Monday, February 19, 2024

What Do You Need to Stay Warm?

An elderly homeless woman in a worldly-possession laden wheelchair sat next to a very busy Atlanta street as we pulled up to the stoplight. Granddaughter has deep feelings about street people and homelessness, so it didn't surprise me when she reached into her bookbag to grab her wallet. 

Quick as a flash she grabbed a $20 bill, rolled down the window, and handed it to the woman. (OK, we can talk about why she was carrying around so much money, but that's not what matters here.) The woman was so, so grateful, thanking Charlotte over and over, with Charlotte nodding and waving.

As we pulled away I asked "Did you mean to give her $20? That's a lot of money." 

"Well, what do you need to stay warm? I wanted her to have enough money to help. Maybe she can buy a blanket or another sweater or a good hot meal." 

Now, before you go off on the standard cynical "yeah but she'll use it for drugs or booze," first: you don't know that, and second: Charlotte's response to that is "if it keeps her warm for a while . . . " The point being, she doesn't care how the woman spends the money. If it helps the woman, even temporarily, then she's fine with it. 

The goodness and human connection of the moment - a 10-year-old kid reaching out to an older homeless woman in a wheelchair on a busy Atlanta street corner -  is a core memory for me, demonstrating our common humanity. I'm sure it was for Charlotte. And I hope it was for the woman.

Twenty dollars was a gift of love and a small price to pay. It was worth its weight in gold.

Monday, May 08, 2023

Early Morning Tea and Favorites

Last night Charlotte and I hit the sack by 10:00, tired after a day soaking up a little sun around the pool, making brownies, and watching scary movies. We fell asleep within a few minutes, but I woke up a little before 4am with a cough. Not wanting to disturb Charlotte, I slipped out of bed and went out to make a cup of tea to soothe my throat.

As I was making the tea, I turned and there stood Charlotte. I apologized for waking her, but she assured me she was fine and asked for some tea for herself (with two lemons - I think she only likes tea for the lemons). 

"Let's take our tea to the bedroom and talk," she suggested. So that's what we did. We sat up in bed with our tea and decided to play the "favorites" game. 

Favorite movie? Too hard. Be more specific. Favorite musical? Me: Mary Poppins (also my overall favorite movie) C: Wicked (not a movie musical, but I let it pass). Scary movie? Me: Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte or Halloween. C: Scream (yeah, I let her watch Scream and Scream 2 - she's my horror movie compatriot - not much scares her). And on and on through various movie genres.

We both agreed that Wilma Flintstone was our favorite cartoon character, by the way. 

After going through our favorite vacations (summer + winter), favorite teachers, and down a list of other topics, we finished our tea, getting drowsier and drowsier. Within the hour, we were all favorited out and just wanted to get back to sleep. 

Lights out. Love you, sweet girl. And off to sleep for a few more hours. 

Tea and early morning favorites - how memories are made. 

Tuesday, April 04, 2023

Will There Be An Easter? Not Without The Ukulele.

When dear Harry Pritchett was rector of All Saints' back in the 80s and 90s, the 9 o'clock Easter morning service was a sight to behold. It was truly a child-focused extravaganza. Children were encouraged to bring flowers to flower the funny little chicken wire cross that was stationed in front of the choir section, as well as their mite boxes that they'd been putting pennies in throughout Lent. 

All the children in the parish - even the toddlers from the nursery (thank you, nursery workers for shepherding them) - were invited to bring their flowers and mite boxes up to the altar to numerous verses of "Welcome, Happy Morning," while clergy frantically stuffed the crushed and funny flowers into the chicken wire cross as the kids filed up. I'm sure the clergy hated that part, but too bad. The scene was hilarious and festive. 

It was a most wonderful Easter parade, as all the children in their little suits and fluffy dresses and bonnets crowded up to the front. It was a chance to see all the kiddos in their finery. A great gathering of All Saints' youngsters crowded up in front of the altar and settled in for what was to come. 

So there's Harry wearing his white bucks under all the Easter robes. He says a few words to the kids, asking them questions about the meaning of Easter. And then - out comes the ukulele, and the children and the whole congregation knows what's coming next. 

Now, Harry wrote a song years ago that I've heard sung not only at All Saints' but around the church called "God is a Surprise." And that's where the ukulele comes in -  to accompany his rendition of "Surprise."

        Moses tended sheep upon a mountain
        He hardly noticed when
        A burning bush said (and here Harry would pause, look back at the kids, and they would shout)
        Set my people free and take them to my land.
        'That couldn't be my God,' he said.
        'He'd have a better plan."

        (Then the whole congregation would join in the chorus)
        Surprise, surprise, God is a surprise!
        Right before your eyes,
        It's baffling to the wise.
        Surprise, surprise, God is a surprise!
        Open up your eyes and see!

The song goes on for a few more verses, gets to the crucifixion, and the Sunday "surprise" and ends with:

        Seek our God in hope, moving as he goes
        With justice, grace, and love in anything that grows.
        In anything at all he suddenly may be,
        'cause everything is his, you know, especially you and me.

        Well, surprise, surprise, God is a surprise!
        Right before your eyes,
        It's baffling to the wise.
        Surprise, surprise, God is a surprise!
        Open up your eyes and see!
Then Harry would shout, "Broadway ending!"

        Open up your eyes! And! See!

Lots of clapping and laughter ensued, as poor Ray Chenault would start up "He Is Risen" to play the kids off the altar and back to their parents or the nursery. Yeah, it took about seven or eight verses of that one, too. It was joyous and beautiful and funny and chaotic and loving and crazy and sweet. Alas, I have no photos or recordings of those wild and woolly Easter morning services, which breaks my heart. 

But getting back to that ukulele.

When Kate was four years old, Allison Pritchett asked to have her come over for a visit one afternoon. Allison was impatient for grandchildren, so until her three children married and gave her some real grands (which they did, by the way), Kate was sort of her stand-in grandchild. Anyway, it happened to be Maundy Thursday, which is neither here nor there, except that at some point, Harry comes tearing though the door, asking "Have you seen my ukulele? It's not at the office, and I have to find it for Easter!"

Well, as Allison told it to me, 4-year-old Kate's eyes got big, and she said, "Oh! Will there be an Easter?" 

No, child. No Easter without Harry's ukulele. (kidding)

Fortunately for all, Harry found the instrument before Sunday, so Easter came, indeed. Because God and Harry are full of surprises. 

I miss that service. I miss all the parish children gathering at the altar. I miss singing forty-eleven verses of "Welcome Happy Morning" and "He is Risen." I miss those crushed little flowers in chicken wire and the falling-apart mite boxes. 

And I really miss that ukulele. Happy Easter, y'all. 

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Oh, the Noise Noise Noise Noise!

Most people pray for world peace. Finding a cure for cancer. An end to anything having to do with the Kardashians. And while I pray for those things, too, top of my list right now is a world free of leaf blowers. 

Want/need to sleep in? Forget it. Even if there is no visible debris - leaf or otherwise - within your eyesight, leaf blower wielders spend just enough time blowing around invisible leaves under you window for as long as it will take for you to give up on your morning's rest.

Think you can escape it at work? Sorry, no. A battalion of leaf blowers stand ready to shatter the few peaceful moments it takes for you to get from your car to inside the building.

I'm completely flummoxed by the need for these things. Here's what I've observed:

  • Leaf blowers only work between 5am and 9am.
  • It takes 30 times longer to blow whatever it is being blown into a pile with a leaf blower than it does using a rake.
  • Leaf blowers emit 5000 decibels when in use (okay, really between 80-112 dB, but still), ensuring deafness within a few minutes for the worker not wearing noise-cancelling earphones and causing nerve-traumatizing, teeth-grinding migraines to anyone within 1/2 a mile away (my estimate).
  • They stink.
Peace on earth? How about peace under my 4th floor window? How about peace on my walk between the parking lot and the office door? 

Solution: Buy a rake, or what we used to call a yard broom. The job will be finished in 1/25th of the time it takes to wrangle those leaves, twigs, and other debris into a neat pile with a blower. You'll get exercise. You'll save money on noise-cancelling earphones and stinky gas/electricity.

I stand by my belief that making leaf blowers extinct will add to joy and peace on earth. (Reminder: buy a rake.)

Sunday, January 01, 2023

Next Up: 2023

Lots of positive things have happened since 2019, and I have photos, videos, and journal ramblings to prove it. But I have to say that the last three years have taken a toll. I have a weariness in my bones and spirit caused by a combination of a global pandemic and bat-shit crazy Trump and his followers. And COVID was the lesser of those two things. At least Joe Biden's president and we Georgians re-elected Raphael Warnock to the senate. Glimmers of hope.

So, onward to 2023. I really enjoy my part-time work at Atlanta History Center. I enjoy the variety of work in an interesting environment. The grandkids are doing great. Liam is healthier than he's been since September 2021, and he continues to excel at school and hockey. Charlotte is energetic and positive, doing wonderful things in choir and handbells, Girl Scouts, and dance. Kate and Greg have a business that's booming. Positive vibes to hang on to. 

My point is that, for me, the past three years and the beat-down of the previous president's term have taken more of a toll on me than I admit. I make no resolutions for the new year, but I will strive to continue to heal within and without. Shoot, I'm 71, so I don't have a ton of time left. I want to make the best of it. 

Next up: 2023. Go git 'em!

Friday, December 16, 2022

The Ghosts of Christmas Presents

How many Christmas presents do you remember, either those given or those received? I started thinking about this as I was feeling bad about my current present-buying or lack thereof. Just how many presents that I've gotten over seven decades do I remember? 

The ones I most remember are the ones from Santa when I was growing up. The year I got my shoe skates and Brownie watch. The year we got the Flintstones bowling set and Give-a-Show Projector. The year I got a transistor radio and book about the American Revolution. The year I got my hot rollers. Beyond that, I really don't remember many Christmas gifts that I've gotten over the years, though they have been plentiful. 

And what about the presents I've given? Honestly, I can't remember many. When I was 6 or 7 Daddy took us shopping, and I got Mother a little blue metallic jewelry box (couldn't have held much more than safety pins and pennies) that played The Blue Danube when you lifted the lid. Mother had that on her dresser for years and years. 

Hm. Let's see. I give Liam the annual Hess truck every Christmas, so this one should be number 13 for him. (Yes, he has a great collection.) And I gave Kate and Greg a Nespresso machine last year. No clue what I've given the kids and grandkids, brothers, sisters, and sundry other folks beyond that over the years. I suspect they don't remember, either.

What I'm coming to realize is that, obviously, the presents don't matter. Yes, yes, something to open on Christmas morning, but the specifics of the gifts are irrelevant. Unwrapping is fun, but the contents are usually forgettable. 

Slowly, we're trying to move away from "things" and concentrate more on "experiences" - performances, events, travel, fun times together. Trading presents for presence. Still, everybody likes to unwrap stuff, so I need to figure out that part. Sigh. 

Oh! I did get a Soda Stream last Christmas that I use all the time. But that leaves quite a gap between hot rollers in 1968 and seltzer gas in 2021. I know those Ghosts of Christmas Presents are floating around somewhere, but somehow they don't seem that important. Ho ho ho.

Friday, October 21, 2022

Submitted for Your Horror Reading Pleasure

I love scary stuff. Movies. Performance Art. Amusement park rides. But especially a good book that will make me perk up my ears for imagined eerie sounds and get my heart racing a little.

Now, I’m not into extreme gore or sexed-up horror, just the good old-fashioned unexplained, unexpected, whoa-I-though-you-were-dead! kind. Things that go bump in the night. Why is that wall dripping blood? I do love a good Stephen King and 70s-80s classics by the likes of Thomas Tryon or Peter Straub, but I've broadened my reach over the time to include a diverse group of writers who have added new layers to the genre for me.

So in the spirit of the season, here’s a list of my best horror/thriller reads over the past couple of years. I won’t give you a synopsis of the stories, maybe just a side-note or two:

The Good House by Tananarive Due. Listen, if you’re not reading horror/thriller stories by African American writers, you are missing out on some of the best storytelling on offer. Due is amazing. This one blew me away!

The Midnight Man by Caroline Mitchell. “If you open your door to the Midnight Man, hide with a candle wherever you can. Try not to scream as he draws near, because one of you won't be leaving here.”

When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole. Another wonderful African American storyteller. Still has one of the most evocative sentences ever written: “I stopped myself before I stepped on that particular Lego of regret.” Ouch!

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. Ah, there’s nothing like a crumbling Georgian house, gardens choked with weeds, and a clock in its stable yard permanently fixed at twenty to nine to get the heart pumping!

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle. When Black folks write horror/thriller stories, there’s usually an added element of the particular horrors they face daily just by being Black. Read and learn. But mainly enjoy creepy-great storytelling.

Ghost Summer by Tananarive Due. A collection of short stories, most of which I wanted turned into to full blown novels. Due pulls me along, and I just want more. Love her writing.

The Village by Caroline Mitchell. Another one by Mitchell. Where did the Harper family go?

Can Such Things Be? by Ambrose Bierce. Short stories full of ghostly apparitions, many involving the effects of post-Civil War US, by a noted American journalist. Wasn’t sure I’d like these tales, but full marks for creepiness. Of course, the biggest mystery of all: whatever happened to Ambrose Bierce? (Look it up.)

Okay. I have a lot more, but you should find something here to keep you up at night.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Why I'm a Big-City Girl

I've watched a lot of true crime lately. Not sure why I've fallen down that rabbit hole, but it's kept me entertained (entertained??) as the world burns around us. I'm also a huge fan of horror movies - the haunted house-kind, not the blood-and-guts kind - which is also a worthy escape genre in this day and time. Both true crime and horror serve to remind me why I favor big city, urban craziness over small town certain death.

Ninety-nine percent of true crime shows start something like this: "Dingleberry, West Virginia. A small town two hundred miles away from the noise and culture of a population center, where everybody knows each other and lends a helping hand when needed. Just like Mayberry." Horror movies start the same way, but these virtues are usually enacted rather than narrated. And then the slaughter comes.

Now, I was raised in a small city, yes, watching The Andy Griffith Show, and nothing terrified me more - well, OK, daddy longlegs terrified me, too - than the idea of having to live out my life in a Mayberry, however charming the TV denizens might be. Shoot, I didn't even want to live out my life in that small hometown city, as I was constantly looking longingly down the road to the energy and excitement of Atlanta. And had I been able to see a future that included living and working in the greatest of all cities, New York, I would've probably just died in ecstasy before actually living that dream. 

So, no. I was never a small town/small city girl. No, I do not want to live in a place where I know everyone and where everyone knows my business. And I certainly don't want to live in a place with a per capita murder rate way higher than NYC (yeah, look it up), full of secrets, illicit liaisons, and ax murderers. Big cities have all those things right out in the open - no sneaking around -  and with so many people that the odds of your murder are pretty slim. But small towns? Yikes! 

And while my reasons for being a big-city girl have their foundations in the desire to live smack in the middle of a cultural, educational, and financial center, I've gotta say that I breathe a sigh of great relief after watching the horror and true crime of some picayune little Mayberry. 

Now, excuse me while I watch yet another grisly small-town crime story as the sound of big-city traffic and sirens outside my windows supply comforting white noise to the whole affair. 

Friday, May 20, 2022

Servant of the People: Fiction to Fact

The Ukrainian television series, Servant of the People (2015 to 2019), is currently airing on Netflix. It stars and was produced by Volodymyr Zelenskyy - yes, actual President of Ukraine -and follows a high school history teacher who, thanks to a rant about government corruption caught on video by one of his students and uploaded to YouTube with 8 million views, becomes the unlikely president of . . .  you guessed it . . . Ukraine. 

I can't turn away from it. Yes, it's subtitled, but you get used to that quickly. 

The storyline is poignant and hopeful and funny and way too true. Every corrupt thing Ukraine faces - selfish politicians who enrich themselves and their cronies, gotcha' media hounds, crazy families, global entanglements - every government faces. Yep, there's even a defeated president who refuses to leave his office. Very prescient (remember, this was 2015). 

And whenever this TV president needs to get the attention of fighting parliament members or citizen hordes, he shouts: "Putin has resigned!" stopping people in their tracks. ("Not really" he apologizes, once he has their attention.) I guess the real President Zelenskyy feels that more than ever now. 

Watching Zelenskyy these last few months, fighting desperately for his country and against Putin, then watching his very political television series is mind-blowing. He is adorable (yeah, sorry, he is), he is smart, he is funny. And he loves his country.

I'm learning so much about Ukraine - a modern, beautiful country. It's also affirming to see that people and politics aren't so different the world over.  

I'm dreaming of a world where we have more history teacher world leaders and fewer lawyers and business folk. It couldn't hurt. 

The good people of the world are on your side, President Zelenskyy. (And thanks for Servant of the People!)

Monday, May 02, 2022

Simple Gifts

Sometimes the most ordinary things bring joy. 

Today I planted a fresh crop of red geraniums in my balcony boxes. Just seeing the splashes of red against the green outside my windows helps me breathe better. My heartbeat eases. Shoulders relax. Stress evaporates. 

Red geraniums are my favorite flowers. Always have been. Mother told me once that red geraniums were Mama's (her mother, my grandmother) favorite, too, and that I must have inherited that love from her. Well, I don't know about that, since Mama and I were never that close, but I do like the family connection.

I also planted a bunch of zinnia seeds. Zinnias were Daddy's favorite. We had this little flower garden next to our driveway at my growing-up house, and every year we'd planted lots of zinnias (he called them "old maids") and marigolds. He especially loved the zinnias, so I do this in his memory. I hope they bloom like crazy, because I love those old maids, too. 

Take joy wherever you find it. Simple gifts are usually the best.