Tough Mama love

For the majority of my childhood and some parts of my adult life, I can’t think of a time that Mama couldn’t, or rather, wouldn’t fix things for me.

If someone crossed her Kitten, Mama was ready to go to battle and could go from a kind-hearted woman to full blown crazy redhead with lightening speed.

Until, that is, Mama decided to teach me a lesson.

I cannot even remember what it was, or what happened, but one day in my mid-20’s, I ran to Mama, hoping she’d fix it, but I did not get her usual reaction.

“I am so sorry that happened,” she said.

I waited.

Usually, she would ask for the offender’s name and contact information, so she could unleash her hellfire and brimstone.

This time, she simply said, “I am so sorry.”

“Aren’t you going to do something?” I asked.

“Not this time,” she replied. “I think this is a lesson you need to learn.”

I was shocked – don’t mothers live for this kind of stuff? Especially mine, who always wanted to rush in and make it all better.

But, no, she was going to let me deal with this on my own.

It was hard to swallow.

I kind of felt abandoned.

Didn’t she care? Didn’t she want to help? Did she want to see me upset and maybe the victim?

I asked her all of these things.

“You are only a victim if you think yourself one,” she said gently. “And I have raised to be nobody’s fool nor a victim. You know what needs to be done in this situation and I am not going to always be there to fight your battles. You decided to do this on your own, too. Sometimes, Kitten, you have to lie in the bed you made.”

Not the answer I was hoping for. And apparently, guilt was not going to work on her — not this time, anyway.

The only way out of the mess was in.

I had to learn to fight my own battles and, realize that sometimes, things couldn’t be fixed.

I did not like it. But I did learn to not make that kind of mistake again.

Still, it hurt, and I didn’t understand why Mama didn’t help me when she could.

She reacted the same a few years later when I was going through a divorce.

A dear friend was visiting me, and as we walked through an antique store, I shared how Mama seemed to be letting me deal with things on my own, rather than rushing to my aid. I admitted I was kind of shocked and thought she didn’t care about me.

My friend turned around and looked me square in the eye and said, “No, she loves you. And I am going to tell you a truth that will hurt: sometimes, at the very moment you need someone the most in your life, that person is not going to be there. It doesn’t mean they don’t love you, it doesn’t mean they are abandoning you; it means they have a life, too, and sometimes, you have to take care of things on your own. I love you, and will always try to be there for you, but, there may come a day I can’t be. Learning this lesson now will save you heartache and disappointment in the future.”

As hard as it was to hear, it was the truth and eventually, I was glad I learned it.

I found out later, Mama stepping back and letting me learn that for myself was harder on her than it was me.

She wanted to swoop in like a one-woman cavalry and right the wrongs; she knew, though, I would never learn to do it for myself if she did.

As a mother, there is nothing harder than to watch your child, even if they are grown, go through something and let them do it.

Especially when it is a mess they got themselves in; even more so when the mess was something you had warned them about and they didn’t listen.

It wasn’t a punishment. It was love.

Tough, strong Mama love.

Just like when babies are learning to walk, we have to let them stumble a few times.

Toting them all the time does not strengthen their legs.

Granted, as I grew up and older, I realize just how much Mama has done and how sometimes, she sacrificed a tremendous amount for me. And even more, sometimes, it was harder for her let me fail – even just a little bit – to help me grow.

“Mama, you’re always going to love me, right?” Cole randomly asked one day.

“Absolutely.”

“Nothing can ever make you stop loving me, right?” he asked again.

I immediately wondered what he did that I hadn’t found yet, but assured him, nothing could or would ever make me stop loving him.

“So, you will always love me, and you’ll never stop?” he pondered again. “Even if you get mad at me?”

I assured him again, I would never stop.

“No matter what?”

No matter what.

I may have to let him learn some lessons like Mama had to let me, but that would never, not ever, stop the love.

Even when it’s tough Mama love, it’s still love.

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A cautionary tale

The other day, I was reminded of the importance of one little word.

A word with only three letters but a big impact.

The word is ‘but.’

It wasn’t a word I have thought much about in a while but when it was brought to my attention, I realized it is a word I needed to pay attention to.

This one little word may have been the redheaded duo’s favorite word.

“Your biscuits were good,” Granny began, “But, they were too big.”

“How can a biscuit being too big be a bad thing?” I demanded to know.

She looked at me with disgust. How dare I defy anything she declared as fact?
“Because they are. Your sausage patty is only so big. What are you going to do with the leftover biscuit?”

“I make my biscuits for butter and honey,” I said.

She snorted. “Of course you do. But, normal folks like sausage and none of that vegetarian nonsense.”

I wanted to tell her I wasn’t even a vegetarian anymore, but it wouldn’t have mattered.

“You did good on that test, but,” –

“I like your new haircut, but,” –

“Your house looks nice, but,” –

I have learned to not only dread but wait for the but.

The but that comes to let me know that whatever compliment had been previously given was about to be taken away.

Granny was famous for it.

Mama, as kind hearted as she is, is much more subtle with her but.

And even though I am 45, I want Mama’s approval.

Some things, she is easy to please.

Others, she can hold me to task more than Granny and would probably impress the old gal.

Where Granny was critical about cooking, Mama reserves her negating for things I do to my hair.

“Your hair is cute,” she began one day. “But why did you want to color it red.”

“I was paying homage to the crazy redheads in my family,” I replied.
“Hmmm,” she demurred. “But, difference is, we are natural redheads, Kitten. You are a natural brunette. Stick with what God gave you.”

“If that was the case, I would be bald, Mama. And so would you.”

She also doesn’t understand some of my other life choices.

“It’s wonderful you went back to school, but,” – here it comes – “I don’t know why you didn’t go to law school. Probably because I wanted you to.”

I sighed. It was hard to endure the buts. I was given a compliment only to be followed by something that completely wiped out the previous praise.

I cringe when I hear that word, so I cringe a lot; it’s said by everyone.

Including myself.

I didn’t notice how much I said it until I realized how much I hated it – kind of ironic, isn’t it?

I would thank my husband for doing something and throw a ‘but’ in there.
Mama would ask me if I liked whatever she got me, and I had something to undercut it.

‘But’ was everywhere.

I wondered how different our perspective would be if instead of trying to find flaw with something, we just focused on the positives of a situation.

I know when I hear the but, I immediately anticipate some criticism coming. And after the but is uttered, I don’t focus on the things I did right or the praises; instead, I focus on the one thing that I did wrong.

The but is a great big minus sign, taking away any good we may have done and tend to put us on the defensive.

I decided I needed to try to limit my buts unless they were absolutely necessary.

Cole decided to help clean one day.

I hadn’t asked him, he just did it because he knew I had so much to do.

So, he washed the dishes and folded laundry.

“Mama, I wanted to help. Did I do it OK?” he asked when he finished.

The laundry was not folded the way I like. I have always had a thing about how my towels are folded.

I prefer the dishes to be stacked a certain way to air dry.

“Yeah, but,” – I caught myself.

“But what?” he asked. The minute he heard the but, his expression fell a little.
“I don’t have any cash to give you for helping,” I said.

He hugged me. “I didn’t want anything, Mama, I just wanted to help.”

“You did great,” I said.

And I left the but out of it.

The (super)power of common sense

Granny always considered common sense a rare, priceless thing.

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

“Isn’t book learning good?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

I thought she was being horribly unfair towards my Mama.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was confused.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Cole, you are extremely smart.”

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

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

He frowned, not liking my answer.

I didn’t think he would.

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

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

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.

 

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.