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.