These words from Johnny Clegg’s Asimbonanga keep running through my head:

Oh the sea is cold and the sky is grey
Look across the island into the bay
We are all islands till comes the day
We cross the burning water

A seagull wings across the sea
Broken silence is what I dream
Who has the words to close the distance
Between you and me

I think about the many people I’m meeting through Connecting Memphis and how we really are islands until we cross the burning water and break the silence. I also think of these verses from the Bible:

Ephesians 2:14 -

For he himself [Christ] is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility

and Micah 6:8 -

He has shown you, O man, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

Connecting Memphis


I cannot adequately express how much I am enjoying working on Connecting Memphis. Yes, it’s scary at times to walk up to a total stranger, tell him/her about the project, take a few photographs, and ask a question or two.  But I think it is so important to hear each other’s stories.  My aim is to do my one small part in helping to build bridges between the people of Memphis, to encourage compassion and respect between people of all ages, ethnicities, economic levels, and areas of the city.  We have so much more in common than it sometimes appears on the surface.



For the longest time, I had no idea who Boots Condrey was, other than a tiny sprite of a woman, delicate-featured, always beautifully dressed, quiet-spoken — a Southern lady with whom I had nothing in common. Or so I imagined. The first time I remember talking to her at any length was in February, during the planning stages of our church’s first annual art exhibit. Toward the end of that initial conversation Boots mentioned something about painting.

“You paint?” I asked with surprise.

She smiled, laughed a bit, and nodded. “Yes,” she replied.

And thus our friendship began.

The occasion for my first “official” visit to Boots’ house was to help her select three pieces for the art show, which was coming up in April. There were so many paintings to choose from and I had so many favorites that I had to call another friend to help with the selection. There were still lifes, country scenes, birds, cotton fields, snowmen, tango dancers, and many, many more. When she told me she had only been painting for four years, I could hardly believe it. How could she have created so many beautiful works in so short a time?

photo 5 photo 3 photo 4 photo 2 photo 1 photo 1 copy

If I had known Boots better, I wouldn’t have been surprised. She dives into life with a joy and zest that dazzles me. She began studying classical piano when her son Ronnie was in high school and was learning to play guitar. Since she was already giving Ronnie a ride to music lessons, she figured she may as well learn how to play an instrument herself. One of my favorite Boots stories took place when her granddaughter came down for a visit.

“Play for me, Granny Boots,” she begged.

“No,” was the answer. “You don’t want to hear me.”
“Yes, I do!” insisted the granddaughter.

Finally, Boots gave in, but she didn’t choose a flowing, sedate classical piece. I can imagine the twinkle in her eye when she sat down at that piano bench and pounded out Jerry Lee Lewis’s Great Balls of Fire!

For years, Boots designed and sewed her own clothes, including the fancy gowns she wore when she and her first husband Joe (and later Bill) went ballroom dancing. Quite the dancer, she and her partners have won numerous competitions since she began in 1967.

She and husband Joe had one child, Ronnie, who grew up to marry his high school sweetheart.

“We all laughed a lot. We had so much fun,” Boots recalls.

Boots and Joe had been married for twenty years when he was killed in a car crash. Devastated, she returned to Arkansas to spend some time with her parents. “After I got back to Memphis, a girl from work came over and stayed with me at night for a while. She could tell I wasn’t doing too well, and she finally said, “Boots, you need to get back to dancing”, so I did.

Several years later, Boots met Bill. “He and Joe were so different,” she muses, “but they were both wonderful. I’ve had two very good husbands.”

Boots always keeps a bowl of candy on her kitchen counter. Help yourself to a piece of butterscotch and then step out the door into her back yard. Walkways turn this way and that and are bordered by flowers, stone figures, gazing balls, garden benches, tables, and whimsical metal sculptures. Everywhere you look there are surprises. She keeps it immaculate too. If the patio needs pressure washing, she rents a machine and takes care of it herself. If a stray branch needs to be cut up and hauled to the street, she whips out her chainsaw and makes quick work of it.

“I’m a farm girl. I can do anything,” she declares. “Besides, who else is going to do it? People always say, ‘Honey, why don’t you just sit down?’ But I can’t. I’m just wired, I guess. My daddy never let us sit down. We were always busy.”

Joyful too, I would add, and quick to both tears and laughter. She has suffered great losses through the years: her beloved father died five months after she lost Joe. Later, her only child Ronnie and his wife passed away, and Bill’s funeral was just a few months ago. She credits God and friends with helping her get through the hard times. “Even with all the sorrow I’ve had in my life, I still laugh a lot,” she says. “When we were children, my sister and I used to laugh so much at the dinner table that Daddy sometimes had to make one of us leave.”

Lula (or “Boots” – her father’s nickname for her) moved from her parents’ farm in Williford, Arkansas, to Memphis when she was 21 years old, worked for Hillhaven Nursing Home for a while, then spent 25 years with a brokerage firm before her retirement. Besides working out regularly at the Y, she takes art lessons, piano, and yoga every week.

What’s next? Boots, her eyes sparkling, doesn’t miss a beat before she answers, “I’m thinking of taking up the violin.”


I so love this recent post by Joshua Becker titled The Stories We Don’t Tell on the Becoming Minimalist blog.

He says:

“…as individuals and as a society, we have become too well-versed in withholding stories.

“Most of us have two selves: the one we portray on the outside and the one we actually are on the inside. And the better we get at hiding the stories that reveal our true selves, the more damage we may be causing (to ourselves and to others).”

As he talks about telling our stories, these two points from his article especially resonate with me:

It allows others to know us (and themselves) better. The greatest desire of every human being is to be fully known and fully accepted. This is love. It is the call of our hearts. Vulnerability allows others to know us with a deeper intimacy—and show even greater love in the process.

It challenges others to share their stories. Vulnerability leads to vulnerability. Admitting weakness and sharing our difficult stories is an incredibly freeing act. It removes burden and weight from our shoulders. And it provides others the freedom and strength to share theirs.

Head over and read the entire article.  Thank you, Joshua!

9-11 Remembered

FlagI was teaching second grade at Snowden, and another teacher taking her students to the cafeteria stopped by my classroom and called me to the door. “We’ve been attacked,” she said, “New York City has been attacked.” It took a moment to sink in, then I turned back around toward my children who were sitting quietly, happily unaware. I remember thinking that everything had suddenly changed, that we were not safe, that anything could happen / had happened. The rest of the day, whenever any of the teachers had a small break, we gathered to watch the news on TV, huddling together and holding on to each other. We were told not to discuss the attack with our students that day; administration thought it would be better for their parents to talk to them first. In the days that followed, my seven- and eight-year-old kids worried about where New York was. I had to keep showing them on the map. They wanted reassurance that it was far away.

Afternoon with Judy

IMGP0383IMGP0349IMGP0426Few things in life can equal the pleasure of a close, long-term friendship.  Judy and I have known each other since our college years, back in the late 70’s, and have weathered many rough storms in each other’s lives.  It is medicine for the soul to sit down with her for an afternoon of conversation.  Read more of her story HERE.

Connecting Memphis


Introducing CONNECTING MEMPHIS, a new blog featuring Memphians.  Inspired by Humans of New York, it’s a place to meet some of the interesting people who make up our city.  Check it out HERE OR just click the Connecting Memphis tab at the top of this page.  New photos and conversations will be added daily!


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