Archive for January, 2011

I found this letter from my mother in a water-damaged box last night:

June, 1982

My Dearest —

Sitting in a quiet house, you hear lots of strange sounds, sounds you normaly wouldn’t have heard. Being alone tonight at this time, my thoughts drift back 18 years ago when I spent a day very like one, but very different too.

That quiet evening turned out to be a very special day in our lives. Tears of joy had been shead 8 months earlier when my doctor told me we were expecting another baby, our prayers had been answered. We hugged + kiss and cried and then in great panic we all tried to be first at the phone to call Nanna + Grandaddy. Of course, we let your brother win as it was really his prayers that had been answered. I had given up [because of] months and years of heartache, but he never faltered —

Someday he would have a “something”. By then no-one [missing text] we would take any thing we could get — Granny was in New Mexido at the time visiting your aunt and uncle — so in my haste to get a note to them, I misspelled the word pregnant by leaving out the “n” and a quick reply came back from your aunt saying that she knew why it took me so long to get that way … “I couldn’t even spell it.” [missing text] for many a year I heard that.

Baptismal dress in photo made by my grandmother.

During the next eight months, we could have named a [thousand] girls — but not a single boy. [Missing text] could we agreed on — some nights the decussions became quite heated, so it would be dropped until a later time — only for the same thing to happen all over again —

How lucky we were, we [missing text] only got a girl, but she was healthy as well as “Beautiful”

Some times around midnight that night, your daddy couldn’t stand it any longer — he had already called your brother and told [him] and he had proudly announced it to Nannia and Granddaddy [and] had to wake me up + bring you in so I could see you — When I first [laid] eyes on you I thought you were the most beautiful baby I had ever seen — and how happy I would be to have one that pretty — but I knew that one couldn’t be mine

I thanked the nurse + told her she could take you back. Much to my surprise they kept bringing that same beautiful baby in — they insisted you were mine + I got to bring you home — what joy — what a day — your brother and your daddy had been there every day + all the night as long as they could stay, + the day you came home was a lovely Saturday morning — the whole family was there + as I was wheeled out with you in my lap — your brother came flying across the room and we all hugged + cried, right in the middle of the hospital — what a sight we were — the nurses were laughting with tears running down their faces — they also shared our joy —

I wish you could have seen our house as we approached — there was Kathy, Nancy, Corinne, Susan, Bobby, Janet, every kid that lived on our street [missing text] wait to see their baby — of course there was Granny — she [stood] there quietly waiting her turn with all the out-stretched arms. I put you in Granny’s and she carried you in the house + laid you in your little crib — then one by one I let them all [hold] you, but your brother came first — then Nancy + so on until they had had their turn — the phone [rang] + a neighbor said “Send them out, I told them not to go to your house,” + I told her I asked them to come in and reminded her they had waited a long time too — and after assuring them they could come back they left — but you continued to be their “baby” —

We had you baptized when you were 18 days old — and continued to carry you to church and Sunday School every Sunday — you hated it and it was a real chore to bring you up as a Christian but some where along the line as the old saying goes, it took.

Thank goodness for pictures — because the years have gone by so fast —

Suddenly it was your first birthday + what a beauty you were — I went back to [work then] + we continued our [missing text] but happy lives —

At brother’s wedding

By the time you were [missing text] old you let everyone know you were old enough to go to school but your mama wouldn’t let you. Then came kindergarden and school. You loved it + throughout your school years you always did [missing text] and had many friends —

When you were 10 yrs. old, your brother  married and you were the “nothing” as we “jokeingly” called you in the wedding — you were too old for flower girl + too young for bridesmaid, but they made [a bridesmaid out of] you any way —

Soon after that the braces went on your teeth to correct the front ones from bucking out — your daddy couldn’t see any point in it because he couldn’t see the front teeth growing out. All he could see was beauty. The week the braces came off and the teeth were pretty + straight you went swimming and broke off the two front [teeth]. I don’t know who was [sadder about] that me or your dentist.

Your life in high school was a busy time — with your studies taking most of your time — but we still found time for your tennis, music, newspaper + at age 16 to start working at the grocery store — as a checker — so you’d have money to buy a car —

A few weeks ago you graduated [missing text] had + did receive many honors — you always made us very happy —

This week you started summer session at M.S.U. to get acquainted with college life where you will [missing text] as a full time student in [missing text]

Today you are “18” — [missing text] magic — now you can vote and get married — and enjoy all the priviledges of being an adult — But this priviledge comes the responsibility.

Your future is now your [missing text] the foundation has been laid — you must build on it —

Easter Sunday

Your Father and I have tried to teach you + guide you with love and not force — we have instilled values in you that you can draw on for the rest of your life — we are here when you need us — so whenever we can help you, it will be our pleasure —

The Lord has blested you in many ways — so as you mature in wisdom and years — may you remember:

If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciple — and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free

John 8:31-32


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Unfinished, 18 x 24. Charcoal and graphite on watercolor paper.

Unfinished, 18 x 24. Charcoal and graphite on watercolor paper.

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From a journal done in my CLUE class in 1977 when I was 13:


Flower — The flower I compare myself to is a geranium. I compare myself to a geranium because it stays indoors all the time as I do, it has its own little place in a planter as I do in my room, and it would brighten any room.

Day — I compare myself to a fall day. Fall is a season of the year which is neutral between Spring and Winter. Fall is not Fresh and anew as Spring but it’s not as cold and hard as winter. Instead it is neutral between the two. (I know Fall comes between Summer and Winter).

Animal — I compare myself to a gorilla. A gorilla is fast learning as I am and a gorilla is gentle and funloving until someone or something makes it mad, then they are absolutely vicious. I am this way too.

Car — I compare myself to a Datsun. Both I and the Datsun are efficient and a Datsun can go a long way without much gas as I can on food.

Likes and Dislikes

I like the smell and the taste of ripe watermelon when it has just been cut open, I like the sound of celery when someone bites into it, I like pancakes when they are hot off the griddle and as big as my plate, I like a mystery I can really get involved in and cant take my eyes off of, I like being lazy, I like it when Barbara Streisand hits a high note, I like Barbara Streisand’s singing period, I like the feeling I get when I beat a person in tennis (especially pro-set), I like being alone in my room, I like being quiet, I also like laughing, I like it when people compliment me, I like having muscular legs and arms, I like when my brother and sister-in-law are here, I like doing things nice for people, I like soft rock music but I like powerful church music, I like the feel of a swimming pool on a hot summer’s day, I like getting good grades in school, I like doing good at piano practice, I like writing this paper, I like being neat, I like the taste of fattening foods.

Schedule Go to school, of course, go to Confirmation at church on Tuesday at 4:00, piano lessons on Friday at 4:00, I usually spends my nights watching T.V., listening to stereo, doing homework, doing my exercises, and getting a shower. I go to bed at 10:00.

Cecil B. Demille

All the World’s a Stage

Assignment: Pretend Cecil B. DeMille is doing an epic about your life. How would the movie go?

Act 1: Am born, go through Tom Boy stage

Act 2: Become a teenager and have regular teenage problems

Act 3: When grown — go to college, become prominent Investigative Reporter, get rich

Failures and Successes

Failures — I am a failure at being another Nancy Drew, I am a failure at being a basketball star, I am a failure at being as skinny as the girls next door, I am a failure at having a good complexion and NO freckles, I am a failure at singing as good as Barbara Streisand and Julie Andrews, I am a failure at being a naturally smart person (I’m book smart), I am a failure at playing the guitar as good as John Denver, I am a failure at having long, beautiful, thick, black hair that never gives me a problem, I am a failure at being a babysitter for brats, I am a failure at being a girlfriend (I wish I had the chance), I am a failure at keeping things short when I write (as you have just noticed), I am a failure at trying to get people to understand me, I am a failure at trying to be original when I write, I am a failure at expressing my feelings on paper, I am a failure at being me. I really am a failure at being original on paper. Some people think I really have talent in writing, well I got news for them, my writing is the pits. When I write, I don’t like to write the same old dull stuff that everyone else does. I want to write something that is new and creative that will break the monotony.

Successes — I am a success at memorizing, I am a success at playing my music right at Piano practice, I am a success at keeping on an exercising program, I’m a success at keeping a secret, I’m a success at being an alto, I am a success in most my subjects in school, I am a success at having people like me, I’m a success at being neat, I’m a success in tennis, I’m a success at making people believe I’m something I’m not, I’m a success in both making people happy and getting them depressed. I shall explain my success of making people believe I’m something I’m not. I was thinking of the people at my church when I wrote this. I was the first child born and baptized at my church and they make me feel like I’m something special. The fact that my brother has gone into the ministry has not helped this matter any. This is alright that they feel this way about me but I feel I can’t be myself around them.

Drawing by my niece

 The Thing About The World Is

From a “blog” my 12-year-old niece e-mails my family by the name, The Thing About The World Is:

Hello everybody and as it says above, Merry Christmas. Today isn’t going to be a blog and actually to mention it once again I am going to have to cancel the blogs do to lack of computer time. So actually I wrote out a blog for today but decided it would be better if I did a Christmas email so here is the original blog and then i will do the plan that i am going to do with the christmas blog.


You run up to the net with an intimidating look on your face and spike the ball across the court. The whole team surrounds you and lefts you up in the air and chants your name. Your team just won the volleyball tournament. You look back at the other team and they are saying stuff like: We suck, we’re losers,, and it’s all your fault___ tehn someone’s name is mentioned. So, there are two things you can do, One, you could yell back,” That’s right we won!” Then walk out the door mad-mouthing the other team. Or, walk over to teh other team and say, ” You guys did a great job. Second place is better then third.” Then you walk away and go on with life. What would you do.

So that was today’s blog and i know it was boring but now i have some christmas things you can talk. When you are done reading this blog i want you to find a pen/pencil and paper and write out a christmas list and send it to me and i know i can’t do anything to make it happen but sometimes it is better to tell other people about you wishes then keep them all to yourself. Then i want you to find three things with the word christmas on it and tell me what it was..like i will give you an example fro both of them

My christmas list
– a new itouch
-a flip camera that works
– and to hear everybody’s laughter when they open there presents tomorrow morning
and for you to smile so much that you laugh

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The following is from the article Busing Comes to Memphis City Schools in the Baltimore Afro American, dated Jan. 30, 1973:

Memphis, Tenn. — Twelve years after the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People initially filed suit to integrate the nation’s 10th largest school system and seven years after the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed separate but equal school systems, the first massive busing plan in this city’s history went into effect this week amidst an atmosphere of quietude and high absenteeism among white pupils.

The court-ordered busing involved some 13,000 students (7,000 of them black) in 45 schools with an assigned enrollment of 34,294. A survey of the school indicated 13,657 students absent — slightly less than 40 percent — most of them white.

And, at predominantly white schools which were unaffected by the busing plan, there was a sympathy boycott, the survey revealed. . . .

According to school enrollment figures, about 47 percent of the city’s 139,000 students are black. Before the court-ordered busing, about 88 percent of the black student population attended predominately black schools despite an open enrollment policy.

Mrs. Maxine Smith, executive secretary of the local NAACP and one of the three blacks on the nine-member school board, attributed this factor to segregated housing patterns.

‘Let’s face it, she commented, ‘It may not be possible to eliminate every last all black school in Memphis. And for the first time I believe the white leadership in this city is acting in good faith.’

This good faith will be further tested in the near future, for Judge McRae has also ordered the city school board to devise a more extensive desegregation plan b next September.”

When busing went into effect in 1973, I was in third grade. Students were called into the high school auditorium. If your name were called, you were bused to a black neighborhood. If it weren’t, you were allowed to remain in your own school. I was eight years old at the time and terrified my name would be called.

The high school I attended taught first grade through 12th grade, had approximately 800 students and was 100 percent white. It became 70 percent black and 30 percent white after the busing plan went into effect. A neighborhood Baptist church opened a private school for children who didn’t want to be bused to another neighborhood, but enrollment was expensive and not everyone could afford it. White students who remained at my school were segregated academically into separate classes. With a few exceptions, I attended the same classes with the same white kids until I graduated in 1982.

The school was a block from my house, and I walked to school each day. The day busing began that September about 27,000 children were taken to 139 schools by 155 buses in Memphis. As I walked toward the school, teachers lined the sidewalks waiting. I remember the faces of the black children as they got off the bus, especially the face of one girl who was about my age. Like most children staring through the bus windows, she looked scared. She got off the bus holding her books and walked toward the building with her head down.

I listened to a cassette tape recently, made about four years after busing began there. At first, I didn’t know who was speaking and thought it was one of my black friends. Then I realized it was me. Until that moment, I hadn’t understood what effect this experience had on me. I thought I was separate from it. I thought we were separate from it. Because the white people in my class had been separated out academically, I didn’t realize how much we were part of the black culture surrounding us. I had absorbed the language of the people in my school and to some extent the views society placed on them. When I was 20, I dated a guy from east Memphis I later married, and the first thing his mother said when she found out he was dating me was, “What are you doing dating a girl from that side of town.”

Later in college at the University of Memphis, I began a master’s degree program in poetry. My accent wasn’t something I was aware of. I didn’t know how strong it was until my poetry teacher pointed it out one day. At first, I didn’t understand what she was trying to tell me until she said, “Some people think people with a Southern accent sound dumb.”

Orange Mound mural

My neighborhood was located in south Memphis near another subdivision called Orange Mound. The site was originally purchased from a plantation owner in the 1890s by a developer named Elzey Eugene Meachem as a subdivision for blacks. Meachem sold lots for less than $100. Houses in the neighborhood were built as small shotgun-style houses. In the 1970s, Orange Mound had the largest concentration of blacks in the U.S. other than Harlem. Many of the children bused into my neighborhood came from Melrose High School in Orange Mound.

The journals from those years don’t chronicle any of this. I was too young. I began keeping journals at age 13 when I enrolled in a program in my school called CLUE, which stands for Creative Learning in a Unique Environment. CLUE was a federally funded program that began in the Memphis City School system in 1970 under the name Cooperative Leadership for Urban Education. Federal funding ended in 1973, and the program was transferred to state special education funding. The program is still active today.

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Charles Carroll (1789-1792) was born in Annapolis, Maryland, and
became a U.S. Senator from Maryland. He was the last
surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence. The Carroll
family was Irish Catholic and descendants of the Lords of Ely
in County Tipperary, Ireland.

In looking through old journals, I found this letter from my grandmother’s step-mother, who claims we are descendants of one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. It’s hard to place much weight on something so unsubstantiated, but this story did become part of family lore. This post is the first in a series I’m calling The Journal Project, a look back into my journals from 1977 to 2010.

Feb. 13, 1977
Jellico, Tenn.

Saturday morning —

My Dear,

I was glad to hear from you honey but I am afraid I can’t be too much help to you —

Your grand-daddy’s cousin from Texas, P.H., said that he and Carroll were direct descendants of one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, who was [Charles] Carroll of Carrollton —

Sarah and John looked “him” up in an encyclopedia and knew that he was a very rich man. We tried in vain to get some information from P.H.’s daughter but she never answered our letter. So we will just have to think all you kids are his descendants. That relation evidently would come from your great-grandmother’s side because she was a Carroll.

All that your grandmother and I know is that her grandfather L. was born in New York — he migrated to Ga. and in Covington, Ga. her daddy was born. The grandfather was a capt. in the confederate army. But back of him unless there was something in the family Bible which your daddy has. We don’t know any others. That is too bad because Sarah would like to know more about her daddy’s side of the house too —

You write beautifully for one so young —

Did you miss any school during the snows? The kids here didn’t get [out] but about two days since Xmas [was] until last week.

The weather was terrible and people here are still thawing water pipes. I was lucky — I had no trouble. I worried about your grandmother having to be on those slick roads going to work and back home so late at night.

It is raining this morning though and maybe things will get better.

I hope you are all alright —

Love to each of you,
Grandma N.

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Stars of Texas Robin Williams, Mari Holden, Lance Armstrong …
celebrities and athletes alike were in Austin to inspire.

The Cranberries are singing on the radio: Understand, what I’ve become, it wasn’t my design. And people everywhere think something better than I am.

As I listen to the words of that music on a road trip to Austin, Texas, to the Ride for the Roses, I’m wondering if Lance Armstrong can relate to the lyrics. Heroes become something in our minds better than they are. This is confirmed when Erika, one of my traveling companions squeals, “We’re entering Armstrong County! We must be heading in the right direction.”

To the people I’m riding with, the name Armstrong means courage, self-will against all odds, even a kind of unshakable positive attitude.

Erika’s partner, Sharon, seems to be gripping the steering wheel against all odds. The 90 mph winds we hit in Amarillo whip the RV constantly. John, her brother, comments quietly, “Maybe a high-profile vehicle wasn’t the best idea for this trip.”

Final page proof of article I wrote for VeloNews in 2001.

But Sharon doesn’t hear him. John’s understated comments and quiet words often get lost in the wind-ratted RV. On the side of the highway, we see half of a modular home that has been flipped over during transport and left stranded in the high grass.

John sits at a fold-down table and works on his laptop. A civil engineer, he is scribbling math notations into a spiral notebook, then working out the problems on a computer. As he stares out the window, he makes thinking some like an elegant process, as lean and efficient as he is. His shoulders are stooped, like those of an old man who has leaned over a computer for too many years.

The disease must have done that, I think to myself.

Multiple myeloma, the type of blood cancer John is recovering from, has caused four compression fractures in his spine, leaving him three inches shorter than he was a year ago. A young man in his 30s, he looks much older — his skin a little too dry, his hair too brittle. The chemotherapy and tandem bone-marrow transplants have taken their toll. But John is only a bent man, not broken. He is still fighting to regain something of the young man he was. His freckled face and reddish-blond hair are just waiting for him to return.

During this past year, when John was 20 pounds lighter and his other sister Ann had to help him stand — even help him lift his laptop — the Ride for the Roses seemed like a dream, a dream of Sharon’s that John could only smile and be polite about. But Sharon kept hope alive and believed in taking this trip even when he couldn’t possible imagine it.

Counting Crows sings out over the radio: “Believe in me because I don’t believe in anything and I want to be someone who believes.” Who believes, who believes — the words repeat over and over again.

As we get closer to Austin, the roadsides are covered with blue flowers, mixed in with the orange paintbrush. I can’t help but wonder why Lance’s ride isn’t called The Ride for the Bluebonnets.

“Lance inspired me,” John says shyly. He has read Lance’s book, he informs me, and has several of Lance’s posters on his bedroom wall. He quotes one for me: “I no longer take anything for granted. There are only good days and great days.” And another: “My cancer is just like me — it’s mean, it’s aggressive, it’s tough.” Sharon relates proudly how she and Erika managed to get Lance’s autograph for John when they did the Ride for the Roses the year before.

When we stop to gas up, Erika tells me how John’s third sister, Sandy, made everyone in this “non-emotive” family sit down at Thanksgiving and write on a piece of paper what they gave thanks for in each other. “They wrote simple things,” Erika says, “All three sisters and John’s parents gave thanks to him for fighting. That was huge then, because at that point he was pretty tired of fighting.”

John says later that if it weren’t for the prayers and support of his family and friends, he wouldn’t be here today.

The next day is sunny, but windy, in Austin. John, Erika and Sharon complete their 66-mile ride. “I almost dreaded it when we got a tail wind,” Erika laughs. “John would put it in the big ring and just take off.”

Sharon adds, “Last year at this time I thought I’d be remembering my brother … not trying to keep up with him as he hammered along. “The words on John’s T-shirt, I’m a survivor, were only a blur to the many people he passed that day. “What kind of drugs is he on?” they conclude together triumphantly, “Chemo fuel.”

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“A long time ago, the raven looked down from the sky
and saw that the people of the world were living in darkness.
The ball of light was kept hidden by a selfish old chief.
So the raven turned himself into a spruce needle
and floated on the river where the chief’s daughter came for water.
She drank the spruce needle.
She became pregnant and gave birth to a boy, who was the raven in disguise.
The baby cried and cried until the chief gave him the ball of light to play with.
As soon as he had the light, the raven turned back into himself.
The raven carried the light into the sky.
From then on, we no longer lived in darkness.”

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