Search

red clay ponderings

Hmmm… what shall I ponder on today?

Tag

Alabama

Little Red Slippers

My grandmother Crawford would put up her Christmas tree mid-December; a fragrant, local evergreen.

Christmas 1967 was different. She caught the Christmas Spirit early, and had her tree up the week of Thanksgiving.

She had never done that before.

By December 1st that year, packages wrapped in bright paper were nestled beneath the boughs of her tree. One package for each grandchild. Everyone commented, but didn’t complain, on her premature decorating. They wondered “whatever could she be thinking, putting a tree up so early?”.

Back then, most people decorated a week… two at the most… before the Holidays. Setting up a live tree one month before Christmas was unheard of. But there sat the Crawford tree, in the front window, for all of Hickory Flat to see.

One afternoon, around Thanksgiving, I went shopping with her. On that day, she got behind the wheel of her big, blue Chevrolet Impala and I snuggled up next to her. On the bench seat. No seatbelts required.

Lois Emma Benefield Crawford aimed her Chevy Tank in a southward direction on Highway 5, and before long we had left Cherokee County. We were rolling down Highway 41… destination: Marietta.

More accurately, our compass pointed to Kmart and Dunkin’ Donuts.

Browsing around Kmart, we lingered for a while in the shoe aisles. And it was there, that I came across the most beautiful pair of house slippers I had ever seen. Red velvet mules, trimmed in red fur. And they were just my size.

I couldn’t stop looking at them. Couldn’t resist running my hand over the furry red trim, even as it tickled my palm.

She stood very still, and I felt her watching me.

“Neetie, you like them shoes?”

I looked up at her… her blue eyes were intense, like sapphires against her dark complexion. Beautiful eyes. But there always seemed to be a hint of sadness behind them. The kind of sad you see in the eyes of poor people. People who keep going, even though life doesn’t cut them many breaks.

I answered her: “Umhuh …. I think I’ll ask Santa for these”.

We finished up at Kmart and made our way to Dunkin’.

We both had a single donut. She had coffee. I had hot chocolate. We nibbled our treats, sipped our hot drinks, and I talked about those red shoes the whole time.

“If Santa brings me those shoes, I won’t just wear them in the house. They are so pretty, I’ll wear them to school, too. The bottoms are hard, like real shoes. Not soft, like house shoes”.

She laughed a little.

On Christmas morning, I found a package addressed to me:

“To Neetie,

Love, Maw and Papa”.

The wrapping paper was covered with chubby little Santas, all playing in a falling snow. I was hesitant to open the package. Because I knew there would never be another.

Life had changed since our Kmart shopping excursion.

On December 4, 1967, the phone rang. It was late for a phone call. But I wasn’t yet old enough to be fearful of late night calls. So I answered, and heard my grandmother’s voice on the line.

“Neetie, I need to talk to your mama. I love you.”

My dad found her on her kitchen floor, the phone was nearby.

She was gone.

Without warning. Without saying goodbye. Her heart had simply betrayed her, it had given up and quit.

Christmas morning, I sat on my knees by her Christmas tree, and told my mom I didn’t think I should open my gift. She told me the decision was mine, but encouraged me to remember that the gift was something my grandmother had given me, her oldest grandchild. And it was something she wanted me to have.

Carefully, I pulled back the tape. I couldn’t bear the thought of ripping her paper, paper she had selected. In my mind, I could see her at her kitchen table, drinking coffee… wrapping gifts. Humming along with the radio. Her Coca Cola clock illuminating the wall behind her.

I felt so lost.

My chest was heavy with grief when I opened the gift from her. And when the paper was pulled away, I wanted to cry. Cushioned in a blanket of white tissues, lay the shoes. The most beautiful shoes in the world.

But I didn’t feel joy at receiving them. It’s not that I was disappointed in the gift. I loved the slippers and I was thankful to have them. But I missed my grandmother. I wanted to go back to the day at Kmart. And stay there.

My mom still has the red shoes. They are in my old room. They’ve been around for 52 Christmases now. And I still get a lump in my throat when I think of the sacrifice Lois made, to buy them for her seven year-old granddaughter.

And I wonder if she had a feeling that she would soon be leaving us.

I don’t know. But this I do know… some of us have complained about our people decorating too early.

It’s ok. Let them have some Christmas joy. Don’t shame the family and friends who want to stir up some Christmas memories a little early in the season.

They may know something you don’t.

Merry Christmas 🎄

Danita

Two of Lois Emma Crawford’s great-great grandchildren.

My friend Lorie Hamby’s tree.

She decorated in October that year. She said the lights and decorations made her happy. I said she should leave her tree up all year… “no shame in your Christmas game”.

It was her last Christmas. ♥️✨

Mountain Creek

 

From the first year of her life, she made the trip up the mountain with her Mama and Daddy. Every spring they traveled up the dirt road to Mountain Creek, riding in an old car of questionable dependability. Windows rolled down, they arrived at the cemetery with their best, and only, Sunday dresses covered in the red dust of a dry Alabama dirt road. They arrived early, long before the church singing began, to clean up, and decorate with freshly picked flowers, the graves of family members.

When she was a toddler, she made the trip one winter, with her mama and daddy, to bury her baby brother. In the spring, they dressed his grave as best they could, and lingered long after the church grew silent.

In the winter of 1967 and ‘68, she made the trip up the mountain twice, exactly two months apart, to bury her mama, and then her daddy. She was only twenty-four years old. After that, the trips up the mountain took on a deeper sadness. A heartbreak for her that will never fully recover.

In the fifty years since leaving her parents there, she has never missed a spring trip to the Alabama mountain. Presently, it’s difficult for her to get around, but she cleans the granite, gently removes the old flowers, and reverently sets about “decorating”, with the new flowers she has brought from Georgia. Beautiful sprays of spring flowers are set upon the gravel covered graves. The dark granite vase is lovingly filled with a burst of colorful blooms. During the prior weeks, she’s put a lot of thought into the flowers she gives her mama, daddy and brother. This year, rather than pinks and yellows, she chose deep red roses, the same color she placed on their graves that first Christmas, in 1968.

She’s in her final years now, and she knows this. She’s worried about who will care for their graves when she’s no longer here. Her concern makes me so sad for her.
I’ve promised her I’ll make sure it gets done, as long as I’m still around. 

 

 

The Bulldog’s #1 Fan

The Dawgs had an unseen assist in the Rose Bowl.

I met Pam Bowman when I was a Delta Delta Delta pledge, a hundred or more lifetimes ago. Bowman, as the Sisters called her, was to be feared. According to the Sisters, she would rip you to shreds if you messed up, and no infraction went unseen:  failed a test, partied too much, didn’t party enough, went out with the wrong guy, behaved in ways unbecoming to the Sisterhood. Whatever it was, Bowman would know, she would deal with you, and it would not be pretty.

Each pledge was granted a meeting with her, I don’t remember it being an optional encounter, but maybe it was. Either way, the meeting was to learn more about what was expected of us, academically and socially, as Tri Delta pledges. I had heard of her before I met her, and what I heard would make Scarlet O’Hara quake in her riding boots. I was expecting to meet Cinderella’s evil stepmother’s younger sister. Or Snow White’s evil Queen.
My appointed time arrived, and I braced myself before entering the meeting room. To my surprise, there was no evil queen in there. What I found was a beautiful, statuesque blonde, a bright, friendly smile, and Southern grace. She was a straight shooter, no doubt. But I respected and appreciated that about her, immediately.

My second year, I transferred to an out of state school, and I never came across Pam again. Not until Social Media became a thing. There are some good things about facebook, and reconnecting with old friends is one of the good things.

Pam and I became “Facebook Friends” five or six years ago. I have loved catching up with her, I had thought of her often over the years and wondered how she had fared in life. I’ve enjoyed getting to know her family through her stories and photos. I especially loved hearing about her husband’s love of the Georgia Bulldogs. She has some good stories. Funny stories. But last year, Chip, Pam’s husband, suddenly, without warning, passed away.
This past fall, Pam mentioned him often, during Georgia’s march to the West Coast and the Rose Bowl. On New Year’s Eve, the eve of the Rose Bowl, she posted something that is worthy of print.

From Pam, December 31, 2017 / 10:52AM

“As many of you know my husband, Chip passed away this year from a heart attack and UGA Dawg cancer. He lived his entire life with a severe case of stage four Dawg cancer. One good thing, even though there was not a cure for Dawg cancer, there was treatment. He knew EVERYTHING there was to know about the Dawg football program from way back in the day until the day he died. One of the worst cases of Dawg cancer I have ever seen. Plus he knew every stat about every UGA sports team. He even watched old games. He saved those games. That’s bad. If they’d had a poker team, he would have even known about that program and stats as well. It was incredible. An extremely bright man. For the family, the aftereffects of a Dawg chemo treatment was either real nasty or real good. If they won, he was ecstatic. If they lost, he would not speak to anyone for almost a week. No kidding. If they played so so or not up to their potential, he didn’t have very much enthusiasm. He hung in there whether the Dawgs had a good or bad season for 59 years. Anyone that knew Chip, was well aware of the fact he did not talk much. To know him was to love him. He was a very quiet and introspective person. One of those type of people, that when he did talk, you’d jerk your head around in disbelief and listen. I spoke more than enough for the both of us anyway. One thing he always said was that the year he died, the Dawgs would win the National Championship. Just to make him mad. Me, Matthew  and Kathleen knew when the season started, this would be the year. Come on DAWGS. #godawgs #UGAgrad #forchopper #forchipprengaman ”

 

By the way, the University of Georgia won the Rose Bowl. #GoDawgs 

Do it one more time, on January 8, 2018.  #forChipPrengaman

 

 

 

The Bird Fighter

barnswallow2

This morning, with a cup of Russian Tea in hand, I called my mom. It’s something I do daily. Most days, we chatter about the day before us, “what are you doing today?” Some mornings, the conversation is a lullaby of memories. Other times, she voices her concerns about the health and well-being of those she loves. Many mornings, she mentions her brothers and sisters….she misses them. The oldest of six, she has one surviving sibling.

Occasionally, our conversation takes a sharp turn. Unintentionally, I say something that whips up her Crawford temper, and she has to “bring me down a notch or two“. It’s ok.

Every now and then, regardless of conversation topic, I hear her with the ears of someone not from the south. Although I am from the south, I hear her with foreign ears and wonder what someone from New York or California would think of her Alabama vernacular. On those mornings I smile and silently shake my head. I learned a long time ago the pointlessness in correcting her. (When we visited the United Kingdom, an agent behind the ticket booth in a London train station asked her: “Where bouts in the states are ya from, M’Lady? Alabama or Tennessee?”

This morning, this is what I heard on the other end of the line:

Mama: Hello
Me: Are you busy?
Mama: Just fightin’ these old birds.
Me: (silent chuckle) What birds?
Mama: Aw, you know. Them ol’ birds that builds nests where they’re not supposed to. (The birds know this Rule of Helen? I wonder…)
Me: (She likes birds, usually, so now I’m curious). What kind of bird is it?
Mama: You know. Them old Mud Birds (Barn Swallows). I put the plant from Jake’s funeral out on the porch yesterday, and they’ve already started buildin’ a nest in it. They orta (ought to) know better than that. That’s a live plant, not no autoficial (artificial) one! Your daddy’s already knocked a nest out of the barn’s porch rafters, now they’re tryin’ to build one on this porch. They’ll mess all over the place! Nobody wants to clean up birds%$t all the time! Well, I need to go so I can get back out here to them birds. Before they build another nest.

So…if you need a good Mud Bird buster….you know who to call.





Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: