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.

 

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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?”

Lowering my expectations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it hasn’t.

Far from it.

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

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

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

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

Boy, did it hurt.

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

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

More than a few.

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

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

It was an impossible task.

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

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

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

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

Just go with me on this for a second.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe that was just it.

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

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

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

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

I think lowering my expectations may be the answer.

Not that I am thinking I will be disappointed.

But maybe so I can be happily amazed.

I am my Mama’s mother’s granddaughter (5/11/2016)

I swore when I was a child – probably more a teenager, really, as they know everything – that I would never be like my Mama.

No, that skinny fire-breathing redhead was crazy.

She thought the silliest things were life-hazards, when riding in a Monte Carlo with her smoking and the windows rolled up was probably more hazardous to my health than me roller skating.

She was strict. More specifically, “controlling” was the word I used from age 15-23.

I thought her sole purpose was to make me a completely uncool spinster.

“Your mama is so nice,” my friends would say.

They would come over to talk to Mama about things they didn’t feel comfortable talking to their own mamas about.

This is the woman who would randomly show up at school in the middle of the day to peek in my class to make sure I was okay.

The woman who would point at me, then the floor, commanding me to come there so she could ask me if I had lunch money or not.

And my friends came over to ‘chill with my mom?’

“Why do my friends come over here and talk to you?” I asked her once bewildered.

She shrugged. “I don’t know. Is it so hard to imagine that I am maybe a nice person and they want to talk to me?”

What in the world did this woman possibly have to talk about?

Other than her heedings and warnings about everything being dangerous, including air, she didn’t have a lot to say.

“What do you say to them?” I asked.

Mama shrugged again. “Nothing really.”

I approached Granny with this dilemma.

“You wanna know why your friends come over here to talk to your Mama? It’s because she’s quiet. She actually listens to them,” the old gal said.

“She does what?”

“She listens.”

I reckon Mama has always done that. She is quite the good listener, especially if she is not injecting her listening with her words of warning.

“So my friends come over here because she listens? Don’t I listen?”

Granny shook her head.

“No, you too busy telling everyone what your opinion is like they care. They don’t want to know what you think of their boyfriends. Knowing you, you’ve already said it. They want someone that’ll listen to them and let them figure it out on their own.”

The old gal evidently missed the irony of her statement.

She spent a goodly portion of her time expressing her unrequested opinion on everyone along with her judgements. If Granny disagreed with what someone was doing, instead of trying to be a compassionate person as Mama does, she told them what she thought, holding nothing back.

And Mama was quiet. I think some folks may have thought she was aloof but she was really just more reserved and observant.

Granny, on the other hand, would not shut up.
“I’m shy and don’t feel comfortable talking to a bunch of strangers,” she said – an outright lie—out of the blue one day.

“I bet the greeter at Walmart wished that were true; you spent 15 minutes the other day discussing your hysterectomy with them.”

“They asked how I was, and I told them,” was her response.

Granny believing she was shy was almost comical. A bull in a China shop that had been poked with a fire was more subtle than this woman.

And she didn’t feel comfortable talking to strangers? She never met a stranger. She would go up and start talking to someone like she had known them for years.

I think when she worked in a sewing plant, she talked so much they had to move her away from one of her best friends. That didn’t work; she just started talking to whoever they moved her next to.

Mama was the quiet, compassionate empathizer and then there was Granny, the chatterbox full of judgements she felt needed to be shared.

Oh, sweet son of a biscuit eater.

I’m not like my Mama at all.

It’s worse. Much, much worse.

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.

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.

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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.

The habit of worrying (10/21/2015)

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

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

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

Did you catch that? High school.

I was worrying and stressing over something in high school.

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

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

“Everything.”

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

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

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

“I don’t know how,” I replied.

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

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

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

“Do you worry?” I asked her.

“What good will it do?” she answered.

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

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

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

“You weren’t worried then?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What if the bears come into the house?”

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

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

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

“What if..?”

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

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

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

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

I thought of Granny and what she would say.

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

face full of cole

Meeting my match (4/15/2015)

Granny cursed me once.

In a moment of fire and brimstone fury, she locked her jaw, bulged out her eyeball at me and declared, “One day, you will have a little girl just like you!” she bellowed. “Hopefully, there’ll be 10 of ‘em – just to show you a thing or two!”

I was maybe 12 at the time and undoubtedly, I had angered the old gal to no end, which was an easy task given an off-course wind could infuriate her.

I was not entirely sure what I had done, but I am sure it was one of two possible transgressions. 1. I had back-talked Granny and Granny considered anything less than total agreement with her to be a sign of defiance, betrayal and family treason.

2. I had not done something she had told me to do, which was also considered a biological treason.

Either one could invoke her ire and wrath.

Given the velocity of her malediction, it may have been a combo of both.

Those words stayed with me throughout the rest of my young adulthood, as I lived in fear of what she proclaimed would maybe happen. So I tried to be a good girl. I did.

I tried to watch my sassy mouth, too, because usually, it was my mouth that got me in trouble. All I knew, the old gal had cursed me and I must have been a dreadful, awful monster if she wanted me to have 10 just like me.

I lived with this cloud hanging over my head through my early adulthood. When I was told at age 30 I couldn’t have kids, I was terribly heartbroken but momentarily wondered – had I avoided some terrible curse?

Medical science was proved wrong, and I thought I had dodged some Granny-sized bullet when I had Cole.

Little boys love their mama’s, and usually don’t have quite the drama little girls can have.

I remembered my own drama and angst. In hindsight, it was nothing. During the time of occurrence, it was enough to fill at least five different shows on the WB.

Besides, Granny had cursed me with girls – she made no mention of boys.

I had been coated in Teflon and shrouded in Kevlar.

Let me preface this by saying, Cole is an exceptionally good child. He is well-behaved. He is polite. He is tenderhearted and compassionate.

We even called the year he was two “terrific” instead of “terrible.”

Cole is sweet, like his father.
Lamar is a genuinely sweet and kind person. He may have a mean bone somewhere in his skeletal makeup that is well hidden by the fact he seldom speaks, but I think after a dozen years it would have surfaced.

But like me, Cole is stubborn and will argue his point until he feels satisfied he has been heard.

He can be quite the tenacious little taskmaster.

He will over-talk me to the point I forget he is just 10.

“Cole, you need to stop talking and listen for a change,” I reprimand him.

A look of fleeting defiance flashes across his face.

“You need to try listening for a change, too, Mama,” he said. “I am trying to explain to you but you are the one not listening.”

“And I was telling you the reason you aren’t. It is not up for discussion.”

He stammers and starts, spurts and tries to find verbal footing in the war field between us.

“Stop,” I caution him. “Just stop.”

His little chin goes up and he looks me in the eyes: “No, I won’t.”

He doesn’t, either.

He gets something stuck in his craw and he won’t let it go.

Our latest battles have included how he wants to get a go-cart, which I am against.

The worst part is, he doesn’t just defiantly argue with me, tossing demands and declarations at me – no, this child of mine has researched and Googled everything there is to support his position on the case.

He has to have the last word and he is never, not ever, wrong.

He can wear me out to the point there have been times I say: “Just go see what your Daddy says.”

I told Mama about Granny’s curse, something she was not aware of at the time.

“Granny cursed you?” she was appalled to hear this but not necessarily surprised. The old gal’s wrath could and usually included immediate family.

“She did. She said she hoped I had 10 little girls just like me – because you know I was pretty much the devil incarnate according to her.”

“She only thought you were bad when you stood up to her,” Mama said. “And you both are so stubborn and headstrong and had to be right -I am surprised the two of you didn’t implode just being in the same room together. I don’t think there is or was anything wrong with the way you were.”

Mama didn’t say, however, that 10 little girls just like me would be a blessing.

She probably knew that would be quite too much sassy mouthness to deal with.

To give herself a reprieve, Mama asked how Cole was doing.

“He is mad at me right now,” I told her.

“He’s not really mad at you; he’s crazy about his Mama.”

True, he is. But this time, he wasn’t calling me his “sweet girl.”

He had been shoving an opened lap top in front of my face to show me charts, websites and other substantiated evidence to support his claims.

Mama started a slow giggle that erupted into a full blown wheeze.

I frowned. I didn’t find it funny that my child was being what Granny would have deemed disrespectful and told him to go pick out his own hickory.

“You don’t even see it, do you?” Mama asked between her gasps for air.

“No.”

The wheezing sounded like a gale force hurricane.

“You may not have had the 10 little girls; you didn’t have to,” she said. “You met your match in one little boy.”

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