In December, my second grade teacher came to one of my book signings. She was brimming with pride, which felt wonderful. But it also felt wonderful to be able to tell her outright, "You helped put me on this path." She was one of the first people who encouraged my writing and I'll never forget that.
As the month continued on, I mulled over some of the other teachers who made a strong and well-remembered difference in my life. I'm on Facebook with a few, so I've been able to thank them. Still, there are a few I've lost touch with and my high school teacher Mrs. L was the first who came to mind. I thought I'd see if I could reconnect with her in the new year. Then just a few days into January one of my oldest and dearest friends called, a wobble in her voice. Frannie shared the news that Mrs. L died on the first day of 2016.
I've thought of Mrs. L so often in the days since her death. It made me realize that she's one of those childhood people who never dropped far from my thoughts as the years went by. Whenever I meet someone new, I work hard to remember their name because I hear Mrs. L's voice in my head stressing that this is kind and important. In her "Great Books" classes we learned how to discuss literature and find key themes. It was the first class where I felt every person's viewpoint mattered, that we were all working together to see a story or issue from various angles -- not to reach her conclusions or to be able to answer test questions, but primarily to know it and ourselves better. We were allowed to respectfully disagree with her. We saw how much she enjoyed her own classes and the subject matter. Mrs. L made it easy to fall in love with learning for its own sake.
Mrs. L had us keep journals of our thoughts and discoveries, turning them in periodically. Some of my classmates hated the process, but I found it gave dignity and worth to my natural inclinations. Years later I wrote a master's thesis on journal writing. In her phone call, Frannie said, "Sometimes I'd write about something important and she'd always clue in on that. She had a knack for adding a comment or two that I really needed to hear or that made me feel she really saw me." That was the magic of Mrs. L. She helped you feel that you were worth getting to know, that your perspectives and thoughts and dreams added up to something. For a bunch of teenagers, that was valuable indeed.
In my filing cabinet I still have a dog-earred sheet of paper that Mrs. L passed out to the class the first day of my freshman year of high school. It is a two-sided questionnaire and gives 53 statements with beginnings that are followed by fill-in blanks. My childish responses are there in bubbly handwriting, the letter "i" always topped by cutesy circles. (Yes, I wrote at least one response that involved boys.) Deep into the document is one of Mrs. L's smiley faces added as a comment. She read each and every student's questionnaire. She wanted to get to know us.
I liked that quiz. I liked it so much that my senior year of high school I wrote fresh answers on a separate sheet of paper. Upon reaching the very adult age of 21, I answered it again. And at ages 25, 32, and 36. In those last few versions, I had to replace the words "class/school" with "work." My one rule is that I never read previous questionaire answers until I've written new answers so I don't muddy the waters. Comparisons from one age to the next are sometimes quite revealing. A decade has gone by, but I've pulled out the quiz again and will create a mid-40s version. I look forward to touching base with myself in this odd, unique way.
Thank you, Mrs. L. Your many gifts live on.
If you'd like to try the questionnaire yourself, here it is:
Just inside the Atlanta Perimeter is a relatively new public nature preserve called Constitution Lakes. I heard about it only recently and was curious, so during the last week of summer holidays Eli and I visited there with friends. We found the 125-acre place is lovely but sometimes scrubby. Nature is bouncing back from years of industrial abuse. Yet its very history makes it by turns unusual, inspiring, and sometimes even a wee bit creepy -- but always interesting.
The front of the park is fairly ordinary but also easy walking with a paved trail and boardwalk.
The preserve contains ancient mines where the Indians removed soapstone for carving various implements. Some of these artifacts have been found hundreds of miles away, indicating this area was quite the trade hub. Civil War relics were unearthed here. And beginning over a century ago, it was long a home to a brick company. The big hole that was left behind from mining clay slowly filled up with water to become a lake.
Beyond the boardwalk, there is a nature trail that dips down into land bordered by the South River and a spur of the north-south rail line through Atlanta. Over the years junk was sometimes pitched off of railroad cars and floods deposit flotsam and jetsam from the city. As the park developed, folks began using junk from the land to create found object sculptures. The nature trail came to be known as Doll's Head Trail and it is a fascinating spot.
Visitors are encouraged to write on pieces of brick and other found objects.
A few people have left their names and graffiti type images. Most, however, are inspired to leave quotations or thoughts ranging from the amusing to the mysterious to the profound.
Location: Constitution Lakes, South River Industrial Boulevard SE, Atlanta GA 30316. There doesn't seem to be a specific address, but it is within sight of the crossroads with Moreland Avenue and is next door to Rush Truck Center at 2560 Moreland Avenue (which would be a good location to navigate to with a GPS).
Websites about Constitution Lakes and Doll's Head Trail:
One Mama's Two Cents:
For safety's sake, we went to Constitution Lakes with friends; it is remote enough that I would't go alone. My mama friend and I agreed that if it felt too isolated or unsafe that we'd leave, but we found it to be well maintained and with a good "vibe." (Our cell phones got good signals there too.)
Much of the area has wide and easy paved walking paths or boardwalk. If you have wee ones, a stroller would work just fine and wobbly walkers would have no troubles. (I read that the main trail is just over two miles. There are no bathrooms or water fountains, but there are trash cans.) When it comes to Doll's Head Trail, however, the path is often narrow and muddy. Good shoes are a must. Also, by late summer the weeds are high in places and we saw lots of poison ivy. Because of the wetlands, there are many snake warnings about the area. Still, our trek was uneventful and we had a lovely time enjoying the shade and unusual history of the place. We'll definitely come here again. Eli likes anything related to building/construction and was inspired by the crazy new things made out of ordinary objects, so it will be fun to see how the artwork changes over time. Constitution Lakes is not far from Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, and thus the nature preserve can be a great stopping spot for kiddos to expend energy before picking up company from the airport or taking an afternoon flight. Don't forget to bring a permanent marker!
My parents were lovely, warm people. Watching them die was awful, but being without them has been a whole other challenge. I was in my early twenties when I said goodbye, so there have been thousands of changes they never saw unfold and thousands of journeys big and small that they never shared. They witnessed the first steps of my career path, but not the curves or successes. They didn't get the chance to meet my husband or see me on my wedding day. They never laid eyes on my child or held him in their arms.
I want my parents to still be a part of my world. We have photos of them up in our house. I cook the favorite recipes of my childhood so these dishes are also familiar and comforting to my son. I sing to Eli the songs my parents sang to me. I also tell him lots of stories about his maternal grandparents.
I found, though, that I tripped over my words whenever I tried to explain to Eli his connection to these pictures, foods, songs, and stories. It was up to me to help my child distinguish an invisible set of grandparents from my in-laws, the living grandparents he knows firsthand. Yet when I added my maiden name at the end of "Grandpa" and "Grandma" for clarification, it just complicated things more. Those were the names I knew my paternal grandparents by. My grandparents were important and beloved figures in my life. I knew them longer than I knew my parents, and I want to share them with Eli as well. Complicated. I kept starting into a story only to digress and fumble: "I'm not talking about Granddad, your papa's dad, or my grandfather, but your grandpa that you didn't get to meet..."
Recently I decided that the verbal tangle was ridiculous. Southern families usually give pet names to grandparents anyway, so I gave it some thought. What nicknames would my parents have liked? I told Eli, "From now on, my father is Gramps and my mother is Nana." Eli nodded solemnly. As I spoke, it didn't escape me that for first time in over two decades I used present tense language while discussing my parents.
The first time I told a story about Gramps and Nana, I got a little teary as I stopped to remind Eli about the nicknames. "I know who they are," Eli said. "They are my grandparents." And then I got very teary. It was the first time he seemed possessive towards them. A connection grew stronger because a name, especially a warm nickname, removes a layer of distance and formality. Death is a barrier enough for getting to know the generations before you. Erasing a little bit of barrier felt like a gift to my child, to my parents, and to myself.
I feel sure Gramps and Nana would approve.
I came across these photos a few weeks ago and had to laugh. I'd forgotten all about this Halloween prank.
When I was a manuscripts archivist, I was put in charge of my institution's artifacts collection. For a history geek like me, it was terribly fun. We had some bizarre artifacts. In the early years of the pre-Civil War organization, it tended to collect anything old or interesting rather than sticking to a scholarly or topic-based collection plan. Some old gent would find a weird object while traveling the world and soon donate it.
Trying to sort out the records for over a century and a half of artifacts was dizzying. There were many times that I found records for the organization acquiring something a century before but then not being able to find the object in question. One such artifact was a mummy's hand. There was no record of it being sold or donated elsewhere, yet it hadn't been seen in decades. Everybody on staff was intrigued and periodically it would come up in conversations, folks wondering what became of it. Hmmm.
It was too good to resist. One October I tracked down a library book with life size images of the bones in the human hand. I cut wooden dowels to fit the finger bones and then screwed them together using small hardware loops/eyes. I screwed the wrist portion of the hand to a small board and glued it into the bottom of a shallow cardboard box. I ran fishing line up the "bones" and then out the corner of the box. Next, I covered the bones with brown Fimo clay. I used cream and brown acrylic paint to make some Lee Press On fake fingernails look creepy and then pressed them into the Fimo. For a last step, I dyed some cheesecloth with tea to make it look old and also splashed some tea stains on cream-colored tissue paper to nestle around the hand. It looked pretty good, if I say so myself -- dessicated, wrinkly, and gaunt. But my favorite part was that I could pull on the transparent strings coming out the bottom of the box to suddenly make the hand move and draw up.
On Halloween, I sneaked the box into work, waited about an hour, and then excitedly "found" the missing mummy's hand in the artifacts storage area. I took it around the building to show folks and would wait until they were quietly leaning over for close scrutiny before pulling on strings to make the mummy hand move. The shrieks were worth all the work.
All good fun comes to an end. Time moved on and everybody had seen my creation. What to do with it? When I left the organization for another job, I quietly stashed the box in a storage area. To this day, I have no idea if anybody else found it or not. I can only imagine somebody years later pulling out the unmarked box and finding the creepy thing inside. I hope it earned a few more shrieks.
Earlier this month we went down to South Georgia to visit family.
Cousin Tina lives on a little slice of heaven with a cotton field in back.
Today while taking a break from my computer, I got to thinking about the photos I took of the cotton. So many stages to go from flower to boll...
I don't know how long it takes for cotton from start to finish -- soft, pretty flower to strong, useful fiber. I don't know how long it will be from start to finish on my book project either. I've been at it for seven years already.
Now is the home stretch for the text, due to my editor in four days.
I can't quite imagine that this will soon be out of my hands. No more tweaking. No more adding or subtracting. No more combing over it and second-guessing what a reader might want, what a reviewer might say.
Today I finally stopped and thought, "It is what it is."
Here's to hoping what I harvest is strong and useful too.
For our summer Camp Rainbow group, we wanted our kids to know that there were people living here long ago, and that those people had a culture and a way of life. Last week became Native Americans week. (Click HERE for more about Camp Rainbow.)
We trekked over to the University of Georgia campus. Near the Georgia Center there is a small stone monument...
I don't know if the five year-olds were impressed, but it fueled my imagination! Lumpkin Street runs from Downtown Athens to the Five Points area and has some interesting old buildings along it, but I didn't realize its history was far older.
The kiddos seemed to really like the craft projects. I found an older book at our local library that had quite a few handmade Native American games and other projects. The favorite seemed to be the Stick Game. Each kid decorated three flat sticks -- one with a dot pattern and two with a snake pattern. The opposite sides remain plain/blank.
Then they tossed their sticks in the air and there is a scoring system for the resulting patterns. (American Indian Games and Crafts by Charles L. Blood. NY: Franklin Watts, 1981.)
3 Plain Sides Up = 4 points
3 Marked Sides Up = 4 points
2 Snakes, 1 Plain = 6 points
1 Snake, 2 Plain = 6 points
1 Snake, 1 Plain, 1 Dots = 0 points
We also made some clay-colored play dough using cinnamon and other spices. I have a few pieces of Native American pottery shards that I collected on the Georgia coast, so I showed those to the kids. Then we had fun marking the pottery the way the Native Americans might have.
I showed them how to do simple coil pots as well. (Click HERE for a post that includes the play dough recipe.)
That are some great Native American sites in Georgia that are open to the public, but it ended up being too crazy of a week for a long field trip. Maybe later in the summer we'll go to Rock Eagle, Etowah Indian Mounds, Ocmulgee National Monument, the Chief Vann Historic Site, or the New Echota Historic Site.
This week for Camp Rainbow is "Wet and Wild" (water creatures and wetland habitats). We've got our library books and now we just need to schedule a few adventures with buddies...
Posts About Camp Rainbow:
I had an unusual experience this morning. Almost seventy years after the end of World War II, I got to tell somebody that "their" soldier made it home.
I have a couple of current book projects that I'm cooking up, but also a long-term project that I have bubbling on the back burner. The latter project involves interviewing older folks. I've had such a great time learning about life in the first half of this century from people who remember it first-hand.
One lady I interviewed earlier this spring is 92 years old and she had interesting tales about what the home front of my town was like during World War II. Mavis told of dances and socials for soldiers temporarily stationed here for training. She mentioned one Air Corps serviceman by name, recalling where Francis was from and the fun they had together. Both were aficionados of corny jokes, so they saved up quips and word play to swap with each other. It was more of a friendship than a courtship, yet even after he went off to the South Pacific they wrote and swapped jokes for many months. Somehow, between irregular wartime mail service, his military assignments, and her moving across town, they lost track of each other. Eventually she met another soldier who she was instantly serious about. The war came to a close. She married and became a mother. But she still wondered about Francis and what became of him.
While doing book research these past weeks, I got to wondering about that serviceman myself. His last name was unusual and I knew a few details about his life, so I did some searching. Sitting in the darkened section of the library before the microfilm reader, I found his service records. He made it out of the South Pacific alive. A little more searching online and I found his obituary. Unfortunately, he died of a cardio-pulmonary ailment at the age of forty-two. Still, he got out of the war alive, surviving two decades to marry and have both a son and a daughter. According to the account in the paper, he was active in the community and sorely missed.
Today I took the information to Mavis. When I handed her the obituary, her eyes opened wide and her hand went up to her cheek. She sat at her kitchen table reading and rocking slightly with tears in her eyes.
He made it home.
(Above: This is an unrelated photo I found in an antique store a while back. But the events of the morning made me think of it again. I hope all the guys in this unlabeled photo got home too.)
I'd seen billboards for the Medieval Times dinner show but didn't give it much thought until Brian came home with tickets through work. Little did
I know that Medieval Times is a huge, well-established theater company with shows near Orlando, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Dallas, Toronto, Myrtle Beach, and Washington DC. The first one opened overseas in Majorca in 1973 and the show is modeled after life in 11th century Spain.
The Atlanta area Medieval Times is located in Sugarloaf Mills mall north of the 316/I-85 split in Lawrenceville. (Click HERE for the mall website.) Walking up to the building, I suddenly realized this was not a small-scale outfit. Check out how small Brian and Eli look in front of it!
While waiting for the show to begin, there is a huge vestibule complete with gift shop, fireplace, and displays.
This is Kratos, a Eurasian eagle-owl born in 2005. He has a wingspan of six feet and stars in the show. Before the show begins, he is in a small temporary space with windows.
Everybody is given a crown to wear. The color of your crown decides which section you'll be sitting in and which knight you'll cheer for. (Even the lights are colored. Can you tell we were rooting for the Green Knight?) The seats are at narrow tables that overlook a large oval space with sand at the bottom -- the "circus ring" where the action takes place.
The lights dim. Fog begins to swirl. A light show and music begins...
I expected a whole lot of jousting. And there definitely was jousting -- complete with clashes and shattering lances. Yet I was pleasantly surprised how much more there was to the show. There were characters and a storyline to follow but also gorgeous, well-trained horses. The medieval games included all sorts of displays of skill with horses and weapons. All is so well-choreographed that there is constantly something new to see.
For a five year-old boy, it was a particularly wondrous and fantastic experience. We bought Eli a plastic light-up sword and for days afterwards I'd see him on the playground or the front yard with arms wielding a sword either toy, stick, or imagined. It's such fun to do an activity with your kid that rouses their senses and inspires them.
One Mama's Two Cents:
Medieval Times is pricey, yet we found it was really worth doing once or twice. It was a fun way to talk about history with Eli, discussing how the show was accurate and inaccurate. I suppose if you've got a kid who is constantly whacking things with sticks or turning everything into a toy gun that this sort of show might be overwhelming, but Eli really loved the Good vs. Evil aspect and seemed to understand that the actors (and knights of old) were all highly trained so they could do things he can't. He loved it, and the show has plenty for the grownups to enjoy too.
Surprisingly, the food was good. I expected rubbery, overcooked meat, but everything was tender and tasty. Meals are served without silverware, so wash hands before you go in and/or carry some kid-safe hand sanitizer as well as wet-wipes. Eli isn't a big meat eater, but there was enough variety to make him a decent meal. Everyone gets the same meal -- tomato bisque soup, bread, roasted chicken (light and dark meat), barbecue spare rib, herb roasted potato half (called a "dragon's egg"), and a pastry. Drinks are Pepsi, tea, water, or bar drinks served in a plastic tankard. (The plates were metal, which intrigued Eli to no end.) There is a vegetarian option as well, but I don't know what they serve for it.
We will definitely go again sometime. We saw some kids visiting for birthdays and being knighted by the king, so perhaps we'll do that in one of the coming years.
Next Post: A behind-the-scenes tour of Medieval Times! (Click HERE)
I've been wrapped up in historical research for the last week or so.
As a history geek, it blissful! Sleuthing along an information trail, not letting the dead ends stop you and brainstorming places to uncover hidden knowledge. The thrill of realizations and putting together a better picture of the past. And it is fun to find unrelated but amusing nuggets along the way. Just in time for Easter baskets, I suppose...
The Atlanta Georgian newspaper, October 27, 1901.
(Sorry this is difficult to read! It is tricky to move an image from online newsprint to a webpage.)
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My primary camera is a Canon EOS Digital Rebel T5 with a Sigma DC 18-200mm lens (1:3.5-6.3) or Canon EFS 18-55mm lens. On occasion I also use my iPhone 6. For crisper images (when I'm not in a hurry to grab the shot), I use a Dolica Proline B100 tripod. I often tweak my images using Adobe Photoshop Elements 8.