Friday, August 26, 2011

Since you've been gone...

Dear Mama,

I won't be going to your grave tomorrow.  I'm sorry, but I know you aren't surprised.  I never go there.  I'm not sentimental like you, and I know you don't hold that against me. (And please don't say I'm just like my daddy.  The truth hurts.)   I never understood the point of standing in an open field of buried strangers and talking to the dirt and sky.  It doesn't comfort me in any way to see your named etched in stone with those two finite dates below it.  Instead of bringing me any kind of peace, it always smacks me in a "holy-crap-she's-really-gone" kind of way.  (Sorry, I know you hate for me to say "holy crap".)  So, instead of driving to the place where your spirit never lived and commemorating that forgettable day, I decided to write you this letter to let you know what you've missed since you've been gone.

First of all, you would be so proud that I finally let my hair grow out.  Seriously! I did! You always told me how you liked it better long, but I was too damn lazy and impulsive on bad hair days to stick to it.  How many times did I chop it off?  How many times did you beg me not to chop it off?  Well, I sucked it up, hid the scissors, and I think you would approve. Jacob even told me he hated it because it makes me look like a teenager.  HELLO!  I guess that means I'll never cut it again.

And speaking of Jacob...I wish you could see him now.  He has grown into such a handsome young man.  He's in middle school now.  Can you believe so much time has passed?  When you last saw him, he was a little kid who couldn't stand for me to touch his hair or dress him in clothes that matched.  Now, he's up before the birds, making sure every hair is in place and that his clothes look just right.  And...he has contacts.  I know!!  It makes my skin crawl, too, but he has been so mature in taking care of them because he knows that I don't do eyeballs.  The only thing about your "sweet baby" that hasn't changed is the relentless teasing he gives to Hannah.  You and I both know that deep down...he thinks she's really kind of cool.

And, Hannah...she talks about you all the time, you know.  She tells me that she misses you, and I want her to miss you.  I want her to remember that you shared a deep love of all things sugary and sweet.  I want her to remember sneaking into your bedroom at night and eating jelly beans with you.  I want her always know that you played Tickle Monster with her from the chair because you weren't able to get on the floor with her or chase her around like other grandmothers, and she was just fine with that.  I want her to remember rocking with you and singing songs.  (She has your beautiful singing voice, too.) You left us when she was only three years old, and I'm scared as hell that the dim light shining on those memories of you is becoming weaker, soon to fade out altogether.  I'm doing what I can to keep you here, to keep a little girl's image of her beloved Granny in tact.  It's so hard because time marches on.

I guess I should bring up the fact that our crazy, psycho dog, Pippy, passed away.  I have been secretly praying that all dogs do NOT go to heaven, because I know how much you couldn't stand that mangy mutt here on Earth.  I would hate for her to be barking at the wind, growling at the swaying trees and trying to sit on your lap for eternity. 

I don't know why I bother to put my thoughts into words.  I know you're here, and you probably love that I have the television on The Weather Channel most of the time.  Were you shocked that I actually made Thanksgiving dinner...from scratch?   I have a new respect for your mad cooking skills, however I'm not impressed with how you recorded your recipes for posterity.  Did you notice that I found your instructions for Seven Layer Cookies scribbled on the back of a bank deposit slip from 1975?  I was just surprised that you kept it...and that I found it.  (They were delicious, of course.)

 I miss you every day, so please forgive me for not visiting tomorrow.  I'm taking a lesson from you and having a Girl's Day Out.  I think you would approve of some pampering and lunch instead of having a pity party.  You always did love the girly stuff, didn't you?  Oh, and by the way...all those times you told me that you hoped I would have a kid of my own just like me that drove me crazy  just like I did you?  Well...thanks for the heads up, Mama.  She's here.

I love you,


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

To Live and Die in 8th Grade

I have poked fun at myself the last few weeks, joking about the transition to middle school that my son is making this week. For as much as I like to complain about the hormones, the zits, and the prison-like PE uniforms we were made to wear under duress, I had a good run those three years. While it was there that I developed a deep and enduring hatred of cheerleaders as a whole, it was also the time that I made friends whom I have kept to this day. (I’m amazed that none of us succumbed to Aqua Net Lung disease as adults from all the hairspray we used with reckless abandon.) Looking back on those days of John Cougar, Alexis Carrington, and Izod Lacoste makes me smile…almost. My middle school years would be nearly perfect if it wasn’t for one disturbing and unforgettable memory: a girl named Patty who threatened to kick my ass every day of eighth grade.

Patty and I were very different girls. I can almost guarantee you that our parents shared the same socio-economic status, but while I did everything in my power to hide it, Patty embraced the Southern Redneck-in-training persona. I came to school wearing penny loafers, khaki skirts, and button-down collared shirts with a silk ribbon tied in a bow around my neck. Patty also had a uniform, but the one she wore consisted of dirty tennis shoes, tight blue jeans with the hem turned up by one cuff, and a tee shirt touting the heavy metal band du jour on the front. (My personal favorite was her Black Sabbath tee.) We both sported feathered hair, but mine was of the sort where I stood in front of a mirror with a blow dryer and curling iron perfecting my dirty blonde wings, then plastering them and avoiding slight breezes and sudden head movements for the day. Her hair style was more about just pulling a huge comb from the back pocket of her Levi’s, slicking it to the rear like The Fonz, and then daring it to move.

It’s strange that Patty would have ever crossed my path. We didn’t share any of the same friends. I was in the Beta Club and the concert band. I can’t say for sure, but I’m guessing that she spent her extracurricular time plotting ways to ditch school without being caught and stealing cigarettes from her dad. We definitely didn’t share a table at lunch or have any classes together. The two of us were traveling in completely separate universes until the day she confronted me in the lunch room, the day that I realized I had something that she wanted but couldn’t get (and I’m not talking about an add-a-bead necklace, people): I had the affection of the boy she loved, and she would do whatever it took to knock me out of the lover’s triangle…literally…with her fist.

Let me just state for the record that NO, my parents were tired after raising six kids, but they didn’t let me date at thirteen years old. Back then, our relationship started with what we called “going together” (even though we didn’t actually “go” anywhere except to the courtyard at lunch). It progressed to talking on a corded phone (our phone was on the kitchen wall), trying desperately to speak in hushed tones so that my family wouldn’t hear our sickly-sweet teenage conversation. And that was IT. The object of Patty’s undying love and affection never even kissed me. That was of no consolation to her. Once she caught wind of the fact that he took me to a banquet where the boys wore neck ties, the girls wore long dresses, and we shared a meal and even held hands, it was over….I was toast.

I spent the better part of that year hiding in crowds and trying to memorize her schedule so that I wouldn’t run into her in the hallway between classes. I’m guessing she spent her time writing the name of that dark-haired boy on her notebook while daydreaming of having her friends hold me down while she pummeled my face until the only thing left was the lingering scent of my Love’s Baby Soft perfume. She had me terrified that each school day would be my last.  It wasn’t my fault this guy was more attracted to a Valley-Girl-talking Moon Unit Zappa wannabe instead of The Iron Maiden. Why should I get pulverized when HE was the person who decided that he preferred the smell of my Breck shampoo over day old Marlboro’s in her hair?  She should have been pleading her cause to him, not trying to assasinate me.

Even with all of the threats, scary looks, and promises of certain death, the beating never happened. It turned out that Patty was all talk and no smack down. Maybe she understood deep down that no boy is worth getting expelled from school. Maybe her friends talked her out of jumping me as I left the band room with my hands full of books, sheet music and a saxophone. Maybe she looked around the arcade and realized that she would be much happier spending her time with a boy who would rather play Pac Man and get high before school than one who played football and chased preppy girls. Whatever the case, I survived eighth grade.

I don’t know what ever became of Patty. We went to different high schools and never crossed paths again. I will tell you this, though…she left a lasting impression on me and to this day, every time I head out for deodorant and light bulbs, I expect to walk through the door of the store and see Patty standing before me in a blue smock exclaiming, “Welcome to Wal-Mart!” A girl can only dream…

Thursday, August 4, 2011

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas...

I don’t have a dog in the global warming fight. I’m usually too busy refereeing sibling knockdowns, reading your Facebook status updates, and checking my hair in the mirror to worry over the speed at which our polar ice caps are melting. Don’t get me wrong. I do care about our planet, but my tired, homework-laden children and those three filthy four-legged pains in the ass capture my attention quicker than a no-win political debate. I’m a firm believer in the school of thought that goes something like - it’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter - but as we round the corner into the last unrelenting lap of this brutal season, I just have one thing to say: It’s really effing hot, y’all.

I have lived in the armpit of America for more than four decades now. I know hot in the Biblical sense, and I have a deeply intimate relationship with humid. If you have never experienced the discomfort of taking a short walk to the mailbox and then having to change your sweaty underwear, well, consider yourself blessed. If you can step outside without the hairspray on your hair turning into Crazy Glue from the nearly tangible moisture in the air, then you are among the lucky ones.

I haven’t always been a Hot Weather Wussy. I grew up in a house without air conditioning in South Carolina, and here I sit none the worse for wear. I have no memory of ever looking at our thermostat as a child, but I’m guessing that if it was one hundred degrees outside, those box fans in the windows probably didn’t bring down the inside temperature too much. It was more of a contact cool. If you weren’t standing directly in front of the fan, you might as well be standing in the front yard. And cooking? Heck, yeah, my mom still cooked during those sweltering days of Bugs Bunny and Mood Rings. Who doesn’t want to dig into some homemade fried chicken with steaming mashed potatoes and hot-out-of-the-oven biscuits when there is sweat trickling down the back of your neck? I didn’t know any better.

Toward the end of elementary school, my parents purchased an air conditioner window unit – for their bedroom. They would keep the door closed at all times, and the unspoken rule was “Young’uns should stay the hell outta there”. I remember playing outside and hearing the delightful hum of that machine, watching water drip from its coils. The freon-induced temptation was overwhelming. I would creep up the back porch stairs, tip-toeing in while being careful not to let the screen door slam, and then, sneaking down the hallway, I would quietly slink into that restricted space for just a minute or two of pure chilly Heaven. Many times I simply plopped down in front of their room to feel the tiny stream of cool air flowing underneath the door.

As a teenager, my mom and dad splurged on a second unit. This time, it was for the rest of the house. (Insert a round or two of “Hallelujah Chorus” here.) Finally, I could sit on the pleather sofa without leaving sweaty butt marks. My dream of getting dressed and walking out of the door with completely dry hair had come true! No more sleeping on top of the bed covers to stay cool at night. No more using our outside voices to be heard over the symphony of fans. Once and for all, we were allowed to close up those doors and windows, effectively turning us all into hermits.

I officially lost my edge that day. I say it’s a small price to pay for a climate controlled living space. I grew up in Helltown, my friends, so call me a wussy if you want, just don’t block the vent.