Story Security

My parents and all of my aunts and uncles have now passed away, and I am now the senior  generation of my family.  Instead of looking to my elders for information, I am now the one who has the knowledge about the olden days, of how we lived without electronics and instant gratification. While I am still on this earth I hope I tell or write down everything I know for the benefit of future generations.

Because I know how it feels to be curious about the stories of my forebears, to know that no matter how desperately I  about long to hear  about their lives I will likely never know more than I do now. To wonder why some relatives moved from Missouri to Arkansas, or who sewed the ruffled dress worn in a black and white photo, or even the circumstances on the day a picture was taken, is normal I believe. Knowing our stories makes us feel more  connected to those who came before us and worked  through many hardships to make a decent life. Stories make us feel secure.

Recently a friend of mine who has an interest in genealogy started a family tree for me on ancestry.com.  I wasn’t sure if the family tree  would lead to anything I didn’t already know, but at least I would have some things recorded for my children. Imagine my surprise when my friend received an email from a cousin on my Father’s side! I remembered meeting her, Sherry B., once at my grandmother’s house long ago. ( It was  so long ago that girls were wearing baby doll bathing suits, and Sherry’s grandmother, my Auntie Vera, was trying to sew a row pf lace across the top of Sherry’s bathing suit because she thought the neckline too low.)

We always knew more about my mother’s side of the family than my Father’s, because my mother’s family all lived here, while my Father’s was from Arkansas. We knew that our  Father became an only child when his sister Betty Jo, aged five, died of meningitis. Shortly after my parents married my Father’s father died at the age of 53 from a heart attack, leaving only my grandmother and my Father in Memphis. My Father told us very little about his family or growing up years. I had a few pictures of my Father as a child, but the accompanying narratives died along with him.richardson (1 of 1)-5

When our cousin Sherry B. contacted me through ancestry.com, I was delighted to find she lived not too far away and was willing to come to Memphis to share any pictures or other information she had. Last Saturday my two Memphis siblings and I met Sherry B.  for lunch. We were all eager to share whatever snippets of information we knew about that side of the family. I mentioned that my Father used to have a notebook that had belonged to our great grandfather John M. Richardson.I had actually seen it but did not know what happened to it after my Father’s death.

“Wait a minute,” cried my brother John, who is named after the man. “I think I’ve seen that at my house!” And he raced off to get the book while the rest of us repaired to my house for decaf and further discussion.

Soon my brother arrived with the notebook, which was bulging with pictures of people we had never met. The notebook itself appeared to have been used by J.M. Richardson to record finances and work hours.

And to save beer recipes.

And to save beer recipes.

Every time a new picture was gingerly removed from the book and passed around, it was like Christmas morning. Thankfully my grandmother, or someone, had written on the backs of most of the pictures. That was a gift in itself.

John Michael Richardson

John Michael Richardson

Eventually the picture passing slowed, though it never quite stopped, for we were mesmerized by these people, these faces, these lives, but we were at last able to pool our respective information. As far as tracing back many generations, we were all stuck at a frustratingly recent place, that of our great  great grandfather John Michael Richison. We can find no evidence of his beginnings.

J. M. Richison died in the Civil War and his body was never found. His widow, Anna Doyle Richison, remarried to a man named Crow. We know nothing more about her except that she is buried in Ash Fork, Arizona.

Anna Doyle Richardson Crow

Anna Doyle Richardson Crow

My great grandfather Richison/Richardson fought in the “Indian Wars”richardson (1 of 1)-30 and married a divorcee named Hannah Dow. At some point in his life he changed the spelling of his last name; we do not know why.  In addition to Hannah’s daughter Irene, the couple had four more daughters: Rheba Vivian,

Rheba on the left, with my grandmother Blanche.

Rheba on the left, with my grandmother Blanche.

Vera, Tora,

Vera on the left, Tora on the right.

Vera on the left, Tora on the right.

and Blanche Anna, my grandmother.

My grandmother

My grandmother

Tora died at age ten.

A poignant entry in the notebook.

A poignant entry in the notebook.

J. M. Richison/Richardson  worked for the railroad,richardson (1 of 1)-31 but at some point the family moved by covered wagon to Ferndale, Arkansas, where Richison may have farmed crops or lumber.richardson (1 of 1)-8

The girls grew up. Rheba married and moved to California where her sons supposedly still live. Vera, Sherry B.’s grandmother,  married but divorced after having three children,one of whom died at the age of nine.

Vera in the front, early in her marriage.

Vera in the front, early in her marriage.

At some point  Vera, likely for financial reasons, sent her children out to work and board with area farmers. Vera worked as a nurse’s aide, became a Seventh Day Adventist, and never remarried.

Blanche graduated high school, married and had two children.

Blanche

Blanche

The death of her daughter Betty Jo cast a pall over her marriage. As an adult I once asked my Father where his sister was buried and he said he did not know.

Before Betty Jo's death

Before Betty Jo’s death

That broke my heart, to think of a five year old’s grave going untended through the years. My guess is that sad things were just not discussed.

We continued to share and muse as we perused the pictures from the book my brother realized he had had in a box for many years. I think each one of us learned some things we had not known before, but many questions remained unanswered. Why the name change from Richison to Richardson? Why the move from Missouri to Arkansas? Why did our forebears tell us so little while they were alive?

No, we don’t know those answers and likely never will. But at least we share the bond of looking and wondering right along with Sherry B. There is a kind of security in that.

Looking forward to our next visit!

Looking forward to our next visit!

 

 

Play It Again

The empty brown book stared at me reproachfully, I thought, as I passed by it several times each day. I pretended not to hear it remind me that I was supposed to be filling the blank pages with sketches… of something, but what could the something be? Ever since I had excitedly unwrapped my sketchbook it had been languishing on the bookcase, light brown, nondescript, practically invisible to all but me.

Several months before, I had sent for the book, eager to participate in The Sketchbook Project. ( I learned about the project from Andra Watkins at The Accidental Cootchie Mama.) If you have not heard of the Sketchbook Project, it  is a crowd sourced library of sketchbooks. You fill in your book, send it in, and it goes on traveling exhibits to museums. If you digitize your book, you will receive an email every time someone checks out your book from the exhibit. At least that is how I understand the process.

So now all I had to do was fill in the book. One day my grandmotherly thoughts mixed in with my thoughts of needing to complete the book. And Eureka! I had it! I would make the book be about what we old people used to play when we were little.

As a perpetual child, parent, grandparent, and play therapist, the idea of a book about playing  resonated with me. Play is the work of children, but adults need to play as well. Documenting my play history would be a way to preserve memories for my grandchildren but would also be fun for me right now.

Psst. Hey.  I’m Mindfulmagpie’s inner sixth grader. While Mindful is at the post office mailing in our sketchbook, I’m going to surprise her and complete her post. I should be writing the post anyway because I’m the one who completed the sketchbook!  I know lots of sketchbooks are probably done by adult artists but that’s OK. I may be an adult artist one day. Here’s the cover!
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The cover was brown card stock. I covered it with construction paper and photos, and topped it off with two coats of Mod Podge. sketchbook (102 of 121) I didn’t mind letting Mindful dedicate the book to her grandchildren. We’re all children anyway. Mindful and I had a really good time remembering what all we used to play when we were very young.

sketchbook (74 of 121) My first playmate was my older brother. He’s in the eighth grade now so we don’t have much to do with each other.sketchbook (106 of 121) sketchbook (77 of 121)  I don’t remember the Hansel and Gretel episode. But I do remember the time we played ‘saloon” with mugs and soapy water while my mother was taking a nap. As we slid each mug down the countertop just the way they did in the Westerns, our mugs hit the broken tile floor with a resounding crash. Our Mother was not amused.sketchbook (79 of 121)

Next I began to play with the children in the neighborhood. Someone was always outside playing.
sketchbook (80 of 121)sketchbook (81 of 121) We had good times displaying our art at Mammaw’s house.sketchbook (110 of 121) Oops! I made a mistake on this page, making  a colored test pattern on a black and white TV. Maybe I thought in color. Now, in sixth grade, we do have a color TV. And central air, finally.sketchbook (112 of 121) Our mothers and our maids always made us go outside. In fact they still do. sketchbook (113 of 121) I’ve always loved to be in the water. When I grow up I’m going to have my own swimming pool so I can swim whenever I want!sketchbook (114 of 121) Most years we have some lemonade stands and carnivals to earn money. But now that I’m in the sixth grade I’m going to try to start baby sitting. That’s much more sophisticated.sketchbook (94 of 121) I was MUCH younger when we did this play!sketchbook (95 of 121)

In the school year we had the whole afternoon to play until our Mothers called us for dinner. All we had after school was Girl Scouts. Our homework never seemed to take long. This year  I mostly do mine on the school bus. Sometimes we meet right after school for Miss America. My answers to the contest questions are pretty good, but I get marked down on poise a lot.sketchbook (117 of 121) I ended the book here. Magpie tells me I’ll soon not be playing any of this any more, that we girls will all be passing notes in class and talking about boys and clothes. But what I want most right now is to not have to wear glasses and to be able to get braces like the older girls on the school bus. Braces look cool and you get excused from school a lot. 

But since I’m not going to be playing this stuff much longer just remember this book is TOP   SECRET!! If I find out any of you told about Chambermaids or Miss America you are DEAD MEAT!! I’ll tell EVERYBODY on the school bus that you are a BIG LIAR!!!!

What?? Who wrote all this on my blog post?

I did. You were having too much trouble writing it.  Since I did something for you you should tell me some things about the future. Am I going to quit wearing glasses? Am I? Am I going to get braces? Am I? Am I?

That’s true. I was having trouble writing the post. And fair enough, you helped me so  I should tell you some things. Sorry honey, but you’re going to keep wearing glasses FOREVER. The braces are also a no.

But I have a SPACE between my teeth!

You’ll be surprised how little you’re going to be bothered by that space. But I do have some good news. The swimming pool is a YES!

Yippee! I’m going to tell all my friends this afternoon at “Miss America”! Can I go now?

Knitting Dreams

Have you ever looked closely at that sweater you’re wearing, into the weave of stitches? Your sweater used to be skeins of yarn, which used to be bundles of roving, and before that, used to warm the backs of sheep grazing on a hill somewhere. A sweater is knit one stitch at a time. Loops of yarn form interlocking stitches. Stitches make rows, and in time those rows take on the shape of a garment.

I don’t know if yarn can talk, but I like to imagine that as it is knit together, each loop encourages the others to stay connected, but to flex when necessary, because in the end they must all work together to form something that has never been made before.

And then  there are the humans who knit the yarn. To envision a finished project,  to choose or design a pattern, to  be willing to join thousands of loops of yarn together into stitches and eventually into a garment takes a certain amount of risk. Knowing what the proper materials are is a job in itself. What if one chooses the wrong yarn, and one’s garment has the drape of a cement block? What if one does not adequately understand the directions, and one’s project resembles a long sleeved bra more than the sweater it was supposed to be? What if it is expensive? What if no one appreciates the hours of work and attention that went into the scarves one gave for Christmas gifts? Knitters perservere despite the risks, for the rewards are great.

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Dreams come to life in much the same way. All our lives we entertain mental pictures of what  we would like to do or make. So many times we have ideas, but get stuck in the wishing- we could- do- something- but- unfortunately- we- just- can’t- stage. But then there are those of us  who know what we want and are willing to gather the materials and to do  the work one single task at a time, investing emotionally and financially in an uncertain outcome.

Thanks to several stellar Memphis  knitters doing just that, I had the opportunity  this past weekend to participate in the inaugural annual Tenntucky Knitting Retreat at Lake Barkley, Kentucky. Three  remarkable people,  Ann, Joseph, and Rachel, saw a a creative black hole in our community and worked for a year to fill it.

I know this story because once upon a time I took a risk and showed up for a weekly knitting night, organized by the three above mentioned knitters, at a local restaurant. Let me say right now that although my knitting skills are literally laughable, I wanted to know other knitters. I wanted to feel the sense of community that comes from a gathering of folks looping yarn together one stitch at a time.

Despite my lack of skills, I was welcomed by a small group of knitters: older, younger, all more experienced then I was.  No matter what silly mistakes I had made, I knew I could ask someone at the table for help. Though I could not help anyone in return, I satisfied myself that at least my knitting foibles added some humor to the gathering. Over time I came to feel accepted for who I was, not for what I knew how to do.

With my clever listening skills  I learned that the organizers of the knit night had bigger goals in mind. They were going to organize an area  knitting retreat ALL BY THEMSELVES, and they had never done it before. Since this  Magpie is especially interested in big ideas and in what people can accomplish as a team, I was vicariously thrilled each time the Tenntucky Board accomplished another milestone in project planning.

Spots were filling quickly for the retreat. Surely I was coming,  the organizers said. Moi?asked I. I can barely knit! But as I was assured that all levels were welcomed I decided to take the plunge, and invited my sister to accompany me. Maybe, I pondered shrewdly,  HER knitting skills would prove as backward as mine, and I would not be the anomaly at the retreat.

This past Friday evening approximately fifty knitters from several states checked in to the lovely Lake Barkley Lodge.

Source: KentuckyLake.com

Source: KentuckyLake.com

And so began a magical weekend which  included restful views, pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-30  opportunities to commune with nature,pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-7

time to reflect,

One with nature, even in windy weather.

One with nature, even in windy weather.

plentiful food, friendly staff, informative classes, and color, color, color.pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-34

How delightful it was that our organizers  had thought of everything! All of their advance  planning, networking and plain old elbow grease came together just like a well knit sweater. I remembered snippets of conversation about vendors, goodie bags and the like. Now I would  benefit from the fruits of their labor.

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And the knitters? If you did not already know this, knitters are special people. They’re friendly and welcoming. They want you to sit for a spell and knit up a few stitches and share a story or two, or even sit in companionable silence.

pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-39 Having never been to a knitting retreat I was unprepared for the exquisite l hand knit items worn by my fellow retreatants.  I asked if I could take pictures of their stunning work and they all said yes.That’s how special knitters are! Take a look:

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pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-19pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-21pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-2pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-4I CAN’T STOP!!!
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pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-20pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-11Whom did we meet? Why we met Kelly, who makes her own earrings out of knitting needles. And her brother, who surprised her with the gift of this retreat! We met Jo, who is studying to become a master knitter. We met Charlotte who didn’t learn to knit until after the age of 60. Charlotte wore a skirt she had knitted herself, by the way. We met the Haus of Yarn vendor who stayed up late Saturday night to felt our knitted slippers. No comment on mine, bet here are my sister’s:

pictures of retreat (1 of 1)I didn’t get a chance to meet everyone but I feel as though I did; that’s just the community vibe that exists among knitters.

On Saturday my sister and I took a gauge class and a crochet class.

Sadly I did not have the prerequisite skill  for the  crochet class, which was knowing how to crochet. Oops! Someone helped me anyway!

Sadly I did not have the prerequisite for the class, which was knowing how to crochet. Oops! Someone helped me anyway!

One of the teachers evidently knew  me, for she used phrases such as “the difference between homemade and handmade’, and mentioned how it feels to give disclaimers along with our knitted gifts. Here is  your sweater, Uncle Alvin. Just don’t turn around while wearing it.

After the classes were over we met for a rousing game of Last Knitter Standing.

pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-24Full disclosure compels me to say that my sister’s and my singing during timed knitting contests did not help anyone at our table to win. Anyone for a couple of verses of “Twist and Shout?”

Lake Barkley is one of those places where the whole time you are there you are planning your return visit, for there is more to do there than can be done in one weekend.  Every chance we got we sat in rockers on our balcony, gazing at the water and taking in the deep calming sounds of the natural world.

pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-28pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-32We just didn’t have time to do everything Lake Barkley  has to offer.  But we did manage to fit in some ping pong and pinball down in the rec room.

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Too soon it was Sunday and time to go. But not before we shopped with the vendors who had kindly visited us. Knitters patiently waited their chance to run their hands over luscious hanks of yarn and choose their own patterns.

pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-35pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-36As we drove away we exulted in the success of the weekend. From door prizes to pencils on the tables to write down gauge measurements, our organizers gave great attention to detail and it showed. Packed in the back of the car were our goodie bags full of free patterns, needles, and yarn. Some participants went home with stunning door prizes.We were inspired by what we had seen other knitters doing, and eager to improve our own knitting. pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-37

Our hearts were full of gratitude to the organizers  for having the wherewithal to do what many may dream about but never accomplish. How did this trio manage to put on this amazing weekend? I don’t have the slightest idea, but I suspect they did it together, one painstaking step at a time, connecting and bending as necessary, to form something that had never been done before.

P. S. : They’ve set the date for next year. Interested? Check out Tenntucky on Ravelry or contact Joseph at ACallToYarns. I don’t think he’ll mind my giving out his contact info. Knitters are neighborly like that.

September Summer

October has begun and with it will come falling leaves. But even the weather takes its own time in the South. Our uncharacteristically mild summer stayed all through September, urging folks to go one last time to the pool or to take a nap in the sun.  Cooler days are forecast for next week, but before they get here I just want to linger a moment over some late summer pleasures. DSC_0108 I’ve spent the waning weeks of summer enamored with this farro and chickpea salad. With the zing of za’ atar,  this salad is perfect for hot days.DSC_0091I took my friend R. through my yard so he could practice using his new camera. He gleefully snatched up a passion fruit off the vine and demonstrated how he used to eat them when he lived out in the country.DSC_0068We documented the flowers’ demise, DSC_0102the day’s deepening shadows,IMG_3051and how the blue of the sky peeked through the pergola roof.
IMG_3014On another warm Saturday I helped a friend with a yard sale. I put a few things out  to sell but my friend sold more than I did. Could the figure above have jinxed me?DSC_0060One  lovely Sunday night I made some fish tacos for an al fresco dinner.DSC_0063DSC_0066And it tasted as good as it looked.IMG_3065Finally, we met some friends at the Levitt Shell to hear an outstanding concert by the Memphis Dawls. Usually summer is a season I tolerate but do not enjoy. Humidity is not my friend. But thanks to these last mild weeks I’m able to usher it out with kinder regard than ever before. Goodbye, summer, and thanks for each moment and memory!

And how about all of you? What late summer fun did you enjoy?

Memphis Is More

To hear some Memphians talk, our city has already arrived via hand basket at a very hot place. Whenever  a violent  or undesirable event takes place, the hand basket crowd sees nothing good about our  community. It’s THOSE  people, they say. Those all- bad people who  make Memphis a hopelessly inferior all- crime- all -the -time- place where no citizen can ever be safe.  Make sweeping generalizations much?

Recently there was another deplorable incident  in Memphis. A large group of teens attacked some people at random in a grocery store parking lot. Of course this is bad news. The behavior of the teens was unacceptable. Eleven persons were arrested, and will hopefully make appropriate amends for their crimes.

In the wake of such an occurrence, what is a person to do? A  first impulse may be to harden one’s heart, and to add to the suffering with pejorative remarks about our citizens and city administration. But  negative talk does not solve problems. The social ills which contribute to violent crimes are way too complex for simple solutions. I do not claim to have the answers, but I know  Memphis is more than crime,  hatred, and judgement. I know that Memphis is also friendly, kind, and quirky, just like that relative you all have that everyone agrees is a “character”.

As an individual I try not to harden my heart against the perpetrators, their families, and the trash talkers, and ponder what more I  can do to make Memphis a better place. I am not the only one to take this stance, as evidenced by the “Love Mob” that gathered a few days after the incident in the grocery parking lot. The “Mob’s” purpose was to express their support for the victims but also to display their love for Memphis, most of whose citizens are hard working law abiding people.

I had all this in my mind last weekend when I set out for the annual Cooper Young Festival. After all the negative press and hateful talk around the city, how would Memphis rebound? Would this last round of senseless violence render us unable to come together, unable to mourn our losses and heal our wounds?

I set out early Saturday morning for the one day neighborhood festival. The weather had become cool, causing me to walk briskly from my condo to the festival to warm up, as I had worn a thin shirt with no jacket.DSC_0037

And there was the festival, my old friend, with its music, food, and family activities, just getting underway. I was glad to know Memphis had such a welcoming event planned.

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Here was my favorite junk shopping booth. I  bought two items here which I cannot show because they are gifts. May I leave my items here and pick them up on my way out, I asked the saleslady. In typical Memphis fashion, the answer was of course you may. We’ll remember you.

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Next was the vintage clothing booth. I needed to stop  in there to buy something to wear because I was cold! After I picked out this highly appropriate sweater, I stayed to help two young African American ladies pick out a jacket.

DSC_1731I think they appreciated my taste.

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And speaking of cold, these two young men were freezing over their water bottle concession stand.  For the price of a bottle of water, they agreed to pose. And since there has been a lot of talk about poorly behaved youth, let me say that giving them the price of a bottle of water was my idea. I am sure they would have posed without it, but they were here to make money.

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In just a few minutes I fell into a comfortable stride at the festival. With my companion I wandered in and out of booths, shopping, listening, and feeling the vibe of my fellow festival goers.  I didn’t always buy, but maybe I should have.

Why did I pass you up?

Why did I pass you up?

 

Do you need your own original poem?

Do you need your own original poem?

And here was The House of Mews, Cat rescue organization, where a volunteer induced Spice to pose for me.DSC_0051

Then the Choose 901 booth, full of Memphis-proud items.

DSC_0052I paused at one booth and renewed my membership to the Memphis Heritage  Society, where the director took the time to speak with me about some ongoing projects. After all this meandering, I found I needed to stop for refreshment at Growler’s, a beer tasting garden that was not open this time last year.

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From our spot at the window we could watch the crowds which were now streaming in – folks in costumes, families, couples, all mingling and having fun. Yes, this is Memphis.

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DSC_0072Next we stopped into Celtic Crossing for some lunch. The hostess showed us to a table beside a loud beer truck, but cheerfully moved us when we objected. We sat on a back patio, enjoying a sandwich while people watching. Across from me several young woman were lunching. I approached their table. “Excuse me dear, but your purse is on the ground behind you; I didn’t think you would want it there.” Grateful, she scooped her purse up. It felt good to be helpful to someone.

I must share that if I drink beer it is best for me to have food with it. Since Growler has no food, I was in just the right shape to accidentally call our male server “ma’am.” But he let it roll off his back, even as he was run right off his feet serving the patio crowd.

Back on the street, I  was able to resist the enticing aromas of the food trucks, as I had already had a sandwich.

DSC_0055 The crowds were gathering to listen to the music on several stages. I heard the Memphis Brass Band playing, but couldn’t get very close through the dense thicket of people. Taking pictures was becoming more  difficult, so for some time I gave that up and simply flowed on with everyone else.

DSC_0059Spying Goner Records, I made a beeline to their one dollar album display. Guess what I found? YEEEES!  Jeanne C. Riley’s Harper Valley P.T.A. !  I was thrilled because one of my biggest problems when I was taking care of my new grandson was that I couldn’t remember the words to this priceless tune. What kind of grandmother can’t sing “Harper Valley P.T.A.? But… oh no, there was no record inside the sleeve. I  marched right  inside the store and explained my whole sad predicament to a very nice clerk who came out from around the counter and found me a copy of Jeanne C. Reilly’s Greatest Hits. Crisis averted. And he threw in the empty album cover for free.IMG_3017

Having come early, we were ready to make our exit. We would have stayed longer but we had a commitment for later in the day. We won’t make that mistake next year. On the way out we stopped for my two gifts, still safely held by the ladies at the booth. They were a little thrown off by my new sweater, but they remembered my  red hair.

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Turning off Central onto Cox, I heard someone call my name. Oh, what delight for my feet! It was a neighbor from a zero lot line close to our condo, offering us a ride home. We squooshed ourselves straight into her back seat. Could she come in and see our condo? Well, not today because her husband was waiting on her, but on another day, certainly.

We got upstairs and I put up my poor little feet. I mused upon how almost every single person I had come across had been welcoming and willing to go beyond just the basics in service or compassion. Memphis has social problems, no doubt. I would never be so naive as to try to sweep poverty, crime, and an uneducated populace under the rug. But I felt encouraged by what I had seen and felt at the Cooper Young. Just as I thought, Memphis is more. More friendliness, more diversity, more hospitality, more hope.

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Optimistic much?

Please Touch My “Ta- zhear”!

For some reason I was  in the dining room taking a quick swipe around the furniture with a dust rag. I approached  my grandmother’s étagère and began to carefully  pick up each figurine in order to dust the shelf beneath.  Some of the decorative pieces belonged to me, and some had belonged to my mother, grandmother, or great aunts. I wiped off each keepsake dutifully, wondering as I always did what was eventually going to happen to this repository of memories and holder of outdated pieces of ceramic.DSC_0138

I don't care too much for the figurines, but some gladiolas do look wonderful in Mama's epergne.

I don’t care too much for the figurines, but some gladiolas do look wonderful in Mama’s epergne.

I really didn’t want to keep all these Royal Doultons and Royal Copenhagens, much less the Lladros, but what was I going to do with them? I doubted my children would be interested in them.  And I didn’t see too much point in having the étagère either, except for sentimental value. Perhaps if I decorated in a  traditional style, the piece would be more prominently displayed in my home, rather than languishing in the rarely used dining room.

When I was a child the étagère loomed large in my grandmother’s living room, but as an adult I could see that the shelves were too narrow to satisfactorily display one’s treasures. What I had done when I inherited the piece was to try to rotate all the figurines so that they were all displayed at some point. My newer things did not look right on the shelves, so I rearranged the same old pieces, feeling like the clerk at a seldom visited antique store.As I worked at my  task, an unmistakeable voice wafted through the air behind me.

Don’t  touch my ta- zhear, now!

What? Startled, I forced myself to turn around slowly, so as not to drop a ceramic shepherd boy.  And there she was, in her housedress, with her glasses hanging around her neck on a chain.

“Mama! It’s so good to see you!” Quickly I set down my dust rag to envelop my tiny grandmother in a big hug. I insisted she sit down in a chair that once belonged to my Aunt May.

What’s my ta- zhear  doing over at your house?

Mama had always gotten right to the point.

“It’s mine now, Mama”. Pointing to the large piece made of some dark wood, I reminded her. “Don’t you remember it was your Mother’s, then yours, then my mother’s? And now I have it.”

My great grandmother, Etta Blanche Miles Morarity, to my knowledge the original owner of the etagere.

My great grandmother, Etta Blanche Miles Morarity, to my knowledge the original owner of the etagere.

Mama, Marie Blanche Morarity James, the second owner of the etagere, with Grandaddy, William Martin James.

Mama, Marie Blanche Morarity James, the second owner of the etagere, with Grandaddy, William Martin James.

Well, I don’t want you grandchildren touching my ta- zhear.

“Yes, Mama, how could I forget? Those were the first words out of your mouth every time we walked in your front door. Plus I’m fifty seven years old now.”  And feeling a little snippy, I added, “Actually the piece is called an étagère”.

Here is a lady we were not allowed to touch. In the background is a painting that jus much more my style.

Here is a lady we were not allowed to touch. In the background is a painting that jus much more my style.

My Mama pronounced it ta- zhear. And where’s Bessie? 

“My mother? Well, Mama I thought you would know. She died about six years ago. That’s why I have the ta- zhear.”

 Oh, yes, I remember now. She’s usually over in the smoking section.

“She probably is, Mama, or avoiding you because you keep calling her Bessie instead of Elizabeth.” I was sure Mama must remember how vehemently my mother had always objected to being called Bessie. No one else but Mama dared to call her that.

I couldn’t  help looking over at the étagère shelf which held  the small  framed   photograph of Mama’a beloved sister in law, Bessie James, as a child. Bessie, who bears  a startling resemblance to my niece Alexis, died as a young woman after walking in front of an airplane propeller.

The original Bessie

The original Bessie. The back of the photo says, “To my grandparents in Kingston Ontario from your little granddaughter Bessie James”.

Wanting to move to a happier subject I added, “I’m a grandmother myself now, Mama. I already have one precious grandson, and in a few months I’m going to have a second grandchild to love.”

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Mama chuckled. Yes, I heard about that up where I live.

“Yep, Mama, one of these days pretty soon  MY doorbell is going to ring, and when I open it, little people are going to race through MY front door, and what do you think MY first words will be to those little folks?”

Before Mama could say anything I answered my own question.

“Here’s what I’m going to say. Please  DO touch my ta- zhear! I’ve got some things on it that are just for you!”

Well, I declare.

I turned my back to Mama for just a moment so I could envision what I had just realized was the perfect use for  this venerable piece of furniture.

When I turned around, Mama’s chair was empty once again. Probably it was best for her not to see what I had done to her showpiece.

We're safe here until we start climbing.

We’re safe here until we start climbing.

Of course I’ll have different things out when I know what each grandchild enjoys. These were just some toys I had handy.

From this...

From this…

 

To this!

To this!

It’s important to cherish  the memories of those who have gone before us. We thrive on feeling connected to others down through the centuries. But there also comes a time to embrace what is new, to start  traditions that make sense today,which will hopefully be enjoyed and passed on to others. The ta-zhear is mine  now, so let the good times begin. You’re welcome to touch!

Swaddled

Big, big exhalation. How long have I been holding my breath? About nine months and three weeks, the exact length of time it took for my grandson to grow large enough to come into the world and for me to get out there to meet him.

Amid all the fun of watching my daughter grow huge with child and seeing she and her husband prepare to be parents,  I struggled mightily on the inside  with becoming a grandparent. I held an incessant  nine month inner dialogue that went something like this:

(Read to self quickly, then repeat. For a more realistic experience, read at 4:00 A.M.)

How can I be a grandmother I don’t know how to be a grandmother all I know is what my mother did which was come over every day for weeks and weeks and wash the clothes and cook and clean  and help with the baby and sometimes she brought her sisters for reinforcement and there C. and E. are out there in California with no relatives, well they know some people but not that many why haven’t I retired what if she needs help and I’m not there it’s not like I can just get in a plane and fly over there anytime stop overwhelming yourself and what will I do when I miss the baby that is going to be intolerable it hurts my stomach right now and I don’t even know what to be called all I know is nothing countryfied, like, not Meemaw or Mawmaw or no undignified baby talk words like MooMoo or PooPoo you’ll eventually be called something  yes but  when I do go out there how can I get all the cleaning and cooking and baby stuff done so they will be all caught up by the time we leave so she won’t need me after we’ve gone and so nothing will upset or depress her the way I always was postpartum oh groan it was so awful that would be unacceptable I’ll just have to get everything done that’s all and what if I’m not good with the baby I never thought I was good with babies and what if I can’t do anything with him that would be a disaster  I haven’t taken care of a baby in twenty seven years but they’ll EXPECT me to be good with soothing  upset babies because that is what grandmothers know how to do and I am going to be declared one, but how can I be a grandmother?

Got it?

As with most unknowns, there was nothing to do but wait, and to be sure, one day before his due date Micah was born. Without me. We already had our dates planned to come out, according to  the way my daughter and son in law wanted things to be, in case anyone wonders why we didn’t charter the first plane out of Memphis.

Waiting for the unknown.

Waiting for the unknown.

Finally we met our baby. When I held him, I felt a deep, peaceful  knowing, as if reconnected to an old soul. I know you, I thought, and you are mine. I rushed headlong  into baby love.

We meet baby Micah.

We meet baby Micah.

What about my worries? About soothing the baby, the best news ever was this little invention, the swaddler,  which did not exist in my day. The blanket like garment soothes a fractious baby and makes him feel warm, safe and secure. The old fashioned…uh… grandmother in me was skeptical at first but soon I was won over when Micah, bundled, relaxed immediately in my arms.

Micah in his swaddler.

Micah in his swaddler.

What about the sleep deprived parents? It turns out that these people know how to take naps, something I was never able to do. When we arrived each morning from our nearby motel we relieved whichever parent was awake to retreat to bed. The parents would say they were tired, but they seemed pretty sane to me. They were wearing clothes, for example, and seemed to be taking showers. I saw them reading sometimes.

The new parents are holding their own.

The new parents are holding their own.

What about being helpful? Within the first few minutes of our arrival, my daughter said to me, “Thanks for holding the baby so I can have an adult conversation.” Aaaah, we were already helping! And speaking of helping, Micah’s grandfather turned out to be the most effective baby whisperer in the house. Whenever he wasn’t doing some manual labor for my daughter, such as hanging pictures, he could be found with Micah in his arms.

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But what about my daughter’s mood? SHE WAS FINE!!!!!!! Her focus was on baby’s well being, not seeming a bit overwhelmed, just taking things moment by moment.  I did have to make some changes in the eating arena. One can only choke down so many dry turkey sandwiches. Though the meals I fixed were often consumed more hurriedly than in the past, hopefully they made the new parents feel nurtured.

I wanted them to have fresh, delicious food.

I wanted them to have fresh, delicious food.

And about the cleaning, my daughter did allow me to clean her kitchen floor on my hands and knees. Pregnant ladies can’t see their own feet, let alone a floor. She was very appreciative that I had done it, but the good news was that had I not gotten around to it, it wouldn’t have bothered her a bit. Finally the memories of myself as a new mother, feeling sad and defeated because my house was so cluttered, faded in my mind. Actually, I had been the one in disarray, not the house.Thankfully, my daughter does not have those burdens.

As the days went by we settled into an easy routine of baby care. It came to me that we were all pitching in to take care of the baby, the parents, and their home. Why had I thought all the emotional responsibility was going to fall only on me? I found I could relax and just be a grandmother!

This is the tree I'm planning to climb with Micah.

This is the tree I’m planning to climb with Micah.

All too soon it was time to leave. I came to Pasadena in hypervigilant mode, ready to do whatever battles were necessary for my people. I anticipated it to be hard. Yes, I did work all day and retire each night to sleep as hard as a brick bat, but it was fun, joyous and fulfilling.

The Saga Motor Inn, where my husband and I retired each night, opened the shutters to let in the cool evening air, and read our books in complete silence before we crashed.

The Saga Motor Inn, where my husband and I returned each night, opened the shutters of our room to let in the cool evening air, and read our books in complete, delightful silence before we crashed.

We were all bound by our love for Micah, and enjoyed seeing one another enjoy him. The arrival of this precious little fellow had changed all our previous, familiar configurations. Wife to mother. Husband to father. Mother to grandmother. Father to grandfather. We all revolved, gracefully, I thought, around our new sun.

I marveled at my son in law’s transformation into a Daddy. He has won my heart over and over with his devotion and thoughtfulness.

Showing Micah Mommy's artwork.

Showing Micah Mommy’s artwork.

My sweet son in law. Now he's a Daddy.

My sweet son in law. Now he’s a Daddy.

I beamed at seeing my daughter in action as a Mother.

She's a natural!

She’s a natural!

IMG_2825I marveled at this this couple, reassured at their priorities and partnership.

The happy new family.

The happy new family.

I treasured seeing  Grandaddy gaze at the baby.DSC_0058

I drank in each moment with Micah, just as I had hoped to do. I have memorized him now.IMG_2867

Families are all more than the sum of their parts, but now we have more parts in the mix, and it’s glorious. More relationships. More ties. More moments to savor now and memories to plan for the future.IMG_2865

I was not ready to leave, but I did so with a heart that was  full and peaceful.

Swaddled, really.