My mother and I have the same middle name.
It was her grandmother’s first name. Sort of.
She was Susie. We are Sue.
My first name came from a friend of my mother when she was a girl.
At least it didn’t come from a variety pack box of cereal. My mother would never do that.
My brother has my father’s first name.
They both go by their middle name and that works out just fine. It always has.
My sister and our favorite aunt share the same middle name. She’s my mother’s sister.
I like name continuity. I like to know how names happened.
I like to know the beginning.
Like most moms when we were in trouble my mother would use both our names first and middle.
But only for my sister and me.
My brother just had one in trouble name and I don’t remember it being used very often.
Mine was used. In the house. The backyard. The driveway. The car. You name it.
We were all born in Mississippi except mom and she was Louisiana right next door.
Senatobia is where my father called home.
When I think of Mississippi I remember hot and flat. Carports and potato salad.
The name Senatobia came from a Native American word. It means white sycamore.
My whole life I never knew until I looked it up.
My father likes to tell this story.
He will tell you.
His father had a farm outside Senatobia. Lafayette County. The community was Etta. That’s where the mail was delivered.
William Faulkner also had a farm. My father will tell you he remembers William Faulkner driving around in a fancy Jeep going to his farm and also my grandfather’s farm.
When my father was a boy.
Once my grandfather bought a brown swiss bull from William Faulkner. It had a ring in its nose and it cost $20.00
My uncle kept the cancelled check.
Fences then were not fences now. The bull tried to walk back to Mr. Faulkner’s farm. He had to be brought home by my father and maybe my uncle. William Faulkner was the only person my father knew who owned a tractor.
That is not my memory it’s my father’s but I feel like it’s mine and I love it.
My father had a horse named Be-Bop. Be-Bop was fast. They would race. Other people with horses. A line would be drawn in the dirt and they would go. My father once won $5.00.
In 1969 we were in hurricane Camille. It smashed into Gulfport.
And our house.
It was a giant sea monster.
I was a year old. In my crib. Crying.
We were not part of that hurricane party. Thank goodness.
This is also not my memory. It belongs to my parents.
It is no wonder my mother is afraid of the ocean. The ocean is filled with hurricanes.
A category 5 hurricane shouldn’t be named Camille.
Camille is a rainy day. At the very most a tropical storm.
Everybody knows that.
Until I was in fourth grade we lived in a giant neighborhood. A perfect people maze. Rows of houses and streets full of possibilities. Sidewalks.
On Halloween I carried the medium sized plastic pumpkin. Because I’m the middle one. Medium.
My older brother’s held the most candy and he got more anyway because he didn’t trick or treat with my father like my sister and me.
We wore costumes from Kerr Drug. Your options were rabbit or clown.
Next year my sister would be what I had already been.
Kerr Drug was the place my sister once took without asking a Christmas stocking. Right into her pea coat pocket. She was busted by my mother before we ever got to the car.
My mom marched her back to return it while my brother and I waited. Glad for once it wasn’t us.
The Bookmobile was near this drugstore. The Bookmobile was our friend.
We would go on Saturdays. Return 3 check out 3 more.
Up the steps to the library on wheels. I want a book about horses.
Let me read you Morris the Moose Goes to School one more time. I can read it by myself.
After mom gets her hair done.
My father built us a clubhouse.
It was a wooden rectangle with a door and a window. It had a bench like seat inside.
Perfect for playing school, hide and seek, and Wild Wild West.
Our backyard was the best. A swing set, badminton net, vegetable garden, and a picnic table. A sprinkler. How far can you throw that baseball.
My mother brought us Kool-Aid in souvenir McDonalds glasses.
We made moss gardens. My sister and me.
With lakes and ponds and broken limbs for bridges and construction. The occasional acorn. Pine cone.
We lived at the end of a street. Mandalay. We rode bikes and skateboards and scooters you had to push yourself.
Turn left out of the driveway. Woods.
On the other side is the 7-Eleven. And baseball cards with flat pieces of gum.
If you put a card on the wheel of your bike it makes a cool noise.
All you need is a clothespin.
We walked by ourselves. You could do that then.
The woods were all pine trees. Walk a few feet and get lost.
I’m sure those woods made way for some type of progress. Which is never really progress despite what the adults say.
On this street I learned how to ride without training wheels. Take them off. Dammit.
My father did that famous thing fathers do.
He let go. And I didn’t even know. Until I looked back.
Don’t look back. Keep riding.
To ride while looking back takes practice. When I was 5 or 7 I didn’t know.
My first memory is a nightmare.
It tossed me out of deep kid sleep.
I was about 4 or 3 because my sister is missing and must have been in a crib or someplace else.
We spent the day at an aquarium.
I woke up terrified of the fish that were swirling around on my ceiling. Water everywhere. So much water. A giant tank right above my head.
My father came and slept next to my bed and everything was dark bluish gray. Middle of the night colors.
My mother has always been terrified of water.
Specifically the ocean. I can’t blame her. The ocean is filled with monster fish.
My whole life I never saw her get in water beyond a kiddie pool. Better safe than…
No doubt this inspired my very brief and largely unsuccessful morning swimming lessons one summer at the Y. Just me. The middle kid will surely be a swimmer.
It went like this. Small group of small kids. A couple of teenage adults. We’ll begin where it says 6 ft. Everyone in the water. Jump in. Just jump. Those foam floating things won’t make it any better. The teenage adults are in the water holding out their hands.
The locker room smells weird. Everything is wet. Soaking.
Mom is reading a book.
She meant well.
I went to a private kindergarten for half a day and the afternoons it was Mom and me.
Nap and then circus peanuts for snack.
Puffy marshmallow candy in one color. Orange Peach. I loved them. Moms don’t snack their kids like that anymore.
There’s a reason.
Then Mister Rogers land of make believe on the t.v.
All animals should talk. And wear a watch. Just like Daniel Striped Tiger. I want to be Lady Aberlin.
Harry the Dirty Dog didn’t talk but he came in the mail.
Every month I got a book. Because Mom.
Write your name in the front so you know its yours.
The Sears catalogue also came in the mail. In November it was the Christmas Wish Book. Skip the clothes and go directly to the toys. Don’t stop.
Circle what you want with a ballpoint pen. Write your name next to it so Santa will know its yours. It doesn’t matter if we want the same thing.
Its raining again.
When Dad gets home from work he’ll build a fire. You can sit on the hearth with your back to the fireplace. In here its warm and dry.
My grandparent’s house had three doors.
A proper front and back door and an extra secret door that opened out from the kitchen.
That was my favorite.
Next to my grandmother’s sewing machine. It opened onto the carport. Where the Buick was parked.
We visited my grandparents every year. Always at Christmas and sometimes summertime.
Nothing short of a miracle that Santa knew where to find us. That far from home.
The long road south.
I loved their house.
Every room had a theme. A meaning.
That was my grandmother’s maiden name.
Her family owned a bakery and their family came from Germany before that.
My grandmother was sturdy.
She was a great cook and baker. She sewed. She was very good at the important things which included being a grandmother.
She was no nonsense.
My grandmother was a smart lady.
She took a nap in the afternoon and we were instructed not to roller skate or skateboard past her bedroom window while she was sleeping.
I believe she slept for exactly 1 hour and then got up ready for the remaining 25% of her day.
She cooked gumbo. I’m sure I learned the word roux in her kitchen.
There were metal tins of divinity fudge even in the summertime. So sweet you could only eat one piece. Any more than that might require medical attention.
It was in this space where my grandmother would make salt dough for my sister and me. And cousins.
We used it like clay and it was great fun to be in the kitchen when she was.
If you were to hand an eight year old salt dough tomorrow and expect them to entertain themselves it might not go over well.
Or it might. You just never know.
Holidays required a kids’ table. In the kitchen.
We drank milk from colored metal tumblers.
Grownups occupied the dining room with better dishes and clinking noises and important conversations.
The grownups did not drink milk.
My grandparent’s house had sliding doors.
Sliding doors are wonderful when you are a kid. Like a James Bond movie. Or Star Trek.
Nothing says I’m finished with you like sliding a door shut. Slide versus slam. It makes quite a statement.
Like built in shelves. Their house had those too. Floor to ceiling in the den.
With a space in the middle for a giant TV. Huge.
Everything was bigger back then.
My grandparent’s house was near the end of a street. A cul-de-sac. You could roller skate in a circle and not worry about cars. Smooth sailing. This was quite a luxury. It was paved.
Back home our road was gravel. You can try your best but a gravel road is just not as fun.
Ask any kid.
Last week I saw Purple Rain in the theater.
And I cried.
I told a friend of mine. I am mourning the loss of Prince.
Prince was present at my musical beginning. My very young me.
As a kid I never owned a Prince record. But I knew. I just did.
He was music as movies and all those images that jumped from your teenage brain on to the to t.v. Like an explosion.
He had a seat on my rocket ship.
I wanted to leave that small town and find the whatever it was. In the somewhere else. Out there.
Prince was always around. Smartly woven into the fabric of YOUR life. Right behind you. And me.
We always thought he would be. Showing up.
The remainder. The tower of cool.
and then some.
He was supposed to stay with us. Through it.
I am listening to 1999.
In August of 1977 my mother walked into our backyard and told my brother, sis and me that Elvis had died. Then she turned around and went back into the house. I feel certain she went into her room to “lay down” like she did when difficult things happened. We continued to sit in our lawn chairs doing whatever it was we did as kids back in the 70’s. We had gold shag carpet in our house.
In December 1980 my father woke my sister and me up for school. Cold dark December like it is when you’re 12 and living in the mountains. He loved to say TGIF on Fridays. I think this was a Monday. My father woke us with the news that John Lennon had been shot the night before. My father was not necessarily a Beatles or John Lennon fan. He liked the radio. In the car. My Dad knew enough to know that we would want to know. So he told us right away. Before frozen waffles and the long ride to school and a.m. radio.
My heroes have suddenly gone missing. Bowie. Prince. When they left me my phone told me. CNN told me too. I felt like my mother did back in 1977. Only worse. We always think it’s worse. Never better.
My parents are with me. My heroes are missing. I did not win the lottery. Tomorrow is Saturday.
My father worked for the federal government for 30 years. He was a soil scientist. A mapper. He knew, and still knows, how to do everything.
He’s very careful. Thorough. Precise. Measure twice. Cut once.
He can pack a car for a trip or moving day like blocks in a Jenga game before anyone makes a move.
His branch was soil and water. Conservation. Brushing your teeth with the water running? Forget it. Dad was on it.
For years my brother, sister and I turned in the same science project at school “How Acid is Our Precipitation?” It was really only done ONCE and then recycled for years after that by the three of us. The only thing that varied were the test results. Because that was my Dad’s thing we really did take samples to see if what was falling out of the sky was sorta bad, bad, or very bad for us. One of our teachers finally noticed this science experiment pattern and maybe it was my sister who finally had to come up with something new.
When we would travel, as kids, my family had a giant green station wagon.
We called it the big green oven. Or my brother did~ because it had little or no AC and it was hot as hell in the summer when we travelled down south.
We took turns making my sister sit on the sunny side of the car. She was youngest and didn’t know any better. We gave her a coloring book and let her sweat.
My father was/is very patient but sometimes traveling we would get lost and instead of asking for directions Dad would roll the windows down on the big green oven like the universe was going to give him an answer. Which it never did.
All we really wanted at that moment were small hamburgers from McDonalds and soda. And an answer. Which never came.
Because my dad worked for the government everything in his office was green.
Army green. Green like at a moment’s notice you might have to hide. From your boss. Or the post office people downstairs.
His office was large. Institutional. With drawing tables and lights and chairs that spun all the way around. Everything matched. Green.
When he went out mapping my Dad carried a snake bite kit. Its a very cool thing if your Dad is instructed to carry a snake bite kit with him to work. A dangerous mission. I imagined my father battling snakes in the afternoon before dinner.
My Dad never got lost when he was mapping. He talked to farmers and he knew where all the rivers and streams were in our county. He loved being outside.
He said that was the reason he became a soil scientist. It’s better outside.
I think being outside is best. And my favorite color is green.