Friday, April 30, 2010

Rainy Funeralizing

Another day, another Funeral with my mother. This one in the rain. Now down here folks want to get the most out of their going away ceremony. You want to be real prepared before you meet your maker and have to justify all your indiscretions. So the majority signup for the deluxe package with the church, the choir, the graveside ceremony. They want to go out in style and prepared.

I guess the idea is that in lieu of chits (like Martin Luther had issue with) by purchasing the deluxe faith and forgiveness package combo from the church and the funeral home, God will know you are coming, you are in good standing, are God fearing, and ready to join the army of Christian soldiers (just like they taught us in Sunday school at the Presbyterian church when I was 5 years old). The way they figure it, if the choir sings loud enough, the preacher prays long enough for your soul, and enough people show up (this is where the food after the service comes into play - if you feed them, they will come), your chances for salvation greatly increase. But I digress.

Those who either feel they are in such good standing with the old man up stairs or just don't care, often opt for the graveside service - short, sweet, to the point. This current funeral today is a graveside funeral. As we drove up, I reminded my mother to be careful walking in the cemetery. - the last thing I need is for her to fall. When we get out of the car, she said, "I need to be careful, I sure don't want to fall. You know cemeteries are dangerous places." (I love it when she hears what I say.)

The rain drizzled and the crowd gathered around the tent. As the preacher began I thought to myself that thankfully this would be short and sweet, especially with the rain. He preached and prayed and invited family members to speak (and they did). This was going on way too long - no offense to the deceased or the family, but I was cold and getting colder. Then we prayed again, making sure the soul was safe. Just when I when I thought I could move toward the car, the preacher announced that there would be a musical tribute.

While we were listening to a duo, who didn't quite make it in Memphis, my eyes wondered across the cemetery. How much does all this cost - the markers, the flowers, the plots? And, "perpetual care", who is going to care for this, forever? Among the grave markers, I notice a very attractive arrangement of yellow flowers and greenery. It seems to be the only tasteful sight in all the sea of plastic flowers in colors of purple, orange, magenta, and red.

As we made our way to the car when the service was finally over, I idled over for a closer look at the yellow flowers. As I bent down, I could clearly see a small tag - $2.95 from the Family Dollar Store. Well, that answered one thing - the price of the flowers. I imagine it went up from there.

Friday, April 23, 2010

SC vs. SF

While in San Francisco I had the wonderful opportunity to tour their old federal courthouse. And it was not your general public tour - it was a private tour given by a very passionate court employee, an attorney who had a personal interest in the building and its glorious history. And, the building was indeed a marvel. It had withstood a fire and two earthquakes, condemation, restoration and revitalization and at least one act of Congress in the mean time. She was a beauty.

Her interior was graced with 18 types of marble, several different types of rare wood, including one room, ornately carved from a type of redwood that no longer existed. In her 105 year history she had stood the test of time and lived to tell about it.

As I toured the halls, chambers, and courtrooms I was in awe of the electric lights that were original to the 1905 construction. Some of the decoration was a little "over the top" but the builders wanted to show the glory of the west to the public. It was built by Italian craftsman who had immigrated to America. And their unparalleled talent was evident in the ornate carvings, the exquisite tile ceilings and floors, inlaid marble, and the bronze work. It was everything the old world craftsman had to offer in the new world of modern marvels.

But as I walked away, I thought: they are so proud of their 105 year history. And hey, during that time, they have discovered gold, learned how the make fantastic bread, developed blue jeans, beat the French at their own game - making fabulous wine, and most famously cooked up, that "San Francisco Treat" - Rice-a-Roni (although I have yet to see it on a menu out there.)

In our 340 years we have beat the British, befriended the French, had 3 signers of the Declaration of Independence, were the first state to secede from the Union (and spent the next 75 years recovering from that decision), are known for our Bar-b-Que pork, produce more peaches than any other state (including Georgia - the so called "Peach State"), and we developed our own dance - the "Shag" (based on the jitterbug but slower due to amount of adult beverages the dancers have enjoyed).

They've done OK for someone late coming to the party. However, there's one thing we got 'em on - game - set - match, they can't make grits!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

That "Accent"

What is it about a southern accent? Obviously, I don't think about it. Although some southerners try to make their accents more "southern" which can lead to disastrous consequences. Very talented women can soften their southern "drawl" and benefit greatly from it. To me, that requires way too much effort.

While in California I was giving a presentation to a group from western states. After my general talk, I had a Q&A session. This went on for a half hour or so. The questions were pleasant. Many of the topic discussions continued that afternoon. Over dinner, I was answering a question when I noticed a lady just staring at me. When I looked at her, she said, "I just love the way you talk, you know, your accent." A friend beside her added, "Your southern accent is just wonderful."

At that point, I wondered if they had heard anything I had said. Or were they just listening to my "accent". Was this a strength or a detriment? I have never thought of myself as a "pretty face" much less a just a "wonderful accent". Of all the things my Daddy taught me, using my accent to my advantage was not one of them.

But like I often tell my children - it's a package deal. In life we often are not given a choice. We just dance with one who brung us. In this case it is a slow waltz through the oleanders.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Mother Nature is not Always Nice

The volcano in Iceland reminds us that Mother Earth has both blessed and cursed each locale. For instance for us, we have the natural beauty of the low country with the grand old oak trees draped in Spanish moss, the glorious marshes on the coast teaming with wild life, and each April our gardens burst into brilliant hues of lavender, pink, and purple as the azaleas and other flowers of spring bloom.

Of course that is counter balanced with the hurricanes that threaten each summer and fall. We live knowing that any given year another Hazel, Hugo, or Amelia can rush forth from the Atlantic and literally wash part of our lives away. Now life will come back, it always has in the past. After all, Mother Earth is all about rebirth but it can be painful - the price for living in paradise. She also sends us the heat of August each year - but I always assumed that was to keep the Yankees at bey.

The beautiful states of the plains have the tornadoes, etc. You get the picture.

In non-modern times, everyone lived with the fear of the unknown. You knew the wrath of Mother Nature was always there, but you never knew her timing. True, you could look in the sky as the clouds foretold the inevitable. But by that time, you could just grab the children and move to higher ground or the root cellar, depending on your on oncoming meteorological crisis.

Now, in California, Mother Nature has made a game of it and no one out here has taken the hint. They have mud slides, fires, and earthquakes. Personally, I think I would take this as a sign - and move. True, torrential rain means the earth will soften and move and your house may fall off the side of the hill. (You have some warning here. And it is not when the storm clouds come - it's when your real estate agent shows you this wonderful house, perfect for you, with a beautiful view of the valley - ie it's on the side of a hill.) The forest fires come fast and furious with not much warning. And, they can strike any where. Of course, you can make sure you have a large lot, don't live near anyone, and cut down all the trees, keep the brush cleared, and a water hose handy.

And then there are the earthquakes - no warning, no season, not a clue. You are just standing there, or driving, or sleeping and the earth angers and starts move. The buildings shake (and some fall.) The bridges sway (and some collapse.) Gas manes can rupture causing fire. This came to mind when I was reading the book of hotel services (you know the leather-like notebook that always sits on the desk in your hotel room). In addition to room service, the hotel spa services, and the "helpful" concierge, they also mention what to do in the case of an earthquake - "Duck, Cover, and Hold and Don't Run Outside." This brings about a warm feeling of security - about as secure as the "Duck and Cover" instructions we were taught at school in 1960's in case of the inevitable Russian nuclear attack.

Personally, I'll take hurricanes. Yes, they are devastating, but we have fair warning. I do not live in fear that as I walk down the street a rogue wave is going to come out of no where and wash me away. I can sleep on the 8th floor of a hotel without fear of 100 mile per hour winds suddenly blasting out the windows. And, our safety instructions assume that you had fair warnings from the hotel staff and they are more concerned about your knowing the evacuation routes clearly marked on the highways leaving the coast, than the location of the stairwells so you can climb to the higher floors to escape the oncoming tidal surge. But, with today's Weather Channel, you know "the storm's abrewing" days in advance, so chances are you have left Dodge a while back.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Just be Nice (at least until they go home)

Well, I'm here in the land of flowers, fruit, and nuts (California) for several days. Personally, I like the free spirit that seems to be in the air. Not often back home does some one ride by dressed in a pink fairy outfit on a purple bicycle with a bubble machine streaming bubbles in her wake. And, although it brought smiles to faces, no one thought anything of it. If you can push the envelope socially, they are going to do it here in spades.

So what. Other than the fact, I feel like a Victorian school marm as I walk around, it's their state. However, I don't appreciate an arrogant concierge. Since it is his job to assist the hotel guests, I politely asked him for suggestions for dinner. "What type of food are you interested in? We have Italian, Mexican, French, Korean, Chinese, Thia, Japanese, Sushi, American Bistro, Upscale American Beef . . ." He left it there in desparation, like I had given him an impossible task. If so, he must find his job most taxing. "Perhaps a good steak place, would be good." "Do want upscale or medium budget?" "Probably medium." "And, how many will be dining?" "One."

That was obviously not the correct answer. He spent a minute or two working on his key board. How difficult can this be. We are in downtown San Francsisco, and I have asked him for a recomendation for a steak house. Finally, after some research, he looked up from his computer and said, "Two places come to mind." And he gave me their names and directions on a map. I thanked him for his assistance, even though he made me feel like I had no business dining out.

As I walked back to my room, I did a quick inventory of my clothes. As best I could tell, they were clean and presentable. I spoke in complete sentences and did not sound like I crawled out from under a log somewhere in the backwoods of Kentucky. The more I thought about it, the more irritated I got. What made him think he was so special? Not that I really cared.

All I want is a good meal, a good night's sleep, and a good attitude. I don't ask for much. When I tell someone "Thank you and I hope you have a good day." I really mean it. Back home, we may think someone is arrogant or an SOB, but we will kill them with kindness. The fun doesn't start until they leave. Then we can talk about 'em. It ain't proper to do that when they're still in town. After all, you don't want to hurt someone's feelings. (They can't help it if they're stupid - or a Yankee.)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Spring Funeralizing

Back to funeralizing with my mother. Earlier this week, she called me almost in tears. Now my mother is a very caring and compassionate person but I rarely experience her at the point of tears. One of her oldest friends had passed away in her sleep the previous night. The family had called Mama to let her know. I'm not sure whether the tears were from her friend's death - which was really not unexpected or that the family felt that my mother was special enough to get one of the first phone calls - down here, how high you are on the notification hierarchy is major.

Anyway, the bottom line here was that this meant another visitation. After the normal discussion of how long she had been ill (a while), how much more she could have gotten out of life (a lot), how much her late husband loved her (total adoration), and all the good times she and her husband had had with my parents (many), we got down to brass tacks - I asked her if she knew what the family plans were.

That led into an entire discussion of how her friend had secluded herself from society for so long that she wasn't sure what the family would do. "Well, Mama, just because she stayed home, doesn't mean they can't have a funeral." "Oh, Lord no, I didn't mean that. It's just that when you stay out of the public eye for so long . . ." I finished her sentence."They think you had already died." "Well, I'd never say that." "But that's what you meant." "Well," she said in exasperation,"I don't know their plans. I'll call you when I do."

Later that day, she called to say that the visitation would be later in the week. "And, they are not having it at the funeral home. Her son is having it at his home." "Ok" "Ok? I think that's a little different, don't you." "It's their family and their visitation. What time do you want me to pick you up?" "I guess around six o'clock," she said with a certain amount of resignation.

Mama called me the following day to bring me up-to-date on the news and gossip on her friend's family. Now I am good friends with the daughter-in-law, so I figured there was some good reason they were having the visitation at their home. But, I just let Mama stew a bit. To her, it was not fittin.

So Thursday afternoon, I picked her up and we went to the visitation. As we approached their driveway, there were cars pouring in. "Well, I knew there would be crowds. Everyone wants to see their home. Look, there's Mary, and my Sunday school teacher, and look, the Summers." I drove her up to the front door and let her out before I parked the car. It was a beautiful spring day and landscaped yard was in full bloom.

As I entered the home, there were many old friends I had not seen in a while. Mama, meanwhile was making her way through the crowd. I found my friend and offered my condolences. The family seemed fine, in fact the atmosphere was anything but solemn. As I made my way into the kitchen I saw a counter of food, and not church lady funeral food mind you, but hor d'ouvres. About that time, I noticed folks coming in from the deck with beer and other adult beverages. It was then it dawned on me - this wasn't just any visitation - this was a southern wake. A nice spring day, a beautiful yard in full bloom, the weather was ideal.

Mama was adapting well. She was mingling and making her way through the crowd. Of course she had not seen many of the older family members in some time so it was like "Old Home Week" for her. As we left, she commented, "Well that was such a good time. It was so nice to see everyone." I thought to myself, going back to the funeral home will never be the same.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Welcome to Technology

Like I have nothing else going on in my life, I couldn't convince Jeff Bezos to release a Kindle 3 (which I am sure he is developing) as an answer to Apple's latest salvo - the iPad. Not being an Apple person, even I ordered one. And, shamelessly admit I appreciate the touch screen and the easier interaction with the Kindle store and even all of Amazon. Hello! Jeff! What's the down size in letting all your Kindle user's have access the your entire Amazon store when they shop for books. After all, you already have their account information. Remind me, to discuss this next time we meet for drinks, I'll get my people to call your people. (Sounds good doesn't it.) But I digress.

This makes me sound so tech-savy. Actually, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to use (and enjoy) a Kindle or iPad. If you haven't tried them, I highly recommend either. I think back to my Aunt Kat, who worked for "the phone company" - Southern Bell a/k/a Bellsouth - for 40 plus years. Her technical achievement was a Princess style phone in the 60's. Back then that was way cool - and it was pink!

And, my mother has graduated to a cell phone. My DH, my brother, and I insisted that she get one since she would get in her car and take off to unknown places, sometimes with little notice to us. The thoughts of the possible consequences of her little jaunts were painful. After all, I have the reputation for losing her (See Nov. 17, 2010).

"Mama, here it is." "Oh," as she looks at it, not wanting to touch it. "You just dial the number, just like would on a regular phone, then you press 'Send'". I look at her and smile. She just looks at me. "Mama, try to call my cell phone, you know that number." "Now?" "Uh, yeah, that's the idea." "OK, I just mash these buttons?" (Down here we do not "press" buttons - we "mash" them.) She carefully "mashes" each button like the device is going to detonate in her hand. Then she just holds it to her ear. "Did you hit 'Send'?" "No." "Well, remember, you have to hit that button before the call will go through." She then presses the send button , the call goes through, and my phone rings. I answer it and she sees that the call has been successful. I show her how to end the call. I make the executive decision not to go into to "Speed Dial" - why complicate this. I do remind her that she can dial "911" when she needs help. I must say, I am fairly proud of myself.

That night I call my brother, let him know that I think I have successfully brought her into the 20th century, and give him her number. When I tell my DH, he immediately asks if I have entered all our numbers into her address books, set up her speed dial, ect. "No, we are taking this one small step at a time. She was traumatized enough."

The next day, she comes in my office throughly frustrated. "I have been trying to call you on this dad blamed thing and I dial the number then it cuts off every time." "Show me," I ask. Then she proceeds to dial my number and press the "On" button which promptly powers off the phone. The next 5 minutes are spent trying to explain why those who created cell phones insisted on a "send" button. Needless to say, the phone was rarely, if ever used.

Then, I saw an ad for the Jitterbug phone - developed for the more "mature" adult. This device deserves a Nobel prize - in fact two - one for science and one for peace. Large buttons, ten numbers pre-programmed in, enlarged screen, no "send" button, it asks "Do you want to call? Yes", and the best part - if Mom doesn't know what to do, she simply "mashes" one button to call the operator. Then he/she in clear English will politely address Mom by name and ask how they can help. If Mom wants to call me, then the call in automatically put through. Like an old time operator at your service. And it is reasonably priced, but I can assure you, I would pay more for the service.

And the funny thing is, this phone a big hit with Mom's friends. Many have them and brag about them to those poor souls who don't. They have no desire for fancy phones that play games and store thousands numbers. They don't use the cell phone to call friends. For them, it is an utilitarian item, a necessary evil. They only have them because their children insist they have one.

Now, if we can only get her to remember to take it with her.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Flamboyance of Flamingoes

Somethings are random but just too entertaining to pass by. Did you know that you have a troop of Giraffes, but an implausibility of Gnus (I always they were difficult!) or a battery of Barracudas and a sloth of Bears? How about a wake of Buzzards or a train of Camels? A coalition of Cheetahs (I kid you not), a band of Coatimundi, a quiver of Cobra, and a creep of Tortoises.

OK, a chattering of Chicks, a congregation of Crocodiles, and a parliament of Crows. Some of these make sense, some I wonder about. But they are all the correct name for groupings of theses animals. Now Deer, Donkeys, Cows, and Caribou roam in herds (well, you can have a pace of Donkeys). But you have a plaque of Doves, a convocation of Eagles, a flamboyance of Flamingoes, and a charm of Finches.

In water you will find an array of Eels, a knot of Frogs, a troubling of Goldfish, and a pod of Porpoises. Then there is the charm of Goldfinches, the cloud of Grasshoppers, the scattering of Herons, and the bloat of Hippopotimi. But the romantics will be entranced by a wisp of Snipe, a loveliness of Ladybugs, an enchantment of Nightingales, a spring of Teal, a bouquet of Pheasants, a fantasy of Unicorns, and a ballet of Swans.

And that racket over there. Perhaps it is caused by a crash of Rhinos, a rhumba of Rattlesnakes, a mischief of Rats, a prickle of Porcupines, a pandemonium of Parrots, a scourge of Mosquitoes, a mob of Meerkats, or a barrel of Monkeys.

Thank goodness, some groups are orderly and business like. Take for instance a troop of Baboons, school of Dolphins, cast of Hawks, army of Herring, party of Jays, business of Mongooses, squadron of Pelicans, family of Sardines, or string of Racehorses.

Out of all of this, one things is nice to know - it's still a litter of Pups (or a puddle of puppies)!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Technical Conundrum

I just checked the order status of my new highly anticipated ipad - not that I look that often, but I just wanted to make sure everything was OK - and low and behold the status has changed from "Not Shipped" to "Prepared for Shipment." My heart skipped a beat. Being new to the way Apple works I don't know what that means. Normally that would mean, just what it says, "We are now preparing your order for shipment and will notify you shortly when we ship it." Knowing the quirky way Apple thinks, this could be their code for, "Hey, hey, it's on it's way." So I do some searching to get the meaning of this.

I find, thanks to the world wide web and thousands of other ipad owners-to-be, that Apple has moved many folks' orders into this new status. The Twitter feeds are going nuts. Next the status could be moved to the stage of "Shipped" just one magical rung below the ecstasy of "Delivered." This brings me to my untenable situation - if my priceless package is shipped in the next day or two (four or five earlier than initially predicted) I will not be home to accept delivery. We are leaving for our camping trip.

Once again, I seek customer support from the friendly folks at Apple. Other consumers must have also planned camping trips while anxiously awaiting the delivery of their new Apple devices (After all, what better way to while away those apprehensive days than communing with nature in the great outdoors. Right!) because you can sign for your device in advance and leave on vacation worry free. That is, of course knowing all the time that the brand new toy you have been so looking forward to is waiting for you at home. Just one more reminder of the reasons I love to camp.

But back to the issue at hand. Just once more, I peruse my sources on the web for any new tidbit of info on shipping status. More and more are now confirming that they have been elevated to "Shipped" with a bona fide tracking number to prove it. I quickly go back, check my status, not happy with what I see, I "refresh" the screen. But alas, I am left in "Prepared for Shipment" purgatory. While my new anonymous cohorts are tracking the flight of their ipads like anxious children on Christmas eve, following Santa's sleigh across the Pacific, I am left to "refresh" my screen and wonder.

"Just move along. Nothing to see here," It'll get here when it gets here. My only question is how come those other folks are getting their's first? They were all supposed to be delivered at one time. I tell myself. It's only an electronic device. No big deal. And, as the last line in that fine epic goes, "After all, tomorrow is another day." (I should know it, Mama made me see it 3 times before I was 10 years old.)

I'll just check the status one more time before I pack.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Ah, but then . . .

But then again, it is the first of April, when in 1998 Burger King introduced its Left Handed Whopper and the state of Alabama voted to change the value of the mathematical constant pi. My personal favorite happened in 2007 when Google announced a new feature of their Gmail - Gmail paper where they would send you hard copies of all your email for your safe keeping.

Or Google's "Book Search Scratch and Sniff" feature allowing users to "scratch and sniff" certain books for their smell. Users were asked to "...please place your nose near the monitor and click 'Go'." Needless to say by pressing 'Go' (or mashing it down here) they were taken to a site informing them of the Google's Annual Hoax. Good Times!