A Heart Walking Around In a Body

So.

I’ve been quiet lately.

I can’t get one thing written before another something happens and then I have to sit and think about that, but before I can get my ideas to line up next to words, something else happens. Kap. Tulsa. Star Spangled Banners. Syria. My own backyard. Charlotte.

Today, I found myself in a simple story that summed up some of what I’ve been trying to say. I had a moment in the basement of the hospital that opened my heart to how pervasive racism is in my world.

Part of my job is to share good news. When one employee wants to recognize another for a kind deed or superior service, it’s my privilege to hear those stories and share them with the whole health system. What a delight–I get paid to make sure good people and good work get recognized! I get a front row seat to watch people being their best–the people who are being thanked and the people who are taking a moment to thank others.

Yesterday, I received a recognition note from a nurse up on the floors. She had witnessed a pair of transporters (the people who move patients from one area of the hospital to another) go out of their way to care for a patient. While the patient was being wheeled back to her room from a procedure, she confided that she didn’t have any family nearby who could visit her. Naturally, she was feeling low and lonely. The transporters, a young man and a young woman, decided to cheer her up. They went down to the gift shop and bought her a flower and a balloon, wrote her a kind note of encouragement, and let her know that they cared. The nurse reported that the patient had smiled all day long thanks to their kindness.

Their hearts were filled with love. With the best kind of kindness–kindness to a lonely stranger.

Heart with seeds. Image courtesy Pixabay. Kindness

Heart with seeds. Image courtesy Pixabay.

A few hours after I read this gracious story, I walked over to the main hospital to run an errand. As I turned a corner, I almost bumped into a man in black scrubs–the transporter uniform. I glanced at his name tag and saw that it was the same man who had been recognized for great kindness to a lonely patient.

I had knowledge of this man’s heart.

But my first response to him–the first thing I registered–was his body. He is a tall, broad-shouldered, young Black man. He wasn’t carrying a rose with a balloon tied to the vase. He wasn’t even smiling. In the second before I saw his name tag and realized this was the gentle heart of kindness, I saw his skin and his frame and I reacted as I am programmed to do: you are other; are you dangerous? Should I be afraid of you? In less than a second, I was assessing him based on his body.

What I often forget is that he has been programmed to have the same reaction to me. He almost walked into me and probably went through the same assessment: You are not like me? Are you dangerous? Should I be afraid of you? As a middle-aged white woman who has grown up in Georgia, I know that I am the most dangerous thing a young Black man can run into when walking around a corner. Fifty years ago, he could have been lynched if I had walked into him and knocked us both down.

I wanted to apologize to him for not looking where I was going, and all of that history that neither one of us caused but that both of us carry. I wanted him to know that I knew he had a kind and caring heart. To meet his eye. To strike up a conversation. To represent all white people everywhere and prove that I’m not one of the bad ones.

Then again, I wanted to leave him alone to live his own life without my whole internal narrative being projected onto him. Maybe he was just walking down the hall, doing his job, and didn’t need a bleeding heart white woman all up in his space trying to save the world because the world can’t be easy for him right now. Maybe my feelings about his feelings aren’t central to the story? Maybe I should keep walking and do my errand. Just like with my writing these days, I was thinking so many thoughts that I couldn’t find any words. I missed the chance to say, “Hey! I heard about a really nice thing you did! That was cool.”

Instead, he went his way; I went mine.

I walked away thinking, “What must it be like to be him, walking around in this country today? Where no one knows his heart but everyone sees his body? Does he live in genuine fear of people like me because of his body?” Yes, I think.

I guess what I learned today is this: We live afraid of each other because we don’t have a way of seeing the heart that’s walking around in the body. We have to learn to lengthen those seconds that we spend seeing each other. That which is holy in me honors that which is holy in you.

I didn’t have time or words to get there today, but for a moment I imagined what it’s like right now for that gentle heart to live this life, walking around in that body.

We Can Do So Much Better: Luvvie Ajayi’s “I’m Judging You”

luvvie-book

 

I used to have a bad habit of flipping to the last page of a new book and reading the last sentence first. It’s not usually a spoiler, because I don’t read a lot of mystery or suspense, but reading the last sentence gave me a general idea of where the author plans to take me. Here’s the last sentence of Luvvie Ajayi’s new book “I’m Judging You: The Do Better Manual”:

“We just need to start now. We can start doing better any time we want.”

Amen. Don’t let the title scare you off–Luvvie’s judgement is cast far, wide, and right in the mirror too. In four sections, the mind and tongue behind Awesomely Luvvie lays out the myriad ways we are not living up to our full potential.

In Life, she had me laughing about these awful people we all know: Dinner Scrooges, Lannister Friends, otherwise sensible friends who have fallen under the spell of Island Peen, booty-hole bleachers, and the fun house mirror culture that calls a size 4 actress “curvy.” This section is classic Funny Awesomely Luvvie. I laughed, but I kept waiting for the insight that I know she can deliver.

And that insight knocked me on my ass in the section on Culture. Luvvie lays it out. Racism isn’t just white hoods and burning crosses. Privilege isn’t nullified if you have to work for a living and studied hard in school. The single story of Africa that we’ve been sold (or clung to because it’s comfortable) is a farce. Rape culture is real and #YesAllWomen. Feminism, homophobia, the frailties of religion–it’s all in there. This is the section that I read slowly so I could learn from a friend who’s not much like me. For example, I know intersectionality is a problem in feminism–the goals of Feminism have often been the goals that benefitted white, hetero, cis-gendered, Western, Christian the most. Luvvie makes it so concrete:

“The misogyny that white women get looks different from ours, and our struggles aren’t in the same box. They might be called “bitch,” but we get called “nigger bitch.” They might make 77 cents for every dollar that a white man makes on the job, but a Black woman gets only 64 cents out of that white man’s dollar.”

If you’re starting to think that this book might be too heavy for the end of summer, Nope. Here’s how Luvvie, a Christian, takes down those who cling to one verse in Levviticus as the foundation of their homophobia but skip over the verses about shellfish, tatoos, and poly cotton culottes:

Leviticus, my ass.

Leviticus, my ass.

The section on Social Media should be a must-read for any child who is about to be given a phone of their own. #WeMustThinkOfTheChildrenForTheyAreTheFuture. We must also put a stop to #HashtagAbuse (#hash #tag is a totally different topic and actually kind of fun, but messy). We all need to get some behavior when it comes to Facebook oversharing, flirting on LinkedIn, falling for fake news, or curating a life made of eSmoke and eMirrors.

And all of that wisdom (and side-eye) leads to the final section of “I’m Judging You”…Fame. Luvvie is famous. She started out Internet-famous and now she’s getting to be famous-famous. She drops some facts about microwave fame, sex-tape fame, reality show fame…all forms of Lame Fame (TM Baddest Mother Ever, all rights reserved).

So what ARE we to do?

  1. Buy the book and enjoy laughing and learning with Luvv.

B. Call out foolishness in all its forms. We all have a platform and a sphere of social influence. Your influence may reach thousands, or it may reach a circle of friends and family. Expect better. Shut down the fat jokes. Call out the casual racism. Speak out on that board you’re on or the club you’re in or the school where you work and speak up for inclusion. Vote. Vote with your dollars and your voice.

iii. Get creative when it comes to spelling. I’m talmbout expanding your vocabulary as much as you worry about alphets. Learn words like “yansh” and “mtchew” and “minuswell.” We often have to search for new words to match our growing world views. Skim the footnotes, iSweaterGawd.

2a. Start doing better. We can start now.

V. One more thing. I started following Luvvie so I could learn how she creates success (and for Game of Thrones recaps). She’s been doing this social networking game since Facebook had 20 members and two of them were those Ken Doll twins. I’ve learned that it’s not all magic. There’s a good bit of magic, but there’s a shit-ton of WORK. Hustle. Consistency. Drive. Determination. All those football coach words. I’m learning to believe in myself. It might take a few more years, but this thing I wrestle with on the weekends is going to be a book one day.

Until then, click the cover to order “I’m Judging You” for yourself!


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Household Spirits

“Mommy, I’m having that anxious feeling again.” Vivi and Pengy curled up on the couch next to me, ten minutes past bedtime. I stretched her legs over mine so i could rest my hand on her knee.

“What’s got you feeling anxious?”

“I’m scared of ghosts.”

Roman statue

Roman statue

I gave her a skeptical look. “Are ghosts real?”

“No…I know, but Myca was talking about maybe Biscuits is a ghost cat. Like there’s this cat spirit and it lives in the woods until it decides to come out and haunt a family…”

Biscuits heard her name and promptly hopped up on the couch with us. I tucked a long curl behind Vivi’s ear. “Honey, if you know ghosts aren’t real, it doesn’t really make much sense to get worked up thinking about them.”

“I just can’t stop thinking about them. They might hurt us.”

“OK. Well, if you are going to think about ghosts that might want to be hurtful, then why don’t you also think about the ghosts who are on our team?”

She twisted up her face and gave me a sideways look.

“So let’s say there is some kind of life after this one and there are some ghosts that linger on. If that’s the case, then the spirits that want to take care of us hang around us too?” She was thinking about it. “Like Papa. You’d have Papa on your team of friendly ghosts.”

“And he’d be…” She threw her voice down into a gentle growl. “…you better get in here!”

“Right! When you were a little baby, there was one night when I was so anxious that I couldn’t sleep. I remember leaning over your crib and wishing I could quit worrying and go to sleep. So I summoned my protector spirits and asked them to sit on the roof of the house and watch over us.”

She lit up. And I did too.

“I imagined my Pop on one corner, and my Grandmama Eunice on another corner and Daddy’s daddy–the first Carlos Jose–was out there, and I imagined Richard right up on top of the roof because he wasn’t afraid of heights. Now we’ve got Papa up there too, watching out for us.”

Vivi shook herself back into worrying and stuck her finger in her mouth. “But how could they keep us safe from mean ghosts?”

“Papa was a really good shot when he was young. He won riflery medals. And he was strong! He could throw a cow to the ground with a rope and his bare hands.”

She caught the tail of the story and held on. “What about your grandmama?”

“Oh, well she was a gentle lady but she would not tolerate any foolishness. And if you messed up, she made you pick your own switch. Do you know what that means?”

“Like you had to spank YOURSELF?”

“No, you had to go out to the yard and break off a switch and then she would spank your bootie with it.”

“What about your Pop?”

“Pop wasn’t a fighter that I know of, but he chewed tobacco…”

“So he could SPIT AT THEM!”

“Yes!”

G walked into the den. I asked him, “Hey, Daddo. What would your father do to protect us if he was a friendly ghost?”

“Oh, my father, he was a pretty laid back guy.”

“Right, but if someone threatened you?”

“He’d get his father’s Beretta from the war.”

Vivi hooted at the idea of all these fiercely friendly ghosts hanging out on the roof.  “What about Richard?”

“I always pictured him right up on top of the roof, sitting lookout. Richard knew a lot about how to take care of himself. He knew how to fight…”

“Like karate chops?”

“Not exactly, but, well, just stuff. He wouldn’t let anybody get in this house.”

It took a few more minutes, but eventually we sent her off to bed with no more worries about ghosts in the night.

Our talk got me thinking the Roman belief in household spirits. The lares domestici were the spirits of family ancestors who watched over the home and hearth. Each lare protected a specific physical spot (for example, a 1961 ranch house with a little girl trying to avoid her bedtime).

If the family moved, they took their lares with them. The lares sat out on the table during meals. They received offerings on important days and they witnessed family events like marriages. Remember, in the movie “Gladiator,” those small carved figures that Maximus carried with him in a little leather pouch? Those were his lares.

Roman bust

Roman bust

On that night several years ago, when I couldn’t imagine a way to let myself rest now that I was responsible for a tiny sleeping wonder of a child, I called upon my lares domestici. Pop, who smelled of Levi Garrett and I can hear his smooth fingertips glide over the pages of a Louis L’amour novel while he guards his corner of the roof. Grandmama Eunice, dressed for church in a purple pantsuit with her purse on her lap, keeping watch over her corner with a Sunday school teacher’s all-seeing and all-loving gaze. Carlos Jose the First, quietly singing a lullaby in Portuguese and watching over the dark backyard where the hummingbirds sleep. Richard sitting watch on the crest of the low shingled roof, never in need of sleep, never daydreaming.

Now I see Papa sitting beside him. Telling stories, talking politics, enjoying each other’s company. Keeping watch until morning.

When my child finds herself wandering off into the frightening dark maybes of the world, I call her back and remind her that there is more good, more protection, more fierce and unfailing love around her.

 

Tight Shot/Wide Shot: Dark and Stormy

Two years and four days ago, I wrote a story that got great reaction: Tight Shot/Wide Shot. In a few photos taken around my palatial showcase of a home, I illustrated the disconnect between what we share with the world (the carefully posed tight shot) with what we actually live in (the messier wide shot).

I had another moment like that this evening, when the stress of the day drove me to spend the last of my weekly Weight Watchers points on a mixed drink. This beautiful cocktail is called a Dark and Stormy:

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Dark and Stormy: Gosling’s Black Seal rum from Bermuda mixed with the strongest ginger beer you can find. Serve over crushed ice at sundown.

Richard and I discovered this drink in Bermuda, at The Reefs. We two damn near perfect vacations there. We planned to get married on the pink beach beneath the cliffs. Every evening at about sundown, we would mix up a couple of soda bottles filled with Dark and Stormys then drink them in the hot tub on the side of the cliffs.

Yeah, that was a while back. Waaaaaaay back. Today, I mixed my Dark and Stormy then took it outside to the deck to take a deep breath while the Ore Ida french fries cooked in the oven and some turkey burgers sizzled on the indoor grill. I took it outside in hopes of getting a little sip of Special and Exotic and Vacation because today has been a whole heaping dish of Another Damn Monday.

Tight shot: I could have shared the photo and left you thinking that this is what my life looks like.

But writing and sharing isn’t about the tight shot. It’s about the wide shot:

Real life pool

Those towels are from Saturday, which was the last day that the pool wasn’t too green for swimming.

Sooo glamorous.

By 9:30 this morning, I had already been up for 3 hours but still late for work, because I had school drop off, a conference with Carlos’ special ed teacher, and a booster shot appointment at the veterinarian for the kitten. Which cost me $80 and five minutes of crying in my car because when Biscuits got scared before the second injection, the vet said, “Settle, settle” to her and it hit me right in the heart because Daddy always said “Easy, easy,” when an animal started to panic.

I got to work in time to get caught in a pissing contest between two smart and capable people who have very different expectations. Work these days feels like so much of life, where the things I know how to fix I’m not allowed to fix and the things I’m supposed to fix I don’t know how to fix. But there was lunch with my friend and a free cookie and for a little while, we talked about writing and ideas and how it all comes together. We walked in the sunshine.

I got some stuff done, because I’m a bitch and bitches get stuff done. Because I was so good at getting stuff done, I left late to get my kid so the whole way down the staircase I switched from victory to guilt.

I gave hugs and kisses and answered questions about imaginary worlds and puberty and what’s for dinner. I corrected math homework. I started the laundry and added chemicals to the pool and I forgot to call the water office about our $400 bill from last month. I looked through the mail and worried about college savings accounts, small bank failures, neighborhood meetings about schools, and the half-life of our 18 year old mattress. I worried that we weren’t doing anything special for Labor Day. 

I served french fries because the locally sourced organic okra rotted AGAIN while I dithered over finding a way to cook it other than frying us all to death. I cooked with low sodium, reduced fat, slim bread and fucking french fries in hopes that my son will eat something that isn’t a cracker or a chip. He didn’t eat any of it. He doesn’t eat anything but his pants are too small. Which reminds me that he needs clean uniforms. And who ever thought that white shirts were a viable option for kindergarten uniforms? OxiClean, that’s who.

Screen time and vitamins and grams of protein and signed behavior sheets and kitten fights and french fry guilt and work emails and steel wool scrubbers and fabric softener and bills and …and underneath it all I feel that pull to write, to make something, to create. To make something other than dinner. To create something other than a finely crafted email.

So I made a drink and I stepped outside. When the wide shot hit me and my brain started chasing all the things I needed to do to make that wide shot perfect, I narrowed my focus. I brought it back to my breath. To my senses. To the cold wet glass in my hand. To the bite of the ginger and the warmth of the rum. To the smell of the neighbor’s cut grass. To the sparkle of sundown through those pine trees that I was looking at when Richard told me that he needed to know I would be happy again one day, after he was gone.

I drank it all in.

Biscuit Guilt: Modern Southern Motherhood

My kids love biscuits for breakfast. They take a while, so we only have hot biscuits on weekends. Saturday morning, I realized that every time I fix biscuits for them, I get a side of guilt. It’s all part of being a mom in the modern South.

Before we get too deep into the story, I should share my recipe. Feel free to pin it:

Modern southern biscuits

Family biscuit recipe since 2004.

The buttermilk is the secret. Pro tip: use the kitchen scissors to open the bag. Keep your sewing scissors hidden from the children and Gennaro.

I got this recipe from my father, who knew how to make fresh biscuits. He also had the good sense to know that these frozen biscuits were 92% as good as homemade and they saved dirtying up dishes. They’re always ready to pop in the oven and you can make four if four is all you need.

But why the guilt when frozen biscuits make so much sense? My modern southern motherhood guilt stems from the fact that my Grandmama Irene kept a plate of cold biscuits on her kitchen table always. ALWAYS. Whatever she and Pop and Aunt Eula didn’t eat hot at breakfast went onto a plate to cool then they were covered with the lid of an old aluminum pot. Nobody had an excuse to be hungry at Grandmama’s house because you could always fix you a biscuit. She even kept the preserves and jelly right there next to them on the plastic tablecloth that covered up the good tablecloth.

I can see Grandmama Irene making biscuits. She took out the wooden biscuit bowl, which was never washed with soap, just scraped out good after each batch. A five pound bag of White Lily self-rising flour. A blue can of Crisco with the snap on lid. A half-gallon of buttermilk from the fridge door. Cut in the Crisco, make a well for the buttermilk, mix it together with fingers that have never thumbed through a cookbook for a biscuit recipe. Knowing how to make biscuits came down like family stories–watching the rhythm of her hands, hearing the scratch of the biscuit cutter against the side of the wooden bowl, smelling the sharp tang of buttermilk, that same gentle bite that you’d taste in the biscuit hot out of the oven. A little sharp to balance the sweet preserves.

She rolled her biscuits on a Tupperware pastry sheet, the white one with the red circles for measuring pie crusts. A wooden rolling pin dusted with flour. Then the tiny biscuit cutter–Grandmama’s biscuits are about an inch across, instead of the typical, sausage patty sized biscuits. She lined them up on a shiny greased baking pan while the oven ticked to the right temperature.

The next generation carried on the biscuit ritual, but with a little bit of a nod to busier times. My mom worked full-time but she made scratch biscuits too. Instead of rolled and cut biscuits, she made drop biscuits. Faster and less mess. The flavor is the same, but instead of uniform circles, her biscuits went more oblong, echoing the shape of the spoon that had dropped the dough onto the baking sheet. The tops of those biscuits peaked and rippled, not smooth and flat like her mama’s biscuits. In our house, biscuits were already becoming a dinner time or weekend thing because mornings were for getting to work and school.

I’m stuck in a strange middle land of the past and the present–on the one hand, I don’t make scratch biscuits like DeeAnn or Beth or Saralynn do, daughters of my generation who learned from their mothers. On the other hand, I also DO NOT use whop biscuits (that’s those godawful biscuits in a can that you have to whop on the side of the counter to open. As Jerry Clower used to say, that WHOP is the sound of a Southern husband’s heart breaking.) So I’m stuck in between whop biscuits and scratch biscuits and that is right where you find frozen buttermilk biscuits.

The guilt, though. Will my kids lose all connection to their floury shortening buttermilk heritage? Will my kids take one more step and–gasp!–feed their kids whop biscuits? THOSE ARE MY (theoretical) GRANDCHILDREN.

The children of every culture walk this line away from the past. We all cling to some recipe from our ancestors. Donaley spends Sundays making Dominican food for her family. Thien-Kim flies home from her mama’s house with a suitcase full of spring rolls. Luvvie pines for her mama’s jollof rice when she’s traveling. Beth makes biscuits in the south of France when she’s missing her granny. Martina makes sauerkraut like her mama taught. Ginger cooks red beans and rice on Monday because that’s laundry day, or it used to be before we all had a washing machine and a dryer in the house.

Yes. I am different from the women who came before me. I don’t make biscuits from scratch. I could if I chose to, but I don’t choose to. At least I don’t today. There will be a day soon from now when I wake up wanting to make biscuits. The recipe and the rhythm will be there in my DNA. It can’t not be there.

But for today, I’m going to put down the guilt. While the frozen biscuits were in the oven, my daughter sat down next to me to show me what she was doing on her laptop. She was coding in Scratch. She dragged an orange cat to the center of the screen then added another version with his legs in a different position. She made him say “Hello there!” She flipped him sideways and it looked like he was swimming, so she drew air bubbles. She changed the line width and color to add a tiny white arc on each gray bubble–voila. We talked about animation and if/then statements and loops and timing. All while the smell of hot biscuits whispered from the kitchen. For her, Saturday mornings aren’t about watching cartoons. They’re for creating.

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And that feeds her spirit and her soul and her future.

Our kids are growing up differently and that’s not so bad. In our house, Sunday morning are for pancakes. Daddy’s in charge of pancakes. Daddy lets you sit on the counter in your underwear and mix in food coloring because blue is your favorite. And Daddy gets you to count how many pancakes will fit on the griddle. He makes little ones and big ones. Daddy teaches you to watch for the bubbles and when there are enough bubbles, how to flip the pancake. Maybe that’s what seeps into your DNA. Maybe that’s the recipe that keeps us connected to each other. The time together, not the taste.

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Know How to Receive This Gift

I owe y’all an update on the kitten! If we’re friends on Facebook, you already know the surprise ending (spolier alert: WE GOT A NEW KITTEH!) As with just about everything in my life, this adventure got me to thinking Big Thoughts that I like to share through Barely Adequate Words.

As soon as I wrote that blog post about the kitten in the tool shed, the kitten left the tool shed. And like the 100% sane and stable person that I am, I  started thinking, “Great–now that I’ve told everyone about the kitten, Huck probably ate it. This is all my fault!”

Nevertheless, the kitten showed up again. Turns out, it was living under the deck, in between the decking boards and the tin roof of the screened porch down below. I caught a photo of the teensy baby one morning when it came out to explore the sourwood tree. One golden leg like something out of a classical myth…

kitty tree

And then I made the mistake of giving Vivi my phone as a distraction at lunch and she saw the photo.

THE CAT WAS OUT OF THE BAG!

kitty vivi

Operation Kitty Katcher was launched about 20 minutes later when we got home. We deployed cheap tuna fish, long crinkly ribbons from Vivi’s birthday balloons, leafy twigs, and flashlights after dark. Vivi sat on the deck with her tablet in hopes of catching a photo. We got close a time or two, but kitten was too wily.

kitty ribbon

We dropped chunks of tuna fish through the railing and onto the tin roof below. Slowly but surely, the kitten began to trust us. I taught Vivi to tap the spoon against the wood every time she fed it to call the kitten out. We brushed our fingertips against the kitten while it ate. We wiped tuna fish on our fingers and eventually the kitty licked them clean.

kitty catcher

It was so stinking hot that weekend. Yellow jackets like tuna fish–did you know that? Me either. But we kept at it.

At one point, Vivi said, “How do you think the kitten ended up here?” I told her that Nana said Papa sent us the kitten. “I know that’s not really what happened, but I like to think of it that way,” I told her. Vivi knows I don’t believe in any kind of afterlife. Her thoughts flickered across her face then she smiled, “I agree with Nana–I think Papa sent us the kitten.”

We sat there together with our arms contorted through the deck railing, dangling our stinky fingers over the edge in hopes of luring the kitten out. “Well, even if Papa didn’t actually send us this kitten, he taught me everything I know about catching kittens. He taught me where they hide and how to feed them and ways to get them to trust us. He taught me that it’s good to take care of hungry little kittens. So in a way, Papa is part of us getting this kitten.”

This is the first kitten I’ve had in my lifetime that wasn’t handed to me by my father. There were allllll those kittens when we were growing up–Slick, Jasmine, Farrah, Wildfire (I gave my cats stripper names). When I was out on my own and ready for another heartbeat in the apartment, he found Jane for me. The most beautiful meanest butterscotch bitch you ever reckoned with. I thought she might be lonely when I started working full time, so I went back to see Daddy. He reached blindly into a cage of stray gray tabbies and put Mr. Kitty in a box for me. Jane bit him on the neck as soon as he climbed out of the box then she spent the next 15 years hissing and spitting at him. When Jane and Mr. Kitty both passed on, and Richard’s Nixon followed a year later, I went back down to Griffin for Thanksgiving and came back with Rufus and Jinx. Someone had thrown Jinx in a trash can when she was three weeks old, and Rufus had been dropped off in the parking lot. Daddy got an earful when Rufus gave Vivi ringworm right before school picture day. Anyway, I’ve had a good run of cats, thanks to Daddy. But now I’m on my own. And my daughter has been begging for a kitten. I’m the grown up in charge of kitten procurement now.

There are two things we can do for our children. We can give them gifts, and we can teach them how to receive gifts. My dad did both. He gave me kittens. He also taught me how to see kittens as a gift. How to receive another mouth to feed with joy and a light heart. How to see a kitten as an increase in love, not an increase in burden. How to spend a sweaty Saturday stinking like tuna fish and getting a crick in my neck because my daughter wants a kitten to love on. And her mama can give her that gift.

On the Monday before school started, I pounced.

kitty carrier

It’s a girl. She was Socks for a couple of days. She was Sammy Socks for a while. But she does that thing that kittens do–kneading her front paws back and forth with her purrbox cranked up to 10. One time I asked Daddy what the clinical name for that motion was and he said, “Makin’ biscuits.”

Meet Biscuits.

Thanks, Papa.

kitty puzzle

kitty biscuit portrait

The Long Growth: There to Here; Green to Gold

“I looked it up–we need to get a male and a female,” Richard said as we stood over the muscadine vines at Cofer’s. I picked up a gallon size bucket with a thin green vine growing inside. I held it up above my head and looked at the bottom. “This one must be female.” I picked up another container. “Shoot, this one must be too…nothing dangling under here!”

He shook his head and smiled at my silliness. “Seriously, how do you tell the difference?”

He stretched out the narrow white label that was tied around the base of the vine. “Here we go–this one has an M. Look for an F.”

We paid a lot of money for those straggling vines. That afternoon, we planted them on either side of the small archway in the backyard that had been built by a previous owner. I remember wondering if the plants would be close enough for the male and the female to matter or if the vines needed to intertwine. Once the roots were buried in the clay, the vines barely reached to the bottom of the trellis. We tied them up with some twine and left nature to do its thing.

Muscadine vine, 13 years later.

Muscadine vine, 13 years later.

 

Its slow, slow thing. Nature’s veeeeery slow thing.

Richard died before ever getting to taste a muscadine from those vines. We stood under that bare archway after our wedding, with vines that still hadn’t reached waist high. I neglected the yard that summer, and the next. But the vines kept growing.

It took years for them to creep up and cover the top of the archway, their male and female tendrils twining together at last. After about five years, I spotted tiny fruit, but the birds got every grape.

I’ve never pruned it, fertilized it, watered it, nothing. Just let it be. One autumn, when the leaves changed color, I noticed that the muscadine vines had grown all up in the redbud tree next to the arch. All that growing, at long last.

But last weekend, while cleaning the pool, the light hit the vines just so and revealed heavy bunches of golden grapes. I couldn’t stop smiling. I stood under the dark shade of the covered arch and ate those sweet muscadines right off the vine. I made a basket with the tail of my t-shirt and picked all I could reach.

Muscadines are wild grapes; scuppernongs are the golden variety.

Muscadines are wild grapes; scuppernongs are the golden variety.

That thick pop of the skin and the sudden sweetness. When I was a kid, I used to buy a pint of scuppernongs every year at the Cotton Pickin’ Fair from Owens Vineyard. Back then, I’d enjoy the juice then spit out the pulp to avoid the seeds. I’m older and wiser now, and as I stood there in the shade of those vines we planted thirteen years ago, I enjoyed every bit of the grape.

It takes a while.

Back then I was young and willing to trust that this would lead to that. You look things up, you read the label, you plant things on the sunny side and you wait. And wait and wait and wait. I got swamped by life for all those years and I lost sight of the idea of grapes that we had entertained over a decade ago. During the growth years and the bird years and the years I was too busy with babies to worry about what was going on in my own backyard.

Then one Saturday I taste the sweetness that we had planted so long ago. From there to here. From green to gold. From all of that…to sweetness.

You just have to hold on and keep growing. It takes longer than I ever imagined.

Scuppernong tendrils

Scuppernong tendrils