Pimento Cheese, Love & Whatever…

I missed the memo about pimento cheese, love, and whatever…

One of the few benefits of being born when your parents are both 19 years old is that your grandparents are proportionately young.  My grandparents were active and vital during my childhood and as I grew into an adult, it was fascinating to get to know them and appreciate them in lots of different ways. 

I was lucky to have my paternal grandmother, Mona Mills Walker, in my life for a long, long time.  She lived to see me become a mom and seeing her hold my son when he was just a few weeks old was a tender moment that I will never, ever forget. 

It’s been a couple of years now since my Grandma died and I think it’s taken me a while to really reflect on the legacy she left me.  One thing I’ll always remember is that she had some wonderful and traditional notions of hospitality.  When guests came to call, she was ready with her world-famous pimento cheese spread and a box of Triscuits.  Her cooking was amazing, but it was this simple snack that everyone always begged her for.  And when she sent you on your way, it was always with a sack full of snacks for the road, including an extra tub of that deliciously tangy, unnaturally orange cheese spread. 

Another manifestation of her hospitality was that she kept the guest bedroom in her house wonderfully appointed with just about anything a visitor could need.  There was a luggage rack in the corner and a hair dryer tucked in the drawer of the dressing table, just like a hotel.  And there were always baskets full of magazines and paperbacks for quiet moments and bedtime reading. 

It was during a particularly lazy visit to my Grandma’s house that I spent a great deal of time perusing all those paperbacks.  She had a copy of Leo Buscalgia‘s “Love” and I quickly read it cover to cover. 

Dr. Buscalgia died back in 1989, but in his day, he was a bit of a sensation with the PBS crowd as he delivered unapologetically positive messages about the power of love.  To our 21st century sensibilities, he might seem a little corny and over the top, but it was clear from his words that he absolutely believed that people have the power to heal a lot of what’s wrong in the world just by opening themselves up to love.  He might have been on to something.

Now, my Grandma was never particularly affectionate or effusive, and I never begrudged her that.   But when I realized she was a fan of Leo Buscalgia’s, I kinda felt like I was on to her.  She might have sometimes been a bit tough and cool on the exterior, but underneath, there was a tender heart.  And I know she loved me. 

And here’s one more thing…we sometimes teased my Grandma that her tombstone would be inscribed with one word:  “Whatever”.  My Grandma said “whatever” before saying “whatever” was cool. 

But here’s the thing…she didn’t say it in a rude, dismissive way.  When my Grandma said “whatever” it was usually after she had delivered a treatise on what she thought would be the most productive and appropriate plan of action for the situation at hand.  She was a master organizer and she was kinda pushy, but in a good way.   “Whatever” was shorthand for “I’ve said my piece, you know I’m right, but do what you want.”   I can’t begin to do this dynamic any justice, but there was something graceful about it….maybe it was the way she delivered the word in her wonderfully deep, raspy southern drawl.  It was just kind of adorable how she would order everybody around, but then take that little moment to soften the matriarchal tyranny with just one word.

It’s now my hope that I’ll someday embody some of the best of my Grandma.  So for a start, I better get crackin’ on a signature recipe and a catchphrase.  Memo received.


The Immortality of Navy Brats

 I missed the memo about the immortality of Navy Brats. 

I went to four different elementary schools, three different junior highs, and mercifully, just one high school.  I’m a Navy brat, plus my mom had a bit of intra-city wanderlust, so we moved a lot.  I was a professional new kid and as a consequence, I learned to cope with change.  I am freakishly serene at the prospect of even cataclysmic upheaval.  I just…go with it.

And thanks to NPR, I recently learned that I may be immortal. See, I probably have what’s called “adaptive competence.”  Adaptive competence is the ability to bounce back when life throws you a curve ball, and it’s apparently a strong predictor of longevity.  When you roll with punches, you get to keep rolling for a long, long time.

Since “nothing is permanent except change” I suppose it’s good to accept or even embrace change.  I remember a couple of years ago when The Adam Carolla Show was signing off after it was announced that their radio home was going from a fun all talk format to really insufferably bad pop music  (and this is coming from me, the chic who loves Duran Duran and Katy Perry…)

As fans were calling to bitterly express their outrage, Adam Carolla said something that was really comforting and really great.  He challenged his listeners to think about some disappointment they had experienced…like losing a job, or getting dumped, and then to take the long view about it.  At the time, it seems like the world is coming to an end, but once you’ve moved on a bit, you can usually appreciate that what seemed like bad change at the time is usually the starting point to some other good change.  You get a new job, a better one.  You fall in love again, and this time, it’s the real thing.   It’s the old saw about closed doors and open windows.   And so it is for Adam Carolla and his crew…successful podcasts, book deals, and all sorts of good things have come to the talented people who were working on that show.

Whenever I encounter a person who lived in the same house from birth to graduation, who went to school with the same group of kids for a dozen years, I do feel a little pang of envy.  After all, stability is safe, change is always a little scary.  But then I’m mostly grateful that I’ve seen a lot of the country and developed lots and lots of adaptive competence…but who wants to live forever?

Memo received.

Gregory Peck

I missed the memo about Gregory Peck.

It’s Oscar night, so I thought it appropriate to think and write about, Oscar winner and former president of the Academy, Gregory Peck.

Like most people of my generation, my first experience of Gregory Peck was sitting in English class and watching him as Atticus Finch in the film adaptation of  “To Kill A Mockingbird.”   I’m thinking that if Gregory Peck had never made a film before or since, his performance in TKAM would have easily placed him in the Hollywood firmament as an enduring star.  But his role as Atticus Finch was just one of dozens; and thanks to Netflix, I’m slowly working my way through his body of work.

I blame credit Gregory Peck with planting the seed which ultimately germinated in my decision to attend law school.  I don’t do the kind of life-or-death work that Atticus Finch was doing, but sometimes, I get a tiny glimpse of how empowering and humbling it is to be an advocate.  Someone says, “Here…I have this problem that I can’t handle by myself.  I need someone to help me figure this out and be my voice.”  Wow.  

If that were the only memo that Gregory Peck helped to deliver, that would have been more than enough.  But there’s more.  Recently I happened upon a broadcast of “A Conversation With Gregory Peck” on PBS.  I was spellbound by his grace, his humility, and his quiet wisdom.  And even as a septuagenarian, he was still gorgeous.

Hearing  Gregory Peck reflect on his long life and some of his extraordinary experiences was pretty amazing.  It makes me mindful that it’s not quite enough just to live a good life,  you also have to connect with other people and share the things you know.  As a famous movie star, Gregory Peck had easy access to a platform for talking about all the things that he had and hadn’t figured out.  I’m just me, but I’ve got this little blog, so I’ll do my best. 

In the meantime, I’ll look forward to watching “To Kill A Mockingbird” about a hundred more times and I’ll hope my little Atticus gets the memo, too.

Memo received.

© 2011 Jamie Walker Ball


I missed the memo about onsie-ectomies.

For the uninitiated, a onsie is a little bodysuit with a snaps at the crotch.  It’s what all the cool babies are wearing these days, either as an undergarment on chilly days or as an outfit onto itself when it’s warm.   If you ever get knocked up and have a baby shower, you’ll get approximately 576 onesies as gifts.   

I went back to work when my perfect baby was about 9 weeks old.  The stars had aligned to allow my husband to be a stay at home dad, but I missed my baby desperately, so one afternoon my husband brought our darling boy to my office for a visit.  My sweet son chose this auspicious occasion to show us a new trick…pooping so prodigiously that the byproducts of his digestion escaped his diaper and migrated up his onesie–front and back. 

Faced with this mess (and with no changing table in the ladies’ room…fancy office towers hate babies…) I laid down a changing pad on the plush carpet and assessed the situation.  Usually, a onesie goes on and off over the baby’s head.  In this instance, that maneuver would have resulted in extensive cross-contamination.  So, I’ve done what parents in this situation have done since time immemorial. I grabbed a pair of scissors, and with surgical precision, I cut that onesie up the front and extricated my son from his poopy situation. 

I gotta admit…it was kind of fun.  I’d seen doctors and nurses cutting the clothing off of accident victims on medical TV shows, and I felt like I was reenacting a very low-stakes version of one of those scenarios. I had a nearly uncontrollable urge to say “STAT”!  (Seriously, it was a Code Brown!)

The lessons from this experience were many.  First, and most importantly, never underestimate the productivity of  a 2 month old baby.  Second, sometimes you have to cut your losses.  Literally.  Third, disgusting and hilarious are often two sides of the same coin.  I find that laughter suppresses the urge to vomit, so I recommend it as a coping strategy whenever you have to clean up something gross.  And finally, and most obviously, shit happens, so you can’t let it get you down.   Memo received.

© 2011 Jamie Walker Ball