Jesus and a Moon-Pie

Vacation Bible School was a chore.

Before you get all high and mighty on me, let me explain.

Granny, being in close connection to the one and only God the Father Almighty as well as the preacher, took it upon herself to take a week of vacation every year during VBS so she could serve.

Or, as she put it, make sure no one messed up her Sunday School room where she ruled the nursery.

So, for a week every summer my mornings or afternoons, whenever VBS was scheduled, were spent at the church at the crossroads.
I always thought Granny had some special authority at the church because if we got there before anyone else did, she knew where the key was and would let us in to get things ready.

We’d enter the building with a hallowed reverence to walk towards the stairs down to the fellowship hall so Granny could start surveying what snacks they had and what they needed.
Not only did she run the nursery, which she truly did for a number of decades, but Granny thought herself the overseer of the church kitchen.

And just like her kitchen at home, she would fuss and complain if anything was out of place or not as well stocked as she thought it should be.

“Why are you so worried?” I asked her every time.

“Because,” was her answer. “We gotta have enough food for all the children. It’s important.”

I thought it was kind of silly. Don’t get me wrong; I was never one to turn down a snack, but I thought she was being a bit strident about the whole thing.

But Granny knew it mattered because we didn’t just have our regular kids; we had kids that had never been to our church before and this was their first impression of us.

Lots of kids showed up that we never saw again.

They didn’t come to Sunday School, didn’t ever come back for church.

They just arrived and were later picked up in a car by someone who never got out to introduce themselves or speak to the people their kids had been with all day.

I didn’t understand it.

When I got older, I started questioning why these kids appeared for a week, sometimes, a little dirty, sometimes, acting like this was their sole summer entertainment.

And when it was time for snack, some lingered, eyeing the table wanting to ask for seconds.

The snacks were not that great but when you’re a kid, a cookie is still a cookie.

There were plates loaded down with those vanilla-chocolate fake Oreos that came a million to a pack for fifty cents, some kind of tasteless rectangular coconut one, and some soft, slightly stale chocolate chip cookie that seemed like a prize. To wash them down, we had orange Hi-C or gallon jugs of grape Kool-Aid.

And Granny let them have as much as they could eat.

One day, a scruffy child approached the table with a wary eye and demanded to know where the Moon-Pies were.

A Moon-Pie?

Did he think we had a secret stash of good treats somewhere?

Granny told him we didn’t have Moon-Pies but we did have some mighty fine cookies and asked if she could fix him a plate.

He frowned, very disturbed by the lack of marshmallow cookies.

“My mama told me there’d be Moon-Pies; thems my favorites,” he said. “I don’t like these cookies. I gots these at home.”

Granny nodded slowly. I was waiting for her to explode as she normally did, but for some reason she didn’t.

The next morning on the way to the church, she stopped at The Store (yup, that was the name of Mr. Gambrel’s establishment – The Store; it regularly held “Going Out FOR Business Sales,” too) and bought a Moon-Pie. She never said a word as to why, but I suspect she gave it to that child that had been so vocal about the snacks.

“Should we let someone we don’t know come into our church? They don’t even want to come here,” I complained one summer.

Granny took a deep breath as she tried to explain.

Some of those kids were coming to learn about Jesus and the Lord.

Some were coming to be loved.
Some were coming to eat and be in air conditioning.

And Granny, as judgemental as she could be – and God help me, I can be just like her – told me with a quickness it didn’t matter why they were there. We were going to do what we were preaching all week and we were going to love them and be good to them.

I was shocked.

Here she was, the meanest, strictest woman I knew, and she was telling me to go out there and show all those children some kindness.

I see the signs littering the sides of the roads now, letting people know the upcoming dates of VBS at all the area churches. Each one with a different theme, but all hoping to do the same thing – the opportunity to give children a little bit of Jesus for a few days.

And if they are lucky, a cookie or maybe even a Moon-Pie.  

A lesson in procrastination

When it comes to lolly-gagging, dilly-dallying, and dawdling, I am pretty hard to beat.

Now, mind you, if I have a set deadline, I will meet it with time to spare.

But, if you give me some loosey goosey time frame, I will put tasks off until the end of time, or at least the very last minute until I have to rush to finish.

I was bad about doing this in school.

Once, I had a project due for a countywide competition for the local schools. In order to do the project, I needed a certain book, which I did not have but another student in my class did. Granny called the student’s mother to see if she was finished using the book and was told no.

“If there is only one book, shouldn’t there be time limits as to how long you get the book?” Granny asked the mother. The child had had it since the first ding dang day we knew about the competition.

“I don’t know that it will do Sudie any good since the entry is due Monday,” the mother replied. “In fact, it may be too late for her to even get started on it.”

For the record, it was Saturday night. In my young mind, I had plenty of time.

Granny frowned as she gave me a hard sideways glare. I had managed to omit that tiny little tidbit of information. “Well, don’t you worry,” Granny began. “She will get it done and turned in on time.”

When she hung up the phone, Granny turned to me. “How long did you know about this here project?”

“A few days.”

“A few days? I see. Was it several days strung together into a number of weeks?”

I didn’t know what to say. It was clear I didn’t have nearly as much time to get something done as I thought.

“You know it is due Monday, right?” Granny asked.

I nodded. I had one whole day, minus church, and the remaining hours of Saturday to research this project and write up my paper.

Granny sighed.

“Why, oh, why did you wait until the last minute, child?”

“But, I didn’t,” I said. “The last minute would be Monday morning when it is supposed to be turned in.”

This made the old woman sigh again.

“Get in the car,” she ordered.

I wasn’t sure what she was going to do. Maybe we were going to the other child’s house and Granny was going to bargain for the book. Were we going to the library? Where ever it was, she meant business.

Neither happened. Instead, Granny and I drove around our county, looking at those historical markers and doing our own research. We went to the courthouse and even counted the windows to provide detail.

I was exhausted when I got home.
“Now, you sit down and write this,” she said.

“I’ve got tomorrow,” I began.

“Littl’ un, you park your tater in that chair. What if something happens tomorrow and you can’t write it? You are getting this done right now.”
The look on her face made me sit down at the table and keep my procrastinating mouth shut.

We stayed up all night, organizing my notes with Granny proofing my rough draft.

“Is it ready?” I asked her.

She shook her head. “Not quite, but you are getting there.”

After church the next day, I worked on it some more, until finally I had it completed.

“I am so glad to be done with this!” I exclaimed.

Granny frowned. “This wouldn’t have been so difficult if you had started working on it sooner. There is no reason whatsoever for you to have waited until it was due to start it. To do it right, you should have started on it several weeks ago.”

“But, Granny, it is not due until tomorrow!” I said. How could I not get her to realize that?

“If it’s due on Monday, it’s as good as being due this weekend. You knew about it long enough to get started on it weeks ago. You should have had a few weeks to properly research it and then at least two to write and change it.  Let that be a lesson to you.”

And in some ways, it was.

Granny’s words taught me to prepare and look ahead at what needed to be done, so I could plan accordingly. I don’t like that feeling of being rushed and worrying about if something happens and I can’t get a task completed.

I don’t like thinking I have something hanging out there that needs to be done.

I don’t like it, mind you; but that doesn’t stop me from procrastinating in the least bit.

My least favorite holiday

Valentine’s Day is probably my least favorite holiday.

I have long considered it as just some fictious day created to sell chocolates and greeting cards.

In fact, it is one I don’t really consider a real holiday despite the hype telling me otherwise.

Maybe it was because this day was not one that gave me fond memories as a child.

While other kids eagerly made little containers bedecked with hearts to collect love notes and boxes of conversation hearts from their classmates, I was trying to come up with a way to miss school.

I was willing to risk a trip to the doctor, even if it meant missing out on heavily sprinkled heart-shaped sugar cookies. That’s how bad I hated this day; I would miss out on cookies.

I would place my little Kleenex box wrapped in pink construction paper with red hearts on my desk and wait.

And wait. And wait.

For my classmates to come put a little folded card in my box.

All of my friends had theirs overflowing with cards within seconds.

Mine only had a few.

They all were from my female classmates – none of the boys asked me to be their Valentine.

I was crushed. I didn’t expect anyone to make some grand gesture of love – I think I was only in second grade – but it would have been nice to be asked to be someone’s Valentine.

This pattern repeated itself all the way to middle school, and then, the real horrors began: flower delivery at school.

With just an advancement in grade level, February 14th had expanded from a small cardboard card disappointment to a grand display of unlovedness.

I would watch one by one as friends were called to the office to pick up big vases of red roses.

How were these kids affording roses if they didn’t have a job?

It made the day even more heartbreaking, as I was usually the only one without any symbols or trappings of the day.

High school was even worse.

Some of my friends were going on dates.

“It’s not a real holiday,” Mama would comfort me.

I knew it wasn’t, but it still kind of stung.

“Your granddaddy got you a big heart of chocolate, don’t that count?” Granny would ask.

It did count; Pop was my best guy. But one eventually wants someone else to think they are special outside of family on Valentine’s Day.

“I hate this day,” I muttered. “I can’t believe it is still celebrated. It has to be the craziest holiday ever.”

“No, Columbus Day is maybe worst,” Granny said.

“Columbus Day?”

“Yes,” she said. “Columbus Day. At least on Valentine’s Day, the banks are open and the mail runs. On Columbus Day, all you get a dadblamed mattress sale. How often you gonna need to buy a mattress.”

She had a point.

“I’d take Valentine’s over that any day,” she added.

Of course, Granny would. She had Pop, and while he was not the roses or gigantic card kind of guy, he was known to go out as soon as the stores opened to get the biggest heart-shaped boxes of candy the stores carried for Granny and me.

My loathing for Valentine’s Day has carried into my adult life, with the day seemingly getting more obnoxious with each year.

And, then I had a child and was forced to face the aisles covered with pink and red hearts.

I was urged by him to get at least two boxes to make sure there was plenty of cards and they would be appropriate. He wanted the day of love to be fair and full of harmony.

Instead of having a repeat of my grade school days, teachers now send home a class list, so no one is left out.

My child took Valentine’s Day very seriously when he was smaller.  I hoped, deeply, sincerely, that now that he was in middle school this holiday would be ignored.

In many ways, it is. There are no little cards to address and fold, nor sticking suckers into the little tabs, or bedazzling a Kleenex box for a Valentine container.
And somehow, I found myself missing it.

Maybe the day I had always loathed became the day I tolerated a little bit better.

But Columbus Day, complete with its mattress sales and bank closings, is on its way to the top position.

ntine’s Day is probably my least favorite holiday.

I have long considered it as just some fictious day created to sell chocolates and greeting cards.

In fact, it is one I don’t really consider a real holiday despite the hype telling me otherwise.

Maybe it was because this day was not one that gave me fond memories as a child.

While other kids eagerly made little containers bedecked with hearts to collect love notes and boxes of conversation hearts from their classmates, I was trying to come up with a way to miss school.

I was willing to risk a trip to the doctor, even if it meant missing out on heavily sprinkled heart-shaped sugar cookies. That’s how bad I hated this day; I would miss out on cookies.

I would place my little Kleenex box wrapped in pink construction paper with red hearts on my desk and wait.

And wait. And wait.

For my classmates to come put a little folded card in my box.

All of my friends had theirs overflowing with cards within seconds.

Mine only had a few.

They all were from my female classmates – none of the boys asked me to be their Valentine.

I was crushed. I didn’t expect anyone to make some grand gesture of love – I think I was only in second grade – but it would have been nice to be asked to be someone’s Valentine.

This pattern repeated itself all the way to middle school, and then, the real horrors began: flower delivery at school.

With just an advancement in grade level, February 14th had expanded from a small cardboard card disappointment to a grand display of unlovedness.

I would watch one by one as friends were called to the office to pick up big vases of red roses.

How were these kids affording roses if they didn’t have a job?

It made the day even more heartbreaking, as I was usually the only one without any symbols or trappings of the day.

High school was even worse.

Some of my friends were going on dates.

“It’s not a real holiday,” Mama would comfort me.

I knew it wasn’t, but it still kind of stung.

“Your granddaddy got you a big heart of chocolate, don’t that count?” Granny would ask.

It did count; Pop was my best guy. But one eventually wants someone else to think they are special outside of family on Valentine’s Day.

“I hate this day,” I muttered. “I can’t believe it is still celebrated. It has to be the craziest holiday ever.”

“No, Columbus Day is maybe worst,” Granny said.

“Columbus Day?”

“Yes,” she said. “Columbus Day. At least on Valentine’s Day, the banks are open and the mail runs. On Columbus Day, all you get a dadblamed mattress sale. How often you gonna need to buy a mattress.”

She had a point.

“I’d take Valentine’s over that any day,” she added.

Of course, Granny would. She had Pop, and while he was not the roses or gigantic card kind of guy, he was known to go out as soon as the stores opened to get the biggest heart-shaped boxes of candy the stores carried for Granny and me.

My loathing for Valentine’s Day has carried into my adult life, with the day seemingly getting more obnoxious with each year.

And, then I had a child and was forced to face the aisles covered with pink and red hearts.

I was urged by him to get at least two boxes to make sure there was plenty of cards and they would be appropriate. He wanted the day of love to be fair and full of harmony.

Instead of having a repeat of my grade school days, teachers now send home a class list, so no one is left out.

My child took Valentine’s Day very seriously when he was smaller.  I hoped, deeply, sincerely, that now that he was in middle school this holiday would be ignored.

In many ways, it is. There are no little cards to address and fold, nor sticking suckers into the little tabs, or bedazzling a Kleenex box for a Valentine container.
And somehow, I found myself missing it.

Maybe the day I had always loathed became the day I tolerated a little bit better.

But Columbus Day, complete with its mattress sales and bank closings, is on its way to the top position.

Intrinsic grace

I have found one of the most challenging things about being a parent is when a child starts forming their own opinions outside of your own.

Free of your dogma, your point of view, your very strong position.

At least that is something I have encountered since my own child has hit his teen years.

It was so easy when he was younger.

His questions revolved around gentler topics, such as which Charlie Brown holiday special was the best or if cereal truly constituted a suitable dinner.

My answers were the Great Pumpkin and yes, absolutely.

When I stated my opinion on something, it was regarded with earnest respect and as gospel.

There was no hesitation, no question.

Just a cherubic little face, smiling up in adoration and agreement.

But suddenly, that changed.

His overnight deepening voice also brought a contrast that surprised me.

Out of the blue, he disagreed with me.

I was shocked.

Not because I want my child to just parrot what he’s heard me say over the years.

I knew people who did that; who merely regurgitated facts and beliefs they had heard their parents say, void of any real meaning.

I didn’t want that for Cole.
Or did I?

“How can you think something like that?” I asked one day.

“It’s not a thought, it’s a fact,” he argued. “I have researched it, Mama. Have you?”

I stopped in my tracks.

No, I had not researched it. I was going strictly by my gut reaction. Or was it my heart?

“You are responding emotionally to this and if you would take five minutes and do some educated research, you may see a different side of things. Don’t just believe what supports your opinion.”

What the what – who was this person? Was this really my child?

I did not like this turn of events.

Did I raise him to be a critical thinker? Yes, I had.

Did that mean I only wanted him to be a critical thinker if it aligned with what I thought?

I was starting to wonder.

I didn’t like this shift, and I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about some of his differing opinions.

The things he wanted to discuss and talk about were so different than what he had been interested in before and so vastly different that areas I felt comfortable talking about.

I expressed my concern to Mama one day, telling her how unsettled these changes, this growing up thing, had made me.

She listened quietly, letting me whine, vent, and question everything I had maybe done wrong.

“Sometimes I feel like I don’t know this child,” I finished.

“He’s fine,” she said gently. “You’re fine. He is growing up, Kitten.”

“But he is coming up with stuff that I don’t like!”

Mama laughed softly. “Oh, really?”

How could she find this amusing?

“Is any of it morally wrong or is it just not your opinion?” she asked.

My child is pretty moral; he has always had a good sense of right and wrong and been quick to point it out to anyone who was violating it.

“Let me tell you something,” she began. “Cole is his own person. He is going to have his own thoughts, ideas, likes and dislikes, and perspectives about things. Those may at times be totally different than yours. And that is okay.

Right now, he is forming his own point of view. You can guide him and re-direct him if he gets way off base, but you need to realize some of those may not be the same as yours. Let him find his way.”

I didn’t like this and said so.

“You really have no say in it,” she said. “I didn’t with you; Granny didn’t with me.”

“So, we raise children to grow up and be argumentative and contradictory?” I exclaimed.

“No. We raise them to think for themselves. And to stand up for what they believe in. Let that baby talk to you about everything he wants to. Don’t quiet him or silence him. It’s better for him to talk through these things with you than someone else who may really give him some bad information.”

“But some of the things he is saying –”
“Hush, Kitten,” she said. “It’s not about you. It’s about your child. He’s forming his view of the world and how you guide him and provide the grace for him to do so will stay with him for the rest of his life.”

I sighed, a heart-weary sigh.

In Mama’s gentle way, she had done just that as I was growing up, listening to me talk about the craziest of things, enduring my wild ideas, and my whimsical nonsense. And, especially tolerating my different opinions, my perspectives, the times I rebelled against any of her compassionate teachings. Those moments I wanted to be mean-spirited, hurtful, and as Granny decreed, “evil.” Mama listened and held the space for me to learn my own boundaries without swooping in to make me change.

She let me find my own way – and grow up in the process.

Sharing what I had been so graciously given was the least I could do.

d one of the most challenging things about being a parent is when a child starts forming their own opinions outside of your own.

Free of your dogma, your point of view, your very strong position.

At least that is something I have encountered since my own child has hit his teen years.

It was so easy when he was younger.

His questions revolved around gentler topics, such as which Charlie Brown holiday special was the best or if cereal truly constituted a suitable dinner.

My answers were the Great Pumpkin and yes, absolutely.

When I stated my opinion on something, it was regarded with earnest respect and as gospel.

There was no hesitation, no question.

Just a cherubic little face, smiling up in adoration and agreement.

But suddenly, that changed.

His overnight deepening voice also brought a contrast that surprised me.

Out of the blue, he disagreed with me.

I was shocked.

Not because I want my child to just parrot what he’s heard me say over the years.

I knew people who did that; who merely regurgitated facts and beliefs they had heard their parents say over the year, void of any real meaning.

I didn’t want that for Cole.
Or did I?

“How can you think something like that?” I asked one day.

“It’s not a thought, it’s a fact,” he argued. “I have researched it, Mama. Have you?”

I stopped in my tracks.

No, I had not researched it. I was going strictly by my gut reaction. Or was it my heart?

“You are responding emotionally to this and if you would take five minutes and do some educated research, you may see a different side of things. Don’t just believe what supports your opinion.”

What the what – who was this person? Was this really my child?

I did not like this turn of events.

Did I raise him to be a critical thinker? Yes, I had.

Did that mean I only wanted him to be a critical thinker if it aligned with what I thought?

I was starting to wonder.

I didn’t like this shift, and I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about some of his differing opinions.

The things he wanted to discuss and talk about were so different than what he had been interested in before and so vastly different than areas I felt comfortable talking about.

I expressed my concern to Mama one day, telling her how unsettled these changes, this growing up thing, had made me.

She listened quietly, letting me whine, vent, and question everything I had maybe done wrong.

“Sometimes I feel like I don’t know this child,” I finished.

“He’s fine,” she said gently. “You’re fine. He is growing up, Kitten.”

“But he is coming up with stuff that I don’t like!”

Mama laughed softly. “Oh, really?”

How could she find this amusing?

“Is any of it morally wrong or is it just not your opinion?” she asked.

My child is pretty moral; he has always had a good sense of right and wrong and been quick to point it out to anyone who was violating it.

“Let me tell you something,” she began. “Cole is his own person. He is going to have his own thoughts, ideas, likes and dislikes, and perspectives about things. Those may at times be totally different than yours. And that is okay.

Right now, he is forming his own point of view. You can guide him and re-direct him if he gets way off base, but you need to realize some of those may not be the same as yours. Let him find his way.”

I didn’t like this and said so.

“You really have no say in it,” she said. “I didn’t with you; Granny didn’t with me.”

“So, we raise children to grow up and be argumentative and contradictory?” I exclaimed.

“No. We raise them to think for themselves. And to stand up for what they believe in. Let that baby talk to you about everything he wants to. Don’t quiet him or silence him. It’s better for him to talk through these things with you than someone else who may really give him some bad information.”

“But some of the things he is saying –”
“Hush, Kitten,” she said. “It’s not about you. It’s about your child. He’s forming his view of the world and how you guide him and provide the grace for him to do so what will stay with him for the rest of his life.”

I sighed, a heart-weary sigh.

In Mama’s gentle way, she had done just that as I was growing up, listening to me talk about the craziest of things, enduring my wild ideas, and my whimsical nonsense. And, especially tolerating my different opinions, my perspectives, the times I rebelled against any of her compassionate teachings. Those moments I wanted to be mean-spirited, hurtful, and as Granny decreed, “evil.” Mama listened and held the space for me to learn my own boundaries without swooping in to make me change.

She let me find my own way – and grow up in the process.

Sharing what I had been so graciously given was the least I could do.

The Season of Sick

For four years, my house was a healthy place.

There was only an occasional allergy flare if I accidentally dusted or went outside when something was blooming.

Having a cold, flu, virus, or stomach bug was something we had gratefully avoided for a while.

At least, that is, until my child started school again.

The first week or so, he came down with something.

“He’s rebuilding his immune system,” I thought.

I didn’t know he was rebuilding mine as well.

A few days later, I came down with whatever crud he had.

Two weeks passed, and we were back at the doctor, getting swabbed for strep.

Of course, it came back positive and a round of antibiotics was prescribed, along with something for nausea because this strain also made one sick.

“It’s going around,” the doctor said. “This is the fifth case I have had this morning.”

“He hasn’t been sick in years,” I said. “He’s gone back to school and this is the second time I have been in here with him. The first month of school is not even over yet.”

The doctor just nodded and handed me the scripts.

By some small miracle, I didn’t get strep, but I have caught everything he else he has brought home.

And he has been sick just about every other week with some form of creepy crud.

The usual remedies that have been my tried and true methods have not even made a dent in these maladies.

Oscillococcinum, elderberry syrup, hot tea with lemon and honey – none of them yielded their usual results.

“We are going to need Granny’s home remedy,” I told Mama one day.

“Vicks all over the body?” she replied.

“No. Moonshine.”

As sick I have been the last few months, it seemed like a sensible cure.

At least it would knock me out for a few days.

Just when we would get through one round of illness, another one struck.

It has been a never-ending cycle of crud.

“I feel sick,” Cole said one evening.

“Don’t even start with that,” I said.

“I do though,” he protested.

I knew he did. I just wasn’t ready for yet another round of whatever throat, upper respiratory, stomach demon he was going to be fighting this time.

He somehow shook that one off, only to have it rebound the last week of school before Christmas break, right as he was taking finals.

“If I hadn’t missed any days of school, I wouldn’t have to take my finals,” he said, his head leaning against the window as I drove him to school.

“Well, you’ve been so sick, you haven’t had any choice but miss,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said. “You know who got to exempt? The kids that have come to school all sick and spreading their germs. That’s who. Because of them, I am sick and having to take these finals.”

I felt his pain. I have always been of the “if you’re sick, you stay home” camp and thought the whole perfect attendance thing was over-rated.

When I picked him up later that morning, he was looking forward to a few weeks to rest and recoup. And Taco Bell, his own cure-all method.

I thought surely a few weeks of rest and in his own familiar environment of germs would help he recover, and we could enjoy the holidays well and happy.

But the next morning, I woke with a tickle in the back of my throat.

“Oh, no. No, no,” I thought.

For the next 10 days, I was sick with whatever pestilence and plague my child had been fighting.

We sounded like a bunch of seals coughing 24 hours a day. There were days where all I did as sleep off and on as I watched Hallmark movies. I am not quite sure if I even showered as days ran together, only separated by the countdown to Christmas on the tv screen.

I went through tons and tons of stuff – cough drops, soup, tea, you name it – before finding solace in the old standby of Nyquil.

“It’s an OTC moonshine,” Mama declared as she sang its praises. “And it will help you rest, which will help you get well.”

I didn’t like taking it, but I didn’t like being sick either.

After what felt like an eternity, just a few days before the beginning of the year, we were back to our old cough-and-mucous free, feverless selves.

Then, Cole had to go back to school.

The first week was fine.

Maybe he has finally built his immune system back up, I thought. Maybe mine was as well.

Then, the second or third week, I had some tummy bug.

I went back home after taking Cole to school.

He was calling by 9:30. “Mom, I think I have what you have,” he said, sounding weak.

Just this week, he has missed yet another day.

It has been a vicious, awful cycle.

I am to the point I do not want to leave the house until all the bugs, viruses, flu strains, and everything else are over.

“Is mono contagious?” he asked the other day.

“Why?”

“This kid at school has it.”

“They were at school?” I asked. He nodded. “Where do they sit?”

“Right behind me.”

Of course they do.

The season of sick was evidently a long way from being over.

sudiecrouch.com

The Christmas Slippers

By some small grace of frivolity, Mama has always believed Christmas gifts should not be practical.

It was the one time a year when one could ask for something a bit expensive and not feel bad for doing so.

Of course, she would often remind me,this did not mean I was going to get everything on my list, which included $100 Guess jeans, Members Only jackets, and 20 cassette tapes, mostly featuring Madonna.

“I am not buying you anything Madonna,” she would say, “Christmas or not.”

Outside of the Material Girl, Mama would try to get me the rest.

“You spoiling her,” Granny would protest. “When I was growing up, we got an orange. That’s what we got. Citrus. One a piece. You getting her britches that cost more than we spent on groceries in two months. Maybe three.”

Mama would ignore her, and gently state that times were different now and Christmas was supposed to be special.

My uncle, always looking for a way to play a prank on me, decided one year to give me the most practical gift of all: he wrapped a 24-roll pack of toilet paper, putting the biggest bow he could find on the package as he sat it under the tree.

“You will use this every day,” he promised.

“I will?” I asked, eyeing the big package.

“Oh, you will. And it will be something that you will be in a fix if you are ever without it.”

He laughed to the point of soundlessness when he saw my reaction as I peeled the paper back.

“You got me toilet paper!” I cried.

“It’s 2-ply and cushioned!” was his response.

“That’s a great gift,” Granny declared. “Wish I had thought of it!”

Mama shook her head. “Next year, give him a four pack of Dial and see how he likes it,” she suggested.

I did.

Problem was, he liked it.

While everyone else in our house was thrilled with packages of socks, toilet paper, and practical, everyday items presented in shiny paper and wrapped with a bow, Mama held fast to her belief that Christmas should be reserved for special gifts.

“Christmas is about Jesus, not about getting some ridiculously overpriced perfume,” Granny chastised one day.

“I know it is about Jesus, Mama,” my own mother said. “But even the wise men brought the baby frankincense and myrrh; not exactly practical gifts and quite pricey perfumes, if you ask me.”

Granny grunted. “You got a smart answer for everything, don’t you?”

Mama did.

And Mama believed in gifts that hailed Chanel, Lauder, and Lancome – and didn’t bat an eye when the sales person gave her the total.

“Mama, wouldn’t you like some poof?” she asked Granny one day. “It would be nice for you to have a pretty bottle sitting on your dresser.”

“Jean, I work in a sewing plant. What am I gonna do with some high falutin’ bottle of poof sitting around gathering dust? I ain’t gonna wear it.”

“You could wear it on Sundays.”

Granny frowned. “I ain’t gonna let you spend a lot of money on something I will wear one day a week. That’s foolishness. It will sour before I use it all.”

“No, it won’t,” Mama protested.

“It will, too. Don’t you get me any poof.”

“Then what do you want?” Mama asked.

“What ya mean?” Granny wasn’t used to someone asking her what she wanted. She was used to being given something and told to appreciate it because that was all she was going to get.

“What do you want for Christmas, Mama? I will get you whatever you want.”

Granny thought about this for a longtime. She needed a new stove but wouldn’t dare ask anyone else to get it for her.

She wanted a new fridge, but the old one was fine; she was old enough, she would say, for her wants not to hurt her.

After a day or two of ruminating over what would be an acceptable gift, she approached my Mama with her request.
“I want some bedroom slippers,” she said.

“Bedroom slippers?”

“Yep, bedroom slippers. I want the booty kind, so my feet will be warm all over, and I’d like them to be a pretty color. I ain’t never seen a red one but if they do, that’s what I’d like. If not, don’t get me no pink. I’d rather have blue.”

“Ok,” Mama replied.
“You got all that?” Granny asked unsure.
Mama nodded. “Yes, booty bedroom slippers, preferably red. If not, blue; no pink.”

“Good.”
“But Mama, why bedroom slippers?”

Granny sighed. “It’s the one thing I need and want, that I always forget to get for myself. And if I do, I feel bad spending too much on them. So, if you want to get me something all fancy, get me some fancy bedroom slippers.”

It was a practical gift, which Granny liked, but she felt like at Mama’s request, she could get the booty kind.

And for every year, until 2015, we got the old gal bedroom slippers.

I asked Mama the other day what she wanted for Christmas.
“Any makeup? Lancome? Some Chanel Mademoiselle?”

 “You know what I really want?”

“What?”

“Bedroom slippers,” she said. “The booty kind.”

And bedroom slippers she’s getting.

All the December babies

All the December babies

It never fails.

On the first day of December, my husband starts reminding “someone’s got a birthday coming up.”

I cringe.

The someone is me.

I cringe, not because I dread getting older.

That part doesn’t really bother me; I am now at the stage of life where I am looking forward to becoming that crazy old Southern woman that shocks people.

No, the part that bothers me is that my birthday is the week before Christmas.

You folks with birthdays in other months just do not understand this pain.  

The only good thing about having a birthday the week before Christmas was that it was usually the day school got out for the break.

But celebration wise, to quote Seuss, it stink, stank, stunk.

“We’re having the Christmas party at church on the 17th,” Granny would say. “Consider that your party.”

“But, that’s not my birthday and it is the Christmas party,” was my response.

“Well, your mother’s working and I ain’t got time to throw you a party. You think you too good to celebrate on the day we celebrate Baby Jesus?”

I shook my head. The old gal knew just how to shame me.

“Well, good. And any gifts you get at church is for your birthday.”

You know what I got?
I got socks and books.

No underwear, thankfully, as that is not proper to be given at church, even if wrapped in red, shiny paper.

“So, this is my birthday presents?” I asked as we drove home afterwards.

“You may have another special one under the tree at the house,” Granny said.

A special one under the tree. Hmmm…I wonder what that could be?
Had the old gal felt pity on me for getting socks and a new Garfield comic book as my birthday?

“You gotta wait until your birthday though,” she said. “But it will be worth it.”

I was so excited. I knew I had two sleeps until I could wake up and get something awesome, something incredible, something Granny herself had described as special.

The day of my actual birthday, I woke up early even though I didn’t have to go to school. I ran down the hall, hoping Granny would let me have the gift before she went to work.

“You’re up early!” she exclaimed when she saw me. “Couldn’t wait to be one year older, could you?”

I shook my head. Would she give it to me now? Did I need to go wake Mama? I hated waking her but if this was special, she should see it, too.

“Eat some breakfast and then I will let you get your gift.”

She shoved a plate of biscuits and sausage in front of me because she did not believe cereal was a proper meal.

I was almost too excited to eat. I saw a big box under the tree, and knew it had my name on it.

Pop had already checked it out and was disappointed it wasn’t his.

“You got the biggest one under the tree,” he told me. “She better not have me a tie or something. I only wear that stuff on Sundays; it ain’t getting worn out.”

Granny was about to leave and hadn’t given me my gift yet. Had she forgotten?

“Granny?” I began.

“Yeah?”

“Are you forgetting something?”

“Oh! You are waiting on your birthday gift. No, I didn’t forget,” she began. She sat her purse down. “Go get that gift over there.”

She was pointing to the big box.

 “The big one?” I asked, just to be sure.

She nodded.

Oh, sweet son of a biscuit eater. Whatever this was, was going to be good.

I ran to it, eager to tear the paper off. I knew Granny had probably re-used the bows from the last seven Christmases, so I wasn’t worried about being careful with them.

I opened the large, white box, full of anticipation.

And found a long, brushed flannel granny gown with a pink ribbon at the neckline.

“It was so big, I didn’t think I’d ever find a box to put it in. It’s going to get cold the next few weeks; you’ll need it before Christmas.”

And with that, the old gal, headed out the door to work.

A flannel gown. My big, special birthday gift was a flannel gown.

A few years before it had been footy pajamas, so perhaps this was a step up.

“I’m the only child that gets a granny gown for their birthday,” I muttered.

“No, you aren’t,” my grandfather said.
“Name me one more.”
Pop chewed his biscuit as he thought.

“I don’t know their names. But it’s all them other December babies. That’s who.”

sudiecrouch.com

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.

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.

A matter of miscommunication

Frantic.

That is one word to describe how I felt, yet it did not do the emotions rushing through my body justice.

I was wrought with outright fear and anxiety.

My child was not where he said he would be.

Or more succinctly, where I thought he would be.

When I last saw him, I asked him who was with him; he told me he was going one place, so I thought he was with his friends.

When I went to round him up, he was not there. I asked another parent – she had not seen him, but told me where her kids were.

Since my child is always in search of food, I thought it was quite possible he had been scrounging for a rogue granola bar or leftover Halloween candy.

I found his bookbag outside my office, so I took it to my car before going off to find him.

“I better go back through the building; he may be looking for me,” I thought.

I got to where I thought he would be and where he should be; only, he wasn’t there.

I took a deep breath.

Surely he was in the building somewhere, I just didn’t see him yet.

I walked around the top floor looking for him. Nowhere.

On the lower level, I found one of his friends and asked her if she knew where he was.

He had told her he was going where I was the last time she saw him.

And that was when he told me he was going with them.

Anger was the new emotion coursing through my body.

Had he lied to me?

I made my way through the building in a frenzied pace, hoping I would find him.

He was nowhere.

I headed back to another building to see if he was there, anger, fear, anxiety and worry brewing.

My heart was in my throat; was he OK? where was he?

And again…had my child lied? If so, why?

I thought I caught a glimpse of him as I walked back up the hill and called his name.

No response.
Was it not him?

I kept waiting for him to catch sight of me and come running but nothing.

The few yards I had to walk seemed to take an eternity until I got up to the building and finally saw him coming around the other side.

“There you are,” he said, “I have been looking for you.”

I was immediately relieved, grateful and wanted to sob I was so happy to see him. But, in true fashion, I did what all the women in my family do when scared out of our wits.

I yelled at him. Or more accurately, screamed. Irish banshee, soul rendering screams.

All the way home.

I am not even sure what I said, other than, “Where were you and what were you thinking?”

I am sure it was much worse than that because I was in an anxiety fever fit.

I had been looking for him for 20 minutes and every imaginable horror that could happen to my child had raced through my mind.

When I saw he was safe and sound, I unleashed locusts on his little mop top self.

After we got home, I continued my rant.

“You just need to calm down,” Lamar said.

Even though I have no empirical evidence to support this claim, I am pretty sure saying that to a hysterical woman has only proved to worsen the situation.

I texted Mama to let her know I was home, because even though I am nearly 46 years old, she wants to know I am safe. Wanting to know your child’s whereabouts, no matter how old and grown they were, was never more tacit than at this moment.

“Home –too exhausted and upset to talk. Talk later.”

“What’s wrong? Are you OK?” was her immediate response.

“Just really upset and don’t want to rehash.”

So she did what any mother would do – even this mama.

She called.

“What’s wrong?” she repeated her question.

I briefed her on the events of the last 40 minutes.

“Bottom line, if he had just been where I told him to be – which was with me – to begin with, this would not have happened. I have let him have too much freedom.”

She was quiet. Unusually quiet. Normally, Mama is the one who defends Cole, her only grandchild, no matter what and things that would have gotten me whoopings for days, she waves away and tells me to let it slide.

This time, she wasn’t so quick to defend.

“Put Cole on the phone,” she said sternly.

I handed him the phone.

He quietly talked to his grandmother for 15 minutes before handing the phone back to me.

“We have discussed what happened,” Mama began. “It was a matter of miscommunication, but, we came up with some ways to avoid it in the future.”

“There won’t be any future incidents,” I said. I was being irrational I know, but I was still shaking.

“You can’t do that, Kitten,” she said quietly. “You can’t do that with him, no more than I could do that with you when you were his age. He is a good kid. Remember that. A good kid. But still a kid. And sometimes, you have to give him chances, even if it means he messes up.”

“How are you so calm about this?” I asked.

“Because,” she began, “I know how that feels. Oh, how I know that feels. It’s an awful feeling. But, he thought you heard him tell you where he was going and you didn’t. It was, as I said before, just a miscommunication. That’s all.”

Mama did something Granny in all of her infinite, omnipotent power and wisdom had never been able to do.

Mama was somehow on both of our sides.