Sunday, July 30, 2017

You've Come A Long Way Baby!

I was a scary looking baby from the jump.

I'm turning fifty seven in a few short hours from now. Fifty seven??? That's a lot closer to than from sixty, which is also pretty scary when you think about.

I went from kinda cute as a fat baby to pretty cute as a toddler...then the bottom dropped out.


I can't believe my parents actually bought this school picture, must have been a pity purchase on their part.

I continued my awkward phase, and obvious obsession with ugly red dresses with white collars for quite a few years...sheesh.

I bounced back to semi awkward but still dressed in red and white, kinda changing it up a bit with this culotte dress my mother made for me. Dang I loved that sailor suit!

I was hard to look at for more years than I care to remember. It's also hard to believe I had a happy and excellent childhood, growing up looking the way I did.

I made a short comeback after a few more horrible pics in elementary, middle and most of high school. I finally got a reprieve my junior and senior year in high school.

I have scrolled through every picture I have of me on my computer, Face book and phone.

The first decent picture I had taken of me since that high school photo of me as a cheerleader (yes I made Captain, thank you very much) was when Massey, my youngest child had her senior pictures taken early one freezing cold morning at Starr's Mill. The photographer took a candid shot of us both, just (probably) to make me feel included. I didn't have on a stitch of makeup and had gotten only two hours of sleep after getting off late the night before, but I really liked the picture.

I like it because this was around the time Massey and I became true best friends. Tim and I had been struggling financially for the past few years, almost losing our house and Tim was out of work. One of Massey's teachers took her senior pictures and let me make payments on them. They all turned out great,  by the way.

Massey was old enough to know we were dirt poor. She was a senior in high school and there were so many things we simply couldn't afford to do for her with all her other classmates.

Massey never complained...not once. She got to participate in a lot of things because I volunteered every chance I got and many other parents chipped in to help her as well.

I think that was around the time I realized what life was really all about...and unashamedly, so did she.

People bought us groceries, gave us gift cards, bought our Thanksgiving dinner and pumped out our septic tank after it backed up. One guy even paid to have our A/C unit fixed one hot summer and everyone, generally saw us through the storm.

I used to think that was the worst time in our lives, but it wasn't. It was the best.

So here I am again, photographed once again without makeup. Makeup tends to hide things. I like to show and experience things.

We struggled for about four or five more years, but then just like that... it happened. The Karma train rolled into the station and picked us all up, free of charge, with all dues paid.

My good friends and family from Georgia sent me to Florida to live, with tears in my eyes and cards I've kept to this day, and read again every so often.

I've existed for fifty seven years, but lived the past decade...thanks to much love, affection and genuine, sincere kindness.

I used to think of myself as being middle aged, but unless I live to be one hundred fifteen am pretty much on the rapid downside of life.

That's okay too.

I came into this world and after decades of floundering,  feel like I've made it somewhat a better place.

Am I the best person?

Hell to the No!

Am I the worst?

Not even close.

If I had to (and will be doing so sooner than later) write my own obituary, would certainly include this:

If you never have bad times, how would you be able to tell when you are having good times?

Happy Birthday to Me.

Life comes with no guarantees.

I once spoke at a funeral for a relative of ours a few years back. Another family member came up to me after the service, shook my hand and said he really connected with what I said about life.

I don't remember verbatim but was along these lines...

"Life is the instant you take in a breath, exhaling is never guaranteed."

Happy Birthday to Me.

Till next time...COTTON

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Riding The Karma Train

I mean, I like hot weather but this is one hot summer. Even the locals are saying so. Sometimes I go outside and the heat literally takes your breath away. It doesn't help we have three fur covered JawJa dogs already trying to get used to all the flamingos (Egrets) over our back fence and the millions of tiny dragons (lizards) scurrying every which a way every single time you open a door. Heck, you don't even have to open a door. They creep across the window screens, the side of the house, the walkway and driveway, plants, bushes and street. It's like they are taking over the planet...beginning in Orlando.

I have four ice trays I keep in the freezer (I don't drink the water here, and buy bagged ice)  dump it into the dogs water bowl out back, changing it three times a day. Luckily we have all ceramic tile floors and they love to chill on that.

Problem #1 solved.

Next problem is, once they get cooled off, immediately want to be on the couch or love seat.

I went to my favorite (sketchy strip mall) Big Lots and caught sofa and love seat covers on sale. Fifteen bucks. I covered my couch and love seat, throw them in the wash twice a week and works like a charm.

Problem #2 solved.

I was freaking out about having to get my Florida tag for my car, my Georgia one expires on Monday. I tried every available way to somehow renew my Georgia tag for twenty bucks as opposed to the almost $400 it was going to cost here in Florida. A couple of weeks ago I decided to just renew on line with Georgia and hope the decal got here in time. I was reading the tag receipt Georgia had mailed to me in Newnan, which got forwarded to us here in Florida through our address change with the post office. It read the Georgia DOR indicated this vehicle was no longer insured. When I moved down here, Tim added me to his insurance here in Fla.

Strike one.

Looks like I'd have to bite the $400 bullet after all, which sucked because my car note was due on the same day. I made every single shift my own, going above and beyond and then some with each and every table. Worked out pretty nicely for me, made more money in one week than I have since starting there. Problem was I was still almost a hundred bucks short.

Strike two.

I stopped at the gas station the other day, the day before my tag appointment. I had four quarters in the cup holder. I took them in and bought a dollar scratch off ticket. I won two dollars so asked for two more tickets. I stuck them in the cup holder and went home. I was filling out all the paperwork for the Florida car tag, getting Tim to sign a Power of Attorney since his name was on the title too. Got everything all filled out, insurance cards and license copies and set them to the side. When I moved the papers on the table I noticed the lottery tickets. Scratched the first one...a big fat nothing.

Scratched the second and yelled "I think I won the forty bucks prize!"  Massey came into the living room, looked at the ticket and read the rules in the tiny microscopic print.

"No Mom, you won every prize on the ticket!"

Bottom of the ninth, two outs, full count, bases loaded and I knocked it out of the park!

Problem #3 solved!

I am a huge believer in Karma. I am far from perfect, actually no where close to it but try my best to be a decent person and always think of others.  I was all worried about not having enough for the car tag but was even more worried because I had also offered to cook dinner for a friend's family here in Orlando who are going through a lot right now and knew I was going to have to cancel. Now I had enough for my car tag and enough to buy the groceries to cook dinner for their family.

My appointment was for two o'clock the next day. I got to the tag office right on time, sat down and waited for my number to come up on the screen, telling which window to go to. At five after two, my number appeared and said "Estimated wait time one hour forty nine minutes."

Shut the front door!

The only thing that made me feel better were all the numbers which had "Six hours" in the estimated wait time. Granted they called me back a little after three but still didn't get out of there until four o'clock. I got almost done with the paper work when the woman helping me asked me to move down to another window. It was time for her break.

The (next) woman asked me if I was paying cash. I told her I didn't know if they took cash so had gone by the bank and deposited the money into my account. They charged me ten more dollars to use my debit card...go figure. They sure made it hard for me to give them $387.00 but at least it's done. She asked me if I wanted to get my Florida driver's license as well, for only $55 more. My Georgia license doesn't expire until next year and I still own a home in Georgia so declined her generous offer. I bet there were over two hundred people in that tag office and there are still six more tag offices in Orange County. Government work at its best!

I called Massey on my way home from the grocery store and told her to preheat the oven and peel what potatoes I had there. By six fifteen I had dinner cooked and packed up for my friend's family and was dropping it off at their house, in a torrential downpour with lightning cracking every ten seconds, cloud to ground. I was drenched the minute I opened the car door.

By six forty five, the sun was out again and I was out on my brother's boat with him, his neighbor, Massey and Tim.

I had life extremely easy for twenty years with Tim. The last ten have been the hardest but ultimately the best. It's brought out the best in us and the best in all our family and friends.

You simply have to keep on keeping on, take the bad with the good and hope it eventually gets better. If it doesn't, try again.

One thing I've learned these past ten months is change is hard the older you get, but is much more rewarding once you give it your all.

I'm a smart aleck by nature (just ask Tim) and usually find humor in most every situation. I enjoy laughing a lot more than crying, besides, crying seldom helps. Who wants to look at a puffy faced cry baby with a full snot locker?

We are making the last mortgage payment on our home in Georgia in two weeks. That will give us $1500 extra a month, not to mention the money from renting it out.

As my grandmother used to say (Good Lord willing and the creek don't rise) we are not only turning the page but starting a new chapter. This was a wonderful place to live for over twenty years and will always have fond memories but is time to make new ones, in Florida.

I think I'm so much about Karma because any sane person (I barely resemble those last two words) should realize, nothing great is going to happen to you until you do something great for someone else.

Case in point.

I have a great female manager at my new place. All my managers are great but of course I bond more with the female (I'm too old to sleep with male managers anymore)...totally kidding.

I was in the back of the restaurant putting my things into my locker before clocking in. She and I talk quite a bit, especially when closing together late at night so she pretty much knows all about me...I like to talk. The cook who's family I take dinner to was in the back doing prep work and told me how much they had enjoyed dinner the night before when my female manager came into the kitchen. My manager looked at me and said "I seriously think you are the nicest person I've ever met."

That made my day. It really did.

It also made me realize I was on the right path of life, which lucky for me was thirty minutes away from the favorite place.

I care nothing about being the richest, prettiest, most popular or (never gonna happen) smartest; but being called the nicest is the best compliment a person could ever receive, in my opinion.

Ellen De(generous) sums it up perfectly:

This Blog has helped me sort my life out quite a bit over the past several years. I hope it has helped others do that as well.

To date my Blog's had 195,585 hits on it... including people from the USA, France, Ukraine, Kenya, South Korea, United Arab Emirates, Argentina, Australia, Canada and Czechia.

You keep reading and I'll keep writing.

I'll keep trying and so should you.

Till next time, COTTON

PS not even gonna check for typos tonight, you'll get the drift. Can alays edit later.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Betty Jean Cotton

"At the end of life, what really matters is not what we bought but what we built; not what we got but what we shared; not competence but our character and not our success but our significance. Live a life that matters."

I found this quote writtten in a letter I sent to my mother in law about two years ago at Christmas when she first became very ill. She kept it all this time.

I met Betty for the first time when Tim and I were on our honeymoon in California, September 1990. We had already been living together (in sin) for over two years before getting married so had gotten to know her through her weekly calls on Saturday mornings. She called all of her kids once a week.

By the time I finally met her, we were already great friends and quickly grew to love her even more.

We started our honeymoon in San Francisco, then went to Sausalito, Napa and then spent a few days with Betty in Sacramento, taking a trip together to Tahoe to gamble for a day. I bet Tim had to pull her off the tables three different times on the way out the door. The girl knew how to gamble. She insisted on driving our rental car  back to Sacramento since she was more familiar with the way. She gunned the little car onto the entrance ramp to the highway, quickly discovering she was on the ramp leading to the Burger King parking lot beside the entrance ramp to the highway. Tim drove after that.

I don't know how many times Tim and I have laughed about that over the years. Betty was a hot mess long before the term was ever invented. She was a delight to be around.

She couldn't care less about housework. Her house was tidy, just didn't really care much about vacuuming or dusting.

She lived with four big dogs, all giant schnauzers and standard poodles and trust me, they had run of the place. She and Tim went somewhere together one of the days we were there and were gone for most of the day while I stayed home to relax in the sunshine and read. I decided to clean her house for her, as a surprise. I spent about four hours cleaning from top to bottom, scrubbing bathrooms and the kitchen as well.

Betty never even noticed.

Tim and I have laughed about that one too over the years. It simply wasn't important to her. What was important was her yard, her dogs and her painting.

After retiring from the state she relocated to St. Augustine to be closer to her kids and grand kids. She a had a small house that was packed with antiques and was a bric-a-brac museum. She was in her sixties by then but strong as a work horse. She survived breast cancer and after a mastectomy had no qualms about having one flat side, rather wearing it as her badge of honor. She put up an entire six foot privacy fence around her back yard with just help from an old (feeble at best) man down the street. Then she dug two huge koi ponds, lining them and running water to them. Then she built a brook around the side and back of her house with water falls and more fish. She built benches and swings and chairs and awnings and the back yard was an absolute oasis. She had lime trees, lemon trees, a greenhouse she also built and had plants and flowers everywhere.

We'd go visit her every year when the kids were little. She was affectionately called "Grand Mama Mama" by all her grand kids. She always made us Bouillabaisse and we ate out back under all the trees with Spanish Moss dripping from them. It was her own little slice of Heaven. She owned two German Sheperds,  two Jack Russells, three Collies and a couple of mutts. She had about ten cats with about twenty more strays living out front of her front porch door and yard. Betty took care of any creature that happened by and kept them all fed and watered. I guess when you had six children to raise at an early age, animals were easy peasy.

You could have stuffed a king sized pillow with all the dog and cat hair but didn't bother her one bit. I knew better than to try and clean for her...learned that lesson on my honeymoon!

She'd give you the shirt off her back. She was the most generous woman I ever met. She lived a simple life and never wanted for more. She had a heart of gold. She knew how my own mother had loved antiques and gave me so many (really) nice things over the years. We have a storage unit here in Orlando packed to the gills with even more she gave us when she had to give up her house and go to assisted living.

She only came to visit us once in Georgia, too worried about leaving her animals for long but had a good friend come over to sit with the herd one weekend and came for a visit.

That was back when the kids were younger, TJ had just started high school. We had our first Boxer, Rosie back then and Betty was all excited to meet her. We invited all Tim's brothers and the grand kids over for a cook out one afternoon.

She refused to let us make Rosie get off that bench, she said she enjoyed having her grand dog so close. Looks like Rosie was enjoying it as well. I can't tell you how many times we've laughed about this too!

The past couple of years haven't been very kind to Betty. Cancer revisited her once again, this time in her lungs...her non smoker lungs. She never smoked a day in her life.

Massey, Zach and TJ went to visit her while I was still living in Georgia. She was too weak to walk so TJ simply scooped her up in his arms and carried her to his car, borrowing a wheelchair and putting it in his trunk. They took her out to eat at her favorite place and got her out for an afternoon. Have I mentioned what good kids I have?

Massey and I went to visit her a few months ago and she was too weak to even sit up in bed.

 Broke my heart.

Of course she was still alert as ever, sharp as a tack, just trapped in a crumbling body. She had a room mate, also a Betty. Their beds were about six feet apart with a curtain you could draw between them. Room Mate Betty was able to come and go, not bed ridden at all and wasn't there when we first arrived. After about an hour, Room Mate Betty came into the room and our Betty introduced me to her.

Seemed like a really nice woman, and they seem to get along well, which is a good thing when you live six feet from each other waiting to be six feet under.

So Room Mate Betty goes over to her side and draws the thin curtain, I suppose to give us some privacy. I was laying on the bed next to  our Betty, stroking her head and holding hands with her. I remarked how nice her room mate was. Betty didn't skip a beat, she said "You know, she's a Republican...but a nice one."

Jeez Betty! It isn't an iron curtain she drew shut.

But that was Our Betty.

You see, Betty and I have exactly the same political views. Tim is a Republican although lately has been leaning Independent. I'm so far left I'm almost back to the right! Tim and I don't talk politics, never have.  Well maybe a couple of times, but didn't turn out so well. We do our political talking in the polling booth, as it should be done.

I'll never forget the time we went to visit Betty when she first moved to St. Augustine. We pulled in her tiny driveway behind her little truck which had a bumper sticker which read "No More Bushit". I thought it was funny, Tim declined to comment.

Tim borrowed my brother's big Ford truck today and moved the last of Betty's things out of her room today. I didn't go. He told me when they were there, Room Mate Betty was beside herself crying about our Betty's death, and told Tim:

"She was my best friend in the world."

I think we could all learn a lot from how our Betty and Room Mate Betty (both white) lived together, in a tiny cinder block room in a tiny cinder block hospice which was formerly a tiny cinder block hospital for African Americans Only in St. Augustine in the 1900's. (another travesty)

We're all different, and should embrace that as a good thing instead of butting heads over it.

So happy for Betty's release and know for certain she's in a better place. She was a wonderful person with a wonderful spirit.

You will be missed by this world, which truly needs more people like you in it. You led by example and we should all stand by yours.

Till next time... COTTON