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.

Advertisements

The Birthday Party Blues (7/27/2016)

My child is already making his birthday list, putting a corgi at the top followed by Pokemon cards and DS games.

His birthday is months away, mind you.

But, he starts early. Real early. And that’s OK. It’s my way of making up for never having him a real, official birthday party.

Just hearing about friend’s planning parties for their own children is usually enough to give me hives.

All the elaborate stuff that goes into it – jump-jumps, petting zoos, themes.

What happened to just cake and ice cream?

I’m not knocking those who do the big deal birthday parties at all; they are just not something I would do and didn’t even want when I was a kid.

Nope, even when I was a kid, birthday parties kind of freaked me out.

Who in the world ever thought running around a bunch of chairs, with balloons on them nonetheless, to fight with other kids in a game of “Musical Chairs” was fun?
It was terrifying.

For one thing, the sound of a balloon popping is terrifying. Particularly if under your tater. Running around a bunch of chairs is not fun either.

It made me feel like a real life Jack in the Box toy, which also scared the stew out of me, except instead of popping up, we were popping down.

Then there was usually a pin the tail on the donkey thing. Yeah, give kids something with basically a needle and blindfold them. It made me question all the rules of safety I had been cautioned about. I mean, what was next – running with scissors?

The worst though was my own birthday party one year.

I was so excited about having my friends come over, but Mama probably chained smoked two packs of Virginia Slims while she got everything ready.

And nothing made Mama more scared than seeing a car pull up for someone to drop their child off at the party and peel away.
Mama watched the car drive away in a panic.

“Does your Mama know when the party’s over?” she asked as the child made her way inside. “She knows to come back and get you, right? Right? Where did she go? Some place close?”

I didn’t know why Mama was so upset but I think she wanted to cry. She asked me who the kid was and I told her I didn’t know. She came in toting a gift though; she couldn’t be too bad.

She wanted to sit on the couch with the other moms, but she couldn’t.

She had to make sure everything went smoothly, meaning someone wasn’t sticking their fingers in the cake.

We played the games – no musical chairs with the balloons or pin the tail on the donkey. I can’t remember what we played but it definitely wasn’t that.

As we settled in for cake and ice cream, Mama was ready to breathe a sigh of relief. Everyone knew cake and ice cream meant the party was wrapping up.

Just as Mama was thinking she had survived, she found two kids jumping on her bed.

I’m not sure how she got them down but she did and she didn’t even scream.

Maybe it was because she knew the party was about to be over.

Soon, mamas were grabbing up coats and gathering their children, thanking Mama for the party. Knowing my Mama, she was ready for them all to leave so she could chain smoke for the next two hours.

We still didn’t know if that kid’s mama was coming back or not.

Eventually, she did. It was about an hour or two after the party ended but she finally came back.

We still don’t know who that kid was.

That was the last birthday party I had at home.

“Mama, can I have a birthday party – a real one? Not at school?” Cole asked me years ago.

He had had all his parties at school which meant I brought something to the school to celebrate. One year, I even took a piñata to day care then realized that was about as bad as the pin the tail on the donkey thing.

Multiple kids running around and needing to be watched and entertained, the dogs panicking and probably getting stuck under the bed while they hid, trying to make small talk with parents while I wanted to introvert…

“No. I think I am going to take a hard pass on that,” I said. “But, I will make it up to you. I promise.”

So he starts his birthday wish list in July.

He gets one really cool gift and some small other ones; I get to keep my sanity.

 

 

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.

Why All Roads Lead to Dairy Queen (6/22/2016)

Before I knew of the solace of cheesecake, there was the single flavored mecca of Dairy Queen.

My Sunday memories included going to church where I spent an hour worried more about what Granny saw me doing than Jesus (her wrath was immediate and in this life, not the hereafter) and followed by a pilgrimage to Dairy Queen.

How he got stuck in his Sunday cone ritual, I will never know but it was something to look forward to every week.

“Why you gotta go Dairy Queen every cussed week, Bob?” Granny demanded once as she pointed the Oldsmobile in the direction of a dipped cone.

“’ Cause,” was my grandfather’s reply.

One Sunday, Granny did the unthinkable – she informed my grandfather she was not going to town for his cone.

I sat in the back seat and waited for the thunder to boom.

“What you mean, woman?”

“I mean, Bob, I got a roast on and I didn’t roll out my biscuits before we left this morning. I gotta get home and make my bread.”

To Granny, not having biscuits at Sunday dinner was as sacrilegious as someone wearing white shoes after Labor Day.

“So that means I can’t get my ice cream?” He was not following her line of logic here.

“That’s right, Bob.”

My grandfather grunted. “I’m getting an ice cream if it means stopping at The Store to get one.”

My grandmother, fresh from church and full of the Holy Spirit – and needing to make her biscuits – didn’t want to argue anymore, so she decided she would stop at The Store (that was the actual name of the store) and get Pop a sundae cone.

“It’s not the same,” he said between bites.

My pre-Sunday dinner ice cream was one of those banana and chocolate popsicles that looked and sounded in theory a lot better than it tasted.

Granny made her biscuits and after we ate, Pop got up from the table and announced he’d be waiting in the car.

“For what?” Granny asked.

“For you to take me to the Brazier, woman. I had that pitiful little gas station cone and you made your biscuits; now, we going to Dairy Queen!”

Not wanting to violate Sunday, Granny took us to get ice cream. Pop got his large dipped cone and I got a peanut buster parfait.

Getting ice cream wasn’t just our Sunday tradition, but was where we, along with 100’s of other people, headed after the fireworks on the Fourth of July every year.

After we had sat in the Bi-Lo parking lot for hours, waiting to see the revelry, we found ourselves grossly disappointed when they fizzled out in the sky in about 5 minutes.

“You mean we sat here for that, to now have to fight all these people through the drive thru?” was my grandfather’s complaint.

The line was long, too. It just about reached down to the parking lot we had left.

“Bob, you ain’t expecting me to sit in this line are you?”

“I sat through those pitiful excuses for fireworks. I am getting a cone.”

The following year, we just went to Dairy Queen; we were able to see the fireworks just as well and Pop was happy. Sitting in the parking lot meant he could go in and get another ice cream if he wanted it and he usually did.

Any of Pop’s directions out of town often involved us ending up at the ice cream restaurant.

“Robert,” Granny began. She was mad, really mad; she used his whole name.

“I thought you said you asked your friend for directions.”

“I did,” he answered, as she handed him his ice cream.

Apparently, Pop’s inquiry was how to get to his favorite place in this new town not get us to our destination. We were lost somewhere around Atlanta and it took us hours to get home.

However, we did know where every Dairy Queen was in about 12 counties.

To this day, nothing can give me the same comfort. It reminds me of my grandfather and my childhood, all at once, and a time when ice cream made everything better.

‘Cause all roads lead to ice cream, and if they don’t, they should.

That Mama’s Intuition (5/25/2016)

There was no getting past Mama.

The woman claimed she had eyes in the back of her head, which led me to dig furiously through her hair while she slept when I was a small child.

But Mama had a keen sense of when I was doing something I shouldn’t, was in trouble, or just all around in a pickle, often of my own doing.

I spent most of my earlier years wondering how my Mama knew what I was doing or more accurately, had done, outside of her presence.

And this was years, decades even, before we had the technology we have now.

No, Mama had her own GPS system that ran on what she called Mama ESP.

Once, when I was heading out with a friend, Mama cautioned us we better not be cruising with any boys, without looking up from her crossword puzzle.

“Oh, we won’t,” my friend replied.

A few hours later when we pulled back into the parking lot to pick up another friend’s car at the Winn-Dixie, there sat Mama, on the hood of her car, like a little skinny red-headed angry hood ornament, breathing fire from her Virginia Slim 120.

She tried to pull me from the backseat, the first of many occasions where she would try to pull me out of a moving vehicle.

“You lied!” she had screeched as she continued to try to pull me through the window. I am not entirely certain the window was even down but rather, she was executing something straight out of “The Matrix,” only about 20 years earlier.

I was embarrassed and more accurately, scared. I had been caught in a lie by the red-headed dragon herself. And I think she was going to do more than just put me on restriction or hide my phone.

Somehow, somehow, one of my friends saved me and used some Jedi mind trick to convince Mama to let me go home with her. I am still not sure how this happened, as Mama didn’t really like her, but the girl had pulled off a “This is not the droids you’re looking for” move with such aplomb, I would have thought she was Obi Wan Kenobi in the flesh.

When I got in my friend’s car, I looked at her and said, “I don’t know how you managed that, but thank you. You just spared the skin on my hinney.”

My friend shook her head, “I just don’t know how she knew where we were. It’s like she’s psychic or something.”

Or something.

I asked Mama the next day how she knew where I was. She was barely speaking to me and giving me the silent treatment which meant she scowled at me with disappointment most of the day.

“I have my ways,” was all she said.

“What ways?” I asked.

Was it smoke signals she sent out from her Virginia Slim?

Did they go to other chain smoking mothers to keep a lookout for daughters with rebellious attitudes, big hair, and too much makeup? And boyfriends who could be described pretty much the same way?

Whatever it was, she knew where to find me, and where I had been.

On a few occasions, this internal tracking system came in handy in circumstances that didn’t involve me being caught in a lie.

Once after going to a friend’s house to sit out by the pool, I suffered a pretty severe sunburn. I was miserable. I also may have had a slight case of sun poisoning. I managed to whimper my way through a late night run of “Pretty Woman” at the theater, but only because I was promised extra butter on my popcorn.

I wouldn’t dream of asking my friends to drive me 30 minutes back home; I had to be a trouper and tough it out. Besides, wasn’t this how you got a good base tan?

But all I wanted was my Mama.

She had never been to my friends’ house, and it was late; I couldn’t ask her to drive all the way out there after she had worked until 2 in the morning.

I was so busy whimpering I didn’t see the headlights of Mama’s car as they flooded the driveway at my friend’s house. Even though it was late, Mama drove out there to get me.
She gave me an emphatic gasp when she saw how burned I was. “Oh, dear,” she began. “I am so glad I came on to get you; you may need to go to the emergency room.”

“Did someone call you?” I asked.
Mama shook her head, gently leading me to the car. Everything hurt. I felt like I was overcooked and even my hair felt extra crispy.

“No,” she said.

“Then how did you know?….”

“A mother just knows,” she said.

She never told me how she knew, or how she found my friend’s house in the dark when she had never been there before. This was decades before cell phones with Siri and navigation, which even now, I am sure my now fluffy, slightly darker haired smoke-free dragon would mess up.

She took me home where it took me a week and a lot of vinegar baths from Granny to survive the burn.

I still don’t know how she figured all these things out.

Just the other day, I asked Cole something, very direct when I already knew the answer.

He gasped in horror. “How did you know that, Mama? Are you violating my privacy? I have rights you know!”

I hadn’t violated any rights.
I was a mother.

And some things, we just know.

No One Loves You Like Your Mama (5/4/2016)

As I’ve grown older, several truths have grown more apparent.

One, don’t put overconfidence in a pair of control top panty hose.

Don’t believe what someone tells you, and be hesitant to believe what you see.

But the most important one is that no one loves you like your mama.

Mama was probably the original helicopter mom, hovering over me in her overprotective way.

I had back surgery when I was 12 years old to correct a severe curvature in my spine. I was nervous, as any kid would be, mainly because I wasn’t sure what to expect. And it seemed like a pretty big deal – the surgery would take at least 8 hours and the hospital stay was projected at 3 weeks – but to my 12-year-old self, I was mainly worried about my cat.

Mama may have been scared, but she never told me. Those words never left her lips. If anything, when I would get scared and ask if I would be okay, she comforted me and told me I’d be just fine.

In the hospital, the night before the surgery, I looked over and realized Mama was sitting there in the dark, just watching me, quietly. I think she was praying.

“Mama?”

“Yeah?”

“I don’t want to die — I am scared.”

Mama was quiet for a moment, maybe to not let her own fear come across. “You will be just fine, I know it. You’ve got the best surgeon and I know God will bring you through this.”

I went to sleep and the next morning, had the surgery.

Over the next few days, Mama never left my side.

Well, with the exception of going up to the roof of Georgia Baptist to a spot she found to smoke.

I would open my eyes and there she was, standing over me, stroking my hair, and checking on me.

“Mama,” I began, my voice hoarse.
“Yes?” she leaned in to hear me better.

“Quit hovering over me.”

This would become an ongoing theme between us from then until now. “You’re hovering,” I will caution. “No, I’m not,” she will counter.

“Yes, you are.”

“Okay…maybe I am a little. I want to make sure you are OK.”

When I was in my twenties and even my thirties, this was annoying.

Now, I get it.

I do.

I worry, I try to protect my only child from all the dangers that life can throw at him, and I hover.

I hover so well I should be some kind of stealth military helicopter.

I can tell by my child’s very countenance a myriad of emotions: if he is upset, disappointed, worried, sad, hurt.

And I go into hover mode to do what I can to bring him out of it and to make it better.

He’s 11, so it’s not too terribly annoying right now.

I just want to make sure he is safe, and happy, and knows he’s loved.

Something that no matter how old he gets, I will want for him.

Just as I am 43 and my Mama is still hovering.

I made the mistake of telling her the other day how bad I was feeling because of my allergies.

She was immediately worried and told me to go to the doctor.

I told her I’d be fine and it was nothing a good rain and a couple of Benadryl couldn’t fix.

She wasn’t sure.

“Do you want me to come up there to take care of you?”

I assured her I was good.

She didn’t believe me, naturally, and her morning texts continually asked if I was better.

“I just worry about you…”she said forlornly, her voice trailing off.

I know she does.

For a mama, worry is just another way to love.

My husband may take care of me, make me tea, or draw me a hot bath but Mama is the one who will worry when things are serious.

And when things are serious, she will move heaven and earth to make things better.

She will tell you she’s coming to stay with you for a week, to give you the chance to catch your breath.

She will call you a dozen times a day to make sure you are okay when she can’t come take care of you and doesn’t understand why you think she is over-reacting.

She means well, really, she does. She just wants her baby, her Kitten, to be safe.

Because no one, no one loves you like your mama.

Better to beg forgiveness than ask permission

Cole wants a corgi.

He saw one on a television show recently and fell in love with their squatty little bodies immediately.

He made a horrible mistake however. He asked his father if he could get one.

“No.”

The only time his father says this word is when it involves bringing home another pup as Lamar is usually the care-giver and the scooper of the yard.

Had Cole asked if they could ride their bikes sans helmets down the side of a waterfall or set something on fire, Lamar would have eagerly agreed.

But this time, Cole asked for a pup and Lamar shut him down.

A battle has ensued for weeks now, with Cole trying to convince his father why he needs a corgi.

Lamar, however, is unyielding.

Cole is even trying to convince him by telling him the merits of the pups.
“They are herding dogs,” Cole begins. “You love herding dogs.”

“I prefer German shepherds,” Lamar replied.
“But, but, but—”

Cole stops his sentence short realizing his father is not budging.

Taking his laptop and a pen, he sat at the table, furiously punching at the keyboard, then scribbling on his paper. Shortly afterwards, he stood in front of his father with an essay he had drafted to present his case.

I was impressed – the child had not only researched the breed but prepared a good argument for the corgi case.

Lamar sighed but still refused to budge.

“What am I gonna do?” Cole asked me later. “He’s not gonna let me get a corgi, is he?”

Cole was so upset he called in his reinforcements, the one ally he has no matter what, and the only one who will stand up to his parents: Nennie.

And Nennie, of course, thought the child deserved a corgi and was quite beside herself to hear her only grandchild had been told no.

“Is something wrong with Lamar?” she asked me. “He said no.”

Not just to Cole, she added but about a dog.

“Mama, have you met Lamar? He always says “no” anytime I or Cole say we are going to get anything. If I say, “Let’s get a dog,” he automatically says no. I just have to show up with one.”

Then it hit me.

That’s how I had brought home the last two; I just ceremoniously showed up, toting a puppy. It’s pretty much what I did with Mama when I was growing up any time a stray cat wandered into the yard.

A habit I picked up from my uncle, who still brings in every stray he can.

When my uncle came home with another dog one day, Granny fussed.

This was not unusual, the old gal fussed about everything. But she particularly liked to fuss about anything that had to be fed.

My gentle, quiet uncle ignored her.

A few years later, I found a kitten, all tiny and covered in fleas. We immediately took it to the vet.

While we waited, I looked at my uncle and whispered, “Is Granny gonna be mad at us?”

My uncle laughed. “Probably.”

Of course she would be — she was breathing, so she was mad about something.

“What are we gonna do?” I asked.

“Well, if we ask her, we know what she’s gonna say, right?”

I nodded.

I think Granny held the copyright on “No.”

“So, it’s better if we just take the kitten on home and ride it out. She’ll get over it in a couple of days or find something else to get mad about. Eventually, she’ll forgive us.”

He was right. She was furious at first but thankfully, her sister Bonnie ticked her off about something else and she had a new rant to focus on.

I wasn’t sure how my uncle knew this would happen. Then, I realized: he learned it from the old gal herself.

I had outgrown my tiny closet and sorely needed a place to put my clothes. I was a teenage girl – clothes were an obsession. I had found an armoire that was perfect but expensive so no one would buy it for me.

Mama’s sensible suggestion was to put my clothes in the drawers when she left them folded on my bed.

I thought that was insane.

These were peplum skirts, cropped jackets, Bedazzled sweaters, and other high-fashion horrors.

I couldn’t put them in drawers.

Mama’s other not-so-sensible suggestion was to weed out my clothes; there were only 7 days in the week, I couldn’t possibly need 17 pairs of jeans.

Granny told me she would come up with a solution.

“Don’t you worry about it,” she told me when I asked what she was going to do.

The following day, my Pop had a message to call a contractor. Being a roofer who worked with most of the contractors in our town, Pop called him back, thinking it was about a house he needed to cover.

When he got off the phone he bounded down the hallway looking for my grandmother.

“Helen, did you call and ask about quotes to add on to the house?” he demanded.

Granny didn’t even look up from the biscuits she was making. “I did.”

“What in the dickens were you thinking?” he asked.

“I was thinking that Sue needed a better way to hang her clothes up. And since no one wants to get her something suitable, I figured we’d just go ahead and add on to her room there and get her a closet and her own bathroom, too.”

The next day, my armoire arrived from the furniture store.

“Would you have really added on to my room if he hadn’t bought it for me?” I asked.

The old gal gave me an opossum-eating briars grin and said, “Yes, I would have.”

“What if he had a fit?”

The smile grew bigger.

“Well, Shug, it’s better to ask forgiveness than it is to ask permission any day.”

As long as he asked, the answer Cole would get would be no.

But maybe asking forgiveness would at least get him the dog.

 

Don’t Make Me Get My Mama (3/23/2016)

My earliest memories of my Mama convinced me being a mother was the closest thing to being either a superhero or a one-person Mafioso.

I can recall recounting something my first grade teacher (who hated me, by the way) had said to me on the way home; Mama turned that Monte Carlo around like something out of “Smokey and the Bandit” and hightailed it back to the school to confront the woman.

The evil woman was scared. I was amazed – Mama was a skinny little waif of a thing then but she was putting the fear of the devil in this hardened woman who looked like she was carved on Mount Rushmore.

A deep epiphany came over me that day. Mama, and not just Granny, was to be feared.

Even though that dreadful woman hated me, she pretty much gave me a wide berth after that, until one day she made another derogatory comment to me. Remembering the way she had reacted that fateful day, I narrowed my eyes and clenched my jaw.

“Don’t make me get my Mama,” I said.

It worked.

Over the course of the next several years, Mama became legendary – a parental “John Wick,” if you will, minus the artillery. Her weapons were her tongue, her big puffy red bouffant, and the fact she was right. And God forbid if anyone disparaged her Kitten. She went from a relatively reserved, quiet peace-loving lady who dared not offend a soul into a hellcat with claws.

When one high school science teacher, who seemed to take pride in how many of us failed his weekly quizzes, decided to point out one of my friend’s test scores in front of the class, my friend replied, “Don’t make me get Sudie’s Mama up here. I will.”

The teacher looked at him and laughed. “In case you forgot, you’re not her child.”

“Yeah, well, she will still come up here if I call her. Don’t make me call her.”

“Would she?” the teacher asked, directing the question to me.

I nodded. She would.

She did, too. I told her what the teacher did and the next morning, she was in the principal’s office, telling him making fun of a student in front of his peers was not conducive for learning and created a hostile educational environment. If it was wrong, it was wrong, and Mama couldn’t stand for injustice.

We had a new teacher the following semester.

Flash forward to my senior trip. Two friends and I had decided to go to Panama City. Mama was fully against this, saying we were too young to go out of state.

Granny, always on my side, snorted and said, “When you was her age, you was already married and divorced. Let the youngun’ go. She’s gotta live a little before life sucks the joy right out of her.”

The morning after we graduated, we hit the road, arriving at a hotel that took our money but didn’t give us a room.

Here we were; three girls completely out of our elements and miles away from home.

I pulled out the only thing I knew could work. I sidled up to the counter, looked that clerk in the eye and said, “Don’t make me call my Mama.”

One of my friends whispered, “I don’t think they know about your Mama here in PCB.”

“No, we don’t know about your Mama. And we don’t care. Your Mama can’t do anything,” the greasy man sneered.

And you know what? For the first time in my life, when I told Mama about it, Mama didn’t do anything.

When we went home two days later – because we realized we were too young to be miles and miles away from home without our mamas—I told Mama what happened. She pursed her lips together, her grey-green eyes flashed first with anger, then worry, and she nodded silently while I told her the horrors I had endured.

“I am so sorry,” she finally said when I finished.

“I got the name of the hotel and the name of the mean clerk for you,” I told her.

“I don’t need it,” she said. “You see, Kitten, you wanted to go off and be all grown. I thought you were far too young to go off with your friends without an adult. Had you maybe listened to me, and not gone, this wouldn’t have happened.”

The woman who lived to defend and protect her precious Kitten was not going to unleash her locusts in another state? What in the world was wrong with her?

“So, you aren’t going to do anything, Mama?”

“Not this time,” she said. “You wanted to be all grown and independent. Part of being grown means taking care of your own problems.”

Of course, since I have grown up, Mama will still launch an attack if anyone wrongs her only child. She has threatened to come up here on numerous occasions when I have told her of some injustices.

And I admit, there’s sometimes, I wish I could just let Mama handle some stuff.

As a parent myself, I am trying to teach my child how to handle his own issues. The other day, after exploring every possible option to get a game to save, he asked for the phone. “Who are you calling?” I asked.

“Their customer service department,” he said.

“Do you want – ”

“No, Mama, I got this. I’m 11, you know, I can take care of it.”

He scurried off to leave a message for tech support. They called back within 10 minutes.

“Wow,” I said. “That was quick! They must have excellent customer service.”

“Maybe. Or maybe it was what I said when I left my message.”

“What did you say?” I asked.

“I told them I had spent my money I saved up on this and needed to know how to make it work. But I think the kicker was, “Don’t make me get my Mama.””

The legend undoubtedly continues.

 

What to give up for Lent (3/2/2016)

Growing up Baptist, Lent was not something we did.

We didn’t dance, we hid the wine my Granny used in her fruitcakes, and we didn’t do Lent.

Don’t ask me why, I don’t know.

I remember one of my friends asking me in maybe 5th or 6th grade what I was giving up for Lent.

I gave her a long blank stare for two solid minutes – I didn’t want to look like I was so uncool I had missed out on some super trend of giving something up for this never before heard event.

“I haven’t decided yet,” I said.

She was shocked and maybe a little horrified. It was the second week and I hadn’t decided on my sacrifice.

“Um…sacrifice? What do you mean exactly?”

“You give something up for 40 days to symbolize the 40 days Jesus fasted,” she said.

“Does it have to be food?” I asked.

“Well, I guess it could be something else but usually, it’s food related. I’m giving up chocolate.”

I shook my head empathically. “I’m Baptist; we don’t give up food.”

Us Baptists were not going to give up the opportunity to fry –or subsequently eat – something for any length of time, let alone 40 days. The best way to get the preacher to stop the sermon on time or maybe a few minutes early was to know our fellowship hall tables were loaded down with potluck dishes.

I asked Granny about Lent later that week.

“We don’t do that,” was all she said.

I was surprised to find out we didn’t partake in these traditions that others did. It made me feel a little bit like the rest of the world was doing this great important thing and we were left out.

I mentioned this to Granny and she said, “We Baptist. We just don’t do Lent, and that’s that.”

Mama didn’t have a good answer either, saying, “Lent is something people follow leading up to Easter.”

“Why don’t we do it?”

“We’re Baptist.”

Apparently, us being Baptist was our answer for everything we couldn’t come up with a better explanation for.

We may have had our Red Velvet Cake and our Hershey bars but were we missing out on being a part of something greater than us?

As I grew older, I found myself visiting other churches to find out more about some of those differences and found myself drawn to Episcopal, Presbyterian, and the Methodist faiths before settling on the latter. Upon doing so, I found myself learning about things I had missed out on – with Lent just being one.

I found out about Shrove Tuesday – a day to eat pancakes for supper. My grandfather would have loved that.

And I found out a little bit more about Lent.

The more I found out, the more confused I grew.

I don’t see how me giving up my Dove bars would mean anything spiritually speaking. It may make me drop a few pounds but I don’t think it represents anything to Jesus at all.

So when Lent rolled around and everyone started talking about what to give up, I still didn’t have an answer beyond my two minute blank stare.

“Red meat,” was one suggestion someone gave me.

I haven’t had red meat in months so that was out.

“What about bread?” was another. Nope, gave that up years ago.

“Coffee?”

My blood type is pretty much Dark Italian roast, so no. And people may get hurt.

Wine, chocolate, gum, and Keanu Reeves binge-a-thons (my child’s suggestion for me) were all offered as reasonable things to give up for Lent.

I stalled by saying I would give up something meaningful and significant.

And I hope I have.

Instead of chocolate, wine, or Keanu, I wanted to give up something that would make a difference.

Old grudges, jealousy, and bitterness seemed like better alternatives to me.

I was going to try to forgive a little quicker, and judge less — a bad trait I have that was passed down through generations.

I thought it might work and that it would mean a little more spiritually than leaving off candy for 40 days.

I told Mama my intentions. She thought they sounded good but questioned if I could stick to them.

She knew I couldn’t go without my food vices, but she wondered about these just as much.

“You really think you are going to give up grudges for Lent?”

“I have,” I told her. “And being judgmental. Maybe even sarcasm, too.”

“You think that will work?”

I honestly wasn’t sure. A few days later, I called her to give her an update.

“Mama, bad news. I don’t think I can do this,” I said.

“Why’s that?” she asked.

“Because, it’s just harder than I thought.”

“What’s making it so hard?”

I sighed. How could I explain?

“If I give up grudges and all that stuff, then some people are going to have to give up being jerks for Lent first.”

Mama was silent for a while. “I’m still Baptist, Kitten, so this is all new to me, but I don’t think that’s how this works.”

It may not be, but it would make these remaining days easier.

Probably make the rest of the year easier, too.

 

Consider this a PSA for December birthdays (12/9/2015)

Like many others, I am a December baby.

My original due date was supposed to be in January, but the only time I decided to arrive early to anything was when I made my grand entrance in the world.

I don’t remember my first birthday, but have seen pictures of myself sticking fingers in a decadent chocolate cake that my Uncle Bobby got me from the Black Forest Bakery in Athens, hailed to have been the premier bakery in the ‘70s.

After that, my birthday was a flop for a while.

There was no big parties – who had time to worry about coordinating a birthday party during the month of December, let alone, the week before Christmas.

No, usually, Mama and Granny had the swell idea of just bringing cake and a bucket of chicken to school for me to have a party with my class. It gave the teachers a brief respite and then, Mama usually sprung me out a little bit early.

When it came time for my present, Granny would instruct me to go pick out a gift from under the tree.

“Not that one. No, put that one back. Uh uh. No. That’s an early Santa gift; he dropped that one off when you was at school. No – get that one back there with the green bow on it.”

A green bow that was probably older than me as it clung to life on the box with layers of clear tape (because Granny was not about to throw anything away – she could get a dozen Christmases out of that bow) was my symbolic green light to my birthday present.

I eagerly tore the paper off and opened the box – careful not to rip it because Granny would re-use the boxes for decades, too – and found just what every kid hopes they never receive as a gift:

Footy pajamas.

Footy pajamas with some kind of horrible ‘70s design – maybe a Care Bear riding a unicorn – was not a good birthday present.

“I didn’t want footy pajamas,” I would say.

“You needed ‘em,” Granny would declare.

“I didn’t want them, though.”

The old gal would snort.

“I didn’t ask you if you wanted them, I told you you needed ‘em – you done outgrown your other ones and these will keep you warmer than a gown. And lookie,” she began, pointing to the drop-seat flap in the back- just what every little girl wants to see on her jammies.

“Now you ain’t got to take ‘em all the way off to go potty.”

My sugar high from the school cake had worn off, so I didn’t attempt to argue with the woman. Disappointed, I went to my room, with my highly flammable – but with excellent traction -footy pajamas in hand.

I wondered if I could move my birthday. Perhaps having a birthday in July? No, the Fourth was then and it was hot. Plus, school was out; no way to have a party with my class. November? Thanksgiving.

What about September? Labor Day.

Was there any good month to be born? I surmised not.

I was the only child, only grandchild, and only niece – and the best they could manage was “Go pick out a present from under the tree?” To paraphrase Molly Ringwald in “Sixteen Candles,” don’t adults live for this stuff?

“Mama, something needs to change?” I said the day after.

“What do you mean, Kitten?”

“I got footy pajamas for my birthday.”

“And you looked adorable last night in them!”

That woman needed to cut back on the caffeine sometimes.

“No, Mama,” I began. “Don’t you think it’s wrong that I have to pick out my birthday present from under the tree? It’s like my birthday doesn’t get its own day. It’s not fair. My birthday should not be an afterthought. It’s not even in birthday paper – it’s in poinsettia paper.”

I may not have been quite as logical and eloquent in my delivery; I was 11 after all. But Mama understood.

From that year on, Mama decided to give my birthday gift either before December, or after – my choice. Instead of poinsettia paper, it’s usually still in the bag from the store she bought it, complete with the receipt in case I want to return it.

She even will call me when she is in a store and tell me what she is looking at or sends me a picture, asking me if it’s something I want. Needless to say, she’s gotten better at the birthday gifting thing over the last 30 years.

Granny wasn’t on board with the whole separate gift idea until Mama pointed out to the old gal, who’s birthday was May 13, that maybe she would be fine with a combo gift for Mother’s Day.

“Oh,” Mama said, in her genteel passive aggressive way. “So we can get you a pair of footy pajamas, too, then?”

“No, I was a-born a long time before I was a mother,” was her reply. “And I expect something nice for my birthday and something nice for Mother’s Day. And don’t you get me no footy pajamas – you get me anything to sleep in, it better be a gown.”

A gown. The old gal wanted a gown as one of her gifts.

Because no one wants footy pajamas for their birthday.