My Sister Susie

When I started this blog three weeks ago, I thought it would be all grins and giggles. Funny how life slaps you upside the head, isn’t it? A week ago Monday, my husband and I were coming back from a fun vacation in Cozumel, where we’d rented a house with four other couples. That’s when I got the call from my brother in St. Petersburg, telling me my big sister had been in a horrible car accident in South Georgia. She’d been on her way to Atlanta, to visit my family for the Fourth of July. She never made it.
Instead of hosting a covered dish supper on the fourth, which was our plan, we had a family reunion in our hometown of St. Pete. My younger sister Patti, and her family flew in from England, another brother and his family came from Tennessee, and my daughter Katie and her husband flew in from Phoenix.
We had a beautiful service, and we did what families do—we laughed and cried and ate and drank and re-told funny family stories. But I wanted to tell you all about my sister Susie. She would have been 55 in November. My mom was 18 when she got pregnant with Susie, and only 20 when she had me—in fact, Mom had five babies in six years.
Susie was the one who taught me to read before I went to first grade—not because she was so sweet, but because she was tired of my pestering her to read to me. When she was just a kid, she read those old Cherry Ames student nurse books—and decided she would grow up to be a nurse.
She was an action junkie. She started out working labor and delivery wards in big city hospitals, and when that wasn’t exciting enough, she switched to emergency room nursing, working in ERs in St. Pete, Miami, Jacksonville and Chicago. She spent years working in Grady Hospital’s ER here in Atlanta—she called it the Friday Night Knife and Gun Club. Later she did AIDS research, and after that, she switched to being a hospice nurse.
My sister never married and never had kids of her own, but she adored my two kids, and fussed at and spoiled them like they were her own. After my mom died suddenly three years ago, she became my Dad’s primary care-giver, eventually giving up her job and home in Atlanta to move back to St. Pete to take care of him.
Susie had a huge, generous heart, a machine-gun wit and a motor mouth to go with it. She lived like she drove—full-speed, flat-out, take no prisoners. On Monday, my sister Patti and I stopped by the funeral home and picked up Susie’s ashes. We took her out to the cemetery where our parents are buried, and sprinkled her around their headstone. Then we drove over to the house we grew up in, and we sprinkled her around the yard. We took her down to the park where we all played so many hours as kids, and sprinkled her around the playground and the swingsets. Then we took her down to the place on Tampa Bay where we used to play pirate and Huck Finn, and sprinkled her in the water. I brought some more ashes home with me last night, and in the next few days, I plan to plant a tree and sprinkle her in its shade. I think she’d like that.

My first post!

June 25, 2007

Look at me—I’m blogging. Welcome to volume 1, issue 1 of The Kudzu Telegraph.
As a failed journalist, I’ve had the urge to blog for ages, but my editor wouldn’t let me until I finished my new book. Jeez, don’t you hate it when you have to eat your veggies before you can have dessert? The good news is, DEEP DISH is done—at least my part of it, anyway. Now the cover genies and marketing mavens take over. Look for DEEP DISH in February. All I have to do is start a new book.

Easy, right? I have what I think is a great title, and a great idea. The cast of characters is coming together in my head. This weekend, I was at a friend’s house, reading a cookbook, and in the author acknowledgements I found a name I love—Dempsey. They spelled it differently, but my gal spells it this way. I think I know her last name too. I’m trying to figure out where this book is set, exactly. All I know for now is that it’s in a small town in Georgia. Maybe Madison? I had lots of fun writing HISSY FIT, which is set in Madison, one of the most beautiful towns in the South. So. Maybe Madison. This is the fun part of a new book. The possibilities are wide-open, limitless choices, huge optimism. Remind me of all this—nine months from now, when I’m trying to finish the freakin’ thing—tearing my hair out in frustration and anguish, sick to death of writing, ect. But right now, everything is shiny, glittery, wonderful, thrilling.

Speaking of thrilling, my junk posse and I had a fab weekend. We lit out fairly early Friday morning, heading for an estate sale in Druid Hills, which is a lovely old neighborhood in Atlanta—the real-life setting for the movie Driving Miss Daisy. Susie and I were in my car, about a block from the estate sale, when Susie screeches “Oriental rug! Oriental rug on the curb!” Right then and there I flipped a U-turn. We whipped into the driveway of a dilapidated house under renovation, hopped out, and yes, there on the curb was an actual oriental rug. A huge rug, all wadded up and left to die right there on the curb. So we did the humane thing. The two of us hefted it up and into the back of my car, screeching and laughing like a couple of loons. We could tell it was a very old rug, and that the colors were good. Susie needs a new old rug for her dining room, and these were the very colors she needed. Still laughing like loons, we motored on to the estate sale. At one point, Susie, who is usually a genteel Southern Lady, master gardener, Eucharistic Minister and recovering Brownie leader, pumps her fists in the air and hollers “Whoo-hoo! Who needs cocaine with a rush like this!”

The sale was excellent, by the way. I scored an empire mahogany card table, some sterling silver doo-dads and some vintage linens, among other things. We found a great 1920s wrought iron patio settee for Ellen, who, unfortunately, has an actual day job and couldn’t go with us on Friday, and Jeanie and Sharon, two other posse members, also found some good stuff. We all met back at my house to unload my car, at which point we unrolled the rug in my driveway to get the first real look at it. As we suspected, it was a good rug. As in, old. Susie and I left to go to some more estate sales, still stoked about the rug. We were so stoked, in fact, that I made up a song. Sung to the tune of “Oh Happy Day”—you know, the gospel number—it goes like this: “Oh Happy Day. Oh Happy Da-ay-ay-ay. (Oh Happy Day) When Jesus Threw. When Jesus Threw-ew-eew. (Yes Jesus Threw) Yes, Jesus Threw. He Threw that Rug Away! The chorus goes something like this: He Threw That Rug! Right on the Curb! We pulled right up! And threw it in the Car.
Oh Happy Day!

Did I mention we were stone-cold sober, driving around the finer neighborhoods in Atlanta singing the rug song at the top of our lungs? After a couple more stops—including our traditional junk posse lunch spot, The Oak Grove Market, we decided to drop the rug off at Sharian’s, in Decatur, to have it cleaned. The nice men at Sharian’s were very approving of our find. Turns out the rug is Persian, an antique Mahal, 10-by-13, the exact size and colors Susie needed. The men pointed out that the rug had about an inch coating of animal hair and reeked of cat pee. No worries. Sharian’s can get anything out of any rug. We left joyously, still singing the rug song.

That afternoon, we started scratching. And scratching. It seems our curbside find was flea-infested. I spent a very uncomfortable Saturday signing books at a Kroger in Buckhead, trying to find a way to discreetly scratch the flea bites in my cleavage. Not fun. The interior of my car has now been carpet-bombed with flea-killer. Oh Happy Day!

Here I am with two nice sisters at the Kroger signing.