Foods and Fathers

A co-worker and I recently talked about the DHEC requirements for restaurants to receive an A rating. A certain restaurant in town is under fire because of a disgruntled employee’s photos on social media. His attempt to bring the place down via DHEC violations and clientele repulsion. In their defense, and surprise to the public, it is pretty surprising what they do allow. Nonetheless, it got me thinking of how working in restaurants so long has made me germathetic.

Now I’m not nasty. I promise if you came to my house I’d likely have spent the afternoon tidying it up before you got there. While I do not literally sweep it under the rug, I do hide it in the second bedroom. Or cover it with a curtain. Like the curtain that covers the opening where a door should be to the second bedroom. More importantly, I strike a match and saturate the air with body spray until it smells like a day spa. Or a tweenage girl.

If I’m cleaning the kitchen, I use sanitizer and frequently wipe the dust that settles on the oven range. I tidy as I cook, just like Mama taught me. Rag within hands reach at all times.

I’m not funny about how careful one must be with raw meat though. As a kid I’d find the tightest package of ground beef in the grocery store and poke a hole in it with my finger. The sensation of cold meat that could now breathe, thanks to me, was so satisfying. I’d do it every time we went to the Red & White.

I’d wait until Mama crawled the buggy toward the poultry before I’d make my move. She’d be studying the price of thin cut chicken breasts, presumably to be piled with Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecue sauce served with a side of canned corn,  while I’m perk my little head up to look down at the beef packages. Standing on my tiptoes, I’d make sure no one was looking – especially the butcher- and I’d jam my thin pointer finger directly in the center of the meat. I wonder how many pounds of meat the Red & White lost because of my early onset obsessive compulsive disorder.

Once, I got to go to the meat market with my dad. When I think of this memory I really have to dig deep in my hippocampus. Because it seems so surreal that perhaps it was a dream. What man would take his elementary aged daughter inside the coolers of a meat market? My dad. That’s who. The same guy who gave me a Marlboro backpack on the first day of fourth grade because he had smoked enough packs to turn in the tickets on them for prizes. The same man who kept my Polly Pocket toys and money from my grandparents in Crown bags.

Perhaps this is the reason I’m not a great gift giver but am incredibly resourceful.

We went to the Saluda Meat Market, when it was still open and just outside of Main Street headed toward Georgia. It still sits there to this day. On a slight hill, the memories of slaughtered cattle ominously manifests itself through the creeping vine and kudzu that covers the building.

The man who helped us had a typical, Saluda drawl. He wore jeans, a button down, a hat, and had a mustache. At least that is how my mind wants him to look. He walked us into a giant freezer. It was cold, steel, and made me feel small. Even smaller than I already felt beside my father, whom I always believed to be seven feet tall. Perhaps it was also because my breath in front of me seemed to suddenly be taking up quite a bit of room.

Hanging from the ceiling were raw, exposed carcasses. I remember the man slapping one of them with a gloved hand. It did not move but it made a popping sound. It was solid. Thick and muscular.

It was a little unnerving to see these animals hanging dead, upside down from a hook pierced through their neck, knowing that I’d likely be eating one of them for dinner that week. But it did not scare me. I do not remember crying or feeling the need to escape. I remember listening to men’s voices behind me.

I remember staying by my father’s side while I took it all in.

In his way, he introduced me to courage.

And Steppenwolf.

 

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Replenishing Soil.

Cedar sits on the door stoop with straw in his hair and basil near his mouth. He pants in the shade. Mable is walking the corners of the yard, rolling in the newly laid mulch that is cool and moist.

We’ve been out all afternoon. They watched me plant some butterfly bushes and a crepe myrtle. They sat there and did not help when we unloaded the twenty bags of mulch from the car. The guys at Lowe’s didn’t think it could be done but the Prius proved otherwise. Fuel efficient and good for gardening.

I tell you the truth: I’ve had a glass of rum in the sunshine and it feels good. The edges of my mind feel a little softer, my limbs a little looser. The way you are supposed to feel on a three day weekend. That kind of tired your body feels after it’s been bending over knocking dirt around. Knees that will need extra scrubbing and nails that will take three days to get all the dirt out from under them.

I’ve always loved how in the Bible Jesus begins with, “I tell you the truth.”

Like he needs to let you know that as crazy as what He is saying is, He wouldn’t lie to you. He is those people who tell you what they think and follow it up with “I’m just saying.” God love the honest ones who tell us when we are dating the wrong people and when we have ground pepper in our teeth.

We need a person or a handbook whose assignment on this earth is strictly to tell us what’s what. To call out our bullshit with love so that we can grow. Preachers say, in other words of course, that this is what the good book is for. To steer us toward the Truth so that we may love it and live it.

It sounds all too similar to those cheesy “Live Laugh Love” signs that hang in every fourth person in the South’s living room. As corny as they are, they mean well. As do the folks who position them above mantles or kitchen windows. Or, heaven forbid, tattoo the words across their bicep.

I wish I could use “I tell you the truth” before I laid down some wisdom. Or instructions. Or fury.

When my husband asks, “Why did you let the skillet rust again?” I will respond with, “I tell you the truth, it is better to lie down and watch The Office than to clean and oil cast iron.” Upfront honesty is a great deal more forgiving, don’t you think?

“I tell you the truth,” I say to my plants beside me. “If you don’t start perking up, you ain’t getting no more water from me.” This is directed at the hydrangea plant who’s refused to grow for two years.

While I want my responses to be honest like Jesus’s are, I typically default to the most humanistic traits. Smart ass, condescending, impatient, mean. One who gives up on the hydrangea instead of letting it develop in it’s time.

Like that plant, we’ve been watered, fertilized, and fed. Maybe we have not reach fulfillment yet. That does not mean we won’t. Some of us are a little slower, a little more hard headed than others. We still need to be tilled and pruned with water, fresh soil, and Truth. Truth that He loves to tell us if we just take a second, a season, a lifetime, to listen to.

Just As

As my hands finger their way into the ground to widen a hole for a crepe myrtle to live, I hear their laughter on the other side of the fence. Their rhythm and blues music has entertained the plants while I slowly dance along with my dogs. Their grill has been wafting the delicious smell of burning charcoal and meat up my nose making my stomach growl. The scent of holidays, football, and reunions. I also smell the origin of the laughter, Smirnoff. Maybe peach but I am not close enough to know for certain.

I do not know their names, our neighbors of the last two years. They are less than fifty feet away but we’ve only exchanged waves when one of us is backing out while the other is pulling in. I have been in their backyard a couple times unannounced when Mable decided to go eat in their scrap pile outside. From the look and smell of her once I caught her, they eat a fair amount of oranges and bell peppers.

 

Our current series at church is called “No Ordinary Family”. They’ve made us do something everyone hates but we do it because we love God and don’t want to dismay the pastor’s enthusiasm for actually loving on people. Those dreaded words preceded with a timer for five full minutes. Turn to your neighbor and introduce yourself.

“Is their anything I can pray for you about?”, my new believer friend asks.

Only that our church would stop doing meet and greets so I can get back to my fenced in home by my quiet neighbors who grill peppers and drink malt and mind their business.

 

We are not opposed to meeting our neighbors. It just never happened. And not because of our choice in music or racial differences.

We are white and they are black. We recycle and they burn. Our dogs like that about them, as they eat their burnt scraps of food from time to time.

When I was in elementary school, we students looked just like every other class of seven year olds at Saluda Elementary. Black, Hispanic, and White. Like the faces on a dental pamphlet or college information packet.

I remember the first time realizing what racial separation meant. I sat in our little pod of four desks with Rhonda Baker, Christine Reynolds, and Simone Lawrence. We shared a basket of pencils and erasers and crayons; we were close. I do not remember what happened before but for some reason, we were kicking each other under the tables. We were kicking Simone.

Was it for being black? I’d like to think not but, in all transparency, I do not remember. I like to think I never felt more superior than someone else. I like to think I was and am good.

I can still see the look on Rhonda’s, who sat next to Simone, face. She looked at us with disappointment. She looked at us the way you do when you watch an animal documentary where the baby deer is looking for it’s mother, not knowing a hunter has her in the back of his pickup. Her look stirred a thought in me: you are not loving someone who is different from you.

That thought grew deeper. It made me want to be more of a Rhonda. In adult terms, it made me want to be more loving, like God, and less like me. The thought became a verb; it meant less kicking and more sharing of the good crayons. Which, my mother has told me, I’d often stow away under my ruffled socks to take home.

Simone and I did not become lifelong friends. We weren’t like the girls in Corrina, Corrina:

“Do you taste like chocolate?”

“I don’t know, do you taste like vanilla?”

We went all the way through high school together but I couldn’t tell you where she is today. Hopefully living a good life, being treated fairly and not having to share writing utensils with a kleptomaniac.

 

It is all a nice, vanilla thought that we all really love each other. That we really tolerate and accept one another. It is not always true.

We better start though because by and by, we will all be the same Father’s children in His House. We better start blessing each other now so we don’t waste any time getting adjusted once we get there.

Apologies for the last post.

After re-reading my last post, I feel I should apologize. It came across as negative and bitter. The writing was also, to put it eloquently, sucky. Blame it on a current lack of reading material and a late night posts.

Maybe there is a resentment toward people whose future is just beginning. Who have a blank canvas to paint as wildly and as free as they’d like. Whose dreams may actually stand a chance of coming true.

Which begs the question, what dreams do I feel are not coming true for me? What has my heart so heavy?

As soon as I feel close enough for God to give me a little of what we desire, I step away. I fall back onto the landing pad of the world that catches me all too quickly. That tells me it is safer and fluffier than whatever the spiritual realm could give me. When it really is a disguise. Four corners of something solid pretending to be ethereal.

I understand Paul’s craziness when he said in Romans, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”

I know what is good and true. What will love and protect me and never fail me. Yet I do what I want, what the world pressures and stresses me to feel pressured and stressed about.

Like phone bills, tall grass, weeds, and careers.

I talk about a career a great deal. Mostly because I see it as a means to a different life. A different house, a new town, a bigger family. I hear myself talk about it to friends and strangers (remember how much I love to talk about myself) and feel squirmy inside. Like I’m making an excuse. Like I’m just speaking to speak. To fill the void of a non-existent expectation.

My friends don’t care what I do. As long as I’m not on a pole or trading small baggies in shady places (such as our current neighborhood). My dogs don’t care what I do. As long as I feed them and continue to let them sleep in the bed.

None of the people that I love have told me I’m a failure.

Why do I tell myself that.

Can I be honest?

It’s because I resent the years I spent doing what I wanted. The years I never asked the Lord how He wanted me to serve. The years spent living in anxiety, confusion, and disappointment. Feelings God never intended for us to have.

Maybe that is the best advice someone starting out or starting over could take. Not to waste a day doing what you want. But to seek every day with another step toward the journey God wants us to take. The one that is clear. That one that follows something deeper than your gut and your heart. Both of which the Lord intended to manage.

I cannot change the past. I can learn from Paul and do my best to do the thing I want to do and not do the thing I hate to do even though I usually do it. I can accept that I’m human but not make it an excuse to continue along the path of negativity and discontentment.

For now, I’m going to wrap this post up. Because last night taught me that the later I post, the crappier the content gets. I will start fresh, just like His mercies, in the morning. Meanwhile, I’m going to eat this bowl of M&M’s and popcorn and not think anymore about today. I’ll consider it tomorrow.

 

Graduation

All the colleges graduated around here last week. This week, it is all the high schools. The parties of seventeen-fifty people are almost done celebrating. The parents have enjoyed their ribeyes while the newly freed students enjoyed their well done burgers and sweet teas.

It baffles me that around here students do not physically graduate at their school. The ceremony is held at an arena meant for hosting Bon Jovi and rodeos. What’s even crazier is that they fill up the 15,951 seats with family and friends who are willing to sit bored to tears for two hours to support them.

I’m not sure our little gymnasium in Saluda could hold a thousand people. Our class graduated with a little over a hundred people, each of us getting five tickets for loved ones to attend. Myspace was very popular back then so maybe the theory was to invite your top five friends. Mamas and Daddies lost their minds trying to get more tickets.

“We gotta get eight more for your great aunts!”

“I haven’t seen them since the family reunion two years ago.”

“But they’ll want to see you.” And the other ninety eight people they don’t know while you all get lost in the crowd immediately after it ends.

My dad said he went to my graduation. He said he looked for me in the crowd right after the ceremony. He said he couldn’t find me. He said he left.

Graduation from high school is not the biggest thing one will probably do in their lifetime. Yet we treat it like the graduate has just been diagnosed with cancer. We dote and say kind words like we will never get to see them again.

“Congratulations Katie- just as beautiful inside as she is out! Trust in the Lord and you’ll go far!”

We give Dr. Seuss books with sweet inscriptions and advice on how to be successful in the future. Our intentions are kind. And it is a proud moment to be an official high school graduate. But, I wonder, what often happens after the high.

One of my best friend’s in high school, we will call him Jake, was the brightest in our class. He was number one at everything without ever trying. He was the one who taught us that “Salutatorian” was, in fact, not “Saludatorian” named after our town.

He is just one of the many who could have “had it all” but whose life did not turn out how anyone expected.

Maybe instead of the kind words and the cash for clothes hampers in a dorm room, we could be honest. We could tell young people that the world will knock you on your ass. That it only gets harder once you turn eighteen. But it also gets better. And instead of looking toward a vague future and calling it success, you can accept the flies in the ointments. With grace. With help. Never alone. Yes, as predictable as it sounds, God will give you His hand to hold. He is good that way. No matter how old we get, we will always need a hand to hold.

A Fly On a Porch

“Ali, did I tell you about  when we were eating out the other night?”

“Did you see some gypsies??” I begged, knowing that gypsies were all over Augusta. Mama knew how enchanted I was by them. The whole culture was an enigma I needed to understand. Why the big hair? Why such little clothing on the children? Why the haggling over everything as if the price is just a suggestion?

“Not this time, no. We were out eating the other night and I had just about finished my plate when I saw a longggg thick hair in my food.”

Meme interrupted, “Yuck- I hate a hair!”

“I’m guessing it wasn’t yours,” I offered. “What did you say?”

“Well, I didn’t want to say anything”-

“Yeah because it was black!” interrupted Bryan.

“The hair?”

“Yes!” exclaimed Mama excitedly. “I didn’t want to say IT’S BLACK like I was accusing somebody!”

“Please tell me you said something!”

“Yeah, I showed ‘em and we didn’t have to pay for our food. You know, Ali,” Mama began, changing the conversation, “we got some of that good bread from the Mennonites in Newberry the other day.”

“Oh man, the good stuff we used to use for communion?” I asked, fondly remembering how sweet it tasted.  How we’d take whatever was left after church during Sunday school and how we’d mix it with the only blood of Christ I ever tasted, Welch’s.  The bread soft, sponging up the flavor of the grape juice.  We mixed up cocktails in the back room like Noah-sans incest- while memorizing John 3:16. For God so loved the world, he gave us leftovers.

“Yes” she smiled.

“You know, speakin’ of hair,” started Bryan, “those Mennonites wrap that bun on their head so tight- I tell you there’s never been a hair found in anything from a Mennonite.”

 

 

Tresandme’

The best symbol to express the relationship I had with my mother when I was younger is my hair.

When Mama went to school she was a cheerleader with strawberry blond hair designed to look like one of Charlie’s Angels. She did not do pageants, probably because she was shy or insecure, but would have easily won them if she did. She had a steady boyfriend who would later become her first husband. She knew early on what she would be when she grew up. A nurse, a mother. Both with certainty.

Not like me.

My hair flowed down my back when I was young. It had just enough auburn in it so that I could convince people I was a red-head, my dream in life to be. It was long and weighted, with waves curling at the bottom. With waves comes frizz. In the summer heat I looked like I had a halo around the top of my head. Or like I’d tested the electric dog fence while chasing a ball across the road.

More than anything I wanted short hair with golden highlights. Particularly the kind of look the Olsen twins or Jennifer Anniston had. More than that, I really, really wanted short hair.

Years after leaving Saluda, I convinced my aunt, a hairdresser, to chop it all off. If it looked terrible at least I had the nobility of saying I donated it. My frizz could crown someone else’s head.

She agreed but only, absolutely, if I did not tell my mother what I had planned to do.

From two years old until eighteen, I studied dance. Tap, ballet, clog, and jazz. I loved to dance and perform. I was good at it. Those happy days of dance recitals where flowers were received and applause was given are now clouded in my memory with the screaming matches my mother and I would get in to while she got me ready.

My hair was big enough but she made it bigger. I’d sit on the edge of the bathtub while she made it even bigger. She would curl it with the iron, spray it, curl it some more. To this day I believe White Rain is responsible for my bad hearing in my right ear and my inability to do math.

The Dance Recital Fight Of All Dance Recital Fights was the time I decided to do my own damn hair, thank you very much. I had not quite figured out how to use a round brush (still haven’t) but I had in mind to master it that day, 20 minutes before we had to leave to get to the recital. As I tugged my hair up, I’d spray it with hairspray, roll it up into the barrel, and spray it some more. Since I couldn’t roll the brush right off of the hair, I’d tug it sideways until it unstuck itself from my locks. Until it didn’t.

The brush had gotten stuck during the second spraying. My hair wound it like a spider spinning a dead moth in it’s web. It wasn’t going anywhere. By this point, Mama had left because the tension in the room wedged her out. Our dog, Tara, scuttled back and forth from me to her. As if trying to be the peacemaker between Mama, somewhere crying, and this crazy girl in purple sequins and white pantie hose with a comb balancing on the top of her head.

I gulped my pride and yelled, “Mama! I need help!”

It is only a really bad thing you’ve done when you have to tell on yourself.

She hurried in. “Oh my god, Ali.”

She pulled and tugged at my head until tears dribbled down the sides of my face, wiping off the translucent Mary Kay powder in streaks. Ivory 2. Great Lash Mascara everywhere.

I suggesting putting melted butter or peanut butter on it because I’d heard that worked for gum in hair. Or maybe she could strap a potato to my foot? Wasn’t that supposed to help something? There’s also that lady in town who could talk the fire out of a burn over the phone. Maybe we should call her.

The minutes passed but finally with my mother cussing under her breath about her decision to be a mom and a near bald spot on my head, the brush was released.

Mama fluffed hair from the right side over to the left and made it bigger so as to cover my skull.

Having short hair meant freedom from ever having to deal with recital altercations. Or ponytails with ribbon. It stated, “This is who I am. Not a cheerleader. Not a girlfriend. Just me.” Plain and bald.

To my surprise, the big revealing of the newly coiffed and cut hair caused a contrary reaction. She didn’t cry. She didn’t yell. My mother said she loved it.

Recently I did something every woman has a right to at some point in their life, good or bad. I went platinum.

I traded in my brown mop for the dream come true of looking like the love child of Michelle Williams and Annie Lennox. I wear it proudly, even though an old lady I don’t know told me she didn’t like it. Even though some coworkers still haven’t mentioned it yet. (Silence, a sure indicator of opposition.) But my mom? She is still on the fence.

Because if not for dyed hair, what would we fight about?

I Wanna Fry Up Somethin’ Good, Really I Do.

I have tried about fifty times but still never get it quite right. The sides are too burnt and the middle is too gooey. The gravy is the wrong consistency and color. Not enough oil and too much flour. Meme has taught me a dozen times but I guess it never stuck.

I am a Southern girl. It is my birthright to know how to fry things. Chickens, cows, hair, oreos. Can I confess that I am struggling?

My husband is a master fryer, griller, baker, and smoker. He once fried chocolate doughnuts wrapped in bacon. It was heavenly. And it certainly felt like we would be going to heaven sooner after we ate a dozen of them.

As a fairly health conscientious person, I pride myself on drinking two liters of water and a eating a salad daily. I exercise at least four days a week and hardly ever drink sodas. My heart and respiratory rates are practically perfect, if not lower than average. It all counts for nothing though, since I cannot fry cubed steak to save my life.

My heart is in it. I set everything up like an assembly line, for faster cleanup and faster service. I take my time. I even throw up a small prayer. Out loud so my husband believes my efforts are pure and just. I want him to have confidence that I am not purposefully messing up dinner so that he will take me out to eat instead. This is probably difficult to believe for a man who says my favorite thing to make is a reservation.

Before I realize what is happening, the flour mushes together into clumps like brown, cumulus clouds. They get too hot and start puckering little holes until their once solid bind quickly slides apart. And not in a good, soft gravy way. But more so in the way that pancakes stick to a griddle in small circles. When separation is a good thing.

The final touch to a ruined meal is me standing by the sink trying not to make eye contact stating, “Well, honey, I’m not so sure about this dinner.”

“What happened this time, you cook it too fast? You put enough milk in it? You didn’t cook it in that crappy pan instead of the cast iron did you?”

“Probably. And then some. I’m still workin’ on it though. Should I go ahead and put potatoes in the microwave as backup?”

The potato: a poor man, or in our case, poor, newly married couple’s, kitchen staple.

The dream is full of determination but the execution is full of disappointment.

I’ll stick to eating my fried foods at Huddle House and Meme’s House.

 

 

Thoughts on Church Attendance

My church volunteer article is due in a few days. It is about reasons why people stop coming to church. This, along with the last couple of posts, has me thinking about reasons people do go to church. Or at the very least, reasons why I got dragged when I was a kid.

You were expected to be there.

There were only four kids in the whole church. If not for us the Sunday School lady might actually get to go home and disrobe her itchy pantie hose earlier than expected.

How else do you expect to get a starring role in the Christmas Cantata unless you show up every Sunday? Throughout the year my kind-of-sister Erica and I would react the nativity scene in our living room. The worst fights happened over who was going to be the angel or the Virgin Mary. The angel got to wear wings, an old white dance costume, and a sequined headband. Mary had to wear a mint green crochet blanket one of my mother’s nurse friends made her and an extra large white t-shirt. Similar to the actual one Mother Mary wore. My silky terrier, Tara, was always baby Jesus swaddled in bath towels and pink bed sheets.

Last week’s craft projects had probably dried and were ready to be taken home. Including but not limited to painted stain glass window crosses and angels made out of paper plates. If the paint ran out there were always Plan of Salvation bracelets to be made and handed out to second grade sinners we went to school with. Or to the parents of those kids who came to church with their grandparents.

Communion. I am still not sure if Methodists require this every time you walk in the door but it sure felt like our kind of Methodists did. Maybe their idea of the Lord’s Supper was to “get ’em while you can”. Maybe it was a way to trick visitors in to thinking we would have food and drink every time they came. The upside to this was getting to eat the leftover Mennonite bread and Welch’s grape juice after service in the back room while we memorized John 3:16 for the umpteenth time.

You are supposed to.

Jesus watched all this carrying on in His house. A Holy place where his face looked down on us behind the pulpit, back-lit by a light box. He looked down and was reminded of how good we are at this being human thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back Pew Part 2

We all looked alike. White, middle class, most of us had our teeth and most of us wore some variation of a cross on a chain. Meme had a gold one she wore daily. Whenever she went swimming she’d slide the cross to the back of her neck. The tainted chlorine never baptized the cross when she waded in the water.

I would not say the decorative jewels were worn as a facade. Our hearts belonged to the Lord even though our behavior did not always reflect it. We might have drank too much last night. We may have thrown our cigarette out once we pulled up to the sanctuary. We might not be listening to the preacher go on about John because our mind is busy replaying last night’s affair. But by God, it was Sunday and we made it to church. That was saying something since we started at nine thirty.

Not everyone in my family lives by “love the sinner hate the sin”. Some of us don’t mind our sin at all. We’ve learned to accept it as it seems to accompany us at our every wake. Like a raggedy dog who showed up one day. Whom we fed and it never left our side. A lovable nuisance.

I must ask forgiveness for the time I moved away, joined a contemporary church, and pointed a finger at them from afar saying they all needed Jesus instead of the church. Where instead of finding God you could find a conspicuous place to take a mid-morning nap.

The church where preachers came in the front and went out the back every few years. Where our sister church found fault in each and every one of them and sent them packing as soon as they could. Because we were too small to make it on our own, all we could do was throw them a going away party and tell them what a blessing it was to have met them. Y’all come back to see us if you’re down this way again.

I must ask for forgiveness because, I learned by leaving, the church was not always about a sermon. It was not even about vacation bible school or Christmas plays. It was, more than anything, about community.

A community where old ladies pick up other old ladies to go for a drive. Where the young people serve up a Valentine’s Day dinner for the elder married members. Where neighbors give because they have more than they need. Where each month people with birthdays during that month stand so we can sing happy birthday to them.

My family is a vital part of this community. While they may gripe about decorating the social hall and having to clean up after every meal, it is their nature. To care, to help, to complain.

Our sin may be big but our hearts are even bigger.