Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Send a Kid to Camp

As many of you know, for the past six summers we've sent our daughter Katie away for a week to summer camp at YMCA Camp Hanes. It has become this wonderful ritual of scheduling and registration and packing and hugging and sending forth.

It is a week of swimming and hiking and arts and crafts and bugs. It is a week in which personal hygiene is highly questionable, but personal growth is assured. Because while it is swimming and hiking and fun and bugs, it is not.

It's a chance for my kid to become a leader, to find herself, to be completely independent in thought and action, without my influence. The lessons she learns in that week stick with her all year long. This year, she is looking forward to taking a 'rag challenge' - a goal she develops with her counselors and works on all year long. They stay in touch with her throughout the year, offering support and encouragement. Summer camp has, without question, made her a better person.

Which sounds ridiculous.

But this place is special.

Which sounds ridiculous.

But it is, it is special. The counselors are trained to the extent that they offer camps dedicated to children with autism, and diabetes, and special needs. There are kids from every background, of every color and creed, learning from each other and loving each other, guided by people who are dedicated to making sure that no child leaves that camp without knowing their value as a human being. Without believing they are special.

I never went to camp as a kid. But Camp Hanes has made me a believer in the importance of empowering my children. We budget and make allowances and figure out how to send Katie every year because we feel it makes a difference in her life.

But all that special comes with a price tag.

Camp Hanes provided financial assistance to approximately 500 kids last year through their Send a Kid to Camp campaign. They believe that every child should have the opportunity to learn and grow and experience all the wonderful things that they offer, and so do I. This year, I am pledging myself to help raise money to send some kids to camp, and I want you to join me.

I want SFC to send a kid to camp. I'd really like us to send TEN kids to camp. I've put a little button up on the top right of this page (if you're reading on a mobile device, you'll need to click the view on the web option). Clicking it will take you the donation page for Camp Hanes. There you can make a one time donation, or set up a recurring monthly donation ($57 a month for a year will send a kid to sleepaway camp for a week, $21 a month will send a kid to day camp for a week) . Make sure you designate "YMCA Camp Hanes".

Then, send me an email at southernfriedchildren@gmail.com and let me know what you did. I will send something AMAZING and AWESOME to you as a thank you, no matter the size of your donation. Because YOU are amazing and awesome, and so is this camp.

If you want to read more about Camp Hanes, and see some fun pictures and videos, check out their web page here. From their web page, about Send a Kid to Camp:

Through participation in the Annual Campaign, you can help YMCA Camp Hanes continue our more than 80 year camping tradition for future generations, insuring none are left out.
YMCA Camp Hanes partners with various groups so that we can affect the lives of Everyone, Everywhere. By doing so, we reach out to children who otherwise would not be able to experience Camp and offer them the opportunity to create lifelong memories.
    • Our partners for 2012 Resident camp include:
      • Camp Imagine and The Autism Society of ForsythCounty
      • The American Diabetes Association’s Camp Carolina Trails serving campers with diabetes.
      • US Army Reserve Child & Youth Services: We hosted children whose parents are in the U.S. Army Reserve.
      • The Youth Empowerment Support Services (Catholic Youth Services)
      • Omega Psi Phi: We partnered with the professional fraternity to host camp to instill discipline and pride in young African-American men.
 They are doing good things up there on that mountain; thank you for helping however you can.

*Note: I have not been compensated in any way for this post, and all opinions are my own. Well, they did give me a water bottle, but not to write this. It is a nice water bottle, though.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Facebook

"Gawd, Granny. Everyone has a Facebook page." My granddaughter Ivylee says this, popping her gum and flicking the little hoop in her navel. 

"Here, let me set you up." And she jumps up from the couch and leads me like a child to the computer. Five minutes later and there is my face, in my 2001 New Year's Eve Commemorative Eyewear, next to a box asking me, "How are feeling today, Lurlene?"

My corns are acting up, I type. 


I never was one to beat around the bush. 

"Lurleeeeene! I cain't believe you are on the Facebook!" It's that cow Angela from down the street. She's cornered me on the cereal aisle at the Piggly Wiggly. The cereal aisle always gets me, there's just so many choices and, even though I know I'm going to get the same two cereals I've been getting since 1976 (Rice Krispies and Raisin Bran), I get taken in by the clever marketing ploys. Lose 10 pounds in two weeks! Win a trip to Paris! Prize INSIDE THE BOX! I'm in this cereal haze when Angela grabs hold of my arm and invades my personal space with her big weepy cow eyes and her peanut butter breath.

"Facebook! I didn't know you were such a social media maven!" She giggles. What fifty year old woman giggles? Angela does.

"Ivylee set it up. You're in my personal space, Angela."

She giggles again and backs up. "See you online, Lurlene! We'll have some LOLs!"

Licks of lard? Lots of liquor? If it's the last one, I might like this whole Facebook thing. 

It's nearly five before I get home, close enough to supper to fix myself a bowl of Raisin Bran and watch Wheel of Fortune. Vanna White is nearly as old as me, and she's up there sashaying around like her face isn't held together with spackle and a prayer. She probably has her navel pierced, too. I remember when Ivylee came home with that ring in her belly, her mama about threw a fit. She called me up and ranted and raved about kids and respect and the body is a temple and home to the spirit of Jesus. 

I reminded her that she got drunked up on her twenty-first birthday and got a dolphin tattooed on her titty. I don't think Jesus is hanging around Ivylee's bellybutton anymore than he's on your teat, Mandy. I said it nice, but she still hung up on me. I swear, that girl found Jesus and completely lost her sense of humor. 

I finished my Raisin Bran and Wheel was over and it was still just six o'clock. Too early to go to bed, too late to go out. It was either crawl up in bed with my heating pad and Miss Marple, or check out the Facebook. 

What the hell, I needed to shake things up.

I had thirty-six people who wanted to be my friends. Earl the pharmacist and Jenny the cashier at the Piggly Wiggly and Jeremy, Mandy's no good ex-husband. Ivylee and her boyfriend Jesse, Jesse's mama Taylor, her boyfriend and their "surprise" baby, Maxon (they pronounce it 'Mason'. Do not ask me why they didn't just spell it Mason.) I always said if you are having the sex and you are too dumb to do anything to prevent a baby, then it shouldn't be a surprise when that's what you get. Maxon was 16 now, and a bagger at the Piggly Wiggly after school. 

The older I get, the larger the role the Piggly Wiggly seems to play in my life.

And Angela, of course. She'd taken a picture of herself in black and white, with her cow eyes at half-mast and the left side of her face covered by her hair. She looked almost attractive. She looked nothing like herself. 

I clicked 'accept' on all their pictures, even the ones I didn't really like. This might be a darned fine way of keeping up with everyone. Even in a small town, it's sometimes hard to remember who's kin to who. I started looking at their pages, their pictures, their words. It was strange, how these folks felt so comfortable putting the details of their life out there for everyone to see. And some of it was just dumb. Maxon wrote, 'Gonna go to work now! Piggly Wiggly!', four times in four days. That boy don't have anything more interesting going on in his life? Wait, five days back it was 'Gonna shower then go to work! Piggly Wiggly!' Really mixing things up there, son.

Finally, I got to Angela's page. There were lots of pictures of Angela getting her nails done and Angela on a four wheeler and Angela's plates of dinner, which all seemed to be beige food. Another masterpiece! She'd caption it, and it'd be a picture of some potatoes and corn and macaroni and breaded chicken. Beige, beige, beige, beige. The woman was allergic to green.

And then, a picture of a man and a woman in blackface. The man I didn't recognize, but under the woman's makeup and do-rag I saw those big stupid cow eyes of Angela's. 

Now, I am an old woman and I have seen things that would make your hair curl. I once watched a man being beaten for no transgression other than the color of his skin. I have seen Asian-Americans hauled off to camps and held prisoner by their fellow citizens. I have seen women, I have been the woman, grabbed at and catcalled and reduced to tears for the mere possession of my sex. But I have lived a long time and even in a small town, I believed, truly believed, that there no longer existed that level of ignorance. 

Angela and her stupid face proved me wrong.

Guess who's winning the costume contest this year! Read the caption.

I sat on my hands. I stood and paced and sat on my hands some more. I thought about calling Mandy, then thought better of it. Mandy would say something like what would Jesus do?, and I would say something like Jesus would slap that dumb bitch, then Mandy would hang up on me again. What I should have done was turn off the computer and gone and watched The Golden Girls. But I am old, and I do not have many opportunities left to put someone in their place.

That is a racist costume, I typed. 

I stared at the screen and half hoped she wouldn't reply and I could go on about my evening, feeling like I had said my peace. Then - 

Lurlene! It is just a joke!
It ain't no joke, it's racist. 
Well I am sorry u feel that way, but you know I am not a racist. You know some of my very best friends are black. What about Jerry?

Oh, hell no she didn't.

Angela, Jerry Thompson sold you some shoes. He is not your friend. 
He is my Facebook friend!
Maxon is my Facebook friend, do you see me and him hanging out after school? Playing video games and talking about girls?
I am sorry you feel that way, Lurlene. maybe you are just too liberal to be my friend. 
And you are too stupid to be mine, Amanda. 

Then I sat back for a minute and, because I am old and cannot help myself, added - Also, you have the face of a bovine.

I clicked the little button that said, 'Unfriend', and turned off the computer. Turns out, I'm not such the social media maven, afterall.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Kitchen Folk

It is still dark outside when I hear my grandfather's voice, Here, Sarah - sit up a little, as he slips a dress on over my head. He gently lays me back down and puts my shoes on, then wraps me in a blanket and carries me to his pickup truck. It is wintertime, and the truck is blowing white smoke and chugging in the cold air, but inside it's already warm. He lays me on the floorboard of the cab, amid a pile of blankets and pillows, and I curl up for the ride. 

He takes me inside and sets me down, still half asleep. I walk over to my grandmother, bent over the butcherblock counter, cutting biscuits. She pauses, wipes her hands quickly on her apron, and gives me a small kiss on my cheek. Go lie down, sweetheart. Jimmy is there, brushing the tops of the biscuits with butter. Good morning, little girl, he near whispers, and there is white flour on his brown nose. It makes me smile.

I bury myself under my blanket on a braided rug next to the heating vent. The rug is old and smells like cooked things; it smells a little like dirt, and a little like dog. Mostly, it smells like me. I close my eyes and pretend to sleep, and I listen to their voices. Grits on? she asks. Yes'm, they reply. Bacon frying, biscuits baking, great vats of gravy peppered. There is the clang and clatter of plates on plates as the dishwashers roll out carts. It is the easy patois of kitchen folk. 

During it all, I must have fallen asleep, because my grandmother is waking me now. She passes me a warm mug of coffee, heavy with sugar and cream, and a warm piece of toast, spread thick with cream cheese. I carefully dip the toast in the coffee and take a bite, as I had seen her do each morning. It is warm and cool and sweet and tart and simple and wonderful.

Then the boys come. Hastily dressed, eyes still crusted with sleep. The fronts of their hair parted and slick and still wet; the backs bristle-brush dry and sticking straight out. Their pillows must still be warm, I think. They jostle and jockey for position in line, throwing the occasional good natured elbow. My grandmother begins an endless stream of commentary about growing boys and extra helpings and too skinny and eat everything on your plate. Some days, she may throw in a proverb or remind them of the starving children in Africa. They grin and nod and yes'm, willing to listen to anything she has to say in exchange for biscuits and sausage gravy. 

I listen, too. I listen to her voice and the boys. I listen to the scrape of forks on plates and of Jimmy, slurping his coffee beside me. I listen to the hum of the heating vent and the far-off rumble of my grandfather's truck and, under it all, the slow beat of my heart. It ticks in time with the boys and the plates and the heat and it all says one word, again and again - home, home, home.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Julia's Birthday

Seven years ago this month, I suffered my third miscarriage. After my d&c, a very nice nurse came in with a little box, which held a small ring and a little book, as a keepsake. She squeezed my hand and I took the box and turned away from her and cried. Again.

I went home to my five year old Katie and told her we weren't having a baby afterall. 

Then, in May, on Mother's Day, I threw up my breakfast and took a pregnancy test. Positive. I cried, again. 

I wore the medal of St. Gerard around my neck for the next nine months and took a pill every day for sixteen weeks and prayed and prayed and prayed that this baby would make it. And when she kicked my ribs and had a case of the hiccups for days on end, I thanked God and modern medicine. Then she was here, in my arms, perfect and lovely and slightly pissed off. 

She cried. She screamed. She was happy only in my arms, preferably latched on. When she started walking, she threw herself across the room like she desperately needed to go somewhere. When she started talking, she talked loud and fast and with the opinion that everything she said was right. 

"I know that," she would say, "I know everything about that!"

She is right, most of the time. She wins, most of the time. She is loud and loving and strong and spirited, all of the time. She is the most self assured person I have ever met, and with good reason. 

Yet for all of her bossiness and aggressiveness and loudness, she is also this tiny little girl who loves nothing more than to fold herself up in your lap and love you. She will rub my cheek and give me a thousand gentle kisses and tell me she loves me over and over. She is kind and generous and fun and sweet. 

She is perfect. She is my Julia. Happy birthday, firecracker. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

I Cannot Write

 I cannot write, right now, because I am too busy playing Candy Crush Saga. If you know what this is, you understand. If you don't, please don't go looking for it, it will consume your life. 

I cannot get past Level 74, and it is making me crazy. I came within 1 FRIGGING ACORN and ran out of moves. I seriously teared up. 

And this is why I can't write. Level 74.

Also, because I am at that jumping off place. 

My house is kind of a mess and I haven't gone for a run in months and the ends of my toenails are blue, the last slivers of a color painted at the beginning of November. I honestly can't remember the last time I shaved my legs. I have two good stories to tell you and no energy to write them. 

"How are you doing?", asks my friend Y-. 

Weird. I am doing weird.

When I started this blog, I did so with the intent of keeping up with faraway friends and family. I had no idea that people made money from blogs. I had no idea who Dooce was. 

Before this blog, I had never written anything longer than a response to a message board post. I was a good reader, a good thinker, sometimes funny. And now here I am a couple of years later, walking around with my chest puffed out calling myself a writer. Sometimes it feels very much like a sham. 

Sometimes it feels like this is the best thing I've ever done short of those three perfect children. Sometimes, I want to kick myself and say, what are you doing, you are so lazy! I should be submitting things and being more active and consistent and engaging. But then I get distracted by washing machines and special snack and soccer registration and play rehearsal. 

And Candy Crush Saga, Level 74.

So here I am, at a jumping off place. I will, I will, I will jump.

As soon as I get to Level 75.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Jumping Off Place

 I am at the jumping off place, she thought. 

She walked into his office and told him she'd quit. "You're not leaving the job," he said, "You're leaving me."

She stood and walked out, because what he'd said was true. 

She went home and packed her clothes and her CDs and her two cups, two plates, two forks, knives, spoons, her one expensive coffee machine. She put a check and her key on the kitchen table, and a note for her roommate. Sorry for the short notice, it read. 

She might have added, I am at the jumping off place.

She went to the bank and withdrew three-thousand, four-hundred, forty-two dollars and seventy-three cents and closed the account. The bank manager wanted to talk about why was she closing her account, and, were there any incentives they could offer to make her stay? But she set her face like flint and smiled tightly and said, "No, thank you." 

It was lunch time and she was hungry and, well aware that you should never jump on an empty stomach, went to the best restaurant in town. She ordered her favorite things, all cream sauces and cheesey pastas and rare meat. She had nothing to read, and so she ordered a salad and greatly admired the tablecloth while she waited for her food. She left, too full, and thankful for elastic waisted pants. 

She drove up on the bridge and then over to the side. She checked her reflection in the mirror, tightened her ponytail. After some consideration, she put on a little lipgloss. There was a small observation deck at the beginning of the pedestrian walkway, and she lingered there, staring at the city. She could see the hospital where she was born, and where her mother  had died. She saw the hotel where she'd had too much to drink before prom and spent the night bent over the toilet, while her boyfriend danced with another girl in the ballroom down the hall. She saw her office building, and thought of meeting him there. 

There was a high metal railing around the observation deck, and down the length of the walkway. She had been standing there, clutching it in her hands, thinking about twenty-eight years spent in this city, in this life, with nothing to show for it. The metal chilled her hands, she put them to her cheeks to warm them. They smelled like old pennies, like dried blood. 

I am at the jumping off place, she thought. 

She turned away from the city and walked back to the car. She started the engine and turned the radio up too loud and pointed the car west. "Just jump," she said aloud, and started to drive.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Bum Rush

When I was five, or maybe six, we lived in Longview, Texas. Or Burns Flat, Oklahoma. It doesn't matter. I was a small person in a small town in a flat land in the midwest. My clearest memory is of the neighbor boy, who was always trying to get me to show him my heinie or kiss him on the lips or play army guys.

His name was Jason. He was a toe-headed kindergartener who lived on our cul-de-sac. As all children of the '70s, Jason and I were largely unsupervised and found all sorts of trouble to get into. His father kept a stack of Playboy magazines in the hall closet, and one day Jason said, "Hey, look at these." I'm sure I ooh-ed and ahh-ed at the softly airbrushed boobies, the artfully feathered hair, the 'articles'. 

I'm sure I didn't tell him that my own father kept Penthouse and Hustler in the bathroom. I had seen crotch shots that would make a hooker blush. Playboy was like reading Twilight after War and Peace

We didn't have video games or twenty-four hour cartoons and so were forced to play outside for hours at a time with things like rocks and sticks. I'd bang on the screen door and call for my mother. "I want to come inside!" I'd shout.

"Play outside! It's a beautiful day!"

"But it's hot! My face is so sunburned my forehead has cracked and is peeling off! I'm thirsty!"

"Get a drink out of the hose!", she'd yell, and go back to her doobie smoking and plant hanger macrame making.

I leaned over the hose so as not to get my shoes wet, the water hot on my lips and tongue. 

"Hey!", Jason called from the sidewalk. "Jimmy found a dirt pile!"

There were few things more exciting than a dirt pile. You could play mountain or king of the castle or have it be base for tag or kickball. You could run around it or dig in it and bury stuff in it. You could slide down it. 

And that is what the neighborhood kids were doing when we got there. Someone had found a large plank of wood and had leaned it precariously against the dirt pile at a steep angle. Kids were scrambling up to the top, then sliding down the plank. Sometimes they'd make it all the way to the bottom, sometimes they'd fall off midway down. 

The whole set up looked rickety as hell, and extremely dangerous. Sliding down that mound of dirt would be a really horrible idea.

"Race you to the top!" I yelled to Jason. 

We half-ran, half-crawled to the top of the mound and jockeyed for position in line. "Ladies first!", I yelled, and Jason took a step back. Even little boys knew that you had to let girls go first. "Stupid girls," he grumbled.

I sat down on the plank. It was smoother than I'd expected, and warm from the sun and countless kid butts sliding down it's surface. The pitch of the plank suddenly made me dizzy and I felt like I might fall right then. "Go on, don't be a baby!", Jason taunted me. "I'm not a BABY!", I yelled back. What did he know? He probably thought pubic hair grew in little heart shapes. 

I stood up. "I'm a tightrope walker!", I yelled, and started down the plank. But it was too steep to walk, and I went faster and faster until I was nearly running, windmilling my arms wildly until I jumped, too soon, and landed in a heap at the bottom. 

I looked up at Jason, who gave me a thumbs up. I returned the gesture with one of my own, but used a different finger. 

"My turn!", he called and straddled the plank, grinning.

I don't remember how far he'd gone when things went wrong. Not far. One minute he was grinning and the next he was screaming bloody murder. He fell off the plank, jumped up, and ran home screaming. 

The other kids and I stood there, staring. Then, sensing an impending trouble, possibly even an ass whooping, the kids scattered in the direction of home. I ran home, past Jason's house, where the door was flung wide open. Into my kitchen, where my mom was making pork chops and cornbread and black-eyed peas (which I hate, and to this day associate with the terror that was to follow). 

"What is wrong?", she said with concern (after yelling STOP RUNNING IN THE GODDAMN HOUSE). I told her what had happened. She said Jason's parents were in town, and his grandma was at the house. And that was when the screaming began. 

They were the screams of a kid who's grandma was pulling a bigass splinter out of his butt. Except, in my six year old head, the splinter grew to ruler size and was not (as it was, in fact) in his buttcheek at all but in his butthole

I didn't see much of Jason those last few weeks of summer. I went over to his house a few times, but his mom always said he was at the store. Even once when he was standing pretty much right behind her. Grown ups think kids are stupid. 

When we went back to school, Jason kept his head down. None of the kids really gave him a hard time, we were still little and some of us thought the poor kid had a splinter in his b-hole and that, for whatever reason, makes you want to be nice to a person. 

We nearly ran into each other one day, heading out to recess.

"Oh, sorry, Jason. You go ahead." 

He smiled for the first time I'd seen in weeks. "Nah," he said, "Ladies first."

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year's Girl

Katie is the most interesting person I have ever met. 

She has gone from a serious baby to a precocious and sweet toddler to a charming little girl and now, a quirky and fun and fantastic twelve year old. 

Twelve's years old, today. My New Year's Girl. 

On New Year's Eve every year since she's been born, we have kissed her and told her happy birthday at the drop of the ball. She is the beginning of our family, the beginning of everything, and her birthday means hope and light and opportunity. The opportunity to do good things; the opportunity to be a better person. Redemption. Renewal. She brought me to life.

Last night at a quarter to midnight, she tore herself away from the television and the computer and the handheld devices. She ran downstairs in her shorts and her Abe Froman - Sausage King of Chicago t-shirt, her robe and slippers. She ran back up and added a crocheted Yogi Bear hat and MagiQuest belt where she had stuck - instead of the wand - a pen featuring a wolf's head and arms that punch. 

That outfit, somehow, is everything I love about Katie. 

She popped the bottle of Martinelli's and we all held high our skeleton Halloween goblets and counted down together - 10...9...8...

And then we toasted our daughter, who is the very best thing that has ever happened in my life. 

Happy birthday, New Year's Girl.