Thursday, August 13, 2015

"The Ogly Massacre"


* Author’s Note: In March 1818, two massacres occurred in Butler County, Alabama. The first one was a night-time attack on the Ogly and Stroud families by Savannah Jack, a notorious Indian who was terrorizing settlers in the area. This story is my imagining of that horrible night and the atrocities that were committed then.*

“The Ogly Massacre”

Scream, whoops of Indians, dog barking.

It’s not easy being a pioneer woman. You have to contend with disease, having lots of children with a high risk of dying trying to get them here, bad crops, and worst of all, Indian raids. My name is Mary Ray Ogly, and I’d like to share with you my story.

            March 13, 1818, was a cold, blustery day. My husband William had gone off to a muster of volunteer soldiers at nearby Fort Dale, but I had spent the day clearing the land around our cabin, just a little ways off Federal Road in Poplar Springs. At the time, much of the region was still a wilderness, but William and I were determined to have our homestead and raise our growing family. We already had six children, but we hoped for more.

            About midday, my old dog Rufus begin to kick up a fuss. He wouldn’t stop barking. My children all ran to the house, and I grabbed an axe, the only weapon I had. We all knew that several of the Indians in the area were still angry after losing their land following the Treaty of Fort Jackson, when the great Andrew Jackson made William Weatherford, now known as Red Eagle, and the other Creeks sign over their land to the government following the Creek Indian War of 1814. The Indians’ land had been given to settlers like us, looking to making a go of it out here in the frontier. We hadn’t really seen any Indians around the cabin, but we were always at the ready in case the treacherous Savannah Jack and his band might be lurking nearby. Now that Savannah Jack, he was one mean Indian. Rumor had it that he had lost all his land around the Line Creek area in Montgomery during the session. He swore then that he’d take his revenge on the settlers, and although he’d been stirring up unrest, so far, nothing bad had happened.

            Still, we stayed ready just in case. But, Rufus wasn’t barking at Indians. No, it was my husband William leading Mr. Eli Stroud, his wife Elizabeth, and their little baby to our cabin. Lots of folks traveling the Federal Road to get to Claiborne would stop by our place during their journey. Because I don’t get much female company, I was real happy to see Mrs. Stroud. She was a pretty lady, and her baby was a happy one. William and I offered our visitors our hospitality, and we all began to sit about the cabin, sharing news and swapping stories of the goings on in our area. My daughters Mary Ann and Elizabeth took a special liking to the Stroud baby, so they played with it while we women folk chatted and got some food started on the fire.

            Darkness still comes early in March, and we knew the Strouds wouldn’t make it to Holley’s Store several miles from the house much less to Fort Bibb, the closest fort going southwest towards Claiborne, before nightfall, so we offered to put them up for the night. As evening began to close in on us, Eli Stroud told us that he’d seen and heard some unusual things on their way from Fort Dale to our cabin. He was pretty sure that there were Indians in the area, so we took extra precautions to secure the horses and livestock and to barricade the door before we settled in for the evening. We made up a little pallet in front of the fireplace for the Strouds, and the rest of us climbed into our sleeping spots in the little one-room cabin. We all hoped for a good night’s sleep to get us ready for the hard day of work and travel ahead.

            I heard the first “Whoop!” around midnight. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end, and the children started to whimper. William jumped from the bed and grabbed his gun, while Mr. Stroud tried to calm his wife. After the first noise, we didn’t hear anything for a long while. I had begun to think that maybe it’d been an ol’ hoot owl we’d heard, but then there came such a commotion from the woods surrounding all sides of the cabin that I knew we were in an Indian raid.

            Rufus started to bark as the gunshots pierced the air. We could hear the pings on the side of the cabin where the bullets hit the bark. As long as we stayed in the cabin, the bullets wouldn’t reach us, but we all knew that the Indians would set fire to the cabin to drive us out. That’s when William devised a plan. He’d throw open the door, and the rest of us would run for the cane break at the back of the cabin. With any luck, perhaps we could still come out of this alive. I’d lead the group out since Mr. Stroud didn’t know the area. But he’d be right behind me with the axe followed by the children with Mrs. Stroud and William left to pull up the rear.

            When William threw open the door, he stepped back behind it, and let the bullets fly in. He knew that first volley would come quick, but it’d take those murderous renegade Indians a few minutes to reload. As soon as he yelled, “Go!” I was out the door, with Rufus right on my heels. Mr. Stroud was close behind; I ran as hard and fast as I could. Just as I reached the cane, I saw a dark figure slowly emerge from the path in front of me; the figure raised its hand in the darkness, and a sliver of moonlight glinted off a razor-sharp blade. I screamed, but before the man could bring it down right-square in the middle of my forehead, Rufus lunged at him. I could hear a ripping sound, then the man clutched his throat, as blood gurgled out of his mouth. His work done, Rufus came charging back towards me, and as I started to run behind him, I could hear another volley of gunshots, and the screams of my girls. I started to turn back, but Mr. Stroud grabbed me by the wrist, and yelled into my face, “Run! There’s nothing we can do. They’ll kill us all.”

            I did as he said. As I ran, I screamed, too, but my screams couldn’t drown out the ones coming from the cabin. Even against all the other gunshots, I could recognize the sound of William’s gun firing. He was still alive! Then, it fell silent, and I knew, they’d got him. Finally, all the guns fell silent, and the only sound that came was of hacking and tearing, of furniture being overturned in the cabin. The children’s voices carried out to my ears, yelling, “Mama! Mama!” but one by one, each voice fell silent, until only the pitiable moans of the dying remained. The Indians whooped and yelled in the dark. I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but I knew they’d seen me and Stroud get out of the cabin. They wouldn’t leave anyone behind to tell the tale.

            I hadn’t made it far into the cane, but I dropped to my knees and crouched down in as small a ball as I could make myself. The slightest rustle of movement would alert them to my presence. Terrified, I held on to Rufus, who had still not left my side. I put my hand over his snout, but he seemed to sense our danger and didn’t move. The Indians began to move around in the cane on all sides of me. Any minute and they’d step right on top of me and Rufus. I didn’t know where Stroud had gotten off to at that point, but I couldn’t worry about him just then. Slowly, one by one, the men moved next to, then past my hiding place. As I huddled there in the darkness watching them, one more man approached. He stopped only inches from my feet. And when I glimpsed him, a trill of terror ran down my spine. I’d never seen him before, but I’d heard of the long scar that ran from his temple down to his chin. An ugly gash that still remained red years after the Battle at Horseshoe Bend. The moonlight caught that hideous mark, and I knew I’d come face to face with the villainous Savanah Jack.

            I felt the scream rise up in my throat, but I crammed my knuckles into my mouth and bit down as hard as I could to stifle it. I could feel the blood trickle between my fingers. Jack held up a hand to halt his warriors, then he crouched down into an attack position. Knowing he’d somehow heard me, I prepared to bolt. But just as that moment, another sound, further up from where I was, arrested Jack’s attention. He and his men plunged on into the darkness. I lay there and prayed to God, thanking him for sparing my life thus far.

            I don’t know what distracted Jack from where I was, but he and his men never came back my way. Still, terror surrounded me, and the night was eerily quiet…too quiet. At some point, I must have fallen asleep or passed out, but I awoke with the morning sun to the sounds of Eli Stroud calling my name. I uncurled myself from Rufus, stood up, and saw Mr. Stroud motioning for me to join him at the cabin.

            William lay where’d fallen, inside the cabin door. His shirt was bloodied with long straight tears, wounds from a hatchet. His skull was exposed from where the death blow had split his brains in half. But inside the cabin was the real horror, among the scattered bodies in the center of the floor sat Mrs. Stroud, gently rocking her infant child. Stroud and I moved slowly into the room, but she caught sight of us out of the corner of her eye. She let forth a low, inhuman wail as clutched her babe to her chest. Clearly dead, the baby’s head was practically severed from its body. Mrs. Stroud was in a sad state, too. Her face had dried, caked blood encrusted in pools under her eyes and running in rivulets down to her chin. She’d been scalped and left for dead. At some point, she must’ve regained consciousness and crawled over to her child. She had sat through the night with it cradled in her arms. Eli Stroud sank to his knees in front of his wife, staring in disbelief, but she, well, she just looked right through him, like he wasn’t even there.

             I began to move among my children. All dead, all scalped, I thought to myself. But then, Rufus went to Mary Ann and Elizabeth, who were heaped in a mass together. He whimpered softly, and to my amazement, Mary Ann moved. I ran to my child, and as I grabbed her up, Elizabeth opened her eyes and weakly cried, “Mama.” Like Mrs. Stroud, they’d been scalped. The front of their heads were devoid of flesh and hair, with the remaining strands a rusted blood color. I cast about for something to stem the flow of blood, but I had to tear off a part of my dress to wrap their heads. They were hurt, but they were alive! God be praised! Savannah Jack hadn’t taken them all.

            Mr. Stroud and I knew there was only one thing we could do. Not knowing where Jack’s party was, we couldn’t risk another attack. We knew we wouldn’t be so lucky a second time. Eli left the cabin and went outside looking for a horse. He finally came back with one, and he hitched it to the wagon. I got my daughters and Rufus loaded in. We tried to pry the baby loose from Mrs. Stroud, but when we did, she grappled at our necks with an unholy look in her eye. In the end, we let her keep the child. We left the others where they lay because we did not have time to spare. It is my greatest shame that I left my husband and children there without a proper Christian burial, but I had to help the living. The dead were beyond my aid.

            Mr. Stroud and I managed to make it up to Holley’s Store, but there Mrs. Stroud died, with her baby still clutched in her arms. We buried the two together on the side of the road, then proceeded on to Claiborne for Dr. Watkins. Mary Ann died as soon as we reached the doctor, but my daughter Elizabeth lived, though she weren’t ever right again. A week after Savannah Jack massacred my family and the Strouds, he attacked Captain William Butler and his men while they were enroute from Fort Bibb to Fort Dale. Jack murdered three more men that day. It was after the brave Captain Butler, who went down fighting, that Butler County came to be named.

            As for me, well, my tale doesn’t quite end here. I eventually moved back to Poplar Springs, near my old homestead. I remarried to a neighbor, Archelaus Dickerson, and together, he and I had six more children. Of course, those children could never replace the ones I lost in the massacre. Nothing could ever make that right.

            And what of Savannah Jack? Was he ever caught and punished? A bounty was put on his head after all the murders he committed, but last we heard, Jack had moved west to Texas. Who knows what became of him out there, but he never came back to Butler County, Alabama.

            Well, that’s my story. It’s sad, but true. Although I am old now, I will never forget the terrors of that night, when a band of Indians attacked my family, killed all that I loved, and destroyed my world. No, I’ll never forget the night I survived the Ogly massacre.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Buying Christmas

Growing up, I enjoyed hearing my mother's Christmas stories. The only girl in a poor family of four children, she remembered fondly a special Christmas when she received a baby doll. Unfortunately, a neighbor's child ruined the doll by drawing on its face. My mom was very upset by the fact that her parents had spent money they could ill afford on a toy she could no longer enjoy. She would have many other gifts in the years to come, but the desecration of that baby doll dampened her Christmas spirit.

As she grew older and had her own children, she felt great joy watching us (me and my two younger siblings) open our gifts on Christmas mornings. My mother never outgrew feeling poor, though, and she has always felt that what she gave us over the years was never enough. In truth, she and my father gave us more than we could have dared to hope for: a loving home with stability and support. We may not have known it at the time, but the material gifts were just icing on the cake.

Grief now hangs over my mom's Christmases. Each year, our large family seems to lose a member; this year, it was my uncle Tiny. In 2010, my father passed, and the holidays serve as poignant reminders of his and others' absences. The season just does not feel very merry any longer.

My own holiday merriment has diminished over the years, too. I dislike Christmas the most of all the holidays. Some may call that statement blasphemy, but the reason we celebrate has been transformed into a shopping nightmare. The only reason for the season seems to be to make Visa & Mastercard more money. Let's face it: Christmas has been turned into a contest to see who can outspend whom and who forgot whom on their lists. I find myself having to purchase gifts for people I don't really like for the sake of no one being offended, when in truth, I don't really care if they get offended or not.

I also get slightly annoyed with people who get annoyed with me when I tell them I don't really want anything. They don't seem to believe me, although I honestly mean it. What I would rather have than someone's once a year token gesture of affection is having spent time with that person over lunch or at a show sometime during the year. Instead of it being an obligatory Christmas gift, why can't we just get together on some random Tuesday in August and have lunch just because you enjoy my company? Don't like me enough to go to lunch with me? Then you probably shouldn't buy me a Christmas gift either.

I guess this kind of thinking won't get me far. I'm bound to give and receive a number of gifts this year, but if I seem a little "scroogy" about it and mutter a "bah humbug" under my breath, please don't hold it against me too much. I've just lost some of my Christmas spirit.

However, if you are a truly good friend or family member, wrap me up an IOU card for a future lunch date in March. That'll put a smile on my face, guaranteed.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

About Time

One month ago today, I had surgery on my right wrist to solve the problems I was having with my thumb and tendons. I have had several surgeries before this one, but they've all been of the emergency room variety where life and death hung in the balance. I had more than a week to dread the surgery before it ever happened, and I really had no idea what to expect in the aftermath.

The day of the surgery, my husband took me to the hospital where they put me in a private room for pre-surgery prep and for post-surgery recovery. The anesthesiologist came in for our consultation, and recommended a block instead of being fully put to sleep. Because I faint when I see open wounds, we nixed this idea. Later, the surgeon came and drew the marks on my arm to show where the incision would be...that comforted me because I knew that at least they wouldn't operate on the wrong arm.

After being taken back for the operation, I was given a shot to knock me out, so I don't remember anything until coming to in recovery. I was nauseated from the anesthesia, and I felt so sick. The nurses wouldn't let me leave until I ate something and had gone to the bathroom. I managed to get down a biscuit, so eventually, they let me go. I could barely stand up to check up, and although it's less than a mile from the hospital to my house, I felt carsick the entire time.

When I got home, I immediately took a pain pill and went to bed. That day, a Thursday, I spent most of my time in and out of consciousness and completely sick. According to my mom, I have never handled anesthesia very well, so when she came to check on me, she said my green pallor didn't surprise her at all. I don't remember much about Thursday except that my friend Lori cooked us supper. I managed to get up to thank her, but when she saw how ghastly I looked, she sent me back to bed. Honestly, I didn't feel better until Tuesday. Dealing with the anesthesia was the worst part of the entire experience!

As for pain, I never really had any. In that regard, I was lucky. However, the contraption my wrist had been put in was obviously built during the Spanish Inquisition as a torture device. My thumb was strapped in such a way to render it motionless (the whole purpose of the surgery after all), but the formation of this "wrist cuff" caused my entire hand to be immobile. Also, the curve of the cuff gave me a slight claw look.

To my surprise, bathroom duties weren't hard to overcome, but brushing my teeth and hair proved to be problematic. Other things that turned out to be a challenge included (but is by no means limited to) unlocking key-locked doors, pulling paper towels of the roller (unrolled an entire roll), ctrl+alt+delete to start my computer, opening lids on pill bottles and drinks, buttoning any pants, and worst of all, eating with a fork. I was able to avoid writing for a while, but I had to eat, and each day, I ended up wearing half of what I put on my fork!

After two weeks in the claw, I was ready for my follow-up visit to the doctor. I seriously thought that I was coming out of the splint that day, so imagine my horror when after removing my bandages and stitches, the nurse came in with a new splint. Although it returned to me the use of my four fingers on my right hand, having to slide it over my incision was painful. I was mortified that I had to spend another two weeks in a splint!

I must pause here, though,and elaborate on the bandage removal. The surgeon had a large bandage on the incision spot, and I was not permitted to remove it. So, for two weeks, I had purple marker peeping out from underneath the edges of the bandage. Underneath that bandage the surgeon had placed suture tape to help close up the wound. When the nurse removed the tape over that fresh incision, I nearly cried! Yes, it hurt! I got an involuntary wax job because she yanked out every hair on my arm where the tape was! Only now, two weeks later, is the hair starting to grow back.

Monday, I returned for my second follow-up appointment, and I got the splint off! I still have to sleep in it at night because I tend to twist my hands and sleep with them tucked under my chin. I was given exercises to do, and I was worried that they would be painful. Again, I have been lucky in that regard. The incision is tender, but I have not had the pain I thought I would.

Although I still have weeks before I am fully recovered, I am so much better now than I was before the surgery. I'm not sure, knowing what I do now, if I'd re-do the experience, but then, if all goes right, I shouldn't have to.

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Helping Hand


When I was five years old, I took a tumble down my great-grandmother’s back door steps, upon which she sat the glass Coca-Cola bottles she collected and returned for their deposits. As I fell, my right arm slipped under the jagged edge of the only bottle that had burst the night before due to a hard freeze. As soon as I stood up, I realized my arm, close to the wrist, had been flayed. I had a gaping wound with blood pouring out of it. Each time my heart beat, a nice squirt issued forth from the main artery.

Although the story of how I arrived at the hospital is one for the ages, it’s not what is important here. After waiting a long time for the ER doctor to decide what to do about such a terrible injury, I ended up undergoing a grueling surgery that resulted in 55 stitches. I remember the doctor telling my mother that the scar would fade, but I’d never be able to use my right arm again. By the next morning, I was already drawing with my right hand, but to this day, 34 years later, I still have that ugly scar.

In truth, the scar does not bother me. The fact is that I never could tell my left from my right until I cut my arm. After the fall, all I had to do was remember which arm the scar was on to know the difference. This little secret was how I often won drill downs in band! Unless I turn my arm a certain way, people never even notice the scar, so I’m very glad that the doctor got it wrong. Given a choice, I’d take the scar over not being able to use my right arm any day.

Over the years, I often wondered, though, if all the damage and scar tissue in my right arm would one day cause me problems. Growing up, about once a year, my arm would get sore and seize up on me; eventually that once a year turned into twice a year as I got older. Still, the problem only ever lasted a day or two, and things would go back to normal. I figured I was home free, but that’s just not the way things work.

About a year ago, a little knot started appearing on the inside of my right wrist. I noticed the knot got worse the more I graded, but during Thanksgiving and Christmas, when I could rest, the knot would go away. In January, it returned, but this time, pain accompanied it. I dealt with the pain for as long as I could, but during the summer when I have to teach both composition and literature classes, the knot and the pain reached epic proportions. Not knowing what to expect, I visited a specialist.

The diagnosis wasn’t what I expected. Honestly, I thought that it was a cyst that would have to be removed, but it turns out that I have something called “De Quervain’s tendonitis,” a condition where the tendons are inflamed and the sheath that protects them becomes irritated. It doesn’t sound so bad, but believe me, the pain sometimes makes you want to gnaw your arm off at the elbow to get rid of it.

Even after going through therapy, inflammatory treatment, and injections, the problem persisted. My week off between summer and fall terms did nothing to alleviate the knot or the pain, which started feeling like I had doused my arm in Icy Hot. Imagine your arm feeling like it is on fire all the time! I knew it was time to revisit the doctor, and as expected, he scheduled me for surgery.

The surgery itself does not worry me…much. According to the doctor and my research, the surgery will not be bad and does not take long. However, recovery can take some time. Because I have become so right-arm dominant over the years, the recovery and its repercussions scare the daylights out of me. At age five, I used an arm with 55 stitches in it the next day, but I’m older now, and this is different. My right arm may be out of commission for several weeks.

So, to get myself ready for the inevitable, I have started practicing doing things with my left-hand. First, I tried writing with it. A kindergartener’s writing is much more legible than the chicken scratch I produced. Next, I practiced typing with one hand. Although it takes forever, I can do it, but I become increasingly frustrated the longer the message gets. Next, I rehearsed opening and closing doors with my left hand. Ever try using a key with your other hand? I also discovered that I will need people to tote my groceries, carry my laptop to different classrooms, and wash all the dishes. Housecleaning with one hand is out of the question. Heck, I cannot even punch numbers on my cell phone very well.
 
Yet, the worst part of this deals with bathroom issues. I will have to get a head start on any potty trips I need to make because it takes such a long time to unbutton my pants and get the zipper down with my left hand. Yesterday, I cataloged how many clothes I have with elastic waistbands in order to avoid buttons and zippers! I don’t have enough! All of this pales in comparison, though, to the worse debacle of all: wiping!

Wiping is a must, and our ancestors really should be given credit for having survived without Angel Soft or Cottonelle. Having grown accustomed the fluffiness that is Charmin, I just knew that wiping with my left hand would be a snap. It isn’t. Don’t believe me? Go try. I’ll wait… See! Told you so! Now, imagine several days of that! Isn’t a pleasant thought, is it?

To be truthful, while the wiping is an upsetting reality I’m about to face, the deeper heartbreak is knowing that I will need others to do things for me. I’ve always had an independent streak, and I firmly believe that no one can do the job I need done better than I can, and while that has often led to me being overwhelmed at times, this disposition is one of the qualities I like best about myself. I don’t like depending on others; I even drove my own self to the hospital to have my son.

This hospital trip, though, my husband will have to drive me, unless I can figure out some way to escape unnoticed afterwards. (Shouldn’t be too hard, right?) I’ll also need him to pick up my medicine and do a lot of what I will not be able to do for myself. He has already informed me, though, that wiping is out of the question!

The thing is that while this surgery is minor and may cause a few weeks of aggravation, it’s only a precursor of the things that come as we age. In our infancy we are completely reliant on others for our well-being, and as we get older, we become dependent again. I don’t want that for myself. I want to be one of the ones who still gets up at age 90 to go out for a three-mile walk before going home to clean up my own house. I can see that.

So, while I may need a helping hand (or ten) over the next few weeks, here’s to hoping that it won’t become a trend in my life. After all, who has time for that?

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Last Dress Rehearsal


When I was getting my degree in language arts education, I had to take several theater classes. As an English teacher, you never know if you’re going to end up teaching drama, journalism (print and/or broadcast), yearbook, debate team, or several other extracurricular clubs that seem to come with the territory. Although I eventually got a master’s degree with a concentration in theater, it was academic, not production, so even then I would not have believed in my wildest dreams that I would one day become the president of a community theater group, much less its director.

 

Yet, that is exactly what has happened. Two years ago, I got involved with the Greenville Area Arts Council’s summer productions: first as a stage manager, then as a performer. This year, though, after our director moved to another city, we found ourselves without a group or a show. Dismayed, those of us who wanted to see this endeavor continue banned together and created The Greenville Community Theater.

 

Tomorrow night, we open with Crimes of the Heart, a play by Beth Henley. Set in Hazelhurst, Mississippi, in October 1974, COTH features the dysfunctional Magrath sisters who have come together to save one of their own from impending doom. Along the way, other characters attempt to assist them in their plight.

 

We picked this play because it is set in the South in a recent enough time-period that we felt like we could accommodate the setting, hair, makeup, and costumes. We also liked that it only had six characters, mostly females, because let’s face it: sometimes in a small town, it’s hard to get people to try out for a show.

 

Since the time of the audition, we have rehearsed every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday afternoon from 6 p.m.-9 p.m. We have built sets on Saturdays and Sundays. We’ve taken our Wednesdays (and Fridays and Saturdays) to search for items we needed or to put together displays or to put out posters and signs. We’ve rehearsed, we’ve built, we’ve bought, and we’ve borrowed to get this show together. Heck, at times, we’ve even bled for it.

 

But most importantly, we’ve learned. As a first time director, I have felt terror, exhilaration, exhaustion, and happiness to the point of tears. My emotions have run the gamut. At times, the play seemed so far away until I didn’t feel like it would ever happen at all, but now, here we are…on the verge of the last dress rehearsal, and all I can say is “WOW!”

 

I don’t think people who’ve only ever seen a show realize just how hard it is to pull one off. Oh, I’m sure it’s easy for large companies who have tons of paid employees, but for small town folks like us, this is a big deal. We don’t just love this play…we’ve lived it, breathed it, and devoured it for so long now until it is permanently embedded in our hearts and minds. It’s a part of who we are, and we just hope and pray that our audience will like it. Sure would be a huge let down if they don’t.

 

So, here we are, the night before we open. Our last dress rehearsal. One more time to smooth out any troublesome parts and get everything right. I know all directors must feel this anxious at this point. It’s our last chance to fix things because after this, what will be…will be.

 

Here’s hoping that our play is a hit and that our audience loves it!

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Bag Lady

I dislike a junky car, which is one of the reasons why I don’t like to go anywhere with my husband if we have to go in his vehicle. The floor of his truck is encrusted with grime and is filled with trash. By comparison, my own vehicle is a near spotless paradise. The outside may need washing, but the inside is clutter-free, and you don’t have to move a ton of stuff just to sit down. So, imagine my surprise when I realized the other day that my SUV has suddenly become a glaring example of a disorganized junk heap.

Fortunately, my vehicle still pales in comparison to the disaster that is my husband’s truck. Instead of loose mess everywhere, I have several bags: three in the backseat and one in the front passenger floorboard.

The contents of these bags are specific to the different hats I’m wearing these days. My Harry Potter bag has the prompt book and sound cues for the play (Crimes of the Heart) I’m directing this summer. The pink bag I purchased at a rummage sale for .50 cents contains the clothes that have been rejected from that play. The bag I bought in England, depicting Queen Elizabeth II on 50 pound bank notes, houses the papers I have yet to grade for the composition and literature courses I’m teaching this term. The recycled-material bag featuring a girl riding a bicycle with “She traveled far” embossed on the front holds my writing materials for upcoming articles and assignments. My purse counts as a bag, too, and in it are the contents one needs for being a mother and wife: credit cards.

I’m rather ashamed to admit that my purse, my family bag, is the smallest of the lot right now. If I were to get all psycho-analytical babble-speak for a moment, I’d have to come to the conclusion that my family receives the least of my attention at this time, which happens to be true. The other areas of my life have crowded in on my family responsibilities, and I am so overwhelmed by these other duties until I go home each night and just collapse. My son has accused me more than once this summer of being too tired or too busy to talk with him. My Russian daughter is visiting and is only here for 20 more days. I feel as if I’ve ignored her, which upsets me to no end because this is her first visit in three years. In the mornings, I drop off my step-daughter for day camp, and sometimes I do not see her again until the next morning when it’s time to repeat the process. My husband now knows how I feel when I become a hunting widow during deer season.

The fact that two of my bags relate to my directorial duties lets me know which aspect of my life is dominating it. I love the theater, and I have enjoyed directing this play. At the same time, I have truly felt its consumption. If I didn’t have so many other things going on right now, and if I had more theater production under my belt, perhaps the responsibilities associated with the show wouldn’t be quite as daunting. If it were not for my assistant director and other support team members, I’d be a nervous wreck.

What’s most fascinating about the bags, though, is how they’ve compartmentalized my life and how, over time, the weight of each shifts. That shift represents how the load gets heavier or lighter for each part of my life. For example, soon I’ll be finished with my summer classes, so I can empty out my teaching bag for a few weeks. The last article I have due for a while will be submitted shortly after that, so I can put aside my writing bag, too. The play will close mid-August, and we won’t do anything with the theater for a few months, so that heavy load will lighten. Perhaps then, I can allow all of the weight to shift to my family bag; it’s too bad that by the time that shift happens, my Russian child will be gone.

Sometimes, I do get the urge to de-clutter and to just toss a bag or two. Yet, if I were I to throw away just one of the bags, I’d lose part of who I am as a person. Even when some bags get too heavy to tote, I still carry them. I have to because I’m a mother, wife, teacher, writer, and director. I enjoy all my roles, so I love my bags and their contents, even when some of them overwhelm me.

So, if you see my silver Trailblazer parked somewhere and get curious as to which aspect of my life is in control, just take a peek and see which bag looks heaviest. But just so you know, I never leave my purse in my vehicle. Its contents, like my family, are just too valuable to leave behind. Even though they are the smallest bag right now, they are still and always the most important one.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Lesson Learned

In late May, I got an email from the Alabama Writers' Conclave's review board that my short story "The Ghost" had won an award in their annual writing contest. Each category (mine was entered in short fiction) would have 4 honorable mentions plus 1st-4th awards and money prizes. The email did not say if I'd only gotten honorable mention or if I had placed, so I wasn't going to go to the program in case I didn't win anything.

Then, I got to looking at their conference programme, and one of my favorite authors was going to be a guest lecturer. I decided I would go. As it turned out, almost all of the guest lecturers were outstanding, and I really learned a lot that I can use in my own writing. However, what I really wanted to know was about my award.

The banquet and awards ceremony was Saturday night. We had a nice meal, a reading by a well-known author, and then the awards. My category was announced in the middle of the ceremony, and as the announcer started going through the list of honorable mentions, I just prayed that I had placed instead. As it turned out, I did. I got fourth place. My feelings? Believe it or not, disappointment. But why? Why should I feel disappointed when I got what I asked for? Well, the answer is simple, yet complex.

You see, I am a perfectionist, and I want to be the best at whatever I do. I want to win. I should be used to not winning, though, because most of the time, I don't. However, I always do well in my endeavors...just not as well as I'd like. I don't let it bother me after the initial disappointment. I just go find something else at which I think I can excel.

The problem, though, is why can't I let my accomplishments be good enough and stand for themselves? I later found out that there were somewhere between 50-75 entries in the Short Fiction category, so to finish 4th the first time I even entered their contest was actually pretty darn good. And, as my daughter pointed out to me, some of the people who entered pieces, and certainly those in attendance at the conference, have much more time available for their writing. Now, I am happy with my award, but not at first... no, not at first.

The lesson I should learn here is that, at some point, I am going to have to learn to be satisfied, happy, and proud of what I've done instead of feeling disappointed or go on looking for the next thing. I need to realize that I AM GOOD ENOUGH! Yet, I am not the only one who needs to come to terms this lesson. Apparently, there are a whole bunch of us "A" types out there who just cannot accept 2nd place. It's too bad really, but there it is.

I don't have any great epiphany here, but I do know that we all need to lighten up on ourselves and rejoice in our accomplishments and good qualities. We need to nicer to ourselves, and we need to learn that we are good enough, most of the time, just the way we are.