Yearning for Wonderland

There is such a place as fairyland - but only children can find the way to it...until they have grown so old that they forget the way. Only a few, who remain children at heart, can ever find that fair, lost path again...The world calls them singers and poets and artists and story-tellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland. ~ L.M Montgomery

In Memoriam: Ethel Louise Russell

Sometimes bad news arrives without a hint of warning, during a comfortably pedestrian evening, after a glut of hash brown casserole and bacon. A terrible thought strikes you. And then, before you know it, you’ve confirmed it and everything falls apart.

I’d been worried about my friend Louise. She was back in Louisville, living on her own, getting more fragile. I’d said goodbye to her in June, took her out for lunch and to help her run errands, told her that Austin was the best place for me right now. She hugged me tight, twice, and let me go with tears in her eyes. If I am honest with myself, I knew then that I might not see her again. She was having more health problems, slowing down, but she had such an indefatigable spirit that I couldn’t even conceive of her not being in this world. Fast forward to December. I called her and got no answer, voicemail was full. I was mildly worried, but tried again on New Year’s. Same full voicemail message. It’s not uncommon for people to be absent-minded about their voicemail, but I was getting more nervous. I tried her cell phone. The number had been assigned to someone else. So I tried emailing her, convincing myself that people cancel their cell phone numbers for a variety of reasons. And then, and then.

I did what I probably should have done in the first place, exactly what I was afraid to do. I googled ‘Louise Russell Louisville’. It even popped up ‘Louise Russell obituary’ as one of the helpfully provided Google search terms. And even /then/, I told myself that it wasn’t that uncommon of a name. But then I came to this page and I knew.

She’d died November 6th. I’d missed her funeral, her memorial. I didn’t get to send her flowers. No one told me because almost no one knew how much I loved this woman.

This is how a heart breaks.

LCJ050018-1_20151107I was barely able to function, couldn’t even see, paid the check in a haze, stumbled out to the parking lot. Luckily, Brian was with me and could drive me home.

To explain all this, I’d have to go back eleven years, to 2004. I was a newly minted manager at J. Jill’s at the Mall St. Matthews in Louisville. I was a little nervous – it was my first retail management job – and most of the ladies I was managing had a decade on me, if not more. There was one employee, though, that I especially wanted to know better. She had sass, personality…I would’ve called her a spunky old lady if it weren’t patently disrespectful. She was 67, she went by Louise and NOT Ethel, and she could run rings around all of us. The older ladies loved her – hell, I’m pretty sure most of our customers preferred her. She just had the touch. She was always dressed beautifully, with her hair and makeup done.

One night, we were closing together, and chatting as we straightened the tables. We were already friends, but I didn’t know how that evening would change my life. She’d mentioned that she’d worked at Bacon’s Department store, when it was still opened. My head snapped up and I grinned.

“Oh wow, my grandma was a manager there for a long time. Did you know Josephine Paris?”

I will never forget her voice and her glee, “Jo? Jo PARIS?”

Not only had she known her, she’d been supervised by her, had loved her. She had such stories of the two of them and their hijinks, left me dazzled with visions of a younger, more mischievous grandma than I’d ever known. Such stories, it was like my beloved lost grandmother blazed back into life at that exact moment, fueled by the strength of her memories.

And so that was that. We were fast friends before we’d even cashed out for the night. We stayed in touch even after I left the store, moved to Florida. I was in Florida for seven years, but I still called her from time to time. Every time we spoke it was if we’d never stopped. She was a touchstone for Louisville, for my grandma, for a lot that was now lost to me.

When I came back, I got to see her again and oh was it wonderful. She came to my wedding. I have a wonderful, priceless picture of the two of us there that I will have to dig out. Time had taken some toll, but she still kept a lot of what made her Louise. She was in a lot of chronic pain, had several surgeries. After my divorce, one of the first things I did was go see her again. And again. It was never anything fancy. One day we went to Paul’s Fruit Market and picked up a sandwich. I drove her to get her medicine from the pharmacy and one other errand. She kept thanking me, as if it weren’t a gift to me to see her.

Just before I moved to Texas, I saw her one last time. I’m haunted by that visit. She seemed sad throughout, but I thought it was just because I was leaving. I hugged her twice, took her cell phone number, told her to PLEASE put me on a list of people to call if anything happened. I was worried she’d end up in the hospital and I wouldn’t know about it. I didn’t know any of her family and was going to be half a country away. As always, I told her I loved her and she started crying. I don’t know if she knew then I wouldn’t see her again or if it was just an emotional moment.

It’s easy to blame myself, scold myself about calling her more often. But she knew I loved her. I told her every time we spoke. She knew that she was one of the stars in my sky, my connection to my grandmother gone, a little piece of my soul. Her kindness and love and friendship meant the world. And I will miss her so very, very much. I know I have to let her go, but it’s so hard. As long as I knew she was out there, I knew there was a soul who loved me the way my grandma did.

Goodbye, Louise. There’s at least one person in this world who will never forget you.
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Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there; I did not die.
– Mary E. Frye, 1932

Among the Bright Stars We Will Dance

This post is about true love. Not the love that we see in movies and books, but the true thing. In stories, the couple ride off into the sunset triumphantly. They kiss and the screen fades to black. They live happily ever after.

The stories rarely show illness or death. But those too are part of life and the ending that every true love will face.

This post is a tribute to my great-uncle Bob Paris. He passed away last week at the age of 88. He lived a long, full life. He fought in World War II, flying P-40s in China with the famous Flying Tigers squadron. You can read the full obituary.

This post is not about his heroic service to our country or the countless people he touched in a positive way. This post is about the true love story of Bob and Joyce, his wife of 63 years.

I never saw Bob without Joyce or vice versa. They were a unit in our family. For every event in my entire life, no matter how small, Bob and Joyce would drive all the way down from Xenia, Ohio. They were here for birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, Derby parties, barbeques, family picnics, 4th of July, Easter, Memorial Day, graduations and so on. They were such a permanent staple to our family that I scarcely even registered it. Though he was a dashing war hero, this is how I saw and loved my Great Uncle Bob.

Through his last illness, Joyce was always there. It was like watching a candle flame, burning against the darkness. She was so brave at the funeral, though very still, and she only stood to read some poems that she had written to Bob. I have included one here. Regardless of your faith, I believe it is a true testament to the power of love.

Together Forever
When we fell in love, it will be forever.
The ties that bind us will never sever.
God is the one who brought us together.
The storms of life we will always weather.

Life goes by in such a hurry.
We don’t have time to fret and worry.
Let’s cherish every moment together.
Life on this earth will not last forever.

We’ll be together in heaven above,
Because we’re united in steadfast love.
We both can rejoice in God’s perfect plan,
That he created for woman and man.

Someday among the bright stars we will dance.
Then we’ll continue our loving romance.
God created love to last forever.
So we’ll always be happy forever.

Goodbye, Uncle Bob. Save those dancing feet for Joyce.

3 Question View – Ananda

This post is the eighth of a new series, highlighting talented artists whose work I admire. You can find quick links to the other 3QV’s on the right-hand sidebar of the blog.

I call it ‘3 Question View’ because it’s limited to three questions (Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three) and it’s a rather truncated inter-view, designed to elicit three compelling answers from each artistic mind.

3 Question View – Ananda 
(Guillaume Ananda Coantic)
Singer/Songwriter, www.followananda.com
Anna:
Your influences have been global, as your French parents met in India and you have lived in places as diverse as Ghana and New York. How have the places you lived shaded the ideas and rhythms of your music? Where would you like to live next?
Ananda:
Traveling and meeting new people is definitely a key source of inspiration. The time I spent in Ghana was such an experience and I’ve learned a lot recording with the Pidgen Music label. It was also fantastic to go on tour with such amazing West African musicians.

Working with Tony Graci in New York was unforgettable and the recording of We Will Go was such a smooth process. Tony is a talented music producer and an incredible musician. I love the energy of NYC; it is very powerful.

Now I’m planning to spend some time in Nashville and very much looking forward to that.

Anna:
You started playing instruments at the age of 12. In your video “You and Me”, you play piano quite lyrically. When you are writing a song, how do you decide what will accompany your voice? Do you choose the piano versus the guitar based on mood? Which is easier to write for? What is an instrument you would like to learn?
Ananda:
Thank you. Actually, I like to compose and play on both guitar and piano. It’s just a different way to express my feelings, like using different languages to sing. Now I’ve started to play the banjo and it’s a great instrument; it can bring a certain mood, a very unique feeling.

Anna:
Your newest video is called “Standing Alone”. The lyrics are simple (“I’m standing alone now / Alone”), but the imagery communicates a vast feeling of solitude and yearning. What was the inspiration for this song and video? In your creative process, what is the part of being alone that you like best? And least?

Ananda:
This song represents for me a new way to create music. I’ve been working with a twelve-musician band in Ghana and then I started to compose the album We Will Go, which is more personal and mainly based on guitar-voice combinations. Also, I like to be alone in nature, that helps me to find some peace of mind. It’s really useful when writing songs!

I like writing songs on my own, but then at some point it’s vital for me to play with musicians.

Ananda
You can visit Ananda’s website: www.followananda.com
Follow Ananda on Twitter: @followananda
Follow Ananda on Facebook: www.facebook.com/followananda
Purchase We Will Go on iTunes

Thomas Wyatt and Anne Boleyn – Circa Regna Tonat

I have been immersing myself in The Tudors recently, Showtime’s soap opera of Henry VIII. It’s an insanely guilty pleasure, as they conveniently overlook how old and gross Henry was at the time of his last three marriages (Jane Seymour, Catherine Howard, Catherine Parr). It’s one of my favorite time periods of history…to read about, at least. It was a rather tumultuous time to be alive, seeing as you had to be correctly Catholic or Reformer (Protestant) at the right time and also on the king’s good side always.

Sir Thomas Wyatt, poet and courtier, is believed to have a romantic connection to Anne Boleyn; it is unknown as to whether she returned his feelings. It is believed Wyatt wrote this poem after witnessing Anne Boleyn’s execution (May 19, 1536) from the window of his cell while imprisoned in the Tower of London. The third stanza, in my opinion, is as deeply felt and dire a feeling as can be found in English poetry.

Sir Thomas Wyatt

  
Innocentia Veritas Viat Fides Circumdederunt me inimici mei
(Innocence, Truth & Fidelity – My Enemies Surround My Soul) 
by Sir Thomas Wyatt

Who list his wealth and ease retain,
Himself let him unknown contain.
Press not too fast in at that gate
Where the return stands by disdain,

For sure, circa Regna tonat.

Anne Boleyn (detail)

The high mountains are blasted oft
When the low valley is mild and soft.
Fortune with Health stands at debate.
The fall is grievous from aloft.
And sure, circa Regna tonat.
 
These bloody days have broken my heart.
My lust, my youth did them depart,
And blind desire of estate.
Who hastes to climb seeks to revert.
Of truth, circa Regna tonat.

The bell tower showed me such sight
That in my head sticks day and night.
There did I learn out of a grate,
For all favour, glory, or might,

That yet circa Regna tonat.

By proof, I say, there did I learn:
Wit helpeth not defence too yerne,
Of innocency to plead or prate.
Bear low, therefore, give God the stern,

For sure, circa Regna tonat.

* Circa Regna Tonat – “About the Throne the Thunder Rolls”

Red, Red, Rose

John William Waterhouse, The Soul of the Rose

Red, Red Rose
by Robert Burns

O my Luve’s like a red, red rose,
That’s newly sprung in June:
O my Luve’s like the melodie,
That’s sweetly play’d in tune.


As fair art thou, my bonie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry.

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare-thee-weel, my only Luve!
And fare-thee-weel, a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ ’twere ten thousand mile!