[This true story was inspired by a scene I witnessed while eating out with my family on July 4th.]
Their heads almost touched, one snow white and one dark, as they leaned over the table from their seats. The dark woman was young, strong and capable, the white haired one frail with age. It seemed an unlikely friendship especially in the south. The white haired one was well-dressed and manicured, someone with social importance –– a debutante a lifetime ago. The dark lady was a hard worker. She took charge of things.
The strong lady ordered for the frail one and helped her eat. The frail one was once strong- willed, even stubborn. You could tell by the way she set her jaw, slightly tilted up. She did not like this needing help, this caretaker her children said she needed. She did not like having someone wipe her chin and hold her fork, someone spreading her napkin over her lap. She held her head down for moments at a time, gathering strength to accept more help. She lowered her head as the dark lady wiped crumbs from her chin and her lap.
Then the strong lady ordered a dessert for her companion, banana pudding in a mason jar. This, I noticed… is when she ordered her own food. She ate her lunch while her friend ate her dessert. The frail lady seemed to enjoy the dessert, even a half smile.
They ate in silence, celebrating the 4th of July in a beautiful and sad picture. I thought about these two ladies, both beautiful and both strong in different ways. There was strength in the way the dark and strong lady helped so kindly and patiently. There was strength in the way the white haired and frail lady accepted the help; this caretaker had become her friend. A seemingly unlikely friendship, but maybe they had more in common than we know.
This lovely group of ladies inspired me and reminded me that we are all "fearfully and wonderfully made." Psalm 139:14
Every week I saw them, swaying their hips, not quite in unison, in the humidity of the Georgia springtime. Every week, I watched them: a menagerie of shapes and sizes laughing as the music played. Every week, I longed to join them- those belly dancers.
They were gathered in an empty corner of a strip mall parking lot every Monday night. For those several weeks, I would hope to get "stuck" at the light as I drove past just so I could watch and wish. Wishing not only to join them, but to be so free and comfortable in my own body that I would sway, swish and sweat without reservation as these women did, these fearless warriors. For they were at war, so to speak- against the unrealistic myths that women, all of us, have about what the perfect body should look like. These women were not "perfect" by magazine standards, but they were comfortable in their own skin. They were comfortable enough to be out there, unashamed and that alone made them beautiful.
As the season wore on, they continued to gather and dance; some of them began to wear the glittering gold chains around their belly and some of them had begun to wear the sheer scarves of a professional belly dancer. I guessed they had gained confidence in their dance and in themselves.
One day as I passed they were gone. I wondered if the class had come to an end? I hoped instead (and still do) that these lovely women had moved indoors and were swaying and sweating somewhere new- hopefully in front of a glass window, unashamed.
Fireflies… those lovely winks of light, are as much a part of life here in the South as sweet tea and stories told on front porches. Around here everyone tells stories, about everyone and everything. Stories are born out of day to day living. Those are the “firefly” moments- being inspired by the ordinary…
Here are some Firefly moments that have happened to me:
As I walked along the beach, I watched a seagull become trapped in a fishing net. An event unfolded in front of me and a story unfolded inside of me. I wrote it down in my journal when I returned to my condo and the story of Saylor on the Seashore was born.
As I walked through the neighborhood, I met a funny cat with lots of personality and unusually long legs. I called him Kitty LongLegs and another story started brewing.
The cat in the tree became to me The Cat Who Could Fly.
Inspiration is everywhere. We don’t need books about how to be more creative. We don’t have to wait for the big “light bulb” idea. We just need to open our eyes, our minds and our hearts to the creativity in the ordinary.
Photo and essay by Tonya Calvert
Miss Pearl sat in her worn rocking chair, and I sat on the couch with the vinyl sticking to my legs as the box fan blew hot air around the small living room. Miss Pearl, as she was known to many, was Ma-Ma to me. She was my grandmother. She was not the proverbial pearl-wearing Southern belle belonging to the Junior League. She was quite the opposite -- a snuff-dipping granny who drank Pabst Blue Ribbon while cutting her own grass. She raised 7 children in her small white framed house, and now she was old and alone. Remembering her now, I see that she is my example of what it means to be a Southerner. She was my example of pride and hospitality, true Southern qualities.
When I speak of Southern pride, I don’t mean the type we Southerners have in our states or our football teams. Miss Pearl did love baseball, so much in fact, that she had a framed picture of Jesus on the wall with an autographed Dale Murphy card stuck in the frame. As long as I can remember, it hung that way on her wood paneled wall right above the small tv where she watched her soaps every day. That picture showed her love for Jesus, having been raised in a God-fearing Pentecostal church and her love for America herself via a love of baseball -- the all-American sport. She rarely missed watching a Braves game on that little tv set. Cutting her own grass no matter how much her Arthur acted up and taking care of her own little home herself were other ways she demonstrated that self-reliant sort of pride we Southerners are known for.
As I sat with her that day in her little living room visiting, time seemed to slow to a crawl. It was as if she had nothing more important to do than visit with me. She always made me feel welcome in that small unpretentious house by just being happy that I had come. She would have sweet tea and candy she kept in the freezer just for such visits. We did not need constant conversation. She just wanted to sit a spell. As I rose to leave that particular day, the doorbell rang. She rose to answer the door with me right behind. I saw right away the lady was holding a copy of the Watch Tower. Most people would ignore the door or tell her to go away, but Miss Pearl’s face lit up. Apparently this was a regular visitor and though they had different religious views, Miss Pearl was eager to share that Southern hospitality with this lady. She welcomed her in as I was leaving, “Well now... I have not seen you in a while, come sit a spell...”
Originally published in Belle Rêve Literary Journal.