Posted in Life Experiences

Cannot Touch

Yesterday after our weekly luncheon date, HR (Husband Robert), ex-wife Donna and I were walking along the Wilmington River in beautiful park-like Greenwich Cemetery here in Savannah.

We came upon a recent burial.

Which broke our hearts.

A newborn who didn’t live much past being born.

Posted in Life Experiences

Seeing Ukraine in Atlanta

If you read my last Five Friday Happy Bringers post (and why on earth would you not?), you may remember that Robert and I left Savannah to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day on its own and journeyed up to our favorite city, Atlanta, for a long weekend.

I don’t know about you, but when I travel, I tend to pay much less attention to the news (usually a blessing). And of course the headlines now are all about the horrors going on in Ukraine.

Robert is retired military, Army (thank you for your service) and gets wonderful free veteran tickets to The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, The Alliance Theatre, The Atlanta Ballet, The Atlanta Opera, The High Museum of Art, and midtown Atlanta parking—to name some of the biggies. We very often take advantage of this blessing. (Again, why on earth would you not?)

For this St. Patrick’s trip, we were able to get terrific seats for three performances with the symphony orchestra, theatre and ballet.

What I did not expect was the Ukraine connection in Atlanta.

As I mentioned In Friday ‘s post, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus sang the very moving national anthem of Ukraine. And dedicated the evening to the war torn nation. Several members of the orchestra were Ukrainian.

What was even more surprising was the Ukrainian connection the next night at the Alliance Theatre’s production of Bina’s Six Apples. In the play, “a family must abruptly flee for safety as bombings and battles encroach upon their home. It’s an all too familiar sight right now, as daily images of Russia’s onslaught of Ukraine dominate global news, showing refugees fleeing towns under siege every day … The theme of senseless violence is a powerful and sadly eternal one, given the shattering conflicts that have continually riddled the world and the impact these clashes have on regular people with no direct stake in the conflict.” ArtsATL.

And the matinee of Atlanta Ballet’s Giselle was bittersweet, with the incredibly talented male lead, Denys Needak, being from Odessa, Ukraine.

He was remarkable.

Thank you, Atlanta, for helping me to see. And reminding me to pray.

“Peace. Peace. Peace. Please Peace.”

“Lord in Your mercy, hear our prayer.”

Posted in Life Experiences

My Saturday Evening Post — Snow? Nope. Snow Way!

So last night good friends Donnie and Kinzie (Donnie is at SCAD–the Savannah College of Art and Design–studying film, and Kinzie is a talented photographer) texted me from their holiday soiree in hometown Urbana, Illinois:

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Donnie in pic below:

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My response:

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(Maybe I shouldn’t have included that part of text about crying over Tiny Tim IN A MUPPET MOVIE.  It’s a little embarrassing, mainly because it’s true.  Then again, maybe I shouldn’t have confessed that part about truth.  Oh well, water under the bridge now.)

The next interchange between Kinzie and me:

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You see, I live in Savannah, GA.  That’s right, the deep South, and we ain’t never hearda snow.  But, if you can believe Donnie and Kinzie, it’s this white, frozen stuff that falls out of the sky.  Ha!  Right!  Like I’m falling for that.  And it seems you can make “snow men” out of it.  Ha!  Right!  The only snow man I can make is outta socks:

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So, professor that I am, I decided to do some serious research about Donnie’s and Kinzie’s “snow.”  Of course I headed straight to UrbanDictionary.com.  And, looky here, Donnie and Kinzie.  Here’s what snow means:

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1. Snow — Something that is radical, cool, or otherwise awesome. Something that is snow is generally the sh_t, being top score, bitchin, etc. The word is derived from the fact that snow is generally off the hook in its beauty, power, and pimpery.

“Duuuuude I just saw Predator and it was sooooo snow.”

9. Snow — It is the process of adding lots of small hole-punched papers into a nuggeted back pack.

“Who snowed my back pack?”

10. Snow — Mislead, especially by overwhelming with (mis)information.  Deceive.  Hoodwink  Bamboozle.

“The teacher was snowed by the seemingly endless barrage of students’ questions and failed to realize what was really occurring in the classroom.”

25. Snow — Snow is a racist term used to describe white people in general, mainly because their skin tone is white as snow.

“Damn, look at that snow whitey, he’s white as snow.”

32. Snow — To shed excess amounts of dandruff on another person.

 “Mary was disgusted when John came over and snowed on her shoulder.”

Posted in Life Experiences

10 Reasons I Loved My Little Trip to Visit My Folks

Early yesterday morning I drove up to my north-of-Atlanta hometown of Ball Ground for a short visit with my mom and dad.

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My dad–Harold or Tub–is 89 (90 in November–come to the party!), and my mom–Geneva–turned 86 in May.  I can’t even begin to tell you how much fun we have when I visit.  They taught me (are still teaching me) to laugh, to enjoy life.

Here are Ten Reasons I loved my little visit.

1.  The early dinner that awaited me upon my 11 am arrival.  Okay, for some of you this will be a bit confusing, but in Ball Ground lunch is called dinner, and dinner is called supper.  (Breakfast is called Hardees.)

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My favorite meal in the whole wide world consists of 1.) my dad’s creamed yellow corn.  2.) My mom’s fried sweet potatoes.  3.)  A tomato and an onion.

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The corn is scraped, raw, from the cob and meticulously cooked stove top, stirring constantly to keep it from scorching.  It has the taste of heaven.

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These sweet potatoes look a little burnt, and they should.  That gives them the carmelized flavor.  Cooked in a large cast iron pan, there’s nothing better.  One stick butter, one cup sugar, sliced sweet potatoes.  Orange joy.

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Oh.  My.  Goodness.  Thank you, Jesus.

2.  The bird clock in my parents’ bathroom.

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I like it best when the batteries get old, and the hourly bird calls become eerily elongated.

3.  Walking around my folks’ small house (which my dad built BY HAND 34 years ago), looking at the bushes and trees.

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4.  Eating supper at Cracker Barrel.  During the meal a very overweight but jolly lady came over to our table and said to my mom, “Honey, can I give you a hug?  You remind me so much of my little grandma.”  “Why, of course!” Mama replied.

“”Our hugs come in twos,” my dad said with a laugh.  And then was amply rewarded.

I thought about saying, “What about me?  Three’s company.”  But my mouth was full of turnip greens and chow chow.

5.  My mother repeatedly getting her supper choice, “eggs in the basket,” confused with a meal she had about forty years ago at IHOP called “pigs in a blanket.”

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“Now what do you call this again, Neal?”

From the Cracker Barrel menu:  Eggs in the Basket–Two slices of Sourdough Bread grilled with an egg in the middle of each, cooked to order and served with smoked sausage patties, turkey sausage patties or thick-sliced bacon and your choice of Fried Apples or Hashbrown Casserole.

6.  Still at Cracker Barrel, as my dad stood in line at the counter paying (he INSISTED), another lady just finishing with paying her bill, saying to my dad, “Here, sir, let me pay for part of your meal with the rest of my gift card.  Happy early Father’s Day?”  And my dad, a bit confused at first, trying to PAY her for the gift card, before she finally hugged him and said, “No, no, I want to do this for you for an early Father’s Day present!” (While I stood over to the side between the pulled taffy and the Brad Paisley cd, unsuccessfully holding back laughter.)

As we finally left Cracker Barrel, my mom said to my dad, “You sure are hugging a lot of women today.  I gotta get you out of this place.”

7.  After loading mom’s walker in the trunk, and getting us all in the car, my mom, saying, “Tub, you should have asked that lady what days she usually eats at Cracker Barrel,” sending the three of us into giggles for two red lights, when I said to them, “I wonder if she would like to adopt us as her other family,” (which really wasn’t all that funny, but still got us roaring all over again, in the way you sometimes do when laughter is in the air.)  Pulling off the Ball Ground exit from I-575, my dad said, “Those hugs were a pretty good way to spend an afternoon.”  Because, of course, it was only 5:00 and we had already finished supper.

8.  The feeling, even at my age, of being HOME.

9.  The difficult but important discussion we had on this trip about what my mother would do if my dad died first.

“I just hope to goodness I go before Tub.”

“Now Neever (his version of Geneva), we can’t control those things.”

“What I really wish is that we could just go at the same time,” my mom said with total sincerity.

“Well, that might be possible,” my dad said with a twinkle in his eye, “the way I’ve been driving lately.”  And we all laughed, at something so unfunny.

10.  Experiencing irony as I was leaving Ball Ground the next day, stopping by a convenience store for a Yoo Hoo and a lottery ticket.   The long-time teller printing out my ticket, as she mouthed, “straight to hell,” the lyrics of a country song blaring from the radio, and then handing me my Power Ball and saying, “You have a blessed day, sir!”

A joyful, blessed trip.

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Posted in Life Experiences

Remembering Peter on this Teacher Appreciation Week

It never fails.  And I’m glad it doesn’t.  Whenever I see yellow gladioli, I think of Peter.  I saw some today.

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Peter Christopher taught creative writing in the Department of Writing and Linguistics up at Georgia Southern University (where I taught for twenty-four years).  He was a colleague and a friend and the fiction person on my dissertation committee when I got my doctorate.

And Peter died far too early in 2008 of liver cancer.

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After his passing, I reminisced about Peter’s impact on my life.  Here’s that remembrance:

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Peter, “Something Blooming, Something Found” and the Glorious Gladioli

Somehow, yin-yangishly I suppose, Peter’s smile carries both playful humor and serious authority as he says to me, “Here’s what I want you to do, Neal.”

“Take all that,”  Peter points at the pages and pages of text I have been rather proudly producing for weeks before asking/begging him to be the fiction person on my dissertation committee, “and put it aside–or throw it away.”

My dissertation is going to be an examination of how fiction can be used as a type of educational research, as a way of knowing.  And as part of my work, I want to write a novella which illustrates, through the characters and plot, various educational stances I have studied and enjoyed.  But I’m not a fiction writer, and I don’t really know how to get there.  I want Peter to sort of help quickly guide me through the process, tell me I can do it, be a cheerleader of sorts.

“Uh, well, you mean I’m not going to be able to use this?”

“Maybe.  We’ll see.  But for now I want you to forget everything you’ve written and have planned so far.  Here’s your homework.”  Again the smile–the smile that is beginning to get on my nerves just a little.  “For two weeks and for about an hour or so a day, I want you to freewrite.”

“You mean, just write about this novella idea I have?”

“No, Neal, freewrite about you.  About your life, what’s going on, what’s been, what’s to come.  About your inside life.  Your outside life.  Your family.  Work.  Friends.  Faith.  Anything that comes to mind.  Don’t stop for an hour–just write.”

My thoughts at this moment:  “Peter, are you CRAZY?  I am teaching full time.  I am on a deadline.  I do not have the time or interest to play your little freewriting game.  I just want to get this thing finished.  So no, I CAN’T and I WON’T do that.  And by the way, you’re supposed to just ENCOURAGE me, be my CHEERLEADER.”

My words at this moment:  “Oh, okay.”

After the frustratingly productive freewriting, which ends up changing in wonderful ways the entire story I will tell, Peter and I begin three months of tortuous joy.  I learn from a master.  Our weekly schedule goes something like this:

1.  Neal spends hours and hours and hours writing for a week.  Usually trying to get one scene done.
2.  Neal puts his folder of work (pretty good work in Neal’s mind) into Peter’s mailbox at the end of the day.
3.  The next afternoon Neal gets up from his desk and walks halfway across the hall towards Peter’s office, changes his mind and walks back to his own office and sits down.
4.  Neal feels silly at this childish behavior, gets up again and walks three-forths the way to Peter’s office, then returns to his own office once again.
5.  Neal calls himself all sorts of shaming names and finally walks all the way into Peter’s office, often simply because Peter has seen him walking back and forth, and tells him to COME IN.
6.  Peter smiles.
7.  Peter speaks:  “I can tell you put a lot of work into this, Neal.  But….”
8.  Neal revises.  And revises.  And revises.
9.  Neal realizes Peter is gifted beyond measure.

When we approach the end of the novella work, and I am fretting over a title for it, Peter tells me with a laugh, “Don’t worry about that.  I’m good with titles.  I’ll come up with one.  My gift.”

One of the young characters in my story, Kellie, LOVES flowers, grows them everywhere she can.  Her favorite is the yellow gladiolus.  (“It stands up in a garden.  It’s not afraid to be seen.”)  And since my tale shows a small group of high school students who come to realize that they have viable voices which are important and should/must be heard, Peter names my novella, “Something Blooming, Something Found.”

I am nervous as the dissertation defense begins.  I have foolishly invited folks from across campus to attend and quite a few are here.  Days before, when I asked Peter his advice about defending, he said that I should forget the negative concept of defense and just let my novella’s characters speak.  So that’s what I do.

I look at all those gathered in the Dean’s Conference Room in the College of Ed, take a deep breath, and begin my defenseless defense.  As I start, I see and sense Peter (“rock” in Greek) confer upon me three things: his trademark encouraging smile; a subtle and hidden to all but me “you-can-do-it!” thumbs up; and the realization, as my characters begin to breathe and speak, that something is blooming in me, and I am finding something, something I have not really grasped or undertsood until this moment in this room: I am a writer, not just a teacher of writing.

The next day, I walk into Peter’s office (without the ridiculous false starts) and present him with a bouquet of proud yellow gladioli.  He hoots in delight.  Hours later I hear a tap on my door, look up, and there he stands.

“Neal, I have been sitting at my desk looking at your flowers.  Really looking at them.  Seeing them.  They’re lovely.  They are so intricate, the way they turn and twist,” he says as he makes a circular gesture with one hand.

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“And there’s really only one word to describe them: GLORIOUS.  They are glorious.  Thank You.”

We chat and laugh a while.  Then Peter leaves.

But that’s okay.  He’s just across the hall.

[I write this in present tense for two reasons:  One, Peter has me write my novella in present tense.  And two, in ways that are important, perhaps most important, transcendent, eternal, Peter is with us.  Ever will be.  His smile that you and I came to appreciate so so much.  His always gentle spirit.  His instruction he gave to so many.  His embodiment of encouragement.  His model of living.  And His beautiful closing for each email and note he penned–“All thrive!”]

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Here we are after I defended my dissertation:

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On a whim, right before I published this post a few moments ago, I typed “GSU + Peter Christopher” in a search engine.  A Rate My Professor link from 2008 popped up.  One student wrote:

PC was my mentor.  I took every writing class he taught.  Writing was only a minor when I went to GSU… I would have majored if I could have.  He was a dear friend.  He taught me more than just how to be a good writer, he taught me how to love life — to have a passion for life.  He is gone from this earth, but never from my heart.

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Rest peacefully, Peter.  We remember you with appreciation and love.

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Related Post:  The Viewing & the Circle of Life

Posted in Life Experiences

Touch

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Savannah’s Broughton Street bustles with activity this past Friday night, even for a warm and gorgeous early spring evening. I suppose Broughton is as close as my quirky, Midnight City gets to having a normal Main Street, as the historic district snakes around twenty-two breathtakingly beautiful squares. (Savannah’s downtown area is unique and hard to describe–come visit us to see what I mean.)

My friend Robert and I venture to the Crystal Beer Parlor, share joyful banter with lovely Hostess Fifi, meet good buddies, consume delicious and perfectly prepared ribeye steak. Friday night joy. Next, Broughton Street Market with dream-laden lottery tickets in hand. Walking toward my car. Traverse past hip young couples pushing into dance clubs; midde-agers brandishing bags with Paula Deen leftovers; older folks leaving Savannah Music Festival venues; SCAD kids with blue hair waving in the breeze. Packed, noisy sidewalks. All well. Very well.

Then fate interrupts–as she often does.

They sit on the sidewalk. No sprawl. As if dumped there. Three young men, in their early twenties. Two dogs. Man and pet, dirty, smelly, retched. Outcasts from society. A block from McDonald’s.

I live downtown and have grown immune to the homeless, the beggars, the street people. They merge and melt into the old bricks, the azaleas, the wooden benches. So what if there is an occassional grocery cart on its side in the shadows? No big deal. It happens.

But then the soiled speak.

“Can you guys help us out? We’re hungry.” Honesty makes me tell you my reaction: No Reaction. Walking on. Past the dirty ones. Then Robert turns, and says, “I can’t give you money, but I can buy you some food.”

Why do I hang out with people like Robert? It’s so much easier to keep walking. Walking past. Walking toward. Past what I don’t want to see, acknowledge. Walking toward the known, the comfortable.

“What are you doing?” I ask Robert, a bit frustrated.

“Getting them something to eat,” he says matter-of-factly.

I try but can’t think of a real reason to stop this interruption of my previously perfect night.

Too late, already inside McDonald’s, I remember a possible reason to have kept walking, a religious reason even: didn’t Jesus say that we would always have the poor with us?

But Robert, reasonless, places the order.

Five minutes later, with a bag of burgers and a tray of dollar menu sweet teas, we walk back toward the vagabonds. One young guy, with his mouth inexplicably sucking on the side of a smoking soda can, with pierced nose tattooed in triplicate black dots along the bridge, stands up in dryrotted pants that touch bony, bare knees. Drunk. Or high. Or both.

I hold out the bag of burgers. Away from my body, and toward his. Embarrassed.

The young leader looks up at me and says, “Man, you guys are beautiful. I gotta stand up and thank you. That’s a cool jacket.”

I want to be anywhere, anywhere but here.

He starts to stand, to reach out to hug me, drunkenly.

But pauses, perhaps sensing my hesitancy.

I then see his eyes.

And my safe world shatters.

For his eyes are the eyes of a real boy. A boy with a mama and a daddy somewhere. A boy who used to be a baby.

“Where are you guys from?” I ask, shakily, terrified but now connected. Joined. Level.

“San Francisco, long way from home,” he replies.

And then my knowing comes: his eyes could be the eyes of my daughters. The eyes of my grandchildren.

Without thinking, I reach out and touch his scraggly face and hold it for a moment. I see him. I really see him. He sees me.

“If this was reversed, I would do this for you, man,” he says haltingly, as he takes the burgers back to the ground, to his low place.

Robert and I walk away.

Less than two blocks later, I feel tears on my face.

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Posted in Life Experiences

Old and New

Over Christmas, I took this picture of my eighty-five-year-old mother, Geneva, and my five-month-old granddaughter Madison (of grandtwins Matthew and Madison fame).

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85 years.  5 months.  Two wonderful ages.  Old and young.

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“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?”   ~Satchel Paige

Posted in Life Experiences

Berry Rome-ing

I drove up to North Georgia last weekend to visit my undergraduate alma mater, Berry College and the city of Rome.

And look at this pretty Roman lady I ran into:

I hadn’t visited Rome in years, but I knew my first stop (since lunch time loomed) had to be the Partridge Restaurant on Broad Street downtown.

I loved this restautant as a student. (Would it still be as good???)

They serve up the southern cooking family style. Well actually Kyra Sedgwick from TNT’s The Closer does! Look!

Not only did she have the physical resemblance, but my incredible waitress sounded just like the Deputy Chief Brenda Johnson character, if not a tad more Southern. Her real name is Wilma Temples, and I LOVED her.  When she asked me if I liked the fried chicken,

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and I told her that yes, it was delicious, she clapped her hands in delight.

What an incredibly tasty meal!

(Wait, look, there she is again, right behind me.)

But on to Berry College I stufflingly (for this post, let’s pretend that’s a word) went. Next stop: Oak Hill, the antebellum family home of Berry Founder Martha Berry.

And the backyard:

My childhood home doesn’t quite look like Martha’s:

What a wonderful feeling to drive through Berry’s main gate again, The Gate of Opportunity.  And at nearly 30,000 acres, Berry College boasts the world’s largest campus.

Ridiculously silly video introducing Dana Hall (toward the end I got distracted by students who yelled at me from their car):

I somehow managed to convince an RA to let me into my former dorm, Dana Hall and found my old room, #235.

I also tried to tell the kids about the cool Sock Hops we used to have, but they looked at me like I was from another century. (Just hush.)

Outside Dana Hall:

The Berry Chapel:

Pausing at Martha Berry’s gravesite. Yes, it’s right there next to Dana Hall beside the chapel.

And on to arguably the most beautiful section of campus, the Ford complex (Henry Ford funded this part of Berry).

I used to eat in the Ford Dining Hall below. (Also the site for yesteryear’s Sock Hops that those baby Berry students knew nothing about.)

Ah, the memories.

Finally, I drove about five miles (yes, still on Berry property) to the old Berry Academy part of campus to see my favorite spot of all, the Old Mill.

Believe it or not, we used to try to (illegally) climb that thing!

But not anymore. Nowadays these boots are just made for walking.  And sitting.

What a great Rome-ing day.

I have been so blessed to be a part of three beautiful and top-notch schools: Berry, Georgia Southern University and now SCAD (the Savannah College of Art and Design).

Other related posts and links:

My GSU Tour

GSU Retirement Post #1

GSU Retirement Post #2

SCAD-ing Outta Retirement

“My Berry”: