Stripped Bare…..

I was worn out yesterday afternoon and needed an escape. The rain, work and me were all taking a toll. So as the sky cleared in the afternoon and the dogs needed to get out as much as I, off we went. I decided to walk down by the lake. The air was cooler and I could feel the change taking place in the air. One of the problems with walking alone can often be time spent with my head. It is where my sprit soars and I am most creative and free with my thoughts, but it can also be a time where my “self talk” can get destructive.

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After walking the old forest service roads for a while and catching some turkeys and grouse unaware we returned to the old dock. On the walk I did what I always do and gathered some pebbles and rocks…to remind me of my time. The boat has been out of the lake for a while as we prepare for winter so the cove where its normally anchored was really quiet. I pulled my camp chair out from the truck and set it up at the edge of the water and watched the dogs frolic, run and play. My head was playing games with me…..

               …….Enough…..

I stripped my clothes off and running to the end of the dock, dove..headfirst into the water of the cove. OMG….The water was cold….like daggers piercing the skin. A sharp change from just a few weeks ago. Maybe it was all of the rain…perhaps it was the change in the temps, but whatever the reason the chill ran straight to my core. Like dozens of sharp needles it swept my breath away. I began to swim out towards the center…long hard strokes pulling me into the deeper water and slowly I began to adjust and warm as I moved out. Glancing back I saw JB the wonderdog take the plunge after me…he matched me stroke for stroke as we moved towards the deep water channel. He’s an incredibly strong swimmer. We watched each other…I think we were seeing who might turn around first….I won that round though and soon, in deep water he turned and headed back towards the dock and shore.

I’m not sure how long I was out there. Maybe 30 minutes, maybe 45perhaps an hour. Long enough though to begin to clear my head and stir my soul……..

I’m writing this and I am afraid. Odd isn’t it, that I can be this way? After all of this time, all of the space, all of the places I’ve been and all of the mistakes I’ve made. You’d think I’d have learned. I have….and yet….I find that I’m still drawn back…..I see where you just “showed up”…..somewhere…..in the oddest place…there you are….even if it’s only in my mind…..

Why am I afraid? For thousands of reasons and thousands of battles I’ve fought. Some of those battles were just with me. Some wins, but many losses. I am scared.

What if it doesn’t work?

What if I hurt you…or I get hurt?

What if it’s just not meant to be?

What if the distance is too great?

“What ifs”, “what ifs”, “what ifs”… hundreds of them…banging around and around in my head to create the….

Fear…

my mortal enemy.

Then I remember……FullSizeRender (48)

“Take care of your thoughts when you are alone, and take care of your words when you are with people

I smile,  the first part of that phrase that I still have trouble with. I decided after my last relationship to take time off – to be alone – to figure out who I really am…and who/what I really want. I’m glad to have done that and am doing it still. It has allowed me space…for healing…something I haven’t really done since the breakup of my marriage. Oh….I’ve done the work….read the books….done the worksheets…gone to meetings, gotten “involved”, lived from my heart…been both honest and dishonest….allowed love…and lust….but……….I’ve never really allowed myself to just be…..

                                                              alone

Where am I now?

Elizabeth lives with me. At 15 she is growing into quiet the remarkable young woman. I’ve wanted to be the best example of a man, a father that I can be, so that when she finds the person she is to be with – that she’ll know him…and know how she needs to be treated because of the way I treat her – and the way I treat all people that touch my life. Oh, don’t worry – she’s seen my mistakes…I tell her….she knows them and understands how difficult it can be……but what I really want her to see is how magically right it can be….when it’s supposed to be….It’s good to have her here. She has taught me more I think than I can teach her.

               “It is important to visit that place inside of you.

                That place that no other human is allowed to enter.

                There you will find no fear, you will find the laughing sun

                And you will love there and rise there and fall there

                And break there and put yourself back together there.

                Let that be the only thing you live for

                And let it take you back to where you began.

                To begin within, I swear…that might be the most beautiful thing in the world”

                                                                                                                          r.m. drake

I visit that place within often and find much truth in those words. Beginning there is that place where I can do all that Drake said,

but…..

I’m still afraid. Afraid of failing again, not of being alone..well sometimes, but it would IMG_6676be great to be with someone – that right one. The one that gets me, like I get her. The one that “fits”…in all of those many ways. The one that’s willing to do the work – with me, beside me, to hold me as I’ll hold her. To cherish all of the moments, good, bad and in-between. The woman who is all of those incredible things and allows me to be the same for her….

You know what I’m talking about……you’ve seen me…..and deep inside, you know me….the good, the bad….and….well……all of the rest.

I’m more afraid of missing life than I am of living it. Can you live it with me? Here? At the end of the power lines, in the middle of nowhere? Where people like us are few and far between? Can you be in a place where the demands of “hospitality” and energy can suck the very marrow out of your bones? Will you take me away from it? Gently? Can you hold me when I cry, give me my space as I honor you and give you yours , make love to me with passion and abandon? Not only can you, but will you? I don’t want a night, or a day, or a week, month or year…I’ve had all of those, I want a lifetime. One where we build together. It will not always be easy, but I know it’ll be worth it.

As C.S. Lewis said, “To love is to be vulnerable”…I want to be vulnerable….again…..with you. I am not desperate. I have all of the time in the world to find you and for you to find me. I know people have fallen for me because of my words, my smile or even my looks, but I want someone that falls in love with my scars…all of them…and I have many….and they all tell a marvelous woven story of a life well lived.

Come and climb mountains with me, not so the world can see us, but so that you and I can see the world. Together. You know what I need…and want….tell me…no, better yet, show me what you need. That’s just as important…even more so……to me, that you show me what it is that you need. Can you do that for me?

Forgive me for wandering so….these thoughts just entered my mind and I had to let them go, get them out…so that maybe….they will find you……

…..I hope they do…..IMG_6668

Counting my blessings and the stones gathered along the way…I am celebrating the great adventure ahead!

Robert Rankin

Innkeeper, Explorer & Adventurer

Privilege

I always noticed him as I walked out of my parents house growing up. Tall, thin and moving slowly his speed never seemed to vary. He wore the same clothing every day….dark gray IMG_6439pants, a lighter gray work shirt with his name embroidered above the pocket, thick soled factory work boots and a straw fedora or “gentlemans” hat on his head. He never failed to smile when he saw me….we shared a bond…….

James Pete

He was the “yardman” for my parents when I was a child. There was one before James, his name was Hobart and while I heard stories of him, he was gone before I was old enough to remember him, but James was the man. He mowed grass, pulled weeds, planted flowers, raked, tilled the beds right alongside my mother. These were the days before weed eaters and gas blowers. The work was by hand and always happened in the heat, humidity and rain of the southern summers, yet he was always there…working through it all.

He was kind and gentle and taught me more about life, people and the way we can be than almost any other adult. Growing up as a black man (he never would have used the term “African American”) in the Heart of Dixie in those days had to be incredibly difficult. I have no idea how much schooling he had, but I doubt very much, although he could read and write. When he was a boy he worked on the watercress farms that dotted the landscape of north Alabama. From aluminum jon boats the boys reached into the murky water gathering the cress from the ponds. His lower arms were covered in scars that he said were from the water moccasins or cotton mouths that often bit him. I remember staring at him open mouthed when he told me this – the dreaded cotton mouth was the most feared snake in the south and we all thought they’d kill you. He said that he’d been biten so often that he had become immune to their venom….to this day I don’t know if it was true or not…..but I believed him. As he came of age he went to work at a local cotton gin where he had the most dangerous job of feeding the cotton into the gin itself. Somewhere around 30 his hand got caught in the gin and crushed…..It never did work right after that.

James lived in Tanner about 20 miles from my home. He farmed, raising vegetables and hogs (he never called them pigs). He was married and had several daughters all of whom I didn’t meet until much later in life. He drove an old Chevrolet Cheyenne pickup truck, his right hand draped across the steering wheel because he couldn’t really “grip” the wheel, often picking me up at school in the afternoons. I told him that I would drive a truck one day….he just laughed and laughed…saying “that’s what all boys say”……I loved to listen to his stories…the lilt of his voice…his glowing skin and smile that crept across his face. Working beside him in the yard, watching him lift his hat and wipe sweat from his brow….and planting taught me patience. Every Christmas we shared gifts. I always gave him something I made, my parents gave him money and he always…always brought fresh sausage to the house for our Christmas breakfast. The flavor of that lingers in my mouth to this day……..

I’m not sure what brought all of these memories to mind over the weekend…perhaps it was IMG_6363what happened in Charleston early in the summer….maybe Ferguson or Baltimore or the dozen other atrocities that have happened….both those we hear about and those that never make the “news”. I’ve been blessed far more than most and have lived a life that has been wonderful and incredible. I’ve faced challenges and fears and difficulties just like everyone else, but I also know that those I’ve faced pale in comparision to those faced by folks like James Pete. The difficulties he faced – for no other reason than skin color – were enormous – very likely beyond my comprehension – and yet – he moved with grace and love through life.

I wonder what he’d say if he saw what was happening in our society today? You see I grew up in a South that was very different than the one we see today. Kathryn Stocketts book The Help was more truth than fiction. As I watch and listen to my children and their friends – many of whom are African American, I am happy to see that times are changing…just not as fast as I’d like. To be honest I’d never really thought about the Confederate battle flag and how hurtful that could be to a portion of our country. I get it now. So many of leaders are right – Black Lives do matter….so do Hispanic, Asian, White, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and every other life….they all matter. None more than the other – all very equal.  As we move forward as a society and country I hope that we will all come to that realization – ALL LIVES MATTER and everyone deserves to be treated with respect because we are all human beings.

James is gone now. Without a doubt to a much better place. The sun is blazing through the trees and as I stare across this mountain towards the town of Robbinsville, I realize that the IMG_6436lessons and gifts he gave me are too numerable to count. He taught me about strength….the kind that comes from inside. He taught me about joy from seeing the smallest flowers bloom. He taught me how important all life is and he taught me respect, for myself and others….a lesson that the thought of him this weekend reminded me of. He taught me that if I find a glimpse of understanding in someone’s smile, touch, laugh, or connection that I am lucky beyond belief…for to be known and understood, even for a moment, fills my soul in a way that most things can’t reach. While he taught me most of these lessons when I was a boy, they’ve really just taken root. I was privileged and honored to have known him, eaten with him, shared water with him….oh….yes….and James…..I thought you’d like to know…..I drive a truck……my hand often draped across the steering wheel….just like yours.

Thank you for sharing this journey with me.

Robert Rankin

Innkeeper, Adventurer & Explorer

Home and Love

It’s been almost thirty years since they left. Vivid memories of them are intertwined and mixed into my soul. With the help of their children, my aunts and uncles, we cleared out and packed up that house that held a lifetime of memories in Decatur.

My grandmother was a classic, old school southern lady…..exactly what you’d think of if you thought back to the days of Driving Miss Daisy…..she was that kind of woman, although without the means that Miss Daisy had. She held on to the past, gripping it firmly so that it might never see change…particularly in her mind. She held onto things that might have been sentimental….old dusty books…china and silver of our familys from the century past…photographs, albums, games, art, letters and dresses…oh my gosh..the dresses and shoes…At 90 something it was quiet the collection….

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My grandfather was a man’s man, tall, strong and firm. Rooted in his generation..the one that was on the cusp of the “greatest generation” – depression, war and all, he supported all of his family through hard work encouraging them all to be independent, strong and capable. He was one of 18 or so children and as I understand it, they were all that way, so perhaps it was genetic…I just know that fame and fortune didn’t interest him, but life did.

Their Decatur home was old school southern,  graced with wide open spaces and two very private bedrooms, a sun porch that stretched across the back that gazed into the woods and a large formal dining room where people were entertained on fine china and crystal. . Waited on by maids while they looked out over the expansive front yard, smoking cigarettes, pipes and cigars laughing about their world. A neighborhood was eventually built up around their home in the “country”.

They generally didn’t throw stuff away back then, they fixed it. They kept things longer, holding on to them, caring for and reusing…over and over. My grandfathers shop outside was filled with tools and designed to fix, repair and rebuild. He worked six days a week, five full and then a half day on Saturday when, in the afternoon he mowed the lawn fully dressed – in his coat, tie and dress wingtip shoes walking behind his large Gravely tractor. Even till the end of his life you could often find him splitting wood for the many fireplaces in the house or repairing something one of us had broken.

When they were young, families remained close…if not always mentally then physically. With the advent of trains, planes and cars families began to spread out. Ours included..moving farther and farther away from each other – spreading our wings and flying far.

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My grandmother always said. “you raise your children to be strong and better than you, and that’s what they do.” She was a classy, well dressed always, no-nonsense Irish woman, tough as nails.

My grandfather lived his life by some simple, set in stone creeds – “Always do the right thing. “, 

FullSizeRender (24)“Be kind and nice.”, “Live within your means.” , “Always…always..tell the truth.” I can remember each of those phases like it was yesterday. He spoke them often, but more importantly he lived by them. He was a simple, humble and a good “Southern Gentleman”…all the way to his core.

He worked hard, taught family much about life. They worked hard together trying to build a city back during the depression and while he was just a little to old to go off to war, he joined the US Coast Guard and served his country in that way. They both gave to their community, he through Rotary Club and she through gardening clubs. Family, church and community were their benchmarks.

After she died at close to 100, he pined away, James continued to go about his daily life, going to work, to church and passing time in the yard and watching sports on his old B&W TV. I watched the flame leave him with her. It was like seeing a candle burn down and the wick slowly choking out….They’d looked after each other for so long….Without her there, he was ready…

My parents & I went through the things in their home. Discovering treasures that I never knew they had. A $100 in bills in an envelope taped to the back of a drawer in her dresser –  what we’d call “mad money” and old letters they’d written to each other. It was like reading a love story from the deep southern past. A story that came full circle, youth to old age. He told her how he adored her, of her strength and beauty. He reminded her over and over of his feelings. When they were apart he asked her to please wait for him. It was almost a seventy year marriage, a lifetime of love. I’m sorry that my children never knew them, but they are still connected….through me, my parents and life.

They succeeded at fully living life.They did it, not because their life was easier, they had more or were any luckier than others. They succeeded because they worked hard at it, loved it and cherished it. Together and apart. They raised their family to be adventurous and independent. They loved, let go and then watched. What happened with that was AMAZING. Their children grew, lived and taught their children (me & my brothers) to do the same…..this was their gift. A gift that continues to pay forward…to my children and over and over…..

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As I sit and think today about their home on Brookmeade Road in Decatur, Alabama I have a powerful and warm force in the center of my soul…my heart. I don’t really remember all of their stuff, although I have some of their treasures in my home. I know that their house would never have been featured in Southern Living or any other home magazine

What I do remember is running through their huge two acre yard barefoot with my cousins, exploring for hours in the trees and grass. Hiding among the cedar trees. Putting lights on her fabulous Christmas trees…inside and out. I remember catching lightening bugs in mason jars on warm Summer nights. I remember eating warm, fresh oatmeal with sliced bananas and cinnamon at the breakfast table. My grandfather taking afternoon naps on the sunporch in his Lazboy. Walking in the back door late in the afternoon just before suppertime and smelling Matties wonderful southern food on the stove and the taste of my grandmothers cornbread smeared with fresh butter……..that very distinctive smell of being home that I’m absolutely sure still, must be there today.

“What will I leave behind?”

My grandparents home and that of my parents were successful homes. They both did what I think homes should do. That’s the whole point. Another gift. I always have it. It’s mine. It’s all of ours, my children, friends and family – all of those I love and cherish. You see….it’s really in my heart…my soul – the smells, the feelings, the laughter…all of it! In this age of instant internet we don’t have to wait a moment to see what’s new and cool, ..we can see it, feel it, buy it right now….But let’s not forget that it takes more than that to create a home. It’s a generational gift. The greatest gift of a lifetime. You can fill it with fancy furniture from the very best stores or things that aren’t so trendy, but when you build a home from your heart…well, that never goes out of style

Maybe it’s just a midlife thing..or a passing phase, but I see many of my friends building fancy new homes, second places at the beach or here in the mountains and filling them with crazy amounts of stuff and I get to feeling jealous, or that I’m less than…or just not good enough..I am reminded of Ivy Mae and James’ beautiful old home on Brookmeade Road and just like theirs……

Mine will always have open doors, welcoming friends, family & strangers.

Mine will always have a few muddy dog prints on the floor and laundry to be done.

My home will always be filled with love.and here’s my wish for you – I hope yours is too.

Because I know, that’s really all that’s left behind when our life is all done..Love.

Robert Rankin

Innkeeper, Explorer & Adventurer