Memories of a Lazy Sunday Afternoon

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Today I saw (and subsequently shared) a meme featuring an elderly woman’s lap full of pea pods, with her shelling them and the caption “Part of the problem with the world today is no one shells peas with Grandma anymore.” I can’t say that I necessarily agree with that sentiment, as there are both a lot of grandparents in urban living, without the benefit of a vegetable garden, and a lot of grandkids that do still spend time shelling peas with their grandparents, and I can’t say for certain that the lack of the magical combination is a sign of the times.

The meme, of course, infers that the world would be a better place if we spent quality time with our elders, and THAT sentiment I can wholeheartedly get behind. But it’s the specific action given in the meme that flooded me with nostalgia. I mentioned something on Facebook about it when I shared the meme, but I wanted to take a little more time to expound on my memories of my grandmother.

My maternal grandfather passed away before I was born, and both my paternal grandparents were gone by the time I turned eight, so the only grandparent that I have a lot of memories of is my maternal grandmother. Her grandkids called her Granny.

Fairly often, at least once a month, we would make the half hour drive from the northern suburbs of Raleigh to the rural town of Morrisville to spend the afternoon with my grandmother, who lived alone from the time her husband died until her mid-to-late 80s. During most of that time, she tended a vegetable garden that was over an acre in size, and with the exception of turning the soil at the beginning of the season, she handled it all on her own. She grew all kinds of vegetables, used what she grew and then sold the rest to the neighbors for extra cash. She didn’t drive and didn’t own a car at any point during my life, so if we wanted to see her, we went to her.

The ritual was more or less the same every Sunday: we’d give her time to walk back home from church, a trip of only a couple blocks, before we arrived. Dad would shortly get busy taking care of any chores that needed doing – repairs, mostly – Mom would help balance her checkbook, and that left me and Granny to head into the garden to pick the vegetables that we’d have that evening for supper. We’d wash everything off and then go sit on the screened-in back porch to shell peas or snap beans (what most people call green beans) or whatever we were having, while she told stories. Mom would finish with the checkbook and come join us on the porch, and so I got caught up in the latest gossip from around town, mostly involving people I either barely knew or hadn’t met at all. It was pretty easy to tune it out, but every once in a while the stories would turn toward family, and I tried to make a point to re-engage in the conversation then, so I could learn about distant relatives. We’d usually spend an hour or more on the porch, lazily prepping the evening’s sides, before heading in so Granny could cook. I’d usually head in to join my dad watching either football or NASCAR.

Now, keep in mind, there were four of us – me, my mom, my dad, and my grandmother.

When dinner was served there were usually two different kinds of meats, at least five different kinds of sides, and at least two pies – one was always sweet potato, my favorite. There was enough food to easily feed eight people on the table and counters. (My grandmother’s kitchen was decently sized enough, but was dominated by a dining table that could seat six in a pinch.) Now keep in mind this was any given Sunday – no special occasion, no event to celebrate. Holidays would produce twice this amount of food and all four of us usually ate for nearly a week off that one meal.

I went to work on the vegetables a lot of times because I was told to – it kept me out of my dad’s way and it let me spend time with Granny. There were a lot of times that I didn’t really want to be out there, and I was bored a lot while I was working. I was a preteen at that point and my interests were elsewhere. It felt like a chore to preteen me.

But as I grew older, my grandmother stopped being able to tend so much land, and she started keeping a smaller and smaller garden with fewer vegetables in them. She needed help more in both the garden and the kitchen. She’d forget to take medications, and we’d have to remind her. What was once a chore became both a labor of love and an expression of grief. My grandmother was deteriorating before my eyes and I didn’t know what to do about it.

My paternal grandparents were almost three hours away in Wilmington, and I only saw them during the summer when school was out. I didn’t see them deteriorate, although my grandfather didn’t actually deteriorate – he was sitting by the front door waiting on a fishing buddy when he had a massive heart attack, and he was gone. His cardiologist said he likely didn’t feel a thing. He was the one to discover the body – he was the fishing buddy my grandfather was waiting on. My maternal grandmother had both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, although the latter wasn’t yet a diagnosis at the time, and her deterioration was kept at a distance. She was moved to a nursing facility closer to home and Mom and Dad would go out to visit her, leaving me with Granny while they were gone.

Eventually Granny got to the point that she needed to go into a nursing home, and as I was in need of a place to live, I moved into the house and paid a pittance in rent to maintain the taxes on the house. I lived there for a year and a half.

My mom and dad and I had made a habit of going to Myrtle Beach over Thanksgiving weekend, buying a prepared Thanksgiving dinner for Thursday evening, and then spending the rest of the time taking advantage of the restaurants in the area. All-you-can-eat seafood buffets were big in Myrtle Beach at that time, and we would usually spend one evening indulging in as many crab legs as we could.

In 1994, I had to work the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, so Mom and Dad headed down to Myrtle Beach early and started prepping while I finished my shift. I got off work, went home, packed up the car, and was about to leave when I got a call from Mom.

“Oh good, we caught you. Don’t worry about coming down. Granny’s gone.”

Thanksgiving dinner that year was convenience store hot dogs on the way to go pick out her casket.

Looking back at that time, I wish I’d asked more questions. I wish I’d gotten a lot of recipes from her – her magnificent sweet potato pie recipe died with her, as did her recipe for chicken and dumplings (she called it “chicken slick”). I wish I’d gotten her green beans recipe. A few years after she died, I’d already moved to Houston and was eating dinner at a place called Goodson’s for the first time. I remember I ordered the large chicken fried steak – a mistake, since that came on a platter all its own and it overlapped the platter all around – with mashed potatoes and green beans. The second I sunk a tooth into the green beans I wondered why my grandmother had faked her death and moved to Texas to make green beans for a restaurant there – the taste was exactly the same.

I don’t have many memories of my childhood – generally it wasn’t an experience I’d prefer to remember – but the memory of those lazy Sunday afternoons with Granny are among my fondest.

As I said in the Facebook post, I thought of that time snapping beans and shelling peas on Granny’s back porch as a chore, and I really didn’t want to be doing it. Looking back as an adult, however, I’d give anything for one more meal with my Granny.

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Breaking Radio Silence

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Sorry I haven’t written in a few days. I just haven’t had it in me. And with that, here goes a stream-of-consciousness barrage of words from the last little while.

Thursday morning, I learned a friend of mine who had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer had passed away. I didn’t feel much like doing the truly optional parts of my checklist, and I was particularly sad because of the news, so I didn’t choose to write about it, though I should have.

By the time I’d recovered enough to start my day, it was time to make preparations for my radio show, which this time included something special.

The radio station that I deejay for was founded as a support community for one particular server on a superhero MMORPG called City of Heroes. We started playing the game to stay in touch with my wife’s best friend and eventually we joined the radio station community and, later, became DJs ourselves. I also found my most recent job through the contacts that I made at the station, so I’ve gotten a good deal of life experience out of that relationship.

The game itself shut down in late 2012 and the station went on to support two more games, later dropping one and picking up two more, and eventually becoming “game-agnostic,” meaning that the station doesn’t officially support one game over another – as long as the game has a social component, there’s a possibility that the station could have a show in the game. (In-game shows basically consist of character avatars gathering in one place and roleplaying a dance party, with game-related conversation going on amongst the participants and the DJs keeping the conversation going if and when there’s a lull.)

Our original game, City of Heroes, has a fiercely loyal fanbase. Many players that I know through the station have vowed never to give the game’s distribution company another dime on any future game, and many have never let go of the dream that one day, City would reopen.

Recently, it was announced that a third party had acquired enough of the game code to reopen the game environment of City of Heroes as an XMPP chat server. Roleplay could happen, but powers, even those designed solely for travel, weren’t present. Neither were enemies or NPCs (non-player characters, like mission contacts or random people on the street, for instance). But enough of the game environment was present to recreate a station show in our original format. The new product is called Paragon Chat, a take on the “City” portion of City of Heroes (heroes were all based in a fictional city called Paragon City).

Paragon Chat went live on Tuesday evening, and so I spent part of my Thursday setting up the chat client and preparing my avatar for hosting my show in the game’s nightclub, where the station hosted many of their shows.

The show itself was awash with nostalgia. Characters who haven’t seen one another for years were getting reacquainted, players were still trying to figure out what worked and what didn’t. (The chat client’s functionality is being improved slowly over what appears to be a planned timetable, so while some costume pieces and game commands may not be available now, they could be in the future.) I had done special shows in conjunction with in-game events in between City’s sunset and Paragon Chat’s introduction in the other games that we supported, and the most I ever got at one show was seven players and maybe 30 listeners to the station’s livestream. Thursday night at one point I had 24 players at the show, and peaked at 45 listeners. It seemed our community was happy to come home, or as close to home as we could get.

At around 7:30 pm, or roughly halfway through my show, I checked my blood pressure, and it was significantly elevated, so I kept an eye on it every few minutes or so. At one point, it topped out at 200/118. I was determined to finish my show, and besides, my wife was at work and would be until 11:00 pm, so I stuck it out, keeping a careful eye on things and promising both my wife and the DJ that followed my show that I’d call 911 if things got as bad as that 200/118 reading again. (The DJ that takes over from me is local, which is a rare occurrence for our station. Our DJs broadcast from all over the United States, as well as Canada and Australia, so finding multiple DJs in one metropolitan area is rare. The only two cities that we have multiple DJs that aren’t romantically involved with one another are Austin and Chicago. I brought this up because my follow-up DJ was prepared to put the show on autopilot and drive me to the ER herself.) I made it through the show and when my wife got home, we went off to the ER again, for the second time in two days. Once again, I got a Clonidine and was discharged without much fanfare.

Friday morning I saw my doctor for my annual physical and to pick up the results of the bloodwork. And that’s where things get really cool.

A1C is a measurement of blood glucose over the previous three months. A normal A1C for someone without diabetes ranges from 4 to 6, with prediabetes diagnosed for anyone ranging from 5.7 to 6.4. An A1C reading of 6.5 or higher over two tests is indicative of diabetes. My most recent A1C (when I was diagnosed) was 10.4, well into the range of uncontrolled diabetes. The lab that took my reading considers a normal range to be 4.0 to 5.6.

My A1C was 5.7. But the news got better.

A person is considered to have high cholesterol if their reading is over 200. Mine has historically been anywhere from 230-250. Triglycerides should be under 150. My highest reading has been over 900. HDL cholesterol (the good kind) should be above 39, and LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) should be below 100. Usually my HDL reading has been between 25 and 28, and my LDL has been over 150 at one point.

My cholesterol was 128. Triglycerides were 288, still not within normal range, but far better than they’ve ever been as long as I’ve been checking them. HDL was 33, still not normal, but headed in the right direction. My LDL was 37.

And to top everything off, I’d lost 16 pounds in six weeks.

So I rewarded myself yesterday with a day of not bothering with the checklist at all and just doing whatever was going to make me happy. And I still didn’t feel like writing, so I didn’t.

So that basically catches you up on the last couple of days. It’s been an emotional roller coaster, but with far more good than bad. I just wanted to savor it in the moment, knowing I could report in with the good news when I got around to it.

And I just got around to it. How’ve you been?