Monthly Archives: February 2015

Just Some Vanilla

I’m no fan of snow, but as my eyes roll in disgust at weather forecasts I concede there were times when snowfalls thrilled me. Not due to missing school, sleigh riding, or building snowmen, but because Vicki and I would go to the store for Nannie.

At an unknown point in our youth, after one snowstorm or another, my sister Vicki and I decided we must plod across the field through snow, no matter the depth, to see if our grandmother needed anything from the store. Nannie lived in a huge old farmhouse, had always cooked for many, and could have at any point in time prepared a meal for forty out of what she had in her cabinets and refrigerator. Not even touching what was stored in her cellar.

Still… Vicki and I were sure Nannie needed something and we’d save the day by trudging through snow to ask, trekking through snow to the store, then slogging back through snow with the precious items we knew she needed badly but was unable to get out and get. Proud of our impending usefulness, we stomped snow from our boots and headed inside for what was sure to be a massive grocery list from Nannie. How else could she make it to the spring thaw if not for our efforts?  It was important to her that we helped, we were sure. We waited for her to list all of the things she needed desperately from the store.

“Well,” Nannie began as she watched snow pile against the window, “y’all could get me some vanilla.”

She did a lot of baking, we knew, but no milk? No bread? Coffee even? A side of beef? Anything? Just vanilla? Still, if it was important to Nannie, it was important to us and this vanilla was apparently very necessary. How fortuitous that we were there! Off to the store in the foul weather, vanilla purchased, and back to Nannie’s. We returned cold, soaked, red-cheeked, and tired… but mission accomplished. We had value.

That pattern repeated for a few years after every snowfall of every winter. If there were two heavy snows in a winter, Nannie somehow needed two bottles of vanilla. Our timing was uncanny. How relevant we were. It was important for Nannie to have that vanilla and without us her hopes would have been dashed. We felt an amazing sense of accomplishment and pride after helping. We were just kids, but we mattered!

Years later as adults, actually during the heat of summer, Vicki and I sat talking with Nannie on her back porch. Somehow conversation worked around to those long ago winters. I laughed and asked her why she needed so much vanilla. She thought for a minute about what I’d just said, then grinned.

“I didn’t need vanilla, but it was important to y’all to help, so that’s what I asked for.” Nannie said.

She followed up by saying she didn’t remember exactly but there were times she probably could have used something else but she’d never have asked us to haul groceries in the snow. She only “needed” vanilla because she knew it mattered to us to be of help – and it was easy for us to carry!

Some years after that conversation, with Nannie gone and her house being emptied, I stood in her kitchen and absent mindedly opened a cabinet. Pushed into one corner were several bottles of vanilla, some still in their original tiny cardboard boxes. I didn’t know if any of those might have been purchased in a snowstorm of the past, but I slipped one into my pocket just the same.

I still have that reminder.

By trying to do something we thought important to her, Nannie allowed us to feel that we were important.

I often sent my kids for vanilla when they were little. Not literally, but when I recognized in their faces that need to please by doing right, to feel important, to matter, I made sure I needed vanilla and I made sure they knew I couldn’t have gotten it without them.

Every kid should be sent to get vanilla, and often.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Filed under Family, grandmother, lesson

Tag, You’re It

While getting dressed for work this morning I carefully tore away the dry cleaner tag stapled around the collar label inside my new shirt. There had been enough obnoxious tags to remove when I bought it, now back from the dry cleaner it had another.

Ughhh…one last tag.

That tiny ripping sound as I removed it reminded me of new clothes I bought back in my college years. On the first of maybe two shopping “sprees” in my life, I’d come away with several new shirts and pairs of pants.

My spree had run late by the time I got home. Not bothering to wash them before going to bed I promptly put the new clothes away – by tossing them in a lump across the back of a chair. Those were college years, after all. The next morning I dressed hurriedly, about to be late for class, and eagerly dug through my new purchases for something to wear.

I ripped tags from first one pair of pants, then another. There seemed to be tags on the waists, tags on every pocket, tags around belt loops. Plastered to one leg of each pair of pants was a foot long clear sticker with “32 waist” printed down its length. Yes, “32 waist”… those were college years after all…

I ripped tags with reckless abandon and realized I was late for class. I pulled on a new pair of pants, grabbed one of the new shirts, and rushed from my room. I was very proud of my new clothes and thought I looked spectacular. As I walked across campus it became clear that everyone seemed to agree.

My new wardrobe was a hit, especially my new shirt with a navy blue background and tiny red and green stripes. It was a handsome shirt and it caught eyes wherever I went. Other students looked at my shirt and smiled. Some even pointed me out to their friends. What a fashion plate I was. As I walked from class to class that day I enjoyed constant attention as a result of my fabulous clothes.

At the end of the school day I hurried home to change and relived how proud I’d been of my new clothes. As I took off my handsome new shirt something rough scraped and cut hard across my neck. In slow motion I finished taking the shirt off, gingerly held it in front of me, and slowly turned it around to examine it. I expected to find a scorpion, maybe a king cobra, a rabid rhinoceros, or something equally sinister that had clung to me all day before launching an attack.

And there it was.

A foot long clear sticker.

In my haste that morning to pick out what to wear I’d pulled tags off of everything – except my handsome green shirt. All day I’d paraded from class to class with a foot long clear sticker running down the front of my shirt, “L” printed down its length. Thus, the attention.

Ughhh…one last tag.

I never wore that shirt to school again.

Over the years I laughed about that sticker whenever I bought new clothes. I vowed it would never happen again, and it hasn’t. Not once have I been caught with a sticker on my clothes. But, several years ago after an all-day meeting, I realized I’d spent the entire day with a price tag attached to a long plastic line dangling from the armpit of the new jacket I’d worn. I thought I’d been careful to remove all signs of new purchase, but no.

Ughhh…one last tag.

I may have never thought about those two incidents again had it not been for the dry cleaner tag on my shirt today. No, not the one I removed from the inside of my collar…

On the way back to my desk after getting coffee this morning a coworker smiled and asked if I’d recently had my shirt laundered. I answered why yes I had, then thought how wonderful that for only $1.99 my shirt must appear remarkably clean.

As I set the coffee cup down on my desk something scraped and cut hard across my hand. I had visions of scorpions, king cobras, a rabid rhinoceros, or something equally sinister. In slow motion I looked down at my hand and there it was.

A second dry cleaner tag had been waving in the breeze all morning from a button-hole in the front of my shirt.

Ughhh…one last tag.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Filed under blog, clothing, Humor

Free Show

Several of us waiting for the bus this morning watched a starling glide in and land on the pipe suspended high above our heads. The bird fluttered in the wind as it fought to balance itself on the slick rounded surface of the pipe which is attached to a pole across the street, stretches over two lanes, and its uncapped end opens directly above the bus stop and right over our heads.

The starling gained its balance, hopped sideways to the end of the pipe, and cocked its head to peek into the open hole. It then sat upright, hesitated a second, and flew across the street and into the woods.

I remembered last spring when I noticed a starling fly in and out of the open end of this same pipe. For days it carried grass and such as it built a nest, then later made trip after trip into the pipe carrying insects to the nestlings. I was encouraged this morning by the bird’s brief visit.

“Maybe it’s a sign of spring.” I said to the others. I related how I’d watched a starling last spring as it went through the nesting process in the pipe overhead. It was fun to see that “free show” every morning.

“What made you notice a bird in a pipe?” one puzzled woman asked. She takes a later bus but arrives at the stop to wait as early as the rest of us.

“Not sure,” I began, “but there are lots of those free shows out there.”

The woman adjusted her scarf and pulled her hat down tighter against the wind. “Like what? What other free shows?”

I gave more bird examples. Birds are everywhere, relaxing to see in flight, or comical when squabbling over randomly tossed French fries. Clouds are pretty fun too and I asked the woman if when driving she’d ever missed a green light while preoccupied watching particularly cool cloud formations.

She stared at me as if ready to sign a restraining order. “No. No I haven’t.”

I assumed our conversation was over since her facial expression indicated she thought me a nut. She readjusted her scarf, which was flailing in the wind, and slowly stepped closer to me.

“Those sound nice but with my luck the birds would peck and the clouds would form a thunderstorm!” she halfway laughed as she offered her negative spin.

“What about trees?” I asked.

“What about them?” she countered as she slipped on her gloves.

“Well, this time of year with no leaves you notice their form. Spring comes and you watch buds light up the woods with green. In summer they’re lush and everyone loves leaves in the fall.”

“I pick up sticks and rake leaves in my yard. I can’t say I’m a fan.” she responded negatively.

I often say we should look for “sprinkles” in our days, little moments of fun, more of those free shows. It’s sappy and silly, but so what, it’s nice. With less and less nice in the world these days we have to hunt harder for sprinkles when we need them. I suggested this notion to the woman.

“Free shows like that bird are sprinkles in the day. They’re out there if you watch for them.” I said as I saw my bus approach the stop.

“Ha!” the woman laughed as she stepped back to wait for her bus. “Sprinkles? I’ve never been sprinkled. With my luck I’d be splattered!”

You can’t win them all I thought as I stepped onto the bus and took a seat. Through the window I saw the starling glide in and land on the pipe again. The waiting woman looked up at the bird as it fought to gain its balance. I thought how cool, she noticed the bird and she’ll recognize it for what it is. She’ll finally get sprinkled.

My bus pulled away slowly and I watched the woman watching the bird. I glanced up once more at the pole to see the starling back itself towards the end of the pipe. It raised its wings a bit, stretched its body out a little, and proceeded to poop…the wind caught it and hurled it in several directions.

The woman stepped backwards quickly. I couldn’t hear her through the glass but her lips mouthed words I knew I’d not be able to type here. The starling flew across the street and into the woods. The woman rapidly wiped her arm and scarf, her mouth in constant motion.

Oh well, she was right. She didn’t get sprinkled, she got splattered.

And I got another free show.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Filed under everyday, karma, old fashioned, positive