Addicted to Ink

Monday, September 18, 2006

my violet dawn

I have a picture of myself at nine years old. I have just had my tonsils out, and I am deeply nestled into my hospital bed, my arms behind my head, my scrawny elbows sticking out into isosceles triangles. An hand-made Cabbage-Patch-Doll-wannabe is lying by my side, and on chairs on either side of my bed are my grandmothers, both with dark hair and tired smiles on their faces.

Who in the world would bring a camera to a hospital (except for the birth of a baby, maybe?) but my Grandma Baker?

(Iola. She hated her unusual first name, but loved her beautiful middle name, Victoria. I looked up her name tonight. It means Violet Dawn.)

Grandma brought her beloved camera to every event, great or small. Photography, her passionate love, captured images of her three sons and their families through all stages of life. Christmases and birthdays and baptisms and picnics and Fourths of Julys and Easters and weddings and hospital visits and band concerts and school plays and graduations and honor society inductions and Grandparents-Day-near-Thanksgiving-time-in-second-grade-when-
-hair and trips to her homestate of North Carolina and spending-the-nights-at-Grandmas, Sarah and Brooke and I sleeping together in the same full-sized bed after watching Dallas on the occasional Friday night.

Grandma's camera captured all of my phases: the Coca-Cola t-shirts, the color block shirts, the silk shirts, the three-button vests, the flannel shirts, the band uniform, the Goodwill sweaters I wore in college. The penny-rolled jeans of junior high. The pigtails of kindergarten and beyond: the crimped hair, the pouffy-overly-hairsprayed-bangs, the perms, the bob.

"Grannnnd-maaa!" I'd protest, an awkward teenager blinded by the camera's flash while hiding behind a book, gently spinning back and forth on the green revolving chair that all the grandchildren fought to sit in.

"Grannnnnd-maaa?" I asked, surprised, when I interviewed her in eighth grade for a history project, somehow surprised at the fact that she'd lived a whole entire life before she ever became a mother, much less my grandmother. The first formal interview of my life. She, too, worked at a newspaper (Springfield News & Sun) - and she'd never known a stranger in her whole life.

Grannnndmaaa was as unique as her name: the youngest of eight children, the proverbial preacher's daughter with a wild streak in her, who in her younger days loved to dye her hair as black as a raven and wear the brightest lipstick she could find to emphasize her light skin and sky blue eyes.

Iola would say she had a good life, though she suffered much, too: losing her beloved daddy at age 16, her son Tommy at his birth, all of her seven siblings by the time I was in junior high, her beloved daughter-in-law in 1995, her youngest five years later; suffering diabetes for a good thirty years that eventually took her leg a few years ago, a couple of heart attacks and two terrible strokes.

The last time I saw her, I think we both knew it was our last time together. The whole time I was there, she was trying to talk to me, but I could barely make out the words. The nurses, relieved family was there, asked me to try to coax her into drinking or eating something - anything.

I held the straw to the can of diet-7-up to her lips, but she shook her head violently.

"Umn-mmm," she insisted. "Up there. Home."

Those were the only words I could make out.

And so this is how I picture her today, her first day in heaven.

Walking - no running - the streets of gold - her long, wavy, jet-black hair bouncing like a shampoo model's on her way the greatest family reunion possible, bright red lipstick - the perfect shade - on her full, healthy lips. "I'm here!" She shouts, and she is the center of attention and they have baked a chocolate Coca-Cola cake in her honor.

Iola Victoria Blevins Baker
October 5, 1927 - September 18, 2006

Thursday, September 14, 2006

[T]here are two routes out of town. There always were, there always are. There’s transcendence and there’s the cover version, or the dull copy: junkfood transcendence of drugs, the “easy to digest but finally that’s gonna give you heart disease” religion. . . .The true life of a believer is one of a longer, more hazardous or uphill pilgrimage, . . . where you uncover slowly the sort of illumination for your next step.

- Bono

Sunday, September 10, 2006

fifth anniversaries

Today was my fifth anniversary at my place of work.

Which means that tomorrow is the fifth anniversary of what is arguably the very worst day in American history.

We all so vividly remember that day... who could forget it?

Mike & I had only been married about six months at the time, and I remember seeing it on tv for the first time in "Froggy's cafe" and realizing that Mike would be going there - not "if" but "when" ... and indeed he left the next day. I stayed at Carrie's house that first night that he was away... watching the television from her couch early into the morning, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

His memories still haunt him. The smells. The sights. Writing his social security number on his limbs and his torso with permanent marker. The empty hotel, the panic of employees wondering how long they'd have their jobs. The 22-hour days.

These memories belong to us all... but I could not imagine having seen the tragedy first hand, actually being on the streets of New York or Washington D.C.