My last post was in June of last year. Thanks to quarantine, I’ve found the space to write again. This post is part two of what is a three-part series about the BIG FUN we had at my cousin’s wedding in Birmingham, Alabama last summer. Check back next week for part three.
If I’m going to be dramatic about it, and of course I am, my cousin’s wedding in Birmingham signaled the end of an era. Although she has been a working professional with her own home in Birmingham for a few years now, the idea of her getting married carried with it a traditional, old-fashioned, “setting up housekeeping” feeling for me. That ridiculous ideal can be blamed completely on my watching “The Quiet Man” about a thousand times in middle school.
For this middle-school romantic, Mary Kate Danaher’s (Maureen O’Hara) wedding was the absolute ideal. After watching her be wooed and wed by an extremely attractive Sean Thornton (John Wayne,) then fight with her brother over her dowry and win, I’ve always believed it to be true that a woman has this innate sort of longing to feather “her nest with her own things about her.”
Specifically because of “The Quiet Man,” when Jamie and I married I had a few chests full of things I’d collected since I was a teenager: candlesticks, everyday dishes, pitchers, vases, embroidered linens. It meant something important to my newly wedded-self to take those things out of their chests and place them around our first apartment. My cousin’s wedding conjured all those old nesting, newlywed memories for me.
According to Google Maps, Birmingham, Alabama, is a 4 hour and 4 minute drive from Elmodel, Georgia. Timing called for us to be ready and at the church for the special communion service before the wedding rehearsal by about 4:50pm. The way Daddy had it figured, we needed to leave Elmodel no later than 8:00am to get there in time. This allowed a little wiggle-room for “emergencies and lunch on the road.” I was so excited about our original Sanders four being together, I didn’t care what time we left.
It’s rare that Mama, Daddy, Ginny, and I have time together, just the four of us, and that’s ok. Thankfully, we have always been one, big, happy, extended Sanders-Cantrell clan. But, there’s something nice about every now and then just being us. There’s a rhythm, slow and familiar, that we fall into when we are together. It’s nice.
Jamie said since he’d be driving the boys up after their last day of school, it would “just be easier” if I went ahead and packed all the suitcases and took all the luggage with me. “Why of course, my darling,” I said, “whatever makes it easiest.”
If I had my own personal coat-of-arms, I’m pretty sure that would be my motto. In Latin Quidquid est, quo facilius. Roughly translated: Whatever makes it easiest. As Mom of my all male crew, I long ago gave up giving my opinion on where to eat, what television program to watch, and what music we listen to in the car. Not because I have no opinion on those topics, but because I do not care enough to argue. Whatever is easiest.
I like to save my opinions for really important hills-to-die-on: general hygiene, “We have a twice daily tooth brushing minimum. I want to hear sustained toothbrushing noises coming from that bathroom,” screen time allowances: “You’ve been playing Fortnite so long, I’ve forgotten the sound of your voice. Turn that off and come put this puzzle together,” and church attendance: “I cannot help that the NBA finals begin at the same time as church. Jesus could care less about basketball. Get in the car. And you better act like you like it.” It’s all about priorities really, but I digress.
After we picked Ginny up, we were on our way to the big city. Not too far outside of Columbus came the inevitable from Mama,“Just keep in mind, I try to have your Daddy’s lunch on the table no later than 12:30pm. He’s gotten used to being served by then.”
After twenty-two years of marriage, I am acutely aware of the games that married couples play. They come with the territory of being someone’s day-in, day-out partner. Most are crazy passive-aggressive, and totally unhealthy – like French fries, but I still eat those on the regular.
For example, if Daddy shakes the ice in his iced tea glass, Mama jumps up from the kitchen table and refills his glass. EVERY. TIME. Daddy has always said he shakes the ice in his glass to maneuver the tea around the ice cubes when the tea is low in the glass. Either way, Mama hears Daddy’s ice clatter against the glass, and she is up like a rocket with a refill from the tea pitcher. Daddy always says, “Thank you, but I didn’t mean for you to do that,” and Mama always answers, “Well, if it weren’t empty, you wouldn’t shake it.”
Another fun game they play is Daddy’s pronouncement that he will do absolutely anything Mama asks him to do, if only she will make him a Honey Do List. Mama insists she will never, ever make a list because, “If he can’t see for himself what needs doing, then there is no way I’m writing it down.” They’ve been in a forty-five year deadlock on that one. Once, when I still lived at home and in an effort to keep the peace, I made Daddy a Honey Do List in the hopes it would put an end to the back-and-forth. As I’m sure you can imagine, that didn’t go over so well.
Lost in our own thoughts, I was surprised we didn’t chit-chat too much in the car. As we approached Columbus, I asked Ginny to put the hotel’s address in her phone for driving directions. Until that point, Daddy had been unable to hear much of what Ginny and I were talking about in the front seat, our attempts at conversation punctuated with, “What now?” and, “Can y’all speak up a little?” But when I mentioned directions, he perked right up, offering, “If you want good directions, I always use the lady in the mirror.”
Daddy has long had his own vocabulary for things. I think some of his inability to recall names of newfangled technology – like OnStar – is his attempt at resistance. He calls his iPad his “doo-dah.” The television remote has long been the “channel changer.” He usually calls his telephone “the blame thing.” As in, “Hand me that blame thing and I’ll look up her phone number.”
I encouraged Daddy to trust me; however, as soon as Google Maps had me turn off the interstate, I saw him take notice again. Not unlike a dog that knows he is going to the vet’s office, Daddy’s ears perked up, and he suddenly became uber-interested. Gin whispered, “Where is this thing taking us?” To be honest, I had no idea, but it was imperative that we not let on that Google Maps was leading us astray.
I circled back to reroute us and accidentally turned into a neighborhood. Daddy quipped, “This sure looks like a new way to get to Birmingham.” Mama said, “Kent, they’re trying to find you a restaurant for lunch.” I knew that Mama knew we were way off the beaten path, but like any good woman-sister, she was trying to buy us time. Also, it was her way of telling us that she, too, was ready for lunch.
After we’d circled the neighborhood and twice passed the same lady wearing a blue bathrobe watering her flower bed, Daddy said, “Y’all can do what you want, but if you’d use the lady in the mirror, she could get us outta here, and we wouldn’t be stuck seeing this poor old lady watering her flowers in her nightdress.”
Ten minutes later we pulled into a newly-renovated Burger King, which Daddy insists on calling Burger Chef, with all the fancy trappings of the new burger-cafe’s. There were booths, tall tables with stools, and a fancy soda dispenser with touch-screen capabilities. Not surprisingly, Daddy hates the fancy soda dispenser. “All the soda comes out of the same shoot. That means you get orange soda mixed in with your Coke. I don’t want orange soda mixed in with my Coke. Where’s the ice? Which button is for Coke Zero? Why do we have so many choices?”
After choking down fast food hamburgers and back in the car, I went ahead and punched the button for the lady in the mirror. It was just easier. To Daddy’s sheer delight, Onstar got us back on track with ease.
When we got to the hotel, I valeted the car as Daddy went inside to get the luggage cart. It was only then that I noticed Mama was holding a 35lb cast iron Lodge Dutch oven, still in the box. I knew better than to ask in front of the general public what in the Sam Hill she was doing with a Dutch oven. Mostly, because I was afraid of her answer.
If you know my mother at all, you know that her Dutch oven is her pride and joy. Seasoned from years of cooking, it is the Dutch oven that is the most-prized and utilized item in her kitchen, aside from her wooden spoons. (Which, she recently mentioned she wouldn’t mind us handing out at her funeral with one of her recipes attached. “Funeral favors, Mom?” I questioned. “Well, why in the world not,” she replied.)
Once we got to the privacy of the hotel elevator, I asked why she’d brought an unopened Dutch oven all the way to Birmingham, “Oh, it’s a wedding present. I just haven’t wrapped it yet. How’s a woman supposed to start her home without one?”