Chapter 4: The Billie Wimpie 5K

Published June 16, 2016

In January Todd and I were invited to do a 5k walk dedicated to my friend, William Wimpy’s mom’s 95th birthday. It’s an annual event, and it was hosted by none other than our local fire chief’s family.

While we were celebrating Grandma’s birthday, I told my story to the chief’s wife, Patti. Her reply was, “Well I will gather patches and t-shirts to trade with them! This is wonderful!” And she set out on her mission to do her part to make this a successful event.

My father in law offered his truck and trailer, and while I think we will probably rent one, it meant the world to me that he was so supportive and generous.

So, this connection that we all saw? George Ohr’s Burned Babies. What I would find out at the family workshop on Tuesday was that George’s brother was, yes, a firefighter. His signed helmet is actually at the Firehouse Museum.

“October 12, 1894: Ohr’s pottery was destroyed in a fire that began at the Bijou Oyster Saloon. Ohr experienced a total loss, but was too attached to his “burned babies” to part with them.”

George is quickly becoming a big hero of mine. When we go to Biloxi, that is one of the first things I will get to see, some of his burned babies. And I can’t wait. But while his studio was a total loss, his babies live on, still to this day. This is part of the lesson I’ve learned from pottery: no matter what life hands to me, my babies are still solid. And it has helped me, as my dad said, “with all that head stuff I have going on.” In his own way, my dad had made sense of my new found passion. It had changed me from the stressed out mess that I always was a calm, even sometimes, interesting person, even to him. That’s why my shows in Alabama are so important to me. They make him happy. He is so proud of me when he comes and watches people’s reactions to my work. We’ve had our problems throughout our lives, but it seems as if my addiction to clay has even resolved any conflict we’ve ever had. He and Debby love it when we come to town. They plan parties, invite friends, host me and my sisters as we flurry through show weekends. It’s another chapter in our lives that none of us expected.

And now I was going to get to share this with the next generation.

Firefighters have it tough. On a good day, they are hanging around the station, working out, playing cards, cooking and goofing off. Some get into trouble. But they have a brotherhood that is like nothing else, because of the bad days. Those are the days that they run towards danger, risking their lives. They have to trust one another, lean on one another, and be each other’s family while they are away from their own. And it is something that every community shares: this quiet, brave bunch of guys who will risk their lives to save ours. They are an amazing group of men and women, that seem to go unnoticed until the worst has happened in someone’s life. On a really bad day, a brother or sister may not come home. On a really, really bad day, they may be the first responder to their own mother’s

But they only show strength. Poor Jim felt like he was betraying his brothers when he admitted they constantly feel the stress that made me worry about them so much during Katrina. “All in a day’s work, right?” Don’t worry about us, he said. We got this. It isn’t until you get that man into the woods with his children that you can see it on his face: he’s still a little boy, who puts on a man’s face every day for the sake of his family, and his brothers and sisters. The man who can run into a burning building to save a child still has a child’s innocence about him that can be hurt deeply by the happenings of life. And he wants me to help him. I am so honored.

As for the 5k? Todd and I both finished it. We didn’t “win” it, but we finished it. In 2015, we had both struggled with some fairly serious health issues, and in January of 2016, we were able to high five as we put all that to rest. We had also met and became friends with the Wimpy family.

In 1958, my grandfather, Loyd Shaw, bought 40 acres on the Elk River in Alabama. That’s where I learned all about having fun, water skiing, swimming, and developed my life long friendship with my cousins. We grew up without the containment that kids have today, and it formed the person that I am now. I love mud, and I think that’s where it came from. I love my family, and I know that’s where it came from. I love the water. I love the trees, rocks, and rolling hills. All of the best parts of my childhood were on that property. After my grandfather died, it was only a few short years before the property was sold, developed, and became just a memory and a series of photo albums that are, yes, another story. But the Wimpy family still has their father’s vision. Just this week I went to William and Tracy Wimpy’s house for William’s 60th birthday. As our little group of friends, who are capable of producing a huge “Thanksgiving” dinner for William with very little time to plan, held hands to tell what we were grateful for, William said, “First, I’m grateful that my father had a vision for his family and that he bought this property and that we are able to share it with our friends.” I knew that vision. Ours was gone, but I had a dear friend who was willing to share his father’s vision with me. It was very difficult for me to put into words what I was most thankful for, as I had just returned from Biloxi. I summed it up with, “I am thankful for my husband, who makes all my shenanigans possible, and for my family and friends who share with me.”

A little off the point, but Todd and I were watching a show about Steven Hawkings. At first, I almost bailed, as I’m not really that into scientific theories, etc. But I got a little engrossed at the experiments he was doing on the show, and I stuck it out. What I remembered most about it was the conclusion that “it took the entire universe to make me.” And it took the entire universe and it’s entire history to make each moment that exists, for any of us.

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