The Allman Brothers’ Real Mama

One thing I learned in while living in Georgia is that Mama Louise always took care of her boys.

The passing of Gregg Allman brings back memories of fried chicken, greens, and an overpainted Coca-Cola sign in the old downtown district of Macon, Georgia. Inside the doorway was the small H & H Restaurant where Mamma Louise, owner of the shotgun-sized restaurant, opened her heart to a near penniless and hungry group of musicians trying to make a hit record at the nearby Capricorn Records studio.

As the band struggled to create a breakout sound 1970, the band stumbled into the nearby restaurant with enough money to buy 2 dinners. The band, however, consisted of a half-dozen hungry stomachs.

Mama Louise took pity on the boys. She told them to sit down eat. They could settle up one day when they made it big. Truth is, she never really expected to be repaid, only help take care of someone else in need. Her heart was as big as the servings you would find on your plate.

Macon is located halfway from Atlanta and Savannah – or close enough to call it so. The H & H Restaurant, became a beacon for Allman Brothers’ fans who would be passing through. Located alongside a worn city street, the rusted newspaper rack outside the front door attracted more attention than the small 4-foot by 3-foot Coca-Cola sign hanging outside. I once drove around the block several times before I ever discovered the front door.

Parking was difficult and the hours limited. Until her death, in 2007, Mama Louise could be found in the kitchen making up the day’s specials for the regulars – none of whom were musicians. Her menu was a classic soul food mix – or “meat and three” as they are known throughout the south. And the fried chicken would stay with your soul long after the city limits would fade into your rear view mirror.

Truth is I found the H & H closed as many times as it was open. If you were ever going to eat there, you had to make surgical plans to arrive during the short hours of operation. The small sliver of fame never changed the restaurant’s calling – to be there and open when the locals were hungry for lunch.

Inside you’d find standard issue red vinyl chairs, well-worn tables that tilted when you rested your weight, and possibly the greatest authentic personal collection of Allman Brothers items in the world.

The Brothers never let the kindness of Mamma Louise fade as fame exploded around them. On the yellow walls of the restaurant I remember staring at gold records personally signed to Mamma Louise, concert posters, and other one of a kind items given to her over the years. And the remarkable thing is the hangings were in no way presented for any commercial gain. A photo of guitarist Duane, hung below one of Mary Magdalene and to the lower right of Jesus tending a flock of sheep. The boys were simply another part of Mamma Louise’s extended family.

But the kindness from the boys extended beyond wall hangings. The band took care of her the rest of her life. They would fly her to concerts, putting special chair off stage for her. They even hired Mamma Louise as the official cook for their 1972 tour, however, never asking her to raise a spoon.

On one visit I walked back towards the kitchen to see Mamma Louise sitting in her chair focused on peeling vegetables. She looked up and smiled and as quickly, went back to her humble task. Yes, she was personal friends with one of the most celebrated bands of all time, but in 20-minutes some hungry soul would be coming through the doors and would need something to eat.

There are hundreds of off-the-book tales of how the band kept in touch with Mamma Louise – from special birthday parties to visits. But as big as the band became, they never forgot the woman who took them off the streets and into her kitchen. Mamma Louise never forgot her boys, and the boys never forgot her kindness.

Mama Louise passed away in 2007 at the age of 94. She was in the kitchen.

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(Photos are from my personal visits – LW)

Cancer a foe we must defeat

Death rarely calls ahead for an appointment.

This week my wife got behind the wheel of her car to go see her brother for the last time. After years of cancer treatments — ones where he fought the cancer with a remarkable stubbornness — his doctors have decided the treatments are no longer going to be effective. The big ugly C is coming to take another beautiful person from our world.

Originally, my wife’s brother was given a few years — a prognosis based on the results of what years of treatment experience might predict. In these difficult situations both doctors and families are searching for answers — and past experiences are all anyone has to go on.

But then there is the other factor. My wife’s brother is a fighter like no one’s business. And to his credit, he has wrestled this ugly monster to the mat time after time over the past decade or so. But in the end, the battle became a match of endurance. And as we know time does not wait for any of us. Age and fatigue compound making treatments more difficult, less effective.

As I write this, my wife’s brother is at home and resting comfortably. He is under the care of hospice and his family. But I also know he is continuing to fight each and every day. And surrounded by his family, he is where he needs to be.

But death does not set an appointment. The days could be hours. The minutes could be moments. Waiting for the inevitable is the most painful.

My wife opted for driving the 14-hour distance to where her brother is resting. Loading up the car, she and our daughter decided the decompression time together would be good for them both. And I know she is right. The open road can be a healing place for a wounded heart.

Bright eyes, a sheepish smile and a generous heart. This is what I see when I think of my wife’s brother. He is a good man surrounded by an army of close family who have walked this journey alongside him. He is not alone.

But in the end, the battle becomes one of who can outlast the other. And in too many cases, the ugly monster wins. The human spirit, while our most powerful tool in life, is still contained inside an organic vessel susceptible to the natural decay of time.

I hurt for my wife. I hurt for her brother and the family at his side. I hurt for anyone who experiences similar moments in life.

Cancer sucks. Lurking like an invisible villain waiting to disrupt or destroy an unsuspecting life. I pray to God we one day are able to contain this ugly monster. The pain, the suffering, the loss of good people must stop. We can never stop fighting.

My wife will kiss her brother goodbye, squeeze his hand one final time, and then head back home. But she is not alone — nor is her brother.

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(Her brother lost his courageous fight agains cancer in the early hours of May 23rd.)

Life Unfiltered Increasingly Rare

Living an unfiltered life is becoming increasingly rare – and we are as much at fault as technology.

Photographs are among the most powerful tools for documenting human existence. With a high-quality camera at nearly everyone’s fingertips today, we are documenting life like never before. According to the Atlantic magazine in 2015, humans take more photos every two minutes than existed in total 150 years ago. We are collectively creating visual essays for future generations to look back upon when trying to understand the social experiences of our time.

When we try to envision what life might have looked like in 1900, we tend to drawn on similar compositions – generally black and white or the gold-toned sepia images. Stiff, stoic, and unsmiling. Each deliberative and lacking emotion. While the color, or lack of colors, make the images haunting, they also paint the pictures we accept to define a period.

Photographs of my childhood are predictable. Images were intentional – a family photo gathered for Christmas or holding up a fish by a lake. But the photos were taken to document the unvarnished and significant moments in time. The collective volume was random, unpredictable, and authentic.

But in today’s world we are all brand managers – a commercial term of a carefully crafting a public image designed to lead the receiver to an intentional destination. And in that quest, authenticity is traded in exchange for blurred or filtered vision.

Today we are all amateur brand managers. Armed with powerful social media tools, the sharing of photos is as easy as pushing a button. So easy in fact, we increasingly filter life through a lens of how to promote our brand instead of documenting life.

Living an unfiltered life is becoming increasingly rare. Authenticity, the powerful ingredient that helps others to unravel the story of life, is now sacrificed with our self-serving selections designed to generate responses from a target audience. In some ways, we are becoming much like a box of cereal on the grocery store shelf.

Even I am guilty of this amateur branding. If a hundred years from now someone were to look back over the digital scraps of my digital feeds, they would think all I do is ride bikes, write stories, and visit small towns. But the unfiltered me is someone less interesting. I work, I come home and eat dinner, and I pull weeds in front yard. My brand management, however, is a highlight reel – one based on what I see inside my head, not the mirror.

Where will this lead us down the road? Where will our increasingly self-centered and self-selected content take us? Will we find our way home or are we now forever unchained from reality? Are we no more authentic than the advertising slogan begging us to pick a cereal box from the shelf?

An authentic life is one lived with weeds and all – a life where honesty is valued and accepted. What I hope is the unfiltered life is not forever lost to the digital dust of history.

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Inner voice determines outcomes

The other day, a friend brought up the subject of one’s “inner voice” — that unsolicited voice who speaks up without us ever asking for an opinion.

My friend had spoken with someone whose inner voice instinctively responded with reasons about why things couldn’t or shouldn’t be done.

Our inner voice is best described as how we instinctively react to circumstances or challenges we meet in life. And learning to successfully train our inner voice to our advantage is one of the most valuable lessons we can learn in life.

Imagine when someone suggests you perform a task at work differently? For many people, their first instinct is defensive. Even the dreaded — but comfortable — phrase of “but we’ve always done it this way” can find it’s a way to our lips. Or, say, another suggests you could save money by shopping at a different grocery store? Again, we rationalize that we’re familiar with our regular store. Having to learn a new store layout would make us uncomfortable, less secure.

“No” is easy. Going back to the literal beginning of human existence, our brains were intentionally wired for us to avoid change — equating shifting surroundings with danger. Survival is about being aware of unusual activities and potential threats. Fast forward through history and this is still our default setting — even if it means doing a task as nonthreatening as finding what row the peanut butter is on in a different grocery store.

And in today’s world of hyper-change, this default setting is increasingly a losing proposition.

The good news is, we can rewire ourselves.

One day a group of us sat around a table and looked up at an image on a screen on conference room wall. The image was large horse tied by small leather reins to a plastic lawn chair.

“The horse is larger than the plastic chair, right?” was the question. “Then why does the horse not simply walk away, dragging the chair wherever it wants to go?”

This was not a trick question involving physics or clever word play.

“Because he does not believe, he can walk away whenever he wants,” came the answer.

The truth is when the horse is young it is reined to a solid fence post. Try as it might, the young horse cannot pull off from the anchored marker. After a length of time, the horse learns whenever it is reined to something, it cannot break free. It simply stops trying. For the rest of time, the slightest resistance of the reins when tossed across even a tree branch will keep the horse in place.

This learned behavior is inside of us. Our minds as well as outside influences tend to teach us to be cautious and avoid danger or uncomfortable situations at all costs. Successful people commit to breaking from those reins — learning to fail or experience uncomfortable situations.

Training your inner voice can be the difference between you forever tied to small tree branch or running freely across open fields.

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