Category Archives: Tribute to My Father

The Best Advice Ever



[Deviney Hall, Florida State University]

Dear Readers,

I recently read some rather sad news:  FSU is going to tear down Deviney Hall, my home for three years [1970-1973].  I guess the modern university student will not tolerate the monastic conditions under which my dorm mates and I thrived, during those years:

— The dorm had no air conditioning but we each had a window fan [remember, this is Florida, folks!]

— The dorms had steam heat [which the students could not regulate].

— 16 women shared one large, cleaned, shiny tiled room which contained three showers with curtains, one bath tub with curtain, five sinks with mirrors, and five toilets with privacy doors.  [This room was always in pristine condition, thanks to the housekeeping crew.]

— Each room had a small refrigerator.

— FSU did not allow ANY cooking or baking devices in the dorm rooms.

— There was a kitchen downstairs but it was easier to dine in the FSU Cafeteria.  There were no “fast-food” dining spots on campus.

— There was a Parlor downstairs, to which you might invite a male friend.

— There were NO MEN allowed on any of the floors at any time.

— I owned no vehicle but I had a bicycle.

— I owned no typewriter but there was a typewriter in the “Study Room,” which we took turns borrowing.

— All my earthly belongings easily fit inside the trunk of my parents’ car.

— The dorm Basement offered laundry facilities.

— The FSU Library was a QUIET place and did not allow beverages or food.


– 16 women shared one telephone, located in the hallway.

If that phone was in use, you could take the elevator [or hop down six flights of stairs] to the Basement, where you could find a telephone to use.

It was there in the Basement, in the Fall Quarter of 1970, during Midterms, that I telephone my parents, to touch base with them.

Like many other students, I had never had to study very hard in high school.  Now, competing for grades at a huge state university, I was completely overwhelmed.  I had not previously developed solid study habits.  Western Civ I was utterly daunting and “Bone-Head Math” eluded me.  I could not skillfully compose an English paper to save my soul and Biology at 8 am was a puzzlement.

And the lecture halls were huge!  Every class seemed to hold 250 students.  There was no hope of asking the Professor or Teaching Assistant for help.

It was humiliating.  I had been an above-average student in high school and now I was studying afternoons, nights and weekends, just to earn a “B.”  I had absolutely no life outside of my part-time job and my classes.

So, I called my parents one evening, hoping, I suppose to elicit some sympathy.  My dad answered the phone and my mom got on the extension.  They asked me how my studies were going, and I said, with a waver in my voice, “Well, it’s hard!”

That was the defining moment.  Right then.  I heard my mother’s quiet voice first: “Oh, sweetie . . . ” Her voice was full of the sympathy that I had hoped to hear.

Then, I heard my dad’s voice, full, booming, confident, with the mere touch of a chuckle:  “Yeah!  It’s supposed to be!”

And that was it.  Just five words.  I felt as if someone had splashed cold water in my face but it was refreshing and woke me out of my self-pity.  Just five words but they were exactly what I needed to hear.

Our conversation was short and I hung up the phone.  I don’t remember anything else we talked about.  But I remember those five words. It was the best advice anyone has ever given me.  My father, the former military man, had seen events in WWII that were too horrible to contemplate.  He raised four children on one salary. He knew a thing or two about life and he knew that each of his children needed to be strong to get through this life.

I contemplated all this, climbed the stairs to my dorm room, grabbed my books, and walked over to the library, where I dived into my studies.

I did graduate with a degree but I still have haunting dreams about still working feverishly, to finish my degree. So, I know that the stress of those university years will always be with me.

I wish my dad was still alive so that I could tell him this story.

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Filed under parenting, the university circa 1970, Tribute to My Father

Places of Enchantment

For Father’s Day, June 2010

Places of Enchantment:  A Tribute to Alton Bernard “Nobby” Blair

Born October 29, 1919 and Died February 21, 2006

A few months after my mother died, my father moved to Tallahassee and, for almost five months, he lived only one mile from our Payne home.  At first, I wondered how he and I would find “common ground” during our daily visits, for Dad was a “doer” and I was a “dreamer.”  He had been an athlete, a coach, an educator, and a military officer.  A handyman who could fix anything, he was a wood craftsman and built furniture and clocks for his family.  He even designed and built the interior of his retirement mountain home.  I, on the other hand, was often lost in the world of “arts and ideas.”

One autumn evening, I introduced Dad to the film, Cross Creek, based on the memoirs of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and her 25 years of community life in rural central Florida.  The film was enchanting:  it was beautiful, quiet, thoughtful, and lyrical.  At breakfast the next morning, he said, “I am still thinking about that film.”   He had never been a reader of literature, so I was amazed when he devoted two hours, every night, to reading the book, Cross Creek. It had captured his imagination, as it had always captured mine.

During those fall evenings, chapter-by-chapter, he and I enthused about Cross Creek:  We shared our favorite passages; critiqued the writing style; discussed the characters, the land and water, the woods and wildlife, the flora and fauna, the food and folkways.  After finishing the book, he ruefully told me that, to him, all other reading had become dull.  I quickly asked my sisters, Susan and Amy, to order other Rawlings book titles for Dad.  In astonishment, they asked each other, “Which Dad would that be?”

I was delighted, yet puzzled, by this new-found connection that Dad and I shared, until I pondered this quote by Rawlings:

“I do not understand how anyone can live without some small place of enchantment to turn to.”   

I then asked myself, “Who was it that first introduced you to places of enchantment?” . . . . .

. . . . . In the summers of the 1960’s, our West Coast Blair Family Retreat was to the campgrounds of Big Sur, California:  Together, we chose the best rustic campsite by the creek, set up the tent; read, napped, and gazed up at the sunlight, peeking through the majestic sequoias and redwoods; hiked up to the water falls and crossed moss-covered footbridges; fell asleep to the soothing sound of the bubbling creek; and woke up to the call of the song birds, in the morning.

As my younger brother, Michael, said, “Well, here we all are – out in the natures!”

In my memories of Big Sur, the moonlight shone on huge stepping-stones, as our family crossed the shallow creek, to gather with the other families, at the outdoor amphitheatre.  We huddled around the campfire, sipped hot cocoa, and waited for the park ranger to greet us:  “Howdy, Campers!”  He led us in rousing renditions of campfire songs; we sang with unabashed enthusiasm and learned all the hand-motions, too.

Even forty years later, my father still loved to sing those campfire songs with his family.  We sang them, every summer, at our East Coast Blair Family Retreat:  the North Carolina mountain home of my parents.  Dad and Susan created identical “Campfire Songbooks” for each member of the growing Blair Clan.  Ten years ago, in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, Michael led family and friends in singing campfire songs, after the celebration dinner that commemorated the 50th wedding anniversary of my parents.

We discovered that we could take those songs anywhere:  They were our connection to each other, to places of enchantment, and to all that was true, good, and pure about nature and family life. . . . .

. . . . . Back in Tallahassee, sitting with Dad, the daylight hours were shortening, as the autumn of 2005 faded into winter.  The Rawlings books arrived, which my sisters had ordered.  However, by then, Dad was too weak to read them, so, during the evenings, at his bedside, I read extracts to him.  With delight, I told him of this discovery:  “Mizz Rawlin’s” spent one fall season, in 1936, living and writing in a retreat cabin, in Banner Elk, NC.  I could imagine her, gazing out her cabin window, drawing inspiration from the same magnificent, panoramic view that would captivate my father, some 40 years later.  Dad would then introduce his family to this enchanted place and it would become our Blair Clan Reunion Retreat for the next 25 summers.

In the final weeks of his life, my father often reviewed his life in “daydreams.”  These were vivid, strong, and persistent memories; they represented events that had been very important to him.

One day, I asked him, “What are you day-dreaming about?”

He answered, “Big Sur.”  He spoke only in a whisper and his eyes were closed but he could smile and nod.

I told him, “I remember waking to the good aroma of your campfire coffee and breakfast in the mornings.”  He smiled.

I asked him, “Do you remember the morning when a blue jay zoomed down and snatched a hot blueberry pancake off a plate on the picnic table?”   He nodded.

I continued: “Do you remember what you said, as you scratched your head and watched the little thief fly away?”   He waited.

I reminded him, “You said, ‘That was either a very light pancake or a very strong bird!’”   

He smiled and the corners of his eyes wrinkled with delight, in the remembering.  He went back to sleep.

It was only Valentine’s Day but an early spring had arrived in Tallahassee:  The, azalea, dogwood, and redbud were blooming.  I was overjoyed when my father lived long enough to see a Carolina chickadee return, at last, to the window bird feeder.  Dad did not live long enough to return, one last time, to the mountains of North Carolina.  One week later, he was gone from the land and water he loved so well.  However, before his passing, he had imparted to his children and grandchildren a desire to turn — and return — to places of enchantment.  This legacy will be his strong connection to many generations.

Margot Blair Payne, Daughter, The First Week of Lent 2006, Tallahassee, FL

“ . . . If there be such a thing as [collective or instinctual] memory, the consciousness of land and water must lie deeper in the core of us than any knowledge of our fellow beings.  We were bred of earth before we were born of our mothers.  Once born, we can live without mother or father, or any other kin, or any friend, or any human love.  We cannot live without the earth or apart from it, and something is shriveled in a man’s heart when he turns away from it and concerns himself only with the affairs of men.”

“ . . . It seems to me that the earth may be borrowed but not bought.  It may be used but not owned.  It gives itself in response to love and tending, offers its seasonal flowering and fruiting.  But we are tenants and not possessors, lovers and not masters.  Cross Creek belongs to the wind and the rain, to the sun, and the seasons, to the cosmic secrecy of seed, and beyond all, to time.”

~~~All quotes are from Cross Creek, the memoirs of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, 1942, Scribner’s

Epilogue:  August 14, 2006

One week after the Memorial Service for my father, my husband, Stephen, and I returned to The Hiding Place Columbarium, a walled garden on the property of the Banner Elk Presbyterian Church.  My parents chose this garden as their final resting place:  Their cremains, each contained within an urn, are interred within two niches, side-by-side.  Brass plaques identify their names, dates of birth, and dates of death.

From the vantage point of the garden, Stephen and I turned around in a circle and surveyed the sweeping vista of the mountains:  The view beyond the Columbarium Garden Archway faced the majestic Grandfather Mountain.  The opposite view led to Beech Mountain, where my parents built their retirement home.  To the left of the archway, a short distance up the hill from the Columbarium Garden, stood the sturdy, stone church, over 150 years old, the denomination of my Scottish ancestors. Yet another direction revealed the road leading to The Grandfather Home for Children.  My parents had been enthusiastic supporters and promoters of this home, which gives hope, health, and healing to children from troubled homes.

By vehicle, we followed the road to the Grandfather Home for Children. On foot, we explored the property and found a bench and a commemorative marker, which the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Society had placed:

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings ~ 1896-1953

Rawlings wrote the first draft of her Pulitzer-winning novel, The Yearling, in this location.  Her famous short story, A Mother in Mannville, featured a boy at Grandfather Home.  Both stories are popular MGM movies.


[For more information:  Marjorie Rawlings In the Mountains:  The Story Behind A Mother in Mannville, Mary Dudley Gilmer, 2004.]


Filed under Tribute to My Father

The Heroes Among Us: First In a Series

Dear Faithful Praying Family & Friends,

Stephen & I travel to Gainesville, FL [tomorrow, Sunday] for me to begin chemotherapy, on Monday morning at 9.50 AM at Dr. Carroll’s office. You remember that I will participate in a clinical trial?  I was “randomized” into the group that will receive four drugs vs. three. 

Phase OneThree months [six rounds] of therapy, with four infused drugs.  Each round will include one full day [six hours] followed by a rest period of three weeks.  Phase One begins Monday, 09.21.09 and ends Monday, 01.04.10.

Phase TwoNine months of therapy, with two infused drugs.  Each round will include one-half day [three hours] followed by a rest period of three weeks.  Phase Two begins Monday, 01.25.10 and ends in September 2010.

Phase ThreeFive years of one oral drug, no infusion.  Phase Three will begin September 2010 and will end September 2016.

 I am dedicating each of the first Six Rounds in Phase One to a hero or heroine.   Round One is dedicated to:

Alton Bernard “Nobby” Blair [1919-2006] and Margaret Elizabeth “Peg” Van Hoy Blair [1918-2005]

Descending from hard-working NC farm folk, Nobby was the first family member to attend college.  He wrote a letter home from Guilford College to his parents, in 1943, telling them that he would soon be drafted into WWII.  However, he assured them that he was honored to serve his country and that he would “make them proud.”  Peg [his college sweetheart] sent him off to war in 1943.  Because they knew he might never return, they did not become engaged at that time.  After completing cadet training, Nobby flew 21 missions over Germany in World War II, first as a bombadier and later as a navigator.  He witnessed many of his buddies being killed by enemy fire; at least one of these deaths was on board the plane in which he was flying.

Nobby returned home from WWII [first photo, above] and married Peg in 1946.  Peg supported Nobby while he earned a Master’s Degree on the GI Bill at UNC.  His three vocations were coach, educator, and career Air Force military officer.  Nobby & Peg raised their family on one income and gave each of their five children an opportunity to finish college.  Peg supervised ten family moves and parented alone, when Nobby was away from home on military duty [including one entire year, when Nobby was in Japan].

When Nobby was 78, he valiantly fought for his life, in a hospital ICU unit, after severe complications from surgery.  He endured one solid year of excruciating rehabilitation.  Peg was with him through all of this, as Nobby had been with her during her health challenges.

Nobby & Peg celebrated their 50th anniversary in 1996 [second photo].  They were married for 59 years, until Peg’s death in 2005.

Dad and Mom, this round is dedicated to you!  I plan to fight valiantly and I hope to “make you proud.”

 Coram Deo,



Filed under Breast Cancer, Tribute to My Father, Tribute to My Mother