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.

 

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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.

 

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.

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.

Mama’s Infinite Wisdom

Much like my Granny, at times I have been known to hold a grudge.

Not so much a grudge perhaps; maybe more of a spite.

It is not exactly one of our finer, most upstanding traits.

Mama, being the nice, civilized one, usually has a different take on things.

With the exception of my first-grade teacher and maybe one or two others, Mama is one of those people who truly does try to live and let live.

“It ain’t natural!” Granny would declare when ever Mama would try to correct her wicked ways.

“Mama, you are sitting there delighting in someone’s anguish!” Mama cried.

Granny snorted. “Let me tell you something, Jean; these people would not be in this a-fix if they hadn’t sown some pretty bad seeds. They reaped the harvest they deserved.”

Now, Mama has never been a fan of karma.

She doesn’t like the idea of ‘what goes around comes around’ and has always tried to convince me that grace kind of covers our mistakes.

“There but by the grace of God we go,” Mama has said frequently throughout my life.

A phrase that would make Granny roll her eyes.

“Mama, why do you do that? You know very well that if it wasn’t for grace, we’d be in a heap of a fix most of the time.”

“I know, Jean, I know,” Granny began. “But you wanna know what tans my hide? Those people who are always, always doing something they shouldn’t be and ain’t good people. And every cussed thing goes their way. That ain’t right and it makes me madder than a wet hen.”
I wasn’t sure how mad a wet hen could get but if it as bad as Granny – the scariest person I have ever met – I didn’t want to come across one.

Granny may not have been exactly righteous in her indignation and complaint, but she had a point.

It can be tough to see people that maybe aren’t the best kind of folks in the world getting their way all the time, catching the good breaks, and having everything they want come to pass.

Granny dealt with this with one of her sisters – the one she didn’t really care for and it used to send Granny into a fit of fury.

“You really don’t know anything about the situation and she may not be that bad of a person,” Mama admonished.

Granny snorted her disdain. “I’ve known her all of my life; trust me.”

Mama accused Granny of being judgmental; Granny declared her opinions were factual.

I watched them disagree about this numerous time, neither finding victory in their argument.

It was impossible to pick a side in this debate, namely because I found both had valid arguments.

Mama has always felt like people would be happier if they just focused on their life and didn’t get preoccupied with what other people had going on. “Someone getting pie doesn’t mean you can’t have cake,” she has said.

Food metaphors normally drove her lessons home with me. I was glad to know I could still have cake, even if someone else had pie.

“What if I want pie?” I asked.

More specifically, what if I wanted their pie? And what if my cake hadn’t arrived yet?

“That’s their pie. Don’t worry about their table. Worry about yours. And if you are waiting on your cake to be served, maybe they had to bake it for you. Extra special. When it comes you will be even happier to get it because it was made just for you and worth the wait.”

I had been wrestling with some of those very demons not that long ago and brought them up to Mama.

She was probably wondering why the lesson has not sunk in yet.

“Lord, help. You get more and more like Mama every day,” she said under her breath.

“Kitten, are you really fussing about this?”

I assured her I was. I was beginning to think my cake order had been cancelled.

“You know, Granny always cussed the person she thought was getting what she wanted. It didn’t work either; it somehow seemed to create the opposite effect. It seemed to make things get worse for her and better for them.

“You can’t throw stones and expect good things to be thrown back at you. You need to try throwing some blessings and love into the situation if you want it to change.”

I didn’t want to throw love and blessings on the situation; the crazy redhead had set me up wanting cake years ago and gosh darnit, I wanted a corner piece with the most icing.

“Not gonna happen until you stop throwing those stones,” she said as she hung up.

Perhaps she is right.
Being bitter and angry did not serve Granny well; it did keep her going for over 90 years though.

But maybe, if I wanted the situation to change, the first thing I needed to focus on, was changing my attitude. Beginning with a shift towards putting love and blessings on the situation instead of anger.

All said, I still want my cake.

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.

The annual return transit of the Pumpkin Spice Latte

My favorite season is fall. In fact, I wish it could be fall all year.

Bonfires, cooler weather, the leaves changing to burgundy, rust, and gold, and -even though I could care less – college football.

Despite all the fall things that bring me great joy, there is one thing that has wormed its way the seasonal landscape that makes me cringe: pumpkin spice lattes.

And everything flavored pumpkin spice.

Normally, I like fall flavored things.

Cinnamon, cardamom, clove and nutmeg are some of my favorite flavors.

When it comes to scents, my house smells like fall year round.

But when it comes to my taste buds and particularly my coffee, I just can’t do the orange colored concoction.

No, just no.

I tried one once, after one of my favorite baristas suggested it instead of my standard breve.
It was years ago but my taste buds have not yet recovered.

For me to say something is too sweet is rare – but this was too sweet.

I made the mistake of taking the lid off and seeing the orange color. The only acceptable colors for coffee are black and a cream-lightened version of that.

The atrocities of pumpkin spice have spread to other things like a flavored virus.

Candy, cereals, yogurt -everything now has a pumpkin spice spin to it.

Even ice cream.

Mama got the ice cream last year.

The thought of it made me cringe.

The texture alone coupled with the taste would make me gag.

“It’s good!” Mama declared.

I told her there was absolutely no way PSL ice cream could be good.

“It’s the best stuff ever,” she argued.

I reminded myself her taste buds were old and she is a terrible cook so this may taste good to her.
This is also the woman who thinks bologna should be its own food group.

Months later, we went to see her. Mama was pushing her inedible fixings on us yet again.

She ran down her list: boiled eggs, some kind of half-cooked frozen chicken wings, tenders, or nuggets with various types of breading, lettuce she shredded and put in a bowl, thusly calling it a salad (nothing else with it – just lettuce), and something burnt.

She rounded out the list with, “And, I’ve got pumpkin spice ice cream for dessert.”

“You got another thing of that?” I asked.

Mama tensed slightly. “No, it’s the same one.”

“The same one?”

She nodded.

“Don’t you think it may be freezer burned by now?”

“Oh, good,” she said. “That will hopefully kill the flavor.”

“Why didn’t you eat it? You loved it when I first talked to you.”

Mama thought carefully. She had sung the praises of pumpkin spice far too loud and a wee bit too early it had seemed.

“Have you ever had something that at first seemed really good? Like the first time you had it, it was delicious?”

I had. But the first pumpkin spice anything was not it.

“The first bowl tasted so good. The second one, was not as good. And the third one…was gross. I think I hit the mother load of pumpkin.”

I couldn’t imagine how much a mother load of pumpkin would be.

“Why haven’t you thrown it away if you aren’t going to eat it?” I asked.

“That tub was a small fortune! I am not throwing it away!” she replied. “Are you sure you don’t want to try it?”

“Well, after that appealing pitch, I can’t see why I wouldn’t but I am still gonna take a hard pass,” I told her.

She tried to get Cole to try but his mama didn’t raise no fool.

And here we are fast approaching pumpkin spice season. Not fall, not football season but pumpkin spice season.

I keep hoping there will be a pumpkin spice shortage but alas, there has not been. At least not yet. I’m sure if there was, it would be the end of civilization as we know it.

We’d have to go back to eating other seasonal things like caramel apples and S’mores like a bunch of savages.

And even so, Mama would still have that tub of ice cream.

The Undergrad Continuum (8/17/2016)

The last few days, I have watched friends I graduated high school with ready their children for college.

I am not sure how this is possible since 1991 was really only 5 years ago so this seems to defy the laws of time.

But there they are, dropping off kids at their dorms hours away and into impending adulthood.

And it dawned on me: they are still babies.

Sure, when I graduated high school, I was ready to take on the world.

I think it mainly stemmed from being young and foolish enough to think I was invincible and that I was going to solve the world’s problems.

I knew everything, too.

Lord, have mercy at the depths and expanse of my omnipotent knowledge or lack thereof.

“I’m not quite sure why you going to school; you know everything,” Granny snorted one day.

I really thought I did.

So much so that I dropped out after my first quarter of paralegal studies because the classes started too early.

“Who can think that cussed early in the morning?” I asked.

Granny was furious; Mama, said nothing at first, until she got the phone bill. It was $8,926,274.12.

Or at least you would have thought it was given the hissy fit the crazy redhead pitched.

“Since you are taking some time to find yourself, you can find a job in the meantime,” she announced with aplomb one afternoon.

“I am your child; I should be able to reflect and be introspective on what I want to be when I grow up,” was my response.

“I can’t think of any better way to find out what you want to be than to learn what you sure don’t want.” She tossed the paper on my bed. “There’s the want ads; find yourself a job by the end of this week or the phone will be thrown out.”

She always struck a low blow, threatening my phone, my life line to the outer world beyond the graffiti walls of my bedroom.

I sighed. I had to get a job.

How was I going to find myself if I had to get a job?

But find one I did, waitressing during the lunch rush at a local restaurant.

When I complained about being tired and how customers were rude and demanding, Mama just asked me if I was ready to go back to school.

“I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be. It’s not fair to make an 18-year-old figure out what they want to be the rest of their life,” I told her, stomping into my room.

The next phone bill was $9,308, 237.11. (This was when it was long distance to call everywhere except your city and my future ex-husband was at school, 2 hours away.)

“You need to get another job,” Mama said, tossing the paper on my bed again.
“What!? Why?” I whined. “I can’t work another job!”

“Then get one full time job,” she said. “You only work part-time and aren’t in school; you can get another one. Or I will yank the phone out of the wall.”

So I got another job. And another.

I think at one time, I had about 37 part-time jobs.

I was exhausted.

“I’m going back to school,” I whined one day. “This working thing is killing me.”

“Have you figured out what you want to be when you grow up?” she asked.

Oh, heavens no. But I had a clear idea of what I didn’t.

The thought of sharing a communal shower and a room smaller than the one I grew up in did not appeal to me, so I commuted four days a week for four years.

When I graduated that sweltering hot day in June, I just knew I was officially grown and ready to take the world by storm. Before, I thought I was ready; now I was.

I walked out of the Macon auditorium and it hit me: I was really still just a baby.

I didn’t even know how to turn on utilities, how was I going to take on the world?

I was scared and didn’t know what I was doing but again, armed with foolish bravado I thought I could do anything. I’d figure it out, right?
Thankfully, I had the fallacy of my youth on my side to help cushion my errors.

But, it was that year off that helped me grow the most.
Mama taught me the most important lessons of all; she knew working some hard jobs would be good for me, would teach me how to deal with the public, and help me figure out what I wanted to be. She didn’t let me just wallow in my own ruminations either; she is not one to entertain apathy.

She let me think I knew everything while she quietly showed me I didn’t.

She also knew it would keep me off the phone so the bill didn’t go up into the billions.

As I think of all the college freshmen starting school this month, I think they have the whole world ahead of them and I envy that time in their lives.

It’s a scary, exciting, exhilarating time, and I am sure a few probably feel like that they know everything, like I did.

And at least, briefly, for a while, they will.

 

The 5 0’Clock Train May Be Temporarily Delayed (6/15/2015)

We had somewhere to be at 5:30 p.m.

Our destination was approximately 20 minutes away, but for some reason, my husband decided he needed to hurry me along.

“We need to leave in 15 minutes,” he announced.

I was putting on my makeup in my office/dungeon of girliness/former hiding place of candy.

He poked his head in.

“Did you hear me?”

I paused, eyeliner in my hand. Did he not know that a kohl eyeliner could double as a mini-spear?

“Daddy….” Cole cautioned from the couch in the living room. “Don’t make her angry.”

“I heard you,” I said, giving him a warning glance.

“I don’t want to be late. We may have to park and walk a block or two, so we need to make sure we leave with plenty of time.”

“Daddy…..” Cole said, a sharp whistle sounding as he took in air.

I gave him a heady stare until he backed out and then returned to my makeup.

“I don’t like being late,” he said again from the other room.

“We won’t be late,” I said.

“We will be if you don’t hurry up, you are still in your robe.”

“I can get ready if you would stop fussing,” was my reply.

“I am not fussing, I am simply telling you we need to leave in 10 minutes and you are not even dressed.”

It’s impossible to apply eye liner or eye shadow when you are fussing with someone. I was going to be late and you know what? It was his fault.

This, from the man that when I tell him I want to go somewhere by a certain time, will make me late. Normally, Cole and I are sitting in the van, wondering if he decided not to go and just laid down. Or, he will say he’s ready to go, then can’t find his wallet, his glasses, the keys, or he needs one more drink of water.

He also is good about walking all the way out to the van, where Cole and I are sitting, normally sweltering from the heat, to announce he forgot something and go back in. “He’s not coming back, is he?” Cole will ask from the back seat. Sometimes, I wonder myself. We spend an eternity sitting in the van ready to go before his daddy finally gets out there.

“Five minutes.”

I couldn’t find the pants I wanted to wear. Where were they? I went in the bedroom and they were not where I had last put them.

I didn’t want to wear jeans – it had to be cooler in the shade of Hades than it was on this evening.

Should I wear a dress, or would that be too dressy?

No, no dress. Never a dress.

What in the world was I going to wear?

“Go get in the van,” I heard Lamar tell Cole.

“I hope you aren’t going to Ray Barrone Mama,” Cole said, heading out the door. “That will not end well, you know…”

He was referencing the episode where Ray left Debra when she got the curling iron stuck in her hair and went to the awards ceremony without her. Here was my child, wondering if his own mother was about to get left behind.

I heard the van crank. “He better not leave me,” I muttered under my breath.

I found a pair of dress pants and a shirt I didn’t really like anymore but it was short sleeved and didn’t require me finding some tank top to wear underneath it – that’s another thing. Since when did every woman’s blouse require another shirt underneath it to wear? Geesh.

I started to slip on my heels then thought if we were late and I had to walk I’d be better off in flats, so I slipped on sandals.

I paused to make sure I could still hear the van outside; I did.

I grabbed my phone and my purse, made sure Doodle was behind the couch, Pumpkin was on it, and Ava was secure on her spot on the bed.

I ran out the door, and saw Lamar sitting in the driver’s seat, window down. Even with his sunglasses on, I could see his annoyed stare.

I realized I didn’t even have on my earrings or my necklace but locked the door anyway.

“Five minutes after 5,” Lamar said as I climbed in my seat.

“You’re going to make me not want to go anywhere with you, you know,” I said. “We’ve got plenty of time.”

He set his mouth in a tense line and backed out.

“We are going to be late,” he stated.

I rolled my eyes and adjusted my AC vent.

A few miles down the road, just as we approached a stop sign, a truck took the turn too fast and hard, and came into our lane, barely having enough time to get control. Lamar was thankfully able to avoid us being hit.

“Wow! If we had left a few minutes earlier, he would have hit us,” Lamar said.
“So Mama being late was a good thing!” Cole said, patting my shoulder.

“Even when Mama’s late, she is always on time,” I said.

We rode in silence the rest of the way.

And we got there, with three minutes to spare.