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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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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…

 

 

 

 

 

12 Days: Merry Christmas, Mrs. Bledsoe

jerry-bledsoeI have written this series of “12 Days of Christmas Blogs” for several years now, but I have a confession. Honestly, I’m worried. What if I’m all out of Christmas stories? The major moments of Christmas past, it seems, I’ve already penned. Before a panic attack sets in, I force myself to sit still for a while and try to calm my mind.

When I do, I find there are moments of inspiration floating by all around me. I simply need to take the time to notice and look a little deeper…

In the publishing world it is Tuesday, but in real time, it is the previous Saturday night. (I like to get a head start on these blogs before I get behind.) I am curled up on the old sofa in our little art studio- “Perry’s”Studio-  it is more aptly named, as there is precious little of “me” in this space. Perry’s studio is filled with  all the things he loves: colorful metal signs, old jars and handcrafted boxes, interesting things he’s found at tag sales and flea markets, and me, perhaps. Inside, it’s as warm and cozy as a cinnamon roll. The heck with LED lights and Hallmark, there’s a candle burning on the desk where he sits pasting together homemade Christmas cards. On a nearby table, a kerosene lamp, illuminates the other corner of the room with its neat slit of light. Beyond the confines of the studio, it is 2016, but in Perry’s world, it’s more like 1926. A CD is playing which I rather like, called Christmas on the Range. It is a collection of vintage Christmas carols, sang cowboy style, with my favorite- “Rootin’ Tootin Sandy Clause” – playing on the CD equivalent of what used to be a turntable. My running joke with Perry is that he only listens to dead people’s music and tonight, he does not disappoint.

To lure me into staying out here, my husband has procured a bottle of Peach Brandy. I briefly wonder what else he has out here. He pours me a drink in a vintage 1920’s stemmed shot glass from the bar of our old friend, Al Thomy. Al passed away several years ago, and his family was kind enough to give us a few mementos of which to remember him by.

As if we could forget…

It’s been a difficult day, a day spent at the hospital for a family member who is in a bad place personally but in the best possible place, considering the alternatives. I need to remember to be thankful for that and hand the rest, along with my worries, over to God.

No one wants to spend Christmas in a hospital, but if you must, you appreciate the little kindnesses and the extra touches that give these generic spaces personalization and a sense of peace and joy. There are many folks with loved ones who are sick this Christmas and I am so thankful for our doctors and nurses, EMS workers, the policemen, fireman, ambulance drivers, the folks running the cafeteria and answering the phone… all these folks who help keep our emergency systems operational and among the best in the world.

Done with card-making, Christmas on the Range comes to a screeching stop. He sets up an old television set- one with a built-in DVD player- on a shaky little table about 5 feet away from me, near the closest, accesible electrical outlet. The television screen is about 6” wide and I cannot quite make out the figures. Perry is unfazed regarding the less- than- steller screen quality or the tinny sound. He inserts into the tray one of his favorite Christmas DVD’s, The Angel Doll, by NC author and actor Jerry Bledsoe.

I remember meeting Jerry last year at an event for O.Henry Magazine. That’s a photo of us above with me grinnin’ like a Cheshire Cat. In addition to being a New York Times bestselling author, Jerry once worked for the Greensboro News & Record, as did our friend Al Thomy. I am certain the two of them were probably acquaintances, if not friends. As Perry and I chatted with Jerry that evening, we learned that Jerry’s wife was undergoing treatment for breast cancer at the hospital near our house. We talked about the Christmas lights on our street and about how folks like to drive through this area in the evenings on their way home from the hospital. We also talked about his book (and subsequent movie) The Angel Doll, which Perry showed to his high school students at Christmastime, before his retirement, just a few years back. Jerry told us an interesting story- that he had received a letter from a family who had written to him, saying that they had followed the tradition of The Angel Doll for many years since losing a loved one. Jerry wanted to help, to spread the joy despite the difficult situation he faced within his own family with his wife’s sickness. Jerry had connected with the family’s story and planned to join them for Christmas Dinner.

Remembering, I wonder about Jerry’s wife and her breast cancer. I hope she’s doing alright…

In the quiet of Perry’s studio, I am, for the moment at least, at home. Life moves us in that circle, health and sickness, life and death, joy and sadness, from yesterday to today and on to tomorrow. The magical moments, which are the very heart of Christmastime, are there after all, scattered in the air like pixie dust- so tiny that you’d miss them if you blink. I take a deep breath, inhaling air, heady with kerosene and cinnamon, and focus my sights, past the lantern and the old collectibles before me and on to a place, just a little deeper…

Deep Purple Dream

donny-and-me

In case there is a morsel of doubt, it’s true. I’ve turned into my mother.

My mother, God bless her, never met a stranger. In her elder years-after she was widowed- I often took mom on various outings about town, just to have something to do. If I happened to leave her alone a few minutes, she would strike up a conversation with the first person she encountered. I’d return from my brief absence- having retrieved my forgotten loaf of bread or completed my restroom visit- only to discover that I had become the center of a conversation in which my mother revealed everything she knew about me to a complete stranger. She did the same thing when she went out with my sister.

“Oh, this is my youngest daughter, Susan” mom would begin brightly to her new friend. I would nod politely while eyeing the ever- growing line at the cash register. “She’s an interior designer in Greensboro… and yes, her husband is the art teacher. They have one son, Brennen… She IS a wonderful daughter. My other daughter, Janie, lives in Thomasville. She and her husband have a beautiful place at Ocean Isle Beach… yes, she is the teacher…” and on and on it would go until the line reached the back of the store.

Mom was bold and furiously friendly, blissfully ignorant of social boundaries. I recall the time mom ran into Dean Smith at the airport. I was digging through the depths of my pocketbook when mom wandered off. When I looked up, she was standing at the baggage claim watching Dean Smith search for his luggage on the revolving gurney. Dean was there, casually cool, trying to be a regular Joe looking for his duffle bag, while my mother examined him like a specimen under a magnifying glass. Really, she was bent all the way over, inspecting (it would appear) his shoes or somethin’ low. I practically had to peel her off him.

Since I have become my mother, middle age has emboldened me to do all sorts of foolish things that somehow remind me of my mother. I recently had the opportunity to meet my childhood crush, Donny Osmond at a local trade show, the High Point International Furniture Market. Donny and his wife have a furniture line called DOH- Donnie Osmond Home. It just so happened my BFF Angela was overseeing the design work on the space adjacent to his showroom. Being the excellent friend that she is and knowing about my childhood infatuation, she procured the means for me to meet him on the day of his appearance at DOH, hawking his dining room suits and upholstered beds to other middle-aged women like myself.

When the day finally arrived, I swathed myself in the most purple of outfits (true fans know Donnie’s favorite color is purple) and arrived in the showroom at the specified time. I entered through the back door and moseyed through the vignettes in search of his Highness. Our mutual friend, Brandi, manages both showrooms. Knowing my intentions, she spotted me there wandering the showroom alone, came over and inquired if I had met him yet.

Pulling my by the arm, she hauled me to the front. “Where’s Donnie?” she asked his publicists, who were standing up front nibbling cubes of pineapple from the Edible Arrangements bouquet.

“In the bathroom,” they replied. I implored Brandi that there was no hurry; I certainly didn’t want to bother Donny Osmond while he was on the toilet. Instead, I picked at the grapes and strawberries and made small talk with the receptionist.

This was not a hard thing for me to do, of course, because I am my mother’s daughter.

Five minutes later, Brandi reappeared. By this time the grapes and strawberries were gone. “Where’s Donny?” she asked the publicists again. Donny and I had not even met yet but I already had the feeling he was avoiding me. Brandi stormed off and found him, sitting in – what they referred to as an office-  but really, it looked like he was in a small storage room.

He was avoiding me for sure.

I follow Brandi inside. “Donny,” began Brandi, “This is Susan. She is one of your biggest fans. Her friend Angela is in charge of the floor design crew that set up our showroom.She helped decorate our showroom.”

That’s when our eyes met and I’ve gotta say, well, he looked tired.

He’d had some work done, but he was still trim and handsome. Smaller than I had somehow envisioned. Still, he had than mane of thick black hair and the wide smile of Chicklet teeth I remembered from his television days. He extended his hand for a handshake.

Now, you know there was no way I was going to be satisfied with that. Not after waiting forty years to meet him. “Can I have a hug?” I asked as I moved in. (Trump has nothing on me; really, I gave the poor man no choice.) Poor Donny was cornered in the storage room by a very nervous and excited woman swathed in purple, still holding the toothpick from her sampling of the Edible Arrangements.

That’s when mama really took over. I began babbling… thanking Donny – of all things- for being part of my youth (I did NOT say fantasies) and for his family’s positive influence in my growing up years. I told him how much my family had enjoyed watching his and Marie’s television show. Of course, since I babble when I am nervous, I went on and on… Donny looked confused for a moment until he understood what I was getting at.

“Yes,” he said. “It was a more innocent time…” He shook his head, looking a bit sad and even more tired. I agreed, even though the memory of my twelve year old thoughts was not so “Sweet and Innocent.” I nodded like an idiot.

“Ugh huh..”

Then somehow, in this brief conversation, I got him to tell me where he was staying. Coincidentally, it happened to be the hotel owned by my employer. As the company’s longtime interior designer, I had, of course, decorated his room. I may have asked him which floor.

No, I am certain, I did ask “Which floor?”

Poor Donny. I am my mother’s daughter; there was no hiding from me. He assured me that his suite was very nice. And that his wife was coming the next day.

“How con-veen-ient” I thought, but instead, I nodded like a normal person and tried not to give my weirdness away.

I didn’t mention my past history, that I had been a type of Donny Osmond stalker once before, though not in the way you might think. As a preteen, I made obscene phone calls to my friend Crystal Orrell, pretending I was him. “Hello Crystal,” I began in my deepest Donny voice. “This is Donny Osmond. Is your refrigerator running?”… or something like that. No, I couldn’t be content like a normal person stalking Donny Osmond, I wanted to BE him. I wondered briefly if this was related to my brief fascination with trying to be like my male cousins, trying to pee standing up.

It didn’t work. Not the peeing, well yes- that did work- but not very efficiently, I mean the being Donny Osmond. Crystal’s mom called my mom and I got in a wee bit of trouble.

Really, as we stood there both inches and worlds apart, Donny looked like he was eyeing the exit in case he needed to make a fast getaway. I didn’t want to bother him- I might be bold but not impolite. I needed to leave and so, of course, I asked for a photo. “Let’s take a selfie” he volunteered; that was fine with me. There really wasn’t room enough in that room anyway for a photographer.

We vogued, right there in the storage room office. I held the phone out and he- well.. let’s just say he pushed my button.

The next day, I learned that Donny was scheduled to make another appearance with an art vendor I am acquainted with. I was there to say hello again, looking spiffy in my other purple outfit, black boots and a gold metallic belt. This time, since he was bringing his wife, you bet I was bringing my husband.

“Ugh, I don’t want to meet him” Perry whined. “That’s weird.”

“You’ve GOT to meet him, honey”, I said. “You’ve just got to.” (“This is my youngest daughter’s husband the art teacher,” I heard mother say.)

We found Donny perched as if he’d like to fly away, beneath  a row of abstract paintings. I waited in line, hubby in tow, making a point to catch the eye of the gallery’s owner with whom I knew from years of doing business together. Janice started to make the introductions, “Oh we’ve met”, I assured her. She looked back and forth at Donny, me , perplexed.

“Yes,” said Donny. “We met yesterday at the …”

(You cornered me in the storage room is what he was thinking!)

I pulled Perry up there and introduced him to Donny. “The artwork looks great,” I offered, and just to prove my point, I craned my neck at the soft, pastel colored artwork lining the gallery’s walls. There was a very aggressive looking woman standing nearby, probably from Florida, with tanned skin, sparkly jewelry and stand-up bangs. Like me, she was wearing a LOT of purple. I could tell, she wanted me to be brief. She stood next in line  looking like she could just eat Donny Osmond up.

Rrrrr-o-oo-oo-www!

“I was hoping to meet Debbie,” I suddenly remarked to Donny, making casual conversation. I couldn’t believe it; we were already on a first name basis. Not Mrs. Osmond, not your wife, but Debbie- like she was my long lost college friend or somethin’.

“Oh she’s around- over there she is…” he said, and he pointed to an attractive, petite lady talking with a small group of women. There, he’d thrown me off the scent! I ditched Perry and Donny, walked right over to eye my competiion. I stood behind them, giving the other ladies the evil eye til I could introduce myself.

Debbie Osmond was gracious and lovely. We talked about our kids, about my son getting married and about her nearly empty nest, which I knew about already because after all, I am a stalker.

I had googled her.

Afterwards, Perry gave me a hard time. He thinks it’s hilarious… that I impersonate Donny Osmond, that I tried to pee standing up, that I have stalked Donny Osmond and now his poor lovely, unsuspecting wife.

What can I say? I am my mother’s daughter. (The youngest… the interior designer… whose husband is an art teacher… who has a son named Brennen…) 

 

Fortune Teller

angels1  When our old friends Kimberly and Chris decided to throw a big Halloween Party for their two boys a few years ago, I was their go- to person to portray the role of the fortune teller. Always up for a new adventure, I eagerly donned a long flowing skirt, ruffled blouse and layered all the bling I could find around my neck. I tied a colorful silk scarf, peasant style, around my forehead. Dramatic kohl black eyeliner and a long dark wig masked my blue- eyed blond. As I gazed into the mirror, I hardly recognized myself.

Miraculously, I found my old Ouija Board and its plastic controller. A relic from my teenaged years, the Ouija Board had been a big hit at slumber parties where giddy fourteen year olds boldly called forth the spirit of Elvis and other long lost celebrities during impromptu séances. I packed a deck of cards and the iridescent gazing ball from my garden. Voila! My outfit and props were complete.

After the hotdog dinner, I placed my wares inside the tent which had been set up in a dark and remote corner of their big backyard. The wind whispered through the tall pines and broad oaks as shadows danced like ghosts across the precision- cut lawn. We placed a candle in the middle of the table to illuminate my face and that of my young patrons. Miss Susannah was ready for her first customer.

One by one, Kimberly escorted the kids inside. They approached me tentatively, their eyes filled with excitement and apprehension. I played the role to the hilt. When I read the children’s’ palms, everyone had long life lines that showed happy marriages and beautiful children. With dramatic flair, I fanned the cards across the top of the table; a three of spades could foretell the same future as the Queen of Hearts. I sprinkled tea leaves into a cup of water where their black amorphous shapes revealed only to me, the shape of their future. I gazed into the crystal ball, pretending to see what they could not. I worked in tidbits of information that I had been told about the kids, details about sports or summer camps or their latest crush. It all went off without a hitch until Kimberly brought in my last customer.

At first, I did not recognize the boy. Even when Kimberly said his name, I could not recall anything significant about the boy. “This is Kyle’s friend Ryan,” she said. “He and his mom got here late. He’d like to talk to you.”

“Ah, come in Ryan” I said with a heavy accent and motioned for him to have a seat.

I read his palm. I sought his fortune in the tea leaves. Unlike the other boys, I could tell my words had failed to impress him. Ryan chewed on his lip; something else was obviously on his mind. “I wanted to ask you about my dad…” the boy whispered softly.

Suddenly, I remembered what Kimberly had told me about this boy.
Ryan’s father passed away a few weeks prior, suddenly and unexpectedly. Kimberly and Chris had not expected him or his mother to come to the party. My heart skipped a beat; for a moment, I did not know what to do. Across from me was a vulnerable real-life boy and I was a fake fortune teller. The boy’s eyes looked at me for some kind of reassurance; I have never felt so small or so embarrassed at perpetuating such a sham. I started to confess, to explain the truth. I wanted to tell him I was not really a fortune teller and that I didn’t know anything about his dad.

Then, I remembered my own experience. It wasn’t long ago that I, too had lost a father. In a chance and singular encounter with a fortune teller in Key West, I too had asked a stranger about my own father. I hadn’t cared so much about the number of children I would have or the length of my lifeline. All I wanted and needed to know in that instant was that my dad was ok. For a minute, I connected to this boy’s pain and told him what I thought he needed to hear. I told him what a kind person had told me almost ten years before.

“Oh Ryan,” I began, disregarding my props and my accent and speaking straight from my heart. I told him what I hoped someone would tell my own son, should the tables ever be turned. “You know, your father loves you so very much. He is so happy that you have asked about him! I know your heart is heavy and that you miss him so much. Always remember, that even though you don’t see him, his spirit is always with you, looking over you and your mom.”

I’m not sure if my answer was the right one or if it gave this boy any comfort. I’m not sure if I should have continued to act the part or if I should have come clean to the poor innocent and injured boy sitting across from me. I hadn’t meant to play a cruel joke. I guess I felt that it was important that Ryan believe in something at that moment of feeling so very lost and alone.

Ryan is a grown man now. I’ve lost track, forgotten to ask about him over the years. Still, I hope he has remembered my words and that he has known the loving and continued presence of his father in his life along the road to adulthood. I hope for his sake, that my prediction came true.

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