Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What is the age limit to trick-or-treating?

I am accompanying my nephew, Hunter, trick-or-treating this Halloween, and I am just giddy with anticipation.

Hunter is dressing like Jason from those Friday the 13th movies, and since those movies gave me nightmares for 15 years, I hope the sight of him doesn’t stir up my old fears of hay lofts, summer camp, and psychotic killers that just won’t die. Me on the other hand, after thinking long and hard, I have decided to go as a journalist. (Am I creative or what?)

Over the years, I have dressed up like a clown (my sisters and I were a set), Strawberry Shortcake, Smurfette, a ballerina, a character from Lil’ Abner, Elvira, a hillbilly beauty queen, and Dolly Parton. Yep, I was a regular Lou Chaney.

Momma would haul my cousins and me all over the community collecting treats – real homemade treats. We got candied apples, homemade fudge, popcorn balls, and caramel apples.
There were also treats that weren’t made to be put in a bucket.

My aunt Gaye Gaye would always make cakes. We would scream “Trick or treat,” and she would invite us in and sit us down for our treat. I wonder if non-relatives were given cake too? Knowing Gaye Gaye, I would say yes.

Trick-or-treating would take four hours to visit 15 houses because we were expected to stay and visit with all the neighbors. We would have to listen to elderly aunts talk about new medications and the neighborhood busy-body repeating information she gathered while listening in on her party line telephone.

Trick-or-treating was an event for the entire community.

That isn’t the case anymore. In the larger cities, it is much too dangerous to allow children to go door to door by themselves. Parents are forced to drive them to house of people they know, and even then, they must sort through the candy to verify that no one put a razor in the candy while it sat on a grocery shelf.

Parents must also worry about unruly children left to their own devises on Halloween. For five years in a row before moving to Winona, my pumpkin was smashed in the street in front of my house. In fact, my entire street was covered in pumpkin road kill.

Every year, teenagers would come to my door holding a fast food sack and not wearing a costume. Personally, I think there should be an age limit on trick-or-treating. Puberty should be the cut-off.

One year, a teenager rang my parent’s doorbell and was extremely rude, and my mother refused to give him candy.

“I am sorry, but if someone wears that much cologne, they should not be trick-or-treating,” she told us after he stormed away.

Halloween here in Winona is a completely different ballgame. No one smashed my pumpkin, everyone was very friendly, and at 8 p.m. the streets were empty. (My yard did get toilet papered, but that is another story.) Organized trick-or-treating – I loved it!
However, I totally underestimated my candy inventory.

I purchased 15 pounds of candy for potential trick-or-treaters. I was out of candy in 20 minutes (toilet paper pay back, maybe?), and I was terribly embarrassed about having to turn my front porch light out when I had nothing left to offer. (I don’t think Winona children would have appreciated a can of peas or a Lean Cuisine frozen dinner.)

Happily, this year, I accepted the position of being the trick-or-treat-toter instead of the candy-bowl-holder. I’m only doing it for the candy. Don’t worry – I won’t be ringing any doorbells. I completely expect to collect my take from Hunter.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Personal to-do list -- check, check

Recently, I made a list of things I wished to do – things I overlooked due to a busy life. My list was simple: visit my family, go on a date with my significant other, finish the half-read books on my nightstand, get a new hairstyle, and unpack the last two boxes from my move a year ago.

Simple and easy, and I should have finished that list in one weekend. However, it has been three weeks, and I am still working on it. (I get distracted easily.)

I started with the new hairstyle. My wish was that I no longer would be able to wear my hair in a barrette, twisted up on the top of my head – onion-style. I needed to do this first because this was the one task that had visible results. I figured I had to get rid of the barrettes because someone might walk up and comment about them in public.

I made an appointment with the stylist, and she wacked five inches off my hair. Now, even if I wanted to wear it up in a barrette, it is dang near impossible. Also, I have read that the shorter one’s hair is cut, the younger one looks. I just give it a couple years before I try out the buzz cut.

Anyway, new hair style – check.

Now that deer season has begun, a date with the significant other was more difficult than I imagined. For three weeks, we planned to go out, but life kept getting in the way. Friday night, we found a few minutes of time and went to eat dinner in Greenwood.

I fell asleep in the car on the way home (before 10 p.m.). I hope he didn’t take offense.
For some reason, dating was much easier when I was younger – especially when dinner reservations did not interfere with my 9 p.m. bedtime.

Date with significant other – check.

I have a very short attention span, and nothing proves this more than half-read books littering my bedside table and bedroom. I get bored very easily, and if a book doesn’t hold my attention, I will put it down and never pick it back up again.

For weeks, I read a couple chapters here and there from my assigned book club book. I picked this particular book to be read, and the meeting was to be held at my house. The book was a novel that depicted the life of a girl accused and imprisoned during the Salem witch trials – perfect for October, right?

What I didn’t count on was the author’s ability to bring the events to life, and I read the book nightly before bed. Unfortunately, even after I put the book down, the haunting story stayed with me, and I dreamt about the witch trials for several days – and not in a pleasant manner.

I happily moved on to another book about a book club. Hopefully, I will just dream of finger-foods and good conversation while reading this one.

Finish reading half-read books – check.

I will confess: I am never going to unpack those last two boxes from my move to Winona last summer. I like those last two boxes. They are in the closet and not inconvenient, so I have decided to just leave them. If I don’t use anything in the boxes by spring, I plan on tossing both of them unopened. If I haven’t used anything in those boxes in nearly two years, how necessary are they?

Unpack last two boxes for move – incomplete.

I visited Bethany Church of God Sunday for Pastor Appreciation Day. My friend, Dr. Duran Palmertree (known by the congregation as Brother Buster) was being honored for his work at the church. While visiting with many of the parishioners and other guests, a lady who reads this column asked if I were close to my family.

“Oh, yes, very close,” I replied.

“I can tell,” she said. “Me, too.”

So if any of you were unsure, I am very close to my family. In particular, I am very close to my sisters.

I haven’t been to visit my family since August, and I was starting to feel a little homesick. I am sure this is a common emotion for the spoiled baby of the family who has moved away to live her own life.

Anyway, I got my family fix this weekend when my sisters and nephew visited Winona Sunday afternoon.

After lunch, we all sat on my porch swing and talked for several hours. My significant other even joined us (bless his heart, he is a good sport when dealing with the Sexton women).

Conversations between my sisters and me are similar to a Seinfeld episode – usually about nothing and always using funny voices. And we are loud. My significant other mentioned twice during lunch that he had a headache. Wonder why?

So with my sisters’ visit, I am revived – personally and professionally. Those two goofballs give me so much to write about.

Visit family – in progress.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The art of hunting (aka, Run, Bambi, run!)

Fall is here, and that means one thing – my significant other neglecting me to go out and shoot furry woodland creatures.

Yes, hunting season has begun. For a foo foo chick, I know quite a lot about food plots, deer stands, and bow calibrations. I have listened to it for the past two months.

Keith has plowed, fertilized, and sown seeds in the middle of a forest. He has repaired stands, renovated camp cabins, and browsed new camouflage on-line. He has prepared for battle against a four-legged prey that is, in his estimation, attempting to take over the world. In the forest, it is man against beast, and most Mississippi boys dream of open season on the enemy.

I have never understood hunting. Daddy has never been a hunter. He did take my sister and me frog gigging years ago, but all I can remember about it was that squishy sound frogs make. Needless to say, I did not dine on Kermit that night.

Daddy is more of a lawn and garden kind of guy. He would much rather work to make something live than run out and kill it.

Momma grew up in the Delta and has hunted her entire life. Being raised with three uncles, Momma learned everything a boy should know about the woods. She can hunt, fish, harvest cotton, and cut the head off a snake with a hoe. And she isn’t scared at all.

I was obviously blessed with Daddy’s genes when it comes to the great outdoors. We are bumbling idiots in anything other than our own backyards.

Mosquitoes follow me around like that dust trail on Pig Pen from the Peanuts gang. Despite my utter disgust for all things dirty, I can’t walk three steps with some sort of nature attaching itself to my clothes. I can come within a mile of poison ivy, and voila, I am covered in it. (I think it can smell fear like dogs.)

Daddy gets stung. Doesn’t matter what it is, he gets stung by it. And he is allergic. So anytime he has spent time outdoors, he comes in with his eyes swollen shut.

Every family vacation that involved nature has always been a disaster. Once, my family rented a Winabego and hit the road. I cannot recall the experience myself because I was under five, but from eyewitness accounts, I ripped my diaper off and mooned all the cars behind us. Then when we finally stopped for the night, I locked myself in that big tin can and destroyed the place. My parents had to call the highway patrol to get me out.

Sextons don’t camp; we don’t cook meat over an open fire, and we don’t use leaves as toilet paper. We are room service kind of people. Air conditioning kind of people. Hot shower kind of people.

But I digress.

I amazed at all the preparation hunters make. Despite the “seasons,” (By the way, Keith does not discriminate against game. He hunts every season all year long.) hunters prepare all year for those three months of camo bliss. And I am talking manual labor preparations.

Let me put this into another context. I want to read a book, but I have to make the book first. I spend an entire year writing the book and typesetting the words. Then, I go out into the forest and chop down a few trees to make the paper. After I haul the trees back to the lumber yard and cut them up….Do you see where I am going with this?

Months and months are spent preparing for a handful of weekends spent in complete silence waiting for some creature to wander into your path. I can’t even fathom the patient of these men. It drives me crazy to wait at the drive through window.

Anyway, Keith purchased some new camo gear to outfit him for the season. Friday night, he laid his new outfit out on the chair in the living room – removing tags and packing his camo duffle (ayhum, man purse). It was almost as if he were preparing for the first day of school.

He packed gadgets and knives and wild animal urine and talcum powder (I didn’t ask), all while blowing some sort of honker that mimics a doe’s mating call. I don’t know if that honker worked on deer, but my Chihuahua was quite interested.

Sunday, I visited him at his new hunting cabin in Ackerman. He was painting the walls khaki. More preparation.

What is it about hunting?

I decided I should probably find out. I have made the decision to go hunting, and no, this is not just to have an opportunity to shop for camo. I need to understand the kind of cult addiction it has on people – not that it will become an addiction for me unless deer start walking around the mall. I need to know what my competition is.

I let you know how it goes.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Missing home

Saturday morning, I spoke with Momma on a marathon two hour telephone call. We discussed everything from her trip to Oregon to Christmas decorating plans, and I must admit it was comforting to talk with Momma over my Saturday morning coffee.

There have been only three times in my life when I did not live within a mile of my parents – college, a couple of months in London and when I moved to Winona a year ago.

Always the independent one in my family, I could not wait to get to college and begin a new chapter in my life. When I decided to study in England, I had no second thoughts. I packed up and flew nine hours to a foreign country – all alone and loved every minute of it. When Winona beckoned, once again, I took the leap and have not regretted one minute of my decision.

Despite my independence and my self-reliance, sometimes I get a little homesick. I want to have my parents dote on me, cook for me, nurture me, and best of all, sleep in my childhood bed and forget about being an adult for just a short time.

Now, remember, if I lived just a mile down the road from my parents like I did before moving to Winona, they would not be nearly as excited to see me. But since I live more than an hour away, it seems like my visits are one big welcome home party.

My sisters come to greet me, and we do not fight (I know, but it is possible). My parents usually plan a special meal – either steaks on the grill or dinner out. Everyone wants to hear about things in Winona, and I am expected to entertain them with stories of my new friends, home, and community. (As the youngest, I love the attention. If you would like, I could perform the number from my fourth grade dance recital – for applause, of course).

After some seriously good sleep in the most familiar bed, Momma wakes me early with fresh coffee. The two of us sit at the kitchen counter until Daddy graces us with his presence and a serious case of bed-head.

Ah, the crazy things you miss when you leave home!

Now that I am not in the everyday drama of my crazy family, I think I might have taken for granted some things that I find so special now.

For example, Daddy can annoy the heck out of someone with the Six Degrees of a Sexton game.

The game goes like this: “Do you remember Joe Johnson? Now, he went to school with your cousin, Cindy Lou. Cindy Lou is Uncle Homer’s daughter from over in Sarah. You remember her from the family reunion – sweet girl, but not attractive. You might be if she would do something with that hair. You know, Uncle Homer is your Granddaddy’s second cousin. Aunt Lorrine’s boy. Well, anyway, he went to school with Cindy Lou over at Lake Cormorant. He died last week. Can you believe that? He was only 87-years-old.”

When I was younger, I would want to stab myself in the eye during one of these conversations, but now, I call Daddy to hear about family happenings and local tidbits. Daddy should have been the reporter in the family. He can relay information like National Public Radio and never miss a detail. Through Daddy’s reports, I never miss a thing.

I also miss the insane conversations my parents have with each other – about absolutely nothing!

A conversation occurred on the way to Hot Springs, Ark. A logging truck pulled alongside our car on I-40. It went something like this.

Momma: “I wonder what kind of wood that is?”

Daddy: “I believe it’s pine.”

Momma: “Yeah. It’s pine.”

The miracle is that my parents found each other. The Lord knows no one else would have either of them.

Growing up with two older sisters was not something I would like to relive. In fact, it is shocking I lived the first go-around. However, I wouldn’t have changed anything – a scar, loss of hearing in my right ear, arthritis in my knee.

Despite the fighting, whining, and lack of sharing, having sisters was such a blessing for me. I can’t ever remember a time growing up that I actually felt lonely. My sisters were always there, and still when I get down or need to vent, I can call my sisters and act a fool and they never hold it against me. (Well, they can’t. I have too much dirt on them.)

Every child should experience the joy of having a sibling. My best friend, Heather, was an only child, and although her family had enough drama to get her through, she relied on my family for that “Father Knows Best” meets the “Emergency 911” experience. Of course, Heather could always go home to her own family to escape the drama of mine.

I sit here and write nostalgically about my family and their quirky ways held so dearly to me, but I often forget that distance makes the heart grow fonder. If I still lived within shouting distance of my family, I probably wouldn’t be so nostalgic about their crazy ways.

The last time I was home, Momma and I came to a realization. Moving away made me appreciate my family. It definitely made my relationships with my family members stronger, and I treasure my time with them so much more.

It is kind of like babysitting. You play with the baby, love on the baby, cuddle the baby, and sooth the baby. Then the baby cries and the babysitter can give the baby back and head on home.

Love the family. Miss the family. Relish the family. A fight breaks out or someone ends up in the emergency room, and I can always run for the hills – literally.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Learning to 'peel the onion'

Recently, I have been busy. Really busy, but good busy.

We are working on all sorts of cool stuff at the newspaper, and I am completely absorbed in it all. Newspaper people talk about having “ink in the blood,” and well, I am no exception.
However, what I noticed this week is that sometimes I can get too absorbed and forget that the world doesn’t stop because I am busy. Recently, I decided I should probably slow down and consider the “little details” that I have neglected in my enthusiasm.

First, I noticed this morning that the result of wearing my hair clipped up in a barrette every day is not in any way in the same ball park as what Sarah Palin has made so popular over the last few weeks. Actually, this morning, I resembled an onion.

In addition, lip balm is not really doing it for me. With my Irish heritage, I am in desperate need of some lipstick. Without it, my lips disappear like those of my eight grade English teacher. It wasn’t a good look for her, and I am assuming it isn’t for me as well.

On the home front, I am displaying two fern corpses on my front porch. They look like two tumbleweeds in hanging baskets. I am sure the neighbors appreciate my green thumb. Note to self: plants like water.

Over the past month, I tried to see how long I could go without doing laundry. I am convinced that laundry – not unlike the gremlin – multiplies in water and turns ugly after midnight. Right now this is just a hypothesis, but I am still investigating.

My kitchen counter just inside the back door is covered with unopened mail, newspapers, and magazines. I could have won the sweepstakes, but alas, I would have to open the envelope.

Sadly, I haven’t seen my family in nearly two months, and I didn’t even realize it had been that long. (Where did the summer go?) And my significant other, I’m afraid he is has begun some sort of relationship with my cell phone.

Every so often, I am forced to have an epiphany and take notice of what I have neglected. As a type-A overachiever, I will always be a workaholic. It is in my genes.

Growing up, I remember Daddy coming home at night and passing out on the sofa from pure exhaustion. Momma would wake him up to eat, and he would return to the sofa until she woke him again to go to bed.

However, Daddy could always get everything done – personally and professionally. He was a machine – still is for that matter. He tended the most amazing landscaping in the county, kept our home in repair, was involved heavily in church and the community, and still managed to recognize his children.

I can’t even keep my ferns alive or remember to buy milk.

So in the spirit of rejuvenation (and I know so many of you relate), I have made a few goals for the near future. I’ll update you on my progress.

1. Visit my parents and sisters. I have more fun with my loud and crazy family. I am certain other patrons at restaurants are jealous at how much fun we have together (I can sense the resentment). When no one ends up in the emergency room, our time spent together is so memorable. For those times we spend in the emergency room (oh, God bless the accident prone), we are more memorable to the hospital staff.

2. Go on a date with my significant other. Bless his heart – he certainly puts up with a lot. I’m a neurotic, high-maintenance, workaholic, foo foo chic. If any of you ever meet him, he deserves a hug.

3. Finish reading the five half-read books on my nightstand. Should I be concerned that I get bored with one and start another without finishing? I think I understand why I can’t find a hobby.

4. Finish unpacking the last two boxes from my move to Winona. Yes, that was more than a year ago. I like to draw out the process to delay the gratification of finishing.

5. Throw away my hair clips. This, my friends, is going to be the toughest part of the revitalization process. When I work, I immediately look for a way to get my hair out of my face with whatever tool is nearby – pencils, paper clips, letter openers. I am like a walking office supply store. Disposing my hair clips and other gadgets, accompanied by a trip to the salon for the works, should make me feel and hopefully look, human again. It is time to peel the onion.