by Being Diane
New Year's letter, life, past, goals
As I tackle one more year of life I have discovered my resolutions have altered drastically from those I made when I was younger. I think differently like the Bible verse of which Paul writes in I Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child I spoke like a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. “ Now that I am approaching sixty at an alarming rate, I reminisce on the years gone by. I no longer hold on to words that bullied me and I kept sight of the words that mattered so much. I’ve let go of the people who said words without thinking because I no longer care what others think of me. I am my own person and I speak my own mind. How much better would our world be if we would have acquired this way of rational reasoning in our youth? When ask now if I would like to turn back time and go back to my youth, the answer is easy, not unless I can take the years of my wisdom with me.
As I write this letter I have to go to the past because it is there where we acquire our philosophies and thoughts, which contribute significantly to the people we become. Therefore this is not a conventional letter written at New Year’s filled with expectations that can’t possibly be met but more an understanding of the way I feel about life. I intend to continue a New Year with different attitude, one of gratitude. I want to hold on to what I love but let go of material items, which mean nothing to me now. I want to be able to apologize when I am wrong. To control a temper which has gotten me in trouble. It’s hurt on the inside but also has hurt others. I want to be able to look myself in the mirror and like the face looking back at me. Those who have caught me up in their web of lies will not be able to drag me down with them. I am not the same person who is so trusting that I will fall into deception. I don’t know that undeveloped young girl anymore and nor do I want to; I like who I am-full of wisdom and knowledge which only age brings to the table.
I am an only child, only grandchild, and the only niece. I have learned a lot from loss. I uprooted from Detroit, Michigan where I received an abundant education I cherish. I was already writing essays, letters, poetry, and short stories from the age of seven if not to just entertain myself. As I acquire an education I yearned for the country at 17 years of age. When I would vacation in the southern states with my family I loved the pine trees, the silver oaks, ponds and rivers in the south. I adored the smoky mountains and the caves we would explore. The country folk I met were so sincere and immersed with common sense. This became important for me to learn if I was going to suvive in the south. I began reading and studying about Native Americans who could disappear in scared spots in the mountains. This made me questioned many things in our universe. There was so much to exploring to do and being a Lewis and Clark enthusiast I couldn’t get enough. At night there were no streetlights because the sky lite up the country. The thunderstorms so vivid it made me shake with fear. The events, which scared others made such an impression on me but it simply made me feel. I treasured the wild flowers on the side of the road and the simplicity of people throwing up their hand just to say, “hey” something I had to absorb. I thought when I first moved down here my southern friends must have known everyone within a 50-mile radius.
When I left Detroit I never traveled back home. Alabama was my new homeland and I soon knew why my grandmother spoke of Carbon Hill as her dear sweet home. The little coal-mining town of Carbon Hill was bred in me. I could go to the cemetery and find my whole family and generations that passed before me.
It would be hard to find someone who would have known me as a child. I have no family in Michigan and as far as friends I really couldn’t have many. I was put in an awkward position as a young girl because to get a good education my Mother made a deal with the Landlord. Mother would collect the rent and take care of the grounds in return for lower rent and an address in the suburbs so I wouldn’t have to attend the inner city schools. We lived in large 1920’s home, which was divided into 3 apartments. Mother bought me nice clothes and she survived on 3 outfits and her uniforms for her waitress job She began with sole responsibility of collecting rent and when I started the 8th grade at a school far from my Ghetto home; I might add in some of the nicest clothes I ever owned. Many my Grandmother made and some of them I created; I was proud because I had clothes no one else had and they were lovely.
The second to leave Detroit after me was my grandmother in 1973. I don’t think my Mother ever forgave her for what she deemed only as desertion. It was one thing for her child to leave although my Mother and Aunt left home in Carbon Hill. My Mom suffered from being homesick so much when she left the south in the forties. Along with a great migration of southern people headed for the north for jobs. There was many a parent in the south that allowed their children to follow dreams in which was almost considered a foreign country. My family’s dream was of owning a car, having a good job, and a home in the suburbs this was something not obtained in the south. There was very little to do in Carbon Hill except for waitressing, shirt factories, and trailer plants. That was Mother's dream she just didn't take the time to look around and see what the other family member’s wanted of life.
Serene from what I’ve been taught in the north being exposed to the great authors like Dickenson, Emerson, Thoreau and other intellectuals gave me the yearning to learn about a natural environment as Transcendentalism which introduced me to nature and a diverse way of thinking. The freedom the south gave me was a true respect for nature and a simple way of life. My In Laws, both sets, bought only staples like coffee, sugar, tea and flour. The remainder of their food came from the garden, the milk came from the cow, and the meat would come from the hogs and cows raised on the farm. It was amazing how Del, my Mother-in-law managed the farm. She didn’t have time to be sick; work on a farm went on regardless. She made her butter and buttermilk from the cow she milked everyday. Del raised her own food and put it away every year. She even made her own ketchup and she has a garden even though she is legally blind and in her eighties. They lived off the land and didn’t worry about anything but the basics of putting food on the table. I can still remember the big Formica table full of homemade biscuits, fresh green beans, pork chops, sliced tomato’s fresh from the garden, and freshly chopped slaw. The family worked from dust till dawn and still does; maybe that’s the key to a long life. This is a way of life for many southerners and I’ve admired them. I try every year to produce a garden of my dreams but I never quite measure up to others and don’t expect I ever will. The strong-willed people I write about lived during the depression and had a type of determination I’ve never seen in others.
Others knew my Grandmother as a strong woman, able to do anything put in front of her. She possessed a strength that I have never forgotten, not only mentally but also physically. When she crossed her arms you could see the muscle definition. Maw-Maw only went to the 3rd grade but was a left-handed genius. Her days were filled and she never wasted one. She used quotes always and one that really stands out was “busy hands happy heart.” Maw-Maw followed a strict schedule using each day for a specific purpose. She worked hard and she sewed, did beautiful embroidery work, and loved crossword puzzles. She fought breast cancer less than a year. It was a great loss and I was only 18. She was instrumental in the person I am today because she reared me while my Mother worked as a single parent. It was so hard to see her die but to see her suffer was worse. I knew life had to go on but there was still not an urgency to try and complete my life’s tasks. I became depressed and didn’t know it the times were changing.
I didn’t lose anyone else until the year 2002 when I lost my dear, sweet Uncle Grady. He took the place of my absent Father so losing him was hard. He took me everywhere with him when I was a little girl. I remember going to Tiger Stadium and watching the old greats play baseball like Willie Mays! I would sit with him in the stands eating delicious hot dogs, drinking sodas and screaming when the runs was hit. It was such a simple time and Uncle Grady taught me about life. I remember him saying to every beautiful red-haired girl, “Hey you cutie, woodie, honey, ducky, wuckie, baby not mine!” He was such a character and I loved him
Not long after he passed I lost my dear Aunt Jean. She was someone who really taught me to fight at life even in the midst of death because of cancer. I remember one time she had to have a blood transfusion and they told her it was a life or death situation. She replied, “Okay, I’ll make you a deal. I will come back tonight or tomorrow but you are not going to do it right now. The Bingo jackpot is $4500 and I’m going to win it and that’s all there is to it!” She won the jackpot and came back the next morning for the transfusion. Life was important to her but having fun until the very end was more a part of being fulfilled. A couple of years went by her hair fell out she became unhealthy and pale. Aunt Jean had to be hospitalized. We knew it was getting toward the end. The doctor came in and told her she would have to be on dialysis because her kidneys were shutting down. She spritely said to her doctor, “Does that mean I can’t go on the cruise I have planned?”
The doctor looked sadly at her and said, “No, not this time, Imogene.”
Aunt Jean relied, “You mean they don’t have dialysis machines and doctors on cruise ships?” We couldn’t hold our laughter. She gave us a mean look and said, “What’s so funny? Y’all aren’t the ones grounded from going somewhere!”
She lived her life in the moment. When push comes to shove she did the shoving. After her husband died she ask me if she should play the part as a widow. I said to her, “You know I loved Uncle Grady like a Father but I don’t think he would want you to morn because you aren’t young yourself. You need to enjoy yourself.
At one time I felt bad about being illegitimate but through my wisdom I now realize there are no illegitimate children, only illegitimate parents. It used to bother me that my Father really could care less if he had anything to do with me but now I could care less. I’ve realized it is his loss because I know what kind of person I am and she is worthy of more than an absent Father.
Then in 2010 I lost my dear Mother to cancer. She taught me life was short and said, “Diane, if you are going to get something done and leave a print in this life you are going to have to get with the program. No more of this going from job to job seeking; you are a writer and an artist and you have to leave this world with something of substance.” My Mom was a woman of few words and I never forgot this therefore it is this that is my resolution for this year. I am going to stay away from negative people so I can finish my tasks. I will try to be more forgiving of my family because none of us our perfect. In my experience from these four deaths I’ve been taught we don’t have a long lifetime to just dangle along. It’s time to get serious for what is at hand and finish the books I’ve started and write more poetry. It’s time to do hiking with my art journal in my backpack with my watercolors ready to capture the sunset because life is short I don’t have time to waste trying to get into a certain size, to run the marathon, or to bicycle across American. It’s my time to complete another novel and keep trying. If I died tomorrow there would be enough written in my port, around my home, in journals and letters to leave for my children for their enjoyment. Yes, age has changed my resolutions and this has made all the difference for yet another “Dear Me” letter.
Word count: 2,338