Candy Canes

There were always candy canes in our stockings on Christmas morning. Not only did Santa put gifts under the tree, according to our mom, he also filled our stockings and left the candy cane at the top.

My grandmother had handmade stockings for my sister and me. Each December we pulled them out with the rest of the Christmas decorations and hung them on the mantle above the fireplace. Actually, the fireplace had been bricked up and a gas heater sat in its place, but the mantle remained and was the perfect place to hang our stockings among the other seasonal decorations.

Christmas morning, after opening our gifts, we’d turn our attention to the stockings. First, we’d remove the candy cane at the top. We’d pull back the plastic wrapper and suck on the peppermint-y sweetness as we emptied our stockings to see what else Santa had brought. We’d continue sucking away, the candy cane growing shorter by the minute, as we began playing with our gifts. We’d still be enjoying the last of it while helping pick up discarded wrapping paper and bows with sticky fingers.

We grew older and learned it wasn’t Santa who put gifts under the tree after we went to bed on Christmas Eve. Momma still made sure the candy canes were in our stockings every Christmas morning. When we moved away to college, the candy canes still appeared. When we each married, and later when grandchildren arrived, more stockings were added to the mantle and a candy cane was in each one.

It was a tradition we all loved and expected. One year, my mom couldn’t find the candy canes she was sure she had bought, so my sister and I were dispatched to the store to buy more. We fought a packed parking lot, a crowded store, and a long wait in the check out line to keep the tradition alive another year.

After I divorced and began spending some Christmases alone, I didn’t bother buying candy canes. While I like the flavor of peppermint, I’m not a huge fan of the candy. Besides, I had no place to hang a stocking. So I stopped the tradition. Even now, after meeting my boyfriend, and moving in together, I don’t do candy canes. Like me, he isn’t concerned about decorating for Christmas, and he doesn’t like sweets, so I didn’t have a reason to renew the tradition.

But now he has a grandson, and I’m thinking the time may be right. I’ll make a stocking, find a place to hang it, and put in a candy cane on Christmas morning, telling him that Santa left it just for him.

You can listen to an audio version of this story here.

Morning Fog

We always reserve the same campsite, our home away from home. There is comfort in knowing what to expect, where the fire pit and hook-ups are located, and how we need to back in. It may not be adventurous, but since we only go for two days, the familiarity helps us relax and enjoy the time.

As the seasons change, the campsite also changes. How the sun hits the camper at high noon, which shades need to be closed to keep the sun out, how green the trees and shrubs are to block our view of neighboring campsites. And this morning, there is something new. Stepping out of the camper, I don’t notice it, but turning to walk down the hill to the bathhouse, a light layer of fog is visible, beginning about 15 feet above the ground. It doesn’t block out things out, just gives a misty haze to the trees and the rays of sunlight streaming through. 

It is quiet this morning. The only sounds are cars and trucks on nearby roads, planes flying overhead, and birds chirping up in the trees. The fog adds to the stillness.

It is chilly out, so I sit by the dying campfire. Plenty of heat still radiates off the wood, so my front is warm while my back is cool. I move my chair closer, and lean in, feeling the sting of the intense heat on my face.

A wiff of food cooking reaches my nose, and I realize I am hungry. A man and dog walk by, and I hear camper doors open and close. The sun is rising higher in the sky, burning off the fog as it does. It is time to gather what I need to prepare breakfast. It is time to begin the day.

 

Ruffled Feathers

My great aunt had lived on the family farm her entire life, and each day she followed a regular routine for doing her daily chores. One morning, when I was about six, I followed her to one of the small buildings behind our house to see if I could help. As I watched, she unlatched the door, swung it open, and stepped inside. I paused at the threshold, allowing my eyes to adjust to the darker interior, then followed her in. Turning right, she walked to the wall, put her hand in one of the openings, and quickly withdrew it, holding what she had been after. It seemed easy enough and I wanted to try. Imitating her motions, I tentatively reached out my hand, put it into the next opening, and began feeling for one of my own to grab. But I was slower than my great aunt. Too slow. Ouch! The hen sitting in her nesting box did not want me to reach under her and remove the warm, smooth, freshly-laid egg. Disappointed in myself, I wondered if I would ever attempt gathering eggs again. Why did something that seemed easy have to be hard and painful?

 

Thanksgiving Memories

How I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving has changed through the years. Some years I’ve been with family, some years alone; some years I’ve been filled with gratitude, while other years I’ve had to work hard to truly give thanks. Sometimes I’ve thanked what has come into my life, sometimes what has left my life, and sometimes I realize how thankful I am for what did not happen. I guess that’s life.

Here are some of my memories of celebrating Thanksgiving:

I was 2 months old my first Thanksgiving. My parents took me to northwest Arkansas to show me off to my grandmothers, great aunts, and numerous family friends. I have no memory of this, but there is a photo of me sitting with my grandmothers (whom I was named after).

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When I was two or 3, the table was set with the china, silver, and crystal. The relish tray, with pickles and pimento-stuffed green olives, was also on the table. The story goes that my mom walked into the dining room and saw me sitting at the table. On my plate were four or 5 olives. When asked why I had them there, my reply was I wanted to be sure I got some. It has become a family joke about putting the relish tray next to be so I can get my olives.

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Growing up, Thanksgiving dinner was pretty much the same every year: roasted turkey, cornbread dressing, green beans (later, green bean casserole), mashed sweet potatoes with marshmallows, relish tray with pimento-stuffed green olives and sweet gherkins, mashed potatoes, gravy, rolls, and cranberry sauce from the can. Dessert was pie – usually pumpkin and pecan.

I don’t remember traveling for Thanksgiving. When I was 5, my maternal grandmother moved to my hometown, so we celebrated holidays with her. I remember Thanksgiving being a fairly quiet day. The kitchen was where the hustle and bustle was, the heat from the oven warming the dining room and den, where the TV was on Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and then football games. The formal china, silver, and crystal came off the china cabinet shelves to grace our table.

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Thanksgiving my freshman year at college was my first trip back home, and after three months of dorm food, I was looking forward to our usual Thanksgiving dinner. I was not happy to get home and learn that instead of a full turkey, she was cooking some sort of turkey roll formed from turkey meat, and I let my unhappiness be known. It actually tasted fine, and the rest of the meal was what we usually had, but I had made my point. In the years to follow, my mom always let me know if she wanted to do something different (such as cook only a turkey breast, or order an already-cooked turkey from the grocery store deli) and asked if I was OK with that.

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I was a newlywed and we were going to my parents for Thanksgiving. Wanting to show that I was, indeed, grown up, I said I’d bring a pumpkin pie. Using the Betty Crocker cookbook I had “borrowed” from my mom, I bought canned pumpkin, pumpkin pie spices, evaporated milk, and a pre-made pie crust. (I still haven’t mastered making a pie crust). My first effort came out rather well, with my dad taking a bite, smiling, and saying with some surprise, “Gladys, this is good pumpkin pie.” Made my day.

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While in grad school, my (now ex) husband and I were invited to spend Thanksgiving with a friend and his family. Everyone was very kind and gracious, and the food was delicious, but we were outsiders. I felt awkward the entire time and realized that I would rather stay home alone than be with people I don’t know just for the sake of not being alone.

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A couple of years later, we did stay home alone and I cooked my first turkey and all the fixings. I don’t remember why we didn’t visit family that year, but part of the reason probably was I wanted to do it myself to see if I could. I agonized over being sure the turkey was done and neither of us got sick. It all came out fine, except for the rolls. I tried a recipe I saw in the paper; while they tasted great, they didn’t rise, so were very thick and dense.

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Celebrating Thanksgiving while living in England was a different experience. A group of us Yanks who were there for a year got together to mark the occasion. It was strange watching the news that morning and realize that for almost everyone else in the country, it was just another Thursday. There was also the challenge of finding ingredients for traditional dishes: cornmeal to make cornbread for the southern dressing, sweet potatoes (there were yams, but they are not the same), canned cranberry sauce and canned pumpkin. We were able to pull it all together and had a wonderful day.

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After I got divorced, my ex and I alternated Thanksgiving with our child. And I found that the years I was alone, I just wanted to be by myself. I looked forward to eating what, and when, I wanted, watch what I wanted on TV, or read, take a nap, or whatever. Co-workers and friends always felt sorry for me and invited me over, and I always declined. I didn’t feel sorry for myself; I enjoyed the time and space alone.

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One year we were all there – me and my kid, my sister, brother-in-law, and nephews. My mom had premade the dressing and frozen it. In removing it from the freezer to thaw overnight, still in the glass baking dish, it slipped from her hands and crashed to the floor. Glass and cornbread stuffing went everywhere. She was distraught. My sister and I quickly cleaned up the mess, made a quick trip to the grocery store and baked a fresh batch, which we devoured with our turkey.

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My last Thanksgiving with my mom came as she was cleaning out in preparation for a move into assisted living near my sister. My dad had passed away the previous February, so it was very different than previous years. She did bake a pan of dressing but ordered the turkey from the grocery deli. What I most remember about it are watching her try to sort through years of paperwork trying to decide what to keep, what to shred, and what to give away, and of taking her to the ER on Saturday.

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My first Thanksgiving in Florida was 2 months after I moved. Alone again, I had no real plans for the day. After a cold start, the sun came out so about noon I got in my car and drove south through New Smyrna Beach and Titusville. The clouds rolled back in, and then, being late November, the sun was going down, so I headed back home to a dinner of turkey slices from the deli, stuffing made in the pan, and cranberry sauce with the berries. I ate dinner while watching DVDs on my computer and realized it had been a good day I was thankful for. The only thing missing was someone special to share it with.

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That had changed by the next Thanksgiving. I met my boyfriend in early September, and we celebrated our first Thanksgiving together by cooking. We prepared a whole turkey, stuffing ( I had always made dressing before), green bean casserole, dinner rolls, mashed potatoes and gravy… lots of gravy. A couple of friends joined us and we stuffed ourselves.

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This year we are walking down the street to have Thanksgiving with his sister and her boyfriend who moved here earlier this year. Our only responsibility is making mashed potatoes, and to show up with a big appetite. I am looking forward to not having to do much, yet it is different not spending the day cooking with my boyfriend.

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What will Thanksgiving next year be like?

Candy Corn

Candy CornThe lidded candy dish sat on the piano in my grandmother’s living room. It’s dark blue glass took on an iridescent glow when the light hit it just right. It was the treasure inside, however, that I eagerly anticipated.

Grandmunie, my paternal grandmother, lived 300 miles away, so we didn’t visit often. After a long trip in the car, we’d arrive at her house and be greeted with hugs and kisses, then I would pull away to run inside to be sure she had not forgotten. I’d climb up the piano bench, raise the lid of the candy dish and look inside. Then I would smile. It was there, candy corn. I’d put a piece or two in my mouth and savor the rush of sweetness, and the contentment that she had remembered.

I don’t know how the tradition began. Did she put it there because I loved it, or did I stumble across her stash and discover a new favorite candy? I don’t even remember if my younger sister liked it or not. What I do remember is how special I felt because she always had candy corn in the candy dish.

While it isn’t my favorite candy these days, the sight of the orange, yellow and white triangles instantly takes me back to my childhood, and what I like to think was a special connection I had with my grandmother Gladys*.

*I was named after both my grandmothers: my first name Gladys from my paternal grandmother, and my middle name Lou from my maternal grandmother (Myrtle Lou).

You can listen to an audio recording of this story here.

The Night After – Reflections on Hurricane Irma

I lay in bed and relax. The window air conditioner hums away its white noise while a movie plays on the TV. These are the usual before bed sounds, but tonight, they seem very quiet.

The night before, the worst of Hurricane Irma was arriving. I went to bed to try and get some sleep, exhausted after days of preparing and worrying and watching the projected path and waiting. Lying in bed I could hear the howl of the wind above the drone of the air conditioner. The branches of the potted palm secured just outside our east bedroom window scraped and scratched against the air conditioner.

I took a few deep breaths, slowly inhaling and exhaling, to occupy my mind and relax my body. Just as I’d get comfortable, the wind would gust louder than before, and I’m reminded of what is going on outside.

I did sleep, but lightly, waking often. Sometime during the night I noticed a change. The avocado tree outside our south bedroom window was brushing across the bars and boards that protected the old, not hurricane-proof, glass. This meant the wind was shifting from the east to the south-east and the south. Irma was passing, but there were still hours of wind to go. I got up, knowing that I could sleep later.

And now it is the night after. The air conditioner and TV are on, as usual, but tonight the bedroom is calm and quiet. I lay in bed and smile. I am happy. Not the jump-for-joy kind of happy, but the quiet, relieved happy of having come through the storm relatively unscathed. Eveything is good in my world. Tonight I sleep a deep sleep of rest and comfort.

Fun and Random Facts About Me

I am always looking at a personal website for information about the person: who they are and how they got to that point. So here’s some random facts from my life that help tell my story.

– I was born and raised in a small town in south Arkansas.

– I am shy, introverted, and a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). That means I am often quiet, and need more time alone that others. I am not, nor ever will be, the life of the party, but I am the one who will listen to you when you need to talk.

– Until I left home to go to college, I had never moved other than into my own bedroom at age 8. As an adult, I’ve moved 16 times. Sometimes it was to a different place in the same town; other times to a new town/state. I also spent a year abroad. (see further down)

– I have a Bachelor’s degree in History from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (1985) and a Master’s Degree in Art History from Southern Methodist University (1995).

– In my mid-20s, I lived in England for a year, which allowed me to research my MA Thesis, and to know what it feels like to be a foreigner.

– I have one child, who is transgendered.

– I re-designed clothes and jewelry and sold them on Etsy. Very much a part-time hobby, and I didn’t sell enough to take it further.

– I helped with costuming for a local theater in Memphis and on an independent film.

– I started my own business in 2009 providing virtual assistance to small business owners. I still have a couple of clients I work with.

– I dug myself out of $13,000 of credit card debt. It took just over 5 years. Some days I thought it would never end, but it did.

– I am a PADI Open Water certified SCUBA diver.

– For my 50th birthday, I moved to Florida in my Honda Accord. That was possible because I gave away anything that I didn’t think I would need and that didn’t fit in my car.

– A few months later, I bought a sailboat and lived aboard for 6 months. Then I met my boyfriend (he was a boat detailer in my marina) and soon after, became a dirt dweller again.

– I have developed a love of gardening, both flowers and things I can eat. Both of my grandmother’s loved growing things, and I seem to have finally found this out about myself later in life. Weeding and puttering around in the garden and yard are a great way for me to stop thinking so much and just let ideas flow.

– After being nearsighted my entire life, I had cataract surgery in 2016. For my replacement lenses, I chose to correct for distance, so now I am farsighted. Still trying to get used to it!