The Gift of Grits

My Jim Dandy grits I cooked this morning in the perfect bowl.  Easy to wash out grits--the true test of a good bowl.

My Jim Dandy grits I cooked this morning in the perfect bowl. Easy to wash out grits–the true test of a good bowl.

When I went to bed last night I felt it coming on, and sure enough, when I woke up this morning, the sneaking suspicion that all these sniffles were maybe something other than allergies…..yeah, pretty sure I was right.

So rather than go with my old breakfast standby of a handful of dry cereal or a cup of yogurt or nothing much, I cooked myself some grits.  Jim Dandy grits.

Yuh-ummmmmm.

I love grits.  I don’t know why I don’t take the time to make them more, but today I did.  As I spooned them into my bowl, memories came flooding back of the crisp mornings Mama would make us grits for breakfast before school.  And I realized I had made these today for myself as comfort food.  I felt puny, so I made what Mama would have made for me.

As I stirred them around in my bowl I just about drooled over the creaminess.  I cannot tell you how long it was before I realized that grits weren’t usually eaten as a gelatinous substance.  All my fault.  If I had gotten up when Mama said and been ready to eat earlier, they would have been every bit as creamy as the ones I enjoyed this morning.  But I was not an easy (or early) riser and rarely got to the table in a timely fashion, so gloppy grits it was.  They were still great though.

I miss Mama.  There’s something in the air I guess because we are all missing her more than usual it seems here lately.  I miss calling her and telling her I don’t feel good and she, after assessing I would make it through and telling me so, would give me the appropriate number of “poor baby”s and all would be well.  She would then most likely offer for me to bring the children over and take a nap there.  I didn’t do it often, but when I did that was some kind of good sleep.

We got home a little later than usual today.  After taking our sweet puppy out to do what puppies do, I realized it was almost six p.m., and I still needed to fix some supper.  My first instinct was to pick up the phone.  And call Mama.  Because with us, it didn’t matter the time.

The only time I hesitated to call was late at night, but if it were something serious, I punched in the same numbers I’ve called almost all my life, and the moment I heard her voice, things were instantly a little better.  I remember late one night during the first few months of my first year in college, my roommate and I got a creepy call from someone acting like he could see us. Interesting, considering we lived on the third floor of the freshman dorm.  On an all women’s campus.  Still it spooked us and we called Mama immediately.  I don’t remember what all she said, but I do remember she talked to us and wasn’t mad that we woke her up.  And I slept better after that.

Tonight I didn’t really have anything in particular I wanted to talk to her about.  Just whatever.  I would have loved to hear her voice while I puttered away making the pancakes and fruit for the littles. (Oh, how many meals did I prepare just visiting with her on the phone!)  I could have asked her how to work through what’s on my mind, and she would have known just what to say.  She would have laughed at the stories of the stuff the littles do and listened about how potty-training the puppy is going.  Nothing overly special or important.  It’s just she was my best friend, and I miss her voice and her heart and her love.

So grits, thanks for the trip down memory lane.  You are as quirky as you are delicious.  I love that no matter how neatly I eat my grits, I always inevitably find one little grit somewhere on me later in the day. (How does that even happen?) And pretty much, you are the best ever–so versatile– breakfast, lunch, or supper, you’re fashionable at any meal.

Tonight I’m thankful for the ones who answer their phones now–I am lucky to have them to listen and encourage and laugh and cry with.  I’m grateful for my Mama, who always answered and listened, who loved me through my puny days, and who always, no matter how tired she probably was, made us a good breakfast to start our day.  It’s taken me far too many years, but I now appreciate what a gift that was.  Actually, what a gift SHE was.

Love to all.

The Ways of the Earthworm

This morning before the rest of the house was stirring, the pup and I headed out to the front yard to contemplate and do what doggies do in the morning dew.  The yellow of the sun and the blue of the sky seemed a more brilliant color today, promising us a day of beauty and perhaps a cool breeze or two thrown in there.

Meet Emilio, the new friend the sweet pup and I made this morning.  I want to find his rhythm and grace in my own life.

Meet Emilio, the new friend the sweet pup and I made this morning. I want to find his rhythm and grace in my own life.

As we were headed back in, I saw this guy making his way down the walkway.  I had already seen some of his kin whose demise had come all too quickly back on the pavement several feet away.  This one still had some get up and go.  As I watched his movements, it amazed me.  His head would stretch out and move forward ever so slightly, and then he’d wait for the rest of his body to catch up.  Again, stretch that head and wait.  It was painstakingly slow to me, who must have seemed like a skyscraper had he looked up.  Or, you know, had eyes.

As I watched him it hit me that I could learn a thing or two from Emilio the Earthworm.  He takes his time.  (I wonder what an earthworm in a rush would look like anyway.)  He leads with his head.  Then he waits for the rest of himself to catch up.  Wonder what he thinks about as that long body wiggles in and prepares to follow the head again?  He has a lot of time for cogitating, I’m thinking.

I tend to get ahead of myself a lot.  And then not wait for the rest of me to catch up, just plunge right in on the next thing.  And the next and the next, until I’m running in circles and find myself putting two entrees in the oven for the littles’ lunch (they did not complain on that) or I leave my wallet at home twice in three days (they did on this–Cooter was hoping for Chick-Fil-A that night–not without my wallet, buddy.)  And so it is.

My new author friend, Ann Hite, taught a Writer’s Workshop on Monday.  She talked about the exercise of walking slow–how important it is to slow down.  To listen, to think, to just be.  Still.  Slow.  Quiet.  That’s huge.  I have been walking fast most of my life; it’s a short girl thing.  It was especially true in high school when my ability to walk fast and dart through the throngs of students on the walkways between buildings determined whether or not I’d be on time for class and thus stay out of the Vice Principal’s office one more day.  Then there’s that whole walking fast thing to burn energy, burn calories, lose weight, stay healthy.  Our society is not one that emphasizes the benefits of walking slow.  Or crawling in the case of Emilio.

My Mama got it.  She could get more done in a day than most folks do in a week or maybe a month.  And yet she had her quiet times.  I honestly don’t remember ever seeing her in a hurry.  I don’t remember her ever saying, “Hurry up” or “right now!” or huffing and blowing getting out the door.  She simply did not run behind.  It’s a trait I admire as I did not inherit it.  At all.  I asked Sister if she ever remembered seeing Mama in a hurry.  And she immediately responded, “Yes.  I did. Once.”  She was quiet.  I asked her “when” about the same time the memory hit me.  When Daddy was being transferred from the local hospital to Emory in Atlanta at the end of August in 2009, Mama went home to pack and Sister was there to help her.  That is the only time either of us remember Mama being in a hurry.  She had strong faith and peace.  I wonder if her slow and steady pace helped with that.

As I rose from my squatting position to go back in the house this morning I thought about all of this.  I might need to tack a picture of Emilio on my mirror to remind me to slow down.  Don’t let my mind rush ahead with dreams and goals and ideas.  Slow down, listen, and wait.  I feel calmer just breathing that.  In and out.  Slow down.  Listen.  Wait.

I looked down at my new little guru and back at the sun that was getting brighter through the trees.  Another little bit and that pavement would warm up fast.  He didn’t seem to be headed toward the yard but instead in a line with the walkway.  Y’all know what happens to earthworms on hot pavement, right?  Very sad.  I felt like one of those wildlife photographers.  I know they are filming nature and have some sort of perhaps ethical something holding them back from letting the inevitable happen, but I could not bear to come back out in a couple of hours and find him baked on a 350 degree pathway.  I took a leaf and helped him along until he started wiggling so much it reminded me these guys must be related to snakes.  Ack!  I left him to his own devices to finish heading into the dirt. One stretch and wait at a time.

There he goes.  Thanks Emilio for stopping by and teaching me the ways of the earthworm.

There he goes. Thanks, Emilio, for stopping by and teaching me the ways of the earthworm.

May we all remember to let our bodies and souls catch up as we go through our busy, filled to the brim days–to slow down, listen, and wait.  I think that will be my new breath prayer as the winds of fall and yet more changes blow through my days and I find myself overwhelmed.  My friend taught us about breath prayers, an ancient practice that allows one to meditate through steady breathing and focusing thoughts.

Inhaling—slow down

Exhaling—Listen…..and wait

Walk slow, my friends.  And soak in the good that follows.

Pinterest Win, Precious Ladies, and a Promise Kept

Last year getting ready for Christmas was pretty much one Pinterest win after another.  Yes, I know, right?

I had gift ideas I tweaked and made into reality.  Recipes? Yes.  As we had decided that for gifts from each other in our immediate household they had to be made or purchased from the GW Boutique or both, I was often on Pinterest for inspiration…..or looking for laughs to get me through all that stress of being crafty.

There was one project in particular that I especially enjoyed.  It was a clothespin Holy family ornament.  I am not sure what the original idea looked like, but I was pleased with the results.  I gave Mama one as part of her pre-Christmas goodies.  She loved it.  “I would love to give these to the ladies in my Circle,” she said, referring to the once a month gathering of ladies from her church.  Since they had already met in December, we decided that she could give them out at the July gathering–sort of a Christmas in July if you will.  I even had the perfect thing to put with it.  “Do you mind making them for me?” she asked.  “I’ll probably need 8 or 10.”

“No problem, I enjoy it,” I told her.

This has been in the back of mind and on my heart for a while now.  I spoke with one of the ladies from the Circle and found out that they had taken a break for summer but were starting back up this month, today in fact.  I knew it was time.  I asked if I could come for a few minutes and bring something Mama wanted them all to have.  The assurance that I was welcome was genuine and kind.

So last night I sat down with a pile of wooden pieces, my fancy cordless glue gun (I know how to maximize my 40% off Hobby Lobby coupons, y’all), and some paper clips.

"Whatcha making, Mama?" Cooter asked. "God and Jesus and His mama?"  Oh my.

“Whatcha making, Mama?” Cooter asked. “God and Jesus and His mama?” Oh my.

Very quickly it all came together.  Soon I had all them all ready.

20130917-222146.jpg

Mama wanted to share these with her dear friends from her Circle with a writing I found, interestingly enough, by watching Ally McBeal.  (Don’t judge.  I all but had my law degree by watching the whole series all the way through.)  One of the characters mentioned it in passing and it stuck with me.  Something about Christmas everyday.  We live in an amazing age, don’t you think?  The morning after I watched that episode, I Googled the line and very quickly found the original work.  It is called “Keeping Christmas” by Henry Van Dyke.  I was so moved by it, I shared it when I wrote about my Daddy and Granddaddy and the peppermints they shared with all the children when I was growing up.  This morning I printed out copies to give with the ornament to remind us all to keep Christmas.

And so it was that I sat with a group of sweet, dear ladies who made me feel nothing but welcome and loved, and they shared how much my Mama had meant to them.   We laughed over shared stories, and they loved seeing the pictures of Mama’s two newest grandbabies.  It was a sacred time, and I left them with my heart singing and my soul at peace.  I had taken care of something that was important to Mama.  That I knew it was something she had wanted to do and that I could make it happen–that was precious to me.

My parents were people who tried to live by the ideas presented in this selection.  They were human, after all, so they may not have had it down perfect, but they certainly kept trying.  That’s why it was such a pleasure to share this “work of art” by Mr. Van Dyke with my new friends.  It shouldn’t be just a way of life at Christmas but for all of our other days too.

So tonight my friends, I leave it with you.  I shared it last December, but it’s certainly worth being shared many, many times over.  May you too find it in your heart to keep Christmas everyday.  And may you be fortunate enough, like my Mama was, to find wonderful people around you to join you in this keeping of Christmas.

Keeping Christmas

There is a better thing than the observance of Christmas day, and that is, keeping Christmas.  

Are you willing…

  • to forget what you have done for other people, and to remember what other people have done for you;
  • to ignore what the world owes you, and to think what you owe the world;
  • to put your rights in the background, and your duties in the middle distance, and your chances to do a little more than your duty in the foreground;
  • to see that men and women are just as real as you are, and try to look behind their faces to their hearts, hungry for joy;
  • to own up to the fact that probably the only good reason for your existence is not what you are going to get out of life, but what you are going to give to life;
  • to close your book of complaints against the management of the universe, and look around you for a place where you can sow a few seeds of happiness.

 

Are you willing to do these things even for a day? Then you can keep Christmas.

Are you willing…

  • to stoop down and consider the needs and desires of little children;
  • to remember the weakness and loneliness of people growing old;
  • to stop asking how much your friends love you, and ask yourself whether you love them enough;
  • to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear in their hearts;
  • to try to understand what those who live in the same home with you really want, without waiting for them to tell you;
  • to trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and to carry it in front so that your shadow will fall behind you;
  • to make a grave for your ugly thoughts, and a garden for your kindly feelings, with the gate open—

Are you willing to do these things, even for a day? Then you can keep Christmas.

Are you willing…

  • to believe that love is the strongest thing in the world—
  • stronger than hate, stronger than evil, stronger than death—
  • and that the blessed life which began in Bethlehem nineteen hundred years ago is the image and brightness of the Eternal Love?

Then you can keep Christmas.

And if you can keep it for a day, why not always?

But you can never keep it alone.

Six Days of the Week, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1924 and 1952.

May you be blessed along your travels--may there always be kind people who make you feel at home and may you find joy and laughter in everything you do.

May you be at peace along your travels–may there always be kind people who make you feel at home and may you find joy and laughter in everything you do.

‘Cause Mama Said

"Because I'm the mother, that's why!"  A brilliant cup from Tervis.

“Because I’m the mother, that’s why!” My clever cup from Tervis.

Before our lives changed four years ago, Mama had been making a weekly trip to see my Great Aunt for years.  Tuesday was her day.  My Great Aunt was a mother to her, and their visits were times that they both treasured.  Occasionally one or the other of us children would go along, and after Daddy retired in 2003 he went sometimes, but mostly it was the two of them, visiting and taking on little projects around the house and yard.  And then there were the lunches with the banana pudding as dessert.  Whoa be the person who made them too late to get some of the one pan that was made daily at the Sidetracks restaurant.

Tuesdays were so ingrained that when I went to work full-time and Mama and Daddy kept Aub after school, Daddy arranged his schedule so he could leave work early on Tuesday and pick her up from school.  Tuesday became their day too.

But four years ago, when Daddy’s undecipherable symptoms hit full force unexpectedly, he was admitted to the hospital.  A week later he was moved to Emory where he stayed for over a month.  During that time, Mama was by his side the whole time.  The Tuesday visits were over for a while.  One of the first things Mama did was worry about my great Aunt.  She was in good health, but as often happens as the years go by, she was on many medications.  Each week before Mama left, she went to the kitchen counter, pulled down the many bottles of medication and vitamins and set them up in the 14-section medicine caddies.  Mama kept two completely set up in addition to the one for the current week–just in case she had to miss a week going down.

My great Aunt was a very bright woman, and since the death of her husband sixteen years before, very independent.  She and Mama had their own ways worked out.  So when I walked in that first week, scared and heartbroken over my Daddy, but determined to take this worry off of Mama’s list, I was a bit anxious.  Just as I had suspected, my great Aunt was having none of that–she did NOT want me to set up her medicine.  As she hadn’t done it in quite a while, I knew she was bluffing as she waved her hand at me, sitting in “her” chair, saying “Pshaw, I can do it.  Don’t you worry about it.  Come sit down and visit.”

Hmmmm.  Face my great Aunt or my Mama?  Who was I more willing to upset?

I sat for a few minutes and plotted and thought as we chatted about the weather and how Daddy was doing and so on.  Aub looked over at me and we exchanged a look.  I could tell she was interested to see how this was going to play out.  I was too.  Only I was the one who was risking making my aunt mad by going against her wishes.  Finally Mama’s words–my “out” my whole life–came back to me.

“Look if you don’t want to do something, if you know you shouldn’t, whatever, just blame it on me.  Say I won’t let you do it.”

Bing-o!

I got up from the couch and squatted next to my aunt’s chair.

“Ummm, we’re gonna have to leave in a few minutes and get on back home, but before I go, I’m just going to get your meds set up for next week, okay?”

“No, I already told you, you don’t have to worry about that.  I can do it later.  You just sit here and visit until you have to leave.” She waved that hand again.

I was ready this time.

I looked down and sighed.  I stared at my fingernails that were probably a disappointment to this beautiful and elegant lady in front of me.  I sighed again. “But see, Mama asked me to do it.  And she’s going to ask me later if I did.  And when I tell her no, she’s gonna beat me but good.  Please let me do it so she won’t beat me.”

A chuckle burst out unexpectedly.  She took a deep breath, and laughed even harder.  I had her.

“Well my gracious goodness, I certainly don’t want that on my conscience.  I guess you’d better do it then.  But I wish you wouldn’t worry about it.”

“No ma’am,” I said.  “I’m not worried about it, but I am worried about that beatin’.”

She laughed again and took the “tea cup” from our Princess and “sipped” on her tea.  “You go on ahead then. Do what you need to do.”

And our pattern was set.  From then on, each week, she would tell me not to worry, I’d tell her I was more worried about my Mama and her wrath and that promised beating.  And she would acquiesce.  Done.

I am thankful for Mama’s willingness to take the fall, to be the bad guy for me all my life.  If I was invited to do something that I really didn’t want to, that was my excuse.  If someone gave me a hard time about not doing one thing or another, I’d just shrug and sigh, so “burdened” by my overprotective parents–“My Mama won’t let me.”  If someone wondered why I was calling home or why I always did something a certain way, “Mama makes me.”  I appreciate that so much.  I still do it today.  If I ma’am someone and they wave it away, I always reply, “No ma’am, I’m sorry.  If I didn’t say ma’am to you my Mama (or my Granny) would come back and whoop me.”  (And really, physical discipline was not as common around our house as one might think from listening to me carry on.  But yeah, suffice to say, I don’t use my manners and act like I am somebody, one of them’s coming back to raise some kind of ruckus!)

I have told my children, especially my oldest, the same thing.  “Blame it on me.  You need an out, you got one.”  Yes, I want them to be strong and stand on their own and for what they know is right, but sometimes it helps to play the “Mama said” card for reinforcement.  After all, it works.  It convinced my great Aunt to change her mind–and that was no easy feat. ” ‘Cause Mama said”…..that’s the universal language for “this is how it’s gonna be.”