The hamster was not my idea. The hamster was Ginny’s idea and somehow, she roped Jamie’s sister Keisha into it, too.
Colin had been asking for a kitten, but we already have a dog. Paisley, our miniature schnauzer, was bought for Jack after he turned three. Buddies for the last 11 years, Paisley follows Jack from room to room, sleeps at the foot of Jack’s bed and gets antsy when Jack isn’t home.
Colin wanted a kitten, but he is allergic. Enter hamster.
Every now and then when Ginny and I still lived at home, Mama got a wild hair to clean out the tin house behind Nanny and Pops’ house. We didn’t have an attic, so we stored all the flotsam and jetsam of our lives in the tin house. At any given time the tin house stored: assorted Christmas decorations, a table and chair set Mama and Daddy had when they first married, some steamer trunks full of baby clothes. There were a couple of shelves for books, some records, and magazines. Always there were cardboard boxes of different size and shape. Daddy also kept old tax records and used checkbook stubs in nondescript black trash bags for safe-keeping. That’s right, safekeeping.
Cleaning out the tin house meant we dedicated an entire Saturday in the fall to hauling everything out into Nanny’s backyard so we could clean the inside of the storage house first. Then, we made a burn pile in an old rusty barrel and sorted treasure into four piles: dump, burn, dust and put back. I hated those days. It usually took us approximately forever to finish.
When Ginny and I were around thirteen, Mama and Daddy started giving us someday house presents: a set of pewter candlesticks, iced tea glasses, a piece of silver. I romanticized the gifts, of course, and thought of them as a kind of modern dowry.
When Jamie and I moved into our first apartment, I unpacked those someday house treasures from my steamer trunk, where they’d been stored since I was a teenager. As a new bride, there were lots of happy dreams in each candlestick, hand-carved wooden bowl and tablecloth I put on our very first mantle, bookcase and kitchen table.
Things were getting better. The initial shock was wearing off, and folks were busy with clean up, insurance, estimates, adjusters, livestock, crop evaluations. There was still no power, but we were all making do. It’s amazing how clean you can get with a bottle of water and a washcloth.
Out at Mama and Daddy’s the “Little House on the Prairie” camp was working so well, they reported they “lacked for nothing.” A friend had come by with a chainsaw and made fast work of the few trees still down, doing in 30 minutes what was taking hours for us to do with a band-saw and a hatchet. Now, Daddy’s primary concern was the pecan tree balanced on top of the gas tank in the backyard. “What if it explodes?” I asked. “Well, I guess we’ll find out,” he answered.
Weather in South Georgia is not unpredictable. We always have super-hot summers and mild, short springs. Fall is usually an extension of summer with days warm enough for short-sleeves lasting through October, sometimes even November. Winter doesn’t really start until around January and even then, we can count on cold rain more than hard, deep freeze. From time to time, we can expect a tornado or two, or at the very least, a handful of warnings. In Southwest Georgia, we all know that hurricanes blowing in from the Gulf of Mexico have the potential to be more ominous than those from the Atlantic.
Sometimes though, weather alerts feel a little like The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Our local meteorologists warn us for days about the potential for high winds and monumental amounts of rain, only to receive a smattering of rain with winds that blow over an outdoor trashcan. Inconveniences at best.
There are lots of things I don’t mind waiting for: the start of a concert, those days before a baby is born, for Christmas to come. There is an anticipation associated with that kind of waiting, and it colors the wait with bright, vibrant expectant excitement. That kind of wait tastes like cinnamon.
I don’t like waiting on unknowns. Those things whose outcomes are unpredictable: the limbo period after a job interview, waiting for the cast list to go up, weather forecasts, test results. Those waits tiptoe around my mind smearing blue and deep purple, grey. Waits like that slowly float under waterfalls of worry. Those kinds of waits, the ones without anticipation sprinkled in, taste like scalded milk and smell like hot plastic.
Thunderheads formed on the horizon as I drove home. I could see them in the distant twilight, a dark outline on the edge of lighter clouds. I was alone in the car and had Mary Chapin-Carpenter’s “C’mon, C’mon” on repeat. That song makes me remember, especially on a quiet night, alone in the car, with thunderheads in the distance. I love rain, always have. Mama says it’s because I was born during a summer storm.
My anxiety sneaks into my mind like thick, black smoke curling up from under a door. The kind that smells like burned rubber and tastes like pennies. The kind of smoke that at first, you think only you see, so you ignore it and go on about your business, but on double-take, it’s there. It’s white at first, just a warning, but as time passes it changes to grey and then slowly smutty and finally black and thick, and it’s billowing. There’s nothing I can do to stop it from coming inside. So it does. It consumes the room in my brain while I stand frozen, watching it and gasping to breathe.
Ginny and I talk on the phone every day on my way home from the office. It’s the only time I have an hour all to myself. If we wait until I get home, I’m too distracted by my mom-jobs and there’s not much continuity in our conversation. So, we relish the hour we have available to us just to be sisters.
I get too emotional about things. Always have. In fact, one of my best friends gave me a little pink sign for my cubicle wall that has “Just Slightly Dramatic” painted in white curly letters on the front. It is a facetious understatement.
In fifth grade, I overheard my parents and their friends discussing local politics. I didn’t like what I was hearing and decided to write a letter to the politician expressing my disappointment and frustration. I’d thought he was a good guy. I gave the sealed, addressed and stamped letter to my father to mail feeling very proud of myself, believing with my whole heart that this well-written letter would most certainly make an impact. Daddy explained years later that just before he dropped my letter in the mailbox, a little voice told him he should probably open it. All these years later, he still has that letter in his desk drawer at home. I specifically remember one line written in blue ink and very careful cursive writing, “It has come to my attention that you have some unsanitary supporters.” Unsanitary supporters. Nice.
Recently, I attended an office meeting at which it was explained that those we serve would soon be asked to complete a survey regarding their overall experience. The higher we score on the survey, the better. In the meeting, we learned that the survey is composed of approximately twenty statements. Respondents are asked to make those statements most true by checking one of four boxes:
Always. Usually. Sometimes. Never.
It’s not uncommon for companies to survey their clients. That wasn’t the surprise. What surprised me was that we receive a score ONLY when respondents check ALWAYS. Should respondents check any of the other boxes in terms of our performance (Usually, Sometimes, or Never) we get no score at all. No matter how good the service, how thoughtful the intent, how clear the instructions, or positive the experience, if the respondent doesn’t check the box labeled ALWAYS – it’s as if we did nothing at all.