Life one bite at a time…….

Category: Music


Two of my favorite films of all times are Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz. Growing up, there was not a time when this aired on television I didn’t clear my “agenda” and make sure that I was available to watch this commercial-interrupted version year after year. I couldn’t get enough of it. As I became a teenager and a singer and actress in my own right, I sometimes wondered, pre-k.d. lang and Patsy Cline, if somehow I weren’t somehow linked with her. I had her song book, knew her life, watched her films. I so wanted to be Judy Garland. A career spanning stage, screen and cabaret, what not to want to be? Yes, there were addictions and temperaments but to me small price to pay.

Growing up in the overlapping hoods of The Jacksons and Stevie Wonder, living in a neighborhood of a melange of early 70s music, I hotly anticipated Q’s remake of my classic. When it came out, I was sold. Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Nipsy Russel just to skim the surface on a visually and musically funkalicious score.  I was hooked.  Don’t care about anyone else’s opinion.  If this is my guilty pleasure, believe me, there are worse.

And then there was Home.  Shortly after buying the two album set, I had the words, timing,emotive part down.  I could do this cold.  Performed it live at a gig in 1982.  I have sung this tune naked, drunk, painting a shed (none of these public venues).  It’s my go-to tune.  Like mac and cheese or a really good pinot.  Home food.  Pun intended.

For me it turned the corner on Somewhere Over the Rainbow (also in my repertoire), and added an urban need to knowing what your life was/is.  Diana killed it.  Already a Diana fan from The Supremes days, this was icing.  A really well executed butter cream type.

And then life hit.  I left music, became suburban, stopped singing.  Spent too many years trying to anticipate the demands of the man.  After life hit, it left.  I had forgotten about Home.

It’s been just over four years since life slammed into my psyche like a derailed express train. I searched for home.  There were so many days  I just wanted to run somewhere, anywhere.  I looked at real estate in France, Italy, northern California.  I have lost count of the times I drove around town talking myself out of missing the turn off or even hitting the bridge abutment.  Sometimes a really active argument.    I even fantasized about swinging by the house, picking up the fuzzy faces and heading out of town, no looking back.  Couldn’t leave them but surely did not want to stay.

I wanted to exfoliate this life by any means necessary.  It itched.  I was raw with it.

You see, I felt I had a home with my life partner.  It didn’t matter the zip code.  He was home.  Where he was, was home.  It sounds so biblical, but for me it was.  And home had evaporated; not sure it ever really was, except in the zip code of my mind.

For several years, I have searched.  The areas have changed, sometimes closer to family, sometime closer to here.  Consuming the real estate listings like an addict.  Looked at a couple of real possibles.  The one that got away still haunts, a beautiful 1930s bungalow on 13 acres outside of Danville Kentucky.  Again, that whole 1930s thing.  I still look for it in the Danville listings.  When I encountered it, I was still far too wounded to decide.  And it slipped away.

For four years I have tried to execute the projects I knew would make my house salable.  Painting, flooring, remodeling, lighting.  I let the garden go until 2013.  By that time, becoming a sad neglected jungle in places.  The house consumed me.  I needed to get it off my skin.  I needed a place of my own, I needed.  I needed.  I needed. I needed peace, contentment.  I needed.

Last gardening year, was a time of clean up.  I knew no one would want this place with overgrown beds full of self seeders and self pegging roses.  So most of the summer was spent trying to reclaim, trying to simplify and streamline.  Suburbanners don’t want high maintenance landscapes.  If my house were to sell, I had to make it simple.

As I cleaned up, I started connecting, talking to my plant partners.  This may be even crazier than liking The Wiz, but I fully believe plants are sensitive to us, they hear our voices, know our presence.  I touch as often as I can, talk, encourage.  There have been studies recently that indicate plants hear.  It mattered to me to know who had made it through the years of neglect, who had met their demise.  Who was flourishing. My 120+ year old rose bush was transplanted.  My zone 7 crepe myrtle, a miniature I cloche every year, had survived. And so many others had put their cockney thumbs to the sides of their noses and were thriving.

The 2014 garden year was about accenting what was already here, with as minimal a cost as possible.  So many plants had not been divided in several years, a means of killing two birds with one stone.  Build up beds with plant materials already on the farm.  The repetitious use of plants is how a cohesive planting scheme is achieved, as well as minimizing costs.  I have spent the spring and early summer dividing and tucking, moving plants hither and thither.  Fleshing out areas that needed, well, you know, fleshing out.  Nothing crazy.

Interestingly enough, the midwest has been blessed with what I will term as “California weather”.  Not too hot, not too cold, plenty of precipitation.  Clear skies with low humidity.  Ideal for transplanting.  The skies this summer actually remind me of time spent in Montana with crystalline blue skies, no humidity and just a touch of coolness.  Beautiful.  If this is global warming, where do I sign up?  The beds this year are lush and diverse.  My zone 7 crepe myrtle, as tiny as it is, is the biggest it’s ever been.  My 120 year old rose surviving its transplant is on its way to climbing the arbor.  The grass is lush and verdant. The farm is full of birds and insects.  The air is sweet and caressing.

There are still projects.  The basement remodel, a problematic little so and so, is on its way to being finished.  There are a couple of smaller items on the wish list.   I need a new roof, a new air conditioner, a new driveway.  Cheap.

This afternoon, I took some time off from doing.  The yard was mowed, the basement ready for the next onslaught of contractors.  Surrounded by fuzzy faces, farm cat Fletcher, Joy and Dante, I carved out some sweet moments on the deck to read.  I listened to the wrens and the robins. Watched the crows.  Heard the music of the wind soughing through the branches of the oak and the locust and the linden.  The air was unbelievable, almost too cool for normal summer gear.  I was digging it.  Fletcher curled around my feet, Joy and Dante flanked my chair.  No sounds of mechanization anywhere.

The sound of Home, right here in my own back yard.  No heel clicking necessary.  When I think of Home, I think of love overflowing.  Welcome Home.










Grace Notes

Grace is such an old fashioned word. Short. Evocative. Beautiful. It is beautiful as a name or as a way of life. And even though it conjures up images for all of us, it is so hard to define.  So hard to find.

I had the rare gift to live with a man born with natural grace.  That is not to say he was graceful like a dancer.  He could not dance.  His grace emanated from a core at the genetic level, like his Mom.   His grace enveloped him and everyone around him.

If asked how he was able to draw people in as he did, there was no answer.  Like an angel tread in the spaces between  him and other folk, breathing their shared air, binding them.  I would watch on the sidelines countless times as he learned the life stories of people newly met; connecting.  All high speed, no dial up.

For 25 years I had the privilege to watch him work grace into daily life.  Then in the blink of an eye, grace was eradicated from my life.  I struggled with the mere will to breathe, let alone deal with the absence of grace.  Grace I knew would never come to me again.

In the days leading up to his death I had begun a quest looking for a larger connection to help us heal.  It was unfortunate that I did not find it.  Over 60 days after my fall away from grace, I wandered into an old church on the west side.  Beautiful architecture.  Atmosphere cool, introspective, calm.  I was juiced about the beautiful interiors, wondered about the acoustics.  What would it be like to blow the dust off of pipes 25 years in moth balls in this kind of space?  Would he be listening?  Would HE be listening?

I have gone to quite a few “new” churches.  Churches peopled with those too remote to make eye contact, smile, greet the outsider to those where you couldn’t leave unless you had confirmed instant salvation.  I did not want to be luke warm at risk of being spewed, but I knew my way was somewhere in the middle.  I was looking for a community of the spiritual, those who walked the walk.  Those who recognized that salvation came in the many small moments of bringing grace to the lives of others, gestures without drama, but filled with humanity.  And I also worried, if I found it would I have the right stuff?

My first visit set the bait.  People were friendly and warm.  The music was good.  There was a sense of community.  And my, oh my, could Pastor Sherry lay on a sermon.  I had to return, had to know was this accident repeatable?

And return I did.  And return and return and return.  A hook has been firmly set in my lip.  Every time Pastor Sherry speaks, I am sure she has read my journal.  At the risk of being too James Taylor, I bet she thinks this sermon’s about me.  With uncanny precision, the troubles of my heart become the words on her lips, and I have to ask how does she know?  And I know how she knows.

I know because greater grace has been working in my life since well before the death of my beloved.  Grace that kept me employed, grace that plugged me into invisible networks, grace that positioned me in a neighborhood and a community of good people.  Grace that can only come from one source, grace that has stayed my hand when the light has gone out in the world.

Dust is being blown off of rusty pipes as I write.  Rusty, clogged, a few dents and dings.  But grace is also there in the patience of those who know that air has to be pumped out of the brakes for the system to work.

Last Sunday, for the first time in over 25 years I sang with the choir.  Singing being open to interpretation, but they were my grace notes.  I am hoping for many more.

Thank you Grace United Methodist Church.  Happy 200th.

O Come, Angel Band

Come, and around me stand, bear me away on your snowy wings….

Miller has one, Basie has one, Ellington too.  Ghost bands.  Bands traveling the country bringing their tunes to adoring crowds 50, 60, 70 years after many of the tunes were considered pop hits, many years after the names on the books are gone.  Legends.

Sunday, August 21, a different kind of ghost band appeared at Gilly’s night club in downtown Dayton. Different because this was no headline act, not one of many stops along a road of “what city are we in today” gigs.  One night only.  Special performance.  One night to honor a fallen comrade, hold up memories of days forever young.

It was a good cause, pass the hat and help send kids through music school.  But it didn’t stop there.  Many of these performers hadn’t seen each other in 35 years.  Others had hung up their instruments years ago.  Some were still living on what they killed.  They came from all over, a veritable “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” .  Red eye from California,  fly with multiple saxes from Florida, drive from DC and fall victim to bad directions.  They came to honor a fallen legend and serve a living one.   They came for love.

And love was palpable in a darkened and beer stained nightclub.  Love bore the ghosts of those no longer with us and bore the wisps of dreamy memories on its wings into an audience enraptured from beginning to end.  The uninitiated were amazed by the versatility on display; those in the know were blown away by the masterful manipulation of keys, the beautiful arrangements, the love.  The room was filled with love.  People listening and watching who really didn’t know the stories could feel it.  Engulfed in it, they weren’t ready for it to be over.  At the close of the last tune, the entire audience was silent waiting expectantly.  No one wanted it to be over.

Yet even angels must sleep, catch planes, wind down.  Angels who brought with them the perfect state of grace and shared it with the rest of us, showed us what a perfect storm of time, place and shared journey can look like, thirty five years later.  A band of angels.

Unexpected music….

One of the travelers in our garden is the wren.  If I were a better birder, I would be able to tell which one, Carolina, house, Bewick.  No bigger than your thumb.  Sometimes the beakful of insects they careen around with are as big as they are.  Several pairs strike up residences in our garden, happy to let us know where they are and even happier to inform when you need to back off.

Wrens do not hold to a timeline to find  a mate.  They can meet their match in any season and set up housekeeping, mating for life.  They find a place they like and then let ‘er rip.  There is no bigger voice in garden, ounce for ounce.  This rather pedestrian brown package produces a voice from golden pipes.  Big, bold, beautiful, sassy,  a veritable Ella Fitzgerald, throwing it down.

Away from the brushy area of the wren’s nest is a long row of sedums in my terraced garden. The sedums don’t come into their fullness until very late in the garden year, when the pangs of drought in July and August are just meeting the tender apologies of rainy September.  The blossoming of the sedums provides a stage for even more incredible music.

Whether it’s the shadow of frost and freezing or the landscape is scarce on blooming plants, the sedum blossoms are covered with bees.  Bees of every size, shape, color all humming to a personal beatbox.  One plant can host what looks like hundreds of bees, all cooperatively harvesting the bounty of the sedum flowers.  Humming, humming, humming without colliding with the virtuoso display of the bee next door, putting it out there, throwing it down.   Like a jazz musician exploring the possibilities, pushing the envelope, improvising and dancing, without stepping on the toes of the other dancers.

My husband, The Big Man, was a consummate musician.  I  have never heard anyone play soprano sax like he did.  (Kenny G — you joking?)  Unbelievably, he started as a brass player, but was frustrated he wasn’t producing the sound he wanted.  Somewhere toward the end of his baccalaureate program, he took up the saxophone and landed a gig with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra.  He went on to play with The Four Tops, The Temptations, Ray Charles, Mel Torme, Shirley Jones, Crystal Gayle to name drop a few. And then he gave it up for a day job. Silent but not forgotten.

Incredible music is about to be heard in Dayton, in honor of The Big Man.  His friends, colleagues, mentors and teachers are gathering to celebrate his life, send their own music and memories into the heavens in late August, to the humming of the bees.

Help us send music students to school, those who will become the next generation of virtuosos and improvisors, visionaries.  Won’t you join us?