When I was in high school my mom and I moved into an apartment complex with townhouses. This was the biggest, nicest place we had ever lived in, and it was near the high school and near my mom’s work. It had three levels, including an unfinished basement for storage and laundry. The kitchen, living room, and a bathroom were on the main floor, and there were three bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. All the bedrooms were roughly the same size, so my mom took a room on one end of the hall and gave me the room on the other end, next to the bathroom. I don’t remember what was in the middle bedroom. It’s possible it was home to my mom’s small china hutch, the one that houses relics from years past. It’s possible it had a dresser for extra clothes, or maybe my mom’s old green rocking chair. I don’t think it had an extra bed. I don’t think we ever had a bed we would consider “extra.”
I might not remember too much about the second bedroom, but I do remember quite a bit about that townhouse, and the years I lived there. I remember the night someone threw a brick into our neighbor’s glass window and stole a bunch of money from him while he slept upstairs. I remember the way the apartment complex gave way to a trailer park, the “good” trailer park. I remember that when the grass got cut the maintenance men did it so fast, that they missed large portions of it. I remember the rollings hills in between the rows of houses. I remember the playground. The basketball court. The laundry room. The dark, poop brown of the cabinets. I remember the small slab of concrete off the back sliding door where we kept an old, unused grill. I remember the constant feeling of being pressed down, while we lived there. What felt like the inability to catch my breath. The thought that this was it. This was as nice as my life was going to get. The concern that I was in this cycle of poverty, and there was no way out.
It’s a nasty feeling, feeling like you are stuck in a place that you don’t want to be. I would take evening walks around the apartment complex, sometimes down through the trailer park and envision what my life might be. Would I live in a trailer one day? Was it bad to live in one? Some of them looked nice. They had fenced yards, and little pop-up pools. Some had add-ons and car ports. Was this my next step? Did I get married, buy a trailer, have a couple of kids, and work my 40 hours a week, while I watched my husband drink beer with the other men in the trailer park on Sunday afternoons? It all seemed too sad. Too real. Much too real.
I remember walking on the other side of the street one day. There was a subdivision on that side that I had never been through before. The street that separated us was a busy five lane road that ran from one side of town, where the cities of Leavenworth and Lansing met, to the other side of town, ending at the Federal Prison. It wasn’t too hopeful for a sad teenage girl, my hometown. The thing I noticed first about this subdivision, was that unlike my apartment complex, they had a wooden privacy fence running the length of their property, shielding their quiet backyards, and their precious children, from the traffic that clogged up that street.
The more I walked, the more I noticed about the people who lived there. Two car garages meant two parents. Two parents meant more income. More income meant treehouses, and soccer teams, and trips to Florida in the summertime, all things I had no idea about. I pieced together what I knew about my friends’ families. The nice houses they had, the way their mother’s were home all day with stews in crockpots, and at the dinner table at night helping with homework. During this time my mother had developed a gambling addiction, and spent most of her evenings at the casinos in Kansas City. So had my sisters and a few close friends. I was alone a lot of the time, but that was okay by me. It gave me time to dream of my leaving. That was the running joke as a teenager in Leavenworth. Wasn’t Leavenworth really just Worth Leavin’?
I’ve come to see that as a critical point in my life. My walking, my meandering around my hometown. Wondering what would happen to me if I left, more importantly, what would happen to me if I stayed. I knew then, on the day that I walked through that subdivision, that I wasn’t going to stick around to find out.
Sometimes I get sad when I think back to the choices I made. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened had I stayed. Sometimes I wish I could help other people leave. Sometimes I just want to tell that younger Missy that it is all okay. That she is different, and a little weird, and yeah, maybe she doesn’t belong there, or anywhere, but that it will all make sense. One day.
I Googled my elementary school today. I’m not sure what made me do it. Maybe seeing all the back to school photos of friends’ kids. Maybe dropping my own child at his first day of his last year in elementary school. Maybe I’m feeling sad, nostalgic, old. Either way, I Googled the old girl and was surprised by what I didn’t remember about Anthony Elementary School, and what I did.
Anthony Elementary School in Leavenworth, Kansas was built in 1950*, funded in part, by a grant from the Ford Foundation. It was named after the Daniel Read Anthony family, who first came to Leavenworth from Massachusetts in 1854 with the first Emigrant Aid Company. The First Emigrant Aid Company was responsible for bringing Free State settlers to vote against Kansas becoming a slave state. Daniel R. Anthony may not be as well known outside of Leavenworth, where he was both a conductor of the local Underground Railroad and the owner of the Leavenworth Times (Kansas’ oldest newspaper) but his sister, Susan B. Anthony, might ring a bell. I knew none of this back then. I have a faint memory of learning about Susan B. Anthony and her family. I have an even fainter memory of connecting those dots in my head when I was maybe a second grader. I remember thinking she was pretty and strong. What I did know about my school was that it was a Title I, low-performing elementary school in the 1980s, smack dab in the middle of the “good” side of town and the “not good” side of town, and it brought a lot of different worlds together.
My mother walked me up to the front door of Anthony when I was a very tall five-year-old. Having a September birthday, I would turn six just two weeks after school started, always making me one of the oldest kids in my class. I would be nearly 19 when I graduated high school. But I wasn’t thinking about high school that day, I was thinking about not wrinkling my dress. I was wondering if my mother would stay with me all day. I was sliding around from sweaty feet in slick sandals.
My classroom was brightly colored. It housed a row of cubes where we’d put our Kleenex boxes and paint, wall hooks for backpacks and lunchboxes, and an upright piano. I didn’t have a lunchbox. I was a free-lunch kid. I didn’t know that on my first day of kindergarten, but by middle school this fact would push my head lower and lower down, everyday, as I moved through the hot food line. On my first day of kindergarten, however, my head was high, albeit full of anxiety. I smiled when Mrs. McKim, my very tall, very lovely teacher took my hand and showed me where my desk was. I followed her, looking back a few times to make sure my mom was still there. She was, standing with the other parents at the back of the classroom, much too close to the door for my liking. In my memory this is when things get jumbled, but my mom remembers it pretty clearly. I started to cry. And I didn’t stop crying for three days.
On day two, Mrs. McKim let my mom come inside the classroom again. They tried to console me, to introduce me to new friends, but I couldn’t see anyone through the tears clouding my vision. On day three, Mrs. McKim watched me walk into the classroom, and just when my mom was about to follow, she stopped her, and closed the classroom door. I panicked. I ran to the door to watch the scene unfold. My mother was crying outside the door, I was crying inside the door. Mrs. McKim, her hand on my mother’s shaking shoulder, told her it would be best to leave. Just leave me there, and walk away. I hated Mrs. McKim for this, for much longer than I should have. It wasn’t until my son went to preschool, and his teacher told me to go, while he screamed and groped for me and she held him back, that I realized what Mrs. McKim had done. And how important it was to do.
That day Mrs. McKim switched her tactic with me too. She let me sit at my desk and cry for an hour or so, then she pulled me aside and told me that I was disrupting the class and would have to go sit in the library, right across the hall, all by myself. A few minutes later I was all alone at a desk in the library. The librarian Mrs. Simmons, was busy walking around shelving books, big kids were coming in and out looking oddly at me. I sat, crying, until it felt like I had no more tears to cry. Then Mrs. Simmons walked in with two of my classmates, Robin and Pam. She walked up to my desk and introduced them both. She said they were girls in my class, and that made them my friends. Pam, whose sweet, chubby cheeks shined in the library light, asked me if I would be her friend. I said yes. Then Robin and Pam stood on each side of me and took me back to the classroom, hand in hand. I never cried again in kindergarten.
A few years ago my sweet friend Pam died. An undiagnosed medical condition, if I remember correctly. She never lost her sweetness, though. Not one ounce, even when we drifted apart years later. I can still see her chubby, rosy cheeks. I can still feel her hand in mine. I still remember her earnestness. Her need to be my friend. Her determination to make me feel safe.
It’s been a long time since I stepped foot inside Anthony Elementary School. An even longer time since I have felt that particular pain. The kind that sticks with you. The kind that shapes you. I may have went to a Title I, low-performing school in an economically diverse area of the Midwest, but I never felt underserved or overlooked. I felt lucky. I felt content. And today I am feeling thankful.
Thanks, Anthony Elementary School. For the teachers like Mrs. McKim, Mrs. Coughran, Mrs. Nixon and Mrs. Heim. Thanks for Mrs. Albright, and Mrs. Simmons, and Mrs. Parks. For Coach Hendee and Mr. Parks. Thanks for the lifelong friendships. Thanks for the blacktop and Oregon Trail. Thanks for the Halloween parades and the fifth grade talent show. Thanks for being a safe-haven, for a painfully shy little girl who is the woman she is today because of the foundation you gave her.
*It’s important to note that Anthony has been through a few renovations, including a major overhaul in 2010, and has survived in Leavenworth, where many of the other schools have been vacated, or turned into housing or commercial spaces. I’ve included a current picture below to show the progress.
I started walking to get Jackson from school this week. It is one mile there and one mile back if I take the “long route”. I take the long route because the long route involves a stoplight, whereas the shortcut involves waiting for a break in a busy state highway, in Atlanta, then running like mad across five lanes while you scream “Don’t hit me! Don’t hit me! Don’t hit me!” So I prefer the stoplight.
So this week I walked the two miles every day. By day two I had already developed shin splint. By day three my whole body hurt like I was an active person. But by day four I felt okay. I track my walk with my Apple Watch and my Apple Watch, for usually being a little, whiny bitch, has actually been pretty helpful. Everyday I’d cut my time down by 30 seconds. And by day two, Jackson didn’t even mind the walking. By day four he told me he looked forward to it. Not only is it good, quality time with his mommy (heart swoon), but “walkers” get out ten minutes before “car riders”. Oh, yep. That’s the real reason.
Anyway, on Thursday I couldn’t shake this feeling that I was missing something. But I had my Apple Watch on, and my phone in my hand just in case. So what was it that I needed. Then I realized that I was missing 15 popsicle sticks.
I don’t know if you guys had to do this, or even remember it, but when I was in fifth grade in Kansas there was such a thing as The Presidential Fitness Test. It consisted of a bunch of bullshit, if you were to ask a chubby Little Missy, like the despised “Sit and Reach”, where Mr. Hendee, our beloved, normally very rational and nice P.E. teacher, taped a yard stick to a cardboard box and you had to sit with your legs straight against the box and reach out on the yard stick as far as you could. What was the purpose? Who fucking knows! But it was for sure something we had to do twice a year. Along with “Pull-Ups” which was just us hanging on a bar until our hands gave up. I always lasted about five seconds. Then there were push-ups and sit-ups with your friend sitting on your feet (my BFF LeeAnne was as heavy as a damn stick, and I would just lift her up every time I sat up. She was useless). Then there was the dreaded one-mile run.
The dreaded one-mile run took place in the “soccer field” which was just the bit of grass after the blacktop where the cool boys played soccer at recess. Mr. Hendee set up bright orange cones. Just two. And we had to run around them 16 times. That, as he had equated, was a mile. I dunno how far apart the cones had to be, you do the math.
How did you keep track of your laps? Great question. Every time you passed Mr. Hendee, he handed you a popsicle stick. So by the end of your run you had 15 popsicle sticks in your sweaty, little hands. I often, OFTEN, wondered if they were used popsicle sticks, but never asked. Did I really want to know?
Anyway, one time, on the night before the dreaded one-mile run, I had been playing outside with my friends well into the evening. The street lights had just come on when I heard my mom’s unmistakable whistle that meant it was time for me to come in. As I got on my bike, my foot got tangled up with my pedal and fell, my bike coming down hard on my ankle. Later that night, after some medicine, it was still a little swollen and tender to the touch but it was decided that I would survive. Nothing seemed broken. But just to be safe, my mom would write Mr. Hendee a note to tell him that I was not to run the next day. WHAAAAAA?! I had no idea you could do that! I was amazed with my mom and her powers.
The next day I went to school with very little pain and a normal sized ankle, and the note happily tucked into my backpack. When P.E. time came the pain “suddenly” came back to my ankle. I started limping for effect, and everyone was asking me what was wrong. Ankle. I said. Probably broken. I limped slowly up toward Mr. Hendee when we were still in the gym. He eyed me suspiciously. I handed him the note, then looked pathetically down at my ankle.
“Did your mom take you to the doctor,” he asked, folding the note back up and putting it in his shirt pocket. He always had shirts with pockets.
I shook my head no.
“Okay, he said. You can make it up next week. Let’s go class!”
My mouth sank. Whaaaaaa?! I thought I would be exempt from the whole run, but apparently this was not Mr. Hendee’s first rodeo.
I got to hand out the popsicle sticks that day. One after the other, to sweaty, unwashed, little hands. Then the next week I had to run by myself, around the gym, while everyone else was playing parachute. Hmpf. Ain’t that some shit?
So there you go. I learned my lesson. I never tried to get out of another mile run again. And all this week, going back and forth, the two miles everyday, nothing to hold in my sweaty, unwashed hands, I suddenly missed those damn popsicle sticks to keep me company.
Thanks Mr. Hendee. For calling me out on my bullshit. And for teaching me how to juggle scarves.
My mom as a housekeeper when I was a kid. She worked full-time cleaning military barracks at Fort Leavenworth, but she worked part-time (mainly weekends) cleaning private homes. I would often accompany her on her weekend cleanings, where I would mainly sit and wait patiently for her to clean someone else’s house, before she went home and cleaned our own. My mom was well-known around town for being very tidy, punctual, and trustworthy. She also beat most competitor prices, especially those “maid services” that were popping up around that time in the late 80s. Before long she had some clients she preferred more than others, who treated her well (and me), and she was able to cut off a lot of the other ones. One of those such clients were a couple of local doctors who had a beautiful, and quite large, house out in the country, across from a field of horses. They had no family near, they were both from New York, and they were both retired Army, having worked their way through med school while serving. They didn’t have children, but they did have the biggest dog I have ever seen and will probably ever see, his name was Zeke, he was a Great Dane, and for a little while he was my best friend.
Zeke was large and brown and looked exactly like Scooby-Doo. Apparently that is one of the things I first said when I met him. I asked why they didn’t name him Scooby-Doo. Missy, the wife, agreed with me and threw her hand out toward her husband in an exasperated manner saying, “This one doesn’t like Scooby-Doo.” That may be why I never really liked her husband, but that didn’t matter much to me because along with Zeke, they had a grand piano, a pantry full of gourmet snack foods I had never heard of, and an above-ground swimming pool that they allowed me to swim in whenever we came over.
I remember the first time I was alone in the great room. Missy had been home when we got there one Saturday morning, but said she’d be running out for errands in a bit. While my mom immediately started cleaning, I sat up shop at the dining room table, which my mom had picked for me, being what seemed the safest spot for a messy six-year-old, in a room full of antique furniture and family heirlooms. It was a modern, sturdy table and it fit more people than I thought you would ever need to. I swung my feet, too small for them to reach the floor, back and forth and I drew in my notebook that I had brought.
Missy came into the room from the kitchen, her sweats on, her hair pulled back, and her bag slung over her shoulder. She asked what I was doing, and I showed her the picture of the star I was working on. She told me she had a trick to drawing stars, and asked if I wanted to see. I said yes, and she came over and taught me how to draw those stars, you know the ones, made of triangles, where you never lift your pen from the paper. I thought it was magic!
Then she told me that she was leaving, her husband was golfing all day, and the house was mine. She asked me to play ball with Zeke at some point, and she suggested I play the piano as no one had touched it in years. I was amazed, but suppressed the giant smile I felt inside, and waved goodbye. I ran to the window when I heard the garage door open and watched while her small BMW pulled out of the driveway. I listened for my mom, as I slowly walked by the piano and lightly touched the keys, tempting myself to push one down. I heard a vacuum somewhere far away in the house, and I froze. Even though Missy had said I could play it, I knew if my mom heard me she would run downstairs and scold me for touching it. So instead I grabbed the tennis ball from the basket that sat near the front door, and turned to yell for Zeke, but before I could get his name out of my mouth, he came zooming around the side of the stairs so fast that he ran into me and knocked us both down.
“Zeke!” I yelled, in the middle of Great Dane kisses and happy tail wags. I was not experienced with dogs. We never owned one. We were renters, and usually pet deposits were too expensive. Not to mention the cost to feed them, take them to the vet, and what about if they made a big mess or broke something? We simply couldn’t afford a pet, pets were luxuries reserved for rich people. But here I was, face to face with this giant, cuddly guy, who wanted nothing more than to be my best friend. It was the day things changed for me. They day that I started to realize that not all people live like we do. That not all people just have to dream about having a dog that loves them. The day I started to piece together what I wanted my adult life to look like one day.
Zeke and I played ball that day. We played in the backyard, in the front yard. We played in the family room downstairs, until my mom came down to clean and kicked us out. We played every day that I went to Missy’s house after that. When I swam in the pool after my mom finished cleaning, and she sat on the deck talking to Missy, both of them drinking Diet Cokes as Missy’s husband yelled about how bad Diet Coke were for you, Zeke would jump into the pool to chase me. When they went out of town, they asked my mom to house-sit for a week, and they asked me to dog-sit. This happened several times, over many years, and I was always delighted. In those moments I was allowed to fully live out my dream. My big, beautiful house with a master bathroom that had a shower with a built in seat, and a basement with a ping-pong table and a big screen television. But mostly, I was able to lay out in the front yard, with it’s meticulously mowed Kentucky Bluegrass, Zeke next to me, a tennis ball in his mouth, and tell him all my little girl dreams.
Eventually my mom stopped house-sitting and I stopped pet-sitting. Missy and her husband had a couple of kids. Her mother moved to Kansas. Missy got cancer. Her husband got sued. Zeke died. I grew into an angsty teen. I forgot all those little girl dreams. But on certain sunny, summer days, I think about my friend Zeke and our time together. When I am floating in a clear, flat pool, when I see a tennis ball roll from under a couch, when my own dog jumps at me with such force I have to steady myself, on those days I think about Zeke, and I remember those dreams, buried way down inside, and I know those dreams are what is pushing me, driving me to do what I do. Reminding me why my husband and I have made the sacrifices that we have. We might not have a BMW, or a three-level home with a pool, but we climbed from the lives we knew, the lives we were destined for, and we are still climbing, everyday, for us, for our son, for the people who can’t make the climb. And we are so thankful for those people who reached back and pulled us along with them. It reminds us to do the same.
Thanks, Missy, for teaching me to draw stars, so I could cast myself out into the world with them.
Thanks Zeke, for listening and loving, all those years ago. I hope you are somewhere chasing tennis balls all day long.
And thanks, Mom, for letting me tag along all the time, everywhere. Allowing me to have experiences and meet people that other kids like me don’t have the privilege of. And thanks too, for never thinking my big, little dreams were too far off. Who knew we’d make it this far.
PS… This isn’t Zeke, but this is certainly how I remember him. When he would hit you with his tail (from excitement) it would leave a mark!
The Forth of July is my favorite holiday! And not because it means American independence. Don’t get me wrong, I am glad that we have independence, but some days I am not really, Ra, ra, go America! In fact, over the last three years I have been way more, What the actual hell, America? than ra, ra, but I mean come on, man! Trying not to get political here. You get what I mean.
I love the fireworks! There I said it! I love the fireworks, and the swimming holes, and the yummy treats, and the feeling of sweating through your tank-top as you sit in your camping chair and talk to your friends about good times, and watch the kids throw smoke bombs and light sparklers, and eat that cake made with strawberries and blueberries, and listen to Lee Greenwood. It just brings back so many awesome memories. Memories of cook-outs, and summer days on the softball field, and camp-outs in the the backyard, and slumber parties, and that glow that sort of follows you around all summer long. That’s it, probably. The Fourth of July is the epitome of summer and there are the big booms!
So go forth today and have safe and happy fun! Remember what today means to our country, sure. But more importantly, remember to light at least one smoke bomb, just to keep peace with your inner child, or maybe just to keep the ghost of George Washington at bay 🙂 #BoomBoomBoom
If you’re like me, you’re tired as shit of visiting Branson, Missouri. But if you’re like me, that means you also lived there for five years and you did all the things. Like, ALL THE THINGS. So you’re sorta worn out with that nonsense. If you are also like me, you have a child who, while born in the local Branson hospital, still doesn’t really remember his time there. So whenever he visits he wants to do ALL THE THINGS again. Le sigh. Loooong story short, we spent a few days in Branson a couple of weeks ago and took Jackson to the Toy Museum, which he had actually never visited, though we had. And then he talked us into the Celebrity Car Museum which we have all been to SEVERAL times. Then of course there was Silver Dollar City, which I don’t mind too much since it has roller coasters and the little Wilderness Church. You see, my husband and I got married in that little Wilderness Church on an unusually warm December day in 2007. So it is always sorta fun to have our picture made in front of it.
So, ahem, what follows are a bunch of pics from our few days in Branson, including a timeline of sorts in front of our little church.
PS… If you don’t know what Silver Dollar City is, or you have never heard of Branson, Missouri before, good on you! But just know that you will never experience a woman dressed in 19th century garb slinging Dippin Dots anywhere else! Link here: https://www.silverdollarcity.com/theme-park
My second grade teacher Mrs. Parks was reading the whole class an Aesop Fable. I don’t remember which one it was. Maybe it was The Tortoise and the Hare or maybe it was The Boy Who Cried Wolf, I just remember that my entire second grade class was sitting crisscross applesauce in a sorta-circle under the blackboard. Yes, we had a blackboard. Actually, I think it was green, not black. We called it a chalkboard. We also had a music staff liner that we’d stuff with chalk to make lines on the board for handwriting practice. Yes, I’m real-chalkboard-in-the-classroom old. Anyway, there we were 20 or so eight-year-olds sitting sorta-circle on the linoleum floor in front of our ancient chalkboard, looking up eagerly at our teacher as she read from a large picture book. Before every turn of the page she would slowly turn the book around in one of those here-it-comes-kids sorta ways. This little game could go on for a long time. We never got tired of the excitement of seeing the beautiful illustrated pages. It’s like we craved the jitters that it gave us. It’s kind weird, I suppose. We were all just little Aesop Fables junkies. But I digress. The pertinent information here is that our small bodies would go from tense, to relaxed every minute or so, which is fine and dandy if you don’t have a track record of tooting in your pants.
There I was sitting between Stephanie, the girl with the two moms, and Billy the kid with diabetes, and they were poking at each other in front of me. I kept slapping at Billy’s hand when he would reach over me to poke Stephanie. Eventually Mrs. Parks noticed my dilemma and told them to stop, taking the burden off of me. But they didn’t, so she motioned for me to come sit next to her. This made me happy because I am forever a Teacher’s Pet. But, that also meant that I had to sit next to Dusty. Ugh. Dusty. He was a mess. He always had to sit next to Mrs. Parks because he couldn’t be trusted otherwise.
So I start to shuffle on my hands and knees to the spot in front of Mrs. Parks, when I feel a sneeze coming on. I tried to scuttle faster, but my classmates were everywhere making it hard for me to get to my spot, so instead I just kind of sheltered in place. I stopped in the middle of the sorta-circle and sat on my knees, leaned back a bit, and braced for the sneeze impact. And then I snarted.
Yeah, you’re not gonna find that word in the OED, but basically I sneeze/farted. Not to be confused with sharting. I didn’t shart. I let out a snart. And the whole class heard it. And Mrs. Parks stopped reading. And Billy stopped his poking. And the room fell silent. And Dusty yelled, “Melissa let out a bomber!” and the laughter came quicker than the snart had. My face got really hot. And my body got really hot. And my lunch started to bubble up in my throat, and I thought I might throw up chocolate milk and chili. The laughter was intense and Mrs. Parks kindly tried to get control of them, but it took a few moments. Meanwhile everyone was looking at me, sitting on my legs, in the middle of the sorta-circle. I didn’t know what to do. I panicked. I looked over at Shawn, the blonde kid next to me. We locked eyes for a split second and then I said, in a low, shaky voice, “It was Shawn.” Then more laughter as Dusty pointed at Shawn and said, “Shawn let out a bomber!” Then I hung my head and scooted back to my original spot. I deserved it. And Shawn never said a word about it.
So I guess I’m here to publicly say: I am sorry, Shawn. I’m a dirty, rat-bastard with bad gastro-intestinal issues that have plagued me since childhood and you were one of my victims. I wish I could have owned up to my snart, but you get it, man. Girls just can’t afford to be the bomber in second grade. We just can’t afford it.
Over the last few weeks when I was not writing, I was still snapping photos. And I figure what better way to share them than on my bloggy-blog with all you unsuspecting souls. In short, when I get creatively blocked I go in search of my lost creativity. Sometimes I find it, sometimes I do not, but it is worth a shot (see what I did there, oh I make myself giggle). Anyhoo, here are some pics I snapped in Oklahoma last week. I took a short, unexpected trip to the Tulsa area and came back with these puppies. It was an interesting landscape. The raw, rural midwest in all its weathered glory. And I do mean weathered. There had been mass flooding and storms in the region, but we happened upon it on an overcast day with only small storms. The pictures of my husband and son are on a plot of land in central Oklahoma that belonged to my husband’s late uncle J.R., whom both my husband and son share the initials of (Jerimiah Robert and Jackson Riker). My father-in-law lives at his brother’s house now and we spent a few hours out there while Jackson and Sir Duke explored. Jackson is a car guy, if you don’t know, so he enjoyed fiddling with his Papa’s Chevy Blazer, then checking out some old cars his cousin has out back. He asked for pictures with the “cool” cars. 🙂 Honestly, it was nice to capture some shots of a place that means a lot to my husband. He used to spend summers out at “JRs place” and though Jackson never made it to meet his great uncle before he passed away, we think they would have hit it off.
The other pictures are from my wonderings around a few small towns in the area, and of a park in Tulsa that Sir Duke and I walked in, right before a storm blew through. If you have never spent a lot of time in rural Oklahoma, maybe this will help you want to visit! Or maybe run far away from it. Either way, it helped me stay creative when I couldn’t quite put pen to paper.
It’s going to storm tonight in Atlanta. It’s stormed more often than not since we moved here last month. I don’t mind the storms, but they do make me a little anxious. I’ll get a book, curl up on the sofa and try to read, while the rain pounds on the side of the house, and on the tall pine trees, and on my small, robust garden. I’ll try to read, but I’ll get so engrossed by the sounds that my mind will wander, and before I know it I’ll be consumed by worry. I’ll worry about the things that might go wrong. What if one of those pine trees should fall? What about the baby birds in that nest? Who would I call to rescue them? Who would I call to rescue me?
I used to prefer the dark sky. I preferred the gloomy days. The mix of grays, and blues, and blacks. As a child I would sit on my mother’s stoop and watch the sky change. In Kansas you can never be too sure how long the storm will last. You can never be too sure which way the wind will turn. If a funnel cloud might reach a long, black finger down. You can never be sure. It’s a kind of anxiety that becomes comforting after a little while. Or maybe you just learn to live in it.
Nowadays I prefer the sunshine. I’ve learned that my body needs the sunshine to function properly. I know this. Finally. At 37-years-old. I finally know that my body needs the Vitamin D. And so does my mind. So do my emotions. My nerves. But sometimes, on days like today, when the storms are lining up to roll on through and I feel prepared, and my mind is free, it is different. Sometimes, on days like today, when my soul feels well, I can sit on my porch, take in the smell of the coming rain, and I can look forward to the storm.
I have these memories that sort of live on the cusp of my brain and they nag at me, and nag at me, and nag at me, until I take the time to write them down. They aren’t particularly special moments, or important, or a moment that other people might think should be memorable, but they spring up in my brain when I am doing other things and I can’t seem to shake them. They are called Involuntary Autobiographical Memories (IAMs), seriously. That is what the mental health community has decided to call them, and they are more common than I thought, which is helpful for someone like me, who is always afraid I am weird and my brain doesn’t work like it should. None of that is important, and honestly would be best discussed with my therapist, or a my physician, or an unsuspecting bartender. But I do have to share the following story today or I will have sweaty night dreams about it. So, enjoy?
I am about four years old. We are headed to Southern Texas, Corpus Christi, to be exact, and we are riding a Greyhound bus. It is hot, my teenage sister is cranky, per usual, and my mom is nervous. I can tell because when she is nervous she shakes her legs up and down in her seat in a fidgety sorta way. I have to pee. I ask my mother to pee in the bathroom they have on the bus and she says no, absolutely not. I start to wonder why she is so against me going pee in the bathroom. There is a bathroom on the bus, and it is clearly marked. I’m only four, but I can read. I start to worry that I won’t be able to hold it much longer. I sit silently and look down at my shoes. I am wearing Jellies. You know what I mean, those cool sandals from the 80s that lacked both structure and support. They were colored, with flecks of glitter in them, and they are the reason a whole generation of 40-year-old women now have plantar fasciitis.
Anyway, I had to pee. And I was very afraid the I was going to have an accident and that pee would run down my leg and into my Jellies, where it would pool in the sticky, plastic sole, and I would have to walk in my own pee for the rest of the trip. Again, I was four. And it was hot. And I was on a Greyhound bus.
I put my hand on my mom’s leg to sort of calm her in some way, then I lied and said I didn’t have to pee anymore. I probably said this because I thought she was nervous because I had to pee, and she didn’t know when we would stop next. We did stop occasionally, though I have no recollection of the stops.
When I looked back up I made eye contact with a man walking toward the back of the bus where the bathroom was. He smiled a polite smile. He was wearing cut-off shorts and a blue t-shirt with the arms cut off of it. He made his way back to the bathroom. I turned my head to be sure he went in. A little while later, the whole bus filled with a horrible smell and I involuntarily scrunched up my nose and said, “Eww!” My mom shushed me. It wasn’t polite. But then she moved her shirt to her nose and bounced her legs up and down again. And that was that.
Weird isn’t it? That is all I remember about the Greyhound Bus on our way to Corpus Christi, Texas in the early 1980s. I don’t remember the color of the seats, or the scenery that we passed. I don’t remember stopping at a McDonalds to eat and use the bathroom. I don’t remember what my mom or sister were wearing, or the odor that inhabits a bus like that. I remember my shoes. I remember that I had to pee. I remember the man and the way my mother reacted to the whole thing.
I remember more about the trip once we arrived, like my oldest sister’s house, the reason for going to Corpus Christi was to see her. I remember her creepy boyfriend, Rick, and his work van. I even remember the night they had a party and everyone drank beer. I remember my mom’s friend Debbie, who came along, but I only remember her sitting on a metal folding chair on the front porch of the house, talking about how hot it was and wiping the sweat from her breasts. Otherwise, it’s like she wasn’t even there.
Involuntary Autobiographical Memories. Ain’t that some shit.
In elementary school I participated in the Book It! Program. If you don’t know Book It! it was a program designed by Pizza Hut in the early 1980s. The then-president of the company was called to action by President Reagan, who asked big business to find valuable ways to help with education in America. Pizza Hut stepped up to the plate, literally and figuratively, with the Book It! Program. Book It! awarded elementary school children the chance to read appropriate-level books, in exchange for stickers, buttons, and you guessed it, free pizza! I don’t know much more about the program from the business side, but I did find an informative and fun article here, if you are so inclined: http://mentalfloss.com/article/501605/12-cheesy-facts-about-pizza-huts-book-it-program.
What I remember about Book It! was the awesome personal pan pizzas that you got whenever you finished your “chart”, which was a brightly colored poster board with the names of everyone in your class, and stars representing how many books you had read. For each book you got a sticker. For every ten books you read, you received a coupon for a personal pan pizza. This was a great incentive to kids who were not planning on reading ten books a month, a fun bonus for those of us who were, and a smart marketing move on behalf of Pizza Hut. I mean, parents will do more with less, for an excuse to NOT cook and do the dishes on a Friday night. It was a win-win, and honestly, one of my favorite memories from elementary school. We were sorta poor, and Pizza Hut was not a place we frequented. My mom cooked food at home, so once a month I knew I would get to go out to dinner. It wasn’t anything fancy, but my mom would take me to Pizza Hut. She would get us a water and a Diet Coke, then she would order two personal pan pizzas and we got one of them free. It was a sweet deal, and a fun evening for us because the nearest Pizza Hut was at the mall of sorts, in Leavenworth, called The Plaza. It had some shops in it, an arcade, a book store, ice cream, etc. It was small, but always exciting to go look around with my tummy full of free pizza. Sometimes, if it were near payday, we would walk around and dream of the stuff we wanted, then hit Baskin Robbins just before we drove home.
The other thing I remember about Book It! was how unfair it suddenly seemed one day in fifth grade. I was a fairly smart kid. No rocket scientist, but I was an avid reader, a strong reader, and a lover of books. One day my class came back inside from recess and sat at our desks with the lights off. This was something we did everyday. It was a rest time that Mrs. Coughran, our very patient teacher, bestowed upon us. Mrs. Coughran took this time to turn off the lights and let us rest our minds and bodies before we stumbled into whatever was next on the agenda. Everyday she would read aloud during this time, from a book that we all voted on. We had three choices. We could either listen while we rested our eyes (think: trying to get a quick snooze) or we could color or draw, or we could read our own book silently at our desk. I usually chose to read silently, especially when I was close to completing my ten books for the month.
One particular day I excused myself to the Book It! Chart to see how many books I had left. Mrs. Coughran or Mrs. Simmons, the school librarian, had to pick the books for us, as reading at your appropriate level was one of the requirements. On this day I meandered over to the chart to see which book I had next so I could decide if we had it in the classroom, or if I needed to go find it in the library. That is when the shock set in. My chart looked like this: Island of the Blue Dolphins, Indian in the Cupboard, Number the Stars, Anne Frank, Where the Red Fern Grows, The Giver, etc. etc. Meanwhile, a large number of the rest of the class were reading books like this: James and the Giant Peach, Sarah Plain and Tall, Little House in the Big Woods, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Superfudge, and Tales of the Fourth Grade Nothing. See a pattern here? I was getting saddled with these “big” books, which is how I thought of them, when really they were just more advanced subject matter, while my classmates read what amounted, to me anyway, as Dr. Seuss. I was pissed.
I went home that night and told my mom, who really had no idea what I was bitching about. She was convinced my teachers knew which books I should be reading, and what the hell was a Superfudge, anyway? She told me stop complaining, but she did offer to run me down to the public library so I could pick out whatever I wanted. I took the bait.
The next day at silent reading, I looked around the room before I lifted up my desk and snuck out my brand new public library copy of Pippi Longstocking. Now I had read Pippi Longstocking before. In fact, I had read all of them and watched the movies back in, ohh, second grade? But it was funny and short and I didn’t need to look up words in secret in my bedroom at night. I spent the better part of our fifteen minutes trying to hide the cover from Mrs. Coughran, who seemed to be inching closer to my desk. I figured if I could get the book done quickly, I could just run over and jot the title down and have her give me a sticker without her even looking at the cover. It was a tense few minutes.
I was still reading happily along to Pippi’s antics when someone switched the lights on without my knowing. I was so engrossed, I didn’t look up until Mrs. Coughran’s hand touched my arm. I looked up at her, my eyes wide, I had been caught. She knelt down next to my desk and asked me what I was reading. I showed her the cover. That’s a good one, she said, not taking her eyes off of me. I think it is a movie now too. I shook my head and gulped. Are you going to count that as one of your books this week? The question sort of stayed out there, in the air between us. I wasn’t sure what to say. I found the nerve, maybe from Pippi, to say, I think so.Okay, she said with a smile. I think that’s a good idea. But don’t forget that Mrs. Simmons wants you to finish “Number the Stars” this week too. I shook my head. Yes. Yes. The holocaust book, I remembered quickly. She smiled and walked away.
That afternoon as the bell rang, and we all ran to the freedom of our parent’s cars, Mrs. Coughran called for me. I stopped in the doorway, a little bit scared. She put her arms out for a hug and I fell into her. I had been so afraid she was mad at me. Then she looked me in the eyes. Reminded me to look her in the eyes, something she had been working on with me since day one, and she said that she was proud of me for being a class leader in the Book It! Program. She confided that we were probably set up to receive the coveted pizza party at the end of the year because of our hard work, and that I had really helped bring the class reading up. I smiled a shameful smile. Then she said to me, Remember, Missy. You are what you read.
We did end up earning a Book It! Pizza Hut party on the last week of school. We read and ate until we were too sick to read anymore, then we watched old episodes of Bill Nye the Science Guy and ate some more. Someone’s mom brought in cupcakes, another brought juice boxes, and Pizza Hut brought boxes of piping hot pepperoni pizza. We felt like royalty.
In a quiet suburban home on a cul-de-sac, with a Subaru and a Honda Odyssey in the drive, seven girls cram into an upstairs guest bathroom. The walls are covered in a floral pattern, there are tooth brushes lining the sink, there is mold, unbeknownst to the home owners, growing beneath. Six of those girls jump into the bathtub and pull the shower curtain to hide their faces. They are shaking with nerves, but relieved they are not the girl who has to stand next to the light switch, for her role is much more dangerous. The girl by the light switch moves her hand slowly toward the switch and asks the group if they are ready. One girl squeals. One says she changed her mind and wants out. The others quickly grab her, pushing her deeper into the middle of Nike shorts and pink training bras, to be frozen at a later, undisclosed time. The bathroom goes dark. One girl channels some courage and she starts, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary…
None of the girls know who Bloody Mary is. They’ve heard stories. Bloody Mary was a young girl who killed her parents. She was a teenager who lost a baby. She may or may not be Mary I, Queen of England, a matronly, forty-ish woman with stringy hair and zero fashion sense. Either way, Bloody Mary wants them. She needs them. She uses her fingernails to scratch their faces until they die. Bloody Mary wants, they think, to slowly kill them as to bathe in their virgin blood in the moon of a Saturday night.
Bloody Mary’s vengeful spirit only comes if you chant her name thirteen times. She only comes when summoned. And only pre-teen girls at a suburban slumber party can summon her. Only pre-teen suburban girls know that after the thirteenth time her name is said, red dots appear on the bathroom mirror. The dots mean she is with them. The dots mean they have done it.
Once, in my own bathroom, we summoned her. I reluctantly climbed into my own shower, pulled the curtain and watched my friends’ faces quickly disappear with a flip of the switch. Then, as if by intuition, we began to chant: Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary… I thought about stopping it. I just knew it wouldn’t be true. I knew there would be no dots on the mirror, that the legend was a myth. One of my friends grabbed my sweaty hand. I tensed up.
The chanting speed leveled, but the excitement in our bodies raised our voices. We started to slowly rock back and forth, our bodies bumping in the tub, swaying back and forth with each Bloody and Mary. Maybe my mom would hear us and open the door. Maybe she would come in and save us, and say that this was ridiculous, and that there was no Bloody Mary, and that we needed to quiet down because it was nearly midnight. I listened for her footsteps, but the hallway was silent.
Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary…
Feet inching toward the edge of the tub, hands to the shower curtain in anticipation. Sweaty hands and heads. Hot cotton candy, popcorn breathe sucked in hard. In just a moment we would be face to face with the frightening demon-woman who wanted to mutilate our faces in the name of her dead babies, or her Catholic sister, or her horrible parents. One more time and the truth would rise.
The light flipped on, the curtain splayed open, and there on the mirror, thirteen red dots of all shapes and sizes. We had released the deathly spirit! It took but three seconds for the gravity of the situation to set in. We sprang from the tub, feet over shins, shins over thighs, thighs pushing arms. One girl yelped in pain, another pulled herself over the threshold, as she’d been knocked to the floor. We ran down the hall, into the cool air of the open, well-lit living room. The words were nonsensical. There was crying. My mother stepped in the room, horror on her face, what had happened, who was hurt?!
Then, as quickly as she had come, she had left. Bloody Mary was gone, we had not a scratch on us. We knew because the girl who flipped the light switch, God bless her, had said so. We were safe. Bloody Mary had went on to torment the next house, in the next suburb, in the next cul-de-sac, in the next guest bathroom full of pre-teen girls, squirming and squealing in the anticipation of the summoning.
I’ve been dreaming about my grandfather, as of late. This is odd. I don’t normally dream of dead relatives. In fact, I don’t think I ever have. Usually my dreams are all related to my day-to-day life. If I have spent the afternoon with a particular friend, say, then I may dream about them that night. Maybe it is just a recap of what we did, or maybe that friend and I are hunting an alligator, because my dreams don’t always make sense. But my grandfather, this is new, and stress related, I think.
Normally my stress dreams take me back to my serving days. I will dream, for instance, that I am back working at Ruby Tuesday. It is a Friday night, we are short-staffed, and there is a line of guests out the door. I am assigned to “The Pit” and am triple or quadruple seated. I can’t find a pen, so I am taking orders by memory. I have one over-cooked steak, three wrong drinks, two people yelling at me, and no one can run my food that is dying in the window. The hostess just keeps seating my section. I put in a large order for cheese fries and am told that we are out of French fries. Out of French fries?! How is that possible?! Then I wake up sweaty and cold. Yelling something to the manager, who barely knows how to do my job, and slapping my husband’s arm because I think he is the soda machine and it’s sticking again. Oh, stress.
But the dreams about my grandfathers are different.
Mardi Gras literally translates to Fat Tuesday. Fat Tuesday is a day to indulge in all the things you intend to give up for Lent. It is called Fat Tuesday because on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday you are expected to indulge. Cakes, and breads, rich meats and sauces. Items that many will give up in preparation for Easter, which comes exactly six weeks later. Fat Tuesday is positioned right after Carnival and right before Lent. The purpose of Lent is to prepare for Easter through prayer, doing penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, and self-denial. The purpose of Carnival, is to drink as many Hand Grenades as you can, while you drunk-hobble down Bourbon Street, your boobs hanging freely, and people pelt you with strings of 25 cent beads while you scream, “Shit yeah, Mardi Gras is awesome cock-suckers!” I think.
Listen, this is Part Deux, in what is shaping up to be a four part series, of my one and only trip to Mardi Gras back in February 2011 with my Mother-in-Law, two of my best friends, and a rag tag team of weirdos who had never left southeast Kansas. To get up to speed Imma need you to check this out first: https://missygoodnight.com/2019/03/01/corner-of-bourbon-and-canal/ I think it would be best so you are aware of all the, uhh, specifics before you jump right into this one. But, if you are so inclined to start here, well, then I like you. Go for it! Bonne chance!
Now where was I? Oh, yes. Do y’all remember when we were getting out of the car in a hurry at valet because we were being rushed and also because we needed to help MIL unload Peggy’s sweet-ass van, as all the occupants of that van were staring wide-eyed into the streets unable to move? Well then, do you remember that we were quite pleased with ourselves about the speed and accuracy with which we exited our car, with the exception of one thing: Purple nail polish? Yeah, okay.
So the first night, before we got sloshed on Bourbon with a mixture of Hand Grenades and Huge-Ass Beers, we tidied up a bit. Well, Melody and Kasey tidied up a bit. I slapped some more deodorant on and called it good. The girls in the other room took showers, did their hair, the whole nine yards, so we had some time to kill waiting for them. During that time Melody was debating whether or not to ask for the car just so she could get her purple nail polish. Kasey and I were trying to convince her that it was dumb, and just to forget about painting her nails. Then MIL pops in from the bathroom is all I have purple nail polish! Yay! Crisis averted. Melody used the nail polish, then we all left to get totally obliterated.
The next morning went like you would expect. It sucked. We were all hungover, there was no way we wanted to pay for room service to bring us all the best hangover foods, and we didn’t really have a plan for the day, save buying more beads (it became apparent that we were gonna NEED a lot of beads) and getting a tattoo. Yeah, that was a goal for the weekend. Le sigh. We were all a little tired when the weirdos next to us were knocking on the door at what felt like 6:00 am, but was probably closer to 8:00 am. I rolled over to see this:
What happened next was a situation that to this day is called, The Purple Nail Polish Incident and it has varied truths. But this is how I remember it.
Cranky MIL: Melody, where is my purple nail polish?
Cranky Melody: I don’t know, dude.
Cranky MIL: Well you had it last night.
Cranky Melody (elevated tone): I gave it back to you.
Cranky MIL: No you didn’t. That’s the problem. You should have given…
Cranky Melody: OMIGOD, yes I did!
Cranky MIL: Nope. I don’t have it.
Kasey (in a whisper): Dude, get her the purple nail polish.
Me (getting up to start to look for purple nail polish): Where did you have it last?
Cranky Melody: I don’t know when I HANDED IT TO HER!
Cranky MIL: You never HANDED anything to me.
Me (getting side-tracked because I am hungry): Whose bagel is this?
Kasey (standing up to help look): It’s left over from last night.
Cranky MIL: I wish I could paint my nails this morning…
Cranky Melody (throws blankets off her): ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?
Cranky MIL: You are supposed to return things you borrow…
Cranky Melody: I DID RETURN IT.
Me (biting on a day old bagel): Dude, just get up and look for it.
Cranky Melody: Why don’t we just go to Walmart again today and spend three hours there looking for purple nail polish and other shit we don’t need?!
Cranky MIL: We might have to since I don’t have purple nail polish anymore.
Me (feeling something in my mouth that is not bagel): Melody, get up.
Cranky MIL: It’s fine. I just wish I had my purple nail polish.
Cranky Melody (jumping out of the bed): OH MY GOD! Don’t say PURPLE NAIL POLISH ONE MORE DAMN TIME.
Then Melody walks over to dresser and grabs the purple nail polish as MIL walks out of the bathroom and she hands it to MIL.
Cranky MIL: Thank you.
Cranky Melody: YOU’RE WELCOME.
Me: You guys, this bagel broke my tooth.
Weirdos next door knock again.
Kasey (opens curtains): It’s going to be a good day!
Deep breathes. Yeah, so. I am sure that MIL and Melody have different versions, but you know, this is my blog. And, did we just skate by the fact that I broke my tooth on a bagel? In hindsight, it was more likely the 15 or so Blow Pops I crunched on the drive down, but that hard bagel took it over the edge. So there we all were. Four women. One with a broken tooth. One with purple toes nails, one without. And Kasey. The forever optimist. What happened next can only be explained by the desire to be a united front.
MIL explained to us that the other four weirdos had never been to the beach. Or maybe one had, I can’t exactly remember. The point is, while we all have been to several beaches, in different countries, and different regions, the ladies next door needed a win, so she asked what we thought about driving the hour and a half to Gulfport, Mississippi, all eight of us in Peggy’s sweet-ass van, to show the weirdos the ocean. We all looked at each other when she used the word ocean. Well, okay, she corrected. The Gulf Coast. Melody, Kasey, and I looked at each other. Their make-up still smudged from the night before, circles under our eyes, me holding my tooth, and we nodded in agreement. Let’s give them a thrill.
You know what they say, “Girl, your brown eyes sparkle like the Gulf Coast waters!” Just a reminder that this was less than a year after the BP oil spill off the Gulf Coast of Mexico. So there was literal oil to be unearthed on the beach. We know cause we found it. Only we didn’t scream OIL! and call the Clampetts. We sort of, uhh, ignored it. Then jumped in for a swim. Eek. The photo below was captured by a stranger on the random beach we stopped at in Gulfport.
Two hours later Kasey, Melody, and I sat in Peggy’s sweet-ass van with Pasty-girl (whose name I was recently reminded was April, but I can’t change it now) while the other ladies spent way too long in yet ANOTHER Walmart. At this point Melody and I were not speaking to each other because she had been texting some dude who lives in Arizona who she didn’t really know and I he was planning to come for a visit, and I was like BAD IDEA Hombre. And she was all, I know what I am doing. I mean she was 25, she obviously didn’t need me telling her how to live her life. So we had spent the ride to this random Walmart somewhere between Mississippi and Louisiana, in the way, way back of the van. Kasey was forced to sit between us, and the three of us sat silently as we listened to Titty Tina offer the body guard services of her ex-boyfriend who lived in NOLA, because he was not, quote, afraid to bitch slap anyone who deserved it. End quote. And that’s how we first learned of Bitch-Slap. And the stifled laughter between the three of us in the way, way back over what we collectively knew would be his name from now until eternity, is what mended the strained friendship.
While the “old girls” went into Walmart, Kasey, Melody, and I stayed in Peggy’s sweet-ass van with Pasty-girl. MIL had taken the keys, so we didn’t have air. Probably because, #PurpleNailPolish, and so we sat with the doors open, sweating in our slightly damp clothes, and listened to Pasty-girl recount all the men she’d slept with. One of her conquests ended up being a family member of mine, uhh, by marriage. And we all nodded our head in agreement, cause yeah, that made sense. It wasn’t MIL.
Back in NOLA things took an exciting turn. After the feud ended in the van, someone, ahem, Kasey, came up with a great idea. It was Tammie’s birthday, and she was ready to par-tay! So Kasey, presumably caught up in the excitement of being in the way, way back of Peggy’s sweet-ass van, decided that every time Tammie said, It’s my birthday! of which she said every 20 minutes or so, we were all to scream, Happy Birthday! So as you can imagine, hilarity ensued. Until the crying started at dinnertime.
We had decided to go out to dinner that night at a seafood place called Deanie’s Seafood. It was supposed to be the best seafood in the French Quarter and this was back when, well, we believed claims like that. So we all washed the oil off of us and decided to convene for the walk over to Deanie’s around 5:00 pm. At about 4:45, Tammie knocked on our door to inform us that Janie was crying.
We all walked over to find a distraught Janie. She was upset because everyone else was so fancy, and she wasn’t. She had only packed, I want to say, two pink shirts and some jeans. Sigh. MIL quickly offered up some of her clothes, an offer Janie sort of smirked at, while Melody, Kasey, and I tried to get her to just try one of MIL shirts, they were nice. Then I offered one of mine. Then so on. The girls showed her that they were all wearing jeans, but she said their shirts were fancy too. I explained that my fancy shirt was the same one that I jumped into the Gulf with. Didn’t matter. Then we offered to go look for a fancy shirt for her, but she declined. The crying eventually stopped so we all just shrugged and walked to Deanie’s. I dunno.
Listen. Dinner was a mess, y’all. I ordered shrimp, but it had all the tentacles and what not on it, so MIL had to peel them for me because I can’t with that shit. Then Janie asked her to accompany her to the bathroom at some point. If I was the Mommy of Kasey, Mel, and me, then MIL was the Mommy of the weirdos (and sometimes us) and it was starting to weigh on her. But at least every time Tammie said, It’s my birthday! We all screamed in unison, Happy Birthday! At least.
After dinner we had reservations for a walking Haunted History Tour, which was ABSOFUCKINGLUTELY the BEST part of the trip! If y’all have the opportunity to do a walking history tour in NOLA, do it! At one point Melody, Kasey, and I had to separate from the weirdos and go to the back of the tour because we were so engrossed in the history and the stories that we wanted to listen, not drink and scream Happy Birthday! We were shunned. Let’s just say that. But yeah, worth it.
Birthday girl was a little drunk after the tour, so we tried to sober her up with a trip to Cafe Du Monde.
At this point the stories diverge. We decided that we wanted to go a chill bar and listen to some of that New Orleans Jazz we heard so much about, and well, the crew was having none of that, so we went our separate ways. I can’t tell you what they did, but I think it had to do with dancing on bars (sans MIL and Janie) and karaoke, and probably shots. But Kasey, Melody, and I went for a walk along the river, then settled into a cool little jazz spot that had outdoor seating. We had the pleasure of enjoying a muffuletta while we listened to a cool, little jazz quartet for an hour or so, before we headed back to the hotel. I have no pics from that time because, well, that is how chill and relaxing and nice it was. The calm, if you will, before the storm.
If you are still reading this, bless your heart. (That is what people say to patronize others here in the south.) You are a trooper. Really, you are. But this seems like a good break spot. We have covered quite a bit of ground today, and I left quite a bit out. For your pleasure. Thanks for traveling down memory lane with me. Two parts left. And I promise they won’t be worth it. As a parting gift I have included some more pics of Day Two.
I’ve been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans. I should really stop there. Save myself from the inevitable torment that comes every single time I recount the story. I get tense, and anxious. I can’t sleep. My body gets achy, like the flu is about to take over. Or maybe it’s just the ghost of Marie Laveau II, who still rightly frightens me. That’s what it is. I am afraid that if I delve into the past, and recount the events that transpired on those four sleepless nights at the end of February in 2011, the ghost of Marie Laveau II will come back into my life, spitting and shrieking, assuring me all the bad things will happen again. But here I am, acting against my better judgment, just like my time spent on the corner of Bourbon Street and Canal many moons ago. This story is so varied, so full of life, so mysterious and wonderful and dreadful and wrong, I would be a disservice to attempt to tell it all at once, so I won’t. I will tell the tale of my time at Mardi Gras in parts, and if you feel like hopping down this dangerous, but ultimately delightfully stinky rabbit hole, then read on. But it’s certainly at your own risk.
I honestly don’t remember how it started. I’m not sure if my friends, Melody and Kasey, suggested we go, or if my mother-in-law decided she would go and invite us along. Someone decided they would go to Mardi Gras that year, and invited the other. My MIL took the reins, being the only person in the group who had ever been to NOLA before. She cashed in some of her hotel points and got us a pimp view at the Crown Plaza Hotel on the corner of Bourbon and Canal Streets. Right in the heart of the French Quarter, a stone’s throw away from Old Man River, and smack dab in the middle of the Carnival action. I think her friend Peggy was supposed to come along, then couldn’t last minute, but my MIL had already secured Peggy’s PIMP minivan, so she decided to invite a few other ladies she knew from her home town. So my MIL (I won’t use her real name to protect the guilty), Janie, Tammie, Pasty-girl, and Titty Tina (I’m using aliases here for a couple of the girls for two reasons. 1. I don’t remember Pasty-girl’s name but she legit wore pasties on her nips one night, and 2. Nah, it’s really just number 1) all hopped in the van in Southeast Kansas and headed south. Mind you, none of these women had ever been to NOLA, and two of the five had never been outside Southeast Kansas (unless you count Joplin, MO and anywhere in Oklahoma, and I don’t.)
Kasey and Melody and I set out from my house in Branson, Missouri on the morning of February 24th. I guess someone watched my kid, cause yeah, I was the only one who had a kid-kid at the time. A toddler, and I would suppose that my husband took the time off work to stay home with him. What a saint that man is. We left on a Thursday, cause why not? We loaded up my VW Passat, which meant I was the only one who could drive, since I was the only one who could drive a manual. Really smart on my part. (I guess maybe I had the safest car of the lot. Eek!) I should take a minute to inform you all that I was 29 years old. So on the FAR, FAR end of the proper age to be going to Mardi Gras. Kasey was closest in age to me at a whopping 26, and Mel was, well, Mel was giving us the gift of her youth at 24. Which left me as the Mommy, Kasey as the annoying big sister, and Melody as the spoiled baby, as it were. Which is why when the first fight happened, somewhere in Arkansas, over whether or not Kasey should have included Dave Matthews Band on the mix cd, I jumped into “Mom” mode and never really recovered. Which made me, well, uncool, and also a bit out of sorts for the rest of the trip. More on that later.
My MIL left a bit before we did from Kansas, and the plan was to meet up somewhere near Memphis several hours later. Remember, she had a van full of women who had barely ventured outside of Kansas, with her being the only exception. She was in the military for many moons and is a worldly-traveler. Which is why it took so long to valet park the cars at the hotel. She had to explain over and over again that it was totally safe, that we would get Peggy’s PIMP van back, and that they needed to be “fast”, like storming the beaches of Normandy fast, and they should have money in hand to tip all the people helping us. They were confounded. It was painful to watch. But, whoa now, I am getting ahead of myself.
We ended up meeting on some sketch-ass back road along the Arkansas/Tennessee line. If you haven’t spent a lot of time on the Arkansas/Tennessee line, you should thank your lucky stars. It’s scary. This is where we were first introduced to the rag-tag team that came with MIL. We pulled into a gas station to see them all crawling out of Peggy’s van. As Melody, Kasey, and I approached the van, one of the doors slid open and a loud and robust woman said, “Y’all gonna show your titties?!” You guessed it, that was Tina. Then we met Tammie, who I already kinda, sorta knew, and then that one girl, then Janie, who looked like all of our grandmas, explained she had never been outside of Columbus, Kansas. Awesome! This is sort of where the regret started to set in.
After a quick stop we were back on the road. We decided to follow Peggy’s Sweet-ass van, since MIL knew where she was going. However, it wasn’t too long before MIL seemed to not know where she was going and Snoop Dogg (we programed my GPS to sound like Snoop Dogg) was all, “Hey Cuz, you missed your turn back there, ya dig?” And I was frantically calling MIL to tell her what Snoop had said. Meanwhile, the chatter in the van was so loud she couldn’t really hear me, and we kept on going that way. In the end it only added thirty minutes or so, but that was a LONG-ASS thirty minutes or so, Cuz.
Our next stop was at a Walmart right outside of NOLA. By this time we were in Creeper Louisiana and everyone we met asked if we were headed down to “M’gra”, I think. I didn’t understand a lot of what was said to me. Everyone seemed drunk and there was so much Mardi Gras merchandise that we lost all our senses. We loaded up gobs and gobs of 25 cent beads, and noise-makers, ribbon, t-shirts, masks, and King Cake. We left Walmart thinking we were prepared for all that was coming.
Below is a pic of the whole crew, minus me, the photographer, at the Walmart gas station somewhere along Lake Pontchartrain after a supercalifragilistically-long trip to a Walmart, where maybe some of the ladies saw Black people for the first time, I can’t be sure.
It wasn’t long before we were pulling up to the Crown Plaza on the corner of Bourbon and Canal. It was late, probably 10 pm or so, and we were dog-ass tired, but seeing the lights of the French Quarter and having eaten fifteen or so Blow Pops on the way, gave us a jolt of excitement that carried us through the next half hour or so of the “check-in” process. First there was the valet parking. If you have been to NOLA, to the French Quarter to be exact, and have stayed in a hotel you probably know that there is zero parking. You valet your car, then they take it to some undisclosed location and bring it to you whenever you call for it. This is the case for many big cities with limited parking, and you would know that if you had, say, every been to one of those big cities. My car was cool. We knew what to do. We hopped out to a barrage of people yelling orders, slipping tips into palms, drunk people barfing on the corner, men fighting, and cars honking. We took on thing at a time. We knew we had to get our bags to the bellhop, then hand over the keys, then get to our room, then we would be able to take it all in.
The occupants of Peggy’s Sweet-ass van, however, were totally numb to everything. They stood, wide-eyed, mouths agape, on the street taking it all in at that exact moment, as MIL unloaded the ENTIRE van and yelled at them to get their asses over there and help because we were holding up the valet line and people were pissed. Whew. Melody, Kasey, and I got our shit unloaded, our car sent away, our tips distributed, and quickly found ourselves inside this beautiful hotel with everything we needed except one bottle of purple nail polish that Mel had accidentally left in the back seat. No big deal. Right? Right.
After we all reconvened, they all had their eyes filled with enough sin, and MIL checked us in, we headed upstairs to our rooms. One of the first things I recall was standing outside our rooms (two doubles next door to each other) and we realized for the first time that we had to share our room with one of the occupants of Peggy’s Sweet-ass van. Our inclination, was to pick MIL, if we had the pick, because duh. But as we were waiting at our door for our keys, Janie walked over to us like she as rooming with us. Now, listen. Janie is a sweet woman. Totes someone who knows a lot, she’s smart, and kind. But I can’t beat around the bush here. She was way outta her league, and honestly she would have been appalled by some of the shit that we talked about. So we all stood politely and smiled at her, waiting for MIL to sort it out. Of which she did by yelling, “Janie, get your ass over here” and pointing to the room with the other girls. Whew. Crisis averted. So that left MIL, Kasey, Melody, and me in one room. And Janie, Tammie, Titty-Tina, and Pasty-Girl in the other.
Let me pause here and explain something. This all happened eight years ago. We are far enough removed from the events that transpired to look back with rose-colored glasses and laugh. But at the time, some of this felt very serious and very wrong and very scary and very amusing and very fun and very fucked up. But again, I am choosing rose-colored glasses and I hope the other ladies are too.
As I said before, this story has to be told in sections. So I think this is a great place to stop. We went out and explored that evening, as late as it was. Melody had her ear licked by a stranger, we drank HUGE ASS beers. We saw a couple having sex. We saw several people vomit. We met our first Voodoo Priestess. We walked with the crowd, as one does at Mardi Gras, as one big wave headed deeper and deeper into the French Quarter. And for all the grossness we encountered that night. For all the laughs we had. For all the beer we drank. It only went down from there. Even after we found out that Titty-Tina had an ex named Bitch Slap who was in town and was coming to find us. But that is best saved for another time.
Enjoy some pics from the first night of Mardi Gras in February, 2011.