Monthly Archives: December 2013

The Things We Leave Behind

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Reflections as 2013  comes to a close…

I’ve been at a loss about writing this post because I don’t want Patchwork And Potpourri to be sad, and right now there is a lot of sadness in my world.  Several friends have lost family members.  In other parts of my world, relationships are strained, stressed and broken.  People sometimes can’t get along, or maybe even stand the sight of one another.  Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s don’t magically make these issues disappear…in fact, in some cases, the holidays just make these situations more painful.

Lots of holiday movies paint a picture of perfect people living perfect lives, snuggled next to roaring fires in snow-covered cottages with steaming mugs of cocoa.  There are blissful children around a Christmas tree laden with gifts.  It’s all very  Norman Rockwell.  My favorite holiday movie depicts quite a different scenario, one in which the protagonist thinks the world would be better off if he had never been born.

I had the chance recently to read Philip Van Doren Stern’s novella “The Greatest Gift”, the story upon which the classic Frank Capra movie,  “It’s A Wonderful Life” is based.  While the movie fills in a lot of elements not in the original story, the essence remains the same.  One person’s life makes a difference.  We all leave something behind.

In a series of concerts I sang in the weekend before Christmas, I spent some time looking more closely at my surroundings in the venue than I ever have before.  I wrote a bit about this and shared some musical instrument photos in my most recent post here.  Particularly fascinating to me were the many pieces of memorabilia backstage.

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Items ranging from poignant to ridiculous adorn almost every corner, ledge and inch of wall space.

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I don’t know why I’ve never paid any attention to all of the “stuff” backstage before, but this year I noticed it as though for the first time.  Among the various visual stimuli are decades worth of graffiti scrawled on the cinderblock walls.  I can’t help wondering about the people who have marked on the walls, left hats and boxing gloves and other items there.  And yes, I succumbed to the urge to leave my own mark behind.

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Isn’t that what we all want, after all?  To leave our mark on the world, some evidence that we were here.  A single friend was talking recently about how the holidays make his uncoupled status seem sadder than at other times, and that he just wants to feel like he matters, that he is cared for.  I responded that the search for significance is universal, whether we are coupled or single, gay or straight, old or young or someplace in the middle.

We ALL want to know that we matter.  We want to know that, once we are gone from this world, someone, maybe numerous someones, will miss us and remember us with love.  We want to know that we left something meaningful behind.

As 2013 comes to a close, my prayer is that I have been building something meaningful to leave behind me, that my world is maybe a  little better for my having been here.  I have no human children, so my legacy will not take that form, but I will still have a legacy. We all do.

If someone remembers that I made them laugh, or held them when they cried…if I blessed someone with a song or offered encouragement when it was needed…if I lightened a load or kept someone company…then I’ve left something meaningful behind.  I hope to continue building a legacy of memories, laughter and music for the people I encounter along the way.

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Make Me An Instrument

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Hearing and seeing the beauty around us…

“The Week” has begun.  Every year the Knoxville Choral Society teams up with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra and various other music/dance ensembles for a series of holiday concerts, and this is “The Week”.  It is a week of rehearsals, final tweaking of the program and last-minute polishing of our weekend musical offerings to the community.  It is always a feast for both eyes and ears, a spectacle of movement, color and sound.

I will admit that I find “The Week” to be a mixed bag of excitement and fatigue.  Ultimately, though, there is a sense of wonderment that so many musicians, conductors, singers, dancers, sound technicians, lighting designers and costumers have all joined forces to make this concert series come together.  Numerous composers and arrangers are represented in each year’s program, and I am always especially impressed at their creative gifts, both in arranging existing music in new ways and in conjuring altogether original compositions.

At last night’s rehearsal I took a few moments to really look at some of the instruments so expertly played by our orchestra friends.  I’ve been around instruments my whole life and it’s easy to take their beauty for granted.  So it is with anything—or anyone—we have become accustomed to.  Looking at these familiar instruments through my camera’s lens brought me a fresh appreciation for their beauty, both in the craftsmanship with which they were fashioned and in the sounds they make in the hands of a skilled player.

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Such intricacy of design and workmanship!  And the marks of use and love worn into them over years, often decades, of playing and working, make each one unique unto itself and bear witness to a life of faithful musical service for both the instrument and the one who plays it.

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The paradox is that even the most expensive instrument is silent until someone plays it, and if it is not played well, all its expensive materials and workmanship don’t amount to much.  By the same token, a skilled and caring musician can take an average, or even poor, instrument and make glorious, beautiful sound pour forth from it.  It is all in the hands and heart of the player.

We have all heard and/or read the famous Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi:  “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace…”  Especially now at Christmas, which is joyful but also very difficult for a lot of us, for a variety of reasons, I pray to be an instrument of peace in the lives of those I love.  Where there is hatred, let me show love.  Where there is injury, pardon.  Where there is pain, healing.  Where there is stress, calm.  In the noise and clamor and chaos of this world, Lord, make me an instrument of peace in Your masterful hands, bringing serene harmony into the lives of those around me.

Lord, make me an instrument.

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Ghosts of Christmas Past

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Nostalgia has me going in circles…

I was invited, and very much looking forward to, a wedding this evening. However, my body had other plans. After a week and a half of not feeling well I finally dragged myself in to the doctor’s office today and left with a prescription for some strong antibiotics, as well as a medium-sized dose of self-pity. It’s very cold outside, and that cold seems to have seeped into my very bones tonight. Oh well, I thought, if I can’t be at the wedding of my two friends, at least ‘The Grinch” is coming on and I can enjoy that. Imagine my disappointment when, instead of the animated 1960’s television classic, the opening credits to the modern-day theatrical release blared from my TV screen. Not that there’s anything wrong with the movie, I guess. It just is not what I was expecting, and not what I wanted.

Hence this blog post. This time of year finds me revisiting Christmases of my childhood, youth, early marriage…ghosts of Christmas past, I suppose, the circle of years. I remember kid-Christmases with Reed and our cousins at our house on Ford Street and their house on Arnold Street, when dolls and teddy bears and toy trucks were the things our fondest little dreams were made of.

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I still have my last Christmas present from Granny before she died, a little black and white panda bear. It has a music box inside it that used to play “Frere Jacques”, but the winding key was lost decades ago. Later Christmases on Ford Street, and then on Denwood after the bridge took the Ford Street house, included a big supper with lots of family coming and going on Christmas Eve, which was always when we opened presents and had our gathering. Mamaw and Papaw would be there, after Dad or Reed would go and pick them up. Mamaw and Papaw were homebodies and often huffed and puffed about coming over, but they always had a wonderful time once they were there. One year I remember we all got watches for Christmas, Mamaw and Papaw included.

Often Aunt Ruby and Aunt Martha spent the evening with us as well, contributing something to the dinner table and providing lots of love and laughs. A highlight for me was always after supper and presents, when we’d gather around the piano and sing. Mama always played beautifully and sang alto, and the rest of us harmonized on familiar Christmas carols and old-timey songs out the hymnbooks that are in my collection now. Aunt Martha singing “Ivory Palaces” echoes in my soul to this day, her sweet soprano drifting through the recesses of my memory.

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For a large part of my life, I was unaware that my Mamaw played both piano and organ.  Once she asked Mama if she could play the piano, and Mama said, “Why, sure, Mamaw, play it all you want!”  And she did, like a house afire!  This side of Mamaw was a revelation to me, and what a kick we all got from seeing and hearing her play with such vigor and pleasure.

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Papaw enjoyed our musical holiday tradition as well, often adding his voice to the female chorus.  Dad would usually sit reading quietly, and Reed generally took the pictures, including, I believe, the second and third ones posted here.  He was a photographer from a very young age.

Some of my Christmas gifts have been memorable, like the “watch” Christmas, and the year Granny gave me the musical panda bear.   One year Mama and Dad gave me my “hope chest”, a lovely cedar box with its natural striated red and golden grain left showing, a gift which made me weep with joy.  The year Jeff proposed and gave me my ring and the first place setting of our good china was a milestone Christmas, as was our first married Christmas when all I asked for was a good winter coat (which I still own and can once again fit into!).

Some years the gifts were quickly outgrown or forgotten.  Some gifts, I am ashamed to admit, were disappointing to me.  Looking at all the decades of Christmases, I realize that the true gifts did not come stowed under the tree wrapped in shiny paper.  The true gifts came as we made circles.  Circles around the supper table sharing food, laughter and well-worn family stories.  Circles around the piano, blending voices in harmony as we sang other well-worn stories from out of the hymnbooks.  Circles now incomplete down here because Mama, Mamaw and Papaw and The Aunts have gone to celebrate their Christmases in Heaven.  I look forward to the day when in Paradise every day will be like Christmas…when once again our circle will be complete.

Happy Birthday, Dear Sweet Pea

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How I won the Husband Jackpot…

It all started in the summer of 1982. I had just graduated from high school and was looking forward to new adventures in the college world in a few months. I had been seeing someone most of my senior year of high school, and we were still dating, although no longer exclusively. He was a nice guy, but we were not well suited for one another. A longtime friend of mine from elementary school, Gary, was working with Jeff, aka Sweet Pea, at Winn-Dixie and suggested to Jeff that he might ask me out. And he did. And the rest is history.

Well, sort of.

I should give a bit of background at this point. Jeff and I were 2 years apart in high school and, while we didn’t really know each other, we knew each other’s faces and were aware of each other’s existence. I actually worked up the courage to ask him to the Y-Teen Formal (Y-Teens was an all-girl club at school and the formal was a girl-ask-guy affair, like Sadie Hawkins dances. He already had a date. I was mortified. I never spoke to him again until he called to ask me out on our first date.) For this reason I call Gary’s fix-up of us not a blind date, but a “nearsighted” one.

I remember our first date vividly. He took me to see “Tron” at the theater and when he took me home, I invited him in for a glass of tea so we could talk some more. He stayed a long time…a REALLY long time. We talked and drank tea and he kissed me goodnight and it was a perfectly lovely evening, one that I hoped would repeat itself many, many times. And it did.

Our courtship was not without its rough patches, and our marriage has had a few of those as well.  Relationships involve flawed people and, as such, are subject to those people’s foibles and mistakes.  I will admit in writing, for all the world to see, that most of the foibles in our relationship have been mine.  He knew I was crazy going into this shootin’ match.

He was born on December 5, 1961.  Mom Cutshaw always said that it took her 16 years of marriage to have 3 children, and it did.  Mom and Pop Cutshaw were married in November, 1945, eloping when he came back from the war.  In June 1950, Jeff’s brother Howard was born, followed by Bridget in January 1955.  Mom Cutshaw joked that she “watched 1960 really close!” , but alas, Jeff came along in December of 1961.  (He graduated from kindergarten as Howard was graduating from high school.)  Mom Cutshaw told me that she knew the morning after they conceived him that they’d made a baby.  I for one am eternally grateful that they did!

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Among all the other reasons that Sweet Pea is special, the most important to me is that after all these years together, he can still make me laugh.  He is, in fact, the funniest person I’ve ever known in my life.  And considering some of the characters in my family, that is indeed saying something!

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He is also generous and tenderhearted.  I’ll never forget the times he has come home after a holiday shopping trip with misty eyes because of some child’s heartbreaking Angel Tree request for warm socks or a winter coat.  I have never been more proud of him than when he learned how to give injections to Mom Cutshaw as she battled cancer.  He is a sweet, decent, caring man, one who married into my family and loved them like his own.  And they loved him just as much, Mama most of all.  It was Mama, in fact, who gently pointed out to me that with Jeff, I seemed to laugh a lot.  I think she knew I would marry him long before I knew it.

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We’ve had a wonderful life together so far, with the good times more than balancing the bad ones.  And now with his birthday once again approaching, I just wanted to take a moment to share why he is so wonderful, why I love him so much, and to say that I am forever grateful for having won the Husband Jackpot when I married him.

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And as I have shared in other places, I have to share my favorite picture of us together, lovingly captured by Howard a number of years ago.  The looks on both of our faces pretty much express the totality of our life together.

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Happiest of Happy Birthdays, my precious Sweet Pea!  It may be your birthday, but I am the one who receives the gift.  Thank you for giving me a life I could never have imagined without you.  I love you with all my heart, for all my life.  ❤