Friday, July 15, 2016


Sweetpea has been here for several days, as we prepared for our company---simply by chance, our Best Man and his own Dearie (our friends Ben and Lil) are coming through town for a few days, exactly thirty years and one day since we all stood together on my parents’ shady lawn for our vows. 

Amongst all the flurry of cleaning and stashing away and making of Peach Tea and Paminna Cheese, she and I took a break for Yoga, in which she takes a fresh bathmat from the closet, installs herself beneath the huge glass-topped dining table with us each a pair of unconnected headphones, her little strumming-lyre, a pot of "tea" and a new addition:  three pink silk leis laid on the floor for "holes in the ground." (Which I later learned are to pour your worries and tiredness and anything else into and let it go). 

I'm too tall for the enclosure, and so I sit right outside on my own mat, closing eyes and touching fingers and humming the OMMMM at the indicated times, with my ears hushed by headphones connected properly to nowhere through a gaudy plastic goblet.  (And yes, I still sit even in my easy chair in Lotus Position sometimes---it's just comfortable to me).    Quite the useful and restful meditative time. 

And sometimes with my eyes closed and the whirr of fans and ear-swish of those modern versions of seashells and the tinkle of small golden notes in the air like perfume, I could swear I was kneeling in an ancient tea ceremony, with the faraway tones of a shamisen.

Would that all life’s troubles could be channeled away by a simple flip of pink flowers and a dollar-store glass.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016


Sis just sent me a picture of a paint-by-numbers work she’s completed---it’s simply lovely, with peaceful water and pale pastels of lawn chairs and flowers.  And so I wrote her a little memory of our Aunt Lu---Mammaw’s just-younger sister, whose entire life-as-I-knew-it was lived within the walls of a small-town General Store.

Internet photos except for Sis' at top of page

Sis, your beautiful artwork of that peaceful stream and the welcoming pink chairs is your Aunt Lu side emerging---she took up the hobby in the early Fifties.  She had these beauties hanging all over the house, and was generous and free with her handiwork. They were not quite so elaborate or sophisticated in their gradations of color or light as those today, and you can tell the old-time Fifties ones from the new, by the gentle, kindergartenish flow of the pale primary shades.  The shapes and colours remind me of gently-contoured baby-toys vs. sharply-delineated lines of modern young taste.   They’re the barns and horses a child would colour, varying only the pressure of the same few crayons.  

  She thoroughly enjoyed her art. I think sometimes of those long days she spent in that old country store, reaching things down from shelves and cutting meat right there on that immense slice-of-a-tree that was her butcher-block, with all the same-old same-old of the days in that rattly, people-worn place---what a wonderful outlet for her soul the painting must have been! 

 The paintings always came in twos, right there in a flat box on the shelves of Ben Franklin with the 500-piece puzzles and Monopoly.   They were mostly simple studies of big red barns or windmills or peaceful streams or horses, with a small set of tiny plastic paint-pots strung together like Pop-It-Beads.   The primary colours and the tiny brush provided many an hour of get-away for Aunt Lu, with the absolutes of the grays and reds in their indicated patches of shading making a few “professional” shadows on a patch of snow, a horse’s coat, a shady lawn.  

And she loved the snow scenes---perhaps the heat and humidity of the South prompted her inclination toward shadowy snowbanks and sleighs.  

She must have felt a wonderful sense of accomplishment in her work, however many scarce hours she had to devote to it, for her work-days were long, six-day-a-week times of dashing from counter to shelf to the Meat Market to cut a steak, grind some hamburger, snip off six of the fat sausages from the ropes hanging in the cooler.  She cut and measured and weighed, ripping the sheets of heavy store-paper across the cutter-teeth like flipping a sheet onto a bed. 

 A nimble flirt of hands with the string from the the ceiling loop, and the package slipped neatly into the basket, along with a small brown papersack of just scooped beans, two bananas nipped with the little curved knife from the hanging bunch, and maybe-two-of-those-chocolate-pennycreams-today went into the sack.   I like to think that she could do all those motions by rote, still thinking of the scent of that paint and the structured order of the strokes, keeping those shimmery dobs of paint inside the map of small blue lines.

I also thought she must order the hangers in bulk from Sears Roebuck, for each and every one, gift and kept alike, was framed in smooth wood, with a lovely purplish rosette on the silk hanging-cord, no matter the colours or shades in the paintings.   She liked things to be nice, and I think those rows of graceful triangles securing the tops of her paintings, with their dignified rosettes atop---those must have satisfied some of that longing for something elegant amongst faded green counters and the footworn floors of her days. 

She gave her treasures for birthdays, Christmas, wedding presents, almost always in pairs as they came in the box.  

 And once, she astonished the congregations of both churches in town by presenting each with one of the pair of religious pictures she had painted.   She had beautifully framed the two: Sacred Heart of Jesus and one of the Virgin Mary, and Methodist and Baptist each got one---there was a hubbub under hair dryers and in church pews for quite some time, but I don't think our Dear Soul ever heard about the should-we? should-we-not? quandary faced by each of the Church Boards. I KNOW one of them hung theirs right out there in the vestibule, from the maroon silk rope-with-tassel that she'd presented it with. And that's YOUR heritage. Ain't it a fine one?  

Thursday, June 30, 2016


I’d hoped to visit my dear darling cousin Maggie in Alabama in a couple of weeks, but plans have changed, and perhaps later.   In her e-mail today, she mentioned a visit from her sister, and how much fun they had:

Sis and I went to church tonight for Bingo and Barbecue.  A hooting, hollering night with all those folks shouting out BINGO and so excited about winning those little prizes.  I don’t believe I’ve played bingo since I was a child.

And my astonished reply:

I'm finding it hard to reconcile the sweet, spiritual vision of you and your church---My Country Baptist heart has lifelong envied Catholics and Episcopalians the ritualistic CALM, the recitations, the prayers said in unison, and above all, the QUIET reflective hands-clasped demurely head-bowedness of it.   Many times in letters, when you've just had to share the wonder of your morning in church, you've portrayed the sweet simplicity of the hallowed words from my childhood---"missal," and "Prayerbook" and how I longed to live where there was Eucharist and Liturgy.   And now YOU, Silly Girl, have Hooted AND Hollered at church.   Hear the obnoxious PTTTTTTTHHHHHKTTTTT of my punctured balloon escaping and flying rudely around the ceiling??

Ha.   Barbecue and Bingo.   That's my style of evening.   I love a good Bingo game, but not the money ones, at least not the money ones that are a BUSINESS.   Not the ones with snorty mean-lady regulars who KNOW you don't belong, and don't mind telling you so, or who razz winners like a buncha fraternity jerks on a new pledge.  AND NOT the smoky yelling frenetic ones with forty cards in front of you all ink-dobbed like a Pollock placemat.  

Just the little hometown, church or school or Ladies' Auxiliary ones with little prizes like doilies and a carwash and a dozen lily bulbs from Mrs. Pund's prize collection.   And especially if a school class is raising money for a new flagpole or a trip to a historic place---and YESSS if they've gone around town taking their bashful selves into store after store where they've shopped all their lives, receiving small tokens from the merchants like flashlights and coin purses and a set of those glasses that didn't sell.   Those are the ones I remember, where maybe the Choir director with the nice voice is the caller, and the numbers are drawn by gloving a hand into a discreet velvet bag and pulling out a wooden disc.  I just love those.

I remember once when Mayor VanDeventer was doing the calling, and somehow he fumbled the little disc and dropped it, with Miss Early, the Home-Ec teacher trying vainly to step on it and stop its headlong  roll.   She got two little wobbly stomps at it, and kicked it  smack-dab into the furnace grate, so we HAD TO WAIT to get the thing out.   I mean, it was IMPORTANT.   Not just to whoever mighta been cheated outa a good yell if they just drew another number, but somehow the whole heart would go out of the game, knowing that maybe 0-74 was down there in the chalk-dust and you needing it to win that lamp.

I remember the ones at our High School---it was always at Halloween Carnival, and all the parents skipped over Haunted House and Duck Pond and Curtain-with-Fishpole-Prizes, and went straight to the cafeteria, impatient for the calling to start.   Many an impatient beehind has polished those stainless steel stools to a high gloss before the evening was over.   I won a Sunbeam iron once, and once a string of pearls, and another time the Grand Prize:  the most gosh-awful LAMP---if there were a prize for unfortunate design, it was right up there with that Leg Lamp in the movie. 

 Image result for Leg lamp

   The stand part was pretty, a nice fifties turquoise, and at that time, I thought it simply the height of attractive DAYCOR, with its shade made of matching turquoise metal strips, each like the slat of a Venetian blind had been folded into squares of successive sizes, like an odd little Pagoda floating at the top.  It was clattery and weird, and I know it would violate the taste-strings of everybody whose taste ain’t all in their mouth,  but I kept it in my bedroom for YEARS, and wish I knew what happened to it.
 The shade but not the phone.
We DID go to a church bingo night once years ago, and Chris and I won the fifty/fifty---six hundred and something dollars!! 

Does anyone have just a little plain old hometown Bingo anymore?  

Sunday, June 26, 2016


Jemima Murphree

I’ve been spending some time delving into the Ancestry site---Sis and DBIL have done a lot of research, and have gone to Salt Lake City for the archives there, as well as a trip to Ireland and an upcoming trip back to Ireland and Scotland.   It’s amazing to look back and back, like down a hall of mirrors of your own past, selves and souls captured in a panoply of all the grays that there are.   Names and places I knew or simply heard, and great staircases of names and times stretching way into the WE of me are like shining presents to open and enjoy.

Romelia Best Newman
 My Mammaw's Mother, ca 1901

Learning about all those ancestors, seeing them stiffly caught in those depths of gray, squinting into the afternoon sun in their best mothballed silk, or standing gravely before a fern-painted backdrop in their Sunday best---that’s a gift of technology which I’m enjoying immensely.

Henry P Newman
Her Father, same photo

  I see these six tall, rawboned brothers, paling in the picture as their memories fade---three sitting and three standing in their unaccustomed suit-coats and decades of collar styles, with their hair slicked down or still fluffed from a last-minute hat-removal, and all those earnest, solemn sepia faces showing the tell-tale “farmer’s halo" of the final two inches of white covered by a hat in the relentless Mississippi sun.

Berry Ozro Best and brothers

Mammaw's Grandfather and his brothers

And the Census Pages!  What a treasure-trove of puzzles and tidbits to solve, with the heedless scrawl of the tired census-taker translating the names into mangled forms, further confused by a later-day transcriptionist who can make “Floyd” out of “Hugh” and the some several over the decades who changed my Grandmother’s name to a different starts-with-a-J every time.

But there’s one page---the one I discovered late yesterday and marveled and reminisced and laughed and dreamed over---it’s the 1930 Census, it’s like a time capsule to my Mother’s teens, with all the people up and down the street from Mammaw’s house---Mother’s childhood girlfriends and the ones she double-dated with in high school; the sixteen-year-old-self of the humble, gentle fortyish woman who lived with her married sister and came to “borry some ice” one sweltering noonday in my childhood, and unassumingly sat and ate herself some dinner, right from my Grandpa’s already-used place setting, refusing all offers of fresh with “No’m---thiss’ll be jes’ fine.”

There, on the same page, are at least five ladies, listed as “wife” beneath men designated as “Head,”---those ladies are the ones up and down the street whose hair Mother rolled later in the Thirties for a dime every Saturday morning, right there on Mammaw’s front porch.   They would arrive at their “time,” drippy-headed from the shampoo pan, or towel-wrapped, and she’d do all manner of rollings to suit them, on papers and bobby pins, or rag curls, or a “fingerwave” with some sort of viscous liquid you applied with a comb, and held your hand tight to the back of the shingled hair til the wave began to set.

There’s Mrs. Nelson, whose great cheery laugh could be heard all up and down the street, and whose “colours” I’ll never forget---she arrived one day with great drips of dye-stain on her towel, and to Mother’s concerned inquiry, said “I’m tryin’ this out---I don’t care if it turns it Piss-Munkum Brown.”  Not to be confused with a dress she referred to as “Piss-Alum Green.”

And the Postmistress, right out the back door, who had the odd quirk of rolling a straight pin back and forth between her lips at all times, and whose lack of amenities at work occasioned her being seen several times by Mammaw out the kitchen window, doing a little business of her own right out in the shadow of the garden shed. 

I had a stunning thought last night in the wee, should-be-in-bed-but-I-can’t-leave-this hours:  I may be the only living person who remembers all these people, or at least knows their names and the memories that Mammaw related to me in the “swang.”   Their relatives today are probably looking up their own folks, and finding kin, but little knowing the lives and days that passed there amongst all that little group of folks thrown together by a small matter of real estate.   There’s just something about that little street that so impressed upon me, that I knew every soul, up and down and around the blocks, from Mammaw’s days and years of sharing in their lives.

My own microcosm, right there on the 1930 Census page, WAY before I winked into the world.  It feels like a responsibility, somehow, the keeping of this list, kinda like the Readers must have felt in Fahrenheit 451.   I guess having a nine-G's-back ancestor named Zealous Zeal will do that for you.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016



We’ve been humming the song all day, and it’s just now made me think of all the times we sang it as children, especially at the movies.   Singing was greatly encouraged during any movie, and one of the “features” was a short somewhere betwixt cartoon, newsreel, previews, Saturday serial, and the movie itself, where you could sing along with the song, with the words on the screen, and an accent on each syllable as you went along.

That was a wonderful part of the movies of “our day,” and I forgot to mention it in a post about our own little small town PICTURE SHOW.

Something about the moment, the shadowy dark, the anticipation of all that afternoon’s delights to come on that magical screen---what a delicious memory.   It never mattered if you didn’t know the song---you had the words right there, and the melody was playing, and everyone singing, with even a handy little pointer to show you which word and beat you were on.

I think maybe Pixels have replaced the old fashioned bouncing ball, but here's a bit of SUMMERTIME nostalgia.  

 Don't miss Baby Liza strolling in the park.