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 hischurch (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.****
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.
"Now 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.