Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Talk Southern To Me

      We moved south from Michigan nearly thirty years ago. We spoke the native language—English—so it wasn’t going to be difficult fitting in, right? But “Southern” threw us now and then.
      The four-year-old girl from next door said something sassy, and her mother said, “Kristen! Don’t be ugly!” 
      I thought, “How could that beautiful little girl ever be ugly?” Then I realized that “ugly” meant sassy or mean. 
      Another neighbor girl was trying to explain what her little brother’s name was. “It’s Lahn,” she said. 
     “Line?” I repeated.
     “No, Laaahn.”
     By now she was a bit frustrated with me. “No! L-A-N-E, Lahn!” she said.
     “Oh, Lane!” I said.
     “Right, Lahn.”
     My first experience with a southern PTA meeting was enlightening. A local pastor came to give a short sermon before the meeting. He mentioned “them whales in the desert” and my mind skittered off, trying to make sense of the phrase. I wasn’t really strong on the Bible at that point in my life, but I had heard the story of Jonah and the whale. Had I missed some connection to a desert? No, probably not. Maybe he meant wails. Deserts were inhospitable places. People probably were known to wail sometimes. 
     Then the pastor said, “And there was WATER in them whales!”
     Water in them whales? I finally got it. I turned to the people around me and said, “He means ‘wells.’ Water in wells.” 
     You can imagine the looks I got.
     In the days before GPS, I visited Greeneville, TN for a writer’s conference. I drove 260 miles on my own and found my hotel, both of which were astonishing to me and everyone who knew me. (My own daughters said, "Mom's growing up!") Not too far away from the hotel was a strip mall, so I stopped at a dress shop to find something a little fancier than my usual ratty clothes. At checkout, I asked the young cashier if she could tell me where Main Street was.
     Her entire face turned frowny and wary, like I’d slapped her grandma. “I don’t know that street.”
     She didn't know where Main Street was? I said, “Main Street? You don’t know where Main Street is? The main street of town?” 
     She shook her head no, eyes wide. 
     An older woman behind her said, “I think she means Mine Street.”
     The girl said, “Oh, I thought she said Mean Street.”
     So, my Yankee friends, Main means Mean and Mine means Main. Have you got that?
     No, neither have I. But they seem to put up with me anyway.

Monday, June 13, 2016

My (Old) Front Porch

Note: This was written when we lived in Georgia, in my two-story house with a wrap-around porch. We've since moved to South Carolina, and my one-story house here has an amazing covered back porch which I love as much as I loved the front porch in my Georgia house. But I found this in some old writing and decided it was still post-worthy. 
Me, on my front porch, the day we bought the house.

I use my front porch as an extra room, one I don’t have to dust and mop but once or twice a year. I’ve thought about making the entire house into a porch for that very reason, but then December rolls around and I remember why that’s a bad idea. 

My favorite thing in the world is to take a cup of hot coffee out there on a warm spring morning, in the hairdo my pillow created, and wearing flannel pajama pants and a T-shirt. The neighbors pretend not to see my morning get-ups—Valerie’s Secret is nothing like Victoria’s—and I pretend not to notice all the far more annoying things they do every day of my life. I sit out there reading, writing, daydreaming about a world with working leash laws, wishing every day were Saturday. My husband thinks it’s strange that I’ll sit on a porch looking at the outdoor world but never feel the need to step into it and say, mow the lawn or pull weeds. I figure it’s like the TV—he’s happy to watch it 24/7, but dust it? Ha.

My front porch could be the closest place to heaven I’ve ever been—if it weren’t for the bugs. I sat out there on my wicker rocker one evening, candles placed strategically around me on the table, porch rail and floor. Fly swatter in defense mode, I dared bugs to approach through fire and the dread cloud of citronella. Before each sip of tea, I peered into my glass for suicides.

My son-in-law, who lived with us at the time, peeked out the front door. “Ring of Death?” he asked.

“The bugs can have everything beyond the candles.” I swung my arm around in an arc. “I’ve declared this my personal, bug-free zone.”

he said. "The rest of us will be on the other side of the window screens.

Sometimes I serve supper on the porch, dragging food, dishes, cutlery, beverages, and my husband outside, to fight critters for the hamburgers and potato salad. A neighbor said, “I see you two out there having supper in the candlelight. It’s nice that you still do such romantic things after all these years.” 

I didn’t tell her that the candles were the bug-killing kind, and my husband accompanied me only because I had hauled all the food out there. Why ruin a hot reputation?

In Michigan, where I grew up, mosquitoes go into a feeding frenzy at dusk and continue buzzing your ears all night. Anyone with sense retreats inside at the first bzzz. One evening my sister and I sat on my Southern front porch talking and laughing about something—our husbands, probably. 

Suddenly she sat straight up. “It’s dark!”

“You’re scared of the dark?” I asked. At last, I thought. Something in common. She’s thin, artistic and runs for exercise. I love her anyway, but it would be nice to share something besides a tendency to snort when we laugh.

“No," she said. "It’s dark, but the mosquitoes never came out!”

“We don’t get many mosquitoes,” I explained. “Moths, June-bugs, scorpions, lightning bugs, spiders, ants, and some really scary things that like to get lost in my hair, but not many mosquitoes.” 

My husband’s favorite thing in life is to walk along the ocean. He told me that when he dies he wants to be cremated, with his ashes sprinkled on the beach.

I couldn’t come up with any place I loved that much. I asked, “Where do I want my ashes?”

He knew immediately. “In a wicker box on the front porch.” 

When I was diagnosed with cancer (don't panic--it was years ago and I'm still here), a good friend had trouble talking about my illness. But when I came home from the hospital after surgery I discovered that she’d decorated my front porch with magazines, flowers, wicker magazine rack, and an iced tea set with tray. A card said, “I know you’ll be spending lots of time out here as you recuperate and go through chemo, and I wanted it to be nice.” 

She didn’t even have to sign it, “Love, Sherry.” I could see the love all over the porch.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Shades of Blue

My husband and I do not agree on decorating. Shocking, I know, since we agree on so much else. (Sarcasm. That we’ve stayed together all these years is a testament to our stubborn natures—my theory, or true love—his thought. Gotta love him.)

From the start he thought we needed to agree on decorating, so for years we compromised. Meaning we lived with things more his choice than mine, since I was so dang grateful to have anything new and nice I just let him choose. Also I thought he hung the moon. 

Eventually I grew a backbone. He says I got bossy, but we don’t agree on that assessment.

“Our house doesn’t reflect my taste at all,” I complained. “It’s what we both could live with.”

Shockingly, he disagreed. “It’s a compromise.”

“It’s your taste,” I said. “The home is supposed to reflect the woman’s taste, not the man’s. And why do you care? None of the other husbands care!”

We argued over new dishes. Dishes! He did not want flowered dishes but I was in a flowered-everything stage. I asked him, “Are you telling me that if I buy dishes decorated with flowers you’re not going to eat what I cook for you?”

Although he loves my cooking, he wouldn’t back down—“I get a vote!”

Instead of giving in, which historically I had done, I dragged him all over to stores carrying dishes we can’t afford, Mikasa and such. When he was sufficiently sticker-shocked I took him to the long-gone and heavily-mourned Linens and Things and pointed out the dishes I wanted. We came home with the dishes.

He has softened over the years. Nowadays he says, “I get veto rights,” so I drag him all over creation until I find what I want and he gives in. It helps that I’m out of my floral stage. The house now reflects more of my taste. 

John has a two-color color wheel. Blue and brown, only light shades. He was happy during the 1980s country decorating style when we bought a blue couch and loveseat that both reclined—his choice. He still gravitates toward light blue and light brown. I think he’d wear light blue shirts and medium brown pants daily if he could.

I love burgundy and cobalt blue, hues that gives him hives. I compliment people on the street wearing tops and dresses in those colors. I found that when I limited my decorating to little bits of cobalt and burgundy he didn’t object. He even looks for matching items when we antique shop together. (Yes, together. He has his charms.) 

Sometimes I think marriage between people as different as we are is a slow wearing off of each other’s sharper edges. 

And that’s when you get to the good stuff.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Potty Talk

Photo © Ichtor | Dreamstime Stock Photos

 Most of us are painfully aware of the nastiness found in public bathrooms. 

But we wash our hands! Of course we do! 

But what about the 36% of Americans who don’t? And sometimes it’s worse than that. In a study at the Atlanta Braves stadium, only one-third of the men washed their hands. Only one in three! (See ABC news story for all the nasty details about hand-washing.) And it’s not like people don’t know better. Lots of people don’t wash, but lie about it. (See story: Ten percent are lying

I picked up a nasty infection a few years back so I’m even more of a nut about washing my hands (or using hand sanitizer) after potty breaks, when coming home from being out in the world, after touching a menu, before preparing food, in the middle of preparing food, after I accidentally touch my face or hair while I’m preparing food… You get my drift. 

In public restrooms, I wash and dry my hands—of course I do! Then I face that door. The door that 36% of the users opened with their nasty potty hands. 

Some public bathrooms offer trash cans at the exit so you can open the door with a paper towel and then toss it. But some provide automatic dryers—so then what do you do?

Some smarty-pants establishments sought to solve this problem by installing push-open doors without handles. That 36% of the people before you touch with their nasty hands.

What does germ-phobic me do? I shove the door open with my arm. And then I have arm cooties. 

I can’t win.

So if you’re part of the 36% who doesn’t wash your hands, or the 10% or more who are downright liars, I don’t actually wish a nasty e-coli infection on you. 

But it would be potty justice.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Cowboy Arms

Photo courtesy of Dreamstime.com

I have old-person arms. 

I spent two months repeatedly lifting my mom during her final illness, developing impressive biceps and ropy blue veins on the backs of my arms like a cowboy. Every time somebody wants my blood and struggles with my rolling, collapsing, needle-shy veins, I point out the huge, raised veins. They look, comment on the ones that run across my hand instead of lengthwise with the finger bones (I guess that’s weird), and stab me in a pink, fleshy-looking spot again. 

There are so many other old-age signs to worry about—Nana flab under my arms, teeth and crowns snapping off like limbs in a windstorm, my father’s under-eye bags—that veiny arms are minor. But I seldom see the underarm flab or the bags under my eyes. I notice those ropy arms every time I open a door or put my hands on a keyboard. I assumed they’d fade when I no longer lifted 135 pounds multiple times a day.

I assumed wrong.

It’s okay, though. I’ve realized that those veins are evidence that I pushed myself beyond my usual limits to take care of Mom. 

Evidence of love.