1977 – 1987
Although I was feeling like Don Quixote fighting windmills to gain a sense of purpose through education and a place in the world as a woman at the end of decade three, so were millions of women as feminism moved forward in our society. The decades of the 60s and 70s had brought the radicalization of feminism led by American women, and I had started slowly, course by course, to get my degree at Georgia State University. After taking classes with an impressive female professor in philosophy, Dr. Linda Bell, not much older than myself, I took a rather grandiose stand, and decided to major in a very non-traditional course of study for women, philosophy. Dr. Bell became my new idol, and we developed a friendship that connects us even today.
So here I was, working full-time at Grady Memorial Hospital, beginning to struggle with what became a devastating illness in this decade, and not fitting a traditional role for a young lawyer interested in becoming successful in the world of higher education. Imagine the discussions between the feminist, philosophy major, and the traditional, lawyer, and once again in a time when there was little help for those with varying views and methods to work through the “irreconcilable differences.” My thought was if I was going to work and go to school, then I needed a “wife” as much as the other “person”. I certainly didn’t need to take on one more role—that of being a “wife”. Here I go again—moving on out.
At Grady Memorial Hospital, there was a young man who had come from Washington, D.C. and was working in the IT department. He was different from the other men around, somewhat more sophisticated having worked for Naval Intelligence, but still being a southerner from South Carolina. As time went by, we began to see one another. What Randy Beggs brought to me was the first relationship where I truly felt accepted as an equal. He saw me, as Mr. White had seen me, capable of becoming anyone I wanted to become. Randy and I went to see the movie, A Star Is Born, and for me the song, The Woman in the Moon, resonated so clearly for me. When I told Randy, he understood what my experiences had been through my life and how the song represented what I needed others to hear. He bought a beautiful necklace for me in the shape of a moon with a diamond in the middle. For me, the necklace, and being heard has always represented the beginning of me feeling strong enough to stand up and go toward the future no matter how hard the road becomes.
Randy and I were married in 1977, and we worked together so I could finish my degree in philosophy and graduate in 1979. Throughout our marriage we were partners in supporting one another in moving towards our dreams in becoming who we needed to be. Randy supported me when I decided I wanted to go back to school and get a masters in counseling, and we managed the demands as he worked on a MBA in business. We were to be in many ways the soul mate I believed existed for everyone in a lifetime. Love and being a soul mate, I believe, allows one another to always go where the person needs to go to live to the fullest, and that may not always be in the same place.
After graduating from my wonderfully marketable degree of philosophy, Randy and I decided I could finally pursue my lifelong dream of writing. However, as I have mentioned, lurking in the background was the devastating illness of endometriosis. This journey took almost ten years to deal with, not only the infertility that came from endometriosis and the ensuing fact I would be childless all my life, but the horrendous pain and suffering caused by the disease. Randy and I took this challenge on like warriors. We learned everything there was to learn about the disease and formed the Endometriosis Association of Greater Atlanta to help other couples suffering from the illness. In the long run, it seemed the best solution for me was to have a complete hysterectomy. I became somewhat a celebrity among the medical community, as I was the first person to have an ovary removed through a laparoscope by Dr. Camran Nezhat. Dr. Nezhat was the first surgeon to use a camera and a laparoscope to perform laparoscopies on patients, which allowed him to do more comprehensive surgeries. When I had a remaining ovary after a partial hysterectomy, I suggested he try to remove the ovary with the laparoscope, and I went home from the hospital the next day. Today, it’s rare for surgeries to be done through incisions. At a conference I attended, he showed the surgery, and I’ll admit it was a bit embarrassing when he pointed out the patient was in the audience. I am proud we’d been able to accomplish a wonderfully non-invasive feat. This was the end of the horrible journey of the disease-1986.
When ill, staying home and trying to concentrate on writing was impossible for me—I only concentrated on my pain and suffering. Remembering the wisdom from my grandmother, I decided to get busy.
I applied to work in an administrative role in accounting at one of the large CPA Accounting and Consulting Firms in Atlanta, Peat, Marwick & Mitchell. From Grady Memorial Hospital, and the experiences of an urban university, to a downtown, sophisticated, ritzy, firm was an entirely new experience for a feminist, philosophy major. I’m sure you get the picture. Around me were the most, well-dressed, educated, business, men I had ever been exposed to in my life. Most drove expensive cars, had expense accounts double my yearly income, wore tailored made suits, and watches I thought they were calling Rolodex instead of Rolex. They were handsome, charming, suave, and since I was responsible for supervising the accounting staff who took care of their accounts particularly nice to me.
In my tenure at Peat Marwick, I made a few lifetime friends who to this day still live a life much different from mine. A young man who came from Denver, Colorado, the first Midwesterner I’d ever met, Mike Gossman introduced me to a completely new world. He spoke like a television announcer, and he was and is a walking encyclopedia. He, along with the other consultants, went to a restaurant on the first floor of one of the buildings in Peachtree Towers, Fitzgerald’s, after work on Friday’s and sat around and enjoyed cocktails and “shot the breeze”. Occasionally, they’d invite me to dinner at one of the fine restaurants in town, and often I was treated to very nice lunches—for the sake of making sure their accounts were reconciled appropriately. But, as I said, friendships were formed, and they were very nice people although not so interested in the literature on feminism. I worked at Peat Marwick for four years, and when I told the “guys”, I was leaving to go back to Georgia State and get a masters in counseling, you can imagine what the response was—“Those people don’t make any money!” One of the best times for both Randy and me at Peat, Marwick, was when I could go shopping for a special outfit to wear to the Christmas Party. It was like dressing up every year for the Prom.
In August, 1983, I started working on my masters in counseling at Georgia State University. At first, I tried to stay at Peat Marwick and go part time, but after the first quarter, Randy and I realized it would be too hard. So, I quit, and got an assistantship at GSU, and began full-time. From now till the end of pursing my degrees in the field of counseling—through the M.Ed., the Ed.S., and the Ph.D.—I never enjoyed school so much. There was never a time when I wondered if I had picked the right degree.
As a counselor, there are a million stories to tell about the clients I have seen. Humans are unique and each of them brings their own particular experiences of the world. I am sure every true counselor who loves the work they do can tell you every time they sit down in front of a client, whether the client is an adult, adolescent, and especially a child, they absolutely never know what is going to happen. If you think you know what the person is going to say or who they are, then you’re not listening and you don’t need to be a counselor. As Elie Wiesel wrote in The Nazi Doctors and the Nuremberg Code:
We must not see any person as an abstraction. Instead, we must see in
every person a universe with its own secrets, with its own treasures,
with its own sources of anguish, and with some measure of triumph.
When I was completing my practicum and internship, I worked at the Norcross Mental Health Center, and for the first time in my life, I was exposed to the fact sexual abuse occurred in our society, not the cloaked stranger in raincoats hiding out in houses on the corner of streets, but by people who the children knew, such as friends and family members. At the same time, the Women’s Movement had brought to the forefront the permission for adult women to begin speaking of their own experiences in childhood, such as mine with the nude man in the house. Finally they could start to tell because Sandra’s mother was wrong. It wasn’t Sandra’s or my fault, and for all these horrible, horrible things that happened to these women as children it was never, ever anything they had done to cause the abuse.
So the early 80s brought along with the Feminist Movement an entirely new awareness, the awareness of Sexual Abuse, Sexual Assault, and Sexual Harassment. At Norcross Mental Health Center, I heard my first stories by adult women of their experiences in childhood, and saw my first adult client who had blocked her memories of the horrible abuse by her professional father from the age of 8 until 13. I worked with my first young adolescent who was being abused by her father. Through it all, I remember the words that flowed so vehemently from me when I decided to go into counseling, “Well, I want to be a counselor who works with women’s issues, but I could NEVER work with children and especially children who have experienced sexual abuse.” Be careful of the NEVERs that fly out of the consciousness of your brain.
Somewhere deep inside, unknown to me, there was a reservoir of strength given to me that allowed me a certain calmness and resolve as I sat before these clients and listened to their stories. There were words that formed in my head and flowed out to them which seemed to be the right thing to say in moments where one could hardly know what to say. I had no idea where this reservoir came from, where this calm and resolve was situated or how these words were formed. They were just there. One is always warned in graduate school of the dangers of seeing the profession of counseling as a “calling”, as is true of many professions which are considered “callings” because the person in those positions can become narcissistic, overly confident, and grandiose in their view of themselves. So, I hardly want to claim with any grandiose sense I had found my calling or my mission in life. I will simply say, I was graced throughout my career in many cases to have been able to remain calm, able to witness with resolve the horrors the client was telling, and find words to say I feel were, in most cases, comforting and healing for the client. And for those abilities, I am eternally thankful.
From graduate school, I faced up to the fact there was vital work to be done as a counselor in the field of sexual abuse, and went to work for the Georgia Council on Child Abuse as the Director of the 24-hour Helpline and Volunteer Services. I felt protected by grace as I did and do this work.
At Georgia State, one of my professors, Dr. Richard (Dick) Riordan, had supervised me in the practicum, and encouraged me to continue my education. I also worked as a graduate assistant for Dr. Riordan, and together we began to work on articles for publication. Dr. Riordan became a mentor who had great confidence in me. He, like Mr. White and Randy, believed I could do anything I set my mind to do.
At the end of Decade Four, I have slayed a large number of windmills. I have married Randy, a man who sees me as an equal, and I can stand strongly as a feminist (well I may not have been as strong a feminist among the somewhat traditional male management consultants–but there was a bit of glamour in that time and some entertainment to be had). I have my undergraduate and masters degree, and I’m finally making a difference by contributing to a societal issue of grave concern, the abuse of children and the recognition of the damage of childhood abuse to adult women and men. And more than anything, I actually slayed a dragon–endometriosis.
THE WOMAN IN THE MOON
GRADY MEMORIAL HOSPITAL
1967 - 1977
When I was 16, I was a candy striper, a teenage volunteer, at Crawford Long Hospital, and I loved the work. So when I finished my medical tech course, I decided to look for work in downtown Atlanta. During the time Mike and I were married, I had worked for an ophthalmologist, Dr. Mays, at the corner of Peachtree Street and the downtown connector. Dr. Mays was quite a person—teaching me how to perform refractions, do bookkeeping (ending up letting his bookkeeper go because I was good at the task), ordering amphetamines for me to take so I could work toward the then popular “Twiggy” style. The amphetamines worked well until they built up in my system one day, and I couldn’t stop shaking. He had to give me a shot of pentobarbital to bring me down. I decided he had an ulterior motive behind the drug distribution when I found myself in the closet with him one afternoon. It so happened his sister-in-law was in the office, so threatening to make a scene stopped whatever plans he had. A nice talk about how it would serve us better if we kept everything on business terms after the incident put things back on a somewhat professional basis. This was my first experience of sexual harassment in the work place. Gratefully, I wouldn’t experience sexual harassment again until I worked for The University of Mississippi.
Shortly after that incident though, I left Dr. Mays to work for a urologist, and after Mike and I decided we could never get over our anger and distress, I packed up a few items and moved in with a roommate, Deena, on 11th Street in downtown Atlanta. One of the more dramatic adventures of my life! The street dead ended into Piedmont Park, and our two-story red brick apartment building was at the very end. Deena had lived there a while and had established a group of friends in the neighborhood, which she immediately introduced to me.
In 1967 in downtown Atlanta, there were two particularly different sub-cultures—hippies and gay males. Deena was flamboyant and outgoing, and had quickly made friends with a number of very interesting gay males particularly a young man by the name of Steve who had a couple of friends who lived in our apartment building, Jerry and Lamar.
Let me stop and explain. Up to this point in my life, I had worked at two separate department stores, Davidson and Sears. I had gay friends when I was a teenager working there, particularly a great bi-sexual, Cuban friend, Luis. So it was easy to fit in with Deena and her gay friends. This particular memoir writing will not focus primarily on my propensity to be friends with gay males, but suffice it to say I have had the privilege throughout my lifetime to have known a number of very good gay male friends, as well as having been happily married to a person who realized after 14 years he may be happier with the gay lifestyle.
During my short time in the downtown apartment, I met another bi-sexual young man, Jerry who was a graduate student at Georgia Tech working on a Ph.D. in Industrial Psychology as well as a master in Industrial Design. He had to keep a very rigid schedule to be successful. But, one of his habits was to take a break each evening at 10:00 p.m. and drive through Piedmont Park and around the Peachtree Road area to “cruise”. He decided to educate me on the nuances of the gay culture. So regularly, he’d call me at 10:00 pm, and we’d drive around in his new 1967 red Cadillac convertible. I must say it was very luxurious and visible. I was taught the difference between the men who were standing around in Piedmont Park and the men who were standing on Peachtree Street–some being interested in relationships, some being hustlers. I was also carefully warned of the dangers of my potential for future involvement with bi-sexual males. A warning I tried to heed, but not one that was easy to stay tuned into as time went by. Jerry pointed out females were almost always on the losing end in relationships with bi-sexual males. Jerry turned out to be a very good friend who was lots of fun and a very interesting intellectual. He and his roommate, Lamar shows up in my contemporary novels as friends of the protagonist, Dr. Kathryn DeMello.
I learned from Jerry and his friends as well as I have learned throughout my life that as a cultural group, realizing one should never, ever, make statements about a cultural group as if every individual in the group has the same characteristics, the gay culture, in general, holds values of caring, openness to others, loving-kindness, compassion, and most of all a desire to be accepted for who they are. Personally, the friends I have known are loyal, loving, extremely funny, and listen without making judgments. So for the time I had in downtown Atlanta, I was thankful.
After a period of recovery, it seemed time to go home and maybe consider a way to go to college. So back home I went. Dr. Dan Siegel, a renowned neuropsychologist, and many of the neuroscientist of today say we missed the mark on when adulthood actually begins. They are saying adulthood begins around the ages of 21-24. Cognitive maturity necessary for making good choices about life decisions are not fully formed in the prefrontal cortex until those ages, and up until then, a person continues to need parental guidance. It was certainly true for me. But also, important social issues were involved in my development. There was a cultural norm for women, particularly women in the south and women in my socioeconomic status dictating the role of a woman was to find a husband, preferably the “soul mate”, marry, have children, and be a support for the husband who was the provider for the family system. Yet, from the ripe old age of four, I had made the decision to get an education, and then in the 60s, I had felt a need to make a difference in a world where there was suffering. I remembered the young, handsome, teenage boy who I truly loved, and I also remembered being afraid of having to stay home and take care of a house, wash clothes, wait on him to come home from work, and try to find something to do.
After leaving downtown and going home, I worked at Sears hoping to come up with a way to go to college, maybe starting out at a junior college. Then I met Jerry Woods.
Jerry Woods or his formal name, Gerald W. Woods, and I were married July, 1969. Jerry was from North Carolina, and he had attended The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill which I have to say I thought had to be one of the most prestigious universities. In my mind, it seemed the same as knowing someone from Duke or Yale. And once I saw it, I was in complete awe. Of course, in Atlanta we had Emory, but still the Atlanta schools don’t compare to those wonderful schools located in small communities with large campuses. He was blonde with beautiful blue eyes and two of the deepest dimples, and as was indicated by his alma mater, very bright. He was serious, determined to make a success of his life, and he planned to live the traditional American life.
Jerry and I met at Sears, but shortly after we met and started dating, I had to leave Sears since he was in management. So, I applied to a job at Grady Memorial Hospital. In my mind, Grady Memorial Hospital is yet again one of the most significant experiences of my lifetime. Grady is a mammoth, beige cinderblock, 16 story building sitting on the edge of the Atlanta downtown connector. In 1969, Grady had 1,000 beds and serviced the indigent population of Atlanta. Its funding came from Fulton and DeKalb counties, and it continually struggled to manage to stay financially solvent. At Grady, the cultural divides were dissolved and people came together for the good of humanity. The purpose was to help those who were suffering, and there were no questions asked about one’s social, racial, religious, or economic status—you were a human being, and you were to be taken care of—simply. There were always hordes and hordes of people in the hallways. At each end of the main hall there were four elevators, and throughout the day the elevators were packed.
My first job at Grady was in Nursing In-service where we trained nursing technicians, nurse, and others, such as radiologist, etc. My job was to train the nursing technicians. I absolutely loved the job and the people at Grady. With so much of humanity coming in and out of the doors of this mammoth care facility, there was never a dull moment. Nursing In-service was on the 16th floor, so at times when we might have some down time, all we had to do to find something exciting going on was to get in the elevator and go to the cafeteria. The cafeteria was on the 3rd floor, and it took up almost the entire middle of the floor. Grady was its own small town and working there you knew the people in the town.
Later, I left leave In-service, and went to work in the Fiscal Affairs department of Grady. Here I met my first male mentor in the work environment, Mr. E.R. White. Mr. White was the Director of Fiscal Affairs, and he recognized my potential in the area of accounting. So he took me into his organization, and mentored me in working with him as his administrative assistant. As Mrs. Thompson had done when I was four-years-old, Mr. White, convinced me I had the potential to do and become whatever I set my mind to do. He was a person who thought more highly of me than I’d ever think of myself. Throughout my life, there have been people who have made my successes more possible because of their view of me – they had more confidence in my abilities than I did.
Over the ten years I worked at Grady, there were a million stories. Some were terribly sad, heart breaking stories. Some were black humor stories which rivaled the movie, The Hospital, and some were those of complete dedication from healthcare workers to keeping people throughout Atlanta alive. Grady constantly, then and now, works on ways to improve people’s lives. When I was there, they developed the ambulance know as “Angel” which was an operating room for pediatric surgeons to travel to rural areas to pick up at risk newborns and perform surgeries as they brought them back to Grady. Now Grady is known as one of the finest Trauma Centers in the Country. If you’re in an accident, you want to go to Grady Hospital.
I worked in the ambulance department for a few months, and those were tough “guys”. As a counselor I’d call them “adrenaline junkies”. They went out on the streets and saw the worst of the worst, and they talked about it with a detachment that made you wonder how they could just sit around and talk as if it were a story about a game they had seen. Somehow you knew they cared, and you knew for sure they had put everything they had into taking care of the people. So I was hardly prepared the day when two of them showed up in my office with tears in their eyes and in such distress and anger, I thought they were going to explode. I waited to hear what had happened. They had brought in an 18-year-old who was in labor, and they realized she was going into cardiac arrest. So instead of taking her to the ob/gyn floor, they wheeled her into the emergency room. They yelled she was going into cardiac arrest, but a nurse saw she was in labor and turned the gurney and yelled for them to take her to the 13th floor. There was a screaming match, with them saying she was arresting and a swirling match with the gurney. The nurse won, and they ran down the hall to the elevator knowing it was going to take a long time to get a service elevator to the 13th floor. On the service elevator she arrested and died. Everyone in the helping profession has these cases, the client or patient who you just can’t believe you lost!
After Jerry and I married, he decided he wanted to go to law school. So being smart and having no problems getting accepted, off he went to Emory University. I’m always up for a challenge, and as when I was a teenager; I know how to make things work within a small budget. So I worked at Grady, made my clothes, we lived in a cute little apartment in Decatur, and he studied hard and did exceptionally well. I think those were the good days. Often working towards goals gives a couple a purpose and direction which bonds them in a special way. With this goal was the promise that when he finished, my turn would come. Finally, I’d be off to make my way into college and go towards whatever the illusive goal was for me.
The day came when Jerry was finished with law school, and a new life could begin for us. Danger! Jerry knew someone who knew someone who knew of a great house in the Virginia Highland area for practically nothing (which was actually true), and we moved to downtown Atlanta. Here I go again, and it’s close to the end of the decade. It was a great house, and you could see the skyline of Atlanta from the front yard.
Jerry suggested I start school at Georgia State University part-time until we settled in and became more financially solvent. Around the corner waiting for me was what will turn out to be in my history of a lurking devastating autoimmune system illness. Illnesses almost always affect my personal life and take me galloping off into some unknown direction.
So at the end of this decade, the creeping, painful, fatigue inducing endometriosis came into my life, and suddenly I felt I needed to be free. Illnesses do have that effect on me. I’ll see it over and over including even the end of the 70th decade. So with the painful problems of endometriosis, which I didn’t have a diagnosis at the time, just the battle with the illness. I set off to figure out how to get well, and by the way, maybe how to get into school full time.
I’m beginning to feel like Don Quixote.
With the first decade coming to an end, unbeknownst to the 10-year-old, changes were brewing in the family system. My father was a gentle, kind man who found the world a rather difficult place to survive. He believed in honesty, justice, and fairness, and struggled when injustices, dishonesty, and unfairness were present in his workplace which they are so often in the world. He had come from a poor family, and to take care of his mother who was losing her sight, when he was a teenager, he quit school and found a job. So in the end, his trade was that of a dairyman, or as society liked to call him, the milkman. Around the time, I was 11, Daddy was becoming dissatisfied with the methods of the dairy he worked for and wanted to try to find a better place to work. The search was on, and it took us from Chattanooga to a dairy located in Ringgold, GA. Certainly, a place the entire family was familiar with and where Mother’s relatives were. We wouldn’t have to make new friends and settle into a strange environment.
As a play therapist for over 20 years, I will tell you even changing a child’s bedroom without her input causes distress. So it hardly mattered if I knew the entire town of Ringgold, I lost my room, my school, my friends, my status, my “bike” hill, my vines to swing on, — my everything! Not only that, I had to enter the already established status of at least 15 cousins who were well entrenched in the social status of Ringgold’s school system. To make matters worse, we moved from a metropolitan area where buses could take us to town to theaters and Woolworth’s food counter to a house six miles from the one street town of Ringgold. In front of our house in the middle of the country, was a large cow field stretching out to the base of a small mountain (I always hesitate to call these mountains, as I have a geologist friend who informs me those are not mountains—just large hills). So instead of walking to school every day, I road a bus, and when I walked, I walked a long country road with nothing but country scenes around me.
I did learn it was important to be vigilant too for the sound of rattlers as I learned one day when I heard the unique sound and looked around to see a rattlesnake about to strike. Now you may think this was a horrible experience, and I did grieve the loss of my friends and my familiar setting. Yet, like on the front porch at my grandmother’s and its peaceful, quiet environment, the country held a certain peace I had never experienced in Chattanooga. I would sit on the little stoop out front and look into the field towards the mountain, and the soft sounds of the cows mooing, the breeze blowing through the trees, the smell of the earth, and the colors of the trees, grass, shrubs, and wildflowers made for a sense of harmony even for me in the short six to seven months we lived in Ringgold. This short period instilled again a belief if one wanted to gain a sense of peace one needed to seek out nature and have open spaces around them.
But as I said, we only stayed six or so months in Ringgold, and we began a series of journeys until my father could settle. From Ringgold, we traveled to Decatur, GA, then Marietta, and then back to Decatur, settling there for me to end my second decade.
My teenage years as most teenage years were spent trying to come to term with a sense of identity. Leaving Chattanooga and the foundation of the school, the good friends, and a strong sense of who I was had turned life upside down for me, and suddenly the strong-willed, confident girl was a bit shaky and didn’t have the confidence to stand strongly among a group of boys and say “What”!
I started high school in Marietta, and the experience was mixed with trying to fit into the new experience of being a teenager and make new friends. Out of necessity, I had many responsibilities within the family. So it became important for me to learn to be independent in those teenage years. I remember when I took Home Economics, a course I don’t think they teach any longer, I decided it was important for me to learn to sew so I could make my clothes and help the family out financially. I concentrated on being able to become relatively good at making clothes that didn’t appear to look too “homemade.” My mother had not learned to sew, but the ‘sewing gene’ ran deeply through the family with both of my grandmother’s being very accomplished and many aunts.
In high school, I continued to develop the love of literature, and remember reading Jane Eyre one summer struggling with the language, but reveling in the wonderful love story. That same summer, I read Gone with the Wind, and saved my babysitting money to buy my own copy. I then read Wuthering Heights. I didn’t care much for Jane Austin though. Her protagonists were just a bit too arrogant for me. It seemed they needed to adhere more to the customs of their time and be more ladylike. I wouldn’t come to appreciate her women until I moved into an awareness of feminism.
But then, off we went to Decatur my junior year, and I started with braces on my teeth and knowing no one. The neighborhood was a good place though, and a very kind and fun girl, Suzette Kelly, lived behind us, and we made friends quickly. We had a great time together, and since she was somewhat an only child with an older sister, having already left home, I would go with her and her parents on trips. Again, it didn’t take long to start babysitting, and I was able to continue to make my clothes, which is fun since you get to design them to in your own color and style. Being quite a talker, I had the repetition among the boys in the neighborhood as “motor mouth”—the braces helped.
The romantic dreamy-eyed story maker who imagined the left-behind lover though still lived on in the teenager who spent many hours reading books such as Rebecca. Anna Karenina, and the sad, Madame Bovary. I was still convinced for every woman there had to be a soul mate, and if you were very careful and cautious, you could find “just” the perfect young man. Of course this time other literature was seeping into the libraries, and unbeknownst to my mother but under the watchful eyes of my cousin, Winston, who couldn’t believe my mother didn’t know, I read Peyton Place. I began to read more contemporary materials telling us what was happening in our “modern” world. Somehow in the modern literature, the stories were more sordid and society’s response to the women seemed more vicious and less romantically tragic. How were we going to prepare ourselves for the potential problems that could arise from finding one’s soul mate? The movies were beginning to show us these problems too with Summer Place. How awful was it for Sandra Dee, of all people? And, it couldn’t have been more devastating than what happened to Natalie Wood in Love with the Proper Stranger. Southern literature was beginning to become a part of my consciousness and Tennessee Williams’ plays touched the roots of the sadness in the south, and I suffered with Natalie Wood in This Property is Condemned. So I realized one had to be very careful—tragedy, maybe more than romance, was around the corner.
No more Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
In my second decade, there was my first love though. He too had shiny black hair, but instead of brown eyes, he had brilliant blue eyes, and a chiseled face with dimples and a crooked smile which was especially charming. He was tall, and I thought graceful. He was, though, terribly shy. My family was fond of him, but his family didn’t approve of me. So in my mind, the story was similar to a Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights story. One where the boy comes into your life, and for reasons out of your control and even his, he leaves and goes on in his life and you go on with your life. You didn’t fight or get angry instead you realized you were too young. Simply too young!
As I finished high school, I wanted to go to the Georgia Baptist School of Nursing but considering I had become a little shy and a bit withdrawn having left a part of myself behind in Chattanooga, the school counselor told my parents she wasn’t sure I could be successful as a nurse (may I say at this point with a Ph.D. in counseling I want to personally hunt her down and inform her she needed more education—she had never talked to me personally). So, determined I would not be stopped, I headed to a technical school to learn to be a medical technician in a doctor’s office.
And then a charming, handsome, Marine returning from Vietnam who was a student at Georgia State University came along toward the end of the decade, and the story didn’t turn out so well. In the end, we married and for both of us we experienced the miscarriage of a baby. All these years later, but certainly not in 1966, we know the loss of a baby through a miscarriage is a death as any other death. Yet, Mike and I were expected to shrug the experience off and go on with our life. It was treated as if nothing had happened. For Mike, he was a Vietnam vet who certainly wasn’t talking about his experiences in Vietnam but was trying to go on with his life. He had married a young woman who he thought was funny and ambitious. But we lost a baby. Somehow neither of us felt so ambitious and it was hard to laugh. It was easy for me to be angry, and for him it was easy to stay out at night with his Marine buddies. What chance did we have? Neither of us was prepared; so it was easier to simply walk away, and I’m afraid never, literally never look back.
And with these personal changes our society was suffering. Innocence was lost. We witnessed the killing of a President in 1963 before I knew to be worried about our society. Then in the very part of the country I lived the struggles of the leaders led by Martin Luther King on Auburn Avenue. Atlanta watched the riots throughout the country, and our mayor, Ivan Allan, joined these leaders and helped us become a little more united. As a struggling teenager trying to form an identity, suddenly around me, I starkly faced the racism kept hidden and silenced for so many years, Before in my life, the Civil War had been glorified in the romanticism of movies such as Gone with the Wind. Now the reality of the Civil War was being brought forward in the Civil Rights Movement. And, our young men were going off to fight a war in a country for principles we didn’t feel had anything to do with our way of life. On television instead of Father Knows Best, the news was showing us executions of people.
As I walked the streets of Atlanta, I no longer saw in my imagination the long beautiful dresses of the southern women and the tall dark suited men, but I saw the African Americans on the back of buses, and water fountains labeled colored people, and whites sitting at counters eating, and blacks sitting out on the sidewalk eating, and realized we had somehow dehumanized an entire set of human beings because of the color of their skin. Simply because of the color of their skin! As if the color made them different inside – like they didn’t feel like we feel, love like we love, hurt like we hurt, need like we need. And by the time I ended the second decade, there was an ache in my heart over our world, about the Marine who went to Vietnam, and about the baby who didn’t make it. And, a desire to somehow and somewhere along the way get enough education as Mrs. Thompson said I could to make a difference in this world. So on to the Third Decade!
Maybe it was a good thing the next decade began.
I have absolutely no idea why I look so solemn in this picture. This is my Uncle Tommy, who is my father's brother, and his wife, Aunt Inez. He was so proud of me. I was the first Snow in their family system to graduate from high school. I loved my Uncle Tommy and was always happy when he was around. He was like my father, a gentle, humorous man who had made a good life from a hard life.
In later years, I came to realize I had no memory of this day. Are you surprised considering the look on my face.
On a small mountainside in Ringgold, GA, a uniquely designed two story house with a fieldstone first floor and a whiteboard second floor with two windows on each floor, two front doors on the first floor, a slanting roof covering a front porch with four half stone and wood columns starkly stands against the side of the mountain. The first floor abuts against the earth with part of the second floor foundation dug under the earth used as a cellar for canned goods stored in the winter. The front yard slopes down to two layers of stonewalls covered in purple thrift that blooms profusely throughout spring. From the porch, the yard spreads out and around the driveway and curves up towards the second story of the house. The land is wide and covered in gorgeous flowers throughout the blooming seasons. As you wind around the drive, there is another stonewall on the right covered with a flowering vine, and the mountain climbs up behind the driveway and the house sectioned off in layers and finally turning into a mass of trees and shrubs. Fruit trees, raspberry and blackberry bushes, a variety of flowering shrubs, bee hives, pine trees and hardwoods make their way up the mountain on the numerous trenches. As the mountain climbs into the sky the pines mix among a variety of hardwoods and wild flowers and bushes that change colors throughout the seasons with soft beige beech trees among the pines in winter.
As you approach the stone steps to the little porch to the house, a water pump secured on a cement foundation sits beside the steps, and off to the right a trail leads to an outhouse hundreds of feet from the house. My very first memories as a child are in this setting filled with vivid colors, smells, and sounds. This was the home of my maternal grandparents, who were always called Mama and Papa. We visited almost every weekend. We lived in Chattanooga, although for a little girl it seemed a long journey, it was only about 20 miles. After playing and wanting to escape from the others, I’d go to the porch and lie down on a metal glider that flattened out. I would lie there, rocking, and look at the rock ceiling, feel the cool breeze blowing through the rock columns with the metal glider cool against my skin and the smell of earth permeating through the rock foundation built against the mountain side and be totally at peace. If it were summer, the grape vines smelled rich from the grapes, or if spring the scent of lilies or lilac, or in fall the scent of golden rods. I could lie there and imagine anything I wanted to and be at peace in the world of coolness, breezes, scents, and brilliant colors, particularly the brown and beiges of stone, the greens of trees, and the slight slivers of blue sky. The creaking of the glider made the other noises go away. For the little girl who managed to get away from the crowd there was just the slow passing of time. Some of the best memories of my first decade, and maybe the best memory of peace in my life. When I do guided meditation and am instructed to go to the most peaceful place I know, this is the place I go and my guide who visits is Mama, my grandmother, who made the haven of flowers, shrubs, fruits, and berries, and bought the glider for the front porch. Her messages are always comforting and practical and how important it is to be in touch with the earth around you and to focus on your work and keep busy.
My mother came from a large family of 10 children and in Ringgold, there were at least 5 of her siblings living there most of my life. When I was born, there were 11 cousins in Ringgold, and many times when we visited on the weekend they were around. As I grew up, the woods provided a rich playground for us to romp throughout, and many of us became little architects designing two and three bedroom houses sweeping pine straw in varying shapes for rooms. In the summer, other cousins came to visit, and at the end of the first decade there were around 30 grandchildren in the family. A vivid memory was my Aunt Lois who lived in Florida and had lost her husband when her children, Winston and Lambert, were young. She had become a beautician. Each summer she visited and gave everyone a permanent. By the time she arrived, my hair was long, and Mother was twisting it up in the back, and then Aunt Lois came, she cut it, gave me a “perm”, and my hair was short and a curly mess. I’d cry and my cousin, Winston, laughed.
I came from an intact family of five with a Mother and Father who remained married until my father’s death in 1990. I was five years old before my first brother was born, and what I remember the night before he was born my mother read me a story about how tadpoles turn into frogs. I can see the book and the pictures of the swimming little tadpoles and their transformation into leaping frogs. Then in a of couple days, there was my brother, Prince. Now, surely I made that up, right? But no, my father’s name was Prince, and even though he had promised my mother he wouldn’t name his first son, Prince; when he saw his first son, he was so proud, he wanted him named after him. So there he was— my brother—Prince—not a frog turned into a Prince—but a very, cute baby brother. Since I had cousins who had multiple siblings, and they seemed to enjoy one another, particularly, my cousins who were twins, Kaye and Faye, I was delighted to have a brother. Three years later, there was my brother, Martin. I was old enough then to be the big sister who thought I was the second mother.
With such a large extended family, it‘d take a large book to tell the experiences I had over the years with the first cousins. I spent the night at different aunts’ and uncles’ homes, and I have to say all of us have been influenced in many ways by the interactions with one another. Of course each of us see those interactions from our own perspectives and lenses. Some of us tell the same story in very different ways too. So I won’t even begin to pick a cousin and tell a story of “I remember when”.
The most important event in my first decade was starting school. When I was four, a schoolteacher, Mrs. Thompson, lived behind our house and she‘d invite me over for tea parties in the summer. She had a child-size table she set with dainty teacups and a fancy teapot. She poured tea and served cookies, and then we had story time. She told me about teaching school and how much she loved it. As much as the tea parties were like a fairy tale, I was convinced going to school was an entire day of experiencing fairy tale like adventures. Of course, she continually told me how smart I was and how much fun I’d have once I started school. I decided then and there, at the ripe old age of four, when I grew up I’d be a schoolteacher.
We lived in walking distance of the school, and the walk to White Oak Elementary led me first across a small creek bridge and then pass three large churches on the right of the street. It always appeared to me that just part of the world was on the right, and on the left there was nothing—as if the world just stopped at the churches and the school. I’m not sure why the area wasn’t developed on the other side, but it was true even on part of my walk home on the street I lived. Often the boys got into trouble on their way to school as they continually walked through the creek. I thought it was adventuresome of them, and I’ll have to admit I was envious. In the fourth grade, our school burned down, and we were all distributed among the three churches where we remained until I left school to move to Ringgold in my second decade.
After the school building, there was a large cemetery with a duck pond and a winding road up a big hill. I can remember riding up the hill with my parents as we looked at the different decorative gravestones. I’d imagine stories about the people who were buried there especially the large families with many members who had died at young ages. Some of the stories I imagined were sad, about how a young spouse had died and the one left behind had spent his or her life grieving forever. Of course I didn’t know the word grief, so I just imagined he or she had cried forever. But mostly they were romantic stories in my mind about happy couples finding love that lasted into old age and having lots of children and grandchildren like my grandparents. But these couples lived in grand homes and had wonderful servants who were devoted to them and their families. The wife was tall with beautiful blonde hair she wore on top of her head, and the husband was even taller with black, glistening hair and brown deep set eyes. He loved his wife with all his heart. All of their children were perfect!
Beside the school, there was a vacant lot we were allowed to play on during recess. I don’t remember any swings or jungle gyms, just a vacant lot. So we just ran around. The boys decided a fun thing to do was to chase the girls. In today’s world this behavior comes across with a more violent theme to it, but I don’t remember ever feeling the least bit afraid of the boys except for one time. We were squealing and running when I realized a good number of the boys were chasing me. I decided my best choice was to stop – just stop. They gathered around me, and with my personality, which was a bit confrontational, I said, “What!” They told me Douglas had asked them to catch me. Douglas then sauntered up and pronounced he wanted me to be his girlfriend. Well, I wasn’t against becoming Douglas’s girlfriend. I thought he was cute, and he was in the second grade which put me in a special category in the school since I was in the first grade. He had black hair, brown eyes – perfect for my imagined husband in the family - and obviously held a good position among the boys. Being someone’s boyfriend simply meant none of the other boys chased you. And too, Douglas had a particularly good name which to this day people go, “You’ve got to be kidding,”—Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. As far as I remember, Douglas and I stayed boyfriend and girlfriend with a few off and on spats till he left to go to junior high school.
In those days, the world was relatively safer, so we could take a bus to downtown Chattanooga and as a group of kids to go to the Tivoli to see Doris Day movies. Once Douglas’s dad agreed he could come home with me after school. For some strange reason, I made him sit on the front porch and wouldn’t let him come in the house. Mother kept coming out to ask if we wanted to come inside. Who knows what that was about! Needless to say, Douglas never asked to come visit again, but we did go to the movies again.
My best friend, Sandra Ferguson, and I had quite an experience, which I guess was the foreshadowing of the direction of our society as it is today. Remember me telling you the left side of the street seemed undeveloped. Well at the beginning of the street I lived on, there was a house on one side of the street and a tall bank on the other. The front of the house faced the main road and the side of the house faced the road I lived on. One day we were walking home and looked over at a window in the house and there was a nude man standing there. We giggled uncomfortably and ran. When Sandra and I got home, we excitedly told my mother. She was totally incensed at the audacity of this horrible man and had been enraged he had exposed himself to her daughter. Delighted at the reaction I had gotten from my mother, I suggested we go tell Sandra’s mother the horrible news about this terribly “sick” man as my mother had called him. We rushed to tell Sandra’s mother, but to my great surprise, we received a much different response, which was that we must not tell anyone about this because this didn’t happen to “nice girls”. We were 8-years-old. I remember wondering what in the world Sandra and I had done to have given the man in the house the impression we weren’t “nice girls.” At the same time, I wondered what girls did who weren’t “nice girls” which caused men to stand in front of a window nude. Lesson learned for parents, be careful of the message you give a “concrete thinking 8-year-old”!
The pattern continued. Whenever we walked by his house even after several weeks of walking the other route, he’d be at the window. The problem was the other route meant climbing an unusually tall hill and was considerably longer. After complaining for a very long time about how hard it was to have to walk so much further to get home, my mother decided something needed to be done. She made a plan to stop him. She told us one day we were to walk by his house. She assured us she’d be watching so she could catch him exposing himself. Sandra and I started up the street, and by this time we had long ago stopped giggling, and our hearts pounded whenever we had to go near the house. As we approached the window, there he was! And just as suddenly as he was there, my mother was off the high bank standing on the street yelling at him that she saw him and she was going to report him to the police. To this day, I have no doubt that my mother literally sailed through the air from the top of the tall bank which had to have been 50 feet in the air and landed on the street without any damage—like superwoman. I hope the man almost had a heart attack. She told me to go up the street to where my poor little brother was standing and wait for her to go talk to the policeman who helped the children cross the street “only a block away”. The audacity of the disturbed exhibitionists. The distressing news when we piled into the car to go to the police station to make the report was they had no jurisdiction over someone in their own home. They said they‘d patrol his house and try to scare him away, but the sad news was Sandra and I had to take the long way home until finally he moved. As I said, this was an example of, I guess, the beginning of the world becoming the unsafe place where children can’t walk to school. It was 1955.
Yet otherwise, in my first decade the world was a happy and safe place. On television there was I Love Lucy, who really made me anxious because she got into situations similar to my mother. Father Knows Best and mostly shows portraying the world as good and safe were the shows we watched on television. The radio played in the house with songs by Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, Patsy Cline, and my mother sang around the house as she did her chores.
So my first decade was filled with family, lots of family, a great time in school with good grades and fun activities. A sense of determination, a feeling I could do most anything I set my mind to do, a great imagination, a lack of fear – riding a bicycle down a very steep hill as fast as I could and flying over the handle bars, swinging from tree vines dropping into ravines, swinging in swings till I flipped them over – choreographing a dance and song routine for a school talent show, singing and performing on an old chicken coop in the back yard, and lying peacefully on a glider on a stone porch. I was ready for the world!
Mama and Papa - This is always the way she looks when she comes to me in meditation!
Many of us approach birthdays with different attitudes—some with joy at being older which is generally when we’re children and thinking of what it will be like to be grown up and able to do the fun things that adults do. Although I knew an exceptionally bright 8-year-old girl who announced she was unhappy because the next day she would be 9. The question immediately popped into my adult mind, “Why in the world would you be depressed about being 9 years old?” But, having been trained as a play therapist and realizing I didn’t have enough awareness to understand the workings of an 8-year-old brain, I said, “So, you’re feeling sad because you’re not going to be 8 any longer?” She teared up and said, “Yes, I really loved being 8.”
I can’t say I have really loved being 69, but neither can I say I will love being 70; however, many would make the glib response to that comment, “It’s better than the alternative.” I’m afraid I think that is rather a “glib” response, as people may not realize how a person may be suffering at any age, or how for the little girl the age, 8, was so wonderful, and how she may fear what will happen when she is 9 years old.
As the days approach May 11th and I move out of the 60th decade and into the 70th decade of my life, I feel deep emotions too, not necessarily depression. I’m not sure I ever thought much about reaching this time of my life, except when I had planned NOT to retire from The University of Mississippi until I was 70. So this June I would have finally retired as a professor at the university—that happened two years earlier than I had planned which somehow has made me look at turning 70 a bit differently.
Along with the retirement, moving back to Georgia where my family resides which wasn’t in my plans before 70, and to Madison a part of my consciousness (being the settings of my books) came an illness that threatens my mother’s life who will be 94 in June should her heart so graciously continue to hold strong for her till then. I suddenly find the decades of my life starkly staring at me reminding me of what years, days, and moments mean as we move through our lives.
The days marched closer to May 11, and my website promoters reminded me I should blog to the “unknown audience”—“people want to hear about you and your life”, and so many people say—you should write about your own life—memoirs are so popular.
So leading up to my 70th birthday, for me more than maybe others, and maybe for others too, I thought I could write a blog each day on a decade. Tomorrow will be the First Decade–The Beginning to Ten. Each day I’ll post another decade, and then on May the 11th, hopefully after looking back at my life, I will see that I’ve learned something about living my life to the end.
For those of you who take the time to read all of what we old hippies call “navel gazing”, I hope you enjoy my journey into self-reflection.
Finally, the publication process is finished and copies of Out of the Silence can be purchased through Amazon in Paperback and Kindle. In the future, I hope to have book signings throughout the southeast and will arrange those in the next few weeks. I’ll be posting the dates and places.
At the moment, I’m taking a break to regroup. It seems I need to spend more time now learning to market or “let it be”!
For my friends who live far from me and see me infrequently, but who would want a signed copy of the book, I am ordering from Vista Printing stickers I will be delighted to sign and mail to you to put in the front of your book. I thought that sounded like a good way to get a “signed copy”. So should you buy a copy and want me to sign it with a “seal”, just email me, and I’ll be glad to send you a note for the front.
For those of you who take a chance on the book, I hope you enjoy it!
And – Spirit of Fear is already written and the editing is beginning!
My last blog spoke of letting go of my fear of copyeditors and the serious process of publishing Out of the Silence. From that point on, you've heard nothing from me for over 200 days. And now - the work behind the silence.
Winston Priest, a professional copyeditor, who is also my first cousin and a dear, dear friend agreed to copyedit the book. Winston’s credentials were the best. He has years of experience with copyediting for Springer publishing and freelance copyediting. Much of his copyediting is for people whose native language is Japanese publishing in English, so I felt certain he could help this Southerner writing in English. Too he had years of experience with the Southern language having grown up exposed to a multitude of Southern cousins in Tennessee and Georgia. His master’s degree in English as a second language gives him a special knowledge of the language. Best of all Winston is probably the only person who can give me feedback and instead of me feeling defensive, I find it rather entertaining such as his insistence I learn the proper use of historic and historical. Something about the way he words the feedback! Should he suggest that I go back and consider that first, it is unlikely that in 1848, people did not respond to statements by saying, “great”, and that even if they did, it wouldn’t be constantly, I'm not insulted but rather amused that he's most certainly right. A little side note here – writers, I’m generalizing here – are repetitive in their use of the language. It helps me to feel better to generalize.
Since Winston lives in Japan and is a busy professional, the copyediting took much longer than we would have imagined. Finally it was finished. For those of you who may be interested in this process, the next step was to decide if the book was as fine tuned as possible. I have given up the fantasy of having an error free book, but surely there was yet another way to do one more thing to check it again. This is where my writers’ group in Madison became very helpful with one of my group members, David Land, suggesting reading programs that are available to read your material to you. That sounded like a good idea. So I found the Natural Reader and Victoria. Victoria is a computer generated voice with a particularly odd cadence – one that is a bit difficult to warm up to - but she began reading Out of the Silence to me.
Victoria’s characteristics are very interesting. First as I said, she has such a strange cadence and a odd accent that she disturbs my dog, Tilley. As she read, I could hear Tilley on the other side of the desk throwing her afghan all over the floor and making such strange noises I had to check to see if she was having a seizure. After several of these episodes, Tilley would come over to me and hit me on the leg. We went outside several times to see if that was the problem, but that didn’t satisfy her. Several days into the process, it was clear that Tilley hated Victoria and simply could not tolerate listening to her read. So I had to listen to Victoria read the book wearing ear buds. Next Victoria is limited in what she can do with certain words, so Dr. Cunningham or anyone with Dr. before his name became drive instead of doctor. Imagine hearing Drive Cunningham and Drive Fairbanks over and over. Deron became De – Ron, and J.D. became J. (pause) D. (pause) Ponder. Otherwise the reading went smoothly.
Now, let’s see. Out of the Silence has been edited ten times by me, by a computer program editor, a professional copyeditor, read by Victoria, Create Space has designed the Cover for publication and the Kindle version, and the interior is composed and an actual copy of the book is on its way for my approval. Kindle has the interior version and in a few days, the Kindle version should be ready to buy. Once the actual book arrives at my doorsteps, I will either approve it or “run for the hills”, and then the process will move forward and the book will be available for people to buy as a printed copy. I have no actual idea of the timeframe for that.
Somehow I saw all of this as a magical process where the first time I saw the book cover, I would have tears of joy come to my eyes and I would feel so wonderful at the sight of my first book, and then when I saw the actual pages appear as a book one reads with beautiful print on each of the pages as I turned them, I would be gleeful with the joy of my words in print. And I can’t image what I will feel when I can hold the actual book in my hand with my name on the front once it arrives in the mail – ecstasy – I think not. No, let me disappoint you. There is I’m afraid more trepidation than a thrill, more gulps than tears, more perusal for errors than admiration of the beautiful print, and more stress at what others may think of my words in print than delight. So there goes the fantasy of the first book being published. So I’ll take the great advice of one of our published writers in my writing group – never read the reviews. Just keep writing and imagining how wonderful it is to be a writer and fantasizing about how great it is when this process of publishing and promoting begins. And should someone come up to me and say, “Are you Marilyn Snow?” I’ll just say back, “Why do you want to know?”
Can you tell I’m scared to death?
The bottom line – Out of the Silence will be available to buy very soon – on Kindle first and then by print soon.
What’s Next – PROMOTION AND MARKETING!!!!!!
If you know any good venues looking for an “interesting” writer to come for a book signing let me know.
I’ll keep you posted and let you know the minute the book is available on Amazon.
BACK BOOK COVER
For the first time, Out of the Silence traveled through cyberspace last night to the computer of my copy editor. This is a momentous event for me. I wrote Out of the Silence so many years ago that it is not only a story of a historical time, but a book with a long history. Methods for research changed phenomenally, and when the book was written it was difficult to know without a lot of effort if the word “yeah” was used in 1848. It is now possible to turn to an iPad and ask Merriam-Webster's on-line dictionary for the definition and find the origin of the word, which happens to be 1901. So having used the word “yeah” well over a hundred times, I had to replace it, but the question was with what? So as you can see, getting ready to release Out of the Silence to an expert editor was a major step for me. It far surpassed the anxiety and terrifying experience of letting go of the 200-page dissertation in 1998. And, never in my 25-year career as an academic writer have I suffered such angst when releasing articles to a number of editors on a journal. For after all, throughout this book, there is a part of my heart and soul. But alas, it is gone.
Before letting go of Out of the Silence and after reading and editing it at least 10 times over the years of its long history, I laboriously entered it into a computer-editing program. It has taken me weeks and weeks, and challenged my confidence, not only in my skills as a writer, but in the entire field of writing – who knows what makes a good writer? Statistics show there are 300,000+ new books published each year and with self-publishing the number is increasing incrementally. Even though I wrote Out of the Silence for my own pleasure, I see no reason not to share it with others if they can find it. Now I’ll move forward with my cover design and the technicalities of ensuring that my book remains my book.
In this novel, people are lynched as a part of the cruelties of those times, and so it seemed that the skeleton branches of trees would represent the starkness of the silence of those inhumanities. I found my trees for the cover of the book among the hills in my subdivision silently standing in the shadows of a gloomy winter day. So hopefully from the 50 pictures I took, there is just the right picture for the cover. I’ve shared a couple of the pictures – I thought you might like to see them.
Wish me luck, and I’ll keep you posted.
OUT OF THE SILENCE
Today, a friend and I went exploring the areas around Madison, which are primarily what one would call, the country. You drive for miles through farmland before coming to small towns such as Rutledge, Madison, Buckhead, and Greensboro. When I was a teenager, I lived in the city of Decatur and places like Rutledge and Madison were definitely seen as “being in the country”. As we drive through the area occasionally looking for antique stores to wander through, not really meaning to buy anything, since we’re at the stage in life where we need to be selling to antique stores rather than buying from antiques stores, I think about when I use to live in Georgia way back before I became an antique.
Later I look up the word antique to make sure I’m not feeling sorry for myself. The first definition I find on MasterWriter.com is “Belonging to, made in, or typical of an earlier period. See Synonyms at old.” I’m convinced antique is a good adjective to use when describing myself. Although my mother may fit the category better at 92.
Feeling like an antique, reminds me of two particular young men whom I knew well in this area when I was young. As I walk through the antique stores, I contemplate those many years ago and those young men. They were both very significant in my life, a young woman in the mid 1960s who thought her role was to marry and have children but who so clearly wanted to be something more than a mother and a wife. Both were interested in me being a wife and a mother to their children, and both were very special in their own way. I certainly don’t want anyone to read this and go, oh, I know who she’s talking about, but I doubt the chances are very good that will happen. First, many who knew me then are not likely to read this, and at this point in my blogging career few will read it at all.
So I imagine, I can have a little fun talking about the old boyfriends who have a special place because they are from a certain period in my life. First, there was a shy, young man who to this very day I will declare with great vehemence he was the spitting image of Elvis Presley. And even after moving to Mississippi, and driving a thousand times to Memphis, Tennessee where pictures of Elvis are everywhere you look, I will still swear he was the spitting image of Elvis Presley. And to prove this wasn’t just the fancy of a teenager, he once went to visit an aunt, and one of my male cousins who had never met him before passed through the bedroom where he was sleeping. As my cousin walked into the kitchen, he said, “Who brought Elvis?” Now I don’t know if he sings, but he was shy and shy like Elvis. If you ever watch Elvis closely when he’s not acting, you’ll see that deep-seated shyness. So even when I was in Mississippi, and there was so much more available to learn about Elvis, I was reminded even more of that young man. To be honest, he was that teenage boyfriend that was a girl’s first true love. We were going to be married, but I kept dwelling on how I would go to school? And I wondered how tired would I be just taking care of a house and children? I knew I wouldn’t be happy, and I knew if I wasn’t happy, then no one would be happy. And how unfair would that be for all involved? So he is the boy I never forget and somehow always associate with Elvis. Now 50 years later I know he lives somewhere close by in Madison, which is an odd and strange feeling for an antique.
The other story is a little like a southern gothic gone bad. Not naming the town to protect the innocent, I dated a young man whose family lived in a big southern home in one of the smaller towns. Our families were from the same religion, and so as far as the families were concerned, we were a perfect match. For my brothers, he was a perfect boyfriend for their sister because he drove a red Plymouth fury – quite sporty in those days. He was, I don’t think shy, but quiet, very quiet. He was studying some type of engineering that he didn’t talk about to me. I’m sure I was the one doing the talking. His father was in construction, and thought it would be wonderful if we married, and then he could renovate a beautiful large southern home for us near their home. Consumed with the thought of possibly living out the life of the southern ladies in Gone with the Wind that seemed almost like a dream come true. Except, it would be a little difficult for me to go to school, get an education, and do whatever it was I thought I might need to do. That big house would probably consume all my time just keeping it clean since it was doubtful that I would have the help available to the women in Gone with the Wind. Although my grandmother had seemed happy with her flowers, fruit and vegetable gardens, bees to make honey, canning, quilting, sewing, tatting, and having 10 children and 36 grandchildren, I was pretty sure that wasn’t going to work for me. So, feeling clearly miserable and I’m sure making everyone around me miserable, we broke up. I can’t even remember how. It must have been unpleasant because I don’t even remember my high school graduation and the fact that he attended.
When I decided to come close to where the two men lived, I looked them up on the computer. They both still live in the area and are both very successful with wives and children. Only the boyfriend who meant so much to me lives in Madison. I am unlikely to run into the other. I’m not sure I would remember him, since I don’t even remember him attending my graduation, so I may not remember how he looks. There is a picture of him on the computer, but I’m not good at looking at pictures and then recognizing people from their pictures. I would make a terrible detective.
But I imagine I’d recognize the boyfriend who looked like Elvis. He’d probably not recognize me. You know some antiques can really change with age.
Over the past six months, I’ve thought a great deal about returning home to Georgia. Things from my past have muddled through my brain repeatedly throughout the days. Some pleasant, some sad, some regretful, some filled with grief, and some viewed in a much different way than in the past. And today I remember how I don’t need to collect anymore in my life, I need to continue to give things away; and I now have memories that are 50 years old that reside in my mind like the lyrics from Knights in White Satan “Letters I’ve written, Never meaning to send…. Just what the truth is, I can’t say anymore….” *
On Facebook today several of my past students shared a great poster designed by the American Counseling Association which I hope speaks to my journey back to Georgia and will turn out to mean deeper truths for me on this path through the past into the future.
The year 2015 has been for all of us like most years, one of changes of many shades of happiness and sadness. It has meant birth and growth as well as a clearer sense of aging and dying. Such is life and the meaning of being human. But I hope we can celebrate all its many shades.
Now we begin a new year. During 2015, as I made the transition from Mississippi to Georgia, there were months when I would go to turn a page in a calendar and wonder if I would see the end of the year. The future was so unknown it was hard to imagine what December would be like and where I would be. Now December is gone, and I will begin to turn the pages of the 2016 calendar. I don’t know about you, but calendars have always been very significant to me. They are all over my house. I spend a great deal of time in early December picking out the right ones for the different places. There is an easel calendar on my desk – so I know what day it is each morning when I write my morning pages – very important. It has to be different each year, and I have had beautiful ones and strange ones that made me look forward to the end of the year. Then there is always one in the kitchen – so I know if it’s the weekend. There’s one in my office on my desk so I can write notes on it to keep up with the appointments through the month. It should have all the months of the year running across the bottom or top so I see the date of a certain day of a month. Then I usually have one in my bathroom, so I can remind myself what is going to happen at work. I guess I won’t need that one now. I realize I should be able to remember what day it is from writing my morning pages by the time I get ready for work, but I write my morning pages in an altered state of consciousness called “not fully awake”. After all, the purpose of morning pages is for clearing out unresolved clutter from sleep. Sometimes I buy daily inspirational calendars, but rarely because I find that over time I become put out with the inspirations. This year I bought a particularly beautiful x-rayed flowers calendar, which I was going to put in my kitchen, but my mother saw it and loved it so much, that it is now hanging in her living room. The calendars give me a sense that there is a future, and that there is a way to keep up with the passing days.
I can’t speak of passing days and watching the calendar without talking about the loss of my cousin, Amy, in November. She was a year younger than me, and she died close to Thanksgiving and all the upcoming holidays, so many of those days we mark on our calendar. She fought a strong and hard battle with cancer, and she won’t watch the calendar in 2016. For us this is sad, but there is, I think, peace in not watching calendars. And for those who are left without her, there will be grief and sadness as those days on the calendar pass this year. When my sister-in-law, Judy, died, I made a calendar with different pictures of her for each month, so her family and I could have her with us in a special way as the days passed through the first year she was gone.
This year of 2016 will be different for me as I watch the days pass, and as I move through my future. I have learned new things about myself, which are shocking. First, is that I am a night owl, and I wake up around 9:00 p.m., get sleepy around 1:00 or 2:00 a.m., and then naturally wake up around 7:30 in the morning. Hopefully, I can learn to put those strange hours to good use writing. Second, since there is no rush to get anything done, I realize I take twice as long to do everything. Third, I can think of a million things to do to keep from sitting down at a computer and editing. I wish I had a million dollars to hire someone to take the raw copy of my novels, fix them up, publish them, market them, and just let me go on to the next idea and the next book.
Do you think John Grisham gets to do that? I know James Patterson does. He even has people helping him write the books, bless his heart. And I’m not sure William Faulkner edited his books, and we just thought his stream of consciousness was great writing. I know for sure that Carolyn Heilbrun, an English Professor at Columbia University, was against having books copyedited. A little tangential side line there – sorry!
When I sat down to write my first blog for the year, I wasn’t sure what it would be about. I hardly thought it would be about calendars, but so it is.
I hope for all of us the 2016 pages of our calendars will turn with peace and serenity. For me, I have changed the fullness of my life, and cleared the path for a new way of being as I move towards a time of awareness of aging and the awareness of the lessening of pages to turn in calendars in my life. I am hoping my pages on the calendar are about writing and not all about editing.
Happy New Year To All!