Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A history lesson for innocents

This morning I watered our freshly planted grass seedlings in an area that had harbored a lovely hedge of privet bushes. (Previously threatened as remarked upon in this blog, the privets met their demise by my husband’s hands, rather than those of my neighbor.) At any rate, my vegetable garden lies nearby in a state of discontent due to its inability to flourish this summer.

While noting its pitiful state, I started thinking about contrasting my success with that of Mary’s. Remember:

Mary Mary quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells
And pretty maids all in a row.

The best I could come up was Bonnie, Bonnie, you’re quite fonny, but that didn’t really work as it didn’t make sense, or Bonita, Bonita, quite the Lolita—too many syllables and not at all true.

To remind me about the original poem, I googled Mary, Mary quite contrary. To my surprise, I found that the nursery rhyme didn’t refer to a garden at all . . . but instead the bloody reign of Mary, the daughter of King Henry VIII. The garden apparently alluded to a graveyard in which the Protestant bodies were laid out in a tidy little row after having refused to switch from their faith; the silver bells were supposedly thumb screws used to smash thumbs and the cockleshells—well, I won’t go into that here. The maid, a guillotine shortened from its original name Maiden, was, no doubt, a welcome relief for the executioners who previously had to deliver quite a few blows after chasing down their victims (which, by the way, reminds me of my own experience as a farm girl and witnessing dead chickens run around like chickens with their heads cut off—because they were—but these were Protestants running around like chickens with their heads cut off with their necks still intact).

Finding out nursery rhymes like this have hidden meanings could shatter all sorts of allusions I’ve held. Was Little Jack Horner actually a bad little boy? Did Little Miss Muffet share her curds and whey after all? What about Jack Sprat? Were the tables reversed and his wife actually the skinny one?

I’ll just leave you with a nursery rhyme that means what it says: 

Herold, Herold, you’re no Fitzgerald,
How does your garden grow?
With rain too little and heat too hot
And dead plants all in a row.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Bingo Bonnie loves her groupies

After my dad passed away several years ago, I decided to do something useful for the elderly. But what? I thought about reading to them or keeping them company but finally decided that what they needed most was just plain fun. Now, granted, when I say the word Bingo, most of you don’t jump up and down with joy. But these folks don’t have a whole lot of visitors, and their faces light up when I enter the Morningside Assisted Living Center. Sometimes known as Bingo Bonnie, I’m greeted enthusiastically with “Hello, hello! We’ve been waiting!”

When I first started calling Bingo more than two years ago, I quickly realized the need to shout. Some residents hear clearly with or without the help of hearing aids but others not so much. Politics was a hot topic back then, so when Myra, one of the hearing unimpaired, said to me, “I’m so sick of hearing about Sarah Palin,” I said, “Me, too.” You gotta love the response. “B2? Did she say B2?” The chorus rang for a full minute before I successfully straightened them out.

Most of the residents applauded when I bought a megaphone although a few of the hearing unimpaired grumbled; for the most part, though, in caring for each other, they understood the need. The center finally just set me up with a microphone and moved me to a larger room so more residents could attend.

On rare occasions, I’ve had to tell them to play nice. Someone’s made a bit too much noise and caused someone else to lose her train of thought; someone else sat in Dick’s usual spot. My favorite comment happened in the hall on the way out the door. Another resident had warned me about this lady’s sharp tongue. I smiled and said, “Helen, I haven’t seen you for such a long time!” Her comment broke me up: “Let’s keep it that way."

I call multiple games with lots of opportunity to win amid good-natured accusations of cheating floating through the air. The winners crow with delight at their little pile of fake money with which to "buy" oddities at the monthly Bingo store.

Once a week may not seem like much to you, but it's often enough to promote some welcomed camaraderie. My visits evoke stories: the broken arm resulting from leading an exercise session, the head-to-toe bruises from using a walker to reach an out-of-reach object, the ecstatic resident returning home to live out her days, and the strangest of all, an 80-year-old couple separating because they couldn’t stand each other anymore.

I hug them, call them by name, and tease them; getting more involved would only break my heart.

When someone yells--as much as a trembling voice can yell--"Bingo!" for the final time, the room buzzes. Congratulations and good-natured grumbling--"I only needed one more number"--rumble around the room.

"See you next Monday!” elicits a chorus of thanks, and I leave with a smile on my face.

Everyone loves to be loved.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Bravery takes guts

As a struggling, wannabe published author wishing to strengthen my craft, I attended an SCBWI Midsouth writing conference this weekend.

I could write about the revisions ahead of me, but the clock ticks. Doing trumps talking. After I limber these digits and stretch my mind, I’ll get right on it.

I could blog at length about the energizing aspect, but I won’t. Suffice it to say, I’m pumped.

After realizing that others work full-time, volunteer selflessly, mother their mothers and care for six children yet squeeze in time to write, I definitely won’t describe my feelings of inadequacy.

Instead, today’s topic covers bravery—the bravery it takes to talk with agents and editors, the guts it takes to anonymously submit work and have it read aloud by those same folks and not burst into tears if you detect rejection, and, most of all, the courage it takes to meet new people.

I liken the latter to a story my husband relates about my daughter. Entering her preschool the first day, Rachel chattered away but clung to his hand a bit anxious about the prospect. One of the teachers greeted them, and my husband stopped to say a few words. The next thing he knew, Rachel was no longer by his side. Looking around, he found her snugly safe in a circle of a dozen other preschoolers.   

Being somewhat on the shy side, I lack the confidence my daughter displayed so bravely. But I came prepared to this conference to wiggle into whatever circle would have me. This happened through sheer determination; and, believe me, it wasn’t always comfortable. Many people knew each other, as one would expect.

On dessert night, I walked in alone. My hands shook and my innards quaked. My nervousness caused me to splash wine all over myself as I talked with an editor, but, at least, I didn’t douse her. For a few minutes, I wasn’t any less nervous when talking to other writers. I was the new kid on the block, the one with the need to reach out or flounder.

Floundering stinks. Eating alone stinks, too. But, most of all, getting beyond one's self-consciousness increases one's enjoyment at a function like this. For those reasons, I reached out to others and I never ate alone.

I figure this prepares me for life in a nursing home. Make friends quickly, or else.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What I did on my summer vacation

I just returned from vacation, and it was everything a person could want: beach, family, great food, and gorgeous weather. The house was situated in a nearly ideal location—at the end of a fairly secluded stretch of Virginia Beach called Chicks Beach. While sitting on the balcony, we oohed and ahed over the playing dolphins and jumping fish. So what if the house cozied up to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge? The price was right; and, with the windows closed, the trucks barreling by blended in nicely with the pounding surf.

Just a week earlier, Hurricane Irene had left her mark. In that area, she’d removed tons of sand but left the houses relatively unscathed. While vacationing, we witnessed Tropical Storm Katia leave her own stamp. At the beginning of the week, the waves gently lapped our toes; at the end, the high tide raged over much of the sand. With the churned-up activity at sea, each day introduced new sea creatures to the beach, both dead and alive. Twenty-one horse shell crabs, belly-up, covered a reasonably short stretch of beach. The next day revealed potato sponges—also probably dead, but who’d know? Large ghost crabs scurried sideways in hunt of food.

The entire area was a culinary paradise. After sampling the Seafood Mac and Cheese at HK on the Bay, I felt like kissing the chef. Being able to walk there and dine outside were such awesome experiences that we returned a second time. But even better, not a day went by without discovering yet another delightful eatery: the Sugar Plum Bakery, Chill Ice Cream Shoppe, the 15th Street Raw Bar, AW Shucks, Sandbridge Island Restaurant, the Public House, and Sirena Cucina Italiana.

We ended up the week at Virginia Beach with a kayaking trip on the Back Bay near Sandbridge. Just how cool is that?

But the fun didn’t end there. On the return trip, we visited Monticello to learn more about our amazing president, Thomas Jefferson. Afterwards, we stopped at a surprisingly charming eatery, the Pomegranate Restaurant, situated in the delightfully named town of Troutville, VA.

There was one tiny hitch to the entire vacation. As a huge fan of Living Social and its ilk, I opted to buy advanced tickets to a comedy club. Remembering my experience 35 years earlier at such a club, I anticipated a fun way to celebrate my daughter’s birthday.

Stop right there.

Thirty-five  years?!

Before we went, there was much discussion about whether I knew what I was getting into. My kids weren’t convinced. Nevertheless, my husband, son, daughter, her boyfriend, and I headed off with hope in our hearts. Oops! While three out of four of the entertainers left us laughing, the fourth regaled us with the most horrifyingly revolting, repetitively raunchy, unfunny drivel imaginable. Booing was discouraged by the 400 pound mountain of a bouncer. Walking out on the so-called comedian wasn’t  possible either; not only were we packed in like sardines, but I feared becoming a target if I tried. So I sat there stoically and hoped the end would come quickly.

Everyone knows that laughter’s good for the soul. But his idea of comedy can’t possibly be healthy for him, despite the fact that he’s probably laughing all the way to the bank.

I’ll take Gilligan’s Island any day. Especially since it involves a beach and lots of coconut drinks.