There Be Dragons Here

Amos Henry and Joe

 

We live at a crossroads. Not a magical Robert Johnson kind of crossroads, more of a Gomer Pyle crossroads. Even though we are way out in the middle of nowhere, and it is not possible for me to overstate our rural-ness, it’s still a very busy intersection. When I visit my friends in the city, I actually sleep better. It’s quieter. Here at my little country corner, traffic starts rolling through around 3:30 in the morning so everyone gets where they need to be in time for work.

Just your average, garden-variety car tends to be loud and jiggly here since this county does not have vehicle emission standards. Air pollution is just not our most pressing problem. The average income in this county is shamefully low, so car maintenance is regularly postponed. There are a lot of vehicles on the road here that sound like they’re one lug nut away from extinction.

Making it worse, one of the roads running past my house accommodates all the tractor trailers going from the poultry farms to the nugget factory and from the orchards to the juice plant. The other road handles dump trucks from the quarry and the big rigs hauling roof truss systems. It’s a noisy, rattling junction, you can be sure.

That’s where the mastiff comes in. Joe is our official Security Director and alerts us to all things suspicious in our immediate vicinity. He’s the Top Gun of our thirteen acres and takes his position very seriously. I mean, drill sergeant seriously. Unless he’s sleeping, then you’re on your own. But other than that, he’s a perimeter enforcement beast.

The rest of the pack are fairly casual in their approach to home defense. The Basset hound couldn’t care less. The bulldog will bark once or twice if the event exceeds a certain time limit. The boxer will at some point utter a supportive bark, but will never know why since he’s deaf and doesn’t get it. So threat assessment falls squarely and solely on Joe. He sees it as a somber responsibility.

Lumbering, squealing, jostling trucks are never going to be accepted by Joe as anything other than an imminent threat to our well-being. They are the mechanical equivalent of a dragon suffering a violent seizure and everyone needs to be made aware that something awful is happening this close to the house.

Every dump truck, every garbage truck, every Department of Transportation vehicle, every big rig has to be chased off by ferocious barks. These are serious, slobber-slinging messages of doom. Woe be to the vehicle that dares to slow down, or horrors, park near our property.

I am torn about this security soundtrack. On one hand, I like the fact that everyone knows we have a protective, 200-pound dog on the property. It makes my life a little easier. It helps preserve my privacy. It has totally eliminated the annoying visits from the “Have you accepted Jesus as your personal savior?” crowd.   To the couple trying to sell insurance door-to-door, Joe didn’t think much of you either, but I guess you got that memo while standing on our porch.

On the other hand, shut up already! I have attempted dozens of times to record a series of pod casts. I do not have one that I can use because somewhere in every single recording is a series of ear-splitting alarm barks. What to do? I’ve always approved of Joe’s behavior in the past, even encouraged it. Now that it doesn’t mesh with my goals, how do I tweak his protectiveness? He just doesn’t understand, “Not now baby, Mama is trying to record the funny.” How many Benedryl do you think it takes to make a monster-sized mastiff sleepy?

This week has been particularly bad. It’s a holiday week, so traffic is heavier than usual. Also, Joe has a deputy-in-training. We are babysitting my in-laws’ Irish Wolfhound, Amos. Amos is all too eager to learn the ways of home protection. Amos is supporting Joe on every woof, racing from window to window trying to understand what it is we’re barking at. Doesn’t matter. Joe said it was time to howl, so mad barking is in order.

I’m pretty sure I can translate the barking after six years of hearing it. Allow me.

“Hey, you cow. I see the way you’re looking over here. Keep your eyes on your own pasture.”

“Oh my God, is that a cat?”

“Did you hear a dragon? I’m sure I heard a dragon. Dragons rattle and that was definitely a rattling sound. Y’all had better recognize the danger we’re in. Dragons kill, you know.”

“Is that cat still here?”

“Look at this! It’s a rabbit. Just who do you think you are? Go away. I saw Monty Python.”

“Motorcycle, motorcycle, motorcycle! That’s way too loud for a Honda, Mister. Move along.”

“It’s another dragon. Wait no, it’s a dump truck. I don’t like your looks, buddy. Keep rolling.”

“Wait, is that the same cat?”

“You! You with the bible. Get back in your car or else.”

“Intruder alert! Hey, that’s Daddy’s car, that’s Daddy’s car. Daddy’s home. Time to dance! Let’s bark to share our joy.”

“Daddy’s in the house! We missed you so much! Let’s bark to show you how much we worried while you were gone.”

“It’s dinner time. We will now bark to express our gratitude.”

“It’s TV time. There’s that nasty little Jack Russell terrier on the PetMeds commercial. We hate him. Bark to convey our collective disapproval.”

. . . . and repeat.

What It Means To Be Southern

biscuits

 “I think we Southerners have talked a fair amount of malarkey about the mystique of being Southern.”

~ Reynolds Price

 Many Yankee friends have asked me to define what it means to be Southern. Since I am promoting myself as a native tour guide for all things from the American South, I should be able to answer this question easily, only it’s not that simple. It’s messily subjective when you start thinking about it.

My husband Gruff can’t wait to read this one, since he thinks my values are more aligned with South Park than with South Carolina. It’s true. I am more liberal than most of the geographically defined South, but the South is always reconstructing itself and its values. It must to stay relevant to its growing, shifting population. Otherwise, it becomes dusty and obsolete, a garish knick-knack destined for the world’s yard sale box.

I was raised in Virginia which is a very different milieu than Mississippi. There are dozens of flavors in the Southern stew, each as important as the next. Different states offer distinct tastes of the South, but there are common spices that bind it all. So no, I don’t have a pithy, bumper sticker definition of what it is to be truly Southern and probably won’t be able to produce one. Damn, I could have made millions selling bumper stickers.

Let me start by telling you what the South is not. It is absolutely not whatever the A & E and TLC channels think it is. A & E stands for Arts and Entertainment, and they have a rather flimsy grip on the Arts part of their name. TLC stands for The Learning Channel, an ironic moniker if ever there were one. If there is a TV channel currently on air attempting to dumb down its viewership outside of Fox News, it is TLC.

“Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart.”

~ Kahlil Gibran

The South is not Honey Boo Boo, even though that little girl is an adorable dumpling. I don’t know anyone currently involved in the pageant circuit. It’s just not that big a deal here in Virginia compared to some of the other Southern states. I participated in a couple as a child and hated every minute of it. I finally announced that if I couldn’t wear shorts and flip-flops, I wasn’t doing it at all. Pageant career wrecked at the ripe old age of eight. Thank God.

It is not diving into muddy places to wrangle catfish. Every Southerner knows that you catch catfish by putting smelly bits on a hook, setting the pole in the river bank and coming back the next morning to round up your catch. Most of the time you get catfish, sometimes you get eels, and both fry up just fine. Catfishing is definitely not an aerobic, waterlogged, near death experience. That’s just silly.

It is not all trailer parks. It is not all hoarding. It is certainly not the combination of the two, chicken hoarding in a trailer. Yes, I did see this on one of the aforementioned channels. It was just pitiful. The whole time I was watching it, I was praying, “Please be Missouri, please be Missouri.” Even better, it turned out to be Illinois. Take that, Mason-Dixon line.

It is most certainly not letting camera crews follow you around while you commit a federal offense (moonshining). No self-respecting moonshiner would show a camera crew Grandpa’s favorite hidey-hole in the woods nor would they allow the making of their very best recipe to be filmed. What’s next, TLC? Backwoods Breaking and Entering?

It is not all shooting and spitting. It’s not all hunting, mud, and camouflage clothing. It is not all men with wild beards. It is not all gators, ducks, beer, and pickup trucks. Wait, it might be all about pickup trucks. I have to think about that one.

It is not all fried foods. Only 87% of it is. The rest is pie. Unless we are talking about fried peach pies, then 100% is about fried foods. Want to find yourself a mate in the South? Learn to fry chicken. Paula Deen is far more representative of our cuisine and tastes than I like to admit. She’s also indicative of our collective medical condition, unfortunately.

It is not all about pitching hissy fits or conniption fits. Yes, there is a difference between the two. Major fits don’t happen very often because we were raised better than that. However, if you hear a Southern woman utter the words “That’s it!” or “As God is my witness. . .” it would be prudent for you to find a reason to leave the house. Best not to dawdle, either.

“Anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic.”

~ Flannery O’Connor

Hello, Hollywood! A Southern accent is not shorthand to tell the audience that a character is stupid. Having a character say stupid things is the clue that they’re stupid. Stop being lazy and bigoted, why don’t cha? We are not ignorant. We have a slow, rolling cadence but make no mistake, we are not slow-witted.

I’ll stop telling you what the South isn’t and start telling you what it is. It is an inherited gift of storytelling. Every Southerner grew up hearing family tales and can share at least a half dozen stories that will have you laughing through tears. The best thing a Southern raconteur can hear is this phrase, choked out through laughter. “Wait, wait, let me catch my breath.”

It is flirting. We all carry the compliment gene. We will find something about you to compliment, even if we’ve got nothing to work with but your choice of socks. It will be a sincere compliment, and you will feel lighter for it. The goal of Southern flirtation is to get the face smiling with a wee bit of pleasantry. It is about friendliness and playful banter. It is about making life fun. It is not about foreplay, so don’t get all flustered.

“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.”

~ Will Rogers

It is our dogs. We have a strong bond with our pets, and when a faithful companion dog passes away it tears out a chunk of our hearts. The connection between a Southern man and his best hunting dog is not to be trivialized. We appreciate the friendship, the helpfulness, the unconditional love, the comedy our dogs provide us. This world would be a better place if humans could be more like dogs.

“. . .this is the South, we encumber you with hospitality.”

~John Grishman, The Firm

It is not knowing a stranger. If we are in the Express lane at the Piggley-Wiggley, we will start a conversation with you and everybody else in line. We will be on each other’s Christmas card lists by the time we check out. We will be sad to see you go, we enjoyed our time together that much.

It is hospitality. If you appear on our doorstep, even if you are a Jehovah’s Witness and our true inclination is to set the dogs on you, we will offer you a glass of lemonade. We will sit down with you though our chore list is backed up two miles long. We feel obligated to make you comfortable. We love to visit. Calling on elderly friends and relatives after Sunday lunch is a tradition. We simply must talk to others or we will lose our minds.

“Perhaps no bread in the world is quite as good as Southern corn bread, and perhaps no bread in the world is quite as bad as the Northern imitation of it.”

~ Mark Twain

It is our food. It is barbecue. Barbecue is cooking meats with smoke, not heat, at 250 degrees or less for many hours. It is not grilling. Grilling is a cook-out. They are not the same and the terms are never to be used interchangeably. Hear that, Bobby Flay?

Barbecue is to the American South what wine is to France. Drive 200 miles in any direction and there are regional differences in technique and flavor. The French have their terroir, we have our sauces. Barbecue is our claim to fame. It is our birthright. It is our destiny. We simply do not joke about barbecue.

It is fried chicken emerging from hot grease like Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. You can heal a lot of bad situations with a platter of good fried chicken. Southern fried chicken aficionados are second only to barbecue hounds in their commitment.

It is iced tea. It is homegrown vegetables. It is sugar. It is bourbon. It is pie. It is cornbread. It’s a mess of greens. It is seafood, particularly shrimp. It is grits. It is hot biscuits. It is country ham. It is all our favorite foods, born in hardship and making do, that feed our very souls and make us feel the rush of generations past whenever we put spoon to mouth. Want to make friends? Learn to fry chicken.

“I even went so far to become a Southern Baptist for a while, until I realized that they didn’t hold ’em under long enough.”

~ Kinky Friedman

 It is church. Collectively we are a religious group, fond of the drama and entertainment of a good, old-fashioned revival every summer. Much charity and good work has been done by the churches in the South. Yes, there are Southern religious groups that claim to speak for a much larger portion of the population than they actually represent, and there are groups that seem to cherry-pick the bible as a justification for judging others. The majority of churches in the South concentrate on helping people and are not drawn into the political forum like moths to a bug-zapper. Don’t let the loud mouths lead you to believe that this is what Southern religion is all about. It is not.

“The Southern character is opposed to haste. Safety is of more worth than speed, and there is no hurry.”

~ Maria Mitchell

It is hot. It is sticky. We move slowly. We talk slowly. We are not quite on “island time” nor do we belabor the word manana, but we are pretty close. You try to be all perky and motivated when it is 98 degrees with 95% humidity. It’ll beat the frisky right out of you, but quick.

“A family is one of nature’s solubles; it dissolves in time like salt in rainwater.”

~ Pat Conroy

It is family. It is having certain archetypes represented in every single Southern family, and that is an inescapable truth. You are destined to be related to:

(1) either a Blanche DuBois or a Scarlett O’Hara and God help you if you have both in your extended family because the level of manufactured drama will be unbearable;

(2) a rough-and-tumble Tom Sawyer type (can be female);

(3) a Jim Williams bon vivant (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil);

(4) an Aunt Polly or Aunt Bea, hardworking, pearl-clutching, everybody-be-good-now woman;

(5) an Andy Taylor or a Caddy Compson (The Sound and the Fury) decent guy;

(6) a Boo Radley, (To Kill a Mockingbird) cranky on the outside, kind on the inside type; and

(7) some incarnation of Barney Fife.

This is why food is so important at family reunions. It gives you something to distract everyone from personal differences. Want to keep the peace at family gatherings? Learn to fry chicken.

“There is no such thing as being too Southern.”

~ Lewis Grizzard

So there you have it. My definition of what it means to be Southern. I am Southern. All you need to know about me is that I faithfully worship my own Holy Trinity of Southern life: a porch, a pie, and a pack of dogs. Oh, and you can bet big money that I can fry chicken.

Southern Vernacular

scarlet

 

Honesty is the best policy. Except when it’s not. That’s the crux of Southern-speak, right there. You’ll find yourself wandering into the “except when it’s not” territory more than you ever thought possible. You might even end up forwarding your mail there, you’re in it so often.

This goes far beyond the old comic line, “Do these pants make my butt look big?” Really? People, unless you need to quickly assess whether or not your partner is experiencing suicidal tendencies, why would you ever ask a question like that? Baiting your partner with land mine questions is not cool. And for those of you who are stuck in the remedial relationship class, the answer to that question is always, “Why no, Honey. In fact, I was just thinking that you look very pretty today.”

No, Southern-speak can be far more subtle. We learned it watching our parents and our grandparents, so we can spot it and drop it without thinking. For those of you who were not raised Southern, well, you obviously need some assistance. Here I am, a public service peach, ready to help.

“I’m just being ugly.”

This phrase has nothing to do with physical attractiveness. All Southern women are beautiful and we know it. This phrase refers to behavior, speech, or attitude. The speaker is announcing that they have slipped into some serious hatefulness. It’s a half-hearted apology and/or acknowledgement that yes, we are indeed being a world-class bitch but we’re not quite finished yet. Recognizing you have a problem is the first step back towards “nice lady” behavior.

“You’d best be getting to it.” or “You’d best not do that.”

Other regions might use the “You’d better. . . .” but in the South, we have ramped up our seriousness on the good-better-best scale. When we say you’d best, we are quite earnest that you should or should not do whatever we are discussing. This also implies a certain amount of urgency.

“You go right ahead.”

Under no circumstances are you to proceed with whatever you are contemplating if you’ve heard this from your mate. It is not permission, it is a warning. In fact, if you’ve pushed hard enough, you might hear this phrase delivered in an even clearer manner. “You go right ahead, I dare you.”

 “Bless your heart.”

This one is pretty well-known yet still confuses people. We are not the Pope. We ain’t blessing nobody. This is our go-to substitute for anything rude we might think when we realize you’re not very bright. We understand you could just be having a bad day. Everyone suffers moments of stupidity. I warn you though, if we say “bless your heart” and pat your hand, you’ve just said or done something so peculiar that it has convinced us your mother still has to dress you or worse, you’re a ward of the state. Which would explain a lot about you, actually.

 “Fine.”

This one is practically universal, so I’m surprised that people are still confused about its true meaning. If you are in a discussion with your mate and they say “fine,” particularly if they deliver it with any degree of finality, this is not agreement. If anything, it is agreement’s bastard evil twin. It is a warning shot across your bow. The “fine” cannon has been fired. Stop talking. Stop doing what you’re doing. Back out of the room quietly. Maybe get in the car and go for a long drive. Don’t broach the subject ever again.

I can understand the source of this confusion. I have poked about all the dictionaries I could find. American Heritage, Merriam-Webster, Oxford American and they all get it wrong, wrong, so very wrong. Just one dictionary comes close to giving the correct definite of the word “fine.” The Urban Dictionary captures the essence of the word, which I will paraphrase here.

Fine: meant to signal the abrupt end of an argument. Also see: Go fuck yourself.

Any questions?

The Key

My choo-choo train has been known to jump the track from time to time. Sometimes I get so irritated that I fly right past miffed, hang a hard left at pissed off, and head deep into hissy fit territory.   I believe that it is perfectly fine, better than fine even, for a woman to let it be known when she is right livid with the world.

Lord knows, I’m not one of those darling, demure little dears who politely hold it all in. Stuffing your conflict down inside often results in a very messy and public explosion in your late 40s and early 50s, most likely involving the cabana boy from the Mirage hotel in Vegas. What is it about the scent of coconut oil and margaritas? The embarrassing part of my occasional derailments is that I am often mad about the wrong thing.

Let me tell you a story about one very mistaken hard-core huff I had going right after I met my Gruff. I realized quickly that I could spend a whole lot of time with this guy. We were in synch immediately, comforting in the way a pair of fuzzy bedroom slippers are. That might be a reference that is understood only by women, but you get my drift. Everything felt cozy. It felt right.

I liked right. I’d done wrong, horribly wrong. Right felt well, right. This could work. This was much better. I decided to go out on a limb. I had a key made for my house and wrapped it in a pretty red box, complete with satin bow. This was the key to my very own house. My house, the one I’d bought with my money, and decorated just for me. It was my private happy spot and I was giving someone else, a boy even, full access to come and go as he pleased. To me this was huge. I wanted to do it, yet the emotional enormity of it caused severe shortness of breath.

I hemmed and hawed, hid the pretty red box in my lingerie drawer, and thought about it incessantly. What’s the problem? I mean, Gruff was a great guy. I really, really liked him. Surely he deserved a key. The saintly Salvadoran cleaning woman whose only English was “More Windex, missus” had a key. Why not Gruff? If I gave Gruff a key to my house, he could pick up some Windex on his way over. It was a win-win situation.

I decided to do it. Worse, I decided to infuse it with all the romantic overtones of that Hallmark, Inc. fabrication, Valentine’s Day. Yep, I gave Gruff the key to my house over dinner on St. Valentine’s Day. He appeared to be um, underwhelmed. He said, “Oh hey, thanks.”

Now I made it worse. I explained, perhaps too enthusiastically, that this was the key to my house. It was my refuge, my safe harbor, my freaking Fortress of Solitude and he should recognize that he was receiving the highest honor I could bestow. I believe he responded with, “That’s great, Sweetie.”

Fine. Men just don’t fully appreciate the emotional sensitivities of such things. I was expecting too much. I had just given him my key, not a kidney. Fine. I had agonized over the event for weeks, but never mind. It turned out to be not so much of a big deal. Fine.

Of course you realize there is a second part to this transaction. I had given Gruff my house key. It followed that Gruff would now give me his house key. Here’s where the wheels on my train started to lift off the track. I waited, and I waited, and there was no key. Gruff came and went, but there was no presentation of a key for me.

After a month, I had worked myself up into a right proper snit. I assumed that I wasn’t getting his key because he was dating lots of different women and couldn’t risk any one of them popping over unannounced. Maybe he was running a meth lab in his house. Maybe he was a secretive hoarder and his whole upstairs was filled with old newspapers and desiccated rat carcasses. I didn’t know. Anything was possible. Gruff lived two hours from me, it’s not like I would be dropping in every twenty minutes to check up on him.

After six weeks of imagining the worst possible scenarios, my locomotive derailed at high speed. I greeted my new love at my front door with the tender phrase, “Where’s my fucking key?”

“What?”

“I gave you a key to my house, which you are using to unlock my damn door anytime you please and I just want to know, where’s my key? Why haven’t you given me the key to your house? Huh? What up with that, Playa?”

“I don’t have a key to my house.”

“You’re lying.”

“No Molly, my house was built in 1905 in a very rural area. When I settled on my house there were no keys transferred. There are no keys.”

Um, never saw that coming. I mean, who doesn’t have house keys? Who goes to sleep at night with every window and door unlocked?   I come from a law enforcement family. We were taught from toddlers to know your surroundings, protect yourself, and lock the damn doors. Hell, we weren’t allowed to learn how to drive until we could load, unload, and properly fire a weapon because there was going to be a pistol under the driver’s seat of any family car you drove. My daddy’s head would have popped off its stem had I suggested that we not lock the doors to the house, day or night. Good Lord, who does such a thing?

Gruff did such a thing. No biggie as far as he was concerned. Totally new concept to me however, and after I wrapped my head around it, I had to humbly apologize for so convincingly playing the role of psycho-bitch-girlfriend.

I was mortified. I had not asked simple questions while I was still chugging along sensibly, but instead waited until Ozzy Osbourne was screaming “Crazy Train” in my cortex and pounced on Gruff like a paranoid she-devil. I made amends with barbecued ribs and pie, but still felt odd about the whole thing.

Thankfully, Gruff is not one to hold on to my weirdness. He let it go and so did I. Eventually I sold my perfect little home and moved in with the love of my life. You can bet your ass there are now locks on all the doors and plenty of keys.

 

Nine Times

 

Perennial plant

I would rather go to the dentist than attend a wedding. That is the stand-on-my-mama’s-grave, honest truth. I know what you’re thinking. You’ve surmised that I’m single and therefore uncomfortable with everyone’s Aunt Stella coming up to me at the reception asking when it’s going to be my turn. Yeah, that would suck but that’s not it.

I’m married, for the second time even, so I’ve gotten my fair share of ceremony. Well, ceremony as I define it, which is kind of casual. I got married at home in front of the fireplace the first time and in the backseat of a pink Cadillac convertible the second. By the way, getting married in a drop-top pink Cadillac is the best thing ever. I highly recommend it. No stress, no procession, no family fights, no sloppy cousin kisses, and no sticky canapés. Of course, it is a lot more fun if you’ve chosen the right person to sit in the back seat with you. Botched it the first time, nailed it the second.

I’m just not a hoopla kind of girl. Weddings seem a silly waste of money to me when the cost could be such a nice down payment on a house. Having a comfortable home is very important to me. Having a photo of me in yards of tulle and taffeta is not. No, the reason that I hate weddings is that I was a bridesmaid nine times. Being a bridesmaid nine times is more than enough trauma to induce wedding PTSD for life.

Nine times I’ve slow-walked down the aisle in a ridiculously expensive dress whose sole purpose is to make the bride look better by comparison. This leaves deep emotional scars, particularly since there is embarrassing photographic evidence still floating around my social circle. Every so often, the very worst of the bunch will bob to the surface.

Someone will find a box of pictures while they’re moving and email me a photo of myself, a 200+ pound woman, in a Pepto-Bismol pink taffeta ball gown with puffed sleeves. There is a video tape somewhere of me in this horrific ensemble (shoes dyed to match, naturally) dancing the Bunny Hop. In case you’re wondering, this is how night terrors are born. If anyone ever puts that up on YouTube, I’ll have to kill them and I guarantee you, no jury with even just one female member will convict me.

Nine times I have helped brides tie thousands of pastel colored Jordan almonds into little net baskets as reception favors. I have a question. Does anyone buy Jordan almonds except for a wedding? Are any widows going to ask me to tie black almonds into little net baskets for a funeral? Note to self: start marketing funeral favors. The business potential is huge.

Nine times I’ve been videotaped dancing like a meth addict in a dress that could have been a costume for any Tim Burton film. Nine times I’ve had my ass grabbed by somebody’s drunk uncle at the reception. Nine times I’ve helped the bride back into the handicapped stall holding her ball gown up over her head so she could pee. Nine times I’ve pretended to be deaf when I heard the plaintive wail, “Hey, I can’t get around my skirt to wipe.”

Nine times I’ve thought that maybe the salute to newlyweds should be Molotov instead of Mazel tov. Nine times I wanted to rename the processional to “Here Comes the Snide.” Only once did I hear my most favorite wedding toast, delivered by the best man to honor his childhood buddy and what turned out to be a genuine, Junior League Bridezilla.

“May you always be as happy as your bride is charming and gracious today.”

 

In the Mother ‘Hood

trophy for writing

My two nieces just left to head home to Tennessee. They were here visiting me for ten days. Truly, I deserve my post-niece visit coma. I don’t want to imply that my nieces are disobedient terrors, they most certainly are not. I am just not accustomed to being “on” for 18 hours a day, answering questions like I’m competing on Jeopardy, feeding, organizing, chauffeuring, cleaning, managing, protecting, listening, et al.

I started calling my younger niece by a Japanese-sounding nickname, Ken-i, because every sentence she uttered for ten days, all two million of them, began with the words, “Can I?” Holy crap, how do parents do this full-time? Are people given extra-strength, military-grade vitamins the rest of us don’t have access to when they become parents just so they can keep up with their kids? Are they getting regular intravenous injections of super-strength Red Bull? Does the childbirth process give you some sort of motherhood gene mutation so you can hear things whispered five rooms away, cover a quarter mile in three steps, and parse out food for two into seven satisfying portions? If you are parenting and doing it well, you deserve a freaking medal. I mean that. A freaking gold medal.

I am not a parent. I did not get the “mommy chip” embedded in my brain at the factory. The concept just never appealed to me. I have never once asked to hold someone’s baby. If you’ve got a puppy, I’m all over you like crispy on Southern fried chicken, but babies? Not so much. I have never goo-gooed baby talk. I don’t get it. Never did. Still don’t.

I must make an announcement. To all those people I met during my life who, even without knowing me very well, declared it an absolute certainty that I would change my mind about becoming a parent: You were wrong. You were presumptuous, boorish, and most importantly, you were wrong.

My mom never really sold the job as desirable. Being a mother, according to my own mom, was difficult, heartbreaking, and chocked full of self-sacrifice and endless chores. By the time I was a teenager, I was convinced my mom was campaigning for honorary Jewish Mother status. I am telling you, she could have been a contender.

She didn’t mention an up side so even though it may have been inaccurately lop-sided, this was the view of motherhood I got during my formative years, kind of a donkey-meets-plough thing. Not pretty. Not much of a recruitment poster. So, I made certain that I did not accidentally dance the mama mambo by judiciously, obsessively, zealously swallowing a birth control pill every morning for forty years.

When you’ve had more than one gynecologist tell you that you have a “good, wide, birthing pelvis,” you tread lightly. When you’ve had multiple surprise “menopause babies” appear in your family tree, you get cautious. When you have a boyfriend insist that you must make babies together because they’d be gorgeous, you dump his ass.

My point is, parenting is not for everyone. It is not one-size-fits-all. It is an enormous, life-long responsibility requiring a particular set of skills and values. I know that you can learn some of these skills, but there has to be some desire and aptitude present. It is as silly to insist that every woman be a mother as it is to claim all men should be porn stars. Just because you have the equipment. . .well, you know what I mean.

If you are a parent and you are doing it consistently well, you are a god-damned national treasure. You should be recognized with a ceremony, and hoopla, plenty of hoopla. I don’t know how you do it. You must have reserves of patience, energy, adaptability, and motivation I can only dream of.

This isn’t much in the way of acknowledgment, but if you are a parent and you are doing it consistently well, I salute you. I applaud you. You are doing an important thing. You are a rock star. Now go take a nap. You’ve earned it.

You Had Me at Hello

Joe Asleep Close Up

Our English mastiff is getting on in years. His muzzle is peppered with white hair, and his hearing is not quite reliable. In Joe’s massive chest still beats the heart of a Samurai warrior, and he takes his role as chief protector of all that is ours extremely seriously.

Be warned all that venture near, Joe is on duty and you are suspect. Even if he has met you a thousand times before, you are merely an unwelcome trespasser until he decides otherwise. Being deemed a friend at present does not convey those rights automatically in the future. Acceptability is decided on a case-by-case basis.

Joe’s suspicions are triggered by certain events, sounds, or even words, that he has decided pose a threat. Since most people who possess the intestinal fortitude to come to our front door start with a tentative “Hello,” this word now triggers a Def Con 5 level response. Unfortunately, he applies this criteria indiscriminately. So when Gruff or I answer the phone — Hello — fierce barking erupts.

Intruder alert, intruder alert, unauthorized person attempting entry. All security personnel to Sector Three. And by security personnel, I mean an indolent bulldog and a deaf, three-legged boxer who is inept but unfailingly enthusiastic. The Basset hound does not participate. The princess hound couldn’t care less if we were invaded by a mariachi band and a horde of ninjas as long as one of them stopped and scratched her tummy.

Joe’s reaction to the word “hello” has gotten so visceral, I’m thinking of changing the way I answer the phone. “Hola” did not fool Joe. Neither did the way my daddy used to answer the phone, “yellow.” “Wazzup?” doesn’t seem quite professional enough, and “Dude!” even less so.   I guess I could use “Good morning” or “Good afternoon” but since I am so rarely aware of the time, this might come out wrong.

We’ve recently suffered an irritating rash of telemarketer calls, so Gruff has devolved his phone greeting to the formal, “Please identify yourself.” My man is so gracious and friendly. Now you know where Joe gets it from.

I know that some of you are wondering why I just don’t break Joe of this habit. Fair question. It is useful to me to have a 200-pound mastiff who feels protective. We are way out in the hills and fending for oneself is a time-honored tradition in these parts. Fending is much easier for a plump, middle-aged, non-athletic, diabetic chick when you have a concerned mastiff by your side.

I’m willing to grant Joe a little leeway in the area of his early warning systems. He has discouraged uninvited people from coming into the house before, and I respect and appreciate that. It doesn’t matter that I might be inconvenienced, or that callers are confused. It’s what Joe needs.

Bonjour, y’all!

Fat-Bottomed Girls

Chicken dinner

 

There’s a saying here in the South that we do not like to admit is true. We like to think of ourselves as evolved, strong, dare I say even refined. Underneath our perfect pedicures, perfect blonde highlights, and perfect Talbot’s ensembles lurks a dirt road tomboy hungry for mama’s cooking. Yes sirreee, “It ain’t fit to eat if it ain’t fried.”

My weakness for fried food is hard coded in my DNA. I’m certain that I was weaned from mother’s milk straight to fried chicken as a toddler. Otherwise, I can not explain the visceral reaction I have to the smell of hot grease. My knees buckle a little and my mouth starts to water. The smell triggers genuine primal desire and woe be to anyone standing between me and the source of deep-fried deliciousness. This is why I have never, ever owned a deep fryer. I knew that I could not be trusted with one in my house.

My brother-in-law Bull got a deep fryer one Christmas. He wore it out. Broke it from overuse. Swore he wasn’t going to replace it. Somehow a brand new one managed to sneak into his kitchen as if the grease fairy had delivered it in the night. How did that get here?

Not to let an appliance go to waste, the new fryer got fired up and put to good use in no time at all. I have listened to Bull wax rhapsodic about fresh French fries at midnight, okra as snack food (it’s a vegetable you know), and hot doughnuts on Sunday mornings. If a man can love something with a plug, Bull is definitely engaged to his fryer.

I am what polite, artsy people refer to as Rubenesque. To put it plainly, I’m a big girl. I am also diabetic. I have no business even looking at deep fryers. Yet I found myself in Kohl’s department store one day in the kitchen section. I was holding a 30% off coupon. Small appliances were already marked down. I could have gotten a waffle iron, I guess.   I could have chosen the sno-cone machine. I could have walked across the aisle to Women’s Shoes and gotten those adorable espadrilles I found. I think we all know where this is going. I bought the deep fryer. Cue Queen’s Fat Bottomed Girls on the iPod for the occasion.

When I got home with my new favorite appliance, my husband Gruff could not believe it. I think his exact words were, “Woman, have you lost your mind?”

“But Bull just adores his fryer, and I had a coupon, plus it was already on sale!”

“Bull weighs less than one of your legs and he is not diabetic. What were you thinking?”

“I had a really good coupon and it was on sale and, and, and I wanted it, okay?”

“Fine. It’s your funeral. I suppose you want me to break down some chicken to inaugurate your new doomsday device?”

“Yes, please. That would be lovely.”

The deep fryer has been all I dreamed and more. Oh my God, the fried chicken!  It’s been smack-your-mama delicious.  Fish and chips so fresh and crisp, it would make any Anglophile weep.  Peach hand pies, the filling sweet and the crust shattering with every bite.  So good.  Oh and French fries in minutes is like the best thing ever.  I love crinkle cut fries.

After getting a couple meals out of the Ore-Ida sack, I was reading the empty package. It seems that the good people at Ore-Ida think their package holds 11 servings. Eleven? They are misinformed. There must be some problem on the production line that they need to be made aware of. Their bag only holds four servings. That’s misleading the consumer. Eleven servings. Please. You’d think my endocrinologist mandated those portion sizes to Ore-Ida. You know, I don’t think I’ll mention to my doctor that I am the proud owner of a new deep fryer. The news might just make her cry.

Gruff’s right. I have lost my mind. I’m insane. I am indulging in self-destructive behavior. I should be ashamed. I am a weak, pathetic woman. I am also a woman who’s having hot doughnuts this Sunday! Oh happy, happy, joy, joy!

Codeword Watermelon

 

I am blessed. Gruff and I hardly ever argue. We are truly compatible and it makes for an easy life. Trust me, I know what I’ve got and I appreciate it. I’ve been married before and when it is wrong, it is downright painful on a daily basis.

Gruff and I are both ultra-mellow types and it takes a boatload of aggravation to get us riled up. There are occasions when one of us reaches our boiling point, what we call our “that’s it” moment. These volcanoes of vitriol happen maybe once every two years, always when we’re physically exhausted and emotionally stressed and are usually over in just a few minutes.

What triggers our moments of mayhem? Some magical combination of irritants will slowly mass into a top-popping gusher of profanity. Now — and I can not stress this strongly enough — it’s really important to keep our “that’s it” moments from becoming synchronized events.

If one of us is having a frustration fit, the other can calmly guide the irritated back down to earth and express heartfelt commiseration over the unjust situation that set off the outburst.

If we synchronize our fits, no sane person is left to ground us because we’re both twirling off into the toxic ether and gaining speed. With no one left to drive the bus, we are both hell-bent on ditching it into a fiery ball of destruction. If our “that’s it” moments are reached simultaneously, we just may turn on each other. That is not good. Not good. Not good.

You see, Gruff and I are both mud fighters. We are creative combatants and aim to annihilate. If I’m pissed at you I’m not only going after you, I want to destroy your entire genealogy. I don’t box, I fight. There are no rules and there’s no referee I recognize. In arguments, my goal is to scorch the earth. Once again, Gruff and I are extremely compatible. He fights low and dirty, too.

Out of love for each other, and possibly a teensy bit of fear, we have devised a system if we find ourselves locking horns in a fight to the death. We have a codeword. If one of us thinks that we are about to hurl some poison arrow that will hurt the other irreparably, or if one of us has just been wounded to the core, we stop and yell our codeword instead. Watermelon.

Once the watermelon card has been played, we can not speak of our disagreement or the event that triggered it for at least three hours. Three hours is an eternity and that’s the whole point. It is physically impossible to stay white hot angry during a waiting period of three full hours.

Sometimes I have been so blind with fury that I have set the timer for three hours, fully intent on whipping into Gruff as soon as it buzzed. Inevitably when the timer rings, I don’t have it in me to argue anymore and we both end up apologizing for any pain we may have inflicted. We lick each other’s wounds and speak kindly instead.

It doesn’t matter what word is used, but I think the word watermelon is comical. It conjures up instant images of happy times. Who associates fury with watermelon? You just can’t. You remember eating watermelon on the porch when you were a child. You remember happy summers catching lightning bugs. You remember being carefree. You remember being handed a slice of watermelon larger than your head and getting sticky with juice and seeds. Watermelon is a happy, funny word from light-hearted times.

Do what you need to do, but don’t hurt the one person who loves you the most. Love is hard enough to find in this world, treat it tenderly. If you think it would help, you have my blessing to hijack our codeword. Watermelon.

 

 

Bossy and Proud

I am bossy. There, I said it. Bossy from birth, as a matter of fact. I come from a long line of bossy women, all beloved by their men, their families, and their communities for all they accomplished.  So when I heard that my beloved Girl Scouts had hooked up with Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, to ban the word “bossy” I was confused. Sheryl Sandberg, her eyes glistening from the painful memory, said that she was labeled as bossy as a little girl and how hurtful that was to her.

Hurtful? You are the chief operating officer of a multi-billion dollar company and the best selling author of the alpha-business-female bible, Lean In. Hurtful? We should tattoo all little girls with the word “bossy” if that’s the end result.

With all your clout Sheryl, the best you can come up with is to tell everyone to ban a word from their vocabulary? There’s some bossy irony, right there. I’m a writer so I think every word has its place, no matter how vile. I’m not one for censoring any word. Limiting one’s vocabulary is a no-go in my world.

You could use your considerable clout to make progress on real issues affecting women today. May I suggest the gender wage gap, domestic violence, science and math education for girls, the attacks on the food stamp program, or women’s health care? Surely it is far more damaging to tell a little girl that she’s not getting a hot lunch at school because of program cuts than to call her bossy.

In fact, it was in the Girl Scouts that I was encouraged to be bossy. I was taught to dream big, formulate plans, lead others to implement them, overcome obstacles through persuasion and determination, and succeed like only a truly confident, bossy girl can. I will forever love the Girl Scouts for that lesson.

I think the Girl Scouts should start handing out Bossy badges. Bossy has passion, leadership, and drive. Bossy makes the world a better place. Case in point: Ms. Sheryl Sandberg. Let’s not pull that bossy ladder up behind you Sheryl, just because you’ve achieved your success.

I must explain a truth to you, little ones. Bossy is what you’re called before puberty. After puberty, you’re going to be called bitchy. So what? Bitch isn’t an insult, either. To quote Tina Fey, “You know what? Bitches get stuff done.” “Bossy” and “bitchy” are just two words that are often synonymous with “strong leader.” It’s what weak, lazy people say when confronted with passionate vision and competence in girls.

Sheryl Sandberg, if you want to gather your A-list friends to campaign as America’s word police go right ahead but you’re undermining your own project. By telling everyone to stop using the word “bossy,” you’re emphasizing the message to little girls that being “bossy” is somehow bad instead of badass. You’re not helping. I’m bossy and proud of it.

What Do You Look for in a Mate?

Apologies to all for my tardiness in posting. I am in the process of moving my blog (four years’ worth) to this site from GoDaddy.com. GoDaddy announced in April that it just wasn’t into bloggers anymore and kicked all of us to the curb. I’m hoping my relationship with WordPress will be more than a rebound.

While I am figuring all this out, I have inserted a link to one of my all-time favorite YouTube shorties (two minutes or so) from Mark Grist. If you don’t know him, here’s your chance to see what’s he is about.  If I weren’t already married, I’d seriously be crushing on this man.

Letter to a Young Dumbass

(This post was one of the most popular I’ve written and it appeared on my old blog in 2013.  Since it is time for graduations around the country, I am replaying it this week.)


 

Two of my nieces, Megan and Katie, graduate from high school this month. They are both gorgeous redheads, full of potential and possibilities. They’re so young, so fresh, so unaware. That’s not a criticism, that’s actually right on schedule. That big picture perspective only comes with time and experience. They’ll get it. Life is always willing to teach. All Megan and Katie have to do is listen.

I remember being their age like, yesterday. I was busting with promise. I remember being so very proud of myself, full of teenage wisdom. In other words, a total block head. Didn’t realize it at the time, but I was clueless. I was a big fish, but didn’t know how tiny my fishbowl was. If you want to cultivate a healthy ego, grow up in a small town. If you want that ego to get resized by reality, leave that little town. Eventually, you’ll have a bigger, better life but first your pride is going to get pummeled.

It’s a big world. What a kick in the teeth to find that you aren’t quite the superstar your Mama said you were. There is always going to be someone smarter, faster, better than you. You’re going to bump into them all the time. Don’t hate the hot shots, hang out with them. You’ll find yourself getting smarter, faster, and more talented to keep up.

I would not presume to tell my nieces what they may encounter in life and how to deal. They wouldn’t listen anyway. They probably shouldn’t listen. Lessons shared by others don’t stick like the lessons life beats into you personally. You’ve got to figure stuff out for yourself. If you’re smart, you’ll do it quickly. If you’re a dullard like me, life will keep heaving the same lessons in your face until you learn. I was a member of the National Honor Society but in life, I was as remedial as they come. So I have decided that the best way to celebrate my two beautiful, brilliant nieces is to address the idiot that I was. Maybe they’ll appreciate it.

Dearest Dumbass,

You don’t know me but I am you in 35 years. I know, I know. Ancient. Shut up, it’ll feel young when you get here. You’re going to do a lot of really bonehead stuff in your life and I thought maybe I could give you a few pointers to smooth your path a bit. You won’t listen because you’re a thick wit, but I feel obligated to try. Please pay attention.

Lesson 1: Just because a guy waves something sparkly under your nose does not mean he’s the right guy for you. It only means that he had enough cash for a diamond. Big whoop. In fact, the quicker a guy coughs up a ring, the more disastrously wrong he is for you. (I was engaged five times and married twice, I have learned. I am still a sucker for sparkly things but I don’t make life decisions based on them anymore. I buy them myself.)

a.         Never date anyone who is rude to waiters and valets. That’s asshole behavior.

b.         Never marry anyone until you’ve seen them with some sort of stomach ailment like food poisoning or flu. It’s a real window into their true personality.

c.         Never date anyone whose values vary wildly from yours. It will crop up in embarrassing, shocking, and destructive ways.

d.         Things that merely annoy you about a person when dating will make you homicidal in ten years. Never believe that things will improve after marriage. If personal idiosyncrasies change at all, they get worse.

e.         Always date someone who makes you a better person. Someone who has your back. Someone who encourages your dreams. (Ding, ding, ding, ding! Big, honking clue here. Not Rick. Never Rick. Forget Rick.)

f.          Interesting factoid for you. You do not have to marry at all. Society, friends, and family haven’t a clue what’s best for you. Don’t conform to their expectations if it feels wrong. The worst thing you can do is marry because you think you’re supposed to. (Ding, ding, ding, ding! Big, honking clue here. Not David. Never David. Forget David.)

Lesson 2: Before you marry anyone, sit down and write out a job description for them as your spouse and have them do the same for you. Everyone grew up in different households and what is normal is one family is unheard of in another. By talking out roles ahead of time, there are no hidden expectations that go unfulfilled. Trust me, you never want to have the conversation where someone shouts, “My mother always did that in our house, why can’t you do it?” That talk does not end well. Continue reading

Mermaid Summer

 

beach ball

Well, it’s officially summer. I know this because I have received twenty catalogues in the last month whose covers feature gloriously happy women wearing swim suits. I bet you missed the most important part of that sentence. I’ll run it by you again. Featuring happy women wearing swim suits.

You think I’m going to moan and whine about the awful pressure to get your jiggly parts firmed up to be trotted out at the community pool. Nope. Wrong. So very wrong. I recognize that a lot of people are nowhere near comfortable in their own bodies. A lot of people would rather eat a bowl of dirt than be seen in a bathing suit. I hope to change that.

During my adult life, I have worn swim suits ranging from a tiny size six to a robust size 28 and everything in between. Right now, I’m hovering around a size 20 and I’m totally cool with that. My point is that no matter what size I am, I have never been the thinnest chick at the beach and I’m never the fattest one either. I’m just part of the crowd that comes to the sea to have fun. We’re there to play with friends and family. We’re there to eat boardwalk fries and get sand in awkward places. On that note, I once complained to a friend about my thighs getting chafed from sand. She said, and this answer tells you everything you need to know about this woman, “Awww, my thighs rubbing just means I’m becoming a mermaid. I can’t wait.”

I know some of you are thinking, “But what if someone says something mean about me? I’ll just die!” No, you won’t. Here’s some perspective. I had more dim-witted comments slung my way when I wore a size six bikini then I do now. Being thin doesn’t protect you. Being slim doesn’t make stupidity dissipate. There is no force field for assholery. Some people are simply hateful and your size really doesn’t have much to do with that. Their problem, not yours.

When I was single, I used to consider taunts a useful early warning indicator. Thank you for publicly announcing to every female out here that you are undateable. Thanks dude, for saving us the time and trouble of getting to know you before realizing that you’re a huge waste of oxygen. We all, every last woman out here, appreciate the public service announcement. Very thoughtful of you to warn us off by yelling something repugnant in our presence. Bravo.  Continue reading