A Family Gathering*

*Some names and events have been edited for story purposes.

“Donna, I’m at the church. What is this half bowl of pasta salad doing in the fridge, you make it? And where is the ice?” my Aunt Susan asked. She was turning into her party planner alter-ego, Psycho Susan, putting herself in a tizzy while we planned the Big Lunch for Easter.

It occurred every year in the social hall at Nazarene Methodist. A cold, brick building where all of our family events were held because we were too big to fit in Big Mama’s house anymore. And with age, Big Mama got more and more fussy about the kids going in and out of the damn door.

“I know you didn’t make that pasta salad? It wasn’t on the list for you to do.  And why make a half a bowl full? YOU were supposed to bring the ice and the coleslaw. Where’s the coleslaw!” Psycho Susan carried on as she walked back and forth from the main room where two long rows of tables were being decorated by me and my cousin Becky to the kitchen which was hidden behind a brick wall with an open window counter where tea and lemonade urns sat.

Becky and I exchanged looks. Both our eyebrows raised to suggest how high the tension would be when Aunt Donna arrived. Becky was Susan’s daughter and while she loved her mother’s gift of planning and decorating, she also knew to step away when she got ready to blow if something didn’t go according to her plan.

“Donna!”- she continued, yelling in to her cell phone, but the line was dead. And it wasn’t because there was no service out in the woods where the church social hall was located.

“I know she didn’t hang up on me. I know she didn’t!”

Here it comes.

“Now why in the hell would she not get what was assigned to her on that list and only get a half a bowl of pasta salad!”

Becky calmly interrupted, “Are you sure she saw the right list? I think there were two. The one you sent out and the one Aunt Lynn sent out.”

Lynn is my mother. She’s willing to do anything she’s told but she is not organized or on time. She sometimes gets the information crossed that’s supposed to go out and she’s usually thirty minutes late for the Big Lunch every year. Which is why we tell her to be there at 12:30 so we can eat by one.

“What list did she send out?” asked Susan, while she arranged the flowers on each other the long rectangular tables. “I don’t know no other list! I I I I just can’t- I can’t deal with my family today. They’re a bunch of dumbasses.”

 

To be continued in the morning…

J

 

uly 14

 

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A sort of apology to the parents

It is a truism that when you are small you believe you’re dad to be the largest, tallest man in the world. When they lift you up in their arms you feel as if you may hit the ceiling. But you know you will not because he is your dad, he’s got you.

Many stories have been dedicated to what happens after you stop seeing a parent as a parent and start seeing them as a person. Faults in their character may explain some childhood difficulties. The thing that drives you the most crazy about them does, in fact, slowly and sneakily slide in to your own nature.

For instance, my mother is known for her corny jokes. She is the queen of saying something completely ham and then laughing at her own self. She can charm anyone she meets. Including herself. This used to bother me. Until my husband pointed out that I do the exact.same.thing.

Maybe I am beginning to soften a little. Or maybe I’m just tired of putting value in the things that are too heavy to keep carrying. Either way, I think those of us who are growing up could be a little easier on the parentals. Especially the only children and firstborns (needless to same I am in one of these categories). Why them? Because when it was your first time being a baby and a kid, it was their first time being a mom and a dad.

We are all going to get it wrong sometimes. We are all given abundant grace from the one parent who matters the most. Why not spread that around? Lather up that grace like sunscreen and apply it to mom and dad (and sister and brother) so that they will feel cared for. You can start out small with this. Say, SPF 15. Or baby oil for those of us who start with baby steps.

Two instances are in my memory reel of when I was a straight up little shit to my mom. The first time she wanted me to clean my room so I tied up each end of a jump rope to either sides of the room and told her to close her eyes when she walked in so she could “be surprised” at how clean it was. The other was went we were throwing a ball in the pool and I told her so coldly, “You could never be a ball player.” This was probably during that one or two year phase of softball (which I myself completely failed at).

Those moments do not make me a bad kid. A bully, yes, but not necessarily a bad person. When I ask my mother if she remembers this, she says no. She, like the Lord, sees the perfect and the mess.

 

July 13

The day got away

Technically I have about an hour until I owe you another coffee.  

Today was full. I ran with a new running friend. I find it amusing how much faster we tend to run when it’s with a friend. Showing off maybe? Or possibly forgetting to tell yourself to be slower than necessary.

I tended to the yard while Cedar got groomed and Mable moped around because he wasn’t home. Keeping up with plants has taught me that we are not so different from the flowers. Just when you think they are nearing the end, they find a little light and a little water and spruce back up again. 

Three loads of laundry and five mopped floors happened with encouragement from Tedeschi Trucks Band. I forgot how much I love mopping. Dirty floors are not unlike people. Given a little care and attention they’ll shine.

Poorly written blog posts are not unlike me. Given a busy day they’ll almost be forgotten.

It’s hotter than Hell down here, y’all

Every Tuesday at 6:30 pm I can expect to sweat, complain, and have a fantastic time with a group of women at the Rec Center. It’s HITT (high-intensity interval training) class. Thirty minutes of working off the fries and cakes that I run to like Pavlov’s dogs during the weekend. Thirty minutes of sweating in unmentionable places. And after it’s all over, the satisfaction of completing something that was hard. That really, eloquently stated, sucked.

Tonight we did outside running intervals. Keep in mind that the sun does not set until almost nine this time of year. That’s roughly fourteen hours of sunlight beating down. Also keep in mind that it is now nine o’clock at night and ninety degrees. At 6:30 it felt as if the sun had gathered up all the heat it cast down today and directed it like a stage light on us. Backside, frontside, there was no escape.

The girls and I ran a lap, then did ten burpees, ten push-ups, and ten crunches. From there we counted down with a lap in between. Dianna- my go-to partner in class and former co-worker for the company whose membership I am discretely still under- and I hung together. She hates the push-ups while I hate the burpees. Luckily, we are both runners so that part usually isn’t so bad. Notice how I said usually.

Something about running- hell even standing still- in the heat of the day creates that gurgly mucus that hangs in the back of your throat no matter how much water you have. The last thing you want to happen is for that gunk to come up. When you feel a burp coming you gotta be quick enough to lock in it before it spews and makes you woozy.

This is not an indicator of failure. It is an indication of pushing your limits. And that you should probably sit down for a minute.

I will never forget how hard it was when I ran track in high school,. How hot it got. How I wanted to rip all of my clothes off and go jump in the cow trough the FFA club had for the small farm behind the gym.

Freshman year was when I signed up for the track team. I never was that great at it, like I’m- not great at most sports. (I’ll never know why they assigned me to be a sprinter instead of a distance runner.) But I am outgoing. Stubbornness is also a good quality to possess when the only person you want to beat is yourself. (This is not a great quality for team sports, however. I found this out when I tried out for tennis and no one wanted to be my doubles partner.)

One particular afternoon practice stands out in my memory. Instead of running down the dirt road and through the grass around the school, we stayed on the track. Heat and asphalt are magnets and whatever stands between them might actually melt. This is what happened to some of my teammates.

As I rounded the corner facing the tennis courts I began to notice some of the other runners falling to the side. Literally, falling. They steadied themselves hands on knees and began to yak. One by one they fell behind, like the chocolates Lucy Ricardo couldn’t keep up with on the candy conveyor belt.

But not me. I was not going to be that girl. I was going to be the freshman that made it. The one that was not only stupid enough to run in the hundred degree weather but also the one who was not going to need a cold compress on her head to stop it from spinning once she finished. I can tell you, with all the pride from my fifteen year old and now almost thirty year old heart, that I made it. That me and Sam Shealy, two years ahead of me, were the only two whose cafeteria lunch did not end up on the steaming asphalt at Saluda High School.

Tonight’s running felt like that day. I think the humidity might have been about the same as it was in 2003 (ninety nine percent). It is that same stubbornness, and the encouragement from Dianna and the rest of the incredible women we work out with, that kept me going. Time ran out before we got to one but, hey, I am proud of getting to four. I am proud of not stopping. Mostly I am proud that I did not throw up in public.

Another turn to your neighbor kind of Sunday

Service this morning was great. The message followed up on last week’s about humility and focused on the power and role of prayer for a believer. Which I myself am not the best at. Not because I do not think it is necessary, more because I go down the rabbit hole that is my mind and forget my way out of there. There was a map once but I ate it when I got stuck down there for a very long time. And I forget that there is something bigger than me that can actually do something about my hopes and concerns. Something that is the GPS. If I decide to talk about it instead of trying to read the paper map of anxiety and confusion. Confusion is the compass my papa gave me when I graduated high school. It’s intention is good but if you do not know how to use or manage it, you only get more lost.

One thing I noted from today was, “God looks at us and sees the mess. He also sees perfection” I love this because it means something completely divine and sovereign sees me, hot mess me, as satisfactory. As perfect. (Nearly, anyway.) He chose us as his best work. Not the oceans, not the mountains, not even miniature horses.

When Mable jumps the fence to chase after bicycles or random dogs in the road, I get pissed because I know the kind of trouble she could get in if she picks the wrong dog or the wrong cyclist to bark at. I refuse to let her back in, I eventually give in, feed her, bathe her, and let her sleep in the bed. Every damn time.

This is grace. And a weakness for puppy dog eyes.

Our church did not extend any mercy or grace when they made us introverts pray for a neighbor today. By neighbor I do not mean the person in the house next to mine whom I can quietly pray for without ever having to talk to. No, the neighbor we prayed with today was named Amy. She was beautiful, elegantly dressed, and sat to the right of my husband this morning.

I wish I could tell you that when we admitted, reluctantly, what we could use prayer over that she had the answer for us and we had the answer for her. But it did not work that way. At least not at this time.

However, it felt good to be sincere. To not have to lie and say, “You’re in my prayers” or “I’ll put you on my prayer list” then forget about it. It felt good to just do it out loud, no matter how awkward it was or can be. It reaffirmed how selfish saying all those things is. I tell people I will pray for them mostly for me. It is a check on a list and it makes me feel good about how I appear to others. But it isn’t honest. And when you break it down, that is what I want to be the most. Honest and sincere, so that when I do pray for others, they know it is real. More than that, that the Spirit in me is real.

If you think about it tonight in bed or tomorrow while you’re driving, Amy needs prayer over her husband’s health.

 

July 9

 

 

 

 

 

 

A brief post on the power of sugar

Yesterday I strengthened relationships through the power of sugar. Lemon blueberry marscapone (twice), lemon blackberry cheesecake, white chocolate dark chocolate swirl (twice). Why? Because the easiest way to get me to spill my soul is by offering dessert. I assume everyone else feels the same?

The perfect dessert dates include black coffee and good conversation between bites and sips with friends. The conversations where you laugh at each other’s confessions, tear up over each others’ pasts, and speculate the validity of mild gossip.

Food truly eases any nervous tension. It makes us warm and comfortable. (Sometimes warm and uncomfortable, depending on how much we’ve had.) Enough so that we open up between deep breaths, the diaphragm rising in hesitation above a full, extended belly. Before you know it, hours have passed and your body slowly transitioned itself in to the bliss and serenity of connection, communion.

Maybe this is why Christ referred to himself at the Living Bread. He knew we humans would go for a carb metaphor.

It is why many a late night Rose, Sophia, Dorothy, and Blanche said, “I’ll get the cheesecake.”

 

If you give an artist a pencil, she’ll forget about her blog.

It was brought to my attention that I did not post yesterday after I committed to a post every day this month. I got some ‘splainin’ to do.

Yesterday I worked on a watercolor piece I started over the weekend for about four hours in the morning and after I got off. The Honeycutters  were on standby, their songs orchestrating brushstrokes. It is the first watercolor in years. Which does not seem to matter much when it comes to this particular medium because it seems every time you do it you it is like that first. You learn something new. It is not forgiving and requires patience. Like me.

Being huddled up in the “extra room” aka the junk room makes me feel like I’m thirteen again. When I could not drive and did not have too many friends yet to drive with anyway. I’d blast No Doubt really loud from the boombox and get lost in collage or oil pastel portraits. When I was older, said boombox battery pocket became a perfect hiding spot for L’s, switched out for Macy Gray or early Train. The “Meet Virginia” days, not the “Hey, Soul Sister” of lite rock nightmares.

A blow up chair positioned itself under the extra room window. It was blue and a bouncy resting spot for the friends that eventually came to chill on. Mama bought me a nice drafting table that sat across from the chair. I still had Beanie Babies on the bookshelves that lined the west wall. Their little beady eyes watch me grow as an artist. They watched the mistakes and the discoveries. They watched every time I swore over painting because I never understood it. Still don’t.

Nowadays there are two live, four legged babies with beady brown eyes that shuffle around my feet when I’m sitting at the table deep in creating. There is no blow up chair or stereo but there is a daybed and an iPhone. Proof that I am mostly an adult.

Speaking of adulting, I’m headed out for cheesecake and coffee with the girl I work out with. I’ll owe you one, a post and a coffee.

 

 

July 7

Wigs. (Another short story)

*Names and events have been changed or modified.

 

Kate and I sat across from each other outside under a makeshift shed for dining. Chicken decor surrounded us. Jersey giant. Andulusian. Brahman.

They do not make the strawberry lemonade like they used to. I think it’s artificial now, too sweet and too red. The kind of red syrup that makes kids loose their ever loving minds. As I continue diluting the sugary drink with water, Kate catches me up on some people we went to college with.

“Oh my God- did you hear Madison Mitchell has some kind of cancer now??”

“Cancer?” I ask, trying to remember who Madison Mitchell is. Kate was more popular than me in college so either I did not know this girl or I only knew her because Kate and our other friend Lena had mentioned her before.

“Yes and she’s pissed off because no one has donated to her go fund me page.”

“Does she not have insurance or a job?”

“Yes!” Kate exclaims. “She has two jobs and insurance. That’s what’s so crazy about it. She’s got the money.”

I press a little more, “Sooo what’s she being funded for?”

“Probably wigs. She’s already bought four of them! You should see her Instagram posts. There are almost enough wigs for a different one every day of the week.”

Kate never forgets twenty something year old girl melodrama. It is fun to watch while she tells it. Her eyes widen so you can see all of the white in them and her head bobbles like a dashboard figurine. I do not remember what brought us together back then- probably art history or painting with our tyrant professor McKinley-  but it feels like she has been around much longer than she has. The nights Kate, Lena, and I spent drinking and drawing were what college memories are ideally supposed to be. We laughed a lot, we critiqued a lot (art and other people), and, nearly seven years later, not much has changed.

A Short Story

*Names and events have been changed or modified.

 

“Did y’all hear that Bayleigh Trunson got married? To a GIRL!”

What!?” my aunt shrieked. “I bet that Alfelia is having a fit!”

Bayleigh and Alfelia’s family were Christians, the worst kind. The ones whose church was total cult status. The kind where everyone wore a smile that, I swear to God, twinkled with insanity, and everyone dressed modestly on Sunday, and affairs ran rampant. But no one talked about it. The kind where if you did not attend the revival then your salvation became questionable. When Mama married their uncle and son, respectively, she told stories one has to believe  to be true because they were too wild to make up.

For instance, when they went to marriage counseling, the ex eschewed any responsibility for the impending divorce by telling the counselor, a pastor, that his only goal in life was to be a gospel singer. (Which clearly means he is just like Jesus and my mom must be just like Satan. Or Potiphar.) At which point the pastor abruptly perched herself on her piano and they began to sing “Amazing Grace” while my mom said there in disbelief, humility, and tears.

“Good for her,” I said. “If there is such a thing as karma this is it for the way her family behaves. Like the time Alfelia’s grandson knocked that girl up then told the girl ‘Why don’t you just get an abortion?? You’ve already committed one sin!’ Who can blame Bayleigh for liking girls when every damn man in her life had that kind of motherly figure!”

“I just hope she married her because she truly loves this girl and not because she is escaping something else. Like her family.”

It seemed pretty extreme to me that someone presumed to be heterosexual their whole life would suddenly change teams just to prove something to their fucked up family. But I supposed it is done. We all deal with family in our own ways. Some of us take a toke quietly behind the barn at family functions while others of us sneak out without saying goodbye.

“Oh!” I remembered. “Didn’t they already have someone gay in their family?? Alfelia’s brother, right??”

“The florist in Atlanta!” My aunt exclaimed, proud that he existed and even prouder that she remembered him.

“Then maybe we are the only ones surprised by this. Not that we matter. But it’s not their first ride at the gay rodeo.”

It was a topic my family had talked about before. Faith and sexual preference. We laughed at both sides of the two topics. Ones that it seems the world, when it is not obsessed with being politically correct or getting offended, generally enjoys poking fun at. Because when you are confident with yourself, gay, straight, believer, plant worshiper, whatever, then what does making fun of yourself hurt? And when you are actually kind and considerate with someone different than you who you have a real relationship with, then they know where your heart actually is. Even behind a joke.

 

The Taste of a Ladybug

“I ate a ladybug today.”

“On purpose?” I asked Mama.

“No! I thought it was a piece of chocolate!”

“How does that happen?” I asked with a grin.

“I was eating this dark chocolate candy while I was driving and it was getting dark. I kinda noticed a piece on my shirt so I put it in my mouth. It was a ladybug. It tasted really bitter, like a pill. I spit it out.” I imagine her spitting it out comically, like Elmer Fudd hung up on a word beginning with the letter s.

We both have this habit of secret snacking. Her, ladybugs; me, dark chocolate morsels. I could see how the two could be similar in the dark.

I went through a ladybug phase when I was a kid. Some girls go through horse phases or everything purple phases. Mine was ladybugs and Gone With the Wind. Our animals were named Tara and Beau and Scarlet and in my bedroom were fancy plates decorated with Rhett and Scarlett that read, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

My dad got in the habit of calling me ladybug. Every other weekend when I would visit he would let me pick out something from Maxway or Family Dollar. You know, to show me he loved me. (Maybe this is why gifts is not my love language.) Usually a crappy figurine of a frog or ladybug. Once I found the perfect pair of ladybug earrings, a tad bit bigger than the size of a flea. I thought of those when Mama told me of her snack.

My Aunt Julie got a tattoo of a ladybug on the back of her neck when I was a kid. I remember it being a big deal. Not because she was the first to get a tattoo, my uncle who worked on Harley Davidson’s was covered in them, but because it was the first person I saw almost every day who had a permanent insect colored on a visible, obvious body part that could only be hidden when her hair laid just the right way. My eyes did not meet hers for about a year after that, as all I wanted to do was look at that bug on this lady I was related to.