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Unscheduled Stops

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Dear Kay,
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.
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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.
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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.
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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
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
Love,
Ann

72 Comments

72 Comments

  1. Thank you Ann.
    That’s all, just thanks. A wonderful post.

  2. Beautiful

  3. Hello, ladies. I mostly lurk here, but I had to comment on this very powerful, personal post. Lovely. Thank you.

  4. Amazing from beginning to end… You have decent clothes for your children on holiday; you met Elmira — that quilt business is about where I came in on the MDK story; the memorial… I’m sorry you had to make this sad trip, but thanks for sharing it with us!

  5. What a lovely post.
    I am sorry for your family’s loss.

  6. I am sorry for the loss to your family. I just had to comment on the story of the quilt, what a wonderful thing to do, I am so glad you got to meet Elmira.

  7. What an amazing post. I love the comment about no nylons and the church. It reminds me of the ladies at our church who wouldn’t dare enter the sancturary without a hat.

  8. I am so sorry about the funeral but I am glad a) to have a mention–that was a great day around B’ham with you two, and b) that I got to “go to Greenville” with you. Virtually, that is. You know my whole family is from there and my first cousin Tony and his brood live across the street from St. Thomas! That BBQ joint is a popular stop for many, weirdly situated though it is. I’m glad you got to stomp around my stomping grounds. I only wish I had been there too and randomly run into you. That would have been the surprisiest surprise of a lifetime!
    That Civil Rights memorial is great. I haven’t seen the whole exhibit, but the part I saw was very moving. Have you been to the Civil Rights Museum in B’ham?

  9. What a moving post, about the things we ought to strive to be. Thank you for sharing all of it. I am sorry for your family’s loss.

  10. Ann,
    I want to thank you for not telling me on the phone about meeting Elmira (ElmahROO!) and letting me be surprised. I about plotzed. You knew I would. A tear may have rolled this morning. What is stopping me from jumping on a plane, renting a car, and just GOING? There was a QUILT ON THE FRAME. Just want to be there.
    I need to believe that you had to make some kind of panic run to the store to get blazers for the boys. We need 3 weeks of lead time for that kind of upgrade here on the Upper West Side. For 5th grade graduation there was a very hot market trading blue blazers among moms of different sized boys.
    Best Maya Lin joke EVER. Or is it a Buffy joke? I think Maya needs the joke more than Buffy.
    love,
    Kay

  11. Ann, as a left-leaning native southerner, living in a large city that still has so much work to do along these lines, and feeling the weight of responsibility daily, your post brought tears to my eyes.
    Thank you.

  12. Your post is beautiful on so many different levels. I love the way you tied everything together. Wonderful.

  13. lovely. and i know the heat kept you close company on that journey. your photos of the SLPC memorial and wall brought back my memories of that city. I wrote an article about SPLC and their work — committed, intelligent people working for change = the best that is America.
    Did it strike you how there were so few people out walking around that downtown? That still kind of haunts me.

  14. “a mile in” — perfect. I can just hear you all laughing about that.
    Beautiful piece, Ann – you’ve made me miss the south so much right now it hurts, that peculiar mishmash of hope and pain and history that’s alive and personal. The kids and I met Ruby Sales a few months ago, the woman Jonathan Daniels (one of the Memorial’s 40 lives) pushed out of the way when he was shot in 1965 – it’s book history to them, and too soon; like you said, I hope it sticks, the idea that people are still working…

  15. As I finished reading this post, I said, out loud, “beautiful post”.

  16. The next time someone asks me why I still live in Alabama I’m going to hand them this post.

  17. Yes, Ann to all you say in this post. DO “load up your children’s brains with the things they don’t even know they will remember”.. My dad did this and as a 58 yr old woman, I thank him every day for my life and my attitude toward living.
    Wonderful post – tolerance, may we see it soon.

  18. Yes, Ann to all you say in this post. DO “load up your children’s brains with the things they don’t even know they will remember”.. My dad did this and as a 58 yr old woman, I thank him every day for my life and my attitude toward living.
    Wonderful post – tolerance, may we see it soon.

  19. “[...] 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.”
    Now there’s a galvanizing thought. Thanks for the lovely post (you met Elmira! Fantastic!) and reminding me to get my boy out to see the memorials and make some memories. Important stuff. And tolerance. I’m all in for tripletolerance.

  20. I was just talking to a friend last night about filling up our children’s brains. Thank you for writing about this so beautifully!

  21. I think I might need to go on a trip after reading that blog entry. I never would have thought myself to add Montgomery to my travel plans but I have now. Thanks!!
    By the way, the quotation that you so generously attributed to Martin Luther King Jr. is actually a Bible text from Amos 5:24.

  22. Thank you for that post. Sounds like a trip to Montgomery as well as all those other cool (well, hot) places might be in order.

  23. Thanks for the moving post.

  24. What a powerful place. One of these days I will get down there (hopefully in the winter). Thank you for sharing the experience.

  25. What a great way to turn a personal loss into positive experience for you and your children. Thank you so much for sharing your trip with us.

  26. Chills.
    And misty at the same time.
    Thank you for sharing with us.

  27. Ann, that brought tears to my eyes,first we( hubbo & myself) are from Alabama,lived there 25 years, once a southern always a southern. So reading this was reading about HOME.You spoke so beautifully about the south and living. I just printed this I want to read this again and again! Thank you for sharing your life with us.I feel like a friend of yours…. Wendy

  28. Dear Ann: Sometime in the murky past, I remember seeing a PBS documentary about Maya Lin that was shot while this memorial was in the planning, building, and dedication stages. You might be able to find it. I think it was American Masters. It might be a good watch for you and the kids and Buffy can find out who “a mile in” really is.

  29. I love this post.

  30. What a wonderful post. I had not known about the civil rights memorial – it’s very beautiful and moving.
    And it was so nice that you finally met Elmira — I was so touched by the story of the quilt of shirts when you told it so many years ago.
    Thanks for all you share and write.

  31. What a wonderful post. I had not known about the civil rights memorial – it’s very beautiful and moving.
    And it was so nice that you finally met Elmira — I was so touched by the story of the quilt of shirts when you told it so many years ago.
    Thanks for all you share and write.

  32. Amen.
    I lovelovelove that memorial, though I have yet to see it in person.

  33. Delurking to say thank you for a beautiful post. I’m sorry for your family’s loss.

  34. Also delurking. What a lovely post. Thank-you for taking us along on your trip. I haven’t been to the deep south in several years and now I know I miss it.

  35. I’m a lurker, too, but I want to thank you for this amazing post that just sort of lulled me in and then grabbed me and had me in tears by the end. It has informed on my entire day. Beautiful. Thank you.

  36. I’m a lurker, too, but I want to thank you for this amazing post that just sort of lulled me in and then grabbed me and had me in tears by the end. It has informed on my entire day. Beautiful. Thank you.

  37. I’m a lurker, too, but I want to thank you for this amazing post that just sort of lulled me in and then grabbed me and had me in tears by the end. It has informed on my entire day. Beautiful. Thank you.

  38. Well, so it’s all been said already. Thank you Ann, for such a beautiful post. I’m sorry for your loss.

  39. That post made me think of my Aunt Flora. She lives in Alabama, is 86 years old and still quilting. They won’t let her quilt in dialysis, something to do with poking herself, but she still does it at home.

  40. Wonderful post – moving and humorous at the same time.
    ps: I immediately recognized the Civil Rights Memorial (Amos 5:24)quote; my husband, a stone carver, carved boss stone depicting an artist’s interpretation of the quote. It is located in the Civil Rights bay at the Washington National Cathedral. (Happy to send you a picture if you’d like to see it.)

  41. WMK,
    Please do send a picture of your husband’s carving; I would love to see it. My grandpa carved stone, (although usually things like “First National Bank”). He was a stonemason who carved for the fun of it.
    Kay

  42. Hi Ann,
    G-r-r-eat story about Elmira!
    And BTW, wonderful Gale Zucker photo of you two.
    She is so talented.
    Kathy B.

  43. Hi Ann,
    G-r-r-eat story about Elmira!
    And BTW, wonderful Gale Zucker photo of you two.
    She is so talented.
    Kathy B.

  44. wow. Thanks. A really thought provoking post.

  45. A most beautiful and profound post.
    Elmira is so beautiful, so full of life and passion. I’d love to meet her.

  46. This is what blogging and the internet should be all about: bringing words and images together in a way that connects people of disparate existences, reminding them of our common humanity.
    BTW, I’m a product of the midwest and a grandmother who quilted and another grandmother who crocheted, and I’ve survived two decades in NYC and its environs; this post and your blog connects to me in so many ways. Did I mention that my best friend just moved to Nashville?!

  47. Beautiful

  48. I came for light chat and left filled with deep emotion and the conviction that we all must do better. Thank you.

  49. thank you, thank you, thank you…..
    I grew up in Birmingham just up the street from Gilchrist drug store. One of my only memories of my maternal grandmother is sitting on a stool at the counter of Gilchrist’s drinking a lime ade when I was about 4.
    Each summer I take my children to Hayneville to walk where Jonathan Daniels walked and to celebrate his life with a very large Episcopal eucharist in the Courthouse there. Powerful.
    I am so very sorry for your loss.

  50. Thank you. I didn’t even know about the Civil Rights Memorial, and I am delighted to here about you meeting Elmira. I’ve never been to the South, and you make me want to hop a plane and get there. What a full, rewarding trip you took. Thank you for sharing it. I think your kids will all be tripletolerant, as they have learned to be so from you!!

  51. Thank you. I didn’t even know about the Civil Rights Memorial, and I am delighted to here about you meeting Elmira. I’ve never been to the South, and you make me want to hop a plane and get there. What a full, rewarding trip you took. Thank you for sharing it. I think your kids will all be tripletolerant, as they have learned to be so from you!!

  52. Thank you. I didn’t even know about the Civil Rights Memorial, and I am delighted to here about you meeting Elmira. I’ve never been to the South, and you make me want to hop a plane and get there. What a full, rewarding trip you took. Thank you for sharing it. I think your kids will all be tripletolerant, as they have learned to be so from you!!

  53. Thank you. I didn’t even know about the Civil Rights Memorial, and I am delighted to hear about you meeting Elmira. I’ve never been to the South, and you make me want to hop a plane and get there. What a full, rewarding trip you took. Thank you for sharing it. I think your kids will all be tripletolerant, as they have learned to be so from you!!

  54. Just gorgeous, every word and every picture.

  55. This one got me all weepy.
    Thank you for reminding my job as a mom – that it is not just about calming tantrums or congratulating potty usage.
    Overload.
    Thank you.

  56. You touched a chord, making the sweetest of sounds: a heartsong.
    Thanks, Ann.
    LoveDiane

  57. I went to the Holocaust Museum in Germany about four years ago. It was just so sad and emotional and it really had an impact on me. I wanted to spend hours in there, and I wanted to leave as fast as I could. It was certainly a place I would not have felt the full impact of as a child. Not to say that children shouldn’t be in a place like that; in fact they should – but to have learned about the Holocaust at the collegiate level, and then to visit the country where it all took place, it really brought home and made personal the reality of the situation. Well, inasmuch as someone who has never experienced that level of intolerance can internalize it.

  58. Ann, I am sorry for your loss, and thank you for weaving/knitting it into a story that offers such a deep view into human suffering and our connections despite it all. Like many of your readers, I grew up in the south, born in Montgomery and raised in B’ham. We lived in Mountain Brook until my parents divorced, and I certainly remember Gilchrist’s– when my husband and I drove through in April I was amazed to see how many of the little businesses I remember are still there in the “village”! What a pleasure to connect with your memories, and I will definitely get down to the memorial in Montgomery next time. The civil rights museum in B’ham is not as strikingly artistic (it’s not quite a mile in–god that kills me), but is every bit as powerful. Strong work, Miz Ann!

  59. What a beautiful account of your trip. I love reading about Monteagle (lived in Tennessee for 25 years), but reading of your trip to Alabama brought back memories of living in the south during those days remembered in the memorial. As many of the posters before me, I am wiping the tears as I read.
    tp

  60. Another lurker delurking. Just had to say how much I loved this post. How brilliant an idea is the Wall of Tolerance? I love it and I’m sure it made a lasting impression on your children. I feel so lucky to live in a time when the internet means I can read such entertaining and thought-provoking blogging. Thank you.

  61. Another lurker delurking. Just had to say how much I loved this post. How brilliant an idea is the Wall of Tolerance? I love it and I’m sure it made a lasting impression on your children. I feel so lucky to live in a time when the internet means I can read such entertaining and thought-provoking blogging. Thank you.

  62. Another long-time reader, first-time poster.
    I am so sorry for your loss.
    Your story was lovely and thank you for sharing.
    I kept thinking of Bonnie Raitt singing, “Make Me An Angel” while I was reading it.
    On a completely selfish note, would Elmira want to do any more quilts on consignment?

  63. Fabulous post in so many ways. Thanks.

  64. Grew up in Montgomery and B’ham, a Jewish white girl in the ’60s. I’m just sitting here after reading your beautiful words, moved to tears. You captured it all, with your usual humor, grace, and wit.
    Your kids are lucky. Whether they recall this trip or not in the years ahead, their hearts will remember what you are trying to teach them.

  65. Wonderful post, Ann. Thank you for sharing your life with us.

  66. Kay –
    You can see Sean’s carving pics on my blog – just posted them this morning – http://workingmomwhoknits.blogspot.com/
    Clara

  67. Add my “thanks”! I’ve been in Montgomery only once – en route to Selma, with my daughter….to the funeral of her father. We only stayed overnight, did no sightseeing, but I commented as we drove across The Bridge. I met her father in St Paul, we were both Civil Rights workers. He had rosette scars on his back from electric cattle prods. Grim times – but not in vain, I think. I wrote a letter to him when it became obvious that Obama was to be our candidate —
    if you’re interested:
    http://catssticksandbooks.blogspot.com/2008/06/letter-to-willie.html
    (I think you’ll need to cut-and-paste, I’m not very good at this). But again, thank you for this – and I’m so sorry for your loss….which you’ve turned into a rich gift for us.

  68. SUCH a wonderful post- it stayed with me all day, then popped back into my brain again. The wonder of “going home”to where your dad is from, meeting Elmira, getting boys into blazers and ties on a hot summer day (!!!), the Maya Lin/Buffy moment…talk about real people in real places. You took us right there with you.

  69. So, let me get this straight, you had to WANDER AROUND downtown Montgomery to find the dang monument?? As if, for example (and just speaking hypothetically, you know), they were NOT PROUD to have it there??
    Yeah, I had that experience, too a few years back. Jeff Davis’s house, check, Lurleen Wallace museum, check. These are well marked.
    Just sayin’.
    Also, oh, I miss Betty Ruth so fiercely. HI BETTY RUTH!! You are GORGEOUS!!

  70. What a great read! I have some bolts of really nice fabric if you think Elmira would be interested. I will never get to quilt them, but I bet she would.
    Also, the blt with pimento spread has been around for years. I have been eating it without the lettuce for 40+ years… and that’s being kind to me. LOL!
    I love that tolerance idea. Thank you for sharing your trip… I even felt the heat and grime of the day.

  71. Thank you for passing tolerance on to your children. We could use more of that.

  72. Carrie is beautiful and looks like an Afghan princess. (If there are any Afghan princesses…Well, if there were, she could be one.)