Road Trippin’

S asked where I wanted to go on our next date. I told him anywhere. But then I told him I wanted him to take me to Graceland.

This was a test, of course; but he passed. I spent my break driving up to visit friends in Georgia, then up to his place in Alabama, and then we traveled to Memphis.

Graceland

Oh, how I love Elvis. Although he did not quite get my request or why I would not have rather been somewhere tropical on a beach, he humored me anyway. We spent the morning touring Graceland, then headed over to Beale Street for lunch.

BB King

It was actually rainy and cold but not crowded. I enjoyed it. We took our time, and then we went to Sun Studio that afternoon. I love Sun Studio! It is worth the trip in itself, there is such much history in those walls. The tour was fantastic, and it ends with guests getting to walk around and touch some of the actual equipment. Allegedly, this is the actual microphone Elvis would have used during his sessions.

Sun Studios

Million Dollar Quartet

That evening, we headed south across the Mississippi line to Tunica. We stayed at one of the casinos, an absolute first for me. I do not gamble, and am very tight with money, but I played around with his.  Almost immediately, I won $100 on a penny slot machine. I think that is a great omen for our future.

Our luck continued the next day. We drove back east through Tennessee to S’s hunting property. We took the back roads, and I was in heaven. I absolutely love that area of the country. It was unseasonably cold, and I was day dreaming the entire way of seeing snow. When we got to his property, which is breath-taking, I stepped out shivering and said, “I really feel like it’s gonna snow, it’s so cold. I think that would be amazing.” No sooner had he laughed off what I had said than small flurries started falling. I kid you not, I could not have scripted it better! He was just as tickled as I was, and I ran around like the crazy Floridian that I am just laughing and trying to catch the flurries with my tongue.

This is one of my favorite pictures, because we snapped it in that moment. Genuine happiness shows, and it exemplifies exactly what the year of yes journey means to me.

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My First Favorite Students

It was fitting that, immediately after my last day teaching, I loaded up and headed back to the very place I had started my career in the first place– tiny Montgomery County, Georgia, located just outside of sweet Vidalia.

I do not get to go to what I call my Georgia home much. However, I was invited to a baby shower hosted by my first favorite student, Nikki, for another of my first favorite students, AN, and his wife. AN lives in the home of the lovely Mrs. B, who was the head of the social studies department at the local high school, and who took a chance and hired me, even though I was only 23 and had no experience or degree in education. She literally changed the course of my life.

I helped Nikki with the shower and enjoyed myself immensely, for I have forgotten how beautifully traditional things are there. I sat back and listened as the sweet church ladies gossiped in their slow drawls and admired their impeccable manners and gift wrapping prowess. I miss living there a lot.

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Nikki’s parents were always so kind to me, and they treated me like family. She was 15 and a freshman when I taught her. I was later in her wedding, and I pray for her gorgeous daughters. I spent the night with Nikki and her husband, and her parents joined us for a night on the town at one of my old stomping grounds, The Tree House. We all had a blast, laughing and singing and just cutting up. We also learned a lot about the bite of a water moccasin. It’s a drink and, if you have never had one, I highly recommend it, but in moderation, because it could be “deadly.”  

That night, something incredible happened. Nikki came in and tucked me into bed. When I was a little girl, I craved for my mom to do that; but my mom was not affectionate, so it never happened that way. Before she walked away, Nikki kissed me on my forehead and told me she loved me. She can never understand just how much that show of affection meant to me. I was flooded with emotion, and time stood still, and I will literally remember that simple act as long as I live. A piece of my broken heart was put back together again.

I worry a lot about growing old and the financial sacrifices I have made to be a teacher. However, that day and those people reinforced everything I believe in. Life is about relationships and love and, if I am a pauper one day, be sure that I have lived a very rich existance.

 

A Country Concert

One of my friends had extra tickets to see Luke Bryan in Jacksonville recently and offered them to me. I was hesitant, because that is an extravagance that I do not indulge in often; however, it is the year of yes, so I took her up on the opportunity. My surrogate mom, Charlotte, gladly agreed to go with me, and we made it a night to remember.

Concert

After dinner, we headed to the tailgate party outside of the arena. We had a blast, dancing and people-watching. We even ran into several people that I went to high school with, and it was so great catching up. Charlotte and I made the Jacksonville paper and the local radio station’s website. We felt like stars.

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My Fellow Georgia Southern Alum

The concert was amazing. I have seen Luke Bryan many times, and he never disappoints. It was fun sitting by my friend and her fella, too.  The four of us had a blast singing and dancing the evening away.

Jayda

Afterwards, we took a huge detour around Jacksonville trying to get back north. Charlotte is worse with directions than I am, and even my car’s navigation had us cutting through the bad sides of town. But we finally made it, and it was wonderful settling in to my bed in the cozy room that Charlotte keeps for me. It’s filled with pictures of me, the kids, and my mom and makes me feel loved.

Before heading home the next day, I met up with a former student of mine who I had not seen since 2002. We have kept in touch via email and phone, and he is now a teacher. He treated me to lunch at The Florida House Inn, one of the oldest hotels in Florida, located on beautiful Amelia Island. We caught up, strolled the historic downtown, and then I stopped at one of my favorite spots on earth– Fantastic Fudge– for my go-to flavor of ice cream, rocky road.

I could not leave without spending time with my Mom at the beach in solitude. I read a book, napped, prayed, and listened to my Mom’s song, “Drink a Beer,” by Luke Bryan, of course.

 

 

Southern Gothic

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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}

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.

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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.

 

Maclay Gardens

Maclay Gardens is presently in full bloom, and the sights are glorious, although a little earlier than normal due to the warm winter.

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Located a short distance from the interstate in Tallahassee, the kids and I decided to take a Sunday stroll after church. We were not disappointed. The colors were enchanting. They love running through the little hidden pathways, trying to find the pond and reflecting pool. It was a perfect 75-degrees out, and I wished that we had brought a picnic lunch and book.

We did take time to walk through the Maclay house looking at treasures, and we also ran down to Lake Hall, where we saw a bald eagle and an alligator sunning on the bank.

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We ended up staying most of the afternoon at the kids’ request, and I gladly complied. It was a perfect way to end the weekend, but we could not load up until the kids had spent a good while climbing giant oak trees. Magical!

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Vitamin Sea

What is the perfect day?

Loading up in the Jeep with the top down and driving to the coast with a loved one, especially in the middle of January. It reminds me of home, when we would leave the muddy waters of the St. Marys River and head to Amelia Island every chance we would get to play at beautiful Fernandina Beach. It is funny, K and I both grew up in Nassau County, only we did not meet until we were in our 20s living in South Georgia. But we get each other and the our mutual need for the occasional Vitamin Sea.

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Jeep Hair, Don’t Care

 

That’s exactly what K, her husband and I did over MLK weekend, and it was glorious. We packed sandwiches and traveled east to the Canaveral National Seashore, so that they could fish and I could relax. I took my Kindle and a blanket and, within minutes, was asleep. I napped for over an hour, something extremely rare for me, entranced by the waves and breeze. The weather could not have been more magnificent.

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Cape Canaveral

 

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Canaveral National Seashore was amazing, because the barrier island provides both ocean and marsh. While I adore the beach, I also appreciate the appeal of Old Florida. And I love a good gator siting! K said there is usually a huge 10-foot gator easily seen just inside the gate. On that day, we had to settle for this little beauty.

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The Seashore’s website describes its appeal this way,

Since ancient times, this barrier island has provided sanctuary to both people and wildlife. Many threatened and endangered species find refuge here, including sea turtles who nest on its shores. Like first natives and early settlers, you too can find tranquility. Stroll down a wooded trail. Reflect on a pristine undeveloped shoreline – the way things used to be.

We finished the day by driving to the marshes to fish the brackish water there. It was breath-taking. I wish I would have had a better camera, but I took this shot of an area I sat and observed for several minutes in silence. I imagine it is very much like what my Florida ancestors knew as home for hundreds of years. It felt both familiar and peaceful to me.

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My Ride or Die in Orlando

The upside of culling people from my life is that my focus has become very clear. My vision has become razor sharp. I now work to see people, not as I’d rewrite them, but as they have written themselves. I see them for who they are. And for who I am with them. Because it’s not merely about surrounding myself with people who treat me well. It’s also about surrounding myself with people whose self-worth, self-respect and values inspire me to elevate my own behavior. People who require that I stay truthful and kind and not totally crazy. Not eating every single thing in sight. Not hiding. Not saying no. I want Ride or Dies who make me want to be a better person. ~Shonda Rhimes, THE YEAR OF YES

Sometimes you just need your best friend, and she needs you. You can hear that something in her voice that lets you know that she needs you to just be near her. No explanations are necessary.

What do you do when you have traveled to DC, to Middle Georgia, celebrated the holidays and your son’s birthday and your best friend calls and asks you to come for the long MLK weekend, too? You pack your bag, put money on your Sun Pass, load up your playlist, drive through Wendy’s for “Baconator” fries and a strawberry lemonade, and you hit the road for Orlando. Because it’s The Year of Yes and, frankly, she will not take “no” for an answer. K always gets what she wants! She has a certain mojo or swagger, and I am bewitched by her.

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One of my favorite chapters in The Year of Yes was about finding your tribe– the people who are in your inner circle and are your “ride or dies.” I kind of like that there is an FSU association to be made there, but my Gator friends will not. K is one of them.

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T, who I went to visit over my birthday weekend, is in the tribe. We were in the same kindergarten class. K is another. We are from the same place in North Florida, but we did not know each other at all until we became neighbors randomly at Wilkes Townhouse Apartments in Vidalia, Georgia.  She drove by while I was at the mail box with her Florida Gator tag labeled with our home county, and the rest is history. I knew she was going to be in my life forever.  It was her cooking that really lured me in, though. She never let me starve, and, Heaven knows, I was a horrible cook whose pantry was regularly stocked with peanut butter, chips and onion dip, and fudge rounds and not much else. There was also that time that she literally ran my boyfriend down my stairs and out of my house, because she did not like his way too charming toothy grin. No one did but, of course, I thought he was so niiiice. He never came back, poor guy. lol

K is psychic and she says the same about me, although highly intuitive is probably a more safe description. She senses things and is extremely tuned in to me and my kids. I love it! I think it is very provocative and reassuring, all at the same time.

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So, Orlando it was, and it was incredible. As soon as I arrived, her husband sent us out to a local winery for dinner, followed by a memorable night at a dueling piano bar. Turns out, I do a sassy “Cupid Shuffle.” We laughed, we went live on Facebook, we caught up on our work lives and daily demands, we danced, and we reminisced about being in our early 20s, moving to rural Georgia, and going out to the local bar, Kerrigan’s Country, with all of our friends on the weekends, followed by the mandatory stop at the Waffle House for loaded hash browns and Cokes.

Then, K and I closed the piano bar down like it was 1999 again.

And it felt wonderful just letting loose and knowing that I could be one million percent Becky Jo, and she would love me for it, hold me up and hold my hand if she needed to. She is always completely in my corner, always has been, and she will not let me fail, even if it means being brutally honest and willing bad juju away. My tendency to see good in people drives her INSANE, and she is constantly praying protections around me. K does not see good in people, so we balance each other out. In the end, I know she makes me a better, much stronger person, and I am grateful for it.

Wide Open Spaces and The Year of Yes

I love country music. The Dixie Chicks are my jam, and my favorite song of theirs is “Wide Open Spaces.” I remember playing it on repeat driving all over South Georgia, in the years immediately after I graduated college and moved from home. I am playing it now as I write.

Roaming has to be in my blood. I am descended from Daniel Boone and his nephew-in-law, Benjamin Cutbirth, who, in 1767, was one of the four white men who made the first trip from east across land to the Mississippi River.  My dad, his brothers, and my grandfather are a line of car haulers, and my great-grandfather was a peddler who traveled from the Tennessee/Kentucky border down to Nashville to sell his goods.

Yet, I have never had the chance to travel much, other than car trips growing up. The first time I flew was in law school, after I was married. We traveled to New Hampshire and Boston to meet my ex-husband’s family. He was scared of flying, so we did not fly much. During one of my early jobs, I was able to travel quite a bit for work, but he was so anxious about it that it became miserable for me.

And, of course, traveling by plane is expensive. And we had pets and kids and we were too busy…

“Losing yourself does not happen all at once. Losing yourself happens one no at a time.”
Shonda Rhimes, Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person

No more of that nonsense. I need wide open spaces! YES to roaming the great American frontier!!!

This fall, I was honored to receive a wedding invite from a former student. The event was in D.C., where my best friend T lives, and it happened to be my birthday weekend. Normally, I would have made my excuses, sent a nice gift and bowed out. However, I immediately booked a cheap flight out of Jacksonville, and sent my RSVP with T as my plus one.

I was nervous flying alone, but as soon as I got on the plane, I had a peace come over me, and I was overjoyed. It helped that I was seated by the most handsome man! He was funny and kind, and we just connected. We talked and laughed non-stop the entire flight, prompting the attendant to remark on what a cute couple we were. It was all innocent, but what an ego boost! We even had the same song playing on repeat on our phones– “I Took a Pill in Ibiza” by Mark Posner. The original version, of course.

A true gentleman, he walked me out to the gates to meet T and her husband when we landed. As we came around the corner, it was like a scene out of my favorite movie, Love Actually. I saw T’s smiling face under the lights of a gigantic Christmas tree and went running to embrace her. It was a moment that I will never forget, and I turned to see my new handsome friend smile and wave and continue on his way. T looked on in amazement, with a knowing twinkle in her eye. I felt young and free again.

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I just love this RSVP card! My song pick? “It Takes Two” by Rob Base and, with that, I am showing my age.

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As for my birthday, well one of my favorite memories of the weekend was T’s husband taking us for a night out in D.C. We stopped in at the Willard Hotel, where the Mint Julep was famously invented. This southern belle with Kentucky roots could not turn up an opportunity to try one out, and it was amazing. And strong. M finished mine, but what a way to welcome in the new year.

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