Oh, Sweet Baby! Close Those Little Ears and DO NOT Listen to Those Catholics.

June 22, 2014

I entered first grade a year early by taking a test to skip kindergarten; I was five in 1977, just a baby. We moved three times that year, finally landing in Daytona Beach, Florida, for the majority of the school year. My mother had landed a contract singing at Country Music USA and that is where we lived until the summer prior to second grade.  The condo where we lived that year was not in the most desirable school system, so my mother sent me to the local Catholic school.

I walked into a melting pot classroom that looked like a Benetton advertisement, replete with religiosity, the likes of which I had never experienced.  I had been in only one church my entire life, and it was in the middle of the rural community of Bradley, Alabama- population approximately 200. You won't find Bradley on a map, no matter how closely you look for it.  At the time, everyone there was either a Pentecostal farmer, a farmer's wife, or a creek bum.  

I had watched Sally Field as The Flying Nun, and was pretty excited about meeting nuns. However, none of the nuns at my school flew or wore those cool habits; they carried rulers and fat pencils that they used to discipline small children. Although I didn't have a nun for a teacher, every week on Tuesdays and Thursdays, we had a nun come into our classroom to teach religion. It took me a while to comprehend the concept of a religion class, because where I had come from in south Alabama, people "got religion", they didn't study it.

On Fridays, the whole school went to mass together.  My Pentecostal great- grandmother knew this was part of the program, and like clockwork, every Thursday night she would call me to give me the Pentecostal grandma telephone shake down.  It went something like this...

Ring, ring...
"Oh, you sweet thang!  I couldn't wait to hear your sweet little voice.  I love you.  How do you like your school down there?  Good, I'm so proud you are getting so smart.  Now baby, when you go to church tomorrow, you don't listen to what that ole preacher says.  And whatever you do, you don't worship Mary.  There ain't but one way to get to heaven and that is through Jesus Christ, your Lord and Saviour.  If you need to tell your sins to somebody, you just tell the good Lord.  Your preacher ain't gone get you to heaven, do you understand?  And you've got to be baptized in the Holy Ghost. Do you understand what Bigmama is a sayin' to you?  I'm telling you don't listen to nothin' he says.  You just love Jesus with all of your little heart and if they talk about Mary, then you just put your fingers in your little ears and don't pay attention."

Tell a kid not to shake a gift, look in a closet, or talk and see what happens.  Children don't hear the "DON'T" before any statement, they just hear the verb that follows the "DON'T".  I was intrigued.  What secrets were these Catholics keeping from the rest of the world?  Were country people not supposed to know what people in the cities knew?  I needed to find out, but I did go to mass with my fingers in my ears for the first few months, probably the early beginnings of meditation for me.

However, I started paying attention more closely each week, and for the most part, other than the squaw dancing and hollering that went on in the church where I had grown up, the message seemed pretty much the same.  Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Christmas, Easter...all the same narrative.  I would reassure my Bigmama every time that she would call that I was learning about Jesus and she would give me that same speech over and over again.

Every morning, when my class said prayers together, that they had all learned in their mothers' wombs, I was fumbling through the Hail Marys, just trying to keep up.  For the greater part of the year, I made the sign of the Cross backwards, and ended up getting sent to the back of the room several times for asking my neighbor, Stacy, what to do.

Mrs. Finn, my teacher who was French Canadian, called me a "fresh mouth" every time that I asked a question of my neighbor.  Apparently, "fresh mouth" is a northern term for smart ass, because I kept being sent to the back of the room.  I was obsessed with the Pearl Drops tooth polish commercial at the time, you know the one that said "mmmm, it's a great feeling!" I thought that being a fresh mouth was a positive, yet I was being punished; it was a confusing year for me.  I asked for Pearl Drops the minute that I returned home to Alabama to Grandmother's house.  I brushed my teeth all summer, religiously, hoping to wash whatever it was that got me into trouble out of my mouth before second grade began.

I have always cherished the year that I went to St. Paul's, and the things that I learned there.  I learned that outsiders need to keep their mouths shut, and watch what others do- a very valuable lesson that would come in handy many times later in life.  I learned how to curtsy, and remember doing this quite often.  I have never had the occasion to curtsy since, because I have yet to be presented at court.  I learned to waltz there, with a boy named Eric, and I learned about black market candy sales from an eighth grade room monitor, also named Holly. 

Twenty-two years later, I was baptized in another Roman Catholic St. Paul's in Birmingham, Alabama, where I learned even more lessons that would transform my life.  I would like to think that Bigmama was smiling down from heaven with her blessings.

Hope you all had a wonderful Sunday.
Love y'all.

The Foundation Eyebrow aka The Cousin Eddie

June 18, 2014

My husband's grandfather, affectionately known as PaPaw, had wild, wooly, muppet eyebrows.  You know the ones I mean- think Andy Rooney, Larry Hagman, or Ron Paul and you will get the picture. My handsome husband, who takes after his grandfather, has the beginning of these creatures that eventually take over the faces of old men everywhere.

On each one of his eyebrows, he has this one crazy eyebrow hair that looks like a television antenna. Like any woman who has fought a wild chin hair or two, I do to him what any woman who takes care of her man would do, I pull it out by the roots with twissors.  This pleases him none too much.

Every time that we go through this, he acts like a little kid getting a tooth pulled that is hanging by a thread.  He does a dance, begs me not to go near his eyebrows and tells me that I am the meanest person alive to pull someone's eyebrows out by the roots.
He pushes me back and says "No, wait...we don't have to do this right now.  Do we really have to do this? Why don't we just trim it instead of pull it out by the roots...this really hurts!"

Today, I got the best argument yet.  Are you ready?  He said  "These eyebrows are like you, Holly. They are just free, doing their own thing.  They are hippie eyebrows."
I had no idea that my husband thinks of me as a hippie?  That was news to me.  So when I called him out on that ridiculous excuse and went back in for the 8 gauge hair, he said
"The real reason that you don't want to touch that hair, is because it is necessary."
"Necessary?" I said.
"Yes, that is a foundation eyebrow.  If you pull it out by the roots, none of the other eyebrows will lie down properly. That eyebrow keeps the others in place.  My whole face will be messed up if you pull that eyebrow."

Well, I have heard it all now! This will forever more be called the Cousin Eddie argument. I guess it is totally appropriate that Jimbo was Cousin Eddie for Halloween, because if I pull that eyebrow out, his eyebrows just ain't gonna look right.

Happy plucking at your house!

Christmas Party 2013 Jimbo as Cousin Eddie.

Quotes From my Eight Dads.

June 14, 2014

Over the course of my life, I've had three Dads- a biological father, a step-father who raised me until he died when I was 12, and my present step-father, whom my mother married when I was 17.
Add to that my grandfather, my great grandfather, and my Uncle Donnie, who have been my constant father figures since birth, and we're up to six dads. When I married my husband fourteen years ago, I was blessed with two of the best fathers-in-law in the world. All total, now that I am counting, I guess that I've had eight dads! I have decided to share some quotes from each one of my daddies this Father's Day.  I hope their wisdom will inspire you and give you something to call on when times are rough or maybe just make you laugh. Here goes!

"You know what this is?  This is the hair ribbon that you gave me when you were three years old.  I have carried it next to Aunt Shelia's ribbon from high school in my wallet since the day that you gave it to me in 1974. Do you remember when you gave me that ribbon? Do you know what that means? It means I love you."   - Uncle Donnie

"You don't have to go to Church to get to heaven, Tadpole.  Sunday School will get you there just fine." - Pa Julian (Great Grandfather)

Slapping his hand on his leg "Chicken in a bread pan picking out dough....granny does your dog bite, no, chile no." -Pa Julian (Great Grandfather)

"There ain't but one baseball team in this here United States, and that's the Atlanta Braves, Tadpole." -Pa Julian (Great Grandfather)

"You can't make a racehorse out of a jackass, or a silk purse out of a sow's ear." - Granddaddy

"There were twelve tribes in Israel, twelve tribes."- Granddaddy

"Have you read Ezekiel 38 and 39 about Gog and Magog? It outlines how Russia and China are going to destroy the world.  You can read it today, we will discuss it tonight." This happened over and over and over again. - Granddaddy

"Sometimes, it's not good to get your picture in the paper." - Pop (father-in-law)

"Well, yeah, it all looks good on paper (discussing our business plan).  But, there's always a fly in the ointment, be ready for that." - Pop (father-in-law)

"Sooner or later, we've all got to climb Fool's Hill.  Just don't climb Idiot's Mountain, okay?" - Terry (Biological Father)

"In order to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, you must be born again." -Granddaddy

"You don't have to call me Daddy if you don't want to, but I'm going to call you my daughter, if that is okay with you." -Jim (step-dad #1)

"This dinner was absolutely wunderbar!" -Papa Earle (Jimbo's step-dad)

"Well, we had to get home and we had been to preaching every day at Mt. Berry College in Mt. Berry, Georgia, so me and Sam know'd how to preach.  So, we rented a tent and had us a revival and that paid our way home.  That's how come I'm called "Preacher" to this day." - Pa Julian (Great Grandfather)

"Your Mama is a difficult woman, I know that.  But, we're all we've got and I love you." -Kermit (step-dad #2)

When he was sick and having little strokes toward the end of his life, my Granddaddy would always say this to me:
"Did you make five million or twelve million dollars today?"  I would always say twelve million and he would respond with "Wooohoo Boy!  I mean, you are rolling in it!"
Bless his sweet heart, he really believed that I was that smart. He called me "Boy" my entire life, even though he had walked me down the aisle and held my baby immediately after I gave birth.

In my collection of Daddies, I have a surgeon, an inventor, and a Bible scholar; a semi-pro baseball player, tent-revival evangelist and politician; an Auburn University baseball pitcher and forester; an over the road truck driver and town historian; a Vietnam veteran, who was the most heavily decorated soldier in my home county; a CEO, who is the sharpest dresser and best bartender that I know; a boiler maker, who was the smartest redneck that the world never really got a chance to know; and a brilliant engineer: a man who survived an alligator attack and lost his arm- bravely overcoming his circumstances to reinvent himself over and over again in order to accommodate his new limitations.

I am so thankful for the lessons and love that I have received from each of them.
Wishing you and your Dad or Daddies a wonderful Father's Day!
And as my Granddaddy would say when I always told him that I loved him...
"Same to ya, boy!"

These are condoms, Dad. Please use them.

June 12, 2014

Holidays that celebrate parents are rough for me as I don't really know my father, who was absent most of my life, and I don't speak to my mother for reasons that could incite a screen play that would rival the dysfunction in  August: Osage County.

Where are the Hallmark cards for people like me?  I know that I'm not the ONLY one who feels obligated to send a card on these holidays, but can't wrap my head around the sugar coated lies that are printed within these sappy cards. I wish that Hallmark or American Greetings or some company out there would invent an entirely new category of cards for those of us with parents like mine.

Where are the Father's day cards that say...

"Dear Dad, Thanks for knocking mom up and leaving.  You not being a part of my life was the best thing you could have ever done for me."


"Dear Dad, Thanks for having no idea as to what month of the year that I was born or how old I am."


"Dear _______(insert first name, because you would never call him Dad), I have spent my entire life trying not to be like you.  Thanks for the example of what not to do."


"Dear Dad, I always wanted a brother or sister.  Thanks for giving me a new baby brother when I turned forty!"

Since they don't have any of these Father's Day cards on the shelves at my local Hallmark, I had to improvise this year.  It seems that every four to six years a new brother or sister shows up, courtesy of my father. For years, I knew that I had two sisters, each of us with different mothers, and then, the boys started popping up like weeds growing in a garden- one from a marriage, one who was adopted, and one that I dare not mention.  Out of the three brothers, the first two are keepers and the third is definitely our father's son.

It's getting old. I'm getting old. I would like to go ahead and state for the record that my sisters and I will be accepting no new sibling applications.  The last one we found is a train wreck that I wish I had never met  (Don't judge me, you have no idea).  Our roster is full! Hopefully, the surprise bastard soap opera ends this year.  I'm giving the gift that will stop the gifts that keep on giving by giving my father condoms for Father's Day. I will also be sending him directions on how to use them.  If he can stay sober long enough to use them, we might solve this problem once and for all. He's 67, so it is definitely time for him to slow down a little, one could hope.  Who does he think he is, Tony Randall?

I just got in from the Hallmark store, the best I could do was a card with a beer on the front.
Inside it reads:

"I don't want to be the only one at the nursing home with a brand new baby brother.  These are condoms Dad, use them."  I taped three condoms inside.

And...I just mailed it today.  I don't think it would be appropriate to send it on time.  A Tuesday arrival will be just fine.

Happy Father's Day Week, Y'all!
Good, bad, or ugly, call your Dad and tell him thanks for being such a good Dad or maybe just thanks for the DNA.

Here Puppy... Want Some Beer, Puppy?

June 9, 2014

My Granddaddy was a general surgeon, and probably one of the best ones in the Southeast.  He worked in New York at Ellis Island in the thirties for a short time and did part of his residency at a prison in Hazard, Kentucky that led to an obsession with the Dukes of Hazard. 

Beyond his medical training, my grandfather was an amateur veterinarian, meaning- he killed almost every pet that we ever had. My mom once went to South Carolina to bring back a horse for me named Trigger.  I don't think Trigger made it a week before Mother was digging a horse-sized grave and crying uncontrollably.   

Granddaddy's nemesis in town was Dr. Phillippi. They once got into an argument during surgery because a patient was coding and Phillippi couldn't figure out why.  Granddaddy moved over to where he was standing and said "Well, if you'd get your feet off of the oxygen supply, you son of a bitch, he might live." Granddaddy saved the patient and from that day forward, they were archrivals. Phillippi had first been a veterinarian and then went on to become an M.D.  Granddaddy was an M.D. who thought he was a veterinarian.  We would often tease Granddaddy about the two of them wanting to switch roles and Granddaddy would say "I killed a horse; that SOB was killing people."

Imagine a cross between C. Everett Coop, Otis from The Andy Griffith Show, The Nutty Professor, a dash of Billy Graham for good measure, and you will sort of get an idea about who my Granddaddy was at his core.  He was a magical creature put here to save lives, entertain small children by removing his false teeth, fervently share his love of Jesus, and make wine for rednecks.  

Granddaddy studied gardening with a scientific enthusiasm and was constantly grafting dogwood trees to create half white, half pink trees that were magical.  On the edge of the ten-acre yard at his house, he had a small vineyard of grapes that we tended together, and, every fall, we made scuppernong wine.  We harvested the grapes, ran them through the wooden press that separated the juice from the pulp and hulls, strained the juice with cheesecloth, and put the juice and sugar and yeast in five-gallon plastic containers with aerators on top.

Of all the people that I have ever known on this earth, he was my very favorite and there isn't a day that passes that he isn't with me in some way- whether it's my work ethic, my ability to solve problems, or my inability to sugar coat anything- I credit him with all of my better attributes.  He was patient and he was kind, he didn't boast, he was not proud, he didn't dishonor others, he wasn't self-seeking or easily angered, and he kept no record of wrongs- if they got it right in Corinthians, he was pure love.  

He called me "Boy" and I answered to that until he took his last breath.  Granddaddy called my dates names at the front door under his breath, he walked me down the aisle when I was married the first time, and he was there when I gave birth to my daughter, but to him I was still just "Boy".  

Most people called Granddaddy "Doc" or just "Doctor", as if Doctor was his first name and not a title he had earned. My cousins called him Uncle Doctor, which I always found hilarious.  Doc loved junk and motors and tractors.  He could ruin a practically brand-new Cadillac in three months flat trying to "work on it" with his pal Lawrence (pronounced Larnce) Lucas.  Grandmother would give him a two-year-old Cadillac, in mint condition, and within a few days there would be batteries in the back seat, tools, greasy rags, watering cans, pliers, hot cans of Country Club Beer (in case of an emergency), candy wrappers, and usually an old Mobile Press Register or two.

One of Granddaddy's favorite things to do was to go to the Army auction and bring home Willis Jeeps. The first one that he bought was in the late fifties or early sixties when our family still occupied the front apartment at his hospital, which later became Holley House.  He brought the Jeep home and my mother and Aunt Charlotte decided to paint it. They wanted a red Jeep, not a green Jeep.  To remedy this, they procured red house paint from the local hardware store and some large bristle brushes.

In front of the thirty-two-foot front porch at the entrance to the house, they, with brushes, painted the Willis Jeep fire engine red.  Mother was probably around 9 or 10 and Charlotte was 15 or 16.  The stories I have heard recount that it looked like massacre had occurred!  The ole Willis had brush strokes on it and worse, the ground was covered in red paint.  So there, in front of the hospital, after the Jeep was moved, was a spattering of red paint that looked like blood.  Calls came in from all over town wondering who had bled out in front of the hospital.  It was the news of the week, and I am surprised that it didn't make the weekly Brewton Standard.

Fast Forward about 20 years and a new Army Jeep made its way to the farm.  Itching to take it into the woods, Granddaddy, my stepdad Jim (Daddy), my mother, and I set out on adventure. We were heading down the road to the lake when we decided to go off-roading. Let me get the story straight. Granddaddy, who'd had one or six beers, decided we would go off-roading.  In case you didn't know, protesting against drunk drivers is a fairly new thing; we thought that everyone rode in an open vehicle in bogs of mud with no seat belts with their drunk relatives. It didn't really do much good to argue with Granddaddy, so...

Once we were off-road, we got stuck in a mud bog.  Granddaddy getting stuck in the mud and needing to be pulled out was a fairly regular occurrence and it usually involved cows or beer and sometimes both- usually Miller ponies or Country Clubs.   Getting stuck wasn't enough; he proceeded to flood the engine and stall us there for what seemed to be three days.

There we were, stuck a long way from anywhere- pre-cell phones, with no radio- and suddenly appeared a bulldog.  A big, upset, mean bulldog.  Granddaddy said "Looky there, I think that must be Larnce's old dog that went missing."  We couldn't tell if he was just hot or foaming at the mouth from rabies, but the bulldog's lips were covered with white slobber.  Great, I had just heard about the shots that they give kids who have rabies, you know, the ones in the stomach. The urban legend in my neighborhood was that it took over one hundred shots in the stomach to survive a rabid dog attack.  I wanted to be afraid of the shots, but I was laughing too hard at Granddaddy trying to ward off our attacker.

Granddaddy, against our judgment, decided to get out of the car and engage the dog.   In a voice that one might usually use to talk to a baby, or a kitten, Granddaddy proceeded to talk to the dog ever so slowly. "Heeeeyyy puppy.  How are you puppy?"  The dog responded with razor-like gritting teeth and a fairly scary growl, while working his way over to hem my Granddaddy up against the jeep.  Literally, backed into a corner,  Granddaddy responded by pouring out part of his beer on the ground for the dog while saying "Here puppy, niiiiice puppy, don't you want some beeer puppy?  Good puppies love beer. Sweeeet puppy, here puppy, have some more beer puppy." Granddaddy had this grin that only graced his face when he was being sarcastic. He would nod his head side to side while talking and smiling and doing that sarcastic "sweet" voice of his.

While Granddaddy was imbibing with the strange dog, Daddy had somehow figured out how for us to push the Jeep out of the bog.  He started the Jeep while mother and I pushed. Granddaddy was still holding the dog at bay with a hot Busch beer while we pushed. When we finally rolled by him, my Humpty Dumpty shaped Granddaddy jumped into the moving Jeep while running like his ass was on fire from what was most likely a rabid bulldog, who chased us out of the woods.

I would give anything to be stuck in the mud again with my best friend and a six back of cheap beer one more time. I think that I would even be willing to go up against a rabid bulldog.

Celebrate your fathers and grandfathers this week.
Love Y'all.


Uncle J.B. and the Art of Sopping

June 6, 2014

First of all, let's define sopping for my Yankee friends.
According to Webster's - chiefly dialect :  a piece of food dipped or steeped in a liquid.

You aren't from the South if you haven't sopped.  Sopping is an art form.  Knowing how to get the very last drop of tomato gravy on your biscuit is a skill mastered by few and attempted by many in the South.  

My Uncle J.B. taught me how to properly sop syrup and biscuits. The trick is to mix the butter and syrup with your fork and then press down ever so slightly on the biscuit as you swoop it around your plate; you have to hold your pinky out just a little bit.  It is a magical thing, the perfect sop. I still follow Uncle J.B.'s prescription for the perfect sop as no one could sop a biscuit like he could- he was a CHAMPION biscuit sopper! Uncle J.B. could out-sop you with Blackburn's syrup on a cat head biscuit, he could shame you with a plate of red-eye gravy, and you didn't even need to pull your biscuit eating fingers out for a tomato gravy sopping contest, because tomato gravy was his favorite.

I remember being at Bigmama's house when he would call to tell her he was coming to visit.  You could see her face light up when he would ask her to make tomato gravy.  She would hang up her black rotary phone that hung in the hallway and say "You know, that J.B. called here wanting me to me him some tomater gravy.  He don't think nobody in the whole world can make tomater gravy like I can.  So, I reckon'd I'm gone have to make it fer him."  He knew that she enjoyed watching him sop it up it as much as he enjoyed eating the best biscuits for three counties. Bigmama's reputation for biscuit making was widely known, even George C. Wallace ate many biscuits at her table when Pa was county commissioner, but voting against Wallace is a story for another day.

Uncle J.B. might be the only person, when at his funeral people said he was truly the best uncle, husband, brother, father and son in the world, that it has ever really meant just that. A stellar human being, he always had a smile on his face and hugged you like he really meant it.  He was tall and thin and wore 33-33 jeans.  His handsome face was always super smooth and those crystal blue eyes always had a twinkle in them. No matter what time of day it was, Uncle J.B. always smelled like aftershave. He was the neatest, cleanest looking and smelling person that I have ever met- hands down. According to my Grandmother, Uncle J.B. never drank a drop of liquor in his entire life and never smoked a cigarette. I think he said "damn" once, but I'm not sure? I did hear him tell a joke about a dog farting one time, but that was about as off-color as I ever remember him being. 

It wasn't uncommon to get a "handshake" from Uncle J.B. when your husband died, when you were going away on a trip, or for no reason at all.  At almost every major event in my life, Uncle J.B. was one of the first people to get to me.  Without you realizing what he was doing, Uncle J.B. would slip a hundred dollar bill in your hand while giving you a sweet love pat and shaking your hand saying "I just love you sugar, you're the sweetest thing I know."  He was slick that way, and was famous for doing this with widow women and his relatives in the small community where he was reared .  Keep in mind, he had over 80 first cousins, so that was a LOT of relatives and a LOT of handshakes!

As children, all of his nieces and nephews loved to go see him at his laundry and dry cleaning business, because he had vending machines and video games. He would give us a cup full of quarters and turn us loose- it was like little kid Vegas. We could spend the whole day playing games and eating junk!  If Bigmama was with us, he would take us to eat at Morrison's Cafeteria, and then would send me home with a Lance cracker box FULL of junk food- crackers, cookies, chewing gum, these little kid treasures were also known as The Goody Box.  I would hide my box under my bed and ration out my treats until the next holiday or the next Uncle J.B. trip to Niceville.  Yes, the nicest man in the world lived in Niceville, Florida.

J.B. was the son that every mother dreamed of having.  He doted on his mother with a relentless affection.  And as much as he doted on his mother, Betty, he doted even more so on his sweetheart, Betty, whom he married as soon as she graduated from high school.  The two of them giggled and laughed and smooched like high school sweethearts until cancer took him from her. Always holding hands and smiling, they were constantly "getting tickled" at one another. Uncle J.B.'s affection for Aunt Betty was, and is, the standard by which I think all of us cousins measure our marriages.  There was a secret world of theirs full of inside jokes and funny stories that probably would seem silly to other people, but that meant the world to them, and to all of us.  His children and Grandchildren were blessed to have had such a loving example of a father and a husband in their lives.

Today would be Uncle J.B.'s 84th birthday and I don't think that there is a niece or nephew of his who doesn't think of him and a "goody box" without tearing up.  So today, if you get the opportunity, sop something and think of Ole J.B. and try to be more like him.  The world would be a brighter place with more J.B.'s in it!

Uncle J.B. and his sweet bride, Betty.  Daughter Donna to right.

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