Saturday, February 27, 2010

To Melissa

On the occasion of your thirty-fifth birthday,

You were my first big hope, a miracle I couldn't engineer all by myself. After months of trying and failing, the planets aligned, the perfect swimmer met the ready egg, and you were conceived. I still have the little piece of paper that says "gravindex positive, " a folded memento your grandfather's nurse handed me the day I knew it was true. Back then, there were no magic sticks to wet on in the privacy of your own bathroom; people had to make an appointment to find out. Daddy and I were lucky your grandfather was a doctor and we could get in quickly for a test. We were living in Greenville at the time so we must have traveled back to Warner Robins, with you as our secret, to keep the process all in the family.

I still remember the peppermint flavor of that summer as peppermints were what I used to stave off the nausea. I also recall looking at myself in the full-length mirror you took to Oregon years later. I stood sideways and sucked in my stomach and saw and felt the hard knot that was you. I wonder now at not being able to foresee that the mirror which afforded me my first look at you would one day accompany you to the place that would steal you away from me.

We called you Boogie as we watched you, already a member of the Allman Brothers Fan Club, grow in my belly. We named you after the song that was a reminder of the music your daddy loved so much, and something I, in turn, loved about him .

From the very beginning, you were your own little person, often inwardly focused, occasionally cranky (if you can imagine that). Your need to create happened early on as we all recall your waking us up in the middle of the night asking where the scissors were. You accepted your siblings with resolve and some affection, taking on the mantle of oldest while still maintaining an air of being above it all, as if the promise had been that you would be the only one.

As a child, I remember your best friends as being boys, but what I'm recalling is most likely just that one summer, the summer of Greg and Sonny. You three were like a cyclone pulsating through the neighborhood, all grime and no homework. Some days, I couldn't tell you apart. You looked and smelled exactly the same.

When you became a teenager, with the height of your cock-a-doodle bangs signifying your mood, social endeavors dictated your days and nights but you still managed to do well in school and stay out of trouble (mostly). We had some issues with the car, the curfew, and that big party, but I could still count on you to snuggle up and ask me to scratch your back, and to put your big old feet in my lap when we watched television. Because you were my first teenager, I had to try to figure out how to continue to mother you after you thought it was no longer necessary. I still remember the times you were late enough for me to be scanning the driveway, mentally writing your very sad obituary, and I certainly haven't forgotten the rope and rubber gloves you used for climbing in and out of your second-story bedroom window.

It was while you were in college I began to realize how like my mother you are: intelligent, intense, and ready to travel to places I'd be afraid to go. The summer you and Molly Mitchell spent working in Yellowstone must have been a mighty one as it ended up changing your life. When you later told me you wanted to move to Oregon, I thought of it as a great adventure, never dreaming it would become your future (and to a great extent, mine).

Now you are a wife, a mother, a worker, a driver, a sewer, a maker, a coaxer, a car-seat buckler, and a cinematographer, but, thanks to Trevor, not a cook. You are also still a daughter to your daddy and me, and a sister to Billy and Molly, and a friend to those who are worthy of the relationship. I realized a couple of Christmases ago that you'd already bypassed me to become the family matriarch, making sure events happen with all the necessary ingredients, while the rest of us stumble around mouthing exhortations about what we would have done if we'd just had the time, the money, or if you had simply reminded us.

Being a mother yourself, I know you now understand what you mean to me. I can't imagine my life without you, and Miles and Georgia would tell you the same if they just had the words. We are talking one big deal, reciprocal, co-dependent relationship here.

And so, one heart supports new hearts, life goes on, and the family endures in spite of itself.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Middle Cotton

Just recently, I was wandering around my beautiful neighborhood, which happens to sit right smack dab in the middle of the gorgeous city of Atlanta Georgia. The day was perfect, one of those warm February afternoons we Southerners complain about if they don't come around at least by Valentine's Day. Ansley Park is an historic community, filled with wide tree-sheltered boulevards showcasing stately old mansions along with some modern masterpieces, all surrounded by lovely cultivated lawns. You might say I live in high cotton.

But only around the somewhat seedy edges. My home is a one bedroom condo situated on the border of the neighborhood, a place purchased for a fraction of what the big houses cost. I'm just lucky they let me stumble by those mighty domiciles with my eyes wide in wonder and my mouth unattractively agape. So far, no one has called the Atlanta police on me or even that nice security guard the neighborhood association keeps on its payroll.

Despite my gawking, I have to say I'm not jealous at all. I now have enough life experience to know that a big house takes a lot of time and money, not to mention commitment to and talent for keeping it safe, sound, and fabulous. It's great to be at a point where I can be happy looking at how the rich folks live without wanting to be them.

Like most little girls of my generation, at least those lucky enough to have been born into the luxury of big dreams, I envisioned growing up, getting married, and living in a big house. That was, of course, after fulfilling my dream of being a Pan Am stewardess.

Although I never met the weight standards or understood the pre-flight-safety protocol well enough to be a flight attendant, I did grow up, I did get married and I did live in a big house, sort of. It was nothing like the houses here in mid-town Atlanta, but it was nice enough. It did take me a while to realize I didn't have the aptitude or interest to keep my house up to the standards of others, even those who were friends in my small town. They knew things I didn't know, like how to clean baseboards and have the sofa recovered every ten years or so. My idea of home decorating was partially painting a wall and deciding I liked the abstract impressionistic look of it, or finding a pretty bird feather and scotch-taping it to my china cabinet. My poor used-to-be husband must've often thought he'd won the wrong interior designer at the Marriage Fair, but, to his credit, he didn't complain (much).

But what I'm trying to say here has little to do with my lack of homemaking skills or decorating taste, it's about finally being at a time in my life where I know who I am, know where I've been, and know where I "ain't gonna go", which would be into one of those big houses on Peachtree Circle, at least not for long enough to unpack my beaded evening cardigan. Furthermore, with my skill set, I'm not going to show up in a Merry Maid's uniform either.

After living six decades, I'm beginning to see I'm pretty much the same person I was at seven, twenty-three, and forty-two, a person never destined to be a big shot in high cotton, more a
medium-sized shot in middle cotton. Then and now, I'd rather be smart than pretty, clever than deep, and anything other than conventional. I remember my daddy describing himself by saying he was built for comfort, not speed. I now realize the same applies to me, which means I'll never be really focused or particularly well dressed, but I'll try to pick you up when you're down and I'll almost always endeavor to say something funny to make you laugh.

So, as I contemplate my elegant surroundings and count my many blessings, those blessings will certainly include being within easy walking distance to absolutely incredible beauty, beauty paid for and maintained by others, all of the benefits, none of the worry. Now, that's living!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Park n' Cry in the ATL

People talk about how scary it is to drive in Atlanta, but what about parking? I plan every outing around where I can park, how much it will cost me, and if I can possibly live through the experience. In fact, I quit a perfectly good job because of bad parking.

I moved to Atlanta in 2005 to work for the Georgia Department of Education. The people were great, the job okay, but the parking was a word worse than ghastly, something like supercalifragilisticexpialighastlydocious. For that first year in Atlanta, I worked on the sixteenth floor of the Sloppy Floyd Building. Speaking of Sloppy Floyd, wouldn't you think, if you were the type of person who would some day, perhaps, have a building named for you, you might have, at some point, re-thought that nickname? Anyway, Sloppy's building wasn't so bad, it was the parking garage attached to it that caused me to hyperventilate on any given morning as I entered that cavernous yawn of an underground opening with key-card portals and arrows pointing every way but my way. Not only could I never find the same space, I couldn't even locate the same level, not that I really wanted to. I kept thinking there might be a place to park where I wouldn't have to walk up a set of stairs, over a bridge, and then down another set of stairs, all the while dragging my government-issued computer, just to get into the building. I did have the additional option of two elevators (one up and one down), elevators so scary the nasty stairwells seemed a better choice. And to make it even more insulting, each month, $58.42 was deducted from my pay for the honor. There
was one good thing about that parking lot. If I had to go somewhere after work, somewhere requiring a somewhat different outfit, I could totally change clothes in or near my car without being seen as it was just that dark.

By the time I left Sloppy Floyd for my new love, Morris Brandon, I had access to a convenient outdoor school parking lot where I can now leave my car for free as long as I don't get to work after 6:45 am. Later arrivals at my school still get free parking but in a much less convenient lot down past the playground. Really late arrivers are known to squeal into the front drive, run in to sign in before the tardy time of 7:31, and then run back out to move their cars to that far away lot, a process still better than the one old Sloppy provided.

When I bought my Atlanta condo, I made sure it had a deeded parking space, an expensive addition to an already expensive piece of property, but absolutely worth it to keep my car from being stolen on a daily basis. Speaking of stolen, I did once have a car break in, even in my somewhat safe and secluded parking lot. I was happy the thief left my teacher identification card but was appropriately insulted that my Shania Twain CD was excluded from the taker's stash.

As I said, my deeded space is certainly worth the money, but it's still problematic. Our lot is tight with each privately-owned sliver of real estate serving as a perfectly-placed piece in an intricate jigsaw puzzle of a parking lot. Because I have to leave so early to stake out my
work parking spot, I'm usually the first person shimmying out of my space in a sort of automotive equivalent to those dance moves televised way back when on American Bandstand: wiggle to the right, lean to the left, back up, go forward, turn and dip, all to the easy-to-dance-to tunes of NPR's World of Opera at 5:58 in the morning.

One of my favorite things to do, now that I'm old, is to go to the movies, but parking for what should be a safe and sedate outing can be as menacing as some of the clips my friend, Allison, and I are forced to look at before our romantic comedy starts. We especially like to watch our movie at the Tara Theater, which should be named The People Who Actually Lived at Tara Theater. The median age of the typical Tara viewer is somewhere around 76, which is the reason we like it so much. Early on, I noticed, at that particular theater, they keep aluminum walkers next to the popcorn machine, something I considered unusual at the time. Now I realize how useful a good steady walker could be when trekking the three miles back to my car after a Saturday matinee.

But parking within that three mile radius surrounding the Tara Theater is still better than trying to catch a movie at Phipp's Plaza in Buckhead, as one wrong turn out of the parking lot can send you careening up Georgia 400, The Hospitality Highway, where, for a mere fifty-cent toll, you can have most thrilling ride of your life.

Nowadays, even parking situations which shouldn't be problematic are. I'm more than happy to turn over my keys to the cute valet parking boy at one of my favorite restaurants, but, when I'm ready to leave, I panic because I have no clue what I did with them. Parking at the mall causes me pain and confusion when I can't remember which Macy's door I came in, and I wander around the parking lot like, well, like an old lady, asking if anyone has seen my car.

Then there's parallel parking. I'm just not able.

I have had one good parking experience in the five years I've lived in Atlanta. A while back, after an especially exhilarating pot-throwing lesson in Decatur, I stopped by my personal Publix at Ansley Mall to find something for dinner. My shopping visit lasted longer than expected when I couldn't decide, while in the Deli Department, whether to get the honey-glazed or the Cajun wings, the mashed potatoes or the green bean casserole. After another fifteen minutes or so whisking up and down the aisles in my clay-spattered jeans, I finally returned to my car to find that, not only had I not locked it, I'd also left the keys in the ignition with the engine running. To my great surprise, no one had stolen my car, no one had taken my very attractive work shoes from my back seat, no one was even standing around the parking lot making fun of the fool who'd left her car running and unattended in an urban setting in the new millennium.

Since then, I haven't been able to decide if my good parking karma that day was because Midtown Atlanta really
is safer than people say, or if it's because I drive a Corolla, or maybe it was that Shania Twain CD languishing in my passenger seat. Just to be safe, I left it there.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Nuts to Rats and Back Again

I thought maybe I was having Ambien sleepwalking occurrences, even though I don't take Ambien. Then there was the fear all of us over fifty-nine and three quarters have, which would be lapsing into Alzheimer's or dementia-like behaviors. Or was I simply going nuts?

Candy had been disappearing from my living room candy dishes. Okay, I know candy dishes are such Aunt Grandma Over the Hill pitiful tacky things, but I live by myself and enjoy a Hersey's Kiss or two or three while watching House Hunters after my early bird dinner.

Oh God, how did I turn into this person?

Anyway, it took a while for me to realize the candies were vanishing at a greater frequency than I was eating them. I even accused my daughter, Molly, of hiding them in her clean laundry when she left for home after Thanksgiving dinner, to which she said, "Mom, after eating your cooking, it's difficult to think about ingesting just about anything else." I chose to take that as a compliment.

Next, there was that bag of mini Butterfingers I decided I must have thrown away because I didn't particularly like them, their mini-ness somehow diminishing that Butterfingerish delectability. Then I remembered that I don't throw ANYTHING away, much less something at least somewhat Butterfinger-like. Other culprits, besides me, could have been the very nice man who cleans the common areas of my building, or a homeless person with a sweet tooth and a key to my unit, or a serial killer who was entering and exiting through my duct work and absconding with my candy just to toy with me.

It was my friend Abby who first brought up the notion of varmints as her grandmother had recently found a possum slumbering (or was he just playing possum?) on a book shelf in her home office. I
had considered either a squirrel or a rat since exterminators had recently been called in by my association because of icky scratching sounds in our communal attic space. However, I'd discounted that thought because there was no evidence of vermin at all. No tiny footprints, no nugget-sized poopish things, no Kiss paper remnants. Nothing turned over, nothing there but my empty, although somewhat dusty, candy dishes. Nothing.

As Molly and I were leaving for Christmas with the rest of the family in Portland, Oregon, I told told her about the strange happenings as we counted the wrapped chocolates one of my students had given me as a gift, candies now sweetly snuggled into my favorite dish. Twenty one, that's how many chocolates I was leaving behind. Just before we walked out the door, Molly picked one up and ate it, telling me the minus one would undoubtedly send me over the edge when I returned in the new year.

It wasn't the minus one that sent me over that craze-o-meter precipice, it was the minus
twenty one. When I returned home, dragging my baggage behind me, there the dish sat, empty as my wallet, nothing turned over, no footprints, not even a thank you note. I immediately called Molly since she could corroborate the fact that the candy had been there when we left and that I might not be bonkers. She was genuinely concerned, suggesting an alternate universe or black hole as I checked around, trying to find some semblance of an answer. Since I'd already looked in the obvious locations for evidence of foul play, including all areas of my not-so-clean kitchen, I decided to move my big old sofa away from the wall in an effort to prove or disprove my sanity.


Behind and under my couch, I found a veritable plethora of candy-wrapper detritus and poop nuggets. I also found that the rear dust (and I do mean dust) ruffle had been chewed but not swallowed. I immediately went into panic mode, calling my downstairs neighbor, Susan, to come in and hold the broom in case something scary and terrible (the serial killer perhaps?) ran out as I opened the uncomfortable fold-out bed attached to my sofa. It seems that the uncomfortable fold-out bed attached to my sofa was too unaccommodating for even my uninvited rodent guest since no living thing jumped out at me, demanding, "Where's the chocolate?".

Now, here comes the most important part of the story, the part that may lead you from nuts to rats and then back to nuts. Okay, I stopped putting candy in my dishes and I cleaned up my kitchen. I even looked online for free, easy, and cheap deterrents to vermin visitors, and, under the tutelage of the World Wide Web, put out moth balls and peppermint extract. I even bought some rat poison and stopped up any holes that looked to be rodent-sized.

The most important part of the story isn't that I was sane enough to try to get rid of my rat, it is that I had grown fond of the little bugger. I actually admired him and identified with his little chocolate habit. I considered him to be quite intelligent and discerning. While I didn't anthropomorphize him to the point of calling him Ratatouille or expecting him to whip up a piquant souffle, I thought he had substance and, most definitely, taste. He was what you might call A Good Rat.

There's no ending to this story other than my work friends telling me they were going to have me committed if I mentioned the rat and how I'd grown to like him one more time. I never actually met him in person (or in rat) and I'm just as glad about that. I did hear movements in my bedroom walls for a few days after his last thievery, the cessation of which I hoped indicated he had packed his teeny tiny bags with chocolate morsels and moved on to better digs.

I think I really do need a pet.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Worst-Case Scenario

It's been a tough week. My birthday plans were swept away by the rain and snow, I have an itchy rash on the back of my neck, and life has generally gotten in the way of my supreme happiness, which leads me to thinking about:

Worst-Case Scenario.

In my family, all conversations (and some endeavors) tend to, at some point, turn to the mention of worst-case scenarios. For example, when I'm flying into Portland to see my grand kids (and their parents), my last-minute phone commentary before boarding goes something like this: "Okay, I'll see you at baggage claim about
eleven o'clock, two my time. If my plane is late, check on that board thingie. If for some reason, it doesn't take off at all, I'll call you as soon as I know." I go on vomiting all my worries out in search of any available cell towers until whichever kid of mine I'm talking to finally says something like, "Worst-case scenario, we'll be happy to see you by mid July," even though it's only early June. At that point, we'll have talked in general terms about plane crashes (which we always seem to survive, barely), the passenger sitting next to us coming back from the bathroom naked,therefore diverting our plane to Nova Scotia, the Portland Airport being demolished by either a monsoon or a meteorite, and my third born, Molly, having a gall bladder attack in midair, even though she no longer HAS a gall bladder, and she isn't on the plane with us anyway.

Do all families think like this? I imagine they probably do, although, hopefully, not to this extent. In my family, we take pragmatic problem solving and turn it into stream-of-consciousness calamity mongering. It's as if the worse we can imagine, the better the outcome, kind like positive thinking in reverse.

Molly tells a story about even worrying at a Metallica concert. I don't know much about the band, Metallica, but I'd imagine that most people who attend their concerts aren't in worry mode for a number of reasons. However, with the percentage who end up in the emergency room, abducted by strangers, or thrown into a holding cell, they probably should be. Because Molly was with two male friends, she felt the need to be in charge of worst-case scenarios all by herself. Josh was given the back-up car keys and A.J. was entrusted with the parking receipt, but Molly managed everything else including the concert tickets and the survival strategies. "If we get separated, let's meet at the Beers of the World kiosk. If that's already closed, I'll find you by the parking entry next to that Ramen Noodle place." Because Molly isn't stupid or overly nurturing, she ended with, "Worst-case-scenario, I'll see you guys tomorrow." The only flaw in her plan wasn't that they got separated or that the Beers of the World kiosk ever closed at all, but that her map of downtown Atlanta failed to include the latest ramp closings to I-75 south.

In an attempt to do actual research for this blog posting, I googled worst-case scenario and found that there's a "Worst-Case Scenario Survival Guide" I could order from Amazon, which might help to ameliorate my family's constant worrying. However, after looking at the teaser pages in the advertisement, I realized I'd just be opening up a Freud's Box of new, even scarier, worries. The book includes everything from having a bird caught in your hair, to a spurting artery, to a Tourette's episode (either yours or someone else's), to a suspicious buffet. A suspicious buffet? To my knowledge, no one I'm related to has EVER looked suspiciously upon a buffet, but now I'm a little worried about going to Ryan's Steakhouse. I guess, worst-case scenario, we could always have our stomachs pumped.

With income tax time coming around, I'm back to thinking about the gazillion dollars I'll owe, along with the federal agents who'll bang on my door at three a.m.; with spring, the nearly 100% chance of East African Killer Bee stings while sitting in my Atlanta living room; summer, death by drowning in the Piedmont Park Pool, although I spend summers in Portland, where, even at that time or year, it's too cold to swim.

Last Christmas, in a rare moment of putting a positive spin on things, my oldest, Melissa, and I brainstormed ideas for taking our anxiety-producing compulsions and turning them into a profitable enterprise. We were having a mother-daughter lunch and, as we sometimes do, we were comparing Portland to Atlanta. For some reason, perhaps our choice of beverage, the comparison this time had to do with liquor stores. In Georgia, all package stores are closed on Sunday as stipulated in the Bible. However, on days when they ARE open, you can drag all manner of children and babies into the store with you when you need to pick up a pint. In Oregon, you can never, ever take a child into an establishment that sells libations only, but alcohol can be sold on Sunday, even in a liquor store. Go figure.

Our idea was to own and operate a corner store called Worst-Case Scenario, open only on Sunday, which would have a drive-through to get around those pesky kids in the back seat. The store would primarily sell liquor at outrageous prices, but would also offer the morning-after pill, and, of course, milk and bread. We also thought about adding a bail bondsman to our list of services. Lottery tickets and prophylactics would be out as they wouldn't fit into our business plan.

But, of course we can't do that because, well, it would never work out. The bondsman would turn out to be a serial killer; an anxious swilling mom would back over the foot of her kid running rampant around the drive-through; our milk would go bad; the bread would get stale.

Back to worrying about those bees and the fact that I drive a Toyota.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I Feel Your Pain

Besides tasks involving instruction, arbitration, and keeping a straight face, the job of a second-grade teacher also includes serving as an always available health care professional, kind of like staffing a Minute Clinic for short people. Seven- and eight-year-olds are at the stage, developmentally, when they discover both phlegm and the ability to share their medical fears. Complaints tend to fall into categories such as I can't sniff, I can't swallow, I itch, or I can't move my arms (legs, feet, fingers, elbows, ears). For the can't sniff variety, I advise nose blowing. For swallowing, it's a drink of water. If someone tells me he can't move his right arm, I tell him to use his left hand. If a kid can't walk on her left leg, I tell her to hop on her right. For itching, I have a special spray that causes tickles to (sometimes) go away. It's a small bottle of hydrogen peroxide, which, last I looked, has no anti-itch ingredients at all, but does fill the teacher attention void quite well.

Just a few weeks ago, one of my students came up during break to tell me she couldn't move either arm. Indeed, both appendages hung uselessly by her side. As we were discussing alternatives to arm use, including Riverdance and soccer, she stopped suddenly, pointing at me with a finger attached to one of the formerly non-functioning arms and said, "Did you know your shirt is on inside out?" I was pleased to realize that my inability to dress in the dark had come in handy in averting a medical emergency.

I don't want anyone to think I'm cavalier about the needs of my students. It's just that I'm constantly having to evaluate the seriousness of any malady or disorder before I send a child to our school nurse. Nurse Nancy is kind and pretty and she has soft hands and a warm heart, but she can't possibly see every child whose toe nail tingles. When someone does go see her, however, she is, indeed, a miracle worker. One of Nurse Nancy's greatest medical-miracle accoutrements is the ice bag, which can heal almost anything. Ice bags are so popular at our school that Nurse Nancy has put a fifteen minute limit on their use, giving the injured child the physical and psychological benefit of going to see Nurse Nancy TWICE, not only to get the ice bag but also to take it back.

My ability to ferret out the truly sick from the merely complaining is based not only on my many years as a teacher, but also as a mother. I'm proud to say I raised three children without a single stitch or broken bone, which probably had more to do with their inertia than with my parenting skills. Unless one of my kids had fallen off the couch during an episode of The A Team or Saved by the Bell, there was little chance of them getting hurt. In fact, the closest any of my children came to having a serious accident is when my oldest, Melissa, pulled a small TV down on top of herself, engraving Channel 11 into her forehead for several days.

My son, Billy, does propagate the notion that he is highly allergic to cats and, as a child, his eyes watered constantly and he couldn't breathe through his nose because of whichever cat we had around at the time. Either he is greatly exaggerating this allergy thing or maybe I wasn't paying close enough attention while I was busy brushing Fluffy. Although Melissa did call me from her UGA dorm room one time in the middle of the night to tell me she'd hit her head on her bunk bed, both my daughters are currently pretty stoic about their maladies. Molly is such a trooper, she dismissed her discomfort (not to mention her radioactive mustard hue) to the extent that she ended up with a five day Portland, Oregon hospital stay for an emergency gall bladder removal one hour after completing an eight hour cross country flight with a Vegas layover. She said the worst part of the entire ordeal wasn't the pain so severe she thought she was having a heart attack, but my need to hold her hand and generally get in the way any time medical professionals were trying to help her.

People with whom I work also rely on my medical expertise from time to time. After all, I am a doctor, although not the kind who helps people, according to an astute child a few years ago. I'm often involved in lunchtime faculty discussions having to do with topics like projectile vomiting, funky female problems, grotesque gastrointestinal catastrophes, and a few other things I can't relate here. My friend, Allie, once even asked my advice about her "walking pneumonia" and "death rattle" as she defended herself from my mirth with a tiny cough.

But my real talent lies in diagnosing and treating the minor ailments of children. For example, a couple of days ago, one of my boys came up and showed me a cut on his finger, asking for a band-aid. I looked and saw what appeared to be several days of healing and a few hours of grime on a paper cut, so I told him I thought he would be okay. Minutes later, I noticed he was holding tightly to the injured finger with the thumb and finger of his other hand. I made the mistake of asking him what he was doing, to which he said, "I'm making a tiny tourniquet with my finger to stop my heart from pumping the blood out of my cut." I gave him the blasted band-aid.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Eight Breasts Abreast

We were teachers and mothers of young children. All four of us had graduated from The University of Georgia and married good old boys who were fanatical about their football. It made sense that we would become friends. It made even more sense that we would get dolled up, decked out, and packed into the back of a mini van, eight breasts abreast, for road trips most Saturdays each fall, along with a bonus trip some time around January first if it had been a good year and the refs weren't idiots.

The boys commandeered the front, hiding their beers from county cops and the state patrol, doing the important work of navigating the same road and the same stories week in and week out, season after season. We girls in the back gossiped and sipped from demur Dixie cups. We talked children and teaching, hair and, yes, recipes. We joked about the fools up front.

Resplendent in our red and black, we stopped at the same gas station for what the guys called "seeing a man about a horse" and what was, for us, a potty break and a chance to check our lipstick. We also took that opportunity to make sure the potato salad wasn't going bad in the back. We sometimes made a quick call from a pay phone to check on the kids, who were generally running rampant with their current favorite teenage babysitter.

The Georgia-Florida Game earned us an entire weekend with separate cars heading toward Jekyll on a November Friday, after dropping the children off with various grandparents along the way. On Saturday morning, we would reconvene from our rented house in the largest vehicle available for the ride to Jacksonville, we women again shimmied into the back, a 1980's case study in gender roles.

Our shared stories had a common theme. Whereas Westside Story had its Jets and Sharks, we were Squirrels and Groundhogs. Dianne and Susan were Squirrels, packing up after each picnic, and spritzing and sweeping out every weekend rental. Cindy and I were above it all, telling the Squirrels they were leaving each place even BETTER than it was before we came, and they were wasting their time teaching little children when they could be making a killing working for a cleaning service. On the other hand, we were dubbed the Groundhogs, a moniker requiring no explanation other than we only did real work once a year.

One of my favorite memories of those days as a young wife, mother, and peripatetic Dawg follower was what I remember as one hot afternoon in Jacksonville, although it may be a collage-like recollection of several such afternoons. We had to pee. The boys had already taken care of their business behind something somewhere, but Dianne couldn't "go" in the wild. Rumor had it that a woman who lived on the edge of the Gator Bowl parking lot would let people use her bathroom for five dollars. Norma turned out to be a very nice, not to mention pragmatic, soul who stood at the door of her small ornately decorated home, collecting five bucks in paper money and change, sending us back two at a time to take care of what our bladders had commissioned. Before the day was over, we considered Norma to be our best friend, and Squirrels and Groundhogs alike were arguing as to why Norma should be one of us.

The years went by and life happened. The Big Kat (my poor maligned ex and blog muse) and I parted ways but remained friends. The other marriages were kept intact despite some potholes in that road to Athens. Our children grew up and left the nest but we still worried about them. Were they having too many relationships or too few? Were they half as smart as they thought they were? Did they really have health insurance or were they just telling us they did? Before we knew it, we were all past fifty and there were grandchildren adorably littered here and there across the landscape.

The collateral damage to my divorce had included the loss of football tickets, Masters badges, and trips to the Sugar Bowl, but we four women remained friends, coming together for wedding showers and "Girls Night Out." When we would meet up, we'd reminisce about the days in the back of the mini van and marvel that we were still eight breasts abreast, although the old latitude had certainly headed south. We worried about wrinkled knees and wondered if a face lift would just make the rest of us look worse.

A few years ago I had a breast cancer scare which lasted for about the longest two weeks of my life. I don't know how cancer survivors handle it; their courage is outside the borders of my imagination. Of course, the girls, worried about the fragility of breasts abreast, came together to bring me dinner. It turned out, just minutes before they arrived with their Tupperware and crock pots, I got word that what might have been cancer was, instead, a benign cyst. I rather sheepishly told them the news, hoping they wouldn't take back their dishes as I was hungry for the first time in days. They didn't, but Cindy, in true Groundhog fashion said, "You mean I made a pot roast for a benign cyst?" The Squirrels vacuumed my house before they left.

These days, Susan and her husband have retired to another place and I've moved to Atlanta. Cindy became a Tech fan when her son played football there. Dianne is the proud mother of a teacher and an Air Force pilot. We mostly keep up by email and "social networking", along with an occasional phone call, generally when something bad happens. Each year the Squirrels remember us Groundhogs with some kind of derisive card or email message on our special day. Decades ago, Cindy and I decided the perfect holiday for the Squirrels would be April Fools Day, but of course, so far, we haven't seemed to get around to commemorating it in any way.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Closest I Come to Crazy

My mother said, when I was born, my face was wider than it was tall, and I had a shock of red hair sticking up all over my head. My face eventually normalized to a certain extent but my hair never did.

True for most women and perhaps for many men, my hair has taken me both to the mountain top and into the depths of despair. Okay, maybe that's an overstatement. Let's say it's had its ups and downs. Although the color is interesting and used to be memorable, the texture is mostly unmanageable. While summer weather in the South is made for frizz and my hair is happy to accommodate the humidity if not the blow dryer, in the winter it just hangs there. It's also thick on the sides and in the back, and thinner on top. It's as if I were destined to look like Ronald McDonald in drag.

Throughout the years, I've done some crazy things to my hair. My friend, Allison, who also happened to be my college room-mate, was known for "highlighting" anyone's hair at any time day or night. The fact that Allison went on to become a Methodist minister and, later a Buckhead therapist, must be based, in part, on the number of people who used the Lord's name in vain and developed annoying tics during her UGA dorm-room beauty-parlor days. I was one of her victims.

Later on, after I got married, I either had my hair cut short or, every few years, when curly hair was in style, I would get a perm . My latest perm was just a few years ago, when, by the way, curly hair was NOT in vogue. I have no idea what led to that brilliant idea but I think it had something to do with my then-stylist's BMW payment. Because I was already on up there in years, my head of tousled locks did NOT give me that sexy bed-head look, but did,instead, cause me to look very much like John Calvert, the Third Lord Baltimore. The picture to the left is not me because I don't (as of yet) have that much facial hair. But, as they say, you get the picture.

Before I go any further in trying to explain what my hair has to do with the closest I come to crazy, let me tell you about Whitney, my current hair stylist/psychiatrist. Whitney is wonderful and talented and smart and funny, not to mention handsome. He's great with hair and great with people. Therefore, Whitney can't be blamed for any of what I'm about to tell you, nor can my past stylists be held accountable either, except for maybe that one with the Beamer. In fact, Whitney is often called in to fix what I have wrought.

You see, not only do I have bad hair, I'm also cheap. Whitney, being the fabulous stylist that he is, charges, although undoubtedly not nearly what he's worth, what the Atlanta market will bear. But that's not all. In addition to his stupendously expensive fee structure, Whitney has also placed his salon (JH Design Studio Hair Salon) in Roswell, Georgia, a charming little burg ten miles north of Atlanta, while I live in Midtown. So, not only do I have to pay Whitney's outrageously enormous salary, I also have to cough up an extra dollar (50 cents there and 50 cents back) to drive my happy self up (and down) State Route 400, the Hospitality Highway, which is so hospitable as to be a toll road with more driving jerks per 1000 feet than any highway in the world, including the Autobahn. I do have to admit that Whitney has offered to hand me 4 quarters when I leave his salon. He has also offered (on several occasions quite forcefully) to find me another stylist.

So, here we go. The closest I come to crazy is when I am standing in my tiny midtown bathroom, looking in the mirror, with a hank of hair in one hand and scissors in the other. Although this current bout of psychotic behavior has much to do with toll roads and the price of gas, I've always been a closet cutter (of hair). I guess my mama didn't punish me enough after that early childhood rite of passage known as cutting your bangs with the blunt-edged scissors.

I used to think everyone whacked at their hair, until I noticed my grown daughters don't. They leave their hair be. And just recently, when I felt the need to talk about my problem to others, I realized most adult women are horrified at the thought of cutting their own hair. Second graders, on the other hand, are open to the idea.

OK, this is how it happens. Something feels too long or thick. I ignore it for a while, but my hand keeps finding it (usually while I'm watching HGTV's House Hunters or Design on a Dime). I go and look in the mirror and pull the offending piece out at a right angle. Before I know it, I've taken out the scissors and cut the loathsome lock, which makes another strand look too long or thick. So on and so forth throughout an entire commercial sequence. The next thing I know I'm calling Whitney for an emergency trip up the Hospitality Highway (50 cents there and 50 cents back). The last time this happened, Whitney said the only thing he could do was to give me a reverse mullet with business in the back and a party in the front. He then handed me 4 quarters and offered to help me find a stylist closer to home.

To tell you the truth, my problem these days isn't really my hair. It's the old face under it. Allison and I were talking the other afternoon at our weekly Friday early bird dinner, when she mentioned someone who'd had one of those digital things done where they take your picture and then attach photographs of various hairstyles to your face. We were laughing about how, no matter what fabulous hair they put on the poor woman, her face was still sitting there right under it. That led us to talking about how hair just doesn't look the same any more on our poor tired faces. Then I remembered something a friend told me a long time ago, which is the great adage "no matter where I go, there I am." I guess the same could be said for my hair and the face right under it. I seem to drag them with me wherever I go, even when it's up (and down) the Hospitality Highway to see my friend Whitney. Fifty cents there and fifty cents back.

The Curious Lament of a Former Second Grade Teacher

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