Sunday, June 29, 2008

Even Birds Do It

I'm assuming this is the Little Mama's first time building a nest. In fact I made the mistake of saying as much when my husband commented on her choice of climbing rose bush right outside the back door. It's not so much the bush itself but the fact she chose a limb which sways in the breeze, is under the drip line and at a door we use frequently. In her defense, which may have been a girl thing, I replied,"Well, it's probably her first attempt at building a nest." My hubby, Mr. Outdoorsman, laughed heartily.

I think she's a female Indigo Bunting but she darts around too fast to be sure. I'm trying not to scare her to death, which is tough since she can see me through the storm door when I do the laundry. Hubby peeked inside the nest when she was taking a break the other day and made an interesting discovery. Along with her own 3 eggs, some lazy bird has deposited two more. It'll be interesting to see who hatches.

The photo isn't great because it was the wrong time of day, but you'll get the picture. No pun intended. What it is that Little Mama Bird has done? Recycled! Her nest is filled with bits of plastic bag and paper.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Of Scottish Myths and Legends

Once upon a time there was a man named McDuffie who resided in a very nice section of my hometown. A quiet little man, he boasted a perpetually happy grin and a knack for business. Not only did he own a very prosperous furniture store, he also raised Black Angus cattle. Dear Mr. McDuffie would, for me, single handedly wipe out the stereotype of Scotsmen as um...frugal.

My grandfather worked at that furniture store. When Mr. McDuffie was drafted for WWII, he left Granddaddy in charge. Grandaddy always joked, with a somewhat relieved expression, that he'd been too young for WWI and too old for WWII. When Mr. McDuffie returned, he was greatly pleased with Granddaddy's progress. This man was the kind of employer who went the extra mile to reward his workers, something fairly unheard of today. But he didn't just reward employees, he treated their families as well.

One of the treats was a rent free stay at his country home, "The Nest". Well off the beaten path and surrounded by trees, the ranch style house also had a well stocked private pond. While Grandma, who couldn't swim, paddled about in a boat and out fished everyone, I'd have fun playing in the huge great room. It had floor to ceiling windows which looked out at the pond and a huge stone fireplace. But the thing I remember most fondly was a framed print which had originally been an advertisement for the furniture store. The caption was, "Feather your nest with a little down." I never knew which I was most proud of; the fact I got the pun without it being explained or that my Granddaddy had written it.

But perhaps my favorite Mr. McDuffie memory was the company's annual Christmas party. Employees were encourage not only to bring their spouse, but their children as well. In Grandaddy's case, he brought my younger sister and me. I was about six the first time and we attended for several years, until Grandaddy's retirement. I don't know who was more disappointed about that retirement; Mr. McDuffie or me. Inside the strong business man and cattle farmer lived someone who remembered the joy of childhood. Best of all, he wanted to share that joy. Every woman present, including small girls, had a corsage pinned on them upon entering the Christmas party. There was always entertainment before dinner...a kid friendly dinner I might add, featuring foods we loved and I suspect McDuffie might've craved himself. One year he brought in a magician who was absolutely horrible but the Boss laughed so hard, we giggled with him. His employees were mostly male and Mr. McDuffie gifted them with lapel pins for years of service. I'll never forget being proud every year Granddaddy received a new gold lapel pin which featured a small ruby. After a few years, that ruby became a diamond. I'm not talking specks of jewels, I'm talking impressive stones, so much so that when Granddaddy died, Grandma had the stones turned into a broach. The signal that the evening was ending was when Mr. McDuffie would call the children up, one at a time, to hand over a gift that "Santa" had left for us, his eyes twinkling merrily. No child ever received the same gift.

Mr. McDuffie was generous with his community as well. From his big white house perched on a hill in the "nice" part of town, he had an excellent view of "the jewel of the city": Swan Lake Iris Gardens. Originally a swamp, the one day famous gardens were the result of an agitated gardener tossing away some Japanese Iris that wouldn't grow. But the bulbs thrived in the wet, fertile soil. With time, patience and loving care, the swamp became a beautiful public garden which still brags of being the only place in the world where you can find all seven types of Swans. [They look pretty, but let me tell you the black ones with the red beaks will pinch the crap out of you! But that's another story].

The problem with the Garden was the busy street which dissected it. One side was more "family friendly" with picnic areas, a concession stand, walking trail and tennis court. The other side was more conducive to gardeners, photographers and outdoor weddings. Getting from one side to the other, however, meant taking your life in your hands. Mr. McDuffie, from his spot on the hill, figured out a solution. And paid for it. A covered wooden bridge was constructed over the street, it's design meant to blend in with nature's beauty rather than be a metal monster. Wanting everyone to enjoy the garden, Mr. McDuffie even had elevators installed on each side for those who couldn't climb the stairs which led to the safer shortcut.

When Mr. McDuffie died several years ago, I sent a note to his son, telling him how his father had made my childhood special. It also contained a confession. But confession is good for the soul because the son wrote me back and resolved me of any sin....with a self professed giggle.

As a kid I knew that Mr. McDuffie raised black Angus cattle. When I was about 8, we ran into Mr. McDuffie's son, Angus. Dad introduced the man, whose hand I shook while I gazed at him with a puzzled expression. As the son walked away, I remember looking up at Dad and saying, "I always thought Mr. McDuffie was a nice man."

"He is," my Dad had replied in that patient paternal way of knowing more was coming.

"Well if he's so nice," I huffed in little girl outrage, "then why did he name his kid after his cows?"

And thus was my first lesson in Scottish names.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Wanna Play?

My childhood is calling. Answering has been enlightening.

Today three seniors walked into my office and caught me making a “test” craft. I teach crafts to the kids in the Summer program, meaning I need to see where their patience level will fail. Watching with amazed expressions, one woman commented on how smart I was to fold paper into a flower. Without thinking I replied, “I learned this when I was a kid.”

I remember being a kid. Fondly. The kids I work with don’t understand the concept. Reaching back into my childhood vault, I find things to prevent them from reaching their maximum speed: unruly. With 40 kids and two adults, “out of hand” comes quickly. The biggest problem is their inability to understand the sheer joy of childhood. Imagination is such a foreign concept that if I mention using it, they gaze at me sadly. I am the object of mass sorrow because I grew up without computer games. My goal is to show them you can have fun without electricity or a computer screen.

I’m either winning the battle or wearing them down.

I’m trying to give them a childhood, even if it’s a piece of mine. At first I worried they’d find the games too dumb to play. I discovered they just wanted someone to play with who knew the rules and liked to laugh. Their favorites? Simon Says, Mother May I? and Hot Potato. And they play a mean game of Charades.

The last 20 minutes each day are a killer. Kids are tired and antsy while waiting on their ride. Yes, another disappearing childhood ritual: very few walk or ride bikes. That’s part laziness, part social commentary on how the world isn’t as safe for kids today. The cardinal rule of game playing is to never induce group chants of “I’m bored!”. But before a game reaches that point, I modify it. Yesterday “Hot Potato” went from a standing game of elimination to sitting in a circle as I tossed them the “potato” and a question. Their answers are enlightening. If you take the time to nurture imagination, independent thinking occurs. Asking, “If you won a million dollars, what would you do?” I expected replies of buying all the candy/soda/video games possible. Over half declared, “Buy a house for Mom.” One girl, after buying a house AND car for Mom, added, “And I’d put $40,000 in the bank so I can go to college”. She’s ten. I asked for, “a car/truck with flashing lights”, fully expecting police car/ambulance. One kid politely asked, “Do the yellow lights in my Dad’s car that flash when you’re in trouble count?” I’d never thought of hazard lights. I praised her for using her head. From then on, the kids dug deeper than obvious. They can now name more zoo animals than monkey or lion and realize chickens aren’t the only farm critters. What’s truly amazing is the KIDS have kicked the game up a notch. Their new rule? Everyone must have a different answer. Quick, name a food that’s white.

As we play, we learn. All of us. I began sharing my childhood, but now they’re learning to craft one of their own.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Oh the Irony

Trading money for gasoline is getting to the point where the trade doesn't seem fair. The gas station fears the same so we're back to "Pay before you Pump" which I hadn't seen since the gas crunch in the 70's when I was a kid.

This morning I dutifully handed over my money, trying not to sigh aloud and make the clerk feel bad. It's not her fault. She probably gets her ears burned off most of her shift, so why should I add another insult to her injury? She did smile. Wanly. Hey, it was better than, "Stick 'em up."

As I began to pump, a dilapidated old yellow car came belching up to the pump. I don't know what kind because the auto maker's emblem had fallen off the trunk. I recognized the body style from my childhood, meaning it was verging on antique. The body was a faded baby yellow in color, the black vinyl roof now tattered with signs of rust showing through. Kicking and grunting, it stuttered itself to the pump, where it shuddered to a halt in a belch of blue smoke. I don't know what it was venting more of: oil or gas fumes. I'm sure it killed any mosquitoes within a mile of the gas station.

As I waited for my pump to conclude, I watched two young guys get out of the car. The driver instructed the passenger to prepare to pump as he went inside to pre-pay. When the passenger asked what to put in, the young driver replied,"The most expensive one. I don't put that cheap stuff in my car."

I politely bit my lip and cast my eyes on the ground.

I'm guessing he put all of $10 of expensive fuel into his on-its-last-legs vehicle. His designated pumper seemed surprised at how fast the pump quit. As I got in my car, he tried to coax his to life. It stuttered and burped. The starter grumbled at being asked to work again. The car hiccuped, belched blue smoke and groaned to life. Unfortunately he pulled out ahead of me. I feared asphyxiation before we left the parking lot.

But hey, at least he shuddered down the road believing he was helping the environment... because he hadn't put the cheap stuff in his car.

Monday, June 23, 2008

In the Kitchen with Memaw

The only thing more complicated than family is reading a set of “How To” instructions written by an “English as a second language” writer. I once had a college professor from “up north” proclaim in astonishment, “Class, listen! Her grandmother and grandmother’s sister married brothers in another family. How unusual!”

Sadly, I burst his bubble by replying politely, “Same thing happened with Dad’s mother.”

The professor was crestfallen, but I waited until after class to teach him a lesson about the south. His “unusual” was normal here. Most families in our area were farmers, meaning families were spread out and suitors were limited. Folks usually picked a spouse from the crop of local farm kids.

There are probably a couple of branches on family trees we’d like to prune or explain away as some sort of fungus which skips a generation. Then there are the souls we treasure and hope to be like, should we ever grow up. My idol was my non-grandmother grandma Memaw. Stay with me. Here’s complicated in a nutshell. My maternal grandmother Buena died when my Mom was three. Mom was sick and went to stay with her aunt Hazelene, a nurse. Hazelene and Buena were the 2 sisters married to brothers. Through a series of events which takes more than 500 words to explain, Aunt Hazelene raised Mom. When I was born, I dubbed my great aunt “Memaw”. To me, she was my grandmother. Turned out we were a lot alike. Mom use to say, “I didn’t have you for myself, I had you for Memaw.”

Memaw was the woman who could freeze or can anything edible. I was shocked when she praised me for knowing how to cook when I got married. Turns out that as the oldest of 13, her job had been to watch the babies, not cook. Newlywed Memaw once asked her husband how to tell when black-eyed peas were done. With a straight face he replied that you flicked a spoonful of them at the wall and if they stuck, they were done. He was older and wiser, she explained. He walked back into the kitchen just in time to catch Memaw aiming a loaded spoon at the wall. After that, she learned to cook.

Memaw died just short of 98, but she lives on in summer. Just seeing corn or smelling fresh peaches and I’m a kid, back in her kitchen. Yesterday I felt her presence in my kitchen as hubby and I shucked corn we’d just picked. Memaw never saw my current kitchen, but she would’ve felt right at home in our 125 year old farm house currently surrounded by corn fields. Standing at the sink washing ears of corn, I recalled how deep the sink in Memaw’s kitchen had been. Mine seemed like a toy version. As hubby cut corn off the cob and I filled containers for the freezer, I grinned. Memaw had done corn the same way. She’d pull some out in the middle of winter and it would taste like summer and sunshine. Mixed in with the memory is the smell of fresh peaches. Sitting next to my sink was just that…a bag of fresh peaches. After the corn, they’d be turned into cobbler using Memaw’s recipe.

Turning for another bowl, just over my shoulder I caught a glimpse of a picture on the dining room wall. A strange mix of emotions engulfed me. I’d inherited it when Memaw ended up in a nursing home. We were cleaning out the room HER mother had stayed in once upon a time when I found this beautiful old wooden frame with intricate carvings, the glass intact but filthy. My uncle was going to throw it out. I protested and adopted it. It was the second time that day he’d deemed something “old junk” instead of “sentimentally valuable.” The other was a photo of Memaw’s mother in an oval frame with a curved glass front. I only knew my Great Grandmother as a sweet little old woman in her 80s who sat silently in a rocking chair, smiling. In the picture, she was probably in her mid 30s.

When I cleaned the filthy glass of the wooden frame, I found a beautiful, softly tinted print. I hung it on one wall of my dining room and my great grandmother’s photo opposite. Mom came over soon afterwards and got the oddest look on her face. Pointing at the print she asked where I’d gotten it. After reminding her of its previously filthy condition, Mom said with a sentimental smile, ”That picture hung in my grandmother’s dining room my entire life.” With an even odder look, I pointed at the photo of my great grandmother and asked, “That grandma?” We burst out laughing, deciding both ended up in my dining room because that’s where they belonged. Together.

Standing in my kitchen Sunday, neatly packaged containers of corn on the counter and the aroma of peaches in the air, I looked at the print in the dining room. I smiled, feeling as if three generations of farm women were in the kitchen.

The print? It’s a wooden basket of peaches gently spilling across a kitchen table.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Note to Self

Dear Self:

You spent the last several moments writing up a concisely worded incident report detailing that when a 7 year old's foot slips and his head kisses a playground equipment pole, a huge knot results. I'd like to point out something. You wrote the entire saga in less than 250 words.

Your goal, like it or not, is to attempt 500 word pieces on your blog until otherwise notified.

I know, I know. There are just so many things you want to share and sometimes they come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. And emotions! Heaven help us endure all the emoting that sometimes works its way into one of your diatribes. I realize that coldly clinical doesn't come remotely close to describing your writing style. "Wordy" does. Kindly turn on your internal editor and do a little re-reading before hitting that "publish post" button. What? Your model didn't come with a blue pencil wielding internal Hitler who hates comma splices and poor spelling? Or am I confusing that with your English professor who threatened to strangle students with their own run on sentences?

But I have faith in you. In time, with some practice, you too could learn to tell the tale without worrying that anyone walking past your blog on a computer screen will be rendered comotose. I know you can do it. Thanking you in advance for your support. And yes, I do realize this policy will only be effective for a piece or two before you fall back into your errant ways. At least, as your conscious, I will have tried. Your ego, however, will still be rolling around on the floor laughing hysterically.

You're improving.... only used 289 words. This time.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Working with kids reminds me of a t.v. program which aired when I was a child called "Kids Say the Darnedest Things". They tried to resurrect it several years ago with Bill Cosby as the host, but it wasn't the same. The difference was a large part of the childhood innocence which made it so amusing had been lost. Most it it seemed to have been replaced with knowledge gleaned from watching movies on HBO or from parents who forgot to lock their bedroom door.

The kids in the Summer Program, however, remind me of the original version of that show. I'm a towering 5'1" and yet I'm suppose to be in charge. They find that confusing at times. In fact, one of their favorite things to do is come stand by me and see how fast they are growing. I don't mind. I stopped growing, at least vertically, at the age of 12. Yesterday we had some new children, who were visually sizing me up in more ways than one as I was learning their names. One little boy, who was only 6, had the stocky build of a future football player. With that in mind I said "Wow, you're a big guy!" to which he instantly replied with a straight face, "Well, I eat a lot." Okay, I burst out laughing. Afterwards I explained I'd meant he was going to grow into a really big man. He nodded sagely, then said, "But I'll still eat a lot."

I get these little one liners at least once or twice a day. But a question posed to me the other day rendered me momentarily speechless. One of the new little girls, age 7, had been talking to me. Suddenly she sat down in a chair next to me and listened as I talked to other kids I've worked with all year long. With a perplexed look on her face, she turned to me very seriously and said, "Can I ask you a question?" Sure, I encourage that. Then with the honesty that only children possess she asked, "Are you a kid or a grown up?"

Inside my head, my ego fell onto the floor, rolled around and laughed hysterically. The braincell in charge of intellect pondered for a moment. Is it my height that made her ask that or am I not acting like an adult? The other girl I'd been talking to, a sensible 8 year old, put her hands on her hips, rolled her eyes and said, "She's a grown up." Then, without missing a beat she added, "She just didn't grow very tall." My ego hit the ground again, a second fit of giggles making me pound an internal fist, begging for mercy. Before I could offer an adult reply, the original questioner looked from the girl to me and said very sagely,"Oh. Okay."

Part of me wanted to ask that "intellectual" question...what do you see that makes you ask that? But then she grabbed by hand and asked if I would play a game with her. I said sure. After all, my ego was finished drying its eyes from tears of joy induced by a second fit of the giggles. Besides, playing is certainly more fun than being an adult.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Wow! Would you look at that?!

I woke up this morning with an urge to write. It’s unexplainable. Happens at will. There’s usually no topic, no words of wisdom. No, just fingers itchy for a keyboard. Thank heaven for keyboards! My fingers use to get so angry at my and frankly, my penmanship has always been less than stellar. I’d often find myself looking at the page, wondering what the heck that chicken scratch I’d penned a half hour before might mean.

Early morning is my favorite time to write. It’s quiet. Well, as quiet as the country can be when birds are chirping, tractors rumbling and the dogs trying to out snore the husband. The dogs usually win. In fact the younger dog, Bou, snores so loud I fear one day he’ll inhale the floorboards. Then again since Bou was a pup, he’s slept with his body on the dog bed… and his head on the floor.

This morning the dogs were itching to go outside. Literally. They’ve learned whining is not appreciated by sleeping humans. Smokey will begin to scratch his side, back leg hitting the floor so hard I fear he’ll jolt it loose. Bou then joins in, his scratching making it appears as if someone is pounding on the front door. With their fist. The pair has yet to learn that timing is everything. When I’m in the tub and hubby is still asleep isn’t the time.

This morning as I sat in my quiet sanctuary of warm water, the light of dawn tapping gently on the window, the dogs begin their duet. Hubby storms out of bed, turns off the alarm while calling the dogs names which are not their own. In his Angry Master voice, hubby commands Bou to stop the whirling dervish impression so he can get the *#$! door open. The dogs fly out the door and it is quiet. Then Hubby opens the door to remind me he needs a new pillow, on which preferably will not pinch the nerves in his neck to create blinding headaches. Duly noted, I sigh as he heads for his own library. Quiet is officially over. Off to work I go.

What to write? my brain prods as I drive. What creative thing shall create whilst tickling the keyboard at my fingertips? Ahead I see a stranded motorist and slow down to use the opposite lane to pass. The vehicular victim is a pretty young woman in very short shorts sucking on a straw housed in an enormous cola cup. Her expression is somewhere between desperate and trying to decide which Knight in Shining Armor she’d like to thank first. Two pick up trucks have pulled over and three strapping young men head for her car. At first she grins, then her mouth droops into a pout when they pause and speak to her only momentarily. You see the thing about farm boys is they’re actually interested in figuring out what the problem is under the hood. With crops going in, she has about a 1 in 3 chance of someone asking for her phone number. Hey, they were good Samaritans, not dead.

At work I prepare to sit back and enjoy a luncheon being prepared by someone other than me. However, the same group used the Center the evening before and left with me a list of chores to accomplish before their arrival. As I tackle them the Exterminator makes an unscheduled monthly visit. Five minutes later the Dept.’s Maintenance Guy decides that, after a year of my air conditioning being out, today is the day to replace it But he needs some information. I spring from room to room to find the figures he needs, tripping over the Exterminator as he sprays. If I hand the phone up, it rings. Try telling a telemarketer who launches into a spiel as soon as you say “Hello” that you’re part of local government and they have to speak to the Purchasing Agent. Usually they hang up. Today, because I was away from my desk, the person wanted the number. The Maintenance guys arrive with the A/C and take the old one out. Unpacking the new one, they discover it’s dented and warped. Back it goes. I now have a gaping hole that flies believe is an invitation to come in and look around.

After two attempts to confirm the Guest Speaker’s phone number, which the host group invited but wants me to remind, the Operator tells me there’s no such person. I hang up and our Guest walks in the front door, victim of a misspelled named. He’s owner of what he refers as a “Museum/Antique Shop” because everything is filled with history. I think he’s probably a collector whose spouse insisted some things had to go. So he shows them all and has a price if you’d like to own it. As he starts to speak, the new A/C unit arrives. Good grief, it has a remote!

After a morning of being delayed, hot, and annoyed my reward was a trip around the world…without leaving the room. Today I held in my hand a piece of the iron core of a meteorite found in Argentina 7,000 years ago, said to be 4 million years old. I touched a petrified Dinosaur Egg from a Hadrosaur which roamed the Earth some 70 million years ago. I inspected WWII Ration books, an antique Opium Weight, a Stereopticon for viewing postcards from 1883 Egypt, an 18th century Buddha from Burma and a Swedish Daler [one day to be called”dollar”] money plate that weighed 4 pounds! Too much more than that to even list.

This morning I wanted to write. Instead I was left to wonder. Remove the annoyance and add astonishment and you end up with, "Gee, where did the morning go?"

Sunday, June 15, 2008

On a Happy Note

The interesting thing about reading other blogs is how much they jar your own memories. I often find myself laughing along, then thinking, “You know, that reminds me of the time….”.

I try not to fill up a blog’s comment section with too much of that, although it’s tempting. Writer’s feel a need to reach out and touch…and sometimes admit how that common thread of humanity weaves us all together. At least we know we aren’t alone in the need to babble to ourselves…then share.

Yesterday I read a story by Ken Armstrong which brought childhood screaming back so vividly I thought it would be a good Father’s Day tribute. Dad’s been gone for 12 years now but as his first born, I have more memories of him than my siblings. Okay, maybe I just retained more because we shared the same warped sense of humor.

I learned to play the piano when I was eight. Before then the piano, an upright honky-tonk style, resided next door at Grandma’s. It had been purchased used when my Dad was a child. He’d taken to it better than his sister and enjoyed entertaining us before Sunday dinners. He had the gift I desired most and didn’t possess: he could play by ear. He “bought” the piano from Grandma when it was decided I should take lessons.

I thought lessons would be fun. Like the silly duets I did with Dad. My teacher, however, was Grandma’s eccentric older female cousin, Annie. Ms. Annie’s I.Q. was stuck at brilliant, as was her husband’s…although he walked that fine line between genius and insanity. Every Thursday my little sister and I would go there for half hour lessons. Me first, struggling to learn the notes, trying to re-wire my brain so my fingers, eyes, sheet music and keys would work in sync. And work it was. Then came Sis. She had Dad’s gift. Oh how I hated sitting there, listening to her play, knowing she was cheating. You see to encourage us Ms. Annie would play a new piece for us first, so we’d know how it was suppose to sound when we mastered it. Sis would nod, stumbling around the keyboard on purpose but making just enough progress to encourage the teacher. Then we’d go home and she’d play the entire damn thing, note for perfect note. She never practiced. I struggled daily to make those notes and my fingers do something other than annoy each other.

The reason I didn’t quit was because of Dad.

It wasn’t just the hopes of gaining the “parental pride” thing. Dad knew how frustrating it was for me, the kid who thought she had to be perfect. So he’d encourage me until steam was coming out of my ears. Then he'd slide me over so we could play together. We’d go between silly duets on the keyboard to us singing while he played. I was probably the only kid my age who knew all the words to “Bill Bailey”. He’d smile as I walked down the hall, then launch into an even better version of whatever it was I’d been trying to play.

And so I continued on, for four years. I plugged away while Ms. Annie gleefully informed me that we were the direct descendants of Ben Franklin. I kept playing even when Ms. Annie’s husband would wander in and stand behind me in a pith helmet, singing at the top of his lungs. Off key. I wanted to shoo him away but she liked his deranged buzzing. After the second song, she’d huff “Scat!” and with a smile and a bow, he’d wander back out to his garden. I mastered the art of reading sheet music and when I was free of Ms. Annie, whose next project for me was organ lessons, I went to the library. Ben Franklin had one child [no relation to us] and several illegitimate ones as well, who were no kin either. Having found a new sense of power, I suggested my brother have a different teacher. Mom's first words to my brother's teacher were, “He’s got his father’s gift, you know.” Bro cheated too, but at least his teacher would call him on it from time to time.

Dad played a beautiful piece called “Ruby”, the theme from some long forgotten film. Although I hated lessons, I still loved the piano because now I purchased sheet music I wanted. I’d play while Mom cooked Sunday dinner. One day I found the sheet music to “Ruby” in the bench. I practiced for weeks, before Dad got home. One Sunday, as Mom cooked and Dad read the newspaper, I played it. He waited until I was done, then walked into the room, beaming. I just knew he was going to sit down and show me how it was really done, with all his usual flourishes. He looked at me and said he was proud of me because I had accomplished the one thing none of them had…I could read sheet music. I wouldn’t have traded that beam of parental pride for the world.

Yes, I ended up with the piano. Dad said I had earned it learning to play the hard way. Sometimes it’s just a large piece of furniture to dust. Today, I have an over whelming urge to sit down and play “Bill Bailey”…and sing loud enough for Dad to hear all the way to his current heavenly residence.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

What's in a Name?

My afternoons are now filled with the "Summer Program", which means mothers who want their little darlings out of the house from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. can send them to the neighborhood recreational center at no charge. Plus they get a free lunch. So they polish up the, wings, on their little angels and send them to us.

To tell you the truth, the worst part of it, besides the ear shattering noise level, are the names.

Now I realize parents have the right to tag their offspring with a moniker of their own choosing. After all, they have to pay, in more ways than one, for those children for the next 18 years or so. College optional. In fact my own wonderful parents were so convinced I their firstborn would be a boy, they didn't even pick out a girl's name. Imagine their surprise to discover little "Jeffery Dwight" looked more like Mom than Dad. My first name was picked straight from the headlines....of the "Now Playing" section at the local movie theater. Mom liked one of the actresses, so that took care of name one. [Don't try to figure it out..."hope" has nothing to do with it.] My middle name was the curse of a high school girl "pledge for life"...that Mom and best friend Susan would name their daughters after each other. Mom kept her promise. "Aunt Susan" didn't use Mom's name until her 2nd daughter was born. At least I have names that are easily recognizable....and pronounceable.

Now, journey with me to today, where parents want their children to be "unique". Problem is, they're sticking kids with names that the CHILD has to live with through playground bullies and teachers who shake their head in despair that that many letters thrown together are suppose to create a name. The next statement is merely a point of fact and not intended to be racial in nature. In the South, where I live, black families often take names beyond a different spelling to creating new names. Sort of. In the summer program most of the neighborhood children are black. I'm the only white adult at the Center. Neither of us has a problem with that. In fact, I'm usually the first person they come to for help because I see kids, not colors. The names are often the biggest challenge. I turn it into a game. "If you spell it for me, I'll remember it," I tell them. Sure, it may take two or three times but they beam with pride when I finally get it. I'm usually good with names. Here I have to work harder because the names are not like the Davids, Steves, Michaels, Cindys and Jennifers I grew up with.

We have 3 boys named Lamonte, Lavonte and Davonte. The first boy was so agitated by the subtle change in letters, which makes all 3 look up when you call, that he's asked to be called Monte. We have a Raekwon and a Raheem. Little girls named Sumaya, Tykeiva, Yabre, Arieyelle and Kamare. But the worst "victim" of spelling is the sweetest little black boy with the face of an angel...and a devilish grin. His Mom was trying to use Marquise, substituting a "D" for the "M". And yet she spelled it "Darkies". In the segregated South of my parent's day, "darkies" was a derogatory term for black folks. Every time he runs up to give me hug of greeting, I want to smack his Mama for spelling his name in a way that still makes some folks laugh at what she has overlooked.

Creative names means nicknames abound, making our job twice as tough. Some kids get angry if you don't call them by a nickname. I always patiently explain that if I have to call someone other than their mother, say an ambulance, it's not helpful to say NeNe or Whitey is hurt when the insurance policy says otherwise. In the case of Whitey, it would be REALLY confusing as she is a beautiful little black girl with skin the color of coffee. When I asked how she got that nickname, she pointed out that her two sisters are considerably darker and that her Dad started calling her that because she was so much lighter. Sigh.

And so as we go forth today to make Father's Day cards, I will try not to linger with the kids whose parents stuck them with names like Erica, Victoria, Michael, Terrance or Tiffany. No, I will merely be thankful that the little 3rd grade boy I helped with reading is now a 6'2" 8th grader who decided long ago that life would be better for all of us if we just called him DJ.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Murphy's Law was written by "Acme"

For Mr. Armstrong...because those who fall should never feel alone. :)

When I was a kid, Dad would often pause to watch Saturday morning cartoons with me, especially if it was a Roadrunner cartoon. At the time, I thought it was because Dad believed children were like roadrunners…moving at high speed and making annoying noises. Dad always pulled for the Coyote, even as his children gazed at him as if he were clueless. EVERYONE knew the Coyote wouldn’t just lose, he’d also get handed the old “Acme” TNT stick or find himself falling off a cliff. The always silent Coyote, [well, except for one episode where he was allowed to speak and it freaked kids out] was persistent nonetheless. As an adult, I finally got it. The Roadrunner was “Life” and the Coyote was “Every Man”, trying earnestly to avoid pitfalls only to find himself landing face first. I have a stone plaque in my office of Wile E. Coyote, perched on a cliff’s edge, huge boulder at the ready to flatten the Roadrunner. And yet I know the cliff beneath him will crumble, sending him whistling head first to a canyon floor to land with a “Poof!”. And as he sits up, dazed and confused, the boulder will land on him for good measure.

In everyone’s life comes a Wile E. Coyote moment. I had mine two weeks ago. There was no cliff, but there was a pratfall resulting in that familiar dazed expression of Coyote stupidity. Because when the stupidity is of your own creation, it hurts twice as much.

In a nutshell, a treadmill had been donated and it was my task to render it safe. Upon delivery, the man plugged it in, gasped and stepped back. The machine was set on “this speed too fast for Olympic Track Stars”. I thanked him and unplugged it while laughing at how something that fast would sling 5’1” me into the opposite wall.

When everyone was gone, I went back for a second look. Eyeballing the plug to ensure it hadn’t snuck back into the socket, I tried to examine a control panel which the delivery man had noted came sans batteries. Unfortunately at my height, on the floor inspections don’t work. The safety handlebars run from the front to most of the back and I couldn’t see over them. Glancing once more at the plug lying on the floor, I stepped on the treadmill and installed new batteries. Nothing. I tried again, thinking perhaps I’d put one in backwards. Same result. I stepped off the treadmill, deciding perhaps it was a combination of batteries and electricity which ran the controls. As soon as I plugged it in, the demon sped back to life. I eased past the unrelenting squeal of rubber moving too quickly and tried to peer over the handlebars. Couldn’t see a thing. I tried turning the speed control knob, only to discover it was stuck. With a sigh, I unplugged the demon again.

Somewhere in the process of all this plugging and unplugging, I had a cartoon moment. You know the kind…where you do something backwards, then pay for it dearly? I stepped on the treadmill…the better to see the control panel, My Dear. Messed with the batteries, then slammed the panel back in place in frustration. Frustration is a bad thing, boys and girls. It makes the other hand slide into the ON button.

If there is anything worse than being caught off guard in a non-walking to running-for-your-life position, it’s accidentally hitting the ON button when your feet are splayed at an awkward angle. As soon as my feeble brain realized what had happened, my feet were flying out from under me in separate directions. Instantly I discovered the element of surprise renders the rational portion of your brain useless. Well… that’s my story and I‘m sticking to it. Why else would my hands have reached out to grab the handlebars for dear life in an effort to hold on? Had I simply let go, I would’ve been embarrassed but hit the floor in a timely manner. Less bruising that way.

But no, not me. Some primal preservation instinct yelled at me to just hold on until things were under control. The side of my brain housing my sense of humor laughed hysterically, ”Never gonna happen!”. I tried to “help”. I only threw myself further off balance. Imagine if you will, a very short woman, one arm strangling the air in a fruitless attempt to hit the OFF button physically beyond her reach while the rest of her body goes south. It was just a matter of time before the Wile E. Coyote syndrome kicked in. Took about three seconds if I recall correctly. This is one of those times where you don’t want your world to slow down and enable you to recall each detail. Yet mine did. In living, cartoon color.

My feeble attempt to stand was utterly useless. In my new, really, really unbalanced state, my right foot lost all touch with the evil black tread beneath it. And yet my hands refused to let go. This internal wrestling match resulted in me being slammed, right shin first, into the back end of the handlebar…located in the rear to allow you to safely get on/off the treadmill. I actually saw stars for a moment before my right hand drew back in surprise. Yep. Left shin’s turn. I’d previously twisted that knee and had just gotten it back in working order. This was going to hurt. I tried to protect it. Wrong move.

My left hand slid down the handlebar until my elbow hit the treadmill. My left knee slammed sideways into the handlebar’s end. My feeble effort to push myself away only resulted in indoor road rash to my left arm before I fell backwards to the floor. Finally. There was no “poof!” No, in view of my Mom’s horror at her mother’s use of the word “shit”, instead I yelled “shite!” at the top of my lungs. No one was there. And besides, Mom’s the one who only counts her Irish genes. It appeared fitting.

I lay on the floor, parts of me throbbing that I was unaware could do so. As I slowly inventoried what worked and what might not, the devil machine kept screaming. It reminded me that a boulder always lands on the Coyote just when he thinks the worst is over. With my last ounce of strength, I reached out and jerked the cord out of the wall. Once it was silenced, I was able to think again. The first thing I did was look to see if the words “Acme” were written on the treadmill.

Unable to want defeat added to humiliation, I limped over and plugged the machine in. Hobbling to the other side I used my last ounce of self respect and wrestled the control down to the lowest possible speed. Then I unplugged it. I would’ve done a victory dance but limping and whimpering are not exactly festive.

The next morning I had the most colorful set of bruises known to mankind. So colorful, in fact, I could’ve been a cartoon. If I choose to walk for my health, I’ll do it on terra firma…and take my chance with boulders.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Que Sera, Sera

When I was a little girl, Mom use to sing that song to me...when she wasn't busy filling my head with "If a task is first begun...". Unlike the girl in the song, I didn't care about being pretty or being rich, I just liked the chorus: "Whatever will be, will be. The future's not ours to see. Que sera, sera."

I've been pondering the future lately. I'm currently caught in politically correct hell. That means I love my seniors but I'm finding it harder to tolerate the affirmative action of the machine in charge of it all. This is a terrible predicament for a kid raised to believe one does the right thing for the right reasons, no matter how difficult. The other day my hubby asked, "What makes you truly happy? What do you enjoy doing...just for the enjoyment of it?" heart whispered while my head nodded.

Writing makes me happy when life is cruel or unfair. It gives me a way to quietly scream to the world when I'm filled with joy. Today I was weeding through my computer files, wondering if one day I'll ever compile them into something. Unlike Shug or Rachel, I am not a poet. And the idea of standing before a crowd to read those carefully chosen words with the possible outcome being shrugs or stares from strangers who don't know the whole story just isn't for me. In my heart of hearts, I'm a storyteller. If I take you on a journey, I often need more than 500 words to do so. Today I found a story from my youth. I'd been challenged to try to share a story in poetry form. You'll see why I don't write poems...I can't write short ones. :)

So sit back and get comfortable. I know, I know. But it would've taken me pages to write the same tale as a story. There's a Part 1 and 2. Sorry. Each was a vivid memory of a 12 year old girl away from home for the first time. The trip made an impression. I hope you don't fall asleep before you find out what I gained from it. :)

Part 1

Five little girls.
Black and white.
Traveled in a van
with the undertaker’s wife.
Destination: Washington, DC.

Twelve years old.
Won a trip for helping folks.
Winning in the '70s…not a well known concept.
Especially at the end
of the Vietnam War.

Arrived in the nation’s capital giggling.
Their accommodations:
A convent of nuns.
Quiet an experience
for 4 Baptists and a Latter Day Saint.

Their prize was a tour.
Their job to write it up.
Report back to the Principal
for a missed day of school.
The prize wasn’t what they expected.

Journeyed for fun.
Learned awkward lessons
courtesy of Arlington Cemetery,
The Unknown Soldier and
the work of Lee Harvey Oswald.

Arlington Cemetery.
Eerily quiet. Creepily correct.
A mathematician’s symmetrical dream.
Precise angles wherever you looked.
Death done to perfection.

The Unknown Soldier.
Guarded by military precision.
Stony faces mirrored in a marble block.
How many guards pretended
to watch over a fallen buddy?

Four giggling girls
Raced for the van.
One stood with a lump in her throat
that felt as eternal
as the flame at her feet.

Quietly a soldier approached.
Silently laid a hand on the little girl’s shoulder
and stood reverently with her for one brief moment.
Funny. His touch
reached all the way to my heart.

Part 2

Five little girls.
Black and white.
Traveled in a van
With the undertaker’s wife.
Destination: Hotel for ice cream.

End of a long day.
Even in November
ice cream sounded good.
An all American follow-up
to our authentic Chinese dinner.

Restaurant was empty
except for one couple.
Possibly a romantic dinner.
Not sure, as a mischievous waiter
was hustling us towards the bar to place our order.

Five giggling girls
climbing up on bar stools to rattle off favorite flavors.
The bartender, with visions of unemployment
and possibly jail time for murdering a coworker,
promptly sent them to a table as the waiter giggled.

Seated next to the romantic couple,
five little girls turned to look.
He was dashing in Marine dress blues.
She was picture book pretty.
Four little girls diverted their eyes uneasily and looked away.

The fifth little girl was spellbound.
Watching the Marine look the woman in the eye,
the little girl’s heart skipped a beat
right along with the pretty woman’s
as he took her hand and smiled.

Although she couldn’t hear the words,
the girl somehow understood the dance
interpreted by the woman’s face.
He spoke, then she spoke.
Their laughter intertwined until you couldn’t tell them apart.

The little girl wanted to scoot closer.
To hear what the handsome man said
that made the woman look so fascinated,
and shy and moved and happy
all at once.

Four little girls
No longer giggling.
Hissing at the fifth
that it was impolite to stare
at a man in a wheelchair.

The fifth girl frowned.
Confused by what they said.
Staring at each, as
one by one, they glanced at the man,
then diverted their eyes.

Very carefully, so as not to cause a scene
the fifth girl politely checked
and was amazed to discover that
the Knight in Shining Armor
had ridden in on his own set of wheels.

Oddly enough, it didn’t matter.
For one thought kept returning to the little girl.
One day when I grow up
I want a man to look at me
the way he looks at her.

Five giggling girls.
4 left laughing.
One left changed.
She never saw his chair.
She only saw the love in his eyes.

My Unknown Solider.
One who survived the war.
Left to ride his government issued metal.
Got the girl.
And won my heart.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Of Sunday Drives in the Country

Thanks to high gas prices and a fast paced society, the southern Sunday Drive is a thing of the past. Most folks probably don't even remember piling into the family car on Sunday afternoon to go and visit...usually more family. Sometimes you'd get there and THAT family would pile in the car and you'd drive...sometimes with a destination, often without. I remember Sunday drives because my Granddaddy would always tease us by driving by a store with the world's best ice cream cones. He'd always stop and get us a cone on the way home, but it sure was hard to concentrate on the scenery when all you could think about was that ice cold treat on a hot, summer afternoon.

Living in the country, hubby and I have taken advantage of the nice weather...because soon it will be hot enough to melt asphalt and stay that way until September. To conserve gas we took his 4 wheeler and cruised down back country roads. Last weekend I saw coyote foot prints, flowers blooming in the oddest places and watched young turkey chicks scattering off the road and back into the woods as we rolled past. This week, I took the camera.

The best thing about this kind of Sunday Drive is you can stop, hop off the 4 wheeler and investigate. The first thing I saw was a huge, old satelite dish. The kind which was used to get a t.v. signal in the country. Only they appear large enough to contact bordering planets. And then I saw the cinder block house with its plumes of soot. This ancient fire seems to have started in the furnace and spread, turning a plastic t.v. into an art deco wonder.

But life has reclaimed it...from the dirt dobbers who built their own condos on the walls to that 6 foot rat snake that slithered by overhead.
And then there are the unexpected surprises which jump out at you when you least expect it, like the purplish pink puffs of wild onion blossoms on the woods' edge.
Or the truly unexpected, in the middle of nowhere.

Yep, a single gladiolus growing in the middle of the woods.

Take a Sunday Drive. Use your bike if you need to. No telling what you might see.