Sylvie and GL Faulkner, my great-grandparents, lived in a small house on a large lot under the shade of the little church up on the hill behind them. The front door opened to a 1970’s delight. Beige carpet, beige paneled walls, beige couch, and a dusty blue chair, just to spice things up a bit. The curtains were thick beige with sheers floating in the middle of the window. The bedrooms were tiny and dark, the blue bathroom was huge (to my eight-year-old self), and at some point in the house’s history, the back porch got screened in.
Lots of card games and Yahtzee were played on that back porch.
Underneath the porch, Granddaddy had a Coca-Cola machine. I don’t remember it working. Only that it was there. And also that it was spooky. Let’s just say if someone did hide Easter eggs underneath the porch, I wasn’t the kid who would have bravely and voluntarily gone after them.
Sylvie had a typical “L” shaped kitchen off to the far end of the house with a small dining room next to it separated by open floor-to-ceiling shelves. The shelves displayed her Depression glass, her prized china, vases, pitchers, and a small candy dish filled with orange slices.
The house smelled like Pond’s Cold Cream. All the time.
Sylvie’s parents, Hattie Lou and Brack McCullough, bought a large piece of property and built a house for themselves and one for their daughter and her family. My mother grew up in that house, sandwiched between her grandparents and her great-grandparents. I don’t have many memories of Grandmother Faulkner personally. I do of her home, her ability to craft the best darn biscuits south of the Mason Dixon line, and her orange slices.
Stale orange slices.
What I mostly remember are holidays filled with family and food and possibly eye-rolling when Grandmother Faulkner cheated at cards. Again. (Like any good, God-fearing Southern woman, she loved to win.) (That goes for cards, football, and peach cobbler at the church picnic.) I remember Atlanta Braves baseball on the TV (also something she preferred in the win category). Feeling as if the distance between Montgomery and Alex City lasted days instead of an hour. Playing hide and seek in the big blue bathroom and pulling the shower curtain down causing a bloody nose.
I don’t come from a long line of wealthy, educated folk. The opposite. Granddaddy Faulkner never got past third grade. Sylvie didn’t learn how to drive until her husband flat couldn’t do it anymore. My grandmother was the first to complete any sort of college. She earned an associate’s degree and taught reading to female prisoners at Tutwiler State Prison. My grandfather dropped out of college with one semester left. He was the original under-achiever.
But the next generation, my mother, her cousins, my uncle, they became the product of a thousand tiny steps away from poverty, from the revolving debt of tenant farming, from being forced to chose work in the fields or factory over attending elementary school.
Sylvie and GL’s house wasn’t much. Nothing fancy. In fact, after she died, the little church on up the hill bought it for the land and promptly tore the house down. Complete with all the beige anyone could stand, the lingering smell of Pond’s Cold Cream, and years of orange slices.
Although, it’s possible those orange slices never actually changed.
Generations of our people, my family, your family, have gone without.
Without houses with ample space, without new curtains every time HGTV has a new reality star, without 582 cable channels, without buying produce and meat at a mega-super-store, without registering for wedding china and fluffy new towels, without new cars just because.
What they did have were neighbors who sat on their front porches or backyards together, family who lived on the same block if not in the same house, biscuits made from lard and flour instead of bought at the nearest fast food joint, an understanding that hard work was part of this life and guaranteed you nothing other than the opportunity for more hard work.
And when family and friends entered their home, they gave what little they could. Even if all they could give was stale orange slices.
Friend, I don’t know about you but I am about exhausted feeling as if I don’t live a life of abundance.
Like most everyone I know, we live on a tight budget. Friends talk about weekend excursions and fun places to visit and then we all look at our budgets and say, um, how about a splash pad and brown bag sandwiches instead. And we do it and we love it and so do our kids. When family comes to town, we bake some whole chickens and roast seasonal veggies because steaks and shrimp are only for fancy and fifth birthdays are not fancy.
I see social media posts of international vacations and big houses with offices where no one has to sit at the kitchen table to work and even date nights at restaurants with fabric tablecloths and, Y’all do too. And we can’t help sometimes feeling like we are living a life of less than, not enough, not good.
But I’m tired of it.
It’s time to put out a glass candy dish with some ninety-nine cent orange slices in there and stop feeling as if living on a budget, working hard, brown-bagging lunches, and letting our kids run through sprinklers in our own front yard as entertainment is anything other than ABUNDANCE.
Then, when we do have a little left over, we buy our teachers a few extra school supplies, or send a friend a gift card as a treat, or grab a toy to save it for the Christmas toy drive, or splurge on some steaks and invite some neighbors over to eat on your wedding china with a pretty fabric tablecloth while the kids eat frozen pizzas and watch a movie.
Let’s just do it, Y’all. Let’s embrace the abundance of orange slices while we live with our hearts turned to our Creator and the Giver of all the abundance around us.
Orange Slice Abundance.