Saturday, August 20, 2011

FINAL LAP: Birthday Reflections: Aug. 10, 2011 ~ by Allison Rhodes, Decatur, Georgia

In the late 50’s and through the 60’s I was one of those girls who really loved sports. Basketball was my favorite and I spent hours playing with friends as well as on teams. I was decent, not great, but I delighted in the teamwork, the exertion and the surprises of play. In junior high I had my first coach, Charlie Johnson. Coach Johnson was a taskmaster and we respected him for it. To warm up for practice he would have us run laps around the gym. Each day it seemed the number of laps grew, but the instructions for the final lap were always, “Now give it all you’ve got!” I would join the other girls as we dug deeper for the burst energy required for last trip around the hardwoods. Sure we were girls, but we were expected to sweat and hustle. There was something about that expectation that called forth the warrior in this otherwise mild-mannered girl. I learned about faking, throwing elbows and taking my licks. But it always began with running laps.

The last few years I have been running laps around my life, metaphorically of course, since the knees and back aren’t what they once were. I’ve looked at the past from different angles. I have approached old wounds and found healing. I have smiled at mistakes and personal quirks that once felt shameful and in them have discovered strength. I have yearned to reconnect with playmates of old. I’ve studied pictures of family who have finished this earthly journey as well as snapshots from my life. Inviting memory I have reflected and written, hoping my stories will reflect to my kids and grandkids the flavor of our family. When I shared this life review process with a friend, she said, “It sounds like you are winding down”.

That comment gnawed at the back of my neck all day. Today is my birthday. I am 63 and I’ll admit there is a sense of the limit of time. When I consider the idea of closing chapters and winding down, however, Coach Johnson and his laps come to mind. These are my later years, but the past seems like a warm-up for what is to come. Juxtaposed against a youth-obsessed culture this ol’ girl is ready to dig deeper for what the game brings next. Older and slower for sure but I’m still able to hustle, sweat, throw a few elbows and give it all I’ve got. Happy Birthday to me!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Home – The Kitchen Table ~ by Tami Patterson, Atlanta, Georgia

The object that reminds me most of “Home” is the kitchen table. Over the years the kitchen table has changed in shape from oval to rectangle. Its wood has been that of oak to pine, but no matter its specific characteristics, the kitchen table has been the center for many memories of home.

Each table has entered the home new and unscathed, but as we have come to it for meals and conversations it has born the battle scars of crayons, cake icing, spilled milk and perhaps a dent or two from toys that have run across its surface. It has been the foundation for many a school project started and completed and its wood has absorbed the aromas of cookies decorated and meals enjoyed.

My family, immediate, extended and ancestors alike, have loved to linger at the kitchen table for hours long after the dessert was gone and the coffee cups were dry. The table has heard conversations of happy times, the planning of weddings, the celebrations of birthdays be it the first or the 100th, stories of the farms, and the mischievous doings of cousins. Its surface has played home to many a board game and the sorting of recipes along with the bantering of siblings, aunts and uncles deciphering whose story is correct.

If the moments around the table could be extracted it would reveal the wondrous history of family and jokes, good days and tough days and the significance of it as a family gathering place – HOME.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Three Men and a Feminist ~ Allison Rhodes, Decatur, Georgia

Father’s Day, 2011

It’s 1967 and I plant my fanny on the steps of the Administration Building at the University of Ga. for my first sit-in. The cause: a girl’s right to wear pants on campus. To wear long or short pants, you donned a trench coat and signed out from your dorm for horseback riding or tennis. When Ms. McClure, intrepid housemother for Center Myers, began to comment on my love for equestrian activities I knew my cover was wearing thin. It was time to take the struggle public. As is true for many historic social movements, others were also tiring of the oppression. Word began to circulate of plans for a sit- in at midnight (one hour past the prescribed curfew for females) and I joined my bold, scared sisters on those cold stone steps. We sat there as the campus police ordered us to disperse or face expulsion. Ultimately we prevailed and the system was changed! Today all those cute little things displaying flat tummies and pierced navels all over Athens can thank their wrinkled, flabby elders!

I have been a feminist since an early age. This Father’s Day I write to honor three men who are largely responsible for fostering “liberated” thinking that has served me well over a lifetime. Here are three messages I claim as their gift to me and I wish for all girls:

You are valuable
When an adult happily invests time and energy in a child’s world, the affirmation is powerful: “You are important to me.” James Fred Rowland, aka Papa, was such an adult for his grandkids. He was content to sit in the porch swing and listen, laugh and play with us. My favorite game was “Guess what color car will come down the road next?” I can still see him keeping score with his carpenter’s pencil on a piece of scrap paper. Whether on the hanging out on the front porch, damming up the branch (a small creek) to create a pool in the woods or feeding his pet squirrel, we kids were sure he was present with us and glad to be there. Thanks, Papa for valuing me.

You can dream
 Our uncle George was a quiet man, a bachelor and a gentleman. From the time I was old enough to talk about my plans, George was interested. He would listen as I chatted on about whatever fanciful idea or dream I was currently entertaining. I don’t remember challenges or discouragement, just interest. As a college student I loved to drive over to Walhalla for a weekend visit with my grandparents and uncle. Changing majors 5 times meant George inquired about a wide variety of plans. He would ask questions that helped me elaborate and think through the plan. When I began to discern my call to ordained ministry, George did not comment on the social acceptability of a woman pursuing a “man’s career”. He simply said, “Tell me about seminary,” and he listened. Thanks, George, for inviting me to dream.

You can question and think
My daddy was square peg in the deeps south’s round-holed assumptions about life. Popular thoughts on a variety of subjects were echoed by us kids, usually at the dinner table. Daddy was a man of few words, so when he spoke we listened. I remember telling the family that my friend’s father warned me that “…the coloreds are starting to riot and soon nobody will be safe.” I was scared. Daddy chewed thoughtfully and asked if I would refuse to sit next to Lucille (my grandmother’s maid) or deny her the right to vote or send her children to a good school. Daddy put a human face on the budding civil right’s movement and invited me to reflect on matters of justice not buy into wholesale fear. He encouraged critical thinking and the questioning of popular assumptions. I had a brain and I was encouraged to exercise it. Thank you, Daddy, for encouraging me to think and question.
And thank you, God, for a few good men

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Memories of a Grandmother I Never Knew ~ by Marcia Mayo, Atlanta, Georgia

I must have been told early on that I had only one grandmother, and that one grandmother was Mammo, who was my mother’s mother. The reason for this was because my father’s mother died in 1920 during the influenza epidemic that swept the world like a giant tsunami wake, killing millions. She was 34 years old when she died and pregnant with her fifth child, a baby who would have grown up to be my aunt or uncle.

I didn’t miss the grandmother I never knew. In fact, I remember thinking that being partially grandmotherless made me interesting, having someone who should have been something to me die before she ever had the pleasure of meeting me. It was the only sad part of my family’s history as far as I knew, so I believed it added a tragic element to my otherwise boring short biography

In my child mind, I never thought about my daddy or my aunts and the fact that they’d lived most of their lives without a mother and how hard it must have been for them. That’s because when I met them they were my grown up daddy and aunts and they seemed just fine.

It wasn’t until I became a mother myself that I realized what a sad thing it was that my grandmother wasn’t given a life long enough to see her children grow up. And it wasn’t until I became a grandmother that I was able to see what my own grandmother missed and what I missed never having had the chance to love her, to sit in her lap as she recounted her own memories, telling me I looked just like she did at my age.

My daddy and his sisters didn’t talk much about their mother. The only story I recall my father telling was one about his mama being all dressed up to go out and his pitching a fit, causing her to cancel her plans. My aunts, who were only five, three, and one when their mother died sadly had very few first-hand recollections of her and just a couple of photographs, one of which was her wedding picture.

When my father passed away in 1994, I was still young enough not to have given much thought to the family stories he could have told me. Not asking more questions when I had the opportunity is one of the things I regret most when it comes to all members of my family who have passed on. Although two of my aunts are still living, it’s difficult to get them to remember and share family stories. I've learned that I can’t be pushy. I have to be patient and wait for a memory to come as they rest in their revery.

Just recently, my Aunt Madge, in a flash of clarity, confided that my father had, as a seven-year-old boy, stood by himself at the window of his bedroom and watched as the wagon from the livery stable his father owned carried his mother’s body away.

That tiny glimpse into my father’s sad childhood just about broke my heart.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Daddy’s in the Trunk of the Car ~ by Allison Rhodes, Decatur, Georgia

In the 1950’s, before the safety of children was guarded by laws and all manner of protective equipment, we Rhodes kids enjoyed life on the edge. If we weren’t roller skating in a partially floored attic or walking on stilts down public roadways, we were cooking potatoes on a stick over a fire built in a metal drum. Amazingly we survived to adulthood along with some very good memories. One of my favorites has to do with Daddy.

We lived at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, just a few miles from adventure. Daddy took us up the mountain to pick apples, strawberries or nectarines depending on the season. During the summer we would drive to Earl’s Ford to play in the cool mountain water of the Chattooga. Much to our delight we were allowed to ride in the trunk of the car. The three of us would pile in and an old broom handle was given to me, the eldest, to prop open the trunk lid. We would take off, enjoying the trip in our family’s makeshift version of a pickup truck. Going up and down hills, over bumps and around the curves of mountain roads was tantamount to the modern kid’s amusement park.

Fifty years later Daddy made his final trip up the mountain. After his cremation I told Mama I’d pick up his ashes from the funeral home. She was weary and grief-stricken. I did not dare question her decision to have Daddy’s ashes buried in the Rhodes family plot next to his parents, brothers and infant granddaughter. I also did not request permission for what followed. Equipped with 4 Ziploc bags I carefully put a scoop of Daddy’s remains into each bag and left the rest in the box for burial. After the funeral and graveside service we put Mama in bed for a nap and quietly changed into what our parents used to call our play clothes. We traveled with our families up the mountain to Earl’s Ford and returned a part of Daddy to the Chattooga River, a place he loved enough to share with his four children.

I couldn’t empty my bag completely. I needed to save a little of Daddy. I added some polished small stones from the river’s edge into the bag and wrapped it all in a Wal Mart sack. For the next year I kept that Wal Mart bag in the corner of the trunk of my Civic. Some might question the lack of dignity. For my Daddy, I felt it was only fitting.

May 15, 2011: In memory and honor of Daddy on what would be his 94th year.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Peonies Keep Blooming ~ by Allison Rhodes, Decatur, Georgia

Circa autumn, 1862: Whetstone Community, Mountain Rest, SC.; a stone’s throw from the beautiful Chattooga River. Malinda Robins Crisp knelt in her garden and prepared the earth for planting. Against the backdrop of civil war that ripped through the land spilling blood onto our sad soil, my great grandmother was planting peonies. Each spring the delicate pink flowers unfurled their soft, perfumed petals outside the home she shared with her husband Allison.

Two little girls, Fannie and Annie, were born, grew, played and learned the domestic arts from Malinda. Each May the cool mornings and warm sunshine coaxed the buds into magnificent pink blooms. In 1893 Malinda’s worried hands cooled four-year-old Annie’s brow as she struggled with the fever of meningitis that would forever close her ears. Three years later Malinda and Allison wiped away tears as they left their youngest at Cedar Springs School for the Deaf and Blind in Spartanburg. Upon her graduation Annie returned to the upstate. She had met George Elliott Rhodes at Cedar Springs and when she was 23 they married. Elliott and Annie moved down the mountain to the little hamlet of Walhalla.

Malinda sent peony cuttings with Annie (my Nonnie) who planted them in her garden. Those flowers grew and multiplied and graced the garden and the family table for years. I still have the note from my 5th grade teacher, thanking me and Nonnie for the beautiful peonies I brought her. I can still see Nonnie’s hands wrapping the peony stems in wet newspaper so they would survive my walk to school and I remember the pride I felt when I gave them to Mrs. Stoudemire.

After Nonnie’s death, my mother Martha and my father Harry moved into the home. Martha loved a pretty yard so she tended the peonies. For years she divided and transplanted them and when age began to take its toll she worried what would become of the peonies. She wanted us to take some for our own yards but I lived in Savannah and the coastal climate doesn’t do for the peony. Soon as I moved to Atlanta I began to plan on some family peonies in my yard. Mama had died but sister Becky helped me divide them and brother Rob helped me plant them in my back yard and every year they bloom.

I’m sitting on my screen porch as I write this and those delicate, resilient blooms are bringing me great joy. Their pink beauty conjures up memories of loving women who opened a nurturing space in their hearts for me. This year I celebrate with my Katie her first Mother’s Day. I am filled with awe and smiles as I watch her tenderly love little Rhodes. I celebrate my Emily’s path toward a teaching special education. I am confident there is plenty of space in her heart to welcome children in her care as well as children who may come into her future home. I am a lucky woman. Real motherly love is so resilient, so powerful, so portable….like the traveling peonies!

Who were the women who made space in their hearts for you?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Easter Family Dinner ~ by Al Jones, Atlanta, Georgia

I was in grade school, maybe 6 or 7 years old. It was my parent’s turn to host the family for Easter Dinner. There were about 11-12 people: my brother and I, our parents, my Aunt Bonnie and Uncle Bill and my cousins Bob and JoAnne, my Mom’s parents Granddaddy and Grandmother Betts, and my Dad’s Mother, Grandma Jones.

Mom was a good cook and she like to try new things. I don’t remember everything she served, but the special item for this particular Easter was the salad. She had made Jell-O eggs. To do this she took raw eggs and using a needle punched a small hole in one end through which she drained the raw egg. Once drained, the egg shells were thoroughly rinsed and then used as molds for the gelatin. Everyone’s salad contained 2 or 3 finished eggs, so I estimate she must have used 2 or 3-dozen eggs in the process. The liquid gelatin was poured into each shell through the same hole where she had drained the egg, and then chilled in the refrigerator; after setting up, the eggs were cracked to recover perfect egg-shaped creations. There were eggs from lemon Jell-O, eggs from strawberry Jell-O, eggs from lime Jell-O, eggs from grape Jell-O.

When we were called to dinner, the table was set and beside each dinner plate was a salad plate holding a festive and colorful array of eggs arranged on a leaf of lettuce with a little dressing. It was pretty spectacular to my 6-year old eyes.  We ate at the dining room table with both leaves pulled out. We could all squeeze around it, but with this many people the chairs were almost touching. I got to sit next to my Uncle Bill which was a treat because he was one of my favorite people. After everyone was settled, my Dad asked us to bow our heads so he could say the blessing. We were taught to bow our heads and close our eyes so we could focus on the prayer. This began, but I felt my Uncle moving and couldn’t help opening my eyes to see what he was doing. He reached carefully to his salad plate, picked up a purple egg, smelled it, and put it back in place all before the Amen was said and everyone else opened their eyes.

In hind sight, this was one of my small coming-of –age experiences. Uncle Bill had a good sense of humor which may have been behind what he did, although he had nothing to say during the meal. Before this happened, I would never have imagined not paying full attention when the blessing was being said. For whatever reason, he and I never in all our other times together with family or on the golf course talked about the purple egg. We might have had a good laugh about it.

Uncle Bill died about 3-years ago. He is one of my heroes. His wife Bonnie developed Alzheimer’s disease many years ago, and Uncle Bill became her 24/7 caregiver until finally it was not possible for him alone. But this care giving was just one aspect of his life. He was fun; he was involved as a volunteer; he was a model I like to consider even now after his death.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

I Churched with Dwight Eisenhower ~ by Marcia Mayo, Atlanta, Georgia

Memories are often, for me, like smoke drifting over my head and then evaporating - just a wisp and then gone. The other morning while putting on make up, I remembered that my family once attended church with President Eisenhower.

Now, that memory wasn’t a surprise. If I’d seen it as a true-false question on a test about my life, I could have easily marked it "true." But the memory wasn’t fleshed out; it was a mere whisper, flirting with me as I applied blush to what used to be the roses in my cheeks.

What? Did we really do that?

Yes we did, and this is how it happened.

I believe it was around 1956 and we are visiting Gettysburg as many good Americans did and still do, when we heard that the President and his wife were spending the weekend at their farm there and they would be attending church the next day. I think my mother must have read it in the paper. She also noted an admonition that well-wishers, if they arrived at a certain time, would be able to see the President and First Lady from the sidewalk across the street from the church, but they would be kept behind police barriers for the safety of all involved.

What happened the next morning was a combination of my family’s adherence to the notion that Sunday equaled church no matter where you happened to be, and my mother’s cunning. I’m pretty sure that, good Methodists that we were, we’d packed our church clothes next to our binoculars and we'd planned to visit a local Methodist Church in the midst of our trip.   But Mama, at the last minute, decided we should at least try to look Presbyterian on that one day to see if we could add our own personal family chapter to the American history books by bypassing the giddy throngs as we made our way, with what I'm sure was a1950's version of white protestent condescension, into the very same sanctuary where the President was opening his hymnal and tuning up his vocal chords. 

All I need to add is that Mama's plan worked and I do now remember the way the leader of the free world's bald head added a special shine to the front pew of a Presbyterian Church on a certain Sunday in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania over fifty years ago, and that, furthermore, this particular family chapter has now been written and the memory has become a Norman Rockwell painting in my mind.

This is why I believe that writing down memories is so important, even if we don’t think of ourselves as good writers. The documentation helps to give substance and color to  those wisps and whispers, or as my friend, Efton, puts it so beautifully: The "putting in words" somehow gels the flurry of blurred memories - turning a bit of a fogged past into a very clear moment - one moment otherwise lost in the storm of going on with life.

What wisps and fogged pasts do you have that could use some articulation?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Wooden Tray ~ by Andrew Bleke, Atlanta, Georgia

The wooden tray sat on top of the white Sears refrigerator for as long as I could remember.

Each day, my Dad would come home from work. I could hear the backdoor open. He would walk to the refrigerator and drop his keys into the tray. It was easy for him to do because he was taller than the refrigerator. He would then kiss my Mom, who had been working on dinner. After making a drink, Dad would stop again at the tray before heading to his chair in the den. There were items that my Mom had placed in the tray. They were the items of the day…..letters from relatives in Indiana or Massachusetts, recently developed photographs from a family outing, school report cards, an obituary or perhaps a quote for some home repair. The tray was a snapshot of current events for our household.

We moved into the house in the winter of 1963. I was 4 years old and could only see the edge of the tray when I looked up at the refrigerator. I could only get access to the tray by climbing onto the kitchen counter and then peering down into the tray. This would take place when my parents weren’t nearby. I found that there were other items that I was unaware of……coins, matchbooks, old sticks of cinnamon gum, a house key and an occasional pack of Salem cigarettes. As I grew older and taller, the wooden tray held less interest for me.

About three years ago, my brother, Eric, and I were helping my parents move from their house to an apartment in Asheville, NC. They had downsized on two other occasions in the past twenty years or so. Now, my parents were 80 years old. We were sorting through things making decisions about this or that. Dad picked up the wooden tray. I hadn’t seen it in years. He said it was unusual, in that it had been cut from a single piece of wood. He went on to say that it belonged to my maternal grandfather, who was a carpenter. The tray was in his home in Milton, MA. Dad said “This tray use to sit….” And I stopped him. I said” I know where that tray was’. He said “please take it home with you” and I did.

Note from Allison and Marcia:  Objects often hold memories for us just like Andrew's dad's wooden tray.  Take the time to find an object that holds a memory for you.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

On Jello and Womanhood ~ by Allison Rhodes, Decatur, Georgia

Memories of food and of the women in my family are closely related. A time honored way to care for loved ones, certain culinary offerings represent to me the temperament and personhood of the women who were the elders in my family. Today is my late mother’s birthday and I suppose I will always miss her. Some of her meals were classics in our family and one in particular set a living example for me.

Mary Martha Rowland Rhodes was a loving mother and a creative woman. In the winter of 1970 she extended an invitation to my boyfriend for Sunday dinner. Mama asked me what he especially liked to eat. The guy, later to become her son in law, was not a “picky eater” I replied. This sort of sets most cooks minds to ease. I knew he would enjoy her roast beef, green beans, squash soufflé and sour cream pound cake which were regular Sunday items. Then I added, “I know he really likes gelatin salads with fruit.”

Gelatin salads were not a menu item at my home but Mama was undaunted. Equipped with her ideas, but without the aid of a recipe, she embarked on her creative process. The lack of a recipe was an earmark of Mama’s creative process. For instance, when sewing she would often say, “Anybody can make it like that” as she added or removed a detail from the frock pictured on the pattern. “This will be different. You won’t see yourself coming and going.” For her this meant the outfit would be special. For me it meant I would indeed not see myself in anything that resembled an off the rack item.

Back to the cooking episode: The dusty jello mold, which had heretofore been only part of the kitchen’s early American wall décor, was taken down and put in the sink for washing. Her thoughts were to fill the gelatin with an array of wonderful fruit and place something whipped in the middle of the wreath- like mold. Planning ahead as good cooks do, the jello salad was made the night before and placed in the refrigerator. It would be bright red and in the center there would be a mound of whipped sinful stuff to slather on top.

Sunday arrived and we girls helped Mama put out the meat platter and the bowls of vegetables. My sister Becky and I were told to have a seat while she unmolded the salad. We waited patiently at the table until she would present us all with the salad extraordinaire. Then we heard, “Dadgummit!”(the closest my mother ever came to cursing) coming from the kitchen. A mélange of pineapple, strawberries and bananas was swimming in a platter of runny jello. Boyfriend and the rest of the family rushed in and laughed heartily. Disappointed, but ever- resourceful (a child of the Great Depression never let food go to waste), Mama set out to redeem the jello. “Go ahead and let’s have the blessing and I’ll be right back.” We began to eat and a few moments later she arrived with the same runny concoction but now it was dressed up with cream cheese she had piped in swirls with the cake decorator. More laughter and the offer of straws ensued. She never missed a beat.

Mama’s successes were punctuated with the occasional flop….but that seems to be the price you pay for being creative. Some crafts may have looked a bit weird, but she could help them evolve into an interesting creation. Each flop was merely a challenge to do it differently or better. She saw promise in odd junk. There was the year she used a drawer full of tops from little concentrated orange juice cans and fashioned an award winning Christmas display around our front door. We all thought her idea a bit wacky and yearned for a simple wreath or a Santa on the roof until we saw the final product.

Mama left us almost 6 years ago. I miss her terribly. I miss her cooking, her gentle loving and her beautiful crafty hands. But one legacy she left me is represented by that jello salad. She taught me I could live life without a recipe. Sometimes it would fail, sometimes it would fly. I could be different and that would be special. When I hurt I could trust the genetic resiliency represented by that jello episode to make something good out of what seems a flop. Thanks, Mama.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Ouch! Another topic we'll examine during our Spring Workshop Series: Life's Exclamations!

We all have times in our life when we were hurt or when we hurt others. Many of those times turn into learning experiences, path corrections, or at least experiences that made us stronger and who we are today. Join us as we gently explore those Ouch! times in our lives and figure out how to express our memories in order to learn more about ourselves and others.

We still have openings for the Our Story Connection Spring Workshop Series: Life's Exclamations, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, which will be held on Thursday evenings: March 31st, and April 14th, 21st, and 28th, from 6:30-8 PM at 16A. Lenox Pointe, Atlanta 30324. The cost is $15.00 per workshop or $50.00 for all four, paid in full at the first session. Email us at to make reservations. We would love to have you join us!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

All My Loving ~ by Marcia Mayo, Atlanta, GA

I became a woman on February 9, 1964. No, this metamorphosis wasn’t based on the purchase of my first bra at Belks, nor was it that messy surprise necessitating a special talk between my mother and me. In fact, it had nothing to do with underwear or the organs south of my bellybutton. Instead, it had everything to do with my heart.

February 9, 1964 was my 14th birthday, and, although my birth certificate doesn’t indicate the exact hour I made my initial entrance into this world, I think it was some time in early morning. But it’s not what happened early in the day of my 14th birthday that was so momentous, it’s what happened that evening. And that’s because that evening was when I realized that, yes, I could love a man - and the man I knew I could love was none other than Paul McCartney.

The Beatles made their American debut on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964, a fact known by about 99.9% of those of us who are currently either circling middle age or people, like me, who’ve somehow overshot it.

But back to 1964. That next summer, my best friend, Ann, and I wrote a secret story about the Beatles and how George was her boyfriend and Paul was mine. Ann’s little sister, Nancy, had to make do with Ringo because John was obviously off limits, being married to Cynthia.

Many years later, my other best friend, Allison, offered up the good news that Paul and I were both finally available at the same time, after my divorce and Linda McCartney’s death. But alas, by then, it was too late for us.

I’m pretty sure that Paul will be sad when he reads this.

What rites of passage do you remember from your youth? Are there songs or places or smells that bring it all back to you?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Cul-de-Sac ~ by Charlie Simpson, Atlanta, Georgia

During the early part of World War Two we lived on a cul-de-sac in Neosho, Missouri, while I was in the first grade and half of the second. The short cul-de-sac had six houses on it, just like the twelve or so identical cul-de-sacs in the subdivision, which consisted of the main subdivision road with cul-de-sacs coming off each side of the road every 300 feet or so. It was quickly constructed either by or for the Army. All the houses, which had been equally quickly and cheaply built, were occupied by Army officers, who were training at nearby Camp Crowder.

I don’t know whether or not everyone was shipped overseas at the same time because my Mother and I left a day or two after my Dad’s departure.

The cul-de-sac was gravel—no time for paving or curbing.

There were a lot of kids in the neighborhood, almost all older than me by a year or two or three. The cul-de-sacs, particularly the one just up the hill from ours, made good baseball fields. There wasn’t a tree or fence or any other obstacle in the entire subdivision, so access to the other streets was very easy—you just walked through the yards, none of which had grass because there wasn’t time to plant or grow it. Starting my baseball playing days with older kids had some challenges, including the time I was hit square in the eye with a very hard-thrown baseball, but it proved to be valuable, similar to Johnny Cash’s song, “A Boy Named Sue.”

The middle of the cul-de-sac was useful as the location for the can in games of kick-the-can, a challenging game because there was no place to hide except behind one of the houses, which left a long, exposed run trying to kick the can before you were caught.

I don’t remember the names of any of my friends there. I think we all sensed that we would never run across each other again, even if we didn’t really understand all that was going on. We all knew these cul-de-sacs were not home.

A note from Allison and Marcia:  Charlie wrote this story for one of our workshops, reminding us all of the importance of home.  What are your memories of places you have called home?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Hole in My Closet ~ by Allison Rhodes, Decatur, Georgia

My grandmother Nonnie was an incredible woman who happened to be deaf and mute. When I was ages 9-14 I lived with her to be her “ears” and some company at night. My parents and sibs were just down the hill and I was there for much of the time. But evenings, nights and early mornings were spent with Nonnie. My bachelor uncle George came for the weekends but the rest of the time it was Nonnie and me. I am grateful I had that arrangement, but that is another story. This is about the hole in my closet.
Behind the hanging clothes there was a hole about 8 inches wide in the back wall of my closet. I never questioned why it was there; I just knew it would be a great hiding place. The ledge right inside the hole became the secret repository for writings and drawings documenting my early adolescence.

As my body began the transition from girl to young woman, I came face to face with what my culture said a girl should be. It was the early 60’s, the era of the blonde, ponytailed cheerleader, the homecoming queen and Sandra Dee. And we were to all grow up to be the perennially cheerful Donna Reid, cleaning house clad in an ironed shirtwaist dress, wearing pearls and married to a doctor.

This was a far cry from anything I was or could be but my fantasies gave it a whirl. I would write little stories about me wherein I was popular and pretty. I was sought after by the cutest boys and had a wardrobe of the perfect clothes. My mother generally made all my clothes but in my writings they were procured from the finest department stores. I even drew pictures of these fabulous outfits, designed for slim, perky cheerleader to illustrate the life I thought I should have. In my stories I was always going to dances and parties and even got discovered as a movie star. 

One Sunday I was returning to Nonnie’s as George was leaving. I hung my clothes in the closet and noticed with horror that the hole was gone. Patched, painted over, gone. George came into my room holding a shoe box filled with my writings. He handed me the box with no comment, just a smile. I was too embarrassed to ask if he had read them but at that point I ceased writing down my make-believe stories. Perhaps it coincided for me with the reality that I was who I was or maybe it was because I didn’t have a secret place anymore. Nonetheless the writing served a purpose as I began the journey to womanhood. It was an outlet for expression and fantasy. 

As a woman I have written off and on through the years, but I continue to feel a deep kinship with the chubby, brown haired girl who was a bit quirky, funny, child-like and out of step with cultural stereotypes. Only now I wouldn’t put her in a closet and pretend, even in my writings, to be someone else. I really like her. 

Our stories help us see ourselves and gain perspective on this ongoing journey we call life. What stories do you remember that reflect on your journey?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Six-Word Memoirs on First Love

 An unfathomable light that ne’er faded.
 Cile, Bellingham, WA


sweet innocence, real gentleman... grateful memories
Brandi Diamond, Atlanta, GA


Can't keep you outta my dreams!
Nancy Doran, Atlanta, GA


kissed a girl on a rainbow
Joanna Michaels, Sarasota, FL


glance held too long. slow smile.
Efton, Sarasota, FL


Fifteen. French movie. French kiss. Ew.


Her bewitching smile between two dimples
Frank Nix,  Tucker, GA


Blinded, bedded, bloodied, too young, goodbye
Molly Talbert, Warner Robins, GA


He still is my first love.
Ann Giles, Tampa


Unrequited eye loved, he never could
Jem, Paris, FR


A surprise kiss, that changed everything


Loneliness, Longing, Lust, Love, Leaving, Longing
Nigel Poole, Oglethorpe, GA


Still doing time for sexual assault.


Hasn't happened. Can't wait. Tall Please.
Emily Morgan, Decatur, GA


Sweet love, unimaginable journey, beautiful passion.
Anne Cox, Atlanta, GA

Gave me peanut butter-laden kisses
Charisse Byers, Atlanta, GA


13.  First kiss.  Walking on air.


Carolina breeze bringing us Hotel California
Ashley Davis, Warner Robins, GA


innocent yet forbidden;  intoxicating, never duplicated
Rosemary Longueira, Savannah, GA


Sorry I was not a girl.
Bubs, Portland, OR


Friend, best friend, love, husband, repeat
Dianne Talbert,  Warner Robins, GA


Butterflies, excitement, anticipation, uh-oh, diarrhea.
Pizelda, Portland, OR


Slowly suave...skipped beat...broke heart!
Jayne Ann Milling,  Atlanta, GA

You were always on my mind.
Faye Lacey, Warner Robins, GA


Son of a preacher man, poignant
Rhiannon,  Portland


Let her go. Regretted it since.


Powerful, exciting, scary, intense, funny, missed.
Lanell, Atlanta, GA

Next-door neighbor, stole a kiss.
Sue, Alpharetta, GA

If I'd known then, what I ............


Eyes twinkling, quirky mouth, lost forever
Freda Marshall, Scotland


He left me breathless and obsessed...
Amy Rubado, Atlanta, GA


Awkwardly passionate but oh the potential!
Jim Boon, Marietta GA


Lousy, good for nothing, jerk face
Nicki Young, Eatontown, NJ


The whole thing breaks my heart
Mary Lee, Portland, OR


Really hot, really hard, short lived
Jake Thompson, Atlanta, GA


Too young.  Too scared.  Lost him!


Treasured my dreams as his own
Frances,    Portland, OR

Daydreaming for hours about holding hands
Courtney Doran, Atlanta, GA


Black satin gown....prom excitement abounds!
Wanda Rose Stewart, Atlanta, GA
Twin tin lunch boxes with pb&j
Nancy Cardenuto, Kutztown, PA


Curly headed six-year-old neighbor 
Ernie Lee, Savannah, GA

fun, sensitive, safe, my best friend!
Katie Covington, Atlanta, GA


Destined for each other by God!
Judy & Norm Schoch, Stuart, FL


Heart Skips Beats, Remember To Breathe
Helen Hawver, Atlanta, GA


A predestined love, tested by time
Becky Toole, Walhalla, SC

Molten, silky coating enveloping my senses


Kissed on playground, got in trouble
Anonymous (so far) 


The sulfur strike lingers long after 
Lee Edward, Macon, GA 


One eyed, Thumb-sucking-inducing, smelly koala bear
Taylor Mayo, Washington, DC. 


he had me at bud light 
Mary, Decatur, GA 


He never knew, neither will I
Anonymous, Atlanta, GA
I could tell at first sight!
 Richard N Schock


laughter for forty-one years and counting


I thought it was a girl!
Anonymous, Atlanta, GA

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Stepping Up on a Birthday Memory ~ by Marcia Mayo, Atlanta, Georgia

February is my birth month; I was born on the 9th. One of my earliest memories has to do with the day I turned four. In the foyer of my childhood home in Waycross, Georgia, we had this huge hall tree made of burled wood, with ornate metal hooks for coats and hats and a full-length mirror that was losing its silver lining - but not for me because I was four years old and quite proud of it. There was some kind of rounded shelf at the bottom of this massive piece of furniture, just perfect for a little girl to step up on to see what four years old looked like. I remember inspecting myself for an overnight change and being a little disappointed that four looked very much like three.

I’m pretty sure, in a week or so, I’ll look at myself and discover that sixty-one looks much like sixty. All I can say is those other birthdays must have been hell because sixty looks absolutely nothing like four.

They say that, by the time you attain a certain age, you have the face you deserve. If that’s true, I must deserve quite a few wrinkles because I’m overrun with them. While some of my errant skin arrived on my face and body from too much sun as a teenager and too many White Wine Spritzers as a young woman, many of my worry and laugh lines were gifts from my three children, whom I love more than life itself. And now those children are going about creating other little beings for me to worry over and marvel at as I head into my future birthdays, God willing. Pretty soon I’m going to be mistaken for one of those dried-up apple-face dolls everyone was making about twenty years ago (when I was a mere forty).

Back to the hall tree. I don’t know what happened to it.  I do remember that it followed my family from Waycross to Savannah and then to Sunbury where my parents had a home after my brother and I grew up. I’m pretty sure they must have sold it or given it away when they moved to a retirement home.

I’d love to be able to step back up on that childhood memory one more time to wonder where all the years have gone.

What are your birthday memories?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Eddie ~ by Mary B. Summerlin, Hyde Park, New York

Eddie and I were married for 13 years and then spent 4 years separating. Those years were – “No, we’ve had it, this is it, it’s done for good!!” Or - - “We’ve learned our lessons from now on we’ll work harder, etc, etc.etc.” The marriage was a tumultuous one. There were extraordinary highs, extraordinary lows and very little in between. My method of dealing is to forget the bad as much as possible and remember the treasured moments. This is a story about a treasured moment.

During the time we were separating, on and off, we decided to go on a summer vacation together as a family. We were both teachers and our son Jeff was 12 years old and also in school, so we all had the summer off. This was 1972. We bought an old school bus and remodeled it into a camper. We left in two rows that were right behind the driver and on the other side we took out some seats and made a table and turned two of the seats around to face the table. Down from the table was our kitchen area. We had a sink. We’d get big bottles of water for washing dishes and after the dishes were washed, you let the water drain into a bucket under the sink and then threw it away. We also carried water for drinking purposes. We had some collected old pots & pans, dish ware and glasses, and we used paper plates & cups if possible. There was a shelf for some canned goods and staples. Across from the kitchen was the bedroom. There was a loft bed (big enough for two) and beneath it were two big steamer trunks. They were our closets. The kitchen and bedroom ended about the same place and all the rest of the seats were taken out. Room was made for our three motorcycles. They could go up a ramp at the back and then be locked down inside. There was a loft bed over the motorcycles and that was Jeff’s bed. So we had all the necessities and were snug as a bug in a rug. We had the outside painted gray and an artist friend painted clouds on it and we christened it “The Silver Cloud”. I made red striped curtains for the windows and we were done and ready to take off for an adventure.

We decided to visit Mexico. We would avoid the big towns and all the tourist places. Our object was to see the real Mexico, the real people and places. We had many adventures - some wonderful and some scary. But this is not a travelogue. It’s about one treasured memory.

We had been traveling in Mexico for several weeks having a wonderful time. There were only some minor mechanical difficulties and we were very pleased with ourselves and the decision to buy the bus and make it into a camper. Then, one beautiful day our bus developed motor trouble, clutch trouble or something like that. Anyway, we had to stop by the side of the road. The Silver Cloud would go no further. So, Eddie got out his motorcycle and took off to find the nearest town and mechanics. He found a village about 10 miles away. In the yard of one of the houses four men worked on a car that was hung from a tree limb with a chain. Oh yes, they were mechanics and they were sure they could fix any problem the bus might have. Eddie came back feeling confident that yes they would come and fix the bus “in manana”. We became very familiar with that phrase. They came late afternoon and three of them crawled under the bus and after some examining and consulting and excited conversation in Spanish -- which none of us understood but it sounded ominous, they decided that they could fix it. But they would have to drop the engine and it would take days because they had other jobs to do and because an engine part was going to have to be ordered. Dropping the engine - that was a scary thought to Eddie because he was wondering if they really did know what they were doing. I didn’t even know enough to worry. So the next day they came and began unloosing nuts, bolts and screws and whatever. They did not put down a drop cloth or anything like that to make sure that no screws were lost. Eddie was really panicked now. But the guys kept working a few hours each day and always said it would be ready “manana”. The work was speeded up to some degree since Eddie took the information for the engine part they needed and went to the next big town, bought it and had it back that same day. That was much sooner than if it had been ordered - otherwise we might still be there, heaven forbid.

We were parked off the road, green grass all around, a creek running nearby and a picnic table was there. Best of all was the big shade tree. We had our own private camp ground.

One evening after the mechanics had left for the day, we saw a shepherd coming down the mountain with a herd of goats. He had a long staff and was dressed in typical everyday clothes – a poncho of many colors, a bag hanging from his shoulder to carry his lunch, white pants and a grizzled beard. I don’t know why BUT he inspired Eddie. Eddie is a professional jazz musician, saxophone is his instrument. Eddie got in the bus, got out his saxophone and began playing for the shepherd and his goats. There we are out in the middle of Mexico, no one around except us and the shepherd and his goats. Eddie, who has made records, played for movies and TV and with many well known groups is all alone in the middle of nowhere playing his heart out to goats and a shepherd on the side of a mountain. After Eddie started and played for a little bit the shepherd looked at us and doffed his hat and kept on herding his goats. Eddie played 10 – 15 minutes until the shepherd and his goats had descended down from the mountain and made a turn out of sight. Then Eddied ended his concert and put up his saxophone. We finished making a camper’s supper from whatever we could find in our pantry. We sat at the picnic table by the stream and finished our day.

Sure enough, one manana the bus was fixed and we were off to the next adventure..We traveled all the way to Guatemala.

Years have passed and Eddie has died but one of my treasured memories of our life together was that time he “played the shepherd and the goats down from the mountain” out in the middle of nowhere in Mexico.

A note from Allison and Marcia:  Mary's willingness to share this treasured memory is a gift to us all.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

My Father’s Garden ~ by Pace Pickel, Atlanta, Georgia

During my teenage years my father’s drinking problem either worsened or developed. I am not sure if this was because his business was faltering or if it was the other way around. It was at this same time that my parent’s marriage slowly began to disintegrate like an aspirin dropped in a glass of water. Again cause and effect are blurred. For whatever reason it was during this time that my father took up vegetable gardening. As I look back maybe it was his way of trying to put down roots to weather the storm that would eventually tear our family apart.

Our yard rose from street level and leveled off where they built the house. Behind the house there was a very small flat grassy area. Separating the space beyond was a stone retaining wall. It was in this area that was about as high as the second story of our house where my father cleared the land and proceeded to make a bed of soil so rich that I was about half convinced that I would have grown had I stood in it for very long. I mention the second story part only because the master bedroom had a window that was level with and looked out on to the backyard and it was from this window that my father used to sit with a pellet gun and shoot at the squirrels that constantly raided his garden.

He had always grown tomatoes and, in fact, was quite good at growing them in very large pots that he strategically placed to get the maximum amount of sun. I distinctly remember one year he used the inner tubes of airplane tires for pots. Like I said he got really good at it so much so that to this day I am a bit of a tomato snob preferring to eat only those that come from the road side stands as they always seem to come closer to the perfect big beefsteak tomatoes he used to grow. As I write this I can almost taste the sandwiches I used to make with a big slab of tomato salted and peppered between two pieces of white bread with mayonnaise on both sides. There are certain flavors that just go together. Mayonnaise and tomatoes were made for each other like parmesan cheese and good red wine or peanut butter and jelly.

At various times he grew corn, okra, potatoes, a variety of peppers and squash and most dreaded of all-Collard Greens. I can still remember the smell of them cooking. It would permeate the house and was worse in my room than any other as I had the only bedroom downstairs and it was right next to the kitchen.

I am also a bit of a corn snob to this day owing to the fact that my father read somewhere that corn sugars began to turn to starch shortly after it was picked. To get the absolute maximum sweetness he would already have a pot of water boiling before he went to harvest the ears and they would be cooked and eaten before any sweetness was lost.

My other favorite memory of my father’s garden was the time he planted Okra. Okra as it turned out is a very prolific producer and he planted far more than our family could or would want to ever eat. My mother prepared it every way imaginable and we ate it often, but there was always a tremendous surplus. I remember my father offering Okra to practically anybody that came to our house. This included my friends and you can imagine the looks he got from teenage boys when he would ask if they wanted to take some Okra home!?!

I remember those days now as some of the last times we were all together and at least reasonably happy as a family. I also remember the loud (and seemingly pointless) arguments my parents would have when my father would return home drunk from ‘going to mail the mail’ (did he think we didn’t know where he was going). I had a front row seat for these arguments as they usually occurred in the kitchen.

As time progressed my older sister (two years older than me) went off to Georgia Southern and I followed shortly thereafter up to Athens leaving my younger sister(five years younger than me) to deal with my parents marriage that continued to spiral down. They would eventually get divorced after 27 years of marriage and we would all be scarred by it, but none more than Craig as she had live with it daily while my older sister and I could escape it at least geographically.

Many years later I wrote a poem about my parent’s divorce entitled What A Pane.

What A Pane

My parents got divorced
Twas many years ago
And I was quite grown up by then
But it still hurts you know

Like a pane of glass we shattered
Pieces going everywhere
You never can find all of them
To make a full repair

Neither has remarried
So alone they both grow old
And like a pane in winter
I think this must be very cold

A note from Allison and Marcia:  Pace wrote this sad, but also loving and funny, story during one of our workshops.  The memory jogger was "home".  Even sad memories can bring comfort as we process them with words and personal meaning.  What memories do you have the could use a second and perhaps more understanding look?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Nonnie’s Snow Day, 2011 ~ by Allison Rhodes, Decatur, Georgia

 Allison and Nonnie

Calm reigned over the neighborhood after an overnight blanket of snow covered the landscape. I stepped onto the porch and inhaled a pure, bright world. Suddenly it is 1959 and I am 11. Becky, Jim and I burst out the front door into the same fresh winter world. Siblings ready for a day of play we throw a few snowballs and then run up the hill to our grandmother’s house. Nonnie quickly reminded us she would like a patch of undisturbed snow outside her window to enjoy. She is old and says she doesn’t want to come out and slip or fall. We honor her request and began readying for our favorite snow activity: sliding down hills.

We had parts of cardboard boxes to sit on but were on the lookout for faster, more inventive “sleds.” We scavenge a round trash can lid and I sneak a metal serving tray from Mama’s kitchen. With handles on either side, that tray promises a good ride. We make the trek up the hill to the town schools. Elementary, junior high and high schools are all on one small town campus and at the far end is the football field. The field rests in a little valley and on one side is a wonderful steep hill. Riding down the hill with great speed it was sometimes possible to pass between the goal posts. You could then yell, “Touchdown”

We Rhodes children were early risers so we were first to the hill. All modes of transport down the hill are fine. We squeal with delight as we crash and tumble our way to the bottom. Other kids join the fun. Mama’s metal tray was a big hit and we owned some power because it was ours to lend out for a spin down the hill. Finally, with faces chapped red and clothing wet, we go home to dry out. Mama’s tray is replaced but all the dents prompted a good scolding for me, leader of the unruly pack.

Fifty years have passed. Now I stand at the living room window holding my grandson Rhodes. At age 3 months he has a lifetime of sliding down hills in front of him. I feel sad that I won’t be there for all his snow days but warmed by the prospect of sharing whatever memories we make. He will call me Nonnie and there may come a day when I ask him to leave me a patch of undefiled snow to enjoy. My knees are stiff and my rear is bigger than any metal trays I own so for now we’ll l take a little walk and throw a snowball or two.

Now Allison is Nonnie
Sights and smell evoke memories. Invite yourself to remember.

Friday, January 14, 2011

True ~ by Jim Rhodes, Phoenix, Arizona

I was named after both of my Grandfathers. One passed away before I was born and the other I loved dearly. PaPa seemed to always have time for me. Time to fish, time to teach a young boy the basics of carpentry, time to take a drive, time to teach how to hunt and time to spend time in a swing… simply talking while shooting targets with acorns from home-made sling shots, and of course….. time to cook some potatoes.

James Fred Rowland, known as PaPa to his grandchildren passed away in 1984. PaPa’s southern charm and easy going nature made him a favorite of all who knew him. Sometime after PaPa left us, I inherited some of his tools. They were not grand tools; no Craftsman or anything closely resembling a “high end” tool that you can buy now at Home Depot. The tools were owned and used by a simple man, a man who made his own table saws and turning lathes out of used dryer motors. Hammers and saws with homemade handles, two homemade tool boxes… one made by him and the other an exact replica, made by a 13 year old boy at the same time and other tools of his craft that he took pride in. Some of the tools I use regularly and some remain in the tool box he made. Sometimes I like to open the big wooden tool box and reminisce about the man whom I was named after.

One of the items in the tool box was a three foot carpenter’s level; the one he would hang in his truck. In fact I remember he painted the caulking around the little glass bubbles green to match his truck, also hand painted. The level was black with dirt and grease from years of storage in the bottom of his tool box and the brass on the level was tarnished and missing several of the little brass tacks used to hold it in place. I had put off for a long time cleaning up the tool box or the items inside, in fear that I may lose some piece of him. I have though come to believe that the part of PaPa I wanted so much to keep alive was and will be with me forever. As I held the level and thought about times we had , I decided to clean it up.

I spent several hours working on my new project. I found myself looking forward to getting home from work so I could spend some time doing what he taught me. As I worked, I traveled back in time and recalled so many of the wonderful times we had. As the level became cleaner, I noticed some writing on the level. In PaPa’s writing was the word “TRUE” along with his two lines he always made to mark a particular spot. I think it is interesting that the word true is used in many different contexts. Webster defines true as: ideal, steadfast, loyal, honest and truthful. This one word so aptly defines this man as well as so many of the people in my life who have made an impression on me.

After several hours of scrubbing, drying, sanding, polishing, three coats of varnish and reassembly, my project was complete. I believe that I did a pretty good job on the level; a job that PaPa would be impressed with. I don’t even think he would be too critical of the one spot on the wood where it is not quite as refinished as the rest and the word “TRUE” remains.

I don’t have a truck, but if I ever do, I will hang this level in it…... For now, it rests in my bedroom, where it is a constant reminder of the man who always had time for me.


A note from Allison and Marcia:  Grandparents often hold a special place in our hearts.  What are your memories of your grandparents?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Skyline Drive ~ by Tami Patterson, Atlanta, Georgia

Skyline Drive in Millington, New Jersey was and still is a straight shot down a steep hill. It was a dead end street off of Long Hill Road. Long Hill Road literally ran the length of the top of a long hill, therefore appropriately named. There were 2 or 3 streets that spurred off of Skyline Drive to the right and only one that took off to the left. That street was a very short dead end. Skyline was lined with homes on both sides with only a few vacant lots near the top and across the street from my house. Most of the homes had densely wooded backyards with only small trees in their front yards. Neighborhood block parties were frequent in the summer and in the winter we would Christmas Carol at each home and drink hot chocolate or eat cookies given to us at the homes we sang at. Skyline was a wonderful street and holds many great memories of Trick or Treating, mischief and general kid play.

Skyline’s steep hill allowed for many exciting opportunities. I rode my hot pink Spyder bicycle with the glittered banana seat down Skyline at what seemed like warp speed many times. We lived at the top of the street, so I would exit our gravel driveway and turn right and coast down the hill as far as I could go without pedaling. I would get about halfway down the street and then turn around for the dreaded haul back up the hill. This was a daunting challenge, as you could barely pedal straight up to the top. All the neighbor kids, me included, would have contests to see how close we could get to the top of the hill without having to switchback across the street to make it to the summit. Switch backing only once would put you in second place. Switch backing twice would be third, and so on. I believe I made it to the top a few times and celebrated victory on each occasion.

The winter brought out another great event, sledding. On snowy days all the neighborhood kids would convene at the top of our hill in our front yard. Some of the kids would have to pull their sleds all the way up from their homes at the very end of the street. This would leave them tired, but pumped with anticipation of the incredible ride down the hill. Once in position at the start, we would run as fast as we could and throw ourselves down onto our sleds and begin the journey across our front yard and over the driveway to jump the railroad ties to the next door neighbor’s yard. After crossing 3 yards we would jump the curb onto the street for the straight shot downward. The same contest of distance on bicycles held true in sledding also. The goal was to go as far as possible, even though the longer trek uphill was the result of our sledding skills. Most of the neighbors tolerated our sledding path, with one exception. One unsuspecting neighbor discovered that their mailbox had taken a hit and had been placed upright into the frozen mound of snow. Once the spring thaw set in, and the snow melted, the mailbox dropped to its side.

I am not certain whether we moved to our new home in Atlanta later that winter or not, but I often wonder if the children who lived in our home on Skyline Drive afterwards ever made the sled run the following winter and if the Bakers allowed the kids on sleds into their yard.

A note from Allison and Marcia:  Tami wrote this beautiful story while she was participating in one of our workshops. The assignment was to think about a road or a street.  Tami remembered the street where she grew up and then wrote about it.  What memories do you have of a road or a street or perhaps a crossroads in your life?  Write them up and send them to us at  We'd be happy to post them here.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Looking Back on a Sacred Place ~ by Efton Jiles, Sarasota, Florida

The walls were the color of butter, with tall windows looking out over the terrace below and the Italian countryside beyond. The old plank floor creaked, solid under foot but aged, under a fine wool carpet. Not a large room, but high ceilings and heavy cornice gave the feeling of spaciousness. Facing south, the windows were hung with a golden translucent drapery that cooled the light filtering in, illuminating my room more like candlelight than sun. Between the windows was an old drop-front secretary, honey color wood, the drawers and niche above the leather writing surface framed by black painted columns. A small sleigh bed with horse-hair mattress, a large tapestry upholstered chair and the bookcase filled the remaining space without crowding. The bookcase was populated with all manner of books, hundred-year-old Baedeker travel guides to place that no longer exist, a novel or two, read or half-read, a couple of fine, slip-cased editions of classics and a few tattered paperbacks. Above the built-in wardrobe was a old portrait of a handsome young hunter, dressed in green cloak and with a red feather gracing his cap. Hanging at the head of the bed was an gold and silver embroidered vestment, flat and pressed on velvet in its carved wood frame.

It was my room, a place no one else ever needed visit. The thick stone walls kept it always the same temperature, sweltering summer or fog-chilled winter my room was constant. To open the door was, for me, to escape to stillness, to refuge. The air was always still, always perfumed the same by dried aromatic herbs in a porcelain bowl resident on top of the secretary. I seldom turned on the small wood-carved chandelier, painted green and red like my hunter companion looking down from the wall. A bedside lamp with tea-color linen shade gave light enough for the nothing I always went there to do.

For twenty years my room changed very little. I had found it that way when I arrived, made it my own over time with a few curated mementos arranged, then rearranged on the bookcase or secretary's writing surface. The last day I left that room to go downstairs, then, not knowing, go on to another life, I remember looking back as I closed the door, grateful for the rest I had had there. It has been sixteen years now since I last closed that door. What became of my clothes in the wardrobe, or the few relics around the room that spoke of me, I do not know.

The room is still there, in my memory, unchanging, a sacred constant, a very sacred place.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

An Uninvited Guest ~ by Marcia Mayo

No one has ever accused me of being a great hostess. I don’t cook and I don’t clean and I don’t like people all that much. However, back in the day when I was still married and had young children, I did manage to host New Year’s Day parties for several years.

Although there’s no way I could have handled the turnip greens, which were someone else’s job, I did manage to cook up the black-eyed-peas-and-rice-based Hoppin’ John, which is the other staple of a Southern New Year’s Day good luck dinner. As for dessert, I’d had the brilliant idea for everyone to bring their leftover Christmas goodies for a final perusal in their Tupperware containers and rather-sad aluminum foil packets.

With the men in the den watching football and the women in the kitchen talking about kids and work and who said what, the kids ran rampant, up and down the stairs, in the front door, out the back, slamming, always slamming.

On one such occasion, just as we women had cleaned up the kitchen, finally relinquishing the fudge and peanut butter bars to their final resting place, the trash, and just as a touchdown had been called back thanks to an idiot referee, we heard a communal shriek from upstairs, and then the bam, bam, bam of multiple descending various-size-and-shod feet.

“Guess what we found under Billy’s bed?” was the song chirped in unison by the kidly choir.

“What?” was the parents’ choral response.

“A real Easter egg!”

I do believe that I remember said egg, with its purple and yellow embellished shell still intact after months in hiding, was being brandished about in a rather cavalier fashion.

Therefore, the orchestrated refrain from the horrified adults was, of course, “Don’t break it!”

So what if our memories include a few rotten eggs? These stories are often our favorites, offering up the opportunity to forgive ourselves for our shortcomings and, in retrospect, to find the funny in our shared humanity.

As the New Year begins, resolve to take some time to remember.