Susan Soper – LikeTheDew.com http://likethedew.com A journal of progressive Southern culture and politics Wed, 19 Sep 2018 10:58:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 http://likethedew.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/cropped-DewLogoSquare825-32x32.png Susan Soper – LikeTheDew.com http://likethedew.com 32 32 Love and Romance in Obituaries http://likethedew.com/2014/02/12/love-romance-obituaries/ http://likethedew.com/2014/02/12/love-romance-obituaries/#comments Wed, 12 Feb 2014 17:26:00 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=54698

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Among the survivors, obituaries usually mention the spouse whether the “devoted wife,” “adoring husband,” “the loyal husband” or the “love of his/her life.” Occasionally, though, careful obituary readers will find poignant “valentines” or little love stories almost buried in the litany of jobs, accomplishments and hobbies.

It’s always fun to happen upon these as they definitely help to paint a more complete picture of how a relationship began or how a couple bonded and flourished over the years. Even just a hint of romance or intrigue or courtship that is revealed adds a little sweet perspective to a departure.

Just this past weekend, there was a lovely obituary in The New York Times that included this gem:

At the 1988 New Jersey Waterfront Marathon, George, who had met her only the day before at a marathon expo, and who was irrevocably love-struck, ran through the crowded field of a race for which he had not registered until he found her. They ran the remaining 21 miles together, and they married the next year. Shay, 66

Here are a few others that have recently brought a smile to my face.

Deb met her best friend and husband, Dan, while working at Sebago Technics in Westbrook, introduced by a friend and co-worker who also happened to be one of Dan’s roommates. At that time, the pair enjoyed listening to Lyle Lovett, Carly Simon, Van Morrison, James Taylor and Gordon Lightfoot – who they saw at their first concert together. They recently celebrated their 24th anniversary, further bonded as a team in the battle against cancer diagnosed in February, 2011. Deb, 61

Martha was a graduate of Wesleyan College. In 1942 while on a double date to a swimming meet at Wesleyan, Martha met Charles, an astute Georgia Tech grad and rising star at Trust Company Bank, who knew a good thing when he saw one so he asked Martha for a date. Charlie was organizing a new anti-aircraft battalion at Ft. Totten, N.Y., so in the imperturbable manner in which she lived her life, Martha accepted the fact that Charlie would soon be shipped overseas. Charlie’s newly-wed brother invited Martha to New York for a visit; in his brother’s New York apartment, Charlie proposed. Due to the war and their seven-year age difference, the couple was eager to start a family. They welcomed Charles IIII in 1943 before Charlie left the United States for overseas duty. Five more children followed, the sixth born December 9, 1963 when Martha was 45 and the love of her life was six weeks away from the massive heart attack which claimed him. Martha, 95

In 1944, a young hard-hat engineer named Ode Carlisle came into the typing pool and swept Gloria off her feet and vice versa. This was challenging as Gloria already had several marriage proposals. Ode and Gloria married in 1946 in Bunkie, La. And had been married for 65 years at the time of Ode’s death in 2011.  Gloria, 91

At a Sunday afternoon jam session of local musicians in the fall of 1962, he was introduced to Jane, a vocalist with the Rhythm Masters. They were married Feburary 8, 1963 and recently celebrated 50 years of marriage. Doug, 81, Georgia

His greatest, most precious victory was a never-ending love affair with his wife and best friend of 44 years. Jack, a retired Air Force Colonel, 80

The 19-year old beauty obtained her degree in biology with a math minor from the University of Alabama and won a number of academic awards including the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa cup. Later that year Jeannette was introduced to Fred by Fred’s nephew, David. David and Jeannette had been confirmed together at Temple Beth el in Birmingham. Jeannette commenced teaching high school biology in Birmingham at age 19. In June of 1938 Fred and Jeannette travelled on the train to Baltimore and took a cab directly to the hospital room of Fred’s father. Because of Jewish traditions, if he had died, the young couple would have been prohibited from marrying for 12 months. He gave the couple his blessing and a wedding was arranged including eight boys brought to the hospital to make up a minyan [required for certain religious obligations] for the ceremony. Jeannette, 96

Florence was married for 62 years until Bob’s death in 2012. Florence and Bob could be seen most nights taking an after-dinner walk through town holding hands. Florence, 84

She was always noted for her beauty, bright spirit and generosity. She married Randolph in 1939 and their inspirational and continuing romance was celebrated on their recent 70th wedding anniversary. Margaret, 94,

I hope, when the time comes, that someone will remember to include in my obituary the ongoing “valentine” I’ve enjoyed sharing about my husband, Bo Holland. After our first date – which was nice enough – it was another 20 years (and other marriages) before we went out again. After spending four seasons together, we eloped and married in Battery Park in Charleston, S.C.—25 years ago.

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The Tweet Side of Death http://likethedew.com/2013/08/13/the-tweet-side-of-death/ http://likethedew.com/2013/08/13/the-tweet-side-of-death/#comments Tue, 13 Aug 2013 16:15:17 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=52865 Scott Simon sat at his mother’s death bed and tweeted her final jou... from the ICU of a Chicago hospital to the great beyond. Yet there continues to be much discussion about the wisdom, respect, privacy, taste of those dozens of updates with his 1.3 million followers knowing her last and intimate life details – and Simon’s expressions of gratitude for her life, grief for her death.]]>

Image via Flickr Creative Commons / Johan LarssonIt’s been a couple of weeks since NPR host Scott Simon sat at his mother’s death bed and tweeted her final jou… from the ICU of a Chicago hospital to the great beyond. Yet there continues to be much discussion about the wisdom, respect, privacy, taste of those dozens of updates with his 1.3 million followers knowing her last and intimate life details – and Simon’s expressions of gratitude for her life, grief for her death.

Intimate though they were, the tweets touched total strangers in their real-time, you-are-there reality. While there has been some debate, for the most part, people could relate. According to a story in The Huffington Post, “grief counselors, hospice workers and those who study the end of life, [say] Simon has also spurred a conversation on dying in a culture where it’s rarely discussed.”

Meghan O’Rourke, author of The Long Goodbye, wrote similarly in The New Yorker: “The extraordinary response to Simon’s tweets also suggests a hunger on the part of Americans for a way to integrate death and mourning into our lives ­– a hunger that is being met by social media. Facebook and Twitter are changing the way we mourn – rescuing America from a world where grief was largely silenced and creating, instead, a kind of public space for it.” She goes on to say that in the 20th century, death was something to “get over.” That’s what my siblings and I did when our mother died of cancer in 1968. We got so over it we barely talked about her, didn’t celebrate her life or legacies until we were old enough to know better.

Thank goodness, that attitude is changing – and with the influx and influence of the social media, it’s a fast-moving phenomenon. While there will continue to be some debate on the appropriateness of social media in this process, O’Rourke wrote of announcing deaths online: “[Facebook] doesn’t feel morbid or inappropriate to me. It’s our equivalent of the ringing of church bells in the town square, for better or for worse.”

Here are some other indications of how things are opening up:

  • NPR already is one of the media outlets to document the growing interest in death-related topics with stories about obituary writing, graveyard tours (Dead Stop), some of the exchanges on Story Corps, sometimes unbearably poignant portraits of soldiers killed in Afghanistan or Iraq, and the spread of Death Cafes across the United States.
  • In fact, Death Cafes themselves are an excellent barometer of how our society is “breathing new life into death.”
  • Right here on Legacy.com, there is a good measure of interest in death and dying. The site gets more than 20 million visitors each month and not just to visit the 10 million obituaries hosted on the site – there are death-related advice columns, daily featured obituaries, and the Legends & Legacies blog where notable folks are remembered anew.
  • Columnist-writer Ellen Goodman co-founded The Conversation Project to inspire – if not insist on – the end-of-life-conversations that can mean the difference between a good death and a hard death. Following Simon’s public tweets, she wrote: “The Baby Boomers are change agents of our culture,” she said. Talking about the death of parents is one way the Boomers are changing cultural norms around death and dying, she said. And as the culture changes it may become easier for politicians and policymakers to address policy gaps “without the death panel toxicity.”
  • PBS is airing a new series, Homegoings, on their POV show about African-American funerals that one Harlem funeral director calls “a sad good time” – sad because the deceased is gone but joyful for the going home to God. Other television networks have also aired shows on end-of-life and death issues, including stories about those popular obituaries that go viral for their creativity, humor and poignancy.
  • Some forward-thinking funeral homes are hiring and training “celebrants” to add unique personality and life to memorial services and celebrations. In addition, some of these funerals are becoming show-up-and-show-off events (to wit, the new Washington insider book, This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral – Plus Plenty of Valet Parking… by Mark Leibovich).
  • Writers and journalists, like Scott Simon, are also writing more often about the deaths – including the caregiving process and the aftermath – of parents, spouses and even children in blogs and books to magazine articles and memoirs. Others – Christopher Hitchens, Roger Ebert and John Cheever among them – are writing about their own deaths.

For his part, Simon says the attention his tweets and emotions have stirred up will have an enduring impact. “I think of this as a spur to pay more attention to death than I did before… it would be insensitive of me to not recognize and understand that something has been opened up here. That I may be in a position to reach out and make a difference.”

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Harry Stamps Says a Final Good-bye to Daylight Savings Time http://likethedew.com/2013/03/13/harry-stamps-says-a-final-good-bye-to-daylight-savings-time/ http://likethedew.com/2013/03/13/harry-stamps-says-a-final-good-bye-to-daylight-savings-time/#respond Wed, 13 Mar 2013 16:12:29 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=49931 Harry Weathersby Stamps died Saturday, just before he would have had to adjust to another round of clock manipulation. In his obituary for the Sun Herald in Gulfport-Biloxi, Miss., ...]]>
PHOTO COURTESY AMANDA LEWIS: Harry Stamps rests at a campsite. 'This is a picture from my childhood with daddy at Indian Creek the campground in North Carolina,' daughter Amanda Lewis says. 'Note his elastic waist shorts and T-shirt in full swing in the 1970s. In the background is our starter tent before the upgrade to the used pop up. Blow up the picture and you can see where he used colored tape on the tent poles as his marking system to know which pole went to the right pole.'
Harry Stamps rests at a campsite.
‘This is a picture from my childhood with daddy at Indian Creek the campground in North Carolina,’ daughter Amanda Lewis says. ‘Note his elastic waist shorts and T-shirt in full swing in the 1970s. In the background is our starter tent before the upgrade to the used pop up. Blow up the picture and you can see where he used colored tape on the tent poles as his marking system to know which pole went to the right pole.’

As most of us are struggling, albeit happily, to “spring ahead” – rising an hour earlier, adjusting to darker mornings and lighter nights – there is one anti-DST protester who has just said good-bye to all that.

Harry Weathersby Stamps died Saturday, just before he would have had to adjust to another round of clock manipulation.

In his obituary for the Sun Herald in Gulfport-Biloxi, Miss., his daughter Amanda Lewis wrote, “He particularly hated Day Light Saving Time, which he referred to as The Devil’s Time. It is not lost on his family that he died the very day that he would have had to spring his clock forward. This can only be viewed as his final protest.”

Describing her dad as a “ladies’ man, foodie, natty dresser, and accomplished traveler,” Lewis has written an obituary that has “gone viral,” making its delighted way into email in-boxes around the country, perhaps the world.

“I’ve been getting emails and texts from all my friends and my sister is on Twitter and we are shocked at what people are saying,” Lewis said the morning after the wake. “We’ve gotten calls from people all over the country who he taught… I am so joyful for him… it just tickles me.”

Lewis said she wrote the obituary in the car as her family drove from Dallas, where she is a lawyer, to Mississippi when the doctor said the end was near. “My mom is the exact opposite of my dad, very proper and this just wouldn’t be her style. I wasn’t sure she would let me run with it but it’s who my dad was.”

Stamps packed a lot into his 80 years. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Harry was locally sourcing his food years before chefs in California starting using cilantro and arugula (both of which he hated).
  • He had a life-long love affair with deviled eggs, Lane cakes, boiled peanuts, Vienna [Vi-e-na] sausages on Saltines, his homemade canned fig preserves, pork chops, turnip greens, and buttermilk served in martini glasses garnished with cornbread.
  • The women in his life were numerous. He particularly fancied smart women. … He married his main squeeze Ann Moore, a home economics teacher, almost 50 years ago.
  • He taught [his daughters] to fish, to select a quality hammer, to love nature, and to just be thankful. He took great pride in stocking their tool boxes.
  • Harry took fashion cues from no one. His signature every day look was all his: a plain pocketed T-shirt designed by the fashion house Fruit of the Loom, his black-label elastic waist shorts worn above the navel and sold exclusively at the Sam’s on Highway 49, and a pair of old school Wallabees (who can even remember where he got those?) that were always paired with a grass-stained MSU baseball cap.
  • Harry traveled extensively. He only stayed in the finest quality AAA-rated campgrounds, his favorite being Indian Creek outside Cherokee, North Carolina. He always spent the extra money to upgrade to a creek view for his tent. Many years later he purchased a used pop-up camper for his family to travel in style, which spoiled his daughters for life.
  • He despised phonies, his 1969 Volvo (which he also loved), know-it-all Yankees, Southerners who used the words “veranda” and “porte cochere” to put on airs, eating grape leaves, Law and Order (all franchises), cats, and Martha Stewart.

In a final tribute to a dearly beloved Southern character, the obit concludes: “… the family asks that in honor of Harry that you write your Congressman and ask for the repeal of Day Light Saving Time.”

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Visiting the Dead in the Dog Days http://likethedew.com/2012/08/19/visiting-the-dead-in-the-dog-days/ http://likethedew.com/2012/08/19/visiting-the-dead-in-the-dog-days/#respond Sun, 19 Aug 2012 23:25:22 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=41596 Morning Edition on NPR and usually hear a jarring barrage of campaign orations, weather reports or obituaries (recently: Helen Gurley Brown). At this rainy August dawn, I picked up on something that’s apparently been going on all summer but escaped my drowsy attention: A series called “Dead Stop” – visits to cemeteries and burial grounds across the country. I went online to see what I had missed and thought these stories of significant – or insignificant – and off-beat, quirky stories worth sharing.]]>

Each morning, we wake up to Morning Edition on NPR and usually hear a jarring barrage of campaign orations, weather reports or obituaries (recently: Helen Gurley Brown).

At this rainy August dawn, I picked up on something that’s apparently been going on all summer but escaped my drowsy attention: A series called “Dead Stop” – visits to cemeteries and burial grounds across the country.

I went online to see what I had missed and thought these stories of significant – or insignificant – and off-beat, quirky stories worth sharing. For the most part, it’s a lighthearted look and means no disrespect to the more somber and sorrowful side of death. But it seems worth sharing as these stories do shed more perspective and insight into traditions and transgressions of how the dead are buried and remembered.

Gravestones lie against a tree in a dilapidated portion of Lincoln Cemetery in Montgomery, Alabama
Gravestones lie against a tree in a dilapidated portion of Lincoln Cemetery in Montgomery, Alabama (Chris Pruitt)

You can view a complete list of the stories and links to the broadcast or printed text here but I’ve also listed a sampling of the stories below:

  • Tuesday’s story was focused on Boot Hill Cemetery in Tombstone, Ariz. , visited by almost 150,000 people annually. The gift shop sells souvenirs and fudge made on the premises and the site was immortalized by Johnny Cash in “The Ballad of Boot Hill.” Headstones include: “Killeen, 1880. Shot by Frank Leslie.” “Red River Tom, shot by Ormsby.” “Marshal Fred White, 1880. Shot by Curly Bill.”
  • There’s the Ben and Jerry’s “Flavor Graveyard” in Waterbury, Vt. where old flavors die but are not forgotten.
  • Fascinating that Dorothy Parker’s ashes are buried in Baltimore, not her beloved New York, because she bequeathed her estate to Martin Luther King, Jr. – who knew? – and when he died, the NAACP inherited both her ashes and literary rights. She’s buried next to their headquarters.
  • Andy Warhol, another famous New Yorker, is not buried there either. He was buried in 1987 next to his parents in the St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Cemetery, not far from downtown Pittsburgh where he was born.
  • Bill Wilson’s grave in Vermont attracts visitors who credit him with changing their lives: he was the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.
  • There’s Eklutna Cemetery in Alaska, near Anchorage, a territory once claimed by imperial Russia. Native Americans and Russian Orthodox spirits live on in small houses placed atop the graves.
  • How about Stonewall Jackson’s amputated arm receiving a Christian burial in a private cemetery in Virginia – but not where his body was buried in Lexington when he died of pneumonia?
  • There’s always the Hollywood Hills cemetery where Bette Davis and Buster Keaton are buried, not to mention Frank Inn, trainer of celebrity animal stars.
  • How sad that jazz legend Billie Holliday is not buried in New York’s Woodlawn Cemetery with other well-known entertainers — Duke Ellington, Celia Cruz, Miles Davis and Lionel Hampton – but was placed, instead, in a much cheaper resting place in the Bronx.
  • The Garden of Peace in Flint, Mich. was created in tune with Muslim burial traditions – all facing the same direction, east.
  • Concordia Cemetery in El Paso, Texas, not far from the Mexican border, is 52 acres of 60,000 buried people – Chinese, Jewish, Mormon, Masonic and African American.
  • Lincoln Cemetery in Montgomery, Ala., was established in 1907 for African-Americans, and was designed for 700 graves. So far, a volunteer corps restoring the neglected burial ground has recorded more than 6,700 graves.

All of these stories are worth a listen if you have a curious moment during these end-of-summer days when other activities don’t quite fit the cusp between seasons and the change of focus from vacation to the upcoming fall swirl of events leading into the holidays.

Next up: Natural Burial Grounds Are An Ecological Alternative

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“Everything is Copy”—an Homage to Nora Ephron http://likethedew.com/2012/06/28/everything-is-copy-an-homage-to-nora-ephron/ http://likethedew.com/2012/06/28/everything-is-copy-an-homage-to-nora-ephron/#comments Thu, 28 Jun 2012 23:58:16 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=40359 Nora Ephron was forever young and forever funny. And all of a sudden, she’s gone!

So many of us could relate to her writings, musings, movies and books – not to mention a failed marriage or botched film that made her really human to her fans. When I was starting my own writing career in Washington, D.C. in the early 1970s, she was writing essays for Esquire that were always pithy, self-effacing and spot on. If you never read, “A Few Words about Breasts” check it out.

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Nora Ephron filmmaker, director, producer, screenwriter, novelist, playwright, journalist, author, and blogger. (May 19, 1941 – June 26, 2012) Nora Ephron was forever young and forever funny. And all of a sudden, she’s gone!

So many of us could relate to her writings, musings, movies and books – not to mention a failed marriage or botched film that made her really human to her fans. When I was starting my own writing career in Washington, D.C. in the early 1970s, she was writing essays for Esquire that were always pithy, self-effacing and spot on. If you never read, “A Few Words about Breasts” check it out.

Our generation of women could really relate to her and vice versa. “I was so in tune with everything she talked about,” one of my friends emailed. She got us and we got her. Maybe it’s because she took her writer-mother’s advice – “Everything is copy” – to heart and assimilated dialogue she heard or spoke into her books and movies.

From her we learned how to live, how to laugh (especially at ourselves), and, now maybe, even how to die: Still full of life.

There was no public wailing about her demise from leukemia over the past several years; no gaunt, haunting pictures of her in People magazine, no wallowing in premature tributes of appreciation and adoration that never seem to strike the right note. There was also no chance to get used to the idea she was bowing out. If you’re Nora Ephron you can’t exactly be a private person, but she managed to write her final script with personal grace, privacy and dignity.

With only the closest friends and family in the know, she just — seemingly suddenly — died. Friends have said she was optimistic she could beat the leukemia but it was the pneumonia that finally stilled her voice. The beautifully written obituary from Charles McGrath in The New York Times obit this morning ended with pieces of two lists she had included in her last book, I Remember Nothing.

Things not to miss:

Dry skin, Clarence Thomas, the sound of a vacuum cleaner

Among the things she would miss:

Her kids

Nick Pileggi (her husband)

Taking a bath

Coming over the bridge to Manhattan

Pie

It struck me how much that said about Nora just to have those few words in her obit. I wondered what my list would be and then wondered what my friends’ lists would say about them if such lists were included in death notices. I sent out an email to a wide variety of mostly women, and a few men, and asked for spontaneous responses. I got back some predictable answers – yes, kids, grandkids, husbands, coffee in the morning, wine at night and chocolate will be missed – but also a wider range of Won’t Misses that are very telling (Rush Limbaugh and other conservative talking heads came up a lot). I am listing each person’s Won’t Miss and Will Miss lists together as they form a more complete picture of the person. See what you think.

Won’t Miss

Wrinkles, dust bunnies and whiners

Will Miss

Chocolate, gardening

Won’t Miss

Cilantro, poison ivy or shingles

Will Miss

My Jack Russell terrier, wine, my convertible, nicely ironed linens and a good roast chicken

Won’t Miss

Spanx, yearning, stock market

Coulter, Limbaugh, Rove and Hannity

Will Miss

Tomato sandwiches, English Bulldogs, Kissing

Yeats, Auden, Dickinson, Sedaris

Won’t Miss

Cleaning the bathroom, People magazine, fruit (overrated)

Will Miss

The people who make up my everyday world – at the pharmacy, dry cleaners, grocery, wine shop, bank etc.; Spanish moss, good books, The Weather Channel, the water that surrounds me in the Low Country

Won’t Miss

Music when they put you on hold for Comcast, IRS or Verizon (versions of being put on hold came up over and over); unloading the dishwasher, political events

Will Miss

Calls from my sister, fried chicken, new legal pads, road trips, the beach

Won’t Miss

Telephones, especially waiting for customer service, dieting, taxes

Will Miss

Birds, cool mornings/evenings on my deck, smiles from strangers and friends, Christmas lights, sweet iced tea, donuts and pound cake

Won’t Miss

Maintenance on anything – house, car, self;  feeling regret; bad smells in the refrigerator – also good Christian women who wear lots of jewelry and drive nice cars and talk about “The Lord” blessing them

Will Miss

That tender yellow-green color of leaves in early spring when even old trees are new; making things; reading and thinking about it; teaching 5th grade; lines in poems ( or anywhere else) that make me gasp with understanding; vibrant colors that also make me gasp

Won’t Miss

Yoga, my thighs, cocktail parties, stocking the fridge, TV, checking accounts

Will Miss

Long walks, martinis in New York, chocolate, the beach, travelling anyplace at all

Won’t Miss

Cranky drivers, Fox News, using poop bags while walking my dog, spam, the Miami airport, meetings and conference calls, party clothes

Will miss

Looking for cool rocks in a Montana river, wind in the trees, puppy breath, friends, fabulous books, TED talks, going to Haiti

Won’t Miss

Flabby arms, worrying about the next commission check, anxiety about children

Will miss

Riding the waves at the beach, driving through the Blue Ridge Parkway in the fall

smelling magnolias, roses and grass on early summer walks

Won’t Miss

Alarm clocks, boring meetings, hot flashes, bad writing, mean people

Will miss

Music, garden, swimming in the NC ocean (not NY!), dog Sadie, coffee ice cream, good writing, people who make me laugh, snow storms, fires in the fireplace, fireworks

My own list includes many items listed above but I will boil it down to this and hope some of them actually make it into my obit:

Won’t Miss

People who yak on cellphones in restaurants and grocery stores, rampant obesity, taxes, old age, stupid ads on TV (yikes, sounds like old age already has a hold on me!)

Will Miss

Wedding cake, Cheetos, Jordon almonds, Van Morrison, Ponte Vedra Beach, martinis, anything outdoors – tennis, urban hikes, gardening ­– books, Icelandic poppies and gardenias;

I’ll miss those calls with my sister, too!

This exercise taught me things about some of my friends I didn’t know. Fruit overrated? Really? And I didn’t know talking heads struck such a nerve with so many of them! Some also sent back specific references to things they read or saw or loved from Nora Ephron.  “Thank you for the exercise of making me think about it,” said one.  “I will be more appreciative as I see things all around me that I would miss. As I saw the tributes to Nora (first name basis) yesterday I had the sense of a truly great spirit passing from us.”

And another wrote, “Ever since Heartburn I think about eating mashed potatoes in the bed when I am feeling sorry for myself! Haven’t actually done it, but I want to.” Might be a nice way to pay tribute to a woman of wit and wisdom who will be missed.

To read the NYT obit, click here.

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Public and Private Remembrances of 9/11 http://likethedew.com/2011/09/11/public-and-private-remembrances-of-911/ http://likethedew.com/2011/09/11/public-and-private-remembrances-of-911/#comments Sun, 11 Sep 2011 07:01:44 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=30235 As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 hovers around us all this week, it’s difficult for those of us who didn’t suffer the direct hit – whether in human loss or up-close trauma – to think about how we can pay tribute to those who died, to those who saved, and to those who were left behind to endure their grief.

Never before had our country been so publicly bombarded with every moment of that horrific tragedy, shown over and over on televisions that day and on every anniversary since. Never before has the grieving, and sometimes healing, process been so publicly dissected, discussed and photographed as for those who lost parents, children, spouses, siblings.

And those of us who didn’t lose a friend, relative or co-worker still lost so much else ...

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As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 hovers around us all this week, it’s difficult for those of us who didn’t suffer the direct hit – whether in human loss or up-close trauma – to think about how we can pay tribute to those who died, to those who saved, and to those who were left behind to endure their grief.

(© David Smith / Creative Commons)

Never before had our country been so publicly bombarded with every moment of that horrific tragedy, shown over and over on televisions that day and on every anniversary since. Never before has the grieving, and sometimes healing, process been so publicly dissected, discussed and photographed as for those who lost parents, children, spouses, siblings.

And those of us who didn’t lose a friend, relative or co-worker still lost so much else. Something definitely died that day, a national, if not global death – of freedom, innocence, a sense of safety on our own soil and of being on secure ground.

So how do we all think about what that means to each of us individually? How have we continued to think and feel about it? Not just about where we were when it happened, but what has happened inside each of us since then? Do we have a different approach to life? To death? To our philosophy of living?

These are all questions I have recently posed to many friends and colleagues. Interestingly, not many of them can articulate their answers easily, though they are down there deep inside someplace. I know for myself, the sheer numbers of deaths, of grieving survivors and ongoing losses has made me more matter-of-fact in some way about my own life span and the deaths of others. Watching those multitudes of survivors carry on with such strength and grace has had made a lasting impression: A kind of “if they can do it, I guess I could too?” If I had to. God forbid.

Well, of course. When faced with loss, we all DO manage to survive and carry on. Some better than others. But it is doable.

So as the day approaches, my guess is that many folks are wondering what they will or can do on Sunday to mark the grim occasion. Because 9/11 falls on a Sunday this year, churches will have a ready-made theme and sermons will no doubt plumb every aspect of life and death, terror and peace, love and hate.

There are innumerable grass roots efforts, too, as people have just taken it upon themselves to wage or stage events to mark this anniversary. Just merely Google-ing “events to commemorate 9/11 10th anniversary” brings up over three million pages.

The family of Ryan Means – a special forces soldier who enlisted when his best buddy was killed in the 9/11 attack on the Twin Tower… and later died himself not by enemy hands but of cancer – is sponsoring a Freedom Run, a 5K to “salute our veterans and soldiers, honor the lives of those lost on Sept. 11 and celebrate the freedom we enjoy as Americans.”

Also close to home for me, more than 200 Georgia firefighters launched a memorial stair climb to total 110 stories, the number of floors that fell when the twin towers collapsed on 9/11. Other Georgians – calling themselves The Freedom Riders – set out on an Atlanta-to-New York bike ride to mark the anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

There are colleges, elementary schools, municipalities, books clubs, restaurants, radio stations, historical societies, libraries and countless other established or loosely-knit groups coming together to find – or honor – meaning in this day. There are partisan and media panels dissecting the politics of the event in high-minded dialogue; meanwhile People magazine poignantly tugs at our heart strings with “The Children of 9/11: Portraits of Hope” (Sept. 12, 2011 issue).

The New York Times Friday, Aug. 26 edition included a thorough, comprehensive section, 9/11 in the Arts: An Anniversary Guide, which highlighted commemorative events in Art, Books, Music – classical, pop and jazz – Dance, Movies, Radio, Television, Theater and other tributes. And no matter if you don’t live in New York to access any of this – though books, music and movies are accessible hither and yon. The mere reading of it is a stunning journey in how this day is being remembered by our most creative commemorators.

There is a flip side to all these staged remembrances and events. Beyond all the activities and public displays are varying opinions and beliefs that run deep. The anniversary also elicits strong views – many of which will be aired on op-ed pages and panels on TV. One long-time, thoughtful and compassionate friend summed up her intense take as follows:

9/11 was horrific, but what has happened in the U.S. since that day is equally upsetting. How many people have been killed and injured as we take our revenge? What have we learned from unspeakable evil? No doubt at the memorial we will wave the flag, mourn those who died, respond to the emotional speeches, honor the monuments we are building to ourselves, and reflect on the financial payouts to survivors and victims’ families (why is everything OK if money exchanges hands?) but the damage has been done and we did it.

Even if you are trying to escape the events, it will be hard to ignore the significance of this  Sunday. Ultimately, as public as the tragedy was and will be as it’s replayed this week, most of us will be very private in our remembering. But the point is just that: Remember. Never forget.

This article first appeared at Legacy.com

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Rockin’ in the Free World http://likethedew.com/2011/05/26/rockin-in-the-free-world/ http://likethedew.com/2011/05/26/rockin-in-the-free-world/#comments Thu, 26 May 2011 04:22:57 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=24947 Ryan Means had dreamed of joining the Army since the age of six, but it was not until his childhood playmate and best buddy Adam White was killed in the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers that he was mobilized into action. The despair of riding his bike around New York City, posting flyers, checking in with hospitals, and, finally, accepting that Adam was dead were more than he could take sitting down. He never sat down much, anyway. After a couple of years of percolating grief, resolve and rage, Ryan, then 31, left his career in New York and, with Adam’s initials tattooed on his torso, enlisted in the Army, determined to “get” Osama Bin Laden ...

With Memorial Day approaching, any story about a soldier who is willing to serve, to give his life, to go after the enemy can stand in for the many thousands of stories out there – all of them worthy. But though Memorial Day recognizes service members who've died in battle, this isn’t a story about a soldier killed in combat.

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Ryan Means had dreamed of joining the Army since the age of six, but it was not until his childhood playmate and best buddy Adam White was killed in the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers that he was mobilized into action. The despair of riding his bike around New York City, posting flyers, checking in with hospitals, and, finally, accepting that Adam was dead were more than he could take sitting down. He never sat down much, anyway. After a couple of years of percolating grief, resolve and rage, Ryan, then 31, left his career in New York and, with Adam’s initials tattooed on his torso, enlisted in the Army, determined to “get” Osama Bin Laden.

Eventually, his dream became a nightmare.

With Memorial Day approaching, any story about a soldier who is willing to serve, to give his life, to go after the enemy can stand in for the many thousands of stories out there – all of them worthy. But though Memorial Day recognizes service members who’ve died in battle, this isn’t a story about a soldier killed in combat.

This is a story about undying courage in the face of an unbeatable enemy that waged a personal attack on Ryan’s body. The graduate of his beloved University of Georgia seemed dauntless and indestructible as he regularly challenged convention and authority. Let’s be honest, he was an action figure come to life: handsome, crazy wild, funny, loving and devoted.

Ryan, the son of Mary Jo and Al Means, of Atlanta, brother of Alfie, Tommy and Michael, consistently tested his own personal and mental capacities – and those of others. “I sure loved him,” Mary Jo says with a wry smile, “but I didn’t always love his behavior.” More often than not, though, his fearless behavior ended up endearing him even more.

Ryan and HeatherAfter basic training and Airborne school at Fort Benning, GA, Ryan was chosen to go through the grueling training for the Special Forces at Fort Bragg, N.C. In North Carolina he met Heather Hohman in and not long after they married and settled near Fort Campbell, KY, before Ryan – the oldest on his elite team of 12 – shipped out in Jan. 2009. His daughter was one year old and Heather was pregnant with another girl, due in June.

It was almost exactly two years ago that Ryan came home, after barely six months in Iraq, to be treated for a rare cancer in his bile duct. When diagnosed in Iraq, the doctor told him he had zero chance of survival. To Ryan, those were fighting words – and fight he did. “Needless to say, calling Heather that morning at 3 a.m… to say I had liver cancer was not much fun,” Ryan wrote later.

Once back in the U.S., Ryan began documenting his fight in a series of eloquent, passionate and defiantly upbeat emails sent to friends and family. So compelling were they, and so heartfelt, that they went viral. There’s no telling how many readers he eventually had.

On May 31, Ryan started a battery of tests at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C. and faced his first “Hail Mary,” making it through an emergency procedure to stabilize him enough to travel to Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City on June for what he called the “MAIN EVENT,” surgery.

Despite the original odds, Ryan knew he had a lot going for him: “age, physical condition, beautiful wife, great kids, attitude, good looks, family, long tab, desire, etc.” and the surgeon now gave him a 40% chance of surviving: “100% better than the other prognosis I’ve received,” he typed out.

Not long after Ryan arrived in New York, Heather gave birth to Sophie – right across the street from Sloan Kettering, close enough for one of Ryan’s Green Beret buddies to unplug him from his IVs and wheel him over in time for that main event. “It was a humbling and beautiful event which did nothing but strengthen my resolve to kick this thing,” he wrote.

IRyan and his daughtern mid-June, Ryan wrote, “I cannot stop shaking my head and laughing at the situation. That’s all you can really do at this point. I love the challenges and can’t wait to add cancer survivor to my list of achievements.” He said that, “A major source of inspiration came from the guys with me on the AIRVAC bird who were much worse off in the short term. Of course on the surface I looked a little yellow but otherwise fine. These guys were far from it and some would likely never see family or friends again. It became almost easy at this point to deal with my situation and my overall perspective could not have been any better; so many soldiers’ lives are ended in an instant while I had practically been given years extra already.”

While waiting for his surgery, Ryan and his young family lived in an apartment – “I’m kicking it with three hotties in a sweet apt on the Upper East Side…being around my wife and TWO daughters makes me think that life simply can’t get any better….I just have too much stuff going for me to stop right now.” They were able to walk around – “like a semi-normal family” – as Ryan relished sharing some of the haunts and stories from the times with his friend, Adam.

Every email Ryan wrote included wonder, gratitude and appreciation for his friends (“this incredible network…now coming out of the woodwork to provide me an overwhelming amount of support, prayer and love”) and his very close-knit (“my foundation”) family. “I don’t see this as any sort of popularity thing or ego trip but rather a validation of the choices I’ve made in my life – starting with my wife who somehow raised a toddler while pregnant for six months and then dealt with this without so much as a whimper or a tear (at least that she’s shown me). I’ve never witnessed such strength, beauty and grace.”

Each email also included his signature sign-off: Keep on rockin’ in the free world! – a patriotic reference to Neil Young’s song said to be pro-American, pro-democracy.

As the surgery date approached, Ryan became even more philosophical. “The only thing I’ve found more important than maintaining a positive mental attitude is keeping a sense of humor…In my short life, I’ve found that even in the most dire of circumstances being able to laugh in the face of adversity is critical to succeeding. Fortunately, my mother has reinforced the gallows humor concept from an early age and it still carries me through…”

His positive, winning outlook never wavered. “Considering that we started at 0% chance of survival, I, of course, hear 40% as being 99%….

“I cannot explain the excitement of going into this operation other than it’s similar to all of the great sporting events; Super Bowl, the Final Four, the Masters, the World Series etc…rolled into one (perhaps we call it the Super Bowel instead?). It stands to be the most exciting 10 hour ordeal with the outcome far more important than any sporting event I’ve ever witnessed.”

Ryan had enormous faith in his surgeon, Dr. Fong – “the best of the best” – and continued to appreciate the outpouring of support. “The so-called strength, courage and determination … that so many of you have mentioned is not something I see as an inherent, special quality that only I possess, but rather it’s been a direct result of the love and support from family and friends as well as the training that the Army has put me through over the past five years – both of which have simply not allowed me to consider anything else but winning and continuing on with my blessed life.”

Ryan MeansSurgery took place on July 2 and Al Means wrote, “Ryan fought with the strength and honor of a Special Forces soldier…” He had picked up his son’s email list to provide the latest update.

When the email went on to say that the complications from surgery “were far too great” and that Ryan had died, it was incomprehensible. In the face of all his joy and optimism and excitement taking on this challenge, how could that be?

Staff Sergeant Ryan Patman Means died on Tuesday, July 7, 2009 just as the sun rose over New York City. Heather climbed onto the hospital bed to hold him as she had not been able to while he was still alive. As Heather bent over towards Ryan, Mary Jo wrapped his warm arms around her.

There were three funerals: one at Fort Campbell, Kentucky with his Special Forces team present; one at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta with 1,800 mourners all holding American flags; and, finally, one at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington where he was laid to rest.

The story doesn’t end there. In early May, when Osama Bin Laden was killed, Heather and everyone else in the Means family began getting phone calls, emails and texts to share the good news. The outpouring was extraordinary.

Heather – who saved every email, text, instant message and hand-written note from Ryan – is compiling them, with her own perspective, into a book, knowing her daughters will cherish every word.

Ryan MeansThere are more words and lots of photos from friends and family on the Ryan Patman Means tribute page on Facebook and the video of the burial at Arlington () where you can see Heather receiving the American flag – strong, brave and composed. “Ryan said, ‘No tears,’” she explained.

Knowing Ryan as she did – “known for hiding presents and making me open clues and solve puzzles to find them” – Heather scoured his computer after he died, and found this unfinished letter:

While I’m still supremely confident about the outcome, I wanted to share something about myself which isn’t very easy especially considering how extremely tough I am, that I’m an unstoppable member of the nation’s elite fighting force, a barrel-chested freedom fighter and generally someone who was born without feelings or a conscience. The secret to my attitude is what I consider a gift from God. Something that I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned to anyone but now somehow feel obligated to share with the world, which I really don’t like. The one thing that has always managed to get me through the darkest of times, and there have been more than I can really remember, is this strange and uncontrollable ability to see beauty where I really don’t think other people can. It’s odd because I’ll be in the midst of a hellish situation or simply walking down the street and just for an instant, something will catch my eye, whether it be the flight of a bird, wind rustling through some trees, a person in the midst of a genuine emotion, the way my daughter looks at me; really it can be anything or everything but in the blink of an eye, my heart fills with such passion, joy and happiness that I almost clutch my chest because I think that my heart is literally going to explode and at that moment I know that no matter what may happen, everything is, in the long run, going to be OK. The way I see this strange phenomenon is that God is telling me that he is all around us and that everything is simply going to be OK.

_______

Editor’s note: This story first posted on Legacy.com

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Vets Honoring Vets http://likethedew.com/2010/11/10/vets-honoring-vets/ http://likethedew.com/2010/11/10/vets-honoring-vets/#comments Thu, 11 Nov 2010 02:24:43 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=13227 It was the kind of bright blue sky you find only in October as dozens of people gathered in Suwanee, Ga. to pay tribute to Thomas Joseph Rees.

The obit was compelling:

“Fighter by day, lover by night, drunkard by choice and Uncle Sam’s Marching Clown forever.” So, too, was the service for the 62-year-old former Marine who “enjoyed beautiful women, Jameson Irish Whiskey, Camel cigarettes, fast cars…”

The family gathered on the front porch of the home, facing us: the 87-year old mother, a sister, one surviving brother, spouses, assorted nieces and nephews. The Marine honor guard was off to the side. And behind us, about two dozen men and women dressed in jeans, bandanas, caps, boots and vests filled with military medals stood dead still holding large American flags.

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It was the kind of bright blue sky you find only in October as dozens of people gathered in Suwanee, Ga. to pay tribute to Thomas Joseph Rees.

The obit was compelling:

“Fighter by day, lover by night, drunkard by choice and Uncle Sam’s Marching Clown forever.” So, too, was the service for the 62-year-old former Marine who “enjoyed beautiful women, Jameson Irish Whiskey, Camel cigarettes, fast cars…”

The family gathered on the front porch of the home, facing us: the 87-year old mother, a sister, one surviving brother, spouses, assorted nieces and nephews. The Marine honor guard was off to the side. And behind us, about two dozen men and women dressed in jeans, bandanas, caps, boots and vests filled with military medals stood dead still holding large American flags. They had arrived, not soundlessly, on motorcyles and taken their places silently. Almost like a huge hug, they had come to honor a former Marine and comrade. And they had our backs, too.

I’ve been to military funerals before but not one where this loyal group – the Patriot Guard Riders – had come to pay their respects and, if necessary, offer protection.

On this day when we pause to pay tribute to veterans of all ages, all wars, all ranks, this group deserves attention, too.

Their mission, stated on their website (www.patriotguard.org) is simply this: “to attend the funeral services of fallen American heroes as invited guests of the family…[to] show our sincere respect for our fallen heroes, their families and their communities and [to] shield the mourning family and their friends from interruptions created by any protestor…”

It was the need for that shield that created the impetus for this group. According to the history on their website – “what we’ve been able to piece together” – it was in 2005 when American Legion Riders 136 in Kansas caught wind of the Westboro Baptist Church’s plans to disrupt a military funeral. Members of the church claim that the casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan are “divine retribution” for homosexuality.

If this sounds familiar, it may be because the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case of protest at a funeral in Maryland in 2006 – specifically, to decide if the father of a Marine killed in Iraq has the right to sue protesters who carried signs at his son’s funeral reading “God Hates You” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.”

It was exactly the kind of disrespectful, disruptive scene the PGR was created to block out in Kansas – with revving bike engines, singing patriotic songs and waving the flags.

Shortly thereafter, a group was formed in Missouri, then Oklahoma, and it wasn’t long before a nation-wide campaign was rolling, gathering support across the United States. A call went out to riders across the nation and state captains began organizing in earnest. Members signed from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, Rolling Thunder, Combat Vets Motorcycle Association and more so that today, there are more than 200,000 Patriot Guard Riders. Though many of the originals are veterans from the war in Vietnam, many are not vets now and some don’t actually ride bikes.

The only guiding principle: “a deep respect for those who serve our country; military, firefighters or law enforcement.”

Joe “Mack” McGuigan, had ridden north from Newnan, Ga. for the service honoring Tommy (as I knew him when we were in high school) Rees. “We only come when we are asked,” he said. “We stand tall, proud and silent in the flagline.” McGuigan said “the welcome homes” – when the PGR “strangers on steel horses” escort a body from the airport – are a particularly meaningful tribute for Vietnam vets like himself. “Our attitude is, we’re not going to let it happen again,” he said. “No way is another generation going to go through what we did when we came home.”

At the Rees home in Suwanee, the Marine Honor Guard fired three rifle volleys and unfolded and refolded the flag in utter silence before presenting it to the family. The contrast between the formality of their dress, demeanor and precision and that of the comparatively scruffy but no less sincere or respectful PGR said a lot about T, TR or Tom Rees but also about the diversity of pomp, personalities, purpose and honor that makes up America today.

Top photo: Thomas Joseph Rees as a young Marine.

Bottom photo: Thomas Joseph Rees, older

To see for yourself – and to pay tribute to the PGR today — visit the websites below for photographs and videos of the patriotic bike-riding corp. And don’t miss the obituary in its entirety: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/gwinnettdailypost/obituary.aspx?page=lifestory&pid=146268967

More Photos: http://andrews3.gotfamiliesonline.com/gallery/2010-09-07-1

http://www.flickr.com/photos/ga_pgr_riders/sets/

Youtube:

//www.youtube.com/watch?v=9_RJMsrIT6s

(Double click on the icon to see the video full-size.)

About the author: Susan Soper is the founder and author of ObitKit (www.obitkit.com)

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$100 A Day — What a Giveaway! http://likethedew.com/2010/01/08/100-a-day-%e2%80%94-what-a-giveaway/ http://likethedew.com/2010/01/08/100-a-day-%e2%80%94-what-a-giveaway/#comments Sat, 09 Jan 2010 00:04:48 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=7376 Is it still early enough in January to be dishing about New Year’s Resolutions? Here’s an idea that’s pretty unique. Not to mention generous: giving away 100 bucks a day. Every day. For a year.

You don’t need to do the math: $36,500. Pay it forward!

Full disclosure: The auteur/donor of this year long project is my boss’s wife. But spreading the word about this is more about spreading the wealth than sucking up. As Betty Londergan likes to say, “I’m putting my money where my mouth is.”

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Is it still early enough in January to be dishing about New Year’s Resolutions? Here’s an idea that’s pretty unique.

Not to mention generous: giving away 100 bucks a day. Every day. For a year.

You don’t need to do the math: $36,500. Pay it forward!

Full disclosure: The auteur/donor of this year long project is my boss’s wife. But spreading the word about this is more about spreading the wealth than sucking up.

As Betty Londergan (photo at right) likes to say, “I’m putting my money where my mouth is.”

The money was left to her by her dad. Her mouth speaks for itself:

“As of yesterday,” she told friends on January 2, “I started a 365-day blog with the intention of giving away $100 a day to a person, cause or organization that I believe is making the world a better place. It’s actually quite thrilling to give away money (who knew???)… and I hope you’ll help me! First: you can find my blog at: http://whatgives365.wordpress.com.”

Londergan came to Atlanta with her husband, Larry Schall, when he became the 16th president of Oglethorpe University in 2005.

A clever marketing guru and author – she’s written two books: I’m Too Sexy for my Volvo and The Agony and the Agony – Betty did what any good Southerner would do in a new town: She found a church and immersed herself in it. “Every Sunday – all year long,” she wrote, “I’m going to be giving $100 to Our Lady of Lourdes, my amazing, adorable church in the heart of the Martin Luther King Jr. Landmark district in Atlanta… I love OLOL so much, it’s ridiculous. It’s small, it’s mighty, it has awesome music (thanks to our Minister of Music and chair of Spelman College’s Department of Music, Dr. Kevin Johnson), and it’s got Father John Adamski – our tall, rail-thin, challenging, intellectual, lovely priest.”

Already, Londergan has given $100 to Sole for Souls, her favorite Starbucks barista, Trees Atlanta and Give Light. Find out more about them and her upcoming beneficiaries on the blog. And, here’s a cool part of her plan: “If you know somebody or some entity that you believe in,” she wrote invitingly, “use my ‘Vicarious Giving’ option: write me a short page about the cause, and if I like it, I’ll use your blog for the day and send the $100 to your cause. How easy is that?”

She’s serious about that. After I gave Larry and Betty a small bottle of honey to go with a donation in their name to pollinator.org – devoted to research to save bees – she invited me to write about the group to go with her $100 check to them.

Not only generous, I say, but creative, engaging and noteworthy. Check it out.

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Do the Math http://likethedew.com/2009/10/09/do-the-math/ http://likethedew.com/2009/10/09/do-the-math/#comments Fri, 09 Oct 2009 14:20:32 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=6083

so_how_many_times_have_you_been_married_tshirt-p235509197719304229ya9f_400My third and best husband and I just returned from my first husband’s fifth wedding.

On the banks of the Edisto River, in South Carolina, Jack Williams married Judy Smith, in a light rain under live oaks and swaying Spanish moss, with over 200 musicians, friends, family and fans.

And one ex-wife: me. The others — Ann, Marcia and Coles — couldn’t make it.

Guests ranged in age from infancy to incontinency and were mostly barefoot — attired in shorts and T-shirts, swimsuits, cover-ups and towels. One guest knotted a beach towel at a jaunty angle around her hips and proclaimed herself “dressed” for the wedding. Adam, Jack’s son with Ann (Number One), served as best man, dressed like his dad, in shorts and sandals. Judy’s two grandsons, Connor and Cameron, took their job very seriously, collecting the rings after they had been passed through many loving hands of the assembled guests.

As soon as the musician/minister Wayne Manning pronounced Jack and Judy man and wife, they turned their backs to the crowd and plunged into the blackwater river. The minister jumped in behind them, then Judy’s two grown sons and daughter. Splashing and laughing, the couple “floated into their life together” (their words).

Sink or swim, it was typical of the romanticism and optimism that allow Jack, 62, to be undaunted by his fifth try at wedlock.

sarijaneThe River Gathering of friends and families, old and new, had been more or less an annual event since 1998. Music occurs because many of those friends are musicians, nationally known or locally grown. They may be below the commercial radar screen but are at the top of the game: hippies, aging and neo, flaunting their folkie tunes in Dylan-esque monotones and Joan Baez-ish melodies. Although Jack and Coles (Number Four) had invited us in those early years, we weren’t convinced it was our scene. I mean, why would Bo Holland want to hang out with people and memories that belonged to another marriage of mine? He didn’t!

In the winter of 1978, the most but not the only seductive thing about Jack Williams was his creativity and talent – classical piano, rock guitar, original tunes. I had just left a great writing gig at Newsday to live on the beach on Hilton Head, S.C. and follow less serious pursuits – calligraphy, working in an art gallery and writing restaurant reviews and occasional profiles for the bi-weekly paper. When The Island Packet assigned me to interview Jack, a twice-wed wandering troubadour, son of a Southern Baptist Army colonel with deep roots in rural Carolina, little did I know we’d be married four months later.

Even if my father never quite approved of marriage to a bearded musician, my grandmother was charmed by Jack’s clever poetry about the three B’s – Brahms, Bach and Beethoven – and his knowledge of art and history. His lack of concern for such practical things as checking accounts and health insurance concerned my family but fueled my ongoing attempt to disassociate myself from a hopelessly traditional, conservative upbringing.

Jack had a piano in our small condo on Hilton Head which, on weeknights, he’d play late into the night while I slept, ready to jump up for my conventional day job. Come Friday, his band, Fools in Love, would pull away from the island, headed for gigs in other parts of South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Missouri and Colorado. Occasionally, I’d go with him but, ultimately, it became clear I wasn’t cut out to live out of a Dodge van, and I didn’t want to be alone every weekend for the rest of my life.

At about this time, Jack realized he wasn’t really ready for a commitment – especially on weekends when he was surrounded by groupies and younger women with a different moral compass.     His going-away gift to me when he left, three years later, was a beloved red IBM Selectric typewriter and a better educated love for and appreciation of music. He introduced me to Jesse Winchester, The Band, Schubert and to many fine musicians I still follow today – including him.

Over the past 25 years, he’d come to Atlanta off-and-on to play at one spot or another and, married or not, I’d make a point to be an appreciative member of the often-small audience. When Bo and I married in 1988, he was game but not giddy about going to those gigs. Slowly, though, he developed admiration not only for Jack’s guitar-playing but his good nature, too.

redneck_wedding_receptionThe Sunday before the most recent nuptials, Jack was playing in town. For months I had emailed, see you at Eddie’s Attic, but, sorry, we can’t come to the wedding. That night, though, he and Judy, 54, kept encouraging us until finally, Bo said, “Why aren’t we going? We need to be there.” What a sport!

Our own wedding announcement read, “Eat, Drink and Re-Marry” so, in that spirit, we were off and running.

We’d been having a particularly musical summer anyway. Anita Baker, Clint Black and Paul Simon were live at a nearby amphitheater. We enjoyed “Long Tall” Marcia Ball at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, flew to Philly to hear Van Morrison, tuned in to Radiohead at the office. So why not drive to South Carolina for a Saturday night of love and loves-lost songs? And, oh yes, a wedding, too.

We were greeted with sincere warmth – and some curiosity. The hug Jack and Bo shared went beyond polite, lingering with real affection. Jack’s oldest friend, Sam Hendrix and his girls – then teenagers, now wives and mothers – were a sight to behold and we exchanged cards and email addresses with others we connected with on many levels. Adam was 13 the last time I had seen him but it won’t be another 25 years before the next sighting. There were old drummers and writer friends of Jack’s I was glad to see and vice versa.

The buffet was a long picnic table of predictable fare – chips and dips, ham, barbecue and lots of baked beans done a variety of ways. We took four dozen store-bought petite fours with green and pink J’s squeezed on them, and someone made the pecan cake Jack’s late mother, Louise, was famous for. Following the feast, the musicians John William Davis, Dayna Kurtz, Chuck Brodsky and, of course Jack, too, took their turns at the microphones moving us all to cheers and tears with their playing, singing and songwriting skills. Grown men actually cried.

Driving home at 8 the next morning, Bo said, “We won’t miss that event again.”

Lord, at first I thought he meant Jack’s next wedding, but there won’t be one of those. We’re as optimistic about that as he is. The River Gathering, however, will definitely be an annual summer destination for us.

As long as third wives and their favorite husbands are welcome.

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Dead Dads Dinner Keeps Memories Lively http://likethedew.com/2009/10/06/dead-dads-dinner-keeps-memories-lively/ http://likethedew.com/2009/10/06/dead-dads-dinner-keeps-memories-lively/#comments Wed, 07 Oct 2009 01:17:22 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=6025

Hershey BarMy friend Jane Kimbrell and I just celebrated another Dead Dads Dinner. We’ve done it just about every year since 1997.

Don’t get me wrong. We’re not celebrating because they’re dead…but because of the lives they led and what they meant to us.

Jane’s dad, Bob Kimbrell, died on her June birthday in 1994. George Soper died on my brother’s June birthday two years later. Each May, Jane and I felt like we were heading for a funk – those subliminal blues you don’t have control over when a sad anniversary approaches. So rather than try to squelch the sadness, we chose to hit it head on in a tried-and-true Southern ritual of dealing with sadness: Let’s eat!

So now they are remembered every summer with a good martini and the best steak Atlanta has to offer.

Both of our dads loved the aged steaks at Bone’s, and while mine frequented the Buckhead restaurant several times a year when visiting Atlanta, Jane’s dad preferred to cook his – personally delivered by Jane — on his own grill in Athens. I can still remember my dad flirting with Susan DeRose who in those early years welcomed diners herself and, truth be told, flirted back a little with the favorite regulars.

Because of Jane’s friendship with Susan and her partner, Richard Lewis, we got the royal treatment the night we launched the Dead Dads Dinner. The wait staff – always consummate professionals – knew that we were celebrating, or, rather, burying our grief in a good stiff drink – and could not have been more attentive or caring. When they delivered our first drink in individual silver cocktail shakers with Bone’s engraved on one side and each of our dad’s initials on the other, well, of course, we lost it.

Since that first memorable dinner – Jane has a Gray Goose martini, mine is Tanqueray on the rocks with big fat olives and we both get a petit filet; Jane gets a loaded potato, I have the broccoli bathed in hollandaise – we’ve both lost other family members and friends. The older we get, the more friends have moved on and we always toast them, too. I have come to realize the value in celebrating someone who’s gone and encourage others to do that, too.

ssoperddadOn my dad’s October 8 birthday each year, I buy 100 Hershey bars and just hand them out randomly to whomever crosses my path that day. The first one always goes to the sales clerk wherever I happen to buy them, and then I move on: the post office, a department store, buying gas, prescriptions or wedding gifts. In the early days, I put one in each of my colleagues’ mailboxes in the AJC Features Department. But that tradition has followed me in workplaces I have occupied since then.

In telling the story of why I am sharing chocolate – my dad’s favorite: pure milk, no nuts – I have made friends with a postal clerk whose late mother died on my dad’s birthday and a saleswoman at Saks who came around the counter to give me a tearful hug. One waitress at lunch asked for a second one to take home to her mother as a token of her own appreciation. I’ve shared them with tennis teams, slipped them in neighbors’ mail boxes and handed them on while hiking the Inca Trail in Peru.

The first year I did this, I couldn’t articulate what I was doing without dissolving. But now, over a decade later, I love to tell the story, his story, behind the Hersheys. I find it’s a cheerful way to keep George Soper’s memory alive beyond the lively dinners shared with Jane and often gives others a reason to pause to remember someone they’ve loved and lost, too. A couple of recipients have even taken on traditions of their own, finding a special way to celebrate a life that’s over but not a legacy.


Lower photo shows Susan Soper with her dad around 1985.

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Kennesaw Mountain: Now a snapshot of diversity http://likethedew.com/2009/07/04/kennesaw-mountain-now-a-snapshot-of-diversity/ http://likethedew.com/2009/07/04/kennesaw-mountain-now-a-snapshot-of-diversity/#comments Sat, 04 Jul 2009 17:02:17 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=4074

cheathilltunnelThis week marks the 145th anniversary of the brutal Civil War battle fought at Kennesaw Mountain. What better time to take note of how one venue of that ferociously fought war to protect segregation and slavery has become the picture of diversity?

My husband and I have been hiking the Kennesaw trails for almost 20 years and have been increasingly struck by the growing array of accents, languages, skin colors and ages visiting this historic national park.

Independence Day weekend presents an opportune time to check this out for yourself.

Last weekend, we took the Cheatham Hill trail to Kolb Farm (bordered by Powder Springs Road), and our trek back toward the mountain included a stop at the Illinois Monument – an imposing honor to the Illinois boys and men who died in the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain. We were stunned that we hadn’t even known of its existence and enlightened to read more about how that “Bent Angle” (or, depending on which side you were on, “Dead Angle,” so called because the Union troops attacked a Confederate line that jutted out too far) battle was fought.

kennesaw34That walk also included rolling hills, meandering meadows of sweet-smelling grass, a brush up against suburbia tempered with wild-growing flora from blackberry bushes to spider worts.

The trail over Big and Little Kennesaw is about six miles, definitely up-and-down-up-and-down (allegedly a 700-foot incline), but doable with the right shoes and degree of fitness. The gentlest part of the path, right at the beginning, is predictably the most heavily populated: from senior citizens with canes to toddlers wobbling their way until they eventually end up atop dad’s shoulders. There is also a wide range of dogs trotting the trails, too – all sizes, all breeds, all mixes.

A woman from Japan told me a couple of years ago that the Kennesaw terrain reminds many Asians of their homelands, which may explain why there seem to be so many of them enjoying the trek.

One recent Saturday morning, we met a couple from Baltimore who were passing through Atlanta with limited time for sightseeing. Where did they go? Not The World of Coca-Cola or Zoo Atlanta. Not the High Museum or Six Flags. They were hiking up Kennesaw Mountain (also known as Big Kennesaw), marveling at the view of downtown Atlanta 22 miles away.

Even if they weren’t schooled about the battle between General William Tecumseh Sherman’s Union troops and Joseph E. Johnston leading the “Rebs,” they sensed the uniqueness of this place and were full of questions.

vfiles2189The National Park – almost three thousand acres up I-75 and Barrett Parkway — features an excellent museum filled with authentic memorabilia, a respectable array of Civil War books, an 18-minute film intro for your visit and maps to guide you as far as you’re willing to walk.

Kennesaw, from the Cherokee Indian word “Gah-nee-sah,” means cemetery or burial ground. Yet another irony of how alive and active the mountain is these days with the collective energy and enthusiasm of its visitors – no matter where they’re from.

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Monumental sculptures are ‘Moore’ than enough http://likethedew.com/2009/05/05/monumental-sculptures-are-moore-than-enough/ http://likethedew.com/2009/05/05/monumental-sculptures-are-moore-than-enough/#comments Wed, 06 May 2009 02:53:23 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=2139

henry-moore221Now that the hot air balloon rides, scavenger hunts, teas and cash bars have exited the opening weekend of the Henry Moore sculpture show at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, it’s a perfect time to go. You just don’t need “Moore” to do than view.

What more visual stimulation or extra-curricular entertainment could possibly enhance the elegance, enormity and sheer simplicity of the 20 pieces in “Moore in America” – a show that has debuted at the New York Botanical Garden last year and will be in our Midtown garden through Oct. 31. Don’t miss it.

Part of the opening weekend hoopla was to introduce metro Atlanta residents to the new once-controversial parking garage. Are we over that yet? The parking garage is truly nestled into a hillside – well, as much as possible – and has been designed and landscaped all over to make it not only palatable but downright attractive.

Whether you are approaching the garden on foot from Piedmont Road or motoring in from Monroe Drive, it’s a whole new experience and a new route. As one friend said, “You no longer feel like a school kid being dropped off at the circular entrance. This is much more sophisticated.”

oval-points-nightHowever you get there, you’ll be dazzled by one of the best views of the Midtown and Downtown skylines; it might be enough to offset your grumpiness about having to pay for parking now. You’ll also appreciate the greatly expanded offerings of the glittering new gift shop on the lower level of the Hardin Visitor Center (designed by Jova Busby Daniels).

But we digress. This is about the splendor of English sculptor Henry Moore’s works, best seen as he intended them: outdoors. “Sculpture is an art of the open air,” he once said, and his monumental pieces are that and more – of the lush spring growth of the garden, of the hills where they nest, of the water they seem to hover over.

The pieces in this show, abstract and mostly bronze, are representative of the free forms, female figures and nurturing themes Moore employed most. With names like, “Draped Reclining Mother and Baby” and “Seated Woman” one gets a good sense of his devotion to what pleased him most. While they are huge in size, his use of grace and space keeps them from becoming clunky or awkward. Several of them feature openings and “laps” that look perfect for a photo op – if no one is looking.

Moore (1898¬-1986) grew up one of eight children in Castleford the son of an Irish mining engineer, but through an innate and nurtured appreciation for the arts and formal education (including a scholarship to the Royal College of Art in London), he experimented and taught his way to prominence, gaining large commissions for public art all over the world.

He first visited the United States in 1946 for a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art and with his increasing fame came great wealth. He eventually established the Henry Moore Foundation – which includes his final home Hoglands as a museum and gallery – to promote the public appreciation of art and to preserve his sculptures.

installman300x640The pieces at the Botanical Garden are carefully placed and lovingly lit which you will especially appreciate if you go at night. An extra draw for night time viewing: Moore & Martinis (cleverly dubbed “social irrigation”) on Thursday nights through September (6 to 10 p.m.) when signature cocktails will be served along with “tastings” from a local restaurant (free for members; $15 for non members).

But, honestly, the sculptures should be seen in broad daylight, too. The play of the sun and shadows and the variety of settings – from the Conservation Bog Garden to the Rose Garden and Alston Overlook – are constantly changing, as fluid as the sculptures in their reclining-but-not-static poses.

To be sure, there are programs for kids throughout the exhibit and educational lectures for adults (visit www.atlantabotanicalgarden.org), but the wonder and wow of these pieces are, to this eye, best appreciated without the same disproportionate focus on “entertainment” that has likewise rendered baseball a mere sideshow to the games, food, contests, cameras and other nonsense at The Ted.

The art here is “Moore” than enough.

The Atlanta Botanical Garden is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday; closed Monday.

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