For a while now, I’ve wanted to introduce you to my grandmother, Kate. She was probably one of the strangest characters in my life. My grandmother was, well, crazy. Sometimes, it was in a ha-ha-crazy kind of way, and sometimes it was in a just-plain-crazy kind of way. Bless her heart. (That’s a southern thing. It’s okay to say what you want about someone as long as you say, “Bless her heart,” after it. Maybe you didn’t know that. Bless your heart.)

I called my grandmother, “Granny Meatloaf.” This wasn’t the normal name I called her. Normally, she was Grandmother. However, when I was feeling particularly frisky or brave, I called her “Granny Meatloaf.” I have no idea why. She didn’t make meatloaf. My older cousins called her “Granny,” so maybe I got that part from them.

Grandmother lived a hard life. Like everyone from her generation, she endured hard work and times of poverty. By the time I knew her, I don’t think she was poor. She lived like she was broke, but she had plenty. We would arrive at Grandmother’s house after dark, and at first, we would wonder if she was already asleep. Then, though, we would see her 10 watt light bulb burning in the window, and we would know she was awake. Wouldn’t want to waste electricity, you know.

My grandmother was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. When I was 7 years old, we left our beach house in paradise (okay, really, Isle of Palms, SC) and moved back to the town where my grandmother lived. My mother wanted to be nearby to take care of her mother. I vaguely remember moving back, and I think, at that point, we thought grandmother was dying. (I could be making that up, but hey, it’s my story…) My grandmother lived until I was 19 years old. I’m pretty sure, for a few years there, my father was convinced his mother-in-law would never leave. We joked she was going to outlive us all.

My grandmother was 69 years old when she died. I remember people at the funeral saying how young she was. I disagreed. To me, she was ancient. She had been old forever. Now, as my age increases, I realize how young she really was. In my defense, though, she had acted like an old lady for as long as I had known her, so she was old to me.

Grandmother worked at a factory. I think they made plastic bags. I’m pretty sure that’s where the rare leukemia came from. Back then, they figured “what didn’t kill you made you stronger” even applied to industrial chemicals. (You’ve got that song playing in your head now, don’t you? Sorry about that.) No need for respirators or protective gear.

Grandmother would come home from work with rubber bands on her wrist. I don’t know what the rubber bands were for, but she always had them. She would hang them from the gear shifter on the steering column of her car.

Speaking of column, my grandmother had some pretty funny words she used. Column would be one of them. She said, “Colyum.” I still can’t say column correctly because of her. Thanks, Grandmother.

Some other fun words a la Kate were candlelobster, tarco and therpy. If you wanted to set the table for a fancy dinner, you would put a candlelobster on it. You would not want to get Tarco Bell for the fancy meal. The therpy would come in handy if you had an injury to your knee. That physical therpy can be difficult, though.

Grandmother used to grow a garden. She always had strawberries growing. They were never sweet, but there was just something about picking strawberries fresh from the vine and eating them. (Now that I live near the Strawberry Capital of the World, that doesn’t sound nearly as special.) Once, my sister and I got fussed at by my mother for eating all of Grandmother’s strawberries. Grandmother had probably worked for months to get her vines to grow those berries, and then my sister and I wiped them out in one afternoon. I also got in trouble for picking grandmother’s flowers in the front yard. I thought they were weeds, but they ended up being some kind of special plant that Grandmother had gone to a lot of trouble to grow. Oops. My bad.

Grandmother would dry apple slices outside. She would put them out on the trunk of her car or on the driveway and would put a window screen over them to keep the bugs off. I’m not sure how effective that was, but they were still good, bugs and all. She would use the apples to make fried apple pies. Those little pies were amazing, as long as she remembered to add sugar. Since then, I have never found anyone who can make fried apple pies like my grandmother.

Grandmother was sometimes forgetful when she cooked. In fact, as she aged, her cooking got worse and worse. For one thing, she only used the cheapest of ingredients. Cheap store-brand margarine just doesn’t create the same baked goods as real butter, no matter how good a cook you are (and she really wasn’t all that good). Grandmother made peanut butter ice cream once that would have been really good if she had just remembered to sweeten it. She made black walnut cakes that were delicious. However, they were major dental work waiting to happen. She was not good at taking the nuts from the shells. I’d be going along, enjoying my piece of cake and then, AAUGH! Shell.

I still prefer my grits lumpy. That’s because that was how Grandmother made them – with HUGE lumps. The scrambled eggs had brown spots from being burned. I’m not so crazy about that now. One thing she made pretty well was popcorn. When I would spend the night at her house, she would pop real popcorn on the stove and put melted margarine on top. (Or, futter, as my kids call it. Fake butter.)

Grandmother was cheap. With a capital C. I’m pretty sure I have some of her genes in me. There was a local pizza shop, called the Pizza Factory. One summer when I was little, they sold glass Coca Cola pitchers and offered free refills. I’m pretty sure they meant free refills for the summer, but they did not specify that. For years, any time I would spend the night at Grandmother’s house, we would go pick up a pizza and get that pitcher filled. She would take a (used!) piece of aluminum foil to cover the pitcher with so we could get it home without spilling Coke everywhere. Then, when we would get to the car with it, she would take a rubber band from her steering colyum and put it around the rim of the pitcher. That pitcher got a crack in it after years of use. Luckily, the crack was in the top 1/3 of the pitcher. At that point, Grandmother would just have them fill it to the line. She got her money’s worth out of that $5 pitcher. Bless her heart.

We were never allowed to throw away anything in the trash can in Grandmother’s bathroom. That’s because it wasn’t really for trash. That was where she stored the partial rolls of toilet paper she had collected from various and sundry places. We weren’t allowed to talk about it, although my sister and I thought it was pretty stinkin’ funny that she stole toilet paper.

Grandmother was a crafter. I know I got some of those genes. She could do any handiwork, I’m pretty sure. She crocheted. She tatted. If you don’t know what tatting is, Google it. It’s sort of like lace made with thread. She tried to teach me that once, but all I managed to do was tie knots. Grandmother made yo-yo bedspreads. (Google!) Most of all, she quilted. She had a quilting room that had a huge quilting rack that filled it. That room was always cold because she had the air vent shut off in there. and she kept the door closed to save electricity. In the winter, when Grandmother would have her wood stove cranked up to “flames of hell” temperature, my sister and I would escape to that cold quilting room and bask in the cool air while playing under Grandmother’s current work in progress.

Speaking of the wood stove, Grandmother used to be able to look at a fire and tell if it was “packin’ snow.” I have no idea what that means, but if Grandmother said the fire was packin’ snow, it was going to snow. She was almost always right about that.

Okay, you’re probably bored with my stories of my grandmother, but I could go on all day long. I won’t, but I could. I keep remembering things as I’m writing. She just gave me so much material! I could tell you about how she and I would play Kismet (Google!) or how she would come to our house on Christmas morning or how she would say, “Dan. Stop it,” when my father joked around with her. (You have to read that in a southern accent. Dan has two syllables.) I really could go on all day long. I just have to tell you one last story. It’s my favorite, and it was hilarious, at least to me.

When I was about the same age as the Goose, my grandmother and I headed over to the small town, Union, where my grandfather’s relatives lived. We would go there sometimes to visit my Aunt Ruby, who really was not my aunt at all. I’m pretty sure she was third cousin, twice removed, or something like that.

As we drove into town, I noticed flags hanging from the light posts. They had a letter “K” on them. I asked my grandmother what they were for, and she began thinking about it. She stayed quiet, thinking for about a minute, and then she began thinking aloud. She said, “I know what it is. It’s the Que Cluck Clan. I just know it. The Que Cluck Clan. Oh, I can’t believe it. How can that be? The Que Cluck Clan in Union.” For a second, I had no idea what she was talking about. Then, I realized it, and I had to fight to hold the laughter in. She thought it was the Klu Klux Klan.

Now, Grandmother grew more and more distraught over this as we drove. She was almost in tears. She just kept repeating “Que Cluck Clan” over and over and over, and I was just about to the howling stage of laughter. I wasn’t even keeping it in at this point, but she was so busy being shocked by the Que Cluck Clan, she didn’t even notice my disrespect. I found this hilarious, and her pronunciation was awesome. Even now, I can’t say the name of the club the correct way. It just wouldn’t be right.

When we got to Aunt Ruby’s house, Grandmother went rushing in. She was so upset that the Que Cluck Clan was there. Aunt Ruby asked what in the world she was talking about, and Grandmother explained about the flags. Turns out, the Kudzu Festival was taking place the weekend after. In case you don’t know what kudzu is, bless your heart, it’s the plant that ate the south. (Google!) As Aunt Ruby explained that there would be kudzu jelly and fried kudzu flowers, I was laughing so hard, I was crying. Bless my grandmother’s heart. The Que Cluck Clan.

My grandmother was certainly not perfect, and I could probably just as easily write as much about all the negatives. However, I choose to think about the funny memories my grandmother gave me. If nothing else, she gave me writing material, and she was certainly an interesting character in my story!  -Al

Our family has a new member.  No, we didn’t adopt a pet, thank goodness.  I’ve already made the decree, “There shall be no more pets.”  We’ll see if anyone listens.

No, we did far better than that.  We adopted ourselves a DirectTV guy!  He’s handy to have around.  Okay, okay.  Before anyone alerts the police, we did not kidnap this man.  We haven’t actually adopted him, and he is able to come and go on his own free will.  The problem is, he just won’t go.

It all started a week ago when we thought we were finally going to have TV in our room.  We’ve been living here for over a month now, and we’ve had no TV to watch in our space.  (It’s a sad story, isn’t it?)  Mr. DirectTV (we’ll call him DT for short) was coming, and his arrival was anxiously anticipated by three out of four members of my immediate family.  I didn’t really care, because I have no time to watch TV.  Besides, when I actually do sit down long enough to watch a show, I just go to sleep anyway.  The other three family members, however, were very excited to see DT arrive.

The first time DT came, he was the bearer of bad news.  Since my mother-in-law’s house is the height of a three story, although it’s a two story (confused yet?), he could not get on the roof to install the dish.  I think union rules were involved.  Either that, or he was just a chicken, I’m not sure which.  Regardless, DT said he could not install the dish without the proper equipment.  Mr. Everything, being who he is, just happened to have a friend with a bucket truck. (Doesn’t everyone have a bucket truck?)  He asked DT if a bucket truck would work, and DT said it would.  They made their plans and the date was set for Thursday, 12/27.  That was great, except for one problem.  We already had somewhere to be that day, and it didn’t involve waiting at home for the cable, excuse me satellite, guy.  (Does cable even exist anymore?  Do our children know what cable is?)

Anywho, all week, Mr. E and DT have been calling each other back and forth, making arrangements for the big day.  You would’ve thought they were pre-teen girls planning for a sleepover.  They arranged for DT to come today.  Today, we would have TV, and all would be right with the world.

We waited around all day.  DT called and said when he thought he would be here.  Then, he called again and bumped the time to later.  Finally, around 5:30, he arrived.  This was just in time for it to get dark outside.  So, here was this man, climbing the ladder of a bucket truck in the dark.  Great planning, boys.

After about an hour, dinner was ready, and I told Mr. Everything he would have to leave his new friend and come in and eat.  He obeyed, sort of, but DT interrupted us in the middle of dinner.  Just like a kid, Mr. E left his plate of unfinished food and dashed off to see what kind of trouble he could get into.  Together, Mr. E and DT went up the stairs and down the stairs and up the stairs and down the stairs.  At least they got their workout today!  The problem was, every time DT came back down the stairs, Captain, my mother-in-law’s dog, would go crazy barking.  Then, Pepe Chihuahua would join in the fun.  Then, Captain would bark at Pepe because he doesn’t like it when Pepe barks.  Then, Pepe would bark back, and quickly, it would turn into a dog fight.  Hair would be flying, teeth would be showing, and it would get ugly.  Luckily, Pepe Chihuahua did not lose any teeth this time.  He usually does, bless his heart.

So, after a few hours of up and down the stairs, my mother-in-law and I were weary.  She was ready to go to her bedroom after a long day of work.  I was ready for DT to get out of the house.  My mother-in-law asked Mr. E, “Can’t I just go to my room?” but he told her she couldn’t.  He said they were going through her room to get to the attic upstairs.

Soon, the Beetle started hanging out in my room.  I wondered what was up, because he never hangs out in my room.  I asked him what he was doing.  With wild eyes, he said, “I can’t play X-Box.” (Oh no..emergency!)  I asked him why not.  He said every time he started a game, DT would come in and need to look at something on his TV.  He said he was going to die if he didn’t get back to his game soon.  Somehow, because of the look in his eyes, I believed it was that serious for him.

The Goose soon came in and told me she couldn’t get ready for bed.  She said Mr. E and DT had furniture stacked in her room.  I was beginning to wonder what was going on up there, but I decided not to investigate.  I would have to climb those killer stairs if I wanted to find out.  (A two story house the height of a three story house equals a very long, steep set of stairs.)

Soon enough, DT and Mr. E came to my room.  They both stood in front of the TV, looking at it, switching channels and looking at it some more.  This did not seem like a fun play date to me.

Somehow, our stations were still set to Jacksonville, although we live much closer to Tampa.  After an hour of looking at the channels, and establishing over and over and over that they were, indeed, Jacksonville stations, the boys decided they didn’t know what to do about it.  By this point, the kids kept whispering and asking me when DT was going to leave.  I told them I wasn’t sure.  I began considering fixing him a pallet of blankets on the floor so he would have somewhere to sleep.

I wondered what his real name was.  “DT” was sufficient for him, so I didn’t ask.  The man was obviously a native Spanish speaker.  I was getting excited about having a live-in Spanish tutor for the kids.  He was going to be quite useful in our family.

The funny thing was, as I was considering what to name him after we adopted him, DT kept referring to Mr. Everything as, “Sir.”  “Sir, is the channel still on Jacksonville?”  “Sir, can you hand me my phone?” “Sir, can I just live here?” “Sir, sir, sir.”  I knew good and well that Mr. E had told him our life story.  I’d heard part of it, so I wasn’t sure why DT was being so distant.  I thought we were closer than that.  I told him, "DT.  If you're going to live here, you'll have to call us by name."  (Okay, I really didn't but can't you imagine the look on his face if I had?)

Finally, after another half hour or so of looking at channels and discussing it some more, DT and Mr. E established for the final time that the channels were, you guessed it, from Jacksonville.  Then, DT said, “Your box is probably out of date.”  Ya don’t say.

DT and Mr. E made plans to talk the next day.  DT said he would call him at 9:00 in the morning.  I wondered if they would brew coffee so they could drink it together while they chatted.  Finally, at 10:00 PM, DT decided it was time for him to go.  Luckily, the Beetle and the Goose were not nearby, because I’m pretty sure they would have vocalized the, “Oh, thank goodness,” I was thinking.  So, just as quickly as DT came into our lives, he left us.  He promised to call tomorrow, though, so we’ll still be in touch.  Maybe he can come to our New Years Day meal.  We’ll teach him how to eat southern.  For now, I guess I’ll hold off on making a stocking to hang for him next year.  We’ll see if he comes back to us first…. For now, we have the promise of a call.   -Al

I was pretty convinced I had completely missed Christmas this year.  All I have done for the last, well forever, is work.  I work from morning until night and then I work some more.  And then I dream about working.  I might as well be working.

Couple the working with moving, and you have the formula for a frantic December.  It amazes me that, every time Mr. E and I say our life can’t possibly get any busier, it does.  Maybe we should start saying our life can’t possibly slow down any more.  Maybe then, it would.

Anywho, I’ve been mourning Christmas.  It hadn’t even happened yet, but I was already mourning my loss.  I have not watched one Christmas movie this year.  I’ve made no crafts.  I looked at no lights.  Okay, well, I looked at them as I rushed by, but I never took the time to really look at them.  Except for the party house.  I can't help but look at the party house in our neighborhood.  It has a red and green disco light on the front porch.  Party house! Woop-woop!  (You have to say that when you drive by.  It’s a rule.)

I really had not even shopped.  I ordered almost everyone’s gift, except for my children’s, online, the day after Thanksgiving.  I haven’t stepped foot in the mall this Christmas season (and I’m actually okay with that part).

As Christmas drew closer and closer, my mourning shifted into panic.  On Monday of this week (that would be Christmas Adam, for those of you who are counting…. Christmas Adam, the day before Christmas Eve, because Adam did, indeed, come before Eve.), I went shopping.  I drove around aimlessly, wondering what in the world to buy my children.  I contemplated just going to the Hess station but figured they wanted more than beef jerky and a Coke for Christmas. (Some children are so demanding.)

At some point in the blur of the last few weeks, the Goose and I decorated my mother-in-law’s tree.  Since we are living in her house, it was the nice thing to do.  My plan was to set up our own tree in our bedroom so my various and sundry brightly colored ornaments would not mess up her nicely planned out color scheme.  However, late last week, I admitted that a tree in our room wouldn’t happen.  It think it was when I stubbed my toe on that box of housewares for the 70th time that I realized there was no room for a tree since we’ve yet to unpack a box.  (Don’t judge us.)  At that point, I convinced the Goose to just pick out a few of our favorite ornaments and put them on my mother-in-law’s tree.  The Goose asked if I was going to help pick them out, and I said, “Do you honestly want me to?”  Remembering the crying fits of Christmas past, she wisely said she would pick them herself.  I teared up as I saw her even looking in the box.  That box of ornaments is like an emotional enema for me.  It just cleans out every tear I have stored up. (Okay, that was a gross analogy.)

Back to my point, I almost missed Christmas.  On Christmas Adam, we worked until 2:30 in the morning.  Then, on Christmas Eve, I got up at 7:30 to get to Wal-mart before the rest of humanity.  I can only take so much humanity at one time, you know.  I hit Wal-mart, 2 Publix stores and 1 Winn Dixie twice (Don’t ask).  I got home and decided I’d better get the gift wrapping done.  I had promised myself I would not be up past midnight on Christmas Eve wrapping gifts.  (So, instead, I was up editing, but hey, I wasn’t wrapping.)

The Goose, bless her pea-pickin’ little heart, offered to wrap all the gifts for our relatives and friends.  She totally wrapped Christmas for me.  That left me with just the gifts for my kids.  That still took a while, but I got ‘er done, thanks to the Goose.

I worked for a little while but then had to cook dinner.  I was bound and determined to cook our traditional ham, mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese Christmas Eve dinner.  Normally, I would have other items with those three key dishes.  This year, however, we just stuck to the basics.  The Goose and I joked, since we didn’t even have vegetables, that we were making our own Christmas version of Fat Tuesday.  (Fat Tuesday – nothing green is allowed.)  I managed to throw some Pillsbury cookie dough onto a baking stone and bake some cookies.  They weren’t homemade from scratch, but they were cookies.

Earlier in the day on Christmas Eve, I had begun to panic because I was afraid we would stick to no traditions, and I had no idea how I was going to get it all done.  The Goose wanted to make her berry pie that she learned how to make in Young Chef’s Academy a few years ago.  The Beetle wanted a chocolate meringue pie.  Mr. E just wanted something to eat for dinner.  I wanted the peanut butter cookies with Hershey’s kisses, and of course, I had to make sausage and cheese balls to take to my parents’ house on Christmas.  As I thought about all the things I had to do, I had no idea how I would get it done.  However, I decided panicking would not help, so I just got busy.  I had an unexpected extra pair of hands this year as, apparently, my pre-teen girl has grown a conscience and realized her mama needs help.  Without complaint, she eagerly, willingly and cheerfully helped with whatever I needed.  The Beetle even got in the spirit of things and washed a few dishes.  It was a Christmas miracle.

After dinner, we ate cookies.  One of us ate way too many cookies. (I won’t name names, but Beetle, you know who you are…you’re the one with the stomachache.)  Then, I decided everyone could help me make sausage balls.  Gathered around the kitchen table, my kids laughed and joked with me as we made sausage balls (and some cubes…dare to be different) together.  It was a beautiful moment.  As I sat there, digesting my ham and macaroni and cheese and cookies, I realized I got to have Christmas.  It was brief, but it was beautiful.  It was a moment I will forever cherish until I lose my mind. (Then, I won’t remember it.)  I realized as I looked at my kids that they are growing up.  They are changing, and they need me less and less.  However, as we sat there, laughing, talking and teasing, I also realized it was okay.  I still got my Christmas.

And as I had these warm and wonderful thoughts about my kids, one called the other one an ugly name, and the bickering began.  As quickly as it had started, my Christmas moment had ended just as quickly.  But, at least, I got a moment.

I don’t know what Christmas Day will hold, but it doesn’t really matter.  My holiday season rushed by, and I almost missed, but it stopped just long enough for me to take a breath and enjoy. 

I hope you’ve taken a moment to breathe and enjoy.  It will be over before we know it.  Merry Christmas to you and yours!  I hope, even if you only get 5 minutes of Christmas, they are a great 5 minutes!  -Al

Traditions can be so much fun.  In our family, we have the tradition of baking cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve.  We add the kids’ handprints to our tree skirt every year so we can see how much they’ve grown.  We put reindeer food on the lawn so the reindeer will be attracted to our house.  Those are the traditions I love.  Then, there is the tradition my extended family has.  “Love” would not be the word for how I feel about this one.

See, my parents own their own industrial safety supply business.  My father has gotten to know many of his customers, so every year, he wants to send them each a personal Christmas card.  Somewhere along the way after my sister’s twins were born, those cards started including an annual photo of all five grandchildren.  At first, it was cute.  It allowed the customers to see how much the kids had grown.  We’ve listed them as “Future Employees.”  One year, they wore hard hats.  One year, they were in boxes with stickers on them, like they were being shipped.  The list of poses just goes on and on and on.  Fast forward many years, and what we have are 2 teens, 1 tween and 2 almost tweens who really, really don’t want to take a photo together.  Just getting them in one place at the same time is difficult enough.

For the past several years, the conversation has gone like this:

One of my parents:  “We need to do the Christmas card picture.”
My sister and me and any child standing nearby:  “UUUGGGHHH!!!”
One of my parents: “You know we have to do it.  How are we going to pose them this year?”
My sister: “I don’t care.”
Me: “It doesn’t matter, because no matter what I suggest, no one will listen anyway.”
One of my parents: “Now, don’t be like that.  It will be fun.”
Us, in unison: “Sure it will.”

For the next several weeks, my sister and I go merrily about our business, pretending as though the tradition is not looming over our heads.  Finally, after several more times of our parents asking when the picture is going to happen, my sister and I pull out our family calendars (AKA our cell phones).  We have a 15 minute conversation of:
“No.  We can’t make it then.” 
“No, the kids have a party.” 
“No, that won’t work.”

“Definitely not that day.”

And we finally discover 5 minutes two weeks from Tuesday that are unaccounted for.  With that, we have a plan.  Then, we just need a pose.  Usually, we agonize over it but pull something out of thin air at the last minute.

This year was no different.  I found a pose my parents agreed on, and we were set to go.  The idea was that, in the picture, our kids would all be looking at their cell phones.  The caption was going to say something to the effect of, “We interrupt our busy schedules to wish you a Merry Christmas.”  My sister and I found a few minutes when all 5 kids were available.  It was all systems go on the photo tradition. 

On the day of the big event, I began warning the Goose and the Beetle an hour ahead of time that they had to get ready for the picture.  It wasn’t like there was a lot to get ready for.  It would be a casual pose, wearing casual clothing.  I just figured they needed time to mentally prepare and possibly brush their hair.  Thirty minutes before blast off, the Goose came into my room and said, “Why do we have to take a picture?”  I calmly told her we had to because Grandmama and Granddaddy wanted us to.  She said she didn’t want to, and I reminded her that it wasn’t about her.  She insisted that she didn’t want to, and I again reminded her that there was no “I” in “team.”  (I hate that phrase, but I used it.  Honest, I did.)  She rolled her eyes and said we were talking about a picture and not a team.  I said she knew what I meant and told her to go get ready.  We then proceeded to have a round and round conversation of, “Why?” and “Because it’s not about you,” for the next 25 minutes. 

It was time to go.  It would take 10 minutes to get to my sister’s house, and we had 5 minutes to be there.  We were on a tight schedule as we had other places to be after the blessed photo shoot.  I told the Goose to get in the car, and she continued the argument.  Then, she burst into tears.  Now, if she had cried to begin with, I might have felt sorry for her.  However, she was crying after arguing with me for 25 minutes.  I wasn’t buying it.  “Get in the car,” was as much sympathy as she got from me.

All the way to my sister’s house, the Goose cried and said she did not want to take a picture.  I’m pretty sure I broke the record for how many times a mother can say, “It’s not about you,” in a 10 minute period.  We reached my sister’s house, and I approached her door, wild eyed.  She opened the door, took one look at me and said, “Good day?” Um, yeah.  My answer, though almost incoherent, was, “You deal with her.  Take the picture.”

Once the Goose got involved with her cousins, she forgot her problems.  She actually did fairly well in the photos.  We got enough shots that we felt like we could use something.  I had to photoshop the Beetle’s nose, because he had a zit that just wouldn’t quit.  I hadn’t even noticed it at home, but he was looking a little Rudolfish in the pictures.  So, I gave him a quick paint job, and the picture looked good to me.  We cropped it, emailed to our parents and breathed a sigh of relief.  It was early December, and the blessed picture was taken.  We were awesome.  I left my sister’s house practically floating, because I was so happy to have that over with.

Then, we got the email.  My parents were not happy with the picture, because they said they wanted to see 5 happy grandkids and not 4 happy and 1 who had been crying.  I won’t write what I thought at the moment I read the email.  I try to keep this blog child-friendly, you know.  Let’s just say I had to take about a week to cool off before I could think about the blessed photo again.

Yesterday, I decided to call my sister and try for round 2 of the photos.  We found thirty minutes in the afternoon between the school bus and a party.  My sister and her husband decided to change the background for the photo, so we met at a local church with a brick wall.  I told the kids to get ready, and the Goose immediately started again with, “Why do I have to be in the picture?”  I felt like it was Groundhog Day. (And if you don’t understand that reference, you should watch the movie “Groundhog Day.”  It’s really cute.  Bill Murray is in it, but he isn’t nearly as weird as he was in “Caddy Shack.”)

The Goose began to throw a hissy fit but quickly controlled herself (thank goodness).  We made it to the church and posed the kids.  It’s quite a challenge to pose 5 kids so they look like they aren’t posed, but we managed.  Then, we endured about 20 minutes of various children taking turns ruining the photo.  I was pretty convinced my parents would only see 4 happy grandkids in their picture because my brother-in-law was going to send one of them to the moon.  Which one?   I was not sure.

Finally, with 5 minutes to spare for us to get the Goose to her party, we called the photo shoot a success.  We actually did not know whether we got a good shot or not.  My brother-in-law said he would take the camera home and look at the photos on his computer.  He said he would let me know this weekend if we need to do a re-take.  All I know is, I’m not answering my phone this weekend!

Really, as I have reminded the Goose several times, it is a small thing we can do.  If my parents want a picture of their 5 grandkids, then a picture they will get.  In the grand scheme of things, it’s not that big of a deal to arrange a picture for the people who raised me and took care of me and loved me.  (This is much easier to write now that the picture is taken…Besides, I have to win some brownie points with my parents, who just happen to read my blog - Christmas is coming, you know!)   -Al

My father was raised in an orphanage in the days before laws about child abuse were in existence, but don’t think that means he gets pity from us.  My sister and mother and I like to tease him when he starts to tell his orphan stories.  I pretend to play the violin, and we all feign pity and comfort for him.  Really, though, if you think about it, my daddy has an amazing story.

Daddy and his two brothers and one sister were dropped off to live at an orphanage.  Their parents were divorced, and both had issues.  Their mother was too selfish, drunk, crazy (you fill in the synonym you want) to raise her four children.  Instead, she left them for someone else to deal with.  Many of the stories Daddy has told us about his childhood are not happy.  In one way, he was spoiled since he lived in an orphanage.  All the nearby Christians made themselves feel better by giving the little orphans gifts.  However, material things were about all he got.  He has told stories of meanness and cruelty from the house parents who raised him.  They were not all bad, but many of them did their share of damage to him and his siblings.  Some of the things that were said and done to him were horrible and would damage anyone who endured them.

To meet Daddy, you would never know the terrible circumstances he came from.  He has been married almost 44 years.  He has raised two daughters who are well balanced and terrific, if we do say so ourselves.  He has been just about the best granddaddy a kid could ask for. 

Daddy was steady in his job for all of my childhood.  After he had been there over 25 years, he left to start his own business.  He built his company from nothing to a business that was doing multi-million dollar annual sales.  This wasn’t bad for a little orphan boy from South Carolina.

Daddy and I had some rocky years way-back-when.  I won’t even get into those as it doesn’t matter.  Even during that time, I knew that he loved me, and I knew that he would take care of me.  He has provided financial support for me, sometimes even in my adult years.  When we were running our pottery business, I often said that we were only staying afloat by the grace of God and my daddy.  He and Mama helped us tremendously and without complaint.

Daddy has always had a great sense of humor.  I think I got my charming wit from him. (And my humility.)  I did get my ability to write useless poetry from him; that much I know is true.  Daddy can make up silly rhymes on command.  They may be stupid, but they will have iambic pentameter.

Daddy has always joked with my friends and made them feel at ease.  A good rule of thumb as a teenager was, if my friends couldn’t understand my father’s humor, they were probably someone I didn’t want to hang around with, because my humor and his humor were a lot alike. When Willow, my best friend, first met Daddy, I was introducing her to him.  I said I wasn’t sure what she could call him, and he said, “You can call me Sir.”  To this day, Willow calls him “Sir” and even addresses cards to “Sir.”  They have a fun relationship that made her feel like part of our family.

One thing I obviously did not get from my father is his athletic ability.  He has been a runner my whole life.  He ran triathlons, half marathons and even marathons.  Several years ago, he had to stop running so much because he developed arthritis in his hips.  However, just recently, the man has started running again.  At almost 67 years old, the man is running 14 miles.  Yeah.  I definitely didn’t get that from him.  I’ll only run if I’m being chased by a wild animal, and then, the wild animal is likely to win.

I don’t tell Daddy this nearly often enough (or ever), but I am proud of him and what he has become.  He did not let his childhood determine his destiny.  Instead, he rose from the circumstances and built his life and his family.  He is a good man, a good father and a good grandfather.  My sister and I are blessed to have him!  (And in case he reads this, as I’m pretty sure he will, Happy Father’s Day, Daddy!  I love you!)    -Al

I had to chuckle when I saw this book in the dollar store in High Springs.  I have no idea what this book is about, but I love the title.  Who knew there was a book about how to not become your mother?  Maybe I should have read it, because I’m pretty sure it’s happening for me pretty quickly.

I’ve always said I wouldn’t become my mother.  It’s not that she was a bad mother or anything like that, but who wants to become your mother?  I mean, she’s old, right?  My mother has been old to me since the day I was born!  I guess that’s how I look to my kids too.

There are certain ways I have transformed into my mother.  For one thing, sometimes, I open my mouth and my mother comes out.  I remember the first time it happened.  I used my mother’s favorite phrase, “Don’t look at me in that tone of voice!”  Then, I looked around, scared and whispered, “Mama?  Is that you?” 

Another way I have become like my mother is that I can smack my children while driving down the interstate, and I never even take my eyes off the road.  Back talk?  (Smack out of nowhere.)  Fighting?  (Pow!)  Looking at me in that tone of voice?  (Bam!)  Of course, sometimes it’s challenging to actually hit them, since we drive monstrously big vehicles.  My children are apparently smarter than my sister and I were when we were younger because they know how to move quickly before they actually get smacked.  This leaves me to flail around blindly and look like a crazy woman while I’m driving.

I can cook like my mama, too.  If it’s white, fried and southern, no problem!  If you want me to tell you the measurements for most things I cook, we have a problem.

As I glanced at this book in the dollar store, it got me started thinking.  I’ll admit that, in many ways, I am quickly transforming into my mother.  But, really, is that a bad thing?  Mama had (and has!) a lot of great qualities that I only hope I am living up to.

Mama fiercely loved (and still loves) her kids.  If you don’t believe me, just say something negative about me or my sister in front of my mother.  Hell hath no fury like a mother offended.

No matter what, we always knew that Mama loved us.  She was always there for us, even when it wasn’t convenient for her.  She always put our needs first, and my sister and I never did without.  Mama put her career on hold to be home with us and to make sure we were taken care of.  No matter what, I always knew Mama was there.

Mama created a home for us.  We felt loved and cared for, and we always knew we were welcome.  This applies even today.  As we have been driving back and forth from High Springs to Brandon for the last month, we have stayed with her every weekend.  She has let my kids have friends spend the night, and the Beetle even had 4 teenage boys over to swim for his birthday.  Mama never complained and never said we couldn’t come.  Although this is not the house I lived in as a child, it’s Mama’s house, so it’s home.

Mama taught us to laugh at ourselves and at others.  She let us know that it was okay not to take life too seriously.  I’m pretty sure I learned that lesson a little too well.

Mama let us try everything.  Between my sister and me, we had dance lessons, gymnastics lessons, horseback riding lessons (and I owned my own horse), violin lessons, flute lessons and ice skating lessons.  We went to day camp, friends’ houses and more.  I was on the tennis team and went to a math tutor.  My sister had activities too (I can’t actually remember what she did.  I was too busy with my own stuff).  My mother ran a taxi service, and she never complained.  My mother didn’t even make me stay for the ever-dreaded pep rallies in high school.  She would pick my friend, Willow, and me up from school early so we did not have to go.  Now, that’s a nice Mama!

Mama was friends with my friends.  She got to know them, and she laughed with them, and she enjoyed them.  My house was the house that everyone wanted to go to, because everyone was welcomed there.  Plus, Mama would cook some southern macaroni and cheese for us.

When I fell in love at the ripe old age of 15, Mama accepted Mr. Everything as one of her own.  Never did she treat him as an outsider.  In fact, at one point during the dating years, she told me that I might as well marry him because if I didn’t, she was going to adopt him.

Mama was not perfect.  I could name her flaws, but that wouldn’t win me any points, now would it?  (She does read my blog, you know.  I’m not that stupid.)  She tried her best, and she was fully committed as a mother.  My sister and I were never anything less than her top priority.  She loved us and raised us, and we both turned out to be (somewhat) decent human beings who can form complete sentences.  I can only hope that I am as good of a mama as my mama has been for me.  I was loved.  I was nurtured.  I was cared for.  I don't thank my mother enough, so I'm thanking her here for the world (or the dozen people who actually read this) to see.  Thank you Mama for all you have done and will continue to do for me!  Happy (almost belated) Mother's Day!  -Al

Mr. Everything and his best friend, Micah (names changed, as usual) met when they were just 11 years old.  They walked to and from the bus stop together, and an instant friendship was formed.  Micah passed away in November, 2010.  It was a sudden thing, and no one saw it coming.  Having him removed from our lives like that has left a Micah-sized hole that can never be filled.  He would have been 43 years old today.  I would have had so much fun teasing him about his age.

Micah and Mr. E were alike in some ways and very different in other ways.  Micah was an artist.  He was creative and talented, and he was often bored, which led to laziness and trouble-making. (He was a great trouble maker!)  Mr. E is creative in different ways, but he is the opposite of lazy.  He was (and is) a good boy who never got in trouble (unless Micah or I were there to lead him astray).  Together, the Mr. and Micah made quite a team.  They made many happy memories together. 

Micah and I had a love-hate relationship.  Sometimes, we loved to be mean to each other, but we both knew it was just in jest.  He had a heart of gold, and I knew he would be there in an instant if I needed him.  I hope he knew the same about me.  I have many happy memories of Micah, and many of them make me laugh.

Micah and my best friend, Willow, dated briefly.  Very briefly.  I still tease her that she was in love with him, but I’m pretty sure it was a relationship of convenience for both sides.  The four of us went to homecoming together when Willow and I were juniors in high school.  We went to the Melting Pot for dinner, and we had a great time.  Micah was always spouting facts and telling us things he knew.  We, as teenaged girls, found this very annoying and usually made fun of him for it.  This night was no different.  There was a rose in a vase on the table at dinner.  Out of nowhere, Micah told us that humans could eat all kinds of flowers and survive.  We said we didn’t care, but he kept talking.  He insisted that, not only could you eat a rose, but it was considered a delicacy.  By this point, Willow and I were laughing so hard we were crying.  Then, Willow said the fateful words, “Well, if it’s such a delicacy, eat it.”  Imagine a fifteen year old girl and a sixteen year old girl guffawing with laughter while Mr. E was pretending not to be with us and Micah was talking about eating flowers.  He began pulling petals off the rose and eating them.  This only added fuel to our giggle fest.  He ended up eating the whole thing as we snorted and chuckled.  Being the gentleman that he was, he offered each us a petal.  Micah and Willow broke up pretty soon after that evening.  For years, and probably to this day, all I had to say was, “He ate a rose,” and Willow and I were reduced to laughter.

At one point when I was still in high school, Micah managed to get himself kicked out of his parents’ house (He was at least 19 by this time).  He decided he could live just fine in his Fiat X19.  Now, for those of you who don’t know what kind of car this is, picture the smallest two-seater you can think of.  Shrink it to smaller than you thought possible, and you have a Fiat X19.  Micah was about 6’2”, and he was a big guy!  He wasn’t fat, but he was solid, and he decided to live in a Fiat.  At the time, I was surprised that Mr. E’s parents said Micah could live in his car behind their house.  However, thinking back, I’m pretty sure they just wanted to see the show.  Micah had a tiny black and white TV that would run on the car battery.  We would look out, and he would be sitting in the passenger’s seat with his feet hanging out of the driver’s side window.  He would sit like that and watch TV.  I’m not sure what he ate, and I never wanted to know where he went to the bathroom.  I think he lasted about a week before he started to look for other living arrangements.

Micah and his son, Dillon, were into Star Wars.  I don’t mean that Micah had a slight fascination.  I mean he ate, slept and breathed Star Wars.  He was in a Star Wars club that I used to tease him about unmercifully.  (Except, I called it the Star Trek club just to get his goat.)  Mr. E and I never fully understood what the club was until after Micah passed away.  This club was an organization of people who spent their time volunteering for children’s charities.  They would dress up in very authentic Star Wars costumes and help with fundraisers to help kids.  This club came together and showed us what they were all about after Micah died.  They were there to support the family, and they were an awesome group of people.

Micah had built an R2D2 replica.  This was not just any replica.  This was a life-sized, working robot.  I had heard about it, but I never saw it until after he passed away.  It was astounding.  At that point, I realized what talent Micah had.  I always knew that he was artistic, but I had no idea.  He used old trinkets and built them into amazing things.  He was a creative genius.

The ultimate memory of Micah for me was his funeral.  This may sound weird, but Micah had the coolest funeral I have ever attended.  The Star Wars people were there, and they weren’t just there; they were there in costume.  I’m here to tell you, you haven’t lived until you attended a funeral with a storm trooper.  I sat beside Princess Leia.  I’ve never had such a hard time being serious at a funeral in all my life, and I’m pretty sure that’s just how Micah would have wanted it.  His family even chose his final resting place based on Star Wars.  He is in a wall at the cemetery, and his spot is two to the right and two down.  R2D2.  What an awesome way to memorialize an awesome person.

It has been over two years since Micah died.  Mr. Everything still mourns him, and so do I.  I don’t know that I will ever be able to talk about him without tearing up.  He was a talented artist, a loyal friend, an amazing dad and a good son and brother.  He left a hole in us that can’t be filled, but he also left many happy memories.  When I start to feel sad about him, I just remember him cramming that rose into his mouth, and I am happy.  -Al

Normal kids have dolls and little cars and blocks to play with.  My kids are not normal. (I know that’s hard for you to believe.)  They have hard hats and latex gloves and gas masks.  This is how it has always been.  They’ve always had more safety supplies than the average construction worker.  That’s because their grandfather sells safety supplies, and it is against his religion to say no to the grandkids.

When my sister and I were little, we never had hard hats.  We didn’t have latex gloves.  That might be because they didn’t make them back them, but we didn’t have gloves made out of dinosaur skin either.  I never had a gas mask.  I was so deprived.  Daddy sold safety supplies back then, too, but he wasn’t as nice to us.  I’m not sure he even liked us.  He had no problem telling us no.  In fact, I think he made a sport of it.

One thing we did have was Gatorade.  I know, you’re thinking everyone has Gatorade.  However, if you can remember that far back, Gatorade was not always available.  It did not start being sold in stores until the middle to late ‘80s.  We had Gatorade at our house in the ‘70s.  It was powdery, lime-flavored Gatorade, but it was Gatorade none-the-less.  If you think that made us cool, you are wrong.  No one knew what Gatorade was, so it did not increase our popularity at all.  In fact, when we tried to give it to our friends, they would take one sip and say, “Ew.  What is this stuff?” 

Daddy sold Gatorade through his safety supply company because construction workers used it to stay hydrated.  Daddy used it too after he went jogging.  I didn’t drink it (and I didn’t jog.).  That lime flavor was disgusting.  It still is.

It is amazing how much grandparents transform between having their own kids and having grandkids.  Daddy was never mean, but he certainly did not have any problem telling us no or spanking us or punishing us when needed.  (That’s why I turned out so well.  My sister?  Well…)  Actually, that last statement is just a test to see if my sister actually reads my blog.

With the grandkids, Daddy is like a big marshmallow.  Actually, he’s not all that big, but he’s a marshmallow anyway.  “Granddaddy, will you buy me some candy?”  “Sure!”  “Granddaddy, will you buy me a toy?”  “Sure!”  “Grangraddy, can I have this hard hat?”  “Sure!  Take two!”  (“Grangraddy” is the Beetle.  That’s how he has always said Granddaddy’s name.)

The result is that my kids have safety supplies.  They’ll eye something in his garage, and it’s as good as theirs.  Gloves?  “Sure!”  Rubber boots?  “Why not?”  $150 sound-canceling ear muffs.  “You betcha!”  Since they were old enough to talk, my kids have played with hard hats, gloves, safety vests, traffic cones and safety glasses.  They even had those flags that construction workers use to wave traffic forward, until they started beating the snot out of each other with them.  Then, we had to take them away and put them in the collection of wayward toys.

The Beetle once had a birthday party where each child went home with a real hard hat.  No party store cheapies for us!  He also has a hat hard shaped like a cowboy hat.  (No kidding.)  The Goose had a hot pink hard hat until she decided that pink was an offensive color.  Now, I’m sure she has one or two blue ones in her room (somewhere, under all that stuff in the closet).

You would think at age 15 that the Beetle would no longer want safety supplies.  However, he still does.  He comes home constantly with a new flashlight or a new pair of safety glasses.  For a while, both kids had a box of latex gloves with their names marked on them.  We’ve used latex gloves as water balloons and hats.  We’ve used latex gloves as bean bags.  We’ve used latex gloves in all kinds of ways.  Once, we used one as the utter for a cow we made in science.  Then, we milked it.  That was fun.

Last night, the Beetle came home with his very own rain suit complete with suspenders.  He has quite a look going in those pants.  I might not have to worry about him dating for a while.

As long as Granddaddy is around, I know my kids are set with whatever they need.  Whether it’s candy, toys, games or gloves, he’s the man!  No matter what the request, if it’s for the grandkids, it’s as good as done.  -Al

Addendum to the story:  My sister, AKA The Wild Child, reminded me that Daddy also would bring home glowsticks back before stores sold them.  That did add to our coolness factor a little.  It didn't help much, but anything was better than nothing....