Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Nutty Gifts

The nut shells in my yard prove the squirrels are having a good spring.

I am, too.

This beautiful Burdick's confection -- a dark chocolate nest with bunny, eggs, and truffles
--, a birthday present my oldest brother sent me, offers nuts and marzipan.

Lucky, lucky squirrels to find tasty nuts in their shell hearts, which they picked clean and left behind for my pleasure.

Lucky, lucky me to find this lovely box on my porch, with its nest, which I pick apart, chocolate twig and nut, pleasurable bit by bit.

I don't know which is more beautiful.

Do you?

Monday, March 30, 2009


Words are weirdly wonderful.

Here's one, for instance: bulb.

What's the first thing you think of?

The dim bulb over in the corner, never getting your jokes, hidden behind an empty gaze?

The light bulb that just blew out even though it's a new one that's supposed to last five years and for that reason cost a lot of money?

The old-fashioned pressure bulb on a big box camera?

Or the bulbs that my friends F and TJ planted by the dozens in their garden? The ones that bloom into cheerful yellow and orange and red explosive bursts of color, lined up in neat rows like lollipops, each flowering at a slightly different time?
I like these bulbs, and after seeing their cheerful profusion, F and TJ's garden will always leap to mind first when someone utters the word "bulb."

No dim ones, they!

Sunday, March 29, 2009


F and TJ are master gardeners.

Their roast chicken satisfies my appetite, their flowers satisfy my eyes, and their conversation satisfies my need for acceptance.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Girls

Yesterday, I drove to Mentone, Alabama, to spend the day with a group of McGehee girls, now women, some with children older than they were when I taught them more than 30 years ago. They came from New Orleans, having left work and families behind, to make a reunion celebration of their birthdays, and they invited me.

It was grand to see them again and to remember the girls they were and still are at heart. All have children; some have full-time careers as well as families; some have been married for 25 years or more; all were eager to talk and laugh and re-create the comradeship they developed among themselves and their teachers during their youth. We ate good food and saw an awesome man-made waterfall and giggled at stuffed raccoons wearing coonskin caps. Despite the rainy weather and the threats of oncoming major storms, they created a special kind of sunshine reminding me why I became a teacher so many years ago and why I still feel loved and love, even from afar.

To them and for them, I am grateful.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


I have lately fallen in love with flower photography, something I enjoyed as a young person with my first (second and third) camera. Perhaps because I have time for the first time in years at the right time, I am preoccupied with things blooming around me.
Violet and Spring Beauties

Tuesday, my friend Greg and I walked into Shakerag Hollow, where I had walked with Dead Plants members Thursday before. Flowers and leaves are popping up everywhere. After shooting them, I have decided to learn what they are, so this morning at Dead Plants, I looked at a Tennessee wildflower book. I think I can now name things I photographed.
Dutchman's Breeches

Hepatica and Trout Lily

Not only am I learning to use my camera, but I'm learning to use my brain as well as my eyes. It's lovely.

Learning a Camera

Although small enough to fit comfortably in a pocket, my camera holds more power than I ever imagined. I am discovering its versatility, especially its macro options, only because I have time and desire. For several days, I have been trying to learn what it can do. It's no easy task, although made easier by the very thing that contributes to its complexity: digital technology. I photograph indiscriminately, upload, view, and start winnowing, providing me with what someone described to me recently (and delightfully) as "structured procrastination." The things I mean to do -- like cleaning closets -- do not get done because I am doing the things that feed something other than necessity.I like that hunger, which I will never satisfy.

(Even with this post, I procrastinated, although not intentionally. I should have published it yesterday, but I forgot. Now I shall publish two today instead.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Bluebird on My Shoulder

As a little girl, I saw and loved Walt Disney's Song of the South. At the time, racism was so deeply embedded as a daily norm in my life that I didn't blink at the portrayal of Uncle Remus as a stereotypical happy black servant of the Old South. Today, I know I'd be morally offended if I saw the film again.

But I still love one thing: the song "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" with Uncle Remus and the bluebird on his shoulder:

"Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay
My, oh my, what a wonderful day

Plenty of sunshine headin' my way

Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay

"Mister Bluebird's on my shoulder

It's the truth, it's actual

Ev'rything is satisfactual

Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay

Wonderful feeling, wonderful day, yes sir!

"Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay

My, oh my, what a wonderful day

Plenty of sunshine headin' my way

Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay

"Mister Bluebird's on my shoulder

It's the truth, it's actual

Ev'rything is satisfactual

Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay

Wonderful feeling, feeling this way

"Mister Bluebird's on my shoulder

It is the truth, it's actual... huh?

Where is that bluebird? Mm-hm!

Ev'rything is satisfactual

Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay

Wonderful feeling, wonderful day!

See a movie clip here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LcxYwwIL5zQ

In 1948, James Baskett, the actor who played Uncle Remus, was awarded an honorary Academy Award "For his able and heart-warming characterization of Uncle Remus, friend and story teller to the children of the world, in Walt Disney's Song of the South."

I loved him and I loved the bluebird on his shoulder.

There are days when I wish he would fold me in his arms and tell me "ev'rything is satisfactual." In his absence, though, bluebirds do the same, metaphorically. They love my yard, where they spend chunks of the day sarching for worms.

My day started early this morning with a bluebird on my shoulder, and although I had to shoot his picture through a closed door, I was pleased to capture his early morning visit, promising me a "wonderful day."

Monday, March 23, 2009

Museum of Amazing Events

Leaf follows crocus and daffodil and forsythia so quickly that a casual once-a-day glance cannot satisfy.

After reading my camera guide to manual macro options again and again, slowly enough now to absorb at least some of the many startlingly sophisticated features, I wandered among the museum of amazing events taking place in my yard.

Like the birth and death of stars unfolding light-years away, unseen until Hubble and its scientists showed us distant events, my camera revealed similar endings and beginnings of great beauty.

No fanfare, really, no show -- just nature being.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Geraldine Page

Once I thought of myself as an actor. For me, theatre was a church where beautiful literature and beautiful language and beautiful images came to life in the mutual breathing of actor and audience.

Sometimes that mutual breathing is figurative: instead of a live experience, film stands at one remove. Sometimes, however, the film is so bathed with life that I do live in the same space and time.

Seeing Geraldine Page again tonight in the great 1985 film The Trip to Bountiful reminded me of just how poetic and sacred acting can be. As an aging woman with a bad heart, she escapes the confines of the small apartment in Houston where she lives with her son and his nagging wife and spends a day traveling to Bountiful in the country, where she grew up. Her longing and sadness, her stubbornness and love, her goodness and fear shine through in a performance that is a miracle meeting of word and person.

from Britannica.com (http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic-art/438217/110933/Geraldine-Page-in-The-Trip-to-Bountiful)

I don't act any longer, but when I see a luminous performance like hers, I feel the same thrill, the same illusion of being transported out of myself and wholly into another's being.

Transformation: that's what I seek from art, and that's what I sometimes get.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


At dusk, one daffodil weeps, moisture and stamen belonging to one head and trumpet among hundreds. Runners and wanderers and dog exercisers in Abbo's Alley wander by, none noticing what the camera catches.

For me that's the delight of taking snapshots, capturing what's there but unseen.

For me, that's the delight of a great poem, like Ezra Pound's "In a Station of the Metro":

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

This flounced daffodil: an old lady, weeping with joy.

Friday, March 20, 2009

An Even Dozen

Today, everything looks red and blue in a friend's garden and at Lake Cheston. The colors in this even dozen speak for themselves.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Romantic Notions of Cowboys and Indians

My romantic notions of cowboys and Indians changed in adulthood.

In yesterday's post, I waxed romantic. Today, I offer another view in a poem I wrote a while back.

Where the Trail Ends

1955, Birmingham, AL

Some days I swaggered: a cowgirl
wielding silver six shooters;
others I crept: Princess Tiger Lily
waving a plastic tomahawk.
Either way I strummed my guitar,
sang "Happy Trails to You,"
proved myself one big chief of make-believe.

1962, Gallup, NM

"They all come to town Friday to get drunk.
It's a federal crime to hit an Indian in Gallup,"
the clerk said, "even if you can't help it.
Drive careful!" Later, in a wagon-wheel
bed, I dreamed about Navajos and slept
stiff in starched sheets under the stucco
peak of a tepee-shaped tourist cabin.

1989, 60 Minutes, CBS

Buzzing neon sneers a thin zipper of light
on Nathan Whitecloud lying in a gutter,
his head pillowed on the curb, face
upturned, mustache rimed with balls
of frozen blood, an empty liquor
bottle (Garden de Luxe) near his hand.
When the cops find him in the morning,
they call the coroner and say, "We got us
another popsicle,"then drive on.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Route 66 to California

In the fall of 1962 during the Cuban missile crisis, my parents, my oldest brother, and I left Birmingham on a cold rainy day for a cross-country, once-in-a-lifetime journey. Although I had to pack my school books (I was in 10th grade) and do my homework along the way, the journey was all my parents had promised -- and more.

My mother and father in L.A., where he was named President of the National Paint, Varnish, and Lacquer Association in November, 1962.

My mother had every AAA guide, which she studied before and during the journey. I had a notebook/scrapbook (her idea) in which I wrote a daily journal and kept mementos gathered along the way. (The notebook was lost to the house I grew up in, unfortunately.) My brother and I read all the Burma Shave signs, and we all played car license tag and other watching-out-the-window games. Because I had my learner's permit, we all took 2-hour turns driving Daddy's gold Buick Electra.

We saw all the big sites from Alabama to California (mostly along Route 66 on the way out and others along an alternate route on the way home). I especially loved Amarillo (where I bought a pair of Western pants like the ones Penny had worn on Sky King and we ate big steaks); a ghost town whose name I don't remember, complete with tumbling tumbleweeds and my brother's and my fear that Daddy would run out of gas -- again; Albuquerque's Old Town, where I had Mexican food for the first time and nearly choked on the hot spicy salsa with chips; Gallup with streets filled
with Native Americans (I had previously seen only Cherokees in costume created especially to satisfy tourists in western North Carolina); long straight roads and purple ranges and glorious sunsets in the southwest; the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest; Holbrook, where we spent the night in the Wigwam Motel; The Grand Canyon, where my mother and I rode mules halfway down while my father and brother stayed topside at the fabulous old hotel; Carlsbad Caverns with its bats streaming past (I had already read Bram Stoker's Dracula in eighth grade so the bats actually scared me); Las Vegas and Hoover Dam, the first without stopping and the second with a stop to marvel at its size; Sunset Crater National Monument; Carmel, California, where Joan Baez lived and fog blanketed quaint art galleries and beautiful landscape; San Francisco, where I ate an actual bird's nest in a Chinese restaurant totally different from Joy Young's, with its Americanized dishes; Yosemite and its glorious hotel and mountains (my father took one of his silly poses with El Capitan in the background). Los Angeles was a smoggy blip for me, as I was imprisoned in the hotel room doing Latin and failing to master the ut clause.
This was the last big trip I made with my parents. All along the way, my mother smoked and coughed a rattle deep within her chest. Six months later, doctors removed a cancer-riddled lung, and six months after that she died. What never died, though, is the memory of the fun we had together working our way west and back home again.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

My Irish Roots

Every year, Americans by the millions claim to be Irish and celebrate St. Patrick's Day. Every year, I am puzzled by the people who ask why I'm not wearing green. Every year, I answer, "I'm part Irish. Does that count for anything?" And every year, no one's impressed.

In fact, my last name "Hood" is Irish. My paternal great-great-grandfather emigrated from Ireland through South Carolina, where he married Catherine Smith. They settled briefly in Mississippi and then moved to
Alabama around 1850, in a settlement near or in Montevallo. After he died, my great-great-grandmother moved to an area near Birmingham, where my father was born in 1909.

I know nothing about the Irish Hoods, despite searching through Ancestry.com's vast store of records. I also don't know much about my father's Hoods since his parents were divorced in about 1912 and his
mother disconnected Daddy from his father (Robert Holland Hood) and his family. I did, however, attend my grandfather's funeral at Oak Hill Cemetery in December 1969 even though I had never met him in life.On St. Patrick's Day, curiously, I feel more Irish than most of those celebrating throughout the nation. On this day, then, I'll wear the green in my blog.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Mother and Dear

My mother and her mother lived 500+ miles apart at a time when travel was slow. Although they didn't visit regularly, they didn't lose touch because they wrote letters to one another.

Every Saturday morning, my mother sat at her small writing desk in her bedroom and pounded out letters on her black Underwood typewriter. I remember that she liked Crane's stationery, that her blue-and-white ashtray (perhaps Delft) was shaped as a fish, that she always had a lit
cigarette, and that she wrote with lively detail and thoughtful concentration. I never read her letters, which she signed with a fountain pen in blue ink. That would have been presumptuous.

But I have imagined them: reports of her garden -- the making of new beds bordered in stone, the planting and blooming; the children and our
progress and misdeeds; her community and volunteer work; her work with the Altar Guild and the latest hangings she and other ladies fashioned on silk.

People have told me that my mother was charming and that my grandmother was, as an older friend once told me, imposing. One thing I remember is the sound of their voices and laughter, the deep resonance of their Virginia-rolled vowels. My
grandmother lived into old age (she died at 99), while my mother died in youthful middle age (at 47). It's strange now to know that Dear, my grandmother, lived for more years after Mother's death than Mother lived in her whole life.

But their love for each other lives still in this photograph, as does the mutual pleasure they evidently took in the other's company.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Rev. B. F Perkins

Today, looking at my Friday/Saturday mail, I read a beautifully illustrated folk art auction catalog. On the front is a painting of a bedspread I have been lucky enough to see in person.

I knew the artist, a preacher named B. F. Perkins, who lived in Bankston, Alabama. I first visited with a friend and her then-mother-in-law on a cold, rainy January day at least 20 years ago. The sight of his property was enough to bring all of us cheer and some spiritual warmth, if not physical.

His compound of buildings and sculptures consisted of a church called Hartline on the right, with a hand-painted clock reading 10:00; to the left, a clapboard building serving as a church hall; between them, a red-white-and-blue concrete-block-and-painted-gourd recreation of the tomb of Jesus (complete with opening); behind it, three life-sized crosses representing the site of the crufixion; and further up, on the left and at the top of the hill, Rev. Perkins' house -- a fantastic ramshackle two-storied building on which he had painted stars and stripes and flags in red, white, and blue.

We knocked on his door and waited, not knowing what to expect. He greeted us warmly and welcome us inside. What we saw defies description. Every surface, from floor to ceiling, furniture included, had been turned into art: yellow-gold Statues of Liberty; American flags; Biblical quotations and warnings and other texts; hearts for Hartline; crosses; globes; red, white, and blue stripes; paintings and signs with patriotic and religious messages. Everything was decorated. Rev. Perkins was painting his kitchen when we arrived -- appliances and cabinets and floors.

He showed us the entire house, which except for his art, was dark until we reached the treacherously perched cupola-like second floor, where his paintings on stretched canvas covered the walls. He escorted us to the balcony and pointed out the garden where he had planted gourd vines for his painted birdhouses, his workshed, the site of his "tombstone" in the front (he had been denied a church he helped to found).

As I sit at this computer now, blogging, through my study door I see four of the five paintings he created. When I select a book from my bookcase, I see two of his gourds. When I sit on my couch and watch the birds and deer outside my front window, I see a large unfinished painting I bought from him three months after meeting him (by which time his house had been stripped almost bare by galleries). Every object reminds me of his warmth and vitality.

The urge to create is, I think, the most ennobling of human urges, and knowing Rev. Perkins has ennobled my life and does so every time I see his work.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Overlooked Pleasure of Water

It's easy to forget how essential water is, especially in the kitchen. Happily, my new friend and neighbor Tom helped me today by installing my new kitchen faucet. I can wash the dishes again, the old-fashioned way: by hand.For me, doing so is an act of quiet contemplation. Sometimes, I think about washing dishes with my mother when I was in 9th grade and learning Latin. "Hic, haec, hoc," we'd both repeat ad infinitum. Sometimes, I think about my friend Trink, who, before her stroke, liked to clean her kitchen alone because, she said, she had conversations with her husband B, who died some years ago. Sometimes, I look out at the window at the birds and squirrels in the side yard. And sometimes -- often, I admit -- I just enjoy feeling hot water run over my hands.

Tonight, thanks to Tom, I can look forward to doing the dishes again without worrying about the leak.

Friday, March 13, 2009

My Name

Honestly, how many times should one person be saddled with an old joke?


Why do people still expect me to find their comment original and laugh?

As recently as two days ago, I heard something like this for the umpty-umpteenth time:

"Let me introduce you," says the friend. "This is Robley Hood."

The stranger extends a hand and says as if making up a one-of-a-kind joke, "Nice to meet you. So you're named Robin Hood?" Wink, wink.

"No," I say, "my name is Robley."

Stranger says, "I thought your parents wanted you to rob from the rich . . . " and so on.

If I were brave, I'd cut these people off, but I don't. Sometimes, a few actually want to know where I got my name.

I tell them, proudly:

My parents named me for my father's stepfather, Robley Charles Munger. Daddy loved his Uncle Bob, which is what he called him. He was the only father Daddy knew, though Robley C. Munger fathered two other children -- Robley C. Munger, Jr. and Bertha Munger (Anderson). Daddy wasn't related to the first. The second was his half-sister. My aunt used to say that she had two brothers exactly the same age, although they weren't related to each other!

All I know about the man I'm named for is that heloved my father and that he worked with a paint company into which he brought my father. I also know that Bob's father, Robert S. Munger, loved my father, and that my parents loved me and wanted me to carry the over-the-sheets family name. As a result, I am Robley Munger Hood, the only female Robley (as far as I know) in the extended family.

Despite the awful jokes that have increasingly irritated me over my lifetime, I love having the unusual name inherited from a man I never met, who, I was told, was named for a friend of his family in Texas, where the lived before coming to Alabama.

For all I know, Daddy's Uncle Bob might have wondered about his name, too. Maybe folks made jokes about that Robley's name, too.

Imagine it:

"I'd like to introduce you to my friend Robley Munger."

Stranger says, "Wanna get a bite?" Wink, wink.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Two Families

Today, I drove to Birmingham and back to attend a funeral, the last person to die in the older generation in two families. I have posted before about the Hoods and the Chenoweths, two families as close as could be without shared blood.

At Independent Presbyterian Church, the three Chenoweth children, their spouses, one ex-spouse, three grandchildren, and relatives and
friends gathered to celebrate the life of Barbara Derr Chenoweth, known as "Babs" to most and as "B" to her grandchildren.

Babs was generous and kind. Her smile defined the cliche: it lit up every room. She and her husband, Uncle Arthur, who preceded her in death by several years, made everyone welcome, comfortable, and safe.

A 1970s Christmas photo shows Billy, my father, me, Babbie, Sandra in the front and David, Brenda, Wham, Uncle Arthur, Emily, Babs, Rhonda, Rhonda's father, and Chip in the back.

I know that firsthand. After my mother died 45+ years ago, I often stayed with the Chenoweths whenever my father traveled for business. Babs was the one who held me when Uncle Arthur, my father's closest friend and one of my mother's doctors, told us Mother had died. I am certain it was she who arranged for another of Mother's close friends to sit with me on the couch at home as I greeted visitors that night. She introduced me to Indian curry, New England boiled dinner, three-bean salad, and reading for pleasure (along with my grandmother). She was born in Pennsylvania and talked about Wilkes-Barre, which I always imagined as an exotic place, and she didn't talk with a southern accent. She was only one of fewer than five people who got away with calling me "Rob." Indeed, she called us Emmo, Babbo, Chipo, Willo, Robo, bringing us into some special circle of warmth.

Today, at the funeral, when I saw my old friends, I cried. When I hugged their former next-door neighbor Virginia, whose parents were part of the circle of my parents' and the Chenoweths' friends, I cried again. Not for Babs, whose suffering ended on her youngest child's birthday, but for the passing of my childhood with the death of the last older member of that circle.

They were blessed, as are we to have known each other for so long.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Reveille and Taps

The brown thrasher woke me yesterday and today and serenaded me at dusk yesterday. Perched in the upper branches of a bare tree, it sings early and late, its varied double calls far better than bells or bugles.

The thrasher, whether he or she (they look alike), perches above the range of my camera. Instead of my own snap, I offer this beautiful one
from George Grant's photographs stored on PBase (http://www.pbase.com/image/58941011).

There may be better beginnings and endings to the calendar of days, but I'd be hard pressed to name more melodious ones.

For proof, I offer this recording from Cornell University's website, All About Birds. Give it a listen: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds/audio/Brown_Thrasher1.html. You won't be sorry.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Color Purple

Sometimes, a book whispers from my library shelf.

Coming in from outside, where crocus loosen among piled leaves in my narrow front bed, I heard, "Listen, God love everything you love -- and a mess of stuff you don’t. But more than anything else, God love admiration . . . Not vain, just wanting to share a good thing. I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it." (Alice Walker's The Color Purple)

Today, I share crocus purple and Walker's words.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Hanging Out

There was a time when I enjoyed hanging out with a small crowd -- mostly while I was in college and then after, always with theater friends. People who don't do plays assume that those who do are somehow "different" and "Bohemian." I've always found that they're creative . . . yes . . . but also highly intelligent and normal and stimulating.

Today, in Nashville on an errand, I passed one of my all-time favorite former hangouts: Brown's Diner. Despite the satellite dish on the roof, the old trailer looks just as dingy as it did when I hung out there more than 40 years ago with my Vanderbilt friends.
We drank beer and ate thick chili and talked. We didn't do drugs and we didn't flunk out and we didn't "party" all the time the way many college students do today. We made good grades and worked hard every afternoon and evening at the old Garland Theater. And when we played, we did so with each other. We loved each other like family.

I miss those easy days of college and those old friends. I don't know where most of them are, but I do know that three died young. When I drove by Brown's, though, I could hear their laughter and see their wide smiles and remember what can be special about any greasy spoon.

I'm glad Brown's is still there, and I'm glad others love it, too.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

What's a Good Book?

The answer to that question depends upon who's answering.

For me, a good book takes me somewhere unfamiliar and makes me believe it. Puts me in another's shoes so convincingly that I forget myself. Thrills me with language and imagery and meaning. Challenges something about the way I see or think about the world. Rewards me at the end by leaving me thinking for hours, days, weeks, years. Invites me to re-read it. Makes me want to own it, so that passing the shelf where it waits, the book beckons and reminds me of its multiple pleasures.

Based on my criteria, Brian Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret, a work of children's literature and winner of the prestigious Caldecott Award in 2008, is a good book. A complicated story combining silent film and images and text, Hugo Cabret touches on such subjects as abandonment, being orphaned, art and mechanics, fantasy and reality. Written for children, it dumbs nothing down and in the process makes demands and rewards the reader who sticks with meeting them.

Almost as engaging as the novel is Brian Selznick's website. Visit it, and then read the book. I have no doubt that you'll agree it's a good one.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Yellow Things

Ask me to name my least favorite color, and my answer is immediate: yellow.

et . . .

I live in a yellow house.

I used to have yellow hair.

My favorite flower is the daffodil.

I prefer tortoiseshell glasses.
I drink tea with milk, and I love scones.

And on a beautiful afternoon of photographing spring, I find myself preoccupied with yellow.