Power of Photographs

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I can understand if some of you are getting a little sick and tired of reading about last month’s New York trip with some high school friends. Alas, if so, I’m sorry about that because I do have a little more to add. I’ll make it brief, however, because I have some other thoughts to post before school starts back on Monday. After that, I’ll be in a whirlwind teaching eight classes, day and evening, some online, and at different campuses. I’m not complaining, just stating a fact.

 

I’m not sure, but I think this picture might have been snapped the evening we went to see All My Sons. What I like about it is that we were upbeat and excited about the evening ahead. Plus, since the Christmas tree is in the background, it’s clear that we were celebrating this special season of the year.

 

From years of beach walking, I’ve learned the courtesy of volunteering to take pictures of families. Often, you’ll see a mother taking one of the father and the kids or vice versa. There’s always someone left out unless a volunteer photographer happens along. That’s what happened in this case. I volunteered to take a picture of a mother and her daughter who’d been saving their money for a long time in order to come to the Big Apple, and they were so grateful and pleased that the daughter took one of us too. I hope they like their picture as much as we like ours.

 

By the way, the reason I like pictures so much is that they’re fantastic memory joggers. An event that hasnt crossed your mind for years can be immediately retrieved with a picture. Have you found that to be true?

Beautiful Lady

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Just a thought or two about the Statue of Liberty and its significance to so many people. As I was listening to NPR one day on my way home from work, I heard the author of Greek Boy, Dino Thompson, being interviewed. Having lived in Myrtle Beach for 30 years, I recognized the name and decided to tune in a little more closely. I can’t remember all of his comments, but I do remember that he talked about his father’s somewhat circuitous journey from Greece to New York City and then later down the coast to Myrtle Beach. His father’s original intention was to travel to Florida, but once in Myrtle Beach, he soon learned of a restaurant for sale and bought it on the spot. Dino was a small child at the time.

 

Anyway, the thrust of this particular interview dealt with Dino’s dad and the remarkable man he was. However, as Dino moved into his teen years, he found himself being somewhat embarrassed by his “old man.” He’d do things like roll up his pants leg and stash cigarettes there. He’d pick his son up from football practice and ask if he’d hit any homeruns. In other words, Dino’s father was different from his friends’ dads, and at the time, it bothered the teen.

 

Determined to learn more about his father, Dino said he’d ask him questions to provoke an answer…any kind of answer. One day as they were fishing off one of the many piers that line the strand, he asked his father to tell him about the best day of his life. Figuring that he’d say something like, “The best day of my life was the day you were born,” Dino was a bit caught off guard by the answer. For a moment, his father’s eyes misted over, and he became visibly emotional as he replied that the best day of his life was the day his ship came into the New York Harbor and he saw the beautiful lady there, torch held high in her right hand.

 

I met Dino at a writers’ conference in Myrtle Beach last fall, and I introduced myself to him and told him that I’d heard the NPR interview. He replied that his dad was quite a guy, and that after that day on the pier, he never looked at him in the same way. Like thousands of other immigrants to America, his father possessed strength, courage, and a double dose of hope.  

P.S. to Sowing Seeds

I can’t seem to get the seed sowing image out of my mind. I’m thinking about how you plant a little itty bitty seed in the ground, and some time later, you’ll see beans, watermelons, or even a mustard tree. Remember that scripture about the mustard seed of faith growing and growing? Anyway, words can act as a catalyst for good or ill depending on what they are and how they’re spoken. For instance, if a child forgets to bring his coat home, and his mother good naturedly says, “Now, why does that not surprise me?” as she gives him a hug, he doesn’t feel quite as irresponsible and slack as he would if she’d said it with sarcasm. 

Phrases and even single words can sting, can “cut to the quick,” and as we’ve all learned, once they’re spoken, they’re out…never to be retrieved. Even if the speaker says, “I’m sorry,”  the hurt is still there, lying dormant beneath the soil (in a manner of speaking). Why not speak words of cheer, love, and kindness? Plant seeds of peace, harmony and encouragement. Something I’ve found particularly odious is parents comparing children to one another. The one who comes up short feels like a loser, and the “darling” feels more pressure to succeed. Either that, or she or he could become arrogant and prideful.

While I’m on this jag, I might as well mention the words we speak to ourselves. Whether positive or negative, the thoughts take root and grow. Thinking, “I’m too tall, too short, too fat, too thin, too dull, too _______ is not healthy. Why do it to yourself?  Say instead, “Who I am is who I am, a daughter or son of a loving Creator who endowed me with certain attributes, propensities, and aptitudes.” I’m not suggesting that we don’t all have flaws and shortcomings because we do. I’m just saying that we don’t need to focus on them to the exclusion of the good stuff.

Sow some seeds of tolerance, love, encouragement, and kindness and watch them take root. Oh, and do the same for yourself; cut yourself some slack and remember who you are.  To help you in this endeavor, I’m posting one of Van Gogh’s sowers.

Vincent van Gogh's The Sower, 1888

Sowing Seeds

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Although this photograph isn’t that clear, I like it because it conjures up one of my favorite New York City memories.  I’ve wanted go to the Museum of Modern Art since 1998, and I was determined to get there on this trip by “hook or crook.” I’ve visited other museums in Manhattan but never the MoMA (there’s just something about that acronym that grabs me), and I yearned to see Van Gogh’s Starry Night “up close and personal.”

Picture this. It was bitterly cold, and we were all tired and beginning to drag a little. As the afternoon wore on, we realized that there was no way we were going to be able to visit the MoMA and go back to Rockefeller Center for a longer visit. We had actually been there the evening before, but the throngs of people and our need to get to the theater on time precluded much more than a quick walk through. Still, since I’d “been there, done that,” I wanted to go to the museum and was determined to go even if it meant breaking up our buddy system rule and going alone. My pal Jeanita, perennially upbeat and ready for adventure, volunteered to accompany me. The problem was getting there; all the taxis seemed occupied and rushed right by us. Grinning, she pointed to a rickshaw and asked, “Want to?” I was game, and as we sped along Broadway to our destination, we found ourselves laughing like schoolgirls. We certainly had a view of the hustle bustle unlike any we’d had before and were excited to be in the midst of it all.

As an aside, our rickshaw driver was a young man from Turkey who’d only been in America for a month; he was ecstatic about being here, and Jeanita and I were reminded of how fortunate we are to be living in the United States. 

Arriving at the museum, we were surprised and disappointed to learn that it closed at 5:30, and it was already 5:00. Still, I had traveled a long way and waited a long time to see Starry Night, and I wasn’t going to get the late hour or the high admission price deter me. We bought our tickets and found our way to the second floor where the Van Gogh exhibit was housed. My favorite painting was in the last room, and rather than race to it, Jeanita and I took our time (sort of) and enjoyed the hushed, almost reverential feeling of the rooms.

 Anticipation building by the moment, we turned a corner, looked to the left, and there it was: Starry Night. I’m not sure why I like this painting so much, but there’s just something about the tiny town nestled down beneath the swirling stars that touches my spirit. The action’s in the heavens, and yet sometimes we on Earth get so puffed up with our significance (or lack thereof) that we forget that we’re part of a glorious universe. Plus, there’s the church spire pointing heavenward…the cypress trees too.  Jeanita and I stood staring for a few minutes, walked away to look at other paintings, and then came back for a final stare. It was worth every dime of the admission price, and I’m so glad that I got to see it with one of my oldest and dearest friends.

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But here’s the lesson we learned: Several of the paintings in the exhibit were of people sowing seeds. In fact, it was a little surprising to see so many of them instead of other well-known Van Gogh paintings. As I was staring at yet another faceless person sowing seeds in the ground, I remembered something I had recently read in a church magazine. The message was to walk away from situations in which negative seeds were being sown. Whether gossip, hateful or sarcastic comments, or any other type of negative conversation, the article encouraged the reader to walk away. While I don’t recall the author encouraging the reader to sow positive seeds of encouragement, Jeanita and I decided on the spot that we were going to do our dead level best to do more of that.

A New York Friday

new-york-08-0111Continuing along with the New York chronicles, we began Friday morning with breakfast at Junior’s, a busy, buzzy restaurant in the theatre district near the Milford Plaza, our hotel. Decorated with Christmas decorations galore, the eatery treated its patrons to the sounds of Christmas tunes mingled with the excited chattering of fellow diners and the clinking and clattering of plates, glasses, and silverware.  We loved it. In fact, we enjoyed the experience so much that we repeated it the next morning. If you visit New York and want something a bit more substantial than Starbucks and a pastry on the run, give Junior’s a chance. The price is right, and the wait staff is gracious and accommodating. Three of us had our cameras out that morning, and our waiter actually seemed to enjoy taking our picture(s).

Fortified with grits (a Southern dish that was well prepared at Junior’s), we walked outside in the windy cold and had some conversation with young men who were selling Gray Line tour tickets. To us, it seemed to be the best route since it would enable us to see the city and hear a tour guide inform us about interesting facts. Although most of us had visited New York before, we were (still are) novices and knew we could gain a lot by taking this tour. I’m so glad we did! Did you know that Jimmy Cagney spoke seven languages fluently?

Our primary destinations that day were Chinatown, Little Italy, and the South Street Seaport, and we managed to see them all and have some terrific adventures. In Chinatown, after the five of us were whisked off the street and escorted into a back room by a young, pretty Chinese woman, Joan Ella and Patty purchased some designer bags. I think all of us were interested and intrigued, but there were too many other tourists crowded in there with us for me to even think straight.

Leaving Chinatown, we strolled through Little Italy and savored our saunter down Mulberry Street. Before reaching the South Street Seaport, we managed to glimpse Wall Street and Ground Zero.  After a bit of shopping, we piled onto the ferry and took a tour of the New York Harbor. Much to my dismay and sorrow, I soon learned that the ferry would NOT be taking us to Ellis Island, a stop I had been anticipating since August. I LOVE that place! On a prior trip with my daughter Carrie and some friends, we had visited the island, and I’ve never felt the same about immigrants.  How must it have felt to arrive in the harbor to the sight of the Statue of Liberty, torch held high, and then have to go through long and sometimes grueling processing? Were they afraid? Excited? Anxious?

Tour complete, we jumped on the Grey Line bus and headed back to our hotel to primp and preen for All My Sons, the Arthur Miller play with Katie Holmes. In my humble and uncultured opinion, the absolute BEST performance in the house was by Diane Wiest. I’m still in awe of her giant gift. When the five of us discussed the play afterwards at Junior’s (had to have some hot chocolate and cheesecake before calling it a night), we were pretty much all wowed by her and her onstage husband, John Lithgow.

All My Sons generated another discussion too…one about family secrets, greed, loyalty, and relationships. Sipping our hot chocolate with huge dollops of whipped cream, we talked about how a single act or quick decision by a person can affect his or her family for generations even though descendents might not even be aware of it…or even of who committed what/when/where. It could be something like deciding to take a job in another part of the country or world, hence affecting schools, lifestyle, friends, and so forth. Then again, it might be something like selling defective parts that result in the death of others…even a son who commits suicide when he realizes how greedy, deceptive, and guilty his father is.

I guess the moral of the story is that our acts have ramifications that we can’t predict at the time we’re committing them. If we could, perhaps we’d think twice before acting.

Mamma Mia Afternoon

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Nice picture, huh? Yes, I know it’s a bit fuzzy and that Joan Ella is partially cut off, but I like it because it symbolizes the fruition of several months of planning to go to the Big Apple. We were standing under the marquee of Mamma Mia where we had just picked up our tickets for the evening’s performance,  tickets that Joan Ella had ordered weeks in advance. Wanting to capture the moment, I snagged a passerby and asked her to take our picture. An elderly lady who looked ultra trustworthy, she began to slowly back up more and more as she tried to bring us into focus, and Judy had just commented that it looked like the sweet looking photographer was about to disappear with my camera. That’s why we were all sort of half-smiling.

All of us turned the big 60 this past year, and as we reflected on the rapidity of how of lives were speeding along, we decided to DO IT, to go to New York City during the Christmas season sans our husbands. That way we could do what “girls” like to do:  shop and sightsee and go to plays that the men folk in our lives might not enjoy.  I should mention that all of us went to high school together and had managed to keep in touch throughout the decades, some of us more so than others. What made the trip and our time together even more meaningful and fun is that we all knew each other’s “back stories,” a term I read about in Southern Living that refers to a person’s history.  And what a shared history we have! But then, that’s a story for another day.

This morning, I just wanted to comment on the fact that we didn’t just TALK about “one of these days;” we DID IT. Joan Ella, planner and organizer extraordinaire, put the trip together for us…even getting our airline and theatre tickets. She also arranged for a limo to pick us up and take us to the hotel once we had landed at LaGuardia. All we had to do was show up at Judy’s house at 7:30 a.m. to pack the car and head out for Charlotte.

But I digress. After settling into our tiny rooms, we headed out to the Winter Garden Theatre to pick up our tickets, and along the way we were surely the epitome of tourists who were agog at the sights and sounds of this incredible city. Energy all around us, we fell right into the beat as the exuberance of the atmosphere infected us. So many people…such diversity…such BIGNESS of everything. 

Although this might seem incredulous, before dressing for our evening at the theatre we ate at the Olive Garden. Yep, we did. We came all the way from SC to dine at one of the most ubiquitous restaurants in the United States. But hey, we like pasta and soup and salad, so why not? Besides, this particular Olive Garden is different from any other that I’ve ever visited in that it overlooks Broadway. As we munched on our breadsticks, we saw life teeming in the streets and enjoyed watching the lit-up numbers from the stock exchange circle around the building across the street. Oh, and I LOVE the M & M billboard, and I was able to watch it reflected in the window. We enjoyed our pre-theatre experience so much that we came back for a post-theatre dessert, a decadent black tie mousse.

The production of Mamma Mia was one that I’ll never forget. The immense talent of all of the performers was/is astounding. Just to make sure that I don’t forget any of it, I quickly downloaded the soundtrack onto my iPod and now I get to listen to “Voulez-Vous” and all of the other numbers any time I want to. Seeing the diversity of people in the theatre was a treat too. It was so cool (?) to think of how so many different types of people had all come together at this special season of the year to enjoy a night on Broadway.

There’s plenty more I can and will write about. For now, what I’d like for any readers out there to realize that this is no dress rehearsal. This is life, real life, and it’s very brief. If there’s something you want to do or say or be, what you are waiting for? If not now, then when???? Yesterday, Judy, Jeanita, Patty, Joan Ella, and Jayne were little girls learning to read with Dick and Jane books. Today we’re grandmothers.

Here’s a quote from The Music Man that President Monson recently used in a conference address: “You pile up enough tomorrows, and you’ll find you’ve collected a lot of empty yesterdays.”  President Monson continued, “There is no tomorrow to remember if we don’t do something today.” I feel assured that the grandmothers in the picture will have a lot of yesterdays to remember. What about you?

Sore Legs and Memories

My calves are feeling a tad sore today, a reminder of the miles DH and I walked in the mountains of NC this past weekend.  I’m not complaining, however, for the slight tightness reminds me of our time together as we enjoyed the splendors of Mother Nature. We said, “Look at that!” so many times when one of us spotted yet another breathtaking view that it became almost humorous. Another reason I’m not complaining is because I’ve come to realize that it’s wonderful to have legs that work so well…and a heart and lungs that still do their jobs. DH and I half-seriously commented that one of these days we might not be so blessed to be able to traverse such terrain.

To be specific, the slight but wonderful soreness brings back memories of:  

·         the sound of the waterfall at the top of one of the trails at    Chimney Rock and the cool mist of that same waterfall on my face,

·         the colorful fall foliage,

·         the creek with the humongous rocks,

·         the sound of rushing water,

·         the couple atop Chimney Rock who just celebrated their 52nd year together and their generous offer to take our picture,

·         the coolness of the caves,

·         the “feel” of Apple Valley and the taste of the Cameo apple that we cut with DH’s pocketknife and ate en route to Chimney Rock, 

·         enjoying “Tuesdays with Morrie” at the Flatrock Playhouse in Flat Rock,

·         lessons learned from Mitch and Morrie at the Playhouse,

·         the decorative goats adorning the streets of Hendersonville,

·         the Mast General Store,

·         a sweet deal on a rug from World of Clothing (25% off all rugs during October), 

·         the helpful grandmotherly advice from a knowledgeable lady at the apple barn about which apples were better for pies,

·         and so on and on.

Our little weekend getaway reminded us that there’s a gentler way of life up the road adn that the world is full of beautiful sights we’ve yet to experience.