Friday, August 29, 2008

Checking in on the "What do to with my life?" question

Let's see...since last I've posted: I've shucked one non-profit commitment (Airport Board) for another (Co-Chairing the Paducah School of Art Fund drive with John); have been shamed into a website (appropriately so) which I started off like gangbusters with but now am procrastinating on the last few pages; found ways to kill enormous amounts of time on Facebook (friend me, please!) and Linked-in because it feels like I'm doing something; and, am taking a drawing class Mondays and Wednesdays at the art school on Broadway. I actually feel like my brain is being pried open and knowledge is being shoved in during the drawing class. I was horribly afraid of the "old dog, no new tricks" issue cropping up.

So, no closer to the big looming question, what do I want to do with the rest of my life?, but no further away either.

JAW and I had a good trip to Switzerland courtesy of Wachovia and added days to tour Provence. I had a cheese course there that was so good I burst into tears upon completion. I want to eat in France every day.

So, four months to go to figure out the question of the year. Don't know if it will happen or not. Suggestions for figuring it out would be greatly appreciated.

Monday, July 7, 2008

It was worth it for this picture

My OLDER brother, Bradley (everyone else calls him "Brad," but I like the nasally sound of Bra-ad-lee in a little sister kind of voice) and I took an amazing adventure together over Father's Day weekend.

My parents were estranged from their families most of my brother's and my lives. Therefore, we didn't know much about the Reeses or Larsens. Throughout the passing of both of my parents I made a connection with my cousin Pat, and we've intermittently kept in touch via email. Pat is about 15 years older than me - the oldest cousin in our generation - and has been a family historian and genealogist for 40+ years. Brad and I decided we need to know more about the Reese side of our family and spent about 24 hours in Asheville, North Carolina learning more in that time about our roots than our respective 45 and 46 years on earth.

For the first time in my live I visited graves of family members. Pat shared all of her "documentation" that she has collected including government records, family photos, and stories that have been written down. We toured the church my parents were married in and had an incredible flashback walking through Hendersonville, North Carolina's "Curb Market" where my mother and I would escape to when visiting family. She would buy me corn shuck dolls and herself dried flowers. It smelled and looked exactly the same, and yes, I bought a corn shuck doll.

The trip was worth it for one picture, however. I gasped as I was clawing through a pile of my Dad's documentation folder. I had never seen my parents so beautiful or so happy. My guess is this was taken either on their honeymoon or right after getting engaged.

Mom and Dad died relatively young in excruciating ways to watch. Avid smokers for all of their lives, images of respirators, oxygen tanks, wheelchairs, nursing homes and hospice are the legacies I had in my head after their deaths in May 2005 and May 2006. While trying to care for them from afar, I spent almost 2 years burning up the roads between Knoxville, TN and Paducah dealing with issues no one should have to deal with. At one point a doctor actually said to me on the phone, "well, if your Dad is not any better when I get back from vacation in 10 days, we'll have to talk about unplugging stuff." Nice.

I can't explain how that crap flew out of the window when I held this picture in my hand. Pat scanned it and sent it a few days after our visit. I immediately emailed to family friends who, too, were amazed. I think they look like movie stars. Many have commented that my Dad looked like George Clooney.

I am just thankful they look so young and in love.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Mamoo Got the Cardboard Box

One of the enduring stories inmy life is about the death of my 80+ grandmother who we called Mamoo. Mamoo was not a nice person. She had four sons the youngest of whom was my father. (My dad is on the left, Mamoo, then Uncle Pat. In the front left is Uncle Tommy and Uncle Billy in the middle.)

All her adult life Mamoo recounted the story of how she and Bean, my grandfather, fell in love and eloped because they knew her family would not bless the marriage. Mamoo, it seemed, had a couple of years of teacher's college in the early 1920's and lived in the big white house on the hill. Bean's father was the town drunk of Hendersonville, North Carolina and my father learned how to cuss from his grandfather in the pool hall. Bean was a mechanic with a sixth grade education.

Mamoo and Bean ran off and married returning to her unbelievably distraught parents. I think she even used the terms "weeping and wailing" describing them on the doorstep. Miraculously, seven months later, the largest premature baby ever born in Hendersonville, NC came into the world with Mamoo and Bean as the parents. A whopping 9 pounder was my Uncle Billy, who was "sickly" the rest of his life from being a preemie.

When my mother and father were courting, Mamoo recounted the story at dinner one evening. Mom got in the car later and poked Daddy in the ribs chuckling at the bravado. He had never figured it out until that moment.

For years prior to her death Mamoo harangued my father about being cremated and buried next to Bean. She was obsessed with this. (Of course, she was obsessed with herself. I remember we got a postcard one time about a huge bowel movement she had. I still can see her scratchy little handwriting saying, "I don't know where it came from, I eat like a bird!") For a small southern town, cremation was weird. When she died, her wish was honored.

The funeral home was packed and for the first time in my 20 something year old life I met relatives I had never even heard about. I remember walking in and being disturbed by two things. One, no one, NO ONE, shed a tear. And, two, sitting in plain view on the funeral director's desk was a brown grocery bag with "Alyce P. Reese" and her death date on it. I was sure it was Mamoo.

We filed past the office with the bag and proceeded to the cemetery. The chairs were lined up under the tent and the AstroTurf was laid out. There in the middle of the AstroTurf was a small white cardboard box, about the size of a baby's shoebox. All the little old ladies filed into the seats and glowered at my parents. Yes, we were going to bury Mamoo in a cardboard box.

Mom and I were standing on the sidelines. I whispered, "surely we're not going to bury Mamoo in a cardboard box?" A bad liar, she replied, "um, no, um, there's a nicer box inside the cardboard box. In a minute the funeral director will come take the nice box out." Never happened. The service started and no one could take their eyes off of the what Mamoo had been reduced to.

Then Mom and I had a "Chuckles the Clown - Mary Tyler Moore" moment. (At the time, Saturday Night Live had a skit that our family loved. Someone imitating Lillian Carter explained what happened raising Jimmy and Billy and why they turned out so differently. It went something along the lines of 'one Christmas, Jimmy got the brand new shiny red bicycle, and Billy, well he got the cardboard box. Jimmy got to eat all the chocolate covered cherries, and Billy, well he got the cardboard box.' etc. etc. etc. I found the transcript of the skit here: SNL SKIT)

About halfway through the service I leaned over to my Mom and said, "well, Mamoo got the cardboard box." We lost it and received even more glowers from the little old ladies.

The paper bag held her "personal effects" which I discovered when I put my hand into it in the back of the car on the way home to Knoxville. No jewelry - a ratty old nightgown and some dentures have created an "ick factor" I carry with me to this day...

Monday, February 4, 2008

I hate my dreams

I don't think I've ever had "a good dream" while sleeping. I don't necessarily have bad dreams; but most are like a Fellini Film. Crazy wild chase scenes, odd characters from my past, complicated situations, mostly looking for something or somebody, and, occasionally, swimming. Very, very strange.

Now, my waking dreams, I like. One day owning a very cool rubber stamp and art supply store in Lower Town, watching the kids find careers they are passionate about, retiring early and spending the last 20 - 30 years of my life traveling and living in Napa, CA, building a new facility for the Boys and Girls Club, and losing 50+ pounds! Those dreams I like to dream.

The nighttime dreams make me worry about my psyche. What did I do to deserve such unrest???

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Uncle Pat and the KKK story

In the middle of the torrential rains and tornado sirens last week, I was sitting in my car waiting to make a mad dash into Kroger when my cell phone rang. On the other end of the line (odd that we still say "line." I guess it's really the other end of the beam?) was the executive assistant to the publisher of the Fayetteville Observer newspaper who was looking for a relative of my Uncle Pat Reese on behalf of the Lumbee Indian Tribe in North Carolina. She told me that 50 years ago, on January 18, 1958, Uncle Pat and a photographer covered a story about a skirmish between the Lumbees and the KKK which was favorable to the Lumbees. The story got national attention in times when standing up to the KKK could be dangerous to one's health and livelihood.

Sidebar about Uncle Pat. My father grew up the youngest of four boys in Hendersonville, North Carolina. Uncle Pat was the third of the four and was supposed to be "Patricia," much to my grandmother's disappointment. To say Pat was a wild man would be a gross understatement. We grew up hearing tales of him womanizing, playing pranks, becoming and recovering from being an alcoholic and drug addict, and knew that he was a renowned "newspaperman" in Fayetteville as a crime reporter. The earliest memory I have of him is the stress he caused my grandmother when he and an extremely large black man named "Smitty" showed up at my family's vacation rental in Hilton Head, SC in the early 1960's. Mamoo was not pleased - but plenty of time to post about her later.

Pat cleaned up his act in 1957 when he started at the paper and became an icon in Fayetteville. He's profiled in a book the publisher wrote about the community, he started the drug and alcohol centers in Fayetteville, acted in or directed more than 100 plays, and broke many famous crime stories. Remember "Fatal Vision" about the army officer who blamed hippies for murdering his family? Uncle Pat reported that story and never believed Jeffery MacDonald's innocence.
Pat's obituary is pretty fascinating He even played a "mourner" in Night of the Living Dead.

Back to the award. I passed my cousin Patty's contact information to the very nice person at the Observer as Patty lives in North Carolina. Once contacted, she started an email buzz among the cousins. None of us had ever heard about the story. I turned into an obsessed history detective for a week and found out that in 1958 the KKK were very active in the area and advertised a rally in the heart of the Lumbee territory in order to scare them out of the county. I've found various versions, but the long and the short of it is Uncle Pat and a photographer embedded themselves in with the Lumbee. Expecting 1,000 or more, the KKK only had 50+/- members show up while 100's of the Lumbee encircled them. There's a great report of a speech being giving on the back of a truck with a generator lighting up a single bulb. Out of the dark a shotgun blew the bulb and the Lumbee descended upon the Klan. The KKK ran like scared little girls and never bothered them again.

Uncle Pat and the photographer caught a bit of buckshot and stopped by the emergency room on the way to the newsroom to file their story. Great stuff!

The Lumbee have been celebrating the event every year for the past 50 and Friday made my Uncle Pat an honorary member of the tribe. My cousin attended the ceremony and accepted the award on behalf of the family (it's kinda nice that a "Pat Reese" received the award). I can't wait for the pictures.

And a special report this week: with great photos.

I am in love with the story. Who could make something like this up?