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.
My own children love for me to tell the story of how I handled being picked on in middle school. I had wild, naturally curly red hair and wore glasses. I was incredibly fair-skinned, freckled and a bookworm. I was un-athletic and as bossy then as I am now. It wasn’t a fortuitous combo for a middle schooler.
Around sixth grade, I decided that I’d had my feelings hurt for the last time. So, when I got home from school on this spring day, I put on my brand-new pajamas that the Easter bunny had brought just weeks before. They were white with little pink rosebuds and a white eyelet ruffle across the chest. I thought they were very fancy. I climbed onto my bed, folded my arms across my chest mummy-style, put one of Mama’s Johnny Rivers’ albums on the record player and willed myself to die. Ginny came into my room, took one look, rolled her eyes, and left me alone to go watch cartoons in the living room.
Eventually, I heard Mama’s car pull into the yard. She came inside the house and I listened to Ginny explain what I was doing – all wrong. Seconds later, Mama opened the door to my darkened room, stood by my bed and said, “Now, what is all this about exactly?” I explained, never moving my arms from their mummy position. I knew she would be devastated. Instead, Mama let out an exasperated sigh, put her hands on her hips and said, “Well, I have too much to do for you to will yourself to die today. Get up and help me cook supper.” That was the end of that.
Mama never called me quixotic. She is a believer in tough love. She claimed I was over-dramatic and full of righteous indignation, and she didn’t mean it as a compliment. She also said I must’ve gotten it from Daddy’s side of the family because the Baker’s don’t “go in for all that.”
Part of a Southerner’s charm is in the figuring out from where personality traits descend. As Mama says, “You got it from somewhere.” My dramatics likely came from Nanny, my paternal grandmother. Daddy and Aunt Evelyn claim Nanny could turn everything into a big deal. Daddy says she could be overly maudlin about things. Her glass was never half-full. Nanny didn’t mince words. She called things as she saw them. She was quick to pop a backside if need be. She could hurt feelings and sometimes she did it on purpose.
I thought she was fantastic. She and Pops lived right across the road from us all their lives, so they were as familiar to Ginny and me as our own parents. We spent lots of time together. After Ginny was born, she was Pops’ baby, so I was Nanny’s.
Nanny had lots of friends in our community, but one of her best friends was Toy Adkins. Miss Toy had a camp house that shared a yard with Nanny and Pops’ on the Itchuaway-Notchuway Creek. She also had a beach house within rock throwing distance from the house Pops built in the early 1960s at Sunnyside Beach in Panama City. When I was little, Miss Toy, Nanny, and Pops would all go to the beach together. In the evenings after supper, they’d play cards. They made friends down at the beach, too: The Deatta’s from Australia, The Duncan’s and the England’s from Alabama and Mrs. Todd from Vermont who would sometimes bring us maple syrup.
Nanny was competitive and good at most any card game. She taught me how to play Solitaire before I could read. Once I could hold my cards by myself and promised not to talk too much, she and Pops let me play Setback with their friends.
She loved being a part of the Eastern Star and was Worthy Grand Matron a time or two, once asking me to be her Sweetheart for her installation ceremony.
Nanny was exceptionally good at math, had a head for business, and did “figures” in her head. A child of the Great Depression, she could pinch a penny tighter than most anyone I’ve ever known. She hated debt and paid for most everything in cash. She balanced her checkbook with a finely sharpened pencil at the dining room table and if she were off – even by a penny – she would call the house and ask me to come over and “find” it. I wouldn’t go home until I did.
She didn’t garden, but she and Pops kept a neat yard. Sometimes she’d give me a nickel for every pine cone I picked up. She liked a routine: hair done at the same time, with the same stylist, in the same way, groceries at the same stores on the same day of the week, church every Sunday. She couldn’t sing very well and was a teetotaler (except for Miss Toy’s eggnog at Christmas) but taught me all the words to “Give Me that Good ‘Ole Mountain Dew.” We sang it together – badly and loud