Category Archives: family

The Faces across a Table

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There are few things more satisfying than scanning a dinner table or looking across my kitchen counter to see the faces of people I love.  Even when it includes those oddball characters no one quite knows what to do with (you know who you are).

You know the ones. They have a real knack for artfully–almost poetically–saying exactly the wrong thing.

Yeah, even them.  Maybe especially them.

In fact, those are the very people who usually make things more interesting. Like the other night when one of my son’s friends went off on a rant about anti-depressants. He said, “Not to be graphic” (so we braced ourselves), and then he went on to describe scientifically (and graphically) why antidepressants take all the umph out of orgasms.

Really?  Hmm.  Didn’t know that.  “Coffee anyone?”

Or there was the recent dinner when my nephew was home from college with two friends. I overheard one family member  talking about the politics of homosexuality with one of the friends. (To his credit, the young man maintained a remarkable poker face. Didn’t even flinch.)

I sat for a moment that night taking it all in. I scanned the table, watching everyone joke and gesticulate, while they stuffed faces full with pizza and somehow still managed to share stories, tall tales, gross exaggerations, good-natured ribbing, and belly laughs—all without bringing soda up their noses.

Somehow it was all so….glorious.  So wonderfully and beautifully imperfect. No matter what is being served or where, if I can look across a table or a room into the eyes of someone I love, it is all so very, very good.

To Mothers of Boys

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My mother-in-law raised four boys. Four! Boys!  That deserves a trophy or something. Let’s face it, though, men just aren’t great about things like Mother’s Day. We girls get it, don’t we?

Lest some of you men beg to differ, let me just ask you: How many women changed their profile pictures on Facebook to a picture of their moms today?  How many men did the same?

Go ahead…count. I’ll wait.

As a mother of two boys, I don’t worry too much about this. I understand that holiday remembrances are not often a guy’s priority. Boys don’t plot for weeks about how they will surprise their moms this year. (“Hmmm…should I get her the manicure or the facial?”)  They don’t call us up to chat or drop by to take us to lunch. But it’s all good.  Moms of boys know that their boys love them–even whey they are being…well…typical boys.

So this is a toast to all the moms of boys out there. While mothers and daughters and planning their pedicures, we will chalk it all up to a nice day off and not worry about it.

But since she did raise FOUR BOYS, I thought my mother-in-law deserved a little tribute today too. Over the years, I’ve come to know a three critical things about my relationship with her:  She loves me.  She will fight for me. And, annoying as it is, sometimes she’s (darn-it) right!

Marilyn is outspoken, and she’ll tell you so! Sometimes, this makes it hard for her to have easy friendships, but there is something amazingly redemptive in this very aspect of her character. She has remarkable compassion for outsiders. She’s been teased about her tendency to collect “stray puppies” in the form of lost, broken, lonely people. She spots them a mile off, and she swoops them up when others won’t go near.

Marilyn came to a life of faith later in life, and perhaps that’s why she is so ardent about it.  She remembers all too well what life was like without it. Her hope in God got her through some tough times, including the loss of her oldest son, T.J., to cancer. Amazingly, she can still declare a steady faith in a loving God. You cannot watch faith like that and not be touched by it.  I am grateful to have had the opportunity.

I love you, Mom.

(Oh…and thanks for Barry. I still say I got the pick of the litter! ;))

Janice LaNita

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My mother looks for miracles in the every day.  A chance encounter.  A casual conversation. A random passage of Scripture she happened to come across that spoke into her circumstances at the moment. I used to think she was almost superstitious.  Now I understand she simply looks for God in everything–and she expects to see Him looking back!

I don’t worry so much now that I’m “reading too much” into the same sort of everyday “God winks.”  I’d rather look for God too much than miss him completely when he’s right in front of my nose.  My mother taught me that.

My mother is Janice LaNita Hood. She is:

  • Southern Gospel
  • Sweet Tea “with extra ice and lemon, please”
  • Suppertime Storyteller
  • Shoe shopper extraordinaire
  • Southern Living decor on a shoestring budget
  • “Jay-un” or “Jay-un-nice,” depending on if you are from Tennessee or Alabama
  • “Red”
  • Lucy’s daughter and Ray Ray’s princess
  • Ron’s ever lovin’
  • Pam and Kay’s “Mither”
  • Isaac, Michael, Brad, and Brian’s “Nana”
  • Clancy’s “Woof”

She blessed us with unconditional love, a heritage of unflinching and unashamed faith, and a model of what it means to be a faithful wife and friend. She she gave us a stable home where we might not always get what we wanted, but we never lacked  anything we really needed. Her mother did the same. Her mother’s mother did to. So did my Father’s mother, and her mother.  I am embarrassingly rich with a heritage of amazing women. I hope I do them proud.

I love you, Mama.

Southern Biscuits

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The trick to making good biscuits is to handle the dough tenderly. You just knead it for a minute, very softly, like patting a baby’s butt. I can just picture Nanny’s hands now—they were not the hands of a Southern belle. But then again, this was not the South of the debutantes. Hers were hands that had worked, snapped beans, and sewn a flock of feed sack dresses. These were not hands that held a dance card at the cotillion.

She always had a wooden bowl on her kitchen counter with a bit of flour in the bottom and the sifter resting on top. The bowl was always ready because biscuits were a daily affair. She would sift a small hill of flour into the center of the bowl and then work in the fat with her hands. Using her fist, she’d make a well in the center, and in it she’d pour buttermilk–no measuring, of course. She’d slowly pull the flour into the milk, working quickly until the dough was as soft as an old woman’s cheeks. She’d sift a little flour out on the counter top, gently work the dough into a ball, which she’d roll out quickly with her rolling pin. Then she’d cut out the biscuits, quickly taking up the scraps to form another ball, until there was only enough scraps to make two little baby biscuits. Those were just for me and my sister, Pam.

I got stuck trying to recall the details of how my Nanny made biscuits. She died when I was fourteen, so my memories of her are limited, but somehow her biscuit making routine stands out. In an effort to recall details, it occurred to me that some smart Southern soul might have had the foresight to video the biscuit making ritual for posterity. Lo and behold…several people did just that. This one reminded me so much of my grandmother.

So, anyone out there have their own secrets for the perfect biscuits?

© 2010 L. Kay Johnson, L is for LaNita. All rights reserved. (Video not included in this copyright notice.)

In My Mother’s House

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In my mother’s house, there were few strangers and always room for one more. Every Saturday morning was cleaning day, and Sunday morning (& Sunday night and Wednesday night) was church, no matter how tired you were or what a devil you had been.

My mother’s house was all about sitting up straight, cleaning your plate, and learning to act like a lady. (You ARE going to wear a slip with that, right?) My mother’s house was cornbread, butter beans, and salmon patties–the poor man’s crab cake. It was sweet tea and minding your manners, please and thank you, and don’t tell your grandmother I let you get your ears pierced. It was also Dottie Rambo, the Speer Family, Bill and Gloria Gaither, and Mull’s Singing Convention. My mother never cussed, but she was known to s-p-e-l-l a cuss word once in a while. Somehow that didn’t count.

My mother’s house smelled of Pine Sol on Saturday and Pot Roast on Sunday. My mother’s house was a place where we were likely to linger over a dinner table for hours while Mama and her friends told one story after another. They were long stories, so you figured “might as well get comfortable” while they went “all the way around their elbow to get to their wrist,” as she says. But in Mama’s house, you learned to appreciate the beauty of a tale well told.

My mother’s house was about being there for others, walking with them through their joys and sorrows. It was about not being “ugly” to others but learning to look for the best.

My mother’s house was the place where I was trained to understand: This is what love looks like. It is the place where I saw a model of a life devoted to God and to family. In her house, I know that even though I drive my mother crazy because we are so different, she loves me just as I am. And in her house, I learned to believe that I could accomplish anything with faith in God, with belief in His ability to work in and through me, and with the love and support of family.

What a gift. Thank you is not enough, but it is the least I can say. I love you, Mama. Happy Mother’s Day!

 

© 2009 L. Kay Johnson, L is for LaNita. All rights reserved.

Father’s Day

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After a day full of the requisite Father’s Day cookout, I took a minute to think about my Dad (“Daddy,” of course, just like any good Southern girl will say). In my case, a lot of people agree when I say my Dad is the best. When I was younger, people used to tell me all the time how great both my parents were. I thought they’d feel otherwise if they had to live with them. Of course, now I know they were right.

Daddy is an artist, and I got his artistic temperament. My mother and sister are the left-brain organizers of the family. (I often think now of how crazy Daddy and I make them.) Over the years, I’ve grown to appreciate even more the way Daddy taught me to see the world through his artistic eyes. Even on a simple walk he notices every detail. (“Look at the color of that moss on that branch.” or “Kate, look at the fiery color of those leaves. That’s a hickory.”) He knows the name of every tree. He ought to! He and his cousins spent most of their youth running around the Alabama woods from sunup to sundown.

One of my favorite memories of Daddy is listening to classical music with him. I can still picture the covers of those albums. One had Monet’s ballerinas on the front, and since I dreamed of being a ballerina, this was my favorite. Daddy is a country boy from Adamsville, Alabama, but he loves classical music.(His mother, my Nanny, came from a family of 11–all of whom were musical or artistic in some way.) We’d sit together and listen to those albums, all the while Daddy pointing out some subtlety of the music.

Daddy is famous for his easy-going, laid-back nature, another trait I’ve inherited from him. I love this about him because it makes for easy, comfortable, not-in-a-hurry conversation. I think this, along with his steadfast faithfulness as a father and husband, are what I love about him most. I can think of no better tribute to a great father than this fact: I have always known I was safe and loved. I still do.