The Oldest Thing I Own

What is the oldest thing you own and why?

I was at a dinner party recently where the hosts used a question game to keep dinner conversation moving. Everyone at the table drew a question from a basket and shared their answer with the group. My question was something about what I do on my days off. But this question – what is the oldest thing you own and why? – has stuck with me.

I thought about it on the drive home and woke up thinking about it the next morning.

I first thought of my grandmother’s ring that I wear everyday. It is old. Then I thought about my Uncle Jim’s turquoise bracelet, it is old too. On my way into the garage to leave for work I saw the oldest thing I own. It was sitting in the garage waiting to be moved into the house.

At the end of summer, my Daddy delivered a cabinet to my house that belonged to my grandmother. For as long as I can remember it lived in her bedroom. She kept lots of things in it – VHS tapes, trinkets, or blankets in the windowed shelves. In the drawers were cancelled checks, mementos from trips, scarves, and gloves. I remember waking up as a child in her bedroom and seeing that cabinet first thing in the morning. I know the feeling of the cabinet doors catching as I opened and closed them because the door frames are no longer even. This cabinet was part of her house, part of the experience of living there. It was a fixture. I used this cabinet when I moved into her house in 2006, after she was gone. I used it in the same room and in same ways, minus the cancelled checks, for the next five years.

On the way to work, I called Daddy and asked him about the age of the cabinet? It was older than I thought. It originally belonged to my great-grandmother and according to Daddy it could date back to the 1920s or 1930s.

We talked about what it is made of and whether the glass was original. It is likely that the glass has been replaced and that it wouldn’t stand up to much stress. The back is particle board and it has been stained and painted and repainted many times. He said, “That is why that cabinet is only valuable to you.”

So true.

Attachment-1

The cabinet’s current home in Indiana.

I thought about the why, why do I have it. It wasn’t that it was given to me, I asked for it. I wanted it more than I wanted the darkly stained regal-looking claw-foot cabinet that my sister has in her home. Comparing the two this one is not much. It is the same green color it has been for the last 40 years and lined with the same floral paper my grandmother put in it 20 years ago. And until its arrival in Indiana it probably had never left Buchanan County, Virginia.

It has stood watch in her house for many years and if it talked it could tell many stories – births, deaths, holidays, and everything in between. For many years it was positioned against the wall across from where she knelt every night to pray and was the first thing she saw every morning. It was something she touched nearly everyday and when you open the drawers today it still smells like her house. I can’t look at it and not think of her or her house on the mountain that at one time or another was home to every member of my immediate family. You can’t buy that.

I own it because it is a tangible memory – something to rekindle the memories that fade with time. A precious heirloom. Because, in the words of Hazel Dickens, “there are some things memories can’t bring home.”

The Definition of Home

My Daddy says that home is wherever I am. Is it? Is home just about me?

Since I moved to the Midwest I find that trips home are bittersweet. Each visit usually ends in tears. I cry until I reach the Virginia/Kentucky state line, about twenty minutes. The difficulty leaving is directly proportional with the length of the stay. My last visit was especially rough. I cried all the way to Ferrell’s (pronounced Fur-ells) Creek, Kentucky, that is at least forty minutes. At a red light during this part of the drive I posted the following on Facebook: “I hate to leave.” And I do.

The Facebook post prompted some unexpected responses. I received a phone call from an old and beloved friend from my hometown. She thought I might be sad and she called to cheer me up, so sweet. She felt the same way when she had to leave her family in our little town. As she put it “it sucks to like your family.” Yes, it would be so much easier if I did not like my family. If I only tolerated them, as many do. Next I received a message from another dear friend who grew up two towns away from my hometown. He told a similar story – he struggled with leaving home after visits too. He described the difficulty in explaining to his parents that “it is harder on the person leaving than it is on those who stay behind.” It is. I agree. My family gets to stay there in the known, while I have to go back to a place and a thing that I haven’t completely figured out or found comfortable.

Mommy & Daddy's HouseI, like these two friends, have an intense connection to home, the place and its mountains. I feel that where I am from is very much a part of my identity. You can hear the mountains when I talk. The culture of the mountains is apparent in the music I love, the food I eat, my behavior and the choices that I make. It is more than just a place.

Sunset on the HollerI also have a remarkable relationship with my family (Mommy, Daddy, Sister, Brother-in-law, The Princess and the Benevolent Dictator). We aren’t perfect. But we do like each other, genuinely. I call it remarkable because I have had friends who are surprised that I talk with my family almost daily, we vacation together and, as one ex-boyfriend put it, “you all know a lot about each other.” And we do. We enjoy one another’s company whether it is at home watching 12 hours of nonstop college football coverage, walking around a Disney park like it’s a job or driving through California in a minivan. We have fun. We are also a fiercely loyal bunch. No matter what there are at least 6 people who will always be on my side. Where else do you find that?

Of course, I am sad to leave them. I am sad to leave a place that I know so well. A place where nearly every mile contains another story, another memory. So, when I leave I cry.

Sunrise near the state lineI never cry when I leave Fort Wayne. It is a nice place. I love my job and my little house here, but that isn’t enough to induce tears. It is not home. Home, for me, isn’t about where I am. Home is the people and place that you cannot wait to get to and cannot bear to leave.

Home isn’t something that follows me. It is something that I return to, again and again.

Traveling: Things I Learned in London

Visiting London has been on my short list for at least three years. I needed to go, but I put it off. There are challenges that come with international travel when you are single. Well, mainly one for me, can I do an international trip alone? Should I?

I travel within North America alone regularly whether it’s a road trip to Canada, a weekend in Asheville, or a work trip to Seattle. But I have never traveled overseas by myself. I have a dear friend that I travel internationally with from time to time, but we haven’t been able to coordinate our destinations and timelines since our Ireland adventure in 2010. And she lived in London years ago and is not so hot to go there. As you have read here and elsewhere, many of my friends are married and have children. Therefore, their travel priorities and vacation time are often spoken for well in advance. My single friends, while willing are not always able. So, I was left to find another travel partner or go it alone.

I found another travel partner, sort of. Last fall I decided, Sister and my brother-in-law permitting, that I would take my oldest niece, The Princess, to London with me. She is sixteen, very smart, and has plenty of domestic travel under her belt, including 30+ trips to Disney World (true story). Also, I really feel blessed by what I have and want to share things that I enjoy with people I love. It is very charming isn’t it? Just like a movie – I am taking my niece on a trip of a lifetime so we can experience travel and a different place together. A time that will bring us back home changed for the better. Dramatic, yes, but it’s fitting or a 16-year-old.

I asked, she agreed and her parents acquiesced.

London was fabulous. We had decent weather, only a couple of days were rainy and cold. We worked the tourists experiences like they were a job: we took the Tube everywhere, saw the changing of the guard, visited Piccadilly Circus, British Museum, Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Tower of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Millennium Bridge, The Globe Theatre, Victoria & Albert Museum, Hyde Park, Kensington Palace, Harrods, took walks through South Kensington, Chelsea, the West End, visited Bath, Stonehenge, Salisbury Cathedral, Dover, Leeds Castle, Canterbury Cathedral, had tea at Fortnum & Mason, ate fabulous meals at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay & The Ledbury, and a cruised up the Thames from Greenwich. We did not do it all, but we did a lot.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Did we come back changed for the better?

I was told years ago, and still believe it, that we learn more from traveling than we do from anything else. So, while I cannot say that I am changed forever, I can say that I learned somethings.

I’m now tough like my parents were tough.

I remember traveling with my parents as a kid and thinking – wow, they are tough. Of course, I had good reason to think so. My parents are the kind of people who consider long-distance driving without stops or breaks a sport. My Mommy dragged, er, took Sister and I to Washington, D.C. alone and walked us like soldiers from monument to museum all day. They are the kind of people who drive from Iowa to the panhandle of Florida non-stop, just to say that they did it. I suspect my Mommy suggested stopping and my Daddy would have none of it, but either way, that is how they have always rolled. I would get tired and wonder how they continued to walk. I would get bored with the beach and wonder how my Mommy could stay out on the stand from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. (not an exaggeration). Age makes you wise and tough.

This trip reminded me of that – I spent the entire trip about three steps ahead of The Princess telling her to keep up or three steps behind making sure she got where she was going. I could not get tired, wimp out, or stay in (even if I was or wanted to) – I was in charge. I wanted her to get out of it everything she could. I became my Mommy. I get now that my parents were tough for our benefit. They were tough so we could learn, experience the world, and have fun. My enjoyment was their job. They walked longer than they wanted to so that we could see all the sights, stood up at the park all day so that we could ride all the rides, and stayed on the beach so we could swim and play for as long as it took to wear us out. I’ve haven’t given birth but I have become like my parents and for 7 days I felt like I was someone’s mama.

I am more practical than ever.

Everyday The Princess had a nicely coordinated and chic outfit to wear. She was perfectly layered, mismatched, and draped with just the right color scarf. Me, well, it wasn’t nearly as cute; I was most often wearing Keen sandals, a comfortable skirt, and a series of layered shirts that may or may not have matched. Seriously, I brought three skirts, two pairs of shoes, five shirts, and two jackets. I appreciate The Princess’s disregard for comfort, but when the limping started I was reminded that I am now old and wise – a solid color skirt, layered t-shirt/sweater, and comfortable shoes carry the day. I can be super cute at home.

I am no longer a mademoiselle.

This was a sad revelation. I am the first to accept and admit my age. I’ve always been older. According to my mother I was “30 at 15.” It is who I am. So, I get that at my age I could biologically have a 16-year-old child. In fact, I have high school classmates who have 16-year-old children. It is possible. Knowing and understanding this reality, however, is not enough to prevent the shock when someone points it out. The very fabulous and cosmopolitan host at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay approached our table and looked first at The Princess and greeted her as “madamoiselle” and then turned to me, paused, and said “madame.” Really? Madame? Yes, really. Then, at the end of the meal one of the charming, young, and handsome wait staff kept The Princess company while I was in the restroom. He politely asked her if the jacket in the coat check was “her mum’s.” Oh, yes he did. That cute little fella immediately thought I was her mother. It still hurts a little.

There is a reason that parents want to hit teenagers.

“Keep up.”

“Sit up straight.”

“Have you thought about how _____ feels, or why they did that?”

“Don’t be so negative.”

“You should go to sleep.”

“Keep up.”

“Take off your sunglasses.”

“Do you know where we are?”

“You have to talk to people.”

“Keep up.”

“You look miserable.”

“Be polite.”

“Are you having fun?”

“Speak.”

“Keep up.”

What you just read is one-side of the daily conversation during my 6.5 days with The Princess. The other side of the conversation was much simpler. It consistently included the following: “okay,” “I don’t know,” and most often silence. So, there were a lot of one-way conversations.

The good news is that I did not hit The Princess. But, I now have a better appreciation for people who must live with unimpressed, too cool, self-absorbed, scared, confused children that look like adults (i.e. teenagers). You people have my deepest sympathy. I’m told that they grow out of it.

I can travel anywhere alone.

I satisfied myself that I could have easily made the London trip alone. If I can manage 6.5 days with a minor in my charge, I can do it alone. I’ve turned the last of the traveling alone corners. It is a nice bonus to fun trip with a cool kid.

Southern Sayings That Never Get Old

I arrived in my hometown for the holidays and it took only moments for me to feel completely at home. I went directly to an event and heard a family friend declare, in that precious Appalachian twang, “I swanny.” If you do not know, “I swanny” is a Southern exclamation  akin to “I do declare” or “I swear.” My Grandmommy was partial to the term and it always reminds me of her when I hear it. She had a way with words and her favorite sayings have been adopted by my Mommy, Sister, and me. Grandmommy was funny, direct, and very-southern. We buried her 12 years ago tomorrow: December 31, 2000.

Grandmommy holding me on Easter Sunday long ago.

Grandmommy holding me on Easter Sunday long ago.

In her honor, I give you twenty of my favorite Southern sayings that I hear when I am around home (I’ve included a little context for fun).

Wishing your evil boss would take a hike? Grandmommy might say, “well, old devils never die.”

If you find out that they sent your redneck cousin to finishing school, then you’ll probably hear “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”

Upon seeing so-and-so’s new toy-sized dog Dad would say it is “ugly as a mud fence.”

At my house if you are a smart aleck you will be told to “hush or I’ll box your jaws.”

I’ve lost some weight and my mother, who was walking behind me through a public parking lot said, “your daddy must be a coal miner, cause you have some slack in your britches.”

The Bible says “you reap what you sow,” but my Mommy says that “the mill stone grinds slow, but it is always grinding.”

When you tell my Mommy about your dad, brother, husband, or boyfriend getting up at 3:00 a.m. to sit in a tree stand for hours in the cold, she might say that “men lose their minds when hunting season starts.”

My father constantly teases my mother about buying him a truck; she now responds without fail or hesitation “I tried to get you to buy a truck.” Who knows if this is true.

Got an ex-boyfriend who won’t work? Grandmommy would say that “he’s about as useful as a tit on a boar hog.”

Beware entering the presence of an older Southern woman when looking tired, unkept, or sick, else you are likely to hear “I swanny, you look rode hard and put away wet.”

My Auntie O was always extremely thin and she used to complain that my Daddy would tell her that she was “so skinny she could use a clothes-line as an umbrella.”

If you threw away Daddy’s plate before he was finished with it he’ll be “as mad as a wet hen.”

My mother buys groceries as though the store will disappear tomorrow; so, when you find a rotten cucumber (the worst) in the back of the fridge it will “gag a maggot off a gut wagon.”

The next two are not particularly kind, but often used regarding someone’s boyfriend, kid, neighbor, or husband. Lord forgive us. “That baby looks like someone beat it with an ugly stick” or “He looks like he fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch.”

Remember the aforementioned boyfriend who would not work? Well, it might be because “he’s as dumb as a box of rocks.”

Everybody likes fine things. Not everyone can afford them. Around here that is having “champagne taste on a beer budget.”

In my Southern home laziness was shameful and you never wanted to be accused of sitting “there like a bump on a log.” I had a high school algebra teacher who was missing two fingers on one hand. She used to pound that fist on her book and tell us not to sit there like a “bump on a pickle.” She, too, was not a fan of laziness.

Long engagement? Taking too long to make a decision? If so, then Mommy would say that “it is time to fish or cut bait.”

The most Southern phrase of all: “Bless your heart.” This phrase, or the just as effective variation of “Love your/his/her heart,” can and often precedes a compliment, criticism, or tall tale. Other times it is an exclamation, a thank you, or a sincere prayer.

What phrases or euphemisms remind you of your family?

Bless your hearts for reading and have a happy and safe new year!

Home Ownership Lesson #10

Shut up, accept and be grateful for help.

When I bought my soulless house in my little subdivision I never expected that it would see a real holiday event or celebration. Why? As I have said many times, holidays only happen at my Mommy’s house. Turns out, that is not true any more.

Sister, Brother-in-Law, The Princess, and the Benevolent Dictator decided that they would spend Thanksgiving 2012 in Vegas. My parents opted out of Vegas and instead they packed up half my Mommy’s cooking supplies, various ingredients (bring your own homemade cranberry relish), a giant sack of canned goods, and the dog and came to Fort Wayne.

Have canned beets, will travel.

Have canned beets, will travel.

On the surface this was the perfect plan. The parents still get to do a little traveling but we get to have a home-cooked traditional Thanksgiving feast (including a 17 pound turkey for 3 people). For me? I get to not drive to Virginia until Christmas. Everyone is happy. The devil, however, is in the details.

Five days, three people, two dogs, a small house, and no cable. Do you see where this is going now?

The dogs missed cable as well.

The dogs missed cable as well.

The key problem here, upon reflection, is the lack of cable television (meaning no Thanksgiving football). This forced us to talk, walk the dogs, burn things, then we resorted to rummy. I think the rummy could have gone on longer had I not beat the parents unmercifully and bragged about it (a trait I get from my father). As the rummy showdown wrapped up I went to the bathroom. When I returned my father was standing in the kitchen with the ladder. That is how long it takes. Why? He bumped his head for the second time (gasp!) on the low hanging light fixture in my kitchen. It was too much – he could not take it any more. By “it” I mean not having anything to do, but he probably meant the ill-hanging light.

Winning!

Winning!

Enter gratuitous holiday home improvement.

Now, in my family every group project is an opportunity for a fight. I am surprised my parents have remained married for 43 years. This little project lived up to those low expectations. I was irritated because I really had not planned for electrical work and this was not my idea. Mom went along with it, my guess, because that is easier. I have not gotten that smart, yet. So, at this point he is frustrated because I am irritated and not helpful. For instance, I refuse to go turn the power to the lights off because I don’t want to do it wrong and electrocute my father. I’m a total grown-up.

Me being unhelpful. Note my Mommy's little feet standing on my kitchen table.

Me being unhelpful. Note my Mommy’s little feet standing on my kitchen table.

Daddy the electrician

Long story short, 30 minutes later – after having to redo the entire wiring once because someone (who shall remain nameless) forgot to put a washer back on – the light is up and working. The end result is a huge improvement – no one can hit their head and it looks better (even though the fixtures are ugly and I want rid of them).

So, who feels like giant a@! now? Me. But you know what, it was a holiday and somebody has to be “that person.” Might as well be me. Hopefully I won’t win that prize at Christmas too.

Thanks to my Mommy and Daddy, who still love and are willing to continue “raising” their willful, independent, short-tempered, and high-strung 35-year-old child.

Happy Holidays!

Fall in Indiana, Part 2

Football.

I was raised by a raging football fans. My childhood Friday nights and Saturdays were spent at high school football fields or college football stadiums. Until 2011 my Daddy had not missed a football game played by our high school alma mater since the early 1980’s. My mom is indignant toward people who leave games early because their team was far behind. She would say “true fans stay until the end.” She is big on loyalty. Football is serious, people, we are talking life lessons here.

Recently, I told my parents that I was going to be on the “chain gang” at a small college football game. I totally under estimated their interest. My Daddy declared to my Mom, Sister, and Brother-in-Law that this was the closest thing we were going to get to having someone in our family (we are all girls) play football. He was psyched.

So psyched, in fact, that he drove 7 hours (one-way) to FW to watch me run the chains.

It was super fun, well, after I realized that it was not my job to follow the down box guy. It is kind of important for me to stay at the spot of the ball. I only did that twice, but of course, my lone fan in attendance noticed.

I learned that working the chains is not as easy as it looks, football players are really smelly, the referees talk to the players a lot more than I thought, and I can move a good size guy in football pads with a hip check. Even better, the day was gorgeous, it was a high scoring (the chains moved a lot) game, and my team won. That is a good day.

Now, I can check that one off my bucket list. It was right after milking a cow.