Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Thank You Momma, Thank You Kris...

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Last night’s show was phenomenal. As my husband and I sat in the grungy, darkened theater, for a moment I felt like I was back at the Biograph, or the Jade Elephant in Richmond.

Kris Kristofferson stood on stage with just a guitar, his hamonica and two bottles of blue gatorade. He sang song after song after song, and with each lyric my heart melted a little more. I heard songs I hadn’t heard in years, and the memories flooded me and I couldn’t stop myself from weeping. Weeping with a bittersweet sadness.

And not even sadness, really, more of a wistfulness that wanted Momma there beside me to share it. Except she was there, hovering, and in the smiles of the people around me. She was laughing every time I heard a beer bottle “clink” and she was singing all the lyrics through all the voices of the people there: Bobbi McGee, Sunday Mornin’ Coming Down, you know them, right? Hell, she was there in the yells and whoops of the lady-fans in the front row. I bet if she had been there physically, she would have hurled her panties on stage! I laughed to think it.

Even beyond wanting Momma there, I wished my whole family could have shared this with us. The love and trust and honesty and just simple, good music I felt in that room was something I wanted to wrap and give everyone I care about. It was beautiful and good in a way so few things are.

One song in particular got to me, “This Old Road”. As Kris sang, I pictured Mom running down Woodman Road, putting mile after mile behind her, running and running and running. I think I will always think of her in this way now.

This Old Road – Kris Kristofferson
Look at that old photograph
Is it really you
Smiling like a baby full of dreams
Smiling ain't so easy now
Some are coming true
Nothing's simple as it seems

But I guess you count your blessings with the problems
That you're dealing with today
Like the changing of the seasons
Ain't you come a long way (Ain't you come a long way)
Ain't you come a long way down
This old road

Looking at a looking glass
Running out of time
On a face you used to know
Traces of a future lost
In between the lines
One more rainbow for the road

Thinking of the faces in the windows
That you passed along the way
Or the last thing you believed in
Ain't you come long way (Ain't you come a long way)
Ain't you come a long way down
This old road

Say you tried to chase the sun down
And you let it slip away
And the holy night is falling
Ain't you come long way (Ain't you come a long way)
Ain't you come a long way down
This old road

Look at that old photograph
Is it really you

Thank you Momma, for being with me, at least for a little while, I felt you there, and thank you Kris for bringing her back. I’ll never forget it. God bless you both.

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Sunday, March 26, 2006


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Five years ago tomorrow, in the blue-grey dawn of March 27, 2001, I watched my mother die. Some days it feels like it never happened, other days I feel like I’ve lived an entire lifetime since she left us.

I wrote a eulogy for her, and delivering it is still the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do. Talking in halting tones, clinging to my sister, not fully comprehending what was going on.

I’m still not fully prepared to write about that night, but I find myself five years later a lot better equipped to deal with a world without her. I’ve been reading Orson Scott Card’s Speaker For The Dead. Ironically, I picked it up just a week ago, and I agree with him when he says that we tend to recreate the person’s life to suit ourselves after the person has gone. I can see that. I probably didn’t have as great a relationship with Momma as I would like to believe. Hell, that’s what I held onto to deal with my grief. I’ve probably ascribed attributes to her that she didn’t necessarily have. Or maybe she had them, but just not as strongly as I remember.

Memory is a squirrley thing. It changes all the time, you can’t ever pin it down. Things that I will never, ever forget my sister can’t recall ever happening. Things she insists Momma did I just won’t ever believe. She could NEVER, in my mind been that stiff, that unyielding, that judgemental. But in my more honest moments I realize she probably was. Most mothers have those moments. Some only have those moments.

I want to paint her life as her “Speaker” in rose-colored sunset colors, but she had her dark side too. She could be extremely unyielding and judgemental, particularly about the choices I made with my early adulthood. We fought, screaming insults at each other, even throwing things. She also had her own demons, something we tend to forget when “speaking” of and about a person we love so much after they’re gone.

But God, I miss her. I find myself imagining the relationship we could have had as two adult women, because we did and do enjoy so many of the same things. We have a relationship now, but it’s ethereal. I talk and she listens. I hear that judgemental voice sometimes too, but these days it doesn’t bother me. I’m grateful she’s listening.

I still think we fought so much because we were so much alike. I imagine her in heaven sitting in a beach chair sipping on a huge margarita, eating chips and salsa, and howling with laughter down at me as I try to control a class of 30 over-hormoned 8th graders. She always told me she couldn’t wait until I had children of my own. Now I have 100. Touché Momma. Touché.

She ran marathons. She loved the beach and working on her tan. She loved to cook exotic foods, and if she’d had the money she would have traveled the world. Momma loved dancing, drinking, partying, and music. The Allman Brothers, The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Cream, Deep Purple, Stevie Wonder, Al Green, Teddy Pendergrass, Barry White and Jerry Butler and Tammy Terrell are just some of her favorites. Rod Stewart was a god to her. Her album collection stretched from one end of the dining room to the other, taking up four huge bookcases.

To this day if I ever hear “You Wear It Well” or “Maggie Mae” by Rod Stewart I think of how she used to dance around the kitchen in her Dr. Scholl sandals, halter top, with her black hair piled in a floppy bun on top of her head and her huge Cher-style gold hoops swinging. Or maybe she never did this. But in my mind she does. She was always cooking, always singing, always dancing. In my best memories she is.

These days I try to believe that in everything I do, I act as a vessel for her. She is spirit now, but I’m still body and spirit. If I can live my life without regret, to the fullest, if I can live my life vigorously, then maybe she can hitch a ride along with me. So when I’m singing at the top of my lungs in the car to “Blue Sky” by the Allman Brothers, she’s right there in the backseat smiling, or she’s in me, in my heart, and she can feel the singing, the hope, the joy. I want to be that for her. A way for her to keep living. If not through memories, then through me and the memories I continue to make.

My husband and I are going to see Kris Kristofferson tomorrow night at the Rex Theater. He was another of her favorites, and I know as I sip my whiskey and listen to him sing, she’ll be there, somewhere in the crowd. And I hope that I can continue to act as her “Speaker” and not only pay tribute, but be honest, because I would want the same.

And one day a long time from now, I can join her in that margarita and chips, and we’ll howl together at all the funny fights we had, all the silly things we used to do that seemed so important. All those times we wouldn’t give an inch because it was so damn important to be “right” rather than just giving each other a big hug. And maybe someone will be down here “speaking” for me. Until then, I’ll do my damndest to speak right, and speak well. She deserves that. Big Love Momma.

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Sunday, March 19, 2006

Copthorne Hotel

I found a "cough" from 11 years ago. Cleaning out boxes, I came across a one-page, much-creased piece of paper with scribbled thoughts. And oddly enough, I think it's good enough to post. Even if it's just so I don't lose this paper to the wind or the trash or something. It's a "cough" from another me, another life, a ghost of my past, and who I was then.


Copthorne Hotel Bar, Glasgow, Scotland
January 11, 1995, 1:45 p.m.

In the Copthorne, must learn to bring my journal everywhere (because I always have free time). The sun filters through high marble-rimmed windows onto businessmen's pens, through their straight hair and across their cursory conversation. Knives and glasses clink politely while waiters hover, trying to appear concerned, really. Smoke dances with the sunlight before flinging itself away carelessly.

A woman in black boots sips a bloody mary from a pub glass, lug-soled and thick, they reveal her rebellion against the plaid and paisley, secretly, dangling under the table like a taunt.

Ties hang straight and hair is clipped like the talk of figures and next month's projections. Mariah screams "Make it happen!" I wonder who really hears (maybe only the waiters).

I wait patiently. Red buses roar pass the icy windows, the sun piercing and brilliant on George Square as it stabs through last year's holiday ornaments (bell, holly, angel).

Everything is neat and prim, even the neon decorating the bar which says nothing more risque than "bar food" and "cocktails". My coffee is dark, strong, and sweet, a Scottish winter night in the arms of my lover. What must he think of me, with all the skeletons around my neck like some bizarre choker. His face does not betray him. His sense of mystery is intact, while mine has long since disintegrated to disarray, a shambles.

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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Lucky Money Candles

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So my husband and I went to Kelly's over the weekend, and they had Lucky Money candles on the table. Those tall glass cylinders with the Native American headdress on the side, lots of "lucky" phrases and filled to the brim with green or blue wax. They were on all the tables, in various colors, red, pink, white, and black to ward off evil spirits. Most had burned down to the nub, which I suppose meant that money, love, luck and lots of happy spirits were floating about this smoky, burgundy vinyl booth-lined bar. Yeah, happy spirits like Jameson's and Jack Daniels. Ha. Ha.

Kelly's is our favorite drink hangout - it has the same vibe as The Village in Richmond, lots of dark wood, dark lighting, cozy. Except the crowd is much older, almost like the people who used to hang at The Village lifted themselves by the scruff of their necks and plunked down in Kelly's Bar and Lounge.

The first thing I thought of as I ordered a vodka gimlet straight up and gazed into the watery blue wax ringed with black soot, the flame dancing about, was Kathryn. She had these in her store. I had sold these more often than I could ever forget, rolling each in old wrapping paper and taping it closed, placing it in a plastic shopping bag so it would make it safely back to whatever dorm room or hole-in-the-wall apartment it was going to. To be burned in hope. Night after night for hope. Or maybe just for light.

It was probably the gimlet, but I began to wax poetic to my husband about Kathryn Harvey. He'd never met her, and that still grinds away at me. I can't get my mind around the fact that he will never know her, her warmth, her laugh. I can try and try to make him understand just how fucking fantastic she was, but all he can do is look at me and listen quietly, shaking his head. He understands, but I can see he doesn't "get" it. You can't really know a person until you actually spend time with them. The stories you tell, no matter how spellbinding or descriptive, can't take the place of actual experience. This realization makes me want to stop writing, to stop trying. It all suddenly seems so pointless. So I order another gimlet. It makes me so sad that he will never know her. Just as my grandmother and my mother died before he could know them.

Like I had another life entirely before I met him, which I suppose I did. I just want him to know who I WAS, as well as who I AM. He's a part of my life, he's a part of me and my experience. I gazed into the blue candle looking for answers, and all it told me in its firey depths was, "Keep writing, you'll figure it out."

p.s. I did find out that Mimi Regelson still operates Exile which I find extraordinarily comforting somehow. As the behemoth of VCU grows around her, she's holding her ground. Big Love Mimi.

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