The Abbreviated Summer (8/24/2016)

Summer won’t be officially over until September 5, when we put all our white shoes and linen pants away.

But, summer was really over a week or so ago when school started.

“Summer’s over?” my child said, exasperated one Sunday evening when he was told he had to start the next day. “I literally just got out!”

It sure felt like it. Compared to the summers of my youth, his were over in a blink of an eye.

When I was his age, summer seemed eternal.

Somethings I didn’t like. I wasn’t a fan of the heat, we never went on vacation and with Mama working nights, my mornings were spent poking her multiple times until she woke up.

But somethings were so simple, I realize now how perfect they were.

A big deal for me was Mama taking a friend and me to the movies every summer, sitting a safe distance away so as to give us an air of independence while keeping a watchful eye.

Somehow, Mama always fell just trying to get up from her seat.

She claimed it was because she had a hard time adjusting to the light after sitting in the dark for two hours; I always replied her feet and the ability to move them had nothing to do with the lighting.

More than likely, it had something to do with the fact she was a tad bit clutzy. But picking Mama up from the popcorn shrapnel and sticky stuff we hoped was only Mellow Yellow was as much as a tradition as the summer blockbuster.

There were evenings sitting in the living room with the back door opened, listening to the crickets while we snapped peas.

It just took a few moments for me and Granny to find a rhythm that matched the cadence of the bugs humming in the night.

It could be hot and miserable, but somehow sitting with Granny as we snapped and shucked corns and shelled peas, it didn’t bother us much.

Even though this was work – Granny often put most of our evening efforts into the freezer for the winter – to me, it was the best fun I could have.

Sometimes, she’d make homemade ice cream for us, or her sweetened milk, taking regular milk and adding sugar, vanilla and ice.

My days were spent at the big library in town, sometimes, I even poked Mama enough while she was asleep that we got there before they opened and I was one of the first to walk in and smell all the knowledge on the shelves. I’d check out books by the stacks and spend my days curled up in the chair with my cat reading.

Of course, maybe my favorite summer activity was just the little joy rides Mama and I would take.
They always started at The Store to get gas in her little blue Ford Escort and to get ice cold Cokes out of the chest freezer – in the glass bottle, thank you – and packs of peanuts.

We were cool before Barbara Mandrell claimed she was.

Off we’d go, through the backroads of Oconee County, riding into Morgan County and eventually Clarke County. Mama loved nothing more than finding some old country road, usually one lined with picket fences and thick trees and discovering where they went, so that was how we spent many dusky summer evenings.

And we didn’t go back until after Labor Day, not the beginning of August.

“Why is my summer so short?” Cole asked, wanting more time.

“I don’t know,” I replied. I really wasn’t sure. It made no sense to me and I would love for him to have the long breaks like I did.

But he’s already been back in school for two weeks now.

Good thing my summer was much longer; there wouldn’t have been enough time to enjoy it all.

The Undergrad Continuum (8/17/2016)

The last few days, I have watched friends I graduated high school with ready their children for college.

I am not sure how this is possible since 1991 was really only 5 years ago so this seems to defy the laws of time.

But there they are, dropping off kids at their dorms hours away and into impending adulthood.

And it dawned on me: they are still babies.

Sure, when I graduated high school, I was ready to take on the world.

I think it mainly stemmed from being young and foolish enough to think I was invincible and that I was going to solve the world’s problems.

I knew everything, too.

Lord, have mercy at the depths and expanse of my omnipotent knowledge or lack thereof.

“I’m not quite sure why you going to school; you know everything,” Granny snorted one day.

I really thought I did.

So much so that I dropped out after my first quarter of paralegal studies because the classes started too early.

“Who can think that cussed early in the morning?” I asked.

Granny was furious; Mama, said nothing at first, until she got the phone bill. It was $8,926,274.12.

Or at least you would have thought it was given the hissy fit the crazy redhead pitched.

“Since you are taking some time to find yourself, you can find a job in the meantime,” she announced with aplomb one afternoon.

“I am your child; I should be able to reflect and be introspective on what I want to be when I grow up,” was my response.

“I can’t think of any better way to find out what you want to be than to learn what you sure don’t want.” She tossed the paper on my bed. “There’s the want ads; find yourself a job by the end of this week or the phone will be thrown out.”

She always struck a low blow, threatening my phone, my life line to the outer world beyond the graffiti walls of my bedroom.

I sighed. I had to get a job.

How was I going to find myself if I had to get a job?

But find one I did, waitressing during the lunch rush at a local restaurant.

When I complained about being tired and how customers were rude and demanding, Mama just asked me if I was ready to go back to school.

“I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be. It’s not fair to make an 18-year-old figure out what they want to be the rest of their life,” I told her, stomping into my room.

The next phone bill was $9,308, 237.11. (This was when it was long distance to call everywhere except your city and my future ex-husband was at school, 2 hours away.)

“You need to get another job,” Mama said, tossing the paper on my bed again.
“What!? Why?” I whined. “I can’t work another job!”

“Then get one full time job,” she said. “You only work part-time and aren’t in school; you can get another one. Or I will yank the phone out of the wall.”

So I got another job. And another.

I think at one time, I had about 37 part-time jobs.

I was exhausted.

“I’m going back to school,” I whined one day. “This working thing is killing me.”

“Have you figured out what you want to be when you grow up?” she asked.

Oh, heavens no. But I had a clear idea of what I didn’t.

The thought of sharing a communal shower and a room smaller than the one I grew up in did not appeal to me, so I commuted four days a week for four years.

When I graduated that sweltering hot day in June, I just knew I was officially grown and ready to take the world by storm. Before, I thought I was ready; now I was.

I walked out of the Macon auditorium and it hit me: I was really still just a baby.

I didn’t even know how to turn on utilities, how was I going to take on the world?

I was scared and didn’t know what I was doing but again, armed with foolish bravado I thought I could do anything. I’d figure it out, right?
Thankfully, I had the fallacy of my youth on my side to help cushion my errors.

But, it was that year off that helped me grow the most.
Mama taught me the most important lessons of all; she knew working some hard jobs would be good for me, would teach me how to deal with the public, and help me figure out what I wanted to be. She didn’t let me just wallow in my own ruminations either; she is not one to entertain apathy.

She let me think I knew everything while she quietly showed me I didn’t.

She also knew it would keep me off the phone so the bill didn’t go up into the billions.

As I think of all the college freshmen starting school this month, I think they have the whole world ahead of them and I envy that time in their lives.

It’s a scary, exciting, exhilarating time, and I am sure a few probably feel like that they know everything, like I did.

And at least, briefly, for a while, they will.

 

All Creatures Great and Small (8/10/2016)

“Mama,” the tone in his voice let me know something was wrong.

“What is it?” I asked.

I opened the bathroom door to find my son standing there, eyes full of pain. “One of the dogs stepped on this beautiful butterfly outside. They killed it. It was an accident, but…”

My heart pulled towards his tender heart, worrying about the butterfly.

“Would you feel better if we found it and buried it?”

He nodded, his eyes glistening with tears.

We walked out on the porch and Cole found the yellow and black butterfly almost immediately. “Here it is,” he said, his voice full of sadness.

I couldn’t tell if it was a Monarch or a Viceroy but it was gorgeous. I am pretty sure it was the one that had been out in the yard just a few days before, flitting around to greet us and nearly landing on my shoulder. The thought it may have been the same one somehow made me feel even sadder, as if we losing someone we knew.

I bent down to get it up and noticed it twitched its wings.

“It’s alive!” Cole cried.

Indeed, it was.

I righted it to its legs but it couldn’t fly. Its wings were too crumpled and damaged but it was alive.

“Can you fix a broken wing?” Cole asked me.

“I don’t know if that’s possible,” I told him.

“I’m going to Google it!” he said and off he ran to find out.

I looked for something to try to pick it up with that wouldn’t hurt it. I knew butterflies to be fragile and delicate.

I was able to balance it on a piece of paper but it wanted to crawl into my hands – was it just wanting what all of us want when we’re hurt, a compassionate touch? It was frantically moving its legs, as if it was wanting to make sure I could see it was alive.
But I worried about touching the wings, hearing all my life that if you touched their wings it would kill them.

I couldn’t remember but I wanted to make sure I didn’t do more harm than good.

When I was a little girl, I always tried to save little moths, finding them and trying to keep them safe and being so heartbroken when they ended up dying.

Cole had rescued a grasshopper a few years ago that appeared to have a broken leg and when it died, we both cried as we buried it.

I didn’t want to hurt it, even though it was quite insistent about wanting to be held.

Lifting it up closer, I noticed it had a face. At tiny, inquisitive, knowing face.

It was a little soul, just with wings.

Not much different than the mother opossum my uncle fed that time he found out it was eating the cat’s food. He had watched to see what was getting it, then followed it to find a dozen tiny babies.

Granny, not being as compassionate and being raised in a totally different time with a totally different attitude, promptly said, “Kill it.”

My uncle was horrified. “I’ll do no such of a thing, Mama,” he began. “She’s just trying to find food so she can feed her babies.”

Granny snorted her disapproval. “Then there’s just going to be more of them. You need to take care of ‘em of all – now.”

The only times my uncle ever told Granny ‘no’ was about animals and this was one of them. “I’m not; these are God’s creatures, just like you and me, and I am going to feed them.”

Granny couldn’t argue with that, so she just muttered something about how if he got rabies, he was going to wish he had listened to her.

Those little opossums grew up and went on their opossum way. Bobby often worried if he saw one hit, if it had been one he had fed.

Cole bounced back out, telling me there was a way to repair the wings but he wasn’t sure if we could do it. I looked at the information myself and did not feel the confidence to do it. “It looks like they can live with crippled wings, Mama,” he said. “As long as their body is not hurt, they can live.”

We got a pickle jar and put paper towels in it to cushion it. I mixed honey with water and put it on a paper towel for it to drink.

“What should we name her?” Cole asked.

“What do you want to name her?”

He thought for a moment. “Princess Diana. You always said you loved her.”

I smiled.
“What if she’s a boy?” Cole asked.

“Harry,” I said. “I like Prince William, too, but I have always adored Harry.”

I called Mama to tell her we had a butterfly in our menagerie now and I didn’t know where to find an entomologist.
“Maybe call UGA?” she suggested.

For once, I listened to my Mama and called.

The man assured me what I was doing was right and suggested I put her in a bigger jar.  I asked him how long her lifespan was. The scientist, probably sensing I was already attached, gently told me 1 to 2 weeks, with 4 being the longest.

That was not long enough for such beauty to exist, I thought solemnly.

I found her a much bigger home, a huge apothecary jar I bought years ago and never used. I put fresh paper towels in, and we added some leaves and branches for her. We left the top open with a laundry mesh over it so she could get plenty of air.

She likes to be in the window to get sun, and she loves classical music.

It’s been 5 days as I write this.

She’s losing more and more of her wings. But she’s still moving and waving, and will put her front legs up to my hand when I put it on the glass.

“How long do you think she will make it?” Cole asked.

I wasn’t sure.

“But, at least she will be loved while she’s here with us, won’t she?” he said.

“Yes,” I said.
Because that’s what all creatures – big or small – deserve.

 

Open mouth, insert the whole leg (8/3/2016)

Granny used to embarrass the stew out of us.
She didn’t care if what she said offended someone either.

If it was on her mind, it usually came out of her mouth.

When she met someone I worked with years ago, she pointed out he was old and bald.

A few years after that, she met a friend of mine and promptly told her she was overweight.

“Now, I know I am fat,” Granny began. “But I’m old. A young girl like yourself needs to watch your weight.”

Another friend emailed me to tell me she wasn’t coming by to meet Granny. “I know I am overweight; I don’t need to hear Granny declare it as a fact.”

I was mortified.

That was nothing.

She proceeded to tell everyone what she thought, male or female, young and old.

Mama was convinced we just couldn’t take her anywhere in public.

“She was hollering at some young college boys the other day,” Mama told me. “She wanted to stay in the car while I ran in Barnes & Noble and I came out to her hooting and hollering, asking them in they liked older women.”

I told Mama I was sure those UGA student thought she was joking.

“One was running. He almost ran into a car in the parking lot,” Mama said.

There had been a time where we just knew Granny said things that she knew were controversial.

Or as she put it, “I am just a-sayin’ what everybody else is a-thinkin’ and too dang scared to say.”

We were not entirely convinced about this. Some of the things she said, we found it hard to believe anyone would think.

“It’s like she gets started and doesn’t know how to stop,” I observed. “And she kind of feels like once she gets on a roll, she wants to see where it goes.”

Mama agreed.

We were just thankful Granny wasn’t online. Never getting that woman a computer was the biggest public service we ever did, as she would have shared her opinions and running commentary with everyone.

Mama, bless her heart, has never been one to say an unkind or rude thing to anyone. And, thankfully, she always tried to make me cautious about what I said.

My earliest memory of this was during an event at school, a clogging group took to the stage to dance.

I think this was maybe the first time I had actually seen clogging, and it was different, to say the least.

Usually, when something is different, we dismiss it as being odd and say something snarky or critical, especially if you are around 9 years old like I was.

Mama quickly tried to shush me.

It didn’t work, and I had moved on to how the dresses the girls were wearing were dorky.

Mama all but put her hand over my mouth.
“Would you please shush?” she asked.

“Why?”

“Someone may hear you,” she said.

“They way up there on the stage, they can’t hear me.”

The look on the face of the woman in front of us told Mama that she was the parent of one of the cloggers I was ridiculing from my Pretty Plus seat.

“It’s a free country,” my Granny interjected, shooting the lady a look in return. “She can say what she wants to.”
“And what if what she says hurts someone’s feelings or makes them mad?” Mama asked.

“Well, it’s still a free country. She’ll have to learn there’s consequences to what she says, but don’t be a shushing her because she don’t like this clogging. It ain’t like its fancy like square-dancing!”

That moment stayed with me and I have taught my own son to be aware of what he says in public. “Someone may take it the wrong way,” I would tell him.

But of course, while I have been trying to teach my child how to not do something, what do I go and do?

Yup, I go and open my mouth and say something I shouldn’t.

He was able to witness it, too.

“They’re right behind me, aren’t they?” I whispered.

He nodded, a slow, steady nod full of wisdom and empathy for his Mama’s mistake.

“Drats,” I muttered before bolting with my child in tow.

“How in the world did they manage to be right there behind me? That’s why we really shouldn’t say anything like that unless we know we are in the privacy of our home.”

Upset, I decided to call my Mama for comfort and tell her of my mishap.

She answered the phone, her sweet, genteel greeting giving me a safe place to land.
I launched into what happened, complete with the words that had been used.

“Kitten,” Mama interjected. “I’m gonna stop you right there…I am at the doctor’s office….
“And you are on speakerphone. So let me call you back.”
I slid to the floor.

We used to worry about my Granny saying stuff and sticking her foot in her mouth. I go straight for the thigh.