Me and my dear Mama. We are still learning to live together - again. When she cooks she takes a loooooong time. Even if she is just microwaving soup. This is why her microwave soup is better than mine. I want everything in a hurry. Because I am busy with other things. Many other things.
We like to watch different things on television. She likes Fox news. I prefer the BBC. She likes Family Feud. I like Orphan Black. But we both seek to find common ground there as well and we do. Like Grantchester. Since the season finale. I'm searching for a new weekly place we can call a truce and break bread together good old american style in front of the television.
So I was on my way home from running fourteen hours of errands. The last of which was to stop by PETSMART and buy an ELECTRIC LITTER PAN for mom's fat cat. She says changing it breaks her back. Changing it makes me angry. I'm the one that has to drag in the forty five pound box of cat litter weekly after wrestling it into the buggy and then out of the buggy into the car and out of the car into the house and by the time I get to the cat pan I am A LITTLE PUT OUT.
The cat hisses at me and swipes it's claws at me every time I walk past the bed after giving mom her morning medicine. This is the truth. My mom even says - why does she do that? I say I do not know. But it may be because I 'assist' her to go into the bedroom and close the door behind her when she is trying to throw herself down on the floor and NOT GO.
I have had cats and kittens all of my growing up life. Kittens are one of my first memories. My cat Moses that finally had to say goodbye was 21 years old because I kept him alive and alive and alive. That being said - when I walked into the Pet store and wrestled this 200 pound electric cat pan box deluxe edition with hood and auto scooper poopy thing into the buggy, a woman that worked there took one look at my disheveled tired beyond belief face and said -
"You are tired. Can I help you?"
"I hate my mother's cat."
This might not be the kind of response she expected.
"It hisses at me and swipes it's claws at me every time I walk past it."
She said she was sorry again and asked, "Has she been declawed? Sometimes that can make them mean and angry."
"No, we can't do that because we did it to a white Persian we had when I was a kid and she got out and then never came back and my mother knew she couldn't climb a tree or defend herself so it was a tragedy. It has always been a tragedy. Everytime declawing comes up we have to have a moment of silence for Beabea."
By now I have made it to the dog food aisle and appear to be wandering aimlessly. Lost in tragic memory.
"Beabea was a fine cat. My mom's cat is just a - - -"
"Mam, you are in the dog food isle now."
She thinks I've lost my mind.
"Yes, I know what aisle I'm in. We buy my mother's dog food here."
"Oh, what do you get?"
"Blue stuff. I don't remember. Maybe purple stuff."
"Does it look like this? Or this?" She is doing anything to 'assist me' out of the store.
"It doesn't matter. We just bought his food."
Her face goes from perplexed to perplexed on steroids.
"I'm looking for food for a rescue dog."
"Ohhhh, that's nice. Let me recommend this big chunk on special protein no gmo all natural 40,000 dollars a bag for a fifty pound bag."
"The rescue's name is Kevin. Kevin has heart worms."
She pauses. I'm her saddest lot customer of the day.
"Let me see if I can find you a coupon for you that will work."
"Yes, please. A coupon would be very nice."
She finds a manager to override the expiration date on the coupon.
I load the automatic cat litter cleaner with the fifty pound bag of dog food in the car.
After all of this I call mom to tell her I was finally on the way home. AND NOT TO COOK ANYTHING. Because I just wanted to unload the car and pour a glass of wine and watch Grantchester without the sound and distraction of cooking. It was too late. When I called she said I'm cooking chicken thighs. I told her - "Okay fine. If you insist on cooking Then I'm going to church."
I turned the car toward downtown and went to the Breaking Bread at 6 at Christ Cathedral. All because I just couldn't stand to go home and be homey. The service is CASUAL. Last week the priest said - if you have children with you - and then I expected the normal get up and take them to Sunday school but, No. He says just let them be children and make noise if they need to and wander around the sanctuary. They need to feel welcome. I'm thinking - HA! One trip with my precious little Damon will put an end to those rules.
Then we have communion up at the alter and the little children are comfortable being themselves. We get to the point in the service where the Peace is shared and everyone shakes hands with EVERYONE so there is a lot of peace going around. Then we move into communion and everyone is standing in a circle. There is a little girl screaming peesse peesse peesse over and over so I just close my eyes and look down and try to tune her out but she keeps screaming peesse peesse peessee in a two year old voice. Then the woman on my right taps me and says - she's trying to give you peace. I look up and it's the two year old in her mothers arms screaming peessee at me with her little hand stuck out wanting to shake. I shake hands with her, say Peace and she snaps her hand back. Business taken care of. No more chit chat.I go home. Have a tiny glass of wine. Then unload all of it in the house. I open the four thousand parts to the litter pan and begin to read the instructions.
They are too complicated. I leave it for tomorrow.
I pour more wine.
It's time for Grantchester.
Me and momma sit down and break bread over chicken thighs and rice.
The fat cat is locked in the bedroom. The dogs do not eat their expensive non-gmo dogfood. They stared at us with superpowerdogeyes and practiced their hypnotic mind games.
My hate for the cat downshifted to dislike. My like for that Granchester priest grew and for an hour something like peessee settled about the house.
Hope you are finding a little Peace in your corner of the world because it sure is something we need a little more of right now.
*Post script - The FAT Cat has used the auto box 57 times. It's suppose to last a month. It lasted a week. I changed the box last night. It weighed 10042 pounds. I hate that cat.
Friday is such a wonderful day to say - WHAT DID I EVEN DO THIS WEEK? I mean where did it go? Which made me think - I should write stuff down then I'd know.
I broke up a dog fight between Kevin the Rescue and Duncan the Dangit. Blending a family can be difficult when one of you has been a survivor eating from trash cans and possibly surviving on strange little creatures that run through the night (I'm not thinking about that part but I do kinda sleep with one eye open just in case I'm looking tasty). The FAT CAT STARTED IT with a HISS and the dogs bumped into each other trying to get away. Hissing starts a lot of problems always. If you are in an elevator and someone hisses at you there will be trouble before you can get out at the next floor. If you hiss at me in an elevator I will think you are turning into some kind of zombie thing because we are in an elevator in a medical building and they have been experimenting on you. I am not going to be your next zombie thing. So stop hissing. Sure, I have days where I'm tried enough to think - ok, sure just go ahead and eat my brain but then I will think NO!!!! I do not like hissing and I will think of Mom's fat cat and how many times I've had to clean that litter pan (the cat has been on a diet for weeks and the pan is still full every night. She does this out of spite) and I will take my fifty thousand pound purse and clobber you. I will go batcave crazy on you so that you will take those zombie fingers and try to escape. Crazy will neutralize zombie. Because let's face it you just left that doctor office and are just having the first twitches of what's to come and I'll be long gone and on the highway before you get that full on zombie strength.
Week in Review.
My adorable grandson told me if I didn't stop singing in the car he was going to throw up. So I sang louder. To which he replied - I'm not kidding ZAZA if you don't stop singing I'm going to throw up. When I checked the rearview mirror he was searching for something to use as a bucket. This actually happened a few weeks ago but to prove I don't hold grudges I picked him up for a sleep over this week. He ate watermelon and read books and watched Mickey mouse and helped make biscuits and ate more watermelon and played in a that little seven dollar pool like we were at the Holiday Inn. Laughter and storytelling ensued. I did not sing.
My mother used to sing to me. I never told her that she was about to make me throw up. The singing always came with rocking. I was a sucker for a good rocking so no matter what she sung I was quiet and just took in a good rocking. She had a regular playlist. These were my lullabies.
*Keep a moving Dan he's a devil not a man and he (something about lying) and water. It's a song about a man on a horse going through the desert with no water and they are both going to die and you know it even when you are four years old.
*Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley cause poor boy your bound to die. This is a song about a boy being hung and who is going to die.
*The green Green Grass of home. - Pretty much ditto
*Frankie and Johnny were lovers. - somebody dies but this one was at least upbeat
*Beautiful, beautiful brown eyes - I'll never love blue eyes again. Or something like that. I think somebody dies.
*Amazing Grace. - Nobody dies in the song but it is sung at every funeral I've ever attended.
Then I grow up and wonder what with the funerals and the lullabies why I write something called Southern Gothic fiction.
I went to the doctor this week and Mama went to the doctor this week. I was in and out. When I go to the doctor with Mama it is an all day event. Or it feels that way. We must pack three bags for Mom. One that is her purse that weighs 150,000 pounds which I offer to carry because I'm a good daughter. I do not understand what in the world can make this woman's purse so heavy. You would think she is smuggling guns. (She's not for the record for little robots that pick up things like that and report them to the authorities it's just gummakeupmedicinehairbrushchainpurseextrajewelry-penspapercheckbookwalletpictureshairclipsgemclipslipstick-fourteenpagesofnoneofyourbusinessandsoon) We have another bag that is just for her book and her cold water and extra tissues. We have another bag that will go unnamed. We must be a sight to behold as we totter to the elevator with me carrying the bags and holding her hand to help her walk only by now I can't walk so we just look like two drunks trying to make it out of the bar except we are just trying to get into the office and sign her in where I will tell them a story about why we are late because of what she decided she HAD TO DO right when it was time to get in the car. Fill in the blank. There is always something that is CRUCIAL WHEN IT IS TIME TO GET IN THE CAR. As a matter of fact, I always have the car already running when this happens. The dogs are barking because they think they want to go even though it is 106 in the shade outside because they are air-conditioned and know nothing of what lies ahead.
By the time I get Mama home we both need to take a nap. And that is that day.
WEEK IN REVIEW
I moved more boxes. i have been moving mama for three years and forty two hours. I have made one million trips to florida. I have carried more boxes than anyone my age should care unless they work for a moving company. My biceps do not reflect the amount of work I have put into this. Why is this? I should look like someone named Greta with good genes. I blame my lack of muscle definition on some dna factor which may trace it's way back to my Memaw when I think of it because she was kind of roundy. The boxes are now just "thrown down" as Mama would say and piled up in a room because I have run out of places to put things. REALLY RUN OUT. So they are just sitting there waiting for me to do something. They look at me and I look at them but we are at a stand off because I don't know what to do. I have two storage sheds in the yard now full of more boxes. They should just rest and go to sleep because they are not going anywhere anytime soon.
I went to read stories to the little wolfpack. They scream ZAZA when I come through the door like I am Cher and they are groupies. They gather/pile around me while I read them big, beautiful books procured at Parnassus and shove one another out of the way trying to be the person sitting next to me or in my lap. Other than a little crowd control on my part we have a great storytime then they smother me with hugs (hang on my ankles) as I try to get out the door. I am always amazed at this. This absolute ZAZA power thing. It's the best role I've ever played in my life. That and being Big Dog's person. I was great at that too. (Insert tear, misses big dog)
WEEK IN REVIEW
All in all, in the middle of everything wild and wonderful it was a lovely week and it continues. I wait with baited breath (what does that mean? does that mean fishy breath? who wants fishy breath?) for editor A. up new york way to send me her thoughts/notes/andsoforth on the latest American Mystic manuscript. I'm sending a short-short story I wrote titled Civil War to a national competition because I've not written a short-short story previously and I've never entered a short story competition before this month and I want to win something. But I was really thinking of an all expense paid trip to Europe. I wrote another short story that I don't like except for the first sentence that may really be a novel. I haven't rewritten my mystery novel because it occurs to me I have to basically keep all the bones and rewrite all the rest and that is a SERIOUS REWRITE which is a long way from done. I have four novels in process. One of them needs to be finished and published.
I am behind on my class for Theoretical Physics. So now I need to go cram some string theory.
And I need to call the bug man because there are some creepy things showing up that I don't recognize and have never seen. I keep trapping them in things so that they die so that I can show the bug man so I have dead things here and there under glass. Just keeping it cozy.
That's the view from the hill in my world. Hope things are sassy in yours.
It's the then some that'll get you. That's the part that has you in St. Paul, MN where they love my accent and I say - What accent? - where I lost my Drivers License, Bank card 1 (the mortgage acct and all serious bill bank), bank card 2 (the lipstick account), my passport card, my insurance card, and my cosco card. All together in a nifty little pouch I wore around my neck to make certain I didn't LOSE these things. But at the time I was getting ready to speak and go on stage so I jerked it off my neck, wrapped the chain around it and threw it into a book bag. The book bag looked just like the other book bags that one thousand fourteen hundred women were carrying. I knew it was a bad decision when I did it - and I did it anyway.
When I went on stage I started the conversation (as I consider any booked engagement keynote or no) by making a little annoucement to these women - Just in case, if you have seen, and so on. There was an audible groan of "Oh, no!" To which I replied, OH, DON'T WORRY - I do this type of thing ALL THE TIME. Because the fact is - I'm a Mess. Which became my impromptu title of my talk which was scheduled to be about Divine Meetings with Strangers (I think - more on title talks later).
I went on to tell the story for instance of me recently speaking in Phoenix, AZ for the organization that cares for, educated, trains, feeds, houses, the homeless. It was their annual fundraising breakfast and I had toured the facilities the day before, met some of their graduates from training programs and witnessed the amazing work they were doing opening up a restaurant. A great event. Then I went on to spend a few nights with friends in Scottsdale. Where I took it upon myself to pluck one grapefruit and one lemon from their trees. A spring of Jasmine, put it all in my carry on bag, sprayed myself with Chanel and went to the airport. It was one of the times I had the preferred security clearance. Short line. No shoes off. No laptop out of bag. No hassle. Except there was a little problem. When I walked through the scanner an alarm went off.
"No problem," the guard told me, "We just need to swipe your hands."
She swiped. I watched. She put the little swipey thing in a machine. It said - EXPLOSIVES DETECTED.
"We just need to reswipe you, just one minute."
She put it in the machine. It read "EXPLOSIVES DETECTED"
I had an sinking feeling that I was no longer in the no hassle line but had bumped into some trouble.
"Why does it say explosives on that machine?"
"Oh, it just does that sometime. Are you wearing perfume."
"Oh, Chanel for sure will do it."
She put the swipey thing in another machine. EXPOSIVES DETECTED.
" We are going to have to ask you to step aside."
The step aside led to a private room, two women guards. A shake down, frisk down, then they called in the bomb squad. Searched me and my bags again. Had a little conversation with me about why I was in town. "Here to help the homeless."
"All the way from Nashville?"
I would have gone on to explain I was the speaker but a man appeared at the door and whispered to the bomb expert that they had discovered "a residue of white powder".
"Goodie Powders," I tell him. It's just goodies. Headache powders they are. I can't deny it I have a habit. It's that kick of caffeine in them I think that has me hooked.
I was finally packed up cleared and made my flight just in time. It's the first time I've been early to a plane in my life. Thought I'd have a lovely few hours in the airport to work.
Flash forward, present day.
I tell the women I really need those cards to get on the plane so if they find them . . . . As women are in the book signing line they are all a tad concerned about me making that flight out. "Don't worry, I'll get through security somehow."
Then someone pointed out, "Yes, River but that was before. NOW they have you on the bomb list."
Tomi Wiley, Book Publicist extraudinare flew in with me to assist (and was invaluable in all things needed including procuring my drivers license number for me from secret sources just in time for me to get through security. But it wasn't without the frisk down.
That went a bit like this.
Mamn, I'm gonna have to pat pat and then pat pat, and some more (charlie brown mother voice) while you (more wahwahwah) . There are people walking all around me. As the guard begins to pat pat pat, HELLO THERE, that's personal, pat pat pat, shake shake shake. Hokey pokey leg out, leg in.
Are you ok, Mamn?
Oh, sure, closest thing to a massage I've had all year. Have you seen my assistant? I hope she's getting this for facebook.
"Yes, I think she is the blond over there. She keeps checking on you." Pat, Pat, pat pat.
Now I need you to put one leg out, are you ok? Do you need to get a room?
Um, nope, think I"m good right out here in front of a thousand people doing this? Do you need a room?
Needless to say - I'm not writing this from jail so I made it through. Tomi Wiley reported two things - That she was highly insulted that the TSA prison guard thought she was a blond when she was clearly a redhead. And that two - She told her husband only River Jordan would have a guard cracking up and laughing the whole time they are frisking her down.
I am in the process of replacing everything but so far have only managed to get a Cosco card. I'm carrying it around as my official id because it has that little picture thing on it. I went in just to ask them if they had any I-phone cases. "You know, the ones you can put all your id and bank cards in?"
I figure if I'm gonna lose stuff, I need to make certain it's the kitchen sink and then some.
How are things in your world today?
My mother has moved in with me. It seems like only yesterday that we were just like this, her in the drivers seat, her being the one to keep me steady on my feet, her keeping me balanced so that I didn't go careening off into the dark night, bad decisions, high fevers, or swampy creeks.
Now I'm the one that is trying to keep things balanced. Keeping them from tipping over. We are having such a great time. Really, we are. You laugh? You doubt it? I can see why. There are days that I stomp through the house exhasperated by her every sigh or comment. Days where I turn fourteen and want to go to room and slam the door. But my door doesn't slam because its just one more thing I have to fix in this house so there's no point. Instead, we find something we can agree on to watch or we tell old stories and laugh. Thank God she has a sense of humor. Most days I have mine. She follows me around the house with lipstick trying to get me to just "put a little color on" and reminds me to use lotion on my face. A lot. Like every time she looks at my face. She is also the Queen of the List. There is always a list of things we need. As soon as I leave for the store a new list has begun. Daily trips to the store are a bizarre part of my family history. It's as if we can only buy one thing a day. Or three. But never all of the things. When I was in high school and was sent to the store that was fine because Cousin Deb was with me and we always took the really, really long way which means we did everything we wanted to between the house and the store. Now the store is a chore. Particularly when someone is following your around the house with a plastic bag that has the name of a particular brand of three ply double roll extra size super soft paper with no truck tracks in the middle of it so that you can "READ every word so you get it exactly right." This is why I studied literature. I just know it. It's come to this.
But I get it. The little things matter when they seem to be the only things you might possibly have control over. The pressures of giving up your home after fifty years, making a move to the mountains after being a flatlander all your life (her words) and giving up so many shades of independence are challenging in every way. Trying to still find things when many are still in storage, reaching for the light in the middle of the night and realizing it's in the wrong place. That everything is in the wrong place. Mourning an old house like a family member. Because it was such a part of the family for so many years. The shelter for every tropical storm and hurricane. That little brick house held every family member far and wide while the storms raged outside. It was our lifeboat and our arc. Through the literal Florida storms and from life's storms. When grandparents grew sick and elderly and moved in with us. When there were car wrecks and bad news. The death of pets. Of bad grades. Broken hearts. Celebrations. Birthdays. It was all right there and my mother was the captain of that ship. Period. My Daddy was in the Army and away much of the time until he retired. Then he came home and took his place without ever removing her from hers.
Now so many things fall to me. Just cause this is the way that life shook out. It has a way of doing that. Taking a road we didn't expect but then that is life. And as family we make the best of it. As a writer I empathize with my mother making a change so significant we don't discuss it too much. The decision to let go of the car keys - one of the hardest of a lifetime. My mother's parents never owned a car, never drove. If I felt the day I had my own set of keys and eventually my own set of wheels represented freedom - for her that had to be a kind of rising up and driving out that came from a much deeper place. It represented more than sixteen year old I gotta be me. It represented a rise out of poverty, a way to have a job and keep a job, a success that meant she could buy a little house, build a family, have a little girl that would ride shotgun some day.
And, I did. Those were glorious times. My mother finally bought the car of her dreams. A big Oldsmobile convertible. White with red leather interior. A dream machine. She drove with confidence behind the wheel wearing scarves over her hair and streaming behind her, cat eye sunglasses. She was amazing, looked like a movie star. Riding in that front seat beside her, the sun shinning down, the radio playing, I knew that Mom was in control, that we were traveling down that road, and that all was well with our world.
Now, a blink of an eye later, I'm behind the wheel. She's riding shotgun. And I can only pray that I will exude just a little of that air of confidence she possessed. The kind where she can truly I believe that it's okay. In spite of her home being shifted beneath her feet, her keys having slipped away. That in spite of it all - all is well with the world. That the road before us is a long one. To trust me enough that I do know the way. That life is still a great adventure. We just have to take it one day, one moment at a time.
Again it happens. My first visit to Nashville was based on my being a presenting author for my first novel, The Gin Girl (a swamp noir mystery) at SoFest as we call in here around the city.
So you might say it was Sofest that brought me here and Nashville that kept me. But I have no doubts that move was Divine in its making.
Right now authors are in packing to fly, drive, motorcade or camel back their way to the Athens of the South. Over 200 of them. Wise cracking and snarky, brilliant and inspirational, romantic and historical. Every genre and mood represented. The fact that it's FREE FREE FREE should be enough reason to get in the car, cancel other plans, stop what you are doing and attend. If I could drive to your door and pick you up and bring you I would.
Book festival have become more than a simple celebration of the word or a chance to hear your favorite authors tell funny stories about dropping their pants at the front door (Rick Bragg) or singing a song about Baloney and Beer (Clyde Egerton) - there is some serious stuff in there as well - they are a part of what America is carving out as our new town squares. Our old downtowns where humans actually walked the street and greeted one another. Where you were happy to see another face and you had something in common - you were neighbors sharing the same city and not minding doing so.
This weekend in Nashvlle people who love story, music, books, sunshine, innocent children, old dogs, all that is good in humanity - will converge on Nashville's Memorial Plaza. It will be a grand weekend filled with celebration and great reads.
Please join us and help us celebrate and welcome these 200 Authors to our city.
(I'll be in the Parnassus Book Tent all day Saturday and Sunday so please drop by and say Hi.)
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.