Life Lessons From My Dad

IMG_2483My dad is probably the most difficult person to purchase a Father’s Day gift for. When you ask him what he would like for any special occasion , he will always answer the same way: “I don’t need a thing.” And he does not say it in the way most people do when they really do want something and just don’t want to sound greedy. My dad really doesn’t want anything.

Every year for his birthday, Christmas and Father’s Day I run down the short list of things he might find somewhat useful, but I think the best reaction I have gotten from giving him anything over the years has been from some pretty hilarious cards that highlight the kind of advice you can rely on from a dad.  But they never really landed on the money- at least not for my dad. So, Dad, this one is for you. The best life lessons you ever taught me – 95 percent practical with a sprinkling of that dry wit that I’m pretty sure I got from you…

1. You Can’t Always Get What You Want: He would explain this to my sister and me by singing that old Rolling Stones tune. We would roll our eyes but at the same time know that while we were sometimes pretty rotten, we were not spoiled. My dad has always been a hard worker and engrained in us at an early age the value of working for the things you have. You don’t expect someone to provide something for you – you work for it. And when you say you are going to do something, you do it. Period. And just when you least expect it, after you pay your major dues, then BAM – you get what you need. Every freaking time.

2. Live Within Your Means and Save for a Rainy Day: My dad instilled in us that credit cards were for emergencies only and that if you could not afford it outright you did not need it. This category also included suggesting that we set up 401-K accounts and pump as much as They Will Allow into them. He also suggested investing in appreciating assets (like a house) and not in depreciating assets (like a car). If you read my last blog post you will know what I am talking about on the car thing. Speaking of cars…

3. Check Your Oil and Car Gauges Regularly: I can remember being home from college for Christmas break or a random long weekend. I would be packing up my things ready to hit the dusty trail and when I would arrive at my car with keys and bag in hand, my dad would be washing it. Or changing the oil. Or wielding a tire gauge. I would roll my eyes and huff over my Unexpected Delay in getting to whatever band party was waiting for me on the other end of 316. (Told you- rotten!) My car had been sitting there for four days. Why now? Well, doing this was my dad’s love language. He might not have wanted to take me shopping for Coach purses but this he could do. I may not have said it much back then, but thank you, Dad. You prevented me from stalling out or spinning out more times that I already had.

4. Be Grateful for What You Have and Don’t Complain: My dad is a big believer of living in the moment and enjoying life’s simple joys.  He does not dwell on the past, nor does he fret (or get too terribly excited about 🙄) the future. Even- keeled and steady,  he does not pine for the finer things in life to make him happy. He has somehow always just known that they are smoke and mirrors, anyway.  Never has this been more evident than after he suffered a stroke in December of 2006. The recovery process was (and still is) a long one, and one that most people would pitch a major hissy over. But in his typical Dad way, he has taken this all in (re-learned) stride. Ask him about it and he will just talk gratitude- over getting to spend time with grandkids and no longer having to get up so early. Never once have I heard him complain.

5. The Eraser is the Dumb End of a Pencil: Growing up as a writer in a Rambling Wreck-sized family of generations of engineers was tough. Especially when it came to math homework. Oh, how I would cry and want to dig that eraser into the paper until my mistakes were nothing but a pulverized pile of rubber and pulp. My dad would try to get me to crack a smile by telling me to use the “smart end” of the pencil (the point) and analyze my work and what might be salvageable  before throwing in the towel. He probably doesn’t know it, but I’ve fixed a dishwasher, balanced many a budget at home and at work and put together numerous Christmas Eve toys using this philosophy. When my husband looks at me in disbelief each time I just smile and say, “daughter of Doug.”

6. Do Not Tell a Lie: This advice goes without saying but I learned this lesson at a very young age. I was not happy with my dad about something and decided to fill his L.L. Bean boot-style bedroom slippers with lotion. I recruited my barely two-year-old sister to pump the lotion so that I could stand watch. “Keep pumping,” I’d hiss as I listened at the door. When the bottle was empty and the slippers were full we disposed of the evidence and went on our way. Later that night I received the George Washington Cherry Tree spiel in its entirety after I blamed the entire episode on my sister. Rotten, rotten, rotten.

7. Attend Your Kids’ Stuff: He was there for my breakout role as Frauline Rottenmier in the seventh- grade musical production of Heidi even though I couldn’t sing a note. When I warmed the bench in JV basketball? There. And every time I set up my pompoms and megaphone on the Adams Stadium sidelines? He was there for that, too. And he could always be depended upon to treat us to Burger King afterwards, which had a convenient overlook of the pet shop flea dip station. Not Paris, y’all, but memorable just the same. Which brings me to my final lesson from my dad…

8. It’s the Small Things You Will Remember. Like practicing for the softball throw for field day in the front yard. Sit-up contests, and having him co-coach my fourth grade basketball team with Captain Bob.  And then there was the time at age seven or eight when I insisted on wearing flats to hike to the John Oliver Cabin and I stepped in a giant pile of poop. He put me on his shoulders and carried me the rest of the way. He also picked me up from every slumber party I was scared to stay at and some other parties later on (that I was also scared to stay at 😬).

You know, the biggest thing about all of this is that my dad did not (and does not) harp on any of his advice. He just continues to live life in his own quiet way, ready to lend an ear, or a joke, or a tire gauge. And if you are lucky enough to know him, you know he may not say much, but when he does it will be either something really smart, something really funny, or both. Thanks for being you, Dad.

The photo above is of Kelly Barbrey, her sister and her dad, circa 1980-something.  It looks like he is opening a box of delicious chocolates that he did not ask for and is reading a hilarious card. Kelly is wearing multiple slips from the dress up box. She is also wearing heels as her hiking flats were a bit dirty. 👔





You See Me Rollin’: A Girl and Her Cars (Not a Love Story)

IMG_1325I have never really considered myself a Car Person. It has never mattered that much to me what kind of wheels were getting me from Point A to Point B. If someone were to, say, hand over a sizeable amount of money to me, upgrading my vehicle would not come before upgrading my entire footwear collection or shiplapping the heck out of my laundry room. I kind of do with cars what people used to do with jobs: find one that delivers and keep it as long as it will have you. Some of my cars have inevitably petered out before I was done with them. My current car is starting to show its age. At 11 years old and counting I get the feeling that it may only make it a couple more years – if even. That just got me thinking about all my cars over the years. So, for your entertainment, here is how I have answered the question “What You Rollin’ In?” since, well, I started rollin’…

I’m Rollin’ In… A 1984 Ford LTD: Oh, yes I did. For months I dreamed of a Jeep Wrangler, and what I got was this major upcycling project. It started with the name. This car had more nicknames than the pledge class of Animal House. The Fantastic Slide. The Silver Ace. The list goes on and on. This car was my first – the definition of a “Beaute” and a true character building experience. And riding in it was truly a Fantastic Voyage.

The second step to upcycling this car was to add a plethora of surf shop stickers on the bumper. I mean, what land-locked Atlanta girl does not put Ron Jon stickers on the bumper of her car? This car ran into things a lot, and was present on the scene (and possibly involved) when I learned that it was not smart to drive in soccer cleats. There was also the time that it got stuck in reverse and would only go backwards. Ironically, this happened when I went to deliver the check to reimburse my soccer teammate for the damage incurred to her car (from someone backing into it while wearing soccer cleats). And since a car that can only go backwards can only take you so far, I had to move on.

I’m Rollin In…A 1986 Ford Tempo Sport: Sport. Yep. I think that the red racing stripe down the side was the reason that this little darlin’ was a dubbed a Sport (as opposed to Regular?) Ford Tempo. It was how I learned to drive a stick shift. I would break out into a cold sweat if somebody got too close behind me on the big hill on the way to lifeguard at the Pangborn pool. Fortunately, people were intimated by said racing stripe, and would stay far enough back for me not to roll into them. Unfortunately, our relationship was short-lived. If the Ole Sport had not stalled at the intersection on the way to Freshens at rush hour, I might still be driving it today.

I’m Rollin In…A 1996 Mitsubishi Eclipse: Talk about trading up. This car was new. And it was red. And I was a senior in high school. And I thought I was Hot Stuff. Not only did it go forward (in addition to backwards), the windows rolled up and down and it had a CD player, which meant I could blast “When Daddy Let Me Drive” by Alan Jackson as loud as I wanted and drive with my shoes off and the windows down. And when I got into The University of Georgia, that red and black G sticker looked really good on the back windshield (sorry Ron Jon).

The maximum capacity (“four”) of that vehicle was clearly stated incorrectly in the instruction manual. I can distinctly remember several times when the Eclipse sat eight quite comfortably. (Nothing prepares you for motherhood like driving around seven intoxicated people. Some are crying, some are fighting over chicken fingers…) If those seats could talk. But those seats are not saying anything right now because the Eclipse stalled on Highway 316 and I had to ride in the passenger seat of a tow truck to get both myself and that little Red Hot back to my parents’ house. But it got me through college and a few years beyond.

I’m Rollin In…A 2001 Isuzu Rodeo. The person who decided to make a four cylinder SUV was probably just as practical as the person who decided it would be a good idea to purchase one. I wanted an SUV and this was the only one that my budget as a newly employed individual could sustain. You could floor it and not much would happen. Except that one time when I had just started my new job and it had snowed the night before. In Columbia South Carolina, no less. I could not see out of the windshield, but decided that it would be fiiine to try and make it through the apartment complex gate so that I would not be late for my second day of work. Well I made it through. Aaalll the way through. If you lived in Hampton Greene Apartments in 2004 (…and even into 2005) and did not have a gate in your gated community, that was me. I am sorry.

I’m Rollin in… A 2006 Toyota Sequoia. This car may not have as many nickanmes as my first, but it is big and green and kind of reminds me of Oscar the Grouch’s Rolling Trashcan. I have always wanted to be one of those moms who does not let her kids eat in her car (my husband would like this very much, too) but seeing as my kids are Always Eating and somehow we are Always Driving Around, I see no alternative solution. You could probably compile an entire bowlful of extra crunchy (and a little furry) snack mix from the plethora of Cheez Its, Cherrios, and French Fries that lie petrified underneath the seats. In the market? Shall we talk resale price?

I’m not really sure what l’ll be rollin’ in next, but it will probably be something big and safe and won’t be that Jeep Wrangler that I dreamed about as a teenager. I mean, it doesn’t have enough seats for carpool, and people would just say I’ve lost my fool mind. In some ways, my unrealized dream of the Jeep Wrangler is probably the reason why I have never been much of a car person, anyway. But if you see a giant green Sequoia lumbering down the road full of kids, snacks, shoes and shiplap, just smile, wave and know that the hour is nigh…

Regardless of the type of vehicle she is in, Kelly Barbrey still prefers driving in bare feet with the windows down on an open road with some Luke Bryan playing. This is Mortifying to her children. Just wait till they ask for a Jeep Wrangler and get a Silver Ace...🚗 🤦🏼‍♀️

Three Magic Summers of Youth to Relive Today

I remember listening to the Jimmy Buffet song “A Pirate Looks at Forty” when I was in high school. I pictured that pirate looking kind of like the Gorton’s Fisherman – weathered, ruddy and waaaay old. I mean, back then thirty was pretty much the end of the line and forty was beyond my un-furrowed brow’s comprehension entirely.

Summer holds a totally different meaning when you’re pushing forty, too.
Whether you’re sweating over bathing suit shopping or are too busy working on your spreadsheet of summer camps to even think about creating the Least Offensive Option with the J. Crew Swimfinder, I am here to transport you to three summers from your youth that were pure magic.

The Summer of Ten: The AC is off and the windows are open. Sounds of Skip Carey announcing that Dale Murphy is up to bat are faint in the background as you sprawl on the floor to devour the latest Baby-Sitters Club Super Special. Your eyes sting from the copious amounts of chlorine and your determination not to let the boys get the better of you at Sharks and Minnows. Your bathing suit choice is not a deliberate one, but the swim team-issued variety with a racer back and you put it on in the morning and it is worn all day. When it is time to go play Putt Putt after dinner you put on jams, a puff paint t-shirt and a banana clip and practically swoon from the back seat when Kokomo comes on the radio.

Family vacation means camping and days spent playing monopoly in the screen house and going on hikes, which are probably less than a mile but at the time feel like full-on safaris learning the difference between Rhododendron and Mountain Laurel, Swallowtails and Luna Moths. The day is not complete without a walk to the camping store at dusk for a popsicle, a can of Dr. Pepper or a moon pie.
The Summer of Fifteen: You can taste freedom as you walk to the pool with your friends. You line up your chairs and lie face down so your ragged copy of YM can be read while strategically positioned on the ground between stripy shadows created by slats of the lounge chair. Your hair is brassy and a little crunchy from the Sun-In but your best friend says it looks good and you are sure that is why the cute lifeguard is looking your way. Your Walkman is blasting Shine by Collective Soul and the days stretch before you with endless possibilities.

You say you are dreading that family vacation at the lake house but you actually can’t wait to hit the swimming hole where the water is cold and a tiny boat affectionately called Ole Leaky waits upside down tied to a tree outside ready to take you there.

The Summer of Twenty One: The benefit to working at that Mexican restaurant is the free vat of cheese dip and grocery-sized bag of chips you get to take home to your roommates at the end of the night. Well, that, and the fact that job affords you the opportunity to stay in your college apartment for the summer. The friends of Twenty One are pretty much family. They will not only convince you that going to step class after three beers would be fun but you will laugh about it with you for a solid week (okay, you are still laughing about it). The apartment complex pool is kind of like eternal spring break and you have pretty much memorized your part to The Boy Is Mine (were you Brandy or Monica?).  True awakening was reading Faulkner and Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof last semester, so you find the contemporary equivalent of Southernness in Conroy and Ann Rivers Siddons and lose yourself in Prince of Tides and Outer Banks. You have absolutely no idea what the real world holds but somehow can taste the realization that something precious and intangible about youth is slipping through your fingers and you can’t decide whether to open your hands and let it pass through quickly or hold tight to it, resisting, resisting…

None of these seemingly insignificant occurrences holds true magic on its own, I suppose, but I can’t help but think that summer’s ability to transform everyday moments into magic is still hanging somewhere in the warm air. Sitting at the pool the other day I could not help but smile in noticing that the Summer of Ten and the Summer of Fifteen are still alive and well, that Sharks and Minnows is still a thing (drain is base!) and that maybe, just maybe this will be a magic summer for someone else.
Do not worry about Kelly Barbrey this summer. She will be just fine sipping a glass of Kim Crawford on the front steps and listening to the whiz clink sound of her kids on their razor scooters in the driveway at dusk. And she looks nothing like the Gorton’s Fisherman…at least not yet. Pass the sunscreen. 🐟