Gossip by any other name

Gossip is usually an unsavory but juicy hot commodity at times.

Particularly among certain people.

My grandmother reveled in the little nuggets of information she would glean from people, which is probably why she loved to go to the grocery store and beauty parlor when I was younger.

She could find out all kinds of dirt on just about anyone, down to what pew they sat on in church.

Granny was a great collector of dirt; and like her sole and sometimes-favorite grandchild, people just told her stuff. Unsolicited, out of the blue, random yet glorious stuff.

Some of this stuff was about people Granny didn’t know, which was rare. I think the old gal knew everyone in our little community.

But the best tidbits were about folks she did know – especially people she did not like.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Granny’s ability to collect all this dirt is that while it came to her fairly easily, Granny was quite judicious with who she told what.

There was one exception, of course.
Granny’s best friend, LuRee.

What’s so funny is that for the longest, those two little mean women would scrapple and fuss with one another deep-fried Baptist style.

Then one day, a vortex in the Universe opened and I think Satan himself caught a chill.

The two of them walked out of their Sunday School room, arm and arm, hugging and slopping sugar on one another like they were best friends.

I remember seeing this as I stood in the hall just as plain as it was yesterday; they even moved in ‘80’s style slow motion as they walked towards the double doors to go outside.

“When did you and Miss LuRee decide y’all liked one another?” I asked from the backseat on the way home.

“What?” my grandfather perked up at this news.

“We have always been friends,” Granny lied. Look at her lying right after leaving the house of the Lord.

“Little ‘un, scoot back in your seat; lightning is about to hit your grandmother,” my Pop said. “Woman, the two of you ain’t never been friends. I have seen y’all shoot evil looks at each other across the sanctuary before. What’s going on?”

Granny twisted in her seat as she drove. “We found out we both dislike the same person.”

Nothing brings two people together more than shared hate.

“Oh, good Lord,” my grandfather muttered under his breath. “Helen, what were you doing gossiping in church?”

“It was not gossip, Bob,” she said.

“Yes, it was.”

“No, it was not.”

“Then what do you call it?” he asked.

Well, for once, the old gal was speechless which did not happen often.

She didn’t say a word the rest of the way home.

I, like my grandfather, thought that was a one-time event and they would end up back mortal enemies loathing one another over Amazing Grace and I’ll Fly Away, but the friendship stuck.

It was almost like two rival mafia bosses joining forces or something with these two. It was unnatural and scary.

Usually, it was a Sunday afternoon phone call that went on for at least an hour, Granny sprawled across the bed on her stomach, shoes off and feet in the air as she and LuRee discussed things.

My grandfather would just shake his head as he watched his football game.

“Your grandmother is in there gossiping,” he would say during a commercial break.

I nodded. It was just a fact.

“I am not,” Granny protested heatedly as she came down the hall. “I resent you saying that, Bob.”

“Well, I don’t know what else to call it.”

“We are talking about who to pray for,” she said.

“Say what?”

“You heard me,” she said. He may not have; the man was deaf in one ear.

“We are talking about who to pray for.”

My grandfather rolled his eyes. “I’ll bet.”
“We were. We were talking about who we needed to pray for and the best way to know who to pray for, is to discuss their circumstances.” She paused and gave him a look. “I think we may need to pray for men who don’t believe their wives, too.”

He snorted. “I’ve heard it all now.”

From that day on, whenever the phone rang, and it was LuRee, Granny would proceed to hold their so-called prayer discussions.

This went on for several decades, and when Granny passed away, LuRee passed six months later.

“You suppose they are allowed in the same corners of Heaven?” I asked Mama the other day.

Mama laughed softly. “Those two are together, I know they are,” she said. “And they are still talking about who they need to pray for.”

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A delicate balance

I overheard someone say recently that Millenials are to blame for all of the societal problems we are experiencing.

I am not so sure about that – I don’t know what a Millenial is exactly and I’m usually cautious about casting a wide net of blame when I am not certain what I will catch.

I also tend to think this whole “It’s the Millenials’ fault” is an easy way for some to avoid taking their own responsibility as well.

Sure, every generation has had its issues and problems, including my own, but I shoulder the blame for my ozone-depleting use of Freeze it!, the horrible shoulder pads that never did make my waist look smaller, and my misguided use of blue eyeshadow.

I am sure my sassy mouth and attitude had more to do with the fact I was lightheaded from the aforementioned overuse of the liquid hair glue than it did with being a Gen-Xer.

Yes, my generation had its flaws and faults.

We grew up in a decadent decade, where everything was bright, loud, and just best described as excessive.

But we were good kids. And we took responsibility for what we did.

If we didn’t and got caught, we knew there was something worse than some of the punishments that were doled out back then; we usually had to face our mamas.

The few times I did something stupid – which truthfully, was rare – I usually got caught.

And somehow lived to tell about it.

Mama’s wrath could be scarier than anything legally imposed.

Nowadays, when people do something stupid, they blame someone else or richly tell you it was your fault.

“I didn’t know I was supposed to do that,” someone whined recently. “So how can it be my fault if I didn’t know about it?”

Ignorance only gets you so far.

Some folks seem to think that everything is supposed to be hand-delivered as an app on the latest iPhone and spoon fed to them in bite sized gluten-free, non-GMO, organic nibbles.

When I was younger and didn’t know what I was supposed to do, Mama of course imparted her wisdom.

“Are your legs broken?” she would ask. “How about your finger? Can it dial a phone? Can you still speak? Good, go call someone and find out what you need to do. When you get to the point you need me, let me know but you need to learn how to take care of some of this stuff on your own.”

Guess what? I did what she said.

I was only 6 but I did it.

Maybe not that young, but you get the drift. Mama was overprotective and prone to hyper-vigilance in a lot of areas of my life, but she made me learn to deal with the consequences of my actions or lack thereof.

If I knew what I was supposed to do and didn’t do it, well, that was on me.

I tried saying one of my mistakes was someone else’s fault and she nipped that junk in the bud fast and furiously.

“Did they hold a gun to your head?” she wanted to know.

I told her they had not.

“Then you were not forced to do it and yet you did. You only have yourself to blame.”

Mama didn’t have to threaten bodily harm either; she would either give me her deafening silent treatment or take away whatever privileges I had at the time.

See, my generation was one that believed in restrictions and being grounded. Losing the keys to the family Oldsmobile, having your phone unplugged from your room, and not being able to go to the football game on Friday with your friends were common sentences. After you endured those punishments for a few weeks, you made sure you didn’t suffer the same mistakes again.

It was a generation where the parents were loving but firm.

They weren’t our friends; they were our parents.

I know that is a tough role to fill most of the time.

We want our kids to love us, to want to be around us, to not hate us.

But truthfully, if they don’t think we are the unfairest of human beings at some point in their lives, we are not doing our job.

And maybe that is what has happened.

Somewhere, parents quit enforcing those rules and it has created some situations where people think they are entitled to special treatment.

Do I want my child to have the best of everything? Absolutely.

Do I want him to succeed? Of course.

But I don’t want him to become a jerk in the process.

Not too long ago, he complained to his father I was being unfair and mean.

Our house is less than a thousand square feet, so I could hear his stage whisper clearly from my chair in the living room.

“She’s your mother,” my husband replied. “That’s her job.”

My decision –whatever it had been – stood.

None of this playing one side against the other. No special treatment.

My child eventually came to me and said he understood; he even apologized.

It hurt me to get on to him; it did. I love my child and want him to be happy about everything.

I also want him to grow up and be a well-adjusted, successfully functioning adult.

Usually, that happens in an environment with some rules and firm boundaries.

I think if we want to start changing some things in this world, we need to start at home.

And maybe some good old-fashioned ‘80’s style restrictions and punishments of taking away cell phones and car keys would be a good place to start.

The purple house pride

I always get nostalgic this time of year.

There was something so special and magical about the beginning of a new school year.

Brand new notebooks with clean, crisp pages. The fresh packs of pencils. The coveted big box of Crayolas that made you the queen of the classroom.

To me, the start of the school year was exciting and magical, a welcomed end to the boredom of summer.

One of my favorite things was getting to meet my new teacher.

Of course, the bar had been set high in kindergarten by Mrs. Howard. She was the litmus test by which every teacher and most humans must pass, with her sense of humor, compassion, and encouragement.

She made me love school. If I could have stayed in kindergarten with her as my teacher forever, I would have.

First grade, however, almost ruined my love for school.

This one teacher – one –tainted my whole school experience.

And she was bad enough that Mama still holds a spite and grudge against her to this day.

“She should have never been around children!” Mama will exclaim any time the woman’s name is mentioned.

I agree, but I don’t quite hold a grudge against her like Mama does. But then again, I am the child in this scenario; I am sure my perspective would be different if I was in Mama’s position.

This wretched woman did several things throughout my first-grade year that gave Mama good and justified reasons to dislike her.

“Stronger than dislike, Kitten,” Mama will remind me. “I cannot stand that woman.”

Now, what would possibly set my mild-mannered, kind-hearted Mama off like this? The woman whose favorite mantra was “there but by the grace of God go I?”

Well, let me tell you, it was not pretty, but it may not have been the most dramatic of events.
It was a primary school straw on a camel’s back.

My introduction to first grade left me wondering if one could possibly flunk out of school due to erroneous paper folding. I never successfully folded the construction paper in the certain manner this horrid teacher wanted.

I didn’t say a word to Mama; instead, I begged Granny to help me fix it.

If anyone could fix something that involved paper, fabric, or anything related to crafts, it was Granny. I am fairly certain she could have built a house with a needle and thread.

Granny helped me interpret the directions, which we followed explicitly. The teacher still said it was wrong.

“Now she’s saying I did it wrong, and I don’t make no mistakes!” Granny said. “There ain’t no pleasing this woman.”

She wasn’t wrong.

We followed the directions, but she insisted it was still wrong.

A classmate did it the same way, yet this woman did not admonish her the way she did me.

“Maybe you need to go back to kindergarten,” she said to me one day.

“Will you stay in first grade?” I asked.

“Yes,” the bitter woman replied.

“OK.”

I wanted away from her. I had no idea how or why she disliked me so. I was a chubby little woblin of a child and eager to make adults happy. Usually, teachers loved me.

But this woman hated me.

She had even told me on the first day of school she had hoped I wasn’t going to be in her class.

What kind of adult does that? What was wrong with her?

Of course, my beloved Mrs. Howard was teaching first grade that year and I had hoped and prayed, to the point of negotiating with God I would give up all things Little Debbie, to have Mrs. Howard again

Instead I got this shrew.

Mama was right, she had no business being around small children.

One day, we had to color a picture for fire safety week. We could color the house any color we wanted, as long as the fire and the fire truck were red.

My house was my favorite color: purple.

Not pink, which I have never cared for. Not white, not brown.

Purple. See, long before I fell in love with anything Prince, I loved the color purple.

So, my house was purple.

My fire was red – even though fire is really not red but more of a yellow-orange hue.

And my fire truck was red.

The two requirements were met.

The teacher refused to hang mine on the hall with the rest of my classmates, declaring in front of the class that no houses anywhere in the U.S. of A were purple.

“Your mother will not be proud of what you did because I will not hang it out on the hall with everyone else,” the woman told me.

I shrugged. “That’s okay, my Mama is proud of me anyway.”

“No, she’s not,” the woman sneered. “Your picture will not be allowed to be displayed in the hall. How could she proud of failure?”

Even though I was a kid, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, my Mama was proud of me whether my painting made the hall display or not. That didn’t earn my Mama’s love or praise.

Years later, I was standing in the drugstore with my friends Laura and Jane when that horrid woman walked by. She greeted both while ignoring me.

“She still hates you,” Jane said shocked.

As a new school year starts, this experience always comes to mind because I know there are more Mrs. Howards in classrooms than there is that horrible woman.

But, I hope, more than anything, there are more children knowing they are loved and worthy beyond just what gets hung in the halls.

 

The words that matter

Country.

That’s the word someone used to describe me lately.

Not because I live in Georgia or because I have a drawl that people outside of our region probably have a difficult time understanding.

But I was called country because I have a love and compassion for animals, even the undomesticated kind.

I laughed it off and even though I am pretty sure the person meant it as an insult, didn’t take it that way.

My child on the other hand was not very happy when he heard the news and expressed his opinion in a way that proved he is indeed a descendant of my family tree.

Mama didn’t like the term either, but she may have been triggered by the memory of me being previously called derogatory terms by the ex-husband.

“I don’t like that you were called that,” Cole said.

I shrugged. “It was nothing.”

I had only mentioned it in conversation because it was part of the story I was relaying.

“But what did they mean by calling you that? It just seems like they were meaning something a lot worse.”

I imagine they were using the term as a softer alternative to redneck or hillbilly, the two phrases my ex-husband used to describe my family because, except for Mama, they all had blue-collar or labor jobs.

Some of my family members worked construction, or were truck drivers, and farmers. To the ex, hard-working people were rednecks.

Being called ‘country’ was meant to insult me, but it didn’t. Like Granny, I have no fancy pretenses about myself and could care less about trying to act like I am something I am not.

I am not that comfortable in a big city. Traffic gives me anxiety attacks and I don’t like being in an environment full of strangers.

So, maybe being called country is an apt description.

“I still don’t like it; it was meant to hurt your feelings,” Cole said.
I appreciated his concern and told him so, but I had to let him know there was an important lesson here.

“It didn’t hurt my feelings and I wasn’t insulted,” I began. “See, for it to hurt me, I would have to care about the opinion of the person who said it. And I didn’t. Words can only hurt us when we believe them.”

“You always tell me words matter,” Cole reminded me.

True. They do.

And in this case, the word was being used in an attempt to make someone feel bad or inferior.

We have gotten to where we use words like “country” to label people, to point out a difference and maybe separate us in the process.

Our words and language are supposed to bring us together and build us up, not try to tear us down and apart.

But it sure doesn’t feel that way lately.

It seemed like everyone was trying to get a little dig in, any way they could. We have focused on the things that keep us divided and make us scatter instead of what can unite us.

People have forgotten that no matter where we are from, and no matter the differences, we still belong to one another.

“So, you don’t care at all that person thinks you are country?”

I really don’t.

“But why doesn’t it bother you?” my child asked.

“What someone thinks about me is none of my business,” I said. “That’s their opinion of me and their opinion is not fact or my character.”

“But what if their opinion of you is wrong?”

“Doesn’t matter,” I said.

That person didn’t really know me, only what they thought they knew.

“Did what they say about you make you think differently about them?” Cole asked.

“No,” I said. “I already had my opinion about them. Their comment just reinforced it.”

“What did you think of them?” he asked.

It didn’t matter. Just like they were way off base with me, my opinion was just that and I may be wrong.

“I can think of a few names I would like to call that person,” Cole admitted.
I could understand that and told him so but reminded him that just served to drag us down to their level.

Even though it may feel good, it still only served to put a bigger wedge between us.

“There’s enough name calling already,” I said. “Instead of thinking of how to hurt someone, we need to just say things that can help us find a common ground, and not declare a word war.”

So, I was called country. It was not a total lie. It wasn’t a total truth, either.

The word didn’t matter; neither did the opinion by the person who said it.

What was important, was that I was reminded of how our words can either unite us or divide, and it matters how we decide to use them.

Forgiving Doodle

I should have known the pittie mix was in the dog house when Lamar quit making her breakfast.

Unlike the other pups, including the German Shepherd, Doodle’s routine involved having her own little plate of food to eat alongside her ‘daddy.’

One morning, I heard him tell her, “You don’t get any today, Doodle.”

I didn’t think anything of it at first; that little caramel colored dog is always doing something to get in trouble.

But her punishment went on for a while, which was odd and signaled something was terribly amiss.

Doodle is the pup who can get away with everything.

While Ava is a drama queen and Pumpkin is quite judgmental towards us all, Doodle is the one that came into our lives five years ago and somehow stole my husband’s heart from his favorite breed.

She has been spoiled because she is, as he calls her, his baby girl.

He has rocked her to sleep as a puppy in the middle of the night when she didn’t want to be alone.

She has eaten cycling gloves, socks, and a few remotes and he has declared she was just a sweet little baby girl and didn’t know any better.

For him to not have breakfast with her for several days running meant something was amiss.

“What did she do?” I asked him.

“You don’t want to know,” he said as he sat his coffee cup in the sink. “Trust me.”

I giggled to myself thinking of all the gross crimes the chunky little dog could have committed.

A few nights later, Cole went out on the porch to bring Doodle in and rushed into the other room to get his father.

“Again? No!” Lamar exclaimed as he headed outside.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

Cole shook his head. “You don’t want to know.”

Why does everyone tell me that? Don’t they realize if something usually gets handled it’s the mama who takes care of it?

“Yes, I do. Tell me.”

Cole took a deep breath. “You are going to be very upset when I tell you. We decided not to tell you this because we didn’t want to upset you.”

That statement right there sent off my mama-alarms. Telling me you kept something from me because you didn’t want me to get upset is a sure-fire way for me to freak out and over-react when you do tell me.

I was trying to be calm though. It was Doodle and she seemed okay, so it probably had to do with her eating my furniture again.

“Tell me,” I repeated.

“Doodle killed a baby opossum,” he said.

“What?”

How could she kill a precious little baby opossum?

I was crushed.

“Daddy is getting it now to bury it with the others.”
“The others?”

He nodded.

“How many has she killed?”

“Six,” Lamar said walking back in. “It’s the pit in her. I know good and well Ava wouldn’t do this and neither would Punky. But Doodle has killed a whole litter of opossums.”

I felt worse. I had named the mother opossum Penny; we loved seeing her offspring each spring.

“Is this why she hasn’t been allowed to have breakfast with you?” I asked.

Lamar nodded.
“I love her, but it is hard to love on her knowing she is a killer.”

As he said that, the little assassin plopped her head in my lap and pawed at me to pet her.

“No, Doodle,” I said. “I can’t. I am so disappointed in you right now.”

A few nights later, I heard something on the back deck.

It was Fiona, the baby opossum that had almost came to me one morning.

She had pink little ears and a cute little black nose. She was adorable, and my goal was to hand feed her this year. She often would get in the corner of the deck and watch me feed my cats in the early hours of daylight.

“Fiona is still here!” I exclaimed, grabbing the bag of cat food to give her some kibble.

She hid as I filled the bowls, peering between the wood slats on the deck to watch me.

“I am so sorry for your littermates,” I told her. “Doodle doesn’t come out here, so you are safe here.”

But, the little opossum didn’t stay on the back deck and eventually got on the front porch.

I cried, angry, sorrowful cried. I loved that little marsupial.

I couldn’t look at Doodle for days. Weeks actually.

I wouldn’t even let her curl up by my feet at night, telling her it was a cuddle-free zone.

I was hurt beyond hurt with her.

How could she kill something that didn’t pose even the remotest threat to her?

“Have you loved on Doodle yet?” Mama asked me.

“No,” I said. I even refused to kiss the little spot on her head that she insisted I kiss each morning.

“Are you going to forgive her?”

I wasn’t sure. My heart was so saddened by her actions.

I was so disappointed in her. This is the dog that has head butted her own shadow once because she is so goofy. Why would she kill an innocent little animal and one I loved?

“She didn’t know any better,” Lamar said softly one evening as she climbed up in his lap and put her head on his shoulder. “She thought she was doing a good thing. She didn’t know we loved the opossums.”

I don’t think it would have mattered if she knew we loved them or not, and I said so.

“What does matter though, is that we love her and she’s ours,” Lamar said. “We may not like what she did, but we love her and that means we have to forgive her.”

Love and forgiveness do go hand in hand. Even, or maybe especially, when we don’t like the actions.

Summer of Snoopy

Summer means different things to people.

For many, its vacations at the beach; for others, it’s trips to the mountains or on the lake.

As a member of the original staycationing family, summer meant three lazy months of going to the library and watching cartoons.

I did have one mission though: finding a Snoopy Sno-Cone machine.

This mission consumed three of the summers of my youth.

The commercial on TBS made it look like the ultimate summer treat maker.

Seeing kids put the ice in the top of Snoopy’s dog house, crushing it into little cups and drizzling the flavoring over it made me think that would make summer perfect.

Plus, if it was on TV, you knew it had to be good.

We looked everywhere for one.

The sale inserts in the paper would declare that Eckerds (the precursor to Rite-Aid) and TG&Y would have them in stock.

I would bug Granny endlessly about it, begging her to help me search.

Of course, if Mama had only bought me one off the commercial, Granny wouldn’t have needed to make the weekly treks to the stores.

But Mama refused, saying she was not doing a check by phone or a COD, nor was she going to pay $14.99 for shipping when that was more than the thing cost.

“I have probably spent over $15 in gas trying to find one of these cussed things,” Granny mumbled one evening as we ventured to TG&Y.

TG&Y was sold out. According to the manager, the little sno cone machines with the Red Baron beagle sold out the same day they came in.

“That many people want those things?” Granny asked. “They look like Snoopy is –”

I shushed her; I was only 7 and even I knew some things that came out of my grandmother’s mouth were not appropriate for my ears or those working retail management.

“We may get some more but I can’t promise. Once they come in, we sell out pretty quickly.”

“Can we get a raincheck?” Granny asked.

The manager shook his head. “I am afraid not; we can’t guarantee the product will be in and it is a first come, first sell basis because of it being a seasonal item.”

“How about if you held me one? Could you do that? Could I maybe do a layaway?” Granny was trying everything she could think of, but nothing worked.

We left the store yet again without a Snoopy Sno-Cone machine.

“I can crush you some ice with a hammer,” Bobby offered when we got home. “We can pour some vanilla flavoring over it or some cherry juice, it would be the same thing.”

I wasn’t too thrilled at his suggestion; even though he meant well, it just wouldn’t be the same.

“Why would anyone want crushed ice when ice cream is better,” my grandfather mused from his chair.

“I’ve wanted this for three summers. Three!” I said. That was a long-term commitment for someone under the age of 10. “Ice cream is good, but this is different.”

“If you don’t want Bobby to bust you up some ice, Granny can put some in the meat grinder. Don’t worry, she cleans it out real good; she uses that meat grinder to crush her coconut meat,” my grandfather offered.

This was even worse than the ice being smashed with a hammer. Meat grinder sno cones?

“Why’s this so special?” my uncle wanted to know.

“It’s Snoopy,” I said wearily.

No one seemed to understand when you are a little kid, you get fixated on something because you like it, and nothing is a suitable substitute. It was a situation a hammer couldn’t fix.

A few weeks later, as summer was coming to a close, Granny and I were in Eckerd picking up a prescription. There high on the top shelf, shoved above the small appliances and pushed beside hot water bottles was one remaining Snoopy Sno-Cone machine in all its glory.

Granny and I both gasped.

I didn’t say a word; I didn’t have to. As strict as the old gal could be, she would have given me a kidney if it would have helped me. Granted, she would have fussed about it for the rest of her life, but she would have done it.

She walked over to the register by the pharmacy and asked if they could get it down for her.

“How much does it cost?” Granny asked as the lady climbed a small step ladder.

I can’t remember how much it was, but it was enough to make Granny cuss. And, it was more than the TV price with the shipping.

Granny’s glance told me what I already knew. She thought it was too much. Even though I was a kid, I thought it was too much, too. Summer was practically over, and I didn’t see myself wanting a sno cone when I would be craving burnt caramel cake in the fall.

Actually, I could eat burnt caramel cake year-round. The sno cones I only wanted in the summer.

Heading home, we drove through town and in the parking lot of the Piggly Wiggly was a little tiny booth with a sign declaring sno cones. Granny pulled in immediately.

“What flavor you want?” she asked.
I got a bubble gum flavored one and Granny got cherry. She declared hers tasted like cough syrup and mine was too sweet to eat. They were messy, too.

“I ain’t never paid this much for ice,” Granny said as she spooned up a bite. “Don’t get your granddaddy started on this. His trips to the Brazier are enough.”

Not that long ago, my child and I saw a Snoopy Sno-Cone machine in a store. “You should get it!” Cole exclaimed.

Nah, sometimes just the memory of something is better than the actual thing.

 

When the favors run out

One of the recurring themes Mama has tried to instill in my life is how to treat people.

Kindness, of course, is tantamount.

Saying ‘please,’ ‘thank you,’ along with other pleasantries should always be offered.

And maybe even more importantly, was Mama’s preaching about how people should not be used.

Perhaps the reason that lesson was so essential to Mama was it was something she learned firsthand when she was a child.

Mama was enjoying a bag of animal crackers one day, something she probably was just tickled that my uncle, Bobby, hadn’t hoodwinked her out of. His little cunning self normally tricked her into paying him for something she already owned outright.

So, there she was, enjoying her little cookies when the other kids came up asking her to share.

Mama, being the kind-hearted person she has always been, agreed.

The other kids were nice to her and wanted to play with her, as long as she had the cookies.

Once the cookies were gone, so were they.

When she asked them to play the next day, they asked if she had more cookies. She told them no. They didn’t want to play.

“That was awful,” I said when she recounted the story to me.

“It was,” she began. “But it taught me an important lesson. Some people are only nice to you as long as you can do things for them. Once you no longer can, they are gone.”

It pained me to think my Mama had been treated like that.

Even more painful is the realization that its not just kids wanting cookies that behave that way.

The morale of Mama’s story has played out quite repeatedly in my life and more frequently as an adult.

It’s a bit off-putting to have people only think of you when they need something.

There have been several times that people have contacted me out of the blue and free of preamble requesting advice, time, and other assorted favors that haven’t spoken to me in years.

A few even skip the fake pleasantries of “How have you been?” and launch right into what they want me to do for them.

As Granny would say, “If you can’t say boo to me the rest of the time, don’t come a-calling when you need me.”

Actually, she would say something a heck of a lot harsher and more vulgar, but I can’t put that here; I am sure you catch the drift of it though.

It has made me highly aware of who filters into my life only when they need something and who is always around, even if just in the background to pop in to say hey from time to time.

What can be the most shocking is the people that I haven’t spoken to in years – years, mind you – seem to have no hesitation in asking for favors.

“Is it something you are able to do?” Mama asked.

“Yeah,” I sighed.

“Then why do you not want to?”

I sighed again. Didn’t she get it? She remembered how she was treated when the cookies ran out. Kind of the same situation, in my opinion.

Mama weighed my complaint and told me I had a legitimate one. “But don’t be so quick to dismiss someone, Kitten,” she said. “If you can help them, do so. We’re supposed to be good to each other.”

I hate it when she does that – she always has a way of reminding me to be the bigger person, and sometimes, I just don’t want to.

Much like Granny would, I think that kind of behavior shouldn’t be rewarded by taking the high road but by telling the person they are a jerk.

“Mama, I am not dismissing them; I am just tired of people only contacting me when I can do something for them. That’s not friendship. It’s usery.”

Usery isn’t a real word but it should be. Especially in this situation.

“I am just saying if you can help someone, if it is in your power to do so, you should. We’re supposed to help one another. If you don’t want to be friends with this person, then you should tell them that as well.”

I didn’t consider the person a friend; more like an acquaintance with no boundaries.

“Well, if you don’t want to help them, maybe send them to someone who can. Just don’t be mean to them; there’s enough meanness in the world anyway and they evidently consider you a friend.”

“But, Mama,” I began weakly.

I really had no argument.

There are just different types of people in the world.

Those who are made by their Mamas to be good, decent people. And those who will use those people up until the favors run out.

The depreciation of loyalty

Not that long ago, being loyal was a commendable trait.

It was something that people looked for in others, and that people strived to be in personal and business relationships.

Being loyal was praised, noteworthy, and, at times, rewarded, as Granny discovered one morning.

The old gal came in giddy as a school girl with a cupcake, clutching a small silver tray in her hands.

“Lookey what I got,” she exclaimed, showing off her pretty.

“What is it?” Mama asked, barely looking up from her crossword.

“It’s a silver tray,” Granny said.

“What did you get it for?” Mama asked.

“It was a gift,” Granny said.
“That’s nice,” Mama replied.

“Don’t you want to know who gave it to me?” the old gal asked.

Mama sighed, realizing Granny was not going to leave her to her crossword in peace until she did. “Okay, who gave it to you?”

“I got it at Sanders’ furniture. I went by there to look at recliners – your daddy is about due for a new chair – and I popped in and they called me over there and gave me this lovely silver tray.” She held it up for Mama’s inspection. “Ain’t it fancy?”

Now, the little silver tray was not anything super special. It was maybe about 5 inches long and three inches wide, not big enough to be used as a serving tray, so I had no idea what use Granny would have for it.

But to Granny, it was one of the finest things she had.

It was free, and it was given to her in a gesture of appreciation, two things the old gal loved.

Mama was suddenly intrigued. “They gave you that just because you were in there looking at a chair?” she asked.

“Yup. It was for customer appreciation. I ain’t heard of that before, but I sure do like it. I think other places need to start giving me something when I go in there.”

Mama twisted her mouth. “I bought a sofa and loveseat in there last month. Where’s my tray?”

“You’ll need to go up there and get it,” Granny said.

And Mama did. She delayed finishing her crossword long enough to drive to town to find out what this customer appreciation thing was about.

When she returned, she had her own tray. We were suddenly a two-tray family then. But more importantly, Mama and Granny felt like their business was appreciated, which made them loyal customers.

Being valued as a customer was something that for a brief while was the norm.

Even if it the little gifts were branding for the business to give them free advertising, it was a token of appreciation and made us feel good about doing business with the company.

At least until some places started offering discounts and incentives to entice people to switch from their tried and true companies. It worked too. People would fall for the bait and change who and where they did their business.

Not me. I came from a family that had two silver trays because of their loyalty.

Several years ago, I called to see if I could take advantage of a special deal with our then satellite service.

“That’s just for new customers,” I was told.

“I have been a customer for eight years,” I protested.

“I see that your contract is up,” the rep told me.

“What does that mean?”

“It means we can set you up as a new customer, which would give you the special rate for two years and give you new receivers.”

“And after two years?”

“After two years, just tell us you need to set up a new account again.”

That part was a lie.

But, I still stuck with them for about five more years until I finally switched to another one. It was only after some horrible customer service experience made me pull the plug, but I did.

The new satellite service seemed thrilled to have my business, too.

I still felt ambivalent about the whole thing. I had been a long-time customer of the other company; didn’t they care they lost my business?

Just a few weeks ago, I needed to replace a phone.

I have been with my cell phone provider for 12 years and through many, many phones.

Not only did I need to replace one phone, I wanted to add a line for my child.

I went in to the store and asked what phones I could get for free – I am all about free. I get it honestly; remember the silver trays?

I was told there were no free options for me and they would not be able to waive activation fees.

“But, if you were a new customer you could get brand new iPhones.”

“Are you kidding me?”

The guy who barely looked older than my teenager didn’t even blink. “Oh, no. I don’t kid about free iPhones. But you can’t get the offer if you are a new customer.”

Needless to say, I left.

I called a few days later and was told the same thing.

“If you were a new customer, we could give you free iPhones. But, you’re not. You’ve been with us a while.”

“So, I am basically punished because I have been a loyal customer?” I asked.

The person on the other end of the phone didn’t respond.

I went online to a competitor. “Looking to switch and add a line,” I wrote in the window.

“We are so happy to have you! Let me tell you the awesome deals we have for you!”

It was a bittersweet victory.

The company I had been with for close to 13 years didn’t seem to care they were losing my business – they were giving away free iPhones, so there were dozens of people to take my place.

But the new cell phone company was delighted to have acquired my business.

I felt dirty, used and abuse.

All I wanted was a free phone.

But unlike the days of the silver trays, customer loyalty was not rewarded.

Because

Once upon a time, in a galaxy several counties over, there was a sassy mouthed little girl who didn’t like taking no for an answer.

And any time her mama told her she couldn’t do something, she immediately demanded to know why.

“Because,” was often the reply.

“That’s not a reason,” the child responded. “You can’t just say because.”

“Yes, I can,” the mama said.

“No, you can’t.”

“Yes, I can,” she said, this time quite firmly.

“No,” the child insisted. “You can’t. Because is not a good explanation.”

The mama, weary from her child’s questions, knitted her brows and said, “Because, I am the mama, and I said so. How’s that for an explanation?”

The child sucked her lower lip in for a moment, not liking the tone nor the logic. “I still don’t like it.”

The child that lived to tell this story was none other than yours truly and that mama was mine.

And throughout my life, any time I asked her to explain why she was being so ridiculously overbearing, so stringent, and so unrelenting, her reasoning was: Because.

If I pressed for a better explanation, I was told: Because I am the mama and I said so.

Needless to say, I did not like this, not at all.

It was the veto of all vetoes. I could not argue with her stance. It was the ultimate power play and she knew it.

“I will tell Granny!” I cried one day at her injustice.

Mama laughed. “Go right ahead. She knows what a mama says is gospel! Who do you think I learned it from?”

Being a mama apparently gave you some super-authority. It superseded anything else, possibly even the law.

Once when I tried informing the crazy redhead that I had rights and I was pretty sure she was violating them, particularly my pursuit of happiness, she told me she was my governing entity.

“You don’t have any constitutional rights until I tell you you do.”

“How are you so sure about that?” I asked, sticking my chin out defiantly.

“Because,” she began. “I am your mother and I said so.”

That because again.

I couldn’t get away from it.

This was Mama’s go-to, her one-size excuse fits all. When I became an omnipotent and apparently brave teenager, I told her it was lame and weak, because she had no solid ground whatsoever and only used that Mama card when she knew she was failing at finding a solid reason.

She looked at me over the haze of her Virginia Slim 120 and said, “Doesn’t matter, Kitten. That’s still the answer.”

I think hearing that phrase so frequently is what made me start sighing so much.

I soon learned to anticipate the word any time I asked something.

“Can I go __” insert any place that was outside of the city limits with one of my friends and the answer was no.

“Why can’t I?”

“Because.”

Anytime I asked to go somewhere and was denied – because.

Anytime I wanted something and was told no – because.

Every ding-dang time she wanted to just say no and not explain – because.

That word basically meant she was being unreasonably unfair, unyielding, and didn’t give a rat’s skinny tail if it made me happy. She was doing her job – being my mama – and me getting my way was not part of her job description.

If anything, it seemed like her sole life purpose was to do the opposite of making me happy.

I argued. I debated.

I begged.

Nothing worked.

Because stood on its own.

“One day, you will understand,” Mama said.

“I doubt it,” I muttered.

I swore fervently I would never be an unfair parent and would always give a decent explanation for my decisions.

When I became a mama, I would listen to my child’s reasonings and let them have a voice.

And for the most part, I have.

At least, I think I have anyway.

Until I realized, I have kind of used that old trusty Mama card myself.

He asked me the other night if he could do something.

I said no.

“But why?” he wanted to know.

I didn’t respond.

“I would like an answer,” he said.

“I gave you an answer. I said no,” I said.

“That is not a legitimate answer. You need to give me a legit, for real answer.”

So,I did.

Because.

I am the mama. And I said so.

Tough Mama love

For the majority of my childhood and some parts of my adult life, I can’t think of a time that Mama couldn’t, or rather, wouldn’t fix things for me.

If someone crossed her Kitten, Mama was ready to go to battle and could go from a kind-hearted woman to full blown crazy redhead with lightening speed.

Until, that is, Mama decided to teach me a lesson.

I cannot even remember what it was, or what happened, but one day in my mid-20’s, I ran to Mama, hoping she’d fix it, but I did not get her usual reaction.

“I am so sorry that happened,” she said.

I waited.

Usually, she would ask for the offender’s name and contact information, so she could unleash her hellfire and brimstone.

This time, she simply said, “I am so sorry.”

“Aren’t you going to do something?” I asked.

“Not this time,” she replied. “I think this is a lesson you need to learn.”

I was shocked – don’t mothers live for this kind of stuff? Especially mine, who always wanted to rush in and make it all better.

But, no, she was going to let me deal with this on my own.

It was hard to swallow.

I kind of felt abandoned.

Didn’t she care? Didn’t she want to help? Did she want to see me upset and maybe the victim?

I asked her all of these things.

“You are only a victim if you think yourself one,” she said gently. “And I have raised to be nobody’s fool nor a victim. You know what needs to be done in this situation and I am not going to always be there to fight your battles. You decided to do this on your own, too. Sometimes, Kitten, you have to lie in the bed you made.”

Not the answer I was hoping for. And apparently, guilt was not going to work on her — not this time, anyway.

The only way out of the mess was in.

I had to learn to fight my own battles and, realize that sometimes, things couldn’t be fixed.

I did not like it. But I did learn to not make that kind of mistake again.

Still, it hurt, and I didn’t understand why Mama didn’t help me when she could.

She reacted the same a few years later when I was going through a divorce.

A dear friend was visiting me, and as we walked through an antique store, I shared how Mama seemed to be letting me deal with things on my own, rather than rushing to my aid. I admitted I was kind of shocked and thought she didn’t care about me.

My friend turned around and looked me square in the eye and said, “No, she loves you. And I am going to tell you a truth that will hurt: sometimes, at the very moment you need someone the most in your life, that person is not going to be there. It doesn’t mean they don’t love you, it doesn’t mean they are abandoning you; it means they have a life, too, and sometimes, you have to take care of things on your own. I love you, and will always try to be there for you, but, there may come a day I can’t be. Learning this lesson now will save you heartache and disappointment in the future.”

As hard as it was to hear, it was the truth and eventually, I was glad I learned it.

I found out later, Mama stepping back and letting me learn that for myself was harder on her than it was me.

She wanted to swoop in like a one-woman cavalry and right the wrongs; she knew, though, I would never learn to do it for myself if she did.

As a mother, there is nothing harder than to watch your child, even if they are grown, go through something and let them do it.

Especially when it is a mess they got themselves in; even more so when the mess was something you had warned them about and they didn’t listen.

It wasn’t a punishment. It was love.

Tough, strong Mama love.

Just like when babies are learning to walk, we have to let them stumble a few times.

Toting them all the time does not strengthen their legs.

Granted, as I grew up and older, I realize just how much Mama has done and how sometimes, she sacrificed a tremendous amount for me. And even more, sometimes, it was harder for her let me fail – even just a little bit – to help me grow.

“Mama, you’re always going to love me, right?” Cole randomly asked one day.

“Absolutely.”

“Nothing can ever make you stop loving me, right?” he asked again.

I immediately wondered what he did that I hadn’t found yet, but assured him, nothing could or would ever make me stop loving him.

“So, you will always love me, and you’ll never stop?” he pondered again. “Even if you get mad at me?”

I assured him again, I would never stop.

“No matter what?”

No matter what.

I may have to let him learn some lessons like Mama had to let me, but that would never, not ever, stop the love.

Even when it’s tough Mama love, it’s still love.