Gossip by any other name

Gossip is usually an unsavory but juicy hot commodity at times.

Particularly among certain people.

My grandmother reveled in the little nuggets of information she would glean from people, which is probably why she loved to go to the grocery store and beauty parlor when I was younger.

She could find out all kinds of dirt on just about anyone, down to what pew they sat on in church.

Granny was a great collector of dirt; and like her sole and sometimes-favorite grandchild, people just told her stuff. Unsolicited, out of the blue, random yet glorious stuff.

Some of this stuff was about people Granny didn’t know, which was rare. I think the old gal knew everyone in our little community.

But the best tidbits were about folks she did know – especially people she did not like.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Granny’s ability to collect all this dirt is that while it came to her fairly easily, Granny was quite judicious with who she told what.

There was one exception, of course.
Granny’s best friend, LuRee.

What’s so funny is that for the longest, those two little mean women would scrapple and fuss with one another deep-fried Baptist style.

Then one day, a vortex in the Universe opened and I think Satan himself caught a chill.

The two of them walked out of their Sunday School room, arm and arm, hugging and slopping sugar on one another like they were best friends.

I remember seeing this as I stood in the hall just as plain as it was yesterday; they even moved in ‘80’s style slow motion as they walked towards the double doors to go outside.

“When did you and Miss LuRee decide y’all liked one another?” I asked from the backseat on the way home.

“What?” my grandfather perked up at this news.

“We have always been friends,” Granny lied. Look at her lying right after leaving the house of the Lord.

“Little ‘un, scoot back in your seat; lightning is about to hit your grandmother,” my Pop said. “Woman, the two of you ain’t never been friends. I have seen y’all shoot evil looks at each other across the sanctuary before. What’s going on?”

Granny twisted in her seat as she drove. “We found out we both dislike the same person.”

Nothing brings two people together more than shared hate.

“Oh, good Lord,” my grandfather muttered under his breath. “Helen, what were you doing gossiping in church?”

“It was not gossip, Bob,” she said.

“Yes, it was.”

“No, it was not.”

“Then what do you call it?” he asked.

Well, for once, the old gal was speechless which did not happen often.

She didn’t say a word the rest of the way home.

I, like my grandfather, thought that was a one-time event and they would end up back mortal enemies loathing one another over Amazing Grace and I’ll Fly Away, but the friendship stuck.

It was almost like two rival mafia bosses joining forces or something with these two. It was unnatural and scary.

Usually, it was a Sunday afternoon phone call that went on for at least an hour, Granny sprawled across the bed on her stomach, shoes off and feet in the air as she and LuRee discussed things.

My grandfather would just shake his head as he watched his football game.

“Your grandmother is in there gossiping,” he would say during a commercial break.

I nodded. It was just a fact.

“I am not,” Granny protested heatedly as she came down the hall. “I resent you saying that, Bob.”

“Well, I don’t know what else to call it.”

“We are talking about who to pray for,” she said.

“Say what?”

“You heard me,” she said. He may not have; the man was deaf in one ear.

“We are talking about who to pray for.”

My grandfather rolled his eyes. “I’ll bet.”
“We were. We were talking about who we needed to pray for and the best way to know who to pray for, is to discuss their circumstances.” She paused and gave him a look. “I think we may need to pray for men who don’t believe their wives, too.”

He snorted. “I’ve heard it all now.”

From that day on, whenever the phone rang, and it was LuRee, Granny would proceed to hold their so-called prayer discussions.

This went on for several decades, and when Granny passed away, LuRee passed six months later.

“You suppose they are allowed in the same corners of Heaven?” I asked Mama the other day.

Mama laughed softly. “Those two are together, I know they are,” she said. “And they are still talking about who they need to pray for.”

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A mama’s faith

Growing up, I never realized just how much my Mama probably worried.

I knew she was overprotective; I was her only child after all. But I never realized just how much a mother had to worry about until I became a mother myself.

The minute I held that little swaddled lump, I instantly knew life was no longer the same.

Things that I didn’t even give a second thought were suddenly terrifying and anxiety producing.

I did all the child-proofing imagined, crawling around on my hands and knees, looking at things from not just the eyes of a curious child, but from the perspective of a mother seeing possible dangers.

I had to make sure food was cut into pieces that would not choke, the laundry detergent I used on his clothes had to be dye-and allergen free, and I worried about the ingredients in the baby food.

I worried about everything. I still do.

Mama understood; she has lived a life of worry since I was born.

Granny, however, had no sympathy for me.

“You think you are the first mother that ever worried?” she asked me one day. “You ain’t. You don’t know worry.”

“I do know worry,” I said. “How can you possibly know the depths of my worry?”

I was in for an earful.

“How can I know anything about worry?” she began. “I will tell you what I know about worry. I gave birth to a child that didn’t live to his first birth day. That’s a pain you never get over.

Then, your uncle was in Viet Nam.” She shook her head, remembering that time period. “My child, my baby, was over in a foreign country fighting. And in the middle of that, your mama nearly died. She has only one functioning kidney, and it shut down on her when she was pregnant with you.

The doctors told me she had a 1 in 100 chance of making it through the surgery, and your chances depended on if she made it,” she said, her voice solemn as she lost some of her normal constant anger as she relived these previous experiences. “And that’s just a small fraction of what I have worried about. You think you are the only mother that worries? You don’t know the half of it.”

I was quiet as I digested all of this. I had heard all of this before, countless times, over the course of growing up. This was just the first time I had heard it in the framework of being a parent myself and how that must have felt.

“How did you do it?” I asked. “How did you get through all of that?”

She let out a deep breath, as if releasing the weight of the world. “I prayed. I think I prayed from the time I found out I was pregnant with my first child and I haven’t stopped. And I won’t stop until my last breath, either.

When Bobby was in Viet Nam, all I could do was pray. I couldn’t go over there with him – if they would have let me, I would have. Believe me. But I prayed all the time. Some people’s kids didn’t come home.”

Her voice caught a little and she paused to re-center herself. “When your mama nearly died, I had to make a decision no parent should have to make. For the doctor to try to save one of you. I told him you both would make it.”
“How did you know?” I asked.

“I just did. I had to remember that God doesn’t put more on us than we can handle. And I figured the good Lord knew I couldn’t handle me losing either one of you.”

Granny had always been honest with everything she said; a trait that was a blessing and a curse, depending on which way she was driving her message home. But this was the most vulnerable she had ever been.

“It’s just part of being a mother,” she said.

“The worry?”

“That,” she said. “And finding your faith. You may think you’ve got it before, but you spend more time in prayer when you become a mother than you ever thought possible.”

She was right. I think I have spent the majority of the last 13 plus years praying, with just about everything I say being some form of prayer.

I seemed to remember Granny praying as she took me to school. It wasn’t a big production, it was just something she did as we made our way through town. I didn’t think anything of it when I was little but have found myself doing it now.

Granny wasn’t the only one who prayed. Mama did, too, and, still does.

It wasn’t something I heard her do until I was a teenager, and then in the stillness of the night, I heard her prayers when she thought I was asleep.

That first time I heard her pray was before I had back surgery. I was scared but can’t even imagine how scared she was.

She was terrified but didn’t want me to know. Hearing her prayers made me wonder if I needed to be more scared than I was.

“Mama, am I going to be OK?” I asked.

She smiled as she rubbed my head. “Yes, Kitten, you are going to be just fine.”

“I’m scared,” I told her. “Are you scared, Mama?”

She smiled again. “No, Kitten. I know you will be fine.”

She was lying, of course.

Another thing I have learned about being a mama is, you lie like crazy when you are frantic with fear because you want to spare your child from a second of worry.

From that point on, her prayers only seemed to increase. She prayed I never got hurt, she prayed when I was commuting in college, she prayed when I started working in Athens.

She prayed when I moved away from home and prayed when I didn’t move back.

One of her texts the other day, she just simply wrote, “Praying for you today.”

Somehow, in the middle of my anxiety, that gave me peace and comfort.

I think sometimes, as our children get older, we pray more because the problems get bigger.

As mothers, it’s hard to let go, even the tiniest bit. Sometimes, it feels like we are giving up any control we may have.

It also feels like the scariest thing to do, especially in the world we live in now.

I think that is what all mothers do at some point.

We just take that deep breath and pray.

Lowering my expectations

Granny’s response to a lot of things was, “I ain’t getting my hopes up.”

I thought this was kind of morose and sad – we’re supposed to be hopeful, aren’t we?

“Why?” was her response. “When I do, I always get disappointed.”

Mama, on the other hand, tries to see the good in things and when stuff doesn’t work out, she tries to come up with some kind of divine reasoning.

“When something doesn’t happen the way you want it to, it’s just because something better is on its way,” Mama will say.

Being reared by both of these redheads has caused me to fluctuate between the extremes.

On one hand, I am always looking for the positive; on the other, I have started to understand Granny’s mantra.

And let me tell you, 2017 has been a year of disappointment.

I tend to do a lot of reflecting this time of the year and think about the past 12 months and how I want the coming year to be.

I hoped – no, make that knew – that 2017 was going to be amazing.

And it hasn’t.

Far from it.

As this year has gone by, I have realized some cold, hard truths about a few friends, making my circle even smaller.

Instead of trying to hold on to these outgrown relationships, I remembered Granny’s words.

“Not everyone will do for you the way you do for them,” she told me more than once, probably after she had experienced a personal lesson. “If you expect them to do what you would do, you gonna be sorely disappointed. They won’t. But they will be there on your doorstep whenever they need you.”

She was right. This year has shown me, yet again, the friends that only were around when they needed me and when I needed them, they dismissed me.

Boy, did it hurt.

“Ain’t no need for it to hurt,” Granny foretold. “Better to know what you’re dealing with upfront than not. I ain’t got time for people like that.”

A few opportunities I had been excited about turned out to be huge disappointments this year.

More than a few.

Some came to an end and some never really worked out the way they were supposed to.

“Look for the things that went right,” Mama gently reminded me.

It was an impossible task.

Mama didn’t believe me. I assured her it was.

So, in the coming year, I am lowering my expectations.

It’s not that I am being a Negative Nellie.

Like Granny, I am not going to get my hopes up about things; again, not trying to be negative.

Just go with me on this for a second.

I am actually going to look at things from a realistic standpoint.

I am not going to project my personal attitudes and ways of doing things on others. Other people may have their own thing going on that has nothing to do with me.

I am going to be a bit more grounded in my approach.

Instead of thinking one event was going to be so life-changing, I was going to put the focus on me and what I can do to change my life.

I think we tend to build things up in our minds sometimes where we make them so much bigger and grander than what they are.

We think that one job, that one person, that one something is going to make all these changes in our lives and when it doesn’t, we feel like Granny often did.

“Nothing goes the way I want, so why should I get excited about this?” she said more than once.

Mama countered with, “Because sometimes you have to be excited about something, Mama. It’s good for our souls to get our hopes up and be excited. We have to have hope to hold on to.”

Maybe that was just it.

Granny had gotten her hopes up so many times and it didn’t happen the way she wanted.

I know. I’ve been there. Heck, I am wallowing in the shallow end of the pool right now.

But I am trying, with all I’ve got, to find that hope my sweet yet crazy Mama preaches about.

So, I am setting the bar just a tiny bit lower.

I think lowering my expectations may be the answer.

Not that I am thinking I will be disappointed.

But maybe so I can be happily amazed.

The habit of worrying (10/21/2015)

“Worrying is just praying for what you don’t want to happen,” is an often used quote about worrying.

An English proverb describes worrying as being like sitting in a rocking chair; it gives you something to do, but doesn’t get you anywhere.

My friend Ginny told me when we were still in high school that worrying didn’t take away tomorrow’s sorrow, but robbed us of our joy today.

Did you catch that? High school.

I was worrying and stressing over something in high school.

I had an ulcer in 12th grade, and trust me, it wasn’t because I was worried about my grades.

“What are you so worried about?” Granny asked me one day as she snapped peas into a big metal tub.

“Everything.”

She snorted. “Everything, my tail. You ain’t got the first thing to be worried about.”

“I just feel like my nerves are worn thin,” I said.

Had Granny been one to roll her eyes, she would have. But she was not an eye roller. She was an eye bulger, however, and she bulged her eye out at me and pointed a long, green bean at me and declared for me to, “Stop it.”

“I don’t know how,” I replied.

Granny was quiet for a while, probably thinking I was a fragile thing to be so worked up as a teenager that I was on a higher dose of Zantac and Tagamet than she was.

“Let me ask you this, old gal,” she began. “Is worrying going to change the outcome?”

I shrugged. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was specifically worried about, other than I was just a worry wart in general.

“Do you worry?” I asked her.

“What good will it do?” she answered.

How could she not worry? That seemed like such a foreign concept to me – not worrying.

“You know when I should have worried?” she asked. “When your uncle was sitting on a tree stump, by himself, in the middle of the jungle of Vietnam, waiting for his platoon to come along and tell them which way to go.

“But I didn’t then and I didn’t when your mother’s one good kidney shut down when she was pregnant with you and had to have emergency surgery. The doctor said neither one of you may make it – gave you both 1 out of 100 odds.”

“You weren’t worried then?” I asked.

Granny kept snapping peas. “No. Them odds was better than the 100 percent chance you both were going to die if her kidney wasn’t fixed. I didn’t worry. I told the doctor to make her kidney work again.”

“I wouldn’t have been able to make that decision. How did you not worry about Uncle Bobby?”

“‘Cause, I knew he was going to be OK,” she said simply. “I prayed every day and told him when he left he was going to come home. I couldn’t worry about him. I just kept waiting until he came home.”

“I couldn’t have done that,” I said. “I would have gone crazy. I don’t understand how you couldn’t worry.”

Granny looked up from her lap of beans. “Then you don’t have a lick of faith, old gal.”

Maybe she was right. During the course of her 90 plus years, Granny went through a lot of things, but I never saw her really worry. Part of me likes to think it was because the old woman was so darn stubborn she knew things would work out in her favor – and if they didn’t, she was determined enough to change them.

“Now, you stop this worrying,” she scolded. “The doctor said you can’t have any of my fried chicken until you get this ulcer healed. So stop it. And I mean it.”
That was over 20 years ago. I am still worrying.

Mama is the consummate worrier, calling over the craziest things, and coming up with unimaginable worst case scenarios.

“What if the bears come into the house?”

I tell her I hope they pick up a broom and some Pledge and clean.

“What if Cole likes skateboarding and he decides he wants to be a professional one? They go up something called a pike…”

I tell her Tony Hawk has a net worth of $140 million; if Cole could make that much and be happy, I would be thrilled. It would mean my child had done incredibly well for himself and I may have done a little something right.

“What if..?”

“What if what?” I asked. “Please, stop worrying – trust me, I worry enough for the both of us. Heck, I worry enough for the world. But worrying doesn’t help.”

It doesn’t help. And I wish I could stop. It has become almost a habit – if I am not worrying about something, I wonder what is going to go wrong. I think Mama does that, too. Maybe she started worrying because she didn’t understand how Granny couldn’t.

But I’ve worried about things that never happened. I’ve worried about things that happened that worrying didn’t change. I’ve worried about things that turned out better than I thought. Worrying didn’t help. Instead, it made me not enjoy the present because I was worrying about something I had no control over.

“It may not help, but I don’t know what would,” Mama said.

I thought of Granny and what she would say.

“Then you don’t have a lick of faith, old gal,” I told her. And I knew, Granny was absolutely right.

Dealing with the weeds of life (9/24/2014)

If I am being honest, there’s more times than I count that things don’t go my way.

I am sure you know what I am talking about, too.

I am not referring to those petty issues of not getting my way, like I don’t get to watch the reruns of “NCIS” because the game is on or I wanted Italian and everyone else wanted Mexican.

I am referring to those big deal, ginormous issues that explode out of nowhere and make you question your whole existence type of thing.

It seems like there’s times, no matter how hard you try, something goes wrong.

No matter how much I try to do some things, stuff happens and I feel like I am taking two steps back for every step ahead.

“I feel like I am in quicksand,” I said one day. Not to any one particular, mind you, just to myself.

Why? I am a good person, I whined.

I do the right thing. “I think I have some good karma piled up somewhere” is my argument.

But it sometimes feels like I am bombarded with circumstances I shouldn’t be.

I feel like I am sometimes a living Alanis Morissette song – not the angry at her ex-boyfriend raging one, but the one about life’s little bittersweet ironies.

“What do you need?” a friend asked once.

“A wailing wall – you know, a padded wall I can freely throw myself up against and scream and cry and kick and…”

“Wail?”

“And wail.” That’s what it feels like on these occasions.

I have my fits, I am not proud of the fact, but I do. My Granny would have her fits too. She said it kept her from imploding to let the steam out instead of blowing like a pressure cooker.

I have had quite a few fits here lately it seems.

“It’s weeds, that’s all it is,” Mama said.

“Weeds?”

“Yes, weeds,” she replied. “You are letting these little pesky weeds crop up and spoil your garden, Kitten.”

“I don’t have a garden, Mama, literally or figuratively. I am just tired of feeling like I bust my tater all the time and things just go so dadblamed wrong.”

“Weeds,” she repeated. “You do have a garden – it’s called life. And every life has weeds. How you deal with them is up to you.”

I asked Mama where she came up with this weeds thing. “Joel Osteen. A lot of times, he’s preaching to you, you know.”

He may be. Someone needs to, I told her.

“Everyone has weeds, Kitten, everyone. Some people fake it better than others; your problem is you think you are the only one who goes through anything that’s yucky. You aren’t. You just seem to hone in on those weeds though more than you do the blooms.”

That was enough gardening talk for one day. And besides, Mama was getting too close to making sense and that scared me a little.

So there I was, in the middle of a glorious hissie fit, how life had thrown me a dozen lemons and forgot the tequila to go along with it and was just not how I thought it should be.

I’ve had this fit numerous times before – more times than I would care to count – so maybe they were weeds. They were as persistent as weeds could be.

Back to my fit. There I was, having my hissie, to the point I was inconsolable. I was beyond comfort food, cheesecake wouldn’t have made this seem better – everything seemed to be going wrong and it was something cheesecake wouldn’t fix. This was bad.

“Sweet girl, what is wrong?” my child asked.

I shook my head, not wanting to tell him. How do you explain to a child – who still has a lifetime of dreams and hopes ahead of him – that sometimes life is just not fair and your dreams may not only not come true but get stomped on, rolled up, battered and fried and thrown back in your face?

“Nothing,” I lied, wiping my face.

Cole didn’t believe me. “There is something, so tell me. Please.”

He looked at me with such sincerity and earnestness in his eyes, I knew he would persist until I told him. So I simplified it.

“Sometimes, I just get a bit overwhelmed, baby. I feel like life didn’t turn out the way I thought it would and have these issues, circumstances and whatnot pop up at the worst possible time. It’s just more than I think is fair sometimes.”

It sounded simple to me.

“How did you think life would be?” he asked quietly.

“Better. More.”

He nodded slowly. “What did you think would be better?”

“I don’t know. I thought it would be, I don’t know. Just … better. Easier, maybe, without so many struggles.”

My child smiled and put his hands on the side of my face.
“Sweet girl … everyone has struggles. Look at what all you have. You have me, Daddy, the pups. We have a roof over our head.”

His little voice cracked before he went on. “Mama, there’s people who have cancer, who are homeless … I know what you are feeling right now makes you feel like life is bad, when it’s not. There’s people who, no matter how bad you think things are, would gladly change places with you. Please, don’t let something that really won’t be a big deal tomorrow steal your joy from today. Just look at what you do have.”

“But I know this, Mama,” he continued. “The reason sometimes things seem so yucky is something really wonderful is about to happen. If you lose your faith, it can get you off track. Don’t let it – something awesome is about to happen. I know it.”

My little Minecraft, pig-loving philosopher was right. It was truly all about perspective. And faith. Sure, from where I sat things seemed pretty pitiful. Where someone else sat, their situation may be worse.

Mama called it weeds in my garden but my child put it in perspective. All I know is, if he’s right, about something awesome is about to happen, it’s gonna be huge.

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