Jesus and a Moon-Pie

Vacation Bible School was a chore.

Before you get all high and mighty on me, let me explain.

Granny, being in close connection to the one and only God the Father Almighty as well as the preacher, took it upon herself to take a week of vacation every year during VBS so she could serve.

Or, as she put it, make sure no one messed up her Sunday School room where she ruled the nursery.

So, for a week every summer my mornings or afternoons, whenever VBS was scheduled, were spent at the church at the crossroads.
I always thought Granny had some special authority at the church because if we got there before anyone else did, she knew where the key was and would let us in to get things ready.

We’d enter the building with a hallowed reverence to walk towards the stairs down to the fellowship hall so Granny could start surveying what snacks they had and what they needed.
Not only did she run the nursery, which she truly did for a number of decades, but Granny thought herself the overseer of the church kitchen.

And just like her kitchen at home, she would fuss and complain if anything was out of place or not as well stocked as she thought it should be.

“Why are you so worried?” I asked her every time.

“Because,” was her answer. “We gotta have enough food for all the children. It’s important.”

I thought it was kind of silly. Don’t get me wrong; I was never one to turn down a snack, but I thought she was being a bit strident about the whole thing.

But Granny knew it mattered because we didn’t just have our regular kids; we had kids that had never been to our church before and this was their first impression of us.

Lots of kids showed up that we never saw again.

They didn’t come to Sunday School, didn’t ever come back for church.

They just arrived and were later picked up in a car by someone who never got out to introduce themselves or speak to the people their kids had been with all day.

I didn’t understand it.

When I got older, I started questioning why these kids appeared for a week, sometimes, a little dirty, sometimes, acting like this was their sole summer entertainment.

And when it was time for snack, some lingered, eyeing the table wanting to ask for seconds.

The snacks were not that great but when you’re a kid, a cookie is still a cookie.

There were plates loaded down with those vanilla-chocolate fake Oreos that came a million to a pack for fifty cents, some kind of tasteless rectangular coconut one, and some soft, slightly stale chocolate chip cookie that seemed like a prize. To wash them down, we had orange Hi-C or gallon jugs of grape Kool-Aid.

And Granny let them have as much as they could eat.

One day, a scruffy child approached the table with a wary eye and demanded to know where the Moon-Pies were.

A Moon-Pie?

Did he think we had a secret stash of good treats somewhere?

Granny told him we didn’t have Moon-Pies but we did have some mighty fine cookies and asked if she could fix him a plate.

He frowned, very disturbed by the lack of marshmallow cookies.

“My mama told me there’d be Moon-Pies; thems my favorites,” he said. “I don’t like these cookies. I gots these at home.”

Granny nodded slowly. I was waiting for her to explode as she normally did, but for some reason she didn’t.

The next morning on the way to the church, she stopped at The Store (yup, that was the name of Mr. Gambrel’s establishment – The Store; it regularly held “Going Out FOR Business Sales,” too) and bought a Moon-Pie. She never said a word as to why, but I suspect she gave it to that child that had been so vocal about the snacks.

“Should we let someone we don’t know come into our church? They don’t even want to come here,” I complained one summer.

Granny took a deep breath as she tried to explain.

Some of those kids were coming to learn about Jesus and the Lord.

Some were coming to be loved.
Some were coming to eat and be in air conditioning.

And Granny, as judgemental as she could be – and God help me, I can be just like her – told me with a quickness it didn’t matter why they were there. We were going to do what we were preaching all week and we were going to love them and be good to them.

I was shocked.

Here she was, the meanest, strictest woman I knew, and she was telling me to go out there and show all those children some kindness.

I see the signs littering the sides of the roads now, letting people know the upcoming dates of VBS at all the area churches. Each one with a different theme, but all hoping to do the same thing – the opportunity to give children a little bit of Jesus for a few days.

And if they are lucky, a cookie or maybe even a Moon-Pie.  

The missing ingredient

“Old woman, I cannot read your recipe,” is how I began many a phone call to Granny after I moved away.

“What does it say, old gal?” she would ask.

“I don’t know. You have the worst penmanship I have ever seen.”

“Maybe if you had paid attention when I was making it, you wouldn’t need the recipe,” she commented.

I sighed.

Granny’s idea of baking would probably drive modern day bakers and chefs crazy.

She didn’t really use measuring cups or spoons, preferring to eyeball her ingredients, a cardinal sin in baking.

“You are supposed to use exact measurements,” I told her once.

She gave me a sideways glance and ignored my comment.

When I married, I wanted to have her best recipes with me so I could continue some of her traditions, so I asked her to write them down.

“No.”

“What?”

“You heard me. I said no. I ain’t giving you my recipes. They mine.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“They mine. I ain’t writing them down. I ain’t never wrote ‘em down – someone could steal ‘em that way. And I ain’t about to start either.”

Steal her recipes? Did she not know that people could find recipes for things practically anywhere? To Granny, her recipes were sacred and top secret; surely no one else could be trusted with the power to make a biscuit.

Still, I was shocked. Was she really not going to share her recipes with me?

Maybe I should have wrote it down when I was with her, but it never occurred to me that she would not me give a recipe.

I also was a little hurt. Granny had been the one who taught me how to cook, standing me in a chair beside her or sitting me on the table as she sifted flour, patted out biscuits, or mixed cake batter. How could she take away something so precious she and I had always bonded over?

“One. You can have one,” she announced one day.

“One what?”

“One recipe of mine. Choose wisely.”

I felt like Indiana Jones being told to choose the cup that was the Holy Grail in the Last Crusade.

I thought about it for a minute.

“I want your biscuit recipe,” I said.

“What? Are you kidding me? You’ve been making biscuits with me since you were three; if you don’t know how to make biscuits 20 years later, you don’t need to be in the kitchen. Choose another one.”

“But I can’t remember what you put in them,” I said earnestly. Everyone raved about her biscuits; I wanted rave-worthy biscuits, too.

She frowned, partly in disappointment that I could not remember and partly in the fact she was conceding her own rule and going to give me two recipes.

“Alright, I will give you the biscuit one, too, but it is so simple it is ridiculous,” she said. “What else do you want?”

I thought a little longer. I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle her coconut cake recipe; that involved too many steps. Things like pot roast or her golden fried chicken were not at the top of my list either. I wanted something that when I made it, people proclaimed it tasted just like Helen’s.

“Your chocolate pound cake recipe,” I declared brazenly.

She inhaled sharply. “You want me to write all that down?”

I nodded.

“Alright. I will. But it’s gonna take some time. I ain’t even got it wrote down; I just do it from memory, something you should be able to do.”

“That’s the one I want, Granny,” I said.

She nodded. “And that’s the one you will get.”

A few days later, the smell of the chocolate pound cake permeated the house and she handed me two index cards, one smudged with chocolate.

“I had to make one, so I’d know what all I put in it,” she said. “Don’t you go being like that woman that sold that high-dollar cookie recipe. You sell my recipes and I will sue you.”

Gleefully, I tucked the cards into my purse for safe keeping and went to eat the fruits of her labor.

It wasn’t until about a month later, when I pulled them out that I noticed something was missing.  I called her.
“Old woman, this makes no sense.”

“It should make perfect sense.”
“Well, it doesn’t,” I protested. “You only have flour, Crisco, and water or milk. No measurements.”

“It depends on how many biscuits you want to make. You should know that part. Now I gotta go, the Wheel is on, but you call me back if you need to. At 7:30.”

The next day I called her to tell her the dough did not turn out right.

 “You gotta get your hands in the dough,” Granny said.

“That’s gross,” I protested.

“You want biscuits? You gotta get your hands in there. Did you ever see me mix dough with a spoon? No, you gotta get your hands a little dirty if you want to cook.”

It took me a few tries – and several phone calls and a reminder from Granny about her super top-secret biscuit trick she omitted off the recipe – but soon, I was a biscuit baking master.

I should have known if she called that recipe easy her chocolate pound cake one would be a doozy.

Every time I made her cake, it involved staying on the phone with Granny.

“I couldn’t read a word the woman wrote,” I told Mama. “And what I could read, I couldn’t understand. She had just ‘cocoa powder’ or ‘butter’ but didn’t put down how much.”

Mama laughed softly. “Well, Kitten, if Granny used butter, more than likely it was one of two measurements: the whole stick or the whole pound. For a cake, go with a pound, just to be safe.

“And her leaving off the actual measurements was just her way of making you have to call her every time you made it so she would talk to you.”

“Yeah,” I said, finally understanding some of the Redhead Prime’s stubbornness.

Granny kept me in the kitchen with her just a little bit longer.

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The Christmas Slippers

By some small grace of frivolity, Mama has always believed Christmas gifts should not be practical.

It was the one time a year when one could ask for something a bit expensive and not feel bad for doing so.

Of course, she would often remind me,this did not mean I was going to get everything on my list, which included $100 Guess jeans, Members Only jackets, and 20 cassette tapes, mostly featuring Madonna.

“I am not buying you anything Madonna,” she would say, “Christmas or not.”

Outside of the Material Girl, Mama would try to get me the rest.

“You spoiling her,” Granny would protest. “When I was growing up, we got an orange. That’s what we got. Citrus. One a piece. You getting her britches that cost more than we spent on groceries in two months. Maybe three.”

Mama would ignore her, and gently state that times were different now and Christmas was supposed to be special.

My uncle, always looking for a way to play a prank on me, decided one year to give me the most practical gift of all: he wrapped a 24-roll pack of toilet paper, putting the biggest bow he could find on the package as he sat it under the tree.

“You will use this every day,” he promised.

“I will?” I asked, eyeing the big package.

“Oh, you will. And it will be something that you will be in a fix if you are ever without it.”

He laughed to the point of soundlessness when he saw my reaction as I peeled the paper back.

“You got me toilet paper!” I cried.

“It’s 2-ply and cushioned!” was his response.

“That’s a great gift,” Granny declared. “Wish I had thought of it!”

Mama shook her head. “Next year, give him a four pack of Dial and see how he likes it,” she suggested.

I did.

Problem was, he liked it.

While everyone else in our house was thrilled with packages of socks, toilet paper, and practical, everyday items presented in shiny paper and wrapped with a bow, Mama held fast to her belief that Christmas should be reserved for special gifts.

“Christmas is about Jesus, not about getting some ridiculously overpriced perfume,” Granny chastised one day.

“I know it is about Jesus, Mama,” my own mother said. “But even the wise men brought the baby frankincense and myrrh; not exactly practical gifts and quite pricey perfumes, if you ask me.”

Granny grunted. “You got a smart answer for everything, don’t you?”

Mama did.

And Mama believed in gifts that hailed Chanel, Lauder, and Lancome – and didn’t bat an eye when the sales person gave her the total.

“Mama, wouldn’t you like some poof?” she asked Granny one day. “It would be nice for you to have a pretty bottle sitting on your dresser.”

“Jean, I work in a sewing plant. What am I gonna do with some high falutin’ bottle of poof sitting around gathering dust? I ain’t gonna wear it.”

“You could wear it on Sundays.”

Granny frowned. “I ain’t gonna let you spend a lot of money on something I will wear one day a week. That’s foolishness. It will sour before I use it all.”

“No, it won’t,” Mama protested.

“It will, too. Don’t you get me any poof.”

“Then what do you want?” Mama asked.

“What ya mean?” Granny wasn’t used to someone asking her what she wanted. She was used to being given something and told to appreciate it because that was all she was going to get.

“What do you want for Christmas, Mama? I will get you whatever you want.”

Granny thought about this for a longtime. She needed a new stove but wouldn’t dare ask anyone else to get it for her.

She wanted a new fridge, but the old one was fine; she was old enough, she would say, for her wants not to hurt her.

After a day or two of ruminating over what would be an acceptable gift, she approached my Mama with her request.
“I want some bedroom slippers,” she said.

“Bedroom slippers?”

“Yep, bedroom slippers. I want the booty kind, so my feet will be warm all over, and I’d like them to be a pretty color. I ain’t never seen a red one but if they do, that’s what I’d like. If not, don’t get me no pink. I’d rather have blue.”

“Ok,” Mama replied.
“You got all that?” Granny asked unsure.
Mama nodded. “Yes, booty bedroom slippers, preferably red. If not, blue; no pink.”

“Good.”
“But Mama, why bedroom slippers?”

Granny sighed. “It’s the one thing I need and want, that I always forget to get for myself. And if I do, I feel bad spending too much on them. So, if you want to get me something all fancy, get me some fancy bedroom slippers.”

It was a practical gift, which Granny liked, but she felt like at Mama’s request, she could get the booty kind.

And for every year, until 2015, we got the old gal bedroom slippers.

I asked Mama the other day what she wanted for Christmas.
“Any makeup? Lancome? Some Chanel Mademoiselle?”

 “You know what I really want?”

“What?”

“Bedroom slippers,” she said. “The booty kind.”

And bedroom slippers she’s getting.

Granny on my shoulder

Granny’s voice has been a familiar refrain throughout my life, and even more so now that she has passed away.

There are many days where her words of wisdom echo in my head, giving me direction into whatever situation I am facing.

Being able to call her for advice is something I sorely took for granted and it is something that I miss, oftentimes reaching for the phone with questions about what to substitute in a recipe, what to give Cole for a cough, or how to best handle a situation.

Oftentimes, her words were full of sage counsel, as she offered instruction and guidance from her decades of experience.

“Use cold water when making biscuits,” she would remind me. “Your dough will be tough if you don’t.”

“Keep all your receipts; you never know when you’ll need them.”

“Don’t open the oven door so much; you’ll make your cakes fall in the middle.”

She was full of hints and helpful tips to help me navigate all the twists and turns life threw at me.

As much as she was full of guidance, she also imparted a certain amount of sass and vinegar.

“If they gonna talk, give them something to talk about.”

“Don’t worry about what they think; you and God is a majority.”

She was the salt of the earth and sometimes, spoke the truth even if it was unpopular.

And there was no talking behind someone’s back.

No, Granny, the Helen Prime in the family preferred to speak directly to the person’s face.

“I wanna make sure there was no misunderstanding in my message,” she told a poor soul once after delivering her diatribe. “And when something is delivered by a rumor mill, the message may get watered down. I’d hate for you to not know exactly how I felt.”

I can’t even remember who the person was but remember the gasp they took at her words.

No, Granny was full-strength, non-diluted truth and righteousness in her delivery.

Her acrimonious nature skipped her children, with her daughter trying to be a paragon of gracious kindness.

Mama balanced out Granny’s bluntness with a gentler approach and response.

Both influenced me as I grew up but, for good or for bad, it was Granny I have turned out the most like.

I know what she would say so well, it is like I can hear her running commentary as if she were still alive.

“Do you remember the cartoons with the devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other?” I asked Mama one day.

“Yes,” she replied.

“That’s how I feel sometimes,” I said. “Granny’s on one shoulder, you’re on the other.”

“Which one am I?” she asked.

“You really have to ask?”

She should know if anything, Granny would be the one encouraging me to go ahead and say something whether it needed to be said or not.

When a discussion takes a very heated turn, Mama’s voice is the one encouraging me to find a peaceful compromise or to maybe bow out. “Not everything deserves a response,” she would say.

Granny’s voice is always rooting for the opposite. “They are wrong and need to be corrected,” Granny would say.  “If you don’t correct ‘em, you are just as wrong as they are. Set ‘em straight.”

On a recent trip home, I told Mama how Granny’s influence was still pretty solid, with her strong opinions trickling into my perspective from time to time.

“I miss her, even if she was sometimes a bit much,” Mama said. “At least you always knew where you stood with her.”

Yes, you did. It didn’t matter who you were either; she was an equal opportunity fusser outer.

When I left, Cole and I went to the mall in Athens, a place I hadn’t visited in a number of years.

“There’s the cookie place you said you and Granny used to go to,” my child commented.

“Yes, we need to get a cookie before we go,” I said.

The warm smell of cookies baking always lured Granny in, but she had, in her words, a love hate relationship with that cookie place.

Once, as the girl behind the counter approached her to take her order, she wiped her nose with the palm of her hand. “What would you like?” the girl had asked.

“For you to wash your dadblamed hands and put on some gloves before you get me my cookies,” Granny replied.

Another time, Granny had some sticker shock when she was given her total.

“For that price, I could have gone to the store and bought the ingredients to make several dozen cookies,” she protested. “Maybe even made a down payment on the cow for the milk.”

“Do you not want the cookies?” the girl asked confused. No one had probably fussed about the price of cookies before.

“Yes, I want the cussed cookies; I promised my husband I was gonna get him some. But this is ridiculous what you charge for them!”

The girl blinked. “I don’t charge this personally. It is just what corporate tells us to price them at…”

Granny knew that; she was just going to complain to whoever was closest.

Getting cookies at the mall as we left was a tradition with Granny, just as getting a pretzel and lemonade was with Mama. We had already had the pretzels.

So, there we were, getting two cookie sandwiches with a thick layer of frosting as filling.

Two cookies mind you.

The girl gave me the total.

Suddenly, I could hear Granny fussing loud and clear.

“Ma’am? Did you hear me?” the girl asked.

What would Granny say? I thought to myself.

Whatever it is, for once, I decided to just keep my mouth shut.

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.”

Success is paved by a nagging Mama

About a year or so ago, there was a scientific study released that determined nagging mothers raised highly successful daughters.

I am not sure where they got their study pool or what they used as their definition of “nagging,” but I would like to declare myself an outlier to this study.

If nagging had anything to do with it, I would be the Queen of the Universe. Or at the very least, CEO or Grand Poo-bah of something magnificent.

I had a double dose of nagging from both my crazy redheads.

Between the two of them, I had all my bases covered.

Granny had her own subjects to nag me about.

There had better not be any pre-made cake mixes in my cabinets and biscuits didn’t come in a can.

Thankfully, the old gal didn’t nag about housework. She hated it herself and stated matter-of-factly that she was allergic, so I didn’t have to worry about that.

“But you ought to make your bed in the morning,” she stated one day, casting a glance towards mine.

“Why? I am just gonna get back in it later.”

She grunted at me. “That logic makes no sense. Make your dang bed. Smart people make their bed after they get up.”

Where she heard this, I don’t know. Since then, it has been heralded as some indicator of success by some noted people. I am sure if she was alive, she would take credit for stating it first.

Iron your clothes, wear a slip, break in your shoes before you wear them were other nag-full reminders I received.

Sit up straight, sit like a lady, don’t smack your gum, say thank you – did you say thank you?

Call your mother when you go somewhere. Call your mother when you get home. If you don’t want to call your mother, let someone know where you’re going and expecting to be home.

Along with: do your homework and don’t wait until the last minute to do it. Chances are, you may run into an issue and need more time. Don’t miss a class, don’t count on someone else’s notes, and do your work well the first time. Measure twice, cut once.

Both of them drilled this into my head constantly.

When Mama drove me nuts, I went to Granny for coffee and sympathy.

She just gave me coffee.

“She’s trying to raise you right, lit’l un,” she told me. “And it is taking both of us to do it.”

“Did you nag her like this?” I cried.

Granny sipped her coffee. “I did. I tried to. She’s stubborn – that’s where you get it from.”
I am not so sure about that, I think stubborn is a genetic trait in the women in my family along with the freckles.

“She didn’t listen to me, just like you don’t listen to either one of us,” she continued. “Your mama is incredibly smart, she just always thought she was smarter than me or your grandfather and could do her own thing. She could be running AT&T if she had of listened to me.”

No doubt if a nagging mother could nag her daughter all the way to success, Mama could have been a telecommunication maven. But she didn’t really aspire to that. When she was offered a new position, she turned it down because it would have meant a longer commute or a move, and less time with me. The success was right within her reach, but, Mama was happy where she was.

I wish I knew what that was like. I am always feeling that restless spirit that things could, should be better than they are.

Anytime I complain about life not being the way I want it to be, Mama loves to remind me it could have been – had I only heeded her nagging.

“This is when I should maybe tell you I told you so,” she will say not so gently. “But you never listen to me or do what I tell you. If you had, there’s no telling where you’d be now. You probably would be a millionaire and retired.”

I let out a deep sigh.

She always thinks if I had only listened to her, I would be a millionaire.

Maybe she’s right.

If that study was any indication, I should be a millionaire made over, have an empire to rival Oprah’s, and maybe own my own small country.

I find myself nagging my son now, telling him some of the same things I received as a child.
Make your bed, read something new every day, say thank you – did you say thank you?

What are you going to be when you grow up? An engineer? You sure you don’t want to be a lawyer?

He sighs. “I know, Mama, you don’t have to stay on me about this.”
“Yes, I do, too,” I say. “If I had listened to Mama, there’s no telling how different my life would be right now.”

He rolls his eyes – where does he get that eye-rolling from? Oh, right. Me.

I pray he never tells Mama that little tidbit. She will never let me live it down.

A nagging mother leads to successful daughters; I wonder what the outcome is with nagging mothers and sons.

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.

A Granny-sized void

Someone commented the other day that they didn’t realize Granny had passed away.
“She did. Four years ago, on the 11th of March,” I replied.

“You still talk about her like she is still here,” they said.

It dawned on me that maybe I do.

And there’s times, believe me, that it feels like the old gal is still with me.

I told Mama it was as if she had been so much larger than life that her presence still lingered.

Mama agreed. “There’s days it doesn’t feel like she’s gone and some days, the void is all around,” she said.

A void.

That’s what it was.

She had filled such a huge part of my life, that now there was an emptiness.

Part of this gaping hole was due to my own stubbornness and grudge-holding the last few years she was alive.

“I do believe you were both equally to blame on that,” Mama said gently when I told her how I felt. “Granny was angry because you moved to the mountains and not home. She thought you were moving here. I thought you were moving here. And when you didn’t, she thought being angry was the best way to deal with it. You were her favorite person in the world.”

I didn’t feel that way when she passed away.

But growing up, she was my biggest fan and strongest ally, even when I feared her the most.

On Saturday mornings, she had been up for hours by the time I woke, cleaning and getting things done so we could go ‘loafing’ as she called it.

This just meant we went grocery shopping and to her mother’s house in Bold Springs, where the smell of fresh hay bales drifted through the house as I sat on the old metal sliding swing on the wrap around porch.

When I got older, Granny was often the one chauffeuring around an Oldsmobile full of teenage girls around, getting us pizza, burritos and junk food for low-budget horror movie binges.

She never complained.

If anything, she loved it.

She loved having a house full of laughter and squeals, no matter how late we stayed up.

If Mama was shushing us and telling us to go bed, Granny was the one sneaking down the hall to watch videos with us.
“I think Roger’s the cutest,” she would whisper as we watched Duran Duran videos.

“I like Nick,” I said.
She looked at me. “Of course you do, he’s got on the most makeup.”

After I got my driver’s license, Mama reneged on letting me drive her car.

“You promised!” I cried.

“I had no idea on God’s green earth you would pass!” was her reply.

In all teenage drama, I flung myself across my bed and cried.

Granny came in there to comfort me.

“You can take my car anytime you need to,” she said.

Granted, she didn’t know I put her car and our family friend who was teaching me how to drive in a ditch a few months earlier.

“I want my own car, Granny. I am just going to drive to school and home. That’s it.”

A few hours later, a car pulled down the driveway.

Granny and Pop had gone to town and bought me a beige ’77 Chevy Nova.

“I still have to pay for it,” Mama said as I squealed my thanks to my grandmother.

“I wouldn’t have got it if it hadn’t been for Granny,” I said.

“Darn right about that!” Mama replied.

Even though that car was far from perfect – she had to make me a cushion so I could see over the steering wheel – it was mine and my grandmother had made sure I got it.

During most of my teenage years, if it ticked my Mama off, Granny seemed to be the biggest supporter of it.

When I had Cole, she stayed with me for two weeks to help me figure out this whole motherhood thing.

The day she was leaving, I begged her to stay.
“Please, Granny, we have an extra bedroom. Please. I am not going to know what to do.”

“Oh, you’ve got it figured out,” she said simply. “You just needed to rest and get acclimated to having a baby.”
She made it sound like it was no big deal, but she had helped a lot. She cooked breakfast every morning and did laundry and swept. Keep in mind, she was 83 at the time.

Of course, she had called everyone, including the church to make sure no one had usurped her throne as president of her Sunday school class to announce she was seeing after her great-grandson for two weeks.
“Y’all put that in the bulletin,” she ordered over the phone. “Don’t y’all even think of moving any of the chairs around in the Sunday school room. I mean it. But y’all make sure everyone knows I’ve got a great-grandson.”

I was telling Mama all of this the other day.
“She was proud of him. She was proud of you,” Mama said.

“She never told me that,” I said.

“She didn’t have to tell you, Kitten. She told everyone else.”

Granny, the little redhaired girl out of a slew of children, had spent all of her life, wanting to be special to someone. She wanted to be the best at something and to have recognition, like we all do. But she had never really got that from her own mother. So, sometimes, her methods of getting that recognition may not have been the best way to go about it. But she had tried to give me the very things she didn’t have, the best way she could.

“I hope when I am gone one day, you will remember everything I have done for you,” she said one day, so many years ago.

And I do. Every single bit of it, I do.

 

The (super)power of common sense

Granny always considered common sense a rare, priceless thing.

“You got book learning,” she told me one day. “I ain’t so sure about the common sense yet.”

“Isn’t book learning good?” I asked.

“It depends on what you are doing in life,” she said. “Look at this one,” she gestured towards my Mama as she stood at the stove.

“This one is real smart when it comes to the books. Likes to act all fancy-pants smart-alecky about things. And look at her. She can’t boil a hot dog to save her life.”

Sure enough, Mama had boiled the water out of the pot and was trying to unstick the burned carcass of whatever parts the animal could live without from the bottom.

“She ain’t got no common sense,” Granny muttered.

I thought she was being horribly unfair towards my Mama.

Granted, the younger redhead was and still is slightly naïve about some things, but I didn’t think it was necessarily a matter of not having common sense.

It was more like she was easily distracted and, maybe she didn’t pay attention like she should sometimes.

I told Granny I thought she was being awfully mean towards Mama, to which I was promptly met with a grunt.

“Well, we’ll see. If you was in an emergency situation, who would you want? Me, or Miss Marketing Degree over there?”

Considering Granny made Clint Eastwood look weak, that was a pretty easy answer. But still – it felt unfair. Mama had many traits that were just as useful, just as important.

“She’s real smart,” Granny commented one day about someone.

I could tell by her pause, she was wanting me to take the bait and ask her to elaborate.  I never liked to give in to her when she did that, so I didn’t ask.

“Don’t you wanna know how she’s smart?” she asked.
“Not really,” I answered.

Granny snorted. “Probably because it don’t involve stuff you think is smart.”
She had made her stance real clear.

Granny put a high prize on common sense, lavishly praising those who had it.

Book smarts, she figured, wasn’t really something that had a purpose at times.

Yet, this is the same woman that had a full-grown, adult size hissy fit when I made my first B — in Geometry.

“How in the sam hill did you make a B in Geometry?” she yelled.

“I just did,” I said. Actually, I was proud of that B. I earned that B.

“Jean, what do you think of this?” she asked.
“I think if she did the best she could, I am fine with it.”

“Well of course you are,” Granny said sarcastically. “If you had a lick of sense you’d know she needs to get a good education, so she can get a job. You don’t get good educations making B’s.”

“I think I failed Geometry and I have a good job,” Mama said quietly.

I was confused.

Granny thought you had to get a good education to get a good job? What about all of that common-sense stuff she preached and praised all the time?

“Your grandmother wanted to go to college,” Mama said gently when I asked.

“But back then, girls didn’t. They quit school early to work the farm and take care of their younger siblings. That’s what happened to Granny. She wanted to be a nurse and couldn’t. So instead of learning about medicine and how to take care of people, she did the best she could with what she had. And that was understanding how the world works a bit better than most.”

“She seems to think we aren’t too bright in the common sense department,” I said.

“It’s her way of trying to toughen us up,” Mama said. “I think you have plenty of common sense; Granny thinks you do, too, she just doesn’t brag on you to you. She brags to everyone else though.”

She didn’t think Mama had common sense and that still bothered me.

“It’s OK,” Mama assured me. “I am smart in other ways, and it may not be something Granny appreciates but that’s fine.”

Mama could do just about anything with a computer when I was younger; she worked on one all day, after all. But, she also had a car engine explode because she didn’t know you were supposed to change the oil every now and then.

One afternoon, Cole sighed and stated he wanted to be smarter. This came after reading about Tesla.

“Cole, you are extremely smart.”

“You keep saying that,” he said. “I think you are blinded by the mom-goggles you wear. I just want to be really, really smart – Tesla smart — and am worried I am not as smart as I want to be.”
“Well, the good thing is, you can learn more and expand your knowledge base,” I told him. “There’s always measures you can take to increase your knowledge which translates to feeling smarter. But I think you have something that is far greater than just book smarts.”

“What’s that?” he said, not exactly convinced.
“You have common sense,” I said. “Trust me. It’s not something everyone else has. But you have both.”

He frowned, not liking my answer.

I didn’t think he would.

Common sense seems basic and ordinary, when truth be told, it’s darn near a super power.

But maybe it befalls a lucky few. Even if it sometimes skips a generation.

Don’t tell Mama

I learned quite early, certain things you just didn’t need to tell Mama.

Not just my Mama, mind you, but mamas in general.

‘Cause even my Mama was scared of hers.

One afternoon as we came through town, Mama wasn’t paying attention as closely as she should have and ran through a red light.

“Mama!” I cried, expecting the police to appear out of nowhere to arrest her.

“Shhh,” she quieted me. “That light changed too quickly on me. It didn’t even turn yellow.”

I wasn’t sure of the facts; I was just in shock my Mama broke the law.

“Are you going to go to jail?” I asked her.

“No. I would just get a ticket,” she said. She was worried though, I could tell. More than likely, she had been trying to find her cigarettes and hadn’t realized she was approaching the light.

“You sure you not going to go to jail?” I asked. I only got $3 a week allowance; I didn’t know if it would be enough to bail the redhead out or not.

“I’m not, Kitten,” she said. “But, do me a favor, OK?”

“OK.”
“Don’t tell Granny.”
“Why?” That was my favorite question for everything and this time, it was a very important one. Was Granny secretly a cop?

“Just don’t.”
“But why?”

Mama frowned. Why couldn’t I just do as I was asked?

“Because, I don’t want to get in trouble. And, she doesn’t need to know everything.”

Now, I didn’t want my Mama to get in trouble. Especially not with Granny.

But what I couldn’t understand was my Mama feared her.

Wasn’t she a grown up?

I never intended to tell on her, truly.

The slip just came out in conversation with Granny one day.

“Your Mama did what?”

Uh oh. I knew I had snitched and I felt awful about it.

“Jean!”

Oh, dang.

The tongue lashing that followed was fierce. I felt sorry for Mama and slightly embarrassed. She was in her mid-40’s and I think she was grounded.

“Why did you tell her?” she asked me.
“It was a mistake, I didn’t mean to,” I said truthfully.

It didn’t matter though; the damage was done.

A few days later, Pop broke something.
“Don’t tell your Granny,” he said, hiding the evidence.

Before I could promise I wouldn’t, he added, “And I mean it. Don’t throw me under the bus like you did your own mama. That was wrong, child. Wrong.”

I didn’t make the same mistake twice and Pop was in the clear.

No one needed to endure Granny’s wrath.

“Did she get this upset when you did something wrong as a child?” I asked Mama.

“When I was little, I would rather take a whooping than listen to her fuss,” Mama said. “It may have hurt but it was over a lot quicker.”

I could see that. Sometimes, you’d think Granny was done giving you what-for, and then she would catch another wind and come back from Round 2.

Unlike Granny’s personal brand of fire and brimstone, Mama’s weapon is the incessant worry.

After I had given Cole some soup and Tylenol and told him to rest, I gave him one firm instruction: Don’t tell Nennie.

“Why can’t I tell my grandmother I am not feeling well?” he asked.

“Because,” I said. “Trust me.”
I am sure he didn’t mean to disclose to his beloved Nennie, just as I had not meant to tell Granny all those years before, but the next thing I knew, he was handing the phone to me.
“Nennie wants to talk to you,” he said.

“What is wrong with him? What are his symptoms? Have you taken his temperature? What did you give him? Does he have a rash? Does he have an appetite? What was the last thing he ate before he started feeling bad?”

This is just a sampling.

The barrage of worry-laden questions goes on for about 20 minutes.

She follows up by texting me every 10 minutes afterwards to know if he feels better.

“Send me a picture of him so I can check to see if he looks different.”

“I am not sending you a picture,” I texted back.

Horrors upon horrors, she did the cardinal sin of replying to a text with a call.
“Can you call the doctor to see if he is OK? Or take him somewhere?”

Keep in mind, I had just answered 200 million questions only an hour earlier.

“He’s fine,” I said. “Let me parent.”
“He may have e-coli or salmonella,” she says. “What if he is allergic to something?”

To get her to stop her worry rampage, I have to pull out the heavy artillery. “You mean like the time you nearly let me die when I was stung by a bee and you didn’t believe me when I told you it felt funny?”

It was mean, but it worked.

“Cole, why in the world did you tell my Mama you weren’t feeling well? She is going to text me all night to take your temp. We both know the reason you don’t feel good is because you ate a family bag of pizza rolls.”

“I’m sorry, Mama. I didn’t mean to,” he said. I knew he didn’t, but I was the one in the hot seat.

Mama finally calmed down after a few days and things went back to as normal as they can in our world.

Until I caught the tail end of my husband and son’s conversation one day.
“Don’t tell Mama,” Cole had said.

I heard Lamar agree.

I took a deep breath and readied myself. I knew how this was going to go down. This time, the mama in question was me.

“Don’t tell me what?”