Lois Battle fights her last

Savannah Morning News Sunday column

Sun., Aug. 24, 2014

It was a classic Lois Battle moment. I had gone into a shoe store to return a pair of very expensive “sneakers,” or whatever they’re called these days. They squeaked when I walked. Very annoying. You walk into a room and as soon as you set your foot down, squeak. I tried wrapping duct tape, walking on the side of my shoe. Nothing.

The first time this happened – yes, this was my second go-around with this style – the shoe salesman listened to my lament and said, “Ah, it’s a flaw. You are not the first to complain. But the manufacturers have corrected the problem and we’d be happy to give you another pair.”

Great! The shoes were comfortable. I left happy.

That’s not what happened the second time.

“Can I help you?” another sales person said, his back to me.

“Um, shoes? I’d like to talk shoes?”

“What kind?” he said, his back still to me. He was counting his bank.

“I’d prefer to look at your face if you don’t mind,” I answered.

Pause.

“Look, I’m trying to get out of here. I haven’t had anyone in here in two hours.”

And this is my fault? I thought.

I showed him the shoes, told him the story.

“Have you walked in water?”

“Not deliberately,” I answered. “I try not to walk in water if I can help it, but sometimes it rains.”

“I need the receipt.”

“I don’t have the receipt.”

“What day and month did you buy them?”

“I don’t know.”

“Then I can’t help you.”

I told him my story, again, that I didn’t need the receipt the first time, that I try not to clutter up my life with paper, that it was probably in his computer.

I did not remember when I bought them. Time flies.

The shoes were on sale and he might, just might, be able to give me half price credit.

“You’re still selling those shoes?” I asked. “Like, I’m going to go down that road a third time?”

Eventually they allowed me to trade out the shoes. But it was this kind of inanity that set someone like writer Lois Battle’s teeth on edge. She did not suffer fools gladly.                         Lois and I were good friends. But, as happens, we lost touch. I got busy. She got busy. We drifted apart. Excerpt when you know someone as dynamic and strong as Lois you think you’ll always reunite somehow, somewhere. Then a friend sent me a newspaper story from the Beaufort Gazette, a paper that always landed on the steps of Lois’ Beaufort house on Euhaw, a home she was so proud to own. Lois had died from chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder. Reporter Laura Oberle spoke of Lois’ strong stances, her aversion to the Internet, to credit cards, to cell phones. She wrote of her disillusionment with writing, her well-known battle with alcoholism, her disdain for any formal obituary.

It was a sucker punch.

Lois did not have an easy go. She was demanding and exact. She had high expectations of the world and her own set of personal demons no one else could ever know.

But she was a hoot, the pee-in-your-pants kind of friend who could entertain for hours. She was a writer, a novelist. I met her at Rosemary Daniell’s friendly and inclusive Saturday morning writing group when I first got to town. We became friends. I met her mother. She met my mother. I heard about her sister, Colleen, her nieces, boyfriends and neighbors. I listened in on conversations with her New York editors who wanted to change passages in her novels. I read her books, “Storyville,” “Bed and Breakfast” and “The Florabama Ladies’ Auxiliary and Sewing Circle.”

She was generous. When she’d return from New York City, it would be with packages from Dean & De Luca with the best cheese, the best coffee, the best bagels. To spend the night at her house would be to sleep on the best sheets with the highest thread count. For overnight guests she offered fluffy, thick terrycloth robes; she made the world’s best brisket.

I will remember her large oversize glasses – I think I have a pair – a cracked coffee cup with cats – I have that too – her railings against injustice and stupidity, her perspicacity. I will remember her high standards, her handwriting, her love of family, the way she would hug you so hard it almost hurt, as if she were trying to say something but couldn’t find the words. It’s tough to lose someone like that.

 

 

 

Marching instead of complaining

Savannah Morning News sunday column, Aug. 10, 2014

 

It’s so easy to be cynical and say nothing will ever change, what’s the point of protesting, who is listening anyway, why bother getting up off the couch.

It’s so easy to sit in front of the TV and grouse and grumble, kvetch and carp, fuss and flutter.

It’s so easy to dismiss all manner of news, to stick with your own kind, as that lyric from “West Side Story” says.

Right?

Maybe. But once in a while, if someone else does all the planning (can you say the Sierra Club?), if someone else gets the food and makes the arrangements and foots most of the bill (can you say Michael Bloomberg, the left’s answer to the Koch brothers?), it’s kind of satisfying to “hop on the bus, Gus,” which is exactly what 51 people from Savannah did a few weeks ago in the late-afternoon heat of July when we left our air-conditioned homes, climbed the three steps, said hello to James, the affable driver, found a seat next to a stranger and began the monotonous Interstate 16 trek to Atlanta for the EPA hearings on carbon pollution from power plants.

Of the 51 people, one was 95 years old who lives at Buckingham South, at least two were newcomers to Savannah who had never been to Atlanta, and 20 were from six different nuclear family units, as in mother/daughter, father/son, grandmother/granddaughters, husband/wife. Apparently, people who play together stay together.

We don’t know what will they remember from what turned out to be a blessedly cool day of this, a political march in Georgia. It might be the first time they carried a banner and walked in the middle of a downtown street with the proper permits while people in automobiles and construction workers with jackhammers stopped and stared. It might be the free Ben and Jerry’s ice cream they got if they showed they were in Atlanta for the hearings. It might be, as one bus member said on the trip home, the first time they heard how much global warming – now called climate disruption – is affecting their lives.

Maybe it will be the testimony of a nine-year-old child who walked up to the stage with her father, a fourth-generation coal miner, in front of three EPA officials for their individual five-minute testimonies. The nine-year-old, reading from her paper, spoke clearly about hoping for cleaner waters and better conditions for herself and her family.

Also memorable? The testimony from a small town mayor in Tennessee who gave figures of how many jobs would be lost if the power plants had to follow the proposed limits on carbon pollution and how much money it would cost his city, a dollars and cents plea that was followed by a school counselor who said one in 10 children in Georgia now have asthma and that as far as she was concerned the proposed restrictions did not go far enough, that the savings in lives and health were most important.

Or maybe it will be the speech and presence of Rev. Gerald Durley, a mountain of a man with a doctorate in psychology from the University of Massachusetts who calls climate change – or as he prefers to say ‘environmental justice’ – the new civil rights issue of the day. As a student at Tennessee State University, Durley, 73, marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. when King gave his “I have a dream” speech; allied with union organizers; joined the first wave of Peace Corps volunteers with a two-year stint in Nigeria, and then, when he was not allowed back in the United States “because of my organizing” played in the All-European Basketball League in Switzerland.

Maybe it will be hearing the words of worry from the mother of one of the organizers.

“I’m worried about her,” this woman confided about her able and capable daughter, Yeou Jih, as Yeou corralled the 51 Savannahnians back and forth between the hearings and the rally at Centennial Olympic Park, coordinated with the bus driver, and negotiated in the hotel. “She’s so smart,” her mother said. “She graduated from Emory and Oxford, No. 1, and has a master’s degree in research psychology and is working as a waitress (at Elizabeth on 37) and is now doing this. But what can I do. She told me, ‘Mom, I ‘m happy.’”

We should be happy too. It’s good to see passion. It’s good to see principles over paycheck. Right now, this is where her daughter’s supposed to be. And this is where the rest of us fellow travelers needed to be too.