Booked

Well, I had another “great idea” and roped Spousal Unit into filling another weekend on a project that would change our lives. Bless his heart.

Like most people right now, I’m kind of losing my mind. Oh, I enjoy staying home. I’m a homebody. I also enjoy limited human contact. I’m more introverted than anybody knows. I especially enjoy ordering groceries online and they appear in our carport an hour or so later. As God as my witness, I may never step foot in a Kroger again.

It is canceling plans that I miss. The thrill of being wanted for something, whether it’s lunch with friends, a girl’s night out, or even a quilting class at Nashville’s continuing education program that is going to be slaughtered by the Metro School Board and Nashville’s city administration. There’s something very satisfying about making plans, realizing that it’s really just too much trouble to put on mascara and then canceling those very same plans.

Since COVID-19 entered our vernacular ,and quarantine entered our daily routine, I’ve not been provided the opportunity to cancel anything, except my monthly penance to an essential oil pyramid scheme. Don’t judge. We all have our moments of weakness. Anyway, I believe all of this uncanceling is making me a little. Ummm. Squirrely. Let’s just put it politely and say that I’ve had communications issues with my fellow human beings.

My mother often says, “When it seems like it’s everybody else, look at yourself.” Nine times out of ten, my mother is right, so I called her the other day and asked for clarification.

“Are you sure that sometimes it really isn’t everybody else? I mean, isn’t there a caveat to that particular bon mot?” My mother laughed. Not unkindly. But still. She laughed.

“It’s really feeling like it’s everybody else. Are you sure it isn’t everybody else. I really don’t think it’s meeeeeeee,” I whined. I’m 58 and can sound like a thirteen –year-old in a New York minute. I might have even stomped my foot.

“Well,” my mother paused. “Maybe?” I sighed. When she’s being this nice to me, I know I’m getting the sympathy vote and the “Her dad and I should have paid more attention to the signs when she was growing up” act. Damn. That means it really is me.

Fine.

I started making amends. Man Child and Fiancée first. Apparently I’d made it awkward the week before at their house. Whatever that means. (I’m in full sixteen-year-old at this point.) Kicked the dirt with my toe and invited them over for a socially distant dinner.

Then I sat in a corner and thought about what I’d done. Art School Student has been very patient about being locked in a house with parents as opposed to living the art school life in Chicago. Perhaps I have not been as life affirming as I should be. I must make amends, so I listened to an entire conversation without interrupting to give advice. Every time I wanted to say, “Well maybe you shouldn’t hang upside down in a tree in our backyard in the middle of the night for a performance piece without your dad and me knowing that’s what you’re doing,” I bit my tongue and instead said Okay Boomer to my own old self. I am proud to announce that I only commented, “You could have accidentally hanged yourself and been there all night” one time and it was at the end of the conversation.

These generous gestures of mine filled me with good vibes and happy juju, so of course I decided to pay it forward. These are tough times. I am here to help. I am – by golly – HERE for you. Therefore, I shall install a Little Free Library for my neighborhood to enjoy. The walkers, joggers, strollers and cyclists on the street will exchange tomes and commence with delightful, socially-distant discussions on perfectly manicured lawns. Birds will twitter. Rainbows will extend across the sky. Eudora Welty will rise from the dead to tell me in her lovely southern drawl that I am the best thing to happen to literature since she first put pen to paper.

I have enough self awareness to know that if we try to build our own Little Free Library, the project will undoubtedly go the way of Daisy the Trailer. A project cast aside, rusting, sad, unfinished and unloved. I justified the expenditure by reminding myself that I’m not spending ANYTHING at Target right now and ordered a cute red library from the Little Free Library folks. It arrived on Friday, within four days of ordering it.

Poor, poor Spousal Unit. In making up to the rest of the world for my negative energy, I asked him to dedicate an entire Sunday to a project that had nothing to do with any goal he ever considered having.

He gamely masked and gloved up, went to the hardware store, got the parts necessary and put my cute little red library on a pole. We set a bench beside it and I excitedly emailed the nabes, “We have a FREE LITTLE LIBRARY!” I announced. “BOOKS!” I screamed. I waited for their responses like a kid waiting for the ice cream truck. Unfortunately, my excitement is far less contagious than COVID-19.

We have nice neighbors. Really nice people. Polite. Friendly, but not too much. I’m close to a couple and they responded with messages of excited participation. They’ve already put books in the library. I wiggled in my seat, waiting for more responses. This was going to be fun.

I got a really nice response from a neighbor whose late mother we loved dearly and for whom we’re considering naming our library. Because. Y’know. We name everything.

I got a few more responses. They were nice. Really nice. Polite. Friendly but not too. I don’t know that I was expecting cartwheels down the street, but I was surprised at the unenthusiastic replies. I told my close neighbor friends that I feel like a high school nerd who thought, “Ima throw a party with HAWAIIAN PUNCH! And CUPCAKES! And we’ll play CHARADES!” The cool kids come to the party, roll their eyes, then go smoke weed in the school parking lot.

I’m imagining our sweet Free Little Library, months from now, covered in dust and spiderwebs, like Mrs. Havisham, waiting for a day that never comes. Meanwhile, I shall remain inside, hoarding books that I don’t want to loan (preshhhhh-usssss), canceling plans that are never made, screaming at the news on television, and calling my mother.

“Are you sure it isn’t everybody else?”

 

 

Imaginary Spring Break Day 3ish

livin on a prayer

I’m going to go to Huntington today. That’s the big city, the burg, the destination I chose when I needed prom dresses and Christmas gifts from Anderson Newcomb or The Huntington Store.

Sad to say, much of that Huntington is gone. As with much of the country during the 80s, prom dresses and Christmas gifts abandoned their downtown stores and moved to the redundant hallways of the mall. Like many West Virginians I know, Huntington is really good at several clichés: shooting itself in the foot; cutting its nose off to spite its face; is its own worst enemy.

Just as the Huntington powers-that-be shunned an interstate running through the city in the late fifties, Huntington powers-that-be also looked down their noses at putting a mall within city limits in the late seventies. Huntington became a Radiator Springs of sorts, off the beaten path, watching progress drive by and set up camp in Barboursville, a few miles shy of Milton.

My dad despises Barboursville the way Tennessee fans despise Alabama. Sometimes I wonder if a Barboursville boy didn’t steal my dad’s high school girlfriend or key his ’56 Ford Fairlane convertible. Maybe a Barboursville basketball player bonked old Fireball on the head in a game back in 1953. My dad’s hatred of Barboursville is second only to his hatred of Ohio drivers. Any time he sees somebody do something stupid on the road, “What the…” he exclaims, starting to chew them out. Then he sees the tag, “Yep. I knew it. Ohio. Blankety blank buckeyeknockers.”

This same level of disgust is used toward any and all things Barboursville, and like all bullies, the town of Barboursville seems to wake up each morning with a list of things to do that will tick off Bob Foster.

“We closed in and covered up our pool while Barboursville still has theirs,” he grumbles.

“Well, they’re smarter than we are,” my mother counters. Daddy lifts his lip in a snarl.

“They only think they’re better than us.”

He found it particularly audacious that when county schools consolidated, Milton and Barboursville combined. Not only did Milton lose its beloved Greyhound mascot, but also our sacred blue and grey. Even though the new school developed a new mascot – the Knights – they retained Barboursville’s school color, red. Quelle horreur!

Daddy could live with Huntington being the big city with the big city shopping and income from taxes, but the thought of Barboursville raking in from all that retail growth remains a burr under his saddle.

Personally, I’d rather have a mammogram than go to a mall. I’d rather have a blistering pustule on my fanny than go to a mall. I’d rather live through my daughter’s teenage years again than go to a mall. Wait. Those two things are the same.

Even though the Huntington of my youth is gone and the former Huntington Store is a huge Marshall University-themed sports bar, prom dresses and Christmas gifts can still be found within city limits. Once on I-64, I blast past the mess that is mall traffic and take my credit card to one of my favorite shops in the whole wide world, Old Main Emporium. Or as I call it, The Saras.

Old Main Emporium and the Saras are featured in this kicky little video. https://www.facebook.com/theboutiquesontheavenues/videos/342286646177642/

Sara Deel and Sara Sturgen started Old Main Emporium nearly six years ago. They worked together at Marshall’s bookstore and discovered an entrepreneurial like-mindedness. University-based apparel showing team support doesn’t always mean dressing up like a member of the team. Sometimes it means a floral dress, or a kicky skirt, or a snazzy bow tie.

If I lived in the area and went to Marshall games, I would shop exclusively at Old Main Emporium. Of course I’d still have to get my underwear at Target, but everything else would come from the Saras.

As it is, a good percentage of my wardrobe is from them. I either go into the store and raise Cain with them, chasing away other customers, or I order online. I particularly enjoy their tchotchkes that reflect their awesome senses of humor. For Christmas, I got my aunt a mug that says, “Keep it up and you’ll become a strange smell in the attic.” Sometimes my aunt needs to let people know she has that kind of power.Bllue Shirt

When my sister-in-law’s birthday came around in January, Spousal Unit wanted to send her flowers. I’m like meh, we’ve done that. What we haven’t done is send her a mug that says, “Keep it up and you’ll become a strange smell in the attic.” He called the Saras late on Saturday. He asked if they had any of the mugs left. They did. He asked if they delivered. They would for us. Friends in high places, people. I have friends in high places.

Sara Sturgen delivered the mug to Spousal Unit’s sister the next day. To thank the Saras for their extra effort, I contacted another of my favorite places in Huntington, Bottled Up. Carmen walked a bottle of wine over to the shop and sent me a picture of Sara Deel happily holding it. The magic of a small town.

IMG_0012But wait, there’s more. Not only are we going on an imaginary trip to West Virginia during this extended spring break, we are also traveling through time. It’s the mid 70s in a small Methodist church in Milton, West Virginia. There is a room with a rainbow and doves painted on it. You’re welcome. It was Brian’s idea. In that room is a Sunday school class taught by a Marshall University dean, bless his heart. He will teach Bible knowledge to this group of ruffians, miscreants and ne’er-do-wells if it’s the last thing he does.

I doubt that Sara Deel’s father ever imagined his Bible teaching fervor would give me the legs on which I stand when fundamentalists try to skew teachings of Jesus into justifying greed, misogyny, racism and xenophobia. Call me a snowflake, a libtard, or even a feminazi, but don’t tell me I don’t know my Bible.

Also in that 1970s Sunday school class is a set of twins. Meredith and Martha. It is Martha’s daughter, Carmen, who brings the wine from her cool wine shop, Bottled Up, to Sara Deel the proprietress of Old Main Emporium. Like, how incredible is this, right? This whole small town one degree of separation thing is AWESOME.

The people I grew up with are some of the coolest people I know. And I know some cool people. Ronnie Dunn once sang happy birthday to me in a restaurant as I sat next to his wife and kvetched about a schoolteacher.

Sara Deel’s coolness is off the charts. It’s her story to tell, not mine, but ask her for photos of her rock band years. Martha was a school principal for eons and is a college professor these days. Now Sara co-owns an awesome boutique and Martha’s daughter owns a craft beer and wine shop.

In my imaginary trip, I’m at Sara’s store, sipping wine from Carmen’s store and because it’s my imagination, even my mother doesn’t mind. I’m touching ALL of the garments, because they are sooooo soft. I want this top with the ruched bodice and that skirt with the slit. Man Child will love that bow tie and Art School Kid will adore that clever little piece of jewelry. Niece will love this dress and Spousal Unit will learn to love Marshall green with this sweater.

In the real world, the Saras are closed to the public, but they’re offering free shipping. I bet if you mention you read about them here, they’d toss in something fun for free. I’m about to finish up my order here in a minute. TOTALLY going for that floral skirt and no you can’t have it, it’s MINE.   https://www.oldmainemporium.com/

Check out their Facebook page and note when they’re having live sales. https://www.facebook.com/OldMainEmporium/

They’re more fun to watch than a gay meth-head with hundreds of exotic animals and watching the Saras won’t leave that metallic taste in your mouth that watching white trash leaves.

Tomorrow I’m going to go to Bottled Up and see Carmen. I know that my tee-totaling parents won’t approve, but hey, I went to Sunday school with the owner’s daughter!

 

 

Imaginary Spring Break Day 3

44395312_2245480932349579_8395860486070992896_oI wake up to the sound of a train whistle and the smell of my dad’s coffee. Daddy’s an old time coffee drinker. Folger’s, black, and strong. He used to brag that he only liked coffee that could walk across the room. I grew up thinking only manly men and tough old broads drank coffee. Women drank tea. Then I had a baby with ear infections and another one with colic. I suppose I’ve become a tough old broad.

Not tough enough to drink my dad’s coffee black, though. Two packages of sweetener and some half-and-half. Throughout the years, the sweetener’s changed. I remember jars of tiny white pills when I was little, saccharine. Then pink packets of Sweet-n-Low followed by blue ones of Equal. Sunny yellow packets of Splenda have probably been in my mother’s kitchen drawer next to the loaves of Heiner’s white bread the longest. These days they’re mixed in with green packets of Stevia, which my mom also grows in her herb garden.

Dolores Foster’s herb garden is the stuff of legend and garden club meetings. It has been her obsession for three decades . When Guillain-Barre syndrome felled her in January 2014, paralyzing my mother from her feet to her neck, she boldly announced to doubtful physical therapists that she would be able to walk down to her garden and have a cup of tea by spring.

Three weeks later, as she walked – WALKED – out of the rehabilitation center, she and the therapist made an appointment. They would both have a cup of tea in her herb garden. They did.

The rectangular garden sits three quarters of the way down my parents’ back yard. They have a little more than an acre of land that looks tame enough from the road. A seventies era whitewashed brick colonial split level with a columned front porch nestles tidily near the front of a slightly sloping yard. Behind the house, however, the land drops like the ancient Camden Park roller coaster. Natural and Bob Foster-made terraces lead to a steep precipice over a mostly dry creek.

The last terrace before the slope leading to that precipice is where my parents’ gardens lay. His and her gardens, side by side, like my mom and dad have been for sixty-three years.

The herb garden is adjacent to a garden shed my mom had built echoing one of the garden sheds at Cheekwood in Nashville. My daughter, niece and I she-shedded it a few summers ago and I could spend days in there. I could write novels in there. Perhaps I will take time to do that during my imaginary Spring Break trip. After all, I’m only limited by my imagination, right?

I pour two packets of stevia into my dad’s strong coffee and search through the fridge for half-and-half. Mother keeps it on hand if she knows I’m coming and she also has it if she’s planning to make her cream of broccoli soup. I’m praying for the cream of broccoli soup. The half and half is hiding behind a bowl of her egg salad. Oh yeah, lunch is in the bag. Daddy grunts his way up the stairs and plops containers on the kitchen table. He’s been to Tudor’s. Breakfast is also in the bag.

In real life, Tudor’s burnt down. My religious town of origin tisks that if something is gonna burn over there, it shoulda been that shameful porn store. Because life isn’t fair, the porn store remains and fluffy biscuits covered in gravy or filled with pepperoni, or cheese or God knows what else are gone.

In my imaginary Spring Break, however, Tudor’s remains and the sausage gravy-smothered biscuits are low cal and fat free. In my imaginary spring break, I fit in my old spot between the table and the wall. In my imaginary spring break, I’m not crying over my computer in fear for my parents, knowing that my dad is going to work at Walmart today because a steel mill screwed him and hundreds of others out of their retirement.

I hope my daddy understands that even as our skewed national value system considers him both essential as a worker in a grocery-based business and expendable as an 83-year-old man, he is indispensable to me. I am supposed to be there right now. I am supposed to be in Milton, West Virginia, eating Tudor’s biscuits and my mother’s egg salad. Instead, I am social distancing in Nashville, Tennessee, taking an imaginary trip to places that are more familiar to me than my own back yard.

Because these two tough old birds taught me to be a tough old bird, I’m going to continue my imaginary trip. I will lay my head on my mother’s shoulder as we watch yet another rerun of “Everybody Loves Raymond.” I will kiss the top of my father’s head before I go to bed, that thick head of hair, thinning ever so slightly on top.

I will continue my trip. Tomorrow.

 

 

Imaginary Spring Break Day 2

IMG_5986It’s another gorgeous day to be on the road. Before I hit I-64 and head east, I join my friend Drew Kemmerling and her son Nathan for breakfast at Hayden’s Stockyard Eatery, strategically placed near the Kentucky Horse Park.

Unlike Nashville’s former grand old dame, The Stock-Yard Restaurant, Hayden’s resides in a location that retains its original goal: it’s a stockyard. Despite the newness of the building – a fire destroyed the old one – the unmistakable earthy livestock smell is like olfactory background music. I’m transported to the field beside my parents’ subdivision, cows dispassionately observing my adolescent mood swings as I stomp through their pasture, certain that I am the only teenager EVER who suffered this way.

Nathan will be four in October and according to Nathan, we are not the boss. This curly-headed cherub is the spitting image of his mother at that age, who is the spitting image of her mother. They’re horse people. Art School Kid rode Drew’s horse for a while, another moody mare whose goal in life was in complete opposition of any human goals. If the goal was to retrieve her from the pasture, her goal was to stay in it. If the goal was to return her to pasture, her goal became staying away from it. Drew’s mom, Staci and I share a bond that time, distance, and the unimportant fact that we have never met will never break: we raised independent teenagers who love mares.

We are old before our time.

1279806_logo_image

Check out their website  http://www.haydensstockyardeatery.com/

 

Drew orders biscuits and gravy. Because this is imaginary and therefore fat and calorie free, I order the Stockyard Breakfast, eggs over easy. Nathan is sharing his mama’s breakfast, but is so busy flirting with the table next to us he ignores the biscuit Drew set aside for him.

We kvetch about politics and compare stories about irritable mares. Drew may actually win with her retired old broad. We talk about the things we would do with the money we had if horses weren’t in our lives and grin, knowing that we wouldn’t trade the nags for anything in the world.

Nathan’s bored and wants to run around the restaurant and Drew gently admonishes him. He looks at her with his perfectly shaped eyes that are a replication of her perfectly shaped eyes and announces, “I’m the boss. You’re not the boss.”

Staci is vindicated.

I grab a coffee for the road and hug the two goodbye. I’m two hours from home and the pull is getting stronger.

Heading east on I-64, there is a sign that says Ashland 100 miles. Spousal Unit and I swear that there are three of those signs and they are 20 miles apart. They all say Ashland 100 miles. It’s the Groundhog Day of drives. I suppose it’s pleasant enough, rolling farmland, the occasional busy exit with the same drive-thru choices as the other busy exits. It just feels endless.

Finally, the terrain begins to change, rolling becomes jagged, as if God were using a planer to smooth out rough spots and it got caught on something, gouging rough spots into it. Pollyanna struggles a bit to pull Daisy up the inclines. We’re not at emergency exit ramp for brakeless trucks terrain, but we’re at please-trucker-keep-on-your-side-of-the-line curves. I grip the steering wheel a little more tightly, as if by gripping the wheel, I encourage tires to grip the road.

There is a curve, a final curve, Kentucky’s wave goodbye that reveals the storage tanks of the Ashland Oil Refinery. Spousal Unit worked here after bringing home a chemical engineering degree from Vanderbilt. He continues to feel responsibility toward the plant and our family members have dented armrests with white knuckle finger strength as he peruses modern industry from behind the wheel. “They have number 5 going,” he says. “That looks good.”

“The road. The bridge. The truck next to us.” I repeat hazards as if they were a mantra.

Spousal blithely repeats the story we all know, “It was when I found myself standing ankle deep in flammable carcinogens, I decided to get my MBA.”

It was when I could see myself careening off a mountain and into the Big Sandy River that I decided I would be behind the wheel on that leg of the journey. The offspring thank me still.

I pass beneath the sign that welcomes me to West Virginia. It used to say, “Almost heaven.” Then it said, “Open for Business.” I think it says, “Wild and Wonderful” now. Because this is my imaginary trip, I’m going to believe it says, “Welcome home, Tina.”

I have 28 more harrowing miles before the Milton exit. A lot of lives have been lost on this interstate, indicated by the plethora of crosses on the side of the road. Recently an elderly man’s vehicle was pushed off a bridge by a driver high on meth. He didn’t die immediately. She lived to tell the story, if only she could remember it. Drugs are just the most recent thieves stealing lives of Mountaineers. It’s made an edgy people even more reactive.

I pass the three exits of Huntington. Decades ago powers that be determined that the interstate would circumvent the town. It did. So did progress, like a busy parent bussing a kid on the top of the head as they head toward an evening out. The forlorn child feels neglected and fails to thrive.

At last, I reach the Milton exit and Pollyanna sighs with relief. I grouse at the extraneous stoplight in front of Sheetz. For a town that only had one the whole time I lived there, it seems redundant to have this one, like somebody must have gotten a two-for-one discount, or as if a delicate balancing act were in play. “Well, if yer gonna put in a redlight here at the Mack-Donald’s then you orta put one at the Wendys.”

milton sign

Miltonians are nothing if not fair.

I’m on Route 60, making my way east, past the old nursing home that is slated to become the new Greenbrier. I wish they’d had more frequent and deeper conversations with an architect.

Up the hill to the subdivision where I transformed from a child to a woman. We moved there in 1975. The country was almost 200 years old and I was 15. We were both young, but full of ourselves. We both lost our way, but I found mine. Seems as if the country is behaving like the kids lurking outside the band room, smoking weed and comparing stories of shoplifting at Hills.

Daddy’s truck is in the driveway, which means he’s finished his shift at Walmart. My mom greets me at the door, those stunning blue eyes bright as ever. I hug her and get lost in the scent that has comforted me for 58 years.

I also smell dinner. Now that I have found my way home again, I’ll rest and have some pot roast.

Imaginary Spring Break Day 1

It’s a gorgeous day, without a cloud in the sky and the temperature is a breezy 70 degrees. Daisy is hitched to Pollyanna the 2004 Honda Pilot and both gleam in the sun. We wave goodbye to Spousal Unit and since this is MY imaginary Spring Break, I’m in size ten jeans and my hips don’t hurt.

There is no construction on 440 and when I merge onto I-40, truckers, slow to let me in front of them, waving joyfully from their cabs. I successfully navigate crossing three lanes so that I don’t end up on Rosa Parks Boulevard and then navigate three lanes back after Trinity Lane so that I don’t end up heading to Clarksville. Bluebirds twitter safely from their perches on bridges beneath which I pass, telling me there is no need to look up and make sure nobody is about to unload a cinderblock onto my windshield.

I head north on I-65. I’ve lived in Nashville since August 1988 and “go home” at least five times a year. You do the math. This trip is familiar. The climb out of the sinkhole that is the Nashville basin is always nerve-wracking. Reaching the top, near the state line is relief. There are emus right before the truck weighing station north of the Tennessee/Kentucky border. Spousal Unit and I have a running shtick. “Look! Large, flightless birds,” he says.

emu“There aren’t any large flightless birds,” I answer, gaslighting him. The repartee gets us through a couple of miles. After that, Bowling Green claims three exits and we can never remember which one has the Starbucks. Is it the exit where the Corvette Museum is, or the exit with the Fruit of the Loom building? Invariably we miss it and offspring are miffed. Good thing I’m alone with Daisy for this trip. I got coffee and a pastry at Dose before I left. We good.

Now I’m driving through cave country, where holes in the ground provide tours, spelunking and the occasional Corvette-swallowing news story. I’ve only been to Mammoth Caves twice, both times at the behest of others. I don’t like small spaces. Daisy and I are made for the open road. However, if one is inclined toward that sort of adventure, that sort of adventure can be had by taking the Park City, Cave City, or Horse Cave exits.

On the other hand, if one is inclined toward porn, the Horse Cave exit provides. Once, the building was an outlet mall where I got sweet, soft Carter’s baby clothing. Life is just one ironic paradox after another.

Just shy of the Elizabethtown exit, I bear right onto the Bluegrass Parkway. The land rolls like a sheet thrown on the bed before it’s flattened out. Fewer trucks crowd the road and I breathe a little easier. I know I’m halfway there when I pass the second Bardstown exit.

Forty-eight miles into the Parkway, Pollyanna and I are hungry. I stop for gas and fried chicken at the Marathon station in Willisburg. Burly guys reeking of cigarette smoke and hard work read my bumper stickers and roll their eyes. It’s okay boys. I can parallel park a stick shift in Morgantown, West Virginia, so roll your eyes all you want. I’m no snowflake.

This place used to have dead animals all over the walls. Taxidermy could be considered an art form, I suppose. We still call it the dead animal gas station although many of the trophies are gone. They renovated a few years ago, added on, got more than one bathroom stall, fancied the place up a bit. It’s still the kind of place where my mother would purse her lips and remind us to put toilet paper on the seat before we pee. The fried chicken is to die for.

Burping fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans and sweat tea, Daisy, Pollyanna and I leave the Bluegrass Parkway one exit shy of its delta. We’re gonna take the scenic route, through the small town of Versailles, (pronounced Vir-Sales dontchaknow) and into the world-renowned horse country that keeps Lexington on the map.

Once upon a time, I imagined living on a horse farm near the outskirts of Kentucky, or the marshes of the Low Country. On this imaginary spring break trip, that imaginary life gains traction. The road is hugged on either side by trees, much like the two lane highway that has taken my family from Charleston SC to the beach in the summers. I am consistent with what I love.

Behind the line of trees are acres and acres of famous Kentucky blue grass, being chomped and nibbled and grazed by horses lazily flicking their tails and passing the time. I imagine our horse, Isis, among them, asserting her place as alpha. Our pony Callie, her valiant sidekick, making peace in Isis’s wake. “I know. I know. She’s difficult at first, but I promise you’ll get to love her.”

I am going to Midway, one of my three favorite small towns in the world. This little burg straddles the railroad track that created it. I tend to stick to the north side of the track, but the last time we visited, we ate at the Italian place, Mezzo. It was worth crossing over.

My three favorite shops are Fisher Antiques, Damselfly Studio Gallery and Midway Gifts and Books. I picked up an awesome 20s Tiffany-esque lamp at Fisher over the holidays for Man Child and Fiancé. The colors were beautiful in our living room. I still gave it to them. There should be merit badges for such sacrifices.

Man Child and Spousal Unit usually get lost in the upstairs section of the bookstore, where tomes of history lure them like sirens. I’m glad I didn’t bring them along on this trip, because I’d rather stay downstairs and shoot the bull with the shop owner. She and I grouse about politics while I look at artisan jewelry she has. I consider a pair of earrings for my aunt. Or maybe for myself. I’m not as generous as I like to believe I am.

I wander over to Damselfly. I love this guy. We watch a good old boy with a chainsaw and a rickety ladder address the tree just outside the Damselfly studio. Rob, the owner, and I wonder aloud at the likelihood of our watching Darwin in action. It’s Kentucky. Good old boys usually live to tell the tales of their adventures.

I grab as many pairs of tie-dyed bamboo socks as I dare – they’re hard to come by – and wish him well as I pay. He knows I’ll stop back by on my way home.

In real life, Rob says, the Coronavirus has struck a mortal blow to the merchants of Midway. I can’t reach the owners of my other two favorite places, but I’m going to keep trying. Rob doesn’t have a sales website because most everything he sells are original pieces. He keeps his website and his store Facebook page updated regularly and all you have to do is call him.

Let him know you’ve read this. He’ll give you a ten percent discount and free shipping. Call him at  (859) 846-9963 or email him at rmills8372@gmail.com. https://www.damselflygallery.org/

Pollyanna, Daisy and I are tired. Imaginary vacations can be exhausting and shopping small business when it’s so much easier to order from Amazon takes time.

I think we’re going to stay here in Midway until tomorrow.

Imagine This

IMG_0605Throughout our marriage, Spousal Unit and I plan dinner parties. We create a list of people we know and those we’d like to know better. This couple would enjoy the witty repartee of that couple and ooh wouldn’t these two singles get along beautifully?

We plan our menu and decide whether the good china or the fun dinnerware will be involved. We squint our eyes and stare at our various mélange of tables and chairs. Should everything be in the great room, or should the evening flow throughout the house?

Then we squint more closely at our lovely abode and note the dog hair bouncing across the hardwood floors like tumbleweed across the dry desert ground. We look through the windows harboring last year’s spider webs replete with last year’s spider food, bound like a swaddled newborn.

We consider the labor involved in actual grocery shopping, cooking, polishing and table setting and nod our heads in agreement. Maybe next fall. Or winter. Then we gently finger the remote and agree once again. Just one more episode of The Wire.

We call these lapses of judgment our imaginary dinner parties and occasionally, we’ll actually tell people that, for a brief moment, they were invited. Man Child and Fiancé are usually included. They’re great fillers and get along with any gender, generation, or gentrification. If Art School Student is home, they are included as well. Someone is always intrigued by the green and purple hair. Imaginary dinner parties often include our friends Robin and Jen, and Kathy and Scott. “Oh you would enjoy getting to know Candace,” I tell Kathy. She looks at me with confusion and wonders if she’s supposed to write a thank you note.

This is why I’m more than a little smug right now. As earthlings are encouraged to have imaginary (some call it virtual) social interaction, sheltering in place for this stupid virus, Spousal Unit and I look at one another in solidarity. We got this. Hold our cocktail.

Right now, I’m supposed to be in West Virginia, eating my mom’s cooking and spending WAY too much money on Blenko Glass and cool stuff at cool boutiques. Instead, I’m holed up with a farting dog, a working-from-the-house spousal unit and an I’m-supposed-to-be-in-a-performance-art-class-doing-cool-stuff college kid.

And our toilet paper supply is running low.

I need to escape.

It’s time for an imaginary spring break.

I leave tomorrow. I’m bringing Daisy. Come with me, if you want.

 

Tomorrow: Traveling from Nashville, through Kentucky, to the hills of the Mountain State

 

Take Me to Church

 “God made so many different kinds of people; why would God allow only one way to worship?”  — Martin Buber

Nashville+Tornado+Damage

Less than 36 hours after Pentecostal-like winds blew through Nashville and Middle Tennessee, this girl went to church without ever stepping foot inside a structure built for that purpose.

At 12:42 a.m. on Tuesday, Bree Sunshine Smith was very professionally losing her stuff on Channel 5. Tornado sirens echoed through the streets of Davidson County. Spousal Unit, K9 and Feline Units, and I had descended into our basement and I wanted to ensure that our eldest offspring and his betrothed were in theirs.

Man Child wasn’t responding to my texts, so I called. Parents of teenagers and young adults know that one NEVER calls the offspring – it’s why God created texting – but it was 12:42 a.m. and Bree Sunshine Smith was very professionally losing her stuff on Channel 5.

I could tell he was still asleep even though he was talking to me. One learns these things about an individual after waking him each morning for school for more than a decade. “Dude. Seriously. Get up. Get out of bed. Go to the basement. We’re in a tornado warning.”

“We’re up. We’re up.” Yawn.

On our wide-screened basement television, Henry Rothenberg screamed, “Shut the door! Shut the door!”

“Holy shit, Dude. A tornado is going past the Channel 5 station. GET. IN. YOUR. BASEMENT!”

That woke him up. “We are, Mom. We’re in the basement. We can’t get cable. Where is it?”

Bree, forcefully and slightly shakily, declared, “Listen to my voice. Get in your safe space now.” The monster was in East Nashville and plowing eastward. I updated our son on the path of the most recent twister to hit Middle Tennessee. A 1998 tornado blasted a nearly identical path through downtown when I was pregnant with Man Child’s sister.

I remember watching eerily similar news coverage and yelling across the house to Spousal Unit.

“I think a tornado is about to hit downtown!” I had hollered from my I’m-eight-months-pregnant nest in front of the television. Spousal Unit ignored me. I don’t know why my beloveds consistently meet my clarion calls with cynicism and resistance.

I repeated myself, “I’m watching Channel 5 and it looks like a tornado is heading straight for downtown!”

“What’s it look like?” 1998 Spousal Unit hollered back.

What’s it look like? WHAT’S IT LOOK LIKE? A friggin’ tornado. But I knew that wasn’t the answer that would be heard. I apologize in advance for the delicate who are reading this.

“It looks like a bull’s dick!”

That brought him into the room, just as the Channel 5 news crew, a 1998 Channel 5 news crew were screaming, “Shut the door! Shut the door!”

Standing in our basement twenty-two years later, I couldn’t believe history was repeating itself this way. I sent photographs of our television screen to Man Child as Bree continued to follow the storm on a map. Man Child’s bestie lives directly in the projected path, so he called to warn him. Bestie was in a bathtub in the middle of his house, on the phone with his own parental unit.

Bestie said later, “I think I turned coal into diamonds.” There was some clenching. In the daylight, he walked outside and saw that not quite 40 yards away, at the end of his street, a house had been demolished. He surmises that the storm turned away just before getting to his home.

The storm passed. We tried to sleep. The sun rose Tuesday morning and I spent the day in a fog, glued to the news, social media and my phone. It was overwhelming and I should have stepped away. I couldn’t. I had to know how my people were, how my city was, how were we going to handle yet another horrific natural disaster.

I was punch drunk, and the hits kept coming. That evening, one of my closest lifelong friends passed away at her home in Toledo. Cancer took another person I love. I hate cancer. I hate tornadoes. I hate floods. I hate that people scoff at climate change.

I love my city though, and I love Man Child’s bestie. I asked him what I could do to help him. He demurred, telling me he was okay, but there is a family friend whose ministry feeds homeless beneath the Jefferson Street Bridge. The tornado ravaged the area around Jefferson Street Bridge and they needed help.

I also love a young talented performer who told me Lee Chapel AME in North Nashville needed supplies, specifically feminine hygiene products.

Which is how I found myself getting taken to church at Costco on a Wednesday morning. We’ll just say I attended a service of Mass Consumption at Our Lady of Big Box Stores and Samples with a hundred or so fellow congregants.

We pushed flat bed and regular grocery carts groaning beneath the weight of non-perishable food items, toilet paper, feminine hygiene products, bleach, bottled water and miscellaneous items. I’m sure in similar Costcos throughout the country, there were similar folk pushing similar carts. The difference was that these people, Nashville people, weren’t doomsday prepping. They were loving their neighbors as themselves.

We recognized that in one another and we met in community. At one point, I stood, looking at peanut butter, thinking “Do the good folks of North Nashville need peanut butter if their utensils ended up in Wilson County?” Across the way, a man was stacking peanut butter cracker packages into his cart.

“Fantastic idea!” I said. He smiled and nodded at the display. I added several “Nabs” to my own cart.

I careened around a corner to several women motoring a flat bed through the dairy section. I scanned their goods with envy. They’d thought of everything. I pursed my lips. “Towels. Mmmmmhmmmm. Towels are a good idea.”

They looked at my cart, eyebrows furrowed. “Oh. Yeah. Socks.” I got a nod of jealous approval. They also approved of my bananas. Snacks that come in their own biodegradable package.

“What about blankets?” somebody behind me asked. “It’s going to get cold.”

“I wondered about that,” said someone else. “But where will they keep them?”

A hundred and some thousand square feet of store filled with people trying to mentally and emotionally insert themselves into others’ lives so that they could try to make those upended lives just a little better. We were a community wanting to care for our broken community. Where two or more are gathered….

I took my carload of stuff to my first stop, Lee Chapel AME in North Nashville.

LeeChapel

Somehow, on the very edge of tornado-struck North Nashville, with street closures left and right, Metro cops frantically trying to thwart stoplight-out-mayhem and industrial equipment moving into the disaster area, Lee Chapel AME managed to maintain a near-flawless continuing-motion car line for volunteers to either drop off or pick up hundreds of thousands of items. Why AME church ladies don’t run the world, I do not know. That operation was more efficient than my 100 pound golden retriever eating his dinner. Nothing goes to waste.

I popped open the back of my old girl, Pollyanna Pilot, and four able-bodied men removed an hour’s worth of shopping in less than 90 seconds. They asked if I could take other goods to Pearl Cohn High School. “You bet. Whatever you need. I just need to take summa this stuff to a homeless camp.”

I gave them my name and told them I’d be back. I figured 20 minutes max. I texted Pastor Bob, the family friend of Man Child’s bestie. The guy who runs the homeless ministry. Told him I was on Jefferson Street, close. How to get to him, under bridge, I wondered.

BobBeeman

He texted back. He wasn’t under the bridge at that moment. He was in Hermitage at their HQ. I sat in a parking lot, just off Jefferson Street, surrounded by workers, volunteers, downed wires, broken buildings and organized chaos. I didn’t know what to do. I had told Lee Chapel I would be back in minutes. This would take hours. But Pastor Bob was expecting me.

I drove to Hermitage.

That drive basically took the same path as the tornado. We’ve been through this before, Nashville and I. Tornado damage. Flood damage. Tornado damage again. Still, it takes my breath away, complete devastation at the hands of Mother Nature. Her fickle nature, like Thanos with a finger snap. What will stay. What will dissolve into dust.

I finally made it to Pastor Bob’s HQ, Sanctuary International, nestled in the trees, Old Hickory Lake lapping against the back yard. A giant, hairy bear of a man greeted me, hugged me and thanked me more than I should be thanked for bringing barbecue sauce, serving implements and canned beans.

Pastor Bob didn’t have a lot of time, but he took some of it to let me know what his ministry did. Long story short: they feed homeless people under the Jefferson Street Bridge. They feed growling stomachs and they feed hungry souls.

Pastor Bob worried. The Jefferson Street Bridge took a direct hit, as did the people who call tents under the bridge home. One fellow was picked up, twirled around and set back down. He’s okay, but he’ll never be the same. Others were missing. They could be at a shelter. They could be gone.

Some call those people the “missing missing.” Pastor Bob calls them beloved. Where two or more are gathered….

We hugged again and I drove back to North Nashville. Siri didn’t know there was a front loader in the middle of a street removing debris, so I got a little turned around and ended up in the middle of one of the hardest hit streets. I felt like I’d walked in on somebody in the bathroom. I shouldn’t be there. It wasn’t my business. I’m so sorry. I promise I didn’t mean to do this.

I passed the much-photographed dual tall skinnies that had imploded, perfectly intact roofs, sitting atop the rubble that had been brand new structures. Across the street a hundred year old house sat, the top and sides ripped off, but whoever had taken refuge in that home’s “safe space,” would have lived. I thanked God that the tall skinnies still had “for sale” signs in the front yard. Nobody would have lived through that storm in those houses.

tall skinnies

Volunteers swarmed the street, their energy palpable as they lifted and carried debris. I felt lifted as well, borne through the confusion as if I were crowd surfing my way through the damage and back to Lee Chapel.

When I returned, they remembered me, thanked me for returning. I was embarrassed at their kindness, their generosity of heart. I’m sure that I’m not that gracious.

We filled my SUV with bread that had been donated and I took it to Pearl Cohn High School. It took three men several trips to unload my car. The volunteers balked for a second at the sheer amount of food, then set up a table just for the bread, a communion table of sorts.

It’s no secret that this is a difficult time for organized religion and an even more difficult time for our country. It’s a difficult time for me as I sift through a childhood of religious discipline that has often conflicted with my internal compass.

I believe our founding fathers were wise in many ways, particularly when they enforced the separation of church and state. As a country we remain wise when we don’t inflict church upon state. As individuals, we are wise when we don’t inflict our particular church upon other people’s states of being.

We are wiser still when we search and can find our church wherever we are. When we are in a Costco, a traffic jam, beneath the Jefferson Street Bridge, a high school, or in our basement, we find that where two or more are gathered, there can be church.

 

 

Carolyn

20200303_200409

Carolyn lived beside me, in a square house with a flat roof at the end of our tiny dead end street. Her older brother, Steve, was cute and cool and felt sorry for my little sister because he thought Carolyn and I were mean to her.

We weren’t mean. We just didn’t have time. There wasn’t time for her baby stuff, because we big girls had things to do. Our agenda was full. We had to play tag. We had to ride bikes. We had to read books. We had to solve mysteries. We had to compete. Lord, did we compete. We had a lot to do, a lifetime of friendship to get going and there wasn’t time for siblings.

Our birthdays were a little more than two weeks apart in October and fall was our season. Every autumn, when the air begins to bite the back of my throat and dying leaves’ last breaths tickle my nose, I think of Carolyn and grinding meal from field corn. A flood-prone ten-acre plot sat in the middle of town, right behind our homes. We were townies who grew up in the country. We could walk to school and the library, but slip out our back doors and disappear into corn stalks. Like most American kids of the sixties, our knowledge of Native Americans came from lessons about Indians at Thanksgiving and our dads watching black and white westerns on television. Armed with that cornucopia of knowledge and white girl cultural appropriation, Carolyn and I became Indian squaws and ground our own corn meal with rocks.

Then we would play cowboys and Indians, tying rope to the handlebars for reins, straddling the banana seats we believed were saddles and whipping our restless steeds into a frenzied chase up and down and up and down the tiny graveled road of our dead end street. Eventually one of us would wipe out and limp home to the pursed lips of a mother who held Mercurochrome in one hand, tweezers in the other, armed to chew out a child while dislodging gravel from flesh.

We loved reading and we would sit on swings and read the hot summer days away. We read every single one of the Nancy Drew books in the Milton Library and we took turns being Nancy. The most memorable incident was the Case of the Burnt Matches. We discovered a half-charred book of matches semi-buried in the earth next to our house. Somebody was trying to kill the Fosters! We followed clues and deduced that it was the Persinger boys.

It was always the Persinger boys.

Carolyn was competitive. She played for fun and she played to win. She taught me the “slap game,” which she played with Bari Holbert. I’d never heard of it and was eager to learn until we started playing. You take turns slapping the other person on the arm, each one getting more intense, each slap more painful than the slap before. Carolyn handled pain a lot better than I. She always won.

My mother loves Carolyn to this day, but still shakes her head at how competitive Carolyn was at toe wrestling. My mom would sit out in the sun and string beans, her long slender feet stretched out like a ballet dancer’s. Feisty Carolyn would challenge her to toe wrestle and inevitably one or the other of them would get angry. “She had the strongest toes,” my mom says still.

We both played clarinet in band and competed for first chair. It went back and forth; we both wanted to play oboe. First chair got to play oboe. I finally got to play oboe. Carolyn was more gracious than I would have been.

Carolyn had the privilege of a Halloween birthday, which made her the youngest in our class, but in so many ways, she seemed older than the rest of us. She certainly was always a step or two ahead of me. She was braver, more daring, more risk-taking. She wore her big brother’s rock band t-shirts and I still wore Peter Pan collars. She was the first friend to smoke a cigarette. I was appropriately appalled, titillated, aghast, impressed and judgmental.

We learned to skateboard on their carport concrete. It was ramped and dangerous. Carolyn loved the thrill; I was petrified. When I go back and look at the incline, I have to smile at my naiveté and scoff ever so slightly at my fears.

Carolyn didn’t suffer fools gladly. In fact, she didn’t suffer fools at all. We were cheerleaders together, in ninth grade, and junior high cheerleaders are nothing but fools. More than once she set the rest of us straight. Thank God she continued to do that for me throughout my life.

Carolyn would watch me take errant paths, emotional paths, roll her eyes and give me some Carolyn straight talk. After years of a toxic relationship that had poisoned me past reason, Carolyn eased me off the edge, helped me walk away, assured me I was worthy, and built my self esteem all while reminding me that I was dumber than hell for having gotten in the mess to begin with.

We’ve never not been in touch, Carolyn and I. The intensity has waxed and waned. There have been years that were only a Christmas card. But I always had her address and she always had mine. We always knew what was important in the other’s world. We always knew one another’s hearts. I was always in awe of her tenacity.

Within the fluidity of our friendship is a core group of friends who have loved, fought, farted, drank, eaten, overeaten, written, read, traveled, gossiped, prayed, cussed and nagged with each other since we were tiny. Back when email was new and blocked the phone line, we created a chat room of sorts that continues via group text two decades later. Each one of us is close to one another independent of the group. Each of us clings as time takes her toll. Each of us grieves. We lost Brian in 2016. And now we’ve lost Carolyn.

I feel like I’m losing myself. When everyone who knew you when you were who you were before you became who you are is gone, how will you remember who you were and therefore who you are?

I’m spinning right now, trying to determine whether to attempt the almost ten hour drive for her funeral. Why is it when I lose someone, that’s who I want to turn to for advice? Would Carolyn the tenacious, take an extra dose of NuVigil and make the drive or would Carolyn the practical role her eyes at my emotional kvetching? Would Carolyn the generous spend her time and money helping put Nashville back together or would Carolyn the fun go be with her buds? Would Carolyn the wise tell me that it’s really been a lot this week and it’s unsafe to make the drive, or would Carolyn, my competitive wonderful friend tell me that I made the trip to West Virginia for Brian’s funeral, I damn well better get my ass to Toledo for hers?

I know her family has lost their true north. What surprises me is so have I.

 

What I Did This Summer: Spousal Unit Turned Sixty

IMG_3306My “Country Diary” tells me that today is the Autumnal Equinox. What my “Country Diary” does not tell me is that it’s still hot as Satan’s anus and that the Autumnal Equinox only means it’s time to break out the light therapy lamp before seasonal depression makes me a grumpier old fart than the Trump presidency already does.

I miss the demarcation of seasons. I miss summer lasting until Labor Day and after that particular holiday filled with hot dogs, homemade ice cream and my dad kvetching that he’s a-laborer-and-still-has-to-work-every-Labor-Day-and-why-did-bankers-get-to-have-the-day-off-that-celebrated-him, we packed our satchels with a new 64-pack of Crayolas and fresh notebooks, wore new Stride Rite shoes and traipsed our fannies to school.

After Labor Day. When there was just a hint of the autumn-to-come and the sweaters that came with our new school clothes outfits would be days away from necessity. But I’ve moved farther south, climate change is real and now school starts in the middle of the freaking summer.

Despite the muddiness of seasonal change, I am compelled to mark the end of one season and beginning of another by recalling one heckuva summer in the life of Familia de la Caldwell. Spousal Unit turned sixty; my brilliant, gorgeous niece graduated from high school; I got new knees; Man Child bought a house; Art School Student traveled; a really awesome friend passed away; there was a 40th class reunion; and this old married couple celebrated thirty years.

Spousal Unit Turned Sixty

Spousal Unit is one of those guys who has improved with age and it really pisses me off. For years, I’ve let him know that I would NOT have paid attention to him in high school. I was “that” girl and he was a nerd, lurking around the physics lab, partaking of various substances, with long stringy hair and a goofy grin. Karma really is a bitch because she mean-girled me right into overweight, splotchy-skinned, saggy-boobed middle age while HE got gray in all the right places, kept his chin line, much of his waistline and became “distinguished.” He still walks with a spring in his step, for the love of Pete.

These small victories of his needed to be celebrated, so I queried, “Do you want a party for your birthday? You’re gonna be sixty.” As if he weren’t aware.

“Nah,” he modestly replied. “I don’t need anything big.”

I scoffed. This man needs a crash cart, five-star catering and organ donators on stand-by when he gets a cold. Hell, he wants a party when he comes home from work each day. I didn’t believe he didn’t “need anything big” for one single solitary second.

“Okay, then, how about we take some time off and do the Kentucky Bourbon Trail?” He brightened. The man do love him some bourbon. Then he seemed to take a moment to ponder. He loves bourbon when the bourbon comes to him. It seems more like work when he has to go to the bourbon.

Weeks passed and I finally gave him an offer he couldn’t refuse, “Do you want a *mother-friggin birthday party or NOT!?!”

Of course, a party isn’t a party without a theme, and because I was inspired by his advancing age, we would celebrate his turning “One year closer to Jesus” with an old fashioned dinner-on-the-lawn church potluck. The invitations included a picture of him as an Episcopalian acolyte. We ordered church fans with the acolyte pic on them. We provided church keys (bottle openers) as party favors.

Everything would be outside. Other people would cook. This was perfect.

Until it wasn’t. The forecast called for rain. LOTS of rain. Of course it was going to rain. It always rains the weekend of his birthday, which coincides with Mother’s Day and Nashville’s Iroquois Steeplechase. The only thing better than 25,000 people in sundresses and seersucker suits traipsing in mud is 25,000 drunk people in sundresses and seersucker suits traipsing in mud.

“What are we gonna do?” I asked Spousal Unit in a panic. It was four days before the party.

He looked at me with that look, the one that said, “You’re the one who insisted on a *mother-friggin’ birthday party for me” and announced, “It’ll be fine.”

Maybe the reason he is aging so well is because he says, “It’ll be fine” while I run around with elevated blood pressure making things be fine. It’s not like I hold grudges or anything, but there was that time he forgot to pack the train set – read that THE. TRAIN. SET. – when we traveled to West Virginia for Christmas. Granted, his dad was quite ill, hospitalized in fact – and we had left Nashville in a rush. However, I was getting over the flu and Santa’s numero uno gift for the five-year-old was en absentia. While Spousal Unit was at the hospital visiting his dad, I was in a flu-induced stupor driving all over the tri-state area trying to find THE. TRAIN. SET. Found it in Ohio. At Sam’s. His dad recuperated. It was fine.

This would not be fine, however. There was supposed to be gingham oil cloths on picnic tables, blankets spread on the grass, sounds of bluegrass wafting across the lawn, swea’tea in mason jars and hooch in **Bessie’s boot. ***Daisy would provide the backdrop for a fire pit, glider and swing area while Jello salads and fried chicken perched on the buffet table.

Most importantly, I was only going to clean the downstairs bathroom.

Three days before the party, I ordered a 15’ x 20’ tent to cover the patio between the utility room and the carport. Two days before the party, I cleaned the utility room, kitchen, breakfast room and den. One day before the party, we cleaned the rest of the downstairs and welcomed Spousal Unit’s sister and her granddaughter to help with the celebration. Sis-In-Law has the hostessing gene from their mother and kicked into gear immediately upon arrival.

The day of the party, we thanked eight pound, six ounce baby Jesus for Amazon and free delivery and erected the party tent in between downpours. We threw the keg in the trunk of the Packard that was backed into the carport, rearranged a few things in the house, threw gingham tablecloths on the breakfast table and put on our Sunday best.

Unbeknownst to Spousal Unit, the Art School Student finished final exams early and flew home, surprising Dad minutes before the party started. Birthday boy was verklempt. Guests trickled, then flooded in. Covered dishes landed on tables. Everybody obviously understood the gist of the party. One of Man Child’s friends bought a suit at a thrift store and I swear, he coulda been one of our preachers straight out of the 70s, ready to eat some fried chicken. One of my besties sported a rose-covered pillbox hat on her head and delicately pulled white gloves from her fingers before eating. Another good friend brought the calorie-filled chocolate pie that sat at EVERY dessert table EVER at a church potluck. Yet another brought the quintessential potluck dish: macaroni and cheese. There was a full crockpot, a tray of asparagus and a full-blown church supper-worthy tuna casserole.

Guests ranged from old neighbors from our DINK days to brand spanking new friends met on Facebook. There were schoolmates of the offspring and their parents, with whom we’d grown fond in the battlefield of raising kids and there were college buddies of Spousal Unit. Members of his kitchen-pickin’ band, “Old Dog, New Tricks” ate, drank and moved the living room furniture so they could do what they love: make music.

The rain stopped. The beer poured. My main squeeze turned 60 in the style to which he’d grown accustomed – surrounded by fun people who love him and want to celebrate him. Even the dog participated by grabbing a fleece blanket from one end of the house, dragging it to the other, fluffing it and plopping down upon it as if to say, “Well, it’s past my bedtime and if you people aren’t leaving, then Ima nap right here in the middle of things.”

I grinned like a fool throughout the entire party. The College Kid was home for the summer; Man Child and his gf were living with us; Spousal Unit had the celebration he deserved with people who know that he’s a pretty awesome dude; his sister and great-niece were with us; our house and hearts were full.

The summer of 2019 was off to a great start.

 

 

 

 

  • *My mom reads this blog
  • ** The ’49 Packard
  • *** The ’59 Canned Ham Camper
  • ****A burgundy dish towel and a serving spoon remain if you want to claim it.

Empty Nest Vacay: Soul Sistah

IMG_0288The trip thus far had been uneventful. We met Man Child and GF at their house; they took us to the airport; GF and I slobbered over Antoni Porowski’s cookbook during the drive; we checked in; I told security that I have new knees which caused zero problem, but Spousal Unit had a pocket knife with his mandolin-tuning equipment, so he got the stink eye from security and will need to buy a new pocket knife; we people watched in the airport; we rode in the big scary tube with fragile metal wings; we landed in Charleston, SC; we claimed our luggage and headed to the car rental counter.

And that was when time and space and reality and nightmare and a parallel universe merged into our Thrifty Car Rental Experience.

There WAS no car rental counter for Thrifty. I’d never used Thrifty, before, but I had a discount code through one of College Kid’s many horse associations. I was proud of having saved money. I would gladly give that money and a body part to get those two hours back from my life.

We stood, blocking ingress and egress from the airport, the automatic doors opening and closing each time we raised a palm to a forehead in confusion searching for the Thrifty counter.

“I’ll ask the cop,” proclaimed my knight in shining armor. I bit my lip, not retorting that he was probably on a watch list since he stupidly packed a stupid freaking pocketknife in his carry on. Cheeze Whiz. We have a horse named Isis, for Pete’s sakes. We have to watch ourselves in these situations. Don’t make jokes about shoe bombs and don’t bring weapons through security.

My lip bled; I repeated my trip mantra. Celebrating 30 years. Celebrating 30 years. Dear God I have Stockholm Syndrome. Celebrating 30 years.

He returned, unscathed and victoriously proclaiming that we had to go to where the Thrifty/Dollar shuttle would pick us up. “Oh. You mean, where I said we probably needed to go?” A girl can bite her lip only so much.

We trudged across three lanes of stop and go traffic to a concrete island in the middle of the confusion. We asked a woman in uniform. “The first shed,” she answered. We trudged down three sheds and saw that the first shed was for public transit into Charleston. The second shed was for smokers. We stood between it and the next shed. Ten minutes later a bus pulled up to a shed, two sheds up. Where we were when we asked the woman in uniform.

Dragging our luggage like they were housecats on leashes, we ran Quasimodo-style to the shuttle and threw ourselves on the bus driver, a striking and efficient woman who tossed our overweight suitcases into the back of the mini bus like she was playing a game of hot potato.

I hefted my ample self aboard the bus, claiming “new knees” to the lone passenger who watched me grunt. We became friends. By the time the Thrifty ordeal was over, we were naming our unborn grandchildren after one another.

When one is in a line with an interesting new friend, learning about her daughter’s medical challenges that brought her to Charleston to pack up her daughter and bring her home for the semester, one doesn’t comprehend the entirety of the movement of the sun, the changing of the shadows, the slow degeneration of other people’s posture as the line remains stagnant. Until one’s stomach begins its slow roiling complaint that eight grapes does not a breakfast make and one’s new knees whisper ever so slightly, “Like, we’re game for two hours in IKEA for the college kid and all, but this is asking a lot of us,” one does not consciously acknowledge that the hopes of an early lunch has joined the realm of becoming a dancer on Broadway and a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.

Our friend was up to the counter when the clerk said, “After I take care of this person,” and he turned to a woman who had come in from the side and somehow earned a position in the front of the line. Ten minutes later, he had completed his task with her and told our friend. “This line is closed. You need to go over there.” To the Dollar counter. The “other” discount car rental.

Whuh?

Our new friend, from New Jersey, showed MUCH more southern gentility than I was at that moment, but after I sputtered a couple of times, I decided to follow her lead. After all, she had a child with a super unfun medical condition who she was pulling out of college in a 24-hour turnaround and if she could have a good attitude about it, then I could also.

We had lost our line status, so we continued to wait. And talk. Then Spousal Unit said, “This is SO much like that DMV scene in Zootopia.” I snorted and then gasped as the lone woman behind the counter left.

Gone.

We and seven of our closest friends turned around and looked at each other. “Where are the cameras?” I asked. “We are being Punkt.”

Eventually, our bus driver – she of super human strength – came into the building, assessed the situation like a secret service agent, got behind the counter, made a phone call, looked up at the unwashed, hangry masses and declared, “Next.”

Six minutes later we were in a Kia Soul that reeked of urinal cake air freshener weakly attempting to dilute the overpowering and unmistakably pungent smell of the Devil’s Lettuce. AKA Mary Jane. AKA weed. AKA I know where the disappearing Thrifty personnel spend their lunch breaks.

After an hour and a half of mind-numbing, patience-testing, social anxiety-inducing adventure, we found ourselves driving a Bonnaroo Porta Potty. Next time I’ll spend the extra eighty bucks and go with Enterprise. They pick you up.