Sunday, February 28, 2010
This is for my friend, Jeanne:
My Mammaw did all of her sewing on an old Singer treadle-machine, getting a good rhythm going with her slipper-clad feet as she sang, “Redwing” and “Wildwood Flower,” in perfect time with the ziggy-zag of the jumpy needle through the cloth. She sewed for herself, mostly---I do remember a couple of dresses she made for me when I was first in school. I wore one of them on my very first day, I remember, and we got so tied up in the intricate sash, we had to hurry our quick steps the eight blocks or so, with my slippery little September hand gripped tight in Mother’s purposeful, rushing one.
The dress was a green cotton plaid: plain old-button-up-the-back bodice, puffed sleeves, and a gathered skirt. The fancy part of it was a wide white pique collar-thing, all a separate piece which seemed twice as long as I was tall; it was like a long white pair of lapels, with a long strip of the dress plaid sewn onto each end---you draped the middle of it, the white fabric part, around the neck, crossed them in front across my nonexistent bosoms, then the green ties went back around like a real sash tied in a bow at the back. Well, on the Simplicity packet, it had looked REALLY cute on Jane from First Reader.
And, except for Mammaw's one “good” dress saved for funerals and weddings, and the black voile shirtwaist with a “diamond” brooch that she ordered from Sears to wear to Memphis to see Lawrence Welk, her clothes were always cut from exactly the same pattern---whether Simplicity or not to begin with, she couldn't remember. They’d been made so many times, in so many fabrics, all the pieces had been cut and re-cut out of newspaper and great long sheets of the white butcher paper Aunt Lou whisked off the roll and past the teeth of the long paper-cutter.
Every dress was the same: no collar, button-up-the-front, gathered skirt, with “butterfly” sleeves. That was a fancy word for plain old short sleeves, split up the middle for freedom of movement, and neatly hemmed along each edge of the split. Mammaw said that any other kind just “smothered” her.
Her dresses also all had what the patterns called a “self” belt---made of the dress fabric; her belts were just sashes, long thin tubes sewn on both sides and one end, then turned inside out with the help of a big gold safety pin, and hemmed on the open end, to be tied around her waist with a soft bow in front. They were, in fact, the first things I ever learned to iron. She’d give me the pile of five or six on ironing day, and I’d stand and press them from a crinkled damp mass (sometimes frozen, if the laundry had been put into the freezer after being “sprinkled down” with the big old aluminum sprinkle-head rubber-stoppered into a large RC bottle). I’d hang the long strip down between my feet on one side of the ironing board, and carefully iron it inch by inch, feeding it across the board til it all rested in a smooth swirl on a towel-covered kitchen chair on the other side. Each one draped around the clotheshanger neck of its matching dress, and my chore was done.
And the BUTTONS!! Mammaw loved pretty buttons. Though she owned no jewelry save a brooch or two---not even a wedding ring---she DID love a glittery button. She’d put a row of plastic knobs with rhinestones the size of peas all down the bodice of a dress she’d wear to hoe in the garden. Cards and cards of the interesting shapes and colors filled boxes and drawers---tiny celluloid flowers and sailboats and windmills, plastic dogs and cats and skates to charm a kindergartener’s imagination.
And she never did throw out a button---the dress might become too worn to wear, or ripped in an un-repairable place, but before the decision of quilt-blocks or dust-rags was made, the buttons were cut loose with a neat little seam-ripper, cascaded into one of her waiting quart jars, and saved for another occasion, or just to look at.
Or for me to play with. I found them enchanting, in all their sweet stories---I could make a tale around a shape, carry the boat to a foreign land on stormy seas or to a quiet lagoon; I could be the princess in the crown studded with all those rubies and topaz. I'd thread the shank-buttons onto the stems of clover as I knotted it as coronet for my braids, and turn all the rhinestones outward to best advantage. I was owner of the beautiful sleek blue cars with the sparkly stone headlights, riding off to wonderful parties in dresses garnished with even more sparkle.
My fascination has continued unabated---I still stand and contemplate shapes and cunning figures, the precious scenes all carved and painted into impossibly small spaces, and I love all the dainty frills and laces and pearls. In a drawer in the old bedroom dresser upstairs are two or three quarts of the old buttons. I get them out now and then, sort them into shapes and colors, and dream a child's dreams where buttons are jewels and clover a crown.
Saturday, February 27, 2010
Whether we’re home or out in a restaurant, however many of us are together, we just sit down, all reach out, and hold hands for a quiet moment while Chris asks the blessing.
Our littlest Grand, who is 2 ½ and who stays with us several days a week, climbs right into her little blue booster chair when it’s time for breakfast. I’m usually still getting things on the table, and since it’s a nice round table, I usually remain standing as we pray so we can each reach one of her little hands, then we all sit together and eat.
She is respectful and silent during the prayer, and almost always has been, except that she invariably looks up at me and whispers, “Ganjin,” and looks at him and says, “Ganner,” as if she’s being thankful for us or perhaps just reassuring herself that a good solid part of her world is always there.
I’m usually so struck by the sweet moment, I lean down and place a gentle kiss in her hair. Yesterday, she spoke just a little louder than usual for some reason. “Ganjin,” she said, and I could tell she was looking at me; “Gannn-er,” she spoke, and I held still, hoping she would not speak out further during the prayer.
She waited a moment, then spoke even louder, “Kiss me on my head!”
I had to clamp my lips tight, and Ganner could hardly get out the “Amen” before we laughed. And she got her kiss.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Just haven't in a long time, for Caro is forever whipping up a nice WW dessert, and unless company is expected, I just don't bake like I used to.
But I've seen several slices of carrot cake lately, or seen them offered on a menu, and would think how good that would taste, because ginger/spicy desserts are best in the cold season. So when this box caught my eye Saturday at the store, I threw one into my buggy.
It got thrown out again a couple of times, plus stepped on and sat on, since I had a small passenger as well, but that's another story (that kid isn't even 2 1/2 and she can lob a lime from Produce to Dairy).
So "we" baked one yesterday; it was easier than I remember---you simply measure your hottest tap water (1 1/4 cups) into a cup, pour in the little bag of freeze-dried carrots and raisins, and jump back. Those things soak up that warm water like a sponge---less than five minutes.
In that time, you'll have measured out 1/4 c. oil, broken three eggs, and gotten out a nice wooden spoon. Oven 350. Pam a 9x13, or whatever is your favorite shape of cake---mine was a pyrex.
Stir the eggs, oil, and carrots, along with any water remaining in their cup, into the dry mix. Beat about 50 strokes with the wooden spoon, scrape in to the pan, and bake 35 minutes.
I set the thing up on top of three cans of soup, for quicker cooling, since BabyGirl was napping and we always have a nice Tea Time when she wakes.
I broke up about a cup of toasted pecans (plain is quite OK), shook them in the colander to remove the dust and crumbs, and stirred it into a tub of DH Cream Cheese Frosting. (I DID leave about a quarter of the tub plain, for frosting one end of the cake, for little ones who don't eat pecans yet).
This was the moistest, tenderest, most flavorful MIX cake I've ever made. The Ginger and the Cinnamon and whatever other spices are in there were perfectly balanced, and the teensy lumps which had been raisins were now plump and almost juicy in their tenderness. It was hard to wait for the thing to cool completely, and I kept touching the top, finally deciding that just- slightly-warm-on-the-bottom wouldn't hurt.
So I dropped clumps of the frosting all around, then gently coaxed them smooth over the top. And it was a splendid cake, like you'd grated the carrots into a bright pile on the counter, then measured out flour and leavenings, creamed sugar and butter, added eggs one at a time---the only one to compare was Aint Ruby's, and hers had a cup and a half of Wesson Oil in it, and you had to keep blotting the cake plate all around because the cake kept seeping. I can still hear her drawl, "I told Y'all this was an AW-UL Cake!"
But this one---this easy-mix in one bowl, not even glancing at the Mixmaster, with the Sandra Lee Frosting---well, Baby Girl and I each had a small square, still warm, for Tea yesterday. Then Chris came home early and had a slice with a pot of Earl Grey. When her Mama came to pick her up, SHE had a slice, as well. And of course, WE two toyed delicately with a bit of cake after dinner.
The frosting had dried on top enough so that I could Saran it at bedtime, and I hope it's still as good cold.
And yes, the word "decadent" in reference to food is SO Nineties---but I'll take the hit for such a good cake.
Here's how easy it was:
All that's missing is the Mohawk Baby Carrot Jockeys. And the REAL cream cheese icing, which I'll make next time.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Once we were driving through a part of town we seldom travel, just riding down the street one nice Spring evening, when two cars passed us, one swerving around and back in, and the other doing the same, causing us to have to brake as he cut back into the small space between us and the car he was pursuing.
Wavering between Does Someone Need Help or Should We Mind Our Own Business and not get in between folks with axes to grind (and possibly knives and guns, as well), we slowed and kept on in our lane, as we could see them ahead, still zig-zagging down the street.
A couple of lights slowed their progress, and as we approached, we could hear a quite loud argument between a him and a her, with strident name-calling and curses and foul words (just a few, but repeated with growing fervor in the heat of battle). She was calling him several unflattering names having to do with his absence from home the night before, and he was shouting back.
Then, from her window flew a large missile, going SPAT onto the pavement in the left lane. He, almost level with her car and shouting at HER from the passenger window, dodged it and it flew back beneath his wheels. More and more of the clumps appeared along the street as we slowly followed the parade, and we realized that it was clothes she was flinging---WET clothes, from the limp flops the pieces made onto the street.
She disposed of a good-sized wardrobe during the distance of several blocks---the stuff was barely blowing in the wind of her passage, and landing like dead fish, scattering jeans and shirts and underwear into that filthy, already-rained-on street. We conjectured not on motive, but on the HOW of the thing---was there a big laundry basket of wet stuff handy on the front seat beside her? And WHY---if she’d been to a coin laundry, why would she ball it all up still wet to take home?
Was it all HIS, or was she sorting as she threw, managing to keep track of her own items as she hurled away his? And if whatever set her off happened while she was washing, did she just wrestle the unwieldy clumps out of the Maytag between Softener and Spin? And how on earth did she lift and carry a basket to the car with THAT MUCH wet cloth in it?
I kept waiting for him to stop and start gathering up his worldly goods before cars ruined the things entirely, but he just kept chasing, as she kept on tossing. It had to have been a last-minute, unsquelchable impulse, all that flopping of stuff out a car window; nobody would PLOT that, would they?
She didn’t bag up every rag he owned and take ‘em to Goodwill, she didn’t Clorox them, she didn’t cut the seats out of the jeans, she didn’t throw them out on the lawn and set them on fire---all of which I’ve seen happen in the real life of a triflin’ husband with a wife who’d Just. Had. Enough.
And we’ll never know the whys and wherefores of that strange, zany bellowing-ballet performed in roaring traffic between two strangers who zipped along screaming curses and hurling laundry. We’ll puzzle now and again over the sense of it, and we’ll mention it to each other whenever we drive down that seldom-used street.
Like the ubiquitous one-shoe-in-the-street, or those pairs string-looped over the light wires, it’s just another one of those little urban observances that we’ll never know the answer to.
Monday, February 22, 2010
We stop now and then at a Flying J Truckstop---there seem to be several up and down I-65, and I head straight for the “Cappuccino” machine---French Vanilla for me. You fill a cup (your own, if you caught that 2.99 special a couple of years ago---buy the fat black squatness of the insulated cup with their logo, and you can fill it forever with .49 coffee.
Then turn around to the “cream” dispenser---see---it says so right there on the front---“REAL CREAM.” You’ll have left a bit of headspace in the cup for a good pull on the cream handle---again French Vanilla for my sissy-drink proclivities, and give her a stir. Yummmmmy sweet richness, almost liquid dessert, and either caffeine or sugar will wake you right the heck up, Yes, Sirree! You’ll be sippin’ and ridin’ and singin’ along with the Fifties on Sirius in no time.
Plus they have REALLY CLEAN bathrooms.
But for the real Truckstop experience, the ones with the old-time flavor wrapped up in a little caffay on the side with a trucker’s preference of Quantity over Quality, the shelves of gum and mints and cigarettes and little bottles of Wake-Up and Alert, along with gum-snapping cashiers, a fry-cook whose tattoos might have been applied by kindergarteners, and a couple of take-no-prisoners waitresses who’ve been there longer than the asphalt---get OFF the big highways.
Get onto one of the smaller two-or-four-lanes which cross the country up and down through the small towns and the old routes which have been deserted for the Interstate, but which still provide the only feasible way to get to a LOTTA places. Rural folks need trucked-in stuff, too, and things change at a slower pace. Faster ain’t always better.
Look for a place with fewer than four gas pumps, and red ones are most indicative of a good spot---if the words "Filling Station" are posted anywhere, it's well worth a look. There may BE Lottery ads in the windows, but most are eclipsed of daylight by Marlboro, Camel, Coke, and Pepsi ads, as well as slick posters for Gospel Shows, Tractor Pulls, and a hand-lettered print-out about the benefit for the little Johnson boy.
Walk in---sometimes through a single door, from the days when folks knew what was in and what was out, and politely waited their turn to get where they were going. Plus, the traffic was not so great, nor in so much of a hurry. Take a deep breath---you’ll smell diesel fumes, tobacco smoke (IS there such a thing as outlawing smoking in a TruckStop??---I don’t think they can legislate that) and a combination of cooking scents, coffee, myriad ersatz flavors of rearview mirror hangers, paper, languidly dying fruit, old grease and popcorn, all underlaid with the deep essence of black rubber.
The counters should have hand-lettered signs on stuff---bOiLeD PeAnuTs and Hoop Cheese and Smoke Sausage---an authenticity bonus for a gallon jug of pickled eggs afloat in pinkish brine, and a National Historic Site plaque for a matching gallon of pig feet. A chipped bowl of boiled eggs with a salt shaker handy, a rack of fly-swatters, a preponderance of Nabs, Cheetos and Pig Skins on the hanging-racks, and stacked cans of various sardines furnish the place nicely, and in the old days, before everybody detoured off this nice route, a whole wheel of Hoop Cheese would have sat awaitin’ the knife in the glass coldcase.
A waitress named Ruby, Be-AT-trice, or Pearl can just MAKE a truckstop. Throw in some beans and cornbread, maybe Dumplin’s on Tuesday, meatloaf and greasy burgers, with those three-inch paper napkins in the chrome pinch-em-in-the-middle dispenser, a little leaf of green paper for a “ticket” and you know you’re home.
Before they're all gone.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
And, except for the Family Forest ones, which refer to the others, and the Paxton People, which are numbered, but in no particular order of importance, I guess it's all the same to read the thing from front to back---the tales and remembrances are put down when they come to me, and there's no real continuity of thought to preserve.
She especially pointed out one favorite post of hers---the one about my childhood propensity for feeding the men riding the rails---they'd sneak aboard one of the boxcars, hide away behind cargo or in the straw of an empty, and go wherever the train took them. I always told myself they were off to great adventures in bright-lighted places, or going to new jobs, where they'd immediately have a nice house and could bring their families to the bright promises of a new start. The best scenario I created was that they'd been far away, escaping from family or seeking their fortunes, like the Prodigal Son, and, like he, were going home to be welcomed with joy.
And those moments, those days are so brilliantly inscribed into all that is me, I think of them occasionally, with more than nostalgia for a time that is past. I’ve been a Martha all my life, and it makes me happy to be able to set a plate, pour a cup, move a pillow---to help someone’s comfort.
The news MAKES the world too much with us, and it is still a miracle and mystery that the simple preparation of a warm cup or a cold drink can be a part of a blessing in many ways that other, greater things cannot. It's the Melanie Syndrome, too, I think---remember how Scarlett would chastise her for giving their food to the men straggling by on their long treks home, and Melanie said that she hoped that some woman, somewhere, might be sharing her own dinner with Ashley, to ease his way.
We left a restaurant a while ago, before the snows began, but on a rather cold evening—Chris, our Son #4 and I, and passed a man sitting on a narrow brick ledge outside an adjoining store, which was closed. The roll of blanket at his feet showed his meager circumstance, and we asked if we could go back in and buy him dinner; he pointed to the Arby's down the street.
We asked what would he like and he replied that he couldn't take food from us, but he would appreciate it if we would just go there and pay for some coffee and a sandwich. We offered him a ride with us; he declined, so we waited in the parking lot until he walked the couple of blocks and settled into a booth. Chris and Son went in and sat with him until he had ordered a couple of sandwiches, coffee, and a couple to go for tomorrow.
I watched from the car as they paid the check, and we left him there, warm and filled for a time, sharing the circle of light on such a dark, cold night---a small, wispy-haired soul blowing into a paper cup.
Saturday, February 20, 2010
There’s also an almost-ready-for-the-oven Bread Pudding on the counter---we’d had a not-quite-right one recently at lunch, and, since I had all the ingredients handy, I sliced and halved a few inches of baguette, melted a knob of butter in the bottom of an 8” cakepan, stood the little arches around in it, and poured in half the custard, made with a few tablespoons of Eagle Brand, leftover from the hot fudge for the strawberries last night, with a couple of eggs, a cup of milk, some vanilla and just a thought of nutmeg.
I poured in only half the liquid, so the bread would soak it up instead of floating, which it is prone to do when too much is surrounding it. A handful of dark dried cherries, the rest of the custard, and into the oven about the time Chris gets home and gets changed into comfy sweats and his house-shoes. It will be done and nicely still warm after we finish supper.
The pudding at the restaurant was the only jarring note in an otherwise really good lunch---they said it was almost out of the oven, and I fear that they took it out a little soon, just for us---it was still just a teensy bit soupy in places, probably caused by the haste on our behalf.
Chris was finished for the day about one o'clock, so he said, “Let’s go to Papa Roux!” He’d been there for gumbo or a po-boy several times, but I’d never been, so off we went. The outside of the place, a plain white block corner of a strip which houses a tattoo parlor and some kind of body shop, is distinguished only by the big black painted letters down the street-end.
The front window lists GUMBO and RB&R and PO’BOYS in big white letters, and one whole pane of the big windows is taken up with a hand-lettered sign---actually TWO signs, one placed atop the other in a clockwise rotation so there are eight corners showing. The first sticks out enough to read bits of the announcement of the “po’boy eating contest” and the top sheet names the WINNAH, with his stage name in quotes like a DubyaDubyaEff star.
He’s touted as having eaten almost the whole FIVE-POUNDER---Four pounds 11 ½ ounces, of a “loaded” sandwich, in 49 minutes. And, should he feel famishment at any time in the future, it goes on to say: HE EATS FREE TIL YOU DETHRONE HIM!!
Oh, My. I can see that that might be an enticement---the food is great, and he could just take up residence, hoping that no one else with the gluttony for that much food or that much punishment happens along that side street to unseat him from the dining table.
The place was fun---Graffiti everywhere, mostly in the vein of KILROY WAS HERE, along with a whole battalion of his cohorts (or a whole cohort---I forget those Roman names for number groups), and I think they must hand out markers with the silverware.
Down low at the bench which runs around one wall are small pictures, some with crayons, and just-learned alphabet from the small set, then rising higher and higher are scribbles and pictures---quite a few other languages, and I recognized both Arabic and Korean in the mix. All the walls could be covered in some kind of zany black-and-white toile depicting houses and rainbows and cars and Mardi Gras masks---and speaking of which, great clusters of beads hang from fans, street signs, and light fixtures, and the good-sized square white top-only tent with a little cupola turns one big corner into a little courtyard with tables and chairs amongst the white and blue lights wound around the tent poles. There are even flower boxes on the wall to carry on the illusion of a not-too-classy-for-you New Orleans courtyard secluded back behind all those elaborate gates.
The tables are mismatched, the bright YaYa chairs splash every color there is around the room, and zydeco on the PA, along with applause, gives you the feel of stepping into a familiar hometown spoon to a comfortable ongoing party, if your hometown is in rural Louisiana.
There was a wide stand of boxes, cups and lids, along with plastic cutlery, with a sign reading “To GEAUX,” and other little puns on anything which ends in ‘O.” And in a great fest of ecumenical sportsmanship, the staff T-shirts read, “GEAUX HORSE,” and “WHODAT” with no top billing and no partisanship. Wise, very wise.
The walls also sport several concert posters---my favorite pictures Elvis and Johnny Cash, together at the Amory, MS, National Guard Armory in 1956---with the line, “Fresh from the Louisiana Hayride,” as if they needed a little something to recommend them---and featuring Carl Perkins singing “his” new single, Blue Suede Shoes---which probably meant Elvis hadn’t sung it yet. Ticket Price: $1.25.
Chris had an amazing-looking crabcake Po’Boy, with probably six thick chunks of crabcake, well-blackened, and slaw on, as well as the tangy “Cajun sauce” which was drizzled on my chicken. I noted an unusual thing: You can order a “Breadless” PB, or with cornbread. I opted for the cornbread version, so my “Chicken Po’Boy” half was a neat oval casserole dish with a nice pile of shredded chicken with red spices evident, and a scoop of wonderful crisp shredded slaw, with just enough of the sweet/tart dressing. A little warm bowl alongside had a dense, slightly sweet square of warm yellow cornbread. We shared two sides, the Veggie Etouffee and a little bowl of RB&R---both nicely done. We were both REALLY happy with our choices and will be going back soon, probably to take the family.
Lunch--- 10:30 to 3, Tuesday-Saturday; Dinner---Friday only.
Friday, February 19, 2010
Miss Peg Ogletree has a little place just outside of town, on the old homeplace owned by her family for generations. She’s the last of the lot now, with her only brother lost in Vietnam at nineteen---just three months between the time he stepped off that plane into the smothering heat, and the time his metal box was slid into the cargo hold of another for the trip home.
Chunks of the farm have been sold off bit by bit when times got hard in years past, slowly eroding the borders down to the twenty acres surrounding the house and creek like edges of a melting floe, until only her small island of green and flowers was left. She owns the place, free and clear, along with four dogs, a windmill pump, two tractors, a ten-year-old red GMC pickup and a little waterfall brimming the creek.
She is a wiry, wire-haired Sixtyish woman, in loose-butted jeans and a checked shirt smelling of Ivory Snow and clothesline drying; she scrapes her flyaway hair back in a severe ponytail every morning, pinning the ends under into a neat bun, but by day’s end, after seeing to the chores all day, running the little tractor with the bush-hog for cutting the several-acre lawn, chasing two escaped chickens out of the melon-patch, and hoeing out the pole beans and the squash hills, the springy tendrils have escaped and sprung into a sunlit silver halo around her head. Her skin is sun-browned, with an astonishing lack of wrinkles for her age and her outdoor activities; her eyes are a backlit icy blue, with a glint of interest and easy amusement.
She plays the old gap-toothed piano which sits in the end of her dining room---the old foot-patting Baptist Hymns, smooth waltzes from times ago, like Let me Call you Sweetheart and The Band Played On and Que Sera, Sera, and always, the piece that she played in her Senior Recital in High School. It was her Daddy’s favorite, and he had whistled the tune almost every day of her life, as he drove through the fields, moved irrigation pipe, worked in his workshop.
She’d requested the music months early, to surprise him at her final recital, for he’d not missed a one during all her years of piano lessons. He’d hurry home from the field after she and her Mother had left for the school, pulling into the long gravel drive to the welcoming yodels of his three hounds. He’d sit briefly at the kitchen table, quickly eating the plate of supper left for him, then get a quick shower and a splash from the heavy white Old Spice bottle. He’d put on fresh khaki pants and a short-sleeved white shirt, get his hat from its closet shelf, and be back out the door in less than twenty minutes.
Mr. Ogletree would enter the auditorium hat in hand, nodding to friends and neighbors. He’d take an aisle seat on the far back row, just waiting out the first dozen or so pupils, enduring the 1-2-3 Waltz and the Mexican Hat Dance and, if there happened to be a boy amongst the performers, there was sure as shootin’ to be a startling version of Halls of Montezuma never before heard by any Marine living or fallen in battle. So far, Mr. Ogletree had heard nine of those interpretations, and winced every time for the battering of the notes and the tempo.
He’d squirm a bit in the hard flip-seat where he’d sat in his own schooldays, waiting for the moment she’d appear in the light of the stage---his GIRL.
And all those lessons, all that practice with the repetition of the same drilled scales competing with the sounds of What’s My Line and Lawrence Welk, all the recital dresses commissioned twice a year or shopped for in TOWN by her Mama with the discrimination and care of selecting a wedding gown, all the times she’d needed ferrying to Mrs. Carpenter’s house for Saturday lessons---those moments all melted into a shine surrounding his Girl, as she smiled and sat down and began to play. Just for him.
It was Stardust, all nine pages of the special arrangement, all learned in afternoons and Saturdays and times when her Daddy was out of the house, practiced furtively, with the pages of music whisked immediately away into her sock drawer so he would be surprised at the performance.
And he was---he sat there looking down that long straight center aisle at her in the golden light of the stage, as she played the first few notes, drinking in the melody of a song he’d only heard on the radio and television. And played, for HIM, by his child. No one noticed when he reached unobtrusively into his hip pocket for his handkerchief, or when he wiped his eyes.
It was a moment of moments in his life, one of those experiences seared into the consciousness with the golden hue which had surrounded his meeting her Mother, and of Peg’s own birth.
And years later, as his family gathered around his bed for his last moments, the strains of Stardust drifted into the room, as softly as the Spring wind stirring the pale curtains---his Peg at the piano, playing her Daddy Home.
Thursday, February 18, 2010
The attendant clutter and general atmosphere of emergency, of different in the house occasioned a let-down of all activity. I just did the dishes and tended our Girl for the day. She's had a cold, and suddenly turned for the better on Tuesday---I could almost see the moment she turned the corner. We had played and watched TV all cuddled in a banky, and after her two hour nap, she came downstairs ready for her tea and a brownie.
Yesterday, we were OK for all of her time here, with a couple of burners on the BIG old Franklin kitchen stove doing off-and-on duty, and her keeping on her soft pajamas under her clothes. She again woke ravenous and ate a whole cereal-bowl of tiny carrots steamed with salt and a sprinkle of sugar, then tossed with a little knob of butter to await her wakening. She eats those things like popcorn, and indeed did, yesterday, lying on her back in front of the TV and finger-thumbing each morsel neatly into her mouth.
THEN, since we'd already planned takeout Chinese for supper, we did. And since Caro went to work for the night, and we have a waterbed, all was well for sleeping. I expected the house to be quite cool when I awoke, but Chris had put two big stockpots of water onto the burners of the stove, and the simmering water was keeping the room very comfortable. Now he has finished the job, after many hours on hands and knees with his head inside the little air-return door, and the warm air is circulating nicely.
He's just amazing---he fixes electronic things and printers for a living, and once rebuilt a side-draft carburetor on a Triumph Spitfire---so he just dives in and never, ever lets a job defeat him. He just keeps on keepin' on, like Wile E. Coyote.
The chaos, however, may do me in---everything in the utility room---shelves of holiday dishes, all the casseroles, the spare pots, the trays and cakestands and fryer and toaster and BIG rolls of Saran and foil had to be unloaded onto the freezer, washer, dryer for moving the shelves. A lot of dusting and replacing will follow tomorrow, for we're gonna give the new motor a 24-hour audition before putting everything back into place. I squeeze into the small space left and load the washer, turning sidewise to get the damp things into the dryer, but OH am I grateful for appliances, one and all. (Says the Mom of three whose dryer-less Winter days used to be spent clothes-pinning diapers to the line outside or in the spare room to hang damply, steaming the windows in the warmth of the little gas heater).
I AM thankful for all these conveniences---those rub-boards you see on the walls of flea markets and antiques stores did not come into the world dingy and pre-rusted---they were of bright fresh wood and shiny galvanized metal, and they are testament to long hard use by hands chapped and sore from bitter cold and lye soap and constant work.
And I've built morning fires in a cold room---walking in here to a warm puff of air from clean vents is such a luxury we don't even think about, and hearing the cozy hum of the furnace as it kicks on and off in the night is the stuff that pleasant dreams are made of.
Monday, February 15, 2010
We had a lovely Valentine’s day together---a long talk over tea and coffee early in the day, and out to lunch at one of our favorite family cafeterias, followed by a trip to the library and pet store.
I do believe it was the tastiest Sunday lunch we’ve ever had there---Chris had fried chicken, broccoli salad, deep-fried cauliflower and coconut pie. I usually share a few bites of his pie (well---OKAY---half the slice, probably, though at times, since I nip little forktips off “my” side while I’m eating my lunch, by the time he’s ready for his “share” it sometimes looks like one of those Old West buildings in a black-and-white movie---storefronts held up by 2x4’s and mere flat facades of saloons and general stores, but with a meringue roof).
I had a very tart, wonderful cranberry salad---somehow they’d sliced every cranberry into three separate little slices, and combined them with Granny Smith apples---very tart and delicious. And good low-cooked snap beans and some of that crunchy cauliflower---yummy. And I got a dish of dessert, as well. The sign on the counter said, “Valentine Special---buy one dessert, get one free.” So I chose a slice of “Chocolate Caramel Torte,” which was as beautiful as a magazine layout---a thick, rich slice of heavy chocolate cake, sorta halfway between brownie and fudge, with rafts of crisp-toasted pecans atop, a drizzle of golden caramel sauce, a pillow of whipped cream alongside, and chocolate shaved over all.
I took one tiny taste in the restaurant (having to save room to help Chris with the pie, and all) and it was delightful. It went somewhere into the back seat, and I hope it made it home.
We sat in the booth snugged right up in the corner, and to get to the booth from the aisle, we had to pass between two tables, both of which held a single diner, each facing out toward the main floor of tables, so they were sitting side-by-side, so to speak, but at separate tables.
She was a quiet young woman, taking her break and eating her solitary lunch in her cafeteria uniform, dropping in an “awww” or a headshake now and then as the gentleman told his tale.
I was almost expecting a big blustery tale of his exploits or his life, but as he spoke the first few sentences, I did something which I NEVER do---I eavesdropped. Chris spoke a couple of times, and I gave him that gentle small frown and pursed mouth with a headshake which means “quiet, please, for just a minute.”
And we ate quietly, listening to his regret for what might have been---I suppose the sight of all the families having their lunches together, or the holiday itself, or perhaps some lady in the room bore a resemblance to the one he’d cared for---I don’t know the reason why he felt led to tell a stranger his thoughts. His first few words were of having three children and a wonderful wife, and of her passing much too soon.
He spoke of raising the children into their teens, and then of meeting a lovely woman with four children of her own. His fondness for her and for them, the easy way their families enjoyed being together, the bonding with the children on both their parts---the voice coming from behind my right shoulder held such rueful sadness that I felt he might weep at any moment.
He seemed such a NICE man, and went on to tell that after a few months when they spoke of marriage, with her saying that his son was just the kind of brother she wished for her children, such a good example and big brother, and that she knew they could make it on their two salaries.
He said he had thought hard about raising seven children, and expressed his doubts to her. She said, “Well, you make 25 a year, and I make 12---I KNOW we can make it on that.” When he inquired HOW she knew, she said that her uncle worked for the same company and he told her.
I did not get it straight if the invasion of his privacy or the uncle’s nosiness, or her perhaps intimating that she’d checked on things---which of those turned the tide, or perhaps it WAS the seven children which daunted him (Chris and I are very lucky we didn’t feel that way---that’s the exact number WE combined when we got married).
The rest of the one-sided conversation was only of “What if . . .” and “I’ve always wondered . . .” and “I’ll never know . . .” I’ll never forget the sorrow in his voice, and it just put such a punctuation onto Valentine’s Day---the day of love and caring about the ONE you love, and there he was, sitting alone at a solitary table, telling his oft-remembered tale of Lost Love to whatever kind stranger happened to listen.
I’m glad to have heard, for it made me a thousand-times grateful for stepping out on Faith as we did, but so sorry to have witnessed his pain and his forever regret. I imagine the sorrow of wondering that What If can be sometimes as great as real loss.
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Harliss MacIntyre had a bad reputation. She’d been known to steal boyfriends, flirt with other girls’ dates, and in later years, it was rumored that she’d met a husband or two at that little motel way up 61, being sure to get a room in the back section where their cars wouldn't be seen from the road. The old ladies gave her those up-and-down lorgnette looks, even at church, for the very air around her seemed tainted, somehow, as if she’d rubbed Sin on her skin instead of Jergens.
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. She played bridge, she attended Sunday School and Training Union, she was On The Board of Homeroom Mothers at the Private School. A few eschewed her company, and those were mostly either wives wronged by her or another like her, or their Mamas, whose grudges would outlast Time itself.
She’d grown up with the same crowd all of her years---most of her high school classes consisted of people she’d started Kindergarten with, and if she’d been in the backseat with almost every senior boy---well, that’s just how she WAS. There was no need to make a big public THING of it, unless you considered the boy YOURS. And, it emerged, there must have been more of those than met the eye for a long time.
When she herself married, she made eleven trips to Memphis and Jackson and two to New Orleans, to find just the perfect wedding dress. It was taste and not tact which caused her to choose an ivory gown rather than white---it fit her like a glove---indeed like a SURGEON’S glove, clinging to her small frame and accenting her already-enhanced bosoms like a Barbie dress. Harliss had had work.
Perhaps that’s where the idea started. Perhaps there was never an idea at all. But when some of her longtime friends invited her to a “Nostalgia Tea” and a lot of the décor was from their childhoods, a joke---human or cosmic---came into being and resounded for counties around.
Nobody ever claimed the incident, though it was whispered far and wide; nobody admitted to choosing the party favors or setting the tables. Nobody took credit for the concept or the crime; it just WAS, and as appropriate a gesture of contempt as it was occasion of immediate titters and then parking-lot and ladies’ room guffaws, with eye-wipings and nose-blowings and other unseemly doings which accompany a good hearty hang-onto-each-other laugh.
Why, when it happened, Alida Jameson and Charlotte Ann Armstrong both ran off down the hall and squeezed into one stall in the ladies' room, whooping and hollering, and holding on to each other. And Alida's Mama's Lilly Dache' hat from her honeymoon fell right into the toilet---it being lidless and all. The hundred silk flowers of that hat (just like one worn by Miss Jennifer Jones in a movie, and bought at Goldsmith's in 1966) emerged dripping and draggled, and it took DAYS for it to dry right so Alida could give it back.
This was a “wear gloves and hats” occasion, with a group of perhaps thirty ladies gathering for a lovely tea at the country club. Pastels were the order of the day, with flowers on each table-for-eight, and a silk-rose-twined lattice behind the speakers’ podium, as well as a pink ostrich plume on the registry pen.
Pastel boas draped each chair, every placecard was done in the most beautiful calligraphy, pink tablecloths abounded, and every rose-covered teapot that could be borrowed was in evidence.
But the pieces de resistance were the beautifully-dressed Barbie dolls, fondly remembered by one and all. They sat saucily on each plate, atop the folded napkin, and, as is the nature of the Mattel line, they sat flatly, with their feet outstretched in front of them for balance. They wore costumes from all decades---capris and ball gowns and swimsuits and cocktail dresses, and much OHHH and AHHH was heard throughout the room.
At Harliss’ table, the one nearest the entrance, with her place and her place-card prominent to view as each guest entered to find her own chair---at that particular place setting, Barbie wore a cute, flippy mini-dress---quite stylish and attractive.
EXCEPT, somehow of them all, Harliss’ Barbie had lost her balance, and had toppled backward---so that when the ladies arrived, there sprawled Harliss’ Barbie on her back with her legs in the air like a goalpost in pumps. And she was wearing a thong---an item, I am sure, which has not appeared in any fancybox doll wardrobe meant for children. How one would go about making a thong out of a wisp of old stocking and embroidery floss, as I later heard that it was, is beyond me. But somebody had, and that's the only thing which seems to take the occurrence from accident to planned.
But someone, or something greater than them all, had played the perfect joke on Harliss, who laughed as loud as anybody.
Friday, February 12, 2010
The two little girls down the block (those POOR CHILDREN! According to my Mother, who knew all the ins and outs of the parents’ battles and the father’s usual drunken state) had quite a few of those. They were a few years younger than I, but I’d go down to their house and read to them often, and the books were the bait. Like all things sampled, liked and taken away, the books kindled a craving from the first time I was allowed to borrow some from another neighbor’s child.
I had to give those back, and longed for MORE, or at least to delve into those bright pages again.
And my going to “visit” the children was an okay thing, though I dared not tell my Mother we were reading. She held that reading in the daytime was wasting daylight and if you don’t have anything better to do, I’ll GIVE you something to do, by jingoes.
So I just left it that I was going down to play. And I’d read every book they had, as long as they would listen, and would wander myself back into the pages when they went off to the bathroom or to get something to drink or another toy to play with.
The stories were about a kindly old bunny, a retired gentleman with rheumatism and a cane. He had all sorts of adventures, mostly through others in his ken who needed help or advice, both of which he gave readily as he could---in about a ten percent ratio of the former to ninety percent of the latter.
He had nice neighbors---You know for years, now, I've thought one was Mrs. Tiggywinkle---Oh, my Goodness!! A childhood memory disproved! I could have sworn that she and Uncle Wiggily were neighbors, but they were of two different stories, and by different authors. I suppose the reading of both to the little girls was all muddled in my mind---well, they woulda MADE nice neighbors for each other.
The neighborhood bully was the Pipsisewah---a word which came into my vocabulary forever, and I do believe into most of my hometown. I can remember hearing it even at Sunday School, and it was used to denote anyone not behaving right---even a mean old lady was referred to as a REAL PIPSISEWAH, as was a storm, a rowdy party, a boisterous child, a frivolous hat, a too-spirited horse, or even a nagging wife. Of course, the dialects and drawls and not having actually READ the stories led most of the users to vary from Pip-SISSA-WAR to Pip-SISSY-WAW. There were also a Skillery-Skallery Gator and other denizens of the area who needed a good comeuppance.
The books I read were sorta leathery cardboard, as I recall, and in several plain colors with no cover pictures. These were probably a later edition, and I'm sure they brightened many a child's life, as well as bookshelves.
I’ve thought often that I’d like to get a set of those books for the GrandChildren; stories like those are timeless, somehow, the stories of little animals and their small, innocent adventures where everything turns out all right, lesson learned, problem solved, every time.
And then, there was the game---I know I'd have enjoyed it, but it wasn't as coveted an object as the books. And seeing this gameboard reminds me that there's a vintage game in the storage room, one of those lost Christmas Presents from a couple of years ago, bought when I came across it, and forgotten in the November/December flurry. I really meant to get it out just for us to play when the little ones were all here. Their next visit, for sure.
For quite a while now, sometimes when Our Littlest Girl is here for the day, I’d catch myself calling her “Skeezicks” occasionally, and could not think where I’d heard the word. I tried to remember if it were from Dr. Seuss, with his magnificent imagination for kerplunckety words; I tried to think if it might be a member of Spike Jones’ band, or one of the Stooges or a member of Our Gang. I could just see him as a zany Earnest T. from Mayberry, with a flattened hat, a slingshot and a kazoo. (A raccoon coat also entered my mind, but was quickly quashed).
And today, when I Googled “Uncle Wiggily”---there he was, Skeezicks himself, in all his gawky, lanky, obnoxious glory.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
It looks like a muffin-pan for twelve or so, with rounded little depressions like the half-spheres in an ebelskiver pan---which in turn (and several turnings) make beautiful round balls like large donut holes. The chef just stood there like an omelet-chef at brunch, flipping and turning those round blobs with flying chopsticks.
I held my empty plate and just stood there myself, out of traffic’s way, watching the magical transformation of a puddle of lump-filled pancake batter into golden orbs, crisp and steaming with flavor. The entire top of the pan is covered with the liquid batter, and all sorts of savory bits are scattered about---octopus and scallions and ginger bits and cabbage shreds---like overfilling a muffin pan to make a complete pool on the top.
As the bottom of the thinner portions begins to firm up and brown, quick slices are made between with the chopsticks, moving the thin ruffles into the thicker portions. Those mingled bits coalesce into patties, then rise further as they are flipped back and forth to brown on all sides, ending as plump balls, lifted to a plate and sauced to the diner’s taste with ginger or soy or even mayonnaise.
It was just fascinating to watch, seeing the flat panful brimming with a single little lake, then being divided into sections by his busy sticks, and then into perfect little golden rounds of savory octopus (and even sweet items, like preserved plums and bean paste, though I think that must have another name, for it wouldn’t be tako any more).
Chris loved it, and I liked watching all that batter-ballet, with such a beautiful and tasty ending. I try to imagine how just the right shape and conformation of pan came about, and how it was ever thought of that you could take a puddle of floury paste, smudge it around over heat with chopsticks for a bit, and end up with perfect spheres, all the same size, every time.
It certainly wasn’t Southern---it wasn’t anything I’d even taste, for I do not do seafood. But the grace of it, the magical change from glop to glory was fascinating. Maybe it’s just the idea of such Gucci Hushpuppies that I find so charming.
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
It's lovely to have so many folks dropping in---I DO love company. I just wish I knew what link you're following, or how you found us.
Anyway, WELCOME, Y'all!!!
I hope you'll stay a while and make yourselves comfortable. And please come back soon.
Monday, February 8, 2010
But last night---though we've been in Indy for almost twenty years, we're not football fans---never have been, and so we ate our supper on trays, watching "Out of Africa" and popping back to the game for the few seconds it took to read the score.
He went out about four and put a pork butt on the grill, with strategically-placed charcoal and water pan, for the perfect ratio of heat to position to steam to smoke---he could probably write it in those undecipherable heiroglyphs on a clearboard, like Charlie on NUMBERS.
And he also put on half a dozen bright red bell peppers. We learned the trick of grilling them from a friend the first year we were here; once when they were invited to a cookout, she brought a big grocery bag full of the peppers, along with a head of garlic and some lovely Ligurian Olive Oil. Chris put on the peppers before he did the actual grilling, got them to a good char, and put them back into the double paper bag for her.
When they were just cool enough to handle, she showed me how to peel and seed them, as she had learned from her Italian Dad. She cut them into strips, then dressed them warm with an oil-and-garlic mixture. We couldn't wait, and ate about half the lot before dinner was ready. So we do peppers quite often; I love having them on hand for antipasto platters, for a simple side dish, or for the glorious hot toss of steaming pasta, the pepper strips in their sumptuous oil, and great snowings of fresh-grated Parmesan. A quick and wonderful dish.
So, here's the easy way to have one of the best "Things in Dishes" in your fridge all the time:
Roast several peppers on your grill when it's very hot, right above the flame or just the glow, making sure to turn them often. They will blacken in a lot of places, and look absolutely inedible sometimes, but that peels right off later.
As soon as they're pretty blackened all over, put them into a double paper bag, roll it down to seal, and let them steam in there for at least twenty minutes. This will keep cooking the meat of the peppers, plus it will loosen the skin, which will slip right off like pink/black cellophane.
Take them out onto a tray (save all that wonderful flavored juice) and let them cool til you can handle them.
While they're cooling, smash-peel several cloves of garlic, salt them well with seasalt on the cutting board, and smush and chop them small. Put them into about a quarter- cup of good olive oil, stir, and leave to mingle the flavors.
Peel---most of it can be accomplished by just rubbing them with your fingers---if you have to actually PEEL a bit of it, it should come off easily.
Then give the stem a little twist to separate it from the flesh, and most of the seeds will come right out with it. Lay the opened pepper out flat onto the tray, and run your index finger flat from one end to the other of the inside; the seeds will smooth right off onto the tray. Tip the tray to send all the juice to one side, then wipe up what seeds you can---I think a few winking golden in the bowl are a nice touch.
Cut the peppers into strips or bite-size, put them into a bowl with all the accumulated juices, then pour in the flavored oil. Our friend had tossed it together, garlic and all, but I don't like to get a PING of raw garlic, so I strain it on.
Smushing it down to get all the flavor:
And ready for the fridge: A LOVELY Thing in a Dish.
In all its crisp, fall-apart glory. We had it on buns with Sweet Baby Ray's Brown Sugar sauce, and I'll cook some of it some more this week, in a one-pan dish---layered with onions, potatoes and cabbage, the pan wrapped in foil, and into an easy oven for an hour-and-something, and there you are. A Sum of its Parts slumgullious dinner, easy as pie.
Saturday, February 6, 2010
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx photo by Hana xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
The Day of Hearts is approaching, and we think of decorating or cooking or making it special for our Lovies and our Special Someones.
I usually put a red or rosy cloth on the breakfast table, Chris brings me a rose for the table, just because he DOES, and I’ll make another foray into the Holiday Closets to seek out the pretty swag of white eyelet and red calico hearts which fits so neatly in the close space between front door and security door without squashing.
And again I’ll fail. I’m sure I had it SOMEWHERE, for we’ve hung it for years, but when the time comes to bring it out for its annual blaze of glory, it’s nowhere to be found. I notice it sometime during the Fall or April, and think, “THERE it is!!! Now I’ll know!” And I never do.
Friend Maggie is making origami Valentines over on Cheap and Cheerful, and Love is in the air (though it may be a bit frostbitten from all those whirling snowflakes of late). We think of loved ones, we contemplate the lace and the frills, and there’s a certain moving on from the reds of Christmas to the bright flash of Valentines, which blush their messages of closeness and love, giving way to the pale hues of Spring's promise of warmth and growth.
I look in often on a wonderful new site I’ve found---it’s listed in the sidebar as A Piece of Cake. It’s the blog of a talented artist named Hana, whose skills with baking and decorating are exemplary. She takes the most exquisite care with her work, with the tiniest of frillery and the most fragile lace. I had understood not a word of her language, but the message of the beautiful was just so moving that I commented several times upon her work, in English, of course.
And she replied, then she went back and translated almost all the posts; it seemed that it was just for me, out of her kindness, and I so appreciate that. And I appreciate her gift---she is an artist in every sense; she began with the Australian method, which I’d read of long ago in the lightweight Wiltons of my own cake-decorating days. It’s a complicated, painstaking skill of stringwork and the most ethereal butterflies and scrollwork and flowers.
There are cupcakes with hand-applied whimsies and those with delicate patterns that Faberge would have wept rather than eat such loveliness.
The gingerbread hearts in the picture are just works of art, each one. I try to imagine the held breath, the gentle touch, the absolute surety of the hands it must take to create such perfection.
I like to think she's there in the warmth of her kitchen right now, with the scent of sugar and vanilla and spices, her hands as sure and true upon the piping as an artist with a brush.
Go look. Be amazed. Everything is just lovely, and on down the pages, you’ll encounter the most ethereally elegant tiered cake in the history of the World. It’s simply stunning, fit for a Fairy Wedding, and it’s hard to believe that small Fairy hands did not do this delicate lacework, did not fly up and attach these pale strands which defy gravity and seem to have no anchor.
Her name is Hana, and she is a genius in her métier. Please look in---you’ll be delighted.
Thursday, February 4, 2010
But this morning, the map was garnished with a huge hulky lurky blob of pastels to delight a Pre-School artist. I could print this out and hang it on the fridge with the other GrandChildren Art which flaps in the breeze of every opening, and no one would question the origin.
This one promises to cover cars, slow traffic, chill bones, and all-around make a nuisance of itself. We'll muddle through---muddle being the operative word for the tracking-in and the coat-shaking and the red-cheeking and the gloves left damp on the dryer, shoes dripping onto the rug.
But this morning, I read of a snow, a magical snow, in a small village at the edge of the Alps. The writer is someone whom I admire greatly for her skills with words and her camera, and for the simple grace and grandeur of her pictures and her stories. I've linked her blog before, but this one today was too wonderful not to share.
It has everything: A snowed-in week with a delightful little boy, the expectations of a homecoming, the cozy charm of a woodstove-cooked meal, and a tableau-in-the-whirling-snow which leaps from the page into your eyes and your memory.
It's from Lucy, from her small Alpenhaus, and see if you can't just SEE it all:
And my comment in her "reply" space, of my delight in reading of her cozy time with her family:
What a charming, homey story to read with First Cup, on a day that we're expecting plain old SNOW---the kind which snarls traffic and freezes fingers as they clean windshields and shovel driveways.
You included everything---the warmth of home and of homecoming, the provender brought in for sumptuous meals in your snowy seclusion, your isolation with your little one and your time together, the anticipation of the completion-of-the-family return, and the snow-trek adventure which culminated in a welcoming joy of snow-whirls and hugs---a picture which travels across the world and brightens the day here, so far away.
Thank you for sharing this most personal, most heart-warming tale, simple in its beauty and warmth.
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Monday, February 1, 2010
It was a really cold night, and I was traveling home from Oxford, where I had been to dinner with a friend, who had also invited another couple to join us. The gentleman guest is quite an accomplished man of letters, quite a popular and well-known writer of Southern things, and unbeknownst to me, my friend had appropriated some of my little stories and vignettes from my someday-to-take-over-the-house boxes of paper. He'd given them to his friend to read, and had I known, I would truly have just died before I'd have let him do that.
And, as all conversations do when in such company, ours turned to writing and who was doing what and how was it coming along. I was just joining in admiringly for them both, and then was mortally embarrassed when the gentleman mentioned my stuff---my put-away-from-even-family writings, which my friend had "borrowed" or just plain snuck out of my boxes---in those days, everything was typewritten, so each and every word had been weighed after dashing down, with white-out and erasures and jottings on the first drafts, and probably the second and third.
I was also quite aware of the scores of wanna-bes who must have thrust their paper into the Writer's hands, heedless of his hurry, his privacy, his attention; I knew the reluctance and refusals which must accompany such imposures, and I would not in a million YEARS have ever made such a request---that's just TACKY.
But I remember the date so well, for it was the first time anyone actually known as a writer had read anything of mine, and I remember his words; I can see them float in the air as if in black-and-white. Sometimes they're sorta Verdana, sometimes calligraphy, but always, they give me a small bubble of joy and accomplishment.
He took the sheaf of papers out of his case and turned page after page, pointing out a phrase or a word which had caught his eye, and I could see markings on the pages. My heart sank and I could feel the flush creeping over my face, thinking "So long out of college, and I'm being GRADED again!"
Then he said, "Girl, you really know how to put the words DOWN!"
That was so SOUTHERN a sentence, so BUBBA a compliment, that we all laughed. And it meant wonders to me; I've always written down stuff for myself, mostly, with lots of things intended for family, for the children---little remembrances of their childhoods and infancies and the everyday things, the marvelous things, which are all part of raising a family. It was just so nice to hear such an unsolicited nicety from a stranger, and one I admire, at that.
We kept in touch over the years, the Writer and I; he'd send me an autographed copy of his latest book, and I'd send a letter of sincere praise and thanks and perhaps a tin of fudge for the holidays.
We'd talked late over coffee, dessert, more coffee, until the servers swept and the lights dimmed, and we all headed out into the dark. A few flakes of snow swirled past the windshield as we headed down the highway, and my escort looked over at me, at his watch, and back at me as the time passed midnight.
He grinned a big grin of satisfaction. "Happy February," he said.