Ode to Penelope......RIP August 3, 2010

Penelope Connor Stephens, My "God-Kitty" has left this earthly world. Her mom & dad, Katie & Bob, are very dear friends of mine. Whenever they went on a trip, they would pack "Nellie" up & let her stay with me. They knew how much I loved having her around; & they'd allow her stay at my house for as long as 6 weeks at a time. She was such a "princess"; & she knew how to wrap each one of us around her little paw. I've never known a feline that was more beautiful inside & out than "Nellie". Her spirit will live in all of us forever.

High School Reunion......maybe you can go home again

July 19,2010

There hasn’t been much going on that others would find noteworthy since the Panama Canal Cruise last Dec. But I think a high school reunion deserves an entry in the ole archives.

Some classmates on Facebook started reminiscing about vivid memories they had from school. I have to admit there were a lot of good memories; memories that later became overshadowed by my feelings of being raised in a (too) small town. Living in a place where your business became everybody’s business. After my life took some twists & turns, I knew I would be happier elsewhere. Sorry, I got lost there for a minute…..

My mind became flooded w/ thoughts of Mr. Earl (the janitor) in his old black pick up truck, the HUGE block of REAL butter that was at the end of the cafeteria line, the smell of that purple ink from the “mimeograph” machine. The pain of Sally Davis’ paddle (w/ holes in it); having to write “lines” (using 2 or 3 pencils at a time) for chewing gum or talking too much in class. Mrs. Fisher, (the American Indian librarian) looking at you through a magnifying glass; her eye looked HUGE! Mr. Smith making us practice “Monday, Monday” until we were sick of that damn song. All the girls having a crush on Mr. Flood, (the Ag teacher). The fun places we got to go during Coach Gibbons’ driver’s ed classes. Hanging out at the Rexall Drug Store soda fountain after school. Other FB’ers came up w/ many other things, some that I didn’t remember. We found ourselves melancholy for those times of our lives when life was simple; & we didn’t have a care in the world.

So, it was decided that we’d have a reunion, not restricted to any one specific class. An open invitation went out on FB; set for Sat. night, July 17th. Kathy Dunaway Clements & Donna Keas McLean made arrangements for us to use the community room of Security State Bank in Newbern; & they coordinated food & drink for the “pot luck”. Some of us were driving/flying in from other states. Friends like Donna & Kathy, I have kept in touch w/ ever since I moved away. My friend, John Huie, had visited Naples a few times when he was in south FL on business in the last few years. Some I had seen 10 years ago when we did the reunion cruise. But the majority I hadn’t seen in 35-40 years.

Air travel being what it is; my flights to Memphis weren’t exactly pleasant. I was flying Delta; & of course had to change planes in Atlanta. Fortunately, my Amex card allows me privileges at a lot of airport VIP lounges. So, I was able to stretch out, have a snack & take advantage of free internet for about an hr during my layover. I boarded my connecting flight; & for some unexplained reason, we backed away from the gate, & sat on the tarmac for almost 90 mins. w/ nothing but warm air coming out of the vent. Then when we got out on the taxiway, the Capt. told us that that they were “turning the airport around”, meaning that we would have to taxi to the other end of the runway & take off in the opposite direction. What fun! We made it to Memphis an hour late.

After picking up my rental car, I made a stop at Back Yard Burger for the first of my Memphis foods…….Mrs. Grazie’s spicy chili cheese fries. (With only 48 hrs in Memphis, I was going to have to hustle to taste all my favorites.) I arrived at my friends, Keith & Cindy’s house on Thurs. night (7/15). They were nice enough to indulge me w/ ribs & pulled pork sandwiches from Showboat BBQ. I was worn out from my travels; & very sad because I learned via e-mail that night that a dear friend back home had just died.

The next afternoon, I drove the 100 miles to my hometown of Newbern, TN. My friend, Kathy, had invited me to camp out at her house this time. I stopped at Wanda & Bill’s house to visit w/ them until Kathy got off work. Then we decided to go & meet Kathy in Dyersburg & have a Mexican dinner at El Patio (LOVE their cheese dip & taco salad). Later, I very comfortably settled in at Kathy’s. Husband, Larry stayed up & talked to us a while; & then left us girls to gossip till about 4 am. Being the wonderful husband that he is, he also went in to work for Kathy on Sat. so she could hang out w/ me. I had every intention of going over to visit my sister on Sat; but we just kept lounging around the house all day. Donna came over to visit a while; & soon it was time to get ready for the reunion.

One of the things I had been craving from “home” was a BBQ bologna sandwich w/slaw from Bad Bob’s. I ran by there to pick one up on the way to the reunion. Normally, this would be about a 1” thick slab of succulent, sweetly spiced bologna. Unfortunately, this one was horrendous; a disgustingly thin slice of dried out, overcooked meat that was unrecognizable. Fortunately there were plenty of other goodies to partake of. Someone brought cookies made from peanut butter & (saltine) crackers. Boy, were they scrumptious.

We had some classmates that came early & had to leave; some that had to work & came late. We attempted to get group photos outside. But the humidity was so high that the camera lens fogged over coming from the cool air conditioning. A few people had already left; & John had run home to get his camera. So, we never did get everybody in the photo. And most of the shots taken w/ my camera have moisture streaks. You just can’t edit that out w/ any photo software that I know of.

After everyone finished eating, a few bottles of wine appeared; & everyone settled down at the tables to talk. I had every intention of table hopping so I could catch up w/ everybody. But I was so excited to see two people from my past; I couldn’t drag myself away from my table.

Donna Hastings, whom I hadn’t seen in at least 35 yrs came w/ her SO, Jimmy Ramey. We got married one week apart back in ‘71; stood up for each other. The four of us were inseparable back in the day. We each divorced & moved away; but we were able to pick right up where we left off. I realized that I have missed her terribly.

Roger “Pig” Willis was the other reason I was grinning from ear to ear. He had been my husband’s best friend; & he & his (first) wife were a part of the “pack” back then. He intended to only stay a short while; but I kept begging him to stay. The ironic thing was he was to have a (first) date that night; & he ended up leaving to pick her up & brought her back to the reunion. She was such a good sport to stick it out w/ him. But she knew quite a few of my classmates. Everyone kept telling me I knew her way back when; but I swear I have no memory of it.

I pulled out all the yearbooks from 1965-1970; & went through class by class, trying to get updates on everyone I could remember. Where were they now? What do they look like? It was shocking to learn that so many had passed away. In fact the graduating class of 1966 had lost more than their share. We talked about everybody; nothing was off limits. In fact, we told everybody who left, that we were going to talk about them as soon as they got out the door. For the most part, we did. (I made sure I was the last one to leave.)

I couldn’t believe most stayed until after 10:30; & I didn’t want the night to end. Some of us started to tidy up; we had so much food left over that I think someone was going to donate it somewhere the next day. Kathy & I got back to her house about 11:30. We continued to talk till about 2.

I had made plans w/ Wanda, Bill & Jeanie to meet at Mom’s Buffet Sunday @ 11 am for some Southern comfort food before I left to go back to Memphis. You have to get in by 11 or else the church crowd lets out; & they’re lined up down the street. I had asked Donna & Jimmy the night before if they’d come & join us; & they did. I was so tickled. And Kathy ate a quick lunch w/ us before heading off to work at 1.

I got to have all my favorites; fried chicken, turnip greens, black eyed peas, stewed tomatoes, cole slaw, mashed potatoes, green beans, sweet tea & peach cobbler. It just doesn’t get any better than that. We could have sat there forever, talking; but you could tell they wanted to turn over our table. There were plenty of people waiting.

I said my goodbyes to almost everybody. Since I hadn’t had a chance to visit w/ my sister, I sat in her car & talked w/ her a while. Then I rushed back to Kathy’s to pack up & head to Memphis. I was so stuffed; & the drive was so boring, I nearly fell asleep at the wheel. In fact, I pulled over into a Kroger parking lot about halfway there to rest my eyes a bit.

When I made it back to Cindy’s, I had to lay down for a short nap. Later she & I got to sit outside & talk. It had been a couple of years since we had the time to really talk. I miss being w/ her & her family so much. Usually when I’m in Memphis, I’m rushing from here to there trying to say “hello” to all my friends. But this time, I was flying under the radar. I only had about 36 hrs. there; & I didn’t want to spend it w/ anybody else.

For dinner that night, she & I went to Corky’s to pick up another one of my favorite Memphis meals: BBQ salad & tamales w/ chili, cheese & onions. Yum! Oh, how I wish we could have gone upstairs afterward to their “theater” to watch a movie. This house (which I had never visited before) has a real, honest to God “theater”. Not a media room (well it has one of those too); but an authentic, honkin’ theater. Complete w/ tiered leather recliner seating, lighting in the floor, (I forgot how many) surround sound speakers, & (I think they said) a 25+’ screen! I could kick myself for not taking a picture. But one of the projector bulbs was burned out; & they hadn’t gotten around to replacing it. I berated Keith for being so thoughtless. He, of all people, would know how much I would want to see that puppy in action. From what I understand, they are going to be looking for a smaller place now that all but one of the kids has left home. So, I may have made my one & only visit to that particular house. It’s always an adventure at Keith & Cindy’s!

My return flight didn’t leave Memphis until 4:15; so I lollygagged around the house until nearly noon. And then I met Cindy at Houston’s for lunch where I was able to check off the final item from my “to eat” list. I LOVE their cheese toast & club salad w/ a mixture of hot bacon & honey mustard dressing. We had a nice, leisurely lunch; & I got a little misty eyed when I had to hug her goodbye. She was rushing back to work; & I had a couple of hrs to kill before my flight. Unfortunately, my VIP lounge pass doesn’t work at the Memphis Airport. So, I headed down Poplar Ave. hoping to find a Starbucks w/ free wi-fi. But I found a Panera Bread instead. So, I bought a drink & found a quiet spot in their conference room.

I topped off the gas tank; & returned the rental car. My return flights were on Continental (my first time w/ them). When I printed my boarding passes the night before, I saw where you could upgrade to first class for only $59. So, I thought; why not….the extra room would be nice. And it was. I got to experience the “hub system” at its best……I’m heading south east towards FL; but let’s head west to Houston first. I had a 90 min. layover in Houston; & got to use the airport lounge which was right across from my gate. I partook of cheese, crackers, fruit & bottled water while I used their wi-fi. (I’m really gonna like having these lounge privileges. It can actually make layovers FUN!)

I landed in Ft. Myers about 11:15. Since I only had carry on luggage, I was in my car & on the road in no time. Got home a little after midnight. It was such a fast trip. Usually, I’m biting at the bit to get back to FL. But this was the first time I actually wished I could have stayed longer in TN. It just felt right….......this time. I’m REALLY glad I went. Maybe you can go home again.......