“The homemade pie has been under siege for a century, and surely its survival is endangered.”
― Janet Clarkson, Pie: A Global History
It is not meant for me to take a pie to a dinner.
The first one to take a dive, so to speak, was chess. I was testing it for doneness. The middle was supposed to lose its wiggle. I reached in the oven with two potholders, pulled one of the two pies out, and dropped it on the oven door. And down the crack between the door and the rest of the stove. And into the drawer under the oven and on the floor. I wiped it off the hot oven door and tested the second pie by jiggling the rack. The middle didn’t move much. I left it in the oven to firm up, happily congratulating myself for having the forethought to bake two.
I took the second pie to a writing group meeting, told the sad story of Pie #1, and proudly cut into our favorite. It was almost liquid. So much for the lack of wiggle, but we ate it anyway.
I cleaned the inside of the oven, and a few weeks later, my young friend Maryn, the college daughter of good friends Bob and Linda, took the greater part of an hour to clean the remainder off the oven front and drawer.
Last night, Dave and I were headed to Bob and Linda’s for dinner. Six of us are headed for the Keys this month, so we we met to make plans. I made pies for dessert, one chocolate and one key lime. Bob loves meringue, so I used extra egg whites to build mounds of fluff on top of each. I shaped each a little differently from the other. I’ve seen a sort of plateau-like topping on key lime pies–in the Keys–so I flattened the top smoothly, the meringue still measuring about four inches high. The chocolate one I fashioned in peaks and swirls. I successfully browned both in the oven, cooled both, and made secure traveling spots for each in the back of the van.
When we arrived at Bob and Linda’s house, Dave carried in a bag of dinner items I’d brought, while I carefully lifted the key lime pie and started up the walk behind him. I saw the handrail on the porch steps move just as Dave grabbed it. It seemed his body lifted into the air in slow motion, legs straight out, something like a levitation demonstration. In a second, I reached for him as I balanced the pie on my left hand.
Somehow–SOMEHOW–as he fell backward, his flailing arm knocked the pie from my hand. Actually, it was more like he smacked my hand and the pie took to the sky. It soared–I think I saw it spin–and then gravity pulled it straight down. It made a scraping sound as it landed flat on its aluminum pan bottom. The meringue, however, flew through the breeze, and plopped here, there, and everywhere on the sidewalk and in the front shrub bed.
Linda was on the porch and down the steps almost, it seemed, before the pie landed. I believe I’d finished my cursing and ranting about how I would never try to take a damn pie anywhere ever again. With Dave coaching, she helped him onto his feet. He wasn’t hurt, fortunate that he had not braced himself with his bandaged left hand, which was the result of a self-inflicted stabbing with a pair of scissors earlier in the week. When he turned to mount the stairs, I saw a wide swath of white on his derriere. Linda fetched a wet towel to clean him off. I’ll never know how the meringue got UNDER him.
“I can’t believe that pie is still in one piece. Look at it, it doesn’t look too bad,” Linda said. Actually, it looked like the meringue had just been sheared off, and now, instead of a four-inch plateau of well-beaten egg whites, it had an inch and a half of lumpy white cloud. Somehow, the very middle of the browned top had fallen back down in its same spot. Not too bad! (Sorry I don’t have a “before” picture for comparison.)
I don’t remember who carried in the chocolate pie, but everybody ate pie of both varieties. And had seconds.
They say that bad things happen in threes, so if we’re talking about scrambled pies, I still have one more to go in the series. But what if my third try at taking a pie might be the time the pie arrives at its destination in perfect form? After the chess crack-up and the key lime calamity, I’m not channeling Pollyanna, but that could happen.
On the way home, I told Dave he’d done two doozies in one week: stabbing his hand with the scissors and bathing his butt in pie meringue. Then I reminded him that a few weeks ago, he hit that garbage can when he swerved to miss an oncoming car that was over the center line. I allowed maybe his trio of tribulations was complete, but he said the motoring misfortune happened too long ago to count as one of his three mishaps.
I have grieved but not nearly as much as my dad. He made friends with the little grey and white kitten the first time TomTom crawled up the bank from the ravine. Dad was working outside and talked to his new friend every day until the cat was no longer afraid of him. Tom might have been six months old, or maybe just four.
While Dad strolled around the Compound on his morning walk, Tom followed. Every chance he got, he rubbed Dad’s legs, sometimes winding between them to almost trip him. Dad learned to shake him loose. Tom didn’t mind.
One day I asked Dad if he had seen the tomcat that morning.
“Is he a tomcat?” he asked.
“Yes, he is.”
“You can tell?”
“Yes, I see some things that indicate to me that he is definitely a male.”
Dad named him TomTom, one of his favorite names for cats. He bought a little sherpa-lined bed and stuffed it into a protected spot on the apartment porch. Mom included Meow Mix on her grocery list.
TomTom chose Dave next. One morning, after he took the recycling cans to the street, Dave announced that Tom had let him pet him. I’ll admit I was a bit jealous.
“Well,” I said to Dad, “if that cat is going to stay around, I guess we better take him in for shots. And we need to have him neutered.”
I found a good community clinic with reasonable prices and told Dad I would give him Tom’s veterinary visit for his birthday. He was pleased. Tom wasn’t.
I borrowed a hard crate from a friend and set it outside–“so Tom can get used to seeing it.” Tom took off and didn’t appear until three days later when I returned the crate to the garage. We decided Tom had seen a cat-carrier, probably up close, at least once in his lifetime–and wasn’t fond of the experience.
My hairdresser told me she favored a soft-sided case, that it was easy to sort of “stuff the cat in and zip it up fast.” I started to purchase one, but my daughter-in-law said she’d loan me theirs. I figured I’d give Tom’s reluctance a couple weeks to subside.
He wouldn’t sleep in his little bed on Mom and Dad’s porch, so we moved it to the main house’s porch beside the den. He still wouldn’t use the bed, but he curled up almost every night on one of the wicker chair cushions. During the day, he’d walk or sit with Dad, stroll in the gardens, and nap in the sunlight on the bank or in the shade of one of the porches. He drank from a birdbath that I always filled with fresh water. He hunted up and down the ravine, the old home place he returned to at some point every day.
I started a morning-treat ritual with Tom, and he grew to like me. I gave him a small piece of meat or fish, and when I had no leftovers, I pulled out a small container of purchased cat food that I always kept on hand. After the appetizer, he climbed the steps to the apartment steps and finished off his bowl of Meow Mix.
Tom loved to aggravate our little Shih-tzu Murphy by meowing at her through the glass door of the den. She was always willing to growl, yap, and fuss at him. When Dave took her out for her bedtime walk, Tom either followed them down the street, Murphy barking and pulling at her leash until Dave had to pick her up and carry her away from the cat. Or if TomTom was already sleepy, he’d maybe open one eye from the middle of his warm, curled-up self and totally ignore that silly dog.
About the third week into our newly-cemented relationship, Tom began to walk into The Cellar when I’d open the door. He’d make one loop around the small kitchen area and then he was ready to get back outside. He also let me pick him up. He wouldn’t stay long, and he wiggled, but he didn’t really fight it, and he never scratched me.
I figured he was ready for the trip to the vet. Easy-peasy this time.
I never got him there.
The last time we saw TomTom was right before the New Year, a couple of weeks after I’d sent out the Christmas newsletter where I included this photo of Tom sitting on a rock in the rose garden. It was also just about the same time that the neighborhood coyote sightings began. First, a woman posted that she’d seen a three-legged coyote. Next, another neighbor spotted one. One family came upon three in their back yard.
I put a Missing Cat notice on our neighborhood website. Several friends and neighbors told me, “He’s just tom-catting around. He’ll be back, and when you get him fixed, he’ll stop that.” In my heart, I knew he wouldn’t be found, wouldn’t be back. In my heart, I knew if TomTom could make it home, he would. He wouldn’t give up his morning ritual, he wouldn’t want to sleep anywhere else but the wicker chair, and he would never choose some other entertainment over tormenting Murphy.
It took me several days of missing Tom to put the pieces together, maybe because I didn’t want to. Actually, Dad said it first. “The coyotes got my TomTom.”
My post is still up on the NextDoor website. Last week, a sweet neighbor replied with a list of places to post notices for a lost animal. I wrote that I thought the coyotes got Tom. She replied she was sorry, and that she’d still look for him.
This morning, Dave spotted a coyote between two birch trees on the edge of our ravine. He said it wasn’t the three-legged one, so that meant there are at least two. I told him about the three seen together in the back yard a couple streets over. He hadn’t seen that post.
So here’s what I wrote on my Missing Cat thread this morning: “I’m going to take this post down tomorrow morning. A coyote was in our back yard just now. Everybody, watch your animals.”
It seems that everyone is happy to be rid of 2016. I’ve seen memes with sledge-hammers taken to those twelve months, some with a boot in the bottom of the 6 in 2016, and several that begin with “Good Riddance!”
I’m wondering if we shouldn’t just ask for a do-over. I just can’t stand this feeling of sweeping dirt under the carpet or the notion that some of that bad air will blow again just when we think it’s gone. But then, they say that hindsight is 20/20, and I suppose that’s true. Maybe the best we can do is to work for the best–the right stuff–in 2017.
So I’m going to tell you my hopes for the New Year. And when I tell you what I’m hoping for you, I hope you know I’m talking to me, too.
I hope that you know that you are not alone in your struggles. There is someone else who thinks they failed, someone else who thinks things aren’t going the way they’d planned, someone else who sometimes thinks we get just what we deserve, someone else who wishes they could get a do-over. I hope we all find each other and that we can all support each other.
I hope you feel worthy in 2017 and that you treat yourself with respect and gentleness. I hope you know that you can do what needs to be done, even if it’s just figuring out what you need most. I hope you find strength. When you want to say no, say no. When bad feelings come to call, invite them in for a visit and then let them go. When the body says to rest, give it a soft spot to land. When the mind says it needs time alone, take it to your quiet place.
I’ve made some plans for 2017, but I let somebody else make resolutions. I want to take the time to be organized, because I know in order to really listen to myself, I need some kind of order. I want to write more, and to write more, I have to listen to myself asking for order. I want to nourish the physical and nurture the soul, and that means I have to be careful how I feed them both, so I’ll have to listen well to my body and my mind.
I believe we all want peace–peace everywhere–so my biggest plan for 2017 is to work for peace. I can’t do that without peace within. Peace doesn’t mean “do nothing.” Peace requires action. For me, it means acting with the best of intentions, from the best place inside of me.
January is almost over, and when it is, 1/12th of 2017 will be gone! It won’t be long until we’ll be saying, “I can’t believe this year is almost over,” and asking, “Are you ready for Christmas?”
I hope we can all say, “I worked for peace this year.”
When I shook my top in the bathroom this morning, a full serving of Cap’n Crunch and olive oil crackers floated to the floor. I crave something crunchy; we only thought of carrots and celery today. I managed to sit on the toilet, sort of spread-eagle, and picked up three cereal pieces and half a cracker. I brought them with me to the den. These days I’m popular with Murphy.
I miss cooking. Tomorrow, Dave is going to put a roast in the slow cooker. I’m going to coach him, step by step. And I miss painting. I have a first coat of chalk paint on some chairs and a dresser, and there’s a full lineup of walls, furniture, and cabinets begging for attention. I suppose it will all wait until I can be on my feet, and that’s going to be a little while.
I sit in the one comfortable, one-sided position. I list to the right, then prop up an elbow with a pillow and stick out my left leg. Sometimes the leg wants to rest laterally on the couch, sometimes it would rather hang over the side pointing toward the door to the porch. It’s a humorous picture.
Lying down is much more unreliable. Sometimes there just is no way to stretch out that works. So I just assume my contortionist persona and sit up. Reminds me of Rosemary Woods, Nixon’s secretary who somehow erased eighteen minutes of the tell-tale tape in the Watergate case.I have a much more honorable intention. It’s not necessary to sit or lie pain-free, only to reduce the hurt to a manageable status.
So Dave says I’m a demanding patient. I suppose I am. I have that man stepping and fetching as never before! He feeds me, cleans up after me, and even helps with a shower. (It’s really amazing how unnecessary it becomes to shower daily. I have found I can go four days without that rigamaroll–and, amazingly, I don’t stink!)
Who takes over my management duties for The Compound? Dave. He’s taking on CEO, CFO, and COO all at once, and all of that is more demanding than I am, personally. The man’s a saint.
But now I want to cook. I have to cook. I don’t know for sure what I’m going to make, but I see there are some spent bananas on the counter just begging to redeem themselves in some banana bread–with nuts. Now, if Dave will retrieve the the flour, and the sugar, I’ll be shaking walnuts out of my clothes by bedtime.
I’m back. It’s been a while. I see my last post was in January. It’s not that I haven’t written anything. It’s just that most of what I’ve written needs to be saved for a later date. I became reluctant to write about Mom and Dad, and our life here On the Ravine, kept waiting for something big that I could write big about.
So, about my back. I’ve hurt it. I saw the confirming MRI this morning. It looks like another disc blowout in my back, this one at L-4/5, aggravated and probably caused by arthritis. This isn’t the first time. I ruptured at L-3/4 in April of 2001, just rolled over in bed one Sunday morning and couldn’t walk. However, two nights before, I had taken down tables to clear a room at church–and it caught up with me. It took me a week that time to put any pressure on my leg. Then I followed with pain medication, physical therapy–including daily paddling around in the pool, and multiple visits with a fine neurosurgeon who never operated. Two years of recovery—but no surgery.
Dr. K says next step is cortisone injections. I did this last time, to no avail. After that, the next step is micro-surgery. Yayyyyyy for micro-surgery! I say, “Bring it on!”
This is the fifteenth day that I haven’t walked without help. I don’t get around much, but when I do, I push a little old rolling walker with two baskets that I’ve used all summer as my “garden cart.” I paid $5 on Craigslist because I thought Dad might enjoy it for gardening help. No, he didn’t like it. Yes, I think it’s a lifesaver!
The pain of a spasm is unmanageable, although the gabapentin that Dr. K prescribed seems to help the chronic ache. Today he added a muscle relaxer to try to calm the spasms.
I want to be over this. Now. And I know it’s not going to work that way. So, for now, I’ll just pop a gabapentin, down some of those Italian crackers with olive oil that have become my weakness, and pour a glass of cabarnet.
We’re pressure-washing the porch rails today. Last Sunday we might have used the pressure washer to de-ice the driveways.
January 24. Cabin fever, ah, yes. This sickness will make a girl jump up on the tables at the local Pizza Hut and cut loose a wild frug. I didn’t have cabin fever last week, but I do remember it from my winters in Montana. We don’t usually get a socked-in amount of snow here in Nashville, but last weekend, oh boy! I loved it–just like I’ve loved the sunshine and warm temperatures this week.
But there are some people on the other side of that opinion. Okay, go ahead, all you weather-haters. “Snowed in!” Yell it–like Edwin Starr singing “War!” back in 1970.
SNOWED IN! Huh, yeah, Good God, y’all, What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.
Now hear my opinion. Here’s what snowed in is good for:
Sledding. Christmas gifts for the local grands were four-foot $10 plastic sleds (I’m sure they were made in China). The boys got blue and Carly got hot pink. We put the sleds on the porch instead of under the tree. Our Christmas this year sported 70-degree temperatures. Jaxton ran around yelling, “Come, look! I got a swed! I got a swed!” (He’s three.)
Jameson and Carly took on the hill above their front yard. Jameson’s blue wonder eventually cracked when he hit a bump.
Reading. I confess I haven’t done much reading during these snow days, but if I could stay awake in the afternoons, I could knock a few off my list. Instead of reading, I’ve been….
Napping. Oh, how cozy it is to bundle up on the sofa. If you have cats, gather them around you. We only have an outside cat and he’s not quite tame enough to cuddle. However, he has enjoyed curling up in the rocker on the porch.
Movies. Or binge-watching a series. I finished the first season of The #1 Ladies Detective Agency at no charge and was disappointed to see that Season 2 was not On Demand. I guess I’ll have to rent or buy. This HBO production is based on Alexander McCall Smith’s books about a female sleuth in Botswana. Don’t expect a lot of violence and kinky sex, just culture, scenery, and sweetness (except for, uh, the mambas.)
Projects. I am famous for having almost as many projects stacked up as I do book titles, but today, I have two less! I painted a picture frame. I’m trying to take a page from one of my daughters-in-law and get all the frames in the house one color.
This is Mom’s grandmother, Ada Shoemake. She was a hoss of a tiny woman, revered by both sides of my mother and father’s family. She looks so much better in black.
And these are the Pizza Hut chairs I painted and upholstered for The Cellar. Bought these two years ago for $10 each, or was it $5?
Cleaning. (I was led to this topic by the mention of “projects.”) We are fortunate around the Compound to have bi-weekly housekeeping help for the regular stuff, but there is always something deeper that needs attention. I cleaned off three-quarters of my desk, does that count? Wait, wait, I also dusted the shelves beside the TV in The Cellar. Wow. By the time I make my way around the other book “wall,” the ones I just cleaned will be ready for another swipe.
Eating. Soups, for sure. Chili, beef stew, New England clam chowder, vegetable soup. There’s always something on the stove. And then everybody gathers around one table, sort of like Blue Blood’s Reagan family at Sunday night supper. (Or maybe they spread out on chairs, couches, blankets, and pillows in front of the TV.)
Birdwatching. The cardinals adore the snow. They are all over the branches and at the feeders. This morning, I trained my eye on a red-headed woodpecker working his way up a tall elm rooted in The Ravine. My peripheral view included chickadees, more redbirds, purple finches, house wrens, and…a robin! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a robin in the snow.
Get outside. Walk in the snow. I recommend you wear boots. We don’t buy a lot of snow boots here in the South, but if you have boots for rain, they’ll work. Or if you have everyday boots that you don’t mind pushing through the powder (hard powder by now), use those. I surveyed the ravine while out with Murphy.
Always have your camera handy–or your phone, and don’t forget to take the dog with you. Murphy loves the snow. She digs in with her face and plows.
Help a neighbor–or be helped. A post by Heather Corum Powell on our neighborhood Facebook page on Friday reminded me. “If anyone on Hilson has chocolate chips, I’ll make the cookies!” She got the chips, made the cookies, and then started delivery for those too far away to walk to get them. Since Dave and I are, ahem, watching the sugar, we asked her if she could take them to a single mom, or maybe a senior who can’t get out. Frankly, I didn’t feel that good being so altruistic and I’m a bit jealous of some old codger grinning over my cookies, if you know what I mean. <Sigh.> At least I know I did the right thing.
About that soup. If you’re like me, you always have an extra bowl (or pot, in my case) of soup. Since my neighbors have already foundered on my multiple pots of turkey soup this year, I haven’t reached out with the grub. Now I’m reminded that I need to.
The “be-helped” part. I’ve been a single mother in my past, and fortunate enough to know enough willing helpers to write at least fifty different stories. Every once in a while, I think of some of these people, and I write a note, but not nearly as often as I should. (Maybe some note-writing would be good during this in-house episode.)
If I were without Dave, I would not be able to drive the van up the driveway hill. I know that any one of the five closest neighbors would heed my call. First I’d try Saleh because he wants to help the most. Then Don–He’s the most vocal about my soup. Then I’d go for Steve. Maybe I should try Steve first. He’s from Upstate NY. Then Patrick or Chris since they’re younger, and therefore braver, than the rest.
Neighbors have volunteered all kinds of help on our Facebook page, not to mention the most helpful posts about street conditions from those who’ve been out. (See, there is some good in Facebook.) I feel inadequate to help. Dave did shovel all around the house, paths in both driveways, the ramp, and around the back doors, but I wouldn’t allow him to try the same thing for another house. We have become the older ones. Note I did not say “elderly.”
My dad is always saying, “Let me do what I can, and then help me.” I think we should translate that to “I’ll do what I can, and then, if I need help, I’ll ask for it.” My second goal would be to always think of something we could do for somebody. I think I’m about to put on another pot of soup.
Sure hope Dave gets the porch rails blasted and they dry enough for me to caulk and paint tomorrow. This good weather is only going to last three days, they say. That means on Tuesday or Wednesday, I’ll be looking for things to do inside–and there may not be any snow to play in!
So here’s something to do that requires nothing but attention: Poetry. Yes, I know that is reading, but it’s almost, well, not–at least for me. I am fond of Mary Oliver (who isn’t?) so I’ve taken out all of her books that I have on a shelf and I carry them with me, upstairs and down. Here is just a little bit of a poem that stayed with me from last weekend.
Look it up. Read the whole thing. First Snow. You’ll be ready for it next time you get snowed in.
I was making final plans for the Nevada trip with Mom and Dad just a week later. A friend described it as my plan to drag two old people across the continent and back. I ordered a waterproof travel bag big enough to hold three Kindles, extra Depends, three bottles of water, snacks, cough drops, and my medicines. Mom would take another large bag to hold their medicines. Actually, mine was a red print diaper bag, plastic-lined pockets all around. I took both parents for pedicures. Dave took Dad for a new pair of shoes. I took Mom shopping for paint–her sister-in-law had agreed to paint the kitchen while we were gone, cabinets included.
When I noticed that I had a dental cleaning scheduled on one of the days that we were to be gone, I called to postpone the appointment. Val surprised me when she said she had a cancellation for the next day.
“Are you having any problems?” my tiny hygienist asked.
“Just this one tooth.” I pecked on it. “It’s the same one I was having trouble with last time.”
“Getting worse? Hot? Cold? What hurts it?”
“Heat. And pressure. Pressure hurts, but since it’s where it is, I don’t get a lot of pressure there.”
After I was all shined up and x-rayed, Dr. Williams said I needed a root canal.
“Fine,” I said. “That’s the tooth that anchors my bridge. I surely don’t want to lose it.”
“No, no, I don’t either. Let’s send you to the endodontist. Don’t you already have somebody you like to see?”
“Terryl Propper,” I said. “I’ll call her.”
So on Monday, while Dave took the folks for flu shots, I got a root canal. Dr. Propper is always entertaining. I’ve enjoyed–yes, actually enjoyed–all four visits with the woman who reams out the roots of a tooth while cracking inappropriate jokes or relating embarrassing personal stories. She looks like a cross between Roseann Barr and my hilarious ex-sister-in-law Sheila, so my expectations are always high.The best story involved a cruise on the USS Maasdam, wherein Dr. Propper got to visit the morgue. Her stories may be funnier because of the gas, which could be the reason I can never remember the whole story later.
Dr. Propper expects give-and-take as she carries on a conversaton while working and, in spite of the load of rubber and cotton she’s shoved into my mouth, she understands every grunt I make as my side of the dialogue. I remember that she was a bit sedate this time. We talked mostly about these new-fangled shoes that are actually slippers with removable soles. When you need to go outside for your newspaper or the mail, you just pop those soles on your indoor slippers, trip down the driveway, and then flip them off once you’re back on cleaner ground.
“I hearda dem,” I said. “Moo-ble toles. Foles.”
Neither one of us could remember the names of the slippers. I knew the name started with an M.
“Tart wif ehn,” I told her.
“Starts with M. Yes, it does.”
“Lite hah…lite dah hah rah.”
She said, ” Oh, I just bought a pair. They’re not cheap–ninety-nine dollars–but I think I like them. I’ll email you the name when I get home.”
She patted me on the shoulder. “Okay, I’m done here, honey. We’re just going to do a couple x-rays to make sure we got it.”
She breezed back into the room to view the pictures just displayed. “Well, looka here. What is that? Huh. I missed a branch. You’ve got a branch that’s behind a tooth that is lying on the roof of your mouth. Did you know you have a tooth up there? It’s an eye-tooth.”
“Oh weah,” I said. ” ‘s been dere frebbuh.”
“I’m surprised some dentist didn’t try to take that out.”
“And you wouldn’t let him?”
“Well, I don’t blame you.”
She pressed around the rubber to re-isolate the tooth. “You know, these days we could just band that tooth and bring it right down into its proper place.”
“Uh-huh. Dat fwah he ted.”
“Well, hang on, don’t talk, I have to clear this one little branch.”
She chided the newly discovered root, “….hiding from me, you Now I’m going to fill in the hole, okay?”
She pressed filling into the tiny hole drilled through the crown of #12. The assistant cleaned up. Dr. Propper’s face appeared in front of me again.
“Okay, dear, we’re about to turn on the oxygen and clear all that good stuff out of your head. You want some pain pills for tonight?”
I shook my head. She loosened all the props and pulled the materials from my mouth. “Now I’ll prescribe some Vicodin or something like that if you think you’ll need it…”
“No need. I dot pwenty dat tuff. Probbwy dust tate suh i-b-frofen.”
“Tell Dr. Williams thank you for sending you over to me. I’ve been meaning to get by to meet him.”
“He dent thend me. I tame my own fwee will.”
“Are you okay to leave?” the assistant asked.
Dr. Propper joined in. “Are you sure?”
“Wep. Dust tan’t talt pwain.”
Dr. Propper called the next morning to tell me that the name of those slippers. “Mahabis.”
I said, “Oh, yeah, I knew that.”
She laughed. “You kept trying to convince me that they were maharashis.”
“I don’t remember that.”
“You don’t remember me saying that a maharaja was like a king or something?”
“No. I remember talking about that tooth on the roof of my mouth.”
“Right. How is your tooth, anyway? That’s what I really called about.”
“It’s still there.”
“Not the one on the roof of your mouth, the one I worked on.”
We were having some trouble finding a date for the annual Holiday get-together. This bunch is a busy lot: Dad having surgery on December 10 and the endless accompanying doctor and lab visits before that; Carly (of JJVC*) dancing in four Nashville Ballet performances of The Nutcracker and her dad John traveling for work; DDE* leaving for Montana on the 19th; JAJS* on a constant run with two demanding jobs and two little ones. We finally decided that we’d all get together after Carly’s matinee performance on the 5th and that we’d each bring a snack-y thing to share.
They checked in one-by-one: DDE to bring “secret ingredient” meatballs (I know the secret, by the way), JAJS spinach dip and a dessert, G’ma & G’pa sausage balls, and, of course, Dave and I (DD) haven’t decided yet. We don’t have to because we’re the hosts. With the mosts.
All was finally set when Vicky emailed yesterday afternoon for her family, JJVC.
On Sun, Nov 15, 2015 at 1:51 PM, Vicky Graham wrote to the group:We’ll bring an antipasto platter (minus the olives—cause I just can’t do those) and gingerbread cookies.
It only took Jade a few hours to respond.
On Mon, Nov 16, 2015 at 8:20 AM, Jade Graham wrote:No olives!!! I may just have to protest…which seems to be the trendy and fashionable thing to do these days. I may even consider staging a hunger strike (likely not for very long though). You people are prejudiced against the olive…and olive eaters like myself. This is very disconcerting. I tell ya…someone should be losing their job over this…and someone should have to make public apologies….perhaps I’ll contact my Congressperson and demand some new olive discrimination legislation. We should make it a hate crime to not include olives in the antipasto platters. I’m going to put the thought police to work on this whole olive thing….shame on you people and your anti-olive ways…it’s hateful and scandalous.
Grammy jumped in to settle everyone down.
From: Diana Blair Revell Sent: Monday, November 16, 2015 8:57 AM To: Jade Graham; Vicky Graham; Anjie; Revell, Darrin; John Graham; Dana Revell; Dave Revell; Ernest Ethel Blair Subject: Re: Revell/Graham/Blair Holiday Gathering!!!
hahahaha Okay, okay, don’t start a ruckus. I already have some olives–black and green (can I say that)?
I’m your mama. I’m the one who will give you what you want. Just remember that at voting time, okay? And don’t go voting for some cockamamie stiff-haired swaggard.
Daughter-in-law Vicky would not leave it alone.
On Mon, Nov 16, 2015 at 9:41 AM, Vicky Graham wrote: Ruckus on! I fully own my olive discrimination. I might even rethink my stance on gun control if we could just do something about the olive situation in this country. To really make America great again, we must eradicate them from our society. I say build a wall around all the Mediterranean countries. Until then, we should triple the olive tax. Olive eaters should be forced to register and wear a cardboard sign in public stating their past sin. I will go ahead and put out there that John has relaxed his stance on olives. He’s even gone so far as to not remove them from dishes at restaurants. He is the father of my children and the provider for our family, but I won’t silently sit by like some “Tammy Wynette standing by her man”. I’m interviewing lawyers. If any of those olives so much as even touch my antipasto platter, so help me……
Jade Graham ended it all.
12:49 PM (1 hour ago) to Vicky, me, Anjie, Darrin, John, Dana, Dave, Ernest
That’s funny…I don’t care who ya are…that’s funny.
He’s right. It’s funny. And now you know why we just love getting together. Of course, Vicky’s probably saying she backed him down.
Here’s the code break:
*DDE = Darrin, Dana, & Evan *JJVC = John, Jameson, Vicky, & Carly *JAJS = Jade, Angie, Jaxton, & Savvy *DD = Dave & Di, also written D&D
My asthma has been kicking me around a bit this spring, and I’m tired of it. Tired of wheezing and congestion. Tired of limiting my activity. Tired of staying inside when I want to be out. I remember my trip to ASAP, Vanderbilt’s Asthma, Sinus, and Allergy Program, the one where they stuck me with a hundred needles, trying to find my special and personal allergens. They didn’t find much. The one thing that would even suggest that it might elicit a response was cat hair, and my reaction wasn’t strong enough to be called an allergy.
The nurse practitioner sat in a chair facing me. “I would have sworn you’d have ten or twelve of these just off the chart…and there are none.” She told me about the cat hair. Her final summation was, “Diana, you aren’t allergic to anything, but you are highly irritated by oh, so many things.”
I answered her with true sincerity, “You. Have. No. Idea.”
In the Compound, it’s hard to make any room for irritations that might get me down. I don’t want to go down–and if I have to, I want to come back up kicking and screaming. Actually, I want to be up and at ’em all the time. I want to dig in the dirt and shove boxes around in the garage. I want to redecorate rooms and paint furniture. I want to be a good partner for Dave, and to be (cheerfully) available to Mom and Dad. I want to do more Grammy-ing.
We have a new grandbaby, one Evan Gabriel Revell, son of Darrin and Dana, and we have another on the way, Savannah Grace Graham, to Jade, Anjie, and big brother Jaxton. I’m longing to see Jaxton. I’ve babysat Evan once now, and am in the process of sewing a three-tiered ruffled crib skirt for Savannah’s room. The “old” grandkids, Jameson and Carly, haven’t been here for Grammy Night in more than a month. We’re all missing that. And then, we’ve started planning for a possible summer visit from the Montana grands, Bri and Zack.
Evan was a big surprise early in March when Darrin and Dana were chosen to be his parents. He came into our lives with a wallop to all our senses. Evan is African American. We’re all white…sort of. There are those three little boys we got in Montana, Jimmy, Jerry, and Johnny Wong, three brothers of a Chinese father and a Native American mother. They’re certainly not white. They’ve been men for a long time now, their years adding up at 56, 57, and 58. We tease Jerry that he’s getting old. He’s good-natured about it.
There’s more I want to do. I want to do more writing. I want to be able to put the pen to what I feel and think, clearly and kindly, but without timidity. Facebook posts just don’t get it. I’ve never seen anyone’s mind changed by either an email or a Facebook post. Most of the time, an opinion expressed on Facebook makes somebody mad.
I’m not mad, but the posts about Baltimore are getting to me and my visceral response is less than pleasant. The first two things that confound me: 1. The most viral post seems to be the one where the mother of one of the kids on the street doing what we all wish the kids on the street wouldn’t do grabs him up and lays into him with her hands. 2. The most immediate response to the rioting and looting is a name-call, “Thugs!” I keep wondering if there couldn’t be some story, some meme, some editorial somewhere that could help us all to think, and then to do what needs to be done to make sure there’s not as much reason for a bunch of our people–Americans–to be this desperate.
The Compound bunch has a long cumulative history of working for civil rights. My dad and I both got in trouble more than once in the 60’s. But don’t get me wrong, the residents of The Compound here are not unbiased. We can’t be. We’ve had privilege for so long that there are instances where we couldn’t find its resting place to exhume it for identification. We’ve called rioters thugs. We’ve asked, “Why would they destroy their own community?” A couple of us even cheered that mother on, one of us saying that’s what mamas should do and then Baltimore wouldn’t be going through this mess; although, the other said this wasn’t discipline, but a mama doing anything in her power to get her black son out of danger.
All of us here remember what it was like to live in Montana when the Wong boys were kids. Dave was not part of our family at the time, of course, but he was born and raised in Montana. Native Americans were low on the social strata, to say the least. And when some parents realized the Native American side of the ancestry, “those Indian kids” did not get invited for playdates. It always hit me as a bit odd, even rude, when some person asked my dad, “What are they?” What are they? They’re kids! It floored me the day I came home from work to find my mother teaching my youngest brother to deliver a right-hand punch. They’re calling them names and grabbing their things at school. Nobody is doing anything. They’ve got to learn to take care of themselves.
One of my little brothers went to a Tennessee prison when he was in his forties. I learned a lot about the justice system during the fourteen months he spent in a county jail, waiting for court action. At the end of that time, he was given a plea deal and began his prison career. He started out at a special-needs facility in Nashville–because he is mentally challenged–and served five of his five-years-and-eight-months there. I was his frequent, Monday-night visitor. I learned a lot about the prison system during both the first five years and the last eight months. I learned that most of the prison population is minority, predominantly black. My brother fit in a class somewhere between black and white, more toward the black end of the structure. One night, while we played Old Maids, he assured me that he was “better than the Mexicans and Mexicans are better than the blacks.”
He learned to cast his lot toward the white end, in spite of his very dark skin placing him squarely as a man of color.
Do I think he would have served prison time had he been white? Maybe, but the statistics say he would have been less likely to be arrested in the first place, less likely to be convicted, might have been offered a better plea bargain, less likely to serve time, and, if he did serve time, likely to serve less time than what he got. His mental challenges just upped the stats.
I hugged, kissed, and cuddled Evan yesterday while his dad went to the dentist. He is warm, sweet, squeezable. We’ve been so blessed that Evan has joined our crazy family. He’s new, but he’s already pretty much like all the rest of the grandbabies when they’re new–loved, welcomed, and doted on–and, in the next couple of months, Savannah Grace will jilt him out of his newest baby place for her ride in the latest-baby sun.
He’s like all the rest…except that he’ll cause me to ask questions that would never come up for the ones with whiter skin and straighter hair. I’ll wonder how his parents will teach him about his ethnical heritage. What a big job! I’ll wonder how he might develop pride in his blackness. I’ll wonder how much privilege, how many points, he’ll gain for growing up with white family. And I’ll always wonder about those times when someone looking at him doesn’t know Evan ‘s heart nor his family and sees only someone “less-than,” someone to stay away from.
I’m always going to be thinking about how to keep Evan safe.
In the midst of trying to explain how I feel, I came across an essay in Salon by a mixed-race woman that so resonated with me that I must encourage you to read it. I hope you will, if for no other reason than to help me understand myself.
It’s hard to be writing about December and January when Dad is out in the yard. He put on his overalls, an orange plaid long-sleeved shirt, and his farmer’s hat. He’s already got his garden going, with a row of cabbage, He came to The Cellar door to ask what he could do for me in the flower beds. I put him to work pulling weeds in the lower garden. It’s the largest one and the weediest, too! I see now he’s swapped the plaid shirt for a grey t-shirt and the overalls for his shorts and kneepads.
I always turn Dad loose in my gardens at my own risk. He doesn’t see well and sometimes he gets aggressive about the weeding and happens upon a perennial that he doesn’t recognize as a good thing. It’s no disaster, I just go find some more and call the amount I lost “entertainment.”
Speaking of disasters, I left this story last time on December 22 at a restaurant in Mt. Juliet where Jaxton introduced us to his sister who is set to arrive in June. We left the restaurant in two vehicles to go to Jellystone Park’s Christmas Lights and Village. Jade and Anjie were in front of us. Darrin and Dana rode with us.
We knew we were in a bit of trouble when we saw the long line waiting to get off the interstate at the Opryland exit, the path to Jellystone. We chatted back and forth on our cell phones a few times, and I took a picture of a tree we could see from the interstate. The line finally started to move, but it wasn’t going fast. I surmised that each time they let in the quota to the park, the line moves and then it stops until that bunch comes out of Jellystone. I really don’t know if that is accurate; I do know we sat there–and crept forward a little–for a long time.
I heard whispering from the back seat. “What?”
“I’ve got to go to the restroom,” Dana said.
“Oh me, we’re not in any position to get out of this line,” I said.
She decided she could hold it for a while. We crept forward. Dana only complained one more time. “I have GOT to go.” Didn’t sound good. Dave told the story about the time that we were halted on a drive to North Carolina and spent two hours waiting for a lane to open through one of the mountain tunnels.
I was in Dana’s shape. “I can’t wait any longer. I’m going to just hike out there beyond those bushes,” I said. “Nobody will see me there.”
I had a good start on the tromp across that dry, grassy rock field when a man in a car behind us called out, “Miss! Miss! Watch out for the snakes!”
I turned around. “Snakes?” When he didn’t answer, I yelled, “I’m not really afraid of them. I’ve got to go….” I started toward the bushes again.
His reply was just one word. “Rattlesnakes!”
I spun around and got back to our vehicle much quicker than I had made my way toward the makeshift toilet. I no longer had to go.
Then he told the story about his college summer job of surveying on the Wyoming-Montana border. “We found seventy-five rattlesnakes, and I bet I found sixty of them.”
“That’s because that one bit you,” I said.
“Did you get bit by a rattlesnake?” Dana asked.
“Yeah, on my calf.”
“What did they do?” she asked.
“Oh, they had a snakebite kit, so they lanced the bite, and I took anti-venom and they took me on to the hospital.” He paused. “I hate snakes.”
We told more snake stories. Dave finally asked, “Why are we telling snake stories? I hate snakes.”
As we finally got closer to the exit, going right instead of left looked so much more attractive. Left would take us–maybe by morning–to Jellystone Park. Right would take us toward Donelson and the interstate. I think we all spoke at the same time. “Let’s go right…. Let’s quit this sh*t…. Let’s go home…. Go right, go right! Somebody call Jade and tell him we’re getting out of line to go home.”
Jade had come to the same conclusion.
I told Dana we’d stop as soon as we could find a bathroom. Up popped McDonald’s. Yayyyyyy! The whole van-load cheered for the golden arches. I’d barely claimed a parking spot when Dana bolted. Somebody suggested that we drink milkshakes since there seemed to be a fine special–and then there was the ambience!
The McDonald’s was an unusual one, with a lovely and homey seating area in front of a fireplace, in addition to the normal dining room. We perched on the couches and chairs and slurped up our chocolate slurpies and congratulated McDonald’s for such a fine gathering place. Who should walk in but Jade? We laughed. “So you had to go to the bathroom, too?”
“Oh, man,” he said.
“We decided to stay here and drink milkshakes–they’re two for one. I bet Jaxton is asleep.”
“Oh yeah, he was gone by the time we got in the line. I better go ask Anjie if she wants a shake.” She did.
“What’s the status of your repairs?” Darrin asked.
“Oh, they’re done. I mean, the plumbers are. The flooring is supposed to be installed January 8.”
“How about the van?”
“It goes in the shop Monday–or is it Tuesday….”
Now that we’ve had some separation time, we think it was December 23rd, whatever day that was. A young man from Enterprise picked me up at Service King to take me to the lot to get a rental–which insurance was paying for! Dave and I agreed to get the largest vehicle that we could without paying extra.
They put me in a Toyota Prius and taught me how to drive it. Actually, the little guy taught me how to start it and tried to sell me extra insurance–just in case something happened while I was driving it.
“Oh, by the way,” he said, “there’s no gas in this car! Somebody returned it empty, I guess. Well, you just drive out of here and turn left into that Exxon station. I do think I’d get some gas before going home.”
I did as he suggested and finally managed to load fifteen dollars’ worth in the little thing’s tank and started to go home. It was cold and it was dark. I couldn’t tell who was behind me, or liable to be behind me in a couple moments. I finally got out and looked before I pulled out.
“This is crazy,” I thought. I turned right instead of left and pulled back into the Enterprise lot.
“Can we help you?” the nice girl at the counter asked.
“Yes,” I said, “I don’t think I can drive this car. I can’t see out.”
“You can’t see out where?”
“Any place, front or back. What else can you rent to me?”
“Well, we have some larger vehicles but you’d need to pay the amount that the insurance won’t pay.”
What they wanted for a one-level upgrade was exactly twice the insurance provision.
“You don’t have anything in this class–what is this, mid-size?” I asked.
“No, that’s our full-size [or maybe she said ‘intermediate size’–either way, it’s a stretch] …and we just don’t have anything else.”
It was cold. It was dark. I wanted to go home. “Okay, fine. It’ll be a wonder if I don’t kill myself in this thing,” I mumbled.
The first thing I said to Dave when I got home was, “Oh, Lord, Dave, you won’t believe this.”
No, he did not want to learn to drive the Prius. After all, he wouldn’t be able to drive at all after his shoulder surgery on January 5.
Surely to goodness we’ll have the van back by January 5, I thought.
The first time he rode shotgun with me, he said, “I don’t know how you see out of this thing.” The first time we pushed Mom and Dad, rump first, into the Prius, I wondered how we’d ever get them out.
Mom said it like she thought it, “This thing is a tin can.”
Christmas Eve–and Day–were uneventful. We still did some traditional cooking, but both days were quiet. “Not like Christmas,” I said.
All the women exchanged emails about a possible redeux for the Festivus/Christmas Vacation party. “We already have the meat,” Vicky said. “What if we do it New Year’s Day? Somebody’s going to cook that day, anyway.”
So we all got our “bring this” assignments and planned for our big day. Some of us decided to wear costumes, most didn’t. Mom wore her Mrs. Senior Smith County tiara and sash. I wore Tonto and took some extra clothes.
Jerry Wong wanted us to guess. “Who am I?” he asked. He insisted he was dressed in costume. We couldn’t see it.
“Well, I should be the one to wear that Tonto stuff,” he said.
“You mean it would go with your costume?” I asked.
“Give up, I’m a half Chinese, half Indian.” Family joke, I guess. Jerry and his brothers really are half Chinese, and half Native American.
When Jameson saw that GrandmaMA and I were costumed, he announced he would be back in a few–and went to prepare himself.
He stepped back into the room as Cousin Eddie.
Carly had fun opening birthday presents. Several of us pooled our pennies to buy an American Girl doll, this year’s ballerina, Isabelle. We also got the barre and some other totally necessary supplies and equipment. And for that, she let us have some of her Rice Krispy Treat Cake.
We discussed the year’s activities. John and Jade have an insurance company, Graham’s Insurance, in Lebanon. Jade runs it while John works for himself in recovering overpayments to healthcare providers.
“We’re doing well,” Jade said of the insurance agency. He moved toward pensive. “We would have made good money this year if it weren’t for family.”
Dave said, “Our roof was last year.”
“Yeah, we put a roof on Anjie’s mom’s house, and then y’all have that big claim for the leak, and then the van…” There was more. Much more. I don’t want to expose anybody.
John summed it up. “What we need is some more clients that are also total strangers.”
We made away with a fabulous beef tenderloin dinner and pronounced the day a rousing success–especially since the sick were now somewhat well, and we had finally got some quality celebrating under our belts. We loaded the Prius when Dad started looking tired.
“Everybody buckled in?” I asked, as usual. “Dad, move a little to your right. I can’t see.”
Cru-u-u-u-u-nch. “Oh!” and “Uh-oh” and “Oh, shit, I’ve hit Jerry Wong’s car!”
Jade was the first person out of the house.
I drove over to Enterprise the next day to give them the latest scoop.
The nice young woman in management smiled. “Oh, dear. That’s why I always suggest that extra coverage.”
“Well, here’s what I would like to suggest. I think you ought to have something on the lot in every class that a normal person could drive.”
The discussion that followed was, um, amicable, but it ended with “Well, no, I wouldn’t recommend you to anyone. I think if someone drives back in and says, ‘I can’t drive this vehicle,’ it would behoove you to come up with something different.”
I turned toward the counter. “Do I need to pay anything today?”
“No, we’ll settle up when you return the vehicle. You can drive it, can’t you?”
“Well, IT will drive.” Then I added, turning to leave, “I told you before I couldn’t drive the damn thing.”
Not much discussion about Jerry Wong’s car, in spite of my long rendition of how it all happened, but I suppose Enterprise really had no dog in the Wongster’s hunt.
Service King was slow to finish the work on the van, what with holidays and a flu epidemic in Nashville. I drove the wrecked Prius… and I drove the wrecked Prius some more. Every two days, Service King sent a text promising me “we’ll have your car ready soon.” I prayed for an end to my torment.
One day, I stopped at Lowe’s to choose some moulding for the flooring. (Someone from Lowe’s had called to leave a message on the home phone. It seemed that my original choice was no longer available.) I parked the Prius in handicapped parking–Yes, I know that I am not handicapped, but I do have Dad’s tag in the pickup truck and Dave’s tag in the van, and I am not afraid to use them when I need to. I made sure I carried the one from the van in the Prius.
In the flooring department, I once again had to converse with Mike. This time was more successful than others. You see, Mike is hard of hearing, wears two hearing aids that obviously do not relieve him of his problem, and we had some difficulty during the first two meetings. By now, I knew to tap him on the shoulder and look directly at him when I spoke. We finished in fifteen minutes.
I walked toward the Prius facing me at the Exit door of Lowe’s. My heart began to race when I noticed that the front of the vehicle was wrecked on the front of the passenger side. Someone had made a large dent and scrape while I was in the store. It also looked like part of the headlight was missing.
“No-o-o-o-o,” I wailed. “No-o-o-o-o.” I set my purse–a big one–on the ground, just couldn’t hang onto it while I pitched what I knew was going to be a major hissee. I was stomping around saying, “Shit, shit, shit!” when a man with a long, grey ponytail stopped in front of me. I pulled my phone from my jeans pocket and snapped. The man folded his arms. He was so calm.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m looking at this place where somebody hit this damn vehicle.” And, at that precise moment, I realized that the white Prius with the wrecked front side was his vehicle, that my “damn vehicle” was in the next row.
I did not explain. I just picked up my purse and got in my own wrecked Prius; well, Enterprise’s wrecked Prius. He didn’t even shake his head, just got into his car and drove off.
The van was not ready when the crew came to put down the new flooring, a vinyl plank that always looks old and dirty. I figured it was the best solution for the place where everyone brings in dirt and mud from the gardens. It looked fine when they finished the installation except that the vanity was about two inches out into the floor–not bumped up to the wall–and the workman just casually applied the moulding to the out-of-place vanity. Another fix-it, I thought.
I called Lowe’s to ask if the installer could come back out. “I signed off on the work,” I said. “I just didn’t see it at the time.”
“We’ll have to charge you an appointment fee,” the guy answered me. “It’s fifty dollars.”
“I’m not surprised,” I said. “Never mind, I’ve got to have some other work done, too. I’ll just make sure I put this little tidbit on my evaluation.”
He was so cheerful. “Okay, well, thank you for letting Lowe’s provide your flooring.”
Two days later, the van finally came home and the Prius went, well, not exactly where I’d told it to go so many times. The Service King guy who picked me up from Enterprise chuckled when I told him about the damages.
“You know what?” he said. “We’ll get a call about twenty minutes from now, and I’ll come back over here and pick up that Prius and take it to our shop to fix it.”
I just nodded. I was shed of it. I had to learn to drive the Sienna all over again. It felt like a Greyhound bus, but it looked wonderful.
Enterprise, Service King, and I eventually settled up. Jerry Wong’s car was totaled (something about that wheel bearing, I think…). Our friendly MetLife paid everything except for deductible and, lo and behold, the credit card company (Chase) covered the deductible! Who would have ever thought of that? (My husband.)
Thanks to the snow and ice of February, our friendly neighborhood landscaper and handyman came and re-did most of the moulding, tightened up the drop ceiling and replaced broken tiles, replaced the door to the bathroom, and hung a new light fixture and mirror. It took him days.
I still haven’t painted the bathroom but then, there are several holdovers of things I need to do in The Cellar. Things that go in the laundry room are still in the garage. Things that go in the bathroom are still in the garage. Shoes that go in the big shelving unit in the laundry room are still…scattered around. I have yet to re-organize the garage storage. I mean, garagES.
But I’ve done a hundred loads of laundry, cooked a few dozen meals, and hand-washed dishes galore down here in The Cellar. I haven’t really cleaned the new floor, either. I figure if it’s supposed to look old and dirty, I’ll just let it do its best job for a little while longer.
We’ve had no more insurance claims in 2015…yet. Maybe Graham Insurance will send us a thank-you card at the end of the year! (Do you think our premium might go up a little bit?)