Category Archives: From Childhood

Shannon and the Orange Lipstick


My Apologies to Mr. Johnson and Harold

I have stated on several occasions that I grew up in a ’68 model 15 x 50 single wide trailer with no heat and no central air conditioning. This is not completely accurate. I spent my most memorable and formative years, until I finished college, in the aforementioned dwelling that Mama and I lovingly referred to as “The Little Barn.” Strictly speaking, however, my earliest home was a 1970 model 15 x 50 single wide trailer WITH heat, but still no central air. We lived there from the time I was brought home from the hospital until I was 8. Then we moved into a double wide and then we began what I’ve always referred to as mine and Mama’s “Nomadic Period.”

For today, though, I’m concerned with that first trailer and my early childhood. When I was small (well, small being relative. I’ve always been on the plus size side) I enjoyed three things above all else: eating Purina Puppy Chow Puppy Food, “painting” on the inside of the cabinet doors with Mama’s cosmetics, and climbing. This particular incident involves the latter two pastimes.

I spent hours with Mama’s late ’60s version of a Caboodle laid out in front of me using her eye shadow make up as pastel paints and her rouge brushes as my paint brush. This being the early ’70s, my palette ran to the vibrant blues and pastel browns common on the eyelids of women in those days. Mama wasn’t extremely happy with the way I tended to use up her stuff, but it wasn’t terribly destructive and in my pre-literate days, it was the best way to keep me quiet short of Sesame Street and Mama didn’t like me watching much TV.

One particular color, unfortunately, was always off limits to me and, consequently, NEVER left within my chubby little hand’s reach. I’m speaking of Mama’s orange lipstick. This was one of those colors that ONLY came out in the ’70s (thank God) and has never been seen since (ibid). Now when I say it was orange, I don’t mean burnt orange or Tennessee orange or even my beloved Clemson orange. This was closer to International Hunter’s DayGlo Orange.

It was bright.

I was totally fascinated with the dazzling hue and the smooth oily consistency and Mama, knowing this, kept the verboten lipstick tube in  her pocketbook (“purse” for the yankees in the crowd) into which I was forbidden to reach on pain of my life . . . at least that’s what she told me and, though she’d never raised a hand to me in anger, I wasn’t interested in pressing my youthful luck.

But it sure was bright orange.

So, on the fateful day in question, Mama and I had lain down for a nap in the “cool room” — our name for the master bedroom where the sole window unit A/C was located to help Daddy sleep when he came home from 3rd shift at the glass plant. This day, however, Daddy was working 2nd shift and wouldn’t be home for quite a while.

Under these conditions, something Mama never expected happened. She slept longer than I did. Mama ALWAYS woke up before me.

Not today.

Now I tottered down the hall, closing the bedroom door behind me to conserve the coolness for Mama, and made my way to the kitchen. As God is my witness, my only intention when I got up was to get my glass of Bosco laced milk from the fridge and finish drinking it as I sat at the table thumbing through my Little Golden Book copy of “The Pokey Little Puppy.” That’s how it all started, until I saw Mama’s pocketbook sitting OPEN on the table.

Now I’d like to say I wrestled with my conscience and did the whole angel / devil on the shoulder spiel, but I’d be grossly misrepresenting myself. I was too young for such moral quandaries. I simply looked down the hall to make sure Mama was still in the bedroom before reaching in and snatching out THE ORANGE LIPSTICK TUBE!!

Man, it was ORANGE.

Well, this was way too special an occasion for just painting on a cabinet door. Nope, this required a canvas as close to the Sistine Chapel ceiling as could be found in rural Upstate South Carolina in the early ’70s. I chose to make a mural.

Did I mention the lipstick was orange AND I loved to climb?

Nebulous plan in head and lipstick in hand, I went to the kitchen sink at the farthest end of the house and clambered up onto the counter. Then, I uncapped my ill-gotten booty and, reaching as far as my chubby little legs could push up my chubby little arms, I drew an orange line from the ceiling down the middle of the wall between the two small windows. Then, I ran the line across the sink’s middle divider, across the countertop, and, jumping down, straight down the center of the sink cabinet.

I was so pleased with the beautiful orange line that I decided to extend it, so, dropping to my knees, I crawled backwards across the kitchen linoleum leaving a flourescent trail in my wake. I was careful not to bear down too hard because I wanted the color to last and so far, I was doing quite well.

From the kitchen, my orange lipstick and I extended our line across the dining room linoleum and stopped at the edge of the living room. Had I stopped at that point, things might have been different, but I looked behind me and there lay a vast, virgin floor of genuine 1970s vintage Powder Blue Extra Long Shag Carpet.

I felt the blue could use an accent color, and so the line ran on. I made a nice curlicues in the middle of the floor and, never picking up my color, zigzagged my way to the hall. I was halfway down the hall making lovely swirly orange shapes when I heard the bedroom door open.

Mama isn’t her best when she first wakes up. Never has been.

Now I should point out that neither Mama nor Daddy has ever spanked me despite my needing it more than once. I have my Granny Wham to thank for a lot of that. Today, though, it was Granny Wham’s sister, my Aunt Mary, who was my savior. Aunt Mary lived a football field away from us and kept her doors and windows closed against the heat.

She still heard every word Mama said clearly as a bell in cool mountain air.

She hurried out to the house and found me in the floor at Mama’s feet, orange lipstick in hand, and Mama’s face rapidly turning to match that shade. It didn’t take Aunt Mary long to size up the situation, especially after she noted the bright orange highway running from the kitchen ceiling to where I sat.

She rushed in and scooped me up saying, “Um, Lawana, hon, why don’t I take Shannon out to the house and feed him supper while you work on this? I’ll bring him back when Frankie gets home.” Because of Aunt Mary’s quick action (may God rest her soul) I am still here with you today.

That carpet was Mama’s favorite thing about the entire trailer. She worked for a week trying to leech the orange from the powder blue fibers with no success. A month later, she made Daddy rip the whole thing up and put linoleum throughout the entire house.

Even then, though, Mama knew a day would come when she’d miss that orange stripe so somewhere in one of her keepsake boxes is a hand sized square of Powder Blue Extra Long Shag carpet with a blaze orange stripe right down the middle and from that day to the day I left home, Mama never slept longer than me again.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean!

A Toy Never Played With . . .


I was looking through the weekly sales ads yesterday afternoon and making out my shopping plan for the coming week when I stopped at the Toys ‘R Us spread. Right on the front was one of the most elusive creatures I’ve ever encountered . . . a for real Play-Doh Playset.

I, like so many of my generation, love Play-Doh for its comprehensive sensory buffet. It feels wonderful squishing between our fingers. The colors (except the baby poo yellow) are vibrant and alive. Of course, most of all, is the SMELL. Nothing on the planet smells like Play-Doh. It is one of the most distinctive smells known. In one of those polls “they” always talk about but no one ever really sees, Play-Doh was supposedly the most recognizable smell among Westerners. Okay, I’ll go with it.

Now, I can’t verify any of this information. Everything I know about the wonder toy that is Play-Doh has been gathered third and fourth hand over many years of ardent and tiresome research. The reason I lack any empirical evidence on the toy of the gods is quite simple — I, nor any of my friends, have ever managed to hold a ball of Play-Doh long enough to form any lasting opinions.

As a child, I craved the Play-Doh sets I saw on Saturday morning cartoons. The Holy Grail for me was that dude that you stuffed the Play-Doh in his bottom and pushed a lever and strings of the stuff came out of his head as “hair” and you could cut it!! Unlike my cousin Josie’s Barbie dolls, apparently this “hair” could “grow” back after I scalped the plastic skull with a plastic razor. Alas, I was never to find out.

My mother is a saint. Growing up, she doted on me like a chosen lamb. She did, however, have one fault that threatened to slip a wedge into our relationship. She adamantly refused to allow me to have or receive as a gift ANY Play-Doh. In this stance, she was not alone. NONE of the mothers of my circle of friends would even think of entertaining the thought of allowing this dreaded substance into their houses.

No amount of reasoning could sway them. The stuff was non-toxic and biodegradable. Didn’t matter.

It provided hours of creative fun. Didn’t care.

No, Play-Doh was banned from my childhood for one simple reason.


My mother was convinced that any Play-Doh she allowed past her picket line into the house would inevitably be slurped into the powder blue shag (it was the ’70s, get off me) she was so proud of. Mama LOVED her carpet, even after I took a tube of bright orange lipstick . . . well, let’s leave that story for another time. Mama loved her carpet. Therefore, I was not allowed to play with Play-Doh. Every one of my friends got the same story, “you can’t have Play-Doh because it’ll get all in the carpet!!” My childhood passed never getting to enjoy the sweet fragrance of petroleum distillates on my hands all because of carpet.

I was not alone in my misery, however, as Budge related to me her trials and tribulations upon getting a nice 4-pack of Play-Doh for a birthday. Her mother relented and let her play with it . . . provided she sat at the table, which was over a linoleum floor and covered by three layers of newspaper. NEWSPAPER! Has anyone ever seen what happens to Play-Doh that comes in contact with newsprint? It’s not pretty.

It seems nothing has changed over the decades either. I was tending my next door neighbor’s house last week while they were all on vacation. The only child of the family is a wildly intelligent little boy who loves to play with blocks and trains and everything else. When I was scooping out some dog feed, however, I noticed — high on a shelf in the utility room — a Play-Doh Play Factory. It had a sticky note on it from the little fella’s mom to his dad that said,

“Don’t let Carson have this because he’ll get it on the carpet!”

Some things never change 😦

What about any of my two readers out there? What were your experiences with Play-Doh? Did you get to make the little hamburgers with the slice of cheese on top and the molded bun? Let me know in the comments if you got to have “hours of educational creative fun!”

Til then, love y’all and wash those feet!

The Thunder Rolls


A sight you don't want to see in the middle of a large lake in a small boat.

It’s been the week for late afternoon thunderstorms around here. The last four days, around 6ish in the evening, thunder starts growling around and the wind picks up. Eventually, a log-floating, frog-choking deluge descends from the sky. The whole affair lasts about an hour to 90 minutes from beginning to end and when it’s over, the air outside is either much cooler or much more humid depending on the whim of the weather gods. It’s the price we pay for living in the South.

I hate it.

I am irrationally, completely, and utterly terrified of thunderstorms. As far as I know, I always have been. I don’t really know why. I’m intelligent enough to know how they start and what they are going to do. I know that thunder’s just a noise; lightning does the work. Doesn’t matter. Storms put knots in the pit of my stomach. It’s not the lightning or the rain. It’s the wind. I don’t mind lightning streaking everywhere and I can tolerate huge booming rounds of thunder.

I don’t do wind.

Once the trees start swaying, I look for a place to hide.

Of course, it would stand to reason that some of my most vivid memories from childhood involved storms of one caliber or another. I recall sitting by candlelight when I couldn’t have been more than four or so. The storm had knocked out power to our trailer. I remember standing outside with Papa Wham when I was still in single digits and a massive streak of lightning turned night to day for a brief second. I remember a little grey tree frog that rode out a particularly nasty storm squatting firmly on one of the sticks we used to hold our trailer windows open. I remember Mama trying to calm me down by singing “Keep Me Safe ‘Til the Storm Passes By.” Lots of storm memories. Two stand out incredibly strong.

I was four or five and playing in the backyard at my great-Aunt Betty’s house. As usual, I was completely oblivious to my surroundings until I looked up at the cotton field and saw Uncle Raymond coming down the dirt road leading out of the field like all the imps of Hell were behind him. He skidded the old red and white Ford truck to a stop in a outburst of dust and pebbles and when he jumped out, he was running and shouting, “Shannon, get in the truck quick.” I got scared for three reasons. One, Uncle Raymond NEVER came out of the fields before near dark. He always worked a full day as a sharecropping cotton farmer. Two, Uncle Raymond NEVER ran. A fast mosey was his normal top speed and he didn’t hit it often; and three, and most worrisome to me, Uncle Raymond NEVER called me by my given name. He always called me Cottontop or little man or some other pet name. Never “Shannon.” I didn’t have time to wonder much as I climbed into the truck because Uncle Raymond was already on his way back with Aunt Betty in tow. He was explaining as he hurried her along, but all I caught was one word — tornado.

At the time, I had no idea how he knew a tornado was coming, but I found out later that one of the “big men” who owned the field and drove the big cotton harvesters kept a weather band radio on loud at all times. Storms come up quickly in these parts and the last thing anyone wanted was to be caught in the middle of a cotton field with lightning striking everywhere. Lightning tends to strike the tallest object around and if you’re a six foot tall man in the middle of an open cotton field, guess what the tallest object around is?

We took off in the truck and Uncle Raymond drove us to a culvert or tunnel under the highway. He parked in the middle and I guess he could tell I was terrified, because he patted me on the head then he fixed my “linus blanket” over the back of the seat like a tent. From inside that tent, I heard the twister pass over us. You’ll hear people say a tornado sounds like a train rushing by, but that day, it sounded like the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. After about an hour, we went back to the house and other than a few limbs blown down and a shingle or two off the house, everything was fine. Uncle Raymond dropped Aunt Betty and me off and went back to the field like nothing had happened. Like he ran his family from tornadoes every day.

My second storm memory involves Daddy. I was ten, maybe eleven, and he and I were out on Lake Moultrie fishing for catfish. He and Teresa, my stepmother, took me to the Santee-Cooper lakes every summer on a fishing trip for about six or seven years that I remember. Usually, all three of us went out fishing. It wasn’t unusual for Teresa to outfish us all. This particular run, though, she’d stayed in the room at the landing.

If you’ve never seen Lake Moultrie, it’s basically a big, deep bathtub. Lake Marion, at the other end of the Diversion Canal, is bigger in area, but it has a lot more islands and is generally much shallower. We were in the middle of Lake Moultrie and I couldn’t see any land. Anyway, Daddy and I were having a good afternoon of fishing and I was enjoying one of the rare occasions of him and me just being together.

All was well until Daddy looked behind us. After he did, he turned around to me and said, “Shannon, put your life jacket on.” I usually asked many, many questions, but, like Uncle Raymond, Daddy never used my name. He mostly called me “Son” if he called me anything. I put my life jacket on before I turned around to see what Daddy saw. It was a squall line all the way across the sky. In front, the sky was robin’s egg blue, but behind, it was black. Really black.

My Daddy is, and always has been to my knowledge, utterly fearless. I’ve never known him to be scared of anything. I’d never even seen him acknowledge a situation might require a little worrying. Well, I still don’t think he was scared and if he hadn’t had me with him, he probably wouldn’t even have been worried, but he knew that I hated storms and tended to panic AND he knew that I swim like a 1940 Packard Super Eight Touring Limo. I wasn’t panicked yet. I was with Daddy and Daddy wasn’t scared of the Devil, much less a puny storm . . . that was already making whitecaps on the lake’s surface. I did get a little concerned, however, when Daddy put his OWN life jacket on. It was the only time in my life I’ve ever seen him do that. Still, I was with Daddy and he was just being cautious. What he did next though, pushed me right to the edge of meltdown. He cut the rope off the anchor and lashed one end around his waist, then he took the other end and tied it snugly around my right foot.

The wind and whitecaps were picking up when Daddy started the 70hp Johnson outboard and spun the boat around. Luckily, we were running before the wind. It helped some. Daddy never drove the boat fast as a general rule, but this day, he had the throttle wide open. We were aiming at for the Diversion Canal, which was very sheltered. We’d get wet, but we wouldn’t have to worry about capsizing or hitting anything and we’d gotten wet before.

It had been a ten minute boat ride out to where we were fishing. The race to the canal took twenty, even with the wind at our backs. The last little bit, the rain hit us and, if you don’t know, raindrops feel like BB guns shooting you when you’re in a boat moving 30mph. We made it to the mouth of the canal, though and as soon as we got about a hundred yards in, the water smoothed right on out. It rained buckets and we got soaked, but we were safe. I knew the danger was passed when Daddy reached down and took the rope off my foot and smiled at me.

So there you go. I hate storms. Panic in them all the time and I’ve gotten to panic a lot lately.

Love y’all. Sorry this one was so long. I got carried away since Budge isn’t here for me to talk to!

Take care, and wash your feet, but not in the tub if it’s lightning outside!


I Hate Summer Passionately


I Hate Summer!!

I don’t know how long it’s been since I mentioned this fact, but I hate summer with all my heart; I have two perfectly excellent reasons for despising this godawful season that everyone else apparently loves so dearly.

First of all, I am not a small man — not by a long shot. To be quite honest, I’m fat, large, obese, and several other words of varying denotation and connotation all pointing to the fact that I was born 10 pounds and 5 ounces and I haven’t looked backed or missed a meal since.

Summertime was not meant for fat people. We sweat. Now some of  you more proper individuals may “perspire” and some ladies may even develop a “delicate sheen.” Well, honey, I sweat buckets and right now, I’ve got the Zambezi River flowing from my hairline down my back to eventually puddle in and around my nether regions. That’s with the A/C “givin’ ye all she can Cap’n”. Any more strain on the venerable Trane and the dilithium crystals will probably blow and we’ll have to eject the warp core. If I go outside for long in this 100+ heat, you could render lard off my backside.

I hate to sweat. The only time I’ve ever CHOSEN to sweat is when I wrestled four years in high school. Then, sweating seemed to serve a purpose. Any other time, it just makes me miserable. Fat people were built for Arctic conditions. If you don’t believe me, when’s the last time you saw a skinny Inuit? (Nota Bene: Eskimo is a derogatory term, which I didn’t know until an exceptionally large Inuit man told me) Inuits live in the Arctic. Ever seen a svelte whale? Know why? It’s freaking cold in the ocean depths where they swim! Nature has selected against fat mixing with heat. Fat goes with cold; skinny goes with heat.

My second reason to despise summer is I am known as “The Man The Sun Forgot.” I don’t want to say I’m pale or anything, but people afflicted with albinism stand next to me to feel good about their tan. The few times I’ve gone cave exploring, my glowing body was the third emergency light source. Folks are always asking me why don’t I take off my shirt when I’m outside. The simple answer is when I did that last summer, I got a call from Houston Space Center asking me to please cover myself because I was blinding the crew of the International Space Station and they couldn’t conduct their experiments.

You think I’m joking, but I’m not. I am WHITE and I am FAT. I went to the beach several years and pants sizes ago and when I took off my shirt just for kicks, a big guy in a frock coat started chasing me down the beach waving a harpoon and screaming, “I’ve found ye at last! Thar she blows! A hump like a snow hill!” If the beach patrol hadn’t grabbed him I hate to think what might have happened.

So, lay out a little and tan, right? Um, did you even read the first section about heat? An ex of mine once asked me to lay out in the sun with her. I told her if she wanted to break up with me, just say so. Even if I didn’t mind roasting myself like a suckling pig with pineapple rings and a Macintosh in my mouth, there’s the little matter of blistering sunburn.  When I was a child and into my early teens, the strongest SPF sunscreen was 15. I would get COOKED right through 15. If I want a decent chance at remaining non-boiled-lobster color, I have to wear Bullfrog 55 SPF and, no lie, I get pinkish through that after a couple of hours. Oh, and when I do burn, it doesn’t turn tan. Nope, most people are burn, tan, burn, tan darker. I am burn, peel, burn worse, get sun poisoning, peel some more, risk drowning in an oatmeal bath.

I’ve got a ton of sunburn stories, but I’ll tell one and let it go at that. When I was six, we had the first above ground pool I’d ever seen. Of course, Daddy didn’t bother to hook up the filter, so we had to drain it once a month to get the slime molds out of the bottom and refill it . . . but I digress. Two friend of mine and I happily splashed around in said pool from 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM. I hadn’t put ANY sunscreen on, but that was okay because I had my FAVORITE shirt of the moment on just like Mama had told me to do. (Well, she did tell me to wear a shirt.)

This shirt was a real, live reproduction football JERSEY complete with HOLES all in it! Now, I have a genius IQ, but as one of my best friends used to point out, I lack the common sense to get out of a shower of rain. I figured that moving around would cover my whole body with the fabric at some point in time and it would keep me safe from the ravages of the sun.

It didn’t.

When Mama came home from shopping, she called us in the house (trailer, whatever). She took one look at me and burst into tears. I couldn’t see my back so I had no idea what was wrong. This was one time ignorance was not bliss. I had developed a water blister through each one of the hundreds of holes in the shirt. The shirt was literally fastened to my back and shoulders by water blisters poking through the holes. I went and stood in the shower under straight cold water for thirty minutes trying to get the blisters to go down.

They didn’t. Mama finally had to take off that shirt and every one of those blisters broke open. If you’re wondering, yes, I cried. I cried like a baby. My back looked like steak tartare.

And THAT, gentle readers, is why I don’t go outside OR get into a pool unless it is DARK O’CLOCK!

Keep cool and wash those feet!

Love y’all! 🙂