A brief rebellion

My teenage years were not quite the rebellious era one would think.

The biggest thing I did was sass Granny and live to tell about it.

While other kids were sneaking out to go to parties, I thought I was big stuff if I cruised the Piggly Wiggly with my friends.

I lived in righteous fear that I would be caught and have to endure the wrath of Granny and Mama.

Mama would take away anything that mattered to me – namely, my phone.

Granny, on the other hand, was her own brand of punishment and could instill fear in the devil himself.

So, needless to say, I stayed out of trouble.

But there were times I pushed the boundaries.

It wasn’t intentional.

Usually, it started out as something that seemed harmless at the time, then turned into something that would get me in deep, unmeasurable trouble.

If wisdom comes from experience, this may be why I don’t let my own child go anywhere.

While hanging out at a friend’s house one day, her mother said she had a headache and was going to lie down.

We were probably the cause of said headache, or maybe she was doing it so we wouldn’t bug her.

Whatever her reason, she had left two teenage girls to their own devices for the better part of the afternoon.

Even though my friend, Crystal, was a couple of years younger, she was always a bit more eager to do things we shouldn’t.

“We oughta go to the store,” she suggested.

“No, Mama told me not to walk anywhere today.” I lived in a world where if Mama told me not to do something, I didn’t. Even if I was well out of her sight, she would somehow know. And what Mama didn’t know, Granny could darn well find out.

Crystal gave me a sly smile. “We don’t have to walk.”

Sometimes, I was a little slow on the uptake. “How are we going to get there?”

She picked up her mama’s keys. “We can take the car.”

“Your sister isn’t here to drive us.” See – slow on the uptake.

“No, dork,” she said, rolling her eyes. “I will drive.”

I was worried about this for many reasons. I was terrified of driving; even as a teenager, I thought we were too young to be behind the wheel of a vehicle. My next worry was the fact if Mama didn’t want me walking, how would she feel about me riding in a car with a 13-year-old driving? She had a fit once when Granny took me somewhere and didn’t tell her. This would not sit well.

“I don’t think this is a good idea,” I said, not feeling so sure.

“Do you want some candy or not?”

Candy won.

And off in the car we went.

I thought I was going to throw up as she backed the car out of the driveway and into the street.

But as we eased out of the neighborhood, my nervousness and fear broke free.

It was exhilarating.

We both squealed and laughed, screaming “wheee!” as we drove around.

Was this what it was like to be a bad girl?

It made me feel so free and fearless.

Until we came up to a four-way stop.

“Crap,” she muttered. “Is that your Granny?”

I looked in the direction she indicated and sure enough, sitting at the stop sign was Granny in her burgundy Olds.

“Act casual,” Crystal said.

We did, and Granny drove on through without a sideways glance.

“Where is she going?”

I wasn’t sure. Maybe home? Maybe to the grocery store – but which one?

It threw an uncertain monkey wench in our freedom plan.

“Maybe we shouldn’t go to the store?” I suggested. “She will want to speak to your mother if she sees us.”

She would; Granny was big on talking to mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, and any one in your family tree if you were friends with me.

“Maybe we need to go the opposite way?” she said.

Crystal may have been the  wild one, but she was smart enough to fear Granny.

I nodded.

We went down another road and another, taking great caution in avoiding any possible place Granny may be.

“Oh no!” I cried. “That’s Pop and Bobby’s work truck!”

Sure enough, at a red light, there sat my grandfather and uncle.

How many stop signs and red lights did this town have and did I have family sitting at everyone of them?

We turned down another road. And the next thing I knew, we were pulling onto the highway and heading straight towards my house.

“We will turn around at the cemetery and go back,” Crystal said.

We thought we were in the clear until right as we turned around at the cemetery and pulled into the road, here came a little blue Ford with one little crazy redhead at the wheel.

“I’m going to die. That’s it, I am dead meat!” I said. Part of me was glad. I had been a bad girl for about 20 whole minutes and it was exhausting. I was ready for it to be over.

“Duck down!” Crystal cried. How were we going to drive and be in the floor board?

But Mama was busy lighting her Virginia Slim and didn’t pay us any attention. Crystal hit the gas and we sped all the way back to her house.

Mama arrived a little while later to pick me up, none the wiser.

Or so I thought.

A few months later, I was with another friend, riding around against Mama’s usual wishes. And there at the same dad gummed stop sign sat Mama.

We ducked down as Mama drove by.

She didn’t say a word.

Until one day, when I was heading out to a friend’s again.

“Sudie, don’t you be going anywhere, you hear me? It’s not safe,” Mama began.

“There’s all these people-less cars riding around.”

From the look on her face, I do believe I was busted.

My rebellion, albeit brief, was over.

 

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The legend of Piggie

“What do you mean, you don’t eat bacon?”

I am asked this quite frequently.

No bacon, no barbeque, no pork products of any kind.

People don’t get it.

“Did you have a pig as a pet or something?”

Well, kind of.

We did have pigs when I was growing up.

I thought they were our pets but had a harsh reality one morning.

That was enough to make me not eat sausage or ham for a while.

But the real reason we don’t eat bacon is because of one plush little pig.

Piggie.

Piggie Two should get some credit as well, but it was Piggie Prime who started the absolute non-pork stance.

“A toy pig, and not a real pig?” is the next question.

He may be a toy pig, but he was a big part of my child’s younger years and is still Crouch canon.

I had to explain how Piggie came into our life.

We had ventured to the grocery store one Friday evening, along with scores of other people.

While I shopped and tried to decide what we would want to eat over the coming week, I realized Lamar had taken Cole to another aisle to entertain him.

This was a common occurrence. I go into the trenches of the store while my husband and child wander off like two beagles on the scent of something.

After a solid thirty minutes of wading through dozens of middle-of-the-aisle talkers, holding prayer meetings and high school reunions between the Fruity Pebbles and Raisin Bran, I had managed to make my way to the checkout line.

As I tossed my items on the belt, the wails of a small child rose over the normal noise of the store.

“Did you find everything OK?” the cashier asked.

I nodded, hearing the screams grow louder. Was this child being beaten?

“Paper or plastic?” the cashier asked.

“Plastic,” I answered, hearing the wails intensify.

The cashier didn’t seem to pay it any attention; of course, working in any type of retail can numb you to certain things.

“Do you hear that?” I asked.

She nodded, punching in the code for my tomatoes. “Yeah, kids hate being dragged in here on Fridays when their mamas get off work.”

“That poor child,” I began. “They sound miserable! What kind of parent does that to a child?  They are horrible, terrible people for putting that baby through that.”

The screams grew closer as it sounded like the child was nearing the front of the store. I turned to see who the offending parent was and shut my mouth.

There went my husband, toting my red-in-the-face, wailing child under his arm like a football out the door.

Of course, since I had brought the whole scene to the cashier’s attention, she was watching too. “That father’s got his hands full with that one,” she said.

I instantly felt a need to defend my child, who normally was so well-behaved and never pitched a fit.

“I have a feeling it was the father’s fault,” I began. “But some people! My word!”

I had mustered all the righteous indignation I could and paid for my groceries and hurried out the door to the car.

I got in the front seat and turned to look at my child, his face red and covered in tears as he tried to catch his breath.

“What in the world is wrong?” I asked.

Cole couldn’t even speak, he was crying so hard. I looked at his father for answers.

“He wanted some toy and had this meltdown over it,” was his response.

“A toy?”

Cole was not the type of child to have a meltdown over a toy. He did beg for celery once in the store, which I have yet to figure out, but he was not one to pitch a fit over a toy.

Lamar nodded. “I am not paying $10 for a stupid stuffed animal.”

“It – wasn’t – a – stupid – stuffed – amiminal,” I heard Cole say from the back seat, his voice catching with every word. “It – was – a – pig!”

“A pig?” I asked gently.

Cole nodded, sucking on his bottom lip. “A pig,” he repeated slowly, his breath finally regaining normalcy. “And Mama, I need it. Please. I asked Daddy for it and he threw it down the aisle!” At the thought of this, the sobs returned.

I glanced at Lamar. “You threw the toy down the aisle?”

“He was grabbing at it and it was too much. I am not paying that much for a toy! That’s crazy!”

Cole wailed. “Mama – I – need – that – pig! I – don’t – know – why – but – I – do!”

I knew two things. Once upon a time, a little girl fell in love with a lavender plush bunny on sight at the five and dime store and she turned down a pair of shoes for them. The bunny somehow spoke to her heart more than those glitter jelly sandals with the ankle strap and she loved that bunny for decades. She still missed that bunny and wondered what happened to it when she grew up, hoping like the Velveteen bunny, her love had made it real.

The second, and the most important thing, was my child never acted like this. So, something must be special about this pig.

“You need that pig?” I asked. He nodded.

“Then let’s go get it.”

He did end up needing that pig. In many ways and on many occasions. Piggie has been his faithful friend, and a part of the family now for well over a decade. And for me, he is a loving reminder of when my son, now a teenager, was small and a plush pig was the grandest thing in the world.

“You still have the Pigs, right?” he asked one day, knowing I am now the Keeper of the Piggies.

I affirmed that I did.

I still have the pigs. And always, always will.

 

Granny on my shoulder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And there was no talking behind someone’s back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes,” she replied.

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

“Which one am I?” she asked.

“You really have to ask?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two cookies mind you.

The girl gave me the total.

Suddenly, I could hear Granny fussing loud and clear.

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

What would Granny say? I thought to myself.

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

A delicate balance

I overheard someone say recently that Millenials are to blame for all of the societal problems we are experiencing.

I am not so sure about that – I don’t know what a Millenial is exactly and I’m usually cautious about casting a wide net of blame when I am not certain what I will catch.

I also tend to think this whole “It’s the Millenials’ fault” is an easy way for some to avoid taking their own responsibility as well.

Sure, every generation has had its issues and problems, including my own, but I shoulder the blame for my ozone-depleting use of Freeze it!, the horrible shoulder pads that never did make my waist look smaller, and my misguided use of blue eyeshadow.

I am sure my sassy mouth and attitude had more to do with the fact I was lightheaded from the aforementioned overuse of the liquid hair glue than it did with being a Gen-Xer.

Yes, my generation had its flaws and faults.

We grew up in a decadent decade, where everything was bright, loud, and just best described as excessive.

But we were good kids. And we took responsibility for what we did.

If we didn’t and got caught, we knew there was something worse than some of the punishments that were doled out back then; we usually had to face our mamas.

The few times I did something stupid – which truthfully, was rare – I usually got caught.

And somehow lived to tell about it.

Mama’s wrath could be scarier than anything legally imposed.

Nowadays, when people do something stupid, they blame someone else or richly tell you it was your fault.

“I didn’t know I was supposed to do that,” someone whined recently. “So how can it be my fault if I didn’t know about it?”

Ignorance only gets you so far.

Some folks seem to think that everything is supposed to be hand-delivered as an app on the latest iPhone and spoon fed to them in bite sized gluten-free, non-GMO, organic nibbles.

When I was younger and didn’t know what I was supposed to do, Mama of course imparted her wisdom.

“Are your legs broken?” she would ask. “How about your finger? Can it dial a phone? Can you still speak? Good, go call someone and find out what you need to do. When you get to the point you need me, let me know but you need to learn how to take care of some of this stuff on your own.”

Guess what? I did what she said.

I was only 6 but I did it.

Maybe not that young, but you get the drift. Mama was overprotective and prone to hyper-vigilance in a lot of areas of my life, but she made me learn to deal with the consequences of my actions or lack thereof.

If I knew what I was supposed to do and didn’t do it, well, that was on me.

I tried saying one of my mistakes was someone else’s fault and she nipped that junk in the bud fast and furiously.

“Did they hold a gun to your head?” she wanted to know.

I told her they had not.

“Then you were not forced to do it and yet you did. You only have yourself to blame.”

Mama didn’t have to threaten bodily harm either; she would either give me her deafening silent treatment or take away whatever privileges I had at the time.

See, my generation was one that believed in restrictions and being grounded. Losing the keys to the family Oldsmobile, having your phone unplugged from your room, and not being able to go to the football game on Friday with your friends were common sentences. After you endured those punishments for a few weeks, you made sure you didn’t suffer the same mistakes again.

It was a generation where the parents were loving but firm.

They weren’t our friends; they were our parents.

I know that is a tough role to fill most of the time.

We want our kids to love us, to want to be around us, to not hate us.

But truthfully, if they don’t think we are the unfairest of human beings at some point in their lives, we are not doing our job.

And maybe that is what has happened.

Somewhere, parents quit enforcing those rules and it has created some situations where people think they are entitled to special treatment.

Do I want my child to have the best of everything? Absolutely.

Do I want him to succeed? Of course.

But I don’t want him to become a jerk in the process.

Not too long ago, he complained to his father I was being unfair and mean.

Our house is less than a thousand square feet, so I could hear his stage whisper clearly from my chair in the living room.

“She’s your mother,” my husband replied. “That’s her job.”

My decision –whatever it had been – stood.

None of this playing one side against the other. No special treatment.

My child eventually came to me and said he understood; he even apologized.

It hurt me to get on to him; it did. I love my child and want him to be happy about everything.

I also want him to grow up and be a well-adjusted, successfully functioning adult.

Usually, that happens in an environment with some rules and firm boundaries.

I think if we want to start changing some things in this world, we need to start at home.

And maybe some good old-fashioned ‘80’s style restrictions and punishments of taking away cell phones and car keys would be a good place to start.

Entering the work force

“I can get a job when I turn 14,” my child announced one evening. “That’s just a few months away.”

“Why are you wanting to get a job?” I asked.

“Because,” he began, looking me squarely in the eye. “There are a lot of things I want that cost a lot of money and I don’t want to ask you to buy them for me.”

I have to admit, a lot of emotions hit me with this statement, the first being that my child was getting old enough to enter the workforce.

The second was that I admired my child for wanting to work for the things he wanted.

He recognizes what he wants is kind of pricey and he doesn’t expect me to pay for it.

I started working at 15, for pretty much the same reason.

My weekly pilgrimages to the mall had taken a toll on Mama’s finances. Her credit cards were given a better workout than her Jane Fonda tape and she could have saved a lot of time by just having a huge chunk of her check deposited in the bank accounts of Macy’s and The Limited.

Clothing, makeup, books, shoes, and music were staples and necessities of my teenage life, and unlike now, where I tend to be more frugal, everything had to be name brand and top of the line.

Now that I am paying for it, I find myself realizing L’oreal can cover my freckles as well as Lancome.

But, back then, when Mama was paying for it, was a totally different story.

Until one day, she said something she rarely said: No.

“W-what?” I asked, dumbfounded.

“That’s too expensive. I have already bought you jeans that were $100 – what made those jeans so much? Are they stitched with gold thread? I can’t get this for you this week. Maybe ever.”

I don’t even remember what it was that I was wanting. Back then, clothes were expensive and disposable. Mama would buy me something and the next month, it was considered out of fashion and discarded.

“You have to clothe me!” I cried when she told me no.

“Clothe you, yes; spend ridiculous amounts of money and go into debt over one pair of blue jeans – no.”

“What am I going to do?” I cried.

“You’ll figure something out,” she said.

And I did.

I got a job.

Granted, I had been ‘working’ since I was in kindergarten, writing up invoices for my grandfather and uncle and taking phone messages. I was paid a dollar a week and copious amounts of candy.

This was a real job, with a weekly schedule and lunch breaks, and where I paid taxes.

I was 15 but fibbed about my age. Or rather just danced around the whole age question. I started working at Cato, taking credit card applications at the door.

I think I made $10 for every application that was filled out, but more importantly, I got a discount on clothes. No, it wasn’t The Limited but it was clothing.

By the middle of the summer, I was working over 30 hours a week.

I loved it.

But, I never brought a full paycheck home.

I spent it. All of it. If it wasn’t on clothes, I was going to the Revco next door and getting drugstore makeup and hair products.

“Even though I am working, I still get an allowance, right?” I asked her one week. “And as your child and your main tax deduction, I think you should still be responsible for some of my clothing and upkeep.”

Mama laughed. She had probably expected me to burn through my paycheck in rapid speed.

Mama had mistakenly thought having a boy would be cheaper than a girl. Boys typically don’t worry about fashion like girls do or care about name brands or getting their hair and nails done. Mama was right on those things, but she failed to realize that boys tend to want bigger ticket items. Video games, cars, and electronics. Things that needed upgrades and enhancements.

Things I have no idea about and that run in the price range of car payments.

“I know the things I want cost a lot of money,” Cole explained. “I know you try your best to get me these things for my birthday and Christmas but sometimes, I don’t want to wait to get them. And, even if I do wait, some of the things are a bit more than what I would feel comfortable with you spending.”

He rattled off a list of things: a gaming computer, new consoles, video capture cards. And a corgi. He’s still wanting a corgi and knows those little herders are pretty expensive, not including the vet bills.

“Where are you thinking about getting a job?” I asked.

He took a deep breath and told me the places he was considering. “I want something that will pay me decent and be a good place to work. There may be scholarship opportunities for me, too.”

He had clearly thought this through.

“So, what do you think?” he asked.

What did I think?

I was proud of him.

Immensely full of weepy mom-pride.

“I think any place will be lucky to hire you,” I said truthfully. I know he will be a great employee wherever he works and bring a great attitude and work ethic to anything he did.

He smiled humbly. “Can you believe I am almost old enough to start working?” he asked excitedly.

No, I can’t. I really can’t.

I was proud of his initiative but really wish time would slow down.

Then I had to think of an added perk Mama had when I started working and smiled.
“Maybe when you start working, you can buy your dear old mom dinner,” I said.

He beamed. “Absolutely! One thing though.”
“What?”

“Will you let me borrow the car?”

Oh, geesh.

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.

 

Yearning for childhood lost

I am a tad bit sentimental and I admit, I probably over-romanticize things at times, too.

Maybe that’s why I often like to remember the antics and tales of my childhood so much.

For the most part, it was a time of awe and wonder nestled between Twinkie clouds and Hostess cupcake dreams.

And there’s parts of our childhood that make us who we are and influence the adults we become, even if we don’t realize it at the time.

Mine was watching Mister Rogers.

Every evening as Granny made dinner, she usually sat me in front of the televisions with a snack of some kind. Sometimes, it was peanut butter and crackers; others, it was a bag of Bugles she had saved me from her lunch break.

She turned on Mister Rogers and hoped I would stay entertained long enough to not bother her while she cooked.

And it was enough to keep me in rapt entertainment, at least for that half hour.

I was pulled into this world where kindness mattered, where respect for everyone was given.

Where people spoke with gentle words and softer tones.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was sinking into the fabric of my soul.

The show was even enough to sooth the edges on my often loud, usually hot-tempered grandfather.

“PawPaw, who’s your favorite character?” I asked one day.

My grandfather looked at the screen thoughtfully. “I reckon I like that little tiger one the best. He seems like a neat little cat.”

My grandfather, this larger than life man, who worked in construction as a roofer and often came home covered in tar and when angered, could probably frighten the underworld, liked the shy, slightly fearful tiger. It was quite a contrast.

“Who’s your favorite?” he asked me.

“I like them all,” I said. “But I hope one day when I grow up, I marry someone like Mister Rogers. He seems to be nice to everyone.”
And to a little girl, that was very important.

See, I was a chubby kid, my mother was divorced – something that was not that common back then, and my father, who I never saw or talked to, was Iranian. There were a lot of little things that made me ‘different’ and not necessarily in a good way.

But I had the sanctity and safety of childhood.

Of being surrounded by people who loved me and having friends that cared about me regardless of the fact I made a horrible choice for dodgeball or any other team sport in the gym.

I grew up and somehow, the lessons I had learned from watching Mister Roger’s Neighborhood faded into the background.

It wasn’t until several years, when working in radio, my friend and morning show host mentioned it was the day that Fred Rogers had passed away.

“He died?” I asked.

I somehow had missed it a few years before and was saddened at the news.

“Yeah,” my friend said. “It hit me hard. Fred Rogers was a pretty cool guy.”

A cool guy.

I had never thought of Mister Rogers in that light before; to me, he had been soothing and comfort, a magical escape from a world that sometimes may not be quite as nice.

“You really should check out some of the stories on him,” my friend said. “Cole would really love him. There’s a book too that will really tell you how amazing of a person he was.”

“I will check it out,” I promised.

I didn’t have to. A few days later, in my mailbox was the book, I’m Proud of You, by Tim Madigan, and a few DVDs of Mister Rogers Neighborhood for Cole to watch.

I started the book that evening and was profoundly amazed at how the Fred Rogers on the show was exactly the way Fred Rogers was in real life.

Compassion, kindness, and empathy truly were his superpowers.

No wonder as a child I hid his lessons deep in my heart.

Over the years, especially the last few, I have been even more drawn to his wisdom. One of his quotes has been shared quite frequently: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

I find myself looking for the helpers a lot lately. Wondering where they are, the people who somehow find ways to help those around them and give comfort, even when they are experiencing pain and trauma themselves.

But sometimes, that’s what we are supposed to do. Come together and help one another, simply because we are ‘neighbors’ and need each other.

I think of how his simple wisdom is more profound now and how in so many ways, my childhood was idyllic. I lived in a world where I didn’t understand fear, I didn’t have worries or concerns because life and the world I grew up in felt safe and secure.

Now, there’s children who will never know what that feels like.

Re-reading Fred Rogers’ words makes me see how timeless they were. And how we need them, desperately need them now.

Mister Rogers passed away 15 years ago on February 27, but thankfully, his kind, compassionate wisdom has left behind some gentle echoes.

Not for the faint of heart

I remember the day I turned 29.

It was 16 years ago – yikes, that’s hard to believe.

But the day I turned 29, I took the day off from work.

I worked out twice that day, hoping to fight off the effects of gravity and the aging process.

I didn’t even eat any birthday cake, something I never skipped.

I grieved.

It was my last year in my twenties.

I felt ancient, as if my youth and life were over.

I was about to enter a new decade, my thirties.

Little did I know those years would fly by in the blink of an eye.

I went through a divorce, got remarried, had a baby, moved a couple of times, and went through about 4 different career changes.

No wonder by the time I hit my 40’s I was exhausted.

My spunk and sass seemed to have been replaced with, “Eh, it’s not worth the energy fighting over.”

Blasphemous talk for one who is a quarter Irish.

“Cole, when I was younger, I would have….”
I recount tales of my younger hot-tempered responses and how I stood up fiercely for myself and for others.

Now, I just hope to avoid any disagreements, so I don’t have to worry about it for days on end.

The aging process has not only affected my emotional response but my physical as well.

Remember when Dolly Parton declared, “Time’s marching on, and eventually you realize, it’s marching across your face?”

Yeah, well, Truvy got that one right.

She just left out the battlefield extended in all directions.

The other day in the bathroom, I saw not one, not two, but four grey hairs sticking up from the midst of a field of black, dark brown, and whatever other colors are mixed in there.

I screamed.

These had popped up overnight.

The greys could and would be covered with some liberal painting of color at my next appointment.

An easy fix, I told myself.

But some of the other things were not so easy.

For one thing, the few pounds I would gain from too much cheesecake no longer come off as quickly as they previously did.

Just five short years ago, I could just skip my afternoon bag of M&M’s and drop whatever weight I had gained.

Now, I am still struggling to lose the weight I gained three years ago.

“Once you are over 40, you will find it’s not so easy to lose that weight,” Mama informed me one day.

I told her I was already learning that.

“So, you may want to lay off the cheesecake. And the candy. I know you think they are their own food group.”

I groaned my disapproval of her advice.

“Your body is going through some changes now that you may not like and may be embarrassing, so you need to pay attention to what you eat and do.”
I was in my mid-40’s and finally, my Mama was giving me the talk about my changing body.

And as much as I hate to admit it, she was right.

“I have cut out everything that tastes good and you want to know how much I have lost?” I asked one day.

“How much?” a friend asked.

“I gained 2 pounds. Two pounds! And I think I pulled something trying to squeeze into my imitation Spanx.”

“Honey, how old are you now…?”

No response was necessary.

To add insult to injury, as if eating kale and gaining weight with multiple greys dotting my hairline were not enough, I had something else happen.

Adult acne.

As a teenager, I somehow dodged a bullet and had clear skin.

Maybe Mother Nature thought I had enough going against me and told pimples to find another canvas to land.

But here I was, trying to figure out which cream, gel or serum to apply first: wrinkle cream, lifting cream, brightening gel, or acne treatment. And vitamin C treatment. Did you know you face needs vitamins, too? It does.

“Maybe you put too much gunk on your face? Could that be it?” Lamar asked, watching me slather various things on my face one morning.

“Given the fact that middle aged women seem to blame everything on our hormones, that’s mighty brave talk for a skinny man to use,” I warned.

He got the hint and went into hiding until later that day.

But the real kicker was even more painful than the esthetic issues I was experiencing.

“It’s going to rain today,” I announced one morning.

“Weatherman on TV said it is going to be clear,” Lamar said over his coffee.

“I don’t care what they said, it’s going to rain; maybe snow.”

“What makes you think that?” Lamar asked.
“The way my neck is hurting, it is going to do something. Trust me. I may not have Doppler, but I have a neck that lets me know.”
“Good lord, you are not old enough to start sounding like Granny.”

Guess what?

Around 3 p.m. that afternoon, it started sleeting.

“Told you,” I said. “My neck knows.”

This getting older thing is not for the faint of heart.

But, it sure beats the alternative.

 

The piano recital

Once upon a time, I dreamed of being a concert pianist.

Only problem is I am quite horrible at piano.

But I had decided when I was a little girl, I wanted to play.

Mama wasn’t so sure about this.

“Is this going to be like your dream of being a ballerina?” she asked.

She may have forgotten but she was the one who nixed that dream in the bud.

She told her chubby child – me – to walk across the floor on tiptoes without tripping.

Given the impossible task, I grabbed a Twinkie and turned on Scooby Doo.

Piano, I promised, would be different.

Granny called Miss Suzanne, not just any piano teacher but the best piano teacher in our town.

Miss Suzanne had seen me around school and probably wasn’t so sure; Granny had to do some high-pressure selling.

“She is very musically inclined,” she said into the phone. “She has always loved music. Although we don’t know what is wrong with her, she don’t like country music. But everything else she does. She’s been humming since she was in Pampers and I think she has got a natural talent for it.”

Somehow, she convinced Miss Suzanne to give me lessons.

I was excited – not only was I on my way to being a concert pianist, but, Miss Suzanne would get me out of class twice a week for my lessons!

I remember walking down that long hallway with the piano room.

Now that I think about it, they probably hid the piano room in the bowels of the school, so no one could hear some of the blood curdling sounds that came out of that room.

My first few weeks, I was actually fairly decent.

I caught on quickly and I loved the idea of learning music, begging for a piano so I could play all day and all night.

One afternoon, I came home to find an upright piano delivered.

“I wanted a baby grand piano,” I said.

“Where are we going to put a baby grand piano?” Mama asked. “This is fine.”

I was so excited. At least until I found out that meant I could now do theory.

Theory, I soon learned, was just a fancy word for music homework.

“I can’t do this!” I wailed. “It’s too much work! I am just a child!”

Mama had no sympathy.

“You are not quitting, so you just need to learn to get beyond that thinking.”

“I am giving up my childhood for this!”

In reality, it had been like three weeks. But in child years, that was an eternity.

Mama didn’t let me quit.

No matter how much I whined or carried on, Mama made me stick with it.

“It’s building character,” she would tell me when I protested.

“You could save this money you are spending on piano lessons for something else,” I said.
“It’s okay,” Mama assured me. “I don’t mind spending money on something that is enriching your life.”

Mama insisted I was going to do what I needed to; if I was supposed to do theory, then I was going to do it. Even if it meant doing it before school.

In fact, Mama was very pro-piano until she went to my first recital.

I remember thinking this was a big deal.

Sure, I had sang in group performances for school and church, but this, this was different.

I was going to have my own little solo piece.

Miss Suzanne took us all to the Methodist church downtown to practice and for a trial run.

I can still remember the way the church smelled and the way the wooden pews creaked with all of us sitting on them. Even the way the light through the stained-glass windows danced on the floor.

This felt like it may be my big opportunity to be a concert pianist!

Until a friend I had grown up with arrived.

He had left our school a few years before but was still taking piano with Miss Suzanne.

Miss Suzanne had him practice first.

It was like watching a young Mozart or Beethoven play.

He made it look so effortless, so easy.

I guess she wanted to showcase her best student first – hoping the rest of us would be as good as he was.

I was a couple of kids after, and I was triumphant mess.

I had asked Miss Suzanne if I could leave after my song and she told me no; we had to be there to support our fellow pianists.

I wanted to run and hide. I considered crawling under the pews to escape.

When it was over, and I was the biggest failure of the recital, I ran to Mama and Granny.

Granny told Miss Suzanne maybe she should have saved the boy for last. “Putting him first is setting the bar awfully high,” she said. “Are we entirely sure all of these children needed to be in the recital…like Sudie?”

Miss Suzanne had hoped it gave us something to work towards, to have a goal to practice for and to have the glory of a performance.

“How much did you practice?” Mama asked me when I told her how embarrassed I was.

“I didn’t,” I said. I have never been able to tell a lie, and I wasn’t about to start then.

“I see,” she said. “Perhaps if you had practiced, you would have done better.”

“I doubt it,” I began. “I think I need to just quit.”

Mama looked at me and patted my head gently. “No.”

“What?” I was horrible, I had embarrassed myself in front of a church full of people. And she was going to let me keep playing?

“You are not giving up just because you didn’t do well in your first recital,” she said. “You’re sticking with it, Kitten.”

And I did.

For eight years.

“Did you ever learn how to play piano well?” my own child asked.

Nope, I sure didn’t. But I did learn how to never give up.

 

No one listens to the baby

I am used to being ignored.

You’d think being the only child, only grandchild and only niece would have meant I had a house full of grown-ups, hanging on my every word.

Nope.

At least not when I grew up.

Granted, when I was smaller, I may have said things they found adorable.

I was asked cute questions, like what was my favorite animal, who did I think was the best college football team, and what did I want to be when I grew up.

My answers were anything with fur, four legs and a tail; UGA; and, since I was about 3, I wanted to write ‘stories.’ Not much has changed.

But once I hit a certain age, one where I may have actually gotten a lick of sense in my head – something Granny said I was sorely lacking for most of my life – no one seemed to think I knew anything.

Somehow, I was still the baby of the family, but I was just bigger.

And my family thought I only knew about things that were pretty much along the lines of favorite animals, football teams, and television shows.

To prove this point, my uncle had an outrageous medical bill once he could not get resolved. He didn’t know why it was so high, and Granny, even with all of her tactics, could not get to the bottom of it either.

“Why don’t you let me look at it?” I offered.

You would have thought I had suggested I was going to split an atom on my grandmother’s kitchen table.

My uncle looked at my dumbfounded. “What in the world would you know about a hospital bill, baby?” he asked, shaking his head and walking off.

It was my turn to look dumbfounded. At the time, I was in college and working for two surgeons. And doing of all things – processing insurance.

“Granny, I think I can help with this,” I said.

Granny shook her head. “You’re just the baby. You don’t know nothing about this kind of stuff.”

“Actually, I do. I deal with this all day at work. Please let me look at it.”

She shook her head. “Ain’t no need in you messing with it. You may get it all jumbled up anyway.”

I rolled my eyes. They wouldn’t let me look at something I handled every day, but two days later when my uncle received a mailer from the Publisher’s Clearing House, he gave that to me and told me to figure out what magazines he needed to order to win.

“None of them,” I said. “I hate to tell you this, but it is a scam.”

“Well, I want Sports Illustrated and TV Guide, so see if their prices are good.”

I could price check magazine orders but not even see an insurance claim?

That evening, Granny knocked on my door.

“Don’t you breathe a word of this, but see what you can do.” She handed me the paperwork.

Were they really, finally, going to trust me with grown up stuff?

It took me a couple of days of making phone calls, but I managed to get the bill resolved.

When my uncle received the new revised statement, he was shocked. “The baby did this?” he asked.

“She did,” Granny said.

You would have thought that would have ingrained some level of trust in me, but no, I was still the family baby and any attempt to offer advice or suggestions continued to be ignored.

Mama sometimes ask my opinion, but then disregards it.

I have tried to tell them about things that would make life easier and they completely dismiss it.

But, let two people get the boot on my uncle’s favorite show and he knows who to ask.
“He still thinks all I know about is TV shows and frivolous things, doesn’t he?” I asked Mama.
“He just knows you can find out for him.”

“He knows I Google.”

“If I had a Google, he’d still want me to ask you,” Mama said.

You would think they would have a bit more faith in me, but in their eyes, I am still the baby.

At least to a certain degree.

When Cole was born, he became the baby of the family.

“No one listens to me,” Cole lamented one day. “I was trying to explain something to Nennie, but she didn’t believe me.”

I completely understood.

It looked like the baby torch was being passed off to very capable hands.