walk that tightrope of your days between the darkness and the light.
There's nothing like it. Being on the road. Being on the road for book tour and then being on the road with Mama for miles and miles. Her telling me stories. I thought I blogged about it but realize now it was a Facebook post. About the air in the car going out. About her declaring with the windows down, the wind in our hair, her feet on the dash where they belonged - "This is just like being back in the cotton fields" and me saying - "Now Mama! You know this is NOT cotton field hot!" Like I have picked cotton all of my life. I have never stood in the middle of the hot, blaring sun of the south in the dirt of a cotton field in my life. But you wouldn't know it by the way I KNOW Cotton field hot because I have listened to the stories of my people all of my life. Like an introvert. Like a quiet child. Like a writer. We are always listening. Absorbing like a sponge. We are the witness to life and and the keeper of story.
Mama was a trooper. Broken air and all. We made it to Panama City where I got to read and speak to people that included friends from Bay High school. And past board members of the Children's Advocacy Center where I used to be the Executive Director once upon the time in another life. From the Books Alive history of work at the Northwest Florida Library Country Library. From my writer days in Panama City. Friends. My Cousin. My Mama. My life. And man - did they not all honor and surprise me. Every single one of them.
I have not properly captured - anything. Much. I mean to take photos. I mean to ask someone to take photos. I don't do either one. I gather a few here and there but they are rare. I thought I'd finish my novel on the road. Hahahaha. No. I have not. I thought I'd blog everyday to share the wonderful experiences of meeting readers on the road. I have not.
But I can tell you this. I believe more than ever in the power of story that sustains and connects us. I believe that Confessions of a Christian Mystic in all it's glorious strange title has touched lives here and there and everywhere. I've continued to be blown away by your notes and comments on Facebook and privately about what the book has meant to you. It means I'm still breathing for a reason. Still writing and that words in our lives are so important. A special thank you to readers who have driven two hours or more to get to an event. Some who have read my books previously and others who just caught news and were captivated and came as if on pilgrimage.
I'm so thankful for every minute and mile and for your time. I want to wander in your lives and share the mystical moments that have happened on this tour. I want to revisit my moments on the beach, to write about Panama City and the rebuilding after Hurricane Michael. To write about the retired Episcopal Priest who came last night to the signing and a man who also attended, came in early that day - bought my book and read the ENTIRE thing- before the event. Then they saw each other.- He happened to be in her parish 30 years ago as a single dad with his sons and they hadn't seen each other for 30 years until - last night. At my book event. And I will not lie. I live for these moments. I mean, I travel a thousand miles for these moments. I count all won and lost in these moments. The value of human life and this power of story. Of us being together.
In the midst of tour the Notre Dame Cathedral caught fire. Burned. The cross hung untouched. Glowing in the ashes. The world stopped. Watched. Prayed. My heart went sick and heavy. I wrote on Instagram that sometimes something happens where you feel the gravity of the earth shift, an important piece of the puzzle of us fall away. This was one of those moments. One where we didn't know something was so important to us until it was in flames. Smoke. Ashes. No longer there. Then the photo that captured my heart the most. The one of the firefighters staring at the cross that remained. It's the heart of humanity connecting with the Divine that changes the equation to me. It makes it - everything.
Today I've been held up in Fairhope, Alabama after a great event last night at Page and Palette. I'm working my way to New Orleans. To Garden District Books tomorrow night. They say A storm is brewing. NOLA has seen a few storms, some hurricanes. They say - come on. We are ready for you and waiting with open arms. And I say- alright. I'm coming. Headed on down the road.
Right now, Frankie is playing on the speakers, a woman just said - I'm so out of it. I just rolled in. And the customer said - Rolled in with some stories I take it.
And I wanted to say - Amen. Rolled in with some stories. Gonna share some stores. Listen and collect some stories.
I so hope to see you out there on the road. I'll be in NOLA at Garden District Books tomorrow night and next week at Novel in Memphis, TN. Please come visit. You rock my world when you do.
Peace and Love from out here. Wishing you traveling mercies in all that you do
This morning I went walking on the rails to trails in Cheatham County. I discovered that Turkey Junction comfort station is open for business. Last time I was there this was not the case. The big sign said - CLOSED FOR WINTER. But today - Open! This means yes, no matter that the forecast has us dipping below freezing this week - It's Springtime. What an odd, late winter we've had.
As most of you know Momma has been gone down in Florida staying with Cousin Deb and visiting. Which meant I was going to get the new novel finished. Did I? No. I did not. But man oh man - I'm getting there. Every Saturday at High Noon I share some inside stories on writing the novel and new developments and what it's like to be a writer in process with the Undercover Reader Posse. And it's absolutely fabulous! So much so that friends have asked me to please start a page on Patreon so that more people can participate and discover which is ON MY LIST to do. I've promised. BUT FIRST -
Going to get Mama and rounding the corner on 50,000 plus words with the next 40,000 already in my head but they must get the page! I've been like the character who is a writer in Romancing the Stone. She is finishing her novel, has no food, the cat has no food, the house is a mess - - - I so get this. My sister gets it too and I'm so fortunate to have a sister who happens to also be a reader and who loves my novels and cheers me on to the finish line. She called me the other day and said, "Do you have food?" And I said, sure, sure, sure as I vaguely recalled a can of beans and maybe some noodles. There are cans of something in there, I said - and went back to writing. She showed up at my door after church with real food.
So that night I made a burger and ate it on loaf bread with ketchup and mayo seeping through and I thought - Wow! This is like the best thing I've ever eaten in my life! Which made me think about -
The fact that one of our family meals that made us so happy was what you might call Hamburger Helper before there was such a thing. It was macaroni noodles with hamburger and a kinda homemade spaghetti sauce and we ate this with Saltine crackers on the side and I just can't tell you what a great family evening it was EVERY TIME WE HAD THIS MEAL. Why? I don't know. I tried to make it a few months ago but it didn't come out right. It just didn't taste exactly the same. And maybe it was because we needed to all be together, to be in that happy something is coming on TV we all like and we are going to watch it together and eat this homemade something or other. Simple times. No cell phones. No laptops. No screens but the precious blue light of the tv and maybe some western on Daddy wanted to see. And this said meal would be consumed in the Den which was the really only room in the house that mattered. If it had become unmoored from the rest of the house and we had just stayed in that one, big room with the fireplace we would have sailed away happy.
This morning it was all blue skies when I took off for my walk. And I would not have been walking if it had not been for running an errand for Mom at 8am to prepare for going to pick her up this week. But there I was at the head of the trail practically and I thought - well, it's silly not to just jump on it. Then I hit the trail and listened to the birds and the water and the wind in the leaves for awhile before I stuck my headphones in and listened to Johnny Nash singing "I can see clearly now," which is a great little 'let's all start our day in a happy way' song. And suddenly -
I'm fifteen again working on the beach at my Mom's restaurant. It was our second home. Long, busy shifts from Memorial Day to Labor day when the beach used to shut down for the Winter. Right on the Gulf of Mexico so that I could wait on tables and watch the waves crash on the shore at the same time. Let me just say right now there are some facts about my history are absolutely charmed. Growing up in this restaurant on the beach is one of them.
When I turned fifteen my Mom let me move to the 'night shift'. Glory, glory. I was able to then hang out and work with the college students and the teachers who picked up extra dollars waiting on tables for the summer. That summer of 15 I remember so clearly - this song, one teacher, us cleaning the bar before we opened and the waitresses putting in quarters to play the juke box and this young woman playing this song over and over and looking out past the sand dunes, the breaking waves, across all that water to the horizon and after a thoughtful moment saying, "This is my theme song this year." And me asking, "Why?" just as innocent as you please. She thought for a moment and maybe thought about trying to explain a whole lot of things but then she just smiled and said - 'It just is," because I was fifteen and no matter what things I'd been through by then, what maybe I'd seen - I was still fifteen. I wasn't old enough to understand, I can see all obstacles in my way. . . I think I can make it now the pain is gone . . .
Cheesy song from the perspective of years later when I'd be in the middle of a concert waiting for the Allman brothers to come on stage and Wet Willie would open for them and take the stage as the stars came out singing, Keep on Smiling. And that's one of those moments you realize you are in the perfect place at the perfect time no matter what happens after this night. (That's right Andy - Wet Willie.) And it would be Little Feat singing Dixie Chicken years and years later when I was living in South Florida and starting yet another life. Or even years folded into years when I was living in Kansas City watching Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band Turn the Page like nobody's business with the saxophone being everything a saxophone is meant to be.
That was then. And then was good.
Just like now is now. And now is good, too.
The skies have turned all Nashville grey again on me, the temps have dropped, the wind is blowing once again up on this hill. The chimes are getting crazy and I've got a fire blazing in the fireplace. And while I want to turn on the tv, pour a glass of wine and put my feet up - I have these characters that are as full of life as I feel at this moment. And, they have something to say and the funny thing is - I'm the only one that hears them so I have to go write it down.
Peace to you and all you love From the Hill on this High and Holy week.
The sky is a solid mass of unwavering grey today. Aptly fitting for Ash Wednesday. There's no relief of rain. No promise of the parting clouds. Like the whole Earth is in mourning, clinging to its pain. A type of ashen twilight that will last eternal.
Rescue Kevin lays in the bed of leaves outside the door napping in the cool. He doesn't mind the sky at all. When I ask if he wants in he stretches, rolls his eyes in apology that he finds his bed more satisfying than my company. Eventually, Summer will arrive and my company in air conditioning will be much more in demand.
That grey sky today.
Somewhere there are lovers holding hands and making promises I hope last beyond the next full moon, the next low tide. The breathing in and out of this planet. That they have loves made out of storybooks.
Yet, somewhere too, there is an old person sitting all alone, looking out the window, hoping someone will ring the doorbell or their phone. A delivery perhaps from a sweetheart who has remembered them from old times past.
Last night I drove to the store and a firetruck rushed past it's siren wailing. The coyotes began their high pitched wails in response. I noticed how far they were up on that ridge beyond the river. I wonder where will they go now that we've come and inch by inch are taking everything. Where will all the wild ones go?
Today collides two events I've spent a lifetime observing. An unlikely paring of Valentines- that day of kisses and chocolate candies, and Ash Wednesday, that day of ashes and repentance.
Grade school was made for Valentines. We made those silly little envelopes and taped them to our desks. Then we went around dropping tiny envelopes in one another's mailboxes always hoping that our secret crush would choose that one large card in the pack that said something special and cryptic like - Valentine I Swoon for You. All the rest of them said, you are sweet, kind, my friend.
Being raised Episcopalian Ash Wednesday held a special significance. We went for ashes to be placed on our forehead in the form of the cross and the priest said, Ashes to ashes, dust to dust in a somber voice and then continued down the line - From the dust you came and to the dust you will return.
That this day falls on Valentines this year is simply Southern gothic perfection. I can consider the wages of love and repentance, sweetness and loss, in one swift hand.
The wind blows unrelenting. The fingerbones of the trees waving against the dismal sky. A lone crow calls out.
Perfect Lenten weather.
Perhaps tonight the sky will clear and lovers will find stars above them as they thread their way through streets to dinner. Or their love may cast its own bright light in all the darkness. Then, so be it. Let them drink and celebrate their lives bound together.
My life found more ashes than I expected but also more love. A kind of general love that meets the world beyond the walls of my cynic heart. This love - it leaps over me. Makes way for itself in spite of my comments and asides. This wild love knows something fierce. Something more akin to forty days than heart-shaped papers. A love born in deserts, surrounded by space and darkness, wilderness and wild.
I've longed for such I do confess. In times long past. A willingness to lay down myself, become another. A partnership of perfection. Eternal kisses, forever bliss.
Now the rain comes, it hits the glass in large drops unrelenting. Look. The sky finds relief after all. At least something moves, something happens.
For years I've seen in other peoples eyes, this one here and that one there - a type of kinship. Knowing another soul ar first meeting. A fast friends type of thing, brushing lives with a stranger in a line or some odd place. A mechanic shop. A bar. A bank. A struck up conversation. Not a romantic kind of love but that of just the sameness of being human. Man, woman, child. An understanding. When there is nothing left but craving understanding. It is a - see me. Hear me. Please before I break.
Forty Days. The Lenten Season. A valentine of words. Love and loss. Renewing and remembrance. It is the Yin and yang. The balancing of moon and sun, dark and light.
Love, sometimes a sacrifice. Eternal and Divine on scale of God as man or just a tiny act. A little bit of time. A coin. A rose.
Whatever love looks like for you today I hope that you find it - a greater love, a deeper love, an older love, a newer love, first love, last love or the soulmate that you seek.
The rain is steady now. It's become a small downpour. The driveway is washing away down the road. Kevin takes me up on a dry towel and a bone. We've come together to celebrate what it means to be alive in this life. Up on this hill. Watching the rain fall while voices of all manner whisper through this night, 'I Love you' and 'ashes to ashes, dust to dust.'
(*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.
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.