Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Ramblin' Raft Race Part II

 Ramblin'? I'd say...

This is the second in a two parter about my trek down the Chattahoochee in 1972, with my high school friends, so if you didn't read the first one, you might wanna. Or not. :)

Gloria and I arrived very early Saturday morning, as it was still dark, to Morgan Falls Landing, which is right next to Morgan Falls Dam. Ya think?

We found our fellow raftees -- George, Brad, Bill, Jonathan, Darlene, and Pam -- and tried to orient ourselves to the task at hand -- getting the raft into the water.

They had all spent the night in a tent on site to guard the raft and watch the spectacle that must have been the other competition. I know that they told some stories about not “sleeping a wink” and “strangers stumbling into wrong tents” --  and other tales of a less than quiet night. Perhaps another reason why my parents thought it better than I spend the night at home. *grins*

BTW: :The term “race” for this adventure is a misnomer -- there was  no race, not really. In some ways, I think the purpose of the raft race was to join 4,000 people on the river -- to have a collective memory, a rite of passage, or establish some kind Atlanta tradition.  The challenge lies in the journey?  When completed, it’s an experience to tell the grandchildren [in my case grand ‘phews and news] like Woodstock or having to use a rotary dial on a telephone.

Regardless, we had to get the raft to and into the water, travel the approximate six miles down river, with all parts of the raft intact, make it to the finish, and then file the experience somewhere in the environs of memory and bragging rights. Race?




The Chattahoochee River is not exactly a teeming, churning frightening body of water. It’s relatively placid as it works its way through the northern suburbs of Atlanta, passed the boom towns south of the metropolis like Columbus and Fort Benning, and then meanders along to merge with other water to empty "down yonder" into the Gulf of Mexico.

The name Chattahoochee, yes, I looked it up, actually means “rock painted” as in there are rocks all along its banks, but it’s not the Colorado or the Missouri with rolling rapids and precarious sections. It’s not Big Water. It’s primarily known for being cold all the time as floating down the “Hooch” on blistering, hot summer days is still a pastime. Scary water? No. Cold water? Yes.

Despite the thought out raft design by Frank, our engineer, but alas not part of the crew, we suffered greatly as we put that humongous raft into the river [as I remember other rafting contestants to the river that day actually helped us heave ho that thing to the water], scurried aboard like the rats we were, and put ourselves in the precarious position as novice sailors.

I dressed pretty stupidly for the odyssey. The morning was cool, so I donned jeans, a flannel shirt, and wore a bikini top underneath the flannel. Only in the 70s would that be attire that no one looked at you like you were nuts. In fact, all of us girls had on jeans. There had to be some reason? It was the era of jeans? We thought we were hippies?

It was May, not a hot day by any means, and the water in the Chattahoochee never warms up -- at best, it maintains a cool 50 degrees. Perhaps those are the reasons for the fashion ensemble I chose?


At the beginning of the “race” [eh. voyage?] we floated pretty aimlessly along, avoiding the other entries, and steering wide of the tubers and rubber rafters. The day warmed up, and I shed my flannel and sat pensively on one of the barrels and looked at the crazy scene before me: thousands of young people, some of the young men shirtless, drifted lazily on the brownish green surface checking each other out -- especially admiring or comparing our contraption with the other “showboats,” the homemade hopeful floaters built in  backyards, garages, and fraternity houses around Atlanta. The river was crowded, kind of like a traffic jam on one of the Atlanta highways, and I’m sure navigation was paramount. I wasn’t in charge of that part -- perhaps I saw myself as a type of Cleopatra or some kind of Naiad -- ha.

At one point, I remember that Pam stretched herself out on the front of the raft like the senior wife of a sultan on a yacht. I wasn't quite as carefree as she since, you know, I was privy to the building process. I was a little more clingy. Bwha.

In our fecklessness, we passed the early time of the venture exchanging comments back and forth with the other participants: “Nice looking rubber” or “You wanna drag?”

As we covered the first 3 or 4 miles on “flat water,” we sat prettily for a while ---  until we were about a quarter of a mile from a place known in the seventies as a “swinging singles” compound, aptly titled Riverbend.  It actually had a more notorious name, but that name is unsuitable for this “family” oriented blog. :)

The term “Riverbend” means what it designates -- the river bends, and what was up ahead well -- it was just as well we were not aware of what was coming.

Note: None of us had done a “trial” run down the river, you know, to scout the trek.

Feckless? I'd say.

At Riverbend, and on both sides of the river, young singles of Atlanta had gathered with their coolers, mesh lawn chairs, and staked out viewing venues to watch this “event.”  Waving at us from apartment balconies and the shore, applauding our derring -do, I guess, they cheered us on our journey. Perhaps these denizens of the river knew what was about to happen and were there to watch the "fun"?

And  -- it was at Riverbend that things began to go south. No pun intended.

“Look out!” became the words of the moment. Not only on our raft, but all around us.

We encountered rapids and hit them with a jolt. We bobbled headed our way through. Frank’s well-engineered raft began its disintegration barrel by barrel as the wet rope split apart and the impact of slamming against the rocks loosened them from the boards. The barrels threatened to float away, and with their loss, well, let’s just say we were not ’river” worthy.

The guys struggled to control the raft, the girls grabbed and held onto the barrels, and the guys also held onto us, by the feet as I recall, to keep us afloat. For the next mile or so, it was a harrowing experience as we were not the only ones with rafts coming apart and the denizens of said floaters struggling to keep afloat and the pieces together. It was a crazy ride---- like crack bumper cars on a river --- and fast and furious.

Plus, we were merely a "little ways" from having to get these river beasts to shore. It was crazy as we jammed up against each other, fighting to hold tight, and struggling to steer these unwieldy things to the right.

Event planners on shore did have the forethought to bring heavy ropes to throw at the raftees whose river experience bordered on none or whose raft chose these moments to shatter like toys.

We came to the finish line at Powers Landing, and we held onto the raft parts as some burly guys, and some serious frowning adults, strained to pull us by rope close enough for us to wade ashore and pull our wreck to dry land.  We frantically dove for and went after barrels and boards that threatened to float away.

It was a chaotic few minutes as we gathered the raft scraps from the river and piled them in a place until we could haul them off - --

When I got home, I soaked in the tub till I feel asleep. I remember that my mother woke me, made me eat crackers, and then sent me to bed where I slept for the next 18 hours.

I have never been so tired or so filthy again.

The Ramblin’ Raft Race was an experience, and not one that I wanted to have again -- and you know what? I didn’t. 

ETA: I don't have any new photos to share :). How could I improve on these?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


A. Manette Ansay concludes at the end of her 2001 memoir, Limbo:  “I was raised to believe that every question had its single, uniform answer, and that answer was God’s will. But the human body, like the life it leads, is ultimately a mystery, and to live my life without restraint, to keep moving forward instead of looking back, I have had to let go of that need to understand why what has happened has happened and, indeed, is happening still.”

The title of this memoir, taken from the Catholic belief in a place between heaven and hell that is neither one, suggests that Ansay uses it to show how her life was placed on hold for three years while she suffered from a debilitating ailment that at the age of twenty-three left her in a wheel chair. The memoir, written with honesty and directness, is a beautiful chronicle of her childhood, young adulthood, and then the crushing obstacle of physical illness in a family full of ‘fundamental assumptions about life and faith.”

Growing up in rural Wisconsin in a large extended Catholic farming family, Ansay came of age in changing times. Born in the mid 1960s, Ansay was the oldest of two children and greatly influenced by the religious belief immersed deeply in her large family and that surrounded her daily life.

When she was fifteen, she thought seriously about a career as a classical pianist and devoted her time and energy to making that a reality. As she practiced playing, she noted a numbness and tingling in her arms and fingers that she and her piano teachers assumed were the side-effects of rigorous practice.

For the next three years, she tried to either ignore the symptoms or treated them with home remedies and anti-inflammatory drugs.  She landed admittance to Baltimore’s prestigious Peabody Conservatory of Music. There, her dream unraveled.

A wonderful storyteller with an eye for the necessary detail, Ansay hits all the right notes [no pun intended] in this examination of her early life. She changed directions as an artist and became a writer, which may have been a loss for the world of music but is only a win for the world of readers. :)

Good read. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The World's Best Wrist Strap Fish Finder and Other Great Christmas Gifts

Catalogs. Catalogs. Catalogs.

It’s that time of year -- of course, catalogs arrive in the mail year round, but with the season of gift giving two months out, the catalogs are coming!!!!  When I worked, these slick little magazines full of materialism and deals piled up like refuse on the table, and many times, I threw them out without so much as glancing at the first page. Now, I have time to look at them [see following blog], and I enjoy perusing the choices of items even though I rarely order them. No harm in looking ---

About a week ago, I received  a mail order catalog from Hammacher Schlemmer, a company of which I was unfamiliar. Hammacher Schlemmer, referred to from now on in this blog as HS, in order to keep the spell check out of spas mode, claims to be “America’s Longest Running Catalog” as well as “offering the best, the only and the unexpected for 167 years.”

Of course, I would have put a comma after “only,” and if truly the catalog is that established, it seems just a few cents at minimum wage back in 1848, would have hired them a decent editor to catch that comma.

But, I digress.

On the second page, the catalog notes the following: “Since 1848, when Hammacher Schlemmer began as a hardware store in New York City’s Bowery district, we have always embraced quality and innovation. Through the items we offer now are more refined, they still reflect out 163 year tradition of providing products that perform an important task and are the best of their kind.”

For the last three months, I have volunteered at my church’s office. Once a week for four hours, I answer the phone: “Church Office, this is Harriett.” I listen to the caller, either answer the question he has [sometimes pretty poorly], transfer the call to the appropriate staff member [it took me a while to catch on to the system -- many buttons involved -- and of course, many times I cut the caller off --whoops ], or I give him directions.

A lot of answering the phone is giving directions. 

In a lot of ways, this volunteer job is like playing “office.” I answer the phone, harass the various ministers as they come in and out of the office [Is that what you do with my tithe money?], or I catch up on reading.

I usually save the catalogs that I receive in the mail for my “office” work,  as there I can leisurely flip through them, contemplate buying the product by putting little post it notes on the page, but just for fun, as I really have no intention, most of the time, of buying anything.

It reminds me of the stories my parents told about Sears and Roebuck’s catalog, but as you know, that’s a story for another blog.

A couple of weeks ago I received HS for the first time, and  as I leafed through its merchandise for sale, I thought, “These items are hilarious.“ [probably not intended to be -- just sayin']

They may not have hired an editor, who would have caught the need for that comma, but they have some comedians on staff.  Some of their items are quirky random -- I was crackin’ up  ---  but they also put some superfluous adjectives to their item names: “the only” or  “world’s best” or  my favorite -- “impervious.”

I love a catalog that uses “impervious” as an adjective.

Here’s a sampling of their items for sale:

“The Best Fingerprint Recognizing Expresso Machine”

“The Best Stainless Steel Wallet’

“The World’s Lightest Impervious Luggage”   

“The Only Touch Sensitive Reacting Dinosaur”

“The World's Best Wrist Strap Fish Finder”

“The Touchscreen Compatible Gloves”

“The 45, 000 Station Car Radio”

“The Only 12 Foot Sprawling Snowman” [as in -- the huge inflatable snowman sprawls in your yard like a Playboy centerfold]

“The Remote Control Tarantula”

Or my favorite…..

“The Marshmallow Wrist Cannon” [which launches mini-marshmallows up to 30”]



That’s what I got.

For now.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

One Matchless Time

When I taught American Literature to gifted and honors level sophomores for the last seventeen years of my teaching career, I usually ended the year with William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying.  With a little introduction about the writer but less about the work itself, I threw that book at my students [because I wished to see their reactions after they had read the first nine sections] and said, “Stay with it. It’s worth it.”

They'd come to me the next day and make all kinds of great comments.

One student said, "Mrs. Gillham? Those people ain't right." 

And, I'll never forget one girl who quipped, "Who needs LSD? I've read Faulkner."

Some of them totally enjoyed the work for its comedic effect [I could do a mean white trash dialect], others refused to “get it” and lazily avoided reading it [and actually missed out when we discussed parts that the readers and I doubled over in gales of laughter], and the others [the ones I considered the brightest] told me that it was “the most memorable book they had ever read.”

Well, that last comment maybe doesn’t mean much since its from a bunch of fifteen and sixteen year olds who might have only read four books in their life ---  all of them assigned by me.

Just kidding. Sort of.

One Matchless Time by Jay Parini, a biography of William Faulkner, chronicles the life of this famous writer from Oxford, Mississippi, with the skill and insight of someone who has studied, researched, and devoted a majority of his waking hours to his subject. Parini knows Faulkner so well that this work not only follows Faulkner's life year by year but highlights each published work by Faulkner and carefully places it into the complex and very populated world of Faulkner’s fictional characters of Yoknapatawpha County [a daunting and prodigious project to say the least].

In fact -- it's truly what Parini does in this biography --  he painstakingly tells the life story of Faulkner, a southern gentleman with “impeccable manners” who had the burden of providing for an extended family [by his own choosing], had a serious drinking problem, and an unhappy marriage. As Parini tells the story of this enigmatic writer, he covers all the novels in his canon as well as most of his sixty plus short stories. 

Remarkable. Seriously.

Parini concludes that Faulkner was a “short story writer but twice has written great long fiction [ The Sound and the Fury and Light in August].”  I liked that he considers As I Lay Dying [*wipes brow*] and Absalom, Absalom as the next two greatest works by Faulkner.

Parini draws the title of this biography from a comment by Faulkner about the writing binge he was on between 1928 and 1942, a time of “wild inspiration when characters and stories came to him mysteriously and in abundance.” During this time, Faulkner published six novels including his greatest works[according to Parini and other literary scholars], and to Faulkner, this was “his one matchless time.”


I learned a lot about Faulkner I didn’t know in spite of having read extensively his canon in a graduate course titled Faulkner and taught by an esteemed professor, Dr. Edwards at West Georgia College. Dr. Edwards, the epitome of a southern gentleman himself, came to every class in jacket and tie, and once asked his graduate students, a question addressed to “the ladies,” if “would [we] mind if he removed his jacket?”

I loved that professor -- he was the last of a dying breed of "old school" English professors.

I love Faulkner, a writer that many found unreadable and one that my mother called “scandalous.” I love that about my mother -- she was genuinely concerned that I was teaching Faulkner to impressionable young people. :)

Yes, I have a Faulkner fan card, and this biography reminded me again as to why.

ETA: Faulkner made quite an impression on some of my students -- not the last bunch I taught who seemed to have little interest in reading at all, much less appreciating it or enjoying it  -- but some in what I have termed my “halcyon” days of teaching. {I won’t mention what time period this was -- so that all of my former students who read my blog will think they were a part.]   ----- *smiles* --- These former students when they run into me or drop me notes would ultimately remind me that as much as they enjoyed other things we read that they would never forget our study of As I Lay Dying.

“Free Darl.”

“My mother is a fish.’


ETA 2: In my humble, but accurate, opinion, I always thought that the AP Literature teacher at the school[s] where I taught, who had her students read The Sound and the Fury in preparation for that test, did her students a great service. After reading that novel, a student can read anything with confidence including James Joyce and any organic chemistry textbook. :)

ETA 3: OMG -- when I went to get an image of the book cover for AILD, I had to scroll through a whole page of a heavy metal [grunge? Black Sabbath looking?] band with that name.


*runs and hides*

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

On Leaving the Front Yard

The blogger, looking lovely in her 70s regalia, and Charlie

When I was in my junior year of high school and my brother Ken a senior, we shared a lot of the same friends. Going to a neighborhood school and church, the friends we made overlapped in those milieus, and we formed a tight knit group.

We ran in a pride. A pack. A tribe.

We got in trouble together. We hung out together. We told each other stories. We threw Frisbees. We were young together. A beautiful thing -- and a transient one.

According to Bob Seger,"[I]wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then..."


As you know from my previous blogs, my parents ran a pretty tight ship. Always aware of where we were supposed to be, they never allowed us too far from their range of vision or too far from  their ability to rescue us from ourselves. Or others.

One way that they controlled our whereabouts was by not letting us go anywhere, much, especially during the week, but they did allow our friends to hang out at our house.  They gave up the living room from time to time to our impromptu gatherings, but in temperate weather [which was a lot of the time here in Georgia], we hung out in our driveway or in our front yard where the huge shade trees protected us not only from the hot sun or light rain, but also from their sight --

Not that we were up to no good, it was just a way of us feeling like we had independence ---

{Okay, okay, occasionally, perhaps, we were up to no good. But not like you think.]

After all, we were partially chaperoned by my parents… partially. Very partially, but enough. They were always on the peripheral. I was very aware of their close proximity.

On any given afternoon into early evening, four or five cars would be parked in front of our house. I had a lot of guy friends, product of my brother’s friendship with them, and product of my being so entertaining.

Except not. It was just that I had a lot of guy friends. I was just that kind of girl -- I liked boys. Still do. They seemed uncomplicated, non-judgmental, and more laid back. They were easy.

Sitting on Steve's car in front of our house

It was the early 1970s --- and we were a mobile bunch. Gas was 40 cents a gallon -- and nobody's house was very far -- it was the age of small schools, small churches, and there was no such thing as a subdivision -- there was just the neighborhood of Sylvan Hills-- and it was five miles tops from one end to the other. In another age, you could walk it with ease -- but we were the age of automobiles and "riding around."

Riding in a Chevy Nova or a Dodge Challenger, these guy friends of mine drove to our house, parked, and then stood around the yard or in the driveway or street or sat on the ground, and we seemed never out of things to talk about -- what happened at school or church, what we thought the future would bring, what we wanted to do, or our favorite topic --  music.
Kerry sitting on his car

We loved our rock and roll -- we liked to talk about music as well as listen to it. One of the guys might make fun of me for liking Three Dog Night or we might try to analyze the lyrics of “Stairway to Heaven,” a cryptically lyrical song by Led Zeppelin and an over the top smash hit of the time.

Occasionally, some one would pull his car into the driveway, where we would gather around it like the pagan idol it was, and he would crank up the radio or 8-track player [if they had one], prop open the doors, and we’d give it a listen -- whatever song it was.

 We listened to Santana‘s “Black Magic Woman,” the Allman Brothers “Midnight Rider,” or Cat Steven’s “Wild World.” When I hear these old tunes now, it takes me back to those lazy, young days of my youth and my front yard where time was what we had plenty of, and we wasted it as if it were so.

In my front yard, we developed a close friendship--- a friendship that lasted through my college years and into my early twenties until we found ourselves moving on -- me to a full time job as a teacher in a distant metro county, some of those boys to marriages and serious girlfriends, one to the military, and yet another would move across country.

I had several guy friends from that time period: Steve, Kerry, Bobby, Stan, and Charlie to name a few. Showing up at my house on a regular basis, these guys and I enjoyed each other's company.If my mother had been more dramatic or perhaps named Amanda Wingfield, she might  have misunderstand those boys' intentions, as Amanda was wont to do, and believe that these were my “gentleman callers."

But -- they weren't. These were my buddies, my friends -- :)

Stan died of a heart attack about ten years ago, and now Charlie, my front yard friend, has taken his own life.

When I think about those afternoons and evenings that I shared all those years ago with these guys, our lives ahead of us, our dreams big, and our friendship solid, it’s hard to believe that of those five, two are now dead.

And one by his own hand.

Sweet Charlie -- gregarious, witty, gentle, and big-hearted, he left my front yard, as we all did, but he must have gone on to live a troubled life, to be host to a troubled soul.

I hadn't talked to Charlie in over twenty years: our lives in different directions, our geography not quite so compatible. I don't know where he was when he made this decision, but I hate that it was so dark that he felt without hope. I wished I could have hugged my old friend.

Rest now, my friend, rest now.

Charlie and me

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Friend of the Family

The title of this novel,  A Friend of the Family, by Lauren Grodstein drew me to the reading of it. As an English major, I had read and enjoyed [as well as anyone could enjoy a book on such a painful subject] A Death in the Family by James Agee, so when I picked up this novel, I had no idea what was ahead. Rarely any more do I just pull a book from the shelf and know little about it -- I pull my selections from a long list of books I want to read --- book recommendations from friends and other sources...:).

I used to stand in the stacks and pull book after book from the shelves with little reasoning behind why I might pull one or the other -- but a title sometimes was enough to make me choose it -- thus, the choosing of  A Friend of the Family.

Pete Dizinoff, known as Dr. Pete to his friends, lived the good life. Having built a thriving practice as an internist in a posh suburb named Round Hill, New Jersey, he and his wife raised their only son Alec in the best of private schools, only for Alec to lose his way. After bailing him out of trouble with the law and helping him secure a spot in an expensive liberal arts college, Pete's disappointment in Alec's choices accelerate when Alec quits and return to his parents' home, where he declares that he needs time to “find himself.” Impatient, at best, with his son’s decision and his wife’s support of it, Pete secretly seethes inside -- but outwardly grins and bears it.

Meanwhile, the Dizinoff’s best friends’ wayward daughter returns to Round Hill after having lived away from home for twelve years. Residing at her parents’ house a few blocks away, the troubled Laura, with a “hushed” history, befriends Alec, who’s immediately smitten by the attentions of a pretty girl ten years his senior, and their relationship unhinges Pete.  What Dr. Pete will do to keep his only son “safe” makes this book a page turner.

Grodstein lays her novel out with an unusual chronology -- a jerky time movement that adds suspense and mystery to the story. With that stylistic approach and the enigmatic but relatable Dr. Pete, she allows us to understand what a parent might be capable of doing in order to protect what he has so carefully built and made an investment in  -- his son’s future.