Monday, January 02, 2006

Where are my first roommates?

Today was a beautiful day, temperature in the upper 70's, lots of sunshine. I actually sunbathed for a while. January 2. While I was out there taking in some sun, this question popped into my head out of nowhere: Where are my first roommates, those babies who shared the nursery with me at Lackey Memorial Hospital on February 9, 1965? Surely I was not the only one born on that day at that hospital. I wonder how I could find out who they are. Track them down. Maybe plan a reunion. I did have a classmate in school whose birthday was also February 9. I didn’t like having to share my birthday with Mardis Taylor. And we were in the same class every year because the principal always divided the students alphabetically. The T’s and V’s were together, of course. That meant the class had to sing happy birthday twice, and by the second rendition, it sort of came out flat and not everyone was even singing toward the end. It never occurred to me then that Mardis and I might have once been roommates, and yet I realize now that we probably were. There was only one hospital in the area, so I’m sure his mother went there for his birth. I remember Mardis was chubbier than the other boys. He wore the same Wranglers, but in the "husky" size. He always came in red-faced from the playground. He usually sat right in front of me–we were seated alphabetically–and George Watkins sat behind me. I haven’t seen Mardis since graduation; he didn’t show up at the only class reunion I’ve been to. So that makes me wonder if he would come to a nursery reunion. I mean, he spent twelve years with the 1983 graduates of Lake High School and didn’t care enough to come and see us, so he probably wouldn’t be interested in being reunited with people he only spent two or three days with. Last I heard, he has a used car lot between Lake and Forest. I wonder if he’d remember me if I drove up there some time. I could go there and say, "Mardis, since you’re still here in the area and you probably have connections, running this used car lot and all, why don’t you spearhead a nursery reunion effort? We could have it right in there in your office; there probably aren’t more than a handful of us. Who knows? You might even manage a sale or two." I don’t know. Maybe I’ll do it.
It’s back to work tomorrow. I wrote all my students letters last week, asking them to bring in a handmade paper snowflake, an interesting rock, and three facts about penguins. I’m ready to get back at it, but I sure will miss being at home.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

When Mama chews gum, it’s always a half-stick of Double Mint. She’s done this for as long as I can remember. A five-stick package of Double Mint lasts her ten days. I chew original flavor Trident–two sticks at a time. Sometimes I chew other flavors, too; if you looked in my purse right now, you’d see a package of Trident original flavor and a package of Trident spearmint. Everyone once in a while, I’ll buy a package of cinnamon-flavored, too, but I don’t do that very often because somehow the cinnamon kind alters the flavor of my food. I don’t know why. It seems like it just kind of stays on my tongue or something.

I just cleaned out my purse, thinking I’d switch purses–from the brown leather to a red fake crocodile one–but I ended up just putting it all back in the brown. Also in my purse, besides the two packs of gum, are three Dove dark chocolates, a tin of Altoids mints (curiously strong), an old billfold with the bills arranged by denomination, a checkbook that needs balancing, two pairs of sunglasses, a set of keys, a new cell phone that I haven’t figured out yet (I got a text message the other day from someone I don’t know saying "I got you, Angel"), two Folgers coffee singles, three or four BoxTops for Education, a bottle of Ginseng Complex with Royal Jelly, three mechanical pencils, an emery board, a tube of Vaseline, a 2-pack of cinnamon Metamucil fiber wafers, a Wal-Mart list, a receipt for a cabin for 2 nights at Roosevelt State Park, a bottle of Visine, and 6 tubes of lipstick in slightly different shades of pink.

So what do you know about me from the contents of my purse? It would make a good writing exercise. Several years ago, I was at some sort of teacher conference in Jackson and a woman named Carol was presenting a workshop, demonstrating some things she did with her gifted students. She had stacks and stacks of shoeboxes she called "midden boxes". Or at least I think that’s what she was saying. It’s an archeological term or something. In the boxes were different personal items–maybe a bottle of aspirin, a comb, a pacifier, a calculator–and the students were to write a profile of the person to whom the items belonged. It’s too advanced for the first graders I teach, but I tried it one year when I taught a writer’s camp and it resulted in some really creative pieces.

I always wonder what people have in their purses or wallets. I do. I wonder other things too, such as how they put their shoes on in the morning (sock-sock-shoe-shoe or sock-shoe-sock-shoe), how they drink their coffee, if they brush before flossing or floss before brushing, if they unpack in hotels (put their underwear in the bureau drawers) or live out of the suitcase, if they slow down or speed up at yellow lights. That kind of thing.

This week has been a looking back time for me, as I’m sure it was for most everybody. Always during the last week of the year, I read Deuteronomy and Esther. I have personal reasons for doing so. This year I read them in a cabin in the woods. Straight through, without having to stop to get something for children, answer the phone, cook a meal. Just straight through. Yesterday I read Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail . "Mood reading" for a grant I was working on. I think I’ll add it to my year-end reading list. "A time such as this" kind of piece.
I thought about family a lot this week. I almost wrote a piece about the failed coup at the family reunion, but I felt I was making fun of something that meant a lot to some people. The organizers of the coup, at any rate, seemed to find it important. But still, why does the Weems reunion have a president? Why? I mean, this is what we do: we get to Carr Church around 11:00 on the first Sunday in June, just as the congregation is finishing up their worship service. I always go straight to the cemetery and look at the stones, and usually there are several other members of the Weems clan looking as well. Then we’ll go back around front and sort of mingle and visit until it looks like pretty much everybody has come who is coming, and then we’ll go into the church. Lamar, the current president, will say, "Um, who plays piano?", and all the pianists will suddenly get busy tending to their babies or talking to the people in adjoining pews and stuff like that. Finally, someone will slowly make her way to the piano. Then Lamar will ask for someone to lead the hymns. All the singers start to examine their nails or check their wallets to make sure they brought cash for the collection plate or something. Whoever looks up first ends up leading the hymns. So then there’s this consultation between the pianist and the song leader over which hymns to sing. After three or four minutes of this, we sing Blessed Assurance. Every single year. Blessed Assurance. It’s our story. Our song. Our foretaste of glory divine. After that, we might do the first, second, and fourth verses of Amazing Grace. (Now, I absolutely have to stop here to interject something about that first, second, and fourth business. The whole time I was growing up in the Methodist Church and also in the Baptist churches I attended from time to time, we never sang the third verse of any hymn. And this is the thing. The third verse is always the very best one. Check it out. You’ll see.) Anyway, after hymns, the Treasurer gives the financial report and there is some discussion over what to do with the money, but not nearly as much discussion as there was before the old folks died. Back then, things got real heated at times. It’s a lot of money, see. More than you’d think. So then after the money matters, we have family reports. They go down through the different branches of the family, according to age. This is where it always gets funny to me. Uncle Mack’s family will relate all the new degrees received by their children and grandchildren: most of them are doctors, lawyers, deans of schools in prestigious colleges, etc. Same with Aunt Mary Elizabeth’s bunch. That group also likes to give a rundown of all their overseas travel of the previous year: Greece, Israel, Scotland, some countries I’ve never even heard of. Uncle Alvin had one child, and she never comes because she is very heavy into doing yoga seminars all over the country. Aunt Lois’s girls sometimes come, and then we get updates on the accomplishments of their husbands. At least since Biggie died. Before that, we heard about Biggie’s accomplishments, and they were many. She was one of the most talented doctors in Los Angeles, or so I’ve heard. Her name was not Biggie, of course. It was Janette Wilkins. But she was a twin, and her sister was called Bitsy. Bitsy comes to the reunion most years. So anyway, down through until it gets to J.T.’s family. That’s us. It’s pitiful, really. We just all look at each other and shrug and squirm until finally somebody will jump up and report our births and marriages. Now here is the funny thing. The others, all put together, fill only about two-thirds of the left side of the church. We fill up the entire right side, with some of us spilling over to the middle. We are the poor country cousins, and it is quite evident what we spent the previous year (years) doing: reproducing. We multiply.

I’m changing paragraphs because I’ve lost my place. Okay, so after the family reports, Lamar will have a little something special planned, like maybe a slide show of his trip to the family castle in Scotland. It’s called Wemyss or something, I believe. And then he’ll call on someone who has been doing research into the family tree and they’ll stand and tell what they’ve dug up. Then we usually get a report on the Weems House at Millsaps and hear the story yet again of how my great grandfather sold a mule to help build the college, even though he knew none of his children would ever be able to go there, and yet a whole bunch of his children ended up graduating from there and becoming Methodist preachers. And then somebody will say the blessing and we’ll go outside and eat and visit for a couple of hours. (This is the true miracle: that food sits outside in Mississippi summer heat, the stuffed eggs and fried chicken and potato salad and everything, for all that time and I don’t know that anyone has ever gotten salmonella. Miraculous. Think about it.)

Now, back to my original question. Why do we need a president? I guess it goes back to the days when all the old folks served in the state legislature and they just thought they had to have all those offices for the reunion. The elections are very interesting, too. I mean, they follow all those rules about making nominations and seconding them. They make motions about other things, too. Well, last year, there was an attempted coup to overthrow Lamar as president. I do not know why, but it seemed the rebels had their reasons. Lamar was not there and had left someone to reside in his place. He is a past president of the Mississippi Medical Association and had to attend the annual conference or something. Anyway, the attempt kind of fizzled and everybody was uncomfortable afterwards. I don’t know. It seems a shame. And why on earth would anyone care who calls on a pianist and a singer and a pray-er? Beats me.

I was out walking yesterday, and I decided that instead of making resolutions for 2006–the whole year–I’ll make them for January. Then, at the end of January I’ll make them for February, and so on. I think it’s a brilliant idea, really. I’ve made a few, and I think this is going to be an exciting experiment. We’ll see.