Harper Lee (April 28, 1926 – February 19, 2016)

While Alabama, Southerners and the whole world honors the passing of Miss Nelle, author of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, I thought I might share with y’all some photos I shot this month in Monroeville, Alabama, her home town.

All these years driving around and through south Alabama, I finally took the time to stop in the county seat of Monroe County in Monroeville, Alabama. Just north of US84 at the confluence of state roads AL21, AL41 and AL47, caddy cornered from Lee Motor Company and its obligatory Mocking Bird mural, is the typical southern town square and old courthouse.  It is now a part of the Monroe County Heritage Museum, celebrating the literary legacies of Harper Lee, all things Mockingbird and Truman Capote’s childhood connection to Nelle and his local relations.  I had always thought the Mockingbird courthouse scene was shot in the old courthouse, but that is not the case. They were still holding court there when the film was made and were unable to use the location. It was used as a model for the set created for shooting in Hollywood.

Monroeville has also produced two other well known journalists/writers: Mark Childress of ‘Crazy in Alabama’ and ‘One Mississippi’ fame and Pulitzer Prize winning syndicated editorial columnist for the AJC, Cynthia Tucker.  If you find yourself in or near LA (Lower Alabama) and you have a special place in your heart for southern literature, you owe it to yourself to take the time and get off the beaten track and go see Maycomb and the Maycomb County courthouse.

 

Musings from the Darkroom: Life Axioms

Life Axiom: Aging

You know you are getting old when you pause after dropping something and ponder if it is worth the energy and trouble to actually pick up. The debate goes something like this:

Did anyone else see me drop it? If yes, pick it up (without grunting…I may be getting old but I don’t need to publically perpetuate my creaky old-man slovenliness, just yet). If no, where did it fall? Is it easily seen? Is it likely to be picked up by someone else? Does its out-of-place presence add to the mean clutter rating of the surroundings? Do I need it right now? Do I have another one? Is it something of value? What is the opportunity cost of salvage? What is its value relative to the pain and suffering required to bend over?

I don’t know, maybe it’s just a man thing. However, of late, I have noticed an increasing correlation between age, length of self-debate and repossession percentage.

Musings from the Darkroom: The Christmas Tree

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Thought I might share this with you again.  It’s that time of the year.

Getting the tree up and decorated after Thanksgiving signals the beginning of the Christmas season and grants official permission to be excited about all that looking forward to and celebrating Christmas has to offer:  family, friends, fun, food, music, memories, the Savior’s birth and, yes, presents under the tree.  This year has me longing for the Christmas tree outings my father, brother and I made each holiday season.

Not too soon after Thanksgiving, the sight of my father piddling around the workbench under the carport and the rhythmic metallic grating sound of file across the business end of my grandfather’s old Kentucky ax meant the yearly ritual was forthcoming.  Surplus paper mill work gloves, leather chaps, freshly sharpened ax and baling twine were all located and loaded into the family Oldsmobile.

I have no idea why we had a roll of sisal baler twine.  We did not live on a farm.  The only time I recall ever using it was once a year for the Christmas tree.  We didn’t use much but we still had a whole roll.  I would bet my brother’s best clip-on tie that the roll of twine is still somewhere in my father’s workshop.  After packing the trunk, my brother and I would jockey for front seat position on the long bench seat of the 63 Olds.  Eventually, one of us would give up the window and slide to the hump, neither of us ever willing to concede a place in the front. Off into the west Alabama countryside we drove to find the perfect Christmas tree, a cedar tree.

I remember being fully astonished when I realized that Christmas trees could actually be other species besides cedar or, worse yet, store-bought and even aluminum or plastic.  To us, cedar trees were Christmas trees.  This was not by accident.  The regional black belt soil with underlying Selma chalk limestone is littered with cedar trees.  Besides being plentiful, when good Christmas tree height they are the perfect shape, have fairly dense foliage and fill the home with a woodsy-fresh spicy aroma.

In the course of his regular travels to and from work, or on the way to the local air strip, Dad sometimes would have already had his eye on a tree and retrieval was all that was required.  If not, we would drive the back roads searching for an appropriately Christmas shaped tree.  The best trees were always lone trees in a clearing with even growth on all sides, but they were hard to find.

I don’t recall ever wandering onto just any property for a tree, but the truth is that I am not so sure that sometimes that wasn’t the case.  There was a fair amount of timber property owned by the local paper mill to which we presumably had access, especially out by the airport or across the highway by the union hall.   But I am not so sure about the legal status of the trees we harvested north of town across the Black Warrior river bridge on the road past the turnoff to Runaway Branch.   It was certainly tempting after a long search, spotting a particularly nice looking tree with only two or three strands of barbed wire between it and us.

I reckon there is the possibility that some might brand us Christmas tree rustlers.  But really, it’s not like we were stealing cattle or shooting someone else’s turkeys, we were just gettin’ the Christmas tree.  Later on after my brother and I started making the trip on our own, we usually ended up taking trees more legally on railroad right-of-ways.  After they grew to a certain size, the railroad company came through with sprayers to kill them back anyway.  We were simply providing them a more noble ending.

When we were young, Dad wielded the ax.  As we grew he let my brother and finally even me take turns at the year’s honor, always with admonition to not cut off a foot.  Getting to and dragging the tree back through the Alabama brush was a chore.  Dad donned his cowboy boots and chaps for tree hunting trips.  The only things separating my brother and me from the briars were our Sears toughskin jeans and dollar store sneakers.  Toughskin jeans were akin to wearing chaps, at least for the knees.  They were guaranteed hand-me-downs.

We only forgot to wear long sleeves or bring gloves once.  A cedar tree scratches and itches bare skin more than any other evergreen.  The sap sticks to your skin like gummy superglue and leaves a black stain that only time and new skin cells can remove.  But oh, how the smell made the drag back to the car worth all the trouble.  Even the frightful timber, space, timber, space, timber walk back across the old wooden railroad trestle seemed to pass more quickly while dragging the tree.  Long after my brother and I had matured beyond Santa Claus, we still made the yearly pilgrimage to the same set of tracks, talking about life and walking a good country mile or more from the car in search of the right tree.

One of the key features of the 1963 Oldsmobile was the size of the trunk.  No matter how big the tree, we could usually get the bulk of it in the trunk and not have to tie it to the roof, even though we had enough twine to tie a forest to the car.  Once home, the bottom squared up with a hand saw, placed in a bucket of water and leaning against the clothes line, the number one axiom of Christmas tree harvesting again becomes evident.  That is, they grow an extra 2 feet on the drive home.  So, we trim a little more off the bottom, being careful not to mess up the shape.  Even with 10-foot ceilings, it seemed every year the very top would have to be trimmed in order to mount the star.

The above picture on the left was taken when I was 4, the very first Christmas in our new home on Strawberry Street.  The cedar Christmas tree remains bent from being too tall and the star is not yet placed.  Yes, those are strings of popped corn hung like garland on the tree.  That was an old school tradition my mother’s mother always enjoyed.  I recall sitting around the back hall table with my siblings, stringing popcorn and having my grandmother scold me for eating more than I strung.

I was 8 at the time the next picture was taken in 1968.  For some reason we were late getting to the tree that year and Dad proudly showed up one day with a store-bought fur of some sort, shipped down south from some Yankee tree farm.  There’s no telling what he paid for it, but we were like, “Aww, Dad. That’s not a Christmas tree!” It’s the only year I can ever remember not having a cedar tree that we harvested ourselves.

Christmas 1969

I do love that Christmas 1968 picture. The more notable things that make me smile are the pajamas, the old 19 inch black and white TV, the Wilson football, the vintage Easy Bake Oven, my big sister’s curlers, my little sister’s unwavering gaze at Mrs. Beasley, our crew cuts, my brother’s ears and the store-bought Christmas tree.

Enjoy your tree this year and the memories it will bring for years to come.

Merry Christmas.

Book Review: Sweet Music on Moonlight Ridge by Ramey Channell

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I haven’t done a book review on my blog before now.  But one of my followers is a writer and after looking at her site I had to get her book.  Thanks to Amazon, I managed to procure a signed copy, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

It has been said that in the South there is no denial of colorful family characters.  It only matters from which side they come and how best to show them off.  Well, Miss Ramey has opened the door and invited us all in the parlor for a refreshing glass of sweet ice tea while she trots out the best of Eden and Moonlight Ridge for our enjoyment.  I love southern writers, southern characters and southern stories.  Lilly Claire’s had me from the get go and left me wanting more, and so will you.  It just goes to show you, there are still some great southern stories being told.

http://sweetmusiconmoonlightridge.blogspot.com/

 

Anna Humble Williams 1955-2014

The loss of a loved one is always painful. The physical separation cuts deep into our psyche, affecting that part of us solely reserved for the connection we shared with the lost and bears sobering awareness of our own mortality. The continued lack of access is a constant reminder that there are no do-overs, the scoreboard is off and the game is in the books. How we view life most affects our interest in the scoreboard, others’ and our own.

There is, however, a certain hollow, reverberant sadness that echoes the loss of an estranged loved one. Someone loved, but one who chose a life which in the end, there remains only a disappointing void of previous and now permanent loss of opportunity for the gathering of anything other than the few remaining good memories, obscured by a lifetime of un-pleasantries.

How does one look at the aggregate actions of a life at its closing and apply value. Life value is measured on what scale? Human nature is to use a ledger…to keep score.  We all do it. We do it to ourselves.  We do it to others.  We count balls, strikes, hits, runs and errors. We say this was wrong and that was right. We judge. It is much easier to accept the passing of a loved one whose ledger always tallied in the black. The difficulty lies in the accounting of those with a lifetime of withdrawals with little or no appreciation of their debt and its effect on the lives having underwritten egocentric behavior. Their ledger with us now being closed, deeply in the red.

Christians are guilty of continuing to place checkmarks in our mental ledgers about ourselves and others even after accepting Calvary’s negation of any need for the monitoring of someone’s debits or credits. It is in our basal nature. Perhaps it can only be with true unconditional love, the kind of love a parent has for a child or the heavenly father has for his children, that we can see the proper appraisal of a life that on any scale has not measured up. Our judgment will always be short. Only when we completely understand that concept will we ever see the real value of what Jesus did on that cross.

I won’t profess to have all the answers. Frankly, as I’ve grown older, my world has grown much less black and white. However, the one lesson I constantly carry away from the examination and celebration at the loss of friends and family members is that, regardless of what the afterlife may bring, the only reality with which we should concern ourselves is the selfless living of the one we now navigate. At each funeral, it appears more obvious that, at the end, a life invested in others was the worthwhile life and one to be emulated.

The Mockingbird and I Return

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Fall has finally arrived here in Tampa Bay.  The calendar’s change of seasons proved to be rather uneventful with both the pool and air temperatures remaining unaffected, continuing in balmy late-summer fashion.  The only real evidence affirming summer’s dismissal and the hope for prospective seasonal relief is the mockingbird’s return to his customary status as songbird divus.

Daddy always said that mockingbirds didn’t sing during dog days.  In recent years I’ve been paying particular attention to the neighborhood birds and sure enough, by early July each year they stop their enthusiastic melodic recitals and take a break during dog days. I’m really not sure why, but they do. The heat obviously must play a role in their decreased activity, it most assuredly affects mine.  Based on the number of feathers I skim off the pool and his general scruffy appearance, I’m guessing molting has something to do with it as well.  After all, de-clothing remains one of my primary dog days coping mechanisms, among others.  There is some conjecture that dog days also coincides with a non-nesting period.  Who can blame the poor fellow?  If my only choice for nesting didn’t involve air conditioning and was primarily outdoors in the deep southern summer heat, I’d be celibate too.

It is rather uncanny.  For the last three years, our yard bird that prefers the poolside foxtail palm and the neighbor’s bird that sings from atop the magnolia tree outside our bedroom window resumed their vigorous vocalizations either on or within one day of the autumnal equinox.  Regardless of the lack of any overt environmental clue that suggests impending seasonal change, the mockingbird has finally emerged from his dog days funk this year, and so have I.

I hope you will forgive me, but I haven’t been a very good blogger or blog follower these past few months.  Blame it on whatever I will, dog days, the heat, the rain, work, molting, or just life, I took some time for myself.  Oh, I’ve been using the camera pretty much as always but I just haven’t felt like or taken the time to edit, crop, write or post much.

It all started the second week of January when my already ailing father took ill and was hospitalized for what turned out to be the final time.  He fought a good battle, but the end of his life caught up with him in April.  Truth is I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.  I insisted on preparing and delivering his eulogy mostly because I felt someone that really knew the man should honor him, not some preacher with shallow, albeit well intended platitudes.  It was rather cathartic.  However, moving on with daily life without someone’s physical presence is indeed a different matter altogether.  I imagine I’ll be working on this one for a while.

One of the lessons in death is that the cycle of life continues, regardless of how we feel.  Within a week of the funeral, I attended my eldest daughter’s high school graduation.  After having experienced some difficult life changes, though still finishing with honors, she needed a change.  I moved her home to Florida with me the day after graduation.  We had a wonderful summer living together for an extended period for the first time in several years since her mother moved her and her sister to Louisiana.  She was able to gain a new perspective on life through the summer and managed to get her head in a better place for the start of her next chapter in life, college.  The cycle of life continues.

To top it all off, the love of my life has agreed to marry me.  We are making plans to wed in an intimate ceremony this December when all of our families are together for the holidays.  It is a magically special thing to find someone that loves you simply for who you are.  I am so happy to say that at this stage in my life I was able to find that person that I can respect and love for the remainder of my life.  I’m just happy that she finally agreed to make an honest man out of me.  The cycle of life continues.

Thoughts of dad are never far, especially now.  Fortunately, he did meet and got to know and love my bride long before his cognitive abilities failed.  He was, however, not without opinion regarding weddings.  Amongst all the family and both my brother and nephew’s multiple attempts, he attended more weddings than he wished.  Sometime in recent history, my nephew announced the possibility of yet another matrimonial event, to which Dad replied, “I’d rather be in hell with my back broke.”

So, here we are the mockingbird and I.  You’re stuck with us for a while.  I will resist the urge to climb the tree outside your window and yelp.  I’ll humbly be content to digitally insinuate myself into your life at your convenience, for now.

Saban headed to Vatican

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(photo – The Birmingham News)

Vatican City (@humbledpie.wordpress) – Reports of unrest within the Catholic Church’s College of Cardinals over the current leadership’s direction have resulted in the calling of a secret conclave.  In a move rarely seen in the 2000 year history of the papacy, though not without historical precedent, the College of Cardinals has reversed their decision on current leader, Pope Francis.  Last evening’s conclave was brought to a close early this morning as a cloud of crimson smoke signaled the replacement of the Argentinean Friar with the unanimously elected American collegiate football coach, Nick Saban.

The church is no stranger to controversy.  Recently, it has been increasingly under fire for previous actions and in constant defense of what many view as archaic doctrine influenced political positions while both attendance and contributions are in decline and its detractors on the rise.  According to sources within the Vatican, church leaders from around the globe are calling for new leadership to help reposition and maneuver the church through these difficult economic, political and spiritual times.  Apparently, in a rather savvy business move, the CoC were willing to buck centuries of internal promotion and for the first time considered external candidates for their new CEP, chief executive pontiff.

“We are in dire need of leadership that is able to mount an aggressive defensive strategy, reinforcing our current positions, and has a history of successfully venturing into hostile territory with offensive schemes capable of putting up the numbers required to fill the pews on Saturday night,” said Cardinal Timothy Dolan,  Archbishop of New York.  He continued, “After a thorough and exhaustive search, fellow church leaders and I have come to the conclusion that the person most qualified to conceive and implement a victorious game plan for the 21st century Catholic Church is Coach Saban.”

“We feel very blessed to have him in the Vatican.  It was difficult to convince him to grant us an audience in the first place.  He evidently already had a pretty good job and we look forward to including his many followers in the Catholic Church of tomorrow.  Frankly, we are all excited about the talents Coach brings to the church’s sidelines as Christ’s Vicar on earth.  This all takes me back to the heady days of Pope Urban II and defending the Holy Lands against Saracen subjugation.”

When asked about the obvious implications of a non-celibate ascension on the future inclusion of married men and even women in the priesthood, Cardinal Dolan responded, “Well…American football is a male dominated sport.”

During a brief news conference after the conclave, Coach Saban handled the select group of reporters much like his previous encounters with the American sports media.  His answers were short on content and long on implied context.  “We’re not going to talk about what we’re going to accomplish, we’re going to talk about how we’re going to do it.”  “The scoreboard has nothing to do with the process. Each possession you look across at the opponent and commit yourself to dominate that person. It’s about individuals dominating the individuals they’re playing against. If you can do this…if you can focus on the one possession and wipe out the distractions…then you will be satisfied with the result.”  When asked about the influence Jesus had on his career, Coach replied, “Jesus didn’t talk about winning championships, he talked about being a champion.”  Coach Saban did say that he had not chosen his official church name, but that he unofficially hoped that his 1.2 billion member team would call him ‘Pope Coach.’