Posts Tagged ‘Death’

Mary Etta’s Purse

Monday, May 16th, 2016

When my grandfather died, we cleaned out his house, and there was just. so. much. stuff. Stuff that felt important and that I knew I should save, and I couldn’t make a decision about at the time. I put it away in boxes, and they ended up in the basement.

The basement flooded.

Much to Todd’s chagrin, none of my boxes of genealogies, family papers, history books, and old photos were damaged. However, the whole basement had to be emptied to do the renovations required to put in new floors and paint, so all of the accumulated stuff is kind of being moved into safekeeping until the renovations are complete. (By “safekeeping” I mean mountains of boxes in our bedroom, foyer, and dining room.)

While we were moving them, Tiller immediately caught sight of one item on top of an open box of photos that belonged to my Grandma.

My great-grandmother’s purse.



I kept it because it’s a classic, beautiful vintage purse. Score. But I had forgotten until we opened it up that I had also kept it because it was a mini-time capsule of my great grandmother’s last years. I think that when she died, her daughters probably just took her purse home, and they couldn’t bare to throw any of it out. (Must be genetic.)

Here are my Grandma Palmer (Evelyn) and her sister, Lessie, at the funeral home. I know it’s morbid and sad, but I don’t care; I like this photo.



She was born Mary Etta Richardson (her mother was Matilda Denmark, which is partially the origin of Till’s name, but mostly we just liked the name), in Liberty County, GA in 1888. She died December 7, 1959. (Pearl Harbor day, and my sister’s birthday, too.) She married my great-grandfather, Horace Ray Butler (Rollie dodged a bullet there) and they had five children. Two of them died as babies, and the stories of their deaths are heartbreaking to hear as a mother.They were older than the three who lived and died before the others were born. The three who lived were: Lessie, my grandmother Evelyn Jean, and Clayton. (I believe he was actually William Clayton.)


Both of the babies are both buried at Thomas Hill Cemetery on Fort Stewart. Here is a photo of Marie’s grave and one of R.C.’s. This gets mighty confusing, because my grandmother would tell me about her mother telling her about losing the babies, and the names above are misleading. According to my grandma, Marie was not pronounced with the common pronunciation. It was “MA-ree,” rather than “Ma-REE.” And there is no french accent to it, just “Little Ma.Ree.” And when my grandmother told me about the babies dying, the boy was “Little R.C.” Not “R.O.” which is what the gravestone looks like, but I am sure that it was R.C. and i think maybe the stone was not well-engraved, because I am sure she knew what her own mother called her dead baby brother. And we never heard a word about “Meldrum.” That makes Little R.C. quite a mystery, as he seems to be named “Meldrum R. C. Butler.” Genealogy nerd me would really like to know what the R. and C. stand for – I think R. might be for “Richardson.” Who knows.

Anyways, a ton of my other Butler, Richardson, Denmark, Shuman, and other families are also buried in cemeteries at Fort Stewart. (I hope to get down there for a cemetery visit, but you have to make an appointment, i think due to the Army not wanting you to get blown up driving around the base. Heck, I could do a whole post just about the people buried on Fort Stewart.)

Whoa. That was one of my more offensive genealogy tangents. Sorry about that. So, here’s the juicy part . . .

I guess the statute of limitations is probably up now on these folks, so I can say that we have not figured out the actual truth, but it is rumored that Horace also had a relationship with another woman (possibly a Sarah or Maude, who was perhaps a Shuman) and fathered a son, but I have never been able to figure out much more about it. People just alluded to it, but never actually gave us any real dirt. (If you happen to stumble across this post and know anything about this other relationship, marriage, or illegitimate child or his descendants, we would very much like to hear from you. I know that’s a long shot.)

Horace and Mary Etta lived in Bryan County, GA, on (as I understand it) the original land grant that the Butlers received in Georgia. My grandmother was born there, near Clyde. When Fort Stewart was created, everyone in their area lost their farms. They moved to Savannah, where both died and are buried.

So, back to the purse. The satin lining is sooo silky.


Tills and I started laying the things in the purse out on the table. Here are the things we found in my great grandmother’s purse:

This really cracked and cool looking mirror. If Mary Etta was anything like my Grandma Palmer, she would not go out of the house without lipstick.



One box of tithing envelopes. I think at the end, she maybe lived with my Aunt Lessie in Garden City, outside of Savannah, because I know she didn’t always attend church out there.


Here is one of the cards inside. I love that they are numbered and have the date on them, so that you don’t miss one single Sunday of tithing.




Here is her wallet:



It contained a lot of medical receipts and newspaper clippings of bible verses and obituaries.

I thought this one was very interesting; A tuberculosis report, from 13 years prior to her death. Negative. I’m curious if there is some reason she would have kept this in her wallet all those years. At the time of the test, she still lived on Stevenson Ave. Daddy would have been about five at that time, and also lived there.


Another bible verse. I can’t figure out why it’s printed so oddly. Are they like bible verse flash cards? Because even upside down, I can still figure out it’s from Proverbs. . . and I missed a lot of Sunday School.


She had the card for the Superintendent of Sunday School. Love the old phone numbers. No (912) back then.


One Walgreen’s prescription. I didn’t realize Walgreen’s had been around that long.


Okay, nerd that I am, I looked up history of Walgreen’s. No wonder they were around so long; They started in Chicago and were allowed to sell “medicinal” whiskey during Prohibition. 

Also of interest: Mary Etta’s doctor was a female. Thinking that wasn’t super common back then, but made me smile.



Quick Google search on Anne Hopkins came up with nothing, but I bet she might have been pretty interesting. And anyone know what that cream is for?


Here’s an obituary for some British dude, William Wright. A boyfriend, perhaps? None of the names look familiar.

IMG_8730 IMG_8731


The next one is sweet: A memorial clipping, of some sort, for Mary’s husband, Horace. He died when Dad was around five. IMG_8733 IMG_8735


One flashy red change purse.


A whole bunch of hair doodads.


I particularly like the packaging for the bobby pins, which did not photograph well, but reads, ‘Gayla 10 cents.’


Here’s a brooch, of jewels in a crown. A few of the jewels are missing.

I really like this old letter opener. Does anyone actually still use these?

And here is my absolute favorite item in the purse. One, unopened, perfectly preserved stick of Beech-Nut gum. 

One pair of vintage bifocals.

I really love that they just folded up her glasses and stuck them in the purse. There is something so sweet and personal about holding someone’s glasses for them. It almost feels like an honor. Someone really trusts you if they hand you their glasses for safekeeping. And there is something heartbreaking about folding up someone’s glasses for the last time and putting them away.

Here I am wearing them. Rollie and Tills both had to try them on and we all did our best schoolmarm impersonations. (Ignore my hair frizz. I just ran.) See any resemblance to the photo of Mary Etta below?

Mary Etta Richardson Butler. October 1888-December 1959. Buried at Hillcrest Cemetery, Savannah, GA. (I guess this photo was probably taken at the Stevenson Ave. house. The house is long gone, I think.)


I guess maybe I will start digging through these boxes as I put them back in the basement after the renovation. I am guessing there might be some related posts in the next few months. History nerds unite. Everyone else just stop reading for a while.

What are you gonna do when you’re dead?

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012


The kids and I were driving home from QT (Yes, Todd, i returned the movie!) and we had the following discussion:

Rollie: “Mom, what are you going to do when you’re dead?”

Me: “Um. . what?”

Rollie: “Like, are you going to go under a tombstone in the ground. Or are you going to let your family burn your skin, so they can keep your ashes? Or are you going to give your body to scientists to use?”

Me: “Uh, I don’t really know yet, baby. Daddy and I have talked about it a little.”

Rollie: “Daddy wants to have his family burn his skin and keep the ashes.”

Me: “You realize that they burn the entire body? But the body is just a vessel for the soul while it is on earth, so it isn’t in the body anymore, so it doesn’t hurt. Because you’re dead.”

I look in the rear view mirror: Rollie and Tiller are staring back at me in the mirror.

Tiller: “So, what does Mr. Poole* do with the bodies?”

Rollie: “He plays with the skulls.”

Now, there’s a comforting thought.

*Mr. Poole is the school science teacher.

Bedtime Cheer: Discussions of Aging and Death

Friday, February 12th, 2010

I tucked Tiller in the other night, then went into tuck Rollie in. He was reading a book, with it propped on his legs, and with a pillow behind his head.
“Night baby,” i said.
“Night, mama.”
I kissed him on the head and got a little choked up, thinking about putting him down as a baby, and how much he has grown. Rollie noticed my tears.
“Mama, why are you crying?”
“Because I am so proud of the wonderful little boy you are growing up to be. They are happy tears.”
Rollie made a face that told me that he was a bit skeptical about “happy tears.”
“Mama,” he said, “Don’t worry. I am not going to die for a long time.”

There is something about hearing my child talk about his own death that just chills me to the bone, but I don’t let them see that.
“I know that baby. Most children end up living long lives.” I’m not going to totally shield them from the harsh realities of life, either.
I kissed him again, and gave him a hug an walked towards his door.
“Yes, Rollie. . .” I turned towards him, expecting the usual, “i need a glass of water/potty/medicine” stalling tactics.
“Mama, one day i will have kids and you will be a grandma.”

Boy, kid, you really know how to cheer a girl up at bedtime.

Don’t Puppydog It

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

I have been putting this off. Every day since Pop died, I have thought about the fact that I haven’t written about it, and I have put it off another day. It has kept me up at night. Some nights it has almost made me sick. I know that it is normal to have some kind of delayed reaction to grief, and for grief to come to me in phases is normal. But I don’t think that is the problem.

Don’t Puppydog It.

That’s what Pop used to say to me when I was learning to hammer nails. Don’t Puppydog It. It meant that you needed to aim true, hit the nail on the head, not miss and hit the wood around the nail, causing indentations where the hammer head hit. A few indentations around the nail gives the appearance of a dog’s footprint. Don’t Puppydog it means “take pride in your work.” You didn’t want to Puppy Dog it when Pop was watching. You didn’t want to hear, “You’re puppydoggin’ it!” in an exasperated voice.

And I think the reason that I haven’t wanted to write this is that I don’t want to PuppyDog it. But I also know that fear of failure is almost always worse than the doing of that thing. So here goes.

I’ve written quite a lot about Pop here on Dogwood Girl.

I wrote about him and Matilda and their bonding and his strange depression-era ways. I wrote about him reading a post I wrote on his 90th birthday. My Mom printed it out so he could read it, and he thought it was his obituary. I wrote about my heavy-hearted drive down to Warner Robins the day before Pop died. And on the day that died, this is all I could muster.

But there is more to say. I loved Pop, and as a child, I probably respected him more than my other Grandparents. I think I thought he was perfect back then. Of course, we grow up, and we learn that people are not perfect and that sometimes the people who seem perfect are the ones that are trying the hardest to cover up that they aren’t perfect. Pop wasn’t perfect. He was vain and stingy. He desperately wanted people to like him, I see now, but most people just thought he was the nicest old man they had ever met. But he could be hardest on those closest to him. He would sometimes share with friends and neighbors what he never would have shared with his own family. In later years, when I had children (and the new perspective that children bring to life), I still vacillated between anger at his disapproval, his inability to show pride and approval to my father, his tight-fistedness, and forgiveness for his ways; After all, he had never had a mother and father to teach him about right and wrong and trusting others, and to demonstrate love. He had an Uncle who beat him, and an Aunt who surely loved him, but had a son of her own and two other nephews to care for also, in a time when women were surely not able to speak up about things like unfairness to an orphaned child taken into the family.

Words of kindness from my Grandfather carried more weight with my family than those from other folks. As a child, when I left my Grandparents’ house, my Grandfather would stand rigid when I threw my arms around him for a hug. I would hug him. He would uncomfortably pat me on the back or head. He would say, “Stay off Dope” instead of “I love you.” I still remember the first time he wrote “Love, Pops,” instead of just “Pops,” on a card.

There were good things, though – he was not all cold and thrifty. He and Grandma gave us Hope Chests. I think that these used to be for a girl to keep things she made or was given, to take with her when she got married: Linens, china, silver, etc. I am not sure, because all I ever kept in mine was junk from childhood – Dead flowers from high school boys, my diploma and cap and gown, my Varsity letter, adoption dolls and Madame Alexander dolls, class photos, costume jewelry, and the blue and white blanket my grandmother crocheted for me. Very little of this would actually be useful in a marriage, and I am sure Todd thanks his lucky stars that I brought this trunk full of junk to our holy union; Every man needs a wife who keeps her baby Snoopy stuffed animal from second grade, her childhood diary, and every note ever written to her by stupid schoolgirls from 7th through 10th grade.

One year, Pop gave us a doll case. It was a handmade, wooden case, painted blue, with quilted material inside in a floral pattern. Tiller has it now and it still spills out the Barbies of my childhood. (My sister and I still want to ditch the kids one Friday night, open a bottle of wine, and play Barbies.) Another gift was a girly gilt mirrored tray, with matching brush and hand mirror. I did not keep mine, but kind of wish I had, despite the fact that I can imagine exactly what Todd’s face would look like if I brought it into my house today.

One Christmas in Alpharetta, my sister and I got a Barbie Dream House. I remember Pop and Daddy trying to put the damn thing together, and I was telling them how to do that. I did that a lot. One of their favorite stories is of me, at about age five, telling them how they should cut down the fallen pine trees on our house and porch, after the 1978 ice storm. I think of that every time one of my children tries to direct me or Todd in a task today. Kids are funny – they really do think they know how to do everything!

My other memories of Grandma and Pop were mostly of their house or the Lake. We would be at the lake for a weekend and after breakfast on a Saturday morning, Grandma would get dressed to “Go to town.” This involved putting together a well-matched ensemble of pantsuit, fancy polyester dress shirt of some sort, with corresponding matching jewelry: A necklace, “earbobs,” and a pin (she said it kind of like “peon”) which was a brooch. She would put on her lipstick and her powder and then we girls (her and Lisa and Me and sometimes Mom) would go to the Milledgeville or Houston Mall, where we would walk around and look at stuff, usually in Belk’s. By the time we got home, i would be rarin’ to go outside and hang out with Dad and Pop.

In my mind’s eye, it is cool, maybe Fall. I am wearing a navy windbreaker, with Garanimals, probably the pants are plaid, and a solid red or blue ribbed turtleneck. I am pony-tailed, and wearing Zips. I am tagging along with my dad and Pop. I am maybe six. I am the Gofer. “Mouse, fetch that bowsaw,” Dad would say. Or Phillips screwdiver. Or awl. Move that sawhorse. Get that level. Hold this piece of wood. One time, I was holding wood while Pop sawed it. The saw skipped and caught me across the finger. I was bleeding. Pop told me to hold the wood while he finished cutting and then we would go in and get Grandma to look at it. That’s how Pop was sometimes – Unsympathetic. Cold. When I catch myself being this way with my kids, telling them to “suck it up,” I try to remember that it’s okay to teach your kids to be tough, and to stick things out, but not to be unfeeling about it.

But I loved being a kid and hanging out with them, and learning to mix cement, or measure wood, or build stairs. And sometimes, after we worked, we fished, and I remember learning to clean fish with him and Dad. Or we would walk around the yard, surveying our day’s work, and Pop would point out little things for me to do, like trimming a shrub, or digging up a stump, or deadheading something, or digging up potatoes. Pop never sat still. Even when he did sit, I can remember him sitting in the middle of the grass, pulling weeds, using a pocket knife to get the stubborn ones. He would always have a pocket-knife in his pocket, for pulling weeds, or cutting electrical tape, or sharpening a pencil, or paring a pear, or cutting up meat for the dog, or cleaning dirt out from under his nails. I have his old Case pocket-knife now, and I used it a few weeks after he died to cut a piece of carpet, and then I cried. That’s the only time I’ve cried over Pop. I was like that when both Grandmas died, too. I cried over Grandma Smith when I found bottles of Early Times in her closet at Mom and Dad’s house.

I used to love to walk around the yard with Pop, him pointing out the names of plants and shrubs and trees. I owe my love of growing things to Pop. I think of him, wearing his pants and long sleeve shirts even in the dead of Summer, every time I walk around and look at the things growing in my yard. I think of being in the yard at the lake one weekend during college, wearing his old flannel work shirt, and a pair of cut-off jeans with tights and Doc Martens. He laughed in a kids-these-days way, and shook his head and told me, “We never cut up our dungarees like that.” He eyed my boots. “Those look like sturdy brogans.”

Pop started slowing down a lot in the last ten years. He didn’t go to the lake anymore. He stopped saving bread for the birds. (He still saved leftovers mom and dad brought for him in styrofoam takeout containers on the stove. There was a learning curve for Todd and the kids, where they had to learn that if pop offered you food, you probably shouldn’t take it unless it was pre-packaged. Fried chicken on the stove could have been there for a week or more.) He got to where he would only eat certain things. Canned baked beans (cold), Vienna sausages from the Dollar Store, a cereal bar, homemade pimento cheese, and some diet soda. (Generic store brand, of course, like Big K.) I am not kidding – he almost lived off this stuff for the last five years of his life.

He also got to where he would tell the same stories, over and over. Even todd could recite them: When forgetful, he would say that he “needed to download new software.” He thought it was funny when I yawned and made a loud yawning noise. He would say, “Well, you don’t have to holler!” after my yawn. He would tell a story about him telling Grandma that he was going to write a book one day when he got to be an old man. She would retort: “You’re an old man now!” He thought that was the funniest thing. He would say, “meer” instead of “come here” to the dog. He called Grandma “Ezlynn” instead of Evelyn sometimes. And she called him “The Goat Man.” “Ooooweeee! You look like the goat man, she’d say to us, when we came in muddy or dirty.” Pop and Aunt Lena Mae, his sister, and i were the three Goat men. We were the ones who always got the messiest, although sometimes Aunt Lessie was a goat man, too. Or my Daddy. I think people think Lisa and I are nuts when we use the term Goat man, but it is forever part of my vocabulary. I got my Goatmanishness from my Pop.

We knew Pop was dying. It was slow. He went from the hospital to the hospice. He was there a couple of weeks. They were about to send him home, because he wouldn’t eat, and he wouldn’t rouse, but he wouldn’t die either. Mom and Dad were freaking out about how they would care for him. And then he seemed to take a turn for the worse, almost as if he knew that going home would cost a pretty penny for his family, and he wasn’t going to waste that money on extra dying time!

On the 4th of July, Todd and I took the kids to fireworks at Chamblee. I remember looking up at them, looking over at the wonder on my children’s faces at the fireworks, remembering another time – one of my most precious memories of my Grandma Palmer – that I watched fireworks with her on Tybee, tears rolling down her cheeks. She had alzheimer’s by then, and I thought she was crying over the beauty of the fireworks. And she was, but when they were over, she turned to me, still crying tears of happiness, and said, “I haven’t ever seen fireworks before!” Of course, she had, but she didn’t remember that.

I sat on the blanket at Chamblee, and I realized tears were rolling down my own cheeks. Partly for the love of my children and their sense of wonder and the thought of their whole lives ahead of them. Partly knowing that an era in my life was gone, a whole generation was dying with the coming death of my grandfather. I was not long for the world as a girl with Grandparents. I was becoming more a mother, and a daughter, and a wife. In the big picture, the passing of my last grandparent signaled that the next generation was my own Mother and Father. It signaled that I was taking my parents’ place in the world. I was 37 years old, watching fireworks, and i was not a child myself, no matter how much i still felt like one.

I drove down that Sunday, July 5th. I went to Hospice in Perry, GA. My father, still recovering from heart surgery, could not stay. My sister and I spent the night with my grandfather, and we all thought that he would go that night. He didn’t. His breathing came shallow, but it marched on through the night.

In the morning, Lisa went home to mom and dad’s to take a shower. I stayed with Pop. I held his hand and read a book. I don’t know if he knew i was there.

Mom and Lisa came back late morning. Mom went outside and Lisa read aloud to Pop from the bible. She went outside with Mom

I was alone with Pop.

I had read in the literature that hospice gives to families that sometimes people who are dying will “hang on” out of some sort of obligation to their family, and that they need to be told it is okay to let go. It almost seemed that was what was going on with Pop. Or maybe, as we had joked a million times, he really didn’t want to leave his savings behind.

But to tell someone that it is okay to let go? He had been on this earth for 93 years. Almost a century. I had been here barely over a third of that time. Who was I to tell him how to die, if it was okay to let go? It just felt so . . . presumptuous. But I knew that it had to be said. Somehow I knew that was what he was waiting for. He was a complete control freak in life, and he needed to know that he could relinquish control.

I am a person who spends too much time thinking. Too much time typing and writing. I do not tend to voice my feelings aloud. I will tell you what I think of YOUR problem, or if I don’t like someone, i will say so. But I rarely say the big things, the heavy things, the things that will really hurt someone I care about. Spoken words have so much power for things that are so impermanent. You speak a word, and it disappears at once into the ether, but the echo of it carries on in your head after it is spoken. I have always struggled with voicing the difficult things aloud.

I sat in that room with my Grandfather, and I talked to him. I told him I loved him. I told him he had lived a good life and that he should be proud of all the things that he accomplished in his life. I told him that if his parents had lived to see him become a man, they would have been so proud of him. I told him that he was a good husband, and a good father. I told him he was a wonderful Grandfather and that I loved learning about plants and work from him, and that the moments I spent traipsing around the yard with him, getting dirty, were invaluable to me, and that one day i hoped to do the same with my own grandchildren, and that I would tell them all about him.

I told him that it was okay for him to go, that when he got to heaven, he would get to see Grandma again, and all of his siblings who passed before him, and that he would finally get to be with his parents again. I told him that Princess and Tiny, his dogs, would be there, too and would be so happy to see him, and Princess would run in wide circles around him like she did as a puppy.

I told him that we would meet him there some day, too. I don’t know if we will meet him there, but i said it anyway. Excepting possibly saying “I do” on my wedding day, or the first time I said my children’s names aloud while gazing into their brand new faces, these were the most important and heavy words that I have ever said to another person.

I sensed the peace that came over him, that came into the room. Or maybe it just came over me. I sat with him in silence after that, holding his hand, until mom, Dad, and Lisa came back in.

I left to go home and change, and get some lunch with Dad. Dad had left and “said goodbye” to Pop, and he did not want to go back to the hospital. We knew it would not be long, though, and I could tell that Dad was torn – part of him did not want to be with Pop when he died. Part of him felt he should be there. He grappled with it all during lunch. I finally told him that I was going back, and that I wanted to be there, and that everyone understood if he didn’t want to be there. He looked almost like a child as he struggled with whether or not he should go. I could tell that he wanted someone to tell him what to do, but I knew that I couldn’t tell him, and he had to decide himself.

I told him i was going and could drop him off at the house, or he could go back to Perry with me. He decided to go.

When we got there, it was apparent that Pop was letting go. We sat with him, watching his breathing, in and out, like a terrible ticking clock. Then, the nurses needed to check on Pop, and we all moved to the family waiting room, which is so nice, it’s like a parlor – Couches and a television, coffee tables with magazine and flowers, and clean bathrooms with brass fixtures.

The nurses came in and said that we better come back in. Dad went in, and he was near to losing it, I could tell, as if he was an animal trapped in a snare and he was starting to panic. In the end, he could not stay till the end. He had to leave. I thought of that scene in Steel Magnolias where the men just can’t take it and have to leave the room while Julia kicks it.

In the end, it was me, and lisa, each of us sitting with Pop. Mom was in the room, sitting on the couch, and leaving the hand-holding to us. I sat on his right, and held his right hand. Lisa stood on his left. We talked him out of this world, whispering that we loved him, stroking his head, holding his hands. It seemed that he was not in any pain when he went. He was peaceful. And somehow I felt at peace, too.

I kissed his forehead. I said goodbye.

Afterwards, we collected his things, things with an owner no more. A person can be dead and still have shoes, and you look at the shoes like they are out of place, and all the while, those shoes are screaming, “I am Walter’s shoes!” Lisa and mom got some papers and things, and i sat out on the picnic table and looked up at the sunny sky, a sky over a world with no more Pop in it.

That was back in June. I started writing this in July or August and just couldn’t quite finish it. I would work on it, and then get to missing Pop, and missing the feeling that I had a grandparent still with me, and I would put it away to finish later.

But I knew I had to finish it this year, that I owed it to Pop, and to myself, to get it all down, so that I would remember it all. Pop, I hope I got this right.

I hope I didn’t puppydog it.

And some photos of Pop’s life:

He never met him, but Pop’s grandfather, Hartwell Hamby Palmer served in the Civil War for North Carolina. What a strange link to what seems so far in the past.

And Pop’s mother’s father, John Thomas Knowles, served too, with Pop’s great-grandfather, Benager Birdsong Knowles. They served for Georgia. John Thomas Knowles is pictured below, with Pop’s grandmother, Sarah Patience Hood Knowles.
Sarah died when Pop was a teen, and I asked Pop if he remembered her, but his memory was gone by that time, and he couldn’t. If you still have grandparents around, ask them everything they can remember about the old folks who were around when they were children. I wish I had asked so many more questions of my grandparents!

This was Pop’s father, John Lewis Palmer.

And his mother, Ludie Margaret Knowles Palmer:

And Pop with his siblings at their home in Broxton, Coffee County, GA.
Palmer Children, About 1918
Pop is the baby. Not pictured is the youngest sibling, Carl, or their older half-siblings, Leta Estelle Palmer and Curtis Lee Palmer. This was not long before Pop’s parents died. A relative told Dad that someone bought this old house and is renovating it.

Pop, probably around the time of his high school graduation, Martha Berry School for Boys, Rome, Georgia. 1930s. Pop left the home of his Aunt and Uncle, Wiley Byrd, and Bettie Knowles Byrd, for Berry at age 11. He took the train from Jeff Davis County, Georgia, to Rome to go to school there and stayed until his graduation. He heard about the school from a traveling preacher who visited the farm in Jeff Davis.

Pop and a friend, playing in the snow at North Georgia Military College, Dahlonega, Georgia. 1930s.

Pop, his brother Carl, and a friend, hopping a train. I doubt they were really riding the trains, but the picture makes me laugh at its playfulness. 1930s.
1930s_WalterWoodrowPalmer 002
Pop and Grandma on their honeymoon.

Pop and Dad. Savannah, Georgia, about 1943.

Pop and Grandma at Mom and Dad’s wedding. June 21, 1969.

My mom with her mom, Vivian Dunstan Smith, and Pop and Grandma. 1969, the year my parents married.


Pop, Grandma, and Grandma’s sister, Aunt Lessie (center), cleaning fish in FL. c. 1973

Pop, with beard. 1976. He grew it out as part of the Mason’s celebrating the Bicentennial.
Bicentennial Man, 1976

Pop with Me, Lisa, Dad, and Grandma. Christmas, 1980s.
Don’t hate me because I had a pink E.T. shirt and you didn’t.

Me and Pop, sitting on the couch in Roswell. Christmas, some time in the early 90s. I didn’t just post this because it shows you that I used to be a waif, but also because you get a good glimpse of Pop giving me the “Kids these days” look. And I was a waif. Not sure what i was doing with my hair here. Must have gotten crazy and chopped it off and died it black.

Pop with me and the kids. God, I forgot how cute Rollie was at this age! Pretty special to have so many pictures of them with their great-grandfather. I hope that they will remember him, but i doubt it.
Pop, Me, and the Kids

I think this was my longest post ever. Hope you don’t feel like you wasted your time if you got this far. Thanks for reading.

I still love you, Pops!

Dead Men I Crush On

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

I’ve always had a bit of a crush on Lord Byron. (I think this is pretty normal for literature lovers, male AND female,) and so I really enjoyed this short NPR piece on his letters to a friend in the clergy.

Who wouldn’t be drawn like moth to a flame to a man whom a lover referred to as “Mad, bad, and dangerous to know?” And a man who called his contemporary poet, William Wordsworth, “Turdsworth.”

Love him. I also kind of crush on Thomas Jefferson and Abe Lincoln. Yep, i said it. Abe Lincoln. Hot. Clark Gable.

Do you have any dead crushes? And James Dean is boring and so done.

For Roswell, and for Spanky. RIP.

Friday, September 11th, 2009

A friend of mine is being buried today. I could not make the funeral and I am sad about that. I know that there are others who couldn’t make it either, but that we are all there in thought and, some of us, in prayer.

Charles (we all called him “Spanky”) was not a close friend, but he was a friend, nonetheless. He was a boy who was in my classes. He was a boy who was at parties, who gave great hugs, had a big heart, and was quick to laugh. Charles’ laugh was so distinctive that I can still hear it in my head, clear as a bell. After twenty years, I can still hear his laugh like it was yesterday.

Last Saturday, Charles shot his father, and then he shot himself. The grief one feels over a friend killing themselves is overwhelming. The grief of knowing that someone you cared about took a life, much less the life of someone so close to them. . . that grief is almost unbearable. It makes you want to sleep to escape the thought of it. It makes you want to climb right out of your own skin to stop feeling it. You don’t want to imagine the grief of a mother, a sister suffering the pain of such a loss. And yet you cannot get away from it. It permeates everything.

You try not to think about it, but you can’t stop. It keeps you up at night, wondering how it turned out this way. You think, here I am, with my loving husband, my wonderful children, and my happy home. Here I am twenty years later (a blink of an eye, really) and where did Charles go? What happened to him in the last twenty years?

I cannot reconcile the boy I knew with the picture in my head of the man he became.

I have thought of it hourly for the last five days. I have wondered how it was him that ended up with an addiction. There were so many of us, and so many of us did more than we should have, and what made him the victim of addiction? It could have been any of us. “There but for the Grace of God go I” is on a loop in my head this week. I have thought about God, and heaven, and forgiveness. I have thought about whether there is an afterlife, and if it is punitive, or if it is a place where we all will find forgiveness, solace, and peace. I came up with no answers, save one: We are all so intertwined.

When I think of the community I came from, one that is grieving from top to bottom, one that was touched in so many ways by this one family, I know this: We are all intertwined. The things we do have an impact. Sometimes that impact is not seen until we lose a piece of ourselves. And then it breaks down and we are so very aware of the gaping holes in our lives. This one boy with the unique laugh was a friend to so many of us. He was a son, a brother, a cousin. And his loss and the loss of his father are felt so very strongly by one community today. The one thing I know is that we are all stronger for having known one another and that each and every one of us can never forget that we hold those that love us in the palms of our hands.

This is for the town that I have scorned. The town that has changed so much over the years and which I was so glad to have left. But that town is not just growth and development and a homogeneous population. It is the town where I grew up. It is a community, no matter how far flung we all our now; Deep down, we are still those kids that walked to school through an old cemetery to sit in run-down classrooms together. We are church groups, and football teams, and kids who sneaked into neighborhood pools together. We fought at the water tower. We are a bunch of kids in the McDonald’s parking lot on a Friday night, waiting to see where the party would be that night.

This is for Roswell, a community that lost two of her own this week, and who is the lesser for the loss, but the greater for having known each other.

Another friend sent me the lyrics to this song. I have heard from distraught friends all week long. It has hurt my heart, but reminded me that I came from somewhere, that we all came from the same place. That when one of us hurts, we all hurt.

Adapted from the Will Oldham song.

Adapted from the Will Oldham song.

And the original:

Best Month EVER!

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

If you read Dogwood Girl very often, you know my summer has sucked ass, pretty much from the end of May (Dad had heart surgery), into June (Pop went downhill fast and was in hospice), into a fucking awful July (Pop died), and then in August, I had a little cancer scare, which I haven’t talked about, but will now. Suspicious moles: Itchy and multiple colors. Fast-growing. Had them biopsied, and thankfully they were benign. Turning a new leaf, perhaps, on the luck front? I think so.

First i read that my fave series of forever is releasing the next book on Sept. 22nd. Then i found out that a good friend is expecting (Shhhh . . . it’s a secret!). Another friend had her baby boy Monday night. (Welcome, Miles!) And then this morning, I happened to come across a blog post from the author of the Gentleman Bastards series and he posted a REALLY LONG prologue excerpt to his next book!

And then there’s the fact that the kids are both in school from 9-12 three days a week. That is just enough of a break to keep me from selling them on the black market. And lots of time to play Bejeweled Blitz with my copilot sitting next to me.


I am in heaven. And feeling DAMN lucky.

One Week Left of Summer

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

I cannot believe how fast this summer has gone. It has been a rough one, with Daddy having surgery, and Pop passing away, and Todd working a ton (a good thing) and me worrying about all my family.

And now it is almost over. I feel like I got nothing accomplished. I vacillated between worry, and exhaustion from travel, and insomnia and occasional moments of fun with friends and family, trying to blow off a little steam. I took great comfort in watching my garden grow, feeling the passing of time, and knowing that it was natural to watch things get bigger and ripen, knowing some would be lost to disease or bugs.

I didn’t write, blog, or work on house renovations as much as I would have liked. (Okay, didn’t work on renovations at all.)

I am looking forward to fall, though. Moving on, getting some distance from the events of the summer, the kids on a regularish schedule. This is my life, and I need to get back to living it, and feeling less like a passenger on an out-of-control roller coaster.

And football. Time and tide and football wait for no woman.


Sunday, July 12th, 2009

Maybe there is a greater power at work. Kids are a balm for grief. No one with young kids has time to sit around and ponder what it was like to hold a loved one’s hand as he took his last shallow breath, exhaled, and departed this world. Sure, it comes to you in flashes, but you don’t have time to really process it.

I know I will, though. It will catch up with me, and I will wrestle with it.

Small as a wish in a well

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

Walter Woodrow Palmer
Born January 5th, 1916
Died July 6, 2009

Rest in peace, Pops. I love you.

This song is sticking with me this morning.

Iron & Wine
Sodom, South Georgia