Friday, August 31, 2007

It's all happening perfectly

Lately I've had a distinctly growing feeling that all's right with the world. Incredible, huh? There's war, killings and robbings, disease, and global warming--all the bad stuff going on under our noses. The news seems to get worse every day. I usually watch PBS's News Hour with Jim Lehrer. At the end of the nightly newscast, he posts photos of the soldiers who have died in Iraq. It has become a solemn time at our house to watch as these faces flash before us. Two nights ago there were 26 faces.

Yes, the news gets worse, and some may think I am a Pollyanna for feeling better and better every day about "things" and my place among them. It's fun to encounter others who are on this road with me. Today I chanced upon a piece by Susan Jeffers on BeliefNet entitled "Nine Ways to Find Peace of Mind" and was delighted to see way number 7: Embrace the Thought "It's all Happening Perfectly." Another way I have heard this same concept expressed is "Everything you need is flowing toward you."

May your Labor Day weekend find you in peace!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Music and Trains

This heat has driven the neighborhood whippoorwill to parts unknown. It's been awfully quiet this August, with temperatures over 100 degrees most days. Whippoorwills sing mostly in the early dawn hours. Because they are ground birds and highly camouflaged, you rarely see them. I have never seen my own personal whippoorwill, and I haven't heard him in a month, whereas in June and July he was a regular morning presence. The human voice cannot even begin to imitate his variations in pitch.

Here's a couple more songs about peace. Check these lyrics from Elvis' version of the old gospel hymn "Peace in the V

Well the bear will be gentle
And the wolf will be tame
And the lion shall lay down, down by the lamb, oh yes
And the beasts from the wild
Shall be led by a child
And I'll be changed, changed from this creature that I am, oh yes

Do you reckon Elvis saw Edward Hicks' artwork?

And how about Yusuf Islam's (aka Cat Stevens) "Peace Train":

Now I've been happy lately,
thinking about t
he good things to come
And I believe it could be,
something good has begun.
I like Cat's song because it combines two interests: peace and trains.

Trains run in my family (hahaha). Both my grandfathers had jobs associated with trains, but they could not have been more different men. My mother's father worked in the Southern Railway yards near the Fan District in Richmond, Virginia, where I was born. I cherish memories of him in his black and white pinstriped overalls and railroad cap. My paternal grandfather was a lawyer for the L&N Railroad and had an office in Union Station next to the Alabama River in downtown Montgomery. James William Patton, although from a south Georgia farm family, did well in the law, and old photos confirm my memories of him as a dandy dress er. He and his diminutive wife, Trudy, reared a family of five children, my father Sam being the middle child, in a big house on McDonough Street, across from the Episcopal Church of the Ascension. I was told that my grandmother actually knew the Fitzgeralds (Scottie and Zelda).

On the other side of the family, GrandyPa, as we called my mother's father (his actual name was Elwood Raeford Hines), was a quiet man who grew figs and grapes in a tiny urban backyard on Floyd Avenue. In his spare time he tended that small garden and did carpentry work with ancient-looking hand tools in a dank basement where my grandmother's wringer washer took up the other half of the space. GrandyPa was a widower with several other children when he married "Dandy" (as the eldest grandchild, my nickname for her stuck with her remaining grandchildren). Clarissa Jane Lewis reared his children and bore him four more, three girls and a boy. My mother Margaret was the eldest daughter. "Janie" was a school teacher before becoming a full-time homemaker and mother. She and her younger siblings had been orphaned when she was only eight years old, so her early hardships fit the life of a railroad worker's wife. She died at the age of 96 after outliving GrandyPa for many years. At the time of her death from an automobile accident she was still living at home and had never spent a day in a hospital in her entire life. Dandy was a major force in my life. Her appreciation for Transcendentalism and Women's Suffrage was passed along to me via gifts of books by Louisa May Alcott, which I devoured immediately upon receipt. Her favorite Bible verses became mine (the Beatitudes), and she hummed hymns like "Peace in the Valley" as she went about her daily home chores.

My gifts from the patrician side of the family were also memorable. My grandmother Patton taught me and all my girl cousins how to play bridge, canasta, solitaire, and all sorts of card games, as well as the finer skills of hand embroidery. She could recite James Whitcomb Riley's "Little Orphan Annie" from memory and scare the socks off us.

Even the trains I associ ate with the two sets of grandparents were different.

The Hummingbird passed through my hometown of Decatur, Alabama, crossing the Tennessee River before its circling headlight lit the track coming into the depot at dawn. It ran from Kentucky to points south, but my stretch was only from Decatur to Montgomery, where I would visit my grandparents. A favorite family story is my tale of ordering breakfast in the dining car and not understanding the waiter's question, "How you want your eggs?" It sounded to me like "Ow yoo wan yo aig," an unintelligible recitation of vowels with not a consonant to be heard.

The Silver Comet br ought my maternal grandmother from Richmond. She had a lifetime pass, a perk of being married to a railroad worker. I have vivid recollections of trips on its sleeper car along the Atlanta seaboard to Richmond, tucked into an upper berth. Its nearest stop to Decatur was in Birmingham, at the former Terminal Station, a Beaux Arts work of architecture that unfortunately did not survive urban renewal:


Thursday, August 23, 2007

How shall I begin?

The title to this new blog seemed just to pop up, probably because it is the screen saver on my computer. Edward Hicks (1780-1849) is the artist--he's a distant cousin whose Peaceable Kingdom concept appears in several of his paintings. One of these paintings hangs in the Montgomery (Alabama) Museum of Fine Arts on the Alabama Shakespeare Festival grounds. The image above is the last of his paintings to deal with this subject matter.

Being equally obsessed with finding peace, in my own life and in the world, it seemed a suitable start for someone with no idea where this blog will go. Unlike my crafty friends, I have only a few show-and-tell items to display. Probably I will post photos from my travels in the U.S. and from family life at home. Mostly I intend to share with you life in Jones Valley, where I live. It was once hallowed ground for Native Americans, full of free-flowing streams and waterfalls. It's known lately as Birmingham, Alabama, and muddles between two ridges that are the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains at their southernmost point. The hallowed ground was converted in the latter part of the 19th Century into an altar t
o industry, beginning with iron cannon balls used in the Late Unpleasantness. Today it is a soupy bowl of hazy industrial wastes floating in the summer's hot air. Still, it's where I search for peace these days, and sometimes find it.

First-time visitors observe that we have trees. Even downtown, cropping up between stone buildings. Oaks, maples, hickories, magnolias, dogwoods. From the air, Birmingham is green, except for the cleared areas outside the suburbs where coal has been surface mined and the rusty industrial sites in the western area where steel was once king.

I live on the afternoon side of Red Mountain, with my husband of 27 years and our two unlaunched adult sons and two cats. It's called Red Mountain because of the reddish cast of the iron ore hidden in the diagonal seams of its ancient soil. Our house backs into a city park that overlooks Jones Valley to the north. We will always have trees behind us. And a little rocky path that zigzags up the mountain
and crosses a brook that in this late summer heat has been bone dry for weeks. The path has its own story, as you may later learn.

Through the middle of the valley run the train tracks that marked the crossroads where Birmingham was born in 1871. From my office on the tenth floor of an old downtown building, I can look out the window at those tracks and hear the squealing brakes of freight trains. With the windows open at home at night, the low whistle blasts are audible. I've learned the meaning of the combinations of whistles, amusing on a sleepless night and reminiscent of a Hank Williams' tune:

I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry

Words and music by Hank Williams

Hear that lonesome whippoorwill
He sounds too blue to fly
The midnight train is whining low
I'm so lonesome I could cry

I've never seen a night so long
When time goes crawling by
The moon just went behind a cloud
To hide its face and cry

Did you ever see a robin weep
When leaves begin to die?
Like me he's lost the will to live
I'm so lonesome I could cry

The silence of a falling star
Lights up a purple sky
And as I wonder where you are
I'm so lonesome I could cry

I'm not feeling so lonesome just now, but one short whistle just signaled: time to stop.