Tag Archives: family

Circles.

Juju sat with her friend, Ramsey, and watched as her mother passed them, back and forth pushing the green mower.  Jewel was mowing her own mother’s backyard, as she did every week, it was the summer of 1971.  Juju was ten, her mother was fifty, and Ada, her grandmother was in her eightieth year.  Juju was eating a fresh-baked roll with butter, as was her friend.  They had grabbed one hot right off the cooling rack in Ada’s very small kitchen in Haltom City.

Ada was known for fresh-baked bread and her love of soap operas, Lawrence Welk, and Billy Graham; in that order.  Everyone called her grandmother, Ma Ada, Juju just called her Ma.  She lived by herself in a 900 sq foot, red house right off a major highway….with a perfect yard.  Most everyday she ate the bounty right out of her own garden, but every once in a while she would get a hankering for a cheeseburger.  Ma would call in her order to the local Dairy Queen, wait 10 minutes then walk the 30 paces to her backyard fence.  The DQ happened to be her backside neighbor you see. One of the kids working there would trot behind the restaurant and meet Ada with her lunch, she always  tipped exactly one dime.

Ramsey was a kid Juju’s age that lived across the street from Ma.  He had been her companion for about 4 years now…playing catch or hide and seek in and around Ma’s shed.  On that particular day they had been hiding and peering out a hole in the wall of the shed as they noticed Ma running around in circles.  It was an awkward and funny thing for Juju to see.   She stopped laughing when she noticed Ma was chasing a chicken.  She caught it, and wrung its neck in one swift movement. Juju had been just familiar enough with the condemned to have given it a name. She passed on the fried chicken served up an hour later when Juju’s mother finished sweeping up the front sidewalk and sat down with a glass of iced-tea.  The traumatized Ramsey had run back across the street to his house.  Juju sat down at the kitchen table and helped herself to a second roll with jelly this time.

Ma Ada had seven children and her daughter Jewel had duplicated the feat.  Ma was not a touchy or demonstrative person.  Juju never saw the two women show any emotional connection other than a quick hug when they departed. Nevertheless, it was obvious that Ada was Jewel’s touchstone.  They spoke on the phone everyday and Ada’s well-being was always at the forefront of Jewel’s mind.

As the Cadillac backed out of Ma’s driveway that day, Juju turned to Jewel and saw tears in her eyes.  They waived bye to Ada and drove west on Catalpa Drive. What is wrong, Juju asked…also tearing up.  What is wrong and why do I cry every time you do!!??  “Well, Jewel said, “she is my mama and she is getting way up there in years.  Sometimes when I leave I think it might be the last time I see her, it makes me sad.  I know I should appreciate every minute I have with her.  Do you understand she is thirty years older than me?”

Jewel went on to explain that Juju cried too because she loves her mother and doesn’t like to see her upset.  Juju thought about what her mother was trying to teach her all the way home to Hurst.  The panic started to hit her when the car was turning onto Oak Street.  “What’s wrong with you now?” asked Jewel.  You are FORTY years older than me Juju yelled!!  That means I will have ten years less with you than you get with Ma!!!

One day in 2001 Jewel came over to Juju’s house for dinner.  They went out to a nice restaurant for a steak and were joined by Juju’s partner, Linda.  Juju did not mow her mother’s yard every week.  Jewel had a very fancy riding lawn mower and took much pleasure “mowing my own damn yard!”  Juju did other things for her mother.  She had created one golden rule when she reached adulthood.  Her mother had provided for her in the beginning of her life and now it was time for Juju to pay.  For the rest of Jewel’s life, she never picked up a check when the two of them were out…NEVER.

The dinner was fine and the three women chatted a spell at Juju’s house before it was time for Jewel to depart.  Juju grabbed Jewel at the door and a hug lingered.  With no words spoken their eyes met…the mutual comparison to that long ago, 1971 day was evident by their shared, flushed faces.

Juju watched  as her mother turned, got into her car, and drove away.  She shut the door and sat down sobbing.  Linda walked over and offered a hug, wondering what was the matter??  Juju told her, my mother’s eighty, she’s getting up there…..every time I say goodbye could be the last time.  Juju was marking the moment in her mind, never to forget the tender exchange at the door.

Ma Ada lived to be ninety-three, Jewel very much wanted to match her mother, but came up short by ten years.  Juju came to believe the time element meant absolutely nothing.  It was being IN the moment, not the length of the moment.  Being truly in the moment kept it alive forever and perhaps that is what Jewel was trying to express in 1971.  Grab onto this moment, this person…never let go, because one day they won’t be here…but that memory surely will be.

Every time Juju smells fresh-baked bread she thinks of Ada.  And the smell of fresh-cut grass is like getting a squeeze from Jewel.  Juju has to chuckle when she envisions an eighty year old woman running in circles after a chicken….or another eighty year old woman driving a red lawn mower in circles like Mario Andretti…..full circles.

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Stuckey’s!!

Every trip’s a pleasure, when you stop at Stuckey’s. That was their motto and boy did I buy into it. A trip just wasn’t a trip unless we stopped at Stuckey’s at least twice. In the summer of 1971 we took the mother of all road trips. My parents in the front and my sister Junene and I in the back of a 1970 Cadillac Fleetwood. Traveling at about 75 mph up 35 North, destination…Ottumwa, Iowa.

My father wanted to visit his Aunt Mabel, but mostly we all just liked to hit the road. Ottumwa was our McGuffin, you know the term made up by Alfred Hitchcock? A McGuffin was the thing that drove the plot, but otherwise it was a meaningless thing. Why were the bad guys trying to kill Cary Grant? Because of the McGuffin..did we really care about what it was? No. Would my family leave on the drop of a hat for just about any reason? Yes…as long as there was a Stuckey’s on the way.

I was nine years old and rode wedged up against the back window of the car…like a sleeping compartment. No stinking seat belt needed for me or my sister who was stretched out on the backseat, below me. This was before the national 55 mph speed zone campaign…and it was before the Surgeon General warned about second-hand smoke. We were flying low and we were northbound…all windows up, my father smoking like a chimney. Ah, the good old days!

Thirty-five miles to Stuckey’s! We had the first sign in our sight…my favorite oasis on the highway was fast approaching. At the speed the Caddy was traveling, I would be eating some taffy very soon! Have you begun to notice most of my childhood memories center around food? Yeah, I am seeing that too….when I read them back I get hungry.

Stuckey’s had that good long and flat taffy in all different flavors that I loved so. And the souvenirs were the greatest…Stuckey’s was like the rodeo and Six Flags Over Texas all rolled up into one. You could get any novelty or Texas souvenir you desired…and a hot dog and coke to boot! Was that the teal blue roof ahead? I was having trouble seeing it through the dense reef of smoke hovering over my head…but yes, there it is!!! The teal blue roof is on the horizon, the mecca of childhood road trips! Yes!!

My mother almost ran me over on her way to get her pecan divinity roll. She drank coffee and her caffeine buzz, along with the sugar from the divinity kept her going and at the wheel like the Ever-Ready bunny. High fructose corn syrup was like Crack to my entire family and Stuckey”s was our vacation “supplier.” My father would pump the gas, for 36 cents a gallon, then check out the snack bar. I would go sit with him as he drank a cup of joe and complained that the hamburger he was scarfing down was “terrible.” He didn’t like eating out much because he always compared the food and cleanliness of the restaurant to his own kitchens…they never made the grade.

Junene and I had started a collection of salt and pepper shakers. I think my mother must have suggested it originally to keep us from buying silly toys we would never touch again after a trip. So we bought shakers at every stop instead to take home and never touch again. We had a corner curio cabinet where Junene would take careful attention in placing every new set in the absolute perfect location. As we stood at the check-out I was wondering what she might have in mind for our newest find….a Hill-Billy salt shaker and an out-house that “housed” the pepper….classy. I always called the curio the “crap cabinet” to voice my displeasure over the latest pick.

Stuckey’s had road games you could buy to ease the boredom of long trips. They looked like bingo cards with little orange slide windows that you slid over to cover the individual pictures. They were pictures of things you might encounter on your journey. Railroad crossing sign? slide. Cow? slide. Volkswagen? slide. Police car? Bingo!! If I won I actually got to sit upright in the back seat…woohoo!

That trip we also brought along one of our greatest Christmas gifts ever. We each had a transistor radio with an ear-piece…just one ear-piece. It was an “official” Realtone 6 Transistor with a front cover that looked like it belonged on the dash of a Buick. Junene preferred the harder edged rock at fourteen, but it was my “Carpenters” period. Karen Carpenter was a tom-boy that played the drums and had an incredible alto singing voice. With Karen in my ear and Stuckey’s taffy in my mouth…it wouldn’t have mattered if I went flying out the Caddy like a missile, after a quick stop… I would have died happy!

It was July 6, 1971 when we finally arrived in Ottumwa. I have an incredible mind for bullshit trivia that doesn’t matter to most folks…I have told you that before. I mention it here because that day was a sad one for my father. We heard on the radio that Louis Armstrong had died, Old Satchmo…perhaps the best jazz trumpeter ever. My great Aunt Mabel met us at the gate to her picket fence. She looked like she just walked out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

We enjoyed meeting Aunt Mabel, an incredibly sweet woman, and other distant cousins that trip. Junene and I fed her horses watermelon. We ate corn on the cob, right out of the field…and ran through the cow pastures with youthful abandon. We did ALL of that in about 45 minutes and were ready to get back in the Cadillac! We actually stayed about four days before heading back south…but it seemed like a much shorter turn-around…the McGuffin.

There were three Stuckey’s along highway 35, the path of our trip. On the way to Ottumwa we had talked mother into stopping at two of them. On the way home, I feigned a bathroom emergency and we hit all three! Matching corn cob salt and pepper shakers were now flying with us towards good old Fort Worth.

What’s that red roof ahead I asked? Mother yelled that it was Nickerson’s Farm and NO we were not stopping! It was a restaurant chain started up and dotting the landscape…by a former disgruntled Stuckey’s employee. I wondered aloud if they had pecan divinity…my mother took the exit sharply. There was 245 miles to go, we all needed a fix!