Saturday, September 25, 2010

It’s Happened!

I’ve turned into my mother - and my grandmother, and my Aunt Susie, and my Aunt Annabelle, and, most likely, Aunt Bee and Auntie Em and Granny Clampett and Mrs. Methuselah and every other old woman in the history of the world.

This realization came to me the other day when a friend asked if I had my bottle of Windsor Canadian in my pocket book. I'm proud to say I did not, but the fact he asked gave me pause. At that point it did hit me that, yes, I do bring a small bottle of Windsor Canadian to social gatherings from time to time – just as my mother did. And yes, I do wrap up desserts to take home to eat after my early bird dinner. And yes, I do plan my travels to coincide with right turns only. And then there’s the going to bed by eight and the getting up before the sun, even on weekends and holidays.

But what I realize now, but failed to realize when I was just a young and silly person before I had the wisdom not only of my age but of the ages of all who came before me, is that old ladies have good REASONS for their peculiarities.

And those reasons include, but aren't limited to, the following:
  1. young people mutter into the phone, making it difficult to understand what they are saying.
  2. styles don't really change all that much in 20 years, and a good pair of shoulder pads do, indeed, make you look slimmer.
  3. left turns cause accidents.
  4. beverages at most parties aren’t of the same quality as a mid-priced Canadian blend.
  5. restaurants are kept too cold.
  6. waist bands are highly over-rated but wide belts help to hold your boobs up.
  7. desserts are best when eaten while watching House Hunters International in your pajamas.
  8. eyeliner helps to hide the bags over and under your eyes; however, an eyebrow pencil offers the added advantage of making you look surprised that you are still alive.
  9. people do drive entirely too fast. Twenty-five mile an hour speed limits are posted for a reason.
  10. the left lane on an interstate is the best lane despite the honking by people not observing # 9.
  11. getting up early keeps you from having to commune with young people for the first few hours of any given day.
  12. if you were lucky enough to happen upon a good hairstyle at 18, there’s no reason not to keep it for the rest of your life.
  13. you really only need two outfits, one to wear and one to swear you are washing. Dark knits work best for hiding stains, but large patterns and sequins are more festive.
  14. people really are interested in pictures of and cute stories about your grandchildren.
  15. plastic baggies can be effectively washed out and re-used.
  16. Noxema cures most any ailment on all parts of your body.
  17. restaurants should offer smaller portions for early bird diners; however, drink sizes should be the same or bigger.
  18. 81% of murders and 96% of purse snatchings happen after 8 PM so it's best to just go ahead and go to bed early.
  19. if you don't know a statistic, it's okay to make one up if it proves your point.
  20. things really were better forty years ago.
It all makes sense now. I'm glad I figured it out. Excuse me while I go find that cookie in the bottom of my pocket book. It'll go great with my highball.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Mama's Last Cat

I look at the cat standing sentry atop my refrigerator. It isn’t a real cat; it’s a wooden cat, painted a jaunty black and white stripe with its tail impossibly long.

It isn’t even my cat. It had been my mother’s, a present I’d purchased for her at an import store to feed her feline fix and to remind her of traveling the world and how much she loved a good street market.

My beautiful, brilliant mother, laid out in a mechanical, antiseptic bed, underpants and teeth taken from her during her last sad days on this earth. Alternating between rage and sweet confusion, all she had left of the material world was this cat peering over her untouched dinners and a rendition of Van Gogh’s sunflowers hanging askew on the opposite wall next to a sign promising Sunday chapel services.

“I want to go home. Please take me home,” she begged, although home was thousands of miles away, an impossible gift from a daughter who would have if she could have, a grown up little girl who would have given anything to be able to.

My daddy always said the only good cat was a dead cat, but he put up with at least one at all times I can remember because of his love for my mama. But Daddy left us years ago.

On her last day, during my last visit, Mama looked up from her confusion and laughed as I saw her fingers trail an invisible arc in the air. “I just saw a cat jump up on that table and then run out the door,” she said, her eyes offering a passable semblance of merry.

I kissed her goodnight, told her I loved her and left, never to see my mother again.

I know in my heart it was my daddy who sent that particular dead cat to come get my mama to take her home.

The sunflowers greet me each day as I rise and shine. The striped cat watches over me as I break my morning bread.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Looking for Myself in Family Pictures

These days, births are video-taped as babies slide into the world and paparazzi sell photos of dead celebrities to skanky magazines, both of which are helping to offer true cradle-to-grave viability documentation. In addition, every nuance of daily life is archived via digital camera, cell phone, and Skype, not to mention blog entries posted with Grammy contemplating the state of her brassiere. Before all of this new technology, not to mention intrusion, people had photos taken only on special occasions or by some astral alignment of stupendous serendipity, i.e., someone with one of those newfangled cameras happening upon someone else sitting stalwartly astride a horse or vamping roguishly in a Model T.

I'm pretty lucky in the pictures-of-antecedents department. I have quite a few photos of my grandparents and several of great grandparents. I knew my maternal grandparents, who lived good long lives, mostly in northern Arizona. My father's folks in Waycross, Georgia, weren't so lucky, as my daddy's mother died in 1920 during the influenza epidemic that ravaged much of the world, leaving behind four young children and their devastated father, who passed away, himself, in his early 60's during World War II.

I identify with these people who lived their lives the best they could, one day at a time, just as I'm living mine. And those lives all ended, just as mine will. In addition, since I'm related to these people by blood and whatever lurks in my genetic code, it makes sense that we might share some traits, and I'm wondering if I can find some instruction and comfort from what I can see in images captured on film so long ago.

And so, I go looking for myself in photographs taken before I was ever born.

This is a picture of my father's mother, the one who died young. I can now see why I've never been able to wear a hat successfully.

These are my mother's mother's parents, good German stock from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They had a son who became a concert violinist. While I have absolutely no musical talent, I can identify with the carelessness of their other son who lost a leg while venturing too close to a train track. I'm pretty sure he just wasn't paying attention when that old whistle started blowing.

This is not a picture of one of my relatives; however, trains appear to have been central to family lore on both sides, which is probably true for most families. While my mother's side had my poor unobservant legless great uncle, my daddy's side had the often tipsy Great Uncle Christopher Columbus Beauregard McGee who rode in and out of Waycross several times a year on the back of a train. Although I feel no real affinity for trains, my lawyer brother seems to have handled several large cases having to do with the railroad industry. Not to be outdone, I have been known to become tipsy from time to time. Oh, and I forgot, my mother's mother was sent to live with her aunt in San Francisco after chasing a train that was carrying her true love away off yonder somewhere. I think she was 15 at the time. I can absolutely identify with kind of truly stupid behavior.

Speaking of tipsy and stupid behavior, that's my paternal grandfather on the left;

and my paternal grandfather's father-in-law somewhere in this picture.

And here is yet another picture of my great grandfather on my father's side. I can't even begin to explain this photo but am proud to say that the idiot with the bottle on his head comes from an entirely different gene pool. My relative is on the right, a bit portly to be sure, but not serving as a human bar table.

Back to my mother's side of the family. This is a photo of my mother's father's parents. My daddy always said he "married up," and, from the photos I've found and the stories I've heard, this seems to be true. The man in the picture was a lawyer and a judge who was commemorated as being important to early Arizona statehood. My brother followed in the footsteps of my mother's side of the family by becoming an attorney. I, on the other hand, once rode a horse and have been known to cut the tops off of people's heads when taking a picture.

I love these two pictures of my grandfather in Waycross. They appear to have been taken at about the same place and show that progress happened even in small and isolated towns like Waycross, Georgia. Although he owned a livery stable at the time, he still seemed to be very much interested in the new conveniences. When I think about how it feels to adapt to change and to shifts in the economy, I need to remember what it must have been like to invest in horses during the advent of the automobile. I do wonder why the steering wheel was on the right.

This is a photograph of my mother with her mother. In this picture, my mother looks very much like my niece, Regan. Although I would like to say I take after my mother's side of the family, I believe my brother inherited most of those genes. I think I'm mostly Waycross, not so much northern Arizona.

But, on seeing this picture of my Waycross grandfather holding my Waycross father just a few years before he would be left with motherless chlldren to raise, and then reading this from the Waycross Journal Herald after my he died:.

George W. Mayo
Death Mourned
City Official Had Long Record of Devoted Service
George W. Mayo, 62, died at a local hospital last night following a heart attack. Mr. Mayo was one of the most popular and best-liked men in Waycross. For the past twenty years or more he has been connected with the city as superintendent of the Sanitation Department. On numerous occasions banquets in his honor have been held by the city employees as a tribute to his efficiency and to the esteem in which he was held by all who knew him.

I felt quite proud. To be popular and well-liked while in charge of city sanitation couldn't have been easy thing, and my grandfather's dedication and success serve as a substantial legacy.

And, apparently, he was quite the party animal, a trait all three of my children have inherited.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Stages of Cat Acclimation

The stages below were developed as part of an extensive scientific study performed on one cat. Should the author decide to submit the study for juried review to a research-based veterinary journal, the investigation will be termed a Cat Case Study (hereafter known as CCS).

The system is helpful in that it would allow one to know where to locate a feline (based on how long said feline has been in one's care) if one ever loses a cat or decides to become a Cat Nanny.

Stage 1 – Under the bed
Stage 2 – In the room
Stage 3 – On a lap
Stage 4 –Under the covers

My friends, James and Whitney, were going to Fripp Island over the Labor Day weekend and they agreed that their cat, Ellie, wasn’t exactly a sand n’ surf kind of girl. Since I’m a cat widow who also happens to be bi-coastal, and I’ve been lamenting the lack of feline companionship, James and Whitney were kind enough to think of me when they were considering their vacation cat care options. Actually, it was after a glass of wine or two at a social gathering that I offered to take Ellie in if they would bring her to me. They agreed, high-fiving each other all over the place.

A few weeks later, when I hadn’t heard from them, I sent each an email gently letting them off the hook, figuring they’d found someone who lived closer to come to their home to feed Ellie and shovel out her sandbox. Within seconds, the following responses came in:

From James:
We actually have not found another method, so we just need to coordinate with you on the details. I'm sure that Ellie would enjoy some devoted attention from a true feline lover!

From Whitney:
Oh No! You're keeping her. We aren't looking for an easier way.

On the Friday before they were to leave, James arrived with Ellie, who looked embarrassed and more than a modicum of disgusted in her not-so-tres-chic cat carrier, along with hard food, soft food, her sandbox, and additional cat accoutrements including hairball goo, ear mite medicine, and a cat back-scratcher. She immediately shot from the carrier as soon as it was opened, and, employing cat radar, somehow found my room and scooted under my bed.

Now, you probably already know I’m not all that good a housekeeper, but, because I was going to have company, especially gay man company, I had dusted off some of the piles in preparation for James’ drive-by drop-off of Miss Ellie. The one place I apparently forgot to dust was under my bed, which is exactly where James went looking for Ellie before I could tell him to STOP! I can still see him there, on his hands and knees, peering through the useless dust
ruffle at the dust bunnies, nay, the dust hippopotami, looking for his little lost Ellie.

Next comes the part of the study which enabled me to discern the stages. After James finally left and for about the next twenty-four hours, Ellie emerged from under my bed only to eat and use the sandbox, looking like she'd been sent straight to hell in a tacky cat carrier.

By the next day, Ellie had gifted me with her occasional presence, joining me in the living room but still copping a pretty bad attitude, as if she’d put a deposit down on a much better cruise package than what she'd found awaiting her at my motley (not to mention dusty) port.

As of the third day, Ellie was liking me a little as she would climb into my lap just as I decided to get up to make a sandwich or go to the bathroom. She was also beginning to do those cute little cat gyrations where she would roll over on her back and look like she was going to turn herself inside out. And, then there was that serpentine dance between my legs thing as I tried to walk, as if she might be able trip me up badly enough for an ounce or two of sirloin to fly out of my hands and into her bowl.

By the fourth day of what I thought was supposed to be a three day weekend, Ellie and I were best friends. In fact, by that point, we were sleeping together. She liked the middle of the bed and under the covers best, causing me to try to achieve respite in a modified V position.

And so, there you have it: The Stages of Cat Acclimation, a scientific hierarchy I can use to segue into a whole new career once I give up on second graders. Should James and Whitney ever return for Ellie, which is looking somewhat doubtful, I'm excited to report that I can parlay what I've learned through my extensive research to become a full-time Cat Nanny, or better yet, I can offer workshops on Cat Nannying in order to share this important information with others.

I can change the world one cat at a time.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Preface to Chickie Ling

I haven't written much about my mother for this blog because there’s so much to tell and it will take a while to do her story justice. But, in honor of the 50th posting from dabbler me, I’ve decided to get started with it, especially since I can imagine her looking over my shoulder and admonishing me with “What are you afraid of? Just get started. It can’t be that hard.”

I do want to begin by saying my mother was, by far, the most important influence in my life. Most of the good habits I have are from her, as are the majority of the bad ones. Mama wasn’t perfect and wasn’t the least bit interested in
being perfect. I can just hear her say how boring perfection would be.

My mother smoked and drank and had a very exciting life until she gave it all up (all except the smoking and drinking part) to marry my daddy and to birth and care for, and about, my brother and me. She was a good wife and a good mother, while also managing to stay true to herself for her entire life. She was a painter and a sewer and a crabber and a knitter and a fisherwoman and an organist (not a very good one) and a furniture refinisher and an upholsterer and a shrimp net tie-er and a crochet-er and a jewelry maker. She was also a physical therapist and One Tough Cookie.

I have, however, documented my mother's life in other ways. A story I wrote for Arizona Highways was about Mama's childhood summers spent in what is now the Sedona area of Arizona.

And after my mother’s death, I did name a character after her in my last book,
Westward Ho, a decision that truly horrified some of my friends. Their trepidation most likely came from the fact that the so-named character was a prostitute. In fact, Mama's namesake was the Ho in Westward Ho. This characterization wasn’t based on my mother’s history (as exciting as it was) but on the fact that her nickname, Chickie Ling, had always sounded like an Asian call girl to me. Although Mama wasn’t Asian and she was never (as far as I know) a call girl, I believe she would have loved being made a prostitute in her daughter’s book. In fact, I know this for certain.

In addition, my crazy idea of naming a character after my mother was based on my desire to use her home town of Jerome, Arizona as the prototype for the town where the fictional Chickie Ling had, at one time, plied her charms. I called my made-up town the silly name of Fred, Arizona, but the descriptions were based on my memories of current-day Jerome.

Here are a few:

The town of Fred looked, to Annabelle, like Arizona’s answer to Lost Horizon, with the illusion of being caught up and then left behind in an early daguerreotype print.

For better or worse, Fred du jour still brought to mind rowdy bars and musty-smelling whores. Annabelle half expected to see a drunken scalawag being dragged out feet first from one of the still-solvent watering holes. However, instead of tethered horses from an earlier time, new and expensive Harleys were resplendent, parked and chained in a shiny row on Main Street.

‘Next street down’ described it perfectly, as blocks were connected by steps instead of sidewalks. You could get a nosebleed just going to the drugstore (not that there was a drugstore in Fred).

Annabelle and J.B. each decided to order a glass of wine so that they could watch the sun set from the deck of The Haunted Hamburger. There was certainly something magical about the view, the striations of vibrant sun-streaked sky hues meeting in some kind of strange juxtaposition with the dun-colored earth, kind of like tutti-frutti topping off caramel crunch.

The above fictional descriptions are really, truly what Jerome, Arizona looks like now, at least to me. It’s on the side of a mountain and was, at one point, a ghost town. Now a funky artists’ colony, it does indeed, have a restaurant called The Haunted Hamburger and another called Belgian Jenny's Bordello, so named after the houses of ill repute that flourished during its mining heyday. The town of Jerome, when my mother was a child, was a bustling place with a productive copper mine and schools and businesses, but it was still enough of a departure from my childhood in Savannah, Georgia to seem different and romantic to me. I think I now see writing a book with my mother as a fictional character was just a way to put myself in the midst of a town that holds a special place in my heart.

And so, I will go from here to tell my mother's tale, whenever my memories, or Mama herself, nudge me. I won't try to tell it all at once, but in small stories, stories that made up the life of a remarkable woman, a woman who was thoughtful enough to detour her journey and change her dreams in order to have me and guide me and love me - a woman who still lives with me every day of my own life.

The Curious Lament of a Former Second Grade Teacher

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