Friday, August 29, 2008

Piggy the Sailor Man: the story of Popeye, Piggy and the last steamboat on the Coosa

My grandfather was a boat racer, aviator and steamboat operator. His name was Hugh E. Green, but everybody called him Piggy. According to his obituary, he died when I was four years old, but that doesn't seem possible for someone I remember so well. Fortunately, there are a few faded clippings, some old black and white photos and a handful of people still around who knew him; otherwise, no one would believe the stories my father had to tell.

Aside from his wife, my sweet, yet spirited grandmother, Dorothy "Dot" Camp Green and his two sons, Hugh, and Ben, the baby who is my daddy, Piggy loved the river. The muddy water of the River seemed to flow through his veins.

And that's where we shall start...

My grandfather, whom his six granddaughters called Big Daddy, owned the last steamboat on the Coosa. The steam stern wheel tugboat was built in 1888 and later abandoned before being purchased by the government, who used it to dredge the river channels clear of snags and sediment. Its original cost was about $40,000.

Piggy bought the boat, named Leota, from the federal government in the 1930’s. He remodeled her and moved the pilothouse from middle to the front and shortened her stacks, so she could fit under the 2nd and 5th Ave. bridges of Rome, Georgia. He also changed the boat's name from Leota back to her original one, Annie M.

Piggy gave sightseeing tours or excursions, as he called them, down the river from Rome to Gadsden. A spacious dance floor was provided for dancing and games, according to a 1936 news article. The boat had 10-12 staterooms, one of which was used as a brigade for unruly passengers, with Big Daddy acting as the long arm of the law, or "the short arm of Piggy," as my father said. On Sundays, Piggy would take church groups up river to Whitmore and Ship Island.

Mayo’s Lock and Dam below Rome had been put in working condition for the Annie M. and was kept open just so excursions could be made beyond that point at will. Piggy was quoted in an article in The Atlanta Journal and Constitution Magazine in 1961 as saying:

"The river was still navigable from Rome to Gadsden then. It's 129 miles by river between the two towns. I used to go down the river in 13 hours in that old steamboat, but it took two to four days to come back upstream. It took longer when the river was high. I could take about 200 passengers on the Annie M., which had two decks. It was 147 feet long, 33 feet wide and had a 122-ton displacement."

Now Piggy was about 5' 9" and round in the middle. He had long, strong forearms and short legs. He had a great laugh and always had a small cigar stuck out of the corner of his mouth. His wife, Dot, or Mama Dot, as we called her, was tall and thin, a beauty, who fretted and worried about the wild man she married.

Kind of like Popeye and Olive Oil, which is quite ironic, considering the Annie M., or Leota, as she was called at the time, was once owned by a Captain Sims. It seems his son, Tom, used to work aboard the vessel as a boy.

So what you say?

Well, Tom later became the creator of the comic strip, "Popeye the Sailor." Tom was quoted by several sources as saying, "Fantastic as Popeye is, the whole story is based on fact. I was born on the Coosa River and worked with the crew of the Leota. So I transformed her into a ship and made the Coosa a salty sea, with part of that crew as characters for my strip."

On the 4th of July and New Year, couples would dance to the music of an "orchestra," (or band) on a barge decorated by lanterns, recalled Dot. The Annie M. would travel down river under the bridges and back. The Annie M. was eventually sold after a female passenger fell overboard during an excursion and drowned. Her husband said it was an accident but a cloud of suspicion surrounded him, with some saying the couple had argued that night.

The boat was purchased by Gadsden investors, who turned her into a casino. It was later sold to Mrs. H.B. Vinyard, an author who wrote short stories and poetry under the name of Mary Elizabeth Counselman. She lived on the vessel until it sank on Mother's Day 1945 and was dismantled, according to Roger Aycock's All Roads Lead to Rome.

Piggy kept Annie M. docked outside of his business, the Rome Welding Shop, which was located on the banks of the Oostanaula River. The property is now the site of the parking lot for The Forum, Rome’s Civic Center complex. Piggy described the steamer as "an awful lot of work," as the boat was big and clumsy and would not rise and fall with the river.

Boats over 65 or 70 ft. required a special license, so Capt. Walter F. Gray served as Leota's pilot, with Piggy as Skipper. Gray later became lockmaster at Mayo's Lock and Dam on the Coosa River, managing the locks for 35 years until their closing. In addition to Gray and Piggy, the crew consisted of one engineer and a couple of deckhands.

Monday, August 25, 2008

WATCH YOUR TONE, s'il vous plait.

I got the sweetest e-mail tonight.

How are you doing? I miss seeing you. I hope your family is well, it read. No, it wasn’t from a long-lost friend; it was from a woman I can’t stand. A woman who is normally pushy, loud, rude (and, I hate to say this, but a Yankee to boot).

Some people say you can’t pick up tone in e-mail, I disagree. You just don’t know if it is the person’s true tone. I used to work for the nicest lady. I’d talk to her on the phone, and she would sound something like this:

“If you have a chance, my dear, to work on these reports, that would be wonderful. Just do what you can, sweetheart, okay?”

Okay, I’d say, and I’d tinker along until I would get an e-mail, usually an hour and half later, that said:

“Where in the **#@# are the reports that I need? I’m going on vacation and need them—STAT!”

Yikes, who’s that, and when did she eat my boss?

In the French language, there are degrees of formality. For instance, vous is polite, and tu is familiar. I think we should have the same thing for e-mail. If we could categorize people as tu and vous, it would take out all the guesswork. Just because someone has your e-mail, it doesn’t make her your best friend. And even if she is, it doesn’t mean she should give up all the niceties like thank you and please or even hello and goodbye.

Another problem is the drunken e-mail. Honestly, I think we need to pass a Breathalyzer before the computer allows us to send one. Think people can’t smell alcohol on your breath through e-mail? Think again. Depending on the amount of wine, these e-mails are either very mushy or very angry, full of misspellings and sent to the entire e-mail distribution list.

Speaking of angry e-mails, they are never a good idea. Go for a jog, scream, unplug your computer--please don’t send an e-mail when you’re angry. You will always be sorry. I have a friend who quit her job recently via e-mail after a minor incident at work. Now she’s sending out drunken e-mails looking for employment.

I have a love/hate relationship with e-mail. I know e-mail is a great way to stay connected, but there are days when I miss face-to-face conversation. Sometimes nothing is better than meeting for a cup of coffee. Plus it keeps us sober.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Let me tell you what I did in college...

11 Things not to say to parents who have just sent a child off to college

(These are actual remarks that people, some I barely know and some I wish I didn’t, have made to me upon finding out my precious daughter is a freshman in college. Enjoy and feel free to add your own.)

1. That’s where I learned to funnel upside down!

2. “How OLD are you?” Followed by, “I never knew you were THAT old!”

3. My cousin’s friend’s mama works on a college campus, and she said that the big thing now is S-E-X—with multiple partners, girls, boys, as many as they can, wherever they can.

4. I worked on campus and that was a great way to find time to study and earn my beer money. You should tell her to get a job to pay for her own beer money like my grandfather did me.

5. My father is a professor there, and let me tell you, your daughter is getting an education in partying. You are paying for her not to go to class. None of those kids do; all they do is party. [Note: I was literally stopped in the street and told this by an acquaintance. I was walking, and she whipped her minivan over, nearly killing me, to dispense this useful information.]

6. Did she get the check I sent? [That’s code for “The ungrateful brat never sent me a thank you note.”]

7. That’s going to set you back a pretty penny.

8. I heard that was a good school for kids who want to keep their Hope scholarship.

9. Oh, she couldn’t get into Georgia?

10. That’s a party school!

11. Have you heard from her? [This one always makes me cry!!!]

Friday, August 22, 2008

Thank you, anyway

Last night I dreamed about thank you notes. Only in the South would this ritual of etiquette have so much importance. My mom gives me a new pack of notes for almost every holiday, and I need them. Southern women are expected to write thank you notes—and good ones—for just about every occasion.

For example, if someone helps you host an end-of-the-year party for the preschool class, you’d better write her to thank her for all the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on whole wheat without crust that she made. Even if one kid was allergic, and you told her that beforehand, and we had to throw them all away, plus run back to the school for the EpiPen, it was the thought that counted.

Thank you notes need to be personal also. One must mention the gift or gesture, express how thoughtful it was, explain how much it means to him or her, tell the person how and where it will be used, and let the person know how much he or she looks forward to seeing the giver again soon. In other words, one needs to be a BS artist.

Unfortunately, with texting and e-mailing, writing thank you notes seems to be a lost art. Today, kids are given fill-in-the-blank cards in which they simply insert the names and the items. Now what’s that teaching them? I made my son write all the thank you notes for his recent birthday party. (I know he’ll marry one day and pass this duty on, but for now…) He had only written three out of the ten before he cried, “Why did I have to invite so many people?”

In the South, it’s not only what you say in the note that matters, it’s how fast it gets there. If you can manage to have a note in the mailbox the next day, you can guarantee your family will get casseroles for every hangnail, thereafter.

Now, woes to the person who is late in sending out notes. I heard one woman complain, “I sent her that gift six months ago and just now sent me a thank you note!” To which I wanted to scream, “She had triplets and a house fire, for heaven’s sake, give her a break!”

But the best friends, I’ve discovered, are the ones you never have to send thank you notes to. And if you did, you know they would be mad. They are the ones who show up at your door bearing food, gifts or company, whatever you need the most. They are the ones who volunteer to watch your children for a day when you have a bad headache, call to see what you need (ice, candles, cake?) before your kid’s birthday party, and, yes, even help you write thank you notes.

I am fortunate to have several friends like this. We have an understanding that I would do the same for them, no need to send a flowery note to explain. Words do not do you justice, dear friends, but thank you, anyway.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Duty calls

“Mom! I stepped in dog mess,” yelled my distraught son.

“It’s okay; just take off your shoes!”

“But I’m not wearing any!”

That was the cry that started it all.

Wait a minute, I thought, we keep our dog fenced in the backyard. Why does our front yard look like a minefield?

It was then that I started paying closer attention to the habits of the couple up the street whom we call dog walkers. Each morning as I would get the paper, I would notice one of the owners with sweetie-kins, the dog that they dote on--just not enough to clean up after, apparently. Anyway, he and sweetie-kins would be right outside my yard.

Hmmm…I thought. So, the next morning, I decided to come out a little later. Sure enough, as I reached down to get the paper, I glanced over, and there was my neighbor in his PJ’s, casually sipping coffee, watching sweetie-kins do his morning business.

I rubbed my eyes in disbelief.

“Morning,” said dog walker as if it was perfectly natural for his dog to be doing that in my yard.

I nodded, incredulously.

This routine has gone on for over a month. Since I work from home most days, I began noticing that sweetie-kins also took potty breaks on our lawn at lunch, dinner, before bed, and who knows when in between. It’s not like the dog has a sudden urge to go either. They stop and wait for him. I timed them tonight. It took ten minutes. They are training him to go in our yard, for heaven’s sake. I’m surprised they don’t give him a treat afterwards.

So, does anyone have any suggestions on how to handle this? I thought about scooping up the duty, marching it up the street, knocking on their door and saying, “Sweetie-kins forgot something.” I don’t want to start a feud. I just want my children to be able to go barefoot in their own yard!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Not quite born to run

After watching 38-year-old Constantina Tomescu-Dita cross the finish line for an Olympic gold, smiling after running 26 miles, I thought, I want to do that. No, not win the Olympics, no, not run a marathon, not even a half marathon, heck, not even a 5K. I’d like to be able to just run across a parking lot. And forget about the smiling.

I’m a wannabe runner. I tried it recently and did okay as long as I had landmarks. I would tell myself, “Run to the tree, run to the streetlight, run past that mean-looking dog.”

I made pretty good progress until I hit the parking lot of the local BBQ joint. I tried to concentrate and ignore the smell of onion rings. As I ran, I didn’t acknowledge the stares from the good folks inside, watching me sweat while they stuffed their faces with pork sandwiches. I must confess, I had a moment of weakness thinking about their sweet tea with crushed ice. I started to slow, but my inner voice soon took over.

For heaven’s sake, Leigh, don’t tell me you can’t run across the parking lot, it said. What would you do if you were being chased? Play dead?

Boy, my inner voice is a bitch.

Don’t get me wrong, I exercise. I use free weights and play tennis on occasion. I just wasn’t quite born to run. I grew up with a weightlifting dad who doesn’t believe in long distance running.

“Look at them,” he said. “See how terrible they look.”

Watching some of the skinny bodies and agonizing faces of the marathon runners during the Olympics, I had to admit, he has a point.

I have participated in several one mile run/walks with my kids, however. You can spot me; I’m the tallest. Note, I didn’t say fastest. At these events, I’m always envious of those who run the 5 and 10K. In the fall at the Halloween race, I saw teenagers running barefoot ("Why?" you ask, "because they can.") and people running in elaborate costumes, including fat suits. But the piece de la resistance, was a mom who finished, pushing not one child, but four. She had quadruplets, and they were not babies, mind you, but good-sized toddlers.

Perhaps the best part of the races is the celebration afterwards. The fall race offered gumbo and beer for longer distance participants. Now I believe I could run across a parking lot for that.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Dumpster days

My oldest daughter started college, and it took her younger sister all of one week to move into the room she left behind. Between the two rooms and the attic, we now have some 30 bags full of once treasured items that have now been declared trash.

It’s Sunday, and our garbage pick up isn’t until Thurs. To use the county landfill, we’ll need to purchase special bags. I miss the dump. Growing up, I lived just down the street from one. It was the source of all my bicycles, and the vast majority of my dogs. I wasn’t always crazy about the bikes, but I loved each unwanted mutt that wandered down the street into my welcome arms.

My neighbors, despite always driving the latest sports cars, weren’t below “shopping” the dump like it was the mall. In fact, they decorated most of their split-level house courtesy of finds from their dumpster dives. Apparently recycling companies paid a pretty penny for aluminum during the 70’s, because I can remember seeing Mr. Dwayne, grinning, knee-deep in that stinky trash heap, holding up a can like it was a prize from a Cracker Jack box.

At my house, the dump was also a good discipline tool. Once I got a skate board against my dad’s wishes. He hated the thing and told me right upfront that the minute I got hurt, we were taking it to the dump. Fifteen minutes later, I was sitting in the truck beside him, tears streaming down my face from my sore head, where I had fallen, and my sore pride from having to heave my new toy into the sump hole, as my dad sometimes called it.

Shortly after I went to college and moved out, the county declared the dump too close to human habitat. By the time I came home to visit, it had been relocated. Good riddance, we all said. Nothing but old, rusty bikes and smelly stray dogs. Who knew I would grow up to miss it?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Reading, writing and wrapping paper?

You can tell that school has officially begun if kids are frantically knocking on your door. While I truly love my children’s school, each year begins something like this:

“Welcome back! Here’s your fundraising packet. Remember you need to sell, sell, sell, at least $350 if you want to earn your $5 lunch at the local Japanese restaurant with the rest of your friends; otherwise, we will consider you a loser. Oh, by the way, I’m your teacher.”

Although I tell my children each year that we would be happy to just make a donation in lieu of selling, they have been indoctrinated. This year the school faced a shortage of order forms, so my children somehow did not get theirs the day before school started like the rest of the children. This was not good. We live in a very competitive neighborhood, and it’s not just the kids; it’s the parents.

Last year, as I watched my children innocently knock on a neighbor’s door, another neighbor came charging out with fire in his eyes.

“Everything okay?” I asked.

“He’s ours! The Smith’s are ours!”

“Excuse me?” I said.

“We bought from their kids for years, now it’s their turn to buy from ours,” he shouted.

“Oh, okay, ha, ha,” I laughed nervously.

The neighbor glared at me, arms crossed.

He’s serious, I thought.

“Okay, kids, step away from the Smith’s”

“But, Mom, they were just about to order!”

“Uh, that’s alright, kids, just come on back here toward mama, slowly now.”

After days of pressing their noses to the glass door watching our neighbors’ kids run up and down the neighborhood, my kids finally got their order forms (thanks to a forceful call or two from mom). They sold a few items and came home the next day, saying, desperately, “We have to sell ten items, or we won’t get a monkey!”

Again, I said, “Excuse me?”

“A stuffed monkey, we have to sell ten items by tomorrow to get one!”

So, off to Grandma’s we go.

The next day, they proudly brought home their monkeys, which were apparently cheaply made.

“Mine’s injured! His leg is about to fall off,” said my son.

“Mine’s arm is coming off,” exclaimed my daughter.

Why didn’t we just buy one from the dollar store? I think.

We’ve spent the last few days walking the neighborhood, visiting friends from church and contacting long-lost relatives. The kids are really fretting about making this year’s sales goal. As for me, I don’t sweat it one bit. I know the kids will be dining on fried rice soon enough. After they sell their hearts out, I predict good ‘ole mom and dad will make up the difference, just as we have done for the past four years. Call it an educated guess.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The joy of ironing

My daughter went off to college recently, and I couldn’t help but laugh when my mom reminded her to pack an iron.

Surprisingly, she replied, “I already did!”

It must skip a generation.

Ironing is one of those chores where there is no middle ground—you either love it or you hate it. As for me, I love to hate it. I will go to great lengths to avoid ironing. For example, I’ll walk up the stairs, put the shirt in the dryer, then go back down the stairs, then go back up, get it out of the dryer, see that it is still wrinkled, put it back in the dryer and repeat cycle. I could have ironed ten shirts by this point.

Shortly after I got married, my husband proudly set up our new ironing board.

“I don’t mind ironing,” I had told him. (Note: We were newlyweds, and I never said I LIKED it.).

Grinning from ear to ear, he brings in an armload of severely wrinkled dress pants and dumps them in front of me. Apparently, he didn’t like ironing too much either.

“And what do you want me to do with these?” I asked.

He demonstrated how I should make sure the iron is hot enough, add a little water for steam, spray some starch and fold his pants just so to make a crease, etcetera and etcetera.

“Uh huh,” I said.

That was 12 years ago, and the stack of pants is still back there.

Recently, there was a television commercial for a wrinkle-free spray. Simply spray it on your clothing item, shake or smooth with your hands, and, voila, no need to ever iron again.

“That’s what you need, Mom!” said my daughter.

Somehow, she had picked up on my disdain for ironing. Maybe it’s because I tell her, “Your shirt’s wrinkled; go change.” I guess I should have been offended, but, instead, I rushed out to buy a bottle that day.

For some people, like my mother, ironing seems to be a pleasure. Mom ironed every morning. Sometimes we would get her to iron our clothes just to make them warm for us before we put them on. I have very fond memories of her ironing—I just don’t want to do it. However, I’m very glad she passed the gift on to my daughter. It may give her the competitive edge she needs in college.

In case you are wondering about the magic wrinkle-reducer, after spraying, shaking, smoothing, and spraying, shaking, smoothing some more, I was just about to throw it in the trash when I read the fine print. It said, “Works best when used with hot iron.”

Monday, August 11, 2008

Drivin' Miss Bessie

My daughter just returned from a week at the beach. The family she stayed with had seven children; thus, the beach house was named Seven Seas. I mentioned it to a friend who asked, “Why do we name our beach houses? We don’t name our regular houses,” which made me think, why DO we do that?

Having never owned a beach house, it’s hard for me to answer that one. I can say that, growing up, all of our cars had names. I particularly remember my mom’s green 1964 Chevrolet, Bessie, and my dad’s blue Ford, whose name I can’t repeat. Bessie, like a lot of women, some might say, had to be sweet-talked, or she wouldn’t budge.

Bessie would often give out on the way back from my grandmother’s house in the country. Each week, a mile or two past Smith’s mill, she would slow down and start to sputter.

“Come on, Bessie, you can do it,” my mom would feverishly plead. How she kept her wits about her in the middle of nowhere with two girls prior to the invention of cell phones, I’ll never know.

At the thought of walking, which we had done before, my little sister and I would join in the encouragement in earnest, adding a chorus of PLEASE. Desperate, we would even throw in a few promises we knew we would never keep like, “Bessie, we’ll wash you everyday from now on, if you just get us home!”

Poor Bessie was thirsty a lot, too. She would often start to rattle and smoke, begging for a drink. Fortunately, Mom always carried a giant empty peach can filled with water for just such an occasion.

Even the car I own now has a name. The kids call her Ellie, short for Eloise, my husband’s grandmother’s name. It’s one of the names I picked out for a future daughter. Now, how that got bestowed on the car, I’ll never know. I think it happened the day she stalled in the middle of a busy intersection with two panicky children and a crying baby on board. The name stuck, and Ellie is pretty good about getting us where we need to go. And if I were to ever have another daughter, I guess I could always call her Bessie.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Snakes, snails and puppy dog tails

As a mom of two girls, I am learning a lot about raising my first boy.

Number one--Boys don’t think like us. For example, my son has had a passion for knives since he was two. Apparently, my husband was the same way, and he isn’t a mass murderer, so I guess my boy will turn out okay.

Number two--They do things we girls would never, ever consider. I mean ever, like kissing our big, slobbery, dirt and drool-covered Labrador square on the mouth. That’s not to say I don’t love my dog, but ewwwwww…

I also hear myself asking him the strangest questions. Today, for instance, I noticed his toothbrush was in the backseat of our truck. So, I said, “Son, is that your toothbrush?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“How long has it been in the backseat?”

“Since our vacation.”

That was the first week of June.

Number three--Boys are just as confused by girls as we are by them. My son came home the other day, complaining bitterly about the little girl up the street. Don’t get me wrong; he is crazy about her. She has bright red hair and freckles. She also has the amazing ability to flash him a toothless grin and get anything she wants out of him, which is mainly bubble gum. Because of this, she is the source of much frustration as well as hidden admiration.

The other night he said, “Lou Anne is bossy!”

“Why do you say that?” I asked.

“She made me push her bike all the way up the hill and ask her dad to fix it for her.”

“Well, son, how did she do that?”

“I don’t know! She’s just good at it!”

Number four--The absolute best thing about boys is they LOVE their mamas. Tonight, I tucked him in, and he said, “Mama, I love you more than anyone on Earth.”

“Thank you, son, I love you, too. That was a nice thing to say."

“Well, who wouldn’t?" he said. "You are the sweetest person on the planet.”

And that makes up for all the snakes, snails and puppy dog tails, and then some.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

For the love of Twix (a.k.a. our faithful guinea pig)

There are people who like animals and then there are people who REALLY like animals. My daughter is the latter, and even though I don’t share her level of enthusiasm for God’s little creatures, I can’t help but love her for it.

She can’t pass by a stray or injured animal of any kind. No matter how small, how homely or how much they don’t want to be helped, we’ve rescued them. This mom, who likes animals from a distance, has gotten up close and personal with an array of insects, including walking sticks and preying mantis. I’ve plucked kittens out of drains and braked for bunnies, foxes, deer, armadillo and many, many turtles, including a river cooter, which we released into the Chattahoochee River with much fanfare.

My daughter has sold countless cups of lemonade to benefit the local Humane Society (thanks, neighbors!), and she faithfully donates half of her pet-sitting profits to the care of unwanted animals, including paying for heart worm medication in hopes they will live long enough to need it.

So, last year when I found out her classroom had guinea pigs, I knew I’d be in trouble. Each day I would hear how cute they were, how smart, what personality they had, how easy they were to care for.

“Uh huh,” I said, feeling set-up.

Then a few weeks before Christmas, her teacher pulled me aside and said, “You know your daughter REALLY likes the guinea pigs.”

Needless to say, we now own one. My daughter showed the lady in the pet store the one she wanted. The saleslady took him out of the cage and flung him at me. He stuck like Velcro. My daughter named him Twix after the candy bar because of his coloring, not because we plan to eat him later. They are social creatures, but at $35 a piece, Twix is still solo, plus we are waiting on the classroom critters to have babies.

A few weeks later, my daughter approached me and tentatively said, “We need to cut Twix’s nails.”

I don’t even do my own nails, but I have now given a guinea pig a manicure. And I must say I don’t know who was more frightened.

Twix has become quite the character. When I tuck my daughter in at night, sometimes he is on her bed “dancing,” or walking with his leash, or curled up in her arms. He even wrote her a note while she was away at camp.

Today, she came downstairs and said in a concerned voice, “Twix has some blisters on his feet.”

After some Internet research, I’ve determined he has a condition called Bumblefoot. There is a home remedy, but I’d better call a professional on this one. As I put the guinea pig on his leash and prepared to spend hundreds of dollars on his care, I realized, my daughter is ever so slowly turning me into someone who REALLY likes animals.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Life before AC

Georgia is in the midst of a heat wave. It’s August, the hottest month, and my children are curled up on the couch with a blanket freezing. Their lips are even blue. What’s wrong with this picture? Why aren’t they outside?

Some people blame television for creating a society of couch potatoes. I blame air-conditioning. If we didn’t have ac, it would be impossible for my kids to sit in the same spot for hours because their little fannies would be stuck to the leather couch.

I grew up in a home without air-conditioning. In fact, my parents only recently got central heat and air. As children, my sister and I played outside in the creek, the water hose, and the shade of the woods. Our favorite time was in the evening after the sun went down. My family would sit on our screened in back porch, eat homemade peach ice cream and, on a good night, enjoy the breeze. We would talk and laugh and later quietly listen to the whippoorwill.

I can thank our lack of air-conditioning, combined with Georgia’s hot, humid summers, for my love of reading. It was the perfect pastime for a girl who really didn’t like to sweat or glisten, as good Southern girls say. The hotter the day, the more I read, much to the frustration of the two boys who lived next door. I would often quit during the middle of some sports game they had talked me into playing to go read, leaving them with unequal teams.

When I reached adulthood, I moved out and had my first tasted of ac. I resisted at first, refusing to run it in my apartment. Then pregnant with my first child, with temperatures rising into the high 90s, I flipped the switch and haven’t been the same since.

Now kids and parents are so spoiled from living in an ice-box, they, or should I say, we, don’t venture outdoors. Although I love the comforts of a cool house, I long for the time before ac. When it’s 68 degrees inside, a slice of watermelon doesn’t taste nearly as good. I’ve never made homemade ice cream, and the children have never heard the soothing sound of a whippoorwill.

Perhaps, one day my family will recreate an air-conditionless summer like one from my childhood. In the meantime, you will have to excuse me while I throw another log on the fire. It may be August, but it’s awfully cold in here.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Those free tickets costs HOW much?

We put it off as long as we could, and $238 and 12 hours later, we know why. I’m talking about Six Flags Over Georgia, the amusement park with the crazy commercials that air every 30 seconds.

Each year, my kids read like maniacs and meticulously document their reading time, ten minutes here, five minutes there, until they reach their goal—6 hrs. and a free ticket to Six Flags. For four years, my husband and I managed to find an excuse not to use it—too hot, too wet, too crowded…Shall I go on? I have four years worth.

After today’s visit, I no longer feel guilty. By the third coaster, my son exclaimed, “Why did I have to do all that reading?”

Actually, we had a great time. There were no crowds, and the day was somewhat cooler. We did have a few memorable moments, such as finding ourselves stuck at the top of Splash Water Falls, the last ride of the day, with a “healthy” chocolate salesperson.

It was 7:30 p.m.; we were exhausted, hungry, not to mention perched at the edge of the falls about to get soaking wet just in time for the ride home, and the saleswoman called it divine intervention. We were held captive for 45 minutes while she gave her spiel, encouraging us to sign up as sales representatives. Who knew that eating chocolate three times a day could lower a person’s cholesterol, triglycerides, and cause them to lose 25 lbs.? The kids were ready to sign up on the spot. Of course, we had already spent all of our money.

Here’s a breakdown of our how much our free tickets cost:

$60—Two adult tickets
$78—Flash pass (worth every penny, even on a day with light crowds)
$20—Parking (two aisles over from the $15 parking and worth it)
$40—Lunch in the park (not so much)
$15—Approximately three spoonfuls of ice cream a piece (also worth it)
$5—Souvenir postcard
$20—Dinner from Wendy’s drive thru outside the park (would have cost more, but they got the order wrong, ate it anyway)

Getting the kids excited about reading, plus spending the day with them while they still want to spend time with us--priceless