Tree Climbing At Fifty & More From The American South

How ya’ll doing? Oops, look at that … here I am home less than a week and I am slipping back into my Georgia roots. John always teases me about how quickly I go back to sounding like a southern girl, (not that there’s anything wrong with it) when I’ve been on the phone with someone from home.

It’s most obvious after a chat with my stepmom Cullene, who hails from Alabama. My friends in the UK almost always try out their version of ‘ya’ll’ if they hear me use it in conversation which I tolerate with southern manners that would make my father proud.

I meant to post long before now having left you last Friday with the hopeful promise of another chapter of ‘ Dear Madame.’ I don’t know what I was thinking making a promise like that knowing what I had waiting for me at home. Let me show you what I’ve been doing instead of writing.

Working On My House

Fence Painting

If you haven’t painted a picket fence you are missing an experience. Actually, I wish I’d missed it too. After I debated about the merit of buying a power sprayer to paint it, I pulled out my paint roller and brushes and did it the old-fashioned way. Where is Tom Sawyer when you need him?

It may look like a small bit of fence, but after painting both sides it did not feel so small. Also, see the tree at the corner … that what I use when I’m climbing on the roof to knock the leaves off twice a year. I actually have a ladder, but prefer to climb the tree to get on the roof.

John didn’t want me to do it when he was with me at Christmas and even though I’ve done it for over ten years, I didn’t do it then as I did not want to worry him. When I went up this time, I had someone snap a few photos of my technique to share. I always like to have someone around to dial 911 should I fall in the process. So far my rock climbing skills have helped me get up every time.

Tree Climbing

Elizabeth Harper-Tree Climbing To Clean The Roof (Photo by C Taylor)

I like to go up barefoot as I feel more secure on the roof without shoes. The tree is a bit scratchy on bare feet, but I do it anyway.

Elizabeth Harper-Tree Climbing, Almost On The Roof (Photo by C Taylor)

This photo is so not pretty, but I’m sharing it so you can see how I made it to roof level.

Porch Painting

After I cleaned the roof, I took everything off the porch and painted the porch green including the trim on the columns. The tree I climbed in the photos above is behind the lattice screen at the far end.

Tree & Shrub Cutting

Once I had completed painting the fence and the porch, I trimmed the bushes and the trees and raked and bagged everything along with tying up some sticks for pickup.

Leaf Raking & Bagging

I moved on to work in the backyard raking and weeding and repainted the white garage doors and trim too. (You can’t see it in this photo)

Furniture Painting

While I was painting the garage doors, I gave my shabby chic porch furniture a bit a of paint, but not too much or else it wouldn’t look slightly shabby. I did some other things such as bagging some rubbish and leaves that were not mine, but I could see from the porch under the window of the green house next door.

Detective Work

I got a phone number from someone next door in order to call and complain about their yard man turning such a public space into a compost pile. The rubbish was mixed in with the leaves and revealed beer cans, a glass bottle, a couple of plastic cups, one metal fork and some plastic bags, none of which will degrade in my lifetime.

A few more small jobs and I was finished with my housework and on my way back to Cullene’s house. I was thrilled to accomplish so much and amazed how quickly I got it all done, but looking at my photos now, I regret not taking a moment to enjoy the porch swing.

Promise Making

Tomorrow’s Friday and you know what that means … I’m talking about the next chapter of ‘Dear Madame,’ not the royal wedding although I’ll be watching. Will you?

In The Air With ‘Dear Madame’

By the time many of you read this, I’ll be at the London airport traveling on a day I hadn’t realized was Good Friday when I booked the tickets last year. Some say that next to the American Thanksgiving, this Christian holiday is right up there with packed airports and wigged out travelers. I hope I won’t be one of them.

I’m off to the US this morning where I’ll be for about four weeks. I’m looking forward to spending time with my family and friends and getting a few things done that require more muscle than the fork to mouth routine that always takes center stage when reuniting with people you love. People back home have no idea how good words like barbeque and fried chicken tacos sound to a Georgia girl living so far away from such tasty treats.

While I’m in the air, I’ll be working the next Chapter of ‘Dear Madame’ and should have it live for you later this evening. Talk about waiting until the last minute … I thought I’d have it done before leaving for London yesterday, but I was still packing yesterday morning even with planning ahead and my writing got pushed aside.

Send me some good thoughts today to speed me home safely and I’ll reconnect with you when I’m back in Atlanta.

Facebook, A Virtual Social Circle

Wylly Folk St John House (date unknown)

Some of you may remember from earlier posts that my great-aunt, Wylly Folk St John was a children’s book author who enjoyed a good bit of success with the mysteries she wrote primarily during the 60s and 70s. I’ve mentioned how she also wrote for years for the Atlanta Journal and Constitution and how she gave the very best presents on birthdays and at Christmas, but I don’t think I’ve shared much about the house she lived in with her husband, my uncle Tom.

I believe my sister Margaret sent me this old photo of their home. I’m not sure when it was taken, but it looked much better than this when I was growing up. I have some very clear memories of their home in Social Circle. With a name as inviting as one suggesting a gathering of friends, I sometimes wonder if it was the name that drew her to the small town or its proximity to Atlanta where she worked part-time for the newspaper.

Pictures of this house take me back and I can almost hear the rustle of her clothing as she moved though its rooms and the unique sound of her voice calling to me to join her in the kitchen. Lyrical with an edginess that’s difficult to explain, her southern born Savannah raised roots were very apparent, but didn’t dominant her accent as much as the rise and fall of her speech patterns. Writing this now, I wonder if there’s a recording somewhere of her speaking.

My cousin Jenny sent me a friend suggestion on Facebook this morning for the woman who is living in Aunt Wylly’s old house now with her husband. Say what you will about Facebook and privacy issues, but being able to meet the people even if only virtually through the internet is a gift with surprise deliveries like the one I received this morning.

Jenny said they’ve done a wonderful job restoring the house and have some great stories about the process. It shouldn’t be hard to guess who I’ll be sending a message to when I have a minute. You know I’m keen to hear stories in general, but to learn more about things they may have discovered in the renovation process, I can’t even begin to tell you how excited that makes me!

Jenny is the blond child in the photo below. She and her sister Becky were flower girls at my mother and father’s wedding on a December day during the last few weeks of 1959. We haven’t seen each other for years due to geographic distance and opportunity and our communication has been limited to sporadic letters and Christmas cards until recently when we renewed our contact through Facebook earlier this year.

Becky & Jenny - Flower Girls - 1959

Writing this post, I thought about how Facebook is a sort of virtual social circle and while not the Social Circle that Aunt Wylly called home; Jenny’s link and friend suggestion have created an opportunity for me to meet someone I might never have met otherwise.

What do you think about social networking sites like Facebook, do you love or hate them and have they brought you any new friends or reunited you with old ones you didn’t expect to ever see again?

200-Year-Old Love Letter Inspires Online Serial Novel

Graham Simpson (Internet Photo-Gloucestershire News)

Ideas can come from many places when I’m writing. Often it’s a product of my desire to know the rest of a news story and if there isn’t one available, my mind will certainly fill in the missing pieces. Such is the case with the serial novel I’m writing and posting on Gifts Of The Journey. If you missed the first two chapters, you can catch up by clicking here and here.

I’ll be writing a new ‘chapter ‘ each week, none of which will be too long to read in a few minutes online so don’t let the word chapter put you off. Even though I am having a good time with it and can see that some of you are too, I would love to see how much of an audience we can build together.

With that in mind, I’m hoping you will take a few minutes to send it friends, blog about it yourself, or post a link on your social networking sites especially as we are only two chapters in and it’s still easy to catch up.

I may not be Charles Dickens, (‘King’of the serial novel) but I do have an intriguing tale evolving in my head that I think you and possibly your friends will enjoy. Rest assured, I’m writing a chapter a week so it could go off in directions that haven’t occurred to me yet and every chapter is a bit of a surprise to me as well.

One thing I found about writing in this style is that once you put it out there, you can’t go back and change an event if you change your mind. You have to find a way to write your way out if you get stuck in the history of what you’ve written. It’s already happened to me a time or two and I’ve decided that I am loving the challenge this involves.

Background

Some of you may have noticed a similarity in ‘ Dear Madame’ to a recent news story and I want to share a bit of the details so you have an idea as to why some aspects of my story may seem familiar.

Earlier this year, an upholsterer in a shop in Tewkesbury, England found a 200-year-old love letter stuffed deep in an armchair purchased in France. After posting the letter on Facebook to have help in translating it, the romantic missive created a bit of media attention here in the UK when the BBC picked up the story. No one knows more than what is written in the letter and like many others, I wondered what the rest of the story might be.

Not long ago, I wrote a post challenging my readers to leave a comment so I might use one to write a mini short story. I found myself stopping at a point when there was still a story to be told although the story direction had not yet revealed itself to me.

Some of my readers seemed to enjoy it as much as I did and wished to hear more of the ‘Dear Madame ‘ storyline and it was while writing the next chapter that the idea came to me and the story of the two lovers and lost letter began to take shape.

Of course, the love letter is not the whole of the story, but only one part that will reveal itself as the story progresses. I hope you come back and see where it goes each week and thanks for sharing it with others in your world.

‘Dear Madame’ Chapter 2

Welcome to the next installment of ‘Dear Madame.’ If you haven’t read the first chapter, you may want have a look here, so Chapter 2 will make more sense. Thanks for your interest and please feel free to forward it on to friends and family who might enjoy the developing story line and if you use Twitter or Facebook, you can easily pass it on through the links to both when you click on comment. I’ll have Chapter 3 ready on Friday so don’t forget to come back and see what Patricia does next. 

Chapter 2

Patricia shifted slightly to dislodge a box of protein bars that had wedged under her left hip when she fell, but she made no move to get up from the nest of groceries and mail scattered on the floor. As she scanned the letter she held in her right hand, an expression more smirk than smile played at the corners of her mouth looking like a bit like a facial twitch instead of the beginnings of a true smile.

Aging had a way of doing that to you; taking a perfectly cute habit and turning it into something that looked as if you might need an ongoing Botox regimen to keep it from becoming a bigger issue later on.

A quick look at the letter carried her past the puzzling formality of the words,‘Dear Madame,’ but not before wondering who could be sending her mother mail of this sort. She half expected to see a request for her mother’s banking details and the offer to split someone’s unclaimed riches by the Lord High ruler of a fictitious country and was surprised by what followed next.

‘My dear Mrs. Reynolds, I hope you will forgive the play on words with my ‘Dear Madame’ greeting especially in light of the French subject matter of our correspondence. I was so excited to receive your letter that even now, I can hardly control my school boyish enthusiasm.

Never could I have imagined that there might be more letters connected to the one discovered in Tewkesbury earlier this year, but from first appearances it does seem as there is more of a story waiting to be told. I cannot be completely certain without a proper translation and authentication, but the copy of the letter you sent me does appear to have been written by the author of the 200-year-old love letter found by the upholsterer a few months ago, who has been making headlines around the world since.

Its popularity comes as no surprise to me as it seems the world in general is starved for news that has love at the center of its story versus the predominantly bad updates on foreign conflicts and collapsing financial markets.

There is so much we need to talk about Mrs Reynolds, and I am anxious to learn more about how this ‘box’ of letters you describe came to be in your possession. May I recommend that you fly to London with the letters in hand so we might continue our conversation over a cup of tea and a bite of lunch.

With your permission, I would also like to have someone there to review the letters while we discuss what to do next. Of course, I am happy to cover all the expenses related to your journey and look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.

I would also like to apologize for the tardiness of my response to your enquiry. Without going into the details of my staffing woes, I hope you will accept my assurances that all future correspondence will be at lightening speed.

Not using the internet is certainly understandable and if letter writing works best for you, I will do all I can to accommodate. It does seem more fitting in a way that we use pen and paper when discussing the possible future of your box of letters and the story I hope they will reveal.

May I ask if we could speak on the phone regarding your travel arrangements and decide how soon I might persuade you to fly. If a trip to London is out of the question, perhaps you will allow me to meet with you somewhere closer to your home. My phone numbers are listed below and I am available anytime you wish to call. We are five hours ahead of you, but please call when it suits you best.’

Patricia realized her jaw had dropped and her mouth was hanging wide open right about the time she was finishing the letter. She checked the date on the envelope and tried to work backwards to see when her mother could have mailed a letter to London and wondered how she had even found this man?

She couldn’t imagine what box of letters he was referring to and she had only the vaguest memory of hearing some talk of an old love letter that had been found in a chair somewhere in England.

What had her mother been up to before she died, Patricia thought, as she considered what to do next.

4/16/07 – A VT Mom Remembers

Virginia Tech 4.17.07

We are strong, and brave, and innocent, and unafraid. We are better than we think and not quite what we want to be. We are alive to the imaginations and the possibilities. We will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears and through all our sadness.

~ Nikki Giovanni

I woke this morning to see this quote on my daughter Miranda’s Facebook page along with a few words of her own noting the significance of this day for her and for many associated with Virginia Tech and its community. She has shared with me some of the private ways she remembers the 32 who died that day and I’m grateful that she has found a way to honor their memory in a way that hopefully gives her some sense of peace.

I say hopefully, and peace, with more optimism than I really feel because I’m not sure how one who has been in the middle of something so violent and unexplainable can ever really let go of some of the questions that have no answers.

This is not the first time I’ve written about this day and likely won’t be the last. I know the events of 4.16.07 have had a lasting impact on my daughter and I worry as a mother does about the silent sorrows that remain hers alone, the thoughts she chooses not share.

My father died 20 years ago, long before Miranda could know him well enough to have any memory of him and for the last few weeks I have been hearing something he wrote. It’s been in my head on an endless repeat cycle almost in the way you hear a tune that won’t go away and I’ve been puzzled as to why until just this minute as I was considering my daughter and how inadequate I’ve felt over the last four years watching her deal with her memories on her own.

People we love reach out to us in their own time or sometimes not at all and if it’s your child, watching from the sidelines can be a difficult position to occupy. I tend to be emotional and very open with my feelings, giving in easily to my tears now after years of holding back. Miranda is more stoic and more like my dad, tender-hearted for sure but private and contained. It’s interesting that I’d not noticed that similarity until today and it comforts me to feel as if my dad were reaching out in a way with some paternal advice reminding me of who I once was and how our positions are now reversed.

The words that have been with me the last few weeks seem perfect in this moment and the meaning clear as I struggle with my own memories and search for ways to support a daughter who seems fine on her own. I am quoting my father when I say to my daughter as he once quietly said to me, ” I am here as you need me. “

And I add to his words my own, saying, ” In this, and in all things, I am here as you need me “

Working On “Dear Madame”

Elizabeth Harper - Outside London Apple Store (photo by sister Margaret)

After taking a poll last week to determine which day most of my readers would like to read more of Dear Madame, I decided to go with Friday. It was suggested most often as the best day to read a serial novel installment and it was my first choice too. I’m working on Chapter 2 now and will have it up later today. If you haven’t read the first chapter, you may want have a look here, so this next one makes sense.

Update: Sorry to miss my deadline, but I’ve had some issues that have kept me from my desk much of today leaving the installment unfinished. Look for the update on Sunday and I promise to deliver.