Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Police Matters

May 31

I had a matter to take up with the Fairhope police yesterday. Not threatening, but serious -- something I'd as soon gone my whole life without having to do. I know the police chief from a situation of several years ago and I knew what to expect: respect, competence, and maybe even a little action in my favor.

It all took me back to the police force of Fairhope in the 1950's. There were two cops and a chief, as I recall. Ellis Newell, father of my friends Jack and Jerry, was one of the cops. He was a gentle man with innocent blue eyes and a sweet smile. Everybody said he looked too nice ever to arrest anybody. It was kind of a Mayberry situation, with Mickey Johnson as the chief, a nice, redheaded guy pretty much admired by everybody. Who that other officer was I don't recall; maybe a reader will remember and post a comment here.

That it all blew apart when Johnson was found with a garden full of marijuana in his possession is water under the bridge, I suppose. The community was stunned, and I still don't know exactly what happened, except that he paid his debt to society and ended up in a city in the north of the county, working on the police force.

Today's police force is a bunch of brawny guys. The man who helped me fill out a complaint form was conciliatory and kind -- easily 6'3" and 250 lbs. -- blonde, and probably about 40 years old. In short, exactly what you want your local cop to be. He may be the one who stopped me for speeding 15 years ago when I was in a hurry to get from Fairhope to Point Clear for a theatre rehearsal and was doing 65 on that straight road. He reminded me that the limit was 35, and let me off with a warning.

Living in Switzerland, I learned that the most efficient communities have an almost invisible police force, constantly reining people in and keeping the peace by issuing warnings. Almost everything is against the law in Switzerland, and the way it is handled is by a severe, "We'll let you off this time, but I must tell you that this is against the law." I've experienced some of that in Fairhope, and, for the most part, I'm comfortable with it.

Because, after all, if you obey the law, you are safe and protected. You hope.

Monday, May 29, 2006

The Heat of Summer

May 29

If you once lived in Fairhope and have relocated to somewhere else -- anywhere else -- you wonder how anyone ever tolerated the hot summers we have here. I remember talking to an old friend in the mountains of Switzerland. He then lived in Rhode Island.

I said, "It was so humid there! I don't think I was ever completely dry until I was 30 years old."

He said, "I remember one night in particular."

"Oh, yes!" said I. "It was even hot at night! People don't believe me when I tell them how hot it was at night."

"One night I couldn't sleep. We had fans, we had ice water, wet towels, showers, everything we could think of. But this night I woke up so hot nothing worked. I went out in the yard, looking for a breeze."

"I did that too! I remember doing that one night!"

To put a pinpoint on it, this night was probably in August of the year 1951. Maybe 1952. The weather service would have records. I've had the above discussion with a number of friends, all roughly of my vintage, and we all describe the sweltering night when we walked out into our yards, wailed at the moon, or prayed to God for relief, fell into the hammocks or the lawn furniture, yearning for a spot somewhere that was not so still and hot. All the county, to hear us describe it, must have been swarming with lawns full of little kids leaning on the tire swings and moaning.

But this is only the end of May. We have lots of weeks before that kind of weather returns. It's just that when it gets here, it stays. There is no "cool snap." Summer has come like a warm damp blanket and you are trapped.

At least today nobody suffers. There is air conditioning. Nobody would dream of going outside looking for a gust of breeze, not even an ignorant little kid. We don't go into the natural air except for emergencies when we have to brave those few moments between the air conditioning of the house and the air conditioning of the car. Outdoor living, pictured so elegantly in the catalogues and television shows which feature recipes to be cooked on the grill, is not even attempted in the buggy, muggy Deep South. Our porches tend to be glassed in.

The forecast portends temperatures in the high 80's all week, with lows of 70 at night. We already know, from the predictions of last week, that this means 90s during the day -- and just keep that air conditioner going at night because with the humidity, if you don't want to end up out on the lawn in sight of a lot of little phantom moaning little kids, you're going to need conditioned air all the time if you want to sleep.

Summer has begun.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Happy...New Year?

May 28

It's a new year for me, starting today. I suppose that means I should make some resolutions, take stock, make amends for mistakes, and plan to do some things differently in the future. Damn, that's a tall order. Maybe I should just relax and have a piece of cake.

There are changes ahead. Fairhope has a different look, with funky cottages replaced by big, expensive houses that look new. Its commitment to its history and the dreams of its founders have been all but abandoned, and there appears to be little I or others who decry this trend can do. Just last week I received an anonymous email with a menacing tone calling me and those who have worked so selflessly to preserve the mission of Marietta Johnson liars and fools, and asking me to resign as President of the Board of the school she founded. It's difficult to believe that this bullying behavior on the part of the misguided and uninformed is not simply an aberration, but has become the direction of society, even in our cherished little town.

Of my circle of friends, at least five are moving to other locations in the country. They may visit from time to time, but if I am to enjoy my life in Fairhope I shall have to find new friends and confidants, who will for the most part be from the cadre of new inhabitants who know or care little of what Fairhope means to me.

That's all right. I have other interests. Maybe I'll get involved in amateur theatre. There will most certainly be a huge reunion of Marietta Johnson School graduates on its hundredth anniversary in 2007, and I am slated to be in on the planning of events to celebrate that. I have many resources and much support. I even got a birthday comment on yesterday's blog from someone who lives in Sweden where they are a day ahead of us.

I'm actually happy to be a year older and be in such great shape. Last July I started a low-carbohydrate diet and I've lost ten pounds this year. My trainer at the gym says another ten and I'll be the perfect weight for my size and age -- so that's another personal goal for the next year. My eyes get a little weaker every year, and they're not at bright and beautiful as they once was, but hey. My hearing is great. I brag about these things because next year I might not be able to.

And that Big Book I'm going to write hasn't happened yet. It appears doubtful that When We Had the Sky will get published, but anyone can tell there's at least one more book in me. And I'm looking forward to being the Grandma Moses of novelists.

Yesterday at the nursing home I said to my mother, "I'll be 66 years old tomorrow." She paused a minute to digest that. I wondered if she'd heard or understood. Then she said, "I can't believe that. If you weren't so young, you'd be an old lady!"

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Ladies Who Lunch

May 27

We grew up together in Fairhope and join each other for lunch once a month. It's a time to refresh, review family situations, look at pictures of grandchildren and occasionally touch the past. These lunch dates are not the ordinary, superficial gabfests because of our shared childhood and the intimate knowledge we have of details of each other's lives.

When one of us says something about her mother, for instance, we all immediately know that face -- as it is today and as it was fifty years ago. Memories of slumber parties together from when we were pre-teens, excited shopping for college, wedding plans, and babies who are now parents and responsible adults are in the air when we discuss even the most trivial topics. We have shared the pain of lost hopes, wayward children, deaths, and the joy of renewal and pride when things are going right.

Over the years the political rift has widened between us, so it is a topic seldom discussed, and the silent agreement is that we allow the one rigid right-winger to ventilate when necessary without the opposition that would simply ruin our meetings. Sometimes we talk separately about how difficult maintaining that balance can be.

We do this because the bond that holds us transcends the fragile architecture constructed by man. It is women's love for womankind. It is the extension of family. It is women of fair hope, trusting and caring and continuing relationships without any public vow to do so. We all love Fairhope; we all went to the Marietta Johnson School; we share values and memories and a little piece of our busy lives today.

Next week we shall be three, rather than four. Originally there were seven of us, in that group of graduates of the class of 1958, who were together in projects, classes, demonstrating folk dances for our school, and toasting each other with punch made of ginger ale and lime sherbet as the end of our time at the Organic School neared. The class numbered 12, but we seven were the nucleus, bound by this special tie since early childhood. There was the story that always amused us that our mothers had given us our first birthday party when we were one-year-olds. (I didn't live in Fairhope then, so I was not yet in the exclusive little club; but how nice to be admitted with no initiation at the age of nine!)

Distance and death has decimated our numbers. Some of the seven in the class moved away from Fairhope for good; two who did so have died, and one I have written about before, may be lost to us through mental illness.

But when we are all in town, we have lunch and compare lives. It will be a sad lunch next week, because one of the group is moving away, and another suffered the sudden death of her wonderful husband of 47 years. His memorial service was yesterday, and there she stood, beautiful and dignified, her white hair in the same short, wavy coif she has worn since the early 1950's, surrounded by children, grandchilden, family and friends, talking quietly about the life she now faces.

The one who is moving away has always been a cheering factor in the group. An offbeat sense of humor, thirst for knowledge, and a way with people has kept her busy with a life full of interest in everything. She says that she and her husband will maintain a house here, but for years they have divided their time between Fairhope and Santa Fe, and with her mother's death a few months ago, there really was very little left in Fairhope to hold them. There are book clubs, garden clubs, rafts of friends -- but she is one who will have those things wherever she lives.

Three of us will have lunch now. At first, the job of easing the one of us whose husband left us so suddenly into a new life will be uppermost on our agenda. That will be followed in subsequent lunches by reports of how it's going and what new plans may appear for her. I will suggest she consider teaching kindergarten at the school. Not likely she'll accept, but she is such a loving, creative person, that even at her age she has much to give, and in my mind this would be a good place to start. Whether or not this appeals to her remains to be seen. This is typical of our group; a problem arises, we all make suggestions as to how to solve it, the suggestions are absorbed and usually not followed. But that's okay; that's friendship.

My guess is that it's likely she too will move -- her children live scattered about the country. What will happen to our lunch group remains to be seen. It has been a positive bond in all our lives, and we'll get together for as long as we can, for lunch.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Dancing Returns to Fairhope

May 25

Title's a bit dramatic, I realize. There has always been quite a lot of dancing, of all kinds, in Fairhope. It's only that lately there hasn't been much of it at the Marietta Johnson School.

With partial funding from the Alabama Council on the Arts, the school has a new project called Creative Movement, which will be seen in public for the first time this afternoon at the end-of-the-year sendoff ceremonies for eighth graders. Ballet expert Sherrylea Bloodworth, who has extensive experience teaching and dancing with such companies as the San Francisco Ballet and the Joffrey in New York, has translated her ballet and choreography skills to the school in a way that boys and girls alike are dancing joyously and learning movement and rhythm without thinking of it as ballet.For one who attended the school when Folk Dancing was a daily class and a source of pride for the school, it is heartening to see it return in this way. The grant will continue until the end of September, which means that there will be more dancing next year, and will become a staple in Fairhope through our school once again.

There is something unique about the Fairhope approach to dance, particularly as it is practiced at the Marietta Johnson School of Organic Education. Mrs. Johnson felt that dance and music were natural to all children and should not be the province of a selected few (in fact, her whole theory of education was that nothing should be offered to a select few -- that in childhood all children should be exposed to everything a school could offer. Specialization would come later, out of natural interest.) This approach to folk dancing through ballet is a contemporary way to present a difficult art to an unsuspecting student body. And they are loving it.