Daddy’s Birthday

“Tough row to hoe.” I’ve heard it my whole life. My daddy loved idioms, and “tough row to hoe” was one of his favorites, and sometimes he would say it as “long row to hoe.” Either way, it means someone is facing a difficult situation. If you’ve never been on a farm, you might not get it, but to “hoe a row” on a farm means you’re turning the soil in a row for planting.

Someone might say, “They have a long/tough row to hoe cleaning up the Bahamas after the recent hurricane.” You get it.

I thought of that just now, because I’m watching a news show, and one of the commenters said “tough ROAD to hoe.” That would have driven Daddy crazy. Who ever heard of using a hoe (the farm implement) on a ROAD?!? It is clear that commenter hasn’t ever spent any time on a farm.

Daddy’s birthday is today…his 81st birthday, but he is no longer with us. He died 2 1/2 weeks after his 68th birthday….pancreatic cancer. I’ve written about him before, and I’ve written about the misery we all experienced as he suffered. I don’t like to dwell on that, though. I like to think about the things Daddy taught me and the things we all learned from his illness.

For many years, on his birthday, I remembered the illness, the suffering, the sadness, but I am finally at the point that I remember happy, healthy times. I remember how he laughed…something I couldn’t recall for a long time. He did love to laugh, and he loved to tell stories. Most of all, he loved to tell stories that made us laugh.

And that’s one thing we learned from Daddy during his illness: laughter can cure a lot of ills. It can’t cure cancer, but it sure can make it easier. He said it. He wanted us to keep laughing with him as much as we could. We talked about old times. We laughed about old stories. My brother told his usual crazy stories. Having my then-two-year-old daughter and my brother’s then-eight-year-old twins around helped too. They gave him something to smile about. He loved those grandchildren. When we were growing up, he had to travel for work a lot, so he wasn’t able to enjoy us as much, but after he retired, he got to spend time with his grandchildren…and that brought him great joy.

Incredibly, we have a lot of happy memories from his illness. He turned 68 a few weeks before he died. His brothers and sister came over to Alabama from Florida to be with him on his birthday. He didn’t know they were coming, and when we awoke from a nap to find them standing in his room, he looked around and said, “Well, this is a motley crew!” We have laughed about that for years. In fact, I recently visited his oldest brother in a rehab facility (he broke a hip) in Florida, and I reminded him of that moment…and we laughed again.

But I have lots of happy memories of Daddy in general. When we were little and living in Brewton, Alabama, he would take us to the “candy store” on Saturdays. It was really a locally owned convenience store called Murphy’s. In fact, now that I think about it, we only called it the “candy store” on Saturdays. The rest of the time, we called it “Murphy’s.”  Sometimes, he would take us to fly kites in a nearby pasture. I remember holding the kite string one time, and of course, I accidentally let it go. I can still see Daddy chasing it and catching it! He took us fishing at the pond in our neighborhood and cleaned the fish we caught. Mother would fry it up in the kitchen afterward. He helped us climb high up in the sycamore tree in our backyard. He rode a tandem bicycle with us. We had a lot of fun.

And when I was an adult, he helped me whenever I needed it. Heartbreak? Call Daddy. Bad day at work? Call Daddy. Stressed out about a test in college? Call Daddy. Sometimes, I just needed to talk. Sometimes, I needed him to “rescue” me when I had a flat tire or a car accident. And whenever I visited my parents, he always gave me WAM (walking around money) as I left. It was usually $20 or $40, but I was happy to have it, and he was happy to give it to me. In truth, we were always fortunate to know Daddy was our safety net…emotionally and financially.

Just like Mother, Daddy loved the happy faces of sunflowers. Most of my Mammoth Sunflowers have already bloomed this year, but there is one that’s holding out. Incredibly, one of my Evening Sun Sunflowers started opening today…the first of that variety to open. I’m in New York, but I called my husband in Charlotte and asked him to walk outside and see if it was opening, and it is…on Daddy’s Birthday. It made my day when he sent the picture of the bloom just beginning to open.

We have lots of great memories of Daddy. His laughter was contagious, and his sense of humor was awesome. His strength was unrivaled, and his love for his family was great.  I hope God lets him get little glimpses of his beautiful grandchildren. He would be so proud of them. And I remind them all the time that Big Ken (as they called him) would want them to enjoy life…sure, save for a rainy day, but enjoy today.

Happy 81st Birthday to Daddy in Heaven.

 

*****

Advertisements

The Perfect Christmas

Ahhh…the perfect Christmas.

Perfection is in the eye of the beholder, my friends.

What some consider “perfect” is completely different than what I consider perfect. Perfect family gatherings like we see in Hallmark movies? I’ll pass…they rarely measure up to the “perfection” they are meant to be. I’d rather gather with my family, friends, and neighbors over games and laughter, in comfortable clothing, with fifteen different conversations going on at the same time. I’m sure most of America disagrees with me, but apparently, I’m not like most of America.

My husband thinks I’m crazy every year at the holidays, but he goes along with me. I’m not into the “perfect” Christmas. I’m into the fun Christmas. Fun stuff to do. I’m not the person who has perfect bows hung on perfect chandeliers, perfect garland on the banister, mistletoe hung in the perfect spot, or fresh poinsettias perfectly placed all over my home. I’m not the person who prepares the perfect meal. I just don’t have the time or energy for that.

Today, we were watching football and talking, and my husband asked me why I like to do the fun/funny Christmas.

I had to think about that for a moment. And then, I answered, “I don’t do the perfect Christmas, because generally speaking, I don’t do perfect well. My strength is fun, not perfection. I do fun really well.” He looked at me, and then he laughed and said, “Well, you’re right about that!”

That tends to ring true with almost everything in my life. I don’t want to be the perfect mother…way too much pressure in that. I want to be a fun mom. That doesn’t mean I’m a pushover who lets my child run wild and unsupervised. That doesn’t mean I’m not checking up on her regularly. Our daughter is generally well-supervised, and we have a great relationship. We talk…and we talk…and we talk. But I remember fifteen, and I know fun is a lot more…well, fun. Do I strive for perfection as a mother? No. Perfection? That’s just not my strength.

Our vacations are fun. Are they perfect? Well, if they’re fun, they’re perfect for us! Do we visit every perfect museum tourists are supposed to visit when they go somewhere? Nah…we might visit one or two, but my teenager just isn’t impressed by museums. She’s impressed by fun places. She is her mother’s daughter. It doesn’t make us shallow. It’s just a different approach. I try to make sure we get a little culture on vacation, but we always want to have fun. Visit the hometown of John Mellencamp and try to find Jack and Diane’s Tastee Freeze when we’re passing through Indiana? Yep. Plan our dinners in LA and New York based on where we are likely to see a celebrity or two? Sure! Have lunch at places with gigantic mojitos and milkshakes? You bet! Struggle through a rock scramble and finish it by climbing straight up 60 feet and pulling myself out of a rocky crevice? Done that! Jump into a bioluminescent bay at night, not having any idea what the water around me looks like? Yes, I did. Climb a waterfall, including wading through murky chest-deep water? Check! Drive halfway across the country in 10 days with a friend and four kids? Yes…and we slept in a wigwam along the way! Volunteer to eat fire with the entertainment on stage? Pick me, please!

And so, I guess that’s why I go the fun route on Christmas. Maybe my love of the fun Christmas started when I was a little girl and my grandparents had aluminum Christmas trees with color wheels! I absolutely loved them…I was fascinated by them! Sure, I could be all serious now, but that’s just not who I am. I simply don’t take myself or life too seriously. My parents taught me many years ago that life is short. I remember Mother and Daddy telling me, “Life is not a dress rehearsal. Enjoy it.” And that’s exactly what I try to do…enjoy life.

If I’m leading a meeting of volunteers, there will be prizes at the end. Passing through a city with a great rollercoaster at a great amusement park? I’m in! Silly photo op somewhere? Get your camera!

So, if you want to drive past the perfect Christmas house, don’t drive past ours. If you want to see the perfect Christmas tree, chances are you won’t like ours. If you want to eat the perfect holiday meal, our house is not where you want to be.

But if you want to take photos with a leg lamp from A Christmas Story, come on over! If you want to see a 10.5′ inflatable Christmas elephant, visit us! If you want to dine on hamburgers, hot dogs, Cuban sandwiches, beer bread, spicy fiesta dip, buttermilk pie, and other fun food during the holidays, we’ll be happy to set a place for you. If you want to drink champagne with breakfast, drink up, baby! If you want to see our “perfect” artificial poinsettias, then we’d love to have you over. If you want to play card games on Christmas Eve or “Who’s Most Likely To…” on Christmas Day, you’re welcome at our house. Just bring a positive attitude and be ready to laugh.

Perfection is not my strength, but fun is!

 

 

 

Be Vulnerable: Is Friendship Worth It?

Life’s not easy. No one ever said it would be. It’s something we should know as adults, but we never learn.

Friendships aren’t always easy, either. Yes, there are times friendships are easy, but there are times they are difficult…hanging by a thread. Because I have a teenage daughter, I spend a lot of time discussing friendships, forgiveness, trust, and communication. But frankly, I’m still learning myself, so I don’t always give sound advice. We all make mistakes in friendships, even as adults, and we all have friends who make mistakes, even as adults.

We’ve all had times in relationships that we realized we needed to “fish or cut bait,” haven’t we? Aren’t there times you step back when a situation arises and think, “Maybe I don’t need to continue this friendship.” When I’ve felt that way, I try to take a deep breath and think logically…evaluate the situation without emotion.

But that’s easier said than done, because friendships are emotional connections. Just like marriage, friendship requires trust.. And just like marriages, friendships can fall apart. Unfortunately, just like marriages, going into them, we don’t know which ones will last and which ones won’t. A friend posted this on Instagram earlier this week:

img_6688.png

How true are those words of C.S. Lewis? We can’t be hurt emotionally by people to whom we don’t have an emotional connection. If you accidentally cut someone off in traffic, making them angry, do you worry about it for days to come? Likely not. But if you accidentally offend a longtime friend, do you worry about it for days to come? Probably. At least, you should, if you care about the person.

Likewise, if someone who is not your friend tells you a lie, do you care? Unless it’s going to affect something, probably not. If your friend tells you a lie, do you care? Yes. You do. And it’s all because you’ve made yourself vulnerable to that person by letting him/her into your life…trusting them. And that’s when you have to decide what to do. Do you confront them about it? Do you chalk it up to a mistake and let it go? Do you silently harbor ill feelings? Do you walk away from the friendship? It’s difficult. Because you’ve made yourself vulnerable, that hurt cuts a little deeper.

But, as C.S. Lewis says, if you want to keep your heart “intact,” you have to lock it up, don’t risk it by loving anyone. To have love of any kind is to have occasional pain, but the real friendships last…after forgiveness is sought. At the same time, we have to give those very friends the benefit of the doubt until we have reason to believe otherwise. Maybe your friend didn’t hurt you intentionally. Injury without malice, in friendships, should be forgiven. Injury with malice, in friendships, should be forgiven, as well…to free yourself from the burden of anger. I’ve written about forgiveness before. You can read it here.

I cannot imagine my own life without friendships. Sure, there have been friendships that have fallen by the wayside. It’s the way life is. Some of them fall away accidentally…you don’t know the last time you talked, and you didn’t realize at the time it would be the last time you would talk. Sometimes, there’s an argument or disagreement that ends a friendship. Other friendships, we choose to end, for one reason or another. Maybe you feel you’ve been taken for granted. Maybe the other person feels manipulated. Maybe you disagree all the time, and it has become tiresome. It happens, and when it has happened to me, I’ve chosen to believe I’ve learned from each instance.

But here’s one thing: if your heart gets broken, get up, and try again. Making yourself vulnerable is difficult and scary, but if you don’t, you won’t know what it’s like to have real friends. And remember, everyone isn’t going to like you. It’s a fact. And once you are OK with that, life gets a lot easier.

Is friendship worth the risk of heartache? You bet. For every disappointment, heartache, and sorrowful moment involved in friendship, there will be countless more good times.

To love is to be vulnerable. Be vulnerable.

silhouette of four people against sun background

Photo by Dennis Magati on Pexels.com

She’s Home

facetune_13-07-2018-10-05-40

My 14-yr-old daughter is home from her two-week adventure in Iceland. She doesn’t even seem tired after hiking, backpacking, rafting, sleeping outside, and all the other stuff she did.

I admire her and all the kids who did this challenging trip. I couldn’t do it. Well, I suppose I could, but I wouldn’t want to…tent sleeping = deal breaker. She said Iceland is a beautiful country, and she had a great time, but she did miss talking with us.

I totally get that. First, I missed her more than I knew I could miss someone. My husband and I said it to each other several times a day, “I miss our girl.” We could hardly wait for her to return, especially as I stood at the airport waiting for her plane to land. It seemed like forever. I was excited at that point, but time moved slowly, like waiting for Santa. Another reason I understand is that I visited Mexico with school friends and a teacher when I was fourteen, and we all experienced some homesickness. The difference? I could call home. Back in the 1980s, calling the US from Mexico was expensive, but my parents were OK with it. I didn’t call every day, but I did call a couple times…especially when I was homesick.

So, yesterday, I stood outside customs/immigration with my big sign, “Welcome Back!” I listed the girls’ names at the bottom. Waiting. The lady next to me was waiting for her grandson to come in from Iceland too, so we distracted each other.

After clearing customs/immigration yesterday, my daughter and her friends looked happy and relaxed. We did not cry (whew!), but she jumped into my arms. We did a group hug with her friends whose moms weren’t there. I was elated to see all of them! I asked them if they’d like to get something to eat before we got on the flight back to Charlotte. They opted for chicken nuggets, fries, and a Frosty from the airport Wendy’s.

On the plane, she asked me if I had missed her, and that’s when I cried. l told her she has no idea how much I missed her…and she doesn’t know, because until she has her own child who goes off on a two week trip with no communication, she will not be able to understand what it feels like to send your precious child 2,500 miles away. Think about that…I wouldn’t put my dog on a plane with someone to go 2,500 miles away. I wouldn’t send any prized possession on a plane with someone to go that far away.  Yet, we had to let her do this trip. And there will be more trips. There will be more experiences.

After we got home yesterday, a friend came over, and as we were talking, I told her how desperately I missed my daughter while she was gone and how it gave me a new appreciation for my parents’ experience. They must have missed me like crazy when I was gone too. At least when she goes off to college, she’ll be able to pick up the phone and call. As for this trip…I’m thrilled she had the experience. I know she learned a lot about Iceland but even more about herself and her ability to persevere. But honestly, I don’t want to be anywhere that I can’t call home for two weeks. In fact, I don’t think I even want to be at a posh resort in a beautiful setting with fun things to do and fabulous food if I can’t call home whenever I want! We are a talking family.

We want her to be independent, and that’s why we let her go. We’re already planning next summer. Will she do another one of these trips? I don’t know. If she wants to do another one, of course she can.

We are thrilled to have her home. She’s my favorite child.

***If you enjoy Kelly Mattei’s Favorite Things, please like our Facebook page and invite friends to “like” it too!***

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.

auditorium

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.

wurlitzer-2

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.

Chicken Necks Make Great Crab Bait (and other Life Lessons From My Mother)

 

img_5351

My mother and I, probably February 1974. (I look thrilled to take a picture with her, but she looks like she could use a martini.) One of my favorite pics.

It’s almost Mother’s Day weekend, and this is my first Mother’s Day without my Mother. She passed away in December.

I’ve lost a parent before. My daddy died in 2006. I know how difficult all these “firsts” are. They’re tough, but I also know it’s a good time to reflect on my life and what my parents taught me. In this case, since it’s Mother’s Day, I will reflect on what she taught me. Of course, there is no way to cover it all, but I will do what I can.

My mother wanted nothing more than she wanted to be a mother. She loved being a mother, and she loved mothering…neighbors, neighbors’ kids, classmates, friends…she took care of lots of us. She was an exceptional caretaker…it was what she did.

My earliest memories are from my early years in Brewton, Alabama. I remember wanting to go to school. I must have been almost or barely three. My mother called her preferred preschool, but there was no class for three-yr-olds. The owner/teacher relented after Mother called her several times, but she would only take me if I were potty-trained. I was, so I started preschool.

Other parents got wind of it and called her too. And it worked out well for the teacher, because she then had double the number of students…four-yr-olds for part of the day, and three-yr-olds for part of the day. Nobody loved that teacher or her preschool more than I did.

My mother was my advocate.  She taught me to advocate for my child.

A couple years later, she decided she wanted a Volkswagen microbus for us to take on road trips. After searching for the perfect one, my parents bought a beige and white one. Mother couldn’t drive a stick-shift, but she learned quickly as soon as we got the bus. I remember stalling at traffic lights in downtown Brewton as she learned to work the clutch, but she did it. She was determined. At 34, she learned a new skill…driving a stick. Daddy would always laugh that we chose to take the un-air-conditioned bus on road trips. “We have two perfectly good air-conditioned cars sitting in the driveway, yet we opt to travel in this!”

Mother taught us to try new things, and she taught us to be resilient.

olaf-huttemann-8029-unsplash.jpg

When I was seven, halfway through second grade, my family moved to Spanish Fort, Alabama, a community on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay. Some mothers would be nervous about a new place and new school, and the kids would feel that, but my mother approached the move as if it were an adventure. The transition was a smooth one at my new school and neighborhood.

Living near the water was a new adventure for all of us, and Mother took full advantage of that. Unafraid of a new challenge, she talked with locals and learned how she could take us out to the Fairhope Municipal Pier to catch crabs from Mobile Bay. She learned chicken necks are good crab bait, and she learned how to tie them into the nets and how to hang the nets from the pier. Back then, it was OK to hang the nets. She learned how to get the crabs out of the nets and cooked them up when we got home. She even made her own recipe for crab cakes.

She taught us to be adventurous.

For more information on Fairhope, click here.

adam-wyman-20682-unsplash.jpg

We spent almost every afternoon and many evenings at the pier. One day we were catching lots of crabs, so we stayed into the night, checking those nets regularly. At some point, I was stooped down, pulling up one of the nets to check it for crabs, and I looked up. I saw some men coming down the pier dressed all in white. I’d never seen anything like it.

I walked over to my mother and asked, “What are those clowns doing here?” It was actually members of the a white supremacist group. She said to me, “Just keep doing what you’re doing. They won’t mess with you. I need to go over here and sit with Miss Essie, so they think she’s with us.” She then got up and walked over to a bench to sit with a sweet, elderly African-American lady we had met months before, and with whom we often visited on the pier. Soon thereafter, we left the pier for the night, and Miss Essie left with us. Once we knew Miss Essie was OK, we got in the car, and it was then Mother explained everything to us.

Mother taught us compassion and that it’s important to help other people. She also taught us we are all created equal.

It’s important for me to tell you that most people I know who grew up in Alabama have NEVER seen the aforementioned white supremacist group. That sighting on the Fairhope Pier that night (I think it was 1976) was extremely rare, especially in quaint, upscale towns like Fairhope, which is why it is memorable. I don’t want readers to think it is/was a regular occurrence. In fact, I can’t name even one of my friends who has encountered the group anywhere. 

No matter where we lived, Mother volunteered. Sometimes she volunteered at the school, and often, she volunteered with the Red Cross. She was a Registered Nurse, and while I’m not sure what she did with the Red Cross, I know she went into underserved neighborhoods. She used to come home talking about what nice people she had met along the way.

She also seemed to always meet people who had elderly family members who needed care. In one place we lived, an elderly couple lived across the street, and Mother would check on them every day, helping them with tasks on a regular basis. After we moved, an elderly gentleman around the corner needed assistance a few times a week. Mother helped him. We received several late night calls over the years…people needing her assistance, and she was always willing to help. Not many people knew she did this, because she didn’t toot her own horn. She believed it diminished the deed if you went around boasting about it.

Mother taught us to help those who are less fortunate.

When I was a teenager, I learned a lot more from my mother. Just yesterday I was dress shopping with my 14-yr-old daughter, and I thought of my mother when I heard myself say to my daughter after she gave “thumbs down” to another dress I held up, “You don’t really know what it looks like till you try it on.” That was straight from my mother. That, and “Always put on lipstick before you leave home.”

While she taught me not to be superficial, she also taught me to try look “presentable.”

As we went through high school and college, my brother and I learned that our mother had a great sense of humor. That’s not to say we didn’t get in trouble, but she didn’t make a big deal out of things that weren’t a big deal. She also tried to approach situations with humor, and the good Lord knows, she loved to laugh. Even in the last year of her life, she loved when our now-adult friends from college came over to visit at her house. I think it reminded her of when we were younger. We would all sit around and laugh, and that was when she was her happiest.

She taught us not to take life too seriously, and she taught us about perspective.

IMG_5410

Mother and my daughter at dinner one night.

Mother was a tough chick, and we are who we are because of her and Daddy. I like to think I’m passing some of their wisdom and humor to my daughter.

When mother passed in December, we wrote her obituary with all the normal information about family, but we also included a list of things she had taught us. Because she did not want to have a funeral service, we thought it was important for people to know who she was. Here’s the list:

LESSONS FROM MY MOTHER:

Nobody goes hungry on Mama’s watch. It doesn’t cost anything to be kind. It’s OK to laugh at yourself. Save for a rainy day, and when it does rain, splash in the puddles. Take care of your brother/sister, your children, and other people’s children. Enjoy coffee with friends at Waffle House on a regular basis. Call your mama often. Raise your children to be independent, and encourage them to spread their wings. Spend time with your children and their friends (especially at Coaches Corner). Ladies never leave home without lipstick. It’s never too late to learn to drive a stick shift. If you break an arm, you can make your own sling till you get to the ER. Always say “I love you” at the end of a phone call or visit. What other people think is not important, because God knows what you are doing. Laughter cures a lot of ills. Doing something nice for someone else will make you happy. Never pay full price if you don’t have to. Children/teens sometimes think small things are big deals; remember they are big deals to them. Pizza will cure the Sunday night blues. Don’t schedule events during football season. Learn new skills your whole life. Be grateful. Turn it all over to God. You can’t tell what clothes look like till you try them on. Chicken necks are perfect bait for crab nets. Defend people who can’t defend themselves. It’s more important to get into Heaven than it is to get into Harvard. If you want to have good friends, you have to be a good friend. Life is not a dress rehearsal; make it good. All people are created equal.
We loved our mother, and we will make a toast to her on Mother’s Day. God Bless Mama.

Turning 50

Next weekend, I’m going to a friend’s birthday party. She’s turning 50, quite a milestone birthday. I asked her recently if she is as excited about her 50th birthday as I was about mine, and she said she’s not sure how she feels about it.

I turned 50 last year. If you didn’t have to tolerate me then, I will tell you I was pretty obnoxious. I was almost as excited about turning 50 as I was about turning 21…almost. I’ve never been as excited about one of my own birthdays as I was about turning 21. Turning 50 was a close second, though.

When my friend, Nikki, said she wasn’t sure how she felt about fifty, I thought, “She’s got this.” She’s a young fifty. She lives life to the fullest and has a positive outlook on life. All those things point to being happy about a milestone birthday.

Maybe I’m weird, but I look at fifty as a positive.

Of course, I look for reasons to celebrate. Fifty was the perfect excuse for celebrating myself! Fifty deserves Champagne at lunch and anytime I want it! Trust me, almost anyone who has had lunch with me in the past year will tell you I love Champagne with lunch.

IMG_4547

Bellinis in some adorable stemless flutes my friends, Jenn and Neill, gave me.

When I turned fifty in May of last year, I took full advantage of the fact that I was having a big, important, milestone birthday. My husband had turned fifty the year before, and he wanted no fanfare. I honored that. He didn’t really even want it mentioned. He did, however, go to the beach with some friends one weekend near his birthday. Judging by the late night phone call I received, he had a good time.

I didn’t want “fanfare” in the way of my husband throwing a party. Some sweet friends did come together and surprise me with a small dinner party, and some other friends took me out to lunch and to see Smokey and the Bandit (its 40th anniversary) on the big screen. Both events were great fun, as we had fun at the dinner celebrating my birthday, and we lusted after a young Burt Reynolds in the movie theatre after lunch. I wore a “50 Looks Good On Me” sash and black feather boa at dinner and a Smokey and the Bandit homemade t-shirt at the movie. ***Note: black feather boas shed, and if you have any sweat on your chest, the loose feathers will stick, making it appear as though you have a hairy chest.***

IMG_4544

Proof that shedding feather boas can make you appear to have a hairy chest

IMG_4545

My sweet friends humoring me by wearing Smokey and the Bandit t-shirts at the movie

IMG_4546

Drinking Dr. Peppers my friend smuggled into Smokey and the Bandit

My husband gave me a gift I planned: a trip to Los Angeles with my daughter and one of her friends (taking the daughter and a friend gave me lots of time to do whatever I wanted)…staying at my favorite hotel, where we had a lovely suite with a beautiful, gigantic patio that I enjoyed every…single…day. I love outdoor spaces; the hotel gifted me with a glorious outdoor space unlike any other.

IMG_4561

On my glorious patio at the hotel, recreating Faye Dunaway’s pose the day after she won the Academy Award. She posed by the pool, but she was a young, tall, skinny Hollywood star. I posed on the private patio, because I’m not.

While we were there, I visited with a friend who had just turned 40, and we traded “war stories” over dinner while watching celebrities dine. I also had the chance to meet two hot gentlemen, Tony Romo and Chace Crawford, and pretend I was just meeting them so I could take a picture of my daughter and her friend with them.

I embraced turning fifty. I see it as the age of respect. I have knowledge I didn’t have at 20, 30, or 40. I have experiences I wouldn’t trade. As a result of those various experiences, I have wisdom. If you’re thirty and want to tell me about “real life,” be prepared to get, “Bless your heart. I’m 50. Let me tell you about real life.”

There’s also something relaxing about being fifty. When you’re twenty, you worry about what other people think. When you’re thirty, that becomes less of a worry. You understand that when you go to a party, other people don’t really care what you’re wearing…they’re more concerned with what they are wearing. In fact, I like to think that at 30, that all went out the window with me. Some people refer to 40 as their “kiss my a** age” (I heard someone say that on David Letterman’s show years ago), meaning they stopped letting other people influence them and stopped caring so much about what other people think, but I think mine was 30. Some people who knew me in my 20s might argue that it was earlier.

If my mother were here today, she would tell you I was the “classic strong-willed child.” I didn’t cause problems, but I was stubborn. I was known for it in my family. Daddy always talked about it and wondered aloud where I got that lovely trait. He would often say, “If she doesn’t want to do something, or if she doesn’t agree with something, she is not going to give in.” Generally speaking, I didn’t care what other people did, but I wasn’t going to do something I didn’t want to do, and I wasn’t going to be talked into changing my mind about something.

As life has gone on, I’ve become less rigid, more relaxed, and most of the time, I don’t sweat the small stuff. I like to think I quit sweating the small stuff when I was in college. My parents used to say, “She might have been ‘switched’ at college” (a reference to Switched at Birth), meaning a different person came back than the one they dropped off four years before. Whatever happened, I had gained wisdom in those four years, and I’ve gained even more since…I don’t care who is right and who is wrong…unless, of course, it negatively affects me, my child, or my family. Then…well, you already know about Mama Bear.

For me, with age has come peace. I have peace in knowing God is in charge. I truly have peace in knowing there are some things over which I have no control. I have peace in knowing that I, generally speaking, try to do the right thing. I will admit that I’m perfectly capable of being petty, but I try to do the right thing most of the time. I have peace in knowing I have a nice family and good friends. I have peace in knowing I’m trying to raise my daughter to take care of herself and others. I have peace in knowing a small act of kindness can mean a lot to someone. I have peace in knowing my brother and I will talk almost everyday, whether we have something to say or not. I have peace in knowing he is happy. I have peace.

So, to my friend, Nikki, and all my other friends who will be turning fifty in the next year or two, this is my gift to you: Embrace the 5-0! Tell everyone you see you are enjoying your 50th birthday! Enjoy it! And don’t just celebrate it for one day; celebrate the whole dang year! Find the peace you deserve at 50!

My 51st birthday is approaching one month from today, and I have called this past year The Year of Me, this year that I am 50.

Unfortunately, I lost my mother during this year, but she laughed and laughed last May at how I embraced turning 50. She had a great sense of humor, and she was happy I was celebrating life. She was glad I took some extra vacations (my favorite thing to do), and she was glad I was spending time with friends and family during the year. She encouraged me to enjoy every single day. As my parents used to tell me, “Life is not a dress rehearsal. Make it good the first time around.” I’m certainly trying.

Friends, enjoy every day. Be glad you’re turning fifty. It’s a milestone. Eat cake! Cake is for winners! (Nikki knows what that means.) It should be a celebration.

stephanie-mccabe-65991-unsplash

Now, let’s pop the Champagne!

Cheers!