Couldn’t Believe It

Tolerant friends listen whenever I tell stories about Nannie, my grandmother. She was a fountain of valuable life lessons and something happens almost daily to remind me of a Nannie-story, so I tell it. Friends are not only tolerant but often ask unprompted questions!

Was she funny?  –  She could be hilarious and she loved to laugh.

She told stories too? –  Oh yes.

True stories? –  I believed everything she said.

You believed everything she said? – Well, there was this one time…

And so I told them about a spring years ago when she said something I didn’t believe:

“I ain’t going down there.” I squinted into the darkness. The dank smell of ancient-ness floated up through cracks in the old wooden door.

“Nannie asked you to.” Vicki said sternly.

Prodded by my older sister’s reminder, I looked down at the uneven cement steps in front of me. They were stained, covered in dead leaves, and a shiny black beetle scurried past my foot as I hesitantly took the first step.

The “basement house”, as we all called it, was Nannie’s cellar. It was more like a half-cellar with an old shed built on top. Nannie canned vegetables every summer and along with her homemade jellies they lined rough-hewn wooden shelves by the dozens in the cellar’s musty depths, just through the old door and to the right.

To the left were the potatoes.

Nannie’s potato field fed her, her children, and grandchildren. We as an extended family worked each year to plant, tend, and later dig the many long rows. Bushels of potatoes brought in from the field were spread out on large wooden racks down in the basement house. Stored there, the potatoes were used as needed by our families over the course of the winter.

By spring most of the potatoes were eaten. Some were still good. Some were shriveled and less appealing. Some were rotten – and only one hideous nastiness exists on earth greater than that of a rotten potato.

A lot of rotten potatoes.

Each spring the old and rotten potatoes had to be cleaned from the bins. This involved gingerly picking up squishy rotted blobs and scraping their runny putrid remains from the shelves. Apparently Nannie had done this by herself for decades and would have carried on the lonely tradition again but for a sudden flash of volunteerism.

Vicki volunteered me.

Nannie casually watered a geranium on the well as she verified. “You wanna clean out the potato bins?” I noticed she grinned. “It ain’t that bad.”

I didn’t believe that.

Vicki chimed in. “See? Nannie wants you to do it.”

I didn’t believe that either.

The smell of a single rotten potato can slap you in the face. The smell of dozens fairly beats you about the head and shoulders. It’s ghastly. Simply passing by the basement house while Nannie cleaned the potato bins smelled as if something down there had died a thousand deaths and she was wrestling with the aftermath. I remembered that as I stood on that first step leading into the cellar.

“Git!” Vicki said, poking me in the back. I turned to look at her one last time before taking another step towards the abyss.

“I’ll be right here the whole time.” she smiled.

I didn’t believe that.

I smelled the rot before I got to the bottom of the steps. The slight breeze created as I opened the old wooden door caused sheets of cobwebs hanging on the walls to float up quickly in the air then drift slowly back into place. It was dark in there. I reached over my head to pull the dusty string attached to the one light bulb in the center of the cellar and noticed the lovely tile mosaic on the ceiling. In the weak light from the dust-covered bulb the tiny tiles seemed to be moving.

They were moving.

Camel crickets by the hundreds coated the ceiling just inches above my head. Their legs and feelers wiggled in slow motion. I let go of the dirty light bulb string and slowly lowered my arm so as not to disturb a single cricket. Camel crickets don’t hop when disturbed, they pop. If one pops it hits another, that one pops, they hit three more, those pop and suddenly it’s cricket chaos.

“Vicki!” I yelled up the steps. “Camel crickets!”

“Don’t bother them and they won’t bother you.” she yelled back.

I didn’t believe that.

Through the fetid fog of potato stench I ducked and moved slowly under the crickets, passed the wall of cobwebs, stepped over several dead bugs, and stood before the potato bins. I was sweating. I stared at the dimly lit mound of potatoes and decomposing mush and realized I had no training in this. Where did I begin?

“Vicki!” I yelled up the stairs. “How am I supposed to do this?”

“Just start scooping them up.” she yelled back.

“With what?” I asked myself out loud. Vicki heard me.

“Nannie just uses her hands.” she yelled down the steps.

I didn’t believe that.

Leaning forward I grabbed what appeared to be a semi-solid piece of potato. It seemed fairly sturdy as I slowly picked it up. Two inches into the air and it still held solid. Three inches into the air and the heinous sack of disgusting noxious potato juice exploded onto my hand and ran down my arm.

I retched.

Shaking my hand in the air in a feeble attempt to rid myself of the sticky foul potato goo, I accidentally flung some of it onto the ceiling. In doing so I disturbed several crickets, they disturbed many more, and those disturbed the rest.

Covered in rotten slime I stood in the center of a popcorn popper filled with crickets. I’d had it.

“I’m coming out!” I yelled up the steps and in two leaps I surfaced. Gasping for fresh air I waited for Vicki to run sympathetically to my aid.

“Nannie’s going to want you to finish that.” Vicki said from the swing under the apple tree.

I didn’t want to believe that.

Vicki and I loved helping Nannie. No matter what chore she asked us to help with we did our best and I had never told Nannie “no”. I thought about that as Nannie walked up, bucket in hand, and looked at me.

“Finished already?” she asked.

“No.” I said.

I explained the overwhelming stench, the beetles in my shoes, the crickets popping, and my nausea. I told her I couldn’t do it and I didn’t know how she ever did it.

“It’s ain’t that bad.” Nannie said again.

I still didn’t believe it.

“Well, it’s got to be done. Y’all wait here.” Nannie said smiling. Bucket in hand, humming a hymn, she headed towards the basement house and disappeared into the dismal pit.

I sat in the swing by Vicki.

“I just don’t know how Nannie can do that.” I wondered out loud.

“You stink and there’s a cricket stuck to your leg.” Vicki said.

As I plucked the cricket glued to my leg by potato goo, Vicki and I heard Nannie’s muffled voice coming from the basement house.

“Mercy!”

“Goodness!”

“Boy, oh boy!”

“Phew!”

We ran to the steps and peered into the darkness.

“Are you all right down there?” we asked.

“It ain’t that bad.” she called up to us.

We went back to the swing and waited. Soon Nannie appeared with a bucket of potato grossness. She had goo on her hands, it dripped from her arms, she was sweating, and a camel cricket dangled from her hair net by one leg. Still, she smiled.

Vicki and I asked in awe. “How can you do that?”

“I’ve had my hands in many a worse mess than this.” she said. With that, she walked slowly to the field to dump her bucket of rot. She smiled, hummed, and laughed at herself as she plucked the wiggling cricket from her hair net.

I still don’t believe she could have ever had her hands in any mess worse than those vile piles of putrid potatoes but, true to form, Nannie tackled what needed to be done simply because it needed to be done. When I couldn’t finish the job she smiled, took over, and laughed through the same misery that had caused me to give up.

I couldn’t believe that.

Stuart M. Perkins

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On The Radio… update!

What fun I had last Friday speaking with Annette Rochelle Aben as her guest on Tell Me a Story, a presentation of The Magic Happens Radio Network!

I appreciated the opportunity to talk about my blog, my family, and the story I contributed to the latest book in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Volunteering and Giving Back. I was especially happy to talk more about Nannie, my grandmother, and what a powerful influence she was on me and anyone she ever met.

So many kind comments came after the interview and I appreciate those more than you know. To say I was nervous is an understatement, but Annette’s professional and laid back style enabled me to take a breath and get on with what I wanted to say!

Some who missed the live radio show have asked for the archived link, so I’m attaching that here:

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/themagichappens/2015/08/28/storyshucker-stu-perkins-on-tell-me-a-story

Thanks again for reading, listening, and the constant encouragement.

Stuart M. Perkins

Original blog post announcing the interview:

I may be more comfortable writing than talking but talking I will do… this Friday, August 28th at 1:30 p.m. EDT when I join Annette Rochelle Aben as her guest on Tell Me a Story, a presentation of The Magic Happens Radio Network!

We’ll likely discuss a little about my blog and a story of mine included in the latest Chicken Soup for the Soul: Volunteering and Giving Back, then move on to something less interesting…me.

Below is the description provided for Friday’s show along necessary links to join in on the fun.

I hope you’ll log in and listen!

Stuart M. Perkins

Storyshucker Stu Perkins on Tell Me a Story – no need to pinch yourself, it is actually happening  Friday, August 28th. We have tried a couple of times but the 3rd time has indeed been the charm for us here at The Magic Happens Radio Network. Visiting Stu’s blog, Storyshucker, and reading his tales is like taking a step back in time to when people took priority over popularity and family was the ‘inter-net’ where you learned everything.

Oh, and that blog address is http://www.storyshucker.wordpress.com/ so be sure to head over and catch up the archives and see what heart-warming story has been shucked of late.

Also, keep an eye open for a brand new Chicken Soup for the Soul: Volunteering and Giving Back, because Stu Perkins is one the contributing writers. We cover this and more in Friday’s Tell Me a Story, a presentation of The Magic Happens Radio Network. Find us at:

http://www.themagichappens.com/

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/themagichappens/2015/08/28/storyshucker-stu-perkins-on-tell-me-a-story

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On The Radio…

I may be more comfortable writing than talking but talking I will do… this Friday, August 28th at 1:30 p.m. EDT when I join Annette Rochelle Aben as her guest on Tell Me a Story, a presentation of The Magic Happens Radio Network!

We’ll likely discuss a little about my blog and a story of mine included in the latest Chicken Soup for the Soul: Volunteering and Giving Back, then move on to something less interesting…me.

Below is the description provided for Friday’s show along necessary links to join in on the fun.

I hope you’ll log in and listen!

Stuart M. Perkins

Storyshucker Stu Perkins on Tell Me a Story – no need to pinch yourself, it is actually happening  Friday, August 28th. We have tried a couple of times but the 3rd time has indeed been the charm for us here at The Magic Happens Radio Network. Visiting Stu’s blog, Storyshucker, and reading his tales is like taking a step back in time to when people took priority over popularity and family was the ‘inter-net’ where you learned everything.

Oh, and that blog address is http://www.storyshucker.wordpress.com/ so be sure to head over and catch up the archives and see what heart-warming story has been shucked of late.

Also, keep an eye open for a brand new Chicken Soup for the Soul: Volunteering and Giving Back, because Stu Perkins is one the contributing writers. We cover this and more in Friday’s Tell Me a Story, a presentation of The Magic Happens Radio Network. Find us at:

http://www.themagichappens.com/

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/themagichappens/2015/08/28/storyshucker-stu-perkins-on-tell-me-a-story

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A Little Chicken Soup…

I began blogging a little over two years ago thanks to the encouragement of two close friends. I didn’t expect it to morph into such an enjoyable adventure!

Coming from a large family and a long line of storytellers I was born pre-loaded with the urge to regale anyone who would listen with anecdotes about family, friends, and everyday observations. So, encouraged by those two close friends, I hesitantly put the first post out there for the entire world to see. Then held my breath…

No need for nerves. Kind comments, constructive criticisms, and many a simple “thanks for that” poured in after the very first post. Fun interaction with other bloggers has been an unexpected bonus.

We write it because we want someone to read it and blogging provides a great platform for bouncing thoughts and stories off of others. I appreciate comments from readers and have been flattered many times by those who’ve asked whether I’ve ever been published.

In response, I’m now excited to announce that a story of mine will appear in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Volunteering and Giving Back due out later this month!

I’m proud of the accomplishment and happy that the story includes and is based on a quote from my grandmother. Nannie was an extremely positive influence on me and her entire extended family. She had a calm way of teaching by example and she’d be proud, though modesty would prevent her showing it, to see that I learned one of her valuable lessons and tried to pass it on.

Stuart M. Perkins

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No One Spoke

Friends and I enjoyed sun, sand, and surf with other beachgoers on a recent Saturday. Sitting slathered in sticky sunscreen beneath our umbrellas, we pointlessly brushed sand from our legs as we discussed evening plans. The seagulls overhead laughed louder than the swimmers splashing in nearby waves while those of us on the beach napped, read, or simply watched people. My friends discussed how relaxing it was and how nice it would be to sleep late the next morning.

Sleep late? I mentioned to them that we only get so many sunrises in a lifetime. Shouldn’t we get up to look at a few?

They stared blankly for a second then shook their heads in unison. No.

In the wee hours of the next morning, alone in the dark, I started the short walk from house to beach guided only by dim lights above the boardwalk. It was eerily quiet at that hour with just the rustling sound of trees in the breeze and the muffled crash of waves in the distance. As I approached the boardwalk to make my way onto the beach through an opening in the weathered sand-fencing I assumed I would be alone. I was not.

An older couple wearing t-shirts and shorts made their way in the dark. Holding hands, they passed through the opening in the fence and shuffled slowly through the cool sand. Behind them, a woman draped in cameras with lenses of various lengths stopped to remove her shoes before stepping off the boardwalk and onto the beach. Just after her came an elderly man carrying a tiny dog on his arms. Together, silently in the darkness, we walked towards the water.

Already on the beach were three young girls huddled together on a large towel. Sitting cross-legged in over-sized sweatshirts, they faced the water saying nothing. Near them, two men in baseball caps sipped coffee and stared towards the horizon. Even with such an expanse of empty beach available we gravitated towards one another. No one spoke.

Out on the horizon, the palest of pinks began to push away some of the blackness.

We turned to face the faint light. As if a few feet would make a difference in the millions of miles that separated us, we all drifted a bit closer to the water in the direction of the already brighter pink sky. In that first light I noticed we had not been alone. Standing along the higher edges of the beach, together in the soft sand by the dunes, were seagulls by the hundreds. They made no sound as the bright pink horizon turned a pale orange.

The pale orange became bright orange as the sky overhead traded blackness for gray-blue. The bright orange quickly morphed to an even brighter orange. Almost immediately it was red and then instantly a fiery pinpoint of brightness gave way to the blinding glow of the rising sun.

Cameras clicked to the left, someone caught their breath to the right, but no one spoke.

The fiery ball moved rapidly above the horizon while we watched. As if on cue, hundreds of still silent seagulls lifted from the sand as one and floated towards and then over the waves. They passed between us and the perfect fiery circle that now hovered completely above the horizon.

Again, cameras clicked to the left, someone caught their breath to the right, but no one spoke.

The sky overhead was now a pale blue. We watched the still bright circle lose some of its fire and changed to a yellowish-orange. Reluctant to leave, we stared over the water a little more, smiled at each other, then made our way across the sand and back up to the boardwalk. No one spoke.

None of us had met before nor are we likely to meet again. In all of the days leading up to that morning we had carried on with our own lives unaware that the others existed. It’s even possible that not one of us had a single thing in common with another, but for a few minutes we were completely bound together in silent darkness as we waited by the ocean for a beautiful ball of light.

I was behind the elderly man with the little dog as our group, still silent, plodded up the beach and back onto the boardwalk. On a bench by the opening in the snow-fence two women ate donuts and loudly discussed their plans for the day. Obviously shocked when our group appeared from behind a clump of seagrass to file through the opening in the fence, they stopped talking, held their donuts at their mouths, and stared.

“Where did you come from?” one woman finally said laughing. She bit her donut.

“Church.” the elderly man said.

“Church?” the woman asked, puzzled.

Several in our group paused to listen to this interaction.

“Yep.” the elderly man explained. “Sunrise service.”

I wondered about possible reactions from others in our impromptu group, whether they might disagree, take offense even, but with smiles on their faces they nodded and moved along to start the day.

No one spoke.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Perspective

Today I logged into Facebook. Or is it Fightback?

Gosh. I was only there to see cat pics.

The routine arguments were still in play: I don’t eat meat so why do you, I send my kid to school so why does yours learn at home, I can have a gun and you can’t make me get rid of it, and everything bad is Obama’s fault, no it isn’t, yes it is, no it isn’t, yes it is.

In that scenario, confrontations between “friends” seem to have escalated this week due to current events. Motivated by the latest issues, good people who usually post pizza recipes or the price of a new muffler were battling other good people over opposing views on flags and court rulings in addition to the usual topics. Some attacked the issue and others attacked the person. No one safe. Every view declared wrong. Perspective.

Seriously. I was only there to see cat pics.

In that scenario, opinions flew. Those same good people on both sides labeled, condemned, and expressed disgust with anyone who opposed them. Venom spewing, name calling, and downright hateful comments were made over and over to anyone who disagreed with stated views. Some hated so they preached, some felt preached to so they hated. No one correct. Every view ridiculous. Perspective.

How about a different scenario? These days, when nastiness and evil seem to hit closer to home than ever, it’s not but so far-fetched to imagine that any one of us might suddenly find ourselves in a very unexpected and dangerous situation. What if one found the only source of help in such a case to be a member of the perceived opposition?

In that scenario, I think any of those arguing today would be happy to see help arrive on time and would still be ok whether he were eating turkey or tofu, toting a Bible or a gun, flying rebels or rainbows, or had his husband with him. Perspective.

I guess I could have stated my opinion while I was logged in today, but it didn’t occur to me at the time.

Truly. I was only there to see cat pics. Perspective.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Happy Father’s Day, Daddy… and Mama

With Father’s Day coming up this Sunday I’d like to acknowledge the obvious individual…Mama.

She still laughs remembering Daddy’s funny stories. He artfully told his silly tales and endless supply of jokes to keep everyone entertained. Daddy could be truly funny and Mama was the first to laugh. After sixty years of marriage there’s no doubt she’d heard his material several times over but Daddy loved to see people laugh and Mama wouldn’t have him disappointed. She loved him and laughed hard at his jokes, chastised his colorful language, and coyly prompted him to repeat her favorites. Daddy enjoyed making others laugh and Mama happily served as the perfect straight man even if she occasionally found herself the brunt of his playful banter.

An aunt grinned and asked Mama, “How in the world do you live with him?”

“It ain’t easy.” Mama answered, shaking her head.

Daddy’s vegetable garden was perfection. His weedless rows were straight, well-watered, and produced profusely. He playfully bragged about having the first tomato, prettiest butter beans, or biggest peppers. Mama joined Daddy in the garden every morning to sweat alongside him ensuring enough was grown not just for her to freeze and can, but for Daddy to have some to give to others, which was a great source of joy for him. Daddy was proud of his garden. Mama, knowing what it meant to him, faithfully assisted. Ice tinkled in Daddy’s water glass as he rested in the shade and jokingly scolded Mama for missing a squash. She wiped sweat from her face and went back to pick it, playfully cutting her eyes at him.

A neighbor visiting at the time smiled and asked Mama, “How in the world do you live with him?”

“It ain’t easy.” Mama answered, shaking her head.

Daddy didn’t buy a lot but what he bought was top rate and built to last. When Mama needed a new washer it was a great one. A new dryer? Nothing but the finest. If Mama needed this or that then Daddy bought her the best. One Christmas he surprised her with a brand new car. The perfectionist in Daddy compelled him to give advice so Mama was reminded to keep the car full of gas, to let him know if it ever sounded odd, acted odd, or gave her trouble. She patiently allowed him to finish knowing it was how he showed he cared. She grinned and slightly rolled her eyes a bit when he was done. He grinned back.

My sisters and I watched their comical interaction and asked Mama, “How in the world do you live with him?”

“It ain’t easy.” Mama answered, shaking her head.

In all that Daddy did, and he did a lot, Mama was there to back him up. Daddy was a perfectionist but giving, rigid but generous, and a serious provider who enjoyed nothing more than a sense of humor. He and Mama were together for sixty years, raised four kids, and saw grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They were a powerful pair when they needed to be, a comedy duo when the occasion arose, and always surrounded by family and friends. Daddy was unique and Mama supported that uniqueness. It dawned on me over the years that Daddy was free to be Daddy because Mama was Mama.

Daddy died almost two years ago now. His vegetable garden is no more, fewer friends stop by Mama’s for impromptu visits, and though we still laugh it’s not with the frequency or intensity it was when constantly bombard by Daddy’s zany tales. We all miss him, but Mama surely misses him the most. Friends and family do still visit Mama and inevitably they talk about Daddy and his garden, his jokes, and all he did for Mama.

One visiting friend recently asked Mama, “How in the world do you live without him?”

“It ain’t easy.” Mama answered, shaking her head.

Happy Father’s Day, Daddy… and Mama.

Stuart M. Perkins

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