Sunday, November 30, 2008

Tales of a Sometime Fan

Football weaves in an out of the fabric of my life.

As a child, I loved throwing my football in a perfect spiral, a talent that made my football-playing brother jealous. Catch wasn't satisfaction enough, though, so I played with my cat, Le Chat (AKA "Baby"). She'd run up a spindly tree in the side yard not far from the sandbox, I'd toss the
football at a limb to shake her out, and she'd run up again. Over and over.

On occasion, my father took me to Legion Field to see Alabama (his alma mater) play, and we'd listen to the Auburn-Alabama game every Thanksgiving weekend. I was raised to be a Tide fan and to think Auburn was some place for country rejects. (Only as an adult did I realize the error of my prejudiced ways.)

When my brother played football in high school, my mother would take me to his afternoon games. We'd stand on the sidelines (there were no bleachers at B.U.S.) and cheer. I mostly liked his cool football jacket (with, I think, the gold numbers 45 on a black field).

When my own nephew started to show interest in televised games as a little boy, I did, too. The family would sit together and cheer his favorite team, the Steelers. This Saturday, before leaving after a Thanksgiving visit, I enjoyed his family's preparations for the Iron Bowl game: they dressed for the big game, the girls practiced their cheers, and my niece-in-law made popcorn. Just before kickoff, I left for home, tuning in the first quarter as I drove through fog and rain through north Alabama.Roll, Tide, roll. And they did, trouncing Auburn, a feat I didn't discover till this morning.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

An Old Friend and A New One

Last evening, I enjoyed an unexpected visit with an old friend and a new one. Janet called to say she was in Sewanee. All those years I haven't seen her vanished when she and Jim took me for pizza, which we ate in their room at The Sewanee Inn.

I first met Janet when she 9 years old at Camp Green Cove. One of the youngest children at camp, she was a champion camper -- eager to make friends, to laugh, to learn new things, and to embrace challenges. She embodied the cliche of "live wire." When, toward the end of camp, she
was invited on the five-day Smoky backpacking trip, I went down to the trip room to see her and the rest of the group off. Janet's backpack weighed more than she did (somewhere in the neighborhood just above 50 pounds). I'll never forget seeing her muscular, little body supporting that pack.

About a decade ago, we went to a camp reunion together, where we visited with more than a hundred women who crossed many decades of camping . The magic still crackled and we found ourselves still loving camp and each other.
For all the years I've known Janet -- at camp and beyond as an adult in New Orleans -- I've never seen her look happier than she did that morning as she boarded a cattle truck to hike for a week and as she did last night in her room at The Sewanee Inn.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

SACA Holiday Fair

Every year, the Sewanee Arts and Crafts Association (SACA) sponsors several arts/crafts fairs, including one in November. Today, the fair was held in Cravens Hall, just up the street. In the past, I have not participated because it would be difficult for me to create enough stock for this show and the studio tour two weeks later.When I first moved here and went to the fair, I knew no one. Today, I talked to folks at almost every booth up and down the hall. It's nice to feel that I belong and know so many of the people who, like me, enjoy making things with their hands -- from goat's milk soap and homemade bee lip balm to paintings and cards to pottery to bronze statues to German stollen bread.

The work of the hands often holds the heart.

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Day of the Dead

On a blustery, frigid day, a friend and I made a walk through two cemeteries, The University Cemetery and the St. Mary-O'Dear Cemetery.

In one, The University Cemetery, old lions of the southern literary
renaissance lie: Allen Tate (whose "Ode to the Confederate Dead" can be read here), Peter Taylor, and Andrew Lytle, whose gravestone is decorated with a Confederate battle flag and plastic flowers. The founder of the seminary is commemorated by an especially beautiful monument.
In the other, The O'Dear Cemetery on Sherwood Road near the Episcopal convent, graves of mountain folk sport various decorations ranging from a life size deer to fake flowers and ceramic angels. My favorite celebrates one man's special achievement as "the best damn moonshiner that ever lived."
In the 19th century, Americans escaped to cemeteries for pleasure and contemplation. Today, I did, too.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

James R. Anderson and Milk Punch

Tonight, at my friend Boo's house, I noticed a Sewanee yearbook for 1931. So beautifully bound was the book that I picked it up and leafed through every page, without really expecting to notice anyone.

Suddenly, there on the first page of the freshman class was James R. Anderson, my uncle, of Birmingham, Alabama. I have known, for most of my life, that Uncle Jim went to Sewanee, but somehow I had forgotten. I was startled to see his 18-year-old face staring out at me.

Suddenly, I remembered all those Christmases at Aunt Bertha and Uncle Jim's house. By 10:30, guests began stopping in on their way elsewhere and enjoyed deliciously spicy homemade cheese straws (my Aunt Bertha could really cook) and Uncle Jim's equally revered milk punch. Children got a virgin version if they wanted it, but grownups delighted in the milk and bourbon drink, the alcohol providing a warm underbelly to the cold silver of the monogrammed julep cup. Uncle Jim poured from a silver pitcher and sprinkled the top of each cup with nutmeg from a silver shaker. Finally, he placed a white linen cocktail napkin underneath the cup and handed the drink like a special Christmas gift to each guest. "Happy Christmas," he wished us, each and all.

I miss those milk punches and the gentleness of my uncle Jim.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tea on the Mountain

The Nesbits run Tea on the Mountain in Tracy City, where friends took me today. Sometimes lunch with friends in a quiet spot, with friendly service can pull a person out of the doldrums, as happened with me.Melon, Scotch eggs, chicken salad, blue cheese, chess pie, and tea make an enticing recipe for distraction.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Beautiful Room

A long visit with a caring friend and listener today offered tea, support, and these glimpses of her and her husband's beautiful dining room. All provided the warmth I so desperately needed on a cold day, for both body and heart.

Monday, November 17, 2008


Today I decided to try making an origami box. From numerous Internet instruction guides, I focused on two: one a box-folding video on YouTube and the other a how-to page from Oddly, the pictorial explanation, at least for me, is much easier. After about eight tries, I got one box to work, sort of.My folding skills are a bit clumsy, to say the least. My fingers are not, as I wish them to be, long and thin and graceful.

If they were, I'd still play the piano, an instrument I gave up after eleven years of lessons, largely because I could barely reach an octave comfortably. The last composition I learned, The Rhapsody in Blue, took a year to master and memorize, and even then I had difficulty with one especially difficult run in octaves down the piano.

Mine are pedestrian hands, short, thick fingers and knuckles, serviceable but not elegant. The left bears a half-moon scar of broken glass and the right a pinkie permanently curved from a jammed finger thanks to a volleyball.

But they remind me of my mother's hands -- no-nonsense tools for her sewing and gardening. For this resemblance alone, I love my hands because they are the only physical reminders of her in me.

Now if
only I could get them to crease and fold more confidently . . . .

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Nothing That Is

Before it fell, all day Saturday, and after it fell, all day Sunday, early snow has blanketed my spirit, leaving me cold.
I can think only of Wallace Stevens' poem, "The Snow Man":

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Pig

The Piggly Wiggly, my closest grocery store, has grown on me, not just for its convenience but because of the friendliness of the staff and chance encounters with locals.

A small store, without much in the way of fresh fruit and vegetables, The Pig offers fine and expensive cheeses and every Pepperidge Farm goodie and locally made delicious bread and chemical-free milk. At first, I couldn't decipher the strangeness of these observations.

But after living here a couple of years, I discovered the answer: the summer presence of wealthy folks at The Monteagle Assembly and the year-round presence of wealthy second-home owners. Sometimes, when shopping, I
wonder what the regular folks make of dried blueberries and Starbucks coffee given the scarcity of nutricious, delicious fresh food.

In any case, I love the logo: a cheerful, smiling piggie who seems to say "Y'all come!" No matter where one finds a Piggly Wiggly (from Monteagle to Mountain Brook, Alabama), the pig welcomes all equally.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Dead Plants Society

I spent a pleasant two hours this morning among women making things -- paintings, drawings, quilt blocks, book pages -- in the simply decorated community center. They are members of the loosely organized Dead Plants Society, dedicated to environmental issues and to meeting with one another each week to chat and craft objects and writings.

A few years ago, my then-neighbor Diane invited me to the opening of a show at Stirling's coffee house. She and other Dead Plants women mounted an exhibit of their work and read and hooted (loved the owl calls) and chatted about the abundant flora and fauna where we live. I wanted at that moment to be a dead plant.

I got to be one, however briefly, today and had a delightful time. Among us were Jill (who said the other day, "I'd love to do crafts all the time," who writes like a dream -- see her blog RoadKillBlues -- and plays banjo with Bazzania); Yolande of the Sewanee Herbarium (who frequently guides informative hikes on the Domain), Mary (a classmate in the School of Letters and also an Herbarium staff member as well as keyboardist with Bazzania), Mary (a former Country Day art teacher in New Orleans whose daughter's "Meals I Have Eaten" blog can be accessed at the right), Jean (who with her husband Harry is a fixture here among naturalists and whose delightful "Nature Notes" appears in the weekly newspaper), and Alex (whose is here about six weeks and then "home" in Chapel Hill for six weeks, off and on).

I am grateful for the company of lively women and for the work of heads and hands, together.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Spencer Hall

The most recently completed building on campus, which houses some 49,00 square feet of scienceclassrooms, is Spencer Hall, named for Birmingham businessman and philanthropist William M. Spencer III. The college website states:

Mr. Spencer is a member of the Alabama Academy of Honor, and served as chairman of the board of trustees of the Birmingham Museum of Art where he led an extensive renovation and expansion of both the physical museum and its collection, transforming it into what is now considered one of the finest regional art museums in the country. He has been a member of the board of trustees of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and has volunteered to serve the United Way, the Birmingham Symphony, the United Way, and the Boy Scouts.

He was also a good and faithful friend to my father even when my father's dementia progressed to the point he scored 0 of 30 on a scale of cognition. Following Daddy's death, Bill Spencer wrote my family a beautiful letter praising my father's devotion to his friends, his warmth and charm, his good cheer, and his kindness. Given the difficult circumstances of the last few years of my father's life, Mr. Spencer's letter restored some dignity that had been taken from my father.

For that and for his wife's (Miss Evalina's) Bunny Hole (the nursery school I attended) and for his daughter's long marriage to one of my brother's best friends (now neighbors as well), I will be forever grateful.

Who'd a thunk a building I see nearly every day could hold such powerful memories?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Peace Cranes

Each year in November, students, faculty, staff, and residents of Sewanee may fold origami peace cranes to hang from the ceiling of the college library.
Folded at first in memory of Sadako Sasaki, a child victim of the suffering brought on by the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, these paper birds fly now in memory of all the children all over the world suffering from the ravages of conflict.

Today, when these delicate and joyful bits of folded paper aflutter reminded not only of those children in distant lands, wounded and maimed and orphaned by war, but also of those here, even on the mountain, who suffer the absence or loss of parents and other relatives, wounded or killed in some of those same distant wars.

Crane-folding is a quiet reflection of personal commitment to the peace that can be won through creativity.

Monday, November 10, 2008


An aquaintance used a koozie today that got me thinking. When did I see my first koozie? (I'm not sure, but it might have been on a boat or at a lake, probably with my brother's family.) Who invented the koozie? Well, of course, the inventor must have been a beer drinker. But how did he (I assume) it was a "he" come up with the idea? (Wikipedia says Wes Cresswell invented it in 1976 -- maybe.)

I never owned one until my nephew's wedding in 1999. He and his wife gave out souvenir koozies, and while I still have mine, I've never used it. I drink beer, but I like it in a pint glass and a bit warmer than it was when still stored in ice or the fridge.

Why am I writing about koozies? Because this one koozie made me laugh. The familiar riddle about the tree and the forest is boring, but the twist isn't. I laughed.

And I needed a laugh today.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Fabric Explosion

My neighbor, a fiber artist, paints with fabric, creating wall quilt collages that burst into visual symphony of color and image. This one makes me want to cheer "Brava! Brava! Encore!"

Happy Birthday at 39

My nephew, a November baby, is older now than I could ever have imagined becoming then. At 23, I held him, a warm lump of sweet 6-month-old baby looseness. As the first of the two grandchildren in my small nuclear family, he was and is well loved.

If I look closely at this black-and-white, I can see the smears of what his mother called "cowboy cakes" (Little Debbie oatmeal cakes) across his mouth, chin, cheeks, and flexible nose that he could (and still can) smoosh nearly flat into his face.

My sister-in-law, dead now too young, and my brother gave me a gift I cannot measure: they asked me to be Davies' godmother. In the Episcopal tradition, he has only one, although he has two godfathers -- one Episcopal and the other, my oldest brother, Catholic at the time. Me? I was and still am nothing. But the parents wanted me anyway, and the priest didn't care.

In December 1969, our small family -- Williamses, Hoods, Andersons, and Chenoweths -- gathered around the font at St Luke's, the church which my parents helped to found, and all read the parts of the christening service which we believed and remained silent for those we didn't -- a truly inclusive service welcoming Davies into the family of man.

Today, he enjoys his own nuclear family -- wife and two daughters, one of whom has the same face (smushy nose and all) and body and personality that I knew then.

He may be a strong man now, but to me he'll always remain somewhere in my heart the boy who wanted to become a cowboy artist, who screamed "yo-yo!" and shook as if electricity flowed through his body when someone offered him yogurt, whose head was so large his mother had to slit the necks of his pullover shirts, who used to spin and spin with his white-blond hair flying out as if he were standing at an electricity ball, who held my thumbs when he saw a puppet show that scared him, who once bent over a scurry of ants to prevent a friend from smashing them, whose warm lump of flesh felt so good in my lap that June day in 1970 when we floated along in The Painted Lady.

To him, happy birthday, always, with love.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Parker, Where Are You?

Now that the forests are losing fresh foliage, the deer are bold, even to the point of living in my yard. Early Tuesday morning, I turned on my headlights and saw a buck lying in the grass with three does, standing by, eating the leftovers of my snowball bush.

Yesterday, this one stared at me through the rails of deck.
Tonight I saw my former student Parker, who, when he got home, went right back out to see if he could get a deer with his bow. When I first met him seven years ago, I didn't understand his fascination with hunting, but I encouraged him to write about his obsession anyway. Now, I wish I could invite him to come to my house and pick them off one by one.

It's a strange thing to have a love/hate relationship with an animal that is only doing what it must: survive. If I hadn't bought the plants they eat, I'm not sure I'd feel the hate because my admiration for their dignified silence far outweighs the cost of plants with which I try to rearrange nature.

May nature say deer and let me love their surprisingly large ears and deep eyes and velvety coats and capacity for standing and standing still and still.

Friday, November 7, 2008

A Lovely Lunch with Fog and Sunshine

My friend Anne Hunter came for a visit today.
When we left for Shenanigans and Mountain Breeze, the fog had settled in.
By the time we returned, the sun was breaking through before setting.
Trampoline weather is what we've got: shirt sleeves yesterday and sun; light sweaters and fog this morning; sun this afternoon; and now wool required.

In all weathers the leaves burn one last long time as if having saved all their courage before surrendering to the season of darkness.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Day After

I wish I could paint the calm of light at Lake Cheston.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


It's a pleasure to vote in a town small enough that people I know work behind the table and exclaim on my arrival "There's Robley!" almost as if they had been waiting for me.

It's a privilege to vote in an election with an old candidate, a woman, a mixed-race candidate, and a remade man.

It's a pleasure to push the button for my guy and remember what it was like in Birmingham for folks like him when I grew up there in the '50s and '60s.

It's a privilege to walk outside wearing my little "I Voted" sticker.
It's a pleasurable privilege to live in a country where millions of people with widely differing opinions can speak them, finally, in the privacy of a voting booth among other citizens, all without the raucousness of the long campaign.

Tonight, like millions of others, I'll watch the returns and keep my fingers crossed.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Something Warm in Something Familiar

At the beginning of a day, mid-day, late afternoon, and at its end, hot tea in a loved cup provides comfort. I needed both today.

Barry's tea, milk, in a porcelain cup made by Laura Peery and given to me as a gift more years ago than I can remember now (30?).

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Sunday's Service

A walk along the railroad bed on the fall day time changes, even with Harleys zooming past on the highway, soothes an aching back and mind flooded with student writing. The lane winds through forest where the Mountain Goat used to chug, past rabbit hutches, The Hair Gallery, a ramshackle farmhouse, and the airport. Unaccompanied, the wanderer isn't alone. Her shadow tags along, first in front and then behind.Leaves curl in their dying, like a baby's fingers or my father's, weeks before he died, upon themselves, elongated like El Greco brush strokes. Spider silk ties branch to branch, sparkling in the late light and then disappearing from view with another of my steps, like half-forgotten dreams or the faces of people I once knew. Leaves litter the path, evidence of nature's extravagant abundance, distant echoes of banjo skins at my feet. And the way winds and straightens, winds and straightens, winds and straightens like the past or the future or the now.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Robin Hood

Today, while I was surfing Facebook on break from grading, I came across some photos of former New Orleans students celebrating Halloween. One photo showed a Robin Hood, and in the weird and wonderful way memory works, I swept along brain waves to childhood, yet again.

Here my parents are in 1957, as Robin Hood and Maid Marian, decked out in costumes my mother made for the Beaux Arts Ball in Birmingham. In another photo, their merry men appear -- the Chenoweths and the Hendrixes, among others. They won first prize, and I have the tray with all their signatures to prove it.

I remember the taking of this photograph, although I don't remember who took it. As I remember, they posed in front of the Chenoweths' fireplace, though I can't prove it. I suspect that I stayed there with Babbie and Emily while the adults went out.

The photo is iconic: my parents loved make-believe, he as actor and she as writer/producer/director. Here, they play their roles, but look at her: she laughs as if at the joke and in admiration of his joie de vivre.

Lively, they were. Charming. And such fun, especially for me as a child basking in their play.