Friday, May 27, 2011

Everything you wanted to know about Southerners but thought we were too dumb to actually answer

This may come as a total surprise to you, but not everyone born in the South is stupid.  Shocking, I know.  As someone born and raised in what I affectionately call the Armpit of America, it has been a constant battle to prove to folks born outside of the land of tobacco and cotton that I am not as dumb as a box of hair.  It doesn't help that my former governor thinks the Appalachian Trail is in Argentina and that our teenage beauty pageant contestants can't speak coherently when asked a simple question.  (Don't fret, Miss Teenage South Carolina, I always call myself a US American.)  There was actually a time in my life when I tried to hide the fact that I was a small town Southern girl, thinking that it somehow lowered me down a rung on the great step ladder of life.  Not any more, though, because for all of you people who aren't related  to someone called by their first and middle names (i.e. Mary Jo, Bobby Lee, Sue Ellen, Jim Bob),  I'm here to dispel the myths around what it's like to be a True Southerner.

First of all, it has to be said that we are a very proud group of people.  Do you have a license plate with your state flag on it adorning the front of your car? I do.  As a matter of fact, there is quite a market for items with the Palmetto State's flag on it.  You can find it on everything from shot glasses to sun glasses, flip flops to bikini tops.  Visit any Cracker Barrel in the South, and you'll find another genius merchandising idea: G.R.I.T.S. - the acronym for Girls Raised In The South.  Don't forget the Seasoned G.R.I.T.S. - Grandmothers Raised In The South.  And, you can't spit without hitting a bumper sticker with phrases like, "American by birth, Southern by the grace of God".  Do you think people in South Dakota give a fist pump while shouting, "WOOHOO! The upper midwest is gonna rise again"?  Doubtful.

Here are a few more truths about us sweet-tea-drinking Southerners that may surprise you...

1. Our men wear shirts.  I promise!  Please realize that when news happens, the reporters and camera crew scan the crowd to see if anyone is shirtless.  Finding no one, they "accidentally" spill coffee on the one guy with bad teeth and a baseball cap.  Presto!  You've got your bare-chested redneck guy camera ready.  Don't believe everything you see on "COPS" or "The Real Police Women of Broward County".

2. We don't all carry guns and have banjo music playing in the background.  Now, don't get me wrong.  There is a heavy NRA presence in the South, but for many of us, a collection of Nerf guns is about as strong-armed as it gets.  Oh, and while I do enjoy bluegrass music occasionally, I rarely sport denim overalls, I have all my teeth,  and I would only make you squeal like a pig if you asked me nicely.

3. Some Southerners can actually drive in the snow.  This is such a controversial topic that I nearly skipped over it.  Here's the thing - NO ONE can drive on ice, except those "Ice Road Truckers" guys, and I'm still not convinced that's real.  The next time there is a big snowstorm up north, notice how many accidents you see on news footage...just as many as in the South!  I truly believe that Nanook of the North drives just fine when the ice and snow is piled to the side of the road, but seeing as how we are sorely lacking snow removal equipment where the palm trees grow, it's going to be squirrel-y until the sun comes out.  Stupid drivers can come from Minnesota or Georgia, regardless of the weather.  What do Southerners do on the rare snow day?  We aren't all out driving.  We stay home to make chili and corn bread while drinking all the milk we hoarded the day before.

4. Some of us eat food that isn't greasy, fried, from a swamp, or road kill.  I have NEVER eaten Cooter Stew (that's turtle stew if you're not from 'round these parts), and frog legs will not ever pass over my lips.  I haven't cooked fried chicken (or fried anything for that matter) in my entire life.  I rarely eat grits, and I do not condone putting Sundrop in your baby's bottle.  I understand that filet mignon should not be ordered "well done" with ketchup on the side, and I do not consider fried pork rinds the breakfast of champions.

5. We are not all racists.  I like to believe - no, I must believe - that we have moved forward, and to quote Forrest Gump, "That's all I have to say about that".

I love the South, one of the few places where you call your father "Daddy" until you both have gray hair.  Yes, we talk funny, but here even insults are accepted graciously as long as a "bless her heart" punctuates the sentence.   We "glow" under the blazing summer sun, eat Duke's mayonnaise on our white bread and 'mater sandwiches, and clothe our little girls in monogrammed dresses.  Nothin' could be finer than to be in Carolina...y'all come back now, ya hear?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Revenge of the Krelboynes

Krelboyne: synonym for nerd, geek, someone who is gifted, the school genius.

For six years I have managed to escape working at the annual Field Day for our elementary school. Oh, don't think that my child's parent didn't attend.  I always "volunteered" my husband to do it.  Me stand in the blazing sun while other folk's children run around screaming in my ear?  NO. WAY.   I'd much rather schedule a few rounds of root canals instead.  Plus, I'm fairly sure that being a chaperone for this event means talking to other humans, something I'm not very good at anyway.  However, this year was different.  This was my son's last Field Day.  Next year he'll be a middle school kid who will probably cease acknowledging my existence, so I felt a little tug at the heart strings to witness his final hoorah at the top of the elementary food chain, and for as much as I hate to admit it, I was so glad I was there because his class - The Krelboynes as I call them - showed everyone in attendance today that brains can indeed win out over brawn.

My husband and I both signed up to be there today, and I asked my first grader to "pick Mommy or Daddy to be with your class".  Of course, she picked me, so my day was spent watching screeching kids with lackluster eye-hand coordination try to master carrying an egg with a wooden spoon around cones and cheating horribly at the limbo.  I dubbed this group of kindergarten through second graders the "Easy Criers" as every spill or head bump erupted into wailing.  I was placed on station nine of thirteen, so by the time the kids arrived, they were physically spent, soaking wet from the water station games, and could barely understand the directions to "walk with the egg in the spoon to the cone then turn around and come back".  Luckily, the three other moms working my station seemed to actually like children, so I was off the hook.  They did all of the explaining and handing out of spoons while I stood to the side and recorded names and times of each heat.

When lunch time arrived, I realized that this whole Field Day thing wasn't so bad after all.  Other parents were actually nice to me, and I didn't see any cleavage or inappropriate behavior, plus no one bossed me around or threw up on me. (Bonus!)  What I also realized was that I hadn't seen my son, the main reason for breaking my streak and showing up in the first place.  I had one chance left.  After all the children finished eating, the upper grades were participating in a tug of war, and the lower grades would be the audience.  Each class in third, fourth, and fifth grade competed against each other to find the winner for their grade level, then the third and fourth grade winners would duke it out to see who played the fifth grade winner.  The last class standing would be crowned the Grand Champion.  It would be a Kodak moment in the making, except that I didn't expect my son's class to win.  No way could the Krelboynes emerge victorious in this contest.

I call my son a Krelboyne.  He is in a full day class for academically gifted students, and it's an inside joke between us that his class is like Malcolm's class on the television show "Malcolm in the Middle".  I'm sure every kid in that room has a higher IQ than I do.  Even though there are a handful of his classmates who are athletically gifted as well, none of the kids are very big or  would stand out in a battle of muscles.  I saw the other classes, and I was sure some of these kids must have been held back a year or three judging from their size. I figured the G/T kids would be over powered in the first round of the Tug of War Championship, but what I didn't figure on was the idea that this battle wasn't a test of strength to these brainiacs.  It was a test of wit and ingenuity.

As the classes were preparing for the competition, my son's teacher gave his class a large piece of paper and told them that "this is science", and she instructed them to use their lessons from the school year to craft a strategic plan to win.  The kids based their plan on what they learned about balanced/unbalanced forces and friction.  They carefully decided where each child would stand on the rope and what their job would be.  Some kids leaned out in one direction while others leaned the opposite.  A few kids were "runners" who simply ran backwards as fast as they could.  They were attacking this Tug of War like the raid on Osama Bin Laden, orchestrating each student's move.

As the time came for the Krelboynes to take the field, the children quickly went to their designated spot on the rope while the other classes just assembled randomly in line.  The whistle blew, and to my amazement, they demolished the first class in three seconds flat. 

 (The first kid in line wearing a green shirt with blonde hair is Donald Trump, Jr. aka my son.)

They continued to dominate and obliterate each class they opposed.  In the end, they were crowned the winners of the 2011 Field Day Tug of War.  As the kids were leaving the field, their teacher called out to the crowd, "Yay for balanced and unbalanced forces!"  What a way to close out the year, proving what I have been saying all along...KRELBOYNES RULE!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Baby Got Back...

 Are you checking out my butt? Do you stand inconspicuously behind me as I walk past just hoping that I don’t turn around in time to catch you drinking in the view of the junk in my trunk?  No, huh? I didn’t think so. I have a feeling that no one has made a concerted effort to look at my rear-end since parachute pants were all the rage, and that’s fine with me.  Now that I am armed with the knowledge that my behind is yesterday's news, I am ready to rid my life of what is literally a Pain In My Butt: the thong.

My butt hasn’t been relevant for at least twenty years now. I discovered that once you start sitting on it all day to earn a living instead of shaking it at the club or flaunting it around a pool, it starts to lose its appeal to the opposite sex. It’s also true that Mom Butts - no matter how many squats and leg lifts they endure - seem to spread outward at an uncontrollable speed and are decidedly less attractive than Single Girl Butts. So, a forty-two-year-old Mom Butt that is regularly parked in front of a computer or producing rivers of sweat while squirming restlessly in the carpool line at school is virtually invisible to men as a whole.

I don’t wear thong underwear for men, though. Considering the fact that the only twirling around I do during the day is in my desk chair and not a stripper pole, my male co-workers and strangers alike have no idea there is a thong hiding beneath my sensible slacks and skirts. I wear them solely for the legion of creatures that have X-ray vision capable of honing in on my butt quicker than you can scream “wide load” and deftly identifying whether or not my choice of intimate apparel meets with their approval. Who are these scary creatures? Other Women.

It's these Other Women who decided that my panty line is offensive. This smoother-than-thou group of bitter fashionistas took it upon themselves to declare that the visibility of my underwear’s leg seam is an affront to the delicate sensibilities of everyone standing behind me in the Target check out line. There is even an acronym for it: VPL. (visible panty line). Shouldn’t we be concerned with the more pressing fashion atrocities facing our nation such as the zombie-like Muffin Top brigade wandering the aisles at Wal-Mart or how about those coffee shops filled with graying, middle-aged women in Hollister tee shirts and skinny jeans? Please tell me what is more gauche than a woman who graduated from college during the Reagan administration sporting pig tails and shorts with "Bieber's Girl" across the butt in public?  Wouldn't you rather see my panty line?

If you have never had the misfortune of wearing a thong for any length of time, then please accept my kudos for managing to escape this torture. Imagine, if you will, what it would feel like to straddle a rope suspended in mid-air while naked. The longer you sit there, the more it feels like you are being slowly cut into two symmetrical pieces. Now, imagine walking up steps, squatting down, putting on shoes, or just breathing with a permanent atomic wedgie. I can’t say for sure, but I believe thong underwear is prohibited under the terms of the Geneva Convention as cruel and unusual punishment. It is obvious that these not-quite-finished undergarments were never intended for use on the dimpled butt of someone’s mom anyway.

I am finished with having a thin, uncomfortable piece of fabric crammed up my bum all day, so heed my warning, Haters: if you are made weak and queasy by the unsightly hem of sensible, non-butt-crack-rash-inducing undies underneath my beige linen pants, then cover your eyes quickly. There is a good chance I might bend over while you're looking and cause you to faint straight away.

Friday, May 6, 2011

My Dad's Fish

 Unless someone dies, my family generally makes every effort to avoid communicating with each other. I live in the same town as one of my sisters, and I haven’t seen or spoken to her since my mom’s funeral nearly three years ago. So when I received an e-mail last week from an older cousin who lives in a different state, needless to say, I was surprised. This is a woman in her fifties who never married and still lives with her parents. Her mother is not only my father’s sister, but was also my mother’s best friend since they were young girls growing up in a North Carolina mill town.  I had a feeling this might be an update regarding the failing health of her parents, but I was a little puzzled by her subject line, “Your dad’s fish”.  I opened the e-mail to find that, indeed, my aunt’s condition has deteriorated to the point of needing nursing home care, but as important as that news would seem to most people, she only spent one sentence explaining the dire situation. What she really wanted to talk about was a fish my dad caught thirty-five years ago, a dead fish that needs a new home.

I hate fishing. I don’t like worms, or getting up early, or  the rancid smell of a styrofoam bucket full of bait guppies, or sitting still just hoping that a fish who’s out looking for some lunch might fall for my clever little lure and bite, thus ramming a sharp hook through its mouth. I don’t eat fish, so the idea that you would catch and release them seems even more sadistic. I’ll bet the fish thinks the same thing. “Hey, thanks for throwing me back into a dirty lake with a festering head wound that will probably become infected with a scale-eating bacteria!” (I’m guessing there are at least a few neurotic, germophobic fish out there just like me.) However, my dad loved to fish, so as a child I was forced to tag along with my parents to their favorite fishing hole for hours of mosquito swatting, sun burning, dragon fly dodging, and whining out loud, “Is it time to go yet?”

My dad mostly caught crappie on these fishing expeditions. Once he was home with his bounty, he expertly handled the filleting, and my mom would fry them up Southern style with hush puppies and tartar sauce on the side. (I was the only kid in my neighborhood with a big, ol’ fish fillet board hanging above the kitchen sink.) The fish he reeled in were mostly unremarkable in size except for the one time he landed His Royal Highness, King Crappie himself. It was decided that this beast would not be dredged through flour and dropped into the Fry Daddy with the rest of the catch. No, no, no…this fish was to be stuffed and mounted, and as such, it held a place of honor near our battered front door for many years until my father died. (As you can imagine, our home never did make it to the pages of Southern Living.)

For reasons no one alive can remember now, my dad’s sister was lucky enough to have The Fish bequeathed to her upon his passing twenty-one years ago, and I’m sure she, too, gave this highly regarded (somewhat creepy and totally icky) stuffed creature a place of honor, probably inside a box in the corner of her basement if I'm guessing correctly. Now, my cousin has started the unenviable task of sorting through her mother’s possessions, and that’s how this ugly, long-dead fish ended up on my doorstep this week.
When I  opened the package, I let out a little scream.  What?  It was LOOKING at me with its beady little eyes!  Once I got over the initial shock of having a hard, dead fish in my hands, I couldn't help but think that this, my daddy's trophy, had a front row seat to all of the drama, tears, laughter, and tragic events that played out in that crowded living room on Linwood Street.  

It saw the last two of six siblings stand proudly in their graduation caps and gowns, beaming with the knowledge that it would only get better from there. It witnessed children giving their mama a goodbye hug and kiss as they made their way into this big, mean world, and it watched that same proud mama hide her tears until they were safely out the door, not knowing when she would see them again. 

If this fish could talk, it would tell you how a mama and daddy, now Granny and Papaw, were beaming with delight at the sight of their grandchildren coming through that living room door.  Not even the most stoic of men can stop their cold heart from melting with only the kiss of a curly-haired toddler.

And, finally, from it's spot high on the wall, this fish would have seen a hospital bed take the place of the sofa in that living room where my father spent the last six agonizing months of his life, eventually losing the fight against the cancer that consumed him. 

So, yeah...a big, dead fish arrived in the mail this week bringing with it an unexpected flood of memories.  Now, if I could only figure out what to do with it...because I swear that thing is staring at me.