Let’s Hear It For The Home Beach!

I wrote this blog for treasurerealty.com.  I wanted to share it also with my “museinme” friends. Check out their website and consider taking a vacation here on beautiful Topsail Island.  Thank you very kindly!

The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.” – Jacques Yves Cousteau

As a child growing up in Tarboro, North Carolina, there was only one place that our family vacationed: Atlantic Beach. Living only two and a half hours from that glorious shore made it possible for us to visit the Crystal coast regularly. If we couldn’t stay for an entire week or even one night, that was alright. We’d just pack a lunch and head out early on a Saturday morning, pointing our car eastward toward heaven and when we’d had all the sun and fun we could take in a day’s time, we’d head back home facing the big, orange setting sun.

pier from NatI can’t tell you how many times our family of seven went on those wondrous beach excursions only to come home sunburned and exhausted from a day spent body surfing in the warm ocean water, digging in the sand and walking the endless beach searching for shells. I can remember Momma and Daddy getting all of us sleepy headed children out of the car, carrying the youngest ones in their arms and putting us in our beds with our bathing suits still on and sand still in our hair. Oh, those were some golden days!

As we became a little more prosperous, our family still made the “day trips” but stopped staying in the cheaper “mom and pop” motels where we would all pile into one room.  Our parents began to rent a beach cottage for a whole week every summer. Glory! I can still recall several summers back in the early 1970’s when my mother’s brothers and their families would come too. The adults all had the bedrooms and all of us kids would sleep on pallets on the floor. In the morning, we’d get up early, eat a huge breakfast and head down to the water, which was four blocks away! However, no one complained. We looked like we were in a parade, all of us headed down to the beach, some of my uncles leading the way, the older children holding onto the younger kids and our mothers bringing up the rear.  Each one of us shared the load of drinks, intertubes, towels, beach chairs, books, shovels, pailsIMG_5935 and suntan lotion.  I know we must have been a sight but we didn’t care. We were at the beach!

When we weren’t chillin’ down by the water, we were eating. Food always tasted its best at the beach.  We would dine out once that week at Tony’s Sanitary Fish Market in Morehead City. I am still not sure what made it so sanitary. But the rest of the week, my mother and her sisters-in-law would cook our favorite meals for us. They would buy fresh vegetables at little roadside stands that we passed on the way to the beach and with those fresh offerings, cook up the most amazing comfort foods I’ve ever had in my life! To this day, I still think that a vacation at the beach requires fresh corn and tomatoes.

After our happy, noisy meals, we’d go out and sit on the screened in porch, playing games and hearing our uncles tell silly stories about my grandpa’s failed attempts at being an inventor and how they survived poverty during childhood. As a child, I couldn’t imagine being that poor but Mom said it was true. Anyway, they kept us kids laughing and feeling grateful for the opportunity to vacation in heaven. Happier than a birdOne year, we did nothing but talk to each other in rhymes. “I wish I had a drink. Then this poor old mind could think!  Donna, would you bring me some iced tea and while you’re at it swat that bee?”   To this day we still remember with fondness the times spent in the boxy, yellow, cement block cottage four blocks from the beach.

As the years went by, our families prospered a bit more and each family began renting their own places at the beach. We wanted to be near our relatives so we rented condos in the same beach resort at Salter Path, a few miles south of Atlantic Beach. I suppose I would consider those years our vacation “glory years.” During that time, my siblings and I married and brought our spouses to the beach with us. Our cousins did the same. We all had the bedrooms then and our young children and their cousins slept on the floors.  I’m not sure how many condos we rented, but some years we had five or six three and four bedroom condos. It was a week long,  family reunion!

Byrd kids ft macon 1991

Now, my children and all of their cousins remember those days as their golden, summer days.  Some of their best memories from childhood were made at Summerwinds in Salter Path, North Carolina. Atlantic Beach, on the Crystal Coast was our “home beach” stompin’ ground!  My husband and I can’t ride down that long beach road without feeling a wave of nostalgia or twinge of homesickness for the beach of our childhood and the memories we made there later with our own children.

Children grow up and move away, as Bill and I did. Over a period of twenty-five years we lived in other states and adopted other “home beaches.”

miami 1999

When we lived in Orlando, Florida, we could jump in the car and be in Cocoa Beach in an hour. During the year we lived in Miami,  we could look out from our fourth floor sun room and see dolphins swimming in the aquamarine waters off Miami Beach and huge Carnival Cruise ships sailing away to the Bahama Islands. That was truly a home beach.

For a period of ten years, we lived in Oxford, Alabama. To our surprise and delight, our “home beach” became Destin, Florida, five and a half hours away.  There we would take week long, family vacations and sometimes two or three other shorter trips each year. I remember once during that time, sitting at the restaurant, Pompano Joe’s, staring out of the open window propped up with a stick onto a beach that looked like a Corona Beer commercial and saying out loud to no one in particular, “I’m so sorry, Atlantic Beach, but I have found another.”

byrd kids topsail

Over these last four years, I have yet again found another home beach. Bill and I now live in Sneads Ferry, North Carolina, five miles away from the beaches on Topsail Island. It’s only about an hour’s drive south of Atlantic Beach and I can honestly say, “It’s good to be back home again.” Already, my children (all six of them are grown and live in Nashville, Tennessee) are making their eastward treks to their new “home beach” here on Topsail Island. We also have two small grandchildren that will now be making memories on our lovely 26 miles of natural beach paradise.

north topsail ocean ridge

These days, I drive by many lovely beach homes situated on Topsail Island. Some of them are huge and have ten or so bedrooms and a pool!  I then think back fondly of the humble beach vacations of my childhood and wonder about the fun times we could have had in a home that big and luxurious, just a few dozen yards or so from the water. I guess what we didn’t know then didn’t hurt us at all, did it?   As I stare wistfully at that beach mansion, I wonder what would it be like to get together in a place like that this summer? I suppose that even with all that room, the kids would still probably want to make pallets and sleep on the floor!

Did you have a “home beach” growing up?  Do you have one now?  Share a memory or two with us in a comment below!   

Here’s your song!  Enjoy!


Sometimes there are things in life that I just can’t seem to let go.  I don’t consider myself a hoarder but I do have things that I “put away” just because I love them.

For instance, I know that somewhere in the back of my dresser drawer, I have not one, but two pairs of shorts that I love dearly and I would never give them over to the needy or to a trash can.  First of all, nobody would want them because they are so ugly and secondly, they are “granny” shorts and very practical, with big wide legs and and elastic waistbands that when stretched, almost go up right to my neck (which is a euphemism for boobs).  FullSizeRender (1)The best thing about them is that they have the roomiest pockets of any shorts I’ve ever owned and they are fantastic for wearing on the beach when I’m looking for sea glass and shells.  I can store several pounds of treasures in each pocket and have my hands free to sift through troves of sand and goodies!  I don’t care how ugly they are, come Summertime, I pull them out and put them to good use.

I have other things I store away.  Boxes of my children’s childhood memories, handmade cards, drawings and Vacation Bible School crafts sit neatly stacked in my garage.  I rarely look into the boxes but they are there, waiting for me like old friends if I would like to visit with them for a while.

There is a collection of books I wouldn’t want to give away either.  I’ve read them before but I enjoyed them so much I thought that one day I might want to read them again.  They too, are outside in the garage and I haven’t looked at them since I put them there but I don’t want to let them go.  One day I may pick one of them up and read a wonderful familiar story.  FullSizeRender

Most of us have the good sense to know what to keep and what to throw away. If we didn’t, we could have all been candidates for the now cancelled A&E TV show, “Hoarders.”  I always felt so sorry for the people on that show that I couldn’t watch a complete episode.  Ten minutes into their reality and I was ready to change the channel.  I was embarrassed for these victims of deep rooted, psychological problems and couldn’t bear their transparency before millions of viewers.  It seemed that they were being exploited for my entertainment.

People that watched the program encouraged me to, “Watch it until the end!  They get counseling!  Their families get behind them and support them!  It’s great!  They let go of all their clutter and clean their houses!” Even knowing that, I felt too overwhelmed at the beginning of the show to wait for the redemption. It was too sad for me. For every one of “Hoarders” victories, I knew that there were still thousands of other hoarders “out there” who would still be living in their hellish messes.FullSizeRender (2)

Maybe some of the things you despise most about other people are the things you are guilty of yourself. For example, have you ever heard of ministers repeatedly getting on “their soapbox” about a certain sin only to hear later (usually through the media) that they were caught carrying out the very sin they were desperately preaching against? I couldn’t stand the show, “Hoarders,” but I began to realized that in spite of my relatively clean house and garage, I had a hoarding problem too.  I collected words, phrases, sentences, the remembrance of a look, a snub and the feeling of rejection.

Some people that I had loved with all my heart had hurt my feelings.  I had respected them and cherished that part of my life I had spent with them.  My heart was broken.  Not knowing how to deal with it all, I took the whole experience and boxed it up and stored it in my attic.  My brain.

To have all of this hurt stored up and boxed away at first did not bother me.  In fact it empowered me in a weird kind of way.  It justified my reason for being angry with the people who had caused my pain. I built a wall up with my boxes of rejection to keep from meeting new people and letting others into my life.  What if they hurt me like the ones I had loved so much? It felt good to know all those words and visuals were stored close by so that I could get them out and look at them whenever I wanted to.  I needed to remind myself of the pain they had caused me.

I was a word hoarder of the worst kind.  No amount of back porch therapy and talking with spiritual friends I had seemed to help.  My hoarding issues were as bad as any of the poor souls on the pitiful TV show.  I had talked myself into becoming a victim of hurt and I started feeling shameful about it.  I couldn’t let go of the junk.

I knew I needed to forgive them if I wanted to go on and prosper mentally, emotionally and spiritually.   I would say over and over to myself:  “I forgive them.  I forgive them.”  I even asked God many times to help me forgive them but as soon as I would get the word “forgive” out of my mouth, a replay of the whole experience would start again in my mind.  I would console myself and justify my hurt once again.  This self justification made itself at home in my mind and soon I had filled it with thought patterns that were detrimental and of no use to me.  I was a prisoner to my trashy brain.

It’s a good thing God knows when we’ve had enough of our own thoughts and thankfully, He always offers a door, a window or a pathway to escape the mess we have gotten ourselves into.  I remember an episode on “Hoarders.”  The person had literally boxed himself into the corner and couldn’t get out without crawling over the junk and that was up over halfway to the ceiling.  It was his living room!  God can even “beam you up” if He has to.

My “help” or rescue presented itself to me on October 31, a couple of months ago.  We had been told, since it was the first Halloween in our new neighborhood to prepare for a lot of children trick-or-treating.  Our neighborhood has many military families and they all seemed to participate in the fun.  Plus, other families from nearby neighborhoods came.  Some adults were sitting out in their driveways waiting for the kids to call and a truck pulling a trailer with hay (a hay ride) was making its way through the streets letting kids get off, trick-or-treat at a few houses and then they’d all get back on it and go through each block.  Bill and I had decided to join the fun and brought tons of candy.

We sat on our front porch and while we played scary orchestral music we dropped lots of candy into the bags of the waiting children.  I couldn’t believe how many of the little girls were Elsa, the Frozen Queen from the movie “Frozen.”  I hadn’t seen the movie (although I was aware of the movie’s famous song, “Let It Go,”)  but the parents all informed me that their little girls were Elsa, “You know.  From the movie?”  By the end of the night I did know. I supposed that at least seventy-five percent of them were Elsa’s.  As I held the fistfuls of candy over their bags I imagined the little girls with shining eyes saying, “Let it go!  Open that hand! Let us have that candy!”

If I had my spiritual “ears on” and my “eyes open,” I would have heard clearly. “LET IT GO!” When a song gets as much attention from the world as this Disney one has, you have to wonder if God is using it to give hurting people in His world a message.  “Let the hurtful thoughts and words go!”  But my mind was too cluttered to recognize that God was trying to tell me something.  I did think the little girls were cute and made many comments later about how many Elsa’s we had on Halloween.

The next attempt at God’s rescue was much more blatant.  Definitely louder.  I was at  Barnes and Nobles in Jacksonville, standing in the children’s toy department looking for Christmas presents for my granddaughters.  It was a few Saturdays before Christmas and the store was packed with people.  There was music playing over the speakers and because they were selling the new DVD,  “Frozen,” they played the song, “Let It Go.”

Now, this is where it got a bit weird.  Every person in the store starting singing the song and if they weren’t singing, they were humming it! Loudly!  The employees were singing with smiles on their faces as they walked up and down the aisles and between the shelves of books as they were helping the customers, who were singing it too!

“Let it go, let it golet-it-go-balloon

Can’t hold it back anymore

Let it go, let it go

Turn my back and slam the door

And here I stand

And here I’ll stay

Let it go, let it go

The cold never bothered me anyway.”

Grandmothers pushing their grandchildren in strollers with their husbands trailing behind them were singing “Let it go!  Let it go,” shamelessly.   Were they giving me sideways glances as they passed me by?  I started to feel a bit self conscious.  Children were sitting at a play table belting it out and teenagers were singing it under their breaths, a bit embarrassed.  But they couldn’t help themselves.  I thought for a moment that I was in a flash mob.  I waited for a dance to go along with it but the movement in the aisles almost seemed choreographed or staged.  I felt as if I was the only one not participating, like they were performing  for me.

It felt so odd that I actually posted about my experience on a Facebook status, getting several comments. Some people loved the song, some were sick of it and never wanted to hear it again as long as they lived! The most interesting comment I got, though,  came in the form of a personal message.  It was my friend, Heather.  She had started a Bible study and her first “lesson” was based on a devotion she had found, called “Let It Go.”  You can find it at, http://www.juliabettencourt.com/dev/letitgodev.html.  It was about how that Disney song had spoken to the writer about letting some things go in her life that were holding her back from living free.

I thanked Heather for sharing that with me and realized that ever since October, God had been trying to rescue me from my own brain.  He’d been trying to offer me a rope to lift me out of the clutter of hurtful words and bitter thoughts that I had held onto and stored in my memory.  All of a sudden, I had a thought.  What if the God of the universe, staged the “semi” flash mob scene in Barnes and Nobles, just for me?  Just for poor, little ole Donna Byrd who couldn’t for the life of her get out of her own head?

Now I know that the mere words, “Let It Go,” are only words and in themselves, aren’t magic.  But when I see that God was trying to tell me, since Halloween,  that He wanted to help me sweep out the junk in my mind that was holding me hostage,  it somehow gave me the faith I needed to say “I let it go” and mean it.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Those hurtful thoughts pop into my thoughts daily. They were there for so long, they miss the places they were stored in my mind.  They want back in!  I’m constantly saying to them, “No!  I let you go!  I let all of you horrible words and thoughts go!  I can’t waste my time thinking about you anymore.  Sometimes I have to say that ten or more times a day.  As the days go on,  I’ll say it less and less.  The thoughts will ease and disappear and as they do, forgiveness will take their place and my attic will be swept clean.  It’s a process and it’s working!

UPDATE:  I noticed yesterday as I was walking through my attic (brain,) there were just a couple of boxes stacked in the corner.  I looked closer at them, wondering what in the world they were.  I thought I had gotten rid of those bad thoughts.  But you know what?  They were just some pleasant memories I had found from the same folks that had hurt me earlier.  It’s amazing that I found when I’m not concentrating on the bad, I had time to remember the good. Those thoughts just boxed themselves up and now they’re there, waiting like old friends, in case I want to take a peek at them sometime.  I think I’ll keep them!  After all, we did have some wonderful times.

No mystery what your song will be this time.  Enjoy, and if you need to let something go, why not start now?

Everybody Gets “Landslided” From Time To Time

Amazing, Yetta thought, back home I couldn’t have chosen my own husband.  And here I’m thinking about choosing presidents, governors, mayors, laws…”  Margaret Peterson Haddix, Uprising


I love Election Day in the United States!  Actually, I think we could give it a better name – “American Voter Day,”  “Chance for Change Day,” “Exercise Your Rights Day.”  Maybe we could use a modern hashtag name – “#electionselectionday.”  Whatever the name, we could make it so appealing to the American public, that no one would want to miss out on participating in the most glorious of all American privileges:  the right to vote.

I was thinking it would be good if the powers that be require each candidate on the ballot, nationally and locally, to give twenty percent of their campaign contributions to a fund they set aside for a nation- wide Election Day party.  Three months out from Election Day, they would turn their funds over to a designated state party (as in ‘partay’)  director.  The combined proceeds would be more than enough to provide an election day lunch or dinner for every citizen in America who is registered to vote.  Each precinct would have a coordinator plan the meal and know how to execute it. The local cooks, gardeners, event, paper product and entertainment companies would be paid out of this fund.  It would be a small boon to the local economies and a boon to our American national pride.  We wouldn’t resent the politicians nearly as much if we knew they were going to buy us dinner and throw us a party at the end of their ugly, hard fought campaigns.images july 4th - Copy

I did some homework.  In 2012, the combined candidates spent over 6 billion dollars on their campaigns.  Twenty percent of that would be 1.2 billion dollars.  That would be about $4.00 per person (including the children) for everyone in America.  I think we could throw America a great party with that amount of money.  It could be bigger than the Fourth of July!   We’d all come out to vote and attend the day long party.  #USAPARTAYDAY!

Wouldn’t it be grand?  Every hamlet, village, town and city in America, celebrating the day they vote for the people to fill the most powerful political offices in the world.  It would be good for America and I think voter turnout would be amazing!

   images july fourth - Copy

I remember election day in 1980.  My husband,  Bill and I had been married for a little over a year and we were excited to go to the voter’s precinct and vote together.  We were twenty three years old and we were grown-up!  Feeling heady with our new power to be able to sway a politician’s life and our nation’s future with our two votes, we stepped up to the table for those of us whose names started with the letter “B,” stated our names and our street address and lo and behold, we were given a precious piece of paper that contained destiny…a ballot.

We stepped into a private voting booth and marked our choices.  I went over it several times before I came out from the curtain, not wanting to leave out any name.  I stepped out and handed over my precious ballot and felt like I was the game changer.

It was chilly and raining when we got to the car.  Mom and Dad had invited us over to their house to watch the election returns on television and have dinner that night.  I remember getting out of the car and looking into the den’s big picture window.  There was a fire burning brightly in the fireplace and although we were standing in the driveway, I could see that there was a map of the United States on the television screen with states colored in blue and red.  It was the first time I took notice of the election returns on TV.

images - beef stew 2 - Copy

We walked into the house and it smelled wonderful!  Mom had cooked beef stew and cornbread for dinner.  We ate at the table by the fire and confessed to each other the candidates we had voted for.  Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter were running for president and we had voted for Reagan.   As a matter of fact, most of us realized that we had voted a straight Republican ticket.   We talked politics and watched the TV newscasters and pundits tell the election tale as we ate comfort food by the fire.  I’m sure the Democrats needed to have some comfort that night because the Republicans won by landslides.  Almost all of America was covered in red and there was only a flash or two of blue on the map. It was a night I’ll never forget.

We have made an election day tradition at our house. We gather about dark-thirty, fix us a bowl of beef stew and cornbread and watch the returns come in on TV until we can no longer hold our eyes open.  There have been years when we have crawled into bed heart-sick, our candidate’s losing so miserably that we are embarrassed for our party.Gold Water

My first memory of politics was the 1964 presidential election.  Barry Goldwater and Lyndon B. Johnson were running for president.  I remember this because my daddy came home from work that night and told me, “Johnson has won the election by a landslide.”  He proceeded to take a six pack of canned sodas out of a brown paper grocery bag.  The drink was called “Gold Water.”   As he took it out,  he said, “Tonight I’m gonna drown my sorrows in this Gold water.”  I was only seven years old and I couldn’t understand how you could drown sorrows in gold water or why a president could slide around on land and lose the presidency of a country.  Where would he be able to find it under all that dirt?


Over the years, I’ve seen grown men pout and women cry and go into a state of depression for days when their candidate lost.  On the other hand, I’ve high-fived, danced a jig and puffed up like a blow-fish when my party won. Either way, it’s OK to love your candidate or political party shamelessly.  In fact, it’s downright American of you.

It might be a few years before the candidates would give back to the public any of their hard earned campaign funds but until that’s decided, you’re welcome to come and eat beef stew and cornbread with us on @USAPARTAYDAY.   It wouldn’t matter if you’re red, blue or the seemingly new color purple.  AND… pouting is allowed.

This recipe, by Emeril Lagasse is very similar to mine.  I thought I’d share it with you so that you’d be a making it like a pro by the next election in 2016.


Here’s your song.  Enjoy.  Sometimes, landslides just happen.

When Autumn Leaves…


“I would rather sit on a pumpkin, and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.”

Henry David Thoreau


When Autumn leaves begin to fall… I remember

when I was a little girl.  I loved to sit at the piano and figure out how to play songs I had heard on television or the radio.  Those who were schooled in music admonished my parents,  “Hurry and get Donna in piano lessons before she picks up bad habits and has to unlearn what she’s taught herself.  Playing by ear is good and show’s she has talent but she needs to learn how to play correctly!”

My parents heeded their advice and by the fourth grade, at a great expense and financial sacrifice to them, I began piano lessons with Mrs. Susie Pender.  I’ll never forget my first lesson.  I stood out on the sidewalk in front of her house; my heart about to beat out of my chest and my knobby knees shaking mightily.  I felt the hope of my parent’s expectations sitting heavily on my shoulders and I could still hear my father’s voice in my head, “Donna, you are going to have to take music for five years.  We have to give your talent time to grow and you’ll need lots of time to practice.  There will be NO giving up!  You can quit lessons the day after you’ve taken them for five years, but you HAVE to give it at least that long!  You owe it to yourself and your talent!  AND, I know you will have made it when you can ‘tickle the ivories’ by playing every note in ‘Autumn Leaves.’ Now that’s ….that’s a beautiful song and you’re going to learn to play it. I look forward to the day!”

I stared up at the steps, which in this small girl’s eyes looked monumental and began my ascent.  Walking across the mile-wide porch, I gathered every ounce of boldness I had and knocked on the door. I had conjured up what I thought Mrs. Pender would look like.  She would be small, petite and blonde, like Barbara Eden in “I Dream of Jeannie.”  She would have a beautiful smile and with the blink of her eyes and a nod of the head she would perform her genie magic and I would be able to play “Autumn Leaves” without having to practice a note.

Mrs. Pender opened her front door.  I looked up at her and my hopes vanished.  She was an ancient, matronly woman dressed in an old fashioned black dress with black, low heeled lace up shoes.  Her silvery-white hair was swept up into a bun on top of her head.  She didn’t look like a ‘Susie.’  Those who were named Susie were young and fun.   “Hello,” her voice crackled.  “You must be Donna!  Come in.”


I took a picture of Mrs. Pender’s house during the summer.  Now it looks totally adorable and inviting, painted a lovely pink, and I’m sure the current owners are wonderful people!    But forty-seven years ago (Did I just write that?  That’s how old people talk!) as I stood before it,  I was a very frightened little girl!  


I didn’t want to go in.  What if she really was the “mean, evil” lady in the neighborhood that invited poor little children like me into her parlor, carved out their hearts with a pen knife and buried what was left of their little bodies in the back yard, sometime after the sun went down?  I saw the whole scenario play out in my head but I swallowed my fears and timidly walked in behind her.

We walked through her darkened, cool parlor on a narrow, clear, plastic floor runner.  I guessed she didn’t want kids like me messing up her clean floor and rugs. Glancing around the room, I noticed it was furnished in old, Victorian furniture, the upholstery, faded a bit but still in good shape.  Even I could tell she rarely used the room and sat on her furniture. I guessed this would not be the room I took the lessons in.  I followed her deeper into the house.

My nerves were sweating as she led me into the next room.  Hoping to see a piano,  I was relieved when I saw its deep mahogany shine gleaming at me from under the piano lamp.  I relaxed a little when I realized if Mrs. Pender did chop me up into little pieces it would be after the piano lesson.

I took lessons for five entire years from Mrs. Susie Pender,  just like my Daddy said I would.  During that time, I was always a bit intimidated by her old house and her no-nonsense appearance and approach to music.  I did learn to play a version of “Autumn Leaves” but always stumbled through the version my Dad wanted me to learn.

I know that I didn’t practice nearly enough as a piano student and that I didn’t have that “drive” that separates the good students from the best ones.  I quit the lessons in the ninth grade after completing my five years.

Looking back, I wish I had been more musically ambitious.  Instead, I learned enough to read music, suffer through advanced piano and pick up the guitar and learn enough to get me through the very basics of that instrument. Dad, why didn’t you MAKE me practice more?  I suppose you could have beat me with a stick and threatened to cut off my fingers if I didn’t practice more,  but that would have made you the mean, evil man on the street in our neighborhood.  Plus, I couldn’t have played the piano without my fingers.   I suppose I was just too lazy to take advantage of my wonderful opportunity to be a concert pianist.

Dad, I’m sorry about “Autumn Leaves.”   Every Fall since the fourth grade,  when I see leaves swirling around, I think of you and your hopes for me. Sorry I didn’t deliver.   Yep, I still feel a little  guilty about that one!


       Dad, I figured out a way “Autumn Leaves” could still tickle the ivories!

Here’s your song!  I hope you enjoy it as much as my Dad does.   It’s still one of his favorites! Just close your eyes and pretend it’s me playing!


Celebrating New Love

I know that some of you have been wondering when I would write about Cody and Layton’s wedding.  Well, I didn’t have to.  Someone else did it for me.  

The Voice-Tribune from Louisville, Kentucky had a wonderful write up about everything;  from Cody and Layton’s courtship (a bit old-fashioned, sweet and very romantic) to their fairy-tale wedding.  I couldn’t have written it better myself!  


Layton Virginia Maxwell and William Cody Byrd

| August 28, 2014 | 0 Comments

Since Layton Maxwell was a young girl she dreamed of her fairy tale wedding at Tuckaway Farm in Prospect, Kentucky, owned by family friends Bob and Judi Quaife. Her dream came true when she met her prince charming, William Cody Byrd of Oxford, Alabama. “Cody,” as he is affectionately called by all, proposed to Layton at a park on a Blue Moon evening late last August in Nashville, Tennessee. This set the tone and motion, and Tuckaway Farm proved to be the perfect venue for an etherial, woodsy, rustic-yet-elegant wedding. On Saturday, July 26 at 6:30 p.m., these “love-Byrds”, a clever pun on their new last name, created a midsummer night’s dream.

The weather was agreeable for the evening ceremony under the grove of trees, with the looming forecast for rain providing nothing but a cooling breeze during the ceremony. Huge antique bronze urns filled with light green and white hydrangeas flanked the pastoral altar, and an oriental rug on the moss-covered ground marked the place for the bride and groom. Bridesmaids wore varying shades of flowing ecru and groomsmen were dapper in mint seersucker bow ties, white shirts and khakis.

It also takes a village to create a wedding, as this one was marked by an exceptional sense of community. Family and friends were involved at every turn, all with gracious helping hands and eager expectancy.  The groom’s sister and brother-in-law, Isaaca and Peter Groenwald, professional musicians from Nashville, performed a moving rendition of “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You” as the bride descended from the white country home, escorted through the trees and down the aisle by her brother, Douglas Maxwell IV.  The groom’s father, the Rev. William Byrd, officiated, and after the final presentation, the couple skipped out happily to a “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?” serenade by the Beach Boys.

Later, after a delicious barbecue dinner under the large white tent, guests shared toasts and poetry readings. Suddenly, with a few loud claps of thunder the skies opened up and heralded the rain, creating some excitement, which knit the party even more intimately together. The deejay was in tune and cranked up the party music as guests gathered closer. The dance floor was filled with happy revelers with soggy hemlines who didn’t mind the torrential downpour-after all, it is a sign of blessings on a wedding!

A chic Cuban-and beach-themed alfresco lantern-lit rehearsal dinner was hosted by Lucy and John Shaver (aunt and uncle of the bride) at their home on Eastover Court the night before. The menu included everything from Sangria and Ropa Vieja (a classic Cuban shredded beef dish) to the ever-popular favorite, sweet plantains and Flan. Guests lingered, celebrating with anticipation of what the next day would hold.

Style File

Bride’s dress: Ivory silk chiffon by J. Crew
Hair Designers: Anna Greer and Sarah Boylan of Blade’s Salon
Photographers: Thad Greer and Bob Quaife
Florist: Amy Streeter of Susan’s Florist
Cake: Italian Cream Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting by Melanie Gunn
DJ: James Hedges of Sovereign City DJs


Category: Vows



I hope you enjoy the song!  Although this is Elvis’ version,  Peter and Isaaca’s cover of “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You”  set the sweet, romantic tone of the ceremony and there wasn’t a dry eye among us.










The Story of My Stuff

photo 4-2In terms of earthly goods, I am not a wealthy person.  As a matter of fact, I got most  of my furniture pieces as gifts many years ago or from thrift stores and Craigslist. However, over the years, they have meshed together to make my house my unique palace.  As I sit in my living room and look around, I remember the stories attached to each piece and suddenly they seem like valuable old friends.  As a founding member of the Byrd Family Memory Keepers, I know it’s my job to place them in the Family Museum where they can be looked upon as treasures to be admired and not just “some old stuff we used to have in the house.”    My story and life are entwined in these pieces of wood, glass and fabric.  To tell you the story of them, I tell the story of myself, my friends and family.

It was the summer of 1979 and Bill and I were getting married on the last Saturday of July.  Bill had just graduated from East Carolina University and had started his “real” job at Carolina Telephone and Telegraph Company.  It always amazed me that he got an engineering job with a philosophy degree.  I guess that was back when a college degree was a magic “calling card” that opened doors to employment.  Anyway, he had a job in the administration side of the company and starting pay was $11,500 a year.  With that and what I made as a church secretary, we were going to be rich!  I loved Bill, but a girl also marries a man for his potential.  His potential was already taking shape!photo 3-1

We got our first apartment a few months before we married.  Bill moved in first and we immediately started trying to put furniture in it.  He’d not worked long enough to pay cash for big ticket items and I didn’t make enough to pay for them either.

Luckily,  Bill’s earning potential got us credit at Davis Furniture Store in Rocky Mount, North Carolina and suddenly we were the owners of the fanciest cream colored couches I had ever sat upon and had the pleasure of owning!  Within the same week we also went shopping at Simmons Furniture Company in downtown Tarboro and bought pretty little solid cherry end tables with Queen Anne styled, cabriole legs and carved scallop embellishments on them.  Of course, I had to have matching brass lamps to sit on top of them.  We also purchased some framed Chinese prints.  I remember that it took me quite a while to make the decision on these purchases and Donald Morris (the salesperson who waited on us and a future Mayor of Tarboro)  was very patient with me!  It’s not every day that a girl gets to choose her first new living room “suite.”    To make me even happier, my brother Scot gave us a beautiful gilded gold mirror as a wedding gift from W.S. Clark and Sons Department Store (when they were still in the furniture business.) My brother had good taste!

I couldn’t wait to have them delivered to our new apartment and when the truck pulled up in front of our door, I was like a kid at Christmas.  Finally, I was getting a home of my own.  That night, as it became dark, we turned on our new lamps and walked back and forth on the side walk in front of our apartment.  “Look,”  I said in amazement to Bill.  “The lights are glowing from the windows. It looks like a home!”  I was already a “homebody.”

It was all coming together, but we were lacking something important; our dining room table. My grandparents pitched in proudly with their offering; a little kitchen table that they got when they were first married.  That was in 1928, which by the way was our first, home telephone number: 823-1928. Some things you never forget.

It was a humble little table, painted a tan/cream color.  I decided to strip it and bring it back to its former glory.  It wasn’t the prettiest wood and my grandmother told me it was painted when they got it.    Oh, well…I knew if I put some stain on it, the “uglies” would disappear.  What the stain didn’t cover, the place mats did!photo 1-3

Now, to find some chairs!  The table wasn’t very big and we needed four, small chairs.  This is when our friends, Victor Padgett and Lee Summerlin came to our rescue. These talented, creative guys owned a furniture company called Restoration Antiques.  They sold antiques but they also made antique reproductions.  We would spend many Saturday afternoons in their shop on Main Street in Tarboro, creating our wish list.

When they learned that we had a table but no chairs, they gave us a call.  “Hey, guys,” Victor said.  “Lee and I want to offer y’all some chairs to go with your table. They are a matching group of four, oak plank bottom chairs.  You can have them for $25.00 a piece.  They are actually worth much more than that but that will be our wedding present to you guys!”photo 2-1 photo 1-2

We couldn’t believe it!  We were getting chairs to match our table!  We went and picked them up the next day.  They were the perfect size.  It was like the prince putting on Cinderella’s lost shoe.  They fit!  After we loaded them into the car we thanked them and Victor said, “If you ever want to get rid of them, don’t give them away or sell them.  Let us buy them back from you.  It’s very rare to find a matching set of plank bottom chairs.  They’re well over a hundred years old.”

We took them back home and put them around our table and tried them out.  Old and rare, huh?  We felt like we could get into this “antique” stuff.  We set the table with the new china we had received as wedding gifts,  lit some candles and went outside to see what how our apartment looked.  It was looking full and homey as it glowed in the ivory candle light.

I can’t tell you about our bedroom.  Bill wouldn’t let me see it until our wedding day.  It was my surprise and he decorated it and found the furniture for it himself.  That was when he was romantic!

I look back on our first apartment now and I enjoy my memories. In July, Bill and I will celebrate our thirty-fifth wedding anniversary. We’ve lived in over thirty places within ten or so cities. Between all the years, the moves and six children, we’ve been through many living room,  dining room and bedroom suites.  After ten years, when we were moving away from New Orleans,  we gave our beautiful couches away to a ministry couple who had three children and very little else.  We still have the Chinese prints, the end tables (although now they are painted a cheery red to cover the scars,)  the beautiful gold mirror and my grandmother’s kitchen table.

We never sold the matching oak, plank bottom chairs.  They’ve received more wear and tear than any other pieces of furniture we’ve  owned and I dare not paint them.  As our family grew and the children got older,  the chairs became the “extra” chairs lining the dining room wall that the children’s friends would grab and pull up to the table when the regular dining chairs were full.  After years and years of fannies and bottoms sliding in and off of the seats, the metal snap on the back of their jean pockets wore groves into the famous planks.  I look at the deep scratches etched into the wood and I can only smile as I remember the good times we had sitting in the little chairs around a table, eating, talking about the day, settling family issues, making important decisions, writing songs and being creative. They are like winkles, showing age, wear and character.

The little oak chairs are on my back porch now, around an oak table Daddy got from a lady he worked with at Long Manufacturing Company.  Her name was Mildred and when she gave the pretty round table to Daddy,  she said it was as “old as the hills.” He later passed the table to me.  It’s even older now and it looks really nice with my scratched up chairs.  They are sitting there all alone  for now, waiting for our grandchildren and cousins to come and scratch them up some more.  At the Byrd Family Museum, wear and tear are allowed!photo 3

Here’s your song!  Hope you enjoy it as much as I did when I first heard it!  It was Dean Martin’s biggest hit and was number one on the charts for six weeks in 1956, the year I was conceived!  Whoops…Hope that wasn’t too much information!





I Remember How It Made Me Feel

I remember it was an Autumn day in Miami.  The humidity was low and the sky was a brilliant blue. There was almost a hint of chill in the breeze as Bill and I were driving around discovering our new city.  We thought we were the luckiest people on earth because we were living in an older resort on Collins Avenue.  The property was being renovated and Bill was selling time shares at the resort.  Our entire family was able to live in one of the condos while he worked.  We were having a working vacation and it was marvelous after having ministered in the inner city and red light districts of Orlando.

miamiocean I loved Miami more than I thought I would.  It was as if it was the capital of South America and I felt as if I was living in a foreign city.  I was on sensory overload.

The water views were eye candy to me and I couldn’t believe how many shades of blue there could be.  From our fourth floor window,  I looked out each day to the ocean and the painted canvas “The Artist” had painted for me.  My attachment to the water was almost like crack to an addict, a child to its mother or oxygen to my lungs. It completed me as I stared out at it, healing my hurts, speaking life to my spirit and telling me its secrets of the deep.

I thought the sounds of Miami were wide open loud.  You could stand on a street corner and hear three or four different languages coming from car radios.  The music was either wild and sensual or soft and sensual.  Everything was alive and pulsating, breathing and rhythmical.

The smells of Miami came in on gentle breezes and down the hallways and out the windows of Collins Avenue.  They teased you with specific scents you couldn’t quite identify and they made me hungry.  I’m sure they smelled of Cuba and Puerto Rico, Haiti, Jamaica and little Islands whose names I’d forgotten.  They smelled of food exotica born on sea breezes and salt air.  They made their way into my conversations and manifested as spices in my kitchen cabinet.  The smells were like magic and I thought that if ingested them, I would automatically think Hispanic, speak Spanish or bleed Latina.  Sensory overload is a powerful thing.  4qn2ek6-1

I loved my new city and our new friends, almost all of them Latino.  The managers of the beach club were Puerto Rican and so were some of the other salesmen.  Many of the staff were Cuban and their parents had immigrated to the United States by boat during the 1950’s or 1960’s.  More recently, some of the younger ones had come by boat.  I was fascinated with these brave people.  One man worked in maintenance but he had been a doctor in Cuba.  He came to Miami on a boat and was so glad to be in America that he didn’t mind working well below the professional status he had enjoyed in Cuba.

We also knew some illegal aliens who lived amongst us.  Bill held Hispanic church services at the resort each week and we knew that these were good people.  They had come to the US with Visas that had since expired and were doing the best they could do to make it in America by “flying under the radar.”  We decided it wasn’t up to us to judge them but to befriend them and help them spiritually.  We even helped some of them with government paperwork so that they too,  could become legal residents.

On that beautiful Fall day,  as we were returning to the resort,  we noticed that several helicopters were flying low over the water.  We soon realized that they were news “eye in the sky” helicopters from the local news channels and that there was something news worthy happening on the beach. We quickly parked our car and ran into the building.

The first thing I saw was a line of employees on their knees looking out of the windows toward the beach.  Their mouths were moving in frantic prayers of teary Spanish and when I asked a friend standing nearby to interpret, she told me that they were praying: “Lord, let their feet touch the sand.  Let them walk up to the shore.  Keep them strong and don’t let them drown.”  Tears were rolling down their faces.

We ran out to the beach to see what could cause so much agony on the faces of our friends.  What we saw and heard will always be etched in my memory.  CG25423-001 Right beyond the shoreline,  there was a tiny boat or glorified raft.  There were what appeared to be illegal Cubans on the boat but some of them had jumped into the water and seemed to be trying to reach the beach.  A US Coast Guard boat was circling the raft and trying to do everything in its power to discourage the Cubans from jumping into the water and making it to the shore.  They were spraying the people and their boat with water cannons.  The water pressure was strong and hard to fight against. Plus, there was the terribly loud wail of the Coast Guard siren and boat horn.  The low riding helicopters also made the ordeal even more frightening.

A large group of Latino Americans had gathered on the beach, almost as if they had expected the little boat to come there onto the shore.  Like in the resort lobby, some folks were on their knees praying and some were standing right by the water’s edge, like coaches cheering their team on.  “Come on, you can make it!  Just a little bit further and you’ll be on the shore!  Don’t give up!  Don’t be afraid.” To make it even more unbelievable, there were news reporters with microphones and cameramen reporting live to their local channels or getting their stories ready for the 6:00 news.  In the chaos there was fear and hope, standing next to one another like old friends, holding hands on a battlefield.

I knew what I had seen but I didn’t know what the laws were pertaining to the “mess” we had just witnessed. I went back to my condo and did some five minute research on my computer.  I found out that there was a policy in place that made that  scene on the beach a legal one.

It was called the “wet foot/dry foot” policy. President Clinton had made an agreement with Cuba’s Fidel Castro to help regulate the number of illegal immigrants coming into the United States on boats.  If the immigrants were deterred by the US Coast Guard and not allowed out of the water onto the shore, (wet foot) they had to be sent back to Cuba unless they had reason to file for political asylum.  If they made it to the shore on dry land (dry foot) they could stay in the states and proceed with becoming legal US residents.

None of the Cubans made it to shore that fateful day.  The story broke on the 6:00 news and by 11:00 that evening,  the Cuban American population in Miami was showing its displeasure and agitation at the US government. In an effort to show solidarity, hundreds of them and others in the Latino community went down to the bridge that stood beside the US Coast Guard building and lay down side by side across the expanse shutting down the bridge and blocking traffic for hours. I can only tell you how it made me feel.  The whole scene had made me heart broken and sick on the inside.  I almost had Bill take me down to the Coast Guard Station so that I could lay down next to the Latinos.  My heart was on emotional sensory overload.Oh, I knew that laws were laws and  policies were policies, but to get so close to your goal, your destination, only to be thwarted by intense water pressure wasn’t fair.  I could have sworn if you cut me I would have bled Latina that week.

P1010503 A few months later, the Elian Gonzalez story hit the news.  Remember the six year old little Cuban boy found floating off the coast of South Florida in a small inner tube? He, his momma, her boyfriend and eleven others had set off to “look for America.”  The aluminum boat they had crowded into capsized  off Florida’s coast and Elian’s mother and ten others drowned.  The INS sent him to stay with his father’s  relatives in Miami but Elian’s father wanted him to be returned to Cuba to live with him.  It was an international custody dispute but in the end, Elian’s father won.  He was sent back to Cuba.

I thought about his mother and her sacrifice to give Elian a better life in America.  It was her desire that he live in the US.  That wish had cost her everything. Yet, laws are laws and they are made so that our country can stay strong and powerful.  But the little voice in my head said over and over,  “No, laws are made to be broken.” What kind of American citizen was I becoming?

I looked out to the sea a lot during my time in Miami after what I had witnessed.  My dependance on its ever changing colors and movements kept me fascinated  but it held secrets that it no longer told me.  How many had died in its watery arms as they sought a life their mother country could not give them?  Embarrassed by the tragedies, it danced along the thin slice of sand that could give illegal aliens freedom, pretending nothing had happened.  I stretched out my thin arms as if to embrace it; to tell it that it was not its fault.  There were laws…  immigrant

Now, I know that there are children being sent from Latin America, through Mexico, to the American border.  I hear that their parents pay thousands of dollars to put their beloved children on a bus and send them to seek a better life than they can give them in their mother country.  The parents know that the chances are slim to nil that they will ever see their children again.  They know that if they make it to the American border, the welcome mat will be rolled out for them. It makes me wonder,  should the sacrifice of their parents  be honored and our nation embrace the children and absorb them into our culture.  Do the foreigners believe in America more the the Americans do?  On the other hand, is it child abuse to put your children on a bus and put their lives into the hands of others in a different culture?  Is it child abuse to put your unsuspecting child into a boat and send him to a foreign land when the chances are slim he will even make it to the shores of that land alive?  Oh, the questions adults must agonize over to consider laws!

I just remember how it made me feel when I think back to the day I saw the illegal Cubans off the shore of Miami Beach,  humiliated and broken in the water.  There was a breaking in my soul and the soul of a city that day. I feel that breaking again as I view the pictures of the illegal Latin American children laying on pallets as they sleep,  somewhere in Texas, awaiting their fate and trusting the friendly Americans.  Something inside me, I don’t know, maybe the Latino blood I acquired fifteen years ago in Miami,  as I ingested the magical Hispanic spices and listened to the rhythm of their sensual music, did something to me.  Maybe the friendships I made in Miami made me have an affinity towards these brave, happy people.  And if I could, I would  go and take my pallet to lay down with the scared, homesick children who have found themselves miles away from home and tell them that “It’s OK. Everything’s going to be alright,” even though I would have no assurance that would be true.  Then, I’d stretch my arms over them and tell them, “It’s not your fault either.  There are laws.”

Here’s your song…  

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