Letter in the Snow

Pictures from FranceThe white envelope was laying on top of the snow and ice mound next to my letterbox at the end of my driveway.  Most likely it had been dropped by the mail carrier as she tried to maneuver her truck close enough to the box. My headlights flashed over it as I returned home in the early morning hours before dawn and I almost dismissed it since most of the mail that comes to the street side is junk.  For some reason I felt I should retrieve the envelope before it was buried by the slush of the plow trucks that would be coming through soon.

It was postmarked “Republique Francaise, La Poste, France” where I have distant relatives and it had been in transit for two months. The handwriting had that European charm I had seen in my grandparents writing and it carried me back to a time when I sat at my grandmother’s side as she wrote, in her lovely script, letters to family and friends in her homeland.  Her mother, my great grandmother, had emigrated to America with her daughter and two sons after the death of her husband.  I never knew my great grandmere but I felt as if I had know her from the stories told to me by my mother who adored her.

The letter in the snow read “Madame; this letter will be a surprise for you. I find in my mother’s home those photos. My mother was a friend to your grandmother, Josephine Vannson Chagnot before about 1912!! They write always until she dead. So I am 86 years old and I don’t want keep those photos. Maybe you will be glad to get them. This is your family. I hope your address is good, I find it on internet Google. If you receive this letter, please tell me. this is my address E-mail xxxxxxxx . sorry for my English but there is a long time I don’t speak English and I did not know if you speak French. Sincerely Regina, Eaubonne, France.”

This stranger, this new friend, this person who connected me to those I had loved so dearly, had sent me the treasured gift of photographs of my family, my grandmother and great grandmother as they were crossing from France to America in 1912. There were pictures of my grandparents’ wedding, great uncles, homes they had built, my parents and their newborn infant, my brother.

What Madame Parmentier could not have know is that some years ago, during a break-in at my home, the thieves had stolen not only things of monetary value but for some unknown reason, my box of treasured family photographs. The photos that arrived today are some of the only ones I now have, something to pass on to my own grandchildren to stretch the thread of family across the generations.

I am the last remaining member of my mother’s family.  They have all died and I stay on as their memory keeper.

Music for my Soul

music notesThe sky was at its bluest and the clouds their whitest on that sunny but crisp October afternoon as I sped down the interstate trying, by sheer force of will, to shorten the two-hour trip to the hospital. I had no room for thoughts other than the silent whispered prayers for intercession.

My dad had begun hemorrhaging and the ambulance summoned by my mother had just pulled out of the driveway when she called my office. There were so many things I needed to say and words I needed to hear. This man had been central in my life for 40 years and I found it impossible to believe we didn’t have more time. Death always comes as an ugly surprise, regardless of age or circumstance.

Racing at 85 mph, hoping there were no state troopers lurking behind the berms, my hands shook and my heart beat as though I had run a marathon. Suddenly, a song on the radio answered my questions, filled my need.  I could hear my father talking to me, they were his words anyway, of that I was certain and they were telling me exactly what I wanted him to say and what I needed to say to him, “I will Always Love You.”

“And I hope life will treat you kind And I hope that you have all
That you ever dreamed of
Oh, I do wish you joy And I wish you happiness
But above all this I wish you love
I love you, I will always love you”       Dolly Parton

So, all these years later, every time I hear this song I am pulled back in time. Even now writing this, my tears are as fresh as they were on that drive so many years ago and my heart swells with love and affection for the man who was my Dad.

It seems as though my every life event of consequence has a theme song and I relive days, both happy and sad, in the replay of the music. Richard Thompson’s “Dimming of the Day” reminds me that I have loved and been loved in return, that the intimacy that completes the circle is not beyond the sphere merely out of reach.

I allow myself to swim in Clair de Lune; my heart swells, I hold my breath, waiting…..waiting…..for that next bar that will take me through the waves and out to sea.

How can I limit my words about the power of music in my life?  I have a dear friend, a songwriter and performer, who saw me teetering on the edge of an abyss and sent me his song “Some Things You Gotta Keep, Some Things You Throw Away.”  The words brought me back to safety and I carry them with me always, remembering and calling them up when I need them the most.    Billy Preston and Dennis Wilson’s “You Are So Beautiful” was the lullaby I sang my baby daughter and even as I hear it today, I can feel her in my arms, fighting the sleep that wants to carry her away and I can smell that beautiful scent that is my child.  When I leave this earth, these are the memories that I will carry with me into eternity.

Music is such a powerful influence in my life, a companion, a friend, a shelter, something to which I turn for comfort as well as pleasure. Some people hear music as background sound but for others of us, it colors our soul and rounds out the edges that are sharpest. It is the nourishment that sustains us after we have been living on bread and water.

When writing about my photography, I said “Great images are the ones that make me wonder what happened one millisecond before the click of the lens or one millisecond after the image was captured. A great photo, like a great piece of music, is one that carries me into the unknown. Its the river on which I can travel toward the ocean.” Continue reading

What Color Brings

Alley-2 0664The image is filtered and cropped to reflect the feeling this alley brought to me one cold October Sunday morning as I walking through the little village in Lebanon, TN, enjoying the colors and the company.  The concrete walls seemed to emanate the warmth that was missing from the air brought in following the rains of the prior few days.

Tinges of soft moss green touched the brick column that was the corner stone of an old building.  Even the cracks in the cement held strings of that same green, a remnant of the summer past.

There was the vague scent of dampness that seemed to come more from age than the weather, that slightly acrid but not unpleasant smell of decay.

The buildings that surround the perimeter of the small  square all wear festive colors that belie the general downtrodden state of the little shops that inhabit  their walls.  Building-2 0670Collections of dusty remnants from days and lives past clutter every available space from tilting wooden floor to sagging wooden ceiling.  Old tables, glass cabinets, bed frames, dishes, piles of old patchwork quilts, wood carvings, mantle clocks and knives, well honed from generations of use.  I’m fascinated by the assorted debris of other peoples lives, lives that came long before mine most likely.  I envision the homes once ornamented by this eclectic blend of grace and utility.   I hear snippets of conversation as the women of the house gather in the kitchen to make pies and Sunday dinner and the shutter of the screen door slamming closed as the children race out, all trying to be the first to reach the swing.  I feel the heat of the stove, not unwelcome on this cool day, and  smell the bread rising in the covered bowl in the pantry.

I am carried to a time no less simple than today but different and I have a vague longing to join them on this October morning in Lebanon, TN. Continue reading

In Between

I was speaking with someone the other night who was relating an experience and in the description, he said that he had been “between wives”   which led me to think about all of the permutations of the word “between.”

“Between” bridges two separate places, people, things, emotions, events.  It supposes there will be two as in “between wives” but sometimes it is merely a hope or an expectation.  We might desSplit_Rock_-_geograph.org.uk_-_25518cribe our work life as being between jobs, or our education as between semesters or our dilemma as between a rock and a hard place but it is always the connecting thread that links the past with the future and “in Between” is a place for dreaming, hoping and even decision making.  It is where we  consider where we went wrong and how we will change ourselves to fit this new place that is at the other end.  It is where we decide to cut our hair, shave our beard, change our wardrobe, smile more, or maybe be kinder but knowing that the zebra can’t change his stripes, that last is simply our response to our past self, the very same self who will move through “in between” until the other end is reached.

The only absolute “between” is that journey from birth to death so every day of our lives is in a state of “in between.”

Dinner at Dimitri’s

In the land of lost smiles04-05-2015I think we all have moments when we see ourselves in a mirror, when our armor is invisible if only to ourselves.  Such was my dinner at Dimitri’s.

The occasion was the gathering of a group of people who had shared time together in a decade long past.  Some of them had kept the thread of connection intact through the years and their sense of friendship and community was obvious even to a casual observer.  There were stories of shared adventures as well as shared memories and I was the observer to their recollections just as I had been the observer of the events themselves.  I had been on the periphery rather than an active participant so the stories were much like an old newsreel, displayed in black and white and as choppy as a windblown surf.  I long for the panoramic colors of intimacy that I deny myself.

What the image in the mirror reminded me is that I have always lived my life apart from others. Even though I have had a desire for close relationships, only once in all these years have I been able to break through the self-imposed barriers that kept me on the other side of the the experience of living.  I’ve worn what I think of as my life cloth in presenting myself to the world, the life cloth that protects me and keeps me in my solitary place.

And so, as we sat having our dinner at Dimitri’s, I observed, as I always do, and was envious of their ease and familiarity. I wondered, somewhat absently , if I would ever again open the cloak of life cloth I wore or if having had the experience once would have to be sufficient to fill the part of me that was devoid of connection, standing alone like an aging tree on the mesa Continue reading

The Clutter Project – Day 1 – Dad’s Workshop

HardwareDay 1 – Dad’s Workshop

This is an interesting process to say the least. Decisions at every turn. What might I use in the future and what can be discarded, given, sold, or thrown. If the afternoon progresses as I hope it will, I will be able to start filling the dumpster I have rented for the purpose.

My dad’s workshop is a veritable treasure trove of useful items, redundant useful items, as well as things I’m sure even he forgot he had and even if he had not forgotten, I wonder if he remembered their purpose. Such are the arcane remnants of a lifetime. Continue reading

The Clutter Project

alphabet        I‘ve been trying to clear the clutter from my life. The other day, I was walking around the house in which I live, the one in which I grew up having returned to care for my parents before they died and I was thinking about those things that I have, things that I own, that I have collected through the years, and the things that have been passed down to me from generations past.

Do they still have meaning to me beyond their memory? Isn’t the memory enough  

I have some beautiful ivory sculpture but I realized that I haven’t even really looked at those pieces in a couple years. They simply exist on a shelf. Why do I keep them when I could pass them on to someone who would enjoy them. I have little things that hold memories for me even if there is no financial value. Why do I keep those when I can just keep the memory.

The attic and the basement are filled with “things” neither useful nor even remembered. They are part of the past but not the present and probably not the future.

I think its time to empty the shelves, the boxes and the trunks and get rid of the superfluous keeping only that which I cannot do without.


Continue reading

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