Feb 262010
 
Gettin’ Her Ozella Up

I’ve decided to continue writing about my mother’s side of the family. Their eccentric ways have given me so much material, it would be criminal not to share more with you.

My grandmother’s name was Ozella Maud Spencer Cox. Family members and close friends called her Zell. If you think that just might be the most awful, countrified name you’ve ever heard, check out her sisters’ names: Mattie Lou, Annie Mae, Edna Dora, and Fanny Leona. Ozella married my grandfather, Willie Mack (Mack to friends and family), when she was 13 because it was a way for her to get out of the cotton fields. Can a girl get more country than that?

My grandmother Zell was a tiger! She was bossy, aggressive, and loud, especially when she was drunk. And she was drunk a lot of the time. They lived in a tiny Texas town where everyone knew everybody else’s business, and my mother was constantly embarrassed by her parents’ alcoholism. Ozella and Mack always fought while drinking, and Ozella often won. They had their fair share of vicious verbal arguments, but they also had knock-down, drag-out fist fights. Zell was a strong, large-framed woman, and poor old Mack weighed about a buck thirty dripping wet, so the fights were pretty fair. One time, she stabbed him. According to my mother’s account of the story, Ozella “gutted Daddy pretty good,” but Mattie Lou managed to “tie his stomach up” until the doctor arrived. I’m not entirely sure what that stomach tying procedure entailed, but it sounds gruesome. Another time, Ozella shot him in the leg. Don’t feel too sorry for old Willie Mack, though. He got his licks in. On weekend mornings, Ozella could sometimes be found sitting at the kitchen table holding a raw fleshy steak to a fresh shiner.

One of my favorite Ozella stories is one in which she loses her temper. Truth be told, the vast majority of Ozella stories involve her losing her temper, but this is a goodun.

My mother was the child of drunkards, but she was a well-dressed child of drunkards. Zell like to drink, and she also liked to shop. (My kind of gal.) So my mother wore stylish clothing while attending the podunk town’s little elementary school. One day, she went to school decked out in a brand new skirt that was flared and fancy. There was a large sitting rock on the schoolhouse play yard, and she and her friends used to sit on it during recess. That particular day, my mother sat on the rock and spread out her new skirt. She was proud of it and wanted to show it off to her classmates. She was holding her baton, one of her favorite toys, which she used to bring to school and play with during recess. Her friend Joanna came over to sit on the rock with her and accidentally sat on the edge of the skirt. When the bell rang to tell the children it was time to line up and go back inside, my mom jumped up off the rock before Joanna, and her new skirt ripped all the way to the top. My mother was devastated that her new skirt was ripped, and she was also embarrassed. The rip was so large that her undies were showing. My mom didn’t line up with the other kids. The teacher on playground duty, Mrs. Smith, walked over and told her through clenched teeth to GET IN LINE. My mom was carrying her baton while trying to holding her skirt together, and she refused. As punishment for not following directions, Mrs. Smith grabbed the baton out of my mother’s hand and wacked her on the back of the legs with it several times. Hard. My mom was crying and left school right then and there. Her legs were already black and blue by the time she walked home.

Oh, Lord, Ozella hit the ceiling when my mother came home in tears and told her what happened. She flew into a rage. She grabbed the baton out of my mother’s hand and they both got in the car immediately. Together, they drove to the school and marched into the principal’s office. Ozella stormed in with baton in hand and loudly explained to the principal, Mr. Jones, how Mrs. Smith hit her daughter with a baton and left marks, so she was on her way down the hall to show that teacher what it felt like to be beaten black and blue with a baton.

Now, here is the sad part of the story. The principal was able to talk Ozella out of beating the crap out of the teacher that left bruises on her daughter. It took some smooth talking, but Mr. Jones managed to do it. The abusive teacher didn’t return the following year, so she probably got what she deserved in the end. But still…I sorta wish old Zell had left a few bruises on the back of that teacher’s legs.

I think the reason I love this story so much is because it shows my grandmother fiercely defending her child, my mother. Most of my mom’s childhood memories are ones in which her own mother is the one doing harm. In this story, Ozella comes to my mother’s defense. In spite of her outrageous flaws, Ozella loved my mother and wanted to protect her.

Now, those Monkees who know me in real life are probably busy listing all the similarities between me and my grandmother. There are a lot of them, I know. When I get my Ozella up, bad things usually happen. But I haven’t stabbed or shot anyone. Yet.


Zell



Feb 192010
 



Signs

Glennon has mentioned her collection of wooden word signs in several Momastery posts. Her signs say things like, Simplify, Love is patient, love is kind, and Prayer changes things. What she didn’t tell you is that I’m responsible for a fair portion of her collection. It all started when I and two other friends had a sign made for Glennon as a birthday gift several years ago. She went on and on about how much she liked the gift. After that, whenever I spotted a board sign that reminded me of Glennon, I’d buy it for her and leave it on her porch. Every time I took a trip to Homegoods, both of our wooden word sign collections grew. And since the mounting hardware on most Homegoods items is just a touch off-center, none of them are level.

I have decided to stop cluttering up Glennon’s house with word signs. (I can take a hint.) Instead, I’ve been concentrating on cluttering up my own property a bit more. The inside of our house has at least one sign in every room, so I had to take my habit outside. My most recent purchase is a big wooden Life is Good sign to hang in our back yard this spring. It will be placed directly underneath the wooden plaque already hanging back there that says, Welcome to our Deck. There is plenty of room left back there for more, so I really don’t see an end to all this.

I’m not sure why so many of us enjoy hanging word signs in our homes, but we do. Maybe we like them because they are a way for us to come right out and say what is important to us. We can let certain values be known, loud and clear. (I know a LOT of people who firmly believe we should all Live well, Laugh often, Love much.) Or maybe we’re just drawn to them because we grew up in homes with signs and quotes, and they make us feel nostalgic. Glennon grew up reading Bubba’s sign that said, Don’t be so humble – you are not that great. Something about that sign must have stuck with Glennon because she really is one the most courteously respectful people I know. She has lots of reasons to be arrogant, but she isn’t. I especially love how she humbly offers her heart to us on this blog.

I grew up with signs too. The one that I remember most vividly hung in our dining room. It was a quote by Carl Schurz that said, My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right. I cannot imagine how many times I must have read that sign over the course of my life. Its message must have stuck with me and my big brother because we both are passionate today about our beliefs about this country and what is best for it. The funny part is that we are polar opposites regarding our political views. So even though we were raised together in a house where political ideas and opinions were discussed at the dinner table, my brother and I avoid the topic these days in order to keep peace in the family. The fact that he lives on one side of the country and I live on the other is also helpful. (Note that I followed the rules and managed to write that paragraph without actually telling you my political views…or explaining in great detail why I am right and my brother is so very wrong.)

So if wooden word signs helped make Glennon humble and turned me into a political big-mouth, perhaps I ought to put more thought into the signs currently adorning my home and influencing my kids’ behavior. I’m thinking that some of our signs might be too vague. There is one hanging above my daughter’s bedroom doorway that says, Live a good life. That signs leaves a bit too much room for interpretation for my liking. After all, she and I could have two very different definitions of the term good life. Maybe I should take that sign down and replace it with a clearer directive, like Earn a Full College Scholarship.

My favorite sign in our house is hanging in our playroom. Before I tell you what it says, I need to point out one of the signs hanging in Glennon’s house. It will be another fun comparison of her sweet to my spicy, my yin to her yang. You can make your own conclusions about what effects these signs are having on our children. In Glennon’s basement, which is decorated in a style I like to call preschool-meets-toy-store-awesomeness, she has a Dr. Seuss quote on the wall that reads, A person’s a person, no matter how small. Isn’t that sweet? No wonder kids feel loved and valued at the Melton house. Whenever my daughter’s play time at the Melton’s house comes to an end, she never ever wants to leave. Perhaps going home to play does not appeal to her because the sign in our playroom is less sweet than the one in Glennon’s. Hanging directly above a rack of toy bins at a child’s eye level is a sign that reads, BE NICE OR GO AWAY.






Feb 122010
 

I present to you – Ms. Adrianne, your Friday Afternoon Cocktale Girl. Enjoy her, Monkees. This morning’s amazing Guest Post from Sunny is below. And have a wonderful weekend. Try not to be jerks. Especially to yourselves.


Grit and Gunfire



Reading all of Glennon’s recent posts about her family made me feel so happy. I love knowing that there are extended families out there that really know and like each other. Reading about her lovely cast of familial characters got me thinking about my own extended family, and from what you wrote in your comments, it also got many of you thinking about yours. Some of you seemed to be wishing that you had a close-knit group of cousins, aunts, and uncles to write about with the same deep affection Glennon has for her clan. Glennon’s writing was so tender, it was almost depressing NOT to have a big, close-knit family. So in order to make some of you feel better about your own relatives, I decided to write a little bit about mine. My family can be the yin to her family’s yang. Once you read this and compare your forefathers to mine, you will surely feel like you descended from royalty.

Both sides of my southern, small-town family have generations filled with colorful characters worthy of fireside stories, country songs, scandalous novels, far-fetched movie plots, and the like. But for now, let’s concentrate on my mother’s side. Her people were a bit bawdier, far drunker, and more likely to start gunfights.

I’ll start with this family tree:


This chart was written by my Uncle Jerry, my mother’s older brother, sometime in the 1950’s, and she gave it to me a few years ago. It is one of my most treasured possessions. He wrote it for her so that she wouldn’t forget important details about her family history. He drew the chart showing the generations of mothers and fathers and in the margins, he wrote what details he could remember about the people on the chart. (My favorite thing about this is that he honestly did not intend for it to be funny.) Here are my favorite excerpts:

Dad remembers Orval Lyons having a pistol duel and killing his rival.

One of the Fulgrum boys killed his wife, mother, father, and brother-in-law two years ago in Shreveport.

Henry Thomas Baker was killed in a gunfight in a store in Spring Hill Louisiana.

Nathanial Thorn disappeared en route to Shreveport from Rodessa to see a doctor. The belief is that the doctor killed him.

Joseph Lyon was killed by guerillas.

If you tilt your head to the left and look in the corner, you can read, “ Jerry Cox wrote this” written in my mother’s handwriting. The kicker is that not long after it was written, Jerry Cox, too, was killed in a gunfight. And years before Jerry was shot and killed, he shot his wife and her lover when he caught them in bed together. Jerry never went to trial for the murders because in those days, killing your cheating wife and her lover was considered justifiable homicide in the state of Texas.

Did you read Sister Amanda’s comment on February 2nd that told the story of Alice and her sisters? She wrote about how the oldest sister worked the second-oldest sister’s way through nursing school. The second sister put the third sister through nursing school, the third put the fourth through nursing school, the fourth the fifth. What an incredible story. No wonder Glennon and Amanda are such amazing women. They come from good stock.

Okay, now it’s my turn to tell you about my grandmother. When my grandmother Spencer was 7 years old, her father loaded his gun and went to town to collect a long overdue debt. The fellow who owed him money shot him dead, of course, and his body was brought home in a horse-drawn wagon. That horse-drawn wagon was never moved from its spot in the front yard. Instead, it sat in front of the old homeplace for decades and became a shrine of sorts. My grandmother and her sisters grew up revering the wagon in the front yard and remained sentimental about it as adults. Doesn’t that sound like the punch line to a joke? You might be a redneck if…the disintegrating wagon that carried home your father’s body is still in your sad looking front yard surrounded by overgrown weeds. My grandmother and her sisters never worked each other’s way through nursing school, or any kind of school for that matter. When they were together, they just did a lot of drinking, hollering, fighting, and cussing.

I also loved the part of Amanda’s comment where she wrote about travelling to Ireland and coming across a sign bearing her family name hanging over the west gates of Galway that said “From the Ferocious O’Flahertys, May God Protect Us.” That brings me to my next story about the other side of my mother’s family, the ferocious Cox’s. They were just as spirited as the Spencers and just as fond of guns. My Grandfather Cox had a sister who was more than fourteen years older than him. There is a Cox family portrait hanging in my parents’ house today, and you can see this much older sister standing with her husband and her children. Nobody knows for sure what really happened to that sister, but legend has it, she was killed by her husband (with a gun, naturally). The murder could never be proven, so the husband went free. After my grandfather Cox grew up, he and his brothers decided it was time to meet their older sister’s grown children and went to pay them a friendly visit. When they showed up at the family’s home and knocked on the door, they heard the heavy footsteps of a man quickly dashing out the back door of the small house and running away at full speed. It was the dead sister’s husband, who was afraid that he was about to be the victim of a much delayed revenge shooting. The Cox family doesn’t have a fancy schmancy sign written in Gaelic hanging above the gates to any city, but people in their little Texas town certainly knew to run like hell when one of them knocked on the door.

I’ve only gone a few generations back, and already I count eleven deaths by gunfire, one death at the hands of a doctor in Shreveport, and one death by guerillas. I could go on and on, and I’m not making this stuff up.

Now I’m sure there are some soft-hearted readers who might think my family history is a bit sad, and parts of it are. Not all of our stories are funny ones. My mother’s childhood was completely ruined by her parents’ alcoholism, and while their antics make for good storytelling, she saw things growing up that no child should see. (If I told you those stories, I would be adding another shooting incident, a stabbing, and some serious hand-to-hand combat to the total.) But my family chooses to laugh at the madness from which we descended. Actually, I’m fiercely proud of my heritage. I would take my crazy, backwoods family and all of their zany stories over a froufrou pedigree any day of the week.

Since my goal was to draw contrasts between Glennon’s family and mine, I’m going to end with a poem. Don’t worry. You won’t be sniffling and dabbing your eyes with a tissue the way I do when I read Bubba’s beautiful writing. This poem is the only one my father has ever written for my mother. It was her Valentine’s Day gift in 1963. It was written on a scratch piece of paper. It read:


Up your ass

And down my spine

Won’t you be my Valentine?