In Between the Lines & Spaces

Selected Excerpts from the Book…

Laney’s Lullaby

Marking the occasion of what would have been the 100th birthday of my maternal grandmother Lane (April 30, 2013), I offer the last piece I wrote for my collection ‘Between The Lines & Spaces”–the book’s unexpected introductory story…

Motion madness, vertigo, being “sea sick” in the car, that’s pretty much how I spent my childhood summer vacations with the family.

Growing up in the south, it was a given that any journey extending more than fifty miles would in someway include a trek through the mountains, over winding roller-coaster roads. And among the most horrendous of these E-ticket rides were the meandering trails through the Appalachian range of Kentucky and West Virginia.

The unexpected curves, hairpin turns and the blur of scenery flying by my window always had me crawling over the car’s front seat to stretch out in the back, where my grandmother often sat. Resting my spinning head in her lap, I would close my eyes tight and try to shut out the world flying by. After a moment I’d feel the gentle caress of my grandmother’s small fingers combing through my hair. And the rumble of the road would fade as she softly hummed a little tune…

Laney and Bart

She was the quiet one in the family.

Both my father and grandfather were ministers, capable of holding an audience’s attention with the mere sound of their spoken thoughts. My mother, a gifted organist, could make a cathedral come alive. And my younger brother, who would later become a Broadway star, could dissipate the gloom in the room with just a phrase from his then soprano voice. But my little grandmother could do all of this and more, with just the presence of her quiet strength.

She never said much, she didn’t have to; her silent, selfless acts spoke louder than mere words. Laney, as we called her, had a way of stepping into to our life, giving us the benefit of her wisdom, her “grand” mothering, without intrusion. She was as strong and silent as an oak, as inviting as a sprawling shade tree. Yet though her selfless acts were quietly performed, it is the sound of her rarely-heard voice, in the back seat of our car, that still echoes in my memory.

We traveled a lot during my childhood and I spent many of those road trips laying down in the backseat, listening to Laney’s lullaby. Over time, her melody grew into a little song to which she would compose impromptu lyrics to fit whatever state we were in – geographic or otherwise. But, if I was in the backseat, we were most likely in the mountains…

We’re on a mountain in the sky
Up in the clouds way up high
But there’s a city drawing nigh
Over the mountain in the sky

Her whispered, melodic words were few but profound. Although she was the quiet one, to me Laney’s simple song was as inspiring as one of my grandfather’s sermons.

We’re on a mountain in the sky
Up in the clouds way up high

Reclining in the backseat, trying to shut out the blur of the passing landscape, I came to understand that there’s no way to avoid the mountain. Life is an up hill struggle, at best, with unpredictable twists, cloud-shrouded turns, and hairpin curves. I can close my eyes and wish that the world would just stop, but there is no way around the mountain. It must be climbed.

But though Laney’s lullaby didn’t pull any punches and never sugar-coated the state of my surroundings, her lyric was not just a lesson, it was also an encouragement…

But there’s a city drawing nigh
Over the mountain in the sky

Listening to those words I knew that if I would just hold on, not far down the road, just over the mountain, there would be a city; a rest stop where the family could pull over, stretch our legs and grab a bite to eat. I knew that once we made it to the rest stop all of the maddening motion of the twisted road would be forgotten…

***

Looking back on those days, I am now certain that when I have finally climbed The Mountain, and negotiated my own way through every twist and turn, I, too will see The City; that Ultimate Rest Stop. With my eyes wide open, having moved beyond the vertigo of this world, I’ll pick up the pace a little, ‘cause I know old friends and family will already be there, getting ready for a bite to eat. And somewhere in the middle of this bunch I’ll spy the tall Texan frame of my grandfather emerging with open arms. And hanging onto one of those arms will be a little-wisp-of-a thing and she’ll be smiling from ear to ear.

After dinner we’ll all stretch our legs and take a walk down by the river and find a patch of shade trees. Under its branches we’ll all sit, sing and laugh about the journey, forgetting all about the twists and turns of the road.

And, once more, I’ll rest my head in my grandmother’s lap and enjoy the gentle caress of her fingers …combing through my hair.

***

‘Between The Lines & Spaces” was affectionately dedicated to Nellie Boman Lane – “Laney” Just as I was completing the final pages of this collection, she concluded the last chapter of her story. Laney’s quiet strength taught me the value of a few, well chosen words. Her long, selfless, well-lived life is a melody I will never forget.

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