The Old, The Dead and The Hot as Blue Blazes: Day 1

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

As a general rule, we Harps are not intrepid travelers.  Not a one of us has a passport, and the most exotic locations any of us has traveled is...Montana?  But every once in a great while, we load up the minivan and head to uncharted territory like...Nashville?

Mom, Dad and I headed northward on Thursday for a little escape from routine but certainly not from the heat because it pursued us clear across state lines.  We tootled down the snaking black asphalt, high up into the Georgia hills where we made our first stop just beyond where we lived when I was born.  Ostensibly, we were getting ice for the cooler.  But we left the grocery store with a four-piece pack of deli fried chicken that originated from the renowned operation of the Grand Poobah of Poultry himself, my dad.  It was our first taste of the of the kind of high life you live only on vacation: fried chicken enjoyed in classic Southern style on the blacktop parking lot of a Food Lion just over the Tennessee border.  That's how we roll, folks.

On our way again and trading the Peach State for the Tennessee hill country, Dad attempted to chart the location of old Highway 41 running alongside I-75 and pointed out from time to time locations of note.  For example, the overpass under which he picked up a hitchhiker in a sleet storm who sold him the Gibson Les Pauls off his back for bus fare - a tale in such long-standing that I half expected a bronzed thumb to be marking the site.  After much reminiscing about "Old 41," we exited onto that hallowed highway and continued our way upstate as Mom and Dad argued over whether Mom remembered the scenery - he said she did, and she said she didn't.

And soon our wild adventure made its second stop in Murfreesboro, home of Middle Tennessee State University, institution of matriculation for both of my parents and the blossoming beginning of their 40-plus year companionship.  This resulted in a lot of conjecturing about where they first met (was it the library?) and which dorm Mom lived in while they were dating (Felder?) and the revelation that they were in a cemetery when they first "got serious" about the topic of marriage.  Not to mention the story about Dad watching rich kids in a convertible drive through leaf piles one fall to the annoyance of him and his friend who solved the problem with a well placed concrete block in one pile of leaves.  In the (few) years since graduation, Murfreesboro has changed a fair piece, leading to a great deal of confusion over where local dives and hangouts were or would be if they were still standing.  And for the record, the City Cafe and Pastime Billards were, in fact, still in business.  Guess Dad left them well fortified.

Back on the highway, we pulled out Mathilda, a.k.a. my Garmin, and directed her to Carole's Yellow Cottage, where we would be staying.  Plans were to meet our gracious hostess around 5 o'clock.  Nascent travelers that we are, we forgot to account for the central time rollback and arrived at the house with a pink door(!) just ahead of the appointed time...Eastern Standard Time.  Did I mention the heat?  Well, we bravely parked the minivan, stashed Mathilda in the console and took a (sweltering, oppressive, sweaty) stroll around the block, admiring the historic homes and trying not to stand too close to one another.  When we finished our loop with 15 minutes to spare, we did the wise thing and parked it on the stoop hoping the wind didn't blow our fresh scents toward each other.

It wasn't too long before our hostess arrived to show us to our accommodations, which were made all the more wonderful by two sweet letters - A and C.  With all our treasures toted in and the perspiration dried from our brows (however briefly), we headed back out to continue our adventure with some local eats at the Rose Pepper.  Hello, fish tacos and delicious sangria.

Sated with libations and provisions, we let Mathilda direct us to Cheekwood Botanical Garden to view the exhibit by glass artist Dale Chihuly.  There's something about sangria that makes you say, "90 plus degrees outside?  Bah!  Staying indoors is for sissies!"  We trekked through the park after dark to view a dozen or so glass installations throughout the gardens.  I snapped pictures alongside others - and secretly scoffed at their iPhone attempts.  Until about halfway through when my camera bag was threatening to smother me with its non-breathable polyester surface, and then I wondered if the iPhone photogs were scoffing at me with my sweat-drenched shirt and ruddy cheeks, my hair stuck to my forehead and neck.  By the time we reached the car again, we were all in a state beyond sweaty in which we had become humidity itself.  I might've heard among Mathilda's instructions to turn right and exit left to "for the love of all that is decent, take a bath."

Perhaps this would be the dirtiest and sweatiest and most disgusting we would be.  Or not.  Day two's adventures include equal amounts if not more of sweat, plus horse breeding, cannon fire and desserts so good you'll need to repent afterward.

I Will Remember You, David

Sunday, July 11, 2010

"I will remember you.  Will you remember me?  Don't let your life pass you by.  Weep not for the memories."  - Sarah McLachlan, "I Will Remember You"

Me and 200-some-odd fellow graduates sat in the humid high school gymnasium and listened to a group of our classmates sing this song at graduation.  Among the crowd, somewhere in the rows behind me, sat my friend David Nudelman.

Never was there a more unlikely pairing than David and me.  David was notorious by the end of first grade for his chip-on-the-shoulder attitude, so when he and I ended up in the same class in second grade, no one would ever have guessed that the always attentive and obedient Ashley Harp would befriend the rebel without a cause.  But I was wearing a patch over my right eye at the time for muscle therapy.  David would later tell me that the eye patch was what drew him to me.  I suppose I looked a little rogue with one eye covered.

David continued to make a name for himself as a brash and brilliant troublemaker, and I followed my path of crossed t's and dotted i's and citizenship certificates.  Whenever our paths crossed, we were once again good friends.  I rather admired his rule-breaking ways, vicariously thrilled by behavior I would never engage in myself.  And I think he rather begrudgingly thought well of my overachieving decorum.

Despite his reputation as a disruptive force, David also was well known as a keenly intelligent student.  Those teachers who managed to develop a rapport with him and harness his restless energy were, I think, astounded by his abilities.  If David failed to do well, it had nothing to do with aptitude and everything to do with attitude.

When life became a little bit more hardscrabble than he could handle somewhere in the middle of high school, he landed a stint in a detention center.  I wrote him letters filled with all the inane goings-on of classes and football games.  He wrote me, too, with a confiscated pencil on ruled notebook paper in the middle of the night.  I still have those letters.

I remember sitting behind David in biology.  I remember his band's performance at the high school variety show that was cut short by a surprising f-bomb (and the ensuing cries of, "Cut the mic!!  Cut the mic!!).   I remember David's handwriting and his voice.  I remember his freckles.  And his hugs.

Since high school, David and I have been in spotty contact.  A couple of chance encounters.  E-mails here and there.  And then the comment now and again on Facebook posts.  But the lessened contact didn't lessen the affection.  The special place in my heart for the bad boy with the wicked wit who made me laugh and loved me even when I was super awkward and believed in me when I wasn't sure how to believe in myself.


"I'm so tired but I can't sleep.  Standing on the edge of something much too deep.  It's funny how we feel so much but cannot say a word.  We are screaming inside, oh, but we can't be heard." -Sarah McLachlan, "I Will Remember You"

When I heard last week that he was gone, as soon as I absorbed it, I knew it was true.  Like I told a mutual friend, he was a force to be reckoned to with.  And that force was gone.

I drove home from Atlanta with tears streaming down my face and an ache in my heart.  Such brilliance.  Such charisma.  Such a loss.

I dug out my old annuals and found where he signed in each one.  The year that he went away and we wrote letters, he wrote in my yearbook: "I love you so much, and I will always be there for you, and I know that you will always be there for me."

I wish he'd still believed that last week.  I wish that he'd called me or written me a letter.  I wish I had known that things were grim.  I wish that I could give him a great, rib-crushing hug and sort it out with him.

David, my friend, my unlikely dear friend, is gone.  But not forgotten.  I will remember him and what I learned from him about the great joy that comes from the love you find in unexpected places.

Peace and Godspeed, David.