Tag: memories (Page 1 of 3)

Did I Tell You the One About

Our Vows . . . 

Forty-seven years ago today, I made my way down the aisle to say “I sure will!” when asked if I willingly made and agreed to keep my vows to Andy, The Engineer. Now I can’t say I thought about it at the time because the words “I sure will” just fell right out of my mouth, but looking back, it seems to me now that saying “I will” might be more meaningful and lasting than saying “I do.” I might’ve said “I sure will” because of authority issues (The preacher who married us was not chosen because I liked him – I didn’t, and the feeling was mutual – but because he was the only one available on the date we set.). I  might’ve said “I sure will” because my brain chose that particular moment to take a nap after the inevitable hecticness preceding a wedding. I’ve had a while to think about it, and saying “I sure will” sure seems like  my heart’s way of saying “For the rest of my life, I will honor these vows I make to you here (and the vows we made to each other in our private-just-the-two-of-us ceremony”) while saying “I do” seems more like a “yeah-sure-whatever-you-just-said-now-let’s-party” commitment to keep the vows at least tonight.

I told the preacher not to worry about the vows, that we were writing our own. (I’d already started mine, but you knew that.) I want y’all to know that man put both hands on his desk palms down, rose up out of his chair, leaned over the desk in my direction, and said in what amounted to a hiss, “I have NEVER let couples write their own vows, and I’m not about to start with you, Jeanne Hewell.” I looked him in the eye back to his retinas and said, “Fine, but know this: if you use the word ‘obey’ or anything akin to it, I will NOT say it.”

I waited till just before the ceremony to tell him we’d be saying our own words when we exchanged rings. Score one for Jeanne.

How We Chose The Date . . . 

My father-in-law was known to harumph and complain quite loudly when a wedding interrupted his weekend, so we got married at 7:30 p.m. on a Tuesday night. He’d promised us the prize – a cruise on the Rhine – if his company won some purchasing contest, so we thought it a good idea to be officially married before setting sail. I wrote dates on slips of paper, and we drew July 31 out of the hat, making July 31, 1973 a date that will live in infamy, as they say.

wedding invitation in frame

The Preparations . . . 

My mother got married in the local jail. Yes, really. Back in The Day, citizens of Fayette County elected the sheriff and got the wife for free to do the cooking and cleaning for the prisoners. They kept expenses down even more by providing the sheriff’s family a place to live instead of hiring extra guards. Well, my maternal granddaddy was the sheriff, so Mother and Daddy tied the knot in the living room at the jail.

While I love that story, Mother? Not so much. So once the date was set, I told her, “I want you to give yourself the wedding you wished you’d had. Go ahead. Knock yourself out,” reserving for myself the job of designing my bouquet, choosing the color (Tropicana. Everywhere we live, we plant a tropicana rose bush.); invitations; my attire; and the place. I asked that the reception be held at home (because I’ve always loved the story of a jailhouse wedding) and  asked that we have watermelon at the reception. We wanted to get married on my family’s land, atop a hill overlooking the lake where my paternal granddaddy and I sometimes fished (and killed snakes) and, it occurs to me as I write this, just in front of the place where the uncle I am named after was killed. Likely thinking of parking, women walking on soft earth in heels, and wondering if the church had enough folding chairs, my mother was not enamored with the idea. As it turns out, the preacher we wound up with wasn’t either, so into the church we went.

And the watermelon? It was served, and Andy and I got to enjoy some only because Donn, Andy’s brother, fetched a bowl full and delivered it to us.

The Photos . . . 

I was hit by a car on the streets of downtown Atlanta five weeks before the wedding. I’ll tell you that story another day, but what you need to know right now is that it broke my left knee and landed me in a full leg plaster cast. Everywhere we went from that date forward to our wedding day, I sat on the backseat with my leg on the seat while The Engineer drove with his left hand so we could hold hands over the seat.

Five days before the wedding, the  orthopedic doc cut the cast off, took an x-ray, then came into the room to tell me with a straight face, “Your leg hasn’t healed the way I’d like it to, so we need to put the cast back on.”

”Oh no you don’t,” I told him. That cast is now an umbrella stand, and I’m outta here.”

My left leg wouldn’t bend willingly, so I was still on crutches when July 31 came around. I used Daddy’s arm to help get me down the aisle. When it was time to exit stage left, The Engineer whisked me off my feet and carried me out of the church. No, it wasn’t planned. I was every bit as surprised as the men you’ll see leaning to the right to avoid my size 5.5 saddle-clad left foot getting awfully close to their faces ‘cause The Engineer had eyes only for me back then.

The Dress . . .

Having missed the memo alerting me that Mothers of the Groom were to wear beige, stay out of the way, and keep their mouths completely shut, I invited my mother-in-law to go shopping for wedding dresses with my mother and me. “It’ll be fun,” I told her, “we’ll snag me a dress then go have lunch somewhere.” She agreed, my mother and I picked her up, and off we went – the bride and her two mothers.

We started at a shop at North DeKalb Mall, not so far from the Chambers’ house. I selected a dress with a higher empire waist, thinking it would hide all my rolls of fat . . . the flesh that only I saw when I looked in the mirror at my 98-pound self. I came out of the dressing room, both women liked it, and I said “Great, we’ll take it.” I stood as the pins were put in place for the person who would make the alterations, then asked, “Where will we have lunch?”

the bride, the groom, a young girl

The Other Dresses . . . 

I also have in my cedar chest, the dress Mother wore that night and the dress her mother wore that night. Three generations of dresses, one pink, one blue, one white. I wish I had the dresses Mrs. C and Nancy wore.

gold journal on old brown, white, and blue quilt. on cover of journal is Follow Your Heart.

The Stories . . . 

I’m delighted to tell you that earlier this year, The Engineer surprised me yet again earlier this year by agreeing to co-write our memories. I found matching journals at the dollar store in Denver, and told him the deadline is July 31, 2022. That’ll give me a year to merge the two journals (likely more, in my case) into one book. What a kick it’ll be to see what he remembers (and how much he gets right)!

red stitched letters on white dress with lace

The Plan . . . 

Oh, the things we keep. I am now stitching memories onto the skirt of the dress – slowly, so far, because there’s something about the possibility of COVID-19 lurking around every corner that slows me down and faster as we move towards the big Five-Oh mark. I have plans for the veil, too, and I still have the shoes (they are on display in my studio)  and the fingerless gloves Mother “encouraged” me to get. Who knows what I’ll do with all those accessories? Though I have no idea what to do with it, it seems I’m staging  an installation  – three generations of dresses, my veil, the shoes, gloves, photos, my wedding planning book, a box of napkins from the wedding, the book, my bouquet, and so many other things – and I’m calling it The State of Our Union. Stay tuned.

~~~~~~~

Post Script . . . 

Today, The Engineer marked the day by gifting me 3 pairs of new socks and 2 replacement bulbs for my photography lights. And me? I gifted him this blog post.

 

Rainbows of Gray

ocean breaking on huge, jagged rocks

When her daddy refuses to let her return for the last three years of her full-ride scholarship to The Piano Conservatory saying sternly, “Women need a husband not an education – especially an education in playing the piano,” my grandmother agrees to marry Granddaddy who agrees to let her keep her piano. When we are old enough, Grandmother teaches each one of her grandchildren to play the piano. On our assigned day, Granddaddy picks us up after school in his white and gray Ford F-150 and takes us to their house where he treats it to Co’ Colas (in the small bottle, of course, because they taste better) and ‘cream (vanilla ice cream) before our lesson.

From small bottles of soft drink, I learn about forming  relationships over food.

”We weren’t allowed to buy soft drinks at the local store,” he tells me, “but there was one shop owner in town who would sell us a case if nobody was looking. His delivery boy had to carry them to the car, though. We couldn’t risk being seen toting a wooden case of Co’ Colas out of his store because black people didn’t buy enough groceries to keep him in business and white folks, if they saw him selling Co’ Colas to us, would stop shopping there.”

From small bottles of soft drink, he learns about discrimination.

~~~~~~~

”Which bus do I ride home?” the seven-year-old me asks Mother as she drops me off on the first day of second grade.

”Just ride the bus you rode last year,” she tells me, and I do, waking up just as Mr. Dan Phillips pulls the snub-nosed, rounded bus #5 into his barn at the end of his route.

”Mr. Phillips,” I say as he turns the silver upright handle to open the door and let himself out, “am I spending the night with you?”

”Where did you come from Jeanne?” he asks.

I point to the third seat on the row behind him, still rubbing my eyes awake.

”C’mon,” he tells me, chuckling softly. “I’ll take you home.”

”She was sound asleep,” he tells my mother, and she’s so short, I couldn’t see her in the rear view mirror. The routes changed this year. She needs to take bus #2 home now, Robert Storey’s bus.”

From riding a school bus, I learn to ask for help.

As a fourteen year old, he drives a school bus, stretching to make himself big enough to reach the pedals and shift the gears. “We didn’t usually have enough gas to get us through the entire week,” he tells me, “so Friday afternoon I had to zig-zag back and forth across the road to slosh what little gas was still in the tank to keep the engine running and get us all home.”

From driving a school bus, he learns resourcefulness.

~~~~~~~

Harriett Dean, mother of my best friend Dianna, takes us swimming at Lake Spivey. Harriett Dean spreads out a towel and settles herself with a good book while Dianna and I run to the water. Quickly tiring of the pick-up game of Marco Polo and knowing it is too early to get the inevitable grape snow-cone, Dianna gets out of the lake, climbs onto the concrete block wall, grabs her nose, and leaps feet first into the water.

The smile that wraps around her face as she comes to the surface, shaking the excess water from her curls-from-a-box hair tells me this is some fun I want to have, too. I hoist myself up on the wall, walk out to where I think Dianna jumped from, and leap. When I come to the surface, I’m too far out in the dreaded deep end. My feet can’t find the bottom, and every time I try to yell for help, my mouth fills with water leaving no  room for sound. Dianna is making her way back out of the lake for another jump. Harriett Dean is laying face down on the towel now, tanning her back. Nobody else knows or notices me. I am going to drown, and I’m not even sure how they’ll find me because this is a lake, not a swimming pool.

Eventually I dog paddle my way to the shallow end. I will need a nap, but I will live.

From swimming, I learn that just because my friend friend can do something doesn’t mean I can do it, too..

They were to jump from the 40-foot platform because that’s roughly the same distance to the pool as the ship’s deck is to the ocean. He wasn’t afraid because he knew how to swim – his mama made sure of that – but he was puzzled when the Navy survival course instructor barked, “Black people can’t swim, so those of you who can swim form a line over here, and those who can’t swim, fall in behind the two black boys.”

Surprised to learn that black people can’t swim – something he’s been doing his whole life – he watches as self-declared non-swimmers fall in line behind him while his friend Austin, the only other black man within sight, takes a place at the front of the Can Swim Line. One man jumps in, comes to the surface, and swims to the side of the pool. Another does the same, and now it’s Austin’s turn. Austin leaps into the water easy enough, but he goes straight to the bottom and stays there. “We have a rock,” the instructor calls out before he and his assistant dive in to pull Austin to the surface.

Sputtering and coughing as one is wont to do after spending unplanned time under water. Austin catches his breath, looks up at the instructor, and asks wryly, “Which one did you say is the line for those who can’t swim?”

From a swimming training session, he learns stereotyping.

~~~~~~~

Excerpts of stories from the memory banks of two people – a black man and a white woman who are roughly the same age and who grew up not too far from each other. I learned a lot about racism, racial inequality, and the power of listening and bearing witness that story-swapping afternoon.

I asked which term I should use: desegregation or integration. He prefers desegregation. Why?  Because desegregation brought us together, allowing black to keep their own culture and community. Integration implies they must lose their culture for us to live side by side.

It was the best conversation about race, racism, racial inequality, segregation, and integration I’ve ever had. It happened with a stranger, and it happened because it was true conversation – no attempt or need to convert; no accusations and anger; no finger wagging. Just good old-fashioned back-and-forth conversation, complete with deep listening, bearing witness, and asking questions that rose from a place of curiosity, of sincerely wanting to know more. Chalk one up to the reaffirmation of the  power and value of storytelling and good old-fashioned conversation.

29: Life in Room 741

Hospitalbed

THERE IS NO SENSE OF TIME

The Daughter: Why don’t y’all go get some supper?

The Mama: We will after while. I want to wait till shift change so I can meet your new nurse and see about your new pain medicine, plus Dad wants to see the end of this football game.

The Daughter: Oh. It’s only 7? I thought it was 7:15.

(15 minutes to the next pain medication is an eternity.)

THERE IS NO CHANGE

It’s cold, so we raise the thermostat.
It’s hot, so we lower the thermostat.
Nothing really changes. We remain cold or hot, depending.
We decide the thermostat is just for decoration, a concession to peace of mind, an attempt to make the patient feel in control of something. The Engineer (speaking from experience) assures me this is entirely possible.

THERE ARE MEMORIES

There is a window in the room so we at least know night from day . . . something that didn’t happen in the hospital room my daddy died in. For reasons I don’t even want to think about, that hospital architect decided to put the patient rooms in a spoke-and-hub formation, with the patient rooms arranged as spokes coming off the throbbing hub of care and information. The hallway – positioned as the outer ring, encasing the hub, the patient rooms, and the anterooms for visitors – got all the windows. It was a poor, uneducated, unenlightened, uninformed design that I, in my deeply focused caregiver mode, probably would never have noticed had my brother-in-law Donn not said how much he hated those windowless patient rooms. “Patients need windows,” he said in his definitive way. It was during that same week that Donn looked at Daddy then at me and said, “Don’t ever let them treat me this way. You make sure they always bathe me, shave me, and put me in clean gowns.” If I never do another thing for that man called Donn, he will not ever, ever, ever lay in a hospital unkempt.

AND MORE MEMORIES

While looking at Baby Alison in the tiny clear nursery box mere hours after she was born, a friend of his parents put an arm around The Engineer and said, “She’s less trouble now than she will ever be.”

THERE ARE CONSTANT NOISES AND INTERRUPTIONS

Alison’s blood pressure dips during the night, necessitating hourly visits to check her vitals. Nurse Nancy thinks it’s because of one of the drugs she’s being given, and I note that my mother’s family leans towards low blood pressure. (Something I also note when people get on their high horse with me about eating salt, one of the few things a girl can do to remedy low blood pressure.)

THERE IS COMMUNICATION

Questionnaire

We are handed a questionnaire and asked to complete and return it. It’s a little something they do – 3 quick questions every Tuesday and Saturday, an opportunity for you to tell the hospital what they are doing well and where they could make improvements today while you’re here, not after you get home. Alison gives me total authority to complete the form, so I write:

Q: Did we exceed your expectations today?
A: Yes
Q: What did we do today that exceeded your expectations?
A: Nurse Nancy arrived! She listens without rushing or interrupting. She takes charge without taking over. Her voice and words are reassuring – she inspires confidence by her attentiveness, her tone of voice, her willingness to listen, and by doing what she says she’s going to do.
Q: What could we have done today to improve the experience for you or your family?
A: Have a different flavor (something other than lime) Powerade on hand. [Should you think me nit-picky, I only put something on those blank lines to give contrast and credibility to my #2 answer.]

THERE IS JOB SECURITY

Since we arrived in room 741 around 11 p.m. on Friday, 8/28/15, the nurses arrive at the top of each shift to introduce themselves and put their name on the information board hanging on the wall at the foot of Alison’s bed. Their names change every 8 hours or so, but the patient’s name remains “Brett” and the date is stuck on “Thursday, August 6, 2015”. All we need is for the President to be listed as “John F. Kennedy”, and we’ll keep neurologists – the ones who ask those inane-and-desperately-in-need-of-change questions to assess cognitive function: What day is it? Where are you? When you visit a new neighborhood you’ve never been to before, do you have a tendency to get lost? Who is the President of the United States? – laughing all the way to the new car lot.

THERE IS TRADITION

Journal Entry: 11:30 p.m.

My grandmother declared that the second day after any trauma to the body is the worst, and now, as we enter the second day after, Grandmother’s Wisdom and Knowledge is once again confirmed. One step forward, three back will be how this day goes down in The History of Alison Chambers.

It’s been a day when she felt remarkably good; when she enjoyed visits from good friends; when once again I sit in awe of the resilience of the human body – especially hers.

But just now she hits the wall physically. Everything hurts. She can’t get comfortable. There’s itching and coughing. The drainage tube pulls. The IV tubes yank. She’s hot. She’s cold. More pain meds should arrive shortly, so it is with fingers crossed that I hope things will settle down enough for her to go to sleep. At least for a little while.

THERE IS EVIDENCE OF MAGICAL THINKING

We bring her new electric scent warmer and two – count them 2 – lavender (for relaxation and healing) melts. We also bring one healing and one calming mandala coloring book and a new box of pencils. We bring facial masks and wipes and moisturizers. She brings the changes of pajamas; I bring enough clean underwear and socks for three days. She brings her planner, thinking she’ll get some things done, and she looks forward to finally finishing that library book. Knowing Friday will be a very long day and figuring we’ll stay at least one day/night longer, I am quite sure I will finish stitching the background to this one piece I’m working on. With this many uninterrupted hours, how can I not?

Do you hear me laughing maniacally?

We know there will be pain and discomfort, and we know drugs will be used to alleviate it. We bring healing accoutrements, but there is no space, no time, no wherewithal for such things as reading and coloring, for skin care, for meditative stitching, for aromatherapy.

The hospital is no home away from home, no hotel, no girls-spend-the-night party.

THERE ARE STORIES COMING AND GOING

She put three boys through medical school by cleaning hospital rooms.

Her sons play in the high school band, and their game – the one she will not attend because she’s at work – is on ESPN tonight.

Her husband wanted to become a chaplain when he retired, and when he died unexpectedly some twenty years before getting the gold watch, she fulfilled his lifelong dream by becoming a chaplain.

THERE ARE ACCIDENTAL EXCLAMATION POINTS

ExclamationPoint

Hospital cafeteria pickins’ are slim on Saturday, so The Engineer and I make a food run while Alison sleeps. And what to my wandering eyes should appear as we cross the road in front of the hospital but an accidental exclamation point.

Or a face with a pimple. Take your pick.

25: To Rub Her Feet Would’ve Cost Her a Quarter

KatieBelleWesleyBallard002 copy

on hot, muggy summer days,
she would cut a hole in the air,
loosen the bobby pins,
and shake her head
back and forth
and forth and back,
her hair spilling out
as though trying to escape
to somewhere,
anywhere
cooler.

she’d sit in the afghan covered chair,
sighing as she
hit the chair with a
plump and a grunt.
she put a hairbrush in one hand
of the grandchild,
and a dime in the grandchild’s
other hand,
turned herself around
and smiled
in keen anticipation.

~~~~~~~

Today marks the one quarter mark of my 100 stories in 100 days. I appreciate y’all reading along, and if you’d like to get them delivered to your e-mailbox, just mash the black “right this way” button in the orange strip across the top of the screen, enter your email address, and press the submit button. It’s absolutely free, costing only about 3 minutes of your time.

12: First Day of First Grade: A Once In a Lifetime Happening

JHCFirstGrade

Jeanne, First Grade

We didn’t need have kindergarten or pre-k or pre-pre-k or pre-pre-pre-pre-pre k. We just started in first grade, and that was that. The ensemble of first grade teachers stood in front of the room (by “the room”, I mean the boiler room which was also the lunchroom which was also a storage room), dressed in their finest and smiling their biggest. The air was filled with Important Occasion vibes, for this was surely a turning point in our young lives and a new beginning for the teachers.

We sat on the lunchroom freshly-painted benches with our parents, nervously awaiting our name to be on the slip of paper pulled out of the soup pot. Though she never said anything, it was fairly obvious to me that my mother wanted Mrs. Peeples to draw my name. Oh Mrs. Peeples. I still kinda’ swoon at the memory of her always-smiling (but then I wasn’t in her room) (sorry for the spoiler) countenance. Those cat-eye glasses. That perfectly coiffed hair with the little spit curls on each side of her forehead. Lipstick to match the dominant color in the shirtwaist dress she was wearing on any given day, always with a petticoat. That thin white embroidered handkerchief that was always starched, ironed, and on the ready, tucked under her belt. She wore high heels, too, and stockings (well, everybody wore stockings back then, and I don’t mean pantyhose. I mean stockings.) every single day. Yes, my mother, who’s always had a keen sense of style herself when it comes to fashion, prayed that she would hear Mrs. Peeples pull out that slip of paper and read aloud the words “Jeanne Hewell” at which time I would leave my mother and go stand with My First Grade Teacher and Classmates, my new tribe.

But the woman who called out my name was Mrs. Mae Bess Price. I don’t know how long Mrs. Price had been teaching, but I’m pretty sure she invented it as a profession. That woman was o-l-d. Ancient. Beyond ancient. I never saw so many wrinkles, and she was the only woman I knew besides my grandmother who had gray hair. Old, I tell you.

There’s a chance I wouldn’t have behaved the way I did had I been standing with Mrs. Peeples. At least that’s what I tell myself.

The first thing we learned in first grade was How To Line Up Straight. Straight was Important. Each teacher would hold her right arm out for us to use as a guide, and we didn’t move one iota until there wasn’t a single shoulder or toe sticking out to one side or the other. Once we’d mastered that, we followed the teacher up the steps to the hall that ran down the center of the building, a space wide enough to parallel park a 1957 Buick. A hall with a floor so shiny, it could’ve been covered with glass. That hall floor was a piece of art created by The Janitor, to my first grade worldliness way of thinking, the janitor was The Strongest Man Alive. You should’ve seen him operating that floor machine – sometimes guiding it with a single finger, I’ll have you know. And when somebody threw up, who do you think the teacher called but The Janitor who would come scatter those red shavings over it, leave it a bit, then sweep it all up and dispose of it.

With every step up from the boiler room, my enthusiasm for this social experiment wavered. I couldn’t stay here all day, I thought nervously, I had things I needed to tend do. How would the pets survive a day without petting? What would my grandmother do without me readily-available to dote on? And perhaps most pressing of all, how would I ever know if Loretta Young was cured enough to get out of that iron lung if I wasn’t home to watch tv at 1:00 in the afternoon? By the time we reached that shiny, creaking hardwood floor, I thought it a good idea that Mother stay with me a while longer. And I was quite vocal about it, too, so Mrs. Price found an extra first-grade-sized chair for Mother and pulled it right up beside my first-grade-sized desk. And with that taken care of, I could breathe again.

Mrs. Price pointed each one of us to a particular desk, and I needed a step stool to get up into mine. The front of the room was covered with wall-to-wall blackboard with a wooden chalk tray holding an assortment of colorful chalks and erasers. Big cards with every letter of the alphabet – both upper case and lower case – decorated the top of the blackboard. Mrs. Price’s wooden desk and swivel chair with arms sat to the left side of the front of the room right under the window. Oh those windows. The left wall of the room was filled with windows lined up one right next to the other. Each window was the size of a football field, but only a little ole’ rectangle in the center of the bottom of the glass actually opened to let any air in.

The door was on the right wall, up near the front of the room. The silver wall-mounted pencil sharpener was mounted to the left of the door, and The Janitor kept it so clean and free of fingerprints, it shone like a mirror. Shoot, if she had an extra hand and were interested in such things, a girl could fix her hair, get the peanut butter out from between her teeth, and sharpen her pencil all at the same time.

We tended to the business side of being in first grade first. Mrs. Price pulled out her roll book, which once spread open had a wingspan of about 4 feet. Using her fountain pen, she wrote our names in alphabetical order, last name first, in the rectangular spaces to the far left, wrote the date in the appropriate space at the top of the page, then put the first of many check marks in the date box to indicate that we were present and accounted for. For the rest of the year, every day started out the same: we’d put our lunch boxes in the designated area in the back of the room and hang our coats, sweaters, or raincoats up on the pegs. Then we’d each go to our desk, pull out two yellow No. 2 pencils, go sharpen them if needed, then place them in the trough at the top of our desks. We’d yell out “here” when we heard our name during roll call, then we’d stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance to The Flag in unison.

Mrs. Price handed out the spelling cards, square sheets of cream-colored card stock filled with seven columns of words – one column for each day of the week. We were to learn how to say each word, spell each word, and use each word in a sentence. I loved those spelling cards like you wouldn’t believe. What I wouldn’t give to hold one in my hands right this very.

Once we each had a spelling card, we were given our reading book. Reading about Dick and Jane and their mischievous little dog Spot quickly came to be my favorite time of the day (next to recess, lunch, and going home, of course). Soap operas for first grade, that’s what it was. I couldn’t wait to open that book every day and see what those two rascals had gotten themselves into or where they’d go next.

We were given a primary tablet for writing filled with sheets of thin gray newsprint covered with pink and blue lines, some solid, some dashed. It had a blue horse on the front, and I later learned you could save those blue horse pictures and redeem them for all sorts of fantastic prizes like more tablets, pencils that were red on one end and blue on the other, big chunky erasers or pointy pink erasers with a hole in the bottom that was just the right size for sliding over the eraser Certain People had already chewed off in their nervousness.

Mrs. Price then went over the Mae Bess Rules Of Order:
1. Thou shalt always make a straight line when coming in from recess or going to and from the lunchroom.
2. Thou shalt raise thy hand before talking.
3. Thou shalt keep thy pencils sharp.
4. Though shalt not talk to thy neighbor.
5. Thou shalt ask permission before going to the bathroom.

And before you knew it, all necessary business was tended to and it was time to learn our first foreign word: recess. We lined up at the door – in a straight line, of course – and marched out into the hall, and down the steps at the each end of the building. Without any further ado, Mrs. Price went over to the bench under the one tree on the vast expanse of the hard red clay playground to take her seat with the other first grade teachers. There were slides as high as the Empire State Building. There was this thing made of red and blue boards that you stood sat on to go around and around the central metal pole. Swings hung on chains from a metal A-frame. We stood there for a moment, our eyes getting used to the light, then we took off in all different directions. Actually, it’s They took off in all different directions. I was quite content to stand there and watch, noting things like who played with who, who went to which piece of playground equipment first, who let who break in line, what the different laughs sounded like – all those oft-overlooked things . . . but my mother (who we learned that day likes being in the thick of people a whole lot more than I do) was decidedly less content to observe.

“Why don’t you go slide?” she asked, giving me a firm push in the direction of that gleaming metal contraption.

I stumbled about two steps from the shove then stopped.

“Go on,” she said, giving me another hard shove. “You know you like people.”

In the spirit of compromise, I grabbed her hand and pulled her with me to the sliding board. There were about four people in line, so it took a little while to get to the top rung of the ladder, but I made it, checking with every inch of ascension to make sure that Mother was still standing at the base, waving to me. Finally my little white tennis shoe clad foot with the lacy fold-down white socks on it hit the top of the slide. I did like I’d seen the other kids do, placing each hand on one of the metal rails then hoisted myself up, swinging my legs out in front of me so that when I came down, I was seated on the top of the sliding board. With August being by far the hottest month of the year and school starting just after Labor Day, my new panties with the rows of ruffles across the back provided absolutely no insulation from the heat of that metal sliding board that had been baking in unfiltered sun for more than 31 days.

I looked down to make sure Mother was still watching, determined to make her proud. Her daughter would be The Best Sliding Board Slider Ever. I could just hear the supper table conversation. “Crawford, you should’ve seen her. She went down that slide faster than anybody else alive. She just zoomed, and nobody had run wax paper over it either. She’s got real potential. I’ve always said so.” My daddy would beam as he leaned over to give me a kiss on the top of my head. I hoped we were having cubed steak, mashed potatoes, cornbread, and corn on the cob for supper. This exchange just HAD to happen over cubed steak, mashed potatoes, cornbread, and corn on the cob.

Sure enough, Mother was still there, smiling and waving. I released my grip on the handlebars, giving myself a little shove to get me started. Just as I’d imagined I would, I broke the sound barrier with my rapid descent. When my feet touched the ground, I turned and started running back to get my congratulatory hug from Mother . . . but she was gone. I instinctively looked in the direction of the Oldsmobile she’d parked on the street at the beginning of This Most Auspicious Day, and there it was, pulling away, the hem of her dress sticking out where she’d closed the door on it. I tell you what: abandonment like that could’ve stunted the growth of lesser 6 year olds.

The bus bringing me home from a long day at school got to our house about the time that big ole’ Olds pulled into the driveway bringing Mother home from a long day afternoon at the office. I was so tired, I just walked directly over to the sofa and took myself a good, long nap. Mother woke me up with a call to supper, and I salivated in keen anticipation the whole way from the sofa to the kitchen table, but when I slid into my chair it was not a meal of cubed steak, mashed potatoes, cornbread, and corn on the cob I saw on the plate before me, but a plate full of weenies without buns cut into bite-size pieces.

I learned enough lessons to fill a book on that first day of first grade . . . and not all of them were lessons Mrs. Price was gonna’ grade me on.

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The dress I’m wearing in my first grade picture? It was the most fetching shade of royal blue cotton fabric you’ve ever seen. The collar and cuffs were white trimmed with red rick rack. The embellishment around the waist had ever color in the rainbow with the possible exception of orange. I loved that dress, and I still love those two-tone-blue-and-white-cateye-with-silver-sparkles glasses. You know I do. Making my way through 100 days of stories, and you can tune in daily if you want by mashing the button in the orange box at the top of the screen and following the directions. I’ll see y’all tomorrow.

11: We Didn’t Need Recess, and It Had Nothing To Do With Test Scores

4thGrade

Later generations called it The Fire Station cause that’s what sits there today. Midway back generations called it The Pink Palace. My generation call it Fourth Grade. It was an interesting building with I don’t know how many different rooms, each with its own outside entrance and – wait for it – bathroom. I’m not kidding: each room had a bathroom with doors opening to the inside of the classroom. The building’s exterior was covered with brown tar paper made to look like brown bricks. It didn’t fool anybody. Things were so bad that on Picture Day, we went inside the main building and borrowed Mrs. Duke’s room to have our pictures taken.

There was an upright piano in the back of my fourth grade classroom because Mrs. Lunceford thought music important . . . plus, she just plain liked to play it. She’d slam that teacher’s edition history book shut in the middle of a string of dates about some war or other and march from her desk in the front of the room to the piano in the back of the room, straightening the belt on her cotton shirtwaist dress as she went. She’d give that piano seat a smart twirl with her right hand, sit herself down, and commence to playing. She didn’t need sheet music in front of her, she’d just hear a song in her head and start playing. She was a full-bodied piano player, Mrs. Lunceford was, whose feet kept time on the dirty wooden floorboards and whose head swayed and bobbed to the music as her hands played. We’d sing along, and when it was time to go back to the history lesson, she’d hum all the way back to her desk.

A couple of the piano keys started sticking, so Mrs. Lunceford hired a blind German fella to come in and tune her piano. He came during class, of course, and we learned all about tuning forks and resonance and how blind people do things and even a few German words to boot. Turns out that a couple of mice had crawled up in the piano and lost their way out. Deprived of food and water, they eventually died, their tails keeping the hammers of certain notes from touching their assigned piano wire. You know, Mrs. Lunceford didn’t even shiver as the German fella produced the mice from the back of the piano and took them outside, but I sure did, even when she talked to us about survival of the fittest and food chains and all.

My grandmother taught me piano lessons, just as she taught every one of her 14 grandchildren. Well, that’s not quite true. My Cousin Stacy lived way up yonder in New Jersey, and I’m pretty sure his mother had a death wish for him cause she signed him up for trombone lessons, of all things, and made him wear linen shorts with knee socks and the funniest cutest little hat you ever saw. People around here never saw anything like it – not even in the Sears and Roebuck catalogue – until Stacy came for a visit.

Well, when I hit fourth grade, I thought it time to branch out, and I begged my mother to let me take lessons from Mrs. Price who had everything going for her: she was a newcomer, the mother of two teenage boys, and had a swimming party at the end of every year for her piano students. But Mother was having none of that and signed me up instead for lessons with Mrs. Crump who lived within walking distance of my fourth grade classroom. Because I was a good reader, every Tuesday morning during reading lessons, I was excused to take my piano books and walk down to Mrs. Crump’s house for my 30-minute lesson. Every week while I played my homework, Mrs. Crump gave herself a manicure.

One day in February while I was at my piano lesson, Mrs. Lunceford gave her blessing to the idea Allen Smith and Kent Jackson hatched and let them walk to town, go in Alford’s, and spend the 57-cents they’d saved up between them on a box of chocolate-covered cherries – a birthday present/Valentine combo gift for me on the occasion of my turning a decade old. Mrs. Lunceford believed in love, you see, even in the most unlikeliness of love. Once, when using a spelling word in a sentence, she told us that she had always wanted to marry a man with a head full of wavy brown hair but instead, she’d fallen in love with Mr. Lunceford whose bald head looked like a peeled onion.

When I got back from Mrs. Crump’s house, Mrs. Lunceford told me to put my books up then come stand in the front of the room. My head raced as I wondered what on earth I had done to deserve this. Nobody in our class ever misbehaved – unless you count that time Kimbo Neal used his magnifying glass and the sun to set fire to the 33-gallon trash barrel outside our front door, and Mrs. Lunceford counted that not as misbehaving but as a science experiment and gave him extra credit. – so I didn’t know if I’d done something awful or awesome. I couldn’t think of anything that qualified as either.

As Mrs. Lunceford played Let Me Call You Sweetheart, one of her favorite love songs she told us later, Allen and Kent each took a side of that box of chocolate covered cherries and began their walk up the aisle to present it to me. Now when Robert Reeves turned around in his seat to watch the proceedings, he wound up with his legs sticking out in the aisle. Neither Kent or Allen saw the legs, and down they went, spraying the entire room with chocolate covered cherries. Kids were coming way up out of their seats to catch a piece of candy, and I was happy to share cause I never have liked chocolate covered cherries.

It seems that when Mrs. Lunceford was a child, there was no such thing as store-bought toothpaste, or if there was, her mama and daddy didn’t have enough money enough to buy it, so Mrs. Lunceford brushed her teeth with a mixture of equal parts of soda and salt. As her eyes misted over at the memory, we actually saw the lightbulb go off. The next day, everybody was to bring their toothbrush, and she’d bring the soda and salt. Sure enough, the next day each one of us filed into the bathroom one at a time after lunch to brush our teeth using the soda and salt mixture she brought from home.

The roof was bad to leak in that fourth grade classroom, so with the first rain, Mrs. Lunceford told each one of us bring a pot from home the next day. We kept the pots under out desks, and when it rained, we’d quietly pull it out and put it somewhere to catch the trespassing raindrops. When it quit raining, Mrs. Lunceford had us water her flowers with the water we collected.

In the springtime when it was time for members of the Baptist Girls’ Auxiliary to wow The Reviewing Board and make our way up the ladder toward Queen, Mrs. Lunceford paired each of us Baptists up with a Methodist and sent us out to stand between the sticks in the ground that had been boxwoods in better days. “Methodists,” she said as we stood in line ready to exit the building, “I want y’all to hold the books for your assigned Baptist and call out the questions for them to answer. And listen real close when they recite the scripture verses ’cause I don’t think it would hurt y’all at all to memorize a little bit of the Bible yourself.” (In case you can’t tell, Mrs. Lunceford was, herself, a Bible-toting Baptist.)

As the bell rings heralding the start of another school year, I can’t help but scratch my head and wonder if today’s parents would stand for their child to attend school in such a dilapidated, pitiful-looking ole’ building, but I can tell you one thing: you can’t judge an education by its classroom any more than you can judge a book by its cover.

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I wish I still had those blue-and-white-cat-eye-glasses-with-the-silver-sparkles. Oh my goodness can you even imagine the stories I’d write through those glasses? Speaking of stories, I’m conjuring one every day for 100 days, and if you’re at all interested, you can make sure it lands on your digital doorstep every morning by mashing the button in the orange bar at the top of the screen and following the directions that ensue.

Juicing the Third Half of Life

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In Our Own Language 4:7
She (Nancy, my developmentally disabled sister-in-love) draws.
I (Jeanne, the woman who flat-out loves her) stitch.

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While in Michigan for my brother’s stepson’s wedding this weekend, we reconnected with friends we haven’t seen in I don’t know how long. We knew them in undergraduate days when we were all young and free and confident. We knew them in that time when our parents were busy creating their own life without children to wait up for or pick up after and when children weren’t even an idea. We could carry little ole’ tiny pocketbooks in those days ’cause we were only responsible for ourselves. We were juicers, extracting every bit of fun and goodness and laughter out of life.

It was so much fun remembering and reminiscing with Bruce and Linda, trekking back down memory laugh. Oh my goodness, the things we did Back Then. And I want you to know that we told the true stories this weekend, with my mother and my son and my daughter-in-love sitting right there listening. I figure they’re old enough to hear those sorts of things now.

I’ve decided I want to keep the body of information and wisdom I’ve acquired and recapture the absolute joy of living as though One Day is Right now. I think it’s possible.

I may have to increase my insurance, though.

Calendar Schmalender

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In the beginning, there were two grandmothers (his and mine), two mothers (also his and mine), and three Other Mothers (all mine. I think it’s a girl thing.) to honor and celebrate by way of food, flowers, gifts, cards, calls, and visits. Then one fine year, I had a baby on Mother’s Day, and I thought “Yay! Now that I’m a mother, I’ll be able to sleep in, have breakfast served to me in bed, get all kinds of goodies, and spend an entire day doing whatever I want when I want.” Wrong. There was now a daughter, two grandmothers, two mothers, and three Other Mothers to honor and celebrate.

As time rolled on, there was a daughter, one grandmother, two mothers, and three Other Mothers.

Then a daughter, two mothers, and three Other Mothers.

Then a daughter, two mothers, and one Other Mother.

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And now: a daughter, one mother, and one Other Mother.

In a Velveteen Rabbit kind of way, what started out as balm for my I’m-worn-slap-out-and-who-needs-a-Mother’s-Day-for-herself-anyway soul has gradually become Real: I don’t ever want to guilt my children into obligatory public displays of affection for me on one particular day of the year, and I don’t want fancy, expensive gifts that I’ll just have to find a place for then dust. I lean towards gluttony – I want them to love me every day in a myriad of ordinary ways, and I’ll take cheap trinkets and baubles and handwritten notes that show they were thinking about me throughout the year.

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When I gave birth to my daughter and 14 months later to my son, it was Mother’s Day, regardless of dates on the calendar. (And yes, I realize she is standing on the kitchen counter, unattended. I learned everything I know about child safety from my mother.)

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Every time my son brought me a dandelion bouquet or my daughter brought me roses picked from her grandmother’s yard, it was Mother’s Day.

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When my daughter insists I try on new makeup, it’s Mother’s Day.

When my son calls me just to check in or texts me the title of a movie he wants me to see so we can talk about it or emails me a link to an article or app he knows I’ll like, it’s Mother’s Day.

When my daughter asks if she can come up to the mountain top for a while or when my son calls to insist that I fly out for this particular arts festival he knows I’ll love: Mother’s Day.

When my children tell me it was not easy having me for a mother when they were in high school because I am creative and not at all like anybody else’s mom, it’s most definitely Mother’s Day.

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When my daughter-in-law gets on the phone to wish me a happy birthday, it’s Mother’s Day.

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When my answering machine is filled with messages that my daughter and my Other Son Whit have scripted as part of the elaborate prank they orchestrated (instead of doing their homework): Mother’s Day.

When the son manages enough breath support to beg me “Stop, stop. I need a minute” then falls on the floor literally rolling in uncontrollable laughter, eventually composing himself enough to climb back in the chair to take his place beside me and says, “Okay, you can continue now” so we can finish reading Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby: Mother’s Day.

When my daughter saves a place for me down front and introduces me from the stage, when she thanks me publicly for my support, it’s Mother’s Day.

When my son asks me to help him weave a basket for a cub scout badge, and when my daughter picks out the fabric for the dress she wants me to make, and when we move to the farm and they invent elaborate games to entertain themselves – you betcha, it’s Mother’s Day.

When my children unabashedly introduce me to their friends and their friends become my friends, it’s Mother’s Day.

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Both children and maybe even my daughter-in-law and Other Son will check in at some point today to bid me a Happy Mother’s Day, and I’ll be tickled to hear from them. But what I ache for, appreciate the most, and never tire of is hearing them tell me that I’m still a part of their lives wherever they may be and that they’ll always love me, regardless of who they may be sharing their lives with — hearing their laughter — hearing them use the familiar words and phrases that never fail to send us into gales of chortles — seeing their bright eyes — having them call to say “I’m coming for a visit.” — cupping their precious faces in my hands — swapping stories that all start with “Remember the time when . . . ” as we sit with a bowl full of photos in our laps — growing a strong, loving relationship with my daughter-in-law — feeling their arms around me or their hand wrap around mine — hearing them purr when I scratch their backs — listening to the delights and angsts of their lives — having them ask me questions, even though my answers become increasingly thin and worn and run the risk of showing I’m not half as brilliant as they once though I was (oh those were the days) — watching them move through this world with grace and intelligence and compassion and creativity . . . I’ll put a flower behind my ear and raise a forkful of cake to that kind of Mother’s Day any ole’ day of the year.

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I’m feeling prolific today, which makes this the third post du jour in a day that has all the markings of being a 4+-post day, so scroll on down if you’re a mind to . . .

Mothers Loved Us Differently Back Then, I Guess

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Growing up, I swam in The Cow Pond where snakes roamed freely amongst the bovines, where I was serenaded by frogs of every size and ability, and where I made my way to the deep end with God knows what squishing up between my toes. Mother had a rule that the maid had to go with me to The Cow Pond, and looking back, one can’t help but wonder if she made the rule to make sure she’d have a witness who would put her hand on a Bible and testify to her of my certain and undeniable demise. There were no swimming pools in the entire county at that time, plus I had outgrown the bathtub and hadn’t read enough books to think otherwise, so it was A Very Good Day when I could get the maid to take her hand out of the starch box long enough to accompany me to The Cow Pond for a swim.

We are a hardy bunch with longevity genes running strong, and every cat who’s using up one of her allotted 9 lives reading this will turn green with envy when I tell you that I survived not only The Cow Pond, but riding bicycles without a helmet; drinking water straight out of the garden hose; a bicycle with no brakes (my birthday present one year. Kinda’ makes you wonder, doesn’t it?); getting hit by a car; roller skating without knee pads; taking the stray cat for a ride in the car (Take your time. I’ll wait.); eating raw cookie dough; sleeping in the back window of the car on road trips; swimming in The Cow Pond, of course, but I forgot to mention that I didn’t wear sunscreen; and, in the case of my brother, one particularly memorable Alberto VO5 hot oil hair treatment that I’ll tell you about later. Right now I need to go shopping for a Very Special Mother’s Day card.

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This week I made a guest appearance over at Linda K. Sienkiewicz’s blog and talked about what I do, how I do it, and why I do it. Bop over and say Hey if you’re a mind to.

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