Small Pleasures, Part 3

This is a topic I’ve used before, and undoubtedly I’ll recommend some of the same small pleasures.  But it was on my mind after this week.  We had several dreary days of rain and DSCN0162cold.  I was averaging two and a half hours per day driving in traffic for my commute.  And now that Daylight Savings Time is over, I come home in the dark every day.

I find the change depressing.  So I started making a mental note of anything that lifted the grey fog a bit.  Here are a few small things that are a pleasure.

  1. The color of the last remaining leaves is especially brilliant this year.  The orange and yellow leaves are gone now, but the deep red ones are still here.
  2. Observed in traffic on the Long Island Expressway:  A Maine license tag with a lobster on it.  Gotta love it!
  3. Going to the last weekend of the Great Jack o’Lantern Blaze at Van Cortlandt Manor, even though it was quite cold.  It gets more spectacular every year, and the sound effects really add to the spookiness.
  4. The smell of clean sheets.
  5. My favorite sweater, an Esprit (yes!) which I bought more than 20 years ago and refuse to give up.  It’s warmer than anything else and has the coolest ethnic pattern.
  6. The new pair of ankle booties I bought at DSW.  Okay, I don’t look like the young’uns do, but they are pretty cute.  A girl and her shoes are not to be trifled with.
  7.  The word, “gallivant,” as in “gallivanting around.”  Used by my mother as a term of disparagement sometimes, and others as a description.  It means “running around from one place to another in the pursuit of pleasure.”  Sounds like fun to me!
  8. Being told that something I did was “excellent.”  No, it was not at my job, I’m sorry to say!
  9. Waking up in the night with a weight on my head, and realizing it’s the cat resting his chin on my head, and purring.
  10. Leftover food from any good restaurant for dinner the next day.  No or less cooking, and something good that I wouldn’t ordinarily have!

If you have some small pleasures of your own, feel free to share!


Looking Forward, Looking Back

Today is my birthday.  My friends gave a surprise birthday party for me, something I’ve never had before!  It was so much fun and truly a surprise.  My sisters have another celebration waiting for me, which will happen next weekend.  And I’m going out with friends tonight, so the party keeps going.

I’ve been thinking about this birthday because it’s older than I ever thought I would be, in my smug youth, and because I realized I’m not much younger than my mother was in thisMother and Me Daytona 1981 picture.  I thought she was so old then!  And now it seems just another stage to me.

I think the big difference may be health.  Mother had a couple of heart attacks which were not diagnosed at the time, and when this photo was taken she was in the early stages of heart failure.  We didn’t know, of course.  I had driven to Tennessee from Atlanta to get her, and we drove down to St. Augustine and Daytona Beach.  Mother had never been to Florida and never seen the ocean.  This was after Labor Day, in early September, 1981, so the summer crowds were gone, and she enjoyed sitting on the beach at Daytona talking to “snowbirds” who were around her age.

I took her to Sea World, and she could barely walk from one show or exhibit to the next.  She was exhausted all the time.  When I got her back home, I called one of my sisters and said, “Something’s wrong with Mother.”  Glenda took her to a different doctor, and the damage was diagnosed.  I’ve been conscious of how heart disease affects women, particularly women in my family, ever since.  Heaven knows I don’t do as much as I could to stay healthy, but I do try.  And I think I’ve had much better medical care than she did.

Another difference from my mother is purely cosmetic–thanks to every colorist I’ve gone to for years, my gray goes away!  I have to keep working, and I want to keep working, so I can’t afford to go gray.  Sad, but true.

Mother thought of herself as “old” from a relatively young age.  I remember her telling me she was old when I was about 12, so she would have been 50!  Standards were different in her day.

I do think we all pursue continued youth too hard sometimes in this day and age.  Things do change, we do slow down a bit, we do get tired more easily.  But we don’t have to stop.  As long as our health holds up, my friends are active and interested and still engaged with the world.  I plan to be, too.


My Last Aunt

My father was born in 1913, toward the middle of a family of 10 children.  Mother was born in 1916, in the middle of a family of five children.  I am the youngest in my family of

Aunt Agnes at 90
Aunt Agnes at 90

five, 19 years younger than my oldest sister. So I grew up with a multitude of aunts and uncles, first cousins, second cousins, and even a couple of great-aunts in addition to my grandfather, when I was small.

I only have one aunt left out of all that multitude–27 aunts and uncles by blood or marriage when I was born (one had died young), and just one surviving now.  Aunt Agnes is 90 years old, born in 1924, Daddy’s youngest sister and 11 years younger than he was.

My sister Sherrie and I went to see her a few weeks ago when I made a quick visit back to Tennessee.  Aunt Agnes is still living on her own at her insistence, and with the assistance of her two children who take turns visiting every day and checking on her.  They wanted to get someone to live with her, but Aunt Agnes wouldn’t agree to it.  They had to take her car keys away a few years ago after she had a wreck and narrowly avoided a really bad accident.  She had a stroke a few months ago and recovered well, but she is unsteady on her feet now and has trouble with her short-term memory.

Aunt Agnes has always been a curious combination of unconventional and conventional.  She stayed in a painful marriage until her husband died, probably because divorce was shameful to her and her family.  Yet she worked at Fort Campbell as a civilian employee for many years, raising her family as a working mom.  Not a common thing in the ’50s and ’60s, even in the ’70s!  She’s always been devoted to her church and is a firm believer, but never to my knowledge cast aspersions at people in her family (like me, and some others I could name) who did not always live the way good Southern Baptists are supposed to live.  With her, family comes first, and her fondness for a relative goes a long way, even with a wayward niece like me.

Since the stroke she’s lost her appetite and has become quite thin and frail.  While Sherrie and I were there, Sherrie asked her if she wanted to have lunch.  Aunt Agnes had forgotten it was lunchtime.  She mentioned how she missed going to Captain D’s after church on Sunday, so I went through the drive-through and brought back that nasty, salty, fried fish for us all.  She ate maybe three bites.

I was surprised to get a card from her this week–I wasn’t sure if the stroke had affected her ability to write.  Inside was a perfectly clear and coherent note, and a $20 bill to pay for the lunch.  “Do not send the money back,” she wrote, and underlined it.  In her mind I’m still little Connie.  She’s the last one to remember me that way.


For Mother’s Day

My mother died almost 10 years ago, at a pretty advanced age given her state of health.  I always miss her, I always will.  Here’s a list of things I would (or wouldn’t) do if I could

Fronie Bowers Jones
Fronie Bowers Jones

have just a few hours with her again.

I would listen to her and not lose my temper, sniff or complain.  Even when she narrates everything she’s doing as she’s doing it, or comments on every single thing or person we pass in the car!

I would hug her more often.

I would bring her little luxuries more often than I did.  I tried to bring small presents, especially jewelry, whenever I traveled somewhere exotic or new, and she loved that.

I wouldn’t tell her that I hated salmon croquettes.  They were her favorite, so she thought they had to be mine as well.

I would believe her advice and act on it.  Well, maybe not.

I would break that bushel of green beans she promised to Aunt Eunice and only grumble once.

I would understand why she spoiled my brother, and why she never stopped trying to change me into a different person from the one I am.

I would kiss her soft, old, wrinkled cheek.  That would be best of all.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers out there, and to all of us who ever had one!



March Madness and My Mother

A girls basketball team from 1922 (not my mother's team)
A girls basketball team from 1922 (not my mother’s team)

When the NCAA playoffs roll around I think of Mother every year.  She was a huge college basketball fan.  Her favorites were Kentucky, and, after I went there, Tennessee.  Even after she had had strokes and was in the nursing home she still liked to watch the March Madness games.  She couldn’t say much about the games but her dark eyes were alert as she watched the boys run up and down the court.  She liked the women’s games, too, once they started televising them.

Mother played high school basketball herself at Woodlawn School, a country school which didn’t even grant a diploma when she and Daddy were there.  Girl’s basketball in those days was a different animal from now.  In fact, it didn’t change until 1970.

Girls played in half courts.  Let me explain.  Your team’s defense couldn’t cross the center line, and your team’s offense was on the other half of the court and couldn’t cross the line.  The opposing team had the same restrictions, so as a defensive player your entire object was to get the ball to your offense at half-court so they could run and score.

I think the logic was that girls couldn’t or shouldn’t run the length of a basketball court.  Can you imagine?  But, honestly, this was the accepted method for girls to play (in baggy uniforms and mostly covered up.) By 1970 people were getting used to the idea that girls were not delicate flowers.  I mean, how do you think a man would hold up in childbirth?  Seriously.

I was always sorry Mother never got a chance to play full-court basketball.  When I was a kid she would shoot baskets with me, but she was very heavy and got out of breath pretty fast.  I can imagine her as a willowy young girl, racing down the court and shooting.  She would have been pretty good.

A Few More Things About My Mother

Here are some more things I remember about Mother.  As I wrote last week, I wrote these in a notebook as I rode the Metro North train home from Manhattan a few years ago.  It 360px-Kosaciec_bezlistny_Iris_aphylla_RB2[1]was a sad time in my life, and writing seemed to help.  I only wish I had written more while the memories were fresher.

14.  When we lived in town, Mother had flower beds with four o’clocks in back of the house.  The blossoms only opened in the evening and closed at dark.  She had huge beds of tiger lilies in the back yard in summer, and every color of iris in the spring.

15.  She kept every drawing or story I ever gave her.  She kept every letter my brother wrote from the Air Force.  She kept the ugly pottery owl with a flat head that I made in 7th grade art class.  She kept boxes and boxes of photos and an old family Bible.

16.  She liked to talk on the phone a lot.  When she lived in town she spent hours on the phone every day, it seemed.  It was a sad day when my sister Glenda had to take the phone out of Mother’s room in the nursing home. Mother couldn’t hear it anymore and had forgotten how to dial.  She and Aunt Elsie always talked every day until Mother moved to be near Glenda.  Then they talked once a week, until Mother couldn’t hear anymore.  That was one of the first things the strokes took away.

17.  Mother was a good, old-fashioned Southern cook:  fried chicken, boiled country ham, vegetables cooked down with fat meat, creamed corn (a little bit stuck to the skillet, the way Daddy liked it), stewed tomatoes, cornbread.  Her biscuits were not reliable.  She made wonderful pies:  chocolate (no meringue, because my sister Juanita didn’t like it), chess, pecan.  Cakes were chancy things and might or might not fall.  She also liked recipes from her Sunday school class members or Good Housekeeping, especially Jello salads.  When Daddy had his first heart attack her cooking changed completely.  No more sausage and biscuits or fatback—only as a treat.

I was thinking of Mother’s fried chicken recipe this week.  It turns out her method was just featured in Southern Living recently, and they increased the minutes you cook it because chickens are so much larger now.  Her recipe is in this blog’s archives.

Enjoy the week, and enjoy Memorial Day weekend!

Remembering Mother on Mother’s Day

Fronie Bowers Jones
Fronie Bowers Jones
I still miss Mother a lot. We made each other crazy when I was growing up, and I got as far away from her as I reasonably could. But I never left for good and I always came back. Following are some excerpts from a story I wrote for a writing class. It wasn’t really a story; it was a list of recollections. So here are some random memories of Mother, for Mother’s Day.

1. Her eyes used to be dark brown, very big. Uncle Hoy said she was the prettiest girl in the community where they grew up, which was Blooming Grove, Tennessee. In her old age, they faded to almost tan-colored.

2. She wore print cotton dresses in cheerful flower patterns. She didn’t wear pants until after Daddy died in 1977, I don’t think.

3. She fell and cracked her kneecap chasing my dog Whitey around the yard when I was 8 or 9. She was trying to throw away sticks blown off the trees by a storm. He kept fetching them back, and she yelled, “You stupid dog!” and chased him with a stick. I laughed and laughed, until she slipped on the wet grass and fell.

4. The only time she ever went to Florida, I took her. I drove from Atlanta in September 1981 and picked her up. We drove to St. Augustine and Daytona Beach. It was the coolest September on record. But she finally saw the ocean, the red and orange sunrises and sunsets, walked in the edge of the surf, and sat in a beach chair on the boardwalk with some other people, who seemed elderly to me. We went to Marineland, and she was too tired to walk from one show to another. That’s when I knew she was sick, not just getting older. She was sick ever after that. Mother must have been about 62 years old.

5. She stayed with me in the hospital for a week when I fractured a vertebra in my back. I was 10 years old, and had been thrown out of a swing when the chain broke on my side–six kids in a porch-type swing in a frame, trying to see how high we could go. I was so bored, because the hospitals didn’t have TVs then (1965?), and she couldn’t drive, so she couldn’t get to the library. She bought me every children’s book in the hospital gift shop, all the ancient paperbacks—Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, Elsie Dinsmore. I read them all. I hated Elsie Dinsmore. What a little priss!

6. When I was in high school, she made a trade with Aunt Eunice Settle (Daddy’s sister). We would can a bushel of Kentucky Wonder beans for her, and Aunt Eunice would slipcover our couch. It took both of us an entire day. Aunt Eunice’s work was done in about three hours. Aunt Eunice always got the best of any bargain going.

7. Mother’s hands were always big and knobby-jointed. She said they were like Papa’s (her father, Herman Bowers), while mine were long-fingered and thin like Mama’s (her mother, Blanche Collier Bowers). Papa and Mama both died before I was born.

8. Mother never learned to drive, ride a bike, or roller-skate. She liked to play Rook, a sort of Southern Baptist card game with no “face cards.” Good Christians didn’t play cards when she was a child.

9. Aunt Elsie was Mother’s best friend from the time they were five years old. One day when they were children Mother had a new dress, a rare occurance, and Aunt Elsie wanted to wear it. They switched dresses on the way to school so Aunt Elsie could wear it. That’s how much Mother loved her, that she would do that. Aunt Elsie was an aunt by marriage. She and Mother married brothers; Mother married George, Aunt Elsie married Jesse. Aunt Elsie’s brother, Uncle Floyd, married Mother’s sister, Aunt Mattie Lou.

The entire “story” is “50 Things About My Mother.” I wrote them in a notebook as I commuted by train to Manhattan. I’m glad I got them written down. Happy Mother’s Day to all my family, friends and readers!

More Sayings From My Mother

fronie-bowers-jones1[1]The other day I realized I had violated my in-home safety policy. I never even thought about such things until my friend Renny ran downstairs in her sock feet, slipped on the carpeted stairs, and shattered her ankle so badly that it subsequently took pins and plates to put it back together. Then there was the incident when my poor brother fell off the bed while changing a lightbulb in a ceiling fixture, hung his foot in the box spring, and was stranded for two days with a broken leg before he could get help.

Now that I’ve thoroughly frightened everyone, I should explain that the in-home safety policy applies only to people who live alone or perhaps spend all day or all night alone at home. Number one rule: Don’t run around in socks. Either go barefoot or wear shoes that fit. Rule number two: Always have your cellphone in your pocket. Make sure it’s charged. Rule number three: Teach your cat to dial 911 (joke.)

Anyway, my violation did not result in an injury, but I realized I’d done it while staring at a sink full of dirty dishes. Immediately one of Mother’s immortal sayings popped into my head: “If I get sick in the night, don’t call the ambulance until you clean up this kitchen.”

Another favorite behavior was how she hoarded her nice nightgowns and robes in case she had to go to the hospital. I guess she was concerned about looking well-dressed in her hospital bed.

Then I smelled my garbage, realizing it needed to be carried out, and thought, “There’s something kyarny in there.” That was a favorite word of Mother’s. I just found it online in the Urban Dictionary. I knew it meant “smells like something dead.” According to that website, kyarn is a Southern derivative of the word “carrion,” meaning dead or decaying flesh.

Another of Mother’s expressions was often aimed at me: “Get off your high horse.” That meant, “Stop being so arrogant and superior,” or as says, “A request to stop behaving in a haughty and self-righteous manner.”

Well, I have to get off my high horse and go get my cellphone. That way if I should get drunk as Cootie’s goose (i.e., dizzy) I can always call for help!

My Mother’s Shadow

Several years ago my niece Judy found an old camera with film in it at my sister Glenda’s house in Ohio.   My brother-in-law John bought it in Japan while he was in the Navy during the Korean War.  It took color photos, which wasn’t common at the time among amateurs—this was some time before Instamatics and Kodachrome.

Judy took the camera to a camera shop, where they removed the film safely and developed it.  She gave me a framed 5×7 print of one photo for Christmas that year.  (I wanted to scan it for this blog post, but the print has stuck to the glass of the frame, so I can’t remove it without damage.)  It’s the only color picture I have of myself as a small child.  I look about two years old, still a bit babyish, in a dress and white baby shoes, with pudgy arms and legs and a round face.  I am wearing an expression my friends all recognize to this day as, “I’m playing along with you because I have to, but you are trying my patience severely.”

This must have been a family outing of some sort since John and Glenda were there, and at that point we all lived in Clarksville, Tennessee, 40 miles away.  I’m standing alone on the steps of the Confederate Memorial in Centennial Park in Nashville.  It’s summer, and I will be three years old in the fall.

At the corner of the photo is my mother’s shadow, stretching over the steps close to my feet.   She has a middle-aged figure, stout around the waist, and is wearing a bucket-shaped hat with a brim.  Her shadow leans toward me.  Mother is not reaching out to keep me from falling, but one feels that the moment the picture is taken she will sweep me off the stairs to safety.

Mother was afraid of many things, I learned as I grew older.  Glenda said Mother was terrified that I would die as a baby, because she had had a miscarriage between my brother and me and because she was an “older mother”—all of 38 years old when I was born, the last of five children over a span of 19 years.  She hardly let me out of her sight.  Glenda said at one point I broke out in a rash, and Mother took me to the pediatrician.  He said, “There’s nothing wrong with her.  You’re making her so nervous she broke out.”

I spent most of my life convinced I was utterly unlike my mother in every way.  I was rational, she was emotional.  I was calm, she was nervous.  She used to say, “You’re just like your daddy,” and I was proud.  I tried to practice being the strong, silent type like him.  I found it hard to say what I felt.  But as I grew older I realized I wasn’t calm, I was just pretending to be calm.  I was rational, but I had emotions too.

Mother died in 2004 after many years of illness and devoted care from Glenda.  I miss her on Mother’s Day especially.   No matter how old I get, her shadow is still there, on the edge of the picture.

The Bowers Girls

Marvel, Mother, me, Sherrie, Juanita, Glenda, niece Judy, baby Weston

All children have a fantasy that they don’t belong to their family of birth.  I actually was a Cherokee princess, kidnapped from my tribe, or sometimes the sad orphan of a rich, privileged family that was tragically wiped out by war or disease.  Maybe it’s a function of reading The Secret Garden or A Little Princess, or any of myriad children’s books that glamorize the feeling of strangeness or not-belonging so many of us have.  Eight Cousins was another, in which the little orphan girl is taken in by a bachelor uncle and discovers she has eight boy cousins, all of whom come to adore her, of course.

My fantasy was compounded by not actually looking much like my sisters and brother.  My eyes are a weird light hazel, and my hair had auburn tinges in it.  However, if you took my parents’ faces and gave me the top of Mother’s, and Daddy’s from the cheekbones down, you got my face.  Apparently my coloring came from my grandfather, and my lack of height from both grandmothers.  Amazing how you can mix and match the genetic pieces!

I never thought there was much resemblance among us sisters or cousins until I looked at this photo, years after it was taken at my nephew’s wedding.  At first glance, we don’t look alike.  We’re tall, short, square, willowy, young, older.  My cousin Marvel particularly does not resemble the rest of the family.  Then I noticed our legs.  We all have calves and ankles that are shaped the same.  So it’s from Mother’s side of the family–Bowers legs.

Mother would say they are bad legs, because some of us tend to painful knees and arthritis.  But I think that curve of calf to ankle is kind of nice.  Now I have to hunt for photos of the younger generations and see if the shape has been passed on.  I hope that piece of the genetic code has legs!

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