Don’t make me drop a house on you!

Because my mother and father were divorced when I was very young, I’ve never met anyone on his side of the family. That means that the only first cousins my sister and I have ever known are my mother’s sister’s two girls. The older of the two is Karen, who is the same age as my sister. She is known as “Sissy” to her little sister, Susan, who is ten years younger and now known in our family as Suey. Their family lived in Virginia Beach, and my sister and I always thought they had the perfect life.

My mom worked, so she shipped us off to stay with her only sister’s family during the summer months. Our family in Virginia lived on a bay, had a boat, belonged to a country club, and their neighbors had a swimming pool…our summers there felt like we had somehow ended up in paradise.

I talked with Suey recently, and she requested that I write about a time that the cousins came to visit us in South Carolina. They didn’t come down often (it wasn’t nearly as fun as their own part of the world), but my cousin remembered the time they visited when she was about two and a half years old. Her Sissy and my sister Lynnie were twelve, and I was around thirteen. Suey’s big memory, and the request for this post, was the time that we all played out The Wizard of Oz in all its glory..it’s my only memory of that visit, and it seems to have stuck with all of us.

I’m not sure why we decided to stage such a lavish production, but we all put a lot of energy into getting our parts just right. The living room of the house I grew up in was our stage, and I’m sure the neighbors could hear us emoting and singing our hearts out! My sister Lynnie had to be the cowardly lion…it’s always been her favorite character in the story, and I’m pretty sure that she wouldn’t take any other role. Our neighbor Cathy (who always got the best parts) was Dorothy, Sissy was the scarecrow, Suey was Toto, I was Glinda (the good witch of the North), and Mama was the evil wicked witch of the West.

We managed to make it work without a tin man, I guess…unless one of us did a dual role, but I really don’t remember. What I do remember is my sister’s spot-on lion (“If I were king of the fore-e-e-est…“) and Suey climbing around on the floor, playing a pretty darn good terrier. I was (naturally) a perfect Glynda, and I know that Sissy was a wonderful scarecrow with her long legs and limber moves. It actually makes me laugh out loud now to think of my sweet little Mama playing a mean old green witch, siccing those damn flying monkeys on us! (In this particular case, it should probably have been the wicked witch of the South…”Now, ya’ll know you need to give me those shoes….my pretties!”)

I wish I could remember more of the details of this story, but for now you’ll just have to settle for a very, very badly photo-shopped picture of me as Glynda, the good witch. You’re welcome.

Are you a good witch?

Are you a good witch, or just a terrible photo shopper?

 

 

 

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I used to be Snow White, but I drifted

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That’s me on the left (you can barely see me for that huge snow drift)

Growing up in South Carolina we rarely, if ever, got to experience snow…big surprise, huh? If we did get some real wintry weather, it always ended up very much like this picture of me with my little sister in the infamous South Cackalacky Blizzard of 1965. It’s sad knowing how crazy excited we were about all of that snow. (And in case you were wondering, no one even owned a parka…those rain coats were our heavy winter coats!)

You would assume that Portland would see a lot of snow in the winter, but (other than in the mountains) we usually don’t. The city is in a valley, snuggled in between two mountain ranges, and our winters are typically just wet and dark.

Every few years though, we get a big old icy storm. It’s Sunday afternoon as I write this, and we’ve all been snowed in for about four days now. FaceBook is filled with rants and whines about ‘cabin fever’, along with reports of stranded cars, power outages and grocery store shelves picked clean. Just like they did in the South, people act as though THE END IS NEAR, and they run screaming for home at the first flake. (I take it personally and figure that it’s just payback for never having had any winter weather growing up.)

Unfortunately, the folks here in Oregon don’t know how to drive in bad weather any better than did the residents of Atlanta a few weeks ago during their brush with the arctic blast. Most of us are just staying home and praying that the electricity doesn’t go out. The bravest souls are venturing out on foot in search of a bar that might be open…Portlanders will use anything as an excuse to party! I walked three blocks yesterday through some pretty deep drifts and slippery ice sheets, and I’ll just tell you that the burger and beers I found on the other end of that trek were well worth the chilly hike. I did, however, end up wearing a rain parka over several fleece layers…just like back in South Carolina, I didn’t have a heavy coat!

My smarty girl cat (Buffy) tried her escape trick when I opened the front door to see how bad it was this morning. Here’s a picture detailing exactly how far she got on her adventure. She’s a pussy when it comes to the weather. (See what I did there?)Buffy attempts the great snowpocaplypse

Stay warm (and ignore how dirty my door frame is). Spring can’t be far away…right?

(Oh, and thanks to Mae West for the title of this one.)

Scaredy-girl

I was never a brave child. Well, maybe that’s not really strong enough…I can say with relative certainty that I was, to put it bluntly, scared shit-less of pretty much everything. The list of things that terrified me is too long to provide a complete inventory, but it included: bugs, frogs, lizards, dogs, asking anyone for directions or for the time, ordering at McDonald’s, playing with kids I didn’t know, birds, getting hurt, falling into water (I hung on to that one), and getting into any type of trouble (aka busted). Seriously, if Prozac had been invented 20 years earlier, I might have turned out to be a different person…or at least I’d have periodically left the house without being forced to.

2010-02-10-PALMETTO-BUGBugs are at the top of that list for a good reason. They were particularly problematic, given that we lived in South Carolina, a place designed by nature to be a breeding ground of all things creepy or crawly. The worst offender…the horrific Palmetto Bug (Cockroachicus godzillacus) thrives there. Now, being me, I would have been scared of any kind of roach, but these things are nightmare material…huge, almost indestructible, and they have WINGS. They’re so big that strangers think they’re bats, and in Florida they call them their ‘state bird’. Get it? They’re big.

Orkin knew our house well, but not even they could completely eradicate the wily water-bug (an endearing nickname). And let me tell you, there is nothing as terrifying as walking into the kitchen at night, flipping on the light switch and hearing the clickity scuttle of these armored, mouse-sized critters. (Wow, I feel vindicated…anyone not afraid of these things is just nuts!)

Regarding frogs and lizards, even though I like to think that my fear was exceptional (based on the sheer depth and strength of it), I’m guessing that screaming at reptiles and amphibians is a pretty common behavior for little girls, so we’ll let them slide. Talking to strangers…well, that would be a non-issue these days, since we now train our kids to avoid strangers at all cost. (Maybe I was just ahead of my time?) And as for McDonald’s…well, it makes a lot more sense to me now than it did back then!

Of the items left on my fear list, I think the one that adversely affected me the most was my concern about getting into trouble. In that particular area, I was almost the exact opposite of my sister, who was in trouble more than she was out of it. I, on the other hand, was a weenie…I didn’t take dares and rarely took chances that might result in my getting caught doing anything risky or against the rules (aka ‘having fun’).

Consider the whole ‘running away from home’ exercise that most kids go though. When my little sister decided to try it, she just had to make a grand affair of it. Lynnie & I had a friend (Cathy) who lived across the street, and one day when we were around 10 and 11 years old, she convinced Lynnie that they needed to go on the lam (for whatever reason 10 year-olds might come up with). They met up at the corner and took off, leaving me sitting on the porch…watching and shaking my head.

I knew that the two escapees were planning to make a stop for rations (candy) at Campbell’s Drugstore which, at a half mile away, was much farther than we were allowed to walk without an adult. Now, I don’t exactly remember, but I might have let that fact slip out when Mama started asking where my sister was…but I can’t swear to it. Maybe she just saw me looking pitifully in that direction…or maybe she overheard me cussing under my breath because I wasn’t invited to run away…or at myself because I knew I wouldn’t have gone?

Lynnie the fugitive and Cathy (who, as it turns out was not running, but had told her mother that she was walking to the drug store) were indeed sitting at the soda fountain at Campbell’s, having cherry Cokes on my mama’s ‘account’. When they saw the light blue Ford Falcon pull into the parking lot they knew that the jig might be up and quickly ran to hide in the back storage room (the folks at the store knew us). Unfortunately, Lynnie’s weakness for anything cherry-related got the better of her, and her decision at the last second to go back for the maraschino treasure left at the bottom of her Coke glass backfired…she got nabbed by a riled-up 4’11” Southern mama with a mad-on! According to all accounts, one of those ‘Damn, lady…can’t you take your kid home first?!’ situations erupted at that point, but I’ll leave that to your imagination, since I wasn’t there to witness it.

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A replica of the best suitcase ever

My own attempt at hitting the road was much less glamorous. I was a little younger, maybe 7 or 8, when I got mad enough to pack up Mama’s square Samsonite makeup case. I walked out to the end of our driveway but suddenly realized that I was NOT allowed to go into the street without an adult. No one ever told me not to run away…but they made it VERY clear that going into the street was a punishable offense!

Honoring my fear of being caught in the middle of an unsanctioned act, I decided to sit (on the suitcase) at the edge of the driveway, as close to the street as possible…and wait. I must have thought that a city bus might just decide to take a random new route that day and drive by our (not on a bus route) house. It eventually got dark out (oops, I guess that’s one more thing I could have added to my list) so I went back into the house in unpunished disgrace. No escape, no cherry, no adventure….sigh.

In retrospect, I guess it’s just as well that my plan fizzled out…I probably would have been afraid of the bus, even if it had shown up. Now I’m all grown up and no longer afraid of (most of) the items on that list…just don’t throw me into the water (I’ll get pissed) or force me to eat at McDonald’s, because then I really will have nightmares!

Sisters

I wrote recently about my grandmother, who was known as Tid. She was the oldest of three girls, and was the bossy one. The next sister was my (great) Aunt C…we all just thought of her as the eccentric (i.e. crazy) one, but in retrospect, I think that she was mostly just very sad. She was (in)famous for her habit of giving me and my sister a $15 check to split on money-giving occasions (“Umm, thanks for that $7.50…I think”). She saw the same psychiatrist for many years, and her therapy seems to have been much more about prescriptions than it was about changing or growing. We loved her, but her house smelled weird, and late in life she developed a fondness for drinking Listerine.

The baby sister was Aunt B…the beauty of the three. She had two daughters, ended up traveling the world as an Army wife, and was the most amazing hostess I’ve ever known. When I was 11 my sister and I spent the summer with Aunt B’s family in Fort Benning, Georgia. It was an idyllic summer for the most part…at least until my sister decided that she wouldn’t eat carrots (or was it squash?) and ended up being left to sit at the dinner table alone for about four hours before she gave up and swallowed her veggies..with much gagging and no chewing. No one ever had anything negative to say about my great Aunt B. Her funeral was the most beautiful one I’ve attended…she was much loved and the memories of her flooded our hearts.

Tid and Aunt B each had two daughters. (Aunt C had two boys, but we won’t worry about them right now.) My mother was the younger of Tid’s girls by 18 months, and was an itty bitty thing with green eyes and almost black hair.  Her sister is known as Scooter, and she has red hair and amber eyes. There is a story of my mom once throwing a carving knife at her sister because, as the tag-along little sis, she felt left out of some adventure. (Even as a child, my mama just couldn’t stand to miss anything.) My mother and her sister each grew up and had two daughters. It seems that we are a family of sisters.

My own sister, Lynnie, and I are also 18 months apart. She never threw any knives at me, but she did seem to have an uncanny knack for getting into trouble…a true talent for destruction. That child just couldn’t help herself…she played with matches, wrote on walls, burned the hair off of (or otherwise tortured) my dolls, and I imagine she must have run with scissors at some point, but I can’t swear to it. She loved to cut things up, and once performed surgery on a stuffed bear that belonged to my mother as a girl, calling the operation a ‘spleemectomy’. (Sadly, the patient didn’t make it.)

Another of my sister’s favorite tricks was to replicate things that we’d seen on TV commercials. When Prell shampoo advertised that their product was so thick that a pearl dropped into the bottle would sink slowwwwwwly to the bottom, Lynnie cut up my grandmother’s pearl necklace to try it herself. When a bra company showed us how thick and luxuriant their fiberfill padding was, one of Grandmama’s bras suddenly turned up cut into two pieces, its flimsy padding an obvious disappointment.

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My sister and I in a huge  S.C. “snow storm”

I wouldn’t say that my sister and I were exactly friends while growing up. We were close in age, but we couldn’t have been much more different. She loved to play outside and get as dirty as possible, while I preferred to stay inside with a book, and I rarely even walked around barefoot in the summer. I spent a ton of energy trying to be perfect, and Lynnie just had fun! She approached any kind of play with an abandon I just couldn’t match, and I think I was pretty damn boring in comparison.

Because I was older, I was expected to keep both of us out of trouble…not an easy task considering Lynnie’s skills in that area! Once, when we were in junior high school, Mama left us home alone and I was in charge. I was working on some artwork for the school yearbook, and had a bottle of india ink and other art materials spread out on the living room floor. I took a break, making sure to give my sister a bossy, “Now don’t you touch anything!” on my way out of the room. I don’t remember exactly what I was doing when Lynnie found me a few minutes later…her eyes cast down and a terrified look on her face. My stomach sunk as she whispered, “Ummmm…Tammy, can you come in here for a minute?” I knew by the tone in her voice that she’d either broken or ruined something, and I’m sure I started yelling before we got to the living room. I was right…she had been messing with the bottle of ink I’d left and had managed, of course, to spill a tiny bit. Unfortunately, she also had decided that she could ‘fix it’ before anyone found out about it, and took a yellow sponge mop to the tiny spillage, converting at least a foot and a half of the formerly whitish carpet into a huge grey blob. I was so furious that I grabbed that mop and bopped her squarely on the head with it! In the end, I was the one who got in trouble for the entire thing…as the older, (supposedly) more responsible sister. Lesson learned: Messing with your older sister’s things and making a huge mess…minor infraction; hitting your little sister on the head with a sponge mop…punishable offence. I personally think that Lynnie had done so many things in the past that it was no fun punishing her anymore…but I was “fresh meat”!

Years later we bonded over beers, boys, mutual friends and shared living-room dancing skills…the sponge mop violence and doll hair sins of the past behind us. One St. Patrick’s day we were together at Group Therapy, our favorite bar from college, and I leaned over the bar to talk to a bartender friend. I felt something hot on my rear end and turned to see a very drunk guy holding a Bic lighter to the seat of my jeans…I guess my big behind was just too perfect a target to not take advantage of! From out of nowhere, he suddenly had familiar looking arms thrown around his neck, and I saw my sister’s eyes looking over his shoulder at me. She had him in what appeared to be a Three Stooges style head lock, and he spun her around like a rag doll, trying to shake her off of his back as she yelled, “NO ONE messes with MY sister!”

It seems that sharing your childhood with someone can create the kind of glue that connects people for good. My Lynnie is now my biggest cheerleader, and just happens to be one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. When I’m at my lowest I’ll get a call from her that turns my day around, and when I go back to S.C. for visits, it’s like we’re 20 again..we dance and laugh and we both play now. She’s got my back, and I love her for it.

What does ‘Funny…Peculiar’ even mean???

I remember sitting on a beach in Morocco, jotting down interesting quips from the locals (‘Berber Logic’ we called it) and thinking, “Man, if I ever really DO write that book I keep warning people about, I know what I’m gonna call it…” and I jotted down two words: Funny Peculiar. It’s been eating away at me for a while now, and since there’s no book on the horizon, I decided that I shouldn’t let a perfectly good title go to waste.

The genesis of the pairing of these somewhat random words is one of my mama’s sayings that has stayed with me since I was old enough to get fussed at.  Someone will say, “You’re funny!” and she’ll ask, “Is that funny ‘ha ha’….or funny peCULiar?”  (You have to really stress that second syllable, or it won’t be South Carolina Mama-speak.) Now, I know that others have used this saying, or some version of it, forever… but no one could ever come even close to my Mama’s mastery of the term. All 4’11” of her gets behind those words, and like most good southern women, she gives at least one syllable a life of its own, as she delivers her somewhat judicial rhetorical point.

When I was younger, it was just something Mama said – kind of like, “Don’t make me come over there…”.  Later, as my life took a more adventurous turn, it resonated with me and I couldn’t get past the idea that, “Damn, I think I’M PECULIAR”. Now, it’s not that I can’t be hilariously funny when I want to be (ahem), but by that point I’d figured out that  ‘peCULiar’ equals ‘interesting’ most of the time. And interesting is a good thing. A very good thing.

Thank you Mama.

Why you should care…

I’m a lucky damn woman.
I’ve been a Southern belle, a wife (twice), a graphic artist, a party animal (um…more than twice), the lady behind the counter who remembered which books you like, and a (fairly) successful middle manager.  I’ve gone ‘On the Lam’ and off the grid as a (self-imposed) fugitive, lived in a gold mining camp in the middle of nowhere, had a Baptist wedding…and then a Wiccan one, and I’ve traveled to parts of the world where my big-ass blonde ‘former southern belle’ hair got me into a mess of trouble. Of the multiple lives I’ve lived, some were spectacularly uninteresting….at least one was more bizarre than even I can believe….and this current one is turning out to be jussssst right.
So…that’s the Reader’s Digest version (is that still a relevant reference?) of my story.  There are lots more chapters and characters  (psychics, crazy boyfriends, gurus, anarchists….and my mama, of course) who will be appearing from time to time.  I’ll do my best to change the names to protect the (almost) innocent, and I’ll try to be kind whenever it isn’t too much of a buzz kill.
Once, a coworker (who’s now a lifelong friend) and I came up with a “cast of characters” for our office, if it were a movie.  This was in about 1993, and we decided that I would be played by Candace Bergen, and she would be portrayed by Deborah Winger (we thought pretty highly of ourselves…we cast a beat up old Angie Dickenson as our manager).  In this new iteration of my own little Lifetime movie, I think to play my part, I’d choose a combo of Jean Smart (remember her from ‘Designing Women’?) and Brett Butler (that loud-mouthed southern comedian who had a show called ‘Grace Under Fire’ in the mid to late 1990’s before she became homeless and pitiful).  I should probably throw in just a little Meryl Streep though…and I mean the “Bridges of Madison County” Meryl…not the current one.  I still think kinda highly of myself it seems…
And so now I’m a blogger.  Ta daaaa!