Monday, March 30, 2009

Graham Pilcher

An Incredible and Loving Influence

* * *
A couple of days ago, I received a touching comment on my post about one of my favorite authors, Rosamunde Pilcher. The comment was from Pilcher's granddaughter, Alice. She wrote to tell me her grandfather, Graham Pilcher, had passed away.
Following is an excerpt:
He was an amazing and loving man who lived to the grand age of 92. I love what you have written about her and the way she writes - she is exactly the same in real life and when she writes us grandchildren letters, which she does weekly, they are written in exactly the same style as her books. I am constantly being told about her walks with the doggies or how she bumped into old mrs so and so down at the shop or a lunch party she has had and how ghastly old so and so is....!!

What we grandchildren get (and 2 great grandchildren now!) are pictures as well to illustrate her letters! She is a wonderful grandmother and together with my grandfather they have been the most incredible and loving influence in my life.

My deepest sympathy and prayers go out to Graham Pilcher's family tonight. And especially Rosamunde, who lost her soul mate of 62 years.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Horton is Appalled

Horton's Choice
* * *
Bill and I bought a new TV a few days ago. It didn't fit into our old entertainment center, so we decided to buy a new one.
At the first store we visited, we were met by a dignified young man dressed in a pale blue sports coat, dark blue tie, crisp white shirt and a pair of sharply-creased trousers. If I had gotten closer, I'm sure I would have been able to see my face in his shoes.
"Hello," he said, looking us up and down.
The minute I looked him in the face I was speechless; he looked like the clone of a man I worked with in Chicago. His name was Horton.
"Hello," I said, "How're you?"
"Could I help you with something?" he said, flicking a piece of lint from his tie.
"Yes," I said, "We're looking for a small entertainment center."
Horton turned on his shining shoes and took off walking so fast that my face nearly hit his back when he suddenly stopped in front of a huge, ornate entertainment center. (It resembled the one in the above picture.)
He turned, sweeping his hand in a circle as if introducing us to Queen Elizabeth II. "This one is lovely," he said, "One of our best."
Bill frowned, looking up. "Good lord, that's big!"
"And too ornate," I said.
"It's only $4,999," Horton said, giving us a smirk, "Down from $5,650."
"We don't need one that big," I said.
"Or that expensive," said Bill.
Horton's smirk changed to a frown. He spun on his shining shoes and hurried to the next room. "Well, we have this one," he said, stopping at another, "It's not as nice as our top-of-the-line, but some people like it."
It was a little smaller, but too big for what we wanted. It was beautiful; a rich walnut, with multiple shelves, doors. And bookcases on either side.
"That's too big and ornate, too," I said, "But either of those would be a perfect fit for the Biltmore mansion."
Horton was appalled. He straightened his tie and took a deep breath. "Well, what about that one?" he said, pointing to a stand not much bigger than an end table.
"Oh, no," I said, "After what we've seen, that poor little thing looks so sad!"
Bill and I began laughing hysterically, but Horton never cracked a smile. As we walked out the door, he didn't even tell us to have a good day.
Note: We decided to keep our old one. We just knocked a few shelves out, and the new TV fits just fine. Horton would be appalled, though; it's not top-of-the-line.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Precious Gifts

I spent yesterday with three generations: Mother, Pitty Pat. And Dax.
Dax is Pitty's eight-month-old great-grandson. And what a joy he is, always smiling, gazing at everyone and everything around him, learning what this great big world is all about.
As I watched him play with his "Granny Pat," I was once again reminded what precious gifts children are.

God made the world a precious gift
More dear and pure than gold,
With little toes to play with
And tiny hands to hold.
Then brought into the sunshine,
A precious baby boy,
All wrapped up in a rainbow
Of wonder, hopes and joy.

~Author Unknown~

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Ancestral Voices

Although it's almost over, Happy St. Patrick's Day, dear readers!

Since Irish blood runs through my veins, I've always had a deep interest in Ireland, the people, their music, literature. And their painful history.
Most of my ancestors came to this country much earlier, but a few came during the potato famine. And one of them was my great-great grandfather, James Michael Kane (Keane), of County Cork.
James Kane was in his early twenties when he arrived in America on June 13, 1849. He was a tall man, I've been told, with red hair, bright blue eyes and a booming voice. Two brothers came with him, but one returned to Ireland and the other stayed in New York City.
He never saw them or the rest of his family again.
I have often wished I could have been around to ask him questions. How did he feel when he first glimpsed America? Was he scared, excited? Did he feel out of place? How did he deal with the discrimination?
James Kane was a tailor and served in the King's Guard, but he became a stone mason after arriving in America. And in working around the country he ended up in Kentucky, where he met Elizabeth Kirby of Bowling Green (in this picture). They got married and eventually moved to Carlisle County, Kentucky, where they bought a farm and raised twelve children.
Those are the facts. But I wish I knew more, the thoughts, dreams of the man who refused to accept things as they were, the man who left his home country, everyone he loved, all that was familiar.
Did he miss his family, grieve for what he had known, what he had left behind? Did he see his mother's face in his dreams, weep for his family, familiar surroundings? His homeland?
Since childhood, my dream was to visit Ireland. And in 1997, Mother, Pitty and I were fortunate enough to do just that. We spent two weeks in London with my brother, Tony, and sister-in-law, Kim. And one weekend we flew to the Emerald Isle.
The minute my feet touched the ground, I felt I had come home. Everything seemed familiar...the landscapes, the houses, the stone on either side of the roads we traveled. And especially the Irish people. I saw myself and my family in their blue, green and hazel eyes, their reddish hair. Even their laughter was ours.
Every place we went, I wondered if my great-great grandfather had been there. I felt his presence all around us.
Or was it my imagination?
We had a wonderful time, staying in a lovely bed & breakfast, kissing the Blarney Stone, dining in little pubs. (Don't let anyone tell you the Irish don't serve delicious food; I know better!)
On the day we left the Emerald Isle, we breakfasted in a small restaurant near the airport, and as I gazed at the sea of smiling faces, Irish ballads drifting from the jukebox, I didn't want to leave. I was homesick. But how could I be homesick before I left? For a place I had never seen until a few days before?
Through me, lass. You're feeling it through me.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Cooties & Oddballs

Years ago, when Carroll and I lived in the Chicago suburb of Brookfield, we often took long walks through the neighborhood on warm summer evenings. And on one such walk, we got acquainted with two couples from Tennessee.

Danny and his wife, Dot, and Danny's brother and sister-in-law, Earl and Lois, all lived together in a large ranch-style home nearby. Their four-year-old nephew, Phillip, the son of another brother, also lived with them.

Phillip was a peculiar little boy with a wise-beyond-his-years look and huge ears that stuck straight out. He strolled along with them, hands in his pockets, muttering something about "cooties." I tried to talk to him, but he always ignored me.

Our new friends loved company; their house was always full of people, most of whom were from Tennessee. They invited us over just about every weekend. And one Saturday night we accepted.

When we arrived, the party had already begun; some swigging beer, others picking their guitars and everyone singing. They knew just about every country song, and I was soon singing along with the group. The songs I most remember are He’ll Have to Go and Wings of a Dove.

Dot was the life of the party, laughing--mostly at herself--and talking in a shrill southern voice. She resembled Loretta Lynn, and even talked like her. (Believe it or not, there was also a girl there who resembled Minnie Pearl.)

Phillip was skulking here and there, giving everyone the evil eye, when all of a sudden he grabbed a cigarette butt from an ashtray and picked up one of the men’s lighters.

"Dot!" I said, "Phillip’s got a cigarette!"

Oh, for heaven sakes," Dot said, "I thought I’d broke him of that. I don’t know why on earth they gave him that first cigarette.”

Philip, still holding the lighter, smirked at me. And then he popped the butt back into his mouth and disappeared into the crowd.

Dot went back to her preparations, rushing to the stove to turn up the flame on the boiling wieners, which had already lost their color and curled into fetal positions. She served them on white bread, topped with scoops of firecracker-hot chili, whole-kernel corn on the side. For dessert, we had Ding Dongs.

Phillip ate three.

"Phillip, you're gonna make yourself sick if you don't quit eatin' them things," Danny said.

Phillip picked up another, unwrapped it, and took a big bite. "Cooties and oddballs," he muttered, chewing his Ding Dong and looking at me, "Cooties and oddballs all over the place."

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Man in Black

I just heard my favorite Johnny Cash song, Sunday Morning Coming Down, and it again reminded me that he is one of the greats of country music.
But I haven’t always felt that way. When I first began hearing his songs on the radio, I was a rock & roll fan; country music was for hillbillies. I was not impressed.
That all changed the summer I turned sixteen.

Pitty and I were listening to the radio and washing dishes, jitterbugging to Little Richard and snapping each other with dish towels, when we were interrupted by the DJ. “I’m gonna spin a record that just came out, and it’s sung by Johnny Cash,” he said, “Here we go, guys and gals, Ballad of a Teenage Queen!"

We were still horsing around and giggling when a deep, soulful voice stopped me in my tracks. It was different, and magical (for a dreamy 16-year-old like me, anyway). I was hooked.

I soon learned all the words to the song, singing along with Johnny day after day that summer, and by the time it hit number one on the charts, I was the teenage queen. When I saw him on television he was staring straight at me, those dark eyes piercing mine; each word he sang, he was singing to me. I had always been attracted to boys who were dark and mysterious, boys who appeared as if they had something to hide. Well, Johnny Cash was a man, and he looked as if he had a lot to hide!

Pitty and I saved our allowances and purchased the record at the Ben Franklin in Bardwell. Maw Maw Wilson had bought a portable record player to play gospel records, and one afternoon we talked her into letting us play Ballad of a Teenage Queen. We played it over and over, cranking it up as loud as it would go, singing along at the top of our lungs. Maw Maw was hard of hearing, but even she couldn’t take that. “Brenda! Patsy! Could y’all turn that down? They can hear it all the way to Georgie’s house!”

Fast-forward a decade or so. During those years I was caught up in the Beadles, Simon & Garfunckel, the Motown sound. Although I had long ago gotten over my school-girl crush, I still played Johnny’s records. Suzanne loved Walk the Line and often sang along, twirling around and around the living room, clapping her tiny hands to the beat of the Tennessee Three.

When Johnny’s prime time television show debuted, we never missed it. He always ended each show with a religious song, and the year I lost both of my grandmothers I sobbed through Precious Memories. After I lost two of my brothers two years apart, both of whom were musicians and loved to sing Daddy Sang Bass, Johnny sang that very song one night when I was numb with grief. It was salve to my wounded soul

Shortly thereafter, we drove to the University of Illinois in Champaign to see Johnny in concert. In person, he looked bigger than life. “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash,” he said, and the audience of thousands went wild. Standing straight and tall in black, his guitar slung low on his back, he was a formidable--almost evangelical--presence. And he put on a wonderful show.

In the late seventies, Johnny recorded Kris Kristofferson's Sunday Morning Coming Down. And it is still one of my all-time favorites. Although his lesser-known, I Still Miss Someone, comes close.

In May, 2003, as Bill and I were vacationing in Nashville, I turned on the TV in our motel room. There was Johnny Cash at the funeral of his beloved wife. Johnny looked 95 instead of 71, and, as always, dressed in black. Stone-faced and dignified, he sat ramrod straight in his wheelchair, obviously wishing he could join June. And a few months later, on September 12, he did.
Johnny Cash's songs, with their stark reality, truth and compassion, will never cease to touch me, and I think many people will be listening to them for years and years to come.
I know I will.

All words and pictures © 2008 Brenda G. Wooley