Thursday, April 30, 2015
If you didn’t live in Louisiana in the ‘40s, you might not recognize the beautiful flowers called zeenyers. I’m not saying that you didn’t have them, but you probably called them by their given name, zinnias.
But my grandmother called them zeenyers, and I grew up thinking that that was their name. I’d never seen it written, so I thought zeenyers was right. All I really knew is that they were such beautiful flowers, right up there with pansies and sweet peas.
If you were at Memamma’s house, looking at the front porch, you’d find her bed of zeenyers on the left side. Oh, my, but they were lovely! Red, yellow, pink, gold, cream . . . all the colors that made a most beautiful bed. No green ones such as we have today because of strange things that scientists have done to the seeds. No . . . no quirky green zeenyers in Memamma’s flower bed.
Every evening after dinner, just as the sun was going down, she’d call out, “Who’s gonna water my zeenyers?” All of us girl cousins who happened to be there would yell in unison, “Me, me! I’m gonna water ‘em!” And then we’d start out fussing over who would be first because we knew that we’d have to share in the watering.
I don’t have lots of specific memories of visiting my grandparents, but watering the zeenyers is one of them. I still love those flowers, and I still call them zeenyers . . . at least in my mind.
The car was all packed and ready to go to Chattanooga, Tennessee, the morning of June 27, 1992. Frank and I were always eager for a little road trip to hear Velvet Melon, our son’s band. We went every Sunday night to hear them at their steady gig in Pensacola, but going away from home to hear them was a treat because we were able to see how much the boys were loved elsewhere.
As I remember it, our the drive was uneventful, a good thing, and we arrived at Yesterday’s, the club where they played regularly, in time to watch Jay and the guys set up for their gig. I’m sure that Frank helped them because he always pitched in and lugged musical instruments and sound equipment in whenever he was available at setting up time. I watched from a table in the bar, hardly taking my eyes off Jay, always amazed at the strong, handsome young man that he had become.
Yesterday’s began to fill with young adults eager for yet another wonderful evening of music by Velvet Melon, one of their favorite bands, if not their most favorite. They knew that the evening would be an active one, with lots of dancing and singing along with the guys. And so the gig began.
During the break after the first set, Jay came to chat with us, as he always did when we were present. He turned a chair around and straddled it when he came to our table. Almost the first words out of his mouth were, “You’ll never know the feeling I get when I have those guys on the floor right in my hands! Whatever I tell them to do, they do . . . clap, jump up and down, yell . . . whatever! How can a job be so much fun?” Some of our friends thought we were crazy for supporting Jay in his chosen vocation. They didn’t understand how we, faithful First Baptist Members, could approve of his making his living in bars. But, as Frank told many of them, if he had chosen to be a doctor, we’d have supported him. He just happened to choose music, and most professional musicians start our by playing in bars.
Toward the end of the gig, someone requested that the guys sing “Let It Be.” None of them knew all the words, but our son, ever the entertainer, told the person who requested it to write the words, and he’d sing it. And so he did. He got behind the keyboards, never having played the song before but knowing the tune, and played and sang The Beatles’ “Let It Be,” making someone in the audience very happy. Someone besides his mother, who was filled with pride in her boy.
The guys in Velvet Melon had recently rented a house in Nashville, and one of the reasons that we went to Yesterday’s that weekend was to see where they lived before heading to the Smokey Mountains for a camping trip over the Fourth of July weekend. We didn’t make it to the mountains because I had a terrible bout of vertigo, causing us to go home instead. There’s a whole additional story here that I’ll save for another time. I’ll just say for now that it was fortuitous for us to go back to Pensacola because of what happened just after we arrived at home. As we rounded the corner onto our street, we both noticed that the “Maintenance Required” indicator was flashing, a prophetic sign if I ever saw one because no more than forty-five minutes later, I found our precious boy dead in our bathroom.
Yesterday’s will always be a special place for us because that’s where Jay and the guys played their last gig. We were blessed because, once again, we packed up and hit the road to hear them.
Wednesday, April 29, 2015
When Jay was in middle school, he played saxophone. At first, I don’t think you could call it playing: he blew it. I thought that Wendy with trumpet was awful when she started, but we almost made Jay go to the barn to practice the sound was so screechy and twangy! But . . . we stuck it out, and he became pretty good during those three years.
He announced during the summer before he began high school that he wasn’t going to be in the band—he just wanted to play soccer. We were disappointed, but we didn’t really know what to do about it. We didn’t feel that we could force him to be in the band, and besides, he had a pretty good reason for not continuing music in high school: he thought it was ridiculous to march with an instrument in his mouth. He could trip, fall, and knock his teeth out.
Wendy came home from college for the summer shortly after his decision. When he told her what he was going to do, she said, “Let’s go outside.” Before I tell you the rest of the story, I need to inform you that Wendy was in band all through middle and high school, and she had very definite feelings about her little brother’s participation.
They were outside for about fifteen minutes. When they came back inside, Jay announced that he’d be in band but that he was going to play xylophone. What? He didn’t know how to play xylophone! How would he learn before school started? Wendy had convinced him that if he could play piano, and he could, he could play mallets. And he did.
I honestly don’t remember how he learned except that he picked up mallets and played. I guess Wendy talked to John Buck, the band instructor, and told him that her little brother could learn and that he should accept him in the Pine Forest Band.
He not only learned how to play, but during the summer between his sophomore and junior years, he toured with Suncoast Sound Drum and Bugle Corps and even learned to play drums while he was with the Corps. So . . . at the end of his life at twenty-four, my boy could play piano, keyboards, drums, xylophone, guitar, bass . . . and saxophone (soprano, alto, and tenor), sounding for all the world like Kenny G.
Monday, April 27, 2015
Three-year-olds, like our precious little Russian-Navajo grandson, Danil, ask WHY a gazillion times a day.
Pop says, “I love talking to you on the phone.” Danil says, “Why?”
Pop says, “I love talking to you on the phone.” Danil says, “Why?”
Pop says, “Because I love you.” Danil says, “Why?”
Pop says, “Because you’re a sweet boy.” Danil says, “Why?”
And on and on. You get the picture.
I, too have lots of WHYs, but mine are a bit different and much more important . . . to me, but probably not to Danil.
Here are some of my WHYs:
Why can’t I get up the nerve to really retire?
Why can’t we have enough money to just take a trip to see a friend on a whim?
Why won’t my friend (?) tell me why she and her husband REALLY left our church?
Why won’t the same friend still be friends with me even though they don’t attend our church anymore?
Why am I not a good writer?
Why don’t I take up where I left off with cross-stitching?
Why do I hate so much to clean the oven?
Why won’t HMH hurry up and give my Cuz a job?
Why don’t people realize that if they don’t put personal info on Facebook that no one will know their personal stuff?
And on and on. You get the picture.
Saturday, April 25, 2015
In the years since Frank and I married, we have been on too many vacations to count. But those vacations aren’t what I’m writing about today. In my childhood, we took only one vacation. That’s right, just one . . . my mother, my daddy, and me, their only child.
Every year, Mother and I would hope that Daddy would take us on a vacation, but he was always too busy with work as a supervisor of Auto-Lec Stores. It seemed to me that he was always on the phone checking on the business in the stores that he worked with. Most of the time during the week, even in the summer, he was on the road working with these same stores. He always had a small piece of paper in his wallet, and on it were written the amounts of money that those stores had done that week.
One summer, though, Daddy surprised us by announcing that we were going on a real vacation. At the time, we lived in New Orleans, and the destination that he had chosen was Biloxi, Mississippi. What Mother and I didn’t know was that Daddy had just helped some folks open up a new store. Almost all the time we were there, he was at the store, helping the owner get everything set up. I don’t remember that Mother and I did much except go to the beach and sit around reading.
He’d join us at night, though, and we’d go out to eat in a restaurant in Biloxi. That was a treat because the three of us seldom went to a restaurant. Mother and I went out while Daddy was out of town, but when he came home, he wanted to eat at home because he’d been eating in restaurants all week. One night we went to a place that had a piano, and Daddy insisted that the manager let me play. You need to understand that I wasn’t all that good, but my daddy thought I was. He thought I could do anything. If I had believed in my childhood all of the wonderful things he thought about me, I’d have a head that wouldn’t fit through the front door! I played, but I’m sure that the people in the restaurant were absolutely bored and clapped at the end because they were happy to see me go.
A day or so after the restaurant fiasco, and a few days before we were scheduled to go home, we left because Daddy needed to get back to work. Mother and I were disappointed, but we were happy that we had as long as we did at our destination.
I guess my work ethic comes from my dad. I followed along in his footsteps as far as travel and being concerned about our people are concerned. I hate to admit that my real downfall is concern about work. My poor husband has suffered through my job with Houghton Mifflin (Harcourt) for almost twenty years after being just as dedicated to teaching for thirty-two years. I won’t say that work has come before God and family, but it’s been close. I wish I didn’t have such dedication, but I do. Real retirement is hanging out there in the not-too-distant future, but I really don’t know how I’ll live without my work. I worry about that a lot . . . A LOT!
I should have written this post on April 24, yesterday; however, I never could get to the computer to do it. When I finish “R is for REUNIONS,” you’ll know why.
U is for UNCLE
Almost everyone I know has favorite aunts and uncles. I’m no exception as far as uncles were concerned. I loved my aunts equally, but my favorite uncle was Bud. Some of the cousins called him “Uncle Bud,” but I didn’t. He was just Bud to me. He was the youngest of eleven children on my mother’s side. Only nine of the Kolb children were known to us cousins, and I’m not sure that Bud remembered more than eight of his siblings.
He was a handsome man, tall and dark with the Kolb blue eyes. Bud had a deep voice and the Southern accent typical of Louisiana. I’m not sure of the kind of work he did, but he left early and came home dirty. His being dirty didn’t keep us girl cousins from running to him, begging him to take us to the picture show that evening.
Bud’s one physical flaw was his crippled leg. What I always heard was that he drank hootch or white lightning . . . moonshine . . . when he was a kid, and the result was the crippled leg, called “jake leg,” a “paralysis caused by drinking improperly distilled or contaminated liquor.” My husband says that he has heard that it was made in old car radiators that had lead in them. In any event, our handsome uncle dragged his foot with a terrible limp. I think his limp made him even dearer to us girls.
Almost every night at dinner, we had some kind of meat, vegetables, and of course, our grandmother’s delicious biscuits. Bud would tease us every night . . . “Eat up on them biscuits, gals, and leave that meat alone.” This was his way of encouraging us to eat the meat and vegetables. Then almost every night, he’d give us each a quarter and take us to the picture show. The films changed only once a week, but we didn’t care. We’d go as many times as he’d give us money. This took place in the summer of the 1940s, and there wasn’t any other recreation at night.
I’ll never forget the night that JoAnn, my next younger cousin, and I hid in the back seat of Bud’s car when he went to pick up his new girlfriend, Aileen, to go to the drive-in movie. We popped up at some point to announce our presence, but I don’t remember Aileen’s reaction. Of course, Bud knew that we were there; in fact, he probably encouraged our devilish action.
Bud had promised that he’d never marry until his mother died, and he kept his word. When he did marry, he married Aileen. I’m not sure how long after he wed that their only child, Becky, was born, but I do know that Bud died when she was just a little girl, only nine years old. She hardly remembers her dad, except for the stories that we’ve told her about Bud (whose real name was Orie and who was called Chris by his siblings because it made him mad when they called him that. It was the name of a local reprobate.). Bud was not only MY favorite uncle: he was the favorite of all of us girl Kolb cousins!
Thursday, April 23, 2015
I have never understood why some people have so much trouble thanking people. Saying “Thank you” just comes naturally to me. I’m not bragging; I’m just stating a fact.
I have given people gifts and been amazed that they haven’t thanked me. At one time in her life, our granddaughter didn’t thank us for gifts, but now that she’s an adult, “thank you” just rolls off her tongue so naturally.
Our grandson has come around to thanking earlier than his sister did, but then, he’s not a teenager yet, and that’s when Corey stopped thanking us.
It always makes me feel so good when teachers on the other side of my webinars thank me for being with them. It makes me feel even better if they accompany the thanks with applause!
And so I close this short piece by saying, “Thanks for reading my words” if that’s what you’re doing!
(This should have been written on April 22 . . .)
I probably never should have agreed to post every day because April has been one of the busiest months ever. So far this month, I’ve done fifteen webinars for textbook sales, three onsite sales presentations (including travel for each), and worked on a course that I’m required to complete if I want to do inservice for teachers in the fall. I love doing all of it, but it really wears an old lady out.
SO I’ve gotten behind in writing. I’ve posted partial entries three times, and then I had to skip yesterday. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been so tired in my whole life. We were up at 3:30 yesterday morning to get my cousins to the airport in Albuquerque by 5:00. After we got home, I had two webinars in which I was a participant, and then yesterday afternoon, I had two back-to-back social studies webinars, probably the most difficult ones I’ve ever had, and I’ve had some difficult ones.
And SO tonight, I’m writing to say that I’m SO SORRY for not being a very faithful participant in our wonderful Blogging A-Z April Challenge. My plan is to do much better from now until April 30! I hope you understand . . .
(Written on April 21, but I was so tired that I forgot to post it. Phooey!)
I can remember my mother heading to Logansport, Louisiana, or nearby, almost every Labor Day to attend the Wiggins Family Reunion. She always had SO much fun, but I could never go because I was a teacher, and I had to be back at school on the day after Labor Day. It was way too far for me to go.
But since then, I have become very much familiar with Family Reunions, and I dearly love them. All of the ones that I have been associated with have been ones that I was the one mostly in charge of. And what fun I’ve had!
This is another TO BE CONTINUED entry.
Monday, April 20, 2015
As a schoolteacher, I was used to lots of questions. I encouraged questions in my classroom. I would much rather have my students ask questions than to go home and realize that they needed to ask one more thing before being able to complete an assignment.
My job now is to do sales presentations and training after schools purchase our textbooks. Almost all of my work is done online in webinars, with teachers in their schools and me in my messy little office. When I’m working with the teachers online, I encourage questions about what I’m saying to them.
Questions are good. I learned that from my mother. She taught me that I’d never know anything if I didn’t ask questions. And she taught by example. In fact, she taught me in an embarrassing way.
Every time one of my friends came to our house, Mother would begin to grill him or her: “What did you have for dinner?” “Did your dad get that new job?” “Do you have your prom dress yet?” Just one question after another . . . embarrassing to a teenager.
Q threw me today . . . please forgive such a short, unimportant, poorly written piece!
Saturday, April 18, 2015
I never lived in a real house until I was seventeen, the summer before my senior year in high school. We had always lived in apartments; at least, that’s all I remember. In Mobile and New Orleans, we lived in World War II four-apartment buildings, and when we moved to Pensacola, we lived in an apartment at the Pensacola Motor Lodges, where my worked because we couldn’t find a house and because she really needed a job while my dad got us on our feet with his new Auto-Lec Store. We even lived in a garage apartment in Pensacola for a while.
In none of those places could I have a pet. I wanted one so badly, especially a dog even though I was deathly afraid of them. Because the four-legged kind of pet wasn’t allowed, I had to be satisfied with goldfish and little turtles with painted pictures on their shells and parakeets. Before I got a parakeet, I used to walk around with the turtle on my shoulder, pretending that he was a bird.
Pete was my first parakeet. He was named for Pete Dean, whose parents lived across the hall from us in New Orleans. I don’t have specific memories of him except that he was that beautiful blue, with black spot under his beak and a beautiful black tail. I’m not even sure how long I had him, but I remember Joe, my second parakeet so very well.
He was the smartest parakeet in the world, I’m sure. He’d come to me when I called him when we were letting him fly around in the apartment. I believe he could have learned any words that we wanted to teach him. I can just see him in his cage with a little mirror, pecking away at it and saying, “Hello, pretty bird. Gimme a kiss.” And he’d light on my shoulder and say, “Hello, pretty girl!” Then he give kissy sounds. Daddy would take him to my bedroom in the morning on his finger and turn him loose. Joe would fly immediately to me, perch either on my shoulder or the headboard and say, “Wake up, pretty girl! Good morning, pretty girl!” He had a bit of a temper, though. There was a man who used to stay at the motel that my mother managed, and he sometimes imbibed a bit too much. One evening when he had had too much to drink, he went to Joe’s cage, which was sitting on a table in the lobby, and got to close to him, saying all sorts of stupid things to my smart little bird. Joe had had enough, opened that sharp beak, and took a piece out of the man’s lip. Such language you’ve never heard! I surely am glad that Joe didn’t learn those words
TO BE CONTINUED!!
Friday, April 17, 2015
I always think of occupations as professions, but I found in the dictionary that an occupation can be a job. So . . . in my nearly seventy-five years, I have had two professions and four jobs, equaling six occupations, I guess. That’s surely not many, is it? Our granddaughter, who is only twenty-seven, has had many more jobs than that. My professions are the important parts of this post, so let me tell you about my jobs
The first job that I had was in my dad’s Auto-Lec store in Pensacola in the summer between my junior and senior years of high school. I worked from 8:00 to 6:00 every day, waiting on customers and taking payments. Our fledgling business demanded that my parents have other jobs, so I worked with Dale Godbold, my dad’s only employee besides me. My dad was there part of the time, and he always said that my job was really to watch the TVs so that no one would steal them. He was partially right because I really did spend a lot of time at the front of the store, especially near noon, when I knew that John Mixon, the cute boy who worked in the meat market at Jitney Jungle, would walk by going on his lunch break.
My second job was at Mississippi College, when I was a junior. My favorite English teacher was Sue Price Lipsey, Mrs. Lipsey to me. She was the best teacher that I had at MC, and I took pride in making good grades in her classes. When she asked me to be her grader, I thought I’d died and gone to Heaven. I don’t even remember the pittance that I was paid for grading all those papers, but the amount of money wasn’t the important thing. Getting to work for Mrs. Lipsey was pay enough.
The next job that I had was also at MC. During the months before Frank and I married, I looked for a job on campus. One finally came available. I became the Veterans’ Clerk and worked in that position in the Registrar’s Office. Now that job was an eye opener. An older lady in the office made it her business to make my life miserable an to try to get me to quit. When I found out on Saturday when she wasn’t working that she did that to every young woman who came to work there, I dug in my heels and determined that she would not run me off. Frank and I needed that $200 per month that I made. Eventually, she liked me and couldn’t do enough nice things for me. Go figure. I guess she admired those that she couldn’t get the best of.
And then, just after I started work on my master’s degree, I was awarded a teaching fellowship in the English Department. I taught two classes during the semester, one on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and one on Tuesday and Thursday. Both were English 101, and I loved the teaching and the experience. I was paid the tremendous amount of $1000 for the year, $500 per semester. Frank and I were rolling in the dough!
My first profession was that of a teacher, my real calling. I began my teaching career in Pascagoula, Mississippi, having been assigned two skills level and three average level tenth-grade English classes. I taught at Pascagoula High School for two years, then in the county system out in Vancleave, Mississippi, for one. The last school where I taught in Mississippi was at Jackson County Junior College. I loved college teaching, but I was really a high school teacher.
When we moved to Pensacola, my hometown, so that Frank could work in my parents’ store in preparation for being the owner someday, I applied for and got a job at Woodham High School, where I taught and served as the English Department Chair for twenty-eight years. My deep-seated love for teaching and loving seniors was developed at Woodham. It was truly my home away from home, and my life as a teacher blossomed there.
After our son Jay died in July 1992, I began to feel that I wanted to do something else before they (whoever “they” are) put me out to pasture. I needed a life change. And so I searched for and found a job with McDougal Littell Publishing Company as a sales representative in 1996. For seven years, I traveled the highways and byways of Florida from Pensacola to St. Petersburg and loved working with teachers, convincing hundreds of them to adopt and purchase our textbooks. Frank managed to hold down the home front while I pursued my new career.
Since our daughter, Wendy, was our only child now, we decided that when I retired we’d move to New Mexico to be near her and her family. And so . . . in July 2003, I officially retired from McDougal, and we moved, with me intending never to work away from home again. I don’t think I was meant to be a homemaker, and Frank understood my feelings. When I suggested seventy-nine days after my retirement that I’d like to go back to work for the same company as a consultant, he thought that might be a good idea. And so began my work in New Mexico, again traveling the highways and byways and visiting with teachers, selling textbooks.
As my mother-in-law used to say . . . and there you have it – the history of my work in the wide world. And do you know something? I’ve never had a job that I didn’t like, and I’ve never had a boss who didn’t treat me fairly. Something else . . . In about three weeks, I’ll be seventy-five, and I’m still working for that same textbook company, albeit it has changed a bit in name and in approach to selling textbooks. These days, I work mainly from home, doing my presentations via the Internet. I’ve learned a lot about technology during my time as a sales rep and consultant, but I’m beginning to feel that I need to know too much about it. I probably won’t be working for too much longer, may a year or so. During that short time, I’ll continue to love textbooks and teachers and schools. Though I feel some days that I want to retire completely, I can’t imagine what life will be like not doing what I’ve done for fifty-one years . . . either teaching young people language arts or teaching their teachers about new books.
Thursday, April 16, 2015
When I was an adjunct professor at Jackson County Junior College in Gautier, Mississippi, I many times taught night classes. During the summer of 1968, I taught English 101, and after studying several short stories, I gave my students the assignment to write a short story. Why I did that, I’ll never know. I couldn’t write one myself, so how was I to fairly evaluate what they wrote?
I remember stumbling through almost all of them, trying to sound intelligent as I read and graded and tried to be fair. And then I came to the story that both surprised and disappointed me. One of my favorite students, a handsome young man who (excuse me, please) was as dumb as a rock, had written a beautiful story.
When I returned the stories at the next class meeting, my students were happy with their grades and my comments, for the most part. The writer of the beautiful story had a puzzled look as he read my comment: Please see me after class.
He stayed after class, and I saw that same puzzled look on his face. “Why did you want to see me, Miz Young?”
“Well, this is an absolutely beautiful story, but I’m afraid it’s not yours. It was written by Edgar Allan Poe and is called ‘The Tell-Tale Heart.’”
“It IS? I thought it sounded familiar when I wrote it!”
So why have I started this post with this story from so long ago? Because what I’m about to write sounds familiar. I think I’ve written it before! But I’m going to write it again.
I can think of three important times in my life when I said something like, “I’ll never do that!” But I did.
The first time was when I was in college. My roommate and I used to walk to the PO every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday after chapel, and on the way, we passed a really decrepit looking two-story house on North Monroe Street. We’d practically look the other way as we walked by, wondering who would ever want to live there. Well, I’ll tell you who wanted to live there. Frank and I did! After we were engaged and planning to marry, Frank investigated and found that we could have an apartment in that house, Kell’s Cottage, for free. All he had to do was renovate so that we’d have a nice place to life after we married. And after he worked his magic on our apartment in that old building, we had the prettiest apartment in town.
The second time actually precedes the first. I always said that I’d never marry before I graduated from college; however, when I met Frank Young, that promise to myself vanished. We met in February 1961, had our first date on March 10 of that year, were engaged in July, and married in December. Not a very long courtship, but a very long marriage. We’ll have been “hitched” for fifty-four years on December 17, 2015!
The third began in the early ‘60s, when Frank and I used to drive by Beulah School in Pensacola either on our way back to Mississippi College after a weekend with my parents or on our way to Pascagoula, where we lived after we graduated. As we drove by, we’d very snootily say, “We surely wouldn’t let our children go to THAT school. It’s so run down!” Never say never! We moved to Pensacola in 1969, and the house that we bought was in Beulah district, and our sweet little girl started first grade there. Do you remember the old saying, “You can’t tell a book by its cover?” Well, it surely does apply to Beulah School. Both of our children received such a good education at that little run down country school! The teachers were the best, and there wasn’t a principal anywhere who was a good as Eugene Winters. He knew every child in the school, knew exactly how to get in touch with his or her parents, and could drive directly to the homes of the children.
I’m here to tell you that every time I said NEVER and then gave in, I was blessed, truly blessed. We lived right in the house with other ministerial students and their families, and they became our best friends (with the exception of one couple, about whom I may write someday). Of course, I’m blessed to have married Frank. He was and still is my best friend, and I can’t imagine not being married to him. It was right for us to marry right when we did. And Beulah was perfect for both our children and us. That’s where their education began, and it was a very good start.
I’m surely not sorry that I broke my promises to myself!
Wednesday, April 15, 2015
On D-Day, April 4, of our blogging, I wrote “Daddy and Me,” so it’s only fitting that on M-Day, April 15 (Tax Day), I write about “Mother and Me.” I was with my mother much more than I was with Daddy. Most of my years at home, he was traveling in his work and was just at home on weekends.
So Mother and I were alone most of the time. We became best friends. But I hasten to tell you that she was very strict, and in some ways, I was very much afraid of her. She had a sharp tongue and never hesitated to tell me what she thought and what I should do. She demanded excellence in school, but I can’t remember her helping me with homework. I was supposed to learn in school and practice what I had learned in homework.
Mother had definite opinions about where I should go to school. I attended the school in our district, while other children went to Lafayette School, several miles away from our neighborhood. And why didn’t the children who lived close to us go to Judah P. Benjamin School? Because the schoolyard bordered a colored (that was the term back in the ‘40s) neighborhood. My mother and daddy didn’t see anything wrong with my attending Benjamin in the completely segregated South. I didn’t either. I loved my school and have so many good memories of going to school there. The truth is that Mother had definite opinions about most things.
She was active in my school life, serving in various offices in the Mothers’ Club and sponsoring the Girl Scout Troup. She was a fair person; in fact, her fairness sometimes caused problems for me. In Girl Scouts, we were planning to present a play. We drew slips of paper for parts, and I drew a main part. But that was not to be. People might think that she had somehow rigged the drawing. So . . . I had to trade parts with the girl who drew the Scene Shifter. In my new part, I would walk on the stage between scenes and say, “I am the Scene Shifter. I shift the scenes.” Definitely not a part that would win the Academy Award.
Remember, please, that my mother was my best friend. What I’m about to say may not sound like a best friend, but bear with me.
Remember, also, that I said she had a sharp tongue. I was prone to tears easily. Whenever I cried for a reason that she thought didn’t merit tears, she’d say, “For goodness sake, Sandra, don’t cry. You look so ugly!” Did that hurt my poor little psyche? Not at all. She probably hurt my feelings, but as I grew up, I took her words to heart and tried not to cry in front of people. Today, I still hear her words. I pay a lot of money for my Mary Kay cosmetics, so why would I want to cry and look ugly in spite of my make-up? Thanks, Mother!
When I was a child, I was shy and always afraid that I’d get in trouble. If I was whining as I left for school because I was afraid I didn’t have my homework done correctly. I didn’t want to disappoint my teachers. So what did Mother tell me as I was leaving, “Don’t worry. She can kill you, but she can’t eat you.” Her words didn’t scare me. Instead, I went off to school smiling, remembering the encouragement that she had given me. Actually, she helped me to become a bit more confident.
Because we were alone most of the time, we found afternoon and evening things to do. We went to town in New Orleans a lot, riding the streetcar down to Canal Street, shopping at Maison Blanche, and eating out. I didn’t tell you that I was a fat child. I wasn’t in early childhood, but by the time that I was in third or fourth grade, I was the heftiest girl in my class. My mother didn’t like this, but what could she do? Well, she could teach me some lessons while riding downtown. If a rather overweight lady would get on the streetcar, she’d lean over to me and say, “If you don’t quit eating so much, you’re going to look just like her!” I’d feel bad, but her words didn’t stop me from filling up my tray with stuffed crab, French fries, macaroni and cheese, rolls, and of course apple pie for dessert. Then as we left, I’d insist on weighing on the scales just inside the door (why would a cafeteria have scales at the door?). Then I’d insist that Mother weigh. And then I’d cry all the way home because I outweighed her. What a strange child!
I could write so much more about my mother. I know you probably think it unusual that I’d say that I loved her with all my heart after letting you in on the way that she treated me. I’ve just chosen these examples of our relationship, mainly because I love them. They are things that I laugh about today, good memories. Her name was Nina Mae Kolb Cheatham. To me, she was Mother, not Mom, just mother. She was a very special lady.
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
Now don’t get too excited about this and think I’m about to reveal deep, dark secrets about Leroy and me. We didn’t go parking and make mad love in the dark. No, no . . . I was three, and I think my first true love was about five.
My mother, daddy, and I moved from Baton Rouge, LA (a home that I don’t remember at all), to Mobile, AL, when I was three. I do have memories of our home in Mobile, an apartment house that looked just like all the other apartment houses. Each one had four apartments, and we lived on the first floor on the right if you were at the front of the building. I think one memory is one that I have because my mother laughed about it so much. Actually, she was really embarrassed.
Not long after we moved into the apartment at 401 Crenshaw St., Apartment A (how can I remember this seventy-two years later?), a new family moved into an apartment in the next building. The story that my mother told is that I was sitting on my tricycle on our screened in porch when a child asked if I could go out to play. My response? “My mother said not to have anything to do with you until we got to know your family!” I didn’t see anything wrong with my answer, but my mother did.
That child turned out to be Leroy, my first boyfriend. I guess Mother must have gotten to know his mother and have been satisfied that we could play together. And play we did! We played outside in our backyards, but we played more in our apartment. I had just the neatest playroom. I think it must have been meant for a storm shelter, but it served me well as a place to keep my toys. The room (closet?) was sort of cornucopia in shape . . . wide at the front and narrowing to almost nothing at the back. Leroy and I had so much fun in that room.
I’m sure you’re wondering what Leroy looked like. I believe I have a photo somewhere but not here right now. He had sandy blond hair and freckles. My mother said that he looked like a Studebaker going down the street with its doors open. You get the picture.
Leroy was my good friend, probably the first that I remember; however, he had one fault: he liked to tear up my toys. Dolls’ heads came off; doll strollers were wrecked. He was my friend, so I let him do these things. The mentality of an only child, like me, was that if I didn’t let him do things to my toys, he wouldn’t play with me. Sad, isn’t it?
Monday, April 13, 2015
My first experience with kindergarten was in 1945. I was just the most excited little girl in our housing project. I was going to school at Judah P. Benjamin Grammar School in New Orleans. My mother and I made sure that I had just the right skirts and blouses and dresses for my new adventure. Kindergarten wasn’t required back then the way it is today, so it was a special deal for me.
I had never been away from my mother for a whole day at a time before, so I was a little bit nervous about being away from her. But the excitement was more important than the fear of missing Mother.
The things that I remember most about kindergarten are a wooden swing that four of us could ride on at one time. It swung back and forth and back and forth, and we were all eager to have our turns. I also remember our teacher, Mrs. Perkins (how can I remember her name after seventy years?), reading stories to us. She was a tall lady with very black hair, brown eyes, and a somewhat pointy nose. The truth is that I was a bit scared of her.
I hate to tell you this, but after just a couple of months, I became a kindergarten drop-out. Those who know me now can hardly believe that I was a sickly child. I had one thing after another wrong with me, and I think Mother just gave up on taking me to school every day, only to have to go get me before the last bell rang. I really don’t remember all of my problems, but I just know that I didn’t finish kindergarten. Maybe I just missed my mother during the day. My memory just isn’t good enough to really get it together.
And now I’ll have to have a true confession. I was so busy with work today that I forgot to write until I was already in bed and almost asleep. I wouldn’t have been able to go all the way to sleep, knowing that I hadn’t done what I said I would do. So . . . here I am just rambling about something that’s not really that important to me. Maybe I’ll do better with L. Good night!
Saturday, April 11, 2015
We celebrated Jay’s birthday on February 10, 1992, his twenty-fourth, not knowing that we’d never celebrate another. He and his girlfriend, Dana, had just broken up, but she had planned a surprise party for him and wanted to carry it out. I told her that I would help. She didn’t know that Jay had found out about the surprise and would show up and act just as surprised as she wanted him to be. That’s the kind of man he was. He never disliked a girl after breaking up and wouldn’t have thought of hurting Dana by spoiling her party. Of course, Frank and I were there.
The reason that this was his last birthday is that he died suddenly on July 2, 1992. I’m not writing tonight about his death or the senseless activities that led to it. No, tonight I want to take another approach. I want you to know that God prepared me for losing my boy, not that I realized the preparation at the time. One of the best things that the Lord does for us is not to let us know what’s ahead. Can you imagine knowing ahead of time that Jay was going to die on the day that he did? Even parents whose children suffer through health problems don’t know the exact day when they’ll lose their precious offspring. What a blessing!
I’ll begin with Christmas 1991. Usually on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Jay would spend a part of each day with us, but in 1991, he was with us until late in the evening on Christmas Eve, even going with us to our service at church. We all went to Wendy and Steve’s house afterwards and had such a good time with just our little family. He was right with us all day on Christmas, and I have beautiful photos of the day. Some people might not call this preparation, but after the fact, I viewed it that way. It was God’s way of giving us more time with our boy, more very special time that we needed, though we didn’t know it at the time.
Just after the holidays, we went to see Velvet Melon, Jay’s band, perform in Mobile at Trinity’s. At this particular bar, the stage was elevated over the bar. No bad seats in the house! I was standing next to the bar and glanced up at Jay. I heard a voice say, “Enjoy him. You won’t have him long.” I don’t share this with everyone because some people would think that I was just imagining hearing this. I know that I heard it, and I know that the Lord spoke the words. I remembered them in July.
Sometime probably in March, when my students were working on their Anthologies, an assignment in which they had to choose their own literature and react to it, one of my favorite students came to me with a poem. She wanted to know if she could use it in her assignment. I read it, and we both cried. How could a parent live after losing a child? Neither of us could understand. Here’s the poem:
Lent for a While...
"Ill lend you for a little time, a child of Mine", He said,
"For you to love the while he lives, and mourn for when he's dead,
It may be six of seven years, or thirty-two or three,
But will you till I call him back, take care of him for me?"
"He'll bring his charms to gladden you, and should his stay be brief,
You'll have his lovely memories as solace for your grief.
I cannot promise he will stay since all from earth return,
But there are lessons taught there I wish this child to learn."
"I've looked the wide world over in my search for teachers true,
And from the throngs that crowd life's lanes, I have selected you.
You will give him lots of love and not think the labor vain,
Nor will you lose your faith in me when I take him back again."
I fancied that I heard him say; "Dear Lord, Thy will be done,
For all the joy Thy child shall bring, the risk of grief we'll run.
We'll shelter him with tenderness, we'll love him while we may,
And for the happiness we've known, forever grateful stay."
"And should the Angels call for him much sooner than we've planned,
We'll brave the bitter grief that comes, and try to understand."
In July, I thought back to this poem and knew that God gave that poem to Jennifer and that she shared it with me for a purpose. God did, indeed, lend Jay to us for a while.
Something else that I read and that I’ve always believed God gave to me was an article in Reader’s Digest. I have no recollection of the title, but it was about parents whose little girl had died. The only way the family could deal with this tragedy was to get rid of all of the child’s belongings and to move to another house. After a period of time, because the parents couldn’t stop blaming each other for their daughter’s death, the couple divorced. Their solution to their grief horrified me. I couldn’t believe that people would really do something like this, but at that time, I didn’t know personally about the death of a child, and I thought that maybe most families reacted in this manner.
God gave us Jay at Easter that year, too. Just another instance of His caring for us and proving to us later that He knew all along that Jay would be with Him soon. He was just sharing our boy more and more with us because in the not too distant future, he’d be where he always knew he’d go someday. I remember mentioning to Jay at some point during these preparatory months that he needed to get more rest. His reply to his worry wart mother: I can rest when I get to Heaven. Maybe he knew something, too. No, I don’t really think that.
Sometimes when a child dies, the parents feel bereft of God. Not so with me. When Jay died, I immediately felt the strong arms of Jesus around me. I heard that same voice that spoke to me at Trinity’s say this time, “I’ll get you through this. Just let me take care of you.” And He did. And He still does.