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.

Advertisements

Catching Santa (12/16/15)

My child had a plan.

It was an intricate plan, complete with several diagrams and involved string.

I watched him furiously make his plans one evening, drawing everything out, measuring distance and re-evaluating the steps needed.

I am guessing it was close to watching Einstein at work.

“What are you doing?” I finally asked when he began getting the Border collie involved.

“I’m working on a project,” was his reply.

He continued with his diagram, erasing and redrawing lines when he found something didn’t work.

The Border Collie wasn’t quite sure what was going on, but remained steadfast in the endeavor.

“Cole, you’ve got twine around Pumpkin. What are you doing?”

“I’m going to catch him,” he said.

“Catch who?” I asked.

“Santa.”

Oh, boy.

“Really? How are you going to do that?”

He stood up and surveyed the preliminary execution of his plans.

“Well, I am still working on it, but I am going to leave him a note saying there’s milk in the fridge, when he opens the fridge, it will trip this string, which is supposed to pull this down and take a picture,” he took a breath. “I’m trying to get this little camcorder to work, but not sure how I can when it only records for a few minutes. It needs to be running a while. As you can see, I am still working on this.”

“I see.”

He continued: “I am going to get proof Santa’s real, Mama. You know? I am going to get video and photographic evidence! He is real, right?”

Ah, so that’s what it was. I wondered when this day would come, I just never expected my child to come up with a plan involving video and fifth grade engineering to be involved.

“He is,” I answered. “But, he stops coming when you stop believing in him.”

“I know that,” Cole said softly. “I still believe Mama, but I hear a lot of other kids saying he’s not real. I want to prove them wrong.”

Being homeschooled, I am not quite sure which kids he is referring to, other than maybe something he heard before at school. He had started questioning then but wanted to believe so he didn’t pursue the issue when I told him Santa was very much real.

Now, it’s me wanting him to believe just a little bit longer, to hold on to that magic that we only get to have when we are children and can believe in Santa, the tooth fairy, and other things we lose in a less sparkly and too harshly real adulthood.

I wanted him to believe in the magic of a chubby elf bringing presents and spreading goodwill, instead of the scary world we live in, where our worst fears are becoming too real.

I wanted him to hold on to this last bit of childhood as long as he could.

I can’t remember when Santa stopped coming for me.

I had asked Mama if he was real, and her reply was the same as mine: “When you stop believing, he stops coming.” There was no declaration of not believing, no disavowing Santa, just one year, there was no Santa.

And from then on, things were so different.

My behavior – whether good or bad-didn’t determine my gifts. There was no, “You better behave if you want Santa to come.”

I had to behave because it was expected of someone my age. You know, that responsible behavior befitting someone Santa didn’t come visit anymore.

I missed those days, the sense of wonder, the feeling that somehow, miracles could and would happen. I tried to hold on to that feeling, but when you are an adult, it can be hard to cling to hope.

I wanted my child to hold on, and to believe as long as he could.

“You know, I think you may have some flaws in your plan,” I suggested.

He scratched his head. “How so?” He had even ran through a trial run with his dad acting as Santa.

“Well, for one thing, Santa is magic.”

“Yeah?”

“You can’t capture him on film. He won’t show up.”

Cole squinted his eyes as he pondered this. “You mean like a vampire or ghost?”

“Kinda. He won’t show up though. And, if he can see you when you are sleeping and watches you throughout the year, he knows you are plotting this right now. He may not come if he thinks you are questioning he is not real.”

“You’re killing my dreams, Mama!” Cole cried. “You’re killing my dreams!”

“I am not trying to kill your dreams; I am trying to make sure Santa brings you presents this year!”

He dropped his head. “It’s not that I don’t believe, Mama, I want to prove to everyone else he is real. I believe. I do. But not everyone else does.”

I kissed the top of his head, which now comes up to my chin. “And, sometimes, sweet boy, just the faith of one, can keep it alive for others.”

Santa is scheduled to arrive this year, but the string and cameras will be put away. It may be the last year he visits our home, but I am going to try to keep the spirit alive as long as I can.

Living in the good ol’ days now (10/14/15)

My history-loving child has a new fascination – old TV shows.

“The Andy Griffith Show” and “Bonanza” in particular.

The only one I know much about that he has taken a recent interest in is “Mork & Mindy.”

He was surprised to discover my love for Robin Williams began when I was a little girl.

His recent fascination with old TV shows has generated several questions.

“Mama, was your life growing up like it was in Mayberry?”

“Well, sort of,” I answered.

The little town I grew up in was full of small-town charm and quaint little shops.

“Did you have to tell Sara to connect you to who you wanted to talk to?”

I was confused for a moment before I realized Sara was the switchboard operator on “The Andy Griffith Show.”

“No, but we had party lines when I was a few years younger than you.”

Granny had a love-hate relationship with the party line.

She could accidentally pick up some juicy nugget of information by happenstance that would make her hum for days.

On the other hand, she was careful about her own phone conversations because she didn’t want someone else to overhear.

“What makes you so interested in these old shows?” I wanted to know.

“I dunno,” he said. “There’s something so simple about those times. Like the way Opie walks around the town with his friends. I couldn’t do that now. Did you do that?”

Yes, I did.

I can’t remember how many times I would be at a friends’ house and we’d decide we wanted an ice cream cone or a pack of M&M’s and we’d cut through the neighbors’ yards to make our way to the store near the hospital.

It was one of those things we just did – everyone did it – and it was one of the few things if Mama caught me doing, she wouldn’t get too terribly mad over.

Once, we even walked all the way to the pool room to get hot dogs and Cokes and play a round of pool. We quickly realized neither of us knew how to play pool, so we took our food and left.

“Did you grow up during that the same time as ‘The Andy Griffith Show?'”

“No, but Daddy grew up during that time frame.”

“What’s the closest show to the time you grew up? “Mork & Mindy?” Is “The Goldbergs” historically accurate?”

I am not sure how historically accurate either of those shows may be for my little history lover.

“Well, “The Goldbergs” is pretty accurate – maybe not by history’s recount. The hair was much, much higher than on the show.”

Cole, who never notices hair, replied, “Why is the hair not as high as it really was?”

“Probably because the products we used then have been banned by the EPA.”

I am not sure what I used, but I only fixed my hair once a week – the ‘do stayed that way for days.

“Was the ‘80’s the best decade?” Cole asked, his face scrunched in deep thought.

“For me it was,” I said.

Of course, I may be partial because those were the years of big hair, shoulder pads and good music.

Maybe the only questionable thing during that decade was acid washed jeans. And mullets. Let’s don’t forget mullets.

“It really was just a great decade,” I said wistfully.

“I am more partial to the ‘50s -people seemed so much happier then,” Cole said. “It just seemed like life was simpler and people didn’t worry about the things they do now. Did you worry about things when you were a kid?”

No, and I guess there was plenty to worry about then – but when you are a kid, you aren’t supposed to worry about those things. That’s the grown ups’ job.

“You aren’t supposed to worry,” I told him.

“I know,” he said. “I don’t.”

I didn’t believe him. That notion came from somewhere.

“I just wonder if the time I am growing up in is not going to have the good things that yours and Daddy’s did,” he said. “You know what I mean?”

I kind of understood what he meant.

Those past generations all had their good things.

Some of those good things may have been romanticized by some to a degree, like the shoulder pads and Gloria Vanderbilt jeans. I don’t know necessarily if it was the time period, the friends, or even where I lived that made it so special or if it was just childhood in general was a special time.

Childhood is supposed to be magical. When we grow up, we are supposed to reflect back on our memories with wonder and joy. We call them the good old days, because well, they were. We seemed to be more carefree and able to enjoy the moment because right then, that moment was all we had.

A character on “The Office” said it best in the series finale – if only we knew we were living in the good old days, when we were actually in the good old days.

Maybe that’s what makes them the good old days. We are having the best time and making memories and enjoying life so fully, we don’t have time to realize it is good times.

We don’t question it’s not the best of times either; it’s just the simple things that make us happy.

“Mama, do you think I’m living in the good old days now?” Cole asked.

I smiled.

“I have no doubt.”

http://www.dawsonnews.com/section/30/article/18166/

Just don’t order the soup — or set anything on fire

“Mama, what was your toughest job?” Cole asked one day.

“Mama, what was your toughest job?” Cole asked one day.

He’s heard his dad talk about construction work, hard physical labor where there were not many funny stories or warm experiences other than the time his pants caught fire.

Out of my myriad of jobs – and there’s been plenty – one in particular stood out.

It was not the time I sold cemetery plots, although that was not much fun. It’s kind of depressing to talk about death and dying all day.

The hardest wasn’t even when I was a telemarketer even though “dialing and smiling” is not as easy as it sounds. And that was during the time you could really hang up on someone and not just quietly push a button.

Probably the most difficult job I ever had was being a waitress.

Somehow, I heard that the Chinese restaurant was needing a waitress and they must have been desperate because they hired me.

Or maybe I didn’t seem like a disaster walking at the time I spoke to the owner; whatever it was, she hired me on the spot and told me to be there that Friday night.

I was excited.

I just knew I was going to make so much in tips that I was going to be able to buy a real radio for my car – instead of driving around with a boom box in the passenger seat.

I had never been a waitress before, but how hard could it be taking a tray to a table loaded with Cokes?

Or balancing said tray while you dumped the rice in the soup for Sizzlin’ Rice Soup?

It was just taking food and drinks to a table.

After the first night, I was never so thankful to see Granny’s Chevette sitting outside when I walked out.

I crawled in the back and I think I cried.

“What’s the matter?” she asked. “Did you get fired on your first night?”

“No,” I whimpered. “People wanted me to bring them stuff!”

My grandfather snorted.

“Yeah, well, that’s what a waitress does – you take them stuff.”

“But they were mean and rude and not one said thank you!”

Not that thanks was in order; remember the soup?

Yeah…I spilled sizzlin’ hot soup on some folks.

I am pretty sure Ms. Judy gave them their meal free.

“Did you make any tips?” Pop asked.

I did.

I think it was mostly people were in such a hurry to get out of there, they just threw whatever was in their wallet on the table.

I was too tired and upset to eat my egg rolls.

Somehow, I managed to keep that job for a brief while, even though I actually had people come in and request any table but mine. One evening, I was the only one waiting tables, so the couple ordered their food to go.

Another evening, a couple wanted a Pu Pu Platter.

I talked them out of it when I explained me bringing them something that was actually on fire was far too risky for everyone in the restaurant.

I also cautioned them about soup – the lady really did have on a pretty blouse and I didn’t want to ruin it with Egg Drop.

I think they settled on something safe like fried rice and a side of wontons.

Eventually, I realized I couldn’t do it anymore. I was a klutz and a horrible waitress.

Seeing people watch me in horror was not my idea of how to spend my weekends.

No matter how lame it was to ride around, cruising the Piggly Wiggly without a real stereo, I had to quit.

I didn’t want to let Ms. Judy down.

I was the only waitress she had besides her two teen sons who weren’t always able to help.
Ms. Judy needed me.

I was going to give her a proper two weeks’ notice to find someone.

Ms. Judy took it a lot better than I thought.

“Thank God, I don’t have to fire you!” she exclaimed.

When I told her I would work a notice, she opened the register and handed me a twenty.
“It’s what you would have made in tips tonight,” she explained, insisting – make that pleaded – I not work a notice.

I am sure she actually came out ahead, given the fact she didn’t have to give customers free meals.

It was one of the hardest, most physically demanding jobs I have ever had.

I was terrible at it and knew it.

Dealing with the public is tough, too.

Anyone that deals with the public on any service level probably can attest to that – some folks are impossible to make happy, no matter what.

Some people just have a sour attitude and no amount of Kung Pao Chicken is going to change it.

And keep in mind, this isn’t just the regular public – it’s the hungry public. Even worse.

Even though it was tough, I am glad I did it.

I learned you can tell a lot about a person based on how they treat someone that is waiting on them.

“Do you think that is the hardest job you will ever have?” he asked.

I wasn’t sure. Our perceptions of what’s hard or difficult often depends on our level of aptitude and if we enjoy it.

There may be things in my future that are more difficult or maybe they’d be easier, I wasn’t sure.

But as long as it didn’t involve soup or setting food on fire, I should be fine.

It was all because of a dog

Some love stories begin with chance meetings, glances across the room, or even horrible blind dates that actually work out.

There’s conflict, fights, breaking up, making up, drama – all that great stuff Danielle Steele writes about in romance novels.

Maybe I should feel like something is wrong, because we celebrated our 12th anniversary on Tuesday, and we haven’t had any of that.

But our unconventional story began with the goddess of love herself, Venus.

Venus, the German shepherd, probably didn’t intend to play Cupid – or maybe she did.

I am pretty sure she felt like she orchestrated our whole relationship.

She was our unintentional yenta, after all, escaping from her kennel at Lamar’s mother’s house while she was supposed to be dog-sitting while Lamar was out of town working.

The dog ran wild for a week.

I was the one who rounded her up a couple of days before Lamar came home to get her.

I am not one to believe in love at first sight. Unless there is a dog involved, and then, it is empirically possible.

I fell in love with this dog the minute I saw her, scratching her ears and letting her lick my hand through the gate as I put her back in her kennel.

I didn’t know who her owner was, but I knew somehow, that dog was supposed to be mine.

Lamar showed up at his mother’s Estee Lauder counter a few days later, not too happy she had lied to him about his dog.

I was at my Clinique counter, telling a friend about a new cream eyeshadow.

“Gotta go, cute guy at Lauder,” I said, hanging up the phone.

Lamar has said he knew then he wanted to marry me, standing in my stocking feet, hair piled on my head and decked out in a Clinique lab coat because I had been good to his dog.

I’ve joked he wanted to marry me because I had food and cable -which he does not really refute – and I married him to get the dogs.

“Daddy didn’t really marry you for cable and food, did he?” Cole will question, not 100 percent sure. “Y’all loved each other.”

Being a hopeless romantic, Cole thinks everyone has a fairy tale romance like Pam and Jim on “The Office” or Waddles and the goat on “Gravity Falls.”

So naturally he thinks our backstory involved a lot of romantic gestures like roses, poems and candlelight. I have to remind Cole real life romance is not like you see on TV.

And that his father is not really good at the woo part of a relationship; Lamar hasn’t even officially proposed.

“Do you think you would have even met Daddy if it hadn’t been for Venus?”

Maybe.

Who knows?

He was about ready to move back to Colorado – if he had, I probably would have never met him.

Lamar’s kind of shy, too.

He may never had a reason to speak to me if he hadn’t thanked me for saving Venus, let alone ask me out.

His mother was the one who called me later to ask if she could give him my number.

She had a caveat though: “He’s got two more of those big German shepherd things at home – three of them. And they are inside. They shed everywhere.”

I pretty much judge people based on how they treat animals. And being an animal lover is on the top of my list of redeeming qualities in people.

The fact he had three and they were inside gave me a pretty good idea of what kind of person he was. So I gave her the OK.

During one of our early dates, he asked me if I wanted to go meet the dogs.

I said yes and wondered if Venus would remember me.

She did, running straight to me, leaning against my legs, and doing her signature paw on my foot move she would do, as if to say I was her person.

And I was – for the 10 years I had her after we married, she was my soulmate and constant companion.

“So, I am here, and we’re a family, all because of Venus?”” Cole said, thinking all of this over.

“Yup,” I said. “All because of a dog named after the mythical goddess of love.”

Pretty appropriate, if I do say so myself.

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/