In 1975, Sheila Kay Adams took me to meet her Granny Dell in Sodom. That was the beginning of what has become a series of lifetime relationships with Dellie's family and community that continue to this day.
Among the people I met that day were Joe and Marthie Chandler, Dellie's daughter and son-in-law, who lived a couple of miles down the road, but more often than not could be found up at Dellie's where the air was cooler, the view from the porch better, and there were always enough people for a round of "set back."
Marthie and Joe took me under their wing. When I moved to the Big Pine community Joe gifted me my first flock of chickens and I ate so many meals in Marthie's kitchen I soon lost count. In 1979, they paid me the ultimate compliment by asking me to drive them to Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri, to visit their daughter Sue and her husband, Vince.
Both Marthie and Joe are long gone now. But those of us who knew them - we remember and won't soon forget.
Thinking of my daughter today.
No Birthday. No Anniversary.
No Special Occasion.
I've been going to Paul Gurewitz's house for dinner, parties, volleyball in the old days, 4th of July yearly, weddings, farkell, and just hanging out for over forty years. I've made a lot of pictures while there. But more recently, I've found myself shooting fewer photographs, just wanting to give it a rest and enjoy the company. And after a lifetime of making primarily people pictures, the photographs I am making these days are more likely landscapes.
At Paul's last weekend, a small group came over for pizza and pork, and music and singing. I had brought my camera, more out of habit, than with any intention to use it. So I was a little surprised when the light sucked me in; that soft evening light that happens around here, coupled with the softness of a young person's skin. Where's my camera?
The light on Mr. Rutten was awful, but he got my attention with a version of The Lowland Sea that he just began singing acapella. I remembered the song from my time with Dellie Norton and her family in Sodom, who called it The Golden Vanity. Like Mr. Rutten they sang without accompaniment and somehow remembered the numerous verses.
And I'm just beginning to know this guy Jim Hampton. But he knew most of the words of my favorite Willie Nelson song, Hands on the Wheel, from the Red Headed Stranger album. It's kind of an obscure song and not many people play it. So, the fact he knew the song and could make a go of it helped turn the evening into another successful Gurewitz event.
I wanted a smoke, but had left my pouch of Drum at the house and was at a party where I sensed there wouldn't be too many people to bum from. Standing with my friend who was hosting, my eye settled on an older woman sitting under a tree. I watched as she performed a classic smoker's ritual of reaching into her purse and pulling out a pack of Winstons, I think they were.
Deborah and I approached her and she introduced me. "This is Bobby, our daughter-in-law's grandmother. She's 90 years old." Ninety years old and a smoker, I thought. This is a person I would like and enjoy talking with. To break the ice, I said, "Well, I gotta say, you look great for ninety, not a day over eighty-eight." She had a great laugh.
So, we sat together for a time - talking and smoking. She told me stories about being in Paris not long after World War II ended and the years she lived in Santa Fe. We laughed a fair amount and teased each other.
I remember talking with my Father one time a few years before his death. He was talking about feeling lonely and said, "No one wants to talk to old people these days. Young people just ignore them."
I thought of that conversation with my father as I was speaking with Bobby, staying dry under the tarp, smoking and laughing in the soft light of early evening. And, contrary to what my Father might have believed, I thought this ninety year old woman is the most interesting person here. And she had cigarettes to share. At one point she asked how old I was and I told her seventy. "You look good. You could pass for fifty-three." She won me with that comment.
I've had the good fortune to know Anna Woodruff since the day she was born, almost 38 years ago. And now look at her, almost barefoot, and certainly pregnant. And glowing. I have photographs of Anna as a young child, growing up on Big Pine, and she has that same irrepressible smile and openess in those images from long ago that she has today. I can't wait to meet her and Marco's baby.
There is a long and storied tradition of giving quilts for births, weddings and friendship in our little Madison County community, one that has been ongoing for forty years. This quilt is not so much a part of that community tradition, but a gesture of love from Anna's sister, Jenny, and her close friend, Olivia Shealy. The design is called Bargello, a quilting term today that originated in Italy in the 17th Century as needlepoint embroidery. This was Jenny and Olivia's first attempt at using this pattern.
Quilts are not only physical coverings, but are also symbolic embraces from the community that made it. An offering of protection. Of warmth. Of comfort. What I love, as a person whose son received one of the first quilts made in the community, is the continuation of the tradition. That quilt from 38 years ago was organized by Anna's mother Libby.
Marco looked at me, patted Anna's belly, and said,
"Look what I've done, Rob."
I think of Joni Mitchell.
A great afternoon walk with Kate and Justin through the Mendocino County Botanical Gardens in Ft. Bragg, California. 47 acres of plants, flowers, trees. stretching all the way to the coast. The rhododendron were in full flower throughout the park, too many varieties to count and other plants abounded. A stunning place.
Last week we had the pleasure of a visit from our nephew Timmy, his wife Jody, and their five children who live in Springville, Indiana. Great family, great kids, although Leslie and I would both admit to being exhausted after having five kids in the house for two very rainy days. Wouldn't trade it for anything. My apologies for not getting pictures of Jody with their three month old baby, Canaan.
Going to visit these two in California tomorrow.
Our friend Ricky, at home.
An early image from my time in Sodom that did not make it into Sodom Laurel Album.
So my son, my oldest child, turns 38 years old today. I know I'm feeling the same sense of pride that most of us feel for our children. He's become a fine young man. One of the many things I love about my son is his ability and ease with people. He knows no strangers and seemingly finds common ground with most everyone. It's' a gift not everyone has that has become very important in this contentious world we live in.
Happy Birthday, Ben.
Today would have been my mother's 97th birthday. Wishing you a Happy Birthday, Mom, from your first born. Love you and Miss you.