Hiding From the World In Hindman


At the time of this writing, ISIS was on the move in Northern Iraq, heading toward Baghdad, cease-fires were not holding in Gaza,  Malaysian flight 17 was still not recovered, spread over a nine-mile swath in the sweltering heat of a Ukrainian summer.

The weekend came and went and a new work week started, and still I refused to watch the news, broadcast or cable, and I turned my attention instead to old reruns of “The Middle”  and “The Andy Griffith Show.” And sometimes even Andy was too modern and I settled in for long evenings of British mysteries set in the 50’s, or costume dramas set in distant centuries.

Because I simply can’t take it anymore. The news is as distressing as I have ever known it, and I have lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Kennedy and King assassinations, the Challenger explosion, 9/11, natural disasters splayed all over every channel  on a continual loop, wars, famines, outbreaks of plague.

But never do I remember so many distressing things, so close together,  and a feeling of such utter helplessness and…I don’t want to say it…but hopelessness, too, on really bad days. Each crisis seems to beget another crisis which backburners yet another crisis that stews away until it boils over and some invisible chef rearranges the pots on the stove and it starts all over again.

My mother, who was too young to remember the depression but recalls clearly the war years, says right now is as distressing a time as she can remember. The worst, maybe. She will tell you, though, that they only saw the news at the movies, on carefully controlled newsreels, but the newspapers, big thick things with tiny print, were full of accounts as were the news reports on the radio.

As it is,  the 24 hour news outlets have done me in. I can’t watch any more. I can’t listen to one more “ping” as I receive a push notification of some on-line outlet updating me with news. I want off this ride.

So, I watch “Endeavor” and “Lark Rise to Candleford,” and maybe a Vera Stanhope mystery here and there. And yes, they are murder mysteries, but nothing gory or gratuitous and the plot just clicks along with Vera hurrrumping from one place to another in her baggy coat and unflattering hat.

th-4She calls everyone “pet” or “poppet” but she says things like, “aye, you might be the murderer.”  You gotta love Vera. She’s got issues but she is good at her job and all she wants to do is go home and put her feet up and enjoy her pint.

She looks out over the bleak Northumberland landscape and she seems, if not content,  at least resigned.  But we don’t live on the edge of the North Sea, where I am guessing television and cell reception is poor, and they are spared some of the bombardment of the news.

So, I have turned off the television. I allow myself visits to well-selected and respected web sites of new outlets where I read detailed reports and fair analysis of world events.

And I am looking forward to a week in the mountains, which might as well be Northumberland, at least as far as phone service goes,  And there are no televisions. None.

At all.

Do you know what a rare and lovely thing that is? Not just now, but in general?

I will be at the writer’s workshop at the Hindman Settlement School thand I should be learning a lot and reading good work, and laughing with my friends. We will make up things to laugh at. I call my mother a couple of times, check in with my messages off and on, and then don’t look at the phone for hours, days, because everyone I want to talk to is here.

I am looking forward to silencing the outside world more this year than any other I can remember. I might have reached my capacity for understanding world events. It’s all just too much, too complex, too something.

The forecast for Hindman is this. Temperatures in the 70’s, rainy but still, people, the 70’s. That has never happened. Almost every one of our group will be there, which also almost never happens. We haven’t seen each other in a while so that means pent- up stories begging to be told.

We will serve all our local delicacies at our impromptu late night th-2soirees, things like pickled bologna and fresh-made pesto.  I bring the hot olive cheese spread from J’s, and it goes quick.  I always take extra but they are just pigs, what can I tell ya.

Maybe if the music is fine and the laughter loud I might be able to come home and face the news. Let’s hope.

We’re Going to Graceland, Graceland…

Graceland signMy first visit to Graceland was over thirty years ago.  My sister and I were driving up through the Delta in the middle of a heatwave in my little un-air conditioned Datsun, and she was, I must say,  tad tetchy.

We had been in Greenville, Mississippi where it was 100 degrees at ten o’clock at night, and during the day the heat from the parking lot radiated up one’s legs and lingered, oh, about knee high.  It was an awful sensation and scary.  I had never experienced such a thing.

While we weren’t at each other’s throats, we were soon about to be, so in the spirit of detente, we agreed to take the Memphis exit and go visit The King.  Memphis in the middle of the summer is a hot and sweaty place, and this was an exceptionally hot and sweaty day.  In line with us was a young couple from Scotland, very fair, very red in the face, fanning themselves feverishly, with the look of the doomed about their eyes.

Scotland, remember, is a land of summers in the sixties, with heat waves topping out about 76 degrees Fahrenheit.  I thought it possible we might lose them altogether, and they were sweet, too.  Looked like newlyweds, maybe.   They rallied, though, as they linked arms and half-swooned, half-dragged themselves to the front door.  They were, after all, on a pilgrimage, and that requires sacrifice and discomfort and pain.

They had come to give homage to Elvis.  The King.

Not much has changed at Graceland in thirty years, at least not Graceland itself.  I discovered this back in June when my pal, Alice, and I took her two granddaughters on a pilgrimage of our own.  We talked about taking the girls last summer and it didn’t work out, so this year we got it on our calendars early.

We packed the car with iPads and pillows and took off early one Wednesday morning, the day already hot and humid, as it should be.  The girls giggled in the back, sometimes erupting in outrageous laughter at things only eleven-year olds find funny.

We arrived in late afternoon, too late to tour Mud Island, so we decided to hit Beale Street instead.  How to describe it?   Perhaps a BB King ClubPG-rated Bourbon Street, but it also reminded me a little of Broadway in Nashville, but more cramped, with tiny shops stuffed to the gills with Elvis and blues memorabilia–shot glasses, trinkets, caps, t-shirts and ties.  Just store upon store, and tourists everywhere. Where else but on Beale Street can one score a Bessie Smith postcard as I did?

Nowhere else, I tell ya.

While I took pictures of a metal studded bra through the window of a shop, Alice and the girls wandered down Beale, goofing around with the street performers who paint themselves all in silver paint, stand on boxes and act like statues.  Oh, but I never tire of that spectacle.

Mercifully, the girls were ready to go back to the hotel and swim, and I was all for that, knowing we had a big day tomorrow.

How to describe Graceland, the house?  I really like it.  There.  I’ve said it and I am not apologetic for it.  The joke is to hate it, talk about how tacky it is, and to roll your eyes a little, an indication of your superiority and good taste.

Of course it is dated, DSCF2981 stuck in an early sixties decor, but even thirty years ago Kathy and I agreed that it had a livable look to it, not our style, perhaps, but comfy in its way. Human-scaled, humble.  A house for having friends over to hang out.

What strikes you about Graceland, besides the modest proportion of the house itself, is the near-reverence of the tourists churning through it.  It is quiet.  People talk in hushed tones, not like church, but respectful.  I think it is because Graceland really was his home.  It doesn’t take long to view the house, and then you are in the memorial garden, moving toward the horseshoe of ground where Elvis, his stillborn twin, his mother, father and grandmother are buried.

It’s quiet here, too, out in the sunshine, and the girls are quiet.  Thereare still airplanes to tour, fancy cars to ogle, and t-shirts to buy. A museum to tour with his hundreds of gold and platinum records, his Vegas costumes.

But for a moment, we stand at his grave and think about Elvis. Even the eleven-year olds.

Baby Lil

We are over the moon in our clan because we have welcomed a new addition, Little Miss Lillian. It has been almost seventeen years since we have had a baby around and we just about worn that one out.

He drives now, when he can get the keys and frankly, he has taken a lot of the fun with him. Once they are that kind of mobile, good luck pinning them down after that, and it is a sad day, and there is nothing to do but pack up the Legos, bundle up the colored markers, corral the balls and frisbees and contemplate your decline and eventual demise.

But this new baby, why she can hardly move at all except for her little newborn reflexes—rooting, grasping, startling and the like–so she is apt to stay where we put her for a long time. And that’s just fine with us.

Little Lil is barely a month old and spent the Fourth of July as the main attraction on her grandparents’ sofa. She and her parents–whom we love but are a bit old hat—made the trip home for her first unveiling for the extended family. She must have gotten a bit carsick and by way of greeting she upchucked impressively as soon as they walked in the door. Her evening went downhill from there.

So she was catching up on her beauty sleep on the sofa when we arrived and I wish you could have seen it, all these adults, just sitting on the edge of their chairs and standing over her, never taking their eyes off her sweet little face and all that hair.  For this child was born with some hair. So much that a few days after she was born she had reached up and grabbed a fistful, and didn’t know how to let go until her father, hearing her cries, came to the rescue and pried her fingers loose.

Her mother says she has good dreams, and it must be so, because as we all gazed upon her transfixed, her little nose would scrunch up, she would smile and gurgle, while she dreamed and dreamed and dreamed.

It took some doing, exhausted as she was, but someone, I think her Great Aunt Judi, woke her up. It wasn’t me. We then passed her DSCF3034around like a nice loaf of rye and she was warm like new bread, and smelled divine. The men weren’t in the queue to hold her, because come on, let’s get our priorities straight, but even when they were talking about manly things, the didn’t look at each other but kept their eyes on her.

Because babies are mesmerizing. There are all sorts of theories on this, psychological, anthropological, but why sully a perfectly good story of my sweet little great niece with all that smarty-pants stuff. Babies are mesmerizing because they are ours, they are us.

We have decided, for example, that she looks like my niece, Katie, but only from the eyes up. She looks like Katie because when she was a baby, she had lots of hair, too, and dark eyes, and a wrinkly forehead, just like Lil. I can’t tell you the amount of time we have spent discussing this. As I am sure the relatives on the other side of the family are equally convinced she looks like them.

After hearing the hair pulling story, which is really cute and is destined to be her first family story to follow her the rest of her life, my mother said, “well, I think she might just be something else.” Which means, a character, high-spirited, engaging, all sorts of good things. A funny little girl.

But of course, we don’t know anything yet. Don’t know who she really looks like, because she will look like herself, with glimpses of all of us, here and there, but only in this feature or that, or in fleeting moods across her face. What we are doing, I suppose, is daydreaming about her as a new little person, and thinking about her in our lives and what we might do together, Christmases and birthdays, and summer afternoons blowing bubbles in the backyard.

We are studying her face to learn her, this tiny thing who we will protect, defend and cherish. We are fierce, already, in our love for her. She’s ours. As simple as and sudden as that. Asleep on the couch with a headful of hair.DSCF3019