My aunt Edie passed away two days ago. She had been slowly fading for awhile, well, sort of fading, her smile never diminished. She lived in Southern California…we visited her just a few short months ago. She was my mom’s sister and was another mother to me. She left South Dakota for SoCal after marrying Uncle Bob and never looked back. The two of them began a roller coaster-like, fun-filled, adventurous life together. Uncle Bob passed away three years

Aunt Edie

Aunt Edie

ago…the same time of the year.

Edie was an important influence on my life and consequently on my family’s, too. Whenever I think of SoCal, I will think of her, of Uncle Bob, and their kids—my cousins who are my “other siblings.” I love remembering the things she did…how she reacted sometimes to the crazy stuff Uncle Bob would want to do (usually involving fishing). Sometimes she was a little stubborn, a trait from the Jones family which skipped my generation (smile). She loved golf, good food, watching Bob fish, but most especially she delighted in being with her family. Although she loved living in the San Diego area, she really loved it when they moved to Orange County to be close to all of her children.

Whenever we visited she treated us like royalty, well, perhaps not royalty but she treated us (all five of us) as if we were her own kids. Even when her body was slowing her down and her mind was hitting the occasional speed bump, she would go out of her way to make us feel loved and at home in her house.

She never stopped trying to get me to move to the California coast. She loved the weather, the landscape, and the people. She didn’t appreciate that I worried about earthquakes, deserts, rattlesnakes, coyotes, etc., because she said that was just part of the glory of California life. One quick story, my Uncle Bob really enjoyed Jack Daniels, so much so that when they lived in the San Diego area he modified their refrigerator. He changed the internal cold water plumbing so that instead of water, the fridge dispensed Jack Daniels! I am pretty sure he did not consult his bride about this modification because each time he would say to me, “Try out my JD dispenser!” Aunt Edie would make some sort of “Tsk, Tsk” like sound and say, “Oh, Bob!”

Thanks, Edie, for all the wonderful things you did for so many people. Cheers!

Edie's Southern California

Edie’s Southern California

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I am very thankful for my faith, my family, my friends…my good fortune in having them all surround me.  I am pretty sure that the native Americans and the English colonists had no idea they were celebrating “The First Thanksgiving” way back in 1621. The colonists were just thankful to finally have a harvest, the Wampanoag Indians apparently celebrated each meal as a time to give thanks. For those 3 days or so, they laid aside their significant differences and shared a common joy of reaping what they had sown.  Besides my faith, family, and friends, I am also very thankful for those folks who have been willing to mentor and teach me and my family. I am most especially thankful for those military and support folks who are sitting in a lonely place far, far away thinking of us back home…

Thanks

Thanks

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I look for things other folks may not notice and I try to photograph them from a slightly different perspective. When I was on my sunrise walkabout in Birmingham last week, I could not actually see the sun coming up…the closest to to a real sunrise I could find was watching the reflection of the rising sun reflecting from one building to another. That’s kind of unusual…but…perhaps not really. If you look in all directions during a sunrise you may find some really pleasant surprises, and, if you’re in a city, you have to look up and look all around to really enjoy the moment.

Birmingham Sunrise

Birmingham Sunrise

I admit I found the mostly abandoned streets intriguing. The homeless were waking to a normal day; I did not sense panic or hopelessness in them; most seemed to be moving to Linn Park where food trucks apparently often show up to bring sustenance. I wondered, of course, about their stories because I always think, “There but for the grace of God, go I.” But, I didn’t ask anyone.  I wondered if I were in any danger and I assumed that no, I wasn’t…at least at first. As more people joined Robert and I, I wasn’t so sure, not because of any specific act, innuendo, threat, or really anything, it was just because there were more people, and, I didn’t know them. Fear is a powerful emotion that transcends reality…

I look up, I see the sun bouncing off buildings and I admire the architecture, the skyline, the dollars it takes to maintain this financial district. Then, I look down and I see Robert, I see old buildings, I see derelicts, I see empty streets on the weekend. I don’t see the scars of Birmingham…the days of the 60s and 70s…days that forever marked our nation’s face.

I think that maybe I need to look harder.

 

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On my early morning walkabout last weekend in Birmingham, I found these two buildings…they looked like they’d been vacant quite a while. The architecture was similar to movie theaters of yesteryear which intrigued me, but, perhaps that’s the way it was back in the day in Birmingham. I tried to find some information about the two places and found a little bit only about La Paree. The place had its real beginnings after WWII and according to Birmingham Wiki, “La Paree was known as one of the top downtown restaurants in Birmingham, attracting politicians and business executives to its then dark-paneled dining room alongside office and industrial workers from all over downtown. Signature dishes included shish kebab, pilaf rice and spaghetti with burnt butter.  Matsos provided free meals to the doorman at the nearby Tutwiler Hotel to drum up business.” I think La Paree closed in 2008. I found other pictures of the place on the internet, with different real estate agents. You can lease this “historic” building for on $42,000/yr plus more (NNN)…of course, it’s a shell so you’d have to build it all out. And…they apparently roll the streets up in Birmingham at 6 p.m. so you’d probably want to NOT be in the hospitality business but rather a boutique shop of lawyers, accountants, investors, etc.

The second shot is looking from La Paree to the relatively new Viva Health building that is literally right next door. In the entryway of La Paree was a shelf structure with rolled up blankets, water bottles, and wrapped plastic sacks. I’m guessing it’s a storage area for the homeless most of whom were heading for the food trucks at the park a couple of blocks away.

La Paree & Cameo Cafe - Birmingham, AL

La Paree & Cameo Cafe – Birmingham, AL

La Paree & Viva Health - Birmingham, AL

La Paree & Viva Health – Birmingham, AL

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Robert, Homeless in Birmingham

Robert, Homeless in Birmingham

We were visiting Birmingham, Alabama for a wedding of a friend’s daughter and staying in an old hotel in the middle of downtown. The hotel was a hundred and four years old and although it had been remodeled and rethought several times, much of the original architecture and charm remained. I don’t really know Birmingham well and so I am probably wrong to draw conclusions based on my VERY limited observations, but…this city seems to be the epitome of wide spreads in economic circumstance. I was within a block of almost new (short) skyscrapers that were the epitome of financial and business districts and right next door to them were the remains of a city decades old. Crumbling theaters, rotting cafes, and, doorways and parks filled with homeless people waiting for the warmth of sunrise and for someone to bring them something to eat. I didn’t feel completely “comfortable” but that was perhaps a bit unrealistic…I never felt threatened or intimidated and so I walked several blocks about the center of town shortly after sunrise.

I was walking by one of the newer looking financial buildings on 20th St just north of 5th Avenue when I saw quite a “lump” of blankets, clothes, etc., on a park bench. A baby carriage was next to the bench and a pair of tennis shoes on the ground. I assumed that someone was sleeping under the pile and after a few minutes, a man of small stature, about 45 years old, emerged. He slowly packed up, put everything in the baby carriage, and headed out towards me. We greeted each other, his name was Robert and we talked for 20-30 minutes. He was originally from Florida and had been homeless for so long he didn’t remember the last time he’d had a real home. He gave me the rundown on places around to eat, on the shelters nearby, and the threats he felt because of mean and rude people in the shelters. He claimed to have quite a list of physical and perhaps mental challenges. We talked until the Greyhound bus dropped off several people across the street looking for someplace to eat and they came to Robert and I for information…Robert began quite a set of directions so I said goodbye to Robert and left him with his new friends.

The first shot above is a closeup of Robert… The shot below is of Robert and his baby carriage which is everything he has. The third is of the pile of blankets and clothes that’s keeping Robert warm on this cold, damp Birmingham sunrise.

Robert, Homeless in Birmingham

Robert, Homeless in Birmingham

Robert Keeping Warm on Park Bench

Robert Keeping Warm on Park Bench

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