Sunday, November 4, 2012

Joy of the Season




                             THE JOY OF THE SEASON



                                      By Nita Wilson



It’s early November and the stores are already pushing their Christmas stock.  At first we get the little catch in our throats, “Ahh, Christmas is coming.”  The same intake of breath at the first mention of Christmas each fall for as long as we can remember.  Back when it was the most important time of the year; when the joy of the season drew us in and kept us enthralled and impatient until midway through Christmas afternoon when we could finally say, “Wow, it’s over.  Wasn’t it wonderful?”

But instead of remembering great times, we get upset with the stores… “It’s too early, how can they make Christmas into such a money making business?  They’re making a mockery of Christmas…”   Maybe it’s only we the shoppers make mockery with our disgust at having to spend money yet once again on Christmas presents.  Reality sets in and we start to worry about over worked budgets and unpaid bills.

I say remember the intake of breath and the “Ahh Christmas is coming” moment when we first saw that plastic Santa inside the super sized snow globe.

My own memories are so potent that even today I revel in them all through the season.  I start shopping and looking for special gifts for my friends and family from the first feeling of fall.  I am the storeowner’s joy and forever hope.  I fall victim to new and different ornaments and Christmas Decorations that I think the kids in my family would enjoy.  I try to find a way to afford any decoration that may make their future Christmas memories as wonderful as the ones I’m reliving.

As a child, my family had no money and Christmas must have hit my parents especially hard; but the dolls chosen from the fall copy of the Sears catalogue were always under the tree Christmas morning, along with the wrapped comic books and coloring books.  Small gifts the four kids gave each other after a special day of Christmas shopping.

Around December 22rd, mother and daddy cleaned us up and drove us to Kress’ store in Biloxi about 20 miles away and gave us each $1.00.  folding money, bills, paper money, grown folks money, where we were to buy 6 gifts. What utter joy, a whole dollar bill and people to buy for, could you be any happier?  I always bought mother’s first; a .25 bottle of Blue Waltz or a nice lacy handkerchief, the finest Japan had to offer.  Daddy could always use a nice ruler or shoe polish, Oxblood, was a favorite color of mine.  My sister and brothers got the usual comic book, small toy, or some such nonsense.  Once our shopping was complete and we purchased gifts for each other and mama and daddy;  we marveled at my younger brother annually, having enough money left to buy himself a gift.  Next stop was next door to Woolworth’s lunch counter for a coke with cries of  “Don’t look in my bag.” Or “Daddy, Edward felt my bag of presents and says he knows what in it.”  Then to Sears in Gulfport to see the big man himself, Santa Clause.  By the time we got back to Daisy Vestry or Ocean Springs, we were exhausted but couldn’t wait to wrap our wonderful gifts.  Suddenly the little house was turned upside down and covered with wonderful Christmas paper, balls of ribbon unwound by the cat, and stray bits of scotch tape stuck to the dog from little hands going too fast.  Mother always had music in the house so Bing Crosby and Gene Autry’s Christmas Carols would be blaring from the phonograph and if we were lucky, she wouldn’t be too tired to play the piano while we all sang the Christmas carols later on that night.  A perfect ending to a perfect day; the six of us gathered around the piano with the Manger scene lovingly displayed on top.  All of our freshly wrapped gifts arranged jauntily under the Christmas tree meant the big day was truly close at hand. 

Dark, coming into the room from the cold outdoors would have to find its way around the wonderful Nativity scene complete with star mother painted on the front windows each year; a special joy for her and a sense of pride for us; since no other house had anything like it. 

The joy of all of this to all of us was not buying the silly comic book we could have bought with our own small allowance, but the choosing and buying of gifts for each other.  The wrapping and hiding, the hints given and guesses made were all part of the joy.  There was so much anticipation for these small offerings that NO one was ever disappointed on Christmas morning.  Even unwrapping the horrid socks and pajamas sent from stray Uncles and Aunts could be tolerated.


A few years ago, I started sharing the shopping memory with Matthew, Dacia, Kristy and Hannah, my great nieces and nephew.  On the morning of Dec. 22nd we’d go to the Dollar Tree.  They’d each get $5.00. (ahh inflation) and were to buy a gift for each other and their parents.  I had no idea how time and the years haven’t changed the reactions of children.  The same joy of giving laughingly reared its wonderful head.  They took more time deciding on each other’s gift than I had allotted, so we were off by about an hour in our schedule.  Too bad about the schedule. I wouldn’t have missed this for the world.  One by one they began to find me and ask opinions on this toy or that picture frame, would Dacia really like it, did Hannah already have one, was Matthew too old for this or that, is pink or purple Kristy’s favorite color?  I was incredulous at all the thought they were putting into this exercise and once again I realized this whole season is about giving, not receiving.  After all, wasn’t the greatest gift of all lying in the manger in the Nativity Scene on my piano at home?

Once we were all finished with our shopping, we had to take turns going through the line.  One person had to go through and then directly to the car while three others spaced themselves around the store with their basket contents hidden.

On the way home we stopped at today’s equivalent of Woolworth’s, Shady Acres (a country store outside of Hattiesburg we love to visit complete with wooden stairs up to the old wooden porch) and bought bottled soft drinks out of the old iced coke bin and ice cream from the ice cream counter.  All the way home, the hints were flying, guesses given and “I can’t wait” became a mantra to all.

Once home, each child picked a room and enough paper, scotch tape and ribbon to wrap their gifts. Then when each room was cluttered with bits of Christmas paper, messed up scotch tape and balls of unraveled ribbon, the gifts were set under the Christmas tree.  The hardest part of the whole day was keeping them away from the tree once the gifts were in place.  You’d be surprised to learn, kids really do ask what this package can be, when it’s so obviously a comic book rolled into a tube, even the dog knew.

The rest of the evening was spent watching the Christmas Story, opening the gifts, playing with the gifts, laughing over the gifts, and getting great joy over the reactions of the receivers as each gift was opened.  One movie was enjoyed after dinner, then baths, then coke floats and then to bed.  It was such a wonderful experience for all that we are now going on our fourth year this Christmas.  Matthew is going on 15, my heart hurts at the thought that he may be getting too old.  But at least I will have the memories of the first three years.


For as long as I can remember I try to give my friends and close family gifts for Christmas.  I make sure each of my Grandnieces and nephews has a gift from me.  It is a selfish pleasure for me.  When I’m buying the gift, I’m so into that child, sibling or friend for that moment in time and so hoping it will please that I can’t think of anything else.  Again, the joy of giving is the pleasure; seeing that precious face light up in my mind as I decide on the gift; is a gift itself.


More and more too many people are deciding not to give each other gifts. They’re too hard pressed financially, or they don’t like the thought that Christmas has become about how much loot a person receives, or they don’t like to fight the crowds anymore.  Some people haven’t given to their siblings/spouse/friends in years, maybe never.  What a shame, what a shame. 

Once a year to spend time concentrated only on your beloved sibling/friend/spouse for a few moments in a store of your choice, thinking about what that person would like, what would make their day, what would make them smile, what would bring them closer to you for at least one day, could actually make you glad you spent the money and fought the crowds.  I know some of us say, well, I’ll buy for the kids.  Well, whoop de do, the kids get so much from all of us these days they don’t even have time to play with it all.  Maybe that money spent on your sister, brother, parent, spouse would make a nicer moment in your relationships, especially if there has been ill will lately.  In the long run, wouldn’t it be better if the kids were taught to buy each other a gift?  Shouldn’t they get some of the selfish joy of giving?

We’ve gotten as hard on Christmas as the storeowners who push the merchandise on us.  I say, instead of looking at them like they’re the wolves, let’s look at them as they are giving us inexpensive selections to make for our loved ones.  God will deal with whether they are wrong or right let’s just say they’re kind and helpful.  Your child will see Christmas as you do.  If you see it as a time to save money and not give, then they’ll do the same one day.  But, if you were with me for just one hour when the kids are shopping for each other, you’d never wish them anything but that kind of happiness in giving to others.  And they are only spending $1.00 on each person.

Yes, I know, I shouldn’t be telling any of you to buy Christmas gifts.  I have a few friends and family members who truly do not like to give or receive gifts.  I have to understand their feelings even though it takes away some of my joy of giving, but some people are too shy to receive and some are too nervous to give, so rather than make their Christmas unhappy, I’ll respect their wishes.


“Aahh Christmas is coming.”  Get the same catch in your throat as you did years ago when you were small children, when it was the most important time of the year, when churches smelled like pine trees and cedar branches, and the man who owned the hardware store walked to the up the isle to the church Nativity Scene looking like no Wiseman you ever saw in his wool bathrobe and wife’s sequined turban.  Think of the school house lighted up for the Christmas program rehearsed for days with tin foil haloed angels singing to a 6th grade giggling Santa.  Think of your family and reading the Christmas story from the Bible on Christmas Eve. Think of rainy winter nights and the lights from the tree distorting the rain drops on the windows for anyone passing to see; when hope was so large in your chest you could hardly breath; when the joy of the season drew you in and kept you enthralled and impatient until midway through Christmas afternoon when you could finally say, “Wow, it’s over, wasn’t it wonderful?”  Next year, I’m going to …

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Old Place

I wrote this piece a few years ago after a dream.  One of the nicest dreams I've ever had.

The Old Place

By Nita Wilson -  aka  - youngest daughter and third child of Wynton and Flora Wilson  of the Wilson, Byrd, David, O’neal, Downing clan of south Mississippians    A family of story tellers and lovers of life

I dreamed last night I was walking up the worn path to the “old place”; the old Victorian farm house of yesterday, complete with gingerbread trim glowing in the moonlight.  the home of my people.  it stood silent and grand like a little grey school marm waiting for students to file to their seats from recess.  I was of no age, nor was I noticed by the happy revelers of another age lounging on the porch. But they were all there, the sweetest people I’ve ever known, the good people, the grownups of my childhood and the builders of me.  I could feel the love and the familiar sounds of laughter among family with history.

The first I saw was Aunt Bill, tall and slim; a great story teller, with a joyous sense of humor and  a love of life.  With just a whisper of a middle aged lady’s mustache, the dainty gray and black whiskers trying to hide in the wrinkles around her mouth; she was smiling and happy. Her hair was short, natural and not afraid of turning gray. She was sitting in one of the old Cypress rockers that had been a part of this very porch since her childhood - left knee pulled into her chest the right leg draped over the arm of the weathered chair; she held an unfiltered cigarette between thumb and first finger. Taking deep draughts of the hot smoke and exhaling through a very tiny hole formed with her lips, she was amused with someone’s just told story and was about to tell the group of siblings and cousins sitting around the porch a sequel to match the one just heard.  

And there was my Dad, her first cousin, sitting in the rocker next to hers, left knee over the arm of his chair; trousers hiked showing the top of his trouser sock.  Laughing blue eyes and happy face meant he was the proud teller of the latest tale.  Unceremoniously tapping his cigarette ashes onto the worn Cypress floor and coughing out a laugh - showing his front teeth, including the half one, missing because of a new Christmas rifle when he was 13;  he was in his element. Telling stories and enjoying these people , his kin, his past, on the old family porch all laughing at his mimicry of remembered souls from their youth.  He was a happy man smoking and laughing with these his kindred spirits.  He was the most honest man I’ve ever known and was born without the mean bone so many of us have and cultivate. He was extremely intelligent, was valedictorian of his high school and until he died, was the funniest man in the world.  He considered his cup not only full, but brimming over and filling other’s.

Tom Davis was there, sitting on the ancient swing, gray Fedora cocked at a jaunty angle as always.  His left foot and ankle rested over his right knee, and he was holding his cigarette out away from the side of the swing between his thumb and forefinger, so he could flip the ashes and butt into the shrubbery lining the porch when the little white menace had served its purpose. He used his right hand to caress and smooth the sock on his ankle and was looking down chuckling at the latest story. Tom wasn’t a belly laugher like the others, but he always had a twinkle in his eye and loved to be amused and entertained.   He usually had a secret, risqué joke he was going to tell if the whimsy struck him and the ladies were in ‘another room’.  He was a favorite of the children and knew more songs with funny lyrics than anyone in our world.  He was married to Lydean David and was brother in law to Aunt Bill David and her brother Uncle Upton. He’d  grown up with them and was a dearly loved member of this family and part of the ‘porch gang’.   Kind and gentle he was the closest thing we children knew as an adult “friend”. 

Uncle Waldo, my Dad’s older brother, slim and a bit fey for this bunch, with his delicate grace and good nature, sat on the other side of the old wooden swing, gently pushing the swing with a foot, the other foot pulled up on the swing with him, one hand resting on the swing chain, the other one tucked slightly between his western shirt with bolo tie, and the belt of his trousers. When he laughed his body would nervously move about; as, I’m told, it had since childhood.   As he laughed, he’d almost get up and then sit back down so that he was continually changing positions on the swing during a happy moment.  He’d just finished this bit of theatrics and had settled into the afore mentioned latest position readying himself for the next story.  He loved these visits once a year from his home in Arizona; the only vacations he ever wanted to take.  He and my Aunt Zula Mae would drive from the West in the spring or fall and stop first in Shreveport and visit with her folks; and then on to Mississippi and his favorite people, his Brothers and Cousins.  He regaled the porch on more than one occasion with tales of the west and how it had changed since the 1930’s when he first got there.  We kids loved his tales of the colorful Navajos with whom he worked and the incredible Apaches and their strange customs.  For us, he was the voice of the West and the real Cowboys and Indians. 

Uncle Russell sat in a straight backed chair leaning on two legs against the wall of the house, arms crossed and feet just touching the porch floor- the light from the porch window at his back.  He was the youngest of the Wilson brothers and David cousins and wasn’t much for telling stories, but he loved to listen and laugh.  As any youngest member of an old established family hierarchy, he made himself heard with only a few additions or adjustments to a story and kept a happy smile on his face at all times.  Once when I fell off of my bike, he came out to the dusty drive to see if I needed help, he was laughing and smiling and I couldn’t forgive him for years for not showing my accident the respect I thought it deserved. My Dad always approached such a spill with a worried and serious face allowing me the dignity of my disaster. 

Uncle Upton David, tall, handsome and dignified sat in one of the porch chairs, long, long, Gary Cooper legs crossed with both feet hitting the floor at the same time. Hands folded in his lap, full lips curled in a delighted smile; he was, as always the most wonderful host in the world.  As I grew older and read books about my southern people and customs, I was to recognize him and the others as true Southern Gentlemen.  He could tell the funniest stories of all and he and my Dad would mimic the star or hero of the tale which brought even harder laughter from the small audience. He was the Patriarch of this porch and any other gathering for this family.  Not only  because of age, but the grace in which he conducted his life.  We children looked up to him as a great man.  One of the biggest compliments I ever received was his telling me after I moved to New York.   ”You’ve gotten too far away.  We miss you.”  I didn’t even know he thought of me other than the  little girl hiding under my dad’s chair listening to the stories on nights like these on the porch.

I passed on into the house and down the long, wide center hall into the kitchen.  Light and friendly chatter met me there.  Aunt Adeline, Uncle Upton’s wife and the sweetest of all hostesses was at the sink finishing the dishes. She was tall and willowy, well educated and every inch the Southern Lady in the best sense. When she spoke, it was quietly and gently and she always had something worth saying. She was the perfect “straight man” to Uncle Upton’s humor.  I never heard her raise her voice, nor did I ever hear her gossip.   We children always tried to mind our manners and be on good behavior around her, not an easy task for the hooligans we were.

 Aunt Zula Mae was steadily and sweetly complaining of her constipation -created by the long drive and a hard automobile seat across the country.  Strangely, of all my wonderful memories of her; that one is the strongest.  Maybe a cushion would’ve helped during the long drive? She resembled Eleanor Roosevelt and like the others, spoke in a very thick, slow southern accent with perfect grammar.  She never had children and it was her heart break.  She loved children and she loved all of us and doted on us to the point of spoiling  us had she been allowed.  She had the reputation of having chased Uncle Waldo until she caught him, but years later visiting with him, he told of how in love with her he’d been and what a sweet wife she made.  I was glad to hear it. 

Dorothy, Aunt Bill’s companion of 30yrs.  I was grown before I approached a different scenario with my parents, but was met with adamant denial.  Seems there was a boyfriend who was killed in the war.  That was good enough for my Dad.  No one much liked the ‘roommate’ Dorothy.  She was a whiner.  We children stayed away from her since she didn’t seem to care for children, and always had a complaint going.  She was always there with Aunt Bill and we just accepted it for what it wasn’t.  Even as a very small girl, I felt that she was Aunt Bill’s “wife”.  She must have had something good, because Aunt Bill considered her a great friend.  One day though, I caught Aunt Bill and Tom Davis making a little joke about Dorothy as two husbands would do about one’s nagging wife.  What ever it was, they both found it amusing.  Even though we didn’t care much for her, she was a part of this group as surely as if she’d been born to them.  When aunt Bill died, she was inconsolable.

Mother and Lydean were just each opening  a beer and headed to the story telling on the porch as I entered the kitchen.  Lydean was Uncle Upton and Aunt Bill’s sister, Tom Davis’ wife and my Mother’s best friend.  Lydean was the only perfect human being i ever knew.  She never showed me or anyone else a bad side of that sweet yet funny personality.    As I looked back down the hall and out the front door, she and Mother were sitting on either side of the front steps, pedal pushers showing slender legs, delicately sipping beer with one hand dragging on a rarely smoked cigarette with the other and laughing with their family.   They believed kitchen duty was something you did because customs dictated, but as soon as you could, you hit the porch and the fun stuff.

Aunt Marion stayed in the kitchen with the ‘women folk’.  She was Uncle Russell’s wife and a constant counter of imagined slights dealt by my Mother and Aunt Zula Mae, her sisters in law.  She was the youngest of nine children raised by a maiden aunt and never quite understood that her sisters in law were not out to ‘get her’ or cause her mischief .  to the children, Aunt Marion was a delight.  She knew a million jokes fit for kids and took pride in any thing we ever said or accomplished and bragged about each of us until her death a few years ago. 

I went back out onto the porch only to see I had become too grown to hide under my Dad’s chair .

I walked down the path and stood at the old gate looking back at the house.  The wonderful old place stood as gray as only weathered Cypress can , gingerbread bordering the corners of the porch and the dormer windows of the second floor.  Light coming out of the windows gave the old place a party atmosphere and made me feel such a bittersweet welcome I thought I couldn’t breathe.  I watched my favorite people laughing on the porch and didn’t want to leave.   As I walked down the country road lined with Pecan trees and century old Azaleas, I turned to look again.  The house stood empty and quiet - a gray bastion of loneliness , beauty  and lives dead and gone in the moonlight, the only sound was the wind in the great pines hovering behind the house. .  Looking over at my right, the little cemetery slept in the moonlight, tall cedars standing guard over the ancient stones like sentinels.  I knew Uncle Upton lay there with dead family I never knew, including the dead uncle killed in France in WWI.  It should ‘ve given me peace, but knowing he was there without his favorite people… but when I looked again, the porch was lighted again and I realized, they were all there.  I had stepped into a world where they are all waiting.  Maybe for all of us or just some, I sure hope I ‘m one. 

Not long after I wrote this memory, Aunt Adeline died and was buried under the cedars next to Uncle Upton.  Maybe they were waiting for her.  She was the last of the ‘porch gang’ to go.  My cousins and I are now the old, the wise, the ones telling funny stories and laughing at times gone away.  The house was filled with children at the funeral.  The next generation of ‘porch gang’ coming into and making  Vestry, Mississippi’s history. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Ramblings of a Happy Mind #6

Ramblings of a Happy Mind #6

By Nita Wilson

 Sitting here on a lovely fall day trying to re-write and save the novel, “Josette” to my niece, Nancy’s approval and I look out the back window over the porch between ideas.  It’s thirty minutes before time to feed the roommate dogs and they’re pacing around the big back yard like nervous fathers in an old maternity waiting room.  It makes me wonder how we as humans manage to wait patiently to be called to the table in our favorite restaurant even if we have reservations, or standing in line at Galatoire’s.  My my, wouldn’t it be funny if we’d all just pace around Bourbon street waiting for our table, sniffing the pavement and each other.  I think dogs have more fun while waiting, not that I want to smell other people, but I’d have that option.  If Dash smelled a mole right now, she’d be off like a cartoon dog with its nose to the ground walking in figure eights while Bronte’s bark would scare the little creature farther underground.   Oops, now they’re gone.  Might be in the little shed connected to the back of the house with the nice sized doggy door made from Bronte’s chewing when he was just a pup, or maybe out by the back fence behind a tree watching for villains coming down the creek.  Nope, there goes Dash, she was on the porch waiting patiently for dinner in the old wading pool full of blankets she’s made her nap area.  Bronte lost the fight on that one and has to settle to be bent and wadded up in the old wicker chair when its nap time.  His head lies over the arm and his feet and legs stick out on either side like a crab in a trap.  I tried to make him a bed under the swing, but Dash used to sleep in the old chair and left when she outgrew it, but he feels he usurped it as alpha dog and won’t give it up for anything.  Dash lies comfortably in her wading pool bed and smirks at her brother.  If I could put a cartoon balloon over her head, it would say, “Idiot.”

I made a pot of chili today, my first for the fall season and I’m deciding to keep it here, eat on it for a couple of days and freeze the rest for later, or take it down to my sister and her family. The problem is, I like spicy chili and this is just hot enough to make you go, “Ooh, ooh, ooh that’s good.”  My sister and her family complain if I use a little black pepper on their fried egg, so I see a freezer in this chili’s future.  I’m eating a small bowl of chili with saltines and a dollop of sour cream.  The roommates are eating their food on the back porch and as usual consider me the greatest hunter of them all and have sworn their allegiance to me.  Dash just looked through the window and if she could, she’d give me thumbs up.  Bronte looked over as if to say, “Any more?  What you eaten’ can I have some of that?”  I try not to have eye contact; it brings about a whole new series of whines and pleadings from Bronte to come in and watch TV.  I let them stay outside in the good sunshine and fresh air until around five.  Then they come in to watch TV until bedtime, and just like a tired human, fall asleep within minutes.  So instead of two dogs asleep on the porch, there are two dogs asleep in the living room.  At eight or eight-thirty I tell them it’s bedtime and they move slowly like old friends with arthritis, down the hall to the biggest guest room, wait for me to open the door; turn on their TV then the ceiling fan and they are in for the night.  Now, there is a tragedy about to happen on Wednesday night.  My young cousin is moving in while she goes to Southern and she’ll have ‘their’ bedroom.  I’ll move them to the small guest room and it’ll take Dash one night to get used to the new room but Bronte will be waiting at Jessie’s door each night to go to bed, until she moves into her sorority house. It’s been so interesting watching these two personalities form and identify these two dogs.  It isn’t learned behavior; they had these budding personalities from the time I brought them home as wee pups.

It’s the night after I wrote the above and the dog roommates have been introduced to their new sleeping quarters/room.  Bronte made a liar of me and jumped on the doggy blanket covered daybed without a whine.  Dash followed; wondering why.  I put them down earlier tonight than usual as I was trying to watch “The Mentalist” and one was snoring on the floor by my desk and the other was snoring like an old hog lying on the big ottoman.  Now, you may think your dog snores, but these two need their adenoids removed or one of those snore strips, make that a box of snore strips. I’ve had husbands who didn’t snore as loudly. 

Their favorite person came to visit this afternoon and helped me clean ‘their’ room for Jessie.  I may be a great hunter in their eyes, but niece Hannah, my dears… Hannah is their hero, goddess, alpha dog from heaven and best girlfriend.  I saw Bronte once eyeing my jewelry box looking for, (I know in my heart), one of my rings to give her as an engagement ring.  It’s sad, as he’s been snipped and could never expect anything more than friendship, but, I digress. He actually responds when she says “I love you” and tries to say it back.  Damn dog can’t howl at the moon but he can almost say, “I love you”.  Hannah walks into the house and Dash hits the sofa with all four paws to heaven and waits for her belly rubs; if a belly rub isn’t forth coming, she’ll slap poor Hannah with a paw until it does.  Bronte stands up with his paws on her shoulders and begins a dance only he can fathom the steps to or hear the music in his doggy brain.  But, alas, Hannah is in love with another.  She has a cat named Isabel and can’t see any future in these two hounds.  I haven’t told them, they’ll be crushed, better to keep it among ourselves.  Now, I have described these two as spoiled and demanding.  Yes.  My bad, I’m afraid.  I expect them to do their own thing and I’ll do my own thing and we can live together happily.  I enjoy their antics and personalities and they like the food I “hunt” and bring back to them.  A friendship made in heaven.  Of course when I’m feeling generous I ask Hannah to come visit.  Not too often their poor little hearts can’t take it.  Don’t you love when your dog chases squirrels in his sleep?  It amuses me; they're lying on their sides, all four paws running in place.  Little doggy sounds like mild barks come from closed mouths and then I think, squirrels?  What if they’re dreaming they’re chasing me?  Whew, too much TV.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Death and the Movies

Hattiesburg American first published 2007


Death And The Movies


By Nita Wilson

 When we lose a loved one we turn into our own world and mourn with family and friends.  We aren't interested in the world going on around us, just our own feelings trying to deal with the empty space the death has created in our lives.  It never touched me personally when a movie star died, or if they lost a loved one.  Those people were a breed of their own and somehow must handle it differently than we do.  But as I grow older I am more and more affected by people I know in that world.  On December 8th a sweet friend of mine, Beverly Garland, died in her home surrounded by her family and some close friends. (You may remember her from her many films, and as the wife of Fred McMurray on “My Three Sons”.) I couldn't be with her because lack of funds kept me from flying to Los Angeles and I wasn't as close to her as the people who were lovingly near her when she passed.  But, for the second time I realized how alike we all are when there is sorrow. In 1960 she married Fillmore Crank and became mom to his two young children who’d lost their mother in an automobile accident.  She and Fillmore then had two more children.  

          I was kept informed of the care giving she received at the hands of her loving children for the last couple of years and the devastation, yet relief when her suffering came to an end. I knew what they were feeling because my sister and brothers went through the same thing when our mom was ill and needed our support and care.  Several years before, I was with Beverly throughout her husband's funeral and I watched her walk into widowhood with stoic calm despite her fear of  living the rest of her life alone.  She and my friend Tatiana visited me in New Orleans before Katrina and she was the most beautiful 75yr old woman I’ve ever seen.  Her energy and love of life was inspiring and she gave my middle aged overweight self hope for a long happy life.  We were all surprised and shocked when she became ill after a trip to Africa and the downhill demise of her brilliance was sobering to all of us.  I will never again think that movie stars are above such things when they lose a loved one.

I was also very fortunate to work with Patsy Swazie in Texas about 10 years ago.  She was the choreographer on a remake of “Picnic” for Sony/Tristar.  All of us in the office being the star struck nuts we are sometimes, were thrilled to get to ask questions about her son Patrick.  Her pride in talking about him was no less and no more than my own mother and dad when they’d brag about one of their kids.  She bragged about all of her kids and we were all strangely surprised to see her as just a mom and not Patrick Swazie’s mom.  She told us about Patrick needing a body guard at times since the characters he played were many times the hard fighting guy which in real life prompted people to “take him on”.   His brother wanted the job but Patrick wouldn't give it to him.  Patrick told his mom he’d never be able to walk away if his brother was defending him, he’d have to stay and help his brother and the body guard issue would be mute.  I was once again aware of how like the rest of us movie stars really are.  My older brother would’ve said the same thing had he been in that position.  My heart goes out to Patrick and his family in his fight against this horrible cancer and I pray for strength for Patsy, a dear mom who loves her boys.

I have a 36yr old autistic son named Jason who now lives with his dad in Connecticut.  When he was 15 he started having seizures and his dad and I went through hell and back getting his medication stable and it was several years before the seizures were under control.  When I saw Jett Travolta on TV and realized how like my son he was, my heart broke  and 

I started thanking God that Jason had been fortunate enough not to fall or be in harm’s way during one of his seizures.  I pray for John and Kelly everyday that they can get through this.  Losing a child is horrible, but unlike most people who believe that when you lose a handicapped child it is a strange blessing, they are wrong it is worse.  When you have a child that depends on you for their very life at all times, your heart is filled with that child and his/her well being.  Death is not a blessing, it is a catastrophe.

          Movies make death sad with a happy ending.  The death is sad, then they all go to a funeral and sing “Amazing Grace” (the only hymn Hollywood knows).  The last scene is everyone going on with their lives and welcoming  a new day a little wiser and a little sadder.  They never show the days and weeks of wondering what we could have or shouldn't have done.  Reliving every argument, counting every lost blessing and not believing we can ever get happy again.  But then if they did, we wouldn't go to the movies.

          I wish we could all get to that place where we believe Death is just going home.  I know we all know that.  I know we all believe that.  But when it actually hits, we can only see our own loss.  Maybe the Irish have the right idea: party in celebration of the deceased since they are the ones going to a better place whether they are famous, infamous, or just one of us.








































































































Friday, October 19, 2012

Ramblings 5 Phones

                                Ramblings of a Happy Mind #5

                By Nita Wilson


Okay, I’ve had to interrupt my life’s story to speak on phones. No pun intended.

It seems our young’uns are discussing the outdated phones of yesterday.  No, I mean seriously, just yesterday.  It seems my friend’s daughter brought him into the present by getting him a new phone.  Now, you may say, “Oh, how nice.”  But, his old one was the same as mine and a few of my friends. Not old in our world.  Still works, gets the job done, small enough to rest in a pocket, what more do we need?

It seems being in the rears with the latest ‘tin can and string’ is not a good thing.  So, before my nieces or nephews decide to bring me up to date, as they say, let me say this. 

#1) I have no reason to text anyone, and since I get most of my ideas while driving, the world wouldn’t be safe if I wanted to tell my sister by texting, to feed my dogs while on a trip to the Coast.  Pull over?  Are you crazy?  My cruise control is on 74 exactly, and I have no intentions of losing that nice speed to talk to my sister.  I have her number on speed dial and I can hit the number, put the phone to my ear, speak for a minute and hang up.  I’ve heard some people can’t manage this simple feat and wreck their cars.  Too bad. 

#2) I don’t want to take pictures with my phone, I can’t see well enough on that little tiny screen to see if the picture is blurred, I have a nice digital camera for taking pictures.  It was a Christmas present a few years ago from my nieces and nephews.  I still love and cherish it.

#3)Music, I turn on the radio or put a CD in the slot. 

#4) Aps. I have no idea what that means. 

#5) Slow the hell down, people.  Some of us can’t afford the latest electronics.  Use the phone you have till it wears out, like those of us who are still just excited to have a phone that goes where we go.  Which brings me to the old memory bank and what has gone before in my life with phones. 

My first recollection of a phone was the big crank phone hanging in my grandparent’s hall in Perkinston, MS.  An adult would pick up the ear piece, put it to their ear and turn the crank.  Evidently a nice operator would respond and you’d tell them either the name or number you wanted; the number was usually at this time only three numbers.  Everyone shared a ‘party line’.  This meant there were several families sharing one phone line.  Our ring was three rings.  If the phone rang once, we left it alone, that was the Parkers, if it rang fast twice it was the O’neals, we left it alone, if it rang three times real fast, we would rush to see who was calling, screaming to the adults that the phone was ringing.  Long distance calls were as rare as a death in the family or something equally important.

The next invention was the rotary phone with the hand set resting in the cradle.  And wonder of wonder, you could opt for a private line.  The phone numbers got longer and our phone in Ocean Springs in the 1950’s was TR5-5355.  (TR was for Trinity)  These later became 875-5355 and then much, much later, 601 then 228 was added.  So, we went from the black rotary to the brightly collared rotary phones, to Princess style’s, to Princess push buttons and on until we finally got to the cordless phones and thought the world was a futuristic place. 

Doctors had beepers and they would go off in movies or church if a doctor was on call.  The number would appear on this little tiny screen on a little black box the size of a pack of camel cigarettes, and he’d run to find a pay phone to call his office or the hospital and away he’d go. (Notice, I said he, very few women doctors back then)  This didn’t bother anyone as it meant, the doctor could be reached in an emergency, and that could be for you or your family needing a doctor also. 

When I moved to Los Angeles in 1989, Production companies gave us beepers and we were expected to get off the busy freeways and find a pay phone.  This could take up to thirty minutes and many times it was the office calling to see when you’d be in.  “Well, thirty minutes later than awhile ago when you beeped me, that’s when.”  My friend had a car phone.  WOW, high cotton.  It was the size of the old WWII field phones and rested between the seats on a custom built stand.  The handset was huge and was connected to the big phone by a curly cord that only reached so far.  The monster was as dangerous to dial as it is to text today, you had to drive and hold this heavy thing and dial from the front of it with one hand on the wheel.  She’d take a call while we were driving and I’d sit in total awe.  Then, whoop de doo, cell phones came in and the first one I had was a big oblong black thing, heavy as a small bar bell.  Purses got bigger and heavier to accommodate this thing.  Phone bills were under expensive contracts and you were charged by the minute whether you made the call or just answered a call.  Production companies gave us an allotment to use our phones and then bombarded us with calls over silly things that could’ve waited until we got to the office.  Phone bill time and they’d fight like tigers not to pay for all the calls they’d made on our minutes.  A constant battle, which was solved by renting company cell phones that were twice as expensive as the phone bills we’d been turning in.  Go figure.

Then came the big flip phone, smaller and lighter, but the antenna got caught in your hair and even up your nose.  Now we’re down to phones the size of a small compact that you can fit in an evening purse.  I have a small one with big numbers.  I can barely call on the numbers let alone try to text someone a letter on the damned thing.  So, my point here is, leave us seniors alone.  We think these little phones that go in the bathroom with us are wonderful, no more running in from outside when we hear the stupid thing ringing, it’s in our pocket.  No more falling trying to get out of the shower and get to the phone, it’s sitting on the back of the toilet.  That weird call in the middle of the night, roll over and see who it is without even answering it.  To us these little things are little miracles that make our lives free from running, worrying or missing calls. 

I haven’t even mentioned, the old busy signals, live answering services with rude ladies taking your message begrudgingly, answering machines that made your voice sound like a robot, then when the batteries were going out or the tape was old made you sound like a drunk zombie.   Of course you had to call someone every ten minutes to see if they got home all right, then finally the first call waiting, etc. 

Nor have I mentioned the family phone and teenagers.  Phone bills from my brother’s calling girl friends in a long distance area code, even if it was from Ocean Springs to Gulfport.  Or not hearing from your boyfriend because his parents took his phone privileges away.  So, under the circumstances, let’s talk next about the internet and face book.  We used to call it, pen pals and you waited by the mailbox every week or so to get that letter from your friend.   You know, when that meteor hits the earth and wipes out all electrical play things and electronics, my friends and I will be mildly inconvenienced.    I still have paper and pencils.  Oh well, progress is wonderful.