Jamie introduced our boys to the empire that is the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) when Colin was about two years old. Jamie isn’t really a devotee, but when he realized the children didn’t know who Andre the Giant was, he recognized the opportunity for education.
One Easter we took the boys to “big church” in Albany. I was a little nervous. This wasn’t our little country church. It was a fancy church with real liturgical colors and banners and a big choir and microphones. The Easter prelude that morning began with the pipe organ’s deep, full-throated bellow of a long, triumphant chord. Colin, who was three, with wide, excited eyes loudly whispered, “MAMA! It’s the Undertaker! He’s here!!”
I take showers in the mornings, a foggy stumble into the bathroom for a quick in-and-out of a hot shower and hair washing. In high school, I took a bath just before bedtime and had enough time for a little ritual.
Balancing my little black boombox with a cassette player on the towel rack, I’d put in a mixtape, fill the bathtub with hot water, and soak. Then, right before I got out of the tub, I’d slide down under the water, my hair floating around my head, knobby knees pointed to the ceiling. Underwater, the music sounded muffled and warped. I’d stay as long as I could stand it, and then I’d pop back up, and wash my wet hair under the faucet. Stepping out of the tub, my skin pink from the hot water, I’d dry my hair, put on my pj’s and climb in bed. It was a moment of calm and relaxation in what I considered a tumultuous senior year.
Once when I was working a temp job in LaGrange, a co-worker remarked that my childhood sounded like an episode of The Andy Griffith Show. He was right. It really was. Mama and Daddy did everything they could to make it so.
In the field adjacent to Nanny and Pops’ yard was a fire-tower manned by Mrs. Irma Collins. Miss Irma climbed the seemingly innumerable flights of stairs up to the tiptop of the tower, where she watched, mostly in the late spring and early summer, for forest fires. She carried a small cooler with her lunch inside and not much else. It was rare that she came down from the fire-tower until time to go home.
Trucks run awfully fast on the highway that separates our house from Nanny and Pops’. So, most of the time, Mama would walk me to the road where Pops would be waiting on the other side. If Miss Irma was working in the fire-tower though, I was allowed to cross the highway by myself, only after calling to her as a lookout.
Standing on the edge of our yard, I’d call up to the little office at the top of the tower, “MISS IRMA? MISS IRRRMMMAAAA??” She’d stick her head out the window, look up and down the highway for me and shout back, “Go ahead Little Un.” I’d run across the road to Pops waiting on the swing in the front yard.
Admittedly, it was a charmed life.
The back-to-school honeymoon we enjoyed in those fresh-faced few weeks of summer is clearly over. We are swimming in the deep-end now. We are in full-on homework agony. The scheduling squeezes of after-school clubs are putting a vice-grip squeeze on us now. The once sparkly-new, back-to-school tennis shoes have turned into worn-down stinkers that fill the mudroom with an aroma worthy of a Febreeze commercial.
After Ginny and I were born, Daddy gave himself completely over to loving us, “his girls.” Daddy is a tough disciplinarian for sure, but we were never too old to be close. Even still, we sit close on the couch, his hand on the back of our heads. We hug each other hello and goodbye. Sometimes, we hold hands on the front porch swing.
Ginny and I used to tease Daddy about being overprotective. We didn’t understand why he would spend time thinking through the worst that could happen in any given scenario. We’ve decided it is likely a healthy combination of both genetics and the thirty-two years he spent as a probation officer.
This morning at 11:30, I sauntered into our office cafeteria like a gunslinger in a Technicolor Western walks into a saloon: hot and dusty, spurs jangling, a band of sweat around my cowboy hat. I wasn’t kidding when I ordered my bourbon and Coke, but Miss Lucy thought I was and looked over her readers and teased, “Girl, do I need to call HR, or are you ok?”
If Miss Lucy had slid my 20oz. bottled cherry Coke down the counter, I’d have caught it one-handed. It had already been a long day. The kind of day that makes you start second guessing major life choices. The kind of day that allows that mean voice in your head to start hissing ugliness. The kind of day that makes you order bourbon and Coke at the workplace cafeteria.
I imagine it was hot. Summer in south Georgia is something to behold. Just walking across a yard makes me feel like a lit candle – melting by degrees.
She sweats through her day dress, big dark circles appear on mousey-brown fabric, soft from washing and washing again. If there had been a breeze, the wet circles under her arms, across her breasts, and the band soaked around her waistline might have provided some cooling relief, but there was no breeze. Just oppressive, thick, wet heat. No rain in sight. The dogs rarely left their wallowed ruts under the house, as summer slunk its way into fall.
It was an ordinary day – a day full of chores: cooking, washing, cleaning, churning, feeding chickens, sweeping yards, tending to hot, fussy children. An unremarkable day and yet around 140 years later, it’s one of the only stories I know about her.
I work in a cubicle farm. It’s not as glamorous as it sounds. My cube is larger than most I’ve seen on television. That’s a plus, I suppose. Although the way my computer is situated in the corner, I cannot see people walk up behind me. Others in the farm have mounted mirrors to the left and right of their computer screens, so they are alerted when someone is behind them. It’s a little long-distance truck driver for me, but it must work. They are never caught by surprise. Last week, I carried on an entire conversation with a co-worker while she looked at me in her rear-view mirror. It was a little off-putting.
Working in a cubicle makes me feel like a little girl who has been put in the corner for punishment. Being sentenced to standing in the corner was a big deal when I was little, it was a space I wanted to escape quickly! As a grown up with a family that needs relatively affordable group health insurance, you learn to sit in the corner. With a smile. All. Day. Long.
Just like nearly every other woman I know, tonight after I got home from my full-time job, I started my second full-time job. On this particular evening, in addition to the typical routine: supper prep, supper clean-up, laundry, and homework assistance, I also peeled 8 pounds of russet baking potatoes.
Loaded baked potato casserole is one of the essential side items requested for Colin’s birthday dinner. The menu also includes fish sticks with honey mustard on the side, steamed broccoli with homemade cheese sauce and something he calls ranch salad. The recipe for ranch salad for those who are curious: chopped iceberg lettuce, ranch dressing, and croutons. For dessert, he’s asked for a Dairy Queen ice cream cake. I’ve got this.
“Mama, I’m hungry.” If I had a quarter for every time this was bellowed down our hallway, whispered into my ear, or declared aloud at the exact moment I finally sat down from any number of chores, I’d be a millionaire.
After nearly two weeks at home over the holidays with my boys, I’m convinced one of the reasons I am not a millionaire is because Jamie and I feed two children every three hours. They go through food like a buzzsaw through plywood.