They’re all my chairs, but you can sit in that one (a reprise)

I wrote this post in tribute to my grandmother on her birthday seven years ago. She was Thanksgiving to me.

My grandmother, who we called Big Mama, lived life large. She was quite the character and was unlike the acquiescent namesake in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” She would tell you what she thought and was usually pretty funny in so doing. The title of this post is one of her familiar sayings. When she would get up from her chair to go in the nearby kitchen to begin cooking, we would ask if we could sit in her chair. To which she would respond, “They’re all my chairs, but you can sit in that one.”

Big Mama would have been 103 on her birthday next week, so she is in my thoughts. Although, she died fifteen years ago, her memories and funny stories echo and certain events will bring them to the forefront of my mind. In addition to being a character, she was a person of character. My grandmother had a tough time the last ten years of her life, as she worked on her feet most of her life as a clothing sales person. With osteoporosis, her body would begin falling apart and she would often fall breaking things. In fact, one doctor said he believed her hip just broke, then she fell.

She ran the Boys and Men’s Clothing sections of the stores where she worked in a large, small town. Her clients were lifelong, as men would get out of college and go see her to be fitted with a business wardrobe. My favorite story about Big Mama was when she teased her cheap boss in front of the President of the company who had come to visit. After lending the President her pen to write something down, he put it in his pocket. She said, “Sir, that is my penMy boss is too cheap to buy us pens, so I brought that one from home.”  That got a chuckle, albeit a nervous one from her boss. She made the company so much money, she would not get chastised for telling the painful truth.

Yet, when I think about Big Mama, I think of Thanksgiving. Our ritual was to pack up our family and go to her house for the holiday. The family of one of my mother’s sisters would attend as would several of Big Mama’s close by siblings and their spouses, whose kids lived far away. Even after she could not walk much, my wife and I would go and she would direct us on how to make the various dishes. With her fingers ravaged by arthritis, I would tell her as she would micromanage too much, “Big Mama, don’t point that crooked finger at me,” to which she would laugh. To do this day, I make Big Mama’s cornbread dressing, which is the name it is given. To me, it is my way of paying it forward, as our house has become the go-to house for Thanksgiving.

Big Mama was the next youngest of a family of twelve. The rhythm method was not very effective as a birth control means. She got her large personality from her mother, whom everyone in the community called Mama, even my mother and her sisters. Mama was also the local medicine woman, as the hospital was so far away. Big Mama told us the story of her younger brother who knocked his front teeth out as he attempted being a gymnast unsuccessfully. Mama sat him down and boiled some water, while she rinsed his teeth off. She placed a towel in the hot water and gave it a quick rinse and told her youngest son to shove the towel into his gums. The gums swelled up and she jammed his teeth back in and they held. Big Mama learned from the best.

I have written before about my quiet grandfather. He and Big Mama were a perfect match, a yin and yang. My grandfather that I knew was my step grandfather, as Big Mama’s first husband did not stay home very much. She divorced him at a time when few people did, so it shows that she was not going to live with her mistake any longer. Being a small community, everyone understood. But, her greatest heartbreak was when she had to bury her youngest child, my favorite aunt. No mother or father should have to bury a child. I cannot imagine a greater heartbreak. While hard, we are heartbroken, but less surprised when we have to bury a spouse as we know that is part of the pact. Yet, a child should outlive his or her parents. Even when the child is in her fifties, it is still hard, especially after the child had health issues all her life.

She mourned my aunt’s passing until she died. Like any mother and daughter, they butted heads, but loved each other greatly. We all did. Big Mama, you are the best. You are one of the biggest characters I have known. You also were a person of character. We are better for having known you and you are still missed. Happy Birthday.

True story of a community health care provider 100 years ago

I have shared before stories about my maternal grandmother’s family. She grew up in southwest Georgia in a small community along with her thirteen siblings, with one passing at birth and another dying as a young adult. My grandmother shared that her Mama was the chief health provider in the community and would accompany the visiting doctor when he would make his rounds once a month.

The following two paragraphs were written by my third cousin based on interviews with his grandmother (a sister of my grandmother) and her brother who was the youngest of the surviving children. It is further evidence of their Mama’s health care role, using a very appropriate historical marker in one episode.

“There was a bad flu epidemic in 1918 and five of the children were in the bed with the flu at one time. People all around were dying, and my great uncle tells me he vividly remembers the hearse passing their home several times during this flu epidemic. The hearse was a glass enclosed carriage drawn by big white horses. My great grandmother was able to get her children well by using a home remedy of kerosene, turpentine and tallow. She made bibs, soaked them in the above mixture and placed them on the sick children. Also, they had cedar water buckets that were smaller at the top than bottom. They would fill the eight-to-ten- quart bucket with water and put a little fresh turpentine in it and drink it for colds.

Other home remedies included using the gland from a hog and placing it on the clothes line to dry out. When it dried, my great grandmother would boil the gland and remove the jell which was used for arthritis. She called this jell ‘pizzle grease.’ She did not understand or have the education to know why it worked, she only knew it did. Today this ‘pizzle grease’ is know as ACTH which is a polypeptide hormone of the anterior part of the pituitary gland that stimulates hormone production of the adrenal cortex and is used to treat arthritis.”

Let me add one more story that I have shared earlier. The youngest sibling noted above liked being a gymnast. When he was an adolescent, he was swinging his whole body over a single bar like the male gymnasts do. He fell and knocked out his front teeth. Mama asked him to sit down as she cleaned the teeth and boiled some water. Once boiled, she put a clean towel in the water and rinsed it with cold water. She said put this in your mouth as hot as you can stand it. This was to swell his gums. Once swollen, she jammed the cleaned teeth back into the gums and the teeth held.

These stories amaze me at her ingenuity and practicality. A couple of sidebars to this story, my great grandmother married when she was only fourteen, begetting fourteen children. My third cousin also writes the family survived the depression, as did many farmers, by growing their own crops, raising their own meat sources and making their own soaps. He noted they only bought sugar and coffee. They had no electricity using kerosene lamps and wood stoves (in a separate from the house kitchen). And, water was stored in two 66 2/3 gallon barrels they called Hogsheads, which sat in the covered walkway to the kitchen.

We should remember these stories when we complain the wi-fi is down or the power goes out. Please feel free to share your reactions and own stories in the comments.

Of all the people

One of my favorite bosses had a unique way of not saying something bad about another person, while getting his point across. He would say about the person who consistently wronged others, “Of all the people in the world, he certainly is one of them.”

This comment would draw the appropriate chuckle. I mention this as name calling and insulting folks are becoming too much the norm. Civil discourse is increasingly rare. It is important to respond to some criticism, but do so without stooping to the level of the offender, who is baiting you. And, sometimes it is best not to respond at all.

A good example is arguing with folks like Donald Trump. He wants a mud fight, as his arguments are so poor. He would rather engage in a Twitter fight, so he can feign being insulted and attack back. Plus, with only 140 characters, it is easier for him to call someone the devil, crooked, stupid, weak, loser, ugly, etc. than actually debate points. Like many narcissists, he has a hard time seeing his role in the argument.

The best thing to do with folks like a Trump is push back with civil disagreement. I have said before being politically incorrect does not give anyone the right to lie or be a jerk. It does not give anyone the right to name call or demean people. A disarming comment is to say “I understand your points, but do not agree with them.” This works with many who feel if you just understood their arguments, you would agree with them, so it is an unnerving comeback.

Yet, when faced with such a mean-spirited and divisive person, we cannot be silent. Trump is relentless in his attacks and uses a false bravado that carries more weight than it should. My grandmother said the louder someone shouts, the worse his argument. Also, be very respectful of quiet strength. My grandfather said little and rarely raised his voice, but you listened when he talked.

We must stick to the issues and when Trump attacks with venom, focus on the attack and push back with data and conviction. His attack on Muslim American parents who lost a son in Iraq was not only wrong and spiteful, it also revealed extremely poor judgment that he actually thought it was a good idea to attack a family who lost a son fighting for our country. Yet, that is the nature of the man, as for some reason, he will not argue points, but prefer to attack the person making the arguments.

There is one thing for certain, a President is going to hear a great deal of dissent, so temperament and judgment are key attributes, that this candidate seems to lack. And, a final piece advice he should heed is when you dig yourself a hole, stop digging.

Happy Easter Egg

My grandmother used to wish us “Happy Easter Egg!” Either by phone or in person for Easter egg hunts, she would be exuberant in her wishes for her six grandchildren.

My grandmother, whom we called “Big Mama,” was indeed a character. Unlike, the Big Mama in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” she would be more than a match for Tennessee Williams’ Big Daddy.

She loved telling stories about her large family, all of whom were characters. She called her sister Carrie Bell, “Cowbell,” and loved to hear her tease back. When I asked if I could sit in her chair when she went into the kitchen, she would respond “They’re all my chairs, but you can sit in that one.”

I think about her around Thanksgiving and Easter, as we often visited on those holidays. So, Big Mama, “Happy Easter Egg” up there in heaven. And, don’t tease St. Peter too much.

Safe travels and take along an extra dose of patience

In spite of retailers trying to steal the thunder, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It means time with family and friends. My favorite memories as a child were going to my grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving. Now, we have that house, where we will host 15 or more folks for dinner. And, we honor my grandmother, who we called Big Mama, by making her cornbread dressing.

I have written before about Big Mama and Granddaddy. They were each very special people and very different personalities. My grandfather was very quiet and worked with his hands building houses. He also loved to fish and we would leave early morning to drive to the lake returning with endless lines of fish.

Big Mama was a character and had character. She was very funny and was as talkative as my grandfather was quiet. She worked in retail sales for years and had relationships with families as she helped dress their kids all the way through college. Yet, unlike today, she did not work in the store on Thanksgiving.

I bring this up today, as I want people to travel safely to their many destinations. This goes for folks in other countries as they begin travel for their various holidays and year-end events. With things that have occurred in Paris, Beirut, Egypt and Mali recently, we need to remind ourselves to live our lives to their fullest and hug our friends and loved ones closely when we see them.

And, as we travel, please take along an extra dose of patience. Many travel officials are doing their darnedest to make us safe from those who want to do people harm. Help them, help you by being patient, considerate and kind. Expect and plan for travel delays. And, always remember, we choose how we react to things. Don’t cede that power and get flustered by things that are outside of your control. People in line behind you do not want to be in the line with the exasperated or angry traveler, just as you don’t want to be behind one yourself.

Happy Thanksgiving all. Safe travels and may the force (of patience) be with you.