Millie Conway

In our family, we celebrate Easter and our risen Lord as we do any other holy day – by racing home from church and eating entirely too much. And then complaining about how full we are as we waddle off to check out the dessert table.

And after all that eating, nothing much else can be done except to sit around the table and talk trash before going back for another piece of pie. When my mother-in-law Cleo and her siblings get together, talk inevitably turns to Millie Conway. After 70 or more years, it’s still Millie Conway. If you have ever wondered how long one can harbor sour feelings, it’s at least 70 years.

In case you are wondering, Millie Conway was a girl that Cleo and her older sisters grew up with. As legend has it, Millie had the good fortune of being an only child and consequently was afforded a few luxuries – new clothes, an occasional Coke or a bologna sandwich all to herself. In Cleo’s family there were seven children and no such luxuries. If Cleo were to have to choose a last meal, I can tell you right now it would be a sandwich of thick cut bologna with real mayo and a Coke. The contentious feelings towards Millie wasn’t borne out of the fact that she had so much and that Cleo and her sisters had so little, but that Millie was the original Nellie Oleson.

After a round table rehashing of Millie’s many acts of evil against the sisters, each one reported as though it had never been told before, one of the siblings will say of their oldest sister, “You know, Fanny always wanted to hit Millie but mama wouldn’t let her,” and then almost piously, “Mama never let us hit anybody or anything like that.”

And then someone will say, “Poor Fanny went to her grave wanting to hit Millie and never got the chance.” And then we all hang our heads in a moment of silence for Aunt Fanny and her unrequited and unopened can of whoop ass.

“Whatever happened to Millie Conway anyway?” someone asked.

“Oh she died some years back,” Cleo says.

Everyone paused to consider this.

Then Antique Daddy adds triumphantly, “Well, I bet the first thing Aunt Fanny did when she got to heaven was kick Millie Conway’s butt.”

And if there is any image that will convey the true meaning of Easter, it’s two old ladies in a throw down at the Pearly Gates.

Allergies and Love

I was sitting next to Cleo, my mother-in-law, in church on Sunday. With her head bowed, she dabbed her nose with a tissue and sniffled. I whispered to her, “Are you okay?”

“Oh, I’m just all choked up,” she said as she fanned her face with her hand.

I imagined that she was overcome with emotion to be surrounded by her family, to have her grandson sitting on her lap feeding her goldfish.

So I nodded at her and patted her arm in a knowing and loving gesture. I understood.

Then she leaned over and said, “Allergies. I’ve got a head full of snot.”

Allergies and love — apparently both come wrapped in snot.

Therapy With A Side Of Cold Cream

My mother-in-law, Cleo, has owned a cosmetics and clothing business on Main Street in downtown Tuna for more than 25 years. She has enjoyed a fair measure of success for a variety of reasons.

One, she can flat out sell. That woman could sell the devil a Bible and then he would order a few more for gifts. Two, Papa George stands squarely behind her, encouraging her and supporting her every step of the way. Three, she understands that she is not selling clothes and cosmetics, but hope and dreams. And four, the good people of Tuna need some place where they can get therapy and a makeover at the same time.

A bell tied to the front door, clinkles and clankles, announcing the arrival of each customer. She greets them by name. “Helloooow there! Come in!” she calls from behind the counter looking over the top of her rhinestone bifocals. She asks about their children, their grandchildren. She knows them.

Usually the first customer of the day is some old farmer wearing bib overalls. That might seem odd if you were at the mall, but no one in downtown Tuna blinks an eye to see a farmer in a boutique. His wife has sent him in with an empty powder compact that he pulls out of the pocket on the front of his overalls. Cleo knows exactly what to replace it with without even looking at it. His wife has bought the same product in the same shade for the last 25 years.

He pulls up a stool at the makeover counter to rest and chat. He leans on his cane and Cleo leans on the counter to hear the latest. His wife has cancer, but she is hanging in there he says. Cleo listens and offers him a piece of homemade fudge. There’s nothing that George’s fudge won’t make better. Cleo rings up the makeup and walks him to the door. “You hang in there now. We’re a’prayin’ for you,” she says as he makes his way out the door.

Ever so often, some young gal will come in with her head hanging low. She’ll pull up a stool at the cosmetics counter and pour out her woes all over the eye shadow counter. Like a good bartender, Cleo listens. Her husband has left her. He took the dog. Cleo gives her a piece of homemade fudge and pats her arm.

Fifteen minutes later, her woes have been replaced with a new face and a new blouse. When you’re living your life out in a country and western song, a bag of cosmetics and a new blouse will fix most all that ails you. She hugs Cleo as she leaves the store. “Keep your chin up gal!” Cleo calls to her. She has made a customer and she has made a friend.

You can’t get that at the mall.

The entire Tuna series can be found at the Best of Antique Mommy

The Memaw Factor

Discipline is the parenting issue about which I have the least confidence. Because I haven’t read every book ever printed on the topic? Because I haven’t bent the ear of every person on the planet who has a child? Because my child is an angel and does not require discipline? No. No. And Almost. Oops. Make that No, Almost and then No.

The problem isn’t even so much sorting through all the competing philosophies – Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, Dr. Phil, Dr. Karp, Dr. Spock, Dr. Seuss or even Dr. Scholls. The problem is that no matter what discipline philosophy you adopt, it doesn’t take into account the Memaw factor.

On our last visit to Memaw’s house there was a particular item in her living room that Sean could not resist. After the third and final warning not to touch it, I whisked him off to the bedroom to have a discussion and it went like this:

Scene: The interrogation room (or Memaw’s guest bedroom). The ceiling light has only one working bulb. The room is bathed in a dim ominous wash of green. The suspect is brought into the room and made to stand on the bed for interrogation. He is not offered an attorney or read his rights because, well, he has neither. His mother emerges from the shadows and stands by the bed to speak to him eyeball to eyeball:

AM: (using her most authoritative tone, which by the way, never worked on the dog either) Sean, I asked you not to touch that, didn’t I?

Sean: Yes Mommy.

AM: But you touched it anyway, didn’t you?

Sean: Yes Mommy.

AM: You have been disobedient, so now Mommy has discipline you. Do you understand what Mommy is saying?

Sean: Yes Mommy. (Pauses briefly and then calls into the living room) MEMAW! GET ME!

Stifled giggles heard from the living room room.

* * *

What now Dr. Phil??

Happy Birthday Memaw!

Dear Cleo –

Today we celebrate not only Christmas Eve, but the 79th birthday of you and your handsome twin brother Leo! The miracle of every life is worth celebrating whether it be a life of two years or 79 years.

I just wanted to say Merry Christmas, Happy Birthday and thank you. Like a lost puppy, you and George took me into your family the instant your son brought me home nine years ago. Never have I felt more welcomed and wanted anywhere. I realize now the reason you were so happy to see me is that you had hopes that finally someone had come along who could de-crust the crusty old bachelor that your youngest son had become. I know your life long dream has been that he would marry and have children and remove his motorcycle from your garage. Well, what do you think? Since the little boy has come along, we are all a lot less crusty and a lot more soggy wouldn’t you say? I don’t know what to tell you about the motorcycle. There’s just so much I can do.

You have so many characteristics that I hope Sean inherits. You love to laugh and can laugh at yourself. You can sell anything to anyone. You have weathered the worst of what life has to offer and come out the other side with your faith and humor intact. You are generous with your friendship. You cry when others are hurting. I know this because you’ve cried with me and over me a number of times in the past nine years. You have a forgiving spirit — which I also know because you didn’t even get mad at me that time I yelled at you in right in the middle of Wal-Mart. I don’t know if these qualities were borne out of the hardship of growing up during The Depression on the North Texas prairie with six brothers and sisters or if that’s just how God made you. I just hope some of it is sifted down into the character of Sean.

So Happy Birthday Cleo! My birthday wish for you is that the coming year will bring you many occasions to laugh and count your blessings. And my prayer for you is that there will be a lot more birthdays, a lot more milestones to celebrate and a lot more Memaw-time for Sean — and for all of us.

Your Antique Daughter-in-Law

Will the real Mom please stand up?

Way back in the last century, when TV only came in black and white, there was a game show called To Tell The Truth. This show featured a panel of obscure celebrities trying to guess the identity of an even more obscure celebrity from amongst two others claiming also to be said obscure celebrity — in a friendly identity theft sort of way. At the end of each episode, the announcer would say, “Would the real [obscure celebrity name here] please stand up?” The suspense was palpable to see who would stand as all three contestants jostled in their seats.

Anyway, Kitty Carlisle was one of the regular panelists on the show and I remember thinking she embodied all things elegant. As a 7-year-old girl, I wanted my name to be Kitty Carlisle, except for when I was wanting my name to be Laura Petrie, but never did I want my name to be “Mom”– until I did and then I couldn’t. But then later, much later, my name was changed to Mom. And right around that same time, I noticed that everyone else seemed to be named Mom too. And boy is that confusing in places like Wal-Mart where there are a lot of pint-sized humanoids running amok screaming “Hey Mom!” And now even Antique Daddy refers to me as “Mama” at times. And that gets very weird at family gatherings when he calls into the kitchen from the den, “Hey Mama?” and my mother-in-law and I both answer “Yes?” in unison. Everyone in the house holds their breath in suspense to see who will stand as we both jostle in our seats.

I’ve read that even before a baby is born, he can distinguish the sound of his mother’s voice from any other. You would think that would work in reverse, but no, it doesn’t. To me every toddler screaming “Mommy!” sounds like Sean and sends my momtenna up like a rocket and my head spinning like Linda Blair thus relieving me of what precious little adrenaline I have on a given day. So as a way to ration my adrenaline reserves and to eliminate confusion, I’m thinking of having Sean call me Kitty Carlisle instead.