Mar 192010

My father’s name is Jimmy Elmer Adams. Every great once in a while, he will meet someone in a formal setting who will call him James, assuming it is his given name. But the name on his birth certificate is Jimmy. My mother calls him either JE or Jim, but she still has a Texas accent, so it sounds more like JEE-yim. He is a wonderful man. I absolutely adore him.

My dad has a gift for revering his past while still enjoying his present. He doesn’t tell his stories with a hint of sadness, just appreciation for his life experiences. He calls himself the luckiest man on earth. He’s also the best storyteller I’ve ever met. My dad has been repeating the same stories over and over again his whole life, but they still make people laugh. Even if someone (me) interrupts him with a polite chuckle and says, “Yah…heard that one already…” he will finish the story anyway, for the 500th time, with the same verve that he told it the first time.

My favorite part of his storytelling is when he stops to laugh at himself. He will get himself so tickled that he turns red in the face, throws his head back, closes his eyes, opens his mouth as wide as possible, and roars with laughter that sounds like machine gun fire. If the people around him are not laughing at the story itself, they are laughing at how tickled he is. Our neighbors used to tell us they could always tell when the Adams family was having dinner on the deck because bursts of laughter would echo through our woodsy neighborhood.

When my brother and I were teenagers, we used to joke that our friends liked our parents more than they liked us. Our friends were at our house all the time, and our parents liked having all of us around. It seems there was always at least one stray friend at our dinner table. My mother likes to think it is because her cooking was delicious (it was), but I am fairly certain it’s because a meal with my dad guaranteed you at least one or two hard belly laughs.

In 1994, I received my all-time favorite Christmas present from my folks. On the outside, it looked like a nondescript blue binder filled with a big stack of white paper. The first page read,

Book of Memories

Compiled in 1994

Dedicated to Future Generations of My Family

The binder was filled with my parents’ personal histories. The first half was written by my dad, and the second half by my mom. (Actually, my dad dictated his portion to my mother while she typed it for him. That woman can type like nobody’s business.) The chapters had titles like, It All Started When, Early Childhood, Junior High and Adolescence, Special Days & Family Events, etc. The subtitles included everything from Early Playmates to First Full-Time Job. My parents wrote all they could remember about their lives.

Today, I’ll tell you about my dad’s half of the binder.

My dad was born in 1939. He had a happy childhood and a very close-knit family. His stories have a sweetness that makes me feel nostalgic for an era that I didn’t experience…those soda fountain, pie-on-the-windowsill days that seem long-gone now. I feel like a lot of senior citizens treat today’s modern life like an assault on the simpler times from when they were kids. But my dad doesn’t do that. His stories seem to be just a pick-me-up to remind him of good times, good friends, and why it’s great to be alive.

Below are my favorite excerpts from my father’s history. Some make me sigh, some make me laugh, and some make me cry. They all make me proud to be his daughter.

All the years I lived in Crane, it was actually a very good place to grow up. Crane was a small town…completely isolated—the nearest town was something like 20 miles away. My friends and I spent all our time playing ball and camping out. The world was a little different then: kids had a lot more freedom because parents didn’t have to worry about as many things as they do now. In many ways, it was idyllic for a young boy.

There was another area about 10 miles from Crane that we referred to as the sand hills. The sand dunes were constantly shifting, due to the wind blowing, and you could find Indian arrowheads and pieces of Indian pottery. It was a wonderful place to camp out. The atmosphere was so devoid of any pollution that at night you could look up and see a blanket of stars that were so bright and clear.

We lived in two other three other houses in Crane. The most memorable one was one which my father built. My father was not an accomplished carpenter, and one corner of the roof drooped down; it almost looked as if he did it on purpose, but I can assure you he didn’t.

We suffered extreme economic hardship, but that never really affected the family relationships. In a way, I’m not sure that the collective struggle to deal with the financial hardships didn’t bring us all closer together. I think somehow dealing with a common adversity is a cathartic event that molds a stronger family.

The Cokers lived directly across the street from us when we lived in the shotgun house. The Cokers were unusual people. I remember sitting on the front porch and watching Mr. and Mrs. Coker fight with their relatives, and I mean literally. They would fight up and down the street with much yelling and swearing and the Coker kids running around screaming and crying. It was grand.

Growing up in Southwest Texas in a little town that was a million miles from anywhere, we didn’t have television even after it was commonplace elsewhere. Family entertainment consisted largely of listening to the radio. Some of my fondest memories are of the family sitting around the kitchen table on cold, winter evenings working jigsaw puzzles and listening to the radio. The programs that I remember most were Fibber McGee and Molly, Lux Radio Theater, Suspense, Mr. District Attorney, The Thin Man, The Shadow, Amos and Andy, The Great Gildersleeve, Sky King, Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, The Green Hornet, and Stella Dallas. The list could go on and on.

We would go out into the oilfields where a lot of well drilling had been done, and there was scrap cable lying around in the sand. We would find this cable, and I would pull it out from the sand and load it on this trailer. When we had the trailer full, we could take it to McCamey to sell it to a scrap metal dealer. Those kinds of endeavors when you are working just to stay alive, when you come through that, your relationship tends to be very, very strong.

In the hot summer, everybody would go to the swimming pool to swim; we had a community pool. The thing to do was to walk by the ice house on the way and get a scrap piece of ice to suck while you walked to the pool. We’d also walk to the movies, and on the way, we’d stop by the grocery store in town. In the summer, they had sugar cane, and you could buy a joint of sugar cane for a nickel.

I got my driver’s license when I was 14, and I was so excited. I got to take the car to the movies shortly after I got my license, and after the movie was over, I was talking with my friends and walked home and left the car at the movies. My father was thoroughly disgusted.

I’ll never forget the first day I had my convertible. It was a white convertible with a black and white interior. I had a date that night, so I dressed in black and white two-tone shoes, black trousers, a black and white shirt, and, of course, sunglasses. Altogether quite a natty fellow. As I was driving along on the way to get my date with the top down on my new convertible, a bird shat and splattered black and white bird droppings on my black and white shirt.

There is a story that my wife, when she was younger, dated a very handsome but a very poor young man. She had also dated a very wealthy but very ugly young man. She always said that if she ever found a happy medium between the two, she would marry him. And sure enough, she married the poorest, ugliest man on campus.

Apr 122010

There is a woman named Anne Lamott, and she lives in California and writes down big beautiful stories and ideas that God gives her. She, together with Sister and husband and Jesus, convinced me that I could just go ahead and be myself already.

Before I met Anne Lamott, I thought I had to choose between God and myself. I’m not going to explain that right now, but the important thing is that her stories and ideas taught me that I didn’t have to make that choice. She taught me that those two things were the same choice, actually. When I read Anne Lamott, I feel like maybe I’m okay. I also feel like maybe she’s said it all, and I shouldn’t bother adding anything else. But then I remember that she would probably tell me otherwise, so I keep writing.

If my children don’t end up with enough money to go to college, it will be because I bought so many books by Anne Lamott. And I’ll be fine with that. I have given Traveling Mercies to one friend four different times. She didn’t have the heart to tell me until the fourth time, when she asked me if I was joking. I just want my friends to feel as free and kind and calm and understood as I do when I read her. I also like to buy her books repeatedly because each time I buy one, she gets a few bucks. So when I hand my money to the Borders cashier I imagine that I’m buying a coffee for one of her funny friends, or a flower to put in that beautiful hair that helped make her who she is. And I feel like I’m sending her a thank you card, without bothering her by actually sending her a thank you card.

Last week Krystal wrote on the Momastery fan page that Anne Lamott was going to be speaking and signing copies of her new book, Imperfect Birds, at a book store in Northern Virginia. I started sweating when I read that. But there was nothing I could do about it, because I don’t live there anymore. I was so relieved that there was nothing I could do about it. But then one of my best friends, Joanna, wrote on the wall that she would go. That she would Go Meet Anne Lamott For Me. And then I just shut the computer because I couldn’t take it anymore.

I don’t know how to tell you about Joanna. Maybe if Sister and I had another sister, in between us, it would be Joanna. She would be the artsy one who is always trying to make our lives more like art, more colorful and open for interpretation and outside the lines. And we would be like book ends for her.

So I wrote to Joanna and said don’t go, hoping that she would ignore that, and I spent the whole evening trying not to wonder if Joanna was listening to Anne Lamott for me. I ate a lot of popcorn.

The next morning, Joanna wrote me an email and told me that she was not going to tell me anything about what happened at the reading unless I called her. Joanna is always trying to turn me into a better friend by insisting I speak to her instead of just write to her. I find this annoying and unsettling and wise and brave. So I lied and told her I couldn’t call. Because of some phone problems. And she knew I was lying, but she gave in and wrote to me anyway. She wrote all of the beautiful things Anne Lamott said. And she told me that she had written a card to Anne Lamott. And that she had smiled and accepted the card with both hands and hugged the card to her chest and said, “Yay! I’ll take it home and read it tonight!” This is the card Joanna wrote to Anne Lamott. For me. For her friend.

When I saw these pictures, I sat at my computer and cried for a long time. Because I always thought that if Anne Lamott ever actually read my writing, my life would somehow be different. That it would be magical. But as I looked at the card Joanna made, and imagined her dragging her pregnant, tired self to that book store to make contact with a woman she’d never read, simply because I loved her, and she loved me, I realized suddenly that I didn’t need Anne Lamott to read my writing. Because she wasn’t the magical part of the moment at all. The magical part was Joanna. The magical part was that I have a friend who loves me so much that she wanted to thank the woman who helped me have the courage to be myself.

I don’t know how to get over that. I’m just so full about that.

Life’s magic is never on its way. It’s always already arrived. Joy is catching a glimpse of something extra-ordinary that we were lulled into thinking was ordinary for awhile. Like when we remember that each sun beam is actually a rainbow, because one hit the window at just the right angle. So we stop to look closer, and our eyes widen.

Apr 142010

Bathroom Break

Willie Mack is my maternal grandfather, more well-known as Ozella’s husband. He’s been dead for many years, but the general consensus is that he was a real character. So can you just imagine what kind of person old Mack told stories about back in his day? Just like I have a nutty, deceased grandfather I enjoy writing about, Mack had a nutty aunt about whom his family liked to tell stories. Knowing what you know about Mack (who used to have fisticuffs with his wife that ended with him being shot and stabbed by his beloved), just imagine how crazy someone would have to be for HIM to consider that person worthy of a fireside story. Well, he had one such relative. Her name was Eualer.

First, I have to explain the name. I just LOVE unusual names. Your comments that included all of your unusual family names cracked me up.

Aunt Eualer’s name was a mistake. Her parents wanted to give her a name that was considered old fashioned even for those days, Eulalie (YEW-lah-lee). But my ancestors weren’t good at spelling or sounding-it-out, because they ended up naming her Eualer, pronouncing it yew-ALE-er, and sticking with the unfortunate pronunciation all her life. Poor Eualer.

I should also mention that in my family, the title “Aunt” is not pronounced “Ah-nt,” the way some fancy people do. It’s also not pronounced “Ant” the way many southerners and mid-westerners do. We pronounce it “Ain’t,” like the grammatically incorrect contraction that makes schoolteachers cringe. For example, I have an Ain’t Sue who lives in Ft. Worth, Texas.

I only know one family story about Eualer, but from that one story, I’m able to deduce that she and I have at least one very important thing in common. She and I both cannot STAND having to stop during road trips to pee. For me, it’s due to an aversion to the smells and germs associated with public restrooms. For her, I’m almost certain convenience was the main factor. I’m not sure how many public restrooms could be found along the road in the middle-of-nowhere east Texas in those days, but I think it’s fair to assume there weren’t many. But she went to greater lengths than I ever have to avoid making pit stops.

Legend has it, Eualer was gearing up for a long road trip with her family, and she knew she would never make it to her destination without stopping for a restroom break. So before she departed, she went to the kitchen, grabbed the biggest butcher knife she could find, and plunged it into the floorboard of the family car’s back seat. She cut a jagged-edged circle about the size of a coffee can lid into the floorboard.

Can you see where this story is going?
While she and her family were on the road and nature called, Eualer crawled into the back seat, pulled down her drawers, hiked up her dress, hovered over the hole, and relieved herself. Her husband never even had to slow down. I bet they made really good time.

So the next time you are driving down the road and see one of those lines of mystery fluid leaking from a random car, keep in mind that it might not be antifreeze or transmission fluid. It just might be one of my family members avoiding a bathroom break.


And if this is you’re first visit to Momastery today, well, Urine for a treat. Don’t forget to read the poem below about Ed, and trusting yourself.

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