Wednesday, October 7, 2009

yellow notebooks.

Currently Listening To: Long Time Traveller by the Wailin Jennys
Today I Am: Going to Target to buy Brandi Carlile's new CD "Give Up the Ghost."

I wish I could be inspired all year the way I am in October. Apple cider stages a comeback. Mornings turn cool and gray. Even the sun wakes up a little bit later :) I might have mentioned this a hundred times or so back during the summer, but it gets way too muggy here. October is when the atmosphere stops feeling so heavy, when I start to like being outside. Fall is when I get to wear cute clothes again. Fall clothes are so much cuter than summer clothes, don't you think? On October 1st, no matter how warm it is outside, I wear my favorite shoes: flat, brown, suede boots that look cute with jeans and skirts. I bet they would even look cute with a gorilla costume. They're the cutest go-to boots ever. October makes me want to drink lots of coffee, snuggle back under the covers and sleep late*, read JANE EYRE, and watch Its the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown.** And just when I think the month can't get any better, it always does. By the end of October, the mountains in my city look like fireworks:

That said, I don't love everything about October. October always makes me miss my grandparents something fierce. I always miss them, but something about October makes it more intense. My grandmother's birthday was Sunday, October 4th. I woke up that morning thinking about her. I thought about her in church when the choir sang. I thought about her when I fell asleep that night. The missing feeling keeps on keeping on, so I've been scrolling through old pictures this week. I'll attach a picture of my grandparents there to the left. Don't they look fun? :) (The cute baby in the middle is me, celebrating birthday numero uno. I don't think I ate the missing half of the cake by myself ... but it is highly likely).

My grandmother, whom I called Mamaw, was such an amazing lady; very sweet and comforting with a sharp (hilarious) wit. She had fair skin, big blue eyes, and a gorgeous smile. I like to think maybe I look a little bit like her ... but that's a stretch. I've seen pics of her when she was my age, and she was way prettier. Also, way taller. Genetics, bah.*** She died when I was in high school, during the month of October. I remember I was wearing a red and white plaid shirt. And I remember watching yellow leaves sail over the windshield of my car. Weird what you remember about days like that isn't it? I knew it was going to happen, but that didn't make the news any less painful. That horrible initial blast of grief when your whole body goes numb ... that was still intense. I'm sure you know what that's like. Probably way worse than I know it.

My grandpa, whom I called Papaw (because this is Tennessee ... and that's just what we do ;), was a sweetie. He was so handsome, and kind, but totally cantankerous too :) I'll attach a pic of him when he was younger there to the left. I love that picture so much. I think he looks like some iconic actor, all mysterious and tough.

My papaw taught himself to play guitar when he was young. He got really good at it. And so, loads of my kid memories involve music. We spent lots of time singing songs in the carport. Sometimes they were knee slapping, clap along songs. Sometimes he would sing old hymns. Sometimes he would just close his eyes and play his guitar. When I watch my brother play guitar, he always reminds me of my papaw.

A few years ago, my papaw also passed away in October. At his funeral, the choir at his
church (a little southern church that shouts "amen" a lot :) sang a song called "Light at the River." Even though it was a cold, dark day, and even
though they were crying when they did it, they started clapping and stomping their feet when they sang the chorus. There's a light at the river, a light at the river, a light at the river I can see. My Lord will stand, and hold in His hand, a light at the river for me. They were lifting their hands up in the air and singing as loud as they could sing.

Funerals suck. They always suck. No matter how much you remind yourself the person you love is still with you, still alive, and better, and happy, grief absolutely sucks. My heart was hammered flat that day, but when the choir sang, I felt a little jolt of life again. I needed to remember the music would never really stop. Even though I knew, I needed to be reminded that wasn't the end. Like CS Lewis said in The Last Battle, it was the end of a chapter. But the real story hasn't even started yet.

I'm not trying to be Debbie Downer today. It's just that I miss them in October. I miss them and my other two grandparents (whom I'll write more about some other time) a load. Sometimes I still feel really close to all my grandparents; I remember the soft flannel of my papaw's shirt against my face when I hugged him, the way my mamaw's voice sounded. Sometimes I remember their mannerisms, the way they laughed and said my name.

And then sometimes I worry I'm forgetting something important. Like I can't drag up a memory I really really need. That's the worst part of getting older, I think. The fact that other people age too. The biggest difference (for me) in being a little kid and being a grown up is that as a kid, I never felt homesick. As an adult, I sometimes feel homesick even when I am home. I'm so grateful I grew up knowing all my grandparents. They were a big part of my life, and still are.

I wrote about them last year, when I lost a really important yellow notebook. I thought I would attach what I wrote on today's post.

Before you begin, you should know this background info: Ichiban is my favorite local Japanese restaurant. I used to write about Ichiban a lot (and might start again) because, in some weird (hilarious) way, the fortunes in my fortune cookie usually came true.****


I ate lunch with my dad this week at Ichiban, eagerly awaiting my Ichiban fortune. I hadn't been there in weeks so I was also anticipating applause when I walked in the door. Unfortunately, the staff mostly didn't seem to care about my return. The chef gave me lots of extra rice though. Rice is better than applause.

This week's fortune read:

"Within the next three weeks you will find something precious to you, something you thought you lost."

I was ecstatic.

Two weeks ago, I lost a VERY important yellow legal pad. I slip it in behind my laptop and carry it with me when I'm out writing. On that legal pad, I have scenes blocked for a project I've been working on, notes for a different project, and a coffee-stained outline of something else. The yellow notebook is where I chart everything before it gets too far out of my imagination to seem stupid.

There are bits of dialogue, descriptions of people and places, research notes. [Also, the take-out number for Chilli's.] When I realized I'd lost the notebook, I felt sick. I cleaned out my car but couldn't find it (I won't tell you how many white paper coffee cups I found). I returned to all my writing haunts to look for it. I called numerous friends (the kind who might have seen it and the kind who help me retrace my steps when I lose things). I described it in detail to my family and sighed when they returned my description with a blank stare.

I wasn't so much worried about someone taking those ideas (because they aren't exactly good ideas ... that and my handwriting is sometimes liken to hieroglyphics). It was just a BIG chunk of work to lose, and it was the good kind of work - the gritty pretty unrefined notes I haven't edited yet. The yellow notebook words are the kind that make me love what I do.

On Tuesday, I got the fortune. On Friday night, I found the notebook hidden under my favorite writing chair. When I found it, I unleashed a scream that probably shattered a few neighborhood windows. Trust the Ichiban, friends!

My yellow legal pad is my writing safety blanket. It's not as convenient, or as chic, as the Moleskine journal I keep in my purse. It isn't as sturdy as the flowery journal I keep near my bed. For some reason though, my best work is usually lifted from the yellow legal pad.

When I was younger, I spent oodles of time at my grandparents' house. One day I got bored, and told my mamaw about my inescapable boredom.
David The Gnome was off and Double Dare wasn't on for another hour and I'd already read all the books I liked to read when I was there. My mamaw left the room and came back with one of my papaw's yellow legal pads and a Bic pen. She handed both items to me, smiled, and said the four magic words that would change my life:

"Write me a story."

So I wrote something weird and funny and dreamy, a story where Prince Charming looked like Bo Duke, and the princess had a face full of freckles. When I finished, my mamaw, papaw, and I sat out in the carport and I read my story to them. They acted like it was the most brilliant story they'd ever heard.

After that, they always had a new yellow legal pad waiting for me, waiting to be filled up with more stories, poems, pictures, and songs. While Double Dare played on the TV in the background, I wrote. Usually I shared the work with my mamaw first. And then she would say, "Oh, Virgil! You have got to come hear this!" And he did and he gushed about it too. It all made me feel very smart and very loved. The process excited me as much as the final product: I liked the sound of the pen moving on the paper. I liked the way the yellow page looked when it was full of words. And I loved their reaction to my stories.

A few months ago, I asked a writer friend for some advice. I was in a rut with a scene and needed to map it all out somehow.

"This is the best advice I ever got," she said. "And it's so easy, you'll kick yourself for not thinking of it. I just take a yellow legal pad - the cheap kind like you buy at Office Max - and I block out the story scene by scene."

I smiled. A yellow legal pad. I did feel kind of dumb. Because of course that's how you write a story. :)

So I invested a dollar fifty in three yellow legal pads and started untangling my imagination. Then I lost the one I needed most, the one that held
everything. On Friday, I found it, and breathed a big sigh of relief.

This morning I was sitting out on my front porch writing in the yellow legal pad, when I turned some pages back to read through my notes. It wasn't until I finished that I realized I'd been reading out loud, which isn't too uncommon. It was just strange this time because something seemed familiar, very deja-vu. Maybe it was the angle of the sunlight. The color of the leaves. I don't know. It just felt really familiar to me, exactly like it felt when I was little, writing in the notebooks my grandparents gave me.

The only difference was that, this time, the two rocking chairs beside me were empty.

I felt my throat get tight. I put the yellow notebook down in my lap and watched the words blur, words that seemed like nonsense apart from their sentences: dancing, blackberries, burning, ink stains, guilt, glory, love.

When I read the words again, the coolest thing happened. I could picture my grandparents sitting in their carport, smiling. The details were
perfect - he wore a checkered plaid shirt, slacks, and cowboy boots. She wore a purple shirt and sweatpants, and her eyes were a bright, happy blue. I remembered the shadows of their rocking chairs rising and falling over the concrete, and bright sunlight, and blue words on the yellow page in front of me.

that is a great story," she said. The words vibrated against my heart, just like spoken words do.

Even though I was smiling at the thought, I felt a cold tear wriggle down face. Because that memory means the world to me. And I was afraid I'd lost it.

Do you have a favorite memory with your grandparents? Or something you really miss about being a little kid? Do you know what Double Dare is ... or did I totally age myself on that one? :) Or if you don't feel like being nostalgic, what's your favorite thing about Fall? ;)

* Who am I kidding? Every season makes me want to sleep late ...
** "There are three things in life I've learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and The Great Pumpkin." - Linus Van Pelt
*** Worth noting: even though my grandmother was tall, her mother was 4'11. Perhaps the great gift of space efficiency skips a generation or something, I dunno.
**** Or maybe I just tried to mold situations to fit my Ichiban fortune because I thought they were funny.


  1. Natalie, I just loved this post. I think because lately I've been feeling all nostalgic, occasionally homesick, and happy-sad too, if that makes sense. I love this time of the weather, I just feel like I come alive in a way you can't during an unbearably hot and humid TN summer. However, I have to note that I would've preferred a bit of sunshine yesterday...the overcast skies were getting me down!!

    PS: Your Papaw was so handsome!! Definitely looked like an actor!!!

  2. Ruth, I am so with you. Even though I like rainy days, I was ready for some sun :) I think my mood might be more weather based than I realize. The jolt in my energy that comes with fall is almost bizarre it's so intense. Humidity makes me cranky :) I'm loving your NYC pics! So jealous you saw West Side Story.

  3. Natalie,
    Oh I love October. One, because the leaves turn those warm, pretty colors, you can smell wood burning and the air is light. :) Also, my birthday is in October!! :) I don't see my grandparents very much but I do have a memory with my grandpa that I never forget. Everytime wwe go see him he asks us if we want a sundae. We, of course, say yes, and he says "Well, you'll have to wait until Sunday." It's a never ending joke he used to play on us as little kids. But he always gave in :) Double Dare was the best show. I can't believe I forgot about it. Last night, I was looking up all the old childern's books I used to read. Ramona the pest, and all those by Beverly Cleary, The Babysitter's Club, Fig Pudding..It brought back many memories of my bookworm days (which haven't ended) :)

  4. Oh my word the smell of double mint gum and also anything spearmint-y. That was my grandmother's purse. I have so many memories of her it's hard to pick just one or two though...we used to just sit on her glider rocker on the screened in porch when it got cooler outside (fall season) and she would bring her tape recorder out. I'm not sure what she meant to tape, but what it ended up being was us laughing. That's it...laughing. Fall reminds me of that.(I still have those tapes...time to get them out again)

  5. Natalie - that post was simply beautiful. Fall makes me nostalgic, too - and sentimental in general, trying to treasure every moment. And it definitely reminds me of being a little kid: family yard work days which consisted of raking leaves on Saturdays (even on my birthday one year), sitting outside under my favorite tree reading, and taking the dog on long walks. I miss being able to read for fun after school, for sure.

    I love the pictures of your grandparents. Mine were never extremely involved in my life growing up, which is something that my parents intend to change for their grandchildren (which are a LONG way off haha). I love hear others' stories about their grandparents, though!

  6. Fall is most definitely my favorite time of year. The smells are the best: the sweetness of drying leaves, smoke from Friday night campfires in the backyard, hot apple cider with cinnamon, oatmeal cookies baking in the oven, and pumpkin pie candles. Mmmmm.

    I also lost two grandparents during the fall--one from each side of my family. So it can be a really bittersweet time of year. But I also think it's the best time of year to remember. There's so much comforting beauty around us. I think it's God's way of showing us that while there is death and pain, there is always beauty and hope not far away. To me, autum is the tangible love of one giant bear-hug of warm goodness for my soul. ;)

  7. Natalie...loved this post! It made me cry a little!! (In a good way!)

    My nostalgic moment--
    My grandpa (who I called Gramps)was my best friend. We both loved burnt cookies,endless rounds of checkers,reading,and being outside.He got sick in September of 2004
    and in October of '04 he was rushed to the ER
    where they called in the family. I spent 2 weeks afraid to see him in such a sick state...the 3rd week I had to go in & stay with him so my grandma could go home & get some things she needed. I loved spending that time with him. He was only awake about 15-20 minutes of every 3-4 hours I stayed but those 15-20 minutes were worth it for me. I delighted in the fact I had a chance to show practical love to him & the hospital staff that cared for him. Because I loved it so much my grandma would always call me first to see if I wanted to stay with him when she had to leave. after 4 weeks in the hospital they sent him to a nursing home.I spent lots of time there too and ended up falling in love with lots of the old people. 2 weeks later they sent him home! (Quite impressive due to the fact they thought he wouldn't live past October 5th....) He came home 2 days before Thanksgiving...which happened to be My favorite holiday...his too. :) The conversations we had over that month & half kept growing...he loved the Lord & loved to read his word. Nothing made him more peaceful than to hear someone read the bible to him. It was a wonderful thanksgiving that year. Shortly after...he began to decline.He couldn't do anything anymore...including feed himself.I am I would take my school to their house & sit next to his bed & read out loud history & language & algebra. We would spend hours on end discussing the books I read aloud to him for English...and the history stories he had lived through...and what it would be like to live through the ones he wasn't there for. We both just grumbled our way through wasn't exactly our strongest subject. ;) I loved school because of how interesting it was do it with him. I spent Thursday,March 9th with him.His last words to me that day were " I love you. Come back & read to me tomorrow,ok?" I assured him I loved him too & would in fact come back to read...unfortunently those were his last words to me period. He went to be with the Lord Friday,March 10th.I am so thankful that God allowed me to spend that time with him. I treasure the converstations & laughs we had...and there are moments I would give anything to spend an afternoon next to that bed reading to him. He was such a blessing.

    I know that's long...sorry..but I love telling how good God was to allow us all that time together!!

  8. That was a really sweet post. There are certain times that I seem to think of my grandparents more, too. I cry whenever I hear the song "Say Goodbye" by Sanctus Real, because it reminds me of them. My grandma died a little over a year and a half ago. She was so sweet and smart and beautiful. She was a wonderful Christian lady, but she was not afraid to speak her mind to anyone. My grandpa had Alzheimer's disease for the last ten years of his life, and he started getting it when I was only about 4. So in a way, I feel like when I see him in heaven, it'll be the first time we've met. But in a way, I feel like I did know him from stories and photographs. He and Granny had about the most perfect romance I can imagine. They were that lovely couple in the 40's: a pretty dark-haired girl and her handsome sailor boy. I have a ton of those old pictures, and they're my absolute favorites. He was a Pearl Harbor survivor, and I have pictures of him and his Navy buddies enjoying the Hawaiian beaches just months before the attack. Granny took care of him for those 10 years he was sick and mourned him every day after he died.
    When I was little, Granny would rake the whole yard (there were two giant trees in the front yard) into a massive pile of leaves just for me to jump in. Every time we went to her house, she would give us a soda and a Little Debbie cookie.
    I love fall. How could there be a more beautiful season? I love the apples and pumpkins and the leaves. I love wearing sweaters and hoodies and scarves. I love smelling wood or leaves burning and trips to the mountains and fall festivals and everything else.

  9. Steffanie, I think it's so sweet how little jokes like that stay with you! :) I was a Ramona fan too. I read a great article earlier this year in Publisher's Weekly. A bookstore owner was talking about how it made her kind of sad when middle school readers ran straight for Twilight and other YA stuff. She said they're missing out on a whole section of amazing tween books. Ramona was the example she gave. I thought that was an interesting point. I'm glad you're still a bookworm! I'm right there with ya :)

    AP, the gum smell! That is fantastic! :) Tape recorders were so fun. Who knew all that goofing off could make such a sweet memory? :)

    Samantha, loved your fall memories. And it's sweet to know your parents are going to be involved in your kids lives someday.

    Carra, you are so right! Fall feels like a big hug :) It is definitely a season that teaches me something about the beauty of change. The apple smells make me happy too. I might have to go get an apple cider from Starbucks now that I'm thinking about it ...

    Candice, thank you so much for sharing such a sweet story! I smiled all the way through your comment. It sounds like your relationship with your grandfather was absolutely precious. I love that the last thing you guys did was tell each other you loved each other. I'm so glad you shared your story.

    Kristin, my grandparents gave me coke and a little debbie cake too! :) I loved your little story of how they met, how he was a handsome sailor boy. It sounds so epic and sweet. It's always weird to me when I think about how my grandparents were exactly where I am at one point - young and nervous about the future and hoping they would fall in love. Those old pictures are the best. I love what you said about meeting him for the first time in heaven. That made me choke up a little bit. Your grandmother sound like a wonderful lady.

  10. This post made me a cry :) I've only ever known one of my grandmothers but because she lives in a different country (and continent) I don't get to see or hear from her all that much.

    Do you know that cliched statement about missing people you never knew? I feel that way about my grandparents too, but especially my grandfathers. Kids at school, growing up, always used to talk about getting spoiled by their grandparents, going fishing with their grandfather and other such exotic things. I'm glad I get to know my grandmother, but I always wondered what it was like to call someone Grandpa.
    It's all good though, because what I lacked in grandparents, I more than made up for in sisters. (Three, to be exact.) And sisters are awesome.

    Moving on to Fall, I don't know about you, but us Canadians got jipped. Like, majorly. It's -10 (celsius) here and has been snowing since last Monday. That is not Fall. That is *Win-ter*. Unacceptable. I'm writing my MP.

  11. Really great post, Natalie. And I totally relate. I was very close to one of my grandmothers and even had the privilege of taking care of her (with my brother) the last few years of her life. She didn't live to see my first book or even know I wanted to write. But I always think how I wish she could've seen it because she was my biggest cheerleader. One of her friends was sweet enough to send me a handwritten note a few years ago and tell me how proud my grandma would've been and a few other things that were straight from God...and my sweet grandma. : ) What a blessing it is to have awesome grandparents. They totally shaped my life.

  12. Oh Natalie, I'm so glad I found your blog! Your words paint the most beautiful pictures! They're inspiring, imaginative, and they challenge me to think! Your work in Brio, and now Susie magazine is always the best part! Keep writing! Your words just might change the world!

    God bless,

  13. JBJ, I remember the dedication you wrote to your grandma. It made me teary. I'm so with you - so very thankful I got to know my grandparents.

    Jerica, thanks so much for that kind comment! I'm glad you found the blog too :) I hope you'll come back by sometime!

  14. Awwww! Natalie, I have to say that your writing carries a sort of sweet lightness. It's really very cute actually and it makes me smile. =)