2021 thoughts…

I have spent the past couple of months ‘getting my mind right’, as many of us do at year’s end. What am I being drawn to? What do I need to gently lay down?

I have been increasingly drawn to my past during this quarantine year. Not necessarily my past, but my roots. Where I come from.

I have been interested in retracing/learning about my southern roots – mine in particular and the South as a whole. I have always had a bittersweet feeling about the South. There is a scar in it’s heritage that seems to go either unnoticed or is gingerly stepped around, generation after generation. I’d like to embrace it under a different light. I love what Bitter Southerner is doing and was glad to have stumbled upon them during my ‘gather all the resources’ preparations for 2021.

Meanwhile, I’m remembering so many wonderful times throughout my childhood, visiting family in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas, Alabama. They were good people and wonderful influences on my life. I want to tell some of those stories. I want to highlight the progressive movements happening in the South currently. I want to talk about food and great books – fiction and otherwise.

My father was born in Commerce, Oklahoma, the son of a miner and the third of four brothers. Just as he was preparing for college, his father died of lung cancer. I believe this shape-shifted my father’s identity that resulted in me being raised by a well-rounded man who took part in every aspect of raising children and making a house a home. That was a lucky commodity in the 1960’s.

My mother was born and raised in Shreveport, Louisiana, the youngest of five children. She wasn’t the hell-raising, boot-kicking kind of southerner. She wasn’t a couture society girl either. She was proper and ladylike (the words most used at her funeral.) She had her own career as an English teacher and proudly served in that role from college until retirement, save a few years she took off to be with me and my sister. She embraced Emily Post’s Book of Etiquette, Dreyer’s English, and Paul’s letters to the Corinthians in equal measure. I knew how to set a proper table at 5 and was stitching day-of-the-week dish towels by 10. White after Labor Day, not returning an RSVP and first-degree murder were on par with one another in egregious behavior. I balked at her rules as a child but have grown into an appreciation for their deeper intention.

My parents prized humor, common decency, and as educators, lifelong learning and reading were central to our daily lives. I’m looking forward to reconnecting with their stories as well as the South’s larger legacy.

I don’t know where this will lead me, but I’m excited to follow the nudge it has been giving me these past few months. The past and the future, holding hands in the present. How they will intersect is yet to be determined.

To the South – and beyond!

Away. At The Manger

December 18, 2010

Mom had been incoherent for a long time. Alzheimer’s turned her into a completely different person for the last eight years of her life.

I sat next to her in the assisted living cafeteria. Dad was at the piano playing Christmas carols for the room filled with other residents, staff, and family. It was their annual Christmas dinner and celebration but it happened to also be my mother’s birthday. Dad was being Dad – entertaining the troops, so to speak. Scott found a box of rubber gloves, had blown them up, and was making obscene gestures with them under the table. Mom sat motionless through the whole event. I was awkwardly trying to bridge both worlds.

People yelled out requests as Dad played along. Grandmas getting run over by reindeer and Old Saint Nick tunes cheered up the space. But when he started playing Away in the Manger, Mom immediately sang along. She didn’t sing the melody, but rather the alto line. Her beautiful alto voice carried the tune as perfectly as she’d done all my life. Her brain knew the part. Her mouth knew the words. Her heart knew the meaning.

She died one month later.

When I hear this song now, I usually rearrange the punctuation. Mom is not here, she’s Away. At the manger. She’s the little southern lady in the alto section, strong, perfectly on tune, and filled with joy.

Meanwhile, jokes are still being told behind the scenes, the piano sing-a-longs are still at the ready, and Anna-Margaret and I are attempting to further the song to each generation that follows.

Happy birthday, Mom. Thank you for a deeply southern heritage filled with kindness, faith, and the perfect cookie tier combination.