Friday, August 22, 2014

SHALIMAR WISHES . . .



A gift of Shalimar from Chris brings many sweet memories: (from August 2010)

  It’s of equal sweetness to all my favorites, with notes of vanilla (perhaps the drawing-card of all the ones I’ve ever really liked---my first experiments with fragrance were furtive visits to the baking cupboard. When Mother or Mammaw weren’t looking, I’d dab a bit behind my ears and in the “crooks of my elbows” and sail off to third grade, confident in my beautiful aura and aroma).

I haven’t bought Shalimar for myself since that day in the 80’s that the duck flew down the chimney and broke the fancy bottle in my bathtub. Cleaning up duck poo and broken glass can change your mind about a lot of things.

 

Of A Gracious Plenty:

(January 2014)

 

Sinking into a deep old clawfoot tub, into the Shalimar-perfumed bubbles, with Spem in Alium on the Bose, or perhaps Tom Waits.    A good book for whiling the time, though this precious NOOK is gripped tighter, held drier, than the decades of John D. MacDonalds with their pulp pages and one-stage-from-lurid covers, which sometimes fell prey to damp fingers or errant drops of fragrant water, emerging from the steam with pages some thicker than before, words a bit wavery and dim.  

 

 

And of one of the Paxton People,  Harliss MacIntyre:  (February 2010)

 

Harliss hit her forties with hairstyle wider than her skinny hips; she toddled through life in three-inch heels below her tiny Chic jeans, leaving Shalimar and whispers in her wake. And one of the wonders of a small town is that she just went where she pleased, and hardly anyone really ostracized her---life went on for Harliss despite her inglorious reputation.

 

Of Mammaw’s sister Aint Eddie who was from the big city where we live now, and came to us for the Summer every year.  (August ’09)

 

  I just loved her, and I know she must have grown tired of an eager child monopolizing her every free moment. I loved to see her get off that bus; she’d step down with a great sigh, breeze her face a bit with her Last Supper fan, and pop up her big black umbrella (parasol, to all the ladies of the family) for the walk to the house, and start talking.

She regaled us with tales of all the city doings, the streetcars and the taxicabs and all the stores. I always tried to steer her to stories of “Ellis Airs”---the biggest, nicest department store in town. And she always obliged, telling of beautiful dresses and shoes and handbags which her daughters brought home from a day of shopping. And they ate their lunch in the store. There was an actual restaurant right there inside the building, and you could just take your shopping bags in, set them beside your chair, and order your lunch.

 

Auntie's stories went into delicious detail about the ladies’ hats, and of their gloves (removed for eating, of course--- a lady never ate with her gloves on---that was TACKY. And those movie stars with the long gloves with diamond bracelets and rings OVER their gloves in the movies, lifting those champagne glasses or caviar-on-toasts to their bright-red lips---that was a confirmation of their hussydom right there).

The world of aspics and toast points and tomatoes stuffed with chicken salad seemed to be a preview of Heaven. I longed to sit at that dainty table just once, to see beautifully-dressed patrons with the demure bearing of a religeuse in a dainty topknot---the ankles-crossed, mouth-corner napkin-dab ladies who breezed in with the auras of Shalimar and Chanel and Pall Malls, and exited in a fluff of air-kisses and shrugged-on mink.

 

And I've been to Ayres for lunch---wearing Shalimar of my own, by the way---for the incomparable chicken salad and the aura of gently-fading sophistication, in the days before the Tearoom was relegated to a museum, where the lunches are treated somewhat like the other exhibits---relics of another time, another kind of life, to be sampled as would be a sip of Elizabethan mead or a deep-crusted game pye from a hunter's board.
 

 

Of the two ladies who had a “Round Table” restaurant in their immense old ancestral home, with their Mama’s cook’s recipes, and descendants of their former staff in the kitchen:   (April ’09)

 

That one would qualify as a meat
'n' twelve. Tables seat about ten or twelve, with plates set on the perimeter, and a huge, spinning round shelf in the center. You sit with whoever's there, catch a bowl or platter as it spins past you, help yourself, and try to find a setting-down place for it next time around, so you can pick up another dish. Super food, lovely proprietors---two ladies who own and supervise; not an immaculate curl out of place, and pristine dresses creased just SO as they sit down, take a sip of their 40-weight tea, and speak toward the kitchen: "Mighty good tea today, Margrit!"

I tried to imagine the life they must live, just supervising all those wonderful cooks every day---I thought of them as waking to their coffee, reading the Jackson Daily Ledger in their silky robes, a bath and dusting powder and teensy dabs of Toujours Moi or Shalimar in the crook of the elbows, then dressing, stockings rolled just below their knees, and drifting downstairs to take in the delicious aromas and the serene temper of the white-draped dining rooms, ready to receive their guests with the aplomb and ease of royalty, confident in their long-time retainers in the kitchen.

 

And the most memorable, and regrettable: (March ’09)

 

Once a pretty lady mallard---not one of our own, unless her homing device was REALLY accurate---invaded our house for a Spa Day. One day when the work crew had been installing some kind of insulation in the ceiling at the office, I got home feeling itchy and scratchy and rashy all over, and couldn’t WAIT for a nice soak in my big tub. As I went in the door, I saw the dog and the cat, side by side on the floor, just exhausted and panting. I couldn’t figure WHAT was wrong with the poor things, until I saw the equally-tired duck sitting over by the fireplace, all nested down and resting.

She had apparently come down the chimney and provided jump-and-chase amusement for those two for quite some time. I gently picked her up and took her outside, where she slowly waddled over to the field and took off. I went back in, tearing off my itchy clothes, ran into my bathroom and reached for the faucet-handle.

My lovely tub was smeared with duck poop in several places, and right in the middle of the tub, my coveted bottle of REAL Shalimar perfume---the pretty bottle with the elegant glass fan for a stopper---was on its side in several pieces, with that glorious scent filling the room.

I said several particularly nice words, gathered up the glass, scrubbed the tub--I’d have bathed in the perfume, but the glass and poop ruled that out---and as I knelt there in my bra and underpants, flinging the Comet---hot, sweaty, swearing under my breath and wanting my bath, something in my wastebasket caught my eye. I had had a Tab as I dressed for work that morning, and had stuck the can upside down into the wastebasket. And nestled in the hollow aluminum bottom was a little round pinkish egg.

I cannot imagine how that lady duck managed to elude cat and dog long enough to leave me that little tribute, nor how she managed to perch her hiney up there just right to lay that egg. And I don’t think the kids would have believed me if not for that odd little egg, pink and round and with a glow like porcelain.

I blew it out and washed it and kept it for years.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

CHANGE IS IN THE WIND

BILBO BAGGINS AT HOME --ORIGINAL ILLUSTRATION BY JRR TOLKIEN

“I am old, Gandalf.  I don’t look it, but I am beginning to feel it in my heart of hearts.   Well-preserved, indeed!” he snorted.   

 

“Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean:  like butter that has been scraped over too much bread.   That can’t be right.   I need a change, or something.”    Bilbo Baggins

 

 

Change is in the Wind. 




Wednesday, August 6, 2014

PRESENTS OF THE PAST



It’s school-starting time now, but looking at an old compact, its surface still twinkling with stones of several colours, I’m fondly remembering graduation---a time of anticipation and parties and lovely presents from people who’d seen you off to first grade, watched you stumble across the stage in that pumpkin outfit, seen you on that same stage as you moved up in the Spelling Bee and emoted your heart out in the Junior and Senior plays.

 

These same people had attended your piano recitals, bought all those magazines and cards and fruit baskets and car washes to help fund your Senior Trip, and had been kind and wonderful friends of your parents and perhaps grandparents for long years.

 

High School Graduation in a tee-ninecy town in the South of the Fifties was an important thing---we were scarce a generation removed from the young men who’d had to go off to War in those tender years, or “quit” in ninth or tenth grade to work on the farm or for neighbors and local garages and factories, to help feed their families.  And the young women who interrupted their own educations so young, to take jobs in a sewing line or bottling company, or train as telephone operators and LPNs---anything to add to the family’s meager income---so many fell aside during those high school years that getting through and into that cap and gown was considered a great accomplishment in the rural South.

 

And every graduate got presents, of some sort, though in our town I don’t believe a single person received a car, as is simply a given today.   You got as nice and needful a gift as your parents could afford (mine was a portable Olivetti typewriter---a charming small Tiffany-blue one in a little suitcase, with a tiny keyboard and what I always thought of as Olivetti-type---the almost-script lettering which graced every single paper I wrote during college).

 

 

And though no greed nor expectations were assumed, and everybody in town knew when and where the ceremony was, along with Class Night the night before and the Baccalaureate Sermon the previous Sunday, you were expected to send “Graduation Invitations” though the invitation read "Commencement Exercises," to all your parents’ friends, your music teacher, Pastor, Scout Leader, and any other adult with close effect on your life.   The boxes of invitations were picked up at school, ordered in from Balfour-like-our-class-rings, and were identically engraved, with a picture of the school and all the attendant “The class of . . . invites, etc.”    There was a little space on one flap for inserting your name card (we girls called them “calling cards”---highly anticipated and ordered in much greater number than the invitations, along with our “engraved notes,” which we used immediately for our Thank You notes, and for years thereafter). 




 
And gifts started to arrive---in the mail, dropped off breezily in an afternoon by five or six in succession of your Mother’s friends, handed to you after church, wrapped and beautiful, by someone who dashed to the car to get it, or called in to your house from the drugstore or jewelry store (repository also of all those lovely wedding-and-shower gifts of years to come), for you come and pick up.
 
The honorees set up the family card table in the living room or dining room, and borrowed several folding ones of some sort from whichever neighbors and friends were not hosting bridge for a while yet.    Snowy white cloths, ironed within an inch of their formal, crisp lives, settled on and pulled just so, and the opened boxes were set to best advantage for display for at least a  couple of weeks.  All the girls and Mamas in town managed to make the rounds at least once, to admire and appraise and count a little bit of social coup as they had a look at who-got-what-and-from-whom. A few of the more affluent graduates’ families had “viewing parties,” at which the guests came merely to see the loot---only two in our town, but we got a giggle out of that, anyway.    
 
The gifts varied in price and importance, perhaps, but just the OCCASION of it, when it was your turn---the smell of those boxes and envelopes all laid out in that cool, quiet room, with the whispers of Coty and Houbigant from the little bottles and atomizers and the three compacts with powder in exactly your shade.
 
 
 

 
 
 


There were lipstick cases in gold finish, or set with pretty stones, or maybe a teensy round mirror on the end or an infinitely thin one the length of one side, for checking your application in public.   Sometimes there were compacts to match one or the other, either given by a particularly-generous friend, or proffered by-the-piece by Miss Hazel (who was also THE authority on lipstick and powder shade for those compacts) at the drugstore to successive shoppers so nice as to inquire as to your taste---sometimes you’d be lucky enough to receive matching compact, lipstick, AND little evening purse,  each sent by a different person.
 

 
 

 

The presents were arranged by category, as it were, by space or whole table---the “Dry Goods,”--- Monogrammed pillowslips and towels for college, muumuus and dusters and robes and underpants and pajamas, especially “hostess pajamas” and all shades and sizes of scarves, all arrayed neatly folded in their flat boxes with the lady-of-the-house’s calling card, amended with a tiny "Mr.&" in ink before the “Mrs. John Hentley Bufforfington on the crisp white card laid atop.

 

There were whole shining arrays of

dresser sets with mirror, comb and brush, sometimes monogrammed, and clocks and manicure cases and fountain pens and Parker Sets, as well as appointment books and address books and portfolios for whatever important papers you’d be carrying around on campus.
 
And checks were always laid out beneath a pane of glass, neatly stacked one-on-the-other in a slant with a slip of paper laid discreetly on the top one so that naught was revealed except the signatures. 

 

I remember so well the luxury of those tables of congratulation and tribute and generosity, from the people I’d known as long as I’d taken breath.   Just opening that door to the scent of the dry, rustly tissue and the brand-new cloth, the colognes and the leather of the books---that long-ago combination of odor and elation is elusive today, but it still makes me smile to think of it.   I hope there’s still something below the level of a BMW which will   bring the thrill of that tableful of presents to the graduates of today, but  I don't know if there's anything left which will kindle such lovely memories as mine.
 
 

Monday, August 4, 2014

1008 PART 3 of 3 AINT PELL re: DUCKS

Please see Parts I and II below, for the beginnings of this story. 
 
 
 
 What the ceremony SHOULD HAVE BEEN.

What it WAS:

When they DID get Aint Pell out of the car and into the Peabody, she bludged right onto that red carpet, just like it had been laid out special for her square-set, fat-heeled little pumps, and stomped off toward the elevator, marching right up to the uniformed young man and standing imperiously in the door for him to let her on.  Never mind the crowds gathered around, never mind all the people sitting on the floor along the sides of that carpet like hedges on a path, and with her STEW button set so loud that she didn’t even hear the announcer’s voice OR the rousing Sousa march.   No matter that nobody back behind her could SEE the show they’d come to see---she marched right down that red carpet between all the waiting crowd.  

 

 

 

 

Unca Dorse, trying to follow her juggernaut through the room, finally took one careful lunge of his long legs and stepped over two little girls in pink fairy-wings sitting sweetly by the carpet, and stood scanning the crowd for Aint Pell, who hadn't budged out of the way of the elevator door. 

 
“She jes wadden lissenin’.  She gets a thing in her head and she don’t hear nobody fer nuthin’.   Folks were just a’callin’ at her, and tellin’ her to move, and she just stood there like a stump. An’ ‘nen she just stepped right in there amongst those ducks like wadin’ inta the chicken-yard with a bucket a layin’ mash.
 
 
 
 
“Th’ whole crowd parted ways when they came outa that elevator, with all the ducks a-squawkin’ and a-flappin’ and headin’ for that water-fountain, and her windmillin’ and steppin’ high and swingin’ her purse to get clear of ‘em.  She near-bout swatted that big ole drake right in his tailfeathers as he took off over the folks sittin’ on the floor.”
 
“When they saw there wadden no harm done, everbody commence’ta laughin’ and takin’ on, and clappin’ and cheerin’ up a storm when those ducks hit the water like skimmin’ a lake.    MAN!  That was a sight to see.  An’ Pell, she just turned right around in that elevator, straightened up her hat a little bit, and put her hands on her hips and waited on the rest of us to get on.   I swear and swannee---I wutten take nothin’ for that show, not if I live to be a hundred.  It even got a write-up in the Commercial Appeal.” 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 
 

 
  
 
 
 
 

And they lived more happily ever after---those siblings and in-laws and nieces and nephews who'd been criticized and bullied and shamed at holidays all their lives.   At any family gathering, there’d be a roomful of talk, and it would start from somewhere in the next room or outside an open window---a gentle little “Quaaaanckk, Quaaaanck, Quanck,” soon joined by several others in a kind of duckish, jabbery harmony, growing in sound and number for just a few moments like a nasal, growly choir in the distance gaining ground and fading away.  And then all was quiet, except for the stifled snickers in the room and the muffled hee-haws from the culprits, who were nowhere to be seen as they stashed duck-calls in pockets and purses til next time.

 
 And if they ever find out which one it was that snuck out there during dinner that next Thanksgiving and velcroed a little rubber ducky on the dashboard of her big ole gold-colored Sedan de Ville, well, that one won’t ever have to help with cleanup and dishes after the Family Reunion, ever again.

 

Friday, August 1, 2014

1007 Part 2 of 3 AINT PELL, REDUX



 Please see Part I below, for the beginning of the story.
 

One time when Aint Pell’s great-nephew on his Mama’s side got married up in Memphis, they had such a big to-do up there, it lasted for three days, with all the shower-saved-til-last and the Rehearsal Dinner on Friday night and then the bridesmaids luncheon on the day of the wedding (to which only the Groom’s Mother and Grandmother were invited from his side---and there began an Aint-Pell simmer which had had its first tee-ninecy blup in the pan when the invitations arrived).  Her mad percolated all the way up Highway 55, growing into a definite head of steam when her and Unca Dorse’s place cards at the Rehearsal Dinner were at a table with a single Uncle, the organist-and-his-wife, and two couples they didn’t even KNOW, as well as a bare place-setting which sat there unused all night.
 
 

 


In the church vestibule before the wedding, she stood looking at her bosom as one of the florists pinned on her diddly-squat little old corsage, and her down-turned pout grew grimmer with each second that ticked by.   And  she was ticked as all get out, when the usher stopped and steered her into the fourth row---she plopped down immediately in the aisle seat and sat there like a rock, resolutely refusing to go on down to the far end like they rehearsed, so as to make way for the people coming in behind her.  She sat so tight that she might near pulled the long chain off her pretty purse, trying to yank it out from under her behind without actually lifting up an inch.

 The rest of the row-full of aunts and uncles in their nice clothes and unaccustomed new shoes had to clamber over her stout little pumps and bump against her unyielding knees as they tried to get to their seats.   Unca Dorse stood there wavering in the aisle, unsure whether to stand there like a flagpole in front of everybody while the ushers ferried the whole row of folks down the aisle, or sit down beside her and bob up and down til the row was filled.


So, by the time the Day-After Brunch came around, she was so het up that she didn’t even want to go. A bunch of the out-of-town family had stayed at hotels near the church, and planned to stop for brunch together.  She had set her mind on just leaving a little before checkout, her and Unca Dorse stopping off at the Piccadilly Cafeteria for a good Sunday Dinner, where she could speak her piece about the shortcomings of the whole thing, and then head home.   Besides, she’d done wore all three of her good outfits in front of people.
 


 
 

 

But Unca Dorse had got with Carlisle ‘n’‘em and made it up that they’d all surprise her and go to the Peabody for Brunch together anyway---it would be special. She didn’t realize where they were going until they were WAY on out toward the river, instead of heading home, and he got more than an earful on the way, plus it took him and two of their nieces to talk her out of the car and into the hotel.


 


And when they DID get in, there just was NO pleasin’ her.  The trip through the lobby was quite an event in itself,  and she just would NOT stop mumbling and grumping as they got up to the big Sunday Brunch and had to be pleaded with by one and all to even go up to that gorgeous buffet.





She frowned and stomped all the way up to the salad station, poking around in the melon balls with big hard digs, just to show how mad she was.   She completely ignored the huge displays of papayas and pineapples and other melons, all cut into peacocks and little wagons, and all the cold salads and colourful pastas and beautifully arranged vegetables and cheeses.  

The giant cornucopia made of bread, spilling out all sorts of rolls and croissants, was totally lost on her, and she hardly saw any of the food through her frown. 

 

She toddled back to the table with a plate holding several melon balls and a little chunk of pineapple, before anybody else could even get up to the Omelette Station.  She practically  hurled her plate onto the table, causing one little green orb to go skittering off the side and  escape onto the cloth, where it took refuge behind the sugar bowl.

 

Scowling even harder, muttering shitshitshit under her breath (had there been any UNDER, for the deep rumble of her voice made it quite audible in all directions.   She had the makings of a creditable bass fiddle in there).   And all the laughing and talking coming from the relatives up at all the buffet stations---what WAS so funny, anyhow---none of it was funny to Aunt Pell.


 


She was still sitting there fuming when the rest of them returned with plates loaded with slices of that juicy pink ham and wedges of spinach quiche and salads and fruit and pastas and asparagus, and candied sweet potatoes dripping sugary syrup---she wouldn’t even answer when Unca Dorse looked at her three bites of fruit and asked, “Is that all you GOT, Hon?”



 

She just poked peevishly at a melon ball, which leaped from the slick little plate, cleared the table-edge, and rolled in a perfect goal between the heel-arch of a stilettoed young woman leaning cozily toward her dining companion at the next table.

 

Tired from such a busy weekend, and from long custom and daily acquaintance with her constant mood, no one took much notice of her sulk, as long as she left THEM alone.   They were all chattering brightly, which seemed to darken her mood even more.  

 

“We like to never got her to get out of the car,” Unca Dorse would recount for years after, “if it hadna been so hot in that garodge.”

 

“And there she sat,” he would say, “like a swolt up ole toad-frog, just a-rurnin’ everybody’s dinner.  And us at the Peabody HO-tel!  That woman just ain’t got no pride a-TALL.”  
 
 


And Moire non:  The Middle of the Story,  ‘Twixt Arrival and Brunch 

Or, How Aint Pell got her feathers ruffled.