How We Became the Griswolds

Matt and I went out to eat tonight at one of my favorite restaurants. On our way home, we drove over one of the many bridges that span the lake. It was a great day for the boat owners to get out with their “toys”. We saw lots of families out on their boats or wave runners, enjoying the last few hours of sun before the new work week begins.

Living in a town dominated by a lake is an experience. Everyone seems perpetually tan. The second question (after “What do you do?”) that most people ask upon meeting you is “Do you own a boat?” The attraction of spending hours cruising the lake appears to most as impossible to resist.
Matt and I do not own a boat, but I have spent my fair share on the water. For most of my life, my father, Tom, has owned a boat of some variety. Sometimes it was a fishing boat, sometimes a ski boat. Once it was a little jet boat. He has even owned a cabin cruiser upon which he and his girlfriend lived for several years. He has kept his boats on lakes, on the Intracoastal Waterway, and even on the Sea of Cortez in Mexico, where he currently resides. The type of boat may have changed, but I don’t think that he would ever be comfortable without ready access to the water.
With so much experience on boats, in different types of environments, most would assume that a trip with Tom would be fairly routine. This would be an incorrect assumption — something always seems to go wrong. The engine blows, or the plug is missing (I swear that happened, like the stopper was gone), or there is water in the line. It is always an adventure just to get started on a boating trip with Tom.
My favorite and most memorable trip with Tom, however, began before we even got in the water. Sometime late in my teens, we decided to go and visit my Aunt Linda and Uncle Philip in Charleston, SC. As part of the trip, we would haul the boat to the Intracoastal Waterway near Myrtle Beach, SC, load up and cruise the waterway south to Charleston. The journey would as much fun as the destination.
The trip to Myrtle Beach was routine until we hit the small town of Conway, SC. As we were driving through the town, the engine on our Ford Bronco died. Tom was able to coast into the parking lot of an Amoco gas station and assess the situation. It should come as no surprise that Tom’s luck with boat engines carried over to car engines; something was always dying, breaking, blowing up, smoking or doing other things equally as expensive.
Tom had a plan. He knew a local that could help us. His name was “Spanky”. Spanky would know who to call to get us out of this jam and back on our way. First thing Spanky was going to do was call the Ford dealership to get help for us with the Bronco. They would come, tow the Bronco, quickly get it fixed and we would be on our way in no time.
As the minutes progressed into hours, we had no choice but to make the best of the situation. Stuck in a parking lot, in the middle of summer in South Carolina, sitting in our broken down car wasn’t an option. Sitting on the boat, still on its trailer, was a much better option. Ashleigh had on her headphones, listening to her music, sun-bathing, pretty much ignoring the rest of us. Mom sat in the co-captain’s chair, sun-bathing, reading her book. I tried to lie down on one of the bow seats, keeping my head low from the people who continued to drive by and shout directions to the water, while Tom sat on the dive platform, drinking beer, swinging his feet back and forth, waving at all the passersby.
For four hours, we sat in our boat, in the parking lot of the gas station, enjoying our vacation. We even sat there for a while without the Bronco after the dealership tow truck came and towed it away and before Spanky could come with his truck to hook up the boat. At least we had access to the gas station’s restrooms, but it definitely felt like a “Griswold” vacation.
The dealership had to order a part in order to fix the Bronco, and by that time it was too late to put into the water. We did not spend the night on the boat in the parking lot of the gas station, but slept in a hotel. We cast off the next day for Charleston, leaving the truck behind for repairs until we returned. I remember my Aunt Linda and Uncle Philip getting a good laugh out of that story.
Over the years, we have also laughed at this memory, at how silly a family of four must of looked sitting in a gas station parking lot, in a boat, on a trailer, doing the things that you do when you’re on the water. Of course, with gas prices as high as they are now, I’m surprised that I don’t see more families enjoying their boats in their driveways (or a gas station) instead of the water. I did learn that day that the water isn’t what makes a boat fun — the people in the boat are the reason that boating is fun.

My Favorite Couch

Today has been another Saturday completing tasks necessary to sell my house. If I were an overly analytical person, I would question how long it is taking to even get my house on the market; one might think that Matt is not chomping at the bit to have us living in one house. Yet, we are slowly making progress.

After painting the trim work in the bathroom earlier today, I took a break on the couch to watch a movie. I hate this couch. I have told Matt on many occasions that we can leave this couch behind when we move to his house. You can’t take a good nap on it, two people can not lie down on it very comfortably, it is not somewhere you can sit for a few hours and watch TV without getting a crick in your neck or, in my case, a headache.

Not so my favorite couch. My favorite couch has been a part of my life since I was born. It is a traditional couch, three cushions, low arms, with a skirt. My parents bought it and a matching chair and ottoman for their living room before I was born. I remember what it originally looked like: white (or cream) with large yellow flowers (it was the seventies). When they built our house in the mountains, the living room had beautiful yellow carpet to highlight the yellow flowers on the upholstery.

About the time that I was eleven or twelve, we got new furniture for the living room. We were all very excited as new furniture was very unusual in our house since money was so tight. Mama was “green” before it was a concept and had our yellow floral furniture reupholstered to use in the den, recycling it for continued use. Now, instead of yellow flowers, it was much more conservative, upholstered in a dark blue fabric, that was so soft to the touch, but still durable.

Now in the den, the couch that once was used so rarely (as living room furniture often is) was used daily. Suddenly, we discovered what a gem of a couch we owned. It was long–Tom could stretch out comfortably on it, without feeling cramped. It was wide–Ashleigh and I could both lie on it, heads at opposite ends, without deteriorating into the inevitable “She’s touching me!” arguments. It was comfortable–the back of the couch was supportive, without being too soft or too firm. We loved our couch!

As the years passed, the couch became so much more than a place to sit. Ashleigh spent a lot of time there while healing from surgery to her knee. We both spent time on that couch, sitting next to this or that young man, trying to be cool in front of Mama, watching a movie on the VCR. Saturday nights for years were spent on that couch watching “Saturday Night Live” with our cousins, JJ, Wendi and Matt, as well as friends. After the prom, everyone came back to our house, and we all gathered in the den (20 to 30 of us), watching movies, eating, and laughing all night long. One of my favorite pictures from this era is a picture of me and my prom date sitting on that couch looking at our year book. Some of my most in-depth and important talks with my mama took place on that couch, with my head in her lap.

Not all of my memories of MFC (my favorite couch) are happy ones. When my first real boyfriend broke up with me during my junior year of high school, I spent way too many hours on the couch crying, in what my mama dubbed “the fetal position.” I would assume that position many more times in the future as, during my 20s, I dated someone for 10 years (my Starter Relationship). As we broke up time and again over those 10 years, MFC became my refuge. I could lose myself in a movie, in a book, or simply in thought. Or I would curl into the fetal position.

I know that MFC is also my mama’s favorite couch, as well. She spent a lot of time on that couch, never in the fetal position, but working through her own dreams, ideas, issues, etc. And sometimes she was just working. She worked from home her last several years of outside employment, and MFC was her favorite place from which to work. She tells a story of working all day on the couch, and at 5 p.m., she put away her work and began to clean house. As she vacuumed, she lifted the cushions on MFC, and as she lifted the cushion on which she had been sitting all day, a squirrel flew out and ran out of the room. She had been sitting on the squirrel all day and did not know it. I am quite sure that they don’t make couches like that anymore.

When I got my first apartment, Mama sent MFC with me. When I bought my first house, it came with me. As I struggled with depression as an adult, there were times when MFC continued to support me as I found that there were days that the only place that I found relief was on that couch.

A couple of years ago, I was finally able and ready to pass MFC on to someone else. Even though the couch was at the time nearly 38 years old, structurally, it was still better built than most brand new couches. Mama and my stepfather, Jim, came and picked up the couch to deliver to one of my cousins. As we loaded it, Mama and I commeted on the fact that it was the best couch ever.

In retrospect, I can see that my timing in letting the couch go coincides with the time in my life where I became the most mentally healthy that I had ever been. So, maybe it is good that I don’t have MFC; I don’t have the option to ball into the fetal position anymore. I have learned to deal with my stresses and problems in much more effective ways. I still miss MFC, though.

And I still hate the couch I have now.

Love Letters

I have had computer problems for the last week. I haven’t been able to use my home computer, and I was very surprised by the feeling of helplessness that followed. How am I going to know how much money I have in the bank? How am I going to pay my bills? How am I going to keep up with the latest news? How am I going to talk with my friends and family?
Wha? Have I succumbed to the internet’s pull and left human contact behind? A 2002 study by Lutz Ebring, a professor of Mass Communication from the University of Berlin, concludes that “For each minute spent on the Internet during the last 24 hours, there is a reduction of approximately one-third of a minute spent with family members.” Professor Ebring estimates that at current usage, this means that the average American is spending one less hour per week with his or her family.
That doesn’t mean that we aren’t emailing them or instant messaging them, but apparently, we aren’t phoning them or visiting them, and we definitely aren’t writing letters to them. I know that my contact with my family was drastically reduced the last week. Yet, the postal service was still available to me. Why didn’t I write a letter?
Writing a letter is an art form that has seemingly been lost. My roommate from college was a genius letter writer. Betsy could write a letter that would leave you feeling like you were right there with her, sharing a great conversation, witnessing the same events, feeling the same emotions. While I missed her terribly every summer during our four years of school, the letters that she sent me during the breaks almost made the time apart worth it. Getting a letter from her was an event.
During our time in college, Betsy and I spent a semester in France. I was terribly home sick — my French was weak, I missed my mom, my sister and the rest of my family, I felt very out of place, and my solace during this time was writing letters home. I wrote constantly. If I knew you, you probably received a letter from me during this period. It wasn’t unusual for me to mail two or three letters each day. And my loved ones were awesome and wrote me back often, brightening my day during a time when I was really struggling to be strong.
Unfortunately, I went through a “purge phase” several years ago and threw away a lot of the letters that I received during my time in France (as well as the great letters from Betsy). Two of the letters that I kept, however, are two of my most treasured possessions — letters that my Mamaw wrote to me.

I love to reread these letters. Mamaw had the same letter writing genius as Betsy. She wrote as she spoke. Reading her letters thousands of miles away in France felt like sitting in her kitchen having a conversation with her.
“Well, I had the usual crowd for lunch today. Ashleigh’s [my sister] girlfriend the Ham came with her. She is a pretty girl to live up Poe Hollow.”
“If you see a cute boy over there, leave him be.”
“Wendi [my cousin] came out Sunday. She ate two tables down, bless her heart. It was good to see her eat.
I can hear Mamaw’s voice when I read these letters, and it almost hurts to think about how much I miss her, but I’m reminded of just how wonderful she was. I am so thankful that I have these letters — an email wouldn’t be nearly as good. Maybe all our computers should go down on occasion and we should write each other some letters.

"….Aunts…are back in fashion because they are necessary."

I had a great night last night. I visited my sister and her family, including my two nieces and my nephew. They are beautiful, healthy and happy children, and I have loved them since they drew their first breaths. I love being their Aunt Cristy!
Being with them last night reminded me of how lucky I have been in the aunt department. My mother is one of seven daughters, and my dad had one sister, blessing me with 7 aunts in my life. As a result, I have spent my life surrounded by women. Aunts, a sister, my mother, female cousins. It creates a rhythm, routines, it helps to shape your sense of humor, your expectations of who you’re going to be when you grow up, who you’re going to marry, even what you will do on Sundays.

While my aunts shared similar qualities (least of which was that they loved all their nieces and nephews as much as I love mine), they also each had their own special qualities that made them unique and remarkable. I received some special gift from each of them — a love of reading and books, a distinctive laugh, a sarcastic sense of humor. Aunts were never out of fashion with me, but have always been necessary. All hail our Aunts! Lexi, Brady & Cali — your Aunt Cristy loves you!

Home Improvement

My husband, Matt, has been working diligently around the house the last four days. Mowing the lawn, trimming, grouting the new tile floor in the master bathroom, putting down new moulding around the floor in the bathroom. All this work in anticipation of listing our house with a realtor.
Matt is very handy with tools (one of the talents that Mama said a man should have). He is also very willing to try most any home improvement project. Everything that he has done at our house(s) so far has turned out really great, both in quality and in how it looks.
Whenever I see Matt working around the house (especially so successfully), I have to compare his abilities to my father’s. Home improvement was not his forte. I can understand why — he wasn’t taught home improvement growing up. I don’t remember my Grandfather ever attempting to fix a leaky faucet or unstop a toilet–his talents were elsewhere.
With my father, I vividly remember the time the back door lock jammed — the time I like to call “The Christmas Eve Door Incident”.
Obviously, the back door lock jammed. I don’t remember how long the lock had been broken, but apparently it hadn’t bothered Tom until Christmas Eve. Quite possibly, he was trying to sneak out to his car to gather Christmas presents (just recently purchased, I’m sure).
Thus, when the back door lock interfered with Tom’s plans, Tom decided to “fix” the lock. We’re not sure what Tom did, but a jammed lock ended up being a back door flung into the back yard. On Christmas Eve. In a small town where all stores close early on Christmas Eve and do not open again until the day after Christmas. In the mountains of North Carolina, where it tends to get cold in December. You get the drift that this wasn’t the most convenient time to have your back door in the middle of the back yard.
This ended Tom’s ventures in home improvement — to our relief. I have to admit that one of the (many) reasons that I fell in love with Matt was his ability to fix things. I know with him that the cold air will never come in.

Whew! It’s Friday!

I am always so glad when Friday rolls around! I work for a Fortune 50 company, which I am convinced stands for “must attend no less than 50 meetings per week”. The result is that I am usually so zapped by Friday that I all want is a quick dinner, some decompression time, and then early to bed.

The only thing that I don’t like about Fridays is that I usually don’t see my husband. We only got married in December, and we each still own a house. Until we get my house on the market and sell it, my husband (God love him) is living in two houses. Since he knows that I am so tired on Fridays, he usually spends his Fridays at his house as I unwind at my house.

I was 37 years old before I got married. But I am so glad that I waited because I married an amazing man. He is smart, funny, considerate, honest, able to fix things and simply fantastic. There are days that I still pinch myself to realize that he married me. I hope the honeymoon stage lasts a little longer — I really like it!

The Things My Mama Said

As implied by the title, I have learned a lot from my mother. God blessed me when He gave me to this woman. She is very wise and full of knowledge, all of it useful, but some more relevant than the rest.

My mom always talked to me and my sister, willing to explain the “why” behind her actions. Except for a brief time while I was 15 years old, I usually was on the same side as my mama. And she has been a great ally.

The older I get, the more I appreciate her teachings. She was right many more times than she was wrong. I find myself drawing on the things that she taught me as I deal with daily problems, and even with bizarre problems.

Here are some of the most memorable things that she has said.

  • Any man worth having has three things: tools that he knows how to use, a pickup truck and a chainsaw
  • If you always ask for what you have always asked for, then you’ll always get what you’ve always got
  • You’ll get over it (whatever “it” was) before you’re married twice
  • Pretty is as pretty does
  • You’ll never get a job / husband / education / house (fill in blank) if you have sex before you are married (please note: I guarantee that there will be several individual blogs around this one)
  • No one stands by you like your family
  • Sleeping naked doesn’t get you anything except a bed full of pubic hair

All these have served me well the last several decades. They have served well those with whom I have shared them.

First Musings

So, this is my first foray into blogging. People have been urging me for years to write a book. I don’t know that I have a book in me, but I definitely have a lot to say.

As the title of my blog indicates, most of what I have to say involves my family. Past, present, and I’m sure future. I’ve got what my counselor has called “…one of the most interesting families” around. Coming from someone that is professionally trained to deal with “interesting”, I don’t believe that is a compliment. Well, maybe it is, if being unforgettable is a compliment.

I don’t know how this experiment into writing will go, but I’m game. And, I’m realizing as I get older that I need to leave a little bit of me and of my family’s history behind. You know, in the end, family is all that matters, and I’ve got a great one. I don’t want the stories and the love to disappear.