Finding Roots

It’s weird and wonderful to think about how eye color, finger length, musical aptitude, and even life opportunities are influenced by our past.

Who were these people who came before me? Who were the ones who made the sacrifices and contributions that make my life one of more ease and opportunity than what they experienced? I’m pondering these things and much, much more, probably because of some books I’ve recently read.  Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson is one of them. The other is Finding Oprah’s Roots: Finding Your Own by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Both of them have reminded me of the importance of the past in shaping the future.

No matter where we are in life, we’re the embodiment of all that’s come before.  The talents, aptitudes, noses, eye color, finger length, personality quirks, predispositions to certain diseases and disorders, and even longevity are influenced by DNA. We’re influenced by the past, and we of today will influence the future. My daughter Elizabeth says she can see her own father looking at her from her niece Emma’s blue eyes. Two-month old Olivia has an easy disposition like both of her parents. I hope she’ll be as sunny as Amanda, her mom.

Who are/were my people? Where did they come from, and how did they end up in the American South? Were my grandmothers and great grandmothers happy, morose, flighty, musical, well-adjusted, beautiful, or what?  How did they spend their days? Were they good cooks? My father’s mother, Beatrice, lost a child to scarlet fever when he was about 3 years old, and although I heard this alluded to, it was never really discussed. I know her heart must have been broken, and that although she lived well into her 80’s, she never forgot little Neil. Neither, I suspect, did my grandfather. In fact, I feel certain that his untimely death (an overused phrase but perfect in this situation) affected my father and his sister Polly too. What would it be like to live in the shadow of such a loss?

One of my grandfathers managed a store, sort of a small grocery story, in an area known as Dusty Bend. It’s at the north end of Camden. I’m currently remembering the big glass jars of candy and the cold chest where ice cream sandwiches were kept. My paternal grandfather worked for the railroad although I don’t know in what capacity…or even what that means (working for the railroad). I do know that the family moved a lot and that my father seldom finished a year at one school before being uprooted and moved to another town and another school. Is that why he was so quiet, so taciturn?

My maternal grandmother was somewhat of an enigma to me. She loved us all, and yet she made no bones about it: my brother Mike was her favorite. I don’t remember any of us feeling slighted or hurt by this. I knew she was partial to little boys because she often said so. Her preference for male children must have been a family thing since her own parents named her Mary John. They wanted another boy, pure and simple.

I’ve spent 30 minutes scratching the surface of what’s there (in my mind), and I’m looking forward to retrieving more memories in my quest to better link the past to the present. Realizing my limitations, I’m going to visit my aunt Polly in a little while. My father’s sister, she tells great stories and is a treasure trove of information.

From Pecan Spins to Bagels

A mother and grandmother reflects on the nutritional value of Pecan Spins and fried bologna.

When my children were little, I fed them Pecan Spins for breakfast. Sometimes they ate cereal, and if I recall correctly, Carrie’s favorite was Fruity Pebbles. That’s okay with milk, right? And they also drank orange juice, plenty of it. It was loaded with sugar, but I didn’t know that at the time. When Pop Tarts became popular, we switched to them for a while. All those flavors, and they were quick and easy to prepare. What more could a mom ask for? Even Paul, the reluctant breakfast eater, liked them. He liked Eggos too, as long as I didn’t smear any margarine on them before pouring on the syrup. Later, he graduated to fried bologna. In fact, he liked it so much that he soon learned to cook it himself. Carrie loved going to McDonald’s and would promptly slather syrup all over her sausage too.

I know so much more now. Sure we ate plenty of fruit, especially apples and bananas, but I don’t remember that many blueberries (unless they were in muffins) or Bing cherries. All three children liked grapes, maybe because they were small, easy to eat, and neat…nothing to peel or drip. Until I got a lesson on nutrition from Lisa, little did I know that white grapes weren’t really all that healthy, at least compared to purple or red ones. In the vegetable area, we often ate green beans, corn, sliced tomatoes, and speckled butter beans. Only rarely did I serve asparagus and broccoli.

What was I thinking??? I was ignorant, pure and simple. I mean, I knew about the five food groups and tried to make sure that everyone got his and her fair portion every day, but it was wrong, just plain wrong, to let French fries count as a vegetable. One evening, a high school friend of my husband’s came by to eat hamburgers with us, and even though he was a gracious and mannerly guest, he said, “I’ve always heard that the whiter the bread, the sooner you’re dead.” Well, we certainly hadn’t heard that, and we thought he was a bit fanatical. 

That was yesteryear, my friends, and my diet is a lot different now. I think I’d choke on a Pecan Spin, and the absolute last thing I’d let my grandchildren eat for breakfast is a sugary cereal. Whole wheat bagels and peanut butter is my standard breakfast fare.  There’s a lot more information out there on nutrition than there was “back in the day,” and as an older (er, more mature) adult, I can well understand the certain impact of food on the body. I want to feel energetic and prevent diseases like cancer and diabetes, and it doesn’t take a genius to know that certain foods are better or worse for one’s body than others.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not an extremist who spends her life chomping on carrot sticks and glaring condescendingly towards anyone devouring those yummy rolls at Fatz. In fact, I’ll probably grab one from time to time. And if my better half is eating fries from Mickey Dee’s, I’ll undoubtedly snap a couple. Connie and I dined at San Jose’s last night, and I chowed down on the chips.

At the same time, I’d like to live 25 or so more years and BE HEALTHY. That’s not going to happen on a steady diet of cheesecake, loaded baked potatoes, fried chicken (love that stuff!), and cola drinks. Pass the wheat bread, please.

Living in the USA

Lately I’ve been thinking more about how fortunate I am to have been born in America. It’s never too far from my consciousness, but lately I’ve seen a couple of movies that have reinforced my gratitude.

My grandson Colton loves to gnaw on bananas. So do his sisters and brother. I saw a movie last week, Babies, in which one of the tots gnawed on bones that she picked up from the ground. For entertainment in her country (Namibia), Ponijao knocks rocks together while here in the USA, Colton explores cabinets full of fascinating items like pots, pans, and Windex. One night last week I watched as he danced with his sister Brooke, both of whom had Wii remotes strapped on their wrists. After the dancing, his mother changed his diaper and put him in a nice comfy bed in a temperature controlled house.  Ponijao was naked as a jaybird through much of the movie, and her mother cleaned her little bottom with a corn cob. Where she slept, I don’t know. I do know that it wasn’t in a “bedroom” in the American sense of the word.

My husband rented The Stoning of Soraya M. from Netflix, and we watched it one evening last week. I’m still having nightmares about it…all through the day. Her husband became interested in a 14-year-old girl but couldn’t marry the teenager without a divorce from Soraya. When she refused to grant him a divorce, her husband Ali hatched an evil plot to have her accused of adultery. Though the charge was completely untrue, Soraya was found guilty and was promptly stoned to death by the men in the village, including her husband, father, and two sons. The stoning was too painful to watch. Sure it was “just a movie,” but it was a movie based on a real story.  It happened, and four children were left motherless. I wonder what Ali is doing today and if his sons ever think of the beautiful, loving, and innocent mother they helped to kill.

The purpose of this post isn’t to berate other lifestyles. It’s to say that despite our myriad challenges and problems, America is still the best country in the world. It’s mind boggling to think that many of the world’s children never learn to read and write, much less eat a Happy Meal or play a computer game. It’s almost too much to absorb that some women can be stoned to death on trumped up charges while here in America, women (and men) often have several intimate partners, sometimes even AFTER they’re married. There is often a “punishment” involved, and at times divorce might ensue, but I don’t know of any stonings that have occurred.

The very fact that I’m free to see movies that enlighten me about different cultures of the world would be incomprehensible to many of the people I saw in these two movies last week.  In America, every child (even a girl) has the right to an education, and women can become doctors, lawyers, and golf course superintendents without fear of censure. They can own property, vote, choose whether or not to marry…and to whom. They can even file for divorce and be granted child support. I’m not advocating that more women do that; I’m just saying that being a woman in America has its pluses.

Enough said for tonight. I think I might Skype Colton and his family before he has his warm bath in preparation for bedtime. Hmmm. Wonder how little Ponijaro is faring in Namibia tonight. Bet she hasn’t watched adorable little Dora on television today.

Yellow Beach Umbrellas

While home might be one definition of heaven (according to Emily Dickinson), it’s a great big beautiful world out there that you can’t fully experience from behind the blinds.

Emily Dickinson reportedly said that home was her definition of heaven. I love my home, and at times it can feel downright heavenly. Still, going out where life is teeming all around you brings you a different and broader perspective than peeping out through the blinds. This past weekend was filled to the max with people, sights, and sounds that we wouldn’t have experienced had we just hung around home sweet home.

Here are a few of our (my) sights and impressions:

  • A beautiful wedding. We got to see a young couple vow love and devotion to each other and later watch  Hannah dancing with her Aunt Jenny at the reception. Sweet. We also chatted with old friends and sampled some of the yummiest shrimp and grits I’ve ever tasted.
  • Driving to the beach together and going the back way through Wisacky, Lynchburg, and Hanna. At one time, that was the only way to travel to the coast, and so our cruise down the back roads brought back a lot of memories. Quick one: When Carrie was an infant, we were on our way home for Christmas and got stopped in Olanta by a Christmas parade. I LOVED that. The stoplight in beautiful downtown Olanta conjured up that decades-old memory Saturday morning.
  • Tons of beach scenes including a mother using molds to make a starfish, an octopus, and other sea creatures from sand. Then there was a family of five slowly making their way down the beach whose father finally turned to the little girl who was holding up the gang and said, “Come on, little Sea Snail. You’re taking too long.”  Another memory was seeing a woman attempt to wash her hair in a sink in one of the restrooms at the state park. She said she thought there’d be showers, but since there weren’t, she was making the best of it. “It’s all good,” she said.  Loved that. Some people would have been grumbling and making life miserable for everyone else.
  • Cicadas chirping so loudly that I couldn’t hear the ocean for a brief stretch. Can you imagine what a loud symphony that was? It was deafening, yet cool. I felt the wind so fiercely that I literally had to lean forward as I trudged along. I felt the sun so strongly that even with my eyes closed, my retinas saw red (if that makes sense). I saw a long line of yellow umbrellas, millions of sea shells, and a woman flying a kite. I also read much of a novel and will always associate Juliet and the Guernsey folks with this weekend’s sights and sounds.

We also went to a movie (Robin Hood), shopped a bit, dined out a couple of times, and chilled. Some of the shopping took place at a couple of flea markets that we visited with Ann and Allen, and I’m loving the little Dora and Diego game that I bought for my grandchildren to play when they visit the coast. Ann and I bought books.

The woman in the restroom was right. “It’s all good.” It’s so much easier to see all the things you don’t have (like no showers), but life is more enjoyable for all concerned when you take note of what you do have…but sometimes you need to get out of the house to do that.

Memorable Memorial Day Weekend

The fish fry on Sunday evening was nice. So was yesterday’s cookout at my mother-in-law’s house. I even enjoyed reading on the porch and listening to the rain yesterday. And Sunday’s spiritual uplifts were numerous and satisfying too. Still…….the absolute best thing about the weekend’s events was the birth of Olivia.

It wasn’t the weekend I had planned, but it was AWESOME. Beach bound at last, I was cruising along I-20 on Friday when I noticed that I had a missed call from Amanda, my daughter-in-law. I knew she had a doctor’s appointment that morning, and I wondered if he had given her any exciting news about the baby’s expected arrival. Originally due to arrive on June 7, we had reason to believe that Olivia might make her appearance a little earlier. And YES, that’s what  Amanda had called to tell me.

I took care of a couple of errands in Myrtle Beach and then turned around and headed for home. We left Camden early Saturday morning and arrived at Northside Hospital in Atlanta around 10:30. What an awesome place! I learned later that they deliver around 70 babies per day there…or 18,000 a year. I loved the Women’s Center with its design, tile, architecture, colors, and so forth. But that’s a story for later. Right now I want to concentrate on Olivia and her parents.

For about six hours, several of us alternated between visiting with the soon-to-be-parents, eating lunch, chatting, reading, sleeping, and waiting waiting waiting waiting. Three of us tried to read books we had brought along, but I can’t say how much we were able to concentrate. At one point, an African American man came and sat with us while he calmly ate a big bag of M & M’s. We watched and listened to three tours of expectant parents and tried to be patient (not with the tours but with the situation itself).

Teri, Amanda’s mother, and I were in the room about 3:45 that afternoon when the doctor came in and indicated that we needed to skedaddle. Teri, Frankie, Otis, and I sat in the waiting room and made small talk for the next hour or so, and I finally asked Teri what time it was. I thought, “Gee whiz, the doctor’s been in there about 50 minutes. What’s going on?” Ten or fifteen minutes later, he came bustling through the double doors and announced that all was well.

He asked, “So how much do you think she weighs?”

“Seven pounds on the dot,” I ventured. No one else said anything.

“Nope.  Eight pounds and three ounces! And Amanda did great. Soon you can go in to see them both.”

He walked off and we began to laugh and talk again, giddy with our happiness and relief.

Soon Teri’s phone rang, and we were all invited to come back and meet Miss Olivia Jayne Crolley. There was Amanda sitting there as pretty and perky and serene as possible…and over in the rocking chair was Paul holding their beautiful new daughter. We grandparents all took turns staring at her precious little face, and of course, we all got to hold her as well. Once, she actually opened both eyes and looked at me as if to say, “Here I am. See, there was nothing to worry about.” Honestly, we communicated a lot in that brief glance, soul to soul, spirit to spirit. Okay, laugh if you want, but hey, I’m one of her grandmothers, and I know what that glance meant.

Later, two nurses came in to give her a physical and a bath. Loved the tiny pink bathtub! The nurses were not only professional and knowledgeable, but they were also “into babies.” I could tell by the way they touched her and talked to her. After her bath, Paul dressed Olivia, including tiny pink booties, mittens, and a hat. At one point she grasped his finger as if to say, “Hold on to me, Daddy.” One of the nurses fashioned a bow for the hat, and it definitely added to her little girl sweetness.

Alas, the hour was getting late, and we needed to get back home. We told the little family good-bye and drove home (in the rain), arriving close to midnight. It was sad to leave them, but as I’ve told my children many times, “In every good-bye, there’s a promise of another hello.” In just a few short days, I’ll get to see the tiny sweetheart and her parents again.

P.S. I must add that another highlight of the weekend was seeing Braden, Brooke, Emma, and Colton dance to one of Michael Jackson’s songs on Skype.  It was AMAZING and the perfect way to end Sunday.