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.


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.


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.


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.”


you always need your mama

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

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

I sighed. How to answer that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

I sighed again before I spoke.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I worried about them. They were geriatric orphans.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She paused to consider.

“No. Mama always built the fire.”

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

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

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

“What if the power goes out?”

“It won’t,” I declared.

If Granny could declare things, I could too.

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

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

“Because,” I began.

How do I even explain it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mama quietly agreed.

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


In memory of a spitfire (3/19/2014)

Honestly, I thought she would live forever.

We had a running joke in our family about it -the meaner the women were, the longer they would live.

I reminded her of this the last time I saw her.

We had gone home to add Ava the German shepherd to our family and took her by to meet everyone. It was three weeks ago.

Granny informed me she needed some lotion.

Not any lotion, but the sweet pea lotion I had given her at Christmas.

“Bobby can’t find it anywhere,” she told me. She was probably thinking I had gotten her some bootleg goods.

“Did he go to Bath & Body Works?” I asked.

“What’s that?” she wanted to know.

I told her it was where the lotion was from; she said no, but they didn’t have it at Carmichael’s and she thought Carmichael’s had everything that was worth a flip.

“I will get you some for your birthday,” I promised.

“I might not make it that long,” she told me. Her birthday was in May.

“Oh, hush, old woman,” I admonished her. “You will. You know in this family, the meaner the women, the longer they live.”

She snorted. “Then you will outlive me, old gal.”

I hugged her, but not too tightly because the old gal had gotten frail in the last year, getting painfully thin despite her morning breakfast of fatback and biscuits. So I hugged her, and told her I would get her the lotion.

And for some reason since that day, I would make a mental note to go by the lotion and potion store and get her some.

Maybe I knew. Because I did think about that every day and check the calendar to see when I could get it and take it to her. I felt like I would run out of time, and in reality, I did.

Mama told me they had taken Granny to the ER two weeks later. Her rheumatism was making her hurt so badly, she couldn’t get any relief. But hospital and doctor visits were not uncommon.

A week later, Mama texted me around 2:30 p.m. – “Granny on way to hospital.”

“What’s wrong?” I replied.

“Not responsive,” was Mama’s short reply.

We waited. The waiting is the worst part. The worry and wondering, the praying, the hoping. We all thought she had come to the hospital before, under what seemed to be more dire circumstances, and come home a few days later; surely this would be the same and she’d come home. But she didn’t.

Mama asked me to come home, to help her get things ready. So I did.

The house was full with a deafening silence. Void of her larger than life personality, hollering for us to get something to eat as soon as we walked in, “Y’all gonna eat aren’t you? I have plenty. You can take some with you when y’all leave. Why don’t y’all spend the night?”

I couldn’t stay in there. I had to go sit outside in the yard, making Mama sit with me.

“What happened?” I asked her. I knew Mama had told me Granny hadn’t wanted anything to eat or drink for about 24 hours.

“She had laid down,” Mama began, “and I decided to cook something.” She paused at the face I made. “Don’t do that. I am a good cook.”

I mmmhmmed at her and motioned for her to continue.

“Well … it burned. And the fire alarm went off and when it went off and we made it stop, we realized … Granny didn’t wake up and come see what I had burned in the kitchen like she normally does.”

Mama stopped for a second, realizing what she just said. And then it happened. We busted out laughing.

“Lord Jesus, Mama … I knew your cooking would result in a 911 call one day.”

At the funeral home, we found those moments again, when the funeral director asked what Granny’s hobbies were other than quilting. Mama listed gardening and being active in her church, spending time with her family.

I added “getting in other people’s business.” Bobby had to quickly make sure that was not added to the list.

We laughed, reminiscing of the things Granny would say, what she would want. We found out she had called the funeral director three weeks earlier to begin her arrangements; she had dreamed she had passed and Mama and Bobby were running around trying to get everything ready and didn’t know what to do.

“She wouldn’t want us sitting around crying though,” I told Mama. “She would want us to remember her the way she was – strong, feisty and mean as the day is long.”

Mama agreed. Granny took pride in her strength.

She looked so pretty, so peaceful when I saw her. She was wearing a blue dress, in honor of the one she wore when she eloped to marry Pop.

Her coffin was flanked with two of the quilts she had made over the years. A memorial video played on the screen overhead that drew us in, the family – her family. She had been the last of 10 children, outliving her siblings. But their children were there.

The screen froze on an image of her standing, all 5’10 of her, mouth open as if she was about to speak.

“Look – she’s got her mouth open!” I whispered to her niece Dot. “She’s about to fuss someone out!”

She probably had. We both laughed. Over the lunch afterwards, so many good memories of her were shared. People that not just knew her, but loved her and were family. There was something so sweet, so tender about seeing family.

I fought tears during the service, because I am an ugly crier and like I said, Granny wouldn’t want me to cry. It would distract from the preacher talking about her.

But the next morning, after realizing she was really, truly gone, I let the tears freely fall.


Mama likes to shine

Mama likes to shine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But she still fussed at me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I called Mama on the way home.

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

Mama laughed. “Kitten,” she began.

“Mama likes to shine.”