The plane touched down shortly before midnight. Or maybe it was a little after 11pm? I’m not sure– I was exhausted and everything felt blurry after my 20 minute cat nap on my 60 minute flight.
All that aside, I was in Atlanta!
Beverly had insisted that I give her a ring upon arriving at the airport despite my repeated protestation that it would be SUPER late by the time my plane touched down. I called her and her excitement was not only audible but it gave me the little boost I needed to make my way over to baggage claim (lack of overheard storage space resulted in my carry on– which lacked adequate black girl hair products– to be stowed away beneath the plane presumably next to other bags that carried way more than 3.4 FL ounces of leave in conditioner.)
Bag in hand, I started walking in the direction of the rental car hub located at the other side of the airport. After about 20 minutes of walking — and the sinking realization that I had quite a ways to go — I promptly boarded the nearest shuttle to help expedite the process. I’d find out later that the airport was 3 miles across and that the shuttle wasn’t just decoration.
Once I had the keys to the rental car it occurred to me that I didn’t have directions to the hotel. (Did I mention the part where I’m not exactly good at traveling and that my “smart” phone is so smart that I don’t know how to use its GPS system?) Mike helped me navigate my way to Decatur, Georgia where our hotel was located, via the magic of the telephone and the ability to drive while on speaker phone.
Estimated Time: Super, duper late.
I was up early the next day to meet Beverly at church. She gave me the address for the church she regularly frequents– a small establishment that she sometimes performs at– with a service that started at 11:30am.
I gave myself ample time to pull together a church appropriate outfit and to– given my poor sense of navigational direction– get lost a few times with some time to spare.
I got into the car, cell phone GPS in hand, and punched in the address of the church only to find that the location didn’t register on the GPS.
No big deal! The street did! Plus, I had the church name!
I googled the church name only to find that the church didn’t exist on the internet. Beverly had mentioned that it was a small church but I guess my 21st Century brain didn’t consider the possibility that, small church or not, it wouldn’t have a website and a corresponding twitter and instagram account.
On top of that Beverly didn’t have a cell phone and since I’d checked in with her right before she left for church I knew she wasn’t home to receive calls on her home phone either.
I punched the street name into the GPS and proceeded to spend the next three hours following a whim hoping to strike gold.
So much for my magic cellphone…
I thought back on some of our initial conversations from a few months earlier. Church had always been a cornerstone of Beverly’s upbringing in Commerce, Georgia. When I asked her who introduced her to the blues she answered definitively:
She told me about going to church with her own family “back in them days”– and getting there via a horse pulled wagon just like Little House on the Prairie.
Maud was the name of her family’s Sunday horse.
Beverly recalled Her Grandmother’s dinners on the first Sundays of August and how her Granddaddy would take some straw out to the horses to keep them occupied during service. Church, family and music were all central to her childhood. In fact music was introduced to her by her Aunts who played together and called themselves The Hayes Sisters. Her aunt Mary Margette gifted her her first guitar when she was 8 years old. It was a toy guitar– a far stretch from the Fender Mustang “Red Mama” that she’d come to write a song about decades later.
You’ve gotta start somewhere and Beverly started young. It’d be years still before her Aunt Bishie would buy her a trumpet so she could play in the school band at Archer High School. Beverly would tell me
I’ll never forget she paid 90 dollars for it.
Beverly went on to play third trumpet and learn the fundamentals of music from her teacher, Clark Taylor. She’d acknowledge that this foundation proved helpful once the time came to hit the road with Piano Red:
I knew how to play all different types of chords; sharps, majors minors and just on and on.
Beverly knows her guitar inside and out– and beyond that she loves her guitars. Not only does she name them all– but on the road, if she so happens to find herself in a motel room with two beds, without hesitation one of those beds goes to her guitars.
On the road myself– driving aimlessly throughout Atlanta, rounding my third hour of trying to find Beverly’s church– I started feeling disheartened.
Church was definitely over and given my propensity to perpetually think that people are mad at me (this is a thing that I do) I felt terrible knowing that I’d come all this way to hang out with Beverly and I’d inadvertently left her hanging at the altar.
I hesitated to give up.
There are churches every other block in Atlanta– and despite knowing it was a long shot, I pulled over to a man selling pumpkin pies on the street and asked him for help.
He effusively ticked off about a half a dozen other churches I should check out with more joy than seemed necessary. It occurred to me that this perfect stranger was not only willing but eager to help me for no other reason than I was someone to be helped. I bought a HUGE and delicious slice of pie from him for $2 and finally came to appreciate that church wasn’t in the cards that day.
At that point I felt tired and a little defeated. I stopped by a coffee shop called Kavarna and figured I’d spend some time writing and getting caffeinated.
It was only after about an hour that I realized that this venue specialized in musical acts and that this whole time I had in fact been sitting on a stage.
Later that afternoon I made my way to a pizza shop for a super awesome slice of pineapple and bacon and red pepper pizza and a beer.
I finally reached Beverly after periodically contacting her throughout the afternoon well after 6pm.
She was bummed I missed a good service but she wasn’t mad at me (phew) and we made new plans to meet at the hospital the next morning.
Take a load off, Fanny
Take a load for free
Take a load off, Fanny
And (and) (and) you put the load right on me
(You put the load right on me)
I’ll never forget watching Levon Helm, The Band’s drummer, sing this song during my first viewing of The Last Waltz (I’ve since watched it a zillion times) and thinking “Man, I want to be able to do that.”
He sang lead vocals behind his kit and his performance was the coolest thing I’d ever seen.
I took up drums shortly thereafter.
Beyond being an epic song that changed my life– and beyond Mavis Staples’ chill inducing rendition of the second verse– I loved the words.
I love the sense of being bombarded with really smart words that simultaneously mean something and manage to say all of the things.
Take a load off, Fanny.
It sure made sense to me.
Teamwork makes the dream work and yet for some reason while we philosophize about the American dream — and insist that we’re only as strong as the weakest among us — we rarely offer to carry Fanny’s load. Shared struggle means actually sharing in the struggle, showing up and being there.
I’d only known Beverly for about 6 months when she told me she was having a procedure to remove her brain aneurysm. Upon hearing this I immediately knew I wanted to be there if only to help carry the load.
There’s little I could do beside show up and hope that it was enough to help. I hear, back in them days, it used to be more like this. In fact, Beverly told me so:
What would happen is they would get together and they would help each other. See, in the country it’s still like that. If one person got sick in the house or something they would go and help that person. It’s not like that, this generation, these times it’s not like that. I still go back. I think back in my times.
Take a load off, Fanny.
I was up thinking pretty late that night feeling all the emotions. Nervous and scared, sure, but mostly optimistic and grateful.
We’ve all been Fanny at some point in our lives– and for today, Beverly was someone to be helped and I was in a position be there to say: Put the load right on me.