Opposing the Opposition

My community is at odds with each other about the local Muslim congregation’s plans to build a mosque in town. I guess the opposition was okay with their congregation meeting in a defunct furniture warehouse until they began outgrowing it. Now the Muslim community (that has been here in Murfreesboro for over a decade) would like to build a mosque to accomodate all of  it’s members. You know, because we are America? And one of the most precious values we as a country stand for is religious freedom? But we arehowever, located smack dab in the center of the Bible belt. And it has become obvious to me that there are Baptists all over town tossing and turning in their sleep out of fear our idyllic town will soon become a haven for terrorist activity!

It’s highly likely you will find extremists in almost every line of organized religion. Muslim extremists blowing up spectators in pubs while they the World Cup. Members of the KKK burning crosses on terrified neighbors lawns. Murders at women’s clinics. Crazy persons in Uganda claiming they are speaking for God right before they stage another massacre. Sikh extremists, Islamic extremists, Christian extremists…. you’ll find crazy people everywhere. And who knows… maybe there is a nutjob terrorist here in Murfreesboro. But to oppose a groups right to worship out of fear or intolerance is unjust. And downright UN-American.

Though what bothers me the most are the statements from the group that’s petitioning to halt the mosque’s construction is due to “zoning and water quality issues”. To that group: Let’s not use traffic codes and sewer drain concerns as a guise for the real issues at hand, which are bigotry and fear. If you hesitate to say “I don’t want Muslims in my back yard!” in mixed company, maybe your conscience is telling you something. If you believe so strongly in your convictions, then why the impulse to hide behind red tape?

I love my little town and I love my country. Though it’s times like these I’m deeply saddened and ashamed of some members of my community and their response to change. So I’ll be standing on the courthouse lawn this Wednesday with other supporters of religious freedom here in America, opposing the opposition.

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The Cooler

Someone the other day told me of an odd thing that people do who suffer from dementia. She said that often times they begin hiding things, sometimes strange things, out of paranoia, confusion, or whatever other strange reasons we’ll never understand. I thought of my own father who is slowly losing his mind. It’s painful to watch, and at times heartbreaking. But this conversation struck me because I feel like I witnessed this first hand with him a few years ago.

My Mother died almost five years ago after a cruel battle with cancer. It threw my entire family off and brought us all to our knees. My father had already been displaying memory lapses long before my mother got sick. But after her death, the stress seemed to take a toll on my father in some unpredictable ways.

Soon after my Mother’s funeral, my sisters and I noticed that my mothers ashes were nowhere to be found. We all wondered exactly where he put her, but in a way we felt it would be an intrusion on his own grief process and privacy so we didn’t press the subject. Weeks went by and every time we visited Daddy, we would go from room to room hoping to see the pine box that held her remains. But we never found her and began to wonder what had happened. That is until one day, as I was sitting with Daddy at the kitchen table we both broke down in tears. Both of us admitting how lost we felt. When he slowly raised his head and calmly, quietly asked if I would like to hold her. I said yes.

Daddy rose from his seat and bent to pick up a small red igloo cooler that they kept on the floor by the refrigerator. He set it on the table, lifted the lid, and removed my mothers ashes. I was dumbfounded and had a hard time registering the fact Daddy had been storing Mom in a cooler on the kitchen floor. I held her in my hands and we cried together silently. He explained that he didn’t want anyone judging our decision to cremate her or to fixate on the box while visiting. There was stiff resistance from Mom’s side of the family to such an idea. But we knew it was what she would have wanted without question. Once out of the driveway, I called my sisters to tell them I had finally found Mom’s ashes… In the picnic cooler in the kitchen.

Time passed, and eventually our Father who had been married to my mother for almost forty years, started dating again. And after a while began steadily seeing a woman I that I will call Cruella. Cruella, to put it mildly, is not high up on the list of people that my sisters and I would like to spend time with. But early-on in their relationship, she did make a few half-hearted attempts at participating in family gatherings. And the first attempt, I remember clearly.

My sister and I hosted a mid-summer barbeque at the house and invited damn near everyone. I was sitting on the patio with my daughter on my lap when I turned in time to see my Father and Cruella walking up the driveway. Their hands were full; my Dad with a plateful of deviled eggs, and Cruella carrying a small red igloo cooler. The cooler that at one time, housed my mother ashes.

Even though this new woman had practically ordered my father to remove her picture from the walls of his house, refused to talk about her or her illness, and was basically the most selfish bitch in our worlds, I knew in that instant that there are things you just can’t erase. There are deep personal connections, secrets, and memories that transcend death and leave their mark on everything. No matter how hard you try to secret them away or deny them. They will always be there. Whether they reside in your heart, or unknowingly in your boyfriend’s cooler.

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The Home Despot

I live in an older home that was built in the late forties. A little yellow bungalow, a girly-looking bungalow, that looks like a perfect place for two ladies to live in. Had it been located in a tall dark wood, it would look similar to something that Goldilocks would have thought appealing to check in on, for some steel-cut oats. But what comes with an older home are the older things that go with it, like ungrounded sockets, floors that pop and creak, and today’s new found concern; the air vents for the crawl space.

The other day I noticed part of a vent cover that had broken off long ago. It had been propped up against the house to cover the small hole but had somehow fallen over. I stared briefly thinking “boy, I bet it’s cool under there. If I was a small animal, I would totally hang out under there. Make a little burrow and settle in. Start a family.”. Which is, of course, the reason the grates are there in the first place. But I had an armful of groceries at the time, see. And the thought left me completely after wrangling a three year old into the house  and rushing to answer the phone. But today I saw it… It seems that some small furry creature had the same bright idea and is now using my crawlspace as a hangout/make-out din. My house has quite possibly become a bawdy house for small mammals.

I caught only a brief glimpse of furry movement. It was a grayish-brown furry thing with a rump that could have belonged to any number of small furry grayish-brown things that scurry about. The yard is chocked full of them. But here’s the thing, do I dare cover the hole back up? What if he/she is still in there and I close them in? What about their babies, if there are babies, under there now? What if it died and stunk up my house? When do you draw the line? At this point I’m left wondering if I should just wait until the fall when their kids have grown and gone off to college. But some part of me thinks this is also a bad idea. Maybe it’s time for a trip to the Home Depot.

In the past, years of living on a tight or non-existent budget throughout college and post-college, I learned to fix things with whatever I had on hand. And with no money to spend at Home Depot for a tube of caulk or insulation, desperation ruled. A drafty window was sealed with a trash bag and packing tape, a toilet was propped up on the subfloor with a butter knife, and my favorite; a tube sock and a tube of toothpaste to seal a drafty kitchen window. (Really people, I could see my breath as I lay in bed).

But the neighbors I have now will not stand for such nonsense. And thankfully I have an income that can pay for such fixit projects. So off to the hardware store tomorrow. A thrilling day of gawking at light fixtures I can’t afford and “closet solutions” I will probably never get to. But a butterknife just isn’t going to cut it this time peeps. And maybe that’s a good thing.

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Over the years, I’ve found I know more about cars than most men I’ve dated. The reason is simple. I’ve owned the most unreliable rattle-traps you can imagine, and these death-mobiles would always seem to die on days when my checking account balance was negative. I had to get to work, so I did whatever I could do to make the thing keep running. (Plus it was really badass to pop the hood, torque wrench in hand, and turn down kind offers from guys who offered help even though I knew they knew nothing about cars).

A few months after my divorce seven year ago, I found myself in a crap apartment on a hill close to ETSU. Let’s just say I didn’t have much. A mattress on the floor, table and two chairs, an easel, and a love seat that once belonged to a friend’s poodle. Life was sucking pretty bad. I made a conscious effort to try and stay positive, thinking of everything I had that I should be thankful for. The one thing I always came back to, was that even though my car was an embarrassing mess, it still got me where I needed to go. I deemed my car “The Mercury Dis-Sabled” and rightfully so. The sun-faded car’s door handles had long since broken off. A leaky trunk left the car with fogged windows and a mildew smell, various freon, coolant, brake and oil leaks…. You get the picture. It was the worst piece of shit you could imagine. But it ran and I MADE it run.

That is, until I rear ended a car at a red light, punctured my radiator, busted the housing for a headlight and the piece that held the housings in. I eventually put the car back together with JB Weld, packing tape, wire, and a block of carved styrofoam. It was beyond humiliating driving it to work, but it still got me there. I parked at the far end of the parking lot facing a fence where no one could see it.

A few days later, all of what little gratitude I had left about my piece of shit car came to a grinding halt. While on the way home from work, the fan housing finally rattled loose, throwing shards of plastic into my radiator. I steered into a parking garage in a trail of smoke and steam to assess the damage. I needed my “hood stick” (a broken broom handle to hold the hood open) that was in the backseat and when I grabbed the last remaining door handle on the car, it broke off in my hand. I felt the ball of rage in my gut move into my throat. Moments later I stood clutching the hood-stick, glaring at my smoking embarrassment. Tears of rage rolled down my face and I knew there was only one thing to do. I grabbed the stick with both hands and began to beat the car with every bit of strength I had in me until the stick broke in half. I sank to my knees and sobbed. It was over. My car was dead.

In my blind rage I hadn’t noticed the wedding party that had gathered at a nearby window of a banquet hall to watch a crazy woman beat a smoking car senseless in the hotel’s parking garage. I gathered myself and went inside to call for a ride home.

It wasn’t until recently that I saw the uncanny metaphor that played out that day. I spent seven years of my life trying to patch a marriage together using JB Weld and duct tape. This was a vehicle that I knew would eventually break down with the only reserves to fix it being an account that I knew to be bankrupt. I hid it at the far corners of parking lots, ashamed when someone saw it for what it was. And when it finally died, all of the work I had expended trying so desperately to salvage it with, in the end, added up to a smoking mess. I beat it until the doors would no longer open. And I walked away with splintered fingers.

A long time has passed now. As I type this I hear my daughter stirring in her sleep under the roof of a house that I bought. Outside is a Honda that has all of it’s door handles and a radiator that doesn’t leak. And I think “I did this….Me”. And if it ever needs work, I know I can fix it. All because of the clunkers that came before it. And for all of them, I am thankful.

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Old Heart. Old Homeplace.

My family on my Mother’s side has lived here in Murfreesboro for well over a hundred years. Grandma and her twelve brothers and sisters were born and raised in an old greek revival home only five miles away from where I live now in what Grandma calls their “Old Homeplace”. The Homeplace sat at the edge of acre upon acre of cotton fields (now subdivisions) and was the setting for many stories my sisters and I grew up listening to. Stories about their childhood and what Murfreesboro was like years ago.

Growing up, my sisters and I were very close to our Great Aunts, but especially our Aunt Jean since she lived on the same plot of land as my Grandparents. They had bought the land and divided it, each building their homes so they faced eachother less than a stones throw away. This land sat adjacent to the Old Homeplace and though my Grandparents moved years ago, my Great Aunt Jean and Uncle Dorris still live there today. This means that Aunt Jean has lived in an area less than a square mile, for over ninety-two years.

I’ve thought a lot about my Grandma and Great Aunts lately. Mostly due to the fact that Aunt Jean has recently been in and out of the hospital with a heart condition no one can explain. When I asked her about it, she said “Honey I know what the problem is. It’s just wore out and old. I’m ninety-three years old! ” I pictured her on the phone, throwing her manicured hands in the air, legs crossed on the sofa. Her hair would most certainly be in place and freshly dyed, tiny rhinestones hot-glued to the edges of her glasses, and bobbing a four inch heel on the tips of her toes. It never ceases to amaze me that that this woman in her nineties can still zip around in a pair of rockin pumps. She doesn’t even dress like an old lady and never has. This lady would rather DIE than wear a moo-moo. Even in private. Even with the doors locked and curtains drawn.

My Great Aunt’s seemingly determination to not get old, might have been the reason she caught the eye of my Uncle, who is eight years younger. Come to think of it, she may well have been Murfreesboro’s first “cougar”. Aunt Jean had her pick of men don’t get me wrong, but she never wanted to settle and was never really interested in anyone until Dorris came around. By then, she was in her early thirties. They are the sweetest couple you’ve ever seen, and have served as an example of how awesome marriage could be for my sisters and I. I love them both deeply.

Our family is well aware that one day soon, possibly very soon, Aunt Jean and Uncle Dorris will no longer be able to stay there in the home they built so many years ago together. The yard is immense, and the upkeep has become too much for them to handle. They’ve talked about what their options are and I know they will be heartbroken to leave, as will I. It kills me to think that someone else will move into the house they built. The house that I grew up in, and on land that my family has lived on and around for so long. I’m afraid that eventually no one will know how special that place is. Where my sister’s first cat was buried, where the old rope swing hung in the oak tree, the place where we tilled up confederate bullets in the garden… It’s all slipping away. But what I do have is an arsenal of stories about it all. And you had better bet that when Charlotte gets older, I’m driving by the Old Homeplace and telling her about her Great Grandma, her Great Great Aunts, and a ghost named “Miss Scarlett” that still haunts it’s hallways. You’ll hear about her soon enough.

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Corporate Skipper

There are few certainties in life. But I can name three off the top of my head at this moment;  1. cream of wheat will be a bitch to get off the pot I cook it in, and could possibly be substituted for mortar in a pinch. 2. My shoes may be incredibly smokin, but damn near impossible to walk in across a gravel parking lot.  AND… 3. It seems I will almost certainly continue to embarrass myself in front of the CFO of Cracker Barrel in the bathroom at work, unaware that she is there.

This woman has no idea what my name is, but she will forever know me as the girl who talks to herself in the mirror, exclaiming; “I can’t breathe in this godforsaken girdle!”. And on another occasion; “Why didn’t anyone tell me I have a Sam Elliot mustache?!”. I can only hope that she identifies self-degrading humor as a mark of supreme intelligence. I have a feeling she doesn’t.

I’m glad, at least, that she has taken over the CEO’s position as a witness to my complete idiocy. I’ve ran into him (literally ran smack into him) THREE times now rounding corners. The first time shouting “HOLY COW!”, and the second time while clutching a mangled wad of paper, calling over my shoulder that “I think I broke the printer!”. Gawd!

I will never be a put-together sleek business woman. Who am I kidding? My dream job is to work on a pirate treasure salvage boat with a bunch of dirty sailor men smoking pipes and moonlighting as a lounge singer. I’m a bumbling baffoon at the office. The girl who wants so desperately to be taken seriously, but fights assimilation into a sea of suits and corporate BS. The girl who ejects herself out of her chair onto the floor at meetings. The girl whose girdle is too tight.

That’s me in the corner. The one with the mustache, puffing on my pipe.

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