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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.