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.

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A Granny-sized void

Someone commented the other day that they didn’t realize Granny had passed away.
“She did. Four years ago, on the 11th of March,” I replied.

“You still talk about her like she is still here,” they said.

It dawned on me that maybe I do.

And there’s times, believe me, that it feels like the old gal is still with me.

I told Mama it was as if she had been so much larger than life that her presence still lingered.

Mama agreed. “There’s days it doesn’t feel like she’s gone and some days, the void is all around,” she said.

A void.

That’s what it was.

She had filled such a huge part of my life, that now there was an emptiness.

Part of this gaping hole was due to my own stubbornness and grudge-holding the last few years she was alive.

“I do believe you were both equally to blame on that,” Mama said gently when I told her how I felt. “Granny was angry because you moved to the mountains and not home. She thought you were moving here. I thought you were moving here. And when you didn’t, she thought being angry was the best way to deal with it. You were her favorite person in the world.”

I didn’t feel that way when she passed away.

But growing up, she was my biggest fan and strongest ally, even when I feared her the most.

On Saturday mornings, she had been up for hours by the time I woke, cleaning and getting things done so we could go ‘loafing’ as she called it.

This just meant we went grocery shopping and to her mother’s house in Bold Springs, where the smell of fresh hay bales drifted through the house as I sat on the old metal sliding swing on the wrap around porch.

When I got older, Granny was often the one chauffeuring around an Oldsmobile full of teenage girls around, getting us pizza, burritos and junk food for low-budget horror movie binges.

She never complained.

If anything, she loved it.

She loved having a house full of laughter and squeals, no matter how late we stayed up.

If Mama was shushing us and telling us to go bed, Granny was the one sneaking down the hall to watch videos with us.
“I think Roger’s the cutest,” she would whisper as we watched Duran Duran videos.

“I like Nick,” I said.
She looked at me. “Of course you do, he’s got on the most makeup.”

After I got my driver’s license, Mama reneged on letting me drive her car.

“You promised!” I cried.

“I had no idea on God’s green earth you would pass!” was her reply.

In all teenage drama, I flung myself across my bed and cried.

Granny came in there to comfort me.

“You can take my car anytime you need to,” she said.

Granted, she didn’t know I put her car and our family friend who was teaching me how to drive in a ditch a few months earlier.

“I want my own car, Granny. I am just going to drive to school and home. That’s it.”

A few hours later, a car pulled down the driveway.

Granny and Pop had gone to town and bought me a beige ’77 Chevy Nova.

“I still have to pay for it,” Mama said as I squealed my thanks to my grandmother.

“I wouldn’t have got it if it hadn’t been for Granny,” I said.

“Darn right about that!” Mama replied.

Even though that car was far from perfect – she had to make me a cushion so I could see over the steering wheel – it was mine and my grandmother had made sure I got it.

During most of my teenage years, if it ticked my Mama off, Granny seemed to be the biggest supporter of it.

When I had Cole, she stayed with me for two weeks to help me figure out this whole motherhood thing.

The day she was leaving, I begged her to stay.
“Please, Granny, we have an extra bedroom. Please. I am not going to know what to do.”

“Oh, you’ve got it figured out,” she said simply. “You just needed to rest and get acclimated to having a baby.”
She made it sound like it was no big deal, but she had helped a lot. She cooked breakfast every morning and did laundry and swept. Keep in mind, she was 83 at the time.

Of course, she had called everyone, including the church to make sure no one had usurped her throne as president of her Sunday school class to announce she was seeing after her great-grandson for two weeks.
“Y’all put that in the bulletin,” she ordered over the phone. “Don’t y’all even think of moving any of the chairs around in the Sunday school room. I mean it. But y’all make sure everyone knows I’ve got a great-grandson.”

I was telling Mama all of this the other day.
“She was proud of him. She was proud of you,” Mama said.

“She never told me that,” I said.

“She didn’t have to tell you, Kitten. She told everyone else.”

Granny, the little redhaired girl out of a slew of children, had spent all of her life, wanting to be special to someone. She wanted to be the best at something and to have recognition, like we all do. But she had never really got that from her own mother. So, sometimes, her methods of getting that recognition may not have been the best way to go about it. But she had tried to give me the very things she didn’t have, the best way she could.

“I hope when I am gone one day, you will remember everything I have done for you,” she said one day, so many years ago.

And I do. Every single bit of it, I do.

 

The (super)power of common sense

Granny always considered common sense a rare, priceless thing.

“You got book learning,” she told me one day. “I ain’t so sure about the common sense yet.”

“Isn’t book learning good?” I asked.

“It depends on what you are doing in life,” she said. “Look at this one,” she gestured towards my Mama as she stood at the stove.

“This one is real smart when it comes to the books. Likes to act all fancy-pants smart-alecky about things. And look at her. She can’t boil a hot dog to save her life.”

Sure enough, Mama had boiled the water out of the pot and was trying to unstick the burned carcass of whatever parts the animal could live without from the bottom.

“She ain’t got no common sense,” Granny muttered.

I thought she was being horribly unfair towards my Mama.

Granted, the younger redhead was and still is slightly naïve about some things, but I didn’t think it was necessarily a matter of not having common sense.

It was more like she was easily distracted and, maybe she didn’t pay attention like she should sometimes.

I told Granny I thought she was being awfully mean towards Mama, to which I was promptly met with a grunt.

“Well, we’ll see. If you was in an emergency situation, who would you want? Me, or Miss Marketing Degree over there?”

Considering Granny made Clint Eastwood look weak, that was a pretty easy answer. But still – it felt unfair. Mama had many traits that were just as useful, just as important.

“She’s real smart,” Granny commented one day about someone.

I could tell by her pause, she was wanting me to take the bait and ask her to elaborate.  I never liked to give in to her when she did that, so I didn’t ask.

“Don’t you wanna know how she’s smart?” she asked.
“Not really,” I answered.

Granny snorted. “Probably because it don’t involve stuff you think is smart.”
She had made her stance real clear.

Granny put a high prize on common sense, lavishly praising those who had it.

Book smarts, she figured, wasn’t really something that had a purpose at times.

Yet, this is the same woman that had a full-grown, adult size hissy fit when I made my first B — in Geometry.

“How in the sam hill did you make a B in Geometry?” she yelled.

“I just did,” I said. Actually, I was proud of that B. I earned that B.

“Jean, what do you think of this?” she asked.
“I think if she did the best she could, I am fine with it.”

“Well of course you are,” Granny said sarcastically. “If you had a lick of sense you’d know she needs to get a good education, so she can get a job. You don’t get good educations making B’s.”

“I think I failed Geometry and I have a good job,” Mama said quietly.

I was confused.

Granny thought you had to get a good education to get a good job? What about all of that common-sense stuff she preached and praised all the time?

“Your grandmother wanted to go to college,” Mama said gently when I asked.

“But back then, girls didn’t. They quit school early to work the farm and take care of their younger siblings. That’s what happened to Granny. She wanted to be a nurse and couldn’t. So instead of learning about medicine and how to take care of people, she did the best she could with what she had. And that was understanding how the world works a bit better than most.”

“She seems to think we aren’t too bright in the common sense department,” I said.

“It’s her way of trying to toughen us up,” Mama said. “I think you have plenty of common sense; Granny thinks you do, too, she just doesn’t brag on you to you. She brags to everyone else though.”

She didn’t think Mama had common sense and that still bothered me.

“It’s OK,” Mama assured me. “I am smart in other ways, and it may not be something Granny appreciates but that’s fine.”

Mama could do just about anything with a computer when I was younger; she worked on one all day, after all. But, she also had a car engine explode because she didn’t know you were supposed to change the oil every now and then.

One afternoon, Cole sighed and stated he wanted to be smarter. This came after reading about Tesla.

“Cole, you are extremely smart.”

“You keep saying that,” he said. “I think you are blinded by the mom-goggles you wear. I just want to be really, really smart – Tesla smart — and am worried I am not as smart as I want to be.”
“Well, the good thing is, you can learn more and expand your knowledge base,” I told him. “There’s always measures you can take to increase your knowledge which translates to feeling smarter. But I think you have something that is far greater than just book smarts.”

“What’s that?” he said, not exactly convinced.
“You have common sense,” I said. “Trust me. It’s not something everyone else has. But you have both.”

He frowned, not liking my answer.

I didn’t think he would.

Common sense seems basic and ordinary, when truth be told, it’s darn near a super power.

But maybe it befalls a lucky few. Even if it sometimes skips a generation.

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?”

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.

 

Lowering my expectations

Granny’s response to a lot of things was, “I ain’t getting my hopes up.”

I thought this was kind of morose and sad – we’re supposed to be hopeful, aren’t we?

“Why?” was her response. “When I do, I always get disappointed.”

Mama, on the other hand, tries to see the good in things and when stuff doesn’t work out, she tries to come up with some kind of divine reasoning.

“When something doesn’t happen the way you want it to, it’s just because something better is on its way,” Mama will say.

Being reared by both of these redheads has caused me to fluctuate between the extremes.

On one hand, I am always looking for the positive; on the other, I have started to understand Granny’s mantra.

And let me tell you, 2017 has been a year of disappointment.

I tend to do a lot of reflecting this time of the year and think about the past 12 months and how I want the coming year to be.

I hoped – no, make that knew – that 2017 was going to be amazing.

And it hasn’t.

Far from it.

As this year has gone by, I have realized some cold, hard truths about a few friends, making my circle even smaller.

Instead of trying to hold on to these outgrown relationships, I remembered Granny’s words.

“Not everyone will do for you the way you do for them,” she told me more than once, probably after she had experienced a personal lesson. “If you expect them to do what you would do, you gonna be sorely disappointed. They won’t. But they will be there on your doorstep whenever they need you.”

She was right. This year has shown me, yet again, the friends that only were around when they needed me and when I needed them, they dismissed me.

Boy, did it hurt.

“Ain’t no need for it to hurt,” Granny foretold. “Better to know what you’re dealing with upfront than not. I ain’t got time for people like that.”

A few opportunities I had been excited about turned out to be huge disappointments this year.

More than a few.

Some came to an end and some never really worked out the way they were supposed to.

“Look for the things that went right,” Mama gently reminded me.

It was an impossible task.

Mama didn’t believe me. I assured her it was.

So, in the coming year, I am lowering my expectations.

It’s not that I am being a Negative Nellie.

Like Granny, I am not going to get my hopes up about things; again, not trying to be negative.

Just go with me on this for a second.

I am actually going to look at things from a realistic standpoint.

I am not going to project my personal attitudes and ways of doing things on others. Other people may have their own thing going on that has nothing to do with me.

I am going to be a bit more grounded in my approach.

Instead of thinking one event was going to be so life-changing, I was going to put the focus on me and what I can do to change my life.

I think we tend to build things up in our minds sometimes where we make them so much bigger and grander than what they are.

We think that one job, that one person, that one something is going to make all these changes in our lives and when it doesn’t, we feel like Granny often did.

“Nothing goes the way I want, so why should I get excited about this?” she said more than once.

Mama countered with, “Because sometimes you have to be excited about something, Mama. It’s good for our souls to get our hopes up and be excited. We have to have hope to hold on to.”

Maybe that was just it.

Granny had gotten her hopes up so many times and it didn’t happen the way she wanted.

I know. I’ve been there. Heck, I am wallowing in the shallow end of the pool right now.

But I am trying, with all I’ve got, to find that hope my sweet yet crazy Mama preaches about.

So, I am setting the bar just a tiny bit lower.

I think lowering my expectations may be the answer.

Not that I am thinking I will be disappointed.

But maybe so I can be happily amazed.

The Good Old Days (7/20/2016)

Growing up, Granny loved to tell me stories about what she called, “the good old days.”

Tales involving picking cotton, drawing water from a well, and all of her siblings having to share one bed during the winter to stay warm.

“This was the good old days?” I asked her once.

“Yes,” she was replied. “They was.”

That’s how Granny, talked too. She dropped out of school, maybe in third grade or so, to help work the fields. She didn’t speak proper grammar and didn’t care. It never stopped her from getting her point across.

Her stories included growing up in the Depression and how they survived. Huddling around the wood burning stove to stay warm, wearing clothes until threadbare, and never throwing anything away. She was a packrat of the highest caliber, because she grew up in poverty.

“What are you going to make with this?” I asked her once, moving a huge garbage bag containing fabric off the couch.

“I don’t know yet, but I’ll make something. Don’t you worry about it. Clothes, curtains, quilts. It’ll get used.”

And it would, too.

The woman would wash and re-use aluminum foil and Ziploc bags and thought if someone was using thick Dixie plates at a dinner and threw them away, they were “just showing how high fa-lootin’ they was.” Dishes were not supposed to be disposable.

She told me about riding the bus to Plattsburg, New York, alone, to get to Pop. They had eloped, Granny lying to her mother that she was spending the night at a cousin’s house, and the next morning, my grandfather headed back to where ever he was stationed in the Army. Granny went back home to her mama and daddy, never breathing a word she was married until she announced she was heading north. Their wedding night was only their third date.

“How in the world could you let Pop go back up there and not go with him?” I asked.

“Back then, you did what you had to. He was in the Army and he had to save up money to get me a bus ticket,” was her no nonsense reply.

Those times, were not easy, nor were the years that followed and they made steel run through veins. She was resilient and tough.

“Why do you always talk about those times, Granny?” I asked her one day as she started up on one of her yarns for the umpteenth time.

“Because they was the good old days, Lit’l Un.”

Good? How in the world could she describe them as good?

All she told me about was how poor they were, how they struggled, how getting through the day was sometimes a miracle of itself.

“How was that good?” I wanted to know.

“It just was. If you was breathin’ and on the other side of the ground, it was good.”

Her stories were woven around my grandfather serving in World War II, my uncle in Viet Nam. Mama, she said, made her proud because she had a job that was in an office and didn’t have to do the labor she had.
“You never tell her you are proud of her,” I said to her once. “That may make her feel better, you know.”

Granny stuck her chin out, not one to be chastised for anything. “She don’t need to know if I am proud of her or not; I am and that’s all that cussed matters.”

After over 20 years of hearing her stories, I started to tune them out or make her change the conversation. “You’ve told me this already, old woman,” I’d tell her.

“Yeah, well you ain’t listened, old gal,” she said in return.

How I’d love to hear her old stories again. The only thing close to it I have is, thankfully, a DVD my beloved cousin, Dotty, made of her talking and telling some of her stories to them.

I miss her stories and more importantly, I miss her common sense about the things that happened in the world around us. Especially lately, I’ve yearned for her comfort, for her wisdom, and for her just declaring that things would be OK and we would survive – meaning all of us – because that was the only choice we had.

It seemed like her focus was always about surviving, just surviving one thing from the next. How in the world could she consider those ‘good old days?’

I asked her that one day.

The question actually struck her speechless for a moment. “One day, you’ll understand. It ain’t about the little petty problems or any of this other junk. It’s about the moment, and being with family and friends. Don’t matter how much money you got, that stuff’s fleeting. It mattered about how much love.”

She had the ones she loved around her.

Maybe it was the good old days after all.

I am my Mama’s mother’s granddaughter (5/11/2016)

I swore when I was a child – probably more a teenager, really, as they know everything – that I would never be like my Mama.

No, that skinny fire-breathing redhead was crazy.

She thought the silliest things were life-hazards, when riding in a Monte Carlo with her smoking and the windows rolled up was probably more hazardous to my health than me roller skating.

She was strict. More specifically, “controlling” was the word I used from age 15-23.

I thought her sole purpose was to make me a completely uncool spinster.

“Your mama is so nice,” my friends would say.

They would come over to talk to Mama about things they didn’t feel comfortable talking to their own mamas about.

This is the woman who would randomly show up at school in the middle of the day to peek in my class to make sure I was okay.

The woman who would point at me, then the floor, commanding me to come there so she could ask me if I had lunch money or not.

And my friends came over to ‘chill with my mom?’

“Why do my friends come over here and talk to you?” I asked her once bewildered.

She shrugged. “I don’t know. Is it so hard to imagine that I am maybe a nice person and they want to talk to me?”

What in the world did this woman possibly have to talk about?

Other than her heedings and warnings about everything being dangerous, including air, she didn’t have a lot to say.

“What do you say to them?” I asked.

Mama shrugged again. “Nothing really.”

I approached Granny with this dilemma.

“You wanna know why your friends come over here to talk to your Mama? It’s because she’s quiet. She actually listens to them,” the old gal said.

“She does what?”

“She listens.”

I reckon Mama has always done that. She is quite the good listener, especially if she is not injecting her listening with her words of warning.

“So my friends come over here because she listens? Don’t I listen?”

Granny shook her head.

“No, you too busy telling everyone what your opinion is like they care. They don’t want to know what you think of their boyfriends. Knowing you, you’ve already said it. They want someone that’ll listen to them and let them figure it out on their own.”

The old gal evidently missed the irony of her statement.

She spent a goodly portion of her time expressing her unrequested opinion on everyone along with her judgements. If Granny disagreed with what someone was doing, instead of trying to be a compassionate person as Mama does, she told them what she thought, holding nothing back.

And Mama was quiet. I think some folks may have thought she was aloof but she was really just more reserved and observant.

Granny, on the other hand, would not shut up.
“I’m shy and don’t feel comfortable talking to a bunch of strangers,” she said – an outright lie—out of the blue one day.

“I bet the greeter at Walmart wished that were true; you spent 15 minutes the other day discussing your hysterectomy with them.”

“They asked how I was, and I told them,” was her response.

Granny believing she was shy was almost comical. A bull in a China shop that had been poked with a fire was more subtle than this woman.

And she didn’t feel comfortable talking to strangers? She never met a stranger. She would go up and start talking to someone like she had known them for years.

I think when she worked in a sewing plant, she talked so much they had to move her away from one of her best friends. That didn’t work; she just started talking to whoever they moved her next to.

Mama was the quiet, compassionate empathizer and then there was Granny, the chatterbox full of judgements she felt needed to be shared.

Oh, sweet son of a biscuit eater.

I’m not like my Mama at all.

It’s worse. Much, much worse.

Granny’s Way of Making Me Stronger (4/13/2016)

Granny often lamented that my generation was not made of tough stuff. She grew up during the Depression and said it taught her how to persevere and made her stronger.

“I don’t want to be stronger,” I told her. “I think this whole ‘struggling’ thing is over-rated.”

She snorted. “Yeah, you better get stronger than what you are or you gonna be a goner.”

Part of Granny’s innate strength building character meant she re-used everything she could; when I informed her she was environmentally conscientious when she reused Mason jars and tin foil, she rolled her eyes at me and replied, “My generation always was a little more worried about the environment than yours is – we depended on it to survive. To you’uns, it’s disposable like everything else.”

Of course, her homemade recycling system meant at any given time you could open her fridge to find 15 different Country Crock containers and open 11 before you finally found the margarine. The rest were leftovers she had forgot about re-serving because they weren’t labeled.

Not that there were many leftovers. Granny was not wasteful when she cooked and if she did cook extra, it was because it was going in something else – like cornbread for dressing, or roast beef for soup.

But sometimes, her ideas of things were a little odd.

“Like what?” Cole asked me.

Like the way the old gal would cook sausage for breakfast. I wasn’t sent off to school with a bowl of Fruity Pebbles, which I would have preferred. Nope, Granny got up and made sausage and homemade biscuits for us.

If there were any sausage left over, she put them on a plate on the back of the stove and left them there all day.

All day.

Not even covered up.

“Did you get sick?” Cole asked.

I can’t remember. As a fat kid, I usually ate a bunch of stuff that made me feel queasy on any given day – watermelon, ice cream and funnel cake did it one day; watermelon, ice cream and cat fish did it on another. Maybe it was the combination of watermelon and ice cream.

But I never once thought it had anything to do with Granny and her sitting-out-all-day sausage.

Come to think of it, Granny left a lot of things sitting out that probably could have darn well killed us.

She would make potato salad with onions and leave it out after Sunday dinner. No one realized it was the onions you needed to be concerned about.

Back then, people worried about the mayonnaise going bad and I told her as much.

“You’re trying to give us food poisoning,” was my actual statement.

“I ain’t trying no such of a thing. It is fit to eat.”

When I tried to throw away a can of pudding – chocolate, no less—because there was rust on the can, I received a stern admonishment. “That pudding is fine; the rust is on the outside.” I still didn’t trust the pudding.

“She’s gonna give us botulism,” I told Mama one day. “We’re gonna die from botulism.”

“Maybe not,” Mama said, not too sure herself.

When Botox came out rooted in botulism, Granny was the first to let me know. “See there; you just a-knew I was gonna kill you and it turns out rich folks are getting that stuff shot in their wrinkles to look younger. When you’re 40, you’ll be wishing you had ate that canned pudding!”

Now that I am in my 40’s, maybe I should have ate the pudding.

Mama called to warn me about yet another food recall the other day; this time, it was on what she calls, “those little trees.”

I assured her I didn’t buy broccoli.

“Oh, good,” she said. “I didn’t want y’all to get sick. I know you make broccoli slaw sometimes and I know how sensitive you are to things.  You try to keep up on those recalls don’t you? It seems like it is always on the stuff I know you get. You know, healthy stuff. Like spinach and stuff.”

I told her I tried to keep up with it but had to agree: it seemed like the healthier and more natural the stuff was, the sicker it made us. At least nowadays, anyway.

I used to worry about sausages and potato salad sitting out all day, covered with a dish towel for protection. I don’t recall getting sick off that but I can guarantee you I will check the recall alerts before I make a salad, a lesson I learned years ago, even though we didn’t get sick.

“You eating all that stuff didn’t kill you like you thought it would,” Granny told me one day when she learned how we survived the spinach recall. “I was just building up your immune system.”

Perhaps that was just Granny’s way of making me stronger after all.

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

I am not the type that is easily offended.

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing.

Not even a word.

The old gal didn’t even bat a lash.

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

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

“But they said –”

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

Instead of getting upset, Granny chose to ignore it.

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

But the opinion was that we were rednecks.

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

Her response stayed with me over the years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I shook my head. “Not at all.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She had no reply.

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

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

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