I was lucky to have a mother blessed with a hearty laugh and an easy sense of humor. From her I learned how to find humor even when there ought not to be any.
Momma wasn’t usually the one who created humor. She wasn’t known for telling jokes or making witty comments, but she could conjure up humor in just about anything. When something amused her, she laughed with her whole being. It rose up from her heart and came out deep and strong. None of that high-pitched, trilling, sissy kind of laughter – it was robust. Not loud or annoying but genuine and infectious. When you were with her, even if you personally couldn’t see what was so funny, you laughed anyway because you didn’t have a choice. Her laughter kept going and when you joined in it took everything out of you until your hand when to your chest and you said, “Stop, just stop, I’m exhausted.” Then you collapsed into a chair and laughed some more.
For years I’ve wanted color and pizzazz in my home, but my husband didn’t want to paint until the kids were grown. Finally, when my oldest got his learner’s permit, my husband consented to paint. Halleluia!
But what color? For help, I called my cousin, Nancy Adair, in Memphis. She’s an interior decorator whose work I’ve always admired. I asked her if she’d come to Portland and help me choose colors and accessories.
“Sure, Cuz,” she said. She arrived six weeks later, and after exchanging some memories and laughs, we started right to work. She faced the dining room wall of our great room, which I considered my decorating masterpiece, and said, “Let’s start here. You need a large canvas instead of those little pictures, and something tall on the china cabinet because the ceiling is so high.”
My husband agreed. “I never liked the look of that wall.” I was speechless, and a little hurt. Nancy’s gaze turned toward the seating area of the great room. “I like the pictures behind the sofa, but you need a higher sofa, a red sofa, and an end table and lamp instead of that floor lamp.”
My heart was broken. The dining room was my favorite spot in the entire house. And sure, the sofa was faded and too low, but I’d sat there reading Berenstain Bears stories to my children, illuminated by my trusty floor lamp.
That night I barely slept, worrying that Nancy would change all the things I loved.
My brother just called – he’s on his way to Texas and saw a tumbleweed blowing across the road. “It reminded me of that tumbleweed I sent you when I was a Coke spy. Remember it?”
Of course I remembered it. I had just flunked out of college after two years of courting Jack Daniels rather than going to class. To pay my half of the rent I worked as a waitress – a little smug because who needed college anyway since I made more in tips than a lot of college graduates earn. I was living the life, having a lot of fun, but sometimes nagged by that vague sense of despair from not having any direction in life.
This is what a tumbleweed looks like.
Then a box arrived – a big box, from my brother. He’d gotten a job with the Coca-Cola company in Atlanta as part of an elite team of high-achieving college graduates hired to enforce trademark rules in restaurants across the country. The company gave these college VIP’s a new car, good salary, an expense account, and lots of other perks and sent them out to American cities large and small. Their job? Go into eating establishments and say, “Can I have a burger and fries and a Coca-Cola?” When the waitress brought their beverage, they sneaked a sample of it with a syringe, labeled it and later typed up a report, such as, “I ordered a burger and fries and a Coca-Cola from a slim 5’4” waitress with blond hair in a beehive hairdo wearing a name tag that said, ‘Mabel.’ She brought a beverage to me at 12:42 pm” and so on, describing the interaction, restaurant, and all other facts about the encounter. The Coke spy labeled the beverage and mailed it to Atlanta, where it was analyzed. If the waitress served a Pepsi or RC or some other brand, Atlanta sent them a letter saying they could not substitute cola beverages. They had to say, “We don’t have Coca-Cola, is Pepsi okay?” Later, another Coke spy would return to the same place, and eventually, if the restaurant didn’t comply, they’d get sued and my brother flew to Atlanta to testify. The company was trying to keep people from using the word “Coke” as a generic word for cola. In other words, they wanted “Coke” to be a Coke, not a Pepsi, not a Shasta. I think it’s called trademark infringement.
Covid 19 has shrunk my world, but there is still much joy in it. I’ve replaced the busy-ness of going and doing with staying and un-doing.
During the day, instead of getting dressed and meeting someone for an activity, I’m home in sweatshirts and loosey-goosey pants and limp hair with that flat spot in the back from sleeping on it, zero make-up, no polish on my toes or shoes on my feet.
Instead of going out, I’m excavating closets and cabinets. I found my old ballet slippers from a class I took in college in the hall closet where my daughter had stashed them years ago. Well, one of them. She probably lost the other and hid the “sole” survivor.
When my daughter comes home from college and the land line rings, I yell, “DON”T ANSWER IT!” She always wants to – she thinks it might be her grandmother or somebody. It’s not.
Reminds me of growing up, when we always answered the phone. That was a long time ago, before cell phones and answering machines, in the days when the phone rang and you could count on it being a relative or friend or someone you did business with. During my teenage years back in the days of the dinosaurs, I was either on the phone talking to friends for hours, or I wasn’t in the house.
My dad worked out of town and was only home on intermittent weekends. He was one of those guys who took the newspaper with him into the bathroom when nature called. He’d be in there reading the sports page when the phone rang. Back then, though, there weren’t lying, cheating jerks who wanted to fleece us over the telephone. So when the phone rang, we answered it. Also, because there weren’t answering machines, the phone just kept ringing. Teenage girls figured you were in the bathroom popping zits or something and they’d just let it ring until you got done and answered. Or, if they were lucky, your cute brother would pick up the phone and you could talk to him until he realized it wasn’t one of the girls in his class but some dumb kid.
After a few thousand rings my dad would throw the newspaper down, pull up his pants, clutching them at the waist because he had to return to the bathroom and finish up, and stomp to the phone. He thought that if the phone was ringing all that time, it must be an emergency. He growled, “HELLO!” Either the friend thought to herself, “Oh crap,” and hung up on him, or she said in a mouse’s voice, “Is Suzy there?” He yelled, “NO!” and slammed the phone down.
My two deer came back this morning. What with the neighbor yelling at them and a strange man sneaking climbing into people’s hot tubs in the area, I was afraid they’d never be back.
The woods above our back yard are thick with rhododendron, fallen limbs, underbrush, debris, ivy, and holly. Years ago I blazed a trail through the mess so the kids could play up there. Soon deer and coyote started using the trail to get to the park. It’s a woodland circus if you happen to look out the window at the right time.
My husband piles leaves in a bare spot up there – the woods slope up just beyond the grassy area – and that’s where we see most of the wildlife passing through. A couple of months ago two deer started hanging out in that bare area. They stand there, scratching their fleas with their teeth or skinny hind legs and intertwining their necks to scratch each other’s fleas.
Just before Christmas they showed up four days in a row. On the fifth day my daughter arrived home from college. “Oh boy,” I said, excited. “You’ll get to see the two deer!” But of course we looked all day but no deer showed up. “Just wait, they’ll be here tomorrow. I’m telling you, they were up there for three hours the other day napping in the leaves.”
On my daughter’s 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th days the deer didn’t come. The morning of her 8th day, she packed up and drove away. I always get teary-eyed when she leaves, so I started putzing around the house, keeping busy to stave off the sadness. Barely 30 minutes later (I checked my phone) the two deer strolled into the clearing. I laughed, delighted to see them and amazed at their impeccable timing. I sent my daughter a text with a picture of them. “Of course,” she replied back. “They came to keep you company after I left.”
I was going to copy a letter from Pope Francis, such a smart guy, to give us hope fin all the turmoil, but I can’t find it – along with my keys and cell phone. At church our priest read the letter for his sermon and I thought, “This will be my blog this week – rather than giving a mild chuckle to the millions and millions of people who read this blog faithfully (or maybe that’s just one person – Pearl), I’ll give them Pope Francis’s take on happiness, and how we can have it even with the Capitol being stormed and all the other sad news we have.”
Doggone it. I can’t find it. Let me see if I can remember what he said.
We’re all doing the best we can. That’s what I started telling myself over the Christmas holidays.
People catch up with each other this time of year. When they start talking about their problems, I say (or think), “Why don’t you just…?” Then I insert my unsolicited advice. They react with something like, “Well, I can’t do that because…” so, ever helpful, I offer another bit of advice – I’m an endless fountain of solutions.
In a Zoom room full of people I can solve all their problems in a matter of seconds. I think to myself, “He looks like Jabba the Hut, he needs to go on a diet.” “If only she’d pay attention to that child it would stop screaming in the background.” Boom – world’s problems solved.
Around mid-December, when I was eleven or twelve years old, my brother who was fourteen or fifteen, skulked into our house, hunched over a wrapped present tucked under his arm, looking from side to side like a cartoon thief. He went straight to the Christmas tree, got on his knees and slid the present all the way to the back of the tree so it would be completely hidden. When he stood back up, he had a scared look on his face. “Don’t tell anybody,” he whispered. “This is from (he said her name). I don’t want dad and momma to find out about it.”
I knew who he was talking about – the girl lived a few blocks away – part of a trashy family. We knew they were trashy because Momma used this descriptive title for anyone who didn’t take care of their house, or it had unsightly trash out front. Garbage, or cars up on blocks – that was obvious, but it could be peeling paint, rotting porch steps, or a yard full of straggly weeds. This girl’s family was well-known for several of these aberrations. It was nothing personal against the girl, but the lifestyle of the family cursed her all the same.
The Christmas frenzy came early this year. Long before Black Friday my email overflowed with people wanting me to spend money at their stores. Even my dentist is begging me to get something – anything – done to my teeth in time for the holidays. Tis the season!
I responded to Land’s End’s frantic 55% Off and Free Shipping! emails by ordering a bunch of stuff I don’t need, since I have nowhere to go. No holiday parties, no nights at the theater, no restaurants with old friends I haven’t seen since March. But just in case, I ordered a red sweater – they were practically giving it away. Also some cotton zip-up sweatshirt things to stay warm while I clean closets. I’ll wrap these items and give them to myself for Christmas. That way I’ll at least get a few presents I won’t have to return.