Oakland Cemetery

We like cemeteries. We all like them for different reasons, but the things we all like about them are how quiet and beautiful they can be. How the history sort of engulfs you. And Atlanta happens to have two of the oldest, most beautiful, historical cemeteries in the Southern US region. Last year we visited the Westview Cemetery and it did not disappoint. But it was is the smaller, less significant of the two well-known cemeteries here in Atlanta. A couple of weeks ago we finally made it to the other one, Oakland Cemetery.

According to Oakland’s website, this cemetery (less than a mile from Downtown) is Atlanta’s oldest public park, and the final resting spot of some of Atlanta’s most notable figures. The cemetery spans 48 acres, and includes a garden and a Visitors’ Center with a Museum Shop. They have full and part-time staff running around the clock to keep up with the gardens, the landmarks, the burial grounds, and shop and museum. It’s truly a remarkable place and you should visit if you ever find yourself in The ATL. Now you know me, I’m ’bout to dig into the history for y’all, so if you are not inclined to read about how the cemetery came to be, go ahead and skip to the bottom for pictures from the day we visited because we are going back, y’all.. Way back…

In 1850 Atlanta bought six acres of land and named it the Atlanta Graveyard. Charming. The land was sandwiched between what is now Decatur St. and Memorial Drive. We took the MARTA to King Memorial Station, hopped off, walked one block and found the front entrance. It’s a great stop if you ever find yourself on the MARTA headed into Downtown. It stops in Sweet Auburn, if you get off and walk north you’ll hit Rev. Doctor Martin Luther King Jr.’s home and memorial, walk straight to the Georgia Capital, and walk south and there you have Oakland.

Oakland is considered one of Atlanta’s oldest plots of land because the city itself was set ablaze in 1864 by the Union soldiers during the Atlanta Campaign, but Oakland was spared. The city fell to Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman on September 2nd, which if your memory serves, was the beginning of the end for the Confederate Army, as Sherman managed his way to Savannah in December (wherein Maj. Gen. Sherman wrote to President Lincoln to offer up a Christmas gift: The City of Savannah) and then on to the sea. How nice of him. (Savannah was spared as well, on account of its beauty.)

Getting off track.

There is an estimated 70,000 people interred at Oakland and even though the last plots were sold in 1884, there are still regular burials there today, mainly on family-owned plots or plots that Atlanta owns, of which they still own many. In addition to the monuments and mausolea, there are plots of land that were strictly dedicated to certain groups of people, which was customary in the South at that time. There is a section for Jewish people, a section for Black people, a section for Confederate soldiers, and there is a Potter’s Field aka a Popper’s Grave, a section for those who did not have the money to be buried.

Of course all of this happened after the expansions. The original six acres is most famously the home to Martha Lumpkin Compton (what a name!) she was the daughter of Governor Wilson Lumpkin and Atlanta was actually known as “Marthasville” after her between 1843 and 1845.

There is also a famous golfer in the original six acres, his name was Robert Tyre “Bobby” Jones, and I have no idea about him, but I do know that people love to visit his grave and leave golf balls for luck on the links, I suppose.

The grave I was most excited to pay homage to was Margaret Mitchell Marsh, the author of Gone With the Wind. It took a bit of meandering, don’t worry they have an app, but we eventually found her and I sacrificed a penny like many other writers before me. Voodoo? Nah. You want to know about real voodoo, you should probably read my four-part series on my Mardi Gras experience, including how I didn’t leave a sacrifice at Marie Laveau II’s grave. (Shudder). I have since repented, leaving a sacrifice at her home on St. Ann St. last summer.

We didn’t spend too much time at the cemetery, not as much as we’d like anyway, so we plan to go back in the summer when everything is in full bloom, but we walk the original six acres and visit the Bell Tower where the Visitors’ Center and Museum Shop are located. And bathroom. There are bathroom.

If you plan right, you could spend a whole afternoon, if not longer, at Oakland. It’s 48 acres is sure to inspire you. It will also scare you, surprise you, and if you’re lucky, wrap its arms around you and pull you down, deep down, into its Souther roots. I say let it.

M.

Inoculated

About six months ago I started checking out MFA programs. I know, I know, Missy you’ve already been to grad school, what the hell woman? Here’s the thing. I have always secretly wanted to earn my MFA in Creative Writing. Even years ago when I went into grad school at UNC Charlotte for a totally different concentration, I assumed I’d leave there and one day attempt to get into an MFA program. I wanted to do a full-residency program and sort of always assumed I would, one day. Then life changed, as it sometimes does. I earned my MA in Creative Writing and thought for a few months that was enough, but I was lying to myself.

So when we moved to Georgia I started scouting local programs, but didn’t find any that fit my life. Georgia State University has a solid, high-res program, and it’s right down the street. But, they didn’t offer Creative Non-fiction which is sorta my jam. Georgia College also offers a great program and it’s Flannery O’Conner’s old stomping grounds. But it is a full-res program and it’s a little over two hours away. Which means I would not get the experience I wanted. That’s when I started looking at low-res programs, and I stumbled on some really good ones. “Good” for me, anyway. But that’s not what this post is about.

This post is about how the rules have changed at colleges and universities since I was last in school and now they require all students to show proof of immunizations, and the school I am applying to quite specifically wants my proof of MMR vaccinations. This would appear to be no big deal. That’s how it appeared to me, anyway. Even when the director of the program was all, “This might be hard to track down, there are options if you can’t find your records.” I was all, “Thanks for the advice, but I should be fine.” Y’all. I was not fine.

First I called my mom who swore to me two things: 1. I had all my vaccines. She remembers because I cried each time and it broke her heart. And she had to show that little piece of paper to each school I went to in the 80s and 90s. 2. She gave that little piece of paper to me over a decade ago upon my request. Sweet.

Over the next two days I ravaged my house looking for a piece of paper that I have no recollection of, and no idea where it would be. I found my baby book. I found multiple photo albums that had survived since 1981. I even found a rattle of mine, and what I think might be a lock of my hair, or the leftovers of some sort of rodent. But I did not find a small piece of paper that said I was fully vaccinated. So I called Mom back and asked her again. This is when she went into a tirade about how the school just needs to call her and she will verify. I explained that it doesn’t work like that, and I started to get a little suspicious.

That’s when I called Missouri State and UNC Charlotte to make sure they didn’t have anything on file for me. If I had the paper at some point, maybe it was because one of my previous schools needed it? They were both like, “Nah, dawg.” MSU didn’t require them when I went and UNC Charlotte didn’t require them for grad students taking evening classes the year I enrolled. They suggested I call my high school. That’s when shit got interesting.

I called Leavenworth High School and talked to the nurse. He was a friendly dude, who told me he would have no problem pulling up my records. He put me on a brief hold and came back on to tell me this: “I’m having problems pulling up your records.” . . .

It wasn’t my academic records that were the problem. In fact, he could tell me all about my time at LHS. He knew for instance that “Math is not your best subject,” but he couldn’t find proof of my immunization. But he was friendly and helpful, as I stated, so he told me that he would just look in the Kansas Database and I should pop right up. So I waited while he logged in. We chatted about Leavenworth, about where I was, and what I was doing. Good guy, really. Then he said, “Well that’s weird…”

The weird thing is that I am not in the Kansas Database. Not as Melissa Goodnight, not with my maiden name, not anywhere. There is no “Melissa” who graduated from LHS, who was born on my birthdate in the system. I simply don’t exist. I asked him how that could be. He told me that it’s possible that my doctor never submitted the paperwork when I was younger. He said it was all done on microfilm back then and sometimes the doctor’s office didn’t want to mess with it, so they were just like, “Ehh, it’ll work itself out.” Cool. Cool. Cool.

I called Mom. Mom screeched, “Did you tell him to call me?!” This was not registering. She did tell me that my doctor, who had done all my shots as a child, was now an 84-years-old retiree living in relative isolation. BUT she knew someone who knew someone who could get me his phone number and I could call him. Le sigh. She then suggested I call the hospital I was born at. Then she said, “Ope, you know what? They closed that place down a few months back. It was pretty bad.”

Detour.

That’s when I started doing research into all the things that could be done. And I came across a blood test that they give all pregnant women. They test all pregnant women for Rubella antibodies. I felt a twinge of excitement and I contacted the hospital that I gave birth in and requested me records of vaccination and blood work. They obliged, and two days later I had a test that verified I tested positive for Rubella antibodies, but that was it. If I had given that small piece of paper to that hospital it never made it into my records. But this did mean that ten years ago I had enough antibodies in my system to fight Rubella, which had to mean I had my MMR when I was a kid. Then I contacted my insurance for any and all medical records they had and they said it would “take some time,” so I threw my head back, ate all the words I had said to the director of the program, and emailed him in despair.

He was quite comical in his response and we had it worked out pretty quickly that all I needed to do was either have an MMR titer done to show that I had antibodies to all three diseases, or get another vaccination. No big deal. Until the day I tried to do it.

Are you guys even still with me here? I mean I know. This is redunk. At this point I have no idea if I will even be admitted into the program, and I’m driving myself nuts trying to figure out what the hell an MMR titer is, whether my insurance will pay for it, who to see, etc. My insurance told me to just go to a lab place (they suggested one) show up, tell them what I need, and whamo. I’d be good to go. My insurance would pay 80% of whatever and that’s that.

So I showed up to the lab place (after the first two I Googled had been shut down) and told them I needed an MMR titer and they were all cool beans. We just need the order from your doctor. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

So a couple days ago I went to my doctor and told her all this. My lovely doctor was all, “Dude, you should have just called me.” Then she explained that because of the recent measles outbreaks she has been doing a lot of these MMR titers and people my age and older are coming back positive, yes, but with low numbers. So she suggested I get a dose of the vaccine regardless, then if we want to do a titer okay, but it wouldn’t hurt to be extra sure. So here I am, at my Target CVS about to get my MMR vaccine, which is probably my third or fourth dose of it but who fucking knows.

Turns out my insurance pays 100% for all vaccines, and my FAVORITE Pharmacist Rahul (whom I promised I would only ever write good things about) shot me up after telling me how this shot hurts, but not nearly as much as the Cholera one and I should be lucky I don’t live in India and have to get the Cholera one and can I please do him a solid and not look at the side effects because I’ll probably just think I’m dying. Geez. Rahul just gets me, you guys.

And here I am today. The day after. Tired as shit and with a fever. Which Rahul said would probably happen since it’s a live vaccine and my body is trying to attack it. Cool. Cool. Cool.

So there you have it. I was inoculated. Again. And when I shared this on FB today, my mom was the first one to comment…

M.

PS… Someone please call my Mom.

These Colors Don’t Run

Some weeks I have a very strict idea about what I am going to write about every day. In fact, in my planner (yes, I use a paper planner) I write each day, then make a little box for checking the day off when I write, and next to the box I sometimes write the topic. I do this to sort of will myself into writing about a certain subject. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Today’s box said, “Oakland Cemetery”. Oakland Cemetery is a cool place. It’s another famous southern cemetery that we recently visited. It’s in the heart of Atlanta and it is where Margaret Mitchell is buried, so I went to sacrifice a penny on her gravesite, as many writers before me have done. The problem is somedays when I actually sit down to write, what I intend to write is not what comes up. Today is one of those days. Today I woke up thinking about the phrase, “These Colors Don’t Run” and the first time I ever heard that phrase, and I can’t get it out of my head, so I just have to write about it. Margaret Mitchell and Oakland will have to wait.

The first time I ever heard or read this phrase was in a shopping mall in my hometown in 1991. It was during the Gulf War, and I lived in Leavenworth, Kansas. If you’ve never heard of Leavenworth then bless your heart. Go find a John Wayne movie on Amazon Prime and wait. At some point he will talk about a “bad guy” either of black or brown skin, and he will say something along the lines of, “I’ll be seeing them in Leavenworth,” then he will ride away into the California sunset. He just means he’s rounding them up and sending them to prison, probably because in the movie they stole cows or killed a white woman. Same. Same. Leavenworth is a prison town, but it’s also an army town and home to the historically-famous Fort Leavenworth, on the banks of the Missouri River.

This is all to say that when the Gulf War was happening (the first time the Bush’s tried to make money off Middle Eastern oil) Leavenworth was a hot-bed for pro-war shit. I was a third grader with no real idea what was happening, and both my sisters (who had been married and moved out of the house) were suddenly back home (with two and a half kids in tow) while both their husbands fought on the front lines overseas. It was a stressful, confusing, chaotic time in my life.

So from the summer of 1990 to the summer of 1991 my mom, my two sisters, my two, then three nephews, and third-grader Missy lived all lived together in our two-bedroom apartment in Leavenworth. We watched the news every, single night on a small 19-inch colored television. On the weekends I would sometimes go with my sisters who would volunteer to do things around the community in support of their husbands with the other Army wives. Maybe we’d pass our yellow ribbons, or man a table at the local shopping plaza to pass out buttons in support of our troops. I always went because usually someone bought me ice cream afterward. That’s it. That was my driving motivation.

One particular Saturday morning I stood at a table with my sister and handed out buttons. I don’t remember what they looked like, but I know they said, “These Colors Don’t Run” on them, so I’m guessing they were something like this:

I know we had entered Operation Desert Storm (or Shield, I think they were two different operations, maybe) at this point, because I had a shirt on that said it too. Here look, this is third grade me in my favorite “Operation Desert Shield” shirt:

I know it was my favorite, and probably only one, because my mom has like 15 pictures of me in it from that single year. Here I am in March of 1991 holding my newborn nephew Josh, who is legit getting married next month:

Just for the record, that’s not a mullet. That’s just my mom cutting my bangs, but refusing to let me cut the rest of my hair, so I always wore it in a pony tail and it sometimes looked like a mullet.

Anywho, there I was standing at a table passing out these buttons and I vividly remember looking down at one of them and thinking, “What the hell does that even mean?” I mean, how can colors run? Which colors? Red, white, and blue? Run from what? From bad guys? Who are the bad guys? What is happening?

Something like that started to unfurl in my brain and I was, for the first time, very scared about the war. About never seeing my brothers-in-law again. About having to see my sisters cry a lot.

It sort of got worse before it got better after that. I started having nightmares about bombs, which were just little flashes of light that I’d see explode on our small tv whenever Tom Brokaw would come on in the evening. My teacher would ask if I’d been sleeping. I’d lie and say yes. But mainly I’d just lay awake at night, pretending to sleep until two, maybe three in the morning, when my sisters’ whispered voices and the low hum of the tv stopped for the night.

Both my brothers-in-law made it back home safely, but not without problems. They aren’t my sisters’ husbands anymore, and I had a few more nephews over the years.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized that “These Colors Don’t Run” was a bad pun, at best. My mother said something one day about washing colored clothes with whites, and it hit me. Ah, yes. These colors don’t run. They don’t run away from necessary war. They also, it would seem, don’t run away from unnecessary war either. Some things never change.

M.

Who is Taylor Swift Dating and Other Important Things

The other day I watched Taylor Swift’s Americana and then I spent about three hours tracing her past relationships, trying to figure out who she’s dating now, and just generally online stalking Taylor Swift. This was just after I listened to another Dolly Parton’s America podcast and went online to find Dolly’s fourth cousin, you know, the one who’s a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution? I couldn’t find her. I didn’t look too hard, I got sidetracked by other important questions. Questions like…

Who is Taylor Swift’s friend from high school who came over and ate dinner with her in her lonely, weird house?

Are they really remaking Supermarket Sweep with Leslie Jones?

What are Simon and Garfunkel’s real names?

When did the WWE form? What about the WWF? Does the WWF know there is a WWF that saves pandas and shit? Which one was Macho Man Randy Savage part of? I know he didn’t save pandas.

How many miles are in a 10k?

Did Barbara Hershey and Bette Middler like each other in real life? They had great chemistry in Beaches.

What about The Golden Girls? I’ve heard Bea was a bitch to Betty. You heard that too?

How to record players work? Like for real. How is the sound trapped inside the record?

Would I survive if forced to live in Florida?

Why does my dog hate me?

In short, I needed to be distracted by all the actual shit I’m supposed to be doing, so I thought about these things instead. I hope you are more productive these days than I am.

M.

It’s Like That, Isn’t It?

I left college at 19 to pursue different avenues of life, like working full-time at Blockbuster video, rolling blunts, and doing keg stands. The latter were skills I’m sure college would have taught me eventually, but I didn’t think I needed the pesky class time to get in the way. Plus, how else could I get movie rentals for free? I didn’t go back again until I was 26, recently married, and unexpectedly pregnant. It’s when I finally decided to take my education seriously. Lead by example, I suppose. Read: I wasn’t good at keg stands.

So there I was, eight months pregnant, sitting in an astronomy class when our old, bow tie-clad professor showed us a video that totally and utterly fucked me up. My stomach was so large at this point, that I was unable to sit in a normal auditorium seat. The class was in a big hall with those small seats that had the small writing surface that flipped up from the side of the seat. So there was no way I could take notes using it (college desks aren’t made for women who are very pregnant, lest that be a warning ladies), but there was a long table with two chairs in the back of the hall for people with disabilities, or for larger people who couldn’t fit in the seats below.

So every Monday night I’d race my chubby legs up to the third floor to get a seat at that table. And every Monday night it was in fact, a race. I was racing two very large dudes to the two empty seats at the table. Looking back I should have just let them have it, they were uncomfortably big for the seats below, but again, I literally could not get the flip desk over my pregnant belly. There’s no moving parts around to fit better at that point. It’s just there.

On this particular night I was running a bit late, and I ran into my 85-year-old professor politely standing at the VERY slow elevator. He caught my eye and waved me over. He really liked me for some reason, and would always ask me to ride up with him if he caught me. I obliged and was chatting at the elevator with him, when I saw the two big dudes enter the hall. They eyed me, and I eyed them, and I swear to you they took off running up the stairs. Running. Full speed. Yeah, they beat me to the table. (Now that I think about it, that was pretty fucked up of them. Then again maybe I should have just asked someone to bring a third chair up, I dunno.) Jesus, I’m off topic.

So the night that we watched this video that fucked me up, I missed my chance at the “fat kid table.” (I say this lovingly, as both a fat kid and because that’s legit what those dudes called it) and had to sit in a seat and use my notebook as my desk. I was pissy, and defeated, and just starting to try to routinely will my baby out of me. I was done, y’all. But he still had another month of cooking to do. So there I was. Alone. Pregnant. Annoyed. And slightly in awe of the path my life was taking when my 105-year-old professor showed us the video.

The video started out with a person standing on a street in Paris. I knew it was Paris because as the camera panned up and out, you could see the Eiffel Tower. Then it kept panning. Up, up, up. Out of Paris, out of France. Out of Europe. Out of whichever hemisphere that is. Shoot me, who cares. Up, up, up, way up into space (this was an astronomy class). Up through Earth’s atmosphere, up past the International Space Station, through the stars, out of the Milky Way, way up, past everything, into pure nothingness. I was so engrossed in the film that my notebook slid off my lap, and still I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. The camera went way up. Then it just ended.

We all sat silent for a long time. My 110-year-old professor flipped the lights on with a flick of a switch on his podium down below. People shifted nervously in their seats. No one said a word. It was all too much. I wanted to cry. I didn’t know why. Hormones I guessed. I looked behind me. Up to the big dudes. They sat silent, stony faced in their large, comfy chairs. My 113-year-old professor said something like, “It’s just like that, isn’t it? The stars. The universe. This life.”

I looked down at my notebook, half-heartedly kicked it with my foot. Then down at my expanding belly. It occurred to me that it is like that. This small, insignificant life. The comfy chairs, the notebook on the floor, the elevator ride. My annoyances, my desires, my stupid, stupid mistakes. My baby. It’s all like that.

Then my 119-year-old professor went on with his lecture.

A girl behind me quietly got up, picked up my notebook, and handed it to me. I managed a smile, but by now the big, fat tears were rolling down my face. She nodded in a knowing way, even though she had no way of knowing. This was it. Only one way out from here. For all of us. Into the nothingness.

A month later my very healthy son was born. I dropped my classes the next semester. Decided maybe I’d made my mistakes and college wasn’t for me. That instead I’d focus on this child. This bright star, and his future. Then I remembered that he wouldn’t know how to shine, if I didn’t teach him.

A couple years later I graduated with my toddler waving and screaming “Mommy” as I walked across the stage. I graduated a second time with my third-grader waving and screaming “Mommy” as I walked across the stage. And who knows, maybe I’ll graduate a third time, and maybe my teenager will be screaming and waving “Mommy” while I walk across the stage.

And sure, in the end, it all fades to black. We all go back to the nothingness that we came from, but at least we get to look back down for a bit. Down, down, down. All the way down to those few blazing moments.

Shine bright, little ones.

M.

Three Hundred Posts Later

Yesterday was my 300th blog post and I had planned to do something awesome to celebrate that fact with you guys, then I had a busy week and got one day behind and when I wrote my post yesterday I didn’t realize it was number 300 and then I was actually like, “DAMN IT! I messed up my 300th post.” So this is actually post 301, but if you don’t tell anyone, I won’t tell anyone. Ahem, happy 300th post day! 300 posts seems like a lot to me, especially since I really just started blogging to ensure that I write something, anything with regularity. I guess I can call that a win. I have been writing everyday. In fact I have written everyday for the last eight weeks, some of it made it to this here blog, some of it hasn’t made it anywhere. Yet. Unofficially I want to write every, single day this year. Unofficially I want to do a lot of things. Unofficially I have big plans. Unofficially a lot of those plans involve Cheetos.

But alas, I’m here today celebrating a small victory. Looking for a bigger one out there looming, somewhere. But my 300th post seems something to celebrate. Maybe it isn’t. Maybe 500 or 1000 is more appropriate. But who really cares? I want to celebrate damn it! So to show my apprecation to you all, to those of you who are still around I’m going to share some pics with you that I have not shared before. The sort of pics that never “make the cut” when I’m writing one of my fun, exciting blogs. And hey, I might share an old “Mornings with Missy” video too, because I love you all and you deserve it. Hopefully you can use these “extras” to piece together some idea of who I am. Or, you can screenshot them and use them as ammunition against me when I run for office one day. Or become a famous model, whichever comes first.

But for real. Thanks for hanging with me for 300 (301) posts, and I hope you’ll stick around for my next 300, cause it’s about to get more interesting. I promise.

Thanks, friends!

M.

That time the Marines came to Charlotte and fourth grade Jackson made us make this video…

The above video was filmed in my closet in Charlotte, North Carolina a month or so before we moved to Atlanta. Enjoy!

One Time at Band Camp…

Jackson spent yesterday morning at a mini band camp at the local high school. His elementary band was invited to have a practice with the award-winning, local band and obviously we jumped at the chance. Jackson and his friend were teamed up with a high school trumpet player, while Jackson’s band instructor led a practice. There were awesome big kids walking around teaching them about band etiquette, sharing stories about how the band has helped them in their life, and spreading the importance of learning an instrument. Jackson thought we dropped him off and left, but we secretly stayed behind for a bit to watch the beginning of practice.

Then Jerimiah and I walked across the street to our little coffee shop and had some morning brew. It was the same coffee shop we sat in about a year ago, with a list of houses to see, and discussed how nice the high school across the street was, wondering how many students were there (there’s about 2000) and whether they were a STEM school (they are). We wondered, a couple tables down from where we sat yesterday, if Jackson would fit into this community. If he’d learn and grow here. If we all would.

An hour later we walked back over and watched our son do a concert with his classmates, and new “big kid” mentors. Then we stuck around afterward and watched as the high school band practiced. He smiled as he watched the kids joke around with each other. He saw the camaraderie, the fun, and then the seriousness of what it means to be in a real band. Then he said he might want to play the tuba and we just shook our heads in hilarity. Though yeah, son, play the tuba if you want to, you’d be great!

It was a lovely way to spend an afternoon in a community that’s still new to us, yet becoming more and more familiar every day.

M.