family, relationships

A little excerpt about my grandmother, her friends, and a Georgia train


I loved my grandmother and I have fond memories of staying at her house on Buttermilk road, waking up to the whistle of a train. She taught me how to snap beans and pin curl her short silver hair. Chelsea and I would stay a week with her and on Saturday night, I’d gather up all her bobby pins, a comb, and little cup of water, twist her hair into tiny little curls all over her head so that when she woke up the next morning, she’d have a head full of curls. It was the poor woman’s perm.

Grandmother had two close friends, Levada (Luh-vay-duh) and Annie Ruth, that would often stop over when we were there. We looked forward to their visits because we’d all pile into Levada’s metallic blue 1967 Cadillac and “run” to the store together to get beauty essentials like Dippity Do and Aqua Net.

One Saturday, in the hottest part of the afternoon, I was relaxing in grandmother’s recliner, closest to the window air conditioner unit, feeling the cool air on my face, when I saw Miss Levada’s blue Cadillac drive by like a streak of lightning.  “Grandmother! Look, it’s Levada and Annie Ruth! They’re coming up the driveway.”

Grandmother said, “Oh, good, maybe they can carry us to the store. I need a few things from Winn Dixie.”

Levada and Annie Ruth were opposites. Levada moved about like there was an emergency to which she was rushing, arms swinging, and her muscular, slightly bowed legs walking like a man in a dress. She reminded me of Robert Duvall. When the car door shut, she was at our door step within seconds, while Annie Ruth was still pushing and pulling her 300-pound body out of the car. Annie Ruth was more like a snail, slowly moving through life as she carried the equivalent of two extra people with her at all times.

When Levada got inside she said, “Well, I declare, Savannah, you were just knee high to a grasshopper last time I saw you!  Look how you’ve grown! Honey come here and gimme a huuug!”  Levada wrapped her arms around me tight and squeezed so hard I heard some of my vertebrae pop. I didn’t mind her hugs even though she smelled of liniment and Charles of the Ritz perfume. It had only been a couple of months since I’d seen her last, but she was known for her exaggerations. She quickly moved on to Chelsea and picked her up and loved on her, too. While she and grandmother talked about the store and what they needed, I poked my head out the front door looking for Annie Ruth, and I saw her swaying back and forth like a penguin coming up to the front step.

“Hey, Miss Annie Ruth! How are you?” I smiled and held the door open for her. She was huffing and trying to get air in her lungs and holding on to the railing. It was 2:30 p.m. and the Georgia heat was set and the cicadas were singing their song of fire. I grabbed her other arm, which was slippery with sweat already, and hoisted her up the stairs right into the house where she sat down in my grandmother’s recliner to catch her breath. When she did she said, “Well, I’m fine, thank you, Savannah, at least someone cares about how I’m doin’” all the while glaring at Levada.

When the elderly conversation turned to bursitis and bowel movements, I dashed into grandmother’s room where I kept my stuff. I loved going in her room and looking at all her lotions and perfumes and jewelry, sitting atop beautiful crocheted doilies. She always let me use her moisturizer and it made me feel so grown up. I combed my hair and rubbed Avon Handy Frog moisturizer all over my face and hands. I knew we’d be leaving soon for the store expedition and I wanted to be sufficiently prepared for the trip because when these three ladies said, “Let’s go!” you’d better be ready to go that second.

Sure enough, Levada said, “Well, let’s get a move on, I’ve got to get some more hair pins so I can do my hair tonight for church tomorrow.”

Grandmother relied on Levada to take her around town because my mother and uncle insisted my grandmother give up her license due to her age.  But Levada was about 73 years old and not much of a better driver.

Grandmother, Chelsea and I sat in the backseat of the Cadillac and Annie Ruth in front while Levada drove. She drove like she walked; fast, like she was rushing to a fire. Grandmother graciously sat in between me and Chelsea. I don’t know if she did it so that Chelsea and I could each sit by her reducing the possibility that we’d fuss at each other, or so that we could each hold on to an arm while Levada swerved in and out of traffic, accelerating with each lane change, cutting people off as if she had the authority of a police cruiser.

We girls looked at each other, wide-eyed and mouthed the words “She can’t drive!’ as our heads bobbled side to side with each veer of the car. The woman was bound and determined not to allow more than ten feet between us and the car in front of us, traveling at speeds of 60 mph, but that presented a dilemma when that car’s brake lights lit up, and Levada, heavy footed, pressed her brakes, causing us all to fly forward. “These idiots don’t know the first thing about driving!” she’d shout. I was not prone to car sickness, but this tested my stomach toughness. We wondered later to each other if our mother was aware how bad a driver Levada was and if she knew she was taking us with her on her mid-day jaunts. Maybe our mother would reconsider and give grandmother her license back.

We survived the Winn Dixie trip on Saturday, only to tempt fate again the next morning when Levada pulled in like an EMT to take us to church. I said extra prayers on the way, hoping we’d make it safe, but just in case we didn’t, I figured, at least I’d die praying, on the way to God’s house and maybe He’d be especially happy about that when I saw Him.

I loved my grandmother’s country church. It’s where I learned how to sing a hymn. Every Sunday, I could follow along the first verse and chorus just fine, but as it always happened, the congregation started singing words and suddenly I was lost and I never knew where they found the next words to sing. Out of the blue, it clicked with me that they dropped down to verse two! I’ll never forget that day; the day the key to hymn singing was given and the mystery was unlocked for me. I felt so privileged and I couldn’t wait to share it with Chelsea. But she didn’t get it, nor did she care.

I remember listening to the preacher. I didn’t know a whole lot of what he was talking about, but he seemed angry. Sin made him angry. Hell made him so angry he spit a lot. And both things, sin and hell, made him sweat so much that he kept a folded hanky next to his Bible on the podium. He’d occasionally wipe the drops of sweat from his red face and forehead and continue hollering.  I knew I needed to stay away from those two things, but I wasn’t sure I could get as upset as he was about it.

After the sermon, all of my grandmother’s friends came up and hugged and talked to Chelsea and me and told us how sweet and cute we were and how happy they were that we came. They said that my grandmother loved us a lot and she was proud of us.  That always made me feel good inside when they said those things. I secretly wished I lived with my grandmother and then I’d go to this church and join the choir since I knew how to sing hymns.

After church and the scary ride home, grandmother and Chelsea and I would go inside and make lunch together. We girls helped peel potatoes, make sweet tea, corn bread, and cook green beans from the beans we’d snapped the day before. In the afternoon, with an ice cold glass of lemonade or sweet tea, we’d throw a blanket down and enjoy the shade under a huge oak tree that must have been growing for five decades in her front yard. We talked or read or drew pictures. One day, I decided to write a poem.

“Grandmother, I miss granddaddy. I want to write a poem about him.”

“You do? I’m surprised you remember much about him. You were only 4 when he died.”

“I remember him.” I got out my pen and paper.  “I’ll let you read it when I’m done.”

I worked on it and I don’t remember the entire poem, but there was a line in it that read, “and I cherish my granddaddy.” I read that line to my grandmother.

She said, “Well, ‘cherish’ isn’t a word that we should use.”

“Oh. What do you mean, grandmother? Is cherish a bad word?”

“Cherish means that you hold something or someone very close to your heart.”

“Oh, I do!  I hold him close to my heart!” I loved my granddaddy with all my heart. I didn’t have a lot of time with him, but I remember that he was kind and sweet. I missed him a lot.

Grandmother pressed on, “Well, I guess it’s ok this time, but it’s not really the best word to use. There are probably better words to use.”

My grandmother and I were very similar in our personalities and our opinions and I loved her with all my heart, too, and enjoyed spending time with her. I think this was the only time I remember feeling different from her. I didn’t understand why she didn’t like the word, “cherish”, and I kept the word in my poem.  I DID cherish my granddaddy. I held him dear and close to my heart.  Even at that age, around eleven, I had a sense that what grandmother was saying had nothing to do with my poem at all, but some other part of her life story that I would never know about. She didn’t feel comfortable expressing tender feelings about him and to this day I don’t know why.

At the end of our day together, Chelsea and I got to sleep with grandmother. And every night, we’d hear the train make its presence known. It began with a low far away hum.  And then a whistle that sounded like it was all the way in Smyrna. I loved that sound. It made me feel safe and loved, like I did with my grandmother. Then, the sound grew as close as it could, as if it was coming through the front door and I thought I could feel the vibrations in my chest. I’d listened until I couldn’t hear the train anymore, until it was gone, making its way to its next destination.

I laid next to grandmother holding her hand wondering if people were inside the train and where they were going. I thought of myself growing up and riding a train someday going somewhere. Or maybe I’d stay right here and never go anywhere. Or maybe, I thought, the train, had brought me here, to this place, with a grandmother who loved me for me, away from the family fighting, the invisibility, and the secrets.

I don’t mind the sound of a train. It reminds me of my grandmother and the summer time spent with her. It also reminded me that I had to go back. The train brought me there, but I also had go back home.

domestic violence, relationships, school safety

Those Parkland Kids


Eighteen days ago, another fatal school shooting. It’s sickening to think of those children running for their lives, hiding behind desks and doors, praying the rapid-fire shots don’t find their classroom, crying, texting parents and siblings, telling them maybe for the last time how much they love them.

How are these young students to continue about in U.S. history class, geometry and band practice as if their teacher’s voices aren’t muffled by gun shots and screams on high volume in their heads. Can they sit at their desks without the visions of that day running through their minds like a horror film?

Tomorrow they head back to their classrooms and I can’t stop from thinking about what it will be like for them.

We humans can get used to really bad things, but God forbid we ever get used to this.

Some have called for a revision of all schools to be more like airports and courthouses, like we did after 9-11. Others have suggested making it more difficult to get an AR-15, and still others want all assault weapons banned.

It’s an unfortunate reality that our children are in danger; and we owe it to them to protect them.  We continue to banter back and forth with ideas, but it is time for action. Stop the talk and let’s make our schools safe. And while we’re at it, let’s make our homes safe, too.

Let’s allow children to be children, make mistakes without fear of abuse, yet experience loving discipline that doesn’t rescue them from the natural consequences of their choices. Our children need to have responsibilities and to feel that their contribution and cooperation in their family is needed.  Parents, let’s provide a loving (affectionate, honest, laughter-filled, abuse-free, disciplined) place for them to come home to everyday.

My hope for our country is that we stand up for all of our children and put their safety first. Without safety, one has nothing; meaning a person who is in danger for his or her life, whether emotionally or physically, is on a sort of mental lockdown, and he or she is unable to fully learn, grow, or boldly give and receive love.

We also need to address the breakdown in our society of common moral values; the normalcy of violence in just about everything we see on TV, video games, and movies, the sense of entitlement we instill in our children, and the breakdown of the family.

Let’s help our children succeed.


domestic violence, relationships

I’m scared to go home today

Dear Pastor,

I’m scared to go home today. My husband is ramped up, I can see it in his eyes. He gave me a dirty look when I dropped the kids off at Sunday school. I think it was because my son was crying and didn’t want me to leave and I was consoling him.  I’ll find out after we get home, I’m sure.

I’m scared to go home today because I know he’ll either yell or hit or ignore me or do any number of things to make me feel afraid and small as a thimble, so alone, unloved, confused, and worst of all, powerless. I hope you can help me.

I’m scared to go home because today’s sermon was about submission and my husband will tell me that I don’t submit enough, that that’s why he does what he does. He’ll say he’s the head of the home and that I need to get in line. Oh, God, please help me, I don’t like where he’s going.

I’m scared to go home today because he’s so angry and when the doors close behind us, the smile fades off his face, and the darkness in his eyes settles in. He becomes a monster that I tip toe around. I speak kindly to it, feed it, pet it gently, everything one would do if one lived with a rabid wolf. I can’t relax and be myself, laughing and playing freely. I sleep with one eye open.

Pastor, I’m scared to go home today. Please don’t tell me it’s my fault, and that I push his buttons, that’s why he’s so angry with me.  I’ve tried everything I know how not to do the things that cause him to lose control, but that doesn’t stop him from hurting me. And please don’t tell me that I don’t submit enough because I can’t continue to submit to his evil ways.  And for the love of God, don’t suggest more marriage counseling. We’ve tried that, and everything I shared in counseling was used against me later at home.

I need to know that you will stand by me as I try to find safety for my children and me and that you won’t shun me if I leave. I’m tired of hearing “just hang in there with him and pray him through this.”  I need to know that I will continue to be in good standing with you and my church family. I need to know that you will pray for me as I navigate these unknown waters.


A woman in your flock


If you’re scared to go home, afraid of your spouse, find a trusted friend to talk to today.  You can also call 1-800-799-7233, the National Domestic abuse hotline.



Sexy Love


Love is in the air, do you smell it? Smells like dark chocolate to me.

I don’t hate Valentine’s Day, but I’ve never been a huge fan of it until I became a mom and spent hours decorating shoe boxes with tissue paper and hearts and signing 62 miniature cards, and deciding “do we get all the classmates a box of candy hearts with messages of sexy love on them, or just for the special friends, but we’d hate leaving anyone out, wouldn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings”, so I get the candy boxes for every tiny student and I leave the store spending a cool eighty bucks (I had to buy shoes because I didn’t have any shoe boxes either.) I’m a rule follower, when I’m not breaking them. Oh, and I bought myself some chocolate. It was 72% dark so it’s ok.

After gobbling the chocolate, the only part of that scenario I enjoyed was getting home and putting all of our wares on the kitchen table, with crayons, markers, stickers, and glue, and, if we were lucky, glitter, and decorating with my elementary aged munchkins until there was no more white space on those boxes.  That lasted about 7 1/2 minutes.

Then we were all tired of it. But there were all those CARDS to sign!  So we broke it up into manageable bite-sized segments. I had my son and daughter sign their names on 5 cards then take a break to do homework or read the Bible.  I’m kidding. I didn’t make them do homework.

Funny, they seemed to get all their Valentine’s Day cards done in one sitting that way.

Last night I came home from being at the bar with my homies (again, I’m kidding, I don’t have homies), and my husband was changing all the light bulbs in the kitchen. He’s had back pain the last few days, but he was up on a stepstool, unscrewing the old bulbs, screwing in new. He’s my handyman; he fixes everything around here, and not only that, he maintains it all so that it won’t break down. Truth is, he likes these light bulbs called “flood lights”, making it nice and white and appearing as close to the sun as possible. That’s why I keep a pair of polarized sun glasses in my gadget drawer.

Why am I telling you all this? There are so many little things we do for each other that define what real love is and we often forget that. The kindnesses we show those we love, our closest ones, our spouses and children, mean the world to them. We should keep doing them. Keep cooking dinner, changing the light bulbs, doing glitter projects, staying up late helping with algebra (if that’s possible), keeping our anger in check, listening, reading to our children, whatever it is that defines love, do it.

Love isn’t only sending a sentimental card and flowers, it’s much more than that. It’s all the things you’ve done before and after the romance that matter, too. That’s sexy love.


The lies we believe


I’ve believed lies before. I think most of us have, if we’re honest.

Some lies cause less damage than others, like the commercial that said a certain carpet cleaner would make pet stains disappear. I believed their claims, yet no matter how many times I used that cleaner the stain returned after a few hours. The only harm done was that I lost about $5.47 in the deal.

A more harmful lie to believe is when an abuser tells you he will change.

His claims simply aren’t true. How many times have you heard, “I’m sorry, it won’t happen again”? How many times are you going to believe it? If it was true like he says it is, his abusive attitudes and behaviors would have stopped by now. He would not have hit you, called you that ugly name, shamed you in front of your friends, hidden money from you, pushed you, etc., a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th time.

When that stain keeps reappearing, or the abuse keeps happening, that’s a sure sign that you might be believing a lie.  If you are, the cost to you is being trapped in a dangerous cycle of abuse, and that my sweet friend is too high a price to pay.

If you need help, please don’t hesitate to call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.  Trained advocates are available to talk with you 24 hours a day and will keep your conversation confidential.


One decision can change the world

mom and child

It’s been 20 years since I left my abuser. I have two children from that marriage, a son and a daughter, and I’m in awe at how they’ve risen above the dark and difficult road they have had to walk. I couldn’t be prouder of them.

I used to feel tremendous guilt and shame for not doing enough to protect them from the abuse, although I left when my oldest was 3 years old. After the divorce, I fought my ex in court for two years because he was putting the children in situations that compromised their well-being, physically and emotionally. He was jealous of the affection the children felt for me and he told them they showed more love to me than they showed him and that it made him sad and mad. When he returned them the next Sunday night after their weekend visit with him, they walked slowly towards me with their heads down, not making eye contact until they got into the house and into their bedrooms. It took hours before my son and daughter felt relaxed enough to express happy feelings again in my presence.

At one point, he was evicted from his apartment and he refused to tell me where he was taking our children for the weekends. When I asked where he was staying for the weekend, he proclaimed in front of our small children, “I don’t have to tell you anything, bitch!” And with that, he grabbed my son and daughter and drove off in a car that I wasn’t sure would make it to the end of our street.

There are so many other heart wrenching stories I could tell you, and I will, as I write more, but suffice it to say today, that no non-abusing parent ever wants their baby or babies to ever go through one second of abuse. Ever. It kills me to think of it. But the moment I decided to get help and leave that son of a bitch, was the moment that I changed the world for my son and my daughter. No longer were they going to be exposed to his violence. My son wasn’t going to grow up thinking it was OK to hit and abuse women. My daughter wasn’t going to believe it was OK to be abused.

I changed the world with one decision. That one act of leaving my abuser was the hardest thing I had ever done up to that point in my life. I was a timid, fearful person. But I had to be courageous and do it, and I was fortunate enough to have the help of friends and family, but ultimately, it was my decision to leave.

If you, too, left your abuser, regardless of how long you stayed in your marriage, you made a difference for you and your children, too. That one decision, my friend, changed the world.