SB 2k18: Take Me Home, Country Roads


Proving once again that he’s not the average guy, my 23-year-old man child announced last fall that his senior year spring break would be spent navigating the physical roads and emotional paths of his mom’s childhood and youth, with – of all people – his mom.

I was dubious. Surely the come-hither slap of waves against shore would lure him, the girlfriend would have a better offer, or the temptation of staying in his house and rebuilding a 1982 Jaguar XJ6 Sovereign (it’s pronounced Jag-you-are, Mom) would outweigh his desire to visit the place where Nanna and Pawpaw live and where Mom grew up.

I was dubious and I was wrong. We packed up Pollyanna, the 2004 Honda Pilot who gamely faces our adventures with nothing but an oil change and a full tank, added a few more thousand miles to her odometer, and traveled the mountains and valleys of our people. We visited Mothman, ate hot dogs in a school bus perched on the side of a hill, experienced the making of history, communed with aliens through a satellite dish the size of my parents’ neighborhood, ate more hot dogs in a red shack on the side of the road in a town that was so rough in the 70s, the cheerleaders weren’t allowed to go when my school played them, stood where Hatfields and McCoys lived, fought and died, made friends with a Kentucky state trooper with tats and calves the size of that satellite dish, walked past the bullet holes of the first battle of the mine wars, and consumed my mother’s cooking with a hungry Dickensian fervor that belied our middle class lives. More gruel, please?

Part 1: It’s Monday So It Must Be Mothman IMG_7401

In the mid-to-late sixties, a tall, dark creature foretold tragedy to the citizens of Point Pleasant, West Virginia. Sadly, nobody spoke Mothman in Point Pleasant, West Virginia in the mid-to-late sixties, so the warnings went untranslated and unheeded. The Silver Bridge collapsed and 46 people met their deaths in a tangle of metal, water and catfish just days before Christmas 1967. This is why I have gephyrophobia.

Although Mothman has been spotted ‘round the world, the burg of Point Pleasant, West Virginia claims him as their own. Point Pleasant lies about an hour northwest of my parents’ home in Milton. There are several ways to get from Milton to Point Pleasant, some more curvy than others. Man Child had expressed his desire to experience the real West Virginia, curvy roads and all. I gave him curvy roads and all. If the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, the best distance is a line that looks like a drunk hillbilly staggered between two points, unsure of which direction he was intending to go. Man Child held onto the armrest and his groceries, I held onto the steering wheel and Pollyanna held onto the asphalt as I reclaimed my curvy road driving skills. I am proud of all three of us.

Man Child’s brain is never at rest. This made raising him fun, challenging and sometimes exhausting. Nothing in our house is as it was first made to be. A t-ball stand became a locomotive smokestack; a futon became a go-cart and watermelons became WMD. When he is strapped down in a 2004 Honda Pilot, his need to invent becomes verbal and stories are born. Ergo, Stave the WVDOT worker.

According to Man Child Lore, there is a WVDOT worker named Steve, but all the guys just say Stave. He’s not particularly bright, this Stave, yet he apparently has a lot of responsibility. Man Child begat Stave after six hours on the road, driving from Nashville and we neared my small hometown. Superfluous interstate signs announced the town’s presence. “Milton 1 ¾ Mile” one sign says. Then “Milton 1 Mile” followed by “Milton ¾ Mile.”

“What did they do, just have extra signs that had arbitrary numbers on them? Stave, measure off that distance there, yeah, that’s about a mile and three quarter. Put that sign there cuz it done say a mile and three quarter.”

Stave was also apparently involved in naming the roads between Milton and Point Pleasant. “What do they do here,” my offspring asked. “Just name things after the first thing they see?

“Stave. There’s a cow standin’ in a crick there. Name that one Cow Crick Road. And over there where that horse is? Put up a sign that says Horse Crick Road.

“‘Hey Stave, that thar crick look like it about three mile. Call that one Three Mile Crick.

“Stave, you know you can’t ask me to do no math. Just measure it out agin and if it’s still five and twenty, just call it Five and Twenty Creek Road.

“Stave, I’m plum outa ideas. Just name that one after yourself. Yeah, Stave Branch is fine. I don’t know how you spellit. It’s yer name.”

We pulled into the town of Point Pleasant, (pop 4237) that, like so many other West Virginia towns, looks like a 1980s homecoming queen who has spent a lifetime smoking too much, over-applying mousse in her fringe bangs that defy gravity, and refusing to change the application of her Merle Norman black eyeliner and rust-colored blush. She used to be a beauty, but has, as my mother would say, “let herself go.”

We parked next to a storied haunted hotel and stepped from the car. Through the wispy morning clouds, filtered sun illuminated the metal spectacle a block away as if God were anointing the creature with light. Mothman: The Sculpture.

Made of stainless steel by the artist Robert (Bob) Roach, Mothman is more jacked than Shemar Moore and despite his tattered wings is, quite frankly, kinda hot. (I can patch those wings up for you, boo.) His hands and feet are talons and his red eyes a little threatening, but nobody’s perfect. After all, Mothman has our best interest at heart and just wants people to know that bad things are about to happen.

Next to Mothman: The Sculpture is WOMM, for which I now have a bumper sticker. I have a bumper crop of bumper stickers. They hold Pollyanna together and I’m smug that I have one of the first Coexist stickers ever made as well as a sticker for the city of Flint, for which the L has been replaced with the silhouette of a handgun. One of my great pleasures in life is watching people read my bumper stickers, shake their heads and walk away.

Another of my greatest pleasures is taking Man Child to places such as The World’s Only Mothman Museum. WOMM is a veritable cornucopia of all things Mothman and when Man Child saw the motorized Mothman bike, I thought he was going to soil his pants. He could scarcely contain his joy when I agreed to pay seven bucks for both of us to tour the museum. I love being the benevolent parent. Of course I’ll pay the admission fee for a museum tour my child. Your continuing education is so very, very important to your father and me.

Owned by a graphic design teacher, who is also a rocker and, if I can guess correctly, an old hippie, The World’s Only Mothman Museum holds a wealth of knowledge for even those of us who consider ourselves Mothman connoisseurs. I am embarrassed to admit that I did not know that there were Men in Black before Will Smith. After touring the museum under the watchful glare of Men in Black mannequins, I do not doubt their existence.

As with every museum worth its exhibit, the tour ends in the gift shop. I am a fool for swag. When my offspring toured colleges and didn’t take advantage of the swag bags, I pouted. Imagine my delight in a shop filled with Mothman swag. T-shirts and aforementioned bumper stickers and books and buttons and bags! I wanted ALL the things. We already have the movie starring Richard Gere and Debra Messing; get the book! The traveling coffee mug! Who cares if we’re paying two college tuitions and board for a high maintenance horse? Who cares if our house is so cluttered that “Hoarders” producers circle us like a vulture around a dying cow? Mothman swag for EVERYONE!

Dizzy by my frenzied Mothman shopping extravaganza, credit card clutched in my sweaty hand, I turned my head when the museum shop door opened and a smoky smell wafted in. A fellow was tossing mats on the floor like it was his job. It was. He owned the place. Man Child and I felt like we had met Sir Paul McCartney and nearly fell to our knees in fealty. “You own the Mothman Museum? Like. Wow. Man.”

We shook hands and learned that he smelled smoky because he’d been on the picket line with striking West Virginia teachers. Our love became greater. Forget living down the street from country music royalty, or bumping into Connie Britton at my kids’ school. I’m impressed with a schoolteacher who is a graphic artist and owns the freaking WORLD’S ONLY MOTHMAN MUSEUM. He’s also in a band. I mean can you get any more boss than that?

He also knows our Really Cool Neighbor who grew up in Point Pleasant and we learned that the stuffed Mothman she gave us years ago is now a collector’s item. Sorry Tammy. Collector Mothman is mine. The World’s Most Interesting Man who owns the World’s Only Mothman Museum invited us back for the Mothman Festival that is held the third weekend of September.

We put it in our calendars.

It was difficult to pull ourselves away from Point Pleasant, but we had an appointment with my mother, niece and some hot dogs. We paid our respects to those lost in the Silver Bridge collapse, paid homage to Chief Cornstalk with the embarrassment of knowing more often than not, the white guys have been the bad guys and nodded respectfully to the red glowing eyes in a porthole window of a Victorian house.

IMG_7436Thirty minutes down Route 2 from Mothman is a much-heralded eatery that defies haute cuisine, defines hot weenies and has been featured in shows such as Diners, Drive Ins and Dives. Clutching our 10% off coupon from WOMM, we entered the compound that is Hillbilly Hot Dogs.

This architectural marvel perched on the side of a hill that overlooks the slow-moving Ohio River is the brainchild of Sonny and Sharie Knight. He, a West Virginia native, brought his California girl back to the hills with him and they built a building so they could open a hotdog stand. Nearly two decades later, the building has all but disappeared within a puzzle of school buses, junktiques, outhouses, boats, vans teetering on poles, wedding chapels and more kitsch than a garden gnome emporium.

What remains important, however, within the layers of décor and bâtiment de fantaisie, is the original building, which houses the kitchen (cue: angelic voices). From this surprisingly sterile, steamy room, Hillbilly Hot Dogs are born.

There are more menu choices at Hillbilly Hot Dogs than there are cars on blocks between Point Pleasant and Hillbilly Hot Dogs. Each item has a name. I got the West Virginian. Man Child considered the Homewrecker, briefly and the Widowmaker even more briefly, but I don’t remember what he got. Nor do I remember what my mother and niece got. I was in the zone and all that mattered was my hot dog, the onion rings and a Diet Coke. I’m watching my weight, after all.

We climbed into one of the dining rooms – a school bus covered in graffiti – and sat at a beautifully appointed table with a lovely centerpiece made from a Spam can. I need to remember that when I complete Daisy’s décor. As we waited for our food, Man Child plopped into the driver’s seat of the bus and discovered that everything was still connected. “The clutch just engaged!” he yelled. “The brakes are still hooked up!” He pushed pedals and shifted gears. I looked at my mom and she looked at me. Good God he was going to drive us into the Ohio River. Worst of all, he was going to drive us into the Ohio River BEFORE we got our hot dogs.

I used the ploy available to moms worldwide, no matter the age of their offspring. I distracted with food. “Why don’t you see if our order is ready?” He took off sniffing like a beagle after a rabbit and the bus stayed nestled into the side of a hill.

Before I made this trip, I had a discussion with my nutritionist. Because I have an autoimmune disease and because I am twice the woman I used to be, she has her work cut out for her. We were on the phone and she was trying to help me make good decisions for the trip by encouraging me to plan ahead.

“Well, I know I’m going to Hillbilly Hot Dogs, so that’s just gonna be a blow-it-out-my-ass kinda day,” I announced, knowing that I meant it both figuratively and literally. I heard the clicking of a keyboard and bit my tongue. Dammit. She was on the website, looking at the menu. I think I heard her retch.

She was quiet. The kind of quiet that a nervous person like myself feels obligated to fill. “I know it’s unhealthy, but it’s something I have to do.” She doesn’t understand the sacrifices we make for our kids, even when they’re grown. My son wanted the West Virginia experience. That meant Mothman and Hillbilly Hot Dogs.

“They have some vegetables,” she whispered. “Oh. Those are fried.” Then a few seconds later, “Wait. Here are rabbit fixin’s.”

I kept my mouth shut. What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her. I adore this woman. She’s changed my life, seriously, with alterations in my eating habits that have lessened inflammation. But her elevator don’t go all the way to the top if she thinks I’m going to go to Hillbilly Hot Dogs and order a SALAD.

Because I’ve lived in Nashville long enough to say one thing and mean another, (unlike in West Virginia where you say everything that pops into your brain), I said, “Yes, that sounds lovely” and agreed that yes, I would have a great time and make good choices.

Because I was raised by my mother, for whom guilt is the elixir of life, I felt a little bit remorseful as I took the first bite of my dog, enjoying that satisfying pop of a perfectly cooked wiener. With each subsequent bite, I felt less guilty. By the time I had eaten all of my hot dog, an order of onion rings and half of my niece’s fries, and washed it down with a Diet Coke, I was happily, greasily semi-comatose.

All I needed was a wafer-thin mint.

We strolled the grounds afterward, as one would in any park-like setting, enjoying

bon mots written upon slabs of wood (“grinning like a opossum pooping peach seeds”), and marveling at the logistics of getting a van 20 feet into the air so that it could perch on top of a dead tree. We were flirting with a stray cat when Man Child clutched his stomach and high tailed it to the outhouse.

He was getting the full West Virginia experience, after all.


Coming soon: Take Me Home Country Roads Part 2. Herstory in the making.



Break Up Make Up

Daisy and I have had to have some time apart. It happened when she friend-zoned me. She told me it wasn’t me; it was her. That I deserved better. That I would make another camper happy some day.

I told her fine, it WAS her and good luck trying to find somebody who would pay $600 for counter tops and could afford to have her cushions custom made.

She huffed, deployed an army of faux ladybugs, stink bugs and spiders to keep me away, then pouted through the holidays. When I’m outside playing with the dog, she ignores me and I return the favor. We dance the dance of broken couples by pretending the other isn’t in the room while we laugh gaily, with a sparkle in our eyes, at something somebody else said.

The frost is beginning to thaw, however, with the onset of a few warm days last week. I ventured her way, to discover that what beetles the spiders hadn’t eaten were lying belly up, ready to be crunched beneath my feet as I perused Daisy’s incomplete interior.

We came to an impasse last fall, after Man Child installed the black and white tile-patterned linoleum floor. It looked so danged good, we were ready to finish the task. I ordered Formica samples for the counter tops. Ooh! This one! No, this one! Oh, wow, no, how ‘bout THIS one! We want ALL the retro designs.

Then we got prices.

Daisy is a DIY, on-the-cheap, cabinets-from-Habitat-Home-Store kinda gal. I am NOT gonna pay that kind of money for a counter top, I don’t care how flippin’ cool it is. We have two kids in college, a high maintenance horse, and a Target habit to maintain. Sorry Daisy.

She didn’t take it well and that’s when the break occurred. She doesn’t understand not only is she beer budget, she’s end-cap sale beer budget. Formica has become champagne taste. You people with your marble, granite or custom concrete countertops, you peasants with your stainless steel industrial counters, you have no idea what upscale really is.

If price point is the indicator of quality, then retro Formica is the crème de la crème of kitchen design.

It’s not like we broke up and I forgot about her. Man Child continues to have her in his “thoughts and prayers” as he runs ideas past me. “We could 3D print the design and CAD the E=MC2 and black hole theory then epoxy over it.” Or something like that. He’s in college, studying aerospace stuff and I have no idea what the hell he’s talking about most of the time. I’ve learned that a mother’s eyes can gloss over just as easily as a wife’s once a nerd starts talking.

“Sure honey, we’ll do that.” The last time I said that he blew up watermelons in the back yard and one of my favorite neighbors called.

“Tina, before I call the police about the explosion noises, I thought I’d check to make sure it wasn’t your Man Child and one of his experiments.”

Thank you neighbor Ann. It was he, indeed. Would you like to watch watermelons explode? No? Okay. Thank you again for not calling the popo. Have a nice day.

Meanwhile, Daisy and I have reached a détente. I begrudgingly let her know that we’re trying to find other solutions that will be just as retro, cool and worthy of her style and she begrudgingly lets me know that she wasn’t going anywhere anyway. After all, Bonnaroo helped determine she’s not quite roadworthy.

She also reminds me that she has not forgotten my wandering eye, nor my obvious lust over the green 70s RV parked beside us at said music festival aptly named “The Pickle.”

Because relationships thrive on kindness and sometimes that means silence, I don’t tell her about my heart palpitations after I saw an Airstream for sale. I would SO buy Formica countertops for that thing.


Everybody Poops

Bowel Movement. Stool. Pootie. Crap. Shit. Poop. Brown trout. Turd. Number two. Feces. Caca. A rose by any name smells just as sweet and a BM just as foul. But poop is part of life. Poop is life. As the children’s book says, “Everybody Poops.”

When I was growing up, we didn’t talk about poop and I’m pretty sure my mother still doesn’t. In fact, I’ve spent a lifetime imagining that my mother has trained her body to rid itself of waste by osmosis. Surely, my mother doesn’t poop, because poop is disgusting. My mother doesn’t do disgusting, but much to her chagrin, I do. She was disgusted when I bought the book, “Everybody Poops” and more disgusted when I read it to my kids. Bless her heart, since bathroom humor is my raison d’etre, I disgust my mother a LOT, but she loves me anyway.

Poop took on a new level of importance when we became parents. Input and output were monitored with infants, so following the advice of our pediatrician, we created a poop record, which is tucked into our offspring’s baby books. I know some day their spousal units will look fondly upon these records, knowing that their beloved had healthy and regular baby poops. My future sons and or daughters-in-law will also appreciate that I kept their spouses’ belly buttons. Right there on page 3.

Apparently, even into adulthood, monitoring one’s health means monitoring one’s poop. I began working with a functional nutritionist earlier this year and one of the first things she did was recommend my keeping a Food/Mood/Poop journal. Along with the Food/Mood/Poop journal, she introduced me to the Bristol Stool Chart. Luckily, our sessions are via telephone, so she couldn’t see my face when she introduced this concept. I am, in my heart and soul, a nine-year-old boy.

OMG. This is rich. Really? There’s a CHART!?!?! A GRAPH!!?! The nine-year-old boy in me was losing it. I have rated belches for nearly my entire life, and our family is proud of our Native American and Latin fart names (i.e. Coughs in Pants and Expelsior), but never have I ever realized that I could quantify my crap.

Poor Amber-the-functional-nutritionist. She just wanted to help me get healthy. She didn’t realize that her Bristol Stool Chart was becoming part of our family lexicon. Man Child printed it, framed it and hung it over his toilet in his collegiate home. Girl Child texts from her college to tell me she had cafeteria sushi and we discuss whether the result would be a six or a seven. I tell Spousal Unit that my tummy isn’t feeling quite right. He asks, “Five?”

“No,” I moan. “Seven.”

In the old days, prior to the Bristol Stool Chart, when my beloved word wizard didn’t feel well, he would emerge from the throne room, declaring he could “shit through pantyhose.” Now, a simple number will do.

We also monitor our pets’ health by their poops. One of the scariest things for a horse owner is if the animal colics and let me tell you, when that beast finally poops, you can hear the champagne corks popping across the fields and meadows.

This week, our golden retriever, Thor, hasn’t been on his game. He threw up on Saturday, quickly reconsumed it so that I couldn’t see what he’d barfed and two days later threw up again. This time I scooted him away before he could eat it and perused the contents. Even the nine-year-old boy in me gags at puke and dog barf is the worst. Still, this is my job. I grabbed paper towels and a plastic Big Lots bag and began my crime scene unit work. I wiped some of the liquid up and dry heave. Stood up. Worked on meditative breathing. Called in my spirit animal, who looked at me and said, “I ain’t cleaning that up.” I grabbed some more paper towels and squatted back down. I love this dog more than this bothers me, I chanted as a mantra. I wiped some more liquid and turned over a chunk. Burped. Told myself that I had given birth twice and that this was nothing. Tried to analyze what the big chunk was and made an inhuman noise. Thor was on the other side of the screen door watching me. I know he was offering to clean it up for me, but I declined.

There was a piece of cloth, about three inches long resting within the muddy puddle. The trim from a pillow, or perhaps a toy? The stuffed Trump doll a friend gave us is still intact, so it’s not that. What did this dog eat? There was some fluffy stuffing lying around. I gagged again and gave up, using about 30 paper towels to finish cleaning it up and Windex to sanitize. I’ll get a flamethrower on it later and will be kind to the environment the next time.

I let Thor back inside and he crawled onto the sofa. Puppy didn’t feel well, and I was worried. Our previous dog had died when Man Child started college and I was having flashbacks. I need something big and hairy around when my nest gets empty, and Spousal Unit has to work. I called the vet and calmly explained the situation and she arranged for a 4 p.m. appointment. It was still morning. Because I was calm and not panicked, I said, “Isn’t this emergent?” When you say the word emergent, they think you’re calm, right?

Sure, she said with a question in her voice. You can come in now, but you might have to wait. I was there in fifteen, but because I had used the word emergent, everybody knew I was calm and not panicked.

Of course, the second we walked through the door of the animal clinic, Thor became the life of the party. He was pouring drinks, telling jokes and flirting with cocker spaniels. It was like taking my car in to the shop and telling skeptical mechanics that it was making some horrible noise that sounds like cats mating. The service technician drives it only to say, yeah, sounds like a cat because that engine is purring like a kitten.

Thor and I waited in the lobby. He was running for political office, “Hi, I’m Thor. Vote for me.” I was lamely explaining that he had been lifeless scant minutes before. I wondered if they’d notice if I led my apparently healthy dog out the side door and slithered home.

After a short wait – after all, we were emergent — we were directed to an examination room where 100 pounds of canine flopped onto the floor with a grunt. He looked at me with obvious distress in his eyes and I fell for it. Working the room had just been too much. This poor guy was sick. I scratched him behind the ears, poor baby.

The vet knocked on the door and that traitorous beast hopped up, trotted to him, rudely jumped up on him, then turned around and waited for his butt to get scratched. I felt like a Munchausen by Proxy mother. “I swear, he was barely moving this morning,” I whimpered. “I promise I’m not over reactive.” This man has been our vet for nearly three decades. He knows me.

So maybe some people call it over reactive.

Nonetheless, he gave Thor a thorough examination and pills and gave me instructions and an invoice. The pills were anti-nausea medication and the advice was to give him soft, bland foods and of course, monitor his poop.

He didn’t poop the rest of that day. Spousal Unit took him on his nightly constitutional and even permitted him to use the freshly sodded and newly irrigated yard of the new neighbors, but still no go.

This morning, I gave him a breakfast of chicken broth and rice. No poop. We played in the yard, on a cold wet gross day, hoping that the activity would get things moving. I threw balls so that he would fetch. He trotted over to them, sniffed and I prepared myself, but for naught. No poop.

Finally, I realized that he might want privacy. I stepped inside and watched him from the utility room window. Sure enough, hunched like a Porsche Panamera, I saw him prepare for action. Hidden behind brassieres hanging on the inside clothesline, I studied his form. There was action. Movement. As in bowel movement. A distinct line formed between his rear end and the ground. He took a step or two, proudly scuffed his back feet and trotted off.

I sauntered over to where I thought he had been. I didn’t see it. There is a cold front coming through, so there should be steam. Still, nothing. I looked and looked, like the woman in the Bible searching for lost coins and because I read the Bible and taught Sunday School, I invoked St. Joseph the patron saint of lost things. Or is he the saint of sell-my-house-please? St. Joe doesn’t help and I couldn’t find the poop, so I went the other direction and cussed. I scanned. I moved fallen leaves. Finally, I decided to make a grid, like a search party looking for a missing kid. Back and forth within about a 25 square foot area, I searched.

I looked at Thor. “Where is your poop?” I asked him. He just looked at me, tennis ball in his mouth. I looked at Daisy, “Where’s Thor’s poop?” I asked her. She replied, “Where are my finishing touches?” Smart alec trailer.

Maybe I hadn’t seen what I thought I saw. After all, I was peering between drying brassieres. Maybe he didn’t poop. Good thing I’ve gotten the vet involved, I think as I walked back toward the house, calling to Thor to come inside with me. This really is emergent. I looked back to him as I walked and my foot slipped a little. I looked down.

It’s a five.


Rock Solid


Spousal Unit must have been a stonemason in another life. Or perhaps a bricklayer. Maybe he lived in a flood-prone area and had to put things above the water level. Or perhaps he is simply loyal to his West Virginia roots and despite having blue blood and a nice set of silver, must put it up on blocks.

By it, I mean everything. Slate is his friend. We inherited a buttload of slate from our previous home renovation and now slate is the filler of choice. My awesome handcrafted swing sits on four slabs of slate. The picnic tables? Slate. A bench near the driveway. Slate. The grill and smoker? Slate. Because I like that European cottage garden look, our patio is gravel. Because Spousal Unit has SIOS (stick it on slate syndrome), every piece of outdoor furniture sits crookedly on its own slabs of slate. That’s not exactly European cottage garden look, but I’m not sure what look it is.

Dr. Seuss? Tectonic shift?

It’s not as if the slate were placed within a crevice designed specifically for that piece of slate. It lies exposed upon the ground like a sacrificed virgin. He created a walkway from the driveway to the back entrance from fifty or so rather large slabs of slate. They tumble upon the earth like bones in an elephant sanctuary. Some have succumbed to gravity and erosion and have slid down the yard a little bit. Others have dug into their spot, like militia at a federal wildlife building. Ain’t nobody gonna move them nowhere. A less than sober person would meet his or her maker trying to walk this path.

It’s not that I’m not grateful. I’m glad that the waterproof bins holding our outdoor cushions and pillows are above earth. One never knows when another 500-year flood will hit Nashville and test the waterproofness of the waterproof bins. The chipmunks running from the golden retriever who hunts them are grateful for the five-inch escape hatch they can slide into, drifting sideways under the safety of the plastic bin like Keiichi Tsychiya in Tokyo Drift.

As much as he enjoys slate, Spousal Unit is not neglectful of other masonry products upon which things may rest. A salvaged industrial kitchen sink I use as a garden bench rests gingerly upon bricks, despite it having adjustable legs, which could make it as level – if not more – than it currently is. Part of the playhouse cum tool shed loiters upon round aggregate stepping stones, a nod to the former homeowners’ eighties landscaping.

Since Spousal Unit is an overall great guy who has decent health insurance and tolerates my penchant for weird crap, such as a 1959 camper, I have nothing about which to complain. Therefore, it is simply noting and not complaining that I just stubbed my toe (again) on the brick holding up the potting bench. I am also not complaining that when I tried to make cute arrangements in the junktique cabinet I bought from a friend, everything slides to the back and to the left because the slate beneath the cabinet is uneven. And heaven knows I would never lodge complaint about my efforts to sit on a bench that pours me from its lap because the slate in the back is higher than the front. It’s as if Santa stood up quickly just as I was about to tell what I wanted for Christmas.

No. I would never complain that St. Francis looks as if he took one too many communions as he lists to the left atop his altar of slate. Instead I shall celebrate. I shall gleefully note that at least Daisy isn’t up on blocks. She rests blissfully — if somewhat unevenly — upon a bed of railroad cross ties filled with gravel. I’m also happy to say that Man Child’s 1948 Packard has left home, so there isn’t a car on jacks in our carport. Only a Rorschach test of oil stains remain.

There are worse things than placing everything on blocks, rocks and aggregate pavers. To Spousal Unit, those worse things are dirt and water seeping into the outdoor furniture, or the bins that hold the cushions. To me, it would be worse to not have this particular Spousal Unit lifting up items to keep them safe, however crooked they may be.


Hell-icopter Mom

apache.2. I am crabby. Get out of my way before I kick you in the shins, rip off your head and spit in the hole kind of crabby. The snot-filled flu-like malaise of winter is being replaced with snot-filled allergy-based angry energy. After I sneeze six times in a row while clenching my legs together so I don’t pee, I’m gonna break bad. First, a quick trip to the bathroom.

I’m certain this end-of-winter-post-morose crabbiness is expected and generational. My ancestors undoubtedly used this burst of energy to spring clean their homes, pulling furniture out onto the front yard so they could beat the hell out of the cushions. I could use a rug, a clothesline and a tennis racquet right now.

This annual joie de grump is not uncommon amongst only my people, but those across the nation, nee the world. This is why Spring Break exists. For God’s sakes, go to the beach, have a cocktail and try not to stick a fork in anybody’s eye. Because I haven’t gone on a Spring Break trip since my junior year in college, decades of March Madness – and not the roundball kind – have compounded into a plasma ball of angst that can fuel American-made cars, take down sovereign nations and make Spousal Unit work longer hours. “I have to travel out of town next week,” he texts. The man knows. And he feels sorry for those who don’t.

I’ve learned to temper my temper by staying out of the public eye as much as I can. I still might get shot throwing gang signs at ridiculous drivers (actually the flying asshole sign, detailed in a blog from this time last year), but I try to stay out of crowded places, angry mobs and Kroger’s. Yes, stock boy, I DO want that product before which you are squatted as if praying to, and if you roll your eyes at me as I try to reach over you and get the five pound bag of flour without dropping it on your head, then I shall have to stick this rather large container of Tide pods up your….

To save the grocery chain workers of the world, Spousal Unit calls before leaving work and offers to run to the store. He proffers his daily offerings to me on the kitchen counter, paying homage in hopes that the volcano shall only rumble and not erupt. Like I said, the man knows.

It’s too bad that a certain department chair at a certain university doesn’t. She done gone and made me mad now. I’m not going to take it out on only her, though. I’m gonna rant and rave and spit and spew over a couple of decades of condescending professionals telling me I need to back off. This is for anybody who has ever called me a helicopter mom and I speak for the rest of those who have been pushed aside when we raise alarms over what’s going on with our offspring.

Let me make one thing clear. I don’t micro-manage my kids. Never have. Never will. I never hovered over their homework, which is why they often didn’t turn it in. That’s their job, not mine. They deserved those zeros because they worked hard to get them. Learning is more important than grades. My watching NCIS is more important than looking over their shoulders.

I’ve never been the parent on the sideline, screaming at my kid to just make the damn goal, or basket, or home run. We laughed when Girl Child stood on the soccer field braiding her friend’s hair and Man Child built trains out of t-ball stands.

I worry. What parent doesn’t? I pray a lot. But I don’t stop my kids from following their dreams, even if it means jumping ALL of the things on a 1500-pound force of muscle, bad attitude and a brain the size of a walnut, or even if it means (gulp) riding motorcycles and flying planes. I did mention that I pray a lot, right?

I also carry first aid kits and fire extinguishers.

Most of what I do is pay attention. That’s my job and it’s been my job since Man Child was conceived. Pay attention to my health during pregnancy, their health after. Pay attention to the poisons in the cabinets. Pay attention to the scary man at the park who ended up being at our driveway. Pay attention to the moods, the things unsaid, the signs we’re told to look for when they are wracked by hormones and confronted by the-world-is-not-my-oyster understanding. Pay attention to where they go and who they’re with and what are their dreams and where are their heads.

I’ve missed a few things, even while paying attention. One kid was being bullied in middle school for quite a while before I realized it. Once I knew, I started throwing up flares like the Titanic on a bad night in April. As with the Titanic, the flares weren’t seen in a timely manner and not everything could be saved from the depths. I regret not seeing the damn iceberg. I really regret my meekness when I was patted on the head and told it had all been fixed and that I didn’t need to hover. I let go, Jack. I let go.

In addition to paying attention, I usually have a philosophy to trust the professionals, whether it’s school personnel, health care folk or the amazing friend who does my hair. After all, they’re the ones who are trained in their fields, not I. For the most part – with the significant exception of home improvement professionals – that philosophy has worked. People are usually good at their jobs. When they’re good at their jobs, there is a lovely symbiotic relationship where you trust them and they trust you. Communication is had; faeries dance on unicorn horns and rainbows spew from our arses. Harp music plays in the background. Nobody calls me a helicopter mom.

When people are not good at their jobs and they know that they’re not good at their jobs, they project that onto their surroundings. I know this because I’ve gone to therapy and I watch a lot of Criminal Minds. They get more defensive than Donald Trump after a Saturday Night Live episode and they lash out. When their job is connected to my offspring, they accuse me of helicoptering and tell me — or aforementioned offspring – that I don’t need to get involved.

Excuse me? Have you met me? You are messing with my offspring, so I am already involved. Besides, I am paying his tuition, so instead of a helicopter mom, why don’t you consider me a customer. A Very. Unhappy. Customer. Who does not care for the product she is being sold.

Better yet, head of department, see me as a helicopter mom, if you will, but know that THIS chopper is an Apache, armed and ready to set her sites on your lousy-assed program with its shell game of requirements and uninspired curriculum that wastes bright students’ time and our money.

Oh. No. I’m sorry, I am NOT done yet. It’s March and I have allergies. I am in a mood. I’m tired of the grownups not acting like grownups, then telling me that grownups aren’t allowed in their little games with our semi-grownup kids. Spousal Unit and I taught our kids to respect authority, but we also taught them to question it. We taught them that we would have their backs and right now the hair on MY back is raised like a cat being introduced to a python. I tend to do that with snakes.

Perhaps it’s the time of year, or perhaps it’s my exhaustion with authority trying to marginalize everything I stand for, but I won’t be dismissed from the room that easily. I won’t let the insinuation that I’m a helicopter mom bully me into submission. I will own that title because helicopters don’t just hover. Helicopters come in to the rescue, provide EVAC and first aid, and sometimes they are armed. Helicopters are bad asses. Heck yeah, I’m a helicopter mom. I’m a helicopter wife. And a helicopter friend. I’m a helicopter daughter and the next time an arrogant doctor is rude to my mom, I’m gonna be a friggin’ Blackhawk raining down on his entitled ass.

This may be more than just end-of-winter grumpies and might continue past the Ides of March, when grocery store stock boys are once again safe from Tide pod enemas. This feels like a call-to-arms to helicopter parents everywhere, who have fallen prey to the condescending attitude of Those In Charge who try to make us feel badly about ourselves for questioning whether a pig drawn on the white board with our child’s name underneath is truly bullying. When we hover, dart, land briefly and rise from the earth once again, we aren’t only helicoptering for our loved ones. We helicopter for every one. When we’re in surveillance mode, we’re watching out for the world at large. We tell the parent we don’t know very well that we fear his child is taking risks. Or is suicidal. Then we retreat and allow that parent to helicopter.

So yeah, bish. I’m a helicopter mom. I am a HELL-icopter mom. Say it or insinuate it, I don’t care. I own it. Just be careful because this time of year, I’m a helicopter mom on the edge.

Funky February Funk

It’s cold. I have snot in my nose, my sinus cavities, and running down the back of my throat. Every time I sneeze, I pee a little. My skin is dry. My panty liner is wet. My house looks like Miss Havisham should be eating wedding cake in it. With paint flaking from her like my dry skin, DaisyTheTrailer should be in a junkyard guarded by German Shepherd/Rottweiler/Doberman mixes. Our backyard is a minefield of dog poop and mole runs. My car has salt and road filth left on it from the trip to West Virginia nearly two months ago. A door, purchased at the Habitat store for Daisy, rots in the carport. My MIL was SO right about me.

The dog is barking to be let in and Rachael Ray’s annoyingly chirpy voice is annoyingly chirpy background noise. I’m too tired/sick/lazy/grouchy to go to the other room and bitch slap Rachael by turning off the television or let in the dog. I might get up to grab some more coffee. And then again, I might not. Did I mention that it’s cold.

It’s February.

It probably doesn’t help that I’ve been bingeing on Criminal Minds. That show can be a little dark. But. Shemar Moore. It probably doesn’t help that back in 2015, I decided to move the home office into the breakfast room. It’s still in transition, so I have neither a working home office, nor do I have a working breakfast room. We are the Americans who eat on TV trays, the flicker of prime time reflected on our faces. Kumbaya.

It probably doesn’t help that people are picking fights on Facebook, even when there isn’t anything to fight about. The meme was funny. It wasn’t supposed to bring on discussion about the finer points of what do you tell your daughter. It was simply trying to bring levity to a dire situation. I give up explaining. Fine. I won’t be funny then. I will return to my cave, Gollum-like, blow a loogie into a wad of toilet paper and search for my preciousssssss. Shemar Moore.

My snot-filled mind wanders. I wonder if Homeland Security is monitoring my actions through the camera on my computer and if they gag at just HOW many times I pick my nose. Sorry, NSA, that stuff is GLUED up there. What I need is a crotchet hook. I’ve got one somewhere, probably hanging onto an unfinished scarf I was trying to crotchet. I suck at crotchet. I suck at finishing things. Perhaps it’s the unfinishedness (if our president can say bragadocious, I can say unfinishedness) of my life that has me in the doldrums.

There is a joke that says, “Happiness comes from finishing things you’ve started, so, I finished an open bottle of merlot, an open bottle of chardonnay, the box of Girl Scout cookies and the rest of the cake.” Even that kind of happiness evades me because I grew up in a family that never took the last of anything. It drove my neat-nik mother crazy. Boxes upon boxes of cereal with one serving left. Packages of Oreos with two broken, crème-filled souls tucked into a corner. Every meal, there would be one last piece of cornbread. One spoonful of green beans. One last pork chop. Spousal Unit grew up in an eat-it-til-it’s-gone family, with moves like SEAL team six. Insertion. Move fast. Take what you want and more than you need. Extract.

Bless his heart, after nearly three decades, Spousal Unit still has no idea of the looks he gets at my parents’ table. The looks that say, “Tina, I thought you married up. He just ate the last slice of cornbread.”

Mmmmmm. Cornbread sounds good right now. I could probably finish some cornbread. I just can’t seem to finish anything else. Last year, I took a quilting class with my friend Kathy to help with the winter blahs. This year, the unfinished quilt remains stretched on my grandmother’s quilt rack, consuming twenty square feet of basement real estate. Kathy’s quilt also remains unfinished. She is renovating a house and is grumpier than I am. I should tell her about Shemar, but first I should finish some things.

I need – nay want – to finish this blog. I want to finish the quilt and finish moving the home office into the breakfast room. I want to finish Daisy’s interior and repaint her flaking exterior. I want to finish the photo album from my dad’s 80th birthday party. I want to finish the third draft of my novel and finish hanging stuff on the walls from when we moved here ten years ago. Part of me wants to finish that fight on Facebook.

I’m motivated. Call me the Finisher. I’ll finish ALL the things. Move me to Finland because I am FINNISH. Hashtag Just Finish It. The February Funk is lifted because I am finishing. I am woman. Hear me finish. Watch out dog hair tumbleweeds, you are finished! Did you see the finish on that trailer? Booyah!

First things first. I need to finish Season Three of Criminal Minds.

Shemar Moore. Preciousssssss.

When Winter Comes to the Smokies

dsc_0039When I first got Daisy, we all know I had hallucinations. I imagined her snuggled against a flowing river as I sat on the bank and penned the Great American Novel. I pictured my driving her across the desert plains as scorpions crunched beneath her tires. I fantasized taking her to Bonnaroo where hippies of all ages walked past our awesome retro setup and mumbled, “Cool, man. Like wow. That camper is rad, dude.” Come to find out my hallucinations were greater than any Bonnaroo hippie’s.

Daisy did make it to Bonnaroo, but shan’t do it again. Just read those posts. I’m too old and cranky for Bonnaroo and pulling Daisy is bad for my blood pressure because Daisy bucks and kicks more than Girl Child’s horse when she’s let out to play with her herd. We have determined that Daisy is a stay-at-home kinda gal.

Still, I like to imagine that someday I’ll have a renovated Airstream that I will take on road trips and I continue to have imaginary itineraries for places such as the Grand Canyon, Florida Keys and Smoky Mountains. I’d love to take my imaginary Airstream to the Smoky Mountains.

I love mountains. I grew up in West Virginia. I love everything about mountains. When I first moved to Nashville, I felt exposed and vulnerable. There were no mountains to wrap themselves around me and keep me safe. Nashville felt flat to me until I started biking it and I learned that not having mountains doesn’t mean flat. Nor does riding a bicycle mean fit, but that’s another story. Despite Nashville’s hills, I could only get my mountain fix when I went back home, or to East Tennessee. I need mountains and mountain people.

There is an equestrian center in East Tennessee that hosts several horse shows a year. It’s in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, just outside Knoxville. We love going to River Glen; even the moody horse loves going to River Glen. My favorite part – besides watching my gifted daughter ride – is getting up early on Sunday morning to stand on a knoll overlooking a foggy field next to a river and listen to a bagpiper play. In full Highland Dress, she stands where thundering hooves will pound the earth scant minutes after her last note is played. She stands in the foggy valley and plays the instrument that has always reached across foggy valleys and tall mountains. The blessing of the battlefield, they call it, scattering notes as if they were whispers of prayers, asking that the brave athletes who run their horses over this field to jump all the things will be safe.

My history with the Smoky Mountains goes back a lot further than a few years’ of horse shows. As with almost everybody else growing up in Milton, West Virginia in the 70s, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge were our go-to vacation spots. If times were good, it was an additional long weekend coupled with the annual trip to Myrtle Beach. If the plant was on strike, then the long weekend WAS vacation. We loved the kitsch and we love the natural beauty. My mother was obsessed with wading in creeks. My sister and I were obsessed with tacky souvenirs and outlet malls. My dad was obsessed with the pancake place. The Smoky Mountains contained them all.

After I grew up, got married and moved away – not necessarily in that order – I became a copywriter for the Bohan Agency and Pigeon Forge was our biggest client. Pigeon Forge was my FAVORITE client. The people were amazing and I loved the road trips to East Tennessee for “research.” My only caveat for these trips was that I did not ride roller coasters.

One of the highlights of my advertising career happened one autumn day when Spousal Unit was mowing the grass. He stopped the mower, mouth agape and came running to me. He put his Walkman headphones up to my ear. The radio was playing a spot I’d written for Pigeon Forge. It had the one and only Dolly Parton saying my words, “When winter comes to the Smokies, Pigeon Forge comes alive!”

The grand dame of Sevier County was speaking words I had written! In my world, that’s about as good as it gets. She’s mountain people’s mountain people.

I still love mountain people. I hate their politics and I believe that they shoot themselves in their Redwing-clad feet every time they vote, but I love mountain people. Mountain people have your back. Years after I left the ad agency, we took our young family to Kiawah Island for vacation. Hurricane Floyd decided to drop by, so we evacuated. We wanted to salvage what we could of our vacation, so I called one of my old contacts in Pigeon Forge. Thousands of other people had the same idea, so they were booked solid, but she finagled a cabin in the woods for us. And gave me a discount. Mountain people.

After 26 hours in the car for what should have been a five-hour trip, we landed in Pigeon Forge and unpacked our beach gear at a cabin in the woods. We had a blast. Boy Child was chosen to chase a chicken at the Dixie Stampede. He was four years old and the chicken got away. Girl Child rode a pony. She was thirteen months and has been riding ponies ever since. Vacation was salvaged; memories were made; love for Sevier County and mountain people held firm.

Sixteen years passed before I visited Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg again. We stayed with friends on a mountain high above the outlet malls last Christmas break. I would say we stayed in a cabin, but something that is as big as my high school should probably be given another name. Armory? Castle? Fort? Chalet? I was as shocked by the growth of Pigeon Forge as I was with the size of the “cabin.” The area has exploded with commerce and I barely knew my way around.

Once again, we had a blast and even though we didn’t chase chickens or ride a pony, I DID ride a roller coaster. I wondered about my old Pigeon Forge friends. I wondered if I kept their names listed somewhere. I wondered if I should renew the connections.

Nearly a year after our visit, a raging storm of flames, heat and burning wind rampaged over those mountains, turning Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg into front-page news. Many people lost everything they had. Some lost even more than that. My stomach drops each time a lost soul is identified and I selfishly hope it’s nobody I know, nobody with whom I haven’t renewed connection. I can’t get them out of my mind and I can’t quit being sad. Adding this tragedy to the overwhelming hopelessness I have after the election and I feel like I’m just dragging through life like a broken mop over a nasty floor. I don’t have what it takes to clean it all up.

I don’t, but I know that mountain people do. They’ll work to put it all together and once again the area will “come alive!” Dolly is giving one thousand dollars per family per month to those whose lives were affected by the wildfire that swept through her community. She’s doing it because she’s Dolly and that’s what mountain people do.

As these mountain people continue to work and struggle, I hope they hear the faint notes of a ghostly bagpiper, standing in a valley filled with embers and swirling smoke. I hope they hear mountain music whispering prayers that they, these mountain people, will jump all the things that are the obstacles before them and that they will be safe.

photo credit: Camilla Caldwell