Jeff had always had a mean streak a mile wide and a country road long, if truth be told. And, it often was – or some version of it – around Miller’s General in Crenshaw. Still, he went and got hisself married last June. Gal named Heidi from down the road to Huntsboro. Even the preacher done some extra prayin since then.

Started on the weddin night to hear Hank Miller tell it: got knocked around but well, hell, wedding nights and the Motel 6 over to Hazelhurst ain’t nothin to sneeze at. After that first night they went up to Augusta but them city folk didn’t set too well – came back two days early.

Anyhow, the newlyweds moved into Gramma Swift’s old house. Jeff goes to work down to the Feed & Seed – he’s come in more’n once with cigarette burns and black eyes. And Heidi – well, ain’t no one quite sure what she does durin the day. But at night, plenty who’ll tell you about the hollerin and fussin and cussin that’d turn Gramma in her grave.

Guess them city folks’d call it abuse, but folks round Crenshaw just call it marriage.


Wherever You Are

I saw a small line with a small tent in front of Best Buy as I went to pick up my eldest son for the holiday yesterday. “Who on earth spends a day dedicated to family and food and gratitude in a tent on the cement outside a store?” I thought to myself.

Best Buy

rockwell thanksgivingThen I started pondering the different ways I have spent Thanksgiving over the years. Growing up, we had a traditional feast (turkey, yams, green bean casserole, cranberries – the whole nine yards). Mom had risen early to make the food. We kids watched the parade on TV, and there was football later in the day.  It was predictable and comforting. We ate midday in order to facilitate the making of turkey sandwiches in the evening. There was usually a fireplace roaring and Christmas specials on at night.

Since then, I have had Thanksgiving in Moscow: a meal  sponsored by some embassy people and their Russian counterparts (read: minor diplomats assigned to keep an eye on the Americans). There was a lot of vodka and champagne, and there was a man who really wanted to talk to me privately, preferably behind a locked door (no go). I have also witnessed the frying of a turkey in the yard in a big pot filled with imperial gallons of peanut oil. One year I was told that I didn’t need to help cook because I didn’t know “how they liked it.” Um, okay. Let me sit and drink wine then.

Other years have found us at a hotel Thanksgiving celebration: New Orleans and Augusta both offer excellent options in this category. Some times it has been just me and my sons; other times we have been part of a larger cast. We passed several years amiably with the whole family at my sister’s house, letting Whole Foods do the bulk of the cooking. One year was in a hospital. Those of you who have had injury or illness befall your beloved, you know that a Thanksgiving meal with hospital staff is both sobering and deeply meaningful.

All of this to say: although I know there are different traditions and ways to spend Thanksgiving, I have never once been tempted to camp out in front of any store. But maybe that’s what those families do: they camp out, get their stuff and have their celebration in their own way? Maybe there’s an art to this kind of shopping? Maybe there’s a fun to it that I can’t see as I drive by, judgmental thoughts in tow.

Pundits stand ready to tell you what’s “right” and “wrong” for everything-  from when to put up lights to when to shop to how to greet others over the holiday season. Traditional America will prescribe the right way to celebrate any holiday: turkey in November; sparkling trees and stockings in December; champagne and midnight kisses in January. For a moment yesterday, I was right there with them as I drove past Best Buy, but really while there’s nothing wrong with these traditions, the best times are when we do our own thing.

Last year we started making crab cakes for Thanksgiving, and I’ve never made yams (sorry, Mom!); a friend of mine makes a turkey shaped cake; some friends celebrated last week; still others will celebrate later this weekend (maybe they were in tents somewhere!).

The best holidays are those that we enjoy with the people we love wherever we are – even if that’s in a tent.


Turkey Talk: Back by Popular Demand

(Note: This was published November 2013; some changes have been made to the original text.)

The smell of the turkey, the sound of TV football, the torture of small talk amongst family members.  Say what?  Yes, for many of us, as much as we love our family and as much as we want more time to spend with them, the small talk of family events can put us to sleep or get under our skin or grate on our nerves or send us running to the hills proclaiming that we will live alone in a cave forever.  It can be a challenge to connect meaningfully with those you see a couple of times a year, and sometimes even more so with those that you live with. Now you are facing spending a purposeful day or weekend of proclaimed FAMILY TIME.

Little ones play and share together more easily than adults do many times.  Teenagers and young adults run the gamut of helpful and cheerful to sulky and texty.   Adults range from pretentious and all-knowing to silent and judgmental.  We seem to be pretty good at talking with those who are at similar stages of life as we are, but shift the ages apart by fifteen or more years, and silence or resentment or confusion may take over.  Making intergenerational conversation can be rough.  Let me suggest a few things that might make connecting with each other easier.

Adults, avoid asking your teenage or young adult interlocutor about school, college plans, or majors right off the bat.  That’s all they are ever asked.  Start instead with what they have been reading, watching, or listening to.  Tell them about a cool TED talk you recently watched or a new hobby you are embarking on.  Ask them about their favorite bands or video games or political movements.

If you must talk school, ask them to tell you the funniest thing that happened in calculus class or about their most recent poetry analysis for world lit.  Start a real conversation. Remember, young people are people too.  They are not just automatons caught in the machine we call education. In creative writing class a few years ago a student wrote a poem about applying to college in which she lamented that the only question she was ever asked was “Where are you going to college?”  The response she wanted to give was, “Fuck you, where are you going to college?”  The repetition of the same themes is dull for everyone, and for the younger person, the answers to such questions can be filled with fear and angst.  Pretend the young people are real, then your time talking with them will be more satisfying for all involved.

Younger people:  engage your adult friends and family in conversation about something more than the weather.  Do not text or check your phone while talking to them.  Look them in the eye.  Don’t roll your eyes. Smile a little bit.  If they must ask questions about getting into college or majors, answer and redirect to more interesting or comforting topics.  Ask them what they are reading, their latest promotion at work, or the community groups they are involved in.  If you absolutely can’t stand one more “What are you going to major in?”  – make up some unexpected answers ahead of time, give the answer, and walk away.  Use different answers with different people.  Don’t worry, no one will call you out on it, and you’ll give them something to talk about until Christmas.

To wit:

What are you going to major in?                     Nuclear Biology

What are you going to major in?                     Literature of Little People

What are you going to major in?                     Sculpture with a Concentration in Nudes

What are you going to major in?                     Genetics of Prehistoric Reptiles

Where do you want to go to college?             Hawaii-Pacific

Where do you want to go to college?             College of Southern Idaho

Where do you want to go to college?             Talmudic College of Florida

Where do you want to go to college?             FU*

What are you doing to do with that major?    Think “Dexter.”

What are you doing to do with that major?    Move to Vladivostok for graduate studies

What are you doing to do with that major?    Laboratory experiments on mole rats

What are you doing to do with that major?    Move back home

Adults, please, please, please do not condescend when a young person tells you what they want to do.  Don’t tell them it is a mistake.  And, whether you think what they are doing is a mistake or not, ask questions.  The more questions you ask about a young person’s goals or plans or ideas, the more you will understand their generation and that precious individual.  Avoid phrases like, “There’s no money in that…” or  “We never really agreed with what your dad did, and well…”  “Are you sure?  You used to be so good at math…”  Listen actively to what those younger have to say.  Make suggestions if you must, but these are young people who need questions asked and a sounding board that doesn’t try to negate away their ideas.

artist cartoon

Why is it so very easy to listen to what eight year-olds want to be when they grow up?  We can listen to their most far-fetched ideas, “I want to be a jewelry maker who is a vet and own a business that gives out milkshakes to children.”  Fantastic!  Even the kids who have no idea, “Well, I want to collect garbage” get a positive response:  “Then, be the best garbage person you can be!”  But, if a twenty year-old has decided a four year degree is not for her and she’s going to do a twelve month program in physical therapy assisting, part-time while bartending, we scorn her for not finishing college.  What is that all about?  Think of the negativity of the nightly news, the economy, the world disasters – these are people who are trying to create and launch a life and a career amidst all of this.  Be positive.

There are so many wonderful human beings in the world; see them around your table this year.


(*Note:  FU is the abbreviation for Furman University.  All of these are real colleges and very fine institutions in their own rights.)

First of All

The first years of our children’s lives are filled with, well, firsts. Joyous firsts. Photographic moments for scrapbooks, FaceBook brags, and mentions in the yearly Christmas letter.

First poop. First smile. First time sleeping through the night. First turn over. First crawl. First step. First tooth. First soccer game. First gymnastics class. First day of school.

Somehow after school starts, there are fewer firsts. Perhaps they dim. By middle school, our offspring’s firsts turn uglier. The first bullying. The first time to the principal’s office. The first F.  The magic of childhood dissipates. “You’ll never guess what happened today, Mom” stomps in surrounded by a cloud of doom. Those happy tears of joy-inducing moments seem to have vanished by the preteen years.

Once teenagerhood hits, there are some more firsts that are fun – maybe even interesting – but it’s just not the same. The kid’s first cell phone, the first time driving with a permit, the first outing with friends to the movies where no parents go along, the first time driving after getting the license. These are all notable, but not precious. Trepidation overshadows the teenage firsts.

There are other firsts that parents are quite rightly not a part of. We all have those memories: first time holding hands, first swig of an illicit beer in a friend’s basement, first kiss, first date, first sneaking out and getting back home without getting caught. These are firsts that provide individuals with varying degrees of nostalgia and mortification, but these are not parent-child firsts.

I’m on my third child. That is to say: his two older brothers are through high school. One lives on his own: working, studying, and generally being a 20-something; the other is in college: happily ensconced in study, friends, and trips to New York City. If forced to classify myself as a mother yesterday, I would have said that I’m jaded. I’ve done a lot of it – the good things two or three times. And, I’d probably have added that although my third child has been the recipient of a wiser mother than the first was, he has been a bit short-changed when came to celebration of the joyous firsts.

Until today.

Last night it snowed.         FullSizeRender (4)

My third son is born and bred in east-central Georgia until three months ago.

The night time snow lit up his eyes like a two-year old’s on Christmas Eve. He played; he made snow angels; he declared, “This is the most beautiful…” Words failed.

This morning, two inches of snow on the ground, he woke me up to announce that he was going outside to shovel the drive. I got up to take pictures and smile and laugh at his wonderment. Okay, okay, I’ll be real: upon seeing the neighbor snowblowing, he did complain, “Dude, we need one of those! Seriously, this shovel is so last century.”

Still, in these moments, the gunk of middle school has sloughed off, and I can see all of the beauty of all of his joyous firsts shine in his appreciation of this new, wonderful first.

Snow is fanciful for him. Something that only happened in the movies or in light dustings every eighth year in Augusta. For Midwesterners, it didn’t snow much last night, but he doesn’t know that. He doesn’t need to.

Snow Sunday

He didn’t realize that I was watching when the city snowplow came down the street. In that moment, this thirteen year-old boy who is too cool for anything was a one year-old taking his first step; he was a five year-old after the first day of kindergarten; he was a baby giggling at his first tickle. It wasn’t just seeing the plow in action, but it was also realizing that the plow pushed street snow onto your driveway. No matter, it was all great to him.

And for me, I am reminded that having moved to a completely new life I have been given a chance to have some joyous firsts with this third kid — and that’s a first I don’t want to waste.


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