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.

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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.

Of mothers & sons – and sometimes, daughters

“Mama, can I tell you something?”

This question is asked several times a day.

Usually, it is about one of his favorite shows.

He updates me on the latest episode or shows me clips of it.

Or he tells me about the latest gaming system he’s come across, or a new game.

Sometimes, he shows me what he is doing in his game and how it works.
He loves the graphics and it is common for him to ask me to watch him as he plays so I can see his progress.

Or, he wants to tell me about a song he just heard and ask what I think about it.

“Do you like it?” he asks.

“I liked this song a lot,” I tell him and point out which one and why.

I try not to be critical or negative because even though he’s a teenager now, he’s still in such a highly formative time. And kids get enough criticism and negativity without us bashing stuff when they are eager to share it with us.

“Wanna listen to another one?” he asks.

“Sure.”

He ends up playing me the whole CD.

Heavy metal was my way of rebelling just as rap and punk are his – a soft rebellion but a rebellion nonetheless. I know more about his music than I do mine.

Sometimes, he wants to see the video so we watch it on YouTube.

He always asks me first, knowing that YouTube may have stuff on there that’s not exactly appropriate.

“Do you want to know why I like this?” he asks.

“Tell me,” I say.

And you know what?

I sit and listen.

I watch.

I pay attention to what he’s sharing with me.

There were times I was growing up that Mama didn’t listen to me.

Or, she rolled her eyes and thought my interests were silly.

“You don’t need a new Mouse album,” she said.
“Ratt,” I corrected.

“Same difference.”

“How do you call this music? All the men you like are wearing makeup and have bigger hair than you!”

“You may love Prince but Elvis was and will always be King.”

“Are you watching another movie with Canoe Reeves?”

I spent 90 percent of my teenage years rolling my eyes and wishing my Mama would stop being so critical of everything I liked.

It got to the point I didn’t want to tell her anything I liked because she would make fun of it or be just downright snarky.

She still does it, to a degree.

“Why do you color your hair? I think that is so ridiculous. God gave you a perfectly fine color of hair and you should leave it alone.”

I say nothing. Arguing about why I like something is pointless.

Just like a few weeks ago, my son decided to cut his hair.

His hair, that he had grown out for a year because he wanted it to be like Joey Ramone’s.

When he decided he wanted to grow it out, he asked me what I thought.
“It’s your hair,” was my response.

When he wanted to cut it, I admit, I was sad to see it go. I loved it and thought it was pretty but as my son told me, a boy’s hair is not supposed to be pretty.

After he got it cut, he asked me what I thought.
“I like it,” I said.

“Honest?”

“Honest.” And I do.

It was his choice, his preference, his likes – not mine.

“Did you want to watch The Simpsons?” I ask.

“Really?”

I nod.

He sits next to me on the couch.
“Thank you for always taking an interest in what I like,” he says. “I know you don’t really like The Simpsons.”

“But you do, and that means I have an interest in it.”

As long as he is eager and excited to share what he is interested in with me, I am going to listen.

I am going to watch it or watch him play.

I am going to Google it to make sure it is appropriate and find out everything I can.

I will always listen to his music and allow him to have that freedom of expression with what he likes.

If he wants to share and tell me what’s important in his world, I am going to gladly be a part of it.

“You don’t have to watch this if you don’t want to,” he says.

Nope, I will. I know when my Mama was snarky about things, I quit sharing those details with her. It’s no fun having someone you love rip your stuff apart.

As long as it is important to him, it will be important to me.

“Always?” he asks.

Always.

Forgiveness is harder than it sounds

I am going to admit something not too pretty here: I have a hard time with forgiveness.
I can hold a grudge and think up reasons to not forgive someone all day long.
It’s not healthy, I know.
And sometimes, forgiveness comes with conditions. Or at least, begrudgingly.
My hardened heart comes honestly, I think.
My Granny prided herself on her unforgiveness.
She could tell you how long it had been since she had last spoke to someone, why they had quarreled and give you every reason why she was justified in her anger.
“I ain’t spoke to her in 55 years, and I ain’t got no plans to speak to her now,” Granny said about someone one day when she heard they were gravely ill.
“They may pass away,” I told her.
This did not sway Granny. “I doubt it,” she said. “They are too mean to die. And more than likely, this is a ruse to see how many flowers they get or who still cares. They won’t be getting that from the likes of me!”
I thought she was made of some tough stuff to feel that way – to not care that someone may pass away without resolving those unmended hurts. But Granny did not care.
Mama, for the most part, can carry a grudge herself.

 
She still to this day cannot stand my first grade teacher.
Granted, the woman should not have been allowed in a class room, but Mama still cannot let go of her hatred towards that woman.
“Mama, I don’t worry about that woman,” I said one day after Mama was commenting her disgust. “And that was how long ago? Can you do like an overplayed Disney princess and let it go?”
“No, I cannot. She probably scarred you and countless others. She had no place in a classroom.”
True, that woman should not have been allowed to mold young minds. But she’s probably close to a 100 years old if she’s alive now…. surely she had asked for some sort of penance?
Mama didn’t care.
I sighed. I had my own grudges to nurse.
Don’t you hate it when you are comfortable with your grudges and justified in your anger and things keep popping up in your face?
Topics focused on forgiveness continually pop up on your emails, news feed and other areas.
You start to think, “Hmmm…maybe this is some kind of message?”
And then someone you simply adore starts talking about the very thing.
Forgiveness.
Oh, bother, as Winnie the Pooh would say.
I had heard all this forgiveness stuff before – who hasn’t? – but had not put it in action yet.
Like my Mama and Granny before me, I had taken great pride in not forgiving someone or letting a hurt fester to the point it was beyond repair.
I had let my heart get darkened and hardened, leaving out the possibility that maybe I was wrong or that maybe the other person had been going through something else.
I sat and listened. Truly listened, I wanted to add.
I listened to hear how we are supposed to forgive and let healing happen.
And how forgiveness really is something we are supposed to work on.
“But what if…” I thought.
They didn’t know what this person did to me.
It didn’t take into account the pain I had felt or how that person had treated me.
Nor did it mention that I may be completely right in my anger or feelings.
I was, too.
Let me tell you, if you sat down and heard my side of things, you’d realize I was right and that the other people were wrong and they didn’t deserve forgiveness or compassion or even kindness.
I didn’t want to forgive.
Didn’t that mean it was OK what they did?
Didn’t it mean that I was giving in and letting their actions go unnoticed?
I thought about all the people who had wronged me – the people who had lied, the ones who had let me down, didn’t do what they promised, and who had ended up hurting me when I least expected it.
How could I forgive that?
And here was someone I thought so much of, saying how we needed to go to the person and explain how we – not them, we – had been affected by the situation and ask for forgiveness about how we had felt and reacted.
We – or rather, me.
What if I had reacted in haste or pain and taken things the wrong way?
What if I had been the one in the wrong – and not the other person?
What if I had missed out on having someone I loved in my life because I had been an equine rear for too long without going to them?
I could hear Granny’s voice in my head, telling me it didn’t matter, it was never our fault, we were never wrong and no one – no one deserved forgiveness, least of all us because we never did anything wrong.
She may have been right; this is something I have struggled with for over 40 years and undoubtedly will a bit longer.
Holding grudges and having a hardened heart was something we had nurtured for quite a while and had elevated to an art form. But sometimes, forgiveness isn’t for others; it’s for us.
And maybe, some forgiveness is in order.
Sudie Crouch is an award winning humor columnist and author of the novel, “The Dahlman Files: A Tony Dahlman Paranormal Mystery.”

 

 

It all comes out in the wash

“He’s a little boy,” is the logic my husband gives me for just about everything our child does.
This was his response to Cole deciding he only wanted to wear one shirt, day in and day out.
The same shirt.
Every day.
“When I was a little boy, I did that,” Lamar said. “I had certain things I liked to wear all the time.”
Yeah, when I was a little girl, I did, too. They were called shoes.
“He has to wear something other than that one shirt,” was my response.
It was ignored by everyone male in my house.
Now, that one shirt was not just any one shirt, mind you.
It was the Steven Universe shirt.
A simple shirt by design, a red tee with a big yellow star in the middle.
The day it arrived, he took it out of the package and put it on, not heeding my normal rule of washing everything first.
And there it stayed for God knows how long.
“Cole, let me wash it,” I would say on a daily basis.
“I don’t want to take it off,” he would tell me. “I love it, Mama. I had wanted this for so long.”
“It’s got to be washed,” I said. “It has pizza stains; when’s the last time you had pizza?”
He was not happy but he acquiesced.
The sacred shirt was washed.
And even though it was supposed to be pre-shrunk, it shrank.
“Oh no!” he wailed. “It’s ruined!”
Oh, dang. Now he’d never let me wash anything ever again.
He ran to his tablet to Google how to un-shrink shrunken clothes.
“Fabric softener,” he said between breathes. “Spray fabric softener on it to release the fibers.”
So we did. “Let’s pull it,” I suggested.
“Pull it?”
“If it works on control tops, it will work on a shirt.”
So we sprayed it some more and I took one end and he the other and we gently pulled.
It helped.
“It’s still not as long as it was originally,” he said. He knew this because he had another Steven
Universe shirt that came at the same time but was saving; he had compared the two when he got them and now had the red one on top, seeing the less than a millimeter difference.
“It will be OK,” I told him.
He frowned and slipped the shirt back on.
“It’s not going back in the dryer again. Ever,” he declared.
I returned to my daily begging to let me wash it; he refused.
The child will even put it on after he takes a shower.
“Cole!” I exclaimed. “Put on a clean shirt! That’s disgusting that you put that shirt back on!”
He sticks his chin out defiantly.
“No, it’s not. My shirt is clean. I don’t do anything to get dirty – I really don’t even need a shower. I haven’t even been outside this summer because I am scared of Zika!”
I sighed. I was in the midst of a battle I had zero strategy to fight.
I finally managed to wrestle the shirt from him one evening and promised I would hand wash it and let it air dry. And I did, putting it in the tub with a Tide pack and getting on my knees to wash it.
I suddenly had a very astute appreciation for the modern conveniences of washers and dryers.

Hours later, I heard him bemoan that somehow, it still shrunk.
“That’s not possible!” I said.
He leveled a disappointing stare at me. “Well, it is. I’m never washing my lucky shirt again.”
How had this shirt somehow become lucky? I wondered.
“He’s a little boy, you just don’t understand because you are a mama,” Lamar said. “Little boys have lucky shirts, don’t like taking showers, and like gross things. He will change soon enough.”
I wasn’t sure about that; his father was in his 50s and hadn’t evolved that much.
I wasn’t going to fuss with him.
I just knew that shirt needed to be washed and on a regular basis.
Granted, I knew his fear. I had a lovely long, white Ralph Lauren sundress one summer that made me look thin even though it had pockets. I probably would have worn it on my wedding day, I loved it so much. I didn’t even wear it that often, because, well…it was white. Me and white clothes are a recipe for disaster and usually mean I spilled everything permanent on it.
But one day, I asked Mama to wash it.
Mama, the grand poobha of laundry. The woman cannot cook to save her life – or ours – but she can make everything smell April fresh and soft and fluffy.
My dress mysteriously disappeared and Mama even tried to gaslight me into believing I had never had a white sundress.
“I don’t recall such a dress,” she said through her Virginia Slim fog.
“Are you sure? You fussed about paying $80 for a dress I could only wear a few months out of the year.”
She didn’t even flinch.
“I fuss about a lot of your overpriced clothes,” she said. “You always like those hoity toity things.”
“Uh-huh. Well, you washed it about three weeks ago and I haven’t seen it since.”
One day, I found it, or what remained of it rather, under the kitchen sink.
It was in tatters, knotted together.
Mama had put bleach in the laundry, thinking it would help keep the brightness of the white but instead, it had eaten through the fibers and turned it into what looked like a giant cat toy.
The fact it was in a bag, shoved in a bucket in the very back and covered with a cutting board was proof the crazy redhead had hid her crime.
I sat in the kitchen floor and cried, and this time it wasn’t because I thought my Mama was trying to poison me with her cooking.
I recounted this story to my own child, hoping he would know I understood where he was coming from and that I would take care of his shirt.
I believed that one day he would trust me to wash his favorite lucky shirt again.
Finally, finally, he peeled off the shirt and handed it to me.
“It’s time,” he said solemnly.
Into the tub it went, with another Tide pack. I had to scrub stains of things out that were unidentifiable, ground in and possibly organic in nature.
I didn’t ask.
When you finally get to wash the sacred shirt, you do so free of judgment -and questions, because somethings, you just don’t want to know.
But the sacred, lucky shirt was clean.
At least for a little while.