Thursday, June 19, 2014
Unlike Diana Vreeland, I was unable to arrange to be born in Paris. I was born in Lake Providence, Louisiana literally on the banks of the Mississippi River, a fitting start to a gypsy life lived on the periphery. And when I say gypsy, I mean in relation to movement of people as opposed to the wearing of head scarves and bangles. And just like in Cher’s memorable hit, there are additionally both tramps and thieves in my extended family. The original words said, “Gypsies and white trash” and I’ve got some of them too. I’m not saying who; I’m just saying.
We moved on the average of once every 18 months throughout my formative years, but always in the same general vicinity. I call it ark-la-homa-tex-ippi. Y’all would call it the boonies; some of my readers call it home. In my leadership video on YouTube ("Funniest Leadership Speech Ever"), I define the boonies as “a place so far outside the city limits even animals question your presence”. And it’s true. The animal that is me questioned, mostly to myself, the constant movement. Whether we were running from or toward something, we were making good time.
From birth through high school graduation at 17, my family lived in 19 houses in 10 towns in five states. Combining college and graduate school, I spent seven years at three schools, all mercifully in Mississippi. If you’re doing the math, I had two junior years and that is a whole different story. I will tell you my Native American name was “pick-a-major-already”. Since I began working for the Department of Veterans Affairs, I have lived in 15 houses in 12 cities in 11 states. All of them decorated to within an inch of their lives. That’s a lot of throw pillows, people.
And I wonder is wanderlust innate or learned? My mother lived in the same house from the age of 2 until she married and my Dad’s family stayed in the same general vicinity most of his life. It seems that we were the inaugural gypsies. My siblings and I have mirrored that behavior to a degree, but with cuter outfits. My sister has moved several times, but nothing outside of the norm. My brother is in the Air Force so he and his family move often, but that is inherent in that commitment. I have moved many times to get where I wanted to be in my career. Fortunately, I have nothing living in my house except me; no pets, no plants, no children, no spouse. In that order.
I recently asked my Dad why we moved so much and he insisted that it was always for a better job and I have no reason to think he’s hiding something, although moving with a gooseneck trailer in the middle of the night bears questioning. We only did that once to my recollection, so I guess I believe him. About that, I mean. I don’t believe him about most things, however, because he has only a passing familiarity with the truth. It’s not so much he tells lies on a consistent basis; it’s more that he’s told the same lies so often he really doesn’t remember that they’re untrue. And I understand that to a point. I used to lie so much about my family’s financial situations that I forget when I now tell the truth people don’t believe me.
And the only reason that I’m even talking about this is The Dad is moving on again. He is returning to Louisiana to live with his sister, the sainted Aunt Gladys, she of the peanut butter cake fame. He has decided there is “too much town” out here in the land of the heathen and he wants to go back where they have trees and things. The fact that “town never stops” from San Francisco to San Jose bothers him. I did drive him out to where the trees and cows live but the fact that it took 45 minutes and I wouldn’t let him get a hot dog at the Sonic by the Tractor Supply Store, did not bolster my case. I argued the fact there was both a Sonic and a Tractor Supply Store but he countered with “fine, we can live in this parking lot, then.” So, you see I had no choice. I am unaccustomed to living in a parking lot and have no desire to get outside of my comfort zone by being, well, outside. If I could get one of these tech nerds out here to figure a way to get me to work, shopping and church through a series of air-conditioned tubes, I’d be good to go.
It’s been almost three years since he moved in and I started this blog but take heart, the 15 of you who read this (and yes I’m bitter, share this with your friends for pity’s sake), I will continue to blog. Now that I’ve introduced Uncle Dusty’s thoughts to the world, I can’t be silenced. You can’t quiet a kicked mule and you surely can’t un-kick it. Now that you’ve unleashed me to the blogosphere, I am unleashing The Dad on metropolitan Shreveport/Bossier City. He’ll actually live at the end of a red dirt road, off a gravel road, off the main road in Bethany, Louisiana (which I am assured is actually on the map), but he has to enter the city limits for doctor’s appointments at the VA and the occasional trip to the casino buffets or Piccadilly. So, gird your loins, folks, he’s a-coming…with recliner and dog.
And that’s all I’m saying for now.
Sunday, June 8, 2014
Maya Angelou recently passed away and in her honor, many have been quoting from her poem, "Phenomenal Woman". This got me to thinking about my mother who has been gone for 14 years. For the first couple of years I simply did not celebrate Mother’s Day because it hurt too much. A few years ago, someone said that those whose mothers have gone should use the day to celebrate their legacy. And so I did but I never shared. I know it’s late, and she wouldn’t like that one bit, but I thought I’d share a list of the things my mother taught me.
1. Show love every day. Every time she would see me, she’d say, “Hi, guy!” and then give me a hug or a peck on the cheek. Even if she had just hugged me 10 minutes before.
2. Be kind to yourself. Whenever I would get mad for making a mistake or call myself a name, she’d always tell me, “Don’t you talk about my child like that!”
3. Never downplay someone’s feelings. Once, when I was having a very dramatic response to something in seventh grade (and isn’t everything dramatic in junior high) and had decided, and then apparently announced that I would run away, she listened and quite seriously asked “Where would you find the love that you have here?” Having no answer, and quite frankly no concrete plans, I stayed.
4. Always learn. She stopped at every roadside marker to see what historical significance it held. My brother and sister were none too keen on learning new things in the wilds of America but I was always game.
5. Try new things. One of the added bonuses of these side trips was any time we explored an area, we got to explore the food. Her favorite phrase was, “Don’t tell and we’ll get a little snack”.
6. Enjoy the now. On road trips, I would sit in the middle of the back seat and lean my elbows on the console and she and I would talk the entire trip, whether it was 13 minutes to town or 13 hours to my grandmother’s. My brother and sister usually slept, but I was up and I was chatty. No one who knows me should be surprised by this.
7. Find a hobby that you love. She loved to read and passed that love onto her children. It was a common sight to find all 5 of my family sitting and reading at home.
8. Make time for yourself. She would give anything for those she loved and I always wondered how she kept giving and giving without tiring. But I remember when she needed to be by herself, she made it happen. There was more than one occasion growing up that my siblings and I would find ourselves ushered toward the door with the admonition to “go play”, hearing the door lock behind us. When we protested the heat or wondered what to do if we became thirsty, she’d point at the water hose and blow us a kiss. We became adept at creating games, some as simple as the “it’s your fault we’re out here” blame game. I always lost.
9. Don’t wait to be asked; offer your help. We never had much money but what we had she tithed and shared. Her mini-van was the unofficial youth and children’s church bus for Mesa Baptist and free taxi for many others. She was never put off by someone’s appearance, reputation or circumstances. She simply loved.
10. Work for what you want. In 4th grade I wanted a calculator. Yes, I know I was a nerd from way back. She told me I needed to earn the money so I took over her Amway route for a week. She told me to make sure I told my customers why I was trying to earn money. It worked. I earned enough money for the calculator in one day.
11. Support should be felt, not just heard. Even though I was chubby most of my life, my mother never made me feel bad about it. She would point out healthy choices on the menu at restaurants and taught me to eat as healthy as possible in the South, but she never shamed me.
12. Be proud of yourself. No matter our financial situation, our house was always well-decorated and spotless. She taught us “You are who you are, regardless of your circumstances. Always be proud.”
13. Don’t be late. The only time you shouldn’t arrive early is to a dinner party, unless you are assisting the hostess. And she usually was assisting.
14. Take time for God. She started each morning with a cup of coffee and her Bible. She knew she needed God every day.
15. Those who can should. She taught me to pay it forward and help those you can with whatever you have. That’s why I started the Thompson Scholarship for Student Leaders at Southwest Mississippi Community College in her honor. If anyone would like to donate, please contact the Office of Institutional Advancement, 1100 College Drive, Summit, MS 39666.
My mother was a fierce protector, prayer warrior, child advocate, creator of macramé things and lover of God, books, coffee and chocolate, in that order. Every time I watch ‘Steel Magnolias’ Sally Field’s character reminds me of my mother, Catherine Waynette Thornton Thompson. Sometimes it makes me smile and laugh, sometimes it hurts my heart but it always make me miss her and gives me the hope to carry on her legacy, often with mixed results. But every day I try because if you’re still here, you’ve still got work. Can I get an amen?