The purple house pride

I always get nostalgic this time of year.

There was something so special and magical about the beginning of a new school year.

Brand new notebooks with clean, crisp pages. The fresh packs of pencils. The coveted big box of Crayolas that made you the queen of the classroom.

To me, the start of the school year was exciting and magical, a welcomed end to the boredom of summer.

One of my favorite things was getting to meet my new teacher.

Of course, the bar had been set high in kindergarten by Mrs. Howard. She was the litmus test by which every teacher and most humans must pass, with her sense of humor, compassion, and encouragement.

She made me love school. If I could have stayed in kindergarten with her as my teacher forever, I would have.

First grade, however, almost ruined my love for school.

This one teacher – one –tainted my whole school experience.

And she was bad enough that Mama still holds a spite and grudge against her to this day.

“She should have never been around children!” Mama will exclaim any time the woman’s name is mentioned.

I agree, but I don’t quite hold a grudge against her like Mama does. But then again, I am the child in this scenario; I am sure my perspective would be different if I was in Mama’s position.

This wretched woman did several things throughout my first-grade year that gave Mama good and justified reasons to dislike her.

“Stronger than dislike, Kitten,” Mama will remind me. “I cannot stand that woman.”

Now, what would possibly set my mild-mannered, kind-hearted Mama off like this? The woman whose favorite mantra was “there but by the grace of God go I?”

Well, let me tell you, it was not pretty, but it may not have been the most dramatic of events.
It was a primary school straw on a camel’s back.

My introduction to first grade left me wondering if one could possibly flunk out of school due to erroneous paper folding. I never successfully folded the construction paper in the certain manner this horrid teacher wanted.

I didn’t say a word to Mama; instead, I begged Granny to help me fix it.

If anyone could fix something that involved paper, fabric, or anything related to crafts, it was Granny. I am fairly certain she could have built a house with a needle and thread.

Granny helped me interpret the directions, which we followed explicitly. The teacher still said it was wrong.

“Now she’s saying I did it wrong, and I don’t make no mistakes!” Granny said. “There ain’t no pleasing this woman.”

She wasn’t wrong.

We followed the directions, but she insisted it was still wrong.

A classmate did it the same way, yet this woman did not admonish her the way she did me.

“Maybe you need to go back to kindergarten,” she said to me one day.

“Will you stay in first grade?” I asked.

“Yes,” the bitter woman replied.


I wanted away from her. I had no idea how or why she disliked me so. I was a chubby little woblin of a child and eager to make adults happy. Usually, teachers loved me.

But this woman hated me.

She had even told me on the first day of school she had hoped I wasn’t going to be in her class.

What kind of adult does that? What was wrong with her?

Of course, my beloved Mrs. Howard was teaching first grade that year and I had hoped and prayed, to the point of negotiating with God I would give up all things Little Debbie, to have Mrs. Howard again

Instead I got this shrew.

Mama was right, she had no business being around small children.

One day, we had to color a picture for fire safety week. We could color the house any color we wanted, as long as the fire and the fire truck were red.

My house was my favorite color: purple.

Not pink, which I have never cared for. Not white, not brown.

Purple. See, long before I fell in love with anything Prince, I loved the color purple.

So, my house was purple.

My fire was red – even though fire is really not red but more of a yellow-orange hue.

And my fire truck was red.

The two requirements were met.

The teacher refused to hang mine on the hall with the rest of my classmates, declaring in front of the class that no houses anywhere in the U.S. of A were purple.

“Your mother will not be proud of what you did because I will not hang it out on the hall with everyone else,” the woman told me.

I shrugged. “That’s okay, my Mama is proud of me anyway.”

“No, she’s not,” the woman sneered. “Your picture will not be allowed to be displayed in the hall. How could she proud of failure?”

Even though I was a kid, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, my Mama was proud of me whether my painting made the hall display or not. That didn’t earn my Mama’s love or praise.

Years later, I was standing in the drugstore with my friends Laura and Jane when that horrid woman walked by. She greeted both while ignoring me.

“She still hates you,” Jane said shocked.

As a new school year starts, this experience always comes to mind because I know there are more Mrs. Howards in classrooms than there is that horrible woman.

But, I hope, more than anything, there are more children knowing they are loved and worthy beyond just what gets hung in the halls.



Summer of Snoopy

Summer means different things to people.

For many, its vacations at the beach; for others, it’s trips to the mountains or on the lake.

As a member of the original staycationing family, summer meant three lazy months of going to the library and watching cartoons.

I did have one mission though: finding a Snoopy Sno-Cone machine.

This mission consumed three of the summers of my youth.

The commercial on TBS made it look like the ultimate summer treat maker.

Seeing kids put the ice in the top of Snoopy’s dog house, crushing it into little cups and drizzling the flavoring over it made me think that would make summer perfect.

Plus, if it was on TV, you knew it had to be good.

We looked everywhere for one.

The sale inserts in the paper would declare that Eckerds (the precursor to Rite-Aid) and TG&Y would have them in stock.

I would bug Granny endlessly about it, begging her to help me search.

Of course, if Mama had only bought me one off the commercial, Granny wouldn’t have needed to make the weekly treks to the stores.

But Mama refused, saying she was not doing a check by phone or a COD, nor was she going to pay $14.99 for shipping when that was more than the thing cost.

“I have probably spent over $15 in gas trying to find one of these cussed things,” Granny mumbled one evening as we ventured to TG&Y.

TG&Y was sold out. According to the manager, the little sno cone machines with the Red Baron beagle sold out the same day they came in.

“That many people want those things?” Granny asked. “They look like Snoopy is –”

I shushed her; I was only 7 and even I knew some things that came out of my grandmother’s mouth were not appropriate for my ears or those working retail management.

“We may get some more but I can’t promise. Once they come in, we sell out pretty quickly.”

“Can we get a raincheck?” Granny asked.

The manager shook his head. “I am afraid not; we can’t guarantee the product will be in and it is a first come, first sell basis because of it being a seasonal item.”

“How about if you held me one? Could you do that? Could I maybe do a layaway?” Granny was trying everything she could think of, but nothing worked.

We left the store yet again without a Snoopy Sno-Cone machine.

“I can crush you some ice with a hammer,” Bobby offered when we got home. “We can pour some vanilla flavoring over it or some cherry juice, it would be the same thing.”

I wasn’t too thrilled at his suggestion; even though he meant well, it just wouldn’t be the same.

“Why would anyone want crushed ice when ice cream is better,” my grandfather mused from his chair.

“I’ve wanted this for three summers. Three!” I said. That was a long-term commitment for someone under the age of 10. “Ice cream is good, but this is different.”

“If you don’t want Bobby to bust you up some ice, Granny can put some in the meat grinder. Don’t worry, she cleans it out real good; she uses that meat grinder to crush her coconut meat,” my grandfather offered.

This was even worse than the ice being smashed with a hammer. Meat grinder sno cones?

“Why’s this so special?” my uncle wanted to know.

“It’s Snoopy,” I said wearily.

No one seemed to understand when you are a little kid, you get fixated on something because you like it, and nothing is a suitable substitute. It was a situation a hammer couldn’t fix.

A few weeks later, as summer was coming to a close, Granny and I were in Eckerd picking up a prescription. There high on the top shelf, shoved above the small appliances and pushed beside hot water bottles was one remaining Snoopy Sno-Cone machine in all its glory.

Granny and I both gasped.

I didn’t say a word; I didn’t have to. As strict as the old gal could be, she would have given me a kidney if it would have helped me. Granted, she would have fussed about it for the rest of her life, but she would have done it.

She walked over to the register by the pharmacy and asked if they could get it down for her.

“How much does it cost?” Granny asked as the lady climbed a small step ladder.

I can’t remember how much it was, but it was enough to make Granny cuss. And, it was more than the TV price with the shipping.

Granny’s glance told me what I already knew. She thought it was too much. Even though I was a kid, I thought it was too much, too. Summer was practically over, and I didn’t see myself wanting a sno cone when I would be craving burnt caramel cake in the fall.

Actually, I could eat burnt caramel cake year-round. The sno cones I only wanted in the summer.

Heading home, we drove through town and in the parking lot of the Piggly Wiggly was a little tiny booth with a sign declaring sno cones. Granny pulled in immediately.

“What flavor you want?” she asked.
I got a bubble gum flavored one and Granny got cherry. She declared hers tasted like cough syrup and mine was too sweet to eat. They were messy, too.

“I ain’t never paid this much for ice,” Granny said as she spooned up a bite. “Don’t get your granddaddy started on this. His trips to the Brazier are enough.”

Not that long ago, my child and I saw a Snoopy Sno-Cone machine in a store. “You should get it!” Cole exclaimed.

Nah, sometimes just the memory of something is better than the actual thing.


A Granny-sized void

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

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

It dawned on me that maybe I do.

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

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

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

A void.

That’s what it was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She never complained.

If anything, she loved it.

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

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

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

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

“You promised!” I cried.

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

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

Granny came in there to comfort me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Darn right about that!” Mama replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She never told me that,” I said.

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

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

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

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


Yearning for childhood lost

I am a tad bit sentimental and I admit, I probably over-romanticize things at times, too.

Maybe that’s why I often like to remember the antics and tales of my childhood so much.

For the most part, it was a time of awe and wonder nestled between Twinkie clouds and Hostess cupcake dreams.

And there’s parts of our childhood that make us who we are and influence the adults we become, even if we don’t realize it at the time.

Mine was watching Mister Rogers.

Every evening as Granny made dinner, she usually sat me in front of the televisions with a snack of some kind. Sometimes, it was peanut butter and crackers; others, it was a bag of Bugles she had saved me from her lunch break.

She turned on Mister Rogers and hoped I would stay entertained long enough to not bother her while she cooked.

And it was enough to keep me in rapt entertainment, at least for that half hour.

I was pulled into this world where kindness mattered, where respect for everyone was given.

Where people spoke with gentle words and softer tones.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was sinking into the fabric of my soul.

The show was even enough to sooth the edges on my often loud, usually hot-tempered grandfather.

“PawPaw, who’s your favorite character?” I asked one day.

My grandfather looked at the screen thoughtfully. “I reckon I like that little tiger one the best. He seems like a neat little cat.”

My grandfather, this larger than life man, who worked in construction as a roofer and often came home covered in tar and when angered, could probably frighten the underworld, liked the shy, slightly fearful tiger. It was quite a contrast.

“Who’s your favorite?” he asked me.

“I like them all,” I said. “But I hope one day when I grow up, I marry someone like Mister Rogers. He seems to be nice to everyone.”
And to a little girl, that was very important.

See, I was a chubby kid, my mother was divorced – something that was not that common back then, and my father, who I never saw or talked to, was Iranian. There were a lot of little things that made me ‘different’ and not necessarily in a good way.

But I had the sanctity and safety of childhood.

Of being surrounded by people who loved me and having friends that cared about me regardless of the fact I made a horrible choice for dodgeball or any other team sport in the gym.

I grew up and somehow, the lessons I had learned from watching Mister Roger’s Neighborhood faded into the background.

It wasn’t until several years, when working in radio, my friend and morning show host mentioned it was the day that Fred Rogers had passed away.

“He died?” I asked.

I somehow had missed it a few years before and was saddened at the news.

“Yeah,” my friend said. “It hit me hard. Fred Rogers was a pretty cool guy.”

A cool guy.

I had never thought of Mister Rogers in that light before; to me, he had been soothing and comfort, a magical escape from a world that sometimes may not be quite as nice.

“You really should check out some of the stories on him,” my friend said. “Cole would really love him. There’s a book too that will really tell you how amazing of a person he was.”

“I will check it out,” I promised.

I didn’t have to. A few days later, in my mailbox was the book, I’m Proud of You, by Tim Madigan, and a few DVDs of Mister Rogers Neighborhood for Cole to watch.

I started the book that evening and was profoundly amazed at how the Fred Rogers on the show was exactly the way Fred Rogers was in real life.

Compassion, kindness, and empathy truly were his superpowers.

No wonder as a child I hid his lessons deep in my heart.

Over the years, especially the last few, I have been even more drawn to his wisdom. One of his quotes has been shared quite frequently: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

I find myself looking for the helpers a lot lately. Wondering where they are, the people who somehow find ways to help those around them and give comfort, even when they are experiencing pain and trauma themselves.

But sometimes, that’s what we are supposed to do. Come together and help one another, simply because we are ‘neighbors’ and need each other.

I think of how his simple wisdom is more profound now and how in so many ways, my childhood was idyllic. I lived in a world where I didn’t understand fear, I didn’t have worries or concerns because life and the world I grew up in felt safe and secure.

Now, there’s children who will never know what that feels like.

Re-reading Fred Rogers’ words makes me see how timeless they were. And how we need them, desperately need them now.

Mister Rogers passed away 15 years ago on February 27, but thankfully, his kind, compassionate wisdom has left behind some gentle echoes.

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.

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.


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.”


“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.”

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?”


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.


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.”