Jesus and a Moon-Pie

Vacation Bible School was a chore.

Before you get all high and mighty on me, let me explain.

Granny, being in close connection to the one and only God the Father Almighty as well as the preacher, took it upon herself to take a week of vacation every year during VBS so she could serve.

Or, as she put it, make sure no one messed up her Sunday School room where she ruled the nursery.

So, for a week every summer my mornings or afternoons, whenever VBS was scheduled, were spent at the church at the crossroads.
I always thought Granny had some special authority at the church because if we got there before anyone else did, she knew where the key was and would let us in to get things ready.

We’d enter the building with a hallowed reverence to walk towards the stairs down to the fellowship hall so Granny could start surveying what snacks they had and what they needed.
Not only did she run the nursery, which she truly did for a number of decades, but Granny thought herself the overseer of the church kitchen.

And just like her kitchen at home, she would fuss and complain if anything was out of place or not as well stocked as she thought it should be.

“Why are you so worried?” I asked her every time.

“Because,” was her answer. “We gotta have enough food for all the children. It’s important.”

I thought it was kind of silly. Don’t get me wrong; I was never one to turn down a snack, but I thought she was being a bit strident about the whole thing.

But Granny knew it mattered because we didn’t just have our regular kids; we had kids that had never been to our church before and this was their first impression of us.

Lots of kids showed up that we never saw again.

They didn’t come to Sunday School, didn’t ever come back for church.

They just arrived and were later picked up in a car by someone who never got out to introduce themselves or speak to the people their kids had been with all day.

I didn’t understand it.

When I got older, I started questioning why these kids appeared for a week, sometimes, a little dirty, sometimes, acting like this was their sole summer entertainment.

And when it was time for snack, some lingered, eyeing the table wanting to ask for seconds.

The snacks were not that great but when you’re a kid, a cookie is still a cookie.

There were plates loaded down with those vanilla-chocolate fake Oreos that came a million to a pack for fifty cents, some kind of tasteless rectangular coconut one, and some soft, slightly stale chocolate chip cookie that seemed like a prize. To wash them down, we had orange Hi-C or gallon jugs of grape Kool-Aid.

And Granny let them have as much as they could eat.

One day, a scruffy child approached the table with a wary eye and demanded to know where the Moon-Pies were.

A Moon-Pie?

Did he think we had a secret stash of good treats somewhere?

Granny told him we didn’t have Moon-Pies but we did have some mighty fine cookies and asked if she could fix him a plate.

He frowned, very disturbed by the lack of marshmallow cookies.

“My mama told me there’d be Moon-Pies; thems my favorites,” he said. “I don’t like these cookies. I gots these at home.”

Granny nodded slowly. I was waiting for her to explode as she normally did, but for some reason she didn’t.

The next morning on the way to the church, she stopped at The Store (yup, that was the name of Mr. Gambrel’s establishment – The Store; it regularly held “Going Out FOR Business Sales,” too) and bought a Moon-Pie. She never said a word as to why, but I suspect she gave it to that child that had been so vocal about the snacks.

“Should we let someone we don’t know come into our church? They don’t even want to come here,” I complained one summer.

Granny took a deep breath as she tried to explain.

Some of those kids were coming to learn about Jesus and the Lord.

Some were coming to be loved.
Some were coming to eat and be in air conditioning.

And Granny, as judgemental as she could be – and God help me, I can be just like her – told me with a quickness it didn’t matter why they were there. We were going to do what we were preaching all week and we were going to love them and be good to them.

I was shocked.

Here she was, the meanest, strictest woman I knew, and she was telling me to go out there and show all those children some kindness.

I see the signs littering the sides of the roads now, letting people know the upcoming dates of VBS at all the area churches. Each one with a different theme, but all hoping to do the same thing – the opportunity to give children a little bit of Jesus for a few days.

And if they are lucky, a cookie or maybe even a Moon-Pie.  

Choose Your Own Adventure

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” is a question that begins as early as kindergarten.

The responses may range from police officer and ballerina to nurse or astronaut.

It’s a question meant to illicit a cute answer from the cherubic mouth of a small person who has no clue of the future implications.

But this month, it is a question that may send some bigger kids into a panic.

High school graduation makes that innocent question a bit more loaded.

At 18 years of age, teens are expected to launch into a college program that will determine their life path for the next 30 or so years.

Some know exactly what they want to be and do; others don’t.

It can be a terrifying thing to suddenly realize you are supposed to have it all figured out.

What if you make a mistake and chose the wrong thing? What if it doesn’t go as planned? What if you fail?

It’s a lot of pressure to make the right decision.

“What do you wanna be when you grow up?” Granny asked me once.

“A writer,” I answered.

“So, you’re going to study English,” she said. It was more of a fact than a question.

“No,” I replied. “Criminal justice.”

“That makes no sense.”

She was right; it didn’t. Being like a lot of young adults, I took the alternate route to what I wanted to be and do. I wanted to be one thing but went off on another path.

“Why can’t you study something like nursing or teaching – something that you will know you will have a job when you get out of school,” she demanded.

“I don’t want to do that,” I said. It made too much sense. You go to school to learn something and come out and with a degree and a life path all in front of you. Where was the adventure in that?

“This ain’t one of those dadblamed books like you read when you was a kid. What were they called, create your own disaster?”

“Choose your own adventure,” I corrected her.

“Same difference,” Granny said. “This is real life. You need to figure out what you’re gonna do and just do it.”

“You stole that from Nike.”

“I did no such of a thing. Nike stole it from me. What do you think you’re gonna be? Some FBI agent? That’s foolishness. Just get you an English degree and teach school.”

I did think I was going to be ‘some FBI agent,’ but never was. I worked in the criminal justice field for a few years and bounced from job to job until I decided I was going back to school at 40.

Mama never told Granny her only grandchild was in graduate school. I somehow think she would have been proud.

Granny never finished high school; she barely made it to 9th grade because she had to work cotton fields and take care of younger brothers and sisters. She wanted to go to college to be a nurse but didn’t have that choice. She was very proud when I graduated from Mercer University, even though she didn’t exactly care for the adventure I had chosen.

“What are you going to be with this degree?” Mama asked one day.

“It’s in psychology,” I answered.

“Oh, you’re finally going to be a therapist.”

“No.”

“Then what?” she asked, sounding a little bit exasperated.

“I am not sure what I will do with it,” I said truthfully. “We’ll see. I may need to go a bit longer, and I may switch to a different focus all together. I would be perfectly happy to just be a professional student.”
“You somehow think you’re not?” was Mama’s pithy reply.

I realize even at my age, trying to figure out what I want to be is a daunting task. If you had asked Mama 20 plus years ago what she would have chosen for me, she would have said ‘lawyer’ but then said, above all, she wanted her Kitten to be happy.

I empathize with the class of 2019 as they try to figure out what their next steps may be.

For some, they know what they want to be and are starting college in the fall to pursue those dreams.

Maybe it’s not college, and that should be fine, too.

It may be technical school, joining the military, or maybe even taking a year off to get their bearings.

Whatever it is, I hope they have the courage to take those steps – a step, any step, at least.

Even if they don’t like where it takes them.

Life, much like the Choose Your Own Adventure books, allows us to sometimes go back and make some changes when things don’t work out the way we want.

And sometimes, you do get a bit of adventure along the way.

Ask nicely

Remember the movie A Few Good Men?
It was one of my favorite ‘90’s movies, namely because it was quite quotable.
“You can’t handle the truth” was uttered just about every time I was asked a question that didn’t warrant a response.
But now, over 20 years later, there’s another Jack Nicholson line starting to reverberate in my mind: You’re going to have to ask me nicely.
You may not even remember it. Tom Cruise’s character was leaving the meeting with Jack Nicholson at Gitmo and said he wanted copies of Santiago’s transfer orders.
Nicholson said sure, but – he was going to have to ask him nicely.
Not come down to Gitmo and flash his badge and act like he was entitled to them; Cruise’s character needed to show some respect and courtesy.
A bit of politeness and manners, even if he was requesting them for a legal matter.
Was that too much to ask?
Tom Cruise may have thought so but guess what? He obliged.
I doubt A Few Good Men was meant to be a lesson in manners, but I wish Jack Nicholson would give his little speech to a few people.
Namely – or rather, unnamely, to protect the offenders – a few people who do not have a shred of manners.
People, it seems, have forgotten how to ask nicely.
It used to be that when people needed a favor, they knew how to make their request with polite verbiage and genteel petitions.
Somehow, that act of decorum has been lost.
Now, people request favors through heated demands or acting as if they are the one bestowing the favor by asking for something.
I don’t get it.
I never liked the ‘get more flies with honey’ saying but I do understand you can get a little more common courtesy by being polite.
Whenever I call any customer service number, I always start out being nice. Especially if I am going to ask them to waive something, like a shipping charge.
If I am nice, they tend to want to help me. In fact, there’s been times the charge was something I had overlooked but was waived, simply because I have been cordial and polite.
After dealing with the public most of my adult life, I am keenly aware not everyone had been raised to be polite, but the problem has gotten even more out of hand.
I hate to say it, not because it is cliché, but because it makes me sound old, but the younger generation has really escaped any lessons on how to be polite.
Instead, there is a demanding attitude wrapped in a sense of entitlement.
“I need you to do this and I need it now,” is often the method of request.
No please. Definitely no thank you.
Just a “you need to do this for me now.”
No question of it was do-able, or an inconvenience.
Usually, people didn’t care if they were interrupting something you were already doing.
They wanted something and they were the only one in the universe that mattered.
Guess what? I am not very inclined to do things that are presented in that manner.
When someone is rude and demanding, I am usually not going to prioritize their request.
If they are nice and polite, I am usually more open to helping.
“I think manners needs to be taught in school again,” I told Mama one day. She was all for it.
“What happened?” she asked.
“Nothing unusual. Just an observation. People are so rude now and think the whole world revolves around them and what they want, when they want it. They have no respect or concern for anyone beyond the tip of their nose.”
She could understand. She has dealt with the public for most of her life as well.
Not long after that conversation, I received an email, this one full of a litany of demands and devoid of any courtesy.
I sighed.
I may do it, when I can get to it.
But, first, they’re going to have to ask me nicely.

In defense of my child

“Do you even want to hear my side of it?” my child asked.

“No,” was my tense response.

I had been informed by someone about his actions and behavior and did not like it one bit.

I didn’t want to hear excuses or justifications.

I had been told by someone I trusted that my child had done something uncharacteristic of him.

And because his behavior since turning 14 was that of some small stranger, I believed them.

Believing this person was not a bad thing; the person was trustworthy, and I had known them for quite a while.

The bad thing was not believing or listening to my child.

I didn’t give him an opportunity to tell his side of things.

He wasn’t even allowed the chance to defend himself.

Why did I do this?

Well, for starters, I am not a perfect parent by any means.

And, I was taking his behavior personally.

Over the last few months, there had been a shift in our dynamics as we have butted heads in some heated disputes.

He has been moody, mouthy, and argumentative.

He has been withdrawn and opinionated when he was trying to engage in conversation.

All traits I didn’t care for very much.

So, when someone told me he was misbehaving, I believed them because it supported my own bias.

I was angry.

I was disappointed.

And I was not going to let him tell me what happened.

I took someone else’s words over his.

I am not saying we shouldn’t listen when someone tells us things about our kids.

By acting like we have perfect little angels that do no wrong, we get in a very dangerous dance that creates kids who think they can get away with everything and sets them up for a life of entitlement.

But I do think we should also listen to our kids, especially when we know they are inherently good ones.

A few days later, I had a meeting with one of my child’s teachers.

“He is a great kid,” she said when reviewing his notes.

Her genuine words resonated in my heart.

I repeated them.

Suddenly, hearing another person’s perspective reminded me of a fact I had somehow forgotten.

“I am glad you said that,” I told her. “Since he’s turned 14, I feel like I don’t know him.”

The other teachers in the room nodded. “It’s the age,” one said.

“Yes, it is the age,” another commented.

“So, this is normal?” I asked.

I had never been a 14-year-old boy before; I had been a 14-year-old girl and couldn’t really remember what I was like. According to my Mama, I was pretty horrid.

“It’s normal,” I was told.

I asked another friend who had two sons. She too assured me this was normal, even thought it was not exactly my favorite phase.

“We did some obnoxious stuff when we were 14, too,” she assured me. “We just don’t remember it. But I am quite sure we were just as bad. But boys will come around. Believe me; they do. That heart they have is still there, it’s just buried over hormones right now.”

His compassionate, kind heart was what I had always loved about my child. It was what others had loved as well.

I was thinking about all of this as we went through a drive thru one evening.

“I owe you an apology,” I began. “I should have let you tell your side of what happened. I am sorry.”

He looked at me and nodded. “It’s okay.”

“No, it’s not. I was not being very fair to you. And I was over-reacting just because I have taken some of your behavior personally. I should have heard you out.”

“I just don’t understand why the person said that,” he began. “And after thinking about it, the only thing I can think of, is she was just trying to look out for me because she cares about me. So, maybe it made her a bit overprotective. What do you think?”

I thought it was amazing that my child was looking for the positive in the other person, instead of trying to cast blame or fault, or even justify what he did.

He was looking at the heart of the other person.

For a fleeting moment, I saw that little tenderhearted boy flash before my eyes again.

Suddenly I realized, he may not be perfect, and he will make mistakes; that’s how he will learn. He may do some stupid things and get in trouble.
But deep down, he is a good kid and has a good heart. And I needed to remember that a little bit more.

The family you make

Being raised an only child was lonely at times.

I didn’t have siblings to bond with or to create memories with during my formative years.

I envied Mama being able to recount tales of things she and my uncle, Bobby, did as children. Even the times Bobby swindled her out of her own money or decapitated her baby dolls made me wish for a brother or sister. To retaliate for her dolls, Mama threw Bobby’s football in the fireplace. See what I missed out on being an only?

Sure, I had a house full of grown-ups that loved me and played with me, but it wasn’t the same.

For one, Mama and Pop cheat at card games, and Granny was a sore loser, even at Go Fish.

Bobby didn’t like playing most games, so his idea of a bonding experience was taking me to Dairy Queen or feeding our myriad of animals together.

But I wanted someone my age to share things with.

Thankfully, I had several good friends growing up that let me tag along with them and their siblings, giving me a glimpse into just what I was missing.

Even the fusses and fights were fueled by love.

It still wasn’t the same.

I tried to think of all the things I was grateful for being an only child, only grandchild, and only niece.

I never had hand-me-downs; I was never told I had to share. I didn’t feel unloved or like I wasn’t the favorite when it came to the adults. So, maybe there was some perks.

But, still, I wanted to have someone that would always be there through thick and thin. As much as Mama would terrorize her baby brother, she would also have taken on anyone who messed with him, and vice versa.

When you are an only, you don’t have that.

As I grew up and older, my friend circle changed. The friends I had known most of my life were now scattered all over, making being an only feel even more so isolated.

Until I started making new friends as an adult.

And suddenly, it felt like those sibling relationships I craved growing up.

Friends who could get upset with you and call you out on it. Friends who while helping you move, threw some stuff away against your loud, fervent protests and called you a hoarder, but still came back over the next night for Round 2.

Friends who had keys to your house and could come in even when you weren’t home.

Friends who loved you – no matter what.

It was the sisters and brothers I chose, the bonus family I made.

“Brothers and sisters are not what they are cut out to be,” someone once commented to me one day, airing their grievances and the discontent within their family.

It was a fact I had never considered.

In addition to my Mama and uncle, I saw my grandmother’s close relationships with her brothers and sisters.

“Not all of them,” Mama reminded me. “One sister she didn’t like.”

True. Granny and one of her sisters loathed one another. They had a spite that had spanned decades, maybe even a century.

Maybe family wasn’t always what it was cracked up to be.

I thought of others I knew who had strained relationships with their siblings and how they may not even speak, avoiding holidays and family get togethers just so they didn’t have to see one another.

A common occurrence, yet not what I grew up with, and definitely not what I had yearned for.

It seemed like some family portraits were not quite the happy image you’d think. Not everyone loved one another or even remotely liked each other. There were varying degrees of dysfunction that made the concept of ‘family’ kind of hard to embrace.

The thought of this made me kind of sad.

But then I realized, not everyone comes from the same backgrounds, the same environment, the same kind of love. Some could grow up in the same family and not have the same experience, the same nurturing. Some love the hardest because they hadn’t been loved, while others had been given great love and knew how to share it.

Some people didn’t have the family they wanted or needed growing up, but they are able to find exactly what they need later.

We may not get to pick our families at our birth.

But sometimes, we are lucky enough to choose.

Too much

It seems like for the majority of my life, I have had a hard time fitting in.

Maybe ‘fitting in’ is the wrong term.

I have just always felt like there times I was out of place.

A feeling of just being the odd one out or somewhat slightly different.

It may stem from childhood, being overweight in a sea of skinny kids and always being a little bit different than the other kids in some way.

In addition to my shortcomings and inadequacies, there have always been moments where I have been accused of being too much of something.

Too mouthy.

Too independent.

Too stubborn.

Too loud.

Too quiet.

Practically every personality trait you can imagine was reduced to being an annoying characteristic.

Some of these things I couldn’t even control.

I couldn’t stop being independent; it was the only way I knew how to be.

Stubborn was part of my nature; being loud came from having a grandfather who was partially deaf. My normal inside voice was probably two octaves above someone at a sporting event.

Being too quiet was only mentioned in cases where I didn’t like someone or felt even more self-conscious of my environment.

Needless to say, being accused of being too much anything has made me feel like I don’t fit in even more.

“It’s okay to be too much,” Mama told me one day.

“I don’t know about that,” I replied.

“It is,” she said. “You come from a line of women that have been too much. I could be too much where you were concerned. Or when things were unfair at work. Being too much is perfectly fine when you are making sure everyone is being treated fairly or being the voice for those who can’t stand up for themselves.

And Granny, as you are aware, was always too much. She was too strident and too harsh at times, but only when she needed to be.”

Mama was right in both of those regards. She had the juxtaposition of being too nice at times to be too scary when it was necessary. Granny’s personality was best described as strong and formidable because she was too independent.

“I feel like I can’t be myself, though,” I said.

I didn’t. I have felt like I can’t say what I really think sometimes because I will be called too much of a shrew.

I have shrunk myself down to where I want to be invisible, so no one will notice what I do –or do wrong – so I can hide from the constant criticism.

“How does that make you feel?” Mama asked.

“Horrible,” I told her.

“Then why do you do it?” she asked.

Why? Well, there are lots of reasons. I hold my tongue, so I don’t tick someone off. I try to be polite and accommodating, even when I am the one being wronged.

I seek to keep the peace instead of rocking the boat.

“How’s that working for you?” Mama asked.

“Don’t Dr. Phil me,” I tell her.

“I’m not. I just wonder how that making you feel.”

Awful. I felt weak and stifled.

Mama agreed. “Well, look back over things. I think you will see, life was better when you stood up for yourself and were too much. God didn’t make you a shy, quiet person. He made you stubborn and persistent because He knew you know how to use those gifts.”

Maybe she was right.

I had felt like my life had been stuck and was it maybe because I was going against my nature and not being myself.

It was, however, a time the too was used to amplify another word.

But, maybe it was time to stop living small and safe and to start living too much.

The world doesn’t need us to shrink ourselves or be less than who we are. That’s a disservice to the world and us.

If anything, we need to stop diluting ourselves and start living life full strength and be proud to be called too much.

A lesson in procrastination

When it comes to lolly-gagging, dilly-dallying, and dawdling, I am pretty hard to beat.

Now, mind you, if I have a set deadline, I will meet it with time to spare.

But, if you give me some loosey goosey time frame, I will put tasks off until the end of time, or at least the very last minute until I have to rush to finish.

I was bad about doing this in school.

Once, I had a project due for a countywide competition for the local schools. In order to do the project, I needed a certain book, which I did not have but another student in my class did. Granny called the student’s mother to see if she was finished using the book and was told no.

“If there is only one book, shouldn’t there be time limits as to how long you get the book?” Granny asked the mother. The child had had it since the first ding dang day we knew about the competition.

“I don’t know that it will do Sudie any good since the entry is due Monday,” the mother replied. “In fact, it may be too late for her to even get started on it.”

For the record, it was Saturday night. In my young mind, I had plenty of time.

Granny frowned as she gave me a hard sideways glare. I had managed to omit that tiny little tidbit of information. “Well, don’t you worry,” Granny began. “She will get it done and turned in on time.”

When she hung up the phone, Granny turned to me. “How long did you know about this here project?”

“A few days.”

“A few days? I see. Was it several days strung together into a number of weeks?”

I didn’t know what to say. It was clear I didn’t have nearly as much time to get something done as I thought.

“You know it is due Monday, right?” Granny asked.

I nodded. I had one whole day, minus church, and the remaining hours of Saturday to research this project and write up my paper.

Granny sighed.

“Why, oh, why did you wait until the last minute, child?”

“But, I didn’t,” I said. “The last minute would be Monday morning when it is supposed to be turned in.”

This made the old woman sigh again.

“Get in the car,” she ordered.

I wasn’t sure what she was going to do. Maybe we were going to the other child’s house and Granny was going to bargain for the book. Were we going to the library? Where ever it was, she meant business.

Neither happened. Instead, Granny and I drove around our county, looking at those historical markers and doing our own research. We went to the courthouse and even counted the windows to provide detail.

I was exhausted when I got home.
“Now, you sit down and write this,” she said.

“I’ve got tomorrow,” I began.

“Littl’ un, you park your tater in that chair. What if something happens tomorrow and you can’t write it? You are getting this done right now.”
The look on her face made me sit down at the table and keep my procrastinating mouth shut.

We stayed up all night, organizing my notes with Granny proofing my rough draft.

“Is it ready?” I asked her.

She shook her head. “Not quite, but you are getting there.”

After church the next day, I worked on it some more, until finally I had it completed.

“I am so glad to be done with this!” I exclaimed.

Granny frowned. “This wouldn’t have been so difficult if you had started working on it sooner. There is no reason whatsoever for you to have waited until it was due to start it. To do it right, you should have started on it several weeks ago.”

“But, Granny, it is not due until tomorrow!” I said. How could I not get her to realize that?

“If it’s due on Monday, it’s as good as being due this weekend. You knew about it long enough to get started on it weeks ago. You should have had a few weeks to properly research it and then at least two to write and change it.  Let that be a lesson to you.”

And in some ways, it was.

Granny’s words taught me to prepare and look ahead at what needed to be done, so I could plan accordingly. I don’t like that feeling of being rushed and worrying about if something happens and I can’t get a task completed.

I don’t like thinking I have something hanging out there that needs to be done.

I don’t like it, mind you; but that doesn’t stop me from procrastinating in the least bit.

It’s Boo’s World

“She barked at me,” Mama said haughtily.

The she Mama was referring to was Doodle.

Doodle, Boo, Boo-Anne – the little pittie mix has several different names to go along with her various attitudes.

And her attitude this time was full of sass.

“She doesn’t know to bark,” I replied.

She doesn’t. Her main defense was just looking at something real hard as if her stare was intimidating.

So far, it had worked with the garbage men, FedEx, and our mail lady. All of them had grown accustomed to seeing the little caramel colored pibble in the window, her steady gaze warning them of impending doom at the first sign of a threat.

But bark? Never.

The most she has ever done is whimper when she wasn’t getting the attention she thought she deserved.

I didn’t even think she knew how to bark.

She once screamed when a squirrel threw a pinecone at her. A scream is not a bark.

“You need to get on to her for barking at me,” Mama said.

I am no sure what Mama thought I was going to do exactly. Put the pittie in time out? Take away her favorite toy?

“Mama, she thought she was either protecting herself or me. You have threatened for years now that you were going to take her; she was left alone in the living room with you and probably thought you may very well try.”

Mama grunted at my Doodle logic.

“It was rude,” Mama said.

“She’s a dog, Mama! She doesn’t have manners!”

Mama didn’t agree and thought Boo-Anne should know who to bark at and who she shouldn’t.

As Mama took great umbrage at being barked at, Doodle put her little head in my lap and pawed at me to pet her.

When I didn’t, she stood on her hind legs and put one paw on my shoulder to pull me closer to her, pushing her little head into my face for a kiss.

Upon not getting quite as much petting and kissing as she thought she needed, she jumped up in my lap, nearly sending my laptop into the floor.

“See – she has no manners. None!” Mama declared.

“She is a dog, Mama.”
“She doesn’t know that,” Mama said. She may be right.

Boo has never been treated like a dog. She has always been babied and catered to like a toddler; granted, a spoiled, petulant toddler at times but a toddler, nonetheless.

She has always had her way and many decisions have been made based on what Doodle likes.

“Why do you leave the t.v. on when you go somewhere?” Mama asked once.

“Because Doodle likes to watch stuff while we’re gone. It’s keeps her company,” was my reply.

“She has two other dogs there,” Mama said.

“Yeah, but they are kind of boring. Ava sleeps and Punky only wants to herd. Boo needs her entertainment.”

Boo loves old Road Runner cartoons and reruns of the Golden Girls and Murder, She Wrote, in case anyone is wondering.

I could almost hear Mama rolling her eyes at me.

“I’m still going to get that mean little dog, even though she barked at me.”
“Oh, my stars. Are you ever going to let that go?”

“No.”
To Mama, Doodle barking was just a grave insult. Ava had barked but only when she was outside. Once she came in, Ava promptly ran to Mama to be petted. It may have also had something to do with the fact Mama had food.

Punky doesn’t really bark; she is used to them. She hasn’t gotten used to the garbage men though and still barks incessantly at them each and every time they show up. Doodle, on the other paw, remains silent as they rob our trash can, stoically watching and waiting.

“And only barking at me,” Mama reminds me.

“Mama, I’m telling you. Doodle thought you were going to puppy nap her. She wouldn’t know what to do if she was anywhere but here where she’s treated like a baby. And you can say you want her all you want but you wouldn’t know how to handle this little mess.”

I don’t know that anyone would be able to handle this little pup with the multiple names. I shudder when I think how differently her life may have been had I not got her from the people giving away puppies in the Wal-Mart parking lot six years ago. Would her funny little personality have emerged, full of sass and spunk, and love and adoration? Would she have loved another child the way she did mine, being super-protective of him and cuddling close? Would she sleep on anyone else’s head the way she did mine or beside my legs, keeping me warm?

As I pondered all these things, I realized she was lying by my chair where I could not get up.

“You’re scared of her,” Mama declared.

“I am not.”
“Yes, you are. You are scared of that little mean dog!”

I’m not. But I was aware that Boo could also make me feel very bad about upsetting her routine.

She also had no problems seeking revenge on shoes, makeup, or other items she knew I really liked and enjoyed.

“I’m not scared of her,” I insisted. “I don’t need to get up right now.”

I didn’t. Really.

She was sleeping so soundly, I could wait.

It’s Boo’s world. She’s just letting us live in it.

And she will bark at us to remind us of this fact.

Sticks & Stones semantics

There have been a few words I have tried to eradicate from my child’s vocabulary.

Fat is one of them.

Retarded is another.

These are words that have bothered me for various reasons for a long time.

Fat is a word that taunted me as a child and is a word I have called myself, even in the times I was frighteningly skinny.

Retarded is a word that just shouldn’t be said.

There are other words that are just hurtful as well, and they all vary in their sting depending on their intent.

Does that mean bad words don’t sometimes fall out of my mouth for various reasons?
I’m not about to lie and say they don’t.

In moments of anger I have heatedly used hurtful epitaphs, not to anyone’s face mind you, but I have uttered them in furious outbursts, usually in the confines of my car or locked in the bathroom.

Not some of my finest moments.

Other words have floated around lately, words that I thought had been stricken from the vernacular, that created conversations as to the power, weight, and importance of words.

More importantly, the conversation focused on how some words can be used to hurt and are never okay, regardless of the relationship between the people using them.

And as I try to be vigilant about the words that are uttered and said about people, two words that I didn’t even think about have found themselves on my radar.

Dumb and stupid.

Being a parent makes one hyper-aware of the words that are said.

You expect the occasional swear word to slip out as a means of pushing the boundaries.

You wait for a teacher to send you a note saying your child repeated words that are unacceptable and she wonders where he heard them.

Dumb and stupid seem to be innocent words, uttered about things that are common and everyday.

“That’s so stupid,” I have muttered under my breath when I hear something I don’t agree with.

“How dumb,” has been whispered about instructions on the back of the pizza box.

It wasn’t until I heard the words come out of my child’s mouth that I realized how these words that seemed so benign to a degree could hurt.

He wasn’t even saying the words in a mean manner. But hearing him say them made me realize how hurtful they could be.

“Who was dumb?” I asked for clarification.

“Not who, Mama. What. And it was the rules. The rules are so dumb and stupid.”

I can understand feeling that way as a teenager. Rules do feel that way at times, even when we are adults, and we appreciate them.

“So, it wasn’t a person?”

He shook his head no.

“Why would that matter?” he asked sincerely.

It would matter for many reasons, I thought.

But I could see what was confusing. We say things – and people – are dumb and stupid all the time.

We do it to be funny, to be mean, to be hateful, and even when we are just irritated by them.

Mama has always taken offense when I have commented something she said was dumb or stupid.

“I am not stupid,” she said.
“I didn’t say you were,” I reply.

“You said my reaction was stupid; that’s the same thing.”
“No, it’s not.”

“Yes, it is.”
In my mind, it wasn’t but most of our communication is the other person’s perception of what we said. If we are belittling them or at least make them feel like we are making fun of them, odds are they won’t listen to us.

“I don’t like those words,” I told my child after thinking about some of the heavier implications.  

He was confused; they have been words he’s heard me say.

“Why?”

“Because calling someone dumb or stupid is not nice,” I said. “Someone can’t help that.”

“They can’t?” he asked.

“No, they can’t. Dumb traditionally speaks more to their intellect, or capacity to learn.  Not everyone learns at the same speed or level. So, I really don’t like that word at all.”

He understood that part.

“What about stupid?” he asked. “Is it the same?”

I took a deep breathe. In my mind, stupid was different. Stupid could mean someone was choosing to be ignorant despite the information that had been presented to them.

Stupid, I explained, had some application in certain circumstances as long as it was used to address an action or behavior and not a person.

He nodded.
“So, it is better to call someone’s actions stupid but not the person. And never dumb.”

“Right,” I said. “But it would just be better if we didn’t use it at all. We need to think about how we would feel if someone said that to us.”

Perhaps, if we did that, none of our words would have a hurtful sting.

The missing ingredient

“Old woman, I cannot read your recipe,” is how I began many a phone call to Granny after I moved away.

“What does it say, old gal?” she would ask.

“I don’t know. You have the worst penmanship I have ever seen.”

“Maybe if you had paid attention when I was making it, you wouldn’t need the recipe,” she commented.

I sighed.

Granny’s idea of baking would probably drive modern day bakers and chefs crazy.

She didn’t really use measuring cups or spoons, preferring to eyeball her ingredients, a cardinal sin in baking.

“You are supposed to use exact measurements,” I told her once.

She gave me a sideways glance and ignored my comment.

When I married, I wanted to have her best recipes with me so I could continue some of her traditions, so I asked her to write them down.

“No.”

“What?”

“You heard me. I said no. I ain’t giving you my recipes. They mine.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“They mine. I ain’t writing them down. I ain’t never wrote ‘em down – someone could steal ‘em that way. And I ain’t about to start either.”

Steal her recipes? Did she not know that people could find recipes for things practically anywhere? To Granny, her recipes were sacred and top secret; surely no one else could be trusted with the power to make a biscuit.

Still, I was shocked. Was she really not going to share her recipes with me?

Maybe I should have wrote it down when I was with her, but it never occurred to me that she would not me give a recipe.

I also was a little hurt. Granny had been the one who taught me how to cook, standing me in a chair beside her or sitting me on the table as she sifted flour, patted out biscuits, or mixed cake batter. How could she take away something so precious she and I had always bonded over?

“One. You can have one,” she announced one day.

“One what?”

“One recipe of mine. Choose wisely.”

I felt like Indiana Jones being told to choose the cup that was the Holy Grail in the Last Crusade.

I thought about it for a minute.

“I want your biscuit recipe,” I said.

“What? Are you kidding me? You’ve been making biscuits with me since you were three; if you don’t know how to make biscuits 20 years later, you don’t need to be in the kitchen. Choose another one.”

“But I can’t remember what you put in them,” I said earnestly. Everyone raved about her biscuits; I wanted rave-worthy biscuits, too.

She frowned, partly in disappointment that I could not remember and partly in the fact she was conceding her own rule and going to give me two recipes.

“Alright, I will give you the biscuit one, too, but it is so simple it is ridiculous,” she said. “What else do you want?”

I thought a little longer. I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle her coconut cake recipe; that involved too many steps. Things like pot roast or her golden fried chicken were not at the top of my list either. I wanted something that when I made it, people proclaimed it tasted just like Helen’s.

“Your chocolate pound cake recipe,” I declared brazenly.

She inhaled sharply. “You want me to write all that down?”

I nodded.

“Alright. I will. But it’s gonna take some time. I ain’t even got it wrote down; I just do it from memory, something you should be able to do.”

“That’s the one I want, Granny,” I said.

She nodded. “And that’s the one you will get.”

A few days later, the smell of the chocolate pound cake permeated the house and she handed me two index cards, one smudged with chocolate.

“I had to make one, so I’d know what all I put in it,” she said. “Don’t you go being like that woman that sold that high-dollar cookie recipe. You sell my recipes and I will sue you.”

Gleefully, I tucked the cards into my purse for safe keeping and went to eat the fruits of her labor.

It wasn’t until about a month later, when I pulled them out that I noticed something was missing.  I called her.
“Old woman, this makes no sense.”

“It should make perfect sense.”
“Well, it doesn’t,” I protested. “You only have flour, Crisco, and water or milk. No measurements.”

“It depends on how many biscuits you want to make. You should know that part. Now I gotta go, the Wheel is on, but you call me back if you need to. At 7:30.”

The next day I called her to tell her the dough did not turn out right.

 “You gotta get your hands in the dough,” Granny said.

“That’s gross,” I protested.

“You want biscuits? You gotta get your hands in there. Did you ever see me mix dough with a spoon? No, you gotta get your hands a little dirty if you want to cook.”

It took me a few tries – and several phone calls and a reminder from Granny about her super top-secret biscuit trick she omitted off the recipe – but soon, I was a biscuit baking master.

I should have known if she called that recipe easy her chocolate pound cake one would be a doozy.

Every time I made her cake, it involved staying on the phone with Granny.

“I couldn’t read a word the woman wrote,” I told Mama. “And what I could read, I couldn’t understand. She had just ‘cocoa powder’ or ‘butter’ but didn’t put down how much.”

Mama laughed softly. “Well, Kitten, if Granny used butter, more than likely it was one of two measurements: the whole stick or the whole pound. For a cake, go with a pound, just to be safe.

“And her leaving off the actual measurements was just her way of making you have to call her every time you made it so she would talk to you.”

“Yeah,” I said, finally understanding some of the Redhead Prime’s stubbornness.

Granny kept me in the kitchen with her just a little bit longer.