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Mama’s retail rules

One thing that can get my Mama up on her indignant high horse quicker than anything has always been customer service, or the lack thereof.

Growing up, I learned to bristle anytime a retail clerk told Mama it was not their job or their department.

She would make a sharp inhaling sound as she drew her hand up in the shape of C.
“Do you see this C? It stands for customer. That is what I am. And the customeris always right!”

The salesgirl would normally scurry off in search of someone in a higher pay scale to deal with the crazy redhead, as Mama stood her proverbial ground, Virginia Slim in hand.

Mama pulled out the C once when we were shopping for a debutante ball gown.

Going shopping for a formal required a trip to a mall other than Georgia Square, so we took a day – a whole day– off from school and work to go. Even Granny went, figuring we would need protection, deliverance or bail money if we ventured outside the county line.

After trodding through multiple stores, Granny decided to go back to the car.
“She ain’t never gonna find a dress she likes,” the old gal declared. “I ain’t never seen such a wishy-washy child.”

I was not wishy-washy; I just knew what I liked and so far, had not seen it.

Finally, after going into several more stores, I found it. A royal blue strapless dress with a full, fluffy skirt.

“This is the one I want,” I said.
“You need to try it on first,” Mama said. “I am not going through this again if you need to bring it back.” She grabbed the hanger only to find the dress secured to the rack by some locked cable.

I guess shoplifting mountains of taffeta and tulle was a thing in the ‘80s.

There was no sales clerk in the immediate area, so Mama went to the closet department where she saw an employee.

“Would you please call someone who can unlock the formal wear to come help us, please?” she asked.

The girl didn’t even look up but continued to pick her cuticles.

“That’s not my department,” she said.

Uh oh.

“Excuse me?” Mama said.

“I said, that’s not my department.”

Double uh oh.

Mama bristled and pulled herself up to her full height. “I didn’t ask you what your department was. I asked you to call someone for that department.”

The girl looked up long enough to roll her eyes. “You will need to go find someone yourself.”

That was it. The final straw. The comment that broke the crazy redhead’s sense of decorum.

“I will not go find someone. I already did, and I asked her — that’s you, in case you missed it – to call someone. I do not have an intercom to page someone. And if I did, I would be paging the manager!” Her hand came up, making the C and I knew what was coming. “Do you see this C? Do you know what it stands for?”

I bolted out the door and across the parking lot, hoping I could find Granny.
I found the old gal, sitting in her Oldsmobile, eating cookies.
I banged on the window, startling her. “What in the devil is wrong? You almost made me drop my snickerdoodle.”

“Mama is doing the C,” I began breathlessly. And when did she get the cookies? “I found the dress, but Mama is going after some sales girl in luggage.”

Granny frowned and put her cookie back in the bag in her purse. “Lord, have mercy. Let’s go save that poor girl.”

Mama was schooling the store manager on customer service when we returned. “Where have you been?” she asked me when she saw me. She shoved pounds of blue taffeta at me. “Go try it on. Now.”

In the dressing room, I could hear her continued barrage. “Maybe if you had enough people working, I would not have had to walk to another department. Did you think about that? It is the holidays. You need to be properly staffed to meet customer needs.”

We got the dress and left, Mama fussing all the way home about how people no longer took pride in their jobs and didn’t have a clue about customer service.

“You need to be nicer to the sales clerks, Jean,” Granny said.

“They need to be nicer to customers!” Mama retorted.

“That poor girl was probably making minimum wage and you were chastising her – it was not her department. She was in luggage.”

“You missed the whole thing, Mama. I asked her to call someone to that department; she was too busy watching her nails grow to help me. I am nice. I am beyond nice. But the reason she has a job is to help customers.”

When I worked in retail, Mama’s lectures on good customer service stayed in my mind.

And the holidays could be the worst.

I would be in the middle of a sales floor, sometimes with just one other employee, trying to help scores and hordes of customers.

People would get upset. Some would be frustrated if they had to wait in line. We were short staffed, overworked, underpaid, and usually out of whatever they wanted to buy.

But none, not one, gave me the C.

I made sure I was courteous and cordial, and not once did I say, “not my job.” I thanked all the customers with a smile and wished them a Merry Christmas.

I did have over 20 years of prior training.

The other day, a friend posted a graphic on Facebook reminding people that retail workers were away from their own holiday celebrations when they were waiting on them and that patience and politeness were important. Maybe I should send a copy to Mama.

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A strong-willed woman

I have learned something recently.

Being a strong-willed woman is a bit of a blessing and a curse.

I can’t help how I am, I can’t.

It’s in my blood to be strong-willed or stubborn.

Upfront and unflinching.

Some people call it a few other names.

But it is something I can’t help.

Passivity is not something I do well, nor am I weak or subservient.

Having the opposite characteristics of these traits is not always welcomed in the company of some.

Again, it can get you called some pretty ugly names if you are a woman – behind your back and even sometimes to your face.

When a man stands up for himself or states his opinion passionately, he is called an alpha male; a woman, it seems, is supposed to smile and nod and keep her thoughts to herself lest she come across as negative.

A man complaining is a simply voicing what needs to be done; a woman is whining and bitter, even if she is making valid points.

Some people may appreciate this dynamism.

But it’s not a personality for everyone.

“You must have had a mouthy mother raising you,” someone said in an accusatory tone one day.

“Nope,” I replied. “Mama is very gentle and kind; she just doesn’t take any guff off anyone.”

No, the crazy redhead can’t be blamed for the way I am. Nor can the elder redhead.

Those two gave me examples but they aren’t the cause.

I’d likely place the blame on my grandfather and uncle, with them encouraging me to speak my mind and defend my position when necessary.

Both never had a problem with Granny being stubborn and strong-willed; if anything, my Pop seemed to encourage it.

“Chicken,” he would begin, calling her by his pet name for her. “You need to deal with these folks. They ain’t listening to me.”

I couldn’t imagine someone not listening to my grandfather. He could be quite imposing himself. But Granny had a way of stating her purpose that made people take notice.

Being tenacious and unshakeable are just not traits that are considered feminine.

But whenever something happened when I was younger, it would be my grandfather telling me to stand my ground.

“Don’t you let someone run over you,” he would tell me. “I taught you better than that.”

When I got older, and started working, I found that could be problematic in the workforce.

Some people want you to ignore any problems that exist and not make waves or changes, even if they are for the better.

I quickly grew frustrated with some of the things that were occurring and said so.

Big mistake. Huge.

My words were not welcomed.

“They don’t want things to get better,” I told Mama. “They just want things to be the same and us just suck it up and deal with it.”

“That’s life,” she replied. “Stand up for what you can, for what is worth the fight, and let the rest go.”

But I couldn’t.

I would get upset and voice my complaints and concerns. I would fight for the underdog.

I would be as pigheaded and determined as my grandfather could be until I would reach a breaking point and quit.

“That’s why your granddaddy has been self-employed most of his life,” Granny said. “He can’t stand people telling him to do foolish things.”

I could see his point.

But foolishness was rampant it seemed.

There have been a few places that embraced my strong-willed expressions and allowed me to be myself. Even if it was just a matter of letting me just be able to speak my peace.

Finding a way to express myself in a way that does not come across as strident or unyielding is something I have been trying to work on but doesn’t always happen. Sometimes, I am not able to find that balance.

But why should I have to?

Why is so wrong for me to be strong-willed? Or stubborn?

Or maybe even a little bit of a mess at times?

Is that really such a bad thing?

Maybe it would be easier if I was just more ladylike and quieter. Maybe I should keep my opinions to myself and not try to stand up for things as much.

Or maybe I will try to take the bite out of my tone.

I have tried in the past.

I don’t know that it is really possible.

Nor that I really want to change.

The judgment of small talk

Being an introvert makes social situations a little challenging at times.

Even when it is with people I like or want to know better, I find gatherings quite hard to deal with.

It’s not that I hate people, mind you. Even though I do prefer the company of animals to most humans, that is not it.

No, it’s the small talk that does me in.

I loathe small talk.

I can talk at length about things that range from random trivia to deeper subjects but the tedious ‘getting to know you’ questions and chatter drive me batty.

Mainly because the mundane conversation can be used to judge and people have sorely forgotten how to be polite and inquiring without belly flopping right into someone’s personal life.

“Are you married? Do you have kids?”

If you answer no to either question, you can bet the next question is “Why not?”

People sometimes forget one is not necessarily a precursor to the other, which can make for some uncomfortable exchanges.

But perhaps the most annoying one is, “What do you do?”

Such a simple question really.

But one that is very loaded.

Depending on your answer, people are going to decide how to treat you.

If you say you are a doctor or other professional, people will treat you with respect.

If you say you have a blue collar job, their reaction may be a little different.

It’s wrong, but it is something I have witnessed far too often.

I was raised to treat everyone equally, and to not let their job title dictate the level of respect they received.

Yet, that one simple question carries a tremendous amount of weight to it.

Many times, people feel like titles and what they do for a living defines them, and sometimes, it can.

We do tend to get caught up in our jobs and worry about the image we are projecting into the world.

I have met a few people who let you know with every breathe what they did for a living and how important they were.

And, I have known folks who were humble and down to earth that did not need any kind of recognition for their positions.

In parts of Europe, it is considered rude to ask someone what kind of work they did. It is a matter of pre-judging someone.

Deciding if the person was worth getting to know. Evaluating if the person’s net income would put them on equal footing with us.

And trying to size up if the person can be valuable to us in any way.

I hate this question and it’s kind of hard to avoid it when you are in most social situations.

“I don’t care what someone does for a living,” I told Mama one day. “I don’t care what their level of education is or if they have a big, important job. And if their opinion of me is only based on how I earn a living, they can stick it.”

Mama gently agreed. “Well, Kitten, you can tell a lot about a person by how they treat their wait staff in a restaurant. If they are rude to them, they will be rude to others, too. You weren’t raised to be that way so it is a bit hard for you to understand.”

It reminds me of how someone I knew once whined she was ashamed of her fiancé’s job and didn’t know if she could marry someone who “wore his name on his shirt.”

“Lots of people have their names on their uniforms,” I tried telling her.

“Like who?” she sniffed.
“Doctors, for one. Cops have name badges, too. There is nothing wrong with wearing your name on your uniform.”

She never saw my point, but I am sure she is the type that uses the small talk question of “what do you do” to decide if someone was worthy of her or not.

The good thing about small talk is people usually aren’t listening; they are waiting to respond with more stuff about themselves.

“What do you do for a living?” someone asked me recently.

“Whatever it takes,” I replied.

Thankfully, they didn’t even notice.

 

 

Granny on my shoulder

Granny’s voice has been a familiar refrain throughout my life, and even more so now that she has passed away.

There are many days where her words of wisdom echo in my head, giving me direction into whatever situation I am facing.

Being able to call her for advice is something I sorely took for granted and it is something that I miss, oftentimes reaching for the phone with questions about what to substitute in a recipe, what to give Cole for a cough, or how to best handle a situation.

Oftentimes, her words were full of sage counsel, as she offered instruction and guidance from her decades of experience.

“Use cold water when making biscuits,” she would remind me. “Your dough will be tough if you don’t.”

“Keep all your receipts; you never know when you’ll need them.”

“Don’t open the oven door so much; you’ll make your cakes fall in the middle.”

She was full of hints and helpful tips to help me navigate all the twists and turns life threw at me.

As much as she was full of guidance, she also imparted a certain amount of sass and vinegar.

“If they gonna talk, give them something to talk about.”

“Don’t worry about what they think; you and God is a majority.”

She was the salt of the earth and sometimes, spoke the truth even if it was unpopular.

And there was no talking behind someone’s back.

No, Granny, the Helen Prime in the family preferred to speak directly to the person’s face.

“I wanna make sure there was no misunderstanding in my message,” she told a poor soul once after delivering her diatribe. “And when something is delivered by a rumor mill, the message may get watered down. I’d hate for you to not know exactly how I felt.”

I can’t even remember who the person was but remember the gasp they took at her words.

No, Granny was full-strength, non-diluted truth and righteousness in her delivery.

Her acrimonious nature skipped her children, with her daughter trying to be a paragon of gracious kindness.

Mama balanced out Granny’s bluntness with a gentler approach and response.

Both influenced me as I grew up but, for good or for bad, it was Granny I have turned out the most like.

I know what she would say so well, it is like I can hear her running commentary as if she were still alive.

“Do you remember the cartoons with the devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other?” I asked Mama one day.

“Yes,” she replied.

“That’s how I feel sometimes,” I said. “Granny’s on one shoulder, you’re on the other.”

“Which one am I?” she asked.

“You really have to ask?”

She should know if anything, Granny would be the one encouraging me to go ahead and say something whether it needed to be said or not.

When a discussion takes a very heated turn, Mama’s voice is the one encouraging me to find a peaceful compromise or to maybe bow out. “Not everything deserves a response,” she would say.

Granny’s voice is always rooting for the opposite. “They are wrong and need to be corrected,” Granny would say.  “If you don’t correct ‘em, you are just as wrong as they are. Set ‘em straight.”

On a recent trip home, I told Mama how Granny’s influence was still pretty solid, with her strong opinions trickling into my perspective from time to time.

“I miss her, even if she was sometimes a bit much,” Mama said. “At least you always knew where you stood with her.”

Yes, you did. It didn’t matter who you were either; she was an equal opportunity fusser outer.

When I left, Cole and I went to the mall in Athens, a place I hadn’t visited in a number of years.

“There’s the cookie place you said you and Granny used to go to,” my child commented.

“Yes, we need to get a cookie before we go,” I said.

The warm smell of cookies baking always lured Granny in, but she had, in her words, a love hate relationship with that cookie place.

Once, as the girl behind the counter approached her to take her order, she wiped her nose with the palm of her hand. “What would you like?” the girl had asked.

“For you to wash your dadblamed hands and put on some gloves before you get me my cookies,” Granny replied.

Another time, Granny had some sticker shock when she was given her total.

“For that price, I could have gone to the store and bought the ingredients to make several dozen cookies,” she protested. “Maybe even made a down payment on the cow for the milk.”

“Do you not want the cookies?” the girl asked confused. No one had probably fussed about the price of cookies before.

“Yes, I want the cussed cookies; I promised my husband I was gonna get him some. But this is ridiculous what you charge for them!”

The girl blinked. “I don’t charge this personally. It is just what corporate tells us to price them at…”

Granny knew that; she was just going to complain to whoever was closest.

Getting cookies at the mall as we left was a tradition with Granny, just as getting a pretzel and lemonade was with Mama. We had already had the pretzels.

So, there we were, getting two cookie sandwiches with a thick layer of frosting as filling.

Two cookies mind you.

The girl gave me the total.

Suddenly, I could hear Granny fussing loud and clear.

“Ma’am? Did you hear me?” the girl asked.

What would Granny say? I thought to myself.

Whatever it is, for once, I decided to just keep my mouth shut.

Differing opinions

A friend of mine commented on Facebook the other day that he noticed a few people had unfriended him because of a political post he had shared.

I missed the post – I am trying to stay off Facebook for the most part lately – but found it sad someone unfriended him over his opinion.

His opinion.

Now, granted, years ago before we had social media, we didn’t discuss politics among friends or family because we knew not everyone shared the same views.

Back then, we didn’t feel the need to share every thought that came in our head at every given moment.

In today’s digitally driven world, we declare our views every three seconds and state, “My wall, my page – if you don’t like it, you know where the unfriend button is.”

That is not what this friend did at all; if anything, he probably shared something showing his patriotic beliefs and someone took great umbrage with it.

It’s sad because regardless of what political party we tend to align with, we are all Americans. We’re all members of the human race. We all have to get along. We have to work together, live together in our communities, and find ways to make things better here at home.

Granny would have never stood for this nonsense.

She always said as much as some people irritated her, she didn’t give up on them because of their opinions.

“Opinions are just like a certain body part,” she would say, “everyone’s got ‘em and needs to keep ‘em to themselves.”

But here lately, our differing opinions are driving us apart.

If I unfriended everyone I disagreed with, I would have no friends left, except maybe the account a friend set up for her dog.

Even then, he doesn’t seem to be too cat friendly and well, I am a crazy cat lady.

I was discussing all of this new-found discord with Mama the other day and she found it downright bizarre.

“Takes everyone working together to make the world go ‘round,” she said simply. “My best friend was on the totally opposite side of me politically. It didn’t matter. We were friends.”

“How did y’all not fight about politics?” I asked.

“We didn’t discuss it. I knew what party she voted, and she knew the one I voted,” Mama explained. “We talked about our kids, what y’all were doing, what we were going to get for dinner at work.”

In other words, they focused on the things that brought them together and made them friends; not the things that would tear them apart.

I know I have let a lot of the political hoopla get to me over the recent years. It used to not bother me and was something I just politely declined to participate in.

But it is hard to avoid now. Everywhere we look, we are being forced to have an opinion, and to pick a side.

Being passionate about your beliefs and knowing where you stand is important and probably as American as apple pie.

However, alienating someone because they have a different opinion than you is just wrong.

I thought about the person that was unfriended.

The father of one of my dearest friends for over 15 years.

And, no matter our different opinions on things, I remembered the kindness he extended us some 14 years ago that stays with me. An offer that we didn’t have to accept but it was graciously offered and appreciated.

He didn’t ask who we were voting for, he didn’t ask our opinions on matters that now seem to cause deep division among friends and family.

He just knew people he cared about may be in a predicament where he could offer some grace and compassion.

It hurt my heart to think someone had unfriended him on some silly social media platform because he shared something that he agreed with.

We used to seek to understand why someone liked something we didn’t. When my child was 4 if I had told him I didn’t like something he did, he would seek to understand. Why didn’t I like it? What, if anything, did I like about it?

He wouldn’t call me names and cut me out of his life.

But that’s how we handle things now. We want to shut out those who disagree with us even slightly.

And it only promises to get worse.

“People are really going to be fussing and fighting and slinging mud,” Mama warned as we talked about the coming months.

“With the midterms?”

“No,” she said. “College football.”

And that should be what we really argue about.

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.

A curious rivalry

I had a realization the other day when I was talking to someone.

Just out of the blue, it hit me.

A conversational epiphany, I suppose.

But throughout the conversation, this person kept trying to one up me.

If I said something, they responded with, “Oh, how wonderful! I have done ___”
Fill in the blank with something of greater success, greater magnitude or greater sorrow – take your pick.

This person was trying — and succeeding — at one-upping me.

I didn’t catch it at first and thought they were generally engaging in conversation.

I am not even sure if the person was aware they were doing it.

But even my dull observations were one-upped.

Every time I made a comment, she had to see my boring stat and raise it to mundane.

Finally, I had to just smile and walk away. I was emotionally exhausted and didn’t like the competitive game I had not agreed to play.

This, of course, is not a new phenomenon. But it has grown considerably worse over the years.

Why do some people feel the need to best someone else? Is it that important to get one more word in, to have something better than their friends?

Since when did we live our lives in perpetual comparison and competition?

Granny dealt with it with one of her sisters.

“I swunny,” she began one day. “It doesn’t matter what I am dealing with, that sister of mine has got it worse. Or better, depending on which way she is trying to irritate me.”

“Why does she do that?” I asked.

“Who knows. Because she is a miserable human being and she is trying to make herself feel special by trying to out do me no matter what it is. If something good happens to me, she’s had better. If something bad happens, hers is worse.”

I chalked that up to just a lifelong sibling rivalry but have found it happens quite often between folks that are related. And sometimes, even more often between those we consider friends.

I don’t get it.

Can’t we just be happy for others, or commiserate with them if need be, and let them have their moment?

Do we have to go around trying to compare ourselves to everyone else?

Granny would tell you Facebook was possibly to blame.

Before she passed away, she blamed the social media platform for all of societies ill; at least she was finally giving Madonna a break.

She may be right.

I caught myself seeing someone’s status update recently and felt like I wanted to scream my accomplishments, too – didn’t my stuff matter?

Mama assured me my stuff did matter, but maybe that person’s stuff was equally important.

“Can’t you be happy for them?” she asked.

I balked at a response. I was happy for them. Wasn’t I?

“What if they told you that in person? What would your response be?” she asked.

“I’d congratulate them,” I said.

“Then why do you feel the need to shout what you’ve done now?”

I wasn’t sure.

Part of me felt like I wanted someone to see I had done something, too. I wanted them to be proud of me, or to applaud what I had accomplished. I wanted it to be known that while they had something great happen, so had I.

I did refrain; I am my mother’s daughter, after all, so I knew to take the higher road.

But I still felt a pang of rivalry. It wasn’t quite jealousy or envy. No, this was some other offense, that wanted to poo-poo all over whatever another had done and scream, “But look at me! I did this!”

Just like I had someone do to me.

It’s an ugly, horrible, bitter trespass that has no redeeming qualities.

I hated it when someone did the one-up thing with me, so why would I get the hankering to do the same thing?

Mama reminded me Pop used to do it, standing around Kelly Lumber Yard, with his buddies all bragging about their grandchildren. He loved to save his turn to the very last, so he could tell them how his only granddaughter had made straight A’s.

“That’s different,” I told her. “That was the equivalent of the biggest fish they caught but instead of fish, they used grandkids. And it just feels different.”

“Why does it feel different, Kitten?” Mama asked. “Because someone was bragging on you?”

Ouch. I didn’t see that one coming.

But that wasn’t the reason.
Maybe it was the context of the situation. When those men gathered ‘round with their cups of coffee and red link biscuits waiting on their construction supplies, they knew they were getting in a braggart’s folly. They also wanted to share what their grandchildren had done – not them. It wasn’t about them but about someone they loved.

And that is vastly different than my recent experience.

The person in question had a history of no matter what I was talking about, she always had to one-up. It wasn’t just me, it was everyone.

It was a matter of belittling everything anyone else had ever done or thought about doing.

It circled back to Granny’s earlier comment about her sister doing the very thing to her because she was miserable. At least in Granny’s opinion, she was.

“You know what Granny told her sister the last time she tried that one-up game with her?” Mama asked.

“What?” Inquiring minds truly did want to know.

“She told her that sometimes it wasn’t always about her,” Mama said.

“And sometimes, I think that’s good reminder for us all.”

Something to cry about

Maybe the worst phrase I ever heard as a child was “Keep crying and I will give you something to cry about.”

The second worst phrase was, “We’re having oyster stew for dinner and you are most certainly going to eat it.”

The latter was usually said before the former and was the direct causation of the former being said.

Both phrases can be attributed to my grandmother.

I have zero proof of this, but I am pretty sure Granny was the originator of the dreading crying phrase.

It’s a horrible, dreadful thing to say to a child.

I wasn’t even quite sure what she meant the first time I heard it.

Wasn’t the fact that I was evidently in some kind of distress or turmoil enough?

She thought I needed something else to cry about?

Was what she was going to give me make me wail against the wall?

But, being the smart alecky, sassy little girl I was, I of course had to poke the bear.

“W-what are you going to give me?” I asked between my sobs.

The old gal tightened her jaw and said, “You keep carrying on and you will find out.”

The threat – even though it was of unknown severity – was enough to usually make me suck my lip back up and get quiet. I may have been sassy, but I wasn’t stupid.

She held the promise of giving me something to really, truly cry about over my head most of my life.

It’s probably why now, I am one of those closet wailers, crying in private and never wanting anyone to see my tears, least the promise was made good.

One day, when having a teeny, tiny hissie fit, Granny reminded me she could give me something to really cry over.

“Like what exactly?” I asked. “You have been saying this for years. What exactly are you going to do? You are just all talk.”

I had done the unthinkable. I had shocked the old gal into silence.

She glared at me full of venom.

“You have no idea what I am capable of,” she said before she stormed away.

I somehow had sassed and lived to tell about it.

Counting myself as lucky, I tried to stay out of her way for a while. Like about a year.

I lived in fear, because there was no telling what kind of Granny-meanness she had in store to prove me wrong.

One day, I got brave and was sassing her about something – I can’t even remember what it was, but a sass had been invoked.

I didn’t cry though. I knew better.

“What did you say?” she asked.

That was not a request to repeat it. No, she was giving me the opportunity to apologize or maybe even a five second head start to run.

Not being the brightest at times, especially when my sassy mouth had overtaken any common sense, I repeated it.

“I’ve got a right mind to wring your neck,” she said.

“Oh, you wring necks? Is this like giving me something to cry about?”

The look she gave me would have stopped a charging bull in its tracks. Probably because the bull would have had the sense to be scared.

“Hateful, spiteful child,” she seethed.

I retreated to the sanctity of my room.

She couldn’t wring someone’s neck. That was just a saying, I was certain.

A few days later, Granny declared she was going to get chicken from one of her brothers for dinner.

She came home with chicken, but, it was not fried or baked. Nope, this chicken was still alive.

I still wonder how she got that thing in the car.

Pop looked out the back door.

“I thought you was getting a bucket of chicken, Helen,” he said. “What is this?”

“It’s going to be dinner, Bob,” she said as she tied her apron around her waist.

“It’s still got feathers on it,” my grandfather stated.

“For now, it does,” she said.

My grandfather and I watched her head outside to take on the chicken.

Surely, she wasn’t serious? This was a joke, right?

Granny stood in the middle of the back yard, with the chicken frantically running around her.
She told it to stop, which it didn’t. It was a chicken, after all. And probably knew her plans for deep frying.

Of course, the fact the chicken not doing as she told it made her angry. She watched it stealthily before she reached out and grabbed it.

Given the voracity and torque of her grip, that poor chicken may have been on the receiving end of some the anger that was directed towards me.

It took me a while to eat chicken after that.

I didn’t tell Mama about all of this until recently.

“If it makes you feel any better, she used to say that to me and Bobby,” she said when I mentioned the crying phrase. “Sometimes, she liked to blow a lot of hot air.”

“Yeah, but she threatened to wring my neck one day,” I began. “Let me tell you about what she did to that poor chicken…”

Mama was horrified.

We both agreed – it was a good thing we never did find out what it was she was going to give us to really cry about.

A modern-day impropriety

According to my dear, crazy redheaded Mama, the end of civility fell upon my generation.

Hers, she claims, had a sense of decency.

“We didn’t talk the way you and your friends do. It was unheard of,” she declared one day.

I was not sure what she was referring to; she thinks everything that I say is inappropriate, even when I am merely stating a fact.

“What are you talking about?” I asked her, not really wanting to know.

“The things you say in mixed company. It’s not proper.”

Mixed company was Mama’s definition of men and women. And based on her boundaries, saying pretty much other than “Hello,” was rude and improper.

“What did I say?” I asked.

“More like what didn’t you say. I can’t believe you talk that way around menfolk.”
I can’t believe my mother uses the phrase “menfolk.” How old was she exactly?

“Mother, just because your generation was so hung up on silly stuff does not mean mine is,” I said. “Generation X-ers are a little bit different.”

Mama sniffed. “It’s still is rude and just shouldn’t be done.”

What got her knickers in a knot on this particular day was my recounting of what I had said to the owner of the feed store about Doodle.

I had commented the parking lot pup was part pitbull, and while we weren’t sure what she was mixed with, we felt certain her southern hemisphere was pittie because she had a wiggly backside.

Except, I said the other b-word that meant backside.

Mama had a fit.

“I can’t believe you told a man that!” she cried.

“What?”

That! How could you?”

“Mama, they hear worse than that on the radio or the news. Trust me. Me saying that word is the least offensive thing that was said that day.”
“It’s not a matter of offending someone. It’s a matter of talking properly. A woman is not supposed to talk like that in front of a man,” she stated.

In Mama’s world, this should have been put in the Bill of Rights or engraved on stone and handed to Moses. She had a list of certain categories and words that she felt like should not be mentioned in front of or in discussion with members of the opposite sex. It would be easier to list the ones she found acceptable – food, weather, and only non-controversial books.

“I don’t know if you have jumped into the 21st century yet or not, Mama, but men and women have been having discussions on these topics for a while now. I am sure you have watched television; they talk about all kinds of things you deem improper on TV.”

She sighed. “And that’s probably why I prefer reruns of Perry Mason to some of these shows. Your uncle and I tried to watch an episode of Mom one night – I thought I would like it because the taller woman had been on West Wing with Mark Harmon. You know he’s Gibbs and I have always liked him. Anyway, it was the most atrocious thing I have ever seen. We turned it. It was embarrassing to sit there and hear that kind of language with my brother sitting three feet from me.”

“Mama, are you really this hypersensitive?”

I could hear her bristle on the other end of the phone. “I don’t consider myself hypersensitive. I just think that there is no decorum left in your generation and those that came after it. Nothing is sacred, and everything is up for discussion, and it does not matter who is present.”

Mama, bless her heart, would have a huge fit if she had ever heard some hardcore rap music.

I am not sure why she has been so unyielding in this area, but she has. She has always been mortified about me discussing anything she deemed the least bit delicate within earshot of any men I knew, unless I was married to them. And even then, she thought it may not need to be shared.

“I think you are being awfully silly. I think most women discuss these things in this day and age,” I said.

Good lord – I had been reduced to using the phrase ‘in this day and age’ – I was officially old.

“I am not silly,” she insisted. “I just think, if you look back on the course of history and start looking at when things started going wrong in this world, you will notice it began with language. Our language helps set us apart and give us boundaries. People who may not have had much money still knew how to talk properly. Now, everyone talks so plainly, it makes them look unintelligent and uneducated. People just say anything now – and don’t care who hears it. And it brings us all down.”

There you have it.

The downfall of civilization was brought about by the impropriety of our language, at least according to Mama’s theory.

Everyone’s a critic (7/19/2017)

It seems like everyone’s a critic these days.

Google, Yelp and TripAdvisor have made it easy.

Just because someone has a keyboard and an opinion, they think it needs to be expressed.

It’s particularly easy when its anonymous. Keyboard warriors like to hide behind a fake name and complain and criticize others, in hopes of seeing the effect of their cruel words.

People seem to get a rush when they have had a less than stellar experience and can complain about it online.

Sadly, those types of comments are the ones that garner the most response, too.

Because the internet is not going to let someone post a complaint without everyone chiming in with their own two cents about it.

“If you don’t have anything nice to say….” Mama would begin.

“I know, I know. Don’t say anything at all.” How Granny got to speak was beyond me, because she never said anything nice. But Mama always urged me to not say anything that wasn’t nice and, I sincerely, earnestly try.

But people love to be critical and mean.

And it is something I just can’t comprehend.

Someone asked me recently if I took criticism well.

I told them it depends on the spirit in which it was given.

I’ve been around people who thought the best way to help someone was to tear them down, forgetting to ever build them back up.

Unfortunately, some of these people were in supervisory positions – how, I don’t know, because being critical to the point of soul crushing is not leadership.

But criticism, when it is given with the intention of being constructive and helping people change, can be helpful.

Still painful, nonetheless, but helpful.

If we haven’t been told how to correct a mistake the first time we make it, we don’t realize we’ve done anything wrong.

We think we are doing a good job – especially when we keep doing it and no one says anything.

When someone finally does say something, it stings. Horribly.

The even more frustrating part?

That uncomfortable space is where we grow.

It may not feel like it at first but it is.

I say this and I have the world’s thinnest skin.

But if someone is trying to help me improve, I appreciate the time it took for them to do it.

And in that awkward, uncomfortable space of hearing our flaws and missteps, we have to realize we are not being personally attacked but coached so we can do a better job.

It doesn’t feel good. It doesn’t make us happy. It can be terrifying to hear we have messed up.

It can also be wonderful to hear what we’ve done right and hopefully if they are trying to help you, they should tell you what you did correctly.

“Do I even breathe right?” I remember asking someone who was particularly critical once.

“You do tend to sigh a lot,” the supervisor complained, which made me only sigh more.

Even though that was a particularly dry place to try to grow, it taught me how I wanted to be treated and how to treat people I worked with.

The sad thing is, there’s more people like this one out there – people who are trying to make others just as miserable as they are.

Instead of focusing on the areas that need improvement, I am going to focus on what they are doing right and hope that will be magnified.

And I am going to tell people too.

When I see something going right, I am going to call the manager to let them know. When I have a great experience, I am going to talk about that on Twitter.

No one likes a critic.

So I am going to start spreading praise like crazy and see how that goes.