Sometimes Things Change

I see some ducks diving deep, popping up half a pond away, while others are skimming their feet on the surface as they fly across the water. Bullfrogs are croaking and leopard frogs are clucking along the shores. It seems as if all remains the same for them, and still, sometimes things change.

They change for the students in the prime of their life. With their remaining school years on hold or completely shut down, proms, plays, trips, and graduations have been taken away. As a result, many students, especially seniors, are alternating between angst and anger, disconnect and depression. All the life experiences and high school highlights that they have been promised have been stolen from them. We want to reassure them that all will be well, but we understand their pain. No, it is NOT fair, but, sadly, sometimes things change.

Meanwhile, trees are changing to chartreuse with burgeoning buds. Flowers are waking from their winter sleep, poking their colorful heads out of the formerly frozen earth. As it has done for thousands of years, spring is springing, and still, sometimes things change.

It has changed for the young athletes from college to preschool who cannot gather together and have fun. Junior and senior high school students, vying for the chance to be noticed by college coaches and maybe earn athletic scholarships, cannot compete: no RBIs, no shut-outs, no distances thrown or jumped, no heights cleared, and no FATS recorded. These students are worried about their futures. Will their dreams to compete collegiately be dashed because there are no times for their 400m dash? We try to reassure them that all will work out in the end, but the words sound hollow, even to us. In the end, all we have is, sometimes things change.

Outside, warm winds are wafting. The grass is growing greener, and birds are busy building their nests. Even though everything remains the same for nature, we humans know that sometimes things change.

Great hardships befall humanity as a whole or people as individuals: Lives are uprooted, schedules are shifted, social connections are limited, and people are suffering. And when it all seems as if it is too much to bear, just breathe and remember, sometimes things change.

All Y’All Are Welcomed…Except You

I was raised with Southern sensibilities. When someone came to the door, they were welcomed to sit a spell around the kitchen table or out on the front porch, all the while sipping sweet tea and sharing pleasant conversation. Hospitality and politeness were always offered to visitors, even on days when we were not feeling very sociable.

It is this standard of behavior that I have come to expect from myself and others, which is why I find it so mind-boggling how unwelcoming I feel toward a certain “celebrity” whom I have not had the misfortune, I mean, the pleasure of meeting. Don’t believe me? Let me tell you about a dream I had last week.

In my dream, I was sitting out on the deck, sipping iced tea and soaking up the sun. Down the lane with his long-legged stride came Lyndon Baines Johnson. Despite the fact that good ole Lyndon had gone on to the great ranch in the sky 48 years ago, there he was, wearing a big grin and an even bigger cowboy hat. After a few moments, LBJ arrived at my doorstep. Being a Texan, born and bred, I figured he would fancy some sweet tea. He accepted and sat down on the settee across from me. (I don’t even own an outdoor settee, but for this dream, I did.) We talked about the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, and JFK’s assassination.

At some point in the conversation, I looked down the road, and who should be coming but Richard Milhous Nixon with his hands held up in victory. Even though he had been dead for 26 years, I asked him if he too would like to come and sit a spell. With his gruff voice, he said that he would and sat himself down on the settee beside his predecessor. We then talked about his Quaker upbringing, Henry Kissinger, and Watergate. Even though that pesky wire-tapping scandal ended his presidency, rocked the country, and tainted his legacy, I found him to be quiet, unobtrusive, and slightly awkward—in other words, the type of person with whom the nerd in me could relate.

Next came Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr., stumbling over a branch along the way. He too joined us for some sweet tea and some deep thoughts.  Although it had been 14 years since his passing, he was full of life. We spoke of football glories, assassination attempts, the end of the Vietnam War, and unpopular pardons.

Following in Ford’s footsteps was a peanut farmer from Georgia, James Earl Carter, Jr., otherwise known as Jimmy. The first living president to star in my dream, I was surprised to see him. But since he was there, I told him of how much I admired his humanitarian work in the decades following his presidency. A good person and a devout Christian, I appreciate how he serves God by serving others. Humble and soft-spoken, Jimmy awe-shucked my praise before reminding me of gas shortages and hostage crises.

No sooner had he finished speaking, then along came a retired actor, Ronald Wilson Reagan, who jumped up on an oak stump and delivered an impassioned speech on trickle-down economics, the Berlin Wall, the war on drugs, assassination attempts, the AIDS epidemic, the scourge of apartheid, and Iran-Contra… all before the ice had melted in my glass. Even though 16 years had passed since he had passed on, Ronnie could still deliver one helluva speech.

When Reagan came down from the stump, up walked George Herbert Walker Bush, whose death two years ago was mourned by many, myself included. He had a humorous outlook and a ridiculously impressive resume. Bush Sr. accepted a glass of sweet tea and a nearby rocker before talking about combat flights, the U.N. and the CIA, China, dimwitted VPs, the end of the Cold War, the start of the Gulf War, and a thousand points of light.

His political rival and unlikely friend, William Jefferson Clinton, then showed up with doughnuts and jokes to share. A natural-born people person, he could charm the spots off a leopard. The ensuing conversation centered on the economy, don’t ask/don’t tell,  NAFTA, assault weapons ban, health care coverage, impeachment, war and peace and war again, sexual scandals, and balanced budgets. As Bill was entertaining the other ex-presidents, I rose and walked to the garage to grab some tools.

I had just come out of the garage, hammer in hand, when up the road strode George Walker Bush with his bubba drawl and Yale degree. He reckoned that he too could do with an ice-cold sweet tea before he sat down beside his father. The conversation shifted to oilfields, no child left behind, hanging chads, hurricanes, terrorism, war and more war, and immigration. As he spoke, I headed to the shed to retrieve two-by-fours which I carried, one by one, to the end of my lane.

I had just brought up the final board when up walked Barack Hussein Obama II. I welcomed him to the impromptu get-together and told him that the sweet tea and his predecessors were waiting for him on the deck. Soon, sounds of laughter drifted down the road, beckoning me back, but I had work to do. Hammer in hand, I began building a fence. As I hammered, I heard snippets of conversation about Guantanamo, equal pay, renewable energy, gay rights, health care reform, school shootings, Osama bin Laden, and travel to Cuba. 

The conversation began growing louder, soon rising above my banging. Behind me stood the ex-prez squad, wielding hammers and saws of their own. They had come to lend a hand. Jimmy, a born builder, rallied the troops, showing them how to build things right and tight. When we were all done, my property was walled off behind an immense fence. (Seriously, where in heavens’ name did all that lumber come from?)

In the distance came an uninvited visitor swaggering toward us. There was just had one thing left to do. Grabbing a No Trespassing sign off the nearest tree, I nailed it to the gate before walking inside and locking the door. Whew… that was close!

I then turned to my guests and asked, “Did y’all drink up all the sweet tea, or is there a little left for me?” They laughed as we went back enjoy each other’s company on a sultry summer evening.

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Vote with Your Heart and Your Head

Most people vote (if they vote at all) because of their values, hopes, and beliefs.

I have voted in every election (primaries included) for more than 30 years. Although I am registered blue, I vote purple. I don’t always follow party dictate but rather my own convictions. I read a lot of other people’s opinions (even ones completely opposite of my own), research all candidates’ ideas, weigh all of their positions, and pray that they don’t screw up the job too badly once they are in office. (Too often, they do—no matter what party they represent.)

Long before people push a button or pull a lever to select the candidates whom they feel should govern, they have—if they are conscientious voters—reviewed all the positions to make an informed decision.

For most people, it is a preponderance of these political stances that ultimately determine for whom they will vote. For others, it is one issue alone that drives their decisions. Some people go to the polls voting with their pocketbooks, some vote from the pulpit, and some vote with the stars ‘n stripes in hand. Each person holds a varying set of values and a different set of priorities than the person in the neighboring booth.

That is what makes this country amazing—that somehow, despite differing opinions and values, our nation endures. I believe it is this diversity of beliefs and opinions that keep us strong.

So vote with your head and your heart, no matter who you choose. Stand your ground on your convictions, and vote as your conscience dictates. In the end, that is the best any of us can do.

Matriarchal Me

I am one of 28 first cousins on my paternal side. (Yes, I said 28.) Of these two dozen-plus people, I am the oldest.

My father is one of ten siblings. He had five children—I am the first-born.

On my mother’s side, from four siblings, there are six surviving first cousins. And you know what? I am the eldest.

Also on my maternal line, I am the senior second cousin.  (So you see what I am getting at here?)

My siblings (bless their little hearts) revel in reminding me of my age. (Yep, I got it: I am the old one. Nuff said…)

Lately, this insatiable need to acknowledge my ancientness seems to be afflicting my extended family, as well. At a recent family event, one of my much younger cousins informed me that I am the matriarch of our generation. Matriarch? (Where are my orthopedic shoes and support hose?)

At first, I was taken aback to be dubbed a matriarch. (Really, I’m not THAT old, am I?) But then, I really started to think about it. And the more I thought about it, the more I will admit that my younger cousin might, just might, be onto something.

It is true: I am the eldest of our generation. It is also correct that I am the current keeper of the family’s history.

Considering that a matriarch is defined as: “A mother, an older woman who is respected or venerated within a family, the female leader in the family”, being a matriarch doesn’t sound too bad. In fact, it sounds sort of like a compliment. (Although, I still don’t like the “older” part…not at all.)

So, for now, I think I’ll just be a matriarch-in-training. How does that sound? Many, many moons from now, I promise that I will embrace my matriarchal persona. (Bring on the gray hair and laugh lines…. well, maybe NOT!) Until then, I will just keep calm, and matriarch on.

Originally published on 13 February 2016, Matriarchal Me

Stop, Drop, and Roll

I am one of those carpool moms. It wasn’t something I aspired to be, but there you have it.

Each school day, I drop off my kiddos en route to work instead of shoving them on the bus. This allows them a few more minutes of sleep and me a few more moments of sanity before the day begins.

On Friday, when I dropped off my younger child at the school, the line of cars seemed never-ending. “Did everyone miss the bus this morning?” I wondered.

Oh well, so it will take a bit more time than usual. “At least I left early,” I thought.

So we waited… and waited… and waited. After a while, I felt like a character in a Beckett play: “What the heck is going on up there? Are we waiting for Godot?”

Well, it seems that some of those parents/grandparents must have been sending their babies off to battle with the amount of coddling and cooing that was happening at the front of the queue. “Seriously, people, you do know that the school returns them at the end of the day, don’t you?!” I muttered.

Finally, the kiss ’em, cuddle ’em clan departed and the rest of us could advance forward. Hallelujah! I was now near the point where I could “legally” drop off my rugger, when I noticed that I was no longer running early; in fact, I was close to running late. Oh crap!

As we crept forward at a snail’s pace, I informed my child, as I do every day, “Work hard, be good, learn lots, and have fun. I love you very much.” No reason to waste time later when it could be said during the lull, am I right?

Meanwhile, my child, who had been chomping at the bit to bolt, was poised, hand on handle and pack on back. No sooner had I halted the car, then out the door popped my kiddo, at a run, yelling, “Love you, Mom. Have a nice day!”

Like the stop, drop, and roll fire safety technique taught to kids all over the world, my family’s drop-off lasted less than a couple of seconds. A thing of beauty and efficiency, it was enough to make other carpool parents envious. “Where did they learn to do that? How can I “get that” too?” I just grinned as I rolled on down the road.

Family Food History

Family recipes are an important part of family history. Certain foods remind me of certain people. When I prepare the food that these long-gone family members had made, it is as if these loved ones are joining me at the dinner table.

When I remember my maternal grandmother, I think of fried plantains, Seabreezes, and rum cake. (Yum… rum… My grandmother sure knew how to whip up a mean rum cake, although I swear, you could get drunk off those fumes!)

The first Christmas that I shared with my now-spouse, we spent the holiday break with my grandmother and step-grandfather. In honor of our visit, she and I made her famous rum cake or, should I say, TWO rum cakes. The four of us polished off those cakes in two days! Although it has been 15 years since my grandmother died, I think of her every time I bake a rum cake and reminisce about that visit and the laughs we share.

When I remember my paternal great-grandmother, I think of snickerdoodles, shepherd’s pie, meat pies, and sweet tea… lots and lots of sweet tea. (So much sweet tea, in fact, that she and my Great-Great-Aunt Carella joked at family reunions that sweet tea flowed through our family’s veins! I think they might have been right!)

Growing up, my family visited my two paternal great-grandmothers on Sundays. My grandfather’s mother always treated us to family stories, followed by baked goods or Sunday supper. One of my favorite memories of her was the day we made rolled sugar cookies together. No matter what my great-grandma made, she never consulted a recipe. (I am pretty certain that she could have cooked circles around Betty Crocker.) I watched, fascinated, as she added a handful of this and a pinch of that to create a perfect sugar cookie dough. As she rolled out the dough, my great-grandmother told me about how she would make these cookies as a girl, around about my age. She then handed me an empty jelly jar and told me to cut out as many cookies as I could from that piece of dough. Press and turn, press and turn… one by one, I cut out those cookies. When I was done, she gave me a smile and told me that I had done well. Even though she has been dead 24 years, I still remember that smile.

On my spouse’s side, I will always equate ham and bean soup with his maternal grandmother. His grandmother often had a pot of bean soup simmering on the stove when we visited. (And, of course, we had to sample bowl or two each time. We can’t be rude, now can we?)

What I remember most about that soup was sitting with her at her 1950’s era kitchen table, listening to her as she shared stories of other family members, both alive and gone, and of herself, both old and young. I learned so much about my spouse’s family at that table. Fifteen years have passed since his maternal grandmother died, but I think of her each and every time I make a pot of ham and bean soup.

My husband’s paternal grandmother was renowned for her cooking. Family lore has that her cooking was what initially attracted my spouse’s grandfather. In 1936, a young, Italian-born Marine was assigned to a post in South Charleston, West Virginia. While in Charleston, he met and fell in love with a young lady who cooked sumptuous Italian food. They married within months of meeting.

When I met my spouse’s paternal grandmother more than 50 years later, her husband was no longer alive to enjoy her cooking. However, their large family—sons, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren—gathered at her table to enjoy her sumptuous foods. What I remember most about those meals was how she never seemed to join us; instead, she waited on us, making sure plates and stomachs were full. And she rarely allowed help with cleanup, even though some of us offered. She did, however, welcome a helping hand and a willingness to learn when it came to preparing the food.

Several times, I joined her in the kitchen, learning to prepare smelts, gnocchi, and ravioli. (Okay, so they were really tortellini, but who was I to argue with her?) While we cooked, she told me all about her very large Appalachian family, how her mother who was given both a boy’s and girl’s name (Willie Alice), and her many, many brothers and sisters. We laughed about funny times in her childhood and wiped away tears when she talked about her sister who died from a car fire and her brother who was killed in a tank during World War II. (She claimed the tears were from the onions.) Although 12 years have passed since she passed away, I think of her still when I make homemade gnocchi.

So you see, family recipes are an important part of our family history. Each of us, especially family historians, should take the time to document this aspect of our loved ones’ lives. Considering attaching family recipes to family tree records. Like census records, these recipes (especially those written in that person’s own hand) tells part of that person’s life story.

Culture and personal preferences are captured when we remember to document the food of our lives. Every time a family recipe is prepared and shared, a part of our ancestors live on.

Published originally on 8 April 2017, Family Food History

I am a writer.

I am a writer… that’s “writer” with a lowercase “w.” I do not have the time, energy, or that special something to be a Writer with a capital letter.

I am too busy wiping snotty noses and dirty faces, scrubbing sticky floors and stinky toilets, and washing crusty dishes and smelly clothes.

My brain is too drained from constantly reminding kids to close the front door, pick up your shoes, do your homework, eat your food, hang up your clothes, turn off the television, brush your teeth, get in the shower, get out of the shower, go to sleep, get out of that damn bed, and put on some @#$! pants!

Maybe someday I might become an uppercase Writer. But until then, I am just a plain-old, worn-out writer. Please pass me the pen… and the Pinesol.