It is time to waste an hour

Sherri Gardner HowellBlount, Farragut, Kitchen Table Talk

In the middle of  Christmas chaos last week, I got an overwhelming desire to “waste an hour.”
Wasting an hour was something my mother introduced when I was much too young to understand the whys and hows and, yes, the genius behind it. It didn’t happen often, but every now and then I would catch my purpose-driven, busy mother just sitting at the kitchen bar, thumbing through a magazine or nonchalantly sipping a cup of black coffee.
The oddness of the sight was always enough to make me ask:  “Mom, what are you DOING?”
“Just wasting an hour,” would be the answer. No apology. No guilt. No remorse. A simple statement of fact: Wasting an hour.
Often there was another person involved. My mom’s best friends, Hattie Lou or Loraine, or her sister-in-law, Aunt Kathy, would sometimes be sitting with her. Sometimes my grandmother would be at the scene, although those times were more rare.
More often than not, the comment would come at the tail end of a morning visit with Hattie Lou. She lived across the street and would pop across on a day off from her job at the bank, ready for coffee and conversation.
“What are you and Aunt Hattie Lou doing?”
“Just wasting an hour…”
Wise woman, my mother. Nothing about the time she spent with her friends or sitting idly for a few minutes alone with her thoughts and a cup of coffee was wasted. It was time well-spent, time to recharge and reconnect with the people and the things that get lost in the day-to-day drive to always make the most of every minute, to get things DONE.
I think that was why I was so perplexed by my desire last week to waste an hour. By all practical logic, I didn’t have an hour to waste.  A two-week indulgence cruise had put me so far behind the 8-ball in preparing for our annual Christmas party and buying Christmas gifts that I knew it would take every second to recover.  When I came home with a vacation cold that zapped my energy the first couple of days, the possibility of success looked bleak. Waste an hour? I didn’t have a minute.
Yet there it was: My mother’s voice in my head, my hands wrapped around a steaming cup of hot tea and a Southern Living magazine unopened on the kitchen table.
I sat down.
“I will just read Rick Bragg’s column on the last page,” I told myself.
And I did.  And then I read the first pages. And the middle. And back to the end.
I sipped my tea and just let my mind wander back to my home in Lexington and my kitchen counter, visions of my sweet mom laughing with Hattie Lou as the aroma of rich coffee mixed with whatever was cooking on the stove. They solved many problems during those “wasted” hours, with the most important being how to keep sane and happy in a world where things weren’t always as great as they seemed to a 7-year-old daughter who had nary a care.
It was all about taking a moment when there wasn’t one to take because friends and sometimes simply your own thoughts have value. They are worth a “wasted” hour.
I know it’s Christmas week. I know things get hectic, and it seems the weight of a perfect holiday season rests squarely on the shoulders of those of us who would not dare waste an hour.
But do it. Take a few minutes with a friend, a magazine or simply your own random, non-productive thoughts.
Waste an hour. And then have a Merry Christmas.
Sherri Gardner Howell has been writing about family life for newspapers and magazines since 1987. She lives in West Knoxville, is married to Neville Howell and has two sons and three grandsons. Her newest adventure is as a travel agent with her own company, SGH Go Travel. Email her at

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