Because

Once upon a time, in a galaxy several counties over, there was a sassy mouthed little girl who didn’t like taking no for an answer.

And any time her mama told her she couldn’t do something, she immediately demanded to know why.

“Because,” was often the reply.

“That’s not a reason,” the child responded. “You can’t just say because.”

“Yes, I can,” the mama said.

“No, you can’t.”

“Yes, I can,” she said, this time quite firmly.

“No,” the child insisted. “You can’t. Because is not a good explanation.”

The mama, weary from her child’s questions, knitted her brows and said, “Because, I am the mama, and I said so. How’s that for an explanation?”

The child sucked her lower lip in for a moment, not liking the tone nor the logic. “I still don’t like it.”

The child that lived to tell this story was none other than yours truly and that mama was mine.

And throughout my life, any time I asked her to explain why she was being so ridiculously overbearing, so stringent, and so unrelenting, her reasoning was: Because.

If I pressed for a better explanation, I was told: Because I am the mama and I said so.

Needless to say, I did not like this, not at all.

It was the veto of all vetoes. I could not argue with her stance. It was the ultimate power play and she knew it.

“I will tell Granny!” I cried one day at her injustice.

Mama laughed. “Go right ahead. She knows what a mama says is gospel! Who do you think I learned it from?”

Being a mama apparently gave you some super-authority. It superseded anything else, possibly even the law.

Once when I tried informing the crazy redhead that I had rights and I was pretty sure she was violating them, particularly my pursuit of happiness, she told me she was my governing entity.

“You don’t have any constitutional rights until I tell you you do.”

“How are you so sure about that?” I asked, sticking my chin out defiantly.

“Because,” she began. “I am your mother and I said so.”

That because again.

I couldn’t get away from it.

This was Mama’s go-to, her one-size excuse fits all. When I became an omnipotent and apparently brave teenager, I told her it was lame and weak, because she had no solid ground whatsoever and only used that Mama card when she knew she was failing at finding a solid reason.

She looked at me over the haze of her Virginia Slim 120 and said, “Doesn’t matter, Kitten. That’s still the answer.”

I think hearing that phrase so frequently is what made me start sighing so much.

I soon learned to anticipate the word any time I asked something.

“Can I go __” insert any place that was outside of the city limits with one of my friends and the answer was no.

“Why can’t I?”

“Because.”

Anytime I asked to go somewhere and was denied – because.

Anytime I wanted something and was told no – because.

Every ding-dang time she wanted to just say no and not explain – because.

That word basically meant she was being unreasonably unfair, unyielding, and didn’t give a rat’s skinny tail if it made me happy. She was doing her job – being my mama – and me getting my way was not part of her job description.

If anything, it seemed like her sole life purpose was to do the opposite of making me happy.

I argued. I debated.

I begged.

Nothing worked.

Because stood on its own.

“One day, you will understand,” Mama said.

“I doubt it,” I muttered.

I swore fervently I would never be an unfair parent and would always give a decent explanation for my decisions.

When I became a mama, I would listen to my child’s reasonings and let them have a voice.

And for the most part, I have.

At least, I think I have anyway.

Until I realized, I have kind of used that old trusty Mama card myself.

He asked me the other night if he could do something.

I said no.

“But why?” he wanted to know.

I didn’t respond.

“I would like an answer,” he said.

“I gave you an answer. I said no,” I said.

“That is not a legitimate answer. You need to give me a legit, for real answer.”

So,I did.

Because.

I am the mama. And I said so.

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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.

The piano recital

Once upon a time, I dreamed of being a concert pianist.

Only problem is I am quite horrible at piano.

But I had decided when I was a little girl, I wanted to play.

Mama wasn’t so sure about this.

“Is this going to be like your dream of being a ballerina?” she asked.

She may have forgotten but she was the one who nixed that dream in the bud.

She told her chubby child – me – to walk across the floor on tiptoes without tripping.

Given the impossible task, I grabbed a Twinkie and turned on Scooby Doo.

Piano, I promised, would be different.

Granny called Miss Suzanne, not just any piano teacher but the best piano teacher in our town.

Miss Suzanne had seen me around school and probably wasn’t so sure; Granny had to do some high-pressure selling.

“She is very musically inclined,” she said into the phone. “She has always loved music. Although we don’t know what is wrong with her, she don’t like country music. But everything else she does. She’s been humming since she was in Pampers and I think she has got a natural talent for it.”

Somehow, she convinced Miss Suzanne to give me lessons.

I was excited – not only was I on my way to being a concert pianist, but, Miss Suzanne would get me out of class twice a week for my lessons!

I remember walking down that long hallway with the piano room.

Now that I think about it, they probably hid the piano room in the bowels of the school, so no one could hear some of the blood curdling sounds that came out of that room.

My first few weeks, I was actually fairly decent.

I caught on quickly and I loved the idea of learning music, begging for a piano so I could play all day and all night.

One afternoon, I came home to find an upright piano delivered.

“I wanted a baby grand piano,” I said.

“Where are we going to put a baby grand piano?” Mama asked. “This is fine.”

I was so excited. At least until I found out that meant I could now do theory.

Theory, I soon learned, was just a fancy word for music homework.

“I can’t do this!” I wailed. “It’s too much work! I am just a child!”

Mama had no sympathy.

“You are not quitting, so you just need to learn to get beyond that thinking.”

“I am giving up my childhood for this!”

In reality, it had been like three weeks. But in child years, that was an eternity.

Mama didn’t let me quit.

No matter how much I whined or carried on, Mama made me stick with it.

“It’s building character,” she would tell me when I protested.

“You could save this money you are spending on piano lessons for something else,” I said.
“It’s okay,” Mama assured me. “I don’t mind spending money on something that is enriching your life.”

Mama insisted I was going to do what I needed to; if I was supposed to do theory, then I was going to do it. Even if it meant doing it before school.

In fact, Mama was very pro-piano until she went to my first recital.

I remember thinking this was a big deal.

Sure, I had sang in group performances for school and church, but this, this was different.

I was going to have my own little solo piece.

Miss Suzanne took us all to the Methodist church downtown to practice and for a trial run.

I can still remember the way the church smelled and the way the wooden pews creaked with all of us sitting on them. Even the way the light through the stained-glass windows danced on the floor.

This felt like it may be my big opportunity to be a concert pianist!

Until a friend I had grown up with arrived.

He had left our school a few years before but was still taking piano with Miss Suzanne.

Miss Suzanne had him practice first.

It was like watching a young Mozart or Beethoven play.

He made it look so effortless, so easy.

I guess she wanted to showcase her best student first – hoping the rest of us would be as good as he was.

I was a couple of kids after, and I was triumphant mess.

I had asked Miss Suzanne if I could leave after my song and she told me no; we had to be there to support our fellow pianists.

I wanted to run and hide. I considered crawling under the pews to escape.

When it was over, and I was the biggest failure of the recital, I ran to Mama and Granny.

Granny told Miss Suzanne maybe she should have saved the boy for last. “Putting him first is setting the bar awfully high,” she said. “Are we entirely sure all of these children needed to be in the recital…like Sudie?”

Miss Suzanne had hoped it gave us something to work towards, to have a goal to practice for and to have the glory of a performance.

“How much did you practice?” Mama asked me when I told her how embarrassed I was.

“I didn’t,” I said. I have never been able to tell a lie, and I wasn’t about to start then.

“I see,” she said. “Perhaps if you had practiced, you would have done better.”

“I doubt it,” I began. “I think I need to just quit.”

Mama looked at me and patted my head gently. “No.”

“What?” I was horrible, I had embarrassed myself in front of a church full of people. And she was going to let me keep playing?

“You are not giving up just because you didn’t do well in your first recital,” she said. “You’re sticking with it, Kitten.”

And I did.

For eight years.

“Did you ever learn how to play piano well?” my own child asked.

Nope, I sure didn’t. But I did learn how to never give up.

 

Promise fulfilled

For the most part, I’d say my Mama is a fairly honest person.

Even when that truth may hurt a little.

Like the time when I was a kid and I asked her if I was fat. She told me I was maybe not my ideal weight; she tempered this statement with the loving reassurance she would help me lose the weight if I wanted to but it was up to me.

Mama was honest about those things to a fault.

But when it came to the truth about a certain toy store, she may not have been quite as forthcoming.

They say a half-truth, or an omission of truth is the same as a lie, even when there was no malintent.

Mama probably doesn’t see it that way; in her mind, the justification was probably more like she hated toy stores and was trying a bit of self-preservation more than anything.

She could barely spend 10 minutes in Kay Bee Toys or ToyLand at Georgia Square Mall without feeling claustrophobic and needing to venture out of the store.

“Why do they make the aisles so tiny?” she would complain as I browsed stuff animals and board games. “Why is everything stacked to the ceiling in here? This looks awfully dangerous. It could fall on a small child.”

Even the days I couldn’t find anything – which were rare – I just loved seeing all the toys.

My sheltered little existence led me to believe the only place to shop was at the mall in Athens.

Atlanta, or anywhere in the vicinity, was just too far away and required a day trip.

Granny had even declared, “If we can’t find it in Athens, then we don’t need it.”

But then I started seeing commercials for a toy store I hadn’t been in before: Toys R Us.

Where a kid could be a kid, the ad promised.

“I am not sure what that means,” Mama said. “You can be a kid right here and have been. What’s the big deal?”

“They are bigger, Mama! It wouldn’t make you feel all clausta – what’s the word you said?”
“Claustrophobic,” she said.
“That word. It would be bigger. Better.”
To Mama, it sounded like it would be a bigger version of what she had already experienced.

I begged her to take me. I didn’t want to go to Disney, I wanted to go to a new, bigger toy store.

And Mama looked at me with as much sincerity as she had in her skinny little body and said, “Kitten, I am sorry. They don’t have Toys R Us in Georgia.”

But, but, but….what?
“They had a commercial on the TV though….”
“Oh, yeah, they are letting people know about it in other states. In fact, I have heard from another lady at work, they only have them in Australia.”
“Why would they only have them in Australia?” I asked.

“Isn’t the little animal they use a kangaroo?”

“It’s a giraffe,” I said.
“Then the only stores are wherever giraffes are from. But you keep wishing, Kitten.”

I believed my Mama, too.

Until one day, a school field trip took us somewhere towards Atlanta.

And there it was in plain view from the road, the sacred mecca of toy stores: Toys R Us.

I screamed!

“We finally got a Toys R Us!” I exclaimed.

A friend looked at me like I was crazy. “It’s been there,” the friend said.

“What? Mama said they only had them where giraffes came from.”

The friend shook her head and told me Mama must have been wrong. She may have thought I was a little odd, too but I didn’t care. We had a Toys R Us!

I could not wait to tell Mama!

“Guess what I saw today?” I said when Mama picked me up that afternoon.

“The play at the puppetry place?”

“No. Better!”

“Better?”

“A Toys R Us! In Georgia! I am so excited! Now you can take me!”

All color drained from all of Mama’s freckles.

“What? Where did you see that?”

I told her. “You can take me now. It’s been there a while, too. All my friends have already been.”

“That’s a bit far though,” she said, “I don’t know the way there and I am not good with directions.”

She was realizing sadly, surely, her jig was up. But she didn’t want to admit it and accept defeat. Defeat would mean she would have to take me where I could be a kid.

“Now that they are in Georgia, when we get one closer, I will make sure to take you.”

“But, Mama –” I began.

“You know my work schedule is so crazy. As soon as we get one closer, I will take you. I promise.”

I reminded her of this promise not too long ago.

It’s funny how parents have very selective memories when it comes to those promises they make to avoid a hissie fit.

“I don’t remember that promise,” Mama scoffed. “Besides, I took you to Toys R Us!”

“No, you didn’t!”

“I most certainly did.”

“Mama,” I began, “The first time I set foot in the Athens Toys R Us was seven years ago when we took Cole.”

Not missing a beat, Mama said, “Yeah, and who took you? Promise fulfilled.”

Maybe 35 years later, but technically, she did.

The Christmas Pony

There was one thing that was always on the top of my Christmas list for several years that I never got: a pony.

Granny put her foot down adamantly about that pony.

“Where you think we’re gonna put a pony? What are you going to do with a pony? Do you have any idea how much it costs to feed and take care of a horse?” she asked.

“Not a horse. Pony,” I reminded her.

“You know a pony is the puppy version of a horse, don’t you?”

“I don’t want a full-grown horse, I want to get it as a pony.”

I never got the pony, of course. And that is fine.

The pony was the ultimate bargaining chip, my bluff.

I could be quite convincing to everyone that I wanted a pony.

I overheard Granny and Pop discussing it, with my grandfather saying he had already put out feelers to find me one.

“She’ll want it inside, Bob. I ain’t gonna have a pony in this house. And you know she will. That crazy child will be a-saying she’s gotta cuddle it and sleep with it.”

My uncle was the one who should have been worried; it would have been him who had to feed it.

I would ask daily about the pony.

The kicker was me writing P-O-N-Y in great big letters across the top of my Christmas list every year.

“Why don’t you put some other things on there you’d like, too?” Mama suggested.

“All I want is a pony.  If I can’t have a pony, I don’t want anything.”

“Well, humor Santa and put some other stuff on there in case he can’t carry a pony on his sleigh.”

So, I did.

I put all the things I really wanted.

The Lite-Brite, all the Little House on the Prairie books, Jordache jeans, an Atari, and all the other gifts I wanted, way more than a pony.

I knew there was no way I would get a pony and while I love horses, they terrify me.

Mama was so grateful to see I had something more reasonable on my Christmas list that she got me everything.

Granny, however, caught on after a few years.

“Don’t you even start with this pony mess this year, littl’ un,” she said. “I know your game.”

“What game, Granny? Monopoly?”

She gave me a hard glare through her glasses. “Not Monopoly. Sudie’s pony game. You start around November wanting a pony and carry on and carry on. You know good and well we ain’t getting you a pony, but you also know we’ll feel bad enough about it to get you everything else.”

How did she figure this out? What kind of grandmotherly voodoo powers did she have?

I denied this fact and effectively launched the pony request once again, until the following year, Granny had me declare at the dinner table I had given up on the pony. Or else.

“You try this again and there won’t be nothing on your list under the tree. It will be footy pajamas and underwear.”

The thought of footy pajamas and underwear was enough to make me stop asking for the pony. No kid wants to go back to school after the break and tell their friends they got that for Christmas.

Given my shopping procrastination, I start asking Cole for his list around the beginning of November.

This year, the only thing he mentioned was a Playstation 4 Slim Golden Version.

“That’s all I want, Mama,” he said.

I thought one video console couldn’t be that bad.

Could it?
“Six hundred dollars!” I exclaimed when I saw the price. For one video game console? Was this console able to communicate with the Space Station?

I thought that was excessive but at the same time, felt bad. It was the only thing he wants.

“Is there anything else you would like?” I asked.
He thoughtfully pondered this for a moment. “Hmmm…no, not really. I think I have everything else I want. That’s it.”

I wasn’t exactly sure how I would pull that off. We try to not focus on the price or the gifts but on the meaning of the season.
Still, I stressed and agonized over this.
I looked around online for cheaper ones.

Nope.

“I can’t wait to play the Playstation 4,” Cole said every day. “Thank you so much for getting it for me.”

I cringed inside.

“Cole, what if they are sold out?”

“Oh, they are priced where they won’t be. Don’t worry about that, Mama.”

I groaned.

A few days later, Cole handed me a list.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“Just in case they are sold out, Mama. Or you can’t find one or you think it’s too expensive. You know, there’s a lot of reasons why you may not be able to get one for me.”

Sweet, sweet son of a biscuit eater.

My child had beat me at my own game.

His pony was just in the form of a Playstation 4.

Heart attacks in football

There’s no crying in baseball – that’s what Tom Hanks’ Jimmy Dugan told one of the Rockford Peaches in a “League of Their Own.”

I don’t know that there’s crying in any sport unless there’s an injury, but football seems to bring about the most angst.

At least growing up in my house it did.

My grandfather was a die-hard Georgia fan and by die-hard, I mean that man nearly died at a dang Georgia game.

Granny and I had dropped him and my uncle Bobby off at the game and commenced to spend the afternoon in Athens, shopping at the shoe store and Rose’s, and the old gal even took me to lunch.

It was a big, big day for us and she was in a fairly good mood.

Until we went to pick up Pop and Bobby.

My uncle was helping my grandfather, who was hobbling, towards the car.

“What is wrong?” my grandmother demanded.

My uncle shook his head at her. He has always been the one who tried to make all these hot-tempered people he was surrounded by calm down; walking on water would probably be easier.

“Robert! What is wrong with you?” Granny’s reaction for anything was increasing her verbal volume. I am sure someone named Robert in South Carolina heard her.

“Mama, he got so upset when Georgia lost, I think he choked on his hot dog and it went down the wrong way. Just let him get easy, I think it’s stuck in his windpipe.”

Granny didn’t have a lot of sympathy for anyone. She looked at my grandfather’s ashen face and said, “I can’t believe you ‘bout choked to death on a dang hot dog because Georgia lost. It’s a game, Bob. A game. And what are you doing eat a hot dog? I thought the doctor told you to lay off them things.”

Granny continued her tirade all the way home as I sat in the backseat bouncing with my red and black paper pom-poms they always faithfully got me. There was no way my chubby and uncoordinated self would ever be a cheer leader, but they still gave me hope with those paper poms.

But Pop didn’t choke on a hot dog.

Pop had a heart attack.

A pretty massive heart attack.

But, he was also so stubborn he refused to go to the hospital until my Mama got home from work that night around midnight, stating firmly he was not leaving until he knew she was safe.

“You are as stubborn as a mule,” Granny said to him. Remember – she lacked sympathy at times.

“You need to get to the hospital before you die.”
“I ain’t gonna die,” he said. “I still got to get some roofs done before Christmas.”

Pop didn’t get those roofs done. He spent about a week in the hospital before he came home and when his doctor finally released him, he had stern orders: no more Georgia games.

My uncle called and cancelled their annual tickets for the next season before Pop got home.

“I haven’t smoked in years, I quit drinking decades ago and now this? No more football? What’s left for me to live for?” my grandfather wanted to know.

“Me?” I asked, sheepishly. “Granny? Mama? Bobby? Aren’t we more important than a football game?”

The thought of just having us did not comfort him. Heck, it may have made him feel worse – we’re a curious bunch of folks.

But he had been forbidden to darken Sanford stadium ever again. Doctors orders.

“Was it because it was Tech?” I whispered to my uncle.

He nodded. “That rivalry always gets him riled up. But he would have gotten pretty upset if it had been another team he hated.”

I was fascinated.

How can you hate a football team, especially when you don’t even know the people?
It was a bunch of grown men wearing tight britches while running after a ball. My son would later declare at the ripe old age of 5 that those people did not know how to share and say it was a pointless game.

“Like who?”

“Well, he doesn’t seem to mind Alabama. If anything, he seems to respect them. He mainly hates Tech when they play UGA; the rest of the time, he will pull for Tech because they are a state team.

“Florida is a big one. He is not a Florida fan. But maybe after Tech, his next big one is Auburn. He is not an Auburn fan at all.”

“Why?” I asked.

My uncle shrugged.
“Why does anyone get all worked up about a football game? It’s just something we like to do.”

My grandfather never went to another live football game again, but I saw him having grown up big man hissy fits over games in the den. The kind of fits that made the house shake and scared the cat.

And in case you didn’t know, the top ranked Georgia fell to Auburn this Saturday.

I was on the edge of my seat during the game – a game, mind you, I don’t really care about.

I may have even had a grown up big girl hissy fit, complete with the loud swearing. I did scare the pittie though, but she’s scared of her own shadow.

“Mama, are you OK?” Cole asked.

I nodded.

“You don’t look like it.”

I was fine.

But somewhere, outside of Athens, I am sure my grandfather was rolling over in his grave.

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.

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.