Ms. Gladys Adcox: You’re unforgettable

Author: natalie  //  Category: Baytown, Texas, It's all about me

Hands down, the best part about this column is you: the readers.  Through this spot I’ve met some fascinating people I would’ve never known otherwise. Some shot me an e-mail, others walked right up when I was out and about and introduced themselves, a few “eyed” me trying to figure out why I looked familiar and had a “light-bulb” moment when I told them. But there’s another who made me break down in tears week before last when she mailed me a handkerchief. How did she know I was going to need it?

If there ever was a cheerleader for the team of Sun columnists, it’s Ms. Gladys Adcox of Highlands. A brief investigation led me to find she’s been in the business of corresponding with newspaper writers for a good while –maybe even the span of my lifetime. A spry 93-years-young, she says she does it to keep her mind sharp. Well, I can only hope to be half as sharp here in my prime. 

Ms. Adcox phoned me the morning my snake story ran. (For inquiring minds: I’m still not over it, but my public warning to Jeff worked. No black eyes as of this writing.) She had a snake story of her own and wanted to send me a copy of Baytown Sun columnist Buck Young’s account from some time ago.

See, a copperhead made his way through a hole in her bedroom screen. Not standing for it, she armed herself with a butcher knife and went in to show him who was in charge. Upon gathering her wits (she’s a stronger woman than me) she thought better of getting close enough to use her weapon. Instead of having what we Southerners refer to as a conniption, she told Mr. Copperhead to turn around and leave the way he came in. And he did!

While I delighted in reading that story and another she wrote for The Sun about her pet rooster, it was some other things that brought on the waterworks. It all started when her three pieces of mail arrived. I was in a hurry to get somewhere, grabbed the mail from the box and was stunned by the handwriting on the envelopes. I’d seen it many times before. Tucking that thought away, I placed the unopened mail in the laundry room, and off I went.

Since ads and bills make up 99.99% of what the postman delivers each day, any piece of handwritten mail is a real treat in my book. It wasn’t even my birthday! I couldn’t wait to get back home.

Upon returning, I carefully opened each one. (By the way, Gladys is my kind of girl; the exterior of the envelopes were “sealed” with American flag stickers and beautiful butterflies. Someone else used to do that, too.)  In addition to the stories, she sent a “Granny Adcox” ruler (for measuring snakes – if they’re longer than the ruler I’m going to run), three handwritten notes on pretty, personalized stationery, and a handkerchief with a beautiful blue rose embroidered on it.

The handwriting: my late grandmother’s almost exactly. The contents: gifts money can’t buy. Alzheimer’s took my Maw Maw King’s mind long before her body; years prior, she loved to correspond via mail. She sent all sorts of little things she came across in her house . . . small items that wouldn’t mean a thing to anyone else, but were treasures to me.  

 I called Ms. Adcox to thank her. Her kindness reminded me that in this hurry-up world we live in today, it’s still possible to receive some special deliveries. “You’re welcome, darlin’!” “Darlin’” without the “g”, just like Maw Maw used to call me. The voice was different, the inflection the same.  Happy tears streamed down my face. I had a new friend who brought back some wonderful old memories. She said the handkerchief was just a little something to remember her by. How could I ever forget?

Thank you, Ms. Gladys Adcox . . . for everything.

© 2009 Natalie Whatley


Remember: Freedom isn’t free

Author: natalie  //  Category: Holidays, National

Tomorrow is Memorial Day, a day set aside to remember and honor the men and women of the United States military who gave their lives in the service of this country.

With that thought in mind, I journeyed to the outer edge of The Whatley Estate and inspected the American Flag that pays constant homage to the core of this country: the ideals of our founding fathers and the people willing to die preserving them. I found Old Glory in spectacular shape and decided it was fit to fly for another year.

Since the inspection took place shortly after dawn’s early light, I had plenty of time to reflect on some things as I went about the remainder of my day.

I started off on my almost daily four-mile trek through my neighborhood, struck by the number of star-spangled banners dotted throughout my route.  Were they there before, but missed in my haste?  Then I wondered about the people who displayed them in a place of honor in their yards. Even without knowing some of them personally, I felt a kinship, an understanding, unstated collective concern that the freedoms won in heated battles over the course of our history were evaporating.

While many of the flags appeared new or at least in good shape, I questioned whether I would’ve replaced mine, as I have in the past, had it been a little faded or frayed.  Tattered and torn, but still waving proudly may have been OK for this year, not because I want to show disrespect –quite the contrary.  “. . . our flag was still there.”

Freedom isn’t free. Courageous people dangled by threads, not knowing how long they’d have it in them to stand in defiance of the elements and the enemy. They did so unwavering because their love of country insisted on staying in front of fear. How many of us, who’ve grown soft as if it were our birthright, would brave the relentless heat, stabbing iciness, ferocious storms, shadowy opponents, and death to keep the ideals behind the American flag alive?

I struggle a great deal with what’s happening today in a country where freedom was granted me by the blood of those willing to fight for it. Complacency, ignorance of the costs, and an almost eager willingness to readily give it up is a stinging slap in the face to liberty and those who provided it.

As you enjoy a day off, barbecue, time relaxing with friends and family, take a moment to remember the unyielding soldiers who gave their lives and the families they left behind.  Your freedom to choose how to spend the day came at a heavy price and was likely paid by someone you never knew or even heard of.

To all the families, past and present, who’ve been tattered and torn by the loss of a beloved soldier: Thank you.  And know that should I ever grace the outdoors of my home with a flag that appears to have seen better days, it’s you I seek to remember. “. . . our flag was still there.”  The sorrow belongs to all of us, and your stories serve to remind of what must never be taken for granted.

Freedom isn’t free; remembrance won’t cost you a thing.

And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave, O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!”   

© 2009 Natalie Whatley

Who needs enemies?

Author: natalie  //  Category: From me to you

OK…the “snake” story below has garnered me quite a bit of ribbing. My “friend” Paisley sent along this photo which adequately depicts what I’m now afraid of. Who needs enemies when you have friends like that?  Just kidding, Paisley! I may need professional help to get past this :)

I’m not going to post the photos here because they seriously CREEP me out, but it turns out snakes (LARGE ones) coming up through toilets are quite common…I just felt a chill move up my spine. I’ll let you Google it for yourself!

This girl will strike!

Author: natalie  //  Category: Home sweet home, It's all about me, Wedded bliss

I’ve contracted a slithering case of the heebie jeebies. If you’re in snake-oil sales and have a potential cure, you know where to find me.

I’m always thrilled when something semi-exciting happens in my life –gives me something to write about—but I’d gladly skip this “episode” to regain my peace of mind.

Since I spent last week recounting my fear of public speaking and how what psychologists refer to as “immersion therapy” forced me to get over it, I’m embarrassed to say that another of my fears has taken the spotlight this week. I will not immerse myself in this one.

I grew up with brothers and now have two boys of my own; reptiles, regardless of whether I like them or not, have always been a part of my life. I’m not the pass-out, run-away-shrieking-at-the-mere-sight type, but I keep my distance.  (Imagine my horror when my younger son “clipped” lizards to his ears and took great delight in freaking me out with his dangly “earrings”. They were alive and biting his ears to hold on!)

Enter Shadow, my great feline hunter.  

The mighty hunter... all wore out

The mighty hunter... all wore out

He earns his keep by bringing lizards, skinks (which I recently learned emit a toxin from their tails that make cats sick; Shadow hasn’t made the connection between his apparent stomach upset and what he dined upon), and small snakes (no longer than six inches) to the mat at the back door. I’ve watched him catch his prey.  He carries on as if he’s fighting an anaconda before taking a victory lap around the yard with something small hanging from his teeth. 

Sitting on the couch reading the newspaper one morning, I spotted Shadow out of the corner of my eye stalking something across the room.  I lowered the paper and watched as he pounced into a small hallway leading to the half bath. In a fraction of a second he was in the small bathroom creating quite a ruckus. Jeff and I concluded he’d probably found one of those BIG Texas-sized wood roaches that like to find their way indoors this time of year. We’d let him have his fun.  When his body started bouncing off the bathroom walls, I pulled my feet onto the couch as I wanted no part of what might come out of that bathroom. Jeff went in to investigate. 

“Now that’s a snake!”  Words I never want to hear uttered inside my house again. “It must be 18 inches long!” I began feeling faint. Eighteen inches, 18 feet, one in the same when we’re talking snakes.  I had been in that bathroom barefooted a couple of times that morning. How long had it been there? Had that thing made its way across my toes while . . . You would have heard me across town, and Jeff would be repairing sheetrock. “It’s a harmless garter snake,” he said holding it far too close. I don’t care. 

I’m telling you this story in the event you end up on my jury after I’m hauled in for assault. Jeff has been very busy at work this week and hasn’t had the time or energy to be up to any of his usual shenanigans. Know that I can finish the man’s sentences; he will capitalize on my fragile mental state for amusement.

If you see him with a black eye it’s because he thought it would be funny as I dozed off to recreate what a slithering snake would feel like making its way up my leg or the side of my face. I know you all will understand and do the right thing when I stand before you to account for my actions.

Jeff, don’t mess with a girl suffering from a case of the slithering heebie jeebies. She will strike!

© 2009 Natalie Whatley

Moms have growing pains, too!

Author: natalie  //  Category: Holidays, It's all about me, Life with children, National

Being a mom means many things to me, but an event I attended last week provided an epiphany of sorts:  While I play a large a role in my children’s lives, my children are also an enormous part of who I am and what I’m becoming.  I was also reminded that fear is a powerful motivator.  

For some, fear of public speaking ranks right up there with fear of death. I fall in that category. Well, that’s not entirely true. I can go one step further than my fearful counterparts: I fear death less than public speaking. That’s probably hard to believe as much as I run my mouth here, but it’s far easier for me to sit in my underwear and write than to stand up in front of you and envision you in yours.  

Getting back to being a mom and my revelation about motherhood, a couple of weeks ago my middle child asked me to take part in Gentry Junior School’s career day. One of his teachers is at least a semi- regular reader and passed along an invite. Of course I was flattered beyond words, but more special than that was the proud gleam in my boy’s eyes.  I accepted immediately. Then I panicked.

Back B.C. (before children) I enjoyed an interesting career as a paralegal in a downtown Houston law firm.  It was tough managing it with one young child, so I scaled back to part-time when the second was born.  About the time I had that under control, “Surprise!” number three was on the way.  For various reasons, I walked away from that office building and put my heart and soul into being “just a mom”—for ten years.

When I started writing this column in January of 2008, it was a transition for me as I embarked on a new chapter and looked for the ever-elusive “balance” mothers seek. Now that I’ve been at it almost a year and a half, a few people have seen me in the paper; that’s what led to public speaking and career day.

I fretted over what to say and how to say it for a good while. Scooter and Shadow, my dog and cat, served as my test audience when I practiced the day before almost to the point of making myself hoarse. I was pretty pumped because they didn’t have a single negative comment after listening to my presentation numerous times. Do animals hear while they’re sleeping? To keep my self-esteem somewhat intact, I’m going to assume they do.

I made my appearance, delivered a twenty-minute talk (ELEVEN times) on freelance writing, the paralegal profession, and how one led to the other for me.  The first group probably wondered why my neck was broken out in hives, but I was pretty much at ease by the time I reached group eleven.  (Those hives are not particularly attractive, but I’ll take them over passing out, which is what I feared was going to happen.)

While driving home, feeling pretty good about my fear of letting down my favorite 12-year-old trump my phobia of public speaking, it occurred to me that over the past 17 years the three people I pull out of cozy beds each morning have consistently dragged me out of my comfort zone. The rapid heartbeat, queasiness, inability to breathe, heck, full-blown panic attacks have made me a better person. Moms have growing pains, too!  And when I grow up, I still want to be a mommy.  Fear:  You’re not the boss of me!

Happy Mother’s Day to all my sisters in motherhood!

© 2009 Natalie Whatley

 ***Hours after submitting for publication in The Baytown Sun, I had lunch with Jeff. The fortune cookie I got after my meal: “Don’t be afraid of fear.” Hmmm…Somebody’s trying to tell me something!

Column stew

Author: natalie  //  Category: Baytown, Texas, It's all about me

It’s been an odd week for yours truly, and since my mind is refusing to settle in on any one topic, I’m just going to throw everything in the pot and let it simmer –column stew, if you will. You’re bound to find some meat and potatoes floating around. I’ll let you decide which is which. And, I apologize for serving what’s traditionally a fall/winter meal in the spring.

Columnists live life on the constant look-out for “material’. Some weeks I’m bombarded with subjects, while others provide a snippet here and a snippet there, but nothing even I can pontificate on long enough. So, imagine a big pot, and away we go!

I stopped by the bank this week and made a rare trip inside the lobby as the business I needed to conduct couldn’t be handled in the drive-through. The nightly news often includes reports of bank robberies, but a sign I saw posted on the door caused me to give pause and then enjoy a brief chortle, which is a chuckle and a snort. 

The sign read, I kid you not, “Please remove sunglasses and hats before entering the lobby”.  Being the reasonable, law-abiding citizen that I am, I removed my sun glasses and flashed the biggest smile I could muster. Deduction told me I was starring in that moment’s piece of surveillance footage.  I’m certain would-be robbers would do the same. Why, it would be absurd not to.

Moving along, I made my way to Kroger’s, my home-away-from-home, and for the first time I stopped by the Clorox wipe dispenser and sanitized the cart handle.  There’s some pig flu going around.  With three school-aged children my immune system has become formidable, but this has the potential of putting me down for a few days, so I’ll take some extra precautions. Plus, the wall-to-wall news coverage of people wearing surgical masks is starting to scare me.  It is just a strain of the flu, right? The cynic in me doesn’t know what to think, but the media sure seems bent on making me feel my demise is imminent. 

At the end of one aisle I approached a healthy-looking man who sneezed. He got about a half-cover in before… ACHOO!!  Normally, I’d wait a few seconds, hold my breath, and plow through.  Not this time. I performed an abrupt turn mid-aisle and high-tailed it the other way.  I’ve got four weeks to myself before school lets out; I don’t intend on spending any of it sick.

As if the above hadn’t caused me enough distress “Old Blue”, my trusty momma-mobile, failed to start Wednesday morning.  No big deal other than it was a TAKS testing day. I was trying so hard – got everyone up in a cheerful manner (I should win an Academy Award for that acting), cooked breakfast, and even built cereal-box walls on the kitchen table to avoid any he’s- looking-at-me morning bickering. After all that, everyone was ready for a soothing ride to school . . .

Turns out Jeff can get home pretty fast when he needs to.  I walked one into school prepared to take the brunt of whatever calamity was to befall tardy students trying to enter a campus under lockdown for testing.

I was pleasantly surprised when I met Mr. Yepez at the doors of Gentry just as students were being ushered to their testing locations. I apologized and gave a brief explanation. “It’s OK,” he said as my boy went to get in line.

In closing, that sums up how I feel about this past week. It’ll all be OK, as long as I keep myself at a simmer and avoid letting my pot boil over.

© 2009 Natalie Whatley