Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Looking for the Awesome

The other day, my daughter, Melissa, and I were heading to the local outlet mall with her two kids, who also happen to be my grandkids. Miles and Georgia were in the backseat, legally secured in their newfangled, regulation, impossible-for-Grammy-to-buckle-without-cursing, car seats. Georgia was asleep, holding best stuffed bud, Beary Manilow, in a death grip, and Miles was complaining because it was taking too long to arrive at the restaurant where he was going to get the juice we had promised him.  This delay was based on the scenic route we'd embarked upon, out of Portland, through Troutdale, where Melissa and Trevor had celebrated their wedding, then down by the Sandy River, and up the side of a small mountain.

“Juice! I want juice!” Miles reiterated the iteration he’d iterated quite a few times during our journey. Truth be told, he would have been much happier at home riding his Christmas bike, but, at three, he doesn’t really have much of a say about how he spends his days, other than belting out “Juice!” every few minutes.

In an effort to hold our squirmer off for while longer, either Melissa or I had promised, at some point, that we were going to see something really awesome at the top of the mountain, yes indeed, employing the overused term that’s become such a cliché. What that awesome thing was we had no idea, but what we wanted was for him to stop fussing long enough for us all to be able to take in the beauty of that mountain and that river and the time we were spending together, just the four of us snugly snapped into our warm seats in Melissa’s mom-mobile on a wet and cold Oregon December day.

A bit more time went by and we discerned that the complaint department had apparently closed down in the back and we thought Miles, thumb in mouth and Gankie tucked under arm, had dozed off to snore in unison with Georgia by his side.  With new confidence, we drove a little higher up the mountain, enjoying the quiet and the companionship, mother and daughter all grown up. 

However, just as we were lulled into a faux serenity and some entry-level contemplation, a little voice emerged from the back seat.

“But where’s the awesome?”

After a chuckle at Miles’ cuteness with his childish but point-on question, I stopped to consider the fact that we often spend so much time overusing a term based on a dearth of a more varied and thoughtful vocabulary and  attempting to make the mundane noteworthy, that we overlook the minor miracles, the real awesomeness we happen upon, but often fail to note, in the hurry up of our everyday lives.

So, with that in mind, I challenged myself to notice and document the truly awesome for the rest of that day.  And I did.  

It included:
  • the deli lunch with the promised juice and hot dogs and lots of crackers, many on the floor, while the kids, in turn, sat on the table.
  • shopping for light-up shoes and packages of socks and finding one-year-old Georgia sitting, legs straight out, on the floor at the front of the store trying on a Norwegian knit hat from the sale bin.
  • fifty-cent rides with a serious Spidey and mirthful Big Bird.
  • driving back over Portland's gorgeous bridges with both kids asleep (and quiet) in the back.
  • walking in the rain to Pattie's Home Plate later in the day with son Billy and granddaughter Cami for a most unusual dinner.
  • coming back home, wet and happy, to listen to Cami's two-year-old patter about her day and her papa and her mama named Mary.
Cami after our walk in the rain
    I know there was more to that day that I could have commemorated, but I'm still new at looking for the awesome.  I'm hoping this Omar Khayyam treasure, recently shared by a friend, might help me to stop and ponder the wonderful.

    Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.


    Friday, December 24, 2010

    Henry and the Runaway Christmas Tree

    Henry was our early marriage dog. As with many newlywed couples, anxious to nurture something but knowing it was too soon for that thing to be a baby, Gary and I adopted Henry. Gary was doing his pharmacy residency at McCook’s Pharmacy in South Macon, an area known as the Rutland Community. Being a good old boy, Gary fit right in at McCook’s, a place where patrons brought in cooked-to-perfection turnip greens and warm-from-the-garden tomatoes to share with the people who worked there. At some point, someone mentioned that a lady had some pure-bred beagle puppies she was going to sell for next to nothing, so we went and picked one out .

    I have lots of stories about Henry, about our moves with him to South Carolina and back, about the fence we bought to keep him in, about all the flowers he pulled up in that fenced-in yard, about the many times I had to bail him out of the pound when he dug under that fence. But the story I’m going to tell now is one that’s appropriate for the season and one that exemplifies what typically seems to happen to my best laid and made holiday plans.  And that story is the one about Henry and the runaway Christmas tree.

    Henry was a sweet dog, but stupid. When the human babies started arriving, he accepted those annoying hiccups in his life plan pretty well as little ones grabbed his hairy nose and black dog lips and tried to ride on his speckled back. However, I do believe that all this mayhem did serve to make poor Henry a little nervous. If he’d been a person, he might have developed a nervous tic or perhaps a smoking habit. In addition, the more crowded the house became, the less attention Henry received from the people who had promised to cherish him just a few years earlier. Whereas, before the kids came along, he could depend on a bowl of clean water and fresh gruel each morning and evening, that expectation eroded as changing diapers and spooning baby food took energy and focus away from caring for the dog.

    But, in spite of his less than stellar cerebral cortex, Henry adapted.  He took to eating off the floor, taking advantage of the messes the children made, the milk-engorged Cheerios, the dust-covered cracker crumbs, a tasty bit of pre-chewed weenie.  As for water, he got it wherever he could find it, from mud puddles, toilets, the occasionally-mopped kitchen floor.

    As the holidays approached one Christmas and preparations were underway, Henry was in dog heaven with actual baking going on and butter and chocolate dropping in giant glorious globs upon the floor.  And then there was the real tree, adorned with candy canes, chewy and delicious despite their cellophane wrappings, and the tree itself sitting in its very own reservoir of water.  Not stopping to reflect on the unfairness of a newly-arrived stalk of future pine straw getting preferential treatment over the family dog, Henry, pragmatic soul that he was, decided to feast upon the waters that sustained that Christmas tree.

    This water poaching went on for quite a while with my knowledge until ultimately the irresistible force met the immovable object when Gary happened upon Henry in mid drink on none other than Christmas Eve, its divine self.  A chase quickly ensued as Henry's collar, striving as we all do to make a some kind of connection to another entity, linked itself to one of the strings of Christmas lights that gave the tree its shine.

    All I saw as I arrived from the kitchen, covered in sugar and sweat and wondering just what this particular ruckus could have possibly been about, was Henry and the Christmas tree rounding the corner and careening down the hall in an attempt to find refuge under a bed. 

    At that point, if he could have, if he'd just had the words and the cultural history and a brain large enough for rote memory skills, Henry might have had the courage and the abandon to render the following from Clement Moore:

    But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
    "Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"

    And although he didn't, I do have all those things and, since I'm not hiding under a bed with a Christmas tree ruefully attached to my collar, that's exactly what I offer to you.

    Sunday, December 19, 2010

    A Christmas Walk

    In thinking about a Christmas memory, several come to mind. I remember my mother making us listen to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol via 78 rpm recordings each Christmas Eve, a story that should have been more interesting than it was. Of course, on Christmas Eve, pretty much nothing was as interesting as looking for Santa's feet landing on our hearth followed by all the presents I'd asked for and was confident I deserved.

    I also remember another Christmas Eve when my brother set his bed on fire. Too nerdy to smoke and too smart to play with matches, Sandy decided to try to lull his excited self to sleep by reading under the covers while I slept in the next bed, having had to give up my room to Aunt Susie for the holidays. He took the shade off the lamp before he entered his private reading fort, one that unfortunately turned out to be combustible when the bare bulb met the cotton sheet. However, it seems that there wasn’t too much of a conflagration as I slept through the entire emergency. From then on, our holiday tradition was to open presents on Christmas Eve to keep my dumb-ass brother from burning the house down.

    A Christmas Day memory I have is one that happened a bit later. It was 1964, I think, which made me 14, a difficult age for the holidays, too old to play with the toys Santa had brought me and too young to borrow the family car to escape from the heat produced by too much food and too many relatives. I had already received all the compliments I was going to get about how pretty I looked in my new Christmas sweater and I couldn’t watch TV because Uncle Walter was sitting in front of the television set nursing his highball. When the phone rang and my new friend, who’d just recently moved to Savannah, bemoaned her similar circumstances, we decided to get together and take a walk around the beautiful island that was our home. We met up by her house and agreed to walk down by the bluff, a gorgeous spot adorned with moss-hung oaks, genteel old homes, and quaint river docks. I wore my Christmas sweater and she wore her new navy pea coat, something I immediately added to my upcoming birthday wish list. My new friend’s name was Allison and I’d been looking for her for a quite a while, even though I hadn’t known it. I’d skipped a grade in junior high and had been at loose ends ever since, as the kids I’d played with my entire life were now a year behind me in school and we no longer seemed to have much in common.

    Beginning with that Christmas walk, it didn’t take long at all for Allison and me to bind our friendship through our outlandish senses of humor, our budding liberal views, and our love for saddle oxfords. We went on to become college room-mates, bridesmaids in each others' weddings, and, years later, that same other was right there when each of our marriages ended. And then, just a few years ago, fate would intervene once again when we both had the opportunity to move to Atlanta around the same time.

    And so, forty-six Christmases later, my new friend is now my old friend. Although I never got my pea coat and we no longer yearn for saddle oxfords, which, by the way, just might now work wonders in covering our bunions and veiny feet, we are still pretty darned silly and annoyingly liberal. Just ask anybody.
    Still friends (and silly) after all these years.

    Sunday, December 12, 2010

    Star Light, Star Bright

    First star I see tonight.
    I wish I may
    I wish I might
    Have the wish
    I wish tonight.

    I don’t remember my first night sky memory. Perhaps it was a warm summer evening when my parents took my brother and me out in the yard to lie on our backs, hands behind our heads, to ponder the moon. I see the moon and the moon sees me. Or maybe it was Christmas Eve, gazing up to look for the Star of Bethlehem on that silent night, holy night - or Rudolph’s nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?

    Several things have happened lately to make me think of the night sky and all of its wonders.

    First is a current REI ad on television.  Although REI is a company that sells hiking and camping equipment, items I'm not all that interested in, their latest ad is a good one.   It makes me want to step back and contemplate my life, which is a lot to ask of a television commercial, especially one touting something I don't want.  In it,  a woman is perched on a dusk-lit cliff in the great outdoors, eating a piece of bread slathered with peanut butter. By the enthusiastic noises she's making, you can tell she is thoroughly enjoying that peanut-buttered bread, as the narrator says something like, "Jane Smith has just discovered that a four-star restaurant can't begin to compete with one having four million stars."  All I can add to that is "Isn't that the truth and where can I buy a sleeping bag - or at least a big old jar of peanut butter."

    And then, there’s the teaching of second grade and our current curriculum unit centered around the moon and the stars. For this unit, we usually have the students keep a moon-phase calendar for a month, an assignment that causes no small amount of angst for parents and children alike as they try to find the time each night to locate the moon not only in the midst of a cloudy evening, but also in the middle of homework, baths and bedtime stories.  So, this year, I asked the parents to simply help their child to take a moment during the busy holiday season to go outside and look up at our beautiful night sky, to think about the moon and the stars and what they mean to us, to marvel at the wonder of it all.

    As soon as I asked that, I had to stop and consider just when was the last time I marveled at the gift we get for free most nights if we just stop and look up at the magnificence of our universe.  For those of us who live in Atlanta, when we gaze toward the heavens, we often can't get past our city view, with its skyscrapers lit up like Christmas trees all year round.  It takes real focus and commitment to take note of the glory of our earth and its suburbs, the neighboring galaxies.

    And finally, there's this season we're in, when we humans add twinkly lights to trees, homes, bushes and the occasional dog in an effort to emulate the celestial bodies. And don't forget the story we tell all over the world about that special star that led the wise men to that certain babe.

    And so, my promise to myself this holiday season is to take my own moment to go out into the brisk night air, to stop and look up in wonder at the sky and think about what a gift it all is, how the stars have guided us throughout time, how the moon moves the oceans, the miracle that is our universe.  I think I may take along a jar of peanut butter.

    Tuesday, December 7, 2010

    A Gospel Christmas

    A sea of red, a vocalized tsunami, an undulating mass, and the assertion that God is, indeed, in the house. That’s what I get each year when I’m lucky enough to attend the Atlanta Symphony’s Gospel Christmas Concert.

    Although the orchestra gets first billing, make no mistake about who owns the night.

    The Atlanta Gospel Choir is made up of about a hundred folks who can certainly belt out a tune, but it’s more than that. The term gestalt keeps coming to my mind as I consider the sum of all those very human parts. The great majority of the members are African American, with just a few pasty faces punctuating the throng. I’ve wondered just how talented a Caucasian has to be to infiltrate a group of dynamic singers who’ve undoubtedly been experiencing the mightiness of God’s Own Personal Music in their churches since they arrived that first Sunday as little babies tucked into their mothers' necks.

    The city of Atlanta has a vast and powerful Black population, and why wouldn’t it, with its history and its strong connection to Dr. King. It’s long been a place where African Americans have come because they believe they can find a good and safe place for themselves and their families, a place they can call home. And that home has often revolved around church - and church means music.

    Now, keep in mind that I'm the pastiest of pasty faces and I'm certainly not in the choir.  In addition, I'm pretty sure some of my black friends will tell me I'm being simplistic here and that not all African Americans are church-going choir members.

    I know that, but this is my story so I get to say it the way I see it.  And the way I see it is that the sum of those singing parts in the Atlanta Gospel Choir is certainly greater than what it would appear to be at first glance.  Those people perform not only with superb talent and abundant energy, but also with an assuredness that could come only from some kind of big old belief in something even more important and lasting than standing up, en masse, and singing along with the Atlanta Symphony. 

    And being enveloped in that belief and that authority for a couple of hours each December makes me want to believe too.

    Thursday, December 2, 2010

    Oh no! Here comes Marcia with her Christmas basket.

    I am a happy woman. I just got back from the fabric store and I’m deep in thought as to what I’ll be making for Christmas. Every year, my poor work friends are besieged and beset and not so besotted with me following them around asking which gift they want to choose from my basket.

    When I was younger, I made almost all of my presents. I remember one Christmas when I made my mother, my grandmother, and my three aunts flannel granny gowns. For some reason, they never seemed to wear them when I was around. Another Christmas, I created nativity scenes out of dough made from flour, salt, and water. I sculpted Mary, Joseph and Sweet Baby Jesus in his manger, and even a few sheep to graze around and then gaze upon the little baby. I was really proud of those Tiny Tidbits of Godly Art until my preacher asked why I’d included turtles along with the Holy Family.

    I’ve made lots of ornaments, including little fabric baskets with reindeer poking their antlered pom-pom heads out to see the world, knitted wreaths with yarn accessories, surprisingly heavy angels made of tiny flower pots with Christmas balls for the heads and moss for hair, little what-nots made from leftover potpourri that looked like miniature dirt dauber nests, and perhaps my strangest creations ever: tiny hanging pillows with pictures of Paris on them. There were very good reasons for all of the brilliant creations mentioned above, although I can’t think of any of them right now.

    Last year, I hit the jackpot when I figured out a way to make festive coaster sets out of fabric and polyfill layering. I even came up with a great tag, which read “Roller Coasters: Putting the Fun Back into Drinking!” If that doesn’t say Let's celebrate the birth of Christ, I don’t know what does.

    When one of my gifts turns out to be even more lame than usual, I tend to write a poem to go with it. One year, I gave my colleagues muscadine jelly from grapes I’d gotten free from a friend. Although home-made jelly would normally be a great gift, I managed to screw up the recipe somehow. But, that didn’t stop me. I just added a poem, which, I’m sorry to tell you, I can’t find. But I do remember it ended with something like this:

    Since I had no money to splurgil,
    I got my grapes from Virgil.

    The poem would have been much easier to write if my friend’s name had been Bob or Frank. But, then again, real art is never easy.

    Back to this year. Since I’m finally seriously considering retirement, I’m thinking this may be my last year for workplace gift giving. I’m definitely leaning toward ornaments again, this time trees stuffed with chopped balsam I ordered from some place that actually grows balsam trees. Maine, I think. 

    I hope my latest gifts turn out okay, but if they don’t, I have a poem percolating in my head. I just haven’t yet figured out what rhymes with balsam. Wait a minute.  How about this?

    My trees are awesome.
    They smell like balsam.

    As to what I’ll do when I no longer have work friends to entertain and annoy with my baskets of home-made gifts, I’m considering  giving to those who may not have access to a lot of Christmas cheer. So, if you see the pimps and pros from the corner hightailing it down Ponce de Leon Avenue in midtown Atlanta some time around the next Yuletide Season, just know that what they're screaming isn't "Cheese it! The cops!" Instead, it will be “Oh no! Here comes Marcia with her Christmas basket!"

    Thursday, November 25, 2010

    Peas All Gone!

    A few evenings ago, I dined with old friends, Gene and Charlotte, at the iconic Atlanta eatery The Colonnade. As Charlotte was enjoying her veggie plate, I, my chicken-fried chicken, and Gene, his salmon croquettes, he reminisced about growing up near Atlanta in the 1940's and 50's, describing memories of driving downtown with his mother to shop at Rich’s and Davison’s Department Stores and the small magic shops that were situated between those two Grande Dames of Southern Shopping. He told about following his mother up and down Peachtree Street, to and from Forsyth Street, and how the trip was made less painful as he was allowed to stop at both of the magic shops on the way. He said that, all the while he was eating lunch at Rich’s Magnolia Tea Room, he’d be trying to decide which one of the magic tricks he would be allowed to buy.  As Gene was talking, my own Rich’s memory hit me like a….well, like a mouthful of English peas. 

    Living way down in Waycross as we did, we didn’t make it up to Atlanta very often. However, I did have two aunts who lived here and we would drive up to see them from time to time. My first memory of an Atlanta visit must have been in about 1954, which would have made me four. I remember looking in the Rich’s window and seeing my first television screen ever, all lit up in vibrant black and white. I also remember eating lunch in the tea room there.

    As a child, I was a picky eater. On one occasion when I was quite small, a nice neighbor lady asked what I liked on my hamburger, and I responded with “everything but the meat.” I’d like to think I was ahead of the  times with my vegetarian sensibilities, but I guess my recent chicken-fried chicken selection would belie that. And a vegetarian I definitely was not, as, to my child mind, vegetables were to be avoided at all cost. 

    I’m pretty sure that, for my nice luncheon at the Magnolia Tea Room, I ordered either a cheese sandwich or my extra-special favorite, peanut butter and jelly. I’m also certain that my sneaky mother mouthed something about a vegetable to our complicit waitress in her frilly white apron.

    It doesn't take much of an imagination to conjure up what happened next in the midst of a nice meal in a lovely restaurant full of happy post-WWII hatted and white-gloved matrons and very few children.  To my horror, English peas arrived in a neat little pile on my plate; Mama told me to at least taste them, and I said no.  She ordered and I cried.  She put her foot down and I petulantly took a spoonful.  But, determined to have the last, albeit silent word, I refused to swallow.  

    The rest of the meal was spent with me full-cheeked and teary-eyed, but Mama didn't relent.  Finally, the bill was paid and my Mary Janes insolently followed my mother's spectator pumps past the other patrons, out the door, and into the elevator to take us to the first floor where the perfumes and hosiery were displayed and sold.  Midway through our downward journey, I looked up at Mama and smiled my best smile.  In the midst the packed elevator full of  other shoppers and diners, I said, in what my mother later reported to have been an extremely loud voice, "Peas all gone!"

    Rich's Department Store, with its Pink Pig at Christmas and its Crystal Bridge spanning seven stories, is also gone, gone from downtown Atlanta and elsewhere.  All that's left are grown-up memories of little children reluctantly following their mamas in their pretty hats and white gloves up and down Peachtree Street; children just looking for some respite, perhaps a magic trick or a nice peanut butter and jelly sandwich with no vegetables. 

    Although Gene eventually understood that there were simple solutions to the magic tricks he obsessed over and purchased on his shopping trips to downtown Atlanta, solutions explained by the sales clerk as soon as he handed over his small bills and coins, I continue to dislike English peas to this day.

    Saturday, November 20, 2010


    When I was a kid, I was a real crybaby. The only spankings I  remember were when my mother had had enough and she would pop me on the bottom to “give me something to cry about.” She later told me she believed that I would get into a state where I needed to cry hard and then get over it. I don’t know if that was true or if she was so sick of my whining that she just snapped.

    I remember when I was about six or seven, a time when I was quite proud because I hadn’t cried for an entire day. That was most likely something my entire family noted and celebrated.

    These days, I rarely cry. I can go months without a whimper or a sniffle, probably because I pretty much lamented myself out when I was a little girl.

    My brother, Sandy, was sometimes mean to me and he ignored me for most of my childhood. Maybe he couldn't take all the blubbering.   Right now, he's in ICU at Georgetown University Hospital and I can’t stop crying.

    You see, despite his slow start, he turned out to be a really good man, maybe the best I’ve ever known, one I still need to have on this earth with me for a while longer.

    So Sandy, if you'll just get better and out of that place, I promise to stifle it.

    Thursday, November 18, 2010

    Shootout at Wells Fargo

    If I had a gun and knew how to use it, and if  I wasn’t afraid of being arrested or of having to do community service by picking up trash on I-75, I would shoot out that stupid red and yellow Wells Fargo sign which is now attached to what was formerly my beautiful faux antebellum Ansley Park Wachovia branch office.

    It’s not that I can’t accept change when it comes to my change. When The Big Kat and I first married and moved to good old Warner Robins, we kept what little  money we had at Citizens’ State Bank, our hometown institution. As the years went by, Citizens’ State was bought out by First Atlanta, and then First Atlanta was bought out by Wachovia, kind of like that whole little fish getting eaten by a bigger fish thing.  Survival of the fittest fish.

    I was fine with all of that. I think I remember some minor annoyances with ordering new checks or a few fee anomalies, but there was nothing that made me want to throw eggs at a drive-through window or paint graffiti on a bankly exterior.

    Until Wells Fargo came along.

    At first I was relatively happy with this newest bank buy-out because Wells Fargo is a west coast outfit and I thought it would make banking in Portland less of a problem.

    Boy was I wrong. So far, banking anywhere has been a big old  enormous problem,  and one I didn’t see coming.

    It started the day I had jury duty. I woke up to a stormy morning, one that made me wonder why I ever thought I wanted to be a good American by registering to vote when I was eighteen.  In the driving rain,  I had to make my way to find the correct parking lot over by Turner Field so I could catch the shuttle to the Fulton County Courthouse. Nothing is ever easy in Atlanta.

    As I was driving, I realized I didn’t have any cash and I recalled the need for vending machine money from a previous jury duty. No problem, though, because my bank was on the way. As I drove up to the ATM in the pelting rain, I noticed the Wachovia sign had been removed and a ghastly red and orange Wells Fargo one had replaced it. But I wasn’t worried because my online banking messages had promised a seamless transition and when had I ever been lied to online? I slid my Wachovia ATM card in the slot with my wet arm, only to have the machine whir and buzz and shimmy and shake and then actually look confused. It ultimately told me that it couldn’t read my card and to try again later.

    Chalking it up to bad karma and worse weather, I didn’t think much more about my money as I was busy taking my life into my hands just getting to the parking lot, into the shuttle, out of the shuttle, and into the courthouse, all in the dark and the rain.  At that point, I figured I wouldn't live long enough to put money in a vending machine anyway.

    But live I did.

    After sitting all morning in my wet socks in the jury holding room without benefit of a Diet Coke, waiting to see if I'd be picked, they let us go to lunch.  Leaving the courthouse, I was thrilled to see the sun and I considered this to be a good bank-card omen along with the cute pizza place I found close by.  I ordered my slice and salad and handed over my card.  

    Declined.  The nice lady tried again.  Declined again.  Thank goodness I had a credit card or I would've starved to death on the steps of justice and just how unjust would that have been?

    I cut my lunch short and tried to find a Wachovia/Wells Fargo within walking distance, but no luck there either.  Back into the courthouse, sitting on the floor, calling multiple phone numbers and calling out multiple bank and social security numbers in the midst of God and felons and other people who, like me, were too stupid to get out of jury duty.

    Guess what?  It was a screw up.  The ten people I talked to finally came to that conclusion.  However, they also came to the conclusion that they couldn't send me another ATM card for ten days.  

    But life went on.  I wasn't chosen for jury duty and I got over the ATM mess and did without until, fifteen days later, my new Wachovia card came in the mail.  I was told to use that card until my Wells Fargo card arrived.  All seemed well enough.

    Fast forward a couple more weeks.  There in the mail was my brand new (and quite pretty not yellow and red) Wells Fargo card with a phone number to call to activate it.  I was pretty excited, feeling that I could, finally, move on with my life.

    "I'm sorry but we have no record of that card" is what the somewhat snotty person on the other end of the line told me after I'd called out the numbers on both sides three times.

    Spending some time picking up trash on the highway might not be such a bad way to spend a few weekends.  I look pretty good in orange.

    Saturday, November 13, 2010

    That Dog Still Hunts

    This last month has been an exciting one for me. First of all, I was kissed by a gay man in drag a few weeks ago, and then, just this past weekend, I was told by a non-gay man that I was “well preserved.”

    I’d never been told that I was well preserved before, mainly because, when I became the age to be considered so, to put it bluntly, I wasn’t. I have that redheaded skin that was never supposed to see the light of a sunny day, but nobody told me or, more likely, I didn't listen.

    I'm happy to have had some recent masculine attention, I guess, but it doesn't thrill me like it would have when I was younger. I know it’s going to come as a sad shock to my legions of male admirers, but I’ve got to confess that I’m just not all that interested in the romantic arts any more, now that my hormones have dried up like a corsage in a spinster's hope chest.

    Come to think of it, most men my age, the ones I know, at least, aren’t all that interested in sex either, despite their big talk. They’re more concerned with their bowels than their genitals and the only breathing things they’re sleeping with are their CPAP machines.

    It’s all a relief really. I can go to bed by myself without having to hold my stomach in while I sleep. Furthermore, I don’t have to worry about my breath or what kind of noises I may or may not be making in the middle of the night.

    The only thing I sometimes miss is a big old hug, preferably from a good looking man. I like hugs from my grand kids, but as sweet as they are, they just don't pack the same kind of punch as when a burly man wraps his arms around you and squeezes. I've taken to
    requesting a hug, now and then, when I find a likely victim, and, so far, it's worked out well. The police haven't been called one single time.

    Okay, I know I’m going to be hearing from all the Sexy Grandmas out there and the people for whom sex just keeps getting better and better. All I’m saying is what I know about myself. Sometimes I do think I’d like to “do it” one last time before I die, but when I consider all the trouble I'd have to go to, what with driving to Target for new underwear and then pretending to be interested in that last pass thrown in the fourth quarter of the championship game in 1967, it just isn’t worth it. Plus, I’m pretty sure none of the men I know would be willing to put up with me for long enough to move the cat off the bed, much less to get my lumpy, wrinkled self out of my flannel nightgown.

    I do have friends who are still sexually active, if that's what you would call it. Most of them are with the same men they married 30, 40, or 50 years ago so I guess they've got the process pretty well in place after all of that time, but I'm not sure it's all that active. I think it's more like, "turn off the TV when you're done and don't wake me up, for heaven's sake." If any friends my age are having monkey sex on the kitchen table with their husbands, they've been nice enough to keep it to themselves.

    I also know a couple of older women who are still dating. One, who is a lovely 70, has dated the same man for about 10 years. She says he’s kind of cantankerous but he’s rich. Since I’ve known her, he’s taken her to his summer home in France, his summer home in Thailand, and now he has a summer home in Panama (and I don’t mean that vacation city in Florida). However, because he’s 80 and has had a stroke, the love relations are somewhat problematic. She's described the pump he purchased for big bucks at Emory Hospital, and how his nubbin looks like a rat in a bottle when he’s pumping it up, and how he has to put a rubber band around it to keep it alert afterward. With that information, I've come to the conclusion that I can live without a summer home in Panama.

    I have another friend who has continued to date men who often can’t quite rise to the occasion even though they manage to look surprised each time and to make it seem like her fault. She was excited last week, however, when an old beau called. And that's because, in her words, “that dog still hunts.” It took a few minutes for those of us who were listening to her story to realize the pointer she was referring to wasn't canine. When I recovered enough to ask her the last time she'd seen that "dog" actually "hunt," she said it had been about three years. The bad news is that, as we all know, one dog year is worth seven human years, so I'm not all that optimistic as to my friend's chances for a successful kill any time during this particular hunting season.

    Back to my new boyfriend, the one who had the good taste to realize just how well preserved I am. He seemed to be quite a catch, and I know this because, before he offered me his well considered compliment, he'd talked about himself non-stop for almost 45 minutes, about his many accomplishments including all the women who had wanted him. I could also tell he had a good appetite since, all the time he was pointing out his impressive history and many attributes, he was stuffing appetizers into the part of his mouth that wasn't doing all the bragging. And then there was his wife, who just so happened to be talking to someone just over his shoulder, seemingly quite happy to have the ass bend someone
    else's ear for a while.

    And so, instead of spending my time trying to find Mr. Wonderful as this point in my life, I think I'll continue to pursue a simple hug every once in a while, preferably from someone young and hunky. After all, I don't want to cause a heart attack.

    Monday, November 8, 2010

    Tripping Down Olfactory Lane

    I read somewhere that smell has the best memory and odors bring back recollections better than any of our other senses. Regrettably, I must be lacking in the schnozzle department, or perhaps my nostril-to-brain synapses are a bit congested, because I don’t have many memories related to smell. However, not having much to report hasn't stopped me in the past and it certainly won't hinder me now.

    I actually have more recollections about bad smells than good ones, but, because no one wants to read a litany of bad smell memories, I’m going to offer up just one. The one I'm providing is more an indictment of my brother, Sandy, and how he abused me when I was a child than anything else. I remember when I was little, as soon as we passed the Glenn County line on our way to Jekyll or St. Simon's Island for a family vacation, I would start crying. The tears arrived because, as soon as that good old paper mill odor hit Sandy's sinuses, he would announce to everyone in the car that I’d just passed gas. The injustice of it all made me so furious that I would first burble and and then howl and finally my tears would irrigate the interior of our Ford Fairlane as if from a revolving sprinkler head. But I do have to say the smell was bad enough to have made my eyes water anyway.

    Now on to a sampling of the very few good smelly memories I have. You'll be happy to know that I'm keeping the more personal ones to myself.

    I remember my mother's scent when she and Daddy would go out, which wasn’t all that often. I have no idea what her perfume was, but I recall her smelling different and fancy on those occasions when she was all fixed up in her pretty pink and cream floral dress and high heels. My memory is mixed in with the pride I felt at those moments, pride that came from having such a beautiful mama.

    I remember the fragrance of Christmas. For some strange reason, the smell I think of most often was the scent of some article of clothing, a little slip or sweater, that would be enveloped in tissue paper and a white department-store gift box and opened by a very happy me. The best way I can describe it is that it had a Belk's smell. For a child who received the great majority of her clothing straight from her mother's sewing machine, errant threads and all, I can see why the smell of something "store bought" would be memorable.

    I remember taking a cooking class on the top floor of the Savannah Electric Company with my Girl Scout troop. For one of our lessons, we made some type of pinwheels that were created, in part, by melting butter. Apparently, I’d never smelled real butter before as my mother was a huge margarine fan. The smell of melting butter still reminds me of those cooking lessons, the only cooking lessons I ever took in my entire life, if you don't count the tips I garner but don't employ from the Food Network.

    I remember the smell of Memorial Stadium in Savannah when we would go to Jenkins High School football games. I think it was primarily popcorn, but there was a teenage smell to it too, probably part bonfire, part adolescent boy sweat, part my Ambush cologne optimistically sprayed on as I headed out the door on chilly Friday evenings.

    The smell of Johnson’s Baby Lotion takes me back to when each of my children were newly born, the three happiest times of my life, bar none. And to think that something smelling that good actually came from me! Okay, I know the mewling, hurling, crapping smells were the ones
    I spawned and the lotion came from the Johnson Company, but I'm going to remember it the the more fragrant way.

    In contemplating the very small number of smell memories I have, I began wondering if the paucity was based on an apathetic proboscis, or if I just hadn't tried hard enough in the smelling department. So I decided to conduct an experiment.

    While walking to my polling place on election day to vote for a myriad of people who I knew couldn't possibly win, I decided to multitask so as not to waste my time. In an effort to do better in the olfactory department, I committed myself to smelling my way across South Prado, through Ansley Park, and then all the way to First Presbyterian Church where I would cast my sad ballot. Feeling confident I hadn't, in the past, worked hard enough sniffing and whiffing, I dedicated my walk to my schnozzola.

    I smelled some grass being cut, but the scent was kind of annoying. A smoker drove by and I was glad for all the ordinances we have now. I coughed up some fumes from traffic on Peachtree Street. But I didn't smell anything good that I'd one day remember while writing my memoirs. No whiffs of an autumnal bonfire, no dinners being cooked by a mother (or father) in a frilly apron, nothing that would bring on a good bout of nostalgia at a future date. I felt even more dejected, not to mention light headed from coming close to hyperventilating

    But all was not lost. As I was walking and sniffing and lamenting , a friendly dog ran up to me and stuck his nose in my crotch. The dog stopped, looked up at me, and then sat on his haunches with a puzzled look on his snout, as if some inchoate recollection had entered his brain stem.

    Did my private parts bring back some long ago memory for that dog? Did I somehow remind him of his dear mother and her aroma when she was heading out with the pack? I thought to ask him, but decided no, I couldn't worry about a dog's quest to remember and document a reminiscence from puppyhood.

    If that dog smelled something that brought back a memory, something that would bring him full circle in understanding the meaning of his life, something he needed to commemorate in some way, he was just going to have to write his own damned blog.

    Sunday, October 31, 2010

    The Night of the Screaming Rabbit Babies and Other Tales from a Leaky Vessel

    No one has ever accused me of running a tight ship and my failings in that particular realm were never more evident than when I had kids and animals around the house.

    The Big Kat used to go around saying that if you aren’t part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. I, in turn, went around saying that he was a jackass, but I now see that I am my own most troublesome problem in many arenas, especially in the arena of loose shippedness.

    Night time was the worst as it is well documented that I love my sleep. Many interesting things happened around my house during those eight or nine hours that I was blithely slumbering away. Alarm systems were dismantled from the inside out, cars were pushed out of the garage and down the driveway so I wouldn’t hear them start up, people came and went, and complete teenage dramas were played out as I snoozed in my bed. And it wasn’t because I was such a heavy sleeper, it’s because my kids were just that good.

    Years ago, in one of my very few cleaning frenzies ever, I decided to take on Melissa’s room. Next to her bed, she had one of those cardboard tables covered with a cloth that were all the rage of cheapskates in the eighties. I picked up the table to vacuum under it and found a coil of yellow rope and a pair of rubber gloves tucked inside. After severe interrogation, Melissa finally owned up to climbing out of her second-floor window using the rope to rappel down and the gloves to protect her sweet hands. She then told me that she’d definitely learned her lesson as the leaving had been a snap, but the return trip had been pretty tough. I couldn’t help wondering why she hadn’t just taken the batteries out of the alarm system like she usually did.

    Although I was relatively laissez faire in parenting my children, my approach with pets veered toward the criminally insane. First of all, I could never pass up the opportunity to take in an animal. During the time my kids were living at home, we had no fewer than four dogs, one bird, three or four hamsters, one rabbit, a myriad of fish, and way too many cats to count. I did draw the line at pythons and any kind of lizard and, for that, I'm quite proud.

    It was the actually caring for the animals that caused me to lose my way.

    However, let me go on record as stating that I never neglected any animal to the point of perishment (except for maybe the rabbit, but that was never proved), and I never abandoned an animal to the elements (except for that one cat with the truly nasty personality who took up with us). For that cat, I paid Billy and his friend, T.J., (in advance, of course) to take the cat somewhere and drop it off. The cat came back a couple of hours before Billy and T.J. returned with my car. Yeah, I know that wasn’t the right thing to do and that I could be arrested for it these days, but you know what they say about desperate times.

    Then there were the few years when we had Sugar, our black pseudo-Lab; Sheba, a cat I’d inherited when her real parents moved back to New Zealand; and Chloe, the cat we’d had forever. Sheba’s real parents, in their cute New Zealander accents, had told me that she was quite the “huntress.” How quaint, I thought.

    During that time, I'd taken to leaving a window open in my dining room so the critters could go in and out at their leisure to take care of their business. Yes, that was probably dangerous and no, it didn't do much for my reputation as a stellar hostess. At that point, I'd apparently forgotten
    Sheba's reputation as a huntress.

    There was one particular night when Sheba must have found a rabbit nursery in my back yard. On that night, she brought not one, but two, screaming rabbit babies (one after the other) into my bedroom so that I could share in her pride and maybe even grab a tasty tidbit of tiny cottontail. I could have probably gotten the rabbit babies away from Sheba, but before I could hoist myself out of bed and chase her down, Sugar got into the act, stealing the screaming babies from Sheba and then running through the house with each of them, shaking them until they finally succumbed to little rabbit baby heart attacks.

    It got to the point that spring that animal carcasses no longer gave us any pause at all. One Sunday, I came home after being out of town for the weekend. I'd paid Molly (in advance, of course) to clean up while I was gone, and when I arrived, I noted with satisfaction that the house looked pretty good and the kitchen looked fantastic. The dishes had been washed and put away, the sink and stove were clean, and the floor had been mopped - except for the one spot under the kitchen table where a half-eaten dead squirrel lay in repose.

    But I never thought about closing the window, even when I found the live snake trying to get out of my front door by wedging itself into the hinged groove. Or maybe it was just attempting to hide itself from that dynamic duo, Sheba and Sugar. Either way, life went on swimmingly in our listing cruise liner until, one day without any warning, the kids and the animals were all gone.

    Now I live alone, and, for some reason, it seems kind of quiet around here.

    Wednesday, October 27, 2010

    I Slept with Gram Parsons

    The other morning, I was listening to my favorite online radio station, KPIG, out of Freedom California, when the old George Jones song, You’re Still on my Mind, began playing. But the honey-washed voice I heard couldn’t have possibly been ole Possum hisself. It was surely the voice of Gram Parsons and it certainly took me back.

    If you don’t know about Gram Parsons, I need to tell you that this is going to be a cautionary tale, not because I slept with him, but because of what became of him. In addition, it’s going to be a story about a great coincidence, just one of a host of occurrences that seem to continue to happen in this big old world of ours.

    Until around 1995, I’d never even heard of Gram Parsons. Having been married to The Big Kat for many years, I knew of the Byrds and then, later, the Flying Burrito Brothers. But when Gary, who loves most things eccentric and esoteric, started talking about Gram Parsons, I didn’t know the name and I wasn't particularly interested until he told me of his top-shelf band memberships and that he’d even stayed for a while at Keith Richards' home near Stonehenge in England.

    Although Gram Parson’s story is, in itself, interesting, with his hanging out with the Stones and later collaborating with Emmy Lou Harris, it was his death at age 27 that adds his name to the long list of crazy cult figures of our time, and offers to us all another obscure, yet tasty, tidbit of Americana.

    Both of Parson’s parents were alcoholics and both died relatively young. His family was quite well to do, his grandfather being a citrus fruit magnate, but his childhood was painful and his upbringing haphazard at best. Although Gram had dabbled in music as a teenager, he'd managed to be accepted at Harvard, where he matriculated for all of a semester before dropping out to follow his bliss after hearing Merle Haggard (of all people) in concert there.

    After leaving Harvard, Parsons went on to join the Byrds in 1968 and the Flying Burrito Brothers in 1969 as a singer, guitarist and piano player, but his drug use got in the way of his music and ultimately, his life. He did manage to go solo for a few years, making a couple of albums and touring with Emmy Lou Harris for a while in the early seventies.

    Gram Parsons took a liking to Joshua Tree National Monument in California, where, in the midst of desert winds and sidewinders, he could mainline LSD, drink Jack Daniels, and look for UFOs. On his last sad trip to Joshua Tree in September of 1973, he overdid, overdosed, and died.

    What happened next, which is the wackiest piece of this crazy story, has been described pretty well by the Wikipedia people, so I'm going to turn this part over to them (with a couple of addenda from me):

    Parsons' body disappeared from the LA Airport, where it was being readied to be shipped to Louisiana for burial. Prior to his death, Parsons stated that he wanted his body cremated at Joshua Tree and his ashes spread over Cap Rock, a prominent natural feature there; however, Parsons' stepfather arranged for a private ceremony back in New Orleans and neglected to invite any of his friends from the music industry. Two accounts claim that Bob Parsons stood to inherit Gram's share of his grandfather's estate if he could prove that Gram was a resident of Louisiana, explaining his eagerness to have him buried there.

    To fulfill Parsons' funeral wishes, his road manager, Phil Kaufman, and a friend stole his body from the airport and in a borrowed hearse drove it to Joshua Tree where they attempted to cremate it by pouring five gallons of gasoline into the open coffin and throwing a lit match inside. What resulted was an enormous fireball. Police chased them, but according to one account the thieves "were unencumbered by sobriety" and the pair got away.The two were arrested several days later. Since there was no law against stealing a dead body, they were only fined $750 for stealing the coffin and were not prosecuted for leaving 35 lbs of his charred remains in the desert.

    Okay, great story, right? Sad but fascinating in that way that shooters and bridge jumpers are fascinating, when we suddenly feel so well adjusted and lucky. But where's the coincidence and what's the titillating part about me sleeping with a cult rock and roll hero?

    Back to The Big Kat for that. In one of several phone calls with Gary waxing forth in his OCD way about Gram Parsons, he mentioned he was from Waycross, Georgia - my home town. That was no big deal as Billy Joe Royal, Pernell Roberts, and Burt Reynolds are also purported to be native sons, so I thought little about it.

    It wasn't until a couple of weeks later, when looking through a box of old photographs, that I came upon a picture I'd seen many times, one I'd almost thrown away on several occasions. It was obviously a school picture and, because of the boy's dark good looks, I could tell he wasn't related to me in any way.

    This kid was apparently a friend of my brother's from elementary school - in Waycross. So I called my brother, Sandy, the Washington attorney, to ask if he'd known Gram Parsons. He said he didn't, but I thought he did. I dialed up The Big Kat who told me that Gram Parsons had been born Cecil Ingram Conner and that, later, after his father died, he'd taken his step-father's last name.

    Another phone call to my brother, who said, "Yeah, I knew Gram Conner. He and I used to spend the night at each other's houses. Why?" A rather long conversation ensued, but I have to say Sandy never seemed to appreciate the story as much as I did.

    Okay, so I didn't really sleep with Gram Parsons, but my brother did. I, on the other hand, slept in the very next room, the pink one with the stuffed animals decorating the floor. I think Sandy's room at the time was done up in a cowboy motif or perhaps baseball.

    All I have left of Cecil Ingram Connor Parsons is a scanned copy of his school picture and a certain sadness about a young boy who spent a few nights at my house when I was a little girl, a boy who never got the chance to grow up or old. Pondering his talent, drive, and good looks, it seems like such a waste.

    The only insight I can think of to offer is that some fires burn so quick and hot they can even light up the desert sky - so maybe Gram Parsons' final goodbye was an appropriate one

    As for that original photograph, I sent it to The Big Kat.

    Saturday, October 23, 2010

    The Girl from Cleopatra Hill

    My mother, Perrie Rae Ling, grew up in what was still the wild west, in a mining town clinging to the side of Cleopatra Hill, an undulating accessory to Mingus Mountain, part of the Black Hills range. Mama grew up in a place and time I can only imagine, and they were central to who she was. The place was Jerome Arizona and the time was the early part of the 20th century.

    Located high on top of Cleopatra Hill (5,200 feet) between Prescott and Flagstaff is the historic copper mining town of Jerome, Arizona. Once known as the wickedest town in the west, Jerome was a copper mining camp, growing from a settlement of tents to a roaring mining community. (Jerome Historical Society)

    Now an artist's colony of around 450 people and a tourist addendum for folks visiting the beautiful red rocks region of Sedona, Jerome touts itself as “America’s Most Vertical City” and the “Largest Ghost Town in America.” What happened to Jerome was what happens to most mining towns. The mines eventually went bust. But when Mama and her family moved there in 1918, she was just a baby, and the small city boasted close to 10,000 people from all over the world.

    Founded in 1876, Jerome was once the fourth largest city in the Arizona Territory. The population peaked at 15,000 in the 1920's. The Depression of the 1930's slowed the mining operation and the claim went to Phelps Dodge, who holds the claim today. World War II brought increased demand for copper, but after the war, demand slowed. Dependent on the copper market, Phelps Dodge Mine closed in 1953. The remaining 50 to 100 hardy souls promoted the town as a historic ghost town. In 1967 Jerome was designated a National Historic District by the federal government. (Jerome Historical Society)

    In trying to write about what life was like in a place like Jerome in the early 1900’s, I went back and read parts of an interview with my mother I audio-taped at Tybee Island, Georgia on New Year’s Day, 2000. I called the intermittent conversations we had during our holiday stay
    The Millennium Sessions, in an attempt to give them the heft they deserved. Mama died three years later, her words becoming a gift to my family and me. I can’t iterate adequately my feelings about the importance of getting family stories before they disappear with that irrevocable last breath of the one person who knows them.

    In looking back at my notes, I quickly realized my mother tells of life in Jerome much better than I ever could, so I’m including part of my interview. Some of it isn't particularly politically correct by today's standards, but it provides a snapshot of what life was like in that place in that time. My mother's responses are in italics.

    You moved to Jerome when you were about one. What do you remember about the early years?

    Some of the things that I think that I remember I can't understand why because I was so young. One thing, I might have been two, I don't know. My folks had rented this house. It was called the Gibbs House. Of course, everything was on the side of the hill there and somehow I wandered away and somewhere down the road, lower, a Mexican child had got to playing with me and took me home.

    And that just wasn't done, I'm sure.

    No! And the mama took me in and, all that I can remember, I was sitting on a table and eating frijoles, I think, when my mother came to get me.

    And, of course, there were no telephones to call.

    No, I think they sent the child and the mother may have seen me previously. Of course, the house was not real close. You know we were separated. And also, I think that I have told you that, sitting on my steps when I was about three or four, there was a family living underneath us down the side of the hill. I had gotten a toy piano and I was going to learn to play the piano even then, and the two little boys, the family downstairs, got two kits for Christmas, that had hammers and tools. And those two boys came up and I was sitting there with my piano and they beat up my piano. The funny thing was, at that time, my mother had a Negro woman who came in once a while. She was a wonderful pianist. She had been educated and how she got to Jerome, I don't know. Drucilla was her name. And she used to show me how to play on that little piano before the boys tore it up. Those two boys' father, he was an educator and ended up as the superintendent of schools. He was principal of several schools.

    How many schools were there in Jerome?

    Well, you had the primary school that was down here, and the elementary school that was here and you had the Opportunity School...

    Which was?

    For retarded children.

    Did they really call it the Opportunity School?

    At that time, I don't know of anybody who did that. That paid any attention to them. And then down on the upper grades elementary school and then the high school. We had an excellent school system. It was pretty much run by the people that I have been talking about, the educated people. So we got good teachers and by then, J.O. Mullen, the father of the two brat brothers, who, by the way, I used to date in later years, he really ran a tight system.

    Other memories of when you were really young. Something about a baby carriage that you didn't put away so your mother threw it away.

    I don't remember that but I wouldn't be surprised. I was disciplined.

    Mostly by your mama?

    Both of them. My mother would dislike one thing and my father would say to forget it and vice versa. I dearly loved my father. My mother was my mother, and that was all.

    But you were your father's girl?

    I was my father's boy.

    Do you remember your parents fighting?

    Not very much. I don't think they got along real well all the time. Sometimes they did and sometimes they didn't. My father was sick most of his life. He had stomach ulcers and back then they had no way to treat them, and of course, now they do. He finally had surgery a couple of times. He ended up with cancer. So he died when he must have been 71.

    What do you remember your mother doing during the day? I know she was a good cook.

    She was an excellent housekeeper. She played bridge most every afternoon. She was active in an organization that took care of people who had no money or illnesses, usually the Mexicans. They did a lot of social service work. If a mother was sick in the hospital, they would see that the children got fed.

    What was your house like growing up? Was it the house that you showed me when we were in Jerome?

    No, probably not. We lived in a series of houses. You know that Jerome was a mining town, and it basically was operated by the Verde Mine. They had a store that was like a commissary. They didn't call it that, but it was similar to that. People that worked for the mine paid once a month for the groceries and stuff they had bought. A company store. The hospital was a company hospital.

    Everybody else could use it?

    If it wasn't crowded. And my father, being the lawyer in town. Also, my dad, at one time, was justice of the peace, police judge. So, when the mine wasn't too crowded, we could live in the apartment house, which was owned by the mine. The other houses in town were owned by the mine. There was very little private property. So, we moved frequently when someone else needed our place. We even lived in my father's office for about six months. And then about that time, they said, come on back, we've got an apartment for you. We lived in two different apartments, each of them two different times, in and out, in and out. That was really the most pleasant living for some reason. No bedrooms. Murphy beds. One apartment was bigger than the other.

    They had a living room, a dining room, and a kitchen, and then a dressing room and bath. And, in the largest apartment, my bed had to be pulled out and opened up in the dining room. My parents' was pulled out in the living room. And then, the other apartment, overall, it was smaller but their room in the dressing room to put my little bed so it didn't have to be pulled out. But that was right in the center of town. It was a nice place to live.

    Jerome was the place where Mama spent her entire childhood and the place where she returned to teach after college. It wasn't until she was sewing at home one Sunday morning, and the news of Pearl Harbor came over the radio, that my mother began making preparations for what would ultimately be the reason for her to leave Jerome for good.

    I think what stays with me most is how ordinary it all was. My mother, in spite of growing up in a place and time that seem so foreign to me, had a childhood very much like mine.

    Lucky are we who had happy childhoods.

    Saturday, October 16, 2010

    Hard Times

    Last Saturday, I had the opportunity to experience what it was like to live in the olden days, back when times were hard. No, I didn’t visit Jamestown, Virginia or Ellis Island. I didn’t even spend an afternoon at the Atlanta History Center.

    In truth, my trip into the past began when something truly terrible happened. My cable went out.

    First I re-booted my computer, and then I checked my TV. Nothing viable on either one. My computer kept telling me it couldn't access any of my addresses and my television just offered a screen version of a raspberry. I could feel myself getting agitated and my ends were coming loose. I couldn’t call Comcast because, to call Comcast, I either have to find the number online or wait for a commercial on TV and then look at the fine print. In addition, I couldn't even check to see if I'd paid my cable bill.

    OH NO! What to do? What to do? After sitting around for a few minutes, looking at my fingernails and trying to decide whether to vacuum or not, I decided, instead, to call my friend Susan who lives downstairs. Thank goodness my cell phone still worked. Perhaps this wasn’t Armageddon after all.

    Susan answered after just a couple of rings. “Hello.”

    “Hey Susan, is your cable working?”

    “I’ve already called,” she answered. I wasn't surprised as Susan is much more organized and proactive than I am. “They said cable is out all over Midtown, and it may be late afternoon before it’s back up. Isn't that just great? What am I supposed to do? I was all ready to turn on The Food Network and take a nap.”

    At least Susan could still take a nap with no cable, which I pointed out to her. “Well, at least you can still take a nap.”

    “No I can’t," she asserted. "I can’t take a nap without The Food Network or HGTV on in the background. This has completely ruined my Saturday.” Then remembering what an internet addict I am, she thought of my pain and asked, “So what are you going to do?”

    “I don't know. I guess I’ll go to the library. Isn’t that what people used to do before cable?”

    “I guess. Do you know where it is?”

    “Not really. I’ll just have to drive around Atlanta until I find it since I can’t do a MapQuest.”

    I would like to say that my visit to the library was great, and, because of it, I recalled the simple pleasures of life after finding a book on organic windowsill farming. But it turns out that the damned elevator wasn’t working and I would have actually had to climb stairs to get to the stacks, so I decided to head back home.

    As I got into my car, I wondered if maybe my cable was back on, or if, at the very least, the drive-through call thingy was working at Wendy's. It would've been just too much to ask of myself to have to go inside to place my order.

    It was really a very hard day, but the good news is that I have new respect for the pioneers.

    Tuesday, October 12, 2010


    This past Sunday, I was kissed by a grown man for the first time in more months (okay years) than I care to admit. And he was good looking!

    I was so proud.

    Only, too bad for me, this particular man was in drag, sporting a pink Dolly Parton wig, a mini skirt showing off his hairy legs, and a sparkly bikini top barely containing his purple balloon breasts.

    I’m generally pretty lacking in courage when it comes to writing about topics having to do with politics, religion, or anything other than mainstream culture, since I know not everyone agrees with my bleeding-hearted left-leaning ways. But this time, I’m going take a deep breath and locate my spine in all of this back fat and address something that just might be controversial. I'm going to write about attending this year’s Gay Pride Parade here in Atlanta.

    In spite of the fact that I live quite close to where the parade was going to wind its way, I hadn’t meant to go. It's not that I’m against people parading as I love a parade as much as anyone. It’s the crowds I’m against, the not being able to see and being scrunched up next to people I don’t know or even people I do know. And it's not because I'm against Gay Pride. I'm happy when any group of people can get together to celebrate something that's a part of who they are. I celebrate Thanksgiving as an American and National Left Handed Day as a Southpaw, and even Cinco de Mayo as a Mayo.

    But no, I wasn’t going to go. It was pretty hot out and I had some other things I wanted to do, like take a nap. But I decided to walk on over, partly because, just recently, I’d promised my dead mother and myself that I would get out and do things, especially if I’m going to be serious about being a writer. I can’t just write about my pillow case and the back of my eyelids for very long without people losing interest.

    So, as I crossed the street to Piedmont Park, I expected to be highly entertained and perhaps just a tad put off by a celebration that sometimes gets a little out of hand.

    But what I hadn’t expected to do was cry.

    When I arrived at the end of the park by Tenth Street, the parade was already passing by. I first heard the raucous music and kept walking until I could see the top of a garishly decorated float, typical parade stuff. I thought I’d stop by and get an eyeful and an earful and then go back home in time for my much deserved afternoon rest.

    But before I knew it, in the midst of the sights and sounds that only Pride Weekend can offer, there came Georgia’s own Congressman John Lewis, riding on the back of a convertible, waving to the crowd, and I was undone, a tear peeking out in an embarrassing manner from under my sunglasses. For those of you who may not know, John Lewis helped to lead the 600 marchers over that bridge in Selma, Alabama on what became known as Bloody Sunday back in 1965. And there he was on yet another Sunday, forty-five years later, at age 70, still working to bring all kinds of people together into what he calls his “beloved community.”

    Before I could stanch the flow from my newly found eye irrigation system, my bank (Wachovia - now Wells Fargo) came by with a banner and a phalanx of banker types. Although I know that all big corporations now have Divisions of Political Correctness and Mandatory Diversity Seminars, I was still touched that they were there, especially when I saw two of their marchers, both male, dressed in pressed and perfect Wachovia shirts, and holding hands. The look in the eyes of one of the hand holders spoke eloquently of the fine line gay people often must walk in order to be who they are while keeping "corporate" happy.

    Then came Macy's (my chain of choice for over-the-hill all-occasion wear) with a banner proclaiming:
    Macy's Wishes You Pride and Joy! and I could tell that the banner wasn't some last-minute remake from a previous Peace and Joy at Christmas theme. It was brand new and made just for the event; I was sure of it. That brought more sniffles, a nose-to-sleeve wiping, and reminder to myself to return a shirt I'd purchased a few weeks earlier.

    Finally, right before I left, my church, St. Mark United Methodist Church (okay I'm an irregular attendee at best but I'm on the roll) marched by with its usual crowd of the finest folks ever to fight for social justice while still enjoying a pot-luck dinner. I wiped away one last tear and decided it was time to go home.

    But first, I stopped and took in my surroundings, saluting with my heart my funny and brave friend in his pink wig, and the good people of Atlanta who've allowed, and at times even embraced, this crazy and important celebration for 40 years, and the regular people who, whatever they believe to be right or wrong or innate or learned, try to see the commonalities in All of God's Children.

    And, for that one important moment, I was proud.

    Sunday, October 10, 2010

    Life Cycling

    “Seeing yourself in print is such an amazing concept: you can get so much attention without having to actually show up somewhere.” – Anne Lamott, from Bird by Bird.

    If I asked long enough, my mother would tell me the story of how I taught myself to ride a bike. It would go something like this:

    “You were about four. One day, you just decided it was time for us to take the training wheels off of your big girl bike. Once the bike was ready, you went out, by yourself, on our back patio and practiced and practiced until you finally figured it out. You didn’t want any help. I’d look out of the kitchen window and there you'd be, with no shirt and your face redder than your hair. You kept a towel around your neck to wipe away the sweat and tears. After a couple of hours, you’d accomplished your goal with absolutely no help from anyone else.”

    I never really took to bike riding. I rode some as a child, of course, but I’ve always preferred to walk, or better yet, to ride in the air conditioned comfort of an automobile. But, this isn’t a story about my learning to ride a bike. It’s a story about how I’m still learning who I am and how I’m made. Although my 60-year-old self happily applauds the tenacity I displayed on that summer day so many years ago, I've had to sit back and ponder my early-age decision to learn to ride a bicycle on a small patio, instead of a sidewalk, a playground, or a parking lot, with no instruction or advice from others.

    After 56 years, my pondering is just now offering what could have been a helpful glimpse into my future, a foretelling of things to come, if I’d just been more alert as a young child. And if I could have just taken what would have been my very own four-year-old sage advice, I might have saved some time in becoming who I was ultimately going to be anyway.

    I'm just now realizing that learning and doing and creating have, seemingly, always been a personal and private thing for me, just as it was on
    that day on that patio. Looking back, I see that I’ve never been one for study or support groups; sit-ins and love-ins have never interested me, neither have sing-alongs or group hugs. Although I appear to be outgoing and chummy, I can only hold on to that facade for a short period of time.

    I’ve come to believe that many introverts become life of-the-party class clowns in order to survive until they can go home and be with their very best friends who just so happen to be their very own personal selves. I do like people, in small doses, and most of the time, people like me, probably because I don’t hang around long enough wear out my welcome. I wouldn’t want a world without other people as I need to have them around to edify, entertain, and then irritate me to the point where I can wish them away.

    And this is where writing comes in. After a work day or a dinner party or even a family outing, I need to go home and process my thoughts and feelings, by myself, after I leave others behind. And, as Anne Lamott points out for many writers, I do enjoy the attention that writing sometimes brings as long as I don't have to be present when it's given.

    And so, it seems that I'm a writer and not a cyclist, not because I’m a great thinker or a particularly talented wordsmith but because writing fits who I am and how I navigate the world from my own little personal space. Unless you are Salman Rushdie, writing is safer than bike riding, although it’s hard to experience much of life from behind a computer screen.

    Therefore, I'll try, as always, to heed my mother's advice, taking "all things in moderation." I'll endeavor to get out and do things, be with people, and even take some risks. Except for bike riding. That I'm not going to do unless there's just no choice, and, if I do have to ride a bike, I'd prefer the experience to take place on a small patio with nobody watching and no help from anyone. And, if that happens, I'm definitely going to go home and write about it, even if it takes 56 years.

    Tuesday, October 5, 2010


    Those of you who know me are cognizant of the well-known fact that I've never been one to complain, but there are some things that are really bugging me and I just need to get them off my chest:

    • My two minute car wash sometimes takes up to seven minutes.
    • My computer isn’t fully protected.
    • I have jury duty.
    • My windows need washing.
    • My bathtub needs re-glazing.
    • I’m missing a hubcap.
    • I have a stack of papers to grade.
    • I’m scared I might get bedbugs.
    • It's hard to carry 12-packs of Diet Cokes up two flights of stairs.
    • I agreed to tutor a child after school.
    • The house plant behind my French door is dead.
    • My five-year-old refrigerator hasn’t been cleaned out ever.
    • The hood of my car is covered with some kind of sticky goop.
    • I’m out of toothpaste.
    • I need to vacuum but the bag is full.
    • Sometimes the mail doesn't come until after four when I'm already in my pajamas.
    • I hate meetings.
    • My trashcans need emptying.
    • I think I have a hammer toe.
    • My winter shoes need re-soling.
    • I have some kind of flying bugs in my pantry.
    • My library card has expired.
    • I’m afraid to change lanes.
    • I don’t like people as much as I used to.
    • I need new underwear.
    • I think my hair might be falling out.
    • House Hunters is a re-run.
    • I’ll probably never get to New Zealand.
    • I'm overbooked.
    • My car emission test is coming up.
    • My television screen is so dusty I can’t tell what the Iron Chefs are cooking up.
    • People park in my space.
    • Publix is occasionally out of my favorite muffins.
    • My flu shot might hurt.
    • Sometimes people are mean to me.

    There's plenty more but I don't want to ruin my reputation as a real trooper, so I'm going to buck up and get out the bug spray.

    I wonder if I can use Raid to dust my TV screen.

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