Granny on my shoulder

Granny’s voice has been a familiar refrain throughout my life, and even more so now that she has passed away.

There are many days where her words of wisdom echo in my head, giving me direction into whatever situation I am facing.

Being able to call her for advice is something I sorely took for granted and it is something that I miss, oftentimes reaching for the phone with questions about what to substitute in a recipe, what to give Cole for a cough, or how to best handle a situation.

Oftentimes, her words were full of sage counsel, as she offered instruction and guidance from her decades of experience.

“Use cold water when making biscuits,” she would remind me. “Your dough will be tough if you don’t.”

“Keep all your receipts; you never know when you’ll need them.”

“Don’t open the oven door so much; you’ll make your cakes fall in the middle.”

She was full of hints and helpful tips to help me navigate all the twists and turns life threw at me.

As much as she was full of guidance, she also imparted a certain amount of sass and vinegar.

“If they gonna talk, give them something to talk about.”

“Don’t worry about what they think; you and God is a majority.”

She was the salt of the earth and sometimes, spoke the truth even if it was unpopular.

And there was no talking behind someone’s back.

No, Granny, the Helen Prime in the family preferred to speak directly to the person’s face.

“I wanna make sure there was no misunderstanding in my message,” she told a poor soul once after delivering her diatribe. “And when something is delivered by a rumor mill, the message may get watered down. I’d hate for you to not know exactly how I felt.”

I can’t even remember who the person was but remember the gasp they took at her words.

No, Granny was full-strength, non-diluted truth and righteousness in her delivery.

Her acrimonious nature skipped her children, with her daughter trying to be a paragon of gracious kindness.

Mama balanced out Granny’s bluntness with a gentler approach and response.

Both influenced me as I grew up but, for good or for bad, it was Granny I have turned out the most like.

I know what she would say so well, it is like I can hear her running commentary as if she were still alive.

“Do you remember the cartoons with the devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other?” I asked Mama one day.

“Yes,” she replied.

“That’s how I feel sometimes,” I said. “Granny’s on one shoulder, you’re on the other.”

“Which one am I?” she asked.

“You really have to ask?”

She should know if anything, Granny would be the one encouraging me to go ahead and say something whether it needed to be said or not.

When a discussion takes a very heated turn, Mama’s voice is the one encouraging me to find a peaceful compromise or to maybe bow out. “Not everything deserves a response,” she would say.

Granny’s voice is always rooting for the opposite. “They are wrong and need to be corrected,” Granny would say.  “If you don’t correct ‘em, you are just as wrong as they are. Set ‘em straight.”

On a recent trip home, I told Mama how Granny’s influence was still pretty solid, with her strong opinions trickling into my perspective from time to time.

“I miss her, even if she was sometimes a bit much,” Mama said. “At least you always knew where you stood with her.”

Yes, you did. It didn’t matter who you were either; she was an equal opportunity fusser outer.

When I left, Cole and I went to the mall in Athens, a place I hadn’t visited in a number of years.

“There’s the cookie place you said you and Granny used to go to,” my child commented.

“Yes, we need to get a cookie before we go,” I said.

The warm smell of cookies baking always lured Granny in, but she had, in her words, a love hate relationship with that cookie place.

Once, as the girl behind the counter approached her to take her order, she wiped her nose with the palm of her hand. “What would you like?” the girl had asked.

“For you to wash your dadblamed hands and put on some gloves before you get me my cookies,” Granny replied.

Another time, Granny had some sticker shock when she was given her total.

“For that price, I could have gone to the store and bought the ingredients to make several dozen cookies,” she protested. “Maybe even made a down payment on the cow for the milk.”

“Do you not want the cookies?” the girl asked confused. No one had probably fussed about the price of cookies before.

“Yes, I want the cussed cookies; I promised my husband I was gonna get him some. But this is ridiculous what you charge for them!”

The girl blinked. “I don’t charge this personally. It is just what corporate tells us to price them at…”

Granny knew that; she was just going to complain to whoever was closest.

Getting cookies at the mall as we left was a tradition with Granny, just as getting a pretzel and lemonade was with Mama. We had already had the pretzels.

So, there we were, getting two cookie sandwiches with a thick layer of frosting as filling.

Two cookies mind you.

The girl gave me the total.

Suddenly, I could hear Granny fussing loud and clear.

“Ma’am? Did you hear me?” the girl asked.

What would Granny say? I thought to myself.

Whatever it is, for once, I decided to just keep my mouth shut.

Advertisements

Edge of fourteen

My child’s teenage years have given me lessons I did not expect.

For one, I had no idea that most of my time would be spent feeding an ever-growing human being who apparently was never full.

I need a GoFund Me just to cover my grocery bill.

He can eat vast amounts of food and still be hungry.

At the same time he professes to be near starvation, he does not want anything that is currently in the pantry or fridge.

“There’s plenty to eat,” I will tell him, running down a list that includes pasta and burritos among the possibilities.

He shakes his head. Dairy Queen and Taco Bell were not offered so he may very well starve.

Thankfully, the child gets hungry; otherwise, I wonder if he would have a reason to emerge from playing Fortnite.

Besides the constant feedings, teenage years have brought some angst, more on my part than his.

Gone are the days where it seems like I am the center of his world.

He has pulled back just ever so slightly, finding independence, forming his own opinions that sometimes differ from mine.

He’s growing up.

I am glad to see him making these steps even if it feels like I am having my heart torn out at the same time.

I still remember the little boy who wanted to be walked to his class while holding my hand, giving a kiss in the center of my palm to “take with me.”

The little boy who never wanted me out of his sight.

To me, in my heart, he will always be that little boy with the blonde hair and cherubic cheeks that called his mama his “sweet girl” and loved me more than he did Piggie.

But now, he is a young man, and doesn’t need Mama quite as much.

It has been a hard transition.

My pastor asked me just a little over a week ago how school was going. I told her he was in 8th grade; she gave me a sympathetic sigh that only mamas can understand.

“8th grade is tough,” she said. “But Cole is a good kid.”

I agreed. He is.

Overall, he is a great kid. That’s not saying he’s perfect; he can be moody and mouthy at times. But, considering how moody and mouthy I was at his age, he is practically a saint.

When I was 13, I heard my own Mama mutter, “This is why animals eat their young” more times than I can count.

I pushed every boundary button with her I could and somehow both of us survived even though in retrospect, I admit I was a total brat.

And now, I am extremely cognizant of how parenting can be one of the most painful things we do.

We lose sleep, sacrifice things we need for things they want.

We change our lives for a tiny, little person and literally move mountains that need to be moved to give them everything to make their life better.

And after years of nurturing, loving and sacrificing, they become teenagers who no longer need us quite like they did before.

It feels like your heart has been yanked out of your chest and tap danced on.

I think the feeling unneeded is what hurts worse than anything.

Thirteen has been the year he has pushed away from me, the year I started to feel obsolete. As he creeps closer to the edge of fourteen, I have feared he will pull away even more.

Will he just get to where he doesn’t need me at all?

“Boys always love and need their mom,” my pastor promised, giving me a squeeze.

I hoped she was right; it didn’t feel that way sometimes.

Feeling this ache prompted me to make sure my own Mama felt like she was still needed and appreciated.

“Boys do always love their mom,” she said. “I’d like to think daughters do, too.”

“They do,” I said.

“Just remember, Kitten, it’s good to always let folks know you appreciate them. Even if it is your dear old mama. Or your child. Maybe Cole feels like you think he has changed so much since he’s become a teenager, he doesn’t know how to talk to you anymore.”

Was that it? Surely not. I mean, what does my Mama know about a teenager suddenly acting like they don’t need their parents?

As I thought all of this over, I realized it had been an hour since my child had ate, so I made him a sandwich just the way he liked it and took it to him while he played his video game.

“How did you know I was starving?” he asked, taking the plate.

“Just thought you may be hungry,” I said, retreating from the room but not before I overheard him talking to his friend online.

“Man, my mom just brought me a sandwich. Gimme a second, I gotta eat. She makes the best sandwiches. Yeah. My mom is amazing.”

Maybe everyone was right; boys do always love their moms. And maybe I don’t have to wait until he fully grows up to learn that.

 

Journey of 10,000 steps

I wish everything was as easy as gaining weight.

Seriously, I am the only person I know who can literally gain five pounds overnight because of a rogue crouton the was hidden under a piece of ranch drenched romaine.

But there has been a lot of those pesky hidden breadcrumbs over the last few years and I have gotten quite pudgy.

It’s one of those things that creeps up on you. Or in my case, you realize you’ve put on a few pounds but have every intention of getting the weight off as soon as some holiday passes.

Then, you look at the calendar and realize your husband and Mama have their birthdays just days apart, so there will be cake – twice.

Even though I may not see Mama on her birthday, I still want to celebrate.

And then the child’s birthday is right there at the beginning of October, which kicks off candy month.

It has been four years of finding reasons to put my regular, formally healthier way of eating on hiatus.

Did I mention I have suspected celiac or at least some kind of severe gluten intolerance that should make me avoid anything that tastes good?

Over the last four years, I have not only gained weight, I have always pretty much spent most of my days sitting on my tater.

Throw in the fact my hormones are all out of whack and guess what you’ve got?
A middle-aged woman wearing a lot of leggings, that’s what you’ve got.

I knew I was no longer fitting in my former smaller sized clothing, but I didn’t realize how out of shape I had gotten.

Not that I was running triathlons or anything before, but I was a bit more active.

I walked a few times a week at the park and did yoga, even though I usually fell asleep on the yoga mat with my Border Collie more than anything else.

Sitting for the majority of your day for four years takes it toll.

Apparently, it is as bad for your health as smoking, something I gave up several years ago and promptly gained five pounds.

When I started my new job several months ago, I was worried about having to walk two flights of stairs.

Yes, there is an elevator.

It’s at the other end of the hall where I go in and I am too lazy to walk that far to get on it. And elevators have always freaked me out a little bit, too.

My biggest nightmare was finally getting to the landing and having to have an actual conversation with someone.

I was grossly out of shape.

One of my dear friends who has supported my fluctuations in weight had encouraged me that having stairs in my work place would be a sure- fire way for me to lose the weight.

Not if the only reason you are going up and down the stairs is to get to the candy bowl on a friend’s desk downstairs.

I didn’t lose weight; I thankfully didn’t gain either, despite the frequent trips for bite sized 3 Musketeers and Almond Joys.

And then, something serendipitous happened.

We had a FitBit Challenge.

I am not competitive with other people, but I do love having a goal for myself.

Since I clearly didn’t reach the 10,000 recommended steps a day, I was worried I would be able to do this.

The first day, I had under 5,000 steps.

Same the second day, but I did notice I got more steps in when I went to the grocery store, especially when I was on one side of the store and realized I needed something that was on the other end.

“I’m sore and I barely walked half of what I am supposed to,” I whined.

I didn’t really get much empathy.

Then, a miraculous thing happened on Day 3.

I decided I needed to do some cleaning, rare, I know.

Within a few hours, I had racked up quite a few steps.

It motivated me to keep going until, the little wristband erupted in fireworks, telling me I had met my goal of 10,000 steps.

“I will be skinny tomorrow!” I squealed.

More than likely it won’t be tomorrow. But the journey there begins with the first 10,000 steps.

Mama’s magnitudinal worry

Never underestimate a mother’s ability to worry.

A mama can worry and see dangers that not only exist but make up new things to worry about.

Sometimes, a mama can just overreact when there is no reason, like mine usually does.

I am 45 years old and I have to make sure my mother knows where I am pretty much most of the day.

If I don’t, she worries. And when she worries, she usually overreacts and that leads to her taking some drastic steps.

Like she did several years ago.

I was maybe 26 years old and living several hours away from her.

My then-husband was out of town, so I did what I normally did when he was gone for a weekend: made plans with my best friend and her mom.

We had a wild and crazy night planned.

First, we went to Ruby Tuesday’s for dinner, followed by going to the bookstore at the mall.

We bought some trashy romance novels and went back to my friend’s boutique on the square to look over our goodies.

While we sat on the plushy loveseats, we decided we were greatly remiss in not getting dessert. My best friend had a key to the coffee shop next door – the owner trusted her to check on things if she was gone – so we went in and got slices of Triple Chocolate Cake and Diet Cokes to negate the calories, leaving cash and a note on the counter.

Around 11 or so, we decided to call it a night and I headed home, arriving at around 11:30 to a carport sensor light on.

I nervously made my way inside to find Pepper, the evil beagle, freaking out in her crate, letting me know someone had probably been near the patio doors.

I grabbed a knife out of the butcher’s block for protection. I’m not sure why; those knives weren’t sharp enough to cut butter.

But I had my knife and decided to leave Pepper in her crate for safety purposes while I checked the house.

I picked up the phone in case I needed to call 911. I checked it to make sure I had a dial tone. I did, and it was beeping to let me know I had a voice mail, too.

After I checked the house and found it clear, I checked the messages.

There were 49.

Forty-seven were from Mama, increasing in her worry and culminating in her anger by the last one where she heatedly declared she was calling the police.

The other two were from Granny and a dispatcher with the county emergency services.

Granny’s message said: “Sug, this is your Granny. Your mama is going crazy with worry; she has smoked four packs of cigarettes and is gone to town to get more. If you are home, please call her. She just knows you’re dead. Speaking of dead, I’m pretty sure she’s trying to a-kill me with second hand smoke.”

The lady from 911 said: “Sudie, your mother has called here worried about you. Not sure how she got this number. But she is very concerned. We have not had any calls come in that fit your description, address, or your car, but we are sending an officer out just to be sure. And when you get this, if you haven’t already, please call your mom.”

The motion sensor had turned on because a deputy had been out at my house. That made me relax some.

But to deal with the matter at hand, I had to call Mama.

Mama, who evidently just knew I was dead, and was not calling to spite her, refused to speak to me when I called.

“So, you ain’t dead,” Granny said hearing my voice.

“No.”

“Well, if you was closer you may be. She would probably choke the daylights out of you. Where were you?” Granny asked.

“I was with my friends – I am twenty something years old and married, I don’t think I have to tell my mother where I am every second of the day!”

Granny snorted. “Have you met your mother? She is already as nervous a cat in a room full of rocking chairs and she gets worse when she worries. I will tell you are alive and well. But for the love of all that is holy – and if you love me at all – call her when you gonna be somewhere. She’s gonna drive me batty.”

A few days later, I was in court. Not because I had done something, or Mama had me arrested for running away as an adult; no, I worked in the judicial system at the time.

The judge looked over the calendar to see if all the attorneys were present and then he glanced at me. “Miss Sudie’s present,” he commented. I nodded.

“One question, Miss Sudie,” the judge began. I looked up at the bench. “Does your mother know where you are? We know where you are, but does she?”

I gulped. “How..?”

The judge smiled, “We all know, Miss Sudie. We all know.”
Apparently, Mama called more than emergency services; I am sure if the judge was listed in the phone book, she called him, too.

You’d think she would not want to embarrass her child but that does not stop her at all. She thinks embarrassing me is a good way to ensure I do what she wants.

The other day, I didn’t text her the second I pulled into my parking space at work and when I went in, I immediately got in a conversation before getting to my desk.

Within 20 minutes, she had called me four times, then my husband. She had called my child’s school to see if he had been dropped off. I knew the second I did sit down I needed to text her and let her know I was okay. She was, of course, frantic with worry. “I was about to call the law,” she texted back.

“You know, the more you do that, the more it reinforces her behavior,” Lamar commented later that evening.

I know. But it beats having a deputy show up at my door.

 

Differing opinions

A friend of mine commented on Facebook the other day that he noticed a few people had unfriended him because of a political post he had shared.

I missed the post – I am trying to stay off Facebook for the most part lately – but found it sad someone unfriended him over his opinion.

His opinion.

Now, granted, years ago before we had social media, we didn’t discuss politics among friends or family because we knew not everyone shared the same views.

Back then, we didn’t feel the need to share every thought that came in our head at every given moment.

In today’s digitally driven world, we declare our views every three seconds and state, “My wall, my page – if you don’t like it, you know where the unfriend button is.”

That is not what this friend did at all; if anything, he probably shared something showing his patriotic beliefs and someone took great umbrage with it.

It’s sad because regardless of what political party we tend to align with, we are all Americans. We’re all members of the human race. We all have to get along. We have to work together, live together in our communities, and find ways to make things better here at home.

Granny would have never stood for this nonsense.

She always said as much as some people irritated her, she didn’t give up on them because of their opinions.

“Opinions are just like a certain body part,” she would say, “everyone’s got ‘em and needs to keep ‘em to themselves.”

But here lately, our differing opinions are driving us apart.

If I unfriended everyone I disagreed with, I would have no friends left, except maybe the account a friend set up for her dog.

Even then, he doesn’t seem to be too cat friendly and well, I am a crazy cat lady.

I was discussing all of this new-found discord with Mama the other day and she found it downright bizarre.

“Takes everyone working together to make the world go ‘round,” she said simply. “My best friend was on the totally opposite side of me politically. It didn’t matter. We were friends.”

“How did y’all not fight about politics?” I asked.

“We didn’t discuss it. I knew what party she voted, and she knew the one I voted,” Mama explained. “We talked about our kids, what y’all were doing, what we were going to get for dinner at work.”

In other words, they focused on the things that brought them together and made them friends; not the things that would tear them apart.

I know I have let a lot of the political hoopla get to me over the recent years. It used to not bother me and was something I just politely declined to participate in.

But it is hard to avoid now. Everywhere we look, we are being forced to have an opinion, and to pick a side.

Being passionate about your beliefs and knowing where you stand is important and probably as American as apple pie.

However, alienating someone because they have a different opinion than you is just wrong.

I thought about the person that was unfriended.

The father of one of my dearest friends for over 15 years.

And, no matter our different opinions on things, I remembered the kindness he extended us some 14 years ago that stays with me. An offer that we didn’t have to accept but it was graciously offered and appreciated.

He didn’t ask who we were voting for, he didn’t ask our opinions on matters that now seem to cause deep division among friends and family.

He just knew people he cared about may be in a predicament where he could offer some grace and compassion.

It hurt my heart to think someone had unfriended him on some silly social media platform because he shared something that he agreed with.

We used to seek to understand why someone liked something we didn’t. When my child was 4 if I had told him I didn’t like something he did, he would seek to understand. Why didn’t I like it? What, if anything, did I like about it?

He wouldn’t call me names and cut me out of his life.

But that’s how we handle things now. We want to shut out those who disagree with us even slightly.

And it only promises to get worse.

“People are really going to be fussing and fighting and slinging mud,” Mama warned as we talked about the coming months.

“With the midterms?”

“No,” she said. “College football.”

And that should be what we really argue about.

Gossip by any other name

Gossip is usually an unsavory but juicy hot commodity at times.

Particularly among certain people.

My grandmother reveled in the little nuggets of information she would glean from people, which is probably why she loved to go to the grocery store and beauty parlor when I was younger.

She could find out all kinds of dirt on just about anyone, down to what pew they sat on in church.

Granny was a great collector of dirt; and like her sole and sometimes-favorite grandchild, people just told her stuff. Unsolicited, out of the blue, random yet glorious stuff.

Some of this stuff was about people Granny didn’t know, which was rare. I think the old gal knew everyone in our little community.

But the best tidbits were about folks she did know – especially people she did not like.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Granny’s ability to collect all this dirt is that while it came to her fairly easily, Granny was quite judicious with who she told what.

There was one exception, of course.
Granny’s best friend, LuRee.

What’s so funny is that for the longest, those two little mean women would scrapple and fuss with one another deep-fried Baptist style.

Then one day, a vortex in the Universe opened and I think Satan himself caught a chill.

The two of them walked out of their Sunday School room, arm and arm, hugging and slopping sugar on one another like they were best friends.

I remember seeing this as I stood in the hall just as plain as it was yesterday; they even moved in ‘80’s style slow motion as they walked towards the double doors to go outside.

“When did you and Miss LuRee decide y’all liked one another?” I asked from the backseat on the way home.

“What?” my grandfather perked up at this news.

“We have always been friends,” Granny lied. Look at her lying right after leaving the house of the Lord.

“Little ‘un, scoot back in your seat; lightning is about to hit your grandmother,” my Pop said. “Woman, the two of you ain’t never been friends. I have seen y’all shoot evil looks at each other across the sanctuary before. What’s going on?”

Granny twisted in her seat as she drove. “We found out we both dislike the same person.”

Nothing brings two people together more than shared hate.

“Oh, good Lord,” my grandfather muttered under his breath. “Helen, what were you doing gossiping in church?”

“It was not gossip, Bob,” she said.

“Yes, it was.”

“No, it was not.”

“Then what do you call it?” he asked.

Well, for once, the old gal was speechless which did not happen often.

She didn’t say a word the rest of the way home.

I, like my grandfather, thought that was a one-time event and they would end up back mortal enemies loathing one another over Amazing Grace and I’ll Fly Away, but the friendship stuck.

It was almost like two rival mafia bosses joining forces or something with these two. It was unnatural and scary.

Usually, it was a Sunday afternoon phone call that went on for at least an hour, Granny sprawled across the bed on her stomach, shoes off and feet in the air as she and LuRee discussed things.

My grandfather would just shake his head as he watched his football game.

“Your grandmother is in there gossiping,” he would say during a commercial break.

I nodded. It was just a fact.

“I am not,” Granny protested heatedly as she came down the hall. “I resent you saying that, Bob.”

“Well, I don’t know what else to call it.”

“We are talking about who to pray for,” she said.

“Say what?”

“You heard me,” she said. He may not have; the man was deaf in one ear.

“We are talking about who to pray for.”

My grandfather rolled his eyes. “I’ll bet.”
“We were. We were talking about who we needed to pray for and the best way to know who to pray for, is to discuss their circumstances.” She paused and gave him a look. “I think we may need to pray for men who don’t believe their wives, too.”

He snorted. “I’ve heard it all now.”

From that day on, whenever the phone rang, and it was LuRee, Granny would proceed to hold their so-called prayer discussions.

This went on for several decades, and when Granny passed away, LuRee passed six months later.

“You suppose they are allowed in the same corners of Heaven?” I asked Mama the other day.

Mama laughed softly. “Those two are together, I know they are,” she said. “And they are still talking about who they need to pray for.”

A delicate balance

I overheard someone say recently that Millenials are to blame for all of the societal problems we are experiencing.

I am not so sure about that – I don’t know what a Millenial is exactly and I’m usually cautious about casting a wide net of blame when I am not certain what I will catch.

I also tend to think this whole “It’s the Millenials’ fault” is an easy way for some to avoid taking their own responsibility as well.

Sure, every generation has had its issues and problems, including my own, but I shoulder the blame for my ozone-depleting use of Freeze it!, the horrible shoulder pads that never did make my waist look smaller, and my misguided use of blue eyeshadow.

I am sure my sassy mouth and attitude had more to do with the fact I was lightheaded from the aforementioned overuse of the liquid hair glue than it did with being a Gen-Xer.

Yes, my generation had its flaws and faults.

We grew up in a decadent decade, where everything was bright, loud, and just best described as excessive.

But we were good kids. And we took responsibility for what we did.

If we didn’t and got caught, we knew there was something worse than some of the punishments that were doled out back then; we usually had to face our mamas.

The few times I did something stupid – which truthfully, was rare – I usually got caught.

And somehow lived to tell about it.

Mama’s wrath could be scarier than anything legally imposed.

Nowadays, when people do something stupid, they blame someone else or richly tell you it was your fault.

“I didn’t know I was supposed to do that,” someone whined recently. “So how can it be my fault if I didn’t know about it?”

Ignorance only gets you so far.

Some folks seem to think that everything is supposed to be hand-delivered as an app on the latest iPhone and spoon fed to them in bite sized gluten-free, non-GMO, organic nibbles.

When I was younger and didn’t know what I was supposed to do, Mama of course imparted her wisdom.

“Are your legs broken?” she would ask. “How about your finger? Can it dial a phone? Can you still speak? Good, go call someone and find out what you need to do. When you get to the point you need me, let me know but you need to learn how to take care of some of this stuff on your own.”

Guess what? I did what she said.

I was only 6 but I did it.

Maybe not that young, but you get the drift. Mama was overprotective and prone to hyper-vigilance in a lot of areas of my life, but she made me learn to deal with the consequences of my actions or lack thereof.

If I knew what I was supposed to do and didn’t do it, well, that was on me.

I tried saying one of my mistakes was someone else’s fault and she nipped that junk in the bud fast and furiously.

“Did they hold a gun to your head?” she wanted to know.

I told her they had not.

“Then you were not forced to do it and yet you did. You only have yourself to blame.”

Mama didn’t have to threaten bodily harm either; she would either give me her deafening silent treatment or take away whatever privileges I had at the time.

See, my generation was one that believed in restrictions and being grounded. Losing the keys to the family Oldsmobile, having your phone unplugged from your room, and not being able to go to the football game on Friday with your friends were common sentences. After you endured those punishments for a few weeks, you made sure you didn’t suffer the same mistakes again.

It was a generation where the parents were loving but firm.

They weren’t our friends; they were our parents.

I know that is a tough role to fill most of the time.

We want our kids to love us, to want to be around us, to not hate us.

But truthfully, if they don’t think we are the unfairest of human beings at some point in their lives, we are not doing our job.

And maybe that is what has happened.

Somewhere, parents quit enforcing those rules and it has created some situations where people think they are entitled to special treatment.

Do I want my child to have the best of everything? Absolutely.

Do I want him to succeed? Of course.

But I don’t want him to become a jerk in the process.

Not too long ago, he complained to his father I was being unfair and mean.

Our house is less than a thousand square feet, so I could hear his stage whisper clearly from my chair in the living room.

“She’s your mother,” my husband replied. “That’s her job.”

My decision –whatever it had been – stood.

None of this playing one side against the other. No special treatment.

My child eventually came to me and said he understood; he even apologized.

It hurt me to get on to him; it did. I love my child and want him to be happy about everything.

I also want him to grow up and be a well-adjusted, successfully functioning adult.

Usually, that happens in an environment with some rules and firm boundaries.

I think if we want to start changing some things in this world, we need to start at home.

And maybe some good old-fashioned ‘80’s style restrictions and punishments of taking away cell phones and car keys would be a good place to start.

The purple house pride

I always get nostalgic this time of year.

There was something so special and magical about the beginning of a new school year.

Brand new notebooks with clean, crisp pages. The fresh packs of pencils. The coveted big box of Crayolas that made you the queen of the classroom.

To me, the start of the school year was exciting and magical, a welcomed end to the boredom of summer.

One of my favorite things was getting to meet my new teacher.

Of course, the bar had been set high in kindergarten by Mrs. Howard. She was the litmus test by which every teacher and most humans must pass, with her sense of humor, compassion, and encouragement.

She made me love school. If I could have stayed in kindergarten with her as my teacher forever, I would have.

First grade, however, almost ruined my love for school.

This one teacher – one –tainted my whole school experience.

And she was bad enough that Mama still holds a spite and grudge against her to this day.

“She should have never been around children!” Mama will exclaim any time the woman’s name is mentioned.

I agree, but I don’t quite hold a grudge against her like Mama does. But then again, I am the child in this scenario; I am sure my perspective would be different if I was in Mama’s position.

This wretched woman did several things throughout my first-grade year that gave Mama good and justified reasons to dislike her.

“Stronger than dislike, Kitten,” Mama will remind me. “I cannot stand that woman.”

Now, what would possibly set my mild-mannered, kind-hearted Mama off like this? The woman whose favorite mantra was “there but by the grace of God go I?”

Well, let me tell you, it was not pretty, but it may not have been the most dramatic of events.
It was a primary school straw on a camel’s back.

My introduction to first grade left me wondering if one could possibly flunk out of school due to erroneous paper folding. I never successfully folded the construction paper in the certain manner this horrid teacher wanted.

I didn’t say a word to Mama; instead, I begged Granny to help me fix it.

If anyone could fix something that involved paper, fabric, or anything related to crafts, it was Granny. I am fairly certain she could have built a house with a needle and thread.

Granny helped me interpret the directions, which we followed explicitly. The teacher still said it was wrong.

“Now she’s saying I did it wrong, and I don’t make no mistakes!” Granny said. “There ain’t no pleasing this woman.”

She wasn’t wrong.

We followed the directions, but she insisted it was still wrong.

A classmate did it the same way, yet this woman did not admonish her the way she did me.

“Maybe you need to go back to kindergarten,” she said to me one day.

“Will you stay in first grade?” I asked.

“Yes,” the bitter woman replied.

“OK.”

I wanted away from her. I had no idea how or why she disliked me so. I was a chubby little woblin of a child and eager to make adults happy. Usually, teachers loved me.

But this woman hated me.

She had even told me on the first day of school she had hoped I wasn’t going to be in her class.

What kind of adult does that? What was wrong with her?

Of course, my beloved Mrs. Howard was teaching first grade that year and I had hoped and prayed, to the point of negotiating with God I would give up all things Little Debbie, to have Mrs. Howard again

Instead I got this shrew.

Mama was right, she had no business being around small children.

One day, we had to color a picture for fire safety week. We could color the house any color we wanted, as long as the fire and the fire truck were red.

My house was my favorite color: purple.

Not pink, which I have never cared for. Not white, not brown.

Purple. See, long before I fell in love with anything Prince, I loved the color purple.

So, my house was purple.

My fire was red – even though fire is really not red but more of a yellow-orange hue.

And my fire truck was red.

The two requirements were met.

The teacher refused to hang mine on the hall with the rest of my classmates, declaring in front of the class that no houses anywhere in the U.S. of A were purple.

“Your mother will not be proud of what you did because I will not hang it out on the hall with everyone else,” the woman told me.

I shrugged. “That’s okay, my Mama is proud of me anyway.”

“No, she’s not,” the woman sneered. “Your picture will not be allowed to be displayed in the hall. How could she proud of failure?”

Even though I was a kid, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, my Mama was proud of me whether my painting made the hall display or not. That didn’t earn my Mama’s love or praise.

Years later, I was standing in the drugstore with my friends Laura and Jane when that horrid woman walked by. She greeted both while ignoring me.

“She still hates you,” Jane said shocked.

As a new school year starts, this experience always comes to mind because I know there are more Mrs. Howards in classrooms than there is that horrible woman.

But, I hope, more than anything, there are more children knowing they are loved and worthy beyond just what gets hung in the halls.

 

The words that matter

Country.

That’s the word someone used to describe me lately.

Not because I live in Georgia or because I have a drawl that people outside of our region probably have a difficult time understanding.

But I was called country because I have a love and compassion for animals, even the undomesticated kind.

I laughed it off and even though I am pretty sure the person meant it as an insult, didn’t take it that way.

My child on the other hand was not very happy when he heard the news and expressed his opinion in a way that proved he is indeed a descendant of my family tree.

Mama didn’t like the term either, but she may have been triggered by the memory of me being previously called derogatory terms by the ex-husband.

“I don’t like that you were called that,” Cole said.

I shrugged. “It was nothing.”

I had only mentioned it in conversation because it was part of the story I was relaying.

“But what did they mean by calling you that? It just seems like they were meaning something a lot worse.”

I imagine they were using the term as a softer alternative to redneck or hillbilly, the two phrases my ex-husband used to describe my family because, except for Mama, they all had blue-collar or labor jobs.

Some of my family members worked construction, or were truck drivers, and farmers. To the ex, hard-working people were rednecks.

Being called ‘country’ was meant to insult me, but it didn’t. Like Granny, I have no fancy pretenses about myself and could care less about trying to act like I am something I am not.

I am not that comfortable in a big city. Traffic gives me anxiety attacks and I don’t like being in an environment full of strangers.

So, maybe being called country is an apt description.

“I still don’t like it; it was meant to hurt your feelings,” Cole said.
I appreciated his concern and told him so, but I had to let him know there was an important lesson here.

“It didn’t hurt my feelings and I wasn’t insulted,” I began. “See, for it to hurt me, I would have to care about the opinion of the person who said it. And I didn’t. Words can only hurt us when we believe them.”

“You always tell me words matter,” Cole reminded me.

True. They do.

And in this case, the word was being used in an attempt to make someone feel bad or inferior.

We have gotten to where we use words like “country” to label people, to point out a difference and maybe separate us in the process.

Our words and language are supposed to bring us together and build us up, not try to tear us down and apart.

But it sure doesn’t feel that way lately.

It seemed like everyone was trying to get a little dig in, any way they could. We have focused on the things that keep us divided and make us scatter instead of what can unite us.

People have forgotten that no matter where we are from, and no matter the differences, we still belong to one another.

“So, you don’t care at all that person thinks you are country?”

I really don’t.

“But why doesn’t it bother you?” my child asked.

“What someone thinks about me is none of my business,” I said. “That’s their opinion of me and their opinion is not fact or my character.”

“But what if their opinion of you is wrong?”

“Doesn’t matter,” I said.

That person didn’t really know me, only what they thought they knew.

“Did what they say about you make you think differently about them?” Cole asked.

“No,” I said. “I already had my opinion about them. Their comment just reinforced it.”

“What did you think of them?” he asked.

It didn’t matter. Just like they were way off base with me, my opinion was just that and I may be wrong.

“I can think of a few names I would like to call that person,” Cole admitted.
I could understand that and told him so but reminded him that just served to drag us down to their level.

Even though it may feel good, it still only served to put a bigger wedge between us.

“There’s enough name calling already,” I said. “Instead of thinking of how to hurt someone, we need to just say things that can help us find a common ground, and not declare a word war.”

So, I was called country. It was not a total lie. It wasn’t a total truth, either.

The word didn’t matter; neither did the opinion by the person who said it.

What was important, was that I was reminded of how our words can either unite us or divide, and it matters how we decide to use them.

Forgiving Doodle

I should have known the pittie mix was in the dog house when Lamar quit making her breakfast.

Unlike the other pups, including the German Shepherd, Doodle’s routine involved having her own little plate of food to eat alongside her ‘daddy.’

One morning, I heard him tell her, “You don’t get any today, Doodle.”

I didn’t think anything of it at first; that little caramel colored dog is always doing something to get in trouble.

But her punishment went on for a while, which was odd and signaled something was terribly amiss.

Doodle is the pup who can get away with everything.

While Ava is a drama queen and Pumpkin is quite judgmental towards us all, Doodle is the one that came into our lives five years ago and somehow stole my husband’s heart from his favorite breed.

She has been spoiled because she is, as he calls her, his baby girl.

He has rocked her to sleep as a puppy in the middle of the night when she didn’t want to be alone.

She has eaten cycling gloves, socks, and a few remotes and he has declared she was just a sweet little baby girl and didn’t know any better.

For him to not have breakfast with her for several days running meant something was amiss.

“What did she do?” I asked him.

“You don’t want to know,” he said as he sat his coffee cup in the sink. “Trust me.”

I giggled to myself thinking of all the gross crimes the chunky little dog could have committed.

A few nights later, Cole went out on the porch to bring Doodle in and rushed into the other room to get his father.

“Again? No!” Lamar exclaimed as he headed outside.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

Cole shook his head. “You don’t want to know.”

Why does everyone tell me that? Don’t they realize if something usually gets handled it’s the mama who takes care of it?

“Yes, I do. Tell me.”

Cole took a deep breath. “You are going to be very upset when I tell you. We decided not to tell you this because we didn’t want to upset you.”

That statement right there sent off my mama-alarms. Telling me you kept something from me because you didn’t want me to get upset is a sure-fire way for me to freak out and over-react when you do tell me.

I was trying to be calm though. It was Doodle and she seemed okay, so it probably had to do with her eating my furniture again.

“Tell me,” I repeated.

“Doodle killed a baby opossum,” he said.

“What?”

How could she kill a precious little baby opossum?

I was crushed.

“Daddy is getting it now to bury it with the others.”
“The others?”

He nodded.

“How many has she killed?”

“Six,” Lamar said walking back in. “It’s the pit in her. I know good and well Ava wouldn’t do this and neither would Punky. But Doodle has killed a whole litter of opossums.”

I felt worse. I had named the mother opossum Penny; we loved seeing her offspring each spring.

“Is this why she hasn’t been allowed to have breakfast with you?” I asked.

Lamar nodded.
“I love her, but it is hard to love on her knowing she is a killer.”

As he said that, the little assassin plopped her head in my lap and pawed at me to pet her.

“No, Doodle,” I said. “I can’t. I am so disappointed in you right now.”

A few nights later, I heard something on the back deck.

It was Fiona, the baby opossum that had almost came to me one morning.

She had pink little ears and a cute little black nose. She was adorable, and my goal was to hand feed her this year. She often would get in the corner of the deck and watch me feed my cats in the early hours of daylight.

“Fiona is still here!” I exclaimed, grabbing the bag of cat food to give her some kibble.

She hid as I filled the bowls, peering between the wood slats on the deck to watch me.

“I am so sorry for your littermates,” I told her. “Doodle doesn’t come out here, so you are safe here.”

But, the little opossum didn’t stay on the back deck and eventually got on the front porch.

I cried, angry, sorrowful cried. I loved that little marsupial.

I couldn’t look at Doodle for days. Weeks actually.

I wouldn’t even let her curl up by my feet at night, telling her it was a cuddle-free zone.

I was hurt beyond hurt with her.

How could she kill something that didn’t pose even the remotest threat to her?

“Have you loved on Doodle yet?” Mama asked me.

“No,” I said. I even refused to kiss the little spot on her head that she insisted I kiss each morning.

“Are you going to forgive her?”

I wasn’t sure. My heart was so saddened by her actions.

I was so disappointed in her. This is the dog that has head butted her own shadow once because she is so goofy. Why would she kill an innocent little animal and one I loved?

“She didn’t know any better,” Lamar said softly one evening as she climbed up in his lap and put her head on his shoulder. “She thought she was doing a good thing. She didn’t know we loved the opossums.”

I don’t think it would have mattered if she knew we loved them or not, and I said so.

“What does matter though, is that we love her and she’s ours,” Lamar said. “We may not like what she did, but we love her and that means we have to forgive her.”

Love and forgiveness do go hand in hand. Even, or maybe especially, when we don’t like the actions.