Monthly Archives: July 2010

Five things

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mary's bday cake

"Just make sure you don't photograph the side where the icing fell off!"~Linda

My mother in law called me last week and asked me what kind of cake I wanted her to make for my birthday.  She asks all of us kids and the grandkids that question a few days before our birthdays.  In fact, when we celebrated her birthday at our house a few months ago, she offered to bake her own cake.  “No, Linda, you can not bring your own birthday cake!” She baked a carrot cake for me, by the way, as I’m sure you were wondering.  She also asked me if I wanted to go out for dinner or if I wanted to have dinner at their house.  Linda knows how anti-social I can be, so I’m pretty sure she already knew the answer. So a quiet dinner it was. Only on Facebook does one’s birthday become a national event, with “friends” in nearly all fifty states clogging one’s profile with birthday wishes. I suppose that’s event enough for me.  I had a wonderful time, of course.  They are two of the best conversationalist I’ve ever met and the time I spent talking to them, my husband, and daughter tonight brought to mind a few things I’ve learned along the way.  You don’t mind if I dispense a few here do ya?

So, here it is:

Five things I’ve learned in nearly four decades from making mistakes…some of them a few times, learning from them, and moving on.

Some people mistake being jaded for possessing wisdom. Life experiences and making mistakes gives a person wisdom. So does successfully rearing children, hard work, surviving or battling chronic illness, triumph over the loss of employment, a child, a spouse, close friend, or relative, the dissolution of a marriage, and self-sacrifice, among many other life changing and pivotal moments. The news media, Hollywood film makers, and primetime television strive to desensitize us to human suffering, murder and death, the breakdown of the family, and the ridicule of religion.  Some are then convinced they have a firmer grasp of what encompasses true humanity when that which is sacrosanct is shown from a dark, gritty, warped, or perverted perspective.  If we didn’t care what others thought or depend on them to tell us how to think and feel, the movie industry wouldn’t be the multi-trillion dollar industry it is, nor would there be 24 hour news channels.  There is a cavernous difference between bitter, jaded disillusionment and wisdom gained from life experience. This took me years to learn. Many would rather parody and scorn religion or mock the self sacrifice involved in successful parenting than put in the work to learn the value of either. Wisdom is not found in a movie, a book, or a degree; it cannot be purchased.

I’m not fooled into believing that I, or a lot of the people around me, are rich, or even well off.  If one graduates from college with the equivalent of a mortgage, he is not only unwise, but also not wealthy. Having no credit card, college, automobile, or mortgage debt, in conjunction with land ownership are true indications of monetary wealth. Financing a phone, dinner, or any form of entertainment is illusory wealth, and I’m certainly not fooled by it. The necessity of working for someone else in order to procure and maintain possession of “things” (and this includes a house, a car, and cheap technology) seems absurd, yet so many of us do it without question, and it’s a clear indication we are all indentured servants to those for whom we work, and essentially slaves to those “things.” How many of us can quit our jobs today? Not many, right?  Terrible things would happen if we did.  It’s time we started questioning why we do some of the things we do.  It used to be that owning land was integral to the American dream.  Somewhere along the way, that idea became unimportant for several reasons. Land became too expensive due to urban and industrial sprawl, people forgot the value of working their land and succumbed to the specious idea that industrialization was the path to wealth, when in fact, industrialization has contributed more to the rise of  poverty than any agrarian lifestyle. The concept of home ownership, too, is quickly losing its appeal. Housing prices are soaring, foreclosures are rampant, and consumer credit card debt has made it impossible to borrow the money to buy a home, so the idea of not owning a home has become analogous to a sour grapes notion.  People would rather charge or spend the only four hundred dollars they have in a few seconds on a cell phone that will be obsolete or broken in six months than save a few years longer to own land, a home, or a business. Impetuous self gratification has taken a strong hold on us, and we will suffocate in its grip. Spending is the illusion of wealth; wise investing is the true semblance of it. Again, I speak from experience, as I had made, and slowly rectified bad financial decisions and realized many years ago that I would not have more money next month than I do this month to “pay for” a financed trinket.

There will be people who don’t like you or love you, and they don’t need to have a reason. Arrogant is a person who believes everyone likes them. Also arrogant is the notion someone needs to have a reason not to like you or that the reason, should it exist at all, is about you.  There will be people along the way who will just not like you.  Period. You can “kill ’em with kindness,” ignore them, lose sleep over it, plead with them, maybe even cry about it…but at the end of the day, they still won’t like you.  You have to get over it. Right now. Not in a few weeks, a month, or a year when the sting of rejection slowly diminishes.  That’s a toughy…everyone wants to be loved.

I choose not to go out of my way to be shocked or offended. One day last week a co-worker suggested I follow Jesus Christ on Twitter. “It’s hilarious!” he said.  I’m not sure if he knows I am Catholic, so I suppose he was taking the chance that I held no religious conviction and perhaps suggested I laugh at Jesus Christ to establish some level of camaraderie. Perhaps he knew I was and wanted to belittle my beliefs.  I honestly believe he wasn’t trying to be insulting, so either way, I didn’t dwell on the juxtaposition of these points long and here’s why:  I will not be lead into believing that I need to be offended in order to find humor in something–especially through the mockery of religion.  In my teens and early twenties, I recall instances when I was cajoled into believing that writers or comedians who rejected the mere idea of God were not only funny, but insightful, thought provoking, and wise.  Back then someone decided for me what was funny.  These days I get to decide what’s funny. And that ain’t it.

I also like that I can still be offended.  It reminds me that not only can I be wise enough to know when I am being offended, but I can maintain some innocence at not having “seen it all.”  I like that.

Busy work is pointless under any circumstances, but physical labor is not only significant, but necessary. I’ve had more jobs than my daughter has had birthdays, and busy work was not only present in every one of those jobs, but a sine qua non of each job, and a large one at that. It ensures that no real work will ever get done.  Very few jobs are exempt from monotonous repetition, endless documentation, or mountains of paperwork–or a combination of all three.  I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent doing meaningless busy work, getting paid for it, and then going home exhausted and defeated because I accomplished nothing.  Hard, physical labor, on the other hand, is always significant. Gardening, farming, house building, and yes, unloading and loading trucks are just a few examples of hard work that is necessary and productive.  And if you suffer from insomnia, an effective cure is hard, physical work.

Tonight I was surrounded by those I love, ate food prepared by the hands of two of the most beautiful and and generous people I know. I blew out two candles on my cake(one was from when my daughter turned eight and one was from when my nephew turned three, I think) and joked that their home owner’s insurance probably didn’t cover a fire that might occur from actually extinguishing 38 candles.  That’s ok…I’m a little smarter, wiser, and healthier than I’ve ever been…and, um…still not forty.

©Mary Flanagan Taylor

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Sam Browning Road

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sam browning road

Sam Browning Road

I hail from a place in rural Kentucky where the roads are named after the indigenous farmers who lived there and who secured the land for their posterity.  Toad Mattingly Road, Gerald O’Daniel Road, Cowherd Lane, and Sam Browning Road are just a few of those roads.  I grew up on Sam Browning Road and my history begins there. As a child growing up in a large family, I was not cognizant of  the history of which I was apart, nor did I know that when I left Sam Browning Road, I would take with me all the necessary tools to be the adult I am today.

Ed and Roberta Flanagan married on November 25, 1937 and beget eight children and those children had thirty grandchildren.  Those thirty children, my twin brother, older sister, and the five Browning children who lived across the road, were my first friends.  Long, lazy summers and Sundays, post Mass, found most of us in Mamaw and Papaw Flanagan’s front yard under the shade of the catalpa and maple trees, having just shared an enormous deep fried meal.  The kids played, the grown ups talked, and someone always had a guitar.  There was always a new baby to hold and make over and someone usually brought home a new husband or wife to join our ever growing clan. It is argued that school is necessary for socialization.  For me, school, in it’s organized confinement, only stunted my social skills.  We were a family, a tribe, a clan and through it I learned how to comport myself around adults, teens, babies and the elderly in a respectful, joyous, loving, and communal way that no school could ever accomplish. A parent to one was a parent to us all; we respected each adult as we respected our own parents and they treated us all as if we were their own children.  We were safe, loved, valued…and well fed.  And we knew it.

Papaw was known for his mordant, sometimes caustic, approach to life.  I never knew him to hug one of us, or even his own children, for that matter; that was just not his way.  That’s not to say he never did–I just never saw him do it.  He did not tolerate self-aggrandizing or indolence and it was no secret he was judgmental to a fault. He liked a person or disliked him upon first meeting him–and his first impression never wavered. Mamaw was our true matriarch.  At mealtimes, one could find her doting and fussing over everyone, making sure children and adults alike had tea in their glasses and food on their plates.  I remember her asking, “What are you huntin’ for?” and she would be out of her chair and accommodating whatever request we had.  It was rare she even sat down at all during meal times.  Before her own children were grown, she, like many of the women of the time, would go and stay with new mothers, ensuring their health and the health of their new babies in the weeks postpartum.

Aunt Mary, with Becky, Jack, and Chris in tow, would come from Louisville to stay every summer and help take care of Mamaw and Papaw and their homestead as they were getting older.  All  six of them would live in that tiny farmhouse with no bathroom and no central air. It was in this house I had my first cup of coffee at eight years old, drank raw milk and shared a “water dipper” with about five or six kids throughout the course of a day…and never once got sick.  Long gone are the days before “germ-o-phobes” and the constant application of hand sanitizer.  If Papaw and Mamaw were poor, none of us knew it.  We always had something to eat, somebody to play with, and somebody to watch over us.  To be honest, in my early youth, I just assumed everybody’s grandparents used an outhouse!

I remember when my cousin Joe was barely a teenager and learning to play guitar.  He would practice in Papaw’s barn and although I was enamored with my older cousin and his budding talent, I also knew that his learning to play a musical instrument was a  normal rite of passage in our family and a fulfillment of a legacy.

Aunt Theresa was an artist with the brush and I remember listening to the stories of Old Nell–Papaw’s work horse, and of neighbors and family as I looked at her portraits of the Flanagan homestead.  She, too, was a writer and I remember sitting in the front yard at my grandparents, her writing of her formative years on the Flanagan farm being read aloud to us.

We shared in the failings of life, as well.  There were was a divorce or two, discord between children, alcoholism (we are Irish Catholic, after all), a tussle here and there, and deaths along the way. But the heartaches and loss were but stumbling blocks and never, ever tore any of us apart even if it meant the occasional estrangement from time to time.  It was also understood we all need time away to come to terms with whatever hardship one was enduring.

None of us kids could ever be found in front of a television.  From sun up til sundown we were somewhere on that farm.  Papaw’s hay wagon was our stage for our Mandrell sisters reenactment–I was always Irline…the one who couldn’t sing.  We grew up on the creek banks, in shady front yards, snowy hillsides, and barn lots. Our life consisted of very few outdoor toys, other than bikes, balls and baseball bats, but we were never bored; we could conjure entertainment like a shaman invokes a spirit. But, at dusk most evenings in the summer, the voices of Christine Browning, Mary Cecilia, and my own mother would call us all home to our respective houses.  Our being fed was of little concern, as we probably ate at whomever’s home we happen to be in at mealtime.  We’d trod home, sweaty, hot, tired, and more likely than not, sustaining an injury of some sort.  Minor cuts, ankle sprains, sunburns, bugbites, and even the occasional bruised ego was normal and dealt with by the mommas. Any injury requiring more than ice or a bandaid was inspected first by my mother, a nurse, before a trip to the doctor was ever considered.  My mother was frequently awakened in the night or sometimes greeted first thing in the morning by a neighbor with a sick child or ailing parent, and was generally called first when someone was getting ready to pass away, in the hopes of easing discomfort and consoling those on the brink of impending grief.

Farmwork, as with play, was a communal endeavor.  John Dennie Browning helped Papaw cut and haul hay, my daddy would direct a wayward cow back to John Dennie without complaint.  Our neighbors–Frankie Hutchins, John Dennie, Leon Browning, Charles Owen Smith–all helped each other with tobacco planting, cutting, stripping, and hanging, hay cutting and bailing, and fence building.  I vividly remember helping to pick peppers and thinking it was fun.  I think it was then I learned the joy, significance, and value of hard work.

As my grandparents got older and the first cousins grew up, gatherings became more sporadic.  My brother Charlie, since he was old enough to walk, spent everyday by Papaw’s side.  He learned every inch of the land, how to cut and bail hay, how to care for cattle, and how to drive at age ten.  I recall my mother nearly having a coronary the first time she saw my brother’s two blue eyes peeking over the steering wheel as he plowed across the field for the first time, Papaw bouncing beside him in the passenger’s seat.  Papaw patiently taught him these things, and when Papaw’s health started to fail, my brother, a teenage boy, spent every day for two years taking care of him and Mamaw, who was beginning to suffer from dementia.  He fixed their meals; my mother recalls the myriad calls at work whereby Charlie would ask her how to fry pork chops or make corn bread. He saw to it that their basic hygiene needs were met and kept them company.  My brother now owns and farms that same land and is raising his own children there, having built a house in the same spot my grandparents raised their eight children.

I left home at eighteen.  To say I had my own demons to face was a gross understatement, and I believe I looked for Sam Browning Road every where I lived. Couple that with the fact that I became soldier’s wife, and by design, I became rather reclusive.   I’m older now,and have faced and conquered my various demons, and I certainly have no regrets. Well, that’s not entirely true, I suppose.  To my only daughter, I failed to give the gift of siblings, and I will always regret this.  I worry about my husband’s and my own mortality, and on whom she will lean, if anyone, when her father and I are gone. I am far removed, several times, from Sam Browning Road, but with it I will always have a sense of place and a history.  Regardless of what I have done or what I will do, I will always know where I came from. My own daughter will only have the stories I tell her of her great-grandparents, my aunts and uncles and my cousins.

I suppose for me, it took leaving the hill on Sam Browning Road to appreciate what I gained from the experiences there. The axiomatic belief that one can never go home may be true physically, as inhabitants and landscapes change. But the home in my memories will never change–and I “revisit” it often.   My cousins grew up to follow their various calls; some became soldiers, musicians, nurses, mothers and fathers.  What did I become? Well, I haven’t quite figured that out yet.  But what I do know is this:  the promise of a better job, a larger paycheck, and more places to eat, shop, and be entertained are poor substitutes for the love, community, and kinship of a large family that is within walking distance.

The mothers, fathers, children, musicians, writers, artists, and farmers who loved their land still live in my memoriSBR road signes of Sam Browning Road.

©Mary Flanagan Taylor

Skecher’s Pretty Talls are a pretty dumb idea.

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As a mother of a preteen girl, I am, of course on the cutting edge of fashion  and trends. Ok, I’m not fooling anybody–many of you have seen how she and I both dress. Well, anyway,  I was appalled when I saw, fresh off the truck and out of the stock room at Kohl’s, new footwear for little girls…The Pretty Talls and Pretty Tall Too sneakers.  At first glance, it looks like any other casual shoe for girls; pink, glittery, and sporty, yet girly.pretty tall shoe

Then I read the box top.  The shoes promise to “Lift your spirits, and your soles!” It’s a sneaker…with a one inch wedge heel.”  Wait, did I read that correctly?  Yep…tennis shoes with a heel to “secretly” make our height challenged children taller.  And to think that all these years, I’ve allowed my daughter to suffer the humiliation of being…dare I say it? Little? I think I just heard some of you gasp!

I told my ten year old daughter about the shoe and she informed me that “Tennis shoes are for running…not to prance around like a pretty pony!”Right on, kiddo.

Ok, so we have teenage girls upchucking in bathroom stalls after lunch everyday…and doing heaven knows what else in a bathroom stall because they have been quite convincingly lied to by the media, their friends, their boyfriends, and even their own mothers who audibly bemoan the fact they can no longer fit into their size 2 wedding dress after a decade of marriage and one or more kids.

Too many women(not all women–I wouldn’t want to be accused of making broad generalizations!) who get plastic surgery don’t do it for themselves.  They do it for two reasons–in hopes that their husbands or boyfriends will love them/not leave them/not cheat on them.  The second reason is to make other women jealous of them and be hated by them.  Well, now there’s a couple of positive messages to send out into the universe. I don’t know of too many women who would choose to be carved up like a Christmas turkey over and over again in order to be beautiful unless their self esteem is in the toilet…along with their lunch they just threw up.

We have athletes, predominantly males, using anabolic steroids to enhance their on the court or field performance.  It’s not just college and professional athletes either–there is a rising number of high school athletes who use them.

We perpetuate and reward the women in our society who claim that they “don’t need a man” to help raise their children, help run a household, help financially support them, or even to be present at all.  So our teen girls are trussed up in adult clothing that in many cases is nothing short of indecent. And to do what?  The messsage transmitted to them is not to have a husband…but merely to “git a man” by debasing themselves and camouflaging what they perceive as physical flaws with provocative clothing.  There’s a huge difference. A very sad, traumatic difference.

So, let me get this straight. It’s not enough that our teenagers and adult women experience self-loathing and exaggerated feelings of inadequacy, we must now have it pervade our elementary age population.

Way to go, fashion industry…You are the devil.

©Mary Flanagan Taylor

What’s your Theme Song?

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I was out walking tonight as I am wont to do when I need to think and gain a little clarity and I heard the Indigo Girls Closer to Fine on my iPod.  I actually developed more of a spring in my step upon hearing the two ladies begin their guitar and vocal harmony. If my life had a theme song, this would be it, no question.  It had been a long day and, as with most of my long days, I will say or do something that shines a not so flattering spotlight on my disposition. I have a tendency to see things in black and white when clearly a shade of gray is appropriate. I mount my high horse, lose sight of what’s important, and lose perspective altogether sometimes. It’s those moments afterward that I wish my theme song would blare as I walked into the sunset, feeling all too human.

Theme songs–our favorite movies have them. What would The Last of the Mohicans be with out Clannad’s No Matter Where You Go, I Will Find You or The Kiss? Apocolypse Now with its marriage of classic rock from the 1960’s and classical music is unforgettable. Star Wars–need I say more?

We all have a theme song and they certainly change with our moods and circumstances. They validate our emotions with crisp incisiveness. They are our lives put to music and poetry, and to hear them makes us feel better.

So, what is YOUR theme song?

“There’s more than one answer to these questions pointing me in a crooked line.  And the less I seek my source for some definitive, the closer I am to fine…”

Sugar and spice do not a fashionista make…

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gypsy girl kateThe following is a cautionary tale of warning to all you workin’ mommas to NOT let your color blind, fashion impaired husbands dress your girl children…for anything.

A few years ago, when my daughter was in kindergarten I picked her up from school.  Now, I have picked her up everyday after school for seven years, but on this particular day, I was horrified when I saw my little girl.  As she ran towards me, arms open wide, yelling, “MOMMA!!!!” I wanted to throw a blanket over her and shove her into the car before anyone knew she was mine.

Why?  Because she was wearing…are you sitting down?  Deep breath…wait for it….purple corduroys(it was late August and hot enough to melt steel) that were two inches too short, an orange shirt that had some sort of bleach stain on it, and red crocs.  Yes. crocs.

I had just started working a job that required me to be at work waaaaaaaaaaay before anyone else in the house woke up, so I depended on my baby daddy to pick up the slack in getting our one and only offspring ready for school.  Sadly, the fashion nightmare I encountered that afternoon was only a prelude to the next six years.kate in a red hat

Uniforms are required at the school she now attends, which has certainly helped to ameliorate the fashion crisis…but every so often I’m caught off guard by cowboy boots with sweat pant capris or a flannel skirt and a tank top.  Many times she dons a red bandanna, Axl Rose style, with her jeans and a t shirt, ready for a little slang and hustle downtown, I suppose.

Last night, my beautiful and successful sister and law, who is always on her fashion game, came in for a visit.  In tow were her two equally gorgeous well dressed children.  I had just gotten off of work and met up with them, my husband and parents in law(with whom Brian had relinquished care earlier that morning).  Kate, wearing white sweatpant capris, a way too small white tee shirt I hadn’t seen for two years over a blue polka dot bra, and filthy flip flops couldn’t have looked more white trash in her monochromatic dingy white outfit.  At least it looked like she may have brushed her hair. Maybe. I gave her a big ole hug and kiss, pretending to be oblivious to her outfit, cringing on the inside.

I hugged my husband, hissing in his ear, “Why is she wearing that?!”

Sigh…only I know she has cute clothes and adorable shoes for every occasion in her closet.  She and her father certainly don’t know, nor did anyone else in the room.

Ok, I know what ya’ll are thinkin’…she’s smart, pretty and such a joy to be around…who cares what she has on.  Really, Mary, aren’t you bein’ just a teensy, weensy bit…shallow?

Yep.  You betcha.

But all you hard workin’ mommas know, deep down, those shoes better match that outfit.  And never, ever would one of ya let that child out of the house in yellow pants and a red tank top. We all search the malls and outlet stores (yes, even I darken the threshold of the mall a couple times a year) with frenzied, half demented zeal, looking for fabulous clothes to dress our mini-me’s.

Before I give the impression that I have completely quelched Kate’s creativity and individuality, let me defend myself.  I am the mom who let my daughter wear ten strands of Mardi Gras beads and a pink flouncy skirt to the grocery. Purple plastic dress up heels and a barbie laptop computer completed the outfit.  I am the mom who turned a blind eye for two years when she wore a red velvet flapper girl style hat that my sister had given her.  True, I finally threw it away one night after she went to bed and then swore I “hadn’t seen it,” but still…. This is the same child who from ages two to four wore a pair of red tights( I don’t know where or why I thought she ever needed them) and a pink halter(again, what was I thinking?) around the house in absolute defiance of wearing pants.

So throughout the years, my fashion kvetching has usually fallen on deaf ears.  But I try…I have a family reunion this weekend.  Perhaps I can distract her enough to hide, throwaway or donate that pair of white dingy capris she’s grown so fond of….kate looking fly

©Mary Flanagan Taylor, July 8, 2010

Mass Production

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I enjoy going to Mass. I’m blessed to belong to a church that has two wonderful priests who effectively encourage us to be present not only in body, but also in mind and spirit.   As a Catholic, we are also physically engaged in the mass through singing, standing, kneeling, and celebrating the Eucharist. Certainly no moss grows on those actively in attendance.  The Catholic Mass for me is beautiful and reverent.  It is a time for me to really slow down and find my center.

So what I find distracting to the point of annoyance is when anyone gets up with frequency and urgency during the Mass to fiddle with microphone stands, adjust the volume on mics, or otherwise play stage manager.

The Catholic Mass is not a theater production, folks.  If it were, some of those involved missed their true calling.

Couple of suggestions, if I may be so bold(of course I can be bold; it’s my blog):

  • Adjust mics and stands prior to Mass.  Lectors, musicians, cantors, and priests–take a few minutes to adjust the sound and make certain the equipment is functioning properly prior to showime, er, I mean the outset of Mass. If something kinda goes wrong once Mass starts, quietly and/or discreetly rectify the situation, wing it, laugh it off, or ignore it and move on.  For anyone to bustle around like a chicken with its head cut off is downright disrespectful.   As of late, too much emphasis has been placed on the theatrical performance that is the Mass.  The priest doesn’t play the lead, the musicians and liturgical volunteers are not minor characters, and there needs to be no stage manager.
  • Provide extra seating prior to Mass if it’s required–not for thirty minutes after the Mass has commenced.  High holidays, baptisms, and first communions are a good indication that extra seating will be necessary.
  • If it’s imperative that you must be in charge of something, I suggest making sure the coffee and donuts are out and ready down the hall for the hungry parishioners, post Mass.  See if the moms in the cry room need anything. But for goodness sake, sit down.