She’s a Lady…Sing it Tom Jones

My mother celebrates a milestone birthday today; being the proper Southern lady that she is I won’t mention an age. Just suffice it to say that it’s bigger than a breadbox and we’ll let it go at that.

I’ve been with her a great many of those milestone years. She was a child bride of the 50’s although here in the deep South getting married in one’s middle teens was more common than kudzu on a telephone pole. And if you hadn’t married by the age of 25 you pretty much joined the “widows and old maid’s pew” in the Southern Baptist church. I came along a few years after she and my daddy were married and I’ve often marveled at the fact that they ever even had any more children after me because I was so bad…it’s fairly awful when you yourself realize how bad you were (modern day progressives would now refer to it as being “free-spirited, independent, energetic and articulate.” I say fie on that…I should have been the poster child for the thing that no one knew to actually call ADHD back then.) Thankfully for her my two siblings who followed after me were much more subdued and much less “free-spirited” at the age of four than I was.

Growing up strangers often mistook my mother for being my older sister. She has always had a youthful look and even today, although she would emphatically deny it, she still looks a good 10 years younger than her milestone age. Some people, like my mother, are just blessed with it. Personally, I think it’s hit or miss, that “aging well thing” which one really has very little control over unless of course they opt for plastic youth and go “under the knife.” Otherwise, it’s pretty much whatever kind of DNA God breathed in to us before we made our way down Heaven’s sliding board to earth. That and a little Maybelline.

I’m so proud to have a mother that I think can best be described as sensible and no-nonsense but in the most gracious of ways. She’s the one that people would have run to on the Titanic to see if they should start looking for the lifeboats. She’s the one who would stay cool on a stuck elevator while everyone else was losing their heads. She’s the one who’d start making sandwiches and passing out cokes in a crisis. She’s the first with a casserole or a pound cake when death arrives at the door of a friend. Blood doesn’t make her gag; she’s Angelo Dundee in the corner of a boxing match. She’s a Sunday School teacher and a Bible scholar who has allowed God to use her to change lives and she doesn’t suffer fools lightly who stand in the way of what she thinks is right. She is everything that I am not and far more and for that I am most grateful. She’s a lady…Tom Jones must have been thinking about someone like her when he first sang that song (my mother would have never thrown any underwear at him though.)

Happy Birthday mother, I love you and you make me proud!

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

I Love December 23rd!

December 23rd…I loved this day as a child even more than Christmas Eve once I was old enough to grasp the concept that Santa Claus came to see good children on the night of the 24th. I say “good” because I can still actually remember being horrified as a child when my teacher, Mrs. Williams, told our rowdy classroom (with far more gusto than I actually think was called for at the time) that she knew a family who’s children were very bad one year like we were being right then and that Santa just passed right on by their chimney on Christmas Eve and went on to visit the good children next door. I can remember it so vividly, imagining the horror of those bad children jumping up in their red and green flannels on Christmas morning, running straight to the tree in the living room only to find a great big assortment of switches and cornbread instead of Lennon Sisters paper dolls and a scooter.

But I digress…the reason that I loved the 23rd of December so much was because of the exquisiteness of the anticipation that Christmas was almost here.  I loved waking up on the morning of the 23rd just knowing that the big day was practically within my grasp.  There was always great busy-ness around the house that day and everyone was on their best behavior (it still wasn’t too late to blow a year of good deeds right out of the sleigh with one fight with my sister and presto, no Chatty Cathy doll for me.) Mother usually had some last minute details to attend to and if those details happened to take us down to the Roebuck Shopping Center or, better still, K Mart, it was just wonderful.  K Mart was a magical place and if they didn’t have it you probably didn’t need it.  I don’t think I ever asked for anything on the 23rd if we were there though because I knew that as soon as that special day was over that when I woke up the next morning the first thing that would be on my little brain when I opened my eyes was that Santa was coming that night. I knew that far better mysteries and surprises were waiting for me on the morning of the 25th to blow my quasi-good record of being one of the good children on the 23rd; that day was just for taking in all the sights, smells and feelings of good will toward men and the neighbors.  I loved the anticipation of everything.

One of my many regrets for my children (and really for everyone’s children in the generations that have followed me) is that they have very little sense of anticipation.  They never got to experience the almost painful sense of exquisite anticipation that came only with being so excited that Christmas was coming that good, sound sleep was elusive for days leading up to Christmas.  We didn’t get toys (they weren’t even in the stores to buy year round until K Mart came to town) except twice a year and that was for our birthday and at Christmas.  Not so for my own children, I showered them with things all year, just like their friends’ parents did.  And if I had to do it all over again I would have backed off on the amount of stuff that they got all during the year just so that it would have been even more special at Christmas.  I think there is something good in having boundaries and maybe if we had a few more and we said “no” a little more often then the 23rd of December might become a bit more special for this latest generation.   Less truly is more if you allow the concept to take hold (and praise God from Whom all blessings flow!)

In keeping with tradition there was great “busy-ness” to attend to today and while I didn’t visit the Roebuck Shopping Center I did actually go to K Mart (unfortunately the magic of that place has long since vanished along with blue light specials) to pick up an item or two but I  didn’t buy anything for myself.  After all, it’s the 23rd and Santa will be coming soon enough.  Merry Christmas!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged ,

Of Dreams and Birthdays

For most of you who read this, tomorrow carries no more significance than the fact that it’s a Wednesday or maybe that it’s the last Wednesday of the month of August and with the passing of the 28th that September and Labor Day are just around the corner. But tomorrow’s special significance for me is that it’s my brother Randy’s 50th birthday. The fact that it is also the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech did not become significant for me until much much later in my life.

I was so insulated in the lily white suburbs of Birmingham (and the fact that I was only 9 deepened the insulation to a depth of almost total ignorance) back in 1963 that we might have been living inside one of those Aladdin thermoses that you got in your Dale Evans lunchbox when you started school the day after Labor Day. I remember my brother’s birth, of course; me and my baby sister were sent to stay with my grandparents in Anniston and I distinctly remember the phone call that came that night of the 28th telling us that we now had a baby brother. School began a few days later and I can even remember Mrs. Horsley, my mother’s friend at church, telling our fourth grade class as she helped out our teacher that morning that “Susan has a brand new baby brother that was just born last week” or something close to that, and everyone was in awe. At 9 years old and with every face looking exactly like mine when it came to skin color I had no inkling that there was a whole different life, an entirely different struggle going on outside of mine whereas my biggest struggle at that age was whether to choose a Roy Rogers tablet or a Dale Evans one from the supplies we could purchase in the office at school. I had no idea, that while my baby brother lay sleeping on clean sheets in a newborn’s bassinet in an air-conditioned nursery that there were little kids who were even younger than me being blasted by fire hoses in the streets of downtown Birmingham only 10 miles away. They might as well have been on the moon for all that I knew.

I do remember asking our neighbor at the time, Mrs. Felber, what a “freedom rider” was; evidently I’d heard the term somewhere or I wouldn’t have known to ask, but was given some sort of generic answer with a pat on my head and I never asked about freedom riders again.  And my brother cooed in his bassinet and slept like an angel.

I had almost no contact in my world with anyone, and I mean anyone, who was not white back in 1963. One of the selling points back in 1960 out in the suburbs was that no one who didn’t “look like us” was allowed in our neighborhood after 5:00 pm unless they were a domestic and even then could be stopped by the police and questioned if they indeed found themselves on our crime-less streets. I wasn’t quite sure what that meant but I knew that somehow it made me “safe” at 9 years old.  My world was orderly, tidy, unchanging except for what was on the dinner table at night.  I watched Bonanza and Gunsmoke on TV and even the bad guys on there looked like me, they just wore black hats so you could tell the difference. There was limited news coverage back then in 1963 and even the newspapers were certainly censored; no one wanted those tax-paying, God-fearing, vote-casting, up and coming, three bedrooms with one and a half bathrooms owning, white middle class mothers and fathers out in the suburbs to have to concern themselves with that little nastiness that was going on downtown.  I’m not saying that my own mother and daddy didn’t know at least some of what was going on in downtown Birmingham, after all hadn’t I asked Mrs Felber what a freedom rider was so surely it had been discussed at some point, I’m just saying that it was more like something that might have been occurring in another state or in another city far far away from where we were.  Living in the suburbs in 1963 we needed no “downtown.”  We shopped, went to school, worshipped, and were entertained in Roebuck, Alabama, unless you really wanted to visit the sticks and then you drove out to Trussville which was like going to another planet.

I am so thankful to have a brother, my brother Randy, who has taught me more about love and life than the average bear and it’s hard to believe that he is turning 50 tomorrow.  I am also thankful that my Aladdin-thermos-of-a-life eventually broke in to a zillion pieces and I met and have grown to love so many more people who certainly don’t look at all like me nor would they want to.  My wonderful parents taught all three of us Hurst kids to make friends based on character and not color, principles and not prejudice.  Dr. King’s speech that still gives me chills sometimes when I hear it, is for all of us and as I remember my brother tomorrow on his birthday I’ll also never forget the awesomeness of the speech that made my brother’s birthday famous.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Cul-de-Sac

This past week has been eventful one for me with God forever proving the point that even people like Sir Elton John get it right every once in a while. When he sang “The Circle of Life” I don’t think he could have been more spot on. To bring it in even closer I’d even say that humans are pretty much, living, breathing, multi-colored, multi-faceted, DNA-filled hula hoops. Think about it. We begin, we shake around the middle, we end. How fast we spin depends on prudence, reasonably good health and a bodacious sense of adventure; how long we keep it up only God knows.

Last weekend my oldest son, Dan, (the eldest by a whole 2 minutes) asked his beautiful, sweet girlfriend, Elizabeth, to become his wife.  He couldn’t have found anyone more perfect to become his soul mate; the yin to her yang, the ebb to her flow, the bed and bath to her beyond.  God has richly blessed me with one wonderful daughter-in-law already in Mallory and now the blessing is about to double as Dan and Elizabeth’s journey, or “spin cycle” begins when the two become one.

Last Wednesday the daughter of one of my best friends, Siggie Corn (yes, it’s the same Siggie who cannot be trusted to always text and talk to who she thinks she’s texting and talking to) had a brand spanking new baby  girl (and why do we always say that someone had a “new” baby as if babies could be anything but) named Kylee Rose.  Isn’t that the most beautiful name for a little girl!  I’ll get to be an honorary aunt, enjoying all the perks and privileges that come with being someone not exactly on the Corn family tree but maybe close by in a bush.  Kylee Rose has just begun her circle of life and I can’t wait to watch her spin and grow…she’s almost an entire week old now and her hula hoop is going strong.

Yesterday I said goodbye to an old and dear friend, Dwayne Nail, at a moving tribute to one of the absolutely sweetest men that I have ever known.  He was only 52 but had managed to cram more life and living in to his 52 years than most people could in far, far more.  I am not alone in saying that his leaving us has created a huge lump in the throat and a hole in the heart that won’t go away for a long, long, time.  He’s spinning and flying like a glorified whirling dervish now, wings fluttering, in a circle that we all hope to join some day.  God’s ultimate promise of eternal life to His children is a promise that I cling to, especially when I manage to spin myself right out of control sometimes…He slows the hula hoop down with His gentle but firm hand just when I need Him most.

A cul-de-sac is a fancy name for a circle but no matter what you call it it’s still a circle. Beginning, middle, end, we shake and we spin. Live, love, laugh, I’ll see you at the half.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

When Words, Or a Lack There of, Are a Gift

I’ve never had a good bedside manner when it comes to talking to anyone who’s sick; my brain seems to go all wonky and whatever comes out of my mouth tumbles out like a paper sack full of nouns and verbs that have been shaken up and tossed out on the linoleum. I’ve watched others who are far less talkative than I sit back comfortably in one of those creaky, pleather side chairs next to a hospital bed and share small talk that sounded as smooth as silk but somehow it’s never that way for me.  I think it’s a gift…the gift of talking to sick people…maybe not exactly one of those spiritual gifts mentioned in the New Testament mind you, but a gift all the same.

I’ve always said that my daddy and my grandmother Hurst had the gift of “sitting up”, another one of those gifts not exactly mentioned in the Bible but by my definition, a gift all the same.  Between the two of them I couldn’t even begin to count the number of sick folks that they sat up with either at some hospital or at home whenever someone called. My daddy was a quiet, unassuming man who never went to college but he was one of the wisest men that I ever knew with more common sense in his little finger than some entire football stadiums full of people.  He had a strong, comforting presence around sick people, the kind of presence that you get like when you’re a little kid and you’re scared and then your daddy grabs you up in his arms and chases the monsters away. Daddy could do that and so could my grandmother, in her own way.  And neither ever had any trouble with what to say at anyone’s bedside; they usually said it best by saying nothing at all.  

My friend Dwayne is very very sick.  I saw him today and spent a few minutes rolling the stupidest things off my tongue (did I really say that I was glad that he was going to Heaven but that I wasn’t ready for him to die yet?  Please God, why can’t I just sit there and be strong and silent rather than stupid.)  Fortunately for me, one of his best friends, Buddy Vest, was already there sitting with him and making the quiet small talk that would have made my daddy nod in approval.  Buddy and I laughed and joked but I couldn’t keep my eyes off Dwayne as I looked in to his beautiful face.  He even managed a playful little dig at Brooke for not bringing him his water when he’d asked for it and she said that she needed to get him a bell to ring since his voice was a little softer now.  His voice is softer, his eyes a little more distant than they were when I saw him two weeks ago.  I couldn’t verbalize what I wanted to say (wonkiness, sheer wonkiness) but I kissed his forehead as I left (Kathy Leathers and Siggie Corn let me ride with them since they were bringing Beth, Dwayne and Brooke supper from our Sunday School class) and I told him that I loved him.  What I would have liked to have said was that lately I’d been thinking about him and Beth so much and that I’ve been talking to God about him often.  I would have also liked to have said for him to look up my daddy when he gets to Heaven and to let him know that I’m doing the best that I can to keep the monsters away.

Dwayne told us that his hospice nurse’s name is Angel.  How awesome is that.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

See You at the Half

I don’t know when the ritual started, it could have even been before I was born, but my daddy and my Paw Paw never said “goodbye” to each other.  Instead, one would always say “see you at the half” and the other one would just chuckle as they walked out the door and wish everyone well.  I’m sure it had something to do with a football game and half time and there must have been a story behind it but in all those years I never even bothered to ask my daddy why they said that.  I just remember that around the time when I first brought Larry home to meet my parents that daddy explained the ritual to him and from then on he would invariably say the same thing to Larry.  I’m not sure if saying goodbye was something that my daddy and my Paw Paw were comfortable with and as the strong men that they were I guess it sort of cushioned the pain of leaving. My daddy loved my Paw Paw, my mother’s father, like he was his own daddy and my Paw Paw treated my daddy as much like a son as any man could.  They had a wonderful relationship during all the years that they spent in one another’s company and as a child it delighted me to see my daddy (a quiet, unassuming gentle giant of a man in my eyes) with tears streaming down his cheeks and his belly quivering just like Santa’s, hoo-hoo-ing and ha-ha-ing all over whatever tale it was that my Paw Paw had decided to tell.  That man could turn the mundane in to the epic with a twist of a verb or a sprinkle of adjectives and daddy was the perfect audience.

I have a good friend, Dwayne Nail, that I’m having trouble saying goodbye to each time that I see him now so I may start using daddy and Paw Paw’s phrase to soften the blow.  Dwayne is very sick and while none of us know the day or hour when Jesus is going to call our name and wave us  home, Dwayne has been given a timetable from his oncologist that is more indicative of it.

I thought that being around Dwayne would give me insight on death and dying but instead he is teaching me how to live.  I have never spoken to anyone so at peace with himself and with God as I have with Dwayne.  He loves his wife Beth and his daughter Brooke more than anyone or anything else here on this earth but he loves Jesus even more and is ready to step in to Heaven with Him when the time comes.  To me the absolute beauty of following Christ is knowing that as we say goodbye, (or “see you at the half”) to all things familiar here on earth that we are yet, in the very next breath, saying hello again to all things familiar in Heaven.

Right now Dwayne is living each day as I should be living mine and that I’d like to live…tasting the very essence of each day, making irreplaceable memories, and loving deeper and more than anyone would ever think possible.  I’ve watched Dwayne do these things.  There is a peace in his voice.  Now don’t get me wrong, he is still the second biggest kidder that I’ve ever known (second only to our friend Jerry Trott, who cornered the market on kidding years ago) and even now his comments are still peppered with silliness, (designed to put one off from crying, I’m sure.)  But I don’t care, I’ll cry anyway and then laugh with him and he allows it.  What a sweet man to let us in.

Dwayne still has fight left in his gut. He makes me laugh and he makes me cry but most of all he just makes me love him.  

“Until later,” Dwayne, “see you at the half.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

There’s Something to be Said for Caller ID and a Good Ole Landline…

Let me start this particular blog out by saying that I’m still not sure that I’ve got all the facts correct; all I know is that everyone did eventually make it to Pat Turnipseed’s party even if they didn’t arrive in Siggie Corn’s car.

When Siggie called me yesterday to offer to take me to Pat’s 60th birthday brunch I gladly accepted.  When she told me that she was going to be picking up Beth Nail before she picked me up it occurred to me that Beth actually lives almost across the street from Kathy Leathers now that she & Dwayne have moved and I wondered out loud why Beth and Kathy didn’t ride together but Siggie said that Beth had called her and asked her for a ride so she was going to pick her up and then she’d swing by to get me.  Whatever…I wasn’t having to drive so I didn’t give it any further thought.

When Siggie picked me up I looked in the backseat and there was no Beth.  She looked a little puzzled and said that she’d called Beth just before she left and told her she’d be by in a few minutes but that when she got to her house no one came out.  She said she waited and waited and so she finally went to the front door and Beth’s daughter Brooke answered (with a slightly puzzled look on her face, Siggie said) and she said that her mother was running late and had just gotten out of the shower and would be a while and that if she needed to that she’d just drive her mother over to the party.  There should have been a red flag going up somewhere because Siggie knew that she’d just spoken to Beth a few minutes earlier, who acted like she was all ready to go but I guess she just chalked it up to being hungry.  (Women, of which I are one, will do some strange things when our stomachs are rumbling and we know there’s a table full of good food just waiting on us right up the road.  We fixate on it, salivate over it and everything else goes out the window,)  

It was great to spend time with old friends and some newer friends at Pat’s birthday brunch.  Most of us are in the same Sunday School class together and we see each other every week but it isn’t often that we get to just sit around and enjoy each other’s company.  There were several old friends of Pat’s that I grew up with as well who made the party just right.  Old friends and new…what a sweet blend of laughter, tears, flavorful conversation and yummy chicken salad.  (Kay Troupe’s 91 year old mother sent her famous strawberry cake that would make you want to slap your granny as the piece de resistance and was it ever.)  You know, I think that when God gave us the institute of “friendship” He gave us a gift almost as special as our own flesh and blood and as a Southern woman, friendship and its strong root system goes as deep as the earth allows  and further (some Chinese person is probably wondering what that funny root thing is that came up in his rice paddy, which is ok as long as he doesn’t eat it or take a pick axe to it.)  And although we were at Pat’s party, every single one of the ladies who were there are women that I would want to ” do brunch” with and fellowship with over and over again.  Lori and Lacy, Pat’s daughters and fine hostesses, made us all feel at home.  They said that everyone who was supposed to come was there except for Bessie Branyon but she was probably just running a little late.

I must say that when Beth and Kathy had gotten there Beth apologized profusely to Siggie for not being ready but said that she thought that she was supposed to be riding with Kathy all along. Siggie said that it was perfectly fine (although I’m sure she was really wondering how Beth could have thought that if Siggie had just spoken to her right before she went to pick her up but Siggie let it go and chalked it up to miscommunication.) Everyone laughed and went back to drinking their sweet tea and wondered where Bessie was, who had not gotten there yet and was definitely being “fashionably late” when she called  and asked if Siggie was there because Siggie was supposed to have come by and picked her up.

At this point Siggie was totally in a state of confusion because she’d never even spoken to Bessie about picking her up…the run on “red flags” should have made the Dow Jones gone through the ceiling by now but Siggie was oblivious.  She apologized to Bessie and said that she had no clue that she was supposed to have picked her up (but being the good friends that we are we did save a sandwich for her and told her to get to the party as quickly as she could.)

It was only after Siggie had sat back down in a comfortable chair that bits and pieces of texts and conversations started coming together like some 2000 piece puzzle that only had 1999 pieces in the box. She realized that when someone had texted her a day or two before, asking for a ride to the birthday brunch, she wasn’t familiar with the number so she asked her husband to look at the Sunday School roll to see who’s number it was.  Poor Dennis told her that it was Beth Nail (in his defense, Beth and Bessie’s numbers both have the same prefix although Bessie doesn’t go to church with us) who’d called so Siggie texted back and told her she’d gladly pick her up.  

And so it was that on the morning of the birthday party Siggie called “Beth” and told her she’d be by in just a few minutes, a little early so that we could get a good parking spot at the top of Lacy’s driveway (Lacy has a driveway that could serve as a training exercise for hopefuls who wish to climb Mt Everest.) I guess here in the South that “Beth” can sound a little like “Bessie” if you draw it out and maybe have a little static on the line so when she went by to pick up “Beth” she was just getting out of the shower and now that she thought about it, didn’t  Brooke look a little puzzled when Siggie had come to the door to pick her up early it was then that she came to the conclusion that she’d never spoken to Beth at all, that the entire time she had been texting and speaking to Bessie, who apparently had no clue that Siggie didn’t know it was her. As it turned out, Beth and Bessie both have similar cell phone numbers. Being the friend that I am I immediately told her that texting was not for old people, that it’s only for those young whippersnappers who use those IPhones like a weapon with that rapid fire thumb action communicating with their closest set of 100 friends.  Texting for our generation could be downright dangerous. There’s no telling what information Siggie might have given “Beth” or who she thought was “Beth” (and in her defense, indeed it was just as I thought, when she called the number to tell “Beth” that she was picking her up in a few minutes Bessie heard “Beth….and some static so she thought Siggie said “Bessie”.  (If Bessie’s mother had named her Edith none of this would have happened.)  This whole episode could have led to dancing, I just know it.

This whole texting thing is just more than I want to fool with; if my sensible friend Siggie could have an entire conversation both via text and telephone with entirely the wrong person then what in the world might I, one who is not very sensible most of the time, do while trying to text? I can see if now–32 pizzas delivered right to my front door and all because I’d texted Papa John’s when I thought I was texting my nephew John.

Texting while driving is an absolute no no for anyone at any age, period, end of story.  Texting while sitting in one’s own home is iffy if one is over the age of 40; you might not get picked up for a party or you might still be in the shower when your ride arrives!  I’m just glad that Bessie and Siggie and Beth had a good laugh about it all and that we enjoyed a wonderful morning with our friend Pat and her great 60th celebration!

Siggie said that she’s going to put names with all her numbers in her cell phone so that she won’t make this same mistake again.  I guess it’s just a good thing that we weren’t flying somewhere instead of driving to a party; poor Bessie would be still sitting on the tarmac.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment