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Here I am

Tonight after dark John and I took the four-legged girls for a fast stroll. As we rounded the corner by Mt. Holly Cemetery, the local ice cream truck went zipping by, lights off and, much to my delight, softly blaring the smooth vocal stylings of Al Green, a hit from 39 years ago before he thought of becoming a Rev.

Here I am, baby.

Normally the ice cream man blares “Turkey in the Straw/Do Your Ears Hang Low” and on occasion makes the dogs howl with the bells and whistles he’s also prone to blast.

But school’s in session now and things are quieter. Ahh, late summer evenings – they can take you right back to high school when Rev. Al first recorded his greatest hits.

Jude’s in first grade this year, speaking of back to school delights, and he’s reading Nancy Drew! How fabulous is that? And how cool that Nancy Drew is unisex these days? Gotta love it.

You’ve also got to love our cute baby girls. We really don’t store them in the dog crate – it just makes an excellent play house when you’re their age. But they’re growing up so quickly.

 

Sylvia and Annabelle hang out in the dog crate. Tess and Zuzu don’t mind.

Annabelle has started calling Pop “Baba!” – usually with the exclamation point included. Precious. At some point “Baba” will morph into “Pop” just as Jude’s “Yah-yee” smoothed into an ever-so-proper “Lolly” as soon as he mastered the “L” sound.

Little Syl is singing – and talking – up a storm; she’s especially fond of singing the “A, B, C” song from Super Why, one of the girls’ favorite educational television shows.

Too much fun.

Life’s simplest pleasures. Here I am; come and get me.

 

Stand back

Sometimes you just have to stand back and look at where you’ve come from to figure out how you got to where you are – and maybe to figure out where you go next. That started running through my head as I read Gregg Allman’s recently released autobiography, My Cross to Bear.  

Liz got it for me for Mother’s Day, and it was totally addicting, if a bit disconcerting to learn that someone who’s played such a huge part of your life is, well, as my friend and fellow Allman Brothers-lover Julia puts it, “a bit dim.”

Maybe he’s substance-addled, though he’s been straight for years now. I really think it’s just that despite fame and fortune (and plenty of misfortune), he’s just a good ole redneck Southern boy.

Whatever – the Brothers are the soundtrack of my youth, at least Live at the Fillmore East and Eat a Peach  and Gregg’s first solo album, Laid Back.  I never had much use for Dickie Betts, who became way too influential after Duane Allman died, though he did write my beloved In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” — which is my daughter-in-law Elizabeth’s ringtone on my phone.

(Allman cuts Betts no slack in the book, but he does explain why such a misfit – in my humble opinion – was an integral part of the band. According to GA, the only way to get Berry Oakley on bass, which to Duane was imperative, was to take Dickie Betts, too, since it meant breaking up their band.)

Liz’s ringtone is Layla, which is what as a teen I planned to name my daughter. Her dad soundly vetoed that, but every time I hear Duane Allman’s amazing opening from my phone, I know it’s my daughter calling. (Yes, Eric Clapton wrote Layla and it’s his song, but Duane Allman made it what it is – unforgettable.)

I’ve gotten some strange looks in stores when I forget to silence my phone, but I’ve also gotten some positive comments and knowing nods.

Julia’s ringtone is the opening bars of Whipping Post, another of my AB faves. I love. love, love my iPhone, but I won’t bore you with my ringtone set list. (Tom Petty’s Breakdown is my default ring. Sorry, I’ll stop there.)

Back to the subject here, which is what you get when you cross an elephant and a rhino: Hell-if-I-know. It’s multifaceted, I guess. A. Life’s influences (mostly music and books in my case). B. Twists and turns, coincidences and synchronicity – here I am in a crazy restoration project house a few blocks over from where my parents lived when I was born, making organic yogurt in my Great-Aunt Opal’s antique heavy pressure cooker pot. I’m a totally southern girl married to a well-traveled man from Washington state, who’s family, as it turns out, was actually from Minden, La., where the Hardy House still stands.

C. Figuring out what you want to be when you grown up. Grandchild 4 is on the way and I’m still not sure. I have so many interests and so little time.

We’ve been marathon-watching seasons of Madmen like, you guessed it; we’re finally caught up for this week’s episode. The point isn’t that we’re lunatics, though some would heartily agree with that assessment. The point is that watching the show makes me think maybe I was right when as a little girl watching Bewitched, I thought Darrin Stevens and Larry Tate had the coolest jobs in the world and that I’d like to go into advertising when I grew up.

I think I’d have loved it and might been good at it.

Ah, well.

My desire to be a back-up singer for Leon Russell or a female Pip was cut short by my absolute lack of vocal talent. But music is in my blood, heart and soul. I’m named after a song. I was nicknamed after a song. My dad was a damned good professional musician for a while, and I wasn’t bad on the piano as a kid. Few things make me happier than good music.

Might have missed a boat there. But I did marry a guy who used to live on a boat and traveling through life with him is a pretty fun ride.

I do know that at this point if someone came to me and said “Laura, my dear, I want to fund you while you pursue your dream career,” why, I’d just up and become a documentarian. A documentarian grandma who travels the world while listening to great music and creating fabulous advertisements for her movies.

And is a regular guest on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Hey, a granny can dream.

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This is not at all where this blog post was supposed to go, but this is where it went. And there’s only one way out at this point, because evidently it could go on and on. I’ll just stop.

The end.

Those were the days

Garth was the boy next door from our earliest days on Blackhawk, one school year ahead of me but only about 11 months older (we were both young for our grades). He quickly became the closest thing I’d have to a brother until my sister married our beloved Paul.

Garth and I were almost 15 and almost 16 in this photo. Dig the shortest of cutoffs hemmed with wide red, white and blue grosgrain ribbon to match my top. Groovy, huh? Not sure what that expression was about.

Not too much time passed before I couldn’t imagine life without him. He was always there, just a few steps away, with a good ear, good advice and a joke of the day. We used to come up with solutions for most of the world’s problems – or our little world, anyway – and he was always willing to listen to the minutiae of whatever adolescent drama I had going on.

Fortunately for Garth, my life was fairly drama-free, but, still, he was always there for me. And he always took my side, even as he might point out the error of my ways.

We always played on the same team in street football, too. I was the quarterback – had a good arm for a girl – but Garth was the brains. He’d call the plays and tell me what to do. I was just the executioner of his moves.

He taught me a lot about football, and for a while I kept up with the pro games. (Wanted to be the first female pro for a while.) So football became another topic of conversation, including what a crush I had on Joe Namath.

We also played some mean ping-pong and street baseball, but mostly I remember and cherish our talks. Soft-spoken, easygoing Garth.

Soft-spoken, easygoing but mischievous Garth – he had a wicked sense of humor and, as the brother I never had, he did his part on occasion to tease me until he really got my goat. And riled my temper.

I only remember two times I got so mad I physically attacked. Once I pinched him on the forearm with my fingernails, which were long and probably painted – pinched so hard it took a plug out. Of course he didn’t let me see him flinch, but it had to have hurt like hell.

Another time I got so mad I ran across the street to the empty lot next to Pam’s house and started throwing smallish rocks at Garth, who stood laughing in the street. The more he laughed, the madder I got and the more accurate my aim became. I can still see him dancing around dodging rocks while alternating laughter with “Ow! Ow!”

Guess that was a little over the top. Sorry, sweetheart. Whatever you teased me about that day really got to me, evidently. Of course I can’t remember what it was.

Once Garth got violent in my defense, bless his loyal heart. I developed rather early and seemingly overnight in the days when boys “knew what caused that,” or thought they did, and it wasn’t charitable toward girls at all. Or chivalrous or the least bit grounded in reality.

People took me for 18 at almost 13, at least from a distance, but that didn’t mean I was anything but a little girl inside.

A boy from a neighboring school with whom Garth went to church came to the Crownovers to visit and evidently that boy applied the “you know what causes that” theory to me in Garth’s presence.

My gentle, brotherlike boy next door gave him a bit of a beat-down and made him take it back. My hero.

I’m glad I wasn’t there to witness it.

As I started dating in earnest, Garth and I had less time to hang out, but we remained close – in proximity, but also in fondness.

(Our proximity was so close that Doyle Crownover, one of the sweetest men you’d ever meet and one of my bosses years later when I taught in the NLR School District, would peek out the bedroom window into our carport when I came home from dates. Most nights ended with “Goodnight, Doyle!”)

The end of Garth’s senior year came sooner than I expected, somehow, and suddenly he was gone out of state for school. A couple of years later, my parents moved from Blackhawk to Wewoka, on the other side of Indian Hills, and that ended even occasionally proximity.

But the fondness is still there and always will be. You never forget the boy next door.

Youngblood

The calendar tells me I’m 56 and any mirror I pass tells me I’m old (from the front or the back, these days), but my music tells me I still have young blood coursing through my veins.

I do believe in rock ’n’ roll and music saves my mortal soul, but time marches on. Look at my babies from last weekend, when Sylvia was baptized at Immaculate Conception. The big kids are mine. The little kids are theirs.

Daughter Liz, son-in-law Brent, Jude and baby Sylvie

Son Ben, daughter-in-law Elizabeth and baby Annabelle

Kind of crazy. But I’m feeling groovy.

There was a time in my life when I’d have wanted to run off with Leon Russell, given the chance. Now he’s an old guy who still has the power to move me to tears in a different way. (And check out John Mayer’s chops as he accompanies the old man. Don’t tell me JMs just a pretty boy, though he is that as well.)

I remember singing at the top of my lungs on my swing set in the backyard in the fourth grade. Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman” had just come out, and I thought there couldn’t be anything better than to have someone say that someday about a grown-up Laura.

“Do Wah Diddy” (Manfred Mann, remember?) was another swing-set bellower from the same time and also dealt with walking down the street. (Seems to have been a theme. I know I wanted to get out of there.)

That’s also the year “A Hard Day’s Night” came out and gave me an extreme reason to live. The first semester of the fourth grade was hellish – we’d moved to El Dorado temporarily and all my friends were back at North Heights in North Little Rock. Right after Christmas, we beat a retreat for home.

In the meantime, music, the Beatles and Bewitched got me through. The exploits of Samantha, Darrin and Endora officially came on after my bedtime, but I’d go to bed, then sneak back up and stand in the hall watching it over the shoulders of Mother and Daddy as they snuggled on the couch.

They had to have known I was there – during commercials, I’d jump back into my room to hide. Mother and Samantha had the same hair, which I thought was very cool. I tried for years to work magic by wiggling my nose.

Even if I could make it work, I don’t think I’d go back in time. I wouldn’t want to stop, stop, stop all the dancing through life, no matter what. Back then, I couldn’t wait to grow up to be a long cool woman in a black dress.

Never made that – stalled out at 5 ft. 4 in., but I did grow up to be a “Green-eyed Lady,” just as I used to go to bed listening to that song by Sugarloaf.

Things are pretty great these days, all in all. Music just makes life grander for me. Makes me feel like I’m driving Carl Perkin’s Cadillac. (And you thought this was just about oldies. No way, Jose.)

Do you know what I mean?

The extended family. Lolly in leopard-print is in the background. I AM old! Oh, well …

Carry that weight

When faced with the prospect of replacing a 30+year-old crown and not knowing what might lurk underneath, it helps when your dentist is also your friend. That’s how today started, bright and early with groggy me in perky Shirley’s chair.

That would be Shirley Reid, dentist supreme, and great person to have in my life.

I took a textbook, thinking I could read in the waiting stretches, and thought I’d use the grinding, smoking, molding, etc. time to plan, in my head, the presentation I have to give tomorrow night on the policy paper that had me in tatters last week.

I had just decided how to start the talk when Shirley offered me her iPod to drown out the sounds of the grinding.

Of course I said yes. She cued it up to “Abbey Road” for me. All thoughts of school or anything present went out of my head. The Beatles can always help me carry a weight. And take me back in time. “Abbey Road” takes me back to my ninth-grade year. 

It also takes me back to Tom Bennewise, the first love of my life, whom I met at the Indian Hills pool the summer after the ninth grade. Tom was one of the smartest people I ever knew. Sadly, past tense is correct; he died in February at 57.

His mother made us break up shortly after we passed the one year mark because I wasn’t Catholic. Now both of my children are married to Catholics. Hmmm. And my daughter lives in Indian Hills. Hmmm.

Back to the Beatles and “Abbey Road.” I relaxed (as much as possible in such a tense situation) and let the music take me away. Still knew every note, every word and every song that would come next.

I’m always amazed, when I really concentrate on the individual instruments, at how great the Beatles were. And how under-rated Ringo Starr is. His drumming is impeccable. And he’s a sweetheart.

I reminisced about sitting on my bed with Cathy, stereo playing loudly and me tutoring/torturing her on which Beatle sang which song. Sorry, Cath – I know it stressed you out when I quizzed you, but it was just so important to know. And aren’t you glad now that I did? (Or do you at least forgive me?)

One of the first things Jude could clearly say was “John, Paul, George and RINGO!” while correctly pointing to each one on my refrigerator magnet. Annabelle and Sylvia love gazing at the faces on the 10th-anniversary Beatles poster in our kitchen.

Though I have no memory of buying the poster (um, it was the ’70s), Mother remembers it hanging in my bedroom. It was a happy surprise when I found it in our attic years later.

I’ve left that to Brent in my will. He mentioned to Liz it’s the only thing we have that he’d really love to have. Good boy.

Now I’ve got to get back to that presentation on the sad topic of the VA not being prepared for or properly handling the follow-up care of returning Iraq and Afghanistan vets with PTSD and TBI.

But I think I’ll turn on some music. That always lifts me when I’m down.

 

 

Two of us

Sylvie and Annabelle are ready for a walk in their Lolly pink stroller.

Annabelle and Sylvia are preciousness times two. They bring smiles to the faces of everyone who sees them (not just doting Lollies), because, face it, they are major-league cute.

But they have another kind of preciousness, the preciousness of being together and already loving each other at almost 10 months and almost 5 months. They’re developing a bond that can’t be broken. And it’s a wonder to behold.

Annabelle teaches Sylvia how the stuffed doggie works.

Time out for a kiss.

Daughter Liz is staying home with Sylvia and keeping Annabelle, so they get to spend every work day together. Jude gets to help with and bond with the babies when he gets home from kindergarten, too.

We like to match (OK, our mommies like for us to match).

Ben and Elizabeth will be Sylvia’s godparents.

Makes a Lolly very happy – for everybody, but especially for the girls. They remind me of my friends Suzie Ritchie and Karen Kresse Stroud (son-in-law Brent’s stepmother), first cousins born the same year who were best friends for life.

Both came from inordinately large families and had many sibling bonds, but the cousin bond was special.

Olivia books are big hits with the girls.

I know Suzie misses Karen everyday. Many people do.

But how lucky they were to have each other for so long. That’s what we hope and expect for our babygirls.

They’ll always have someone to lean on.

Isn’t it sweet?

Of course you can lean on me.

And aren’t they?

I'll help you carry on.

I saw her standing there

Time is flying. Precious Sylvia is 4 months old today. What joy she brings.

Sylvia is already 4 months old!

And Zuzu’s a year old! Crazy.

Big little Zuzu is 1 year old.

School takes so much time, it’s hard to stop and smell the roses.

Today I did to see the Second City panel discussion at the Clinton School with my friends Dauphne, Julia and Ellen, and I’m ever so glad I did. Got a hug from my friend Bill, too.

I miss my friends. I especially miss my friend Kathy Gray, who’s no longer with us. I miss her constantly. I thought she’d always be here, but multiple myeloma thought otherwise. She’d been part of my life since we were 15 and 16, and no matter how long we’d go between visits, it was always like no time had passed.

She was a forever friend. And always will be.

And of all things, one of the panel members today reminded me ever so much of her. Well, of her brother, which made me think of her. (And she worked at the Rep for years, where Second City is performing, so there was that, too.)

This week I did get to visit with a forever friend I’ve known since I was 12 and she was our Y-Teen sponsor – my high school journalism teacher, Myrna Gail Hopkins. We worked together as journalism teachers, too, at North Little Rock High School, and it was a gas. We have a special bond.

(And I love her. I love all my friends, in case I haven’t told them lately.)

Tuesday it was like no time had passed. In reality, it had been too many years. But that’s how forever friends work.

You’re lucky to have one. I’ve got a few.

I picked out Zuzu with a forever friend, Pam, and my sister, who, even though she’s my sister, is also a forever friend. I’d seen Zuzu’s picture online (before she was Zuzu), but when I saw her standing there with her puppy siblings, my heart went boom.

She came back to Little Rock with Cathy and me, an early Christmas present for John. She was a 10-pound bundle of preciousness.

Now she’s a giant of a girl with growing yet to do. We had her puppy party this evening. She’s a good girl.

Our dogs only wear hats for very special birthdays.

Zuzu took her hat off pretty quickly. Tess is used to it.

Bittersweet me(mories)

It’s taken me a few days to work up to writing about the breakup of REM. Wednesday morning, as I was doing an early morning weights workout, the scroll across the bottom of the screen silently announced the news.

“Oh, NO!”

I startled John, who was engrossed in the news on his computer in the dining room. REM was one of my bucket-list bands. I don’t mean to see before I die – I have a few bands left that, after seeing them, I could conceivably never go to another concert.  (Conceivable? Probably not. But maybe.) Concerts bucket list.

Now I can never see them live. But I’m actually OK with it. It’s not that I’m losing my REM religion – but sometime’s it’s wiser to heed Buddy Holly’s advice than to turn into still-touring relics. Rolling Stones, I love you, but a 50-year tour? That’s getting kind of creepy.

I’ll always have the finest worksong to play for the finest of hours. And REM kept me from chewing my leg off when I needed out of a miserable marriage. And helped me have the courage to go for it.

So I’ll settle for my REM collection and knowing that “Automatic for the People” will always be on my 10-desert-island-albums list. 

I’ll always miss you and be grateful for your assistance through some rough spots in life.   RIP, REM.

xxxxx,

Laura

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Speaking of Top 10s (the desert-island list), how do you choose from a lifetime (a looonnnggg lifetime) of music?

“The Allman Brothers Live at the Fillmore East” is a no-brainer. Has been since I was 16. 

So is Derek and the Dominos’ “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.” Goes without saying. 

Automatic for the People.” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” “Z.Z. Top’s First Album” (they used to kick ass, trust me).

Crap, halfway there with old stuff. And haven’t even addressed Led Zeppelin. OK, “Houses of the Holy.” What the hell. They’re all good. And there’s that confounded bridge that always makes Liz and me smile.

But any Top 10 list of mine would be heavy on Tom Petty – he is my husband in a parallel universe. (It’s OK, it’s OK. John digs him too.) And my baby boy, Ben, used to beg me to play TP. So he’s got to be there. He could be all 10, actually.

But I guess I could settle for “The Waiting,” if I had to, and “The Traveling Wilburys, Vol.1,” but it would almost kill me to choose. 

Please notice I’m being authentic and true and not copping out with greatest hits or boxed sets. You try it – waaayyyy harder.

Then I’d have to add Mumford & Sons “Sigh No More and The Avett Brothers, probably “Live, Vol. 3.

Shit, that’s it! Can I live with it forever? Maybe. Ask me tomorrow. But probably not – there’s no DMB, and when you’ve gotta hear Dave, you’ve gotta hear Dave. Or Willie. Or Leon Russell. Oh, my.

This won’t do! Ten is not enough. No desert islands for me unless I can bring my iPod Touch with unlimited battery power.

Maybe next time I’ll do an all-girls version. Or an all-Beatles. Or an all-post ’90s. Or an all-boxed-sets. You try it. It’s hard.

What IS your Top 10? I dare you.

I want my, I want my, I want my MTV

I really, really, really need to be doing homework (after a tough session with a Tracey Mallet workout DVD), but after reading the “MTV Is 30” article in the DemGaz, I’ve got to take a few to spew some words.

It makes perfect sense for MTV to hit the big 30; when it debuted, Liz was a 1 ½, Ben was almost 3 and we were a couple of months away from learning my dad was dying of cancer. I was a stay at home mom, and MTV became the soundtrack of our lives.

Martha Quinn, Alan Hunter, Mark Goodman and Nina Blackwood were invited guests into our homes every dat. I still recognize their voices in a heartbeat (even though Nina sounds rather like an old man these days on Sirius Satellite Radio) and regularly listen to Mark Goodman on Spectrum.

(I’ve even been told that I remind someone of Nina Blackwood. Not sure if that’s a good thing or not, but I’ll take it.)

The kids and I were the Three Musketeers and we dug our music. Ben even went through a spell of wanting to be a dancer, and he had some damn good moves for a toddler. He got lots of inspiration from Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire in old movies we’d watch, but most of it came from Michael Jackson, especially in “Thriller.” 

Oddly, that video didn’t scare the kids at all, but Hall and Oates “Maneater” freaked my little boy out. When he’d hear it in the night, he’d get out of bed and come to me for comfort. Funny what kids pick up on.

One of Liz’s favorite videos later turned out to be one of her dance recital songs, Tony Basil’s “Hey Mickey.” MTV spawned lots of one-hit wonders.

Even the commercials were a blast. Star-studdedsuperfun.

I quit watching when it went from all music to all crappy shows, though Beavis and Butthead made for a nice bonding experience with my son and totally cracked us up. Even my stepdad watched it.

Anyway, happy birthday MTV. You brought joy into some dreary days and used to be very cool. Here, in no particular order, are some of our absolute faves from back in the day. (Some have short commercials. Worth the wait.) Enjoy.

Tom Petty’s “Don’t Come Around Here No More”

Travelin’ Wilburys’ “End of the Line

Paul Simon’s “Call Me Al”

George Harrison’s “Got My Mind Set on You”

(Liz’s first love) Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” 

The Go-go’s fab “Vacation”

(Ben’s big crush) Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven Is a Place on Earth”

Two from the girl-power Bangles, “Walk Like an Egyptian” and “Manic Monday”

Rock god Robert Plant’s “Big Log”

My man Huey Lewis’s “If This Is It”

Dire Strait’s “I Want My MTV”

And two from The Cars, who are, happily, back in the saddle again!

“You Might Think I’m Crazy” and “Shake It Up”

OK, I’ve spent way too much time on this, but music soothes my soul. I hope you enjoy the blast from the past as much as I’ve enjoyed creating it.

Now on to the hard stuff. Grad school’s not for sissies.

 

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Girls just want to have fun

Yesterday’s music notes did a disservice to the female rockers out there, so I have to come back to the topic for just a minute. We boomers grew up on such greats as Janis (why did you leave us?) Joplin, Aretha, Bobbie Gentry and the late, great and untouchable Dusty Springfield (no one will ever touch her “Son of a Preacher Man,” though Joan Osborne’s is insanely good).

But again, music didn’t die with our heyday. The ’80s brought Annie Lennox, Cyndi Lauper (who was such an influence that at 4, daughter Liz converted a Barbie to a Cyndi Lauper doll), Pat Benatar (whom Liz chose to be for RnR dress up day at Park Hill Elementary) and grrrlll-power Joan Jett.

But, oh, the ’90s. Sexy/sassy Sheryl Crow. Sparkling Jewel. Growling Joan Osborne. Angry Alanis Morrisette. The beautiful and haunting Sarah McLachlan. The ever-so-fun and in-your-face-topical Dixie Chicks.

Girls rock. Women too. In a big way.

The girls I’m digging today are Adele, who makes me feel “Right as Rain”; Duffy, (“Mercy”!); Florence + the Machine, who have a strange and interesting sound (check out this funky “Not Fade Away”; and Amy (why’d you leave us?) Winehouse. And, of course, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals can keep me up at night listening to her retro groove.

Again, girls rock. And roll.

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But so does my son-in-law Brent, in the local band FreeVerse.

He and the boys gave this mom-in-law a most happy surprise Saturday night at The Afterthought by breaking into a smooth version of Curtis Mayfield’s “Pusherman.” (Awesome guitarwork, Adam.) That doesn’t negate what I’ve said about new music, but it does show that classics never die.

Now if I can just get them to play “What Is Hip?” …