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.

 

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Mama’s Infinite Wisdom

Much like my Granny, at times I have been known to hold a grudge.

Not so much a grudge perhaps; maybe more of a spite.

It is not exactly one of our finer, most upstanding traits.

Mama, being the nice, civilized one, usually has a different take on things.

With the exception of my first-grade teacher and maybe one or two others, Mama is one of those people who truly does try to live and let live.

“It ain’t natural!” Granny would declare when ever Mama would try to correct her wicked ways.

“Mama, you are sitting there delighting in someone’s anguish!” Mama cried.

Granny snorted. “Let me tell you something, Jean; these people would not be in this a-fix if they hadn’t sown some pretty bad seeds. They reaped the harvest they deserved.”

Now, Mama has never been a fan of karma.

She doesn’t like the idea of ‘what goes around comes around’ and has always tried to convince me that grace kind of covers our mistakes.

“There but by the grace of God we go,” Mama has said frequently throughout my life.

A phrase that would make Granny roll her eyes.

“Mama, why do you do that? You know very well that if it wasn’t for grace, we’d be in a heap of a fix most of the time.”

“I know, Jean, I know,” Granny began. “But you wanna know what tans my hide? Those people who are always, always doing something they shouldn’t be and ain’t good people. And every cussed thing goes their way. That ain’t right and it makes me madder than a wet hen.”
I wasn’t sure how mad a wet hen could get but if it as bad as Granny – the scariest person I have ever met – I didn’t want to come across one.

Granny may not have been exactly righteous in her indignation and complaint, but she had a point.

It can be tough to see people that maybe aren’t the best kind of folks in the world getting their way all the time, catching the good breaks, and having everything they want come to pass.

Granny dealt with this with one of her sisters – the one she didn’t really care for and it used to send Granny into a fit of fury.

“You really don’t know anything about the situation and she may not be that bad of a person,” Mama admonished.

Granny snorted her disdain. “I’ve known her all of my life; trust me.”

Mama accused Granny of being judgmental; Granny declared her opinions were factual.

I watched them disagree about this numerous time, neither finding victory in their argument.

It was impossible to pick a side in this debate, namely because I found both had valid arguments.

Mama has always felt like people would be happier if they just focused on their life and didn’t get preoccupied with what other people had going on. “Someone getting pie doesn’t mean you can’t have cake,” she has said.

Food metaphors normally drove her lessons home with me. I was glad to know I could still have cake, even if someone else had pie.

“What if I want pie?” I asked.

More specifically, what if I wanted their pie? And what if my cake hadn’t arrived yet?

“That’s their pie. Don’t worry about their table. Worry about yours. And if you are waiting on your cake to be served, maybe they had to bake it for you. Extra special. When it comes you will be even happier to get it because it was made just for you and worth the wait.”

I had been wrestling with some of those very demons not that long ago and brought them up to Mama.

She was probably wondering why the lesson has not sunk in yet.

“Lord, help. You get more and more like Mama every day,” she said under her breath.

“Kitten, are you really fussing about this?”

I assured her I was. I was beginning to think my cake order had been cancelled.

“You know, Granny always cussed the person she thought was getting what she wanted. It didn’t work either; it somehow seemed to create the opposite effect. It seemed to make things get worse for her and better for them.

“You can’t throw stones and expect good things to be thrown back at you. You need to try throwing some blessings and love into the situation if you want it to change.”

I didn’t want to throw love and blessings on the situation; the crazy redhead had set me up wanting cake years ago and gosh darnit, I wanted a corner piece with the most icing.

“Not gonna happen until you stop throwing those stones,” she said as she hung up.

Perhaps she is right.
Being bitter and angry did not serve Granny well; it did keep her going for over 90 years though.

But maybe, if I wanted the situation to change, the first thing I needed to focus on, was changing my attitude. Beginning with a shift towards putting love and blessings on the situation instead of anger.

All said, I still want my cake.

Everyone’s a critic (7/19/2017)

It seems like everyone’s a critic these days.

Google, Yelp and TripAdvisor have made it easy.

Just because someone has a keyboard and an opinion, they think it needs to be expressed.

It’s particularly easy when its anonymous. Keyboard warriors like to hide behind a fake name and complain and criticize others, in hopes of seeing the effect of their cruel words.

People seem to get a rush when they have had a less than stellar experience and can complain about it online.

Sadly, those types of comments are the ones that garner the most response, too.

Because the internet is not going to let someone post a complaint without everyone chiming in with their own two cents about it.

“If you don’t have anything nice to say….” Mama would begin.

“I know, I know. Don’t say anything at all.” How Granny got to speak was beyond me, because she never said anything nice. But Mama always urged me to not say anything that wasn’t nice and, I sincerely, earnestly try.

But people love to be critical and mean.

And it is something I just can’t comprehend.

Someone asked me recently if I took criticism well.

I told them it depends on the spirit in which it was given.

I’ve been around people who thought the best way to help someone was to tear them down, forgetting to ever build them back up.

Unfortunately, some of these people were in supervisory positions – how, I don’t know, because being critical to the point of soul crushing is not leadership.

But criticism, when it is given with the intention of being constructive and helping people change, can be helpful.

Still painful, nonetheless, but helpful.

If we haven’t been told how to correct a mistake the first time we make it, we don’t realize we’ve done anything wrong.

We think we are doing a good job – especially when we keep doing it and no one says anything.

When someone finally does say something, it stings. Horribly.

The even more frustrating part?

That uncomfortable space is where we grow.

It may not feel like it at first but it is.

I say this and I have the world’s thinnest skin.

But if someone is trying to help me improve, I appreciate the time it took for them to do it.

And in that awkward, uncomfortable space of hearing our flaws and missteps, we have to realize we are not being personally attacked but coached so we can do a better job.

It doesn’t feel good. It doesn’t make us happy. It can be terrifying to hear we have messed up.

It can also be wonderful to hear what we’ve done right and hopefully if they are trying to help you, they should tell you what you did correctly.

“Do I even breathe right?” I remember asking someone who was particularly critical once.

“You do tend to sigh a lot,” the supervisor complained, which made me only sigh more.

Even though that was a particularly dry place to try to grow, it taught me how I wanted to be treated and how to treat people I worked with.

The sad thing is, there’s more people like this one out there – people who are trying to make others just as miserable as they are.

Instead of focusing on the areas that need improvement, I am going to focus on what they are doing right and hope that will be magnified.

And I am going to tell people too.

When I see something going right, I am going to call the manager to let them know. When I have a great experience, I am going to talk about that on Twitter.

No one likes a critic.

So I am going to start spreading praise like crazy and see how that goes.

 

The Undergrad Continuum (8/17/2016)

The last few days, I have watched friends I graduated high school with ready their children for college.

I am not sure how this is possible since 1991 was really only 5 years ago so this seems to defy the laws of time.

But there they are, dropping off kids at their dorms hours away and into impending adulthood.

And it dawned on me: they are still babies.

Sure, when I graduated high school, I was ready to take on the world.

I think it mainly stemmed from being young and foolish enough to think I was invincible and that I was going to solve the world’s problems.

I knew everything, too.

Lord, have mercy at the depths and expanse of my omnipotent knowledge or lack thereof.

“I’m not quite sure why you going to school; you know everything,” Granny snorted one day.

I really thought I did.

So much so that I dropped out after my first quarter of paralegal studies because the classes started too early.

“Who can think that cussed early in the morning?” I asked.

Granny was furious; Mama, said nothing at first, until she got the phone bill. It was $8,926,274.12.

Or at least you would have thought it was given the hissy fit the crazy redhead pitched.

“Since you are taking some time to find yourself, you can find a job in the meantime,” she announced with aplomb one afternoon.

“I am your child; I should be able to reflect and be introspective on what I want to be when I grow up,” was my response.

“I can’t think of any better way to find out what you want to be than to learn what you sure don’t want.” She tossed the paper on my bed. “There’s the want ads; find yourself a job by the end of this week or the phone will be thrown out.”

She always struck a low blow, threatening my phone, my life line to the outer world beyond the graffiti walls of my bedroom.

I sighed. I had to get a job.

How was I going to find myself if I had to get a job?

But find one I did, waitressing during the lunch rush at a local restaurant.

When I complained about being tired and how customers were rude and demanding, Mama just asked me if I was ready to go back to school.

“I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be. It’s not fair to make an 18-year-old figure out what they want to be the rest of their life,” I told her, stomping into my room.

The next phone bill was $9,308, 237.11. (This was when it was long distance to call everywhere except your city and my future ex-husband was at school, 2 hours away.)

“You need to get another job,” Mama said, tossing the paper on my bed again.
“What!? Why?” I whined. “I can’t work another job!”

“Then get one full time job,” she said. “You only work part-time and aren’t in school; you can get another one. Or I will yank the phone out of the wall.”

So I got another job. And another.

I think at one time, I had about 37 part-time jobs.

I was exhausted.

“I’m going back to school,” I whined one day. “This working thing is killing me.”

“Have you figured out what you want to be when you grow up?” she asked.

Oh, heavens no. But I had a clear idea of what I didn’t.

The thought of sharing a communal shower and a room smaller than the one I grew up in did not appeal to me, so I commuted four days a week for four years.

When I graduated that sweltering hot day in June, I just knew I was officially grown and ready to take the world by storm. Before, I thought I was ready; now I was.

I walked out of the Macon auditorium and it hit me: I was really still just a baby.

I didn’t even know how to turn on utilities, how was I going to take on the world?

I was scared and didn’t know what I was doing but again, armed with foolish bravado I thought I could do anything. I’d figure it out, right?
Thankfully, I had the fallacy of my youth on my side to help cushion my errors.

But, it was that year off that helped me grow the most.
Mama taught me the most important lessons of all; she knew working some hard jobs would be good for me, would teach me how to deal with the public, and help me figure out what I wanted to be. She didn’t let me just wallow in my own ruminations either; she is not one to entertain apathy.

She let me think I knew everything while she quietly showed me I didn’t.

She also knew it would keep me off the phone so the bill didn’t go up into the billions.

As I think of all the college freshmen starting school this month, I think they have the whole world ahead of them and I envy that time in their lives.

It’s a scary, exciting, exhilarating time, and I am sure a few probably feel like that they know everything, like I did.

And at least, briefly, for a while, they will.

 

All Creatures Great and Small (8/10/2016)

“Mama,” the tone in his voice let me know something was wrong.

“What is it?” I asked.

I opened the bathroom door to find my son standing there, eyes full of pain. “One of the dogs stepped on this beautiful butterfly outside. They killed it. It was an accident, but…”

My heart pulled towards his tender heart, worrying about the butterfly.

“Would you feel better if we found it and buried it?”

He nodded, his eyes glistening with tears.

We walked out on the porch and Cole found the yellow and black butterfly almost immediately. “Here it is,” he said, his voice full of sadness.

I couldn’t tell if it was a Monarch or a Viceroy but it was gorgeous. I am pretty sure it was the one that had been out in the yard just a few days before, flitting around to greet us and nearly landing on my shoulder. The thought it may have been the same one somehow made me feel even sadder, as if we losing someone we knew.

I bent down to get it up and noticed it twitched its wings.

“It’s alive!” Cole cried.

Indeed, it was.

I righted it to its legs but it couldn’t fly. Its wings were too crumpled and damaged but it was alive.

“Can you fix a broken wing?” Cole asked me.

“I don’t know if that’s possible,” I told him.

“I’m going to Google it!” he said and off he ran to find out.

I looked for something to try to pick it up with that wouldn’t hurt it. I knew butterflies to be fragile and delicate.

I was able to balance it on a piece of paper but it wanted to crawl into my hands – was it just wanting what all of us want when we’re hurt, a compassionate touch? It was frantically moving its legs, as if it was wanting to make sure I could see it was alive.
But I worried about touching the wings, hearing all my life that if you touched their wings it would kill them.

I couldn’t remember but I wanted to make sure I didn’t do more harm than good.

When I was a little girl, I always tried to save little moths, finding them and trying to keep them safe and being so heartbroken when they ended up dying.

Cole had rescued a grasshopper a few years ago that appeared to have a broken leg and when it died, we both cried as we buried it.

I didn’t want to hurt it, even though it was quite insistent about wanting to be held.

Lifting it up closer, I noticed it had a face. At tiny, inquisitive, knowing face.

It was a little soul, just with wings.

Not much different than the mother opossum my uncle fed that time he found out it was eating the cat’s food. He had watched to see what was getting it, then followed it to find a dozen tiny babies.

Granny, not being as compassionate and being raised in a totally different time with a totally different attitude, promptly said, “Kill it.”

My uncle was horrified. “I’ll do no such of a thing, Mama,” he began. “She’s just trying to find food so she can feed her babies.”

Granny snorted her disapproval. “Then there’s just going to be more of them. You need to take care of ‘em of all – now.”

The only times my uncle ever told Granny ‘no’ was about animals and this was one of them. “I’m not; these are God’s creatures, just like you and me, and I am going to feed them.”

Granny couldn’t argue with that, so she just muttered something about how if he got rabies, he was going to wish he had listened to her.

Those little opossums grew up and went on their opossum way. Bobby often worried if he saw one hit, if it had been one he had fed.

Cole bounced back out, telling me there was a way to repair the wings but he wasn’t sure if we could do it. I looked at the information myself and did not feel the confidence to do it. “It looks like they can live with crippled wings, Mama,” he said. “As long as their body is not hurt, they can live.”

We got a pickle jar and put paper towels in it to cushion it. I mixed honey with water and put it on a paper towel for it to drink.

“What should we name her?” Cole asked.

“What do you want to name her?”

He thought for a moment. “Princess Diana. You always said you loved her.”

I smiled.
“What if she’s a boy?” Cole asked.

“Harry,” I said. “I like Prince William, too, but I have always adored Harry.”

I called Mama to tell her we had a butterfly in our menagerie now and I didn’t know where to find an entomologist.
“Maybe call UGA?” she suggested.

For once, I listened to my Mama and called.

The man assured me what I was doing was right and suggested I put her in a bigger jar.  I asked him how long her lifespan was. The scientist, probably sensing I was already attached, gently told me 1 to 2 weeks, with 4 being the longest.

That was not long enough for such beauty to exist, I thought solemnly.

I found her a much bigger home, a huge apothecary jar I bought years ago and never used. I put fresh paper towels in, and we added some leaves and branches for her. We left the top open with a laundry mesh over it so she could get plenty of air.

She likes to be in the window to get sun, and she loves classical music.

It’s been 5 days as I write this.

She’s losing more and more of her wings. But she’s still moving and waving, and will put her front legs up to my hand when I put it on the glass.

“How long do you think she will make it?” Cole asked.

I wasn’t sure.

“But, at least she will be loved while she’s here with us, won’t she?” he said.

“Yes,” I said.
Because that’s what all creatures – big or small – deserve.

 

Open mouth, insert the whole leg (8/3/2016)

Granny used to embarrass the stew out of us.
She didn’t care if what she said offended someone either.

If it was on her mind, it usually came out of her mouth.

When she met someone I worked with years ago, she pointed out he was old and bald.

A few years after that, she met a friend of mine and promptly told her she was overweight.

“Now, I know I am fat,” Granny began. “But I’m old. A young girl like yourself needs to watch your weight.”

Another friend emailed me to tell me she wasn’t coming by to meet Granny. “I know I am overweight; I don’t need to hear Granny declare it as a fact.”

I was mortified.

That was nothing.

She proceeded to tell everyone what she thought, male or female, young and old.

Mama was convinced we just couldn’t take her anywhere in public.

“She was hollering at some young college boys the other day,” Mama told me. “She wanted to stay in the car while I ran in Barnes & Noble and I came out to her hooting and hollering, asking them in they liked older women.”

I told Mama I was sure those UGA student thought she was joking.

“One was running. He almost ran into a car in the parking lot,” Mama said.

There had been a time where we just knew Granny said things that she knew were controversial.

Or as she put it, “I am just a-sayin’ what everybody else is a-thinkin’ and too dang scared to say.”

We were not entirely convinced about this. Some of the things she said, we found it hard to believe anyone would think.

“It’s like she gets started and doesn’t know how to stop,” I observed. “And she kind of feels like once she gets on a roll, she wants to see where it goes.”

Mama agreed.

We were just thankful Granny wasn’t online. Never getting that woman a computer was the biggest public service we ever did, as she would have shared her opinions and running commentary with everyone.

Mama, bless her heart, has never been one to say an unkind or rude thing to anyone. And, thankfully, she always tried to make me cautious about what I said.

My earliest memory of this was during an event at school, a clogging group took to the stage to dance.

I think this was maybe the first time I had actually seen clogging, and it was different, to say the least.

Usually, when something is different, we dismiss it as being odd and say something snarky or critical, especially if you are around 9 years old like I was.

Mama quickly tried to shush me.

It didn’t work, and I had moved on to how the dresses the girls were wearing were dorky.

Mama all but put her hand over my mouth.
“Would you please shush?” she asked.

“Why?”

“Someone may hear you,” she said.

“They way up there on the stage, they can’t hear me.”

The look on the face of the woman in front of us told Mama that she was the parent of one of the cloggers I was ridiculing from my Pretty Plus seat.

“It’s a free country,” my Granny interjected, shooting the lady a look in return. “She can say what she wants to.”
“And what if what she says hurts someone’s feelings or makes them mad?” Mama asked.

“Well, it’s still a free country. She’ll have to learn there’s consequences to what she says, but don’t be a shushing her because she don’t like this clogging. It ain’t like its fancy like square-dancing!”

That moment stayed with me and I have taught my own son to be aware of what he says in public. “Someone may take it the wrong way,” I would tell him.

But of course, while I have been trying to teach my child how to not do something, what do I go and do?

Yup, I go and open my mouth and say something I shouldn’t.

He was able to witness it, too.

“They’re right behind me, aren’t they?” I whispered.

He nodded, a slow, steady nod full of wisdom and empathy for his Mama’s mistake.

“Drats,” I muttered before bolting with my child in tow.

“How in the world did they manage to be right there behind me? That’s why we really shouldn’t say anything like that unless we know we are in the privacy of our home.”

Upset, I decided to call my Mama for comfort and tell her of my mishap.

She answered the phone, her sweet, genteel greeting giving me a safe place to land.
I launched into what happened, complete with the words that had been used.

“Kitten,” Mama interjected. “I’m gonna stop you right there…I am at the doctor’s office….
“And you are on speakerphone. So let me call you back.”
I slid to the floor.

We used to worry about my Granny saying stuff and sticking her foot in her mouth. I go straight for the thigh.

The Moral of the Mercer Madame (5/18/16)

It’s easy to believe what we hear sometimes, especially if it’s something bad.

In fact, it’s easier to believe the bad stuff than the good stuff.

And, if we aren’t exactly crazy about the person, it’s almost delightful.

So was the case when I was in college. I can’t remember the class exactly, I just recall it was one of my criminal justice courses.

My professor liked to tell us about his position working for the state – he was never very clear on what he actually did, but he wanted us to know he had some power.

Or, maybe not that he had any power but he worked for someone who did. Or sat near them or something.

Either way, this man was nursing a power complex and for some unforeseen reason, he hated me.

I am not sure why, but he did not like me and he didn’t really try to hide it.

I knew it and my friends knew it.

So when I was late one day, he made it a point to make a comment about it.

My friend Ron, never one to miss an opportunity to mess with me, approached the professor with a possible explanation.

“She was probably taking care of some business with her cat house,” he told him conspiratorially.

“Her what?” the professor asked. Not only was I late, but apparently I took part in illegal activities.

“Her cat house,” Ron repeated. “You didn’t know she had a cat house?” He dropped his voice down an octave lower. “She’s the Mercer Madame; you really should ask her about it. She can get you the hook up with the cat of your dreams.”

When I made it to class, I noticed the professor glaring at me even more than usual, unbeknownst to me, that Ron had told him this elaborate tale.

Ron just sat in the back, chuckling to himself.

As we headed to our break, the professor told me he wanted to speak with me for a moment. Ron, being the good friend that was he, decided to hang back to observe the little situation he had created.

Thinking I was about to be reamed out for being late, I immediately offered an apology, but my professor cut me off abruptly. “I want to hear about your, how do I put this? Your…cat house.”

I was confused and I am sure my expression was one of horror. My Granny always said my uncle and I were going to get in trouble one day.

“Who told you about that?”

“Don’t worry about that. I want to know what kind of cats you have in there. How do you find them?”

“I don’t find them. They come looking for me.”

Well, it was true. They did.

“I see. So they know where to go, I suppose. How do they find you? Is it word of mouth?”

“We just figure there’s some underground network, letting them know where to go to get fed, get them out of the rain, and stay warm.”

My professor took a deep, accusatory breathe, staring me down with daggers.

Ron tried to conceal his growing laughter in the back of the room.

“So, there’s a network that helps them find you. OK. And all you offer them is food and shelter? How much of a cut are you taking?”

“A cut? What are you talking about?”

“How much do you make?”

Oh, God? What was he thinking?

“We don’t make anything – if anything, we are losing money. You should see my credit card debt just keeping them up to date on their shots!”

“Who’s this ‘we?’” my professor demanded.

“My uncle and I. Bobby helps with most of them, taking care of them. Mama was helping but she has her pick and doesn’t really want to deal with the rest of them.”

“So – you’ve got your uncle in on this! It’s a family affair then?”

My professor was growing more and more adamant about this issue. I had no idea why he was taking such a deeply personal stance with it but he was.

“Now, tell me. If I was wanting to visit your cat house, what could I expect?”

“I don’t know.” And I didn’t. What the heck was he expecting?

“What kind of girls do you have exactly?”

“I don’t just have girls, I have boys, too,” I began.

“What!” he exclaimed.

“Yes, there’s boys in there. And I don’t know what you are looking for…we have some tiger striped, some solid gray ones, some tuxedos with white paws. And I am not really sure why you seem so angry about this. We normally don’t try to adopt any of them out. Maybe you should check with your local shelter?”

“What in the devil are you referring to?” my professor asked.

“I thought you were looking for a cat and I just wouldn’t feel comfortable letting you have one of ours. We’re real funny about who we let have one of our babies.”

“Cats? So your cat house really has….cats…”

“Yes, what did you think it had?”

The sound that came out of Ron was beyond hysterical. It was somewhere between a howl and a pig snorting. I gave him a sideways glance that let him know I would maim him later.

“So you don’t run a house of ill repute…” my professor was actually disappointed.

“I probably have enough cats to make me look like a crazy lady, but nope, sorry. No house of ill repute; just an old empty house on our property with about 20 strays we have rescued and vetted.”

My professor shot Ron an unforgiving glance that probably dropped his grade down a letter.

As I headed out to salvage the remaining minutes of my break, Ron skipped alongside me. “You know, for a second there, I had our old teacher thinking you were the Madame of Mercer. Kind of funny, don’t you think, that someone would believe that? You, little Miss Type A, gotta make an A – a lady running a house of ill repute! He almost believed it!”

He almost did.

So maybe the moral of the Mercer Madame is to never believe everything you hear, even when all the evidence makes it look like it may be fact.

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.

Better to beg forgiveness than ask permission

Cole wants a corgi.

He saw one on a television show recently and fell in love with their squatty little bodies immediately.

He made a horrible mistake however. He asked his father if he could get one.

“No.”

The only time his father says this word is when it involves bringing home another pup as Lamar is usually the care-giver and the scooper of the yard.

Had Cole asked if they could ride their bikes sans helmets down the side of a waterfall or set something on fire, Lamar would have eagerly agreed.

But this time, Cole asked for a pup and Lamar shut him down.

A battle has ensued for weeks now, with Cole trying to convince his father why he needs a corgi.

Lamar, however, is unyielding.

Cole is even trying to convince him by telling him the merits of the pups.
“They are herding dogs,” Cole begins. “You love herding dogs.”

“I prefer German shepherds,” Lamar replied.
“But, but, but—”

Cole stops his sentence short realizing his father is not budging.

Taking his laptop and a pen, he sat at the table, furiously punching at the keyboard, then scribbling on his paper. Shortly afterwards, he stood in front of his father with an essay he had drafted to present his case.

I was impressed – the child had not only researched the breed but prepared a good argument for the corgi case.

Lamar sighed but still refused to budge.

“What am I gonna do?” Cole asked me later. “He’s not gonna let me get a corgi, is he?”

Cole was so upset he called in his reinforcements, the one ally he has no matter what, and the only one who will stand up to his parents: Nennie.

And Nennie, of course, thought the child deserved a corgi and was quite beside herself to hear her only grandchild had been told no.

“Is something wrong with Lamar?” she asked me. “He said no.”

Not just to Cole, she added but about a dog.

“Mama, have you met Lamar? He always says “no” anytime I or Cole say we are going to get anything. If I say, “Let’s get a dog,” he automatically says no. I just have to show up with one.”

Then it hit me.

That’s how I had brought home the last two; I just ceremoniously showed up, toting a puppy. It’s pretty much what I did with Mama when I was growing up any time a stray cat wandered into the yard.

A habit I picked up from my uncle, who still brings in every stray he can.

When my uncle came home with another dog one day, Granny fussed.

This was not unusual, the old gal fussed about everything. But she particularly liked to fuss about anything that had to be fed.

My gentle, quiet uncle ignored her.

A few years later, I found a kitten, all tiny and covered in fleas. We immediately took it to the vet.

While we waited, I looked at my uncle and whispered, “Is Granny gonna be mad at us?”

My uncle laughed. “Probably.”

Of course she would be — she was breathing, so she was mad about something.

“What are we gonna do?” I asked.

“Well, if we ask her, we know what she’s gonna say, right?”

I nodded.

I think Granny held the copyright on “No.”

“So, it’s better if we just take the kitten on home and ride it out. She’ll get over it in a couple of days or find something else to get mad about. Eventually, she’ll forgive us.”

He was right. She was furious at first but thankfully, her sister Bonnie ticked her off about something else and she had a new rant to focus on.

I wasn’t sure how my uncle knew this would happen. Then, I realized: he learned it from the old gal herself.

I had outgrown my tiny closet and sorely needed a place to put my clothes. I was a teenage girl – clothes were an obsession. I had found an armoire that was perfect but expensive so no one would buy it for me.

Mama’s sensible suggestion was to put my clothes in the drawers when she left them folded on my bed.

I thought that was insane.

These were peplum skirts, cropped jackets, Bedazzled sweaters, and other high-fashion horrors.

I couldn’t put them in drawers.

Mama’s other not-so-sensible suggestion was to weed out my clothes; there were only 7 days in the week, I couldn’t possibly need 17 pairs of jeans.

Granny told me she would come up with a solution.

“Don’t you worry about it,” she told me when I asked what she was going to do.

The following day, my Pop had a message to call a contractor. Being a roofer who worked with most of the contractors in our town, Pop called him back, thinking it was about a house he needed to cover.

When he got off the phone he bounded down the hallway looking for my grandmother.

“Helen, did you call and ask about quotes to add on to the house?” he demanded.

Granny didn’t even look up from the biscuits she was making. “I did.”

“What in the dickens were you thinking?” he asked.

“I was thinking that Sue needed a better way to hang her clothes up. And since no one wants to get her something suitable, I figured we’d just go ahead and add on to her room there and get her a closet and her own bathroom, too.”

The next day, my armoire arrived from the furniture store.

“Would you have really added on to my room if he hadn’t bought it for me?” I asked.

The old gal gave me an opossum-eating briars grin and said, “Yes, I would have.”

“What if he had a fit?”

The smile grew bigger.

“Well, Shug, it’s better to ask forgiveness than it is to ask permission any day.”

As long as he asked, the answer Cole would get would be no.

But maybe asking forgiveness would at least get him the dog.

 

When All Else Fails (4/20/2016)

Do you know what having the title ‘mother’ means?

Don’t think it means you are adored and revered – let me stop you right there.

No, it means you are the one whose advice, warnings, and wisdom is completely disregarded.

Whatever comes out of your mouth is ignored, causes involuntarily eye-rolling, and may cause stomach upset.

It’s more harmful to your health than the newest pharmaceutical.

“Don’t do that, you are going to get hurt.”

I think I wake up saying that some mornings.

“But –”

“No. No buts, just do what I say.”

Of course, I don’t know anything. I mean, what could a mother possibly know?

I can see the impending accidents that can occur and despite having no working knowledge of physics, can ascertain at what speed and velocity something will ricochet through the air to make contact with one’s head.

Maybe that’s mother’s intuition but who knows? That’s just as ignored as everything else.

“What don’t you put that up to keep it safe?” I ask.

“It’s alright.”

The next day: “Oh, man…that’s ruined…”

Really?

“Mama…can you get me another one…”

Unfortunately, no; that was the last one.

“Oh, man….”

“Didn’t I tell you?….”

Just the beginning of this phrase causes the rest of what comes out of my mouth to be muted.

Don’t try finding sympathy in the company of your own mother. If she is anything like mine she can remember every time you ignored her heedings. Mine will even side with my child just to pour salt in the wound.

“You never listened to me so why should he listen to you?”

“Maybe because I am right?”

Mama sighs, an exasperated, slightly dramatic sigh. “I am usually right, too, you know.”

“So far it hasn’t happened.”

Of course, when I was younger, I never thought for one moment she could be right. She was far too full of rules: telling me what to wear, what time I needed to be home, to watch what I was doing, and not stay up late on a school night. “If you know something is due, make sure you do it when you get the assignment – not the night before it’s due.”

I ignored her then, and, yes, I ignore her now.

“Make sure….have you…did you?”

Her statements are all peppered with constant warnings and advice.

“I am an adult, you know. I can do this,” is my retort.

A few days later – sometimes, it’s not even days but hours, actually – I am on the phone with her, asking her how to fix it.

“Can I ask you something? Why didn’t you listen to me to begin with?” she will ask.

How can I tell her that I am not supposed to listen to her? I am pretty sure it is written somewhere that while a mother can be adored and cherished, she is not necessarily listened to.

“Did you ever listen to Granny?”

She didn’t respond.

Granny would give Mama many words of wisdom, none of which my mother would take.

“She’s just being bossy and controlling,” is how Mama described the advice.

In hindsight, however, Granny was right.

She was right about a lot of things, like wearing a slip, even if you think you don’t need one so everyone else won’t see all your glory; never buying cheap shoes; and always making sure you look presentable before you head out, lest you want to run into everyone you know in town.

She was right and, as much as I hate to admit it, Mama is right about a bunch of stuff, too.

Having a son does increase the validity of what I may say, but not by much. I can tell my child what to do or, more accurately, not to do, and he will listen in as much as he feels applies to him and what he wants to do at that given time.

Our conversation usually follows a rhythm of me telling him not to do something and him declaring he knows what he’s doing.

This is typically followed by a thud or the sound of something crashing. “I’m alright,” he will call out, not too convincingly.

“Didn’t I tell you?…”

“Yes, Mama, you did…”

I sigh as I survey the damage. Wood floors can create pretty immediate bruising.

Didn’t I just tell him not try to run-slide in socks?

Did he listen?

Of course not.

When all else fails, just do what your Mama told you.