When I think of guiding spirits, I see Annie Lee and her sister
Willa Mae in the back seat of the car in which we were riding to
Asheville where we were to lead workshops in corn-shuck doll-making,
lap quilting, and poetry writing, under the auspices
of the WCU Extension Department, now called, or so I believe,
Distance Learning. We'd never laid eyes on each other before,
and I think we were all three a bit amused and amazed that
we were going to be teaching our crafts at the Asheville Mall!
We were not your typical mall-goers, believe me. Who would
have ever thought that somewhere over the rows and rows of fancy
stores we rarely ever entered, there were classrooms where people
could learn about mountain crafts and poetry writing?
Over the weeks that we journeyed to Asheville from Cullowhee, we shared our stories, stitching them into
a tapestry we took back home with us. We became friends, but more than that, I like to think we
became soul-sisters, so that no matter how long might go without seeing each other, we never had
to try to re-acquaint ourselves with each other. We made a connection that lasted through time.
One of my favorite bluegrass songs by Bill Monroe is called, "The Walls of Time." He sings of being
able to hear his gone sweetheart through those walls. I can hear Annie Lee and Willa Mae, too,
through those walls that on some days seem as sheer as gauze curtains, especially this time of
year when the leaves are barely hanging on and the light calls to us to look up and beyond our daily tasks.
I could say that Annie Lee left us last September 6, but I don't think of her as gone,
because I know she is not gone from my life nor the lives of her daughters and those who loved her.
The greatest honor I can claim to this day is being asked to read at her funeral a poem I'd written
for her 80th birthday. Her daughter Norma Medford Clayton asked me to helped them
celebrate the day with a poem, and so I cast back to my memory of our drives to Asheville.
A BIRTHDAY POEM FOR ANNIE LEE'S 80TH
Annie Lee, I still remember you
and Willa Mae as being like two birds chirping
in the back seat as we drove to Asheville
and our classes at the Mall. Your stories
kept me listening through the stops
and stalls of traffic. Christmas oranges
and summer dabblings in the creek,
the litany of family names that you recited
every trip. Your talk of cornshuck dolls and quilts
fell on my ears like some
endangered speech our daughters'
daughters might not ever know, the turn
and pull of thread that snaps too easily,
if we're not careful. But your thread's
still going strong, it's made a life--
each year a perfect round
of stitches, eighty now, a shining wreath
of days that we all come to gather round and
celebrate: Happy Birthday, Annie Lee!
This poem became part of the Memory book that Norma and
her sisters Carolyn and Anna compiled, and when Norma
began to think about her remembrances of her mother before
the funeral, she had to confess that" ..."Mama,
when I started to write down my favorite memory
about you I couldn't narrow it down to just
one…I had so many memories of you that I couldn't choose.
So I wrote down all those that were dear to me.
I was so pleased that you liked it and wanted it
to be read at your funeral. I have revised it since
you are no longer with us but the memories are still the same."
That beautiful litany of memories will cover
several posts over the next few days, to give my visitors
time to savor and celebrate each portion.