The Poetry of Redemption

Today I surprised myself and my littles with a trip to a farm with friends.  The farm was just over two hours away, traveling on beautiful backroads in a vehicle filled to the brim with friends, anticipation, laughter, and sharing of stories.

I was traveling with our book group who meets weekly.  I love these precious women.  I love their smiles, their wisdom, their love, and the grace they give so freely.  Today we loaded up with the children and went to a farm for a trip to reflect on the book Scouting the Divine: My Search For God in Wine, Wool, and Wild Honey by Margaret Feinberg, the book our group just finished studying.

The pasture reminded me of the one I played in and followed my Daddy around in as he took care of his and Papa's cows

The pasture reminded me of the one I played in and followed my Daddy around in as he took care of his and Papa’s cows

It was a beautiful day.  It was overcast so it wasn’t too hot, and the rain held off until the end of our time together.  I watched the eyes of my children as they rode in the buggy that Buck, their new four-legged friend, pulled along paths through the woods.  Later Buck followed them around in the sheep pasture.  I believe our Princess has caught the horse bug.  My Buddy was the sheep magnet.  A couple seemed to like him and came right up.  It was a gift to see my two youngest whooping it up with their friends, peeking at eggs in a nest, smelling lavender growing in a bed, and resisting the urge to follow the turkey and roosters around the yard.

At lunch we gathered together under a shelter at a picnic table while the children ate at a sweet table covered in burlap.  On every table sat a vase with fresh-cut flowers or herbs.  The breeze blew gently as we picnicked from the sack lunches we’d brought.  We visited with our new friends–the shepherdess/beekeeper/farmer extraordinaire who was hosting us, and her friend who had trained Buck to pull the buggy and was working with him on pulling a harrow.  We laughed and talked about lessons learned in nature around us, raising children, and the Oxford comma.  I soaked it all in, thankful for the invitation, for friends to travel with, and for being able to get my act together and go.  (Some days that’s a greater accomplishment than others.)

As we walked around the farm, I saw things that reminded me of England–the gates and the orchard wall especially.  But mostly I missed my roots.  Home.  At Blackberry Flats.  And at my Granny’s farm.  I grew up sidestepping cow patties and crawling under electric fences.  I was bottlefeeding a calf when I was 8 years old.  We had a horse when we moved to Blackberry Flats a year later.  We were never without cats and dogs scattering underfoot when we walked out the back door.  I miss the animals.  I miss the land.  Oh I miss it all.

So it was with gratitude and sentimentality that I turned to our hostess as we were leaving and said, “You are a good steward of our world.  Thank you for sharing it with us.”

She looked up and said quietly, “I appreciate your saying that.  I like to be about redemption.  Since I know I’m certainly a part of the other.”

Oh my.

The poetry in those words.

I like to be about redemption.

My soul cried out in resonance–YES!  Me too!

I want to be about redemption.

I knew what it meant but so often the word is tied to religious meaning, which can get a bit confusing.  So when I came home, I looked for the exact meaning and this is what I found in the dictionary.

Redemption…..the act of recovering or atoning for a fault or mistake.  Redemption…..rescue or deliverance.

I’ve made mistakes.  I have faults.  Lots of them actually.  The need for redemption is brought about by taking, by harming, by hurting.  I have taken away from our planet and hurt my fellow people.  Not always intentionally, but it has happened more often than I can bear to think about.  I want to be about REDEMPTION.  I want to be a part of rescuing what we’ve been given, all that surrounds us in our beautiful world, to be a part of the healing of hurting people who surround us, to make a difference in the brokenness.  I too have been a part of that other, and I can tell you, it doesn’t feel good.

I look around at what and whom I’ve been given–loaned if you will–and I am humbled.  I am not worthy.  And yet when I open my eyes again, it’s all still there.  I can rush out and just ride the ride, not worrying about who or what is being affected.  Or I can walk carefully and cautiously, paying attention to the ripples I’m creating as I do.  Today the shepherdess shared with the children–and all of us–that it was best to walk through the pasture respecting the sheep and taking in all around us, thinking about how we were making them feel and being aware of that, sharing respectfully.  I think that is what redemption is about–paying attention and taking care.  Correcting wrongs made in the past.  Rescuing.  Recovering.

Today I am thankful for the grace and patience of friends who allowed me to be a part of today and for the generosity of my friend who shared her family’s farm with us and set up the visit.  I give thanks for reconnecting with my roots and for the stirrings within; I have to work harder to return to them.  I am thankful for a day of getting lost in the beauty of the world around us, the sights, the sounds, the smells–and the beauty of precious simplicity.  I crave authenticity, and today was all about that.  I love the joy that today gave me and my littles, and I love the people who were a part of that.  And I’m thankful for the poetry of the words I heard today.  I am going to work on being about redemption a little more.  A lot more.   I think that may be one of the greatest gifts I can give my children and my world.  And you know who else?  Myself.

Oh…..and the next best part of the day? When I got home, we still had these.

The dessert I packed for today--still intact!

The brownies I packed for today–still intact!

For the first time in what seems like forever, my littles didn’t ask for dessert when they finished their meal.  Today I actually had one planned, it being a picnic and all.  But on this day that my Princess said was her “best day ever in her whole life,” they ate their lunches and then wandered off to watch the turkey gobble around or to look at the sheep in the pasture or to smell the flowers blooming.  Today, they feasted on a real treat–that of the beauty and nature around them.  And that’s the sweetest dessert of all.

When the Family Gets Together

That's not something you see very often!

That’s not something you see very often

In my travels up and down 247 back and forth to Macon a few months back, I saw this sign.  That is not something you see very often, is it?

But once upon a time…..

Some of my fondest summer memories are of time spent with my cousins.  Mama and my Aunt loaded all seven and then eight of us up in the Chevy II Nova (way back in the days before mandatory car seats and seat belt laws), and we headed up to Macon.  The Museum of Arts and Sciences hosted movie mornings in the summer. I think it was every Tuesday and Thursday, but I can’t be sure now.  On the planetarium walls I saw many of the old Disney classics–Cannonball Express, The Ugly Dachshund, Candleshoe, and Escape to Witch Mountain, among many others.  Oh I loved the cool air and the comfortable seats in the planetarium.  When we left the cool darkness, the bright sunlight and steamy, sweltering heat made us blink and immediately enveloped us on the short walk back to the car.

After the movie, we often (okay my perspective, may not have been THAT often) went by the Krystal’s drive-thru and picked up burgers on the way home.  Back then 25 cent Krystals were not so unusual.  I can remember a head count being done–how many can you eat? was asked of the older ones and extras were added for the younger ones.  I wonder what those folks thought when Mama and my Aunt ordered 35 or 40 Krystals at a time.  With coupons.  Good times.

So many fun times spent together, especially in the summers.  Pots of chili or spaghetti spooned out in numerous bowls.  Playing Colored Ribbons or Cowboys and Indians in their yard or ours.  The Barbie Wedding.  Easter Egg Hunts and now Turkey Egg Hunts too.  Movie marathons on the Video Disc Players.  Remember those?  The thing holding the movie was shaped like a record album.  Remember those? Oh. Never mind.  Suffice to say, great times then.  Piled up in my Aunt and Uncle’s living room.  Star Wars–the original movies.  The Man From Snowy River.  The room was so dark and the picture on their color tv was so bright.  Almost like our own mini movie theater.

I am thinking of my cousins tonight as one of the best cousins ever has her birthday today.  And in the past week my own children have spent lots of fun times with some of their cousins.  And it’s also my niece’s birthday.  Yeah, I’ve got cousins on the brain.  And family.  And Krystal’s.  But that’s another story.

I am lucky to have a close family, where second and third generations out, we gather and love each other, share laughter and tears, and have each other’s backs.  If I am in a bind, I know who to call.

Tonight I am thankful for my cousins, who know me and oddly enough, seem to love me anyway.  I am thankful for my children’s cousins, and second cousins, and third, who brighten their lives and mine–with their creativity, imaginations, sweet spirits, and downright fun outlooks on life.  I give thanks for Mama and Daddy and all my aunts and uncles who made family a priority and made sure we had these great memories to turn back to on days like today.  And I’m grateful to Rody Davenport Jr. and J. Glenn Sherrill.  Oh, they’re the folks who invented and founded Krystal’s.  I don’t eat their burgers as often as I used to, but I still love them and the memories they carry with them.

A Hallmark card I got years ago--yep, this is how we roll.....

A Hallmark card I got years ago–yep, this is how we roll…..

Some fun Krystal facts: (from Wikipedia)

The first customer, French Jenkins, ordered a cup of coffee and six Krystals–for 35 cents

The focus for the restaurant from the beginning was cleanliness.  Mrs. Davenport suggested the name based on a crystal ball lawn ornament she saw–thinking of crystal clear and clean together, with a K for a twist

It first opened in 1932–it is the oldest hamburger chain in the South

Brenda Webb took her name from the chain after her sister Loretta Lynn suggested it–to Crystal Gayle

The current world record for eating Krystal burgers is 103 burgers consumed in 8 minutes by Joey Chestnut, set on October 28, 2007.

It’s Not All About You

Created by Jon on keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk

Created by Jon on keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk

My first job was at our small local library.  I started on a Tuesday, the day before I turned fourteen.  I worked Tuesdays and Thursdays through most of my high school career until we moved from the one room library at City Hall to our new building.  Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3:45 to 6:00 as I recall.

I was responsible for checking books out, checking them in, re-shelving books and whatever else the librarian asked me to do.  When nothing else needed doing, it was my responsiblity to “read the shelves,” which meant I checked to make sure that all the books were in their correct spot.  Later I even did some of the storytimes for the young ones during the Summer Reading Program.

I had been working there almost a year.  My birthday was coming up.  On a Thursday that year.  I had already figured it out in my own mind that I would just switch up and work Tuesday and Wednesday so I could have my birthday off.  Made sense, right?  I happened to mention my game plan to my parents.  Ahem.  They were not so fond of my game plan.  Their position was I had a job, I had a scheduled time to be there, I needed to be there.  “You might as well learn now, folks don’t just have off on their birthday.”  What?! Are you kidding me?

I remember feeling pretty frustrated with them over this.  Actually I was downright mad.  What difference did it make?  When did I become a grownup and have to act accordingly?  Maybe I had written a script that I was going to get my learner’s permit that afternoon.  I don’t remember.  But I do remember this lesson.  It was perhaps one of the best lessons they taught me.  The world does not revolve around me and my comings and goings, such as birthdays.  Mama worked every one of her birthdays that I can remember.  I mean, a house doesn’t shut down for someone’s birthday.  Daddy worked every one that fell on a weekday.  And when it fell on a weekend, he was not the type to kick back in the recliner and let everybody wait on him hand and foot.  He did what needed to be done.

I was thinking about this today when I read some words of wisdom shared by Hugh Hollowell.  In his post, “The Important People,” he shares his father’s advice about jobs and life.  I got to thinking about that critical moment when my parents taught me what it meant to have a job.  Integrity.  Loyalty.  Giving it your all the whole time you are there.  Would my boss have let me off for my birthday?  Maybe so.  But I’m glad I didn’t even get to ask her.  I’ve thought a lot about what I want my daughter to learn, as she has her first job, the first in a string of many as she enters the real world of working and building a life for herself.  I want the world and especially those who work with her to see the fabulous person I think she is.  Most of the time.

I want her to be loyal.  When you work for someone or for a company, no words leave your lips that aren’t helpful or praising.  If you have an issue about something, go through the proper channels.  Complaining about it will not get you anything but a reputation as an unpleasant person.

When you are on the job, they OWN you.  And it’s okay, it’s legal. They are PAYING you.  So whatever you are asked to do, outside of something that would lead to your being handcuffed, you are good–just do it.  With respect.  Do it with the same amount of energy and dedication, whether you love it or hate it.  I even dare you to do it with a smile.

Work when you are scheduled.  With the exception of illness or death of a loved one, go to work.  You might miss some stuff, but you know what?  Dedication and applying yourself will pay off in the end.

And I want her to know a job is a privilege.  It is a privilege, not a right, to have a job and get paid to do it.  We see so many people each weekend who would love to have a paying job that it makes me angry to hear anyone whining about his or her job on a regular basis.

I’ve heard the saying that 30’s are the new 20’s.  I’m cool with that, because that makes me…..well, much younger than I really am.  However, if we continue with this math, we can get in trouble.  Are the 20’s the new teens?  If so, where does that leave our teens?  Oh good gravy, where are we headed?

The crew from friends, doing what they do best, hanging out

The crew from Friends, doing what they do best, hanging out

I loved the show Friends.  I watched it as a young married person.  I watched it as a new Mama.  I watch reruns occasionally now as Mama of three children, one almost in college.  It was entertaining.  Funny.  My sister uses Rachel’s line “You’re so pretty” on a regular basis, and I still crack up.  But here’s the thing.  It is not the real world.  I don’t know if the show led us where we are or if it was a reflection of where we, as a society, were heading; regardless, we are living in a world of young adults, many of whom don’t want to live in the real world.  They feel cheated because they don’t have the life of “hanging out with friends” that the entertainment industry has led them to believe can be had.  And I guess it can.  But not if they want to have clothes to wear and a roof over their heads and food to eat.  And those cups of coffee the gang had at Central Perk all the time–AIN’T. NO. WAY.

I know some pretty awesome young adults.  They are good people.  Many of them have it together.  But it is starting to worry me how many young adults today feel entitled to have their job working for them instead of the other way around–expecting the job to accommodate them and their schedule.  Jobs that don’t let them study when things are slow are simply “being difficult.”  I worked in a library, and reading a book was done only on my personal time.  Jobs that don’t let them clock out early when things are slow–what is that about?  I’ve even heard young people say that between working and going to school they are busy five days a week! *sigh*  I don’t know what is happening, but I do know this.

My seventeen year old is watching.

She is watching television that makes her think her life should be much different than it is.  AND she is watching the young adults in her life.  And she is learning a lot.  I’m just her Mama.  What do I know?  Daddy was right.  Nobody’s going to help me raise these children.  I’m trying hard to instill good work ethics and values in my young adult in the short time I have left with her, but I fear other voices might be louder.

So I am asking those of you who have graduated from high school or college and aren’t still in school, if you haven’t already, please join the real world.  Get a job and take it seriously.  You’ll make mistakes.  I sure did.  But what I found was that when I humbly apologized and asked how I could right my wrong, more times than not, it all turned out okay.  So yes, find employment.  It might not be your dream job or where you want to be in five years.  We’ve all been there.  (Well, except for maybe Donald Trump, but I digress.) But whatever job you accept, give it your all–all of your energy, all of your positive attitude, all of your very best effort, and respect those in charge.  Because here’s some wisdom I learned from my parents thirty years ago and it still rings true today.  It’s not all about you.  And please, just as I expect my teenager to set a good example for our littles, PLEASE set a good example for those younger than you.  Let them learn from you what a good employee looks like.  Because maybe, just one day, they’ll be working for you, and you’ll be glad you did.

The Original Recycling

I finally got organized and stored my batteries in these rice jars.

I finally got organized and stored my batteries in these rice jars.

Those jars right there?  The ones holding the batteries?  Those make me very, very happy.  Recently I decided to clean off and re-organize my cookbook bookshelf in my kitchen.  I was especially tired of the batteries rolling around out of their packaging all over one of the shelves.  Because, you know, that’s where everyone stores their batteries–on the bookshelf with their cookbooks.

I was trying to decide what to do with them when I remembered the rice containers I’d washed up but had yet to recycle.  Perfect!  When I saw them sitting on my shelf like that, it made me smile.  Because I remembered this–

Multitudes of woodworking odd and ends stored in Daddy's building

Multitudes of woodworking odd and ends and hardware stored in Daddy’s building

That’s how my Daddy rolled.  Over the years, as one of these jars was used, Mama would peel off the label, wash it up, and pass it on to Daddy who used it for any number of things out in his building.  For those of you wondering, yes, peanut butter–Reese’s to be exact.  It was the best.  They had come a far cry from the days of Mama buying it in those big tubs with the plastic handles, the stuff that would separate so easily.  Ah, yes, over the years Daddy became quite the connoisseur of peanut butter.

It wasn’t just peanut butter jars Daddy recycled.  He had things in bigger quantities and things that were larger.  That’s what these were for:

This is not a paid endorsement--sigh--if only.

This is not a paid endorsement–sigh–if only.

This bookcase has had many lives too.  It originally sat in our living room when I was little and it was black.  When they moved this into the room I shared with my sister, Mama and Daddy painted it yellow.  That must have been industrial strength stuff.  It’s scary how well it has held its color over the years.  And yes, my Daddy loved his peanuts.  Just like with the peanut butter jars, Daddy would take the washed one out and use it for whatever he needed.

Our old lunchboxes and cookie tins used to store hardware and things he used in fixing cars and lawnmowers or building things with wood

Our old lunchboxes and cookie tins used to store hardware and things he used in fixing cars and lawnmowers or building things with wood

He even used our old lunchboxes and some old cookie tins.  I am pretty sure that horse one and the Charlie Brown one saw me through most of elementary school (we didn’t have middle school back then).  The Walker’s shortbread tin carries me back too.  Daddy loved shortbread.  He even made some one time.  Delicious. I loved picking up a box of it around his birthday or Christmas or just because.  I think that big tin must have come from Sam’s one Christmas.

It occurred to me the other day when my brother, my teenager Auburn, and I were out in the building that some folks might have kept the lunchboxes for the value they might have one day.  I don’t know that these didn’t have some dings or dents already, but regardless, I don’t think it would have ever occurred to Mama and Daddy to save something for later on like that.  One of the things they impressed upon us the most was being a good steward–of the land, of our belongings, and of the people around us.  Taking care of what and who we were lucky enough to have.  They lived simply.  If it didn’t have a use, they usually didn’t keep it.  They were very particular about what they hung on to.

When I was growing up, things didn’t go to waste.  Leftovers were eaten at the next meal or two.  Clothes were handed down to the next sister, and after that usually to a cousin or given to the Salvation Army in the next town over.   We had “give away” days to clean out toys and outgrown clothes and the like.  The pecans that grew in the yard were cracked, cleaned, sugared, and given as Christmas presents to teachers and friends.  I remember we had a spider plant that Mama took cuttings from and carried up to the school for the Halloween Carnival store that raised money for the PTG.  Mama patched our jeans when they tore in the knees.  (This was way back before folks started paying extra for such as that.)  When the jeans started high watering, they were cut off and turned into shorts.  Mama and Daddy were thrifty.  Very little went to waste.

Tonight I am thankful for parents who raised me to aim to be a good steward.  To look around at what’s here before I head to the store to get something new.  My Daddy once told me I only needed three pairs of jeans and dared me to get rid of the rest.  I haven’t gotten quite to that point, but I am trying.  Tonight I am thankful for a reminder of where I came from and who I want to be…..all from some batteries stored in rice containers, cleaned out peanut butter jars, and an old yellow bookcase.  The original recycling.

The Best Things in Life Can Come from Giving UP

Daddy and Kurt, best of buds forever

Daddy and my little guy, best of buds forever

I Believe The Best Things in Life Can Come From Giving Up

(I wrote this in January 2012, remembering my Daddy.  Today I share it with you in remembrance and celebration of a man who truly set a beautiful example of how to live.  Happy Father’s Day, Daddy, thanks for everything)

My Daddy took his last breath eight weeks ago, just moments after Mama gave thanks for the gift of him in our lives and let him go.  I was thinking about him and how he never gave up, no matter how hard it was, this fight against cancer, and I realized just how wrong I was.  Daddy did give up.

Throughout this battle he gave up his quiet and his privacy, both things he treasured, so that Mama could have the help she needed in caring for him and for herself.  When the cancer crossed up the wires between his competent brain and his body, my Daddy, who found great joy in working with his hands, gave up quietly and without complaint his creating and building and writing.  He gave up pushing his grandchildren in the swings he made and kicking around a soccer ball and playing cars on the floor, and he adapted by letting his grandson drive the Matchbox cars around and around the bedrails on his hospital bed, again and again.  He gave up planting and tending to his garden and graciously accepted and appreciated the gifts his sister and brother-in-law shared from theirs.

Looking back, Daddy made it a habit of “giving up.”  He gave up the prejudices that his generation and culture were programmed to have, and he saw instead character and values and the heart of a person.  He gave up the luxury of having time to himself and raised a family, giving love in the form of time and attention and discipline, to help us grow up right.  He gave up the dream of a red ragtop Mustang and drove a station wagon instead.  He gave up teaching school to move us back home, to a better place for us to grow up.  Over the years Daddy gave up much of his hard-earned money to make a better life for those in need, quietly and faithfully, even when he didn’t have much himself.  And when we needed him most, Daddy gave up his set schedule at work, rearranged, and picked up my oldest daughter from school every Tuesday afternoon.  When his mother was so sick, he gave up his nights and stayed with her when she needed him to, so that she could stay in her home.  When my great aunt’s memory started slipping, Daddy gave up free time, just to sit and listen to her stories, sometimes the same ones over and over.

And when his own diagnosis came through over two years ago, after many tests and many untreatable symptoms, Daddy gave up writing a script of where his life would go.  He gave up and let it be.  And he led us all through those hard days with laughter, by sharing stories, with dignity through tests and treatments and more tests and all that pain, and then finally with the quiet that came with his own heart remembering.

My Daddy led a full, rich life—simple by most standards, but rich with love and stories and grace and love.  I hope that one day when I tell one of my children, the grandchildren he loved so much, to give up, that they will know that I know how hard that is to do, and that they will then do as their “Cap” did over and over, with grace and dignity and a humble heart.

Pizza and Pandora’s Box

It’s been a great week with family visiting, and tonight we celebrated with supper out at the local pizza and fun place down the road.  I believe we got our money’s worth at the pizza buffet.  I wondered if the cooks there were going to be able to keep up with all of us and our appetites.  Finally we were down to nothing but the “pizza bones” as Daddy used to call them.

Nothing but pizza bones left.  I like to eat mine--but not this girl.

Nothing but pizza bones left. I like to eat mine–but not this girl.

Then it was the moment that every parent dreads.  At least the parents of those children who really shouldn’t be sent in unsupervised.  (Though unfortunately many are.  Just keep reading.)  Game Room time.  Ah the days when my littles were unaware of that room and all that goes on in there.  How great were those times?  But alas, they passed all too quickly.

Because, inevitably, they figure it out.  And though you might wind up going to eat pizza and NOT playing games a time or two, sooner or later peer pressure (we’re talking YOUR peers here, folks) or a party invite is going to open the door to that Pandora’s Box that is a carnival and gambling central all rolled into one.

So as we were doling out tokens (just a few, that’s all we can stand–us adults I’m referring to), the adults were having a conversation about who was going to go in.  Literally those words–GO IN.  As if Game Room Duty is like going into a war zone.  Ahem.  Discussion about whose forte’ it is to serve in this capacity was also held.  Ha.  As IF.

My sister-in-law was going in for their guys, while my brother stayed with their youngest.  I looked at Aub, my teenager, and gave her the option–you sit here with our things or you go with them.  I didn’t raise a girl with no sense.  She chose the sitting at the table job.  Well, obviously.

This is usually my husband’s or brother-in-law’s specialty, but being as neither was with us, I was stuck.  I followed my little guy in.  Our Princess was already playing the basketball game and planning to head to Skeet Ball after.  My guy headed to this contraption.

Push faster! Faster!

Push faster! Faster!

The whole point was to push on this lever and the barrel would spin, and land on the amount of tickets you “won.”  Oh did I not mention the ticket obsession?  People we are not going in to play games and have fun.  No.  We are going in to WIN.  TICKETS.  Tickets.  To GET STUFF.  *sigh*

So I think this machine was broken.  Because after my guy won his ten tickets, it said (oh yeah, it talks to you), “Play again.  Push faster.  Good spin.  Push faster.  Faster!”  Oh my.

My buddy had wandered off in search of his next quick fix for tickets.  I heard a voice from behind me.  “You’re supposed to push it.”  I turned around.  And looked down.  This game advisor was not much bigger than my little guy.  So I shrugged and pushed it.  He sounded let down.  And a little indignant.  “You have to push it faster.  And KEEP PUSHING!”

Now I’m being intimidated by a seven year old?  I don’t get paid enough for this.  But I pushed and got like four tickets or something for my efforts.  Ready to move on, I hear the machine, “Play again.  Push faster.”  My advisor said in his deadpan voice now, “Uh, you’re not done.”  Oh-kay.  My Buddy had wandered back up, so I set him to work.  Pushing faster.   He had four turns on his two tokens, and I thought well, wow.  That’s all right.  I mean, value wise.  Ha.  As IF.

Next I joined my girl for her basketball game, which she enjoyed.  Then she wanted to try that ticket game.  She walked over and there was a young girl, maybe seven or so, just standing there.  I finally asked if she was playing.  She said she was holding it for her brother.  I didn’t see anyone heading our way, so I asked if we could play quickly and then give it back to her.  She shrugged and moved to the side.  My Princess put her tokens in and pushed.  She was pretty fast too, which was good apparently.  As it was spinning, I heard a voice that I recognized say, “Hey, I told you to guard the game.”  Yep, my advisor.  I wasn’t letting his sister take the rap on her own, so I told him that I’d asked to play, and that as soon as we were done, it was his.  And just like that, we WERE done.  One turn only.  I guess it was broken earlier.

When all the cousins were done, it was ticket cashing time.  At the wonderful counter filled with all kinds of amazing JUNK.  I am sorry, but have you seen the quality of what they are offering?  And the thing about this counter is, someone’s gonna leave crying.  It might be your child, upset that she didn’t have the 268 tickets required to get the four shiny plastic rings that would have been 4/1.00 at the dollar store…..or it might be you, crying out of frustration at the hemming and hawing that is going on in the selection of just the perfect combination of three army men that take 15 tickets and two Tootsie rolls that take 10, so that leaves your child 3 tickets and she MUST spend them.  Good times, good times.

And really they were.  Well, with the exception of me thinking I was being the “adult” by going in this room which I abhor with my children and winding up acting like a child, intimidated by a seven year old, and me begging (okay whining) my children to hurry up and just pick something already.  Yeah, except for that, a good night.

Because these cousins were kind to each other.  Our Princess had 20 tickets.  Which meant she could get four things that took five tickets.  (Math this late–I’m so proud.)  The only thing besides candy (which I nixed) was the army men.  Yay.  She was miserable, but we talked and she decided to get the army men and give them to her cousins.  My little guy “decided” (ahem) to give some of his army men to his cousin who didn’t get as many tickets.  (Peer pressure from Mama–does that have a name?)  Their older cousin, who had 60 tickets to spend, decided to spend almost all of his on our Princess and got her a bracelet and one army man for himself.  Now that’s the stuff you can’t pay for right there.

Number of slices of pizza to feed all of us:  roughly 37.5 minus some pizza bones

Times we adults got up to refill plates or drinks for little ones:  12 (okay, honestly? I lost count after 8.)

Times my littles had to go to the bathroom: 3 (yes, I only have 2 littles *sigh*)

Number of cuddles I had with my little nephew when I was returned from duty in that room: too many to count

Cost of Game Room per Army Man:  Something like 50 cents each?  (and one didn’t even have its head, y’all…..quality items, I’m just sayin’)

Value of the memories that will remain from tonight:  PRICELESS

And that is what makes it all worthwhile.

A Spoonful of Memories

Beautiful handmade wooden utensils

Beautiful handmade wooden utensils

So these beauties were given to me yesterday.

Yes.  I know.  Gorgeous, aren’t they?   And I will treasure them as the wonderful art they are.  I am lucky enough to be related to the craftsman who made them.  My Uncle.   He makes these and shares them.  I like to think it’s how he says I love you.  If any of you think differently, I don’t want to know.

I will use these to ice cakes, and butter bread for toast, and to brown meat, and to stir soups and tea and batters for cakes and brownies for celebrating–and for just because.  Sometimes those “just because” treats are the best ones.

As I looked at my carousel of much used cooking and serving utensils, there were three that stood out next to my Uncle’s handiwork and made me smile.

Spoons from my Great Great Aunt, my Granny, and my Great Aunt

Spoons from my Great Great Aunt, my Granny, and my Great Aunt

My Mama gave me the first one.  It once belonged to my Great Great Aunt Maye.  She was a dear sweet lady, who carried a Kleenex in her sleeve, and after we had a special ice cold Coca-Cola in the bottle in her kitchen, she’d say, “Let’s go into the house, shall we?”  I pondered over this and at one point asked her, weren’t we already in the house?  She explained to me that the kitchen was not part of the house when she grew up, and so, I guess that made sense.  She and my Uncle Bill had no children of their own but they loved my Mama and us to bits.  When we’d visit, Uncle Bill would go and pick up Church’s fried chicken, biscuits and sides for dinner.  And the cherry pies.  Those were the best.  We would always act like he’d been out back cooking and slaving over the stove.  And he would play along.  So much fun.  Aunt Maye kept wooden alphabet blocks tucked in one of her glass front bookcases for us to play with when we were there.  On most visits, she’d let us sit in her pink poofy seat chair in front of her makeup mirror with the glamorous lights and try her lipsticks.  She never fussed if we broke one or told us not to use it this way or that.  She just turned on the lights, handed us a box of tissues for wiping off our numerous attempts to be “beautiful,” and left us to our own devices.  Oh how we loved that.  I also loved her knickknacks from their world travels–especially the hula girls with grass skirts that moved that they had gotten in Hawaii, and the dancing dolls from Thailand.  This spoon brings back all of those memories and more.  I like to use it for butterbeans and my crunchy corn and green pea salad.  They look so pretty served up in her spoon, and it reminds me of a pretty lady–inside and out.

The next spoon came from Granny, whom I’ve shared so much about, but especially in Hey Girl.  I love this spoon because it’s one of the tangible things that I have that still connects me to her.  Oh how I miss her.  Her wisdom, her love, her laughter, her raised eyebrow, and oh my good gravy, her cooking.  Granny was the one who made all kinds of candy during the holidays.  They were stored in tupperware and like containers in the cold room, later dubbed the Pretty Room.  Oh my–the buckeyes, divinity, Martha Washingtons, and so much more!  That room would have made Willy Wonka jealous, I tell you what.  Her biscuits were some kind of good too.  I remember she’d leave them covered on the counter and the butter too.   Many an afternoon found us sitting at the counter on the stools handmade by my Papa, slathering soft butter on one of those delicious biscuits.  I remember one time she took us fishing.  I don’t think we caught a thing, but somehow, somewhere she got some fish and fried it for supper that night.  With hushpuppies and fried french fries.  I can remember her putting it all in the colander and salting it just right.  Good eating right there.  The folks on the cooking shows could have learned a thing or two from my Granny.  She is also the one who taught me how to eat the whole okra she’d cook in the butterbeans.  To this day I love to show my children how to eat those slimy boiled okra in one gulp.  (It tends to make them scrunch up their faces and say “ew” so that might one of the reasons I do it.  Hey, sometimes you have to make your own entertainment, people.)  I  don’t remember whether Granny would have used this spoon for stirring jam, or making tea, or what exactly, but it sits there and I use it occasionally for something special and the memories come flooding back.

The last spoon Mama also gave to me.  It was a gift to her from my Great Aunt Hattie.  The handle used to have a brown pen-and-ink style picture of wheat stalks on it, but the years and handling have worn it nearly smooth.  When I first started making the five gallon tubs of hot chocolate to take to the meal at Daybreak on Sunday nights, I mentioned to Mama that I should probably find a good spoon to break up the clumps of Swiss Miss and mix it well.  She offered me this spoon.  Since she wasn’t cooking for a houseful anymore, she said she didn’t use it as much.  I gladly accepted.  It worked like a champ, but since that time my Aunt and Uncle gave me an extra long wooden spoon which was perfect for the job.  Aunt Hattie’s spoon became my “tea making” spoon for the ten gallons I make each Sunday.  I pull it out and think back to the special woman who loved Mama fiercely as though she were her own.  And us.  She loved children, and she loved giving gifts.  She was awesome at both.  If she gave you a purse, it had little perfume and makeup samples and pens and notepads tucked in it.  If she gave you a doll, she made an outfit to go with it.  She was a gifted seamstress and made some precious dolls and stuffed animals that are still at Mama’s where they can be loved on and treasured by all of Mama’s grandchildren.  There’s Raggedy Ann that was taller than my sister when she got her.  (My girls have been known to play dressup with her apron.)  And Cocoa the brown corduroy teddy bear.  My brother was so kind as to share it with my oldest when she was a baby.  There’s the cat Aunt Hattie made for me with gorgeous eyes–I named her Sylvia.  After the singer.  (Don’t ask, it was the 80’s.)  Oh there were so many and still are.  She made an effort to come see us regularly–she took a Greyhound bus from Miami to Macon as long as she was able.  Bless her.  The tradition of her gifts of dishtowels and handkerchiefs every Christmas has been carried on by folks in our family.  Each Sunday Aunt Hattie and I spend a moment together, and I smile knowing that she would be happy with her spoon being used to love on some folks who could use it.

Sometimes it’s hard to be the kind of person who gets so attached to these kinds of things.  I know they’re just spoons or whatever, but in the moment that my hand touches it just as theirs did, in that moment, we’re connected again.  Time and all that separates us fades away and it’s as though they are right there with me.   Some might say I’m crazy to be so sentimental.  All I know is, in the moments of using what connects me to those I love, I miss them a little less, and I smile a little more.  And one day, I hope, my own children will look back and remember their Great Uncle who made the spoons that Mama treasured so much.  And I hope that they will feel very loved as they stir their soup or bake a cake for their own families.  Because that’s what these spoons all stir up for me–memories of love and laughter and precious people.

The Best Kind of Words to Hear

picture by BeautifulBodyBistro

So many words all day long (design by beautifulbodybistro)

A couple of weeks ago someone from the pest control company came out to check for termites and explained how the system would change.  To Auburn, my 17 year old.  Who answered the door.  At lunch she told me that the guy said that it was a new system.

“But did he say the system was still effective?  Did they make the changes today or will they come back?”

She stared at me for a second.

“Mama, I don’t even know, okay?  They said a lot of words.  I just couldn’t even tell you.”

Yeah.  That sounds about right.

So many of our days are spent hearing words, lots of words, words we don’t choose to hear, many we don’t fully process–song lyrics, commercial dialogues, announcements over intercoms, people talking in the next cubicle, next booth, or even next door.  So many words to be heard.  But few that we really truly hear or even need to listen to.

Today I’m lucky to hear wonderful words.  My brother’s stories, his wife’s, their children’s.  And this time it’s not on the phone long distance, though those are pretty special too.  No, today I honest to goodness get to see their precious faces and their expressions as they share–the animation, the hands flying–better than TV any day! And we get to laugh until tears are running down our faces and we are leaning on each other to get our breath back–that’s my favorite.  Those kinds of words are the ones that I get to hear today.

I am so very lucky.

So I’m going to cut my words here short tonight so I can get in some good visiting time.  I wish the same for you and yours.  I think that’s one of the things I love about summer the most–the world just seems a little more relaxed.  A little more light, a little more time to sit back and share and laugh and visit.  May the words that fill your ears be those of the ones you love, and may they bring you laughter and great joy.  Yeah, that right there.  We can never have too many of those kinds of words.

What Happens When You’re Not Paying Attention

Family is in town, and my house is filled with children.

From ages almost four months to 17 years.  Filled.

And much to the delight of my little guy, the male to female ratio took a serious turn in his favor.

Today there has been the stuff that seems to echo my own childhood memories.  Running around inventing fun ways of playing hide and go seek, chasing each other around the house, in the house, through the house, out of the house.  Singing and dancing their hearts out to oldies but goodies.  Playing out adventure stories in the backyard.  Laughing over and over again until they can’t breathe over the Funniest.  Words.  Ever.

“A naked mole rat.  It’s a mole rat.  Naked.”

It is.  It really is.  Photo by She Shot It_97

It is. It really is. Photo by She Shot It_97

Every single time people.  Can’t make this stuff up.

Oh my stars.

This afternoon as they were in the back corner of our yard where the water tends to collect when we’ve had a lot of rain, they began to see frogs–all sizes.  The cute itty bitty ones all the way up to the granddaddy sized ones.  The smaller ones they were collecting just for fun, to be released a short time later.  This, my friends, is the stuff that summer and fun with cousins is all about.  What could be more fun than playing together all day, crashing out for a little while after lunch, watching something on tv to cool down, playing hard again, and then after the day is done, crawling into beds in rooms right next to each other?  I love summer and children and family.

But then it happened.  Oh it was already in the works.  When my BABY sister turned 40 on Monday, I knew it was only a matter of time before I felt myself getting older…..maybe even acting like Mama a little more.  But no, I somehow took an “Evil Knievel” jump over the Grand Canyon and went straight to a place that I was not expecting.

Today I heard my Granny’s words.

Coming out of MY mouth.

How did that even happen, okay?

When we were younger, playing at Granny’s, she would often tell us, “Be particular.”  I can specifically remember it with regards to the Matchbox cars we would take outside to drive alongside and park in our toadhouses.  But she said it about other things too.  Be particular.  Great advice.

And so in the chaos that comes from the best of family get togethers and the excitement that comes from cousins who are crazy about each other coming together for the first time in almost a year…..I said it.  I don’t even remember about what.  And the what isn’t even important.  The point is, today, a time or two, I became my Granny.  And while I love and adore her and miss her everyday, I was not quite ready to become her.  Shoot, I’m not even ready to look in the mirror and see my Mama, though I have to admit I see the transition more and more…..*sigh*…..and more.   Is anyone ever ready to do the one thing they swore they’d never do–turn into their own mother?

I called my Aunt and told her about it.  When I asked her how it happened, she said, “Well, look at what can happen when you’re not paying attention.”  And we laughed.  That’s funny right there.  I thought I was being supervigilant, but that one slipped right by me.  Wonder what else I’ve missed?

So I want to go to this

So, I want to go to this

There’s a sign that goes up for a week every summer.  It sits proudly with its handwritten letters next to a mailbox at the end of a long drive not far from Blackberry Flats where my parents lived.  It proclaims that it is “Granny Camp” time.  I love it.  It never fails to make me smile that someone loves their grandchildren so much and is crazy enough to take that on.  It reminds me of my own Granny’s “camp,” though that’s hardly what it was called back then.  Some of us in my family have talked about this sign and the story behind it–wonder where her grandchildren live, what kinds of things does she do, could I be her grandchild for a week and sign up?  Just your normal everyday questions.

At one point, I even wondered if it was a camp FOR Grannies.  You know, one where for one week out of the year, they gather and brag about their kin and tell stories and learn creative ways to love on their littles and bigs and bake all kinds of treats and biscuits.  Because Grannies and Maemaes and all those like them simply MUST know how to make the best biscuits.  It’s like a prerequisite or something. Maybe Granny camp is where they hone their skills before they head back into the world of play and telling stories and whooping it up like there’s no tomorrow.

I’m thinking next week is going to seem really quiet around here and a bit sad.  We will miss our family and it will be hard to let them go.  Maybe to cheer myself up and get ready for their next visit, I should check out Granny Camp.   Maybe it will be all that I’ve imagined and I can share my stories and laugh with women who are strong, whose love is even stronger, and whose wisdom is immeasurable.  And though I’m not a full-fledged card-carrying member yet, maybe they will let me in as an apprentice?  After all, I think I already know the password.  And said it.  Today.  More than once.  Got it from my Granny.  “Be particular.”

Happy Birthday, Mess Cat!

pic of sandy baby 2

Happy Birthday to that girl, right there!

Yep, as I write this my baby sister is getting ready to do what will really make me old.  Turn 40 herself.  It’s a little hard to deny that I’m 40 when she insists on turning 40 herself.  *sigh*  I guess I will now have to admit to being 41.  Ha.

October-November 2011 420

She is one of the three most precious gifts my parents gave me.  It is said that I got what I asked for each time Mama had one of my siblings.  Two girls and then the baby boy.  Though I don’t really remember her being born, the memories we’ve made since then more than make up for the absence of that memory.

pic of sandy toddler

I never shared a room with her when we were little, but we shared couches and fold out beds during Mama’s HospitalStay.  We never lived together as adults, but we took vacations together and shared late night UNO games and lots of laughter. (Whoa man!)  When my life hit those bumps in the road, she was there to help me move on.  Literally and figuratively.  We’ve not lived in the same town for over a decade, but in the next month we will be living just across the county line from each other.  And all I can say about that is, IT’S ABOUT TIME.  Look out Georgia, it’s about to get real.

pic of sandy and mama baby

I love her so much.  Mama called her Sunshine.  And that is spot on.  She brightens the room when she walks in, and she can make you laugh with her wit and attitude and the way she sees the world.  If you need a laugh, get her to tell you about her recent experiences on a business trip to China.  Oh, my aching laugh muscles!  She’s the one who can get things done, who can make things happen.  As one of our cousins put it, “We sure are glad she’s on our side, aren’t we?”  Yep.  For sure.  I admire her business acumen, and she is an incredible Mama.  Her little guy is her world.

She is also a fabulous aunt, or so I’ve been told by my crew.  And they would know.  My children call her Gnomee.  (no-mee)  When our Princess was small, my sister teased her by saying, “You don’t know me, you don’t know me…..” and it stuck.   One time when we were out at a restaurant where they call out your name to pick up your order, we gave the name “Gnomee” with our order.  We hooted when they called out “G-Nomee, G-Nomee, your order is ready!”

pic of sandy and mama years ago

She is the type of wife who lays in bed, completely still, waiting for her husband to come to bed.  Then, just as he’s settling in, she pops straight up, scaring the wits out of him.  I love the stories of their family games of hide and seek and chase.  She loves and loves fiercely, and she fights hard for those she loves.  She reminds me of Mama in that way.

pic of sandy flower girl

When our cousin was in the hospital, I stayed there that last night with her.  One of the hospitalists came in to consult on the case.  A good doctor with a kind heart, she shared the story of her own loss as she learned of the loss in our family.  Her aunt had died just a few months before.  She said, “Yeah, she and my Mama are probably up there doing just what they did down here.  They were a couple of mess cats!”  I loved it.  I told my sister that story and she said, “That’s what we are–a couple of mess cats for sure!”  And so we are.

This evening one of my friends from Daybreak shared a heartbreaking story with me and my crew.  As I listened, I thought about all of the brokenness and darkness in this world.  I later had to explain to my littles about broken homes and people who don’t know how to be good parents.  It flat broke my heart. I know I’m lucky.  And I give thanks for my sister and those like her, who can shed light wherever they go–not with their heads buried in the sand, but rubbing their hands together with an attitude of “Okay we got this.  Let’s see what we can do.”  She truly is a light of love in my life, and I don’t know what I’d do without her.  I love you, Mess Cat–can’t wait to see where this next part of the journey is going to take us!  Happy Birthday, but more importantly, Happy Everyday!

Happy Birthday, baby girl!  You are loved.

Happy Birthday, baby girl! You are loved.