Just don’t order the soup — or set anything on fire

“Mama, what was your toughest job?” Cole asked one day.

“Mama, what was your toughest job?” Cole asked one day.

He’s heard his dad talk about construction work, hard physical labor where there were not many funny stories or warm experiences other than the time his pants caught fire.

Out of my myriad of jobs – and there’s been plenty – one in particular stood out.

It was not the time I sold cemetery plots, although that was not much fun. It’s kind of depressing to talk about death and dying all day.

The hardest wasn’t even when I was a telemarketer even though “dialing and smiling” is not as easy as it sounds. And that was during the time you could really hang up on someone and not just quietly push a button.

Probably the most difficult job I ever had was being a waitress.

Somehow, I heard that the Chinese restaurant was needing a waitress and they must have been desperate because they hired me.

Or maybe I didn’t seem like a disaster walking at the time I spoke to the owner; whatever it was, she hired me on the spot and told me to be there that Friday night.

I was excited.

I just knew I was going to make so much in tips that I was going to be able to buy a real radio for my car – instead of driving around with a boom box in the passenger seat.

I had never been a waitress before, but how hard could it be taking a tray to a table loaded with Cokes?

Or balancing said tray while you dumped the rice in the soup for Sizzlin’ Rice Soup?

It was just taking food and drinks to a table.

After the first night, I was never so thankful to see Granny’s Chevette sitting outside when I walked out.

I crawled in the back and I think I cried.

“What’s the matter?” she asked. “Did you get fired on your first night?”

“No,” I whimpered. “People wanted me to bring them stuff!”

My grandfather snorted.

“Yeah, well, that’s what a waitress does – you take them stuff.”

“But they were mean and rude and not one said thank you!”

Not that thanks was in order; remember the soup?

Yeah…I spilled sizzlin’ hot soup on some folks.

I am pretty sure Ms. Judy gave them their meal free.

“Did you make any tips?” Pop asked.

I did.

I think it was mostly people were in such a hurry to get out of there, they just threw whatever was in their wallet on the table.

I was too tired and upset to eat my egg rolls.

Somehow, I managed to keep that job for a brief while, even though I actually had people come in and request any table but mine. One evening, I was the only one waiting tables, so the couple ordered their food to go.

Another evening, a couple wanted a Pu Pu Platter.

I talked them out of it when I explained me bringing them something that was actually on fire was far too risky for everyone in the restaurant.

I also cautioned them about soup – the lady really did have on a pretty blouse and I didn’t want to ruin it with Egg Drop.

I think they settled on something safe like fried rice and a side of wontons.

Eventually, I realized I couldn’t do it anymore. I was a klutz and a horrible waitress.

Seeing people watch me in horror was not my idea of how to spend my weekends.

No matter how lame it was to ride around, cruising the Piggly Wiggly without a real stereo, I had to quit.

I didn’t want to let Ms. Judy down.

I was the only waitress she had besides her two teen sons who weren’t always able to help.
Ms. Judy needed me.

I was going to give her a proper two weeks’ notice to find someone.

Ms. Judy took it a lot better than I thought.

“Thank God, I don’t have to fire you!” she exclaimed.

When I told her I would work a notice, she opened the register and handed me a twenty.
“It’s what you would have made in tips tonight,” she explained, insisting – make that pleaded – I not work a notice.

I am sure she actually came out ahead, given the fact she didn’t have to give customers free meals.

It was one of the hardest, most physically demanding jobs I have ever had.

I was terrible at it and knew it.

Dealing with the public is tough, too.

Anyone that deals with the public on any service level probably can attest to that – some folks are impossible to make happy, no matter what.

Some people just have a sour attitude and no amount of Kung Pao Chicken is going to change it.

And keep in mind, this isn’t just the regular public – it’s the hungry public. Even worse.

Even though it was tough, I am glad I did it.

I learned you can tell a lot about a person based on how they treat someone that is waiting on them.

“Do you think that is the hardest job you will ever have?” he asked.

I wasn’t sure. Our perceptions of what’s hard or difficult often depends on our level of aptitude and if we enjoy it.

There may be things in my future that are more difficult or maybe they’d be easier, I wasn’t sure.

But as long as it didn’t involve soup or setting food on fire, I should be fine.

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The power of forgiveness: Doing some self-work

 

I have been doing some self-work lately – a byproduct of trying to better myself these last few years.

I’ve been restless, anxious and felt stagnant, even when trying to take great strides in other areas.

Nothing I did was working the way I wanted it to.

I was frustrated and frankly, depressed. I fell into the trap of feeling sorry for myself and whining to Mama far too often.

I am sure any mama would tell you that’s part of their job, but my mama must have the patience of a saint given what she puts up with from me.

That, and it makes her feel bad because when I get in my pits of despair, it’s something she can’t talk me out of or help and every mama wants to “fix it” for their baby.

“Maybe if you moved closer to home, things would be better,” Mama said during my latest rant.

Of course, this is her answer for everything.

“I’ve tried,” I said, and I had. But, I reminded her, unless they had somehow hit the lottery, that was feeling more and more far-fetched.

I told her everyone I blamed for things not working out the way I thought they should. And Mama quietly listened.

Some of the folks I was blaming had long been out of my life – maybe even forgot I existed – but I was throwing all the blame on them.

Mama could understand. Trust me, if anyone can hold a grudge, it’s Mama. Granny taught her well.

When I finally took a breath, Mama was able to speak.

“I know you are going to hate this, because I am going to tell you what you need to do. But what you need to do is forgive.”

“What?”

“You need to forgive them. Let it all go, there is nothing that can be done about it anymore, but it’s hurting you. You need to let it go.”

Crazy talk, I declared. I was justified and I knew it.

But life has this divinely timed way of putting synchronicities in your path to illuminate a point.

Everything that crossed my path in the days following Mama’s advice was about forgiveness.

“Not forgiving someone is like drinking poison and expecting it to hurt the other person,” was one thing that popped up.

It seemed like all of my friends were discussing forgiveness and how the freedom it brought with it. Not for the other person, mind you; but for the one doing the forgiving.

It doesn’t mean you condone what they did. It doesn’t mean it was OK, or that you will allow it to happen again.

It means you don’t want to carry around the emotional baggage of it anymore.

I am reading a book and just a few chapters in, is a chapter on forgiveness.

The author says imagine you have a river full of everything you want flowing to you – all the goodness, joy, happiness – is on its way, until unforgiveness blocks the path.

The book also said to forgive everyone. To make a list.

It’s a process – believe me.

I started making my list.

But I started my list and then realized I was focusing on the situation and finding fault – pointing fingers and placing blame.

Rehashing the situation only proved to make me relive it and feel those emotions all over again. I stopped, and just wrote the names instead.

Another quote that came across my screen said sometimes what someone does has nothing to do with you, but is solely about them.

So maybe the people who had been rude, hateful and spiteful were merely working on their own stuff.

Maybe the bosses were jerks because of how they had been treated, and not anything I had done.

Maybe the reason someone hurt me wasn’t because I was unworthy – but their own feelings of unworthiness.

Maybe, just maybe, the only reason I was in the situation to begin with, was so I could learn a lesson and how to forgive later.

I thought about my list, and wondered…if any of the people on there had forgiven me.

I hoped they had; not for my sake, but for theirs.

Because once you experience how it feels to quit carrying those hurts around, you hope whoever you may have hurt can feel that way as well.

Again, it’s a process.

I am sure there will be new opportunities to forgive, people will hurt my feelings, I will get upset, and new names will be added to the list.

But you know what?

I’m going to forgive them, too. After all, it’s for me – not them.

 

Girls that breathe fire, and men who respect them

A recent open letter on the Internet has gone viral, in which an Atlanta mom revealed she was going to raise her daughters to believe they breathed fire.

It was in response to the recent revelation that Josh Duggar had cheated on his wife, Anna.

The mother talked about how she would raise her daughters to be empowered instead of repressed. She would teach them to stand up for themselves and be strong, independent women.

Mama may not have realized she was raising me to breathe fire, but she did. And she was a fire-breather herself, complete with the red hair and the Virginia Slim 120.

I was taught, rightly or wrongly, that my worth was not based on who I married. Or if I even married.

When I first entered college and was picking a major, someone commented: “Oh, so you are getting your M.R.S.”

“What degree is that?” I asked.

The lady looked at me and rolled her eyes, “You’re just here looking for a husband.”

No, not really. I was there to learn. I just hadn’t decided on a major yet.

I know some women who did do that though. I met a few women who told me they were raised to marry a doctor or a lawyer.

Unlike them, I was raised to be a doctor or lawyer. The fact that I am not either is one Mama reminds me of constantly.

Women are worth a lot more than just their career or education level though.

We forget we have any worth when we are repressed, suppressed and suffer abuse in any form. I think the verbal abuse can be one of the worst; being told repeatedly we are nothing, stupid, and worthless.

I have seen women suppressed to the point they lose their voice, their identity, their soul. While I fully believe that raising daughters to be strong women is important, we’re forgetting something else: How we raise our sons.

Do we raise our sons to perpetuate the male roles that can typically be more dominant or do we raise our sons to be kind and respectful towards women.

I’ve seen parents of other boys pushing their sons to use might, and force and criticizing them for being emotional.

I’ve heard my own husband tell Cole he had to be more aggressive, a point that caused me to shoot flames of my own.

“That is largely what is wrong with the world,” I stated emphatically. “This whole male aggression thing is out of hand, and Cole won’t be a part of it.”

I know he was inferring Cole needed to get more aggressive in sports; my child, however, is too kind and compassionate to be aggressive. I told this to Lamar, as well as pointing out that once Cole’s competitive streak kicked in, he would be fine in sports.

Aggressive and competitiveness are two different things and I’d rather my child be competitive.

It’s a matter of teaching boys that might doesn’t make right, that just because they are male, they are not superior, and that everyone should be treated with respect.

If all the mothers of boys were able to raise their sons to be kind and compassionate – free of any pressure to fit some antiquated alpha male stereotypes-they may empower the women in their life to be strong, independent and have high self-esteem.

It’s a matter of teaching our sons that women shouldn’t be called those derogatory terms they often are.

It’s showing boys how to respect girls, and if a girl says no, she means no; if a girl, or any person for that matter, feels insecure, how to give them confidence instead of taking advantage of the insecurity.

It’s a matter of treating others-everyone- with respect.

I think my child has a good grasp on this so far.

When we discussed the news one evening, and I simplified the events, Cole began his many, many questions. The one that stood out the most: “How would they feel if someone treated his daughter that way?”

I know I am raising my child to be gentle, to be loving, to be kind. One day, he will marry and have children, and I want him passing that on them.

I hope that whoever is raising his future wife is teaching her to be loving, supportive and to have a good heart.

I hope she will also be strong and independent, but if she’s not, I know my child has come from a long line of fire-breathing women and will encourage her to be a strong woman and help her feel confident. As long as he doesn’t tell her his Mama would do something a certain way, he’ll probably do great.

We do have to do better by our daughters.

We do that by teaching our sons better.

Before you go

Death has come far too frequently as of late.

It seems like every time we watch the news, a terrible tragedy has happened.

Friends have lost loved ones. Strangers have lost loved ones.

I’ve lost loved ones.

Death has just become far too familiar, bringing temporary reminders of how fragile life is.

Then the numbness fades somewhat and life goes on, until death pays another visit.

And we’re filled with regrets for things said, unsaid, done, and undone.

For 10 years, Granny and I had waged a war – over what, I wasn’t fully certain, but it was a full-on bitter war.

She got mad at me one day, to the point I walked out of the house and was standing outside, shaking I was so mad.

“Let it go, baby,” my uncle tried to calm me down.

“She’s hateful. The most hateful, meanest creature God ever wobbled a gut in,” I spat. “I’m not going back in there.”

I didn’t either, leaving that day with Lamar and Cole and headed back to the mountains.

My visits became less frequent.

“I wish you’d come visit more,” Mama would say.

“If that old woman hadn’t been so hateful to me, I might, Mama.”

When she answered the phone, I kept it brief, asking to speak to Mama. I was hurt, angry, upset – what had made her react so hatefully to me that day?

It was if I wasn’t her only grandchild, but some stranger. And her words had hurt me to the point I just distanced myself further and further.

“You should talk to Granny,” Lamar would say gently on our way home from our visits.

I would shrug it off. Even after her outburst that day, she had said some pretty terrible things about me to Mama.

“I don’t really have anything to say to her,” I said quietly.

And in my mind, the old gal never apologized for being a horse’s butt so I never got over it. We both were stubborn that way.

The grudge went on for nearly 10 years, neither of us really budging.

A month before she passed, we had visited when we went to get Ava.

Lamar still says Ava was part of a divine intervention making us see Granny that one last time.

While we were there, Lamar spent most of the time outside with Ava, unsure how the new German shepherd would do with the menagerie of cats my Mama and uncle had rescued.

As we left, I gave Granny a short, sideways hug – the kind you give folks you consider acquaintances, not family and definitely not the grandmother that helped raise you.

She sat in the doorway in her wheelchair, and watched us leave.

A month later, she was gone.

The day before, Mama said Granny was not doing well.

“I don’t know if she’s going to make it much longer,” Mama said.

And I, still dwelling in a pool of unforgiveness and anger, didn’t act like I cared.

Or rather, I cared, but it was too late.

I don’t even know if that last time I saw her if I told her I loved her.

Lamar has said if he had known that was the last time he would see her, he would stop the car, and go back in, maybe just see if we could stay the night there with her.

“I thought she’d live forever,” I said. “I thought I had time….”

Time to forgive her, time to let go, time to spend with her again.

It would never make up for the nearly 10 years that were lost; they were lost for good.

People have told me afterwards how much Granny loved me even though the past several years it didn’t seem that way.

She never said anything to me that was kind, never praised me that I heard.

Maybe she thought she had time, too.

Time to apologize for her hurtful words, time to make amends.

Just time.

It’s been said we never know what will happen, or when, and we don’t.

We may think we have tomorrow to make that call, to reach out and tomorrow may never come for either of us.

Forgive those who love you.

Release those old hurts.

Tell people how you feel – if they mean anything to you, they deserve the good, the bad and the ugly feelings because it shows you care.

And, before you go, hug them, and tell them just how much you love them, because it may be your very last time.