When Life Writes A Sequel

Once upon a time, in a land rather different from Texas, an artist fond of chairs (particularly red chairs) and enamored of trees (especially whimsical trees able to use their branches to tickle cobalt suns or pistachio moons) whiled away his days stitching creaky little chairs and graceful trees into tapestries of hillocks and roads.

One day, the artist posed his favorite chair and a favorite tree against the sweet, subtle glow of a marmelade sky. He posted a photograph of the painting at his blog, then posed a question to his readers. Would they be willing to compete for the honor of providing a suitable title for the painting before he took it off to meet the public?

His readers were willing, and some of you surely remember the events that followed.  Cobwebbed and empty beneath its tree, the Red Chair evoked for me other seasons, other times. I remembered an aging chair tucked beneath an ordinary tree in my town’s historic graveyard, dappled by afternoon sunlight and shadowed by a falling night. I recalled spending warm summer afternoons engrossed in that slatted chair, imagining the lives of early pioneers and the Civil War soldiers buried nearby. Above all, I invented stories about the chair itself – how it had come to be there, how it had come to lean so comfortably against its own strongly-rooted companion.

When first I saw the chair, I couldn’t help laughing. It looked like a down-home version of the concrete benches scattered around the cemetery. Had it been a favorite of someone buried nearby? Was it there to allow family members to take their ease while they chatted with the dearly-departed? Or was it simply meant as a reminder of simpler days, a time when the invitation to “C’mon over here and set a spell” rarely was refused?

Whatever the explanation, when I saw Gary Myers’ painting, a lifetime of chairs, trees, sweet memory and suddenly-stinging grief combined to evoke a title I thought perfect. I offered up Shedding Daylight as my suggestion, Gary chose it for his title and that, I assumed, was that. A painting had been created, a name had been accepted, a prize had been won. The lovely sequence of events would be remembered and cherished, everyone would live happily ever after and the story had come to its end. 

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Even as I wandered Fairview cemetery, admiring the tree and the chair that helped me win my prize, other events were unfolding as people responsible for maintaining the cemetery grappled with a problem. Many of the hundred-year-old sycamores and oaks seemed to be in decline. There were suggestions they would have to be removed.

Emotional attachment to the trees was strong. One shaded the resting place of Charlotte Natho, a nine-year-old girl who died from diphtheria following the Great Storm of 1900 and who was the first person buried in the cemetery. Others stood tall over the graves of Civil War veterans, half Union and half Confederate.  Three of the Confederate veterans – John Henry Kipp, John William Derrick and John Daniel Owens – were members of the Magnolia Rangers, a Company formed on January 17, 1861 from men living in Galveston and Harris counties. It was feared even John Kipp’s sycamore would have to be removed.

As time passed, discussions with arborists reduced the scope of the problem. Of the fifteen or so trees in question, eight could be saved. Among those requiring removal, one murmured and sighed over the grave of Liz Fleming’s daughter.

I’ve never met Mrs. Fleming, and I knew nothing of her connection to Fairview Cemetery until I arrived home one February evening to find an email waiting. In it, Mrs. Fleming said,

“I recently saw in your blog an essay about my daughter’s chair in Fairview Cemetery. I wanted you to know she has a new chair there, next to a carving of an angel out of the tree the old chair sat under.
We had this carving done in remembrance of our family. Visit the cemetery and enjoy seeing the carving and chair, but don’t sit in the chair yet. It has been varnished only a few days ago, and I wouldn’t want you to get your clothes stained. Blessings…”

Suddenly, the mysterious slatted chair in the cemetery had an identity and a history. Ernest Randall, President of the Cemetery Board, had mentioned in an online article that “a regular visitor comes and sits by her family’s plot”. Now I was certain I knew who that visitor was.

I re-read Mrs. Fleming’s email, twice. Then, despite the rain and the late hour, I pulled out my camera and drove to Fairview Cemetery.  Even from the street I could see that a good bit of trimming had been done since my last visit.  As I turned into the main entrance, an unexpected openness left me just slightly disoriented as I sought the familiar chair.

Then, I saw her. The angel, a ruddy-winged bearer of ambiguous tidings, seemed to have landed among the tombstones on a whim.

Despite the gloom – perhaps even because of the gloom – she was astonishingly beautiful. The chair next to her was recognizable as a chain-saw carving, but a loving and far more skilled hand had contributed to the expressiveness of her face and the fluidity of her gown.

Still trying to get my bearings, I looked around and found the slatted chair, some distance now from the-tree-that-became-an-angel. Next to it I saw the Fleming family’s marker and, looking even more closely at the carving, I found one more surprise.  The name of Earl Jones had been inscribed into the base.

A woodcarver from Galveston, Earl was one of the artists responsible for transforming so many of the Island’s live oaks into magnificent and whimsical sculptures after the wind and salt of Hurricane Ike destroyed the trees. His style is unmistakeable, whether he’s carving mermaids, dolphins or angels. Finding him at Fairview was both astonishing and appropriate.  When I told Mrs. Fleming that I knew Earl’s work, she said,

I enjoyed meeting him and having him do this work for us. When he was finished, he came by my house, gave me a hug and told me we were now family. That was so touching to me. I have lived this life for 81 years and important events still keep happening to me.

Yes, Ma’am, I thought. They certainly do. In the midst of this world’s foolishness, important events pile up, overlap, come a-calling, run us down and knock our socks off without a single word of it showing up in the media, social or otherwise. 

Now and then we’re granted a glimpse of this connectedness of life, allowed to see through layers of experience and circumstance to the heart of an amazing truth.  Even when we think a chapter’s complete, even when we’ve closed the book, put it back on the shelf and gone on to other things, life itself  has the power to write a sequel in our hearts.

Comments always are welcome. To leave a comment or respond, please click below. No ReBlogging, please – thanks!.
To read the entire story of “Shedding Daylight”, click here.
To read about Earl Jones and the carving of Galveston’s trees, click here

119 thoughts on “When Life Writes A Sequel

  1. This just came in as I was logging out for bed. I knew from the title that it was you and stopped to read. I can only say WOW to this..the story, the sequel, the lady who wrote you, Earl Jones, and the amazing angel that lets the tree live in the most poignant way!! This is heaven.

    1. Judy,

      Isn’t it wonderful? In truth, this series of events is perfectly designed to confound those who say “nothing ever happens in small towns”. Even Gary’s painting that initiated the whole thing was produced in his studio in Horseheads, New York – not in a SoHo loft. What could be better?

      Beyond that, there’s a lot of evidence here to support Chase Jarvis’ contention that adventure and experience come first. I think you’ll enjoy the post I linked. I also think you’ll recognize the truth in it, as I did.


    1. Judy,

      It is a nice end-of-day story, isn’t it? And the angel’s quite amazing. Sometimes I see the grief in her expression. Sometimes she seems almost haughty, sometimes as though she’s simply pondering the vicissitudes of life.

      I’d say Mr. Jones outdid himself, to our benefit! I’m glad you enjoyed the post.


  2. Oh, Linda! Such a poignant- and at the same time – satisfying story! What a serendipitous circle for the family to have read your blog and contacted you and to find that you actually knew the artist who carved the pieces, too- all because you found inspiration in a chair. The guardian angel and wonderful chair are an apt testimony to the fact that sequels can bring about some very good things.

    ~ Beth

    1. Beth,

      Honestly, when I opened Mrs. Fleming’s email, I felt a bit like I imagine Howard Carter to have felt when he gazed into King Tut’s tomb – all I could think was, “There are wonderful things here!” By the time I found Earl’s name on the sculpture, all I could do was laugh.

      It is a completely satisfying story. Part of the satisfaction lies in tying up some of the loose ends – like the history of the slatted chair. On the other hand, I thought I had the story nicely tied up the first time around. I certainly didn’t expect the sequel!

      I grew up around people who always were saying, “Truth is stranger than fiction”. I don’t know about that, but there’s no question that it can be equally interesting!


  3. To think it all started with that red chair. I love following the trail of things myself, as I’m sure you know, so it’s particularly appealing to follow along as you follow this trail, which is so rich. The angel carving is gorgeous.

    1. Susan,

      The trick is in the following, of course. How many trips to the Land of the Great Serendip have been short-circuited because someone said (for example), “Oh, that was a nice email Mrs. Fleming sent. So that was her daughter’s chair…” and never made a move beyond that.

      It’s life as Block-a-thon. It’s the bear going over the mountain, just to see what he can see. And most of all, it’s a belief that life has more to offer than we’re generally prepared for. That kind of belief helps to keep our eyes – and ears! – open.


    1. nikkipolani,

      Bread and butter. Peanut butter and jelly. Sugar and cream. Text and context. ;)

      Whether the “text” is words or image, it always comes embedded into a context – those “dimensions” you brought up. If we’re able to add to those details, enlarge the context, the story only becomes richer and more enjoyable. In this case, it certainly did!


    1. Steve,

      I’ve heard of “Connections”, but never watched it. Luckily for me, the entire series is on YouTube now and I can do a little catching up.

      As strange as it sounds, I think my own ability to find and make connections began in the mid-70s. I’d always been relatively/painfully shy and solitary, but was forced into settings where the ability to make small talk with strangers was important.

      I figured out pretty quickly that people love to be asked about themselves and love to be remembered, so I asked questions and filed away information. It wasn’t long before I was introducing people with similar interests to one another, helping them to connect. Sometimes I think blogging’s little different, except we’re helping people connect to the world as well as one another.


    1. Julie,

      Indeed, she is. I’m anxious to go to the cemetery on a bright, sunny day and take more photos. Her expression seems so capable of change, I’d not be surprised to find a trace of a smile there, too.


  4. How totally beautiful. So amazing that such beauty can be found in death of the tree that created such a welcoming place to be for so long. I think that if the people that are buried can feel the spaces that their bodies are laid to rest in, then this person is welcoming the sun and the angel overhead.

    Congrats on naming that wonderful art piece too. very fitting.
    peace n abundance,
    and I love your photographs of her too

    1. CheyAnne,

      I’ve always thought that a lovely cemetery plot with lovely trees was the best – but I’ve lived long enough now to see what oak wilt, Dutch elm disease and simple old age can do to those lovely trees.

      And as you suggest, open sky, warm sunshine and blanketing snows aren’t so bad, either. There are a lot of prairie graves that don’t have a tree for miles. In fact, the last time I was in Kansas, a fellow told me there are burial sites on his land. There’s nothing there but prairie, and the recognizable shape of a grave that was dug by people still on the move. There’s no town, no cemetery – only the grass and the wind. That’s beautiful, too.

      I’m so happy you like the photos. I wanted to try and find a way to evoke a sense of that very complex angel, as well as just her image. She is beautiful.


  5. What an absolute wonderful wonderful post. Thank you for including the correspondence and the photos. Will put it on my travel list of TX places I’d like to see.

    1. becca,

      If you get to Galveston, you have to see the carvings there, too. One of my favorites is shown on the post about the trees – it’s a big, gray dog standing upright at his home’s fence. He gets spiffed up for Mardi Gras, Christmas and so on. In fact, I ought to make a run down there and see if he’s got some St. Patrick’s Day finery.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. If you’re ever coming this way, let me know and I’ll give you a tour.


  6. I remember those photos and your beautiful post about the sculptures that were carved after Hurricane Ike. The angel is absolutely beautiful. How nice that Mrs. Fleming contacted you.

    1. Bella Rum,

      I’ll tell you – there are a whole lot of people out there making good use of Google. There have been several instances of people searching either for themselves or for something important to them who’ve found my blog and gotten in touch. It’s such fun when it happens.

      I did some searching myself, just to see what Mr. Jones has been up to. Clearly, he’s not wanting for work. There are some places in Houston where he’s done carving, too. I just may be forced to track him down one day.

      It’s nice that you remember that post about Galveston’s trees. It was such a healing experience for the city, to bring that beauty out of such devastation.


  7. What a beautiful first read of the morning you provided! Tears warmed my heart as I savored your words and the story they unveiled. There are so many lovely nuances knitted into this one, and they trigger many memories of my own.
    Your final image is pure genius!

    1. Lisa,

      I was pleased with that last image. I wasn’t sure it would work, but I wanted something that would communicate the “layers” of experience represented here.

      I love your use of the word “nuance”. In certain ways the story is perfectly straightforward – in other ways, not so much. Every time I think about it, I find myself pondering the “New Yorker Magazine” section called “Shouts and Murmurs”. We’re accustomed to shouts in this world we inhabit, but there are murmurings, too – and this is one murmuring angel.


      1. Wow, I haven’t seen an issue of the New Yorker in — two years. I was in the Belize airport and visited with a lady heading to NY while I was heading to Costa Rica. She handed me the magazine and said that she thought I’d probably appreciate it! I certainly did, and I savored every page!

        1. When I was in Liberia, the joke was that, when you no longer understood the cartoons in The New Yorker, it was time to go back to the States for a little cultural refresher. Today, I don’t understand half the cartoons anyway, but there’s nowhere to go!

  8. Your empty chair story is so full. I think the more people put into life the more they get out, and this proves it. To me the angel, though beautiful, looks a little disdainful in her flowing robes, possibly like an assistant in a very posh clothes shop!

    1. Sarah,

      Disdainful! Perfect! She does appear to have a bit of an attitude. I’d thought “arrogant” described her expression at first, but that wasn’t quite it. Now that you’re reminded me of my first foray into some high-end shops – I remember that expression quite well.

      Of course, other words could do as well. “Self-possessed.” “Composed.” “Reflective”. Perhaps they’re all part of her character and representative of that nuance that Lisa spoke of, above.

      I agree with you about being willing to engage with life. That’s what touched me most about Mrs. Fleming’s comment about still experiencing important events at age 81. I’ve known people who’ve withdrawn from life long before 81. I’ve known some who withdrew at 41, and some who never engaged at all. It’s sad when that happens.


  9. Oh, you write from the heart. That Mrs. Fleming noted your blog and contacted you is beyond serendipity. All these events were meant to be. I smiled as Mrs. Fleming warned you about varnish. Your last photo is perfect as if the words weren’t enough.

    1. Georgette,

      Of course I smiled when I saw her comment about the varnish. That’s just one more little detail that makes the story so lovely and so amazing.

      Something you’ll appreciate is that she sent on the “Shedding Daylight” post to her children and grandchildren. Now, she can add this one, with all of these lovely comments. If I’d commissioned such a lovely carving, no matter how much it pleased me, it would add something to know that others appreciate it, too. I hope the stories do that for her.


  10. Wonderful post, Linda. Just wonderful. The sculpture and the chair are magnificent, fitting adaptations to the loss of the sycamores. It’s an amazing mesh in which we live.

    1. Gary,

      After I finished being astonished by the angel, one of my first thoughts was of how fitting it is that this little saga ended with a piece of folk art. Any number of memorials could have been erected, but the wood-carving was the one thing that melded perfectly with your painting.

      I’ve thought a time or two about the fact that the painting you sent me was titled, “Inspiration”. I just don’t even know what to say about that, but I’m not moving the painting out of my sight!


  11. Gorgeous writing. I love the idea of a comfy old chair sitting by a graveside allowing visitors to sit in the silence and peace next to a loved one. And I truly love the idea of sculptures placed among the stones. How wonderful.

    1. Jean,

      I know a fellow who visits his own grave on a regular basis – has a chair and everything. As he says, “I’m going to be spending a lot of time here later, so I might’s well get comfortable”.

      I actually have a plot out in the middle of Texas, in an old, old cemetery. There’s a story there, too, of course. I need to take a cooler and my lawn chair and go check it out again – just to make sure the big old oak is still doing well.

      I love the sculptures, myself. The wood carvings are great, but even stone and concrete can add a good bit. In Paris, Texas, there’s a tomb topped with a terrific statue of Jesus in cowboy boots. What’s not to like? ;)


  12. Morning Linda:

    What a lovely story and the awesome photographs to start my day. The pictures are very original and with a special touch of class. The creativity of the sculpture that is able to re-live a tree by transforming it into a work of art proves that art has no rules or restrictions. The angel is indeed amazing.

    God Bless,


    1. Omar,

      When I look at the angel, I can’t help remembering one of Michaelangelo’s less-often quoted lines: “Death and love are the two wings that bear the good man to heaven.”

      It is a lovely story – of family love, artistic commitment and a shared vision. There have been plenty of wood carvings done over the past years, especially as re-purposing trees in this way has gained popularity, but I’ve never seen one that was quite so compelling.

      I enjoyed creating the images. I’m glad you liked them – I know you’ve been doing some of your own creating with photos recently, and I hope you’re having as much fun with it as I did!


  13. “Ruddy-winged bearer of ambiguous tidings,” is perfect. I love this post. What a beautiful monument, this tree angel… magnificently simple and moving… You’ve woven this story beautifully and created the perfect image to illustrate. Yes, amazing things should continue to happen, even as we draw our last breathe…

    1. Teresa Evangeline,

      That sentence about the “ruddy-winged” angel was the first one written for this post. What’s fun is that it was written as an exercise on a new grammar blog. I’m reading “Write Intentions” to begin re-learning everything I’ve forgotten about gerunds, participles, and so on.

      The assignment was to write a sentence using an appositive phrase. I’d just come back from the cemetery that night, and that sentence was the one that popped out. You can find it down in the comment section. It’s one more affirmation that craft and art don’t have to be opposed.

      Your comment about amazing things enduring through the whole of life reminds me of a favorite saying. “We can’t know whether there’s life after death, but we certainly can determine whether there’s life before death.”


  14. Linda, this may be one of my favorite posts of all time from you. Talk about full circle! Like you, I have gone to the cemetery many times — we look at the stones, wonder about the strangers there — the ones who died so young, the ones who died so long ago, the ones who have a blank stone beside them, waiting for their companion to join them.

    The angel is absolutely stunning. One often sees stone angels and they are beautiful too, but lack the warmth, the texture, the earthiness of the wood. To have had such a beautiful piece commissioned, along with the rough-hewn chair is a gift not only to themselves and their memories but to all who visit.

    What I love is that somehow in all this cyber world, Mrs. Fleming found you and that your connection has endured. There is so very much richness here. Oh, how it makes me smile.

    By the way, your photos are stunning. Please share how you created them!

    1. jeanie,

      I’m laughing – you’ve reminded me of my dear mother, who refused while alive to have her date of birth inscribed on the stone she and my dad share. She wouldn’t want all those snoopy people to know her age, after all!

      I agree with you that the wood seems warmer and more alive. Of course it won’t endure as long as marble – but if it warms the hearts of those who remember a departed loved one, that’s enough. And while no one’s really commented on the chair, I have to say I’m quite fond of it, too. There was one very similar, although with a higher back, in the cabin up in the Hill Country. Was it comfortable? No, of course not. But it was fun to make!

      I’m glad you liked the photos. Here’s my confession. I have both Adobe Elements and Corel Paint Shop Pro, but I’ve ended up using PicMonkey for post processing. It’s free, but I’ve paid the extra $25 or whatever for the full program.

      I tend to mess around, so it’s hard to say exactly what I did with a couple of these, but two are simple. For the last image, I used the painting at the top of the page as my base. Then, I overlaid it with the “gray angel” as a texture. I adjusted the opacity until the combination suited me, and that was that!

      For the second image of the angel, the close-up, I cropped, sharpened a bit and then adjusted the highlights and shadows. Then, I used the “Holga” filter, used a brush to restore some of the warmth of the wood to the statue, overlaid it with a gray “smudge” texture and erased what I didn’t want around the angel herself.

      For my purposes, it works. Some day I’ll get serious about learning a real program, but right now I just don’t have the time to devote to it. For some reason, Elements and Photoshop – even Corel – just weren’t at all intuitive for me. The whole concept of layers was so difficult. I know I could learn it if I really devoted myself to the project – but I’d rather spend what time I have on words.


      1. Thanks for the info — I’ve played around with picmonkey a little bit but haven’t had the time to really dig into it. Beth at Be Yourself is doing a series of photo tutorials and I think her next is on using the cloning feature in PM. I haven’t upgraded yet, but think I probably will when I know I can spend more of my own time with it. I have no idea what to do with the brushes! Like you, if time is at a premium, I’d rather get the words out.

        The photos really ARE splendid — I hope she sees it. And yes, the chair is very handsome but that angel does take center stage!

        1. You won’t have a bit of trouble with the program. As soon as you figure out the system with one effect, it works just the same for all of them. You’ll have fun!

  15. Linda, you’ve hit another home run! Beautiful story. Gorgeous photos. I loved hearing how the sequel was written. There are so many stories in cemeteries, and I appreciate how you went out of your way to bring us just one of them!

    1. Debbie,

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it. You’re right – cemeteries are like books in some ways, and every stone is a chapter. Walking through a cemetery, “reading” the stones and imagining the characters is a wonderful way to spend some time. When all of that is accompanied by such beautiful art, it’s even better.

      With interesting stones (especially those with quotations) and sculpture, cemeteries seem human in a way “memorial gardens” don’t. Identical markers, flush with the ground, may make mowing easier, but they’re surely not much fun!


  16. “…An unexpected openness left me just slightly disoriented….” That’s how I felt last Sunday when, for the first time in almost a year, I visited Bastrop State Park and drove along the main road, Park Road 1C. It’s a route I’d taken plenty of times before, but now, with most of the trees gone or turned into charred remnants, the new openness was disconcerting, and I had a hard time making what I saw match up with what I remembered. Your encounter involved a happier transformation of a tree.

    1. Steve,

      Your mention of Bastrop reminded me of my experience of noticing the initial stages of the Bastrop fire on radar.

      Now that the replanting of the loblollies has begun, some of that space will be filled again, over time. But for now, it has to be disorienting to people who’ve spent time there. I imagine as a photographer you’d be especially sensitive to it, as the amount and quality of light is different.

      It’s true that we become accustomed to the physical space around us, even if it’s entirely unconscious until change comes and we’re forced to adjust. I notice it especially on my boats. When I’ve worked on a boat repeatedly, I avoid lines, rigging, winches and such without a thought. On a new boat, I spend the first couple of weeks bloodied or bruised as I keep “discovering” new bits of rigging and hardware. After some time has passed, I navigate around the decks without a thought.


  17. I wished to respond upon first reading this post, but not knowing what to say, I left, as usual, without throwing even a widow’s mite into the well.

    But with a few hours reflection, I can now confess that the experience felt from reading your words reminded me a time that I stood near the edge of the Grand Canyon, trying to form words to respond to the beauty of that vast space that laid at my feet. But I had no words to throw at that hole in the ground because it left me empty-headed.

    I noticed beauty then and now, and though I will not be able to harness the right words, I speak today out of poverty. I was moved by the way your post pulled together a string of solitary chairs across time and space — the way those chairs circled up to connect artists who paint and who sculpt trees into angels (by the grave of a girl whose parent coincidentally happens to be a reader of your art) and the way art connects people and comforts us and points us toward something greater, like the way that tree-angel will speak to grievers for many years without need of making words.

    Then, there was the mystical way that your post on subjects of child-size graves and grieving parents connected me with other art — that from a story finished last night — John Green’s wonderful novel, “The Fault In Our Stars”. In case you are interested in learning more about the novel, here’s a line from it (page 223) that I shamelessly rob, in order to toss in two worthy cents to the space lying before me.

    “I believe the universe wants to be noticed I think the universe is improbably biased toward consciousness, that it rewards intelligence in part because the universe enjoys its elegance being observed.”

    1. Janell,

      Twitter, Facebook and texting are influencing us in more ways than we imagine. We’ve become so accustomed to immediate response that considered words – thoughtful words – can seem unbearably old-fashioned.

      You know, of course, that I post roughly once a week precisely because I hope to touch or interest people, and evoke a variety of responses. Allowing space for reflection is important to that process.

      I wonder if you’re not more sensitized to chairs and their relationship to grief because of the memorial to the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing so near to you. Those empty chairs are so poignant – meant, of course, to connect us and point us to something greater.

      As for Green’s novel – I did read the review you linked. I think I’ll be giving that one a pass right now. I’ve done plenty of crying in my life, and a review that tells me in a thousand ways “this will make you cry” isn’t what I’m in the mood for just now. I’m sure it’s a great book, but by the time I finished the review, the word “wallowing” had come to mind.

      Something else that struck me in the review was this sentence: “I read fiction so that the characters’ stories, for the time that I’m reading the book, or hopefully longer, will be important to me.” That’s exactly why I love writing about real people – so that their stories will become important to others. I’ve never been able to figure out why I don’t enjoy fiction the way many people do. Maybe it’s just that, for me, fiction never can come close to real life.


  18. As I read this, it reminded me of the post you wrote about the Galveston oaks damaged by the hurricane. I don’t know the circumstances surrounding the death of Mrs. Fleming’s daughter, or that of Charlotte Natho, but losing a child is its own storm of emotions. How appropriate that another work of art by Earl Jones now stands in their cemetery. Thank you for telling this story, Linda. That last paragraph, especially, is perfect.

    1. Charles,

      Charlotte Natho died of diphtheria, but I don’t know anything about Mrs. Fleming’s daughter’s death. As you suggest, it really doesn’t matter. The loss is what counts, and the loss is what’s remembered, grieved, and accounted for.

      A thought just came to me – this very minute. It’s possible this angel is more expressive, so very evocative, precisely because Mr. Jones has had so much practice over the past years. As I understand it, his work in Galveston brought him more commissions. Practice may not make perfect, but it helps all of us become more proficient and confident in our undertakings.

      In any event, it’s a wonderful way to embed an individual’s history more firmly into the history of the area. People will be enjoying the sculpture for many year – I hope for many decades.


  19. Mr. John Donne’s words, also rendered on Mr. Red Tree’s blog, apply here, also. One of the things fast disappearing from this world is a sense of community. Many decry the “small town” mentality where everybody knows everybody else’s business, but because they do, there are many hands willing to help in times of trouble.

    It struck me as particularly brilliant that, instead of completely removing the trees, as you would expect they would do, they left the trunks and asked Mr. Jones to carve them. This was made possible not just because they knew of Mr. Jones and what he did, but because somebody thought out of the box.

    The red chair reminded me of a blue chair my mom got from her oldest sister, who, in turn, got it from their mother’s house after their mother died. Their mother got the chair from the old manse in Roundtop, TX, where her own mother was born, which was later demolished. It would be interesting to learn how many coats of paint that old chair has had, and whether one of them was red.

    1. WOL,

      You’re exactly right about that “small town mentality”. Once upon another time, I worked in a very small Texas town, where the post office, a church and the filling station were on the same party line.
      I was scandalized at first. Later, I understood: you could put everyone in town on the same line and it wouldn’t have made any difference. Everyone knew everything, anyway.

      Sometimes, that small town mentality makes a surprising appearance even in the big city. A 93-year-old WWII veteran in Houston had his house vandalized while he was off to the doctor. Red spray paint grafitti, inside and out, was the crime. I don’t think there even was any theft.

      The boys were caught, but it didn’t end there. The story got picked up on a local radio show, and before it was over, the fellow’s house wasn’t just repaired, it was almost rebuilt. The Marines showed up to support their fellow Marine, and every bit of time and materials was donated. People drove in from surrounding towns to bring checks and cash. Local restaurants fed the crew. It was wonderful.

      If you check the link to the story about the Galveston trees. there’s a photo there of one of the tree trunks outside a home, before anything was done to it. It makes me smile every time I look at it – pure potential, just like a blank canvas. ;)

      Do you think your Mom would let you do a little research on that chair? Can you find a place on the bottom to scrape away the paint? Regardless, that’s a chair with quite a history, and it’s wonderful that it’s still with you.


  20. The angel made me cry – so lovely and perfect for the setting. I love that, as often happens in cemeteries, tragedy turned into beauty.

    1. The Bug,

      I know people sometimes think of cemeteries as “the end” – dare I say a “dead end”? – but I like to think of them as hinges, the points where one world opens up to another. To put it another way, there can be a whole lot of transformation going on in such places, and the transformation of tragedy into beauty is just one example. Grief into acceptance is another. I’m sure you can thing of more. ;)


  21. Beautifully written, as always, but this one touched my heart. Yes, angels seem to land in the most unusual places. And that you have passed this on is very precious!

    1. WildBill,

      Of course the “coincidences” caught my attention first, but as I tried to find a way to tell this story, it touched my heart more deeply, too. We tend to forget that angels are messengers and warriors first, cutsie cupids and plump cherubs later – and maybe only in our imaginations!

      Someone mentioned to me this angel seems like a guardian. That seems right to me. I’d certainly be pleased to have her guarding me.


  22. It seems small towns are bursting with happenings. Your original story and this one has no doubt brought great joy to that family – a sign that their lives have been recognized and will live on beyond them. (I’ve been wondering how those trees were doing – quite a dust up over the cutting.)

    Earl is quite amazing (note to self: need trip to Galveston…after spring break is over). What a wonderful idea to have him carve this angel and chair. Is the angel stoically patient? Tolerant of humans lack of understanding or behavior? Is she held earthbound by her roots? So much to ponder. The chair is the perfect spot for musing….maybe the angel is inviting visitors to pause and become like her: watcher of life, guardian, and guide to the future?

    As usual a terrific post ( and so glad the family reached out to you – you do make a difference).

    1. phil,

      It’s just so amazing to me that League City would change their logo from an oak to a sailboat. Trees are so much a part of the city’s heritage, and carry so many memories. They’re part of what makes the town distinctive. I hope the change is reconsidered. I need to find out if it’s been finalized, and if not, get myself down to the next Council meeting to add a few remarks to the discussion. ;)

      A friend raised another interesting question. Is it possible that Earl had a photograph to work from? If so, that might explain the more compelling expression, the detail and the greater sense of humanity the angel seems to exude. She’s a beauty, for sure, and I do like “guardian” as a way of describing her.

      I was snooping around a bit and found Galveston sculptures I’ve never seen. I found a pic of Earl, too. He’s a real treasure, himself.


      1. Could the Geiko Boat Show at Southshore have anything to do with that? Those logos are more stupid than the lollipop tree – colored shark fins
        Does look like there’s a bit of progress on the bike trails – the city website is always vague and in need of updates – on purpose, no doubt.
        Wondering about hauling bikes to Galveston for a wander?

        1. Well, I believe I’d avoid Galveston for a bit. The way the spring breakers were driving on 146 today, I’d not be trying to bicycle on the Island. They seemed pretty excited. ;)

  23. I have been trying to imagine a reasonable comment for two days, coming back to re-read your entry and the comments. Finally this morning as I came to my level of consciousness I had something I thought worth typing. Can you believe that after ablutions, making coffee and checking WU, BBC and local weather I settled down here and went to look for my comment. There it was: Gone like a cool breeze!

    I thought maybe if I just started typing the comment would appear and I guess in some way it has done that. It had something to do with the last couple of posts you have put up here and your “Last Post” on WU. “Sea Change” or what?
    So far the results are impressive – they keep me awake at night.

    1. Ken,

      Or, to put it another way: “See? Change!” I happen to be one who enjoys change for its own sake, but beyond that, there are times when specific changes are called for in pursuit of larger goals. I guess I feel like this is one of those times.

      I’ve no illusions that everything I do from this point on will be impressive, but at least successes and failures will all be in one place, for anyone to see.

      Jimmy Buffet got it right. “Every stop is a place to start…” . The trick is learning to play it with feeling.


      1. It’s alright. I clicked on the link and got a wonderful Aaron Neville “La Vie Dansant” I’ll find the Jimmy Buffet “Every stop..”
        No eye deer if your next entry will excel what you have done so well for so long – I still have it on my calender to read back .
        ‘Course I loved the wood sculpture and the coincidences: That’s what brought us here.

        1. Oh – I should have been more clear. Jimmy Buffett wrote “La Vie Dansante”, but I think his video of it is silly, and I much prefer Aaron Neville’s version, so that’s what I linked. It’s a great song, for sure.

  24. Wow, what a beautiful story, and what a marvelous statue! The longer I live, the more I love trees. They seem so full of personality. Across the street from our house is an oak that is likely between 300 and 400 years old. It radiates something. So, to see such beauty from brokenness is a parable of grace. Thanks for sharing this!

    1. Allen,

      Your remark about trees and personality reminded me of the “dancing tree”. It showed up on the internet years ago, and there have been passionate discussions that boil down to “Real? Or photoshopped?”

      I prefer to think she’s as natural as can be, , a graceful dancer in the wind and yet another reminder that the best way to discover wonders in our world is to open our eyes!


    1. Martha,

      It is a rich story – like most tales involving mothers and daughters. It’s also a reminder that, when it comes to telling tales, sometimes letting the story evolve beats forcing a conclusion. Tying up the loose ends can be satisfying, but sometimes tugging on one of those loose ends can be even better.


  25. As I read this I was thinking back to a WUmail conversation we had some years ago about you “branching” out with your writing. I am so glad you did – this piece is a joy to read and a pleasure to experience.

    The undisputed fact is that this story might never have been told ten years ago, before the growth Internet traffic, keeping every corner of the world in touch. All hail the WWW …..
    Wise Wonderful Words!

    I love the reincarnation of the tree to a guardian angel, so beautiful and the new seat? Just perfect!

    1. Sandi,

      I just was thinking that the world-wide web works horizontally – as it did with this story – and “vertically”, too, as it has with your genealogical research. It amazes me how much you and Maria have found about your families, and I still remember what a shock it was (and how helpful) to discover my folks’ tombstone online after Mom died.

      Today, of course, nearly everything ends up online, and it’s only by the dedication of who knows how many tireless workers that records and photos from the past land there. But it’s wonderful.

      As for that “branching out” – you know who was helping with the fertilization and pruning in those early years! And yes, I still have those words of wisdom right here where I can see them every day.
      An open mind, discipline and structure, a soupçon of effort et voilà!
      We’ll serve up some progress!


  26. WOW… What a wonderful post, on so many levels. The story of the marker and its resident, the transformation of the lost trees into beautiful pieces of ART, that will remain for all to see — just beautiful. LOVE the artist and his mission to re-create these trees after their destruction. They’ve just been transformed.

    1. FeyGirl,

      Transformation and change is what life’s all about. We can’t stop trees or people from dying (or anything, for that matter) but we can honor their lives. That’s what happened here, beautifully.

      By the way, speaking of someone who had their life transformed… Little Ms. Phoebe Hummingbird had only one of her eggs hatch. When another hummingbird baby lost its nest because of inattentive tree pruning, a rehabber got involved. They removed the unhatched egg from the nest, put the other baby in while Phoebe’s back was turned, and all is well. You can see it here.


      1. Very true… And honoring that transformation, and the time on this sphere, is a show of the utmost respect and love.

        Oh how amazing!! Thanks so much for sharing this. What a beautiful thing. Ignorant tree pruning (especially now) is heartbreaking. I just witnessed such an event last week with a neighbor, with mockingbirds, as I tried to salvage the lost nest. I don’t understand people sometimes, especially when there’s an awareness behind the actions.

  27. How glad I am that I stopped by to read this post.
    Life is a little disjointed at the moment and your story has confirmed that there is a thread running through, even if it isn’t immediately apparent. It is such a peaceful and benevolent tale, it’s making my evening a little less dark.

    1. friko,

      Having read your comment, the first thing I did was run over to check on Millie – and you – but you both seem to be doing fine.

      I’ve never really thought about the word “disjointed”, but tonight it makes me think of going under Julia Childs’ knife. More often than we like, life ends up strewn about like one of her chickens, a leg here and a thigh there. Dis-jointed.

      I really do believe life is good at its heart. There’s plenty of evidence to the contrary – no doubt about that. Still, these little stories do provide that peaceful, benevolent counterweight. When I get a chance to write one, I love it, because I like re-reading it myself once I’m done.

      I hope your evening was pleasant. I see you have to wait a while longer for more actual light in the evenings. Our time change is tomorrow. I hate it because it means I end up working later – and sweet kitty will be getting me up at 4 a.m. instead of 5!


  28. Linda, I read hastily this post. Will need to get back to it when I get my computer. I am using your blog to comment. This is the shortest and easiest way to get to mine while at the library. There has to be a better way- just can’t find it. I am saving all your posts so that I can go back to read.


  29. One good part about coming late to your parties is I get an extra dose of reading – ie as well as your wonderful posts your visitors leave such interesting comments. This time they asked all the questions for me.

    I cried when I read your original post – I found the painting and the chair in the cemetery very moving. I’ve seen benches in cemeteries but never a simple chair like that.
    I too absolutely adore the last photo. I think its brilliant.
    I also wondered what happened to Liz Fleming’s daughter.
    The angel is simply beautiful. Thanks to you I now know the artist (love the sculpture of the dog at his garden fence)

    Isn’t it marvelous how Liz Fleming found your post. When I was in South Africa I photographed a quote carved on the sidewalk in Johannesburg and assumed the author was South African. A few weeks ago the author of the quote wrote to me on my “About” page asking me where I’d photographed the quote. He lives in Canada, I live in California and I took the photo two years ago in Johannesburg. The world wide web is amazing.

    1. Rosie,

      Simplicity has its virtues, doesn’t it? There are some amazingly ornate memorials in cemeteries, but I’ve never seen anything more touching than this angel. My favorite grieving angel is this one, commissioned by Jane Stanford in memory of her brother, Henry Clay Lathrop. It’s near the Stanford family mausoleumon the Stanford campus.

      That’s a great story about the quotation. I remember your visit to South Africa, and enjoyed seeing the photos again, too. I’ve had a few such experiences, and they never fail to amaze. I once used a photo of a homeless man and his dog. It wasn’t long before I learned that he had an identity, too – his family had been searching for him for two years, and the trail kept running cold. Except, they had evidence that he was still out and about because his photo kept appearing on the web. I don’t know if they ever found him.

      I do know people who regularly search for themselves on the web. I’ve always thought that was silly, but who knows what we’d find if we did? I’d be afraid of finding that 5th grade photo I tried to erase from the face of the earth!


  30. After a rather rough week at work (which wasn’t very conducive to doing much but collapsing in the evenings) I did work up the energy to cut my computer on tonight. I’m so glad I did. Very refreshing and just what I needed.

    What an amazing chain of stories; weaving their way, one to the next, apart and then back together again.

    Myers’ paintings remind me a bit of some of the Impressionist’s works that I like so much. Van Gogh’s chair springs to mind.

    As soon as I saw your photo of the carved angel, I knew who the artist was. Though I couldn’t remember his name, it was obviously the fellow who carved the stumps in Galveston after Ike.

    As beautiful as the angel is, the carved chair is what strikes a chord with me. Why, I’m not sure, but it is what I’d choose if I was offered one of them for my own.

    1. Gué,

      I just saw that you’re home today! Hoorah! I had my own kind of week, but I got to end it by peeling paint off a boat, which was inexplicably satisfying (and part of a larger story, of course.)

      This truly is an amazing chain of stories. Sometimes I think the butterfly-causing-ripples-a-world-away business gets a little overdone, but there’s no question that connections exist all around us that never get surfaced. We’re too busy, or don’t ask the right questions. We aren’t curious enough, or we’re too tired.

      It’s amazing how powerful chair images can be – and how firmly some chairs become “Dad’s chair” or “Mom’s”. (I had a friend for dinner this week – she learned that Dixie has her chair, too, and is willing to defend it.)

      I’m reading a fascinating book right now called “Craftsman of the Cumberlands”, about a chair-maker named Chester Cornett. His chairs are a little more complex than this one, but they’ve got the same sense of presence: solid, functional, compelling. They beat IKEA all to heck. ;)


    1. Veni, legi, dilexi… What a nice twist on the good Caesar’s words! (I’m not sure about that “dilexi” – you can correct that if need be.) Your comment prompted me to take a look at some other quotations from Caesar, and they’re most interesting. I don’t think he’d have a bit of trouble understanding the dynamics of today’s power struggles.

      I’m completely delighted you stopped by. And I’m not surprised you like the angel. I knew you would. There’s another carving in Galveston I haven’t seen, of an angel holding a bunny. I don’t know if this is one of Earl’s carvings, too, but I suspect it might be.


    1. klrs09,

      It’s true. Sometimes being witness to events is as good as being a participant, and can lead to equally satisfying tales.

      There are so many forces abroad in the land apparently dedicated to disconnecting us from one another and from ourselves. Being a witness when life takes a stand against all that is wonderful.


  31. In the midst of this world’s foolishness, important events pile up, overlap, come a-calling, run us down and knock our socks off without a single word of it showing up in the media, social or otherwise. Precisely why it’s taken me so long to come and read this.

    This, of course, is my favorite of all these eloquent sentences: The angel, a ruddy-winged bearer of ambiguous tidings, seemed to have landed among the tombstones on a whim.

    1. Hippie Cahier,

      I love that first sentence you quoted, myself. It’s pure fun and energy, but even more I love how it starts at the adult-surface (pile up, overlap) and then begins to drill down until it hits a pool of language-heard-in-childhood.

      I think this may be my only post where I can positively identify the first sentence. ;)


    1. Rosemary,

      I’ve not read it, and must confess I’d not heard of Joe Coomer. I substituted the Goodreads link for the one you brought, because I thought some of the reviews there did a good job of discussing it.

      The Texas setting’s of interest to me, of course. They reminded me of Graham Greene’s “Travels With My Aunt”, a book which I re-read and always enjoy.

      Thanks for stopping by, and leaving the link!


    1. Claudia,

      Your comment made me remember Joni Mitchell’s The Circle Game . “We can’t return, we can only look behind from where we came…”
      Learning how to look back is the trick, I suppose. What can’t be denied is that this family, at least, has closed the circle beautifully.


      1. When I reread my grammatically tangled comment, I wasn’t sure whether or not I caused your blog to be invaded by the grammar police in the middle of the night!

        I always loved The Circle Game and revisited the lyrics after your reply. From the point of view of someone who has ridden the painted ponies a little longer than when I first enjoyed the song, I’m struck by Joni’s description of a twenty-year-old’s experience with disillusionment. Something to think about as a mother of a 19-year-old.

        1. Oh, shoot. Those grammar police don’t bother me. I leave the coffee pot on and a plate of doughnuts on the table, and they seem pretty happy.

          It really is interesting to find a song that was so important to one phase of life coming to mind after decades. I suppose it’s a sign of a great song that it continues to resonate – and communicate – even after so many years.

    1. Priya,

      Of course! You could keep them, too, if you like. Or you could just save them, and give them one day to someone who doesn’t have any. After all – who could live without tears?


  32. I will second what dearrosie said: “One good part about coming late to your parties is I get an extra dose of reading – ie as well as your wonderful posts your visitors leave such interesting comments. This time they asked all the questions for me.”

    All this week I have read, re-read, and enjoyed both your blog and the exchange in the comments. You and your readers both enrich my life and my thoughts.

    1. NumberWise,

      Isn’t the back and forth wonderful? It’s a fact that the post is only the starting point. After that, the commenters are in charge!

      It’s great to know you’re out there – you know your comments always are welcome, especially since I can’t stop by and chat “under ground”. ;)


  33. This is an amazing story…. the inter-connectedness of lives. That wood carving is marvelous, and yes, I still remember your post on Earl Jones.

    Just yesterday I learned a new term: longform. Maybe you’ve known this a while, but I just knew this is the new term of longer, online articles and essays. Anyway, when I read the piece explaining this (from WordPress Freshly Press), I thought of you right away. There are three sites you may want to explore and publish your personal essays on there. Longform, here, and here.

    1. Arti,

      I do love that angel. Every day a different photo is my favorite.

      I’ve not heard of longform, but I went snooping and found that article by Mike Sager. I was especially taken with this: ” I have this “trash compactor theory of journalism.” You spend all this time with people and put it all together and compact it, and you see that there really was this overarching storyline while you were with them.”

      That’s really true. More often than I ever imagined possible, I’ll spend hours reading or talking or looking, and it boils down to a few sentences. Or one, sometimes!

      I looked at the sites. “Longform” has a minimum of 2,000 words. Most of my pieces are under that, but some certainly could be expanded. I try very hard not to go over 1500 here, and leaving a week or so between posts is a way of compensating for length. It gives people time to read, absorb, read comments and so on.

      What makes me laugh is thinking back to the very beginning of this venture. I had SO many people tell me, and read so often, that length was the end of anyone reading a blog. If you went over 500 words, you’d be dead in the water. “So be it,” I thought. “I’m going to do things my way, and if nobody reads it, at least I’ll have fun writing it.

      Cue ol’ Blue Eyes. ;)


  34. What a lovely story and gorgeous artwork! There is a part of me, I must admit, that is wary of tree-carving (or tree painting), because I like natural things to stay as they are, but this piece was beautifully done and so appropriate! Very moving.

    1. Denise,

      There’s been so much truly bad – or at least pedestrian – wood-carving done that my own first impulse is caution. But as you say, this is quite a special piece, beautifully executed and with a wonderful ability to communicate. Earl’s truly an artist, but I can imagine even him being a little surprised by the power of this one.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the story, and appreciate your gracious comment. You’re always welcome!


  35. I just followed your shoreacres name link from Rosemary’s Blog and entered into such an unexpected place. Presently I am a bit emotional over the two stories about the chair in the cemetery, not because it resonates in any personal family related way but I think because of the links from person to person in your telling, which for me, end at me. A lovely and moving story, I am so glad I stopped by.

    1. Patty,

      After looking at your beautiful snow drops, I can see why you were at Rosemary’s! And I’m so glad you stopped by. It’s really quite amazing to follow the chains of circumstance in life, link by link. There is so much disconnectedness in the world, I think it does all of us good to be reminded that there can be love, and beauty and goodness tucked into the most ordinary corners.

      Thank you so much for your gracious comment. You’re always welcome!


  36. ‘Tis interesting….as I read your story about the chair painting and choosing a title, I immediately thought ‘Waiting’ would be most appropriate, and, I guess, in its own way, that is what the chair in the cemetery is doing….waiting for family visitors. For me, any chair under a tree is waiting…for those to sit and contemplate. I like this story, the painting and your photos.

    1. janina,

      I like that – the thought that the chair, too, is waiting. After all, the whole point of a chair is to provide a place for rest, relaxation, work – all the things that people do in chairs. It would be a little sad to be a chair no one sits in – but I have a feeling that these chairs (the original slatted chair and the newly-carved one) have plenty of folks “stopping by for a sit” as my grandma used to say.

      I’m so glad you liked the post – the story, actually. It’s a wonderful one, the kind of special story that we all remember.


    1. Tandi,

      It’s true, isn’t it? If I’ve learned anything at all in life, it’s never to question its possibilities. Even the most tangential connections can be filled with delight and opportunity – all we need to do is keep our eyes open.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it – quite a story, for sure.


      1. I agree Linda. It’s about keeping our eyes open. That is the hard part at times. It’s easy to fall into old patterns of not seeing.


  37. I’m glad you have posted this story again. I never did get back to write more about my thoughts of this lovely story. This chair went from a life of its own and on to bigger and greater happenings all because of the artist, your appropriate title and then the lady and the carved chair and an angel made of an old oak.

    It really is sort of magical how things turned out. You made it into a story that brought a tear or more to my eyes. One could say that all of this is coincidence but I think not. Something greater than that was at play here. And I thank you for your amazing gift of storytelling. My final word- beautiful.


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