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Girl From Goat Pasture Road

Musings of Susan Swicegood Boswell

11 Days: O Holy Night(The Mt. Olivet Christmas Miracle)

choir-boys-2 So maybe you’ve heard me mention before how my husband, Perry, never sings in church. I don’t know why it is, but this annoys me, to no end. He stands beside me, holding up his end of the hymnal, as stoic as a mute. Nary a “Praise God from whom all blessings flow…” nor  “A-aa- men” can be heard being uttered from his frozen lips. “Honey, why don’t you sing?” I ask. I pester and prod him, but he just shakes his head no. Really, he has such a beautiful voice. I hear him singing sometimes around the house.

Sigh… It’s been this way for most of our 32 years; that’s how long we’ve been married. That’s how long I’ve been nagging him to sing and thus it is precisely how long he’s been ignoring me…

Well, as I’ve said before, it’s nice to be surprised by someone with whom you have spent so many years years together. After 32 years, you think you know everything about the other person. I could tell you about his favorite drink (an Old Fashioned), his steak (well done), his pizza (meat lovers) or his dessert (coconut cream pie.) I could tell you that he’s always going to order a side of sour cream with his enchilada. He insists on potato salad with his ham. I could tell you that when he’s driving and there is an opportunity for a short cut and a long cut, he will take the long cut and swear it’s a short cut. I could tell you he’s forgiven me most transgressions in our marriage except that he still harbors a deep- seeded resentment since I refused to let him bring some old turtle figurine of his childhood (really, that old thing was hideous) into our newly-wedded bliss.

Before he surprised me last year by taking a job as a funeral home attendant after his retirement (Boy, I never saw that one coming…), the last big surprise he gave me was the time he sang in church. Well, it wasn’t exactly church but it was pretty close to it…

Back then, we still lived in Davidson County and attended Mt. Olivet Methodist Church in Arcadia. Our Sunday School Class consisted of most of the choir members and its director… Kathy and Jim Knox, Kathy and Charles Craver, the Bumgarners, our friends Buzz, Christy Chestnut, you name them- if they were in the choir they were probably members of our Sunday School Class. We held the class Christmas Party at the home of Bryan and Katherine Gaye. After our delicious meal, we gathered in a big circle around the room to sing Christmas carols. Jim Knox sang and played his guitar. The heck with Elvis, that man has the most beautiful liquidy- velvet voice you’ve ever heard, bar none. We sang our hearts out, at least most of us did, but not Perry, of course. He just stood there in his usual rigid position like he was waiting for a bus while we decked the halls and rum-pa-pum-pummed.

All was predictable that evening, until we began to sing O Holy Night. I knew this was one of Perry’s favorite hymns and as we zeroed in on the chorus, little did I know that my husband had decided to play a little joke on Kathy Knox and the rest of the class, including his wife.

“Fall… on your knees…”

Perry stepped into the circle, bent down -nearly on one knee- and did this little sweeping motion with his hands. From his lips, there was a a low rumbling vibrato reminiscent of Pavarotti. At the sound of that voice, Kathy Knox did a double take. As the choir director, Kathy was always trying to recruit new talent into the choir. She had surely missed her chance at a new solo artist, sitting right under her nose!

“Oh hear, the an-gels voi- ces…”

With these words, Perry really let it rip. The paintings shook and nearly flung themselves off the wall. Our classmates – and I- stood there dumbfounded.

“Oh ni- ight dee-vine! Oh ho-ly night! When Christ was born…”

Well that was it. The Christmas Miracle came and went. My husband has refused to sing within five miles of a church before or since. Was it a coincidence or a Christmas Miracle that inspired him to sing freely that one special night? I will always remember how my heart swelled with pride to see my honey center stage. I will also always remember the many times over the years we have heard the song come on the radio at Christmastime and giggled to ourselves about the night of the Mt. Olivet Christmas Miracle.

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Totality, 2017

“I hope I’m not in you guys’ way…” I offered, rather insincerely I’ll admit. An hour earlier, I had surveyed the lay of the land, staked my claim in a sparse grassy area by placing my singular folding chair in my strategically-chosen location for eclipse-watching: in plain sight of the swamp, facing the open the open sky above the parking area at the edge of the woods. Now, there was a large SUV parked nearby, two young couples traipsing about and an assortment of camera equipment strewn around the ground in front of me.

Oh, and did I mention one of the guys was juggling?

“You’ll not bother me as long as my breathing fire won’t bother you, ” he said, and climbed atop the automobile.

~

I left home at 6:30 AM bound for central South Carolina, the sweet spot on the east coast for one of the best views of this rare phenomenon. When I began thinking last week about viewing the eclipse, I knew that I would not want to experience this once in a lifetime eclipse in a crowded city with a lot of noise and light pollution. I have enough of that every day. I also did not want to travel down the busy I-85/95 corridor from North to South Carolina on major highways due to the anticipated traffic.

Thank God my husband Perry is still “old school” when it comes to navigation. He pulled an old SC/ NC map from the dashboard of his car and handed it to me. With a pencil and ruler, I drew a straight diagonal line from slightly north of Greenville across the state of South Carolina to Georgetown and examined my options. The line of totality. Squelching my eyes, I focused in on a rather barren -looking area in the middle of nowhere, southeast of Columbia. “Manchester State Forest,” I read. There should be a lot of nature there around a state forest, I reasoned. Below that was the Santee National Wildlife Refuge, Poinsett Park and even further south, Lake Marion. I circled my destination in pencil and wrote out the directions in longhand, should my GPS fail me.

~

This morning, traffic was surprisingly light and I made good time driving thru the rolling Sandhills. In this unfamiliar territory on roads not travelled, I stopped to photograph a large water tower boasting “Alligator Water”, filled my gas tank at the local country store and shopped at a few quirky statuary roadside stands. Oh, and I purchased two really cool, really large metal goats for my back yard.

As I neared my destination, just across from the state forest, a tall wire fence on the opposite side of the road announced “Danger! Keep Out!” Yikes! It was a huge USAF gunnery range. How had I missed that on the map? It looked like- and probably had been- bombed. This area didn’t look very natural, attractive or safe. Still, I turned the car right into the entry to the Manchester State Forest. A mile or so down the long dirt road, I encountered some other folks awaiting their own view of the eclipse. At the of a barren rolling field, they had set up tarps and beach umbrellas for shade in the blazing sun. Ugly stumps poked their heads up around dry, straggly undergrowth. So much for a forest! This was not at all what I had envisioned when I set out looking for nature.

I turned my little car around and ventured further south, towards the water, turning into any number of small state parks and access areas surrounded by the broad expanse of swampland. Eventually, the area became so remote that my GPS stopped working. One turn yielded nothing exciting, then another led me down a long dirt road beside a field. I was enchanted to see hundreds of small yellow butterflies fluttering around and beside my approaching car. At the end of this road, a scenic area of green swampy water with huge protruding cypress expanded before me. Several groups meandered around, loading and unloading their kayaks and fishing boats into the access area. A few other cars were parked in shady spots beneath the trees, lain heavily with Spanish moss. I felt safe enough here. I got out of the car, strolled around a bit and frightened a flock of three egrets who sailed across the swamp in protest.

I parked my car beside a van of two moms and two or three children, unpacked my lunch and prepared to wait the hour and a half or so until the spectacle was to begin.

Shortly thereafter was when I first encountered the fire-eating man, who crawled atop the SUV, repeatedly gulping gallons of a gasoline type substance and literally breathing fire across the air at the sun. I took a photo because I knew someone would thing I was exaggerating. So there!

Turns out, he was a performer and was trying to stage a publicity shot. Well, the sight of one man juggling and the other man perched across the roof of his SUV with all that fire shooting across air laden thick with insects and yellow butterflies and old trees, literally dripping with what was likely highly flammable Spanish Moss unnerved me, just a bit. I moved my chair away from the swamp and closer to my parked car. There, I met a nice couple, David and Valerie. They were from the Raleigh area. David is a “real” Santa Claus; he was even on one of my favorite shows- CBS Sunday Morning- last year when they did an episode about the big Santa Convention in Branson, Missouri. On this day, although he is attempting to be “under cover” dressed literally in camo, it cannot hide his big white beard and well, his “Santa-ness.” A little girl comes up, warily checks him out and her parents ask to take a picture. I chatted David and Valerie up about their recent travels, about our families, about David’s daughter back in Greensboro. Somehow, a phone call came through from her while we were standing there and she face-timed a photo of the skies back in Greensboro. Daunting grey clouds hung heavy over the city. I shook my head. Flying insects swarmed around me and I doused myself with another coat of insect repellent. I was glad to be at the swamp.

Whew! The heat made me drink lots of water. Anxious to get “comfortable” before the big show began, I walked across the parking lot, noticing a sign for a trail that traced the edge of the swamp. I stepped from the clearing cautiously, looking out for poison oak and snakes. I didn’t travel far before the darkness of the swamp enveloped me. No porta toilets here- no sirree. I did my business right there and high- tailed it back to the car.

Back at the boat ramp, a peculiar light was beginning to envelope the swamp… a mixture of dancing light and subtle shadows. I pulled my solar glasses out of my bag and stood in amazement as I gazed up to see the moon slide slowly,  imperceptibly across the sun. After a few minutes, a small bite appeared to be taken out of the sun but that bite slowly grew and grew until all that was left more closely resembled a crescent moon, although it was the sun. I was surprised, even with only that sliver of sun left, that it was still relatively bright.

All of that changed at the moment of “totality”. The very second the moon  stood in front of the sun, the birds and animals from the swamp and surrounding land grew quiet and there was an audible gasp from my fellow observers. At the same time, everyone pulled off our glasses, our welding masks and hat- boxes to discover that in a matter of moments, it had become as dark as night. We stood together awe-struck, gazing in amazement as the outer rim of the suns’ corona flashed white and pulsated around the dark perimeter of the moon. To the right a star- a planet actually – glowed huge in the sky. Everyone, strangers and friends, adults and children, wandered around like dazed zombies, eyes glued heavenward. Even the fire-breather was no match from the brilliant show of the celestial bodies.

It was incredibly beautiful…

It was spiritual.

Moving..

It was…

Over.

Suddenly, a sharp arc of the sun burst forward as if it were being birthed again and we quickly donned our protective eye gear . Like that, it was, within a matter of seconds, another re-creation: darkness, dusk, mid-morning and then daylight. We watched the moon’s exit as the world re-awakened.

I felt really alone for a second, not in a bad way but in a real way, a good way. It’s the kind of thing a person will ultimately need to experience and process (or not) in their own way, in their own spirit. Witnessing such a rare event so intimately-  it occurs to me at that moment, that it’s the kind of thing that is between you and the Holy Spirit, our Maker, the great Creator. You know, right then and there what is real and what it’s about- and it’s all it’s between you and Him. Like it has always been between man and God and beast for thousands and thousands and thousands of years.

Before saying our goodbyes, I chatted a bit more with my new friend Mr. Santa Claus. We shared similar stories of losing our mothers. He shared my lamentations about the growing number of family members and friends who have been either sick or have passed away these last few years. Then, I shared with him one of my recent “A-ha moments”, a tiny nugget of self- discovery…

While walking in the neighborhood this past weekend, I noticed the leaves on the dogwoods had begun to tinge the slightest shade of red. I tensed with dread. Those pretty pink dogwood leaves and their fat red berries are one of the first signs of an approaching autumn, and well… I have never cared much for autumn. Like my mother, I get depressed that time of year. It’s not that I don’t like the changing of the leaves, the cozy sweaters, the warm fires, the pumpkin- flavored drinks at Starbucks… No, I simply cannot enjoy the autumn for the dread of the winter that is sure to follow. In that moment of my walk, however, I realized that none of us are guaranteed a winter, nor a fall for that matter. How foolish of me to live in “dread”.

And in this new moment, standing in the middle of the swamp, with the incessant buzz of the cicadas, sweat dripping down my neck, chatting with Santa Claus as the Fire-eater packed up his gasoline, following my own, unique view of “totality”, I could somehow see- more clearly now- that each day, each moment is there for us to enjoy. To exhale the fire. To find the sacred. To share a smile and most importantly, to continue our dance with divinity, where mortals meet sacred, like the sun and the moon, each, on our own eternal journeys.

Late Frost

 My calendar says that it is spring outside but my azaleas beg to differ. Their profusion of pale pink blossoms have withered, shrunken and brown, due to a late- season frost and bout of cold weather that we all knew to anticipate, but somehow hoped could be spared.

I was not here to witness their destruction. My husband, Perry, calls me “lucky” and jokes how I often manage to be out of town when we have the worst weather. Last week was no different. On the two coldest days in March, when Greensboro’s low temperatures dipped into the 20’s, I was visiting a friend in sunny Miami, where the balmy daytime highs reached the upper 70’s and nighttime lows never dipped below the 60’s.

As the plane circled a few thousand feet above the North Carolina soil during our flight’s take-off and landing, the landscape revealed itself in bleak patches of brown and grey. Spring, when viewed from such lofty aspirations, was nowhere to be found.

Back home, I simply can’t rally myself into wanting to garden this year. My heart is heavy and in a state of mourning over matters much more significant than my frost-bit azaleas. Some of these losses are real and others have yet to occur. I find myself bracing internally for the impact. In the inner sanctum of my heart, I am buckling down the hatches- covering the shrubbery with sheets and raking the mulch up over the exposed roots and tender growth of my soul.

It’s not just me. I don’t have to tell you there is a lot of collective suffering out there. The damage is rampant-  look on Facebook; listen to the news. The cold snap that took my spring blossoms took those of my friends and neighbors, too.

I witnessed that. Saw it from the sky.

Logic and common sense tells me that my worries, that reacting to an impending sense of doom is a waste of good time, that what will be, will be. I simply must get on with that.

I keep thinking if I would just get outside and put my hands in the earth, maybe I’d feel differently, yet I am caught up in my inner turmoil, yet to let the dirt collect beneath my nails. As I make my daily walk from the house to the driveway and back again, I see the persistent signs that indicate life will keep coming at us despite an erratic forecast. Pretty clusters of snow drops congregate by the warmth of the retaining wall; white blossoms cling and fall from our two ancient cherry trees; bright green shoots among the beds of perennials poke their heads from the mulch, curious. The weeds and hellebores, on the other hand, are quite resistant; they live in outright denial and laugh at the cold. Like some people, they have simply decided not to give in.

From my vantage point, this morning in my little den, I sit curled up with an afgan strewn across my lap (and a cat overlooking my shoulder) on the vintage sofa my dad purchased for my grandmother in November of 1945, just after he returned from fighting in the South Pacific theatre of World War 2. I’ve been waking up too early these days- too much is on my mind. While the sun has not yet risen, I can hear the birds beginning to sing their songs outside the french doors, excited for the gift of a new day. A few blossoms from my camellias were spared from the cold and I see that Perry has clipped them and placed them on an adjacent table so that spring might find us indoors.

It’s funny, the way things work in life. On these days, when we find ourselves donning jackets and boots in March and April, we must live in a type of suspended belief. The promise of fair weather tomorrow must fight to reveal itself, when our senses would tell us otherwise.

Pets and children innately know how to live in the moment, but for most other living beings, our “nows” are peppered with “yesterdays”.

Memories are one of our greatest gifts but are also the bittersweet reminders of what is no more.

Of all the emotions, grief, in particular, seems to be cumulative. For some folks, a loss is not a single loss. Like a filter, it gathers and hangs on to all the losses that have come before it. Grief keeps score and gathers those losses like stray kittens and locks them down tightly in our hearts. Grief also has its own intuition. Like a trained meteorologist, grief expertly discerns the early warning signs of  change in the weather, that wait for us, just over the horizon. While the condition of PTSD has garnered much attention lately, in regards to our veterans, it is also something that most anyone who has experienced trauma can experience in varying degrees. Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder is a condition which causes us to experience all the side- effects of stress, even when the imminent danger of the threat has long been over.

I’ve heard it said that grief is a hole in our hearts that can never be filled and that we must simply allow our love to grow bigger around it. I know this is true and that God is there, almost exclusively, for that purpose. Like the changing of the seasons, we must be patient. We must forgive the cold snaps. We must remember that our growing season takes time and that grief is simply one portion of the price that we all pay for love.

Tribute to an old dog…

robbie-and-shredder I realized this morning, as I find myself awake hours before the sun comes up, how am I going to sleep without you here to wake me up at 3 AM? It’s been so many years that we have risen together- you first, me second- for our middle of the night romps for water and bathroom breaks.

I am looking at the disarray around the house, for what seems like the first time in days. I guess it’s time to put things in order and to get things back to “normal”, not that our house has ever been “normal” by most people’s standards. We are eccentric, some folks have said, which I think simply means we are not afraid to embrace our own uniqueness.

But really, it has never occurred to me that there is any other way to live…

All my scatter rugs and runners from the kitchen, the hall, the bathroom- even the little door mats I bought for getting dirt and mud off our feet when we walk in from the back yard (because of course, my “eccentric” little house has nothing so practical as a mud room)- all these rugs have been placed on top of every slick surface in my house, creating little paths so you could travel safely from the den to the kitchen, the kitchen to the living room and from the den into the hall to our bedroom without losing your footing that became so precarious in the last week since you became really sick.

The sofa pillows have all been removed from the sofa and chairs and placed under tables and along the wall to prevent you from becoming trapped in the crevices and inaccessible areas of the house where you might get hurt or where I might have trouble getting you out. I came home from work yesterday to find you’d wiggled yourself under the cocktail table. I know it’s instinct for you to want to hide when you are feeling so bad. I’m sorry, but it was for my own peace of mind, I couldn’t simply leave you there.

All of the small ceramic bowls seem to be dirty, filled with bits of water and melted ice cubes that I placed around the room recently, should you need them at your disposal. You were not able to get up and use the stainless doggie bowls but a cereal bowl fit right between your paws and you really did not have to raise your head too much to drink from them. I’ve gathered them and up and placed them in the sink to be washed. (If anyone is afraid of dog germs, know that I will wash these bowls but if you are really afraid of doggie germs, you have your fair warning. You may not want to come and eat here again.)

My summer robe is laying in the floor. I put it there beside you the last night you slept here, just in case you got cold. Also so that in case you woke up feeling lost and confused and couldn’t remember where you were, you’d smell me in the cotton fibers and feel a bit of comfort.

My winter robe is also dirty because I’d done this same thing another night and it became soiled. I guess it’s a good thing it is warm this morning and I do not need a robe.

I also need to clean the floors because I’ve brought in so many leaves, the floor is a mess. The walk off mats were not there to do their job because I’d removed them and placed then winding helter skelter all over the house. Since I’ve had to carry you in and out to use the bathroom these last few days, my slippers are lying there too, along with the leaves. They have been there since a week ago, when I heard you outside yelping, as you had a seizure the morning before Valentine’s Day. That was really scary and I ran out in my bare feet and scooped you off the ground that was wet with rain (or was it a heavy coat of morning dew?) and laid you down on these same rugs to recover.

Later, I gave you a bath, so most of the towels in the house are dirty, too. I was so glad you relaxed and seemed to enjoy as much that, as much as you were able. But as you know, I have been less concerned about the floor. My point is that now that you are gone, I guess I will have to keep up the cleaning a little better.

Oh, I see another spot on the kitchen floor that needs cleaning too. I found you there one morning over the weekend. You’d gotten down and couldn’t get up and so I picked you up and added a few more mats. I cleaned those spots up at the time but it looks like I missed a few areas.

There’s the meds, of course. Still out on the kitchen counter. I placed them in the cabinet this morning with the other doggie and kitty meds that we always save but never usually reuse again.

The refrigerator needs to be cleaned out too. The pot of chicken and rice I cooked for you that you wouldn’t eat. The special items I purchased for you, the sliced American cheese, the deli lunch meat, the special dogfood. There is the jar of peanut butter, still out. All the tricks of the trade I used for hiding pills and trying to get you to eat that just didn’t work.

Yesterday after work, I needed to run an errand to Costco. Brennen, had called a few times during the day and I had missed his calls. But really, I guess I was a lot like you trying to hide under that cocktail table; I didn’t really want to see or talk to anyone. Even my own son.

As fate would have it, I passed him driving up Wendover Avenue. A good-looking guy in his pretty blue sports car with a scruffy beard that his mama says “hides his handsomeness”. We were literally side by side on that stretch of road but unable to speak to one another. I waved and drove on, but do you know he followed me to the Costco parking lot? He said that he was headed out to pick up dinner and to get me flowers but because of our chance meeting, he told me to get into his car. “I’m going to buy you a milk shake instead, ” he announced.

That boy knows his mother’s heart…

“Mom, you need to get a new dog,” he said. “Now that I’m gone, you need a reason to be at home more.” I assured him that I was fine and that there would be a time in the future for another dog but this was not it. Getting the wrong dog or even getting the right dog at the wrong time in your life is a recipe for disaster that I planned to avoid.

Such a sound and practical response, I thought. “Besides,” I said,” We have Milly and the cat. It’s not like there are no more fur babies to love in the house.”

But I know what he means. I have to admit, the house feels very lonely this morning without you here for my 3 AM bathroom and water break. The slice of pizza I bought at Costco last night must have been really salty. Or maybe it’s the tears? I’ve cried a few, more for me than for you.

Brennen is right. I am sure there will be another doggie in our future, but just not now. This lifespan thing of 15-20 years for you and 75-80 years for me really sucks. At the moment, I’m just not ready to commit to that kind of discrepancy again.

When I went to bed last night, I remembered how before you became sick, you slept on the floor beside my side of the bed most nights, right between me and the door. It was sad to think of you not being there anymore. You were such a sweet and beautiful boy. Everyone knew that you wouldn’t think to hurt anyone.

I realized then that I never thought of you as my fierce protector but I think I was wrong about that.

5 Days: The Perfect Cookie

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If you know me, you know I am a Cookie Snob. For today’s post, I wanted to share what I have deemed to be the perfect cookie: an impeccably simple, light, shortbread base (a mere 6 ingredients), a creamy tease of almond -flavored glaze, a toothy crunch of sliced almonds. The simple decoration of three almonds remind me of the Holy Trinity. As an added bonus, the 1″ balls make each cookie appear very uniform to the next.

Need I say more? These cookies, I guarantee- are perfect!

Land O Lakes Glazed Almond Butter Cookies

Ingredients

Cookie

1 cup Land O Lakes® Butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Glaze

1 1/2 cups
powdered sugar
1 teaspoon
almond extract
4 to 5 teaspoons
water
Sliced almonds

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 400°F.
  2. Combine all cookie ingredients in bowl. Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often, until well mixed.
  3. Form into 1″ balls, 2 inches apart, onto ungreased cookie sheets. I find they do better if I line my pans with parchment paper. Flatten balls to 1/4 inch thick with bottom of buttered glass dipped in sugar. Bake 7-9 minutes or until edges are very lightly browned. Cool 1 minute on cookie sheet; remove to cooling rack. Cool completely.
  4. Whisk all glaze ingredients except almonds together in bowl. Decorate cooled cookies with glaze and sliced almonds, as desired.

 

7 Days: Merry Mags (Reprisal)

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Mags Circa 1975 and 2015

Four friends, forty years…

The gift of friendship is one of the most life-affirming, sustaining and positive forces in anyone’s life. Forty years ago, these three girls and I were inseparable, the terror of Tyro Junior High School. After college, careers, children, illness, marriage and divorce, broken hearts, ailing parents, second chances, getting skinny and then getting fat again, we seriously reconnected with each other about five years ago with the tenacity of a baby hanging on to its mama.

We deemed ourselves “The Steel Magnolias” as an ode to our Southerness and our ability to persevere through the ups and downs life.Over time, our name was shortened to “The Mags” because although we are Southern, we are simply not that genteel or proper.

Some days, I feel so, well old… but when we are together, the years simply melt away. At our get-together last night, I surprised them with this picture I found among some old family photos. After much analysis of our clothing and hairstyles, we believe this was taken around Christmas, 1975.

Look closely you can see Marilyn (who at that time, went by the nickname, “Ralph”) seated, posing as Santa dressed in an impromptu Santa outfit: toilet paper beard, toboggan and Christmas bow hat. Vick’s the child on Santa’s lap while Tracy and I look on. Then, just as now, I was the daydreamer in the group, my eyes looking off-camera, lost in my own thoughts and my own little world. Tracy, the beautiful blonde, my friend of “Shoe – Whore” fame, still towers over everyone else’s head and represents the heart and soul of the Mags.

Last night, after several bottles of wine, crackers, cheese and pizza, one of us thought we should recreate the original photo. Trying to coerce the cooperation of the cell phone, the props and all parties involved was a bit like herding cats. Of all the photos that were taken, Tracy sent me this one. I was like, “Are you serious, this is the best one? You’ve got to be kidding me…”

On the outside, we’ve gained the weight- equivalent of another middle-aged woman- there’s another Mag draped around our hips and poking out of our skinny jeans! Our boobs have migrated impossibly south, dropped way down yonder like the crystal ball in Time’s Square on New Year’s Eve. We’re using night serums on our face and waxing the chin hairs from our chinny-chin-chins.

The irony is that if you asked any one of us the most surprising thing about a friendship spanning more than forty years, we would tell you how little we have changed.

The four of us are as different as night and day. We’re teachers and CPA’s, hospital administrators and creative types, writers, preppies and earth puppies, direct and evasive, sex kittens and hermits. There’s several tattoos in very strategic places among the group.

As to who and where, my lips are sealed…

Today, we’re still there for each other in all the old ways, but more so. We laugh harder and cry more easily. We listen more carefully and we’re not afraid to ask the hard questions or disagree. We hug harder and hang on longer. These women are my “go to girls” and I’ve no doubt they would love me through anything. They’d help me hide a body, break me out of jail or at least hide a key in my cheesecake.

Because if we’re together, you bet there will be dessert!

If you have friends like these, thank God for that gift! They will go with you through hell and back. If you don’t have friends like these, do something about it NOW! Make a phone call or look up your old friends on Facebook. Time leaves it mark on all of us but good friends and laughter are truly the best antidote for aging.

Merry Christmas Mags!!!

8 Days: Brown’s Ole Opry

fullsizerender-11 In a little barn at the end of Timbermill Road, the world becomes a very good place on Friday nights. It’s cold outside- there’s a chance of freezing rain-  but inside the room is the kind of warmth that defies a mid- winter cold snap. The room bears none of the decorations which have come to symbolize “Christmas” in our contemporary society. No Christmas tree, no dangling strings of Christmas lights, no mistletoe as far as I can tell. Instead, you can recognize that it’s Christmastime in this particular segment of the South by the array of festive holiday sweaters adorning the womenfolk and a very tall man wearing a Santa hat and white shoes with heel taps.

The place is called Brown’s Ole Opry. Located in the small town of McCleansville, a 15 minute drive but a lifetime away from our home in downtown Greensboro, Brown’s Ole Opry is found at the end of a small side road flanked by tobacco barns and modular homes.

We are greeted by smiles and hellos from several dozen “regulars”. Tonight my co-worker and good friend, Dick Franks, is playing guitar on stage with a group of pick- up musicians, as is his monthly gig. Dick is one of those people with a keen mind, quick wit and an eternally youthful outlook that makes him seem younger than most people half his age, which I won’t repeat on account that he’s my boss. When he sees us walking in, Dick gives us a quick nod without missing a beat. I see another of my co-workers, Pat Robinson, here to support Dick, as well. Pat is perched on the bench seat lining the wall on the other side of the room. When she spots me, she hollers, above the din of guitar, banjo and fiddle, “Well, there’s Su-san!” Pat is one of the few people I know who is louder than me, a surprising statistic considering the fact that she is barely 5 feet tall with feet the size of a ten year old. Tonight, Pat has her sassy on and I comment on the serious biker’s jacket that covers her petite frame.

The band sounds really good- there’ s maybe 6 or 8 musicians- in fine form, jamming on-stage. Mounted to the rafters above their heads is a large framed American flag and a series of large, mismatched photographs standing guard over the assembly. The photographs, I learn, are the now deceased brothers and sisters of the proprietor, Mr. Brown, who at 94 years old is seated in his usual seat on the back row. From this vantage point he can enjoy the comings and goings of his lively guests by either shaking your hand or giving the ladies a peck on the cheek as they walk by.

When I ask Mr. Brown how many years he has been doing this, his answer is simply, “a long, long time.” Some of the other folks tell me this has been going on for more than 40 years. Used to be, this venue operated both Friday and Saturday nights, where numerous bands would set up both inside the barn and out buildings, where musicians spilled out onto the grassy knoll with a view to a large pond in back. These days, it’s just a Friday night venue. I could joke how one night a week is all these folks (most of them a certain age) could handle but that would be a flat out lie. The truth is that most any of them have more energy than you or me.

Over the course of coming here, 3-4 times since last summer, I’ve learned the names and the faces of a few of the “regulars”. There is a spirited redhead, a lady named Diane who has been kind enough to try to teach me to “flat foot”, a dance my mama used to do. I will admit “flat-footing” didn’t look like much of a dance when I watched mama doing it, but seems much more difficult when I am the one trying to do it. If feet could get tongue-tied, that’s what happens to me; I shuffle my feet a few beats before I think too hard, trip up and have to start over again. I love it that nobody here cares whether or not I can dance very well. One of the ladies pats me on the hand and says, “Honey, at least you are having a good time!” Diane moves across the floor effortlessly, all smooth and easy. She is a favorite dance partner with the menfolk and I love watching her interact with them, smiling, animated and attentive.

Pat and I strike up a conversation with a smartly- dressed lady wearing a leopard- skin top, long gold necklace and an expensive pair of shoes she says she bought from Arthur’s Shoe Store here in Greensboro. After we make our introductions, the lady- whose name is Tiny-  explains, almost apologetically, that she used to be “tiny” but now she is not. Tiny says she likes shopping for nice shoes and clothes since her husband died several years back. Now, she says, she simply buys whatever she wants. We also admire her large beautiful ring, which she says is a fake. Her beautiful “real” jewelry, she says, was stolen a while back when she was out-of-town by a contractor working on her house.

Since my contact at the Greensboro News & Record had just spoke with me earlier that day to say she would be featuring one of my Christmas stories in the newspaper the following week, I shamelessly inquire with Tiny if she reads the local newspaper. Tiny explained that she reads the Obituary Section every day to see if her former boyfriend had crossed the river.

Something tells me that she’s hoping his ship will sail sooner than later…

There’s a man Perry and I call “Happy Feet” whose dance moves most closely resemble the little penguin of the same name. Happy Feet flaps his arms and stomps his feet, jumps straight up and then over and generally commands the show. Most people would have a heart attack just attempting these moves.

Pat, in her biker jacket, has attracted the attention of another of the “regulars’ in the crowd. When she returns from a waltz, she tells me that he dances somewhere or another almost every night of the week. I imagine this man is somewhere in his seventh decade, but he smiles as he says plainly, “I feel sixteen.”

I don’t know it at the time but Perry is planning to ask me to dance. His plans are thwarted, however by a rival in the group. Vernon is in his 80’s but he beats Perry to the punch and wheels me out on the floor and instructs me how to follow him three beats to the measure. I step on his foot a few times but he doesn’t seem to mind. We laugh and talk and before you know it, I forget to care at all about what my feet are doing. It’s all about having a good time here on Friday nights at Brown’s Ole Opry.

 

9 Days: Christmas Circa 1968 (Reprisal)

cowboy christmas Hands down, Christmas circa 1968 was one of my most memorable Christmases ever. Just look at that aluminum Christmas tree with the shiny blue balls. The rotating color wheel of red, blue, gold and green. The cowboy outfit (notice I did not say cowgirl!) complete with real boots, vest and a white leather neck lariat. I’m not sure why, but Santa also brought me a blonde wig. If I look very closely under the tree, I can see the bag of oranges that I never appreciated but that Santa always left, without fail, in my stocking.

At this moment, I felt like I had everything in the world I could possibly ever wanted, except for a real horse. I even received not one, two but three of those years later after I’d worn my parents down by my constant nagging.

It’s a blessing that, as children, we can be so easily fulfilled. While I am not wealthy, I must say that now that I am an adult, I have most everything I “need” and yet my “wants” are impossible to put under a tree. So I have been giving it some thought. If I could have anything in the world, this is what I would wish for…

 My Grown Up Christmas List

The world would be free of cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease and mental illness. Those I know who are afflicted with these conditions would be healthy. Broken hearts and wounded spirits would be healed.

The world would be free of prejudice, bigotry, ignorance and hunger.

Every day would be two hours longer, giving me more time to cook more, exercise  and write. Better make that three hours longer!

Micheal Buble would be my friend. Also Adele. I thought about having Oprah as a friend but I am not sure… she can be a little pushy.

I could sit down (on earth) with my parents once again. And my Aunt Betty Jo and Aunt Johnnie.

No one would be cruel to animals and most everyone would spay and neuter their pets. Also, our pets would age at the same rate we do.

My son and his wife Meredith would have a long, happy life together and a happy family. They wouldn’t have to work so hard or be so tired.

I would feel hopeful and optimistic about the state of our government. Oh, and politicians would be honest. (Yeah, right!)

Sugar, ice cream and chocolate chip cookies would be good for you.

The litter box would be perpetually self cleaning.

The people I know who can not become pregnant would be able to have children. And these children would be loved.

I would get my Master’s Degree and a scholarship, while I am at it.

I would have white teeth. And longer legs. And that cowlick on the back of my head would go away.

Folks with the burden of financial problems would find this burden lifted and would not need to make choices based on economics.

My dryer would also iron my clothes. Oh, and the dishwasher would automatically put the dishes into the cupboard.

I would keep my house* and my neighborhood, but I would move them further out in the countryside where I could see more sky and experience more quiet, except for the sound of whippoorwills, crickets, cicadas and the occasional rooster. Somehow, it would only take me 5 minutes to drive to work and the grocery store.

*Actually I would add more closets inside my house…

I would travel more. I want to walk across England, from coast-to-coast. I would like to spend 3 weeks in Tuscany and Florence. I would drive the Pacific Coast Highway. I would go nearly anywhere except Las Vegas, one of the few places I don’t care to visit, but if I had to go there, I’d rent a car and drive into the desert. Maybe I simply want to be a travel writer and I could get paid to do this.

All of us would remember to laugh more. And not worry about the things we cannot change.

My book would be a best seller and then I’d write another book.

 

 

 

10 Days: Battle of the Nutcrackers

nutcrackers-2016 When my son, Brennen, was a toddler, my husband and I borrowed a Christmas tradition from my sister’s family. We decided that from that point forward, every year, we would gift our son a nutcracker as part of his Christmas. Most years, we found a nutcracker that related to something going on in his life. Many years, he received more than one. There were baseball and soccer nutcrackers, relics from the Little League years. There was the Mouse King, a souvenir from the time we visited the Nutcracker at the Steven’s Center in Winston Salem and a clown from the time we attended the Barnum and Bailey Circus. There was a skateboarding nutcracker- a relic from those pesky middle school years and a more recent “hipster” nutcracker,  reminiscent of his years at Appalachian State, a stressed out student complete with laptop and cell phone.

Nutcrackers are fragile. Each Christmas before I put them out on display, I must first do the necessary repairs. Last year, the Mouse King’s sword was broken and the wooden baseball had become unglued from the wooden glove in the baseball player’s wooden hands.  At the end of every season, I wrap them back up in paper and plastic and place them in large Rubbermaid bins which I store in the upstairs closet.

After 24 years, we have amassed so many nutcrackers that we hardly have enough room to display all of them in our small house. We used to arrange them all side-by-side on top of the server in the dining room. Now, they spill over onto the adjacent table. They stand in rows of stern observance among the shelves of the bookcases and peer down at us from atop the mantle.

You may recall that our son was married earlier this year. Despite his status now as a full-fledged adult, I occasionally find myself feeling nostalgic about days gone by. Recently, I found myself reminiscing about our nutcracker tradition while shopping at my local Target. I browsed the colorful displays of nutcrackers- wondering if perhaps they had a bride and groom- or if there might be a way to bring my new daughter-in-law in on the tradition.

I made the mistake of wondering some of these thoughts aloud to my husband. Then, I lamented the passing of the years, of our son growing up so quickly and the loss of our family tradition. Perry said curtly that it was time for the nutcrackers to move in with Brennen. “Brennen has a home and a family of his own”, he says. “It’s time for them to move in with HIM.”

On the other side of this tale, I know that my husband has “practical” needs in mind for the spaces previously occupied by nutcrackers once they are released from the burden of the wooden figures. My dining room table is already set, completely full with my grandmother’s red and gold china, vintage monogrammed napkin rings and salt dishes that Perry found for pennies on the dollar in one of his antiques outings. My husband feels that we need the server for entertaining, some extra space to hold the ice bucket and the wine. I knew the view expressed by my husband were the practical, logical solution, but the thought of a Christmas without those nutcrackers seems, well… sad. The sideboard at Christmas,  without the nutcrackers standing guard, would look naked as a jaybird. Besides, I reasoned, we had absolutely no suitable Christmas decor to use to replace the areas previously occupied by the nutcrackers. Perhaps, I argued, I could buy some sale items at the end of the season to fill that void…until then, maybe they could stay at my house for one more year?

In the end, I asked my son. I said, “Son, you’re married now with a house of your own, If you want to take the nutcrackers to your house this year, they’re yours… you know you are welcome to.”

This is what I said. But in my mind, I pictured those big ole dogs of his knocking them down from their perch, making a meal of the poor Mouse King. Gnawing the baseball to a pulp. Pulverizing the wooden cell phone like a chew-toy. I imagined the nutcrackers stored in those same bins, lined in rows along the perimeter of my son’s basement, the humidity loosening the nutcrackers’ fragile joints and patches of mold forming on their fur.

Such special things, these relics from the past 24 years. The journey, I suppose, of a boy becoming a man.

My son, however is a lover of tradition. His whole life, from the time he was an infant, he has found change to be difficult. What a nightmare it was, when it was time to transition from the crib to a big boy bed. He always hated the change of seasons, complaining when it was time to trade tennis shoes for sandals and t-shirts for bulky coats and itchy sweaters.

All these years spent together as mother and son, I thought we were so different on this accord. Wasn’t I the more progressive one? The one who always embraced change. Change, I said, was good. Now, I saw the nutcrackers positioned on the battlefront between progress and tradition. I had changed alliances. Change wasn’t good. Change was b-a-aa- ad.

“No, mom,” Brennen said “Never stop giving me the nutcrackers.” He was emphatic, animated, certain, all twenty-four years of him.

That’s my boy…

 

 

 

 

 

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