Monday, August 31, 2009

Gold-plaid jumpers

That's me...circa 1968. There's a perfectly good reason for the bluish tint to my skin.

It all started when my aunt, Mimi, took me and two of my girl cousins--Denise and Lisa--shopping for school clothes.

Every year, she would get one of her brothers or sisters-in-law to take us all the way from Kimberly to downtown Birmingham, where we would shop at Sears Roebuck, New Ideal and, sometimes, even the fancy Pizitz.

I LOVED shopping at Pizitz. Or, I guess I should say, I loved eating at Pizitz. They had a restaurant on something called the "mezzanine," and you could sit there and eat AND watch people shopping on the first floor below you. Mimi would always take us to "Breakfast with Santa Claus" at Pizitz...but that's another story for another time.

Anyway, that particular year, my cousins spied a gold-and-brown plaid jumper with a pleated skirt, and decided it would be "so cute" for us to get matching ones. Only problem was it didn't come in "chubby" sizes. But I'd-be-dadgummed if I was gonna walk out of that store without a matching gold-plaid jumper. (I've always been a little stubborn that way.) So, I sucked in and sucked in some more, and Mimi somehow got that jumper to zip.

On school-picture day, it had been pre-determined that us three would wear our matching jumpers. So, that morning, I skipped the daily biscuits-and-gravy breakfast in hopes the zipper might be a little more forgiving.

It wasn't....Had it not been for a near-meltdown on my part, mama would have given up and made me wear something else. But, eventually, between the two of us--me suckin'-in and mama zipping--we finally got me in that thing.

(And now you understand the bluish tint to my face in the picture above.)

I think I remember the photographer taking a picture of us three together in our matching jumpers for our Mimi. But I couldn't find that picture anywhere.

Shortly after picture day, the zipper on that poor little jumper blew completely out. Fortunately, for me, this happened at home and not in front of Roger Nichols.

What is it about me and clothes? I attach so much self-esteem to pieces of cloth. There's this skirt that's been hanging in my closet for 5 years. It has never once fit...not even with Spanx. Truth be told, it's what keeps me walking up and down the hills of Mallard Bay and stepping on that dadgum scale. Why don't I just give it to Goodwill and go eat me some biscuits and gravy?

I'll tell you why...because that would be admitting defeat. That would be like walking out of that downtown-Birmingham-store without my matching gold-plaid jumper. So...that skirt will probably hang in my closet until the moths turn into a banquet or until someone comes out with turbo-charged Spanx.

It occurs to's pretty much the same story with my "spiritual clothes."

I'm told that, as a follower of Christ, I am "clothed" in Him. But, truth be told, most days that garment just doesn't seem to fit.

Of course, it's always there--beckoning me, encouraging me to keep walking, to keep believing, to keep wearing.

Many days, my pride and selfishness cause me to bust the zipper wide open. But, then, my "Dresser" simply says, "Come here. Give it to me. I'll make it good as new. And, one day, it will fit just right."

At the end of the movie "Nanny McPhee," there's a scene where the poor maid, Evangeline, is about to be married to the handsome Mr. Brown. As she stands there, looking down at her pitiful dress, she says to Nanny McPhee, "But, I don't look much like a bride." To which Nanny declares, "Oh, but you will, child. Oh, but you will." Evangeline walks toward her loving groom...step-by-step...her dingy, ill-fitting dress is transformed into a glistening for a bride.

So, I keep wearing...I keep walking...I keep hoping and praying and growing...step-by-step in my ill-fitting garment...believing that one day...when I see will finally fit just right.
"Dress yourselves in Christ, and be up and about!"
"We know that when these bodies of ours
are taken down like tents and folded away,
they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven
--God-made, not handmade--....
Sometimes we can hardly we cry out in frustration.
Compared to what's coming, living conditions around here
seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack,
and we're tired of it!
We've been given a glimpse of the real thing,
our true home, our resurrection bodies!
The Spirit of God whets our appetite
by giving us a taste of what's ahead.
He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so we'll never settle for less."
(Romans 13:14 and 2 Corinthians 5:1-5, The Message)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Ouiser Boudreaux...Room Mom?

I used to be many things. If you'd asked someone who knew me in my teens to describe me, they would possibly have told you something like, "Oh, that Karen, she's just so...sweet."

In my 20s the description likely would have changed to something like, "Oh, that Karen, she's just so...outgoing."

The 30s would probably have seen a BIG change in adjectives. "Oh, that Karen, she's just so...stressed...and...what a control-freak!"

And the 40s...well...I gotta be honest...depending on who you talk to...there's just no telling what people might say. Cause, in the words of Steel Magnolias' Ouiser Boudreaux, "I ain't as sweet as I used to be."

Some days I'm glad of that fact. To tell the truth, I still HATE confrontation. But then I find myself doing things like confronting VERY LARGE, angry men in parking lots and e-mailing pointed questions to attorneys who are seemingly getting paid to do nothing.

Inevitably, after the fact, I end up wondering, "Was that really me?" My "sweet-old self" would NEVER have considered such actions!

This "new me" has also lost patience with people who base reality on how they "wish things were" rather than accepting reality and the universal rule that actions-have-consequences.... That drives me crazy, right there.

I've also lost any drive...motivation...(whatever you want to call it) to try to force relationships. I think it's because I spent so much of the first 40 years of my life wanting people to like me, accept me, affirm me. I just don't have the energy that requires anymore. I've come to believe something my Mimi tried to tell me 40 years ago, "Real friends find each other."

But then...there are days when I deeply miss my "sweet-old self". The one with eyes and arms and mind and heart wide-open. Those days, I wish I could put life in reverse and try to find the exact "thing" that made my eyes a little more narrowed, my arms a little more folded, my mind a little more nit-picking, and my heart a little more (OK...a lot more) cautious.

You might wonder what has me thinking about all this? Truth is, my thoughts seem to wander this way every year when school starts, and I'm surrounded by all those sweet, young, heart-wide-open moms.

Anyway, this morning, I went to a meeting for "room moms." In this room were dozens of moms, many of them first-time-kindergartner-moms. They were bright-eyed and beautiful and full of ideas for EVEN MORE special school events.

And then there was me....wondering how I was ever going to get a bunch of grizzled, old middle-school moms to sign up to help with parties...and to donate items for the school auction basket...and to donate money for teachers' gifts...and to buy tickets to the school auction...and to donate items to Awesome Acts...and to find food and games and a speaker for a Thailand party...etc....etc....etc....

OK...I know what some of you are thinking--with that attitude, why did you sign up to be a room mom in the first place? Well, that's another thing I miss lately--my memory.

You see, when wonderful Mr. V, who has "been Jesus" to my boys, walked up and asked, "Would you be our room coordinator?", I honestly forgot about ALL the other stuff that goes with that job. And, out of sheer memory loss, ignorantly imagining myself simply bringing in a few chocolate-chip muffins and juice boxes during the year...I looked at Mr. V and said, "OK, I'll do it...for you."

But, truth be told, I miss being being one of those enthusiastic, energized moms.

I miss the part of me that is eyes and arms and mind and heart wide-open. But I've also grown rather fond of my Ouiser side. She's the side that follows bullies into parking lots. The world needs a few more Ouisers, I think.

I have no answers as to how to merge my old, sweet, wide-open self (if I ever find her again) with my new Ouiser self. I guess it's a process...a journey....something I'll figure out along the way.

Maybe I'll let them job-share.

The "Ouiser me" can be room mom. After all, who would dare say "No" to her.

And, the "sweet me" can....Hmmm...guess I'll have to think about that....It's been awhile since I've talked to her.
"Continue to work out your salvation
with fear and trembling,
for it is God who works in you to will and to act
according to His good purpose."
(Philippians 2:12,13)

Monday, August 17, 2009

35 Days... we sent Garrett and Jackson back to school. (That's them with the hairy pits. Garrett is the big, Amish-looking one.)

Garrett is a sophomore, AND gets his driver's license next month. (Oh, sweet Jesus, help me!) Jackson is a 7th grader, who DOESN'T get his driver's license next month. (Thank you, Lord, for all small favors.)

Each year, for about two weeks before school begins, I find myself in a no-good, really-bad-day kind of mood. (Keven has learned to just set his face to the wind and weather this annual storm with me.)

Of course, I know the reason I get"angst"-filled (for lack of a better word)--because, with each passing summer, I realize the time is drawing ever closer when those two boys will be packing up a car and leaving for some college campus.

So, as a result, each August, I tend to begin measuring our summer by experiences we didn't have, memories we didn't make, wise words I didn't say...etc., etc. the very same time...I have the audacity to talk to my youngest about the importance of "seeing the glass half full"! (He's been bummed because, in his opinion, he didn't get to spend enough time with his cousins this summer.)

But, last night, as I stood at the sink slicing watermelon for one last high-schoolers party, I decided to take my own glass-half-full medicine....So, here goes...
Summer was AHHMAZING--if I may be allowed to borrow a word I hear from the many teenagers in my life! One with perhaps-fewer-and-smaller-glassfuls of family than Jackson or I would have liked...but, nevertheless, FILLED...FULL... OVERFLOWING...with family, old and new friends, new experiences, new challenges, new dreams.

So, from my WAY-MORE-than-half-full glass, here's a toast to Summer '09 and its Creator, for the experiences we DID have, the memories we DID make, and the wise words (if any) I DID say.

And...officially...Summer '09 has 35 days left. (I think I'll just pretend the boys are at some sort of week-long academic "camp".)

35 days...plenty of time for a few more gulps of family and friends, a few more memories and perhaps even a wise word.
"Teach us to realize the brevity of life,
so that we may grow in wisdom."
(Psalm 90:12, NLT)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

My cousin Barney is a liar

(Today's Kimberly story was "told" to me by Jeff Easter, one of my dearest, kindest, funniest friends. He has made me laugh on some of my saddest days and cry from laughter on some of my happiest. The other character in the story is my friend, Barney, who was always my family's version of 911, and a pretty funny guy in his own right. That's him in the picture. I love them both.)

"It's an easy job. All you gotta do is answer the phone."

I should've known better. After all, my cousin Barney is a liar.

I should've paid attention to the chill that ran up my spine as I thought of the shadowy, casket-lined rooms and the pre-recorded, macabre organ music piping out strains of "Rock of Ages." I don't even like that song. Nor do I care for the smell of carnations--the funeral bud of choice among lower-income Southern mourners.

What if I got trapped in the embalming room? Or had to touch a dead person? Doesn't the Old Testament speak against such things?

But, Barney kept assuring me, "All you gotta do is answer the phone!" (At that point in his vast and sundry career, Barney was apparently serving as Messmer Funeral Home's human resources director.)

Truth be told, it was sort of expected of me. I was a 16-year-old Harden, and working for Mr. Messmer had become a rite of passage for us Harden men.

Besides, I'd make three dollars and fifty cents an hour. I'd be rich!

So, I said "OK, I'll do it."

My boss was Mr. Messmer himself, a kind and portly man who had earned the trust and, therefore, the newly-passed members of most families in the Kimberly-Warrior metropolitan area.

My first assignment was the Thursday night viewing for the newly-passed Mrs. Taylor. The plan was for Mr. Messmer to greet the grieving family, get them settled in and then leave me to "answer the phone."

At 5 o'clock sharp, the mourning Taylors arrived en masse. There were tall Taylors, short Taylors, fat Taylors and skinny Taylors. There were ugly Taylors and foxy Taylors. Taylors in suits and Taylors in overalls. There seemed to be a thousand Taylors, all packed into the small confines of the parlor, which was unchangingly decorated in faux-wood paneling, naugahyde chairs and crushed-velvet drapes.

Shortly before 6 o'clock, with Mr. Messmer long gone, a steady stream of grievers began arriving to pay their respects and to comment on how "natural" Mrs. Taylor looked--yet another reason Mr. Messmer was the regional undertaker of choice.

At four minutes past 6--I noted the time because it was my first official duty--the phone rang. "Messmer Funeral Home," I said, with a sudden swell of manly-Harden pride.

"Who's dead?" screeched the voice on the other side of the phone.

Somewhat rattled by the irreverent inquiry, I blurted back, "Mrs. Taylor. She's being buried tomorrow. Thanks for calling." And hung up.

Just then, a wiry Taylor woman, with a trail of what appeared to be dried snuff running down her chin, marched up and informed me, "There ain't no toilet paper."

As I sat there, blinking at her snuff trail, the only thought I could muster was, "Is that my problem?...My job is to answer the phone. Barney said so." But Snuffy just stood there, chewing on something, clearly expecting me to solve the encroaching toilet paper crisis.

Well, before I could get up out of my chair, both phone lines lit up. "One minute," I signaled to Snuffy....And there it was again...that screeching voice. Only this time it was angry and crackling, insinuating that I had hung up on her.

After repeating the newly-passed Mrs. Taylor's arrangements--twice--I finally began making my way through the sea of grievers in search of toilet paper...all the while doing everything I could to avoid "Snuffy," who had stomped off in a huff while I was dealing with Screecher.

As I maneuvered toward the mystifying no-man's land of the ladies' room, carrying an armload of toilet paper, I remember thinking, "I could be at home watching Gilligan's Island."

Now, for some unfathomable reason, Mrs. Taylor had chosen to pass in late July, the very apex of the Great State of Alabama's annual inferno. Each time the doors opened to welcome the seemingly endless tide of friends, neighbors and church "family," the evening's hot, humid blanket rolled in with them.

Who was this woman? How could one gain so many admirers in one short lifetime?

But, apparently, Mr. Messmer's air conditioner was no respecter of persons and, on that Taylor-congested evening, it decided to give up the ghost. Within seconds of its final, sputtering, lukewarm puffs, I was sweating life a farm animal.

Right then, one of the short Taylors in overalls reached out and grabbed my arm, practically shouting, "I been lookin for you everwhere. I think there's somethin wrong with that-there air condition."

"Ya think, Shorty?" was what I wanted to say...right after a much-needed cussin fit.

Instead, I strived to assume the kind countenance of a funeral home director, which seemed to work so well for Mr. Messmer, and told Shorty, "I'll see what I can do."

By this time, the smell in the over-Taylored parlor was a hot, cloying concoction of body odor, perfume, spearmint gum, Aqua Net and those blasted carnations.

I wound my way back to the desk where both phone lines were blinking...holding my breath and loosening my suffocating necktie.

And...I kid you if on cue..."Rock of Ages" began piping through the speakers. At that moment, I would have gladly traded places with the newly-passed Mrs. Taylor.

As I sat lines still blinking...the ugly truth hit me. I couldn't call Mr. Messmer. I couldn't fix the "air condition." I couldn't stand on my desk and shout, "Will all you people just please go home?"

We were and those sweaty that stinking, hot place of death. Hell took on a whole new meaning.

At 8:35...with just 25 minutes to go...I thought I saw the proverbial light at the end of the proverbial tunnel...until I realized it was just a reflection off the sweaty forehead of the rapidly-approaching, panicked-looking Taylor woman.

"May I help you?", I reluctantly asked. To which she responded by covering her mouth and speaking to me in low, hushed tones, as if we were sharing some long-held secret.

"Umh," she began. "I really don't know how to...umh...tell you this. But, you see, Mrs. Taylor is my sister, and...well...y'all have too much 'stuff' up there," she stammered, gently patting her own well-endowed chest area. "Could you possibly take a little out?"

What!...Could I what? That was definitely NOT in my job description. I had never touched a live woman's chest...I was certainly not about to touch a dead one!

"I'll tell Mr. Messmer," I spewed, as I took her by the elbow and ushered her out the door.

Forget Gilligan's Island. I'd rot in the Jefferson County Jail for murdering that lying, no-good Barney before I'd ever do this again!

By that point, I had shed my tie and jacket--a certain violation of Messmer's employee policy. (Good thing I'd listened to mama and put on clean underwear because the pit-stained, blue Oxford was the next thing about to be shed.) But, just as I began unbuttoning it, I happened to glance at the clock and noticed that its little hand was on the longed-for 9. "Thank you, sweet Jesus!"

Thankfully, one endearing quality of Southern mourners is that, except for the few disturbed outliers who threaten to fling themselves into their loved-one's casket for the night, they know when to call it a day. (After all, the food's back at the house.)

So, at 9:01 sharp, the tired, hungry Taylors began emptying the foodless, inferno-like parlor. By 9:05, everyone was gone...except for me and the newly-passed, newly-endowed Mrs. Taylor.

After tucking her in for the night, I snapped off the organ music--how could Rock of Ages possibly be playing again?--and, with neck hairs standing on end, beat a hasty path through the shadowy, casket-lined room and out the back door to sweet, blessed freedom.

....My cousin Barney is such a liar!

For everything there is a season,
a time to be born and a time to die....
a time to cry and a time to laugh....
a time to grieve and a time to dance....
(from Ecclesiastes 3 NLT)