Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Mama's Few More Pennies: Havard Lane Totes

She doesn't realize I know the reason for her pressing need for money.  Mama started the end of October with "I've got to make a few more pennies somehow.  I was going to sell buck eye trees at Two Rivers Festival but I guess I won't since the dry weather killed the tree."  I learned long and protracted sentences from Mama and Faulkner.

Dry weather kills everything, according to Mama, when there's been little rain for long spells.  Never mind the buck eye tree was over fifty years old.   They're short lived trees, like dogwoods and sassafrasses.  Mama said dry weather got those too.  And my yew tree.

Mama needs a few more pennies, a half-million of them, $5,000.00, to pay for her own funeral.  She thought she had snuck into town, as quick as the doctor released her to drive again.  She's fairly certain I don't know she went to the funeral home to check on her burial policy.  I might not have know but she was spotted by Florist Friend, who's shop is across the road from Freeman's (Funeral Home, dignified, quality and personal service).

He and his mother, the ordered formal designer behind most of the silk arrangements, keep weather eyes trained across the road.  It's the absolute truth:  funerals are big business in the floral industry.

Annnnyways, Florist Friend promptly called, "Is MawMaw Perlena planning on popping off soon??  She's across the road..."

I knew it!  Well.  I knew something.  She had been depressed since the colon resection to remove a spot of cancer.  The diagnosis of colon cancer had come in late August, hardly two months after the death of her oldest child.  She had been down, feeling worthless, with little energy or drive and now she wanted to make a few more pennies?

 She doesn't have to.  She wants to.

The verbal onslought for the ability and resources to make a few more pennies started as quickly as she could drive the three miles to her Pine Level home, pick up the phone, and call me.
11 Havard Lane

She's a classic octogenarian Southern lady, her adeptness at passive-aggressive behavior honed to unrecognizable by those dolts that don't know her most of the fambly.  A therapist friend told me that Mama's generation of youngsters weren't allowed to voice their thoughts.  They couldn't express want, desire, or any negative emotion.  Instead they learned passive-aggressive behavior and have carried it into old age.

Mama calls me and says "I need to make a few more pennies.  The buckeye tree is gone.  I can't hold out to make more than a batch of jelly in a day.  The hens aren't laying.  No one will drive out here for a yard sale.  I could piece and put in a quilt but couldn't get out of it what it's worth.  I don't know how to do it, but I just need to make a few more pennies."

This is passive-aggressive for what Mama really wants to say to me:  I should harvest the half-dozen buck eyes off my tree and plant them for her;  I should purchase another fifty pound bag of sugar and two dozen boxes of SureJel pectin, lids and bands and make up her five gallons of juice into jelly;  I should not use her eggs even though Perlena's Peculiar Hennie's eggs have superior leavening power and no other will do;  if I were a good child I'd have her yard sale in town for her;  AND I should help her put in the quilt that I know is already pieced together.

I've as much chutzpah as Mama, a positive aspect of mDNA.  I didn't do any of those things.  I pulled a classic tactic in dealing with children called "distract and redirect."  It works wonders, keeping youngsters and octogenarians alike from becoming so engrossed in a behavior that they become aberrant.  I found her a project to redirect her attention to and it's worked wonders, serving the purpose also of putting a few more pennies in her pocket.

I talked/coaxed/directed her how to make a tote bag.  Not any tote bag but one from recycled materials:  her chicken and dog feed sacks.

Remember, Mama doesn't throw any good thing away when it may have one or more uses in it.  She certainly doesn't throw away the feed sacks, their woven and fused plastic material awaiting some repurposing.  Appealing to her "use it up, wear it out" sensibility, I brought the newest feed sack up from the barn, cut it, set up her sewing machine, and gave her the pieces. 

We dug out a cloth tote to see how the base was squared.  The prototype of Havard Lane Totes was sewn.

Mama and I gathered all the feed sacks out of the barn, crib, shop, and kindergarten building.  I wash them at the pump when the weather is warmer; in her tub when the cold wind blows.  They're hung on a line to dry.

Mama wipes each one off and out to remove any small debris.  I use her rolling Fiskars cutter and quilt board to cut them.  Scissors work fine but are slow.  A yard stick is used to get a straight cut.

Mama turns the bags inside out, autographs them, and turns under the top hem, clothes pinning it in place until it can be sewn.  She folds the swath of handle material into thirds and clothes pins it also.  She'll turn them right side out again when they're completed.   This consumes a large amount of her time on our sewing days, the other bits are spent feeding the heater more wood and cooking us a bite to eat.  She insists on cooking for us.  She is, after all, Mama.

It's a good project for her.  It's a better project for the both of us.  Together.  Mama's mama, called Aunt May or Aunt MayRob by the locals, fancied herself something on a stick, I'm finding out.  Another story for another time...  She tells more and more of her thoughts from childhood and adolescence.  I'm wondering if the slow release will ease some of that passive-aggressiveness but after 84 years of it I'm not holding my breath.

Internet orders are slowly but constantly coming in.  Local souls are hearing about the totes and are dropping by to purchase them.   We've a small order going into a local gift shop soon and another friend with a gift shop in Lucedale wants a few also.  Havard Lane Totes are within a day of opening on Etsy.

Mama's shuffling walk is a little faster these days.  She's been tireder going to bed but sleeping better and longer.  She's cooking and eating again, something she's not done for months.  She's excited to be putting a few more pennies in the bank and hasn't mentioned needing to do it again.

She's brimming with busy-ness.  I'd like to think it's the business of living...
The heart of Pine Level, Mississippi resides at 11 Havard Lane.
A natural recycler from her days as a toddler during
The Great Depression, Mama's kicking it up a notch and
making it profitable.  These are Perlena's Peculiar Critters
Feed Sack Totes, also known as Havard Lane Totes.


  1. Many Blessing for you and your Mama..Lots of huggs too...your such an inspiration to me...Thank You for sharing

  2. First, I love the pic of Havard Lane and the story behind it. Once again, your stories are beautiful. I just read this one to Chaz; we discussed at length passive/agressive in our own family including particular individuals who are really good at it. You are dead on re Mama's early days and the behavior at that time, and how it remains today. However, that you have figured out her methods and found a way to save her pride and yet achieve the objective is testament to a daughter who knows her Mama very well and adores her, too. The totes are a splendid, brilliant idea. Now that I really think it through, it's eye-opening how you worked it out. You are uh uh uh (hate to use this) amazing, Dear Lady. The South, the towns, the people, the famblys, they all become loved ones, and you have demonstrated that AND explained it with such genuine grace. Thank you, Dear Lady, for inspiring us to do good to one another - once again. <3 maryb

  3. I passed by her house today going to get my Momma (84) of the same generation. It was(is) very logical of Momma, for me to make A trip to Leakesville to pick her up and bring her to Lucedale and take her back home and then return to Lucedale. The reasoning behind this is groceries are A few pennies cheaper. I just do whatever makes her happy it is much easier. They should get together and compare their stories, I bet that would be A hoot. I love your stories......Jan

  4. We gonna come on down to Havard Lane when the Spring gets here! Love your stories Mayree! Keep'em coming! Diane G.R

  5. Good grief, my jaws are starting to ache a tad from all the grinnin' I just did! What a precious story.... and what a precious time you are having with your mama!! :o)