by Lee St. John
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This book is a book of non-fiction.
Names, characters, places, and incidents are the
recollections of the author and are recounted as told in vignettes and shared by permission of the
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She’s A Keeper – Confessions From a Southern Girl’s Closet – the Stories begin
Published by Lee St. John at Smashwords
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It was 1993. Scrabble Night. Another couple and hubby and I played Scrabble at their home. We brought over our board game from home, kept now in our lake house game drawer. It was late and we were almost done. With only four letters left, I played on a triple word score square, the word JIVE. I also used all my letters and that gave me extra points. My husband and I seemingly won the game with that last move.
But our male HOST was going to have none of it. He said, “There is no such word as JIVE.” His wife begged to differ. She agreed with us that there was such a word. But he was going to have none of it and called it an evening. Knowing the host as long as we had, we had come to expect his chauvinistic attitude. He was frustrated, not only at the loss, but that also a woman had outshined him in this game. His wife was totally embarrassed when he called it a night. It hadn’t come to a natural conclusion, but an abrupt one with his guests beating him in Scrabble in his own home. He didn’t like that one bit.
We left. Because I saw behavior like this before from him, I decided I’d try to goad him a little more. I was a practical jokester. I looked over the rules on the way home while hubby drove and the rules said that if the word could be found in the dictionary, it was a word.
I found the word in my dictionary when we got home (this was way before iPhones) and even though it was very late, I called the host and told him I found the word JIVE in my dictionary. Within a few minutes, he called back and read the rule that said, “If a word cannot be found in the HOST’s dictionary, it is not a word. He said he could not find the word in his dictionary.”
Good Grief! How much longer was this going to go on? I think he was serious. And he was a very smart man and won a lot of arguments, but I wasn’t about to take this one lying down. I hatched a plan.
This Scrabble-playing couple was in our dinner club of five couples. It was time for another dinner club. Ironically, it was held at the same couple whose home we played Scrabble. Not that it mattered where the dinner club was, but it seemed poetic justice in some ways when I put my plan to work.
I called the other three couples, not the host couple – it was a surprise– and BEGGED them to PLEASE incorporate the word JIVE into their conversations throughout the night… for instance, “We went to see a JIVE of a movie last week”, etc. One of our couple friends was our church’s associate pastor and I asked him, while he gave the blessing before our food, to say something like, “Bless this JIVING food, etc.”
All the couples played along. It was so funny to see the look on the HOST’s face when JIVE came out of their mouths in normal conversation. When it happened so much, he realized he had been had.
He looked at me and said, “You win.”
P.S. I don’t see HOW could be so stubborn!
When my oldest was five years old (THE HEIR), I decided to make his Christmas really special. You know how we, as mothers, made home-made cookies and left them on a Christmas designed plate with a glass of milk for Santa with possibly a carrot for Rudolf? Well, been there, done that. This year was different.
When we tucked him in, I pulled out from the closet my husband’s L.L. Bean boots and bought the largest size baking soda box that the grocery stores carried. I laid down a boot on the rug, poured baking soda around the perimeter, lifted the boot, placed the matching boot a step ahead, and again poured the baking soda. After several times, it looked as if Santa had sloughed off snow on his way from our fireplace to the Christmas tree and laid out his presents.
The fireplace stood empty because we didn’t use it. We had a red enamel wood burning stove. When the logs were burning, the stove lit up that beautiful Christmas red and then became a part of the room’s holiday décor.
Christmas morning came and THE HEIR jumped out of bed, ran into the living room, and saw all the presents and Santa’s footsteps! Overjoyed, his eyes widened! Santa came! He looked so cute in his Stewart plaid red pajamas with red piping on the collar and long sleeves with his solid navy blue housecoat. He wore no house shoes, just those sweet bare feet which ran down the hall.
Our usual festivities of opening all the presents ensued and then friends and family popped over to see what THE HEIR received. He bragged about Santa’s footsteps on the rug. And as the days wore on and more people dropped by, Santa’s footprints were still on the rug. He continued to show them off.
When our second son (THE SPARE) turned five, I remembered how THE HEIR got such joy from my creativity that I decided to pull this same trick over on him.
Round two. But our savvy second son in his cotton long-sleeved blue dinosaur pajamas, just looked at the situation and the first thing out of his mouth was, “Why hasn’t it melted?”
Didn’t think he’d catch that.
I was practical jokester. I grew up but I never stopped playing.
I learned bridge after I retired from teaching. Ladies in my neighborhood had a group and asked me to join and learn. I joined but I wasn’t very good because of not knowing all the rules. It was a hard game to remember all the conventions. My mother played bridge so I looked through some of her keepsakes in my den secretary and found a GOREN Point Count Bidding Wheel that can be rotated for quick reference.
Recently, my bridge group finished for the day and almost everyone left the clubhouse, where we also had lunch, except for four of us. We decided to play a little more. One of the gals went to the restroom before our next hand. She did not take her phone with her and it rang. It was on the table next to us.
I decided to have some fun. So, I answered it with, “Bonjour!” The person calling was one of our previous bridgettes who was trying to reach our gal in the restroom.
“Oh, dear, I am so sorry. Do I have the wrong number?”
I played on as though not understanding English and said every rote sentence I learned in French class, “Parlez-vous français ? (Do you speak French?), Comment allez-vous? (How are you?), Qu’est-ce que vous faites ? (What are you doing?), Voir tel qu’il est (See it as it is), Aujourd’hui, c’est mercredi (Today is Wednesday), and Mon nom est Lee. (My name is Lee).”
“Oh, please, please excuse me. I thought I was calling my friend. I am so sorry.”
Well, now she thought she had the wrong number. We knew what was going to happen next. Yep – she called back.
It took her a little longer than I expected to call back, but when she did, our friend was still not back from the ladies lounge. I answered again, “Bonjour.” Then I REPEATED everything I had said originally, because it was about all I remembered from my high school French days. EXCEPT this time, for some reason while she was again apologizing, I said, “No comprende,” which I thought was Spanish. She still didn’t catch on.
Now, she was so sweet and apologetic but I thought for SURE she would detect some Southern accent in my voice. I didn’t know I was THAT good. But she did not and again hung up so flustered, I felt sure thinking that she was the one that made a mistake.
Now our friend came back and saw us all laughing at the fact I pulled the practical joke off twice. We caught her up but then again the phone rang. So SHE answered the phone, “Bonjour.”
Our sweet friend started apologizing some more for her mistake, but this time she was interrupted and told that all was well and that we were just having some fun with her. THEN we found out that our perplexed gal worried when she called over and over and heard French each time, she thought she made unnecessary and expensive overseas calls and called the phone company to tell them she thought her wires were crossed.
I’ve been kissed by a President. Yup. You read that correctly.
After high school graduation and before attending college, I didn’t have a summer job. I tried to enjoy those last free days before leaving home. That summer of 1971, I volunteered to help my county’s Chamber of Commerce participate in the STAY AND SEE GEORGIA campaign.
The Georgia Department of Industry, Trade, and Tourism planned celebration activities at Lenox Square Mall (which in 1971 was an open air mall with breezeways connecting the stores). They planned to bring together partners in Georgia’s tourism industry to showcase Georgia’s assets and spread a message of “Stay and See Georgia.” Don’t spend your travel dollars elsewhere. Stay and see what Georgia offers.
The week-long campaign had several of us YOUNG GIRLS manning the booth for our county. We wore our high schools’ matching cheerleading outfits so we would all look uniformed. The uniform top was a solid red vest with an Oxford cloth white Peter Pan collared shirt, which the length of the sleeves came to our elbow. We had on white knee socks with still-in-my-closet Bass Saddle Oxford shoes. The knee socks had a tassel at the fold at the top. The skirt was mighty short. It was only as long as your fingertips by your side. The uniform had a red and black pleated plaid skirt for our school colors.
Our county’s treasure that we promoted was the Monastery of the Holy Spirit. This tourist attraction had individuals of all faiths flock to the monastery. The beautiful 2,100 acres was a popular spot for picnics, strolls, perusing the Gift Shop, and enjoying the Bonsai nursery. One experienced this serenity of restful recollection and spiritual renewal retreat for a day, or as long as a week.
This was, mainly, all our county was known for. Sometimes you heard, “Oh, I go through your county on my way to Athens.” And years later, we heard “Eat, Drink, and See Mary!” – a slogan assigned to bumper stickers regarding the lady who was a self-proclaimed visionary of the Mother Mary. She announced her next “vision” day and people started coming across the globe to hear what she claimed Mary had told her. She emerged from her home where thousands converged. Boy, was this good for businesses…
So, in 1971, we finished our week chatting with buyers at the mall and handing out brochures of information. It came to a climax when the Governor’s Mansion held a reception for all participants. They feted us to munchies and punch for our week of hard work. We also stood in the receiving line to meet and thank our host and hostess, the governor and the first lady of Georgia.
Telling my aunt about our upcoming reception, she mentioned we were related (in the South we call it kin) to Jimmy Carter. I had no fear of speaking in public. While in college, I changed my major to Public Relations. While in line, I approached the couple. I shake Rosalyn’s hand first and then when I was in front of the governor, I said, “My aunt researched my family tree and found out we are cousins.” I moved on the next person to shake his hand.
From my peripheral vision, I saw that Jimmy Carter moved closer to me. He planted a big kiss on my cheek and said, “I always kiss my cousins!”
Telling this story years later in the late 1980’s and 1990’s to a classroom full of high school students, I prefaced my story with “I have been kissed by a President.”
Their response? “Who was it? Bill Clinton?”
Lewis Grizzard was one of my favorite writers. When I first taught high school in the late 1970’s, I read his Atlanta Journal/Constitution columns aloud every morning to my students before I started teaching my classes. Somewhere I read that if you started the day off with humor, you would get your brain flowing.
He was married four times. Something he said around wife two or maybe three, stuck with me. “We’ve been married for 6 weeks and they said it wouldn’t last.” It was about six weeks into my marriage that I felt like leaving my husband.
My husband and I, like my parents, married at 30. We enjoyed our 20’s immensely and felt like we got all the playing out of us. That was a rite of passage for everyone. What we didn’t expect, was that we were also set in our ways.
What I loved about my husband when we met was that he wasn’t like my father. He had all the wonderful traits of my dad, but I wasn’t going to baby my husband the way my mother babied my father. (Or so I thought).
What I saw in dating, I thought would last. It was my first visit to his newly purchased home, which he bought as a bachelor, where I happily discovered that he ironed, cooked a little, etc. Loved it! On the first date we had in his home, he cooked steaks on the grill, made a salad, and baked potatoes in the microwave. He cleared the table, cleaned them off, and placed them in the dishwasher. This was the guy for me!
Then we married.
After the honeymoon, I returned to work, too, and came in those first two weeks tired, but happy, and cooked the meals while he helped and when we finished dinner, he brought all the dishes to the kitchen and put them in the sink. Two weeks later, he stayed in the kitchen talking to me while I cooked the dinner and afterward, he placed all the dirty dishes on the counter. Then after another two weeks, he read the paper in the living room while I cooked our meal and when he was done, left his dirty dishes on the table. I was livid!
I dissected this and realized that I was no June Cleaver. I was tired, too, and if he thought I was just going to cater to him, he had another think coming. Was this behavior going to continue?
I was so upset after six weeks, I thought about divorce. We were so different. It wasn’t going to work.
One day after working hard at the Atlanta Apparel Mart, I came home in my gorgeous pastel pink box style top by Diane Von Furstenberg paired with a mid-calf Valentino gray pencil skirt. Influenced by Princess Diana, I wore off-white colored pantyhose with Etienne Aigner black alligator flats and my pearl necklace. I carefully hung up my clothes in the closet and dreaded my next job: making dinner. I grabbed an old t-shirt and shorts to wear while thinking about spaghetti.
I was tired, damn-it, and the tears started to flow. Who understood this dilemma of early marriage sacrifices? I called a former teacher from high school, whom everyone loved and sought advice from because her wisdom was dead on. She was about 8 years older than me. Everyone looked up to her and heeded what was said because she was kind and never judgmental.
She listened. Then she told me an anecdote of her own to help my suffering. Once she was in a similar position. She was in another state, hours from her parents. She was crying to them on the phone because she now had a 2-year old, her husband traveled for work Monday through Friday and was never home and she didn’t know anyone in her new town. Her only company was her 2-year old.
Her mother inserted, “Honey! Now listen. Your hubby comes home tomorrow from his trip. He’ll be bone-tired. You pull yourself together and get in there and make him his favorite meal and his favorite dessert. Stop your crying! I haven’t got time to talk to you right now. We can’t find your father’s teeth!”
To be middle school certified, one took a course called “The Middle School Learner.” In that course, we learned much about the mindset of 11-14 year olds. One of the major concepts I remembered learning was the term and definition of “brain-dead.” You’ve heard it. You’ve probably said it. But did you know it came from a real educational idea?
I did not mean "brain dead" as in "A brain-dead individual has no clinical evidence of brain function." This "brain dead" idea came from the journals of doctors in education. Prior to the middle school years, a child's brain worked at 80% capacity and the body worked at about 20%. The middle school age brain flipped-flopped...20/80.
Our middle school Gifted students took yearly field trips to educational and yet fun locations. We went to the Reynolda House – an historic home turned into a museum filled with masterpieces of American art and surrounded by formal gardens, shops and restaurants, which were located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. We traveled to Huntsville, Alabama for Space Camp. Another trip was to Charleston, South Carolina where we slept on the aircraft carrier, The Yorktown, visited graveyard haunts at night, rode cobblestone horse-drawn buggy tours during the day, and had a scavenger hunt to find historical places and relics. Every trip was 3-day event.
With all that walking in Charleston, we needed maps. I collected about a dozen of them for souvenirs. I stored them in a shoe box in my attic when I returned. I planned to use them again for a wedding anniversary since Hubby and I went there for our honeymoon.
One of the mothers of our students told us the story about how her family went back to Charleston for a vacation about three years after her daughter’s school trip. The daughter, who was fourteen years old on our class trip, was now 17 for her family trip. Her mother commented how her daughter was “oooohhhing and aaaahhhing” all over the place in Charleston. She said she’d comment about how she “loved this street” or “loved this house” or “loved this graveyard”, or WHATEVER. She expressed excitement about everything Charleston had to offer.
Her mother said to her, “Honey. You act like this is the first time you’ve ever see this place. You came here with your Gifted class trip three years ago.”
Her daughter said, “Oh, this where we were?”
And this girl graduated from TUFTS in Boston. Bless her heart, she was a victim of the adolescent “brain dead” theory.
Dementia was no laughing matter. Nor was Alzheimer’s. I lived with my mother’s late stage of Dementia and have been associated with how my friends’ parents spiraled with Alzheimer’s.
I went through the stages of grief for my mother’s deterioration: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.
My mother lived until 88 and was pretty good until the end. Once I realized that she wasn’t going to get better and that it just upset her when I had an opposing view about anything she said, she did, or she saw, I had to accept what it was.
When she was in the hospital recuperating from intestinal surgery, she was totally out of it and deliriously talked about nonsense stuff and saw things I didn’t. That was the medicine talking. Another occasion I slept in a chair beside her hospital bed, when she woke up and said out loud, “Anyone who wants a ham sandwich, raise your hand.” I raised mine.
My father was the first to go in my immediate family. All the funerals I had ever gone to were solemn and staid, instead of being a joyful time, especially for one who suffered before their demise. It came as quite a shock to me that so many of my dad’s friends were at the funeral home talking about his antics, since he was such a prankster, too. I had to say, that the wonderful stories about my father told by his friends helped me get through that sad time. I wished I remembered all the stories they told me.
Our former neighbor died recently. The deceased’s wife had become forgetful but many had not seen her to know her deteriorating condition. She was my Sunday School teacher when I was a little girl. When I was five she kept a drawing her entire Sunday School class drew. She gave me a copy years ago. I kept this childhood artwork in one of those beautiful flowered boxes inside the attic hope chest with many of my other childhood mementos. These mementos were some that my mother started saving for me while other keepsakes were ones I added when a friend found something to share with me.
Her husband’s funeral was lovely and many, many old friends were there to comfort the family and my former church teacher. I understood, in her confused state, she might have seen his funeral more like a pageant because people dressed nicely and there was a large crowd. This lovely woman spoke to a friend of mine at the funeral and said, “This has been so nice having you all here. We’ll have to do this again sometime.”
I was on national TV. Yep. And not just some blip on the screen. From what I was told – about 30 seconds. There was at least enough time for people I knew all over the United States to recognize me and later call me to tell me they saw me.
When I heard about being seen on TV, I was scared to get that recognition. I feared I was going to be in trouble. I was a new teacher that year and I had skipped school.
I called in sick to the front office of the middle school. I really was ill! First year teachers caught many students’ illnesses. I had the flu. I was sick as a DAWG, I mean dog, but I wasn’t about to miss the 1977 Georgia-Florida Game in Jacksonville, Florida.
I had only been teaching three months before I called that Friday morning to tell them I had the flu and couldn’t come in. But of course, my date begged me to go to the game anyway. He already purchased the tickets and they were good seats. We were taking a Winnebago down to Florida with three other couples and he said I could rest in it on the way down. Good persuasion.
We were both big Georgia fans and I didn’t want to miss this opportunity to party even if I wasn’t at my best. But what surprised me was that he and the other three couples were not worried about catching my flu. We were all young and stupid…a party weekend was much more important.
I was told before I packed for the weekend to bring my own flask. My dad let me borrow his sterling silver one that had his three initials etched on the front. I gave that flask to my dad for a Father’s Day present one year. I saw it in the attic recently and it needed polishing. Flasks were staples at college games in 1977. No one watched you carry one into the stadiums (mine was in my purse and they did not check purses then…especially at the Georgia-Florida game).
We drove down Friday morning after my early phone call and I was able to rest a little. I rallied some that day and soldiered on into the Saturday game where we had great seats close to the field near the student section. Surely my rum and coke was going to help me get well, or at least feel better.
We had aisle seats and the next thing I knew there was a camera man in front of us on the steps in the aisle holding his mobile camera. We were no more than eight feet away from this guy. I saw him pointing the camera at us, but what I didn’t know was there were little green lights flashing indicating that it was LIVE!
My ALMOST-BIG-SISTER’s husband was watching the game at his home. She was in her kitchen when she heard him yell, “Honey, get in here and see who is on TV!” She told me later that her reaction was, “By the time I make it into the other room, I won’t see who it is.” So, she didn’t go.
Ten second passed. “Honey! Really! Come in here! Look who’s on TV!” Again, she didn’t leave the kitchen because she thought it really improbable she’d make it in time for sure to see who it was.
More time passed. Finally, he yelled, “Hurry up! She’s still on TV!”
(She went and she was right. She didn’t make it. I wasn’t on TV any longer.)
Those who did see me saw I bled Georgia Red and Black from top to toe: black corduroy slacks, white Oxford cloth Polo long sleeve shirt, red sweater tied around my shoulders – more for appearance than usefulness, Sperry topsiders with no socks (how stupid was that? I had the flu, remember), and a single gold bracelet on my left wrist. On my right hand I wore three tulip rings in emerald, sapphire, and ruby. They snagged everything since they sat up so high on the finger (that was one dumb purchase I made in the ’70’s. In 2003, I finally took out the stones and made another ring altogether).
I did not mind being seen on TV except by ONE person: my principal. I hoped he wasn’t a Bulldog or Gator fan. Nothing was ever said when I returned on Monday.
AND I REALLY WAS SICK!
Choosing to teach high school while one is still young was either gutsy or insane. I liked the older students because they got my jokes and while growing up, I hung with the older students all the time because my mother taught high school for so long. It was comfortable.
But teaching it was something else. I was only 5 years older than these people. It was scary to think I was the person in charge. And it wasn’t that I didn’t know my subject matter, I did, it was that I didn’t know if I was forthright enough to be a tough disciplinarian. I was 5’5 ½”. Many students were taller than me.
In recent years when I had to get rough with my own children, it was still odd when I looked up to my 6’ 1” and 6’6” babies and said, “Stop that!”
I was still in grad school when I student taught. I tried to wear a more professional wardrobe, but I wasn’t making any money yet and couldn’t afford the suit look. I threw together my Muse’s navy linen jacket over a white round neck polyester sleeveless shell with pleats down the front. I paired it with an A-line white linen skirt with pleats starting at the hip, flesh-colored panty hose (although my student teaching was in the Spring and I already had a tan), and with my navy Cole-Hahn flats, I hoped I looked older.
One -rather oversized male student- made it a point every day to sit on the first row directly in front of my podium that I brought from home. It belonged to my mother's classroom. She brought it home when she retired. I wanted it, so it stayed in the attic. Well, not really a podium. It was a lectern: one skinny wood pole that held a slanted tabletop. I sat on a stool.
This guy blubbered and laughed his way in response to every thing I did, said, or tried to teach. Whatever came out of my mouth, shortly after, he mumbled some remark, that was inaudible to me, but not to his classmates. It was funny, I guess, because they laughed. He slobbered syllables after every teaching point I made. I had to do something to keep my composure and make sure he knew that I was THE ALPHA in this situation so…
I took my pointing finger, I leaned far over the lectern, I gritted my teeth, I narrowed my eyes, and I pointed that finger directly at him. With every fiber in my body, I forcefully growled with a loud, intense voice I didn’t even recognize and said: “YOU SEE ME AFTER CLASS!!!!!”
He looked up at me and with a Cheshire cat grin said, “I’d love to.”
With our boys being eight years apart, a lot of new baby inventions made caring for our second child (THE SPARE) easier than the first (THE HEIR). I’ve used these pseudonyms so as not to embarrass them even more than I already have. Like the British press, who named the royal family’s two boys, “The Heir” and “The Spare”, I followed suit.
THE HEIR arrived in 1985. With a first child, we had the best of everything the first time around. We bought a solid light wood Amish style baby high chair with slats on the back of the chair. Why didn’t I get the kind with a plastic tray and why did I store it in the attic? Did you know how hard it was to clean caked-on baby food off wood? If you missed a spot, like on the slats, it dried and you really had to scrub to get it clean.
Then there was the sippy cup. In 1986, it was like a plastic ball cut in half with a spout on top and handles on each side. After filling with juice, you screwed the spout top part to the half cup bottom part and hoped that your child never dropped it. Well, that wasn’t gonna happen. They dropped it, they threw it, and they even stepped on it. The top popped off from this wear and tear and there was spilled juice all over the kitchen floor. YUCK!
But a new invention came along by the time THE SPARE arrived. This modern sippy cup had a new mechanism that used springs which held the top on better and when dropped, the top stayed on and didn’t cause a mess. I loved it!
And I solved my messy high chair dinner situation, too. Wasn’t bath time always after dinner? I placed THE SPARE in the tub in his light blue Baby Bath Tub Ring seat that had 4 suction cups and fed him then and there. Right in the tub. It was a contained mess. Then I just sprayed and washed him off. Problem solved. It was a 2-fer!
But I did worry later that since he ate so many meals in the tub before and during bath time, that when he grew up he might feel hungry every time he bathed and would wonder why.
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She’s A Keeper ~ confessions from a Southern girl’s closet - The Stories Begin I once read that you can tell a lot about a woman by looking in her closet. I thought about that. And I figured that in my case it could be my closet or my attic. Aw, heck, I’ve stuffed keepsakes everywhere around my house like in my basement, my garage, and for a while, even my school classrooms. As an only child, I was the only memory-keeper of my parents. I am the only female in my immediate family and I am doing this all again for all my boys. I am not a pack rat, but I do keep mementos, of varying kinds, which represent quirky behavior over the years. Both my parents enjoyed listening and laughing at funny situations, but they especially loved telling jokes. I inherited that from them. I may have taken an odd look at my surroundings to extremes and acted inappropriately, but every event herein is true. Please excuse. Some might even imitate the outlandish behavior seen in Seinfeld reruns. Please excuse. Some behaviors are wicked. Please excuse. But they are all real. These short vignettes of real life are short and make for an easy read - and I think that perhaps you'll see a bit of yourself in these stories. I hope you get a chuckle, as I do, every time I look at my keepsakes. They make up my lifestyle – my style of life and my life of style. “Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn” Orson Welles