Willie Nelson Shirley
May 15, 2007 - December 26, 2022

Willie Nelson “Willie Possum” Shirley was born on May 15, 2007, in north Alabama to Lacy Juliet and Lucky Dee Romeo (which could possibly explain why he had to kiss any person he was near and his love for air humping elbows) and crossed the rainbow bridge on December 26, 2022.   He is survived by his parents Holly and Jimbo Shirley; human siblings:  Mary Catherine, Forrest, and Jamie: grandparents: Kermit and Deborah, Nan and Earle, Jim and Mary; a nephew and 2 nieces: Henley, Harper, and Kiwi the bulldog; and a special friend Shannon Petty aka his "ShanShan".  Willie was preceded in death by his great grandmother Lenis and his Aunt Sallie Mae George, mutt.  

He was with his God parents on the side of the road in a cardboard box with a sign that said “Maltese Puppies” for sale in front of Target on Highway 280 in Birmingham, Alabama, when he came right toward Holly and Mary Catherine, and they were smitten. Holly sent MC to the ATM while she held on to Willie so no one else would get him.  He was adopted that day and given the name Willie Nelson. 

After a stop at PetSmart for some necessities and a pirate hat, they returned home and announced to Jimbo, "Look!  We got you a pirate hat!!  And guess what?  It came with a dog."  Jimbo wasn't sold immediately and swore Willie would NEVER sleep in the bed with him (which he did for fifteen years).  Willie was Christened in the bathtub later that week with a solo cup.

Willie went to work as a teenager, helping with the family business.  He enjoyed his job at Soho Interiors in Homewood, Alabama where he served as the official greeter and rocking chair salesman until the financial collapse of 2008 that was the cause of the store’s demise.  

Willie donned a cap and gown for Forrest's high school graduation and a Bo Jackson jersey to move him into the dorm at Auburn.

Although distraught, during his brief period of unemployment, Willie quickly found work as a bed tester and greeter at Generation Dog in Homewood with his sister, Mary Catherine.  Willie also enjoyed being a nursery tester and nanny to his nephew, Henley.  

After the Alabama tornadoes, Willie worked in disaster relief with Toomer’s for Tuscaloosa and enjoyed casserole drives and stuffing trucks as well riding shotgun in U-Hauls to destinations all over the country with his mom.  When posts were made on social media to bring something to stuff the truck and meet Willie Nelson, people came from all over to help and have their picture made with “Willie Nelson”.   Once, when the volunteers stopped on their way home from a trip, Willie became probably the first and only Maltese who hit the slots at Wind Creek in Atmore, Alabama.  He and Michelle Gates ate steamed shrimp (that were several hours old) out of a Ziplock back all the way home- neither died, although Holly and Christina promised them it would be their undoing.

Willie was a regular comedian at family Christmas parties, when every year, he donned a Rudolph the red nosed reindeer costume and refused to move because of the hood.  He would freeze in anything with a hood like you were playing freeze tag.  We often wondered if he might have set a world's record for a dog being still the longest amount of time without flinching.  Willie always received extra treats for his live shows as he did not work for free.

During the years from 2011- 2013 Willie traveled all over the country doing land-man work with this dad, Jimbo Shirley.  He dined in Waffle Houses and Cracker Barrels all up and down the I-65 corridor- and his favorite one was outside of Louisville, Kentucky.  He also had a big time at the Makers’ Mark bourbon distillery tour.  

He tromped through snow in Ohio and Pennsylvania and ran up and down the Neshannock River in Volant, Pennsylvania, where he loved watching the Amish in their buggies come to town every Friday to cash their checks at the local bank across the street from the Bed and Breakfast where he was temporarily lodged.  The owners of the BNB weren’t fond of Willie and the feeling was mutual.  The husband was a Mr. Rogers type character who played the clarinet and wore cardigans, and his wife would pop up from behind the half door in the kitchen anytime you went within a 20-foot radius of the door.  She was a human jack in the box who scared the hell out of Willie’s entire family.  

In a mass exodus from the BNB, and knowing Willie couldn’t just stay anywhere, his family went to the Holiday Inn Express- because there aren’t a lot of options in Grove City, Pennsylvania and told them Willie was a service dog for Holly, which he was.  Trying to answer a question from Jimbo, Holly (who suffers mild hearing loss in her left ear from a firecracker incident in 1976) said “You know I can’t hear you when you talk to me on my left side” and from that point on, the staff of the hotel felt at liberty to say anything they wanted in front of Holly thinking that she was completely deaf.   And anytime Willie barked, the staff would motion to Holly that Willie was conveying a message. 

In 2013, Willie moved to Clermont, Florida and was only six miles from Disney World.  He kept the local Starbucks manager on her toes while his mom was writing, and he enjoyed fighting with a huge bushy tailed squirrel who lived in the palm tree outside of his screened porch.  Willie delighted in sitting outside at night and watching the fountain on the lake- that was his happy place.  He became very close friends with a Havanese named Pebbles there and a smoking hot Pomeranian who took his breath away from his screened tree house. 

Willie loved visiting his niece, Kiwi the bulldog, in Gainesville while his sister Jamie was in school there.  He especially loved his trips to Gainesville restaurants with Jamie while she was in grad school.  He lived for the end of the meal when he got tasty leftovers.  

Willie wasn’t crazy about Short Pump, Virginia, and was glad when he permanently moved home to Birmingham, Alabama.  No matter where he was in the world or how far he had traveled, he always knew the street that turned into his neighborhood- whether he’d been in the car for 30 minutes or 10 hours, he knew he was home.  Willie would go crazy when he made the turn at his local post office and cry all the way home with an excitement he only had when he knew he was going to HIS house.

In 2015, Willie’s great-grandmother Lenis was diagnosed with cancer and he became a caregiver.  He spent hours by her side as she recovered from sixteen different procedures she had while staying with him.  He was a loyal friend to her and the sweetest heating pad she could have hoped to have. 

On a last-minute trip to Atlanta and South Georgia in 2017, Willie went to President Jimmy Carter’s church and enjoyed his Sunday School Class. The secret service let him right in the door and he was as quiet as a church mouse until time to come out of his bag for the photo.  His mom got some looks from the church folks, but President Carter asked, “What’s your puppy’s name?”  When Willie’s mom said “Willie Nelson”, President Carter burst out laughing and said he was going to call Willie as soon as he got out of church to tell him about Willie Nelson the Maltese.

Willie worked hard at The Holley House Bed and Breakfast inspecting construction for four years while the house was restored.  Upon its reopening, he did not understand why all of the bacon in the morning was not cooked just for him.  He wasn't fond of the new business model that involved feeding strangers our bacon.  He was thankful to be kidnapped several times by his sister Mary Catherine for snuggles which was always a relief from manual labor.  There are a lot of tiny steps for a guy to make in a 14-bedroom house!  He spent a million hours rocking in his grandmother Deborah's lap and stole her beanbag pillow so many times, she finally just gave it to him.  

Willie was a big gift giver- being that his only currency was his turds, whenever someone he loved left for a few hours, he would find his way to their room and leave a gift they would find upon their return.  It didn’t matter if he had just pooped in the yard, he would always find a gift in there somewhere.  He was a thoughtful guy that way.

Willie’s breath was not delightful- no matter how many times he’d eaten a Merrick toothbrush that week, but his kisses were sweet, and he was always full of love.  He loved to snuggle, and he loved big breasted women.

He traveled from the plains of Texas to the sugar canes near Miami, up the I-95 corridor and over to the Great Lakes.  He was an adventurer, a lover of classic country music, Bob Dylan, Funk, Motown classics, and classic rock and was the best road trip companion a person could ever hope to have and the best friend anyone has ever known. He loved a good bath, having his ears cleaned out with q-tips, getting his hair dried with the hair dryer, and new clothes.  He hated vacuum cleaners, mops, the sound of the UPS truck, and mean people. He will be missed greatly, and his memory will live on in each of us. 

Willie Nelson Shirley was cremated and will be interred with his parents upon their death at the Blackwater Cemetery in Bradley, Alabama. 

Dogs Versus Kids

June 26, 2019

Willie Nelson, most perfect canine ever.

My dog has never once taken the last $20 bill out of my wallet.  He has never wrecked my car, trashed my house while I was out of town having SURGERY, and he has never replaced the rum in my liquor cabinet with water.  I'm not sure that he would know how to wire a bumper back on with a coat hanger, and I don't think he would pour Bombay Sapphire on my counters and set them on fire?

Not one night since September 2007, has Willie ever called me in the middle of the night and said "Hey Mom, it's me...Willie...umm...I know you're going to be mad, but there's a boot on my car and I need some money."

I've never had to pay $3000 to send him to summer camp to hike the Appalachian trail to force him to get off of his ass and learn to make friends.  Willie Nelson has never been sent to a third world country packed with a suitcase full of macaroni and cheese and protein bars to work at an orphanage to learn to appreciate what he has- no sir, not him.

In twelve years, the dog has never left his legos on the floor where I would step on them and create new curse words.  He's just not crafty with legos or puzzles, Willie isn't.

He's never thrown a fire poker at anyone in the family or chased one of us with a pipe wrench wrapped in an oven mitt.  I hear that an oven mitt will cushion the blow, but he's never done those things.

Willie doesn't even know how to use the oven and would never hide someone's year book in there, causing it to catch fire.

I don't know his Mom, so I've never had to co-parent him with another woman who might not see eye to eye with me and my peculiar ways of doing things, and I'm glad I never had to negotiate with that bitch.

I had Willie neutered shortly after we adopted him, so I've never had to buy condoms for him or teach him how to use them "just in case" something ever happened and he got the urge.  We never had the banana lesson.   Instead,  he just humps teddy bears and our elbows when he catches us sleeping or sees a window of opportunity (he weighs 5 pounds).

Willie is always glad to see me and has never rolled his eyes at me and said "Oh my God, Mom!  You are embarrassing me.  Don't kiss me.  Stop acting like a geek.  You are geeking out!  Are you going to wear that?  In PUBLIC?"

But you know what else Willie hasn't done?  He hasn't brought these two sweeties home.  Parents raising teenagers, remember this:  One day, that demon spawn that you want to send to Mars on one of Elon Musk's rockets will think you are smart again.  They will become educated and gainfully employed, get married, buy a house, and bring you grandchildren.  And those grandchildren will be perfect, SO PERFECT!

Hang in there.
Love y'all,
The sweetest babies I know!

Dear Chris, It's 9-11...

September 10, 2018

I think you wrote "My future's so bright...I gotta wear shades."

Dear Chris,

     It's been a year and a half since you left us, a year and a half since I heard your voice, a year and a half since you made me laugh, a year and a half since you saw something on the news about Alabama and you called me to see if I knew the person in the article (usually I knew them or was one degree away).  It's been a year and a half since I lost one of the best friends I've ever had.  It's been a year and a half since I said "Chriyyyyyaaasssss…say "Fuhgettaboutit"  and I laughed hysterically.

     I keep up with your boys via social media and I wonder every day how they get through without the center of their family- the person who held it all together- the guy who raised half of the neighborhood.  
     I wonder if they know how stressed you were raising them on your own or if they have a clue how many sets of dishes you bought that just kept disappearing in your house.  I remember the day you said you made everyone clean out their rooms, under their beds and closets, and you found baskets of socks and underwear and way too many dishes to fit into your cabinets. You said you'd just kept buying more socks, more underwear, and more dishes. I laughed so hard that day listening to your cleaning antics that I cried.

     I think about the days that followed 9-11, especially the first day you went back to work in Midtown.  I remember you calling me and saying "Can you just stay on the phone with me until I get there?  I am hearing ambulances and police cars and I am scared."  Scared?  You'd never been scared of anything in your life.   You're from Brooklyn, you're a New Yorker.  But that day, I could hear your voice quiver and I knew that 9-11 is not something you could just put behind you.  You couldn't just move on with your life without that being such a big part of you.  It changed you.

    I wonder how you kept your wits about you to help navigate five people down 90 floors, through jet fuel, sheetrock dust, debris, and God only knows what else you inhaled that day.  I wonder how you closed your eyes at night without hearing the thuds of bodies hitting the ground.  How did you sleep that first year without seeing people fall from the towers to keep from burning?  I don't know how you made it through every day and kept your crap together, but you did, and I still can't comprehend how you did that.

     Some days I wonder if that's what happened to your heart, 9-11?  I know you smoked more than you should have and, like me, you enjoyed eating junk food way more than you should have.  I wonder if your heart broke a little bit that day?  And as reality set in, I wonder if it broke just a little bit more every day until it finally couldn't take anymore.

     I am so grateful that you took me on a personal tour of the memorial.   I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to walk through it with you and have a slice downtown that day.  We found a coke that had your name on it, like it was a fated visit.  I had no idea it would be the last time I would see you.

       I cannot believe that you let that dang steamroller hit my rental car in your neighborhood and then you called me a bad driver?  All the way to Manhattan, all you could say was "It's not my fault you backwoods Alabama hillbillies can't drive in Brooklyn." 

     What was crazier is that the rental company said nothing when I returned it and said that I'd been hit- he just said "Look lady, it's New York. We don't check for scratches, okay?  Now, get outta here."

    I remember the year you were working in World Trade I,  and I sent your birthday present wrapped in hot pink paper, in a Keds shoe box- little girls, size 10.  The guys you worked with gave you hell, I knew they would.  When Ashley Banfield would report from the Fresh kills landfill on the news, I always looked for that pink box you had saved and had passed around your office as a joke.  We were probably the only people laughing in the entire World Trade Center Museum, because you said "Look, I've already been here and I have to tell you the bad news... the damned pink shoe box didn't make it, okay? Do not be disappointed."  

     You were a good friend to me.  One of the only people in the world who knew all of my secrets and never judged, never criticized,  and just told me straight.  Once you told me I was spoiled and that I expected too much from people, and I never forgot it.  You being you, you followed up your salty commentary by telling me that I gave a lot back-that I was a good wife and a great mom- so it was okay for me to expect a lot. I needed to hear that at that particular time in my life, all of it.  

     You always knew what to say to shock me back into reality when things were total crap. I never would have made it through 1998 without your friendship after my Grandfather died.  You were a sounding board and a great friend.  I bet we cried ten million tears together and laughed that many more times.

     You got a bad deal because of 9-11.  Your company moved, downsized, and you became collateral damage- in so many ways.  You never gave up hope, though, and that is the Chris we all loved- the eternal optimist, the comedian, the friend who was loyal until the very last morning you took your very last breath.

     I will never think of 9-11 without thinking of the day I thought we'd lost you, and then remember the January 16th, when we truly did lose you.  I hope you are flying high and will never have to worry about this world again.  Until I see you on the other side, rest well my friend.  You are missed.  Every day, you are missed.  You, you are an American hero- or at least the closest thing to one I will ever meet in this lifetime.  It was a privilege of my life knowing you and an even greater one calling you friend.

Until I see you on the other side,

Thankful for the life of one of my best friends in the world today, Chris Egan.

September 11, 2014

Thirteen years ago today, I was in my home office, when my husband (then fiance') called me from Troy, Alabama, to tell me that the World Trade Center had been hit by a plane.  He asked me "Which building is your friend Chris in?" I said "He's in World Trade One."  Jimbo said "Pray, because it hit around the 90th floor...and it doesn't look good."  

Chris worked on the 90th floor of WTC 1. I immediately ran and turned on MSNBC in time to see the second plane hit, while frantically trying to dial Chris's work number and cell phone.  What was weird about the timing, is that we talk almost every morning around that time- nine o'clock- always have.  Chris was really excited about the newly opened Krispy Kreme doughnuts in the food court, and I was praying that he was downstairs getting a hot glazed doughnut.  Phone lines were down and jammed all over Manhattan, and I couldn't get through, not to mention the cell tower on WTC 1 was damaged.

He worked for an international bank at the time, so I called his home office in Luxembourg, thinking that they would have  a contact for everyone there.  They informed me that Chris had made it down to the plaza with five others, but that someone thought they saw him go back inside the building to help.  They believed he was dead. I refused to believe it, and knew that if ANYONE could make it out, he could.  He smokes,  and always illegally smoked in the stairwell on the 90th floor.  I knew that he knew ALL of the exits.

My daughter, now a registered nurse, was in elementary school.  I picked her up from school, and we went straight to the Red Cross to give blood- believing that there would be survivors who would need blood.  We sat with hundreds of others also there to give blood, as we watched the horrific scenes replayed over and over on the big screen television on the wall.  

With strangers, we watched the President's address.  It was surreal.  Strangers were there together, crying and hugging one another.  People from all backgrounds and socio-economic statuses were there to truly give of themselves, to give their blood to hope and make a difference. In  Alabama, so far away,  we didn't know what else to do...and I think most people were desperate to do something, anything.  

It was 2am before it was my turn to roll up my sleeve, and the nurse couldn't find a vein.  I remember telling him "Then you'd better get a ziplock and an x-acto blade, because my friend is in that tower and you are getting some of my blood tonight!"  Finally, another tech came over and found the vein.  The Red Cross didn't close that night- they worked all night long in the Birmingham Southside office.

I called every hospital in Manhattan looking for Chris.  I called the make-shift morgue that the Port Authority had set up in New Jersey at a park, thinking that they would have so many bodies to process, yet they had hardly none.  I emailed every person on every email he had every forwarded me, hoping that someone knew where he was and had heard from him...no one answered.  

I called the police precincts and a cop with a heavy Brooklyn accent took my number and was so kind to call me back and check to see if I had found my friend days later.  It was a frantic search that lasted for days via telephone that ended in no information to be had until Friday.

On September14th, I received a call from Luxembourg informing me that they had been in touch with Chris, and that he was indeed alive, and to tell me that he would call as soon as he could get a phone line out, because the phone lines were still so jammed.  I talked to him on the 16th, and it was the best phone call I have ever gotten in my life.  Never had I been so glad to hear my friend's voice on the other end of the line.

Chris is like a brother to me.  We became friends in 1998 shortly after my Grandfather died and he was the best friend a person could have when going through something like that.  We still talk every day and have shared every part of our lives from his divorce, to crazy stories about our children, dating and marriage, career decisions, home purchases, the whole nine yards. 

He has a new love, Karen, and they are so happy. He has such a full, wonderful life.  He has four beautiful children who would have been devastated that day, had he not returned.  One of his sons watched it all on television, while a boy at school kept saying to him "Your daddy's dead...your daddy's dead."   Chris said that for days his son, Timmy, wouldn't let go of him.

I am thankful to still have my friend with us and that I know God still has great plans for his life.  I am thankful that his children weren't orphaned that day.  I am thankful that he lived so that Karen could have the love that he has in his heart showered into her life.  With all of that being said, I cannot fathom what the families who lost their Dad, Husband, Grandfather, Mother, Wife, Grandmother, Sister, Brother, Best friend, Fiance', Neighbor, Son, Daughter, or Co-worker, went through that day and the weeks following.

My heart breaks for them all, and I vow to NEVER FORGET.
The outpouring of love in the days that followed 9-11, were like the days in Alabama following the tornadoes.  I wish that it didn't take a terrorist attack or a natural disaster for us to all truly show the love that is in all of our hearts to one another on a daily basis.  As we mourn for the dead, and celebrate the living, let's try to love one another a little more.



And the People said "Amen!".

September 6, 2018

It was July 1978,  and hotter than a six shooter.  My cousin Jason and I had made our usual escape into Pa Julian’s 1971 red Maverick immediately following Sunday school. It had snuff running down the side of it and probably hadn’t been washed since Pa bought it and the Maverick was six years old.  I was six that summer, just like the Maverick, and was spending most of the summer in Bradley, Alabama,  while my mother was completing her work contract in Daytona Beach, Florida.

I loved summers in Bradley at Bigmama’s and Pa’s house.  Bigmama played the piano like a drunk Jerry Lee Lewis trying to get right, and Pa didn’t believe in all of that Pentecostal carrying on, so he went to Sunday school, only,  and then broke the hell out of there like any good Baptist would.  He said that his daddy was a preacher, he’d gone to preaching every day at Mount Berry College in Mount Berry, Georgia, and he’d even run a revival once in Florida, so he didn’t need any more church.  Betty never fussed.

We knew like clockwork that Julian would be heading to the Maverick once preaching commenced.   Jason and I hid in the floorboard of the snuff covered car full of fish guts, worm hooks, and empty snuff cans. We hunched down in the back, giggling, and were forced to hold our noses the entire way home.  Pa pretended not to notice us, but he knew we were there.

When we arrived at home, about a half a mile around the curve in the road, we popped up to let Pa know that we were stowaways.  Like every time that we  had done it before, Julian said….”Look at you sorry bunch of hacklebacks!  Betty is gonna tan yore hide when she sees you youngins.”  We laughed, changed into our swim suits, and then headed down to the creek, across the street from the house. 

We’d been down there about ten minutes when the cars started down the red dirt road hill.  One after the other they came down and out poured the ladies in dresses, and the men in short sleeved dress shirts with pocket protectors and clip on ties.  Betty and her green Malibu were in the lineup.  OH LORD!  When we saw her climb out of the car in her Thelma Harper polyester dress, and her support stockings that connected to her girdle and garters, we immediately remembered what had been announced at church.  It was baptism Sunday!

The next thing you know...

The next thing you know, we were making a fast decision about what to do next.  Jason was 10, so he was always bossing me. Boojee and Jennifer were with us that Sunday and they were older and made the executive decision to hide We knew that if were caught "half-naked" at the creek in front of the church people- especially us girls- that Betty would take us down to Fly Flap City and  break at least three fly flaps on us.  She had quite a collection.

We ran out of the creek and hid in the trees on the other side in  he woods and watched the baptisms.  We almost went down and crossed the creek further up, and were going to sneak up to the house without ever been seen, but it was too deep, so we remained. Figuring if we could wait out the baptisms until everyone was gone, we could sneak back up the hill and go in the side door without being noticed.  By then, Bigmama would be putting dinner on the table, but we never made it to the side door before she saw us.

I don't remember anything ever taking longer in that baptism in my entire life, until Aretha Franklin's funeral last week.  Seems like when you go swimming, the minute you get wet and have a swimsuit on, you have to pee.  We were freezing wet, and we needed to pee.  On top of trying to be still, quiet, and invisible, we had to pee and were doing a rain dance in our minds while biting our purple shivering lips.

Joe and Rufus and Thomas Earle were in the creek with the people being baptized. There were a lot of hallelujahs in the air that day.  Rube Timothy was standing on the creek bank praying and smiling that huge smile of his.  That little man could pray, Lord, could he pray!  

One after the other, the baptism candidates came to the water to wash away their sins, but it didn't stop there.  Shouting commenced, hands were raised, arms were waving and everyone was praying down heaven.  The Holy Ghost had apparently come to party, because Bigmama stood on the creek bank praying and speaking in tongues for what seemed like forever, I mean forever.  

We knew Bigmama would be the last one out of there and figured once she was done, we could stealthily head back to the house and blame forgetting about the baptism on Pa and act like we'd been playing the whole time in the yard.

Finally, around 2 o'clock, after every single person had driven or walked up the hill, Bigmama stood on the creek bank in her Thelma Harper dress, her Mason catalog shoes, and her Kevlar stockings.  She yelled in the highest pitched voice you've ever heard "Hollllleeeeee, Jaaaasssssson, Boojeeee, Jennnnnnifer! You boys had better get up that hill!"

She had known we were there the whole time.  She always knew exactly what we were up to and chose the appropriate fly flap,  according to our deed.  That baptism Sunday I won my first trip ever- an all expenses paid trip to Fly Flap City.

Love y'all,


Washing Dishes

August 29, 2018

I have never been very good at washing dishes.  My Mother, however, was tops in her W. S. Neal High School Home Economics class, circa 1964.  Her teacher, Mrs. Jane Smith, probably taught her more about life and how to do things correctly than anyone else and probably, in turn,  caused me more grief than any other human on earth.

In Mrs. Smith's class, your dishwater had to be smoking hot, nearly boiling.  This was before kids complained about getting burned, before regulators were put on hot water heaters in classrooms, and when life skills were important because women actually kept house. This was before parents chastised teachers for actually teaching their children valuable life lessons and allowed teachers to run their classrooms without interference. 

I assume that Mrs. Smith is the one who taught my mother to rub her hands on the inside of each pot and each pan to make sure that they were completely clean and had no residue, because this was the ritual in our home each night after the dishes were washed.

Keep in mind, that to this day in 2018, my Mother still has the pots and pans that she received for a wedding present in 1968, and they look almost exactly like they did the day she unwrapped them.  There is some wear, but there isn't a spec of anything on them.  They are a trophy of sorts.  Even though she has collected numerous better pots and pans throughout the years, there is one boiler that is a badge of honor that she will often pull out of the cabinet and say "I've had this pot since 1968, got it for a wedding present.  Look at it, just like brand new."

Washing dishes has never been high on my list of things I enjoy.  As far as house work goes, I hate it- all of it.  I would rather chew nails than clean.  I am a wonderful party planner, great cook, and designer, but domestic chores are not my calling in this life.  

Around age eleven, I remember dragging around with chores one Saturday morning that I didn't want to do when my Mother said "Sometimes you have to do things you don't want to do in life that are necessary.  Cleaning the bathroom is necessary, and whether you want to do it or not, you will always have to do it."

None of that made sense to me.  I had plans, big plans.  None of my plans included cleaning a toilet, ever.  I imagined a home complete with a housekeeper, a cook, and a yard guy.  I had no intention of ever doing house chores, and so I responded 

"No, Mother,  I won't always have to do it, you are wrong.  You don't have to do things you don't want to do- you just make enough money to hire those things done for you.  I will never have to clean a bathroom when I grow up, because all of this is a waste of my time" to which she replied
"Well, Lizzy Louiza, you don't have that option and today you will clean this bathroom and you will stay in here until you do it."  I did it- four or five times that day I did it- until it was right.

More than anything, I hated washing dishes because it always began with some kind of game where we tested how hot we could stand the water.  Thanks, Mrs. Smith.  We had a dishwasher, but dishes weren't allowed in the dishwasher until they were properly washed.  Just because they are called dishwashers doesn't mean they actually wash dishes (at least that's what my Mother said).   

I was in the fifth grade and new to washing dishes the night that I begged for breakfast for dinner that my Mother graciously obliged me and cooked.  This was around the time that I learned the meaning of the phrase "half-ass".  My mother is not a fan of  half-ass anything and will snatch you bald-headed for half-assing any task.

I had struggled one day with a pan that I had the privilege of washing nine times because I had half-ass done it.  I should have learned at that point to do what Mother said, but I had a theory that if I did it poorly, she might not ever ask me to do it again.  I was wrong.  That breakfast-eating night, I put the pots and pans in the dishwasher and half-ass loaded it with the rest of the dishes.  I had no idea how important it was to remove grits from a ceramic boiler prior to putting it in a dishwasher, until the next morning when I was properly schooled.

6:45 a.m. my Mother began to unload the dishwasher and I heard  "HOOOOOLLLLY!!!  Get in the kitchen RIGHT NOW!"  I knew I had half-assed something, because that was the official call for half-assers.  I knew that call now, because I was preparing to win a medal in the Half-ass Domestic Olympics.  

I ran to the kitchen and she was holding the gritty pot- truly gritty- grits baked on the side.  "Give me your hand.  Give it to me.  Feel this."  She ran my hand around the entire inside of the boiler and I am quite sure my eyes were the size of saucers.   I felt it.  It was stuck.  The grits were baked on and felt like sandpaper and in her favorite boiler, oh Lord!

"Why did you put this in here without washing it like I told you?"

"Um, because I was ready to go to bed?"

"Didn't I tell you to wash it before you put it in the dishwasher?"

"Yes, ma'am, but...it's a dishwasher."

"Didn't I TELL YOU that dishwashers don't wash dishes?"

"Then why do we have the stupid thing?"

"Just for being a smart mouth, I should just whip your butt with this pot."

I had just received a neon orange sticker with the child abuse hotline number on it.  It was an 800 number, and I had stuck it on a notebook in my room.

I replied with "If you hit me with that pot, I am going to call the child abuse hotline."  

"You have the child abuse hotline number?  Really?  Where'd you get that?"


"Go get the number, let me see that."

I retrieved the notebook with the sticker affixed to it...

"I tell you what, Holly, why don't you call out that number to me."  She was holding the red Bellsouth slimline telephone with the long curly cord in her hand.

I asked "Why do you need the number?"

She said "I am going to dial it for you. One, Eight-hundred...  Here.  Tell them when they get here, they can identify you by your dental records."

Thankfully, my neighbor's mom pulled up and honked the carpool horn.  I jumped down the front steps of the house without even touching a single stair.  As I went out the door she said …

"And we aren't through with this conversation.  We will finish this when you get home."

It was the last day of fifth grade.  I physically was ill and by the time she got to school to pick me up.  I missed all of the parties the last day of school.  I had a temperature of 101.  I had worried myself sick, literally.  She, of course, had forgotten all about the pot in the dishwasher and washed it by the time I got home.  

I, on the other hand, am one of the best dishwashers in the tri-state area.    

***Update...I cleaned my own bathroom tonight and scrubbed the grout on the floor.  I also washed my own dishes.  My original pots and pans look exactly like they did the day that I got married in 1990. Thanks, Mrs. Smith.

Thank a teacher this week.  They are teaching your kids more than reading, writing, and arithmetic and their lessons might stick around for 50 years or more.

Love y'all,


Bigmama's Last Day

August 28, 2018

My Great-grandparents, Betty and Julian Henley, with me- 1975

I remember the Easter this photograph was taken.  My mother made the dress I am wearing and it had trim with strawberries on it.  I remember The Midnight Special being on the Friday night before Easter as Mother sewed the ribbon trim onto the white eyelet fabric.  She made a hairbow out of silk flowers and red ribbons that I did not want to wear.  My Easter basket had red cellophane to match and a red and white gingham bow.

Bigmama made chicken and dumplings, fried chicken, peas, corn, butterbeans, some kind of greens, cornbread, biscuits, a ham, the usual fare she prepared on holidays, and I am sure there was a cobbler of some kind and pies galore!  She made the best sweet potato pie in the universe.

Nine years after the Easter of 1975, Bigmama was gone.  She had been sick for years when she finally passed from a brain hemorrhage.  I tell you that she died from a brain hemorrhage, because we have to do that in the South.  Dying of old age isn't enough, we need details- how long it took once she went down, did she suffer, who was there, what'd we eat while she lingered, who brought the food, what we were wearing at the time she went to Glory,  and how many times did the preacher come by to pray before she passed- all of this somehow is important, because I have remembered it since I was twelve, nearly thirteen years old.

The Morning She Left Us

We had all been up for days sitting with her around the clock. Willie Fred had bathed Bigmama and rubbed her down with good smelling lotion.  Willie loved Gloria Vanderbilt, so I am assuming that is what she used.  I had on a boat neck, three-quarter sleeve t-shirt that was blue with skinny stripes on it that were white, red, and green.  I remember what I was wearing,  because my Mother worked as the office manager at the shirt factory my cousin Jimmy owned and he had given me two of the same shirt.  I had slept in it from the night before, in my jeans, fully dressed, because we knew the time was upon us.

I don't remember there ever being a second that one of us wasn't holding Bigmama's hand until she sat up in the bed, opened her eyes, and gasped her last breath.  What I do remember about the moment she passed, was that something woke me up, out of a dead sleep, and I ran out to where she was.  We all woke up like we had been shaken- my mother, my cousins, my Grandmother- we all were there.  It's almost like Bigmama wanted us to see her open her eyes as she left for heaven so that we would have faith that we will see her again.  She died on a Sunday morning around six o'clock, just in time to make it to the big piano in Heaven to crank out Keep on The Firing Line.

George, our neighbor, brought a sack full of biscuits from Hardee's that morning.  I remember having a steak biscuit with strawberry jelly smeared on it and thinking that I had uncovered the holy grail of culinary delights.  To this day, my favorite breakfast comfort food is a Hardee's steak biscuit.

After sitting up for weeks crying and watching our matriarch slip away, we were grateful for a biscuit and time together to love one another without the fear of impending death, because it had just come and gone like a thief.

She had been comatose for weeks, and I guess we all secretly wondered if she could hear us.  It was a relief  that Sunday morning, to know that Betty finally had her ticket to the one place she had always wanted to go- Glory. I must have played How Great Thou Art a thousand times while she lay in that bed dying.  It was all that I knew to do.  I believed she could hear it and it was her favorite song.  She had the round note version of the sheet music and could only read shape notes, so sending her off knowing that I had mastered it, was my gift to her.  Looking back now,  I can only imagine how everyone in the house probably wanted to set the piano on fire and me with it, but thankfully they did not.

Every morning as Bigmama drank her coffee in that old green mug, she would pray

"Dear Lord, I thank you for this day.  Thank you Lord for the promise of Glory.  Oh, Jesus, I want to see your face.  I want to walk the streets of gold.  Lord, if today is the day you come back, I am ready to go to Glory.  Thank you Lord for knowing that one day I will be healed and won't have the pains I have on this earth.  Come today, Oh Jesus, come today!"

I never could figure out why she was in such a hurry to go to heaven.  I was still figuring out things down here and I wasn't really excited about dying, so her prayers always perplexed me a little- until, until I saw her eyes open and her spirit leave her body, and then I knew.

Bigmama's farewell party was one of the best I had ever witnessed,  Devon Wiggins and the McKissacks sang while Miss Nelle played the piano.  Bigmama had been the piano player at the Bradley church for most of her life, so she was honored with a Southern Gospel musical celebration that the Gaithers can't rival.  My cousin Dean and I sang a song, I can't even remember now what it was, because as clearly as I can remember that Sunday morning she passed, I don't remember a thing about the Monday afternoon funeral.

Yesterday, one of my good friends lost her Mother.  It was only two weeks ago that my friend took her Mother to the hospital to find out that she had stage 4 colon cancer.  When she passed yesterday, Miss Bebe was surrounded by her family who loved her, holding her hands and loving on her,  and I have a sneaking suspicion she is having coffee with Bigmama marveling over the streets of gold.

I wish that I could walk in the joy of the unknown like Bigmama did- without stress or anxiety.  I wish I could find joy in my suffering and praise God for it, because I know it brings me another day closer to his Glory.  I wish that I had one more morning to sit on the floor in front of the space heater at Bigmama's  house while she drank her coffee from that ugly old green cup and prayed Heaven down into her dining room.

Hug your people and tell them you love them this week.

Love, y'all,



August 8, 2018

My Uncle J.B. painted this sign.  He was famous for painting homemade signs and building things.  He left the A out of Y'all, but that's alright, because he did manage to fit "Be Good" on at the end and that is something he championed, being good.  He loved his bride Betty and his children and grandchildren in a way that I have never witnessed in any other family.  He flat sure loved his tomato gravy making Mama and she sure did love him.

As much as my Uncle J.B. loved the living, he revered the dead. The Blackwater Cemetery, situated 1.3 miles off of Highway 4 in Bradley, Alabama,  is home to the graves of my great, great, great, great grandparents buried in the early 1800s.

Our people's stories are written on the 250 year old marble stones at Blackwater.   Our reason for being, it is buried there. Our blood came from the people in that sandy ground. Their struggles and their triumphs were passed down to us and we have gladly carried the mantle.

Those Henleys, Gatewoods, and Sweeneys  were strong people, with big families and even bigger hearts.  Their infant babies whom lived hours, and some days, are buried along side of their mothers.  Every time I see those tiny slabs, I wonder how many silent tears were cried in that graveyard after working the fields, cooking meals for ten plus people, tending to skirt-pulling children, and milking cows.

I cried millions of tears over a child that never was, so I cannot imagine burying a full-term infant and having to immediately go back to farm life.  Women didn't talk about their angst and pain in the 1800s,  life was about survival.  People were tougher, their wills were stronger, and there was no time to look back.  Looking back only allowed doubt to creep in, and survival had no place for doubt.  They got out of bed, made a wood-burning stove full of biscuits and gravy, and got on with living.

A short piece from the Blackwater Cemetery is the Blackwater River.   I have often wondered why cemeteries are often found near water.  I have heard spiritualist say that water is a conductor for the spirit world.  Maybe the Celts who came over in the 1600s brought that mythology with them?  I don't know much about all of that, but I do feel closer to my people at Blackwater than anywhere else.

The water in Blackwater is ice cold.  The smell of the sand is raw and fresh.  The bottom sand of the Blackwater is the purest in North America, and I can personally attest that there is nothing softer between your toes than the squishy bottom of our beloved swimming hole.

Although the name is Blackwater, it isn't black at all.  The ice cold water coursing through the perfect sand is the color of sweet tea and Baptisms on summer Sundays.  Driftwood and fallen trees, that have been in the same places since my Grandmother was a child,  have made diving boards and places to carve the initials of your sweetheart.  The rushing water of the Blackwater River is the final sound we all hear before putting someone we love to rest there.  It is the sound of our childhood memories with our cousins, the sound of picnics and cemetery cleanings, and if we do a good job passing down our heritage, it will be the place where our stories are told five generations from now.

Uncle J.B. is gone now.  He never drank or smoked, and maybe cussed twice in his whole life.  He loved one woman.  He worked every day like it was his last.  He loved with everything he had.  And still, lung cancer took him much too soon.

Ed Lee passed on a few years ago.   He must have been my fourth or fifth cousin but was one of my favorites.  He always called me "Good Looking" and when I gained weight as I entered my thirties, he would say "You're still good looking, but you need to come back looking like yourself next year."  Ed Lee had the biggest smile and maybe the biggest teeth I have ever seen on someone his size.  He beamed happiness from twenty feet away.  His grin, his laugh, and his hugs were infectious. Ed loved J.B. and J.B. loved him and together, they were the caretakers of our heritage.

Tom- Thomas Earle, passed away last year and I regret that I didn't visit him more often than I did.  Thomas Earle- pronounced Tomaserl- helped Uncle J.B. bury his best friend, Pup, in a pasteboard box.  They had a Little Rascals style funeral when they were about ten years old, complete with little girl mourners in their Sunday bests.  All of the little girls wailed and nearly fainted when the bottom fell out of that box as they laid Ol' Pup in the ground.

Thomas Earle later went on to become the song leader and fill-in preacher at the Bradley Church.  He had an infectious, happy smile and knew the words to every single song in the Red Church Hymnal. Like any good Pentecostal does, he marked the song page with two fingers, held the song book closed with his thumb and other two fingers and beat it with his other hand to keep time, old school.  He always slicked his reddish hair back in a Pompedour that curled on top like the Gerber baby.  He had a mole on his chin that I once asked my Grandmother about and she said "Why would he have that removed?  That's his personality."  I never asked again.

Riley is the last man standing.  He is my Grandmother's first cousin.  I need to check on Riley as well.  I haven't been nearly as good as Uncle J.B. would have probably liked me to be- checking on my relatives- but I am going to do better. As much as I love to visit them at Blackwater, now is probably as good of a time as any to visit the living.

I think when I go home this weekend, I will be good and wonder what J.B. would do this weekend?  He would probably visit kin folks that live near Blackwater, slip a hundred-dollar bill in some old widow woman's hand, kiss her on the cheek and say, "Now you be good- you sweet, purdy little thing."

We only have so many days, we have to love on our people while they are still here.

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