Archive for March, 2010

Not The Things That Hide You

March 24, 2010

(My front-porch gnome)

I recently read an article (I don’t remember where) that mentioned that the phrase “working class” was falling out of favor. Apparently, some people find it offensive, though for the life of me, I can’t imagine why. I should think that all those other folks who aren’t included in the “working” class designation should be the ones offended since there seems to be an implication there that they don’t work. And, besides, I’d rather someone call me “working class” than “lower class” any day.

Yes, I’m one of those in the working class, and I suppose it’s fairly obvious that I’m not ashamed of that. With a blog name like Blue Ridge Blue Collar Girl, it would be hard to pretend to be anything other than what I am. And, really, it’s those of us in the working class that keep the world humming along. I mean, how could we get along without our auto mechanics, our carpenters, our janitors? When I was a janitor, sometimes people would laugh when I told them that I took great pride in keeping all those toilets clean, but haven’t we all, at one time or another, been in a position to be deeply grateful for clean public toilets?

When I read about people fighting to keep affordable housing for the working class out of their neighborhood, I wince, realizing that they’re talking about me. It’s painful to know that someone finds the idea of having me as their neighbor offensive. What is it they’re afraid of?

Sure, I probably do bear out some of the stereotypes those folks might harbor about the working class. I like yard art—especially gnomes, flamingoes, and those little plastic birds with whirling wings. And I not only eat Tuna Helper and Chicken Helper, I LIKE them. Spam, too. And, yes, we do have a 28-year-old car in our yard, but it’s not up on concrete blocks. 🙂

(My other porch gnome–he keeps it swept for me.)

Really, I think it’s pretty likely that I have the same dreams for my children that wealthy folks have for theirs. And it’s also likely that if they could look beyond my image, they’d probably find that we have more in common than they’d imagine.

There’s no doubt, though, that there are differences. Four years ago, when Ariel was a high school senior, she was invited to Scholarship Day at UNC-Chapel Hill, which meant she was a finalist for a merit scholarship there. Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man went along with her, and they were both pretty wowed by the lavish treatment they received. It was high-falutin’ stuff for us country folks. Most memorable, though, to Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man was listening to the other parents at his table talk. They were having a lively conversation debating which place they preferred for their winter vacations—the Canadian Rockies or the French Alps. Now Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man can usually talk to anybody, but as someone for whom even a trip to Dollywood would strain the family budget, he found it a bit difficult to relate.

And even now, there are times when Ariel feels the divide between herself and her wealthy friends. It’s very hard for her friends who’ve never known privation to imagine how it feels, just as it’s hard for her to imagine how it feels to have your Daddy buy you a new Lexus SUV.

I guess the important thing for her (and us) to remember is to look beyond that Lexus, beyond the expensive clothes, beyond the talk of trips to Europe. The late Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood used to sing a song called“It’s You I Like” which I frequently sang to my children). It included the words “…it’s you I like…the way down deep inside you. Not the things that hide you…” I love that phrase “not the things that hide you.” Too often, we do judge someone by their outward image, by the things that hide the truth of who they are. And it goes both ways. It’s just as wrong for me to judge someone by their Lexus as it would be for them to judge me by the pink plastic flamingoes in my yard.

I am painfully aware of my prejudice against rich people. Just the other day, when I read about some celebrity hairdresser in New York City who charges five hundred bucks for a haircut, I felt my blood pressure rise in anger. Both for the greedy hairdresser and for the people who would pay that. And every Saturday, when I read our local newspaper’s “Home of the Week” feature (which really should be called “Mansion of the Week”), I find myself thinking the most uncharitable thoughts. Especially in 2008 when Progress Energy raised our electric bills by 10.2%, and soon afterward, our newspaper featured the huge summer manor (yes, it was just a summer home!) of a retired Progress Energy executive. Talk about bad timing.

Yes, sometimes I feel a resentment towards the rich that veers dangerously close to contempt. And that’s wrong. When I judge them by their luxury houses and cars (the things that hide them), I’m being just as narrow-minded as any other bigot. Judgment, so often, keeps us from seeing the good in people. It is a true poverty—a poverty of the spirit. And poverty of the spirit is the worst kind of poverty there is.

Sure, some of those rich folks have gotten rich on the backs of the poor. And, yeah, many of them have never struggled or known hardship. But I really don’t know their stories, any more than they know mine. The unfortunate truth is, though, we’ll probably never know each other’s stories. Because they don’t want me in their neighborhood.

But they’re welcome to mine. Sure, it’s not likely that they’ll drop by the doublewide to have a nice Tuna Helper supper. And it’s even less likely that they’d invite me to up to their mansion to have tea. But if they do, I might have a few suggestions for their yard. “Looks a little bare,” I’d say. “What you really need is a nice flamingo or two. And a couple of gnomes wouldn’t hurt…”

(My latest acquisition. I adore the little wrinkles behind his neck.)


Unsung Heroes #2: Ode to Peanut Butter

March 18, 2010

(This is the only picture of peanut butter I’ve ever taken, amazing as that might seem.  Only longtime readers (with really good memories) might possibly recall the utterly silly, madcap story  it came from.)

I was looking over my blog categories the other day and noticed that I’ve only written one post for “Unsung Heroes.” I started that category with the intention of recognizing and honoring common accoutrements of everyday life that we might take for granted. It was certainly no surprise to my family that my first post was an “Ode to My Recliner”.  I love that thing.  In fact, I sit in it so much that it bears the permanent indentation of my body. It’s sort of like a custom-made recliner now!

Anyway, I was in the grocery store the other day, horrified, as usual, at how the size of food items just keeps getting smaller, yet the price just keeps getting larger. Pretty soon, I thought to myself,  I’m going to have to give up eating. Eating—a silly habit I’ve developed over the years. But it’s just too expensive now.

But then, in the fluorescent glow of the grocery store light, I saw it. The food of the Gods, the Holy Grail of all Foodom, and, apparently, the Last Culinary Refuge of the Poor—peanut butter. Amazing, really, with so much inflation in food prices, how peanut butter has stayed relatively cheap. We buy it by the case, and we eat it by the spoon—we love the stuff.  Especially Benjamin and me.

So, naturally, when I heard that March is National Peanut Month, I knew what I had to do. Here is my “Ode to Peanut Butter.” Yes, I know it’s a silly poem and probably quite an awful one, but I’ll bet it makes you laugh. At least, I sure hope so:

Ode to Peanut Butter

Oh, sweet legume that grows beneath the earth!
Let me now proclaim your worth!
May my lips your great praise utter
Crunchy, munchy peanut butter
Creamy, dreamy peanut butter. 

Food of the rich and poor alike
Food for grownups, food for tykes.
Food that sets my heart aflutter
Crunchy, munchy peanut butter
Creamy, dreamy peanut butter.

On a sandwich, from a spoon,
Eat it morning, night, and noon.
When I run out, I cry and sputter,
“Crunchy, munchy peanut butter!”
“Creamy, dreamy peanut butter!”

By the jar or by the case,
You can buy it any place!
How I do adore its taste!
Crunchy, munchy peanut paste!
Creamy, dreamy peanut paste!

To clean out jars is not a chore,
‘Cause when it’s gone, I’ll eat some more!
I’ll never let it go to waste—
Crunchy, munchy peanut paste
Creamy, dreamy peanut paste.

Luscious goodness that I love
For it, I thank the Lord above.
It puts a smile upon my face.
Crunchy, munchy peanut paste
Creamy, dreamy peanut paste.

So I bow before thee, Jar of Jif,
My sagging spirits thou dost lift.
To do without would make me shudder.
Crunchy, munchy peanut butter.
Creamy, dreamy peanut butter.

Hank and Homer Have a Snow Day

March 11, 2010

(For those that are new to my blog (and are thinking “Why is a 52-year-old-woman playing with stuffed animals?”), you can find the story of Hank and Homer here.)

It’s been a while since you heard from your old friends Hank and Homer, so perhaps you’ve wondered what they were up to. As you know, they love the outdoors, but it’s been a bit cold out for a couple of little fellas like them, so they’ve spent a lot of time snuggled up in the house with their other invertebrate friends (known to the unenlightened as “stuffed” animals).

Although we vertebrates have grown a bit weary of endless snow, there’s nothing Hank and Homer love more than a good ole Snow Day. As soon as the first flakes start falling, Hank and Homer are ready to go!

And so it was last week, when we had several inches of the white stuff. At first, it was falling so hard that they just watched happily from the window. But after it finally stopped, Homer put on his cap and the new matching sweater he got for Christmas. As you know, he’s a bit sensitive about his unfortunate resemblance to Homer Simpson, so he wears his cap and new sweater a lot since they make him look less like that other Homer. He especially loves the fact that his cap and sweater were made from a sock, just like he was!

So after Homer put on his new made-from-a-sock clothes, Hank decided that since he was made from a glove that he should wear a glove hat! So he found a glove in the drawer and put it on. Homer thought Hank looked very much like a chicken with his glove hat and began to make clucking noises. Hank began to cluck, too and to flap his arms about like wings. They got sillier and sillier and louder and louder, but then realized that the snow was melting!

Hank didn’t want to look like a chicken so he took off his glove hat and out they both went. But Hank still felt sad and a little jealous that Homer had such handsome warm clothes and he didn’t.

First up—sledding. They found a shiny bowl in the kitchen cabinet that made a very fine sled. Wheeee…down they slid lickety split! Hank felt a little bit scared but he just held on to his friend Homer and whooped and hollered just like Homer did.

Pretty soon, Big Mama needed the shiny bowl to mix cookies in, so Hank and Homer decided to make snow angels instead. Poor Hank found it hard to make snow angels with his short little legs, so Homer made all his angels for him and pretty soon the yard was full of snow angels. Hank sighed with pleasure, imagining all those snow angels suddenly taking flight. How beautiful that would be! He stood there for a while dreamily pondering that, but was snapped out of his reverie when Homer threw a snowball at him. Thwack! Hank laughed but he really didn’t like playing Snowball Fight. It stung and he was wet and cold and still feeling a little scared from the sledding.

So Hank took the snowball he’d made and started making a snowman. Homer came over to help. Big Mama had given Hank a carrot to use for the snowman’s nose, but Hank put it in the snowman’s hand instead.

“Umm…Hank?” said Homer. “Isn’t the carrot for his nose?”

Hank looked at Homer and rolled his eyes. (Or at least, he rolled them as well as one can roll button eyes).

“Golly, Homer…who would want a carrot for a nose?? This way,” said Hank, “the snowman can feed the carrot to the animals who might be hungry in all this snow!” Then he put a hat on the snowman and wrapped a red scarf around him.

Homer smiled. Sometimes Hank was a little silly, but that was one of the things Homer loved most about him. It was then that Homer realized that Hank was shivering and his black fur was all wet. Homer looked down at his own brand new Christmas sweater, and suddenly knew what he had to do.  It made him sad to see his best friend cold.

So he took off his new sweater and the matching knit cap and put them on his friend Hank.  Hank was thrilled with his warm new clothes.

But then, Hank looked at Homer standing beside the snowman and saw that Homer looked…well… a little naked. And a little cold. And it hit him: That snowman doesn’t need a scarf and hat! Snowmen like being cold so it seems pretty silly, really, to put warm clothes on them!

So Hank unwound the scarf from the snowman’s neck and wrapped it tenderly around his friend Homer. Then he took the hat from the snowman’s head and put it on Homer’s. It gave Homer a jaunty look, and he didn’t look quite so much like Homer Simpson.  Of course, now the snowman looked naked, but at least he wouldn’t melt so fast with those warm clothes off!

Then they heard Big Mama calling from the porch that the cookies were ready. Cookies! Hank and Homer thought that those (and hot chocolate) were the best part of Snow Days. So they went in and ate cookies and drank hot chocolate until they were…well…stuffed. Then it was time for a nap. Hank was warm and cozy in his new sweater and as he snuggled up to Homer, he decided that the best thing about Snow Days wasn’t the sledding or the snow angels or the snowman or even the cookies. No.  The best part was snuggling up with your best friend and knowing that you are safe and cherished and warm and loved. Nothing (not even cookies) was better than that.

A Sweet and Healing Balm

March 3, 2010

(I know I should have written this back before Christmas, but, as you know, we were a little overwhelmed at the time. So forgive me, but since I’m too shy to write a fan letter, this will have to do—my small way of saying “Thank You.”) 

As a woman to whom music is almost as essential as breathing, it’s funny that I only have one post under “Music.” To quote myself (from several posts back), music “can express the inexpressible like nothing else. It can articulate my deepest sorrow, my greatest joy. It is my prayer when I cannot pray with words.”

Most of the music I heard in my early life was confined to the wonderful old hymns we sang in church. My daddy was a Baptist preacher, so I was in church singing a lot—at least three times a week. To this day, I still remember the lyrics to those hymns and am comforted by the honest and straightforward poetry of the words.

When I was six, Daddy bought Mama her heart’s desire for Christmas—a stereo and one album, the Messiah. It was the first time I’d heard classical music. (You can read about it here—The Year the Messiah Came To Our House.)   I listened to it over and over—I couldn’t get enough of it. When I heard it, even my six-year-old earthbound self felt transported to a higher holy place.

As I got older, Daddy purchased more records, but they were mostly people singing the same hymns we sang in church (He was particularly fond of George Beverly Shea). One of Daddy’s favorite albums (that he played over and over at top volume) was Fred Lowery Whistles Your Gospel Favorites. Now Mr. Lowery could whistle like nobody’s business, but when you’re a teenager, hearing someone whistle Sweet Hour of Prayer at eighty-five decibels is not on your Top Ten List of Favorite Things.

When I was in high school, I got a job at the library in town. They had an extensive collection of Appalachian music, and I heard the lap dulcimer for the very first time. I was so smitten by the sound of it that I saved my money and next time we headed West, I bought my own lap dulcimer. Undoubtedly, I was the only teenager in my eastern North Carolina high school that played a dulcimer. And, believe me, in my high school, in the 70’s, playing a dulcimer was considered about as cool as listening to Fred Lowery Whistles Your Gospel Favorites.

Music has been a constant in my life ever since. Although my tastes have continued to change and evolve, the one thing that has never changed is my adoration of Christmas music. Funny thing that—since I really don’t care much for Christmas anymore (or at least what our culture has made of it). I guess I love Christmas music because it seems to be one of the few things about Christmas that, for me, remains relatively pure and unadulterated by greed and materialism.

It was late November, 1990, and things were difficult at our house. Daddy, then 75, had come to stay with us after surgery for prostate cancer. He was bedridden at first and on a catheter. Nobody told me that he was eligible for nursing care, so I did it myself (except for a cranky nurse who came once to show me how to do things). That was hard enough, but I also had a one- and two-year old to care for—pretty much on my own. Tom was working long hours to pay for the extra heating oil that our ancient furnace required to keep our drafty house warm for Daddy. In addition, Benjamin (my one-year-old) was having physical therapy for hypotonia (a not uncommon manifestation of autism). I was told to do the therapy with him for several hours a day. Then, I found out that I’d need to drive Daddy (with babies in tow) sixty miles roundtrip for radiation therapy every weekday for six to eight weeks. To say I was overwhelmed would be a definite understatement. Even when I finally got to bed, I was too tired to sleep. And who could sleep anyway with a one-, two-, and seventy-five-year-old calling you at all hours of the night?

It would also be an understatement to say that money was tight. We were flat broke—living on eight dollars an hour with the price of heating oil that winter through the roof (no pun intended). Certainly no money for Christmas gifts. Tom and I both told each other that we didn’t care about presents anyway. And I didn’t really. Except for one thing.

I’d heard a little snatch of a brand new Christmas album on public radio, and I couldn’t get it out of my mind. The album was We Three Kings by The Roches, three sisters who got their start singing Christmas music on the streets of New York City. So, after I found a good deal on it, We Three Kings became Tom’s and my Christmas gift to each other.

It’s amazing how sometimes something comes along at the time you most need it, and it turns out to be exactly what you needed. I can’t say why exactly, but this album was exactly what I needed then. It was the perfect blend of humor and holiness, of the silly and the sacred—from a hilarious version of Frosty the Snowman belted out in an exaggerated Brooklyn accent to Bach and Handel sung in joyful, gorgeous harmonies. And even though the Roches are often irreverent in their music, their genuine love and respect for Christmas music was evident here. My favorite piece on the album was an original they wrote themselves, the heartbreakingly lovely Star of Wonder. Its ethereal beauty made me cry then and still makes me cry now.

I played it over and over that Christmas. Good thing my family loved it, too. Benjamin couldn’t walk yet, but I’d hold him and we’d dance about the room with Ariel laughing and dancing, too, clapping her hands to the music. Even Daddy liked it (though he probably would have preferred to hear Fred Lowery whistling Christmas carols.) To this day, it is the first album I play when the Christmas music season starts.

We Three Kings brought light to us in a dark time. It was my salvation that bleak winter—a gift, a blessing, a small miracle. I will always be grateful for it. And grateful for the sweet gift of music. It is my refuge, my salvation, my healing, my comfort, and my prayer when God seems far away.