It is Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. I’m enjoying Todd’s extended family. I’ve laughed. I’ve cried. I’ve gone out in pursuit of pie crusts 12 hours before we needed them and actually found them in the well stocked HEB. I’ve jogged. I’ve hiked up hills. I’ve been in touch with my people in other places and at home. And I’ve prayed.
Last night, Todd’s dad did a devotional for the entire extended family on Thankfulness. That’s what got me crying. I was afraid I wouldn’t stop, but I had pie duty, so I pulled it together. We read a few verses, among which were Philippians 4:6 and Colossians 3:15.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.”
It was mentioned that the opposites to thankfulness are worry (do not be anxious) and complaining. I have been guilty of both.
This has been a hard year for so many of my people. Some tables don’t look like they should this year, because they are missing important people. Some tables don’t have anyone sitting there at all. Life is hard. I saw a memory on Facebook of an old Thanksgiving post from 2015. I am pasting in an excerpt from it.
My family is moving into another phase of life with older, more active kids. I didn’t see it coming and I’m fighting this phase. I think a great deal of my own internal discord comes from my fighting the system instead of finding a way to thrive within it.
I read an article years ago about how to react if ever attacked by an alligator. Silly me, you may think. What a stupid waste of time to read articles about reacting to alligator attacks. Not really. I live on a river and I do stupid things. I think I have a reasonable chance of needing this advice at some point. If you are ever with me in a kayak, consider yourself covered. So I read the article. The point of it was that you can’t fight an alligator and win. He will win every time. The only way to deal with an attack is to roll with it. Literally. An alligator’s approach is to grab on and roll you over and under the water until you are dead by drowning. Then he stores you under a log and lets your meat rot and he’ll come back later and eat you. (You’re welcome. Now you know.) The best thing you can do in this situation is try to roll with the gator and come up to breathe and roll again. You try to keep rolling toward solid footing and give yourself time to be helped by someone else or get away. But you can’t go contrary to the gator. You can’t fight against it. You have to roll with it.
I’ve been fighting a system that is stronger than I am. A gator. I’m fighting something unchangeable. And I can’t. I have to roll with it. Come up for air. Work myself into the systems so that I can still be effective. Roll with it.
There are plenty of things right now that I have zero control over but wish I did. There are things I wish I could change. Things I wish I was less bothered by. Those things are the enemy of gratitude. I’m not thinking about them right now. Because what is right far outweighs what is wrong. And what is right is very clear to me today.
One of my favorite verses lately is I Samuel 2:9: It is not by strength that one prevails. If there’s a gator at your Thanksgiving table this year, deal with it carefully and you’ll prevail. Don’t feed it. Don’t fight it. Roll with it. And when you’ve made it out alive, look down river for someone else caught in the struggle. And help them roll.
I didn’t go to Savannah in pursuit of the perfect milkshake. But somehow, over the course of 4 days and as many failed attempts to find one, I ended up on the milkshake chase of a lifetime.
It became a whole thing.
But I want it known that it didn’t start out that way.
It all started on a sunny fall day in October, under skies so blue they made me achy for bottled Cokes and my grandmother. I was downtown with my 4 friends, one of whom was about to get into trouble with the law, but hadn’t yet. We were shopping. And eating. And planning to eat. And shop. And glancing at our watches to stay on track for a bus tour of the city we had booked for later that afternoon.
Since my grandmother has been gone since 1991 and bottled Cokes are hard to come by, my next Blue October Sky longing was a milkshake. A chocolate one.
My friends, all more seasoned shoppers than I am, wandered in and out of shops on Julian Street. I found myself standing in front of the Candy Kitchen, next door to River Street Sweets. I wasn’t shopping at the moment. It seemed like the right time to saunter in and order one. But something talked me out of it and I can’t for the life of me remember what that was. It was me talking to me inside my own head. I told myself to wait on it. For a better time. I think I had decided that evening would be better and I was falsely convinced we’d be back in this same spot that evening for our Ghost Tour. Whatever my reasons were, they led me away from my opportunities and I never ordered a shake that first day.
This was my first mistake. It wouldn’t be my last, or my biggest.
Friday night, after a day at the beach and the outlet mall, we were sitting around an elegant table eating some pretty expensive pork chops, when the other girls asked our waiter, Jackson, where I could find the best tasting milkshake on the planet. They knew I wasn’t going to let it go until I got one.
“Leopold’s,” he answered quickly. “Definitely.”
We had seen the place. We had heard about the place. We hadn’t gone into the place, because you couldn’t get within a square acre of it. There were always 50 people lined up out the door and down the sidewalk. It looked like a line to buy Bruno Mars tickets in Madison Square Garden. I don’t think I’ve ever met a milkshake good enough to justify that.
So we gave up on Leopold’s twice in one day.
But as we got closer to our townhouse on Lafayette Square, Parker’s Kitchen and General Store came into view. This store was like the Vegas strip in Savannah and had everything from crocheted rat figurines to candles to pints of Haagen Daz. They didn’t have fresh handspun milkshakes, but they did have a milkshake machine.
A milkshake vending machine. Done well, that’s a little slice of heaven. What could go wrong?
So I proceeded to fix myself a DIY gas station milkshake. I followed the process without reading any of the prompts. I skipped a couple of fairly important steps. Like picking a cup and placing it in under the spout where the liquid pours out.
I’d like to think this particular mistake was a result of being tired. The only other explanation is harder to swallow. I didn’t even notice I had skipped this step until the “milk” or whatever it was began to spew forcefully from a spout with no cup to catch it. But it amped up to a new level of upheaval when the stirring and shaking began.
Even then, I was still a little bit confused about my part in this fiasco.
“Missy! Did you put the cup in place?” Erin called out. Yeah. No. I didn’t do that. I didn’t know I needed to do that. At this point, I didn’t even know how much I should have known that I needed to do that. An employee was headed my direction in a panic, with a look on her face I couldn’t quite read. Oh man, I’m in trouble. What did I think was going to happen here? The next 2-3 minutes were fairly traumatic and I believe my psyche has blocked them out. There were processed fluids pouring out onto the floor. The mop bucket was brought out. People without higher education passed judgment. And I received a brief and somewhat terse tutorial from the employee about making myself another and what to say to the cashier as I checked out.
The milkshake thing was really going well.
At the end of my catastrophic romp through Parker’s, I walked out to the gas pump and took a sip of that bad boy. Ten seconds later, I threw it away.
I think they put me on a Do Not Serve list in that store and I tried to steer clear for the rest of the weekend. Truthfully, that wasn’t hard to do. I had already purchased a crocheted rat and a bad milkshake. There was nothing else there for me.
At 10:30 that night, in a moment of desperation, I ordered a chocolate shake from McDonalds on Uber Eats. I got made fun of for that, too, because it wasn’t deemed a worthy milkshake. But it was a heap better than the one I vended from a machine.
McDonalds didn’t count, though. And the hunt continued into Saturday.
Saturday was the last full day I had to get this done. In the late afternoon, after meandering all over historic Savannah, I had the good fortune to be facing the Candy Kitchen again on Julian Street. This time I was smart enough to go in.
“I’d like a medium chocolate shake, please,” I said, feeling like it was about to all be worth it. Everything I had suffered to this point would be brought into peaceful alignment with the universe.
“Oh, sorry. We are out of chocolate today,” a girl said through a cotton facemask.
Of course they were. If you’ve run out of chocolate and your name is Candy Kitchen, why are your doors even still open? Turn the light off and come back when you’ve made amends.
“Ok,” I said, hanging my head. “Thanks.”
One of my buddies walked out of a shop.
“What happened?” she asked.
“Out of chocolate,” I answered.
“Out of chocolate? Wow.”
I can’t say for sure that it wasn’t my shoulder popping, but I think I heard my spirit break. So I took a short walk down the block and settled on Ben and Jerry’s, which felt like the biggest sellout in the history of desserts.
They gave me a paper straw.
After several humiliating decisions and 4 days of hotly pursuing any milkshake at all, I was rewarded with a straw that disintegrated like moist toilet paper on my bottom lip.
I’ve written before about defining moments. We all have them. We all recognize them. Because they are few and infrequent, they are easily recognizable when they occur. Sometimed they even come in the mail.
I had one last night.
It was a doozie.
Honestly, last night may have been my finest hour. My crowning achievement. That one moment where everything comes together just right and a choir lines up and sings an anthem with your name in it.
None of this will matter to anyone else but me. I don’t care. I’m writing it down because I won.
But my achievement and the victory of my lifetime will mean nothing without a little background.
Recently I took a short trip to Savannah, GA with some of my favorite people—all locals. Without any masculine assistance, we hooked a hefty cargo basket to my trailer hitch (5 middle-aged women don’t pack light), arranged suitcases like a real world game of Tetris, figured out nets and straps, and drove off into the sunset. We drove my car, which seats 6 somewhat comfortably, depending on which seat you are in. I did much of the driving.
Me driving means a lot of things. It means getting places on time or early. It means spanky doodle playlists with 156 awesome tunes from the 80s and 90s.
And it means being willing to take criticism. Lots and lots and LOTS of criticism.
There were four other people in the vehicle. Passenger #1 never criticized my driving, not because she’s too noble, but because she refuses to do any driving herself, doesn’t drive any more impressively than I do, and doesn’t care to jump into most frays. She’d rather read a magazine and let the dumpster fires burn.
Passenger #2 never criticized my driving either, and probably is slightly more noble than the others. But though she was never overtly critical, she was voted to take over for me late that first night when I was deemed ‘unsafe’ by Passengers 3 and 4.
Passenger #3 wasn’t so much critical as she was amused by the criticism offered by anyone else. She was unwilling to lead a raid, but was running with the raiders. Passenger 3 is a pot stirrer. And she enjoyed the contents of the pot as often as possible.
Passenger #4 was the Informinator. The Knower of All Knowledge. The Finder of All Answers. The Chief of Police, Criticism and Complaints Branch. We’ll call her Elaine here, because her name is Elaine. Names have not been changed to protect the innocent.
There are no innocents to protect. Everyone is guilty.
And while we’re at it, Passenger 1 is Melissa, 2 is Becky, and 3 is Erin. And though I love them, they mostly all stink.
After a short drive, followed by a dinner, a longer drive, and then a stop at a gas station in East Georgia, I was voted out of the driver’s seat. Of my own car.
Walking back out to the car from the convenience store, I looked over at Becky who had a funny look on her face.
“What?” I asked. “You got a problem with me, too? Do you want to drive?” Becky chuckled and then said sheepishly.
“I don’t have a problem and I’m not dying to drive,” and then she paused. “But they want me to.” She nodded her head back toward Erin and Elaine.
“Of course they do,” I said. “Ok, fine. Whatever.” I wasn’t actually mad and truthfully, I was pretty tired by this point. “Have at it.” And I walked around to the passenger side of the front seat. “You two can shut your pie holes,” I added. But they didn’t. And they wouldn’t for the rest of the weekend.
All of that took place on a Wednesday night. Becky took us safely into Savannah where we stayed parked for the next 36 hours. On Thursday, we walked everywhere and drove nowhere.
On Friday, we had decided to hit the beach. That meant driving to Tybee Island, which was 40 minutes away. Still smarting from the flaming darts of Wednesday night, I handed the keys to Elaine.
“You’re driving to Tybee,” I announced. “I’m sure you’ll do better than I could do.” I didn’t really mean that. She wasn’t going to do better than I could have done. Elaine hemmed and hawed just a tad—enough to make it seem like she was putting up a fuss—and then conceded by getting behind the wheel.
We started the playlist up again and 4 of us sang at the top of our lungs to things like Livin’ on a Prayer and Ice Ice Baby and Wide Open Spaces. There were many places we could have stopped on the way to the beach to buy towels. We passed up a Target, for crying out loud. But for some reason we settled on a corner CVS, mistakenly thinking the seasonal aisle in Georgia in October would be a replica of the seasonal aisle in Florida in October. You know what Georgia sells on the seasonal aisle in late October? Mittens. Scarves. Hats. Chapstick.
Not beach towels.
So Elaine and I purchased a 2 pack of Bounty, the quicker picker upper, and called it a victory. That day was a magical combination of the stupid and the superb. It was laughing at the ones who I could fit into one of my pants legs but still couldn’t march up the lighthouse’s 174 steps without doubling over and gulping in air by the metric ton. It was introductions to strangers and ocean views that steal the words from your mouth. It was perfection.
But you know what? This post isn’t about any of that. It’s about the driving.
It was a great trip overall. Yeah. But it ended and we all came home, exchanged pictures, reminisced, and returned to the civilian living of jobs and carpools and early weekday alarms.
Then last week, I stood at the mailbox and peered into it. Sometimes if the mail looks bad enough, I’ll leave it in there for a day or two just to punish it. But on that day, I saw an official looking envelope addressed to me. So I opened it, hoping it was a rebate check or an invitation to run for office or something.
It was a ticket. A speeding ticket. A photographically enforced speeding ticket.
Dang it. Of all the things. After all the abuse I had endured from my friends, now I was receiving notice from the state of Georgia, by way of some law enforcement agency in Chatham County, Tennessee that the vehicle “pictured and described herein was photographed violating public safety in a school zone.” I was clocked going 58 in a 45. They apparently wouldn’t have enforced it if I’d been going 56. But of course.
I stewed on all of this for quite a while. I vented to Todd. I should have just paid the thing that afternoon and let it all go as Todd suggested. But that would have been way too emotionally healthy a choice to make. So I set the ticket aside for several days and thought about it constantly.
Finally, after too much time stewing, I picked the ticket back up from its spot on the game cabinet in the family room and decided I was going to take care of it. This was last night. I re-read the statement about how my driving was a hazard to southern school children everywhere, but most especially Georgia, and got angry all over again.
Then I decided to text Elaine as I was about to pay the ticket online.
“I go back and forth between ‘whatever’ and ‘NUH UH’ on the photo speeding ticket I just received from the state of GA by way of Chatham County, TN. It highlights that I was speeding in a school zone at improper times. $75 ticket plus $25 processing fee (oh brother!). I’m guessing I should just pay it and obviously I can. But the ridiculousness of the explanation makes me want to fight. Can’t fight GA, though. I’d have to go there to fight.” (I can be pretty verbose while texting.)
“Was that from our trip?!” Elaine typed back.
And then, she asked me a question. A question that in that moment would change my life.
“Was it me or Becky?”
Well, now. I hadn’t even considered that possibility. I was so quick to accept the anti-Missy propaganda I had been fed.
“Ha!” I responded. “I hadn’t even thought of that. It might have been you, lol. Friday at 10:29 a.m.”
“It me,” she typed back.
Ohhh man. I continued to text the following.
So at this point, there was a lot of back and forth about paying the ticket. Elaine insisted that she pay and DID pay. At the red arrow in the image above, less than 40 seconds from finding out she was the brazen lawbreaker, Elaine sent a Venmo payment for the entire amount. Following this payment, she insisted I inform the group about her crime and made statements like, “You need to bask in your superiority,” and “This is my journey,” and “I will sit in my shame.”
So here I am basking. As she sits in shame and takes the journey. How does it feel to walk the LOOOOONG plank of almost mowing down a Georgia 2nd grader while selfishly singing “I wear my sungleasses at night?” I wouldn’t know how that feels. Because I didn’t do it.
So, yeah. I’ve had some success in my life. I’ve had some good days and some really good days. But yesterday was the best day. The very best. This day–the day I shut Elaine’s mouth forever–is in my front pocket with my $100 bill, my rabbit’s foot, and a roll of Sweet Tarts that are heavy on the pinks and purples.
Somebody got a speeding ticket in Savannah for jeopardizing public safety and it wasn’t me.