This is where I went. To the Blue Ridge Mountains of northwestern North Carolina. It is where my parents grew up, and where I went to 3 1/2 years of high school. I have a love/hate relationship with the place. I may write more about that down the road, but for right now, the “love” part is probably easy to see — it’s a spectacularly beautiful area of the country. The hate part has to do with unpleasant things that happened there. But nothing TOO unpleasant this past weekend.
I went to visit my Mom, who will be 82 next month. She had seven children, the first when she was 18 and the last when she was 42. I came near the end of her illustrious birthing career. And I went to attend the 80th birthday party — a surprise — for my Aunt Louise. Aunt Louise is my father’s baby sister, and they were extremely close. (My father died about 11 years ago.) He and Louise were SO close that at times my mother and Aunt Louise’s relationship was very strained. However, they are now better friends than ever, with what they have in common having been devotion to my father.
Because of my history with the place and some of the people who still reside there, I didn’t want to go visit unless my brother, Mike, came along. I talked him and his beautiful family into it weeks ago. And don’t you know, he cancelled on me at the last possible moment (we were halfway there, 4 hours into our 8-hour drive when he calls me on my cell). His reasons were absolutely legit. Couldn’t argue with him. That didn’t stop me from phoning him last night when I got home, and saying, “God will forgive you for bailing out on me. And THAT’S the difference between God and me.”
Well, that sort of sets the stage. I won’t bore you with a moment-by-moment account. Let me bore you instead with some of my keen observations:
Overheard at the Cracker Barrel:
Assistant Manager: I’m the Assistant Manager, ladies. What seems to be the trouble?
Lady in Blue: Well, my sam-wich was awful. It tasted like somebody had stepped on it.
Ass. Man.: Stepped on it?
LiB: Just stepped right on it. That’s just exactly what it tasted like. The whole thing tasted just like that.
Ass. Man.: And did you have some trouble too, ma’am?
Lady in Red: Yes, I did. I eat at Cracker Barrel all the time, and I never had a vegetable plate like this one.
Ass. Man.: Like that one? Like the one that’s sitting in front of you empty now?
LiR: Yessir. It was the worst-tasting food I ever ate. And I gave it every chance to get better. I kept eating it, thinking it would get better, but the more I ate, the worse it tasted.
When we arrived at our motel, it was like THIS RIGHTCHEER:
Can you see that? We went SOUTH in the SPRINGTIME into a freakin’ BLIZZARD. Winds were so high that a number of ginormous evergreens were uprooted or broken in two, blocking roads and creating power outages. All because THE FAIRCHILDS CAME A’CALLIN’. With their suitcases full of NO WINTER CLOTHES.
Worrying about Things that Never Happen
Well, I’ve told you that Mike and his crew did not make the trip. And while that was distressing to me, it did alleviate one worry that I had about “what to do if…” See, the party was a covered-dish affair. Coming from so far away, we just decided to bring a ham from Heavenly Ham. We’ve taken this to reunions and such before, and it’s always been a big hit with the relatives. Southern Baptists will flat-out put away some pork products. However, my brother and his family are of a religious persuasion that has led them to refrain from eating pork, among other things. Now, I would never SERVE pork to Mike and family when they visit my home. But doggone it, the Southern Baptists were looking forward to the Heavenly Ham. So my dilemma: if we carpool, and if Mike’s bunch rides with us, is it insensitive of me to ask them to ride in a van with a ham? What would Emily Post say? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? I try so hard to do the right thing…
On the day of the party, we went to pick up my Mom, whom we now call Granny, because the latest crop of grandkids call her that. Granny had some strokes a few years back, from which she has recovered remarkably well, thank God, but which have left her with some immobility on her right side. When I arrived, her left side was ready to party, but her right side still needed some stylin’. I put on her right earring, sparkly hair clip, etc., so she was lookin’ good.
Granny goes sprinting for the front door, to get in her motorized lift outside, and I say, “Hey, Granny! Aren’t you forgetting something?” I’m standing there leaning on her walker, laughing. She hurries over to get the walker, then heads out the door. She said she would need it later, and I know that’s true. I don’t mean to imply that she’s malingering or faking the need for the walker. It’s not that at all, it was just that for that moment, her brain forgot how uncooperative her body can sometimes be. For that moment, she was just a girl going to a party. And that tickled me.
Aunt Louise was totally surprised, thought she was going to a baby shower. She was also surprised to see Granny, who hardly ever leaves the house anymore. They hugged and cried. Beautiful. Then Granny sat and held court while in-laws, out-laws, nieces and nephews came to hug her and proclaim her “still the prettiest girl in the county.”
When it came time to blow out 80 candles, my Aunt Louise, clever girl, just picked up a Styrofoam plate and waved it across the 4-alarm cake like she was swatting flies. That fire was history.
LG and Cousin Anna were on candle-removal duty, which they accomplished with a flourish, leaving the cake looking uncannily like a scene from the movie, “Holes.”
I got to visit with cousins I hadn’t seen in years. Linda and Pam were my very favorites. Linda hosted the party for her mom. Pam, in her late 40s now, is still cheerleader-cute and I would still follow her into any type of trouble she might propose because the girl knows how to have FUN. That was like a mathematical equation of my childhood: Cousin Pam = FUN.
I got to watch Jif’s eyes glaze over as Cousin Andy regaled him with a 40-minute description of the road construction and his various efforts to circumnavigate it, en route to the party from Myrtle Beach. Followed by a 30-minute description of the time he met Dale Earnhardt, Jr., in a “restrunt,” and parlayed the meeting into a photo op. But the funniest part was seeing Andy’s obvious GLEE at causing Jif’s eyes to glaze over: “Looky there! I can talk a’body into a coma! I surely do have the gift of gab.” Jif remains catatonic, but is beginning to respond. If I say, “Cousin Andy,” Jif can mutter, “gift o’ gab…Dale, Jr.” We’re working on him.
Some dooce readers in the house have already asked, so I will answer:
All the Grannies and Aunties
Were wearin’ their panties.
The Morning After
The next morning, we had breakfast with a friend I hadn’t seen in over 25 years, let’s call her Fiddler, and her beau (bow?). It was delightful to see her again and to meet her love. Also delightful was the exchange between Fiddler’s Bow and the waitress:
B: How big are the pancakes?
W: They’re purty big.
And THAT was enough information for Beau/Bow to know that he only needed to order one pancake. You see, he had eaten there before, and been told that the pancakes were purty big, but didn’t know what that meant, until he was served a stack of three pancakes that hung off the sides of his plate and were each so thick that it appeared he was expected to eat a layer cake all by himself. With butter and syrup.
So, if you are ever in Ashe County, North Carolina, and the topic of pancake-size comes up, you will know, dear reader, that “purty big” is approximately equal to one foot in diameter.
Who says my blog isn’t educational?
Something I Realized on the Trip
Before we went away, I saw Jada Pinkett Smith on the Today Show, talking about her new children’s book. It’s about empowering, encouraging little girls to be all that they can be. She made the observation that children know very early in life what they want to be, if we’d just listen to them. At first I thought, nah, not me. But I thought about that theory as I reconnected with immediate and extended family these past few days, and perhaps it was true for me. You might say that much of my early life was spent practicing the art of the diagnostic interview, the initial therapeutic assessment. Between parents, brothers, aunts, uncles, I cannot begin to tell you the number of times in my childhood that I asked someone:
Are you CRAZY?
What’s WRONG with you?
Have you LOST YOUR MIND?!!!!
Now, I do have a little more finesse to my interviewing skillz today than I had then, but that’s still pretty much what I need to know to get started doing my job.