Thursday, July 29, 2010

Friends Today

My Aunt Susie, who is 95, has lived her entire life in Waycross, Georgia. She never married, working as a typesetter for the Waycross Journal Herald for forty years. Aunt Susie was, and is, a reticent soul, almost dysfunctional socially, but she was the only grownup I ever knew who had a pen pal, and Susie’s pen pal was from Holland! As a child, I couldn’t imagine having a friend who was from a place so far away. And get this, Susie actually traveled to the Netherlands one time to meet her friend in person! Keep in mind this was in the late 1950’s when people just didn’t travel like they do now, at least not people who lived in Waycross. After she got back, when asked about her trip, she said it was “nice.”

Fast forward 50 years. When I started blogging six months ago, it was mostly to entertain myself and my more tolerant friends with my views on life, and to have a place to store my memories for my kids and grandkids. Little did I know I would become the Aunt Susie of my generation as I began to interact with people all over the world. I submitted a couple of my stories to a site called The Elder Storytelling Place, and, before I knew it, I had a small gaggle of greathearted friends who supported my efforts at writing just as I began to do the same for them. I now have a friend who lives in England, another from Scotland, another who lives her life in Newfoundland, and one who spent many years in Israel. And I've gotten to know folks who live all over the good old USA, north, south, east, and west, all people whom I consider to be friends although we’ve never met face to face.

One of those friends is Mary B. Summerlin, who was my first blogging cyber buddy. We first conversed about one of her stories in which she told of growing up on a farm in South Carolina. She mentioned that her grandfather’s last name was McGee. I too have a passel of McGees hanging from my family tree so I wrote something in the comments section of the blog and soon heard back from her. We haven't figured out yet if we are related or not, but the point has became somewhat moot as we've turned into fast friends. Although Mary is from Poughkeepsie, New York, her family home is in Starr, South Carolina, a mere 100 miles from Atlanta. As we were getting to know each other, we also discovered that we are both divorced, and both teachers. We are also mothers and grandmothers, and we have similar perspectives on the ways of the world.

What has been even better for me is that Mary has a few years on me, so I get to see her as a mentor and guide as I feel my way forward in life. I think, deep down, I would like to
be Mary one day, retired from full-time work, but still engaged and busy, full of energy and questions and plans and projects.

Just the other day, I was able to feel what Aunt Susie must have felt all those years ago as she made her way from Waycross to Amsterdam, although I had only to drive to Starr, South Carolina. That's where I had the chance to meet my new old friend, Mary B. Summerlin, when she was visiting her family farm, which is now run by her brother and his family.

I have to say my kids thought I was a little bit crazy when I told them I was going to meet my online friend in a place called Starr, South Carolina. I think they thought I'd accidentally happened upon an over-the-hill same-sex dating site. And I'm
sure Mary's family was wondering why this total stranger from Atlanta was stopping by their house and generally getting in their way on a hot summer's morning when they had other things to do.

But Mary and I had very few qualms and it took no time at all for us to warm up to each other since we were already friends. We toured the house (much to her sister-in-law's tolerant dismay) and talked about writing and storytelling, as Mary is a powerful storyteller and I’m a fledgling writer. Mary told me about her childhood in that very house, and her memories brought back my own memories of my childhood home, very much like Mary's, where I lived until I was four and where my Aunt Susie grew up before she ever even thought about traveling to Holland.

Mary's childhood home in Starr, South Carolina

Marcia's childhood home in Waycross, Georgia
both were built by a man named McGee

The very best part of my visit was riding on the tailgate of Mary’s brother’s truck while we toured the farm. I felt just like a kid again, holding on for dear life to the back of that truck, as we retraced the steps she took as a child. I already knew a good bit about Mary's childhood through her writing and storytelling. I knew of the Big Gully and had an idea of where Laura Francis had lived, but on that very special day I was able to see those places in person with my friend, Mary, who, although she lives far away, has so much in common with me.

I know people are opining that the internet is making us all antisocial and isolated, but without exploring cyberspace I would have never met Mary or my other blogging friends around the world. So, I don't feel isolated at all. In fact, I feel as if my circle of friends has expanded exponentially and I've learned that people who are far away can feel quite close.

Maybe that's what Aunt Susie was trying to tell me when she said her trip was "nice."

Saturday, July 24, 2010


I flew home to Atlanta the other day from my home in Portland. This is the first time I felt Portland to be as much my hometown as Atlanta and leaving was difficult. I know I’m lucky to be able to spend so much time with my grandkids while still having a space for myself. I’m also lucky to be able to live in two incredibly beautiful cities and in two spaces I truly love.

Below are things I miss about each particular place when I'm not there.

  1. my grandchildren
  2. hanging out with my very own grown kids
  3. toys underfoot
  4. my tiny front yard that I don't have to maintain
  5. wandering around St. Johns
  6. Sauvie Island
  7. the rivers and bridges
  8. my big bathroom
  9. the weather in summer
  10. my gas fireplace (even in summer)
  11. Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens
  12. being able to walk to the grocery store
  13. my new Portland friends
  14. Trevor's cooking
  15. dancing with the family
  16. not working
  17. family field trips
  18. happy hour in Grammy’s Garden
  19. a new state to explore
  20. a new life
  1. closer proximity to Molly
  2. family furniture
  3. my job
  4. my car
  5. Friday early bird dinners with Allison
  6. my old Georgia friends
  7. going to the movies with Allison
  8. not having to walk to the grocery store
  9. my sunroom
  10. the old ladies' Macy's at North Dekalb Mall
  11. my ottoman
  12. Publix Supermarket
  13. Piedmont Park
  14. walking through Ansley Park and by the High Museum and Atlanta Symphony Hall
  15. my view of the Atlanta skyline
  16. movie star neighbors
  17. not having to put the trashcan out each week
  18. my purple bedroom
  19. an old state with many memories
  20. an old life
My experiences in each place and space are quite different. My Atlanta home is old and historic. My building was completed in 1917 and Margaret Mitchell once lived in it. My furniture is comprised of mostly old family pieces and my decor is shabby not-so-chic with lots of things (the good, the bad, and the ugly) I've created and collected throughout the years. My Portland home is new and "green", built in 2004 to improved standards. My furniture is all new (at least to me) and the decor is still sparse, although I'm working hard on adding my own personal tacky to it.

My Atlanta home is private. What I put down stays down and all dirt is mine.
My Portland home is communal, with kids and grandkids in and out, the toilet seat up and down, the refrigerator opened and closed (and occasionally slammed), toys and kid paraphernalia everywhere, sometimes a dog named Lou.

And so, I get to live two lives, both of which embrace and reflect my loves, my interests, and my crazy quirks. On the west coast, I get to be up close and personal as I pretty much think of myself as a full-time Grammy. And then on the east coast, I get to find my solitude and pursue my other selves.

Okay, I know it’s difficult to feel too sorry for me, but I have to say that the transitions are tough, and I'm not just talking about time zones. I have a hard time figuring out which keys are which and I can’t remember if I have any toilet paper or where I keep it. I can’t recall which aisle my Diet Cokes are on in each of my two grocery stores or where are my favorite TV channels are under which remote-control buttons.

And then there's the letting go of the little ones. It was especially hard this time as they are getting old enough to realize I’m leaving. Miles had a meltdown when it came time to say goodbye, his outward falling apart mirroring what I was feeling inside. My heart felt broken in two, each half situated on opposite sides of the continent.

Because there are so many people without even one home, it does sound a bit self serving to be complaining about "oh what a burden" two are, but it's the straddling that's difficult, and I know it would be even more difficult if I didn't have the means to have comfortable surroundings at both ends of the straddle.

So, since I’m not ready yet to give up either life, I'm back to feeling lucky, and I guess I’ll just continue to try to appreciate each place and experience when I'm in the middle of it all and to remember that the transitions will be confusing and painful.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Pirate across the Street

For ten months of the year, I live in Midtown Atlanta, in a building that, until recently, housed a person who is now an international fugitive, and where, each spring, I can look out of my window and watch men in various shades of lavender passing by for the Purple Dress Parade. For the other two months, I live in St. Johns, a community in the northern part of Portland, Oregon, which, I’m here to say, is even weirder than Midtown Atlanta.

St. Johns (note the lack of apostrophe which no one can seem to explain) was named after James John who, in 1865, laid out the original town on the tip of the peninsula created where the Columbia and Willamette Rivers converge. Most stories report that the Saint part of the name came to be because old Jimmie John, a recluse, was one of the few men who didn’t frequent the local brothel in those early days.

But enough about history and back to now. As I’ve already reported, St. Johns has its very own one-legged Elvis impersonator. In addition, there’s the local schizophrenic people call the Telephone Man, so named because he stops at each of the few remaining pay telephone booths in town to “talk” to Sharon Osborne about her Diet Coke needs. There’s also a guy who meanders up and down Smith Street each day, reading the very same very thick book, and another fellow who walks around town sporting a giant iguana that sits on the back of his neck. And then there’s the pirate who lives across the street from me.

I chose St. Johns for my second home because it's close to one of my children (and just about a 20 minute drive to my other) and because it’s a place where I can survive without a car. Lombard Street, which is St. Johns' main drag, is two blocks from me, two easy blocks, not Atlanta blocks. There’s a grocery store and pharmacy in town; there are several restaurants; there’s a library one block from me, and three playgrounds within a half block either way. There’s also an antique store where I bought my kitchen table and my bedroom dresser, and an Enterprise Rental place close enough for me to walk to in order to pick up a car should I decide to rent one.

I've related some of the good things about St. Johns and there are lots more, but it also has its seedy side. Two rocking chairs and my grandson’s bike were recently stolen from my daughter’s front porch and it seems that a drunken prostitute one time threw up in my son-in-law’s car, which was parked in front of their house. Of course, none of that sounds much different from Midtown Atlanta.

But nothing of the above, the good, the bad, and the ugly, compares to having my very own pirate living across the street. I know he’s a pirate because he flies a pirate flag from his home’s yardarm, and his pirate rowboat is moored on his front lawn.

He appears to be a very nice pirate, and hard working. He leaves each morning in his haphazardly painted truck and comes back each afternoon after doing what I imagine to be some kind of construction work. He grows roses in his garden and even offered a pretty red one to my son as he was going to his car one afternoon after visiting me. My pirate would most likely be found wearing a Lynyrd Skynyrd t-shirt, rather than a tricorn hat and knee breeches, but, then again, he might save those for St. Johns’ very own Pirate Festival, which I will have to miss since it occurs in September.

Because St. Johns offers just about the last affordable housing in Portland proper, quite a few young families are deciding to make the move here. I have to say I admire these current-day pioneers, people who see this odd place as a good place, a place where they can raise their children and make an imprint and a difference. They could, instead, be living in planned communities where everyone looks the same, with the same thoughts and attitudes, with everything new and nothing different. I'm sure those places feel safer than the grittiness of St. Johns, a place that, at times, reminds us that life can be hard.

But the longer I live, the more I know that, while we don't want to go around looking for trouble, difficulties and despair can find us at most any time, in any place. We can't insulate ourselves from the cares of the world, and living a careful life won't keep hard times from coming our way. Bikes get stolen and hearts get broken, no matter how carefully we plan, no matter how hard we try to protect ourselves and those we love. So, we might as well spend some time in an interesting place like St. Johns where we can, at least, have someone like a pirate living across the street.

It's enough to make you say ARRRGH.

Friday, July 9, 2010


My legs are bruised from knee to ankle and my ice cream is missing. My home is littered with debris and my furniture is all askew. There are smears all over my windows and my blinds have been violated.

Was it a burglary? A hate crime? A hostage situation?

No, it was a tiny (not tater) tot convention, an invasion of the Grammy snatchers. It was my grandkids.

Although they try hard to maintain what's left of my sanity, the longer I’m in Portland, the more things
my kids think up to do so that I can keep their kids. But I’m not complaining. The primary reason I make my twice-yearly trip to the West Coast is so my grandchildren can realize how wonderful I am.

And they have! They think I’m great! That’s because I let them eat chocolate and run rampant. I don’t make them go to bed and, one time, I let Miles watch South Park when I couldn’t find his mother-approved wussy cartoons on television.

My kids don’t dare complain because I’m free and available and I don’t do drugs or text my boyfriend while I’m babysitting. They do get a tad testy about the chocolate, especially when I give it to the little overstimulated urchins right before they come to pick them up.

And I do love those grandchildren of mine, their sticky sweetness, their hugs when I don’t even beg, their goofy smiles, and their childlike, yet discerning, retorts.

But, boy, do they wear me out. Just getting them in and out of their car seats is an exercise in fortitude. Back when my kids were small, we just threw them in the car and prayed for their safe arrival. Now you have to have big biceps, strong thumbs, and a tolerance for cursing just to shoehorn the little tykes in and buckle ‘em up.

And now, you can’t just send your kids out of the house and lock the door. You have to slather them with sunscreen having something called an SPF and make sure the Child Welfare people aren’t being called when they bang on the window when their protection wears off. They're like mini vampires, waiting for the sun to go down before they can venture out.

And then, there’s the park. They always want to go to the park. Even Georgia wants to go to the park, although she often falls asleep in her stroller on the way. Cami’s favorite thing to do is to go up (but not down) the slide. How can a kid who isn’t even two figure out what the rules are so she can break them? Miles’ favorite thing to do at the park is to strip and pee. Right there in front of God and derelicts. My job is to first tell him no he can’t pee at the park and then to shield him from perverts and the police as he carries on with his plan.

When I have all three of them over, it’s like inviting drunken sailors to a tea party. They lurch around and fall down; they fight over the smallest things, pretend to mourn their bad behavior, and then break out into furious tears over the slimmest slight, all the while swilling and spilling and spewing outrageous claims. The rules of war are followed as they adhere to a stringent pecking order: Miles takes advantage of Cami; Cami gets the best of Georgia; Georgia cries; and Miles gets back at Cami. There seems to be no real fear of retribution (at least while Grammy is there), and to put it bluntly, they act just like children.

Bath time is my favorite time, partly because the little imps are somewhat corralled. I've bathed two at a time; never all three. I
have bathed Miles and Cami while Georgia tried to climb into the tub. They are so much fun when wet, although they can be slippery. They love to pour the dirty water into cups and suck on the washcloth. I’m pretty sure there’s some urinating going on in there but, so far, no number two.

Since my time with my grandkids is relegated to two weeks at Christmas and six weeks in the summer, I'm realizing that each West Coast visit I make becomes like a snapshot in time. Never again will these three look, act, or be like this, and when I have a moment or the energy to think about it, it feels so precious and makes me a bit melancholy.

But, although I would like to sit and mourn the sweet but sad passing of time and the delicate texture of experience, there's some dried spaghetti I need to scrape up off the living room floor and a diaper in the trash that's starting to stink.

Thank God.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Let It Roll

There are moments in life when you just feel lucky, when the confluence of time and place and experience and event bring you to an occasion that’s purely sublime. That's what happened to me last night.

The time was early evening; the place was the Portland Waterfront Blues Festival; the experience was time spent with two of my grown children; and the event was the chance to hear Little Feat for ten bucks and two canned goods (being Portland).

With me at my advanced age, it had to be early and it had to be easy. I no longer like to stay up late and I don’t look forward to much of anything enough to go to much trouble to take part in it. But the band was playing at 6 and I was in Portland anyway and the kids were willing to drive me and park me and help me navigate the crowd. In addition, the non-Grammy-related parental units were willing to solo cover grandkid bath and bedtime for the evening. And then there was Little Feat. Little Feat is part of my history.

I grew up in a family with much happiness and great humor but very little music. I remember my daddy playing church music on the radio on Sunday mornings, more to annoy us than anything else, and then there were my begrudgingly-taken piano lessons on Wednesday afternoons. I remember my mother introducing me to a recording of Flight of the Bumblebee and Daddy’s favorite song being Alley Cat, which he kept wanting me to practice so I could play it at his funeral. Sadly, or most likely fortunately, my daddy died and was memorialized without me at the keyboard just behind the preacher.

One of the things I truly loved about Gary Talbert, when I met him, was his passion for and understanding of music. He introduced me to Otis Redding, the Allman Brothers, Bonnie Rait, Ray Charles, Van Morrison, Rickie Lee Jones, and so many others. One of those others was Little Feat. I don’t have much of an ear for music and very little rhythm in my soul, but there was something about that particular band that spoke to me. I think it was the syncopation, rhythm so compelling I was able to get over myself and become lost in it.

And so, in a perfect storm of cosmic forces, there I was with two of the three people I love most on earth, caught up again in the magic of Little Feat. I cried with the first chord of Dixie Chicken and stood mesmerized through Fat Man in the Bathtub with the Blues. When they started up Let It Roll with that unforgettable hallmark frenetic whoosh, I screamed so loudly even the dancing dervishes stopped whirling to look at me. And then I remembered Jan Waybright playing leg guitar to that particular song on the road to Athens some time in the mid 80’s, and it seemed like yesterday.

There I was again, dancing and moving, dare I say grooving? Who cared that I was sixty and had arthritic knees and a throbbing toe? I certainly wasn’t the youngest person there, but I wasn’t the oldest either. After all, the band started up in 1969, just a year before I met Gary, so their emergence and my musical education and appreciation grew throughout the same decades.

It wasn’t until after I got home and saw my picture with my loose-skin-spot-speckled arms raised in Feat-struck appreciation that I remembered my age.

Rock 'n Roll Arm of Shame
I wonder if Stevie Nicks has this problem.
It could explain the shawls.

For a moment, I felt just a tad short of ashamed, thinking I shouldn’t have been there at my age, not acting my age with a little disorderly conduct in a public place. And then I thought: screw it. I was having fun and doing something I enjoyed with people I love in an absolutely gorgeous setting. It's a night I'll always remember and something I'll add to my Absolute Joy list.

What could have made it better? Having my youngest with us would have created my perfect kid triad, which tends to be when I'm happiest and most in the moment. Having the Big Kat there, in spite of his geezer know-it-all horse's-assed-ness, would have been fitting and even fun, since we all have him to thank for the music in our lives. Having the grandkids there? Probably not. It was a night for grownups and a chance for me to remember my youth and consider my many blessings.

Despite my loose skin, I am a lucky woman.

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