Friday, September 17, 2010

The Music Playing in the Background

A few days ago, I was tagged in a note to list 15 songs that would always stick with me. I didn’t give it much thought, I admit. Looking through my list on my iPod, I wrote down the last 15 songs that I had listened to, then posted and tagged 15 others as I was instructed to do. But, you see, as someone pointed out to me, I didn’t follow the instructions. I didn’t list the 15 songs that really have stuck with me all through the years; I took a shortcut and while the songs that I listed are ones that are some of my favorites, they didn’t quite meet the criteria of the directive. Okay, what some might not know is: I rarely follow instructions exactly. Usually, I make the instructions conform to what I’d like them to read and it normally works out just fine. But, after reading the beautiful list of songs that Bill Littleton came up with and the reasons for their being important to him and of course, the aforementioned comment (although done in jest) that I hadn’t complied with the note’s intentions; I felt like I had shortchanged myself for missing the opportunity to remember those 15 songs that had made enough of an impression on me to always stick with me.

So, I decided to think back and come up with those songs. In doing so, I realized we live our lives with music always playing in the background and that music becomes a big part of who we are and sometimes hearing a song that had meaning to us will bring back a memory that we don’t always take the time to acknowledge. That’s what I found when I sat down to make my list. The memories have flooded me today and with the memories, I heard the music playing. Now, the problem would be to narrow it down to 15 songs which I soon learned that would not be possible.

In the mid to late fifties, Savannah, Georgia like most cities in the deep south was segregated. Blacks and whites didn’t mix in social settings but in my living room on Henry Street in my favorite city in the world, my older brother, another white guy named Robert and two young black guys rehearsed some of the best Doo Wop you’d ever want to listen to. My favorite was In the Still of the Night by the Five Satins and whenever I hear that song to this day, I can remember the excitement these guys felt to be in that moment singing together with no real thoughts of anything but the music. My mother came home from work and opened the door to the living room and just closed it back. I’m sure she realized that this wouldn’t set well with the neighbors but she never said a word. She didn’t care that much what others thought anyway. The guys never became a real group but they sure had fun practicing for a while.

Along about that time, my oldest brother, who was also into music was busy singing Elvis tunes and my favorite was Jail House Rock which he would sing complete with the movements Elvis became famous for. Fast forward several years and he would be a total Johnny Cash devotee and whenever he walked into any of the local clubs, he would be asked to sing Folsom Prison Blues or some other Cash tune. The two musical idols he had chosen seemed to be so totally different from each other when I was young but in later life, I can see how he was drawn to these talented men; both very sensitive and brooding in their personal lives which made it difficult for them to handle the pressures of life and their music without using something to make the pain go away. We didn’t know it then but several years later, we’d see those same traits more clearly in my brother. Now, even after losing my brother twenty-one years ago, hearing those songs will bring my brother’s face into my mind and it will be him that I imagine singing.

My mother was very musically talented also and had taught herself to play the guitar. She played by ear and had a beautiful, sweet voice. One of the songs that she loved to play and sing was The Wildwood Flower by the Carter Family and an old Kitty Wells tune called It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels. I didn’t have much interest in this type of music because I thought that there was no other music besides rock and roll at the time. Closing my eyes, I can see her sitting there with her guitar, lost in the music that was an escape from her problems and the long hours that she worked. Years later, when she was in the late stages of the early onset Alzheimer's that stole her from us at 59, she sat down at a piano and started to play. We had no idea that she knew how to play piano and she had not played her guitar in several years. After playing some tune for a few minutes, she got up and walked away just like it never happened. By this time, she didn’t speak and she didn’t recognize us but obviously, she still had her musical abilities. What a gift this was to us and now as I listen to the pure and real music that the Carter Family was so famous for, it makes these memories of her come alive in my mind.

Friday nights in my early teens meant a dance at a local community center and was the highlight of my week. The music was everything and this entire group of kids made the most of the evening dancing to Chubby Checker’s The Twist and Let’s Twist Again LIke We Did Last Summer and Big Girls Don’t Cry by the Four Seasons. There was dancing of all sorts and music of all different kinds. One thing for sure there would be at least one “stroll” of the night often to I Want To Walk You Home by Fats Domino or to The Stroll by the Diamonds. This was an older dance but in the early 60s, kids still liked it. Later on, the stroll lost it’s appeal and was replaced more often by the Twist and such dances as the Mashed Potatoes and the Monkey along with numerous other regional dances. There was still a lot of different versions of the Shag which originated in Myrtle Beach, SC along with the term “beach music.” I don’t think we labelled it so much as just got out on the floor and did it. The night always ended with a slow song and most of the time it would be Last Date by Floyd Cramer; still one of the most beautiful instrumental songs of all time to me.

None of us could know while we were dancing and listening to the best music that would ever be (to me at least) that our lives would soon change. Our innocent views of the world would be challenged in the next few years beyond anything that we had imagined.

While we listened to beach music like Surfin USA by the Beach Boys and Surf City by Jan and Dean and Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireball’s Sugar Shack, the world was changing around us. The war in Viet Nam was picking up and we now had over sixteen thousand troops in this place that we had never even thought of until recently. The South Vietnam President was overthrown by a coup and the trouble was only going to escalate. It seemed like there was turmoil every where you looked. At home in Savannah, our music was integrated but our schools were not. The Civil Rights movement was heating up and the March on Washington took place in August of 1963 and the speech, I Have a Dream, became a part of history.

Meanwhile we were still listening to music and dancing because we were kids and couldn’t imagine that any of the horrible things that we heard on the news would ever touch us in our town. Of course, they already had but we were too young to understand. With Louie, Louie by The Kingsmen and Deep Purple by Nino Temple and April Stevens playing on our radios, we went about our lives; school, dances, football games and the drama involved with young love. On November 22, 1963, I was in 9th grade Science taught by Coach Preston who doubled as the basketball coach when the Principal announced over the intercom that our President, John F. Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, Texas. We would learn later that he had died. The shock that we all felt was indescribable; the girls cried and the boys for once didn’t have any wise remarks to make. They sat speechless. The days that followed were a blur. I remember watching every moment of this horrible event play out on television from the footage of the aftermath of the shooting until the finality of the funeral. The only respite from the sadness was the music I listened to at night on the radio. It was a comfort to hear the Cascades sing Rhythm of the Rain and the Chiffons with He’s So Fine because it brought back some sense of normalcy even if it was only for a while.

Eventually, we went back to being teenagers and going to our dances and football games and worrying about who liked who and what we would wear to school the next day. The dances were still a big deal and now, we had the British invasion to occupy our thoughts and airwaves. The Beatles first appeared on Ed Sullivan in February of 1964 and we were all crazy about them. A Hard Day’s Night and Love Me Do were playing all the time but we still liked the Four Seasons who had a number of hits out with Dawn and Rag Doll being my favorites. The Animals’ hit The House of the Rising Sun was very popular and we all requested it at the dances not so much to dance to but because it seemed to be a little controversial and we were teenagers, after all. Looking back, I think I saw the changes even then as some drifted away from the Friday night event.

I think about it now and while we didn’t know it then but one day, us girls would remember as we read a list of names of the wars casualties and saw one that we knew, that we had danced with that boy in a magical time in our youth. And some of the boys that would return from the war would not be the same fun loving, carefree boys that we knew back then and if we saw them, we wouldn’t know what to say.

Music was still at the center of our lives and I always loved live performances. I went to a concert in 1966 that featured Ike and Tina Turner who were not as popular as they had once been in the US but still attracted a huge crowd in Savannah. It was completely wild and all I remember was It’s Gonna Work Out Fine which had been one of their earlier hits. They were so full of energy; the show was fantastic. Somewhere along that same time some friends and I snuck into a local nightclub where none other than the King of Soul, James Brown was the headline act. It was pretty easy to slip into those places back then. You never took boys with you, they looked younger and didn’t have enough brains not to try to order drinks. Us girls just went for the music. James Brown was unbelievable. He sang Try Me and Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag; some good stuff even today.

The year before I snuck into that club which was called the Bamboo Ranch, a hometown boy who had been a performer at the club with a band called Buddy Livingston and the Versitones, made it to the Top 40 Charts with a song called Down in the Boondocks. He’d have a couple more before fading to obscurity: I Knew You When and Cherry Hill Park. They were actually all good songs but I guess it took more than a decent voice and a song to make it.

All the time that I was listening to all the rock and roll and sure that this type of music would always be my favorite, I was still inundated with country music at home. My mother was still playing and singing her country songs and my oldest brother, the Johnny Cash fan, became an exclusive singer of Johnny Cash music. He played some of the local bars and he always wore his black and he did look a lot like Cash but in my opinion, my brother was better looking. He didn’t have the rasp in his voice like Cash but he did a great I Walk the Line. My other brother also leaned towards country but he didn’t play in a band; he just played at home or for friends. He had a great voice; always reminded me a little of Ricky Nelson although other than Elvis himself, he did the best version of Are You Lonesome Tonight? I’ve ever heard. My mother’s love of playing the guitar kept a steady stream of my brothers’ friends coming to have her teach them a few chords so that they could get started playing. After they learned a little, they came back to have her tune their guitars. Never did figure out how they could play but couldn’t tune a guitar. It was not uncommon on a Friday or Saturday night to have a house full of aspiring musicians having a jam session. My little brother wasn’t into the music too much then but in a few years, he would become a pretty good drummer. And me, I played the radio. So the music around my house was country and I have to admit, I had softened over time in my opinion of it and wore out a few albums by Ray Price and Jim Reeves. I guess when you’re born listening to something, it gets in your soul. As I got older, I realized I loved both genres of music.

The summer of 1966 brought many changes to my life. I met the guy I would marry six weeks later after meeting on a blind date. The music once again was a huge part of my memories of that time. There was such a variety of music popular that crazy summer. We were listening to the Statler Brothers singing Flowers on the Wall one minute and Paint It Black by the Rolling Stones the next. The Mamas and Papas were popular and California Dreaming and Monday, Monday were both big hits. When a Man Loves a Woman by Percy Sledge was probably my favorite, at least for a day or two. There was just so many to choose from. After I met my husband to be, we saw each other every night and often we would drive down to the beach and the radio would be playing Simon & Garfunkel’s I Am a Rock, Little Red Riding Hood by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs; the Beach Boys were still going strong with Good Vibrations and for some quieter music, we had the Righteous Brothers with You’re My Soul and Inspiration, You’ve Lost That Lovin Feeling and one of the most beautiful songs of all times, Unchained Melody.

There’s so much to remember from that time but it all comes back to me when I hear these songs. No other time of my life has ever been so closely connected to music and no other music has ever affected me as much as the music from the 60’s. I feel this music has been woven into a tapestry along with the events and the people from that period of my life and like a piece of art, it’s beautiful to look at and cherish.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Once Upon a Time at Disney

This was written as an entry to a Challenge posted on Facebook by the Sanctuary Writing Group. The prompt was to write a fairytale so I figured that there is no better setting than Walt Disney World for a fairytale.

I was excited as always to go to Disney. I’m the biggest kid around when it comes to that kind of stuff. The day was beautiful and not too hot so I knew that we’d have a really fun time. The park had just opened and we rushed in to get to the rides that usually have long waits.

Space Mountain was everyone’s first choice but mine, of course. I don’t do Space Mountain. I don’t like roller coasters or any of the really fast rides but that’s okay. I had a plan in mind to make the day go smoother. Fast pass is the way to go so that you don’t have to waste time standing in line so I collected everyone’s park ticket and headed off to get fast passes while they took a couple of turns on Space Mountain.

We had decided that I should get fast passes for Pirates of the Caribbean and we’d work our way back around there by lunch time. So off I went to Adventureland to Pirates. Along the way I enjoyed the scenery, the flowers were in full bloom and there was magic in the air. Hey, it’s Magic Kingdom so you gotta have magic, right?

I finally made my way through Tomorrowland and over to the circle in front of the castle. I knew I should pick up my pace but I had to stop to watch the show on the stage at the castle for a couple of minutes. The witch from Snow White was busy casting a spell on Mickey and the crew and I stood laughing as she muttered some gibberish and waved her magic wand. Funny thing though as she waved the wand, she looked straight at me and gave me the most evil smile imaginable. “What a good performer,” I said to myself as I walked off in the direction of Adventureland.

It was starting to get crowded over in Adventureland and as I walked by Aladdin’s Magic Carpet Ride, the camel spit on me as usual. “Damn camel!” Why couldn’t I ever remember to walk on the other side of that ride? By the time I reached Pirates I had gotten over being annoyed and my glasses were dry again. Approaching the Fast Pass machines, I noticed that I was the only one there getting passes. I put the park tickets in one at a time and the machine spit out the first fast pass but didn’t give me the park ticket back. I looked around for assistance but still didn’t see anyone so I walked into the area where you enter the ride. Funny that there was no one around anywhere but I knew that there would be attendants where they load you into the boats so I kept walking through the cave like walkways. There’s a spot where you can stop and look down into the dungeons to see the prisoners captured by the pirates.

I could hear talking up ahead so I thought that I would find someone to assist me. As I turned the corner, I saw several “pirates” who were really dressed up realistically. I walked up and asked if someone could help me. Immediately, I had a bad feeling. The group of pirates that I assumed were cast members grabbed me and shoved me down on the floor. I screamed for them to stop but they laughed and began asking me for my jewelry and money. My first thought was that this was some sort of skit that they were performing but I soon dismissed this idea as one of the pirates grabbed my necklace roughly from my neck and started reaching for my rings. Slapping him away, I tried to stand so that I could run but there were too many of them. I slipped and hit my head on the concrete floor and that was the last thing I remembered.

When I awoke, I was in one of the jail cells with the other prisoners that now were human instead of animated as before. They were all watching me when I sat up and I was as afraid of them as I had been of the pirates. An elderly man reached over to give me his hand so I could stand and gave me a toothless grin. I tried to smile back and thanked him for helping me. My first question was, “where are we and who put us here?” The prisoners all started to talk at once but I gathered that a pirate named Black Beard had held them all here for many years after attacking their ship and stealing the gold that they were carrying.

I was speechless. How could this be? This is Magic Kingdom and everything here is pretend and fantasy. There was no such thing as pirates and yet, I found myself in a jail cell in a dirty, smelly dungeon with men who were so skinny they looked like skeletons and their beards were almost as long as their hair. Maybe I was dreaming so I pinched myself and it hurt but I was still in the jail cell.

Looking around for a way out I spotted a dog with a key and I laughed until I started to cry. This dog is part of the props as you ride through the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. He couldn’t possibly be real so this had to be a dream but why couldn’t I wake up? All of sudden, I felt cold and had goosebumps and noticed that everyone was looking at the window from the level above where I had stood looking down so many times waiting for the ride to begin. I looked up and saw the witch from the castle. She was laughing and pointing at me. This was starting to get even weirder. She said something that I couldn’t understand and rushed off.

What had I gotten myself into? Why did the witch do this to me? Then I remembered that my family would be looking for me. By now they were off Space Mountain and wondering where I’d gotten off to. My cell phone was in my purse which the pirates had apparently taken so I couldn’t call them. All I could do was hope that they would come looking for me and walk back into the ride as I had.

Then I heard the pirates laughing and singing and knew that they were coming back. I had to get out of this place. I got one of the prisoners to let me stand on his shoulders while I climbed up to the upper level and starting shaking the bars. Surprisingly they were loose and I managed to get one pulled out. I started to climb through and lost my footing and tumbled backwards and after that everything was black.

The next thing that I remember is being picked up and carried but I didn’t see who was carrying me. I tried to open my eyes but I had no control over my eyelids so my efforts were wasted. Then I felt myself being placed on the ground carefully and through the tiny slits of my eyes, I saw and now you’ll laugh but it’s true, I saw Mickey Mouse and he was the one who had carried me to safety.

I tried to speak but I couldn’t and I don’t know how long I lay there before someone shouted, “Help, there’s a woman who needs medical assistance.” My first thought was good and I hope while they are helping her that they notice me but of course, I was the woman that the Good Samaritan was speaking of.

Then things happened fast. People came from everywhere and they called for medical transport and they took me to their first aid station. I tried to tell them that I needed to contact my family. The paramedics thought that I had a concussion when I told them that there were men being held prisoners in a dungeon jail cell at the Pirates of the Caribbean. They looked very worried and said I needed to be taken to the hospital.

Finally, my family came and I told them what had happened. Of course they didn’t believe me either and thought it was because of my fall. Apparently, the passer by had found me at the bottom of one of the tree houses at Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse. They speculated that I had fallen and hit my head. No one could explain why I was there. My patience was exhausted trying to tell them that I didn’t fall from the tree house but instead was taken prisoner by a band of pirates and thrown into the dungeon and that the witch from Snow White was involved.

Well, obviously, no one believed me then and no one believes me now but I can assure you that it happened just as I told you and the next time I go to Magic Kingdom, I’m going to prove it.

And….Oh is our time up? Do I have to come back next week? Okay, Doctor, I’ll come back but this just a waste of your time and mine. I’m not crazy. There really is something going on at Magic Kingdom and they’re all involved. Even Mickey, I know he tried to help me but he knows about this. You wait, I’ll find proof.

The Pretty One

The Pretty One
July 29, 1939 – April 11, 1994

She was always “the pretty one” with her long jet black hair and the laughing eyes that changed from brown to green. She did amazing things as I was often told. When she was just a little girl she’d pull up a stool and wash dishes and could iron and sweep and sing like an angel, all that and of course, she was “the pretty one”.

She ran away and married way too young much to my father’s sorrow and could not be found. He grieved for her and then he died a short time later, not knowing what had happened to his oldest daughter, “the pretty one”.

Then she returned to us and life was good, we were happy to have her with us once again. Soon she would have a daughter followed over the years by another daughter and two sons, but she never lost the right to her title, she was definitely “the pretty one”.

Her marriage was not made in Heaven to say the very least, in fact I think her life was Hell but to the world, she smiled with her lips and faintly with her eyes and only if you looked deep enough, could you see that only on the outside was she “the pretty one”.

Over the years her life turned from sad to even worse and she swapped one marriage for another, each more painful than the one before; why couldn’t happiness be a part of life for “the pretty one”.

Too early, way too early her memory started to slip. Always one to look perfect when she walked out the door, she shopped in slippers and forgot to brush her hair. She was checked by the doctor and Alzheimers was the diagnosis, all agreed it was such a shame because she was so young and had always been “the pretty one”.

Visiting her in the nursing home, we’d ask where she might be and the nurses would say, “oh, the pretty one, she’s watching television down the hall. And one day the phone call came and our hearts were broken to hear, at fifty-five she was gone. What a tragedy, how could this be? This is not the way her life should have gone, after all, she was “the pretty one”.

St. Patrick's Day in Savannah

St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah was an exciting event for me growing up. It was always an official school holiday and that alone made it a favorite holiday for most kids. But the true excitement was just watching everyone transform into Irish overnight. Green was everywhere.

One year we went out for breakfast and the grits were tinted green. They looked a little strange but they tasted fine. And of course all the beer in town was definitely green. The fountain in one of the huge parks downtown had green water spouting one year and I can remember a few times that they dyed the Savannah River green.

Everyone takes St. Patrick’s Day pretty serious in Savannah. It’s the second largest celebration in the United States. That’s pretty big considering Savannah is not a large city by any means. I read that they were expecting about 300,000 to celebrate this year. The parade lasts for hours and I’m sure that the partying started last Friday and will continue through today. The pubs downtown will be packed as everyone gets their Irish on. Tomorrow there will be lots of hangovers as everyone gets themselves back to work and their daily activities but they won’t worry about that today. Today will just be for fun and drink. By tomorrow morning, the debris left from the partiers will be all that’s left of this year’s celebration. I’m sure there will be a few green beads lying around for months.

When I was a teenager, my friends and I would start worrying about what we would wear back in January. It had to be Kelly green of course and it needed to be cool. The only problem was we never knew if it would be cold or hot. March 17th in Savannah can be either. We hoped for warm weather so we could show off our Irish attire.

We were too young to be planning to go down for the drinking but back then it was more of a local celebration and the partying didn’t get as wild as it does today. These days St. Patrick’s Day is like Mardi Gras and draws crowds from everywhere. The streets are full of people twenty four hours a day as they make their way from one spot to another looking for another fun party.

Our main focus back then was to go downtown to see and be seen. We were teenage girls after all. One of the things you could count on for the celebration was that it would bring in several Naval ships and sometimes submarines. Well, that meant thousands of sailors in town. And yes, that’s what we went to see. There were white uniforms everywhere and we flirted until we were exhausted from batting our eyelashes. It was such fun and we looked forward to it every year. The sailors of course would follow us around like puppy dogs and we’d be off to find some more. I’m not sure that they understood that we were only interested in the capture.

It was all in fun and at the end of the day we were on the bus heading home but we had enough to talk about for months. The leprechauns and the green outfits were ready to be put away but we knew that we’d have next year’s celebration to look forward to. Savannah would be Irish again next March 17th.

Life's Lotto

Every person who stands in line to play their numbers in hopes of winning the Lotto can relate to the phrase, “I won! I’ve hit the jackpot!” We all dream of saying those words, I suppose.

In truth, I feel like I can say that I have won the jackpot. You see, I believe in different types of jackpots. Sure there’s the jackpot where you win the big money and you never have to worry again about the material things in life but to me, the real jackpot is the jackpot of life, the one where you have love, family, friends and good health. Those are the things you can’t buy with money, not even that big Lotto.

This past weekend I was reminded of this again when all six of the grandkids came over for a “cousin sleepover.” Two of the granddaughters were already at our house because they were staying for the weekend while their parents were away. As each group of the other cousins arrived, they were greeted by squeals and giggling and immediately disappeared into the kids’ room to play. They have a television and a Wii and a Karaoke machine in the room so they have plenty of entertainment but their biggest excitement is just being together to play. If I didn’t go in occasionally to offer drinks and snacks, I’m convinced they would stay in there for hours.

The ages range from twelve down to almost six but they manage to find things that they all want to participate in. From games to performing different tunes on the karaoke to just sitting around being silly, they revel in the opportunity to just be with each other.

We ordered pizza for dinner and they never missed a beat with their conversation and laughter as they sat around the table. Each seems to hold his own contributing to the group discussions. At the bar nearby, we can only laugh as we eat our pizza because we certainly can’t keep up with their stories and sometimes, just plain silliness. But, it’s okay because seeing the six of them together like this is more joyous to me than any thing I can imagine.

If I had that Lotto jackpot, I’d still want to be sitting at my bar in my kitchen watching my grandkids laugh and talk knowing that they are connected for life by being cousins.

Later that night, I peeked in to see them sleeping, the three girls in the guest room and the three boys in the kids’ room and I smiled to myself knowing the Lotto numbers called later would make very little difference to me. You don’t have to play numbers to win life’s Lotto; you just have to be Blessed.

(posted on Facebook 2.9.09

You've Got to Come Home Now, June's Almost Dead

I grew up in a midsize city in South Georgia and looking back now, life seemed to be much simpler then than the world we live in today. Kids played until dark when their mothers called them in and the windows were open so you could hear the crickets chirp and get a cool breeze.

My mother went to work after my father died when I was six so I learned to be independent at a pretty early age. She worked long hours and it was necessary that I look after myself a lot of the time. My older brother was supposed to keep an eye out for me but he was young too and had his own stuff. He couldn’t be bothered with a little sister all the time.

By the time I was ten, I had learned to manage quite nicely. I was never a girly girl and didn’t play girly girl things very often. What I really liked was to ride my bike and roller skate and climb the occasional tree. I usually talked my friends into doing what I wanted to do in exchange for playing some of the dumb girl stuff they wanted to play. I reasoned that it would be practice for when I had to grow up and do girl things all the time.

My knees and elbows were usually skinned and I had quite a few bruises but I managed to keep from getting hurt seriously considering some of my antics. There was a lumber company a few blocks from my house and it had the most amazing tree with really good thick branches that you could climb up and feel secure. We would climb up the tree and get on top of the lumber company so we could sit underneath where the branches hung over the flat roof. It was a great hiding spot and we plotted many devious things sitting up there. Eventually, the conversations would lead to boys which ended the adventures. We started to think that maybe boys wouldn’t be interested in girls that climbed trees like monkeys. Nevertheless, I managed to climb up there for a couple of years and had lots of fun without getting injured unless you counted that one time that I slipped and scraped most of the skin off my knee.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite so lucky on the ground. Roller skating is always dangerous and there weren’t any helmets and knee pads back then so I tried to practice landing softly. The bike was a different story. I loved my bike and riding fast was exciting. Most of the time I could manage to stop or fall on the grass if necessary.

But one day my friend Kay and I were riding and as usual I was going pretty fast. This one day I was riding down the block where I rode every day and practicing my famous “no hands” maneuver when all of a sudden I hit this giant root that I swear was not there the day before when I had ridden down this very same street. For anyone not familiar with the kind of roots that centuries old oak tree have, just know that they are big, they grow bigger overnight, and they line every single sidewalk in town.

Well, if there had been such a thing as America’s Funniest Videos at the time, I would have won the prize. My bike tire hit the tree root and turned sideways just enough to throw me off balance and over the same handlebars that I had not been holding onto landing me headfirst into the giant oak tree that had spawned the root from Hell. I lay there for a couple of minutes before Kay reached me and was screaming, “Oh no, are you dead?” My head felt like someone had clubbed me with the tree root but I had to answer because she was screaming loud enough to wake the dead.

With Kay’s help, I managed to get up and make it home. I was bloody from head to toe but apparently, my knees and elbows had taken the brunt of the impact. My face was bruised and scraped and my eye had started to swell already. Neither of us was smart enough to get ice. Our first aid training was primitive at best but Kay decided that my injuries needed to be bandaged so she got a roll of toilet tissue and proceeded to wrap me like a mummy. The blood was coming through and I’m sure it was quite a site but I hurt too bad to complain. I didn’t even try to stop her from calling my mother at work.

Laying there with the side of my head aching I heard her telling whoever answered the phone at the dry cleaners where my mother worked that they should tell her to come home right away; that June was almost dead.

I could only imagine what my mother would say when she got home but I was pretty sure that if I didn’t die from my injuries, that she might kill me herself. Of course she didn’t. She rushed home and took one look at my black eye and the bloody toilet tissue covering my body, and started to cry. I felt worse from that than I had from the fall. I convinced her that I wasn’t going to die but just needed to stay home from school for a long time to recover. In fact, I felt so bad for scaring her that I promised to never, ever ride my bike without hands again.

Eventually, I recovered from my injuries and even though it was hard, I kept my promise to hold onto the handle bars while riding my bike. It probably helped that shortly after I discovered boys and I’m sure my mother must have been happy about that so she wouldn’t have to worry about me anymore.

Lions and Tigers and Ostrich, Oh My!

We are fortunate to have a neat amusement park,, only a few miles from where I live. It was voted number three for best zoos by USA Travel. Over the years I have gone from taking it for granted to really appreciating it for what it is. When I was trying to think of something fun to do with a few of the grandkids during Spring Break, it seemed to be the perfect thing.

The safari itself is really unique. Upon entering you are given a disc to insert into your CD player and you can follow along with the animals that you are seeing as you drive along. Yesterday, we were treated to many sightings because the weather was not too hot so they were all active.

Even though there is a special area of the park for the ostriches, no one apparently told them because they are everywhere. They are quite funny to watch. When my grandson, Kyle, was about three we were driving through and he hit the window button just as an Ostrich decided to stick its head in. The kids were all screaming and I almost ran off the road trying to find the right button to get the window up and locked. It’s funny now but at the time I didn’t think so.

We didn’t have any mishaps yesterday but we did laugh a lot about Kyle’s earlier encounter with the ostrich. A huge ostrich was standing in the road and wouldn’t move so the cars had to drive around her and she would try to stare you down as you passed and bob her head at you. Who knows what she was thinking but we told Kyle she was looking for him.

One of our highlights driving through the preserve was seeing a new white rhino name Jazzy. She was with her mother and so cute. I always am a little nervous driving past the rhinos. We’ve had them decide to cross the road just as we approached and that is a little scary to see that huge animal directly in front of your vehicle. Even in a large SUV, you really feel quite vulnerable. One of the larger ones looked at us yesterday as if he were thinking of coming over but we didn’t stop to look very long.

The African elephants are on a little island with a moat around it and secured by a tall fence. You are close enough to see them playing and giving themselves sand and water baths. If you sit long enough you’ll see them mosey over to their feeding area to eat.

There are numerous other animals: impalas, water buffalo, wildebeests, zebras, giraffes and of course the lions. The area where the lions are kept used to be completely open and you could drive through with the lions walking around the vehicles but now they’ve fenced in their area to “protect them”. We saw a few males and several females mostly sleeping but we did see the male walk around and find himself a new spot to sleep. He looked quite happy because of all the lionesses around him.

We passed the island where the chimps are kept and watched them playing and swinging on their tire swings and climbing across the ropes that go from one little hut to another. They are very entertaining and you could spend several minutes watching them but it was getting close to lunch so we had to get a move on.

The giraffes are the last exhibit you pass and they are so beautiful. There were several walking around and eating from tall feeders. Sometimes they walk across the road and tower over your vehicle looking down at you. Later we would walk over to the elevated stand built to feed them. You can buy cookies and stand there and they’ll come over and take them from your hand. We, umm the kids that is, love this. The giraffes are so soft and they have those big beautiful eyes and they are so sweet.

You drive through large gates and leave the preserve and head to the parking lot. Our first stop would be lunch because everyone is now starving. There’s a nice little restaurant and we had a pleasant lunch and headed out to ride the carousel and after that the mini golf where I was insulted and complimented all in one by the six year old grandson who is hysterical. It took me about five times to get the ball in on one of the holes and I lamented that I had not done too well. My adorable grandson said, “Oh, Nana I think you did awesome for an ………old………..person.” I was laughing so hard that I forgot to be annoyed that he thinks I’m old. Ahhhhhhhhhhh………………………..

On to the Ferris wheel and to feed the sting rays which are a special visiting exhibit. The sting rays were fun to feed but of course as soon as I stuck my hand with my little piece of raw fish in the water, the largest one in the tank swam directly to me. I was sure I’d lose a finger but he gently took the fish and I was left with all fingers intact. We spent a good bit of time there and several minutes afterwards washing the smelly raw fish off our hands.

The petting zoo was quite fun and we enjoyed feeding the goats especially. They were very excited to see our food and one of the more exuberant ones jumped up on the six year old almost knocking him down. He took it well though after I explained the goat only wanted the food but he suggested I carry the little cup after that.

We watched an alligator show and saw all sorts of birds and snakes and iguanas which made me think I was in my back yard for a couple of minutes. The huge land tortoises are always fun to watch, if you look closely and long enough you might see one of them twitch their mouth or move his head slightly. Hey, it’s the simple things.

Hard to believe but we had spent four hours after all of this and it was time to think about leaving for home but first we had to do something very important….have ice cream.

Love Lived Here

I almost missed the turn because the road was covered with overgrown weeds and tree branches. It was obvious that no one had travelled this way in quite some time. As I pushed the gate, it fell into pieces. The road was not really in any condition to be driving over but I had no choice, something was pulling me, making me go.

The rain had washed the road away in some spots leaving huge cavernous holes that were hard to avoid but I knew that if I went into one that I’d never get my car out and it was getting late in the day. I really didn’t want to be stuck out here in the dark. The huge trees lining the narrow road already seemed ominous and as silly as it seems, unfriendly as if they were unhappy that I had come. They are the sentries standing guard to this place and I was an intruder. I almost laughed at that, how could I be an intruder when I own the place?

Finally, up ahead I could see a clearing and knew that just beyond that I would finally reach my destination. So many years had passed since I had been in this spot and so much had happened. But being here, all that seemed so far away and this place felt more familiar. The emotional storm I felt brewing made me wonder if maybe it was too soon for me to be here.

My heart almost stopped beating when I arrived. The little cottage looked so alone and so forsaken, just as I must have looked the day that I left. I close my eyes and remember how it looked then, all tidy and neat and warm, filled with love. But that was before. Now it was filled with other memories, memories that wake me in the night and leave me soaked with sweat. Fear does that to you and now, I felt that same fear and I was not even sleeping.

I knew I should drive away telling myself it was not necessary to enter. I had made the journey here and that should be enough to satisfy the doctor’s insistence that I return to face this. But as if in a trance, I climbed out of the car and walked to the door. For just a second, my mind went back to the past when love lived here and the door would open to a warm fire in the fireplace and delicious smells coming from the kitchen. My grandmother would greet me wiping her hands on her apron before grabbing me and giving me hugs and kisses. The sun would be shining in the windows that sparkled and soft music would be playing and I would feel happy and safe.

As I walked inside, those happy thoughts were gone immediately as I was greeted by the musty smells of a house that had been closed for years. Reaching for the light switch, I was glad that I remembered to have the power turned back on. Even though there was a few hours left of daylight the house was pitch black. The lights revealed what I had suspected; everything was just as we left it. No one had cleaned up after that night and the shock of seeing it even after all this time was more that I can bear. The screaming and the yelling started going through my head and I covered my ears to try to stop it but it was still there and wouldn’t go away. Finally I got control of myself and tried to walk further into the house but the glass on the floor was crunching with every step.

I thought that perhaps cleaning up the mess and getting the cottage back the way it was, I could rid my mind of the terrible memories and replace them with the good memories before. I found a broom and dustpan to sweep up the glass from the lamps and figurines and tried not to think of how much my grandmother loved her figurines. I put the furniture back in place and dusted away the cobwebs and wiped down the walls and fireplace mantle. It looked better but I knew that I yet had to scrub the floors in the hallway where it happened. That would be much harder to do and I wasn’t sure that I could do it. I walked back towards the bedrooms and was surprised that there was no sign of the struggle and the blood was gone. How could that be when no one had been here since that night? The bedroom door at the end of the hall was closed and as I got closer, I thought I heard a noise coming from the room. Obviously I was imagining it but I could swear that it was music. My heart was beating so hard that I felt that you could hear it outside my body as I turned the doorknob. Slowly, I opened the door and almost fell to my knees. There was my grandmother sitting in her rocker by the window smiling at me. She looked just like she did the last time I saw her before she was brutally murdered in the hallway trying to stop the intruder from getting to my room.

She smiled at me and reached out her hand and said, “My darling girl, you’ve come to visit me at last. I’ve missed you so much and I was so worried about you. Come, let me look at you.”

Even knowing that this could not be real, I was so happy to see my grandmother that I ran to her and reached to hug her. She felt real and warm and smelled just like she always smelled with that faint lavender fragrance that she loved. I cried and held on to her for hours it seemed but later I realized that it was just a few seconds. She held my hands and told me that she loved me and I should forget all the bad things that happened and go on with my life. She told me that she was happy and would always be with me in my heart and now I should leave this place and return to my world. I tried to hold on to her but she was starting to fade away and I knew that I couldn’t keep her. She had to return to her world as surely as I had to return to mine.

I closed the door and walked to the living room and out the front door for the last time. The darkness was beginning to take over the woods and I knew I needed to leave. Driving out of the woods I felt lighter and free at last. My heart didn’t ache and I could almost feel my grandmother’s presence. She knew that I needed to hear that she was happy and see her the way she had been before she was murdered.

No one believed my story of course but that’s okay, it wasn’t necessary that anyone else believe it. I sold the property and the cottage was torn down. A family built a new cottage just a little further down, nearer the lake. I think my grandmother would have approved.

The final chapter in my story of that horrible night is that the killer is being executed today. He’ll pay for brutally killing my grandmother and trying to kill me but I won’t be attending the execution. I don’t want to see that monster ever again. My grandmother gave me back my good and happy memories when I saw her at the cottage and I no longer feel the need to see her killer suffer.

I Am the Color Red

I am the color red.
I’m a dozen roses delivered on her birthday.
I’m the suit that Santa wears on Christmas morning when he brings presents to children across the land.
I’m a shiny new wagon that a little boy puts his dog in and pulls happily down the street.
I’m a Valentine given to the prettiest girl in the class at school.
I’m the shiny apple a child shyly places on his teacher’s desk.
I’m the flashy little convertible racing down the street causing heads to turn.
I’m the sun setting into the ocean at the end of a beautiful day.
I’m the stripes in Old Glory flying proudly in the wind.
I’m the lipstick she puts on before walking out the door.

I’m the blood that runs freely on the streets of our cities and on the battlefields in a foreign land.
I am the color red.

Big Girls Don't Cry

When I read the challenge, I wasn’t sure that I would write anything. Nothing seemed to come to mind until I noticed a stack of CD’s on my desk that I’d been downloading to my computer. Jersey Boys was on top and when I started reading down the list of songs Big Girls Don’t Cry caught my attention and this is where it took me.

“Stop that! Don’t you dare embarrass me by sniffling and crying. You’re a big girl and big girls don’t cry”, she said.

“What are you doing now? Pay attention to the preacher. Do you want people to think that you don’t care that this is your mama’s funeral? Sit up straight and act like a young lady!”

I stopped breathing so I could hold back the tears and tried to make myself pretend that I was walking in the park and the birds were singing and the sun’s rays were shining through the tree branches and my mama was holding my hand and talking to me in her sweet voice.

“Carrie Anne, get down here this instant! I just came from the hairdresser and everyone in there was talking about you creating a scene at school yesterday when you didn’t get the part in the play. What is wrong with you? Do you know how embarrassing that is to me to hear that you are behaving like that? Look at you, your face is all red and swollen from crying. You are a young lady, not an infant. I won’t have you acting like this. Do you understand me? Big girls don’t cry! Now get busy doing your chores and forget this nonsense.”

Immediately, I started to block out what she was saying and retreated as I always did to my own little world where I didn’t have to listen to her badger me about not showing my emotions. Just because I was thirteen didn’t mean that I didn’t feel the need to cry over disappointments and sad events in my life. But then I guess I’d have to cry all the time if I cried every time I was sad. My entire life since Mama died when I was seven had been sad.

“Push and stop that crying and screeching! Women have babies all the time! Just do what you’re supposed to do so we can get this over with. This is all your fault for going out and getting yourself pregnant and bringing shame to our home. After all I’ve done for you, how could you do this to me? Stop that crying right now! You’re not a baby, you’re having a baby. Big girls don’t cry!”

As much as it hurt to have the baby, I knew that my real pain was going to come when the baby was born and taken from me without my even getting to hold her. I knew that my heart would break when that happened but I also knew that it would happen. How could I take care of a baby when I was only fifteen?

“Don’t think that you are going to leave this house, young lady! After what you did, I’ll be watching you every minute. You’ll go to school and church and that’s it. The policeman was kind to bring you home instead of taking you to the police station with the rest of the riff raff that you were with. You have no idea how I have sacrificed to give you a home. And all you do is bring me grief and sorrow and embarrassment! Your mama would be so ashamed if she were here to see this. Stop crying, big girls don’t cry! You’re lucky you aren’t in jail right now for parading around with signs and showing disrespect to our country! Look at you in that garb you’re wearing with all those flowers; it looks like a peasant’s dress! Get upstairs to your room. I can’t bear to look at you another minute!”

My friends would hopefully be happier in the jail cells than I was here with her. How could she not see that all we were doing was trying to bring attention to all the young boys dying in rice paddies so far away and for what? Our friends were coming back in body bags or so injured that they would never have normal lives again. We couldn’t just do nothing.

“Excuse me, Miss, are you a relative? Please, I’ll take you to see your aunt. She’s in here. We’ve tried to get her prepared as well as we could but she wasn’t found for awhile after her death and the decomposure process had started. I’m afraid she doesn’t look well enough to have an open viewing. Perhaps you need someone with you when you go in to see her. It’s not a pretty sight. I am so very sorry for your loss. Here, please take some tissues.”

Oh, don’t worry about me. Please, I’ll be fine. I’m a big girl and big girls don’t cry.