selfishness and self-preservation vs selflessness and the love of the game

“It’s that wonderful old-fashioned idea that others come first and you come second.
This was the whole ethic by which I was brought up.
Others matter more than you do, so ‘don’t fuss, dear; get on with it’.”

Audrey Hepburn


(UGA kicker Rodrigo Blankenship)

Anyone who knows me, knows I love college football!

I’d say it was simply because of an innate love that was passed down to me from the sports-loving
genes of my dad…
but since I’m adopted…it must simply be from the gene pool of another.

But that’s the thing, my dad loved college football.

He lived and breathed for New Year’s day…that holy day of all things football.
I’ve written about this love affair of his before.

Back in the dark ages, back to the time of my youth…those early heady days of the 1960’s…
it was a time before things like a picture within a picture, split screens, Hulu, red zones…
or even color TV for that matter…were a thing.

My dad would haul every TV in our house into the den so he could
have all three major networks playing simultaneously…just so he wouldn’t
miss the Rose Bowl, the Cotton Bowl or the Sugar Bowl…
or any other bowl game that was airing.

I obviously inherited that love by osmosis I suppose.

And as I’ve settled in to enjoy this year’s bowl season, I must confess, I have a few issues.

Issues such as the way the powers that be have set up this playoff mishmash.

The top 1, 2, 3 and 4 teams that are all vying for the top prize are sitting pretty
while other very deserving teams are left out of the coveted top 4 positions.
Cinderellas with no invitation to the ball.

And on top of that wouldn’t you know it…those powers that be also wrote in a little clause for this
playoff business that it can’t be revisited for discussion for at least 12 years.

Really?
Geeeees….

I just don’t find it fair for those undefeated teams who are passed over–think Central Florida…
teams unable to have any sort of chance to participate in a playoff with the argument being that they don’t
play the same caliber of teams as say those top seeds.

But I’m thinking that if you are a Division 1 team…
then should not all Division 1 teams have an equal opportunity for the coveted trophy of
National Champion?

You’re not Division 1 for nothing right?
Be they a Notre Dame, a Central Florida, a Boise State or an Alabama.

But such decisions were not left to me to decide.
And no one ever said life was fair.

There is, however, another more troubling issue that leaves me particularly unsettled this bowl season.
Something that boils down to a fine line between selfish self-preservation and that of selflessness
along with the simple love of the game.

The trouble is with the current mindset of those players who are currently draft-eligible and who
have decided to opt out of their perspective team’s bowl games.
Opting out and deciding not to play— preferring rather to sit out the game lest they get hurt and mess
up their chances for a nice high draft position.

This little predicament is leaving their coaches and teammates scrambling to fill in the
gaps before a major televised ball game.

Do bowl games even matter?

Well they matter to rankings and they matter to monies earned by schools for ticket sales
and they matter for future recruiting.
Plus they matter for the bragging rights of being a top alfa dog for a year.

Many of these kids who are going to school are on scholarships…
having earned a coveted “paid for” position on the team.
They, in turn, for the most part, have free food, free books and free tuition for their
wanting to play football.

But of course, it is their option and choice to go to a school to play.
And they usually opt to go to the school who offers them the most buck for their bang.
Hard work and talent leads them to this choice.

(now there are other sports and other scholarships, but I am focusing on football only)

The NFL, however, dangles bigger carrots in front of the faces of these kids
than whatever a college could dare offer.

Thus a kid can and at times is encouraged to “quit” school, in order to enter the draft.
“Oh you can always go back and earn a degree later, but you can only play at the top of your
game for a limited time” rings the argument.

According to the NFL official rules,
“To be eligible for the draft, players must have been out of high school for at least three years
and must have used up their college eligibility before the start of the next college football season.
Underclassmen and players who have graduated before using all their college eligibility may request the
league’s approval to enter the draft early.

Players are draft-eligible only in the year after the end of their college eligibility.

We are actually seeing sophomores who are eligible for the draft, forgoing the thought of finishing
playing four or five years for their school while earning a degree…all just to play for the NFL.

While the thoughts of “fame and fortune” dancing enticingly around the heads of these young men.

There are those who try to justify this phenomenon.
They argue the notion of hundreds of thousands, and in some cases, millions of dollars,
being the greatest incentive as to why so many of these “impoverished” or struggling kids want
to move on.

Money talks.

Yet the respected retired coach of the Colts and now a football commentator, Tony Dungy, in his book
Quiet Strength notes the high percentage of NFL players who eventually end up divorced, broke or both.
Noting that all that glitters is not necessarily gold nor does it last.

Yet many argue that a large number of these kids come from broken homes or impoverished homes,
and are living on the edge of either succumbing to and falling through the cracks to things like
gangs and trouble if they aren’t given such wonderful financial incentives.
While very few seem to be singing the praises of rising above the negative by earning a degree and
finding success outside of sports.

Like Coach Dungy, I don’t buy the empty arguments of the hurry up and join the glamour of the
NFL mentality and I don’t fall for the money carrot argument.

Oh I get it and I see it but I don’t find it a viable argument…
that being that this is their only ticket out of a life considered less than.

I personally think a college degree will help a great deal more with forging a life that is content
and fulfilled verses that of a draft pick.

However, the draft pick promises the big bucks fast while the degree and the eventual job
will be a slower building to that long sense of security.

I think it is a poor precedence allowing players to opt out of playing for their school’s respective
bowl game just so they don’t get hurt and mess up jockeying for a draft position.

We are doing kids such a huge disservice when we cut them slack from the responsibility they
have to their school, to their team and to their teammates when we “allow” them the “right” of opting out
of a commitment because the money carrot has dangled early and most brightly.

Case in point Michigan had about 4 or 5 kids sitting out their bowl game against Florida.
The Gators won and I’m not complaining as I like to see fellow SEC schools win but
I feel that those boys who opted to sit out their final game of the year,
a game that was an honor as their team had won the right to play in a bowl game,
yet, in turn, they let down their fans, their coaches and their teammates…
for selfish and self-preserving reasons.

One player, however, a young man who is also draft eligible, and who needs surgery following the
season before participating in the draft, stated that he was indeed disappointed by his teammate’s
decision to sit out and that he would have to be dead not to play the final game for
his school and team.

Now that is a young man who has a love of the game and a sense of responsibility to and
for his team, his coaches and his school.
He has a team mentality.

And maybe that’s what’s missing.

We are no longer teaching responsibility or duty or honor, or even sportsmanship or what it
means to be a part of a team, a part of something bigger than ourselves…

We see this at the college level, at the high school level and now, sadly, at the
little league level.
It’s called the trickle down effect.

We have allowed our sports to become bigger than the various games themselves.
And in turn, we have lost those team building qualities that instill in both
young men and women the meaning of selflessness and that there are things greater in life
then that of the individual.
As in it takes a team to win a game, not merely one player.

Just another reason as to why I hate those end zone theatrics.
There is no room for showboats on a team full of individuals who work together to make those
successful moments for the team as a whole.

Rodrigo Blankenship is a kicker for the University of Georgia who was a walk-on and redshirt
freshman.
After his first year with stats that would make veteran kickers envious, 26 for 26 kicks,
he was informed that he would not be receiving a scholarship.
He might be offered one the following year but that was by no means a guarantee.

Most kids and their families would consider transferring over such news.
Transferring to a school that would give a scholarship as the family could certainly use the
assistance.

To have worked as hard as he had worked helping aid the team week after week in consecutive
wins throughout the season,
yet to be denied monetary assistant when those all around him had long been given their
scholarships, was news hard to swallow.
Yet Blankenship loved his team and his school.
He wanted to stay, despite the snub by the School’s Athletic Association.

“In 2017, when Blankenship was a redshirt sophomore, he hit a 30-yard field goal with 3:34
remaining to give Georgia a 20-19 lead against Notre Dame.
The Bulldogs won the game by that score, and the post-game locker room scene included Blankenship
proudly announcing to his team, upon a prompt from Smart,
“I’m on scholarship,” followed by a roar of celebration.

(Red and Black)

There are thankfully all sorts of stories like Rodrigo’s…
stories of selfless players who persevere without the rewards of glamour or money
but the sad fact remains that there are currently a good many players across this country
who are sitting out of bowl games because they are putting personal gain above that of their teams
and schools…and that speaks volumes as to what our culture and our Sporting Associations are teaching
our youth and to where we place our values.

We will be whatever we teach our young…be that good or be that bad.

I’ll go back to watching football now, but I’m afraid it will have one more grey cloud
hovering over its legacy.

Go Dawgs!

Let each of you look not only to his own interests,
but also to the interests of others.

Philippians 2:4

Divine Mercy

“Great love can change small things into great ones,
and it is only love which lends value to our actions.
And the purer our love becomes, the less there will be within us for the flames
of suffering to feed upon, and the suffering will cease to be a suffering for us;
it will become a delight! By the grace of God,
I have received such a disposition of heart that I am never so happy as when I suffer for Jesus,
whom I love with every beat of my heart.”

(303, page 140) St Faustina


(the chives are blooming / Julie Cook / 2018)

Yesterday, and this week actually, marked the day of Divine Mercy for our Catholic
brothers and sisters.
A timely marking given our continued celebration with Easter and the
most notable and tangible gift of our Salvation…

According to Wikipedia…
The Divine Mercy of Jesus, also known as the Divine Mercy, is a Roman Catholic devotion
to Jesus Christ associated with the reputed apparitions of Jesus revealed
to Saint Faustina Kowalska.
The Roman Catholic devotion and venerated image under this Christological title refers
to the unlimited merciful love of God towards all people

The primary focus of the Divine Mercy devotion is the merciful love of God and
the desire to let that love and mercy flow through one’s own heart towards those in need of it.
As he dedicated the Shrine of Divine Mercy, Pope John Paul II referred to this when he said:
“Apart from the mercy of God there is no other source of hope for mankind”.

For a woman whose writings were once banned by the Vatican, the fact that the Catholic world
now recognizes this Polish nun is really quite amazing.

“Twenty-five years ago, her writings were banned by the Vatican and her legacy —
a special devotion to the divine mercy of God — seemed in doubt.

Today she is a saint,
her diary has been translated into more than a dozen languages and her Divine Mercy movement
has attracted millions of Catholics around the world.”

Catholic News Service

For a more in-depth look into St Faustina Kowalska…here is a link:
https://cssfinternational.wordpress.com/2018/04/06/backstory-st-faustina-and-the-divine-mercy-devotion-cns-top-stories/

According to Merriam Webster–Divine is defined as of, from, or like God or a god
Mercy is defined as compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone
whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm

Put the two together and we have Compassion and/ or forgiveness,
shown by God who actually has the power to
punish or harm if so desired…and yet, He desires Compassion and forgiveness…
the same compassion and forgiveness afforded to each of us on Easter
as witnessed through His resurrected Son…

Now, this is not to be some sort of theological debate about our Catholic,
a word that also means Universal, brothers, and sisters in Christ.
Nor is this a debate about saints or the notion of God playing judge, jury and
executioner…this is about the call for all Christians to come together and remember the gift
we’ve each been given and as a Divine gift, it is in turn to be extended to others…

Divine Mercy…may we each pass it on…

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence,
so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Hebrews 4:16

we are our own victims

We must take sides.
Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.
Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.

Elie Wiesel


( a ripening persimon / Julie Cook / 2017)

There is a massive and unrelenting tidal wave descending over us..
It is the tsunami of all things news and the resulting title wave of
sensational headlines.
It’s exasperating just trying to keep up.
Especially if one works hard to shift through the facts searching in vain
for the truth.

However…in the end, I think we all really know what matters most…

That being…helping and assisting people to put their lives back together…
With just one example being down in Texas and Louisiana following the most
unwelcomed visit by Harvey as we all now find ourselves wearily eyeing the sky
as Irma makes her way to come calling…

That’s what’s important.

Yet we are inundated with and by the latest protests, demonstrations and clamorings
of the latest and not so greatest hoopla and brouhaha which stems from something
the sitting president has done or has not done.

Yesterday I read the recent posting by my friend Citizen Tom, ‘Left Holding the Bag’
LEFT HOLDING THE BAG

Tom was recounting the story of King Hezekiah’s response to the prophet Isaiah’s admonishment for a rather arrogant and prideful desire of which Hezekiah was granted.
And yet the king was going to have to live with the fallout from his selfish wants…
of which would now greatly impact those who had been entrusted to his governance and leadership.

Tom went on to relate the similarities of that time long ago to our own time today…
of the current situation we seem to be finding ourselves
in with North Korea and why it’s as bad as it is now.

Tom explained how previous leaders and administrations basically pushed the
ever growing knowledge of the DPRK’s advancing and expanding nuclear progress aside.
Particularly the Obama Administration.
For reasons that appear more selfish in nature than examples of selfless leadership.

Tom muses that King Hezekiah seemed to be more concerned about his own legacy,
to such an extent that he was willing to allow his “people,”
and their future generations, to suffer due in part to his selfish wants.

Just as it seems the former president was more interested in the stats of the moment
and what good things he could be remembered for doing while willfully ignoring
the looming facts and threats of a growing nuclear North Korea.
With the mindset seemingly being “let the next guy worry about it.”

And so now we turn our attentions to the more recent current event…
that being the ongoing immigration debacle and DACA.
Which has resulted in once again, more protests and demonstrations.

Yet as we’ve given such programs the names of our very essence…
names that have made us the nation we are…such as “Dreamers”…
And so we grow angry thinking about those who would dare want
to smash ‘the dream’….

When I was still in the classroom I taught a wealth of different kinds of kids.
Many of whom were here in this country illegally.
How do I know this you ask….
They told me.

I loved my ‘kids’, all of my kids, and the knowledge that many were living
in our community and in our state and in our nation illegally created a difficult situation in my heart.

Yet the bottom line, which I knew and still know, was always the same…
the word illegal.

The word illegal as defined by the Oxford Dictionary :
Contrary to or forbidden by law, especially criminal law.

As in…the law.

We are a burdened society.

Our healthcare is a catastrophic nightmare with skyrocketing costs.
Our prisons are bursting at the seam while the monies can’t keep up.
Our public education budgets are stretched to the end.
Our public assistance programs are being pulled to their limits.
According to Forbes Magazine, “As of March 2016,
the U.S. government owes almost $19.8 trillion to creditors in both long and short
term debt.”
That was based on figures from a year ago, the numbers have only grown larger in that
year’s time.

But we are a people who are the victims of our own human nature.

By and large the majority of us are caring and compassionate people who want
both ourselves and others to be comfortable and happy.
We don’t like feeling uncomfortable and we don’t like seeing others uncomfortable
because their uncomfortableness makes us uncomfortable and we simply
don’t like being uncomfortable.

We like our friends…all of our friends..those who are citizens and those who
are not—those illegal ones amongst us.
We don’t like the idea of sending them away.
We see the tears and the torn families and our hearts become
empathetic and we just say “leave them alone and let them stay…”

But there are huge ramifications with such thinking.
And that is much of our trouble.
Staying only contributes to the already burgeoning burdens we’ve created.
There are simply not the funds, resources or abilities for such….

And so we have laws for a reason.
We try to have a lawful society.
It’s how order is kept.
It is how our society functions properly.

It may not always appear fair, but we have laws to protect ourselves
from ourselves.

People here illegally are just that, illegal.
No matter how much we love them or want them to stay they are illegal
and simply put,
there will always be repercussions for actions that are illegal.

There are laws and processes in place for those who wish to come here legally.
And for all those countless individuals who have done so, what a sham all of that
rigor now becomes as we are heard to now say
“let them all come and let them all stay.”

And what of our increasing burdens?
Those burdens that this stretched nation can no longer carry on under…
under the tremendous weight of resources that cannot and will not keep up…?

So whereas our hearts speak to the tears we see and the cries we hear…
our laws and our leaders, those who know that the laws are there for a reason…
laws which must be upheld despite all the seemingly unkind, unwelcoming,
uncompassionate byproducts and effects…they must be upheld for our own sakes.

And therefore we need leaders who can lead and who are willing to lead when
things become utterly difficult.
And right now, our times are just that, utterly difficult.

We don’t want nor do we need panderers.
We do not want nor do we need appeasers.
We do not want nor do we need those who care more about legacies,
numbers or even popularity…
Because being unpopular is often what is necessary.

But rather we want and need those who can say and do the more painful and unpopular aspects of leading despite the cost to self….
it’s what we need despite ourselves.

So whereas some leaders have been more preoccupied with self, others have not…
and yet how unkind it is that there are those who have had to pick up the pieces
left hiding by those who ignored the difficult and hard…

For truly good leaders understand the burden that is placed upon their shoulders.
Of which consists of protecting ourselves from ourselves…

So is our current president such a man?
At times it appears that he is…but only time will truly tell…
And what we can do in the meantime is to allow him his elected right to try.

Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God.
He will come and save you.”

Isaiah 35:4

indebted

“I don’t know who my grandfather was;
I am much more concerned to know what his grandson will be.”

Abraham Lincoln

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy;
they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”

Marcel Proust


(the cousins circa 1966 )

Family.
A difficult and delightful hodge podge and conundrum all rolled into one.
For good or bad…we all have family….

Do you see the wee awkward one there, the little one in green sitting in the
middle on the couch in this grainy old family photograph?

That would be me.

Little did I realize then that the two cousins, brother and sister, sitting to my immediate right and left would eventually come to be two of the most important people
in my life.

The age difference is 5 and 8 years respectively.
Enough of a deep and wide chasm to keep the young cousin at, what was hoped to
be, a safe distance.
Being just that, I was the little cousin who was to be endured during holidays,
for what was hoped to be only for a day at best.

The only catch was the fact that the two girls were also just that—
the only two girls in a sea of boys with a doting grandmother who had raised
two boys yet always yearned for a girl.
Of which forced these two mismatched girls to spend more time together than either
one particularly cared.

So should it come as any surprise that the older of the two girls tried twice to do
away with the younger one?

How was the fact missed that when these two cousins were once visiting their
grandparent’s farm, deciding to go out for a ride on the horses,
the older one opted not to secure the younger one’s saddle, leaving her dangling precariously between a deep raven or a bed of overgrown brambles…
with the only choice of survival being the brambles….

Or what of the time the older one was told to prepare the younger one something
for supper…and so, what was dubbed a cannibal burger, was quickly served…
simply being a raw hamburger patty that perhaps was hoped served as a last meal….

The teenage boy you ask??
Well he simply had no time for any such foolishness, opting instead to spend
time his own way…away.

And little did any of us know that on that picture day so long ago that
two in the photo would leave us far too soon.

I lived in the family of the younger of the two brothers.

A quiet lazy man who called Atlanta home.
Ours was a small family of four.
The other and older brother lived with his young brood up north in a rural
city in the same state.

The distance often limited the times spent together as “family.”

The oldest cousin in the photo was soon to move states, off to college,
where he would eventually go on to medical school,
marrying and forging his life there, away,
as it is to this very day… so his presence now is of little consequence.

Add also to the photo the fact that two in the picture had been adopted…

And so it was with my having been one of the two adoptees.

Such was that I always had felt a deep void in my heart.
I always felt a disconnect from my cousins…
as if I really wasn’t related and therefore I was always an outsider,
not really related.

We all shared the same last name,
but at some point prior, I actually had had a different last name.
Different family traits, different everything.

Of course today my grown mind knows better and that such a thought never crossed
the minds of my cousins. Simply put, I was just the little cousin…
Yet in my mind I always felt separate from what made the family just that,
a blood bonded family.

As time passed all the cousins went their own separate directions…to school,
careers, marrying and forging lives of their own.
All except for the two youngest boys.

The youngest cousin there on the floor was only 3 years older than me.
We were very close growing up, as our ages dictated that we were the two
relegated to spend the most time together.

We were the best of friends, growing very close over the years as we each dealt
with our own varying family dysfunctions, that was until he was tragically killed
in a car wreck at the age of 23 while at age 20, I was left to pick up our pieces.

My little brother, the youngest of all the cousins would eventually commit suicide
as he could never reconcile himself to having been “given up” and then in
turn adopted…despite the fact that he was always loved and cherished within
this family.

There would always be the occasional wedding or funeral that would bring everyone
back together….
but time, age and distance had placed a divide in the family,
creating a group of strangers rather than bonded relatives.

My family of 4 eventually became a family of 3, then it was down to 2 and
this past March, it became only a family of 1.

Their family of 6 eventually became 5, resting now at an original 4.

But as theirs was the greater in number, it only made sense that their family’s
numbers would grow exponentially…
blossoming to the current total of 31 while mine is up to 4 with a
5th on the way.

But oddly and blessedly enough, time would be kind as it always has a way
of coming around full circle.
It has allowed for the bridging of the chasm of both age and distance…
in turn rendering all of the divides no longer relevant….delightfully
null and void.

Each cousin has lived through, as well as survived, their own life’s tumults…
And the realization and acknowledgement of such has provided a bonding effect.

Those two cousins who sat on either side of me all those many years ago,
along now with their spouses, swooped in to take my small brood of
a family under their care when it was most needed.
And when things became really difficult, they merely intensified their care.
And that care continues as I continue putting the pieces of loss back together again.

No longer was I just the little annoying cousin but I had become more
like the younger sister…
a sister who they each knew would need their love and support.

Family, as we most all know, is a complicated affair.
Never perfect, never what we hold in our minds.
However we are blessed when we realize that our adversities can actually provide
a unifying factor.

Despite having known these people my entire life, I don’t think
we actually got to truly know one another until we became adults.
And since neither of them read this blog I don’t think they’d mind
me telling you how very lucky I consider myself having been “stuck” in the
middle on that couch so very long ago…

Family, for good or bad, we usually all have one….
and how so appreciative I am that this adopted child was blessed by one
with such a tenacious zeal.


(both of my cousins with their mother, my aunt, my now 92 year old aunt,
almost 3.5 years ago in Savannah at my son’s wedding / Julie Cook / 2014)

Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their
own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

1 Timothy 5:8

Leaving a mark

“Our days are numbered. One of the primary goals in our lives should be to prepare for our last day. The legacy we leave is not just in our possessions, but in the quality of our lives. What preparations should we be making now? The greatest waste in all of our earth, which cannot be recycled or reclaimed, is our waste of the time that God has given us each day.”
― Bill Graham

DSCN8564
(the remaining remnants of leaves faded onto the concrete / Julie Cook / 2014)

When all is said and done, what will be said about you?
What will people remember?
Or the question may beg. . .will they remember?
Will it be . . .
“that old rebel rouser”
or
“that old stick in the mud”
or
“they were so very angry”
“they were so terribly lazy”
“they were so selfish”
“they were such a martyr”
“they were so very mean”
“they had the first dime they ever made”
“they were nothing but a workaholic”

Or. . .
Will they say that the world was a better place for having had you in it?

It’s never too late you know.
There’s still time.
Time to turn things around if need be.
Right a few wrongs.
Turn over that new leaf.
Make a few changes.
Nothing drastic.
Just a little tweaking here and there.
Letting go of a few bad habits.
Figuring out what’s really important,
what really matters. . .

Will your mark be negative, rebellious, selfish, destructive
or
will your mark be positive, compassionate, generous, constructive.

There’s still time, but how much. . .I have no idea.

A short story

The greatest legacy one can pass on to one’s children and grandchildren is not money or other material things accumulated in one’s life, but rather a legacy of character and faith.
Billy Graham

DSCN0358
(early 19th century tombstone / Colonial Cemetery / Savannah, GA / Julie Cook / 2014)

Hushed voices whispered across the back porch under the sweltering blanket of an oppressive late August evening.
It was almost 10 PM and the thermometer was reading 86—a welcomed drop from the triple digits which had only added insult to injury in the tiny crowded church. Her thinning frail hand was now working harder than it should, waving the paper program back and forth as she hoped to stir up the stifling night air.

Familiar steps echoed cross the well-worn wooden planks as the screen door creaked to life.
“I thought I told you to oil that door last week”
Her words taking more effort than she had strength to offer.
“Has anyone seen Ellington?”
“Not since lunch” was the whispered response.
Ellington was for the legendary Duke Ellington.

He had always loved listening to the Big Band orchestras. This love began during that most surreal time, back in ’44, when he and the others waited on their orders to come in–orders for the offensive assault that would mark that fateful June day for all of eternity. The days leading up to the invasion were passed nervously while everyone just sat waiting and wondering. There were the endless games of cards, letters written and rewritten home and those same familiar bands playing over and over on the only record player aboard ship. If he ever made it back home, he promised himself, he’d get himself a dog and name it Ellington.

“I haven’t seen him since we got back from the Church.”
“You know how that dog loved your daddy.”
“How old is he now, 12?
“Yeah, I bet he’s sitting down by the gate still waiting on Daddy to come driving up the road in that stupid old pick up.
“It isn’t a stupid pick-up” she shot over her shoulder at her brother sounding angrier then she had intended.

“Mama, can I get you some more tea?” She asks as she stands and stretches muscles now stiff from sitting in the old man’s rocking chair.
“It’s not as comfortable as your Daddy would have made you think, is it?”
“No mam, it’s not. How in the world did Daddy sit out here every night reading that paper of his? I’d rather sit on a fence post. . .” Catherine makes this statement as she gently rubs a weary behind.

“Your daddy had a bit more padding back there then you do sweetie.” At 92 she was a woman still full of warmth and grace. They had been married almost 70 years. He had actually asked her to marry him in a letter, written from France, once he knew he had survived the worst part of the war. It took the letter 6 weeks to make it home. Six weeks of her not knowing if he was dead or alive. When her father brought the mail in the house that evening, he silently slipped the letter across the dinning room table once they had sat down to supper. She looked nervously at both her mother and father, and then slowly opened the thin airmail post, trembling over what it might say.

Suddenly, sending her chair crashing on the floor behind her, she jumped to her feet shouting, apparently to no one present in the room, “Yes, Yes Yes. . .”
That was August 1944.

It would be two more years before they would marry, once the war was finally over and he made his way home with several citations, a silver star and an honorable discharge.
It had not always been an easy life, but it had been a good life. They had raised 4 decent and caring children on that small farm, managing to always pay the bills while keeping everyone feed, especially the three boys. They even made certain that the kids would have the option of going to college if they so chose. And choose they did.

As Catherine made her way inside to the familiar kitchen, pulling open the faded door to the old Frigidaire, relishing the blast of fresh cool air, she hunted the pitcher of tea. “I thought we were all going in together to buy them a new one of these last Christmas.” Catherine mumbles while lingering in the coolness of the refrigerator’s contents. She knew her younger brother had followed her inside.

Gathering the courage to speak his mind, with her back now sufficiently turned in his direction, her younger brother boldly begins to blurt out his quasi-rehearsed speech.

“I think you ought to take mom back with you and I’ll take Ellington back with me. It’s not like she. . .”

He doesn’t even have time to finish his first thought before Catherine slams the door to the refrigerator and whips around so fast that it catches James off guard.
“ WHAT?!” she hisses through clenched teeth as she fights back the angry stinging tears.
She always did have Daddy’s quick temper.
“Are you crazy!?
She proceeds to unleash the full fury of the pain and frustration built over the past few days upon an unsuspecting and well meaning, if not clueless, younger brother.
“I’m not taking her anywhere and you’re certainly not taking that dog back to Boston.
You want to just kill both of them right now?
Taking them from here, especially now, would certainly do it.”

James, now a bit frightened, doesn’t recognize the ranting woman standing across from him.
“Oh I get it. . . Robert knew you were coming in here didn’t he?
I bet you both have been planning all of this when Daddy first got sick.
He’s out there right now ready to tell Mama ya’ll’s plan isn’t he?
And Paul.
What about Paul?
He’s not even here for Christ’s sake.
He can’t even get a plane out of Venezuela for the funeral and you two have already moved her and that dog!
How dare you James!”

And just as quickly as the furious storm is unleashed upon a hapless younger sibling, the rage thankfully subsides.
Catherine suddenly feels as if all the energy, all the anger, mingled with the terrible heaviness of the immense sorrow, has now simply evaporated from her very tired body—as if a tempest wind had suddenly vanished taking all of the energy from the raging storm with it.

Her brother, her younger brother, is no longer looking at her but rather standing with both hands stretched out on the counter, his arms are painfully straining to hold up his now very weary lanky frame–with his head cast downward, he mumbles “ I just thought the boys would like having the dog.”

Catherine, reading the pain in his words, reaches her hand to cover her brother’s. She’s amazed how much James looks like a much younger version of the man she lost only yesterday.
She begins slowly. . .“It’s not like Daddy owed any money on this place. He paid it off 10 years back when he sold off the cows. Mr. Johnson has been paying them for the hay— and Randal and Wilton pay Daddy for renting the fields, plus they’re giving them a percentage of the corn. They can now simply pay Mama.”

“I know you think Richard and I never can agree on much but the one thing we do agree on is Mama and Daddy. I know how much Richard loved Daddy, he’s only wanted the best for both of them.
We’ve talked about it.
I’ve got enough years in at work.
I sent in my letter of resignation last month.
I’m going to stay with Mama for as long as she needs me or wants me.
With the girls now gone, the house is really more than Richard and I need.
We’ve talked about letting Robert list it and we’ll just come back here to the farm until we find something smaller.
Richard can commute to the college.
I can stay a month, six months, a year. . .
You can go back to Alice and the boys, buy the boys a dog, but Ellington has got to stay here with Mama.
Robert is less than two hours a way in Des Moines, he can be here when and if I need him.”

By now a wealth of tears has finally come to both weary faces. Whoever would have thought this pair of once rough and tough siblings would be standing at the counter of the kitchen, the same kitchen that had once witnessed a myriad of mud covered frogs in the brand new porcelain sink, a lethargic lizard placed in the freezer for safe keeping, one too many missing cherry pies from a lone windowsill, as well as the late night secret ins and outs of restless teens, who were now sadly finding themselves, all these many years later, deciding the fate of an aging mother and dog.

“Look at it this way” Catherine interjects attempting to put a much needed smile back on her brother’s face, “this will finally give Mama the chance to teach me how to make that famous gooseberry jam of hers. You know how much she always resented Daddy for turning her only daughter into a 4th farm hand, dashing all her hopes of a little feminism on this male dominated farm.”

James lifts his tear-streaked face to meet his sister’s glance.
“You know how I hated that crap” he sheepishly replies.
“Yeah, I know, just as much as Daddy did.”
James now wide eyed stares in disbelief at his sister.
“Yep, he hated it, said it reminded him of eyeballs covered in sugar, but he’d eat it any way cause he knew how hard she had worked on it”
By now the distinctive boyish grin was slowly returning.

“I suppose that’s what happens when you love someone for 70 years” sighs a very tired Catherine who is now smiling back at her equally tired kid brother. “You’d eat anything they cooked and in turn love an old hound dog named Ellington.

A chair, old things and a story of self

No, no! The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

“A house with old furniture has no need of ghosts to be haunted.”
― Hope Mirrlees

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(engraving from a circa 1890 copy of The Pilgrims Progress / Julie Cook / 2014)

I once taught with a woman who was an exceptional story teller.
No silly, not fortune teller, but rather story teller.
She oddly enjoyed teaching, of all things, freshman english–you know the ones—those young people caught in limbo somewhere between childhood and puberty who believe themselves to “be grown”. . .
Perhaps it was because she felt her young charges were still vulnerable and mouldable, much unlike their upperclassman counterparts. In her opinion there was still hope.

She was a delightful story teller—and that is exactly how she taught, by the use of stories.
It is said that we learn best by the hearing of stories. Perhaps that is how our brain best recalls information by placing dates and events into a story sequence verses simple rote memorization. Perhaps it is mere stimulation for our brains, increasing memory capacity as the imagination is at work.

I often envied her gift for story telling as I was not one to conjure up an immediate tale. Perhaps it was her keen use of imagination whereas I had let my imagination wane long ago. Either way, her students enjoyed her class as would I on those happenstance occasions when I’d be passing by her door as she was in the midst of a full regalia of the latest tale.

Which brings me to something I had told you about a week or so ago—it was a promised tale about a chair.
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(said chair seeking shelter on the streets of Savannah during a thunder storm / Julie Cook/ 2014)

Remember me telling you that I had found a chair at an Antique shop in Savannah when we were gathered for THE wedding? I happened upon it in a massive ancient cavernous warehouse just off River Street. The place was chock full of furniture all from England, France and Italy–dating from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

There were massive pieces of every size and shape fit for only the finest of homes. The most massive of homes. And most likely procured from such grand homes down through the ages. There were Tudor pieces, Georgian pieces, Colonial pieces and every type of Louis— but mainly there were heavy carved English pieces. Armoires, grandfather clocks, dinning tables, bar sets–as in entire massive wooden bars taken from taverns of long ago, wooden chests, cabinets, game tables, and chairs—a myriad of chairs.

We had actually wandered earlier into another antique store where I saw the loveliest group of Windsor chairs—old, as in 200 years or better, very early American Windsors—8 chairs going for the bargain price of $27,000! I knew right then and there I needed to leave that store. The shop keeper actually stopped me on the way out the door telling me he’d let me have them for $18,000.–a real steal. Good lord!! Who does that? Who can afford to do that?? Oh I digress. . .

So as I was weaving my way through the mazes which cut through the massive bevy of ancient wooden pieces, when suddenly, I stopped dead in my tracks. Perched up on a chest was this lone little chair–beckoning, calling out. . .”juuuullliiieeee. . .”
Rich dark wood, an ancient warm and woven cane back and bottom with the most splendid carvings imaginable. Cherubs, flowers crowns—imagine the story behind this lovely little piece!

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“ooooooo”
My husband wanders up behind me.
“What is it” he quips.
“Look” I breathlessly respond staring intently at the chair perched on an equally wonderful wooden chest.
“You like that!?” He quizzically asks as in I can tell he’s wondering why in the world I like it.
“oooooooo”
“How much is it?” he chirps
I look at the tag.
“Too much” I dejectedly respond.
“Where would you put it? The house is already busting at the seams with everything from your dads.”

My house is indeed more shrine than house I suppose. Most everything in the house is from either of my grandmothers or great aunts. A unique and eclectic blend of Italian, French, German and English pieces from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries with my own hodge lodge of 20th century shabby chic. Nothing matches.
There are figurines, china, paintings and furniture.
And my husband is right—almost too much stuff.

And yet this is the stuff of which I am made.

All of the stuff which is stuffed into my house is all the result of everyone in my life having died relatively early on. My mother actually preceded both grandmothers and great aunts to the grave. When you’re the lone surviving offspring, most everything comes your way. And as I happen to lean to the sentimental, I could never part with any of it–selling things away would be akin to selling away pieces of the very people who meant so very much to me.

And just in case you were wondering. . .no, I am not a hoarder thank you very much.

And this now brings us to, I think in part, as to why I love antiques. These pieces laced through my house were the pieces to the lives of my grandmothers, great aunt’s and mother. They made up their respective homes and their respective lives. One grandmother was very much the grand collector–acquiring this and that, then conventionally telling my grandfather, once he noticed some new this or that, “oh that old thing. . .we’ve had that”.
The other grandmother actually worked as a hair dresser in mid town Atlanta in the 1930’s-60’s. She would be given lovely things by her clients–mostly back in the 1940s when such gift giving was not so unexpected.

I can vividly recall where each item was in their homes and of my interactions and recollections. And as I’ve aged, I’ve developed a deep appreciation for the pieces themselves.
For there is a history and a story behind each piece. A story that precedes even my grandmothers.
So many questions. . .
Who originally owned it when it lived across the pond?
Who may have touched it, come in contact with it?
Exactly how old it is?
What is its value?
Where was it located?
Why was it ever sold?
What attracted my grandmother to it?

As a history major throughout much of college, I hold a deep appreciation for the history behind things. It’s all about the story of a people–of how they, we, came to be— which is all so very intriguing.
Are we not all basically the same–those folks of the past along with those of us here and now?
We have not changed all that much over the centuries— as to what makes people, people, and what makes their things real.

The history is the story.
So many questions.
Who sat in this chair?
Who held this plate.
Who put flowers in this vase.
Who bought this as a present for a loved one?
Was this a commissioned piece or just the whimsy of a gifted carpenter?
Was it a part of a set?
What was the story of the journey from there, wherever there was, to here?
All this plays through my mind as I stand buried in a warehouse of ancient furniture staring at a lonely old chair marveling at how truly delicate the cane is woven–completely original–you don’t see such all that often.

My husband, who must have felt sorry for me as we were in the midst of wedding central and must have thought I was soon to be at my breaking point, offered to buy the chair as an early anniversary present (31 years in August)
“OOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”
Then quickly,”Oh no, it’s too much” I exclaim regaining some composure.
“I’ll get it if you really want it. . .”

15 minutes later we’re on our way back to the hotel, chair in tow.

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(sweet husband with chair)

Imagine the sight—my husband precariously carrying an antique chair through the old historic district of Savannah, down busy Bay Street, about a mile back to the hotel, with my aunt and I in hot pursuit. People were staring and commenting on the chair.
“Is it South African?” one man inquires.
“Heaven’s no” I exclaim—as I think to myself—We’re standing in the middle of colonial America for crying out loud, as in the 13th colony, founding city, James Oglethorpe, Georgia, as in King George, for Heaven’s sake. . .South African, really. . .

Suddenly a thunderstorm appears out of no where. I shriek, yelling for my husband to seek shelter between some massive columns protruding form some downtown building. We hunker down into the narrow protected space— the 3 of us plus chair– all tightly pressed against a massive granite building waiting for the rain to subside.

The chair stayed in my hotel room during the remainder of the wedding weekend. Family and friends wandering in would exclaim “oh my, did that chair come with the room?” Again, really?!
Eventually, upon our departure, the chair was given a prime place in the car for the long journey back home. It now graces a corner in my family room—maintaining its aura of royalty.

Maybe its Scottish?
Maybe it hails from Mary Queen of Scots. Maybe she sat on it while contemplating her cousin Elizabeth’s quandary.
Maybe William Wallace or Robert the Bruce sat upon it waiting for freedom—I know, that’s a big stretch time wise.
or maybe more like Robbie Burns penning his latest forlorn thoughts or perhaps Rob Roy plotting rebellion. . .

Or maybe it’s just some little pub chair from some long forgotten little tavern– happy now to finally be out of the pub. . .
The history is truly the story. . .

(Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow regarding the acquisition of a most interesting object last week from Scotts Antique Show in Atlanta—talk about a story)