It’s under the table…

under-the-tableIt’s taken me the first three days of January to motivate myself into being excited about this new year. This Christmas was so chaotic, I found myself longing for peace and solitude, at least from those other than my immediate family. Now, nothing but the roar of the fire and the tap of the keys fill the room. Occasionally, the dog snores from under the tapestry tablecloth he’s claimed for his nap.

Maybe the quiet has coaxed the truly meaningful things into view. Maybe it’s just the new moon. But January is the beginning, again. I cringed at the thought of traveling that same well-worn path.  Banality, or it’s threat, was a foot on my head. But today, I remembered, I have to make it my own. I forget, a lot, that it’s not the destination. It’s how you travel, whether you dance sometimes along the way, what you stop and see and hear. There are  miracles unfolding at our feet, buzzing past our ears, sitting still right beside us, running in the hall, firing nerf guns at the t.v..It’s not even a road. It’s one of those books about “Can you find it?”.  It’s about seeing, all that which you thought the same, as new. But you have to be still for a moment and listen. Close your eyes and see. Joy isn’t a neon sign. It is a dog, hiding under the tapestry, having a nap.

Mel Gibson slept here… for quite a while!

mel-bWhen I opened the Rothschild-Pound House in 1995, my first guest was Mercedes Ellington, granddaughter to Duke Ellington. She stayed for a month and Garry and I were thrilled with the fact that we had such a cool first customer, albeit arranged by Paul Pierce. I cried when she left.

Our next guests came about two weeks later. I’ll never forget the phone was ringing at the B&B in the kitchen and we had just come home from Home Depot. A north Alabama accent, introduced himself and proceeded to quiz me on the particulars. Did I have hardwood floors? Was it an old house? Do you have breakfast? When was the house built? He was coming for a job interview at Ft. Benning and wanted to bring his wife down. They were Civil War re-enactors and loved B&Bs. Freda and Gavan Erwin checked in the next week, in the Rothschild Suite. He went on to interview and finally get the job at Ft. Benning. They first rented an apartment from us at 730 First Avenue and then bought the house next door to my Few Street Cottage about 6 months later. And for the next 10 years or so, Freda Erwin and I were together constantly, starting at 6:30 in the morning, every morning. The only time we weren’t was when I had my first child and she actually brought me breakfast in bed, upstairs in the Garrett Suite. She and I served thousands of people pancakes and coffee, eggs and bacon, while Garry sat on the barstools in the kitchen , reading the Ledger-Enquirer, trying to ignore us. I don’t think I could’ve done it without her help. I am sure I could have, but it surely wouldn’t have been the same. We surmised personalities and critiqued individuals according to how they dressed their grits. We had our favorite guests, the fun ones, the ones that would joke with us. We had those that hardly spoke, (those were usually the ones that put sugar on their grits). We had the newlyweds, the Olympic attendees, the new Veteranarian in town, a good looking Brazilian who Freda had to serve French toast sans clothes, he, not her. But when she came back, she had to go smoke a cigarette. .

I’ll never forget the time Sunshine, the hotdog man, drove Keri Russell down 2nd Avenue on his bike trailor. She ended up moving here from the Hilton. After she got here, Chris Klein, Greg Kinnear and Madeleine Stowe came over as well. Then I got a phone call inquiring about our accommodations, lots of detailed questions. The woman let me know right away that she was scouting locations for a very high profile individual. Of course, discussed it all with Freda. We discussed every aspect of it and were beside ourselves that Sam Elliot would be our guest, hopefully. The woman was coming over that very afternoon to look. Of course, Freda cam e to “help me” show her the cottages. We went from house to house, listening to the woman go on and on about how she could imagine all the men sitting around the big dining room table, drinking scotch and smoking cigars, etc. I listened to every word . Finally, I managed, “can you tell us who it is?’

“oh no.” “I can’t do that”. I’ll call you and with a smile, the 20 something was off . She seemed a little smug. But I was so excited. I knew that Sam Elliott staying here would be GREAT for business. Even though Freda did have to tell me who he was.

“You know, the Marlboro man”, she said, blowing smoke through her nose. We always sat on her front porch.

“I sure hope he stays, that would be so cool”.

The phone rang . My phone would reach to her porch. “Rothschild-Pound House”.

“Yes, we can secure the windows, no problem”. I was determined. “Okay, see you then”

“They’re coming at 4.”

Freda let out a yell. “I gotta call Carlie”. She left me to go wash her hair.

“I’ll see you at 4, on the big house porch”. I left with a great big sense of secret and hopefulness welling up in me. How cool is this? I thought to myself.

At 3:30, we were in the big rockers on the porch. Freda didn’t even smoke so she’d smell her best.

“It’s the Marlboro Man, Freda, of all people, he’ll understand.”

“Nah”. She licked her teeth.

About 4:05, a big white SUV drove up and parked right in front of the big house. We rose out of our rockers. They walked, on the street toward the Few Street Cottage. We took the stepping stones behind the wrought iron fence. Neither of us turned our head toward them as they made their way on the street to our meeting spot. But we had seen enough as we descended the porch. As we measured our steps, cooly on the stepping stones Freda said, in a whisper so extreme, I thought she was jumping up and down behind me, “It’s Mel Gibson”

“I know” I said, smiling my biggest, coolest, smile, laughing without moving my lips. “I know”.

During the month of March 2001, Freda and I cleaned his house. We didn’t trust the maids with our secret.We saw his bible and his rosary, his AA book. He never touched a drop of the scotch I left for him, remembering the comment from his housing scout.  He was never less than exceedingly kind, even joining us in the kitchen of the big house,  discussing Batman with Murphey, then, about 2 and a half. I lost interest in cleaning his room about halfway through the month, busy fielding calls from local hostesses with offers to give dinner parties in their honor?

“I’m not sure who you mean, Mrs. Leeburn”.

The ledger had daily Mel sightings and it was all I could do to keep it from my closest friends, luckily Susi was really busy planning Christy’s wedding.

One day, Freda announced at breakfast that she was taking Gavan over to Mel’s room. The toilet seat needed replacing. “Thanks, I said”.  And, she added, “I’m takin’ the toilet seat to my house”. She did a little dance, then, “see you in the morning”’. And she was gone.

As far as I know, when Gavan and Freda sold us their house and moved to Key West, they left most everything there, china, beds, sofas, stuff in closet, even their Civil War re-enactor provisions. Now Gavan had a shaved head, Freda lost 40 pounds and they rode a Harley most places. But as they drove off in that truck, pulling the travel trailor, she waved goodbye. Her, Bubba the Cat, Gavan, and Mel Gibson’s toilet seat.

I

Happy Birthday John Muir, and thanks…

muir-coinWhat a cool guy John Muir was. Not only did he have a bunch of stuff named for him, including plants, butterflies and animals, he’s even on the California state quarter.  But what’s most impressive to me, is that he was involved in an accident and lost his sight in one eye, when a metal file punctured it. Months later, he recovered sight, but then,quit his job and six months after the Civil War, he WALKED from Louisville, Kentucky, to Cedar Key, Florida. During that time he kept a journal about all the interesting plants and people along the way. And he did it again in 1868, when we walked from San Francisco to Yosemite. That takes a special kind of spirit. It must. To shrug off the everyday, and just get out onto the earth and walk somewhere. Today, people rarely even walk to the store. But then camping is the number one vacation activity in the U.S. . It’s like, there’s a part of us, that we are trying to reconnect to and it’s kind of like when you take that first sip of Coke, you know, “ahhhhh”, when you finally make it to the thick of a pine forest, or overlooking the Smokey Mountains, or just look up, in the pitch black, alongside a campfire. We’ve been programmed to forget, to want stuff plugged in, prepackaged and broadcast. But when you take a moment to appreciate the great outdoors, the smell of dirt, the feel of moss, the stars, unencumbered by flourescent light, then somehow, you feel alive. That part of you awakens. Watch an ant crawl across your finger. Check out a spiderweb. Google Yosemite. It’s out there. Don’t miss it.

“Most people are on the world, not in it. – have no conscious sympathy or relationship to anything about them – undiffused, separate, and rigidly alone like marbles of polished stone, touching but separate.”  John Muir