July 16, 2008
Happy blogiversary right back to you. Keep on keepin’ on, hon!
We (meaning my sister Buffy, four kids, me, and 500 old Judith Krantz and Tom Clancy novels in the back of my car culled from the Monteagle Woman’s Association Library awaiting their fate at the bazaar next Wednesday) made an unscheduled trip last week.
There was a very sad loss in the family, and we made a pilgrimage to Greenville, Alabama, south of Montgomery, for the funeral.
It was less than 48 hours, but it was one of those very, very vivid trips that felt much longer. It may have had to do with the fact that I was traveling with Buffy, who can fill a day, let me tell you.
Stop Number One: Birmingham
Remember Gilchrist, the soda shop in Mountain Brook Village, in Birmingham? Where we hung out with fabulous Rachel when we toured Birmingham two years ago? The limeades were cool, and you would have been proud that I lunched with Buffy’s oldest friend in the world, who knows the woman who invented their most famous menu item, the bacon-lettuce-tomato-AND-pimiento-cheese sandwich. Brilliant.
Stop Number Two: Greenville
At this point, the dusty paperbacks in the way back had warmed up, and my car started smelling like the Monteagle Woman’s Association Library.
Greenville has the same population it had 40 years ago: 8,000 or so. Dad took us on a tour of the places he used to go as a boy, and it amazed the children to hear how wide open his life was. He camped for 51 nights straight in the woods behind his house, deciding that he needed to bang out the camping requirement toward his Eagle Scout all at once.
Here’s the thing: I got to meet Elmira. I met Elmira, Kay!
I think about Elmira literally every day that I’m here in Monteagle, because the quilt she made is on my bed.
The story of that quilt began a few years ago, here. Elmira has no idea how often I think about her, and how certain I was that I would never meet her.
Our family friend Dr. Betty Ruth is the one who engineered our visit, on the fly and zipzap just like that.
Dr. Betty Ruth showed up at the funeral, up from Point Clear. I can hardly describe how delightful it was to see this lady, fretting about this being the first time in her life she has come through the door of St. Thomas Episcopal Church without nylons on, but she just couldn’t do it in 95-degree heat. We stood in the parish house, eating paper-thin cheese straws, lemonade punch (the ice ring was melting fast), and I asked how Elmira was doing. She looked at me and said, “She’s doing fine. I wish you could get to see her–” and she stopped, then said, “Let’s go. It’s five minutes from here. Let’s go right now.”
So we threw the kids in the car, and five minutes later, they had all shed their blue blazers and ties and button down shirts for their decrepit T shirts. We pulled up to Elmira’s house, which is down a quiet road with woods all around.
Betty Ruth opened the door, calling “Elmaroo!” and there was Elmira, sitting in the living room looking exactly like the photographs Betty Ruth had sent me two years ago. There is a profound intimacy between them. They have known each other since they were children. Their babies grew up together. They each have a complete knowledge of the other’s life–their families, their friends.
Elmira continues to quilt every day. You would be glad to know that she has an entire room devoted to her quilt frame. It was absolutely delightful to see somebody as crazy about her craft as we are about ours.
She says she still has not used up all the shirts that I sent her to make five quilts for our family. She’s still using them, four years later.
Stop Number Three: Montgomery
Directly after leaving Elmira’s house, we a) stopped for gasoline and barbecue which are conveniently one stop in Greenville, then b) hit it for the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery on our way back to Tennessee.
I really wanted to see this memorial. As we wandered around trying to find it in the grid of downtown Montgomery, I said, “You know, I think it’s a Maya Lin,” referring to the architect who created the memorial.
Buffy, tired of schlepping, said, “A mile in? No way am I going an extra BLOCK.”
Now. It is a merciful thing to see the Civil Rights Memorial with four children who have been in a car and a funeral all day, wearing ties and blue blazers and being told how much they have grown by people they do not know. They were so very wiggly, so like cannonballs recently launched, that it helped me get through what is a profoundly moving and upsetting place.
There is the beautiful fountain by Maya Lin, who is famous for designing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington.
“. . . until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” That’s from Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
The boys played in the smooth water of the fountains.
Going inside the small museum requires a run through a metal detector because the Southern Poverty Law Center, who sponsored the memorial, was bombed in 1983 by hate groups, and in the lobby is a melted clock from the offices that marks the moment the place exploded.
There is a long wall with the faces of the dozens of men and women who died during the civil rights era from 1954-1968, detailing exactly what they did and how they died. The museum’s brochure says that the memorial is intended not as a place of suffering, but of hope. But I couldn’t help but feel the tremendous ache of so much violence and stupidity right there in front of me. It was extremely disturbing.
The next room was intended as an answer to the wall we had just seen. The Wall of Tolerance is a giant video screen with names floating across it. At kiosks, we all added our names to the group of people who pledged to help spread tolerance to the world. We stood for a while, watching our names up there, drifting along, then diminishing and fading, then reappearing in another place on the wall. I think one of my children added his name at least three times. Does that mean that he has extra tolerance work to do? Could it be, that he will be tripletolerant now?
I hope so. I dunno. I do think that a lot of my most vivid memories of childhood didn’t register at the time as anything much. But these memories tend to overlap, and echo, and linger, and that’s part of what parents are supposed to do: load up their children’s brains with the things they don’t even know they will remember, years from now.