Tag Archives: nostalgia

Take Me There

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Radio days…

This time of year always brings with it a tsunami-sized wave of nostalgia, memories of holiday seasons past and the people who fill those memories.  Sights, smells, flavors and especially sounds, fill my head and heart with both laughter and longing as I recall the many hours I spent “on the board” working in radio stations playing Christmas songs in the solitude of a tiny studio, music unheard at any other time of year except in my memories.

Working on the air was, for me, a chance to touch people without ever seeing them.  Different from live performance in that I spoke to an audience I couldn’t see, radio also allowed my listeners to imagine what I might be like without ever laying eyes on me.  I had regular callers at every station I worked for who, for the most part, were friendly, polite and respectful…even those who flirted and asked me out, sight unseen!  There were also occasional callers who made me feel uncomfortable, even threatened.  Anyone who has ever been on the air has experienced such things, especially my fellow “lady jocks”.  We all have stories to tell!

I’ve been out of the business for a long time now, but listening to the radio this time of year always takes me back to specific times and places.  I can’t hear Dan Fogelberg’s “Same Auld Lang Syne” without being transported to the top of Sharps Ridge, remembering the view from the studio window…often with my friend Ron visiting after finishing his own air shift at another radio station across town, drinking coffee and smiling at me from across the console.  This is the same Ron with whom I shared my shortest radio gig and built one of my longest friendships, until he passed away last year. That relationship is not over…it’s just changed until we’re in the same place again.

A simple song can take me there.

The synth intro to Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” immediately returns me to my first radio gig in a tiny building in the Florida panhandle.  I worked in the AM studio where I played Southern Gospel music and preaching/teaching programs, while next door the FM station aired “Light Rock & A Little Country”, hence the Paul McCartney holiday offering.  I cut my radio teeth there, learning how to do everything the old-school way because of the antiquated equipment I worked with.  My real-life husband and my first ever “work husband” worked on the FM side, with the work husband and me sharing a shift time and often standing in each others’ studio doors talking and laughing between songs on automation.

A simple song can take me there.

Music is such an evocative force in my life, whether I am singing it or listening to it.  The music I played during my radio days is especially poignant.  Those sounds bring to mind both the places and the people with whom I shared them.

A simple song can always take me there.

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(At my first radio gig, Circe 1989)

 

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Dream A Little Dream

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A little music, a big memory and a whole lot of Mama…

This past weekend a bunch of my kinfolks got together for a reunion in Gatlinburg, TN, an event I had looked forward to for quite a while.  It was a branch of the family tree on Mama’s side, the Williamses, namely Mama’s big brother, my Uncle Otto and his wife, my Aunt Katherine’s, kids, grandkids and great-grandkids.  These are some of my favorite people on the planet, folks I don’t see nearly often enough.  I also saw some younger cousins, all grown up now, whom I had not seen since they were little, and some I’d never met yet.

Before I had even made it into the pavilion I found myself wrapped in a warm, loving hug from my cousin Stacy.

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She and I have been in touch on social media (one of the blessings of technology!) but have not seen each other face-to-face since the late 1980’s.  What a joy to see that sweet face again and enjoy a brief moment to catch up a little.  Second hug of the day was from her daughter, my cousin Danielle.  I’ve also been in touch with her online, but we had never actually met until that moment.  The musical genes in the Williams side of the family have passed on to Dani in a big way, and I was able to share a little bit of family musical history and heritage with her as we talked.

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Soft breezes blew through the shaded pavilion as my cousin Hazen asked the blessing over our meal and time together, adding special prayers for Aunt Helen as she deals with ongoing health issues.  I breathed a prayer as well for Dean, her husband, that he will remember to take care of himself as he tries to take care of her.  Seeing and hugging her was a special joy, as it always is.  She and Mama were so close, and when I hug her, I can almost feel Mama hugging me back as Aunt Helen does.

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I felt Mama with us all through the day, as we shared food and pictures and stories.  Aunt Helen’s kids, Lisa and Mike, were the kids out of the bunch I spent the most time with growing up.  And they were there, with Lisa’s husband Tim, who is a recent addition to the family and fits right in.  Mike’s wife Jane never changes, still glowing wth a headful of red hair and a huge smile.  All Mike and Jane’s kids were there, Aunt Helen’s grandchildren, and a huge light in her life.

As we shared food and stories and pictures, I felt Mama all around me, and I saw glimpses of her…in my cousin Robin “volunteering” to get up and sing, something Mama used to do…in the adult recreations of childhood photographs and the howls of laughter that resulted…

…in talking with Hazen about how active “my dead people” are in my dreams…

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…in the photo of me and my closest-in-age cousins performing a “family breast exam” (Mama and Uncle Otto are in Heaven laughing their heads off at that, while Aunt Katherine is telling us to “Be refined!”)…

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Family is not always dignified.  But that’s usually when it’s the most fun.

Unbeknownst to most of the family, Dani and I had cooked up a surprise to share, and after the meal was done, we offered them a little song, “Dream A Little Dream Of Me”.  Making music with a cousin I’d just met for the first time was both a joy and an honor, and I hope it’s only the first of many more times we can do it.  My beloved Sweet Pea captured the moment with his phone, and I am so grateful that he did!

All through the day I felt Mama there with us, along with all the others on the Williams side who have gone to Heaven and wait for us there.  The last verse of the song we shared says:

“Sweet dream till sunbeams find you,

Sweet dreams that leave all worries behind you,

But in your dreams whatever they be,

Dream a little dream of me.”

I dream little dreams of them all the time, waiting for the day we are all together once more, with God and one another, all the generations of our family making music together. All worries behind us.  What wonderful dreams!

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When I Was Six…

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The world looked different…

 

When I was six

Richard Nixon was President

and all the grownups on the news

were talking about a place called

Viet Nam

If I wanted to mail a letter

a stamp cost 6 cents

but I was only just learning to read and write

 

When I was six

Courtesy and Sense both seemed

more common

We were raised to say “Please” and “Thank you”,

“Ma’am” and “Sir”

 

When I was six

I sang all the time

just because it gave me joy

All the kinfolks I loved

were still alive

Talking to Jesus was

the easiest thing in the world

and my little-girl prayers were simple

 

When I was six

Summer vacation meant Myrtle Beach

and I always threw up

going over Saluda Mountain

Mamaw’s house at night seemed like

the quietest place in the world

and if Mama took us to Aunt Ruby’s

for a glass of tea

that meant there’d be time to play

 

When I was six

The world outside was not innocent

Then, as now,

people were doing

unspeakable things

to other people

But it seemed like those things happened

less often

When I was six

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(My first grade picture from Giffin Elementary School, in one of many dresses Aunt Ruby made for me.)

 

 

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Lost arts, letter scraps and putting pen to paper…

I read somewhere recently that many schools are no longer teaching cursive handwriting to their students, and I was flabbergasted that the world has come to this!  While the advent of computers and word processing has changed the landscape of written language, it seems to me that cursive handwriting is still a valuable skill to have in one’s communications arsenal, if for no other reason than developing a distinctive signature for legal documents.  For me, though, it goes far beyond the need for a signature.  I believe that cursive handwriting, whether it is especially beautiful or not, is needed for civility and a personal touch in communication.

I’ve been on a bit of a pilfering jag lately around the house, and as is usually the case, I haven’t always found the thing I originally went looking for, but I’ve found other things I had no idea were in my possession.  It’s like Christmas finding such wonderful surprises!  For at least a decade, Dad has been asking me if I had the recipe for Mama’s Sherry Cake, and I always told him I didn’t think so, but if I found it I’d let him know.  A couple of weeks ago in my search for something I didn’t find, I came across a treasure trove of old recipes, including Mama’s Sherry Cake.  I gave it a try and took the resulting cake to Dad and Carole’s for them to try and see if it was anything like Dad remembered.  It was a yummy taste of nostalgia, although Dad and I both seemed to remember a thicker coating of glaze on top, and we decided that Mama must have double-glazed the cake and didn’t write that part down.  I’ll try that next time I make it.  And there WILL be a next time.  It was delicious!

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Seeing her handwriting on that slip of ruled paper, the kind she always kept around the house for letters and lists and recipes, brought me back to the days when I was young, she was healthy and life was simple.  Typewritten documents, as neat and easy to read as they are, lack personality and don’t provide that sense of nostalgia.  My fear is that writing things down is becoming a lost art, and that future generations literally won’t know how to write their names, because writing things by hand will have become obsolete.

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I make it a point to write letters to people now and then, because I think it’s important to do so, especially to convey to them that I love them, that they are special and they matter to me.  I have boxes filled with notes, cards and letters from people in my life, past and present, people who took the time to write something down by hand and send it to me.  The recipes are another precious source of insight into the people I have loved, memories of food and caring shared among us.

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Computer-processed documents have their place, of course.  I don’t dispute that.  But I will always believe in the importance of handwritten communication, letters, notes, recipes and the kind of one-on-one exchange that only happens when we put pen to paper.  So, be checking your mailbox.  There might just be a letter from me in there…  an honest-to-God, snail-mail, handwritten letter.  I might even include a recipe!

 

The DNA Of Place

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You can take the girl out of the music building, but…

Recently I was back on the campus of Carson-Newman University for the senior piano recital of one of my Delta Omicron students.  As the Alpha Gamma Chapter Mother, I do my best to attend these students’ recitals and share a quick moment backstage beforehand for a picture and a prayer.  I remember my own recitals and all the preparation that went into them, and how grateful I was to have support from friends and family in the audience.

This particular evening I seemed especially nostalgic, remembering the hours I spent in the music building (often referred to in my circle simply as “The Building”), its classrooms, the recital hall, my voice teacher’s studio and especially my practice room.

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I describe it as “my” practice room, although other students practiced in there, of course.  I adopted it as my favorite because an older student, Anita,  whom I viewed as a mentor, used it more than any other room, and I hoped that by practicing in there, some of her good mojo would rub off on me!  I’m not sure that happened; however, I did a lot of good work in that tiny space during my student years.

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My practice room was located next door to Dr. Paul Ridgway’s piano studio.  The rooms, while decently insulated, were not soundproof.  I often felt sorry for him and his students as I caterwauled my way through various vocal exercises before the real work of “practice” could begin.  Sometimes the actual practice sounded like caterwauling, too!

Although my major was vocal performance, I was required to pass a basic piano proficiency in order to obtain my degree.  I had taken no piano lessons prior to college, and beginning class piano taught me in short order that I have no talent for the instrument.  My talent for colorful language as I struggled to learn the rudiments of piano, however, grew exponentially!  But I did love the bright sound of the piano in my practice room, even though my mistakes often made it seem to groan under my fingers.

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That same piano is still in my old practice room.  And it still has the bright sound that I loved so much.  That piano helped me find my pitches as I practiced my repertoire, from Schubert lieder to Italian art songs to the lush French jewels by Duparc that I loved so much.  Not to mention the operatic arias!  My accompanists and I worked through the musical periods, spanning centuries and continents from inside my practice room.

I joke that I kicked the walls out of frustration so many times that my footprints are in the drywall, and that I swore and sweated so much as I worked in there that my DNA is still embedded in its walls, never to be removed!  In truth, though, I did leave a great deal of myself inside those walls.  I sang, laughed, cried, stomped, cursed and made a lot of noise in that little room.

And, every once in a while, I made music.

I also prayed, gave and received encouragement, hugged friends and shared secrets in there.  Some of the most beautiful notes I ever sang happened in there, with no one but God to hear them.  I carry that little room inside me like my own DNA, part of the intricate web of elements and experiences that make me the woman I am becoming.

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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.

Treasures In Heaven

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Visiting the place where I began to store them up

Yesterday I visited my childhood church home for services.  I have wanted to go back and visit for a long time, but Aunt Ruby’s recent death spurred me to get there, finally.  It was with her, Uncle John and our cousins that Reed and I first started going to church in this beautiful old building.  My memories of the times spent there, the visual beauty of the place and the familiarity of the order of service came flooding back, washing over me like a warm wave of comfort.  The Gloria Patri, Apostles’ Creed and Doxology with which I was raised issued forth just as they have for generations.Image

I parked my car in a visitor space and made my way to the nearest entrance, and when I stepped inside I was overcome with the fragrance of the building, warmth and home.  Immediately I was transported back to my childhood and youth group days by the mix of scents: antique wood and tile, varnish and candle smoke, old lady perfume and the “golden bowls of incense, which are the prayers of the saints…”Image

Some of the physical aspects of the place have been updated and changed over the years.  Padding on the pews and carpeting on the stairs make it a little safer and more comfortable.  But many more things remain unaltered since my days there.  The colorful windows are still intact, thank God!  Images of faith in glowing stained glass shaped my earliest memories of church and worship, and helped me to learn what being a Christian was all about.Image

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We spent a great deal of time there as children, and many times we went exploring the less public parts of the building, places we were convinced no one else knew about.  There are many back stairways and narrow passages in that place.  Once I remember making our way up into the pipes of the majestic organ, (NOT during services, we would have gone deaf!) an instrument that was funded, installed and dedicated during my childhood there.  Image

The organ and choir sounded just as wonderful yesterday as I remembered them.  A few members from my childhood days are still there, and still singing in that choir.  Some things never change.  I find that very comforting.

There has always been an intricate wood carving of the Da Vinci painting of The Last Supper in front of the choir loft, and it too is still there.  Yesterday was actually a communion Sunday, and I was privileged to partake once more in the elements of body and blood, in the place where I first learned what communion was and what it meant.  This service of communion was both solemn and joyful for me, and very poignant as I remembered all the times I have prayed, communed, cried and laughed in that place, with that branch of God’s family tree.Image

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My cousin Alan’s favorite window was the anchor in what used to be called the Little Sanctuary.  That space has since been closed off and renamed the Flossie Cox Prayer Chapel.  Mrs. Cox was Mama and Aunt Ruby’s Sunday school teacher for years, a wise and gentle lady who loved the Lord and loved His people.  I always loved the window that shows an offering being placed in a treasure chest, reminding me both of the story of the widow who gave more than all the others because she, in her poverty, offered her last mite, and of Jesus’s admonition to store up treasures in Heaven.Image

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I saw many childhood friends yesterday, hugged and smiled and got a little teary-eyed a couple of times.  This church, this place, was where I was confirmed and baptized, where I learned how much I loved to sing, songs like “This Is My Father’s World” and “For The Beauty Of The Earth”.  Image

It is where my faith journey began.  That journey has taken me into many other churches, a few different denominations and allowed me to meet and love many of my brethren along the way.  But there is something special about the places where one grew up.  And even though I no longer attend church there, I will no doubt find my way back from time to time, because it was…Is…Home.