Monday, November 25, 2013

Musings During Iron Bowl Week

The summer of '78, I somewhat reluctantly began graduate work at Auburn University. It wasn't that I liked or disliked Auburn, it was more a feeling that I, a full-time English teacher and commuter, would not fit into the scheme of things on a primarily residential campus known for its agriculture and engineering programs.  I was one of probably thousands of Alabamians who think they understand Auburn.  I was wrong.

Auburn University is everything the Auburn nation claims it is--warm and accepting, beautiful, academically tough, and spirited.  I discovered in Auburn people a resilience I had never before encountered in the education field, and by that I mean that they were undaunted by setback, criticism, or the size of the task at hand.  The faculty were demanding and good-humored.  My fellow graduates, progressive-minded and creative.  By the time I graduated with a Master of Speech Communication degree in 1980, I was orange and blue through and through.

I admit that I am somewhat of a legacy Auburn Tiger--my mother was an Auburn undergrad back around 1948.  I still kick myself for not having the foresight to keep her freshman beanie and the stuffed orange and blue tiger she brought back to Birmingham with her when she left school.  Unfortunately, she never finished that degree, but she did pass on what all Auburn people pass on, and that is a permanent affection for the Plains.  I suppose I was destined to call Auburn, Alabama my home away from home.

Ah, but this is Iron Bowl week, and we are supposed to be talking football, right?  OK, except that I am not an authority on football.  Like any kid born in this state, I have sat through many a game, and I know pretty well what's going on on the field, but who am I to describe--muchless predict--what a bunch of D-I caliber athletes will do on any given Saturday?  Which brings me to the point of this blog:  the incessant, obnoxious, ill-conceived squalling also known as trash talk or smack.

I don't want to seem prim, but stop it.  Yep, just like that.  You see, it doesn't make any difference whose rear-end you think will get kicked, how murderous you think your team is, or whose coach has the people skills of a porcupine.  Do you hate the kids on the field?  What for?  They're the ones who will have sod between their teeth, not you.  Do you think the coach is overpaid?  Would you still think so if the paycheck went into your pocket?  Or do you for some inexplicable reason just hate one particular university or the other?

One of my friends had this to say. "Hey, this is the SEC; do you whatever you have to do."  I think he may have meant that all the venom-spewing was all in good fun, but he's wrong.  It detracts from everything we're supposed to be doing in this state, including supporting students.  If you're an Auburn grad, and you're a little nervous about this game, welcome to the club.  I well remember laughing with delight at the amazing  Iron Bowl comeback of the 2010 Championship team, but I also remember howling in frustration over a certain short kid's field goal kick.  The upcoming contest could go either way.  Many commentators say that every year, as they do about other traditional rivalries.  So yes, let's do throw the record book out, and be who we are--the most cohesive, gracious, and classy supporters of a football team as can be found anywhere.  And one more thing--This may not always be true, but for the 2013 season it is most definitely true:  No matter what is on the scoreboard after 60 minutes, there will be no such thing as defeat for the Auburn Tigers.  Not this year.  We've already won.  War Eagle!

Monday, September 2, 2013

My Ancestor's Voice

I have been told that as we age, we become our parents.  We take on their mannerisms, habits, and gestures, and before we know it, we're staring into the mirror, exclaiming, "Oh no, you sound just like your mother!"  I will escape such a fate.  Instead, I am becoming my grandmother.

Sue Lou Harwell Miles was my mother's mother.  She was an Atlanta girl whose family home was in Inman Park.  (That means something to old Atlantans.)  She was a Southern Belle, a Steel Magnolia, a homemaker, a hostess, a seamstress, and a housekeeper.  She emphasized substance over style and recognized the advantage of "refined and nice" over flashy.  I inherited some of the stereotypes, none of the practical skills, and every last one of her truisms.  When it came to situational wisdom, Sue Lou had a saying for any occasion.

I should be more respectful, I admit.  My grandmother was Mrs. Miles until the day she died, and she would be horrified to discover me calling her Sue Lou in a public forum.  As a matter of fact, she would be horrified by public forums in general.  "Fools' names and fools' faces are always seen in public places," she would chide when some one's name appeared in the wet cement of a new sidewalk. Oh dear.  Didn't I say the very same thing to my naive son who thought it would be a great idea to publish all his weekend pranks on a social network?

While I am not the thriftiest person in the world, I catch myself muttering my grandmother's script every time I shop.  "You get what you pay for,"  says Sue Lou as I contemplate the cheap sneakers.  "If you see something you want, get it when you see it, if you can afford it," she says, and I conclude that I can have the good sneakers, but only if I am willing to pay with cash rather than plastic.

But it isn't only the shopping that causes Sue Lou to tap me on the shoulder with her reminders.  I recently had some furniture re-upholstered--a Sue Louism if ever there was one--and the upholsterer returned a roll of fabric remnants to me.  I noted that the remnants would not cover anything I had left in the house, and I started to throw them out.  Then there came the voice, my own voice of course, but HER words:  "Waste not, want not!"  There are two rolls of fabric scraps in my spare room.

I find that I order my life and surroundings the way that she would have. I freshen up before leaving the house, even if it is just to go to the store.  If I am hungry when I get home from work, I have a bite to eat, just to tide me over.   I want to go on a 3-day beach trip when I have work to do at home?  "You're old enough for your wants not to hurt you."  Mr. Powers wants chocolate pie for dessert when all we have is ice cream and cookies?  "Beggars can't be choosers."  And "of all things," "good grief'" and "O my soul!" we wish there were a grocery store a little closer to the house!  "If wishes were horses, beggars would ride."  So much for my grandmother's thoughts (now mine) about instant gratification.

Not long ago, during the Summer of the Upholstery, my #1 son came home on leave from the Navy.  I was proud of my "new" old furniture, and I had worked very hard to get my living room into what I thought was a semblance of shabby-chic cottage- style comfort.  My kiddo looked around and said it looked nice.  OK, Jonathan, tell me what you really think.  "Well," he confessed, "it kinda looks like a waiting room . . . with no TV . . . from the '40's."  Exactly when Sue Lou decorated the living room of the Homewood, Alabama house where I was raised!  I look around the room, and the echoes of her influence are everywhere--furniture is trimmed in dark mahogany, mirrors with heavy frames accent my walls, alabaster grapes are in a flea-market pedestal bowl.  I am not afraid of color, but I suppose I believe at some level that splashy reds and oranges are "plum tacky," because my beautiful colors are soft neutrals, whispers of lavender and coral, and woodsy green.  Refined and nice.

It's time I ended this reminiscence.  My grandmother was never one to call attention to herself.  If there were merchandise to be returned, she took it back.  If there were a button to be sewn, she sewed it; a meal to be cooked, she cooked it; a chair broken, she repaired it.  She was no doubt Martha to my Mary.  I only learned to sit and learn, while she set the example of everything that a Southern lady, no matter how refined and nice, could do.  She would never have put up with this kind of self-disclosure.  She was much too busy.  If you could get her to stop taking care of the business of living, if you did ask her how she felt about so-and-so or what she remembered about such-and-such, or when she married, or why she never went to work outside her home, she would give you the briefest of smiles.  Then she would say, "Ask me no questions; I'll tell you no lies."


Monday, June 10, 2013

The Curse of the Blessing

I have officially made the summer switch from working THERE to working HERE.  I have the privilege of not only a part-time job, but time off from my full-time job during the summer.  Technology makes it possible for me to accomplish my tasks from home via internet and an aging workhorse of a laptop.  I make my own hours, take breaks when I need them, and have pretty direct control over how much I earn based on hours I work.  Am I complaining? NO!  Well, maybe, some perhaps .  . .okay, yes.

I report to the cyber-saltmine every morning at . . . .wait.  I don't have to get up right now, so I will squeeze a few more minutes into snooze time.  After all, I don't have to plan for the morning commute.  (Yes, but that's 10 minutes when you WON'T be earning any money.  Move yer bloomin' arse.)  All right, then.  I'm up.  What should I wear?  (This is your dream, job, remember?  Wear what you want.  Yes, the PROPERTY OF U.S. NAVY T-shirt works.)  Coffee is already brewed and waiting.  Mr. Powers is still pulling 8-3 at the school house.  I will just have a quick cup with breakfast, and then after my second cup, which I now have time for, I will get on the computer and hit some licks.  (You can have your second cup while you work, Idiot.  Put the computer on the kitchen table.)

So here I am in my office, which today is the kitchen.  I have everything I need--my working materials, a pen, fresh coffee, my phone.  And the dog, I need the dog.  Jolene?  Come here, girl.  With the dog stretched out beneath the table, I am finally all set.  Almost.  Where should I set my coffee cup?  If I put it to the left of the computer, it will be on top of the printed materials I need to access as I work.  If I put it on the right, I will knock it on the floor.  I drink coffee left-handed.  (Hello!  This is a kitchen table.  Put the computer on the side, not on the end.  You will have plenty of room to spread your stuff out.)

Organized at last!  I log onto my worksite and check yesterday's productivity report.  Not bad, but not good either.  Yesterday was Sunday, and I was sleepy most of the afternoon.  On the weekends, they make you log off at 5:00 p.m.  Today is Monday, though, and I can put in as many hours as possible.  I will get started right away, but Jolene needs to go out.  The other two dogs want in.  They are confused by my presence at home on what is clearly a weekday.  Dogs re-distributed, I begin my preliminary activity.  I have my phone close by, because the company I work for offers great technical assistance, and I sometimes need access to it.  My phone also alerts me to email as it comes in, Facebook messages, and sales at Target, all of which I will ignore.  (You better not ignore that Facebook alert.  You have a deployed child, remember?)  Some of which I will ignore.

It has been an hour, and I have found a comfortable groove of action.  I am not working with blistering speed, mind you, but I have a steady pace going, and I am far from needing a break.  I type in a response and get an error message.  I haven't seen this one before, but internet can be persnickety, so I log out.  I log right back in.  My account is locked.  It must be an issue with the password, as I have recently had my project switched by the company I work for, so I probably should have changed my password at that time.  No problem; that is why my phone is close by.  I call the toll-free number and select tech support.  A very nice lady politely informs me that this is not a technical issue.  I need to speak to some one in content support.  Uh-oh.  I have a content problem?  They usually warn me a million times if accuracy is in question. 

It is 10:30 in the morning.  I cannot log back in for another 15 minutes while my director researches the problem.  He thinks one of my co-workers may have developed some issues which are causing my numbers to appear skewed, as we are randomly paired to ensure accuracy.  (Who is this slacker?  I don't have time to wait while y'all check my progress!)  Of course I will wait, and thank you, Mr. Director for your feedback.  It isn't lunchtime.  All the dogs have come in because it has begun to rain.  I do not need to go for a walk or have more coffee.  I need to work.

This is the reality of "use-your-own-computer-make-your-own-hours-work-from-home."  It is a blogger's dream.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

That's How We Roll . . . When We're Holy

I estimate that the First Assembly of God, Wynne, Arkansas, was about three-quarters full.  At least, that was my impression as I looked around the sanctuary.  But it isn't a sanctuary, it's a Nave.  We got trouble.

As far as I was concerned, Sunday, May 12, 2013 was the Seventh Sunday of Easter.  It was also, incidentally, Mother's Day.  I was privileged to be invited, along with Mr. Powers, my sister-in-law, and a gaggle of my mother-in-law's grandchildren and great-grandchildren, to Mother's Day services at the Assembly of God that mother-in-law Imogene calls home.  The building is pretty big for small-town Arkansas, and I understand there was a time when a visitor could barely find a place to sit.  Unfortunate rifts within the congregation changed all that, but a new pastor and a few new families seem to have brought many of the faithful back where they belonged.  Ms. Imogene was among the returning parishioners, and she was happy to discover that there is still a kind of competition among the moms there to see which one gets the most sons, daughters, grandchildren, and in-laws to show up.  I think she did well.  There were about a dozen of us, and we took up one whole pew and half of another.

Like I said, we got trouble, speaking of pews.  There is nowhere to kneel in an Assembly of God, although they wouldn't say anything to you if you up and knelt in the aisle.  The pew itself has nothing to do with their worship, because they do not sit to learn.  They sit when they are socializing before the service or when they are tired of standing.  There are no hymnals, so if you haven't heard the hymn they're singing, you fake it.  If they are singing verse 12, and you're tired of faking it, you sit down.  That is not a problem at all, since the songs are just a warm-up for THE SERMON.

Forgive my over-capitalization, but THE SERMON is the centerpiece of worship here.  There is no Eucharist, therefore no altar, and no communion rail.  The pulpit is front and center, but in fairness to Brother K., he doesn't stay put anyway.  His SERMON was not an Easter season message, although St. Mary figured largely in the scheme of what he had to say.  He preached that day on Motherhood.  Not motherhood, which is just a state of being a female parent, but Motherhood, an unassailable, unfathomable, thankless, sanctified position which would make all us moms candidates for sainthood.  He didn't call any of us saints, though, not even St. Mary.  Instead he drew parallels between contemporary moms' and St. Mary's trials as she raised Our Lord, and begged us not to feel guilty if our offspring had gone astray.  Apparently some ladies felt guilty anyway, because there were tears a-plenty.  I looked around from time to time, because (being Episcopalian) I am sensitive to the need for doing as others do.  Ergo, if I am unsure what to do, I stand when others stand, I sit when they sit, and I say AMEN right out loud if it seems to be the end of a prayer.  However, I don't cry on cue, and I wasn't feeling sad, so I thought I would get a consensus:  Is everybody crying or just moms?  Is there something I am missing?  Should I maybe hold a Kleenex?  (There is a box of tissue on each pew.)  I didn't get to wonder very long.  Brother K. said,

"I am WELL AWARE that SOME of you are NOT from the Pentecostal tradition!"  Gulp.  That would be me.  I looked behind me, and there wasn't a dry eye to be seen.  Yep, he was talking to me.  Granted, no one would have cared if I'd shouted, "Amen to that!" but I didn't.  I just stared back at him, mortified.  I needn't have been.  He only wanted to re-assure us heathens that it would be perfectly fine if we chose not to holler out, weep or spontaneously kneel in the floor, and that we were welcome to enjoy the presence of God in any way we wanted to.  I was grateful.  After all, my old home parish, All Saints', had a blurb on the back of the service order that reassured visitors that they could kneel--or not--as they dang well pleased.

So I relaxed and stopped waiting for the Lord's Prayer, a Creed, or anything I might know the tune to.  After all, I was being praised, extolled, and thanked for bringing two ruffians into the world and raising them while "soaking comforters and blouses with tears."  (Well, I wasn't much of a crier even then.) I realized that my fellow worshippers were having the time of their lives praising God, joyful just to be in His house.  (It's a NAVE!)  I got comfortable a little too soon because there is a sidebar to the centerpiece, which is the ALTAR CALL.  (It's a table which may or may not have the sacraments laid out for communion.  On this day, it did not.  It had our Mother's Day presents.)

Now, I was quite prepared to sing as many verses of "Only Trust Him" as necessary for the altar call.  But these are not Baptists, and I think "Only Trust Him" has fallen by the wayside.  What Brother K. did then was as sly as a preacher should ever be.  He invited ALL the MOTHERS to just come on down front and receive a FREE GIFT and the thanks of the rest of the congregation.  I could not avoid this.  Every one of my kinfolks knows that Mr. Powers and I have those two ruffians I mentioned, so I could not slink down in my pew or pretend to read the bulletin.  I had to go forward.  Well, there were a bunch of us, so I stood as far to the right as I could without being detached from the crowd. I was on the second of three rows of moms.  Ms. Imogene grabbed my left hand, and I grabbed her granddaughter's left hand with my right, so I didn't have to hold hands with a lady I'd never seen before. I refrained from saying "Peace be with you," and it was all good, because the majority had stopped sniffling and were praying for each other. They gave us our gifts--a pen with a matching bookmark--and we milled around and returned to our pews.  There was no benediction, no "Thanks be to God!  Alleluia, alleluia," but there were smiles all around and congratulations for my mother-in-law, who did, after all, fill up a pew and a half with family.

Mr. Powers and I shook the preacher's hand on the way out the door.  He encouraged us to VISIT again whenever we could.  So he did have me pegged as the non-Pentecostal in the bunch.  I wonder how he knew?

No matter.  I received a blessing that day.  I felt appreciated.  I was honored to be included with my husband's folks and their little kids.  I loved being with people who enjoy being in the presence of God in His house.  Even if it is a Nave.