College for Your Teen

College for your teen…

Where do you want your teen to go to college?

Someone asked me that question recently. It didn’t take me long to answer, because I know exactly where I want her to go.

I have always thought she would love a big state university. I went to a big state university and loved every minute, so I have always thought she might like the “full college experience,” just like I did.

And then sometimes, she will tell me about some smaller schools that interest her…different ones all over the country. It’s then that I think, “Maybe one of those will be best for her.” Maybe she would like being on a small campus in a cute little town somewhere.

There are so many colleges and universities all over the country to choose from. Almost anyone who wants to go to college can likely find a place that work for them. Interested in big time sports? Check out state universities. Interested in the arts? Check out liberal arts schools near you. Interested in a smaller school setting? Looking for a school that has a high commuter population? You want a school that doesn’t have a high commuter population? You can likely find something that works.

But with so many options, the decision can be difficult. I peruse brochures that come in the mail. I take virtual tours online of different campuses. I talk to friends about where they went to college and listen to their college stories. And honestly, if you talk to the right person, almost every college experience sounds great. I always encourage my daughter to talk to people about their experiences.

It can be difficult to choose.

But here’s the thing: the decision isn’t mine to make. It’s my daughter’s.

My husband and I decided a long time ago that we want her to go to the college of her choice. We want her to find her people. We want her to go into the college experience knowing she picked exactly what she wanted. We want her to be excited. When she has tough days adjusting to college life, we don’t want her to think, “If my parents had let me go where I wanted to go, this wouldn’t be happening.”

Sure, I can listen to her and help her make the decision, but she will make the decision. This is a teenager who, as a toddler, wanted to make her own decisions. She’s got this.

We have made “unofficial” visits to colleges all over the country, just so she could get a feel for the campuses. She has narrowed it down to five or six that she likes. But she’s just entering her junior year of high school. She could find new places of interest over the next two years. She will likely learn about colleges she doesn’t even know exist, and it’s possible some of them could look interesting to her.

So when someone asks me where I want her to go to college, I will give them the same answer I gave my friend a few days ago:

I want her to go where she wants to go.

For the next two years, I will be an innocent bystander in the college search process…simply a facilitator. I will make sure she has access to information about lots of different types of schools. If there is a college she wants to visit, we will do it. If there’s a college she wants to mark off the list…by all means, mark it off the list. Because, when it comes right down to it, it’s her life. She gets to live it. She is quickly approaching adulthood, and she needs to know how to make decisions. I firmly believe a child/teen who isn’t ever allowed to make decisions will become an adult who doesn’t know how to make decisions. I’m going to trust that my daughter will make the right decision for herself, and I’m excited for her to do it.

She has two years to decide.

Let’s get this party started!

Memories of a 1970s Childhood

Memories of a 1970s Childhood.

After reading the Leif Garrett memoir, I find myself thinking about the 1970s. I was born in 1967, but most of my childhood memories were in the 1970s. In fact, I think my brain retains information from that time in my life better than it retains any other decade…and in much more detail. I’ve written before about how I believe we remember events better when they are attached to an emotion…happiness, fear, sadness. Maybe childhood is more emotional, because we have so many more new experiences, so we remember more. Lots of my memories from adulthood are either gone or more difficult to retrieve.

I can probably tell you the telephone number of almost every childhood friend I ever had, and I lived in different places. It’s not like I was dialing the same numbers in 1980 that I was dialing in 1975. I can even tell you the street addresses of childhood friends…the ones I went to kindergarten with. 112 Lakeview Circle? I know whose address that was. 203 Dawson Street? Yep…I know that too. If I don’t know the house number, I know the street name of almost everyone.

It was an epic time. I’m sure everyone thinks their own childhood was the greatest era, but I truly believe it. Our country was pulling out of Vietnam. We didn’t feel the imminent threat of nuclear war that kids felt in the early 1960s. Our relatives weren’t being drafted. Lots of cool things were happening. Here are a few:

  • The milkman delivered to our house. When I told my daughter about the milkman, she looked at me like I had fourteen eyes, saying, “Wait a minute. A man drove a truck around town, dropping off milk on front porches?”  We bought a lot from him…regular milk, chocolate milk (only one carton per week of this special treat), and even eggs, butter, and orange juice! The really big treat we got sometimes, though, was ice cream in a rectangular cardboard carton, and somehow, it just tasted better!images-2
  • When we took photos with our Kodak Instamatic cameras that used 126 or 110 film, we had to drop off the film cartridges at a local TG&Y, Harco, Revco, or other five and dime store to have it developed. We would pick up our photos a week later. We didn’t have the instant gratification…looking at photos immediately to see if they were good. And if we needed flash for our photos, we used flashbulbs atop those cameras! Correction…we had the instant gratification if we had a Polaroid instant camera. They were fun, but with only eight photos per photo cartridge, we wanted to get it right the first time.il_1588xN.2288145040_30ua
  • Kids rode bikes any time the weather permitted. My brother could ride a two-wheeler when he was two or three…much earlier than most kids. I could ride one when I was four or five, and we rode bikes all the time. Our only rule? Don’t ride it across the highway. So if we rode our bikes up to the front of the neighborhood, we had to leave them on the side of the road while we crossed the FOUR-LANE HIGHWAY to get candy and a Coke at the little mom and pop grocery store on the other side. Yes, I said FOUR-LANE HIGHWAY.
  • Kids rode their bikes in the fog from the mosquito truck. OK, so this is not such a great thing, but it’s a memory, for sure. Personally, I was terrified of the mosquito truck, but there were boys in our neighborhood who looked forward to seeing that truck in the summer. I don’t know why it was so much fun for them to ride in the fog…that may or may not have contained DDT…but I can see it vividly in my mind.images
  • Sunday nights were for TV dinners, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, and The Wonderful World of Disney. We had to buy TV dinners on Saturday, because blue laws meant grocery stores were not open on Sunday. In fact, nothing was open on Sunday. Beer and alcohol certainly weren’t sold on Sunday.
  • Families watched TV together. Parents sat in chairs or on the sofa in the family den, while the kids lounged on the floor in front of the console television. It seemed everyone had a giant, color console TV in the family den. Johnny Carson was America’s favorite talk show host, and occasionally, our parents would let us stay up to watch him on The Tonight Show. Later, TV stations signed off with the National Anthem.56adbe711edad2afdadc86c0de9153f8 
  • We stayed outside all day and sometimes, into the night. Our mothers wanted us to come home when the streetlights came on, but with permission, we could stay out and play Kick The Can at night with the neighborhood kids.
  • Seatbelts? What seatbelts? Yes, cars had them, but hardly anyone used them. Kids bounced around on the back seats of cars or stood on the front seat…while the car was moving on a busy highway!photo-1564833840938-2f5041df082d
  • We had a locally owned single-screen movie theater, and it cost $1 for kids and $2 for adults. Most weekends, you could get in at 5:00 for the double feature, which meant you watched a full-length older film first…or maybe an old cartoon movie. Our parents dropped us off in time for the double feature, so they had four hours to go have date night. We got Cokes, popcorn, and Milk Duds. When I was eight, I saw Jaws on the big screen with my six year old brother! It was rated PG; PG-13 didn’t exist yet, and anything that wasn’t rated R was fine. We also saw Smokey and the Bandit, Rocky, Car Wash, The Bad News Bears, and more…all unaccompanied. If you think The Bad News Bears was made for kids, watch it now. I bought it years ago on DVD for my then-five-year-old daughter, because I didn’t remember just how bad the language was!
  • Pizza parties. We were thrilled to go to Pizza Inn (or Shakey’s or Pascuale’s) for a pizza birthday party. Everyone sat around a big table eating pizza. That was the party. We were likely in middle school, and we had the best time hanging out, eating pizza with our friends! Just good fun.
  • TV theme songs and commercial jingles were the best! Seriously. Do TV shows even have theme songs anymore? I can throw out one line from so many TV shows, and I imagine most folks my age can name the show.  1. Come and knock on our door… 2. Here’s a story of a lovely lady… 3. Come and listen to a story ’bout a man named Jed… 4. You take the good; you take the bad; you take ’em both, and there you have… 5. 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8, shlemiel, schlimazel…Those are TV theme songs, and for commercial jingles… A. Here’s to good friends, tonight is kind of special… B. Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun! C. My baloney has a first name… D. Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce, special orders don’t upset us! E. Have a bucket of chicken… *See below for answers*

Oh, those were the days! A lot of life revolved around television. It was epic in the 1970s. And to think we fret about our kids’ screen time! Bahahaha!

I’d love to hear your memories from the 70s…

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TV them songs shown above: 1. Three’s Company 2. The Brady Bunch 3. The Beverly Hillbillies 4. The Facts of Life 5. Laverne and Shirley

Commercial jingles: A. Lowenbrau B. McDonald’s Big Mac C. Oscar Mayer D. Burger King E. Kentucky Fried Chicken

An Accidental Reunion

An accidental reunion.

Earlier this week, I told my teenage daughter to pack a bag, because we were making an impromptu trip to a college in another state for an “unofficial” visit. She’s a rising high school junior, so it’s time to start getting an idea about where she might like to continue her education. Most admissions offices at colleges are not open now because of COVID, so “official” visits aren’t happening, but what was to stop us from going to a campus and checking things out on our own? Since it seems all we have done is go to the beach this summer, I was ready to roll to almost anywhere that wasn’t the beach. So we quickly packed our bags with a single change of clothes and the essentials, and we hit the road.

When I say we packed “essentials,” I mean we absolutely packed bare bones. I took a change of clothes, something to sleep in, any medications we might need, and toiletries…hairbrush, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant. That’s it. I didn’t take makeup, because we were just going to be staying for one night and weren’t going to spend any time socializing. On the way out of town, we did a swing through the ChickFilA drive-thru for some lunch, and my daughter made a hotel reservation for us while I drove.

We had 3 1/2 hours to talk while we were on our way there, and because we took the scenic route, we had lots of cute little towns to see and some beautiful scenery too!

We arrived on the college campus at about 4:30 in the afternoon and went straight to the campus bookstore. I learned a long time ago that the campus bookstore is a good place to start. It’s usually easy to find, and shopping is always fun! We purchased a few items before the store closed at 5pm, and we set out driving around, trying to get a feel for the university. We looked at dorms…all from the outside of course…and we also got a feel for the campus by looking for different areas…the science buildings, education buildings, athletic facilities, sorority and fraternity housing…and of course, the always important football stadium, which was impressive, for sure.

We then checked into our hotel and walked to dinner at a nearby restaurant to discuss everything we had seen. While we were at dinner, I posted a few pictures, and then…bam! Two of my friends from college who live nearby commented, reminding me that they live there! How had I forgotten they lived there?!?! I have seen one of them a few times over the last couple of years, when she visited Charlotte, and I last saw the other one nine years ago when we had a planned reunion at the Virginia Creeper bike trail. After hearing from them, we scheduled a lunch for the next day…an accidental reunion! What an amazing surprise in the middle of this road trip!

The next morning, my daughter and I checked out a few more things on the college campus before meeting my “old” friends for lunch! Here’s the great thing about being 53 and getting together with friends from college…it’s always comfortable! It’s always easy! There was absolutely no awkwardness about it as we reminisced about old times but laughed and talked about what’s going on in our lives now too. The three of us met when we were 18 and 19 years old, and here we are…more than 30 years later…still able to fall right back in where we left off…without missing a beat! We talked about funny memories…it was the 80s when we were in college, after all! And they weren’t appalled by and didn’t make fun of my makeup-free, t-shirt clad look!

We’re all 30+ years older and wiser. I’d be willing to bet we’re even 30 years more fun…which would be quite an accomplishment, since we were a lot of fun in college! Next time I’m there, we’ll make time for some fun! One friend has a grown daughter in her 20s, and the other has two boys…both college age. I’m behind the curve with a 16-yr-old, but I loved that my daughter was there to meet these lovely ladies I’ve known for more than half my life. She enjoyed meeting them, and afterward, she told me she had decided, after meeting them, that maybe I was cool when I was younger after all! I’m not sure what she thought I was like before, but apparently, she wasn’t sure I was “cool.”

Over lunch, we also talked about actually planning a reunion…maybe another trip to the Virginia Creeper Trail, since it’s fun, super easy, and in a cute town. Last time, we stayed at the lovely Martha Washington Inn in Abingdon (for info, click here) and took in a show at the Barter Theater, the State Theater of Virginia. The Barter is even staging shows during COVID at a local closed drive-in theater! (For info on The Barter Theater, click here.) Maybe next time, we can stay at the Martha Washington Inn again and look for some ghosts while we’re there. I’ve heard the place is haunted, but we didn’t encounter any spooky visitors while we were there. And the restaurant at the hotel, called Sisters, was fabulous.

Even more exciting to me is the possibility that I could see these ladies more often if my daughter opts to go to college in the town where they live! Wow! I could visit my daughter and hang out with my old friends too! Plus, she would have a couple of surrogate moms nearby.

I’m so glad we had our accidental reunion! It was a bright spot in the middle of all this COVID madness…a much needed visit with some dear friends.

 

The Bloom is Off the Rose

The bloom is off the rose.

I will admit it. At first, since no one in my family was sick with the coronavirus, it was fun hanging out at home with my family. We were fortunate to have a warm March (and April), so we were able to use the pool and spend time in the sun together. We slept in a little every day and watched some movies and series on Netflix and Amazon. It was like we were on a staycation…for about a week.

And then we became accustomed to living the lives of shut-ins. That’s something I never thought I would say. I never thought I would become accustomed to being stuck at home all the time, but I did. I’ve done everything around my house I can do except the difficult stuff I need to do. I need to be going through boxes in the attic and getting rid of stuff. I need to be cleaning closets and other spaces, but instead, I’ve been gardening…in my dining room. OK, so I’m just keeping my seeding pots in the dining room till they’re big enough to transfer to the ground outside, but it’s a little weird to see hundreds of plants in the dining room floor. I’ve been exercising every day, and I’ve been knitting some too. I rarely knit in April, because we’re pushing toward summer, but I’m knitting in April this year. I’ve been enjoying time with my family…lots of it.

But here we are…weeks into the “stay-at-home” order…and I’m getting tired of it. What seemed like fun in the beginning is growing stale now. Yes, the bloom is off the rose, so to speak. I’m tired of getting nervous before I check the stock market every day. I want to meet friends for lunch. I want to go into non-essential businesses! I want businesses to get back to work and start making money again.

Basically, I want life to be normal again.

I know normal will look different than it has before, and that’s OK. I remember when we had to get used to a different normal after 9/11. I can get used to a different normal, but I just don’t want this isolation to be that normal. I want to stop worrying about the stupid coronavirus. I want people to get well. I want to see friends. I want to visit family. I want our economy to recover and thrive. I want to go on vacation! Yes! I remember vacations! And by golly, I want to take, at least, some of the vacations I had planned before this insanity started. In fact, I’m still holding out hope against hope that I can take some of the trips I have planned for this summer. Oh, please! Oh, please! I love Charlotte, North Carolina, but I want out of this place! Is that too much to ask?

Speaking of the bloom being off the rose…I have worn makeup one time in the weeks since this whole isolation started. I had a Zoom meeting a couple of weeks ago, and since people were going to see me, I decided I needed to actually put on makeup. Maybe I should practice over the next week or so, just so I can remember how to do it when we can actually go places again! And let’s not even talk about hair! I’m sure my husband thinks I look like a dragon lady, because it’s long and untamed right now, and I don’t even care! I have a friend who says she will head straight to the thrift store when stores are open. She wants to buy long a-line skirts and other conservative clothing to go with the new sister wife look she has adopted during the pandemic. She is joking, of course…I hope.

I want to start moving around again. I want us to be allowed to figure out what normal is going to look like after all this insanity has passed. I haven’t started a letter-writing campaign or participated in any protests against the government, but I sure will be glad when we can start moving around again. I live in a great city, but I’m tired of being here for now. We have a lovely home, but I’m tired of looking at it day in and day out.

The bloom is officially off the rose.

A Bluebird Takes Flight

A bluebird of happiness takes flight.

I just received word that a dear family friend passed away. When I say “dear family friend,” I mean someone who had basically been a member of my family since my parents first married in 1961. My mother met her when they were both working at a Sunland Center in Florida. Sounds luxurious, right? Well, Sunland was  actually a facility that specialized in offering services for the physically and mentally disabled…mostly children. My mother was a nurse there, and Cynthia, the family friend, worked in the recreation department. Cynthia was just 18 when they met, and while she admired Mother, I think Mother kind of took her under her wing. Mother was four years older, a registered nurse, and married. They became lifelong friends.

With encouragement from my mother, Cynthia later went to nursing school and then continued her education to become a nurse anesthetist…against the odds, since she was dyslexic. But she worked hard, and she was successful.

My parents moved to Alabama soon after I was born, and I remember Cynthia visiting regularly throughout my life. In fact, I thought she was my aunt till I was eight or nine. I have pictures of her visiting when I was a baby.  I know she was with us at a hotel in Panama City Beach in March 1970, when my toddler brother pulled a coffee pot off the table, burning himself. Mother and Daddy rushed him to the hospital, and Cynthia stayed with me. We watched people shooting fireworks off the balconies of the hotel…out over the beach. That’s likely one of my earliest memories, since I was not quite three years old. I’m sure it registered in my longterm memory because my brother’s burn was emotional for me.

Later, Cynthia had a little Triumph convertible. I thought she was the coolest, and I loved riding in that little car with her. She would visit us once or twice a year, and she was fun and energetic. She loved telling stories, and she loved to laugh. She had an infectious sense of humor with a twinkle in her eye, and she was always supportive of our little family. With no kids of her own, she treated us as if we were hers. Interestingly, somehow I remember that she was visiting us in Spanish Fort when I turned ten in 1977. She gave me a cool hooded shirt and shorts, and some Faberge Tigress cologne…what I thought was a grown-up gift! I loved it…the bottle was beautiful, with a fuzzy top that looked like a tiger skin. Funny what we remember.

And when Daddy was dying with pancreatic cancer, Cynthia was right there with us…helping us help him. I vividly remember her bathing mother’s dog and entertaining my daughter and my cousin’s daughter. The girls were two and three years old at the time, and Cynthia knew how to entertain them.

You might remember that I wrote about Cynthia once before, a couple of years ago when I wrote about the Bluebird of Happiness I found in my mother’s home after she died. I didn’t know where she got them, but I knew Cynthia often brought little gifts when she visited Mother, and I was right…when I called Cynthia, she said she had given them to her. I promptly packaged them up and sent them to Cynthia, and she later told me she kept them on a little table next to a picture of Mother. You can see the Bluebird of Happiness piece here. 

Last year, when I took my daughter and one of her friends on a road trip along the Gulf Coast, we visited Cynthia in Tallahassee. She took us to dinner at Shula’s atop the Hotel Duval, and we enjoyed the view of the Tallahassee skyline from the balcony. I had planned to see her again at Labor Day this year, when we visit Tallahassee again for a Florida State University football game.

While I’m brokenhearted…again…after a big loss, I know that if she were here with me right now, we would be laughing about something. She could make anything funny…with just a look.  In fact, last year, when we went to dinner, she kept my daughter in stitches with her crazy sense of humor. She told my daughter stories from my youth, and we laughed and laughed.

She loved my family as if we were her own, and the feeling was mutual, so this loss is a big one. It took the wind out of my sails. While I know loss is going to happen, this one was a shock. She was 76, but she was a young 76, if that makes any sense. She was a tough chick, and she is missed already.

Hug your loved ones, and if you can’t hug them because of this pandemic, talk with them as much as you can.

Take Ten Seconds

A friend just shared on Facebook a video of Mr. Rogers accepting a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Daytime Emmy Awards in 1997. In his acceptance speech, the beloved Mr. Rogers asks if everyone will take “just 10 seconds to think about the people who have helped you become who you are…the ones who cared about you and wanted what was best for you in life.” And he silently keeps time on his watch…just ten seconds to think of the people who helped you become who you are. You can see a clip here.

I loved Mr. Rogers. It’s no secret. My friends have known that for years. In Pittsburgh a few years ago, I forced everyone in my party to visit the Heinz History Center to see the Mr. Rogers exhibit…some of the pieces from his television show. I was happy. I looked at all of it and thought how much my little girl self would have loved to see it all in person back in the 1970s. Mr. Rogers was a part of my childhood. If you are close to my age, he was likely a part of your childhood too. You likely know the theme song for his show. You likely remember some of the characters from The Neighborhood of Make Believe. Sure, we sometimes made fun of Mr. Rogers and his cardigans and practical shoes, but we all learned something from him.

And as it turns out, Mr. Rogers, in his acceptance speech, was still affecting people. In fact, he’s still affecting us today. That very video made me stop and think about something I hadn’t thought about before…the people who helped me become who I am.

For me, there are many…my parents, my family, some of my teachers, my college friends, other friends…you know, the usual. I won’t name any names, but there are other people who helped me become who I am, and some of them did not do it intentionally. You know who really helped me become who I am? People with whom I had a disagreement of some sort. Seriously. Think about that. When you have a disagreement with someone, it changes who you are…hopefully for the better. And I truly believe that, when I’ve had disagreements with folks, I have been introspective afterward…thinking about where I might have been right and where I might have been wrong. There are also people with whom I had a chance encounter…maybe they helped me carry my groceries; maybe they blessed my day; maybe they stopped me from doing something stupid; or maybe they encouraged me to take a risk I wouldn’t normally have taken. The list is long.

But the list of people who have cared about me along the way? I have a small family, so that list is not particularly long. I have some great friends with whom I will be friends till I die. And I’ve had other friends who aren’t still around, but they cared about me at some point, and I cared about them…and deep down inside, I truly care about anyone who was my friend at one time. Truth. And even if they don’t care about me, they still shaped me in some way.

I’m a firm believer that everyone we encounter affects us and shapes us in some way…maybe it’s a positive and maybe it’s a negative.

So stop and think about the people who have made you who you are. Sure, some of them cared about you. Some of them just affected you in a chance encounter. Be restrospective and introspective. And then, get out and go see A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers. Just seeing the movie trailer makes me cry, so when I go see it, I’ll have lots of tissues. I plan to see it within the next few days.

Taking the Back Roads

This past weekend, I met some friends in Atlanta for a concert. Of course, we had a fabulous time, because concerts make us feel young, but the drive from Charlotte to Atlanta and back can be less than pleasant. I love driving, and I especially love driving alone! I can listen to the music I want to hear. I can open the sunroof. I can think. But there is nothing relaxing about driving on I-85 between Charlotte and Atlanta. The trucks! The speed! The stupid slow drivers in the left lane! Note to all: if I’m having to pass you on the right, you’re doing it wrong. The left lane is the passing lane and should be moving faster than the right lane. I don’t care what the speed limit is. If folks are passing you on the right, get your butt over into the right lane.

So this time, I tried something different. I opted to drive on back roads instead of the interstate till I got south of Greenville, South Carolina…and it was downright relaxing! No jockeying for position. No crazy speeds. No idiots driving too slow in the left lane. No trucks. It was glorious! I enjoyed it!

Along the way, I passed through towns like Rock Hill, SC, Clinton, SC, Saluda, SC, Pelzer, SC, and more. There were actually things to see along the way: beautiful, historic homes and churches; the historic downtowns of small towns; old train depots; a funeral home with folks gathered outside; a large horse on top of a pole…maybe the symbol of someone’s farm? I saw folks riding horses along dirt roads that ran parallel to the road I was driving. There were big signs advertising upcoming championship rodeos, and another sign for the I-77 Speedway in Chester, SC. I saw old high schools and their football stadiums…probably home to their own version of Friday Night Lights. Big, round hay bales were rolled tightly on farms. Cows grazed. Local restaurants…some of which had long been shuttered and some that appeared properous…dotted the roadside. Teenagers sat on tailgates outside convenience stores. I could smell the fresh air…instead of diesel fuel.

Did it take me a little longer to get to and from Atlanta? Sure it did. Was it worth it? You bet. A drive that should have taken me about three hours and 45 minutes took about 4 1/2 hours. I opened the sunroof and cranked up the tunes, and I enjoyed the ride…passing over rivers and lakes I had never seen. I didn’t even know most of them existed!

And as I drove, I thought about how the folks who live out there on those roads can actually see the stars at night, and I was a little jealous. I love sitting outside in the dark and relaxing while watching satellites and rockets pass overhead. I love seeing planets, constellations, and stars, but it’s difficult to enjoy stargazing when there’s light pollution around a city.

Next time I go to Atlanta, I will take the same route. Yeah…it will take me a little longer, but I will be going through towns where life doesn’t seem so “dog eat dog.” I’ll go through places where it doesn’t seem every man is out for himself. And I might just stop at one of the mom and pop restaurants for lunch.

Lessons From The Florida Panhandle

The Florida Panhandle. It’s a place I know well. It is a place that is near and dear to my heart.

My daddy, his siblings, and all my first cousins grew up there. I was born there. My grandparents lived there. My daddy is buried there, and my mother’s ashes are there.

When I was five months old, my family moved to Brewton, Alabama, and I never lived in the Panhandle again, but we visited family there regularly. We also vacationed at the beaches along the gulf coast in the Panhandle. I learned a lot in the Panhandle.

This past week, I took my teenage daughter on a road trip through the panhandle. Neither of us had been there since 2007, and she had no recollection of that visit. I also showed her some places she had never been. She didn’t act particularly interested in all my stories, but maybe she will remember some.

Maybe she will remember my telling her about doodlebugs in the Panhandle. Nope, I’m not talking about VWs. I’m talking about antlions, insects whose larvae dig pits to capture prey. If you’re not familiar with them, this will be as confusing to you as it was to my daughter. But doodlebug pits look like tiny holes in the ground with a small crater around them. When my cousins and I were little, our Granddaddy showed us how to get doodlebugs to come out of what we thought were their homes. He told us to put a tiny stick down into the hole and stir it while saying, “Doodlebug, doodlebug, come out and get a cup of coffee. Doodlebug, doodlebug, your house is on fire.” After a few stirs and a few chants, the doodlebug would emerge! We thought it was because of our chanting, but as an adult, I know it was because of the stirring. I think Granddaddy was just giving us something to do, so we wouldn’t bother people, but we spent hours bothering doodlebugs…and we had fun and made memories!

I also learned about biddies in the Panhandle. Nope…not gossiping old ladies or hot girls (urban slang). Biddies…young chickens. I must have been about six or seven the first time I heard young chickens called “biddies” by my cousin, Patti. I think we were visiting her house when she suggested we go see the biddies. I followed her to someone’s barn…I have no idea who it belonged to. I don’t remember much about the biddies, but I do remember there were cats there…and hay. I also know my mother must not have known where we were. She would have been worried about snakes. I don’t think we stayed long, but I learned that some folks call young chickens “biddies.”

When my Granddaddy died, a family friend took some of the cousins to get a milkshake at cousin Patti’s other grandparents’ store in Sneads while the grownups talked. They didn’t have a chocolate shake, so I ordered a strawberry shake. I feel sure the folks at Patti’s grandparents’ store knew how to make good milkshakes, but on that day, I learned I don’t like strawberry milkshakes.

On the beach in Panama City Beach one year, when I was a teenager, I learned that tar sometimes washes up with the tide. There had been an oil spill in the Caribbean, and the jetstream pushed a lot of the tar into the Gulf of Mexico. I knew nothing about it, until I was walking the beach near the Fontainebleau Terrace and got some tar on my white sneakers. Had to throw those away…tar doesn’t just wash out easily.

Also in Panama City Beach, at Miracle Strip Amusement Park, I learned a Scrambler amusement park ride is a lot more fun when it’s enclosed in a giant building shaped like an abominable snowman with loud music playing and mirrors on the walls…and bright lights flashing. I also saw a chicken play a piano at Miracle Strip and rode the Starliner roller coaster.

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Miracle Strip Amusement Park in 60s or early 70s

And everywhere in the Panhandle, I learned that gnats will congregate around your eyes, your nose, and any cuts or scrapes you have. Natural springs are naturally cold (Blue Springs Recreational Area). And more info here. I learned that Spanish moss is beautiful, even though it’s not a moss at all…it’s a flowering plant. I learned about stalactites and stalagmites at Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna. In Quincy, I learned about a banker who loaned folks money to buy Coca Cola stock….eventually making them millionaires. Many years later, I became friends with that banker’s great granddaughters purely by accident, after meeting one of them at a party in Charlotte! From my daddy and his siblings, I learned what life was like in the rural Panhandle after the Great Depression. I learned about peach trees right outside the door whose limbs were used as switches. I learned about the one room schoolhouse in Bascom and Faye Dunaway’s being a student there. Yes, that Faye Dunaway…of Bonnie and Clyde fame. I listened to speculation about how a community called Two Egg got its name, and I ate as much pound cake as I could when I visited a great aunt in Two Egg. In my grandmother’s house, I learned what an antique sewing machine looked like, and I heard stories about my grandmother and aunt playing organ and piano at folks’ weddings and funerals…oh, one funeral story I’ll have to share another time. At the beaches in the panhandle, I learned how much fun it is to bunk with all your cousins in one house on vacation. And I used my first crosswalk button to cross the beach road in Mexico Beach when I was six…it was malfunctioning and shocked the stew out of me. On that same trip, I learned about wading out into a bay to catch scallops on the same trip. And I learned that fireworks are pretty on the beach.

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Blue Springs Recreational Area and Park, Marianna, Florida

The coastal Panhandle looks different now. There are planned communities and high rise condos where beach houses and roadside motels used to be. The original Miracle Strip Amusement Park is long gone from Panama City Beach, but there is a new Miracle Strip located near Pier Park on the beach road. Shipwreck Island waterpark and Capt. Anderson’s Restaurant are still there, and even the old Fontainebleau Terrace is still standing…it was a beauty in its heyday.

A little farther north, along Highway 90 in Jackson County, one big difference is that most motel/hotel accommodations either closed or moved over to I-10 after it was completed through the area. Well, that and the Hurricane Michael damage that is everywhere from Panama City to Jackson County…lots of devastation. In Marianna, lots of the downtown businesses were damaged and/or destroyed. I have lots of memories there…getting my first Florida State University sweatshirt at Daffin’s, seeing the RCA dog on top of one downtown business, and watching Mary Poppins in the old movie theatre there. The theatre has been gone for a long time, but I remember. Say a prayer for the folks who are still affected by that terrible storm. Lots of people are still suffering, including my aunt, whose house in Panama City was badly damaged by the storm.

The Panhandle taught me a lot. All this, and I didn’t even mention Tallahassee, Destin, and other places yet! Whew! I’ll share stuff about those places soon. Big lessons from all over the Panhandle. Mostly, it taught me my aunts, uncles, and cousins are keepers. Maybe we need to plan another beach vacation for the whole bunch!

I hope my daughter will remember some of it…

***Some friends asked me about the planned communities along the Gulf Coast. You can find lots of rental information here.

 

 

 

 

 

*****

Get Busy Living…

My friend, Mary Ann, called me one day this week and told me she had read about a little boy with a terminal illness who wanted to get his photo with “Welcome to…” signs of different states. It was important to him. Mary Ann, in her infinite wisdom, said, “Shouldn’t we all be doing that, anyway?” She didn’t mean we should all be taking photos with signs. She meant we should all be doing things we want to do...living our lives.

And she’s right. Mary Ann knows how abruptly a life can end. Her daddy was killed in a tragic automobile accident when he was in his 40s. I’m sure he had lots of things he still wanted to do.

My conversation with Mary Ann made me think of a line from The Shawshank Redemption, a movie starring Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins. The film is based on a Stephen King Novella, Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption, which I now need to read. The line? It is a line spoken by Tim Robbins’s character, Andy Dufresne, a banker who had incorrectly been found guilty of murdering his wife and was subsequently sentenced to prison:

Get busy living, or get busy dying.

My daddy loved that line. We took it for what it was: If you don’t get out and do the things you want to do now (live your life), then you will start to wither…mentally and physically.  We can make the time and energy to do the things we dream about, or we can sit around, letting time pass, till there’s no time or energy left to do it. We can choose to live life in a positive way…or not.

Think about that. What are some things you’ve always wanted to do? It can be something as simple as learning to knit…or something adventurous…or something to help the community.

Both my parents are gone now, but I feel like they did most of what they wanted to do in life. They encouraged me to live life to its fullest. Yes, they wanted me to be responsible, but I remember, when Daddy was dying, he told me, “Y’all need to enjoy your lives. You can’t take your money with you…enjoy it.” Both my parents always reminded us often that “life is not a dress rehearsal.”

Daddy didn’t mean we should get out there and waste money.  What he meant was that we need to use it to do some things we want to do. My parents were very conservative with their money. After Daddy died, Mother became even more conservative with her spending and investing. I would tell her, “Mother, spend it. Enjoy it!” And she would always tell me she wanted to save it for us. But she still did a lot of what she wanted.

Mother and Daddy took lots of trips together. They preferred the Caribbean for big trips, but they were happy to find a local sporting event to attend most of the time. Indoor track meet at the local coliseum? They were in! Baseball game? You bet! Daddy loved driving, so often they took road trips together too. And when I say he LOVED driving, I mean he LOVED it. Daddy started driving in 1952, and as an adult, he drove many times the miles most people drive in a lifetime. He died in 2006…54 years of driving, and he never had an accident.

They also helped others…quietly. They didn’t want accolades for their acts of kindness. Many times I knew Mother to take care of an ailing neighbor…for months! They both gave away money to individuals or families who, they said, “needed it more than we do.”

Mother and Daddy enjoyed their lives. Sure, their experiences were different than mine, but they were of a different generation. I’m sure our daughter’s life experience will be different than mine. Heck, my brother is just 17 months younger than I am, and his life experience is different than mine, because we have different interests.

But here’s one thing I know for sure: I live my life. I’m not sitting around waiting for life to happen to me…I’m making life happen. I’m trying to spend time with people I love. I’m trying to make the world a little better. I am trying to create lasting memories with our daughter and with my husband. I am trying to do the things I want to do, and I am enjoying the ride.

So…get busy living, or get busy dying.

 

 

Thieves And A Stick Shift

My friend, Mary Ann, just sent me a link to a news story about some guys who attempted to steal a car from a gas station in Mobile, Alabama. Apparently, the would-be car thieves jumped into a car and tried to drive away while the owner of the car was inside the gas station.

But they failed.

They couldn’t drive a stick shift car.

To anyone under 30, this probably doesn’t sound like a big deal, but when I was growing up, lots of people still drove cars with manual transmissions. I know it’s rare today, but it wasn’t so rare back then. It was a life skill.

As far as I can remember, my family only had two cars with manual transmissions when I was growing up: a Volkswagen microbus and a Jeep. Maybe we had more, but those are the two I remember. My mother, back in the early 70s, decided she wanted a VW bus for road trips. She had never driven a stick shift, so Daddy had to teach her. Mother must have been 33 or 34. I still remember stalling out at a few traffic lights, but Mother mastered that life skill! She drove us all over the place in that VW bus. When I was 17, we got a Jeep, and that’s when I learned to drive a stick. My brother was barely 16 when we got the Jeep, but somehow, he just knew how to drive a car with a manual transmission. But then, there was that time when he was 14 and he got in big trouble because Mother saw him driving a friend’s car…probably a manual transmission…that’s probably when he learned.

My husband can drive a stick, thankfully. I learned that before we were married when a friend needed him to bring a car to him. We got into the car, and when I saw it was a manual transmission, I thought, “Oh, please let him know how to drive this car.” It sounds shallow, and I know it, but he was going to lose some masculinity points if he couldn’t drive it. Like I said…I know that’s shallow, but I just can’t help it. Fortunately, he got in the driver’s seat and drove away…without even thinking about it. In my mind, there are just certain things men need to know how to do: drive a car with a manual transmission, throw a ball correctly, and operate a chainsaw, to name a few (unless there are extenuating circumstances like a disability). It’s not like they are going to need those skills very often, but when they need them, they need them. And that day we got into that car, I would have been absolutely mortified if my then-husband-to-be had turned to me and said, “I can’t drive this car.” Go ahead…say I’m shallow. I know! I know it’s shallow, but it’s just one of those things I can’t get past!

Of course, in my daughter’s generation, there will be fewer people who know how to drive a car with a manual transmission. It’s likely there will be fewer people who know how to throw a ball correctly or operate a chainsaw, unless you can do it from a computer. I don’t even know how my own daughter will ever learn to drive a stick shift, because they are so few and far between these days! Maybe I need to talk my husband into buying a vintage VW microbus for road trips.

As it turns out, the almost-stolen car at the gas station in the news story belonged to a friend of Mary Ann’s brother. He left the keys in the car while he ran inside to get something. Lucky for him, the would-be car thieves couldn’t drive a stick. Lucky for him, he’s driving a car that requires a life skill those thieves didn’t have. Of course, if the thieves could drive a stick, they might be able to get jobs somewhere, and they wouldn’t need to steal other people’s cars. They ended up being identified by a video taken by the car’s owner, so now everybody knows they tried to steal a car and they can’t drive a stick!

Those thieves lost some masculinity points.

***To see the news story about the would-be thieves, click here.***