Thursday, October 16, 2014

MR. WOLFE HAD THAT RIGHT


Part II of Miss Florrie's Caffay

The stone was still here beside me on the desk, just now as I sat down with my first cup, and I gave it a fleeting fond glance before I tuned in to the world.   It’s on a white paper plate, for just as I went out to retrieve it from the hosta bed yesterday, the sun went scurrying behind a great bank of clouds, from which it has not peeked even a ray from then til this.    I brought the small bit of concrete into the house, its white flat scrabble-tiles intact and stuck tight, like a raft on an iceberg, and put it beneath the big sunny light of the breakfast table, with all the white surround to reflect and enhance.

 

The color in yesterday’s picture was chosen from about nine offered in a little peacock-flash of color icon on my phone, and I chose it because it was almost the perfect sepia of the pictures of that time---didn’t a lot of us think as we looked at pictures of Grandmas and Aunts and Uncles in their prime, looking out sternly from the black blotter-pages of those wide scrapbooks and heavyweight small albums---didn’t we imagine that the whole world of our forebears must have gone on, day after day, living and dying, commerce and love and cooking and art---in those pale goldy-tan tones?
 



That's my Mammaw, top right. 

When I returned from getting my second cup, I reached out a hand and laid it gently on the cool tiles, still rock-solid these eighty-something years, and felt the unyielding flat IS of it---that Mississippi mosaic which has been just THERE for life and death and wars and unrest and times of unspeakable heartache and joy.   The flat little unassuming face of the tile, with its two-faces-of-the-coin colors, and that pound of gray concrete poured and laid by long-stilled hands---that’s just something to think about.  This piece, had Chris not found it, would have still been there in that hot Delta sun season after season, amongst the other rubble of the site, or brushed and shoveled into a pile of like shards, tumbled back into the earth, with no meaning, no use, no history worth remembering, and nobody to care.
 



I’ve been reading the Outlander series, about a woman in 1945 who was transported back two centuries into warring Scotland, merely by touching one of the historic Circle Stones she was visiting on holiday.  And as I held my hand today on that cold flat bit of my own history, I closed my eyes and tried to imagine the doorway---that portal to 1957, with just a whiff of hamburgers frying, a burst of loud laughter from a tableful of hard-working men echoing down that kaleidoscope corridor, and the bright red and white of Miss Florrie’s Caffay, set in a movie of Time and Place and music and colour and the innocence of our teenage selves.

 


It would be close in that windowed space, the crowded  booths lively and loud, the air redolent of good coffee and burgers frying and the whiffs of Woodhue and spray-net and Miss Florrie’s Toujours Moi.   An underlying note of winter-long woolens and barely-aired mothball-stored items, as well as the Vitalis and Aqua Velva aura surrounding the leather-jacketed young men.  Scent and colour is as vivid in the the scene as the Rock ‘n’ Roll on the radio and the wasptail pepper-sauce in used Tabasco bottles on the tables.

 


 
 
Just being in the place for an evening, a quiet supper with the family, the men with their after-work hair slicked down, speaking across the aisles, and the Mamas admiring a new baby two booths down, was a homey thing.  My parents ordered The Special, and I the requisite hamburger---disappointed, somehow, that it came naked on a plate, without the crackly little wrapper to release that singular, tongue-curling mustard-pickle-and-onion scent when it was rustled open.    There was no rush, no splendor to the evening, just relaxing in a familiar place, plates pushed back and a cup of coffee alongside a slice of Pearlene’s pie, and the world was as right as it was gonna be for a while.
 

 

  

 
 
 
 

But I know I wouldn’t want to retrace it.  Not for all the decades between, not for the do-overs or the remarkable Firsts or the wonderful moments, the missed opportunities---nope, wouldn’t return.  Not for any disappearing dreams of yesterday, but it’s fun to imagine.  Perhaps for a Friday night or two, after a ball game, flushed with victory, and when the energy and the reds and whites and voices were like fireworks under a roof, or a quiet afternoon with girlfriends, our four sets of petticoats subdued beneath the table, as we sipped Cokes and shared secrets.  Ginger would lean close and whisper, "There's a baw-eh, and he LIKES you,” and that first   little heart-swell of romance would flutter into being.


 
 

 

But there’s no returning, no re-take, no second spin of the wheel.    There’s just so much a rock, no matter how embued with nostalgic magic, can do.
 
 
 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

MISS FLORRIE'S CAFFAY




A post on my friend Jeanne’s blog on Saturday brought to mind an indelible character from the past---a pink-cheeked flower container reminded me of someone I used to know.   Miss Florrie had our town CAFFAY, up on Main Street, and wore high heels and slim skirts and pretty silky blouses, with her Miss Clairol RAVEN BLACK up-do and two perfectly round circles of reddish rouge. I always think of her when I see doll cheeks or clown cheeks with such perfect rounds of red.

 

The caffay had several big store-type windows, with maybe six formica tables and those paddy-back-and-seat-to-match chairs of the era, as well as a shining bar, bigger than the one at the drugstore and not nearly as high, right at sit-on-a-stool level to eat one of those incomparable hamburgers, or a quick breakfast for the folks who worked in the stores and shops up and down the street.  


 

The floor is an indelible memory, of the tee-nineciest black and white tiles all laid in, boot-tracked and oxford-scuffed despite the daily mopping, and was known to have had quite a few dance steps spun across its small expanse, in and around the chairs and tables, when a good song came on the radio.   It was always fun to approach one of those big windows from way across the railroad track, especially on a getting-twilight evening, and see all the young folks gathered in those bright squares of light---that blast of red-and-white from the tables and booths made a triptych of colours and shapes, flexible and moving---as pretty as Dan Dailey and Betty Grable in Technicolor at the Sunday matinee. 
 



The caffay offered a good old Southern noon dinner, from the hands of Mattie and Pearlene, who had trod the boards of that kitchen from our parents’ days; those two round laughing women with  their shiny dark faces and white nylon dresses could turn out some scrumptious fried chicken and peas and cornbread, serving great ladlesful onto those divided plates, even though the crockery levees did little to save the potato salad from the chicken gravy, or the cornbread from the juice of those tongue-curling beet pickles.  The plates came out of the kitchen, held level and straight, with Mary Olive or Nancy trying hard to keep an errant thumb from the food, and were set down on that shining red counter or table as gently as a noon-o’clock rush could allow.

  


Huge, carb-and-grease meals, endless gallons of sweet tea, and loud laughter punctuated the farm and politics discussions at most of the tables, as the store-clerks and bank tellers and city hall workers had their own quiet lunches together---a simple bowl of beans and cornbread, or a Paminna Cheese sandwich, and silently returned to work, their token dimes under each plate at the counter, perhaps a quarter from a planter or lawyer at a table.




But Miss Florrie now, she was a character---nobody could remember how many husbands she’d had (one twice), and we girls all wanted to watch sometime as she got her makeup on.   We could just visualize her in her bedroom, sitting down in a black slip and mules to that three-fold mirror on her dresser, reaching out with ease to the bottles of foundation, the small round compact of rouge.   A good rub with the little puff-pad, a little shake to remove the extra, and then a perfect circle, bright as an apple on each cheekbone, like the Kewpie dolls on the Punchboard at Aunt Lou's store. 



 A couple of us had dolls with such gaudy countenances, and we always referred to them as Miss Flow-rie dolls, kinda wishing and kinda shuddering away from the idea of being old enough to decorate our own faces in such a manner.

 

We talked about her a little bit, in young-girl fashion, wondering idly if she put on her Maybelline like the teen girls in the bathroom at school---wetting that tee-ninecy red doll-toothbrush under the faucet, or spitting onto the little ridge of black mascara in the box.   A scrub down the channel, then an eyebrow-held-up with one finger, as  the mascara was scooped on from beneath in that curvy lift that deposited the sticky black onto lashes and skin.  We were mightily interested in the mechanics of the so-mysterious older privileges accorded our elders, and I’m sure we stared at Miss Florrie an inordinate amount, for I can remember that she was a bit of a caricature, as well as an almighty presence, with her bright cheeks and black-ringed blue eyes, and that impossibly black hair held up by all those crinkly pins.








A little bit like this, but a deep dark melted-and-poured coal black---a black beyond the midnight dreams of Miss Clairol herself.    Now imagine a little red clown circle high on the cheek, and it’s CLOSE, even to the immaculate outfit.

 

She always smelled nice---not a whiff of fried chicken or the scent of boiling broth or chopped onion (all of which wafted from the pass-through to the kitchen, but which somehow bypassed her magnificently pristine self), and she was as immaculately dressed and wrinkle-free, with her lipstick and rouge as smoothly red at closing time as at breakfast.







She was an institution in our town, a character and a landmark (Meecha at Miss Florrie’s) and a congenial, welcoming presence in that small corner caffay.  I don’t know when she WASN’T there, and don’t know when she closed or passed away or moved, for we were up here by then.   When we went back for my class reunion several years ago, we found only a bit of rubble where the bright fragrant old gathering-place had stood.

 

Chris wandered for a moment, bent, and picked up something from the concrete foundation.   He came back and handed me a heavy little souvenir:  A four-inch piece of that so-remembered floor, the tiny black and white tiles still dignified and smooth---I like to think that the little scuff top right is maybe from our Saddle Oxfords or one of the cool guys’ motorcycle boots. 

 

And there you have it---Full Circle from a cheeky little flowerpot to bit of the past which has lain for years in my own flowerbed.  It’s nice having a memory I can hold in my hand.


Sunday, October 5, 2014

SCRIBS AND SCRATCHES




Since receiving the set of five new books a couple of weeks ago, there’s been a great gray blur in my brain---I liken it to that hazy fingerprint thing they put on the TV screen to obscure the faces of the innocent.  Nothing to talk about, nothing to relate.   We’ve had some wonderful times together, some lovely gatherings for meals and little parties; there’s been a little “work toward” some houseguests who have had to cancel (babies due to arrive in a few days!!) and a tiny bit of muchmuch MUCH- needed Fall house-straightening for the closing-in to come. 

 

But no words come, so I just ramble amongst little snips from my journals, of bits and pieces I jotted down when the ideas and phrases came to me in a “Hey---I can use that someday,” but which seem to fit into no rhyme nor reasonable prose.   They’re just snips and snaps which don’t relate, but seemed like a good idea when they came to me. 
 

Perhaps sometime in future I’ll have reason to use them; probably not. 

 

Wine in a box:  Cardbordeaux---say it fast enough and it sounds as if it would be in the same set of furniture as Cabernet

 

 

Marquetry: A vegetable stand under a tent.


 
 

Prostitality:   Parties for the sole purpose of getting guests to buy stuff

 
. . .as many lives as Dent-slain Agragag.

 

I’m prone to acrobatic sentences.

        <><><><><><><><><>

I could never be a critic of anything, though I can think of wildly witty and scathing and apropos reviews of books, television shows, movies, people’s behavior and fashion and words, usually five minutes or the day after the proper time (if there COULD be a proper time to take it upon myself to offer an unsolicited opinion).     I chuckle over the dishpan at an unsaid bon mot or barb, telling and true, and I’m glad for the missed moment of opportunity which saved my manners once again.  But writing down and putting out there such reviews and criticisms as I read and hear, with no holds barred, no bridge unburnt, no prisoners taken---I’ll never have heart nor mind for such verbal vivisection.
    

 

 


OH, and beaten biscuits---I've made them. Once. Just as an experiment on a lazy Saturday morning. They're like a cross amongst a Ritz cracker and a dog biscuit and a Communion Wafer---the really hard, tough kind found in Baptist churches, which, if they weren't tiny enough to get back there and crunch between your back teeth, would do some serious dental damage. Or hang out like a mint until they melt sometime between the grape juice and "Just As I Am."
 
 
 
But just sitting down “to write something,” without having an idea before the start, feels like the typing equivalent of Ustinov’s Poirot in “Evil Under the Sun,”  strutting hobble-footed across the beach stones, puffed out and parading in that hideously magnificent bathing costume, wetting toes, oar-stroking with his windmilling arms and emerging, wet-to-the-knees with his invigorating pretense to exercise which had impressed no one save himself.
 
That’s what it feels like.
Moire non I hope, when the new season of COPS demands its blur back.
 
 

 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

I HAVE NEW BOOKS!


I have new books---five in all.   One for the first two-months-plus-one-year of LAWN TEA, (2008 and 2009), and one for each complete year since.
 

The first and longest, for in those days when I didn’t know how to post pictures, the posts were all words, and wordy they were.   This pink one with the Fleeing Fairy on the front must weigh five pounds.



 

I’d long dreamt of having the pages all in one book, then perhaps it might take two, and when I finally got it all keyed in and to the printer, there were FIVE.   They sent me tracking numbers, and I suppose I thought that the final message might jump right to “Out for delivery” on that very first day, for I signed in probably every twenty minutes for hours and hours, just to check the progress.  It was so silly, treating it like a baby due and overdue, and so long awaited that I was nagging the clock to spin.

 

The green one is a lot of Spring and Summer, with great excursions around blocks and parks, and long lawn-sprinkles and flower-waterings, with a special small yellow tub good for an afternoon’s play in the shade. 

 
 
 

Number Three is a lovely purple, with the same butterfly-and-thistle header photo I’ve had since Day One.  Chris made it on Kit’s birthday years ago, in a lovely park in Tennessee, as we awaited their arrival to celebrate with us.   The refreshments, oddly, were not Birthday Cake, but watermelon—--a plump beauty which Chris had “iced down” in a huge black garbage bag with ice from the hotel dispenser.   We ate dripping hunks of the juicy red on a big concrete picnic table, with whole eons of tiny plastic animals and reptiles and dinosaurs surrounding us in the shade.
I have a picture of Kit running toward me as she got out of the car, and neither of her feet is touching the ground.
 

 
 

And so they appeared at the door, those flat packages of mere cardboard and strap, with a heft to them of slick paper and purpose and WORDS.   I cannot imagine how many are IN there, and who on Earth must have sprayed all those tidbits and tomes out into the atmosphere.   It’s Family and times and travels, people and places, cooking and reading and gathering and just BEING, with their own “Diary App” in the mix, to chronicle our days and doings, as well as memories of other times.   And so they’re here, and did not arrive squalling, but as happy to see me as I was to hold them.


Number Four is the cheery yellow of a later Summer, another visit, when another birthday burgeoned castles and Princesses and a Dragon.   Which swallowed one of the young Royals, who was miraculously saved by Gracie, whose quick-thinking Heimlich burped Cinderella right out, to great cheers and requests for “Do it AGAIN!”

 

 
 
 
 

And Number Five, the last so far, is from this past year---smaller than the rest, for I was most remiss in posting for a great long while.  The picture was taken at our Christmas Tea in December, when Sweetpea and her Ganner had been out for the evening to see “FROZEN,” and returned just in time to help distribute all those dozens of cookies.   They had burst down the stairs with a cheery “We’re HOME!” and a swirl of cool air and rosy color.


 

Just a sample of the pages: 

 

All this smooth, bright-papered largesse was a Birthday Gift from Chris and Caro, and is such a present as I never expected, never imagined to happen.  But they’re here, and did not arrive squalling, but as happy to see me as I was to hold them.    It’s lovely to have them done at last, and to share the Happy with all of you.  

 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

HERSHEY'S FUDGE AND FRIED PIES



And there was FUDGE!

\

House after house offered a tray of flat little inch-wide pieces of fudge---the old-fashioned (fairly new then, I suppose) grainy kind, with a bit of moist sugary crunch in some pieces, like when you scraped the bottom of your cornflakes bowl as you spooned up a bite.   The bits were enclosed in every twist and turn and fold of waxed paper known to woman.  I think now how many a scrrrrritttch-and tear across the saw-teeth of the box, how many scissors-snips into squares and rectangles, the opaque little curves drifting to the table like the leaves outside, must have occurred all over town on those October afternoons.

 

The small packets varied in skill and care as well, ranging from hasty twists, unfurling in the basket to reveal small peeks of brown or butterscotch or plain old Pet Milk Peanut Butter, to precise neat folds like a valued present, crisply creased and secure.

 
 

 
 
 
Several local ladies “went all out” in their offerings---notably Mrs. Freeman, whose six boys were all grown and out of the house, for her big basket trays on the porch held one of our favourite things in all the world---fried pies. 
 
 Her maiden sister Miss Beatha had lived with them long as anybody could remember, and was one fine cook herself.  The two sisters must have got going in that kitchen way before daylight, making up the dough and cooking those huge pots of dried apples into such a sublime filling.   You could smell the wonderful scent of frying dough and sugar from two doors down at the Reed’s. 
 
 For politeness’ sake, we’d stand quietly in line as little old Mrs. Reed, her three strands of powdery pearls riding high up on the back of her neck from her hunched posture, stood beside a table with a round silver plate of candy, elegantly dropping a single sugar-crusted  “orange slice” into each person’s bag with the sugar tongs; we uttered the requisite “Thank you, Ma’am,” and turned for the steps.  Her daughter, the formidable Miss Reed, teacher of second grade and all things MANNERLY, stood chatting out front with some of the adults, keeping order all down the block, merely by dint of her presence.  And ONLY that stern presence, perhaps, kept us from rushing the Freeman porch like water bursting a dam.

 


 
 
 

It seems to have always been daytime still when we lined up at that wide green porch, mostly because we all made a beeline for there first.   There would be sweet Miss Beatha, picking up a neat square of brown paper from the pile she’d cut out of saved-up grocery bags, sliding it deftly under and around a pie, with that irresistible fragrance rising around all us impatient kids like praise to Heaven.


 
 

She’d hand you yours and you’d accept it with the heartiest thanks of the night, and take that first glorious warm bite before your feet left the steps.   Those pies were the reason that many a Mama allowed the kids to take off before supper---they’d get fed SOMETHING good before all that candy.   It was FRUIT, for Goodness’ Sake, after all. 

I’m sure none of us gave a Minute’s thought to the hot, intensive labor that went on in that kitchen all day---the steaming pots in that still-hot southern climate, the rolling out and the cutting around a small saucer, the crimping of the edges, and the manning of several black skillets of bobbing, sizzling half-moons, all in various stages of Done and Ready To Turn.  Then onto a tray of laid-out grocery sacks, for that last, gnat-enticing shower of Double X sugar.

 

We just accepted the sweet simplicity of that lovely gift, delivered warm and crisp and delicious into our eager, grubby hands.   We held tight to our sacks, flipped up our masks or tried to avoid the painted-on charcoal or lipstick that magically transformed our faces into goblins and gangsters and fortune-tellers in big hoop earrings.  And we bit into those sweet crusty handfuls of generosity, adding a taste of homey comfort to the excitement and the scary and the wonder of the night.
 

 
 
Internet photos