Who Told Me Who He Was?!?!

Last week, I posted a picture on my Facebook and Instagram accounts of me and NBA Hall of Famer, Dominique Wilkins. I ran into him at a restaurant in Uptown Charlotte when I was having lunch with a friend. Soon after posting the photo, I received a phone call.

It was my friend, Mary Ann.

  • Me: Hello?
  • Mary Ann: I saw that picture. Who told you who he was?
  • Me: What?!?!?!
  • Mary Ann: Who told you who that basketball player was?

And here’s where you hear that sound like brakes screeching. What?!?!?

Who told me who he was?!?!

Mary Ann should know better, but I guess she had a momentary lapse. She has been with me when I’ve spotted celebrities. She knows I have a keen eye. She knows I’m a crazy sports fan.

       Did she really think someone had to tell me who he was?!?!

My friend and I had just ordered our lunch when I saw a tall gentleman walk into the restaurant. I took one look at his face and said to my friend, “That’s Dominique Wilkins! He just walked in!”

Years ago, when I first got out of college, I was a flight attendant and lived in Atlanta. It was the late 80s/early 90s. Wilkins was a superstar for the Atlanta Hawks; he was a favored celebrity. Also known as The Human Highlight Reel, he was famous for good reason…highest scorer in NBA, slam dunk champ, All-Pro, and lots more…plus, he had played at the University of Georgia, so everyone in Atlanta loved him. He also owned a popular nightclub near my apartment, and folks were always talking about that. He was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 2006.

One morning, on an early flight out of Milwaukee, the Atlanta Hawks walked onto my flight. That team had lots of great players: Wilkins, Spud Webb, Moses Malone, John Koncak… and I was getting to spend a couple of hours with them! For the record, they were all very gracious…Moses Malone didn’t even flinch when I stepped on his foot, and when I apologized, he smiled and said, “No problem.”

So, of course I would recognize Dominique! Even almost 30 years later, when he was wearing a beanie to shield him from the cold, and glasses because we’re all 30 years older now, I recognized him immediately. I was going to wait a little while to approach him, but my friend pretty quickly asked him if we could get photos, and he very graciously agreed. I told him I had met him before, and I went through the story from almost 30 years ago. I also told him I remembered his nightclub, and he chuckled and said several times, “Now you’re taking me waaaay back!” He was one of the sweetest celebrities I’ve ever met (and I’ve met more than a few), and he even came by our table on his way out to tell us goodbye and wish us a good afternoon. I was so excited…still am!

Who told me who he was?!?! Oh, Mary AnnBahahahahahaha!

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Were You Afraid of Santa?

When I was a little girl in Brewton, Alabama, I sat on Santa’s lap…once.

I was a fan of Santa, but I preferred to write him letters. I preferred not to sit on his lap. I was not a fan of strangers. Plus, I was stubborn. The more folks pushed me to talk with him, the more I resisted. There were lots of times I wondered, “Can’t I just write him a letter?” I never cried, though.

Ahhh…how many kids have pictures of themselves screaming in Santa’s lap?

Back in the late 60s and early 70s, folks loved to ask kids if they had sat on Santa’s lap and told him what they wanted for Christmas…even implying that if they didn’t sit on Santa’s lap, they’d wake up on Christmas morning to nothing.

My brother didn’t mind visiting with Santa. His whole life, he has had no fear. I guess I got all the fear, and he got none. And I’m sure my brother wanted Santa to know exactly what to bring…Tonka trucks (the real metal kind), Evel Kneivel Stunt Cycle, Evel Knievel Canyon Sky Cycle (you know, the toy version of the one he used in his attempt to jump Snake River Canyon), GI Joe stuff, football jerseys, and yes, BB guns…typical rough neck little boy stuff. Unlike Ralphie on A Christmas Story, though, he never even almost “put his eye out” with a BB gun, but a boy down the street did.

As for Santa, I only remember sitting on his lap once…on the bench outside The Fair Store in downtown Brewton. I wasn’t the kid who screamed and ran from Santa. I just quietly refused to sit in his lap. But that day, I not only sat on his lap, I actually conversed with him. I don’t remember the conversation, but I do remember sitting there talking.

On that day, I made the decision to talk to him. No one tried to push me into it. I think they had given up on me at that point. That, plus they knew if they pushed, I would just dig in my heels. I remember walking out of the store, seeing Santa on the bench, and walking over to him without even discussing it with my mother. She just stood there, smiling and waiting.

I don’t remember what I asked him to bring me…Baby Alive? A treehouse? A Miss American bicycle? Ventriloquist dolls? Easy Bake Oven? Fisher Price Little People house…the one with a real doorbell that rings? Probably all of the above, but I was completely and utterly obsessed with the Fisher Price Little People house with a doorbell that really rings.

Later, when I was 10 or 11, I would sit on Santa’s lap just for the pictures with my friends, but by then, I knew Santa wasn’t real.

Fortunately, my daughter never feared him. She went for her first visit with Santa in November after she turned one in October. I sat her on his lap, and she didn’t fuss at all…whew! When she was two, she wanted to visit with him every chance she got, so we spent many afternoons at Southpark Mall, visiting Santa. When we went to Winterfest at Carowinds that year, she talked with Santa so long that the folks in line got antsy. Santa didn’t care…she was his favorite visitor that night, because she talked and talked. It’s a great memory, because she had to walk up some steps to get to him. She climbed the steps and climbed up into his lap in a sleigh. When she was finished talking, he motioned for me to come up and get her, and he went on and on about how he’d never had a two year old talk so much to him. And the people in line got more antsy.

She doesn’t remember the Santa from Winterfest. She remembers a few later visits with Santa at Southpark Mall and at some local restaurants. But she knows she had some fun times at Christmas every year. We’ll have some more fun times this holiday season, but they’ll be different. We’ll go out to dinner with friends and still drive around looking at lights. I’ll even force her to go to Winterfest at Carowinds, but she’ll take a friend, because when you’re 15, nothing’s fun without friends. And that’s OK, because we’ll still be making memories together.

I wonder if I can get them to get a picture with Santa?

 

 

 

 

 

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Cousins

Cousins.

If you’re on Facebook, you’ve seen the posts about cousins. Most of them say something along the lines of “cousins are our first friends.” Or “no one will understand your crazy family like your cousins do.” There’s some truth to that.

Thanks to Facebook, in recent years, my cousins and I have started keeping in touch better than we did before. All my first cousins are on social media, and even some aunts and other family members. Interestingly, with cousins, we often have similar physical traits, but I think personality traits are familial too. I never lived near any of my aunts/uncles/cousins growing up, but every time my Aunt Katie and I are together, people around us talk about how we have similar mannerisms.

All my first cousins live in Florida. My part of the family was the part of the family that moved away, so we didn’t see them as often as they saw each other, but I adored my cousins. In fact, it was my cousin, Cindy, who took me to Padgett’s Jewelry, in Chattahoochee, Florida, to get my ears pierced when I was eight years old. I can still remember sitting up on the jewelry counter in the middle of the store. Cindy held my hand while the lady used the piercing gun to put those first gold studs in my earlobes. I’ve said before that emotions lock events into long term memory, so I must have been really nervous or really excited…or both…that day.

While I have fond memories of each of my first cousins, I think it’s only natural I have more memories of the ones who are closest in age to me. Patti and Tara used to come spend a week in the summer with us when we were kids, and any time the whole family got together, they were the ones I was usually with. But we lived several hours away, and as an adult, I live even farther away, but thanks to Facebook, I think we are all closer than ever now.

In fact, because of Facebook (and some intervention from my Aunt Katie), I am now friends with my only North Carolina cousin, Ardrue. She is my daddy’s first cousin…their mothers were sisters. While I had met her mother when I was a little girl, I had never met Ardrue. I remember hearing her name my whole life from my daddy and from my Aunt Katie. Daddy was crazy about her, and Katie still is. She fell between them in age. I also remember asking Daddy, “What kind of name is Ardrue?” I’m sure I asked it many times, but I don’t remember ever getting an answer.

A couple years ago, Ardrue and I became Facebook friends, and she very graciously reached out. As it turns out, she lives in a town that’s just about an hour away from Charlotte. We made plans to meet for lunch in Gastonia, North Carolina, which is about the halfway point between us.

As soon as I saw her, I knew she was my cousin. She has a very familiar look…like my grandmother’s side of the family. I’m not sure how long we visited at that first lunch, but we were there a while. We got acquainted. She told me stories about my daddy as a young person, and I told her stories about him as an adult. She told me some family history, and we laughed and cried. I also found out the answer to that question. You know…”what kind of name is Ardrue?” Well, it seems her mother had met a young girl named Ardrue at a revival service in Florida once and decided she would name her first daughter the same name. So that’s what kind of name Ardrue is.

Since then, Ardrue and I have become great friends in addition to being first cousins, once removed. We try to meet occasionally for lunch, but of course, real life gets in the way sometimes.

Once, her sister came down from up north for a visit, and I was fortunate to get to meet her too…another cousin! Ardrue set it up, and we met in a park in downtown Belmont, North Carolina. I arrived a little early and sat down at a picnic table to wait. I noticed people were setting up lawn chairs along side of the railroad track. Ardrue and Lu walked up behind me just as I was wondering aloud, “What are they doing?” We had a good laugh about the fact that I was talking to myself, and then we figured out that the good people of Belmont set up their lawn chairs to watch the trains go by. Pretty cool, actually.

Most recently, when I saw Ardrue, she mentioned the fact that I’m her cousin who lives the closest…and vice versa. We’ve met a couple of times at Spindle City Cafe in downtown Gastonia, and that’s where we met that day. We usually have lunch and laugh…a lot. We talk about serious stuff too, but we laugh a lot. She has a great sense of humor. To see the menu at Spindle City Cafe in Gastonia, click here. It’s worth the drive.

On that day, she brought me a gift. Ardrue has been a loyal reader of my blog (and she does some beautiful writing herself), and she remembered my post about the Bluebird of Happiness (see post here). After her husband passed away, she started taking art classes, and she had devoted a recent class to drawing a bluebird for me…something to remember my mother’s and grandfather’s fondness for bluebirds…but now, I also think of Ardrue when I look at the beautiful drawing. I have it displayed in my kitchen, so I can see it every morning. She’s quite talented, and she’s a great example of how we can all continue to learn throughout our lives. I was grateful for the time she put into it and for the gift itself.

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But the best gift I’ve received from my newfound cousin is the gift of her friendship. She wasn’t my “first friend,” as they say cousins are, but she is a dear friend, and I’m grateful to finally know her. I wish Daddy could get together with us too, because he would be thrilled to know we get together. He would have loved to sit with us over lunch, and I’m sure he would have been able to remind her of some stories from their shared childhood.  Since he’s not here, I’m urging his sister, Aunt Katie, to get up here to NC for a visit. Or maybe we all need to meet in Florida. All cousins welcome.

Whatever we do, we will laugh and cry a lot, and I’m guaranteed to hear some good family stories I’ve never heard before.

Thank God for cousins.

Remembering Daddy

With Father’s Day approaching, I’m thinking about Daddy. His grandchildren called him Big Ken. He has been gone now for 12 years. Pancreatic cancer. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

We will order new flowers for my parents’ gravesite. I’m not big on visiting cemeteries. Never have been. Daddy was a good cemetery visitor. I don’t know if it made him feel closer to his parents, or if he did it as a sense of duty, but he was good about visiting cemeteries. My brother is good about it too.

It’s not that our family ever made a big deal about Father’s Day. My parents always said they should give us (children) gifts at Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. They didn’t give us gifts, but it was their way of saying they were happy to be our parents.

If Daddy were here now, he’d say the same thing again.

But he’s not here. I’ve said before Daddy was funny and charming. He could also read people very well. When we were in a group somewhere, he knew if someone looked uncomfortable, and he would try to bring them into the fold. He was good like that.

I got my love of sports from my parents. My daddy liked all kinds of competition, and he always believed second place was just the first loser. We spent a lot of time watching sports on television, and it wasn’t unusual for us to attend sporting events whether we knew participants or not. When I was a little girl, we would go to minor league baseball games, high school indoor track meets, football games…any sporting events. There were even times we would be driving down the road, and he would see information about a sporting event…and of course, we went. I sat outside at a lot of hot baseball games in Alabama.

I really think basketball was his favorite, though. He was tall, and he had played basketball in high school. He understood the game, and he loved watching college basketball. I don’t remember watching a lot of professional basketball, but we watched a lot of college games on television. In a state devoted to football, my daddy loved NCAA Tournament time.

We also watched a lot of Atlanta Braves games and Chicago Cubs games. WTBS, also known as Superstation TBS, at the time was owned by Ted Turner, who also owned the Braves, so they broadcast their games. In fact, we knew a lot about the players, coaches, the announcer, and the team, because they were on television all the time.  While I enjoy baseball, as a teen, I mostly enjoyed looking at some of the cute players. When the Braves played the Dodgers, I tuned in to watch Steve Sax, who was quite the looker, but Daddy thought he was a terrible second baseman. He might even be the player about whom Daddy once said, “He has messed up second base so badly that no one will ever be able to play it.” Cubs games were broadcast on WGN, so we knew all the Cubs too. This was before Wrigley Field had lights, so all their games were day games. Often, there would be a Cubs game on our TV in the afternoon, followed by a Braves game in the evening.Good times. Daddy loved it. Our summer is all planned out, but next year, I’m taking my daughter to a Braves or Cubs game.

Daddy also loved wordplay and trivia. He was a walking wealth of useless knowledge like me and my brother. We know all kinds of stuff that doesn’t matter one bit, till someone asks a question like, “On The Andy Griffith Show, who took care of Opie before Aunt Bee moved in?” The answer there is Rose. All that trivial knowledge comes in handy sometimes, though…I’ve bonded with lots of good folks over trivial information.

In the early days of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, when Regis Philbin hosted it, Daddy and I loved watching it when I visited. We were watching together when the first big winner answered the winning question: Which of these US Presidents appeared on the television series “Laugh-In”? The answer, of course, was Nixon, and Daddy and I both knew it…because, well…useless trivial knowledge.

There was always a dictionary around, because we loved talking about words. I remember quizzing each other on the meanings of prefixes, suffixes, and root words when I was growing up. We were weird, but honestly, that silly game we played probably helped me on standardized tests.

Daddy was a good storyteller too. We loved hearing stories of his childhood, because he was born in the 1930s, and the world made some huge leaps in technology and everyday life between the 1930s and the 2000s. He grew up in the Florida panhandle, a rural area, so his childhood had been very different from ours. He told stories of telephone numbers that started with community names…like “Greenwood 368,” and having to ask the operator to connect them instad of dialing the number.

And there were always stories of “ice cream on a stick,” Eskimo Pie to you and me. When he was a little boy, you could buy “ice cream on a stick” for a nickel at the local store. Often, Daddy didn’t have a nickel, so he was out of luck. As an adult, any time he found a nickel on the ground, he would comment on how that would have bought an ice cream on a stick when he was a child. He remembered where he came from. Therefore, when his grandchildren visited, he always shared ice cream on a stick or popsicles with them. It would have brought him great joy as a child to have it, and as an adult, it brought him great joy to watch his grandchildren enjoy it.

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At some point in his youth…I’m not sure of the age…maybe in high school…he worked at a full-service gas station, so he made sure I knew to tip the attendants when I stopped at one. He also made sure I knew about cars…how to check the oil, tire pressure, water levels, and how to correct all that if needed.

When I lived near my parents, I tried to visit them every Sunday evening. We would have dinner, and before I would go back to Mobile, Daddy would have to check my car. Interestingly, he seemed to always wait till I was walking out the door to leave. He would grab his tire gauge and a paper towel and walk out to my car. He had to check the tire pressure, and he always had to check the oil and water levels. Back then, I would get aggravated that he was slowing down my departure. I would wonder aloud to Mother, “Why does he always wait till I’m ready to go?” Now, though, I look at it differently. He was in no hurry to see me drive away. I smile thinking about it now.

And before I drove away, he always made sure to take me hand and press some money into it. Sometimes it was a $20 bill…sometimes more, but he always wanted to make sure I had “WAM”…walking around money. He continued that tradition with my nephews as well, and when they were really little, they knew he always had toys in the trunk of his car. Of course, Mother had helped him pick them out, but Big Ken got all the credit. He found so much joy in seeing them run to the trunk of the car, and then watching their little faces light up.

I also smile thinking about how he would love that I am growing tomatoes this year. He loved a tomato sandwich as much as anybody does. There are quite a few on my tomato plants now…they should ripen next month, “good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.” And if I get the opportunity to cut a giant red tomato off the vine, when I cut into it, I will think of my daddy and smile.

My daughter would have enjoyed being around my daddy. He died just before her third birthday, so she doesn’t really remember him. She was crazy about him, and he was crazy about her. He always had a way with kids. My nephews were eight years old when we lost Daddy, and they were heartbroken when he passed. In his retirement, he had loved spending time with them…scavenger hunts, dinners, playing baseball in the yard…good times.img_7188

If he were here now, he’d be proud of all of them…and he’d be proud my brother and I look out for each other.

We miss him, and we will honor his memory this Father’s Day. I’m going out to buy a box of Eskimo Pies, and we will all sit out on the patio Sunday afternoon and enjoy our “ice cream on a stick” in memory of Big Ken.

The Bad News Bears Were Our Babysitters

Earlier this week, someone posted a video clip on Facebook. It was a clip from The Bad News Bears, a movie that was released in 1976. And oh, how that one short clip took me back in time. Not familiar with the movie? You can see the trailer here.

When I was a little girl between the ages of seven and ten, the movie theater was my babysitter. Many Saturday nights, our parents would drop off me and my younger brother at the local movie theater. Sometimes it was a double feature, but I think that was with the less popular movies. The local theater was a Mom and Pop operation with one screen. No megaplex. Just one screen, and they showed first run movies, usually a different one every week. The only one I remember showing for two weeks was Jaws in 1975, and yes, I was eight, and my brother was six when we saw it.

Our parents never did any “pre-screening” of any of the movies. As long as it wasn’t rated R, we went, and we loved Saturday nights at the movies!

In 1975, our favorite movie was Jaws, and our favorite in 1977 was Smokey and the Bandit, which was released on my tenth birthday…both rated PG, and both inappropriate by today’s standards. I saw Smokey and the Bandit again last year, and there is no way that movie could even be made today.

Between those great movies, there was The Bad News Bears, released in 1976. It was rated PG, and every kid wanted to see it. IMDb.com sums it up saying, “An aging, down-on-his-luck ex-minor leaguer coaches a team of misfits in an ultra-competitive California little league.” It starred Walter Matthau as the coach and Tatum O’Neal as Amanda, an 11-year old girl with mad pitching skills. The movie’s language is bad; it’s completely and utterly politically incorrect, and the coach is a drunk, but the team of misfits pulls together. If it were released today, lots of parents would freak out at the political incorrectness, language and mature content. Heck, there might even be an uproar, but it was a great movie from my childhood. I don’t remember anybody’s parents making a big deal about it. Back then, there wasn’t a PG-13 rating, so everything that wasn’t G or R fell into the middle category, PG. This movie would have been a PG-13 by today’s standards. We loved The Bad News Bears.

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Yet somehow, The Bad News Bears stands the test of time. There are lots of movies that just aren’t as good 40 years after they’re made, but this one is just as funny and heartwarming to me now as it was in 1976, because despite the political incorrectness, it’s a story of people coming together. I’m not sure how many times I’ve seen it over the years. I purchased the DVD a couple years ago and watched it with my daughter. Sure the language was inappropriate, but the rest of it…the beer cans, drunk Buttermaker (Walter Matthau’s coach character), the drinking/smoking/motorcycle riding guy named Kelly Leak who would become a part of the team…well, my daughter was as surprised as I was when I watched it in 1976, but she liked the movie. And Tatum O’Neal was so darn cute. The movie stands the test of time, though, because it wasn’t a glossed-over, Leave It To Beaver version of childhood. Somebody, somewhere was actually living that childhood.

While lots of people would think The Bad News Bears is a terrible movie for kids now, people didn’t worry so much about stuff like that in 1976. Heck, we could ride our bikes all over the neighborhood, as long as we were home when the streetlights came on. My parents were buying themselves some date time by dropping us at the movies, but we were also getting an education. The Bad News Bears is set in Southern California, a place I’d never visited at the time. It was about a little league baseball team of misfits that was sponsored by none other than Chico’s Bail Bonds. While those of us who lived in South Alabama could relate to a baseball league, I didn’t know anyone like Amanda (Tatum O’Neal’s character), who sat on the side of the road selling maps to stars’ homes. That seemed fun and exciting to me. Add in the fact that she was a female, 11-yr-old, pitching dynamo, and I thought she was awesome. She was still feminine, yet that team of boys needed her. There was a lesson of “girls can do anything boys can do” in there, and there was a big message about teamwork and friendship.

When I was a kid, we all talked about the characters and even had favorites. If I said something about Tanner from The Bad News Bears to someone my age today, most people would immediately know who that is. Say the name Buttermaker today, and everybody my age knows who that is. I just tested that on my brother. I texted him and asked, “If I say the name Buttermaker, do you know who that is?” He immediately texted back, “Bad News Bears.” And any time one of us hears Bizet’s Carmen Overture, we think of The Bad News Bears, because an adaptation of it was used as the theme song.

So, while lots of parents would never watch The Bad News Bears with their children, I allowed mine to watch it, inappropriate or not. Truthfully, I had forgotten how terrible the language was, but we watched it anyway. Language aside, maybe she saw a glimpse of life outside her bubble. Sure, some of the characters were over the top, but the overall theme and message in the movie was a good one. I mean, really…who can forget the scene near the end of the movie where Tanner tells the Yankees, who have just defeated the Bears in the championship, what they can do with their apology and their trophy? And little, mousy Lupus tells them, “And another thing! Just wait till next year!”…as he pours a beer over his teammate’s head.

The Bad News Bears was well-received by audiences and critics when it was released, even winning a Writer’s Guild of America Award.

I never dropped our daughter at the theater when she was younger than 12. Times have changed since the 70s. Kids aren’t as free-ranging as they used to be. Now that she’s a teenager, she meets friends at movies occasionally. They check movie times on their phones and purchase their tickets in advance online. At some theaters, they reserve their seats in advance. I wish we could have done that in the 1970s. And I wish we’d had those big, reclining seats too.

Back then, we had to call a pre-recorded message line (from our landline phones!) to hear the title and movie times. It was along the lines of, “Thank you for calling the Eastern Shore Cinema. Today is June 1st. Our movie this week is Jaws. Showtimes are 4:00, 7:00 and 9:30. Admission is $1 for children under 12 and $2 for adults. Thank you again for calling the Eastern Shore Cinema.” Here’s how often we called that theater line…I still remember the telephone number…more than 40 years later. And the floors were sticky. Everyone drank sodas back then, and there were no cupholders at the seats, so when they spilled, the soda would run down the sloped floor of the theater, making a long, sticky, soda line. Y’all remember…

So, cheers to The Bad News Bears and all those great 70s movies that could never be made in 2018. They were great babysitters, and they were educators too. They don’t make ’em like they used to. We learned a lot about life from those “inappropriate” movies, and we haven’t become ax murderers…shocking, I know.

Wish my little brother and I could share a beer with Buttermaker.

***To see a clip of one of the best scenes from the movie, click here.***

***Want to see some of the oldies but goodies mentioned in this blog? Amazon Prime has lots of them! Go to Amazon here and in the search box, enter the name of the movie you’d like to see.***

 

 

 

Alabama Theatre and Faye Dunaway

My daddy had a great sense of humor. He also loved wordplay. He was a great storyteller. He had vivid memories of his childhood, and we loved hearing his stories.

When I was a teenager, something came up in a family conversation about Faye Dunaway, the Academy Award-winning actress. Daddy said, “Faye Dunaway went to my school.” I must have looked at him like he had fourteen eyes, because he reiterated that she had gone to his elementary school in Florida.

Because he was a jokester, I thought, “Oh, I get it. He went to school with someone named Faye Dunaway, but not the real Faye Dunaway.” For YEARS, I thought it was a joke. I don’t remember talking about it a lot…just that once or maybe twice.

Years later, when I was in my late 20s, I was reading People Magazine one evening after work, and there was an article about Faye Dunaway. I started reading it, and there, in the second paragraph, it said she went to school in Bascom, Florida. That’s where Daddy went to elementary school! I picked up the phone and called him.

I said to him, “I’m reading an article about Faye Dunaway, and she really did go to school in Bascom!” He responded, “I’ve been saying that for years.” “Well, I know, Daddy, but I always thought you were kidding, saying someone NAMED Faye Dunaway went to your school.” We shared a good laugh at the confusion.

By the same token, I had some confusion with something Mother said for years too.

Mother grew up in the Birmingham, Alabama, area. When I was a little girl, she told me she used to go to the Alabama Theatre in downtown Birmingham for the Mickey Mouse Club on Saturdays. She made a big deal in telling me about the giant organ that would rise up out of the floor of the theatre.

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Interior of Alabama Theatre. Photo from Alabamatheatre.com. The theatre was home to the country’s largest Saturday morning Mickey Mouse Club at one time. It was also the first air-conditioned public building in Birmingham.

I didn’t tell Mother at the time, but when she said that about the organ rising from the floor, I thought she must have been mistaken. I honestly thought her memory must have been playing tricks on her, because who ever heard of an organ rising up out of the floor?

It just didn’t make sense to me, but I didn’t argue with her. I just thought her little girl brain had been tricked into thinking the organ came out of the floor…some sort of optical illusion or something.

Then, in my late 20s, I read Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe. Well, since Fannie Flagg is from Alabama, I’m guessing she must have visited the Alabama Theatre, because in the book, she mentions the organ. She mentions how the organ rises up from the floor!

So Mother’s memory wasn’t playing tricks on her, after all! I promptly called her to tell her what I’d read. She said, “I’ve been telling you about that organ for years!” I confessed, “Well, I know, Mother, but I thought your memory was playing tricks on you!” We had a good laugh over it.

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Photo of Big Bertha, The Mighty Wurlitzer, from Alabamatheatre.com

To see more about the Alabama Theatre and the organ they call Big Bertha, The Mighty Wurlitzer, click here. The theatre has an interesting history, and the organ was one of only 25 of its type ever built.

It makes me wonder what I’ve told my daughter that she questions. Maybe she keeps it to herself that she thinks I’m talking out of my mind when I talk about a childhood memory.

Let’s take, for example, the time I caught a really big catfish in the neighborhood lake. When I was a little girl, we would go cane-pole fishing down at the lake at the bottom of the hill in our neighborhood. Sometimes we would catch catfish and take them home for Mother to clean them and fry them up, and sometimes, we had no luck at all. One time, I caught the record catfish…a record for us, anyway. It might have been five pounds. As soon as I caught it, we took it home. My brother and I had catfish for dinner that night.

Maybe my daughter thinks I was confused about how big that fish was.

Maybe she thinks I’m crazy when I tell her otters lived in that neighborhood pond. They did. I saw them from the school bus window one morning. Everybody had been talking about them for weeks, and finally, I saw them surface.

Maybe my daughter thinks I saw a dog swimming through the pond and thought it was an otter.

I didn’t go to school with anybody famous. None of my friends have become famous (yet), so I don’t have any stories to tell my child about “I knew him when.” I don’t remember anything like The Mighty Wurlitzer from my childhood, so all I have is the pond with the catfish and the otter.

I haven’t even been to see The Mighty Wurlitzer rise up out of the floor at the Alabama Theater. But in December, I plan to make a trip to Birmingham. Every year, the Alabama Theater shows classic holiday movies on the big screen. I’ll go, and when I see The Mighty Wurlitzer come up out of the floor, I’ll think of my mother and laugh about how I thought she was confused…just like I think of my daddy every time I think of that famous photo of Faye Dunaway (click here to see the iconic photo taken the morning after she won the Academy Award) at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

Chicago! Chicago! (Epic Road Trip, Part 3)

For years, my friend, Mary Ann, and I talked about going on a “crazy road trip.” What we really want to do is drive Route 66. My friend, Neill, wants to go too. We haven’t figured out the particulars yet, but if we take all the kids, we’ll have to get a big ol’ Partridge Family bus, which actually could be pretty fun. I think I’ll look into that. I wonder if anyone rents Partridge Family buses? (And before you think I’m wrong there, “buses” IS the plural form of “bus”. “Busses” would be the plural form of “buss,” which means a kiss.)

Three years ago, Mary Ann and I loaded up her three kids and my one kid in a Ford Expedition, and we took a different crazy road trip, saving Route 66 for another time. It was a kid-friendly, casual clothing road trip…totally about seeing Americana. I’ve written before about the fun we had on the first two legs of the trip, and here is Part 3. Every part of the trip was exciting and fun. Every part of it was not perfect, but sometimes, that’s what makes the best memories.

In my post a few weeks ago about Part 2 of our epic road trip, I told you we made it to Chicago safely. We made it there in pouring rain, but we must have brought the sunshine with us, because the rain stopped soon thereafter.

We had only planned to be in Chicago for roughly 36 hours, so we hit the ground running. We checked into the hotel, and as I said in Part 2, our room looked out on the John Hancock Center, making it easy to find our way back from anywhere in the city!

We stayed at the Hilton Suites Magnificent Mile…not a luxury hotel, but perfect for a family stay, as every room in the hotel is a suite. It is conveniently located near good restaurants, Lake Michigan, tourist spots, and luxury shopping (which we were not doing on this trip). To see the website for the Hilton Suites Magnificent Mile, click here. The rates were good, and the staff was incredibly helpful. I wrote one of my most raving TripAdvisor reviews about this hotel, because the employees there are helpful, courteous, and friendly. You can see my review and the manager’s response here. (Scroll down to my review, titled “Wowed by the service!”)

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We let the valet take the car (he came down the street in the rain to get it when I waved to him) and had the bellman bring everything up to our suite, and then set out on our first adventure in the city. After traveling all day, we had four hungry kids on our hands. Since this trip was casual, we needed to go somewhere that would welcome us casually dressed and with four kids in tow.

The concierge recommended Doc B’s Fresh Kitchen on Walton Street, which was just a few blocks from the hotel…an opportunity to stretch our legs after being in the car all day. The food was good, and the atmosphere was perfect for our motley crew. Located in the Magnificent Mile area, this restaurant was most accommodating for us. If you’re in Chicago and looking for a casual dinner place in the Magnificent Mile area, this could be the place for you. See their website hereMary Ann had the Tennessee Hot Chicken and said it was “OK,” but I had the Backyard Burger and thought it was fantastic. Even more special was the service. Our waiter, Taylor, took the time to write down the kids menu for us, since there wasn’t one available. We would definitely return with kids!

We turned in early that night, but the next day, we wanted to cram in as much activity as possible, because it was the only full day we had in Chicago.

We got up and starting securing reservations/tickets for the things we wanted to do. We knew we wanted to see as much as possible in one day, so we opted for an architectural tour by boat, a two hour bus tour of downtown, and a visit to the top of the John Hancock Center.

Everything started great. Our first order of business was the architectural tour by boat. We all loved it. Not only did if offer beautiful views of the city, but it also offered an opportunity for the kids (and adults) to see how the system of locks works from the river to and from Lake Michigan…fascinating for all of us. We highly recommend this tour, which you can book here.

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Going through the lock

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Chicago Skyline

After disembarking, we made our way to the nearest restaurant with a menu we liked. That restaurant was Sweetwater Tavern and Grille on Michigan Avenue…kid friendly. We all tried fried cheese curds for the first time there. Surprisingly, I had never had them, even though I’d spent a lot of time in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the late 80s and early 90s. We unanimously declared them delicious! We also ordered beignets, and these two gulf coast girls who grew up eating beignets gave them two thumbs up! You can check out the Sweetwater website here. To try fried cheese curds in the Charlotte area, you can visit Culver’s just off Carowinds Boulevard in Fort Mill. Check out their website here. If you decide to visit, go on an empty stomach and try their Butterburger and fries too. Then, top it all off with their frozen custard or a shake…all delicious.

After lunch, the bus tour took us on another architectural expedition…all very impressive in downtown Chicago. We purchased tickets and boarded the bus tour very close to the boat dock. Anyone can point you in the right direction. We visited the world-famous bean and Navy Pier before heading up to the John Hancock Center. The observatory there is now called 360 CHICAGO and offers breathtaking views of the city and Lake Michigan. When we were there, the TILT, an added attraction at the top of the center, wasn’t working, but we loved all the photo ops we had. This is a must-do, and if TILT is in working order while you’re there, you have to do it too. Check out the website and purchase tickets here.11221940_10207249962952203_752868439303655523_n

And this is when things got wonky….Mary Ann wanted Garrett’s Chicago-Style Popcorn, which I hear is amazing but I didn’t want to stand in line (over an hour!) for popcorn. You can see their website here. I knew my daughter wanted to visit Sprinkles for some cupcakes (click here) while we were there, so we split up, and Mary Ann took her kids to Garrett’s while we went to Sprinkles. We had planned to meet up for dinner, but my daughter wanted to go to Dylan’s Candy Bar and Cafe, while Mary Ann had a special place in mind for some Chicago-Style pizza.

In the midst of all this, Mary Ann’s daughter broke her flip flop and had to have new ones. Fortunately, when that happened, my daughter and I were in a cab headed for Dylan’s. We missed out on that “fun.” Since the American Girl Store was nearby, Mary Ann went there and paid a terrible sum for some flip flops for her daughter. It has been three years since this trip, but I feel pretty sure Mary Ann is still making her daughter wear those flip flops to get her money’s worth out of them…never mind that half her foot hangs off the back of them now!

So, while Mary Ann and family picked up a Chicago-Style pizza and brought it back to our suite, Milly and I enjoyed Chicago-style hot dogs at Dylan’s. She also ordered a mocktail called the Pink Cloud Lemonade…fun presentation and delicious! You can see their website and menu here. I should probably thank Mary Ann for letting me try the Chicago-style pizza and the popcorn after we got back to the hotel.11063784_10207249651824425_7273607532132704225_n

After a crazy busy day, it was time to pack up and turn in. We had another busy day ahead of us.

The next morning, we got up, checked out, and started our drive to Sandusky, Ohio, where we would be meeting friends from Columbus, Ohio, at Great Wolf Lodge. Of course, Mary Ann and I can’t drive straight through. We absolutely could not drive through South Bend, Indiana, without stopping in at Notre Dame. While there, we visited the stadium for some photos and shopped in the campus bookstore. We also got some photos with “the dome.” If you’re a Notre Dame fan, you won’t like this: we also pretended to take photos with the “girlfriend” of former Notre Dame football player Manti Te’o. See below. She’s standing between us…haha. Also, it was a road trip, so we were wearing comfortable attire…don’t judge.10438925_10207256465434761_5891661285876443717_n

Upon leaving South Bend, we traveled a little north, just so the kids could say they’d been to Michigan, and then we continued on to Sandusky, where my friend, Jennifer, and her daughter were waiting for us at Great Wolf Lodge! For information about Great Wolf Lodge Sandusky, click here. It doesn’t get any more kid-friendly than Great Wolf Lodge, and fortunately for us, they also have a bar!

Great Wolf Lodge was the perfect place for us to relax for the night before our big trip home. The kids all played in the water park, and the moms all relaxed next to the outdoor pool.

The next morning, we were homeward bound…but we took a little detour to a small town in Pennsylvania…for a funny reason. Read about that later in the final post about the road trip…coming up soon.

We highly recommend a trip to Chicago with your family. Our stay was so brief, it was just a teaser, but we will be going back.

Maybe one day we will make that Route 66 trip too. Know anyone with a Partridge Family bus?

Happy Trails!

Kelly

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