Coming home

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“Where we love is home –

home that our feet may leave

but not our hearts.”

                                                                                                                             Oliver Wendell Holmes

I think we are all born looking for home.   As I spun my teen-age dreams of fame and fortune in far away places, I did not know that I was longing for home.   I believed I belonged elsewhere.  We were poor country people.   The prospect of living what I perceived to be the limited, suffocating lives of my mother and my grandmother sent me into a panic.   And so I set about to reinvent myself.

After many years,  a lot of hard work and a great deal more good luck,  I had attained a great education, a prestigious career, a great family, and a good zip code.  I believed I had recreated myself.   I even changed my name.  I seldom thought about that little country girl  desperate to escape her origins.  But just below the surface of consciousness,  vague discontent simmered; a little voice struggled to be heard.   I read self-help books,  learned yoga, practiced transcendental meditation,  smoked too much and drank too much,  but the most I could ever get was temporary relief.   At the next challenge, the next life crises,  the scaffolding of my latest self-improvement program would collapse and once again, I would be left with the old familiar unease, a small voice whispering “Listen! Listen to me!”

Then  one day,  I turned on the TV to distract me from boring household chores and by chance a movie was playing about a family eerily like the one of my childhood.   In that imaginary family, I saw for the first time the beauty of my own, their courage, resilience, strength, and goodness.  I began to sob uncontrollably.  Feelings suppressed for years rose to the surface and I could no longer avoid the truth.   I  no longer wanted to avoid the truth.   Painful as it was, I had to see that  I had confused “home” with material things, comfort and appearances,  overlooking or refusing to see,  the  strengths of my heritage; the breathtaking beauty of my birthplace, the creativity and resourcefulness of my people.   I had  ignored the circumstances of place and time that constrained them, the everyday challenges of daily life that limited their choices beyond anything I ever knew or could imagine.  Sadly, I had discounted the enduring values  that were my inheritance.  Ironically, I was the one living the limited life!   I believed my heritage was an impediment to my pursuit of the “good life,” a view in which, sadly, I was aided by popular culture.  And to some extent it might have been true.  But oh,  how much easier  life might have been if only I had had the courage to be all that I am, to apply the wisdom instilled in me from birth as well as that I had learned  to life’s problems.  It was as though I had spent my whole life stubbornly hopping on one foot instead of walking.

Some people seen to know, but I had to learn that heritage cannot be denied.   It is the soil from which we spring.  It is never perfect soil.  It will require tilling and weeding. But we cannot escape it. It is who we are. We can only choose to be nourished and grow from it or to pull ourselves out by the roots and wither.

And so I have cone  home.   With open eyes, an open heart and a passion to embrace my birthplace, to learn the stories of my  foremothers and to tell them before they are lost in the dust of history. I owe them that and so much more.

The Cameo Project

 

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Many of you have shared with me stories of inspiring women in your lives that shatter the stereotypes of the “Southern Woman.”   Beautiful, capable, and strong women, funny,  eccentric, sometimes a little crazy, and in every size, shape and color.  Such great stories!  And I know there are so many more out there and  I want everyone to hear them!    So, I’m inviting you to be part of my blog by joining the Cameo Project.

Here’s how it works.  Email a one-page double-spaced story about an important Southern Woman in your life to me at sanderlmc@icloud.com, along with a one or two sentence profile of yourself.   I will post them exactly as you send them, so please make sure they are  proofread for spelling,  grammar, and accuracy of facts.    Accompanying pictures must be in the public domain or be something you own.

Submission of your story, profile statement and image serves as your permission for me to post them on my website.  however,  you will retain all copyright to your work.

The Sew and Sew’s

IMG_1517That’s what they call themselves.  Of course they do.

They might admit,  if they got to know you, that it’s a little trick we use to behave in a manner likely to meet resistance.  Admit we’re fixin to cause a fuss, but in a good way.  We’re coloring outside the lines here,  (we’re “so and so’s” );  you’re going to have to do without us for an entire day every week.  No cooking, no cleaning, no taxi…but hey, it’s for a good cause; we’re sewing.   Confusing, huh.  But who can argue with it?  And there  are several of us, so if you are a disgruntled husband, employer, kid, or relative who wants our attention, you’re not alone.  Get over it!

They meet once a week to sew for local hospitals, have “dinner” together and just talk, but mostly to sew.  And they are prolific.  Blankets, caps, pillows, aprons, smocks, quilts,.. whatever hospitals request. There is an assembly line of cutters, sewers,  finishers.  Patterns are “pieced” to conserve fabric, and leftovers bigger than a 4″ square are made into quilts.  Quilt blocks are fashioned from pages of expired phone books.  No one is paid, rewarded or recruited.  Fabric is donated…or sometimes someone finds a sale.  These are women with busy lives; families, jobs;  all the time demands  we all have.  And yet here they are,  every Thursday,  all day.  And every month, boxes of finished products are loaded into the trunk of an ancient Lincoln and distributed to hospitals and nursing homes.

Of course, the idea is not new.  Women have gathered to quilt and sew for centuries.  As children, my cousins and I played under the quilt frame in my grandmother’s living room.  I remember how excited we were  to watch the frame holding the growing quilt lowered from the ceiling.  For a wonderful afternoon, we were allowed to play here in our private “fort”,  bordered by black lace-up brogans and long gingham dresses,  accompanied by the chatter of soft voices, the tinkle of ice in sweet tea glasses, the crackle and hiss of logs burning in the fireplace, the occasional chair scraping on the hardwood floor.   We knew something important, something special was happening.  We didn’t know what; we just wanted to be there.

These were not quilts for display, they were for warmth against the cold winter nights. They weren’t from designer fabrics, but from scraps,  worn out clothing or flour sacks.  (And yes, flour really did come in cotton sacks; I had dresses made from them..)  Everyone worked on all the quilts and the finished products were shared by all.  By the winter there would be enough for all the families.  But it wasn’t about just making quilts;  it was about sharing.  Sharing news, joys, sorrows,  hopes,  home remedies, recipes, prayers.  Always prayers.  Especially during the war times.  There was no Google, no health insurance, no Dr. Phil or Oprah, no psychiatrist; all they had was each other.  It had to be enough.

But those were different days. These ladies don’t need quilts for warmth. They really don’t need quilts at all.  These women have traveled, held jobs outside the home,  attended college.  The tangible needs met by their grandmothers’ sewing circles are now met in other ways.   Social media provides instant communication with family and friends.  Thanks to immunizations and antibiotics,  devastating diseases have been eradicated by vaccines and antibiotics.  On the surface, the sewing circle would appear to have outlived its usefulness.  Yet it persists, and if anything, is growing.

I suspect this is because the sewing circle feeds the soul with the spirit of community,  and I think this  was what I sensed as a child.  I think we hunger and always have, for the sense of belonging and contribution that comes from spending time with  neighbors; from cheerfully responding to the needs of others,  giving without thought of return.  In our fast-paced,  egocentric  society,  I think we feel the need for community more than ever.  It’s certainly  true for me and I am truly grateful to these ladies and thousands of other like them for preserving this beautiful tradition.

.A little disclaimer here; I know these ladies.  I grew up in this community; our grandmothers were friends and relatives.  And as wonderful as they are, they are not unique.   There are sewing circles in church basements,  community centers and private homes everywhere, quietly continuing the traditions of the sewing circle.    And I suspect if you asked any one of them why she does this, you would be met with a blank stare, and possibly a seat at a sewing machine.

So the next time the newscast gets you down, your kid scews up Again!,  someone loses a job, or you’re just having a bad hair day,  maybe look up a sewing group.  Might just mend your soul.  God bless’m.

Follow That Bird

Heron in flight

Yesterday, driving home, to my surprise, suddenly a beautiful white heron swept down just in front of my windshield, flew ahead down the busy street for a few miles, then lifted slowly and was gone. It was an incredible experience.  I was nowhere near water, and I guess they do fly into the middle of cites, but it’s certainly a first for me.   At that  time, I was feeling a little lost, and it seemed to be saying, just keep going, follow me.  So I did.

A beautiful reminder of  how important it is to  to take care of and be taken care of nature’s creatures.

Juanita Agan

 

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In weekly newspaper columns for the last 15 years of her life, Juanita Agan left us a priceless history of  northwest Louisiana. *  It is not a history likely to be cited in PhD theses,  but rather an honest, unpretentious account of her life as she remembered it.   She was born  in 1923 in the midst of the Great Depression and lived through World War II and the civil unrest of the 60s.  She shares with great fondness memories of people and places she loved, but she does not spare us the harsh realities of life in those times.

Juanita Murphy was born in 1923 on the eve of the Great Depression.  Her father died when she was three leaving  her mother Louannie as sole provider for the family.   Following scarce to non-existent jobs in those days,  they lived a nomadic life,  moving, often abruptly, from town to town.   Juanita attended as many as five different schools in a single year.   A true child of  the Depression, the trauma of those days never left her.  “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without, ”  was a favorite slogan.  Ever a lady, she was gentle about it, but her writing reveals her frustration that those of us in the  more fortunate post-war generations had little understanding of the hardships  her generation overcame.

Her face revealed her gentle nature, but her determined gaze and  set of her jaw are those of a true survivor, one who has weathered life’s storms and come out on the other end with grace.   She is truly a role model for us all.

I can’t say it better, so here is a link to a column she wrote about her mother.  Appropriate for Mothers Day, it is a story of love and sacrifice for a child.  http://bit.ly/1sBVVzt

You can read more at the Minden Press-Hearld under their “Life” section.  http://press-herald.com

 

 

 

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