Monday, December 21, 2009

May her song always be sung

Watching from my perch high up on the sides of Auburn University’s Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum as 1,509 graduates made their way to the stage at Friday’s graduation ceremonies, I could always tell which black-robed graduate was our Mary Claire Walburn, class of 2009.

That’s because of the yellow square and blue peace sign she had affixed to the top of her mortarboard. Plus, she was sitting then standing next to friend and fellow BA in Business in Supply Chain Management graduate James, who had written MOM in yellow electrical tape on top of his headgear, in honor of his mother’s birthday.

Now, every one of the graduates likely stood out just as much to their parents and grandparents, as we all leaned down to catch a glimpse and hear our graduates’ names called during the two-hour ceremony. Despite the “shout outs” which I found somewhat annoying and often drowned out the next graduate’s name, the ceremony was intended to give every graduate a moment in the spotlight.

But Mary Claire with a peace sign on her head was a fitting image as I watched my only daughter graduate where her parents graduated about 30 years ago.

Mary Claire, who identified herself as a rock-n-roll girl since she was 5 and who had to be talked out of naming one of our dogs Rainbow instead of Henry, enters the adult and post-college world with the same enthusiasm, uniqueness and well-rounded openness.

Her mother’s daughter, she loves music and cool things and never had to change much to dress up as a “hippie” for Halloween. Thus, the peace sign seemed a logical symbol (any politics aside) as she and James planned their top-of-mortarboard statements.

We all made homemade cards for Mary Claire to give to her at graduation, her brother Will scanning in a photo of her as a baby with her big brother, her daddy Frank posting then and now Auburn tailgate pictures, and mine being the photo of a 4-year-old Mary Claire with the Auburn Eagle, and one of us fishing together when she was a toddler.

In my note to our graduate, I used the Eagle symbolism to encourage her to fly like an Eagle. I praised my smart, beautiful, kind, caring, funny and fun daughter who has faced her challenges with smiles, faith and determination.

And, as expected, I quoted Bob Dylan’s Forever Young, a song he wrote for one of his children and a Dylan poem-song which expresses better than I can the hopes I have for our children.

“May God bless and keep you always, May your wishes all come true,

May you always do for others And let others do for you.

May you build a ladder to the stars And climb on every rung,

May you stay forever young, Forever young, forever young,

May you stay forever young.

May you grow up to be righteous, May you grow up to be true,

May you always know the truth And see the lights surrounding you.

May you always be courageous, Stand upright and be strong,

May you stay forever young, Forever young, forever young,

May you stay forever young.

May your hands always be busy, May your feet always be swift,

May you have a strong foundation When the winds of changes shift.

May your heart always be joyful, May your song always be sung,

May you stay forever young, Forever young, forever young,

May you stay forever young.”

We can’t keep our children forever young, I know, but we can, and I think we should, continue to ask for God’s blessings on them as they become men and women from boys and girls.

We can hope we’ve nurtured them and taught them to do for others, to be courageous, righteous, strong, upright, true and joyful – characteristics which will serve anyone well through life’s journey.

For Mary Claire, finding a job in the logistics, transportation, purchasing, or process management fields that encompass her Supply Chain Management major is the next challenge.

And, I know Mary Claire will tackle this next step in the same determined, thorough and smiling way she has shown in facing life’s next-steps since she completed our family 23 years ago.

Happy graduation Mary Claire -- our beautiful, smart, sweet and caring rock-n-roll girl.

Picture of the day: Mary Claire Walburn, Dec. 18, 2009

Song of the day: Forever Young, Bob Dylan

Monday, December 14, 2009

Family, friends, hometown miss all things “Blue”

The first time I met Blue Jones, it was obvious I was meeting “the nicest smart aleck in Alabama” as I later heard him described. But I didn’t know that night – when he immediately started teasing me and my husband, who was not even there – that this smiling, red-headed banker would become such an important part of our lives in Camden.

But, by the time he died on Dec. 15, 2006 -- snatched way too soon by a rare cancer -- I knew that he was a unique no-matter-what friend. We all knew by then that there was no one like Blue Jones.

See, I met Blue right after we moved to Camden, Blue’s hometown, from Selma. I was at Gaines-Ridge Dinner Club in the fireplace room, sandwiched between Camden people who would become our best friends during our 15 years living there. Blue, who was nicknamed that because his hair was so red, and his wife Kay were sitting catty-corner from me.

“Where’s yo’ husband? Blue asked.

“Oh, he’s at a biathlon, you know, bicycling and running,” I said, explaining that husband Frank and a work buddy were in north Alabama participating in a charity biking and running event.

“BI-athlon?” Blue answered, making sure that everyone at the table could hear him. “BI-athlon? I think it’s more like a DI-athlon, you know, drinkin’ and dancin’!”

So began the friendship with Blue and his not-a-smart-aleck wife Kay, with Blue teasing and getting the laugh. I’d learn that Blue teased folks he liked. He didn’t bother with those he didn’t.

Blue died three years ago this week. I doubt Dec. 15 will ever pass without us all thinking about Blue. The hole he left in Camden and in our lives remains and probably always will.

Born and raised in Wilcox County and educated at his beloved Auburn University, Blue Jones was a leader, friend, coach, businessman, outdoorsman and cattle and timber farmer. He volunteered at Wilcox Academy and with most every cause that served his hometown of Camden and the people of Wilcox, including his church, Camden United Methodist Church.

At Camden National Bank, Blue could talk to a millionaire one minute and the next, counsel with the poorest customer, working to help them figure a workable way out. Camden and Wilcox County did not have a better champion.

Blue was also a River Rat, capital Rs. He loved the Alabama River – having been raised on it. Countless boat rides – including some when he had to jump in and tow us out of the mud, or, in one instance, swim-tow us in after a prop fell off – complete our memories of Blue. Whether it was pulling children on a tube or just tooling up and down and around the Alabama River, Blue was there and happy. And if your boat broke down, you wanted Blue around. Today, we still go on boat rides; sometimes Kay comes with us, and we always think of Blue.

We began a tradition of family vacations together at the Alabama Gulf Coast, the Jones, the Walburns, the Huggins and the Williams. Most times, Blue brought the pontoon boat, the red one with the plastic chairs for supplemental seating. You could hear our laughter, above the hum of the engine, as our rag-tag crew cruised around Ono Island, a happy contrast to the yachts and the Boston Whalers zipping by us. We truly would not have traded places.

Blue loved music and dancing and having a good time. He loved Neil Young, despite Southern Man or maybe because of it. After he died, we argued over what was his favorite rock n’roll song, but Kay was the final arbitrator. It was Gimme Three Steps by Lynyrd Skynyrd.

We had a party at Blue’s camphouse the night after his funeral. “Party,” he had mouthed and motioned to Kay, during his final days in UAB’s intensive care unit. So, we had a party at the camphouse, like we used to do. We laughed about things that were “so Blue.” His grown children, Bill and Anne, were there with their friends, and we tried to surround Kay with her friends and happy memories shared.

It was a bittersweet night. The camphouse, at the center of family land Blue tended and loved, seemed to be waiting on him to return. His wading boots hung on the end of the hammock, where he had left them to dry.

The camphouse, his family, his friends and his hometown -- they all still miss Blue. We see him in the Eagles flying above the Alabama River or in the turkeys through a field. We see him in the sunset over Pine Barren Creek, and we miss him.

But, in typical Blue fashion, he’d tell us all to ease up.

“Don’t go wishing and worrying your life away,” Blue would say.

“You better enjoy the day the Lord has given you. You don’t know what’s coming next.”

Amen to that, Blue.

Picture of the day:

Blue and Kay Jones, on a boat ride at the beach.

Song of the day:
Heart of Gold, Neil Young

Monday, December 7, 2009

Kicking the bah humbug blues, one decoration at a time

I almost said bah humbug while ago and meant it.

Up until Sunday evening, when I draped the may-be-decade-old white lights with garland across the back porch railings, there had been no decked halls at our house.

Dec. 6 may be the latest I’ve ever waited to start Christmasing. The tree might wait this long to be decked, since we are a live-tree-only family, but I usually at least get out the stockings or the Santa collection or start doing cards or cookies or something by now.

Not one gift purchased. Not one list begun. Let’s hope Santa’s more prepared than I am.

I know it’s still two and one-half weeks to the big day, but despite the twinkling lights along the Hoover roads I travel daily and the been-there Christmas stuff in the stores, I am not feeling the Christmas cheer.

I don’t know exactly prompted me to begin to mutter the aforementioned “bah humbug” let’s-just-don’t-fool with-this-Christmas-stuff comment. Maybe it’s losing Suzie, the wonder dog. Or maybe it’s facing my second Christmas as an unemployment statistic.

Hey Debbie Downer, give us a break.

It may be as simple as Christmas coming so quickly this year. It was just Halloween, wasn’t it? Thanksgiving streaked by, then the Iron Bowl (War Eagle anyway!), and then, BAM! It became Christmastime when I wasn’t looking.

So, I swallowed the bah humbug mid-sentence, and hung a wreath. I put the guitar-holding, rock-around-the-clock dancin’ and singin’ doll on the table on the back porch where he usually spends the holidays.

I’m kicking the bah humbug blues, one decoration at a time.

By the time the stockings are up and the multi-colored lights in the Leland Cypress trees in the front yard, I’ll forget I ever considered bah humbugging at all. Because, you see, my normal state is annoyingly cheerful and childlike about Christmas.

Whoever does the decorating at your house knows the feeling of rediscovery when a prized and ancient decoration is pulled from the tissue-and-newspaper-packed plastic crate.

There’s Mom-Mom’s Santa, with the removable boots, who used to clutch a Coca-Cola bottle, that tiny bottle lost to packing or a curious child years ago.

There, too, are the pictures of children Christmases past, innocent and shining from Christmas picture frames.

In boxes all their own are the ornaments, the one from our first year, our first house and our children’s first Christmases. I even have the foil-covered-toilet-paper-roll ornament I made in school more than 40 years ago. I tell Mary Claire and Will the origins of all the ornaments, as we trim the tree, hoping eventually they will remember to tell their children. This, after all, is what Christmas traditions are about.

Aunt Jackie made this ornament; neighbor Mildred Mott from Selma this one. Mother knitted all these, the bells and angels which have survived my creative Momma by decades.

The only ornament losses over all these years came during the inevitable Christmas tree crashes. A live Christmas tree family, as previously stated -- in part because of husband and father, Frank the forester -- our tradition calls for a bought live tree every other year, alternated with a cedar cut fresh from the woods.

This year is a live bought tree year, after a towering cedar, grown to be a cedar, not a Christmas tree, last year. That one crashed to the floor as I was finishing the decorating last year. In a crash that really seemed to happen in slow motion, the toppling cost a few more glass ornaments and that day’s Christmas spirit. Will and Frank righted it and used fishing line to anchor it to the window sashes.

I probably murmured bah humbug word a few times that night, as I redecorated the stabilized tree. But it was a work of art when finished, a stable work of art that didn’t sway or tilt until we wanted it to after it was undecorated and carried out the front door a few days after the big day.

The previous Christmas tree crash was in our Camden home, when the tree (probably a from-the-woods one) hit the floor mid season, water spilling and mixing with broken glass. That crash took out some keepsake glass ornaments, like the three-glass-bell ornament Momma gave us her final Christmas. I cried then over broken ornaments, but rallied as I placed the remaining treasure trove of ornaments back on the righted tree.

I have too many memories tucked into Christmas boxes – and too many blessings all around -- to allow the bah humbugs to remain in our holiday home. I hope the same is true for all of us.

My brief case the bhb virus passed quickly – aided by flashing lights and the anticipated unwrapping of baby Jesus and the wise men.

If you’ve got even a slight case and feel the bah humbug fever creeping in, I highly recommend getting out those Christmas boxes and setting free for another year those happy memories, jolly Santas and other twinkling things.

Picture of the day:
Cedar Christmas Tree, 2008

Song of the day:
Happy Christmas, John Lennon

"So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun
And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young
A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear"