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!

It’s a nice day for a… Wiccan wedding

My second husband (let’s call him #2) was an interesting guy…sort of. At least he certainly wanted very badly to be interesting, so he came up with a list of things that he felt every good modern day Bohemian should enjoy. At the top of the list was being a Francophile. He’d never been to France and spoke almost no French, but that never even slowed him down. He was especially interested in Hemingway’s 1920’s Paris, along with everything else Hemingway-esque. He bought Eiffel tower memorabilia and anything with a fleur-de-lis on it, belonged to an online group of French expatriates, and sometimes wore a beret around the house while drinking red wine. Well, he drank red wine a lot…the beret was only on occasion.

Another of his interests was the Romantic poets. He frequently quoted his favorite, Lord Byron, summoning up quite the accent…the more wine involved, the more over the top the performance. In fact, #2 and I met through an online chat site that was about Literature, and his profile was actually Lord Byron’s biography. I thought it was clever, and he could also recite Warner Brothers cartoons, so I was smitten.

We had been living together for a while when #2 decided that he was interested in Wicca (aka Witchcraft or Paganism). Some of the ideas were interesting to me, and I was tired of buying French tchotchkes, so I went along with it. He bought books, tarot cards, crystals and even a tiny little cauldron. Luckily, no potions were being made, but there were a lot of pentacles, candles, smoking bundles of sage…and red wine.

After two years we started talking about getting married. I know…I shoulda known better. Apparently I was blinded by the charms of this underemployed, red wine drinkin’, witchcraft dabblin’ man. He’d never been married before and it was really important to him….so I caved. He brought up the idea of a Wiccan wedding, and I figured that it wasn’t that important to me and would make a good story, so I agreed.

We found a priestess (on Craig’s List , I think) and met with her to go over our plans. She was about 65, with stunning blue eyes and beautiful long, straight silver hair. She wore appropriately flowing purple skirts and long, dangly earrings, and had an amazingly sweet presence. I have to say that I breathed a sigh of relief…I was a little worried that she might be one of those stereotypical modern Salem witchy women from the Discovery Channel, dressed in black with ten crystals and some sort of animal foot hanging from their neck. I much preferred the softer, gentler Portland version!

We had decided to be married in our home, with only a few friends and family there. #2’s (Catholic) family was flying in from New Jersey, and my Mama and sister were coming in from South Carolina. That blend, in and of itself, would have probably been enough for most folks…but noooo, we were too interesting for that! So there was much hubbub when my future in-laws arrived on the wedding day and noted the dagger, small loaf of bread and silver goblet sitting on the small, pentacle cloth draped table at the front of the room. I heard the word “Pagan!” being tossed around under their breaths like a red hot dagger of their own, and #2’s aunt actually left the house, mumbling about the priest that she works for. (She eventually came back in, genuflecting and huffing..she needed to witness this blasphemy for herself, I guess.) My own mother was just concerned that she fully understood the whole goddess thing…I overheard the priestess assuring her that it wasn’t Aphrodite that we would be talking about.

The ceremony itself was quite sweet. The guests formed a circle and a friend cast a concentric incense circle; the priestess used a red braided cord (aka drapery tie-back) to fasten our hands in the Celtic manner, and we nervously spoke the vows we’d written. The dagger was used to ceremonially stab and then cut the bread, which we fed to each other, followed by sips of the wine, which had been blessed as it was poured into the chalice. A friend later reported to others that there had been a butter knife and a Kaiser roll involved, and that he was quite disappointed that there wasn’t a goat waiting to be brought in…but he’s weird that way.

My favorite part of the ceremony was when the hand-fasting cord was passed from guest to guest and each person spoke, giving us their blessing or best wishes. The one I remember best is when my Mama said, in her best ‘soft-spoken Southern lady at church’ voice, “I’d like to welcome #2 to myyy circle”. That moment was only topped by the pronouncement, a few minutes later, from my new mother in law…her Bronx via New Jersey accent ringing out from the dining room, “Sal-mon? But I’m not a fish eatah!”

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.