Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Recently, I was sitting at a football game with another high school coach's wife, who was trying to keep her preschooler happy with popcorn while simultaneously caring for her newborn daughter. Frazzled, she turned to me and asked, "This gets easier, right?"

I looked at my son, old enough at eight to help the team as a water boy, then scanned the crowd for my teen-age daughter, strolling around the stadium with her friends.

Just yesterday -- yesterday -- she was sitting beside me in the bleachers eating fruit snacks while I attempted to pacify her baby brother.

Now I sit at the games by myself.

By. Myself.

"Yes, it does," I said to her. "And all too soon, it will."

The young mother looked relieved. I, on the other hand, suddenly felt as if I had lost something. Something important. Something precious.

It's funny. When your first child is born, you cannot wait for every milestone: first smile, first laugh, first tooth, first step, first word, first sentence.

Before you know it, you're packing that first lunch box, and suddenly you burst into tears in the middle of your kitchen because your baby is going to preschool. And how can that be? How can she be so big that on the first day, she pushes you out of the classroom saying, "You can go now, Mom. I'm fine"?

Soon those lunch bags are packed for grade school, then middle school, then high school, where my daughter will be next year. And four swift years after that, lunch boxes become cardboard boxes and milk crates, filled with books and laundry supplies and toiletries for college.

Honestly, I can't even drive by the high school now without drawing a sharp breath, knowing my girl will be there soon, knowing how quickly that time will pass, knowing she'll be in college in the blink of an eye. Sometimes, if I'm by myself in the car, I even cry at the thought of it.

The other day, I was complaining about her constantly messy room, when my husband said, "You only have, what, five more years to put up with that?" and suddenly, I didn't care that she had two weeks worth of laundry piled on her dresser. I only cared that I had less than five years to fuss at her about it.

When my son was born, I was grateful that my daughter was old enough to start school, make new friends and create a busy world for herself, so that I had time to relish all of his baby moments, too.

I was not in such a hurry for him to reach his milestones. A more seasoned mother, I knew all too well how fast the world would absorb him.

Go slowly, I whispered, as he rocked on the floor on all fours, anxious to crawl into the big, wide world. Take your time, I pleaded, as he pulled up to the couch, grinning triumphantly. There's no hurry, I said, as he took those first wobbly steps away from me.

But children do hurry. They can't wait for the next phase, it seems. My second-grader is already pointing out the fourth-graders and saying, "Can you believe I'll be that tall soon?" And my daughter is suddenly asking questions about driving. (Incidentally, my son is also asking questions about driving, so I'm hiding the car keys.)

I keep searching store shelves for Keep 'Em Little Longer spray, but I've yet to find it. But maybe, if we're lucky, we can find a few moments when life seems to pause.

Yesterday was busy, and at 5 p.m., with supper looming and a sinus headache throbbing, I hit the afternoon wall. I just wanted to lie down on the couch and take a 20-minute nap. That's all. Just 20 minutes by myself on the living room sofa to refresh and recharge for supper, dishes, laundry and homework help.

I grabbed my favorite throw, curled up on the couch and closed my eyes, only to open them again when my son flipped on the lamp and plopped down beside me with a book.

"Um, Kyle?" I said, "Mom is trying to take a quick nap before supper."

"Go ahead," he said, "I read quietly."

Sigh. Okay. Reading is a quiet activity. I could still rest...

...until the flash of a camera startled me. It was my daughter, snapping photos of her frazzled Mom, giggling and insisting I use the (less than flattering) shots as facebook profile pics.

"Kelsey!" I groaned. "I'm trying to take a nap!"

They heard me, but they didn't listen. Kelsey dropped to the floor beside me and began to show me photos on her camera. Then somehow she and Kyle started talking about the kids' show, Dora the Explorer.

"You know what's ridiculous?" Kyle said, "When Dora says, 'You know where the banana tree is, right?' Um, Dora! You have a map! Use it!"

And Kelsey said, "For real! I mean, come on, Dora, if you can afford a talking backpack, I think you can swing a friggin' GPS!"

They both erupted in fits of giggles, Kelsey lying against the couch near my head, Kyle curled up at my feet. So much for my nap.

All I had wanted was 20 minutes to myself. I was about to angrily remind them of that when I paused.

My children were with me, laughing and loving. They actually wanted to be with their Mom.

It was then I heard softly the whispers of my heart.

Go slowly, it whispered. Take your time, it pleaded. There's no hurry, it insisted.

I'll have plenty of time for napping when my house is quiet. Today, I will relish the laughter.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bridging the Gap Between Generations

Today, I am so pleased and proud to introduce the Porch's first guest blogger, my daughter Kelsey. At 13, she already is a gifted young writer (um, no. I'm not remotely biased. That's crazy talk!). But you can judge for yourself when you read the piece she has prepared for a school ancestry project on my grandmother, Gladys Marie McCalvin Greenfield.
My grandmother, who died when Kelsey was only six, had a profound influence on my life, which you can read more about here. So it delights me that Kelsey chose her as the family member she wanted to study. After a great deal of research, Kelsey prepared the following monologue she'll present on her "MomMom" and graciously allowed me to share it with you. Kelsey chose to write about my grandmother when she was 15, orphaned, and raising her siblings in the hills of Appalachia during the Depression. She'll perform her monologue in her social studies class next week.

I am certain my grandmother will be smiling down on her.

A Monologue on Young Gladys McCalvin
By Kelsey Reese

(Enters room, yelling out the door) Jesse! I told you once before, hurry up, George is waiting for you out by the garden. (Turns to face room and realizes she has an audience) Ah, oh, sorry about that…I've been up hours prior to sunrise. I just haven't been able to sleep at all the past few days; I think I might be working on a head cold. Not that I get that much rest anyway, since Daddy passed a few months back. Not a lot I can do though. All I'm hoping is that gentleman who courts me to and from church, Dee Rice, will propose. Oh now wouldn’t that be a sight! (Chuckles) A husband is exactly what I need, someone to care for ME once in a while…but it's hard enough getting six-year- old Jesse to obey me; could you imagine a grown man? It's a good thing I have my older brother George to do the disciplinin'. But even he, at 17, still calls upon me. "Gladys do this, Gladys do that, Gladys I don't have the time, would you please? …"

I've taken the role of Mama, who passed away 4 years ago. I was only 11 at the time, so it was really hard. But I always trusted I'd have Daddy to lean on. Now I'm afraid that isn't the case. I'm sad to say my life, along with the lives of my brothers and sisters, has not been pretty. I suppose while I'm here I'll sit and tell y'all a bit.
(Sits on table and takes hair down from bun) I don't know where to begin…but I guess since my life began on October 18 in the year of 1918, that's where I'll start.

I do remember life for me wasn't always as rough as it is today. My daddy was a farmer and a coal miner. He had two big ol' farms and cattle galore. We had a nice house, but the absolute best part of our house was the beautiful organ. Mama played it almost every day and she was far better than I could ever dream of being. The music would fill the house and make everything seem okay, even if I was having a bad day.  That is by far the thing I miss most about her. At least I remember her. My youngest brother, Mac, was just an infant when she died.

Daddy worked even harder after Mama passed, and the younger kids began to rely on me, George and my sister Myrtle, who just recently became a teenager. I remember being the one to tuck all my brothers and sisters in, and Myrtle and I would tidy up the house with Daddy out working. Daddy supplied us with money to live off of, but over time, as demands grew, he became less "Daddy" and more "Mr. McCalvin." He worked hard for what was left of our family though, and I will forever love and respect him for that.

Daddy's recent illness and passing was a surprise, but we coped with it just as we did other hardships, and here I am today. My younger siblings are the focus of my life. I've told you about Jesse and George, they're the men of the family along with little Mac who's now 4. The girls would be Myrtle, who I've already mentioned, Pearl who is 11, Lucile age 9, and Nora, the youngest girl, who is 8.

My biggest fear for my family is the kids being put into orphanages. We have stuck together through everything thrown our way, and our strong family bond never lets us down. Sometimes the thought crosses my mind that maybe it WOULD be easier if there were fewer children to care for, but this family has lost enough. Parents, relatives, animals, land, everything…also, the more people we have in this house, the more people to work. Any little bit helps, even if it's just Mac sweeping crumbs up with a little brush.

Now, as most orphaned children are granted this, we do have a guardian. But she "guards" us in no way shape or form. As soon as she gained custody of all us kids, she sold off almost everything we had: most of the livestock, the machines, she practically got rid of our assets all together. Now we have to have other ways of making an income. For a while, we had two old horses and some cows. We keep a garden, and we would use the horses to plow it. And we sell blueberries, milk and butter. Grandfather sold the horses though, so now all we have is Ol' Molly, an old nag to ride to the store. She can hardly even handle that though, and her days are numbered.

I miss my Momma and Daddy very much, but I certainly do not miss Grandmother Minerva! She was a dreadful and hateful old lady, and even though the good Lord says not to hate, I'll admit it -- I HATED that old woman. I couldn't stand her one little bit. I remember her making me stand at the foot of the bed all day just so her poor little feet wouldn't get chilled. Every time I would (quotations with hands) "smart off" I'd get a smack and hear about what an awful child I was for speaking my opinion. I remember my mother spanking me once when I was throwing away a moldy jar from the cellar and told her how it resembled Grandmother's old wrinkly face. (Smiles fondly)

I do have a few good memories from my earlier childhood, believe it or not. The one that best sticks out in my mind would be putting a saddle on a cow and riding it like a horse. Once, the saddle even tipped over and I landed right in a briar patch. I think I lost half my hair that day pulling those prickly little things out. But that wasn't as bad as the time I ate some wild onions and found a steep hill to roll down. I don't think I've been so sick in my entire life!

There is one person who has stayed close to me through it all, and that is the good Lord. Now, I am certainly not gonna preach to you, but I do know He will guide me through anything. We get dressed up as well as we can every Sunday to go to church. Call us crazy, but George and I have decided to try to tithe our family's income. Sometimes it's easier for us to do that than other times but no matter what, you always have to remember, there is someone out there in worse shape than you are.

I recently had to drop out of school, and it was a very hard decision for me to make. Not to boast, but I am mighty smart. I skipped two grades, you know. I hate that I had to quit school, but we have to keep our family going somehow.

I know my family may seem big enough now, but it would have been even bigger if it were not for the 1914 fire. It was 4 years before I was born, but I've heard so much grief about it I feel as if I was there. The story is this. My mother had three children before George. By the time she was 20 she had Mildred, who was 4, Benjamin who was just a tad bit over a year old, and Luther, 4 months. Mama had been looking out the window one day and noticed the cattle roaming outside the fenced pasture. She figured the kids would be safe napping while she ran out to gather the cows.

While Mama was pursuing the cows, she glanced up to the house on a hill and saw it was submersed in the biggest orange flames you could imagine.  She raced back to the house as fast as her legs could carry her, but by the time she got up the hill, everything was gone -- the house, but far worse, the children.

Long after the fire was out, they still couldn't find Mildred's bones. She was the only child who left no trace of death. My mother has her own opinion on that. She claims the gypsies took her. You see, a while before the fire, Mama had taken Mildred on a trip. On the train, they met gypsies who were captivated by Mildred's beauty and grace. Mildred was also said to have the voice of an angel. The gypsies begged Mama to let them take Mildred and have them perform in their shows, but the answer of course was a big ol' "No!"

So, Mama blamed the gypsies for the fire. She said they had purposefully set the cattle loose so she'd notice, then once she was out of the house and occupied, they had come into the house and kidnapped Mildred, setting the house aflame when they left.

I'm not sure what to believe, but I know Daddy thought for sure she had perished in the flames. One day he was out behind the house crying for the loss of his children and he heard his perished daughter's voice say, "Daddy, don't cry." He musta' thought it was her spirit speaking to him. Mama heard about this story but didn't think the same. She still looked for Mildred everywhere until the day of her own death. She told everyone about it and tracked down every reported sighting of Mildred, but was never able to find a thing.

See what I mean? Life for the children here has always been hard. But, I can't stress enough how tough times are right now. I appreciate any help anyone can offer, and if someone can help out the McCalvin children and they don't, well, I find it to be a very selfish act.

The other day, for example, I was visiting with my aunt. She's certainly not hurting for anything. While rummaging through her bread box, I found some biscuits. I'll be darned if they were two days old. Now my aunt knows very well we kids ain't doing the best we could (not that we let on how rough it is. We're strong people, us McCalvins). But what does she do with those biscuits? She threw them out to her hogs, not offering us a bite! I can't put my agony over that into words. When people do something that disappoints me, you'll bet I'll let them know. I shot her dirty looks for the rest of the day and often grabbed my empty stomach whenever it would growl to hopefully let her know what she had done.

Even though that image haunts me, I have to say I'm not sure if anyone fully understands our situation. I haven't felt truly full in almost a year. Out here in Ashland, Kentucky, it is smack dab right in the middle of nowhere. Look around, what do you see? It's mountains and hills and grass and trees and farmland and the occasional creek or pond. We haven't got neighbors to see what we do on a day to day basis. Maybe if we did things would be different. Maybe...Maybe if people did see what kinds of work we do, people would help.

Then again, we are in a depression and it's a terrible time for everyone. That's what I've read from the covers of the papers on newsstands at the market. I don't spend any more money than necessary, so I never buy one. Occasionally I'll stop to read about President Roosevelt and I hear people complaining all the time I go anywhere about job losses and such things. We also hear lots about the war. I wish I knew more about the Nazis and everything else I've caught snippets of around here. I hardly get any social interaction other than church discussions.

You know…I'm just so glad I have this time to open up. Sometimes, there are days I look around and I just feel so sorry for myself. I want to scream at someone, whoever is putting us through this, and yell STOP. (Grow angry. Throw up arms, etc.) I can't DO this anymore; I can’t put my family through EVERYTHING. It's just not RIGHT!

(Breathing heavily) My sincerest apology for that…sometimes I just lose control of myself, as does everyone I'm sure. There aren’t many positives to how I'm living. Sometimes all the pressure from the countless negatives just builds up inside me and I have to let it go. Whenever I go around the kids, though, I'll have to put my smiley face back on and try to let them know that things could be worse, something I myself sometimes doubt. Then again, I'm not known for my happy-go-lucky spirit.

I'm going to be completely honest with you folks. We’re struggling to survive. All of us are hungry, and we're eating well if we get one loaf of bread for the entire family in a whole week. I do the work of an employed grown man every day except, of course, Sundays.  I haven't got many friends; even if I did I wouldn't be able to see them at all anyway. Every time I leave the house I have a child on my hip and another holding my hand...

Speaking of leaving the house, I have got to go water the garden, and as always, I have children to tend. Thank ya'll for listenin' a bit. I kindly appreciate it.

Goodbye now!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Project Duh

Newsflash! Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health completed an extensive study determining that hot dogs, bacon, salami and sausage are bad for you. And here I was preparing a bacon-wrapped hot dog stuffed in a sausage crammed into salami for the local Weight Watchers meeting. I called it the Artery Cloggy Hoggy Doggy (TM). It was gonna be, well, huge.

The HSPH study, no doubt conducted under the scrutiny of Captain Obvious, reminded me of another heavily funded study a couple of years ago that concluded men are -- and I can't quite believe this -- turned on by scantily clad women. I even saw it on CNN. Huh. At least that finally explains why my website, Hos Clothed From Head to Toe (TM), did not make me rich.

Next thing you know, the Dr. Brain E. Acks of the world are going to reveal cutting-edge studies informing us that water is wet; the sun is hot; Perez Hilton's name is actually a play on words; and shirtless Hugh Jackman melts my butter -- but not before tossing researchers lots and lots of our* hard-earned taxpayer dollars (*more like your dollars, not mine. I pay myself for this blog in donuts to avoid tax issues. And no, you cannot have 20 percent of my long john).

In the past, our astute university researchers have also determined that excessive amounts of greasy fast food have contributed to obesity; loaded handguns can be dangerous in children's hands; and Paolo Nutini is one delicious Scottish morsel. Okay. So I made up the last one.

As long as researchers are researching the ridiculous, I'd like to recommend the following studies:
  • Does my diet of bacon, donuts, chocolate malts, rare Hostess snack cakes and chips that end in O (Cheetos, Fritos, Tostitos, Doritos) make my jeans tighter, or do I really just need a new dryer? Yeah. I think it's the dryer, too.
  • Are Chocodiles merely "chocolate covered Twinkies", as some morons claim? I will fork over the funds for this study because true Hostess connoisseurs like myself know Chocodiles -- unlike plain ol' wannabe Twinkies -- are chocolate-coated joy, filled with creamy happiness. But I'm not biased.
  • Is Sarah Palin actually Shakespeare reincarnated? Palin has invented words like "refudiate" and "ubetcha", while Shakespeare introduced words like, "baseless" and "sanctimonious" into our vocabulary - almost like he knew they could one day describe the hockey-mom-turned-politician he'd come back as.
  • If Christian Bale yells "F--K!" in the woods, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? Duh. Of course it does. It's Christian F--king Bale!
  • Will I ever be able to actually type the complete word, "f--k" without the "--"? (I'm betting against this. It's that whole, "Jennifer Ann, you are a Southern lady. If you are sitting in a skirt, please cross your legs. And for God's sake, girl, put on panties! You're 40!" upbringing. Sigh.)
  • In seventh-grade, would I have been asked to skate during the "gentleman's choice" at Skateway USA if I'd worn a bra size larger than negative-28 AAAAAA? Because I always wanted to skate to a REO Speedwagon power ballad, and no one ever asked me. Dammit. That hurts. And I can't fiiiiight this feeeeeeeling annnnnymooooore. You bastards. You know who you are.
  • Do ridiculous studies lead to equally ridiculous blogging fodder? I'm going to to out on a limb with this one, and say, yes.

        Saturday, September 11, 2010

        A Mother's Prayer

        There have been a few moments in my life when the emotions have been so strong, so overwhelming, that I shrugged off my cloak of daily writing insecurities and immediately - without procrastinating, censoring or editing - attempted to capture my feelings on paper.

        I wrote letters to my children the moment I learned of them; I wrote tributes to my grandparents when I lost them; and I wrote this, a letter to my then four-year-old daughter, when her world forever changed on a terrible day in September.

        Some of you have read it before, but I have never posted it from the Porch. I hope we all remember how we felt that September day. How we grieved, hoped, prayed and vowed collectively. How we shrugged off the cloaks of labels, denominations and red and blue. How that dark night, we were simply mothers, holding our babies, praying the world they grew up in would be a peaceful one.

        A Mother's Prayer: A letter written to my daughter Kelsey on the eve of September 11, 2001

        As I tucked you into bed this eve
        I wondered how the sheets--thin, flimsy, transparent--would protect you.
        Would the blanket, soft from so many washings,
        The teddy worn, dingy, tattered,
        Be enough this night?

        I arrived at your school early today.

        You were laughing on the playground
        Beneath a cloudless sky
        Not a single vapor trail tarnishing the sheath of blue.
        As I watched you swing, jump, slide through the morn
        So unaware,
        I realized the promise the day might have held.

        A day of baseball games, recess tag and lawn mowers
        Windows rolled down and sleeves rolled up,
        Not quite summer, not yet fall.

        Instead, it was a day of odd, quiet chaos
        As the frightened lined up for gasoline
        And bought ground beef, canned goods, milk, bread, and bottled water.
        Searching for reassurance, people crowded into the cinder-block ice-cream stand
        To hear the president
        And mumbled "bomb the sonsofbitches" or
        "God bless us all."

        It was a day of cell phone calls,
        Open churches,
        And closed businesses.

        I held your small hand and led you through parking lots,
        And I was ashamed that you completely trusted me
        For I am not the person I was when I went to bed last.

         I witnessed too much this day
        And my eyes are stamped with images of
        Thick black smoke
        And ash.

        I run my fingers through my hair continuously,
        As if the dust, miles away, somehow reached me.
        And old woman nodded at me today, her eyes haunted by another time.
        "You haven't seen this before," is all she said.

        I called my mom, my mother-in-law,
        My sister, my brother,
        Again and again,
        As if we could make ourselves believe
        The unbelievable.

        While carrying in groceries,
        Your father and I had stopped
        Dropped bags and held each other tight.
        We ate frozen pizza for supper,
        Not saying a word as the TV blared.

        Later I caught you peeking at the screen,
        And I drew you onto my lap, kissed your head
        And tried to explain what I still can't comprehend.
        I promised you the world is good,
        You are loved.
        You are safe.

        I nestled beside you in bed,
        Clasping your hand, warm and moist from the tub.
        I breathed your smell of soap and toothpaste.
        I sang your lullaby.

        We prayed.

        I told you America is strong and right, mighty and free.
        As you drifted away, I pictured America's mothers.

        We are blacktop roads, shotgun houses, and Spanish tile.
        Marble, loose shingles, and Bradford pears.
        Gated communities, brick ranches, and trailers.
        Three bedrooms and two baths.
        Geraniums, roses, and dandelions.
        Linoleum and sidewalks.
        Mortar and stone.
        Sand, salt, and dirt.

        Tonight as One,
        We held our children closer.
        We crept into your rooms many times
        As if you were babies,
        Fragile and new.

        We touched your cheeks and felt your breath on our hands,
        Warm reminder of life.
        We looked through the window at the darkest night
        Anxious for the sun to shine on us again,
        Silently weeping for the innocent lost
        And lost innocence.