Jeanne Hewell-Chambers

& her barefoot heart

Tag: stories (page 1 of 2)

Playing in the Meadow on the Other Side of the Rainbow Bridge

kippandotto1

My boy, Kipp, rescued him from a Denver humane society.
It was between the border collie and a Corgi – he couldn’t decide.
Ultimately, Kipp chose well.

neuroticotto

Otto was a slightly neurotic dog
afraid of the most, um, unusual things.

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He was a mischievous dog,
though you usually only knew
he’d been mischievous
when he had this certain look about him.
Oh, he knew you were smart enough to figure it out eventually,
but he was always hopeful that once – just once –
he’d be wrong about you.

otto1
If you couldn’t find Otto,
you could bet your bottom dollar
that something resembling food
(cooked, raw, packaged, unpackaged – no matter)
had been left within, oh, 4′ from the edge of the kitchen counter.

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Otto was a dog secure enough in his own manhood
to be prissy on occasion . . .
without apology.

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We’re still not quite sure which one
Marnie fell in love with first:
Kipp or Otto,
but no matter.
They were a package deal
and she won both their hearts.

ottowatchesover

And though they were as nervous
as any first-time parents in the history of the galaxy ever were,
Otto proved to be a good Big Brother
to Calder Ray,
watching over him when others
well
went to sleep on the job.

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Though they’ll surely adopt another furry baby
sometime down the road
when their hearts have had time to heal,
one thing is for sure:
the next Chambers canine will have awfully big paws to fill.

mygranddog

R.I.P. Otto.
You were the best Son Dog,
the best Big Brother Dog,
the best Granddog,
the best Great Granddog,
the best Nephew Dog,
the Best Friend
ever.

A Stitch from the Past

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About 15 years ago, I had this idea: I cut circles from fabric and stitched biographical plates (portraits) of my ancestors. Small projects, easy to tuck into my bag and work on wherever I happened to be. And what did I do after stitching them?

Nothing.

I’d planned to stitch them onto a tablecloth . . . but that never happened. I just tucked them into the scrap suitcase were they lingered (forgotten) until I went to grab bits I might use on The Storyteller’s Apron, #1: Sky Rider.  Now the plates will become constellations – or maybe galaxies – as I stitch along with Jude Hill and the #sunmoonstars gang.

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This is the plate of my maternal granddaddy who was a sheriff in Fayette County, GA who liked to play checkers with his grandchildren and took it upon himself to teach each of us to drink coffee. He’d pull us into his lap, fill a saucer with milk, then add a splash of steaming hot Luzianne coffee – just enough to turn the milk a tan color. We’d blow on it and blow on it and blow on it, sending the steam across the room, sipping from the saucer only when there was no more steam to blow. Me? I took part in the ritual up till the part of sipping the milked-down coffee. That was as far as I could go, and to this day, I’ve never even tried coffee.

Wordless Whispers

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In the midst of block for The 70273 Project, a box lands
with a return address from Mary Ellington.
It is filled not with blocks,
but with baby dresses

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and baby bonnets

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and a special occasion baby’s bib.

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There are two adult garments
that motivate me to stick to my diet and exercise
so that i can wear them as dusters one day soon.

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“i know you’ll do something magical with them,”
her note says.

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i have no image in mind yet,

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but the tender clothes
already whisper to me
and oh the stories

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their vulnerable lace

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and tender tucks

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and age-old stains
long to tell.

~~~

Thank you, Mary, for honoring me
with these special, delicate items,
for trusting me
to hear, transcribe, and share
their stories.

Maybe you want to hear their stories
and watch as their personal histories unfold?
And maybe you want to keep your finger on the pulse
of The 70273 Project?
Here’s one way to do just that.

Memories of Makings, part 1

Corallamp

From our front window, I watched Granddaddy’s Ford come up the dirt road – slowly so as not to kick up the dreaded red dust that was bad to seep in and cover everything with a veil of grit – and pull into their driveway. We lived right across the road from them on land Granddaddy and Grandmother gave Daddy as a site for his first house. Their mailbox was a standard issue mailbox on a wooden post that leaned a little to the left and wobbled when mail was put in or taken out, but our mailbox was special. Daddy welded a chain with big, thick black links to stand up straight and hold our mailbox securely. Our mailbox didn’t lean or wobble, and with both men being named Crawford Hewell, I suppose this difference was more than aesthetics.

Because you could pull right up to it, we all used the side door instead of the back or front doors, and when the Ford stopped, Granddaddy turned off the engine, put on the parking brake, and pocketed the keys. But instead of going into the house – even before they took their suitcases out of the boot – Grandmother and Granddaddy headed straight for me – their first granddaughter – and they never once came empty handed.

Having buried four of their five children before I was born, they delighted in me and I in them. Usually it was dresses they brought. Frilly, ruffly shirtwaist dresses with a big sash that tied in the back. Whatever the fabric – plaid, polka dots, dotted swiss – the dresses always came with a petticoat that spread my skirt out big enough to seat six. And I ask you: what dress is complete without patent leather shoes of a color that matched the dress, and fold-down socks with rows and rows of lace? Sometimes there were gloves and a pocketbook. Maybe even a hat. Oh yes, I was well dressed and heavily accessorized.

But after a trip to Florida, they came bearing nothing wearable but a lamp festooned with colorful shells, dyed coral, palm trees, a plastic flamingo or two, and sometimes a seahorse – all set in plaster and celebrated in light when plugged in. I never, not once, slept in the dark thanks to Grandmother and Granddaddy Hewell.

As a child, I had an impressive collection of these lamps, and I adored every one of them. My eyeglass-clad hazel eyes glazed over at the site of these emblems of being cherished. I mean shoot, Grandmother and Granddaddy didn’t bring Mother and Daddy back a souvenir.

Yes, these lamps and these people were special to me, so you can imagine my delight and surprise when I came across another special book on our outing yesterday: Kitschy Crafts: A Celebration of Overlooked 20th-Century Crafts by Jo Parkham & Matt Shay. Just look at that cover, would you!

Bookcover

As a child, I was bad to make things. I turned the pump house into a veritable palace, using bushel baskets for stools at a counter I created from well, I don’t remember what, but something I found laying around. Not only was I out of Mother’s hair as I puttered around bringing order to the chaos of that pump house, my creativity blossomed in the process. I was never happier than when using whatever I had on hand or could lay claim to to create private spaces for myself.

Between the covers of this book are page after page of things I’ve made in my lifetime.

Stringart

Remember string art? I still have the boat I made for my father-in-law. I’ll show it to you next time I head to the attic.

Macramepocketbook

And macrame pocketbooks? As a flat-broke newlywed, my mother-in-law tore an article out of a Southern Living magazine and gave it to me cause she thought I’d like to make a macrame headboard for our bed. She was right. Again.

There’s more, but I’ve gone on way long enough, so I’ll show you more tomorrow.

~~~~~~~

I’m preparing to dust off and rev up an online trellis I offered two years ago for folks interested in finally sitting down to pen their life stories. If you’re interested, leave a comment here or on facebook or shoot me a note so I’ll know to let you know when I finish with the details.

the janus approach

Rinsecycle7a

we trekked to the cemetery, that stormy morning in april, in search of tombstones to rub, transferring their images to our cloths. as we pulled away from art camp with susan lenz two days later – i mean, we were literally about to back out of the parking lot – i got a call that my friend valerie along with her husband and their daughter had died when their house burned.

who knew cloth could commit foreshadowing . . .

Rinsecycle7b

right on the heels of that, another call that my 32 year old cousin billy – who, over the past 14 months had endured everything science had to throw at his cancer and was waiting for tests in june that would determine the success of those treatments – was not doing well. in less than 2 weeks, he went from eating a bowl of grits at the kitchen table to back in the hospital for more tests. that was saturday, 4/26. on monday (4/28) came the news that the cancer had spread to his brain. on tuesday (4/29) came the news the cancer had spread to his spine. a week later on sunday (5/4), billy was moved to hospice. last night he took his last earthly breath.

“come make him laugh,” his mother mary said when she called me. my husband, mother, and i spent that wednesday afternoon at his bedside telling the old familiar family stories. legends, really. i told the same ole’ stories – even used the same ole’ words – and we still laughed till our sides split. stories are like that.

days later, his mother pulled her chair up close to billy’s bed and let the memories spill right out of her heart. for more than two hours, she told billy good memories she has of him. “i just wanted him to go out with lots of good memories,” she told me. i don’t know about you, but i can’t think of a finer send-off.

he’s only 32. billy is only 32 years old, and i just want to go on record saying that i find it especially cruel that a mother has to bury a child (especially so close to mother’s day) and that a 32 year old as good and fine as billy should die in the spring.

Rinsecycle7h

today we bury another cousin, a quiet man who served in the vietnam war. he didn’t raise his hand to go, but when he was called, he went. my last memory of theron is of him telling stories about our grandparents. i was throwing a family reunion in my backyard, and i’d asked everybody to jot down their memories of grandmother and granddaddy so i could include them with the cookbook of grandmother’s recipes i’d created. not much of a writer, theron called me and talked for more than 3 hours, spilling one precious memory after another. to this day, i cherish those hours spent sitting on the back deck, looking around at all that needed to be done in preparation for the reunion, but not even really seeing it as i trekked down memory lane with theron.

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it’s been an emotionally rough spring.

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that’s not the whole story, though . . .

i just got a text message from my sister-in-law, carole, that her daughter/my niece will not be having her baby today – her labor will not be induced, anyway. we’ll just have to see what mother nature has to say about things.

tomorrow we celebrate the anniversary of my beautiful, precious daughter’s birth. on March 19 of this year, she had a partial thyroidectomy. she’s an actor and a singer, so of course we were on pins and needles about someone cutting on her throat. but my brother-in-law donn steered us to a surgeon who did an outstanding job as you can very well hear for yourself.

later this month we’ll join in merriment and shenanigans when my son kipp married the lovely and long-necked marnie. you’ll surely be hearing more about this as the days roll on. (i’m “foreshadowing” over on facebook, if you’d like to connect there. you’ll need to be logged in for the link to work.)

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we have memories. oh good lord, do we have memories – and that’s something you just can’t buy, regardless of how much money you have. memories . . . stories . . . those are treasures far greater than any amount of gold or silver or real estate. greater than any fleet of planes or drawers of diamonds or walls filled with paintings.

stories are art. so let’s get on out there and make some art today, why don’t we.

(but maybe forego the tombstone rubbings.)

(just sayin’.)

stories seen and unseen

Heartrock

Stories are what make us . . . not the other way around. ~ Roger Housden

One day, perhaps for no discernible reason, you decide you want to dig up that cute little heart shaped rock and take it home. You get down on your knees and brush the dirt away. You dig at it with a trowel, trying to unearth it, and in the process, you find that it’s only heart-shaped because of the way the dirt has piled up around it, giving it shape and defining it as a heart. Through continued digging you discover that it’s not just a cute little heart-shaped rock, after all, but a part of something bigger – something much, much bigger.

The digging is hard work in and of itself, and that’s why some people prefer to enjoy the cute little heart-shaped rock as it is, to leave it undisturbed . . . which is absolutely fine. Whether you want to leave it as the heart-shaped rock you’ll enjoy on your walks or unearth the boulder and see what bedrock you’re walking on, perhaps you’d like to join the Keepsake Writing Tribe. We kick off on Saturday, 2/15 and we saved you a seat.

of likenesses and lightnesses

Candle

when my children were tots, we’d bundle them up and drive around looking at the christmas lights, refining our aesthetic senses, you know, each of us awarding our own best display award that grew more competitive every year under our increasingly trained and discerning eyes. just when i’d definitively declare that i preferred the white lights over the colored lights, we’d come upon a house that was obviously festooned by someone with a knack for design and a love for color. we all panted at the sight of trees (not christmas trees but plain ole’ yard trees) decked out in strands of white lights – initially because even with the gentlest breeze, they look like they’re twinkling and because they were ordinary yard trees pulled into the holiday celebration and what’s not to love about that), but it didn’t take all that long for us to pity the trees given a single, solitary strand of lights, poorly and thoughtlessly placed, preferring the trees lavished in white lights – so many it looked like they were an organic part of the tree, like they were well-lit lichen. (we developed a new degree of respect for the more miserly, haphazardly lit trees though, when we began to imagine them being dressed by a well-meaning but blind mother.)

when the children got too old for such things, andy and i weren’t nearly ready to bring this tradition to a close, so we bundled up my 90-something great aunts, put them in the backseat, and drove them around to look at christmas lights. one year, as we passed through the center of this town in south north central georgia (i’ll wait while you figure that out) (that’ll take too long, so a hint: it’s my clever way of saying “landlocked”) on the way to deliver them home, aunt lucy looked out the window at fayetteville’s main street awashed in well-lit snowflakes and said, “Irene, don’t the people who live on the water have the purtiest view?”

we had one or two trees in our own yard that we festooned with white lights annually, andy and i, and with the repeated effort, we learned how to apply them so that they didn’t look like what it were: trees dressed by a well-meaning but blind mother. as we struggled with ladders and branches and never enough lights, i remembered the year daddy outlined the roof of our house in blue lights. (using a single color instead of every hue in the crayon box simply wasn’t done in those days.) (mother was always cutting edge when it came to design.) daddy put those lights up and didn’t take them back down for something like 949 days.

an aside: that particular story remembered at that particular moment in that particular context is when i learned about what my friend jane cunningham calls reframing – a most helpful tool when dealing with family memories, if you catch my drift.

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my christmas decorations this year include the red candle that kicked off this post (a free gift with purchase at a local antique store.) (using my highly trained and discerning eye, i chose the one that hadn’t been burned yet.) (the buckeyes were free, too.) (at lest i think they were.) and these two adorables created by my friend tom smith. i LOVE them, don’t you? there’s such a playful spirit about them. they’re just downright fun. the small santa with the black eye and the blue beard (reference to folktales or temperature, tom?) and the larger santa hobbled together from an assortment of tender scraps and bits. (just imagine this larger santa at the office christmas party. he’s probably the guy hanging out by the copy machine the entire time.) it’s the definition of art for me: taking something out of its intended use and giving it fresh life in a new context. now that i think about it, being friends with tom is like having christmas every day. he’s a treasured friend who challenges me with his thoughtful, well-placed questions that are always asked (or at least received) as gentle nudges and window openings (often windows that have long since been painted shut); delights me with our conversations (which often come together like his artwork – a gregarious pulling together of all sorts of odd things that initially seem unrelated); and encourages me with his keen insightfulness (that always makes me feel like he finds me intelligent and capable and maybe like he sees more in me than i present). (if you find yourself wondering if his mother was also a formidable teacher, you’d be right.)

you know, now that i think about it, what i’m really doing is decorating my studio with self portraits of and by tom. no lights required.

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Her 108th drawing:

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My 108th stitching:

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Day 2 of the Storytelling Festival started with a car pulling into the parking space right beside us. “Hey,” called out the smiling woman driving, “didn’t we park next to y’all yesterday, too?” They did. How’s that for a needle in the haystack moment?

I didn’t sleep so good last night, and during one of the many wake ups that punctuated the night, I hatched an idea. An idea that pulls together several things I love. I’ll tell you more later, but listen: after we parked and made our way to the bus, I spied a man’s work glove. Husband was kinda’ channeling his dad this morning, so I just bent over, moved the glove from the road to the sidewalk, then kept going. But as we waited in line for the bus to arrive and ferry us over to the storytelling festival, that glove called out to me, saying “Hey, remember your idea? I’m where you start.” And nothing would do but to run back (and I mean run because we were third in line, the bus was coming, and remember – hubs was already not in the best mood), pick up that glove, and tuck it in my pocketbook. We didn’t lose our place in line, and I smiled all day thinking about that special find, reaching in and patting it every now and then. Found some other objects during the day, too, as you can see in the photo. It was a good day for found object loot. There’s a story in these objects – you know there is – and it’s already brewing. Hey, take a close look at that turning leaf – do you see the face? Here’s another shot:

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~~~~~~~~~

She is my developmentally disabled sister-in-law, Nancy,
and I am Jeanne, the woman who flat-out loves her.
Go here to start at the beginning and read your way current.
And pssst: there’s a pinterest board, too.

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First, she draws:

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Then I stitch:

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If you like stories, take a few minutes to trot over here and help yourself. We’re at the storytelling festival this weekend. I bought myself a thimble for this year’s souvenir – an old, well-used, dented, and tarnished thimble. Seems about right.

Thimble2

~~~~~~~~~

She is my developmentally disabled sister-in-law, Nancy,
and I am Jeanne, the woman who flat-out loves her.
Go here to start at the beginning and read your way current.
And pssst: there’s a pinterest board, too.

stories, stories, everywhere and not a need for drink

Tentop1

Their father was strict – oh my goodness gracious, he was strict. He worked in a garage, and that’s probably why he wouldn’t let them wear shorts outside the house. Fortunately for the older sister, you could set a clock by her father, so in the summer she could lay out in the sun in her swimsuit and still make it inside, change, and be presentable and ready for supper when her daddy got home. They had an aunt named Mary (but everybody called her Aunt Mert cause they all had nicknames. Their Uncle Howard was called Paps. See, I told you: everybody had nicknames.) Aunt Mert was a mess. I mean that woman was a mischief maker. Once, when she was a teenager, Mert’s mother and grandmother dropped her off at church, and as soon as their car rounded the corner, Aunt Mert hopped in her friend’s car and off they went. But tragedy struck: the car wrecked. Flipped over, I’m telling you, and without even slowing down to check on anybody, Aunt Mert scooted on back up to the house where she was when her Mother and Grandmother got in from church. “Goodness gracious,” the grandmother said, “such a wreck you’ve never seen. Those poor young people flipped their new car. What a mess they left all over the road.” “Well, I hope none of them got hurt too bad,” Aunt Mert said. And I want you to know that the mother and grandmother never found out Mert was a passenger in that car.

Door1

Her first house cost $1600. Didn’t have an indoor bathroom, so they saved their money and took up part of the kitchen to build a bathroom. It was her mother’s idea. Her mother was real stupid until this woman got married, then her mother turned smart again.

Clock1

They came down umpteen years ago – 27 or 28 as they recollect – with a couple who they were friends with at that time. The couple moved from Connecticut to Charlotte, NC. After settling into their new home in Charlotte, the friends called one day. “Y’all want to come down and go to the storytelling festival with us?” The husband thought that was the most ridiculous thing he ever heard, so they declined. The next year, the friends called again: “Y’all want to go with us to the storytelling festival?” and this time the couple couldn’t think of a good excuse, so down they trotted from Connecticut to Charlotte where they loaded into one car and came over to the festival. That was either 27 or 28 years ago. Neither one can really remember. (This year the Charlotte couple is in Croatia and are appalled that the folks from Connecticut came to the storytelling festival without them.)

Corn

“Can you hear from back here?” she asked as she sat down next to me. “If they’ll be quiet,” I said, nodding to the two men sitting behind us. “If they make too much noise, we’ll just slap ’em,” a solution that seemed to tickle her. Turns out she’s the wife and grandmother of the men sitting behind us, so you might say that we hit it off right from the start. Her husband is named Brick, named after his Uncle Brick who grew up in Mississippi, two houses down from Tennessee Williams. By all accounts, Tennessee Williams was rather effeminate, and it doesn’t take a great store of imagination to know that made Tennessee a likely target for a fella named Brick. But then Tennessee grew up and wrote Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. With a character named and modeled after, you guessed it: Brick. That very childhood nemesis.

Steeple

Musicians accompany themselves and sing on the sidewalks. Streets are closed. Schools declare today a holiday and rent out their lots and buses. Churches open their doors and sell you soup, sandwich, desserts, beverage, cornbread, and crackers – all you can eat – for $7/person. For three full (and I do mean FULL) days, stories are told under big tents set up all over Jonesborough, Tennessee. The air is filled with stories, and not all of ’em are told on stage . . .

Pumpkin2

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