Legacy Writing 365:244

When our friend John died in 1996, his roommate Charlie shared a story at his memorial service. He said he’d once been told that when we lose someone to death, it’s important afterward to “watch for the signs” that show us comfort is being offered–perhaps even as messages sent by the ones we’ve lost. The day after John’s death, Charlie was on a transatlantic flight when a woman he’d never seen before placed a small green stone inside his palm. “I can sense that you’re sad,” she said. “This will help comfort you.” Of course it did, because for Charlie, that little stone was a gift from John.

I believe in those kinds of signs, too, and have my own experiences with them. Recently my lifelong friend Riley, who died a few months before my mother in 2008, has been very much on my mind. There are so many times I wish I could pick up the phone and call him. I want to hear his unique perspective on things that have happened this year–the stuff only he would say.

Several times I’ve blogged about Riley and our connections, including the Beatles. One post was this memory about Riley, George Harrison, and me.

Tonight Tom came in and handed me a guitar pick he found on the street outside our house.

Front and back of the guitar pick. Or vice versa.

Who knows who dropped it or when? As a sign, I’ll take it.

Thanks, my old friend. I have an album I should listen to now.

Beware of sadness
It can hit you
It can hurt you
Make you sore and what is more
That is not what you are here for

George Harrison, Beware of Darkness

Legacy Writing 365:221

Does anything say summer like the humble lawn chair?

Ode to a Lawn Chair

reach into that jumble
of toys, balls, rain coats and chairs
wander over the field
pick your spot
yes – out on the edge
of the soccer field
nice spot
further out the town houses
ring it all around
single family homes next
and mini van roads
suburbs – yes,
but this is your spot
your place
of your lawn chair retreat.

© C. Edward Olson

Some of these photos are repeats, but it’s all to celebrate the lawn chair: who leaves patterns on our legs and moments on our hearts, holds multiple children or one parent, frays and buckles as it ages, and tucks itself in to any pile of refuse or floats listlessly down any stream, abandoned, forgotten, yet dense with the histories of our lives.

In the shade of a tree: Uncles Grover and Boots, Don, Daddy, unknown, at Mother’s family reunion, 1981.
Blowing bubbles at Tom’s parents’ house.
Tim G and Riley on Tim’s patio.
Homegrown tomatoes–and Terri.
As a wee child, Lynne apparently prefers her little red wagon to her lawn chair.
Tom’s Grandma waving the flag on July 4, 2001.
Waiting out Hurricane Rita in good company, 2005.
Tom and his skinned knees hanging out with his father and little brother.
Daddy and me making homemade ice cream.

Legacy Writing 365:123

While I was downloading John Irving’s new novel In One Person to my Nook, I was thinking of all the copies of The World According to Garp that I’ve owned. For years, every time I bought the novel, someone borrowed it and never gave it back.

Then there was the mistreated copy. When Lynne and I lived together in what I always call “that house on Francis,” I was sound asleep one night, no doubt dreaming of where I could get a fourth job (I had three–times were hard!). Suddenly Lynne stomped through the hall from her bedroom, flung open my door, and hurled The World According to Garp at me while shrieking, “YOU DIDN’T TELL ME [name of character redacted] DIED! I HATE THIS BOOK!” While I struggled to remember who she was and what she was talking about, she retrieved the book, marched back to her room, and continued to read.

I was looking for photos of “that house on Francis,” but all of them have people in them who we either don’t know anymore and who might not like ancient photos of themselves splashed over the Internet, or include an ex-boyfriend of mine who never gets real estate on this blog. However, I did find this photo taken in the dining room. It’s crappy-blurry and has blue scratches on it, but it’s Riley and me.

I’m sitting behind my typewriter because he always brought his poems and stories to me for editing and typing. And he’s probably reading my poems and telling me how to make them better. Actually, he’s flicking my very expensive tabletop crystal cigarette lighter and probably threatening to burn my bad poetry.

What I wouldn’t give to sit at a table and argue about writing with him again.

However, Lynne, we can skip reenacting that whole book-hurling thing. E-readers are pricier than paperbacks.

Legacy Writing 365:68

One year when I was living with another person who was on a break from graduate school (and who I completely lost track of later, though I think she was originally from Houston, and for all I know, may live on the next block from me now), Riley came to Tuscaloosa with the theater department from his college for a theater festival that the University of Alabama was helping host. His school was putting on Death of a Salesman, but the memory of it has been overshadowed by another production–I think from Auburn University in Montgomery–of Equus.

Not, however, because Equus was so good, though it might have been. All I remember about it was that I was sitting next to Riley in the auditorium and suffering from the WORST MIGRAINE OF ALL TIME. To this day, the mention of Equus makes me feel nauseated, so you can imagine how unthrilling I found all the publicity surrounding Daniel Radcliffe’s taking the role of Alan in the play’s 2007 revival.

Riley never traveled anywhere without his guitar, so I’m sure he eventually strummed my headache away. I still kind of miss my antique bed, pictured here.

Riley took this shot of me on the same visit. I’m holding back my hair as I bend down to pick up something, not clutching my head in pain, but it makes me wonder: Do big puffy sleeves cause migraines?

Today is Riley’s birthday. We lived apart so many years that it’s only on his birthday, and mine, when I’m forced to remember that he died in 2008. I miss our birthday phone calls, and the way he always made me laugh, and his guitar. Still, the most beloved friends never really leave us.

I love you, MVP.

Legacy Writing 365:4

There’s no reason I should have this photo or the other four that were obviously taken the same day. I didn’t shoot them; I wasn’t there. That I do have them means I badgered someone into giving them to me: either Tim, who’s front and center in the water, or Riley, the boy closest to him, next level up. I’d be willing to bet it was Riley who reluctantly handed them over.

Even though I wasn’t friends with the other three boys in the photos (one of whom isn’t pictured here because he was obviously manning the camera), and though I haven’t seen them in more years than I wish to divulge, I can name them all immediately. Maybe it’s because I haven’t seen them in all those years; they are fixed in time, always young, always long-haired, bell-bottomed, wearing illegal expressions on their achingly young faces.

I also don’t know where in North Alabama these photos were taken. I hope there are still as many remote places of natural beauty as there were then, where even a short hike would take you far from whatever troubled your spirit.

And when you’re a teenager, something is always troubling your spirit. It’s your job. You’re new on the planet, and it’s not perfect, and neither are the people trying to teach you how to be here. Everybody’s got advice and wisdom, and what they’ve forgotten is that no one older and with more experience could keep their lives perfectly on course, either, when they were young. They–we–you–everybody has to stumble over their own rocky terrain, take their own falls into cold, rushing water, get up, keep going.

It’s because of Tim and Riley, and everything we learned together and taught each other, and all the ways we betrayed each other and found our ways back those first decades of our lives, that I so easily slip into the world Stephenie Meyer created. I don’t care about the writing flaws. I can strip away the supernatural elements. What I see is three teenagers who are dealing with emotions and choices, desires and missteps, confusion and clarity, with fresh minds and untried hearts.

And this photo… One boy long out of touch; the other one dead. But here forever, in this blurry photo, are the boys who gave me music, art, poetry, laughter and tears, and my first lessons in the crazy beauty of romantic love.

Here forever in my heart, too.

Button Sunday

I’m not sure where I got any of these buttons. A couple seem to have been around forever. I might have picked one up at the Austin Record Convention sometime during the 1990s.

Doors lead singer, musician, poet, artist, filmmaker, and bad boy Jim Morrison died on this date in 1971. It was my brother who got me interested in The Doors. But it was Riley who used to sing “Love Street” to and about me, which sealed their place in my heart. He would draw pictures of me on “Love Street.” This song is part of my repertoire to sing when I’m riding in my car. Alone.

I still have my vinyl of Waiting for the Sun. It’s probably unplayable, but I’ll never get rid of it for nostalgia reasons. I can see Riley and me lying on the floor of my parents’ living room listening to it and talking about poetry, mysticism, and rock and roll.