Begrudgingly Holding onto a Grudge (3/30/2016)

The other day, the unthinkable happened.

I ran into someone I hadn’t seen in a while and just like Ouiser Bodreaux did with Drum Eatenton, I smiled at them before I caught myself.

“Mama,” Cole whispered as we hurried past them, “I thought you didn’t like them.”

“I don’t,” I said, quieting him before he could say anything else.

Nursing a grudge is something the women in my family are able to do with a fierceness.

Granny’s version was swift and without yielding.

Mama’s grudge could be just as immediate but she had her moments of compassion and second chances, to which my grandmother would say: “You wasting time and energy, Jean. Go on and get to hatin’.”

Granny often had fairly valid reasons for her grudges, or spites, as she would often call them. She had one sister that she swore had been out to get her since birth and she may have been right. The two seemed to have lived to annoy each other.

“I reckon I love her because she’s my sister, but it don’t mean I like her,” Granny said once, recounting how her sister, Bonnie, had always wormed her way out of chores and leaving Granny to do double duty.

Granny carried that grudge long after her sister died and is probably still nursing it in the great beyond.

Mama once got her feelings hurt when we went to see someone who wasn’t home, after they said they would be.

As much as I tried to tell her maybe something had come up or they had just ran out, Mama wouldn’t hear it.

Instead of looking at the years she had known the person, she took one isolated incident and turned it into a great big grudge. She grew considerably cool towards the person, not speaking to them for years.

“They knew we were coming,” she would say as her defense.

“Mama, mistakes happen. Maybe they got the day wrong, or the time. You didn’t say, ‘We’d be there at 3:30,’ you just said, ‘Hey, we may stop by.'”

She would not listen to a word I had to say.

Her grudge was set and it was staying that way.

Grudges, according to Mama and Granny, were a form of self-preservation, shielding us from those who had wronged us.

A grudge, when properly held, could be passed down through generations with Shakespearian depth to the point the original cause of the grudge had been long forgotten.

Or at the very least, blown way out of proportion.

So there I had stood, listening to this person yapping away like they had not made my life a living purgatory.

Mama still loathes this person to this day.

“If your grandmother had known how they treated you, she would still be spiting them from her grave. Maybe even haunt them,” Mama said when I told her I had run into this person.

Despite Mama’s disdain for this person, she is also the one telling me to forgive or try to see the other person’s perspective. A bit rich considering she is still holding out a spite because she was asked to have Granny make something for a covered dish supper once.

“Not me, mind you; they didn’t want me to make anything. They wanted Granny to and that’s the only reason I was invited – to get Granny’s cooking!”

Even though I had planned all kinds of things to say to this person, not the first one rolled past my lips.

I had smiled and nodded, instead of telling them everything I had thought, and everything I had said about them over the years.

And there had been plenty, believe me.

“Mama, why were you nice to them?” Cole asked me later.

I thought of how maybe this person’s life wasn’t what they had wanted it to be and they had dealt with their own battles over the years.

I had heard a few things from mutual acquaintances over the years and yes, there had been those passing thoughts that maybe karma was kicking their tail.

Even though I thought it, that doesn’t mean it made me feel good.

Instead of cursing them as Granny would have, or bristling before telling them I had nothing to say to them as Mama would, I had exchanged pleasantries and tried to wish them well while I did, even if it pained me to do so.

Let me emphasize the “tried” part because I was a little bit upset at myself that I didn’t tell them what I truly thought.

“Sometimes, you just have to kill someone with kindness,” I answered.

I wasn’t really sure if I believed that or not.

But, it was begrudgingly, the grown up thing to do.

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Don’t Make Me Get My Mama (3/23/2016)

My earliest memories of my Mama convinced me being a mother was the closest thing to being either a superhero or a one-person Mafioso.

I can recall recounting something my first grade teacher (who hated me, by the way) had said to me on the way home; Mama turned that Monte Carlo around like something out of “Smokey and the Bandit” and hightailed it back to the school to confront the woman.

The evil woman was scared. I was amazed – Mama was a skinny little waif of a thing then but she was putting the fear of the devil in this hardened woman who looked like she was carved on Mount Rushmore.

A deep epiphany came over me that day. Mama, and not just Granny, was to be feared.

Even though that dreadful woman hated me, she pretty much gave me a wide berth after that, until one day she made another derogatory comment to me. Remembering the way she had reacted that fateful day, I narrowed my eyes and clenched my jaw.

“Don’t make me get my Mama,” I said.

It worked.

Over the course of the next several years, Mama became legendary – a parental “John Wick,” if you will, minus the artillery. Her weapons were her tongue, her big puffy red bouffant, and the fact she was right. And God forbid if anyone disparaged her Kitten. She went from a relatively reserved, quiet peace-loving lady who dared not offend a soul into a hellcat with claws.

When one high school science teacher, who seemed to take pride in how many of us failed his weekly quizzes, decided to point out one of my friend’s test scores in front of the class, my friend replied, “Don’t make me get Sudie’s Mama up here. I will.”

The teacher looked at him and laughed. “In case you forgot, you’re not her child.”

“Yeah, well, she will still come up here if I call her. Don’t make me call her.”

“Would she?” the teacher asked, directing the question to me.

I nodded. She would.

She did, too. I told her what the teacher did and the next morning, she was in the principal’s office, telling him making fun of a student in front of his peers was not conducive for learning and created a hostile educational environment. If it was wrong, it was wrong, and Mama couldn’t stand for injustice.

We had a new teacher the following semester.

Flash forward to my senior trip. Two friends and I had decided to go to Panama City. Mama was fully against this, saying we were too young to go out of state.

Granny, always on my side, snorted and said, “When you was her age, you was already married and divorced. Let the youngun’ go. She’s gotta live a little before life sucks the joy right out of her.”

The morning after we graduated, we hit the road, arriving at a hotel that took our money but didn’t give us a room.

Here we were; three girls completely out of our elements and miles away from home.

I pulled out the only thing I knew could work. I sidled up to the counter, looked that clerk in the eye and said, “Don’t make me call my Mama.”

One of my friends whispered, “I don’t think they know about your Mama here in PCB.”

“No, we don’t know about your Mama. And we don’t care. Your Mama can’t do anything,” the greasy man sneered.

And you know what? For the first time in my life, when I told Mama about it, Mama didn’t do anything.

When we went home two days later – because we realized we were too young to be miles and miles away from home without our mamas—I told Mama what happened. She pursed her lips together, her grey-green eyes flashed first with anger, then worry, and she nodded silently while I told her the horrors I had endured.

“I am so sorry,” she finally said when I finished.

“I got the name of the hotel and the name of the mean clerk for you,” I told her.

“I don’t need it,” she said. “You see, Kitten, you wanted to go off and be all grown. I thought you were far too young to go off with your friends without an adult. Had you maybe listened to me, and not gone, this wouldn’t have happened.”

The woman who lived to defend and protect her precious Kitten was not going to unleash her locusts in another state? What in the world was wrong with her?

“So, you aren’t going to do anything, Mama?”

“Not this time,” she said. “You wanted to be all grown and independent. Part of being grown means taking care of your own problems.”

Of course, since I have grown up, Mama will still launch an attack if anyone wrongs her only child. She has threatened to come up here on numerous occasions when I have told her of some injustices.

And I admit, there’s sometimes, I wish I could just let Mama handle some stuff.

As a parent myself, I am trying to teach my child how to handle his own issues. The other day, after exploring every possible option to get a game to save, he asked for the phone. “Who are you calling?” I asked.

“Their customer service department,” he said.

“Do you want – ”

“No, Mama, I got this. I’m 11, you know, I can take care of it.”

He scurried off to leave a message for tech support. They called back within 10 minutes.

“Wow,” I said. “That was quick! They must have excellent customer service.”

“Maybe. Or maybe it was what I said when I left my message.”

“What did you say?” I asked.

“I told them I had spent my money I saved up on this and needed to know how to make it work. But I think the kicker was, “Don’t make me get my Mama.””

The legend undoubtedly continues.

 

By all means, let’s get offended (3/16/2016)

I am not the type that is easily offended.

It’s not that I have some thick skin; I don’t. I am tenderhearted and my feelings can get hurt rather easily.

However, when it comes to being offended, I normally don’t take offense that quickly.

But being offended is almost rampant these days – everyone takes great umbrage over every little statement and nuance.

Once, someone had called my family rednecks. I was horrified – sure, my grandparents were blue collar workers but rednecks?

I expected Granny to retaliate in a fiery fashion, with her own brand of fire and brimstone.

Nothing.

Not even a word.

The old gal didn’t even bat a lash.

“Why didn’t that make you angry?” I asked.

She shrugged. “Why in the heck should I get angry? I didn’t find no truth in it.”

“But they said –”

“I know what they said. And that person don’t mean nothing to me. Their words are just words and have no power in my life. If it ain’t true, it ain’t true and there ain’t no need in me getting all tore up about it.”

Instead of getting upset, Granny chose to ignore it.

Now, if they had said she was a horrible cook, her biscuits were rocks, and her turkey was dry, Granny’s response may have been much different.

But the opinion was that we were rednecks.

Granny had long declared we was a bunch of hillbillies, with roots deep in the Appalachia that may have grown deep before the hills were even here. Rednecks, we were not; hillbillies, we were proud to be.

Her response stayed with me over the years.

When someone called me an ugly word one day, it rolled off my back.

It wasn’t true so I didn’t give it any power.

As someone gave their opinion on another topic that could have resonated with me, I didn’t respond.

“I’m sorry, did I offend you?” they asked.

First of all, we all know if they are asking after the fact, they knew good and darn well what they said may have not been delivered in a gesture of loving kindness.

It was meant to be a jab, a veiled insult that was supposed to get a rise out of everyone in their listening vicinity.

I shook my head. “Not at all.”

Following Granny’s lead years before, I wasn’t giving their words any power.

Even though what they said could have caused pain, I didn’t let it. I chose to not pay it any attention.

I know the old playground nursery rhyme tells us that sticks and stones may break our bones but words will never hurt us and that is absolutely not true. Words can and do hurt, sometimes more so than any twigs or rocks. But the sting is much less when the words hold no truth.

“What does it mean when someone is offended, Mama? Are their feelings just hurt really bad?” Cole asked, hearing me describe a situation where someone was offended.

What does it really mean – to be offended? If we are offended, it typically means we are angry or displeased with something. It doesn’t mean we are right or the other person is right. It is our reaction.

“It means something upset us and we don’t agree with it,” was my answer.

“So if someone eats pork and I don’t – because it’s Piggie – am I right in being offended?”

“You could be offended. Or, you could choose to say that is their choice. We may not agree with it but it is their personal choice just as we choose not to eat Piggie.”

A friend recently said she was offended by something a celebrity said and asked me if I was offended by it.

I think I offended her when I told her no, I hadn’t really given it much thought.

“You should. You should be outraged by what they said!”

I considered this for a moment. “By me being offended, what does that accomplish really?”

She had no reply.

“Will it change their opinion, or make them apologize? More importantly – change their hearts? No. It won’t. All it will do is create anger and strife in my life. If I am going to get all up and bajiggedy, it will be over something important. Not someone’s opinion.”

We have 100’s of opportunities to be offended every day. We also have the choice to not be.

Maybe it’s that hillbilly perseverance, but I am reserving my right to only be offended over things that really matter. Not the things that don’t.

You can be right or you can be happy (3/9/16)

Have you ever noticed how everyone has to be right?

It’s a battle for who gets the final word, the applause, and usually, the most ‘likes’ on their Facebook comment.

Everyone thinks their opinion is the right one and want everyone to know it.

But you know what?

Sometimes, folks ain’t right.

And trying to declare their rightness can often be alienating.

It’s even worse when it’s something silly that can be fact-checked by Google.

My child and I got into a disagreement about what happened on an episode of ‘The Goldbergs.’

Cole insisted the episode about the hover board was the same episode where the family started eating at the Chinese restaurant, much to the mother’s chagrin.

“I don’t think so,” I said. “I think the hover board one is a different one.”

“No, it was the same one,” he said.

“No,” I replied. “I really think those two stories were in a separate episode.”

His lips set in a thin line. “No,” he said slowly, readying for a battle. “It’s the same episode.”

I could tell by his tone, he was taking this to the mattresses.

Cole went for the remote and pulled up Hulu, finding the episode.

“Ah ha!” he declared. “See!” He pointed to the TV. “See – Adam Goldberg is on the hover board and then, they are eating at Dave Kim’s mama’s Chinese restaurant.”

I just realized we watch this show way too much.

“I don’t believe it,” he continued. “I was right.  And you were wrong! Wow – has that happened before? Seriously. Have you ever been wrong before, Mama?”

I said nothing but went to my chair. Cole was quite proud for besting his mother. He gets this need to be right honestly; it’s part of our DNA to the point it is congenital.

“I may need to call Nennie and tell her about this,” he commented.
“You will do no such of a thing!” I said. If he told Mama I was wrong, it would throw the whole paradigm I had sustained for the past decade off kilter.

“You love telling her when she’s wrong, she may want to know you are sometimes wrong.”

“No.” Emphatically, insistently, demandingly – no.

You know what that child did? He called his Nennie and told her.

I could hear my Mama laughing all the way from her house over two hours away.

“I’m glad you are enjoying this,” I said.
“I’m just amazed I was right and you were wrong, Mama. When was the last time you were wrong?”

I’ve been wrong plenty, I just don’t like to announce it. And it’s not that I am always right, I am just usually less wrong than the other person.

It’s easy to be right on many occasions. I keep copious notes on every stinkin’ thing, research ridiculous details, and I pay attention.

Apparently, my child does the same thing as well.

“You know, it’s not nice to rub in being right,” I reminded him.

“You do it though,” he said.

“No, I don’t.”

“Yes, you do, Mama.”

I sighed. Being proved wrong again within 20 minutes was inevitable.

“It’s still not very nice to boast you were right, Cole. It’s rude.”

“I’m not trying to be rude, Mama,” he said earnestly. “I am just excited I was right. That usually doesn’t happen.”

“I didn’t realize my being wrong would make you so happy,” I said.
“I’m not happy, but I was right.”

This is how the need to be right begins. We get that one taste of it and it is oh, so good that we crave it.

I thought of Dr. Phil’s phrase, “You can be right or you can be happy,” – one that my own Mama has used quite often over the years. In my situation, it was clear the TV doctor was wrong. Being right equaled being happy. And I wasn’t happy right about now.

A few days later, as we were heading somewhere, MapQuest told Lamar to take an unfamiliar exit to circumnavigate traffic. Lamar didn’t listen.

“You should have turned back there,” I said as we came to a standstill. He said nothing; I kind of knew how he felt but, I had to say it.

As we inched along, we were given another exit to take.
“Would you take it?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said. “Take it.”

At first, it seemed like it was a huge mistake – we were taking crazy side roads and making what seemed to be some odd square.

“I don’t think this is going to help. We have no idea where we are. If anything, we are getting more lost and there’s no telling where we are going to end up,” he said.

Inside, I was worried about the same thing but didn’t voice that concern. “No, it is going to spit us out below whatever caused the gridlock and we’ll be fine.”

“Are you sure?” he asked.
I wasn’t sure but I said I was.

A few minutes later, we were back on our route with traffic flowing.

“Mama, you were right!” Cole cried. “See, Daddy, Mama’s always right. She was right this time and it helped us!”

When I’m right, I’m happy.

And that doesn’t happen very often.

 

What to give up for Lent (3/2/2016)

Growing up Baptist, Lent was not something we did.

We didn’t dance, we hid the wine my Granny used in her fruitcakes, and we didn’t do Lent.

Don’t ask me why, I don’t know.

I remember one of my friends asking me in maybe 5th or 6th grade what I was giving up for Lent.

I gave her a long blank stare for two solid minutes – I didn’t want to look like I was so uncool I had missed out on some super trend of giving something up for this never before heard event.

“I haven’t decided yet,” I said.

She was shocked and maybe a little horrified. It was the second week and I hadn’t decided on my sacrifice.

“Um…sacrifice? What do you mean exactly?”

“You give something up for 40 days to symbolize the 40 days Jesus fasted,” she said.

“Does it have to be food?” I asked.

“Well, I guess it could be something else but usually, it’s food related. I’m giving up chocolate.”

I shook my head empathically. “I’m Baptist; we don’t give up food.”

Us Baptists were not going to give up the opportunity to fry –or subsequently eat – something for any length of time, let alone 40 days. The best way to get the preacher to stop the sermon on time or maybe a few minutes early was to know our fellowship hall tables were loaded down with potluck dishes.

I asked Granny about Lent later that week.

“We don’t do that,” was all she said.

I was surprised to find out we didn’t partake in these traditions that others did. It made me feel a little bit like the rest of the world was doing this great important thing and we were left out.

I mentioned this to Granny and she said, “We Baptist. We just don’t do Lent, and that’s that.”

Mama didn’t have a good answer either, saying, “Lent is something people follow leading up to Easter.”

“Why don’t we do it?”

“We’re Baptist.”

Apparently, us being Baptist was our answer for everything we couldn’t come up with a better explanation for.

We may have had our Red Velvet Cake and our Hershey bars but were we missing out on being a part of something greater than us?

As I grew older, I found myself visiting other churches to find out more about some of those differences and found myself drawn to Episcopal, Presbyterian, and the Methodist faiths before settling on the latter. Upon doing so, I found myself learning about things I had missed out on – with Lent just being one.

I found out about Shrove Tuesday – a day to eat pancakes for supper. My grandfather would have loved that.

And I found out a little bit more about Lent.

The more I found out, the more confused I grew.

I don’t see how me giving up my Dove bars would mean anything spiritually speaking. It may make me drop a few pounds but I don’t think it represents anything to Jesus at all.

So when Lent rolled around and everyone started talking about what to give up, I still didn’t have an answer beyond my two minute blank stare.

“Red meat,” was one suggestion someone gave me.

I haven’t had red meat in months so that was out.

“What about bread?” was another. Nope, gave that up years ago.

“Coffee?”

My blood type is pretty much Dark Italian roast, so no. And people may get hurt.

Wine, chocolate, gum, and Keanu Reeves binge-a-thons (my child’s suggestion for me) were all offered as reasonable things to give up for Lent.

I stalled by saying I would give up something meaningful and significant.

And I hope I have.

Instead of chocolate, wine, or Keanu, I wanted to give up something that would make a difference.

Old grudges, jealousy, and bitterness seemed like better alternatives to me.

I was going to try to forgive a little quicker, and judge less — a bad trait I have that was passed down through generations.

I thought it might work and that it would mean a little more spiritually than leaving off candy for 40 days.

I told Mama my intentions. She thought they sounded good but questioned if I could stick to them.

She knew I couldn’t go without my food vices, but she wondered about these just as much.

“You really think you are going to give up grudges for Lent?”

“I have,” I told her. “And being judgmental. Maybe even sarcasm, too.”

“You think that will work?”

I honestly wasn’t sure. A few days later, I called her to give her an update.

“Mama, bad news. I don’t think I can do this,” I said.

“Why’s that?” she asked.

“Because, it’s just harder than I thought.”

“What’s making it so hard?”

I sighed. How could I explain?

“If I give up grudges and all that stuff, then some people are going to have to give up being jerks for Lent first.”

Mama was silent for a while. “I’m still Baptist, Kitten, so this is all new to me, but I don’t think that’s how this works.”

It may not be, but it would make these remaining days easier.

Probably make the rest of the year easier, too.