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.


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.


The Chocolate Concealment (6/8/2016)

Some of you may judge me for this. I know that ahead of time.

But, a few of you will understand.

And maybe you do this yourself from time to time.

It started a few years ago, when Cole was around 4.

I locked myself in the bathroom, hoping for privacy.

Cole, being part cat, tried to paw me out from under the door.

“What are you doing?” he wanted to know.

“Nothing!” I cried.

“I can see your feet! What are you doing?!”

He frantically started hitting the door. ‘Let me in!”

His howls were now becoming far too loud and would soon draw attention.

I had to do the unthinkable.

I had to let him in.

“What are you doing?” he asked again.

I swallowed. “Nothing.”

He sniffed the air then shot an accusatory glance at me. “I smell chocolate,” he declared.

I couldn’t hide it any longer.

I had hid in the one room with a lock to eat a candy bar.

A precious, precious candy bar.

Without sharing it with anyone else.

Cole readied himself to wail – what kind of horrible person hid to eat a candy bar and didn’t share with her child?

It wasn’t that I was necessarily hiding to keep it from Cole.

But maybe I was trying to hide it from someone else.

Like his father.

I quickly promised the child his own candy bar, or maybe a trip to Dairy Queen if he would keep it on the down low. He lowered his eyes and agreed, already plotting to get both.

Over the years, I found other hiding places but they have not been nearly as effective.

I thought my office would be ideal, in all of its cluttered confusion.

I successfully hid bags of Dove for a while, until my hiding spot was one day discovered.

When I reached under the carefully placed envelopes and magazines in the basket, the bag was empty.

Except for a few wrappers, evidence of the transgression that had occurred.

I gasped.

He had found my candy. And ate it.

How did he find my hiding space? How did he even know I had candy?

I asked all these questions aloud to the empty bag of Dove milk chocolate.

“I think he noticed you kept coming in here,” a voice answered.

It was Cole; not the bag.

“You kept getting up and walking in here for a few minutes. I think he wondered what you were doing.”

And, I foolishly didn’t hide the wrappers I put in the trash.

Had I really gotten so lackadaisical I didn’t cover up my tracks?

“I will have to find another hiding spot,” I said, sinking into my chair.

“He will keep looking until he finds it,” Cole whispered.

Much like Liam Neeson hunting down his daughter’s kidnappers in Taken, Lamar would sniff out every square of chocolate I had until it was no more. And he would eat it, shamelessly.

I have known for over 13 years now that I have to strategically hide chocolate from him. Lamar doesn’t know it but we almost broke up once over a Girl Scout cookie. Well, two actually. He came over one night – to eat leftover pizza—even though I told him I was near death and shivering on the couch. “I am just coming by to eat the pizza and watch some TV,” he promised. How romantic, I thought dryly as I hung up the phone. I snoozed on the couch while he ate the leftovers and watched some bicycling documentary on cable. Before he left, he had kissed my head and told me had already taken the evil beagle out and for me to lock my deadbolt.

The next morning, all I could think of was Thin Mints and Samosas – the fresh boxes I had bought on my way home and had been too sick to eat.

Surely, cookies and coffee would make me better.

There was one each left in the box.

Lamar was dangerously close to be permanently single that day.

After we married, he ate my birthday chocolate bar that our neighbor brought me.

I had hid it, too, mind you, tucked behind some condensed soup and other stuff that I knew he wouldn’t even give a second glance to. But he knew there was a chocolate bar in the house and he had to eat it.

Now, he was not only finding the stuff in the cabinets or pantry, he was brazenly coming into my office, rifling through the papers and stuff to find the chocolate.

I didn’t know what to do. Should I hide it in plain sight? Or maybe get one of those hollow books that people hide their valuables in?

“Mama!” Cole cried one day as he looked over the shelves in the pantry. His box of Little Debbies was gone, or rather, the empty box was sitting on the shelf.

“I put my name on them,” he said forlornly.

“Your daddy doesn’t pay attention to that,” I said, empathizing. “I don’t think he cares, either.” If he would eat a king size chocolate bar in a bright pink wrapper that read, “For you, Birthday Girl!” I don’t think a sticky note with the name “Cole” in permanent marker was going to stop him.

“You’ve got to start hiding food,” I said simply. “You need a hiding spot – one better than mine – and you need to hide your treats. Your daddy is worse than a bear.”

Little Debbies, root beer – anything Cole put back to enjoy later, like during one of his favorite shows, his father would find and eat.

A few weeks later, Cole found a small Coleman cooler at the store. It was just big enough for a six pack of Barq’s and some Strawberry Shortcake rolls.

It worked, too, for about two weeks. “Hey, this is a neat little cooler! What’s in it?” we heard his father say.

The other day I found a wrapper in the bathroom trash. I didn’t say a word, I just helped hide the evidence.



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

The other day, the unthinkable happened.

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

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

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

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

Granny’s version was swift and without yielding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her grudge was set and it was staying that way.

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

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

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

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

Mama still loathes this person to this day.

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

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

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

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

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

And there had been plenty, believe me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am not the type that is easily offended.

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

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

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

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

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


Not even a word.

The old gal didn’t even bat a lash.

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

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

“But they said –”

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

Instead of getting upset, Granny chose to ignore it.

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

But the opinion was that we were rednecks.

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

Her response stayed with me over the years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I shook my head. “Not at all.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She had no reply.

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

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

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

Sometimes all you need is a good cry (2/3/2016)

The only times I saw Granny openly cry was when my grandfather had brain surgery, when he died, and when her beloved German shepherd, Bo, died.

That was it.

The rest of the time, the old gal was as stoic as a tree trunk.

Her favorite emotion, of course, was anger, complete with her own brand of hellfire and brimstone.

Until one day, I found her sitting in her chair, looking out the window. When I spoke to her, I saw her wipe her face with her hands quickly before she spoke.

Was she crying?

“Are you OK?” I asked her.

Did someone pass? Was something wrong?

“I’m fine,” she said.

Even her voice had a catch in it that normally wasn’t there.

“No, you aren’t. What happened?”

She let out a deep sigh, wrought more from having to admit any kind of weakness than frustration.

“Sometimes, I just cry.”

“What do you mean you just cry? Is there something wrong with you?”

Granted, she complained all the time – and I mean all the ding dang, ever-loving time – so we knew every ache, pain and inconvenience that came her way. But was there something else going on that would make her cry?

She shook her head.

“Nothing’s wrong, I just sometimes cry to feel better.”

For someone in their early 20s, this was a foreign concept.

“So, you just cry?”

“Yeah,” she said simply. “I just cry and it helps.”

I’d later learn that certain days hit her harder than others – my grandparents’ anniversary, my grandfather’s birthday, some days that just made her miss him more.

The day I graduated college was another because she said it was one day he would have loved to see.

She would just sit in her chair, and look out the window and let her tears come.

She didn’t want to talk about it. She didn’t want to discuss it. She just wanted to have her moment and move on.

I would let her have her peace and not bother her until I knew she was ready for company.

I don’t even know if I ever told Mama or Bobby about her crying; maybe they knew and didn’t mention it. Even the toughest Steel Magnolia should have their moments.

I didn’t understand why she felt crying would make her feel better until later.

It was after I had experienced some of those things that life hands you – when you deal with loss, worry, fear, anxiety and dozens of other things that make you stronger than you want to be – and there’s times you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders that a cry can do you good.

Or, it’s when you finally got through a perilous time and the relief of it being over can be celebrated with a cry.

And then there are the times you are going about your day and just get hit with a flash of grief where you miss someone so badly you have no choice but to sit and cry.

If anything, now that I am older and a mother, I have learned Granny was right and those random cries can make you feel much better.

One day, Cole realized I had been crying. It was one of those out of the blue moments, when I had just been overwhelmed and when I had a moment, the frustration resulted in me having a brief cry.

“What’s wrong, sweet girl?” he asked, rushing to my side. “Are you OK? Are you upset with Daddy?”

I shook my head as I wiped my face with my sleeve. I never have a box of Kleenex near when these moments hit and now, can appreciate Granny keeping her tissue stuffed in her shirt, or toting a roll of toilet paper with her whenever she felt a good cry coming on.

“I’m fine, baby,” I said.

“No, you aren’t,” he said, concern creeping into his voice.

“Who did this to you? I will take them down!”

I gave him a tight squeeze. “I promise you, I am fine. I sometimes just cry to feel better.”

He gave me a puzzled look. “So no one hurt your feelings and nothing bad happened?”

Oh, goodness.

If I allowed it, my feelings would be hurt on a second by second basis and bad stuff happens even more frequently.

Maybe that was why the crying helped – we were bombarded with those feelings and emotions and had to let it all out?

“No, no one hurt my feelings and nothing happened,” I said. “It’s good to just release some steam by having a good cry sometimes.”

He nodded slowly, not sure he understood. “Mama, not trying to sound disrespectful or anything…but is this a girl thing?”

To be honest, I wasn’t sure but maybe.

“So, you are OK, and I don’t need to hurt anyone?”

I squeezed him again. “I promise, I am fine. And there is nothing wrong.”

I didn’t understand when I was younger, so I can’t expect my son to get it. But sometimes, truly, all you need is a good cry.


The Comparison Complex (1/27/2016)

Remember that time you dropped a few pounds, felt really good about yourself and then you got on Instagram to take a photo and saw a photo of one of your friends?

She had lost a little bit more than you and had on a great new outfit.

The 15 pounds you lost suddenly seemed…pitiful.

You were depressed, upset and angry that you hadn’t lost more.

“She can lose all that weight because she doesn’t have kids, so she has time to go to the gym,” you think to yourself.

“And that’s another thing – she doesn’t have children. She didn’t have stretch marks and I bet her stomach was still flat,” you think.

Before long, you’ve gone from celebrating your own success to being miserable because someone else’s success may have been a smidge better.

What your friend achieves has nothing to do with you.

It’s not going to take away from what you’ve done.

It’s not going to make you less than.

It’s not going to cause your success to be any less.

Just like what you do really doesn’t take away from someone else’s success and achievements.

For some warped, twisted reason, we seem to think if someone gets the car we want, the house we dream of, or has any type of success it’s an indicator of our failure.

We have created imaginary limitations that make us think if someone does something great, that means we have to fail.

Life shouldn’t be a competition, but somehow…that’s what it’s become.

It’s like we are in a race where only the first one across can break that finish line tape, when it really shouldn’t be that way.

I don’t even consider it a jealousy type thing. If anything, it’s more like some twisted comparison complex where we spend all day comparing ourselves to someone else and coming up short.

If it was just jealousy, it would be a heck of lot more benign.

When I am jealous, it’s because it’s something that I wish I had or could do or achieved that I hadn’t – but maybe one day would. Like I am jealous of women who know how to decorate and make the tiniest spaces look divine. I am jealous – but I am able to gush and tell them how envious I am sincerely.

When I fall into the comparison trap, I am coming up less than and trying to find a way to decrease the other person’s value in the meantime.

“She has a better job than me, and I don’t know why, she doesn’t have my education. I bet I know how she got it…”

“She’s always posting on Facebook how great her husband is…well, last I heard, he was cheating on her….”

These are some of the themes we play in our heads to justify why someone else has success or happiness. Whatever you call it – it’s just something that makes you feel like you are a total failure the size of Texas.

That’s what comparison does.

It’s like someone saying, “That’s comparing apples and oranges.”

Two totally different fruits. Some people like citrus; personally, I am not fan of either but you can dip an apple in caramel.

Does the apple worry about the orange? About the fact the orange can be easily peeled and cut into sections? Or that there are seedless varieties?

Of course not. Just as the orange does not care that the apple can be baked in a pie.

And I am not saying we are fruit, but instead of focusing on what someone else does or has, we need to focus on our own happiness.

Instead of feeling a twinge of happiness if we find an unflattering picture of them on Facebook and snickering, “I knew they PhotoShopped that photo of themselves in that bathing suit!” we can direct our attention towards the positive things in our lives.

Tearing ourselves down with a comparison complex only causes us to subsequently tear others down, just to make ourselves feel better. And it’s not working, either.

Instead, we feel worse and then guilty for being such jerks.

Next time we want to celebrate what we have accomplished, let’s just celebrate it – rejoice in what we did, how made it through something, met our goals, whatever we did.

But put the focus on that.

And let the comparison end there.

Nice doesn’t always win (1/20/2016)

My uncle is always nice.

Sometimes, he was probably too nice.

Mama’s nice, too; she’s always told me to start with nice first, then see what needs to be done after that.

I’ve followed her heeding of being nice but, sometimes, you just can’t be nice. Nice doesn’t
always win.

“I need your advice,” was how she started the conversation.

Ten minutes later, it was evident that my mama and uncle were being grossly and unfairly taken advantage of – something I had cautioned her about the week earlier, but to her, I am still a child so I don’t know anything.

“I don’t know what to do, and your uncle is being his usual too nice self,” she said.

I knew that side of my uncle too well. He sees the good in everybody and takes in all the strays, four and two-legged.

“Let me handle it,” I said and hung up.

And I did.

It was not pretty, but it was handled.

I started off being polite but firm.

That didn’t work, because unfortunately, the man on the other end of the phone thought he was talking to some girl who didn’t know anything.

I gave him enough rope to hang himself with, and then told him what the real facts were.

“This will be taken care of,” I told him. “My uncle is nice, my mother is nice; I, however, am not.”

A few days later, the situation was resolved, hopefully for good.

“What did you do?” Mama asked.

“Don’t worry, Mama, I didn’t do anything wrong, I just was willing to do what y’all didn’t want to.”

“What’s that?”

“I wasn’t nice.”

Mama always put a premium on niceness. She always felt like being nice and kind would get you further in life. “Please and thank you still go a long way,” she would remind me as I grew up.

Maybe it would – if everyone else played by those rules.

But everyone else was given a different playbook and usually, it is some sort of warped Darwinism where instead of the weak, the mean ones went after the nice ones. Or the ones they thought were least likely to make a scene or stir the pot.

Now, Mama has made a scene a time or two, once in Macy’s and once in Belk, but it was after she had exhausted her nice.

But that was centuries ago and growing older seems to just knock a little bit of the wind out of your sails sometimes.

I knew the incident occurred largely because my uncle stutters some and people think that means he’s slow; he’s not slow but a communication barrier can make for an easy target when someone wants to be underhanded.

I was assured by the man I spoke with this was not the case.

But, he said, part of the fault was how my uncle had described the problem.

“For $1,300, I think you could have figured out the problem without my uncle saying a word,” I replied.

I had that tone, the tone my grandmother could get that probably scared the devil to the far corners.

It used to send chills down my spine when she used it. I remember her once telling someone on the phone she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt they were trying to cheat her because my grandfather was in the hospital with Alzheimer’s.

“Just so you know, Robert was the nice one,” she said. “I’m not.”

Dear Lord have mercy – my grandfather had been the nice one?

I think I hid for two days after that. Granny unleashed locusts and probably some flying monkeys. It was scary.

Lamar is the nice one in our marriage, and I have heard him tell someone on the phone before, “Please don’t make me get my wife; you really don’t want to have to deal with her.”

They didn’t heed his warning, and regretted it.

He had a recent situation where someone was jerking him around but this time, he said he didn’t want me to unleash my monkeys.

“Let’s keep them in reserve for when it’s really important,” he said gently.

The people didn’t do what they were supposed to and lied about it to boot; I know if I had gotten involved, it would have turned out OK. But I said nothing and let him handle it nicely.

“You weren’t ugly, were you?” Mama asked.

I sighed.

I am not unreasonable; typically, when I have to be un-nice, it is when someone is taking unjust and gross advantage of someone I happen to care about.

When they are being unethical and inherently wrong – then, my monkeys come out.

So why is it someone can take advantage of someone and try to rip them off, and when they are called out on it, the person – usually me – is considered to be “ugly?”

To borrow a line from kindergarten – they started it.

“Mama, I wasn’t ugly per se, but I wasn’t nice, either,” I began. “If they had done what was right to begin with, none of this would have happened. I am only not nice when people are trying to rip off customers and do things that are shady. It’s not right. People want to complain about things causing them to lose business but never stop to think, hey, maybe, if we had treated folks fairly and did the right thing that would go further than cheating someone. You were in the right; I was in the right when I took care of it. I don’t like being ugly, but sometimes, that’s what people respond to.”

“I don’t like that,” she said quietly.

Yeah, I didn’t either.

But sometimes, nice just didn’t get the job done.


If you can’t say anything nice (6/3/2015)

Mama always cautioned me about speaking ill of others.

Gossiping and toting tales were big no-no’s according to her.

“If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all,” she would say.

I would roll my eyes.

I was a youngster and knew what the nursery rhyme said on the matter: Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.

But for Mama, words were a pretty big deal and were shrouded in “don’ts.”

“Don’t say things that aren’t true. And sometimes, not saying or correcting what was said is just as bad because you are contributing to the problem.

“Don’t repeat things just because you heard them – it may be a lie you’re repeating.

“Don’t talk bad about people, especially to someone else; more than likely, you’ll be talking to their kin folks and they won’t appreciate it.

“Don’t say anything about someone you wouldn’t say to their face.”

And of course, “If you can’t say anything nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.”

Now, her words felt like she was imposing some terrible punishment on me. They were words, right? Words don’t hurt.

But our words have so much power.

And words, even though they don’t break bones, can hurt far worse.

I neglected Mama’s heeding in all those areas and ended up causing myself a lot of drama, and others, a lot of pain.

I learned my lessons the hard way – I made the goof up’s and paid for them.

There’s nothing like seeing the face of someone you have said something about and seeing their hurt.

Knowing you caused someone else pain may be fun for some people out there, but not me.

I apologized profusely but knew my words could not be unsaid. Once they were uttered, they could not be taken back and they had hurt another person.

“I apologized, but it didn’t matter,” I had explained to Mama.

Mama listened to my complaint in silence – one of the few times she let me carry on and wail uninterrupted.

If anything, she would quickly interject her: “I told you this was going to happen, I told you, I told you, and you didn’t listen!”

Instead, she listened quietly before she asked, “Were you sorry you said it, or sorry you were caught?”

Truthfully, the answer was “both.”

I grew wiser and more cautious with my words, understanding the power they can yield.

I’ve even added some wisdom of my own: Is it necessary? Does it hurt? Does it help? If the answer to those three questions is no, I have been keeping my mouth shut.

And my fingers from commenting on many a thing.

Because now, our words go beyond what is just said behind someone’s back.

Our words can be used on public forums to spread gossip and rumors and things no one knows the first thing about.

It’s not like the day of yore when people would just talk on their phones in their homes about everyone. Or in the grocery store, or where ever they happened to be.

Now, they feel free to share their interpretations of events of which they have no intimate knowledge online.

Ironically, those who know the least are the most vocal in every situation.

Granny did always call the Internet the modern fool’s party line.

Maybe she was right.

I’ve never been a fan of rumors and now, I find gossip as distasteful as Mama.

Hearing someone suffering poor circumstances does not make me happy; it makes me feel dirty and ill, like I just swallowed a rotten egg.

I’ve learned to temper my conversation with compassion and understanding – that’s not to say I don’t have my opinions, because I do, I just feel like what I think about someone is my business and no one else’s.

Not everyone feels that way, unfortunately. And some folks feel like everyone needs to know what they think about everything-especially if it’s unnecessary, hurtful and unhelpful.

Mama’s words would urge me to find something pleasant or not speak.

Mama took the path of politeness and social boundaries. But what about those who kept talking even when it wasn’t nice?

“Tell them to shut it,” is what Granny would suggest. “What’s up with all this ‘be nice’ mess? If someone ain’t got nothing nice to say, and all they can do is run their mouth saying a bunch of lies and nonsense, tell ‘em to shut it. Shut it up tight! Tell ‘em to shut it, or you’ll shut it for ‘em!”

Mama’s method may be the more genteel, polite way of dealing with things, but I have to say, Granny’s is a lot more effective.


this little light of mine

Let it shine (3/25/2015)

“Mama, is it bad that I am happy?”

The question came out of the blue one evening.

What prompted it, I do not know, but the question was asked and needed an answer.

“No, it is a wonderful thing. Why do you ask?”

He gave me a forlorn frown. “I dunno. I just wonder if it is bad to be so happy all the time.”

I am one who wonders why I am so serious all the time and feel like I don’t enjoy many moments like I should because I am so wrapped up in worry and ‘what can go wrong’ – so for my child to question if it is wrong to be happy made me concerned.

“What would make you think it was a bad thing?” I asked.

He sighed. Like his mother, he is a sigher.

When he doesn’t know how to respond, what to do, or is exasperated – usually by me – he sighs.

“A kid told me it was wrong…and called me a really ugly name about it. He said for me to be so happy all the time, was stupid and there must be something bad wrong with me.”

“When did this happen?” I asked.

“Last year. I didn’t tell you, because I didn’t want that vein to pop out on your neck and your eyebrow to do that Spock thing when you get mad.”

Hearing this made me naturally upset. My normal instinct whenever I hear my child is hurt is to go into total Mama Cat mode, which often means unleashing locusts and other unnatural disasters. When it is a child doing the hurting, I have come to realize, maybe their own home life is not that great. Maybe that child is hurting for some reason, and the only reason they do ugly things, is because that’s the only time they get attention.

Sadly, hurting people hurt others.

We may not know why they are hurting or that they even are – we just can tell by the way they treat others. They aren’t able to let someone else have their own little corner of happiness.

But why do they want to hurt the ones who are just letting their little lights shine?

It’s children who are unhappy, unloved, and don’t get the attention they need and deserve at home that want to hurt the children that are happy, full of joy, and bounce like Tigger because their ‘spark’ is so full.

It’s the children who, even when they are in trouble, know they are at least getting attention.

It’s the children who would be mean to my child, because he is tenderhearted and compassionate and would feel bad for those kids because he saw they were sad or, their sparks were not happy.

It’s not just children, either.

There are plenty of adults who have a hard time seeing others be happy.

For some reason, there are scores and scores of people who think if someone is happy, enjoying life, or has something, that it is taking something away from them.

If someone experiences success, joy, or anything that makes them happy, some people’s immediate reaction is to try to snuff out the joy. To rain on their parade, to burst their proverbial bubble.

Why that is, I don’t know.

But it happens. All the time.

And it needs to stop.

People need to realize, a candle does not lose its flame by igniting others; if anything, the light grows bigger, brighter and stronger.

Someone’s joy is not creating another’s sadness.

Someone’s success does not equal another’s failure.

We need to learn there is beauty in celebrating other people’s happy moments, instead of rejoicing when they fail.

“Baby, I am so sorry someone said that, and I am sorry they called you something ugly,” I began. “You are right; I would be angry and would have unleashed locusts. I would. But it also saddens me that another child must be so unhappy that they would try to tell you it’s wrong to be so happy. You know that is wrong, right? That it is absolutely perfect you that are as happy as you are. It shows me and Daddy are doing something right.”

I am sure we mess up 100 different ways daily, but I feel like the fact Cole is a happy child at least proves he knows, above all, that he is unconditionally loved.

He nodded. “I know. It just hurt my feelings to be called a bad word. I never call people those words.”

I knew he didn’t. He knows the power of words and that they should be used to build people up, not tear them down.

“I know,” I said gently.

“It made my spark dull for a while, Mama,” he said. “I didn’t want to show others my happy.”

His quiet, sincere admission hurt my heart.

My child finds happiness and joy in the simplest of things. Fluffy clouds in the sky, squirrels chasing each other down a tree, finding his favorite gum on sale – these are things that delight my child to no end. Hearing good news about a friend or family member makes him beam from ear to ear.

His spirit is one of total and utter joy that I have honestly never experienced.

“Cole, that would be a great tragedy, my love,” I began. “Part of why you are here, is to be happy and to show others how to be happy no matter what.”

“So what should I do, Mama?” he asked.

What should he do? When did joy and happiness become a crime?
“Like the song says, baby. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.