Saturday, November 28, 2009

THANKSGIVING 2009


I hope everyone is enjoying a peaceful and safe and happy holiday weekend. Ours has been somewhat quiet, with a nice family dinner on Thursday, just about candlelight time, just the six of us who live up here, but we talked to almost every one of our seventeen during the holiday.

M Poirot and I worked on the preparations a bit on Wednesday, getting the cornbread made and crumbled and the onion and celery chopped and bagged in the fridge. I know some folks like to sauté the vegetables in oil or butter to get them all softened and flavorful before mixing, but there’s just something about that big silvery bowl of crumbled cornbread, with the scent of the minced onion, the nuttiness of the celery, the ping of fresh-ground black pepper, and the crush of curled sage---it’s just a part of the holiday experience as I cook, and I look forward to it.

And I make the dressing the way DS#2 does it---almost sloshy with chicken stock, both in the bowl as I toss it, and then in the baking dish, with several ladles poured gently on just before it’s set into the oven to bake fluffy and crusty in the pan.




And always, two kinds of gravy: One with livers, one without---both golden with softly-boiled eggs.

Wednesday was also the table-setting day---the getting out of the serving pieces and the forks and knives, the heavy crockery plates, what I call the “Burberry plates” in that they have a swath of hand-painted berries across the burgundy, with no-two-alike in the big stack of twelve. They get warm in the dishwasher at the last minute, and the serving bowls stay warm across the top of the stove while the oven's hot, to keep the hot food at a good temperature all through the meal (and with two glass tabletops to seep out the warmth---that’s a good thing). And pink napkins for Thanksgiving?---they went nicely with the plates and the muted harvesty tablecloth, as well as the pink and orange glasses.


I got the asparagus made, and the crumb topping sizzled in butter, cooled and bagged.
The eggs were done as far as making a little Tupperware of the mustardy filling, and snugging the spoon-nestled whites gently into another until time to fill and garnish. The sweet potatoes were baked and the vanilla butter made for smearing on at the last minute, just before the marshmallows went on to brown for a few minutes in a “very quick oven” after the rolls came out.

With all the help---Chris getting the turkey on the grill and seeing to it for several hours, and DS#2 cutting broccoli and cauliflower and peeling potatoes---we all had time left over for a nap about three o’clock, and we scattered all over the house, into all the rooms, like we were all already snockered on turkey, as we took our little break before putting on the finishing touches.

The homemade cranberry, with fresh berries, Splenda, a tiny bit of sugar to smooth it out, and a dash of vanilla. It’s usually the “Forgotten Thing” of which there’s usually one per holiday, found way later when you move something to get at the leftovers, but this time I only forgot to supreme the oranges, so they got left out.



Chris’ Ocean Spray---I always spoon it out into a pretty bowl, making sure some of the all-important Crease Lines remain pristine.



Years ago, we went to his folks’ house in Alabama; I was not too familiar with the kitchen, and in all the flurry and scurry, I asked his Dad to find the can opener and open the two cans of cranberry sauce from the fridge. WAY after while, I got out a little serving bowl and looked for them---nowhere to be found.

I went into the dining room, and there they sat---the neatly opened cans, sitting like squat candlesticks on either side of the beautiful centerpiece. Chris was following everyone around with the Cam-Corder, and in my screen debut, I can be heard drawling in a voice I can assure you was NOT MINE, asking his Dad: “What were you gonna DOOOO, Darlin’? Just puddah SPOOOON innit?”
The very brown bird---three+ hours on the grill, carefully steam regulated by Chris:



The asparagus casserole, all goldy-crumbed and rich with a sorta Redneck Mornay:





The Kentucky Wonders I mentioned the other day---I actually put these in the freezer in the Summer, but with the dash of vinegar and sugar of home-canned ones. They started with a hunk of ham and a big chopped onion, sautéing for while to soften, then the beans for a good long time, then the potatoes to steam atop. We’ve had this recipe on the Thanksgiving table since the early Seventies, I think.



Sweet potatoes with vanilla butter, demarara and marshmallows:


The Green Pink Salad---no matter what flavor Jello, the combination of crushed pineapple, Cool Whip, mayo and cottage cheese is called Pink Salad.


And of course, Devilled Eggs---lots of mustard, a bit of mayo, salt and several grinds of the pepper mill---do not even let pickles cross your mind when you make these:

The table---this little round fellow was one of the first pieces of furniture we had here---we were supposed to stay five months, so I stuck this little Wal-Mart table, still flat in the box---X-feet base, center pole, and round top, into the tiny U-Haul. And after nineteen years, I don't think I'd ever want to part with it---we've served hundreds on this table, and I hope hundreds more to come.



I also forgot to mention the cauliflower and broccoli, steamed and drizzled with lemony butter---we've served this same dish ON this same dish for years. I love the color contrasts.

Chris paused before he sat down to get a picture of his own plate---he likes the clumpy cranberry, dark meat, and about as much liver gravy as dressing:



We ordered two really good pies from a new little pie shop nearby, a Karo Pecan and a Pumpkin, and they were still warm when he picked them up at 9 a.m. The baker’s “dozenth” was a slice of Sugar Cream Pie, also still warm, thick with cooked cream and sugar, and with a golden dusting of cinnamon and nutmeg---we shared that slice for breakfast.



The Pecan pie---somebody got into that one early. I think often of Dear Aunt Ruthie, who had seven boys---we went to her house for the weekend once, and I helped her bake several cakes on Saturday. The guys just kept coming through the kitchen, getting slice after slice, even from layers that hadn’t been stacked up yet. She just laughed and said, “I never DID make a cake couldn’t be cut.” I aspired to be a Mama like that.



And that brings me full circle to the Blessings we're counting---I wish everyone a wonderful holiday season. And for the ones heading home today and tomorrow---Traveling Grace for the Journey.

Friday, November 27, 2009

SUNNY FRIDAY

We had a little visitor overnight, so her Mommy and Mammaw and Aunt could be up and out by six o'clock on their Mission To Shop. (Original plan was for Midnight Madness---rethought as to saving energy for The Day---and then for a four-ayem departure to the Early Birds).

Now we're taking Life by the horns and going out in search of breakfast, if there's a parking spot left in this town, let alone an inch of standing room. We were up late---I slept upstairs in the guest room, to be near if needed; at midnight I went up with monitor, book, glasses, and a little bowl with a spoonful each of asparagus casserole and Green Jello Salad. Quite a combination, but apropos of all the juxtapositions on the Thanksgiving Table.

Moire non when we return---Chris got some good pictures. I hope everybody's safe and well and warm, with happy days to stay, and Grace for traveling home.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

THANKSGIVING

Today is the day set aside to count our blessings---I list mine every day, and I count each one of you amongst my Gratefuls. I wish you well and warm and happy, and pray blessings for you, for all you love and for all who love you.

Some scenes from Back Home, courtesy of my friend Janie, at Southern Lagniappe. Please turn on the sound.

http://southernlagniappe.blogspot.com/2009/11/outdoor-wednesday-fall-lagniappe.html

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

NEW AND IMPROVED

We just got back from a LONG walk around the neighborhood---about an hour out in the cloudy day, with a bit of a chilly wind---50 degrees or so. And you'd have laughed if you could have seen me trying to man TWO red leashes---one with FuzzyPup, who investigates a blowing leaf, a dropped Kleenex, a sidewalk crack---with a skitter to one side of the sidewalk or the other, spinning out his leash-length like a marlin on a chair-rod, til he catches up short with a jerk and a little coughing sound.

To which Our Girl, with her own snazzy red Elmo vest securely velcroed over her coat, giggles and chuckles and shouts, "Boo Shoo Fuzzy!!! Fuzzy SNEEZE!!" And runs giggling in her own direction. We did that for perhaps ten blocks around. We came back with rosy cheeks, glowing eyes, two dandelions picked from down the block, now denuded of their fluff by the breezy walk, two tiny green tomatoes---the last of the crop, one slightly-skint knee from all the running, and a poop-baggie in my pocket. Glorious walk all around.

And then I spent a half-hour cutting and pasting from my list---PLEASE let me know if I missed anyone. I plead exhaustion, keeping company with a two-year-old, and my own brand of senility.

But whatever I clicked, it set the names up in order of posting, with the newest up top, how long ago, and the title of the post---a coupla new bells and a whistle, as well.

Nice.

COOK LIKE YOU MEAN IT

I just took the big pan of cornbread out of the oven---my first real step in cooking Thanksgiving dinner. I DID “can” the string beans back in the summer---we got ten pounds at the Farm Market, and had one mess the first night---mess being the Southern quantity word for a batch or pile or big bowl or platter of something good from the kitchen---cooked low with chopped onion fried a bit first, in a little oil and the fat that was rendering from a big chunk of grilled ham from the freezer.

They were a wonder-of-wonders---too much wordplay---but they are Kentucky Wonders, brought back from down South by our favorite vendor. We took all he had of the lovely lush deepgreen beans---flat ones, about halfway between an Italian bean and the round little sprigs which hang fruitful on the short “bush-bean” plants and are the standard-and-only in most markets.

And there’s a world of difference in taste, and even in the aroma of cooking beans which seeps from beneath the pot-lid. The true, real depth of the old-fashioned, down-home flavor is a just reward for all the work---tilling and planting, the hoeing and the staking, getting those tall pole teepees just right, the running and looping of the string, and then helping train all those tender little seeking tendrils as they grow toward the sky---all worth the effort, for a bowl of those wonderful beans. Then there's the seeking---moving the great loops of vine and leaf to get at all the hanging treasures beneath and inside the hidden depths, all the way to the top.

Except for the mere seeding and waiting for the blooms and beans, there’s really no virtue in the bush beans---they seem to come from the vine with that tin-can tang of metal-in-the-mouth. And lots of times they go to mush in the pot before the bright is gone. We like them stir-fried with garlic and oil, quickly tossed into the almost-smoking wok and stirred quickly as they sizzle the mist of oil droplets up to land in quick peppering pinpricks all over your unshielded hands. With a little anointing of sesame oil and soy sauce, that’s a special dish, turned out quick and hot onto the platter, eaten with greedy fingers like fried potatoes---still crisp and green inside, hot and rich and salty without.

But a Thanksgiving pot of Kentucky Wonders---that’s one of the Seven Wonders of the Southern Table. (Fried Chicken, ‘Nanna Puddin,’ and Devilled Eggs the other givens---the final three are a matter of taste and cooking and What Mama Made Best). Ours will be cooked LOW on Thursday morning, with a bowl of one-curl-peeled tiny pink potatoes waiting in cold water. When the beans have cooked for perhaps an hour-and-a-half, filling the house with that Summer-in-a-mouthful scent of ham and cooked onion and those incomparable beans, the little potatoes will be nestled atop, showered with a bit of sea salt, covered tight, and left to cook soft and sumptuous in the steam beneath the lid.

My friend Keetha at WRITE KUDZU has a phrase for good Southern cooking---she says with some things, some occasions, you have to “Cook Like You Mean It.” I understand perfectly what she’s saying---you put your best efforts into the work, for a dish which is above the usual, whether it’s a pan of cornbread, turned out crusty and hot from the old black skillet, or a painstakingly-baked- and-constructed Red Velvet Cake, glowing proud on the best cut-glass stand.

Whether it’s a new dish or all the old Family Favorites---Thanksgiving is a time to Cook Like You Mean It.

Monday, November 23, 2009

I SWANNEE!!

Y'all, I SWEAR!!! One of the right-side parts of this page has just poofed off into nowhere, AGAIN. This morning, it was the little gallery of dear people listed as "Followers," but it was back very soon, as if the whole group had gone to lunch, had a rousing good time and a lovely meal, and sauntered back in to be ready in case I called, all looking even prettier from the nice outing and all that wine.

I'd LIKE to call, I'm tellin' you. Somebody who can tell me what I did, or what happened, or how it happened. I've replaced it, by hand, so to speak, once before. I'll do that tomorrow a.m., I hope, but it will take a lot of cut and paste and click here, I suppose. I have a list. I'm never without my list.

I'll surely miss just clicking onto all the old group soon as I sit down with my first cup.

Dang.

And anybody who'd like to come in here and throw in their own link---that would be just dandy, and right neighborly, to boot.

DISHES

The second load of teapots and decanters are in a vinegar wash in the dishwasher; I ruthlessly poured out dregs of Kahlua, of tawny port, of sherry bought in 1995. They each got a glug of vinegar and a pouf of paper towel on a long chopstick to scrub all the murky bottom corners, then into the DW. The huge faceted punchbowl way up high has been Windexed and replaced, and the decanters will again stand beside it, perhaps tomorrow, when they are completely dry.

I’ve just polished the old china cabinet which holds the three sets of china which belonged to my Mother, as did the cabinet. There are two sets of white-bordered-in-silver and one of a decidedly Autumnal hue, with lots of dainty gold scrolling amongst the small pale orange and rust flowers. Each set has eight cups and saucers; I "borrowed" them over and over for parties we did, as they matched my own set. And over the years I’ve collected up perhaps four dozen more c/s pairs, in mis-matched sets---four of this, six of that, until one shelf inside is a-topple with zany towers of cups, like those lop-sidey modern wedding cakes which would have delighted Dear Dr. Seuss.

The shelves are near to collapse with all the bits and bobs, from our family or who-knows-whose family, all higgled in like puzzle pieces. Stacks of plates are topped with more towers of bowls with small white paper towel ears sticking out between, until it’s nearly impossible to un-Jenga the set to get at what you want.

And cream-and-sugars!!! With those and all the cups, we could serve tea to a regiment. I don’t know WHY I’ve indulged in so many, but they appealed to me at the time, I know, or reminded me of another time and place, or just caught my fancy with their own fanciful flowers and birds and curves. And they were almost all less than a dollar, at least the ones I actually bought.

Everything was a gift, a family pass-down, or bought at Goodwill and yard sales. I cannot indulge expensive whims---plus, that would take away from the pleasure of the find, of the having, the knowing that it WAS a bargain. And especially the knowing that these now-treasures, cluttery though they be, were bought and enjoyed, washed and polished and put away, by people I once knew and cared about, or by strangers with their own lives and stories to tell.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

ASPARAGUS CASSEROLE

My Sis is at the Ole Miss/LSU game today---they drove from Texas with Nephew #2, picked up Nephew #1 at the Little Rock airport, and arrived at Niece's condo yesterday in time to make up great lots of tailgate food. They'll drive home Monday with all the kids plus Niece's fella, and have the whole family over for Thanksgiving.

They also have Spurs tickets for Wednesday night, for the WHOLE clan---about a dozen of them. THEN they'll all cook together on Thursday (one nephew is a chef) and have a late dinner. (I think a rousing evening of Texas Hold 'Em is on the agenda, as well).

I envy that, and want to do that---or something similar, since I do not follow sports. But I've been a Martha all my life, looking after things and cooking things and enjoying company and cleaning up after. I wouldn't know HOW to leave home on the night before a big holiday meal. Somehow, my circuits are wired for preparation and doing and all the necessaries leading up to a family gathering---I don't think I could even go to the OPERA on a holiday's eve.

Of course, this doesn't mean I've made one single effort in the getting ready for this one. Sis is probably way ahead of me on things made and in the freezer; she e-mailed this week for this make-ahead casserole, which is SUPER rich and easy to make. It's strictly Southern, in all the shortcuts and the Paula-pounds of butter and the thick cheese sauce.

She's serving twelve, I think, so I made this to fit a slightly-smaller than 9x13 pyrex---if your Dinner is anytime before four or five o’clock, everybody will want to fix another plate before bedtime, anyway---thus the generous leftovers.

And you know by now that I tell off recipes just like I talk:

5 cans Green Giant tall spears
Sauce:
1 stick butter
¼ c. flour
Nice spoonclop of mayo
Sprinkle powdered garlic
1 or 2 cups grated cheddar

Topping:
A sleeve of Ritz plus about six more; crush them all, but not to powder.
Another stick of butter

Butter a big flat casserole dish---Corning or glass or metal. Sprinkle a handful of the crumbs in bottom of casserole.

Open cans, leave lids in place, and drain all the liquid into a quart measuring cup.
If it hits the 3-cup level, OK---if not, fill it on up to 3 with milk or water. Set this aside.

Put butter into 10” or bigger nonstick skillet and melt gently. Stir in flour, and keep stirring while it bubbles a bit to cook out the flour taste---do NOT let it brown---gentle heat. Stir it with a flat paddle if you have one---scrape and keep it moving.

Get your whisk ready. Pour all the liquid in, stirring gently with whisk---it will take a few minutes on low heat for it to come together and thicken. Take it off heat and stir in the cheese, let it sit a minute to melt a bit, then whisk in---it will get silky, and even more when you whisk in the mayo and garlic.

Take cans to sink, hold lids on, and shake a coupla times to let out the bit of liquid left. Then hold can crosswise over casserole and shake out half gently. Move down a bit---ditto, with two of the cans til bottom is sorta covered. Spread on half the sauce, then repeat with rest of spears, then sauce.

Cool thoroughly, Saran, Foil, and freeze.

For topping, put the other stick of butter in skillet and melt. Stir in Ritz crumbs and keep stirring for a while, til you can smell the nutty, toasty scent develop. Take off heat, cool on a plate, and bag up for later, if you need to. Just stick the baggie flat between Saran and foil and stick it all in the freezer. Or just make topping the day before or day of your dinner. Don’t put it on til you’re ready to bake.

Take out of freezer and thaw. Leave Saran on, microwave til you see steam droplets forming beneath wrap. Remove Saran. Sprinkle on the crumbs. Oven 350 for 30---40 minutes til “gold and bubbly.” Serves a BUNCH.

PS on Sunday: I've had a comment from a Dear Reader that she does not like asparagus---this casserole is Perfectly SCRUMPTIOUS with squash---same recipe, only use milk in place of the can juices for the sauce, and you'll need to salt the sauce to taste. Saute a couple of pounds of yellow crookneck rings with about a quarter as much chopped onion til almost soft, salt it a bit, then go from there. And it, like a lot of good things Southern, profits in taste and color from a small jar of chopped pimiento drained and stirred into the sauce.

Mother always liked to arrange a little layer of sliced boiled eggs betwixt the two squash layers, as well. Rich and delicious.

Friday, November 20, 2009

AWAAAAAAY!

I've been invited to go with Chris this afternoon, so we'll stop for a late lunch, and have a sunny view of 37 between here and Bloomington.

There's a special Flea Market, and a wonderful restaurant twixt here and there, and so we're up for possibilities.

moire non,

Thursday, November 19, 2009

OFFICE LUNCH

Long years ago, I catered lunch at the offices of a medical practice, three days a week. I'd met one of the doctors at several parties we'd done, and we'd catered in her home quite a few times.

She called one day and asked if we could get together and discuss lunch for the office---she and her partners had a staff of about 12, and they had an enormous conference table in a private room of their office, as well as a little kitchenette---sink, water cooler, Mr. Coffee, microwave, postage-stamp counter space. She is a quiet, calm woman, who speaks of nurturing her patients and staff, caring about their welfare, making their lives as pleasant and fulfilling as she can, with a welcoming workplace and pleasant surroundings.

It worked out well---I carried in china, glasses, silver for twelve; she had her dressmaker make an enormous oval vinyl tablecloth which just needed spraydown and wiping after each meal. My only request was a list of cleanup supplies for the kitchen, and that I could have the A/C on high as I did the dishes, way back there in that tiny closed room. I would drive over in my little blue wagon, haul out my cute red dolly, load it with three big RedMan picnic baskets---usually one hot, one cold, and one miscellaneous---and wheel in lunch.

I gave them menus to choose from: Soups and sandwiches and salads, or Chef's Salad, a Taco salad lunch with big bowls of add-ons (black beans, cheese, chips to crush, green onion tops, sour cream, salsas, etc.) and fruit salad lunch (lovely plate of fresh-cut fruit with a big bowl of cottage cheese, some thin deli ham rolled around cream cheese, and warm cornbread or cheese muffins. I would arrange the fruit plates in the kitchen and set them down before announcing lunch, and I always sliced a banana onto each plate, right at the last minute. One day, I missed one banana, and since we were a comfy, informal group, I stood beside her, slicing it directly onto her plate. She was one of the older nurses, and she leaned on my side and said, "I love this---it's just like being back at Mama's table."

And I think that was the allure of it---a group of hard-working women, homes and families depending on them to keep the home running, just taking an hour during the busy day to let someone "mother" them for a change. They even closed the office 1-to-2 p.m. every time, so there were no appointments to intrude.

We'd have a fried-chicken dinner now and then---a splurge on their diets, I suppose, but I knew who liked which piece, and made real mashed potatoes and nice little green peas. I think the nearest they ever came to being prissy over the meal was one day I served a taco salad, and they all prepared and ate theirs just as they liked. I took away the plates, returned with dessert dishes, and set down an enormous warm nutmeggy/vanilla bread pudding, with two boxes of Kool Whip (well you have to draw the line for SOME convenience, sometime). They just pounced on it, each judiciously eyeing each others' portion, and making sure everyone got equal shares. And they scraped the pan.

And, since the three doctors all loved Southern cooking, we DID have collards now and then, with candied sweet potatoes and baked ham and maybe a spicy slaw. Cornbread, of course, though I did bake it in a 9x13 instead of a black skillet.

I think of that group often---their lives and how they all gathered in that office every day to tend to the sick and look after their patients. They were smart, hard-working people who were kind to me and appreciative of my cooking. And I sometimes miss being "Mama" to that big table of folks who came to be like family.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

GETTIN' DOWN

photo by Marty Kittrell

Lots to do today---another appliance is on its way out the door---Chris says we might as well have just had Vanna come in and do those graceful gestures to a whole new kitchen and utility room, and we'd say we'd take it.
We seem to be on a headlong ride in the Wonderful One-Horse Shay this year, with lots of home improvements, some under the duress of an expired necessity which has to be replaced RIGHT NOW.

And as I work, I'm thinking of Our Girl's prophetic words on Sunday---the Baby Class always has a two-minute Bible lesson, and the subject was Zacchaeus, a "small man," whose zeal to look upon the Lord impelled him to climb WAY up high above the taller folks craning for a peek.

Sweetpea's Mama came to pick her up when classes were dismissed. "And what did you LEARN today?" she asked.

Just-turned-two Wisdom: "GET DOWN OUT THAT TREE!!"

And so I must climb down from my observations and get on with things. To the work, and no distractions.

moire non,

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

SATURDAY VISITS



Southern Living


Aunt Odie and Cousin Glee came to visit my first Mother-In-Law every Saturday. Every. Single. Saturday. And except for seeing each other at church, I would think that they each thought the other spent her whole life with her hair on rollers and a gauzy scarf all tied around---Aunt Odie and Glee with a tucked-in top knot like Rosie the Riveter, and Maw with hers drawn down to a knot at the back of her neck---she seemed to be still wearing the soft blue cap of her hair dryer. Maw and Aunt Odie favored the small pink rollers in their short perms, whilst Glee was partial to the larger size, and once she emerged from the car looking like fallout from an atomic lab---she’d found the big turquoise poufy ones for a dollar at Fred’s, and she bought four packages---enough to last her ten years. And she always slept in a scarf as well, with her page-boy rolled around a Kotex to “make it last the week.”

The two short little pigeon-women, one middle-sixties, the other in her forties and more like a sisterish clone of her mother, drove that long blue Lincoln slowly up the long gravel drive to our farm, windows up, creeping along to keep the red graveldust from flying. Tiny Aunt Odie drove with her arms out straight and her eye level just above the dashboard; her doctor had told her that women should drive with the seat all the way back, to keep from getting blood clots in their legs, and though her own short frame would have got the same benefit from a half-way notch, she took the directions to heart, stretching out her toes to gas and brake.

She loved my Mother-In-Law like a daughter, and gave her motherly advice right and left, prying into topics of a too-personal nature, her own modesty evinced in the long list of euphemisms she tossed into the conversations regarding love and marriage. The three ladies, like my own mother, whispered the word “pregnant,” and on occasion, slipped and gave the same demure delivery to “expecting.” And, despite Glee's forty-odd years, I noticed several times that the other two leaned away from her, cocking their heads conspiratorially toward each other, when they uttered either word---the initiate's deference to  maidenhood, I guess.

Glee was a roundish woman, in double-knit pants with the fake cording-crease up the front, sweater sets in Winter, and sleeveless button-front blouses the rest of the year, all topped by her add-a-gold-bead necklace which grew with every gift-giving holiday. She wore pumps, always, her tied-in-the-middle form slanted forward by the incline, and the muscles of her little round calves knotting with the effort of each step. She spoke softly, mostly echoing her mother’s opinions and phrases in a gentle chant; she accepted a glass of 40-weight tea and a slice of the just-cooled poundcake, sliced still on the rack, with tiny crumbs sanding the counter beneath.

She squeezed the lemon into her tea, stirred it with the long spoon, and left the spoon in the glass, holding it in place with the crook of an index finger as she drank. She fluttered her hands a bit when she talked, her Sally Hansen Natural Pink polish making little swoops in the air, and when she chewed, her jaw clicked in little smicking sounds, like a cat licking its fur.

How she must have longed for more from life, in those joined-at-the-hip jaunts with her Mother. I tried to imagine her solitary room, with the Hollywood bed and "antiqued" white dresser with its smears of gold paint and the mingly scent from all the Avon bottle-shapes on the top. She was almost androgynous despite the lipstick, from all the vast sameness of her days with her quiet, dull parents---she existed in a kind of estrogenic void that I would have found stifling. She eked a life in the house she was born in; her conversation consisted of TV plots and articles from Farm Journal and Woman’s Day, and she’d tell you a new-clipped recipe for Sloppy Joes, step by step, starting with a half-pound of ground beef, “plenty to serve me and Mama and Daddy.”

I think the decades just missed Glee---she just seemed to accept that she was to stay "at home" with her parents until she was aged herself; she'd had a job or two, and nothing seemed quite right for her. Today, she might have been an independent woman, with a career, or at least a fulfilling occupation, a degree, a life.

Glee still had a stack of True Romance in her closet, from back in her teens, along with a frequently-replenished stash of Nutty Buddy bars. If I'd ever wanted to take up watching Another World, I coulda jumped right in anywhere, thanks to her---I knew as much about Bay City and the Matthews clan as most any real fan, just as my Mammaw’s updates in that old porch swing kept me in sync with the Hortons of DOOL.

And I know that my DEAR MIL would have relished ONE weekend to do something else besides sit with those two ladies for those interminable Saturday afternoons; even a houseful of visiting family or other company didn't deter them---Maw's sister and her family would drive over from Durant, and Aunt would come over. Or Aunt's other children would be down for the weekend and they'd ALL arrive for the Saturday sit-down, and eat the whole cake---to Aunt, it just meant more people to visit with.

The sameness must have had the gentle grind of water-on-rock, and the small inconsequentials, discussed week after week---the church bulletin, the shower for the Martin girl, the new house going up out on the Bennett place---must surely have grown stale, or perhaps Maw's own stay-at-homeness gave them such common ground as could be.

I can say that I don’t believe that a word of mean gossip ever passed amongst those lovely, plain-living women; they dealt in verbal popcorn, and their kindness and sweet dispositions and genuine regard for each other are one of my lovely memories.

Monday, November 16, 2009

TALK ABOUT A PARTY

I'm here. I'm still around, though my recent postings ---or lack of---have belied my presence (or presence of mind, which is another failing, entirely, and easy to blame my fuzzy brain).

Caro and I have spent the last couple of days making lists and tidying the house, decorating for Thanksgiving, planning the dinner and other small activities, as well as a little tea-party for the first weekend in December. We've discussed it over quiet first cups in the early morning, as the house is still, and our Small One not yet arrived, or visiting Memaw that day.

We've written down stuff, looked at recipes, and planned cloths and tables and trays and what will go on them. We've decided on a definitely Southern slant to our little collation, and have discussed toasted pecans (yes, in a pretty silver bowl) and cheese pennies (also yes, with a glass of wine or mulled cider upstairs as everyone gathers). She and I planned and executed so many parties together over the years, it's like old times, deciding and planning and listing and making out schedules.

Paminna Cheese---of course, small triangles cut protractor-true in tea-stands on each table, along with cucumber hearts and egg salad on trimmed many-grain bread. We've discussed glasses and china and should-we-use-the-burgundy-plates-there-are-plenty-of-those, or perhaps the two sets-for-eight of the practically-identical-white-rimmed-in-silver which belonged to my Mother. It's such fun, and so entertaining, and silly-as-all-get-out for two ladies to spend so much time at. We coulda gone on a cruise in the time it's taken. And it's probably been as much fun.

Still, we part, we sleep, she goes to work, and on the next meeting, we pop right back into planning mode, without any introduction of the subject. I go upstairs in my jammies, bearing my hot cup carefully as I climb; she interrupts whatever she's doing, and "What about those little plates you got at the Flea Market last year?---they'd be perfect for the trifle," stands in for "Good Morning!! Did you sleep well?" or "HI!!! I'm glad you're home!! How was work?" as we fall right back into plannit mode.

Then I rack my brain to remember last year, let alone a purchase at some ephemeral market---Oh, yes, I say---I've been meaning to use those, and they'll go well with the embroidered jewel-tone cloth. "But I've been thinking we'd use that on the dresser upstairs," she says. And on we go.

I have things to be doing, plumbers to call, the lawn crew to come excavate us from a forest's-worth of fallen leaves and limbs, writing a-waiting, a little girl who's with us several days a week, the HOLIDAYS coming, and we're just ladies of leisure, as if we'll just wave our fans and all this live-in staff of ours will Presto the whole thing into being in a blink.

But we love the planning---I've always enjoyed getting ready for company---smoothing the guest-room duvet, plumping the Battenburg pillows, making several Things In Dishes to whisk out of the fridge when needed. I already have two casseroles, a ham, and four quarts of spaghetti sauce in the FREEZER FOR CHRISTMAS, for Pete's sake!

But it's fun, and we're grasshoppering, and I've been remiss in keeping up my end of this ethereal bargain made when I sent out that first hesitant, logorrheic post into the Wide World.

We missed out on having our Lawn Tea this year, and for the past several years. We've firmed up the plans for this Christmas one, and I'll will be sharing more of the couldn't-be-less-important details in the days to come. Folks are invited, the cloths are pressed; I have a brand-new jar of Wright's, heavy with the promise of sparkle, and the lift of a prospective party in my heart.

I hope you'll join in the preparation as it progresses.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

CLOSING DOWN, GATHERING IN

We’ve long since closed down the garden this year---rather, the unseemly weather has done it for us, with super-chilly nights which caused the six huge potted tomato plants to shudder, wilt, and give up the ghost, leaving only the great slumpy twists of gnarled, blackened limbs dotted with dozens of small round globes of green, pink, red. How the vines withered into such ugly heaps in so short a time is amazing---we’ve had no freeze here yet, but each and every “annual” on the place seems to have breathed its last.

The grapevine, so lush in its pursuit of more and more climbing space, has dropped its leaves, and the tendrils are sere and crisp, with no hint of the life that will surge back into being in the Spring---the sad sticks of it wave from the garage, the potting shed, the light and phone wires in every direction, like a spread-out bird’s nest wrapped and clinging tight against the wind.

The last three bell peppers are still swelling fatly on the paling green plant at the back door. There’s just something about the crisp freshness from a five-minutes-from-stem vegetable---I could eat these like apples. All the houseplants have come in, arranged around the sitting area and the living room as best to catch the sun. The Perennials in the herb garden are still swaying in whatever sun the days bring---the marjoram and oregano and thyme and sage, the mint and the tarragon and the three butterfly bushes---they should all return next year. And the lavender is still waving its long velvety fragrance into the air---I never fail to give it a pet like a favorite dog, for the scent on my clothing and hands follows me into the house, and I’ll soon cut great sheaves of the limbs, to perfume the linen press and the quilt cupboards.

The tomatoes, all the lovely basils---lemon and Thai and the bright plump leaves of the plain old herb, are gone, as well as the petunias, though the few hardy pink Susan Komens that Caro transplanted into the perennially-cheerful pot of geraniums which have graced the front porch for years are standing proudly in the corner of the living room, soaking up the warm beams from all the big windows. The blooms, sad to say, though perky and happily growing in their new home, have been plucked off one by one by small hasty fingers, pressed to a little nose, then presented to me with the happy flourish of a courtier.

The hostas have yellowed, the daisies slumped into still-green limpnesses over the borders, and they will be cut to the ground this afternoon, with blankets of crisp leaves swept on for the Winter. The whole yard craves the attention of the lawn crew, and they will be here next weekend; I believe the trees will have dropped the greater part of their leaves by then, and it will be time to snug in, to seal the windows, to get out the Bounce-packed blankets and Winter coverlets, to fill the house with the aroma of an afternoon-long stew and banana bread and the bubble of a berry cobbler.

Time to put some casseroles in the freezer, for Thanksgiving and for all the crowds at Christmas, here in this fallow time, when the wind is just beginning its season’s whistle---I marvel that only COLD wind sounds in the windows and in the eaves; I cannot remember that a Summer wind makes a noise like that---only the ones trying to seep their chilly fingers into a warm house.

Time’s turning with the colors, and now is the preparing, the buttoning up and the battening down, covering our beds with down and our selves with fleece for the long cold. I haven’t seen a roly-poly caterpillar in years---something about the way they cross a road, or the thickness of their coat, or how high they climb a branch---a predictor of the severity of the Winter to come. Something in myth-memory stirs, but I cannot remember what. But we’ll prepare for what comes. We’ll be ready.

Friday, November 13, 2009

OCTOBER---AT LAST





Our yesterday was one of bright sun and drifts of leaves and sweepings and walks---the October we did not have. And yes, we have recovered our long and cordial relationship with the broom, though the little contretemps at the store had strained our civility a bit.

Our girl was all bright in pink, with one loopy curl up on a whalespout, and all the rest in their customary ringlets; she delved into the bowl of my ponytail elastics, adorning both wrists with half-dozens of bright pink and blue and green stretchy bracelets, grabbed her Minnie Mouse sunglasses, and was up the stairs before I could find my clogs.

We made a quick trip to the grocery store, Chris heading one way with his buggy, and she and I hit the produce for apples and plums and the fattest grapes I’ve ever encountered---when I cut her portion, these have to be cut into SIX pieces---they’re like plump, juicy pink pullet eggs. (If you click on the picture to enlarge, that's still not enough---I measured one up to the screen).


We’d meet in the aisle now and again, for a quick consultation on timing and even quicker exchange of passenger---she moved from her perch on the Charmin pillow in my cart to the Coke Zero bench in his, merrily greeting passersby with a float wave or a cheerful “Hi!” (Doesn’t take much to entertain me, folks).

We went on quick darts into the bank, the pet food store, then to Steak N Shake, where we built a snazzy cardboard car and encrusted it with myriad stickers of headlights, license plates, quad-pipes (one on hood, the other on roof), spoilers (down the door) and a set of killin’ rims (distributed like mylar balloons across the sides). We had chicken fingers and fries and a little cup of cheese “dipdip” (she has "fast food" perhaps once a month, and the only other time she's had fries with us was at this same SnS, where she interrupted her munching to confide loudly to the adjoining table of Firefighters that "TEETEE, he go TEETEE" when Chris headed for the restroom, and for all the time til he re-emerged). The key to the enjoyment of this monumental treat is the whisper of the word as each bite is baptized---this child is not only a double-dipper---she nips a bite, dips, nips, ad infinitum, so long as the fry shall last. I don't think we've had such a quiet meal since she was born.

A quick cleanup with her handy-dandy baggied washcloth-wrung-out-in-lavender-wash from home, then home to a little foray out into the piles and piles of leaves as I swept them up and onto the now-resting hosta beds, walk the dog, and in to a thorough wash of hands and face, along with a good brushing to rid her fleecy shirt and pants of leaf debris, and so to nap.

She woke smiling lazily, came down to her requested “tea-time” of peaches and yogurt (and then a very slim slice of 7-up poundcake, since she won’t return until next week. We went upstairs to await her Mommy; she danced around Fuzzypup in the kitchen; I sat on the top step of the stairs. She handed me things from the tall canning-cupboard; I accumulated quite a stack of tuna cans, green beans and corn, as we sang “Row Your Boat” and ABC song, counting out the groceries one by one.

Her Mommy had been here but a moment, and Our Girl suddenly lifted her arms over her head and announced loudly, “I’m so BORED!” We looked at each other in bewilderment; she’s barely TWO---where DID she get THAT phrase? Then I remembered---in her favorite TV show, little nine-minute claymation odysseys into the lives and doings of Fifi Flowertot and all her Gardentot friends, Pip Gooseberry, the littlest of the lot, says that in one episode, and GUESS WHAT??!!! They all get together and build him a playground---a lettuce-leaf trampoline, flowerstalk swingset, and a seesaw.

Never underestimate the listening power of a two-year-old---anything may emerge in that baby voice, whether the words are understood or not.

The two ladies headed home; I sought refuge in a hot shower, comfy jammies and two ibuprofen, made three grilled cheese sandwiches on many-grain bread, with one each of the cheeses from Yoder’s Cheese Shop last weekend. Two quick slices carved from the big ham about to be put on the grill today for the weekend’s meals, sizzled in the skillet after the sandwiches; some celery sticks, and a dollop each of peach preserves and the new Tangerine/Jalapeno jam from Yoder’s. Lie to Me and Fringe and an early bedtime with Agatha Christie.



Exhausted sigh.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

CCC COTTON

One year ago today, I hesitatingly sent out my first post, into the ether of the Internet, with no expectations that I can think of. Each day’s little remembrances or anecdotes or recipes or family tales were just put OUT THERE, with no idea of how far-reaching this medium is. And each day, people have looked in---the names of cities have scrolled across the counter, with the familiarity of old friends and the exotic ping of new, exciting places. And several real friendships have come of this---I count my readers and followers and commenters and e-mail friends as a great blessing.

And today is also Post Number Three Hundred. So I pondered for a subject to befit my heritage and my raising and the home I lived in for so many years. And there’s no doubt, it has to be Cotton. And Janie's post this week on Southern Lagniappe, her wonderful photographs of the fields of home, so familiar and so far away, was the deciding factor---a sign, so to speak, when she offered any and all, to illustrate this story.

In the Delta where I’m from, you can turn in a complete circle, your eyes on the horizon, and you see trees. No matter what distance, from close, see-the-bark, count-the-leaves, to a dwindly wisp of greenish mist at ground level far, far in the distance---you see the woods. There’s something so comforting about that---even the placid hills and the far-reaching prairies, the majesty of mountains and waves bursting on rocky shorelines cannot match the secure feeling of being surrounded by a forest, somewhere. It’s like our own secret garden wall, immense and constant, and it is embedded in our history and our beings. And always, on the landscape---the cotton fields.



I loved looking out my front door in Mississippi---I love the process of it, from the primal scent of first turning, to the flying dust as the planters roll like growling beasts over the land, to the vista of the tiny "turtles" as the sun-seeking leaves peek out, glimpsing the sky for the first time. They have an odd way of coming up through that dense Mississippi gumbo, aiming for the sky, and the little periscope lifts up a half-dollar-sized solid flat lid of dirt; for a few days, each long row does, indeed, seem to have a horizon-reaching line of baby turtles, marching their way to the woods.

Then there's the greening, as the fields take on a tinge, then definite delineations of those long, symmetrical rows, growing higher and higher, until the blooms unfurl purple---I think of them as "hollyhocks with jobs" in their purpose and their definite usefulness. And the dainty-fringed little bishop's-hat bolls, which grow, ripen, and then burst with their fluffy hatchlings. The long vistas of green change to brown, crisping stalks and thorny hawk-talon barbs, guarding their burdens like Sleeping Beauty's hedge.






The days of drag-a-sack for $4 a hunnerd are no more---the people have gone from the old silver-glazed cypress tenant houses which dot the land, and the battered old houses stand witness to another time, but certainly not a gentler one. Cotton was higher then, in stature, if not in value---head-high-to-a-hand was a common measure, as the crop sometimes topped six feet, and as the drying came, the brambly rows were all but impenetrable. But the workers persevered, making their way through the thorny limbs day after day for scarcely the price of their grits and lard. They barely made a livin’ and it sure wasn’t living. And machines tend the crops now, from first turning to harvest.

The great beasts are unleashed once again, to blunder over the fields, trampling the scratchy stalks and sucking up the clouds of white into that immense cage, the vast poundage then compressed into modules---huge rounded bundles like convoys of blue-tarped gypsy wagons encamped in the fields. And these huge forms, in turn, go to the gin for ginning and seed removal and pressing into bales---most usually approximately 500 pounds.








The process of growing and harvesting and ginning and selling and brokering and spinning and weaving and dyeing and sewing---I've been in on quite a lot of the procedure; cotton kept our lights on, kept our fridge and freezers full, and pretty much tended to our welfare, as we tended the fields. Even the aftermaths---counting up those green tickets, with the almost-illegible scribing, adding the pounds and the amounts, calculating the wages and all the other usual paperwork---that old yellow formica kitchen table was often laden with the grimy, gin-grease tokens of the growing and the labor and the gain.





Oh, the prayers and the wishes for rain, or for the incessant rain to stop; for the mud to dry enough to get wheels in the field; for enough hours in the day to plant or tend or defoliate or pick---many a midnight "lunch" I've delivered to the sweaty, grime-covered or damp or shivering workers in the fields, out there with picker-beams lighting up the hazy, dust-billowed landscape like some great harvest scene in E T.

Driving up to a "stoppin' place" with the old woody wagon's tailgate laden with all the hot stew and biscuits or bean soup and cornbread and big urns of coffee, or an afternoon's heat modified by the arrival of a trunkful of chilly watermelons, ready for plunging thirsty mouths and hot faces into, or a big dishpanful of "strawberry shortcake"---several angelfood cakes or just-cooled cake layers, torn into bits, tossed with fresh-cut, sugared strawberries, and a couple of pints of cream whipped into a gallon of snowy fluff, all folded together into a luscious redpinkwhite-striped confection---occasionally the guys would pass right by the stack of bowls and stand around the pan with their spoons, their mugs of strong black coffee one-fingered ready in the spare hand. They came to the meal, exhausted from their since-daylight labor, looking like a
troop of just-emerged coal miners, their faces etched with grime and cotton-dust and wisps of stem and leaf---the only clean spots the goggle-covered area around their eyes.





Cotton has been a mainstay of my family since I can't remember when. It's a magical, none-like-it plant---the green stems blossoming their flowers, which turn into tight green-fringed fists; the Summer's heat and rain call forth the growth and the splitting and the burst of down-soft fiber, older than memory and more comfortable to wear than the finest silk. The miracle of seed and growth is one of the great wonders of the world, and I'm especially thankful for those fat furry seeds which go into the dirt like dead stones, rise up with blooms sweet as roses, then butterfly-burst into the miracle that is Cotton.







Dyed-in-the-Cotton Delta girl, that's me.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

NUMBER TWO NINETY-NINE


I've been trying to think of something to write for this next-to-last post, plus the #300 just has me bumfuzzled for a subject. Something special should be in order, a different approach, perhaps, or a great slurry of photographs to help tell the tale. I have no trouble writing like a bursting dam when I have a subject or a nudge---there's no stopping me and I just throw it right out there.

I started this just for ME, and all of you ARE my Lagniappe, my extras, my bonus---you lovely readers and commenters and the cities I see scrolling down the reader every day---I wonder who that is in Plano, and in Blackhawk---Ft. Worth---LaCrosse--Cleveland, and I hope they will return. I also wish they would chime in and say Hello, for a constant reader is any scribe's delight.

And today---EUREKA!! A peek at Janie's wonderful Fall-in-Mississippi pictures, with the rows and heads and bolls and acres of COTTON!! That felt like IT---the WHERE of me, the places and things of my raising; the snowy fluffs and the thorny toenails of the bolls took me right back to the fields outside our door. I could just see the acres stretching away into the surrounding woods, the poofs waving in the wind, and smell the dusty, drying plants as their demise makes way for the roaring beasts come to claim their prize.

THEN, our browser totally misbehaved itself---I could post no pictures, no images of any kind; the whole thing required hours of work by Chris, just to get back online, and then, all my bookmarks and all the lovely people and blogs which usually make a column down the right-hand side here, with their promises of stories and tales and pictures and all sorts of friendly, interesting things---they're somewhere off in the ether, as well, along with the counter which names off the cities as folks look in.

It feels lonely just looking at it, like a room in which you've heard laughter and good talk and friendly banter, sat on comfy furniture, felt the warmth of the hearth, basked in the light of candles and rosy lamps---and now it's empty---untenanted---stripped to the echoes, like one of Marty's sad, deserted churches with dusty pews and a dying piano left to pine.

Tomorrow will be another day---I have wonderful experts who can step up to this problem, give the system a stern talking-to, and repopulate my happy room with friends and color and light.
I just wish it hadn't happened TODAY, of all days, when I had been looking forward to the fun.

I do hope you'll bear with me; I hope you'll look in, and speak up, and be a part of this odd way of conversing; I've made lovely friends here, and count each one a special blessing. I also welcome Friends Unmet save for their city-names a scroll on the green screen as they glance in.

The cusp of another year is a new start, a change of season, and real reason to give thanks.
PLEASE COME BACK TOMORROW for the double-milestones---I hope it will be worthy.

Friday, November 6, 2009

THAT CHILD

I've been sorta saving up space here, hesitating to post, for this is the second-to-the-last in the ration until the big THREE HUNDRED is reached. And also, next week on the 12th will be the First Anniversary of the first post I ever ventured to send out into the blogworld.

I'd had visions of sorta stretching them out, making the two milestones coincide in one big moment, and perhaps it will work out that they do fall on the same day. But it seems stingy to keep postponing, just because of the maybe. I see the cities flash past on the counter, recognizing so many of the daily drop-ins, and feel bad to dribble out such mingy bits---like standing in the door and doling out the last crumbs in the cookie tin to kind folks coming to call, when I really wanted to have a lovely tea waiting in the parlor.

I'm a lavish-hand hostess, going too far and laying out too much, trying to make things just so, and urging second helpings. So at this moment, straight from an e-mail to a dear friend, a second look at THAT CHILD with the potholder hat:

There are several trees on our daily rounds which have been splendiferous, to make up for all the rest, and we swoooosssh our feet through the piles of their fallen grandeur every day---a dozen times, sometimes. We just keep turning around and going back. We went out with a "leash" yesterday a.m. and it was interesting, and much easier on Granny's back than the hand-holding and squiggling away and chasing down. I just can't chase her fast little feet as well as I'd like, though I DO get going fast. If I fell on the sidewalk, she'd make it to the street before I could get up, I'm sure.

We had our first incident in the grocery store last week---we walk or she rides through in her little push-car without her ever even reaching for those demonically-placed candy displays right down at her eye level, but not this time. And, due to the impromptu (read runaway) nature of the trip, without the leash. I said innocently, I said: Let's go sweep the porch!!! Bright smile and cheerful voice. So we went out the back door, me in shorts and T-shirt, though I HAD worn a long cotton cardigan the morning trip.

What I'd MEANT was patio, but guess who can sort out the words for herself, now? So when I said "get your broom" ---two feet long, with a clump of bristles about the size of Chris' shaving brush---she grabbed my big straw one---fairly new, but my size, and kinda discolored bristles from standing propped outside during quite a long wet spell.

Around the corner she went, as I glanced madly about for her broom, then gave chase. I resolved it was quite time to sweep the actual PORCH, as the old wicker chair that's stood there Winter and Summer for about five years is a GONER, molting big shards and shreds like gray matchsticks all over the concrete. So up I went, and started to sweep. Down the steps with Miss Independence, heading sideways across the lawn to next door. Away I went, as well, but Sweetpea changed course and headed down the drive, onto the sidewalk and for the leaf-pile across it about four houses down. We swished our feet; I said Home; she said OGY---so we went to Ogy's house, met his Grandma and Grandpa, me being so spruced up and all.

Still wagging that broom over my shoulder like a demented soldier.

WAY around to the store, where I decided the heck with it, I'd just pick up Chris' ice cream for dessert; In the door, to the freezer, with a quick detour past a display of little milk-carton boxes holding Goldfish. Snagged one. Now, carrying ice cream, goldfish, AND broom, and with my companion wanting to venture more and more into the depths of the aisles, I grabbed her hand.

She sank, saying "Sit." And sat. I leaned the broom against the cheese display, picked her up, hugged her and the ice cream, grabbed broom. She bent limply in half across my arm, and I had to put her down. Dropped the broom. Almost dropped the ice cream; grabbing it made little finger-dents around the edges of the lid.

Got her by the hand, got broom. She said Sit. And did, then crawled forward, her little hands on that shining, germ-ridden floor. I scooped her up, forgetting broom, which gave her a little thwack in the head with the handle. She wailed. People looked. I was comforting and exclaiming about her booboo, and getting totally weak from the laughing I'd been doing. Now I was sad for the booboo. And I REALLY REALLY had to pee. Which neither the laughing or grabbing or carrying was helping. One bit.

Lost goldfish in the mayhem; don't know where they went. Set ice cream on stack of eggs (my, was I brave to do that) and picked her up again. And broom. Got ice cream in tiny fingertip grip, hugged it to my bosom. She bent again, went down again. By now we're in line behind two baskets. People are looking at THAT WOMAN and THAT CHILD.

I couldn't wait to check out, so back we went to the freezer---any freezer, amongst the butterbeans, for all I know---where we snugged in the wounded ice cream with the little peck-marks all around the lid. Now relatively unburdened with only child and broom to my name, out the double doors. Smacked the broom on the coin machine.

We got out to a little bench in front of a store, sat down, called Chris and said open the back gate. We rounded the corner to see him pushing her little car fastfast toward me. She ran for him. I stopped the car, she climbed in, and I held back the rowdy bushes (partly with the broom, which had FINALLY decided to earn his keep), he drove her home, and I stumbled through the gate onto our own back lawn.

Future of our Nation, folks. Bright it is.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

DESTINIES

A direct descendant of Edward Milstead was my own Great GrandMother, whose husband spent three years away from home during the Civil War. He returned to the family farm in Mississippi, unscathed except in soul and psyche, I suppose, as are all soldiers who are daily witness to such harrowing events.

Our GG was a girl of fourteen when they were married, and he in his thirties---my Sis was a bit outraged when she found those records, thinking that perhaps the two Daddies got together and settled her off, for some such manly reason as to combine the land, or her own Dad and Great Grand sat down on the porch to smoke and spit a spell, and did the old Talk Amongst Men thing, after which the young innocent daughter was carted away to matrimony and years of housekeeping and child-raising, foisted too soon into the hard life of a farmer’s wife and the grim Facts of Life..

We’ve read further amongst the family Bibles and scribings, and they did have a long and happy marriage, by all accounts, with quite a few children, and her putting a lovely verse upon his tombstone---that surely Heaven must hold a special place for such a good, kind man.

One of the family treasures is a letter from Great Grand to some branch of his County Government, stating that he believed he was the oldest resident of the county, at 78. He also gave his own credentials---that he’d never been arrested nor paid a fine of any kind, that he owed no man one cent, and that he was a Christian. He gave an account of his War service, saying that a part of his moral character and his attempts to do what was right was kindled by his own gratitude and amazement that he had not been at all injured in the several fierce battles which raged around him, claiming hundreds and thousands on both sides.

He fought in the Battle of the Wilderness, at Spotsylvania, at Gettysburg---all horrendous and memorable and decisive in their own ways, with uncountable casualties and untold suffering, with many killed, many injured, many left at home to grieve, and incalculable lives changed forever.

One sentence in his letter will always be burned into my mental Family Archives; he phrased it as a Southern man of his times, and the import shines out, clear and bold and tangible almost a century-and-a-half since he experienced it:

"I had seven holes shot in my clothing, but I never had the skin broke all during the war."

I try to imagine even one of those narrow escapes, with the crack of the rifle and the whissss of the shot passing through a sleeve, a battered hatbrim, a sweaty kerchief fluttering from his neck, and my mind just won't encompass the sheer improbability of that salvation, that escape. But SEVEN? That's vaster than a Hubblescope's view.

He felt that he’d been spared for SOMETHING, and he was going to do his best to fulfil his duty, whatever the task or quest might be. He lived his part, with no great heroics to speak of, I think, but in a quiet, steady way, with kindness to neighbors, great love for his family, and a good reputation as a solid citizen.

Sis says that some of us on down the chain must have something we’re meant to accomplish---that kind of preparation---the one forebear sent to this country on the meager strength of two nutmegs, and another whose walk through fire left him physically unscathed, but with memories which could never be voiced.

I would sooner run shouting "Yee-Haw!" through church, waving my hat over my head, as to make light of any part of these times of our family, but yesterday I was speaking of the two circumstances with Caro and DDIL, here in our quiet house with the chill of Winter approaching. Our GrandBaby Girl, just past two, was playing quietly as we sat chatting.

I told the two little stories, and we agreed that perhaps one of our own children or Grands was to make a mark on the World, perhaps even the little one here in the room with us.

Caro started laughing, and said, “You mean the one sitting in the dog bed with the potholder on her head?”

Sunday, November 1, 2009

TWO NUTMEGS AND A POUND OF GINGERBREAD



The first Milstead in America that we know of was Edward, born in 1656. He lived in Bethersden, Kent, England and was deported in 1674 for stealing 2 nutmegs and a pound of Gingerbread. After serving an indenture to pay for his passage, he went on to acquire land, marry thrice, and father a number of children, from which many of the Milsteads in America are descended.

The life and times of my family and how-we-came-to-be-here were changed drastically three hundred and thirty-five years ago, when a Great-to-the-nth-power Grandfather was transported and indentured-for-passage, for the theft of two nutmegs and a pound of Gingerbread.

My mind jumps immediately, not to the history and the hard-earned sea journey with its deprivations and hard hours with scant food, no sanitation, and below-decks pallet holding fitful dreams, but to the BEFORE of it, the home and the lacks---the small, airless house, the meager fire, the scant, floury diet of the unlanded and poor. There’s a Les Miserables feel to it---though he would have probably been obstinately John ValJohn---that seventeen-year-old who put out his hand and grabbed those exotic small stones, seductive with the whiff of hot climes and their ride in the dusty dark of a rough camel-bag along the Spice Roads.

Were they a whim, a fancy, or did the elusive fragrance capture his cravings so fiercely that he had the need to carry one of the little brown nublets in his pocket? Did the bland potatoes-and-dough diet, the Winter-long lack of anything green or crisp or bitter of his home table spur his hand to flash out and capture the fragrant prize? Perhaps a taste of a street-bought sweet flavored with the spicy specks caused a Goblin Market quest for more. Or could they have been for a sweetheart, from whose youthful love he was snatched forever. I like to think him like my own sons, so caring and solicitous for my welfare---maybe the small offering was to cheer the drab kitchen and the chilly house for his own Mother, with a bit of fragrance and a taste of faraway, when the here and the now were so daunting and spare.

Whatever the cause, whatever his mind at the moment, he was caught, captured, sent from home at seventeen, indentured to whatever kind or grim or mercenary soul paid his passage. And the years of servitude in this new “free” land were not freedom---they were probably more of the same dull diet, the labor of his hands earning him the bread and the pallet and the same restless dreams, to the final emancipation---a man on his own in a new land. He had had some training as a cobbler, and so his Indenture Master set him to work making shoes. I wonder how many pairs went across his last during the six years he spent working off his debt.

And so he walked free, with a trade or occupation, hard-taught and hard-learned. He married---thrice, the book says, and fathered many children, from which a side of my family is descended. I read the paragraph above, taken from the preface to a long list of begats of our own, and that odd perverse Southern trait which makes us want to trot out all our crazy kinfolks, all the oddities and the strange, and set them right out there for the world to see---that made me prouder to claim this man than I'd be if he had saved his pence and booked passage and set foot here with a glad heart and hope in his eyes. He worked and paid his debt, and by Crackey, he was HERE and so are we.







I read the story, and I went right to my kitchen spice rack to the little Penzey’s jar. The dusty clunk of the small nutmeg inside, the whiff of Christmasssssss when the lid was removed, the promise of sweet delights to come---perhaps a moment just such as that set the feet of my forebears onto the path which led me here, which leads on with my children and grandchildren.

I will tell them all of Edward and his nutmegs, and the pound of Gingerbread concealed in his coat. I hope he got to eat it all---every bite---before he was dragged to the assizes. And I want to think that in his pocket, for the comfort of thumbing in those dark storm-tossed ship-nights, for taking out in the darkness and inhaling the aroma of something BETTER to come---I just have to believe that he carried at least the scent of those nutmegs in his pocket all the way to his new life in a new world.