When I went to Africa, people told me that it would permanently change the way I looked at the world. “The land goes on forever, and instead of SUVs and Starbucks you see elephants and zebras,” my sister told me. “It makes the Tiny Kingdom seem very small and insignificant.”
Once I arrived in Kenya, I understood what she meant. The grass stretched out endlessly, dotted with acacia trees and giraffes. It was gorgeous and peaceful, and I was almost able to forget that Bill and the boys were half a world away.
We first stayed at a camp made up of tents. The bathrooms were glorified port-a-potties, and although they were located only a few steps away from the tents, the owners warned us to be extremely cautious about using them at night. Cape buffalo were active after dark and would come close to the tents. Those cape buffalo were something else. They had horns, hairy chins, bulgy skin hanging off their faces and piggy eyes. Cape buffalo were ferocious and killed people and lions.
We were instructed to turn on our flashlights and wait for a Masai warrior with a spear to come to the tent and escort us the seven feet or so to the potty so we wouldn’t end up as a midnight snack. I decided not to drink anything after 3 p.m. and avoid a standoff altogether. Although most people think of lions when they think of Africa, it was the bloodthirsty cape buffalo that gave me nightmares.
You must pack lightly for a safari, and thus your clothes have to be laundered along the way. Many camps offer this service. You bundle your dirty clothes, fill out a slip that itemizes them, and they appear, clean and fresh, at your tent in the morning.
As I filled out my laundry slip I encountered some problems. First, the paper stated that “Ladies undergarments will not be accepted for laundry.” That was odd. My panties were the smallest, thinnest, easiest item to wash, and fun to look at besides. The form also said, “Occasionally cape buffalo and hyena raid the laundry yard. The lodge accepts no responsibility whatsoever for guest clothing damaged during cleaning.” Those cape buffalo again. I’d heard all about their murderous ways, so I was surprised to hear that they had a hygienic streak as well.
I asked about the underwear exclusion, and was told that African men consider it beneath their dignity to wash women’s panties. They’re not so different from my boys after all, except that the Masai wear red blankets and carry spears.
When I taught Drew how to wash clothes, the darks were not a problem. Cold water, detergent, check all pockets, and press start. But as I coached him through the whites, I encountered some resistance.
“Okay, same deal, but we’re washing on warm. Turn the button to warm, add the Tide, and then add the whites, piece by piece.”
Drew began adding socks, kitchen towels and pillow cases, and then he screamed. Porter came running.
“I touched lady panties!”
“Drew, that’s just my underwear,” I said. “It’s part of washing the whites. Just pick them up and toss them in. I wash your underwear all the time.”
“Where are the panties? Where, Mom? I want to see them,” Porter said. “And I thought ‘panties’ was a bad word.”
“I can’t pick them up,” Drew said. “They’re nasty.”
“Good Lord. Just pinch them at the edges and throw them in the machine. This is ridiculous,” I told Drew.
He retrieved my underwear from the hallway where he’d hurled them and flung them into the dryer. At this point they were looking as if a cape buffalo had gotten hold of them.
“This is the worst thing I’ve ever had to do,” he said.
“Yeah,” Porter said. “Key word: worst. I don’t want to learn how to do laundry. I’ll just clean up the kitchen every night because there aren’t any panties there.”
I looked at my laundry slip again. I’d had experience with males washing my underwear against their wishes, and it was an unpleasant one. I sent my safari clothes to be cleaned, but I washed my underwear myself.
On the first game drive, we discovered a group of lions flopped lazily under a tree. It was obvious even to me that they had just eaten.They could barely keep their eyes open.
Our guide told us that the lionesses do all the hunting, but the male lions muscle in and eat until they are full. Only then do the women eat what is left.
The guide kept talking, but I was thinking how much our house in Alabama resembled the African countryside at mealtime. Night after night I prepare meals, and I have to restrain my three cubs from slurping up the food until it’s properly blessed.
After they’ve eaten, the boys grow heavy-lidded. They complain that I have the nerve to ask them to clean up the kitchen when what would be best for them, obviously, would be to go directly to bed. If I don’t eat quickly enough, they get seconds, and thirds, until I’m left facing an empty skillet and forced to graze on a container of cherry yogurt to fill my stomach.
It’s not just dinnertime—if I want to eat, I have to guard all my food carefully. When I order Girl Scout cookies, I purchase an extra box of Thin Mints and hide it in my pajama drawer. I learned the hard way that if I don’t, the males will have devoured all the cookies moments after they’ve been placed in the pantry. I wondered if the lioness had a stash of zebra meat hidden in some bushes for a similar African emergency.
As the trip progressed, I began to wonder whether I could bring a cape buffalo home with me. I could train him to guard the evening meal until I’d had a chance to serve a plate of food for myself, ensuring that this lioness wouldn’t go hungry. I’d have to expand the laundry room to accommodate him, but then he could stand sentry over the boys and guarantee that they washed all the laundry, including mine, before I told him to relax and let them return to their Legos. The boys would be protected from bullies, because they could say, “Hit me again and I’ll sic my cape buffalo on you.”
It was such a marvelous idea that when we got to the airport I faxed Bill and asked him to see whether the Tiny Kingdom is zoned for cape buffalo. He suggested that perhaps I’d overdosed on anti-malarial medication and recommended that I sleep as much as possible on the plane.
I still don’t have a cape buffalo, but I sometimes dream about them. In my dreams my cape buffalo isn’t the nightmarish barbaric animal I’d feared at first. He’s my hideous but beloved partner in setting these boys straight.
God knows that I have one teen already and two approaching that age, and that I need that cape buffalo soon. I have faith that my special buffalo is on his way. Best of all, He’ll send me one who’s quit eating humans and developed a taste for grits. I can’t wait until he gets here.
Enter your Flashback Friday link below! For instructions see here.
1. Sir Nottaguy-Imadad
2. Observations of an Earthroamer (Kim)
3. Ladybird @ LaVidaLadybird
4. Andi (a bribe to get married)
5. Marissa – A Night Out
7. Rebecca (Puppy Love, Stolen)
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.
Drew and Porter brought home their class pictures yesterday. Obviously I inspected my boys first to see how they’d fared in front of the harsh lens of the grade school photographer. Porter was doing his shy chipmunk face and his mouth is chapped beyond his lips, giving him a clownish look. Drew was sitting slumped to one side in a dirty shirt, with a solemn look on his face. The modeling agencies weren’t going to be knocking on the Glamores’ door.
As I perused the rest of the kids, I realized that there are some ages that are plain awkward, and I was holding the proof in my hands.
I had a run of bad pictures myself. Sixth grade was particularly hideous. That was the year that my teeth, eyes and spine all betrayed me. My bodily frailties converged, and I was forced to attend school wearing not only the questionable fashions of the late 70’s, but also braces, glasses and a back brace. I was sort of like Joan Cusack (“Girl in Scoliosis Brace”) in “Sixteen Candles” but without a stage mother or payment for my discomfort.
People always asked me about the brace, and no one knew what scoliosis was, so I struggled with what to tell them. Not my mom.
“Just tell them you fell out of an airplane. That’ll shut ’em up,” she said briskly. So I did. The answer stunned them long enough to give me plenty of time to walk away.
I had some really close friends then. They were able to see past all the metal and plastic, fortunately for me, or I would have been awfully lonely.
These pictures are from my birthday in 1979.
You can’t see the silver of the neck brace so much because my mom and I experimented with all sorts of ways to camouflage it. It’s covered in moleskin, which was fuzzy and pink, but a lot closer to the color of my skin than harsh metal.
I’ve edited out my best friend’s face. She doesn’t look nearly as bad as I do, but there could be some Advanced English students at the junior high who’d like to see a picture of their teacher when she was about twelve, and I’m not giving them the satisfaction.
I loved the two bunnies and named one Roquefort Coconuthead. But Lord – stuffed rabbits? These days I bet girls this age give each other sassy panties with writing on the back, glittery lipgloss or fake belly button rings. We were such nerds.
This picture with my sisters was evidently a big damn deal, because I only wore my contacts on special occasions. Getting those hard contact lenses to stay on my pupil was a challenge. If there’s anything worse than a brace-face with a back brace, it’s that same girl rolling her eyeballs back in her head while she fishes around in her eye sockets for her lost contacts, which are somewhere between her forehead and her brain.
Join in with YOUR Flashback Friday below! For instructions see here.
1. pendy (mother/daughter inner beauty)
2. Observations of an Earthroamer (Kim)
4. Sir Nottaguy-Imadad
6. Andi (bordering on a mullet!)
7. Holly (In My Overactive Head)
8. Marissa (Awkward Begins At 7)
10. jen (inner beauty)
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