happy birthday, stacie

006_6 (5)(Stacie and me)

018_18 (4)

Today is Stacie's birthday. I spent time this morning thanking God for such a dear, dear sister. She is everything a sister should be, everything I want in a sister. (Diane is too, but this is Stacie's day.) I love Stacie so much and cannot imagine life without her.

We are 2500 miles apart, but she's never more than a phone call away. We always pick up right where we are with no formalities needed. We dig right into sisterhood, friendship and sharing life. With us both working full time, our Ma Bell experiences are fewer than they use to be. However, Stacie is right with me all the time because I carry her so closely to my heart. I enjoy her so much and share such an affinity that it seems in some strange way that we're always together. I'd like us to be closer in flesh, but am not convinced even that would make us closer in spirit.

018_18 (6)Yesterday I was thinking of the road trip Stacie and I did a few years ago across the southern states. In the car for extended hours we really got "in the zone" thinking the same thing at the same time. We talked at length of our childhood church, singing the hymns of our youth (which neither of us is exposed to anymore), and usually in the spirit of imitation -- imitating someone from our childhood congregation. (My mom cringes right 086here as she reads this). 

We would finish a tune, laugh ourselves nearly crazy and then sink into our private thoughts, Stacie driving and looking straight ahead, me watching the countryside of kudzu, hills and oaks go by. Over and over these moments of reflection ended when at the exact moment we both burst into another hymn sung in the way so-in-so sang it.

It was on that trip I learned about incontinence first hand, always precipitated by violent laughter.

That is the relationship Stacie and I share. How very, very blessed I am.

Stacie, I love you more than words can express. You are, forever, my bosom friend. Happy Birthday, Swisser.

(Last picture, 2009, Stacie hammin' it up.)


Saturday I was walking downtown  when a lady approached me on a bicycle with something bright red in her mouth. When she got right up to me I realized it was her lipstick. She had full lips painted very red.

When I was a teenager I spent a lot of time at the home of an adult friend named Susan. She had a nephew passing through town and I was anxious to impress him.

I was at her house when she left to go meet him. I brushed my hair and went through her enormous selection of lipsticks. Finding a light pink gloss, I applied it and nervously waited for them.

When they walked through the door I stood and put on my most poised act. Susan looked at me strangely, as did her nephew. I tried to act normal, but I knew something was amiss.

He left a few minutes later to go see Susan's husband. When the door was closed behind him, Susan wasted no time turning to me and saying, "What on earth were you thinking? Your lips!! Why on earth did you do that?"

I ran to look at a mirror. My lips were as red as red gets and I looked like a clown. I was horrified and grabbed the lipstick to show her.

Moments later she was howling. That glossy lipstick I'd chosen was "mood lipstick."

july 18 a good samaritan story

About a tornado in 1978 . . . Daddy, my adorable toddler-niece Mindi whom I was babysitting, and I were the only ones home. The clouds were growing more menacing by the second. I held Mindi as we stood at the kitchen window watching them. The rain started suddenly and poured like a river. Just as quickly the rain changed course and seemed to be pounding horizontally. The windows seemed to heave in and out. Visibility beyond the window was zero.

My dad was/is a hyper-vigilant person. He grabbed Mindi out of my arms and me by the arm and we ran into the pounding rain. Safely in the cellar, we strained to hear something beyond the rain. It was impossible.

When it was quiet again, Daddy opened the door and stepped out. The house was still standing, but the empty chicken house, which two days before or two days later would have had nearly 20,000 chickens in it, was flattened, and the barns too.

Massive oaks rested across the yard, snapped like toothpicks or pulled up from the roots.

We took it in numbly, saying little, not knowing what to do next. Within the hour our usually quiet farm was crawling with visitors and viewers. Daddy was pleased to show it all off, yet still dazed by the whole thing. I must have been dazed too because I cannot recall what I did after coming out of the cellar.

That night a Mennonite man phoned to ask Daddy if some of his people could come and help clean up the next day. I think Daddy imagined five or six men coming.

Early the next day, black cars, trucks, and vans started pulling in. There were so many of them that we had to open pasture gates to give them room to park. We stood around like dummies in shock. Overall-clad bearded men divided up between the chicken house and the barns. It was a scene to behold - as amazing as the destruction, only way different.

We didn't expect ladies, but they came into the house and kindly took over. Plain-clothed rotund women, pregnant women, and skinny young women with hair buns and praying caps started piling into the house carrying pies, cakes, casseroles and everything you can imagine to feed the men at lunch time. Women and nursing babies were everywhere in the house.

Daddy, who the night before was in his glory with all the attention, carried himself less confidently that day. That evening as the last black car left the yard - the mess 100% cleaned up, - Daddy revealed his discomfort at having been the "different" one. He declared, "I never wanted a beard and a pair of overalls so bad in my life."

Daddy didn't know how to show his gratitude. He thanked them profusely and gave their church a donation.

Quite a Good Samaritan story, eh?


tv from my childhood

Television Shows from my childhood - shows we actually watched.

We had one channel, Channel 5 out of Ft. Smith. If the weather was just right, we might turn the antenna -- a big heavy antenna that stood beside the front porch -- toward Tulsa. If we were lucky we could pick up Channel 7. But Channel 7 didn't grace us often.

1. Petticoat Junction. I'd love to see this show today. It was about a lady who ran an inn and her three daughters. It had something to do with a train too. I can't remember too much, but I remember the train tooting at the beginning of the show and the steam rising.

2. Lawrence Welk. Saturday nights, 6:30. Stacie and I would dance to the big bands.

3. Gunsmoke. 4:00 pm. Only if Daddy wasn't around to forbid our watching TV. If he caught us watching TV during the day, he'd find work for us. Typically we kept one eye on the TV, the other looking out for Daddy. When we spotted him, the TV went off FAST and we quickly started peeling potatoes or something like that so we looked busy.

4. Billy Graham. He was never a regular program, as you know, but whenever he had a crusade and it was on Channel 5, we watched it. During Just As I Am at the end, I always got saved. What I mean is that I wasn't sure I was a Christian, so just to be safe, I always invited Him into my heart again, and again, and again. Billy Graham crusades scared me. They reminded me that I wasn't sure I was going to heaven.

5. Emergency. I'm not sure what they were saying, but "Rampirt" was what I thought they were saying. It was about Firemen and Paramedics. When they were working on a patient they always called Rampirt and reported the dilation of the eyes, pulse, blood pressure, and respiration. I felt I had the credentials of a doctor after watching Emergency.

6. HeeHaw. Yes, we were faithful HeeHaw watchers. "Where oh where are you tonight? Why did you leave me here all alone? I searched the world over and thought I'd found true love. But you found another and pluuutz, you were gone."

7. This wasn't a show, but a movie that was on TV. We never went to the theater for movies. That's what the Methodists and Catholics did, and we weren't like them, at all. We did watch movies on television. This particular movie gave me the scaredy-cat willies. If there is such a thing as opening oneself up to demons, I got one or two that night. After that movie, I was pretty sure no one could be trusted. No one. Anyway, the movie was called, Diane the Devil's Daughter. I didn't see it once, but twice. I'm sure I didn't understand it, but one thing I knew was that everyone turned on Diane. They turned on her in a really wicked way. Their eyes would spin real demon-ny like. Even Jesus in the stained glass window of the church had spinning, evil eyes. It was really quite a horrible movie for a little impressionable girl. I've wondered if my difficulty trusting others stemmed from that movie. It was critical to my emotional formation, I fear.

8. My Three Sons. I think we watched this after school when Daddy wasn't around.

9. Marcus Welby, MD. Another medical credential of mine.

10. WWF. World Wrestling Federation. This was NOT my choice. This came on on Saturday afternoons during the NBC's Wide World of Sports, I think. I hated the show. Michael was the wrestling buff. I cringed as he grinned evil grins while he watched it. It meant he was going to try those moves on me. And indeed he did. I knew lots of wrestling tricks. I don't mean to imply I could do them, rather I was on the receiving end of them.

11. Hogan's Heroes. Daddy would have had a conniption if he knew we watched these shows after school when there were potatoes to be peeled and fried. Seriously though, most of my TV exposure was sneaking it after school.

12. Brady Bunch. "Here's a story of a lovely lady, who was bringing up three very lovely girls,..." I thought Greg was "hot" although I didn't know that expression back then. My girls use it now, so now I know that was what I thought of Greg. I thought that middle girl Jen was so petulant. I never liked her.

13. Andy Griffith. What a great show. I still love it. Gordon bought me some DVDs of it a few years ago. My girls even get a kick out of it. We have all kinds of Barney-isms around here, but not as many as my sister Diane.

Daddy was rigid about TV, especially watching it during the day. So to balance that perspective, I will share a memory that is sweet. Daddy had a rocker that was his and his alone. For all my growing-up years, it remained in the same spot. The rocker was replaced a few times with a new one, but it always went in the same spot. In the evening when we watched TV, I always sat on Daddy's left side with his arm wrapped around me. It was my TV-watching spot. I felt very secure and comfortable there. It's a special memory.

naps and other evils

When I was little there was a song that went something like this:

"Sittin' in my chair drinkin' beer in my underwear
Telephone rings, a knock upon the door.
Ran through the house
Finally got my sneakers on.
Ran to the door
Everybody there was gone.
Didn't have time to answer the telephone
Just let the damn thing ring."

Until this morning, I don't think I've thought of that song since childhood. But this morning I phoned my sister and asked what she was doing and she said, "Just sittin' in my chair drinkin' beer in my underwear."

I was delighted to be reminded of that piece of my childhood. Stacie and I used to sing that song all the time. But when we'd get to the last line, we sang "just let the blank thing ring," because we didn't swear.

In my family of origin, for some sick reason, sleep was frowned upon. One could sleep and should sleep between 10:30 and 6:30 a.m., but sleeping any other time was immoral. I sleepily carried this feeling into adulthood, scared of sleeping during the day, afraid of being caught. I did sleep during the day, I just did it secretly.

One day I was napping when a UPS guy rang the doorbell. I ran to the door in my underwear and sneakers, just joking. But I did run to the door and gave 100% effort to look WIDE awake and fully coherent. I smiled and talked way too much to keep him from guessing he'd woke me up. He stared at me suspiciously. I knew he knew.

I signed for my package and when he walked away, I turned to a mirror to see how asleep I looked. Immediately I knew how he knew I'd been asleep. My pillow had a wee hole in it, but not too wee as I was sportin' a small clump of feathers in my hair and one on my eyebrow. 

As Stacie and I laughed at the lengths we will go to when someone wakes us, Stacie said her big thing is making sure she's got on a bra. I said, "My big thing is making sure I don't have feathers in my eyes."


more school memories

1) In third grade I sat close to the door. When the second graders would walk by and look in, I'd turn my text book to the glossary where the writing was small and difficult looking. I got a thrill out of making third grade look hard. I relished the idea of scaring them.

2) In first grade I couldn't find any panties one day so I raided Diane's drawer. Diane was 8 years older than me, and at that time, much bigger. Unfortunately I wore a dress the same day. During jump rope at recess, I jumped right out of Diane's panties.

3) One summer during hay season, Daddy did some work for a man (LD Kennerson?) and the man sent some fine gifts home to me. I got two beer steins, a liquor carafe, and a porcelain tea pot. I was thrilled and proudly displayed them for all to see. In sixth grade there was a school rummage sale. Someone brought a carafe and tea pot and everyone oohed and awed about them and I was positive mine were much nicer. I wanted everyone to see mine. The next day I brought all my goodies that I loved so much. I didn't take them for the sale, I took them to show off. In front of everyone, Mrs Cunningham thanked me for my stuff. I didn't have the fortitude to confess I didn't want to donate them. With terrible sadness and anxiety, I gave my beloved treasures to the rummage sale.

4) In 6th grade, I tried to follow the family tradition in sports. It was a nightmarish experience and still embarrasses me to think about. From whence my siblings got their athletic abilities I do not know. But I surely screwed up the family name with my antics - which were far from athletic heroics. Gawsh. It hurts to remember.

5) After resigning myself to not being sporty, I was asked to be team manager of the junior team. I thought it would be a cool way to get to go to all the games so I accepted. When I told Stacie, she blurted, "Valerie, you can't be the water boy!" Ashamed, I looked for an excuse to quit the job. I found one. Her name was Miss Kirby. I told her something like "you go or I go." She stayed, I went.

6) In 7th grade I took a young girl with horrible social, emotional, and mental delays under my wing. The intent was good, the result was pathetic. Becky had a pretty face, but she had many challenges. Strangely in 7th grade, my abilities to rehabilitate the less fortunate were limited. I put her in a pink dress and spiked heels. Becky could barely walk normal in sneakers. Poor, poor Becky. I wonder what came of her. A wave of sadness just washed over me. Seriously.

7) I got a boyfriend in seventh grade. His name was David. We sat and walked about three feet from each other. The whole school seemed to be holding its breath for us to hold hands, but that wasn't going to happen. No siree. Purity all the way for me.

8) Walked in a walk-a-thon with Odetta. Actually it was a bike, skate, walk-a-thon and it was 20 miles. Turned out Odetta and I were the only walkers and we got forgotten. We got back to the park about six hours after everyone else. For some reason we were expecting other thon-ers to be there. I guess they and the supervisors were resting in front of the TVs in their living rooms. There were no phones to call home. We sat on the ground, exhausted, waiting for some sort of deliverance. After a long wait, the sign-picker-upper guy came through. He was surprised to find us stragglers. You know what our question for the sign guy was? "Where do we take the money we raised for March of Dimes?" Talk about honesty. It never entered our minds to steal it. And certainly no one ever would have known -- given they didn't even know we existed. The sign-picker-upper told us we were supposed to turn our money into "Kay." With due exasperation, Odetta sighed, "Well just who and where is Kay?" Somehow, (maybe the sign guy called her?) Mama came to the McMillan Park to pick us up. Mama laughed all the way home at Odetta's tale of the day's events.

9) In 5th grade I went to Basketball Camp. Lord only knows why I did that. We ran this figure-8 drill ad nauseum. I couldn't get it. Simply couldn't. The coach yelled, "You there. You sit out. You're gonna hurt someone." Bastard.

10) In grade 4, I went behind the gym with Dan Murphy. He kissed me and I felt I'd been raped. I cried for years and prayed every night (for years) that God would forgive me and come into my heart again.

11) After my trauma behind the gym, I ran to the dressing room to see Stacie and confess my wrong-doing. She got in my face, shook her finger and said, (I promise this is what she said), "You stay away from that Dan Murphy. He's dangerous." Dan was in grade 5.

12) I know I'm confessing many strange emotional woes here, but here's another. Stacie loved and adored Mrs Frasier. When I got her in home-ec for the first time, the first class she asked us to tell about our hero or the person we respected most. Thinking it was the "right" thing to do for Stacie, I told the class that Stacie was the person I respected most. After class I hunted Stacie down to make sure I'd given an acceptable answer since we both wanted Mrs Frasier to like me. Stacie had a mild hissy fit and rebuked me promptly with, "Oh good grief Valerie. You were supposed to say Mama." I had an epiphany at that moment. I realized that I just didn't get it. I couldn't navigate the nuances of life with any degree of skill.

13) I had watched many girls sit out of PE for "physical reasons." I decided I should give it a try since I abhorred gym class. Miss Kirby got all nosy and wanted to know if it was that time of the month. I didn't talk about those sorts of things - ever. I answered no. She said, "Is it just before?" I said no. She said, "Is it just after?" and I said no. I never feigned sick to sit out of gym again. That personal inquisition cured me.


school memories

1) In the first grade a couple kids were chosen each day to clean the erasers. The first time I was chosen, I didn't know there was an eraser-cleaning slab of concrete that I was supposed to use. I used the side of the building. Unbeknownst to me, the school superintendent, Mr Shinn, was sitting up on the hill watching me. The next day, Mrs Wallace asked me to stand. I stood and promptly got chastised for beating the building with the erasers.

2) In second grade I turned in my timed achievement test (a big deal) but inadvertently I hadn't completed one of the pages. Poor Mrs Strothers about had a stroke. She called me to her desk and asked what the hell was the matter with me. Actually she said it a little differently than that, but the idea was the same. I felt like a super loser - the kid who skipped a page on a timed test.

3) Finally succeeded in something in third grade. I scored the highest on a test. My reward was a red piece of gum. It was called a hot dog because it was cinnamon flavoured and shaped like a dog. I popped it in my mouth. Within minutes, Mrs Jones called me to the front of the class and asked what the hell I was doing chewing gum in class. She said it a little differently than that, but the idea was the same. I thought since it was a reward, I got to chew it then. She made me spit it in the garbage.

4) I really liked Mrs Jones. I cried the last day of school because I was going to miss her.

5) Mrs Barrow (grade 4) had us lay our heads on our desks for a rest after lunch recess. When we "woke up" (yeah, right), she read us a Bible story. (I hear public schools are different these days).

6) In fifth grade I learned I was the toughest kid in the class and started beating up boys. I also learned I was really good at football. I was the first one picked.

7) In grade six, we did a skit in front of the whole school. I remember nothing but getting the hiccups during my moment to speak. I started laughing and hiccuping. I tried really hard to get my words out, but either a hiccup or a laugh came. Mrs Cunningham wasn't impressed.

8) In sixth grade, Mama made me quit playing football and beating up boys. It was downhill from there. I never excelled again.

9) Mr Anglin scared the bajeezies out of me. He was my homeroom teacher. During study hall, five or six of us got to be lunchroom helpers. We had so much fun.

10) Grade 8 was a year of transition. I changed schools. Shelly became my best friend.

11) Had loads of fun with Shelly. She was the redeeming quality of school. School was such a torture.

12) Hated a teacher. (It's wrong to hate. Therefore I don't claim to hate her anymore. What a self-righteous winch she was. I can still see her pursed lips and condescending... Oops, got carried away there. Yes, hating someone is wrong.)

13) In 11th grade, Shelly and I got a paddling. Is that embarrassing, or what? I think it was for talking in assembly, but I'm not sure. It actually really hurt. I took it like a man - would rather die than let on that it hurt. Shelly, more honest and noble than me, took her three licks then said, "Ouch, that hurt," to the teacher.


a childhood memory

With the death of someone I went to church with as a child, I've been thinking about those days of long ago, especially those I grew up with. Today I thought of something that will make my family shudder to know. It actually makes me shudder, but in a goofy, silly, "I can't believe I did that" sort of way.

I had a friend (let's call her L) and I spent as much time with her as I possibly could. Her family lived in town, had bicycles, had a corner store to ride the bikes to for candy, and ate peanut butter/jelly sandwiches or bologna/cheese sandwiches for lunch. My family had/did none of those things, so I was always delighted to spend time at L's house.

L was worldly wise. She knew way more than I. She must have had a "bad" friend at school, because her family was nearly as straight-laced as mine. 

She knew dirty words and didn't hesitate to use them occasionally. When I was around 9, we were swimming at Lake Wilhelmina and L came up to me and said, "Get out of the water. Someone shit in it." I was mildly horrified by her language.

Another time at my house, she and my brother got into an argument. She boldly said, "Why don't you pull down your pants and fight right." I didn't really get it, then or now. But I knew it was dirty.

She claimed to have walked in on the couple next door "in the act." She detailed blow by blow (oops, didn't mean that) everything she'd seen. She knew more than a second's worth of information so she must have been watching through the window.

L introduced this innocent to the wilder side of life. What I recalled today was her daring me to do something "nasty". (I was 5 or 6). She led me and her brother to the master bathroom and we both pulled down our shorts. Neither of us had a clue what we were supposed to do. He laid face down on the floor and I bit his butt. That was the end of it. I didn't get what the big deal was. It seemed to me that sex was pretty meaningless. After all, under L's tutelage, I thought sex was biting someone's butt.


deep thoughts

Years ago I knew a lady with the reputation of being a "gold-digger." Stephanie knew her too and heard her called that name on occasion.

Several years ago Stephanie told me that she always thought that "gold-digger" meant nose-picker. She used to watch this lady hoping to catch her in the act of diggin' for gold - in her nose, of course.

Hearing of a paternity suit on the radio today, I was reminded of story. I was a young girl from a small town, there was a young lady who got impregnated by someone she shouldn't have been impregnated by. What I mean is, she was married to someone else. (I've never understood how these things become common knowledge.)

There was much gossip around this situation. As it was being discussed in front of my dad - my family knew both guilty parties - he sat quiet and pensive. After a few seconds of silence, Daddy said slowly and thoughtfully, "I've never understood how you can throw a rabbit in a brier patch and then claim to know exactly which brier scratched her."



daddy get your gun

002_2 (3)(Daddy, me and Jack, 1970 or '71)

When I was growing up we lived in New Potter, not to be confused with Old Potter or Potter Junction. Yes, they were all within walking distance of each other, but I took pride in being from New Potter. It sounded, well, newer than Old Potter and it wasn't on top of the train tracks like Potter Junction. That too was good reason to be grateful.

Our county was a "dry" county. That means liquor wasn't sold. I never thought it strange or unusual until I moved away and heard "you're joking" when I told people that detail of my roots.

(There were few races other than Caucasian, but that's a different story. I use to joke that the only other race in my home town were Mexicans and those two were my sister-in-law and brother-in-law. It made a cute joke, but it was a gross exaggeration.)

New Potter is roughly 20 miles from the Oklahoma state line, known to Polk County folks as "The Line." Our house sat on a reasonable route to take if one had been over The Line drinking booze. You see, just over the state line the taverns began. One would less likely be detected by eagle-eyed law enforcement ever ready to nab imbibing youth, if they traveled back roads like ours.

Our house was on a lonely dirt road with few passersby. When a car would pass, my dad would go to the window to check it out. If I didn't look out the window too, I'd shout from whereever I was, "Who is it?." In this way I was very much like my dad. If they were on our road, we thought it only reasonable to see them, and hopefully, identify them.

Friday and Saturday nights, our quiet road sometimes became a regular thoroughfare, perhaps three or four cars. After we went to bed, a few cars might descend the hill by Mrs. Nash's place making us giddy with excitement. Stacie and I would raise up in bed, perch on our knees and look out the window. We were quick to assume the people in those cars were kids coming from the "beer joints" across The Line.

Occasionally youngsters would drive into ditches or trees and find themselves stuck. Ever so often there would be a loud knock on the door between 12:00 and 2:00 in the morning. Stacie and I would quickly be alert and attentive, side by side in the window. Daddy was less than amused.

He would quickly don his cap and boots - to accessorize his underwear, I'm sure - and grab his rifle. (I suppose he felt naked if he didn't have on his cap and boots.) Attired in a cap, underwear and boots, carrying a rifle, he'd flick the porch light on, open the door just enough to shove the barrel of the gun out and snap angrily, "Whut you want, Boy?"

The boy, no matter the degree of intoxication, would find himself significantly closer to sobriety at that moment. He'd do a nervous shuffle and begin to explain his car troubles using "Sir" about three times per sentence, much as if he were speaking to a drill sergeant.

Daddy would less-than-graciously excuse himself long enough to put on jeans and a shirt. I always liked that part. They would leave together and Daddy would somehow get the boy and his friends back on their way. For the entire exercise, his rifle stayed by his side.

The next morning he'd laugh as he described the boys and their "begging" him not to call their fathers.


escaped convict

 (Mama and Daddy, late 70's or early 80's)
080_80 In my childhood home we never locked the doors when we left the house. We didn't take the keys out of the car ignition either. I saw people lock their doors on tv and longed for that life. It looked so up-town.

We lived about an hour from a prison in Oklahoma. Once I saw on the news that an escaped convict was on the loose and everyone in the vicinity should keep their doors locked and take their keys out of their car.

I have always been vigilant protecting those I love and I also thrived on credit and appreciation. Upon hearing of possible impending danger, wanting badly to be the hero of the family, I dutifully locked the doors.

When Mama came home from work I opened the door for her, carefully watching for evil lurking in the bushes. I told her she needed to bring her car keys inside because of the escaped convict who might take her car.

Without missing a beat, my mom said, "If he wants my car, I'd rather him just take it instead of coming in here to get the keys."

mama's juice glasses

(Michael, me, Mama, Stacie in the early 70's)
006_6 (6)When I was growing up, on more than a couple occasions, my mom tried to bring some class to our country kitchen. Once by buying juice glasses. They were amber brown with orange and white flowers. They were tiny; about the size of a pee cup at the doctor's office. We thought they were ridiculously small and were truly puzzled when we asked, "Why’d you buy these little glasses?" Mama responded to our ignorant question with class. "They're juice glasses; juice glasses are small."

With the new short glasses she bought orange juice too. The glasses we could take or leave; the juice we were thrilled with.

The first morning we had juice glasses, I walked into the kitchen and found the table set for breakfast. Each place setting was crowned with a pristine little glass of orange juice. Mama was smiling with pride and pleasure. I was uneasy; things were more formal than I was accustomed to. Mama eased my discomfort with a warm invitation to sit down. Michael, my adolescent brother, wasn't afraid or intimidated by the new juice glasses; he gulped his orange juice down in one drink. I instinctively knew this was wrong, so I nervously waited for the fallout. There was no fall-out. Mama saw his empty glass, smiled and went to the counter to get the pitcher. She returned to the table, still smiling warmly, and refilled his juice. Michael returned a broad smile.

This is just like on TV, I realized. I gulped down my juice, as did my sister Stacie and my dad. Still oozing warmth and affection, (like I do when I'm proud of the atmosphere I've created in my home) Mama got the pitcher and gently refilled our juice glasses. "When you drink juice, you're supposed to sip it," she tenderly chided. She took her juice glass and demonstrated "sipping."

Wanting to please our mom we each practiced sipping. We delicately brought the glass to our lips in slow motion like Mama said it was supposed to be done. We knew we were supposed to take "just a sip," but we all failed. We emptied our glasses.

She refilled our glasses, but now her smile was waning. We chugged it down and looked at Mama expecting her to again smile lovingly and refill our glasses. This time she didn't smile. "Hear now," she rebuked. "Hear now" is what Mama said when she was frustrated. In our family that meant anything from "this is ridiculous" to "ok, now I'm really mad."

She refilled our tiny glasses, this time emptying the pitcher. We ate in silence. The warmth, the smiles, the tenderness were gone. My mom tried to reform us, to help us be classier but she had failed. Now she was irritable and edgy.

The juice glasses didn't survive long in our house. One by one they got broken. No great loss, we weren't attached to them. We were a jelly jar family and that wasn't going to change.


When I was 11 years old, my sister Diane and her husband Herbie moved to Shreveport Louisiana. Our pastor was from Shreveport so I'd heard stories about it and it sounded nothing short of exotic.

My family never went on vacation. Daddy was a farmer so that was his excuse. Imagine our delight when Mama took us to Shreveport (called Shrevesport to many folks in Polk County). The trip was filled with excitement and new things. We went through Texarkana, a major city in our estimation. Stacie and I saw cotton fields for the first time. We smelt Ashdown's paper mill for miles and miles before we saw it. Driving through Ashdown, we saw a heart-shaped bed in the window of a furniture store. I doubted if anyone in Polk County had a heart-shaped bed.

Four hours and much excitement later, (I got car sick, I'd never been on such a journey), we arrived in Shreveport. Diane and Herbie showed us the sites. We went downtown to look at the tall buildings. Herbie knew just what to do to make this really exciting. We parked the car, got out on the sidewalk and Herbie said, "Now look up." We did. "Don't the buildings look like they're leaning?" he asked. We were wowed. He was so kind to us little country girls.

Next we went to a building with an escalator and together we went up and down, up and down. Stacie and I thought we were the only people who'd ever gone up on the down escalator and down the up escalator. We did this until a policeman blew a whistle at us and told us to stop. (It was actually a security guard, but we didn't know that then.)

The excitement didn't end there. The biggest treat about going downtown was the elevators.
We felt like we were "somebody" when we went with Daddy or Mama to pay our taxes at the Polk County Courthouse. Why they had a basement, a main floor and a second floor. That was the extent of the exciting buildings we'd been in. So when we entered the "skyscraper" that had an elevator, we felt like we'd become citified. We stepped in the elevator and Herbie pushed the magic button. As I looked at all the buttons, I asked, "How do you know which button to push?" Before Herbie had a chance to answer, we took off. Stacie and I lost our balance and careened into each other. Herbie laughed.

These things were indeed very exciting to us, but the absolute biggest thrill of our trip to Shreveport was the airport. For the ultimate exposure to the city life, we watched planes take off and land. We stood at the fence ooohing and aaawhing the whole time.

The next day as we sat in Diane and Herbie's living room, Mama said,"Valerie, why don't you call the airport and see when some planes are coming in." It was exciting to know we might go back, so I got out the phone book, the absolute biggest book I'd ever seen, and phoned the airport. I put on my most professional 11-year-old voice, "Could you please tell me what time some planes are coming in?"

After a moment of hesitation, she replied with matched professionalism,"What plane are you waiting for?"

"It doesn't really matter," I answered confidently.

After a moment of silence, she said, "Where is the plane you want coming from?"

Slightly flustered, I changed my approach, "Well, what time are the planes leaving?"

As soon as she asked, "Going where?" I had an epiphany, as did everyone else in the living room. I realized how foolish my questions were. I began to laugh uncontrollably and my mom did too. I couldn't speak so I slammed the phone down.

Mama later recalled that our pastor, Brother Heath, had mentioned "the light on the strip" in a sermon. To our understanding, people came from far and wide to see this light. Herbie knew exactly what "the strip" was. It was the gambling area of Bossier City. "Yes, that's it, the Bossier City Strip," Mama recalled. So we drove across the bridge to Bossier City to see this famous light. Herbie, Diane and Mama sat in the front seat. Stacie, Baby Jeff, and I sat in the back seat. We drove up and down "the strip" looking for a fancy light that allegedly cost over $100,000.

At every street lamp, I looked up hoping to be the first one to spot the fancy light. Our search was unsuccessful. We pulled into a parking lot and met another car leaving. Herbie stuck his arm out the window to stop the man. "Do you know where the big light is?" he asked.

The man looked puzzled. Panning the folks in the car with suspicion, he answered, "What light?"

Herbie told him we were looking for the fancy light on the strip. Mama leaned over so she could talk to this stranger, "Surely you've heard of it. It cost $100,000."

The man didn't know what Mama and Herbie were talking about. Mama again tried to enlighten the fellow, "Somewhere on this road is a fancy li..." She didn't finish her sentence. Herbie peeled out of there, throwing all of us against the back of our seats.

"Well for-ever-more! Whadya do that for!?" Mama exclaimed. Herbie explained that he suddenly realized that the light was not on the strip, it was inside one of the casinos. This time the epiphany was his. Realizing how foolish we were looking to these big-city people, he needed to get out of there as fast as he could! And as he explained all this, all the adults laughed so hard they cried. Me, I didn't get it. I was disappointed that we didn't find the light.

When we left Shreveport, we were much wiser. We felt proud to have traveled far from home and to have experienced real city life. Now when someone in Polk County said, "Shrevesport" we could knowingly correct him. "That's Shreveport, not Shrevesport."


School teachers are regularly coming in my stores buying things for their classrooms. I've marveled at their artistic creations, more specifically the artistic creations they take to their classroom.

Yesterday while a lady was checking out, she was telling me in detail what she was going to do with her students with the purchase she was making.

As she spoke my mind wandered back to many years ago when no one brought my creativity out of hiding. I always got a C in creativity, and have since carried hostility in my heart that they gave me a C without ever trying to tap into what was hiding, or coaching me how to be more creative.

Like a basket case, I mentioned this to her and she listened sympathetically. I stared into space and in my mind went one by one through my teachers recognizing afresh how they failed me.

I was snapped back to the present when she kindly said, "Don't you want to take this money?"

Startled, I replied, "I am so sorry. I got caught up in my own pain."

She smiled.

tea bags

(Diane and Ben, 1981)
017_17 (3)A while ago I made myself a cup of chamomile tea. Every time I have this grassy-smelling tea, I am taken back to the first time I tasted it. I was in New Braunfels, Texas, staying with my sister Diane and her husband Herbie. Diane and I had never known much of anything but iced Nestea or Lipton tea, made from leaves, not tea bags.

Diane was a young homemaker striving to implement healthy habits in her family. We visited a health food store and the knowledgeable proprietor recommended Chamomile tea. "It's a lightly flavored tea; very refreshing and relaxing. A cup in the evening will help you sleep better," she said.

 When supper dishes were finished, Diane placed the tea bags in our mugs of boiled water. We were about as familiar with hot tea as we were with tea bags.The three of us sat on the sofas to bask in the refreshing, relaxing experience of an evening cup of tea for the first time. (We didn't even think to add sugar.)

After the tea had steeped sufficiently, we each brought the tea to our lips. Ever aware of how much it smelt like a hay field, we tried to ignore the thought. We sipped with anticipation.

Silence. No one spoke.

We took another sip. With creased eyebrows, Diane said, "She wasn't kidding, it IS a light taste."

We took another sip, frowning. It was earthy, yet really weak, and we assumed that was what the lady in the store had meant by "light."

Just as I was about to voice my disgust, Herbie sat his tea on the coffee table. He spoke slowly, softly, and thoughtfully. "When you make tea," he said as he brought his tea bag out of the water, "it's always a good idea to take the wrapper off."

Yes, our tea bags were still in their wrappers.


A few days ago Stacie and I were recollecting on school life of so many days ago. We told stories about our old friend Odetta. Odetta was in Stacie's grade, but I claimed her as a friend too. After we talked at length about those days, I got off the phone determined to "look her up."

I typed in her first name and the state I'd heard she was in. I found an Odetta and called the number. Guess what? It was her! Can you believe the wonders of the World Wide Web?

We caught up in a short time about our lives over the past 20 years; husbands, kids, jobs. Then we told stories about way back when.

I've been known to whine about the abuse I suffered at my brother's hand. Many of you may think I exaggerate, but God is my witness, I do not. (But he's nice now, just so you know.)

Odetta wears a chipped tooth and my brother is responsible for it. Odetta, fortunately, is good spirited about it. She doesn't recall how Michael coerced her into this, but I remember his methods well; it always involved force. Michael made Stacie and Odetta hold their mouths open along the side of the kitchen table so he could play pool. He shot a ball against Odetta's mouth and chipped her front tooth.

happy birthday stacie

(Stacie 2005)
Today is my sister Stacie's birthday. As with all my siblings, Stacie is years and years and years older than me. She was born in 1964 and I in 1966.
Stacie and I are very close and kindred spirits. Billions of miles apart, (Edmonton and North Carolina), we talk on the phone several times a week. (Before she went back to work a couple years ago, we talked on the phone nearly everyday). My telephone plan is better than her's so when she wants to talk, she phones me, lets it ring twice, then hangs up. Like an obedient sister, I phone back immediately. She is the only person in the world I could talk to that often. I'm not a telephone person. Dead space doesn't make me nervous with her and it does with everyone else.
018_18 (7)(Stacie 1970, 6 years old)
 A couple years ago the little girls and I spent February with Stacie and her family. Wheweee! Was that ever a learning experience. What I learned is this: There is a big difference between 26 days and 28 days. At 26 days her family was coping with four extra people pretty well. At 28 days, they were packing our suitcases and bag lunches for our trip home - even though we still had one day to go. While with her, we drove down to Florida to our other sister Diane's. On the drive down, we nearly split our guts laughing. We reminisced about some of the quirky ways we were brought up and gave a generous amount of time talking about our childhood church. We told stories and were finishing each other's sentences. As silence came, we would both, at the same time, remember another song and belt out singing like we did in our long ago church. We laughed so hard we cried.

Stacie and I were inseparable in my preschool years. My first depression was when Stacie started school. I would have been four. Of course I never knew that was what was wrong with me then, but every morning when I watched the school bus get out of sight, a terrible heaviness would envelope me. I didn't realize it was because Stacie was gone, I only knew that watching the bus pull away was terribly sad.  Mama says I also started sleeping more and she recognized I was depressed. What I'm trying to say is, Stacie is at the root of many of my problems and dysfunctions.
(Stacie and Jimmy, 1983)
I am at the root of a few of Stacie's issues too. We grew up in a pretty straight-laced home. We didn't do lots of things that were ok in other homes. One year when the Montgomery Ward catalog came, we sat on the blue vinyl sofa each of us holding our half of the catalog. No page was overlooked. We dreamed about everything in it. We chose the prettiest garment on each page; the bedroom suites we would have in our grown-up houses; in secret, we scrutinized the underwear pages.

We even looked at the men's clothes. We chose which man we wanted to marry, and we picked out the clothes he would wear. Stacie has always been more risque and edgy than me. As we looked at the men's pages, Stacie pointed at one man and whispered, "He looks like he has boobs." I turned both my lips inside my mouth and disdainfully said, "Uuummm." She was in trouble. Not only was she looking at men's chests, but she said "boobs."

Terrified of getting in trouble, she begged, "Oh Valerie, please don't tell. Please don't tell." I didn't tell her I would or wouldn't tell. I let her squirm and worry. That night as it was my turn to do some kind of chore, I turned to Stacie and raised my eyebrow to warn silently, "If you don't do it for me, I'll tell Mama you said boobs." Stacie jumped to do my bidding. For days Stacie was my servant. When told to do something, I'd give Stacie "the look" and she would jump up and do my chore. It worked like a charm.

I don't know how long this went on. Stacie would say weeks, but I figure it was only days. It was Mama who ruined our working agreement. She asked Stacie why she was doing all my work. Stacie told her she just wanted to, but Mama knew better and pressed harder. The truth came out and Stacie got in trouble for letting me treat her like that. Mama was much more concerned that Stacie let me bribe her than she was with what I'd done. I got off really easy, but poor Stacie got chewed on for quite a while. But she didn't get in trouble for saying "boobs".

Stacie and I miss each other terribly. I wish we lived closer. We would go out to eat, we would go to each other's kids' performances, we would probably do stuff we never did before, maybe concerts, ballets, live theater. We lived near each other for so many years and never knew how amazing that was. Now we would know how special it is and wouldn't take it for granted.

Stacie is smart, classy, professional, funny, a great cook and entertainer, a talented decorator, a wonderful devoted mother and wife and a great sister. Happy Birthday Stacie. I love you!

thoughts from mother's day

003_3 (2)(Mama and my cousin Kenneth, early 50's)
Since Mother's Day, I've been meditating on mothers who influenced the way I approach mothering. It's been eye-opening. Have I never thought about this before?

Of course my own mom influenced me the most. She had a no-nonsense approach to mothering. On Saturday mornings, she donned Daddy's brown leather belt around her neck and when she wore that particular accessory, we knew to walk the line. Mama intended the house to get clean and her neck adornment kept us acutely aware of the task at hand.

Now on Saturday mornings, I hear myself barking orders like my mom did. And often enough, I see my girls roll their eyes like I did 30 years ago. Occasionally, I'll even hear myself ask that horribly insane question, "Do you want me to spank you?" (That question surely tops the pile on stupid questions. Do we imagine our kids saying, "Yes, I think that a spanking is in order. I haven't been listening like I should Mom. You sit down and rest while I go find a good strong paddle.")?

Regularly I hear myself say all those strange cliches and expressions I grew up with and I say them just like my mom did. "What in the cotton-pickin' Sam Hill is goin' on in here?" "Well, forever more." Yes, my mom heavily influenced my mothering style.
(Mama, me and the girls, 1999)
Scan20040 Gay Heath was the pastor's wife in the church I grew up. From six-years-old, I observed her style of mothering. She had a more no-nonsense approach to mothering than my own mom. She was a big-time disciplinarian. It wasn't a bit unusual for her to shake, spank, rebuke whatever child (her child or grandchild usually) was near her. Toddlers were expected to sit quietly in church and when she was in charge, they did, or else they left the sanctuary for toddler reckoning. From her I saw that spankings work very well to accomplish needed adjustments in one's behavior. Back then, it wasn't even on the radar that "kids will be kids" or that spankings were wrong. I grew up with a fine repertoire of Bible verses that taught physical discipline.

When I was in grade 8, I left Hatfield School and joined the ranks at Noonday Christian Academy. There I came into relationship with women who mothered in ways that were foreign to me. So as not to slander anyone, I will call this woman, let's say, Doris. For the most part, I didn't like nor respect Doris. Matter of fact, my face is contorting in anguish as I think about her right at this moment.

If there was anything fun going on, you could bet she would be against it. She was so dreadfully serious about everything, that I equated her with about the same esteem as hemorrhoids. I was quite adept at laughing, but in her presence laughing seemed about as appropriate as premarital sex. I could write volumes about her being a wet blanket. (Several years ago I had a writing assignment where I had to write a letter - unmailed of course - to an antagonist in my life. I chose Doris. I'm getting terribly distracted here. This is supposed to be about mothers, not prudes. However there's a prude article dying to leave my fingertips as I type this.)

Back to mothers: From Doris, I learned how to create mountains out of mole hills. As much as I disliked her, she taught me that everything was an opportunity to lecture on something. Lord, how I abhorred those lectures and so badly wanted to encourage her to go poop out the broom stick lodged up her derriere. (Oh my, did I say that? Man, I think I have unresolved issues coming to the fore.) Back to mothering: If there was a child looking at a flower, Doris would join the poor child and begin to teach a lesson. She would pick the flower and dissect it, lecturing all the time about how God created the flower with such intelligent design. "See this is the pistil, where the seeds are born. Not unlike the human ovaries."

Well, guess what. As much as I hated the lectures, I admired that she knew all that stuff and could recall it at will. Now I find myself making learning opportunities out of daily experiences. I sure hope I don't turn kids off like Doris did me. Clearly she was an influence in mothering too.

In this new school environment, I also encountered Phyllis Murphy, Gwen Wright, and Ann Hatley. They were committed, nurturing mothers that I greatly admired. I wanted to be like them. Back then I didn't call any of them by their first names, but for simplicity I will now. Gwen had a belly laugh that I loved and she was so nurturing and gentle with her girls. Phyllis and Ann approached mothering with intelligence, seriousness, nurture, gentleness, and smiles. All these women stressed healthful lifestyles. They were my first exposure to health food, balanced diets, millet and lentils. They more than influenced me in mothering, they modeled the marriage of mothering and spirituality. In ways, I was awed by them. I am thankful for all their influences.

Lastly, my sisters Diane and Stacie mentored me too. They modeled "reading the experts." From them I learned about James Dobson, Gary Smalley, and other writers that taught on parenting. Those books I read were priceless in teaching me parenting principles and child rearing skills. I'm very thankful Diane and Stacie imparted that to me.

All these women played a role in who I am today, particularly as a mother.


(My Dad with his most recent great-granddaughter, Jocelyn, 2006)

May 8 is my dad's birthday. We visited on the phone, but it was cut short when Deborah began screaming because she burnt her toe on the kitchen stove burner. Doesn't that beg the question, "How does a 6-year-old burn her toe on the stove burner?" It was quite innocuous and she is now fine, yet much wiser.

Every year Gordon gives me a new calendar at Christmas. Sometime between Christmas and New Year, I fill in all the important days; birthdays, anniversaries, deaths, etc. Three years ago when I got to May 8, I had to take a breather. I was alarmed and saddened as I wrote, "Daddy's 70th birthday, (1933)." 70 seemed decades older than 69 and I stared through tears at what I'd just written. It seemed I was staring at my parents' mortality and I grieved.
(Daddy, around 21 years old)
014_14 My dad turned 73 this week. As far as I know, he's healthy, and hopefully will be around for years. He's an odd duck; always has been and probably always will be. Rich Mullins said, "Until you come to terms with your heritage, you'll never be at peace with yourself." I believe that and I have come to terms with my heritage. Now I'm able to smile at most of Daddy's ideas and perceptions.

Last year I had surgery and my incision didn't heal properly. He was alarmed when he learned that a nurse was coming to my house everyday to flush and dress my wound. In keeping with his strange ideas, he said, "You need to make a salve of spit and cayenne pepper to rub on it. That'll make it get well."

Smiling, I said, "You think that will fix it?" He responded, "You betcha."

This weekend I had an ear infection. When I told him about it he said the regular, "I'll tell you what will fix that." I was sure his potion would involve either cayenne or ginger, as most of his home remedies do. Prepared for something weird, I wasn't prepared enough. "You need to put a teaspoon of pee in your ear," he told me like a true snake healer.

I told him that was gross and he told me that I was the one with the earache and if I didn't want to get well, that was my problem. I offended him with my reaction but couldn't help smiling that he thought I was the one with weird ideas.
015_15(Daddy in third grade) 
Daddy was a chicken farmer. Once while driving past a chicken farm, everyone in the car complained of the stench. Funny how everyone elses chickens smelled worse than ours. When we hushed our insults about the smell, Daddy added in his monotone way, "Smells like money to me."

One Sunday afternoon, Daddy, Mama, Stacie and I visited friends near Zafra, Oklahoma. We left their house way too late to get to Sunday evening church on time. Because we were in a hurry, Mama took the driver's seat. Daddy drove too slow for Mama's liking any day, much more so when we were running late. Mama had us nearly airborne on those dirt hills. Daddy was gripping the dashboard with white knuckles. Reaching the highway, the first milestone, Stacie asked "What time is it now?"

Ashen and still gripping the dash, Daddy responded, "Same time it was when we left."

With all his strange ideas, he imparted to us an appreciation for humor. Between him and my mom we got both barrels unloaded on us. I'm glad for that.

From Daddy I inherited my sentimentalism, fascination with cemeteries, collection interests, sympathy for the grieving, and probably my love for animals too. I'm thankful for those gifts though I'm quick to point out that I express these traits differently than he.

I love my dad.

the day i saw mama naked

(Michael, Diane, me, and Stacie in front of the green Matador. 1971)
007_7 (4) 
I was raised in a modest home, and my home now is a modest one. My children don’t typically see me naked;I am quite comfortable with that choice and I am confident they are too.

My mother was of the modest persuasion herself. I saw her in her bra and panties on occasion, but never naked - except once.

My mom had severe ear infections as a little girl. Her hearing was permanently damaged. She continually struggled with whirling noises in her ears and an inability to recognize where sounds was coming from.

One sweaty summer day after gardening, my mom took a bath. As she sat in the bathtub, she began to hear a whishing rumble. Terrified that the 1000-gallon butane tank underneath the bathroom window was about to explode and kill all of her children, she hurdled out of the bathtub and ran through the house collecting her children. Seeing our wet, naked mom run through the house hollering “Hurry, hurry,” made us acutely aware of the impending danger.
  (Mama in the 50's)
Mama herded us like a panicking hen, clucking, “Hurry, hurry, the house is about to blow up.” But since her teeth were in the little blue Polident cup in the bathroom, it sounded more like, ”Hurry, hurry, de houth is abouth to bow up.”

Wide eyed, we ran outside. My 8-year-old sister Stacie cried, “Oooohhh, are we gonna die? Are we gonna die?” We scrambled like obedient chicks under our mother’s outstretched arms to safety in the old green Matador. There, we waited for the destruction.

Diane was 14. She was in the driver’s seat. Mom, her hair and body dripping with bath water, stood bravely beside the car pondering our options. I was the youngest; I was 6. I perched on the edge of the front seat, hands on the dashboard, straining to get a good view. We girls were quiet and motionless. Michael, my 10-year-old brother who was assuredly uncomfortable with the situation, particularly our naked mom standing beside the car, looked anxiously up and down the dusty country road. He was far more concerned about a car coming than the house blowing up. He whimpered, “Are you sure it’s gonna blow?” Mama didn’t answer.

Stacie, sitting up straight and pensive, ventured, “I don’t hear anything.” Again, Mama didn’t respond.

I trusted my mom; if she said she heard the silver tank in our backyard about to blow up, I believed her.

After several minutes of no kaboom, Mama went to the barb-wired fence between the car and the house and valiantly lumbered over. Diane let out a guttural groan, “Ughhhhh,” as she slunk down behind the steering wheel.

Stacie, sure an explosion was imminent, and so adoring of Mama, hung her body out the window, and in her typical worried fashion, sang woefully, “Ooohhh, Maaamaaaa, huuurrrryyy.”

Michael got more anxious as the moments wore on. “I don’t think she knows what she’s talking about,” he confided, as he looked first right then left, still on the lookout for unlikely traffic.

Mama courageously went to the threatening butane tank, and pressed her head down to the valves. Stacie, her lanky body still hanging out the window, yelled, “Maamaaa, noooo!”

Our buxom mom started walking toward us. Her fearful expression gave way to one of self-consciousness. She gave us a gummy grin and shrugged her shoulders. Her toothless smile assured us there wasn’t going to be an explosion.

(Diane, 1st grade)
017_17 (4) “Can we get out?” Diane asked.

Mama squirmed. She had more body parts she wanted to cover, than she had arms.

Finally Mama meekly said, “You can geth outh of the car. I donth think de houth is going to bow up.”

Relieved, we went in the house to find a flooded kitchen. Water was gushing out the hot water tank, making a whishing-rumble sound, - at least to our hearing impaired mom that’s what it sounded like.

Mama squatted to push the awry pipe back into place. This proved more difficult than she thought. She grunted, pushed, and jerked, her full figure jiggling and bouncing, without much success. In a sudden flash of awareness, she sheepishly said to Diane, “Here, you hold thith while I go geth some coths on.”

Diane retorted, “I wish you would.”

The image of my mom walking around naked is indelibly seared into my mind. Now that I’m a mom, I understand the kind of love that would be willing to do that. However, I never go into the bath or shower without a robe an arm’s length away. I can thank my mom for that.

the mind of a child

(Me, Easter morning, wearing my very best Union Bank smile. 1970)
020_20 (3)When I was a very young child, I had three aspirations. I wanted to work at Union Bank so I could smile all day and dress pretty. Stacie and I use to play like the ladies at the Bank. We put on silly smiles and smiled, smiled, smiled, just for the fun of smiling. We played "Mail Call, Mail Call, 4th Street Mail Call." I have no idea where we got that game; I suppose it was a Stacie/Valerie original. One of us would take a slew of discarded junk mail and stand in the back freezer room and yell, "Mail Call, Mail Call, 4th Street Mail Call." The other, a resident of 4th Street, would come out of her house (the bedroom) and make her way down 4th Street (the hall) to collect her mail. When she arrived at the postal counter (a piece of broken sheetrock), we would make small talk about the kids, the family, the weather, and of course the job at Union Ban. We played this game with smiling fervor.  

My second aspiration was to buy the big yellow-brick house across from the old hospital. I don't remember thinking the house was that wonderful, (although it definitely was a step-up from the house I was used to). The big draw was living across the street from the vending machines in the hospital. That seemed like the life for me. I loved when people got sick and went into the hospital. Those vending machines were my idea of heaven.

(Hannah recently told me that when she was little, she thought that heaven would be a place where there was a great big bowl of candy and you could have as much as you wanted. When she was even younger than that, she thought it was all about bubble gum. She doesn't remember that though.)

My third childhood aspiration was to shake my kids like Mrs Heath shook her son Kenny in church when he made a peep.

So the good life consisted of smiling while I worked at Union Bank, coming home to the Emerson house across the street from the hospital vending machines, and faithfully attending church so I could shake my kids.

in the backwoods

(Stacie and me, early 70's)
001_1 (2) 
When Stacie and I were teenagers, probably 14 and 16, we went to see new friends who lived way, way out in the country. We got terribly lost and were on the back-roads of the back-roads. In desperation, we took a hilly, rutted driveway to seek help.

At the end of the driveway, we found a dilapidated trailer and a number of barking hound dogs. As we sized up the situation, a skinny, wild-haired, bare-foot old woman came out of the trailer and stood looking at us while she yelled at her dogs. Hesitantly, we stepped out of the car and approached her. As we got close to the lady, we saw horrifying evidence that all people are not created equally. As she smiled kindly at us, she revealed her pathetically bad teeth. They jutted north, south, east, and west. I can nearly assure you that you've never seen anything like it.

I have a strange compulsion that I've carried with me throughout my life. Based in my private insecurities regarding my toes, I always "check out the toes" of new acquaintances. Pulling my eyes away from her teeth, I was equally as horrified by her toes. They too jutted in every direction and each wore a dingy yellow, thick, grotesque nail.

Stacie and the lady got it sorted out who we were, who we belonged to, our relatives, and where they lived, all while I stared at this poor woman's toes.

Pointed in the right direction again, Stacie and I bid her our thanks for her time and directions and got back in the car. As soon as the doors were closed, we both bursts out our shock, sympathy, and disbelief. "Did you see her teeth?," Stacie asked. At the exact same moment, I was saying, "Did you see her toes?" Stacie answered, "See her toes? I was too busy wondering how she eats with those teeth to look down at her toes!"

I remember nothing else about that day other than that poor old kind woman, her living conditions, her teeth, and her toes.

i wish we'd all been ready

Remember the song, "I Wish We'd All Been Ready?." Back in the 70's people were always talking about Jesus returning. It was a scary thought for those like me and Stacie. This particular song was a mournful song about getting "left behind."

"Life was filled with guns and wars and everyone got trampled on the floor. I wish we'd all been ready. Two men walkin' up a hill, one disappears and one's left standing still. I wish we'd all been ready. Man and wife asleep in bed, she hears a noise, turns her head, he's gone. I wish we'd all been ready." Yes, those were the days. Parents, preachers, and churches tried to scare us into "being ready."

I'm curious if others were traumatized by the whole scare tactic? There was also this fundamentalist film that made the circuit called "The Burning Hell." Now that was just the thing to watch before bed time. I must have been six or seven when I saw it in the Vandervoort gym. It was terrible. I wouldn't even come close to permitting my kids to watch it. But things were different back then. It was the battle cry of Christian parents to get their offspring "ready." And if scaring the hell out of a child is possible, I'm sure lots of kids got "ready." Laying in bed, night after long night, year after year, I prayed, "God I wanna be ready. Please come into my heart. Please, I really mean it. Please. Please."

There was the closing invitation hymn at church, "Oh Why Not Tonight." It was a depressing tune that made me afraid to get in the car to go home, because I might not make it home. "Tomorrow's sun may never come...Wilt thou be saved, then why not tonight?"

This phrase was used with terrifying frequency: "Do you know beyond a shadow of a doubt if you leave this place and die in a car wreck on the way home, you are prepared to meet God?"

Those were hard days on a kid. I'm glad to be past them. 

Gordon grew up in the 70's too. Once someone asked Gordon what our early marriage was like. He calmly answered, "Life was filled with guns and wars and everyone got trampled on the floor."

happy birthday mama

(This is my Mom with Bear, one of her great-grandchildren. December 2005.)

Today is my Mom's 70th birthday. I just spoke with her and when asked how it felt to be 70, she said, "There is a lot of wisdom in this head and the weight of it all is weighing me down."

One of my personal traditions is to pray special prayers for birthday boys and girls. That's not to say I don't pray for them at other times, I just pray more on their birthdays.

This week I've been meditating on my mom's legacy to me. I've thought of these things over the years, and I appreciate them more the older I get. I hear with increasing regularity how I'm like my mother. The kids and Gordon quickly point out, "You sound just like your mother," when I'm laughing hard.

(Mama, mid 1950's)

015_15 (2)Mama's greatest gifts to me have brought much joy into my life. I'm very glad these gift were passed on to me.

Firstly, Mama modeled prayer and Bible reading to me. Many a morning I went into my childhood living room to find my mom freshly bathed, sitting in her favorite chair in nothing but her bra and panties. She sat serenely reading her Bible. If you're wondering why she only had on underwear, well, so am I.

All Mama's kids are lovers of God and I know it's Mama's prayers that laid that foundation.

The second greatest gift she gave me is the ability to laugh. And laugh we do. We laugh uncontrollably and manage to see the ludicrous in the mundane. I hope to give the same gift to my kids.

Having lived in Canada for 13 years, I've come to appreciate the descriptive and picturesque speech of Southerners. Mama gives me my regular dose of Southernisms. In 2004, the girls and I visited the south for a month. At Mama's house, Stephanie and Christopher joined us. That meant I shared a bedroom with five kids. As one might guess, that bedroom was anything but tidy and organized. There were mounds of clothes, suitcases, gifts, things I'd bought, and school books everywhere. It was first-class chaos.

(Mama and Rachael, 1995)

025_25One day I went to the bedroom to have a nap. With such a mess there was nowhere to move the junk on the bed. It was mostly clothes, so I just climbed under it all. Not long afterward, Mama came to tell me I had a visitor. I was still awake so I saw her, but because of the mess, she couldn't see me. She stood in the door and her jaw hung down in shock at our deplorable living condition. Her eyes slowly scanned the room. In slow dramatic flow she spoke, "Lord have mercy, gosh-a-mighty-derns." I still laugh when I recall her facial expression and her curious phrase.

Recently as we spoke on the phone, she told me that Dixie, her beagle, was "down in her get-along." That's Mama-talk for Dixie has arthritis in her hips. I never recognized her colorful speech when I lived there, but I sure notice it now and I smile.

Today, my prayer for my mom goes something like this. "Dear God, I'm thankful for my mom. Thank You for making her one of Your own and giving her the desire to live for You. Thank you for giving her 70 years of health and safety. Please protect her and give her a really wonderful year. Bless her and please give her the desires of her heart. Thank you for my mom."

Happy Birthday Mom. I love you.

sex in the country

(Michael, 1st grade)
Little boy I grew up in a home where we didn't talk about the birds and the bees. I remember the day I discovered boy parts. I had seen them before, but I remember the day it "registered." Michael and I were in the bathtub. We were adept at changing identities with the help of Palmolive dish soap. With our bubbles we could instantly transform into Santa Claus or white-haired Brother Bowen at church. When we were feeling particularly risque`, we would slap two mounds of bubbles on our chests for breasts.

We didn't have real bath toys, but made our fun with cans, shampoo bottles, and occasionally a bowl or cup. On the day boy parts registered, Michael and I were playing when I noticed he had something that would go up and down in the bathtub waves. I was mesmerized by his "floaty." Michael noticed I was staring and he gingerly placed the brown Hershey's cocoa can it over his floating part. That was the last bath we had together.
I suppose all little girls are taken aback the first time they see the male anatomy. When Rachael, Hannah and Deborah were much younger, I fostered two little boys. The first time they saw Markus in the bathtub, Hannah exclaimed happily and in awe, "He's got jingle bells." Many months later they were exposed to Shaun. Two-year-old Deborah tilted her head to the side and with affection said, "Awhh, isn't that sweet?"

I have a young cousin who recently saw her grandpa at the toilet. She ran telling, "Grandpa has a tail!" Now when she observes him walking to the bathroom, she follows him and wails dramatically on the other side of the closed door, "I want to see your tail."

We mothers have come a long way in how we tell our kids the facts of life. I for one am happy we've made this progress. When I was a youngster I was given two books. They really screwed me up. After reading those books, I was ashamed to be among the human race.

The pictures of sperm resembled watermelon seeds, so I swore off the melon family for a few years. I watched in horror as others ate watermelon wondering if they would become pregnant by the seeds. Far as I know, no one did, but I wasn't taking any chances.

One of those insightful books said to make a baby, a husband and wife lay close to each other (a little understated, don't you think?) and gaze into each others' eyes. The sperm enters the female and joins her egg and a baby begins. After learning that, I developed darting eyes. I didn't want to inadvertently gaze into someone's eyes and get his sperm in me.
(Lawana (Tata) with Annabelle and Ezra, 2005)
Grandma Lawana, Annabelle, JulienYears passed and the grossness wore off some and was replaced by curiosity. Lawana, my trusted sister-in-law, became my personal supplier of information. Once she and I were at our local country corner store where we saw they had recently added Playgirl to their magazine selection. I was curious and I think Lawana was too, but she was more curious about my reaction than the contents of the magazine.

We stood around waiting casually for the few customers to leave and for Mrs. Weatherbe to busy herself with something out of sight of the magazines. When the coast was clear, I picked up a Playgirl thinking I knew what to expect. (Was I expecting to see men and women gazing into each others' eyes?)
The magazine fell open to a very large naked man. Freaked right out, I screamed and threw the magazine. Lawana laughed so hard she shook and Mrs. Weatherbe came running. I don't remember what I said to Mrs. Weatherbe, but to Lawana I formed a shape with my hands and said, "WHAT WAS THAT?" Lawana still shook with laughter.

"It was huge! Did you see it? It wasn't normal," I declared indignantly, as if I knew what normal was.

(Stephanie and Christopher 1989)
054_54Stephanie came along years later and surprisingly, gazing into someone's eyes had precious little to do with it. I was determined that I would not hand a book to my offspring to teach them about procreation and sex. I would save them from the dysfunction of darting eyes and watermelon-phobia.

She was an early bloomer in the awareness department. She started asking questions at three and I gave enough information to satisfy her questions. When I was pregnant with Christopher, her curiosity grew right along with my belly. I put on a brave front, using words that still make me blush. I was proud of my maturity and wisdom

The day arrived when she marched up and asked, "What do you do with your legs?" I don't know where my motherly wisdom and maturity were in those moments, but they clearly weren't giving me any inspiration. I toyed with telling her "a husband and wife lay close and gaze into each others' eyes....," but decided it wasn't good to lie.

I've given the same little sex education speeches to four other children since then, and never have I been asked, "What do you do with your legs?"

"Well," I began to answer slowly, still quite unsure what was to follow. "When you are old enough to have sex," I stammered, "you can take your legs off." She was satisfied, although awed, and I was relieved when she walked away.

Stephanie continued to be totally fascinated with the subject. (I'm sure that fascination is serving her well these days as a newlywed.) She told me a couple years ago (prior to getting married) as we laughed about the above conversation, "I'm still trying to figure it out what you do with your legs."

When she was 8, Gordon bought me a series called Wildlife Fact Files. I was intrigued and fascinated learning about the different creatures God created. I was thrilled when Stephanie appeared to be following in my interest and began spending hours reading it too. Later I figured out she was only reading the mating and breeding habits of all the animals.
(Deborah, Hannah, Rachael 2004, on hoodoos)
My girls on the hoodoo, Calgary ZooWhen Rachael, Hannah, and Deborah were a few years younger, we got their first hamsters. Chimpy a girl; Reepacheep, a boy. Chimpy was Hannah's and lived in her room and Reepacheep belonged to Rachael and lived in her room. When we were ready for baby hamsters, we put them in the same cage. For a few minutes we watched wide-eyed to see how babies are made. There were squeals of laughter (from the girls, not the hamsters) and expressions of "oh gross."

Since that little exercise -- that yielded eight more hamsters that the girls also watched be born -- the girls have been satisfied with their knowledge and haven't asked many questions.

The other night though, Hannah asked if so many sperm are released at the same time, "What happens if two sperm reach the egg at exactly the same time?" I pondered for a second or two and then said, "I really don't know, but it's a really good question."

She bounced off the sofa and did a gig like a football player after scoring a touchdown. With her arms raised, she yelled energetically for the sperm, "Tie game, tie game!"