Tag Archives: Gay

If You Tell A Town A Story…

mouseHave you ever read the book “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie?” It’s all about cause and effect and how one thing leads to another. If you give a mouse a cookie, then he’ll want some milk…and so on. That’s how Wednesday unfolded for me, all because I told that story about spending summers watching Grandmama Eunice write the “News In Gay.”

If you tell a town a story…you wake up to a message from DeeAnn saying that her mama found some of your grandmama’s old columns and has already passed them along to your mama (who calls later to say that she has them set aside and will visit soon–they’re too fragile to mail). Because our mamas have been friends since the late 1940s and our grandmamas were friends too. Miss Ruby and Mr. Hoke lived right down the road from Grandmama Eunice and DeeAnn said she used to HATE it when her Mimi got on the phone with Miss Eunice because it meant they were going to talk for a WHILE and DeeAnn was going to have to cool her jets.

If you tell a town a story…the boy you had a crush on since before you could remember–yes, Jeffrey from last summer’s story about peaches–who also happens to be DeeAnn’s baby  brother, has sent you an email to say that he remembers the exact sound that old metal drink box at Jack Findley’s made. He says he’ll pass the article along to the Findleys’ daughter, Alice, so she can read it too. And then your friend, Lynn, from back in elementary school writes to say that she is all teary with sweet memories because Jack was her Daddy’s brother and that was her Uncle Jack and Aunt Bessie and she loved them so. And I tell her how it was at Jack Findley’s store that I first learned how to whistle, sitting there on the upturned apple crate at the end of the counter while Miss Bessie talked to Grandmama and Grandmama enjoyed an Eskimo Pie from the freezer chest. Then Joe Nash, whose mama taught me at Vacation Bible School for many summers, says he remembers going to Jack’s to buy Chef Boyardee. Joe just opened The Fat Chihuahua restaurant in that little town and it sure ain’t Chef Boyardee!

If you tell a town a story….Lori Lee calls her mama from Florida to tell her about the story about Miss Eunice and before Miss Susie has even had time to finish her breakfast, the two of them are crying and laughing over the good times that Lori Lee had with her Nannie on those summer days long ago. How Lori Lee ate great big bowls of fresh peas right after swimming lessons and before the soaps. Before she hangs up, Lori Lee tells Miss Susie how she understands that it’s important for her own Max and Morgan to get time with their grandmama.

If you tell a town a story…Miss Susie shares that story on Facebook and one of her friends, Carol, says how she remembers my grandparents so fondly because she spent a lot of time at that very house while she and “Sammy” were dating. And I squawk, “You’re THE LEGENDARY CAROL?” The one Daddy still mentions now and then as he clutches at his heart while Big Gay rolls her eyes. And then Carol subscribes to Baddest Mother Ever and now I’m Facebook friends with my Daddy’s prom date.

letter-447577_1280If you tell a town a story….Sonya, who just last year married the boy that SHE had had a crush on since the 1970s, reports that she was going through some old papers at the bank and remembers seeing some of Grandmama Eunice’s columns. She promises to take another look and let me know what she finds. In the meantime, Stephanie, a Wesleyan sister, sends me a tip about a project via the UGA library where they’ve preserved small town newspapers on microfilm and I might want to check it out, seeing as that’s about two miles from my house.

If you tell a town a story…you find out that your VP at work knows that town because her husband was roommates with Willis, a boy from right up the road. Instead of talking about work, you end up talking about shelling purple hull peas and how to make that sweet tomato relish and how it was good to be the girl baby in the family because it meant your grandaddy let you stay in the air-conditioned office at the packing shed while your brothers had to pick peaches. Even the SharePoint developer who was there to talk about site design and governance starts hankering for a big bowl of peas and a glass of tea.

If you tell a town a story…you hear from Mrs. Love, the wife of your elementary school principal and she says she read the story to him and he says hello. My cousin, Greta, who was one of two guests at my first birthday party, says it brought back so many memories of Aunt Eunice’s house. My cousin, Annette, who’s 92 (but you didn’t hear that from me) and still the life of any party, remembers how kind Aunt Eunice was to her after her parents died when she was still a teenager.

If you tell a town a story…you get more stories in return and your heart opens up and you learn things you never knew about people you’ve known all your life.


She Pushed Me

10712475_10204160137356691_7861090945178605088_o“Hey, she pushed me!”

“Ashley’s using my hairbrush!”


“Get OFF of me!”

That’s how my sister and I talked to each other when we were growing up–the way sisters do. Now that I’m back home from a fantastic Adventure Girls trip to San Francisco, I’d like to report that my sister pushed me. AGAIN. A couple of times.

1782499_10204160137556696_6295599819005434958_oMonday night, she pushed me out of a cable car. It was her idea to take a nighttime cable car trip to see the city lights in the first place. We got on the Powell Mason (or Powell Hyde? I dunno, she’s the one with the sense of direction) and rode up and over the hills of San Francisco. From one end of the line to the other. When the car was crowded, we stood inside the glassed compartment. But at the first chance, we got some seats out in the open air. Vivi kicked her feet against the side of the seat and stuck her boots out into the wind. I sat there next to her, ready to grab her by the collar in case of sudden stops, untoward jostling or…earthquake.

Gay said, “Come stand on the running board and hang on.”

Me? With my sensible purse and imperious shelf of matronly bosom? Why, I don’t even color my hair anymore and I am wearing Dr. Scholl’s shoes for goodness sake.

But she pushed me.

I hung my ass out in the wind and it was GREAT. I couldn’t stop grinning as we sailed up and over, down and around all those wonderful hills. When I looked out over the Transamerica Pyramid all lit up in orange for the Giants’ World Series win, I got that deep seated feeling of joy in my heart–that place where my sense of adventure lives. All because my sister gave me a little push.

And Vivi? Vivi got to see her mama being bold. She got to see two women having fun in the wide world.

My big sister isn’t one for limits. I had decided to change my grand plan of renting a car and taking Vivi to see the redwoods on our last day. It was just too much hassle. Instead, we rented a tandem bike and set off around the marina. Gay went off to her surgical conference to earn some CME hours.

Then right when Vivi and I were getting saddle sore, I get a text: “Want to rent a car?”  By the time we got back to the house, Gay had us a car and a Plan. We took off over the Golden Gate (and Lynrd Skynrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” happened to be playing on the radio) and up into the woods. Muir Woods, to be exact.

10712561_10204160136796677_596909291184890860_oI would have been happy to walk along the wooden boardwalk under the giant sequoias, but Gay decided–in her flipflops–that we should go for a little hike. We went up to the top of the valley on the Canopy trail so we could look down from the tops of the giants. I never thought I would be teetering on the edge of a gorge filled with ancient redwoods, but my sister pushed me and there I was.

We wanted to go to the beach–she found Muir Beach. Vivi played in the cold water of the Pacific for the first time. I picked up striated rocks I had never seen before and old shells tumbled by the sandy waves. 10623298_10204160136516670_2485446281195265282_oWe had to leave before sunset to get the car back, but Gay was already ruminating. “Next time, we come PREPARED to hike! We’ll stay until sunset! We’ll…”

She busted it back to San Francisco through evening traffic. Didn’t even need the GPS for directions. I was ready to get Vivi back to the apartment. Gay assured me there was time for one detour.

Our route was so circuitous that I was sure she had gotten lost. Then she turns up a hill so high that it looked like a wall in front of us. She starts giggling. “Ready?”

Ummm…for WHAT?

fixed gay darkI couldn’t even BREATHE. She floored that little Kia and we shot straight up into the air. Both of us leaned forward instinctively, as if we could urge the car up that precarious angle. Gay had her face pressed so close to the windshield, I snorted, “You look like Aunt Eula!” That got us tickled.

When we made it to the top, she slowed to a crawl so I could look out across the vista of lights and down into the bay. The three of us paused there in that moment, the whole world spread out below us. Vivi squealed from the back seat, “Whoa!” when she had been getting whiny about dinner just seconds earlier. Aunt Gay said, “See, Vivi? You gotta trust me!”

She hit the gas and pushed us over the edge of the hill. It was so steep and dark, it actually looked like the road had disappeared beneath us and we might sail out straight to Alcatraz. We hurtled down Taylor Street as the lights of the city whizzed by our windows. I laughed and laughed and laughed. I couldn’t quit clapping like the Mama in “Nutty Professor”–Herc-a-LES, Hercales!

Gay popped me on the leg with the back of the hand and asked, “When are YOU going to learn to trust me?”

I trust her. My sister pushes me, and I let her, because I know she’s also the one who would never let me fall.

Thanks, Gay. I love you.




In That Other Half of the World

December 24 1968. Image courtesy of NASA.

Today is the fall equinox–the day when dark and light are almost equal. The day when our spot in the rotation around the Earth, given the tilt of our axis, points towards things growing darker and colder. But just for a time.

In that other half of the world, it’s the spring equinox–the day when dark and light are almost equal. The day when the spot in the great ellipsis around the sun, and the tilt of that same axis, point towards the days growing warmer and longer. But just for a time.

Same planet + same moment in time = totally different experience.

Vivi asked me last night if it was morning in Japan.  “Pretty much,” I answered. Our sun only rises over the pine trees in the backyard because it has set for that other half of the world.

G grew up in that other half of the world. I asked him once what everyone did on Christmas Day and he said, “Go to church, eat, then go to the beach.” Late December is high summer in that other half of the world.

When I was in Brasil a few years ago, I couldn’t get enough of looking at the stars at night. To think–these were entire constellations I had never seen! In all those travels to Europe and across North America, this was my first time looking at the night sky of that other half of the world.

Something so concrete that we measure our years by it, like the seasons, is completely opposite for the other half of the world. Something so eternal that we use them to navigate, like the stars, can be absolutely, 100% different for the other half of the world.

It’s so hard to remember that it isn’t fall everywhere. Or it isn’t morning everywhere.

That’s one reason I think we all need to travel if given the chance–to see the other half of the world and remember that their world is just as real and right and ordinary to them as ours is to us.

My Wesleyan sister, Bryndis, and I were talking via Facebook a few weeks ago. Her family used to live in the same small town of Gay Georgia, where I grew up before they moved one town over. She asked, “As my Mom would say, who are your folks?” I said, “We got Crouches, Todds, Mathews, Garretts, O’Neals…I think that about covers it!” She told me hers until I recognized a name. She said her mama still worships at Mount Venus Baptist in Gay.

I brought up the subject of how strange it is we grew up on the same dirt, graduated from the same college, but had such different experiences. We both have strong families, good grades, lovely manners, and we know the same shortcuts over back roads. We have different colors of skin. There are exits on the interstate where she won’t stop, even in the daylight.

When I went back to Gay last month for a family funeral, my sister and I drove straight to the cemetery instead of following the funeral procession.  It’s easy to find–go through the one red light then turn left onto Cemetery Street. Drive through the dark tunnel of oak trees and up the hill. We parked the car in the back corner and walked over to our family plot inside a mossy brick wall with ornate metal gates. I recognized the names on the headstones that we passed–Baughns, O’Neals, Estes, McCrarys, Turners. Something struck me as odd. Here we were on Cemetery Street in the cemetery, but where were the Stroziers, the Renders, the Germanys? I had grown up thinking this was The Cemetery, but clearly there must be another one here in town. And I had no earthly idea where the black cemetery was in my own hometown.

It shouldn’t have surprised me. There is nothing more segregated than a cemetery. It was one of those “other half of the world moments,” just as jarring as realizing that spring is also fall and morning can be night.

When you never get out of your half of the world, it’s easy to forget that the other half lives on the same planet, on the same day, in a COMPLETELY different experience.

As different as night and day.




Well, Shut My Mouth.

Mouth of Akhenaten or Nefertiti  circa 1353 BCE Image courtesy Met OASC

Mouth of Akhenaten or Nefertiti
circa 1353 BCE
Image courtesy Met OASC

The emotional fatigue of these last few weeks has taken some part of my voice with it. There is so much to say that I can’t seem to say anything. There are 130 drafts in my blog folder, but I haven’t written anything in days.

Last week, I went to a funeral in my hometown–Gay, Georgia. I want to write about the family cemetery and the fact that my grandmother already has a place marked for me that I’ll never use. I also want to write about how I lived in that town for so long, it’s where My People have lived for 100 years, but I have no idea where the black cemetery is. It can’t be that far from the streets I know. I have so many things to say about race that I can’t even start.

The preacher at the funeral said some things about religion and world views that sat so wrong with me that I had to pull out a piece of paper during the service and take notes on all that I couldn’t say in that moment. But the paper is still there in my purse. He has his way and I have mine and never the twain shall meet.

I made the widow laugh that day, as we leaned against a mossy stone wall by the raw red clay of her husband’s grave. I wanted to write about how important that was to me. It’s good to laugh. It’s one thing only the living can do.

Even on a sad day, I was happy to be with my family. Watching my cousin’s girls do gymnastics after lunch, barefoot in their black dresses. Admiring pictures of fish they have caught. Telling stories with people who have known my people for generations. Catching up with my sister and making plans for our next adventure with Vivi. Laughing with Brett when the police cars hit the sirens to began the procession and she pretended to run from Johnny Law.

I ate food cooked by good-hearted Baptist women and I wanted to write about that. Pound cake made by Miss Ann. Miss Ruth’s macaroni and cheese. Miss Marcia, my Sunday School teacher, whose voice takes me back instantly to when I was in single digits. I haven’t written about any of that.

I went back to Wesleyan for fall convocation on Tuesday. I talked to the senior class about doing their best. How their best will change. I stood in front of an auditorium filled with hundreds of people and I told them that I’ve struggled my whole adult life with anxiety and never feeling good enough. I want to write about that, too. How important it is that we be honest with our younger sisters, that no one sits alone and thinks, “It must just be me.”

I want to write about how my son’s feet, when I go in to check on him and he’s deeply asleep, how his tiny little feet take my breath away with their perfection of form and their total innocence. How soft they are, and strong and how one day not long ago, I could hold them both in one hand. How one day he will go off to college.

Tomorrow is the 10 year anniversary of when Richard gave me Sadie’s ring and I want to write about that. I can’t yet.

Where I come from, when you are met with news that is so shocking your mouth just hangs open in wonder, sometimes the only thing to say is, “Well, shut my mouth.” You can say it when you’ve been corrected. Or when you’re gobsmacked. That’s kind of where I am this week.

Maybe writing this has shaken something loose. Maybe.


swiperSunday brunch at Norma’s in Le Parker Meridien.  It’s become a tradition for my sister and me when we go to New York.  

The waiter brings us a little amuse bouche of fruit smoothie in adorable tall shot glasses.  Highly collectible glasses…if you know what I mean.  (If you don’t, read my story A Red Marble Sink and you’ll understand why my sister gets nervous around me and labeled glasses.)  In a place that charges $15 for a glass of orange juice, the glass should come with it…right?

So I’m eyeing the cute glass when Gay gives me a blistering stink eye.  I jokingly slide it across the table towards my lap.

“Don’t.  You.  DARE.”

As we’re giggling about it, the waiter flits by and whisks the glasses off the table.

Gay snorts and says, “Ha Ha!  You’re too late!”

Aw, man.