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Tuesday, April 05, 2005

On the Road with the Fairchilds

The Blue Ridge Parkway

This is where I went. To the Blue Ridge Mountains of northwestern North Carolina. It is where my parents grew up, and where I went to 3 1/2 years of high school. I have a love/hate relationship with the place. I may write more about that down the road, but for right now, the "love" part is probably easy to see -- it's a spectacularly beautiful area of the country. The hate part has to do with unpleasant things that happened there. But nothing TOO unpleasant this past weekend.

I went to visit my Mom, who will be 82 next month. She had seven children, the first when she was 18 and the last when she was 42. I came near the end of her illustrious birthing career. And I went to attend the 80th birthday party -- a surprise -- for my Aunt Louise. Aunt Louise is my father's baby sister, and they were extremely close. (My father died about 11 years ago.) He and Louise were SO close that at times my mother and Aunt Louise's relationship was very strained. However, they are now better friends than ever, with what they have in common having been devotion to my father.

Because of my history with the place and some of the people who still reside there, I didn't want to go visit unless my brother, Mike, came along. I talked him and his beautiful family into it weeks ago. And don't you know, he cancelled on me at the last possible moment (we were halfway there, 4 hours into our 8-hour drive when he calls me on my cell). His reasons were absolutely legit. Couldn't argue with him. That didn't stop me from phoning him last night when I got home, and saying, "God will forgive you for bailing out on me. And THAT'S the difference between God and me."

Well, that sort of sets the stage. I won't bore you with a moment-by-moment account. Let me bore you instead with some of my keen observations:

Overheard at the Cracker Barrel:

Assistant Manager: I'm the Assistant Manager, ladies. What seems to be the trouble?
Lady in Blue: Well, my sam-wich was awful. It tasted like somebody had stepped on it.
Ass. Man.: Stepped on it?
LiB: Just stepped right on it. That's just exactly what it tasted like. The whole thing tasted just like that.
Ass. Man.: And did you have some trouble too, ma'am?
Lady in Red: Yes, I did. I eat at Cracker Barrel all the time, and I never had a vegetable plate like this one.
Ass. Man.: Like that one? Like the one that's sitting in front of you empty now?
LiR: Yessir. It was the worst-tasting food I ever ate. And I gave it every chance to get better. I kept eating it, thinking it would get better, but the more I ate, the worse it tasted.

The Weather
When we arrived at our motel, it was like THIS RIGHTCHEER:

April Blizzards bring....WHAT?

Can you see that? We went SOUTH in the SPRINGTIME into a freakin' BLIZZARD. Winds were so high that a number of ginormous evergreens were uprooted or broken in two, blocking roads and creating power outages. All because THE FAIRCHILDS CAME A'CALLIN'. With their suitcases full of NO WINTER CLOTHES.

Worrying about Things that Never Happen
Well, I've told you that Mike and his crew did not make the trip. And while that was distressing to me, it did alleviate one worry that I had about "what to do if..." See, the party was a covered-dish affair. Coming from so far away, we just decided to bring a ham from Heavenly Ham. We've taken this to reunions and such before, and it's always been a big hit with the relatives. Southern Baptists will flat-out put away some pork products. However, my brother and his family are of a religious persuasion that has led them to refrain from eating pork, among other things. Now, I would never SERVE pork to Mike and family when they visit my home. But doggone it, the Southern Baptists were looking forward to the Heavenly Ham. So my dilemma: if we carpool, and if Mike's bunch rides with us, is it insensitive of me to ask them to ride in a van with a ham? What would Emily Post say? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? I try so hard to do the right thing...

On the day of the party, we went to pick up my Mom, whom we now call Granny, because the latest crop of grandkids call her that. Granny had some strokes a few years back, from which she has recovered remarkably well, thank God, but which have left her with some immobility on her right side. When I arrived, her left side was ready to party, but her right side still needed some stylin'. I put on her right earring, sparkly hair clip, etc., so she was lookin' good.

Granny goes sprinting for the front door, to get in her motorized lift outside, and I say, "Hey, Granny! Aren't you forgetting something?" I'm standing there leaning on her walker, laughing. She hurries over to get the walker, then heads out the door. She said she would need it later, and I know that's true. I don't mean to imply that she's malingering or faking the need for the walker. It's not that at all, it was just that for that moment, her brain forgot how uncooperative her body can sometimes be. For that moment, she was just a girl going to a party. And that tickled me.

Happy 80th, Aunt Roo-leez

Party Highlights
Aunt Louise was totally surprised, thought she was going to a baby shower. She was also surprised to see Granny, who hardly ever leaves the house anymore. They hugged and cried. Beautiful. Then Granny sat and held court while in-laws, out-laws, nieces and nephews came to hug her and proclaim her "still the prettiest girl in the county."

When it came time to blow out 80 candles, my Aunt Louise, clever girl, just picked up a Styrofoam plate and waved it across the 4-alarm cake like she was swatting flies. That fire was history.

LG and Cousin Anna were on candle-removal duty, which they accomplished with a flourish, leaving the cake looking uncannily like a scene from the movie, "Holes."

80 candles were quickly extinguished and removed, before the sprinklers went off...

I got to visit with cousins I hadn't seen in years. Linda and Pam were my very favorites. Linda hosted the party for her mom. Pam, in her late 40s now, is still cheerleader-cute and I would still follow her into any type of trouble she might propose because the girl knows how to have FUN. That was like a mathematical equation of my childhood: Cousin Pam = FUN.

I got to watch Jif's eyes glaze over as Cousin Andy regaled him with a 40-minute description of the road construction and his various efforts to circumnavigate it, en route to the party from Myrtle Beach. Followed by a 30-minute description of the time he met Dale Earnhardt, Jr., in a "restrunt," and parlayed the meeting into a photo op. But the funniest part was seeing Andy's obvious GLEE at causing Jif's eyes to glaze over: "Looky there! I can talk a'body into a coma! I surely do have the gift of gab." Jif remains catatonic, but is beginning to respond. If I say, "Cousin Andy," Jif can mutter, "gift o' gab...Dale, Jr." We're working on him.

The Question
Some dooce readers in the house have already asked, so I will answer:
All the Grannies and Aunties
Were wearin' their panties.

The Morning After
The next morning, we had breakfast with a friend I hadn't seen in over 25 years, let's call her Fiddler, and her beau (bow?). It was delightful to see her again and to meet her love. Also delightful was the exchange between Fiddler's Bow and the waitress:

B: How big are the pancakes?
W: They're purty big.

And THAT was enough information for Beau/Bow to know that he only needed to order one pancake. You see, he had eaten there before, and been told that the pancakes were purty big, but didn't know what that meant, until he was served a stack of three pancakes that hung off the sides of his plate and were each so thick that it appeared he was expected to eat a layer cake all by himself. With butter and syrup.

So, if you are ever in Ashe County, North Carolina, and the topic of pancake-size comes up, you will know, dear reader, that "purty big" is approximately equal to one foot in diameter.

Who says my blog isn't educational?

Something I Realized on the Trip
Before we went away, I saw Jada Pinkett Smith on the Today Show, talking about her new children's book. It's about empowering, encouraging little girls to be all that they can be. She made the observation that children know very early in life what they want to be, if we'd just listen to them. At first I thought, nah, not me. But I thought about that theory as I reconnected with immediate and extended family these past few days, and perhaps it was true for me. You might say that much of my early life was spent practicing the art of the diagnostic interview, the initial therapeutic assessment. Between parents, brothers, aunts, uncles, I cannot begin to tell you the number of times in my childhood that I asked someone:

Are you CRAZY?
What's WRONG with you?
Have you LOST YOUR MIND?!!!!

Now, I do have a little more finesse to my interviewing skillz today than I had then, but that's still pretty much what I need to know to get started doing my job.

19 heads are better than one . . .

Blogger Greenthumb said...

glad to see that the writers block has successfully cleared. Now wasn't that theraputic? Don't you feel a cleansing now?

I know what you mean about your mother when you said "For that moment, she was just a girl going to a party. And that tickled me." We're only old on the outside, inside we are still figuring life out. I love catching that glimpse of youthfullness in elderly people. That was my favorite part.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like alot of positive experiences. It does look like a beautiful place. I've never been there. Glad to know your interviewing skills have improved. :-)


Blogger laurenbove said...

Love your Cracker Barrel narrative. I HAVE to try that here in the NE. I wonder if it would work. I doubt it though. My granny always said: There's no such thing as a free lunch.

Blogger Susie said...

greenie, yes, bro, the word constipation finally subsided at least a bit. I love to see the kid in older people, too. (Make sure you read my comment to you on your last Friday's post, love.)

hi, lawbrat, yea, I do a little better now. I've expanded my repertoire to include the compassionate question, "What are you, NUTS?" (And I ask MYSELF all these things on a daily basis;) )

laurenbove, look at your new pic! How HOT are you, grrrl? There was no free lunch for those ladies, either, but not for lack of tryin'. They got some sort of "stepped-on-sammich" discount, I think.

Blogger Squirl said...

Wow, nice story about your trip and your relatives. Does being a therapist give you a different overall perspective? Thanks for sharing. And you guys are right. People are only old on the outside. I know I still think I'm 18 sometimes. :-)

Blogger _Summer_ said...

Susie, I really enjoyed reading your assessment of the all the southern fried "fun" you had in NC.

Glad you're back, safe n' sound. :)

Blogger Greenthumb said...

Susie, thank your for the comment over yonder. I'm working on a scanner acquisition soon.

Big HUG Greenie style! Ask my friend Skanky what that's like...she knows and she loves 'em.

Blogger Susie said...

squirl, hmmm, it's kind of a which-came-first thing; I think I became a therapist because I naturally like to listen to people and understand why they do the things they do, and encourage them; I think what I do helps me to understand why some in my family are the way they are; it doesn't necessarily make the difficult ones any easier to deal with -- there's no objectivity with family like there is at work.
On feeling younger, I think we're all like those Russian nesting dolls -- inside every 40something is herself(himself) at 20, at 14, at 2, etc. They're all in here, they just come out at different times with different people:)

hey, summer, I'm happy to be home. Except that I'm on this "cruise," if you know'm sayin'...

greenie, thanks for the BIG HUG. Can I breathe now? I'm looking forward to seeing Jack:)

Anonymous LadyBug said...

Oh, Susie, you do keep me in stitches. Loved your post.

The Cracker Barrel thing cracked me up.

The weather? You should've just come to Texas, hon. It's been in the 80s here for days now. (Although, we did have a cool front come in last night, and it's only supposed to be in the 70s today.)

Your mom really wears a sparkly hair clip? How cute.

I'm so glad the grannies and aunties had their panties. That might have been traumatic for LG, otherwise.

I've seen pancakes that size before. They're impossible to eat without syrup dripping off the edge and into your lap.

Tell me more about JP Smith's book. Have you read it? Does LG have it?

Glad you're back in blogging mode. We missed you.

Blogger Random and Odd said...

I read the whole thing. I never read long posts...not even my own!!

I LOVED this story!! Glad you're back!!

Blogger Mamaramma said...

Welcome back! Mmmm, I could go for a purty big pancake right about now. North Carolina looks beautiful - there's a possibility we could end up there next year - glad to know that good people come from there!

Blogger Susie said...

ladybug, thanks for finding my life funny. My mom is a bit of a character. She's like an 82-year-old 17-year-old. She's sort of Blanche Devereaux (Golden Girls), but without the slut part. That JP Smith book is sort of a poem, I think, with photographs of maybe 8-12 y.o. girls, mostly, but not all, African-American. We don't have it yet, looks like a good book for girls, though.

hey, kristine, so good to see you here. I asked your boyfriend yesterday if you wear Depends. I started to explain myself, but then I thought it wasn't necessary, if anybody would understand laughing until you pee yourself, you guys would:) Thanks for reading all these words of mine.

hey, mamaramma, thanks for tearing yourself away from Deadwood enough to come visit somebody! If you go to North Carolina, especially if you go to the parts where I know people, I can hook you up with some lovely people who also happen to be bluegrass musicians. I know what you like;) (Hey! There's a CHEESE PLANT in Ashe County, too!)

Blogger Gothamimage said...

Blue Ridge Mountains are awesome. Great photo.

Blogger ducklet said...

Susie. SUSIEEEE! I'm. So. Sorry. (I just came over from Julie's page).

I swore I b'rolled you. I SWEAR! The internets are out to get me. Problem fixed, I swear. ;)

Blogger Susie said...

whisperingcampaign, I like your name, but it scares me a little, too. Thanks for visiting. It would be hard to take a bad picture of such a pretty place.

brando!!!! simma down, boy, it ain't no thang. You had me at SUSIEEEE! And quitcher SWEARIN' up in here; it ain't that kinda place. Today;)

Anonymous Julie said...

Hey SusieToo, as far as the ham thing goes, I say what they don't know can't hurt 'em. It's one thing to make them eat the ham, but I don't think riding in a car with a ham is a sin. (I do it all the time! It's HEAVENLY!) It would be like them visiting your home while there is a ham in your fridge. For what it's worth, I say no problem.

Blogger Susie said...

hey, you're famous Julie, whose name I have seen so very prominently displayed in famouser Brando's blogroll, aren't you?!! Yea, I think you're right; if riding in the car with a ham were a sin, they could never go anywhere with ME;)

Anonymous Julie said...

SusieToo, I checked with some of my resources and discovered that riding in a car with boys is a sin, but a ham is a-okay.


Is he sweet or what? I could just eat him up!

Blogger Susie said...

julie, I'm glad to get that straight. Although I could still get in trouble, because as much as I like ham, I like boys more.

Brando is very gifted, I believe. I visit him a lot. And he was very sweet to blogroll us so um, remorsefully. Funny boy.


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