BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE

They thought it might snow today.  It didn’t but we got some pretty decent sleet.  Not that there’s really anything decent about sleet.  It’s basically the redneck version of snow.  Suffice it to say it was cold.  I had no plans to  leave the house and was anticipating a quiet day by the fire.  That’s what I get for thinking.

We slept late, did the daily crossword puzzle (the main reason I still get the paper delivered) when I decided I wanted a waffle–with pecans–and some bacon.  We bought one of those waffle makers that flip over a couple of months ago but rarely use it.  Today seemed the perfect day to pull it out.  We made the batter from scratch and it was delicious.  Lou needed to run over to his house so I made a fire in the fireplace and settled on the couch with my laptop.  After awhile I got up to add another log and picked one that was a little heavier than I anticipated.  Unbeknownst to me, while I was struggling with the log the flue closed shut.  I snuggled back under my blanket when the smoke alarm went off.  This wasn’t the first time that’s happened so I got up to open a window in the kitchen which always works.

By the time I headed back to the living room the air was thick with smoke.  I realized immediately what had happened and rushed over to open the flue with the poker–something I have done before (don’t ask!).  When I opened the doors, flames shot out of the fireplace only a few inches from my face.  They were so high I couldn’t see the flue to try to get it open.  I realized that this was an accident waiting to happen, grabbed my phone to call 911.  I stayed calm as the operator asked for the address and phone number twice before asking what the problem was.  It seemed like it took ten minutes to get all the information out but I’m sure it was probably no more than a minute or two.

I was praying that Littlebit had not been scared by the smoke alarm and was still sleeping under the covers.  She was and I quickly scooped her up and started walking out of the house at the same time the operator was telling me to get out.  I put Littlebit in the car and heard a siren in the distance.  I was surprised when I saw a hook and ladder trying to make the turn unto my street.  The streets in my neighborhood are pretty narrow and the right turn onto my street is less than a 90 degree angle.  While the fire truck spent about five minutes (no exaggeration here) backing up and pulling forward I’m standing at the end of the driveway making these giant gestures with my arms trying to indicate that they could simply go around the block to get to my house.  Either they didn’t want to or didn’t care or thought I was an idiot.  I kind of think it might have been the latter simply because of the following fact which I never thought of at the time.  Picture this:  A 60 year old rotund woman clad in her red, green and pink striped Christmas knee high socks, pink Crocs, pink and blue tea cup capri pajamas and pink sweatshirt with snowflakes.  Did I mention that when I left the house it started seriously sleeting so the top of my head was covered by ice?  Yep, I don’t think I would have followed this woman’s instructions either.  But I never once thought about my appearance during the entire ordeal.  I was way too busy praying and I did get a peace about it when I realized that there was nothing in the house that couldn’t be replaced.

As concerned as I was about the fireplace blowing up and burning the house down I had to laugh when one of fireman got stuck as he was exiting the hook and ladder.  His legs were kind of dangling down while two other fireman tried to dislodge him from whatever he was attached to.  When they went into the house I suddenly realized that behind them was another hook and ladder crew, a fire chief in a van and a sheriff’s deputy.  He was the only one who didn’t try to hide his smile as he walked up.  I was introducing myself when my eye caught a little old lady walking down the street with her cane in one hand and a hooded raincoat in the other.  Tears were running down my cheeks as I rushed to meet her.  I hugged her and told her that she was an angel.  She said I looked so cold standing in the driveway she just had to do something.  My porch is right by my fireplace and I didn’t want to get caught in the blast and I wasn’t about to open the car door to open the garage and risk letting Littlebit loose in an unfamiliar place in the sleet.  I’ve done THAT before too.

All in all, the fire probably burned for about 30 minutes with the flue closed.  I know how smoky it was when I walked out and it burned at least ten minutes after that.  Surprisingly, when I went back in the only noticeable smoke damage was right around the top of the fireplace and on the mantle.  The smell was pretty bad but I have two industrial strength fans that we put against the screen door so it cleared out quickly.  The firemen told me to turn the A/C on to help.  It was 33 degrees outside at the time so it got very cold for a while.  I’m lucky and I’m blessed.  I’m other things too but that’s for another day.  Stay warm!

Christmas Arrived Tonight

If all goes well this blog will actually be posted.  Previous blogs have not been so lucky and are sitting in Save Draft purgatory.  Several months ago I made the decision that this would be the Christmas that I returned to decorating.  The last Christmas I decorated was the last one Momma saw–down here anyway.  We were blissfully ignorant of what was about follow the next month.  Lou and I had just started dating and he did everything to make sure it was special.  It was the first time since I was about seven years old that I did not know what I was getting.  Shopping just wasn’t one of Momma or Daddy’s strong point.  I, however, was and continue to be a pro in that department and did everybody’s shopping.  And I truly do believe that giving is better than receiving.  Lucky for me so does Lou.

To say I like Christmas is like saying Albert Einstein was relatively smart.  For many years I have had sufficient ornaments to decorate four trees with totally different themes.  My first theme tree was country blue.  This was back in the mid 70’s.  Rustic wooden ornaments were in vogue.  So were blue lights.  But being a “colorful” person and profoundly addicted to Christmas shops I kept adding to the collection.  There were Christmas shops everywhere I traveled:  Pigeon Forge, Williamsburg, Mobile, Brooksville, Havana, Arkansas, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, Miami.  My next themed tree was what I eventually referred to as my Kids Tree.  It always had multi-colored twinkle lights and was loaded with fanciful clowns, brightly colored glass animals and icicles.  All of this was covered with strategically placed golden metallic icicles and swirls of angel hair.  I eventually realized that no one could actually see the ornaments beneath all that fuzz but it did make those twinkle lights look pretty.

To say I like pink is like saying…well, you get the picture.  All through my Christmas store adventures I would occasionally find a really pretty pink ornament.  But the next themed tree was my Jewel Tree.  It was fabulous as my cousin would say.  All white lights.  I found these exquisite ornaments at Pottery Barn many years back.  They had tiny jewel-toned balls that dangled at different lengths.  They were a little expensive but I couldn’t resist.  I was living in Fort Lauderdale and my friends and I scoured every Pottery Barn within 100 miles looking for them.  I managed to amass quite a collection.  One year around Christmas time I found the dead branches from some palm trees (the ones with the little orange fruit on them).  I painted them gold and stuck them between the branches.  I cannot tell you how pretty it was.

During 2006, Daddy and I spent most of the year remodeling the house in Indian Head.  It was the last big project we’d get to do together.  I wanted to have an open house to show off what we had done.  By this time I had enough pink and pastel ornaments to decorate a tree.  I bought a narrow six-foot tree and placed it in Momma’s new pink bedroom.  It was precious and finger-in-dimple cute.  I bought a very large live tree for the living room to put all that jeweled stuff on it.  Bless its heart.  By the night of the party it was so weighed down all the branches were sagging.  In all its glory it was a little sad.  Speaking of sad, that was our last Christmas in the house.  The following October a large oak tree would find its way into the front part of the house and we were forced to move into an apartment.  I took the opportunity to convince my parents to sell the house.  Daddy had gotten too old to keep up the yard and rarely went to his beloved basement any longer.

I really didn’t mean for this to be sad.  But as a very kind pastor taught me several years ago Christmas is not always a happy time for many people.  He decided to have a Blue Christmas service one year during the holiday season.  I went although I didn’t really appreciate its significance.  My life hadn’t been turned upside down.  There were no significant signs that anything out of the ordinary was going to cause MY Christmas to not be merry and bright.  The year that Momma died I realized that for many years most of what I had done at Christmas was for her.  As I’ve said before, Momma was very childlike and saw a lot of things through very simple eyes.  The magic of Christmas never left her.  And for good reason.  I worked hard to see that she got everything she wanted and more.  She even had the biggest stocking.

Lou and I went to storage today and loaded the back of his truck up with my Christmas “stuff”.  I am only planning to put up the Pink Tree but I have to get everything out–just to make sure I don’t forget something.  Not having decorated for the past four years I wasn’t expecting it to be real pleasant but there are still some things I haven’t worked through yet and doing Christmas “right” is one of them.  Of course the first two ornaments I picked up were ones that were special to Momma.  You see, years ago when I was in Fort Lauderdale, Momma had a themed tree of her own.  She bought a white flocked tree and decorated it with red apples (fake ones but nice) and clear glass ornaments.  I was really shocked when I came home that she had done such a good job.  It was just like her–very simple and pretty.

After Lou left tonight I started going through some of the other boxes.  I said howdy to each one of my Santas as I slowly unwrapped them.  I finally opened a box marked “Plastic Tree–Very Fragile”.  I smiled.  As I peered into the box I saw an impossibly old plastic tree that I had delicately wrapped.  What was once a bright white glittery two foot high tree was now yellowed with age.  Most of the glitter is now missing.  It is so thin that when the light comes on inside you can see all the cracks in it.  It has three old-fashioned bulbs in the base:  Red, green and blue.  I held my breath as I slowly unwrapped it and pulled the tissue paper out of the inside.  I took it into the kitchen, sat it on the counter, plugged it in and waited for it to “heat up”.  I had to force myself to breathe while I waited.  I would have been worried but I remembered from waiting too many years that things made “back then” needed to heat up first.  Then it happened.  The blue light came on.  And stayed on.  I turned all the lights out, including the two night lights in the kitchen that I never turn off.  The blue light flickered off but the green and red ones never did.  “It’s okay”, I told myself, “It always does this, remember?”

I decided to go back and see what else was in the box.  I was not prepared for what I saw.  I slowly picked them up and read “Rose Marie” on one and “Happy” on the other.  Their stockings.  I lost it.  Really lost it.  As I stood there sobbing I could almost hear her say “It’s time, honey.  Let it go.”  I let it go like I haven’t in four years.  I had cheered for her when her spirit left that decaying body, happy that she was truly free.  But I had never been able to really “let it go”.  I wasn’t ready.  I clutched those two stockings and walked back to the kitchen to find the blue light still on.  I reached over to lay the two stockings down and thought that one must be folded because it wasn’t nearly as long as the other.  I realized that in actuality Rose Marie’s stocking was about twice the size of Happy’s.  I broke out laughing at the thought.  How did that happen?  I couldn’t remember Daddy ever complaining that his stocking was smaller than Momma’s which was unusual.  Daddy, like his father before him, was aware of such things as whether he got the most presents or biggest piece of cake.  I silently thanked God for providing some humor.  I need humor.  And luckily I have little trouble finding it even in the saddest of times.  Its my heritage.   It’s what I live for.

I plan to have a Merry Christmas this year.  It probably won’t be the best Christmas.  It probably won’t ever be the best Christmas again.  But I’m glad I have several Christmases that I could choose from to be a best Christmas.  Christmas is not about me.  It’s not about you. It’s about that other fellow.   It’s also about Him and what His life should mean to us now.  I don’t care how Christmas Day started or whether or not it is the actual day of the year that Christ was born.  Because it’s not just about the day either.  It’s about the spirit it represents.

I kept hoping that through the weeks of recovery after surgery on a ruptured Achilles tendon I would find something at least slightly amusing to write about but, alas, no.  As Daddy would say I have been building testimony.

But I do have something on my mind.  It’s a soapbox kind of thing.  Something that I thought had been properly taken care of.  Over the years I have assumed that the government had taken ample, more that ample, steps to ensure that those confined to wheelchairs were provided with plenty of opportunities to accomplish their desired tasks with little or no extra effort.  I am embarassed and angry at how wrong I was.  I’m not up to date on these things enough to know if the lack of competent facilities and accommodations is because older buildings were grandfathered in or if the standards are so low that certain stipulations simply are not covered.

My first assumption was that handicap parking spaces were placed in locations to provide the easiest (and safest) access to the related establishment.  I have discovered that this in not the case after having to travel from one end of a building to the other just to find a ramp much less the front door.  Getting inside the door is another challenge worthy of an Olympic athlete.  Doors are heavy and I’ve yet to find one that is easy to open or willingly stays open while trying to maneuver yourself through it.  Your best hope is to depend on the kindness of strangers which oddly enough some people will watch you in all kinds of body contortions without coming to your aid.  Its not that they are mean people (I don’t think).  They simply aren’t paying attention.  I would gather that those permanently confined to wheelchairs do prefer to do things on their own.  However, for temporary visitors who haven’t mastered moving about without pulling down half a row of bikini tops ANY help is appreciated.  The few stores that do have automatic doors for special needs apparently heard that the farther away the push button is from said door the better it is.  Some doors don’t remain open long enough for me to get back to it in time.

God help the souls who find it necessary to use restroom facilities anywhere.  Let me explain my interpretation of “If this fits then that shouldn’t”.

Whenever you find a restroom with an ample sized stall the accompanying bathroom will basically be the size of the trunk of a car.

Those ample sized stalls will inevitably come with a matching ample sized door which is then impossible to close behind you without going back into the main room and slowly moving backward with two fingers clinched tightly around the very tiny latch while pushing the wheelchair back into the stall.  The unfortunate part of pushing on only one side of the wheelchair wheel is that it only causes the chair to turn in circles so that when you end up running into the side of the stall you lose your grip on the latch.  You can continue this cycle until a kind stranger enters and you pled for help, trying hard not to look like a vagrant that is also going to ask for money.

(SIDE NOTE:  I have discovered that although I was given a brand new wheelchair the respect I am given by strangers is in direct correlation to how I am dressed which is very inconvenient after you have spent an hour just trying to take a bath and look presentable to the general public.  Plus you have to sweetly ask your caretaker to please iron something that they have already deemed not in need of ironing.)  I am one of those people who will deliberately dress down if I’m looking for something expensive.  You will only be helped by those kind gentle people who are smart enough to know looks don’t really matter.  I went to Nordstrom’s in Fort Lauderdale last year because they are one of the few nice department stores that sell nice larger sized women’s clothes.  I needed two outfits for the holidays.  One woman looked me up and down and walked far enough away that she could watch me but not wait on me.  A lovely woman asked if she could help and I showed her an outfit I really liked.  It was at the top of my price range but she didn’t blink an eye and led me into their large dressing room.  I bought it plus a dress and jacket.  It wouldn’t surprise me if it was their biggest sale of the day. As I was paying, the uppity woman literally came around the counter and attempted to look over my shoulder.  I just stopped.  I resisted the urge to do a Julie Roberts “Mistake.  Big mistake!”  I just couldn’t resist and paid with my Sears card! 

So here you are in this oversized stall only to discover they have placed an oversized trash can in there too.  Plus a diaper changing station that won’t go back up against the wall.  Just as you have spent five minutes moving the trash can around while making baby steps toward the correct position to move onto the toilet and say your first cuss word rather loudly, a woman and her young child enter the restroom.  It is about at this same point you realize that the only way you will be able to get onto the toilet will be sideways.  Every ample sized stall have placed safety rails down the walls in a 90 degree angle at the back of the toilet which would be perfect if your butt was in the shape of a triangle.  Unfortunately, most people come with round butts and mine is no exception.  So before getting up you have to decide which railing you want to use to pull yourself up on one foot.  Working in tandem with Murphy’s Law, you always pick the wrong one first, barely make it back to the toilet (sideways) and prepare for Plan B.  As you moved toward the sink also in the ample sized room at least one of several things are not right.  it might be the mirror which is either non-existent or just high enough for close examination of your forehead.  The paper towel dispenser is either out of paper or requires that you wave your hand high over your head to get paper to come down.  You only get about half a sheet because you can only reach it with one hand.  The sink will either be too high or too low.  If you are at a restaurant you will arrive back at your table just in time to see your companion wiping his mouth and feel the last tiny bit of warmth on your food.  You are too exhausted to explain or eat.  I didn’t mean for this to sound funny because humor was the last thing on my mind–both times it happened!

The only thing worse than the above scenario is being restricted to an under-sized stall.  These are usually found in older establishments.  The handicap stall is no longer than the other stalls and is only slightly wider.  The door is just big enough to get your wheelchair through which should make closing the door easier.  However, there is approximately 1/2 inch extra space between the toilet seat and the door.  Closing the door requires turning around in the seat and pulling hard (again on the tiny latch) in order to get it closed.  You then can survey the scene you are in.  In order to get into the stall your legs now straddle the toilet as your wheelchair seat is touching the base of the toilet.  You pick up your good leg and move it over to the side of the bad leg (it my case it takes a moment for me to determine which one IS the bad leg or perhaps the worse leg).  It is now apparent once again that you will have to straddle the toilet seat sideways with your nose pressed against the cold tile.  Because this is an older establishment it is also a dirtier restroom.  You decide to sigh loudly rather than cuss.  You later discover that the getting-onto is easier than the getting-off-of and once that is accomplished you wish that you had brought some cheerleaders with you to marvel at your determination and skill.  You decide that this once you won’t stop at the lavatory because there are no accommodations for you and washing your hands will result in bruises under your armpits.  And should someone come in while you are trying to wash your hands they will bump into your chair.

There are some restaurants and stores I simply wouldn’t even attempt to go to because of the way their tables and displays are designed.  Even at the largest department stores all aisles are not always accessible.  And the worst part of it is that there are other parts of the country that literally pay no attention to the special needs of many of our citizens.  This applies particularly to quaint little towns who I gather don’t want “that kind” to even be in their town.  If you ever visit one of these, a cursory look around will tell you whether they’ve given any thought to it.  No access ramps, no restrooms.  I, for one, would rather not support these places.  When visiting some of the places that obviously have made no accommodations I have asked if they have a ramp or accessible facilities.  Once they say they don’t I find it difficult to spend time there.

The time I’ve spent confined to a wheelchair has given me an opportunity to learn alot.  I don’t think I’ll take for granted as easily and I’m sure my tendency to make assumptions will not be as prevalent.

   

A New Beginning???

In my attempt to be amusing I am finding it more and more difficult to write something that is actually fit for human consumption.  I could tell you all the morbid details of my most recent surgical procedure and the fault lines which I have fallen through with incredible accuracy.  But I don’t think I could come up with anything new and worthy of blog-time.  I continue to be amazed by the fact that pain changes everything.  Your outlook on life, your ability to refrain from snarling and a deep-seeded desire that others, even if just for a moment, REALLY feel your pain.

Which leads me to one of my quandries of life.  How do we really know how much pain we are actually in?  I find it hard to look at the one through ten pain chart of distorted faces without laughing.  I’m not sure I’ve ever been in the worst pain imaginable.  And the facial expression shown for level ten is a fellow with his eyes rolled back in his head with simply “passed out” written under it.  I don’t know about you but if I’m passed out I’m really not experiencing much pain at all and by the time I’m at level nine I’m praying that I’ll pass out.  Most any time I’m somewhere that required that I rate my pain I am very tempted to say, “It’s a ten”,  which  nurses and doctors immediately translate to “she’s not in much pain”.  And in my mind to be truly certain I’m having level ten pain I would have to have been in a horrible car crash and wake up to see one of my legs laying about ten feet from my body and…well, you get the picture.

I think I came close to level nine a couple of times while suffering from severe migraines and lying with my head pressed hard against the cool tile of the bathroom floor.  I’m not really sure it was a nine though because I got very preoccupied by the ugly stains way up around the top of the toilet bowl.  The fact that I could concentrate on anything other than the actual pain makes me think that it couldn’t have been more than a seven or eight.  I had lung surgery once which was painful, but not as painful as some of my migraines so it would have to register somewhere around a six or seven.  But the six and seven faces on the chart do not properly reflect MY facial expressions (and language) following my lung surgery.

The three to four levels are very confusing because you’ve now reached the “pain too bad to ignore”.  You know, it basically depends on what I’m doing and where the pain is to determine whether I have pain too bad to ignore.  There are some pains (i.e., abcessed teeth, hemoroids) which in actuality might not be over a one or two that can be very difficult to ignore.  And my personal opinion is that anyone suffering from back pain should be given a “Do Not Pass Go” card and sent straight to level ten.  I’m beginning to feel the same way about knee pain too, having just begun to experience said pain.  I have sat through football games with double pneumonia and also rolled back and forth across the floor with my eyes bulged out for ten minutes after stubbing a toe.

When I went to the orthopedic doctor a few weeks ago the nurse asked me what the pain level of my knee was AT THAT MOMENT.   Well, AT THAT MOMENT it wasn’t my knee that was hurting.  I had simply gone in to talk to the ortho doctor about my impending ankle surgery and how it would affect my knee.  When I told her it was a three, she glared at me as if I were trying to smuggle illegal drugs out of the country.  I wasn’t sure she was going to allow me to actually see the doctor.  I started to call her up about 3:00 that morning to assure her that my knee had gotten worse and AT THAT MOMENT it was probably a seven.  I think it would have made her feel better.

So the big question is what is the right pain level number to not appear to be a hypochondriac nor unworthy of attention.  I guess I could just do what my Daddy did after he reached that certain age and no longer had a clue how to judge his pain level:  Just always say five.  They never know what to do with a five because it could be a hypochondriac’s five (meaning a two) or a tough guy’s five (meaning a seven) and they never question it any further.  This then leads me to the ultimate decision that it simply doesn’t matter.

In my devotion last night it said that the one thing that God does not ask of us is that we judge others.  Pain is relative.  If someone says they are in pain chances are good that they are, in fact, in pain.  It is not our job to determine how much they are really suffering.  Along with pain comes fear, anxiety, depression.  Who says pain has to be an actual number?

At this moment, I’m in pain.  I’m also old, fat and a little grumpy.  You’re probably in some kind of pain too.  But chances are we will get through it because that’s what we do.  God bless the survivors in us all.

YES, MOMMA, I’M OKAY

Love never shines so bright as when it shines from a distance.  Either I just made that up or I’ve heard it before and thought it appropriate to send to someone who is hurting more right now than I can imagine.  I just sent off two of the closest things I’ve ever had to grandchildren.  I can’t say children because there are only two people who get to call someone their children–and only one who can say that they are their mom.  I can’t truly imagine the deep seeded feelings of a mom.  I’ve never had the experience of having another body growing inside my body.  It’s a bond stronger than steel–or at least it should be.  And pity the poor woman who has to kiss her baby goodbye.

Don’t pity me because I made the decision not to have children somewhere around the ripe old age of 15.  It was when I discovered that no one came anywhere close to paying me enough money to sit with their bugger picking, droopy drawered angels.  Ergo, a non-paying full-time job of diaper changing and pablum spitting was way too much for this spoiled only child.  Fortunately, I have been ultra pragmatic from childhood.  Putting two and two together and coming up with four is my strong suit.

I remember when I moved out for the first time.  I actually moved out several times.  But that first time when I was 18 I moved into a small efficiency apartment.  You know, the kind that you have to go through the bedroom AND closet to get to bathroom.  It was the only time in my life that my closet has ever been truly neat.  My mother was hysterical.  I had moved less than a mile away, aware that this would be difficult for her.  After a couple of weeks of talking to her every day to assure her I was okay I decided that it was time for me to take the strong arm.  I didn’t answer the phone and I didn’t report in.  For one full day.  About 4:00 the next morning the phone rang.  Amidst a sobbing voice I heard, “Peggy, it’s your Mom (!),  I’ve been awake all night.  Are you alright?”  I wasn’t kind.  I phoned my dad at work the next day and told him he needed to come by after work.  I’m sure he knew what was going on.  My mother, at that time, did not suffer in silence.  It was the classic if Momma ain’t happy, nobody’s happy.  And 99% of the time, Daddy and I did our utmost to keep Momma happy.  But not this time. Daddy came over and begged me to just make    peace–for his sake.  It was one of the few times I couldn’t do what Daddy wanted me to.  I went over to the house to stand my ground.  Momma, cunning in her ways and knowing how much we liked keeping her happy, told me that she would be having a nervous breakdown and that it would be all my fault.  This time I didn’t back down, retorting that she was free to have a nervous breakdown but I was not taking the blame.  When I get serious, I get realllll serious.  So long story short…nothing really changed.  Momma kept calling every day and I would answer and tell her I was fine.  You have to pick your fights, you know.  One of the greatest lessons I have learned in life.  If it doesn’t hurt and it doesn’t take over five minutes it is not worth the aggravation.  Over the years I finally ended up on the other side of town which didn’t make much sense because I still spent a lot of time at home.  The most embarassing part, though, was it wasn’t worth the effort of trying to keep where I was going from momma.  I know I didn’t HAVE to tell her but, believe me, it just wasn’t worth the physical pain involved.  You know, like the pain of sitting in the choir on Sunday morning and every last cell in your body is saying “Sleeeeeep.  You are falling into a very deep sleep.”  And that last cell is hollering, “STAY AWAKE!  PEOPLE ARE WATCHING YOU!  SIT UP!  YOU ARE SLIDING DOWN IN THE PEW!  WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?  ONE HOUR AND YOU CAN’T STAY AWAKE?”  You know that feeling????  Pain like that.  Just like that.  (Sorry, I went off in a little tangent there.)

So anyway there I’d be at a party, trying to act and look cool (I never looked even remotely cool no matter how hard I tried.  People were smoking joints–I was drinking coca colas.) and the phone would ring.  About six people would holler BEFORE the phone was picked up, “Peggy, it’s your mother!”  I have humble down to a science.

But the day finally came when I moved to Fort Lauderdale.  As I said in my previous post, I was up and gone in less than two weeks and I had not said a word about even considering moving to another city prior to that.  It wasn’t even on my radar.  I had to stay brave and strong and pretend that I wasn’t nervous.  I couldn’t let my mother know that I would have liked to have spent the last night before I left curled up in her arms.  I was being a big girl.  I have a picture stamped in my brain of me driving down our street in a U-Haul looking in the rear view mirror seeing my momma standing in the middle of it crying like a child.  Oh, it would have been so easy to have slammed on the breaks, put that thing in reverse and ran back into her arms.  But I knew I HAD to do this.  I simply had to.  It meant that I could take on the forces of the world just like I had seen her do.  My momma was a tough broad.  I wanted the chance to be a tough broad too.  The return trips home were always fun and there was nothing like that first big hug after I had stepped off the airplane (round-trip flights from Tally to FTL were $100 at the time).

So today, as I hugged farewell to those two brave biddies, and the forelorned momma, I realized that I was very fortunate to be able to look at this as a great adventure.  I felt the pangs of losing contact with people I love but nothing like a momma would.  Because to reach inside and look at it from a momma’s point of view was too too hard to bear.  To a momma it’s simply one more break in that ever stretching and ever lengthening umbilical cord to the heart.  Bless you mothers–wherever you are.  Forgive us for leaving you but it never means we love you less.  It means that you taught us that we were born to spread our wings. 

When Was the Last Time You Took a Risk?

I’ve written a couple of blogs in the past month but they all ended up being dismal.  So I just deleted them, hoping that with the passing of a week or two things would get better.  They did not.  Which means this one may end up in blogger pergatory too.  Let’s see what happens.

I could tell you about how after three days of building up stamina walking on the little wooded trail behind my home I ended up blowing out my achilles tendon (again) and back in one of those ugly black boots.  Do these things come in pink?  I’m going to check that out.  If I’m to spend the rest of my life spending half the year walking in one of these things I might as well buy one in a color I like.  And do they only come in size 16???  My toes don’t even show out the end of the wrap-over torture strap.  I turned it upside down (yes, after I took it off) and it says “M”.  I assume that means medium.  Being a size 8 that should be about right.  I feel about these boots about the same way my Daddy said he felt about hospital gowns.  After all the decades they have been used couldn’t someone come up with a better designed one?

But, no, this wasn’t what I wanted to talk about.  I just discovered that two very dear friends are moving to New Mexico about thirty miles from the border.  This isn’t just anybody.  They are special.  Like grandchildren special.  They aren’t really yours but they’re close enough that when they hurt you hurt.  They just got married.  They just graduated from college.  And they’re leaving.  When I found out 16,000 thoughts ran through my mind in the span of five seconds.  The first thought was  NOOOOOO!!!! But I didn’t say it–because it wasn’t the right thing to say.  And I realize that there is so much to say–and, yes, so little time.  They’ll be gone by Tuesday.  This gives me two days.  I am so excited for them.  As folks my age know, now is the time they should be out there doing things like moving to the other side of the country.  Don’t we wish we all had done that?  I am so proud of them for being willing to take the risk.  To move out of their comfort zone and try new things, see new vistas.  Many people spend their entire lives never taking risks and, to me, that is very sad.

I grew up watching my parents not taking risks.  I didn’t realize that was what was happening until I had almost waited too long myself.  I literally woke up one day when I was 32 years old and realized that I had lived in the same town all my life, worked in the same building my entire career and I had never taken a risk like moving to another town.  I wasn’t married, didn’t have kids.  There was nothing standing in my way but me–well, to be truthful there was my Momma but that was probably the biggest part of the risk.  I went in to work the next day, found a job opening in Fort Lauderdale, marched down to the person’s office who had the authority to say yea or nay and asked for a transfer.  Knowing me, he looked at me strangely for a moment and said if I wanted it that it was mine.  So I marched back down to my boss’ office and told her I was transferring to Fort Lauderdale. 

I knew no one in Fort Lauderdale, had spent little to no time in Fort Lauderdale and hadn’t a clue what living in South Florida meant.  Oh, I got plenty of advise:  Don’t ever let a car push in front of you, don’t smile at strangers, don’t walk around at dark, don’t go to this and that section and don’t trust anyone.  There was even a pool about how long I would actually stay in Fort Lauderdale.  The longest was six months.  And I must say I didn’t really know myself.  I didn’t feel particularly brave.  I just knew that I had to do it.  When I got to Fort Lauderdale I relied on one of those rental agencies to find me a place to live.  I ended up in an apartment complex on the corner of I-95 and Highway 84.  If you know anything about Fort Lauderdale–well, you know.  It was a nice enough complex but…  Well, let me explain it this way:  Shortly after I arrived, my mother called and asked if I lived anywhere near the area where the decapitated body was found.  I assured her I didn’t, never letting on that in the lot that you had to drive through to get to the complex they had found…

Based on the “advice” I was given I had assumed that my overly friendly, overly polite demeanor would change.  It didn’t take me long to realize that most people can’t help but smiling back when you smile first and I just loved the look on people’s faces when I LET them get in line in front of me in traffic.  What I wasn’t accustomed to was the high volume of older people who would be in the far right lane on a six-lane road and just start moving over to the left until they reached the left turn lane.  I was very lucky though.  I went down to be a supervisor in the unemployment office.  Usually there are people who work in offices like that who have been waiting to be a supervisor.  The rest have already picked someone who they want to be in that position and this was no exception.

I moved down about a week before I was to start working so I could try out my wings and get my sea legs.  The two other supervisors–who did not want me to join them in their ranks–decided it would be a smooth move to invite me over for hamburgers and check me out.  They were not expecting me–you know THE ME!  I was just a good ole southern girl who wasn’t there to impress anyone.  I just wanted to grow wings.  They thought challenging me to a game of Pictionary would put me in my place.  Besides that, one of them had a fourteen year old boy who had never been around southern good ole girls.  In other words, he had never heard the exact combination of words that I put together that night.  I not sure he had ever actually heard someone say “ain’t” in person.  He was fascinated.  And anyone that knows me knows you don’t put a board game or any other game in front of me and not expect a rolicking good time.

As far as work was concerned, let’s just say that they weren’t expecting ANYONE from the “Central office” to have any clue how to file unemployment claims.  As soon as I got settled good in my chair the first day, the assistant manager said very loudly, “Okay, Peggy, let’s go up to the counter and start filing claims!”  I’m not saying I was amazing–just that they were amazed.  I had done my homework.  I volunteered to work whenever there was a disaster declared in the State–and there were a lot of them in the mid-80’s.  Hurricanes.  Citrus freezes. And all I did was file disaster unemployment claims.  I worked five disasters in 1985 alone.  In other words, I didn’t go entirely into that dark night unprepared.  I may have gone into uncharted territory but I had packed my guns, so to speak.

Surprisingly my relationship with my mother, which had been strained for many years, got better.  Oh, she would still call and leave me messages.  She’d call around 8:00 at night and say, “Peggy, this is your mother (like hers wasn’t the first voice I heard IN THE WOMB!), I was just calling to see if you’re okay.”  About thirty minutes later, the next one would come, “Peggy, (sniff) I hope everything is okay.  Please call me so I can go to sleep.”  At this point, because she knew I didn’t always answer the phone… 

SIDE NOTE:  I have always believed that phones were made for our convenience.  I can remember when I was growing up and we had just sat down to dinner the phone would ring and one of my parents would turn over chairs and break dishes to get to the phone only to end up talking on the phone for a hour to someone they didn’t even like.  I would always protest and they would inevitably say that it “could” have been an emergency.  And I always retorted that if it was an emergency that meant it was bad news and if it was bad news they would hear about it soon enough.  Ignorance is often bliss. 

Anywho–my mother would decide on that third try to invoke my father’s name. “Peggy, (said very slowly with added emphasis) your Daddy is really concerned about you….”  And yes, if I was there, I would call back within a few minutes.  If I wasn’t she might call the prayer chain telling them Lord knows what.  My mother believed in the prayer chain regardless of whether the problem was real or not.  And remember, we’re talking BEM (before email) so once a prayer request came in an entire circuit might blow out at the phone company.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not making fun of prayer chains.  I’m making fun of my momma.  I used to get migraines every other day and, yes, every other day my momma was calling the prayer chain about my migraines.  She needed a rule book but she would have never read it.  It wouldn’t apply to her.  God, I miss my momma.

But this is about taking chances.  Going somewhere you’ve never gone before.  Maybe not literally, but literally is not a bad idea.  I’m not talking about a vacation although if you ever decide to travel with me–you ARE taking a risk.  Taking a risk means you have moved out of your normal comfort zone.  You may end up not knowing where–or on what–you will be sleeping that night.  Trust me, you will know you are alive.  You will feel it coursing through your veins.  I’m ready for a little risk taking.  If I could just get out of this damn boot!

 

My Italian Creme Cake Needs a Girdle

Its homecoming tomorrow which means I felt compelled to bake a cake from scratch in honor of years past when every faithful female member of the church brought either ham, turkey or fried chicken, a vegetable, a salad, and most definitely, a homemade dessert or two.  Alas, those days are gone.  Rack it up to modern times, a too busy schedule, the economy or the fact that folks just don’t cook much these days.  About ten years ago, I noticed the first sign of the changing times when I looked at the dessert table and recognized the lemon pound cake from Winn Dixie, the pecan pound cake from Publix, the Walmart cookies and about fifteen different varieties of brownies.  Yes, there were the telltale remains of what was once a homemade chocolate cake and two pecan pies but those had already been snatched by those clever grazers who always get their desserts when they go through the blue plate special line.  A few years later, we ran out of meat a long time before the end of the line came by.  Those poor souls had to satisfy their meat cravings with odd assortments of chicken and rice, chicken and noodles and chicken with last week’s leftovers.  Of course, there is always at least one Italian dish (I say Italian because there is lots of tomato sauce involved) containing mystery meat, unidentifiable pasta and green peas.  While we’re on green peas–they seem to show up a lot at dinners-in-the-dirt functions.  In “meat” dishes, vegetables dishes and particularly salad dishes.  Which brings us to the potato salad medley.  When my Papaw died, every other person that walked through the door was carrying potato salad–each in a different hue of white, ecru and yellow.  Daddy and I spent one afternoon arranging them from light to dark or bright white to orange-yellow.

There is a problem with homecoming style eating which should be mentioned.  This is not a problem at our particular homecoming, but I have been places that once I looked around the crowd I wasn’t too sure I wanted to eat what certain people had brought.  Luckily, we had one young lady who made it her job to find out who brought what.  I just never could remember if the Johnny deBuggers brought the dark ecru potato salad or the light umber.

Then there are always the folks who come up with what they think are extraordinarily good reasons for breaking into the front of the line and, NO, the fact that you have five children below the age of six does not impress me.  Neither does the fact that you have been asked to perform during the meal.  You should never eat BEFORE entertaining.  Its bad for your indigestion.  You will usually find me somewhere near the back of the line.  I don’t like a lot of food stuffed together on one plate.  I also learned a very important lesson many years ago.  As I was standing in line I kept hearing people telling a young bride how good her casserole was.  I decided to get me a big old spoonful of it.  I took a big bite.  Dog food.  Huh.  Maybe I got it from a bad side.  So I took another smaller bite.  Yep, it was dog food alright.  So there I was with this plate half full of dog food mush.  I sat there for about a half hour, knowing that all the good desserts were going away, until I scoped out a good getaway manuever.  So since that time I would just as well prefer grabbing a Big Mac on the way home.  I know what goes into those things.

So this morning we went to Publix and I bought half a ham, yellow squash and ingredients for an Italian Creme Cake.  I like to make IC cakes because everybody else seems to really like it but I don’t.  Too much coconut and nuts mixed all together.  And its ugly.  I don’t know if its supposed to be ugly but mine are.  Meme and Momma convinced me at an early age that the appearance of the cake has nothing to do with the taste.  In fact, according to them, the uglier the cake the better it was bound to be.  They should have known because they both made some of the ugliest cakes I’ve ever seen.  The problem was that they always went by the recipe.  First of all, all the icing recipes that I’ve seen don’t make enough icing to properly cover them.  Doubling the recipe means you end up with too much left over which isn’t good for a bowl eater like me. (Yes, I’m a doughaholic.)  So I always make 1-1/2 times the recipe which usually turns out just right.  And the confectioner sugar amount is usually not thick enough.  When the mixer stops, if the icing is moving–its too thin.  Moving icing on an iced cake is not good.  The layers will start to slide different directions and the only solution is to put a girdle on the cake.  This is accomplished by tightly wrapping Cut Rite around the cake and shoving it very quickly in the freezer.  You must then eat the cake in a semi-frozen condition or you will be tagged an ugly cake maker.  If you yourself are ugly on top of that you will then be a ugly ugly cake maker.  After two and a half boxes of 10X sugar my cake needs a girdle.  You’re ugly, you’re ugly ugly.  Happy Homecoming.  Image