Down in Lunch Lady Land

I just read an article about a lunch lady who threw away a piece of pizza in front of a kid because he had a $15 bill that wasn’t paid. My head wanted to shake so violently that I would end up seeing stars or birds, but instead of that, I’m here, on my blog, telling you a story. You see, my momma was a lunch lady. She was. True story. She was a myriad of other things in her lifetime too. She took other low-paying, menial jobs to support herself and her four kids, including: A housekeeper, a babysitter, and a bartender, among others, and for a little while, when I was in middle school and then in high school, she was a lunch lady.

I remember this because there is a distinct string of shame that comes from walking through the lunch line, with your “free lunch” card, seeing your mom doing the dishes in the back, waiting to see if she could catch a glimpse of you and give you a little smile, or maybe, if your 8th grade reputation allowed, a small wave. I remember people walking up behind me asking, “Missy, is that your mom making the rolls?” I’d tell them yes, because there was no point in lying, and some of the kids would laugh, and some of them would say, “Your mom makes great rolls.” And I’d smile. Cause she really did. And she was very nice to ALL the kids. In fact, she was too nice. She was often reprimanded for letting kids grab two rolls, or an extra slice of pizza. She never worked the registers, probably because she knew she could never turn a kid away, money or not.

Because there has always been a desire to turn kids away.

That sounds horrific doesn’t it. But in middle school, they turned kids away. In high school, some kids would go through the line twice. Once to get their own food, and once to get a plate for a friend. That’s a real thing that happened. And still does. And lunch ladies like my mom saw this happen. And lunch ladies like my mom threw an extra roll on the tray. Then there are the others.

In case you don’t know, lunch ladies don’t roll in the big salaries like they probably should. In fact, a quick Google search tells me that locally, in DeKalb County, Georgia, lunch ladies are making, on average, $13/hr. That’s $520 a week, before taxes. That’s if they have a full-time gig. My mom, and many like her, were part-timers, who would get there about 8 am and be gone by 1 pm. They were floaters too. Called wherever they needed to be, whenever they needed to be there. But let’s say, for the sake of this here blog, that a full-time lunch lady makes $500 a week, pre-taxes. Let’s also say she has two kids at home, and is a single mom. Whew. That’s not a lot of money. In fact, in most school districts, that lunch lady’s own kids would qualify for free or reduced lunch. Like I did when my mom was a lunch lady.

So here I am, wondering how on Earth a lunch lady, whose kids at some point in their life have probably received free or reduced lunch, can take a piece of pizza off a tray while a kid is standing in line and throw it in the trash only to replace it with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. There’s like, uh, lots of things wrong with that, right?

First, there’s the wasting of food.

Then there’s the humiliation.

Then there’s the evident lack of compassion, either on the part of the lunch lady or, I suspect, the school, or the school district, or maybe just the cafeteria manager. But I do suspect, at least I want to suspect, that this is a top-down situation.

I don’t really think people, specifically lunch ladies, want to see kids go hungry. But I think, like most things, there is a lot at play here. First, we can’t discount racism. That would be dumb, because racism plays a big role in a situation like this. One racist lunch lady can ruin a whole school. One racist lunch lady can decide who eats and who doesn’t. Who gets shame thrown their way, and who doesn’t. In most of these stories I’m reading, and there’s a lot of them if you look, this is happening at schools where the population has higher numbers of “Non-white” kids. That’s what they like to say, “Non-white.”

Next there’s the thinking that it isn’t hard to get free lunch. Maybe the kid standing in front of the lunch lady lives in a household situation that would be approved for free or reduced lunch, but maybe his parents have filled out the proper forms. And sure, the lunch lady can shame the kid, in a roundabout way of shaming the lazy parents, either because they didn’t fill out the forms, or because they forgot to write the check, or because this week, there was no way for them to part with that $15. Pick your poison, either way it’s all coming down to shaming a kid who just wants to eat lunch. And that’s not okay.

Probably, what’s most likely happening, is that the school district is sending out nasty emails about cutting costs in the cafeteria. Cutting waste. Collecting payments. And the lunch ladies are taking it as a slap in the face, and passing that slap onto the kids. Top down.

I wish I had a solution here. I mean, in a perfect world we would feed the kids, then worry about the bottom line later. Wait, hmm, maybe that is the solution? Oh yep. It is. Always feed the kid. Don’t shame them. It only takes one time to say to a kid, “Hey tomorrow, unless your balance is paid, will you grab a peanut butter and jelly instead of a hot lunch? I’m sorry, it’s just the rule.” Listen, that kid will grab a PBJ the next day, because that kid doesn’t want to be shamed. Not now, not ever. Not by the lunch lady. Not by his or her parents. But the least we could do when his parents do shame him, is show a little compassion.

Be kind.

M.

The Tinsleys

When I was a kid my mom cleaned houses for a living. One of the houses she cleaned belonged to a husband and wife named Mr. and Mrs. Tinsley. The Tinsleys were very retired, and lived in a large house in Leavenworth, near the public library. I’m not sure what they had done in their working lives, but Mr. Tinsley, who sat in his home office all day, smoking cigars, and swiveling around in an old wooden rolling chair, had the mark of a lawyer, or maybe a CPA. He wore suspenders, and used a cane, on the rare occasions that I saw him get up from his desk.

Mrs. Tinsley could have been a school teacher, or a stay-at-home mom, or even a piano instructor. Maybe she was all those things. Maybe she was none of those things, I just don’t know, I don’t remember ever asking. What I do remember is sitting on the steps that connected the family room with the second level, while my mom vacuumed the upstairs bedrooms, and watching Jeopardy with Mrs. Tinsley, while she sat across the room in a recliner, and offered me fistfuls of those hard strawberry candies, with the gooey centers.

Mrs. Tinsely loved Bill Clinton. Mr. Tinsley hated him. Mrs. Tinsley crouched doilies and read magazines. Mr. Tinsely yelled at the Meals on Wheels delivery woman, and wrote my mother checks every Tuesday afternoon for her services.

Their house was in a row of houses on their street that were all very old. Some had started to fall down, while others were being bought and remodeled. Their house was somewhere in the middle, in dire need of updating, but still working for the two of them. Regardless, they had a formal living room, which I always associated with “rich people,” and I liked to spend a lot of time sitting in the “fancy” chairs in there, reading teeny-bopper magazines, and watching out the big picture window.

Their house even had a large wrap-around porch on the front, with a couple of rocking chairs. Somedays I would pass the two hours or so rocking on their porch. At the end of the street there was a house that had been turned into a retirement home. Or maybe it was less of a retirement home, and more of a nursing home. It had a lot of people in wheel chairs, sitting outside when we pulled up, and in the exact same spot when we left. I often wondered who pushed them out there, and who brought them back in. I hoped someone brought them back in.

It was an interesting dichotomy, trying to figure out how those people at the end of the street, sitting alone all day in wheelchairs in the grass, who were relatively the same age as The Tinsleys, managed to find themselves there, rather than living in their own large home, with a woman who cleaned it for them once a week, and people who delivered their food everyday. It didn’t add up to me, and if I’m being honest, it still doesn’t. Though it’s certainly more sad now, because I’m older and I know what I know. Still…

One of the last times I remember going to The Tinsleys’ my mom asked me to take a bag of trash out back for her. I didn’t usually do much helping when she cleaned houses, but every once in awhile she would ask me to take some trash out, or wipe down a mirror or something menial, particularly if I was following her around being annoying. This day I had the bag of trash in my hand and I walked out the back door, down a few steps, and out the back of the fence to the alley where the trash cans sat. I heaved the trash bag over the fence, into the can, when something shiny caught my eye.

Down the alley was an older woman, with a walker, slowly making her way toward me. She was dressed in sweats, and a shirt that looked like it had been worn for days. She was saying something but I couldn’t understand her. The more I waited, the closer she came, the closer she got to me, I realized she was calling for something, or someone. I wasn’t sure what to do so I sort of just froze at the fence, nervously looking back at the Tinsley’s house, hoping my mom would come out. Before she got any closer to me a woman dressed in scrubs came running down the alley after the woman with the walker. She ran up behind the woman, and put her hand on her shoulder. This scared the woman, and the nurse assured her she was okay, then told her they needed to go back in. The nurse saw me then, and told me that the woman was looking for her missing cat. I was immediately upset for her, and told the nurse that I hadn’t seen a cat, but that I would keep an eye out. The nurse just smiled, and waved my suggestion away, “There’s no cat,” she said, and she put her arm around the woman and they walked slowly back to the house at the end of the street.

Later that night when I told my mom what I had seen, she told me that some people forget things when they get older. What the nurse likely meant, was that the woman was looking for a cat she had once had, probably years and years ago, back when she lived in her own house. This was hard for me to understand at the time, but now, of course, I do.

I’m not sure what happened to Mr. and Mrs. Tinsley, I have a faint memory of my mother telling me of their passing at some point in my teen years, but I always wondered about them. And I’ve often wondered about the woman in the alley searching for her lost cat. I suppose I always will, because if you ask me, we all have our cats we are looking for. And we always will.

M.

Look Both Ways

My mom told me a story the other day about the time I was almost hit by a reckless driver. She was dropping me off at school. I must have been a freshman, or maybe it was early sophomore year. That’s when she was still driving me to school everyday, rather than me hitching rides with friends. The street that runs perpendicular to my high school had a stop sign right across from the entrance I used to go into school everyday. So my mom would sort of roll up to the stop sign, and stop long enough for me to hop out, then she’d make sure I got safely across the street before she turned right and headed to work. The whole drop-off probably took less than 30 seconds, on average, because my mom drove an ugly, beat-up 1984 Chevy Nova, with one door that was primed, but not painted. It wasn’t ideal for my teenage psyche to be dropped off each day, so I tried my best to not be seen by anyone.

The street that I had to cross, 10th Avenue, was pretty busy in the morning. 10th Avenue is one of the main arteries that runs through Leavenworth, and it leads all the way from the city limits, to the road that leads to the entrance of Fort Leavenworth. So one can imagine that every school day, in a high school with roughly 1,200 students, it was clogged up a bit there. Sometimes my mom would be waiting to turn long after I had already crossed the street.

This particular day she did her slow roll to a stop. There were several cars behind us, as there usually were, and I hopped out. The road was busy like normal, so I had to stand for a few seconds before I could safely cross. There was no crossing guard at this section of 10th Avenue. Eventually there was a break in the traffic and my mom watched me step out into the street to cross. That’s when a car from the line behind her jetted out of line, cut her off, and turned right, crossing my path at the moment I was starting to take my leave of the corner. I apparently stepped back, a little bewildered, while my mom screamed obscenities. Then I went on about my day.

I do not remember this moment. To be clear when she asked me about it, I was confused. I have no recollection of ever being “almost hit” at high school. I guess it just wasn’t a big deal to me. But to my mother, to any mother, it would be the sort of heart-sinking feeling you don’t forget.

It’s funny what we remember and what we don’t. What sticks with us. What teaches us lessons. I’ve always been careful when crossing a street. And I’ve crossed a lot of streets alone, even as a child. And maybe there was a reason. Maybe this was the reason. I just don’t know.

Remember to look both ways, y’all.

M.

Arizona Time

I’m still on Arizona time, which is three hours behind our time. Which is why I’m wide awake at 2:00 am, contemplating life, as I stare at the light coming through the crack in the curtain. Well, it’s part of the reason. There are other reasons.

Like, my child is going on his first-field trip alone tomorrow. He won’t be alone, alone, just without me. I’ve ALWAYS chaperoned his field trips, but I didn’t this one, and I’m nervous. It’s to the Holocaust Museum at Kennesaw State. I’m not worried about the subject matter (we took him to the Smithsonian one in Washington, DC earlier this year), it’s all the other things that worry me. Will he take the time to stop and eat his lunch? Will he be mindful of his actions? Will he be respectful of the history? Will he ask pointed and thoughtful questions? Will he let his best buddies get him off track? Will the bus be safe on the highway? Will his teacher be nearby if gets sad? I have concerns.

Then there’s all the other things of life. My work I’ve been putting off, with the deadline this week. My mom’s last three days in town with us. Halloween. Spirit Night. Field Day. Husband leaving for another week of work. Dentist appointment. Therapy. It’s all happening this week. And it’s all piling on top of the fact that I was gone for five days. There’s guilt there, right? Even though there shouldn’t be. Even though my husband and son haven’t said anything about it. It’s just there. In my head. Mom guilt.

Today I told my husband I’m always afraid when I leave, that they will realize they get along fine without me. Worst fear, right? That you’re not the glue that holds the family together. He was shocked. He scoffed a little and said, “Yeah, we get by. But that’s all we do. Get by.” Then he hugged me and told me he was glad to have me home. The dog, he informed me, had been depressed. This I could believe.

So yeah. I’m wide awake at 2:00 am. But it’s only 11:00 pm in Tucson. So, it’s not too bad.

M.

Old Eckerd and Gov’ment Cheese

I learned about commodities early on. Maybe first grade with Mrs. Heim, the teacher who also owned a dairy farm. Or maybe second grade with Mrs. Parker, the teacher who taught us how to balance checkbooks and pretended like I didn’t toot right next to her at reading time. Either way, what I was taught in school about “commodities” was not the experience I had with “commodities,” and it took me years to work it all out in my head. My trusty Pocket Oxford tells me that “commodities” is: “A raw material or primary agricultural product that can be bought and sold, such as copper or coffee.” But when I was a kid and heard the word “commodities” it meant standing in long lines at the Kansas National Guard Armory on Fourth Street for hours on end, in the blistering cold, and the sticky heat, waiting for bags and boxes of government cheese.

What I am talking about is quite simply the Commodity Supplemental Food Program. It is a government-sponsored program that serves low-income households, with one or more assistance programs in place, several times a year, by supplementing household food staples like rice, canned milk, cheese, cereal, eggs, and non-perishable, canned foods. This was all true when I was a kid, though when I Google the program now it seems to be aimed at people 60 years and older. Which is great, because I know a lot of senior citizens who benefit from this program, but I hope they still offer commodities to EVERYONE who needs it, because I know there are still families and young children who would benefit from this program as well.

Regardless, I have a few, sporadic memories of sitting on the cold, concrete floors of the Armory Building (which is now a CVS Pharmacy, but not before it was an Eckerd Pharmacy, so now it’s just called “Old Eckerd,” by my mother, rather than the “old Armory” or “CVS.” And, as if you needed to ask, she just doesn’t trust “Old Eckerd.”) Anywho, Old Eckerd is where we went twice a year to pick up our gov’ment cheese, among other commodities, but oh the cheese.

What does gov’ment cheese taste like, Missy? The best I can come up with on the cheese is this. Go to Kroger, or Food Lion, and buy yourself a knock-off version of Velveeta Cheese, you know the kind that’s in a cardboard box, and you have to lift the lid off, then pull out the silver-wrapped, sticky cheese? Yeah, buy yourself a knock-off brand of that. Then go home, open it up, place it in your shower and go on about your business. Take your showers, but don’t touch the cheese, then around day four cut a slice off and eat it. Yep, that’s what Old Eckerd, gov’ment cheese tastes like.

Listen, I am not knocking this program. It was and still is a very necessary program. And I am happy that it exists, and I was happy to eat the food when we got it, though mainly it was evaporated milk and the absolute grossest peanut butter I have ever had in my life. It’s the same peanut butter they stick in MREs for the Army when they go out to the field, and trust, it is not good. But again, it’s free. And at the end of the month, when your family’s food stamps ran out, and you were between paychecks, it was the best peanut butter you have ever had. Especially on some unsalted, saltines…

And I know, I know, you think I am making this up. But nah. It’s real. So real in fact, that my mom still, to this day, has canned milk in her pantry. I can’t tell you what year it is from, but my best guess would be 1990, pre-Operation Desert Storm. So yeah, there’s that.

Now don’t all of you run out at once and try to get you some pre-Operation Desert Storm, gov’ment cheese. Check with your local “Old Eckerd” for times and assistance. But if you are ever in the market for some recipes on how to make some scratch biscuits from one can of milk and two packets of salt, hit me up. And if you absolutely have no idea what I am talking about, then good on you, and your rich, son-of-a-bitch family.

But for real, educate yourself on the needs of Americans living below the poverty line (https://www.fns.usda.gov/csfp/commodity-supplemental-food-program) and always vote yes for taxes that help kids and senior citizens!

M.

429 Delaware Street

On the corner of Delaware and Fifth Streets in my hometown sits an old, red brick building. The Leavenworth Historical Society calls this building an example of “early 20th Century Revival and Colonial Revival design,” built at the turn of the 20th century. The locals just call it “The Corner Pharmacy.” My mom and I would go down to The Corner Pharmacy when I was a kid, on Saturday afternoons if she had a little change in her pocket, for a grilled cheese sandwich—and if we were lucky—a milkshake to boot. Sometimes we’d stop in for a late breakfast after particularly early basketball games at Nettie Hartnett Elementary. The grill was always piping hot on those Saturdays, with what seemed like a hundred fried egg sandwiches lined up in a row. The Corner Pharmacy was a pharmacy, but it was so much more than that. It was one of the last true relics of small-town prairie life, in a Kansas town that was quickly learning that if it was going to stay relevant, some things would need to change.

If you ask anyone born and raised in Leavenworth they can tell you countless stories about The Corner Pharmacy. The friendly Pharmacist, old whats-his-name, his wife, and teenage son. It was all very Olive Kitteridge from the outside. At some point he’d opened up the diner on the east side of the building and started flipping those fried egg sandwiches for waiting customers. They can tell you, some in painstaking detail, about the black pier frames, and single bay windows extending above the parapet, the wide entablature and decorative cornice, but if you ask what was above The Corner Pharmacy, who sat behind those old bay windows, they might not know. But I do.

In the spring of 1987, I was just finishing up my first year of kindergarten. I had a pretty good handle on my numbers, all the way up past 100. You can ask my mom, I recited them to her ad nauseam while she cleaned the floors, or dusted the wooden window sills, or mowed the yard with the old green push mower. I would walk behind her, believing she could hear me, believing she wanted to hear me, and recite all I had learned. I could count by ones, twos, fives, or tens. Lady’s choice. I was proud. I stuck my chest out, though it still didn’t poke out further than my round belly. I could read. I could write. I was even doing math, a fact that amazed my mother who often said math was her worst subject.

That spring, however, my mother was given an opportunity to finish something she had given up on a long time before, her high school education. On the second floor of 429 Delaware, directly over The Corner Pharmacy, a class was being assembled. A GED class. One for women and men. For those who received assistance from the state, from the government. For people who wanted to better their lives and the lives of their children. And my mom nervoulsy signed up.

I don’t know the logistics of the class. I don’t remember who taught it, or how many times we had to go downtown to the stuffy, carpeted room above The Corner Pharmacy, but I do remember my mother’s scowled face, as she sat on a metal chair, next to another woman, and did math calculations that made no sense to me. I remember sitting under the plastic and metal folding tables, while she worked out the equations, often thrusting her hands below the table to count on her fingers, while the teacher reminded her to try to do “mental math.” I’d count my numbers in my head every time the teacher said that. Hoping to send some of those important numbers telepathically to my mom.

Of course, my mom wasn’t doing kindergarten math. She was doing high school algebra, which if I am being honest, might as well been a foreign language to her, and years later to me. But in that hot room, with a laundry basket of used toys to keep me occupied, and those big bay windows to peer out of, I didn’t know any of that then. I just knew that every time my mother got frustrated, every time she closed the book in aggravation, every time she told the teacher she just couldn’t do it, someone, either the teacher or some other student in the room, would assure her that she could.

Some days I couldn’t stand to watch her make her way through her workbook, so I would sit in those bay windows and watch the traffic below. I would wonder what a “GED” was, whether or not I would have to take the same test, whether or not I would be good at math. I would keep quiet, hold my bladder the whole time, and never interrupt my mother. I may not have understood what was happening, or the gravity of the situation. The way that this had the potential to change my mother’s life. Our lives. But I knew it was important to her, even if I didn’t know or couldn’t remember why. The only thing I do remember, with great certainty, is the day the brown envelope came in the mail. The way she opened it up, smiled down at that piece of paper, said she had done it, she had passed her test, then promptly hid the certificate in her top drawer. Never to be discussed again.

My mom made a decision that day in the spring of 1987, and while all that hard work, those calculations, and late nights may have only amounted to a dollar more an hour at her job, it did wonders for me. It did wonders for my commitment to education, the value I know it can bring to your life. I’m a first-generation college graduate, but I am not a first-generation high school graduate, thanks in part, to the room behind the bay windows on top of The Corner Pharmacy.

M.

The Big Easy

We’ve been in Louisiana again this week. The last time we left Baton Rouge I said, “Good riddance, may I never see you again!” Then I screamed something in made-up French like, “Tu es stupide et je ne te reverrai jamais! Je ne laisserai pas les bons moments rouler! Puis-je ne jamais vous revoir!” And flipped I-12 the bird. Anywho, I’m back.

This time we had my mom with us. Which was good, in a way, because Jerimiah, Jackson, Duke, and I are way over the touristy stuff, (which is what we had to do again on Sunday because my mom had never been to New Orleans!) So there we were, back in NOLA and doing the touristy-type things again, when it hit us why we are not fans: New Orleans is just a really sad place, y’all. Well, most of the Deep South is, but New Orleans is worse because of the tourists that come through and wreck the city, deplete the resources, don’t give two shits about the local people, and do it all while they are drunk and screaming, “Laissez le bon temps rouler!” So I guess it isn’t NOLA that I dislike, it’s the people who come and treat it like shit. Then try to make up for it by throwing a few bucks in a street performer bucket, or take a Haunted Tour and pretend they don’t really just want to stop at the baby grave yard for beers. (Listen, I’ve done that nonsense before. I’ve been to Mardi Gras as a dumb, 20-something, and I’m sorry. You live, you learn. #WhiteDumbGirlShit)

But my mom, on the other hand, is a 75-year-old white girl who just wanted to see the sights, take pics of the Catholic Basilica for her Catholic friends, and step foot on a streetcar. No hand grenades need apply. So we did that. She had an experience for sure (pics below). We took her on the streetcar and the city bus, because the streetcar on Canal is down near the portion of Canal Street where the Hard Rock Hotel came crumbling down, killing one and injuring dozens more. (They are still looking for three more people who are lost in the rubble.) So we had to take a bus around that location. Then we walked down to Jackson Square, had lunch at the Market Cafe, walked through the French Market, and made our way up Bourbon Street. My mom was in awe of the massive amounts of people, meanwhile this was the least crowded I’ve ever seen the French Quarter. And it was only 80 degrees out and we were boiling hot, so there’s that. But still, a ton of drunk people by noon, the smell of urine wafting through the air, and horse shit, always horse shit. Oh, French Quarter.

And there I was. Looking at Jerimiah. Eyeing Jackson. We all had that look in our eyes. That look that said, “This doesn’t feel right.” Because well, it just doesn’t. I know, I know, New Orleans is a tourist Mecca for fun, but honestly, it’s so much more than that. There is so much history there, so much wrongdoing went on there. So much still left to fix, and well, the three of us are just too sensitive to that sort of thing. We trudged on. We drove my mom through the Lower Ninth Ward because she didn’t understand what levees we were talking about, and that felt wrong. It felt wrong for her not to understand the devastation that happened there, but it also felt wrong to be tourists in a neighborhood where people are still just trying to get by, to rebuild, to forget about being treated like animals. But geez, there’s no way to forget. And forgive. How could there be?

And maybe that’s it. Maybe I have only known the post-Katrina New Orleans. Maybe it used to be different than it is now. Maybe it was more fun back then. Maybe the locals were more forgiving. Maybe there was more harmony, but if there was, it isn’t there anymore. The locals don’t like the tourists, but understand their necessity. The tourists vomit and pee on the street corners where slave auctions took place in the 1700s. So I mean… While we were eating lunch we watched a white man and a black man get into a fight over bread on the ground at Jackson Square. It was a silly situation, but the emotions were real. And the anger wasn’t really about bread on the ground.

So yeah, it’s some depressing shit. But there’s no real way for people like me, white people with privilege, to talk about shame without making the “other” feel like shit or seeming to use them as fodder, so I gotta stop. Here’s some pictures of my mom enjoying her first (and probably only) time in The Big Easy. I think she had all the fun she could stand.

M.

Pole dancing because “Laissez le bon temps rouler!”
A very empty Bourbon Street. But not without the smells…
Jackson Square: Jackson smoking a candy cigarette because New Orleans. #SmokeEmIfYouGotEm
Mom found a gator. #ChootIt
Crossing back to the Upper Ninth Ward, from the Lower Ninth Ward.

The Laundry Room

I was chatting with a friend the other day, when we veered into childhood anxiety—of which we both suffered from—and I remembered that I was claustrophobic for like five years as a kid. I had forgotten about it, because it’s something that I grew out of. In fact, nowadays I feel safest when any door I am behind is closed and locked, but when I was in elementary school I couldn’t deal with a closed door, let alone a locked one.

It started when my nephew, Little Scottie, and I were playing as kids. Little Scottie was my brother’s son. My brother and his girlfriend had Little Scottie when they were teenagers, and because my brother is 14 years older than me, I ended up being two years older than my nephew, which meant we were more like brother and sister, and we treated each other like that too. Mainly teasing and taunting, always picking at each other.

One day, when I was in kindergarten, which would have made Little Scottie about four, we were playing hide-and-seek and I ran into the laundry room to hide. He saw me hiding behind the dryer (I wasn’t a good hider) and when I jumped out to scare him, he grabbed the door knob and slammed the door closed before I could get him. I heard him go running down the hall screaming waiting for me to chase him, the only problem was that when he had slammed the old wooden door shut, it jammed. And just like that I was stuck in a small room.

I immediately panicked. That’s my gut reaction to all situations. I screamed for Little Scottie, but he was no doubt hiding somewhere far away. I looked around frantically trying to figure out what my options were. There was a small window in the laundry room that overlooked the front porch where the adults were all sitting. So I ran to the window, too small to see out of it, and screamed as loud as I could for as long as I could until I heard the commotion of people coming inside wondering what was wrong.

My mom got to the door first and tried to open it, but it wouldn’t budge. “Missy,” her voice came through the door, “Unlock the door!” I explained through sobs at this point, that the door wasn’t locked. I heard someone say it was jammed then, and she tried the door again but this time used some muscle. Nothing.

Someone, maybe my brother, maybe my nephew’s step-dad, got the idea to come to the window and try to reach in and pull me out. They got the screen off, but I couldn’t get myself far enough up to them, and they were too big to fit far enough in to grab me. It occurred to me then, that this was my life. I’d have to live in the laundry room for the rest of my life. My mom would come bring my food through the window, and I’d spend my days listening to the neighbor kids play on my swing set in the front yard. The sobs came louder and quicker.

“Hold on now, Missy,” my mom’s voice came from the other side of the door, “I’m gonna pull these panels out.” Turns out it was one of those old, wooden doors that had slats in it. So with a little help from whomever that man was, and a hammer, my mom was able to pull the slats from the door until there was a hole large enough to pull me out. Whew! I was free. But that’s when the claustrophobia first started. For years afterward I would cry if I was left in a room with a closed door. Even when I was playing with friends. I’d always eye the door, ask them to keep it slightly ajar.

Eventually my fear subsided, and so did my friendship with my nephew. We grew apart. And three years ago he was murdered in cold blood by a monster of a man, and I never got to tell him that I know he didn’t jam the door on purpose. That I know he was just as scared as I was that day. That I still remember his little red face, matching his bright red hair, and the way he ran up to give me a hug when I was free that day. I can still see and feel it all. The warm sunshine of the day outside, pulsing down on my arms. And I hope he can too.

❤️

M.

Do You Like Wigs and Birds?

My mom wears a wig. She wouldn’t mind me telling you that, because she tells everyone that. When we walk into a restaurant, or a store, and another woman looks at my mom and says, “Oh I love your hair!” she immediately says, “Oh, it’s a wig.” Ahhhh! Stop it, I tell her later. Just say thank you and move on. But she has to say it, and I get why. It’s the same reason that I have to make a fat joke about myself whenever I am surrounded by thin women. I have to show them that I know that I am fat. I have to show them that I know that they know. We have to say it to clear the air, because we assume everyone is thinking it. It’s a thing, we all have our things. Moving on. I’ve been to three wig shops in the last three days. This is a new experience for me, and for my mom.

My mom isn’t new to wigs. She wore them when she was younger. Much younger. In her twenties and thirties. When I look back at the pictures of my mom holding me as a baby, her hair was black, and long, and always pulled up into a beehive of sorts. It was years later that I found out that wasn’t really her hair, well all of it. She wore wiglets, and wigs, and weaves, and wow!

The older I got the shorter her hair became. She stopped wearing the wigs, and decided to take care of her natural hair. But years of torture to her hair, four babies, not eating healthy, it all adds up and about ten years ago her hair started to really thin out. She fought it, and fought it, doing her weekly curling of her hair, and her semi-annual perms (that she did herself, or roped one of us kids into doing it for her). I did many of them, for many years. So much in fact that my childhood smells like hair chemicals in hot bathrooms. Oh, the headaches. Here’s a pic of my mom and sister, Belinda, in Michigan in the 70s. It was a “curler” day.

But she finally decided to go back to wigs a couple of years ago, and she asked me to take her to a wig shop in Charlotte, where I was living at the time. I Googled “Wigs Nearby” and only one popped up, so we went. It ended up being a very lovely, albeit pricey, place with many different styles and a no-nonsense kind of owner, who sort of told my mom what she was going to buy. I bought her that first (but not first)wig and we went on about our lives. She wore the heck out if, everyday, mostly all day for about a year. Then when we moved to Atlanta last year and she came to visit I took her to a “new” kind of wig shop. Think: Pink hair, blue afros, etc. It was a little unusual, and I wasn’t sure we’d find anything for her. In fact, we felt a little out of place when we first walked in, but by the time we had left she had a new red wig with blond bangs (not kidding) and she loved it! She wore it to church the first day she got home and all her friends LOVED it!

Then, because she hadn’t cared for wigs in so long, she sort of messed up her wigs. She combed them when they were wet! Gasp! She cut one of them herself. Eye roll. She even used normal hair shampoo on her synthetic wigs. Oh my! (BTW, neither of us knew this was all wrong! Haha. Remember, we are learning.)

So last week when she got here we watched some YouTube videos. We Googled, “how to wash synthetic wig hair,” we watched videos, read articles, and went to three new wig shops. And lo and behold she found herself two new wigs that look fantastic on her. And we paid half of what we did for the first one! So yeah, we are learning. Here’s a pic she wouldn’t want me to share with one of her new ones on (shh, don’t tell her):

Yeah, she’s single guys. She’s single, 75 years old, and ready to mingle. As long as you don’t mind wigs and birds. But NO “Trump fans” need apply, she isn’t having any of that nonsense.

Love you, Momma. Just wish you would have bought that long, pink one. Maybe next time.

M.