shelling peas

sitting down with a bowl full of unshelled peas
still warm from the sun
the white enamel pan cool
on my lap
filled to the brim with a whole mess of them

my fingers move with the same motions
memorized by the hands of my people
zipping them open
and dropping the peas down into the pan

the plink plink plink plays the background tune
to the stories shared or watched
as we sit under the fan
thankful for a reason to sit
out of the hot summer sun for a while

we gather and
many hands make light work,
as my Mama used to say

as the pile of purple goes down
with the sun
the peas collect and promise
a good meal soon

the feel of summer
pea hulls in the hands
the smell of summer
their earthiness full of the gift of the land

and the one who grew them
and picked them
sharing his bounty

I smile, remembering precious moments
shelling peas with the ones I love
who taught me how

and now I take the little fingers entrusted to me
and I show them how to unzip
and shell
and look
just in case there’s a bad one in the bunch

they laugh and giggle
and I hope it will always be so
folks shelling peas
and giving thanks for what they have

and laughter
on porches
and summer sunsets
kissed by an evening breeze

and a pot of fresh-picked peas on the stove

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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.

What I’d Say

pic of class of 1986It was twenty-seven years ago today that I graduated from high school. Wow. I graduated from the same high school that my Daddy graduated from, and we even had a couple of the same teachers. He graduated before segregation and before the new campus was built–his school combined with two other schools to form the one I attended. The administration let me wear his honor cords in addition to mine, and that meant so much to me. Twenty-five years after him, I walked down the aisle and had the honor of speaking at graduation.

My uncle called a few days ago to ask if Aub had ever read “The Prophet” by Khalil Gibran. It touched my heart that he cared enough to call and ask. And it reminded me of Daddy–because he often suggested books that she should read (or that I needed to read), and because Daddy liked Khalil Gibran too. I was pleased to be able to tell my Uncle that I had given Aub a copy of the book for Christmas, to remember and honor Daddy and to enlighten her. She read it right away.

All this got me to thinking about my own graduation so many years ago. I had just found Khalil Gibran myself, and my seventeen year old self was very enamored with the thoughts and words he wrote. I even started my speech with a quote from him: “Only once have I been made mute. It was when a man asked me, ‘Who are you?'”  And went on from there.

Yeah, I was quite the great thinker back then. Ahem.

And so, I’ve thought a little more today about something that came to me when I attended my daughter’s graduation two weeks ago. What would I say today, if I were asked to speak at a graduation.

First I would tell them they won’t remember a thing I’m going to say. Because that is probably the way it will be.

Then I’d keep talking anyway. There’s some irony in that, I guess. Like the person who buys what they would want as a gift for someone else.

But I digress.  I would continue–

pic of khalil gibran truth quote

Seek truth.  Not the truth.  Just truth.  Seek and then act.  For justice.  For love.  For widsom.

The adults in your life will disappoint. As you grow older, they will, at some point, let you down. They are not perfect. They are human.  We all are.  Don’t let the disappointment change who you are.

At some point, you will make a choice and you will disappoint yourself. It’s going to happen. More than once, most likely.  Give yourself grace. Learn from that choice. Admit mistakes.  Ask forgiveness.  Move on.

It’s easy to waste time on things that don’t matter. Just make sure you don’t waste time or energy on things that can hurt people.   Like judging those different from you. Or hating the person rather than the action.

Or letting your frustration with one part of a person or church or  job or situation make you blind to the good in it or them.

Don’t waste time not letting your authentic self shine.

Be authentic. Be you. But don’t make it about you.   If you are a crocheter in the midst of knitters, crochet away, but love those knitters.  If you are a yellow in a sea of green, shine on so we can see their green too.  If you are a singer surrounded by dancers, belt it out and smile while you’re doing it, singing a tune the others can dance to.  Don’t go against who you are. Life is too short to pretend you are what or who you are not.  Or to pretend that you are not who you really are.

But on that same note, don’t take yourself so seriously.  You’re going to do great things, but you’re also going to mess up.  Truth.  And the only way you can do great things is to try.  So when you mess up, try again.  The great will come.  As my parents used to say, “Keep on keepin’ on.”

Take lots of pictures of you WITH the people you love.  Not just OF the people you love.  One day you will be very glad you did.

Surround yourself with people who get things done.  People who laugh.  Laugh a lot.  People who celebrate the small things as much as the great things in life.  People who find reasons to be joyful.  People who can encourage without knocking you down because they are insecure.  People who love like the stuff grows on trees.  Yeah, those folks.  Hard times are not an IF scenario, but a WHEN.  These folks are the ones who will help you through.  Just as you will help them as you sit with them in their darkness.

You can never say “I love you” or “I appreciate you” too much.  Make time to find something to be thankful for and give thanks.  Learn to see beauty when you look in the mirror.  And in things and people around you.  Be a good listener.  Share your stories, but not your drama.  Take walks and breathe deeply.

Read great books.  And fluff.  Try new foods.  You never know what you might like.  Put the cell phone down and talk with those around you.  Look them in the eyes. Say hello and learn the names of the people whom you see–the mail carrier, the parking deck cashier, the person who makes your coffee, the people who live on your street.  They matter.  You matter.  In the end, that’s what we all want–to have sought truth, found some, to love and be loved, and to have mattered.

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Today I’m thankful for an Uncle who cares what my girl reads.  I am thankful for the memory of my own graduation, the most precious part being the connection I felt to Daddy throughout the whole thing.  I appreciate those who have the courage to speak at these ceremonies and to share their thoughts, especially those who tell it like it is.  And I’m thankful for my Daddy who introduced seventeen year old me to Khalil Gibran, who had some great things to say, and I’m thankful for my seventeen year old, who has found her own love for the words written so long ago.

Picture from Gibran Monument by Julie Flygare

Picture from Gibran Monument by Julie Flygare

“You are my brother and I love you. I love you worshipping in your church, kneeling in your temple, and praying in your mosque. You and I and all are children of one religion, for the varied paths of religion are but the fingers of the loving hand of the Supreme Being, extended to all, offering completeness of spirit to all, anxious to receive all.”–Khalil Gibran