Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Remember that one time...

Every year at Christmas my family sits around and people tell stories. Now, these can be stories that make you think about the meaning of Christmas and family, or they can be unfortuante reminders of some crazy thing someone did in the past. Like back in the sixties, early seventies, when women went through a period where wigs were all the rage. My mom had gorgeous blond hair, but she wore a wig like everyone else. We were on the way to Granny's house. It was a warm Christmas day and she had the window down a bit. She turned to reprimand my brother and I for something and leaned too close to the window. Whoosh! The wig went flying out of the car. We turned to see it blowing down the highway. Dad had to turn around so Mom could retrieve it, but needless to say, she wasn't happy with the way it looked. She tried patting it back into place and put it on, but the moment she walked in Granny's house, her brother's started giving her grief about the wig that looked exactly like it blew out the window of a car. Dad snatched the wig off her head and said, "Yeah, but what's underneath is worse." There she stood with her real hair all smashed down to her scalp. My mom was sooooo mad. I believe there may have been some foul language involved.
They love to tell the story of me roller skating down the road, on Christmas morning, wearing my new white skates, a tutu over my cowboy pants, six shooters strapped to my waist, my new red cowboy shirt and matching hat, and twirling a baton. I don't think it's that funny. I was obviously confused. Glad I figured that out.
The one story they have to tell, especially if there are non-family members in the room, involves me, as well. I was two and a half years old and just 10 1/2 months younger than my brother. My mother was stressed to the limit. If you've read my blogs then you know we were hellions. On this particular Christmas Eve, my mom was running around trying to get us dressed for the community Christmas pageant. In our rural community, Santa made visits to each home with children before the pageant started. Once Santa left the house, the family would proceed to the community building. Our house was just down the road from the community center, so we had to be ready to go as soon as Santa made his visit or we would be late arriving.
Well, mom was trying to get us and herself dressed. Of course, my dad did not participate in such activites. It's a generational thing, I believe, but dad's job was not taking care of the kids. I was dressed when Santa came to the door. I do not remember any of this, so I have to rely on my parents' memory. Santa came in and sat down in the big easy chair. My brother crawled on his lap and told him what he wanted. Then it was my turn.
Santa lifted me up and sat me on his leg, which I straddled like a pony. He said, "You look very pretty. I like your dress. It matches my suit."
I was wearing a red velvet dress with white lace trim, white socks with lace, and those hated patent leather shoes. I've seen the pictures. I was very well dressed. A big red bow in my hair. Here's where it gets good.
I leaned over and whispered to Santa, "I have to tell you somethin'."
He smiled, expecting me to tell him what I wanted. "Tell me," he said.
This my mom's favorite part.
I said, "Santa Clause, my momma forgot to put on my underwear."
My mom says Santa rapidly lifted me off his leg and stood me on the floor. She apologized and scooped me up and took me to my room to finish dressing me, calling over her shoulder as she left. "It's a wonder I'm wearing underwear. These kids are driving me insane."
I never got to tell Santa what I wanted. So, later at the community center, I walked up to Santa in the middle of the room and said very loudly, "Santa, I am wearing underwear now and so is Momma."
Happy holidays, however you celebrate, and don't forget to wear your underwear.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thankful for Small Miracles

Nannie holding one of her great-grandchildren.

It's a miracle I'm here. Really, it's amazing the trials and tribulations generations of families go through over the centuries and here we are. Today, on this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the hearty men and women who built this great country and made my existence possible. For some reason, one in particular sticks out today, Nancy "Nannie" Holloman, born in 1874.
Nannie's story is one of strength I will never possess. At the age of sixteen, she left her family in Wayne County, NC to travel with a preacher and his family west. She was an unusual girl in her rural community of farmers, in that she had been to school and could read and write. Nannie was to be the preacher's children's teacher. The rest of the story is a bit cloudy. This is what we know from the few things she said over the years and the facts I could dig up through public records.
The preacher's family made it to Pulaski County, Arkansas in 1890. Sometime within approximately two years of arriving, Nannie had a son and a daughter. The daughter was my great-grandmother, Flossie Elizabeth, born in 1892. Nannie would never say much about the circumstances of the births. Family legend says she married and something happened to her young husband. There is no record of a marriage or birth for either child. I know, because I have personally thumbed through all the birth records for this period in the Arkansas archive. Records of births were not always recorded, so we take her word for where and when the children were born.
At some point, the eighteen-year-old mother decided to come home. With a child barely toddling and one on her hip, Nannie Holloman walked from Little Rock, Arkansas back to her home near the coast of NC. She stopped in Memphis to pick cotton, earning money for food and the rest of the journey. Onward she trudged for months, taking rides on wagons when she could, and nursing those babies through it all. It is a miracle that she made it back with both of them healthy.
Unmarried and unable to care for the children alone, she gave them both up for adoption, with the stipulation that they always know who she was. My great-grandmother, Flossie, was taken in by a childless couple living just a mile down the road. Everyone always knew Nannie was Flossie's birth mother. Nannie married and had more children, but played a big part in Flossie's life, especially after her adoptive mother passed away. Nannie outlived her daughter, dying in 1955 at the age of 81, seven years after Flossie.
I am told that Nannie was a quiet woman and that most people would never believe she was strong enough to do what she did. I can't imagine the willpower it took to walk all those miles with her children, but I am so glad she did. It is because of this act of uncommon strength and many more, by the ancestors that came before me, that I sit here today. There are other stories I discovered through my genealogy research that by some small miracle my family line survived. I am thankful today for my family, crazy and whacked out as it is. Fore, it's their blood that flows through my veins and I can only hope some of the incredible strength of my amazing ancestors. Thank goodness for small miracles.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Stuff My Mother Says

I keep seeing "**** my dad says." I'll admit my dad says some funny things, but the real comedian in my family is my mother. Now, some of the things she says she means to be funny, but most of the real humor is in the ear of the listener. My daughter-in-law who is from Oklahoma thinks my mother is hilarious. She'll say, "What is that your mother says?" I try to think. It could be, "Poor as Job's turkey," (never have figured that one out,) or "He's rich as 4 feet up a mules tail" (censored according to audience,) "Lord, willing and the creek don't rise, " or maybe my favorite from childhood, "I want you to wish in one hand and poop in the other and see which one fills up the fastest."
I could go on, and I will. There are the threatening ones, because we were hellions. "I'll snatch a knot in you." "My God, I hope you have two just like you." "Don't let your mouth write out a check your ass can't pay for." "I will beat you within an inch of your life" (That was an idle threat, but it worked.) And last but not least, another favorite, "Y'all are driving me crazy. You're going to have to come peek at me through the bars on Sunday." There was the constant threat that we would drive her to the Sanatorium.
Other favorites: "You are slower than molasses running up a hill in January." "It's colder than a witches tit." "Slicker than owl shit." (uncensored and only used out of the public eye, after all she is a southern belle.)
But, sayings aside, some of the funniest things are just stories about my mom. My most favorite recent incident happened while we were visiting one of my friends. Sylvia has been a dear friend of mine for years and our mothers are friends and fellow Eastern Star ladies. My mom starts telling us how she has planned out her funeral down to the last detail and already prepaid. No one likes to have this conversation with their parents, but she just kept telling us how she had picked out the songs, verses, and order of things. When she said, "I am going to be cremated before the service, because I don't want people looking at me. There will be an urn of ashes, but I rented an empty coffin so there would be somewhere to put the blanket of roses," Sylvia and I cracked up. We laughed so hard we were crying. I asked Mom why we couldn't just put a table up there or something. She said, "I want the flowers to look nice. They won't look right on a table." This sent us into convulsive laughter, while she looked at us confused and said, "What?" We never did explain to her why that was so funny, other than to say the people at the funeral home saw her coming.
On the way home that day she was quiet for a few minutes and then said, "I guess that is silly to pay for an empty casket."
"Yes, Mom, it is. I promise your service will look nice."
She was satisfied with the answer and said she was going to get some of her money back.
I wondered out loud, "How do they market it after that, used casket on sale? That isn't a very good pitch line. Do you they use the same one for all the rentals?"
I almost drove off the road when she said, "I told them mine better damn well be new, because I didn't want someone else's casket."
When I could stop laughing, I said, "No, Mom, I don't guess you want a used casket even if no one's ever been in it. Get your money back."
I guess I shouldn't tell too many of my mother's stories here. She is my best source of material and I need to keep some of it for later. I'll leave you with my mother's first comment on learning I was gay. It wasn't funny then, because I thought she might really do it. Now, it makes me laugh. You need to know that TPI stands for Tidewater Psychiatric Institute and was just across the Virginia border from where we lived.
My mother put her hands on her hips and said, "You are not a lezzzzzzbiaaaan. I will slap your ass in TPI so fast it will make your head spin."
She is now the mother everyone goes to for counseling when they find out one of their children is gay. She tells them that the child is still the same child they loved the day before. Now, that makes my head spin.