Make Us Thankful

A Thanksgiving memory: Little Gay, Me, Joe, Beth, Jake...and that's Grant in the front. Mr. Enthusiasm!

Thanksgiving many years ago: Little Gay, Me, Joe, Beth, Jake…and that’s Grant in the front. Mr. Enthusiasm!

My dad had a theory that you could measure how Baptist a person was by counting the number of times they said “Just” while asking the blessing before a big meal. Like this would score pretty high on the Baptist-o-meter:

(with every head bowed and every eye closed)

Lord, we just ask that you just look down on us Lord and just bless this food that is just such a blessing. Just help us remember, Lord, just how very blessed we are to just have what we need. We just praise you Lord….(continue for 12 minutes)

Now, now…to all my Baptist leaning friends, please don’t get your noses out of joint. In our family, we make fun of all peoples, of all faiths, in equal measure. We even did it a little when Grandmama Eunice was alive. But not when she was in earshot.

Speaking of Grandmama Eunice, I think she was the source of the standard blessing that Daddy used: “Lord make us thankful for these and all our many blessings. Bless this food to our bodies and us to your service, Amen.” No matter how much extemporizing the blesser did, they always brought the blessing to a close with these lines.

Over the years, asking the blessing got to be more and more special to Daddy. We all gather up in the kitchen or around the dining room table. Sometimes we hold hands and sometimes we just try to keep the kids in line. (See that just sneaking in there? Raised Baptist!) Daddy would say a few words about how lucky we were to be comfortable in life and the duty we owed to those who weren’t as lucky. His blessings always celebrated our family and the deep love we shared for each other. If it had been an especially tough year for one of us, he would say thanks that it was over and we were all still together. There was the blessing that remembered Richard when he was in the hospital. The blessing that welcomed Brett back home after she got her life straight. Last year, he said a blessing of thanks that he had made it through a bad health scare.

About fifty percent of the time, he’d get choked up. And that led to one of the most enduring stories in our family lore and it’s the thing I’m thinking about as we head towards this first Thanksgiving without Daddy saying the blessing before dinner.

Mr. Enthusiasm strikes again! Grant and Jackson at Callaway Gardens.

Mr. Enthusiasm strikes again! Grant and Jackson at Callaway Gardens.

For a few good years, when the nephews were small, we set aside one autumn weekend to take the whole fam-damn-ily to Callaway Gardens. Piled in together in one big villa, we’d cook and tell stories and laugh and jump in the leaves and let the kids stay up late.

The villa had a long dining table, big enough to hold all of us. Before we sat down to feast on tenderloin from the grill, Daddy asked the blessing. Halfway through, he started to get emotional and took a second to compose himself. All of the adults stayed quiet, but tiny little Grant, who was about three, piped up in a very loud whisper, “Papa’s cryin’ like a BABY!” 

Daddy loved that story. We had a reason to tell it again quite often, pretty much every time we got together.

I don’t know who will ask the blessing this year. Probably Joe, or Brett, maybe even Grant, who is tall and gracious and clever (still). I know we’ll all cry like babies. That’s just the way it’s going to be.

But in the midst of sorrow, may we be thankful for these and all our many blessings. Grief is the price of love.

This picture has nothing to do with the story, but it's my favorite picture of Grant.

This picture has nothing to do with the story, but it’s my favorite picture of Grant.



Farewell to Our Loving Family

Victoria brought the Loving Family dollhouse into our family then passed it along to Vivi. One Christmas, Santa brought rooms of new furniture and a dappled gray horse for the family that lived there. The next year, he brought a silver minivan, a baby brother, a Nana and a Cousin Jake. By the next Christmas, Cousin Jake had been renamed to Carlos.


It’s windy where Nana is standing.

I moved Grandmama Eunice’s drop-leaf table out from under the living room window to make room for the Loving Family as they grew. The house lived right there, in plain view of the dining room table, and many nights Vivi would play there while G and I finished dinner or tended to Carlos.

I never had a dollhouse like that. Every few days, grown up Ashley indulged Little Ashley by spending a few minutes tidying it up. I fetched all the scattered pieces from the floor then arranged the dining room chairs and the tiny dessert buffet next to the grandfather clock. The little girl’s room had a pink canopy bed like I had always wanted. I put the pillow on her bed and pushed the blue tufted stool under the vanity table. I placed the bassinet and the changing table in the nursery then put the teensy baby monitor on the side table in the living room, right next to the Walkman with headphones. The kitchen counter folded out–the perfect spot to set the grocery bag. In the barn next to the house, I set up the white rail fence and hitched the horse to it. Playing with the dollhouse brought me peace. Where else could I set everything to rights in a couple of minutes?

As Carlos grew, he played with it too. Mostly he would toddle over to it and wipe all the furniture to the floor while we yelled, “Godzilla! Godzilla!”

Two years ago, I moved it to the basement play room and no one seemed to notice. We’ve been walking around it for a while so I decided this weekend to make the big leap and big farewell. Actually, it was a pretty quick decision because G had the girls out for the afternoon and my friend Susan had just told me about how easy it is to clean the house of old toys with a few black garbage bags and a couple of hours to oneself.

The years have taken their toll on our Loving Family. I hung the pink doors back on their hinges and reattached the barn to the house. Wiped the crayon swirls off the floor with a Magic Eraser. I even tried to comb Nana’s hair. All the furniture went into a gallon Ziploc bag. I checked to make sure the baby had a stroller and a bottle and a bassinet. I wiped down the dining room chairs and found the tiny pieces of cherry pie on yellow placemats.

I needed to move quickly, to get the deed done before I had time for my nostalgia to catch up. It’s hard to say farewell to the Loving Family. I struggled with saying goodbye to the tiny spaces that had brought all of us some kind of joy over the years.

When I pulled it out of the back of the car at the Project Safe thrift store, the volunteer clapped her hands and squeaked with delight.

I set the dollhouse into the rolling canvas bin that she had brought to the car to receive my things. “I taped all the pieces here…and here. And all the furniture is there. I think the van is in the other bag…”

She patted me on the arm and “This will be someone’s Christmas.”


Some little person will wake up to a Loving Family of their own next month. And Project Safe will have made a few dollars to put towards supporting survivors of domestic abuse.

But I think the gift has already been given–to me. When I think about someone else setting out dinner for Nana and Cousin Jake, or taking the horse for a gallop around the yard, my heart feels tidy, with everything in its place.

Our Loving Family is moving on.

Our Loving Family is moving on.

The Least of These: Refugees and Thanksgiving

I went to bed last night filled to weeping with what I’d seen on social media about the governor of my state, along with many others, declaring that we would not accept any Syrian refugees after the Paris attacks. I thought of my friend Robin and how she once explained Jesus to me: she just shut her mouth and spread her arms open wide.

That’s what love is supposed to look like. You need shelter, come to me. You need safety, come to me. You need to know you are loved, come to me. We’re becoming a frightened nation with our arms clasped tight. What happened to Lady Liberty–a gift from the French, no less–holding her torch high to light the way?

I am proud to be an American because we are the place of refuge. Our population–unless your folks were First Nations or brought over on a slave ship–is made up of people who sought out America for shelter, or safety, or freedom. Many of those new-made Americans were fleeing horrors. Maybe pogroms or the potato blight or poverty.

I remember going to Ellis Island and walking through the process. Through the long line for validating papers. Up the stairs to the medical check. Then summoned before the desk of the final questioner who made the call as to whether you would proceed forward to the door that led to America or whether you would be put on a boat back. What must that have felt like, to come so far then have the door slammed in your face? No room at the inn.

A family on the road.

A family on the road.

Brace yourselves–the atheist is about to start talking about the Bible and we all have Grandmama Eunice to thank for that. I woke up still thinking about refugees and the verse that came to mind was “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Sorry for the high language. We were raised King James Version, #KJV4Lyf.) Here’s a more modern rendition:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Drop the mic, Jesus. That’s some topical stuff, yo.

What if a terrorist gets in among the refugees? A wolf among the lambs? Yes, that could happen. Or a terrorist could fly in on a student visa. Or take a boat and come in through the coast. Or grow up in Iowa. Or Charleston.

If we slam the door on the people fleeing the very extremists we fear, we aren’t shutting out the terrorists. We’re shutting out the next generation of Americans. The ones who ran for shelter and found it. In my lifetime, that’s included Sudanese, Somalis, Serbs, Iranians, Vietnamese…and a whole lot of our great grandparents and grandparents.

The next part of my day really brought home this idea that America has to keep its arms open. There are two little girls in Carlos’ class who speak Arabic at home. I don’t know how they got here, I don’t know what country they are from. They are here now. They are quiet and watchful. They understand far more English than they speak. After many weeks of hugging them and talking to them and making a fuss over their drawings or puzzles, they have just begun to use single words when we talk. One said, “green” and “yellow” and “whhhhhite” last week when I pointed to colored blocks in the tower she had built.

I won’t use their names because I don’t have permission. I looked up the meaning of each girl’s name in Arabic and I swear Grandmama Eunice thumped me on the head again: one name means “mercy” and the other means “angel.” Angel and Mercy, these little souls I have been lucky enough to meet.

(Jesus picked up the mic and dropped it AGAIN.)

My baby and his turkey hat.

My baby and his turkey hat.

This morning was the Thanksgiving sing-a-long at PreK. I watched Angel and Mercy sit with their classmates in a nice straight row on the gymnasium floor. Each child wore a construction paper turkey hat made from their own handprints. Mercy’s eyes sparkled and she waved when I took her picture. Angel sucked on her finger, like she does when she is nervous.

What are they learning about Thanksgiving? What have we taught them about this quintessentially American holiday? When we are grateful for the bounty we appreciate here. When we remember how the native people of America helped our first set of refugees, fleeing home all those centuries ago.

I may not believe in angels, but I sure believe in mercy. And I open my arms and heart to the least of these, because I am an American.

My Life As a Drab Queen: Thoughts on Makeup

I sat in my car a few minutes before 11 a.m. this morning and watched one of those wonderfully Athens scenes: on one side of Hancock Street, tidy white families hurried up the hill to the Methodist church service while on the other side of Hancock, two glamorous drag queens welcomed guests to brunch at The National. Jacqueline Daniels and Yasmine Alexander serve on the board of the Boybutante AIDS Foundation, which has raised over $800,000 for AIDS services in Northeast Georgia. My kind of people, plus brunch.

Yasmine Alexander and Jacqueline Daniels. Photo by Josh Payne for Boybutante AIDS Foundation.

Yasmine Alexander and Jacqueline Daniels. Photo by Josh Payne for Boybutante AIDS Foundation.

Even though I spent all day in bed with a stomach ache yesterday, I wasn’t about to miss brunch with Bryn and Jill. So I slapped on some stretchy clothes and put my hair in a pony tail…as usual. But as I sat there in the car, knowing that these queens had been painting up for HOURS to get ready for the show, I figured I could at least put in a teensy effort to look festive.

I reached in my purse and unzipped the makeup pocket. I’m surprised there weren’t cobwebs blocking the zipper. I haven’t worn makeup for months. I put on a little bit in the car on the way to Daddy’s memorial service, and when I turned around to speak to the kids, Carlos grinned in wonder and asked, “Mama, what you do to your face?”

I drew a narrow black line across my upper lids then skooshed the corners a bit with the tip of my finger. I considered the “Wine With Everything” lipstick but thought that might be a bit too steep of a leap, so I dug around in the bottom of the bag to find a Burt’s Bees with a little bordeaux tint to it. Two lines across my eyes and a swipe across the lips and I made my way down the sidewalk. There are drag queens…and then there are drab queens, like me.

Most of my rebellion against makeup is that I think it’s ridiculous that I have to draw lines above my eyes or color my lips to be considered “finished” or “dressed” in this world. In the words of writer Erin McKean:

You Don’t Have to Be Pretty. You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female”.

I’m not saying that you SHOULDN’T be pretty if you want to. (You don’t owe UN-prettiness to feminism, in other words.) Pretty is pleasant, and fun, and satisfying, and makes people smile, often even at you.

But some of my disuse of makeup has come from seeking out invisibility. I’ve been depressed lately and my therapist has pointed out before that I recede into black clothes, pony tails, and blank face when I want to disappear. That’s my Drab Queen attire.

I don’t know if it was hanging out with drag queens, or with my friends, or the mimosas, but I got in a really good place this morning. Jill and I talked about writing, Bryn smooched everyone in the house. I clutched my pearls while Lacie Bruce proved that she’s got all the right junk in all the right places:

Lacie Bruce gettin' all about that bass. Photo by Josh Payne for Boybutante AIDS Foundation.

Lacie Bruce gettin’ all about that bass. Photo by Josh Payne for Boybutante AIDS Foundation.

Looking around that room, I realized that nobody there gave a shit about whether I painted my face or didn’t paint my face. Not my old friends, not the strangers, not the artists who had been painting for hours. Nobody cared whether I had more junk in the trunk than I did twenty years ago. People were there to enjoy themselves–having some fun for a great cause while Peter Dale served brunch. And all I had to do to participate was….participate.

After the show, we hung around on the sidewalk so the restaurant crew could prepare for the afternoon seating. We talked about 80s hair and Aqua Net. We talked about the vagaries of boobs and gravity. That led to talking about our grandmothers. The delightful Lori Divine told how her grandmother could roll a Virginia Slim’s 120 from one side of her mouth to the other as she painted on her blood red lipstick. Then Jacqueline said, “One thing I love about drag is the Coty powder. It reminds me of my grandmother.”

Oh. My. Goodness.

Just the other day, I was thinking about Grandmama Eunice and that little round cardboard box of Coty powder that she kept on the edge of the mantle in the dining room, right next to the makeup mirror and the good light from the tall window. She wouldn’t have left the house without her lipstick on straight and a little dusting of powder. I wanted to smell that powder again because that’s what she smelled like when I hugged her.

That moment on the sidewalk was beautiful, because of the makeup. I love how if you talk to anyone and tell stories long enough, there’s always that moment of connection. Where your story and my story cross paths and we learn that we have something in common, even if it’s the smell of our grandmothers’ face powder.

I might just draw two lines across my eyelids tomorrow in homage to these queens. I might be ready for the world to look at me again.

Yasmine, Bryn, Lori, me, Jacqueline, and Jill. Just gals hanging out and talking about makeup.

Yasmine, Bryn, Lori, me, Jacqueline, and Jill. Just gals hanging out and talking about makeup.

A Day In the Life of My Bra

Not my actual bra. Way too shiny and tiny!

Not my actual bra. Way too shiny and tiny!

Sleepy sleep sleep until the alarm squawks: BRA OFF

Time to take boy to school and mine likes to be walked in all the way to the classroom: BRA ON

Wait! Girl child says her tummy hurts. I win the coin toss for who works from home: BRA OFF!

An hour later, she feels fine and wants to go to school: BRA ON

Back to work at the dining room table: BRA OFF

OMG it’s SUNNY outside! Think I’ll go for a quick walk around the neighborhood: BRA ON

Sign back in to work: BRA OFF

Time for lunch. Salad from Zaxby’s so I can drive through or sushi from Fresh Market where I’ll have to walk inside? I could just go inside without a bra on but if I go out in public without a bra, your kids are going to learn some lessons about anatomy. So fair warning. And if I have to run, they’re going to learn about physics and cussing too. Hell, even if I’m standing still they’re going to learn about gravity. Hmmm…Zaxby’s it is: BRA OFF!

(I even wore bedroom shoes to guarantee that I wouldn’t be tempted to get out of the car for any reason. Reasons like Chipotle or Menchie’s.)

Salad lunch on the deck? BRA OFF STILLLLLLLL

More work. On the clock with my gals a’flappin. We got a streak going here: BRA REMAINS OFF

Early afternoon and the boy’s teacher calls from school. Now he’s suffering from gastric distress. “I’ll be there to get him in 10 minutes.” Just enough time to get my: BRA ON.

Plop him in front of Disney Jr with a bowl of Jello: BRA OFF (Watch it wiggle, see it jiggle…)

Back to work. Imagine if they knew I was doing all this productive stuff with my: BRA OFF

Text from husband. “Can you pick up the girl?”: BRA ON

“Y’all finish your homework before dinner. I’m going to finish up a few things for work”: BRA OFF

Pulling out stuff to make spaghetti and meatballs…we don’t have spaghetti. To Kroger we go: BRA ON

“Set the table!”: wine poured and BRA OFF

Kids in bed. Not enough steps on the Fitbit. Time for treadmill: BRA ON (because I tried it once with bra off and things got all out of synch)

Day is done, teeth are brushed, alarm is set: BRA OFF

All y’all women who can go through the day with or without a bra, count yourselves lucky. I wore a 38D for years, until I finally got fitted by a real bra expert. I now wear a 38G. I think it stands for “GOOD GOD!!”

What’s your average ON/OFF count for a day?

Making Pie From Pumpkin Guts

I made my first homemade pumpkin pie today. It seemed like the most effcient way to put away Halloween decorations, since I didn’t feel like climbing the ladder into the attic. I took a couple of the small pumpkins off the front steps and roasted them.

Scooping out the seeds and stringy guts of the pumpkins reminded me of a story my friend Edna told 20 years ago. The first time she decided to make a pumpkin pie from scratch, she cut open the pumpkin and all she found inside was that stringy mess…so she picked all the seeds out and used that stuff my kids call the “pumpkin guts” to make her pie. I wish y’all could hear Edna tell this story in her Glenville, Georgia accent. She said, “Welllll, I just kept adding more seasoning and blending it and blending it. It turned out OK, I guess, not too bad.” I think it was one of her sisters who explained to her how you have to cook the pumpkin to get to the part that actually makes the pie. She was trying to make pie out of the part you’re supposed to throw away.

Edna’s story made me smile today, but it also taught me a little lesson. Sometimes we get in a rut and just assume that life is supposed to be THIS hard. That we’re supposed to be making the most out of the stringy guts. That this really is as good as it gets. At the beginning of this year, when I was having so much trouble getting Carlos into an after school program, it turned out that the root of the problem was one person had said one thing to me that was incorrect. When I asked the nice lady behind the desk if after school could make accommodations for my son’s IEP (special ed plan), she said, “Oh, we don’t take kids with special needs. We just don’t have the staff.” Instead of saying, “That can’t be right,” and taking things up a level to her manager, I just assumed that life is supposed to be this difficult when it comes to my boy. And that’s wrong-headed. That’s trying to make pie out of pumpkin guts.

We put so much effort into turning that piddly stuff into a sweet and savory dessert, when the real stuff is so close, right there waiting to be used. Then a friend comes along and says, “Oh, honey! Let me show you a trick.” And you finally learn how pumpkin pie out of pumpkin instead of pumpkin guts. In my case, that whole problem got sorted out because I happened to bump into the principal at the school where Carlos was supposed to be and when she asked me in passing, “How are you today?” I told her the truth–not too good and a little pissed off. She stopped in her tracks and asked if there was any way she could help. I explained that one of her employees had told me that the after school program didn’t take kids with IEPs. She immediately apologized and figured out the employee’s mistake–that student worker had misunderstood. The after school program can’t make accommodations for kids with IEPs, like no student aides or special equipment, but they certainly TAKE kids with IEPs. We got it sorted out in a few minutes and Carlos loves his after school time.

I learned how to make pumpkin pie with PUMPKIN instead of pumpkin guts. I needed a little help with figuring it out, just like Edna. And just like Edna, I was doing my best to make something out of the stringy parts, something that looked like my goal.

Anywho. Vivi decided we should make pumpkin tarts instead of one big pie. I told her to put pecans on top of a few of them. She made faces. I hooted when we pulled them from the oven because they really look like how I feel sometimes:


A Little Patch of Blue Will Do

It’s been raining for a solid month. How do I know? Because the day my dad went to hospice–poured buckets. It rained until the day he died. Then it rained some more but we had a beautiful blue sky day for the funeral. Then it rained some more and then October was over but it is STILL RAINING. Here’s a haiku I wrote about the weather:

Rain rain more damn rain

Yep still raining rain rain rain

Rain rain rain rain fuck

(That is COPYRIGHTED, y’all, so don’t try to sell it to Hallmark.)

Even on a good day, I’ve already got a wagonful of depression to drag around. Add to that a layer of grief, a layer of rain, a layer of daylight saving time and a snotty cold and it has made for a really bleak week. Oh, then my doctor pointed out to me that I weight 20 pounds more than I did when Carlos was born. Cherry on top.

The grayness is eating into my brain. But right around lunchtime today, a weird soft glow came through my office window. I looked up to see a patch of blue hanging over the soggy trees!


I made a RUN for it. I walked the longest way possible down the stairs, across an extra parking lot, around the E.D., past the puddle-covered helipad, up stairs and down. I crossed the street so I could walk without the old oaks dripping on my head. People I passed on the sidewalk looked like little squinty moles rising up into the light.

Then up ahead, another patch of blue:


The line snaked out the door but the wait is always worth it for Marti’s at Midday. When I ordered a half Paige (tuna melt) with a half/half mint tea, Marti winked and said, “This one’s on me.” I’ve learned to just say thank you when she does that and put what I was going to spend on lunch in the tip bucket. A few minutes later, she handed me my lunch, blew a kiss and said, “Love you.” Her blue eyes twinkled with loving kindness.

The rain began to plinky-plunk again. I really wanted to sit outside and enjoy the patch of blue sky while it lasted. Then I remembered that there are a few tables on our cafeteria patio that are covered. Victory! I claimed one for myself and pulled a book out of my purse:


Check out that little patch of blue, huh? (It’s about two inches above Justin Theroux, for those of you having trouble focusing.) If you are watching “The Leftovers” on HBO, the book is well worth the read. I watched some of the first season and one recent episode from the second season. Lots of differences in the novel, so it’s interesting to compare how one had to be turned into the other. And Justin Theroux. There’s that.

So I was feeling pretty good, out of the rain, enjoying the last 30 pages of a book, my favorite lunch on the side. I choked up over one scene (No spoilers!) featuring Jill, the teenage daughter who has lost so much in the story. She stood up a person whom she was supposed to meet in favor of hanging out with a cute boy:

She felt a little guilty…but not guilty enough to do anything about it. She could apologize tomorrow, she thought, or maybe the day after.

I ran into some friends, she could write.

Or: There’s this cute boy, and I think he likes me.

Or even: I forgot what it feels like to be happy.

Yep. Sometimes I forget what it feels like to be happy. Today was a nice reminder.

As I got up to leave the patio, I saw one more patch of blue out of the corner of my eye. There sat my friend, Pat, also taking advantage of the shelter of the overhang so she could eat her lunch in the fresh air. Her back was to me and I thought about leaving her to her private time–she’s a nurse who doesn’t get a lot of down moments during the day. Just yesterday, she gave me a hug in the cafeteria. I wanted another one. She was another patch of blue on my trail.


Look at that smile! Pat is one of those people who has been encouraging me for years. Whether it was through grief or motherhood or boring days or thilling ones, Pat never fails to tell me that everything will be OK and I will be too. We talked for a few minutes and she told me how much she enjoys reading these stories on Baddest Mother Ever. I got my hug and another one to spare. Thank you, Pat.

That lunchtime adventure really turned my mood around. I followed the “blue clues” and found myself a little happiness. This afternoon? It poured. As my dad always says–said–“It’s raining like a cow peeing on a flat rock.” I can’t change that. Any of that.

And that’s OK. I just have to find enough happiness to keep going. During those times in life when it’s raining and it’s been raining and it’s going to rain for another week, a little patch of blue will do.