Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Who has the hardest jobs in Pickens County?

as published in The Pickens County Progress Thurs. Aug. 2, 2012

Do you know someone who comes home from work dirty, or even bloody? Do they have a job that nobody else will do? Does he or she deal with the public and have a wild tale to tell every time you meet? Or maybe you're the one who "works like a dog" every single day.

Hard Job: Cafeteria Monitor!
I want to go to work with you, and see what you do. I want to come home with dirty hands and muddy shoes. I'll share your story with The Progress.

Jobs are harder to keep than they used to be. And many folks work two or three to have any sort of living wage. We’ve lowered our standards, too, about what we’d consider doing, for a paycheck. I did something at a grocery store with oven cleaner and a garden hose that’s best forgotten. (But I’ve grown as a person).

And our problems and solutions aren’t like anyone else’s. Not in Fulton or DeKalb, or even Gwinnett these days, will you see a cow blocking a two-lane. Nor will you see a yellow school bus full of kids laughing at the cow in the road, as their hard-working driver (whose other job is preaching) says “hello” to the cow, in passing.

And you won’t see a city cop herding a cow with his cruiser. But you may see a deputy doing it here, where it’s all in a day’s work. Around here, we must “make do” with what’s available.

            If you know someone who always says, “You won’t believe what happened at work today…,” please tell me where I can find this person! They may have the toughest job in Pickens County.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Three Dog Nights

Most people will agree with me. It’s not a problem sleeping alone. Once you’re deliciously unconscious, it’s blissful not to be interrupted by somebody else’s snores and sharp elbows. For the single person, it’s getting to sleep that’s tough. There’s nobody there to make you feel secure and tell you what they did all day.

So I’ve built up a mound of decorative pillows where a man would normally lie. And my Chihuahuas command the other 85% of the bed. I fit in there somewhere. It helps that one leg hangs off … Night sweats keep me covering and uncovering myself. (The night sweats aren’t from TB). I’m menopausal.

Dreams are vividly colorful, like a movie. If the script requires me to talk, I do it out loud. The Chihuahuas hear this and think it’s time to wake up and eat. So there I am, cooking us bacon and eggs at 2:30 a.m. The magic half-hour!

This terrible joke has stuck in my mind like dried up bubblegum:  “What’s the best time to visit the dentist? Two-thirty!” It’s supposed to sound like tooth-hurty. So I tell the dogs not to eat their eggs and bacon too fast because it’s hot and will make their mouths-hurty.

For the older single person, staying asleep is a challenge. We tend to sleep light. So I keep a stack of books beside the bed, just in case my eyes pop open and refuse to close. Right now I’m reading Chuck Yeager’s autobiography, a collection of Southern Humor, and a book on sewing clothes by making patterns from clothes you already own; ones that fit your figure well. This is a great idea! Nothing makes me madder than sewing a whole dress from a rogue pattern and discovering it looks better wadded up in the trash can than it did on me.

I refuse to take a computer to bed. I had a good mother who reminded me that looking at a screen in the pitch black will make me go insanely blind.

Plus, how can a person get sleepy when the Internet is always awake? It’s addictive. One cute video of kittens in the toilet just leads to another. Before you know it, you’re in real deep. It’s two thirty: time to get up and cook the bacon and eggs.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Happy Birthday, Daddy!


As published in The Pickens County Progress, WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 2, 2011

“Live and learn,” my Aunt Mary liked to say. It was one of my favorites. I’m approaching the half-century mark, but lately it’s teenagers who are teaching me stuff. I work shoulder-to-shoulder with ’em at home, at school and at my job. Nobody is particularly happy about it and it shows.

I was sanitizing in the Walmart Deli when a young colleague startled me, barking orders at high volume. I was indignant. She was not being respectful to me, her elder, and she frightened me so much I wet my Khaki uniform pants.

I can be loud too, and gave it right back to her, expounding on why I was right and she was wrong. For emphasis, I threw my cleaning bottle across the floor. My pitch was archived as evidence on the security camera. They didn’t call me into the office, but my scheduled hours were cut way, way down into the immature teens (those digits between 12 and 20) and they removed me from the Deli indefinitely.

This sort of thing has been happening to me since kindergarten. I’m playing nicely by myself when a bully strikes and withdraws. I react and get punished for my reaction while the bully gets off scot-free. Day jobs are for organized types, anyhow - people who keep their socks rolled in pairs and brush after every meal. I’m more of a night-job kind of gal. Maybe it’s time I quit Walmart and become a stage actress. The pay is probably comparable and emoting is in my genes. My mom could cry on command and my dad had a very short fuse.

In the comedy film Smokey and the Bandit, Jackie Gleason has my dad perfectly nailed in the character of Sheriff Buford T. Justice. He abuses his son, Buford, Jr., across several state lines as they chase bootleggers and Jr.’s runaway bride. Gleason spits orders and insults, “Do what I tell ya, you pile of #$%&! Put the evidence in the car!” When his fatherly patience has completed dissolved, Gleason mutters, “There is no way, no way that you came from my loins.”

My dad lost patience with me over tiny little things, like saving water. I liked to keep the tap on while washing dishes, but Dad said to fill the sink up and turn the water off. I refused. He called me Hard-Head and stomped off to do some figuring on paper. This, he shoved under my nose. I said he was wrong. He got even madder and shut the water off at the valve. Mom jumped in and stopped us. She said no argument was worth winning if it gave Dad a stroke. We knew he had clogged arteries, but even his doctors were unaware of the aneurysm growing on his aorta. This condition took his life in a split-second, a few months later. I was 18 years old.

I felt a callous first reaction: Relief. Now he wouldn’t follow me around the house anymore, dictating my every move. Then one day it hit me. We had suffered a terrible loss. Never again could I ask him for advice. For the rest of my life I’ve had to stop and think: What would Daddy do? I can usually come up with an answer. Maybe it’s because he spent most all of his free time with me, Hard-Head. Certainly it would have been easier for him to be anywhere else on the planet. But he had no other agenda.

Lately, the kids I run into (or have run-ins with) seem especially grouchy. But I can’t worry about them all. God assigned me two of my own, whose little minds I could warp any way I see fit. I’ve tried to do a good job. If Dad were here, I hope he’d approve. I think he would. But it really doesn’t matter what I hope or think at this point. They’re teenagers now, out there making their own choices. The evidence will speak for itself.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Big Fish, Small Pond

as published in The Pickens County Progress on Thursday, April 26, 2012

Apartment life is close-knit. I have a breezy mountain view. I decorated the deck with wind chimes. Tree frogs sing at night. I sleep on a twin bed in the dining room, with three Chihuahuas and a 25 lb. cat. My daughter has the bedroom. I beg her, “Please take your cat! He’s yours!”
“I can’t, Mom! He snores.”
However cramped it is, sleeping in the dining room is convenient. If I get hungry, I can open the refrigerator without getting out of bed.
My neighbors seemed to like me just fine, until I saw what they named their home network: Lady_Your_Wind_Chimes_Suck So I put a rubber band around the pipes.
Can it be six years since we moved to Pickens County? We thought it was jaw-dropping gorgeous. And everyone was incredibly generous. On her first day at the middle school, they gave my daughter a baby pig. It didn’t ride the bus home. The pig stayed at school.
“The barn smells!” She cried.
“That’s fresh country air!” I lied.

Now she’s about to graduate from PHS. Looking back, I hope she’ll appreciate why we moved her here. Where we came from, there was a shortage of coon hounds and swimming holes. And they served Coca-Cola in plastic instead of glass.
We found in the city, there were more kids than clubs. Here there are more clubs than kids. Pickens County teachers must negotiate on who-gets-which-student-for-which-club-on-what-day. So if she wants to, one student can belong to every club.
Once, we saw a cheerleader put down her pom-poms and march in the band at halftime. Now, that’s a full resume!
These last few years have not been easy, but I’m thankful to have spent them here. Every time I go out, I see a familiar face. A single parent cannot feel alone here.
That means everything to someone, who has no one.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

"The Wright Stuff" ... things you learn outside the classroom

As published in The Pickens County Progress on Thursday, April 19, 2012

I was a good girl until a bad girl moved in next door. She was my polar opposite: I was shy and she wasn’t. The only thing we had in common was being teenagers, displaced from the city to the country. It was the worst thing ever. I said I’d never do that to my kids, and ended up doing it anyway when we move to Pickens County. But I came to believe it was the best thing ever, and hope they will too.

Backing up to 1978, right away, the new girl had me skipping class and floating on a tire-tube in Lake Lanier. We did other things too, involving shaving cream, toilet paper, warm beer, Tide, and municipal fountains. So for litigious reasons, it would be wiser to refer to her as simply “K. Wright.

In my 1978 Yearbook, K. wrote:
“Bettina, we’ve had some great times doing stuff all those places we can’t mention (but you know what I’m talking about). I hope you get Kurt over the summer, or it might be that he gets you! Even though he is a little wild. And I say he is ugly but I really think he is a doll. And if I’m lucky I might be able to get Kevin. He is A-1 FOXY!”

 Now, I don’t remember Kevin, but he must’ve been tall, because K. and I were both amazons. It was our mission in life to find cute, flat shoes so we wouldn’t be taller than our dates. (I am still on that mission.) We were so tall, the cheerleaders and drill team didn’t want us. That summer we wasted practicing for tryouts can never be recovered. We were READY!! O.K.!! for them, but they weren’t ready for us.
K. taught me how to wear makeup, and how to pump gas. And she had good sense. Before she got involved with a boy, we spied on him for a week. Just to see if he was single, employed, and nice to his parents. Because Facebook wasn’t around yet, we conducted field research. In fields. Once, a bull chased us up a tree. The boy we were spying on jabbed at our legs with his deer rifle. He asked what we were doing. K. told him, exactly. And they dated for 6 months, in a row!
K. taught me a lot. For instance, the Wright way to wear make-up is to look like you aren’t. And pumping gas is easy. Smile at the stone fox pumping gas next to you. Smile until your teeth hurt. If he’s got a brain in his head, he’ll introduce himself. You can slip him your phone number. It’s o.k., he’s a nice guy. You know this, because you’ve been spying on him for a week.

Friday, April 13, 2012

"I Love You, Clint Eastwood!" as published in The Pickens County Progress on April 12, 2012

“I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him.”   Revelation 6:8   NIV 1984

I love you, Clint Eastwood!
I was a hyper little kid. Mom parked me in front of the TV, while she lay down with a cool rag on her forehead. It seemed harmless enough, leaving me with heroes like Andy Griffith and Carol Burnett. When the show was over, I went outside to play.
The year I got married, Pale Rider came out. It was my first time seeing Clint Eastwood command a big screen. It’s mesmerizing, waiting for a line to slip out of his mouth, as clues flicker across his other body parts.
(He could straddle a stool and read the Chinese phone book, and I’d watch with undivided attention).
So my new husband and I found something we could afford to do. We were too poor to own furniture, but we darn sure had a TV/VCR. We camped out on the rug watching all of Clint’s movies.
Pale Rider is a classic. I like the Bible-verse reference. His character is rich and diverse; he’s a reformed gunslinger, turned preacher. And he saves the good people from the bad ones. The grateful heroine asks: “Who are you? Who are you … really?” He answers, “Well, it doesn’t really matter, does it?” and rides off into Idaho’s Sawtooth National Park.
Nobody can fence him in. The “offbeat hero” has a lesson: It doesn’t matter who you are. It’s what you do that counts. And Clint always, always does the right thing.
That electronic babysitter is still around. We know where our kids aren’t. They aren’t playing in real life. They’re pale little rug rats, holed up indoors, wired to unsavory heroes.
I say, run them outside … right smack dab into the spores and pollen. Better still, take them to town. Maybe you’ll see Clint, ordering a sarsaparilla at Quick Burger. Rumor has it, he’s filming a movie in Jasper this week. But you probably won’t see him, if he sees you first.
At least the kids will absorb some Vitamin D.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Mellow Yellow

Spring is here, and so is the pollen. I’ve been driving something bright yellow. Bet you have, too! But why bother to wash them? Tomorrow they’ll just be bright yellow again. And outdoors, the wind would blow your soap bubbles clean away. Swallow one, and you’d talk like Lawrence Welk.

It’s better for your lungs to stay indoors. Why not take advantage of this, and go antiquing? There are thousands of old, forgotten things populating Pickens, waiting to be dusted off, loved and repurposed. But get an early start, or the tourists will get your treasures. It takes time to find something “wunnerful, wunnerful,” but don’t lose track of it. Once, I got so involved digging through boxes, the clerk locked up for the night with me inside. I panicked! Behind the counter, the key holders were listed on an ancient Rolodex. I called around until someone agreed to come let me out.
Recently, that shop was swarmed with tourists. They’d arrived in a fleet of antique cars. A wise-guy was bothering the clerk. He took a few business cards. “I’m here to distract you while my friends shop-lift.”  He told her. She laughed, and waved him away. One of the ladies sat slumped on a little shoe-shine bench. Clearly, she did not realize the full import of her proximity. I had to say something. “Ma’am, you know you’re in antique heaven, right? Jasper has better prices than bigger towns.”
“Is that where we are, Jasper?” She asked. “We’re from Dawsonville.”
I thought: This lady does not even know where she is. But then I remembered the definition of a tourist.
And then there was Wise-Guy, trying on ladies’ hats. He continued his shoplifting shtick, moving to the luggage. Working a train case into his waistband, he screamed to no-one: “My pants are full!” I redirected him to the tobacco paraphernalia. There, he found his treasure! Grabbing the shop’s business card and his cell phone, he dialed the clerk, who sat just a few feet away. “Do you have Prince Edward in a can?” He asked.
“Yes, we do.” She replied.
“Well, you’d better let him out!”
She hung up on him.