Friday, June 19, 2009

"Let me tell you a something about my family..."

"We are as thick as thieves...." (for all you Real Housewives of New Jersey fans out there).
Oh, but we are.

Sunday is Father's Day. This is the first Father's Day my father has had to spend without his father. Ironically, we'll all be spending it (sans Michael, as he is in Telluride with a "friend") at our family farm- the farm my grandfather purchased many years ago. My grandfather, "Daddy Moe," as affectionately referred, passed away in January. He was 81.

Life always brings unexpected events. There are no certainties, but uncertainty. His death was unexpected and life-changing. For the past five months we have reflected back on our memories and his presence in our everyday things- the things I never even knew he had influenced.

Back in November, Moe fell ill. He had always been a reasonably healthy man- strong as an ox, and with a temper to prove it. At 78 years old, he punched a man in the face for trespassing on his property and refusing to leave. It had only been three years since that had happened. The week he went into the hospital, he and Dad were spending time with one another at the farm. My grandfather was like an M&M,- a hard coating on the outside, but in the right hands he would melt. He loved his grandchildren, and I like to think we had a special bond, as I was the only girl of 6 grandkids. But he wasn't a fanatic about capturing photographs. As a matter of fact, it struck my father oddly that he was suddenly carrying around a disposable camera that day, walking the 200 acres of land.

Somehow, I think he knew.

He was so proud to have conquered a steep hill, walking as hard as he could to keep up with my father. He was breathing heavily, but beaming with pride. We think that was the straw that broke the camel's back. Unbeknownst to us, the "pig valve" his heart had received 16 years before, was failing. That Friday, he was admitted to the hospital and never came back out.

When Moe passed away, we developed that little camera and found the last photograph of him taken in good health. There he was, standing on the front porch of my parents' cabin, proud of his land, his heritage, his country, his legacy. In his camouflage coveralls and jacket, and a hunter's orange cap on his head, his strong hands grasped the flag of the country he had once served.

He died a proud man. Proud of my father and his sister, Beth. Proud of us grandkids, proud of Helen, his wife of over fifty years. Proud of all that he had done and made for our family. Proud of this country.
My father's father. My "Daddy Moe."

My father is a writer and a painter too. Maybe we inherited that creativity trait from Moe, as I can remember receiving a letter in the mail from him as a child that included a hand-drawn picture of their dog, Sarge with a broken leg. I thought about framing the "last photograph" on the front porch. But I decided that I could honor my heritage a little more by painting it in my own style- with my own flair.

That's how Moe was. He had his own flair. He didn't live by anyone else's rules.

Dad and I got that trait from him too.

Happy Father's Day, Dad. I hope you like the painting. I'll see you tonight when my plane lands in Birmingham. Tomorrow, I'll pass you the tools as you hammer away at the barn that, one day, I'll tell my grandkids "We built together."

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Sunday, June 7, 2009

Monkeys with Car Keys

Last weekend (surprise, surprise!) I met Mom and Dad, and Marta (a long-lost family friend) in Nashville. I haven't talked much about my mother, but here's the only way I know to describe her (and by the way, it won't do her justice- trust me): A jill-of-all-trades, event-planner, Texas-music-manager, housewife-and-stay-at-home-mom-turned-LED-light-saleswoman, caterer, singer-songwriter, pistol-packin'-mama. Ok, that will do for now, although I suspect a story or two is due soon so that you come to appreciate her talents as much as we all do.

Anyway, we met there because she was planning an event, catering, booking her artist, etc. (I'm not kidding- she was doing all of that) for a friend of hers I've heard about for years. This woman, who I had never met- thank God, or my most productive years would have been spent trying to become her- is named Sara Caroline. She and my mother became friends when Mom was the owner of a wholesale linen clothing company (oh yeah, she did that too). SC was my mom's customer from a trunk show in the Nashville area, and she later commissioned Mom to make a few pieces, tailored just for her, each with its own sense of personality- a conservative jacket or top with a WILDLY colored lining- you know, in case she ever needed to pull off a "flashing" with clothing underneath, of course.

The friendship ignited when they discovered that the reason behind the name of my mother's clothing company, Blue Moon Linens, was something they had in common. On a cold Halloween day in Alabama and Arkansas (I'm actually not sure if it was really cold in either state, but it makes for a better description), two women were born under a Blue Moon- just hours apart. I never knew her, but Mom kept saying, "I can't wait for you to meet Sara Caroline. You will LOVE her!" In my wildest dreams I couldn't have imagined how much I really would.

Sara Caroline's husband, Van- who reminds me of Randy Travis, but doesn't talk as slow- is a doctor who runs Bella Vita in Dickson, TN. He supplies the Nasvhille area with good healthcare and a little help becoming more beautified, all within 30 minutes of the city. Together with Sara Caroline, he uses his position for the betterment of a community. Last Saturday, they used their roles to raise money for the Help Center, a donation-based organization that helps the needy citizens of the area and is based in downtown Dickson.

We set up the tables in a rustic fashion- as if you'd just stepped right onto a Texas ranch and had only a flask and a bandana to accompany your meal. There were raffia-tied vintage-printed napkins, big jars of lemonade and sweet tea, peanuts in the shell, and enamel-ware skillets for plates. It brought on thoughts of an old cowboy movie complete with scruffy men loudly scraping their pans with reusable, traveling forks. Go green, right?

That afternoon, after the bones of the event were in place, Mom, Marta and I had been allowed the pleasure of accompanying Sara Caroline to her Dickson home. We were in awe of the beautiful home they had lived in since before their children, Andrew and Ian (two charming, well-rounded boys with a 10-year age difference), were born. The house was oozing with character. You see, I forgot to mention, Sara Caroline is an artist. For years, I have been in awe of her creative paintings- namely a gorilla with a martini in its hand. She loves to paint apes. While in her house, after witnessing an oddly sculptured pair of wooden/leathery/furry monkeys on her kitchen countertop (a slab of onyx), I asked her, "Sara Caroline, why the fascination with apes?" Her response? "Honey, we're all just monkeys with car keys."

During the tour, we were introduced to the paintings of her mentor- the woman who had taught her the trade. In a small light-filled room between her living room and master bedroom that seemed a catch-all for the most important things in the house (namely a Pram that Van bought her before they had children- something she asked for because she simply wanted it and then used it to push the neighbors' children up and down the street), there was a portrait of a young SC. I asked her who had painted it and she said her mentor had, but with a little help from herself later on. She had gone back and "painted in bigger boobs and a bigger diamond."

Later that night, we all got ready inside the clinic. Proving that pictures aren't the only thing she paints, Sara Caroline gave me a makeover from the makeup room. After consuming a beer and some well-chosen lipstick (as I tend to lick it off as soon as it's applied), we threw the event under a rented white tent in the parking lot of Bella Vita. Guests began to arrive and partake in the tamales made by Sara Caroline's hispanic housekeeper, Hema. Someone once likened their relationship to that of Will and Grace's Karen and Rosario- a description that, in my opinion, makes them both that much more endearing.

In order to attend, guests made donations to the Help Center. Entertainment was provided by Austin Cunningham , a singer-songwriter from Garland, TX who makes friends with his audience by singing songs that do one of two things: 1. Remind you that you once experienced that, or 2. Makes you realize you want to. The tamales were good enough to make you want to slap your Mexican mama. We raised our glasses and money too. A good time was had by all.

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