Tuesday, August 8, 2017

MY WICHITA LINEMAN

And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time.


Possibly the greatest words in any love song, ever.
A love ballad in fifteen words. 
Sung by a tall, good-looking, supremely talented, Southern boy.


I have spent a few tears today. My first troubadour has died. Glen Campbell's music was the first music I wanted to own. He was also the subject of my very first blog post (August 11, 2013).

I was born and raised in Texas but my family was from Southwest Arkansas. We'd never been to Delight or Billstown but I remember my father always being interested in anything Glen Campbell did. Arkansas Boy making it good.

My Daddy loved to sing and we would travel with the car radio playing the latest hits, singing "Where's the Playground Suzie", "Galveston", "By the Time I Get To Phoenix." I was too young to recognize the leavings and longings of popular music.

When I was about ten, I wanted a Glen Campbell album for Christmas. A couple of days before Christmas, I found a wrapped album with my name on it, under the tree. I remember having to live with anticipation of what I knew had to be a Glen Campbell Album.

Tearing the paper that Christmas morning revealed an illustrated vinyl record of Walt Disney's Peter Pan. I was crushed and panged with guilt, trying to hide my feelings and say thank you for a gift I didn't want. I remember thinking my parents still thought of me as a little girl. But at night, I was lying in bed, listening to my transistor play "Wichita Lineman."  

 The double platinum album of the same name won the 1968 Grammy for Best Engineered Record, Non Classical and topped charts in Country Western, Pop and Adult Contemporary.  Written by Jimmy Webb, ("Up, Up and Away," "Galveston," "MacArthur Park" to name a few), Wichita Lineman is ranked 195/500 on The Rolling Stones 500 Greatest Songs of all Time. Of course. It should be higher ranked but it is only two below "Freebird." Or Freebird should be two below the Lineman. 

Please, Power and Light, give this man a vacation. He can't work because everything reminds him of his beloved. Jimmy Webb doesn't even mention the word love. He doesn't have to. Needing and wanting. All that anyone really wants. Which came first? Need, want, love. This is a commitment for all time. This is open and honest.


And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time.

I love this song. It never fails to pull at me. I love Glen Campbell. He was my Wichita Lineman. No one is shocked today but we are sad. Life is better celebrated than mourned.

 Peter Pan resides in a flea market somewhere.  About five years ago, my parents gave me a birthday present they said I would like.  At the first rip of the paper, I could see Glen Campbell's smiling face.   
We will always want him.







Monday, August 7, 2017

HANGING ON BY THE DOT

Bone on bone. Two words you never want to hear.  But we did, a year ago today. Instead of a fun birthday celebration for Burt, we sat eating at our favorite meat and three, mulling over the situation. It would require a lengthy recovery - six months to a year. Frankly, it was a lot to take in. But we had been taking it all in for almost twenty years.

I had just bought a used piano from a friend - $100. I learned to play the piano in 3rd grade. Since getting married, my dream was to have one in our home. Fifteen years later, I finally got my wish.

Only one day. I cleaned and polished. With the piano in the house, I felt like I had gotten back a piece of me. I knew the classics and scads of scales, Dan Fogelberg and Stairway to Heaven. The piano was my voice, a barometer of my day. I turned to the piano in joy, in sorrow.

Being Father's Day weekend, I fixed Burt a favorite meal of hamburgers and onion rings.The onion rings were delicious. We three ate onion rings until we could pop. I didn't make them very often. Onion rings are not that hard to prepare (I see a new post in my future) but there is a big mess of grease, dried flour and egg. Afterwards, I wanted to run in and play the piano for a minute, until I could clean up. And I'm also never one to jump at work when there is something more fun to do.

I was on the phone with Val, playing hymns and singing happily. I wanted her to hear my new piano. She said she would never forget what she heard. There was a big scream, commotion and then Burt got on the line and said he had to call the ambulance.

I will never forget the sound in my head. The piano bench broke on my ankle. I had never broken a bone. When the firemen arrived they said they had to wait for the paramedics. The medics arrived and said "Yes, it looks like..." They secured my leg, lifted me up on the gurney and put me in the back of the ambulance. It was 6 o'clock in the afternoon but not a single neighbor came out to see why a firetruck and an ambulance had raced down our street. Cate got to ride shotgun without the sirens. Burt followed in the car.

That one minute changed our lives, as "one minute you are fine..." . The life changing in an instant resides on slippery slopes and floors, inside of cars or four inches of looking away for just a minute. An inadequate amount of life changing is the lucky Publishers' Clearing House, "Mama, there is this boy", I got the job; sometimes, it seems that way.

Surgery with pins, a six week recovery in a hot pink cast and family and friends filling in the pieces. Many years of normalcy. But slowly, the bones gave into progressively worsening arthritis.  Twenty years of later - debilitating movement, range of motion with stiffening and swelling.  Now we were considering a major surgery we hoped would cure the situation for another 10-15 years.  Measuring my steps in my head had become second nature to me.  I was afraid of falling. My strength was nil. Knowing how far I could push myself which wasn't very far. I was becoming so crippled to the point, I watched commercials noticing how people walked and ran.

I was only going to check out the situation. Words like no weight for three months, two weeks in a cast, elevate, walker, wheelchair, cane, no driving.  P.T. The unknown. The complications. Basically, a total disruption for months which would rehabilitate me but meant never ending work for my family. Because I would need almost total help. I signed on the dotted line.

***

937,000 acres of farmland glistening gold as seen overhead in the flyby, a tourist of another kind. Do you take the picture in the moment of?  The tragedy is spread out before me but on the ground, eye level is watching water rise hoping the levee will hold, the bags are packed full and high.  Men stand looking at the disappearance of a road as a car lot inches into brown. A home surrounded by the gold, no drive or road to anywhere. After a few inches, what is the difference. The gold ebbs away from a piece of road, the slope of a yard but stretches into the culvert. High. Low. Gilded fields with an occasional green burst. My birds eye view. I can see the water poured out in days of rain across the plain, but there a house is stretching high where I can see just fields away, gold. I spy a red dot, a bulls' eye on a patch of green. An outbuilding steps away from the house still holding fast, a green rick rack pressing a border. To high ground. Red dot. Not enough to go around. Fool's Gold puddles into mud, down streams sixty-four million dollars.  

***

Standing next to her, I was a giant. She was a grown woman, the size of an eleven year old girl. She was holding a blouse. I nodded to let her step in front of me. I had several items to purchase. She never acknowledged my offer, which she took. In the South, this would be a double thank you. The woman looked across the store to a man waiting. There was no color in her clothing or face. There was no second of wasted energy in her movement. Her hands were the only life in her body. At first, I turned toward my daughter and raised my eyebrows for the "quick" purchase I had so graciously acquiesced to.

The longer we stood at the counter, I realized her pain. Past or present, a slippery slope had changed her. Her frame was so slight as if she had relinquished what made up her life.  She was in the grip. There is no pain without fear. With no comfort zone, she balanced as if on the top of a pinhead, the circumference of one wound tightly. Standing, barely a dot of existence.

***

Five fingers feverishly reaching out. Just the hem, the tip of the fringe. A fleeting chance in the dust of the road. Everything was gone; the money, the physicians, the hope, the joy, twelve years. The hemorrhaging was getting worse. Did she want twelve more years, living a life unclean, without ceasing?

He was surrounded by a large, unrelenting crowd. People shouting to get his attention. People bumping into him to tell them their stories. The disciples did their best to protect him.

If I can just touch the fringe, just the brush of it on the tip of my finger. That's all it will take.

Jesus stopped and turned around. The crowd still moved around him. He saw the woman, still leaning over. She looked up, realizing she had been noticed. Jesus said, "Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well." I know. I know the minutes of your day. I see you physically breaking down, overcome by a flood of depression. I know the anxiety of your never ending condition.

In one instant, the woman was healed.

The last hope in frailty, flood, fear. Faith to let go - of the dotted line, a red dot, the dot of a pinhead - and touch the fringe of the hem of the cloak worn by Jesus.  











Wednesday, August 2, 2017

VACATION RECESS: Double First Cousins, Southern Comfort and Just Desserts

Summer in the South usually means at least one family reunion with first, second and third cousins, and sometimes double first cousins.  Double first cousins are not cousins marrying cousins, but the offspring of sisters who married brothers.  You cannot be raised in the South and not know who your people are.  You will be asked more than once, when meeting new folks, if you are related to the Judge with your last name, but you say no, because his people didn’t come from middle Tennessee in the 1870s.  Even my Yankee (anyone whose sun sets north of the Mason-Dixon Line) friends admit we tend to keep up better with family.

The origins of these reunions are often found in birthday celebrations.  Grandpa may still be rocking on the front porch but Grandma seems to get the parties.  In family pictures, Grandma is usually a severe-looking, bun wearing, snuff-toting, Bible thumping woman who has spent her better days looking out for everyone but herself.  After tending fields, making clothes, plucking chickens, nursing babies, and stirring pots; without any modern conveniences like warmed baby wipes, satellite TV, fast food fries, e-mail, or hormones in a bottle; well, you get the picture, the old lady finally gets well deserved recognition. 

Grandma’s birthday becomes a holiday when the oldest passel of kids wants to sing her praises for raising twelve surviving children.  And a good reason to party at the old home place in the country.  My two family reunions are the result of Grandmas’ birthdays in July and August.  The reunions started over seventy years ago.  My reunion memories started with big kisses from Grannie and “The Aunts”, sitting in the shade, wearing cool cotton dresses, hosiery and sturdy black shoes and sensible summer hats.  Today, the great aunts sit comfortably in the air-conditioning in their polyester pants and tennis shoes.    
***
The July reunion is on my father’s side.  There is a four-generation picture with me as a baby, sitting on my great-grandma’s lap.  She was very old.  Fifteen years ago, the last of her twelve surviving children died.  This reunion has evolved from the old home place, a city park, the air-conditioned community center, another outdoor venue due to unforeseen circumstances and a weekend reunion at a nice-sized country hotel with a pool and a big dining room complete with a kitchen for all the cooks to gather around.  For the past few years, we are now meeting about an hour south in another state, where most of the cousins now live.  We get together Friday night and have lunch at Saturday noon.  Everyone wears a nametag, which is very helpful, as you only see these people once a year unless someone dies or has a long hospitalization. Facebook has been great to help keep cousins connected. I’ll never forget driving three hours down to the family cemetery on a cold, foggy January day and turning up on the gravel road at the church to see a huge hosts of my Daddy’s cousins already standing on the road beside his grave. Most of them had travelled over three hours. That is family. 

Our fun would begin when we got to Mamaw's and Papaw’s house on Friday night.  My sister and I would run to the kitchen to see what sweets Mamaw had fixed for her baby, our Daddy.  On a sugar high, we would jump into the rollaway bed on the sleeping porch, lying right under the window unit.  The casement windows around the tiny room were adequate for a breeze but no match for a humid, summer night in South Arkansas.  Being a city girl, I loved the artificially chilled air.  On Saturday morning, the smell of bacon would wake us up.  Bacon, eggs, toast, oatmeal, juice, milk, coffee, peach preserves and sorghum.  Papaw set the breakfast table every night before retiring.     

 Sunday came early as all the cooks crowded their hips into Mamaw’s kitchen to pack up all the food and head for the community center.  The old home place is now a grazing field and not family-owned but we did have a “singing” on the property a few years back.  Spread out on tables in the air-conditioned, fly-free room are, at the very least, garden fresh tomatoes, fried okra, buttered corn, purple hull peas, squash casserole, sliced purple onions, bacon seasoned green beans, dressing, macaroni, cucumber salad and a couple of jello salads. 
 Stuffed bell peppers are lined up next to pot roasts and briskets.  Homemade fried chicken and store bought fried catfish.   A dessert table laden with caramel pie, banana pudding with meringue, jam cake, chocolate cake, peach cobbler.  Milk jugs labeled sweet and unsweet.   More than enough to feed one hundred people.  A look around the room reveals we eat what we cook because it is truly Southern comfort.  After seconds and thirds, family matters.  Births, weddings, graduations, and a moment of silence for those not with us this year.  This side of my family is more weepy but there is a lump in your throat when they say your loved one’s name.  Then we pass the hat, or plate, nowadays.  By the time you drive off, your first button is undone and you fight the tide of sugar calling you to slumber.
*** 
The Labor Day Sunday reunion is on my mother’s side.  For almost every Labor Day weekend of my life, I headed to Grandmama and Pa’s.  We would have a little family reunion on Saturday and depart on Sunday morning for the drive to see our extended family.  Ten people would fill up two cars.  I always wanted the car without my parents.  My sister and I would be dressed in our new back-to-school dresses and shoes, whatever the temperature.  If you rode with my queasy cousin, you might get a bottle coke when we stopped to get her one.  Coca-Cola is good for what ails you.

 Family still owned the farm, complete with a red barn, whispering to city children to come see the charms of the country, and the smells.  In our brand new finery, we would climb halfway up the hayloft ladder and jump into a huge pile of hay. Miraculously, no one was ever hurt.  When we were sticky, dusty and hot, the bottomless ice drink coolers offered every kind of cold coke.  In the South, Coke, not Pop, is universal for any sweet carbonated drink like Dr. Pepper, 7-Up, NuGrape, IBC Root Beer, and certainly, Coca-Cola.  Every reunion we counted up how many drinks we guzzled.  These were the days when children drank milk and water all week long and a Coke was something special.

 This reunion was still held outdoors.  The only respite was when you were standing inside, in line to use the bathroom which had been added to the back bedroom of the original home place.  The bed would be piled with purses while ladies checked their lipstick in the bureau mirror.  The men used the hall bath.  Drinking eight cokes sent me in and out of the house.  At noon, everyone gathered around another food-laden table made of sawhorses and planks.  This dinner had the addition of exotic meats.  During the prayer, everyone closed their eyes so they wouldn’t see the flies having a field day on the disrobed food.  Several ladies could not fan every square inch of food.

My Pa was always in charge of this reunion.  He spent many, many hours in genealogy studies, long before online services.  He would’ve loved having a computer and the information highway at his fingertips. His mother was born just weeks after the family jostled all of their earthly goods over hill and dale, arriving in the new state to settle on fresh land.  My sister now lives hundreds of miles away, in the same town our people started out from. In a way, she has found a new dream in this faraway land, completing the circle.


Signed,

 A lady holding a plate of southern comfort and another plate piled with just desserts      

p.s. Grab the dessert plate first and be sure and get a taste of my Pina Colada Cheesecake, it’s a special request