When ‘Mother’s little helper’ had crust

I just called my mama to wish her a happy Mother’s Day. Knowing that she wouldn’t ‘get’ the Rolling Stone’s song reference on the gift I sent her, I figured I needed to explain the hooty little pill-box (as shown). I was right and when I mentioned Valium she said, “OH! Heehee…”pill box

During our conversation I mentioned that the anniversary of my marriage to #1 was last week, and Mama asked if I knew what August the 9th was. I couldn’t think of anything.

“That’s the day I married your father…August 9th, 1957.”

Naturally, I immediately started doing the math…let’s see…I was born May 14th of 1958…almost exactly 9 months.

“You weren’t pregnant when you got married, were you?” I asked. (I’ve always sort of assumed that she was, but I’d never asked her outright.)

“NO,” she said, using two syllables. “You were an early baby.”

“I was?” That actually surprised me since I’ve never even been on time to anything I can remember, much less early.

“Yep, the doctors told me that if I didn’t lose a lot of weight, they were going to put me in the hospital until you were delivered. So I just went ahead and had you before my next appointment!”

I had to sit on that news for a minute. My 4’11” mama weighed 98 pounds when she got pregnant with me and (according to her) she pretty much doubled her weight while carrying me (she claims that whole pies trembled and then disappeared in her presence). Naturally, when given the choice to (A) Stop eating treats or (B) Go into early labor and shoot me out into the world early…well, duh. I didn’t have to do the math on that one!

I love you, Mama. You’ve taught me so many lessons just by being who you are, and I know how hard you always worked to keep Lynnie and me happy. And now I know exactly where I got my addiction love for food!

Happy Mothers Day ya’ll!

 

I was a flounder…er

Growing up in the 1960’s and 70’s meant fish on Fridays for many families, especially those who had Roman Catholic roots like my granddaddy’s. Because we grew up in my grandparent’s home, every Friday night was fish night. Every. Friday. For. Years.

Even days were covered, and Fridays were fish stick days in the school lunch world. Not that I don’t totally enjoy a tasty, crunchy, overly processed Gorton’s treat from time to time, but even good things can get boring after a while. When we were lucky, our family went out for dinner on Fridays (I assume to avoid fish sticks for two meals in a row), and we sometimes had supper at the S&S Cafeteria. It was an honest-to-God old-school affair, complete with a huge stack of brown plastic trays, still damp from someone’s efforts to wipe them down.

Just past the mountains of trays was the salad area, a primarily greyish-white wave of lettuce wedges punctuated by the occasional shiny, wobbly, Jello-like square, complete with pineapple, nuts or mystery veggies. (I notice that I can’t seem to bring myself to use the words Jello + salad in the same grouping). Then there were the popular mayonnaise-based ‘salads’ – potato and macaroni versions being the most popular. I, however, had my own favorite pseudo-salad…grated carrots with sugary raisins and mayo. I thought it much healthier than the other non-lettuce options and I could live off of the stuff. I will admit though that I was really disappointed years later when I learned that this delicacy was laughable in the salad world…a sort of embarrassing distant cousin.

Continuing down the long narrow line, you next encountered the rows of steam-tabled veggies. First were the green items (keep movin’…nothin’ to see here), followed by the extensive, oh-so-Southern representation from the carb family. Macaroni and cheese, corn, white rice with gravy, mashed potatoes and candied sweet potatoes were plentiful, and don’t forget the hush-puppies and french fries…also popular ‘veggie’ choices at the old S&S. Those were the days…we were ignorantly on the not-yet-identified diabetic path with a vengeance, and ‘all you can eat’ was the short-cut!

Then we were on to the MEAT! You could choose from the beefy (hamburger steak…really?), chicken (meh) and fishy options. We were supposed to get the fish to appease the Catholic side of the family and, luckily for me, fried shrimp qualified! Shrimp weren’t always available, but it was a happy day for me when they were. Fried flounder with a big side of tartar sauce was my second choice…if you gotta have anything healthy at least slap some breading and (slightly disguised) mayo on it, I say. Funny…I don’t remember any pork being present, but I’m pretty sure it was there in abundance.

Next came the bread, dessert and drink selections. For me, cornbread was a given, and it had enough sugar in it that it probably should have been pushed a foot over into the dessert area. For real dessert I was always torn between strawberry shortcake (featuring somewhat plasticine whipped topping) and a slice of (not too shabby) coconut cream pie, but there were also other options. You could go fruity (not technically a dessert in my world) or choose an alien-like green or blue dish (welcome back to the table, Jello old friend).

I was also pretty predictable in the beverage department. It was, after all, the heyday of good old sweet tea in that part of the world, but the S&S also offered a few others to pick from. If you were really brave, you could even wash down your feast with neon-blue generic Kool-aid. (I have personally never believed that blue foods or beverages were a real choice, but Lynnie was partial to anything that looked even remotely like Windex. She also gravitated toward oddly colored desserts and anything with Jello-like qualities.)

It was a great spread, but I’ll have to say that I was never completely comfortable with the logistics of the cafeteria world. Until I was about 10 I wasn’t even trusted to manage my own tray – I had to rely on my Grandmama’s well-honed tray-wrangling skills as she pushed my plastic platter of goodness along, in front of her own. She did allow me to choose my own food, but often prompted me to ‘hurry up’ when I dilly-dallied too long over my options (“But Grandmama, I swore I saw that carrot salad somewhere!”) She also backed me up when my extreme shyness prevented me from piping up to ask the lady behind the counter if there really were no more fried shrimp left anywhere…maybe in the back?

Sometime before puberty I gained full tray responsibilities…I had arrived! Lynnie, on the other hand, still had to take a back seat for a few more years as Mama guided her tray and, often, her food choices. Had she not, my sweets-loving sister would have ended up with an entire tray of jewel-toned, wobbly items that would, in today’s world, have probably initiated a child protective custody situation. And that doesn’t even take into account the time that some strange man came out of the S&S’s men’s room with my 5-year-old sister in tow. She had apparently wandered in on her own…I’m guessing sugar and red dye #5 were at least partially to blame.

Not sure I'd trust that one...

♪ “Trust the Gorton’s Fisherwoman” ♪

The Meemaw Chronicles

Let’s just get this out there: I’m not a grandmother.

I guess that may have something to do with the fact that I was never even a mother. To top that off, I’ve never even had a successful relationship with a man who has kids or grand kids. I don’t necessarily think that I’m child-averse, but it just never worked out.

Not having children in my life (other than a niece, nephew and the kids of a few friends) hasn’t really been an issue for me, but I definitely realize that I’ve missed out on a lot of things. On the plus side, I never had to deal with diapers, croup or the terrible 2’s, but to balance that out, I’ve never known what it is to be someone else’s whole world (even if it’s only for a few years). The worst part, I believe, is that I’ve never known the truly unconditional love that parents must feel. Yes, I’ve had the luxury of being able to be selfish in some of my life choices because I never really had to put anyone else’s interests before my own…but that freedom came with a cost.

My choices have also left me without the chance to pick (or be assigned) a sweet grandmotherly nickname. It’s interesting to me that these names have changed so much over the years. Whatever happened to Gramma, Grammy and the sweet old lady monikers we grew up with? Now it’s all YaYa, GiGi, MiMi and a host of other reduplicates, along with some that are designed to be NON-grandma names…I submit to you Glamma, G-Mom and Honey.  Not that some of these aren’t cute as hell, but who is actually coming up with these names…the grand kids or the matriarch?

My immediate family when I was growing up had fairly normal names for our grandmothers. My mother’s mother was called ‘Nana’ (pronounced Na-naw) when I was little, and ‘Grandmama’ later (after I started caring what other people heard me calling her). Her sister (my great-aunt) was known to everyone as ‘Nana’ with the traditional elegant-sounding pronunciation . It became a sort of vaulted title that suited her perfectly.

But then somehow, out of nowhere, came the name my nephew bestowed on my mother: Meemaw. It stuck like day-old grits and now that’s her NAME…she has become Meemaw to the world! I realize that this is a term of endearment that periodically surfaces in Southern culture, but I’d never heard it used before, and at first…well, at first it scared me a little. How could my sweet little Mama be someone’s MEEMAW? Now though, 30 years later with her grand kids all grown up, Meemaw suits my mama just fine.

We just found out that one of Meemaw’s now grown-up grand kids is going to have her own child. It’s exciting to know that my sister is going to be a Nana, or MuMu or maybe just a LynnieG. Whatever she (or the new little one) decide that she should be called, I know that my amazing little sister will simply be the best grandmama out there. Congratulations Lynnie!

Hmmm…maybe I need to establish a new tradition that requires great-aunts to have cool names too. Then I might just insist that the grandkids call me….wait for it….

 

TEEMAW!

Meemaw

Stolen, so please excuse the spelling!

When my family wrote (in) the Bible

Grandmama’s bible smells the same now as it did when I was a girl…a scent somewhere between encyclopedia and nursing home, with just a touch of cigarette smoke thrown in. The pages are edged in red, their wispy thinness still protected by the hand-worn, zippered black cover stamped to look like leather. It was a gift from some cousins to my great-grandfather on his birthday in 1958 – the year I was born.

I don’t still own many of the physical things I grew up with…running away from home in your 30’s to find a new life 3000 miles away tends to scatter your stuff. This one thing is honestly my most prized possession and has, miraculously, stayed with me. It holds a place of honor on the bookshelf that faces me most of the time, where my special treasures are kept.

Bible presentation pageNow, I’m not a Christian, and I don’t necessarily value this piece of memorabilia for its content, but the book was important to my Grandmother. It had belonged to her father and was a part of her life for years. She held it carefully in her hands as she explained its stories to me, referring to the pictures of David slaying Goliath and the baby Moses being pulled from the river. I always preferred the Old Testament tales, somehow a little put off by the flashy red text of the New Testament…a tendency that has stayed with me over time.

Another reason that this keepsake is so precious to me is the penmanship in this particular good book. The presentation page was inscribed by, I believe, my great-aunt C, since her boys were the ones doing the gift giving. However, more interesting are the annotations by my sister…St. Lynnie the Defacer (note the green ink). She obviously disagreed with the year (XO, I say!), and added some artwork as well.

Lynnie’s writing continues later on when you get to the Who Married Who pages that follow the prophets. (She changed pens, but I’d recognize that slanty script anywhere.) Here are her notes on our family’s births, accompanied by what I like to believe is a pregnant fish…or something. Her artwork for the Marriages page is also interesting…was she trying to learn to write my name, or are those the three crosses that stood on Calvary Hill…um, probably just the T for Tammy…or some telephone poles. Marriage history

Not that I didn’t leave my own mark, but mine is in the form of a very practiced signature placed right before the beginning of Genesis. I don’t remember putting it there, but it appears to have been an attempt to establish ownership…not claim authorship. Or maybe I just wanted to prove that at least one of the Gist girls could actually write in real cursive (and do fancy swishy underlines). Note, however, the green marks – it seems that Lynnie got the last word.

20150118_172122

Tammy with a capital T got the book, though!

 

 

Back on the right (wrong) coast

I’ve lived in Oregon for 22 years now. When I first moved across country from South Carolina to the west coast with #1, I was so busy learning to be an Oregonian (and trying to forget the life that we ran away from) that it was seven years before I finally came back east to see my family. These days, I’m a better daughter/sister/aunt, and I travel the 2320 miles (as the crow flies) once or twice a year.

Currently, I’m on my second trip this year back to S.C. and, so far, it’s been a doozy…

  • I had boiled peanuts for the first time in about 25 years (it may have been that they came from a gas station, but I think I can go another 25 without them and be just fine)
  • I had the worst Starbucks of my life (Portland does ruin you for some things)
  • I ran into childhood TV host Mr. Knozit (Joe Pinner) while out at dinner (and forced him to talk to me)
  • I tried on eye glasses at Walmart and had to explain to the nice lady that yes, I do in fact have a head so enormous that I have to wear men’s glasses (she didn’t believe me until I tried on the lady glasses just to show her how strangely tiny they looked. Thanks, Walmart lady…thanks a lot.)
  • I went to the movies with the entire family (Mama, Lynnie AND the niece and nephew) for the first time EVER (and no seat arms were harmed)
  • I arrived and it was 80 degrees – two days later we woke up to heavy snow (the earliest snow they’ve EVER had here). Thanks, Al Gore Roker.
  • I listened to my sister Lynnie yelling at the Gamecocks (that actually has happened this early in the year) and
  • I discovered the true beauty of Adult Swim TV (thank you, Nephew! Oh Rick and Morty…where have you been all my life?)

The best is yet to come though…today my sissy is going to make her famous fried pork chops for dinner, along with rice with (real) gravy, roasted Brussel sprouts and Sweetie Pie’s macaroni and cheese. I may need an extra seat for the trip back to the other coast…but it’ll be worth it!

Knozit

Oh Mr. Knozit…you haven’t changed a bit!

Honor bright?

Does every family have its own language…or was it just mine? Maybe it’s a Southern thing, but we had quite a few sayings that you just don’t hear every day. We also used all of the regular Southern throw-aways (‘Bless yore heart’, ‘Sugar’, and the lesser known ‘I swanny’), but there are some others that were staples in our house.

Here’s a good one…it’s my personal favorite and one that I still use all the time. If I’m bringing you a surprise, but it’s not quite enough to really be called a present (we rarely said ‘gift’)…then I’d call that a sersey (pronounced SIR-SEE). I’ve actually seen this one online a few times, but it’s rare, and it seems to have actually originated in my hometown, at the college my mom’s first cousin attended. I figure that’s close enough for me to claim it for my family.

Another one that I really like…if you said to my grandmother, ‘Tid, are you being serious?’ she would reply with, ‘Honor bright!‘ This one is mentioned online as meaning On my honor, but it is actually quite versatile, and can also be used as a question:

TAMMY: “And then I got married a SECOND time!”

INNOCENT FAMILY MEMBER: “Honor bright?”

TAMMY: “Sigh…yep.”

…or instead of a cuss word:

TAMMY: “But Grandmama, I promise I didn’t mean to explode that glass bowl all over the kitchen!”

TID (in utter frustration): “Honor…BRIGHT, Tammy!!!”

Even though the phrase exists outside of my family, I still think my grandmama had a special claim on it…she used it well and, by God, she meant it.

The Clan0001

– Hand-written on the back of this is “The Clan – 1962” –
Linda is the one with her hair in curlers, sitting on my grandmother’s lap

Then there’s one that is hard to even describe, and it’s undeniably all ours. My mama will sometimes just randomly call one of us ‘Epampinonimous’. I’m not sure if she thought that one up or if it originally came from her daddy, but she still uses it from time to time. It’s sort of a term of endearment and seems to be synonymous with ‘honey’ or ‘sugar’, but it is also used when she’s lost track of which one of us she’s fussing at or picking on. It’s quite the mouthful coming from that little lady!

This one is a great one to close with…Meat disease. Yep, you read it right. Now, this term is definitely all our own, and it really speaks to the delicate intestinal balance that the women in my family have always shared. Let’s just say that you really didn’t want to have it, and a lot of things besides meat could be the cause. It may have originally started with a lack of tolerance for red meat, but over the years it took on a mythical status that can only be likened to having the vapors or dropsy, requiring much doting and recuperation (we unfortunately didn’t have a fainting couch). I think my mother’s cousin Linda also gets credit for this one (uh huh…the same one who went to the infamous ‘Sersey School’), so I guess I owe her a big thank you for…well, at least for sersey!

They called her Tid

I’m the little one…

Warning – this post is sad and sweet and was a tough one to write, but it is from my heart.

After my mama’s divorce, she moved all of us in with her parents – back into the house she had grown up in. The asbestos siding covered structure sat on a corner lot and had been built in 1929. It was pretty run down, unlike the other homes in our upper-middle-class neighborhood, and it stood out as not quite being what you’d expect to see there. The yard was unkempt and wild, and on the Inside the house seemed crowded with memories and pain and joy and ghosts of former lives. My grandmother was the uncontested boss of that house, and she was a force to be reckoned with.

Her name was Lillian, but everyone called her Tid for some reason that remains a mystery to me. She was smart, and funny, and sometimes sweet, but she had a serious mean streak that you did NOT want to find out about first hand. She couldn’t stand to see people treated badly, and there were stories of her drawing a gun on the husband of a maid who worked for our family in the 1940’s, warning him that if he ever hit our Janie again, he’d be sorry!

I truly believed when I was little that my grandmama was the smartest person in the world. She taught me to read when I was three, and instilled in me a love of knowledge. I was her first grandchild, so she insisted that I was brilliant. She pushed me to think, and she taught me to value good conversation and all things intellectual. Our Pastor would come over to visit and he and Grandmama would sit for hours, debating and arguing and laughing…and not just about ‘church matters’. They were friends who enjoyed deep discussions about things I didn’t understand, and I couldn’t get enough of it.

She drank her coffee with carnation evaporated milk and loved to play games. Somewhere there exists a picture of her kneeling on the floor, laughing and full of life, her skirt hitched up above her knees, her arm poised and ready to shoot craps on someone’s kitchen floor. At home she played cribbage. I didn’t like games as a rule, but I’d sit and watch, never really figuring out the scoring, but loving the rhythm of her speech as she counted out her hand, “Fifteen two…fifteen four…and five is six” and so on. I eventually learned to play (sort of) with her, and it was as if I’d graduated into some wonderfully grown up lady club.

Once she made a huge bowl of banana pudding (my favorite) and we took it to a friend’s house. We visited for a while, and I ate so much of it that I felt queasy. Granddaddy was taking us to the golf course with him that day (a rare treat), so my sister and I were piled into the back seat of his navy blue Comet, with Grandmama in the front. At the golf course I drank my first Yoohoo (totally unaware that ‘nana puddin’ and Yoohoo are like liquid dynamite when you mix them together) and ended up throwing up all over myself on the way home. I was about 9, and there was NO WAY, I wailed, that I was riding the rest of the way home without a shirt on! “What if someone SEES ME!?” I squealed. I still can’t believe it to this day, but my grandmother actually took off her shirt and gave it to me. In an obviously blind moment of love for me (or because I pitched such a fit), she rode home the rest of the way in her bra, with her arms crossed over her chest!

Granddaddy just made her mad most of the time…usually because he wouldn’t argue with her! He’d just smile and do what he wanted to, in spite of the sharp, “John!!!” she’d fling at him, using his name like a weapon. He liked to tell the story of them driving to a wedding many years before, happily cruising down the road when, out of nowhere, his wife screamed out, “JOHN!!! What have you done?” He screeched to a stop and turned to her, thinking that something truly horrible had happened…, only to see that she was pointing to his feet, appalled at the white sock glare filling the space between his black dress shoes and the hem of his black pants. Yep…she made him drive home to get black socks. Such was the power of Tid.

Now, my grandfather was Irish Catholic and usually went to 6:00 mass on Saturday evening, but my grandmother was German, so the rest of us were Lutheran and we went to church on Sunday mornings. (There was a definite Irish-German rift in our house, and because Mama was divorced, we kids ended up being defined as ‘non-Catholic equals German’ most of the time.) I liked to sit next to Grandmama, and she’d let me dig in her pocket-book. She almost always had butter rum Lifesavers or some gum, and she didn’t mind if I drew on the program while we listened to the sermon. Sometimes the Pastor would throw a little barb her way that no one else caught…some reference to a conversation they’d had…and I felt like I was with some sort of church lady rock star.

I didn’t always, however, live up to her expectations for me. She hated that I was afraid of things, and reprimanded me harshly when I screamed about lizards or ran from palmetto bugs or spiders…or birds… or moths… or crickets…or…well, I guess I was pretty much afraid of everything. Much later in life I realized that she just wanted me to be strong, but I had been carrying a lot of anger and sadness around for many years, knowing that I had disappointed her. Thankfully, I also figured out that I wasn’t alone in that capacity. I think that in many ways her life itself had been a letdown to her. She never got the cute little nice new home she’d thought she’d have, her husband never worked hard enough and played golf too much, she couldn’t fix everyone’s problems…I don’t know what else she felt she had missed out on, but there was a certain sadness in her that haunts me from time to time.

Having had rheumatic fever as a child, Tid’s heart was forever weak and damaged. As feisty as she was, she was fragile, and she ended up having surgery in the 1960’s to get one of the first artificial aortas ever implanted. After that, she was supposed to take care of herself, which included giving up smoking, eating right and taking medication daily. She responded by continuing to smoke, and I remember her living for days on Reese’s peanut butter cups, or ‘pear salad’ (canned pears, topped with cream cheese and pecans). She took her meds when it suited her, and by the time I was a preteen, her lack of love for herself had caught up with her, resulting in a series of strokes. Her body remained for a few years, but the spirit inside was bound and gagged. From time to time there would be a spark…a brief glimpse of the woman we had known, but it was always fleeting. Even in her debilitated state, she continued to smoke and she was angry, frequently yelling at my grandfather (probably for things he had done decades before). I didn’t like God very much during that time, but I allowed myself to pray, asking that my real grandmother, the soul trapped inside that shell, was buried deeply enough that she wasn’t afraid or sad.

The day of my grandmother’s funeral was bittersweet. We’d lost her long before that, but guilt has a funny way of twisting things on you and making you feel bad about being relieved. My strongest memory of that day is looking around and seeing the beautiful face of Janie, the woman who had helped to raise my Mama so long ago, and whose husband had suffered the wrath of Tid…gun and all. I knew that she was still grateful to have had someone who was brave enough to stand up for her and to call her friend. I loved my grandmother’s memory more than life itself at that moment. I hope she knows now that I’m not afraid any more, and that I think she’d like the Tammy I’ve become.