Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Hand-Me-Downs and Declarations of War

All five of us girls were born within six years. There was no lack for playmates and no lack of sibling rivalry. Felita always seemed older than she was, even her dolls were older. She was also the boss. I can’t remember Felita really fighting with any of us other than Mary. Mary came after her in the birth order--13 months and 1 day--and they shared a bedroom. I came after Mary--13 months and 16 days. When other fights broke out Felita would come to pick up the pieces if she wasn’t already there standing by and taking in the show. She didn’t usually intercede unless indicators of major harm were on the horizon.

My sister Mary was notorious for trying to pick a fight with me, hitting me, shoving me or just being plain ol’ mean. I didn't want to fight with her and usually walked away or ran away--to Felita for protection or metamorphosed into a tattletale as I ran to Mother. Sometimes I was just stunned--like when I got whacked over the top of the head with the Prell bottle [they were still glass then, heavy glass!] and when she snatched the telephone receiver out of my hand and whacked me over the top of the head. Those too, were the heavy receivers, those on the old rotary style desk phones. So, I just didn’t want to mess with her. It was like ‘go away and leave me alone.’

Hand-me-downs were common place in our household. The passing down ceremony was nothing more than a mere mention as Mother gave us a stack of folded laundry to put in our drawers. One day when Mother had gone to town, Felita and I fired up that old console stereo. We plugged the Tommy Roe and Tommy James tape into the 8-Track tape player, were dancing around the dining room and just a-singin’. [Cousin Dink really liked that tape and eventually talked Daddy into a trade. Daddy took about four other 8-Tracks that were bunk and Dink took our Tommy Roe and Tommy James to North Carolina.] Felita and I were singing Dizzy “I’m so dizzy my head is spinning, Like a whirlpool it never ends, And it’s You girl makin’ it spin, You’re making me dizzy” ...Mary came in--I know she was envious of the fun we were having--and began demanding that I take her shirt off. With some dizzy-amusement, I informed her it was not her shirt that Mother had given it to me. Uh-oh...she gave me a hefty shove and I was spread-eagle on the dining room floor--carpet over a cement slab. Legs out-stretched in front of me, I propped up, hands on the floor behind me and calmly but confidently looked her in the eyes, and said, “I’ve never fought you before but I’m gonna fight you now."

I didn't have any training. I fought like a dizzy-girl! But twelve years of taking it on the chin and drinking fresh hard-core cow's milk made for an ambitious attitude and some mighty strong fingernails. Felita stopped that fight when she grabbed the back of that shirt to keep me from landing on the concrete floor three steps down into Daddy's office/hobby room.

Mother had barely managed to open the door of that old blue station wagon before Mary was there, Mercurochrome amply slathered all over those scratches, crying and showing Mother where I had shredded her skin. Mother, rising from the driver's seat, looked at her and simply said "Well, I guess you'll leave her alone now." [Oh, happy day..] She didn't leave me alone, but from that point forward, I could walk away knowing full well I could win the battle if I decided to fight.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Happy Memorial Day! And email subscriptions...

I've added an email subscription widget in the sidebar. If you would like to be notified by email when I update the blog this is the place to subscribe. Type your email address in the yellow field and click the button labeled “Get email updates”. You will then be presented with options of where to receive your updates, via email, Instant Messenger Services, Skype, etc. Make your selection, confirm you're a real person by completing the CAPTCHA and then click the button labeled “Subscribe me!” You will receive an email to complete the subscription and activate your account. Your email addess is not shared and you may unsubscribe at any time.

My superfluous knowledge lesson for the day:
The term "CAPTCHA" was coined in 2000 by Luis von Ahn, Manuel Blum, Nicholas J. Hopper (all of Carnegie Mellon University), and John Langford (then of IBM). It is a contrived acronym for "Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart", trademarked by Carnegie Mellon University.
Credits: WikiAnswers.com

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Cottonwood Ammunition and a Kool-Aid Parachute

My sister Pauline--now called Paula--came after me and before Beverly in the birth order. The three of us shared a bedroom. Beverly and I slept in a double bed and Paula slept in the day bed. Unlike the rest of us, Paula was a petite little thing. Papaw nicknamed her PeeWee.

Papaw had nicknames for all of us, Felita was Long-legs, Mary was Lazy, Beverly was Moo-moo and I was Dumplings. Most of those need no explanation--I was Dumplings because he thought I just might love Mother's chicken-and-dumplings more than he did. [To this day it's my favorite Momma-dish.] Beverly was called Moo-moo because she used to stand by the fence row mocking the cows.

That little whip of a Paula had a set of lungs on her, knew it and used 'em. When she decided to cry out, that screech could be heard by anyone remotely nearby. She was also fast as lightning. You couldn't out run her, you had to figure a way to dodge her. For some reason, Beverly and I aggravated her a lot.

Paula had saved enough of those Kool-Aid Man squares from the Kool-Aid packets to send in for a prize. The prize finally arrived--an orange plastic pup-tent, complete with a blue Kool-Aid Man on the side, plastic tent pegs and nylon twine. She staked out her territory just back of the house, beyond the old cottonwood tree and proceeded to set up camp. Beverly and I wanted to help; we wanted to play in the tent too. Paula wouldn't have it. That tent was hers and hers alone.

Daddy had been working on the roof that day, needed something for the job, so he and Mother had gone to town. Beverly and I climbed that extension ladder and sat on the roof while watching Paula and planning our attack. Once she was inside the tent, down the ladder we went, sneaked round the corner, pulled a couple of green seed bunches from that cottonwood tree and began unloading on Kool-Aid Man. Paula commenced a screeching and we took off, ran round the house and unloaded another bunch. Before we could get around a second time Felita came out of the house and stopped us in our tracks.

Shortly, Beverly and I sneaked back around and found the tent empty. Paula was no where in sight. We had the tent down in a flash, grabbed a 32 oz. glass Coke bottle and scurried back up the ladder. We tied the twine around the mouth of the coke bottle. Beverly had the bottle suspended just clear of the roof’s edge as I was arranging the tent-turned-parachute to catch air upon release. All of a sudden we heard Paula scream, she came round the corner and headed straight for the ladder. I told Beverly to let go--release! She did. Our parachute didn't open, that bottle went straight down, Paula started screeching and blood started flowing.

Felita ran out and grabbed Paula up while blessing Beverly and me in a not-so-blessed way. I don't remember what happened when Mother and Daddy got home--maybe I blocked it all out. Beverly and I never talked about engineering parachutes again.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Cousins from North Carolina

Uncle Frank and his family came from North Carolina to visit for a couple of weeks every summer. There were five cousins--four girls and one boy, Dink. That wasn't his real name, but that's what we all called him. I always thought it a funny name. I still don't know how he came to be called Dink.

For a little girl confined to Uncle Frank, Aunt Peggy, Judy, Bonnie, Marilyn, Dink and Susie.  Click for larger image.
life on the farm, these cousins were kind of like celebrities. They were all older and got to do lots of cool stuff. Dink, well he was the only boy. I always thought of him as our protector. The girls had their hair cut at a salon rather than by Aunt Peggy and they sported new bikinis every year complete with tan lines and attitudes.

One fourth of July other cousins from central and south Alabama came in, too. After the potato harvest we packed the trunks of the cars with lawn chairs, blankets, towels, coolers of food & beverage, floats, water skis and other stuffs and headed to the river for the day.

All us younger kids were splashing around close to the banks where the grown-ups were grilling and preparing the picnic feast. The older cousins, Uncle Frank and other grown-ups were way, way out in the river, underneath the big bridge.

Getting out of the river to get some lemonade--which Mamaw was serving with a ladle from a huge plastic garbage can--I noticed one of my sisters way down the river bank, wading through the water towards the big bridge. She later came to me saying she had been out where Uncle Frank was and he wanted to see me. I was flattered that Uncle Frank wanted to see little ole me. I was all but five years old.

I turned and started walking right out into that river towards Uncle Frank. A few steps out and down I went--a drop-off. I don't remember much, feeling suspended in the water, I saw the sun's ray streaming in from above and little brown floaty-things in that sunlit path. I woke in Daddy's arms in one of those lawn chairs on the shore. We weren't allowed to go to the river much after that.

Those cousins loved the water and wanted to go swimming everyday. If we couldn't go to the river we would wind up at the pond in the cow pasture across the east cotton field. My sisters and I didn't know how to swim and no matter how many times he had been told before, Dink would once again get the Papaw/Daddy-lecture about being responsible for the girls.

Dink stayed in the water a lot, below the surface a lot. He'd jump in, disappear and pop up on the other end of the pond. Sometimes I got scared, thinking he wasn't going to come back up. I think sometimes he stayed under longer just to scare us. There was a hole in the middle of that pond that went all the way to China! Dink even said the best of swimmers would get sucked through to China if they went too deep. I never did go all the way to the middle of that pond.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Mamaw, Papaw and Harvesting Potatoes

Mamaw and Papaw were the initial purveyors of the farm. They lived on the north side of the farm, across the cow pastures and cotton fields on the main East/West highway. Mamaw was already 61 years old Papaw and Mamaw.  Click for larger image.when I was born and Papaw was twelve years her senior. I don't know for sure how old I was when my memory met them. They were just kind of always there. Mamaw didn't drive anymore, actually I don't know if she ever did. Thus, "Papaw's car" was a four door white sedan with a red interior, Ford, I believe. It was the only car I ever knew them to have. I always liked that car, I think because it was Papaw's car. I don't know what happened to it--another question to ask my mother.

Every year we had a large vegetable garden behind the house. Mamaw and Papaw had one too but it was smaller. They grew some good stuffs that we didn't grow in our garden, like cantaloupes and watermelons--actually they were usually planted on the edge of one of the cotton fields bordering the west side of their yard. They also had the chickens and chicken house. I always liked tossing the dried corn kernels to the chickens but not as much as gathering the eggs.

There were certain times each year that Daddy did have something to do with the garden and the farm. He would hire the man with the tractor and harrow to come in and till up the earth each year before planting and again when the potatoes were ready to harvest. Daddy was the supervisor, overseeing the hired hand, giving instruction and pointing out potatoes missed along our path.

The potatoes were always harvested early in the morning on the 4th of July, before the sun rose and before breakfast. I always wanted to do my part and more in the garden, even when sisters were complaining, I was hoofing it, always trying to do more than I truly could. First, was the task of picking up the potatoes along the eight long rows that were planted in our garden. Daddy had built a "potato house" just on the edge of the garden. The walls on each side were floor to ceiling shelves. When a shelf was sufficiently layered with potatoes, a layer of hay was laid atop them preparatory for the next layer of potatoes. We had potatoes from the garden just about all year round. Once all the potatoes from our garden were in the potato house, we would venture across the pastures to harvest the ones planted in Mamaw and Papaw's garden. That was a small feat compared to what had already been accomplished. There was also greater incentive when we crossed the pasture, for as soon as the potatoes were off the ground and properly stored, Mamaw would then treat us to a bowl of corn flakes, wetted with fresh cow's milk and topped with banana slices.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Beverly Walks

The next conscious memory that I can place in chronological order occurs during the fall of the following year--that would be '66.. I know all of my sisters were there, but in my mind's eye I only see Felita and Beverly. Beverly was the one that was in Mother's belly while she was washing me in the Mississippi basin--that's not to imply the Mississippi River Basin. Yes, now there are five girls!

Back to the memory...We were in the cow pasture just east of the front yard, beneath the low hanging limbs of the aged trees in the pecan orchard--probably gathering the nuts for the upcoming holiday baking. Beverly, just more than a year old at this point in time, had soft curly locks surrounding a cute cherub-like face. She was wearing a stiffly starched, light blue, A-line jumper adorned with a colourful appliqu├ęd choo-choo train just above the hem. I stood there watching, holding my breath, afraid she would fall as Felita released her hand allowing her to walk all on her own. There, beneath the pecan trees that day, I saw the first steps of a lifetime and gained a cherished memory that always brings a smile and sometimes a tear upon revisit. That was probably the last of the significant early memories.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Beginning the Blog

It was an absolutely gorgeous day today, spent with my 12 year old basset, in and out of the garden, the home and at the writing table recalling memories past while designing and starting my blog. I’m not quite sure how all of this will unfold. I suppose the same way with life--each step is a step towards an unknown even if you know where you’re steppin’.

We’re all about evolution...from where we came, who we were, where we are, who we are and where we hope to go and who we hope to be. That’s life in a simplistic definition and that pretty much sums up my blog. OMG sounding a bit too much like a Dickens’ character! I think it might be time to sign off for my first day on the blog.

Earliest Memories, Mississippi and Uncle Sam

During the summer of '65 my Father packed up the family's belongings, rented our house on the farm to strangers and moved the family to Jackson, Mississippi. For several years I thought the memories surrounding our Mississippi days were my earliest conscious memories. However, I realized one day while talking with my mother, that another memory pre-dated these.

I remember seeing Ann, the daughter of an old black man [that's not racism, it's a recalling of adjectives used during the time/place--apologies extended to anyone who may be offended!] named Sam who worked for my Papaw--we knew him as Uncle Sam--, standing in the kitchen, just inside the back door where the sunlight streamed through the window panes making half of her licorice dark body appear chocolate. [That's a delicious lingering!] Mother told me that Ann used to babysit for us, the four girls -- yes, another had been Felita, Mary, Belinda, Pauline.  Click for larger image. born before we moved to Mississippi.

Back to Uncle Sam for a moment, one of my sisters told me a few years later that he really wasn't our Uncle. I did not believe her and the wild story upset me so that I ran crying to my mother to tell her of the horrible thing she was saying. This was when I learned that skin colour did have something to do with somethings. It was a sad day.

As for conscious memories, while in Mississippi I met my two older sisters, Felita and Mary, my eldest half-brother, George (my father's son) and my mother. I don't know if the sequence of events is actual yet, they all occur within a three month period (our total time in Mississippi).

I remember watching Felita walk towards the house in her stiffly starched blue plaid dress, returning from a little boy's birthday party. I recall thinking how pretty she looked and how lucky she was to have attended a birthday party.

I remember being behind the house on a concrete slab which was in front of some other storage-type building on the property. Mary was there also and had just been stung by a bee -- a bumble bee I believe. I watched with tears streaming down my face as George pulled out of the driveway in his old green, bulbous looking car, taking Mary to McDonalds -- because she was stung by the bee. I recall thinking he could have taken me also. I didn't think you had to be stung by a bee to go to McDonalds.

And lastly, I remember standing in the middle of a basin, water running, my mother's hand holding onto one of my arms, her pregnant stomach, the cold cloth and the blood flowing from my face, over my lips, off the chin and further down my naked body. I was crying. Yes, it was fright but at the same time I felt safe -- my mother was taking care of me. I also remember thinking she was pretty. (Wonder why that sticks in my memory -- with she and Felita.) Mother tells me I had fallen down on that concrete slab and busted my nose quite severely. I don't remember the fall. However, I had some pretty healthy reoccurring nose bleeds into my teen years.

On our return from Mississippi (due to complications in Mother's pregnancy), my memory meets Daddy. He was in the driver's seat, driving up the driveway to our house--the one on the farm, the one he had rented to strangers. There were kids playing in our sandbox! I remember thinking they shouldn't have been there in our sandbox. But of course, they were living there. Not for long.

The Beginning and Daddy

I was born in a small town--referred to quite often by yours truly as "Podunk, Alabama"--mid-day Monday prior to the Thanksgiving holiday. My Mother tells of returning home from the hospital and preparing her usual Thanksgiving feast for our family and the paternal grandparents. The family, which consisted of the parents and two older sisters, had moved from the Nashville, TN area during the year before my birth.

At the time of my birth, my father was "officially" an electrician and unofficially every thing else. He definitely had an entrepreneurial mindset, became a jack-of-all-trades and mastered a couple of them. He worked for a residential building contractor (Jim Walter Homes) just long enough to get the discount on his "shell-of-a-house" -- which he would complete. He then set his sites to greener pastures (this was shortly after my birth). Actually, he wanted nothing to do with the lush green pastures that surrounded our home or any other aspect of the 240 acre farm, other than providing a safe haven for his family while he went out into the big bad world to make a living.

Daddy became an insurance salesman and a darn good one at that. The family photo album is riddled with those glossy black and white photographs of my Dad, sporting that cheshire grin, shaking hands while accepting yet, another one of those silver plated goblet awards from some other cheshire grinning, monkey suited individual. He loved it and eventually put that entrepreneurial mind to work. He went to several insurance companies, waving those record breaking sales records before them, seeking to establish himself as a "freelance" agent with several different companies. And, eventually, he managed to pull it off. By the time his plan was complete he was a freelance agent selling for six different companies, covering a district across North Alabama and middle Tennessee, working his own hours and training new salesmen for the companies. One of those he trained was Jack [not Spratt].

Even though it was usually late evening when Jack and Daddy would arrive at the house, Jack would often stay for a bit before heading home. Our bedtime was always 8:00 pm, school day or not, even if Daddy had just arrived. When I was just a small one, I would sneak out of bed, into the hallway, squat down close to the doorway, just out of sight and listen to the grownups talk about life away from the farm. One night Jack was telling about some of Dad's techniques or better yet--antics. As Jack told--in other words--...They were going into an elderly couple's home attempting to sell hospitalization insurance. Daddy told Jack that he was to be the yes-man, was to listen and learn and hand him papers from the briefcase when asked. Secondly, after handing him the first set of papers--rummage through the briefcase and discreetly, yet quickly, open then securely close that little bottle of ether stashed within.