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.

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The Good Old Days (7/20/2016)

Growing up, Granny loved to tell me stories about what she called, “the good old days.”

Tales involving picking cotton, drawing water from a well, and all of her siblings having to share one bed during the winter to stay warm.

“This was the good old days?” I asked her once.

“Yes,” she was replied. “They was.”

That’s how Granny, talked too. She dropped out of school, maybe in third grade or so, to help work the fields. She didn’t speak proper grammar and didn’t care. It never stopped her from getting her point across.

Her stories included growing up in the Depression and how they survived. Huddling around the wood burning stove to stay warm, wearing clothes until threadbare, and never throwing anything away. She was a packrat of the highest caliber, because she grew up in poverty.

“What are you going to make with this?” I asked her once, moving a huge garbage bag containing fabric off the couch.

“I don’t know yet, but I’ll make something. Don’t you worry about it. Clothes, curtains, quilts. It’ll get used.”

And it would, too.

The woman would wash and re-use aluminum foil and Ziploc bags and thought if someone was using thick Dixie plates at a dinner and threw them away, they were “just showing how high fa-lootin’ they was.” Dishes were not supposed to be disposable.

She told me about riding the bus to Plattsburg, New York, alone, to get to Pop. They had eloped, Granny lying to her mother that she was spending the night at a cousin’s house, and the next morning, my grandfather headed back to where ever he was stationed in the Army. Granny went back home to her mama and daddy, never breathing a word she was married until she announced she was heading north. Their wedding night was only their third date.

“How in the world could you let Pop go back up there and not go with him?” I asked.

“Back then, you did what you had to. He was in the Army and he had to save up money to get me a bus ticket,” was her no nonsense reply.

Those times, were not easy, nor were the years that followed and they made steel run through veins. She was resilient and tough.

“Why do you always talk about those times, Granny?” I asked her one day as she started up on one of her yarns for the umpteenth time.

“Because they was the good old days, Lit’l Un.”

Good? How in the world could she describe them as good?

All she told me about was how poor they were, how they struggled, how getting through the day was sometimes a miracle of itself.

“How was that good?” I wanted to know.

“It just was. If you was breathin’ and on the other side of the ground, it was good.”

Her stories were woven around my grandfather serving in World War II, my uncle in Viet Nam. Mama, she said, made her proud because she had a job that was in an office and didn’t have to do the labor she had.
“You never tell her you are proud of her,” I said to her once. “That may make her feel better, you know.”

Granny stuck her chin out, not one to be chastised for anything. “She don’t need to know if I am proud of her or not; I am and that’s all that cussed matters.”

After over 20 years of hearing her stories, I started to tune them out or make her change the conversation. “You’ve told me this already, old woman,” I’d tell her.

“Yeah, well you ain’t listened, old gal,” she said in return.

How I’d love to hear her old stories again. The only thing close to it I have is, thankfully, a DVD my beloved cousin, Dotty, made of her talking and telling some of her stories to them.

I miss her stories and more importantly, I miss her common sense about the things that happened in the world around us. Especially lately, I’ve yearned for her comfort, for her wisdom, and for her just declaring that things would be OK and we would survive – meaning all of us – because that was the only choice we had.

It seemed like her focus was always about surviving, just surviving one thing from the next. How in the world could she consider those ‘good old days?’

I asked her that one day.

The question actually struck her speechless for a moment. “One day, you’ll understand. It ain’t about the little petty problems or any of this other junk. It’s about the moment, and being with family and friends. Don’t matter how much money you got, that stuff’s fleeting. It mattered about how much love.”

She had the ones she loved around her.

Maybe it was the good old days after all.

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.

Granny’s Way of Making Me Stronger (4/13/2016)

Granny often lamented that my generation was not made of tough stuff. She grew up during the Depression and said it taught her how to persevere and made her stronger.

“I don’t want to be stronger,” I told her. “I think this whole ‘struggling’ thing is over-rated.”

She snorted. “Yeah, you better get stronger than what you are or you gonna be a goner.”

Part of Granny’s innate strength building character meant she re-used everything she could; when I informed her she was environmentally conscientious when she reused Mason jars and tin foil, she rolled her eyes at me and replied, “My generation always was a little more worried about the environment than yours is – we depended on it to survive. To you’uns, it’s disposable like everything else.”

Of course, her homemade recycling system meant at any given time you could open her fridge to find 15 different Country Crock containers and open 11 before you finally found the margarine. The rest were leftovers she had forgot about re-serving because they weren’t labeled.

Not that there were many leftovers. Granny was not wasteful when she cooked and if she did cook extra, it was because it was going in something else – like cornbread for dressing, or roast beef for soup.

But sometimes, her ideas of things were a little odd.

“Like what?” Cole asked me.

Like the way the old gal would cook sausage for breakfast. I wasn’t sent off to school with a bowl of Fruity Pebbles, which I would have preferred. Nope, Granny got up and made sausage and homemade biscuits for us.

If there were any sausage left over, she put them on a plate on the back of the stove and left them there all day.

All day.

Not even covered up.

“Did you get sick?” Cole asked.

I can’t remember. As a fat kid, I usually ate a bunch of stuff that made me feel queasy on any given day – watermelon, ice cream and funnel cake did it one day; watermelon, ice cream and cat fish did it on another. Maybe it was the combination of watermelon and ice cream.

But I never once thought it had anything to do with Granny and her sitting-out-all-day sausage.

Come to think of it, Granny left a lot of things sitting out that probably could have darn well killed us.

She would make potato salad with onions and leave it out after Sunday dinner. No one realized it was the onions you needed to be concerned about.

Back then, people worried about the mayonnaise going bad and I told her as much.

“You’re trying to give us food poisoning,” was my actual statement.

“I ain’t trying no such of a thing. It is fit to eat.”

When I tried to throw away a can of pudding – chocolate, no less—because there was rust on the can, I received a stern admonishment. “That pudding is fine; the rust is on the outside.” I still didn’t trust the pudding.

“She’s gonna give us botulism,” I told Mama one day. “We’re gonna die from botulism.”

“Maybe not,” Mama said, not too sure herself.

When Botox came out rooted in botulism, Granny was the first to let me know. “See there; you just a-knew I was gonna kill you and it turns out rich folks are getting that stuff shot in their wrinkles to look younger. When you’re 40, you’ll be wishing you had ate that canned pudding!”

Now that I am in my 40’s, maybe I should have ate the pudding.

Mama called to warn me about yet another food recall the other day; this time, it was on what she calls, “those little trees.”

I assured her I didn’t buy broccoli.

“Oh, good,” she said. “I didn’t want y’all to get sick. I know you make broccoli slaw sometimes and I know how sensitive you are to things.  You try to keep up on those recalls don’t you? It seems like it is always on the stuff I know you get. You know, healthy stuff. Like spinach and stuff.”

I told her I tried to keep up with it but had to agree: it seemed like the healthier and more natural the stuff was, the sicker it made us. At least nowadays, anyway.

I used to worry about sausages and potato salad sitting out all day, covered with a dish towel for protection. I don’t recall getting sick off that but I can guarantee you I will check the recall alerts before I make a salad, a lesson I learned years ago, even though we didn’t get sick.

“You eating all that stuff didn’t kill you like you thought it would,” Granny told me one day when she learned how we survived the spinach recall. “I was just building up your immune system.”

Perhaps that was just Granny’s way of making me stronger after all.

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

Growing up Baptist, Lent was not something we did.

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

Don’t ask me why, I don’t know.

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

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

“I haven’t decided yet,” I said.

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

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

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

“Does it have to be food?” I asked.

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

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

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

I asked Granny about Lent later that week.

“We don’t do that,” was all she said.

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

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

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

“Why don’t we do it?”

“We’re Baptist.”

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

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

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

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

And I found out a little bit more about Lent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Coffee?”

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

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

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

And I hope I have.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You think that will work?”

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

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

“Why’s that?” she asked.

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

“What’s making it so hard?”

I sighed. How could I explain?

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

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

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

Probably make the rest of the year easier, too.

 

Handmade Love (2/17/2016)

“Do you know who Granny made these quilts for?” Mama asked one day.

She had been trying to go through some of Granny’s stuff and found some quilts that evidently Granny had not told her who they were for.

“No, she gave us all the ones she made for us,” I said.

Granny made the most gorgeous quilts, and took great pride in giving them to people she loved.

Countless hours went in each of her quilts and she took care to make one with the intended person’s favorite colors or pattern.

“Are you sure?” Mama questioned. “I don’t know who she could have made these for.”

I wasn’t sure either.

Then suddenly, I had a flashback.

It was sometime in the early 90s and Granny had been told about some craft festival.

What had piqued the old gal’s interest was that the person who mentioned it to her, told her she could set up a booth to sell her quilts, pillows and pillowcases.

“You can make some big money, Helen,” the person told her. “Probably more than you made in a week sewing at the Carwood.”

Now, Granny didn’t even make “tiny” money when she worked, but she was proud of it and stretched it to get a buggy full of groceries at the Piggly Wiggly with some left over to get me whatever I hadn’t begged out of Mama that week. So hearing the words “big money,” made Granny think she was going to hit the jackpot.

She was going to be rich.

She had visions of what she was going to do with that money – it involved new carpet and maybe even a new couch.

She was so excited she was almost pleasant.

Since she was told way in advance of the event, she sewed every day and finished two quilts – gorgeous quilts – and several pillows to match to sell.

She made extra pillows, in sets of two, in case anyone wanted to buy just the pillows.

She had enough to fill the trunk of her Oldsmobile by the time the event rolled around.

She paid $25 for her booth rental, which included her table and chair.

I had asked her if she wanted me to go with her and she declined, saying she didn’t want to make anyone else give up their Saturday.

Don’t think for one moment the old gal was being considerate; she was just scared she was going to have to spend some of her profits on getting me a funnel cake and a Coke.

The event was supposed to be all day; Granny was home by lunch.

“Did you sell out of everything?” I asked her, thinking that was the only way she would be home so soon.

Granny threw her purse on the couch and said a bad word.

“No! And I ain’t doing another one of those cussed things again!” she said.

“What happened?” Mama asked.

“I’ll tell you what happened,” Granny began. “I had my quilts set up, had my pillows out, and had my prices out there and had these people come up and ask me if I’d take less for them. I told one lady it wasn’t a dadblamed yard sale!”

She snorted in anger.

“Then, I had one lady tell me how pretty my quilt was, ask me if I sewed it by hand, how many hours was in it – then, she told me she could get a cheaper one at Walmart. So I snatched it out of her hands and told her to go see if she could find one at Walmart that was handmade!”

We felt so bad for her. She had poured so much love into making those quilts.

Not only had it helped keep her mind off my grandfather being sick, we knew she was terribly disappointed it had panned out as she hoped.

“Granny, if they can’t appreciate your quilts, then they don’t deserve them.” I meant it, too.

If someone couldn’t appreciate the time and work – and love – she put in one of her quilts, they didn’t deserve them.

She frowned.

“I ain’t doing that nonsense ever again. I coulda been in my garden instead of having someone try to get me to give away my work.”

Years passed and I tried selling a few on Ebay for her; no luck.

“Maybe I ain’t supposed to sell them,” she said one day. “Maybe I am supposed to give them to people who need them.”

“But Granny, if they need a quilt, they will just go buy one,” I said.

“Not one of these,” she said. “I put love in my quilts. My quilts are going to who needs that love; not who buys them.”

She may have been right.

She always felt like her quilts were almost magical and even told me whatever was dreamed under a new quilt would come true. When I tucked Cole in under one, I told him that little myth and he giggled himself to sleep.

“Could these maybe be for Cole?” Mama asked, interrupting my trip down memory lane.

“No, she gave Cole all the quilts she had made for him.”

She had made him a few full-size quilts for when he was grown, telling me to take care of them in the meantime.

“So I am guessing these were the ones she made and didn’t sell,” Mama said. “I don’t know what to do with them…”

I did.

“Put them up for me, Mama,” I said. “I want them.”

If they were made with my Granny’s handmade love, I knew the only place where they could go to be valued and that was with me.

http://www.dawsonnews.com/section/30/article/18562/

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

Like many others, I am a December baby.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Footy pajamas.

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

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

“You needed ‘em,” Granny would declare.

“I didn’t want them, though.”

The old gal would snort.

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

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

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

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

What about September? Labor Day.

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

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

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

“What do you mean, Kitten?”

“I got footy pajamas for my birthday.”

“And you looked adorable last night in them!”

That woman needed to cut back on the caffeine sometimes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because no one wants footy pajamas for their birthday.

“What was Thanksgiving like when you were a little girl?” Cole asked as I was making plans for this week.

“It was nice,” I said, before I gave it much thought.

“Just nice? Was it different in any way?”

What was different? I had to think. When we get caught up in our day to day busy-ness, we forget the moments that became traditions and memories.

My Thanksgiving began when it was still dark, as I wanted to get up as early as possible to enjoy the day. Granny had started cooking the night before when she got off work, and her turkey would already be a golden perfection, just waiting until we all ate.

I would sit in the den, listening to her humming in the kitchen and she would wrap me under a quilt, tucking the end under my feet to keep me warm.

“What do you want for breakfast?” she would ask.

I swear, the old gal was downright sweet when she was cooking. Something about being in the kitchen suited her soul.

“I don’t know,” I would say, knowing what she would offer.

“You want me to fix you a sandwich with the first slice of turkey?”

I would nod and minutes later, she returned with a sandwich of white bread generously coated with mayonnaise, salt, pepper and warm turkey.

“The parade will be on later,” she would tell me, turning on the TV.

Granny spent most of the day in the kitchen but it was worth it – she had homemade coconut and banana cakes; Mississippi mud cake; and sweet potato and chocolate pies. Two separate pans of dressing – one with onions and one without for me and my uncle Bobby.

It was a rare day during the week that I had all of my family home in the same time frame – Pop and Bobby were home, instead of working. Mama usually had worked the night before and with it being a holiday, she normally worked then as well, but she’d watch the parade with me.

Cousins, aunts and uncles would wander in throughout the afternoon to watch part of the football game or just visit.

To me, it was a perfect day.

I don’t even remember any Black Friday sales when I was a little girl – if there was, we didn’t go. Granny had the Sears Wish Book and that’s where she was doing her shopping.

Normally, we were still digesting the day after Thanksgiving.

It changed, when I met my ex, as I started celebrating Thanksgiving with his family.

I never realized how much I missed my own family’s celebration until I got older and things had changed so much it could never be re-created. And, just like that, everything was different.

It was a simple, idyllic time, surrounded by family, during an era free of fear and worry. The news was not filled with horrors or stories that make your heart ache. Or at least it wasn’t for me, because I was a child.

I didn’t know there were things in the world to fear.

How was my Thanksgiving different?

So much has changed in more than 30 years.

The world is such a different place now, a real life dichotomy that can be terrifying and full of hope at the same time. Things are so different now than when I was a little girl.

There’s a more hurried pace and the time together is so much shorter. We are lucky to just have Thanksgiving dinner with family now, those times of Thanksgiving spanning over several days are long gone.

But there we are, we find ourselves surrounded by those we love and are thankful for.

“Not much has changed,” I said, kissing his head. “It’s still a day we focus on all we are grateful for.”

Indeed, and we truly have so much.

http://www.dawsonnews.com/section/30/article/18312/

Just Put on Your Big Girl Britches (11/18/2015)

There’s one phrase that really irritates me.

It’s been said to me countless times, too, about all kinds of things.

“Just put on your big girl britches and deal with it.”

The first time I heard this phrase, I thought it was the height of rudeness.

How dare someone mention my britches – they were called ‘unmentionables’ for a reason.

Granny and Mama both always told me not to talk about those items in mixed company, meaning men and women – and Mama said there was really no reason to discuss them with anyone other than whoever was buying them for you.

So the first time someone told me to put on my big girl britches (and I call them britches – that other word that begins with a ‘p’ really makes me ill) I felt my checks burn with fire.

But that’s not the only reason the words big and girl preceding britches brings back some emotional bile.

No, the reason is much more deeply rooted in my psyche.

I was maybe about 8 or 9 years old; it’s hard to remember the age, as my early years are better marked by the level of how chubby I was.

There I was, quite the chunk and had outgrown my clothes. A steady diet of Little Debbie’s and Granny’s biscuits will do that to you.

Granny, ever being the frugal fashionista, took me to Sears one evening to find me some new pants. Or as she put it, “Big girl britches.”

I reckon when wearing corduroys becomes a fire hazard, it is time.

Sears in the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s was not exactly where kids went to buy clothes to fit in. No, it was a polyester province, speckled with bad plaids and things with funky collars. Granny searched the racks desperately trying to find something that would fit me.

Nothing. Not even something with an elastic waist – or as I called them then, comfortable pants.

No, there was nothing in the girls section that would fit me.

“They gotta have some big girl britches,” Granny muttered. “There’s other girls that are –” she stopped herself before she said it. “Your size.”

It didn’t faze me. I knew what she meant, but I wasn’t going to get upset with the Grand Biscuit Maker of all time. I just wanted to go and get a cookie somewhere.

But Granny was determined I was to get some big girl britches.

“Excuse me,” she shouted across the store at a clerk. “Do you have these britches in anything larger than Pretty Plus or Husky?”

To clarify Granny’s need, she pointed at me and hollered, “Something to fit this ‘un.”

Subtleness was not the old gal’s strong suit.

The clerk joined us at the rack and took an inventory of me. “I’m afraid we don’t have anything to fit her,” she said, apologetically. “You may want to shop in the women’s sizes and just have them hemmed.”

“Y’all ain’t got big girl britches?” Granny asked.

The lady took another glance at me. “No, I am sorry.”

Granny grunted and told the lady they needed to be able to accommodate customers of all sizes.

“Can I get my cookie now?” I asked Granny. One cookie wasn’t going to make a difference at this point.

She got me a cookie. And I think the old gal made me some elastic waist pants, and maybe had my Aunt Louise make me some, too. Not only was I embarrassed by not being able to wear the clothes my friends did, I had to have custom made big girl britches, complete with a stretchy waist.

That summer, Mama made me take tennis lessons.

So you see, being told to “put on my big girl britches and deal with it” has kind of a sore spot with me. As a child, my big girl britches were custom made because I had exceeded the size limits at Sears. Maybe JC Penny’s too, I can’t remember.

Telling a girl to put on her BGBs is really not empowering. It gives an image of a pants-less woman who’s not facing her responsibilities. She’s just sitting around…pants less.

Instead, we often are handling dozens of responsibilities, emergencies, and issues at once —and usually wearing heels and looking fabulous while we do it.

I don’t know too many women who don’t deal with whatever life throws their way. Sometimes, they don’t broadcast it; they just handle it and move on.

No putting on britches required.

The next time someone tells me to “put on my big girl britches and deal with it,” I think I am gonna just put on my heels instead and see what that does. Anything’s gotta better than britches.

God Bless the Child Who’s Got His Own (11/11/2015)

The last few weeks, I have been participating in a daily gratitude exercise.

I think I am grateful for what I have in my life but I am not going to lie – this exercise is sometimes a challenge.

Don’t get me wrong: I am immensely grateful for everything I have in my life. I have gentle, daily reminders of grace, but there are times I struggle with those feelings of want.

Our cabin is far too small and cramped. I want a bigger, newer house. I want to have more than one bathroom, for many reasons but the most selfish is so I can put on my makeup without someone knocking on the door telling me to hurry up.

I think of how my car is old and was used when I bought it. It’s small and it wasn’t the car of my choice– but it was what I could afford.

I think of all the things I want, and don’t have.

In other words, I am more focused on what I don’t want than what I do.

And I let petty little occurrences completely steal my joy.

I get disappointed about something and it ruins my day.

Again, it’s not because I am not grateful, because I am.

But I think I have that Depression-consciousness that came from Granny, who was grateful for what she had but also was scared to talk much about having anything out of fear of jinxing herself.

She was thankful once for getting some money and then turned around and had an unexpected expense come up. She just sighed and said she never could have what she wanted.

My uncle Bobby, ever believing he’s going to hit a jackpot, won $160 on a lottery ticket one day and gave half to his favorite – and only – niece. I was going to go to Ulta, to the bookstore, and maybe even the shoe store. I could stretch that money to the inth degree.

The next day, my car battery was dead and needed to be replaced.

I was deflated.

“Story of my life, old gal,” Granny said. “I get some unexpected money, and unexpected bill comes up. I can’t get ahead.”

Of course, that didn’t help; I had always been told Granny and I were just alike.

“Maybe consider it a blessing you had that money to begin with,” Mama said to balance out Granny’s negative spin. “Maybe that’s why Bobby was led to give it to you – to pay for that battery.”

Perhaps, but it was a huge disappointment to me. I had been so excited and was looking forward to going shopping with some ‘mad money.’

Flash forward through the rest of my adult life and just like Granny, I was thankful and grateful but had an underlying sense of fear of losing what little I had.

“I worried about my GPA in college, I made good grades, and I am not scared to work hard; I don’t know why I am not a flippin’ millionaire, Mama,” I cried one day.

She didn’t know what to tell me, other than she wasn’t sure either. She wondered herself.

“Granny and Pop worked hard, too, Kitten,” she said softly.

I knew what she meant. They worked hard, too, and neither were close to being a millionaire.

“Remember what Barry told you about Granny though? Maybe that is how we are supposed to live.” Mama was referring to how a family friend who had known Granny all his life described her, saying, “She was not wealthy by earthly means, but you never knew it the way she loved. She loved generously and deeply.”

True. If the old gal wasn’t wanting to shoot you, she loved you.

There was no in-between.

“I know, Mama,” I said, still wallowing in the deep pool of self-mire. “I just thought for sure, I would be a millionaire by now, given how hard I work.”

I was in one of those funks that neither Mama nor chocolate could pull me from.

These funks come and go over the years, too.
After a few years of not being able to get Cole nearly what he wanted for Christmas, I have started shopping a little bit earlier, even if he sees it.

“Why are you starting so early?” he asked me a few weeks ago as ghosts and goblins were still on display.

“Because, baby,” was my reply.

My child is able to pick up on my moods and sensed there was something deeper. “Why, Mama? Are you OK?”

“Yes,” I assured him, seeing his worried face. “I just, I-” I searched for words.
“Last year I waited almost too late to get your stuff and everything was almost gone — that was a huge disappointment for you. And there’s been a few years your gifts were not that great.”

There had been a few years, his gifts were pretty lean and skimpy to be truthful.

“I just want to be able to get you stuff you want and like, is all. If I was rich, I could get you everything but since I am not, I am getting you a little bit as I can.”

He looked up at me, his face wrinkled in only the confusion pure childlike innocence can invoke. “Oh, sweet girl,” he said. “Don’t you see how rich we are? We have a house, we have three dogs who love us, we have a car, a van, and I have tons of toys. I’ve never not liked anything I got at Christmas – each year has been perfect and the best Christmas ever.

We have food to eat, clothes to wear, and a roof over our heads. If we went and asked people in other countries, they would think we were millionaires! But don’t you see how rich we really are? We’ve just got to be thankful for it…”

And, just like that, my heart was full.