A very thankful Thanksgiving indeed (11/26/2014)

Cole was worried.

I was worried.

I think Lamar, even though he would never admit it, was worried.

But Thanksgiving was approaching and we didn’t know what to do.

It was the first real holiday without Granny. Granted, the old gal hadn’t been able to cook the last few years, since her knee replacement two years ago had caused her to be in a wheelchair.

But she could still boss and could tell everyone what to do from her wheeled domain.

“Bobby – get that turkey out of the stove, it oughta be done by now!” she would holler. “Did you turn the peas on? Where’s the gravy? I don’t see the pot with the gravy.”

Her turkey was always golden brown on the outside and juicy and tender on the inside. Except one year. One year, she forgot to thaw it. So she put it in her pressure cooker. It turned into such a rubbery, slimy mess that the evil beagle wouldn’t eat it. And if you know a beagle, you know what they can and will eat.

We had tried to sneak out before she could thrust a plate of leftovers in our arms but she managed to dash out to the car to fill the backseat with an aluminum pan full of the turkey goo.

“Why did Granny serve us slimy, naked turkey?” Cole had asked on the way home. We didn’t know.

The only way it would have been worse was if Mama had made it.

Mama, bless it, can’t even make pasta. For one thing, she can’t even pronounce it correctly, let alone cook it. She puts the noodles in before the water boils and serves you some Ragu covered lump of spaghetti that kind of resembles the pressure cooked turkey.

She prides herself on setting the fire alarm off at least twice a week.

When I asked her why twice, she said that was all Bobby would let her cook.

So here we were, worried about what was to come of our Thanksgiving dinner.

We knew we wouldn’t ask Mama and Bobby to cook and drive. Besides, my oven hasn’t worked in about three years, so unless they wanted some pasta or sautéed vegetables, turkey was out of the question here.

And, Bobby surely had a football game and a nap somewhere on his plan for the day.

I knew what we were all thinking, but none of us were going to say it.

What if…Mama cooked Thanksgiving?

The woman has a heart of gold, is close to being a saint, but she can drive me crazy to the point I need a Xanax before 9 a.m. Despite that, she is a dear old gal. She just can’t cook.

She tries, but she can’t.

She asked Cole why he never ate anything when we came to visit. He looked her dead in the eye and said, “Because Nennie, what you cook just tastes nasty. Like uneatable. Pepper wouldn’t eat it and you know Daddy always called her a -”

“Cole, you can politely tell her you get carsick and don’t like eating and riding in the car,” I said.

My child turned to look at me. “Mama, you have told me to not lie. That would be a lie.”

He turned back to his grandmother. “No offense, Nennie, you just cook terribly. I still don’t know what you did to those frozen chicken nuggets that time.”

And with his truth, he was off, in search of sweet tea to get him sugared up for the ride home.

“What did I do to the chicken nuggets? How can you mess those up?” she asked, forlornly. I didn’t respond. How does one explain burned on the outside, still frozen on the inside processed chicken?

I thought long and hard about what to do. I called Kroger. Did they have a Thanksgiving dinner meal – to go? And, were they open on Thanksgiving? They did and they were. Problem solved.

And, it even included pie.

I called Mama. “I am bringing Thanksgiving dinner next week,” I said.

“Really? Did you get your oven fixed?” She was probably as scared that I was bringing some tofu/gluten free/ acai/quinoa/flaxseed/healthy/nutritious anti-Thanksgiving monstrosity for them to partake in, as we were scared she was going to burn some bird beyond an inch of its life.

“Nope,” I said. “Kroger’s doing the cooking. We just gotta reheat it.”

“Sides?” she wanted to know.

“Sides, rolls, and, even a pie.” It was pumpkin – maybe I could change it to apple. Or cheesecake – didn’t those pilgrims understand the importance of cheesecake?

“Is it a whole turkey? Because I told Bobby I could maybe make some of those turkey breasts for us…”

“It’s a whole turkey, Mama,” I said. “And you don’t have to cook the first thing.”

And for that, bless us all, we were truly grateful.



The guardian of Piglandia (11/19/2014)

“Once upon a time, in a small cabin nestled in the woods, on the side of a tiny mountain, was a wondrous and magical place, called Piglandia.

Piglandia was a great and wonderous place, beaing home to the finest pigs in the land. Not just the fine pigs of Piggie 1 and his twin, Piggie 2, but Piglandia also was home to all the other stuffed babies in this corner of the woods.

In Piglandia Unincorporated, there were some of the first stuffed babies, the ones that pre-dated even Piggie 1. Buster, the pug; Netty, who later became the sister to the pigs, and assorted other little magical, wonderful stuffed plushies.

Piglandia Proper was home to the brother Pigs, where they ruled as rotating kings and Big Bear, the ginormous, bigger than all the royal pigs put together, strummed his guitar. He was a really big bear and took up a lot of prime real estate in Piglandia Proper.

There was no crime in any of the areas of Piglandia because Sheriff Nennie was on patrol, keeping the inhabitants safe from 50 miles away.”

“Don’t forget her water pistol was full of Jell-O and her pockets were stuffed with biscuits,” Cole interjected sleepily.

I smiled. This was one of our rituals. The tale of Piglandia and all of its inhabitants. A place where the stuffed babies and Autobots lived side by side in harmony.

My child, with his tender heart and immense memory, remembers every single toy, who gave it to him, where he was, all the details surrounding it and cherishes each one as the sacred memory it is. They all become members of Piglandia.

“Daddy doesn’t respect the pigs,” Cole said one day. “He doesn’t think they are real. Do you think they are real?”

I nodded. I did and I do. To me, and this little boy with the huge blue eyes, they are real pigs indeed, through and through.

All the inhabitants of Piglandia are real and have meaning and spirits and value that goes beyond what the original price tag said. They all are special, in their own unique way.

When we watched “Toy Story 3” for the first time, seeing Andy’s toys being given away, we both broke into the Ugly Cry. I cried, thinking how Andy had grown up and as he headed off to college, he had outgrown his toys. I am not sure what made Cole cry so hard; maybe my “Ugly Cry” frightened him. But we sat on the couch and sobbed.

“Never, not ever, will I get rid of my babies,” he said. “I will have them for my children and my children’s children.”

He said this while wiping his face with the original pig, a pig that is so stained with tears, chocolate and doggie drool that it hasn’t been its original pinky beige color in years.

“Did you have a stuffed baby you loved, Mama?”

Oh, I did, I told him. Thumper, my lavender bunny that Granny got me one day at the old five and dime downtown. I chose it over a pair of shoes and never regretted it. I told Cole of all the memories I had with my bunny.

“What happened to Thumper?” Cole wanted to know.

I wasn’t sure, I told him honestly. I had put him in the top of my closet, thinking that I had outgrown him. I couldn’t remember if he was in a box I took when I moved or not; and if he was, I was quite sure over the course of time and several moves, he was gone.

Tears rolled down his cheeks. “You lost Thumper,” he said solemnly. “What if … am I going to lose Piggie?”

I promised him no, that he wouldn’t. That I would help him protect and cherish all of Piglandia forever.

“But … what if, Mama?” he squeezed the plushies close. “What if I get grown and think I don’t need the pigs anymore? I wouldn’t mean it. I wouldn’t.”

“I will take care of them,” I promised. “I will be the guardians of the pigs and all of Piglandia, should that ever happen. And I promise that I will not let anything happen to them.”

He was quiet for a few minutes then said, “Because you know what happened with Christopher Robin and Pooh.”

“Let’s don’t talk about that,” I said.

I didn’t want to think about my child growing up and not needing the pigs. It may mean that Piglandia would vanish and with it, the childlike magic of making wishes on stars and other whimsical things. Including me being his No. 1 “sweet girl” who can do no wrong.

What a precious, precarious balance life is, of trying to find our way as we grow. Wanting to hold on to the past, while we reach for the future. And we were holding on tightly to those precious plushy pigs.

He wiped his face with his pigs and looked up at me. “Mama, tell me my story one more time,” he said softly. “Please.”

I smiled. I’d tell it as many times as he’d let me.

And so I began, “Once upon a time, in a small cabin, nestled in the woods, on the side of a tiny mountain, was a wonderous and magical place, called Piglandia …”


Who he was before (11/12/2014)

He was just a simple man, my grandfather. All rough-hewn leather and tar from years of roofing. He just loved God, his family and his Bulldogs. Not much else mattered.

I, of course, was his pet. His ‘Lil’un,’ the one who could do no wrong in his eyes. For everything Granny scolded me on, Pop would say it was OK. I was the baby, after all.

He never complained when he was sick. Never. For every whimper, every groan we got out of Granny about a hangnail or a toe cramp, Pop never complained. He could be up all night sick with a bleeding ulcer and be up and at work by 7 a.m. the next morning.

We aren’t sure when things started happening.

My report cards mysteriously vanished. We thought he was bragging at Kelly’s Lumber yard to his buddies about his baby’s good grades. I may not have been a pretty child – I was too chubby to be – but I was smart and he was proud.

Then one day, Bobby and Pop came home from work and Bobby went out back to sit on the back steps. He stayed out there a long time and Granny found him crying.

“He was mean,” Bobby said. “No one should be talked to like that. He’s never talked to me like that before.”

For my uncle, who was never a complainer either, to say Pop was mean, was a big red flag.

Things were lost, forgotten, misplaced.

He had a stroke on a three-story building and couldn’t get down.

“I’m going back to work as soon as you give me the go-ahead,” he told his doctor, a family friend.

“Bob,” the doctor began, “I really want you to look at retiring. I am seeing some changes in you that tell me it’s time.”

“Retire? And do what?” The only reason Pop didn’t work after church on Sundays was because he thought folks wouldn’t want him on their roofs while they had dinner.

“Don’t you have a hobby?”

“I work; I don’t have hobbies,” my grandfather replied bluntly.

“Then maybe you could find one,” the doctor suggested, searching. “Maybe making little houses out of popsicle sticks…”

His voice trailed off as my grandfather refused to meet his gaze.

It wasn’t long after that, the forced retirement, the taking away of the things he considered the fabric of his being, where we saw the marked decline.

It was Alzheimer’s, we were told, with a condition known as sundowners, making him increasingly agitated at night. A symptom we wondered if came from working all day in the sun and keeping his eyes on how much daylight he had left to work.

Instead of spending their golden years doing things Granny wanted to, like going to Dollywood or the Grand Ole Opry, she became his primary caregiver, keeping him at home most of the time or driving to Augusta when he was hospitalized for extended periods of time.

He didn’t remember who she was, or Mama, or Bobby. He talked about Jerry a lot, the son they lost.

He remembered me, but thought I was still a toddler.

“The baby,” he called me. “She’s the baby.”

During the day, his hands went through the repetitive motion of roofing, laying shingles, hammering. He was still as strong as an ox, even though his weight dropped to probably 130 pounds.

He fought two male nurses one night, thinking he was in World War II. The only way they could get him to stop tussling was to offer him a Camel.

The only things that seemed to calm him down when he raged were cigarettes and lemon ice cream.

Mama wondered how long he had been having symptoms as she remembered finding him on the back steps before, smoking in the middle of the night. She never snitched on him, not even to me.

Granny was trying to get all their things in order, making me help her pick out tombstones years ahead – Mama and Bobby refused the macabre task, but I felt like maybe there was a few things the old gal just wasn’t quite strong enough to handle alone.

As she looked through their drawers for some of her paperwork, out from behind the drawer tumbled out dozens of report cards, all worn from repeated viewing, and a picture of me as a baby.

My grandmother, who seldom cried, sat on the end of their bed and sobbed.

“There’s not enough being done,” she said. “There needs to be a cure. Why isn’t there a cure?”

That could be said for any horrible disease, couldn’t it? But the one we’re faced with, the one we’re battling, is the one that we want that cure found for now.

This disease took her husband away.

For nearly a decade, she watched him slip away a little more each day, until one day, he was gone. It wasn’t just the loss of breathe but the loss of spirit, of who he was, that made each day excruciatingly heartbreaking.

It made the memories we had of him even more precious, remembering the man he was before his brain was ravaged by Alzheimer’s.

A man who loved celebrating every holiday, enjoyed Georgia football, liked smelling good for church and loved to watch soap operas with me during lunch. A man who always put his 10 percent from every check in his brown leather box for church – “God’s part,” he called it. And a man who would stay up all night with his sick granddaughter, reading me “The Poky Little Puppy” one more time.

A man who didn’t get to say goodbye to those he loved, that loved him.

“There needs to be a cure for this,” Granny had said after the funeral, as she sat in his old chair, looking out the window. “There should be a cure.”

And maybe one day, there will be.


If Mama can’t find it….(11/5/2014)

I have spent the majority of my life looking for stuff. Not just my stuff, mind you. Other people’s stuff.

It started when I was a little girl. My uncle and grandfather were always misplacing something, usually their hats, and I was the one to find it.

For my laborious efforts – you’d be amazed where two grown men would misplace their hats. I was rewarded with something usually of the chocolate variety, which undoubtedly attributed to my pre-pubescent roundness.

When I married Lamar, I joked – not too pleasantly – that I had been in training for being married to him all my life. The boy lost everything.

I have found the remote in the freezer before.

Why, you may ask?

Because Lamar was holding the remote, went to get himself a glass of something to drink and God forbid he put the remote down. I may change it within those three feet to the Food Network or Lifetime, to watch some woman kill her husband.

We couldn’t find it for hours.

I opened the freezer to get ice cream and there it sat, on top of a bag of spinach. Thank God I had some butter pecan in there or the thing would still be missing.

That was just the start. Lamar loses something on a daily basis.

The remote, his wallet, keys, hat, his belt…you name it, the boy has misplaced it.

“Have you seen?….”

I sigh. How does he misplace so much stuff – all the time?

For the most part, my office (I’ve seen bigger walk-in closets) is in a state of utter chaos and I can find whatever paper, receipt or invoice I need.

But on a daily basis, I am asked to find something he has lost.

“How do you lose your stuff all the time? Why don’t you try putting it somewhere you can find it?” I ask.

“It’s my special talent,” he responds wryly.

I find it, usually in the oddest of places. The dog leash was in the bathroom one day. The keys have been in the pantry next to the Little Debbies. I can only imagine he was starving when we brought the groceries in and had to get his blood sugar back to normal.

The remote has been in a cabinet in the kitchen. He evidently spends a lot of time eating or getting food.

“Mama, Pop and Bobby trained me for this,” I said one day, telling her the list of things Lamar had misplaced.

“Then you should be a pro,” she replied.

“Yeah, but they took me to Mr. Gambrell’s store and got me a Twinkie or something else to reward me. Lamar wants me to fix him a sandwich after I find his missing stuff.”

Cole misplaces stuff too, but nothing to the degree Lamar does.

Usually, Cole can’t find stuff because he put it in the vortex of his room, where things go never to be found again.

Once, when he was about 4 or 5, he misplaced Piggie, the original Pig. Piggie was missing for weeks. We tore the cabin from wood to wall, trying to find it.

He cried, I cried. We prayed to find that plush pig.

My friend, Carolyn, sent him a box full of piggies, dubbing her “Aunt Piggie.” The day after they arrived, I happened to pick up a toy barrel and out tumbled Piggie, who’s beigey pink color had been camouflaged under the other toys.

“I should have sent the box sooner; I knew once he got it, Piggie would be found,” she said.

This made Cole a firm believer that Mama could find anything.

Now, I am looking for his things along with his Daddy’s.

Oh, I get how frustrating it can be to misplace something. I lost a lipstick one day, in a tiny hole in the lining of my purse and you would have thought I had lost the Hope Diamond the way I tore that purse apart. And it was just a tube of L’Oreal. No telling what I would have done if it had been a tube of that spendy stuff Mama gets me at Christmas.

Then, one day recently, horrors beyond horrors, the remote to the TV went missing. The one that turns it on and off and controls the volume. This was devastating. We had to physically get up and walk to the TV. There should have been a committee formed for these horrible conditions.

It was missing for three days.

I checked the freezer, pantry, cabinets. I checked the drawers on Lamar’s bureau. I checked the bathroom. I checked the dirty laundry hamper.

I asked the dogs if they had ate it. The pit is partial to paper towels and tin foil, but I don’t trust the German Shepherd with anything she can chew. The border collier just rolled her eyes at me as if she was above reproach.

Cole was beyond consoling. “Daddy,” he began solemnly, “If Mama can’t find it, it may really be lost. She can find anything. That’s what she does – she’s the finder. We will never be able to turn the volume up or down again!”

That’s a lot of pressure for a girl who thinks it’s a small miracle to just find a pair of panty hose without a run when she needs them.

Miraculously, on day three, I happened to see a dark object wedged under the couch. And there it was, the missing black TV remote, volume control and the turner off and on-er.

“I told you she could find anything!” Cole said, proud of his mama.

I didn’t have much time to rest on my laurels. Lamar was heading out. Had I seen his phone?