Small Town, Georgia, Girl

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           I have a new baseball cap that labels me as exactly who I am. It says “Small Town Girl”. It has a map of Georgia embroidered on it with a star designating my approximate location in the state. It was a gift, and I love it!

I guess I’ve always been a small town girl, even though I was born in Piedmont Hospital in downtown Atlanta, Georgia, in 1948. But even though I was born in a large hospital in Georgia’s capital city, I never claimed Atlanta as my own.

I grew up in Decatur, Georgia, which during the 50s and 60s was indeed a small town. We were six miles from downtown Atlanta, which to the child that I was seemed like an awfully long way from home. It was too far to walk, so we had to take the trolley if we wanted to go downtown to go shopping at Rich’s. My mother didn’t drive a car, meaning that most of our shopping was done right there in Decatur. It was when Mama needed patterns and fabric to make clothes for my sister and me that we dressed up like we were going to Sunday School, hopped on the trolley near the Decatur train station three blocks from our house, and spent the entire day downtown, getting off the trolley back home in Decatur late in the afternoon, just in time for Mama to prepare our family supper. Sometime in my adolescent years, Decatur lost her small town status to become part of Metropolitan Atlanta. But she remained a small town for me until long after I moved away at the age of sixteen. Today, even though Decatur retains much of her small town charm, the traffic congestion and difficulty in finding a place to park that doesn’t cost me an arm and a leg, along with the variety of pricey restaurants, remind me that she really doesn’t qualify for “small town” status in my mind anymore. Even the houses on the street where I grew up are now priced so far out of my reach when they go on the market to be sold, I could never afford to live there these days!

Enter Monroe, Georgia, the small town I have called home for the past five years. Now, this little town reminds me more of the Decatur where I grew up than any place I know. Yes, we have our traffic snarls on Broad Street, especially when the big trucks are trying to get through town on their way from one of the interstates to the other, and when I am trying to come out of the Walmart parking lot during rush hour or on Saturday. It’s a lovely little town, with friendly people, welcoming churches, a terrific little community theater, a Saturday farmer’s market, lots of small shops for browsing and purchasing interesting items of all kinds, safe places to walk my little dog Sunshine, a strong medical community, and the warm touch of Georgia hospitality. People here wave as they drive by, and they pause on the sidewalk to say hello to my dog. They don’t ignore me as I walk past and will look at me and greet me with a smile.

If you had told me ten years ago that I would be living in Monroe, Georgia, I probably would have shaken my head, pondered in my mind just where Monroe is on the Georgia map, furrowed my brow, and asked, “Where? Why?” It isn’t important why or how I landed in Monroe, but I am happy that I did. I was even able to purchase a small home – one that I could afford – to set down a root or two. I am making this my home for awhile and claim this little town as my own, even though I am a transplant.

Small Town, Georgia, is a good place for someone like me. I live a simple life, enjoy listening to the birds singing in the trees around my home and watching the deer in the park, appreciate that nothing that I need is further than 10 minutes away by car (and I could walk if I had to!), and have made some very good friends. All this, and more, are what make me a true blue “Small Town Girl.”

In the novel that I wrote, “Fishbowls and Birdcages,” the main character was someone like me, a person who moved around from town to town, never quite belonging, and never sure just where Home was. She finally found her place, and it, too, was in Small Town, Georgia, although hers was a fictional town. She learned that the saying, “bloom where you are planted,” had a positive meaning for her as she developed her own identity and strength through her faith in God. Fran found her place, and I have found mine.

Yes, I am now officially a Small Town Georgia Girl. My new hat is proof of it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Help Me Make It Through the Night

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The telephone awakened me from a sound sleep. My bedside clock showed that it was a few minutes past 1:00am. Caller ID on my phone informed me that the caller was my friend, Bill. What could he want to talk about at this hour of the night. We had talked earlier in the evening for almost an hour.

Bill apologized for waking me up. The sound of his voice told me that something was wrong. I couldn’t get him to share with me what was on his mind, or why he called me at this ungodly hour, even though I asked him more than once what was the matter. Rather than quiz him further or demand an explanation, which it was obvious I wasn’t going to get, I simply asked him, “Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Talk to me, “ he replied. “Please help me make it through the night.”

Only a couple of days earlier we had been talking on the phone about our favorite song writers, and Kris Kristofferson came up in the conversation, where we had agreed that we both liked his music, and this song in particular.

“Talk to me,” he repeated.

“Would you like for me to tell you a story?” I asked.

“Yes, please.”

Drawing from my writing and my collection of days, I began telling him about a game my sister and I played as children, Runaway Orphans. Since Bill and I both grew up in the same town, he was familiar with the places my sister and I visited when we played this special game. I embellished the story and added drama to it in an attempt to entertain Bill with its telling and perhaps help him get whatever was troubling him off of his mind.

When I finished, he said to me, “Tell me another one.”

I then went into the story about the day I ran away from home when I was five years old.

“Another one?”

I dug deeper into my childhood, recalling our family tradition of making homemade peach ice cream on the Fourth of July every year and about my job of sitting on top of the churn while Daddy turned the crank. From there, I went into the story about my special brother, Johnny, and a story about my daddy’s pocket watch. As I finished this story, I realized I had been talking for well over two hours, and that it was very quiet on the other end of the line.

“Are you still there? Are you feeling any better now?” I asked.

Bill’s voice, barely above a whisper, answered, “Yes, I think I am.”

“Do you want me to tell you any more stories?”

“No, I think I’ll be ok now. Thank you.” And he hung up, leaving me wondering what had just happened. It was now 4:30am.

Bill never told me why he needed me that night. The next evening when we talked, I commented, “Well, we made it through the night last night, didn’t we?”

“Yes, “ he said. “And it was no small feat. I’ll forever be grateful to you for staying on the phone with me all night long.”

I never learned what was troubling Bill that night. Over the course of our three-year friendship, I discovered that he had his own demons he was battling, and little by little, one by one, he shared a few of them with me. He also recalled tidbits of his history and life as a journalist – he truly had the gift of the story teller, and could have me laughing uncontrollably or sympathizing with tears running down my face as he’d relate a tale from his past.

Bill also encouraged me as a writer. He never completely understood my style of writing – I am not a journalist or reporter, but a weaver of tales and a painter using words instead of paint of my memories and adventures through life. He would sometimes tell me that I needed to step away and be more objective in my writing, that I put too much of myself into it. I’d politely disagree with him, and he’d keep on complimenting me on my writing, even though I didn’t take this piece of advice. He said on many occasions that I was a better writer than he was. That wasn’t true. He was a gifted writer, a diligent researcher, and an extraordinary communicator through the written word. I could never do what he did.

One thing that Bill told me often was that he didn’t believe he would live to be an old man. He once said that he didn’t think he would live to see 70. And he was right. I guess he somehow knew his limits and sensed his life span. When a classmate of ours died recently, he told me he thought he might be next. I wish he had been wrong.

Bill was my friend. My heart is aching as I write tonight. I’ll miss hearing his voice, listening to him telling me about his latest writing assignment, and being the recipient of his praise and admiration of me and my writing.

I wish I could have had the chance to say goodbye.

“I don’t care what’s right or wrong,

I don’t try to understand.

Let the devil take tomorrow.

Lord, tonight I need a friend.

Yesterday is dead and gone, and tomorrow’s out of sight.

And it’s sad to be alone.

Help me make it through the night.”

“Help Me Make It Through the Night” by Kris Kristofferson

Gimme That Stick!

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My friend, George, told me a story from his childhood that keeps rolling around in my head, and I can’t let it go. With his permission, I am retelling it on my blog. What a day in his own Collection of Days!

George’s childhood was spent living in a mill village near Charlotte, North Carolina, in the 1940’s. Both of his parents worked in the textile mill – his dad was a superintendent, and his mom operated a spinning machine of some kind. They had a family of three boys and two girls, of which George was somewhere in the middle, and lived in one of the mill-provided homes. George has many stories from his childhood growing up in the mill village, but this one is the best.

When George was about ten or eleven years old, he had a German Shepherd dog named Jake. He and Jake were best buddies, and roamed the village and nearby fields together. When George was at school, Jake would go out to the front of the house and lie down in a small ditch beside the dirt road where they lived. One morning, when George was heading off to school, he saw one of the mill workers come barreling down the dirt road in his truck, running late on his way to work. From George’s perspective, it appeared that the man saw Jake lying on the side of the road, swerved his truck as he rounded the curve at George’s house, not in an effort to avoid the dog, but purposely to try to hit him. Luckily for Jake, he dodged out of the way, avoiding being hit by this man and his truck. Unluckily for the man, George recognized him and vowed to get even.

George promised Jake he would take care of things. Nobody was going to try to hurt his dog! That afternoon after school, he found a big stick and walked down the road to the mill. He waited at the bottom of the steps to the main entrance, watching for the man to come out at the end of his shift. The mill whistle blew, and workers started pouring out of the doors and down the steps on their way home. George spotted the man, approached him with stick in hand and shouted,

“You’re the man who tried to run over my dog!” With that, he began swinging and thrashing the stick at the man.

About that time, George’s mother came down the steps on her way home and saw George swinging the big stick at the man.

“Boy, what are you doing?” she yelled at him.

With angry tears in his eyes, George answered, “He tried to run over my dog.”

“Boy, gimme that stick,” she demanded, grabbing the stick from George’s hands and proceeding to take over where he left off.

Moral of this story: Don’t ever mess with a boy and his dog, and by all means, don’t mess with the boy’s mother!

Kissed by an Angel

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I learned today that Drew Brees and I have something in common. That’s funny, since he’s a famous quarterback, and I’m not. What could two people, so very different from each other, possibly have that is alike?

A birthmark on our faces. He doesn’t intend to have his removed, which he announced publicly in an interview that I read tonight online, and the thought never even crossed my mind about having mine removed.

My birthmark is a grayish pigmentation on my left cheek, which looks more like a smudge than anything else. And I couldn’t tell you the times someone has taken a finger or thumb and tried to wipe it off for me. It’s not budging, and I wouldn’t want it to.

When I was a little girl, I remember my first grade teacher sending me to the girl’s bathroom to wash my face after coming in from recess one afternoon. I did what she asked, but the birthmark didn’t wash off. I also remember crying about it when I got home from school that day, and my mother walking the three blocks from our house to the school the next morning with me to have a talk with my teacher. I’m sure my mother was very polite in speaking with her – my mom never had a harsh word to say to anyone – but after that nothing was ever said again about the birthmark on my face.

One thing my mother did that I am very thankful for was making me feel that my birthmark was something very special and something to be proud of. She told me that God put it there on my face for a special reason, and that it made me different from everyone else in the world. She said that it was a kiss from an angel on the day I was born. It was a lot more prominent when I was a child than it is now, but I don’t remember ever being made fun of or otherwise being made to feel like there was something wrong with me after the day my mother set things straight with my teacher. It was part of who I was, and I was very proud of the little gray oval adorning my cheek.

From time to time over the years, people have said something to me about having a dirty mark on my face, or politely suggested that I needed to wipe my cheek with a napkin or tissue. I always thought it was funny, and I’d tell them that it wouldn’t do any good – the smudge was there to stay. I hardly ever think about it any more, and I seldom even notice it when I look at myself in the mirror. It’s been a long time since anyone told me my face was dirty!

Reading the story about Drew Brees, brought this all back to me tonight, bringing back a childhood memory long buried, and also echoing my mother’s words to me about my birthmark being special. I am very glad that I have it, and that it is a part of who I am. And I like the fact that it is on my face, where I,and everyone else, can see it.

I have proof that I was kissed by an angel, and it’s on my face for the world to see!

A Valentine’s Day Memory

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My decorated shoe box sits along the chalk tray with twenty others.  I went to Woolworth’s last week with my best friend, Susan, to buy red and pink construction paper, paper lace doilies, and heart-shaped stickers.  We spent the entire Saturday afternoon cutting out paper hearts of all shapes and sizes, layering them with the lace doilies, and pasting them onto shoe boxes we had retrieved from our fathers’ closets.  We each covered our shoe box with the construction paper, and carefully cut a slit into the box lid big enough for the fanciest Valentine to fit through, but too small for a hand to reach in to count the cards.  We created two masterpieces, works of art, beautiful beyond comparison.  We couldn’t wait until Monday to place them in the classroom.  None in the entire class could compare with our Valentine boxes.

Susan’s box sits down the shelf from mine. They are arranged in ABC order.  Susan is lucky.  Her box is between Jane Richards’ and Stephen Summer’s.  Jane’s is decorated and frilly, Stephen’s is a boy’s box –  no competition, whatsoever.  But my luck is to be sandwiched between Kathleen Brown’s and Dan Davidson’s.  Dan’s is a lot like Stephen’s – no sweat.  But Kathleen, always Kathleen.  I don’t know how she does it.  The same materials adorn her box as mine, but her box makes mine look like an orphan.  I don’t understand it.  Everything Kathleen does is perfect, from Friday spelling tests to Valentine boxes!  Her box is even bigger than mine.  Her father is very tall, and has a larger foot than my father’s.  What luck.  I bet she’ll have more cards in her box than I do, too.

Each morning the week of Valentine’s Day, we are allowed to bring in our cards and “mail” them to our classmates.  I check my box daily, peeking through the narrow slit to see if I can tell how many cards I have.  I also check Kathleen’s and Susan’s boxes.  I am positive that they have more cards than I do.  I even addressed a few of my extras to myself and slipped them into my box to make it look full.  My beautiful box is looking plainer and plainer everyday, as it sits next to Kathleen’s.  It just doesn’t look as fancy as it did at my house last Saturday.  I am feeling very sorry for myself, and I dread Valentine’s Day instead of looking forward to it.

Valentine’s Day arrives, and with it an excitement in the air.  Someone’s mom brings decorated cupcakes to school, and my mother arrives with cut-out heart sugar cookies.  Our room ceases to be a classroom as a party atmosphere fills the air.  Our teacher stands up in front of the class and gives us her lecture about how it isn’t important how many Valentines we receive, but what kind of friends we are everyday.  I have heard the same speech every year since first grade, but for some reason this year it strikes very close to my heart.  I have been so consumed with my own box and how full it is, I have forgotten the other children in the class.  I look at Dan seated in the desk next to mine.  Did I remember to put a card from me into his box?  I can’t remember.  And Kathleen?  She is so smart and talented, she does everything to perfection.  Her spelling test papers are flawless and her penmanship is perfect.  I wonder if she is as nervous as I am about opening her Valentine box.

The boxes are distributed to us, and we are allowed to open them.  Mine is full of cards, but many of them are from me.  I separate these from the rest only to discover that I still have lots of cards.  Oblivious to anyone around me, I open each card, read it, and look on the back to see who it is from.  I am feeling good as I go through my pile of cards.  I do have friends, and it really doesn’t matter anymore if my box is as fancy as Kathleen’s.  I open a card from Dan, and turn toward him to say thanks.  He has just torn open an envelope, and I recognize my printing on it.  I am so relieved that I did send one to him after all.  I turn my attention back to the job at hand, and find a card that is different from all the others.  The envelope is handmade of construction paper, and it is larger than the others.  Who can it be from?  I pull the sticker off very carefully that seals it, and I gently pull out a card made out of cut-out hearts and pictures from a store-bought card from another year.  It is the most beautiful Valentine I have ever seen in my life!  I am afraid to turn it over to see who it is from.  I look around the room to see if anyone is watching me, but everybody is busy opening their own cards and eating cupcakes and cookies. Furtively, I place one hand in front of the card to shield it from any eyes that might be looking in my direction, and with my other hand I silently flip the card over on its back.

Written in painstakingly neat handwriting on the back of this wonderful card is “I love you.  Be my Valentine.  Stephen.”  I feel the blood rush to my face, my very first blush.  Embarrassed, I slide the card to the bottom of my stack where it can’t be seen by anyone.  I cut my eyes over toward Stephen’s desk.  He is looking at me, but drops his head quickly when he sees my eyes move his way.  His face turns rosy, his first blush.

It was a very special Valentine’s Day.  Fifth grade, if I remember correctly, maybe sixth.  It doesn’t matter.  What matters is that it is the Valentine’s Day when I discovered new truths and gained new insights about competition, friendship, first love.

Stephen and I probably never said more than a dozen words to each other throughout our elementary school years.  We held hands once at a school carnival, but never worked up the nerve to say anything to each other.  I kept his Valentine for years.  I am not sure what finally happened to it.  I still remember exactly what it looked like, and I can still see his words printed on the back of it.

Portrait of a Little Girl

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Portrait

I have a portrait of myself at the age of three hanging on the wall in my bedroom. Inside the gold frame is a happy little girl, wearing a daffodil colored dress with puffed sleeves that her mother made for her, with her favorite pair of Sunday black patent leather Mary Jane shoes peeking out from beneath her skirt.

She is a reminder of who I was, who I am, and who I am becoming. There was a short time in my life when I had to take her down from the wall. At the time I was not proud of who I was and the huge mess I had gotten into along my life path, and I couldn’t bear looking at her smiling, innocent face. But on the day of my deliverance from that long dark tunnel onto a new bright road, she returned to her place in my bedroom, forgave me, and now sweetly smiles at me from her spot on my wall.

When I gaze at myself as this child, I see a small girl who was happy, loved, and full of life and joy. She had no idea who she would become as an adult, the many places she would live, who her children would be, what pets she would call her own, what skills she would develop, or what profession she would pursue. Her dream, which was that of her father, was that she would grow up, marry, become a mommy, and live in a warm comfortable house similar to the only one she knew. She spent hours and hours playing with her doll babies, changing their clothes and taking them for stroller rides up and down the sidewalk in her beautiful wicker doll carriage, practicing for the day when she would have a baby of her own. Every night she would say her “now I lay me down to sleep” prayer with her mother, who would then tuck her snugly into bed with a goodnight kiss.  She didn’t think about money or making ends meet, meeting a budget or planning a weekly grocery shopping list. She didn’t know about cancer or thyroid conditions, hip pain or hysterectomies, losing a baby before he had a chance to even take a breath, or any of the things that life was going to bring her way. All she knew was that she was loved.

As I gaze at the smiling child’s image in the picture frame, I wonder what my life would be like if I had made different choices along my way. Where would I be living, what would my home be like, would I have grandchildren, how would I spend my days, what would bring me joy and contentment? As she looks back at me from her framed place on my wall, does she recognize me as the grown up version of herself?  Does she like what she sees?

Yes, the small child in the portrait is me. I remember her well, and I can honestly tell her that her life will be a good one. She may stumble along her way, but she will grow up strong and will overcome many obstacles in her path.  She will place her trust and love in the wrong people from time to time, as she follows her heart and not her good sense.  As her sister would often remind her, she is too good at picking up strays. She will love deeply, and as a result, hurt deeply. She will question her simple childhood belief that Jesus loves her, and will develop a deep spiritual faith that will sustain her with every step she takes. She will become a sixty-six year old, white-haired woman who makes jelly, writes stories, and collects days. I can promise her that I will always strive to be the person she was created to be, and will do my best never to disappoint her again.

She will grow up to be me.

My Dining Room Table

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When I was a little girl, my favorite room in the house was the dining room. Not only was this the focal point of our family’s home, but it contained something very, very special – the dining table.

This morning while I was dusting (a job I don’t do nearly often enough!) the same table that sat in my childhood home, memories came flooding into my consciousness. I love the old table, even though it is a bear to dust and polish, and I am so happy that it now sits in my little home.

After I crawled underneath the table so that I could get to the legs and the underneath sides of the drop leaves, two distinct memories came to mind.

Curled up in a near-fetal position underneath the table so that I could reach all of the dusty places, I realized why this was one of my childhood chores. I’m sure my mother didn’t want to crawl underneath the table with her dust cloth and can of furniture polish, so she sent me to do the task. I’m not too sure how thorough of a job I did then, and I’m definitely not sure how well I cleaned it today. All I know is that as I polished, I felt connected to my family who sat at the table for every meal, and to my history as I remembered myself as a little girl.

But then, another memory bubbled to the surface. Not only was the table the gathering place for our family meals and the surface my mother used for cutting out the fabric patterns for the dresses and other clothing she made for me and my sister, but it was also my secret hiding place. On rainy or cold days, it became my blanket fort. Mama would drop the leaves – they were always extended for our family meals- and cover the table with two blankets. It took that many to cover it completely – those were the days before queen size or king size linens. I would then carry pillows to make a nest under the table for myself, a flashlight, and a coloring book and crayons. As I got older, a pad of plain paper took the place of the coloring books, and I would write stories while hiding in my special place.  As I write this memory today, while looking at the table, I see that there wasn’t a lot of room under there, but it was just about perfect for a little girl with a gigantic imagination.

I think that the next time I am blue or feeling sad, I might just cover my table with a huge blanket or bedspread, grab a pillow or two, and retreat to this very special place.

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