Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Super Size Me

Last night, my mother informed me that she and my father were at odds. I could only imagine why. It appears that she purchased a new bedspread, but refused to put it on the bed.

"Why?", I asked. "Are there naked pygmy tribesmen frolicking about? Is it a bright pink that clashes with the carpet?"

"No... silly", my mother replied. "I just don't want to put it on the bed."

Hmm. I knew better than to bite at that one, but I had to do it. "So, where is it?"

"Stored away in the hall closet." (You remember the hall closet don't you? The same area that was the hiding place for 6 bottles of water now is the safeguard for the elusive bedspread.)

Seems strange to have purchased a bedspread without a purpose. Oh... wait... I got it. "Mom... this is going to be one of those things that when you die, I'm supposed to run to the house, leave your dead body at the hospital, wash everything, clean everything and make enough food to entertain all the guests who will arrive... now I'm supposed to add 'pull out the secret bedspread that has never seen the light of day and put it on the bed' to the list, right?"

She gave me "the look" with that last statement.

After a moment of well-deserved silence, she spoke. "Do you want to see it?"

"Will I go blind if I look upon it? It is stored in the 'Holy of Holies’ hall closet. Do I need to approach it with a robe hemmed in bells and a rope tied around my ankle in the event that an unconfessed sin (there are those floating around, you know) strikes me dead?"

The blank stare was priceless.

She became excited. "You stay here... I'll bring it to you."

I could barely contain the emotions that were flowing through my body. I sat perched on the edge of the recliner, striving to control my breathing. Then... it arrived.

My mother unfolded a lovely bedspread... ivory colored, with four HUGE pink roses embossed on tall, slender green stems. It was… in my eyes… hideous. I had to think of a way to dissuade her, and determined that full out honesty of my opinion would not work, but perhaps logic would.

My breathing returned to normal. "Mom", I said, "that is not a king-size bedspread."

"Of course it is. It says so right here on the label." She double-checked to make sure.

"Mom, your arm-span would not allow you to simply hold straight a king size bedspread. It’s not that big."

"Well", she became exasperated. "Let's just go see".

“Wait a minute… are you telling me that you purchased this bedspread, but you haven’t even put it on the bed to see if it fits?”

She ignored me.

I was shocked and amazed that at one fell swoop... the "we're not going to use this" bedspread instantly made its way past the Holy of Holies hall closet, down the green and lighter green hallway passage into the Navy wallpapered, pink carpeted, golden headboarded king-size bedded master bedroom. So proud was my mother as she draped her bed in what is now referred to as the rather FULL SIZE bedspread... leaving much of the bed uncovered.

She was distraught. I saw the wheels spinning in her mind. How would she save this moment? "Well... if we pull the foot of it lower..."

"And you don't intend to cover the pillows at the top of the bed..." I replied.

She was undaunted. "It might be okay if we had a bed skirt."

I agreed. "That would cover the bed springs..."

Realization began to dawn on her. "Hmm... I guess maybe I should send it back."

"Where did you buy this?" I asked.

She was so proud. "The JC Penney catalog. I only paid $34 for it."

"Quite a bargain for a king-size bed spread." I was trying to contain my cynicism.

It didn't work. She saw right through me. "Oh, hush. You think I need to send it back don't you?"

"Mom... it’s your room. You do what you want". (Knowing how well the large pink roses matched the pink roses on the navy wallpaper)

She wasn't giving up yet. "They had pillow shams that matched this. But I just hate having to move pillows before I go to bed."

"Sounds like that would not be a wise investment then." I was trying to end the conversation and return to the relaxation found in my cross-stitch pattern. It worked. I returned to the den and my cross-stitching and just when I thought it was safe, my mother returned a few minutes later.

She was excited. "Come and see what I've done!"

"Do I have to?"

"Yes." The firmness in her voice spoke volumes. I followed the confident stride of a woman proud of a new accomplishment that should not go unnoticed by her family. We passed the Holy of Holies hall closet on my right... my father and dog sitting in the study to the left... to the end of the hall where the master bedroom sits on the right and the guest bedroom (commonly referred to as the "teddy bear room"... if you have to ask why, I'll have to hurt you) sits on the left.

There was a perfectly draped full size bedspread on the full-size bed that it was made for. Stuffed animals and dolls resting against the headboard.

"What do you think?" she asked.

I couldn't help myself. "I think that king-size bedspread fits a full size bed much better. It looks nice, Mom."


As we turned to leave, she said... "If the kids put their feet on that bedspread, I'll whip them."

My simple reply... "You'll want to put a sign on the bed then, Mom."

Monday, November 28, 2005

Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall…

Who’s that fat chick staring back at me?
November 28, 2005

I believe there comes a time in every person’s life when they wake up in the morning, roll out of bed, stub a toe on a dresser, curse like a sailor, stumble to the bathroom, throw water in the face, look in the mirror and wonder just who the heck that person is staring back at them.

In my mind’s eye, I am in the prime of my life. I am in my mid to early 20s and I am a size 9 Tall. I don’t have to think too hard to develop this image as I was once in my early 20s and a size 9 Tall, and lived life to the fullest. In real life, I’m in my 40s, and have been deceived. I think I still resemble that young, innocent, carefree girl, and I have faced that deception head-on.

There is a YMCA in Smyrna, Tennessee now. It is quite impressive. It will do great things for the welfare of our community and we will have hundreds of upwardly mobile people who will regularly experience all the Y has to offer in an effort to either stay in shape or get in shape. I signed up to be a member while the facility was under construction. I took a hard hat tour before I signed on the dotted line just so I could get the free neon yellow “charter member” t-shirt. I was very proud of my motivation. In signing my name to a contract that would remove a portion of money from my bank account each month, I swore that I would re-prioritize things in an effort to get myself back on the right track.

I’ve been in the midst of what I am calling my “dark year” for about a year and a half now. No, I don’t want to explain… you’ll just need to trust me. Suffice it to say, during the dark year (and a half) I have experienced a career change, my father has been diagnosed with diabetes, my mother endured knee surgery, I’ve buried at least three friends of the family, and have emotionally shut down in more ways than one. I decided to explore the various definitions of “comfort food” to the tune of an additional 40 pounds or so.

Therefore, when I learned we would have a YMCA in our very own town, and that it would be located a mere five minutes from my home… I made the jump from the couch to the gym.

I only hope I will live to tell about it.

It started out simple enough. I had my picture card made. This was where reality first hit. I’ve had the really bad driver’s license pictures and passport pictures before… but they couldn’t hold a candle to the fat girl on the keyring card that “Muffy” handed to me. (I don’t know the perky girl’s name… but she’s a skinny Minnie who, in my enlightened opinion, needs to eat more) I almost handed the card back to her and asked her to find the lady who belonged to that key card… it certainly was too “Large Marge” to be me!!! But I took another look, and sure enough, that was my face staring back at me. If that was not inspiration, nothing would be. I put away my desire to sink my face into a tub of Ben & Jerry’s, and I proceeded to experience the Y in a way that most of the town of Smyrna was doing.

The week of Thanksgiving was the first week I attended. I woke up bright and early on a Monday morning (5:30ish… yes… the sailors were embarrassed) dressed, and headed for the Y. I made it there a little after 6:00 a.m. (yes… AM… as in “what-in-the-name-of-the-Lord-am-I-thinking?) Little did I know that half the town of Smyrna would think it a good idea to do the same thing. There were no available treadmills and the employees were quite busy showing new patrons how to work various weight machines. Feeling a little out of place, I went up the stairs and simply walked the track for about a half hour. I learned that by about 6:30, most of those early people are heading out the door and away from the treadmills… which means I should have about an extra 30 minutes of sleep before I try that nonsense again!

I took a look at the schedule of activities and began to determine which program would best suit me. Truly anything was better than nothing. There was a water aerobics class that would meet the next afternoon at 5:30 p.m. (PM… when real people come alive) I made plans to dig out that swimsuit and take it to work with me the following day.

I got to the gym that afternoon a little early, tugged, pulled, mashed and generally molded my Large Marge body into my bathing suit and thanked the good Lord for the sense I had to bring a big Beach Towel to wrap about myself on my trek to the indoor pool. There are two pools at the Y right now… a no grade pool for the general public and children and a three lane lap pool. There were screaming children who had been dropped off by various parental units (who should be shot) in the no grade pool, so I headed for the lap pool for the approximate 15 minutes it would take before the aerobics class began.

There were people in each lane of the lap pool, two men and one woman. I chose to share a lane with the one lady, simply because I did not want Gramps in lane one to lap me over and over, and the Olympic swimmer in lane two just made me tired. I swam on my back. I swam on my side. I swam freestyle and I did the breast stroke. I swam under the water and on top of the water, and I was breathless when it was over. The lifeguards spent most of their time blowing their whistles and telling children (with no parental units) to stop running, stop fighting, and… if I’d had my way about it… stop breathing. They did not have to perform CPR on me; therefore, it was a good day.

Before I knew it, there was a contingency of people assembled in the no grade pool and a woman dressed in sweats standing on the edge. She was yelling instructions over the sounds of the screaming children and I realized this was the aerobic class. I hauled Large Marge out of the lap pool (much to the joy of my lane partner) and joined the water aerobics group.

The first thing I realized was that I was the youngest person in the group. Apparently the geriatric crowd really goes for water aerobics. The screaming children have been roped into the shallow “play” end of the pool while I and 20 of my closest elderly friends are thrashing about in about 4-5 feet of water.

Thrashing about is the kindest phrase one can use when describing water aerobics. One attends with the exuberant expectation of joining Esther Williams and her entourage in graceful moves that are peaceful and classical. When you realize that granny has smacked you upside the head for the fifth time and you more closely resemble Shamu than Esther… you really only want the class to end. Once it is over, being the nice girl your Mamma raised you to be, you stand at the side and help the little old ladies out of the water, then you rush past them to the locker room to change before all the changing stalls are taken.

I had a few days away from the Y because of Thanksgiving obligations, but I planned to resume my new found love the Monday after. Today.

I took a look at the activity schedule again to see what the upwardly mobile people would be doing at the Y, which did not involve Granny and a big pool of water. I came to the stark conclusion that I may not be an upwardly mobile person. I certainly do not feel mobile at the present time. Why? Basic But Tough Step Aerobics (a/k/a Have You Lost Your Ever-Loving Mind Step Aerobics)

I didn’t want to be alone on my first venture to an aerobics class in say, oh, 10 years or so. I called my sister-in-law, but she had done her damage at the Y earlier that day. So, I talked my 17 year old niece into attending with me. She’s never been to an aerobics class… let alone a step class. I figured I could help her with the basic steps (that Jane Fonda taught me in the 80s) and she could resuscitate me or call 911 in the event that I passed out (she has her own cell phone, you know) What I would NEVER have seen coming would be the fact that the class is 60 minutes long. I certainly believed it to only be a 30 minute class. That was as long as Jane ever had me grape-vining left and right in her leopard print leotard.

We were on the front row, because we were some of the last people to arrive. You could have sworn that the rest of the 20 people in the class were Baptists, by the way they huddled toward the back of the room. Kristin was great. Have I mentioned she is 17? The biggest problem is that she had to head out at the half-way point to attend a Bible study. She left me there to flounder on my own. But I stuck with it. I remembered some steps, forgot others entirely and generally prayed that I did not fall down. My step slid at times and I did my best not to trip over it whilst I moved it back into place. When I thought I was going to pass out, or hyperventilate (and I began thinking that during the warm up cycle… a mere five minutes into the 60) I simply stood and marched in place. I figured the skinny, athletic girl behind me would rather me march in place than fall backwards on her. She would not survive the blow.

Once we cooled down (a nice way of saying, hang in there… we just getting to the good part) we were instructed to replace our steps and grab a mat for our Ab workout.

What… are you kidding me? Do you really think I will be able to get up off the floor? Our instructor, Pam, who is a big boned girl too (but in great shape) assured us that it would be better for us to finish the time out completely. I was suckered into believing her. I lay down on the mat that was about a quarter of an inch thick and really felt no better than the wood flooring underneath it.

We did crunches. We did inverted crunches. We worked on our oblique muscles and we did leg lifts. We stretched and stretched some more, which was when the muscle cramps began.

“I’m sorry, Pam… I’m going to need to stop now… my toes have curled under my feet and it will take some time to retrieve them. No… really, that’s okay… I like it when my…


There goes that calf muscle… No, it’s okay, I’m sure if I eat a banana, it will give me the


Yep, that was my back. No really… I’m good… I’ll just reach for that water bottle over there and


What’s wrong with my neck? I’m not sure. If you’ll just take this mat back, I’m going to throw Large Marge into the lap pool where she can drown peacefully.”

There’s an indoor cycling class that is being offered tomorrow. I know that exercise creates endorphins, which really give you a boost. I’m fairly certain that endorphins also kill brain cells… because I’m actually considering returning to the Y tomorrow.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

What a Stupid Girl

I am, in some instances, considered the Queen of Horror Movies. I was raised on those great, classic films that were shot in black and white. I remember watching Bela Lugosi re-enact the legend of Count Dracula and being amazed at the cinematography of the early 40s. I remember thinking that “Dark Shadows” was by far the most interesting television program that had ever been developed. We were so excited the year that there was a Dark Shadows board game out, and we received one at Christmas. There is video film of my little brother and I playing with the coffins and skeletons and fake fangs that came with the game. Thinking back, that video looks more like the avante garde animation “A Nightmare Before Christmas” than anything with deep spiritual meaning of the birth of Christ!

I came home from school every afternoon and my little brother and I planted ourselves just a few inches from the screen of our remoteless television set to watch “The Creature Feature”. A very old, entirely too pudgy man in macabre garb would introduce the afternoon film and would segue way into the various commercials that would interrupt our movie-watching time. Most specifically, he was all about pitching a high fructose, high glucose concoction aptly dubbed, “Creature Cooler”. This Kool-Aid rip-off came in varying flavors… John’s favorite was grape, and my more sophisticated taste selected cherry. No less than five or six times in any given hour would one or the other of my parents enter the room and chastise us for sitting too close to the television set. They warned us that we would go blind in a matter of moments if we did not get up off the floor and sit on the furniture, which was an appropriate distance from the television. We acquiesced only long enough for them to leave the room and we returned to our warm spots on the floor. My parents were never that excited a few hours later when I would awake in the middle of the night having experienced a bad dream that sent me running into their bed room and curling up between the two of them… but they allowed it to happen.

As we got older, our tastes matured to the weekly Friday night “Night Stalker” program. This show had the ability to really creep you out. The main character was a newspaper reporter that always seemed to have the worst luck in his investigative reporting. He found all the monsters that were hiding in the shadows; vampires waiting to lunge at their first victim as the sun went down… and the zombies that would never die, but only wanted to eat their horrified prey. John and I were glued to the television set in the basement of our 1960s split level house. Our bedrooms were upstairs and down a long, narrow hallway. The living room was an open area to the left of the staircase, and the hallway was to the right. The light switch for the stairway was located, of course, on the upstairs level. One night, after a particularly bone-chilling episode, my father called to us from upstairs that it was time for us to get to bed. “Make sure you turn off the television and the lights downstairs.”

I went upstairs to turn on the stairway light and came back downstairs to help John finish straightening the room. When we got to the stairway, the lights had been turned off. We knew that once the den light was shut off, it was going to be a very dark, creepy and scary journey to our respective bedrooms. We looked at each other, we braced ourselves, and we hit the lights. As we got to the midway point of the split level, my father let out a menacing growl that I can remember to this day. John and I screamed at the top of our lungs and fell over each other to get to the top of the stairs and our rooms before “IT” could get to us. I slammed my bedroom door shut and to this day can hear the sound of my father laughing from the living room at the terror he had instigated.

I hit my high school years just about the time of the incredibly classic horror movies that made the 80s great. Jason began his journey into folk lore at Camp Crystal Lake and Michael Myers had Jamie Lee Curtis running around town in her northeastern suburb screaming at the top of her lungs. Throw Freddie Kruger into the mix and you have all the makings of a great date movie… there’s nothing a guy likes more than a frightened girl hanging on to him… and even if you’re laughing more than you’re scared… you make him think you’re scared.

I was also one of those people who would talk to the television or movie screen and advise the main character that doom was awaiting them just around the corner. “What are you thinking running through the woods without an axe in your hand? Don’t you know there’s a stump you’re about to trip over? That’s all the monster will need to catch up with you!” Or, better still, “Yes, I know you just heard a noise in the attic… don’t you think you need to call the police before you traipse up there in your nightgown? Maybe you should leave the house that is possessed and speaking to you from the great beyond.”

Having explained all this… it makes you wonder why you do the very things you swear the actors should never do in the movies. For instance, what is it that drives you to investigate that “bump” you heard in the night… or the three “bumps” that woke you from a deep sleep early one Thursday morning?

My REM cycle was working overtime as I was in the throes of my production season at work. When I did finally get my brain to shut down, sleep was a welcomed friend. It was about 4:30 a.m. when I heard the three very LOUD sounds. I sat straight up in the bed with my heart pounding fiercely. My brain had already engaged and was trying to determine both the origin of the sound and its location. What I heard was something… or someONE hitting something that was wooden coming from the general direction of the living room area.

Our house is a brick house and the only wooden parts of it are the front doors. The problem, however, is that we have large glass storm doors that remain locked on the front of the house. In order for someone to be banging on the front door… they would have to get past the storm doors first. This is a disconcerting thought to a single girl at 4:30 in the morning. What is she to do? Reach for the cell phone and call the police? No… she whips off the comforter that has been warming her now chilled-to-the-bone body off the bed and heads to the living room.

Is there any type of weapon or protection that said heroin can locate? No… it’s 4:30 a.m. Is there a piece of furniture you can hide behind if Jason has indeed found his way from Camp Crystal Lake to your house? Not really. As a matter of fact… you’ve just walked your half-naked self in front of the large plate glass window of the living room as you are investigating this strange phenomenon. The mind is racing through various scenarios of misadventure as you stealthily make your way to the front door. As your hand touches the door knob you jump out of your skin when your 72 year old mother’s voice whispers from behind you “what are you doing up at this hour?”

You fight the urge to strangle her as the nervous pee-pee dance begins… she having scared that bodily function right out of you and a discussion ensues regarding the bump in the night. She heard the same noise, but it was time for her to get up anyway. She didn’t know what it was, and is not nearly as concerned as you are. Being the heroine of the story, you head for the front door anyway and slowly pull it open. You see nothing in the dark blackness of the night and you test the screen door to find it still locked. “Hmm…” you wonder. Could it have been the other front door? You stealthily make your way into the music room where thousands of beady-eyed Beanie Babies watch your every move. Both doors are locked there as well. Now you’re irritated. Now is the time for the “stupid-white-girl-in-the-scary-movie” persona to take over. You head out the front door.

The temperature is cold outside at 4:35 a.m. in the month of March. You are barely dressed and barefoot and you scurry among the trees and brush that line the front of your house. You’ve suddenly become Sherlock Holmes or a character in an Agatha Christie novel. You’re looking for footprints or tire prints in the dirt alongside your driveway. You listen for the twig to snap that will cause you to spin around and face your aggressor head on. You’re looking for a hockey mask and a black cape. You find nothing; but you curse out loud as you step on a pinecone that imbeds itself in your foot. You hop on one leg back to the front door only to be blinded by the porch light your mother turns on at the last moment. You stumble backwards into the prickly holly bush and stifle a curse under your breath. You now remember how stupid the girl was who twisted her ankle running from the serial killer through the woods. You feel pretty stupid yourself. You return to bed for about another hour of sleep before the alarm clock goes off, and you remain puzzled for the next few days as to what could have made that noise.

On Saturday the pieces of your wracked puzzle put themselves together as if they were positively and negatively charged ions in the atoms of common sense. You find a large metal frame that has slipped on the wooden shelf you put together in your bathroom just a few weeks earlier. You realize that the metal frame bounced around a few times before finding its resting place, and the bathroom is right next to your bedroom… which is why it could rouse you from a good night’s sleep.

Still… you shake your head in amazement the next night over a bag of Popcorn as you watch a teenage girl scamper through the woods while a resurrected Jason (number 13) hurries along after her with a machete in his hand.

“What a stupid girl.”

Thursday, November 03, 2005

My Mother's Ingenuity

Ingenuity: skill in planning, inventing, cleverness

My mother is a genius. Have I mentioned that before? She was born at the end of the depression era; grew up in a coal mining camp; went off to a boarding school for girls; began college; met/fell in love with/cheated on and finally married my father. She lived in a few different countries; bore three children; suffered five miscarriages and dealt with various pets through the years. She taught school, taught piano, is the church organist and Sunday School teacher. You name it, if she hasn't done it, she thought about doing it.

Adapting is a way of life for my mother. When faced with the circumstance of not being allowed to play with the other children in the coal mining camp, she was determined to host her own birthday party. She invited the children (her school friends) over to the house and while she sat inside the fenced yard, she made peanut butter and crackers and passed them to her friends through the gate who were not allowed in her yard. She would not be stopped.

Adversity is no friend of my mother to this day. A few years ago, she had taken a liking to the concept of turning old tires into flower planters for the garden. It just so happened that we had an old steel-belted radial tire that had seen better days, and she was set on her new craft. It turned out that the tire was just a little too large, and she wanted to cut it down.

A truly odd sight to behold is one where your mother is on her hands and knees with a serrated bread knife sawing through a steel belted radial. A deaf ear meets any advice you attempt to give. She knows what she is doing. Her family finally steps into the fray when, in her desperation, she pulls out the handy-dandy electric kitchen knife. Knowing that no good will come from an electric, hand-held appliance meeting a steel belt, her children finally debate the dangers of her actions, and she acquiesced. The tire is thrown away and a large plaster planter is purchased at the nearby garden store.

Her ingenuity does not fade with her years. About 15 years ago, her first granddaughter came into the world. Kristin stole the hearts of all the Bell family, and was quickly followed by her sister Katy and her cousin Allison. Three little girls all in a row! The guest bedroom at the Bell house began its transformation to a room with pink walls (of course), darker pink trim; with dollies and teddy bears lined everywhere! There was only one problem… a draft coming in from one of the two windows.

Some normal people would have perhaps caulked the window to keep out the chill. But they are not the genius my mother is. Caulk is expensive, takes time and effort, and is unattractive. But TOILET PAPER!!! There's the solution. Cram toilet paper into the cracks for a quick, easy seal. However, that leaves its own problem… an unsightly mess. What to do? Stand back for a moment, assess the situation, and come to the only rational conclusion one has left… paint the toilet paper pink! It will match the wood trim and no one will be the wiser.

Certainly the adult daughter would not be the wiser when she sets out to remodel the same room some years later. She'll begin painting the trim and will come upon the window that appears to be caulked closed. "Funny," she thinks, "how do they plan to ever open this window again? I suppose they are not planning to open the window. I can't leave it pink and I can't seem to dig it out. The caulk moves from its pink stage in life to its cream stage.

Her mother is ecstatic when she comes home to her new guest bedroom. She is thrilled beyond words. She hails her daughter's charms to anyone within hearing distance, and praise goes from her lips for weeks.

Then one night, she approaches the daughter, after the newness of the room has worn out.

"Well, I've got to try and fix that window you painted shut," she said with a tone that was not generally flattering.

"What are you talking about?" I replied.

"You know… the window in the guest room. You painted it shut."

"Mom… I did not paint that window shut. It was caulked shut. It was permanently shut before I ever got in there."

"What are you talking about? I never caulked that window. That was toilet paper."

"Toilet paper?" My facial expression could never be adequately described.

"Well yes, I was trying to keep the cold air out."

My hands had covered my face at this time. I ran my fingers through my hair as I looked back up at the ingenious woman who gave me life. "Mother, you painted the toilet paper pink." I said this calmly and forthrightly and with no surprise in my voice. I mean come on; this is the same woman who uses toothpaste for both spackling holes in her plaster walls and cleaning her silver. It's not just for brushing teeth anymore.

A confused look came over her face and was gone in the instant that reality checked back into her life.

"I did?" The surprised sound was almost too much to bear. The longer the conversation was going, the more difficult it was to keep a straight face.

"Yes, you did. Did you want me to leave it pink?"

"Well no." Her answer came with an incredulous timbre, and then she seemed to begin to speak to herself. "Hmm… I can't imagine why I would have done something like that." She paused for dramatic effect and then moved on. "Oh well, no matter. I'm starting to dig it out now. Would you like to help?"

"No thanks… I’ve got the toothpaste out… I'm going to reseal the cracks in the driveway."