Monday, September 19, 2005

Big Sam Needs to be Needed

Well, Big Sam is not what you'd call mechanically inclined even at the best of times. In fact, the mechanical inclination he's most prone to is the inclination of the reclining chair immediately prior to the Remote lifting motion, immediately prior to the deep sigh of relaxation marking the end of a long day. But he works hard at his job and it's not a particularly rewarding job at that, what with the immigration getting to be so bad and so many of them speaking little or no English, which is somewhat more than annoying even if Big Sam does have a working knowledge of Spanglish.

So when he does get inspired to do something around the house it's worth it to let him do it, even if the cans are still rolling off the shelf he put up at an angle steep enough to serve as a skateboard ramp. There's nothing like doing something for his woman that makes a guy feel more like a MAN, if you know what I mean.

So when Big Sam offered to check the air in my car's tires Saturday last, I knew it was time to bow to his superior ability and get out of the way, and certainly not mention that the Arco station down at the corner would let you pump all the air you needed for a quarter. If he wanted to put air in The Heap's tires using only a bicycle pump, it was time to step back and admire his biceps.

Which is exactly what he did, and exactly what I did.

Let me tell you, it's worth letting the boy sweat a little for you. The look of pride on his face as he wiped the sweat off his forehead with the piece of dingy terrycloth rag I'd handed him (the good rags were in the wash) was worth the tongue biting, worth sacrificing the can-do attitude I am prone to in my sinful nature. It was even worth the damp hug and extra laundry.

That got me to thinking once again. It got me to thinking that maybe all the women who told their men, "I can do it myself", and the pretty young things who brushed with a disdainful sniff past the boys holding doors for them had maybe broken something inside our men. Broken something pretty serious and hard to replace, because it don't come factory standard, broken the sense those boys and men had of being needed. When we women don't need our men and the things they offer to do for us, the sturdy leather a man is made from cracks like a pump bellows allowed to dry out from lack of use.

It's pretty obvious to me that a man who's not needed by some sweet woman is a man without purpose or anchor. Is this what we want our boys to face as they become all grown-up and out to build their own homestead? Women who shove them aside and act like they don't care if the boys stay or if they go?

Girls, I guess this post is directed toward you. We've raised you to be strong, to be able to compete.

Oh, how wrong we were.

Maybe the guys don't do it our kind of perfect. Maybe we could do it ourselves better, at least some of the time (usually less often then our inflated self-images believe). Maybe a lot of foolish thinking things.

I can't fix all the maybes in life, not by a far sight. But I do know I thoroughly enjoyed that look in Big Sam's eyes, the straightening of his back, and the sweaty hug that said, "You need me, and I need you".

How true.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Blue Blood, Skin Cancer, and Other Signs You Might be White

My daddy lost his left ear to skin cancer the other year, after the doctors had carefully carved away only the alien, blood-red and pulsating lump off it for two years running, saying he needed the rest of the ear for "cosmetic purposes". Now, Daddy is going to be 88 years old this year and his vanity has dwindled down to the occasional rearranging of the three or four thin strands of white hair still left on his scalp, so you know he ain't going to be sticking no Botox in his wrinkles and getting facials or any fool thing like that. He just didn't want to die of no alien ear-eating cancer. He always preferred the direct route anyway.

I remember him saying this well, because things like that just stick with me. I remember that every single time the doctor told him the lump needed to be removed he'd say, "Cut the whole dang ear off. Just go ahead and do it. I don't care."

And each time that profit-focused, flesh-carving doctor shook his head and told him no. And each time the lump grew back, only closer to his head and nastier looking each time.

But nobody listened, and the cancer finally got so close to his skull that there was no question, the whole ear had to come off.

So now he looks like a lizard on one side, and claims that my mama "don't enunciate any more". She's getting tired of repeating herself, 'specially when no one else notices that her voice has changed.

Now, this could all have been prevented had Daddy understood that he was White, and that smart White Guys wear hats and don't take off their shirts when they go fishing and above all don't bake in the sun until their crust turns brown. But he liked the clean heat of our enemy, the sun, musta been endorphins or something. I don't think the fish were worth all the pain, but that's just me. I never liked the smell of the deisel and fish guts anyway.

This all got me thinking. I do a lot of thinking. Some people say I think too much, but I can't help it, it's just me. So hear me out.

I started wondering how White Folks can tell they're White, and what to do about it once they've finally figured it out. And all the little do-nots that go along with it as well. My daddy was a victim of the do-nots.

So I came up with a little list. Bear with me a minute, and post some comments if y'all want to add to, or take away from, Laurel's Little List of Lilywhiteness!

1. You can tell you're White when the skin on your wrists (and with me, other portions of my anatomy) is so thin you can see the blue of your arteries just sitting right out there. The Spaniards used to call this being "blue-blooded", meaning special and artistocratic and all that. Not being Spanish, I wouldn't know about the aristocratic thing, but I do like to think I'm special, and that being White is a good thing. There's a Do for this one: Celebrate! and smile the next time you look at your wrists.

2. White skin has other interesting qualities and characteristics, among them freckles and that nasty tendency to sunburn the minute you step out the door. A two hour assembly in junior high school plus a sleeveless green linen dress added up to an uncomfortable visit to the school nurse for me and treatment for sunstroke.

I DO understand that those "freckles" I have on my hands these days are not the original issue freckles, but age spots (another lovely feature of white skin), but I like to think of them as freckles all the same. Freckles are like confectioner's sugar dusted across a cake, age spots are, well, age spots.

There's bunches of Do's and Do-not's for this one. Do enjoy the fragile beauty of your ivory skin when you're young, and don't mind the age spots (freckles!) or wrinkles when you start to age. Remember, every wrinkle, especially those smile lines by your eyes, is a sign of wisdom and endurance. Don't go sitting out shirtless in your bass boat, or on that very nice beach in South Carolina. Get familiar with SPF ratings and slather yourself with sunscreen before heading out the door. And don't miss the crease on your scalp when putting on that 'screen. Beautiful things (that's you!) are worth taking care of.

3. Another sign you might be White is when people who don't even know you try to blame you for everything wrong with people who don't even look, and certainly don't act, like you.

I remember sitting in a class in teacher school where the oh-so-enlightened lady professors lambasted the poor white guys in the class (liberals, all of those poor suckers!) until they squirmed with shame for all the injustice they had somehow produced even though they were yankees and none of their ancestors had even met a slave and most had arrived here after the Civil War anyway. Each of them inwardly vowed to himself that he would make it right for those poor minorities, somehow, in his classroom once he got one. I don't think I saw even a spark of resistance in that room, 'cept in me.

Yup, it's great to be White sometimes.

There's a Do and a DARE in this one.! DO stand up for the people who look and act like you. DARE to call the professors' bluff, because you know the reason there's so many lilywhites in that college classroom is because the minorities didn't pass the test to get in, even though you know the school was holding places for them and kept you from entering until the admissions committee finally figured out that it might be a year or two before the students they really wanted to be there made it past the test.

Off on a bird walk here...but keep reading...

It's things like this that make me think mamas need to be educating their own, loving them with God's Word and homemade brownies in between the phonics and handwriting practice. Mamas! Those boys in that class had the best intentions, but would you really want them telling your little darlin's what to think?

Back from the bird walk...

4. You can tell you're a White Woman when you understand how it must have felt to be one of those British tourist girls embedded in the ring of White British boys who organized to keep them safe. The Superdome in New Orleans was not what I'd call an island of racial harmony in the aftermath of that hurricane. God bless those little White boys, may they have many sons and be a blessing to White Folks everywhere.

I know there are more signs of being White, but I am running out of steam and need to go lay my head down on my (white) pillow and get some sleep.

I'm figuring some of y'all might want to add a little bit here, feel free!

Laurel

Friday, September 02, 2005

Of Funerals and Families

Well, Big Sam's mama was safely laid to rest in the cemetery back in Cleburne today. The family dynamics went smoothly, which was not expected, estranged sisters being hard to predict and all. But getting that tent over the gravesite proved mighty smart, the temperature being hot enough to fry a thought before it leaves your mind. The ceremony was solemn but hopeful, 'cause mama was a believer and the Lord knows who his sheep are.

Later that evening some previously unknown cousins and all-too-well-known siblings swapped stories and genealogies over a chicken-fried steak dinner, chewing over the family history all the way back to Tennessee. Copies of land deeds made back in the 1700s traded hands. Big Sam got his Texas accent back in a Jiminy Cricket. All in all it was a fine way to honor mama, I mean, bringing the kids together on good terms once again. I'm sure she's smiling up there.

Family. Those folks who look like you, who carry the genes that define and surprise you. The family eyes, the family chortle, the family diseases. Finding out that one of those unknown cousins has a wad of belly fat just like Big Sam's, just like his grandpa who died at 55 surprised and defined by his lard-lined heart. Hoping that Big Sam won't die that way, because it would be just too hard on those of us left to grieve. Family. The people who remember not just the name of the ancestor who fought in the 13th North Carolina, but the details of the carpetbagger's death that made P.H. a refugee to Texas after the War. People who can talk about it like it was yesterday. Family.

Family.

A good thing.

May there be more of them.