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.
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.
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.
Most of the time, Mama and Daddy answered endless questions from Ginny and me with thoughtful, thorough answers. There was nothing we couldn’t ask that they wouldn’t try to explain.
However, when I complained about the fact that something was unfair, Daddy’s favorite answer was, “When you meet fair in the road, come get me.” I squinted my eyes, wrinkled my nose, and let my mouth gape, not daring to respond with the bordering on disrespectful, “Huh?” His answer made as much sense to me as, “If you don’t quit crying, I will give you something to cry about.”
Growing up in the country, there is a realism that comes with the excitement of loving of a pet. Although I don’t remember a singular moment in which we learned the lesson, Ginny and I always knew there was a very real chance we could lose any animal we loved to the highway that runs in front of our house, or to a bobcat or coyote. Out in the middle of nowhere, there most certainly exists an only-the-strong-survive reality.
Throughout our childhood we had cats get in fights with wild cats and go missing, a dog that escaped his pen and got hit by a car, even our parakeet, Lucy, learned how to escape her cage and flew into a nearby tree. Our 6’3” Daddy said he knew he looked ridiculous when he climbed that tree and “rescued” her. When she escaped the second time, he said she’d have to take her chances. We never saw her again. As a result, Ginny instituted an “inside pets only” policy on the Sanders family that lasts to this day.