Dumptrucks and Reindeer

No Telling

Santa came and paper flew. We’ve been dodging power-hits from the T-Ball set-up for two days now. We’ve built and trashed a few dozen block buildings, put together puzzles, colored with fat crayons so frantically that we’ve got to make another ticky-tack run tomorrow so we can show these beauties off properly.

And there are vehicles – trucks, cars, fire engines, tractors – all with appropriate sounds. The ladies in the house are finding all this varoom varoom business a tad mysterious, but it seems mighty important to The Perfect Grandson. He speaks “race car” more fluently than we do.

It snowed here for Christmas, although only for about half an hour and only between midnight and one o’clock. It didn’t stick and it didn’t stay, but I saw it blowing sideways at the streetlamps and it was a lovely gift. It rained for a week before the snow, devastating and stranding most of the state in floodwaters that have only just today begun to recede.

We had love and food and presents and family. With the flooding and events more dreadful, there are others who did not, so I’m grateful. There are always little miracles even in the worst of times.

The Perfect Grandson swears he saw a reindeer in our front yard.

“Sugar, where did you see the deer?”

“Wight dere.” He pointed at the postcard of grass that is our front yard.

“What was he doing out there?”

“Eatin gwass. Wet’s go, MiMi. I fina deer.”

We bundled up against the cold and searched for it high and low. We live in the middle of town, but it’s not unlikely there was a confused deer wandering the streets. Around here, things like that can happen. But what he saw was no deer – The Perfect Grandson says he saw a reindeer. And I believe him.

My rebellion’s getting mighty lame


The thing about the Christmas tree being all lovely and twinkly and such is that removing it makes the house too drab to live in. That’s what I’m going to tell everyone who drops by my house in, say, February and finds us still Holiday Festive in the living room.
When I lived in the older part of downtown, such things didn’t really matter. Everyone down there is eccentric and no one thinks a thing about it. So what if your house is still dripping flashing icicle lights after Spring Break? Those old turn-of-the-(other)-century Victorian monuments are charming with a little off-season bling. Kind of like my grandmother wearing a tiara just because. The point is, when you live in a quaint old house, it’s adorable.
I don’t live there anymore. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a certain comfort that comes with a new house and its reliable plumbing, electricity, roof, and trees. Yes, trees. Downtown, I had monstrous, ancient trees that sloughed limbs at surprising intervals. They look a lot smaller when they’re forty feet up in the air – a lot like the Hindenburg, which looked like a small silver football until it hit. The collateral damage was similar. I don’t miss the bats, either.

My new neighborhood is a circle instead of a block, and has a Homeowner’s Association complete with dues and rules and pinched-faced retirees who are terribly concerned about dog poop. They can also get worked up about whether or not someone’s gutters are cleaned out regularly. A forgotten string of Christmas lights twinkling softly over the front porch in, say, February might actually get me a little jail time.
The tree stays, and I plan to turn it on every single night. If the lights last long enough, I’m going to redecorate it for St. Patrick’s Day, open the blinds, and let it scream neon-green across the whole of subdivision/suburbia.

Remembering Iva


It’s bad luck to speak ill of the dead. But Christmas is coming and we’ve been dragging out all the old photo albums, and there she is. Iva. Maw. My ex-grandmother-in-law and the meanest woman I ever met.

I honestly can’t remember a moment of kindness from that woman that wasn’t followed up by some horrific stab in the back. Or the eye. That was her M.O. – make you feel comfortable for an hour or so, then viciously attack the very thing you care about most. Iva talked about you behind your back and to your face, both with a cruelty that could take your breath away. And no one was spared. For Iva, truth was relative. If she thought about some imagined wrong done to her enough, then it really happened. The telling and retelling of the lie made it true enough to her to invoke a confrontation. Iva was a tornado dropping out of the sky, decimating everything in its path, then just as mysteriously lifting back into a harmless cloud.

From a distance, Iva was fascinating. I only knew her in bits and pieces, but what I know is that her mother was a cold, silent, stubborn Native American of various tribes, depending on who told the stories. Iva picked cotton and lived scarce, even when she married Ben Prouse (or Prowse – spelling was optional in that part of Faulkner County). Ben was a red-headed Irishman who must have been in the Navy at some point, but who ended up in Naylor, Arkansas with Iva. They had three children, the youngest dying as a child from a burst appendix. Ben died from a heart attack many years ago and the picture of him prone in the coffin at his funeral is still in a photo album somewhere. Iva took the picture. I’m still haunted by the image of a woman leaning over her husband’s casket with a Polaroid flashing. It’s unsettling.

My timeline’s a little fuzzy, but not long after Ben died, Iva retired. She’d worked at the Children’s Colony (now the Conway Human Development Center) for a number of years. I’m not sure I understand how she worked with mentally retarded children, because it didn’t suit her personality at all. At any rate, there was an accident at work involving a kiddie train ride that circled the Children’s Colony estate and Iva had been on the train with her charges. I’m not sure if or how badly she was injured, but the state paid her a nice settlement and she went home for the duration.

There, she made life a particular hell for her remaining son and daughter, as well as their spouses, children and ex-wives. Oh, the stories I could tell. I’ll leave everyone else out of this, though, because in the end, Iva is enough.

She dated a lot for a church-woman, danced every Saturday night in El Paso, and had men sleep over, much to the disgust of her relatives. She even married a couple of them. One in particular was a strange man with a metal plate in his head who sold some of her belongings at the Naylor Auction. He eventually shot himself in the head right there in her house. She was in her seventies, then.

Christmas in Naylor followed a predictable pattern. The celebration was always on Christmas Eve at my in-law’s home, and the house was festive, food and children everywhere. Just as predictable was Iva’s yearly Christmas tirade. She’d pick a target each year and hammer-down. After years of this, I quit trying to understand why she wanted to ruin everyone’s good time and simply counted the minutes until it happened.

Some Christmases ago, it was my daughter. Iva’s cruelty dropped out of the sky and landed squarely on Emily in the middle of her yearly Naylor Christmas Eve. She was seventeen. I understand the ensuing scrap between her father and “Maw” over the attack ended with Rick wishing “the old bitch would just die” and Iva’s furious stomp off across the road to her house to do just that.

When her son looked for her on Christmas morning, he found her on the toilet, dead from a heart attack.

If there’s a lesson here, I’d rather not attempt it. Out in the County, things are what they are. The family, extended and close, breathed a collective sigh of relief and buried her. I’m sure that like all good people, they try to remember the better parts of Iva.

I keep writing bits and pieces of her into my stories. She’s not the kind of character to write “as is,” though, because she was her own literary cliché. No one would believe her unless I made her a little kinder, so I’m giving her a sort of eulogistic synopsis here. In my stories, she’ll just have to be a little less Iva.

Found Bits


I’ve got time on my hands and it’s lovely. Nothing like losing an hour or two scanning what’s out there, especially since I never have time unless it’s some break or other. Something more important always needs doing. Even when I’m busy, though, I have no trouble finding the delightful and bizarre online. I’m actually famous for this. Ask my friends. Here are today’s found bits.

I began on Ebay, of course. Nothing kills the hours like looking up bizarre items there. I found a sea green Olivetti typewriter that I neither need nor have a place for. I love my computer. I do. Just the thought of slinging my fingers at typewriter keys again (thequickredfoxthequickredfox) makes me a little edgy. Remember correction paper? Enough said. Just because I’m technologically spoiled now doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate a gorgeous, industrial-age typewriter. This one in particular is just sexy.

A few clicks later I stumbled across A Good Blog is Hard to Find. What a delightful gaggle of southern writers! A good blog is hard to find, but this one had me instantly. I’m still pouring over past posts trying to catch up a bit. Another southern writing group blog (grog?) that you must immediately see is The Debutante Ball, a collection of southern writing women whose books are debuting this year. The group changes yearly to let in another crop of freshly publisheds – kind of a literary Junior League.

I howled at Knit1Read2‘s old post about southern hair, and the latest on downtown parades. Naturally, this led to Hair History, and to Hair Archives. All those meticulous vintage do’s – I tell you, I was born too late.

I know it’s a stretch to begin websurfing typewriters in Ebay, take a left at southern writing grogs, and finally end up howling over the definition of Full Gospel Hair. It’s a lovely way to avoid Christmas shopping, though, and I highly recommend it.

Whew, I say…It’s Christmas Break


Finals are over. All I have to do now is grade a short pile of exam essays, whip out the Large Buttoned Granny Calculator, cipher a bit, then post those semester grades. I don’t even mind going to the office on a Sunday to do it, because Monday morning I’ll be free and clear. The weeping freshman girls have all gone home, and the conniving boys have followed them. Or is that the other way around? Every student who never showed up to class and mysteriously remembered my name long enough to find my office has packed up. Tomorrow I can grade in peace without eleventh-hour student negotiations knocking at my door. I’ll press “submit,” and then I’ll be done for almost a month.

Ah, yes. Ease and relaxation.

Or it will be after I finally put up the tree, decorate a bit shabbily, wrap the presents I’ve already bought, hit the stores for the rest, realize I don’t have scotch tape, hit the stores again, finally clean my house thoroughly, sweep out the garage, then find the right screwdriver to put my new license plate on the car before I’m stopped again by that officer I used to have in my tenth grade class.

“Oh Miz Fason,” he sighed, “you really do have to put that on the car.”

After all that, I’m lounging. Hopefully with a book without literary merit and a splash of Bailey’s in my coffee. I’m going to wear old sweatshirts and raggedy warm-up pants and scumble about in my socks. I’ll still put on make-up and do my hair because, well, someone might come to the door delivering packages or collecting canned goods. My grandmother taught me that much.

I’m going to watch The Perfect Grandson bounce mightily in his jumperoo and sing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” to him at least five times a day because both of those things make him laugh. I’m going to buy my daughter surprise Christmas gifts that are just for her, because she’s an exhausted new mom who many times substitutes for the jumperoo. I’m going to play Christmas music on my outdated stereo and make peace with that damned weenie dog that keeps pooping where he shouldn’t. I’ll scan cable for all the best Christmas movies and watch them with all four of us under a quilt on the couch.

Finally, I’m going to write great gobs of nothing in particular. It doesn’t have to be earth-shattering, or publishable, or planned. Just massive scribbling to empty out a bit of what I’ve been putting off for the last few weeks. I suspect my need to write is much like The P.G.’s jumperoo craving. We’re both a little maniacal once we’re back in the saddle.

See? I’ve already begun.