Mere Mortals, All of Us

I’ve somehow become a member of the SHS Memorial Page. A Facebook page dedicated to all the people who went to my high school and died.

It may be “a thing” these memorial pages, but I find it discomfiting, and, I’ll admit, macabre.

But I Can’t Look Away

But, like a rubbernecker at a train wreck, I find I can’t look away. I keep paging through the years looking for familiar faces. Knowing when I find one, they’re dead.

I left Sprayberry High School in 1968 and I could count on one hand the classmates I’ve seen since then.

I never looked up anyone from high school, and the few overtures I had from others, I ignored. I saw high school as the last obstacle to overcome before I escaped my parents’ house and gained my freedom. I’d had friends, although no close ones. Most of the kids I knew had no idea of the life I had at home, and never understood my frenzied drive to get away. But they were teenagers and, how mature were any of us before age 30?

I’ve recently had what my children describe as a near death experience: four days in cardiac ICU. After I came off the drugs they gave me while I was there, I began to contemplate my mortality and the sum of what I would leave behind. Thumbing through the photos of my dead classmates I thought, too, of what they had left behind, and what I knew of them from long ago. At least what they had left behind that was my memory of them.

It is as if there is still a whisper, an imprint of those memories that is real, that people will pass through that shadow and be affected by it. And it is as if I can see those imprints. They are almost tangible.

jana anders, sprayberry class of 1969I think the most surprising death I read about was Jana Anders. Probably because she was so full of life, She died 10 years ago, a relatively young death in this time of 80-year life expectancy.

Even though I knew Jana from the second grade, we weren’t friends. It was more an acquaintanceship, but I admired her and sometimes envied her, starting at age 7.

We were in a play in front of the school, parents, teachers, etc. and Jana gave an Oscar-worthy performance of some character named duck or goose … It was so good that even now I remember my mother talking about it for a week and wondering how Jana had the moxie to put on such a show for so many people. Most of them adults.

My family moved out of that school district at the end of second grade so my path didn’t cross Jana’s again until the ninth grade. That year and every year after, she was the cheerleader who was known all over the state, along with being one of the most popular girls in school.

She wasn’t classically pretty, she was ‘cute’, maybe a little elfin, but she lit up a room when she walked in and I can’t remember her ever being unkind. And, she was a fabulous gymnast. Most of the complicated routines the cheerleaders did were designed to showcase her because, who else would do? No one. And … she was always marvelous.

I saw her two times after high school

Five or six years into adulting, I was commuting from Marietta to Atlanta to work. I carpooled with a couple of other people, one of whom, Donna, had also gone to Sprayberry and knew Jana. We were on 75N, almost home, when Donna fairly screamed, “There’s Jana!”

It was the sort of shout out one would make upon seeing Garth Brooks’ tour bus or finding Joe Perry in your favorite tattoo parlor. Jana had that kind of star power.

Donna blew the horn, waved, and kept yelling to get Jana’s attention. I waved, too, all the while surprised and a little disappointed to see her driving a rather old, ratty VW bug with the windows down which meant she could hear us plainly, but also that she was suffering through a summer in Atlanta with no a/c.

She was, after all, the ‘Star of SHS’ the entire time I was there. More so even than the boy athletes, she was probably the most well known student, I’m sure, for several years and not just at Sprayberry, but every high school who had played football or basketball against us also knew her by reputation. She was our own celebrity.

The next and last time I saw her we were 35 and in a maternity store buying clothes to wear while we carried babies we were already too old be be having. As I left the changing room, I said, “Jana? Aren’t you Jana Anders?”

“I was,” she said. It seemed sad to me considering the thoughts I’d had the time I saw her in her little bug, but I think her meaning was she had another name because she had married. I hope it was that and not that she’d lost herself somehow.

I told her that she had known me as Teresa Shultz, a name I didn’t use anymore, and as I saw recognition in her face I knew it was only the name she remembered. She admitted she wouldn’t have known me if I hadn’t told her who I was.

We didn’t have any sort of meaningful dialogue, but that meeting stayed in my mind, because I was once again reminded that I had expected her to leave this small town and perform. Perform Something. Somewhere.

cirque du soleil

And now as I read the notes about her death, aged 57, from colorectal cancer, I am so saddened by it. And I think to myself, ‘Oh, Jana, if only we’d had Cirque du Soleil in our youth! You could have been an international star of Circus of the Sun, and I could have worked with show horses my whole life.

When I ran away from home I could have gone where I’d have been welcomed for my oddness and, well, like everyone else who met you, they’d have been mad about you! Neither of us were really suited to a desk or a boring life and we hardly knew where to look for anything else. We could have been running away to the circus. And what a grand one!

She may have been ecstatically happy with her professional life, I don’t know. I don’t even know what she did. She may have been happy to stay in this small town her whole life. I don’t have any impression of her other than my own memories, few as they are, and the expectations she brought to my mind with her exuberance for life.

 

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Hey

I don’t think I’ve ever known a man

who could set the tone of a conversation or create a mood in me with one word.

Until now.

And if you think of it, how many words can you use all alone that speak volumes?

That One word

says he knows  me,

whispers secret  things . . .

and hints at whats  to come.

Just one word to do all that –

I’ll admit, it isn’t the word.  It is his voice, his tone, his delivery that hold an intimacy that is excruciating.

And when I pick up the phone and hear that one word he says to me,  I’m done for. Gone.

Hey.

 

But, what word is it that clues you in he’ll lie to you in a heartbeat?

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So Whaddya Got?

Forty years ago I gave birth to, and then surrendered for adoption, a tiny golden-haired girl.

That event defined me for the next 40 years.

The boy lived about 100 miles away; he didn’t have to face me, and … he didn’t want to give up high school basketball, so he left me to manage on my own.

My mother, aghast, put me in a Florence Crittendon home for unwed mothers 200 miles away, so there was no chance anyone I knew would find me, including the boy. Not that he looked.

I had my baby girl alone, went before a judge alone, and when that was done, my mother came and took me home.

A Loss You’re Not Allowed to Mourn

Every woman who gives a child away isn’t happy to be done with it.  The girls I met at ‘Flossies’ almost without exception were greatly sorrowed to be doing what they were doing, but didn’t feel they had a choice.  I didn’t have a choice.

The problem is that losing a child is losing a child.  The fact that I signed her over to her adoptive parents didn’t make my loss any less.  If anything it was made greater because not only was I bereft of her, I didn’t know if she was being taken care of …. if she was safe, if she was sick, if she was even alive.

I was heartsick with mourning for her, and in my parents’ house that was worse than having been pregnant with her.  The only approved emotion was shame, the only accepted behavior was that it never happened.  It was never talked about.  Never.

Because it never happened.

(more…)

Summer

 

 

Originally published May, 2001

It is officially Summer at Magnolia Manse.  I know it is May, and the Season begins in June, but my children are out of school for two months and three weeks and that makes it summer.

This week I traveled to Chattanooga with my eleven year son, Matthew, on his class trip.  We wandered the aquarium examining the fishes, telling each other everything we knew about every fish we saw.

This child is mine

This child of mine who I love so much it makes me ache, bounces up occasionally to kiss me, “I lazhu” he says, without embarrassment in our own ‘I love you’ language.

This child whose hair I would not cut until he was five because I loved the curls, and then cried over his falling locks while his father took pictures.

This child who can shinny up a rope effortlessly, fly on a skateboard and make the most profound remarks, is mine.

When he was 2 and his brother 4, I was convinced I’d birthed aliens. They are such boys. I didn’t realize how soft and dainty I’d had things until they disrupted my world and brought me their magic.

Their father was a young, street smart tough guy from Boston who hid his tenderness well, protected it from examination because he couldn’t stand to reveal it.

(more…)

What is truly valuable to you? My list

We, as Americans, have become so enamored with consumerism and fresh acquisitions, we cannot perceive the abundance with which we are surrounded.

In our need/want/desire for more, more, more, we overlook those things that if lost, would prove to be invaluable.

I, too, have fallen prey to the art of acquisition.  Choosing “Retail Therapy” to treat the lack of a satisfying relationship with a soon to be ex-husband, I was more than willing to spend two weeks’ pay on a wool gabardine suit from Neimen’s and another $700 on a pair of Jimmy Choos.

The fact that I’d saved more than I’d spent was deemed irrelevant by the husband who refused me couples therapy (the ONLY thing we should have spent that money on).

In later years, having ended that marriage and yet another, and raising my children alone, I reached a level of affluence to which I’d never dared aspire.  I did this by working with real estate investors and leading them safely and more important, legally, through the quagmire of financing real properties.

Being exposed to their wealth acquisition models, and like many others, convinced that owning real estate was the road to wealth, I began my pursuit of rental properties.  I had a long-term plan that was fueled by my experience with other investors and my knowledge of finance tools.

Had I begun in 2005 instead of 2007, I’d have accomplished my goal of retiring from that miserable business, residential mortgages, and have had a nice portfolio to place in trust for my children.

2008 changed my life-like a fight with a 900 pound gorilla and I’ve spent the last couple of years refining my idea of the truly important things in my life.

friesan1In no particular order these are the things that are worth more than any of my tangible accomplishments.

  • the unconditional love of a child.
  • the magic of the sunlight in the fall.
  • the smell of sweet basil that persists in my herb beds even though it is the end of October.
  • the beauty in the well-muscled gait of a horse.
  • the wild cry of the red-tailed hawk that nests nearby every summer.

I’ve come to believe that more than anything we do in this world, the way we treat other people is the most important mark we’ll make on this earth. Something taught in Sunday School before you’re five, but in life, it seems seldom acted on.

 

Tomorrow, ten things you should know by now.

Mary Alice

One of the things I most wish to impart with the Laloba page is tribal knowledge. Women’s knowledge — that special knowledge that civilized human beings, particularly Americans, don’t have (or even know they need) anymore. . .

When my aunts were growing up in Blue Ridge there were grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins everywhere (and not a few skeletons, if you get my drift), but the bank of life knowledge that was available to them was huge and diverse. . .

Mary Alice Mashburn-McClelland, at her high school graduation

Mary Alice Mashburn-McClelland, at her high school graduation

When I was growing up the sisters had moved away from Fannin County and settled in Cobb and Dawson Counties. Visits to my grandmother’s house were frequent when I was a child, but after age 5, she wasn’t in my life every day, nor were my cousins, or my aunts.

In other cultures (cultures that are considered uncivilized by our sophisticated standards) there are tribes of people who give each adult a responsibility to the children born to that tribe.

One elder might know when to plant crops and how to grow them well; another may have a special talent for hunting, and with some women it is child-bearing and child-rearing knowledge that they share.

Someone teaches each child how to get along in their world, how to shoot a bow, clean a fish, nurture a child. Nothing an adult is required to do is left to chance to learn, or perhaps not learn. They see to it that their young are prepared to meet the world and conquer it.

One of the prettiest women in Blue Ridge, circa 1954

One of the prettiest women in Blue Ridge, circa 1954

This is my Aunt Alice. She is Alice within the Mashburn tribe and Mary, or Mary Alice outside it. My mother and her sisters were known as the prettiest girls in Fannin County. Easy to understand isn’t it?

There have been some people in my life who gave me that special gift of love and nurture that a child requires. Alice is one of those special few. She was the only woman I ever saw nurse a child when I was a child. The ONLY woman.

When I asked burning questions about a cousin, she answered them. In a straightforward, honest and down-to-earth fashion. Sex was the issue, & parentage, and lies.  And none of that mattered in her love for him.

When I asked her what my father looked like, because I hadn’t seen him since I was five, and I had forgotten, she said, “Look in a mirror. You’ll see him.” I spent hours after that wetting my hair and combing it like a boy, to see him.

When he died without meeting my two youngest children, and I mourned that for him and for them, and for me – she pointed out that he could have been a father to me if he’d chosen to. But he hadn’t.

And so I hope I have given some of that special gift to my own children, and perhaps passed on some of that knowledge I’ve amassed raising the six of them to those women who have come to me, as I went to her.

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