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This Time Last Week

DSC03442“On our way. Friends coming too,” Daughter texted. A morning snow sledding party for nine children, ages 8 months to 10 years, and their parents. Daddies hoisted sleds out of the back of SUVs, and mothers carried food baskets. Husband entertained our youngest Grand, who is too young to sled down our backyard hill, and I donned my boots and coat to watch the outside fun.

Eight children, five adults, and twelve sleds, in all shapes and sizes at the top of the hill. Within minutes a line formed, much like snow skiers waiting to ride a ski lift. “I’m next!” was the mantra of the morning. Children rode doubles on a long wooden sled with their daddy or mother. Older child and younger or two youngers doubled. They raced. Girl against boy. Daddy against son. Mother against daddy. And they lugged their sleds back up the hill. “Walk up the side. Not in the middle of the hill,” the parents shouted, over and over and over again.

One daddy stood at the bottom of the hill beside a big tree, a possible hazard. The children veered away from it or did just what their parents told them. “If you’re about to hit a tree or out of control, roll off your sled.” Two mommas sat with crossed legs on matching disc sleds at the top of the hill. “We’re next,” one said. “We’re going down together. Holding hands.” And they did. All the way to the bottom. Neither let go of the other’s hand and neither rolled off her sled as they headed straight toward the tree. One momma crashed into the side of the tree. She looked up at her husband, who had caught every child who had careened within a few feet of the tree. He threw up his hands and then helped her up. She was okay. I heard one of the older kids ask another, “Why didn’t she just roll off?”

Sleds were abandoned. Children made snow angels, ate handfuls of snow, and walked along the edge of the creek. (I anticipated a snowball fight – that was the next day when only Daughter’s family came to sled.) Time to go inside where Husband had the gas logs burning and had thermoses filled with hot water. The mothers’ baskets overflowed. Hot chocolate and cider mixes, apple juice, bananas, cookies, pretzels, yogurt, string cheese.

Wet snow clothes were thrown into the dryer. Coats hung over open doors. Boots lined up in corners. “So I’ll know where they are,” one mother said. They ate and drank. They sat. They talked. They laughed. Big kids lay in the floor. The young ones cuddled beside parents.

“Who’s ready to go back out?” a mother said. The older kids quickly bundled up. A younger one balked. “I don’t want all that stuff. I just want to play!” Her choice was simple. Wear all that stuff or stay inside. She wore the stuff. Within twenty minutes, only Husband, youngest Grand, and I sat by the fire. Sledding, round two, was short and then they left. They took their sleds and their empty food baskets.

Later that night, on Facebook I looked at pictures and read a post one of the mothers wrote. “Gotta love when childhood friend’s parents still invite us over to play in the backyard. It’s like we are 16 again…but have husbands and children now.” I gotta love it, too.

 

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Never Run Out of Hugs

images-1 I love all the hugs that I share with my Grands. And just as each Grand is different from the other, so are their hugs.

I held my arms out to Dean, age 3 ½, and asked, “Do you have a hug?” He spread his arms wide, threw them around my neck and said, “I never run out of hugs!” Until the next day.   Dean sat on my lap as I read aloud Little Blue Truck Leads the Way. I read the last page, squeezed him with one arm and said, “How about a hug?”

Dean shook his head and grinned. “No hugs. I don’t have any,” he said and he jumped onto the floor and stood beside me. I told him I’d give him one of my hugs and I did. “Now you have a hug to give,” I said. Dean wrapped his arms across his chest, raised his shoulders and clutched them with his hands. “I gave me a hug!” he said.

Dean’s little brother, Neil who is 21 months old, laid his head on my shoulder and wrapped his arms around me. A whole body hug. Later, I sat on the couch and watched Neil line up his matchbox cars on the windowsill. Then he held a car in each hand, stood, and turned his back to me. He walked backward until his back touched my knees and then he looked up at me. That was my signal to pick him up onto my lap. Neil pushed himself back against me and sat still. Another whole body hug.

Elaine, who is also 3 ½, has perfected the welcome hug. When I open the back door to her family’s home, I hear the slap of Elaine’s feet as she runs toward me. Her arms form a T with her body. Her eyes and mouth are open wide. I quickly sit on the nearest chair or squat down. “Gran!” she screams, just before she throws her arms around me. It’s a two-arm around the neck squeeze and a kiss on my cheek.   If I don’t sit or squat fast enough, it’s a two-arm around the knees squeeze and a kiss on my thigh.

Lou, 7 years old, surprised me last week. I turned my van’s motor off and expected her to undo her seat belt, open the van door, jump out, say “Bye, Gran,” and run into her house as she usually does. She stood behind my driver’s seat.   After her older brother got out of the van, I asked, “Lou? Everything okay?” She put her arm around my shoulder and her head beside mine. “Gran, thank you for taking me places. I love you.” Then she opened the van door, jumped out, and ran up the back porch steps to her house. She stopped at her family’s back door, turned toward me, and waved. I counted that as another hug.

Virginia Satir, a respected psychologist and family therapist, is often quoted. She said, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.”   I agree.

A good thing about hugs is when you give one, you get one, and then you’ll be like Dean – you’ll never run out of hugs.images

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love, Janet

start_bg.ny One more Christmas card came in my mailbox today. A card from Huron, Ohio. From Janet Gordon, who became my aunt’s best friend when they were young housewives and raising children.

Aunt Doris and Janet and their husbands developed a friendship that emerged from living far away from their families and in the same neighborhood. It was the late 1940’s. Akron, Ohio. That close relationship continued even after Aunt Doris and Uncle Hugh moved to Tennessee in 1962. The two couples vacationed together and stayed connected through Sunday night telephone calls.

As a kid, I played with Janet’s daughter while visiting Aunt Doris and Uncle Hugh in Akron, and I saw the Gordon family a few times when they visited here in Tennessee. In more recent years, Aunt Doris had shared the Gordon family news with me. Of the four friends, only Janet survives. After Aunt Doris and Uncle Hugh passed away within a month of each other in 2013, Janet’s daughter called me. She said that her mother needed to connect with Doris and Hugh’s family. Janet had talked with my cousin and her daughter asked that I also call her.

Janet and I talked about Aunt Doris keeping up with fashion and her determination to act young. We talked about a time that I played at Janet’s house when I ate too many marshmallows and had a stomachache. Janet lamented that she never thought she’d be the last of the four friends and declared that she was doing well. I hung up the phone and added her name to my Christmas card list.

Janet’s card included a copy of her Christmas letter. She wrote, “2014 has been a happy year for me. I accomplished most of the goals I set for myself. The goal that stands out the most is that I know if I put others first in my life, and try to encourage someone every day, I am happy and able to cope with living alone.” June 2014 was a special time because her granddaughter visited for a week and had a surprise 91st birthday party for her.

In March, Jane fell and required hospital care and caregivers during a three-month recuperation. She learned “to never underestimate what a fall can do to slow you down.” About a mild ischemic stroke that she suffered in November, she wrote “The Good Lord still wants me here as I had help immediately.” She spent four days in the hospital and continues to have speech therapy and the care of a home health nurse twice a week.

Janet ended her letter. “I am doing very well. I will start setting my personal goals for 2015. I wish you and yours joy, peace, and loving warmth as you fellowship with your family and friends. Have a safe, happy, and blessed Christmas. May you have a prosperous 2015.”

She’s 91 and lives alone. After two hospital stays in 2014 and a three month recuperation from a fall and while currently working with a speech therapist and receiving care from home health nurse, Janet is happy and doing well. She accomplished most of her 2014 goals and I’m sure she’s set 2015 goals.

I tucked Janet’s letter under my writing calendar. When there’s a day that I feel the least bit down in the dumps, I’ll read Janet’s words again. And be blessed.

Homecoming Suit, Shoes, and Corsage

menu-aboutIf I dressed for TTU’s Homecoming this Saturday as I did as a student, I’d look as out of place as a model wearing white sandals in the September issue of Vogue magazine. Imagine showing up at a football game wearing a matching wool jacket and skirt, nylon hose, and heels. And a corsage pinned to my lapel. But that’s how we co-eds dressed way back when. We dressed up and we wore flowers.

I particularly remember one Homecoming. Mom had made an orange wool tweed suit for me that fall and I saved it to wear for Homecoming. The three-button jacket and an A-line skirt were perfect, but I didn’t have the right shoes. I had black heels and wearing orange required brown shoes. The closest place I could buy shoes to fit my extra long, extra narrow was Nashville, and I didn’t have a car. So a friend drove me to Nashville, I went into one shoe store and bought the perfect taupe-colored, high heel leather shoes, and we came back to Cookeville. It was that important to have exactly the right outfit for Homecoming.

My attire wasn’t complete without flowers, a corsage that showed Tech’s colors, purple and gold. Husband, who was Boyfriend at the time, knew exactly what I wanted. Three yellow roses surrounded by sprigs of feather fern and a bit of baby’s breath. Gold colored ribbon, with just a couple of loops of purple, but mostly gold so the purple wouldn’t clash with my orange suit.

Most Homecoming corsages were yellow chrysanthemums, better known as a mum. Huge, mums, as big as saucers, and heavy. I’d worn one of those the previous year. It was so heavy that not even three long corsage pins held it in place, and the flower petals began to fall out before the final buzzer of the football game.

Most girls wore variations of the basic mum corsage, a plain yellow mum with a purple bow made from ½ inch ribbon. The mum could be surrounded by purple or gold net or a combination of the two colors. The letters TTU could be written in purple glitter on a yellow ribbon streamer or with gold stick-on letters on purple ribbon, but that meant the ribbon was 1½ inches wide. If the mum was exceptionally large, TTU formed with purple pipe cleaners could be placed right in the middle of the flower. Big wide bows made from purple and gold ribbon finished that look.

Homecoming 1967 was a cold, rainy day, but I didn’t give a thought to not wearing my homecoming outfit. I put on my wool suit, my brand new shoes, and Boyfriend pinned on my rose corsage. He held a black umbrella over our heads, we wore our knee-length raincoats, and we walked from the dormitory where I lived to the football stadium. It rained all afternoon, but we didn’t consider leaving. We got wet. So wet that I poured water out of my new shoes, which were ruined forever with water spots.

Did my team, Tennessee Tech, win the game? I don’t remember. Having the perfect homecoming outfit and corsage was much more important than any ballgame.

I Know the Feeling

 

Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 6.58.02 AMLast summer Robbie invited me to bring my Grands, ages 8 and 6, to swim at her house while her 9 ½ year old grandson Noah was visiting. The children splashed and played along beside each other, just as children do when they meet someone new. At lunchtime, we all dried off and spread our towels to sit around the pool. Noah started inside the house, turned, and asked my Grands, “Do you’ll want a Luncheable?”

 

David and Lou frowned. I answered for them. “No, but thank you, Noah. We brought our lunches.” I handed my Grands the small cooler in which Daughter had packed their food. Rollup sandwiches, made with flour tortillas filled with thin sliced turkey and shredded mozzarella cheese. Hunks of watermelon. Clusters of grapes. Homemade cookies.

 

Noah settled himself beside David.   He ripped the thin cellophane covering off a square plastic package. Lou tilted her head and looked at the package. David eyed it and said, “What’s that?”

 

“What’s what?” Noah said.

 

“Your lunch?” David asked. Inside the six-inch square plastic package were three small round tortillas, 5 slices of pepperoni, some white shredded cheese, and a take-out ketchup sized packet of pizza sauce.  Lou furrowed her eyebrows as if memorizing the package’s contents.

 

“It’s like little pizzas,” Noah said. Using his teeth, he ripped open the packet and he squirted red sauce on a tortilla.

 

“Where’d you get it?” David asked.

 

“Nana gets them at the grocery or somewhere,” Noah said. David held his roll up sandwich close to his mouth but he didn’t bite it, instead he watched as Noah covered the tortilla with a pepperoni slice and cheese.

 

“That looks really good,” David said and he laid his sandwich back in the cooler. “Does every grocery store have them?” Noah shrugged his shoulders. “I wonder if Mama could find them.”

 

“I think they’re by the milk and stuff,” Noah said and bit into his miniature pizza. David and Lou watched as red sauce dribbled down Noah’s chin. I knew exactly how my Grands felt. I remember being envious when I was young and spent the night at a friend’s house and for breakfast her mother spread Blue Bonnet margarine on toast. At my house, we spread home-churned butter on Mom’s homemade biscuits.

 

Now, watching Noah and David and Lou, I restrained myself from raiding Robbie’s refrigerator for two more packaged lunches. “Noah, would you like some watermelon?” I said. He bit into the watermelon and somehow that reminded David and Lou that they, too, had food to eat.

 

But that’s not quite the end of the story. Last week Robbie again invited us to her house. “We’ll eat lunch and swim, just like last year,” I told my Grands. “Noah is there. And on the way, we’ll stop at the grocery store to buy your lunch, maybe Lunchables.” They chose exactly what they’d watched Noah eat a year ago.

 

My Grands and Noah pulled the cellophane covering off their lunches and each ate every morsel packed in those small plastic boxes. I knew exactly how my Grands felt. The way I felt decades ago when I carefully unwrapped a stick of yellow margarine, put it on a serving plate, and told my friend, “Mom is making toast for breakfast.”

 

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More Cornbread

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When my friend Tommy Sue offered corn light bread* that she’d baked the day before, I was skeptical and almost chose a commercial bun that came with the carry out barbeque supper. “If you don’t want a bun, here’s some corn light bread I made yesterday.” Cold corn bread? The only way my mother served cold cornbread was crumbled into a glass of milk and eaten with a spoon, which was Sunday night supper. I went along with my girlfriends who also sat around Tommy Sue’s dining room table and I laid a piece of her homemade bread, baked in a loaf pan and sliced like banana bread, on my plate. Slathered with soft butter, it was delicious.

During dinner we college girlfriends discussed how we make and bake cornbread differently. We agreed that it is usually baked in a black skillet and in a hot oven, but Tommy Sue’s mother baked cornbread in a loaf pan and often served it cold. We realized that we bake cornbread like our mothers did. Blondie’s mother told her to remember 2, 2, and 2. *  Two cups of cornmeal, 2 eggs, and 2 cups of buttermilk. Heat ¼ cup oil in a black skillet in a 450° F oven and pour about half the oil in the batter, stir well, and watch the batter sizzle when it’s poured into the skillet.

Jo Ann’s family had milk cows and no milk was ever wasted so her mother used the old milk, no-longer-good-for-drinking-milk, to make cornbread. After baking, she turned the bread onto her tiled countertop and covered it with the skillet until the middle was soft. Friend Alicia learned to heat ½ cup oil in a black skillet and drop spoonfuls of thick batter into the skillet allowing the oil to bubble around each spoonful. After baking, the spoonful-size portions break apart easily. All of us agreed that the best cornbread was baked in hot bacon drippings. Our mothers kept a jar or small crock close to the stove to pour bacon grease into and that was used for cornbread and to season vegetables.

Kathy’s mother always baked plain cornbread to serve with pinto beans, and she made Mexican cornbread to serve with vegetable soup. The mention of Mexican cornbread started a whole new topic. Broccoli Cornbread* is made with Jiffy cornbread mix, butter, eggs, cottage cheese, onions, and chopped frozen broccoli and baked in a 9 x 13 pan. There’s Creamed Corn Cornbread, Zucchini cornbread, and Green Chili Cornbread. I googled cornbread recipes and got 3,950,000 results. That’s more varieties of cornbread than there are black skillets!

After the first column about cornbread, readers have shared their stories. Tricia’s mother was born and raised in Ohio and her Sunday night supper was a one-pan meal. She cooked pork sausage – either patties or crumbled – and then poured cornbread batter into the hot skillet and baked it. Seems like this should be a good Southern dish. I’ve heard about hush puppies, cornbread dressing, spoon bread, hoecakes, Johnny cakes, hot water cornbread, cornbread salad, vegetable spoon bread, and crackling cornbread.

This cornbread saga may not be ended yet. There may be yet another cornbread story.

*Recipes posted http://susanrray.com

 

 

 

 

For Better, Not Worse

 

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My friends said that I’m in trouble.  Said I have some adjusting to do.   Said I should give Husband and me some time. Said it’ll work out, but it won’t be easy.  Said it’s not like anything we’ve experienced in our marriage.  These four college girlfriends have known Husband and me since he and I first met, and my friends have all been where we’re going, but I think they’re wrong.

 

For all the 44 years of our married life, Allen, husband who I must call by name for this column, has worked.  Except for short vacations, he’s showered, shaved, dressed, and gone to work five days a week.  Next week, he won’t.  He won’t go to the office before 8:00 a.m., come home around noon, make his own lunch, eat, go back to work, and come home for the evening after 5:00.  Allen is retiring.

 

My friends told horror stories about some newly retired husbands, but not theirs.  One husband completely reorganized everything in the kitchen cabinets.  One expected three meals a day, cooked and served.  Another thought he should know where his wife was every minute of every day and what she was doing.  One walked from his bed to his living room recliner and called it exercise.  And one husband suddenly needed to know the exact cost of every item that his wife bought at the grocery store.

 

Allen won’t do any of those things.  So why are my girlfriends concerned?  When they ask what Allen planned to do, I said that he might want to work part time.  He’ll want somewhere to go and something to do.  And I said that I plan to continue my erratic come-and-go-as-I-please schedule, and I have a list of places for Allen and me to go and things to do.

 

I retired five years ago and adjusted quiet easily.  I like my quiet mornings.  No TV, no radio, and a leisurely breakfast on our back deck, if the weather is good.  During the past five years, Allen went to work and I spent the day however I wanted.  Exercised at the YMCA.  Played with my Grands.  Hid in my closet office and moved my fingers across my computer keyboard.  Ate lunch with friends.  Piddled the day away.  I didn’t completely neglect household chores.  Laundry and dusting and grocery shopping got done – in due time.

 

I’m really happy for Allen.  He began working when he was 12 years old.  He stocked shelves and swept the floor at his family’s grocery store where he continued to work through his college years.  And he’s worked ever since.  In retail business.  For Tennessee Tech.  Owned and managed convenience stores.  For an insurance agency.  But starting next week, he won’t go to work.  And he and I will have a grand time together, won’t we?

 

I think my girlfriends are wrong. Just because they and their husbands struggled through a year-long adjustment period after they both retired, doesn’t mean the same for Allen and me.   This chapter of our marriage is the ‘for better’ not ‘for worse,’ isn’t it?