Open mouth, insert the whole leg (8/3/2016)

Granny used to embarrass the stew out of us.
She didn’t care if what she said offended someone either.

If it was on her mind, it usually came out of her mouth.

When she met someone I worked with years ago, she pointed out he was old and bald.

A few years after that, she met a friend of mine and promptly told her she was overweight.

“Now, I know I am fat,” Granny began. “But I’m old. A young girl like yourself needs to watch your weight.”

Another friend emailed me to tell me she wasn’t coming by to meet Granny. “I know I am overweight; I don’t need to hear Granny declare it as a fact.”

I was mortified.

That was nothing.

She proceeded to tell everyone what she thought, male or female, young and old.

Mama was convinced we just couldn’t take her anywhere in public.

“She was hollering at some young college boys the other day,” Mama told me. “She wanted to stay in the car while I ran in Barnes & Noble and I came out to her hooting and hollering, asking them in they liked older women.”

I told Mama I was sure those UGA student thought she was joking.

“One was running. He almost ran into a car in the parking lot,” Mama said.

There had been a time where we just knew Granny said things that she knew were controversial.

Or as she put it, “I am just a-sayin’ what everybody else is a-thinkin’ and too dang scared to say.”

We were not entirely convinced about this. Some of the things she said, we found it hard to believe anyone would think.

“It’s like she gets started and doesn’t know how to stop,” I observed. “And she kind of feels like once she gets on a roll, she wants to see where it goes.”

Mama agreed.

We were just thankful Granny wasn’t online. Never getting that woman a computer was the biggest public service we ever did, as she would have shared her opinions and running commentary with everyone.

Mama, bless her heart, has never been one to say an unkind or rude thing to anyone. And, thankfully, she always tried to make me cautious about what I said.

My earliest memory of this was during an event at school, a clogging group took to the stage to dance.

I think this was maybe the first time I had actually seen clogging, and it was different, to say the least.

Usually, when something is different, we dismiss it as being odd and say something snarky or critical, especially if you are around 9 years old like I was.

Mama quickly tried to shush me.

It didn’t work, and I had moved on to how the dresses the girls were wearing were dorky.

Mama all but put her hand over my mouth.
“Would you please shush?” she asked.


“Someone may hear you,” she said.

“They way up there on the stage, they can’t hear me.”

The look on the face of the woman in front of us told Mama that she was the parent of one of the cloggers I was ridiculing from my Pretty Plus seat.

“It’s a free country,” my Granny interjected, shooting the lady a look in return. “She can say what she wants to.”
“And what if what she says hurts someone’s feelings or makes them mad?” Mama asked.

“Well, it’s still a free country. She’ll have to learn there’s consequences to what she says, but don’t be a shushing her because she don’t like this clogging. It ain’t like its fancy like square-dancing!”

That moment stayed with me and I have taught my own son to be aware of what he says in public. “Someone may take it the wrong way,” I would tell him.

But of course, while I have been trying to teach my child how to not do something, what do I go and do?

Yup, I go and open my mouth and say something I shouldn’t.

He was able to witness it, too.

“They’re right behind me, aren’t they?” I whispered.

He nodded, a slow, steady nod full of wisdom and empathy for his Mama’s mistake.

“Drats,” I muttered before bolting with my child in tow.

“How in the world did they manage to be right there behind me? That’s why we really shouldn’t say anything like that unless we know we are in the privacy of our home.”

Upset, I decided to call my Mama for comfort and tell her of my mishap.

She answered the phone, her sweet, genteel greeting giving me a safe place to land.
I launched into what happened, complete with the words that had been used.

“Kitten,” Mama interjected. “I’m gonna stop you right there…I am at the doctor’s office….
“And you are on speakerphone. So let me call you back.”
I slid to the floor.

We used to worry about my Granny saying stuff and sticking her foot in her mouth. I go straight for the thigh.

Nice doesn’t always win (1/20/2016)

My uncle is always nice.

Sometimes, he was probably too nice.

Mama’s nice, too; she’s always told me to start with nice first, then see what needs to be done after that.

I’ve followed her heeding of being nice but, sometimes, you just can’t be nice. Nice doesn’t
always win.

“I need your advice,” was how she started the conversation.

Ten minutes later, it was evident that my mama and uncle were being grossly and unfairly taken advantage of – something I had cautioned her about the week earlier, but to her, I am still a child so I don’t know anything.

“I don’t know what to do, and your uncle is being his usual too nice self,” she said.

I knew that side of my uncle too well. He sees the good in everybody and takes in all the strays, four and two-legged.

“Let me handle it,” I said and hung up.

And I did.

It was not pretty, but it was handled.

I started off being polite but firm.

That didn’t work, because unfortunately, the man on the other end of the phone thought he was talking to some girl who didn’t know anything.

I gave him enough rope to hang himself with, and then told him what the real facts were.

“This will be taken care of,” I told him. “My uncle is nice, my mother is nice; I, however, am not.”

A few days later, the situation was resolved, hopefully for good.

“What did you do?” Mama asked.

“Don’t worry, Mama, I didn’t do anything wrong, I just was willing to do what y’all didn’t want to.”

“What’s that?”

“I wasn’t nice.”

Mama always put a premium on niceness. She always felt like being nice and kind would get you further in life. “Please and thank you still go a long way,” she would remind me as I grew up.

Maybe it would – if everyone else played by those rules.

But everyone else was given a different playbook and usually, it is some sort of warped Darwinism where instead of the weak, the mean ones went after the nice ones. Or the ones they thought were least likely to make a scene or stir the pot.

Now, Mama has made a scene a time or two, once in Macy’s and once in Belk, but it was after she had exhausted her nice.

But that was centuries ago and growing older seems to just knock a little bit of the wind out of your sails sometimes.

I knew the incident occurred largely because my uncle stutters some and people think that means he’s slow; he’s not slow but a communication barrier can make for an easy target when someone wants to be underhanded.

I was assured by the man I spoke with this was not the case.

But, he said, part of the fault was how my uncle had described the problem.

“For $1,300, I think you could have figured out the problem without my uncle saying a word,” I replied.

I had that tone, the tone my grandmother could get that probably scared the devil to the far corners.

It used to send chills down my spine when she used it. I remember her once telling someone on the phone she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt they were trying to cheat her because my grandfather was in the hospital with Alzheimer’s.

“Just so you know, Robert was the nice one,” she said. “I’m not.”

Dear Lord have mercy – my grandfather had been the nice one?

I think I hid for two days after that. Granny unleashed locusts and probably some flying monkeys. It was scary.

Lamar is the nice one in our marriage, and I have heard him tell someone on the phone before, “Please don’t make me get my wife; you really don’t want to have to deal with her.”

They didn’t heed his warning, and regretted it.

He had a recent situation where someone was jerking him around but this time, he said he didn’t want me to unleash my monkeys.

“Let’s keep them in reserve for when it’s really important,” he said gently.

The people didn’t do what they were supposed to and lied about it to boot; I know if I had gotten involved, it would have turned out OK. But I said nothing and let him handle it nicely.

“You weren’t ugly, were you?” Mama asked.

I sighed.

I am not unreasonable; typically, when I have to be un-nice, it is when someone is taking unjust and gross advantage of someone I happen to care about.

When they are being unethical and inherently wrong – then, my monkeys come out.

So why is it someone can take advantage of someone and try to rip them off, and when they are called out on it, the person – usually me – is considered to be “ugly?”

To borrow a line from kindergarten – they started it.

“Mama, I wasn’t ugly per se, but I wasn’t nice, either,” I began. “If they had done what was right to begin with, none of this would have happened. I am only not nice when people are trying to rip off customers and do things that are shady. It’s not right. People want to complain about things causing them to lose business but never stop to think, hey, maybe, if we had treated folks fairly and did the right thing that would go further than cheating someone. You were in the right; I was in the right when I took care of it. I don’t like being ugly, but sometimes, that’s what people respond to.”

“I don’t like that,” she said quietly.

Yeah, I didn’t either.

But sometimes, nice just didn’t get the job done.

Granny & the cake plate (6/10/2015)

When Granny passed away last year, Mama had asked me what things of hers I wanted.

“Well, the old gal left me her dentures, so I reckon that’s what I will take,” was my reply.

Mama never understood our macabre sense of humor and gave me her annoyed sigh.

“What do you want? Is there anything you want?”

There was, actually.

I had always loved Granny’s dishes – the good ones she only used on holidays or if we had fancy company come over. Those were special and held good memories.

I wanted her Bible she gave me fits about. The pink one with the large print and Jesus’ words in red that my college best friend and myself had drove all over the perimeter of Atlanta (and probably the outskirts of Macon, too) to find, only for her to throw it back at me because it was absent the tabs labeling the books on the side.

“Old woman, at your age, why do you need the tabs when you were there when they were originally written on stone?”

She never used that Bible, instead carrying the same one that was about to fall apart to church with her Sunday after Sunday.

Lastly, I wanted her cake plate.

This was no ordinary cake plate.

It was “the” cake plate. A plate so simple, it invoked images of the Holy Grail in “Indiana Jones.”

You knew when you saw that cake plate there was something special on it, and Granny had baked it.

That plate held hundreds of cakes over the years.

From her homemade coconut layer cake made with fresh coconut shaved between the layers – none of that bagged stuff either.

She would actually crack and peel coconuts, draining the milk, then shredding the coconut through her grinder to cook down with the milk and what one could only guess was a bag of sugar.

None of her cakes lasted long on her beloved cake plate.

When that old gal was in a baking mood, she could out-Paula Deen the queen of butter herself.

“I haven’t seen that plate in years,” Mama murmured. “Did she still have it?”

Oh, yes, she still had it. But it was after a near miss several years ago.

It was a lovely day, perfect for a fall festival.

Granny had been asked to bring a cake for the cake walk, an honor she took seriously.

However, on the eve of the fall festival, Granny realized her coconut cake would not fit another plate – you know, one of her regular plates she didn’t care if wasn’t returned-it would only fit the cake plate.

Granny put a piece of duct tape on the bottom and wrote her name and phone number on the bottom in blue Bic ink, because back then, that’s all we had.

Blue or black Bic pens.

I am sure if she could have engraved her name on it, she would have, but she just had a Bic.

She borrowed a Magic Marker from me to write over it, making sure her name and contact information was visible.

The cake had been placed in a box, in the trunk of her car, protected and swaddled so it would not squish the cake or hurt the sacred plate.

When she walked into the school, you would have thought Granny was carrying the Hope Diamond to be auctioned.

She was promptly greeted by a lady on the PTO, wanting to know what kind of cake Granny had made.

“My coconut,” Granny said, lifting her chin proudly.

She knew no one could make a coconut cake like she could.

The lady purred how she had hoped it was coconut, and tried to take the cake from Granny.

Big mistake – huge.

Granny knew then and there she had an adversary in her midst and she needed to be watched. Granny carried it on to the library annex and sat it on the table.

“I want a funnel cake,” I told Granny.

“You wait a minute,” she told me. “I’m gonna see who gets my cake.”

“Why, Granny?”

“I’m gonna make sure I know who gets my plate so I get it back.”

And she did.

Just so happened the same lady who tried to take the cake from Granny was the same one who won her cake in the cake walk.

“It was rigged. She’ll get my cake plate back to me, or else,” Granny scoffed under her breathe as she dragged me off in search of funnel cake.

A week went by, no plate. Then another week.

“Where’s that school directory, I am calling that heifer.”

Granny called. Several times.

She went to calling daily, as soon as she got home from work.

“You know who this is. I was wondering if you had any plans on returning my dadblamed cake plate anytime in this here decade. You have my number, I have left it 20 times on this cussed machine and it is on the bottom of my cake plate!”

Not one to be defeated by an answering machine, Granny called her husband’s office. He was a doctor. She told the receptionist it was an emergency and she needed to talk to him.

When he got on the phone, Granny asked him if his wife ever planned on getting her plate back to her.

The plate finally showed up at the front office for me to carry home.

“‘Bout time,” Granny said.

There may have been a security motorcade to escort the plate home, I don’t remember.

Years later, after doing a charity walk at school, that same doctor had to pick us up to drop us all off at our next destination. As he did his head count, he looked at me and said: “Sudie, dear, did your grandmother ever get her cake plate?”

“She did; if she hadn’t she would still be calling y’all,” I answered.

“That wasn’t even her cake plate,” Mama interjected when I was telling her about the ordeal. “It was mine.”

“Where did you get it?” I asked.

Mama was silent, so I asked again.

“It was your aunt’s,” she said quietly.

“Did she give it to you?” I asked.

“Not exactly,” Mama said. “She brought me something on it, and I washed it and put it up and didn’t..”

“And then when you got divorced, you found it, and kept it because you loved her so much, and wanted something to remember her by?”

“Not exactly. I found it and liked it, so I never told her I had it.”

“So that cake plate had a history of stealing associated with it? First you, then Granny stole it from you, and then that lady was trying to steal it from her.”

Mama said nothing. She was a cake plate thief herself and had no room to judge.

The cake plate, to this day, remains unfound.

All we figure is, Granny either hid it really well or the thing got stolen again.

you always need your mama

You always need your Mama (3/18/2015)

“So, how are Mama and Uncle Bobby doing without Granny?” my friend Renee asked as she took a seat across the table from me.

I sighed. How to answer that?

Granny had always threatened to one day show Mama and Bobby how they couldn’t make it without her, saying she was going to get her an efficiency apartment in town, leaving them to their own devices.

“And prove what, old woman?” I asked. “That in their 60’s they can be on their own? They would probably go wild and throw a rave complete with Geritol shooters and a slew of Milk of Magnesia pills, lying around the place. It would be so wild, someone would make it a reality show: Party til Dusk – because none of them can see to drive after dark.”

She pronounced me a smart-alecky heathen and told me all of us would be lost without her.

“You’re wrong,” I said. “We would manage just fine.”

Sure, we’ve managed. But there is a void.

A big, loud void of righteousness that will never be filled by a presence other than hers.

I sighed again before I spoke.

“They are alright, I guess. Mama misses her, of course, and you know Bobby has never been one to talk a whole lot.

Truth be told, I think they are a little bit lost without her there telling them what to do. Bobby is buying a bunch of lottery tickets and now he’s taking in every stray that shows up since she is not there to scream about it.”

Granny would have a fit about all the animals my uncle took in; when I lived there, we both nearly drove her crazy.

She informed us once we only worked to pay the vet and buy dog and cat food. She wasn’t far off, either.

It was like the underworld stray community knew Granny was gone and they started just coming on in whenever my uncle opened the door. I think he has a standing appointment at the vet’s office on Mondays now.

“You leave Bobby alone,” Renee said. “One day, that man will win the lottery. He will.”

He believed he would, too. And then there were no telling how many strays he would take in.

But I worried about them. They were geriatric orphans.

Even though they are adults, I wonder who is taking care of them.

Do they know what to do if one of them gets sick?

How do they know who to call about things like Granny did?

When something happened to the HVAC or the plumbing, Granny knew what to do. She took care of, well, everything.

When they were supposed to get some snow a few weeks ago, Mama told me she hoped they didn’t lose power.

“Maybe Bobby should go get some firewood from town, just in case,” she said.

“No,” I said. “Y’all do not need to be building a fire in that fireplace – do either of you know how to build a fire?”

She paused to consider.

“No. Mama always built the fire.”

Granny probably rubbed two sticks together, too, to start it. Or told it to ignite and it did.

The old gal had a way about her that if she told anything – even wood, dirt, or whatnot – to do something, it did it.

“Alright, then,” I said. “Y’all leave that fireplace alone. Y’all don’t need to be messing with fire. Neither one of you.”

“What if the power goes out?”

“It won’t,” I declared.

If Granny could declare things, I could too.

Mama wasn’t so sure. She didn’t like the thought of them being cold, she didn’t like the thought of them possibly being without power, and more than anything, she didn’t like the fact I was telling her what to do.

“Why are you acting so bossy about this?” she asked.

“Because,” I began.

How do I even explain it?

“Mama, I worry about y’all. Who is taking care of y’all? I should be there, or y’all here, so I can take care of you. Granny’s gone…and y’all are just…alone.”

“We’re fine,” Mama said softly. “Granny was almost 93. There wasn’t a lot left she could do. We can take care of ourselves.”

Yes, there was. There was plenty. Even in a wheelchair, she still struck an intimidating form.

“Mama, I know she was old. I know she couldn’t get around anymore. But I felt better knowing she was there. She made sure y’all were OK.”

Mama had felt better, too, even if the old gal was fussing – usually at Mama – all day long.

There was comfort in her ordering everyone around. They were assured everything was in order and everything was done.

“I mean, honestly, Mama, who tells y’all what to do now? Y’all need someone to tell y’all.”

Mama quietly agreed.

“Yes, in some ways we do,” she said. “Because it doesn’t matter how old we are, we always need our Mama.”

Mama likes to shine

Mama likes to shine

Two things always made Granny happy: Cooking and being in the hospital.

Her cooking was part of the reason I was a weeble wobble as a child and the stuff of legends.

Her hospital visits were usually self-induced because she needed to rest her nerves, which were usually worn to the fray thanks to us. According to the old gal, we were a crazy bunch of fools and if it weren’t for her, we’d all starve, be dead or on the run.

Of course, her ailments were always far worse than anything anyone else has ever had in the history of medicine. God forbid her sister, Bonnie – who she had competed with her whole life – had been in the hospital. Granny would rush off to the doctor to get something put in traction just out of spite.

The hospital visits got Granny attention, alright, maybe not the kind she wanted but she was mentioned in the church bulletin and had folks visiting her. She gauged her importance in her little corner of the world based on how many people came to see her, how many called, how many flowers she received.

“Your grandmother’s on display,” Pop would say as he’d take me to the hospital. “God help us, you may have to put some poof on her so she’ll be presentable.”

“She’s sick; she’s not supposed to have poof on,” was my young logic.

Pop laughed, his deep belly laugh. “Lil’un, you’ve got a lot to learn about your Granny. This is her idea of a vacation – room service, cable and she gets a break from cooking for us. She’s gotta get all prettied up for her visitors. This is her time to shine.”

Even at my young age, I thought this was beyond warped. Who would ask to be admitted to the hospital for attention? Even if her nerves were rubbed raw from the family, it was still twisted.

After a week of being in the hospital, Granny would return home, all fresh-faced and rested where she greeted us with complaints at the state of the house. We evidently lived like a bunch of heathens while she had been recouping from whatever mysterious old lady ailment she told her doctor she had. She was disgusted with the bunch of us and would have to be re-admitted to get over being home.

But alas, there was baking to be done so a return visit would have to wait. Her hospital visit had incidentally been well-timed to get her good and rested in time for either the fall festival at my school or homecoming at church.

Now, Granny didn’t care for a lot of the stuff at the fall festival – the bobbing for apples, the vendors selling stuff; no, Granny went for the cake walk.

The cake walk was a pretty big deal, and Granny’s pride completely hinged on how many people lined up to win her coconut cake. The old gal would actually stand on the outskirts to make note – and to keep a watch on who got her cake plate. She once had to harass a doctor’s wife for months before she got that plate, which she had stolen from Mama’s sister-in-law, returned safe and sound.

If it was the church Homecoming, Granny measured her good Baptist standing on how quickly her cake or whatever dish she made was gone. One of the few things that could make that mean old lady smile was for someone to tell her that they couldn’t wait to eat whatever she had brought. We heard about it for days.

Especially when someone cooed over how she didn’t need to be in the kitchen since she just got out of the hospital. She really liked that part as she said how she had to do it, it was just the way she was – she knew they were counting on her.

“Mama, I asked Granny to make me a biscuit and she fussed; she just spent all night making that cake for someone else. Why does she do that?” I asked.

“‘Cause, Kitten, Mama likes to shine,” Mama explained.

“But she still fussed at me.”

I didn’t understand. I was a chubby kid who needed a biscuit.

I may not have oohed and ahhed over her baking prowess but I would have darn sure been grateful. But I didn’t give Granny that attention that the rest of the world did. I just selfishly wanted my biscuit and didn’t give the old gal any accolades. Probably didn’t even thank her for making her good food that made me chubby either.

It’s been years since Granny’s really cooked or baked. Arthritis has nearly crippled her, making it difficult for her to do a lot of her usual heavy duty kitchen work. However, last Thanksgiving, she did manage to have a knee replacement – she’s 93. There’s no way she’s gonna get her money’s worth off that knee.

“Mama, why in the world did that old woman decide, the week before Thanksgiving to go in the hospital and have her knee replaced?”

“She said she has to get it fixed because it’s killing her.”

“She’s 93 years old. What doctor in their right medical mind gives a 93 year old woman a new knee?” I was beyond flabbergasted – why on earth was she going into the hospital to have surgery?

When I went to see her in the hospital, there she sat, new knee propped up, emergency buzzer in her hand, “Wheel of Fortune” on the television overhead.

“How you feeling, old woman?” I asked.

“Great. I can’t wait to try out this knee. It’s gonna be a good ‘un. I just know it.”

The nurse brought her lunch in along with a new pitcher of ice, fluffed her pillow and doted on Granny, petting her head, and talking about what a sweet patient Granny was. I swear, the old gal smiled.

I called Mama on the way home.

“Mama, I think she likes the fact she had her knee operated on.”

Mama laughed. “Kitten,” she began.

“Mama likes to shine.”