Tuesday, June 28, 2011
As I read yesterday’s Atlanta paper, my eye caught a headline for an article that read “Fort McPherson Closing.” After over a hundred years as a military base, the 1838 southwest Atlanta land mark shall shut its doors, and the US Army, who has called this one of its Southern homes, will move out by the middle of September of this year.
Growing up in southwest Atlanta, Fort Mac, as we called it, was in spittin’ distance of my childhood home. Located in East Point, Georgia, we passed this institution as we traveled by car to one place or another. I tried hard to dredge up a particular place of which we could have been headed that would take us by its gates, but as I recently read somewhere “there is no accounting for memory as to which things stuck and which didn’t.” Where we were going all those times simply didn't stick.
The soldier guarded gates of Fort Mac were as familiar sight to me as the railroad tracks we crossed to get there. Tracks for Central of Georgia Railroad, which merged with Southern Railway in the early 1960s, ran parallel to Lee Street, originally State Road 29, and it seemed that many places we went by car took us over those railroad tracks.
BTW: State Road 29, before Interstate 85 was constructed, began the first leg of our treks to Virginia. I have to admit that I don’t remember that especially, but my older brother Hunter does.
Up until I was in third or fourth grade, we crossed railroad tracks every Sunday to attend church in West End, where the first home that my parents rented was located when they moved to Atlanta in 1954. I have no memory of that home, but my parents found a church in West End that they were reluctant to give up when we moved to Sylvan Hills.
West End Christian Church no longer exists, but its building and grounds house another denomination; as I looked it up online, its familiar three stained glass window brought back memories and remains a focal point of the sanctuary, a building completed while we were still members. I have to thank Google Maps for allowing me a “street view” of that church.
The area of West End, now on the National Register of Historical Places, preserved some of its oldest structures as it was home to many prominent early Atlantans who built estates along the streetcar system that ran south west out of Atlanta, including Joel Chandler Harris, the writer who created Uncle Remus.
Man, did I get off topic -- anyway ---
I have a memory of Fort Mac seared in my brain from attending a movie in its private theater with Stephanie and Becky. These two sisters‘, whose ages matched my sister and my, father was career military, and they moved to our neighborhood sometime in the early 60s.
Stephanie and Becky lived “down the street” from us even though their house, three houses down, hardly fit that definition. Perched on the opposite side of the street, the layout mirrored ours, but one significant difference to me was that they had a single car detached garage, which in our immediate neighborhood, was one of only two I remember.
The other detached garage belonged to the neighbor on our immediate left. Their garage had a "finished" second floor, and from someone, and not from my first-hand knowledge, I got the impression was where the husband slept. In my childhood imagination, that information was all kinds of weird and caused me great pause.
Another difference of Stephanie and Becky’s house was that their driveway wasn’t solid like ours, but instead had two concrete strips with grass growing in between. This driveway led up the slope to the garage, which sat back from the back corner of the house and seemed enough of a distance from the street for Becky and I to race each other back and forth to the garage and to the street with the strips defining our “foot race” lanes.
I have no idea who won those races, but probably Becky, who was stronger and bigger than I and quite the athlete. Becky, fiery, tough, and red-headed [the first red-head I knew], played competitively with the boys in our neighborhood, and only Ann, an unpleasant neighborhood girl, could intimidate her, but that's a story for another blog.
Becky and I played outside, while my sister and Stephanie, giggling over things known to girls three years older, in my memory, watched us from the porch.
There was much mystery associated with a military family who had “ins” at Fort Mac, and we knew that both Stephanie and Becky got things from the PX at a reduced price. Cosmetics, Archie comics, books, 45s, and clothing we desired seemed easily and cheaply available to them.
The most desirous aspect of being military and able to enter Fort MacPherson with a car pass [which seemed so special] was the movie theater on the base that showed first run movies in a private theater, which was only for the military, their families, and as in this case with my sister and me, their guests.
I have no idea how many movies we attended at Fort Mac with the daughters, but I am confident it was very few since my parents were strict about what entertainment we were allowed to view.
When I think about Fort Mac, I think about one movie, in particular, that I saw in its theater, and, I believe, scarred me for life. To this day, I don’t watch any kind of movie that is reviewed as "horror" or even suspenseful, because all of them can send me back to Fort Mac and a horror film that I watched there.
Fort Mac’s theater probably had room for fifty people. A quarter to get in, its dark and cool confines a welcome respite on a summer night in hot, muggy Atlanta, where air-conditioned environs were sought after by many. On this night, the four of us, driven over the railroad tracks and to Fort Mac by Stephanie and Becky’s mother, watched a horror movie, or should I interject here?, they watched.
The premise of the film revolved around a plastic surgeon, whose wife, disfigured in an automobile accident, demanded that he find her the perfect face to replace her ruined one. The doctor, all frightening in his surgical mask and surgery whites [it was a black and white movie, after all] cut the faces from beautiful women and surgically sewed them to his wife's.
The wife, never satisfied with her final look, sought the most beautiful face in the world, and her husband indulging her, butchered the faces of models, socialites, and other gorgeous women to please her.
BTW: I looked everywhere for the title of this movie -- for some reason, it didn't make the best horror movie list of the time.
The scene that sent me ducking and covering my eyes, and ultimately spending the rest of the movie with my head in Stephanie’s lap,my fingers in my ears to block out the audio, showed the doctor, huge scalpel in hand, descend toward the face of a teenage girl, whose bug eyes and scream sent me over the edge. I have never been so scared or so miserable in my life.
So, when I think of Fort MacPherson, I don’t think about the gates that we had to pass through to get in, the railroad tracks we crossed, or the PX with its cheaper than layman consumer products, instead, I think about that horror movie and my reaction to it.
Fort MacPherson may be going away, and I salute its long history, but that childhood memory is here to stay.
Thursday, June 23, 2011
Even though Alice Trillin seemed like a class act and looked even more like one, this narrow non-fiction work About Alice by Calvin Trillin, dedicated to the Trillin’s grand-children, barely draws an outline of her.
Perhaps, Trillin, who is a good writer with a successful career for the New Yorker, should have just published this book for his grandchildren and not for the masses. At seventy-eight pages long, I read it in an hour and came away from it feeling like Alice Trillin was probably a terrific woman, but who could tell? [ I wrote down one quote from the book that may turn into a later blog...]
Are you still reading? :)
I also just finished Father of the Rain by Lily King. Only King’s prose kept me in this woe-filled modern novel about the relationship between a father and daughter, ripped apart by divorce. His anger [as the daughter is taken away to live with the mother] and her isolation and abandonment [as he openly invites another woman and her children to live with him] fuse them in an odd and extremely un-healthy way as she is exposed to some rather "mature" behavior of her father and the step-mother to put it gently; however, it is the emotional cruelty of the father to the daughter, with whom he takes out his anger, that becomes hard to fathom, much less read.
Daley Amory tells the story of her father, Gardiner Amory, in three piviotal times in their relationship: the first year after the divorce, after her post graduate studies where she quits a promising job to go home and try to save him from his alcoholism, and last at his hospital bed where he seems close to death.
Daley’s valiant battle to save her father and reestablish her broken relationship with him is understandable, but the emotional scars run deep and the scar tissue lays firm.
When I read stories like this, fiction or non-fiction, I continue to look heaven ward and say thank you, Lord, for my own father.
Are you still reading this blog? I love you, faithful reader, if you are. :)
I also read P. J. Tracy’s crime fiction novel, Live Bait. I have no idea why I picked this book up from the library, but after the “heavy” read of Father of the Rain, it was a welcome reprieve.
P. J. Tracy is a mother/daughter writing team who are on their second book of a series, I guess, as their first book was Monkeewrench. I didn’t read Monkeewrench, don’t’ plan to, but I have to admit that I enjoyed the fast pace of the second book in the series and the crime was interesting.
Set in Minneapolis, Minnesota, eighty-five year old nursery owner Morey Gilbert lies dead outside the front door of his greenhouse with a gun-shot wound to the head. No sign of struggle, no robbery, and no forced entry to the property, the crime immediately strikes a cord with the neighborhood who found him “a man without an enemy.” Of course, we all know better, and the twisted route to find the killer begins as Leo Magozzi and Gino Rolseith, Minneapolis detectives, search frantically to figure out the case --- as three more murders of the elderly take place in twenty-four hours.
More like reading a screen play than a real novel, I’ll give the writers a thumbs up for bothering to give characters depth and back story to make the fast paced murder mystery more cerebral. Otherwise, eh. I don't read crime fiction. Ever.
*wonders why Live Bait was on my reading list*
Thanks for reading. :)
Friday, June 17, 2011
After I got to the car, I thought: “What are you doing??????”
*thumps self in head*
I need another ink pen like I need a job. Regardless, I brought the pen home and added it to the 3, 458 pens I already have.
What makes me do that? I just can’t seem to help myself. Recently, I was at a festival where places like Wellstar, Metro PS, and churches were giving away pens. I readily picked them up and brought them home to add to my stash.
Hello. Landfill fodder.
This is just a bad habit and left over from my teaching days when a mug full of pens usually disappeared the first week of school as one student after another “borrowed” one because he couldn’t find his. You know -- the first week of school and what on earth would a student need with something to write with?
*thumps students in heads*
Somewhere out there is a black hole full of ink pens and pencils, sucked out of the classroom, lockers, notebooks, and book bags of former and current students.
I admit I am an office product nerd. Folders. Post it Notes. Erasers. Paper clips. Scotch tape. Note paper. Sharpies. They just make me happy.
I don’t go in places like Office Depot without making sure I have reread my brochure: Office Supplies Store Intervention: 8 Easy Steps in Avoiding the Pen and Pencil Aisle.
Nothing makes me happier, however, than a good writing pen -- and nothing makes me happier than a FREE good writing pen.
When I taught school, I primarily used the Bic stic pen. I used the blue or black ones for recording, making out lesson plans or tests [ they were awesome for dittos], researching, or doodling during faculty meetings.
I had the annoying habit of holding on to a pen till it ran out of ink, and I was notorious for keeping up with it and not allowing anyone to borrow it. I acted like it was a Mont blanc or something.
When I first got married, David said, “I have never seen anyone use a pen till it ran out of ink.”
Me: I'm special like that.
The red ones -- yes -- I adored, and I used them for marking papers. I loved them -- medium point red Bic stic pens. I think that I used a packet a year. My students hated those pens -- and would groan when their papers, bleeding with comments, were returned. I loved it -- those pens wrote so well that I just couldn’t control myself. I called those pens -- soldiers. Red soldiers -- dying in the fight against comma splices, passive voice, and lameness.
The Bic stic pen were cheap. Really. Cheap. I bought them at the beginning of grading season by the dozen. When I was particularly optimistic, I would buy two packs.
Grading season. Ha. Always open.
*laughs at own joke*
When I first taught school, I bought 24 Bic stic pens for a dollar. At one time, they were 19 cents each, but I don’t remember when that was -- they were always cheaper by the dozen.
Speaking of math: My friend Jane told me about a great t-shirt she saw in Chapel Hill.
You Do the Math
So, today, I picked up yet another pen because I could. Not because I need it, but because it is a bad habit.
Bad Habit Number 1.
And there will not be a post on Bad Habit Number 2.
BTW: The Bic pen writes "the first time, every time" commercials were classic. I searched, but I couldn't find the one with the figure skater attaching one to her skate, doing a couple of figure eights, and then writing with it. :)
If I concentrate I can see its front door, the three steps down to a dark hallway with three or four single hanging light bulbs. I have no idea the other business on that hallway as my memory fails me, but I know that the door to the small salon was the first on the right and opened immediately into the front room which faced the sidewalk. Sitting there and gazing out the high windows that ran along the street, I could see the walking feet of Lynchburgites as they made their way to other downtown businesses.
In that front room were four or five heavy duty stainless steel helmets of hair dryers sets complete with black leatherette style seats and knob controls; the room behind connected by a single door hosted the working area --- two or three “hair fixin” stations, three sinks, and wooden cabinets from floor to ceiling full of hair products, rollers, and the paraphernalia that accompanied all that was “beauty.” This two room salon is where my Aunt Eleanor washed, set, dyed, and gave permanent waves to hair.
When I spent a month in the summer visiting my aunts in Lynchburg, I was never unsupervised. If there was a time when Aunt Lois was not there to “watch me” and Aunt Ava was on the day shift at Lynchburg General Hospital, where she worked as a pediatric nurse, then I would be packed off to Aunt Eleanor’s “beauty shop” to spend the day flipping through magazines and begging for a dime for a Coca Cola from the vending machine that sat in the hallway outside the shop, its refrigerator hum a constant.
The small salon where Aunt Eleanor worked was a two-woman shop. Aunt Eleanor’s friend Ruth actually owned the business, and she and Aunt Eleanor shared the space apparently pretty harmoniously as Aunt Eleanor declared that she didn't have "a head for business."
I have no idea what kind of money she actually made, but when it was time to move her to a nursing home when she had dementia, her savings account was substantial and easily covered her expenses for the rest of her life.
When I think of how my aunts saved their money, it makes me proud.
All of my aunts were frugal. They grew up during the Depression, lived on a farm, and never wasted a thing -- they washed tin-foil, threw coffee grinds and vegetable peelings for fertilizer in their garden, neatly folded paper bags from the grocery store to reuse, washed out all glass jars, and saved everything in case “they needed it.” They grew up without -- knew what it was like to “want” -- and appreciated all that had blessed them.
Downtown Lynchburg borders the James River and sits in the Eastern foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. My aunts’ residence was on the western side of the city, so in order to go downtown, we headed east on one of the main thoroughfares like Memorial Avenue and then chose which street to take down one of the huge hills to the city area. My favorite was 12th Street which had no stop signs, that annoying driving necessity left up to the cross streets named after presidents -- Polk, Harrison, Jackson, Madison, and Monroe to name a few.
Made up of four hills, Garland, Federal, Court House, and Diamond, Lynchburg sported quite a thrill for a kid like me to go to the top of one and look down that one-way street and know that the descent was roller-coaster like…as it was about fifteen city blocks to the bottom before we would turn left on Church or Main to pick up Aunt Eleanor from work at the beauty parlor.
I joyously rode with Aunt Ava, the only driver of the three sisters who lived in that house, who was a little bit of a “lead foot” and would graciously indulge her niece on that stomach dropping descent almost to the James River.
Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee. Really, it was fun.
I remember many times telling her to “go faster! Go faster!” as we plummeted down one of those four hills to the city. I am grinning as I think about it now as I type this. Aunt Eleanor would patiently wait at the corner or outside the shop for our arrival. Aunt Ava and I would arrive, hair blown about our heads, and Aunt Eleanor would get in the back seat for the steady climb back up one of the four hills and home. Aunt Eleanor knew what we had just done as our wild eyes and big grins [much less our tousled hair] always gave us away.
I loved being baby-sat at the shop as I could spend hours in one of the unused dryer chairs looking at the latest issue of Photoplay or True Romance. I found a world of which I wasn’t accustomed -- movie stars, gossip, and suggestions of sexual misconduct. It was in those chairs that I fell in love with the Kennedys, as the other magazines subscribed to at my aunt’s shop featured Jackie Kennedy often on their covers. I would sip Coke, nibble on Nabs, and fritter away time.
The shop reeked of ammonia, hydrogen peroxide, and hair spray, and the loyal customers chatted with Ruth and Aunt Eleanor like friends and smiled at me and asked me questions about Georgia. There I would sit for hours at a time only getting up to beg for that dime, assist them if they let me, or daydream about being agile enough to roll hair on those curlers or stick bobby pins in the right place or even perhaps be smart enough to know how much developer was needed to get that “color” that the women seem to want. After all, “only their hairdresser knew for sure.”
I have fond memories of that shop, the ride to it, and the comfort I felt hanging out with my aunt there and being coddled by the women who frequented the business.
At Christmas, Aunt Eleanor used to get not only the most presents, but the prettiest wrapped presents were hers as her customers gave her scarves, handkerchiefs, chocolates, or pretty nightgowns bought from one of Lynchburg’s finest department stores, Miller and Rhoads. We used to count the number of presents she received and sometimes it was close to fifty.
Like all jobs, hers had its drawbacks; I remember that Aunt Eleanor’s hands chafed and her nails were sometimes black with hair color. On my summer visits there, I slept on a cot in her upstairs bedroom, and I have a single memory etched in my mind of her ritual at bedtime:
With all the lights off in the room [since I had gone to bed long before her, but her soft footsteps sometimes awoke me] except for a clip on light on her mirror that shone on a small space on her dresser top, she sat in a chair at her dresser and religiously and painstakingly soaked her darkened nails in some concoction to help remove the stains from the dye and then lathered her hands with lotion before encasing them in cotton gloves. Then with a satin cap tucked on her head and held carefully in place with bobby pins, she’d turn off the light and make her way to her bed for sleep.
I would then turn over on that cot and sleep myself.
Friday, June 10, 2011
Robison spends a great deal of time in his childhood years telling numerous stories, where his fascination with machines and things that "blow up," made him quite the prankster. Alienated by his "strangeness," he grew inward; his interest in other things turn him into a creative genius, a young boy who read intently on anything he was interested in and absorbed it like a sponge.
One of his interest was electronic circuits, and his "savant like ability" led him eventually to a job with KISS, a premier band of the late 1970s and 1980s [for those blog readers who have no clue -- ]. For their lead guitarist, he designed guitars that would do special effects including shooting off smoke bombs or having running lights.
He also landed engineering jobs without a degree and could repair and work on any kind of car. Robison is brilliant, and his memoir, told with perspective and wit, a fun read.
Thanks to my friend and fellow blogger, Lori, for recommending this book to me after she read my review on House of Prayer No. 2.
Monday, June 6, 2011
When I was a teacher, June made me so happy for all of the reasons you can imagine; I loved the end of school -- time off from grading essays, preparing lessons, and herding students.
June. Awesome June. [I didn't like July as much -- too close to the month of August which meant back to school.]
God gave us June because He loves school teachers. :)
Since I am retired, June is just June, another month of the year --- and no one asks me anymore about how I will spend all my time off, since, well, since all my time is off.
In the last two years, the end of May and first of June is the time that former students get in contact with me. When I was still teaching, they would lurk and peer around my classroom door, stop by after the bell has rung [and sometimes during the school day -- ack!] telling me of their college experience [a time that I used to take the opportunity to ask them if they were well-prepared] or stop by to talk about their job, their travel, or what they had been doing.
Their coming back to see me, their high school teacher, seemed odd since I never entered the doors of my high school again after graduation. I guess I lived in a different time; it never occurred to me to go back to see Coach Hunter, Miss McKensive, Coach Rice, or Mrs. Perkins, some of my favorite teachers; just because they were my favorite teacher does not mean I was their favorite student.
In the past two weeks, I have seen four former students. All of them in interesting places in their young lives and making me proud that they will be contributors to society. All of them smart, focused, responsible, and motivated.
I remember where I was at their age, totally unlike them in most ways. Freshly graduated from college, I tried to avoid finding a job;in fact, what little attempt I did make then at job searching was not in the teaching field. I looked at every other kind of job but that -- banks, restaurants, newspapers, and I even interviewed to be an executive assistant at a garbage disposal company -- when I looked at all. I wanted to hang out with my friends, live off the folks, and eek out what I saw as my summer vacation for as long as possible.
God and my daddy had other plans for me, btw, but that is a blog for a different day.
Here are blurbs about the formers I saw recently:
Kristin and I met at Gabriel’s for lunch where she told me about her four years at the University of Oklahoma and her study abroad in Turkey. Brave girl – Oklahoma and Turkey are really far from home.
She landed a job at a company that has headquarters in Farmington, New Mexico, where she will be doing something with something. I say that because even though I know she will be a petroleum physicist, her job, in reality, seems pretty cerebral . I asked her about her favorite class in college, and she said that she really enjoyed Rock Properties [is that capitalized?]
I "Googled" Farmington to see where she would be living --- the city itself is only a little over a hundred years old but sits near some serious mines. Must be why the company she’ll work for picked that particular place to house its employees and staff.
Kristin: Ya think, Mrs. G.?
The next weekend, I met Mary and Emily at Chick-Fil- A. They don’t come in a pair, but we seem to try to get together when the three of us can. Mary’s looking for a teaching job –
*swings amulets around*
and Emily’s working an internship. Interning? Working?
Since Emily’s majoring in business and journalism, her internship is some kind of combo of that. She's working for an author whose writing thrust is, for me, and apparently Mary and Emily, a new fiction genre. Have you ever heard of Urban Fiction?
Later when I was telling my husband about it, I called it Gritty City Romance. Then I said, no it might be Gangsta Chick Lit.
I finally emailed Emily to get the right name. Emily also told me that her writer she is interning with wishes to write Intellectual Romance.
Intellectual Romance? Is that possible?
This past weekend I saw Shelley, who lives in the city [I guess Emily can recommend some books for her to read], and I headed to see her urban roost, a fabulous renovated apartment in Atlanta’s old Girls’ High School.
When I was in high school, we played competition sports against this school, but by then, the school was coed and called Roosevelt High School.
Shelley just completed her first year as a “grown up” in the bio-medical field, and I am sure that what she does is interesting. I only recognized a few words from her work vocabulary: office politics, engineer, lunch, and crying all the way home. Otherwise, she slid into some serious geek jargon, the kind heard around the dinner table with my own nieces and nephews at Christmas.
Shelley and I went to eat at The Matador Cantina in Glenwood.
Our waitress sported a few piercings and some body art, not that there is anything wrong with that, but from the beginning, she seemed a little revved as she slung chips on the table, ably poured ice out of a pitcher that rung Shelley’s straw like a hoop, and didn’t use one correct verb tense the whole time she waited on us.
I tried to calm her down by asking her what she thought about Shelley’s having lunch with her high school English teacher, me.
Wrong Verbs Waitress eyeballed us: [after a pretty long pause as if she were looking for the Candid Camera] Uh, I think that’s really weird. Like totally weird.
Shelley and I both laughed and agreed that it was not typical, while I secretly thought that Wrong Verbs Waitress could have benefited from a relationship with a good English teacher.
So, that's what I've been doing here lately. I've been out to lunch with the formers. Eh, it's better than hanging with reformers, transformers, or ex-cons.
Slightly better. :)
Enjoy the pictures I took at Shelley's place. :)
Friday, June 3, 2011
Set in nineteenth century China, the novel begins with the main character reminiscing about her past. Lily, now eighty plus years old and having outlived almost all her children and some grand-children, recounts the early years of her life and marriage and her relationship with Snow Flower, a girl her age whom she was paired with to be her laotong [a kind of emotional relationship that lasted lifetimes].
Wives and daughters lived almost in total seclusion, where they painted letters on fans, embroidered messages on handkerchiefs, told stories, waited for their arranged marriages, and generally suffered together. When it comes to suffering, these Chinese women have an edge --- the graphic description of the process of foot binding had me skimming pages. Brutal. Agonizing.
What were they thinking?
The story was an interesting one -- and one of the most interesting facets of this culture highlighted by See was the fact that most of the women were illiterate, and to counter that, they invented their own language -- nu shu [women's writing] to communicate with one another ... a language that they passed between them [and under the noses of men] through their embroidered items.
See's power is in her storytelling and language. She brings an age, long past, alive and the women characters she created seem real.