Digging In The Dirt

When I was six, I wanted to be either a belly dancer or a go-go dancer. For Christmas that year, I wanted and received white go-go boots. For obvious reasons, this career choice didn’t pan out.

When I was eight, I decided I wanted to be an archaeologist or a paleontologist. I really liked to dig in the dirt. I looked everywhere for fossils and bones. I dug underneath the barn and in the woods. I collected jack rocks, arrowheads, and rocks while the other girls my age played with dolls. My discovery of the arrowheads sparked the desire to search my grandparents property for more artifacts. (Their land had once been occupied by the Monacan Indians.) I often scoured the creek banks. I did uncover stone utility implements and stone bowls. While I was captivated with my treasures, I really wanted to go to Egypt to study pyramids and mummy tombs or some other foreign place to search for dinosaur bones. I anticipated the arrival of National Geographic each month. I read them and reread them with tremendous fascination. I held onto many copies of interest until I was well past my teenage years.

As a teenager, my mother sat me down and told me that I had to get serious about a career path. That I needed to make a choice. That I could either be a secretary or a hairdresser. What the heck happened to the other fifty million freakin’ occupations? I was a bright student, graduated number ten in my class. It didn’t look like college was going to be an option due to finances. I definitely didn’t want to be a secretary, so I picked the cosmetology route. My aunt was a hairdresser, and I thought she was really cool.

I was a hairdresser for many years. I was no longer writing and was not yet quilting, so this was a perfect creative and social outlet for me. I absolutely loved it. And I was quite good at it. I had established a large clientele and was in a management position at a distinguished salon. The job required me to work nights and Saturdays which took important family time away from me. I wanted to be able to attend school and sport functions for my children, so I gave up my career.

I later became a dental office manager. This was I position I loved as well. I enjoyed the patient interaction. I learned a lot about oral health and even took an x-ray certification course.

Past the flicker of career aspirations was a much stronger yearning. Full-time motherhood was calling me. I up and quit the dental field after ten years. Of all the things I have done, motherhood has been the most rewarding. From the core of my soul, motherhood was what I truly wanted most in life. To the best of my ability and to the comfort of my soul, I did it!

I have now opened a daycare. I get to play everyday. I still get to dig in the dirt. I can dance all funny (And my dancing is funny because I have no rhythm!) and sing silly songs (My singing is worse than my dancing!). And regardless, the little angels love me. I have a great life.

If I decided to give that up, I’d probably do something equally fun like work in a fabric shop. The problem would be my spending my paychecks to increase my already overabundant fabric stash.

Other than not obtaining a college education, I have no regrets about the career choices I have made. Each one was the correct decision at pivotal times in my life. Each change eventually led to something better. And I met many wonderful and interesting people along the way.

To The Love Of My Life

P9050020_1Dear Cool,

Many years ago, a lonely girl sat in her tenth grade English class and watched a boy standing in the hallway with his girlfriend. He stared deep into her eyes with such adoration. This girl was absorbed in the moment as she watched from a few yards. Her heart was hurting from wanting that kind of love. She offered a prayer up to God. She pleaded that someday would He please give her someone in her life to look at her like that. Someone who had eyes just for her. She wanted to be loved like that.

A few years later, this girl started dating a guy. He looked at her like that. He not only looked deep into her eyes but pierced her soul. They had a connection. They fell in love.

A few years after that, they got married. They were in love. The details didn’t matter. At their wedding, someone asked where they were going to live. They looked at each other and laughed. They hadn’t planned past the honeymoon. They were in love. They figured God would take care of the rest.Image12

There were some rough years. Poor years. He was in college. She worked to support them. They lived off of Dinty Moore beef stew and Minute rice. They were in love. They didn’t have “things”, but they had each other. They had book cases made from cinder blocks and wood. They had a utility spool table. They did have a bed and other second hand pieces of furniture given to them. They would have been happy sleeping on the floor. They had each other, and they had love. That was all they needed.

The boy graduated from college. They had children. The girl’s job turned to motherhood, and oh, how she loved it. They bought a home. Life happened. The kids grew up and are in college. That boy and that girl are now a middle aged couple. They have many “things” accumulated through the years. Above all, they have love.

I thank God every day that He heard the prayer of that lonely desperately looking -for -love teenage girl that day. Not only did He answer that prayer, but He blessed that girl with the exact boy she had been watching over thirty years ago. Our souls clasped hands and melded. Now, they beat from a solitary heart. I am forever grateful for you and your love.

You have loved me, protected me, and provided for me, and I am

Forever Yours,

Cat

Learning To Like My Chicken Legs

Finding something I love about my body is going to take a while. There are so many things that I dislike about it. I can name lots of body parts that do not make me happy. Oh, I am thrilled that my body is alive! Does that count?

I have struggled for years with body image issues. Nose…too large. Breasts…too small. Chin…where is it? Upper arms…too flabby. Stomach…too tubby. Hips…too broad. Butt…too flat. Hands…knobby knuckles. I just think that when my parent’s DNA got to the sixth kid (ME), it had run out of all the good stuff.

Then there are the scars from surgeries. There’s a long one across my abdomen from bladder surgery. Then there are smaller ones from laparoscopic gall bladder removal and endometrial surgeries. And then again, my body is alive!

Ah, yes, and I have horrible stretch marks. My stomach is covered where my 126 lbs (Not anymore!) expanded to house two babies, one over nine pounds and the other almost nine pounds. My breasts are loaded with stretch marks from filling to feed those hungry little mouths.

I have been told that I have beautiful hair. But that was from people who don’t know the struggle of fighting the frizzies or the hassle of straight ironing.

I do pride myself in the fact that I have the smallest feet in my family. I once told my husband that I have nice feet. He replied “Ugh”. Guess I was wrong. Then I retorted with “Well, I have really nice ankles”. He said, “What?” Wrong again. Well, I really have been told that I have great legs which makes me feel wonderful because I had a girl in high school that told me I had chicken legs. So, I would never wear dresses. I actually sort of like the calves of my legs. They have a nice soft curve. Not non-muscular flat. And not overly runner bulgy. Yeah, they’re nice as long as you don’t look high enough to see the scarred up knees from childhood kickball gravel scrapes and bike wrecks.

Scars, marks, out of proportion body parts and all, my husband has a way of making me feel like the sexiest woman in the world. He says it verbally and shows it in many other ways. And as long as I don’t look in the mirror, I believe him. And maybe, just maybe that’s what it’s all about…having someone that loves all the parts of you (imperfections and all) and helping you to learn to love them, too.0807091658

Food First, Everything Else Later

Food. I love it. I mean if it were a man, I’d marry it. Not a particular food, just the whole concept of food. Sometimes, it’s almost orgasmic. With the exception of a very few foods, I am totally in love with eating. The few foods that I will not touch are blue cheese, cottage cheese, liver, collard greens, and chick peas. Anything else is up for grabs.

I grew up on southern cooking. My mother cooked almost everything with fatback. Unhealthy, but oh, the taste was out of this world. She was (and still is) a wonderful cook. She made a full breakfast every single day of the week. I often chose cereal, but the meal was there if I chose to eat it. Every night there was a meat entree, at least two vegetable side dishes, and bread. She NEVER served a tossed salad. Nor, did she ever cook pasta dishes like spaghetti. The only pasta ever served in our house was in macaroni salad and macaroni and cheese. Her baking was also out of this world. She made a killer lemon pound cake and a to-die-for apple crisp.

I think maybe my enjoyment of food through the years has been a bit too obvious. I think I probably ooh and ahh and drool looking at them and then moan and groan with each bite. Really, what could possibly please a cook more than that? There are certain foods my mother makes that I just love, and whenever I come for a visit, she prepares them for me. Yes, just for me! She has on more than one occasion told my sister that she was making chicken and gray, macaroni and cheese, and apple crisp because they are my favorite. My sister replies, “ They are my favorites, too.” My mom counter replies, ”Oh, but Suzi just loves them!” My sister shrugs her shoulders and says ”She’s the baby…gotta love her”.

And then there of course, is CHOCOLATE! Any kind. Milk chocolate. Semisweet. Dark. White. I love it all. It can be by itself, in a cake, a pie, pudding, ice cream, cookies. Anything. It doesn’t matter. I LOVE it all. And throw in a beer with that chocolate-ah, pure ecstasy! People say the streets of heaven are paved in gold. I think it’s only right if they’re paved in chocolate.

There was a second part to this blog. It required the writer to try a new food and report back. I decided on Hummus. Yeah, I know the base for Hummus is chick peas. What was I thinking? I remember I hate chick peas! Anyway, I tried Hummus with roasted pine nuts. Bite one: Bland. Bite two: Hey, not bad. Bite three: I kinda like (yeah, really) Bite four: Hummus is pretty good! Conclusion: Maybe I’ll try liver pate’ next. NOT!

I can’t write anymore. I am getting really hungry. I wonder if there is any chocolate in the house. I am already drooling. If you hear any weird moans, don’t worry- it’s just me enjoying my food!

A Woman With A Purpose

My father’s family has many interesting stories with vibrant characteristics. These tales along with some of those family traits have been passed down through the generations. I have enjoyed the stories of my great, great grandmother who was a Monacan Indian, my pipe- smoking great grandmother, my Civil War horse-carriage ambulance driver great grandfather, and many other equally colorful people. But my favorite stories are about my great grandmother who was a midwife.

Granny Annie was a fiercely independent woman. She married my great grandfather when she was eighteen years old. She entered the marriage owning her own farm. Her father had given her a farm and an adjoining one to her brother, Bob. Her farm had more acreage and a lot of timber. Bob’s farm had more open land for farming. Bob’s farm was of more interest to Annie because her husband Llewellyn was a farmer, so they swapped farms. Since this was her husband’s livelihood, she made him purchase the farmland from her. She was her own woman from the get-go.

Annie became a midwife by accident. Her pregnant cousin came to the mountains for a visit and went into labor a month early. She, Annie, and the small children were the only ones at home, so there was no way to get the doctor. If something had to be done, Annie just clenched her jaws and did it. He only experience delivering babies was giving birth to her own six months prior. A few months after that event, a neighbor went into labor and the doctor was unable to come so they sent for Annie. Then, it happened again and again.

One day Doctor Dawson paid Annie a visit. He wanted to know what she was charging. She was downright indignant. She was doing the neighborly thing, and they in return would do her a favor. Sometimes, she got a chicken or a watermelon but never money. He said he figured that and it just wasn’t right. And another thing, she was delivering six babies to every one he delivered. With all of the illnesses and things he had to tend to he just couldn’t get to all the deliveries. He needed her, but the problem was these babies didn’t have birth certificates. Annie thought that was just plain crazy. Their parents knew they were born and she knew they were born. The doc explained that it was the law. And to top that, she needed a license. Annie thought that was even crazier than accepting money for her services. Finally, he convinced her and she decided to go take the test.

Annie soared through the written test, and then had to answer questions from the board members. One asked her what she would do if she faced a breech birth. She answered, “I’d cut out of there and run like the devil!” They roared with laughter and rewarded her with her license.

With a license, the people no longer considered her a midwife. They thought of her as a real doctor and they called on her to treat anything they would call on Dr. Dawson to treat. She set bones, treated dysentery, attended pneumonia cases, and many other illnesses. If she found herself in a bind, she would send someone for Dr. Dawson. Annie rode her horse “Bird” sidesaddle all over the countryside to take care of the folks in need. Sometimes she’d be gone for days at a time. She practiced medicine until she was almost 60 years of age. Her husband died and she moved to the city to live with her daughter, thus forcing herself into retirement.

Annie emerged from retirement to deliver my father in 1930. He was the last baby she ever delivered. She died eight months later at the age of 66. My uncle is in possession of her leather bound ledgers containing the names and dates of birth of over 350 babies that she brought into this world.Annie Maria Carter Mr. Mann 1

I see Annie’s physical attributes in many of my female relatives. These relatives also share the sense of humor, strength, stubbornness, and compassion that enabled Annie to accomplish what few women of her time and means were capable.

Skeleton Joe Lived There

North ElevationIf I told you I was from Schuyler you probably wouldn’t have a clue. If I told you I was from Walton’s Mountain, a wave of recognition would most likely flash across your face. If I told you that Jim Bob played the piano at my wedding, you might even be fascinated. If I told you there was no real mountain and no Waltons, you might be disappointed. Well, there is no mountain, and there are no Waltons. (The television series was based on the Hamner family of Schuyler. Earl Hamner who was the author of Spencer’s Mountain and the producer of the acclaimed Waltons was a native of Schuyler.) The depictions of the small southern town and it’s hospitable people are otherwise accurate. I, however, did not grow up there during the Great Depression but in the 60’s and 70’s. The popularity of “The Waltons” brought an influx of people from all over the world. I’m sure the sheer volume of these visitors helped improve the stale economy of that period.North Elevation 2nd story

Schuyler is a town in Nelson County which is located in central Virginia. It is cushioned in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The way of life there is a bit simpler and a little slower than most places. There are twisting country roads. Some are still gravel. There are rivers and streams for fishing, swimming, and tubing. Today’s (2009) population is 1,345, and was much less when I was a child. There are a few businesses but mostly homes. Most homes have a little land with sheds, gardens, and animals. It is what most people would consider ideal country living…peace and quiet, fresh air, and no traffic. The beauty alone is breathtaking, especially in Autumn with red, yellow, and orange foliage mixed with the green.Rockfish Dam

The house that I lived in until I was ten was a large Queen Anne-style house. The house was built circa 1890 for the manager of the Alberene Soapstone Plant. In the day, Schuyler was a thriving community. The house was built on a bluff overlooking the plant from one side and overlooking the Rockfish River from the other side. The property contained a reservoir which was originally constructed as a swimming pool and later became storage for emergency water in addition to the water tank that sat on a hill directly above it. There were a few other buildings such as another house my brothers said were slaves quarters when in actuality they served as an office and a workshop. Beside that was a tiny building that housed a fire hose. Our property was the only parcel that held a fire hydrant. Both the hoses and the hydrant were kept under lock and key, and never used the entire time we lived on the premises which was about ten years. There was also a stable (to my dismay we did not own any horses!) that was positioned directly above the river. From there you could see the steel suspension bridge, the powerhouse, and the dam. The day after Hurricane Camille (Aug 1969), I remember watching the ruins float down the river while perched in the window of the barn. (We called the stable a barn.) The flood washed out the bridge, the power plant, and a piece of the dam. I carry a three inch scar on my right forearm from that morning. As I was running through the barn to get to the window, I scraped against a pane of glass that was resting upon a large wooden utility spool. I probably should have gotten stitches, but considering the devastation and death that Camille brought to our county the night before, my wound was quite low on the totem pole. I wear that scar like a badge of honor. It is a reminder of the horrifying events of that night and a remembrance of how fortunate we were that we lived in safety, high on the hill away from the raging temper of the Rockfish River.Slate Roof _Soapstone Flue

The house itself (inside and out) was an amazing piece of architecture. It had a slate roof and a wrap around porch with turned posts and decorative brackets, a small side porch, and an additional screened porch. It was considered a two-story home, but it did contain a third story attic which consisted of two rooms with secret hiding places in the walls. It also had a full basement that stored coal and the workings of the radiator heat system. It had a soapstone base and two soapstone chimneys. Two of the five bedrooms had window-seats. The laundry room had deep double sinks made of soapstone. The kitchen countertop was black marble. There were three fireplaces with mantles, one of which was exquisitely carved wood from the floor to the shelf.Porch Adornments

The house was a structure of art to the average passerby. I was petrified of it. My two brothers used to tell my three sisters and I that Skeleton Joe lived in the attic. I, being the youngest, fed off their fear. According to my brothers, Skeleton Joe was a REAL human skeleton that the previous house owner used for medical study. And I scarcely remember some kind of a tale about a murder with a pitchfork. (which also was not true!) I remember hearing the tree branches tussle against the house in the wind at night, and I would be too afraid to sleep because I thought it was Skeleton Joe coming after me.Workshop

The older kids in my family grew up and moved out leaving my sister and I alone in that big house with my parents. I remained haunted by the tales of my older brothers, and no reassurance altered the stories I carried in my head. I was frightened being in that house unless my father was home. He was a tall man with big muscles, and I thought he could beat up any living thing, so I figured the ghost Skeleton Joe didn’t stand a chance.South Elevation

I had lots of freedom and lots of buildings and land to explore, and I must say I did my share. My neighbor twins, Donna and Debbie, and I used to dig underneath the barn for treasure. We found remnants of a red blanket that we were positive had contained the remains of a mummy. We uncovered lots of slate that had fallen from the roof and shards of pottery, but never any bones. I guess you could say that cultivation of friendship was the treasure we unearthed.West Elevation

Shortly, before my tenth birthday, we moved from that house to a parcel of land owned by my father’s family. The property was still in the Schuyler zip code but was not considered part of the village of Schuyler. The intent was to live in a trailer until my father built a house for us. That didn’t happen. At least not while I was still there. They became complacent living in the trailer and did not build their home until after I married and moved away. I felt homeless in my heart during those years. I developed close connections to the land and the streams. I mean, who considers a trailer home? There was a creek that ran through our property, and I spent a lot of my time there. As a child I played in the creek and near the creek with my cousin, Cindy, almost every day of my life. As a teenager, we still hung out by the creek and talked or waded up and down the stream. Alone, I spent much time on the rocks creek side with a notebook in hand for writing or a book to read. I often just sat out in the woods and contemplated life.

In my mid-thirties, I went to see the house. I had planned to knock on the door and ask if I could walk the grounds to show my husband and children where I grew up. The gracious owner not only allowed us to walk the grounds but invited us in to tour the house. It did not seem nearly as large as it did when I was a kid. The sun filtered in through all the windows casting an open and cheerful tone throughout the entire house. I didn’t see anything remotely scary about it. Maybe the only scary part had really been Skeleton Joe…and he wasn’t home that day! I couldn’t find the secret compartments in the attic. I was a little sad about that but more saddened that my favorite lilac bush had been cut down. The old barn had fallen into disrepair. The owners leveled the area and then landscaped it which made the entire estate look very different from my memories. Even the rock wall that separated the barn area and the vegetable gardens was gone. It was an astounding variance between my childhood memories and what my adult eyes actually observed.

I moved to Virginia Beach in 1983. My husband and I bought our current home in 1991. It was one of the first homes we looked at, and it called out to both of us. The realtor kept insisting that we look at this house or that house. We think she just wanted us to settle on the most expensive house we could afford. We kept being beckoned back to that house, so we bought it. It is not extravagant by any means, but it soothes my soul. I live in my house, and I work from it. It is almost like a second skin. I am truly comfortable there. So, my roots may be in Schuyler, but my home is in Virginia Beach.

**end notes After writing this piece, my father informed me that the tale of Skeleton Joe was indeed not just a tale but in fact, was somewhat true. One of the precious occupants of the house was a medical doctor who had an office in the attic. He did have a cadaver skeleton that he used in reference when explaining ailments to patients. I guess my brothers named him Joe. There also had been a pitchfork murder in a neighboring town, just not in that house.

Sold Out For Five Bucks

1012091223My parents named me Susan Catherine. I never minded Susan. I never liked Catherine. I never had name envy or anything like that. I guess I never really thought I wanted a different name. I just wasn’t thrilled with Catherine. When I got married I dropped my middle name and kept my last name. That took care of things, didn’t it?

Let me tell you a little about my middle name. Catherine. I was sold out for five bucks. Yeah, that’s right. That’s exactly how I got stuck with it. Really, I probably wouldn’t have minded it as much if that weren’t the fact. Five measly dollars. The local grocery store owner’s name was Catherine. My mother’s due date was around her birthday. She told my parents that if I was a girl and born on her birthday and they named me after her she’d give me five dollars. (Maybe back then it was a lot of money…now, seems like a poor price to be paid to get trapped with a name!) Well, I was a girl. And damn if I wasn’t born on her birthday. And double damn they named me after her.

Now, that I’ve grown up and the woman is dead and I’ve dropped the name, I sorta …kinda like it. Catherine. Sounds regal, doesn’t it?

Something I Have Broken

The topic is something that I have broken.

Just ONE thing? You must be joking!

Gee, there are plates, bowls, and glasses galore.

I’ve even ripped off the closet door!

I have yanked off a pocketbook handle,

And kicked off the heel of my favorite sandal.

I poured cold water in a hot pyrex dish

That ended with four stitches in my wrist.

I shattered my mother-in-law’s toilet tank lid.

Don’t ask me how, but I really did!

I broke my “children of the world” cookie jar

And at least a hundred gadgets in my car.

I cracked a mirror that supposed bad luck

And a gearshift knob in a pickup truck.

There has been jewelry, beads on strings,

Picture frames, pottery, and other things.

I ruined three new tires in one sharp turn,

And chipped a relative’s priceless urn.

I accidentally knocked off a telephone jack

And managed to pull down a towel rack.

I’ve broken diets that would’ve made me fit,

And I’ve broken promises, I’m sad to admit

If it’s glass, machinery, or it opens or shuts –

Keep it away from me, because I’m a klutz!

My Own Family Jewel

PA110003I don’t treasure “things”. Things aren’t important to me. People are important to me. I treasure people and what they bring into my life. I treasure the emotions I experience with certain people. I like things, but treasuring things just aren’t at the top of my list.

The questions posed was what things would you run back into a burning house to save. I really wouldn’t run into a burning house to save anything, but I would to save people or animals. It doesn’t take much to make me happy. My tastes and delights are quite simple. With that being said, I’ll try to name a few of my favorite “things” and what they mean to me.

I absolutely love pajamas. I love the comfort they provide me. The feeling of laziness and slumber. I usually have a few pairs that I wear more than others, and it nearly kills me to part with them. I generally keep them until they reach the point of being threadbare. Finding replacements for the discards is a chore in itself because I never think the new ones will even begin to compare to the coziness and contentment that the previous ones granted me. My perfect day would allow me to wear my pajamas all day. Pajamas become like really good friends that I hate to see move away.

Another thing that I really enjoy are cookbooks. I like to browse through them and drool over the pictures of all the wonderful comfort foods. It goes right along with something I can do on a perfect day in my pajamas. I plan fabulous meals. I make menus, grocery lists, and mark pages of recipes I want to try. I actually do try out many of the recipes. And I can do that in my pajamas. I like to cook almost as much as I like to eat.

A third item that I like are socks. They are warm and cozy. They make me feel good, all toasty inside. I like socks that make a statement. I have socks for every holiday, even if it‘s one I don‘t celebrate. I wear socks with dogs, cats, frogs, cartoon characters, and flowers. I own lots of bright colorful socks. I like really goofy socks. I hate it when my socks get holes in them because again, it’s like parting with a good friend when I have to throw them out. I have even tried sewing them instead, but wearing lumpy socks is worse than letting them go. I like warm feet, especially if they look cute.

However, there is one thing…a piece of jewelry that actually does mean the world to me. It is not the piece itself but the sentiment behind the gift that makes it so special. One year around Christmas, I was lamenting about how I did not own a single piece of jewelry or item of otherwise importance that was handed down for generations. I had no family jewels. I told him that I was envious that his sisters had jewelry that had belonged to long lost (dead) relatives. In this conversation, I mentioned an antique pendant I had seen at an estate sale. It was a silver necklace with a beautifully carved cameo encased in amber. Well, that sweet, wonderful husband of mine went and hunted down the exact piece I referred to and gave it to me for Christmas. I think it was truly the only gift that has ever made me cry. It was given with such love, I was overwhelmed. I was so touched that he took the time and the effort to hunt down that piece of jewelry so that I could have my own family heirloom to be passed down through the generations. Now, maybe I would run back into a burning house to rescue my family jewel!