Tuesday, March 25, 2014

My Number One

My granddaddy was, as they say, a character. One-of-a-kind. They broke the mold when they made him--you can use all the clich├ęs around, and they fit him perfectly. He was fiery, feisty, loyal, and loving, and best of all (for me, anyway): he adored me. The feeling was mutual.

Robert Lee Smith, or R.L. as he was known, was a great man born in the greatest generation. We joked that he worked at practically every job there is at one point or another in his life, and he worked hard and did it well. He was a natural salesman; in my mind, he might have been the first person to sell ice to an Eskimo. Laziness was not part of his DNA--in fact, a typical day for him in his eighties was more than I could keep up with in my thirties. He was a force of nature.

My granddaddy even had his own unique words of wisdom, or "R.L.isms" as we called them. These were given as advice, and usually they were not only right, they were full of humor as well. Here's a handful of R.L.isms that I will never forget:

A man's just as happy as he wants to be.
I'm not just going to buy a pig in a poke.
That's using your head for more than just a hat rack.
If your outgo exceeds your income, then your upkeep will be your downfall.
That's in the rear view mirror; I'm looking out the front windshield now.
You can never put a dollar so low that someone won't stoop to pick it up.
A poor ride beats a proud walk.

See what I mean? And that is just a small sample of his 'isms. To say that Granddaddy was unique is a bit of an understatement. I've had a hard time condensing all the things I could say about him into just one blog post. There are some qualities, I'm proud to say, you may find are also familiar to a granddaughter of his. Like his flair for clothing, and his love of jewelry (I have told people for years that my love of bright colors and shiny things is in my genes, and this is not an exaggeration). Or his impatience and sometimes short temper (yep, I got those, too). We may or may not have shared a bit of stubbornness--but it's not in my nature to admit it.

The thing that most describes my granddaddy is, without question, generosity. He was the type of man who would very literally give you the shirt off his back. I learned early on to be careful about telling him that I liked something of his, because he would immediately insist on giving it to me (this includes but is not limited to: t-shirts, cufflinks, food, books, and power tools). At his funeral, his preacher told a story of the time he asked the congregation if anyone had an extra Bible they might share with a new member who did not have one and couldn't afford to buy a new one. Without any hesitation, Granddaddy jumped to his feet and said, "Here, take mine. I've read it and I already know how it ends."

As his first grandchild, I was on the receiving end of that generosity from the very start. When I was two years old, I brought him a picture of a ballerina from a magazine and told him, "Granddaddy, I want to be this." He had my mom enroll me in dance classes (which he paid for) immediately. Never mind the fact that I was too young to even walk in tap shoes and my poor mother had to carry me to my spot in class each week. Ask Granddaddy and ye shall receive.

He nicknamed me "Big Stuff," because in his opinion, I was just that. Our way of saying goodbye to each other was to give the thumbs up sign and tell the other, "You're my number one." And he was: my number one fan in every thing I ever did. The ultimate encourager, full of fun and mischief, and forever spoiling me every chance he got. He took me on my first trip to Disney World. I was convinced they had set up the entire park just for Granddaddy and his guests--he seemed magical that way to me.

Almost every day after school, we went to the furniture store he owned to visit with him and he walked me down the street to the bakery for doughnut holes and a "brown cow" (his very cool name for chocolate milk). I can still hear the sound of his wingtip shoes on the pavement as we walked together. As many weekends as possible, I spent the night at my grandparents' house, where Granddaddy would hold contests in the summer to see who could catch the most lightening bugs in their mason jar. Amazingly, even when it seemed my jar had come up short, I always won the contest, and the cash prize that came with it.

It delighted the salesman in him when I would set up my own "store" in my grandparents' laundry room and proceed to sell items from around their house--so much so that he would pay me real money for whatever I happened to be selling: $2 for a stapler, $1 for a jar of jelly. The man used hundreds of packages of Polaroid film, all because I loved saying, "Granddaddy, take my picture." He would put me in his lap and completely let go of the steering wheel and let me drive his car--which might have resulted in a few off-road careening moments that I found hysterical. I can't think about my granddaddy without smiling and thinking of trips we took, jokes we shared, advice he gave. I think most of the people that knew him feel the same way.

When he died in 2012, he left me one of his most prized possessions, his red Lincoln Town Car (which he had appropriately named "Old Abraham"). My granddaddy was always trying to think of something that I might need or be able to use, and he had decided that I might just need an extra car. After weeks of contemplating what to do with Abraham, I (very sadly) decided to sell the car. It suited my granddaddy to a "T," but I already had a car and I also had a strong feeling that a 30-something tooling around Charlotte in a red Town Car might draw some quizzical looks.

It's taken almost two years for me to decide what to do with the money I got for the car. It had to be something that I would always have, and something appropriate as my last gift from my number one. Last week, Clint and I took a trip to the jewelry store and I bought a beautiful watch that I had wanted for a very long time. As we paid for the watch, I looked at Clint and remarked that the watch had taken the place of Old Abraham. Clint smiled knowingly and told me that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and reminded me that the man who loved watches and jewelry would also love giving this gift to his granddaughter.

I'll think of Granddaddy every time I wear my watch. It's bittersweet because as much as I love it, I would give it back a thousand times over to have one more conversation with him. But whenever I glance down and see it, it's like getting that thumbs up wave from him again. He was definitely the one and only, and he'll always be my number one.

Thursday, March 13, 2014


For any of you who, like myself, were raised Southern Baptist and aren't familiar, last Wednesday was the beginning of Lent. You may be thinking, then, that this post is just a smidge (or a week) late. I fully intended to toll, er, blog about this topic earlier, but our computer up and died on us. RIP, laptop. Then I made the mistake of trying to type the post on my trusty iPhone (some of you can already guess how that went). It took me five full minutes to type two sentences on that tiny little keypad, and every fricking time I type an "m," I wind up hitting backspace instead and lose valuable letters. Sigh. Some days it is so hard being me that even I don't know how I do it. But still, I press on.

So, Lent. This is the forty days (not counting Sundays) leading up to Easter during which lots of folks make the decision to give up something they enjoy as a gesture of sacrifice. I knew nothing about Lent until we became Methodists a few years back, but I love the concept. It's just that I don't always love the giving up part. This year, I have been having a particularly impossible time deciding what creature comforts to do without.

This is no easy decision and not to be taken lightly, in large part because my birthday is during the Lenten season. I have to be very careful, cautious, and considerate not to abstain from anything that would prevent birthday celebration. Which means I cannot quit sweets (no birthday cake), or cocktails (no birthday fun). I do this as much for my friends and family--who will undoubtedly want to celebrate with me on my big day/week/month--as I do for myself. What can I say? I'm a giver.

Several years ago, I gave up gossip magazines. I had gotten into the rather expensive habit of buying two or three of these publications a week, and while they are thought-provoking, it seemed a little frivolous. My only caveat was that if Britney Spears were to go all head-shaving, umbrella-wielding insano again, I could give in and giddily read all about it. Not only did I make it without caving, I discovered that after a full forty days without the headline-worthy news that Life & Style and USWeekly report, my addiction to a steady stream of pop culture news was cured. Lindsey Lohan can keep on train wrecking and I do not feel the need to pay $3.99 for pictures. Carry on, Kim, Kanye, and all of Hollyweird. A little (free) E! News here and there is plenty to keep me satisfied.

Last year, I gave up fast food. For some of you, that seems like a small sacrifice. For me, it was HUGE. There are very few people who love McDonald's the way this girl does. I went for weeks with no Chick-fil-A, no Happy Meals, no delicious curly fries from Arby's. (Did I mention I love fast food?) You have never seen a girl so happy to eat an Egg McMuffin on Easter Sunday morning! McHalleluiah!

We can also throw into the mix that we are (of course) dieting right now. Which means I already can't eat anything good, so there are infinitely less options to give up. It seems like a half-hearted effort to volunteer to do without carrot sticks, rice cakes, or oatmeal--I mean, really? That's about as sacrificial as going without beets or mincemeat. I momentarily pondered foregoing Diet Coke, but decided that for the sake of my sanity and the well being of those around me, I need my one small daily dose of caffeine. It's kind of my only vice right now, and all virtue and no vice makes Susie a dull (and somewhat homicidal) girl.

Then, sadly, it came to me. What did I have left that I could do without? I thought of one thing that, especially this time of year, makes my little heart beat faster: Peeps. I love Peeps. Especially the sugar-free Peeps, and I will tell you why: for 60 calories, you can enjoy three fluffy, delicious, very filling, chick-shaped marshmallow delicacies. No diet in the world can frown on 60 sugar and fat-free calories. There have been desperate, hungry times when sugar-free Peeps have saved me from almost certain starvation. I hoard them and ration them, so that they last months past Easter. I mourn their loss once the last pack has been eaten, and I keep a watchful eye on the shelves once spring starts to spring up, waiting for those little containers of awesomeness to appear.

It won't be easy, and I wish I were more happy about it, but for the next 38 days (and counting), Peeps are off limits. No chicks, no bunnies, no sugar coated deliciousness. In fact, if you see a Peep, eat one for me. I would want it that way. As an insider trading tip, the company's stock will no doubt plummet during my Peep drought. But you better believe that come Easter, I am going to enjoy a pack of Peeps in the morning before church, a pack after I gorge myself on my mom's potato salad at lunch, and another celebratory pack after I win our annual family Easter egg hunt. It's rare that I can say this, but from now until Easter Sunday, you won't hear a Peep out of me.

See you soon, sweet friends....