Category Archives: Character Sketch

my middle girls

The hunter and huntress left us yesterday before school let out. Their camo clad Daddy checked them out. I ( I teach at their school) went over to the office to smooth it all over – so Trent and Molly would be excused and everything. Friday seventh period is a bit of a farce at our school. I went into Molly’s class to get her as the middle school secretary was at her lunch break. Now, you know you are in Alabama when I asked Molly’s teacher if I might check her out and the class starts asking, “Molly, are you going hunting?” Yeah, it’s another world if you don’t live here, though I must add that Molly may be the cutest huntress in the USA.  I think her interest was birthed when our professional hunter ( yes they exist) friend took Trent hunting in Texas and put him on TV. Molly decided then and there, she was into hunting, too. He will not find a cuter, more personable co-host, up to date on all the new product lines of his sponsors. Molly is a walking PR and sales team. Anyway, with our others gone to Eufala to hunt the high fence – that’s hunting lingo for –  a place with lots of sort of caged in big bucks – tv footage bucks, the middles and I decided to treat ourselves to a big-girl day. They wanted to go to breakfast – well brunch – their favorite meal. They named all the chains that their unfortunate suburban life has offered them. I knew we could do better. I am small town and as an ex-restaurant owner, I always try to shop local. It’s better and a better experience. So, since my girls are able to appreciate more than the slide at McD’s now, I suggested, Klingler’s Bakery. Shout out to Klingler’s. If you are ever in B’ham. It is must go. It is German food and pastries and it is phenomenal. I told the girls that when I first moved to town, married but childless, their aunt and I ( also childless) spent many hours at Klingler’s. They wanted to know everything on the menu that we had ever eaten..Most everything qualified. We ordered and they raved at every detail: the fresh flowers, the sweet waitress, the beautiful plates of food, the art on the walls, the pictures of the Klingler children during high school. And the food knocked them over. They were indeed ready for the next phase of dining out – something beyond chicken fingers and balloons at any and all restaurants. I took them down to Homewood, the most gracious part of B’ham. We walked the beautiful shops that so remind me of home, Athens, Ga – the finest place on earth. They spent hours just looking at wondrous art/design pieces and offering who would love this and that. We enjoyed jewelry and linens and soaps far better than the 20 for $5.00 kind my filthy household uses. We ooohed over pottery ( which  I love) and blown glass which Sarah, my 14-year-old promises to learn to make me while in college, as an art major, preferably at a  women’s college in NC or VA. And Meghan, who has never wavered on her desire to go to Georgia Tech like her grandfathers, and who is so very interested in architecture and design, took myriads of mental notes as we examined exquisite furnishings and decor. And then I did it. I let them go.in… the Pink Tulip, the boutique that I knew would floor them. I let them enter and at once walk away from me. It is not an inexpensive place to shop. I shopped there when we first came to Birmingham. It was what I had long known… if  by other names in other locales. Fine fabrics and designs and well, you know… beautiful clothes. I knew that by  this fall they had grown large enough (barely) to wear the clothes. I also knew how they would look in them…beautiful. I knew before we entered I would forego something that I had planned on and buy them a dress here, if we could find one not too expensive, that fit them well. I let them try anything that seemed acceptable, even a few above our budget which would perhaps be on sale after Thanksgiving. They conceded to my wisdom that they were still growing and in as much we would not buy many boutique dresses until they stopped. Then, I would buy them what they needed. So, for an hour or so we tried on dresses in fabrics they had never felt much less owned, designs so much more ingenious than those at Target or Old Navy, our typical haunts. They looked not adorable, but like a million bucks. Sometimes you do get what you pay for. My girls, 14 and almost 13,  could have stepped off the curb from Stamford or UAB or Birmingham Southern. The dresses were appropriate and beautiful and set off my girls’ great figures. We bought their favorites…they thanked me ten times each…for the dress and for the vote of confidence.

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my third child

My third child has told me from the time that she could speak that she wanted to build houses and buildings. When she was two to three years old she would scream, “Stop the car,” whenever we passed new builds. She wanted to get out and look at what they were doing, before the walls went up. Both her granddads were engineers and  builders, her great-grandfather was a builder, too. I figured that she got it honest. Meghan is a careful student, to put in mildly. She is almost obsessive when it comes to details and exactness, a good trait for a builder – (see prior entry.) Last weekend she went with me to Fine Arts – to see the senior high kids compete in all manner of singing, dancing, speaking, drama, etc. We had kids in the sermon category, so we went to watch them. The next night, Meg brought me something. She had written a sermon in her journal, “I figured I could do what they did,” she smiled. I read it. “Mrs. Renee and Mrs. Angel read it this morning. They said I can preach it at Mission 5/6 and at Sunday school next week. Can I type it in your computer?”

I read it. It was good, solid, there were nice twists and turns. I expected that she would share a nice little lesson. I was not prepared for what she put together this morning. She had props and examples and an assistant in costume. And when she took the microphone, one would have thought that she taught a class everyday of her life. She was personable and poised and eloquent and funny, a delight to watch and listen to. I had seen her dance in front of others and even give a hilariously scripted presentation on cooking at 4H, but I did not know how very much a “natural” she was teaching/preaching. The joke at my house is that Meg is just like me, in every weakness. She and I are both time fanatics, early to a fault, worriers, checklist freaks, paranoid studiers: “quiz me again please,” kind of  kids. She and I spent most of the weekend painting. The rest of the gang were off somewhere with someone. On a run back from Walmart today to get more supplies, she turned to me. “Mama, what if I decided not to be an architect or a builder?” “That would be fine.” “Well, I just don’t know if that is definitely it or not.” “Fair, enough. You are just twelve.” “Yeah.” I’ve seen lots of youth sermons, most were given by 16 year olds who had help and months to craft them. A few were memorable for their content, hardly any for their speaker’s ease and finesse. Until today.

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goodness

A friend came by today…I don’t get to see her enough.  She is one of those people who make the effort, who leave their own schedule to come into mine. She inspires me…to pour it out, all I have. God has so poured Himself all over/into her and infiltrated her life.  Someone asked me about her this morning…another teacher, “How is she?”  Words didn’t form…just images that I have yet to render out. I dropped to my most tender place…so on the edge of tears and tried to reply, “Really good.” And she is “really good,” to be around, to be near. I never want her to leave.

Life for her has not been easy since His pouring on. It has been difficult for her to navigate, to steer through. All around her are those whom she has had to steady, to hold up and hold toward God. And she has.

She came in to my room today, holding one near, and up and toward…just a little fella, with eyes that held mine and questioned… and questioned. She had him like it was nothing. When he forsook all baby lovers who surrounded, she whispered to me and Halo, “Don’t feel bad, it’s just his Mama and me that he’ll go to. He’ll only go to me.” It wasn’t some silly gloat. He needs her holding, hers, he somehow trusts, knows to be safe and good.

She is like that with us all, those who need holding near, and up, and toward…

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the thompsons part 2

The summer of my tenth grade year Megan Thompson encouraged me to go to Student Council Camp with her at Berry College. I was up to go most anywhere with Megan, so I went. It was a God set-up all the way. I remember the feeling when my foot first hit the ground at Berry. Everything seemed to shimmer, like a lake disturbed. The place, the very grounds seemed alive. There was this motion, this other realmness. I looked around silently for agreement. Had I lost it? Some people seemed totally unaware of it…others betrayed a slight acknowledgement in their eyes and smile.

We did all kinds of team building stuff the first day, it was really fun. I loved the people on my team and our leaders. My roommate was a sweet girl from a county not too far from ours. I liked her. As we lay down to sleep she got her Bible out to read and asked if it was okay for her to keep her lamp on a minute or two. I had started reading through the Bible myself, no one required it, it just seemed a good idea to me. So, I got my own Bible out and started where I had left off. It was somewhere in John. When I began to read, this time, the words leapt off the page at me. It was alive, too. My heart raced…I looked to my roommate quietly reading. She was totally unaware of the earthquake within me. I read on until she reached for her light. Then I made myself close the Bible and try to sleep.

The next night we all had vespers at this old stone chapel. As we were about to enter the air, wind surged..it was if God was pressing, nearly shoving me forward.

The following night Cathy, a friend I’ll write more about later, sang…and shared…and then and things became clearer…And who these people were, so many at least, became clear. The leaders were pretty much all believers…incredible ones for their age. And so many of them were headed to UGA, to my town for the next four years. We became friends that summer and began to write one another…I even went down to visit them at St. Simons Island and to see all that God was doing there to prepare a generation of leaders in his Church, catholic.

Megan and I remained friends throughout high school. She didn’t push me along with God. There were people in place to do that for me now…people she introduced me to at Berry. She watched and loved me and continued to light the way for others to come near. She went off somewhere to college and then off again, I imagine, to serve someone else.

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my friend

Some people just get under your skin.  Distance and distraction don’t shake them free. I went home this week. That always stirs up memories and thoughts about where friends might be and how they might be. I drove College Station Road and felt one of those ghosts stir in me.

This friend of mine so made me laugh. And she made me feel something better than respect which was the currency of most of my peer relationships: that something was pursuit. She showed me the power of pursuit, what it could do in a life. I was truly cool, distracted and intimidating in my focus. But this girl…she wasn’t afraid of me. She wasn’t put off by all that was designed to cover my many weaknesses. She chose to be my friend, not because we had classes together; we didn’t. Not because we were in activities together and it was convenient, it wasn’t that way at all. She was older, she didn’t need me or my help in any way. I think that she just knew that I needed someone to just ignore all my signals of “Stay away” and “You don’t want to come here.” Maybe she knew that I needed someone to just step on over all my walls. So she chose to spend time with me and to be my friend. I have always so loved her for that.

I can’t help but cry when I think about her…not just in light of her kindness to me. I, the writer and teacher  notice things that I don’t try to…I can’t help it. Sometimes I see fault lines and sense the highlight of God’s concern. I noticed those kind of things, even then. I remember how under all the motion and fun and humor, when my friend got still, which was rare, something buoyed by the action, settled heavy. It just made me love her more.

This time when I was home, her name came up again. Driving near her house, I knew it was time to try to return the favor, to pursue her. I found her on FB. She is so successful and busy and well, in many ways just the same. I scanned all her pictures hoping the cleft  had closed. But under all that wit and generosity, I can just make it out. I can see it because I love her. I imagine that she will be able to see my frailty as well…and by that I don’t mean my bum knee and my wrinkles that are fast appearing. And I hope that she can see the places that I am so much more whole and those that still gape. I hope see can see past my “togetherness,” to the real me. That’s what makes someone a friend and not an acquaintance: their ability and willingness to see who we really are.

My friend is still real. I cried when I got her fb reply. It was her. Not some grown-up, polished version, not some professional, “in control” persona.

About two years ago, I stood across a pre-surgery hospital bed from my childhood best friend. My sister’s life was in the balance. My friend who had eaten peanut butter crackers on my swing-set with me, who had ridden to school with me everyday, who had been to my birthday parties and had probably been to the bathroom with me a thousand times, stood across that bed as Laura’s doctor and gave me the polished, professional packet. For Laura’s sake alone, I did not deck her ( for her own good.) At that moment, I would have preferred some Indian intern whose name I could never pronounce and who didn’t know me from Adam. Ever since, I have dreaded the possibility of that hellish experience with someone I called/call my friend. I kinda got that sick feeling when I realized that my friend owned and COO’d the fabulous firm where she works. “No…please no,” I begged. I just couldn’t bear it…not from her. I cannot relay the relief that I felt as her message flashed on the screen.

“Bother me? Come on.”

Like I said, I am in the season of returning the favor with my friend. In high school, she used to just show up at my house all the time. Don’t get me wrong; I loved it. My parents loved her. My Mama still talks about her. So, though I promise not to just show up at her work or house without invitation, I am going to drop on by online time to time and just see what she’s up to.

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the thompsons part 1

Megan Thompson was trying to get me to run for Student Council President; it was the duty of the position to recruit and train a replacement. She invited me over to her house after school one day. She only lived a few blocks from our house…but it was miles away in the spirit. I walked into the front door of a house that was flooded with light…and what seemed a super-oxygenated  air. I probably stood there dazed, breathing deeply. Her mother was a very kind and gentle woman…she chatted with me and fixed us a snack of some sort. Megan showed me around…There were pictures on the wall of her four siblings…beautiful, purposeful looking young men and women. Megan was the baby…she explained to me how her brothers and sisters were all over the world, working for the church or in some other humane endeavor. Then we went out to the courtyard. A huge bronze was in its center…it was beautiful. “My Dad’s a sculptor,” she offered, “He teaches at the university.” We went out to a shed adjacent to the house. Inside her father was hammering away on something that I could not yet see. He looked up and smiled at me; I liked him. We talked a little and then left him to his work. I visited a bit with Megan in her room and then rode my bike on home. But I would be back and never the same.

In that house, among those kind souls, God began to hammer and mold me.

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Young Harris UMC

Now a days we build churches that are functional and sleek and have good traffic flow. Back when I was little that was not so true. Our church sanctuary was the typical white box with the high steeple.  The “Sunday School Building,” however, was a converted ante-bellum mansion with a modern classroom wing that ran across to the sanctuary. The children’s classes were held in the old building. My kindergarten class was in this huge room that once served as a ballroom. The room had twenty-foot ceilings, beautiful trim work and  fourteen foot many paned windows. Standing in the sill, my head barely reached the second set of panes…there were probably six sets. It was a surreal feeling standing in those windows looking out on another world…the property of the church was basically a city block which had once been the domain of the home. Huge oak trees were spread across the green grassed square, fingers barely touching. Squirrels ran between them along the trees’ long arms. The front porch of the house was wide and breezy, the rails filigreed ironwork. The front door was massive and oak. I can so vividly remember the feel of the big brass handle in my little hand. The glorious inner stairway came to an end right at the doorway of my kindergarten classroom. It was a long twisted number that I must have slid down hundreds of times, regardless of the little old ladies’ warnings about falling and dresses. I never fell. Can’t be so sure about the immodesty. The majority of the church members were definitely Blue-Hairs. About the only middle-aged folks at Young Harris were the sons or daughters of the old members. We didn’t have many youth, but those who came were faithful and faithfully shepherded by a family with a heart for young people. We, the children, fared better. We were doted on and spoiled by most all of the old people. There were always surprises pulled from purses and sticks of chewing gum that appeared from the coat pockets of the old men. The church calendar was nothing like my church’s today. There was the Fall Bazaar and the Christmas Social and the Spring BBQ and a series of senior citizen trips that carted away most of the membership. Most events centered on food more than spiritual formation, but the fare that they brought was always homemade and always their very best recipe and as such made every gathering a spiritual one. When Laura and I grew older my family changed its membership to the local suburban Methodist church. It had a well-organized youth program for its many young people. There were lots of good things about changing to Tuckston UMC. My mind and spirit flourished in the new environ, but my heart never cleaved from Young Harris. Of course, I married at Young Harris. It was perfect for weddings, the gorgeous grounds, the staircases and windows and beautiful porch. They didn’t have many weddings with their demographics and all so the ladies went all out. There were beautiful homegrown arranged flowers in every room of the great house and of course in the sanctuary compliments of Nana’s Sunday School friends.

When Nana died we sent her off from Young Harris. It was spring. I dressed my girls in bright green and white dotted dresses. We took pictures in the great windows and took a turn down “Nana’s banister.” Finally released, Trent, tied and smartly shod, rambled all over the houses’  tree  guarded domain with the five girl cousins tumbling behind. When we had finished hugging necks and hearing sweet tales about Sara, my Nana, we gathered the great-grandchildren at the large cast iron bell now anchored  in the churchyard. The bell once hung in the steeple; now new electric chimes graced that space. The bell had been spotted by the great grands on visits before. When Nana died and we told them we were going to Nana’s church for the funeral, their first question was,”Can we ring the bell?”  Young Harris didn’t ring out the age of a member at her passing anymore as a matter of practice. But no one took issue with the great grandchildren’s request. They each held the pull and heaved…three long peals rang her home. I have been in Alabama nearly twenty years. When I die, I want to go home. I want my kids to take pictures of their children in the great windows, to let them romp about grass under the canopy of the majestic trees and ring that bell as long as they like.

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