Wednesday, July 11, 2012

What Goes Around

Ah . . . my fifth and final flash! This one, too, is memoir turned fiction. Ellen is Sandy, and Joe is Frank. This really happened!

What Goes Around

Ellen’s Friday had been typical but rough. She’d stopped at four schools that day, meeting with teachers, trying to convince them that her publisher’s textbooks were the ones to adopt for the next six years. She’d traveled back and forth across the county, keeping appointments that she’d set up days before. Even with the air conditioner going full blast, she never cooled off between stops. But always present in her mind as she worked was the weekend ahead. She could bear the heat outside and in the car and the negativism of some teachers as she thought of the fun in store for her.

Every year at some time in the spring, her husband, Joe, would drive all day to get to Chiefland, Florida, and would park their motor home on the Sewannee River, where he and Ellen would spend a weekend fishing and reading and eating seafood in quaint restaurants in Chiefland or Cedar Key. Small towns don’t have much in the way of entertainment, so they always joked about going to Walmart to watch the local characters. And sometimes they went there more than once during their little getaway to shop and to surreptitiously watch and smile about the locals.

Ellen knew that Joe would have everything they needed as far as food was concerned, so she didn’t need to stop at Walmart on the way to the campground, but as she drove, her mind kicked in. I’m almost out of toothpaste, so I’d better stop. Besides, I have some phone calls to make, and I can use the pay phone there. Since cell phones didn’t work in that area of Florida, she sometimes would have to use the pay phone on the porch of the campground office, suffering for days later from the mosquito bites that she’d get while talking. Walmart was air-conditioned and had no mosquitoes, making talking to teachers a pleasure instead of a slapping session on her legs.

I’ll be in and out in just a few minutes. Toothpaste and telephone. Toothpaste and telephone. But first I need to stop at the little girls’ room, she thought as she walked to the store. After her trip to the restroom, she strolled around the store, looking at interesting things—school supplies that she might use for her work, cosmetics, kitchen utensils, funny locals. Just a quick look through the store. Then she made four or five calls to teachers, setting up appointments and winding up her week in the Chiefland area. Now she could enjoy the weekend with Joe without having to worry about her next week in Central Florida. She was all set.

As she drove through the campground looking for their motor home and her sweetheart, she wondered if Joe had gotten there in time to catch some fish for their supper. If not, maybe they’d go out to Cedar Key to The Cove to eat. Either way, she knew their evening meal would be delicious. Having been gone all week, she couldn’t wait to see Joe. She’d entertain him with stories about the teachers that she’d worked with all week.

Ah . . . there he is! She parked the car, gathered up her work materials, and headed for the motor home. Joe met her, gave her a quick hug, and opened the door for her. Ellen turned toward the front of the vehicle and set her things down between the driver’s and passenger’s seats.

“Oh, no, Honey!” Joe exclaimed.

I can’t believe it. I’ve barely walked in to the motor home, and already I’ve messed it up! She knew that their home away from home would be spick and span and could just see in her mind’s eye that she’d tracked in mud or something.

At that moment, Joe reached out and pulled a strip of toilet paper about three feet long from the back of Ellen’s pants. Just thinking about the conversation at the supper table that night in homes all over Chiefland kept them in stitches for the rest of the evening.

“Hey, Mama. You shoulda saw the funny lady at Walmart this afternoon!”

Thursday, July 05, 2012

A Signal

This is my fourth assignment for my flash fiction class . . . another memoir turned flash.

A Signal

Peggy awoke with a start. As always, she looked to see if any light was showing from downstairs. It was. The clock on my nightstand read 1:30. Jeff’s curfew was midnight unless he had a gig. This was a practice night, so he should have been home by now. She and Jeff had the agreement that when he got home, he’d turn off all the lights, signaling her that he was in bed if she happened to wake up.

Trying not to disturb Tom, she crawled quietly out of bed, grabbed her robe, and crept downstairs, where the light was shining.

A scene from years ago flashed in her memory as she sat down to wait for her son. Her and Tom’s daughter, Sarah, was notorious for coming in late when she was in her late teens. One night, as Peggy was standing at the kitchen window, anxiously looking out every few minutes, Jeff came up behind her, put his arm around her waist, and said, “I’ll never make you worry, Mom.” But that was a long time ago, and now he was the age that his sister was back then. And he had forgotten his promise.

Jeff’s band, Velvet Melon, practiced at their house, and sometimes Jeff had to take one of the guys home afterwards. Just the week before, Peggy and Jeff had talked about late hours and had come to a deal—if he knew that he’d be late getting home from chauffeuring, before he left, he’d leave a note so that his folks wouldn’t worry.

She heard a car door slam and then the back door.

“Mom! What are you doing up?”

“Waiting for you, of course. Are you trying to give me a heart attack? I thought we had agreed that you’d leave me a note if you were going to be late,” Peggy said with a catch in her voice, the tears close to the surface, more from disappointment than from worry.

Jeff approached his mother and held out his hand. She took it, and he led her to the kitchen, where he had taped a note on the window where he had watched his mother worry about Sarah: Mom – I had to take Derek home and will be right back.

Then he led her to the dining table, where a note with the same message was taped and upstairs right outside her bedroom, where a third note was waiting for her to read.

Jeff wrapped his arms around Peggy. “Mom, Mom, when will you remember what I told you? I promised not to make you worry the way Sarah did. I’m trying to keep that promise.”

Monday, July 02, 2012

Jay Week, 2012

Jay Week, 2012

June 30, 2012

Almost immediately after Jay died, I began reading books about children who had died and the effect that their deaths had on the parents and family. I remember reading one that amazed me. The mother had waited eight years to write a book about her son’s death. Imagine that! Here it is twenty years after Jay’s death, and I still haven’t written the book that I want to write about my boy. Oh, I’ve written lots of memoirs about him, probably more than most people would want to read in one sitting; however, I haven’t written the book.

In 2007, I began writing something about Jay on or around July 2, the day that Jay died. The first year that I wrote was the year that Wendy organized a surprise Velvet Melon Reunion for Frank and me. You can read about it on my blog at if you don’t know the particulars. It was a grand party held at Beth and Andy Waltrip’s house, and there were about fifty of Jay’s friends, band members, and families of friends there, plus several of our friends and relatives. This year, we’re having another VM Reunion at Big Lagoon State Park in Pensacola, and I can’t wait.

I’ve been thinking and thinking about what to write this year. So far, in past years on Jay’s day, I’ve written memories of Jay, a day-by-day account of the week leading up to July 2, 1992, a letter from Frank’s cousin telling me that I was stuck in the denial stage of grief and my response to her, memories from his friends as recorded in The Jay Book by Angela Hinkley Garrison and Wendy. This morning, as I was walking back to the laundry room through the Jay Hall in our house, it hit me: the collages that Wendy and Jay’s friends put together right after he died have Jay’s life recorded on them. Many of the photos that we had of Jay are there. My decision for this year was to choose a few of them and to write the stories behind the photos. I think the stories will be brand new to most of you!

Let me apologize up front for the quality of the photos. I had to take shots of the shrink-wrapped collages; I used my iPhone . . . not some fancy schmancy camera like real photographers have. Some of the pictures are a bit blurry; some more than a little distorted. Anyway, you’ll get the picture (pun intended)!

Two Hoboes

One of Wendy’s favorite activities with her little brother was to dress him up, especially if we had company. At one time, we were very active in Amway and had meetings at our house regularly, usually at least once a week. Inevitably, we could look for Jay to parade in while someone was “drawing the circles” (showing the business) to prospects. He’d be dressed in some outlandish garb, and Wendy would be hiding behind the door, snickering because he had interrupted us and because he looked so funny. We’d just shoo him out and carry on with our meeting.

This photo, however, isn’t of Jay entertaining our company. It’s of Jay and Wendy all decked out for the Fall Festival at Beulah School, where Wendy was in first grade. I’m sure that Wendy helped us get everything together for their costumes. Big sister knew exactly what she and little brother needed to look the part!

Mama with the Big Hair

This photo was taken at about the same time as the hobo one, but it was a formal family portrait. It was either one taken at a place like Olan Mills or at church. As I think about it, I believe we had it done at a photography studio. Be sure to notice Frank’s sideburns (very stylish), Wendy’s dress with the leopard collar and her long hair (also very stylish), Jay’s cute little suit (sort of par for the course for little boys at the time), and my beautiful hair, which was actually a wig (very, very stylish). What a lovely family!

When Jay moved out of our home and into homes of his own, most of the time with guys in Velvet Melon, whether it was in my mother’s old house in Myrtle Grove or on the beach or in New Jersey or in the Nashville area, he always had a framed 8 X 10 of that photo. Once, not long before he died, I said to him, “Jay, why do you always have that awful picture sitting out where everyone can see it?”

“What do you mean by awful?”

“It’s my hair that’s so awful. Everyone laughs at it now because it looks so funny for today.”

“Oh,” said my boy, “I never noticed your hair. I just have it out because I’m so cute!”

Always so sure of himself. That’s my boy!

One of Jay’s Heroes . . . Bruce Lee

 When Frank’s older brother, Sam, retired from the Navy, there were two things that he wanted to do—work in a store and go to college. Frank had a store, so if Sam moved his family to Pensacola, he’d have a place to work; and we had an excellent college (PJC), so he’d be able to begin his college career. Sam packed up Masako and Tim and headed for Florida. We helped them find a house in the Bellview Middle School district so that Tim and Jay could attend the same school. Jay was in seventh, and Tim was in eighth grade.

The boys saw each other every day at school and planned exciting things to do on the weekend, taking turns spending the night with each other. Just one of the things that they did was watch Bruce Lee movies. Their favorite was Enter the Dragon, with The Way of the Dragon (Chuck Norris) being a close second. They really got into the action of Bruce Lee and beat each other up regularly trying to imitate their hero’s style. Nothing would do but the next time we went to Seattle to visit his cousin and his family Jay had to go to pay a little tribute to his hero.

Jay and Tim were best friends the year that Sam and his family lived in Pensacola. Through the years, they remained best friends (of course, each one had other best friends, too) even though they lived 2800 miles apart. I know in my heart of hearts that they’d still be long-distance best friends had Jay lived. And that makes me feel very good!

There’s another story buried in this picture. Did you notice Jay’s sweat shirt? On this same trip, we took the kids to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs on our way to Washington. Our reason? We thought it would be really good for Jay to apply to the Academy. Okay . . . stop laughing. I know it’s a real stretch to imagine our Jay at anybody’s academy, but we thought we’d try. So much for good intentions on the parts of parents.

European Adventures

Back in the day, Frank and I used to travel with students in Europe every summer. In 1984, we signed up enough students for the trip to allow us to take Jay for free. He really didn’t want to go because Velvet Melon was in its infancy, and he wanted to stay at home to play rock ‘n’ roll and to develop his business. We insisted, however, that he go with us because it was probably the chance of a lifetime, and he needed to take advantage of it. So he went with us, drumming on the backs of the seats in the bus, on tables, on anything . . . probably on his friends.

Students were allowed to go exploring in the foreign cities in the afternoon if they were in groups of at least three. So The Four Musketeers in the photo disappeared one afternoon in Rome, only to arrive back at the hotel with their ears pierced. I was devastated! Ear piercing on boys was just becoming popular, and I thought it was terrible. After all, only girls should have their ears pierced . . . or so my conservative little mind led me to believe. And if you think I had conservative beliefs, you can imagine Frank’s! I hated to think of what his dad was going to say and do.

When I saw my boy with a pierced ear, I cried. Yes, I cried. I guess I just felt that Jay had let me down. We had talked about his having his ears pierced at home, and he knew that we didn’t approve. Even worse than our feelings, though, was my fear of what the other boys’ parents would say. Unhappy as I was, however, I had to have a photo. You can tell by the smiles that the guys weren’t unhappy. Everyone who knew Jay knew that he and I had a “mutual admiration society,” and because of the love that we shared, I never saw the earring again while we were on the trip.

But . . . sometime later in his life, he convinced his dad and me that an earring wasn’t the worst thing in the world, and by the time that he died, he had three pierces. On July 3, 1992, Frank’s younger brother, Bob, and his wife took us to Gayfer’s to buy burial clothes for Jay. I sent Bob on a mission—to purchase three new earrings for his nephew—while Frank and I shopped for pants and a shirt. I couldn’t have my boy buried in old earrings, could I? Of course not!

Before I close this little story, I must tell you that having their ears pierced was the least of the trouble that these kids got into while we were in Europe. That afternoon’s activity didn’t even hold a candle to their getting in the car with a stranger in Madrid and going to his mansion, with their rappelling down the walls of a hotel in Florence to roam the streets in the middle of the night, and with their rolling the Tower Bridge in London the night before we left for home. Jay confessed all of these activities one evening in Pensacola. Your parents might not have done this, but we laughed. After all, they didn't get hurt and didn't wind up in jail. Might as well laugh after the fact! We did a lot of this with Jay.

Jay, His Friends, and King Tut

Almost every year, when we went to Europe, we took the kids to Switzerland. And almost every year, we encouraged them to have a talent show. They had plenty of time to plan and to practice. The year that Jay went with us was no exception, and you can imagine who was the most excited about performing. That’s right . . . the one in the front, Jay. Years later, when Velvet Melon was in its heyday and Jay was playing sax and bass, I asked him if he ever wanted to be the drummer again. After all, drummers are usually the musicians that the girls are the most ga-ga over. “What?” he replied. “And not be on the front of the stage? Oh, no . . . I’ll keep on playing sax and bass!” This photo proves that his answer wasn’t something that he just made up on the spur of the moment. He wanted to be the star . . . and in the front!

And so Jay and his friends (that’s Scott Andress again on the right) performed Steve Martin’s “King Tut” routine. They were hilarious! They were the hit of the talent show! Four boys who had the same sense of humor as those “wild and crazy guys” on Saturday Night Live stole the show. Frank and I were so proud of them, and my best friends, Fran Crumpton and Annice Webb, and I have laughed so many times just remembering how funny they were.

They made their own costumes, borrowing towels from the hotel and a big spoon and foil from the kitchen for Jay’s headdress. I wish we had had video cameras or iPhones back then, but we didn’t. If we had had them, you could see my boy and his back-up for yourselves. Steve Martin’s performance will have to suffice to show you what Jay and the King Tutters did that night in Switzerland . . .

I’ll never forget that talent show!

And as all of you know, I'll never forget Jay. I hope you don't think me too weird for continuing to write about him at various times during each year but especially on his birthday and on Jay Day, July 2. This is just a mother's way of celebrating her boy.

Almost every time I write a piece, I include my favorite quotation. You've probably heard it before, but I'll repeat it this time because it expresses exactly how I feel . . .

 There is an endearing tenderness in the love of a mother to a son that transcends all other affections of the heart. It is neither to be chilled by selfishness, nor daunted by danger, nor weakened by worthlessness, nor stifled by ingratitude. She will sacrifice every comfort to his convenience; she will surrender every pleasure to his enjoyment; she will glory in his fame and exult in his prosperity; and if adversity overtake him, he will be the dearer to her by misfortune; and if disgrace settle upon his name, she will still love and cherish him; and if all the world beside cast him off, she will be all the world to him.

—Washington Irving

Enjoy Jay Day! Tell some funny stories about a very funny young man. I’m sure he’ll be laughing right along with you. And I hope we see lots of you at the Velvet Melon Reunion on July 28!