All Shook Up – August 16, 1977

I was sixteen on the date above and the story below tells you what happened to me on that day.

At Fifteen

At fifteen, she sits in the dark making a chair out of the hood of someone’s car. Old and white, it belongs to a boy whose parents wanted a newer model. At least, that’s what she thinks now. At fifteen, she doesn’t drive yet and while cars mean freedom, she’s in no hurry to take the wheel.

It’s as if she knows that when she’s sixteen, she’ll crash her first car driving too fast in the rain. When the police question her, she’ll say she was only going forty because that was speed limit going into the curve. She’ll shrug when he points first to the place where she left the road and then to a group of trees in the distance.

“Those trees are two-thirds the length of a football field from where you first lost control” he’ll say, and then he’ll wait as if he thinks she has a different story for him. “Maybe, I hit the gas pedal instead of the brake…” She’ll offer this up as a potential explanation and hold firm to this possibility.

Her dad and stepmom will both come to the crash site, and after hugs all around, she’ll go home to an ice pack and a place on the couch for ease of observation. She’ll know she was lucky that day.

No seatbelt, airborne in a steel tank of a 69 Ford, she’ll remember the uncontrolled lift off of her body as it slammed forward hitting the glass while struggling to find an opening in the tiny space between the windshield and the broad dash of the old car. She’ll never forget the windshield holding firm as her body left its place behind the wheel or the feel of the impact with the trees that ended the free flight of her first vehicle.

She’ll hear on the news later that day that the King is dead. She’ll think about the crying mass of people at Graceland and wonder about why he died and she didn’t.

But for now she’s only fifteen, sitting on the hood of that old car, caught unaware by an impromptu portrait artist with a Polaroid camera. If she knew, she would be smiling. She’d look directly at the camera and paste on a happy face.

Hiding her questions, her doubt, and her childhood sorrows behind a smiling mask of good teeth and the unlined face of fifteen year old, she’d light up on cue when prompted.

She’ll remember a lot about fifteen, but she won’t remember this night or this picture until it shows up 33 years later in something that will be called an email from a boy who took her on a road trip of hope, at fifteen.

Many thanks to JL for saving an old memory and passing it on.

* This is a repost from October 19, 2008 but seemed timely given the anniversary the death of this man.


Changing The Odds

At the risk of changing the odds, I am going to tell you about a contest that you might find fun to enter. There’s more to win by going over to Vision and Verb that just the great prize they’re giving away. There is a daily combination of words and images sure to make you smile, ponder, or want to share.

In the interest of sharing, I’m sending you over to have a look and hope you will consider entering the contest. You only have a few more days left before the winner is selected so you better be quick about it if you want a chance at the prize I’m hoping has my name on it. My entry is already there and if you are curious … then you can click here to see it.

Two Tickets To Ride

Internet Image For War Horse

You may remember this post back in May when I told you that my sister Margaret was coming for a visit in September. I asked for some suggestions as to what you thought we might enjoy during our week in London and another in Paris. There were lots of great ideas and I’m looking forward to sharing more of what our plans include, but for now I want to tell you about our tickets to see War Horse.

When I was in Atlanta last month my friend David told me he was planning to see it and he was so excited that he had me sit down right then and look at a short video on the production. It looked so amazing that I got excited too and after talking with Margaret I ordered two tickets which arrived today. Take a look at the video on the official War Horse website and let me know what you think.

Don’t let the name stop you … go on have a look.

Walking The Talk – Matching Actions With Words

Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.

~ Henry Van Dyke

The other day when I wrote a bit at the end of this post about sharing a dream you might have or anything else you wished to discuss, I received an email from someone who wrote about her desire to have a dream that motivated her or a hobby or cause that could be as she put it, “close to her heart.”  She went on to say that she thought her fears around financial stability and the American economy might be one of the things keeping her from allowing herself to ” find her dream and pursue it with passion.”

I thought her email was an excellent place to open a conversation around living with passion and going after your dreams despite fears of not having or being enough.

A few years ago my friend Patrice would occasionally watch American Idol (when I begged her to stay and watch it with me) and as she listened to the anguish of those who were not going on to the next round crying and wailing about how, ” Singing was their whole life and all they’d ever wanted, ” Patrice would say in the direction of the television, ” So sing, find places to do it if it’s that important.” Of course this comment opened the door to conversations about singing without public acclaim or financial reward and if it was one’s whole life as the contestants said, was the singing itself the important part or was it the fame and money of an American Idol win?

Listening to her talk out loud to the people on the program created a perfect opportunity for me to consider my own dreams. I was working a day job where I was well paid for my time, but I was always dreaming of a writing life. During my time off I was generally brain tired and complained a lot of creative fatigue, but I was also wasting time on a variety of things like my American Idol nights. Most importantly, I was not getting any writing done other than scribbling story ideas on bits of paper or spinning out marketing ideas for my job.

Patrice’s comments made me think about whether it was writing or being read that was most important in creating the life I wanted as a writer and storyteller. I think deep down we know what our are dreams are even if it’s just a tiny seed of something we’ve tucked away thinking that we don’t have time for it now because we have to earn a living, feed the children, clean the house, walk the dog, and anything else you wish to put here ________.

While money and security are important so is the chance to live fully and I don’t believe that you need to give up one for the other. You do have to make time for it somewhere and that’s where most of us fall short. Some folks seem to be better at managing it all. John Grisham used get up and write for a few hours before work and I frequently read about published authors who write whole books with babies in their laps.

I will confess that I have not been as disciplined in the past as I could have been with regard to my writing. I tend to spend too much time on research and other distractions and I am just now understanding the need to commit to a firm schedule of uninterrupted writing time. I don’t think I could do it with a baby in my lap and at this stage of my life, I am glad I don’t have to, but I do need to stop doing things that keep me from having total focus on finishing the stories in my head.

I would write whether someone paid me or not and blogging has been a good starting point providing a balance for me between writing for myself and being read. That said, a bit of financial success from writing would be good to have and is certainly part of the motivation behind the need I feel to focus and deliver a larger finished product than what you see here.

I have found a level of satisfaction and a sense of security through blogging that I could not have imagined from being seen and heard here at GOTJ, but with a desire to finish some of my larger projects, I feel a need to spend more of my writing time on the big stuff which means cutting back here a bit or at least putting myself on a tighter schedule.

I appreciate more than you know everyone who stops by and puts ” money ” in the meter with kind your words and support and I’m not disappearing just readjusting my routine. It might be good to subscribe in the top right corner if you don’t want to miss me and I’ll drop into your inbox each week like a letter from a friend.

Welcoming Rita – From Evansville Indiana

If you have been following the last two posts then you know I was hoping to hear from someone unknown to me from Evansville, Indiana. I wrote about my reasons, sharing it in a story that after almost 40 years was still painful to tell and then followed it a few days later with an update and a thank you to all the kind folks who left me such sweet messages of support in my comment section.

I thought I must have scared my Evansville reader off, but to my great surprise when I woke this morning I found the message below in the comment section of the first post. To say I was delighted would be mild and I would like to offer a big thank you to Rita from Evansville who took the time to say hello and add to the story that has been changing over the last few days.

Welcoming Rita from Evansville:

I may be your Evansville reader, I have been out of town and just read your post. I found your blog a long time ago and so enjoy reading your adventures and seeing your photography. I love all things English, Irish and Scottish so I have gotten a lot of pleasure out of reading your blog. So sorry for the bad memories the name Evansville evokes for you. This is generally a caring, friendly area in southern In. I guess we all have good and bad memories we associate with places, events and people. My 3 best friends are sisters who grew up in an unstable home. The oldest has only bad memories of that time, the middle sister only good memories and the youngest very few memories at all. I suppose their individual personalities and coping mechanisms come in to play. I am happy that you are a strong woman who has had a journey that has taken you to a wonderful place in your life and a wonderful family to share it with. I do hope you now will think that this area, like all areas, has it’s share of the good, the bad and the ugly, but I think we could sit and talk and share some laughter and hike to some beautiful areas here and take pictures and replace more of those bad memories!

It is not always easy to ask for what we want. Most of us have a negative voice in our heads that can seem as if it’s on auto-replay at times as it spins out the same old messages that keep us from living the life we dream of. Everyone has a different soundtrack, but for those of us who tune into that particular radio station too frequently, the impact can be staggering. Asking for what you want can be the first step towards change for some. It’s a lesson that took me a long time to learn, but once mastered has returned great rewards.

Is there something like that in your life … some dream of a thing you want to share with us … something that you need to hear or know that might require an answer or effort from someone else. You can practice on us if you wish … share it in a comment below and let us give back to you. I’m here and I am listening.

No Word From Evansville, But Gifts Of Another Kind Instead

When you choose to swim in a public place it can be a bit crowded. You may already be friends with some of the people swimming with you while others are strangers to you and content to watch the activities from the dry land. It’s useful to have a wetsuit as an extra layer of protection from the shockingly cold water, but not everyone watching is interested in swimming or in some cases even dipping a toe into the water to see if it might be fun to join the others.

Sometimes there are people with less life experience who may be watching more closely than others as you consider the risky moves … the moves that might not be so easy or could make you feel a bit scared when you consider that you might get hurt if you actually take a chance and jump.

Of course there will be people who will be shocked by your actions and watch in disbelief as you dive in with your eyes wide open to the possibility of pain or even perhaps a lasting injury.

But you do it anyway … because long ago you told yourself that life was for living even with all the fear and sadness and the chance for heartache and that no one was going to keep you from feeling the everyday joy that was as tightly woven through your being as the need to try new things. You open your arms wide before slipping into the water and feel the cold more intensely on your wet face as you surface than you did when you hit the water thirty seconds before.

Others who’ve been watching decide to take the leap as well and while they seem fearless in their actions they feel afraid in mid-air when they realize what they’ve done.

As they break the surface of the water and their head appears safely in sight, a loud wail of pain echos back up the cliff to the watchers along the edge causing a mix of kind strangers and family and friends to move through the water to offer help and concern.

They hold the young girl child up supporting her and offering comfort and a safe ride back to shore.

So she goes back to land having been helped by a group of people … some there by design and others just passing by.

I wanted to say thank you to everyone who took time to share their thoughts and kind comments on this post and through email. The things you said were uplifting and healing and once again remind me of how thoughtful and generous the blogging community can be. So many of you have become friends (or were old friends already) and even though we may not have met yet in person and perhaps never will, I value the gifts you share with me and with others who may find comfort or something else they need in a comment you leave behind.

As for my reader in Evansville, I saw Evansville, Indiana on my sitemeter Saturday evening which was the day I posted this request, but they left no message and have not been back as far as I can tell. It is really okay with me now and the substitution I’ll do if I see Evansville again will be the images above from Sunday when John and I took a walk and saw the brave souls leaping off the cliff into the safety of folks down below.

Your sweet comments made me see the connection between taking a daring jump and revealing a painful past and how much easier it is to risk both when you have friends at the ready to offer kind assistance if it turns out to be scary or too painful.

Thanks for listening and even more … thanks for helping me find a new image to wash away the old one.

Someone In Evansville Indiana Has The Ability To Change My Life

Strange title, huh? I know you are probably thinking what in the world is Elizabeth up to with a title like that … so I’ll tell you, but be forewarned it is not pretty and it will not take you to a happy place.

I have a reader who shows up on my sitemeter with an IP address from or near Evansville, Indiana. I cannot tell who it is but every time I see they have been by to have a look at my blog posts I have a memory that links me to Evansville as clearly as if I were a small child again. I wish I could say it was a pleasant memory, but it’s not.

Some of you may have read posts of mine in the past like this one or perhaps this one where I alluded to some of the difficulties my sister Margaret and I went through as children and this post gets a bit more specific than in the past. I think it is necessary in order to share the story properly and it is something I have debated for months, but know this … what I am sharing today is one of the milder things I could tell you.

Living as we did in a violent household some days were better than others and trips to Evansville were always something of a toss-up in terms of whether we would be safe for a few days or not. One would think a family gathering with lots of children and adults around might be a good place to go unnoticed for a few days lost in the activities and chaos of a holiday at Grandma’s house except she wasn’t really our Grandma, something our step-father never let us forget.

We knew in no uncertain terms that we were there with his family because he allowed it and it was a privilege he could and did take away as easily as he withheld food when punishing us for made-up offenses. I remember his mother as a small, faded, apron wearing woman who seemed to circle the edges of her own home never coming into the center of a crowded room except to put something down or carry it away.

The two-story white farm-house stood in the center of a large piece of land where she lived with her second husband who I can’t remember ever saying a word although I am sure he must have spoken at some point. Acres and acres of farmland came almost up to all four sides of the dusty house that was edged with just enough green grass to make a place for a border of flowers and trees.

It always looked lonely to me sitting as it did at the end of a dirt lane that was fenced on both sides to keep the animals either in or out depending on what year it was. For a while it was cows and I remember pigs some years, but mostly when I think back I can see the empty fields around Thanksgiving and the homemade pies lining one side of the last seven or eight stair-steps going up to the bedrooms on the second floor.

At mealtimes we’d sit at a long table that would have sagged with the weight of the food piled upon it had it not been built by hand for the large family seated on either side. There were multiple kinds of meats, vegetables, and breads, all made by an old woman’s hands that already had too much to do on the other six days of the week leading into the holiday period and I can only imagine that she might have preferred to go out to eat rather than hover in the background refilling platters and bowls from the kitchen before she got a good mouthful in herself. She always seemed quiet but kind and I never could understand how she had raised the child that grew into the evil masochistic abuser that her son became.

Sadly, my mother found him and married him the summer before my seventh birthday and almost immediately our lives became a free-fall into a never-ending cycle of abuse too terrible to discuss even now. One might have thought oneself safe in the company of others, but in the 60s and 70s no one in my life said anything even when confronted with obvious signs of physical abuse … not my mother who witnessed much of it and doled out her own, or my teachers, or even the people who sat at the table and watched that day as my stepfather licked his fork slowly before stabbing it deliberately into my arm with a flourish meant to attract attention.

What grievous infraction did I commit? The table was a bit high and the chair too low for a child of ten and the edge of my arm touched the edge of the table for a half second too long. Clearly in pain after being stabbed hard enough to draw blood but too afraid to speak, I sat there ashamed as my eyes filled with tears and thought I must truly be all the bad things he said about me because the others at the table watched and did nothing.

From years seven to fourteen I fought to hang onto some sense of self that was not tainted by the evil things he said and did. Strong in spirit and smart enough to seek therapy when older, I think I managed to turn out pretty well in spite of it all, but I am still haunted by the memory of that meal and that day and how no one spoke up when they could have made a difference, when they could have said enough and taken the fork from his hand.

My reason for sharing this painful story with you is one of hope really. I have thought about this for some time and I hope by writing this the person who reads my blog from or near Evansville Indiana will leave a little message in my comment section or possibly send me an email off-line to say hello and maybe share a happy memory that I can think of when I see Evansville in my sitemeter instead of the images I remember now.

I’ve done my best to forget or replace it with a memory of my own, but I am hard put to come up with one and I’d be grateful to hear one of yours. Won’t you take a minute to say hello and tell me a little about yourself.

We all have more power to make a difference than we often know and although it is not always as obvious as helping a child in need, a kind word or a helping hand may be enough for someone who needs it today.