Friday, June 25, 2010

The art of dying in the South

We like to say people are judged on how they live, but the truth is, in the South, we are more than often judged on how we die.

A person can live an ordinary life, going to church now and then, raise a family, not break any salacious commandments and die quietly in his or her sleep and go completely unnoticed. Sure, his children will miss him.

"What a great dad he was," they'll say. His wife will miss him. Of course, she'll remarry and be buried next to husband number two. And who's to blame her? How can she spend the next 25 years alone?

In a blink, the man will be gone. His grandchildren may remember him by his kindness and the way he shook silently when he laughed, but his great grandchildren?

Now, let him die at age 83 from being bitten numerous times by a rattlesnake while changing the blade on his lawnmower, and the man's a legend. Die in his bed by a lit cigarette, and he's white trash. Struck by lightning, and he is unlucky. Hit by a car, and it's tragic. Stricken by cancer, and it's a shame. We sum up a person's life on how they die.

I, like most Southerners, tend to be a little fixated on death. Don't think we are as a culture? Then count the crosses on the way to Panama City Beach. I've done it before -- with the kids -- as a pastime. (It was pre-DVD.)

I read that the South is one of the few places that honor its dead with roadside crosses. I'm not saying we should or we shouldn't. I know the tributes mean something to the families, but it's amazing how commonplace they are. The total is 900 and something, by the way. That's how many there were 15 years ago. We had so much fun counting them that I refused to do it again.

I can remember being a little girl and Mama pulling over to let a funeral procession pass. We lived not far from a cemetery, so it was fairly common place. Back then, we didn't have air conditioning, so we had to sit in the heat and wait and wait for what, to my younger sister and me, seemed like an eternity.

But my mom always waited patiently, and when we whined, she told us that pulling over was a sign of respect. We hushed after that. We could tell she meant it. Today, people in the South still pull over for funeral processions, though we aren't as patient about it. In our air-conditioned cars, we moan and groan and roll our eyes at the inconvenience. But for the families, it means everything, so we continue to do it, even though we are in a hurry to get to the pool or the store or a birthday party.

We do it because Southerners are really good at death. Not the act of it, which they -- for the most part -- have no control over, but the after. If someone in your family dies, you will have 10 people at your door bringing you things you didn't even know you needed, from toilet paper to paper cups to baskets full of food and a truckload of ice.

And the most amazing part is you won't know or you will barely know half of these people, yet they will take care of you just the same. You may have rarely spoken to them, but if someone dies, they'll be there cleaning the house while you are at the funeral, serving you and your company food when you get home and reminding you that even in the face of death, it's living; it's the living that really matters.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Lessons from a lemonade stand

This past Saturday was the first time since 2007 that we had nothing scheduled. No sports, no trips, no birthday parties, not even a chore -- which is not to say we didn't have plenty we could have been doing, mind you, just none on the calendar.

My children got up early with their spend-the-night company and by the time breakfast was cooked at 9, they were -- say it with me -- no, not "starving" -- bored. B-O-R-E-D. Especially the boys. And bored boys means one thing -- trouble.

After hearing banging and finally a huge crash upstairs (which I have still been afraid to investigate), I sent them outside to play in hopes of enjoying a little rest and relaxation.

It wasn't long before I heard a bang, bang, bang outside the house. What were they doing? Throwing things at the house. Why? They are boys, and they were B-O-R-E-D.

"I know," I said. "Why don't you have a lemonade stand?"

I must say I felt a little guilty since it was about 95 degrees and there wasn't a car in sight, but I figured it would keep them busy for a little while, and I could enjoy my free day with a little magazine reading AND teach them a little lesson in business while I was at it. See how clever I am?

I had just propped up with an issue of Sandra Lee's Semi-homemade magazine when my son said, "Do you have any poster board? We are having a contest with the girls (the boys' sisters, who happen to be best friends as well), and they have poster board, and we don't."

"Look in the closet," I said.

I hear a tumble and a crash and then a few minutes later, "I don't see any in here."

"Well, go up and tell your sister to find you some poster board."

He stomped upstairs, and she stomped downstairs, but, sure enough, a few minutes later, the two groups were coloring nicely on their separate signs, and I silently patted myself on the back again for having such a good idea.

About two seconds after this thought, I hear my son ask his friend, "How do you spell lemonade anyhow?"

"L-e-m-a-n, no, that's not right, l-a-m-e-n, no ...We can't even spell lemonade!" said his friend, exasperated. "I'm calling this contest."

Fortunately, the girls helped them and after some back and forth over whether the boys had forfeited, they held up two beautifully decorated posters advertising "Lemonade .50."

After much fanfare on filling the cooler with ice, finding the cups, swearing they had washed their hands and then making ten thousand trips in and out doing I don't know what, I could hear them shouting, "Lemonade!" I smiled. They were in business.

I grabbed my camera and headed out to quickly snap a picture before they went out of business.
As I got to the corner of the yard, what do I see? The boys had set up their station on the electrical box that was recently placed in our yard -- the one I tell him never to get near.

"Boys, I want to show you something," I said, fearing they weren't listening to my warnings.

"Look at this picture," I said, pointing to the crude drawing on the front of the box showing what appeared to be a lightning strike and a man falling backwards.

"Oh, I'd love to see you do that dance!" my son's friend said.

"Just don't put anything else on top of this, you hear?"

"Yes, ma'am."

They returned to shouting "Lemonade!" again at the top of their lungs.

About that time, their first customer drove up and told them to keep the change. I've always thought you can tell a lot about people who take the time to stop at kids' lemonade stands. My friend told me that the neighbor girl used to have them so often that finally a fellow neighbor said, "Can I just write you a check?"

Those are good neighbors. And so are the ones who bought lemonade that Saturday from my children. Funny how they are also the ones who buy wrapping paper in the fall and Girl Scout cookies in the winter. Thanks, you guys. I can tell them to do unto others as you would have them do unto you, but nothing illustrates it further than stopping to buy a cup a lemonade -- even if it is so sour you have to pour it out when you get home.

So, at the end of the day, each had $1.25 in his pocket, a handful of lessons were learned, and, thanks to Kool-Aid, I didn't even have to squeeze any lemons. Next Saturday, however, I'll have a to-do list ready!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Cat's in the cradle

I woke up at 3:40 a.m. last night and realized immediately it would be one of those nights. Those nights where no amount of counting sheep will put you back to sleep, a night in which even if you do doze off, your dreams are bad and make you wish to stay awake. It was a night where every little noise was magnified, and you're sure someone is hovering in the corner of your room, a night in which your spouse is peacefully breathing, unknowingly rubbing it in that you can't shut your eyes. It was a night in which your mind thinks of every problem and no solution, every danger but no escape route. It was a night in which you realize why sleep aids are always advertising on television - and a night in which you regretted you didn't have any. In short, it was a bad night, and somewhere around 4 (or was it 5? or was it 5:30?), this poem popped into my head.

Cat’s in the cradle

Not now
Tomorrow isn’t good for me
The day after tomorrow isn’t good for me
Maybe next week
Stop asking me
I’ll let you know
Don’t worry about it
Quit worrying
Use your brain
Use your common sense
You don’t have any common sense
Be quiet
Shut up
Stop talking
I don’t want to hear it
Get out of my face
Go to your room
Leave me alone
Don’t bother me
Stay in there and don’t come out
I don’t want to see your face
Go away
Stop crying
Act your age
I wish you’d never been born
I’m sick of you
I’m tired of looking at you
I don’t want to hear another word out of you
I hate you
You make me sick
Get the door
Straighten up
Sit down
Cheer up
Stop moping
Be happy
What’s wrong with you?
Smile and say hello