The Mother Load

“When I turn 18, I can do whatever I want, and you can’t do anything about it.”

This statement, this declaration has been uttered by probably 90 percent of the teenage population at one time or other for generations.

I said it.

The good Lord knows I said it. In fact, I am sure my guardian angels are pretty good negotiators based on the fact I survived my teenage years with this phrase coming out of my mouth on an hourly basis.

I couldn’t wait to turn 18.

Only problem was, I turned 18 in December and had until June to graduate high school.

So, I would be eighteen and a half and I would be able to be officially an adult and could do very well what I pleased.

Or so I thought.

Mama’s comeback was, “My house, my rules.”
To which I responded, “Not your house – it’s your apartment on your Mama and Daddy’s house. So, technically, you have no rules.”
“Oh, yes, I most certainly do,” the crazy redhead said, Virginia Slim 120 poised in the air for punctuation. “I am the captain of your ship, little one. You can think you are grown all you want but you are not. Not by a long shot.”

I pulled and pushed against her words, fighting for a way to be independent, wanting to be my own person and know I somehow was in some kind of control of my life and my destiny.

“I am dropping out of school,” I stated one day. “I am going to be a writer and hang out in coffee shops, experiencing life and writing about it.”

Mama gave me a sideways glance. “Don’t you think you it would be silly to quit this close to being finished? Just get your high school diploma and then you can hang out in coffee shops all day.”

She didn’t tell me I couldn’t do it. She just questioned my logic.

“So, when I turn 18, I can hang out in coffee shops, writing and experiencing life all day?”

“If that’s what you want to do,” she said nonplussed. “But, you may want to see if you can wait tables to pay for your coffee.”

Mama evidently forgot what a horrible waitress I was. My toting a tray of hot beverages would be a disaster waiting to happen.

Once, I declared I was going to go live with my father. She was an unfair and unreasonable tyrant. Keep in mind, I hadn’t talked to my father in a year and didn’t even know his number. I just needed luggage, so I could pack.

She opened my bedroom door and threw a box of Hefty bags on my bed. “These will do just fine,” she said. “I am not paying good money on luggage, so you can leave.”

Of course, I was indignant and furious. How dare she give me garbage bags as luggage. I stomped around, pouted, and rolled my eyes for several months to make my angsty point.

A few months later, when Christmas rolled around, guess what she gave me?

Yup. A set of luggage.

I cried. Did my mother – the woman who nearly died just to bring me into the world ­­­– want me to leave?

“Of course not,” she said. “But, I am not going to force someone I raised to be around me if they don’t want to be. You think you are grown. And you are of legal age to decide who you live with. If you want to leave, I think you should at least do so with proper luggage.”

Needless to say, I didn’t leave.

In fact, I stayed put for about another 11 years.

Even though I had turned 18, I still had rules to abide by.

As Mama put it, if she was footing the bill, I had to go along with her laws of the land.

I couldn’t just stay out until all hours, and when I decided to drop out of technical school after one quarter, I had to get a job. Since it was a part time job, she told me to get two.

“That is so unfair!” I cried.

“Who said life was fair, Kitten?” she asked, not even looking up from her crossword. “It’s not. But if you aren’t in school, you should be working. Them’s the brakes.”

I stomped, I had a fit, I pouted. But I was barely making enough to pay my phone bill – I couldn’t exactly live on my own, even if was 19.

I was all grown up and, quite frankly, I had it pretty dang good.

At the time, I didn’t realize it. But once I did move out, it became pretty clear and I had a new appreciation for what a donkey I had been and how she had allowed me to grow up.

Then the other day as Cole and I headed to the store, he made a declaration of intent for what he was going to do when he grew up.

I completely disagreed with this decision.

“I can do what I want when I turn 18 and there is nothing you can do about it!” he said.

I laughed. Hysterically. For about eight minutes.

“You keep thinking that,” I said. “I’m 45 and I still don’t do what I want!”

Then, I cried all weekend.

Where was the cute, precious little boy that never wanted to leave Mama? The one that couldn’t go to sleep without snuggles and Piggie? The little boy who adored me and hung on my every word?

Mama was sympathetic. She had, after all, been there.

“I survived you,” she said. “You will be just fine. Don’t fight him so much. That will make him more determined to do what you don’t want him to do.”

Had I taught her that or did she learn it on her own?

“When will it get better?”

“Boys may be different, but you? Somewhere around 30.”

I had been a horrible daughter. I cried even harder.

“I feel like I owe you an apology for everything I said and did from age 13 through 29,” I said.

Silence. Two solid minutes of silence.
“I accept,” she said.

 

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Something to cry about

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

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

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

Both phrases can be attributed to my grandmother.

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

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

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

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

She thought I needed something else to cry about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She glared at me full of venom.

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

I somehow had sassed and lived to tell about it.

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

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

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

I didn’t cry though. I knew better.

“What did you say?” she asked.

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

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

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

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

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

“Hateful, spiteful child,” she seethed.

I retreated to the sanctity of my room.

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

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

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

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

Pop looked out the back door.

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

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

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

“For now, it does,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

It took me a while to eat chicken after that.

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

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

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

Mama was horrified.

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

Don’t tell Mama

I learned quite early, certain things you just didn’t need to tell Mama.

Not just my Mama, mind you, but mamas in general.

‘Cause even my Mama was scared of hers.

One afternoon as we came through town, Mama wasn’t paying attention as closely as she should have and ran through a red light.

“Mama!” I cried, expecting the police to appear out of nowhere to arrest her.

“Shhh,” she quieted me. “That light changed too quickly on me. It didn’t even turn yellow.”

I wasn’t sure of the facts; I was just in shock my Mama broke the law.

“Are you going to go to jail?” I asked her.

“No. I would just get a ticket,” she said. She was worried though, I could tell. More than likely, she had been trying to find her cigarettes and hadn’t realized she was approaching the light.

“You sure you not going to go to jail?” I asked. I only got $3 a week allowance; I didn’t know if it would be enough to bail the redhead out or not.

“I’m not, Kitten,” she said. “But, do me a favor, OK?”

“OK.”
“Don’t tell Granny.”
“Why?” That was my favorite question for everything and this time, it was a very important one. Was Granny secretly a cop?

“Just don’t.”
“But why?”

Mama frowned. Why couldn’t I just do as I was asked?

“Because, I don’t want to get in trouble. And, she doesn’t need to know everything.”

Now, I didn’t want my Mama to get in trouble. Especially not with Granny.

But what I couldn’t understand was my Mama feared her.

Wasn’t she a grown up?

I never intended to tell on her, truly.

The slip just came out in conversation with Granny one day.

“Your Mama did what?”

Uh oh. I knew I had snitched and I felt awful about it.

“Jean!”

Oh, dang.

The tongue lashing that followed was fierce. I felt sorry for Mama and slightly embarrassed. She was in her mid-40’s and I think she was grounded.

“Why did you tell her?” she asked me.
“It was a mistake, I didn’t mean to,” I said truthfully.

It didn’t matter though; the damage was done.

A few days later, Pop broke something.
“Don’t tell your Granny,” he said, hiding the evidence.

Before I could promise I wouldn’t, he added, “And I mean it. Don’t throw me under the bus like you did your own mama. That was wrong, child. Wrong.”

I didn’t make the same mistake twice and Pop was in the clear.

No one needed to endure Granny’s wrath.

“Did she get this upset when you did something wrong as a child?” I asked Mama.

“When I was little, I would rather take a whooping than listen to her fuss,” Mama said. “It may have hurt but it was over a lot quicker.”

I could see that. Sometimes, you’d think Granny was done giving you what-for, and then she would catch another wind and come back from Round 2.

Unlike Granny’s personal brand of fire and brimstone, Mama’s weapon is the incessant worry.

After I had given Cole some soup and Tylenol and told him to rest, I gave him one firm instruction: Don’t tell Nennie.

“Why can’t I tell my grandmother I am not feeling well?” he asked.

“Because,” I said. “Trust me.”
I am sure he didn’t mean to disclose to his beloved Nennie, just as I had not meant to tell Granny all those years before, but the next thing I knew, he was handing the phone to me.
“Nennie wants to talk to you,” he said.

“What is wrong with him? What are his symptoms? Have you taken his temperature? What did you give him? Does he have a rash? Does he have an appetite? What was the last thing he ate before he started feeling bad?”

This is just a sampling.

The barrage of worry-laden questions goes on for about 20 minutes.

She follows up by texting me every 10 minutes afterwards to know if he feels better.

“Send me a picture of him so I can check to see if he looks different.”

“I am not sending you a picture,” I texted back.

Horrors upon horrors, she did the cardinal sin of replying to a text with a call.
“Can you call the doctor to see if he is OK? Or take him somewhere?”

Keep in mind, I had just answered 200 million questions only an hour earlier.

“He’s fine,” I said. “Let me parent.”
“He may have e-coli or salmonella,” she says. “What if he is allergic to something?”

To get her to stop her worry rampage, I have to pull out the heavy artillery. “You mean like the time you nearly let me die when I was stung by a bee and you didn’t believe me when I told you it felt funny?”

It was mean, but it worked.

“Cole, why in the world did you tell my Mama you weren’t feeling well? She is going to text me all night to take your temp. We both know the reason you don’t feel good is because you ate a family bag of pizza rolls.”

“I’m sorry, Mama. I didn’t mean to,” he said. I knew he didn’t, but I was the one in the hot seat.

Mama finally calmed down after a few days and things went back to as normal as they can in our world.

Until I caught the tail end of my husband and son’s conversation one day.
“Don’t tell Mama,” Cole had said.

I heard Lamar agree.

I took a deep breath and readied myself. I knew how this was going to go down. This time, the mama in question was me.

“Don’t tell me what?”

Yearning for childhood lost

I am a tad bit sentimental and I admit, I probably over-romanticize things at times, too.

Maybe that’s why I often like to remember the antics and tales of my childhood so much.

For the most part, it was a time of awe and wonder nestled between Twinkie clouds and Hostess cupcake dreams.

And there’s parts of our childhood that make us who we are and influence the adults we become, even if we don’t realize it at the time.

Mine was watching Mister Rogers.

Every evening as Granny made dinner, she usually sat me in front of the televisions with a snack of some kind. Sometimes, it was peanut butter and crackers; others, it was a bag of Bugles she had saved me from her lunch break.

She turned on Mister Rogers and hoped I would stay entertained long enough to not bother her while she cooked.

And it was enough to keep me in rapt entertainment, at least for that half hour.

I was pulled into this world where kindness mattered, where respect for everyone was given.

Where people spoke with gentle words and softer tones.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was sinking into the fabric of my soul.

The show was even enough to sooth the edges on my often loud, usually hot-tempered grandfather.

“PawPaw, who’s your favorite character?” I asked one day.

My grandfather looked at the screen thoughtfully. “I reckon I like that little tiger one the best. He seems like a neat little cat.”

My grandfather, this larger than life man, who worked in construction as a roofer and often came home covered in tar and when angered, could probably frighten the underworld, liked the shy, slightly fearful tiger. It was quite a contrast.

“Who’s your favorite?” he asked me.

“I like them all,” I said. “But I hope one day when I grow up, I marry someone like Mister Rogers. He seems to be nice to everyone.”
And to a little girl, that was very important.

See, I was a chubby kid, my mother was divorced – something that was not that common back then, and my father, who I never saw or talked to, was Iranian. There were a lot of little things that made me ‘different’ and not necessarily in a good way.

But I had the sanctity and safety of childhood.

Of being surrounded by people who loved me and having friends that cared about me regardless of the fact I made a horrible choice for dodgeball or any other team sport in the gym.

I grew up and somehow, the lessons I had learned from watching Mister Roger’s Neighborhood faded into the background.

It wasn’t until several years, when working in radio, my friend and morning show host mentioned it was the day that Fred Rogers had passed away.

“He died?” I asked.

I somehow had missed it a few years before and was saddened at the news.

“Yeah,” my friend said. “It hit me hard. Fred Rogers was a pretty cool guy.”

A cool guy.

I had never thought of Mister Rogers in that light before; to me, he had been soothing and comfort, a magical escape from a world that sometimes may not be quite as nice.

“You really should check out some of the stories on him,” my friend said. “Cole would really love him. There’s a book too that will really tell you how amazing of a person he was.”

“I will check it out,” I promised.

I didn’t have to. A few days later, in my mailbox was the book, I’m Proud of You, by Tim Madigan, and a few DVDs of Mister Rogers Neighborhood for Cole to watch.

I started the book that evening and was profoundly amazed at how the Fred Rogers on the show was exactly the way Fred Rogers was in real life.

Compassion, kindness, and empathy truly were his superpowers.

No wonder as a child I hid his lessons deep in my heart.

Over the years, especially the last few, I have been even more drawn to his wisdom. One of his quotes has been shared quite frequently: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

I find myself looking for the helpers a lot lately. Wondering where they are, the people who somehow find ways to help those around them and give comfort, even when they are experiencing pain and trauma themselves.

But sometimes, that’s what we are supposed to do. Come together and help one another, simply because we are ‘neighbors’ and need each other.

I think of how his simple wisdom is more profound now and how in so many ways, my childhood was idyllic. I lived in a world where I didn’t understand fear, I didn’t have worries or concerns because life and the world I grew up in felt safe and secure.

Now, there’s children who will never know what that feels like.

Re-reading Fred Rogers’ words makes me see how timeless they were. And how we need them, desperately need them now.

Mister Rogers passed away 15 years ago on February 27, but thankfully, his kind, compassionate wisdom has left behind some gentle echoes.

The piano recital

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

Only problem is I am quite horrible at piano.

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

Mama wasn’t so sure about this.

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

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

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

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

Piano, I promised, would be different.

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

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

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

Somehow, she convinced Miss Suzanne to give me lessons.

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

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

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

My first few weeks, I was actually fairly decent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mama had no sympathy.

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

“I am giving up my childhood for this!”

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

Mama didn’t let me quit.

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

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

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

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

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

I remember thinking this was a big deal.

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

I was going to have my own little solo piece.

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

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

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

Until a friend I had grown up with arrived.

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

Miss Suzanne had him practice first.

It was like watching a young Mozart or Beethoven play.

He made it look so effortless, so easy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I did.

For eight years.

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

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

 

No one listens to the baby

I am used to being ignored.

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

Nope.

At least not when I grew up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That evening, Granny knocked on my door.

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

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

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

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

“She did,” Granny said.

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

Mama sometimes ask my opinion, but then disregards it.

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

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

“He knows I Google.”

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

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

At least to a certain degree.

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

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

I completely understood.

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

 

The sleepover embargo

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

To call Mama overprotective was an understatement.

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

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

I could not go.

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

“You aren’t the one invited; I am.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By some miracle, I got to go.

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

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

They wanted to stay up and talk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was fun, but, I missed home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The other parent mentioned her daughter thought it was embarrassing.

“Embarrassing?” I thought.

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

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

 

Promise fulfilled

For the most part, I’d say my Mama is a fairly honest person.

Even when that truth may hurt a little.

Like the time when I was a kid and I asked her if I was fat. She told me I was maybe not my ideal weight; she tempered this statement with the loving reassurance she would help me lose the weight if I wanted to but it was up to me.

Mama was honest about those things to a fault.

But when it came to the truth about a certain toy store, she may not have been quite as forthcoming.

They say a half-truth, or an omission of truth is the same as a lie, even when there was no malintent.

Mama probably doesn’t see it that way; in her mind, the justification was probably more like she hated toy stores and was trying a bit of self-preservation more than anything.

She could barely spend 10 minutes in Kay Bee Toys or ToyLand at Georgia Square Mall without feeling claustrophobic and needing to venture out of the store.

“Why do they make the aisles so tiny?” she would complain as I browsed stuff animals and board games. “Why is everything stacked to the ceiling in here? This looks awfully dangerous. It could fall on a small child.”

Even the days I couldn’t find anything – which were rare – I just loved seeing all the toys.

My sheltered little existence led me to believe the only place to shop was at the mall in Athens.

Atlanta, or anywhere in the vicinity, was just too far away and required a day trip.

Granny had even declared, “If we can’t find it in Athens, then we don’t need it.”

But then I started seeing commercials for a toy store I hadn’t been in before: Toys R Us.

Where a kid could be a kid, the ad promised.

“I am not sure what that means,” Mama said. “You can be a kid right here and have been. What’s the big deal?”

“They are bigger, Mama! It wouldn’t make you feel all clausta – what’s the word you said?”
“Claustrophobic,” she said.
“That word. It would be bigger. Better.”
To Mama, it sounded like it would be a bigger version of what she had already experienced.

I begged her to take me. I didn’t want to go to Disney, I wanted to go to a new, bigger toy store.

And Mama looked at me with as much sincerity as she had in her skinny little body and said, “Kitten, I am sorry. They don’t have Toys R Us in Georgia.”

But, but, but….what?
“They had a commercial on the TV though….”
“Oh, yeah, they are letting people know about it in other states. In fact, I have heard from another lady at work, they only have them in Australia.”
“Why would they only have them in Australia?” I asked.

“Isn’t the little animal they use a kangaroo?”

“It’s a giraffe,” I said.
“Then the only stores are wherever giraffes are from. But you keep wishing, Kitten.”

I believed my Mama, too.

Until one day, a school field trip took us somewhere towards Atlanta.

And there it was in plain view from the road, the sacred mecca of toy stores: Toys R Us.

I screamed!

“We finally got a Toys R Us!” I exclaimed.

A friend looked at me like I was crazy. “It’s been there,” the friend said.

“What? Mama said they only had them where giraffes came from.”

The friend shook her head and told me Mama must have been wrong. She may have thought I was a little odd, too but I didn’t care. We had a Toys R Us!

I could not wait to tell Mama!

“Guess what I saw today?” I said when Mama picked me up that afternoon.

“The play at the puppetry place?”

“No. Better!”

“Better?”

“A Toys R Us! In Georgia! I am so excited! Now you can take me!”

All color drained from all of Mama’s freckles.

“What? Where did you see that?”

I told her. “You can take me now. It’s been there a while, too. All my friends have already been.”

“That’s a bit far though,” she said, “I don’t know the way there and I am not good with directions.”

She was realizing sadly, surely, her jig was up. But she didn’t want to admit it and accept defeat. Defeat would mean she would have to take me where I could be a kid.

“Now that they are in Georgia, when we get one closer, I will make sure to take you.”

“But, Mama –” I began.

“You know my work schedule is so crazy. As soon as we get one closer, I will take you. I promise.”

I reminded her of this promise not too long ago.

It’s funny how parents have very selective memories when it comes to those promises they make to avoid a hissie fit.

“I don’t remember that promise,” Mama scoffed. “Besides, I took you to Toys R Us!”

“No, you didn’t!”

“I most certainly did.”

“Mama,” I began, “The first time I set foot in the Athens Toys R Us was seven years ago when we took Cole.”

Not missing a beat, Mama said, “Yeah, and who took you? Promise fulfilled.”

Maybe 35 years later, but technically, she did.

The Christmas Pony

There was one thing that was always on the top of my Christmas list for several years that I never got: a pony.

Granny put her foot down adamantly about that pony.

“Where you think we’re gonna put a pony? What are you going to do with a pony? Do you have any idea how much it costs to feed and take care of a horse?” she asked.

“Not a horse. Pony,” I reminded her.

“You know a pony is the puppy version of a horse, don’t you?”

“I don’t want a full-grown horse, I want to get it as a pony.”

I never got the pony, of course. And that is fine.

The pony was the ultimate bargaining chip, my bluff.

I could be quite convincing to everyone that I wanted a pony.

I overheard Granny and Pop discussing it, with my grandfather saying he had already put out feelers to find me one.

“She’ll want it inside, Bob. I ain’t gonna have a pony in this house. And you know she will. That crazy child will be a-saying she’s gotta cuddle it and sleep with it.”

My uncle was the one who should have been worried; it would have been him who had to feed it.

I would ask daily about the pony.

The kicker was me writing P-O-N-Y in great big letters across the top of my Christmas list every year.

“Why don’t you put some other things on there you’d like, too?” Mama suggested.

“All I want is a pony.  If I can’t have a pony, I don’t want anything.”

“Well, humor Santa and put some other stuff on there in case he can’t carry a pony on his sleigh.”

So, I did.

I put all the things I really wanted.

The Lite-Brite, all the Little House on the Prairie books, Jordache jeans, an Atari, and all the other gifts I wanted, way more than a pony.

I knew there was no way I would get a pony and while I love horses, they terrify me.

Mama was so grateful to see I had something more reasonable on my Christmas list that she got me everything.

Granny, however, caught on after a few years.

“Don’t you even start with this pony mess this year, littl’ un,” she said. “I know your game.”

“What game, Granny? Monopoly?”

She gave me a hard glare through her glasses. “Not Monopoly. Sudie’s pony game. You start around November wanting a pony and carry on and carry on. You know good and well we ain’t getting you a pony, but you also know we’ll feel bad enough about it to get you everything else.”

How did she figure this out? What kind of grandmotherly voodoo powers did she have?

I denied this fact and effectively launched the pony request once again, until the following year, Granny had me declare at the dinner table I had given up on the pony. Or else.

“You try this again and there won’t be nothing on your list under the tree. It will be footy pajamas and underwear.”

The thought of footy pajamas and underwear was enough to make me stop asking for the pony. No kid wants to go back to school after the break and tell their friends they got that for Christmas.

Given my shopping procrastination, I start asking Cole for his list around the beginning of November.

This year, the only thing he mentioned was a Playstation 4 Slim Golden Version.

“That’s all I want, Mama,” he said.

I thought one video console couldn’t be that bad.

Could it?
“Six hundred dollars!” I exclaimed when I saw the price. For one video game console? Was this console able to communicate with the Space Station?

I thought that was excessive but at the same time, felt bad. It was the only thing he wants.

“Is there anything else you would like?” I asked.
He thoughtfully pondered this for a moment. “Hmmm…no, not really. I think I have everything else I want. That’s it.”

I wasn’t exactly sure how I would pull that off. We try to not focus on the price or the gifts but on the meaning of the season.
Still, I stressed and agonized over this.
I looked around online for cheaper ones.

Nope.

“I can’t wait to play the Playstation 4,” Cole said every day. “Thank you so much for getting it for me.”

I cringed inside.

“Cole, what if they are sold out?”

“Oh, they are priced where they won’t be. Don’t worry about that, Mama.”

I groaned.

A few days later, Cole handed me a list.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“Just in case they are sold out, Mama. Or you can’t find one or you think it’s too expensive. You know, there’s a lot of reasons why you may not be able to get one for me.”

Sweet, sweet son of a biscuit eater.

My child had beat me at my own game.

His pony was just in the form of a Playstation 4.

Heart attacks in football

There’s no crying in baseball – that’s what Tom Hanks’ Jimmy Dugan told one of the Rockford Peaches in a “League of Their Own.”

I don’t know that there’s crying in any sport unless there’s an injury, but football seems to bring about the most angst.

At least growing up in my house it did.

My grandfather was a die-hard Georgia fan and by die-hard, I mean that man nearly died at a dang Georgia game.

Granny and I had dropped him and my uncle Bobby off at the game and commenced to spend the afternoon in Athens, shopping at the shoe store and Rose’s, and the old gal even took me to lunch.

It was a big, big day for us and she was in a fairly good mood.

Until we went to pick up Pop and Bobby.

My uncle was helping my grandfather, who was hobbling, towards the car.

“What is wrong?” my grandmother demanded.

My uncle shook his head at her. He has always been the one who tried to make all these hot-tempered people he was surrounded by calm down; walking on water would probably be easier.

“Robert! What is wrong with you?” Granny’s reaction for anything was increasing her verbal volume. I am sure someone named Robert in South Carolina heard her.

“Mama, he got so upset when Georgia lost, I think he choked on his hot dog and it went down the wrong way. Just let him get easy, I think it’s stuck in his windpipe.”

Granny didn’t have a lot of sympathy for anyone. She looked at my grandfather’s ashen face and said, “I can’t believe you ‘bout choked to death on a dang hot dog because Georgia lost. It’s a game, Bob. A game. And what are you doing eat a hot dog? I thought the doctor told you to lay off them things.”

Granny continued her tirade all the way home as I sat in the backseat bouncing with my red and black paper pom-poms they always faithfully got me. There was no way my chubby and uncoordinated self would ever be a cheer leader, but they still gave me hope with those paper poms.

But Pop didn’t choke on a hot dog.

Pop had a heart attack.

A pretty massive heart attack.

But, he was also so stubborn he refused to go to the hospital until my Mama got home from work that night around midnight, stating firmly he was not leaving until he knew she was safe.

“You are as stubborn as a mule,” Granny said to him. Remember – she lacked sympathy at times.

“You need to get to the hospital before you die.”
“I ain’t gonna die,” he said. “I still got to get some roofs done before Christmas.”

Pop didn’t get those roofs done. He spent about a week in the hospital before he came home and when his doctor finally released him, he had stern orders: no more Georgia games.

My uncle called and cancelled their annual tickets for the next season before Pop got home.

“I haven’t smoked in years, I quit drinking decades ago and now this? No more football? What’s left for me to live for?” my grandfather wanted to know.

“Me?” I asked, sheepishly. “Granny? Mama? Bobby? Aren’t we more important than a football game?”

The thought of just having us did not comfort him. Heck, it may have made him feel worse – we’re a curious bunch of folks.

But he had been forbidden to darken Sanford stadium ever again. Doctors orders.

“Was it because it was Tech?” I whispered to my uncle.

He nodded. “That rivalry always gets him riled up. But he would have gotten pretty upset if it had been another team he hated.”

I was fascinated.

How can you hate a football team, especially when you don’t even know the people?
It was a bunch of grown men wearing tight britches while running after a ball. My son would later declare at the ripe old age of 5 that those people did not know how to share and say it was a pointless game.

“Like who?”

“Well, he doesn’t seem to mind Alabama. If anything, he seems to respect them. He mainly hates Tech when they play UGA; the rest of the time, he will pull for Tech because they are a state team.

“Florida is a big one. He is not a Florida fan. But maybe after Tech, his next big one is Auburn. He is not an Auburn fan at all.”

“Why?” I asked.

My uncle shrugged.
“Why does anyone get all worked up about a football game? It’s just something we like to do.”

My grandfather never went to another live football game again, but I saw him having grown up big man hissy fits over games in the den. The kind of fits that made the house shake and scared the cat.

And in case you didn’t know, the top ranked Georgia fell to Auburn this Saturday.

I was on the edge of my seat during the game – a game, mind you, I don’t really care about.

I may have even had a grown up big girl hissy fit, complete with the loud swearing. I did scare the pittie though, but she’s scared of her own shadow.

“Mama, are you OK?” Cole asked.

I nodded.

“You don’t look like it.”

I was fine.

But somewhere, outside of Athens, I am sure my grandfather was rolling over in his grave.