My Love, Before I Knew Him

We had dinner last night with his best friend from childhood. These two grew up together in a small town, attended college together in Murfreesboro where they played in bands they say no one listened to, and they both remained in Nashville to work in the music business.

They share an inside language of family, music, friends, exes (girlfriends, band members), trips they’ve taken, dumb things they’ve done, gossip, gin and sometimes work.

This childhood friend’s wife is a photographer – quite exceptional with portraiture – and she pulled out some prints she’s made of the two of them, and others in their friend group, from seven or eight years back. This is before I knew him and his circle, when I was married to someone else.

I was afraid of what they might think if I did what I wanted to do, which was inspect and dissect every pixel of his portrait, so I said a polite, “Great photo!” or whatever, and left it at that. But it was beyond a great photo. This is what I saw:

I saw a classically handsome man of 35 or 36, with hyper-animated, expressive eyebrows, a half-smiling snarl in one corner of his mouth, subtly but suggestively jutting hip, black suit. If his friends read this, they’ll tease him, but he looked to me like a celebrity, like if I had seen him out somewhere at that period of my life, I would have intentionally ignored him so I didn’t look like I was staring.

In that photograph, I saw a man a few years younger, cockier, and perhaps even freer than he is now. I saw a man who had already known for a long time how beautiful and sensitive Chris Bell’s music is, who had already read “A Prayer for Owen Meany” 900 times, and who had given copies of that novel and “I Am The Cosmos” to plenty of other creative, sensitive brunettes.

Knowing someone intimately does not necessarily mean you know the details of their life before you were in it. Sometimes those things reveal themselves in conversations with old friends, in photographs, in the context of someone else’s circumstances, or seemingly from nowhere but fate.

Sometimes mystery is best.

I looked at that photograph of him for but a few seconds, felt jealous that I wasn’t in it, then almost as quickly felt the sort of crush I’d felt when we met, when every little thing about him was new.

He will always have years that are not mine, things about him I don’t know. That is wildly sexy, and I hope someone has taken photographs of those moments he was awesome, long before he met me.

Defining “family” when there’s a divorce

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As a child I remember spending time with relatives and mentally drawing the family tree while everyone played cards and mixed cocktails and cheered for Auburn. These hilarious and super accomplished women are my mom’s first cousins. Their kids are my second cousins. Mom’s sister’s husband’s nieces are my cousins by marriage.

We had a couple of divorces in my family, and sometimes the “related by marriage” person would appear again at a funeral or wedding. But for the most part, in those cases, they drifted away from the rest of our group. I didn’t think about those folks’ relationship to me.

Sometimes it has to be that way, and I don’t judge any families in which that is the case.

But divorce does not have to split a family.

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A Southern great-grandmother: “If they were gay and whatever, so what. She was one of us.”

I’ve asked my grandmother several times over the years to tell me about Maude Pick, her aunt Pearl’s lifelong companion and housemate.

Maybe because the issue has been discussed so persistently lately on the cable news networks she watches between Andy Griffith reruns from her easy chair on her lake house porch, but this Easter weekend – following the U.S. Supreme Court’s hearing of arguments on the Defense Of Marriage Act – she seemed more relaxed when talking about the relationship between Pearl and “Pick” (as Maude was known).

The video here was shot by my daughter on that lakeside porch in teeny Dadeville, Alabama. My mom and I are in a few shots, as is my parents’ golden retriever. It’s a little grainy and jumpy, and I wish I had photos of Pearl and Pick, but I love this all the same. Regardless of what you think about this issue, I hope it inspires you to ask your grandparents interesting questions, and to record their responses.

Life is short. Love is always.

Your Tween’s Perspective: The Five Most Annoying Things Parents Do

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I have a tween. I annoy her. See this picture I’ve posted here from a building that used to be a strip club before it was a church before it was a motorcycle shop? I love it! She does not! Therefore, I feel qualified to write a blog post for other people who want to annoy their tween children.

Here are five great ways to annoy a tween girl (girl, because I am pretty sure boys don’t pay enough attention to get annoyed).

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In Due Time: ‘The Story I Finally Feel Ready To Share’

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The following is a guest post written by my lovely friend Catherine. She writes about the longing to be a parent, her struggle with infertility, and the closeness she has developed with her husband, Joe. Catherine and Joe are my daughter’s aunt and uncle, which is one of the great lucks of my own life during good times and bad. Continue reading

Things We Overcome

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A breakup.

A divorce.

The money you had to spend to replace your leaky garbage disposal, your broken thermostat, your refrigerator that died on Christmas Eve Eve.

A hangover.

A fight with your best friend.

A fight with your spouse.

A fight with your child.

Someone saying something mean about you on the internet.

A lunatic shooting up a school.

A lunatic shooting up a movie theater.

A lunatic shooting up a shopping mall.

Burning the main course.

The dog eating the caramel cake as it cools on the counter top.

The dog passing away.

Losing your job.

Moving away.

Missing your family on Christmas.

The Top Seven Rainbow Bright Moments of 2012

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I’ve decided 2012 is the Year of the Rainbow.

For my friends and me, some of the happiest moments have come at the tail end of some deluges, both figuratively and literally.

Here are the top seven. …

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Risque Photo Leaves Much to the Imagination

Dad and me, ca. 1978. This was not a surprising photo to find stashed in a box of family snapshots... But there is one that was...

Dad and me, ca. 1978. This was not a surprising photo to find stashed in a box of family snapshots… But there is one that was…

A couple years ago my dad gave me a big box of photos his own dad gave him after my grandmother died. I think I was the first to sort through the box.

Among the hodgepodge of unorganized snapshots:

  • My grandparents and another couple at a Chinese restaurant in the 1960s.
  • My grandfather, who served in Europe in World War II, in his Army uniform. He is small, with pronounced ears, and vaguely resembles Humphrey Bogart.
  • A series of faded, ghostly shots from a formal dining table stacked high with china and with a woman in an A-line dress standing to the side. It looks like the bounty from a bridal shower. I think the woman is my grandmother, but it’s too blurry to know for sure.
  • A girl (Dad thinks she’s his aunt) showing off an engagement ring to another girl (perhaps my grandmother).
  • And, then… My grandmother – definitely my grandmother – wearing lingerie and posed seductively on a coffee table.

That last one caught me off guard. My grandmother posed for sexy photos? Did my grandfather take them??

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Perennial Christmas

The sedum bloomed beautifully, taller than most sedum and full but tightly constructed like a cheerleader’s pompon, just like it did the year before and the year before that. The difference was that as it grew, the stalks separated from the middle of the original plant, spreading all over that part of the garden and leaving a hole in the center that mildly annoyed the gardener but not enough to propel her to do anything differently.

She cut stalks and decorated her home with them, arranging them with sprigs of rosemary, a plant with the same sort of beautiful, unwieldy but predictable center-holing attributes.

The best thing about the sedum was that when it dried, it looked almost exactly as it had when it lived. The other best thing was that the seeds were easy to harvest, and the gardener did so each holiday season, tucking them into Christmas cards (real Christmas cards, often homemade) that she wrote for people she loved.

She found many people to love each year.

The most precious people were the same ones as the year before, and the year before that.

She knew good people and she knew good plants, with annoying habits and otherwise.

One night she sat alone in her house, a little sleep deprived and a little buzzed on red wine she’d enjoyed with one of those good people, and she realized that people and plants were the same because the world – lovely as it is – does not allow for too much deviation from what has already grown.

A Christmas tree glowed in the background.

A year ago she found herself alone and wrapping presents, feeling 50% sentimental and 50% melancholy, in a state of wonder about all the ways she and the world around her had changed in 12 months. That refrain would repeat, and repeat again. Fundamental change, when it happens, takes many lifetimes.

The sedum flourished. The gardener flourished.

It was Christmas.

The people who loved each other toasted another year, and were surprised at their surprise.

What Helps Us Hold On

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I have never been more focused on the future than when I have needed time to pass.

Ten more minutes until I’m done with this run.
Two more hours and we’ll be out of the car.
Four days and these cold sores will be gone.
Three weeks and this report will be filed.
When fall arrives, the house will have sold.
When spring is here, my heart will be healing.
Next Christmas, I will have found someone to love.

In times of pain, fatigue, anxiety, mourning and longing, a knowingness that time will pass – that circumstances will change – has buoyed me. I’m an optimistic person, though, with plenty of reasons to believe that if life isn’t so great right this second, it will be momentarily.

I have very generous and supportive parents.
I live in a place with plenty of resources and access to them.
I am healthy.
And I have thoughtful, creative and fiercely loyal friends who – for the most part – also have good families, good health, and live in strong communities.

What if I didn’t?
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