Mule Skinner Blues

 

I knew when I wrote the scene in CENTIPEDE where Willie runs through the tall grass along the waters of Muscle Shoals that this would be the song the air carried!

 

 

Excerpt from CENTIPEDE:

In the following weeks, Willie found there was something mystical about Florence and Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Here, further north, she found the mountains more craggy, the Tennessee River powerful and strong, streams teamed with wildlife. Green grasses grew in clumps along the river banks; in the surrounding fields the grass blades were so fat they had to be double the size of any she had ever seen. And, the breeze that lifted, drifted out across the river brought back strange exotic smells that played rich upon the nose, an odd scent that smelled both dirty and clean at the same time.

Willie paused in her walk, noticing that she felt something similar to how she had felt before losing her family. At first she couldn’t put her finger on it. But, as she moved through the tall grasses and raised her face to the gentle breeze, she understood it was the feeling of being part of nature. For this, she was thankful. She knew she would never be the same again but at least she didn’t feel as broken. Just lonesome and sorry that she no longer had Cotton and her mother. Missing them was the hardest part. But the deep, restless worry that had plagued her was losing its hold on her mind and she was learning to once again see the things around her, appreciate nature and the comfort it contained.

Slowing, she tilted her head, listening intently. The low melodic winds blowing across the river blended with the sound of its gurgling urgency; together they seemed to sing. Willie took flight, running through the woods before her, beneath the tall pines and evergreens, over the mounds of deep, tall grass, trailing her fingers against the blades. The faster she ran, the louder the music and enchanted singing hummed against her ears.

There is magic here, she realized.

At the middle of the field almost hidden from the tall razor edged grass, Willie came to a sudden halt and squatted down on her haunches. She gazed steadily toward the wood line and listened intently to the katydids clattering in the distance. They seemed to rise and draw closer as if they were moving toward her. She closed her eyes and heard them draw nearer. Opening her eyes she noticed the dense growth of trees around her. They too had come closer! A sly smile spread across her face. Indians are here, shiftin’ on quiet feet behind the trees as they watch me, the blonde girl, interloper in their woods!

A gathering of crows, their dark bodies frenetically moving, flying among the uppermost branches suddenly lit and began their raucous squawking. She stood very still and sniffed the air, sucking in the clean freshness of it. Like fuel, it lit her from within and she set off running again, her movement liquid like a too-full creek, like water forced between smooth stones, movement tunneled too long and then freed to rush up and outward, directionless.

Run! Run! Run!  The shoals called across the fields. So Willie did, and the shoals rewarded her with a song…

“Well, good moooornin’, Captain. Good moornin’ to you, Sir –Hey heeey yeaah. Oh, do you need another mule skinner, Down on your new mud run? Hey heeey yeah. Yodel –a-eeeee-he-he, He-he-he-he-he-he…”

Willie reached out and grabbed the song as she ran, made it her own. She might not know about mule skinning but she knew all about running free.

 

Dolly Parton, “Mule Skinner Blues”. https://youtu.be/Fwc1FkkWulc

 

Lecture for Romania, part one

Due to unforeseeable circumstances, I will not be attending the International Book Fair this week in Bucharest, Romania.  I had so looked forward to the opportunity to talk with you about your beautiful country.  I further regret being unable to share with you some of the rich history of the Southern United States; reflections of growing up here in Alabama, coupled with excerpts from WE SHARE THE SAME SKY.

What I can do, however, is post an abbreviated version of what I’d intended to share.  I’ve not included the self-introduction.  The lecture is rather long, so there is the necessity of posting it in segments.  And, rather than moving through the text and rewriting what I’d highlighted in the chapters, I will instead post the entire chapter.

I will miss meeting you all.

Sincerely,

ELIZABETH MOZLEY

 

 

PART ONE, LECTURE FOR ROMANIA

I began writing WE SHARE THE SAME SKY following my return from a summer trip I took alone to Manhattan the summer I turned forty.  I was contemplating a major change in my life and knew that the time away would give me the space I needed to think and see things more clearly.  With children in the house, money spent toward a trip for myself –rather than a family vacation- filled me with guilt.  So, I needed a second reason, one that might alleviate what felt like self-indulgence.   I decided to write about my week in the city and include the history of the boroughs and enclaves of Manhattan, the cultural beauty of the place, the ever-changing neighborhoods that continue to foster a sense of belonging for our immigrants.

While I expected to get caught up in the magic that is New York City, I didn’t expect my mind to constantly jump back to the South.  Throughout these days of wandering, images of home and memories of my childhood kept pressing in on me, as if demanding recognition.

You see, I was missing family; I was missing place. There simply is no getting away from who you are or where you are from.  Place retains its significance to the human spirit because we tie to it the emotions of our memories.  Being Southern means having a relationship with the land, a relationship with nature.

Being away, immersed in that immense, fascinating city, I could more easily reflect on the past, the people and events that made me who I am.  The week in Manhattan actually helped me reconnect.

I’ve heard it said that as children, we are closer to our true selves, that we know our passions.   I think this is true.  It is only later when we are busy being adults that we slip up and forget.

 

(Excerpt from WE SHARE THE SAME SKY)

“There is as much dignity in plowing a field as in writing a poem.”

—Booker T. Washington

Awakening, I move about in a stupor and realize that the bed is unfamiliar. The pillow is unfamiliar. The sounds coming from outside my window –all are unfamiliar. Slowly remembrance sinks in and settles like freshly poured concrete. I am snuggled safely within the city I adore! In the subdivision in Rainbow City where I live, there is a small farm down the street that sits so charmingly out of place. Grandfathered in when our neighborhood was developed, the old farmhouse and tiny field remain. Every morning I am graced with the sounds of the family’s rooster trilling and the donkey baying for his morning meal. Here, the glare through the window forces me awake. And yet, thanks to the sound ordinance, rarely does one hear the frustrated, incessant blaring of aggressive horns. I have over-slept and awakened with the capricious nature of an unruly child. Pulling aside the curtain, I take a peek outside, mouth a quiet thank you to Him.

Late last night, I listed everything I want to cram into my day. Far and wide, my desires are spread from Upper West Side through Midtown and Upper East Side. Locating my list on the map, I realize that I will be all over the place. But really, who cares? It is not as if I am following a dreaded agenda. Flip of a coin, shake of the Magic 8 Ball; perhaps I have been going about my decision making all wrong. So, sensibility will not dictate my path, at least not today!

 

Morningside Heights

Is there anything better than sliding into a taxi when you know you are in for a long day? I don’t think so. As I get in and arrange my things, I notice the driver is talking on the phone. Hating to be rude, I jot down the address and hand it to him, trying to smile. He never makes eye contact and never hangs up the phone. Ill-mannered people get on my nerves and my pet peeve is rude cell phone use. Maintaining my silence, I sit behind him and seethe, wanting to tell him to please get off the phone and drive because frankly, he is scaring the hell out of me. I fantasize about reaching from behind and snatching the phone from his hand and flinging it hard out the window –something my father would do. And yet, I know that when he lets me out, I will tip the inconsiderate ass any-way. My mother reminded me several weeks ago that unless one speaks their mind when they are displeased, they have no right to be resentful. Regardless, I am full. And, I am irritated with myself for letting something shake the sense of inner peace I awakened with. In the South, protestant church signs post words of wisdom each week. My favorite is the adage “He who angers you, controls you.”

The driver drops me intact at The Morningside Heights Greenmarket located at 116th Street and Broadway. While planning, I discovered that the market is sponsored by Columbia University and Barnard College. Amazed by the selection of fresh produce in the city, I find myself constantly comparing it to what we have back home. Surprisingly, it seems there are many more open markets available here.

Quickly, I purchase a pint of the plumpest blueberries and wish for some fresh yogurt. The apples are gorgeous. There is one variety that looks similar to those my grandmother Libby called horse apples. Although the skin of these apples is not the prettiest, they always have a good tart taste that makes them perfect for apple pie and apple butter.

Looking over the boxes before me, I think back on my fifth grade year when before morning announcements or even the pledge was completed, I was hauled into the Principal’s office to stand before Dr. Leftwich.

“It has been rumored,” she said “that you have been stealing apples from a nearby yard and selling them on the bus. Miss Mozley, being industrious is one thing, but thievery is quite another.”

My grandmother always reminded me to pause before answering and so I did. I knew that the man who owned the place had seen me a couple of afternoons as he sat out on his back porch. The tree I had chosen the day before was close enough that I had noticed he was drinking tea and cracking pecans as he read The Gadsden Times. I also knew that he didn’t mind or he would have said something. I even hoped that he liked me, although I never saw him smile. Yes, he liked me and he appreciated the fact that I enjoyed his trees, his apples. After all, he had dropped the paper to below eye level and watched as I gathered them in my shirt and climbed back over his fence.

He was not the one who reported me. I knew this. But regard-less of who had, I was either in for a good scolding or a paddling. But, not both; Dr. Leftwich was known for giving one or the other. My only hope was that she wouldn’t call Papa. Double or nothing I thought, then replied, “Yes, ma’am. I’ve been doing just that.”

The following day –because she did not paddle me or even call my father –I left a rosy store-bought apple on her desk. I didn’t think a note was necessary.

What is it about picking your own produce that makes the taste more intense? My children swear that the apples they pick from our trees to bake each morning are better than those from the store and I believe them.

Apples purchased from the grocer sit prettily in the glass dish on our dining room table almost forgotten. It is as if they are there for the eye rather than the palate.

Each year, the children and I look forward to visiting an orchard. For years, we picked our own from an elderly gentleman’s backyard in Riverside. Posted near the bushel baskets was a sign listing the cost, and sitting below on a porch step was an old rusted coffee can where you deposited your money. Some of the trees that grew along the back row of his orchard seemed to be as old as the man himself. Laden with a full load, the sagging limbs were propped up with felled hardwood. When the old man passed away the property was sold, his bountiful trees cut, the land leveled and landscaped. The children and I mourned, then set out in search of another orchard. We headed north.

I had found a listing for a large family-owned orchard in North, Alabama. After a long morning drive, we arrived to find the place boarded up. Disappointed we turned back, but decided the return trip should be a different route, in the hope of coming across something of interest along the way. What we found was a North Alabama Indian mound. The gate, drawn shut and locked, held a sign posted no trespassing, but the children and I pretended not to see. We quickly parked the car and walked to the mound by way of a neighboring cotton field, full and white.

Catching sight of the mound, Anderson and Isaac stopped at once. I walked to where they stood, looking on with awe at the vision that lay before us.

A prehistoric Native American relic of the Mississippian culture, it was an amazing thing to see, just sitting there modestly in a field of lolling green pasture, surrounded by a pearlescent ocean of cotton and the distant emerald foliage of hardwood trees. In silence we climbed the mound, stood and gazed across the land. With unspoken reverence, we turned and descended quietly, then walked back through the high cotton to where we had parked.

Several miles down the road, we happened upon a very small family owned orchard. Although we didn’t get to pick the apples ourselves, no one seemed to care. We bought several bushels and an antique apple peeler to make our work easier. That evening, we set about slicing and filling the dehydrator racks sprinkling each layer with cinnamon; the remaining apples we baked and then topped with homemade vanilla ice cream.

Memories of time spent with my children bring only happiness. I say a quiet thank you. Because of them, I have much to be grateful for. Isaac’s cotton seeds are still in the backseat compartment of my car! When this thought comes, I cannot help but laugh outright.

I continue to pick up an apple from each selection, admire its uniqueness and fresh smell. I think of a quote from Walden, of Thoreau and his reflections on the farm he almost bought but didn’t. He laments, “I have frequently seen a poet withdraw, having enjoyed the most valuable part of a farm, while the crusty farmer supposed that he had got a few wild apples only.” Now this I under-stand. But, when he admonishes “…As long as possible live free and uncommitted. It makes but little difference whether you are com-mitted to a farm or the country jail.” I am want to disagree. To own and work a piece of land is to take pride in something that becomes an extension of self; a sense of accomplishment fills the soul of the weary possessor at days end.

Moving around the selections, I watch and listen to the interactions between the farmers and the locals and wish that I was staying somewhere that would allow me to purchase what I really want so that I might cook a meal early in the evening. Within arms reach are the most delectable Roma tomatoes I’ve ever seen accompanied by a beautiful purplish heirloom. I wish I could gather them up, take them back to the room, slice them, dehydrate them and pack them in oil or buy a couple of crisp ones still good and green, to fry.

There is also pineapple, freshly cut. If only I had several slices of a good homemade white bread and some mayonnaise. Is it only Southerners who eat pineapple sandwiches and hot tomato biscuits? Recognizing true hunger, my stomach rumbles at the thought.

The idea of dinner alone makes me miss being at home, cooking and dining with the children. They would be thrilled with this marketplace.

We often shop the farmer’s market in Birmingham. Not so much for the fresh produce –even though the offerings are amazing with over 200 farmers participating- but for all the other phenomenal vendors. Isaac’s favorite is a table of sliced cakes, presented by The Bakery at Cullinard. Anderson heads immediately for the croissants and chocolate sauce offered at another stand. Shelves of homemade preserves, jellies and jams call to me.

 

In our area, the weekend flee markets are where most folks shop for serious produce purchases. These are located closer to Gadsden, our hometown. We frequent Collinsville on Saturdays and Mountain Top on Sundays. Visiting a trade day in the South requires rising early. The best vendors arrive and begin setting up around 4:30 a.m. then pack up around noon. Collinsville Market is located in a small rural town of the same name. It is surrounded by beautiful green sprawling hills of farmland and the distant ridge of the lower Cumberland Plateau. Prettiest in the lambent light of the early hours, the view competes with the winsome sounds of farm animals. The smell of sausage biscuits and fresh coffee drift far and wide.

Regional pride has led to many a foolish notion. Admittedly, I always believed that Southerners held a closer relationship to the land and therefore held the prime pickings when it came to pro-duce. Looking about, I acknowledge that I’ve been proven wrong on both counts. Before walking away, I watch a small family load their purchases into four worn arm baskets; supple, they easily bend and allow the carrying of much weight. What is it they will cook for dinner tonight? What are their traditions, and is this trip to the market one of them? I think on our family’s beloved catfish Sundays. Grandpa farmed and fished all week. GrandMosie began cooking early that morning while we attended our various churches. Gathering at their house after services, we children fought over the fried fish with the longest crisp tails. We gnawed them down to the nub before beginning on the flesh, filled our plates repeatedly, then lazed away the afternoon waiting for stomach pains to pass. It was a happy gathering. What a shame that in today’s haste, many have let the tradition of Sunday supper with extended family all but slip away.

I watch the father help his wife, guide her gently through the throngs of people. He is protective of her, she of the children. The

Breathing deeply and enjoying the early morning air, I decide to move on. It occurs to me that all of this walking, where the wander-ings of body and thoughts meld, has helped clear my mind. Physical exertion, be it callisthenic or aerobic, alleviates depression and anxi-ety. Wandering is much like pacing in that it requires constant yet thoughtless movement; while the body moves about as if by its own accord, the mind is free. For me, this is proving therapeutic and provides time to reflect on the important things, to examine what exactly it is that has brought me here, not just to this city, but to this juncture in my life. Perhaps with realization, healing and creativity can begin again. It is not that I have become blind to the limit-less joy God places in the smallest of things, rather I have become distracted by circumstance. Time to wander, to think, to remember and reflect –without these we lose something fundamental and vital to self.

 

Days That Ran Long

 

Standin’ here,

Hands spread

Across faded green,

I listen undeterred

To moans and groans behind me

Of ungodly ugliness.

I care not

For I’ve found a treasure

That’s less than grand sight

And slick worn feel

Bring back dusty memories

Of skinned knees, stringy hair,

Days that ran long and knew untold endin’s.

Who would’ve known

That city folk congregated in search

Of fine Wedgwood and walnut

Would find themselves subjected

To grandeur so rural,

That’s beckonin’ calls to those

Whose memories once held rough edges

Hewn by hard work and time.

It stands there inquirin’

Remember me? Remember

The gatherin’s…

I become absorbed

In its green flat formica

And long since lost its shine chrome-

Where many times did

Families coagulate

When such things were so,

To feast on meals

Pulled from the ground, wrung by the neck

Then presented to kin whose presence

Represented true survival

Of hell and brimstone storms

Characteristic of a glorious

Southern Sunday morn.

 

EM 2004

 

*Please join me on Facebook at WE SHARE THE SAME SKY and also on Twitter @ElizabethMozley and @CentipedeYAread

 

Thank you all! ELIZABETH

 

Image result for we share the same sky

On Writing CENTIPEDE

Several years ago, when We Share the Same Sky came out in paperback, my students asked, “Why haven’t you written anything for us?” And I realized, I needed to; after all who can resist the sweet request of so many kids? Not I!

 

So- I began working on a novel for them. I got about five chapters in and was really beginning to warm up to the book when the idea for CENTIPEDE hit me. I don’t remember now what sparked the idea, but I remember clearly how quickly it took hold and how it expanded and grew almost on its own. It was the same way with the characters; immediately they were there, and just as quickly they seemed to take control of the novel.

 

I— I had wanted to write a lovely little happy book for my kids. That is not what I ended up with. (The happy little book is the one I set aside for later.) What I ended up with was a Young Adult book that requires a note to parents that it contains adult content, i.e. the book description on the back – Willie survives a murder.

 

When my students asked me this past week if they could now purchase it on Amazon, I said “yes” and proceeded to remind them that they needed their parents to look it over first. (These kids are eleven and twelve year olds.)

 

One of my boys, T.P. spoke up and asked, “It’s got some cussin’ in it, don’t it?”

 

And I had to say, “Well, just a little but only in the beginning, T.”

 

– “So you cuss, Ms. Mozley?” 🙄

 

“No, T. but a couple of the characters do at times. It is necessary for them to speak as they really would,” I tried to explain.

 

T.P. then laughed and told me he was “just tryin’ to get me”.

 

Oh, these kids today! They do make me smile.

 

Although the story of CENTIPEDE seemed to write itself, it was difficult at times because I’d never written for kids. For example, when two of my girls first read it through, they came to me and explained they didn’t understand a few things. So, I had to go back and re-write sections, adding hints that were not necessary for a more mature reader. They just didn’t intuitively grasp what I assumed they would.

 

I tried to get the novel right for my middle school and young adult readers, and still create a story that held the ideals I wanted the piece to express: the importance of nature to the human psyche, love of family, the necessity and importance of security for a child, a child’s inherent resilience, their sense of wonder and the steadfastness to ideals they retain a firm grasp on – and I wanted to include God’s wondrous gift of imagination and the true love of life that kids remain close to.

 

Willie is my girl. And, I am very proud of her.

 

I hope the students will love her as well.

 

ELIZABETH

Peace Within, Wordsworth

 

When I hear the name William Wordsworth, I think differently than I do when I hear another poet’s name.  Wordsworth to me means imagery; superb imagery that allows the reader to visualize nature as the author saw it; imagery that reveals how the poet felt about nature and why!  Poems like Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey, The Tables Turned and The World is too Much With Us, are but a few that reveal the author’s necessary relationship with God’s physical world, and the importance it played in his life –appreciated as it was first encountered in his youth, and then later, as an older gentleman in his reflections of growing up in and around the Lake District.  In his introduction to William Wordsworth Selected Poetry, Mark Van Doren claims, “…he is the first great modern poet of England and Europe, and by extension, of America…and since his world is still our world, and since his gifts as a poet were pure and great, we more than ever benefit by his achievements.”

 

Although Wordsworth enjoyed his solitude, he also spent time with a few, select friends including his sister, Dorothy Wordsworth, and Samuel Coleridge both of whom he collaborated with.  But was he an artist who preferred kinship with nature above that of kinship with his fellow man? Wordsworth’s relationships influenced his writings.  As with most artists and authors, the things taking place in the poet’s life -personally, regionally and nationally -found their way into his works.  True love for a sister, admiration for a mentor – held sway on his ideals, his beliefs and therefore shaped the production of particular works.

 

Within Wordsworth’s poems -not hidden, but up-front and personal -are the sweet, sentimental power of nostalgic memory.  Read these lines from Tintern Abbey:  “…five summers, with the length/Of five long winters! And I hear/These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs/With a soft inland murmur. –Once again/Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs.”  Again, and again the author returns to this style of reflective thought, as it is fostered through his contact with nature.  Wordsworth’s poems have the power to sway a mature reader, who in looking back, does so with longing as well. Do we, as adults, envision a more lovely setting than that which we first looked upon in our youth?  Probably. Listen to the description Wordsworth offers: “To look on nature, not as in the hour/Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes/The still, sad music of humanity/ Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power/To chasten and subdue.”

 

  Wordsworth was the romantic poet defined, emphasizing intuition over reason.  He appreciated the lands around the Lake District and so naturally began participating in walking tours of Europe.  He toured the Alps, Italy, France and Switzerland. These travels further influenced his leanings toward nature and its importance on man’s mental health.  As Wordsworth’s poetic works gained recognition, he began to discuss freely his thoughts on writing in the “real language of men” where he avoided much of the serious structure previously expected in poetry and placed more emphasis on emotions encountered and felt fully during peaceful times.

 

There is the question in life as to which is more important:  one’s relationship with others, or one’s relationship with nature, or God.  There is a closeness with God when one sets foot outside! Wordsworth described this so knowingly when he wrote, “The world is too much with us…Little we see in nature that is ours; We have given our hearts away…”  The poet knew, nowhere is man nearer God than when he is deep within that which God has made.

 

Wordsworth saw separation of man and earth as a ghastly thing –as if in modern times man would completely lose his soul because of this break from original identity.  He felt a kinship for a place that drew on memory and played on the senses just as deeply as the memories of time with those he loved.  “That on the banks of this delightful stream/We stood together; and that I, so long/A worshiper of Nature, hither came /Unwearied in that service; rather say/With warmer love-oh! With far deeper zeal/Of holier love….these steep woods and lofty cliffs/And this green pastoral landscape, were to me/More dear, both for themselves and for thy sake!”

 

  Although Wordsworth’s poetry can be studied, the literary world will never know why the author chose poetry as his medium.  Did Wordsworth use the recollection of fond memories to access peace and happiness? It seems that he did, after all, don’t most people reflect on better times, the more pleasant aspects of their life to lift them when life becomes too difficult? The poet writes, “While with an eye made quiet by the power/Of harmony, and the deep power of joy/We see into the life of things.”  Tintern Abbey in its entirety seems to be a work of peaceful reprieve.

 

Wordsworth was equally influenced by both his friendship with Samuel Coleridge and his mixed feelings about the French Revolution.  Mark Van Doren writes that it was during this decade that Wordsworth wrote the best of his poems, and that afterward, mysteriously the inspiration was gone.  Of all the romantic poets, Wordsworth’s words and peaceful recollections still have the power to sway. Even in modern times, his poetry is read and enjoyed.

 

 And, YES, though I first discovered his poetry in our little library at SHS, he continues to be my favored poet!

“To Travel is to Live.” Hans Christian Andersen

6A8E2A01-94A9-455B-9AB2-1F160C02DCD4In Out of Africa, after listening to a beautifully spun story, Denys Finch Hatton asks Baroness Karen von Blixen if she has traveled to the places in her tale. Regretfully, she admits that until her purchase of a farm in the Ngong Hills of Africa, she had been only an armchair traveler.

Wandering exploration and travel by armchair are two very different things. But we cannot label one as better than the other for science proves that escape within something enjoyed, especially books, brings a great relief of stress, moving one beyond the day-to-day components of life.

But oh, the joy of real travel! There is something glorious in the discovery of a new place –and there is the knowledge that when one returns home, they are somehow changed for the better. Just as a student’s growth is visible to the knowing eye of the teacher when they return from summer vacation, others notice the change in a friend who returns from sabbatical.

Travel gives birth to new thoughts, and reflections on memories perhaps otherwise forgotten; moreover it fosters creativity. In seeing more, we become more; in experiencing another culture, our souls stretch and grow. Moving beyond the steadfastness of our present lives, we once again recognize that we are more than our profession, more than a parent, someone’s child, or sibling.

The images we retain from a meaningful trip are colored by the emotions we experience when traveling. While we cannot possibly recollect it all in great detail, we bring back with us snippets, souvenirs of sorts –be it an appreciated object, purchased or found; notes on a napkin or postcard; photographs.

Then when the time between travels grows too long, we seek out the objects that they might transplant us to that special place again.

Go~ make plans, fill the heart with anticipation!

 

*****

ELIZABETH MOZLEY

@ElizabethMozley  &  @CentipedeYAread

And on Facebook – We Share the Same Sky, author Elizabeth Mozley

We Share the Same Sky, a memoir

https://www.amazon.com/Elizabeth-Mozley/e/B00J7KJWIU

 

Author Expo ~Gadsden, Alabama

Put something on the calendar, and I’m sure not to do it. But, isn’t life about stepping out of your comfort zone? Being somewhat reclusive and shy (although those who know me well roll their eyes and mumble just beneath their breath “whatever”) it is often difficult for me to participate in an event where I am expected to be verbally outgoing and open.

Writing it is one thing, doing it another.
The quiet folks know what I mean. You are just so “exposed” when you are right there in front of others….talking.  What I didn’t anticipate from this social engagement was – well, any of what actually took place. Allow me to explain.

This year, Gadsden Public Library hosted the Alabama Library Association Annual Convention. Being a hometown girl, I was graciously extended an invitation. This in itself garnered a smile. But, the idea of an Author Expo which is hosting 32 Alabama authors, companies from across the country -who graciously sponsor the authors -and more than 500 librarians, was enough to make me hesitate and then take two steps back. That is a lot of people! And yet, I was pleasantly surprised to realize that deep down, I absolutely couldn’t wait to attend. After all, I would be surrounded by people like me –writers and readers who eat, breathe and live for a love of words!

 

Arriving early, I had to smirk and acknowledge a blonde moment; I eyed the jam packed parking lots and wondered how many blocks I’d be walking in heels, carrying a heavy box of books. So THAT is why it was so important for my assistant to meet me when I arrived! I noted the city’s kelly green trolley car shuttling folks to and from the event.

 

Gadsden was going all-out and it filled me with a deep sense of pride!

 

This year’s theme for the convention is “Libraries ImPOSSIBLE” and it is improbable that anyone will leave displeased. There are a list of events sure to draw a crowd and delight everyone who attends. For example, the Reception Block Party downtown on Broad Street with live jazz and a performance of Imperial Opa. Tuesday night, out-of-towners joined the regulars for our Literary Pub Crawl where those who gather get to sample the amazing beer at Back 40 Beer Company and discuss a particular literary great before strolling over to Blackstone Pub & Eatery to continue the fun.

 

Then today, Wednesday, filled with bestseller speakers and the Books-A-Million Author Expo at 210 at the Tracks.  I arrive and find the place packed. The vibe is amazing –beautiful bare bulbs sneak down from the blacked-out high ceiling. Music of the Etowah Youth Orchestra fills the air and already I can smell something spicy and….could it be chocolate wafting from the back reception area? Harp & Clover, Gadsden’s newest, trendiest –swankiest even – Irish Pub, located within walking distance over on Court Street, has catered the event. I also notice that folks are meandering about with food in hand; several sipping wine and a few others cold beer. My assistant, Megan, and I introduce ourselves to our sponsor, set up books, arrange seating and head to the reception area to fill a plate and find a table.

 

Neither of us it seems knew exactly what to expect. I’d wondered at the necessity of an assistant but after we sat and caught up on senior life at SHS (my old alma mater as well) a swarm of readers buzzed about, and time began to fly. We would pause, talk, laugh and share stories with these women –some from Alabama, others from across the country -before they moved on to another author; then another swarm would alight. And so flowed the events of the night.

 

I found in collecting my things afterward that, while I was light on books to carry back to the car, I was filled with stories, their stories. I couldn’t help but smile. It was a wonderful thing to have a woman point out something in particular that spoke to her from the memoir and then share with me a story of her own. Other than the Russian from NY and our friendly Spaniard, Tito, who would wander over between signings to discuss culture, tradition, family –most of my readers were women and I was delighted because the book was written for US, after all.

 

Just two cobblestone blocks away, I wrap up my evening with a Guinness at Harp & Clover and chat up my dear friend Dee as he moves back and forth through the establishment, deftly working the crowd. Such an exquisite end to a most enjoyable evening. From now on, all of my pub crawls in Gadsden, Alabama will end right here! I recommend the Dubliner, a burger topped with “house-made bacon jam & Cahill’s whiskey infused cheese” and of course the Bread Pudding.

 

*And, I do believe I’ve just claimed a new place to hide away and write…the little niche in the back corner should do nicely.

Thank you –Amanda Jackson and Carol Roark Wright with Gadsden Public Library, and also Megan Potts, my assistant, for a wonderful evening!
Already I’m looking forward to the next Writer’s Expo in Huntsville and Chattanooga. And, Megan, I’m going to hold you to the agreement to go sight-seeing, history hunting and helping with book sales.

The only way to find –is to seek.
Nothing worth having just happens; you have to go looking for it!

image

 

*****

ELIZABETH MOZLEY

@ElizabethMozley  &  @CentipedeYAread

And on Facebook – We Share the Same Sky, author Elizabeth Mozley

We Share the Same Sky, a memoir

https://www.amazon.com/Elizabeth-Mozley/e/B00J7KJWIU

 

 

More than I bargained for ~ Selma, Alabama 2004. Dr. Hardy Jackson & Mrs. Kathryn Tucker Windham, Alabama’s Finest Storytellers

There is a certain thrill that comes in experiencing the unexpected, visiting the unknown.  Perhaps we are born with a yearning to explore new places.  Once fed, the hunger to roam becomes more urgent, as almost unwittingly there is the construction of a new appetite.  I have this appetite.

Although my mantra is any road trip is a good road trip I was not overly intrigued by the idea of visiting Selma, Alabama.  I was, however, motivated by the possibility of any unforeseeable events that may lay in store along the way.

Our little group had agreed to meet up early that Wednesday.  There before the others, I remember parking and looking about, wondering if in fact our vehicles would be the first in any parking lot on JSU’s campus.  Jacksonville seemed eerily silent before sunrise.  Leaning against the car, I sipped my coffee and enjoyed the solitude, knowing it very well could be the only quiet moment of the day.  Admittedly, I was anxious.  This was the first time I’d ever ventured off with a group of folks I did not know and although I fought against it, my mind kept whispering trapped in a car for a long period of time.

One by one they began to arrive.  Quickly I slid in behind our driver for the day –a highly intelligent, unpredictable, fun-loving fellow who also happened to be our Southern History Professor, Dr. Harvey Hardaway Jackson III.  The remaining crew consisted of three female students all of whom I’d already labeled as “talkers”.  For this I was exceedingly grateful as I tend to be overly quiet around folks I don’t know.

Hardy –forgive the informality, but many years have now passed and the friendship is surely sealed, forever tight –Hardy had offered up an open invitation in class that anyone who cared to join him should, as he was scheduled to speak at the Selma Public Library regarding his latest book Inside Alabama: A Personal History of My State.  Dog-eared copy in hand, I was the first to sign up.

Once on the road, we fell naturally into the previous day’s discussion on why it is we Southerners think and act as we do.   I can honestly admit that prior to his classes, I’d never paused to question such things.

Before we knew it we were nearing Montgomery.  Hardy detoured through Lowndesboro, explaining it was “not so much a town as a string of historic buildings”. The 2000 census placed the population at 140.  As we followed the route taken on the Selma to Montgomery march of 1965, he explained that it was just outside of Lowndesboro that Viola Liuzzo, a young civil rights activist from Michigan was chased down by the KKK and shot.  Liuzzo was driving Leroy Moton, who had recently participated in the second march, to the airport.

Hardy eased the car off the road, stopping at an old white church.  It immediately reminded me of the Baptist Church my grandparents had attended when I was a child.  Oh, how many sweltering summers my cousins and I spent in those small back Sunday school classrooms, making crafts, memorizing Bible verses and sweating bullets during Vacation Bible School.

As he parked, Hardy gave us a brief summary on the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, formerly the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church.  Built in 1830, the structure is capped with the dome from the 1820 Alabama Statehouse in Cahaba.cem church

Christian Methodist Episcopal Church ~ Lowndesboro, Alabama

After walking around and taking a few photos, we loaded back up and headed to our next stop.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church was built in 1857 from a popular pattern found in a book by Richard Upjohn.  The Episcopal church in Jacksonville, AL was based on the same plan.   “You usually find Episcopal churches in settlements where wealthy planters from South Carolina and Georgia settled,” he further explained.

e church selmaSt. Paul’s Episcopal Church ~ Lowndesboro, Alabama

Our last stop before making our destination was Sturdivant Hall.  Built in 1852-1856 as a townhouse for Colonel Edward Watts, the Greek Revival neo-classical architecture is breathtakingly beautiful.  Hardy walked us through the house, discussing various objects and artwork.  A woman nearby explained that workers were brought in from Italy to complete the plaster and marble.  Never did she whisper that the house is allegedly haunted by former owner and banker, John Parkman.

st hall selma

Sturdivant Hall, 713 Mabry Street ~  Selma, Alabama

Before leaving, we all gathered in close for a photo.

hardy's girls

With Hardy Jackson at Sturdivant Hall 2004 ~ Selma, Alabama

Selma Public Library

selma public library

 

 

 

By the time we reached Selma Public Library, I already felt as though the trip had been worthwhile.

While Hardy was busy socializing, the girls and I all went our separate ways.  Longing for a quiet moment, I walked around the library admiring the paintings.  From the corner of my eye, I noticed an older lady had come to stand close by.  There was an ease to her that I still cannot describe; she too seemed caught up in the combination of beauty and quiet separateness.

“Sunflowers are the most beautiful flowers, don’t you think?” she asked admiringly, indicating a nearby painting.  I recognized the softness of her Southern drawl.  She noted the difference in mine as well and as we wandered along she inquired as to which part of North Alabama I was from.  She asked if I gardened and we chatted about growing up in the South.  The sound of her voice was lulling, soothing and it was with disappointment that I realized we had arrived in the area where Hardy was to speak.

Although I was looking forward to listening to my professor’s tales of the South, I was disappointed that my time with her had ended.  As we took our places, she slid in beside me and another girl from our group.  I smiled, pleased that she was joining us and realized with a start, I’d not asked her name nor introduced myself.  I happened to look beyond her to my fellow traveler whose eyes were now weirdly wide.  What the hell is she doing, I wondered.  She mouthed Kathryn…Tucker…Windham, nodding at the woman I’d been chatting with.  Suddenly I understood the peculiar expression on her face.  The knowledge was devastating, as if I had been hit full in the chest with a crowbar.

I’d been wandering about, passing the time with my favorite childhood author and had not even known.  Mrs. Windham had surely been saved from much gushing and stammering.

Feeling equally blessed, I sat and listened as Hardy recounted family tales of courage, feuds, Good Ole Boy politics, his daddy’s poutin’ house, Southern chivalry that was not dead, and all the glorious things that had once separated Southern culture from that of the remaining nation.  I listened to Hardy, but could not keep my eyes and thoughts from Mrs. Windham.  Had the chance, lost it, kept running through my mind.

With his talk completed, Hardy walked about shaking hands and hugging necks.  I noted that the majority of the audience was indeed female.  This garnered a well-deserved smirk; smart man, when he caught my eye, he knew exactly what it meant.  Mrs. Windham joined us for a moment before we left and I learned that she and Hardy were ‘cousins-in-law’.

Before heading north, we made one more stop at Old Live Oak Cemetery.  If only the wisteria had been in bloom, large white magnolia blossoms scenting humid air.  Though these were not yet visible, we Southerners knew they were there and could smell them just the same.

“There is glory in the graves” read the inscription on a nearby Confederate monument.  In 1879 Colonial N.H.R. Dawson purchased eighty Live Oaks and eighty Magnolia trees in Mobile, Alabama and had them planted throughout the cemetery.  Spanish moss drapes down from ancient oaks as if trying to enshroud the chivalrous dead; their cannons, still close at hand, aim northward.

live oak cemetery

Live Oak Cemetery ~ Selma, Alabama

I rode to South Alabama with one storyteller, and ended up meeting another.

It was a charmed meeting.  But, as we made the return trip, I couldn’t help but feel that I’d been cheated –I’d have asked about her favorite memories, the foods she longed for when she was with family… With a slow smile I realized exactly why she had skipped the introductions.  Was it not so much more to wander, admire the beauty before us together and speak gently, proudly of our South?

On 231, just north of Rockford, Alabama we passed Sears Chapel Methodist Church.  Hardy slowed the car and we lowered the windows.  I imagine each and every one of us held our breath, thought of Mrs. Windham and her love of ghosts and listened for the baby crying in the road.

 

sears chapel

         Sears Chapel Methodist Church, 1860 ~ just north of Rockford, Alabama

*****

It had indeed been a road trip to remember.  Looking back, I am reminded how quickly a moment can pass and how we do not know the moment for what it is until much later. That trip was a catalyst that sent me down another road; a conglomeration of memorable moments those two years with Hardy have become.  They are firmly cemented as well.  While meeting Mrs. Windham was a true gift, it was the tutelage of Dr. Hardy Jackson that took my life in an unexpected and better direction.

How often the unexpected moments become the focal point, rather than the destination. Sometimes you set out on a jaunt, and bring back a little more than you anticipated.

Thank you, Hardy

hardy

Dr. Harvey Hardaway Jackson III.

Mrs. Kathryn Tucker Windham

Mrs. Windham

  • 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey (1969)
  • Jeffrey’s Latest 13: More Alabama Ghosts ((1987)
  • Jeffrey Introduces Thirteen More Southern Ghosts (1987)
  • Thirteen Georgia Ghosts and Jeffrey (1987)
  • Southern Cooking to Remember (1994)
  • Encounters (1998)
  • Jeffrey’s Favorite 13 Ghost Stories (2004)
  • Alabama, One Brig Front Porch (2007)
  • Spit, Scarey Ann, and Sweat Bees: One Thing Leads to Another (2009)
  • She: The Old Woman Who Took Over My Life (2011)

Mrs. Windham was a reporter for Alabama Journal, The Birmingham News and later the Selma-Times Journal where she won Associated Press awards for photography and writing.

Mrs. Windham also performed her stories on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered and Alabama Public Radio’s Alabama Life.

 Hardy Jackson & Kathryn Windham TuckerHardy and Kathryn

**********

photo of me for blog

*****

ELIZABETH MOZLEY

@ElizabethMozley  &  @CentipedeYAread

And on Facebook – We Share the Same Sky, author Elizabeth Mozley

We Share the Same Sky, a memoir

https://www.amazon.com/Elizabeth-Mozley/e/B00J7KJWIU