Five-Minute Friday: Relevant

Relevant schmelevant.

Irrelevant, more like it.  Or maybe irreverent.  I kind of prefer things that are those two things over relevance and reverence.

Relevant is sincerity and protest and political social religious activism and really friggin’ exhausting, when it comes down to it.  And reverence, I fear, is even worse – except when it comes to reverence for things like the pumpkins on Bynum Bridge or the smell  of a baby’s breath.

Irrelevant … distractions, unimportance, the way certain people in my life have made me feel (wait, Eleanor Roosevelt said no one makes you feel bad unless you let them, or something like that, which is VERY relevant).  Irreverent is just funny.  Although some people find it offensive.  They should cut it out, I say.

Why is relevance so revered?  What qualifies something as relevant, anyway? Isn’t everything anything relevant to someone or something?  My cat thinks his Greenies are pretty damned relevant, I’ll tell you.  Especially today, after he had to go to the vet.  That was relevant.

Relevant makes me think of loftiness, snootiness, the stuff people say is bad about the town where I live.


Five-Minute Friday (!) – Beyond

Missed it yesterday … but check out The Gypsy Mama for the rules. And thanks again to my friend Mary Kathryn for turning me on to this exercise 🙂

Beyond all recognition
Beyond all understanding
Beyond the moon … beyond the rain … (anyone catch that reference?)
Beyond your wildest expectations

Things extend beyond what you anticipate. Events do. You never know how one action will lead you to a choice you didn’t know you’d have and how what someone says or how the wind blows or how your head turns might cause you to take one more step toward some THING, some goal, some life you had no idea you would or could be living.

Take me, for instance.

All of the experiences I have had have led me right here, to this couch with this afghan I crocheted when I was 18 years old over my legs and this cat by my side and this laptop on … well, on my lap, of course. And these are teeny pieces of a collection of facets images particles huge chunks of my life that were all completely to be expected, but nothing like what I’d anticipated, and beyond anything I would have predicted

The Silver Rope

My grandmother had beautiful hair, but very few people knew it. She kept it in a bun at the nape of her neck. If I woke up early enough in the morning, I could watch her brushing it before she went out to do her chores. Sitting in the rocking chair in the front room, already wearing the housedress she’d sewn out of polyester remnants from the mill, she would take out what seemed like hundreds of hairpins, unwind the bun and bring the silver rope around her neck in front of her body. She would start at the bottom and brush just the few inches at the end, then move up a little at a time until she was pulling the hairbrush from her scalp all the way down to where her hair ended at her lowest rib. She became Rapunzel in those moments, locked away in her farmhouse with no prince in sight. Her hair wouldn’t be tangled, as it had been pinned up for the entire previous 24 hours, but she never skipped the ritual. It was the only activity I ever saw her engage in that was purely an act of self-care.   When she had finished brushing all the way through, she would twirl her hair back into a rope, wind it back into a bun, and put all of the hairpins back in, each seemingly in the exact place from which she’d removed it.

As Grandma grew older, her vision worsened and she started having trouble getting around even inside her own house. When she could no longer care for herself, my aunt and my mother took care of her. Aunt Esther was not married, so she kept watch at night; Daddy drove Mama over in the morning so she could brush Grandma’s hair. She also cleaned the house and prepared meals, but I think the brushing was the greatest gift she gave her mother.

When Grandma died, the family worried that the funeral director would make her look wrong. She would look like someone else, someone who wore makeup to the grocery store and went to the beauty parlor. Mama wouldn’t allow it. She went to the funeral home and fixed her mother’s hair one last time. She drew it around the front of Grandma’s body and brushed just the last few inches, then moved up a little bit at a time until she was brushing all the way from the roots to the end. She twisted it into a rope and wound it into a bun, then pinned it with what seemed like hundreds of hairpins so it would stay secure. She didn’t cry until she was finished, but then she fell apart. The funeral director told her she was a very brave girl.

It has occurred to me more than once that when Mama is no longer able to care for herself, it will be my turn to step in, because that is our way. Mama wears her hair short, so I don’t yet know what gift I’ll be able to give to her.  I wonder if I will be a very brave girl.

Okay, I’ll Play

Five-minute Friday – visit The Gypsy Mama for an explanation – because I’ve wanted to, because MK encouraged me (us her readership, not me in particular, but I take these things personally), because I can think of nothing more pleasant than to sit here and drink my breakfast shake and write, but I’m not quite ready to tell another story because the more I write, the more I’m figuring out about me and sometimes that’s a little scary.  So the word today is “catch” and I’m setting the timer … GO.

Catch the ball, dammit … if you do, she’s out!  The fabulous Marcy Marceau caught the ball and Sarah Hougaboom was out and that won the battleball game for our side and WHAT a victory that was.

Catching things means they’re contagious and I may have caught the blogging bug from MK but it was fed by The Bitter Divorcee and Anne Lamott and David Sedaris and my mama and Miss Paige and the wonderful people who told me I could write and should write and by golly needed to write.  Including my spiritual advisor counselor coach friend who knows these things.  Too many stories in my cells in the mitochondria of my cells not to put them down.

P.S. Five minutes can be long when you’re not used to this sort of thing.



She was tiny, so tiny.  She lived in the house in the city where she’d grown up, with her mother and her mother’s husband and too many brothers and sisters.  They were all much bigger than her, and very loud.  They had a busy life, all of them together; her stepfather was an Important Person in the Community, and that required parties and dancing lessons and carrying trays of hors d’ouvres around to guests.  When her mother informed her she was to be married to Mr. Chester Frank. she was both relieved and terrified.  He was at least quiet, from what she’d observed, but so very much older than she was, and so tall and thin.

Her mother took her shopping for a wedding dress.  In the bridal shop, the saleswoman shook her head.  They had nothing that wouldn’t swallow her delicate frame.  “What about these?” another shopper suggested, indicating the rack of dresses for flower girls.  They were frilly and childish, but led to the First Communion dresses.  Those, designed to mark the solemn transition to spiritual maturity one makes at age seven, were perfect. Being married was everything and nothing she’d imagined.  She moved her things into the apartment he’d been living in across town.  She kept house very well, and it was quiet and peaceful.  She continued calling her husband Mr. Frank after the ceremony, as no one had instructed her otherwise.  She did not recall her mother calling her stepfather anything.  Mr. Frank went out to work early in the morning and came home in the evening, weary and ready to eat.  She was not altogether certain what he did all day, but on payday he would give her money for groceries, so she didn’t ask questions.

Sometimes he had to be gone overnight, and that was a little frightening for her.  She’d never slept alone in her house growing up, and knowing there were other people in the building didn’t help much.  It wasn’t as though she knew them, after all.  She thought she might like to try to meet them, but wasn’t certain how to go about it.  After a few weeks of politely smiling in the hall, it seemed a little silly to suddenly introduce herself, and besides, she wasn’t sure if that was appropriate.  She had been brought up to be introduced.

She sometimes missed her old life.  They would attend parties at her home, but never stayed long because Mr. Frank couldn’t tolerate the commotion and conversation for more than a couple of hours.  She realized she longed to dance.  She found herself singing as she cleaned at home: “Hop down front then doodle back … mooch to your left then mooch to the right …” but it wasn’t much fun doing the Black Bottom alone.


Hubert married Opal – or Opal married Hubert, however it went.  Opal had a daughter named Esther from her first marriage, but that husband had left her for a younger woman, or so the story goes.  Opal was only 15 when Esther was born and 21 when she and Hubert got married, so Husband Number One evidently really liked ’em young.  Anyway, Hubert was in the Army and Opal thought he looked very fine in his uniform.  Opal was still a catch, even though she brought a little girl into the deal: her daddy had money and what was better than that, he had land and he gave some of both to Opal.

Years later, Opal would tell her granddaughters, “Make sure you go to school and get your education.  That’s the one thing your husband can’t take away from you.  He can take your land, but he can’t take your education.”  Which kind of didn’t make sense, because she outlived Hubert so he never got her land, and then she went and willed it all to her sons so her daughters’ husbands couldn’t get it and sell it outside the family.  So it seemed like her own daughters didn’t get anything.

Anyway, it was a good thing Opal’s daddy gave her that land, because there she was for years, married to Hubert and raising Esther and then five more children in a little rental house just outside the Army base, when something terrible happened.  No one could say it was unexpected, but it was terrible anyway.

Opal and Hubert’s landlord wanted to sell them that little house, and they wanted to buy it.  Well, Opal did, anyway.  It was silly to give a big chunk of Hubert’s pay to the landlord at the beginning of every month and have nothing to show for it at the end.  She took some of the money her daddy had given her and gave it to Hubert to take to town and buy the house. He didn’t come back for several days, and when he did, the money was gone but the house still wasn’t theirs.  He had drunk up whatever he hadn’t spent on women, was what it came down to.

Opal was furious, but she was a smart and determined woman.  She bought a whole lot of wood and paid a man five hundred dollars to build a square four-room house on the land her daddy had given her.  There was a front room, a front bedroom, a kitchen, and a back bedroom. When the last nail went in, Opal packed up all six children and moved in.  Esther got the front bedroom, because she was the oldest girl; the rest slept in the back bedroom, with Opal and the two younger girls in one bed and the three boys in the other.

About thirty years later, after all of the girls and two of the boys had moved away, Opal and her brother added plumbing and built on a bigger kitchen, a bathroom and a den.  Hubert stayed in the den when he was at home.  That part is falling down now, victim to termites and weather, but the first four rooms are solid.  The strength they represent is Opal’s legacy to her daughters.

What’s In A Name?

So my grandpa, Hubert Harton, was the first Harton ever.

I know this is true, or at least partly so, because his brother Van was a Burton.  And their cousins Opal and Ruby were Burtons.  There weren’t any other Hartons in that county.

The way it happened was this:  Grandpa stole a car.  Why he did that, I don’t know.  He was supposed to have had a still and so maybe he was running moonshine, or maybe he just did it for the thrill or whatever.  Anyway, it was before he was married, so he probably didn’t need it for family-type errands.  And he got caught.

The judge gave him a choice:  he could go to jail or he could go into the army.  He didn’t exactly have much in the way of job prospects, so he chose the army.  And that’s when everything changed for him.

Somehow, some way, someone wrote his name down wrong.  It’s kind of easy to see how a “B” could look like an “H” if your pen skipped or something and how a “u” could look like an “a” that wasn’t quite closed at the top, but I almost think someone had to have done that on purpose.  Whether it was the judge trying to help Grandpa get a fresh start or the recruiter doing the same or Grandpa just practicing lying, I don’t know.  But there it was.

So when he came home and married Opal Burton and they had a daughter who had us, it took us years to figure out that not only were Great-Uncle Van and Great-Aunt Ruby cousins, but Grandpa Hubert and Grandma Opal were, too.  And being from up North where as far as we knew, people just didn’t do that sort of thing, that made us feel kind of funny. 

It didn’t make Mama feel funny at all.  In fact, she went to a Burton family geneology group gathering and was proud that she could take two nametags, showing she was from both sides of the Burton family.  I told her I wouldn’t advertise that if I were her, but she just gave me a look and went on.