She’s got that low, sensual, beautiful, Southern voice. The perfect blend of drawl and inflection that’s all at once a lullaby and a catalyst — an invitation to lay back on the porch swing and lazily watch the moon, or to rise up in the morning like Joan of Arc, prepared to honor the trumpet’s call to battle.
When I write short stories and poetry, it’s most often her voice that accompanies, reading the words back to me, imbuing them with a wealth of feeling that belies the ragged poverty of pen and paper.
Sure, I can write a pretty good line every now and then, but without her cadence, the sentences seem like only so much type — forgettable words that fade all too quickly into a pale background, or that fall short for lack of tone and timbre.
Hers was the first voice I heard that made me really want to sit up and pay attention. I was nine years old, and she was the original Olivia Walton in The Homecoming: A Christmas Story. I would have traded all six kids, and grandma and grandpa too, just to hear her tell the tale on her own.
I love her face. Her strong lines and proud features speak to me of dignity: of standing steady in the face of adversity, while honoring the spark of passion that creates, laughs, loves, and sustains. Unadorned, her true-to-life beauty rose above her profession of acting. The bleached and painted others who shared her craft seemed stiff next to her, unreal, as if they really were just actresses, and not wise, resourceful women who had known, and could tap into, every emotion in the well of shared humanity.
She is a woman whose voice once inspired a child to write poetry, and whose voice I still hear when I’d rather listen than speak.
This is what I want for navigating the circumstance:
swift justice and tender mercies.
To bestow a fortune of luck upon the unlucky.
An untying of the knot that binds my hands.
To open that heart-shaped Pandora’s box
and find it mercifully empty,
wanting for nothing more than locks and chains
and a place deep in the mantle of Earth
where it will melt into legend,
a myth of Hades’ proportion.
There’s some key around my neck, but I don’t mind.
The clink of decades past,
or the rusted metal of prolonged strength.
If you listen closely, you will hear it — that perfect blend of drawl and inflection. That knowing tap into the well of human experience. On my birthday, I honor my longest, dearest, and most inspiring muse — Patricia Neal.