I got a magic set for Christmas in 1977. I adored it, and I practiced making a red furry ball disappear into a yellow cup until I was ready to present my act to the family. It was a huge hit, too. No one could guess where the ball had gone. Years later my mom pointed out that no one was watching the actual tricks; they were watching to see when my mustache would fall off.
When I first found this picture I laughed at the mustache, too. Then I looked more closely and saw several items that I took for granted back then, but which have since attained special meaning.
My mom brought the two black cocktail tables back from Korea. The tops are a swirly design constructed of Korean coins. When we were small Aunt Su and I would turn the tables on their sides and pretend they were a space ship. Today those same tables are in my house, and my boys are just as fascinated by the foreign coins as I was.
You can see a tiny picture on the bookshelf above my hand. It’s a picture of me and my sisters. My mom was always dressing us up in pastel dresses and putting ribbons in our hair and taking us to get our pictures made.
As the years go by I’ll be wearing a dress in one picture, and Su will wear it in one taken a couple of years later, and Lulu would wear it yet again. Riding to Olan Mills studio without getting wrinkled was a nuisance at the time. Once we ran out of gas on the way back and my sisters and I cried in the back seat of the pea-green Chrysler while my mom flagged down a good Samaritan.
Today my sisters and I have these pictures displayed prominently in our homes, a reminder of our shared past and the solidarity we’ve built over the years, especially since my mom passed away.
My parents were so fancy that they didn’t keep their gin and bourbon in the bottles they came in. Instead, they poured the alcohol into lovely crystal decanters that were lined up on the shelves of the bar. Each decanter wore a silver label like a necklace: GIN, SCOTCH, VODKA and BOURBON. You can see them on the shelves above the chair.
The chair in the background has been recovered many times, most recently in a cream chenille with tan spots. If I’d done it it would have turned out Elvis-jungle-room wild. My mom chose the fabric, though, so it’s tasteful.
The Monday night before my mom went to the hospital to have her cancer surgery, I took Drew and Porter to her house and we hung out with Mom and Lulu, who had flown into town. Mom always sat in that chair, and she did so that night. We talked and watched the twins play. Although the doctor had drained a lot of fluid from her abdomen the previous Friday, by Monday night she was swollen again and sat sideways in the chair, obviously uncomfortable, yet happy to be surrounded by her family.
I’ve always believed that she knew she wasn’t going to make it out of the hospital.
It’s odd how you can peer into your past and see clues to your future. A picture. Silver tags, once cherished, now stolen. A chair. You have to live those moments to understand the clues and their meaning. There’s no magic set to help you skip the process of living the tragic parts. Fortunately, you must live the happy moments as well.
That Monday night was a little bit of both.
One year ago in My Tiny Kingdom: The Wrong Approach
I need all present and former Birmingham natives to pay special attention to this post, for we are called upon to help a visitor from the North make the most of her stay in The Magic City in April. Here’s what Mindy told me:
I have been reading your blog for a couple of years now and love your writing. You are always humorous and entertaining and real. My husband has to go to Birmingham on business in April and I am thinking about tagging along. If you have a minute, can you send me any thoughts on hotels, restaurants, things to see and do? I will be on my own during the day and will need to stay in an area where I can see the sights, shop, etc. on foot.
I asked Mindy for more details, because if there’s one thing Birmingham is lacking (besides snow), it’s public transportation. I also wanted to know more about her interests.
My husband will be going to meetings all over the city, and he will have a vehicle so I was hoping to find an area to stay in where I could get around on foot. We will be staying on for a couple of days after he is done, so can hit any sights that require a car then. We have four kids under 8, so this is an escape for me. Weather permitting, I could happily park myself in a lounge chair by a hotel pool with a gin and tonic and a good book, but also interested in good food, good wine and some shopping but not the malls, necessarily. Also a history buff – noticed both the Birmingham Museum of Art and the Civil Rights Institute on the city website.
Fellow citizens: let us help Mindy plan a perfect trip to Birmingham. Because she’s escaping from all those children, she needs a day to sit by the pool and relax. Where should she stay? What sights should she see? What areas of town are a must? What food would you recommend? Will she die if she doesn’t visit a meat and three for lunch and sample grits for breakfast? And most importantly, how should she travel to all these places? Do you have a special place that would impress a visitor from Canada?
To leave a comment, look at the small print beneath the post where it says “_ comments.” Click that and a box will pop up for you to add your two cents.
Four years ago in My Tiny Kingdom: Merry Christmas: Let Me Bum You Out
I was trying to explain Alabama to someone recently, and I told her, “In lots of places, it’s harder to find a snowflake than it is a Democrat.”
With few exceptions I leave politics out of this blog, so suffice it to say that while I shiver when it’s below 70 degrees inside or out, I love some snow and spend much of January through March praying for just a bit. A little or none is what we usually get down here.
I come by my love of snow honestly. I have a faint recollection of it snowing when I was about five, and my mom dragging me outside to teach me a few things. First she patted out a snowman. We had barely an inch of snow on the ground. My mom shaped the snow into two tiny balls and placed one on top of the other, but there were so many pine needles sticking every which way out of the snow that it looked more like a porcupine. My mom was really proud of it and got out the Polaroid and I would kill to have a picture of that porcupine snowman today.
(I don’t tell this part of the story out loud very often because I say “porky-pine” and Bill feels compelled to interrupt and say it’s “por-cue-pine,” and a beautiful childhood memory inevitably ends in marital discord.)
My mom wasn’t through. Next she showed me how to make two flavors of snow ice cream: the lemon kind where you got a bowl of snow and squeezed a lemon and sprinkled some sugar on top, and the syrup kind, where you mixed snow and syrup. They were both delicious and I thought we should serve them at my birthday party.
Surely there was another snow or two in my childhood, but the next one I can document for sure occurred in 1990 or so in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Bill and I were in law school. I’d arrived at law school with long hair, but when Bill and I broke up one time I drove to Birmingham and got it cut short. Compared to today’s styles it doesn’t look very short (in fact it looks quite bouffant) but it was oh so daring at the time. More importantly, either the haircut or my sparkling personality lured Bill back.
I got the gold hoop earrings in Turkey and a friend of a friend stole them. I sure would like them back– they’re real gold and I bargained for them myself at the Grand Bazaar.
This picture serves two purposes. It proves the presence of snow in Tuscaloosa, and it establishes that the 80’s actually extended well into the 90’s, at least as far as fashion was concerned.
Few events have been as exciting as The Blizzard of ’93. It was a Friday in March, and there were rumors of a winter storm, but we were skeptical. I went to the store and purchased wine, fresh Parmesan and rosemary, and rum. Late that evening the sky turned green and it thundered and lightninged and started to snow. The power went out. The next morning, we woke to over a foot of snow.
It was days before anyone could get around, and the temperature hovered around 25 degrees. We tacked sheets over the window and doors and hunkered down in the den by the fireplace, our sole source of heat. Bill cut down a tree in the back yard and we hauled it into the basement so it could dry out a bit. Then he sawed it into logs which we brought upstairs so we could cook and stay warm.
We made grits for breakfast, cheese grits for lunch, and grits topped with garlic, Parmesan and rosemary for dinner.
After a day and a half we’d burned the tree and all the sticks we were able to find beneath the snow. The previous occupants had left some ugly furniture in the basement and Bill cut that into firewood. I have a sexy picture of him wearing only long underwear, sawing a chest into pieces, but I’m trying to respect his boundaries so I’m posting this picture instead.
We had to wait a long time before we saw any more snow, and then it was fleeting. In 2000 we got about half an inch. All three boys had come along. Ever optimistic, I’d bought sleds one August so I’d be super prepared.
I realize no one looks very happy in this picture (you do know you can click on most of these pictures to make them larger, don’t you?), but the reality was even worse. Both Porter (clutching Naked Baby) and Drew were gushing snot and were not interested at all in the snow. Finn rode the sled with Bill a few times, then came inside and fell to the floor crying from exhaustion. I put everyone in bed for a nap and watched the snow melt. I cried, too, because I hadn’t gotten the chance to make the boys any snow ice cream and I was afraid that what with global warming and all I had missed my chance.
Last year we got a decent half day of snow when we were down in Gold Hill, and I wrote about it here. We did it up- snowballs, ice cream, the whole shebang.
And then last weekend, we got my favorite kind of snow. No weather people hinted about it days in advance, only to dash our hopes with two flakes and a grocery store fresh out of milk.
This snow crept up on us all of a sudden, and we woke Sunday morning to covered ground and big fat snowflakes and a good five inches of outdoor fun.
It was exactly what I needed, and now I’m ready for spring.
Go ahead, add your Flashback! Directions and upcoming themes are here.
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