Going Home

One hundred years ago, a little baby girl named Mary Evelyn Gunn, known to her family as Aunt Sissy, was born in a big white house in Enterprise, Mississippi. She was the beloved sister of her five brothers (two older and three younger), one of whom was my grandfather, Frank Carlton Gunn, affectionally called Bubba.

Riverside Plantation

Riverside Plantation

Little did her family know then, how many lives she would touch in her life time.

Many of those family members gathered this past weekend to celebrate her life and her 100th birthday at that same white house, named Riverside Plantation.

All week, I had stressed over how I was going to manage making it from Atlanta to Enterprise to join in the celebration. My husband is in the process of getting his masters and had a huge project due and we realized it would be too risky for him to make the trip in case he couldn’t finish his work on time.

At the last minute, my son and his girlfriend decided to drive up from college in south Georgia to make the trip with me. He had never seen the old home place but had heard about it for years. I welcomed the company and was thrilled that they wanted to be a part of the occasion.

As we pulled into the grassy yard, Riverside stood tall and proud, albeit a bit weathered. Two tall white columns flanked both sides of the front porch, welcoming visitors into the foyer. Built in the early to mid-1800’s, it has seen better days but the sight of it still overwhelmed me. I had been to the place only twice before, but this time, I was older and truly appreciated and understood where I came from. Two chimneys flanked both sides of the house. The green shutters had faded as had the once bright red door, but the beautiful decorative transom windows were still intact. I could hear the squeals and laughter from children who were playing on the balcony above the front steps.

I thought of my grandfather and my great-uncles and Aunt Sissy as they played in the front yard as children. They had climbed the trees, worked in the garden, tended to the livestock, and swam in the Chunky River nearby. I was confident that if I listened hard enough, I could probably hear the ringing of the dinner bell and the voice of my great-great grandmother calling everyone inside the house for dinner.

My grandfather, Aunt Sissy and Uncle Kiddo on the front steps of Riverside.

My grandfather, Aunt Sissy and Uncle Kiddo on the front steps of Riverside.

As we walked in, Aunt Sissy sat in a chair in the very room that she was born in, grinning as those who came to celebrate with her stopped to wish her Happy Birthday.

The hardwood floors creaked as people walked around, soaking in the history that has made up the house, wishing the walls could tell us stories of those who lived here. Before the Civil War, the house was owned by a man who was a Mason. When Union soldiers took over the house, they found a box (supposedly full of valuables) wrapped in Masonic papers. With many Union soldiers also being Masons, they stood by their vow to never cause harm to a fellow Mason, thereby ordering the other soldiers not to burn the house or steal anything. They then turned the home into Union headquarters, where they planned the Battle of Vicksburg from the front parlor. The home is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

There is a book called Riverside Remembered by Wallace Neal Briggs, Aunt Sissy’s cousin, who everyone called “Buster.” His story tells about the times he visited his beloved Riverside, starting when he was only six years-old. For those of us who were not around during that time, it has been a beautiful way to learn about Mammy and Pappy, my great-great-grandparents, along with Allie and Cally, my great-grandparents. I have also learned about my grandfather as a young man, before he met my grandmother. What a rare gift to be able to treasure events in his life long after they occurred!

In addition, the book tells about Mattie Riley and her son Leroy, their black neighbors who helped at the house who were really just part of the family. Sissy and Mattie were especially close, since Mattie had taken care of her since she was a child.

One of the most cherished moments was when Mattie’s grandson, Floyd, arrived at the celebration and handed a photograph of Mattie to Sissy. I wish I could have frozen in time the moment Aunt Sissy saw the photograph – her delighted expression clearly showed the love she had for her and how much she missed her.

Throughout the day, all of the family laughed and told stories of parents and kids and simply loved being there. I hope Aunt Sissy looked around and realized that the people who were there, were there because of HER family – each one of us being a child, grandchild, great-grandchild, niece, nephew, cousin or other relative.

I watched my father laugh with his brother and sisters. I watched my son and nephews look for rusty old railroad spikes by the Chunky River. I laughed with my cousins, some of whom I had not seen in over 25 years.

My Great-Aunt Sissy with her brother Bubba (my grandfather's) kids - Aunt Carol, Daddy, Uncle Pat, & Aunt Polly.

My Great-Aunt Sissy with her brother Bubba (my grandfather’s) kids – Aunt Carol, Daddy, Uncle Pat, & Aunt Polly.

And as the children of my cousins ran through the house and people mingled about sipping coffee and eating birthday cake, I felt the house shake. Some would think that a 150+ year-old home shaking wouldn’t be a good thing, but I felt otherwise.

To me, it felt as if the home was happy and giggling because after way too many years, it was once again full of the love, laughter and life of the Gunn family.

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Sunday Morning Bliss

When I was a little girl, I went to church every Sunday with my parents. Church, for me, is pretty important for obvious reasons, but what I really love, is that every time I smell the inside of the church I attend with my husband, as I walk through the door, I am flooded by memories.

But not of this church.

Or my parent’s church.

But my grandmother’s church.

A little country church that my grandmother has gone to her entire life. A church where, as a little girl, she would sneak in and swim in the baptismal pool behind the church on scorching hot Mississippi summer days.

A church that my grandfather helped renovate and rebuild many years later.

A place where I feel closer to God than any place on earth, and can still feel my grandfather’s calloused brick mason’s hands as he would lead me inside. I can still see the mud on my little white, lace trimmed gloves, and I can still feel the weight of my little patent leather pocketbook that I would fill up with dozens of pretty rocks that I would find out in the gravel parking lot before the service.Screen Saver 427

I can still hear my sweet grandmother singing “Just as I Am” so terribly off-key that, even as a child, I knew those notes were definitely not right.

I can still hear Brother Floyd’s booming voice as he taught about Heaven and Hell from the pulpit, making me jump when his voice would get louder and louder as he was making his point.

And I can feel the hardness of the wooden pew as I would adjust and readjust to keep my butt cheeks from going to sleep. I am convinced people made those pews so uncomfortable simply so that no one would fall asleep during the service.

But church wasn’t always entertaining for a child, so I would find ways to amuse myself. I’d draw on the bulletin that was handed to my mother as we walked in the sanctuary. I would play “I Spy” with myself and try to go through the entire alphabet trying to match items with letters.

Or, as I did one particular Sunday morning, got up from the front pew and proceeded to do somersaults down the center of the aisle. My mother was mortified, and my grandmother, who was also the organist, just laughed.

Luckily, this was also a church where 99% of the congregants are related to me somehow because the town is so small, so no one was really surprised when I did that.

As an adult, I no longer do somersaults down the aisle (although there ARE a few rocks in my purse), but I have come to realize that no matter where I go, or what church I attend, I know my love for the church started there.

And that is a very good memory, indeed.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Where did the summer go? It seems that school was released last week! Where did all of the lazy days by the pool go? Why is it still dark outside when I’m getting up? When did we get back from vacation? How do I work my alarm clock?

That’s right. School starts today and all of the kiddos are going back.

Kids are complaining and mumbling about how life sucks, and how tired they are, and that the first day of school just happens to be the worst day of the WHOLE YEAR.

The obnoxious buzzing of the alarm goes off at 6:45 a.m. It’s the butt-crack of dawn and time to get my step-son up for the first day of school.

I shuffle into the bathroom and turn on the light. Good grief. I feel like a Gremlin. Bright light! Bright light! It’s so bright that it actually hurts. I take a horrifying glance at my reflection in the mirror. I look like I’ve been electrocuted. I really don’t like early mornings.

I have to force myself up the stairs to his room, knock on the door and turn on the light. Now he feels like a Gremlin.

He growls at me.

I sleep-walk into the kitchen and make a quick breakfast for him even though he says he doesn’t want much to eat. I pack a brown-bag lunch full of fruit, cheese, chips, yogurt, and a chocolate bar (I’m not a health food nut – he just has food allergies) and put it by his book bag.

Last night, I made sure new gym clothes were tucked away in his backpack. What seems like ten-thousand dollars-worth of school supplies have been placed in bags to be taken straight to the teacher’s desk. We almost needed to take out a small equity loan to cover the cost of all the supplies the school required this year. How he is going to carry all of this mess is beyond me.

His school uniform has already been washed and pressed. Socks and brand new shoes are placed by the bedroom door.

I confirm that his teeth are brushed, his shirt is tucked in, and his hair doesn’t show any signs of bedhead.

We jump in the car and head over to the school. It seems that every person in the city is in the car rider line today. Hopefully I won’t get in a wreck because I literally just pulled on a pair of shorts and tucked my night shirt into them. It’s going to be A-W-K-W-A-R-D if someone sees me.

He gets out of the car, tells me “bye,” and heads into the building.

Yep.

School started today, and for me and 99% of other parents out there, it’s THE BEST DAY EVER.

And since I’ve been done with school for years now, you know what that also means?

I get to go back to bed!

Toughness Comes In Many Colors

I’ve always been a bit of a tomboy. I love camping and working on my house. I still like manicures and makeup and I love the color pink so I guess I’m a bit of a girly girl as well.

My step daughter recently decided that she didn’t want to wear pink anymore because she didn’t want to look like a little girl. She’s 12.

I tried to explain to her that there is nothing wrong with wearing pink and that you can still assert plenty of toughness when wearing it.

I told her about one of the best concerts I have ever attended – the Metallica concert. My dear friend, Kim, and I were standing in line, waiting to get in the arena. An older gentleman that worked for the arena was walking up and down the line asking to view inside people’s purses (just in case they were trying to smuggle in booze or guns). He walked by, checked my purse and went on down the line. A few minutes later he came back up the line and asked to check my purse again.

The third time he walked by and asked to see in my purse I started to wonder if maybe I had some underwear in my purse or maybe someone had stashed a Playboy in there. Finally, Kim, who was wearing the standard blue jeans and black shirt – attire that you would expect to see at a Metallica concert, said “Do you not recognize the fact that you have checked her purse two times already??!? She is
the ONLY person at this entire concert in PINK!”

Yep. You can wear pink and still be cool enough to go to a Metallica concert.

Recently, we took Bailey to the shooting range so that she could target shoot with a 22. Again, she had refused to wear pink that day, but she still had to wear my ear protection – which happen to be hot pink. She said she didn’t feel tough enough wearing the pink earplugs…that was until she saw my target covered in holes and me in a pink shirt and pink sound suppressors.

So yes, whether you’re rocking out to Metallica or shooting a 9 mm handgun, just remember, toughness comes in many colors. It just depends on how you wear it.

Just ask this little guy. And he’s wearing green. photo(18)

Just Like Her Mom

They say if a man wants to know what his future wife will be like, all he needs to do is look at her mother.

That can be good OR bad. Some women might not want to be like their mother, but for me, I hope I’m exactly like my mom.

There is something about moms that make everything okay. I’m 44 years old, but when I feel like I’m going to puke, I want my mom. When something makes me sad? I want my mom. When I have good news?

Okay, first I call my husband, and then I call my mom.

But what if I need to complain about my husband? Who do I call?

Yep.

My mom, who everyone calls “Ninny”.

Banma, Mom, Me & Cathy, 1969

Banma, Mom, Me & Cathy, 1969

She is one of the funniest people I’ve ever known, and most of the time it’s completely unintentional. We have always had many different ways to communicate – and not just looks or cryptic sounds. She actually taught us the sign language for “Watch out – Daddy’s about to blow his top” so that we would know without words when Daddy was in a bad mood.

Ninny learned everything from her own wonderful mom. My grandmother, Banma, is probably the sweetest person alive. She is 94 years old and still living on the farm she grew up on, going to the same church she was baptized in, and a friend to everyone she meets.

My mom said that she never heard Banma raise her voice. Clearly, that gene did not flow down to my mother or my sister or me. We have no trouble raising our voice but hopefully we got some of Banma’s sweetness.

Throughout their 52 year marriage, my parents have always been there to support each other. Ninny was a stay at home mom when I grew up, and my father happily worked because he loved his girls and wanted her to be at home with us.

Ever since we found out about my father’s cancer, I have been amazed not only with my father for fighting the cancer so hard, but I am in awe at my mother’s strength. I always knew she was strong, but to be strong enough to care for my dad, as well as her own mother, could easily cause an IronMan to crumble…but not Ninny.

To know how much Ninny is loved and needed, you only have to look as far as this Mother’s Day. I offered to stay with my dad, who has been sick from the chemo treatments, so that my mom could visit Banma for Mother’s Day. But he declined and said “No offense, sweetheart, but I need my Ninny”, and then went on the long drive with her to Mississippi even though he was feeling terrible.

I get it. She can make anything better.

And I thank God every day for her.

When I go to my final resting place, I can only pray that someone will give me the greatest compliment I can imagine.

I hope they’ll say “She was just like her mother.”

Mom, Banma, Me & Cathy, 2011

Mom, Banma, Me & Cathy, 2011