Some things you just have to learn yourself.
Like when the eye doctor used to say, “After you turn 40, your eyes will change. We’ll re-evaluate your prescription at that time.”
I just smiled, nodded my head and thought, “Oh, doctor, you don’t understand. I’ve worn glasses since I was six. I’ve always been far-sighted. My vision’s been messed up for years. It won’t be changing again.”
Forty came and went.
I was proven correct.
Forty-one. Still correct.
Forty-two. Still correct.
And one day, just before I turned 45, I went to adjust the thermostat and thought, “Hmmm, what’s happened here? The battery must be weak, because those numbers are so faint I can’t read them.”
I went to take a shower. I picked up one of the many identical bottles in the shower and checked to see if it was shampoo or conditioner.
Lo and behold, I could not tell.
The optometrist had been right after all.
Even still, I wonder why hair product makers insist that the words “shampoo” and “conditioner” be the smallest words on the bottles. Do they know anyone who showers with their glasses on?
Worsening vision affects aspects of my life that I didn’t anticipate. Even getting the new glasses turned out to be a challenge. I sat in a chair, in front of a mirror, with a stack of new frames. As anyone who’s ever tried on glasses frames before knows, the frames have dummy lenses. For the visually challenged among us, how are we supposed to see what the prospective frames really look like on our faces?
I developed a solution. I sat at the desk and tried the frames, one by one. As I was wearing each frame, I nonchalantly attempted to use my phone to snap a quick picture of myself. Twelve frames later, I put my real glasses on and looked at the pictures on my phone to figure out which pair looked the best – as opposed to staring vaguely in the mirror at my fuzzy image and ultimately trusting the judgment of the technician.
I don’t believe there’s much I could or would have done differently had I believed the optometrist from the start, but had I been wiser, I would have been more emotionally prepared for this new phase of life.
Such is the nature of youth. Most of us are so full of our own time — and our place in that time — that we can’t appreciate the wisdom of those who have walked further down a road than we have.
Long ago, when I heard about a minor ailment or condition of someone a generation or two ahead of me, I often shook my head and chuckled internally. I thought they were making much ado about very little.
Like my mother-in-law used to say, Asi como te veo me vi, asi como me ves, te veras. That translates to “The way I see you, I was. The way you see me, the way you will be.”
The depth of truth of that statement is often lost upon those listening. However, when you’re the one saying it, you understand perfectly well what it means.
Some things you just have to learn for yourself.
Last weekend, Uncle Mack hosted his annual peanut boil.
I was all-too-happy to make the trek to my hometown, Forest, Miss., to enjoy the fruits (or nuts, in this case) of his labor.
If you’ve ever sat in the bleachers on a cold Friday night and opened a thermos of boiled peanuts that sent steam skyward momentarily rendering the football field action hazy, you understand the allure of the my uncle’s event. On the other hand, if you haven’t consumed your share of the hot and salty treat, you’re probably unable to understand why I would drive four hours to sit amongst the people of my youth — steadily shelling and eating boiled peanuts.
This trip home was different. I ended up having a lot more to think about than peanuts as I drove to the cabin where my uncle had vats of boiling brine. As much as I love the place where I grew up – and the people who are still there, I couldn’t deny the sadness I felt seeing the remnants of places I remember as being so full of life. Now, many of them are dilapidated shells of their former selves. In some cases, they’re condemned buildings, uninhabitable and falling down.
The town is not, at all, what it used to be. The current mayor, my unforgettable 8th grade history teacher, and many others are doing what they can to revitalize it, but the bottom line is a simple case study in social economics. Poultry is the primary industry in the town. As anyone who’s been to a grocery store knows, chickens are cheap.
A whole chicken costs less than $5. That’s a chicken that was hatched in a hatchery by workers, transported to a chicken house where farmers fed it and took basic care of it for about eight weeks. It was then transported to another facility where workers slaughtered and packaged it. Then transported to your local grocery, which also has to make a profit on it.
All for $5.
In comparison, last summer while my family and I were in Paris, one evening my husband went shopping on his own. I don’t believe I could have paid the $22 he paid for a whole chicken. I almost fell in the floor when I learned the price. The flipside though, is that European chicken farmers and poultry workers (and the chickens themselves) live at a higher standard than they do here in the States.
Therein lies the rub for my little town. Many people pay the price for the rest of us to eat cheap chickens. When the vast majority of a town’s economy is built on the backs of uneducated – and in many cases now, illegal – labor, all making minimum wage, the town is bound to waste away.
In my hometown, the product happens to be poultry, but I’m certain Louisiana fisherman know a similar story all too well. Will America’s addiction to “cheap” kill off every small town across the land?
Something is off-kilter in American economics. I went home for nothing more than a belly full of peanuts but left with an emptiness of place that has filled my heart and mind.
Sometimes we make decisions, with little forethought, that end up having profound impact on our lives – and the lives of those around us.
In early August, a friend called in the middle of a Tuesday. She said she was signing her daughter up for an acting class later that afternoon and was wondering if I wanted my daughters to join them. She added, “I went to this group’s production last spring, and every child there was happy. I decided right then we were going to do this.”
I trust my friend’s judgment. I want happy too and thought, “Why not? My girls enjoy theatrics.”
I had no idea that the minute-long conversation would take over a large portion of our family’s lives over the next few months.
Within minutes of arriving for class registration, I realized I was in for an experience unlike any I had ever signed up for with my daughters. Thirty minutes later, I was looking for things to hold on to as the metaphorical train I was on moved full-steam ahead.
Before we got home, my daughters and I were nearly frantic, re-enacting monologues as audition possibilities and singing every show tune we could. Within 24 hours of my friend’s phone call, I too had memorized a script from “Alice in Wonderland” and “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”
I recognized and became fearful of the powerful urge to become a full-fledged stage mother, as I consciously had to stop mouthing the words of the songs my daughters were practicing.
By Friday, both auditioned. Saturday, they went for callbacks. By late Saturday, they were cast (in non-speaking roles, I should add) for a mid-October all-children production of Annie Jr. at Angelle Hall. We went through all the talk of “no small roles, only small people” and moved on to embracing their characters.
Since then, they’ve had theater class or practice three days a week. And they dance across the living room more often than they walk.
All in all, 67 children and teens were cast in the production. Volunteers are creating more than 80 costumes. The prop list is two pages long. The hours involved in putting this show together boggle my mind.
But it’s fun.
Piper, our 8-year-old daughter, will be one of the un-named orphans. At one of the first rehearsals, as the cast was preparing to practice, “It’s a Hard-Knock Life,” the director wanted to make sure all of the actors understood Annie’s story.
“We don’t have any orphans here,” the director said.
Both the director and Piper have relayed to me what happened next.
According to both sources, Piper raised her hand.
“Actually, I was an orphan,” she said. And, with that, she began to explain her version of events that led her from an orphanage in China to Lafayette. Turns out, her version includes references to Chinese politics, cultural traditions and divine intervention. The play, Annie Jr., seems to have helped her to better understand her own story.
You just never know where quickly made decisions may lead.
Two and a half hours later, my daughters and I walked out of the fabric store. We were filled-to-the-brim with excitement at the prospect of making a quilt — especially Piper, our 8-year-old daughter.
She inspired our trip to the fabric store. Since pre-school, Piper’s primary play has revolved around a small chest full of scarves, large and small, and scraps of fabrics. She tucks, folds and wraps combinations of patterns to create ever-evolving runway-ready couture.Project Runway has nothing on Piper.
About a month ago, she started sewing. She asked me to show her how to do a couple of basic stitches. Since then, given a few minutes of downtime, Piper is sure to be sitting in the middle of a nest of swatches creating her newest line of pillows. (What her pillows are stuffed with is somewhat a mystery to the rest of the family. As yet another pillow keeps appearing, we’re beginning to check our closets.)
For Piper, our trip to the fabric store was monumental. One thing or the other had resulted in our trip being postponed for nearly a week, but Piper remained patient. By the time we pulled up to the store, I could have taken her to Disneyworld and she wouldn’t have been more excited. I explained to her (and her sister, who wasn’t nearly as enthusiastic) that we were going to make a family quilt.
Quilting bee visions have long filled my head with joy. The idea of sitting in a circle, working together on a thing of beauty, talking about things of complete and little consequence is close to utopia for me. I know there’s no way for the real thing to be what I imagine, but I wouldn’t be the mother this child deserves without trying.
During our fabric store expedition, the three of us measured each decision – and there were plenty — as one of complete calico consequence. Could the yellow gingham hold its own against such bold paisleys and polka dots? (It could.) Would the green floral detract from the combination of pinks and oranges? (It would.) Did we really need the ginger/cherry/carrot stripes? (We did.)
Taking the time and energy to be invested in such decisions did my heart good. Sometimes it’s healthy to think about nothing more than, “Does this pink go with that yellow?”
Piper was already on Cloud Nine, but with each scissor snip, she went up a level.
We were in the car headed home before I realized just how much time had passed – a demonstration of the elasticity of time. When we walked in our house, I had to get back to work.
Piper took the fabrics and notions from the bag and placed them on the table. She stood back and admired the bright colors and thread and took a big sigh.
“I think God did the right thing by giving me to you,” she said.
I do too, dear Piper. I do too.