This is for Debbie Kim~ she knows why

Friday, June 25, 2010

SURVIVING NANNY~ Gardenias & Best Friends

Along with the addition of Oliver B. Greene to my life, that whole year was one of many changes.

I just thought he to be the worst thing to happen to me that year. I was wrong.
Chico died sometime after my introduction to Rev. Greene. I don't understand what happen to her. She just got sick one day.
I remember Papaw trying to take care of her. I remember it was very hot outside. I remember he telling Nanny he had to bring her inside, under the air conditioning. I remember Nanny having a fit about no filthy animal coming into her house. Then , to my shock, I remember Papaw shouting bad words at Nanny, slamming the back door, gathering up Chico in his arms and bringing her inside.
I remember Nanny retreating to her bedroom. I could hear her praying and crying. I remember thinking, "Good, let her cry."

Papaw and I made a pallet for Chico in the middle of the dining room floor. This was the coolest room in the house, as the large window unit hung from this room's window.

Chico struggled to breathe, her respiration uneven and erratic. As soon as she rested under the cool air, her breathing improved. I loved my Papaw so much at that moment.
He pushed water in her all day long. Told me she needed to get to a vet, soon. Papaw never had had a driver's license, Mama and Daddy were at work, we had no extra car. I begged him to call Mama and make her come home. Mama could take her to the vet. Papaw said no, we could only call Mama for emergencies. Well, this sure seemed like an emergency to me! Still, he said no.
I prayed harder that day than I had ever prayed in my life. Sometimes Chico would seem better, then she go right back to fighting for air. I continued to pray.
Mama finally got home. I didn't wait for her to make it to the front door, rather I flew outside, down the hot walk, screaming at her that Chico was bad sick!
She raced inside to find Papaw leaning over her body. She was breathing but her breaths had become rapid and shallow. "Get her to the car, Daddy!!" Papaw swooped her up in his arms and placed her in the backseat of Mama's car. Then, they were gone.

Papaw and I returned to the house. Don't think either one of us had eaten all day; still I didn't feel hungry. Papaw insisted we eat something. Nanny was still hold up in her room, hadn't seen her all day. Must admit, she had been a pleasant miss.
Papaw found something to throw together, and we ate in silence. Sensing my worry, he assured me we had done all we could do for her, and I had made a real good assistant doctor.
"But Papaw, what if she dies?" I could feel the hot tears burning, but I refused to cry.
"Well now, you are old enough to know nothing lives forever. She's getting to be an old dog and she just might not make it. She has had a real good life, and that's something to be thankful for.
I want you to remember that."
As much as I wanted to be mad at Papaw for speaking so casually of Chico's death, I couldn't be.
He just had a way of stating fact, with little emotion, and this made bad truths less scary.

We cleaned the dishes, put them away, and waited.

I heard a car pull up outside and ran to the front window. It was Daddy, home from work. Again, down our walk I ran, the concrete now cool to my bare feet, long shadows had replaced the baking sun. I quickly explained to Daddy where Mama was and why. I don't think he even came inside, just turned and went straight back to his car. In seconds he was gone. Going to check on Chico.

It was dark when Mama and Daddy finally came home. Papaw and I had waited the whole time in the living room, mostly in silence. Neither one of us had much to say, which for me was unusual. Papaw never talked much. Daddy said if Papaw did open his mouth, you best listen.
He'd have something important to say.
Both Mama and Daddy slowly pulled up to the curb and parked their cars. Papaw asked me to switch on the porch light. I strained to see if they had Chico with them. I could see Daddy carrying something in his arms, my heart soared. Maybe Chico was home!!!
I took one look at Mama's face and knew better. Her face was all red and swollen, no doubt she had been crying. Daddy didn't look much better. All he had in his arms was the pallet Chico had rested on for the day.

Papaw rose from the rocker and announced he was going on to bed. The stairs creaked with each slow step he took, until I heard his bedroom door close.

Me, Mama and Daddy all looked at one another, waiting for someone to speak the horrible words. Finally, Daddy spoke up. "Pal, (that was the only name Daddy had ever called me) Chico didn't make it." I knew that. I knew she was gone, just from Mama's face. Still, hearing it out loud made it real. I felt the floor open, my head swim, knees buckle. I wanted to scream, Noooo!!! but knew it was true. For some reason I ran to Daddy, not Mama. Maybe I needed to borrow some of his strength. Tears came then sobs. Daddy, rocking me back and forth, stroking my head, whispering, "I'm sorry, Pal". Over and over and over, til it became a mantra.
Mama was crying again, her sobs mixed with mine, like a two part harmony.
I don't know how long we stayed like this. Guess as long as we needed. Eventually I had no more tears.
I climbed from Daddy's lap and kissed his stubbly cheek. I knew Daddy felt the same loss for he loved Chico too.
"Where is she, Daddy?" He paused, then explained they had left her body at the vet's. She had gotten very sick and was suffering. " The vet gave her a special shot to take her pain away and to help her get to heaven."
"So do you think she is in heaven now?" Daddy assured me she was, then added, not to listen to anything Nanny might say about this. Chico was in heaven, period.

Mama asked where Nanny was, as she usually stayed in the thick of things. "Oh, she and Papaw got mad at each other over Chico and Papaw said a whole bunch of bad words to her and she has been in her room all day." "Jesus!" Mama exclaimed. She headed upstairs to Nanny's room.

Daddy was left to tuck me in. He found clean pajamas for me, slid me under the cool sheets, then kissed me goodnight. "You sleep tight now, Pal." "Daddy, you think you could open my gardenia window?" Papaw had planted gardenia bushes underneath my bedroom window. They were in full bloom. On warm summer nights their aroma would fill my room. Daddy slid the wooden window up, pushing the stick in place to hold the window open. "Thanks, Daddy."
"Daddy, could you do one more thing?" Daddy nodded. "Could I please sleep with Chico's pallet?" I wanted to smell her. "You know Nanny will have one more hissy if she finds that dog pallet in a clean bed. Dang it, Pal. You are gonna get us both in all kinds of trouble."
"Please Daddy, just for tonight?" He turned, mumbling words I couldn't make out, to go get Chico's bed.
Daddy had rolled the pallet up tight, then stuffed it in an old pillow case. He explained maybe we could convince Nanny most of the dog hair and filth would stay in the pillowcase. We both knew this was a long shot, maybe she would appreciate the effort.

Hard to believe when I woke in the morning, Chico wouldn't be outside waiting to play. I tried to get used to the idea I would never see her again. Odd to think someone so loved, so much a part of my daily life, could just be gone so quickly. Harder still to believe I would never see her again. It just didn't seem real. Nothing about the day seemed real.

Maybe all of this was just a bad, bad dream. Maybe I will wake in the morning and Chico will be in the backyard, just waiting on me. The day held the feel of a bad dream. Just maybe the sooner I fall asleep now, the sooner I will wake to see her.

I held her pallet tight against my body and inhaled deeply. Her smell was strong on her bedding.
I squeezed the pillowcase closer, pretending it was Chico. It smelled right, but lacked the rhythm of her breathing, the weight and warmth of her body.

I grew sleepy, willing to fall into the black ink of sleep. Tomorrow I would wake and find my dog in the backyard, bright pink tongue hanging out, black tail wagging at the sight of me.

Tonight I would fall asleep with the two aromas which brought me the most peace, my Papaw's gardenias and my best friend.

Friday, June 11, 2010


The next morning turned out much as I expected. Nanny did not whip me; she came up with a punishment much worse. I had to listen to her radio preacher every morning with her. She told me I wasn't getting enough training from church. Her hope being Rev. Oliver B. Greene and his messages could straighten me out. His program came on five days a week, airing from 9-9:30 each morning. His theme song was Blessed Assurance. In the past, when I heard the first note, that was my cue to run to the backyard and play with Chico. No more.

I hated the thought of spending more time in the house with Nanny, listening to yet another preacher. I came right out and asked for a spanking, just to get it over with. She said no. Mama didn't want me spanked, not for speaking my mind, and while she believed I needed a good wearing out, she couldn't go against Mama.
I begged her to whip me. Told her I deserved a whipping. I needed a whipping. I wouldn't even tell Mama, it could be our secret. She reminded me that would be lying, and the devil was using me to tempt her. No, there would be no whipping.
She yanked out a wooden kitchen chair and plunked me down. She explained I was to sit still, not talk, act just as if I were in church. "yes, Ma'am," I knew when I was beat.
Looked as if Oliver B. Greene and I were gonna become well acquainted. Thank goodness his program only lasted 30 minutes! Don't think I could bear a full hour of his screaming. He preached nothing like Preacher. No, not at all. Preacher kinda started out soft and slow. 'Bout mid way he'd grow louder, maybe start pacing, maybe even pound the pulpit. Get everyone whipped up into a full fervor. Then, he'd bring it back down, real slow like, sometimes whispering, "Brothers, Sisters, have you found Jesus?" Usually the organ player would slip from her seat to the organ. For the invitation she would most always play Just As I Am, or Softly and Tenderly.
Again, sometimes crying, Preacher would ask again, "Have you found the Lord and Master? Have you found Him? Have you found Jesus?!
I sometimes looked around to see if anyone was gonna answer. I had no idea he was lost!!
I wanted to ask if anyone had checked the Krispy Kreme, but thought better of it. I'd bet money he was at the Krispy Kreme with Daddy. That was Daddy's favorite place to go on Sundays. Daddy would stop and buy a Sunday paper, drop me and Nanny off at church, then read his paper at the Krispy Kreme until it was time to pick us up again. There he would come, pulling up to the church curb, donut glaze smeared all around his mouth. Then try and tell me he hadn't had any donuts. Daddy would then wink at me and surprise me with a different choice each Sunday. I understood I couldn't have it til after Sunday lunch. He never forgot me.
I was just thinking since Daddy loved the Krispy Kreme so, maybe Jesus did too. He and Daddy could be sharing donuts together for all I knew. And, if Jesus could be found there, it wouldn't hurt him any to buy a newspaper and get caught up on this Vietnam war either. It stayed in the news all the time. Poor boys dying in the jungles of Vietnam. Walter Cronkite gave the body count each day on the evening news. I used to watch the news with Daddy, but I wasn't allowed to any more. I would cry for all the dead soldiers and their Mamas; just get myself all kinds of worked up. Finally, Mama said no more Walter Cronkite for me.
Anyway, if Jesus happened to be at the Krispy Kreme, maybe Daddy could talk to Him about the war. Then maybe Jesus could talk to God about this war. The whole church had been praying for an end but the fighting kept going on. Personally, I don't think God was listening. Jesus might could get through to God. Maybe the war could end that way.
It was worth a try. Meanwhile, I would ask Daddy if he had seen Jesus hanging out at the Krispy Kreme.

Well, as I was saying before I got all sidetracked, Rev. Greene didn't preach anything like Preacher. Nope. He was like a Thoroughbred race horse bolting out of the gate. He started preaching hard and didn't let up til it was time to beg for money. He preached and begged for money each program, five days a week. I have no idea what he did with
the money; he called it a love offering. I just figured it could get mighty expensive loving Rev.
Greene. Lots of people loved me, but I sure didn't see anybody throwing money at my feet.
Nanny said there were things I just wasn't old enough to understand; guess this was one of 'em.
All I know was it wasn't free if you had to send in $5. He was always giving his tracts and such away for a donation of $5. I tried to tell Nanny she was still out the $5, no matter what he claimed or called it. Free for $5 ain't free. Even I wasn't that stupid.
Plus, it wasn't even her money. It was Papaws. Some times she would ask him for the money; other times she'd sneak to his room and take the $5 outta his calf hide wallet. I loved his wallet. Made out of real calf skin with the hair still on it, black, brown and white with black leather whip stitching around the edges. Some times he would let me pet the wallet, as I tried to imagine the cow it came from.
Anyway, it sure looked like stealing to me. She knew my suspicions and one day attempted to explain her actions. Said it really wasn't stealing as she was married to Papaw and it was going to a good cause. I never said a word; just stared at her. Again, even I wasn't that stupid.
I reckon it was okay to steal if you were stealing for Jesus. Nanny could certainly say, then do, some odd things. Best to keep my mouth shut. If I had been able to keep quiet about hell and animals I wouldn't be in the mess I was in now. No, if I questioned her behavior at all it could lead me into all kinds of woe. Best to agree and move on. But I will say it here, sure looked like stealing to me.

I listened to Rev. Greene until I started kindergarten, over a full year. Nanny was legally blind and only had a 4th grade education. Back then there were no special programs for children with challenges. When her sight became so poor she could no longer see to do her school work, she was sent home.
My job was to address the envelopes with Papaw's $5 in it to Rev. Greene. I used a pencil so I could erase any mistakes I might make. By the time I did start school, I knew how to address an envelope properly, and write a simple form letter. That's how many times I had written Rev. Greene that year before kindergarten. I knew his address by heart, without Nanny ever having to tell me. I scrawled in my best print:
Rev. Oliver B. Greene
Box 2024
Greenville, SC 29602

I addressed all of the mail to him for Nanny until his death in 1976 or 77, by this time I was in high school. Nanny grieved for months. Me, I was thankful I never had to hear his name again.
Finally, I could forget him and his address!

After 45 years, I remember.

Oh, the things the mind holds on to from childhood.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

SURVIVING NANNY~Watermelons & Winged Horses~part3

I had fallen hard asleep under the grapevines. Hadn't intended to, but I guess all the big hoop-la of the morning had tired me out.

Mama had come out to find both Chico and I, curled up, sweating like pigs. Caked in dirt, my clothes wet with sweat, Mama hollared for me to get up outta there. My grapes squished in my pocket.
She had her mad face on, but I could tell she was shinning me. "You know what you need,
Missy?!" Now she was trying not to smile. Across the yard she ran, grabbed the water hose, and
turn on the spigot, then sprayed me clean! The water felt almost too cold, but good, nonetheless. Rainbows sparkled in the spray, beautiful, dancing rainbows. As soon as I reached for one, it would be gone. Within a minute, my body had grown used to the cool water; it felt heavenly! All too soon Mama said it was time to cut the water off, we were running up the bill. I begged her to play just a little longer, but she said no.
I guessed it was about going back to church time anyway. I asked Mama which dress she was gonna put me in. "Oh, Nanny isn't going this evening. You can stay home." My heart sank. This had to be bad news for me. Nanny never missed church, ever. She would go sick even. The only thing to keep her outta church was the beauty parlor. Now, if she didn't go to the beauty parlor,
she absolutely would not attend services.
Once, before I was born, Nanny messed up her hair. I mean really messed it up. Daddy said Easter was coming and she wanted her hair colored. Wouldn't pay the beauty parlor lady to do it either. Her prices where sky high! Had Miss Mildred, our dear friend and next door neighbor, do it. Daddy said he wasn't quite sure what color she was aiming for, but she got purple. He said it was a most beautiful shade of Easter purple, but Nanny cried.
Poor Miss Mildred tried to fix it, but the next do-over came out pink!!! Bright pink!!! Nanny was wailing at this point. Daddy, in an effort to comfort and calm her(?) told her" Now Sade, at least you staying with an Easter theme." More tears. I think it had to slowly wash out. She missed several Sundays,
not Easter though. She and her pink head were in Church Easter Sunday. Not even pink hair would keep her from church Easter Sunday!!!!
My point being, things couldn't be good if she wasn't going to church. I considered not asking but Mama would tell me the truth. "Why is Nanny skipping church?" Mama answered, "Well, she just let herself get worked up over what you said at church this morning. She has taken a nerve pill and is resting." I felt awful. I wished Mama would yell at me or something. Maybe give me a good spanking. Something! Instead, she remained kind and forgiving. "Terri, I know you didn't mean to do any thing bad at church today." All the while nodding my head in full agreement. "I want you to understand something. That church your Nanny goes to is a crazy church. You just can't believe everything you hear there." This struck me as odd. "Well, Mama, why do I have to go?" She paused then chose her words carefully. "You do need some kind of religious training. Lord knows, I'm too tired to take you to church after working all week. Just easier to let Mama do it." Sometimes Mama would forget and call Nanny, Mama. Well, Nanny was her Mama.
"Just try to mind your Nanny, and not upset her, okay?"
Mama just didn't understand how easily Nanny got upset. All I could do was to try extra hard.

We went inside where Mama found me dry clothes and combed out my wet hair. I found myself wishing she didn't have to work. I wished she could take care of me instead of Nanny. We had already talked about this and I understood why. Still didn't make me stop wishing.

Dressed in clean,dry clothes, I approached Papaw's door, hoping he could talk to me about the animal/soul thing. He was leaned way back in his recliner, reading his Bible.
"Papaw, can I come in?" There was that smile, the smile he saved only for me. He didn't have a tooth in his head, but smiled like he had a mouthful of dentures. Well, he did have dentures but he wouldn't wear them. Said they hurt. So, he kept them in a glass of water in the bathroom. The dentures scared me when I was real little, but no more. They were just Papaw's teeth floating in a jar. He just had a mouthful of gums.
He patted the arm of his recliner welcoming me to take a seat. I jumped up on the arm, then slid down, falling into his side. Laughter from both of us. I giggled til I bout wet my pants.
"Papaw, do you think animals have souls?" I waited, breathlessly. His brown eyes searching mine. "Well now, do you mean like people?" "Yeah, I guess. Enough soul they go on to heaven?
Cuz Preacher said that animals have no souls. None! Then I started thinking about Chico and her dying and going to hell and I got so worked up I couldn't think and that's why I blurted out what I did." By this time I was crying. Couldn't hold the stress of the day any longer. I told Papaw I just knew Nanny was gonna tear me up for what I had done, but I wasn't being smart-aleky. Really!" I was sobbing now. No holding back. Papaw held on to me til my storm passed.
"I can't recall any where in the Bible that says animals have no souls." This made me feel some better. " I can't imagine a Heaven without animals. They are His creatures too, just like us. Had Noah build an ark just to save'em. Bound to be important to Him. Don't think he would've had Noah go to all that work for nothing. Yeah, I believe they go on. Heaven? Now, I ain't so sure about that. I ain't sure I believe in the Heaven we're told of in the Bible, either. Pearly gates?
Streets of gold? No, what am I gonna do with any of that. Spending eternity on a cloud with a harp? Naw, that don't sound like Heaven to me. Sounds boring.
God knows me better than anyone. I believe I'll be given the Heaven right for me. Maybe a plot of fertile soil, where every thing grows. Perfect rains, perfect amount of sun, just a perfect garden of vegetables, fruits and flowers. That would be my heaven."
He was lost in thought, dreaming of his Heaven. I prayed maybe his knees and back wouldn't hurt in Heaven too. God said there would be no pain. Be nice for Papaw to tend his garden without hurting.
"Well now, I know your Heaven will be filled with animals! And horses! Why, you gonna have a horse of every color in the world! Maybe some of them will even have wings. And you can grab one of your winged horses and fly over to my garden patch. We can share a perfect watermelon
together. Don't that sound fun?!"
Yes, it did sound fun. Maybe that's what heaven will be like. " Ain't nobody knows what heaven is like til we get there. We got to go on faith; that's all we got. I figure whatever it is it will be perfect. We both just need to believe that and go on. No sense in worrying about it. That sure don't help nothing. Just gotta trust God knows what is best for all his creatures. Especially us."

And again, my world was righted. That's all it took. My Papaw's wisdom.

I made another silent observation. While Nanny went to church all the time, and was a Christian, no doubt about that! she had no faith. None at all. She worried all the time about every little thing. And if she didn't have some thing to worry about, she'd hunt some thing up.
And nervous! Why some days she reminded me of a little frightened mouse. Scurrying about and wringing her hands. She always thought some thing bad was about to happen. And her worry rubbed off on me too. If Mama was late getting home from work, Nanny always thought the worst. Couldn't be she was stuck in city traffic, oh no. Nanny would be convinced she was dead in a ditch some where. Then, if I didn't worry with her, she would tell me I didn't love Mama. By the time Mama did get home, we'd have her dead and buried. I would be an orphan and have to go to a special orphan home, cuz Nanny couldn't raise me by herself, and Daddy didn't have enough sense to raise an umbrella. By the time Mama did get home, I'd be in tears, so thankful to have a Mama and not have to go to the orphan home.
And every night before bedtime we all had to race around the house picking and straightening up, just in case someone was to get sick during the night or even die. We couldn't have the ambulance men coming in thinking we lived in filth. I thought if one of us died during the night, we would be too upset to be worrying about what strangers thought. I never shared this opinion with Nanny though. This was how my Nanny thought.

But not Papaw. He never worried. Well, if he did he kept it to himself. No matter how bad things seemed, he would say, "It's all gonna be alright, you'll see." And it always was alright.

I don't know how I knew this or even why. But the thought came to me........."The emptiest wagon always rattles the loudest." That suited my Nanny to a tee.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

SURVIVING NANNY~Grapevines & Bed Springs~part 2

Mama allowed me to go outside after lunch. Daddy explained maybe it best to not go to the pony place that afternoon in light of my outburst at church that morning. I would have just as soon gotten a whipping and gone about my business than stay away from the pony place. There was nothing I could do to change Daddy's mind, so stuck I was, at home, waiting for Nanny to get over her case of nerves.

When she did get better, things would not go well for me. She had a way of always getting the last word in. This was not over. Mama and Daddy might believe so, I knew better. I had publicly humiliated her and in some way I would be punished.
No sense in worrying about that now. Nothing to do but wait.
In the meantime, I asked Mama for the bone outta the roast, for Chico. She loved bones and could spend a whole day chewing on a new one.
I took the bone and ran toward the back door. Throwing the screened door wide, it closed with a hard WHACK! I could hear Mama curse, then, "Terri, you're gonna ruin that door!!!" I had forgotten again. "Sorry, Mama!" not sure she even heard me.
I called for the black cocker, and she came wiggling out from underneath the house. That's where she usually stayed in the summer. Daddy said it was cool under there for her. He kept the little front and back door built into the foundation open during hot weather. Said this created a cross breeze for Chico to help keep her cool. In the winter it had to closed tight or the pipes would freeze. I wished she could come inside the house, but Nanny would never allow that. Animals were filthy and everyone knew how she felt about filth.
Chico and I found a cool spot underneath Papaw's grapevines. This was one of my favorite places in the yard. The vines were dense, blocking most all of the sun. He had planted them years before I had ever been born; they had grown huge. So large in fact, Papaw had taken a full sized bed spring, made tall posts, and allowed grapevine to take over.
Mama about had a fit when she came home from work to find a suspended bed spring in her backyard. "Dammit Daddy, we look like white trash!" I heard her say. Papaw just laughed at her, promising the vines would cover it in no time. Papaw never did give much thought as to what others thought of him any way.
Chico and I curled up underneath the thick shade of Papaw's grapevine. She busy with her bone, me busy with worry. Try as I might, I couldn't stop worrying about Nanny being so angry with me. I don't believe I had ever seen her that upset. Maybe I would get lucky and just get a fly swatting. Maybe I was getting tougher, or Nanny getting weaker, I wasn't sure. But when she did whip me with the fly swat, It didn't hurt near like it used to. I still cried and carried on, so she would think I was suffering something terrible. But most all of that was for show.
Guess that was a form of lying, which I knew was a sin. Still, I continued to play that part out, all for her benefit.
I looked up through the vines, searching for blue skies. The vines, so thick blocked all view. I had picked a small bunch of grapes for dessert but felt full as a tick. Ate too much roast. I loved Mama's Sunday roast. The smell filled the whole house.
I had to finish the grapes I had picked. It took a big lot to make Papaw mad; wasting food was something you just didn't do around him. Now this could make him yell! He said he raised a family during something called a depression, and nobody had enough to eat! Said he went to bed a plenty of nights empty as a drum just so Mama and her sisters could eat!
No, I knew better to waste anything in front of Papaw. I pushed the rest of the grapes deep into my pocket. I could put them in the ice box and eat them later.
I continued to study the wide leaves of the vines, thinking how right Papaw had been. The rusty bed springs were completely hidden by his beautiful vines. No one would ever know they were there, unless they climbed underneath and looked up. I was the only one to crawl beneath them. I was the only one who could see the ugly. A grown up would only see the beauty of the vines and the delicious grapes.
This made me think of Nanny for some reason. She was like the grapevine and the bed spring.
Everyone who met her saw only her beautiful vines and sweet grapes. I knew better. Beneath all that beauty was nothing but an old rusty bed spring.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

SURVIVING NANNY~Hell Fire & Dalmatians~part 1

Nanny had appointed herself in charge of all things religious. She handled our spiritual training with no humor and believed our blood would be on her hands if we weren't brought to Jesus. This she was not about to allow. As if Jesus himself kept a score card on each of His followers. Could explain, why as a very young child, I always envisioned Him in a referee uniform. Jesus, his long beard and hair, feet in worn sandals, in a ref uniform. Given a guitar he would have favored a member of ZZTop.

I think Mama and Daddy attended a Methodist church when I was a baby. Somehow, church fell by the wayside and Nanny snatched up my soul shaping like a gold coin found on a asphalt parking lot. She had tended to my older brother's spiritual training and he grew to be a fine young man. Her intention was to mold me in much the same way.
Now let me explain. Nanny was a Free Will Baptist, of the strictest order. Southern and Primitives were far too loose and liberal for her. I learned early on it was faster and easier to list actions which were not a sin, than to list those that were. Basically, if you weren't praying, singing a hymn, sitting in church or witnessing, or reading the Bible (only King James version) you were sinning. Oh, and foot washing! That was not a sin, but I was too young to participate. Guess they were right about that. I had no idea why folks waited to come to church to wash their feet. Seemed to me it would be just as easy to wash your own feet when taking your Sunday bath. There was much about church I didn't understand, but had no one to ask. Maybe if I ever received the Spirit, the answers would come to me.
Anyway Nanny's list if sins was 'bout as long as a laundry list. According to her I stayed steeped in sin and always felt dirty.
This made my 4 year old life even more confusing. There was Nanny, telling me how bad I was in the eyes of God, then Papaw. My Papaw. He made me feel I shone with goodness. Told me I had the sweetest heart of any child he ever knew. Praised me for my thoughtfulness and kindness. Thus began a very schizoid existence for me.

So concepts of good and bad, right and wrong, profane and divine were very twisted in my young mind. A loving God? never mentioned. God was to be greatly feared. I pictured Him on a throne, like Santa, who only worked the Christmas season. Santa brought gifts to good children. I was always surprised Christmas morning to find gifts, seeing how Nanny reminded me almost daily what a bad girl I was. God worked full time, all the time. And could read my thoughts and see my heart. Nanny said I couldn't hide my ugly from Him. Funny thing was, I never felt mean or ugly until I had to spend time around her. She brought the Devil in close. Some times I wondered if she might be the Devil, dressed up like a grandmother. I never asked this out loud but I did often wonder. The was a song on the radio, "Devil with the Blue Dress On." Nanny had a couple of blue church dresses. Made one wonder.
God asked I be perfect, expected me to at least aim for perfection. Had I been allowed to play cards (also a sin) I would have certainly felt the deck stacked against me. These notions formed how I saw myself and the world around me.

My dear brother, with whom I am very close, is amazed at my memory of these times. He remembers very little, while sometimes I feel I remember far too much.

One Sunday sitting on the second pew, far right, (while not marked, everyone knew that was Nanny's spot) we had gotten through all the preliminary activities and Preacher was ready to preach. I may have been four, no older. Nanny had pulled me out of the nursery long ago; convinced I could sit through a full sermon. I tried to listen to Preacher, but most of the time I had no idea what he was talking about. When I got too squirmy, Nanny would allow me to look through a hymnal. I already knew the alphabet and the sounds each letter made. I also knew many of the old hymns by heart, like What a Friend We Have In Jesus. Having the lyrics memorized, I was able to find each word, study it, then spell it. In this way I taught myself to read. Also, coming from a hymnal, I learned of suffixes and prefixes. I came to love words and reading. To this good day I feel this to be my most worthwhile activity during my church going years.

I had ample opportunity to enjoy studying the song hymnal as Preacher could drone on forever. I hated and feared when he became filled with the Holy Ghost. First and foremost, I was afraid of ghosts. Secondly, this meant he was gonna preach even longer than usual. The Holy Ghost usually led to Preacher crying, sweating, pacing and pounding on the pulpit. All of which frightened me. I found the sheer emotionality of his crying and shouting outbursts to be overwhelming. At these times I prayed for Preacher to hurry and wind down. Mostly, I wanted Mama.

Well, back to this particular Sunday. Preacher was on a roll. I figured the Holy Ghost would strike most any time. I prayed his preaching to be louder than my growling stomach. I sure was getting hungry and my belly was rolling. I picked up a hymnal in an effort to take my mind off my empty stomach. Amazing Grace! one of my favorites! I had moved up to learning how to use the table of contents.
Preacher was talking about how we were made in God's image, how that made us special above all other living things. I continued reading the song book. I wasn't sure what a wretch was but I learned to spell it and I could ask Mama. She would know.
About the same time I was memorizing the word wretch, Preacher said the most horrible thing I had ever heard!!! Man was different and held dominion over all animals. The main difference being He had blessed Man with an eternal soul so we could go to heaven. Animals had no soul.
Then he went on to say there would be no animals in heaven!!! Heaven was reserved for those made in His own image and accepted Jesus as their Savior.
WHAT??!!!! Preacher was wrong!!! Of course animals had souls!!!! All he had to do was look into my Chico's black eyes! Why, I could see my Cocker's soul!! He just didn't know my Chico!!
I loved my black Cocker Spaniel more than anything in the world, except Mama, Daddy and Papaw. I had to love Jesus cuz I didn't want to burn in the fiery pit. I should love Nanny, but the truth was I didn't. And as she always said, "the truth was welcomed in heaven." No sense telling Jesus I loved her when he could see in my heart. I worked hard at liking her, and most days that was a chore.
I could hardly keep my seat!!! Preacher had my full attention now. I wanted to stand and call him LIAR!! at the top of my lungs!!! How could he say such?!
I worried about my Chico and where she would go after her death. I already understood animals died. One of my little dime store turtles had gotten out of his plastic bowl with the palm tree and we found him days later in the kitchen. All crusty and dried out and very dead.
Daddy said he went to turtle heaven, with real waterfalls and palm trees and all kinds of turtle friends. While I was sad my turtle was dead, I figured he was happier there than in his cheap Woolworths plastic bowl. Did Daddy lie to me? Did he believe in turtle heaven? I wanted to believe Daddy instead of Preacher. He was a good turtle. If animals can't go to heaven, then they must go to hell. My four year old reasoning could only come to that conclusion.
The thought of Chico going to hell was more than I could bear. I wanted Preacher to shut up so I could go home and ask Papaw. Papaw read his beat up Bible every day. He never preached at me the way Nanny did. Never told me I was a bad girl and God didn't like bad girls.
I would just have to get home and talk to Papaw. He would know.

I didn't hear another word of the sermon. Too busy worrying about Chico and the soul Preacher claimed she didn't have.
And what about horses? I loved horses most of all. Well, I didn't own a horse, but Daddy took me to the pony place almost every Sunday after lunch. There I could ride my favorite pony around and around the dirt track for as long as Daddy had quarters. Sometimes, after we were out of quarters, the pony man would let Daddy and me inside the pen, under the shade of the giant pines, and we could pet the ponies. I loved this as much as riding them. They smelled so good!! The smell would stay on my hands until we got home. I remember cupping my hands over my nose and inhaling deeply the whole drive home. Then Nanny would meet us at the front door, fussing at me to get in the tub and wash that filthy animal smell off of me. Nanny thought a lot of things I loved to be filthy. This added to my doubt as to my ever making it to heaven. God didn't like filth either and according to Nanny, I was always filthy.
I just knew horses had to be in heaven! In my opinion, they were one of God's most divine creatures. It couldn't be heaven without horses.

Finally, like a toy wound too tight and wearing down, Preacher, still crying, started begging all the sinners to come forward and get saved. "Just as I Am" began playing in the background. We were on the home stretch now. Soon he would pray the last prayer and meet the congregation in the vestibule. Then I could get home and ask Papaw about animals in heaven! I knew better than to ask Nanny. She always agreed with Preacher. My Papaw liked to think for himself and he knew everything when it came to animals.

Soon enough we were in the vestibule, in line to shake Preachers hand. It was customary to thank him for the wonderful words or something similar to that. Nanny stuck me in front of her, I suspect to make sure I said the right and appropriate farewell each Sunday. Normally I would shake his soft, fat hand and say, "Thank you, Preacher."
On this particular Sunday I intended to say just that. Instead, without thought or warning, I opened my mouth and out flew the words, "Well Preacher, if there's no animals in heaven, I reckon I'll have to work on going to hell."
The second this utterance hit the air, I wanted to catch those words, like fireflies on a summer's night, and tuck them deeply away in an amber jar, lid twisted tight. I couldn't. The words flew about my head, invisible, out of reach but not out of earshot. Preacher, like many adults in the vestibule, laughed nervously; unsure of the proper response to my outburst.
Nanny however, did not laugh. I looked up. She had blanched paper white; her blue eyes swimming behind her thick glasses, eyes glazed over with the most horrid look on her face!!
She shoved me forward, past Preacher and all of her church friends. She made a straight bee line for the door, slung the doors wide and continued to push me toward the curb. Thank goodness Daddy was waiting for us! Better to get my butt whipped at home than on the curb of the church house.
She slung the back door of the Rambler station wagon open and I scrambled in, careful to tuck my tail tight lest she get the first lick in.
She took her seat up front next to Daddy. Before he could even shift the old wagon into DRIVE and pull away from the curb~ she started. The color of her face began to change. Her pasty white countenance soon mutated into a crimson red. The red didn't stop at her face either, but
melted downward, filling her neck. Even her ears were bright red!
When she finished the whole agonizing tale, Daddy slammed one palm onto the steering wheel and was laughing to beat the band! This seemed to infuriate Nanny even more! She began to swell up like a toad. I was certain she was gonna explode all over the windshield, blinding Daddy until he was unable to drive, then smack straight into a tree and we'd all die. Nanny would go to heaven, of course. The jury was still out on Daddy. I, most assuredly, would land in hell. Mama would be left a widow, without a mother or child. All because of me!
As this fantasy played out in my head, I heard choking. Nanny had not exploded, no. Daddy had laughed so hard he had gotten choked. Now he was almost as red as Nanny! I adjusted my fantasy to the immediate situation. Daddy choking to death while driving, running smack into a tree, we all die. Same outcome, still all my fault.
I waited, holding my own breath. Finally Daddy took one huge gulp of air and the choking stopped. Only then was I able to exhale.
Whew!! Nanny didn't explode. Daddy didn't choke to death. Rather, we made it home just fine.
Daddy pulled up and parked in front of our house. He walked around the car to help Nanny out.
He was still chuckling. "Sadie, you just got to make some allowances. She's just a child. You know she didn't understand what she was saying. And you know yourself how she is about animals, a plumb fool. She' not turned like Gary, not this one. She's gonna speak her mind and don't you go messing with that part of her. Ain't nothing hurt here but your pride and I 'spect
you'll live through it."

Nanny stormed into the house proclaiming to no one in particular she was taking to her bed.
Would not be down for Sunday dinner. A bad case of nerves had come over her.

Her nerves would have been fine if she could have worn me out. That's what she intended to do.
By Daddy telling her not to mess with that part of me, well, that was his way of letting her know he would not stand still for her spanking me. She had Gary afraid to say BOO to a goose. He didn't want that for me.

Mama helped me out of my good Sunday dress. I told her I would be getting a spanking but I guessed I deserved it. I shouldn't have upset Nanny so. She promised she would talk to Nanny and I would never be spanked for speaking my mind.
I could hear Daddy and Papaw rattling plates downstairs, laughing. Papaw's voice~ "I woulda loved to have seen Sadie's face at the church house this morning." Then Daddy~" yeah, she was fit to be tied when I picked them up. Red as a beet!" My Papaw~ "she is one more mess, that girl. Afraid she's gonna give ole Sade a run for her money."
Suddenly my hunger returned and Mama's roast smelled so good my mouth watered. It was my turn to say grace but I sure didn't feel like talking to God. He had to be plenty put out with me, just like Nanny.
I wished Nanny could see how hard I tried to be good. How I wanted her to tell me just once I was a GOOD girl. But at four, I was beginning to understand she could only see all my nasty bad. Everyone else in the family saw good in me, but never her. And why was her voice the easiest to believe?

I figured I was a lost cause. My only hope was for God to love me like Papaw did, understand I was just a little girl, like Mama did, have Daddy's sense of humor, and be far more forgiving than Nanny.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Life Lessons

I was raised as an only child. I do have one brother, but there are many years between us. Mama, pushing forty when I came along, never made me feel unwanted or unloved. She did however, proclaim upon learning of her "delicate condition, "a driving desire to stick her head in the nearest oven. This proclamation tipped me off into believing perhaps I may not have been planned.

My brother started his first year of college in September while I arrived in October. You see why I was raised as an only child and why my mom threatened to stick her head in an oven.
All parents make mistakes. The one thing my parents did right was to allow animals in my life. Though my growing up years were spent in the city, I was blessed with dogs, cats, rabbits, turtles, birds, hamsters and fish. Mama and Daddy drew the line at a skunk, which I believe showed true wisdom on their parts.
These animals became my best friends and siblings. I understood I walked on two legs, they four. Aside from that, I saw little difference between myself and my pets.
I felt a connection with the animals in my youth. A deep connection I continue to feel with animals today. They have been my true teachers in life. They are the ones who taught me how to be. For those who have gone on, know I will never forget you. For those with me now, know I treasure each day. For those I have not met.............I await your arrival.
For all who have taught me well, I thank you.

to Heidi, the St. Bernard of my childhood, the lesson of loss.

to Annie, an adopted basset, for giving me the courage to love again.

to Clyde, a rescue basset, you proved it is possible to move through life with grace and dignity, even at the end.

to Sam, a beautiful Siamese, the painful lesson of betrayal.

to Sleepy Redbuck, an amazing quarter horse stud, the lesson of trust.

to Cat Moore, my first quarter horse mare, the lesson of true responsibility.

To Poco Levi, my first foal, the amazement of birth and the excitement of first steps.

to Zeus, a giant of a horse, the ugly lesson of greed.

to Flame, my little cutting horse, that animals, just like people, can come into the world fractured.

to Ghost, a gray reiner, fear can be a far more dangerous emotion than anger.

to our Max, the ultimate family dog, and rescue, a quiet and calm presence adds strength to a home.
So much like Lonnie.

to my Brumley, a rescue schnauzer, the lesson of healing. Proof that love is the only true healer. I will forever miss you.

to Flash, yet another basset and rescue and true comedian, for pulling me outside of Self and making me laugh out loud at least once a day.

to the Schnauzer sisters, Gin and Suki, patience which can only come with age. Regret my children did not enjoy the same patience.

to Myre, a rescue llama, yes, I said llama! What was I thinking?!!! The realization that I am not a llama person.

to Lex, a rescue Cockatoo, sharing the experience of showering with a jungle bird. Your screams of joy all but shattering bathroom glass and my eardrums!! Allowing me to understand we are all driven by our most primal DNA.

to Pepe', a little cockatiel, the power of hope. The lengths a mom will go to to teach her son the same lesson.

to Chloe, a buckskin mare, the letting go of offspring with grace.

to Scratch, her baby man, the keeper of all dreams equine. How to live with a broken heart. It was an honor my young man.

to the nameless black shepherd running wildly down highway 820 in Ft. Worth, we live in a society where life has little meaning, especially animal life. I was not alone that day or I would've stopped and gotten you to safety. After harsh words, we did turn around to help. I couldn't find you. I pray a compassionate soul removed you from danger. I will always wonder.

finally, to Maggie,the horse of a lifetime and my mirror. For all the lessons I have learned about myself, I thank you sweet girl. For the lessons still to come, may I remain open to your teachings.

For those who have not yet found me~ I wait.


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Texas, United States
Wife, mom, sister, friend, seeker, mystic



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