Monday, March 28, 2011

A Victorious Loss

I’ve started playing tennis again.  Like, organized tennis.

After a 3-year hiatus and with so many of my fans begging for my comeback, I have dusted off my racket – nay found and then dusted off my racket and returned to the court. 

Okay, perhaps the only begging was coming from my muscles after the first practice.

At any rate, I am enjoying being on the court again.  It’s the one thing I can truly say, I’ve done my entire life.  It started long before I entered the realm of drama and has endured much longer than any musical instrument I’ve ever attempted to play. 

And as I explained to my muscles last week over a pint of Ben and Jerry’s…its good for me.

This weekend, my sister and I were floating off of our first week victory in our triumphant return.  We were ready to show another set of doubles-players that this court wasn’t big enough for the four of us.  I used my cunning strategy of intimidation by having both rackets in my tennis bag. 

First of all, for those who don’t play tennis, let me explain.  No one needs two rackets.  Only the pros and really competitive men’s tennis, carry two rackets.  It means your good.  It means you hit the ball so hard that you could break something on your racket in any given point and therefore need a backup.  This is not something I have to worry about.  I just carry the 2nd racket because I don’t have any other place to put it.  But I think it’s a rather genius and intimidating strategy. 

As it turned out, not even the two rackets would save this match.

I have to say that one of the most difficult things for me on the tennis court is the side game that is always being played.  It’s a little game I like to call “Post Shot Comments”.  It’s the finale to each point.  The thing you say to the person that made the good shot and/or the person that made the point-losing shot. 

This is way more difficult than a little game of doubles…this deals with human emotion.

Ladies tennis is full of frustrated moms, wives, working women, etc.  They have had about all they can take of their week and the tennis court is ground zero for a frustration outlet.  It can get ugly.  It can get uglier than the black and navy tennis outfit I put together last week. 

For the most part, I’m okay with whatever comment you want to say to me on the court.  I can take the “good try’s” from the Venus and Serena play-a-likes who  should never have stepped foot on line four of a C team (and know it).  I can even handle the “hang in there’s” from my partner when I hit a ball, out.

The only thing I cannot stand to hear on a tennis court is the dreaded non-compliment, “Nice Idea.”

You aim your backhand to hit a winner down the alley of the girl at the net.  It is so wide it lands next to the Gatorade bottle on the bench…one court over.  You cringe.

“Nice idea, Rachel.”  You hear your partner or your opponent or (even worse) your mom from the stands shout as you walk back to position.

Hmm…I would have preferred “Good try”, “Shake it off” or even, “What was THAT?”  Instead, I get, “Nice Idea”.

“Nice Idea” is actually short for, “Yea, I see what you were trying to do there.  It’s a shame that you weren’t able to execute that particular shot.”

This weekend’s match was filled with lots of shots that were “nice ideas”.  These shots were only our shots. Our opponents shots were more of the“That’s how we do it!” kind…all of them.  Followed by fist bumps. 

The scene looked like the following:  Our opponent would slam a perfectly aimed ball in the general vicinity of where we weren’t.  We would trip over our own feet trying to make an attempt at getting the shot that we would ultimately miss.  The opponent would then sling her racket over her shoulder and continue discussing her spring planting ideas.

“I’m thinking about Marigolds for the front yard,” she would casually mention to her partner who was working on finishing her story about her children’s bus driver who just died.  All of this being interrupted, only sometimes, by the tennis match that was being played. 

Meanwhile, we were reevaluating our goals in our pre-point huddles. 

We went from “We are going to kick some butt, girl.  We got this.” 

To, “We’ll get them in the next set. No worries.”

Which led to, “Look, let’s just get some games here.  I don’t want to leave here without any games.”

Which became: “Can we not win any points?  This is ridiculous…did you kick a puppy on the way here?  Let’s just focus on winning one point.”

And finally, “So, who do you think is going to get kicked off Celebrity Apprentice this week?”

After the public smashing that was our tennis match, we walked to the center of the court to shake hands and exchange our well wishes.  Anna and I congratulated our opponents on their victory and skills.  One of the girls shook my hand, shrugged her shoulders and could only manage, “You guys were funny.” 

I take it back, there are two things I can’t stand to hear on the tennis court.

So, I was going to report a second victory for my sister and I on the court this weekend.

I know. I know.

Nice idea, Rachel.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

It All Starts Somewhere...

Not long after our son was born, Andy and I decided to grow up, stop eating Ramen noodles and get insurance policies.  The moment we signed those policies was quite surreal.  I realized as we sat on either side of our financial representative that every episode of Snapped or City Confidential started right there, at the kitchen table, making the public declaration that we were worth more dead than alive…and the other one now had it in writing.

It makes you wonder how well you really know a person.

Andy and I glanced up at each other timidly from time to time as we flipped through the pages and signed our respective forms.  We hadn't been that nervous since our first kiss.  After what I refer to as the most vulnerable moment of our lives, Andy excused himself to go wash and wax my car while I went online to buy that bottle of cologne he'd been asking for.  I was alphabetizing his cd's and scrubbing out his shower when he came back in the house and declared I needed a night off and he was taking me out to dinner.

We had never been nicer to each other.

The first thing required of a life insurance policy, after the dreaded signing o' the form, is an assessment of your health.  The traveling nurse comes to your house to take your vitals, get blood and weigh you with her cheap scale.

This is to assess the amount you should pay per month.  You know, it's the risk assessment.  The more you pay per month...the more likely you will die within the 30 year term of your policy.  Pleasant thought isn't it?

Because Andy and I worked, we had to have our health assessed at separate times. He just happened to be first.  Later that afternoon, I called home from work to see how it went. 

“I don’t feel so good,” he sounded puny over the phone.

“Are you sick?” 

“No, the nurse took all this blood and I’m feeling really lightheaded.  I don’t know if I can even go to work tonight?”

“Where are you?” I asked.

“Lying in bed with my feet up in the air.”

“Good grief, how much blood did she take?” 

Being a woman, blood donor and having had a baby, I had had quite a bit of blood taken many, many times.  After talking to Andy, my mind was imagining the nurse tapping my husband’s arm like a keg and leaving our home with a bucket of his blood.


I told him to take it easy for the rest of the day.

A few days later, the nurse showed up again to conduct her ‘how much should you have to pay for coverage’ tests on me.  Without looking up from her clipboard she asked me how my husband was doing. 

“Oh, He’s fine.”

“Well, he wasn’t fine the other day.  I thought he was going to pass out when I was taking his blood.”

“Well, he rarely goes to the doctor so he’s not used to having vials of blood taken.” I explained. 

She looked up from what she was doing. “I took one vial of blood.”

“One vial?”

“One vial.”

“I see.” 

Do you remember when the doctor says, “one stitch” in the hospital scene of Adventures in Babysitting?  This was that moment. One stitch.  One vial.


After that discovery, she pulled out her scale.  Now, there is a certain method to a woman stepping on a scale.  Can I get an amen?  There are conditions, specific wardrobe choices and the moon must be in the seventh house.  Do NOT throw your $4 Big Lots scale down on my living room floor at 4PM, tell me to step on with my shoes and think THAT is an accurate number.  Is nothing sacred anymore?

I tried to negotiate, but apparently she was not willing to accept the weight on my driver's license listing my high school weight...er....minus ten pounds.  

Needless to say, once we got our assessments back.  My premium went up, while my husband’s went down by half.  I was bitter. 

“This is weight discrimination.” I declared over the phone from work to my husband the day I found out. “I just had a baby, don’t I get some kind of special post partum immunity or something?”

He mumbled something about life not working like reality television. 

He never understands. He then made the most common mistake men make while women vent.  He had opinions.  Then he made the 2nd most common mistake.  He shared them with me.

“What you don’t understand, honey…” He began. 

This is dangerous territory he is heading into here.  1.) No woman wants to be told she doesn’t understand.  2.) He is clearly about to insert some thoughts on my vent session about my weight. 

Careful, Andy.  I know how much you're worth.

I’m pretty sure he promised never to discuss my weight when we said our vows.  The only acceptable weight comment is…”It looks like you’ve lost weight.”  That’s it…nothing else.  No deviation.  A man can say, “It looks like you’ve lost weight.”  Then he just needs to shut up.

Yet he continued“…is that you really have to watch what you eat and always make sure you exercise.”

He has never exercised.

“I mean, I must walk several miles at my job each night.  That keeps me in great shape.  Life and getting older…”

Great, now I’m out of shape and getting older.

“…is about really taking care of our bodies and paying close attention to the things we choose to eat.”

Just then, I heard the kitchen timer go off in the background.

“What was that?” I asked.

“Huh?  Oh, my Tombstone is ready. Can we talk later?”

“Sure,” I muttered bitterly.

“Oh, honey?”

"Yes?" I managed.

"Do you think you could pick up some Lays Stacks and box of doughnuts on the way home."

I slammed the phone down on the receiver wondering how much his premium would go up if the insurance company had any inkling about the sudden and dramatic increase in risk to his overall well-being at that very moment.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Are you a Lawyer?

"Are you a lawyer?" The white haired lady in the back guessed.

"No, Tootsie. The category is…something you find in the kitchen."
I was beginning to get a little impatient with this game that I had thought would be fun for the residents to play.  Another woman took a guess.

"Ants?" a slightly older woman with slightly whiter hair chimed in.

"No Miss Clyde…not Ants."  Again…something you find in the kitchen…everyone's kitchen…not just yours.  Miss Clyde sat back in her chair looking more confused then ever.

"I know…I know…," Tootsie was getting into the game now…her hands were shaking in the air to get my attention.

"Yes…Tootsie…you have another guess?"

The delicate, but feisty lady called out, "You're a dog!"

Working with the elderly was going to be harder than I thought.

When I was 26 I took a job at the assisted living community where my grandmother lived.  I thought it was a divine appointment of sorts.   My grandmother had just moved up from Fayetteville and the place she was moving into happened to be hiring.  At this time in my life, I was in the throws of the, now ridiculous sounding, quarter life crisis.  I was a few years out of college, working a job, that in hindsight I should probably still be at, but I was looking for something more.  I was looking for a job with meaning.  I was looking for a greater purpose.  That greater purpose, for the time being, was going to be the elderly. 

I bid my well-paying-for-being-straight-out-of-college, professional, on-a-path-to-something career job and took my big heart and my higher calling over to the assisted living where I would take a big pay cut so that I could fulfill a greater good with people who had absolutely no appreciation of the fact that I was doing them a great service.  

Did I mention that I was a stupid 26 year old? 

One of my jobs at the assisted living was to plan and execute field trips.  This meant that I had to drive the resident bus complete with wheelchair lift.  I have to hand it to my management, they did a great job convincing me that I needed no special training to drive something that could carry 20 plus people, no further lift training other than showing me the up and down buttons, no training in resident transfers (moving a resident from a wheelchair to a seat and back again).  I wasn’t even CPR certified, but that seemed to be no problem to my boss.

Looking back I am amazed that I was trusted to take 15 plus residents on adventures all over the metro Atlanta area. Especially since my first experience driving the van for an Alzheimer’s patient’s Dr. appointment, led me to hit a clearance sign…twice.  It’s kind of a difficult crime to flee from, too.  Any blind, drunk man could have picked out this vehicle with the scraped roof, community’s name on the side in enormous letters and the young female driver having a complete meltdown in the driver’s seat while screaming into a cell phone that this wasn’t part of her job description.  Yet, somehow, Ms. Effie and I evaded capture.

The residents were blissfully ignorant to my lack of experience and gladly hopped on that bus anywhere I went.  I think some of them were secretly ready to die. We took scenic tours all over the area.  I gave my scenic adventure rides names you might find featured in a Globus catalog.  Every Thursday afternoon we would head on the “Magnolia Mile”, “Dogwood Day Ride” or I would take the residents on an “Old Atlanta Adventure” which basically meant, I drove them up and down East Paces Ferry to look at old houses.  They half-listened to this one cassette tape I had of 1940’s music and half listened as I shared all the historical information I could remember.  Of course, what I couldn’t remember, I just made up.  

The first time I had to do a resident transfer was for a woman named Gertie.  Gertie was in her early 80’s.  She sat at Mamo’s table and at the end of every meal would ask where her bill was so she could settle up.  She spent a lot of her time having confusing discussions with an 84-year-old who told everyone that she was 100. Talk about, lying about your age.

Well, Gertie wanted to go on one of our excursions one day.  Up until Gertie, I had merely had the walking residents go on the excursions. The most that was required of me was a hand to help them on and off the rickety bus.  Or sometimes if we were taking a scenic drive, one of the caregivers would assist in getting the residents on the bus.  For whatever reason, on this day, there was no one to help me. 

I was very nervous about this.  I could see the headline, Nursing Home Worker Kills Woman During Improper Resident Transfer, and I didn't like the look of it one bit. 

I carefully rolled Gertie’s wheelchair on the lift, secured her and hit the “up” button and watched it raise her up in to the bus.  I ran inside the bus, unlocked the wheelchair and rolled her in.  Halfway home, I arrogantly thought.  I can do this.

Now came the transfer.  I put her arms around my neck and grabbed her around the waist just like I’d seen the other caregivers do.  It was like anticipating a waxing…JUST DO IT... I kept telling myself.   Inside I was praying that I wouldn’t drop her. 

ON the count of three…one …two…three.  I lifted.  I transferred.  She was in her bus seat.  The whole ordeal had taken four seconds.  I bent over Ms. Gertie looking at her,  stroking her hand and asking if she was okay.  I believe I might have even been crying.

“I’m fine,” she said in her normal, dry tone - as if nothing had just happened.

She was unaware of the Rocky music of success playing in my mind.  

That wasn't so hard. What was I so afraid of.

I turned to walk to the front of the bus.

“Hey, I got a question.”  Ms. Gertie was looking at her feet as she made this statement.
I hurriedly came to her side.  

“What’s that Ms. Gertie?”  I smiled and gave my best flight attendant impersonation as I hovered an inch from her face.  Apparently, I thought the hallmark of a good caregiver was to invade people's personal space.

Ms. Gertie sniffed and looked up at me.  “When were you going to get the rest of my ass in this seat?”

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

My Mother the Vacation Whisperer

When I was a young, my mother’s crack was travel.  Truly, there was nothing better to her.  And it was never just about traveling all over the world and staying in the most desirable spots in the country.  My mother would be happy taking a car trip to Opryland.  It was the thrill of the adventure and the fun of planning.

Now don’t get me wrong, my mother was all about seeing Europe and traveling to some really nice spots.  But if tickets to Albuquerque went on sale for $69 roundtrip, she was going to buy them.  I remember her telling me that we were going to be visiting New Mexico.  “Why?” I foolishly asked.  Was I new?  My mother looked down from her travel brochure (as we were visiting this exotic destination pre-internet) and said, “For $69 roundtrip, we’ll find something to do once we get there.”

That was a different sort of vacation…going to Albuquerque and Santa Fe.  Not just because my mother + higher altitudes + 2 Coronas at lunch = telling me that I should name my souvenir Native American doll,  “Squatting Dog” right in front of four Native American women selling pottery, but because it was one of the few vacations where I knew where we were going before I got there. 

I spent much of my life in the backseat of our car, wondering where we were going.  It didn’t occur to me to ask questions.  We’d hop in a car and I never knew if we were going to the airport, driving to the beach or heading to the annual Webb family reunion in Fayetteville.  It was a life of unexpected surprises…being in that back seat. 

There were too many cooks in that kitchen for me to start taking charge, having an opinion or even getting briefed about our destination. Besides, the family dynamic, just like our spots at the dinner table, were set in stone: My father drove the car and paid, my mother made and held the itinerary and my sister spent most of our vacation attempting to rearrange my mother’s plans and looking for cute boys.  All jobs were taken…so I was just along for the ride.  It was my preference anyway.  I was perfectly content, staring out the window in the backseat, rewinding “Hangin Tough” for the 60th time and daydreaming that wherever we were going would yield a chance encounter with a New Kid on the Block.  I also found the job of keeping the 20 AA batteries separated into new and old piles to be a full time responsibility.

We went to a lot of places growing up.  But no matter where we went, what hole-in-the-wall tourist attraction my mother had us at…there was always at least one day of historical significance.  A day where we would go to some location to see something really old as my mother read the historical pamphlet.  I assure you, the point was always lost on us. 

I remember being at the historic lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove in Canada and my sister asking when we could go to the gift shop.  “Look, “ my mother fired back.  “We just drove an hour to get here so we are all going to stand here for five minutes in reverent silence and appreciate this historical lighthouse. This is where bodies from the Titanic washed up on shore.  Have some respect.”

The reverent silence lasted 8 seconds before we heard from my sister.  “I’m cold.” 
 
In New York, it was the trip to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, In Washington DC I wore holes in the thighs of my Jams walking to every monument we could fit in our day, and in Vegas we drove to Hoover Dam so we could open the car door and touch our toe onto something historical before heading back to the nickel slots.  All of these adventures, of course, were sandwiched between being trapped in the hotel room watching tennis, as we always seemed to travel during the French Open.  No, there was no streaming Netflix through my 4G iPhone back then, I was forced to know who Boris Becker was.

Regarding historically significant matters, we couldn’t even go to Aruba without renting a car and setting off in search of ancient hieroglyphics.

Picture it, Aruba, 1991. My mother happened to find the only historical landmark on the 70 square mile island, and by God, we were going to that landmark.   My mother finding the local history on any given vacation was like her own personal shot glass collection. 

As much as we hated to leave the pool, our walkmans and the virgin daiquiris, my mom made us all pile into one of Aruba’s finest rental cars (which isn’t saying much) and forced us to make the drive to the “other side” of the island.  This was the side of the island with no resort hotels, no fruity drinks, no casinos, no one to hear our screams.  It might have been the outer ring of hell. There was nothing. 

It is important to mention that our trip to Aruba was at the very beginning of the island building up its tourist business.  There were not very many hotels to begin with and next to nobody was visiting.  I have no idea what is on the other side of the island now, but then, it was nothing.  It was just desert with a wind that constantly blew. In fact, everything about the other side of the island blew.

My mother insisted on taking us to a cave with ancient hieroglyphics carved in the side that were created by the first people to come to the island.  I, for one, didn’t care.  I think my dad, for two, and definitely my sister, for three, didn’t care either.  My mother cared…which meant, we cared by force. 

My mother was always interested in educating us.  As my dad drove our luxury rental car, which I’m pretty sure was made up of old paddle boat parts, my mom kept one eye on the map and one eye on the road.  Which was pretty unnecessary.  It’s not like we were searching for a highway exit to our destination.  I am convinced the “road” we were on was the result of a bunch of animals just fleeing in one direction one day during a fire.  Somehow consulting a map seemed like overkill when all we were doing was driving until we saw “the” sign and if we ended up in the ocean, clearly we had gone too far.

Finally, we saw a piece of plywood leaning up against some desert shrub with the words, “Tunnel O’ Love” spray-painted in red.  Blood red.  The sign had clearly been put up while still wet as it seemed more fitting a haunted house than a family tourist attraction.   Our American spirit of adventure, however, forced us onward.  In other words, my mom screamed, “THERE IT IS, WAYNE. TURN HERE!” 

“That?” We were all three thinking the same thing.  My dad turned the car down a path in the direction indicated by the arrow on the sign. 

“Maybe it gets more legitimate looking the closer we get,” my sister whispered to me in the backseat.  It didn’t.   What we saw next, can only be described as a movie set.  If the movie was about stupid American tourists who pull off the road and stumble upon the last place people are ever seen alive. 

There was a tiki hut, a VW wagon that looked like the after shots of a car bomb on the Gaza Strip and two men who were staring at us like we were there biggest rush of the day.  I can’t be sure, but I think one of them blinked dollar signs like in a cartoon. We saw two other people.  It looked like a young American couple…honeymooning perhaps, walking toward us with dazed looks on their faces. 

“How was it?” My mom asked the Stepford honeymooners. 
“It was interesting.” The woman replied as she stared straight forward and walked to her car.  She said nothing else and we never saw them again.

Before we could run for our lives, we were ushered to the tiki hut by one of the two men and my dad paid for us.  We were then given 3 hard hats and 2 pocket flashlights between the four of us and introduced to our expert guide, David (pronounced DAH VEED) who told us he hadn’t been to Georgia but he’d been close when he visited family in New York one time.

The one thing I should probably mention at this time is that we had still not seen a cave.  Cue creepy music.

We were to soon find out that the cave we were going to see was, in fact, underground.  As a child, you think your parents have all of their decisions under control.  I trusted that my parents would not pay money to have us get lost forever in a cave in Aruba. 

As a parent, now, I see how well thought out a lot of our ideas are not.

Once we were several stories underground in the cave and trying to share a few pocket flashlight beams of light, David and my sister Anna seemed to disappear ahead of us in a matter of minutes.  That left my father, my mother and me alone to find our own way through the winding underground labyrinth.  Being lost in a cave with my family is pretty much like putting your life in the hands of all the people who were ever picked last in kickball.  I love them dearly, but the Ingalls we are not.  We would have died on the Oregon Trail when we realized there was no Hyatt.  In fact, we might still be down in that cave if it weren’t for a rope on the ground leading the way that we clung to for dear life.

Meanwhile, my father was repeating over and over again, “watch your head. Don’t slip. Don’t slip. Don’t….ahhh”  He slipped.  This was not a fun, relaxing day of checking out local history.  We were spelunking.  I felt like a coal miner after an explosion.  It was dark, dangerous and I was not cut out for this kind of extreme sightseeing.  Plus, I really felt like we were inadequately geared up as we passed our hard hats back and forth on a 90 second rotation that we developed.

We managed to catch up to my sister and our tour guide long enough to catch the one hieroglyphic drawn on one of the walls.  I’m pretty sure it was in the same blood red spray paint that was featured on their plywood sign.  As we were admiring the historically significant wall, since that is what we paid to see, my sister and David raced ahead as if trying to ditch us again.  I was really beginning to dislike them both. 

By the time we caught up to them, they were talking to us from a hole in the ground above us.  I guess I assumed that since our descent into the cave was a gradual stair stepping, climb down, that our climb out would be similar.  Truthfully, I had imagined an elevator, but this wasn’t the high-class setup that Ruby Falls was.  It was not similar to the climb in.  It was like looking up from the bottom of a well. 

Our only way out of the hallowed halls of vacation hell was a two-story climb straight up the side of the cave wall.  There were no harnesses, no spotters and there was no safety equipment unless you again count the hard hats and flashlights we were rotating. As previously stated, we were not equipped for this. 

My dad managed, through a clever strategy of praying and cursing, to climb out.  I tearfully followed.  Looking back, I’m not really sure how I got out since I’ve never even been able to register an actual time doing the flex arm hang in gym class, but I’m guessing adrenaline played a part.   That left my mother.  We all looked back down the hole.  She started explaining that she loved us all, never meant to take us on a dangerous educational excursion and tearfully explained that she would make the best of her new life in the cave. 

She willed her jade ring to me, and her emerald necklace to my sister.  She requested we hire someone to drop food down the hole every so often and that we never ever forget her.  She also mumbled something about the single choir ladies ready to pounce on my widowed father and how she better not catch any of them in any of her jewelry.  Yep, this definitely hadn’t been in her travel brochure. 

My father finally coaxed her up the side of the rock wall by promising her everything under the sun and reminding her that we were missing the French Open.  Once we were all out, every Webb in our clan ran as fast as they could to the car.  We never looked back.  We were free.

We had driven only a few minutes when we caught sight of another sign.  It was a very professional looking sign with graphics and lights.  Next we saw a paved parking lot full of cars and tourists and a big cave that you walked straight into.  It was a glorious sight.

My mom pointed at the parking lot full of people and said, “Wait, that’s the cave we were supposed to go to.”  No sooner were the words out of her mouth than my father slammed his foot down on the gas peddle and passed the legitimate attraction as fast as that little car made of old paddle boat parts would take us.  We had had our fill of historical significance.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

How the South Does Death

www.humorpress.com


Once upon a time, someone died.  

Not only did that person die, but also they died in the South.  

Across town, nine church ladies are going about their business when one after another, they get the call.  Each one reaches for the phone.

“Dorothy Simpson died”

That is all need be said.  In a matter of moments, these brave little old ladies are filling the aisles of Winn Dixie or Piggly Wiggly or Kroger.  Buggies are being filled with watermelons, corn on the cob, chicken, potatoes, crackers, cheeses, butter and every cream soup known to man.  Their mission is clear.  The evil villain grief can only be fought with one weapon.  It is the job of these nine women to carry out their gluttonous plan.  It is a burden they carry gladly for the deceased.   Their food is bought and they hurry home to begin cooking.

Later that night, one of these women gets a call from another.

“Jean?”

“Yes, Elsie.”

A frightening hesitation, before “Myrtle forgot to get the ham.”

Silence

Jean puts down the real butter she is creaming into a stick of Crisco and picks up her glass of sweet tea.  She takes a long thoughtful swig of the tea.  She chews on the sugar granules thoughtfully as she comes up with a plan.

“Alright, Elsie.  Jack has to deliver tomatoes to all the people in the church directory tomorrow, but when he gets back, we’ll go first thing and get the ham.  But this means that you have to make the congealed salad because I won’t have time to come back and get mine.”

“Okay, Jean, I can do that.”

“Do you have the gelatin, crushed pineapple, sour cream and cherries?

“I do.”

“Okay, then Elsie, I leave the Jell-O salad in your hands.  I’ll do my best to get the ham on such short notice.”

“Jean?”

“Yes, Elsie?”

“If you can’t get a ham, this will be the first visitation in the history of Springhill Baptist to not have one to feed the family.  Dorothy would never forgive us.”

“Yes, Elsie, I realize a lot is riding on this.  I will not fail.  This is for Dorothy.”

My father’s family has been in the state of Georgia since it got its name.  These people practically bleed bacon grease and cornbread.  In addition to the southern code that they lived by, there were a lot of them in the family so I remember attending a good number of funerals growing up. 

I have vivid memories of my grandmother, perched on a stool in more than one deceased family member’s kitchen; quietly judging- I mean overseeing the food deliveries.  One thing about death in the South – you eat well. 

It wasn’t just family deaths that needed coordinating by my grandmother.  It was also friend deaths.  I had the following conversation with my grandmother multiple times.

“You know my friend Mildred”
Shake my head, “no”
“You know, Mildred from my Sunday school class”
Shake my head, “no”.
“You know the gray-headed one.”
Oh, the gray headed one.
“Sure, Mamo.”
“Well, she died, today so we have to get over to the Winn Dixie.”

Lining the buffet table was always an array of chicken casseroles.  Chicken casseroles are a lot like snow flakes…I’ve never seen two exactly the same.  They are generally the same, but every good southern woman has one or two tweaks to make their chicken unique. But no matter what recipe differences there may be, they all show up when someone is "going home".  That is the chicken casserole's finest hour.  That is the job it was meant for. I don’t know how to describe it except to say that, in the South, chicken casserole is the official food of grief. 

The dish is so prevalent in the secret underbelly that is the Southern covered dish code, that it often times shows up at your doorstep prior to you receiving notification of the death…as an omen of sorts. 

You might be just starting your day when you open the front door to find a chicken casserole and a bag of fresh garden tomatoes sitting on your front porch. If you do, you should start making some calls.  

Someone has died.

And when they do, those nine church ladies are ready to spring into action at a moments notice.  After all, blessed are the grieving, for they will receive congealed salad.