Southern Gothic

cemetary

Confederate Soldiers at Rest, Montgomery, Alabama

I have always loved cemeteries. Even as a young girl, with a nostalgic historian’s heart, I enjoyed walking through them, admiring the artwork, the names, the family groupings. To me, there is great beauty in them, and old Southern graveyards even enchant with their ancient trees and draping moss, harboring sassy mockingbirds who keep watch over the quiet stone inhabitants in respite from the busy modern world.

Since my Mom died, I have rarely been to a cemetery. I have always been good about visiting my family plots, regularly placing flowers and cleaning up their resting places, an obligation ingrained in me from childhood. Write thank you notes, Becky Jo, and visit your people, that’s what Southern Belles do. But my Mama, against all family tradition, chose to be cremated. Three months before she died, as we were leaving our swimming hole on the St. Marys River, she told me that when she died, she wanted to be cremated and her ashes spread. I fussed and fumed at her, because she was young and healthy, and I did not want to be talking about death on a hot summer afternoon. She insisted, however, and I was forced very soon to honor her wishes against the protest of many of our kin.

I never understood why she made this choice. I tried to and I even spread her ashes in a poetic manner, playing her favorite Beatles song, “Here Comes the Sun” at dawn while doing it. Now, I get it.

Yesterday, I was in Montgomery, Alabama, making my way through the lovely Oakwood Annex Cemetery, and an overwhelming wave of emotion hit me. I realized sort of stupidly for the first time that my Mama wanted to be cremated, because she was single and did not want to be buried alone. I knew it as if she was whispering the message on my heart, and I got teary-eyed, because I, too, now have that fear.

As the day went on, I thought about my  life and my relationships and got very, very morose at the thought of dying and not having a loved one to lay beside. Granted, I have my grandparents and other family members and I have my kids who will hopefully, God willing, be with me when that fateful time comes. But not having a husband, not being a Mrs. whomever, not belonging to another human being when passing, just breaks my heart and makes me cry.

Maybe this is part of some midlife crisis I am having. A quick search actually showed that the fear of dying alone is quite common. I am not scared of dying itself and have no sense of its impending call as I think my Mama must have had. Maybe this new sensitivity is a sign of my longing for deeper companionship. Maybe it means my heart is healing, that I am ready to be fully committed, hell if I know. Whatever it is, the flood of emotions that overcame me as I snapped pictures of magnolia trees and Confederate graves haunted me like a ghostly specter throughout the day, and the fear lingers with me, even now.

I do not want to die alone.

As women glide from their twenties to thirties, Shazzer argues, the balance of power subtly shifts. Even the most outrageous minxes lose their nerve, wrestling with the first twinges of existential angst: fears of dying alone and being found three weeks later half-eaten by an Alsatian.” ~Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones’s Diary {my favorite book}

Lessons from the Holocaust Learned by a Young Child

jew
My son, M, who is now eight and in the 2nd grade, attended a Holocaust Education Resource Council (HERC) education committee meeting with me at Tallahassee’s Temple Israel in October. I had no sitter and, the quiet little man that he is, I knew that I could depend upon him to behave. At that meeting, we discussed how the book And Every Single One Was Someone by Phil Chernofsky can and should be used in high school curriculum. This profound publication literally lists the word “Jew” 6 million times. Something about the number intrigued him and, even though I did not think he was paying attention to our conversation due to his tablet in one hand and a piece of cake in the other, he actually very much was.
Since that meeting, M has regularly asked when he can go back with me to visit the Temple. He has asked me simple questions about Jewish culture and how it differs from ours and our Baptist faith.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, he surprised me. M told me that he had read a book about Anne Frank in school. He is extremely bright and reads on a very high level, but he is also sensitive and internalizes emotions. I worried a little that he was exposed to content too mature for his age.
I questioned him about what he had read, and he told me basic facts about Anne Frank’s story, including her death.  He was matter-of-fact about it, but then he said, “Mama, at the end of the book, I really wanted to cry. I had to hold back my tears so my friends didn’t see me.”
This touched me so much, and I told him that he should have wanted to cry, and that it was horrible what had happened during the Holocaust. I explained that everyone should want to cry about Anne Frank’s story and others’ and that it is bad when we do not.
Several mornings later, while driving to school, M spoke up out of nowhere again. He said, “Mom, was Anne Frank one of the names in that book? The book that had ‘Jew’ written 6 million times? Was her family in that book, too?”
I told him yes, and I praised him for understanding that truth. I realized once again that he is like a little sponge and absorbs so much more than I give him credit for. I also thought how profound it is that an eight-year-old can make such important connections, when adults often cannot.
NOTE: M’s teacher confirmed that the book that he read in school was Who Was Anne Frank? by Ann Abramson. This book is part of a popular series that he loves and is age appropriate.

The Not So Long Drive Home

There is no where else on this planet that I would rather be than at home, near my extended family and friends, near the Okefenokee Swamp, the muddy St. Marys River, and Fernandina Beach. I do not live that far away–2.5 hours easily. Yet, as much as I want to be there, I often make excuses not to get in the car and drive where I know I am loved, where I know my dogs are welcome, where I know I can just relax and be myself, and where I absolutely am certain that I will know half the people in Winn-Dixie.

I deny myself this occasional refuge, because four years ago, my mom fell asleep at the wheel of her car driving from where I live home to have Christmas with family and friends. She hit a tree head-on off Interstate 10, less than a mile from a sign for the Lake City “Rest Stop.” Oh the irony of that extremely large sign, which actually gives me a brief sense peace when I pass it. She is at rest.

The trauma of stopping at that location to lay a wreath four years ago, of claiming her demolished car with my son’s Match Box toys scattered everywhere, of arriving at the funeral home with the clothes I had purchased for her that morning… As much as I miss home, the trip over is almost unbearable, because of the anxiety I experience.

But that cannot happen anymore. I have an upcoming trip planned that is out of my norm and am very excited to head to Jacksonville. In this Year of Yes, I will choose to focus on the destination, rather than the road. I will fill my car with the joyful sounds of the praise music Mama loved, and I will pray, knowing full well that my Mama’s spirit is in a far better place, and that I am free to live fully in the meantime.

It’s time to move on.

“Saying yes . . . saying yes is courage. Saying yes is the sun. Saying yes is life.”
Shonda Rhimes, Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person

On a much lighter note, one of my favorite songs out right now is by Ed Sheeran. “Castle on a Hill” reminds me so much of my tribe– all the close friends of mine with whom I have grown up and old with. This will be playing on repeat as I pull into town.

Castle on a Hill.jpg

Sweet Home Alabama {The Year of Yes}

My students say that I am Reese Witherspoon’s character in Sweet Home Alabama, because of my stories about my small town Southern upbringing. There are worse characters to be compared to, I suppose, so I am okay with that.

Recently, my friend asked me to meet halfway for a night on the town. Since it’s the Year of Yes, I could not say no. Besides, it was Valentine’s weekend, and I was excited to have fun and be adventurous. We decided on Troy as our destination, and I messaged a former student who attends college there for recommendations.

Troy 2.jpg

The drive was easy, and I realized that I have sadly spent very little time in the Great State of Alabama. Troy is quaint and has a charming downtown square that I adored. I immediately made my way to the local boutiques and bought Valentine’s Day gifts for the kids. The selections were fantastic, and I loved how friendly the shopkeepers were. I even found adorable trinkets for my son’s sweetheart.

troy

For dinner, we ate at a local seafood shack and enjoyed a laid back atmosphere and people watching. Afterwards, we ended the night at an adorable wine bar called Sips, where we laughed and exchanged life stories before heading out and listening appropriately to Hank Williams and Hank Jr., while touring the town some more.

But it was one of my favorites, “Night Train,” by Jason Aldean that ended up on repeat, as we sang karaoke in the car. Something about that song just fit with the unseasonably warm, Southern Alabama evening, thick and haunting.

 

My Dating Checklist

After my divorce, my college friend Steve insisted that I sit down and write out what I am looking for in a mate before taking on the dating world again. He told me to keep the list somewhere sacred and to revisit it constantly, amending it if I need to, but to never lower my standards.

I was so lost that I found this exercise extremely difficult to do then, and it is still painful, because I realize now how prone I am to compromising my own values for the sake of love or, worse, approval. The fact that it is difficult makes it essential to my growth and worth constant review.

dating-after-divorce

Inspired by a sermon, I recorded my thoughts on the back of the church bulletin one Sunday during our service. I prayed over it, and I will continue to do so, because I realize now that this season in my life is so very important and planned. I only want to end my singleness according to God’s will and, frankly, I will miss it. I am starting to savor my freedom!

 

 

 

 

Duck Hunting

duck-hunting

A few weeks ago, my son M was offered the opportunity to go duck hunting with one of my former students. I was so grateful that Tyler thought of him and offered to spend time with him. It really touched my heart.

I was also anxious about gun safety, but Tyler assured me he would take good care of him.

My son is very introverted– at least I think he is; his teachers say otherwise–so I was surprised that he felt comfortable going by himself with Tyler and his friends. However, as soon as we pulled up at the pick up, with the boat attached, he had stars in his eyes.

Tyler checked in with me throughout the day, and he sent me pictures of them. He laughed, because M fell asleep. Tyler tried to snap a picture of him all snuggled up, but M woke just as he was taking it.

M had a blast! He loved spending time with the college boys, sitting in the duck blinds, and riding in the boat. He also loved going to dinner with them afterwards. He felt so grown; and he looked so grown all decked out in that camo and the water boots. My mommy heart ached a little seeing glimpses of a teenager in his face. My baby is gone.

Still, I am so grateful that he is learning to enjoy the outdoors and appreciate what it means to live off of and respect the land that God gave us.