The piano recital

Once upon a time, I dreamed of being a concert pianist.

Only problem is I am quite horrible at piano.

But I had decided when I was a little girl, I wanted to play.

Mama wasn’t so sure about this.

“Is this going to be like your dream of being a ballerina?” she asked.

She may have forgotten but she was the one who nixed that dream in the bud.

She told her chubby child – me – to walk across the floor on tiptoes without tripping.

Given the impossible task, I grabbed a Twinkie and turned on Scooby Doo.

Piano, I promised, would be different.

Granny called Miss Suzanne, not just any piano teacher but the best piano teacher in our town.

Miss Suzanne had seen me around school and probably wasn’t so sure; Granny had to do some high-pressure selling.

“She is very musically inclined,” she said into the phone. “She has always loved music. Although we don’t know what is wrong with her, she don’t like country music. But everything else she does. She’s been humming since she was in Pampers and I think she has got a natural talent for it.”

Somehow, she convinced Miss Suzanne to give me lessons.

I was excited – not only was I on my way to being a concert pianist, but, Miss Suzanne would get me out of class twice a week for my lessons!

I remember walking down that long hallway with the piano room.

Now that I think about it, they probably hid the piano room in the bowels of the school, so no one could hear some of the blood curdling sounds that came out of that room.

My first few weeks, I was actually fairly decent.

I caught on quickly and I loved the idea of learning music, begging for a piano so I could play all day and all night.

One afternoon, I came home to find an upright piano delivered.

“I wanted a baby grand piano,” I said.

“Where are we going to put a baby grand piano?” Mama asked. “This is fine.”

I was so excited. At least until I found out that meant I could now do theory.

Theory, I soon learned, was just a fancy word for music homework.

“I can’t do this!” I wailed. “It’s too much work! I am just a child!”

Mama had no sympathy.

“You are not quitting, so you just need to learn to get beyond that thinking.”

“I am giving up my childhood for this!”

In reality, it had been like three weeks. But in child years, that was an eternity.

Mama didn’t let me quit.

No matter how much I whined or carried on, Mama made me stick with it.

“It’s building character,” she would tell me when I protested.

“You could save this money you are spending on piano lessons for something else,” I said.
“It’s okay,” Mama assured me. “I don’t mind spending money on something that is enriching your life.”

Mama insisted I was going to do what I needed to; if I was supposed to do theory, then I was going to do it. Even if it meant doing it before school.

In fact, Mama was very pro-piano until she went to my first recital.

I remember thinking this was a big deal.

Sure, I had sang in group performances for school and church, but this, this was different.

I was going to have my own little solo piece.

Miss Suzanne took us all to the Methodist church downtown to practice and for a trial run.

I can still remember the way the church smelled and the way the wooden pews creaked with all of us sitting on them. Even the way the light through the stained-glass windows danced on the floor.

This felt like it may be my big opportunity to be a concert pianist!

Until a friend I had grown up with arrived.

He had left our school a few years before but was still taking piano with Miss Suzanne.

Miss Suzanne had him practice first.

It was like watching a young Mozart or Beethoven play.

He made it look so effortless, so easy.

I guess she wanted to showcase her best student first – hoping the rest of us would be as good as he was.

I was a couple of kids after, and I was triumphant mess.

I had asked Miss Suzanne if I could leave after my song and she told me no; we had to be there to support our fellow pianists.

I wanted to run and hide. I considered crawling under the pews to escape.

When it was over, and I was the biggest failure of the recital, I ran to Mama and Granny.

Granny told Miss Suzanne maybe she should have saved the boy for last. “Putting him first is setting the bar awfully high,” she said. “Are we entirely sure all of these children needed to be in the recital…like Sudie?”

Miss Suzanne had hoped it gave us something to work towards, to have a goal to practice for and to have the glory of a performance.

“How much did you practice?” Mama asked me when I told her how embarrassed I was.

“I didn’t,” I said. I have never been able to tell a lie, and I wasn’t about to start then.

“I see,” she said. “Perhaps if you had practiced, you would have done better.”

“I doubt it,” I began. “I think I need to just quit.”

Mama looked at me and patted my head gently. “No.”

“What?” I was horrible, I had embarrassed myself in front of a church full of people. And she was going to let me keep playing?

“You are not giving up just because you didn’t do well in your first recital,” she said. “You’re sticking with it, Kitten.”

And I did.

For eight years.

“Did you ever learn how to play piano well?” my own child asked.

Nope, I sure didn’t. But I did learn how to never give up.

 

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No one listens to the baby

I am used to being ignored.

You’d think being the only child, only grandchild and only niece would have meant I had a house full of grown-ups, hanging on my every word.

Nope.

At least not when I grew up.

Granted, when I was smaller, I may have said things they found adorable.

I was asked cute questions, like what was my favorite animal, who did I think was the best college football team, and what did I want to be when I grew up.

My answers were anything with fur, four legs and a tail; UGA; and, since I was about 3, I wanted to write ‘stories.’ Not much has changed.

But once I hit a certain age, one where I may have actually gotten a lick of sense in my head – something Granny said I was sorely lacking for most of my life – no one seemed to think I knew anything.

Somehow, I was still the baby of the family, but I was just bigger.

And my family thought I only knew about things that were pretty much along the lines of favorite animals, football teams, and television shows.

To prove this point, my uncle had an outrageous medical bill once he could not get resolved. He didn’t know why it was so high, and Granny, even with all of her tactics, could not get to the bottom of it either.

“Why don’t you let me look at it?” I offered.

You would have thought I had suggested I was going to split an atom on my grandmother’s kitchen table.

My uncle looked at my dumbfounded. “What in the world would you know about a hospital bill, baby?” he asked, shaking his head and walking off.

It was my turn to look dumbfounded. At the time, I was in college and working for two surgeons. And doing of all things – processing insurance.

“Granny, I think I can help with this,” I said.

Granny shook her head. “You’re just the baby. You don’t know nothing about this kind of stuff.”

“Actually, I do. I deal with this all day at work. Please let me look at it.”

She shook her head. “Ain’t no need in you messing with it. You may get it all jumbled up anyway.”

I rolled my eyes. They wouldn’t let me look at something I handled every day, but two days later when my uncle received a mailer from the Publisher’s Clearing House, he gave that to me and told me to figure out what magazines he needed to order to win.

“None of them,” I said. “I hate to tell you this, but it is a scam.”

“Well, I want Sports Illustrated and TV Guide, so see if their prices are good.”

I could price check magazine orders but not even see an insurance claim?

That evening, Granny knocked on my door.

“Don’t you breathe a word of this, but see what you can do.” She handed me the paperwork.

Were they really, finally, going to trust me with grown up stuff?

It took me a couple of days of making phone calls, but I managed to get the bill resolved.

When my uncle received the new revised statement, he was shocked. “The baby did this?” he asked.

“She did,” Granny said.

You would have thought that would have ingrained some level of trust in me, but no, I was still the family baby and any attempt to offer advice or suggestions continued to be ignored.

Mama sometimes ask my opinion, but then disregards it.

I have tried to tell them about things that would make life easier and they completely dismiss it.

But, let two people get the boot on my uncle’s favorite show and he knows who to ask.
“He still thinks all I know about is TV shows and frivolous things, doesn’t he?” I asked Mama.
“He just knows you can find out for him.”

“He knows I Google.”

“If I had a Google, he’d still want me to ask you,” Mama said.

You would think they would have a bit more faith in me, but in their eyes, I am still the baby.

At least to a certain degree.

When Cole was born, he became the baby of the family.

“No one listens to me,” Cole lamented one day. “I was trying to explain something to Nennie, but she didn’t believe me.”

I completely understood.

It looked like the baby torch was being passed off to very capable hands.

 

The sleepover embargo

I was 11 years old before I ever spent the night away from home.

To call Mama overprotective was an understatement.

She didn’t want me spending the night with people she didn’t know or feel comfortable with. She had her reasons, as crazy and fantastical as they were.

Once, I befriended a new girl in my class and she had a spend the night party.

I could not go.

“I don’t know her,” Mama stated simply.

“You aren’t the one invited; I am.”

This logic went no where with Mama. She didn’t care.

A few months later, the girl had another spend the night party. This time, she made it a point to painfully exclude me, telling me quite haughtily that, “My mother is real funny about who I invite.”
I assured her my mother was even funnier about where I went, so it was not a problem as I would not have been allowed to attend anyway.

There were times I felt like she was the meanest mother in the world. Surely, she was only doing this to make me a friendless, social outcast.

Anytime someone invited me to spend the night, Mama had to know who their parents were, where they lived, and where they worked.

“Do you know the mother’s maiden name?” she would ask.

Whether I had it or not, she turned the information over to Granny.

Long before the days of Google, there was Granny. And Granny was more thorough than the FBI when it came to background checks and the vetting process.

Within fifteen minutes, that woman had found out everything to be known about the person, down to parking violations, any warts removed and what pew they sat on in church.

“You ain’t going to this gal’s house,” Granny declared. “I done found out all kinds of stuff about her distant cousins.”

“Distant cousins! What does that have to do with me spending the night?” I cried.
“You don’t know if that no-good distant cousin is gonna show up the night you’re there. A bunch of hooligans, the lot of them,” Granny said.

And with that said, I knew I was not going anywhere.

Until the Girls in Action group at church had a sleepover.

“Please. Please, please, please let me go,” I begged.

Mama had known the two women who were over the group practically all of her life; heck, she even worked with one of them!

This would be it, the first time I would get to spend the night at someone’s house other than mine.

“I am not sure I want you to go,” she said.

“You can’t use your old excuses, Mama. You know these people. Granny knows these people. We go to church with them! You have no good reason why I can’t go.”
At this, Granny snorted. She knew as well as I did, if Mama wanted an excuse as to why I couldn’t do something, she would find it.

She was the woman who told a science teacher once I couldn’t go on a 4-H trip to Jekyll Island because it may sink. The woman tried to argue with her but decided to save her time and sanity.

By some miracle, I got to go.

My first time sleeping over at someone else’s house with other girls!

Let me tell you, it was nothing like I thought.

They wanted to stay up and talk.

I wanted to sleep. I was kind of tired. Being excited was exhausting.

I was scared of the shadows in the house; it’s one thing when you know the creaks and moans of the floors in your own place but in something new, it was terrifying.

There were other sounds that I didn’t hear at home. The ice maker in the freezer sounded like a monster trying to break through the wall. Seeing the lights of neighbors bouncing on the backyard through the sliding glass doors could have been UFO’s landing for all I knew.

I laid there awake, all night, waiting for dawn to break so I could leave.

When I saw the sun creeping through the trees, I rolled up the sleeping bag and grabbed my stuff, not even bothering to change out of my pj’s and went to tell the grown-ups good bye.

“Honey, are you sure your mother is even here?” one asked.

“Oh, she’s here, don’t worry.”
And she was.
Out in the driveway sat Mama in her little blue Ford Escort, her chimney of cigarette smoke curling out of the driver’s window while she sipped a cup of coffee from a gas station.

I wondered if she had slept out there; odds are, she did.

It was fun, but, I missed home.

Over the years, I spent the night with a few other friends but not many. Mama’s rules were still just as strict, and Granny still ran background checks.

I just realized there was no place quite like home for my introverted self.

When I was much older, I realized why Mama was maybe so protective; perhaps there was a method to her madness after all.

My own child, now 13, has never spent the night away from home.

Thankfully, he hasn’t expressed any interest in it.

Maybe he knows I was trained by two of the best in the Mama-ing business and my snooping skills can rival Granny’s sometimes. She still, to this day, was better than Google, even posthumously.

A few weeks ago, a conversation occurred as to whether or not to call the parents of a teenager holding a New Year’s Eve overnight party.

The other parent mentioned her daughter thought it was embarrassing.

“Embarrassing?” I thought.

Good thing she didn’t have my Mama or Granny.

A phone call to the parents would have been the least of her worries.

 

The Return of the Crazy Cat Lady

Once upon a time, I had close to 20 cats.

This may seem a bit much to some, but for me, it was quite normal.

Only about 10 were in the house with me, which wasn’t as bad as one would think.

In fact, if you were only in the house for a few minutes, you may not even know they were there, until you started feeling like you were being watched and slowly saw ears rise from behind the couch or from under something to cautiously size you up.

The others were in another house we had on the property, referred to as the Cat House.

This led to a professor thinking I was the madam of Mercer after he received some salacious information from a classmate.

When I married my ex-husband and moved away, sadly, my kitties stayed with my family back home.

I was heartsick.

“You are probably the original Crazy Cat Lady,” my ex told me one day.

I think he meant it as an insult; I took it as a compliment.

The ex swore he was allergic to cats, and truth be told, I probably am a little bit too.

For a large portion of my life, I have had some kind of stuffy nose that began pretty much around the time I got my first cat, the one Mama told me not to pick up and bring into the house to which I promptly ignored and did just that.

But that didn’t stop me from scooping up the little grey striped feral kitten that I found outside my office one day and bringing him home.

“That cat is not coming inside this house,” the ex declared with an authority he did not possess. I paid him about as much attention as I did my Mama and brought the kittie inside, naming him Callahan.

Only problem was, Dirty Harry didn’t really like anyone and when I got my beagle, Pepper, a few months later, she thought he was a real-life chew toy. He eventually went to live on a neighbor’s farm.

For the last 14 years, my heart has only known dogs.

Until one day this spring, a little tiny tortoiseshell kitten showed up.

The first thing I told Cole was to not pick her up.

He listened to me as much as I did my mama and held her close to his chest.

He named her Bella, Italian for beautiful, and she is, all fluffy fall colors and a tiny face.

My previous experience with kitties had taught me another one would probably show up and a few days later, I saw it.

I felt like I was being watched when I was feeding Bella and slowly looked towards the edge of the woods. I expected to see a bear sitting there, wondering why I had never extended a bowl of kibble as courtesy.

Instead, I saw yellow eyes shrouded in a skinny, black body. I could almost see its ribs.

It would not come to me but watched cautiously.

I peeked out the window later and saw Bella letting it eat with her.

The next day, I took an extra bowl with me to feed it. “You can come eat, too,” I said. “And I’m calling you Freya.”

Still, the black kittie was cautious. Bella, on the other hand, knew she was loved and mewed her gratitude.

When I fed them the next day, I watched Freya approach the food as I walked away. She was beginning to trust me, slowly but she was.

On the following day, I kneeled and motioned for her to come to me, and surprisingly, she did. She was so thin, scarred up and its tail looked broken. And, she was a he.

“So, I guess Freya’s not a good name for you, is it?” I said, petting him. “How about Frank? Short for Saint Francis of Assissi and Frank Sinatra. You can be the Purrman of the Barn.”

It wasn’t long before Frank would let me hold him for long periods of time, purring as he cradled up against my shoulder. He’s not a big lap cuddler; that’s Bella job.

And she is a big biscuit maker, too.

The other day, I was looking at the various cat food choices and couldn’t find the one they liked. An employee asked if I needed help.

We got in a long conversation about the differences in pate versus chopped; gravy, sauces, and the merits of dry food. I took out my phone to show her the 100’s of pictures I have.

“You wouldn’t believe this fluffy, plushy kittie was scrawny when he showed up a few months ago,” I said, showing her a picture of Frank.

He is like the Charlie Brown Christmas tree; he went from being frighteningly thin to being a gorgeous cat who knows he’s loved by all. Well, with the exception of the Doodle. The pittie mix is not too sure about the cats yet.

I ended up talking to the lady for about 20 minutes.

Cole recounted this to his father later.

“She doesn’t even like talking to people she knows in the store,” he began. “She was showing this stranger pictures of Frank and Bella and talking to her like they were best friends. It’s insane how many pictures she has of them on her phone. I haven’t even seen her take that many photos. They talked forever. They literally bonded over Friskies and Meow Mix.”

“Did the other lady have cats, too?” Lamar asked.

“Yes, three,” he affirmed. “But they were blocking the aisle, talking and looking at pictures.”

“Crazy cat ladies don’t care, Cole,” Lamar said.

And he’s right. We don’t.

Lowering my expectations

Granny’s response to a lot of things was, “I ain’t getting my hopes up.”

I thought this was kind of morose and sad – we’re supposed to be hopeful, aren’t we?

“Why?” was her response. “When I do, I always get disappointed.”

Mama, on the other hand, tries to see the good in things and when stuff doesn’t work out, she tries to come up with some kind of divine reasoning.

“When something doesn’t happen the way you want it to, it’s just because something better is on its way,” Mama will say.

Being reared by both of these redheads has caused me to fluctuate between the extremes.

On one hand, I am always looking for the positive; on the other, I have started to understand Granny’s mantra.

And let me tell you, 2017 has been a year of disappointment.

I tend to do a lot of reflecting this time of the year and think about the past 12 months and how I want the coming year to be.

I hoped – no, make that knew – that 2017 was going to be amazing.

And it hasn’t.

Far from it.

As this year has gone by, I have realized some cold, hard truths about a few friends, making my circle even smaller.

Instead of trying to hold on to these outgrown relationships, I remembered Granny’s words.

“Not everyone will do for you the way you do for them,” she told me more than once, probably after she had experienced a personal lesson. “If you expect them to do what you would do, you gonna be sorely disappointed. They won’t. But they will be there on your doorstep whenever they need you.”

She was right. This year has shown me, yet again, the friends that only were around when they needed me and when I needed them, they dismissed me.

Boy, did it hurt.

“Ain’t no need for it to hurt,” Granny foretold. “Better to know what you’re dealing with upfront than not. I ain’t got time for people like that.”

A few opportunities I had been excited about turned out to be huge disappointments this year.

More than a few.

Some came to an end and some never really worked out the way they were supposed to.

“Look for the things that went right,” Mama gently reminded me.

It was an impossible task.

Mama didn’t believe me. I assured her it was.

So, in the coming year, I am lowering my expectations.

It’s not that I am being a Negative Nellie.

Like Granny, I am not going to get my hopes up about things; again, not trying to be negative.

Just go with me on this for a second.

I am actually going to look at things from a realistic standpoint.

I am not going to project my personal attitudes and ways of doing things on others. Other people may have their own thing going on that has nothing to do with me.

I am going to be a bit more grounded in my approach.

Instead of thinking one event was going to be so life-changing, I was going to put the focus on me and what I can do to change my life.

I think we tend to build things up in our minds sometimes where we make them so much bigger and grander than what they are.

We think that one job, that one person, that one something is going to make all these changes in our lives and when it doesn’t, we feel like Granny often did.

“Nothing goes the way I want, so why should I get excited about this?” she said more than once.

Mama countered with, “Because sometimes you have to be excited about something, Mama. It’s good for our souls to get our hopes up and be excited. We have to have hope to hold on to.”

Maybe that was just it.

Granny had gotten her hopes up so many times and it didn’t happen the way she wanted.

I know. I’ve been there. Heck, I am wallowing in the shallow end of the pool right now.

But I am trying, with all I’ve got, to find that hope my sweet yet crazy Mama preaches about.

So, I am setting the bar just a tiny bit lower.

I think lowering my expectations may be the answer.

Not that I am thinking I will be disappointed.

But maybe so I can be happily amazed.