Mother’s Day, a Birthday … and a Cat

It’s Mother’s Day and my son’s birthday today. Since I’ve already told my mother how I feel about her (don’t roll your eyes, it was nice … thoughtful even) and revealing how old my son is makes me old, I’m just going to talk about my cat. I mean, look at this cat. Normally Shaylee is the Queen of Refinement, the epitome of poise and grace. And here she is, right when the realization struck that she had rolled herself just an inch too close to the edge of the bed necessitating a very unladylike maneuver to keep her from meeting the floor a tad harder than she would’ve liked. Laughing at moments like these are just one more reason I’m going to meet a fiery end.

 

Dear Mom – Things They Don’t Teach in School

Yesterday. Whew. What a long day, for all of us.

Dad had the biopsy on his lungs yesterday.  To say I was nervous and afraid is an understatement.

I decided to tag along to keep you company.  You’re my mom, but you’re so much more.  My friend, my confidant, my rock.  And dad?  He has always, always been there for me, no matter what. So of course, I was going to be there for him.

While thinking of you both last night, after all was said and done, I took a moment to reflect on the differences that separate us, and also those that connect us, as they do in any family.  Politics?  Please.  Social issues?  Ugh, no way. I have no doubt that you feel the same. I mean, I got my attitude from somewhere, right? Yet, through it all, I love you.  More than you will ever know.  You’ve done so much over the years for me; I want to be there for you like you are always there for me.

This is not to toot my horn, so to speak. Instead, it’s meant to offer up a heartfelt apology.

Yeah, I choked.  Sure, I’m great at the lighthearted stuff.  I can gossip about the mailman and tell terrible jokes with the best of them in an attempt – perhaps, a misguided attempt – to keep your mind off things.  I can distract you from the bigger picture, if only for a little while, with any number of sarcastic and witty (in my own eyes, at least) observances. I can get super-charged and angry on your behalf; whether it’s at people or situations, I’ll gladly take it on to save you the stress or heartache.  But the serious stuff?  I’m at a loss.

They never taught this stuff in school.

Mom and dad, I wanted to say the right things.  I wanted to do the right things, to offer comfort, hope, and a bit of light in the darkness.  I just am so ridiculously backwards and awkward in serious situations that I don’t know what to say or do. It’s almost funny. Except, it’s not.

I’m sorry I’m not good at small talk or knowing what to say in a painful, frighteningly serious situation.  And I was scared.  Just like you were.  I’m sorry I’m not better at comforting you; I truly wish I knew how.

I hope you both know that I love you more than anything in this world.  I will always be there for you, no matter how awkward or backward I may be at the reassurances and encouragements and comforting phrases.

My heart feels it, oh boy does my heart feel it; if only my mouth could say it.

 

Under the Big Top…or Not

I don’t think my mother gets nearly enough credit for her superhero powers of persuasion. She’s like Kayla Silverfox (aka Silver Fox) from X-Men (Wolverine – Origins) with a southern accent. I mean, to hear her tell it, she – my mother that is, not Silver Fox — single-handedly kept my father from selling my brother and me to the travelling circus for years…years, people! And apparently my father listened to her (I mean, here I am after all, with no trapeze skills or fire-breathing expertise to speak of, sooo…).  He could’ve made a pretty penny too, or so I was told growing up. A. Pretty. Penny.

Tasteful Memories

Have you ever thought about the powerful connection between smell and memory? One whiff of a food or perfume and, boom, you can be instantly transported back to a specific point in your life. Maybe childhood, maybe a person you knew, maybe a trip abroad, maybe the college dorms.

Well, it’s not just smell that can flood your brain with memories. Taste can do this as well. I realized just how true this is a few days ago when I was at an old-fashioned diner serving a full, honest-to-goodness country breakfast.

As the waitress brought out the plates, piled high with freshly baked biscuits, pancakes, fried eggs, and fried potatoes, I breathed in deeply, and when I dug into the food in front of me, I was transported back to breakfast at my grandmother’s.

As my regular readers know, both of my parents are from West Virginia, and we’d spend summers there – with both sets of grandparents. My mother’s mother, Grandma Jimmie would make a full country breakfast with everything made from scratch: biscuits, bacon, eggs, fried potatoes, beyond amazing gravy.

As I sat there, in this country diner, I felt a wave of nostalgia so intense, and I swear I could see that old kitchen, the coal stove, and envision myself sitting there at their table with my grandfather and the rest of the family waiting impatiently for breakfast to hit the table. And when it finally did? Oh boy, pure heaven!

That breakfast – not just any breakfast, mind you, but my grandmother’s breakfast, is a comfort food from my childhood that stands above all the rest. My own mother’s gravy and biscuits (not to mention her fried potatoes – to die for, yum!) summons up the same memories, and well, it’s more than just food, really. Although, it’s some damn fine food, I must say!  It thrills me to no end when I walk in my mother’s door to those delightful smells, knowing what I’ll be sitting down to when it’s time to eat.

It’s not just fresh-baked biscuits or the smell of bacon that reminds me of West Virginia, though. (And while I say these things remind of West Virginia, and I guess they do, it’s just a place – what they really remind me of are childhood, of growing up, and family. When I say West Virginia, to me, it encompasses so much more than just a place.) The taste of raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries remind me of West Virginia too. Raspberry and blackberry bushes grew on the side of the mountain at my mother’s old stomping grounds. Blueberries flourished in the pastures where my father grew up. I had the best of both worlds and believe me, I tried my best to eat myself sick at each place.

Sadly, this is a memory that I’m hard pressed to duplicate these days – store bought berries are just not the same, they lack flavor and what flavor there is, is just…different. But luckily, I’m in a rural area and have options, so sometimes when I see them at local farmers’ markets, I’ll stock up on homegrown grown fruit, and all is right with the world again.

Speaking of fruit, I have yet to find a peach that will rival the fruit from my mother’s peach tree from our own backyard, but I try…oh trust me, I try. But for just an instant, with that initial bite of each one I try, year in and year out, it throws me back to a carefree time when that tree still stood. Why is it we don’t appreciate these things more when we actually have them?

Comfort foods are a wonderful thing. The warmth from the nostalgia and emotions they inspire runs deep and a world of hidden memories is just waiting to be unlocked with a smell or taste.

The Man I Knew as Grandpa

I never got the chance to meet my biological grandfather, Arbrie Emil Mills. He was killed when a coal car cut off both his legs when he was working in the mines of West Virginia in 1942. It was the definition of a tragedy. My Grandma Jimmie was pregnant with my Mom at the time and it took my Grandmother many, many years to recover from her loss and move forward. Eventually, Grandma Jimmie did remarry — my mother was married herself and had a family of her own by then. My brother was 7 and I was 5 the year we met the big hulking bear of a man we knew as Grandpa Walker. Everyone called him Clark but his name was Champ. And he was as big as a mountain. He must have really loved my grandmother to plunge headfirst into the craziness that was my family. That, or he was already crazy to begin with.

I can’t say what kind of man Arbrie was since he had passed long before I ever existed, but I can say with certainty that Clark Walker seemed tailor-made for my Grandma Jimmie. My only wish is that they had found each other sooner so my grandmother wouldn’t have been alone for so long. She was a firecracker who loved to argue and thanks to her sharp mind and quick wit, she was good at it. Clark put up with all her quirks and shenanigans — in fact, he seemed to enjoy smoothing her ruffled feathers. The household walked on eggshells — make that quilt-covered eggshells — all morning until she woke up, which was usually around noon. (I tell you what though — looking back on it now as an adult with kids, my Grandma Jimmie spent the better part of her life busting her ass to put food on her family’s table, shoes on her kids’ feet, and did everything she needed to do to keep her family together in the mountains of West Virginia, so if she wanted to sleep till noon later in life, I say, more power to her.)  But, my Grandpa never questioned her need for sleep, never tried to change her routine. He just accepted it as the way things were and put up with it because he knew it made her happy. The sun rose and set around my grandmother as far as Grandpa was concerned.

Need an example? How about this…ever heard of a Jimmy truck? They don’t make them anymore, but they did back in the day. Grandpa bought one of these trucks (in cash!) just because it had my Grandma’s name emblazoned on the back. Well, slightly misspelled, but still. His heart was in it.

Perhaps the clincher that proved just how much he adored my grandmother was the fact that on top of living with her and her persnickety ways, he also lived with my great-grandmother, Grandma Mooney. I’m sure you remember her. Yup, Grandma Mooney of the Vinegar Valentines and the Spooky Charades was in the house as well and she had quite the attitude. She was also a little instigator. No, really!  Nothing pleased her more than starting something between my grandparents and then sitting back to watch the resulting chaos, coffee cup in hand and a smile on her face. In spite of all this, my grandfather took damn good care of her when she got sick later on. All because he loved my grandmother with a love that was fierce.

Grandma Jimmie and Grandpa Walker looking cool

Growing up, I thought Grandpa Walker was IT. I remember he gave me a kitten when I was little that I wasn’t supposed to have. (He gave my brother one too, but my brother was deathly allergic — which made shoving the kittens in his face really, really fun, but I digress.)  We couldn’t take them home of course…thanks Keith, for that. But we enjoyed them each summer.

While I was small, most summers found me by his side, when I wasn’t chasing lizards or looking for crawdads or swinging from grape vines. When I was still a little girl, it might’ve been the first summer I met my grandfather even — so maybe 5 — I remember trying to cut my fried eggs with a fork and knife just like my dad. My dad was amazing with a knife and fork — he could cut anything and everything slick as butter while being quiet as a mouse. It was truly impressive, and I always wanted to be like him. But, I could never come close to being as fast and neat as he was and most of the time I just ended up making a big racket. It was certainly annoying for everyone in the kitchen. So anyway, here I am cutting my fried eggs like a maniac and my father ummm…chastised me, yeah, we’ll go with that, chastised me for making so much noise. And sitting in “my spot” next to my grandfather as I was, he yanked my chair closer to him and told my dad in no uncertain terms to “leave her be and let her cut her eggs however she wants” — which was awe-inspiring really because I was little and my dad was…well DAD. You simply didn’t talk back to him.  Clearly Grandpa didn’t get THAT memo. Or if he did, he didn’t care one bit.

As I’ve written about before, for a part of his life my grandfather drank beer like some people drink soda, or coffee. He basically just drank the stuff all day long. It took an enormous amount (about the size of a silo) to give him a buzz, but eventually he would start feeling the effects, and when he did, he’d get on a musical bent. When this creative urge came across him, out came the banjo which he was really quite good at playing. The tunes he chose? Yeah, well, those started out pretty good too, more on the bluegrass side but that was okay, and then it would slide into gospel, getting faster and zanier the more he drank. Verses would eventually repeat themselves, words would slur or get mixed up. Sometimes it was an outright free-for-all of different songs thrown together as one. What verses he couldn’t remember, he made up on the fly.

I remember my mother made a recording of one of his more off the rails lively sessions and took it to my Aunt Bunny for her to listen to — back when cassette recordings were still the rage. I got so angry because by the end of the impromptu concert they were in tears laughing at his madcap musical antics. I snapped at them over it and ended up paying the price. And of course, looking back on it, it WAS funny…hilarious even. But this was my grandfather they were laughing at! No-one was supposed to be laughing at him!

Hey, he had my back – I had his.

my favorite picture

 

The Adventure Continues

My parents’ 57th wedding anniversary is tomorrow – June 15th. Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad! I think this might be the first year that I haven’t confused the date. It fell on Father’s Day one year, ages ago, and for me, I’ve equated the two ever since, making me perpetually late in wishing them a Happy Anniversary. Father’s Day changes every year, you say? No matter. You underestimate my ability to be wrong about something.

Hey, did you know there are traditional gift themes for each year of wedded bliss? First year is paper. Fifth year is wood. Twentieth year is china. Well, as far as I can tell, by year 57 all the ideas have been used up. By that time only the anniversaries ending in 0s or 5s get a themed gift. Seriously. On the list of “traditional gifts” the years skip from 55 right to 60.

My guess as to why that is: maybe whoever made the list felt that people grinding out 55 to 60 years of holy matrimony are too busy trying to not kill each other to really celebrate the honored day. Who knows? Maybe they’re right. Maybe by that point, not trying to choke each other is a gift in and of itself. “I didn’t suffocate you with a pillow this morning sweetie, Happy Anniversary! Want some breakfast?” Personally, I think 57 years of marriage—murderous thoughts notwithstanding—is one hell of an accomplishment.

The lists of traditional gifts often give an alternative modern gift for the couple who want to stay hip and with the times. For example, the first-year anniversary’s “modern” take on the traditional paper theme is clocks. How the two are related completely escapes me. Now while there isn’t a traditional gift for 57 years of wedded bliss, a modern alternative my parents have for celebrating their anniversary is a glass or a mirror. A glass, particularly of the decanter variety, I can understand. Giving each other something to hold the sweet nectar of alcohol or caffeine I can see as being invaluable to such a lengthy marriage. Sadly, my parents can have neither. So that’s a firm no on the glass option.

Mirror, it is. But really? A mirror? All I can really see my parents doing with a mirror is holding it up within an inch of the other’s face and saying, “SEE! I told you there was a smudge on your face! You just couldn’t believe me, could you? Noooo…of course not.” I’m not sure I want to be the purveyor of such a contentious gift.

Despite their individual secret schemes on how to plan what can only be described as the perfect murder, in real life my parents do what they can to keep each other out of the ground for as long as possible. Which is particularly good news for my dad. If anyone was going to kill an old man and get away with it, it would be my mother. That woman is nothing if not thorough.

I’ve often wondered what the secret is to a long marriage such as theirs. In an age when a marriage that makes it five years can be seen as “a good run,” there’s got to be something special to keep two people together for close to SIX decades. I believe that my brother and I were maybe that special ingredient in the glue that has bound them. No, not because their love for us created an unbreakable bond.  It was more than that. I think they decided years ago that whichever one of them asked for a divorce, they had to be the one to take the children.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, my parents loved us…still do for some crazy reason. It’s impressive really, given what we put them through. It’s just that together, they were strong enough to counter my and my brother’s daily foolish antics. They could commiserate late at night and bolster each other’s mental stability – “Did you SEE what that boy did? Just look!” “Oh well, that’s nothing on what the girl tried to get away with today…let me tell you!”  Ahh, there’s nothing like having a common enemy to keep people together.

At its essence, having each other’s back is their mainstay – their rock. Sure, they may squabble and they may pick at each other, but my dad still makes my mom her coffee (decaf these days) every single morning before heading out to the backyard to feed her feathered friends – I mean, hey, she needs company while she sits on the deck, having her morning cup of joe. In return, she makes sure his meds are always in order and that he has his fishing hat when he goes out on the water so his shiny bald head doesn’t burn.  And god help the outsider who speaks ill of either one of them.