Too much stuff!

Savannah Morning News

Sunday, April 3, 2016

There. I did it. (Maybe.) I threw away three dishtowels, three nasty, stained, discolored towels. The favorite came from Hay-On-Wye, the little town in Wales with all the bookstores, a towel that unfortunately acquired a major pen stain early on, blue, a smudge that never washed out. I kept the towel because it reminded me of that town’s name, a pretty extraordinary place if you’re ever in the neighborhood. We need memory nudges, right? But now we have our other brain, the Internet, aka Wikipedia, so I don’t really need to keep that grubby towel though it was a nice piece of linen and it brought me back to the day we almost threw the GPS out the window of our rented car, so frustrated were we. There are no road signs in Wales, no way to know what county you’re in or how to spell it. Anyway, everything looks different when you’re driving on the “wrong” side of the road, which is where the steering wheel sits – on the “wrong side” of the front seat.

The other towel came from Sicily. It had a lovely map as well but it too came down with a nasty case of the stains, probably from wiping the floor when someone accidentally stepped in the dog’s water bowl (nothing worse) because that’s what happens when you don’t keep paper towels and the doorframe is so narrow. I don’t really need to be reminded I was in Sicily, not when I can think of arincinis, those steamy rice balls (or potato croquettes) or that hearty red wine, nero d’avola, a variety you can buy most places in the States though it always seems to taste better there.

The other towel, decorated with chickens because when you have chickens (or rabbits or Chihuahuas or elephants) or anything else you might live with because that’s what people bearing gifts think to give, it must have been used to wipe a wet dog or dirty shoes. Can you say foul? Gross? All of the above.

But who wants matching kitchen towels or matching anything? I always say matching is overrated until I’m in someone else’s house and see all white kitchen towels. Then I have matching envy, which is akin to envy for negative space. But maybe the towels were rented for the wedding we were attending, just like the wine glasses and the water glasses. They matched too.

But what about single earrings, wonderful, fabulous single earrings, where one may have slipped off in a restaurant when you took a coat off or maybe it slid down a drain that didn’t have one of those thingeys? What do you do then? Just abandon the remaining beauty? That seems kind of harsh. One friend from Chicago said she knows a jeweler/artist who has a “lost earring” party where she claims to be able to design a necklace to accommodate the lone gem. A few months ago I lost an earring in a theater in Atlanta. My host, determined to find it, took a picture of the second earring, which had repurposed the inside of a watch, workings and all, and sent it to the house manager.

“I have it,” he texted back. A month later the errant earring came in the mail. Round? Yes. Small? Yes. But no watch workings. Close but no cigar. If someone did find the other earring I wonder what she or he is pairing it up with. Me? I’m wearing them together.

Who needs matching?

 

Whenever I walk into a particularly neat house I always ask the same thing, “But where’s your stuff? Where are your stacks of papers, unread magazines, unpaid bills, multiple pairs of glasses? Where are your rags?” The answer is always the same: stashed away in a drawer until company leaves.

It’s a fulltime job keeping up with all the new stuff that makes its way into a house. That’s why small houses are sometimes better. There’s only so much the four walls can accommodate. That’s why storage units are not better. In my life it’s constant editing. Deleting. Expunging. Fighting nostalgia.

Like those dishtowels. Full confession: they’re still in the passenger side of my truck. I haven’t let go of them yet.

 

 

At 95, she’s still a rebel

Savannah Morning News

March 20, 2016

Underneath it all, Mildred White Greear is a poet. She sees things in metaphor. The sound of black families during a lynching? Think of the lowest note a pipe organ can register, she said. Think of a whistle blowing at midnight sending shift workers back to work.

Greear, who lives in Helen, Ga., is 95. She grew up in Mississippi, where lynchings were not uncommon; neither, she added, were the morning-after burnt smells of a cross in the neighborhood, photographs of Klansmen in parades or, as she writes in her collection of poems, “Going into Mississippi Dark, “seeing one white shroud enter my mother’s room and dissolve into my father.”

After saying that, she stops, her long grey hair pulled back into a ponytail, resting on one shoulder, and looks out the large window that faces horses and hills. She’s wearing tight yoga pants and a pink v-neck short-sleeved shirt over some white quilted long underwear. “It’s a heavy memory to have lived through. I know the secret Klan greeting too but I’m not going to say it. No, no. I won’t repeat it.”

Greear is also a newspaper columnist, first at the Gainesville Times, now at the White County News in Cleveland, Ga. That happened by default. In 1953, when a group of reporters came to her door in the country asking about chickens she gave such a long-winded answer – and then after deriding them for not having any women on staff – they gave her the job. The name of her column back then? Chicken copy.

Greear is a fighter and a thinker. “I don’t know when one wakes up or when one’s consciousness starts,” she says, without finishing the thought. But it’s something she ponders.

“I was born in Mississippi but I was born to be a rebel,” she says. “The Chattahoochee outside here used to flow nine feet high; now it’s one foot. The river is not respected, especially when 30,000 people come here on a weekend. Someone flushes in Atlanta and we feel it. I want to tell every tourist to go home, except maybe if they look interesting. Then I might invite them in to have a cup of coffee.”

Which reminds her of something else.

“Have you had a tomato sandwich?” she asks her brown eyes bright and challenging.

The trim woman, surrounded by books, stacks of papers, art, flowers and relatives down the road, is intense but not without a sense of humor or a sense of irony. She hated when loggers “raped the forest” of the long-leafed pine in her home state but not when the timber was used to build the state’s first free library, “which meant I could go there on Sundays to read.”

The classic E.B. White and William Strunk, Jr., book, “The Elements of Style,” sits turned to a page on a footstool.

“Every other year I would give that book to a student,” she said. “The other year it was Gibran’s, ‘The Prophet.’”

Through her husband Philip, a botanist and professor at Shorter College who died in 2012, Mildred learned of Ossabaw Island. “Philip said I must go. We might have a project there. So there I am, at lunch, seated between Sandy West and Alan Patton.”

For years, Philip took students from Shorter College to Ossabaw. By the time he died he was blind and deaf, Mildred said. “He wanted to resign. The board wouldn’t let him. It’s not your eyes or ears we value, it’s your vision.”

Greear herself wears no glasses but her hearing is a challenge.

“If I could hear as well as I can see I’d be perfect,” she said.

For years she taught language arts, in Georgia and in Japan, “but I’m fascinated with math. I love prime numbers and Fibonacci. Once I had to take a physics class. I was so scared but the teacher said, ‘You ask the right questions and I can teach you,’ Now I adore physics. Everything is connected,” which made her think of a column she was writing, one that included the “Sevenfold Amen.” When I inquired she started singing it and tapping her long shapely fingers on the table.

To be sure of the hymn – “when you write for the public you better be right” – she called a Presbyterian minister she knows. And that reminded her of another story involving the same person.

“It was years ago after a horrific earthquake in Pakistan and when I went to bed I said to Philip, ‘What can one person do?’ That night I work up in the middle of the floor and heard the words, ‘Send coats.’ The next morning Philip said, ‘Sounds good to me.’”

So that’s what she did. One month later she and others and the minister collected and sent an 18-wheeler full of coats to Pakistan.

“And do you know, the day before yesterday I got a note from a woman who helped load coats for Pakistan?” she said. “Everything is all tied together. Life is so mysterious. It goes in circles.”