Thursday, November 24, 2011

Home is Where Your Story Begins

Our Thanksgiving began in earnest after the SUV carrying the grandkids from hell was out of sight. Seeing those diminishing tail lights was a beautiful thing.

Babe turned to me. “I know we survived, but is the house still standing? I can’t look.” Glancing over his shoulder, I prepared myself for the wreckage of Rearickville.

Our cat Igor was sprawled on his back with his legs sticking straight up. He had swished his tail so many times I think he broke it. He spent the day hissing, snarling and running from the Jack Russell grandpuppy who pounced and chased him as though Igor was smeared with Alpo. If he could have, he’d have begged for Prozac, to which I’d have said, “There’s none left.” (Sucking on Prozac all day instead of hard candy can actually jumpstart a Zen experience. I know this for a fact.)

I didn’t decorate for the holiday. Instead I asked the kids to gather leaves from the yard. They thought up the live frogs on their own. My oldest grandson crafted a groundhog from a brown paper bag and called it a turkey. Not wanting to stunt a possible creative spurt, I nodded outwardly and winced inwardly.

Our family tolerates the vegetarian who eats nothing that previously wore furs or feathers, and another who eats only Cocoa Puffs. My daughter-in-law is on a hunger strike until she gets the green light to hire a live-in cook. My son, an enthusiastic jug wine drinker, will eat anything dead or alive after only a sip of the grape.

I must have been crazy to think I could restore the ambiance of a traditional sit-down dinner complete with a Butterball turkey, giblet gravy, dressing made from scratch, yams, and football blasting away in the den. Duh.

At four p.m., I announced that dinner would be fashionably late, so Lucifer’s children entertained everyone by repeating every expletive I had uttered with regard to Pilgrims and phone calls to the Butterball hotline after I discovered my turkey was still hard as last year’s Halloween corn candy.

While they gleefully shared videos of my unladylike behavior taken via their cell phones, I tried to drown them out with a tape of my son’s bass drum recital at age eight. I was really hoping to muffle sounds of my frozen turkey bouncing around in the clothes dryer.

When we were about to sit down for dinner I suggested, in the spirit of harmony that the children might sit at a separate table. In a separate room. Next door. I was voted down.

Appreciative onlookers applauding a perfectly carved, golden brown turkey is a beautiful thing to behold, but it means bupkis to Babe. He doesn’t carve; he chops. With that in mind, I thought a discreet turkey chopping ceremony in the kitchen would be wise. No way did I want anyone to see him hack up that turkey as if he were in a scene from the movie, “Saw III.”

But when everyone at the table started looking like Bosnian refugees, my son told his small, unsuspecting children to get in there and check on their grandfather.

“Stop,” I yelled. “Babe is battling an unarmed turkey with a Ginsu knife. Trust me. This is not something for young eyes to watch.”

My youngest grandson chomped his fourth bowl of Cocoa Puffs making mmmm sounds while the rest of us began to rethink cold cereal as a viable alternative to real food.

It’s a mystery to me why anyone prefers chickpeas to drumsticks, but in deference to the vegan, I sculpted a small turkey from tofu using colored toothpicks for feathers. After brushing it with egg whites, I baked it to a golden glow.

Instead of the appreciation I expected, however, laughter and name-calling prevailed. Positive reinforcement is an easily withheld commodity at my house.

Instead of the four different desserts that I might have made had the turkey thawed like it should have, I popped a Mrs. Paul’s pumpkin pie in the oven and put Cool Whip and M & M’s on top, the latter addition being another creative surge from the oldest grandson.

There could have been coffee. I can’t say for sure because I seized what was left of the wine, shut myself up in a closet and drank that jug dry as Tom Turkey’s carcass.

Babe and I have much to be thankful for, but those disappearing tail lights have taken thankfulness to a whole new level.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Well Preserved

Yesterday an old friend said to me, “You are well-preserved for your age.”

Well preserved? Hello? Do I look like a glob of Smuckers?

While genetics play a big part in determining how we look by the time our grandkids are married with kidlets of their own, so does that free dose of Vitamin D we call sunshine. It was supposed to be good for us. So who knew?

We of the celebrated peaches and cream complexions (aka Southern Belles) feel that living South of the Mason-Dixon Line is comparable to taking up residence at the legendary Eternity Spa.

“Well, fiddly dee,” laments my Scarlett alter-ego while batting Llama eyes heavy with mascara. “Southerners don’t need those resort spas. We’ve got humidity.”

That’s also what my mother always said and she had great skin. She left it to me as part of my inheritance when she died. No money, just good skin, but I’m not complaining. Without her peaches and cream inheritance, I would have been given the Smucker’s label years ago.

Mama was generous enough to leave me her hands too, but I only discovered that legacy the other day while trying to tie my shoes without falling on my face and breaking my daddy's inherited nose.

“Yikes! How did these old hands get attached to my arms,” I yelled out loud.

What used to be the things I kept manicured were covered with dark reddish brown spots as though they had been painted on. In shock, I naturally began to wonder about other body parts, ones I had not seen for a while. Like my navel.

That is when I found a dark dot near my belly button. No doubt another gift from my ever generous mother. I tried to brush off the dot but it wouldn’t move. I grabbed my 10X magnifying mirror to see if a tick had attached itself to my once-flat tummy. What if it had been actively sucking away my life’s blood? That might account for my low energy.

Looking more closely, I found five more tick-sized dots. Slowly, I inched the 10X mirror up toward my waist to examine my once-firm breasts, the ones that were gradually drooping down to say howdy to my navel. And there in plain, magnified site were Miss Georgia, Miss Tennessee, Miss Alabama, all flaunting their dots like Miss America contestants.

I know now that my friend yesterday was just being polite when he told me I was well preserved. I am not. Like many other women my age who are growing dark dotted thingies all over their body maps, I’m just another Botox candidate with a glob or two of Smucker’s on her well-done biscuits.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

September 11, 2001

All day today, rain
Gray, sad 
As if God
Cannot stop crying.
~ Cappy Hall Rearick

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Longest Day

After I finished weeding the only yard on the street overrun with poison ivy, I drove to the Exercise Center ten miles away for my first day of an exercise program. It is safe to say that I like working out even less than weeding or showing up for a mammogram.

At the Center, I was shown how to do everything from leg stretches to upper body strengthening. The instructor was gentle to the point of patronizing and who could blame her? All it took was one look at my train-wrecked body for her to read washout written all over it. After what seemed like the longest forty-five minutes of instructions in my life, I limped away wearing a ragged look capable of scaring a pit bull into the middle of next week. I was also starving, so I hightailed it to the first fast foodarama I could find, where I inhaled the biggest cheeseburger on the menu and a super-sized side of fries. 

Wiping leftover crumbs from my face and brushing dropped onions and fries off my lap, I thought my worn out old body deserved yet another reward. A quick glance at my fingers and toes loudly shouted mani-pedi at the Asian Nail Spa. In retrospect, that might not have been the best decision I could have made.

The nail spa I most often frequent offers manicures and fill-ins, pedicures, waxing and occasionally a tanning bed. For my money, it’s just a mani-pedi. I sign in, pick out my polish color and prepare to wait until it is time for someone to mosey over and pamper me for an hour or so.

Now, my account of that day might sound like I made it up in order to write a humorous column that would make you laugh. But that was not the case. No need to write and ask me if it really happened because I’m telling you, it did.

Becky, the Vietnamese pedicurist politely instructed me to sit down on the end of the massage chair, the one that looks like a motorized Lazy Boy Recliner. She pulled out the footrest at the bottom and said, “Easier you untie shoes from here,” indicating the lace up Reeboks I had recently worked out in.

I am nothing if not a follower, so I did as I was told and that's when my world turned upside down. Literally. If I live to be 175-years old, I will never understand why I chose to lean back on that pedicure Lazy Boy. But I did and that’s when, as if I was sitting on a banana peel, my boney butt slid smack into the pedicure water!

Before I could even blink, my patootie was bobbing up and down like a duck and my legs were up in the air in a most unladylike position while a battalion of Vietnamese ran amok yelling. While I was laughing and trying to catch my breath, the resident Cong tried to remember how to call 911 for the crazy lady. 

Oh, the embarrassing moments we seniors go through for just a little pampering.

After I stopped laughing, I left the spa for a much-needed haircut where my day was light years from improving. My hairdresser failed to show up because she had a hangover and she seriously believed she was at death's door. In my town, first responders don't respond to morning afters.

So, wearing a head full of short, wet hair because the substitute hairdresser didn't have time to blow dry it, I left for the grocery store. I planned to make a tomato pie with the glut of tomatoes given to me by everyone I know who had enough sense to plant a garden

Instead, I bought a large bottle of tequila. For three hours, while fighting this devil-sent August heat, all I had thought about was a frozen margarita. I could almost feel it slipping down my parched throat. Olé! I did the Mexican Hat Dance right there in the middle of the liquor aisle.

Now, where did I put my blender? Oh wait. Do I even OWN a blender?

Senior moments. Are they special or what?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys!

 "War is only a cowardly escape from the problems of peace." --Thomas Mann 

I skipped the annual Fourth of July festivities this year. I no longer have the stomach for hyperbolic speeches delivered by corrupt politicians proclaiming the inevitability of war.

If I don't support a war I believe is unjust, I'm accused of being unpatriotic. That confuses me. How is it possible to champion the men and women doing battle without giving credence to a war I personally believe is wrong? I don't know how to connect those dots.  

I’ll bet those deployed men and women would rather have been at home surrounded by their own people on the Fourth of July. No doubt they would have been happier stuffing themselves with hot dogs, apple pie and cold beer. If they had not been fighting a war, they would have been singing the national anthem along with the local high school band, and waving miniature flags to the beat of Stars and Stripes Forever. I respect these soldiers for the sacrifices they make every day and I pray each night that they all come home soon, alive and in one piece.   

Our National Guardsmen fighting in the Middle East were deployed for an undetermined period of time, ordered by our leaders to go. They answered the call, convinced that America's War on Terror would protect us from misguided Muslims intent on killing us all. I greatly honor these soldiers for their willingness to defend our country, but they should have been at home firing up barbecue grills, not firing guns in the name of Old Glory.   

Some soldiers fight, not after being coerced into joining this man's army by fast talking politicians or military recruiters, but because they believe our elected officials have the last word and ought to know what's what. Fed the political fodder that "to fight them over there" meant we wouldn't have to "fight them over here." They swallowed it whole. Not long before, those soldiers were children, many brought up in religious homes where grace was said before meals and the Golden Rule learned at an early age. Turning a deaf ear to logic and old-fashioned common sense, those grown children now follow orders without question, even when it means torturing other human beings.   

I don't know how to support a military whose philosophy sanctions all the things I do not believe are right. My core belief system prescribes peace, not a declaration of war as a reaction to anger or economic stress.

And therein lies the rub, the conundrum, the moral quandary with which I, and other Americans are forced to grapple these days. War, some say, is inevitable. But how can that be when it flies in the face of all things holy? War, in and of itself, takes away our humanness.   

We have learned to harness, if not control, hurricanes and the like by searching for and finding innovative tools with which to deal with the forces of nature. But for some, survival translates to us against them, kill or be killed. Why are we not looking for groundbreaking solutions to end this kind of primordial thinking?   

To the victors go the spoils? American men and women fighting in the Middle East today too often give up life and limb but receive no victory rewards, no spoils of war. We label them heroes and feel overwhelmingly sad when they return in wheelchairs, comas or coffins. The brightest and best of an entire generation sacrifice their future while we do very little to find a lasting solution.

Are we such lazy thinkers that the option to kill and destroy is the best we can come up with?   

We have glorified the act of war for too long. Isn't it time to leave no stone unturned in a quest to find alternatives that work for everyone? We must take issue with fear tactics spouted by greedy politicians intent on padding their pockets on the sacrifices made by our children. If we cannot see that war is a form of mass murder, then how will we ever take that giant leap for mankind?   

War is not John Wayne sporting a cocky green beret; it is the taking of human lives.
War is not the settling of conflicts; it is the creation of resentment that leads to more conflicts.   
War is not God's will; it is an unholy thing that steals our souls.   

Friday, July 1, 2011

I Woof for Coon Dog Day

When Babe and I discovered Saluda, North Carolina, we bought a house. Saluda is a dear little town and our second home has become the perfect escape hatch. I get to write while listening to the chirping of birds instead of the hum of air conditioners.

Although I love winter life on St. Simons Island in Georgia, when the thermometer starts its annual upward climb, I head for the hills. Suffering from heat and humidity is not what I wanted to do when I passed the age of, uh, fifty? It can get warm in Saluda too, but it cools off at night. Unlike in Georgia, I don't feel like a limp dishrag when I crawl into bed at the end of the day.

Each year in July, humans and dogs celebrate the 47th annual Coon Dog Day Celebration in Saluda. This year, the community-supported event will once again be the closest thing to an old fashioned county fair in a coon's age. Oops! Sorry about that.

Contained within three blocks will be food and souvenir stalls and kiddie rides for the little ones who (unlike adults) don't care about stuffing themselves with junk food. Over ten thousand people will rub shoulders all day long in the intense July heat because, let's face it, people are hungry for the good old days before electronics took possession of our minds, bodies and attention spans.

The parade will be way long and this year I have been asked to be one of the float judges. There will be open convertibles chauffeuring the obligatory dignitaries as well as Coon Dog Day Royalty. The Queen will work overtime at perfecting the Miss America Wave. And what would a parade be without Shriners buzzing around on dune buggies and motorcycles and Elvis impersonators singing 'You Ain't Nothin' But a Hound Dog?' Oh, if history repeats, there will be lots and lots of fire trucks.

As if we haven't had a bellyful of politicians this year, there will be too many of them marching to well-known Independence Day tunes. Hopefully, the Democrats and Republicans will refrain from plopping mud at each other.

Throughout the day, coon dogs will drag their masters down the street while sniffing and baying at nothing at all. After 48 years, coon dogs rule. Humans only show up to enjoy live music, clogging, square dances and all the junk food they can cram down their throats.

Ordinarily, sleepy little Saluda has no need of a wide thoroughfare snaking through it and no reason to entice looky-loos to the area. But on this Coon Dog Day, July 9, 2011, the narrow main drag adjacent to the unused railroad track will be jammed with people bent on buying everything from funnel cakes to funky jewelry.

Fast food joints are normally verboten inside the Saluda city limits, but not on this illustrious day. To say that Babe and I will seriously pig out is no exaggeration. We'll eat barbeque from North and South Carolina, hot dogs, hamburgers, cake and ice cream. French Fries in cone-shaped cups, fried in lard and sprinkled with vinegar.

Coon Dog Days began almost half a century ago as a fundraiser for the local Coon Dog Club, and over the years has evolved into something no one ever envisioned in 1963. Today, the festival is a major event for Polk County that brings in over 10,000 people to mill around the streets of Saluda. It begins on Monday and culminates on Saturday with a plethora of activities that conclude with a contest for the dogs themselves, the indubitable VIP's.

As summer residents, we have quickly adapted to this small community of people who feel like neighbors we've known for a lifetime. We reconnected with some old friends who had moved here earlier and we met many others.

People like Judy Ward became friends. Judy moved heaven and earth to reopen Ward's Grill, a favorite local eatery. Why did she do it? Because sadly, when the Grill closed down a year or so ago, it was as though the heart of Saluda itself had died. Judy pledged to give back to the town a little piece of history that everybody loved. Because of her vision, the soul of the town is now back where it belongs, and her hamburgers are too!

People like Judy make Coon Dog Day an event that brings in folks from all over, folks who proudly sport Coon Dog Day t-shirts and more often than not are heard to ask: 'Can a coon dog really tree a coon?'

Alzenia Pops Her Cork

“Don’t be content with being average. Average is as close to the bottom as it is to the top.” — author unknown

Sober as a sow, my friend Mary is convinced that taking a sip of wine or slow dancing in public not only makes her splotchy, but it’s a surefire shortcut to Hell.
“If I did that, I’d be eternally doomed,” she says, emphasizing the doomed part.
Mary is a woman who prefers Emily Dickinson to Sylvia Plath, Law and Order to Sex and the City and tap water to Dom Perignon. Go figure.
“Mary,” I tell her, “if your plans don’t include becoming the Anal Retentive Poster Girl, then you might want to lighten up.”
Before I’m done admonishing her, she is shaking her head back and forth. Her face is redder than an over-ripe summer tomato.
“You just better hush up right now, you hear me? I can’t abide that kid of talk.” Then she adds, “And neither can Jesus.”
Mary thinks anal is a four-letter word. I often wonder if she has morphed into my mother right before my eyes.
“I’m not gonna hush, Mary, because I’m worried about you. You’re way too uptight and it’s unhealthy. You really need to chill, girl.”
She tosses her white as grits long hair, cut in a style much too youthful for a woman past her prime. “For your information, my doctor says I am in perfect health.”
“Who is he? Dr. Doolittle?”
She is unhappy with me (and not for the first time) for daring to confront her with a real-life issue, so before I can pull myself up on my high horse again, she changes the subject and I let it go for the time being, knowing full well that one of these days ...

Three weeks sail by before Mary decides not to be mad at me any more and calls to make a lunch date.
She is chronically late, but I long ago learned to deal with that by arriving late myself. If, by some small miracle, she should arrive at the appointed time and is sitting there waiting for me, then I hope I have enough strength left in my body to dial 911. Babe says Mary keeps a running list of excuses she can pull out and use at will. He may be right.
True to form, I arrive fifteen minutes late and she still does not show up on time. Eventually, I see her as she bolts out of her car and races into the restaurant. Before scanning the crowded room, she glances at the clock as if to confirm that she has indeed kept me waiting again. Her sly smile does not escape my notice.
She pauses in the doorway, stretches her long neck and pretends to search for me over the heads of screaming kids throwing chicken fingers, and seniors sipping twenty-five-cent coffee.
What looks to me like a local construction crew waits just outside the opened door behind Mary, who is blocking their entry. The men are sweating like pack mules in the 95 degree heat and humidity, their patience spiralling downward with every drop of perspiration. From time to time, they make X-rated remarks that drift over to where I am seated.
Oddly enough, Mary neither blushes nor takes umbrage at the swear words, as I might have expected. Nor does she does she pull out her well-worn Bible and talk about Jesus. She wheels around and starts cussing out the overweight roofer who told her to move her well developed tush so he and his friends can get back to shagging shingles.
Mary lifts her chin, looks him straight in the eye, and then calmly flips him off. She shoots him a bird right there in front of God and everybody. And then, pretty as you please, she tosses her hair like a teenager and glides over to me like she’s on roller blades.
“Mary?” I stammer. “Is that you?”
She quits batting her over-mascared eyes long enough to let out a throaty giggle. “Don’t be absurd, dahlin’. If I were Mary, I’d be preaching the gospel to that Neanderthal over there.”
I am speechless.
“I don’t believe you’ve had the ples-yah of meeting me,” she drawls while stretching out a hand with fingernails longer than a pregnant pause. “So glad you were able to snag us a table. Sweet. By the way, my name is Alzenia.”
Snagged us a table? We are not dining at The Ritz. We are in McDonald’s, where apparently Mary slash Alzenia is now a few fries short of a Happy Meal.
“What have you done to yourself, Mary?” It’s darn near impossible for me to get past the extra makeup she’s wearing, but I have got to know.
Breezing by me without even pretending to hear my question, she heads straight over to a table solely occupied by a handsome, middle-aged man. She fluffs her hair and gives the astonished fellow a broad smile. “It’s evah so hot outside, Big Boy, and I’m litrilly dyin’ of thurst. You wouldn’t mind giving a girl a teensy weensy sip of yo’ Co-cola, would you? I just hate it when I have to stand in line.”
Like a mesmerized fly about to go splat into the windshield of an oncoming semi, he picks up his drink and hands it over. “Take all you want,” he says in a breathy voice. “In fact, take it all. I don’t need it.”
She snatches up his drink, blows him a kiss, whirls around and saunters over to where I'm standing in line wishing McDonald’s had a liquor license. I pretend that I have never seen her before in my life.
Her lips are painted the color of Gallo Hearty Burgundy and she has no less than four coats of Maybelline on her lashes, which she bats at me as if I'm George Clooney.
I can ignore her for only so long. “What on God’s green earth have you done to yourself, Mary?”
“Nuh Uh. Mustn’t call me Mary, dahlin’. I told you awlready. My name is Alzenia but you can call me Zennie. All my close friends do.”
“Well then, perhaps you won’t mind telling me where my close friend is. You must know her. She’s the one whose name happens to be Mary and whose body you have obviously snatched. What have you done with her? You give her back right this minute, do you hear me?”
Alzenia yawns, pulls her long arms up in the air and stretches like a cat. “Oooh, body snatching. Now wouldn’t that have been worthwhile to write about in my journal. But I’m afraid the reason I’m heah is a tad less exciting, deah heart. You see, Mary was being particularly pious this maw-nin’ so I made her stay home. Sister Mary can be so capital “B” boring, can she not?”
A Styrofoam voice cuts through my escalating concern.
“Welcome to McDonald’s. May I take your order?” I look over to this Mary slash Alzenia slash Zennie person, this woman who only slightly resembles my friend underneath the Mae West veneer. “We should order,” I say. “What do you want to eat?”
She pushes me aside, leans over the counter close to the cash register and flashes a set of molars that could light up a football stadium. Obviously, she's bleached her teeth way beyond the Chicklet stage.
“Hey, Maria,” she says to the Hispanic server after studying her name badge for a long minute. “How about you go over there and tell that big hunk of a chef to fix me up with a triple Mac. Oh, and you can fix me an Amaretto shake while he’s at it.”
Her smile widens.
I am now totally convinced that my friend has either been smoking something illegal or tooting something even more illegal.
Maria’s mouth opens and a computerized voice says, “Shake flavors are chocolate and vanilla.”
“Well, dang it awl,” Alzenia whines before glaring at me as though it’s my fault.
Glancing back only once, she strides like Zenyatta to the door while announcing to everyone in the crowded room, “We are soooo outta here. Come, come, come, Dahlin’!”
I stare at her retreating back and stall for only a moment before following behind her. I don’t know where on this small island the woman will ever find an Amaretto Shake, but I'm willing to bet Babe’s pension that she’s gonna, and I want to be there when she does.

Southern Comfort

“It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.”  ~Lewis Grizzard 

I am so having a yo-yo day.
After spending the weekend in Atlanta living up to the “she shopped till she dropped” cliché, I hated to leave. But home is home, so I dragged my tired tush to the car,  turned the ignition key and discovered my battery preferred to stay in Hotlanna.
I dialed AAA and was told by an underage operator that my husband had forgotten to add my name to his account after we got married. The fact that the wedding took place fifteen years before was of no consequence to the teenager who by that time was texting her BFF.
“But my car won’t start!” I didn’t know which one I wanted to throttle more: my long-ago groom visiting his sister in Pennsylvania, or the teenybopper popping gum in my ear.
After a pause that crawled into the next millennium, she said, “We cain’t do nothing ‘less he calls us to verify thangs.” 
Good God.
“Are you saying that what he has to do is listen to elevator music for thirty minutes along with you popping gum in his ear and you'll confirm my Triple A membership?”
“Uh huh.”
I so wish I had hitchhiked  to Atlanta. 
I left an SOS on my husband's cell and then prepared to wait while reading, How To Love Yankees With A Clear Conscience. Eventually he called, so apologetic. In a take-charge voice, he said, "Keep reading your book while I call Triple A." He was about to impart the good news. Hallelujah!
“Get back to me in exactly five minutes, Babe,” I said, “or you will pay.”
Years later or so it seemed, he reported that AAA had refused to honor the card, but agreed to send out the troops.
“It'll cost twenty-five bucks.” He cleared his throat. “Forty, if they have to tow it.” 
I was trying to find a game on my cell phone when a tall man with a Gabby Hayes beard suddenly appeared at my window and scared me into the middle of next week. 
“Ma’am? Y’all need some hep?”
Standing there spitting tobacco on the pavement was a fine, upstanding Georgia gentleman whose mama surely raised him right. He was way happy to jump-start my battery. For free.
“I got a wife and four daughters and I sho’ wouldn’t want ‘em to have to wait on AAA.” His smile was lopsided. “They git lost, don’tchaknow.” 
I nodded.
“Be sho’ to take this car for a full charge when you get home,” he added, “and tell ‘em to replace that raggedy belt or else you’re liable to meet your maker smack in the middle of I-16.”
Thinking Henry Ford might have been the Antichrist, I thanked my good Samaritan, quickly found a Pep Boys and shot in there like a silver bullet. They said I didn’t need a belt or a battery.
They could have made a sale, I mused, but they were considerate and honest. Thank you good ol’ pep boys and thank you, God, for letting me be born on polite Southern soil.
But when I tried to start my car, the motor wouldn’t turn over. I wasn’t going anywhere until those good ol’ boys replaced the battery they said I didn’t need.
“You gotta be kidding,” Babe shouted. “That battery was practically new. Still under warranty. Be sire to bring it home with you”
“I’m not putting a greasy, dead battery in my clean car, Babe. I paid Curley, Moe and Larry ten bucks to toss it.”
“Wonderful.” His Yankee sarcasm did not escape my sensitive Southern ears.
I crawled into my ailing car with the notched-up belt under the hood, (the one that could stop my clock on I-16. I was tired, frustrated and mad as a Georgia Bull Dawg after losing to the Gators.
But all was not lost. Friends in Atlanta had loaded me up with garden gifts. Tomatoes, folks. Red, ripe, juicy beefsteak tomatoes — Georgia jewels, precious as rubies. 
In November we have the expectation of homemade holiday treats with walnuts, raisins and pecans to comfort us; in February, chocolate in all its glory gets us through dreary winter days. But in June, the homegrown tomato takes center stage. Unquestionably the star of all comfort foods, it is the mother’s milk of backyard gardens —Southern Comfort with the power to put the brakes on even a yo-yo day. 
Cappy’s Tomato Pie Recipe
1 (9 inch) deep dish pie shell
5  large tomatoes, peeled, sliced to ½" thick
½ tsp. salt
½  tsp pepper
¾ cup grated cheddar cheese
¾ cup grated mozzarella cheese
3 tsp. dried, or 3 T. fresh chopped basil
1 cup chopped onion
6 strips cooked bacon
Garlic powder to taste
1 tsp. parsley, chopped
1 cup Hellman's Mayonnaise
Bake pie shell for 10 minutes at 375 degrees
Layer tomatoes in shell and sprinkle with salt, pepper, basil, garlic powder, and parsley. 
Mix together mayonnaise, cheese and onions.
Spread mixture over tomatoes in pie shell.
Bake at 350 for 30 minutes until brown and bubbly. Crumble bacon on top.
Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
Smile real big and say YUM!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Big Mama Pulls the Plug

Hello! Thank you for calling UAM, Universal Answering Machine, the official replacement for a human. Press 1 to leave a message. Press 2 to leave a callback number. With a little luck, a machine will get back to you before you die.

(Sigh) "Okay, listen up, people. This here is Big Mama Nature calling and I’m sick and tired of leaving messages for you. This will be the last time you will ever hear my voice but I've got plenty to say and times a'wasting.
"I'm not going to be Big Mama Nature any more 'cause y'all have done wore me plum out. I am so outta here.
"Just so you’ll know, I plan to gather up a few of my things to take with me when I leave. They were always mine, never, ever yours. You took it for granted that my things belonged to you, but you were dead wrong! They were on loan. Consider today as your personal Chapter Eleven Day.
"I'm talking about all of the birds, every last one of them. Sparrows, ducks, egrets, gulls, especially the egrets and gulls. OMG! What you’ve done to my seabirds is unacceptable. And to make matters worse, you went and gave my little chickies and piglets the Flu. Well, you won't get any more chances to hurt my babies 'cause Big Mama Nature takes care of her own.
"I'm reclaiming the rain forests and all of its inhabitants. You never "got" their simple logic no matter how many times it was explained, so just forget about the rain forests. They'll be well protected under my personal supervision and I won't need to worry about them anymore.
"The Mississippi River is high on my list of retrievables. How can I not take back the Mighty Mississip after the way you've treated her? She's been crying out for my healing touch for years. The Great Lakes, the Colorado River and the Pacific Ocean will be coming with me as well. You can have all of New Yawk City and every drop of water surrounding it; it's way too far gone for me to fix.
"Originally, I’d planned to leave the Gulf of Mexico because I figured you learned your lesson after my Katrina wake-up call. Something so devastating should have gotten a big blip on your unconscious radar, but that didn’t happen. Instead of helping with the clean up, you whined and carried-on like a bunch of wussies and then let BP come in and turn the entire Gulf into a deep fat fryer. I'm taking the Gulf. You don't deserve one drop of it.
"The beaches along the east coast of the United States are mine, mine, mine. It'll be another millennium before even I can get them clean again, but they don't call me Big Mama for nothing.
"There are a few mountain ranges I'll collect on my way out, at least the ones you haven't gotten around to leveling. You won't miss them since you stripped away their natural resources long ago. I intend to rescue what’s left of them before your bulldozers turn them into corn meal mush.
"I am also taking back the air you've been polluting for the last century. I need what little is left so that my birds can keep flying and my rain forests can flourish again. Chances are, even I won't be able to undo much of the damage you've done, but I'll give it a shot.
"I should remind you that the minute I take back the air, clouds will vanish before you can say Boo Hoo! That's a fact, Jack. There will be no more clouds in the sky, but you won't miss them because you never bothered to look up anyway.
"I'm willing to leave the moon for now, but the sun goes with me. Don't even think about giving me any lip on this. I created sunrises to wake you up and get you going every morning. Those out-of-this-world gorgeous sunsets? They were there for you to reflect on the beauty surrounding you. But you blew it, Bubba, when you took me and my gifts for granted. I am so not happy.
"You figured the sun would come up and the sun would go down forever, didn't you? Well, you figured wrong. Now you'll have to remember what that lucky old sun looked like and how your skin tingled from its warmth. It won't replace the real deal but you can text the memory of it to your grandkids.
"I'll be back for some other things later, but you won't realize they're gone until you need them. That's when you'll be shocked to discover that they are no longer available for you to abuse. If history is any indication, you'll be more inconvenienced than sad. (sigh)
"I loved you from the beginning of time, loved you with all my heart. For eons, I forgave you your negligence and overlooked your ignorance. I even chalked up your indifference to human evolutionary learning deficiencies. I'm ashamed to say I forgave you over and over for your folly.
"But I will not forgive you for the shambles you've made of my beautiful earth. I trusted you to love, nurture and protect it and I didn't think for a nano-second that you would destroy it. You have broken my heart. (Sigh)
"No doubt, the human blueprint needs tweaking and I wish I had it in me to take you back to the drawing board, but you have drained me bone dry.
"Don't bother trying to get in touch with me. (Sigh) You couldn't be bothered to acknowledge my many calls, so we are so done.

Like the Big Guy says, "It's not nice to fool Big Mama Nature."


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Where Angels Gather

 Nowhere is God’s grace more evident than when a Hospice Angel walks through the door.

When Tom’s daughters sat dow with him for a heart-to-heart talk last April, he was the picture of a man near the end of his rope. Five months of caring for his wife Jenny had kept him awake most nights. Occasionally, he catnapped in the afternoons but it was never a good rest.

The love of his life was dying; his own discomfort could not compare with hers.
Daughters Susan and Carol gazed lovingly at their father, a man whose looks normally belied his definitive age. But months of worry, chemo, and hope had stolen his vitality and lined his face with the weight of concern.

“It’s time, Dad,” Susan said placing her arms around him.

“Time?” His puzzled face expressed an inability to think beyond the moment.

“We’re worried about you,” Carol said, following her sister’s lead. “Mom’s many needs these days are too much for you to handle alone. It’s time to call in Hospice.”

Tears pooled in Tom’s eyes. “They are bluer than a robin’s egg,” Jenny had told him on their first date.            

“Hospice,” he said, “is for later, when there’s no hope, no reason to...” his voice trailed off as tears slid down his sad, sad face. “She’s my wife, my life.”

In his heart, Tom realized that he couldn’t do everything for his wife, but Hospice? Jenny might think they had given up on her.

After his daughters explained how Hospice could insure Jenny’s ultimate comfort and care, Tom was better able to come to terms with that which he had not wanted to face. With the help of Jenny’s oncologist, the family reached out to Hospice.

The children and Tom were there the day Linda came into their lives. She wore no wings, no long flowing gown, no halo. She was dressed in a cheerful pair of yellow pants topped with a bright blue smock. She also wore a radiant, sensitive smile that completely overshadowed the intensity of her clothes.

Tom greeted her with a responding smile. “Come in, Linda, and meet my beautiful Jenny,” he said.

Jenny grinned at her new caregiver. “Your blouse is the exact color of Tom’s eyes,” she said. And in that moment, Jenny and Linda bonded. Jenny was assured that, no matter what, she would be cared for with love, compassion and excellence.

During the time that Linda cared for Jenny, she did much more than was expected of a Hospice nurse. True, she met all of the patient’s needs, but beyond that, she sipped coffee with Tom and his daughters while listening to them tell the story of Jenny’s life —the third grade students she had taught who kept in touch even after they were grown, the tennis trophies won four seasons in a row, the prize roses she'd grafted and named after her two daughters. There was so much to recount.

Linda laughed out loud when told about the Halloween that Jenny dressed up like the Jolly Green Giant using food coloring mixed with cold cream on her face and arms.

“She scrubbed and scrubbed,” Carol said, tears of laughter streaming, “but it wouldn't come off. She had to go to school the next day looking more like a sick leprechaun than a jolly giant.”           

When the time came for Jenny to leave this life, her family was there: Tom, Susan, Carol, and also Linda, who had become so close to them all. They gathered around her bed while Jenny gazed deeply into the robin’s egg blue eyes of the love of her life, and then swept the room for a goodbye look at her two devoted daughters.

When at last her eyes came to rest on Linda, Jenny smiled, not a bit surprised to find that Linda’s always vibrant clothes had been exchanged for a long, flowing gown, a shimmering halo and a perfect pair of angel wings.
Jenny’s story is repeated every day due to the gathering of Hospice Angels caring for our families and friends. It is so important, especially in these economically stressful times, to support the dedicated people of Hospice who are always there when we need them.

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Lump in the Mashed Potatoes

While in the shower doing my ‘when I remember to do it’ breast exam I find it: the lump I never thought would pop up onto or into my upper body. Frigid blood drains from my brain and rushes down to my bunions. I stand still, water dripping off my belly, before I think to check again to make sure I didn’t screw up. After all, I could have grabbed old fatty tissue languishing like Lana Turner on the Rivera of my boob.

So I soap up the second time more than I need to, and with two fingers working in tandem, slide and thump defiantly over the area in question. There it is. Just when I thought I might someday wear a bathing suit again.

I fly out of the shower like I’m on the Concorde. Soapy water soaks into the new carpet while I grab the phone, dial my gynecologist and stutter out my need for an appointment. “Immediately, if not sooner,” I say, and why.

I manage to get myself dressed, into the car and over the causeway to my favorite doctor (except when she puts my feet in the stirrups). She is a delightful woman, sunbeam bright and sweet as can be. She likes to tell me jokes so I won’t be uncomfortable while spread eagle in one of a woman’s most vulnerable positions.

This day I am the one making with the funnies in hopes she’ll enjoy my jocularity. But while I’m telling her an off-color boob joke, her sincere gaze remains one of empathic concern. She gives me a slight smile. Normally, she laughs at my stories, but not this day.

Clearing her throat she says, “I think it’s probably nothing, but let’s get you to a surgeon for a second opinion. Jeanine will make an appointment for you.”

Frigid Blood Rush Number Two captures what is left of my rational mind, so I leave the office craving serious chocolate. Two super-size Crunchy Reese’s Peanut Butter Bars should do it. Why not three, my obsessive brain shrieks.

Jeanine calls two days later to say I have an appointment with a surgeon (whose name I have never even heard) in five fret-filled days.

After thinking it through, I tell myself that Jeanine’s call heralded good news. If my situation were about to show me firsthand what the other side of the flowerbed feels like, they wouldn’t make me wait five whole days. Would they?

Something else takes the edge off a bit. My boob feels like a stubbed toe and Mr. Google says pain is not usually a sign of a malignancy. I’m willing to go with that. Denial is my happy place.

The appointed day has now arrived and I have done a great job of thinking about everything BUT my lumpy mashed potato. Deep down, however, there is a glacially cold fear that the “Big C” may have taken up residence in one of my girls.

I don’t understand how that could be. Nobody in my family has had breast cancer; I do the monthly exam thing occasionally. I grit my teeth and never scream while enduring modern medicine’s answer to water boarding, aka a mammogram. I swallow daily vitamins and eat tons of cruciferous veggies. Surely cancer would not have the audacity to show up in my boob when cauliflower and broccoli are my two best friends.

I am so pissed.

Yet, I have a burning urgency to express my fright, my anger and my anxiety with someone who would be more willing to drown in a toilet bowl than to offer me “there-there platitudes.” I need to share my anxiety with someone who can make me laugh at the more serious thought of “what if.”

So I do the thing that works for me ... I write about it. I type furiously of feelings, fears, denial. Everything. I begin to think that this thing might be a wake-up call, and I scoff momentarily at the notion that it might be worse.

I choose to write about it because if I am not absolutely honest about my fears, I’ll have to look outside of myself to find a new best friend!

Post Script:
I wrote this piece for a humor writing class I was teaching: “How to Write Serious Humor With a Straight Face.” While the lump was very real and very scary, it turned out to be the wakeup call I hoped it would be. I needed to get whomped upside the head in order to realize the importance of monthly breast self-exams. As for the class, I was able to show  how to inject humor even when writing something as serious as cancer.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Fifteen-Minute Window

By Cappy Hall Rearick

“Now learn a parable of the fig tree; when his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh.” —Matthew 24:32.

The fig race, normally begun in mid-June, is late. Every year at this time it boils down to: it's them or us, man against nature. Fig lovers have a fifteen-minute window of opportunity before an army of black birds dive-bombs every fig tree in sight. After gorging on the tender ripe fruit, the birds fly away en masse, winging their way straight to a recently washed vehicle. Nothing is left on the fig trees save the fat umbrella-like leaves, a colorful reminder that early birds go after more than the lowly worm.

As I pull into my driveway I notice the plump, magenta colored figs on the neighborhood tree, which makes me hope the birds have taken a wrong turn this year. The tree is so heavy with fruit it looks almost Biblical.

I can hear my mother’s voice. “Cappy, go out there and pick those figs before the birds get ‘em.” Mama never knew my St. Simons Island neighbor, Ed Cheshire, aka the Fig Filcher. I once saw him out there picking only a fig leaf. Knowing Ed, he probably had plans to wear it. If Mama had known Ed, she'd have amended her warning so as to include the Fig Filcher.

When I was growing up, we always had a fig tree in the back yard. It was the first thing Mama planted whenever we moved. Now, as I look at our neighborhood tree, I am reminded of when back yards were playable, trees were climbable, hopscotch was hoppable, and if any cement could be found, it provided a perfect surface on which to play Jacks.

We ran so hard. Ran till we were out of breath and had to stop and hold our aching sides. “Time Out!” we yelled if we were being chased in a wild game of tag. We drank sugared, thirst-quenching Kool-Ade in frosty aluminum tumblers, ate Cracker Jacks for only one reason: the prize in the bottom of the box, usually a plastic monkey with its tail curled into the shape of an “O.”

“Oh, shoot! I got a gnat in my eye,” I so often said. We grew up with gnats, mosquitoes and houseflies. We didn't use “Off” to keep them away. Insects coexisted (with an occasional swat) alongside children tumbling onto stretches of dirt at the bottom of a sliding board, or kids looking for the elusive four-leaf clover in patches of green not yet planted with St. Augustine.

We skinned the cat on tree limbs big enough to hold us, and small enough on which to wrap our skinny legs. We even climbed fig trees, once the birds had come and gone.

The birds! I totally forgot about them! I need to take a detour off Memory Lane and get cracking before they pick that tree clean.

I park my car, unload groceries and think all the while about the bulging fig-laden tree just outside my door. In less than twenty minutes, I am there, scanning up and down Butler Avenue for either Ed the Fig Filcher or the swarm of expected black birds. Neither, they are anywhere in sight. My window of opportunity appears to have been extended beyond the fifteen minutes, which makes my heart pound in expectation.

I continue to gaze at the sky and down the street while moving stealthily with plastic grocery bags in both hands. As soon as I reach the tree, I am thunderstruck. There is but one fig left. One! And it’s hiding underneath a fat leaf way in the back.

Damn those thieving black birds! Not only did they strip the fig tree bare, but they stole my fifteen-minute window right out from under me.

I shake my fist and yell Just wait till next year at the few remaining birds hovering over the roof of my recently washed car.

“And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find anything thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves.”

—Mark 11:13

Hot Diggity Dawg Day

We hold these truths to be self evident: every mother’s spaghetti tastes better than anybody else’s, and every hometown has a hot dog dive serving up the best hot dogs on the planet.

No argument on the spaghetti issue, although honestly? MY mama's spaghetti can beat YOUR mama's spaghetti. Also, the Dairy O hot dogs in Orangeburg, South Carolina, really ARE the best anywhere.

It’s only natural for folks to claim their hometown eatery to be better than anybody else’s because being loyal to hot dogs, apple pie and barbeque is the American way. Nowhere is that more true than south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

In Orangeburg back in the day, there were two hot dog dives, one with curb service and one without. The place on Broughton Street was truly famous for hot dogs served to you in your car. They were ugly dogs, but who cared? A Julius’s hot dog, even today, can resurrect saliva glands in a corpse.

In Babe’s Pennsylvania hometown, folks show up at Bailey’s when they crave a taste of yesterday. Nailed to the walls are hundreds of football, basketball and wrestling team pictures, some going back as far as the Forties. Bailey’s sells all manner of fast food, but their made-to-order hot dogs topped with their secret sauce, is what keeps people coming back for more.

Bailey’s puts out a pretty good dog, but … not as good as the ones served up at Orangeburg’s second most famous place: the Dairy O. It’s impossible for me to pass through the burg without stopping for one or two.

In Hendersonville it’s Hot Dog World, touted as one of the best restaurants in North Carolina. I know a fellow who, when on vacation in the mountains, heads for Hot Dog World before he unpacks his suitcase. There was even a couple that hosted their wedding reception at Hot Dog World. (I didn’t make that up.)

Close to Duke University in Durham, Pauly’s Dogs rule. Each one, created by Pauly himself, is named appropriately. The Southern Belle is the standard h.d. with mustard, catsup, onions and Pauly’s special sauce. Aunt Jamima is a breakfast hot dog topped with maple syrup, and Cap’t Crunch is topped with … you guessed it. I doubt he’s ever offered one named Fido.

St. Simons Island’s hot dog claim to fame is Hot Dog Alley. The owner set up his business on a corner fifteen years ago, a cart on wheels usually seen at flea markets. I call them Roach Coaches, but that’s just me. He eventually bought the building on that same corner next to an alley and voila! Hot Dog Alley was re-born. A pretty good dog, but not great. My opinion is obviously jaded due to past eating experiences at the good Dairy O in Orangeburg, SC.

Walterboro South Carolina has Dairyland and my kids, raised in that small lowcountry town, claim it to be the very best. Ehhh …

When I was a student at USC in Columbia, South Carolina, we used to go to the old Sears store in Five Points to gobble up the best slaw dog ever made. Sadly, the little annex hot dog joint hooked onto the big Sears building has been gone for more years than I want to count. Only the memory of that special taste is left. But oh, what a fine memory it is.

I am on a quest to find where the best hot dogs can be found. Next week, I am going to Hendersonville to chow down on a recommended dog from an appropriately named place: Piggies. I am told it is so good you won’t want to stop with just one. We’ll see.

In any case, as we approach the Fourth of July, America’s official National Hot Dog Day, I hope you’ll stop for a moment and think about that special dive you knew as a kid, the one that floods you with memories of days gone by. By all means, stick to the July 4th menu by cooking up a bunch of dogs. Serve them to your kids and grandkids while telling them about that special place in your old hometown that served the best hot dogs on the planet.

I dare you to name one of them FIDO.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Boneyard Bunch

United we stand. Divided we fall. We're tighter than pantyhose two sizes small!

Recently, I almost joined a workout center where sweet young things were sporting thonga-majigs that barely covered their thingamajigs. For fifteen whole minutes I gawked, feeling years older than I am. Working their pecs and abs like NFL linebackers, they did push-ups, pull-ups and jogged in place, all while texting their BFF's.
It was a workout center that boasted programs promising to make me live a few years longer, so joining up was compelling, but I decided I would rather eat dirt. I am happier taking walks each morning with women my own age and physical abilities, where conversation is just as important as deep stretches.
We walk in a cemetery (as if we're marking territory), and nobody there cares that we all collect Social Security or wear baggy sweats instead of thongs. The graveyard is flat making our walks easier than on a hill. Upshot: we don't need to know CPR.
It's also nice to know that if and when any of us has to remain at the cemetery permanently, the sister would still be nearby, if only in spirit. Not wanting her to miss any gossip, we would make it a point to speak in very loud voices.
Because I work alone at my computer most days, the early morning strolls (notice I didn't say power walks) are my way of socializing. Over time, my friends and I have shared searing social commentary, movie and theater reviews, recipes, family shenanigans, not to mention some first-rate group therapy.
Frances is our pack leader. She is the quiet one and the most constant. I don't look forward to her wakeup call at 7 a.m. each morning, but I can depend on it. By eight o'clock I am perched on the front seat of her golf cart tooling toward Reebok Ridge or Boot Hill, as the case may be.
Talley is the gracious one, energetic and determined to work out all of the body kinks she collected over the years. Dressed to the nines, she huffs and puffs along with the rest of us, and then she line dances. Talley makes me feel like I'm missing out on something.
Sweet Altha has a smile that simply won't go away, and when she is not walking with us, a large hole is created by her absence.
Gloria adores garden parties, people and dogs. She's forever hatching projects and loves sharing ideas with us.
Paula gifts us with great stock tips when she is not in Florida. Hey Paula, has my ship come in yet?
Betty's knee replacement motivated her to use her feet instead of wheels, so now she roams around like a little bear just out of hibernation. She makes me tired.
We try to avoid political or religious topics on our walks, and most of the time we succeed. A spirited discussion on local happenings or current affairs, however, is not totally off track. We are apt to discuss arthritis medications more often than up-to-the-minute fashions, however, but news of a better-designed walking shoe can be a real conversation grabber.
Should the talk ever turn morbid, we need only to glance at the tombstones and the subject will quickly change. Like the ebb and flow of life itself, lively conversation is what fuels our pace.
Men are not so dim-witted as to try joining our sassy little group. They know that the eight o'clock walks each morning have more to do with companionship, support and sisterhood than sweaty exercise. 
My women friends offer me compassion when needed and pats on the back when deserved. They don't give a hoot that I wouldn't be caught dead in a thong, even after I become a permanent Boneyard resident and it is my spirit that rises at eight o'clock every morning to walk with my friends.

Sisters By Choice
Sisterhood, sisterhood 
 Calling others to walk 

And come together 
 Where each one can talk 

About what is going on  
In different parts of the world 

Sharing tales with each other 
 Of when we were a girl 

Now, speaking as a woman 
Sometimes loud is good 

When we come together 
 As a sisterhood should 

Inviting other sisters 
 Each talking from the heart 

A sisterhood grows in strength  When each sister shares a part
Of a special woman circle  
Creating a strong bond 

Bringing together many 
 Where all become one. 

© 2007  ­Maggie Lee Scott