This Table

tgiving tableThis table. I could call it my table. It is, after all, in my house in my dining room. Calling it my table wouldn’t seem accurate though. It feels more like our table, a title earned after decades of meritorious service. It has hosted celebrations of all sorts: holidays, birthdays, general weekend gatherings, and at least one wedding. The base is worn bare from feet propped against it during countless conversations most often punctuated by coffee and cigarettes.

This table. It was the headquarters of my grandfather, the family patriarch. He sat at this table most of the time, rarely sitting in a comfy chair in the living room as one might expect a grandfather to do. From his throne-like spot he presided over dinners, barked orders for tasks he wanted done, created (and frequently revised) his pallbearer list, and doled out money for birthdays and school clothes. He left this table each day before dawn for work and returned to it each evening for dinner, 365 days a year, until he finally retired. When I think of my grandfather, he is sitting at this table.

This table. It was the site of countless delicious meals lovingly prepared by my grandmother. When I think of the meals eaten here, they blur into one gigantic memory. My favorite meals were fried chicken with rice and gravy, pancakes with syrup and bacon, and seafood fresh from the bay often caught with our own hands. There was always a cacophony of spirited conversation among the tribe: aunts and uncles, friends who might as well have been family, in-laws, outlaws, and my favorites, the cousins. When it was time to sit down, we each wanted to sit next to our grandmother. Wanting to avoid the hurt feelings sure to come, she always said, “I’ll sit across from you so I can see your pretty faces.” It always worked, but she rarely sat down, at least not until everyone else was almost finished. Her place was taking care of people at the table rather than sitting down herself.

This table. It was once adorned in green shamrocks for a St. Patrick’s Day wedding celebration when my grandfather remarried after my grandmother’s death. That joyous occasion brought new aunts, new uncles, new cousins, and of course, a new grandmother. It was a happy time, but I wasn’t sure how to fit someone new into my idea of “grandmother.” I shouldn’t have worried. Once, in the throes of teenage angst, I ran away from home. Sort of. I wasn’t planning on staying gone, and I wasn’t even trying to hide. I just wanted to be someplace else for a little while. It took my mother and my boyfriend about five minutes to figure out where I was, and then they started calling me (remember, no cell phones). I sat at this table with my grandfather in his usual spot, phone ringing, wishing there was just one person who could “get” me. My grandfather thought I was being ridiculous and told me to go home. But New Grandmother… she got it! She yelled at my grandfather, well, at least as close as she ever came to yelling, and told him to let me be. Few people talked back to my grandfather, but she did, at least that day. Which was really all I needed. That and for that incessant ringing to stop. So, I got back in my car and went home assured that at least one person other than myself had at some point been a teenage girl trying to figure it all out.

This table. It has been passed down twice since then, and each passing brings new family, new friends, new conversations, new memories. Like all of us, it shows a little wear and tear: coffee stains, cigarette burns, a scratch or two or more. And as is true for all of us, these nicks and dings just add to its character. It is as much a part of this family as any human person, and in a few days, we will gather again to celebrate. We will celebrate our blessings.  We will celebrate each other.   At this table.


Down the River

down the riverDown the river, we pray for one another.
Down the river, we hold on to our dreams.
Down the river, hard times make us stronger to get by,
And leave this world behind down the river.
Malcolm Holcombe

Current events have me feeling a little like a character in a Dickens novel, surrounded by tragedy and injustice while those who have the capacity to help seem like nothing more than unfeeling caricatures of leadership and strength. From global terrorism and oppression to presidential candidates’ buffoonery, from irresponsible journalism to a religious debate over non-religious coffee cups, I am overwhelmed with the amount of strife at every turn. I wish I had the answers, but of course, I do not.
This weekend, however, I think I got a glimpse of some things that could lead us to the answers. Or maybe they’re just things that can provide respite for a time as we attempt to navigate this chaotic maze of negativity in which we find ourselves. I’ll share it here, and you can take what you need from it.

I went to a wedding.

The bride has been my friend since first grade. In nearly 50 years we have witnessed lots of ups and downs as one would expect. The greatest “down” of all was when she lost her husband to a lengthy, terminal illness. It was the cruelest kind of disease, the kind that ravages the mind and leaves a lingering, failing body. Watching her provide care and advocate for her husband was one of those situations that makes you say things like, “I don’t know how she does it,” or “I could never do that.”
She did do it. She did it well and for a long, long time. Anyone would have understood if she had emerged on the other side tired or bitter or just ready to focus on herself. But after her husband passed away, her heart remained open, as it has always been, to new possibilities, new love, new life.

On Saturday she married again. It was a small wedding as weddings go, but it was grand in many ways. Her three grandsons walked her down the aisle and gave her away. Her granddaughter stood with her in the wedding party. The weather was grand, sunny and warm, on an incredible Texas autumn day. We were reminded, in the words of the apostle Paul, that while many things we value are temporary, three remain: faith, hope, and love. A grand idea for troubled times.

And then I went to a concert.

It wasn’t a big venue event, but a house concert in the home of a friend. Malcolm Holcombe was the artist. I had seen him several times before and heard him, recorded, long before that. Malcolm is a force of nature, someone you must see to truly experience. He is both childlike and ancient, his conversation moving in a direct path from juice to Anita Bryant to black and white TV (“as it should be,” he says) to matters philosophical.

Malcolm plays guitar with his entire body from his furrowed brow to his tapping, stomping feet. His chair moves back and forth like a rocker on the back porch. It is not a rocking chair, but a simple metal folding chair that he balances first on front legs then on back. For much of his time on stage, he is balancing on two chair legs and one of his own, the other three on the way up or on the way down. On the rare occasion that the chair is fully grounded, he is sideways in it, and soon the rocking begins again. He is a teacher’s nightmare, but an audience’s delight.

Holcombe’s rasp suggests years of smoking and drinking, maybe whiskey, maybe sand. Tonight however, he drinks coffee and pineapple juice. His stories and songs make me nostalgic for places and things I have never known. He stares, trancelike, into the audience during an instrumental piece, and I know he has gone somewhere else for a moment. He returns, and eventually ends his show with words that, despite his colorful language, can only be described as a benediction. I feel like I have been to church. Or down the river.

Sing Along

girl, guitar cartoon

We sing acapella in the shower.  We sing along with the radio in the car.  We sing with beautiful instrumental accompaniment at church.  We sing.  We sing to multiply our joys, dispel our fears, and diminish our sadness.  Even people who think they can’t sing, sing!

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t love to sing.  We didn’t have a radio in the car when I was little, but we always sang wherever we went.  Eventually we did have a car with a radio, and when I was old enough I had my own record player and eventually a stereo with a tape deck.  I sang in the choir in elementary school, around the campfire with my Girl Scout troop, and in the youth choir at church.  As an educator I used songs to teach content, from the Preamble to the Constitution to the “be” verbs to prime numbers.  Now I love to sing on the back porch with friends and guitars, and of course, I never stopped singing in the car.    I think the best singing is when a concert audience in a huge sports arena spontaneously sings along.  Under what other circumstance would you ever find tens of thousands of people so connected?

A few weeks ago the acapella group, Pentatonix, released a new album.  My favorite track is called “Sing,” and it’s what prompted me to think about singing today.  Here is my top 10 list of favorite songs for singing along:

John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt – Few things are more satisfying than yelling “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt” at the top of your lungs after singing each verse quieter and quieter and quieter.

If I Had a Hammer (The Hammer Song) – This might be my very favorite song on this list.  There’s just something about the sing-along power of a Pete Seeger protest anthem.

These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ – This was the first song I learned from the radio.  I was only five, but I had a pair of white go-go boots just like Nancy Sinatra.  Are ya ready boots?  Start walkin’!

Karma Chameleon and My Sharona – Okay, I know these are really two songs.  Just consider one a bonus track.  I put them together because they are great sing-alongs for the same reason; the percussive repetition of syllables is just fun!

Deep in the Heart of Texas – Sing the first line of this song any place in Texas or in the presence of any Texan and watch what happens.  In fact, if you ever need to escape the clutches of a Texan, sing this song and be prepared to run when clapping commences.  And it will.  It always does.  Always.

Build Me Up Buttercup – Can’t remember lyrics?  This echo song is a perfect sing-along for you!

Bohemian Rhapsody – We’ve been singing along with BR for 40 years, experiencing every musical genre and a whole host of emotions all in six minutes.  Magnifico!

You Are My Sunshine – My grandmother sang this song to my cousins and me when we were little.  We just sang the chorus, so I was an adult before I realized what a sad song it really is.  I still just sing the chorus.  And maybe the first verse.

We Didn’t Start the Fire – You have to bring your A game to sing along with this one.  I was so determined to learn this song that I wrote down the lyrics by hand hitting the pause button every so often to write.  After I finished, I realized the lyrics were printed in the liner notes.  Now we have the internet, and singing along is so much easier!

Me and Bobby McGee – Whether you prefer Kristofferson or Joplin, singing along to a song about singing along just makes sense, and it makes you feel good.  And, well, feelin’ good is good enough.

You’ll notice this list isn’t numbered.  It was difficult enough to pick only ten.  I’m pretty sure it would take weeks to rank them, and by then, I’d have some new favorites.

Maybe you found yourself singing a line or two as you read this post.  Maybe you have some sing-along favorites of your own.  If so, please share them in the comments so we can all sing along!

A “Selfie” Interview

chin selfieMy October writing challenge has ended, so I thought I’d spend some time reflecting on this month-long adventure.  An interview format made sense to me even though it might seem weird.  Yes, I am talking to myself.  And yes, I am even answering myself.  Please just humor me and resist any urge to call the authorities.  Your willingness to play along is greatly appreciated!

Me: Why did you decide to participate in the Writer’s Digest October Platform Challenge?

Myself: It’s kind of a long story.  Luckily you can read all about it in my first blog post, “Stories.”

Me: Oh, yes, serendipitous emails, stars aligned, etc. Tell us about the writing goals you were able to accomplish during the month.

Myself: The biggest goal was simply to get started, and I did accomplish that.  I have a website, my own domain name (, and a blog.  I am particularly proud that I have been able post consistently.  I was worried I might get busy with other things and drift away from writing blog posts.

I: Don’t get too cocky.  It’s only been four weeks.  Still plenty of time to get distracted by other things.  You know how that goes!

Me (ignoring I): What goals do you still hope to accomplish?

Myself (also ignoring I): I want to increase traffic to my website and blog.  That will take a lot of PR work which is difficult for me.  I’m not a big fan of self-promotion or social media.  Learning to navigate beyond Facebook is quite a challenge.  I also want to spend more time as a participant in the writing community.  There are so many great writers out there, and I know I can learn a lot by interacting with them online and in person.

I: As long as we’re talking about goals, let’s not forget about cleaning out the garage and saving more money.

Myself: We’re talking about writing goals.

I: Hey, goals are goals.  Just sayin’.

Me: Speaking of money, do you think you will eventually make money with your writing?

Myself: I’ve learned that when you do something for money it becomes a “job,” which can often be the opposite of “fun.”  I guess it would be nice to supplement my income with my writing, but it would need to be a happy accident rather than a goal.

I: What?  No money?

Me: I get it.  You want to focus on the joy of writing without the pressure of making it a profitable business.  What was your favorite part of the writing challenge?

Myself: Without question, my favorite part of the challenge was getting feedback from readers.   People have been so positive and encouraging.  Their support has motivated me to keep writing each week and to expand my goals to include new projects.

Me: Please, tell us about these new projects.

Myself: Well, I enjoyed the October challenge so much, I’ve signed up to do another challenge in November.  This one is more about the actual writing rather than building an author platform.  The goal will be to write a nonfiction book in 30 days.

I: Thirty days?  No way!

Me: I have to agree.  One month seems like a very short amount of time.  How will you accomplish such a task?

Myself: To tell you the truth, I’m not really sure.  I’m looking forward to seeing the instructional materials and prompts that will propel me toward a completed first draft.  Revising, editing, and possible publication will happen after the 30 days.  It’s a short book, so that should help.

Me: What is this short book about?

Myself: It’s a holiday book for children and their families.  Stay tuned to the website and social media for more as the project develops.

Me: I can’t wait to hear about your November challenge and to read your new book.  I wish you continued success with your writing projects.  Thank you for sharing your thoughts today.

Myself: It was my pleasure.

I: Thirty days?  No money?  Seriously?