My therapist has been paying me all sorts of compliments lately, telling me that I’m a strong woman with a well-defined sense of right and wrong. I figured that was just good business sense on her part. With the economy in free fall, a therapist who makes her patients feel good about themselves, (but not too good), will ensure herself a decent income in the coming months.
But then she asked me where my strength came from, and I realized she wasn’t just buttering me up. She was truly curious.
I was diagnosed with scoliosis, or curvature of the spine, on the first day of sixth grade. Within a couple of weeks I’d seen an orthopedist and was being fitted with a Milwaukee brace for my back. Over the course of the next eighteen months my doctor tried another type of brace and put me on a strict exercise regime. My mom woke me up at five each morning to help me go through a workout designed to strengthen certain muscles and prevent my back from curving further.
I did all the exercises. I never took the brace off for more than the allotted hour a day. I suffered through the hurtful comments my classmates made. I had a crush on a guy a grade ahead of me, and one day his sister told me he thought I was an ugly dog. It was one of the only times I remember crying, but I sobbed all afternoon over his cutting remark.
My mom wasn’t impressed. “It’s just words. Ignore him.”
I tried to tell her that it was impossible to just ignore someone you’d been fantasizing about kissing, but she wasn’t listening.
I thought I couldn’t endure any more, but I was wrong. The curvature progressed, and I had spine surgery during seventh grade.
My doctors inserted rods on either side of my spine, and took chunks of bone from my hip to graft the rods into the vertebrae. My scar runs from the bottom of my neck to the top of my butt. I was in the hospital and then home for weeks, captive in yet another brace I’d have to wear twenty-four hours a day for nine months.
My surgery was in January. The brace would come off in November. Most importantly, tryouts for the high school dance team, known for its high kick line, were in March.
I spent those months catching up on school work and learning how to walk and move in a strange body that was anchored by a stiff spine. My physical therapist assigned me exercises to do once a day. I did them all, and sometimes I went through them again, hoping I could achieve greater flexibility. I could bend from the waist and the neck, but not in between. When I reached over to touch my toes, my back looked like a tabletop. Arching my back was out of the question.
Some of my most wonderful high school memories involve the years I spent on the dance team. Twenty-nine years and another spine surgery later, several of my former teammates are now sweating with me at Jazzercise. Sometimes I close my eyes when I’m dancing and pretend I’m in a stadium during half-time.
The other night I was at a restaurant and I saw the guy who’d called me an ugly dog. I ignored him.
I told my therapist that my strength comes from the fact that I’m a bit like a superhero, a woman equipped with a titanium spine reinforced with screws and bolts. You can’t see them, but in my mind I’m wearing bright gold boots, and I’m confident that they can kick anything that gets in my way.
One year ago in My Tiny Kingdom: Prank O’ The Day
Love, Look At The 2 of Them.
This is how I remember my grandparents. The picture is from the 1980’s.
These are my mother’s parents. We were much closer to them than to my father’s parents. We called them Nana and Papa, although everyone else called them Florence and Robert.
Since my mom died, I’ve been the keeper of the boxes of family history. A peek into my grandmother’s boxes revealed that Nana and Papa had a long-lasting romance. Frankly, the letters and pictures are hard to reconcile with my image of them.
Florence had no brothers or sisters, and she fit the stereotype of the indulged only child. She grew up in Montgomery and was a talented pianist. When she gave a music recital, the paper noted that she was “an accomplished musician and extremely popular.” Nana would cling to that latter phrase throughout the rest of her life. She expected people to wait on her. She often talked about her college days, and how well-loved she was by her friends. I’ve known people like that, who brag about how popular they are, but the only one I loved was my grandmother.
We don’t know as much about my grandfather, except that he had a brother and a sister. Robert spent time in the army, traveling the world. This picture was taken around 1927. The ship he’s on is called the USS Meanticut. He was tall and slender and kept that shape throughout his life.
Robert and Florence were courting by 1934, when they posed for this picture on the deserted beaches of Panama City, Florida. PCB has changed a lot since then. Some of you may call it the Redneck Riviera. It actually looks romantic here, although the bathing attire probably has a lot to do with it.
My grandparents married in 1937. Their engagement notice reveals another of Nana’s obsessions: her lineage.
She and her mother, referred to as “Big Momma” in an intimidating way, not a snuggly one, wrote about Florence that “paternally and maternally she is of distinguished ancestry.” They pointed out that one of her ancestors had owned a castle and had a statue erected in his memory in Yorktown, Virginia. She was descended from George Washington’s sister. Another forebear, the great Lord Ashley, had written the well-known Shaftesbury Papers. He was also known as the Earl of Shaftesbury, and the Ashley and Cooper rivers in South Carolina were named after him. The engagement notice included the names of all her dead relatives who had fought in the Revolutionary war and a couple who’d fought for the Confederacy.
Nana and Big Momma tried mightily to conjure up some aristocratic relatives for Papa, but the best they could do was to say that he came from the “Beards, Drysdales and Dowies,” who settled in New Jersey, and some French Huguenots who settled in Virginia on land grants. I feel sure that didn’t bother Papa at all.
Regardless of his ancestral shortcomings, Florence and Robert were married, and my mother was born in 1941.
Florence and Robert tried desperately to have another child, but were unsuccessful. In her later years, each time I was pregnant, Nana would tell me about her miscarriages in excruciating detail. Well into her 80’s, every time she saw a person having a baby, she took it as a personal reminder of her inability to have more than one child. But that’s how she was. She considered how things affected her first.
My grandfather adored my grandmother. At times they were separated while he was in the army. He wrote her letters so gushing they make your heart flutter just to read them, even when you know they are written to another woman.
He writes to “My adorable wife” and ends with “My Florence, I think of you all during the day and night and am so completely yours. Your devoted husband, Robert.” In between he says things like, “Florence, I miss you greatly. You are worth the world to me.” He thanks her for each letter she sends, worries about her health, asks about my mother – is she talking? Can Florence send pictures?- and dreams of the next time they’ll be together.
In every picture I have of them together, he is gripping her tightly, so she won’t slip away.
They lived long enough to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. Papa died in 1991, when I was in law school, and Nana lived another twelve years, miserable without him.
That’s the story of their romance.
Of course, there’s a different story, and that’s the story of my relationship with them.
Of all my grandparents, and my parents as well, Papa was the most effusive. He didn’t hesitate to express his feelings and tell you how much he loved you. Even as a child I could see that Nana could be a hypochondriac and that she was spoiled, but he delighted in her every move, catered to her, and assured her that she was the most wonderful creature on the planet.
He was devoted to us as well. He rode a bike most days, and would often ride to our house. He’d slip rubber-bands around the cuffs of his pants so they wouldn’t get caught in the chains, and I thought that was the smartest idea I’d ever heard. He outfitted the bike in other ways, too. He added a basket so he could bring us National Geographic magazines, word puzzles he’d found, or vegetables from the farmer’s market. Because dogs roamed the neighborhood, he cut off a broom handle and attached it with springs to the underside of his handlebars so he could brandish it if a mutt got too aggressive.
After he retired, he didn’t slow down. For years he volunteered for the Red Cross, driving the truck to pick up blood donations. He taught us how to make his famous peanut brittle and gave it to neighbors or dropped it off at the Red Cross.
Papa believed that the key to success was having plenty of sharp pencils on hand. He installed a pencil sharpener on the inside of our upstairs closet door and made sure we were well-supplied with pencils. He always had plenty himself, which he used until they were shorter than his pinky. When I think of Papa, I smell pencil shavings.
Papa always had something nifty to show us. He taught us how to sit in the sun with a magnifying glass and focus it on a leaf just so, and soon the leaf would smolder and burn. He explained tic-tac-toe strategies. He’d take apart his hearing aids and demonstrate how they worked.
I included this picture because this is how I remember Papa. When he saw you, he’d bend down to your level and grasp your hand and pat pat pat it hard while he asked about your latest adventure. When you talked to him you felt like you were the only person in the world. I can see why Nana fell apart after he died.
Nana remained obsessed with popularity and lineage. I might be dating a long-haired pot smoker, but if he could produce papers showing he was descended from George Washington’s sister and that they came from the same people, Nana would have been thrilled about it.
She believed that high-class people had to uphold certain standards. Women should wear their hair off their foreheads so their eyebrows were clearly visible. She’d often say, “You’d be so much more becoming if your hair was shorter in the front.”
Chewing gum was “common.”
My mother hadn’t been asked to join the Birmingham Junior League, as she’d grown up in Montgomery. When I got an invitation and turned it down, Nana took to her bed. She was stunned that a young lady would practice law rather than join a club with the Junior League’s cachet.
I redeemed myself when the twins were born and we named Drew after my grandfather. Nana was ecstatic. She’d smile at the other boys, but she wanted her picture taken with Drew, because he was “her people.”
There was a Western grocery store a mile from my grandmother’s house. She wouldn’t go near it. Instead she drove all the way to the Western grocery store in the heart of the Tiny Kingdom, because that’s where all the people who were somebody went.
When it was time for her to go to a nursing home, she flat-out refused to go to one convenient to my mom’s house, and insisted on a different one miles away, because it attracted “a better class of people.”
My mom managed her well after my grandfather’s death. She was essentially parenting her mother, as so many of us do later in life, but it was impossible for anyone to treat my grandmother with the attention that Big Momma and Papa had lavished on her. My mom was trying to hold a marriage together and spend time with her grandchildren as well. It wasn’t until after my mom died that I realized just how hard it was for her to manage day by day.
My mom and my grandmother died just a couple of years apart.
I think my grandmother would like to be remembered as she is in this picture, or perhaps the one above where she’s in the pink dress. Her hair is swept off her forehead, revealing her eyebrows. She’s happy and smiling, clearly the center of attention, where she was meant to be.
I’ve seen some wild bathing suits in my time, but I never expected to see one on my mom. So when I found this picture, I was delighted.
This was taken in April 1971, and I had just turned 4. More impressively for my mom, Aunt Su had just turned 1. She didn’t get to party with my mom in her chain bikini, although I did.
I’m calling it a chain bikini, but I bet the purpose of the chains was so that she could tell my very Southern grandmother that of course she was wearing a one piece bathing suit at the beach, and why would she think otherwise?
My sisters and I worshiped the Jackie O glasses so much that I still have them. They’ve traveled to 70’s parties around the country. They may not be worth much money, but they are full of memories.
The hat, though, looks like a refurbished pinata.
I published some thoughts and pictures of my mother when she died. I don’t know if I mentioned it then, but one thing people said, and still say, is that she was such a classy lady. It’s good to know that she let her wild side show through when she got away at the beach. I bet people would pay good money for a view of that get-up from the rear.
Three years ago in My Tiny Kingdom: Operation Acne Attack
Now that I’ve eaten chicken feet I’m worried that there’s not much left for me to experience in life. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself, so I’ll back up to the days before I indulged in this delicacy.
Just after Christmas the five of us left for our annual trip to New York City to visit Aunt Lulu and Uncle P. In true Glamore fashion the week ended up being a series of exotic meals punctuated by other activities, some successful, some not. The first order of business was to arrange ourselves in the studio apartment, which was markedly easier a couple of years ago when the boys were smaller.
The apartment has a bed, which Bill and I share, and we’ve purchased a blowup mattress that Porter adores. Finn commandeers the sleeper sofa. You’d think that Drew could join him there, but both of them reject that idea. Apparently boys can’t sleep in the same bed after the age of six.
Sleeper sofa extended taking up the entire floor
Blow-up mattress arranged “rocketship” style; design by Porter Glamore (sofa cushions not included)
Fortunately, Drew has an affinity for small spaces, and sleeps on the floor in the space between the front and back of the sofa where the mattress and cushions stay when the sofa is in its usual state.
We don’t know how he wedges himself in there, especially after a meal, but he does and we don’t hear from him again until morning.
Unless I bug him by trying to take a picture.
Deodorant and retainers galore.
One day I took our teenager downtown to look for cool threads while Bill took Drew and Porter to the Apple store and FAO Schwartz. They returned with some “new” toys they couldn’t get enough of. You heard it here first– the Rubik’s Cube is making a comeback, but now you can get on the computer and watch a YouTube video to learn how to solve it.
Meanwhile, the folks who thought up the hackysack have refashioned it by changing its shape and the rules. Voila, the myachi! Instead of gathering in a circle and listening to “Sugar Magnolia” while passing the hackysack, kids today hop on the subway and toss the myachi under their legs or across the seats to each other, being careful not to touch it with their palms. Setting your iPod on “I Kissed A Girl” is optional.
Crowd at FAO Schwartz watching the myachi dudes
Metrodad had given me some restaurant recommendations that we were thrilled to receive because I only let the boys repeat one restaurant from a previous trip. If you’re in the city and need a romantic spot to take a date, Alta would be a wonderful choice. Unfortunately, we had three boys with us, so Bill and I had to sneak in a romantic moment by sending them to the restroom to wash their hands and smooching at the table while they were gone. Although we had a good time with them, we would have had a better time at this particular restaurant without them, given its glowing candlelight, lovely wine list, and overall atmosphere that was more conducive to googly eyes than to breaking up paper football contests.
Alta is a tapas restaurant, and one of the weirder yet delicious dishes was Spaghetti Pepperoncini, Bottarga Di Muggine, dried bonito and shrimp oil and peppercress. We ordered it only because the waitress seemed like she might cry if we didn’t. We didn’t know what Bottarga Di Muggine was, and it sounded menacing, like the head of a crime family, not something you want to twirl on your fork and slurp with noodles. Now, with the benefit of google, I can tell you that it’s dried gray mullet roe, and it looked like thin slices of pink bubble gum perched atop the spaghetti. We loved it so much we ordered another serving. The spicy lamb meatballs were yummy, too.
Some things must be replaced from time to time, and underwear is one of them. The boys sat calmly inside Bloomingdale’s, eating pretzels and playing myachi while Bill and I bought him new underwear and undershirts. We had scarcely set foot in Victoria’s Secret, however, when they engaged in a group freakout, during which Porter slapped his hand over his face and said, “I can’t look while I’m in this store. This is maximum weirdness.” The teenager complained that he wouldn’t be caught dead in a panty shop, and only Drew tried to sneak a peek of the mannequins as we marched the boys to a quiet corner between the elevators and the flannel pajamas (lucky us–who knew?) and instructed them to face the wall and give us five minutes.
“Mom means give her five minutes, because I’m like you. I don’t know what we’re doing in this panty store,” Bill said.
He sat with the boys and discreetly pointed out underthings that caught his fancy, and I snatched them up and paid in record time. That didn’t prevent the guys from complaining about this particular stop for far longer than necessary.
One snowy morning we headed down to the lower east side and were captivated by Guss Pickles on Orchard Street. They had barrels of pickles of all varieties, quarter-sour, half-sour, and so forth. Bill was amused when a woman came up and ordered as if she were at Starbucks.
“I need a quart of half-sour with half half-sour juice and half full-sour juice,” she said.
“That’s quite a pickle order,” Bill said.
“Yeah, my dad loves them this way, and it’s his birthday, so I get them for him as a present,” she said.
We could only think of one person we know who’d be satisfied with a variety of pickles as a gift.
I looked down the street and saw a familiar sign that said “Kaufman,” and something stirred in the back of my mind, and I told the guys to continue eating pickles while I checked it out. Sure enough, it was A.W. Kaufman, a lingerie shop, and I had been there several times with my mom, years and years ago. I walked in and it was as if time had stopped. It’s a narrow space lined with plastic storage bins marked in black writing with brands and sizes: “La Perla 36 C.” I remembered sitting in the one folding chair while my mom tried on nightgowns and it was too much for me, and I cried hard by the counter near the robes. Miriam, who was running the store, got me water and claimed to remember my mom, but she was probably just being nice.
Everything else on the block was posh. Miriam said Fine & Klein, one of my mom’s purse stops, had gone out of business, and she was one of the oldest stores left.
We had other good meals– Italian, sushi, and pizzas. Pam Real Thai was a budget-friendly pre-theater restaurant, where we had crispy duck and crab fried rice, which was one of the highlights of the week. Appetizers, three entrees and drinks for all (including wine) was under $90.
I also insisted on picking up some food off the street one night, for reasons both budgetary and adventurous. That’s how Bill and I ended up leaving the boys in the apartment and walking to 53rd and 6th to pick up some chicken and lamb with rice. I’d read that this particular stand had some of the best street food in the city, and I was determined to sample it. As it turned out, the line down 53rd Street was over 100 people long when we arrived, so we didn’t just “pick it up.” Bill waited for over an hour, making calls and sending emails, while I walked around the block to stave off hypothermia.
That yellow umbrella in the distance is the Holy Grail.
We bought a bottle of wine and brought it all home and chowed down.
We ordered a mixture of lamb (the darker meat) and chicken. It came with rice (it looks like cheese here) and each container had one small piece of pita bread. We also got red and white sauce. It was yummy, although I preferred the lamb to the chicken. I’d recommend that someone purchasing this also buy some pita bread. We bought four containers of chicken and rice and that fed five of us for dinner, three of us for lunch and Porter for breakfast for two days. We still had some left over. At $6 per container, it was a deal.
I may have the only boys in Alabama who are enamored with chopsticks. I cook enough Asian meals that I figured we could invest in something nicer than the wooden ones they’ve stolen from the Japanese steakhouse. That’s how we ended up at Pearl River Mart, where each boy got to pick out his own pair of chopsticks. Porter’s are light blue, and Drew’s are black with a red stripe, and I haven’t washed the others yet. We’ll be using them tonight, though, as I’m whipping up Elise’s Sweet & Sour Chicken so they’re coming in handy already.
Every trip has its pitfalls, and sadly, ours was one we had been quite excited about. Metrodad suggested dim sum at Jing Fong, and we made our way to Chinatown and gave it a go. It was the boys’ first experience with dim sum, and they found some shrimp dumplings and fish balls and pork rolls, but everything was cold and tired. I think we hit the restaurant as they were transitioning from lunch to dinner, or else we didn’t know how to order, or maybe it just really isn’t very good. However, Jing Fong had some impressive chicken feet which were apparently fried and seasoned with five-spice powder. They looked exactly like you would think chicken feet would look:
I remember hearing that maybe chicken don’t have teeth, and I guess I was thinking that meant they’re short on all kinds of bones but I’m here to tell you that’s not the case with their feet. Those toes were crunchy and after I ate one I concluded I’d had enough roughage for an entire week even though I’ll be forty-two in less than two months. On the up side, the meal gave us good reason to say “Dim sum bad eats” for the rest of the day and giggle like maniacs.
New Year’s Eve was the high point. We cooked dinner at Aunt Lulu’s and hung out with her boys, one two and one two weeks old. A cold snap had settled over the city, and Bill and the boys were determined to run in the race sponsored by Emerald Nuts at midnight at Central Park. They’ve run the last two years, when it was relatively balmy out. Cheers to Bill, Finn and Drew for running four miles at midnight with a wind chill of 6. They reported that the champagne at mile two was the consistency of a slushy. Porter and I got in bed and ate chocolate. I didn’t photograph the runners because I didn’t want to lose my shutter finger to frostbite.
And that’s it. I apologize for the inadvertent blog silence. Both computers broke, the refrigerator broke, and I cannot blog on a Blackberry. I’m back up and running now.
Two years ago in My Tiny Kingdom: The Glamores Hit The Big City