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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Elaine - Part 4

This is the fourth and final post about my wonderful friend Elaine Hughes.  To read from the beginning, click here.

Elaine visited us in Macon just once.  By that time, she had undergone a mastectomy but was still following mostly holistic paths to a cure.  
Clint’s ex-wife was hosting a mini reunion of her “group” from high school.  One evening we were invited for drinks, and when we walked into the living room, Elaine was stretched out on the Queen Anne sofa, eating strawberries and whipped cream, a contented smile on her face.  When she saw us, she leapt up and grabbed us, kisses all around.  
She declared that she wanted to see our house, so later, we brought her, along with another of her classmates, Peggy Sue, to our house.  I took this photo of them standing at the fireplace.  Yes, that’s Elaine on the left.  The sequined top she is wearing is one she “borrowed” from me.  She said she needed a fancy top to wear out to dinner the next night, so we went into my closet and found it, by then too small for me.  She changed into it for the photo, and it became hers!  I love the idea that Elaine wore some of my things.  There’s a connection there that is hard to explain.
During her only visit to see us when we lived on Saint Simons Island, Georgia, she was clearly showing the effects of her disease, resting frequently and eating almost nothing.  But she was herself - positive, loving, generous.  She sat for hours on the sunny dock, writing in her journal, gazing across the creek and the marshes to a marsh hummock where Wood Storks roosted.  She was very happy during those five days.  Clint and I were blessed to have her all to ourselves, and we soaked her up, her positive energy, her generous and accepting ways.  
Elaine and I went jet-skiing out to the Frederica River and found  a pod of dolphins at the mouth of the creek.  We shut down the engine, and Elaine began to pound the side of the ski and call to the dolphins.  
“Hello, lovely creatures.  We are her to play with you.”
In just a few moments, the magical aquatic mammals were diving under the ski, rolling around us in a circle.  One raised his head and peered at us, allowing Elaine to pet his head.  It was as though she were in a trance, communicating with the animals in a cooing and soothing voice, saying, “Oh, how I love you all.”
Elaine, as frail as she was, got cold, and we turned on the engine to return to the dock, thinking the noise would drive them away, but the dolphins escorted us most of the way, following in our wake, rolling along in their graceful otherworldly way.  I have never felt so close to God.
Before she would depart, Elaine insisted that she give us a remembrance of the time we had together.  Clint drove her over to the nursery and she selected a Sago Palm to plant at our front door, and upon their return, she directed him in the placement and planting.  
“When you look at this palm, you will always remember me."  And we did.
Over the next two years, as her disease progressed and invaded other parts of her gentle and delicate body, she became reclusive, spending most of her time in Big Sur and at home with her two sons.  We exchanged phone calls and emails but eventually she pulled away.  She explained that she wanted her death to be her own, did not want us to suffer it with her.  The last two years of her life, we did not see Elaine at all.
She died in June, 2001, leaving me the gift of her love, a treasure immeasurable and permanent.  I will always love her.  Every day that I was on the island, I saw that palm and thought of her.  Though we moved back to Macon, Georgia, in 2005 and sold the marsh house in 2006, the Sego is still there, and whenever I visit the coast, I ride by and blow it a kiss.  It is always returned in a soft breeze on my cheek.

© 2011 cj Schlottman

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Elaine -Part 3

This is the third in a series of four posts about my dear friend, Elaine Hughes.  To read from the beginning, click here.

Once, in New Orleans, when we were walking Elaine home to her little slave cabin on St. Peter’s Street, she stopped and told me how much she loved my earrings.  They were dreamcatchers that my friend Shirley made for me.  I took them off and gave them to her.  Taking out her own pair and donning mine, she said, “Now they are truly yours.  Nothing is really yours until you give it away." 
We entered through a locked gate and walked down a narrow alley between two houses and found ourselves in a courtyard dating back to before the Louisiana Purchase.  There were ferns and other tropical plants, and yes, there was a fish pond with Koi.  The floor was made of the original stones laid down by slaves.  It is the kind of place I would have imagined Elaine to be a part of.  
The cabin itself was as tiny as Elaine, and it was covered with treasures.  There were bright paintings on the walls, most of them floral.  A violet and yellow scarf was tossed cross the arm of the sofa that was crowded with vibrant pillows.  Her little kitchen was to the right, and there was a spiral stairway up to her room and bath.  Clint had to stoop way over to negotiate the stairs, and still he nearly hit is head.  Her bedroom was lined with books and literary magazines, her bed dressed with linen and lace of a creamy peach color, her dressing table littered with cosmetics.  The walls were the palest of pale blues.  The room radiated with peace and serenity.
That night we ate at The Blue Pelican, and it seemed as though every patron there knew our Elaine.  She was met and greeted with hugs and kisses all around.  Afterward, we strolled around the Quarter, and on the corner of Bourbon and Dauphine, she stopped in her tracks and announced that before we could part for the evening, we had to go to Antoine’s for crêpes and champagne!  So we did.
I think of that trip as one of the most wonderful times of my life.  It was then that Elaine bullied me into signing up for the next year’s Faulkner Festival, now a much bigger event called Words and Music.  When I whined that I didn’t have any material good enough to submit, she sniffed, “Well, then, attend a couple of poetry classes, take a short fiction class.  Just go! 

© 2011 cj Schlottman

To  go the Part 4, click here.

Friday, November 18, 2011

About Elaine - Part 2

This is the second in a series of posts about my friend, Elaine Hughes.  To read from the beginning, click here.

Elaine was Lebanese, second generation, born in Mississippi to parents who immigrated and became naturalized citizens.  They were Greek Orthodox, and the church was important to them.  She came from a family who hugged and kissed everyone.  I laugh when I think of Clint telling me about the first time her father, Joe Farris, hugged him.  Coming from the strict German Teutonic background that he did, there we no displays of affection in his home, and Clint was astonished at being so warmly embraced by another man.  He once told me that he learned love from Elaine and her family. 
Mrs. Farris lived in the kitchen, preparing Lebanese food for anyone who wanted to partake of it.   She wanted to feed everybody.  When Clint was in high school, he and some of his football teammates went regularly to the Farris home to snack on taboule, kibbee, baklava and the ever-present bowl of dates.
Her father was short little man who, while driving Elaine to and from Mississippi Southern in his big Cadillac, would tuck a paper bag under is chin, pluck dates from another bag on the front seat, eat them and spit the seeds into the sack under his chin.  
Their house was always open, a warm greeting ready for anyone who walked through the door.  That welcoming spirit was part of who Elaine was, wherever she was.  
Over the next 14 years, my relationship with Elaine grew into a loving friendship.  Clint and I traveled to New York to see her on two occasions.  I remember well, late one afternoon, when the three of us were wandering around SoHo, window-shopping and sometimes stopping in art galleries and vintage clothing shops.  Elaine’s wardrobe was almost exclusively made up of vintage pieces that suited her well.
We were hungry and began looking for a restaurant.  Elaine wanted to take us to a new place she had found, but after a few false starts, she was unable to find it.  So, we strolled along, reading menus in windows, and we finally decided on a tiny French restaurant called Chez Claude.
We settled in and began to peruse our menus, but Elaine wasn’t able to concentrate, saying the music was not “French” enough.  She summoned our waiter, who introduced himself as Christian, and asked him with a sweet ruby red smile if he would please change it.  He obliged in what some would call a sniffy manner and returned to ask Elaine if she were pleased with the music.
“Oh, yes!  What is your name again?”
“It's still Christian.”
“Oh, Christian, thank you so much!  I will be able to digest my food so much better now.”
None of this surprised either Clint or me.  I have never known a more outgoing woman in my life, and she was never afraid to ask for what she wanted.
Our meal of lamb and potato soufflé and haricot verts was divine, the kind of food one usually finds in the countrysides of France.  We stuffed ourselves on bread and butter and drank several glasses of wonderful wine, ending the meal with the traditional cheese plate.
Elaine called Christian over to our table and asked him the cook’s name.
“Bill?  That’s not very French-sounding, but please tell him for us that he is a fabulous cook in spite of his name.”
Then she jumped up from the table and followed Christian to the kitchen, where she began belting out, “We love you Bill, oh yes we do,” to the tune of “We love you, Conrad” in Bye-Bye Birdie.  She came out and dragged me back to the kitchen so we could sing a little reprise.  I was caught up in her enthusiasm and added my voice to hers.  That was the first and only time I ever serenaded a chef in his own kitchen.
As we left the restaurant, Elaine hailed a cab by enthusiastically waving her red scarf from the curb.

© 2011 cj Schlottman

To go to part 3, click here.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

About Elaine

This is the first of a series of posts about my friend, Elaine Hughes.  She had a profound effect on me becoming a writer.  Because it is a long story, I am breaking it up into several posts.  I hope you enjoy reading about this incredible woman.

In the summer of 1994, when Clint and I were on the first leg of our car trip across The Lower 48, we stopped for a couple of days in his hometown, Vicksburg, Mississippi.  It was there that I finally met Elaine Hughes, Clint’s friend from high school.  For 20 years, I heard about Elaine, but she lived in Manhattan, had an apartment in New Orleans and was never home when we visited Vicksburg.
Over the years, I heard of Elaine’s free spirit and her passion for life and her incredible capacity to love.  She was a teacher of writing at Nassau Community College on Long Island, New York, and the author of Writing from the Inner Self.  She also co-authored several textbooks with Jay Silverman and Diana Roberts Wienbroer.  My dedicated copy of Writing from the Inner Self is one of my most treasured possessions.
Clint and I had been married for 20 years, and in all of those years, Elaine was one of only two of his ex-wife’s friends who were open to me and accepting of me as the person I am.  When we met, she reached up and gave me a warm hug and a kiss on the cheek, saying, “I am so glad you and Clint found one another.”
Reached up?  At 5’3”, I towered over her tiny 4’10” frame.  Her hair was raven black, her lipstick red and her smile wide and sincere.  She was wearing all black and had a red scarf draped around her, falling in graceful folds.  I was immediately infused with her caring, her positive energy.  I think we fell in love at that minute.
During our two days in Vicksburg, Elaine accompanied us to lunch one day, and the next evening we went to a bar in a local motel where she sang sometimes when she was home.  She was wonderful!  So alive and filled with energy and, yes, she could sing.  
By the time I met her, Elaine had retired from teaching and was spending a great deal of time at the Esalon Institute in Big Sur, California.  She had been living with breast cancer for ten years, following only holistic approaches to control it.  She went to Esalon to search her own inner self for healing and living her best possible life.  
It was during that time in Vicksburg that Elaine brought me be back to writing.  She asked if I kept a journal, and I had to confess that I had abandoned my journal years before, had abandoned my efforts to write poetry and short fiction as well.  Before we left, she went to the store and bought me a journal for our trip, and she gave me my copy of Writing From the Inner Self.
“Write something down every day,” she admonished me,  “even it it’s only the date and your name.  This trip across country is the perfect time for you to re-energize your creative side.  You won’t have your usual distractions.  Writing about the places you go and the people and things you see will serve to activate for your right brain.” 
So, I followed her advice and wrote in my journal every day along our way through the Southwest and up the California coast to Oregon and Washington.  I continued as we returned to Georgia through the corn and wheat fields of the Mid-West and across the Appalachian Mountains. 
That journal read like a travelogue, but at least I was writing.  It was a beginning, and after returning to Georgia, I began to write more about my thoughts, my feelings, my dreams and my sorrows.
Soon after our return, my brother, John, was diagnosed with kidney cancer.  The next spring my granddaughter, Addie was born.  My son, already alcohol and drug dependent, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder about the time she was born.
There was plenty to write about.

© 2011 cj Schlottman

To continue to the second part of this series, click here.