The Abbreviated Summer (8/24/2016)

Summer won’t be officially over until September 5, when we put all our white shoes and linen pants away.

But, summer was really over a week or so ago when school started.

“Summer’s over?” my child said, exasperated one Sunday evening when he was told he had to start the next day. “I literally just got out!”

It sure felt like it. Compared to the summers of my youth, his were over in a blink of an eye.

When I was his age, summer seemed eternal.

Somethings I didn’t like. I wasn’t a fan of the heat, we never went on vacation and with Mama working nights, my mornings were spent poking her multiple times until she woke up.

But somethings were so simple, I realize now how perfect they were.

A big deal for me was Mama taking a friend and me to the movies every summer, sitting a safe distance away so as to give us an air of independence while keeping a watchful eye.

Somehow, Mama always fell just trying to get up from her seat.

She claimed it was because she had a hard time adjusting to the light after sitting in the dark for two hours; I always replied her feet and the ability to move them had nothing to do with the lighting.

More than likely, it had something to do with the fact she was a tad bit clutzy. But picking Mama up from the popcorn shrapnel and sticky stuff we hoped was only Mellow Yellow was as much as a tradition as the summer blockbuster.

There were evenings sitting in the living room with the back door opened, listening to the crickets while we snapped peas.

It just took a few moments for me and Granny to find a rhythm that matched the cadence of the bugs humming in the night.

It could be hot and miserable, but somehow sitting with Granny as we snapped and shucked corns and shelled peas, it didn’t bother us much.

Even though this was work – Granny often put most of our evening efforts into the freezer for the winter – to me, it was the best fun I could have.

Sometimes, she’d make homemade ice cream for us, or her sweetened milk, taking regular milk and adding sugar, vanilla and ice.

My days were spent at the big library in town, sometimes, I even poked Mama enough while she was asleep that we got there before they opened and I was one of the first to walk in and smell all the knowledge on the shelves. I’d check out books by the stacks and spend my days curled up in the chair with my cat reading.

Of course, maybe my favorite summer activity was just the little joy rides Mama and I would take.
They always started at The Store to get gas in her little blue Ford Escort and to get ice cold Cokes out of the chest freezer – in the glass bottle, thank you – and packs of peanuts.

We were cool before Barbara Mandrell claimed she was.

Off we’d go, through the backroads of Oconee County, riding into Morgan County and eventually Clarke County. Mama loved nothing more than finding some old country road, usually one lined with picket fences and thick trees and discovering where they went, so that was how we spent many dusky summer evenings.

And we didn’t go back until after Labor Day, not the beginning of August.

“Why is my summer so short?” Cole asked, wanting more time.

“I don’t know,” I replied. I really wasn’t sure. It made no sense to me and I would love for him to have the long breaks like I did.

But he’s already been back in school for two weeks now.

Good thing my summer was much longer; there wouldn’t have been enough time to enjoy it all.

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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 Original Stay-cationers (7/6/16)

While everyone else is uploading pictures of their toes in the sand, or a view of the ocean set against the backdrop of their tanned legs, the Crouches are staying home.
Again.
For the 13th year in a row.
No loading up the van and heading south to Florida and its heat. There’s no sandy beaches in my future nor in my recent past.
And in a way, I am kind of OK with that.
I am not a huge vacationer to begin with. Even when I was a child, we didn’t go anywhere.
Mama asked me once if I wanted to go to Disneyland; whether or not she would have taken me, I don’t know. But I remember asking her how much walking was involved and after considering having to use public restrooms along with countless others, I told her I’d rather go to the library instead.
Maybe it’s because the one time we tried to venture anywhere for any length of time, it seemed like something always happened.
I was maybe 5-years old the first time my family decided to go anywhere.
This was a big deal – huge, actually, because my grandfather agreed to go and it was on a Sunday.
So there must not have been any kind of sporting event on TV that day that he had to watch.
It was spontaneous; I had got up to get ready for church and Granny had announced we were not going.
“Did church go out of business?” I asked over my Fruity Pebbles.
“No, but we are going to do something today we ain’t never done; we going on a day trip.”
Granny called to inform the preacher he was on his own this Sunday, she was not there to keep the congregation in line and God help him, keep them awake, either.
Mama worked all the time, Pop & Bobby worked all the time and were self-employed, and Granny worked and thought she kept a tri-county portion of the state in line. There was no time for vacations or up until now, a day trip.
But here we were, loading into Granny’s Oldsmobile, all of us, and heading – of all things – out of state to North Carolina.
We went to Cherokee, in all its gaudy glory.
I was amazed at how everything looked, and all the Native American regalia that was displayed in shops. I wanted one of everything; I think Mama decided on a pair of moccasins and a headdress with a toy bow and arrow. Why she refused to get me a real one, I have no idea. I was protesting this fact when a man dressed in Native American buckskin told me I needed to respect my mother.
All I knew was based on the size of his headdress, he must have been the head guy, so I shut up. Until he decided to flirt with my Mama. The crazy redhead seemed to like it too.
“He was handsome,” she giggled when I grabbed her hand to pull her away.
I was tired. I was hungry. My feet hurt. I was ready to go.
We had been there about one hour and 15 minutes.
I stated my complaints. “We drove all the way here – out of the dadblamed state. You gonna have fun it if I have to make you!” was Granny’s response.
I didn’t, but I knew better than to say anything else.
Maybe it was the boiled peanuts, or maybe I was carsick because I ventured out of state, but by the time I got home, I was feeling quite queasy.
Granny called the preacher to make sure the church had not imploded or Jesus hadn’t come back in her absence. He assured her the church was still standing and that Jesus wouldn’t make any decisions without consulting her first.
The next week, Granny found chewing gum – chewing gum, which she never allowed in her nursery – stuck in the carpet.
You would have thought all 10 commandments had been broken as the old gal was in the floor muttering under her breathe as she scrubbed.
“See! See there! That’s why we don’t go nowhere!” she screamed at me.
It wasn’t my idea to go anywhere but she wanted me to understand her logic train.
I just felt sorry for whoever was going to receive her wrath.
You’d think Granny would learn, but the next year on another Sunday, she decided we were going to Stone Mountain.
She called and told the preacher, reminding him about the gum from the year before. He assured her no gum would be chewed while she was gone.
We walked around, found a funnel cake for me, followed by ice cream, then watermelon. We walked some more. My uncle asked me if I wanted to walk up to the top.
“Why would anyone want to do that?” I cried.
He asked if I wanted to ride the cable car to the top instead. “Good lord, no!”
He went alone instead.
Mama complained about the heat. “You know I get sun poisoning real easy. It’s too hot!”
Someone got the grand idea for us to take a riverboat ride. The thing wasn’t going that fast, really, but watching the water rolling and swaying was enough to make me really, really sick.
“Maybe it was the funnel cake,” my uncle suggested.
“Or maybe it was the watermelon,” my grandfather said.
“Yeah, or the ice cream,” my uncle added.
I was sick. So sick. And ready to go home.
I think we were maybe there 2 hours.
As we headed back home, we realized we didn’t need to go anywhere. Not for a few days, and sure not for a week or longer. Heck, we were doing good to get to the grocery store once a week without some major catastrophe.
Granny set it in stone when she declared, “That’s it. We’ve tried day trips and this mess ain’t working! We ain’t going nowhere ever again!”
And I pretty much haven’t gone anywhere since then. Why tempt fate when it seems to be something my family just isn’t good at doing?
At least I don’t have to worry about the vacation laundry.

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.

Handmade Love (2/17/2016)

“Do you know who Granny made these quilts for?” Mama asked one day.

She had been trying to go through some of Granny’s stuff and found some quilts that evidently Granny had not told her who they were for.

“No, she gave us all the ones she made for us,” I said.

Granny made the most gorgeous quilts, and took great pride in giving them to people she loved.

Countless hours went in each of her quilts and she took care to make one with the intended person’s favorite colors or pattern.

“Are you sure?” Mama questioned. “I don’t know who she could have made these for.”

I wasn’t sure either.

Then suddenly, I had a flashback.

It was sometime in the early 90s and Granny had been told about some craft festival.

What had piqued the old gal’s interest was that the person who mentioned it to her, told her she could set up a booth to sell her quilts, pillows and pillowcases.

“You can make some big money, Helen,” the person told her. “Probably more than you made in a week sewing at the Carwood.”

Now, Granny didn’t even make “tiny” money when she worked, but she was proud of it and stretched it to get a buggy full of groceries at the Piggly Wiggly with some left over to get me whatever I hadn’t begged out of Mama that week. So hearing the words “big money,” made Granny think she was going to hit the jackpot.

She was going to be rich.

She had visions of what she was going to do with that money – it involved new carpet and maybe even a new couch.

She was so excited she was almost pleasant.

Since she was told way in advance of the event, she sewed every day and finished two quilts – gorgeous quilts – and several pillows to match to sell.

She made extra pillows, in sets of two, in case anyone wanted to buy just the pillows.

She had enough to fill the trunk of her Oldsmobile by the time the event rolled around.

She paid $25 for her booth rental, which included her table and chair.

I had asked her if she wanted me to go with her and she declined, saying she didn’t want to make anyone else give up their Saturday.

Don’t think for one moment the old gal was being considerate; she was just scared she was going to have to spend some of her profits on getting me a funnel cake and a Coke.

The event was supposed to be all day; Granny was home by lunch.

“Did you sell out of everything?” I asked her, thinking that was the only way she would be home so soon.

Granny threw her purse on the couch and said a bad word.

“No! And I ain’t doing another one of those cussed things again!” she said.

“What happened?” Mama asked.

“I’ll tell you what happened,” Granny began. “I had my quilts set up, had my pillows out, and had my prices out there and had these people come up and ask me if I’d take less for them. I told one lady it wasn’t a dadblamed yard sale!”

She snorted in anger.

“Then, I had one lady tell me how pretty my quilt was, ask me if I sewed it by hand, how many hours was in it – then, she told me she could get a cheaper one at Walmart. So I snatched it out of her hands and told her to go see if she could find one at Walmart that was handmade!”

We felt so bad for her. She had poured so much love into making those quilts.

Not only had it helped keep her mind off my grandfather being sick, we knew she was terribly disappointed it had panned out as she hoped.

“Granny, if they can’t appreciate your quilts, then they don’t deserve them.” I meant it, too.

If someone couldn’t appreciate the time and work – and love – she put in one of her quilts, they didn’t deserve them.

She frowned.

“I ain’t doing that nonsense ever again. I coulda been in my garden instead of having someone try to get me to give away my work.”

Years passed and I tried selling a few on Ebay for her; no luck.

“Maybe I ain’t supposed to sell them,” she said one day. “Maybe I am supposed to give them to people who need them.”

“But Granny, if they need a quilt, they will just go buy one,” I said.

“Not one of these,” she said. “I put love in my quilts. My quilts are going to who needs that love; not who buys them.”

She may have been right.

She always felt like her quilts were almost magical and even told me whatever was dreamed under a new quilt would come true. When I tucked Cole in under one, I told him that little myth and he giggled himself to sleep.

“Could these maybe be for Cole?” Mama asked, interrupting my trip down memory lane.

“No, she gave Cole all the quilts she had made for him.”

She had made him a few full-size quilts for when he was grown, telling me to take care of them in the meantime.

“So I am guessing these were the ones she made and didn’t sell,” Mama said. “I don’t know what to do with them…”

I did.

“Put them up for me, Mama,” I said. “I want them.”

If they were made with my Granny’s handmade love, I knew the only place where they could go to be valued and that was with me.

http://www.dawsonnews.com/section/30/article/18562/

“What was Thanksgiving like when you were a little girl?” Cole asked as I was making plans for this week.

“It was nice,” I said, before I gave it much thought.

“Just nice? Was it different in any way?”

What was different? I had to think. When we get caught up in our day to day busy-ness, we forget the moments that became traditions and memories.

My Thanksgiving began when it was still dark, as I wanted to get up as early as possible to enjoy the day. Granny had started cooking the night before when she got off work, and her turkey would already be a golden perfection, just waiting until we all ate.

I would sit in the den, listening to her humming in the kitchen and she would wrap me under a quilt, tucking the end under my feet to keep me warm.

“What do you want for breakfast?” she would ask.

I swear, the old gal was downright sweet when she was cooking. Something about being in the kitchen suited her soul.

“I don’t know,” I would say, knowing what she would offer.

“You want me to fix you a sandwich with the first slice of turkey?”

I would nod and minutes later, she returned with a sandwich of white bread generously coated with mayonnaise, salt, pepper and warm turkey.

“The parade will be on later,” she would tell me, turning on the TV.

Granny spent most of the day in the kitchen but it was worth it – she had homemade coconut and banana cakes; Mississippi mud cake; and sweet potato and chocolate pies. Two separate pans of dressing – one with onions and one without for me and my uncle Bobby.

It was a rare day during the week that I had all of my family home in the same time frame – Pop and Bobby were home, instead of working. Mama usually had worked the night before and with it being a holiday, she normally worked then as well, but she’d watch the parade with me.

Cousins, aunts and uncles would wander in throughout the afternoon to watch part of the football game or just visit.

To me, it was a perfect day.

I don’t even remember any Black Friday sales when I was a little girl – if there was, we didn’t go. Granny had the Sears Wish Book and that’s where she was doing her shopping.

Normally, we were still digesting the day after Thanksgiving.

It changed, when I met my ex, as I started celebrating Thanksgiving with his family.

I never realized how much I missed my own family’s celebration until I got older and things had changed so much it could never be re-created. And, just like that, everything was different.

It was a simple, idyllic time, surrounded by family, during an era free of fear and worry. The news was not filled with horrors or stories that make your heart ache. Or at least it wasn’t for me, because I was a child.

I didn’t know there were things in the world to fear.

How was my Thanksgiving different?

So much has changed in more than 30 years.

The world is such a different place now, a real life dichotomy that can be terrifying and full of hope at the same time. Things are so different now than when I was a little girl.

There’s a more hurried pace and the time together is so much shorter. We are lucky to just have Thanksgiving dinner with family now, those times of Thanksgiving spanning over several days are long gone.

But there we are, we find ourselves surrounded by those we love and are thankful for.

“Not much has changed,” I said, kissing his head. “It’s still a day we focus on all we are grateful for.”

Indeed, and we truly have so much.

http://www.dawsonnews.com/section/30/article/18312/

spock live long and prosper

First star to the left…warp speed ahead…in memory of Leonard Nimoy

I started watching “Star Trek” when I was little and Mama’s idea of quality time was making me watch “Star Trek” reruns with her on Saturdays. I am pretty sure I was the only little girl who was watching a show about the final frontier of space instead of playing with a Barbie. I protested about Mama making me watch it, but in reality, I loved it. Every single bit of it. Kirk was a charismatic leader; Bones was a Georgia boy, and Scotty was everyone’s favorite red shirt. Mama informed me Uhura had a futuristic version of her job as a phone operator. And who doesn’t remember a shirtless Sulu wielding a sword? I even had a tiny crush on Chekhov.

spock leaning on a carBut, if I were to be honest, my favorite was the logical, pointy eared science officer – Mr. Spock. I practiced giving the Vulcan salute and telling people, “Live long and prosper.” They may not have been high on emotional outbursts and undoubtedly would have thought I was silly, overemotional creature, but Vulcans were pretty cool in my book. But watching “Star Trek” with Mama on Saturdays was special – it was our time to watch something no one else in the family watched and was our bonding time. She usually worked a late shift at work and with me in school during the week, I didn’t have a lot of time with her, so “Star Trek” meant the world to me. It was my hour of uninterrupted Mama.

Mama took me to the theater in downtown Athens the summer of ’82 to see the second movie, “The Wrath of Khan.” The theater was packed that hot, summer day and Mama had been looking forward to the movie all summer. I think everyone had been disappointed with the first movie…There we sat, me upset that Khan had put that worm in Chekhov’s ear and running out of popcorn. And Mama was not missing one bit of the movie to go get more. Then, the unspeakable happened. Spock died.

Mama said at one point she had looked over when the movie was a bit scary and I had grabbed hold of the little boy sitting next to me. I was 10 and he was probably about the same age. When Spock died, we both grabbed each and wept, inconsolably. Shamelessly, gut-wrenchingly wept. Both our Mama’s had to pull us apart, comforting us as we parted ways on the sidewalk, even though they were both upset too. I think they may have hugged.

“I had no idea you would be that upset,” Mama said later. I nodded. It felt like the Universe had somehow shifted, and not in a good way. My favorite Vulcan was gone. (Mama’s favorite Vulcan was Sarek – he did take an illogical choice on marrying a human. I’m sure for Mama, that gave her some hope at a pointy-eared husband #3.)

“It shows how much these characters have come to mean to people,” Mama continued. “And showing how important what Gene Roddenberry had tried to create is.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, the beauty of “Star Trek” is there is no prejudice – well, unless you are an air-vent farting Klingon, then people have a problem with you. But “Star Trek” shows people from every planet and species getting along and working together. That little boy you were hugging and crying on was black. I think his mother was just as surprised to see you hugging him as I was but mine was for a totally different reason. I was surprised you took Spock’s death so hard. But, it was a precious example of what “Star Trek” has been trying to show us. We all need each other in this world.”

Mama shouldn’t have been surprised; she has always been so liberal she could make a Kennedy look conservative and she had always preached equality among every breathing creature. And that is how she had raised me. But it was the purity of emotion, the simplicity of how people truly do need each other in this world – and all the others – that drove home that message of “Star Trek” that day.

“What will Sheldon do now?” my friend Pam asked me on Facebook. Thank goodness Sheldon Cooper has the napkin with Leonard Nimoy’s DNA that Penny gave him for Christmas that year. Maybe Sheldon will clone him.

The Universe shifted again today. My favorite Vulcan was gone forever. No more cameo appearances in the movies. No hearing his distinct voice in cartoons and as the voice of Sentinel Prime in the “Transformers.” Just no more. I wondered where my fellow moviegoer from 32 years ago was and if he remembered the two of us crying in that theater in downtown Athens. I wondered if he was crying, today, too.

cousins

The next best thing (1/21/2015)

Being raised an only child meant I spent a lot of time reading and pretending.

I could read a Nancy Drew novel and then pretend I was off somewhere solving a mystery. I still don’t trust one of our former neighbors; that man had too many Easter decorations to not have kids.

But I yearned for siblings to play with, to talk to, and to get in trouble with – heck, if nothing else, Granny’s yelling could have more than covered a couple of children’s blatant misbehavior. She wasted it on just me.

Instead of having someone there to share those childhood moments, I had cousins.

Lots and lots of cousins. Some of them varied in age, because Granny came from a large family.

I looked forward to our yearly get-together at my great-grandmother’s house. The old white wooden house, with the wrap-around porch did not look big enough to hold our numbers, but somehow it did, and we would spill out into the yard if we had to, eating on the trunks of our cars while we visited.

Every year, I looked for my cousin Chrissy – I called her John Wayne because if anyone under the age of 20 could take on the Duke and win, it would have been her.

She was the coolest cousin I could think of because she was fearless. And, even though we were polar opposites, with her being athletic and able to keep her footing, I was chubby and clumsy and quite certain I wore something that involved bows and ribbons, she still eagerly played with me.

And we both eagerly and mercilessly tormented her brother Butch.

John Wayne had taught me how to fish one afternoon at our uncle’s lake beside his house.

We walked back to our great grandmother’s house where Mama came out to the porch, Virginia Slim 120 poised high beside her red hair, and informed me it was time to head home.

I told her I was going to learn to clean the fish. John Wayne took the knife and cut the head slap off. I screamed like a girl – because, well, I am a ginormous sissy of a thing – and ran up the back steps. I was ready to go.

I am pretty sure we went back the next week. I just told her I wasn’t too keen on chopping a head off of anything.

When our great-grandmother passed away, Granny’s family didn’t do the big once a year thing anymore. We all just grew up, moved away and lost contact with each other over the years.

It had been years – decades since I had last seen many of my cousins – and then at Granny’s funeral, they were there. I think somehow, the mean old gal thought this was her great plan and I will give her credit for that.

A man came up and hugged me, saying “I am so sorry about Aunt Helen…”

The face looked familiar, but my mind was having a hard time recalling from decades before. Then one moment, he glanced down and I gasped with only the joy a child could have at seeing a friend.

“You have a sister and I called her John Wayne!” He laughed and nodded. “And we were awful to you sometimes!”

“Yes, y’all could be,” he laughed.

And that was all it took. Even though it had been probably close to 30 years since we had seen each other, it was like it was yesterday.

I realized how much I had missed my cousins.

One of the things I envy about Lamar is he does have a large family. I can’t keep everyone straight at times because I think his family may be larger than Granny’s was, if that was possible.

But we are hours away, with Atlanta traffic between us and I hate even going south of the square downtown.

I’ve told y’all I am used to cows and bossy strutting chickens; 18 wheelers and cars zipping in and out of lanes makes me nauseous.

We decided it was time for a visit and when we finally arrived, two of Cole’s cousins came outside to greet us.

Even though they were older than Cole, they all had a good time and played together for hours. They even thought they had rescued a dog until we found out it belonged next door. But things like that happen when you’re with cousins – magical moments of childhood just occur in the everyday mundaneness.

Cole, an only child, relished every second of it.

“I love my cousins,” he said, as he was getting ready for bed that evening.

“I am so glad you got to spend time with them,” I told him.

“You know, I miss my friends at school, since I am homeschooled now,” he said. “I get lonely sometimes.”

“I know you do,” I replied. It tugged at my heart. I knew he did.

When you’re an only, you need those connections.

“And I have always wished I had a brother or sister, but when I was with my cousins, it made me happy – like I did have that, does that make sense?”

“Absolutely,” I said, kissing his head.

“Because really, baby, cousins are the next best thing.”

http://www.dawsonnews.com/section/30/article/15997/