Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Miss Dovie Caldwell is a tottery little thing, always in dresses a bit too big, shoulder-pads of her saved-from-the-Seventies polyesters hanging from the shoulders of her small frame like the plastic shells fastened onto kids in Peewee Football. She favors pastels and uncomfortable scratchy fabric, with too-bright-for-daytime rhinestone buttons, and matches her accessories to her garments with various low pumps from Payless and a close-enough-color purse grabbed from the rack as she stood in line to pay.

She doesn’t see well, but she can take her magnifying glass and look at the cover of a crochet book and duplicate each and every stitch, turning out doilies and dresser scarves and pineapple tablecloths by the yard. The great flurries of Coty from her powderpuff, slapped to her withered cheeks and falling into the furrows like dust in the cottonrows, outline the wrinkles in a much-too-hearty pink for her sallow complexion. The tiny hairs on her upper lip quiver with their burden of the silky grains, like a bee’s feet after a long day in the blooms.

She is a kind woman, and crochets the most exquisite baby outfits for every young one in her county-wide list of acquaintances---no baby shower is complete until the flat box from Miss Dovie is opened and admired. Little girls get a pink jacket, booties and bonnet; little boys, the obligatory blue, with a tiny head-hugging cap, its bill perhaps three rows wide. For showers before the birth, she always has a good supply of yellow or green items, all matched up and ready in tissued boxes she orders from ABC Distributing.

Many a Miss Dovie ensemble has been shadowboxed at Tamyra's Frame and Gift Shop, for hanging in the child's room, long after the child outgrew the tiny garments. Prospective Mamas not of Miss Dovie's acquaintance hint broadly to friends who are, hoping to be included in the long list of recipients of that coveted gift. Why, even the traveling photographer Olan Mills sends around twice a year knows a Miss Dovie outfit when he sees it. And the ladies in her Sunday School class went in together one year for Christmas and got her a box of fifty little cloth labels to sew in the clothes---a white silky tag with two tiny doves, one pink and one blue. They figured that would hold her for her lifetime.

Though she has never ventured out of town in the car by herself, she flew to Germany once, in her seventies, to visit her GrandDaughter’s family, stationed there with the Army. She had a wonderful time, going on tours and a boatride up and down the Rhine, and sitting primly in Biergartens with the young folks and their friends, swaying to the irresistible music. She was finally prevailed upon by two handsome young soldiers to let them buy her a beer, and she would never let on, but she sorta LIKED it. It was easier going after she drank most of it, cause that big mug was WAY heavy til she got the level down a bit

Miss Dovie is a sedate, quiet woman, clad in demure dresses and a ladylike demeanor, though she WAS once heard to utter the words "Rich Bitch," in reference to a pushy, loud woman they saw berating a confused young clerk in Goldsmith's---this so startled her daughter and the other two ladies in their shopping party, and indeed Miss Dovie herself, they all had to go sit for a few minutes in the mezzanine, to compose themselves and stifle their giggles.

Her daughter tutored the middle Ellis boy after school a couple of days a week, and Miss Dovie grew to like the young fellow. For Christmas that year, she crocheted him a sweater, a really nice one, out of thick cotton yarn. It had a red bottom band, collar and cuffs, and the rest was white, with blue reindeer capering across the chest. He loved that sweater, and out of gratitude or habit or sheer clinging to a gift he really liked, he wore it EVERY day to school. The other kids teased him about it, but he was the sort of kid who was comfortable in himself, and in that sweater, and just didn’t care what they said.

He even wore it after the dryer went out, and his Mother had to hang the thing on a big padded hanger up in the ceiling beams above the fireplace, sometimes having to iron the neckline dry before she went to work. He loved that sweater, and Miss Dovie loved how he loved it; she'd never felt such gratification from any piece of her work. Though he's grown now, she has a picture of his small self in the sweater, stuck into the plastic mirror-frame doohickey on her dresser, along with pictures of her grandchildren and of The Late Mr. Caldwell, gone these thirty years.

Miss Dovie lives with her married daughter, and they’re Methodist, but she wishes her church had the good loud singing of the Baptist church, and the wonderful Second-Saturday Church Suppers, instead of subdued music and quiet quarterly gatherings muted as the footsteps on the carpet of her own church. Miss Dovie always takes a Tupperware of red Jello, though her daughter carries a tuna casserole “for the family” in her nice blue padded toter; Miss D. still likes to contribute something, and she eats two “dressed aigs” whilst she’s there, for they never have devilled eggs at home.

Her hands are crooked and small, with knuckles too big for her fingers and little blue veins mapping her fragile skin. They are beautiful old hands, the stuff of etchings, with a lovely pale glow to the tops and satiny, shiny palms, and it’s a blessing she resists the urge to cover the veins with a floof of powder, as well.


Anonymous said...

Oh Racheld, when I think you can't top the past day, you go and do it. I had a Miss Dovie in my life. She made smocked baby dresses. I have the one she made for my daughter. It is heavenly and such a treasure. Every sentence is descriptive, but love the last two. Perfectly describes my grandmother and mother's hands.

The Lord certainly blessed you with a special talent. Here's to you my friend ~ Janie

racheld said...

And to you, too, my faraway Friend! I'm so glad you can relate to these people. I've found myself just madly populating this place, this unknown territory, this nowhere-on-the-map-yet, with actual breathing creatures who want to live there and live their lives through on the page.

And I haven't mentioned that they cook and eat and have wonderful gatherings and Church Suppers and dinner parties and cookie exchanges and times around the kitchen table, with coffee and chatter, or tears over the teacups.

Every phase of my life seems to revolve around the kitchen, so that's the only way I know to talk about people, I think---especially people I'm making up out of my head.

I've got to stop this for a while, I think. I wouldn't have a rag to my name if not for Lane Bryant catalogs, and I spend too much time imagining the cut of Mrs. Towner's clothes and the casserole dish that nice Mr. Keene brought to the house when Garrison Turley had his accident. I truly don't know where all these people are COMING from.

Thank you for caring about them---and me.

Camellia said...

I don't think you should close the door on these folks. That might make them talk so loud they will drive you mad. But I want an event. Some Trouble. I want to see them go and solve something. So I'm counting on the Lane Bryant catalogs.

Cape Coop said...

I love this lady- can you send her to live with me?

Tonja said...

Rachel, I haven't had much time for reading lately, and I always want plenty of time to savor your words. So, I have just read the last several posts...slowly. I know these people. And, you know them well, too. They are so like so many of the people we grew up with and beside and across town from. Or maybe we only heard about them from someone else. Or we went to school with them...or they came to church with us. But, they are known, I would imagine, by folks in every part of the country.
I will say it again, my and your ways with the written word...are a treasure! So happy am I that you are a part of my world. Thank you.

Alice said...

You may think these folk only live in your imagination, Rachel, but they'll live long in the memories of those who read about them and enjoy all their special traits and idiosyncrasies.

Anonymous said...

Miss Dovie was as real to me as the sweet man sitting next to me on the couch tonight. I had no idea, until I read these comments, that she was imaginary. I am sorry she isn't real. I wanted her for my own grandmother.

This is the most delightful thing I've done all week--read these posts of yours. What a joy!!!

I've sat here and read these to Jerry and we are both just amazed at the gift you have.

A blessing you are my dear cousin.

Love and soft breeze kisses

Kouign Aman said...

Irene. Irene makes clothes for babies and very small toddlers. Beautiful, w appliques, lace, a petticoat to go underneath. She's 95 this year. Her work is so beautiful that we saved our favorite, and passed the rest along to another member of the congregation, who has a new young daughter. Treasures indeed, as is Miss Dovey, and your evocative writing.