Monday, January 31, 2011


During the course of this busy, productive day, I have sent and received an e-mail, to and from a young woman whose Grandmother was a devoted Great-Niece of Milton Nobles.

I found her own name by accident, in another little bit of Google-info I'd stashed amongst all the pages of my research:

In a little research into a family not my own, I came upon your name, associated with that of Milton Nobles. I had spent an intense week absorbed in the sheer kindness and generosity of that good man, and have just taken him to my heart.

I was just doing a little curiosity thing for my own blog, and got so involved in the finding and the telling, that it took quite a few days to gather the information and make a story of it, in several installments. It's a story of his concern and affection for a fellow thespian whose family was all struck down by the Yellow Fever epidemic in Vicksburg in 1878, and his kind placing of a stone to mark their grave-for-three.

I am not a writer, but an amateur blogger, whose regard for this gentleman has been kindled and increased over the time of reading of his life, and I thought perhaps some one of his family might like to know that a far-away stranger holds his own memory in highest esteem and fond thought.



I enjoyed your recounting of Milton’s caring for fellow thespians. I will keep this account to add to my genealogical info for him, thanks.
Where did you get the info that his son died as a suicide in his 20’s?I have the son Milton Nobles Jr. dying in 1925 (one year after his father), but I don’t have a good source for that info.
My grandmother was a child actress and later a write. She wrote very reverently of her great uncle Milton.

Thanks for sharing,



I hope that someone in the family may find this useful and interesting---I wonder what a yet-to-come researcher would make of finding all those reams of words from a stranger . . .
And the tiniest of epilogues, one of no consequence, but which gave me a little bubble of happy in my heart---I Googled the address in the Milton Nobles obituary of 1924, just to take a peek at the area from the satellite view. No more houses on that block---it's now a School of the Performing Arts. Don't you just LOVE that?


Y'all, between the sickness and the snow and the borrowed sorrow I've been immersed in, I think we all need some DANCIN'!!!

This is our usual Dance-Around-the-Dining-Table tune---don't bother with the words. Just get some shakin' goin' on.

And this is my usual partner---she'll keep you stepping lively, any day of the week.

Don't forget your tutu, your flannel headband, and your frog-apron. And a big old red sequined hat only adds to the charm.


Sunday, January 30, 2011



When the yellow fever ravaged the South last September, the malady claimed Mrs. Methua-Scheller, who lived in Vicksburg, Tennessee (sic) at the time and two (sic) days later her husband and sixteen-year-old son also succumbed. All who knew Mrs. Methua-Scheller, as an artist or personally, were greatly grieved. Among the sorrowing friends was Milton Nobles, who is appearing at Hamlin’s Theater.

In Vicksburg he found the forgotten grave of the artist. As a token of affection and appreciation, he provided a monument, and last evening his kindness was rewarded. At the end of the second act, during the performance of his own play The Phoenix, Messrs. V. Meyer, Hans Ravene, and Julius Rodenberg presented Nobles with a laurel wreath on a blue silk pillow. A white silk ribbon bore the legend: A token in recognition of Milton Nobles, by the German actors of Chicago. A gold ring, engraved with Nobles’ name, was included in the gift.

Mr. Meyer, in a short speech, explained the motives for the present, whereupon Nobles, deeply moved and scarcely able to suppress his tears, replied that what he had done he considered merely a sacred obligation to the artist who advised and guided him when he was but a neophyte in art. He never thought of recognition, nor did he seek it. He thanked his colleagues “who are serving the same Muse, though in another language.”

Such an emotional scene probably never was presented at Hamlin’s theater. The public listened breathlessly, and appeared deeply affected.

- - - -From a History of the Hamlin Theater, Chicago

And bless them all, these Hyacinths, these Bringers-of-the-Beautiful. They lend a wonderful savour and an enduring beauty to our lives. May they all sleep sweetly.


Saturday, January 29, 2011


Ford's Theater, draped in mourning crepe---Matthew Brady

On first looking at the tumbled, broken stone, it took me a few moments to decipher the inscriptions; I’ve always had some kind of weird spot in my brain for filling in letters in words---anything that looks like a gap-toothed Wheel of Fortune game is my kind of puzzle.

It was plain to see, then all those hours spent drilling German in that dizzy-hot drone which was class with Herr Eichorst, led to a natural “H” in the SCHELLER. My age probably accounted for a quick read of the rest: Ladies of my day all knew that “Master” was the title given to a boy, usually one under ten, and customarily used only in correspondence, which is why the title on the stone just broke my heart---to think she’d lost her little child, as well. I suppose anything in the teens served to use the name at that time.

And one more: Some reasoning, especially in our Founding Fathers, led to their shortening the perfectly plain “John” to “Jno.” I have never understood how that shortened anything, anyway, for it’s the same number of spaces, and it’s always just looked funny and affected.

I leave the details of their last days unknown, as they were to their friends and colleagues who might have comforted them, for I feel as a friend, cloaked in their lives for this great time of learning, walking in their steps from their faraway countries across our great land, to spend their final days and their rest so coincidentally in the place I was raised.
And so, there they have lain, together beneath that stone---first a pure white, standing tall and proud, just-graven with its sweet, sad message, and then after the topple, the break, the yield to the grass. Of the reason that so many of the gravestones and markers are melting back into the earth, Marty says, “I think the ground of Vicksburg still trembles.”

Perhaps word of the deaths did not reach Milton Nobles and other stage dignitaries except in a small mention in one newspaper or the other. One, from a writer in the West, perhaps one connected with a theater which had enlisted Mme. Methua Scheller for an engagement:

This was Madam Scheller's last appearance at this theatre. She and her husband, Methua Scheller, went East from here, and died in Memphis (sic) in 1878, during the yellow fever contagion of that dread disease.
The cemetery records do not list Guido Methua as “interred”---naming only his wife and son.

The RECORDS (scroll down). The mention of another child in the same plot, and of a stone apparently placed for her by Mr. Nobles, had escaped my notice until now, and she will remain in the soft shadows, remembered only by the angels and those who loved her.
From the New York Times, just after the placing of the stone:
Mr John Guido Methua, a scene painter, his wife, Mrs. Marie (Schiller) (sic) Methua, an actress, and their son fell victims of the yellow fever at Vicksburg, Miss., last Summer. During a recent visit to that city Mr. Milton Nobles learned the fact, sought out their graves, and caused suitable marble slabs to be set up to mark their resting places. The Vicksburg HERALD, noticing the act, says that Mr. Nobles, when a mere youth, found in Mrs. Schiller, who was playing successful engagements in the West, a true friend, a kind adviser, and a generous help, and he formed for her then an esteem and admiration that time has not effaced.
Tomorrow: Epilogue and Curtain

Friday, January 28, 2011


The only two pictures I could find for Mr. Nobles were a portrait in an un-affordable domain, and this one, which I hope you’ll take a peek.
Though it would be too late in the receiving to use in this piece, I was tempted to order this one myself, just to have it and hold it in my hand. I try to imagine what it would be like, to hold that solid little bit of cardboard, to regard that solid, life-lived face, proof that these ghosts of the past were real, living beings, with joys and sorrows, and whole lives lived out of my ken, but now so much a part of my heart. The time I’ve spent with these people makes them Family, somehow, and I’d certainly have a place for him in our little home gallery of black-and-white portraits of those dear to us.

What a kind face he has!! It’s an intelligent face, as well, attested by his prowess with the pen, and his abilities upon the stage. And in a funny little aside, I find him in the other picture to have a teensy resemblance to Sesame Street’s Mr. Nuno---played by dear Michael Jeter, another marvelously-talented thespian, with a kindness and generosity of spirit which matched Mr. Nobles’ own.

Milton Nobles was a talented Playwright, most noted for his play THE PHOENIX, which is still being performed in reps and other smaller theaters around the country. It was made into a movie in the twenties, as well. He opened as the star of the play, continuing the run for quite some time, and had already performed in countless other vehicles of his own and other writers.

When he and Madame Methua Scheller met is a mystery still, for I cannot find a play or theater in which they’re both listed at the same time. But I do know that their stars must have intersected at some time, for he became a staunch admirer of her work, and a lifelong friend.

Nobles and his wife Dollie were co-stars in many plays and farces and musicals, enjoying a long run as a stage-pair, as famous in their own circles and in their day, as Hepburn and Tracy in their own. I have no idea of the affluence of their lives, whether they were wealthy from their own careers, or what their lives were outside the theater doors.

In June, 1875 the celebrated American actor Milton Nobles was starring in his own play Bohemians and Detectives (later name of THE PHOENIX) at Ford’s Theater, and Sousa impressed him favorably. Upon learning that Nobles was planning to tour with the show, Sousa applied for the position of conductor and composed The Bludso March (The Phoenix March) for Mr. Nobles.

Sousa met the troupe in Chicago, and they enjoyed a lengthy tour through Illinois, Nebraska, and Memphis, thence back to Washington. The Memphis portion of the tour had a note in the program: After the first act of the program, the orchestra, under the direction of Prof. J. P. Sousa, will perform The Bludso March, composed and arranged by Prof. Sousa, and dedicated to Mr. Milton Nobles. (Memphis Music---Before the Blues).

So Mr. Nobles was quite the stage dignitary in his own right, with authorship and ownership of quite a few plays, as well as a great repertoire of shows in which he’d starred over the years.

Milton and Dolly Nobles owned their own share of tragedy, as well, in the loss of a son to suicide in his twenties, long after the unfolding of the little Scheller-Nobles story of friendship and regard.

Another small chapter tomorrow, of the setting of the stone.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


I try to realize the hardships and the taken-for-granted daily doings of Life Upon the Stage---the rehearsals and the dodgy, dusty backstage bustle, the boardinghouse take-it-as-you-find-it meals and accommodations in the days of Saturday-night baths and no running water, and when in the opinion of much of the populace, the persons who strutted and fretted for their living were No Better Than They Should Be and not worthy of the consideration of Good Folks, anyway.

Four weeks here and six there; Run of Play, if you were lucky, and a checkerboard of Hamlet here and musical reviews there, punctuating the nights, and days of fitful, musty sleep as the travel of the sun danced the dust-motes into different angles in the borrowed-for-a-day room.

Just the dressing rooms and the flare of the smoky lamps around a hazy mirror, with a wardrobe long-hung and seldom cleaned, as well as the constant proximity of all the other players---what a calling it must have been, to know you had a talent for acting or song or dance, and this was what you had to endure to ply it.

Madame Scheller’s singing voice was a celebrated one, and her proficiency in both English and German dialogue was famous in the traveling theatrical circles, as well. I wonder---did they take a train from city to city, hoping for a rest on those velvety seats, in all weathers and when opening the windows to escape the heat left them open to the flying cinders, glowing or cold, which blew back from the smokestacks.

Or a coach, with its rattly sway and wooden seats, with unchosen, sometimes unsavory stops for rest and refreshment before swinging back up into that rolling crackerbox for more of the same. The perilous travels in some parts of the country were also to be considered, and I wonder if an artist of her stature perhaps had her own conveyance; I like to imagine she did, with neat trunks for her wardrobe, and nice padded seats, good insulation from the elements, a capable driver, and a little extra space for her ladies’ maid. I pray she was granted that much.
What I really wanted to find, romantic that I am, was that she swept into great cities aboard her own railroad car, awash in furs and diamonds, dining with the elite and champagne-toasted nightly.

In a letter, J. Guido Methua praises the versatility of his wife, German-American actress Marie Methua-Scheller. He refers to her “tremendous triumph as Desdemona” in Edwin Booth’s production of Othello, in which she spoke her lines in German to Othello and in English to Iago and the company. Inspired by the success of this production, Booth produced several more polyglot Shakespeare productions in which he appeared with stars from both the German and Italian stage. Folger

Her Ophelia opposite Edwin Booth’s Hamlet drew rave reviews, and her place in the German theater circuits was immediate and enduring. The routes took her to Minnesota and Nevada, and quite a few other states, as well as a great swing through Chicago, where her shows were sold out and well-reviewed.

Sifting through the numerous facts and mentions of her name grew into a several-days’ endeavor; there were newspapers and books and little self-published tomes by theater owners and managers and playwrights whose typos and arrangements of letters and words were so ill-arranged that scrolling down the page was like being bombarded by moths. Just enduring the scribbles until the two-hundredth page yielded a mere paragraph praising her work
in a long-obsolete musical farce, in order to draw praise to the farce itself---the sheer volume of those kept me cross-eyed for days. In the deep midnights as I sat, blanket-wrapped, needing bed and unable to resist just the next little blurb and the next, my approaching flu rendered the quest of such import that my cold hands just could NOT let go of the mouse, and my eyes were glued to each tiny glimpse like some manic gamer gritting on, holding out, just to get to that next level.

But the gleam of that pure nugget, when amongst the scatter of mis-matched letters the name Madame Marie Methua Scheller would shine out like the el Dorado in a miner’s pan---those midnight headaches were well worth the price. I learned of her triumphs and her travels, her talents praised and her admirers ardent. I learned a lot about this talented, dedicated woman, whose work and reputation still endure, and whose loss to the theater world and to her friends and admirers was unimaginably great, and I can understand why she would inspire such loyal following and ardent fans.

The devoted friendship of one such fellow Thespian---noted playwright, actor, and author in his own right, went far above and beyond the usual---his name was Milton Nobles, and of him----much moire non.
He deserves equal billing, for sheer kindness alone.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


You’ll see things one way, like blindly seeking amongst the kids’ book shrubbery for the two tigers in the leaves and then CLICK, they’re there, and you can never UNSEE them again.

Just a normal morning last week, browsing amongst my favorite blogs---mostly those which I visit every time their name bumps up the sidebar---and I scrolled down to the picture on Marty Kittrell’s blog. I've always given the stones depicted by Marty a deep importance, for they are of my own heritage, of the Mississippi of my raising, and even so, just the names and dates and endless lists lists lists are testament to the hard-won lives of our ancestors. But this one---this one little broken piece of marble just stood out, as if I'd seen it before, or just must decipher the lost little letters. It must have been a dainty, beautiful thing when first inscribed and put there---the writing so serenely timeless and the words sweet and warm against the cool stone.

Instantly captivated, for that small moment only by the puzzle of the thing, the put-the-pieces-together mechanics of it, to make a coherent whole of the shattered bits, to form words of the folded and hidden letters, I felt myself drawn into that picture, downdown inside the rough husks of the sered grass framing the stone, and into the time and place and the WHO of the thing.

I idly Googled the name: Methua. Guido Methua, Before reading all that came after on the stone, I found his name listed in quite a few small mentions, as an artist, a scenic painter of various theaters, and the husband of a prominent actress, Madame Marie Methua Scheller---Scheller being her maiden name, for she was already an actress of note in Germany when she came to America in 1858. I’m only supposing that she put her husband’s name in her own as an honor to him, rather than keeping sternly to her own theatrical persona, or if it were a custom of her heritage, but I found it odd that his name was in the spot where our own maiden names would be.

Then there was her name, and though there were no birthdates listed, another name, perhaps that of a child. But that could not BE---not all three, not on one gravestone, barring a great tragic circumstance of the Titanic genre, or a great craze of grief on the part of one or the other when bereft of both partner and child in one sweep.

And the sweet sentiment---was the Mr. Nobles an admirer, a friend, someone of a deeper relationship in which he, too, was mourning a lost love? Too many novels, too many Lifetime movies have passed across the horizon of our days, and all the trites and the clichés and the plot twists and pat endings just flew like crazed moths around the flicker of this enigma, and I just settled in to dig deeper into the mystery.

And now, since the CLICK, I’ve been immersed in the times and the days---imagining the hustle and bustle of the theater backstage, and the work and the creaky boards and the makeup and the scents and sounds and the fumes of the footlights and the rustles of the the crowds in city after city, as they made their way across the country and made their way in the world.

She worked with Edwin Booth and many other actors of note in the day, playing dramas and musicals and Shakespeare---appearing in tights in Hamlet, as a quite acclaimed Ophelia.

From the Sacramento Daily Union, April 13, 1864

Madame Methua Scheller closed her engagement at the Boston Theater on the 4th uit. Her debut on the American stage was highly successful, "her songs were encored, and she was called out three times during the evening.

The Boston Transcript says of her performance:

"Madame Scheller seems to be an actress who never sacrifices nature to artificial absurdities, and in portrayal of character is direct, unaffected and unassuming."

And there, I believe we’ll leave her for a moment---beneath the stage lights, in the first flush of her American triumphs, bright and beautiful and young and so, so alive---hearing the applause, receiving the flowers, and reading the reviews.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Thursday, January 20, 2011


The three-day search I've been engaged in is finished, for the most part. The picture which began the quest by so captivating my interest is yet to come, as are the details of the lives and the findings and the losses. It's been a touching endeavour, sad and yet uplifting, by the enduring fond memory of a friend.

Above, one of the players in this small vignette---in both senses. She is Mme. Marie Methua Schiller, whose fame and respect as an actress of the nineteenth century have endured for many years. Her travels, her body of work, her family, their lives---all have been gleaned in teaspoons, from small books and yellowed clippings and great long microfilm which whizzed past on the scroll like the ride of a runaway elevator, causing me to shake my head to clear my vision and re-arrange my thoughts.

The looking and finding has engaged me during this snowy, dark-day time, and, like all nights, of the soul and otherwise, the brightness comes. It will take several tellings, I think, and I would not thrust it upon you unawares, so I hope that my little chapters of the next few days will not be an imposition. I don't want it to be sad or maudlin or dreary, though there WAS a great sorrow.

But there's also a great bright sweetness, of spirit and of gesture, and I know I am the better for the knowing of the story.


Playbill photo from the Internet

I’m buried up in historical stuff for the next few days---Google is my new Bee Eff Eff. I don’t know why these things captivate my imagination, and I don’t know what will come of these, but a broken gravestone---if there ever WERE a grave, and a why-was-it-there, as well as a “noble” benefactor and ardent fan, and all the little flickers of imaginings---cliched though they be---that clutter my brain as if I were writing the story---I feel as if I’m reading a history book amongst the quiet fallen leaves and sinking plinths of that far-ago place.

Perhaps I’ll find something---perhaps not. But this dreary snowy time is being lightened by a search amongst tombstones and long-ago departeds, of all things. Another time, another place, and the intervening century and-a-third fall away beneath my clicking, searching fingers and eager eyes, to reveal old newspaper bits, little-read books, faded playbills. I’m in---snowed in, as it were, accepting of this day’s seclusion, and finding it a gift for the searching.

A hundred and thirty-three of those hot Mississippi Summers, the grudging, umber Autumns, the meager tastes of snow and ice and cold---those have all passed like flying leaves over this resting place (if it indeed IS the place of rest), with no word of these people, this Mother and Child, the former fame dissipated in the interval, with mention only in small obscure volumes and yellowed reviews in papers long out of print.

These are not Paxton People, to be made out of whole cloth or the patchworks of People-I’ve-Known; they were living, breathing, vital human beings with interesting lives and talents and the fleeting fame of theatrical folk of the day, working with the likes of Edwin Booth and Sousa as they toured the country’s towns. Even Rodney, Mississippi, now melting into the Earth, had an Opera House to boast, and the air of the era is intriguing to think of.

Lots of other Home things to see to, and ordinaries to tend, for Life calls amidst this gentle quest amongst the dead, and I answer---reluctant to put down and let go, but I must answer to the everydays.

Moiré non, perhaps, as things progress.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Meet the Backyardigans, Friends: Austin, Pablo, Tyrone, Uniqua, Tasha

Austin is a purple Kangaroo, Pablo a kinda navy-blue natty Penguin, Tyrone an orange Moose in a blue and red shirt, Uniqua a pink One-of-a-Kind, and Tasha, a yellow Hippo with a penchant for shoes.

They’re all appealing little fellows, with bright, cheery colors and a good word for all, and they have a wide audience amongst the Pre-K set and their parents.

Except. On the one DVD we have, Tasha sings a song which outlasts American Pie. I swear, it’s
longer than a Twelfth-Century ballad, and not nearly as entertaining. It goes on For. Ev. Er, and forget the Princess frenzy which inhabits the hearts of lotsa little girls and their Mothers---we’re aiming for the sky here. It starts with "I'm Queen Tasha, and I rule the whole back yard," and every other line of the interminable ditty ends in “And Queens are Nev-Ver Wrong.”

It had gone on for quite some time this morning, and suddenly Sweetpea reached down another
DVD. She said, “Here. Let’s watch Sid, the Science Guy---I neeeeed some Science.”

And I replied, “Oh, thank Goodness! That song makes me cringe.”

“What’s crinch?”

“That’s when you just don’t like something and it makes you go kinda-----“ (shoulder hunching and grimace).

Tee-nineciest voice in the history of the world: “OH. We don’t have Crinch at home. We got the Grinch, and he’s TERRIBLE. And then he gets better.”

Let’s hear it for gettin’ BETTER, folks! Every little bit helps.

Monday, January 17, 2011


In thinking of yesterday’s post---my first and only Movie Review---I’ve really been disturbed about the strong words, verging on rude, with which I so ponderously stated an opinion. Y’all all know me as kinder than that, uneasy with stating anything which might offend or make anyone uncomfortable, and it seems that my words got in my own way, much as I had opined that the writers and actors seemed to have let their own.

Perhaps in penance for the flow of my own verbiage in such a negative fashion, perhaps I could do a little Movie Monday thing now and then, with a recommendation or two on movies I have really enjoyed, and would sit through again---some of them from anyplace in which they happen to be when I channel-surf through idly. They will probably all be oldies, not so oldie as I, but not of the just-out variety, either.

So---for some reason I’ve been thinking this morning, just a little reflectively, on a movie which I did enjoy and remember, though the subject and some of the words there might be a bit uncomfortable for us all. It’s a movie about four ladies---though it’s not a Chick Flick, by any means. I don’t even know what that IS---I always assume it’s a Jennifer Anniston fluff or another of the middle-aged Diane Keaton romps through yet another romance, with the same dialogue time after time and the same Lah de Dah which made her Annie Hall such a masterpiece.

This is not a gentle movie, though it has the air of a sweet moving through the days, though we can only imagine the everyday labors and messes and frustrations. The descent of each of the women into the grip of Alzheimer’s---one a gentle wisp, already far away, one living in the troubled South of her own past, unheedingly voicing her every thought, and one whose vast knowledge and brilliant mind allow her to comprehend and grieve the great loss to come---are all eased and smoothed by the kind woman who takes in the three.

They’re all in the care of a woman who has to make her own way when everything and everyone seem to be channeling her into a different life from the one she has had and wants to continue. She takes them in merely as a matter of income when her home is about to hit the auction block, but soon makes them family, and steers their paths as gently and kindly as she can, with all their paths converging in one trip to see the ocean.

The colors are muted, as is the story, I think---gently and simply told, with soft lightings and tones of the gentle griefs and simple triumphs. If you trust me after yesterday’s diatribe, do see this one when you can.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


As Movie Lines go, right up there with, “Here’s Lookin’ at you, Kid,” and “There’s No Place Like Home,”---along with, of course, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat,” is the reins-in-the-mouth shout of Rooster Cogburn,


And that line was delivered, in toto, with the perfect inflections, in this movie we saw today. It seemed to be one of the only holdovers from the Original movie.

Okay, Y’all. I’m gonna be REAL frank here; I’m gonna buck the great Movie-Critic Tide and say that True Grit was not at all what I expected. It’s grim and gritty (lovely word for just that purpose) and dirty and you KNOW they all smell. It’s set in the West of long-ago, of course, and the filming in the tans and the darks and the grabby bushes and the spiky trees around Austin and Santa Fe just sets the somber tone even more unvividly than ever. I've been there, and it's unbelievably beautiful, but today, it was a hopeless landscape, somehow, the way the browns and sands and umbers just lie there, unwelcoming in that gray light.

The clothes are drab and long-worn (expected), the people are unwashed and proud of it (naturally) and the days pass in taupe, the nights in charcoal, as they ride and stop and shoot and argue, and ride some more.

All that makes a superb movie, cast and set and decorated and costumed and make-upped in perfect order. Her satiny braids unravel a bit, the untidy bedrolls show wisps of last month’s sleeping-grass, everybody gleams with the oily sheen of living on horseback in a bathless country. (All those yards of brand-new rope seem a bit out of place, and where DID she get that bucket?) And I DID notice that the eye-patch has swapped eyes, whether for the comfort of the actor, or deference to The Duke’s Right-Eyed performance.

And there WAS one memorable scene in which Rooster, pie-eyed drunk, is skeet-shooting up all the travelin’ cornpone as a demonstration of his aim, flinging the little patties into the air, falling down from drink and from the vigor of the hurling, and, with the preposteroned air of an ancient stag in his last great clash of antlers, challenging the young upstart LeBeouf to join in.

And I’ve READ the book. I have. And the movie’s taken WAY more directly from the book than the first outing---the one with John Wayne and Glen Campbell and Kim Darby. I DO realize the language of the time was still formal and taken from the old days, from the Great Literature and Poetry and Shakespeare.

And though there was a great deal of mumbling (Rooster as a matter of his character’s whiskey-soaked, talking-around-a-home-rolled demeanor, and LeBeouf from a bitten tongue, as well as sundry other characters springing from the sagebrush and hills and woods, from their solitary seclusions of no-conversation-for-months-at-a-time). These people leapt upon the screen as upon the unwary, bursting forth with sentences unparseable by an Oxford don, and past understanding through the baccy and beard. These grubby trail-wanderers wearing half-bears, and the dugout-dwellers of greasy countenance---these people who had never put eye to page in their illiterate LIVES---all spouted four-and-five-syllable formalities customarily delivered by the likes of Gielgud and Olivier and Oliver Wendell Holmes.

The delivery was so fast and so stilted that blinking could have caused a total miss of three pages of script, and a sneeze---Wow, is it Tuesday already? I understood, definition wise, all the dialogue, but the delivery---on, my, the delivery.

I’ve read the reviews, and the glowing stars almost blinded me, but I Just. Don’t. Get. It. I don’t. I felt as if I were watching a High School production---elaborately cast and lit and scened, but somehow the players had spent all their four years of school memorizing The Scottish Play, but were suddenly handed the script of Deadwood, and were reading First Reading, cold.

That’s how it felt, with great long sentences of high-falutin’ words flying past our heads as fast as the deep-echoed gunshots. I knew the meaning of them, and could use them myself if the right confluence of planets and whalebone stays required, but I’m gonna have to go read that book again.

I fair-on LOVED all these characters, even the unredeemable ones, the ones who just NEEDED shootin’---they all seemed to derive a gallant grace from the speech, if not from morals or pride. They were spot-on who they were, but they just seemed so (that word again) STILTED and breathless all the time, as if the director had given them five seconds for a forty-word line.

Mattie hired Rooster, she kept up with him, she certainly out-talked him. And I suppose that was the premise here.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


You know, this little Southern wisp of Hey, Y’all has been going on for more than two years now, and some days, there seems to be TOO much to say. I post one thing, and then happen across a picture, or remember a moment, or think of someone long gone whose words or life had meaning for me, and I want to dash them down RIGHT NOW and send them sailing out into the world.

Then I think---You’ve already posted for today. Give it a rest.

Other days, I just let things “rock on,” as my Mother said about times you just let things be, or the order of things unfurls of its own accord, folks-be-damned and torpedoes ahead, as status stays pretty quo. I do little things around the house, spend twelve hours on the roller-coaster which is Life with Sweetpea, collapse with a tray of thrown-together supper in front of equally-cobbled TV, and start again tomorrow. And somewhere along the way, every time, I come upon a thought or a quote or a way of phrasing things which just captures me in the grace or the grit or the glamour.

Those, I jot down, sometimes in the dark-of-night, before they escape like fireflies winking out in the dark of my flitty mind. My shelf of journals reaching-back-years is always near to hand, and I fumble for the right one, hoping not to lose the page forever in some late-night haze when need for sleep and need to commit the words to paper fight their battle with my senses, scribbling my spider-tracks all down through the lines, and at a loss to read parts of it in the fresh light of day.

Occasionally I’ll hear or see something that I just HAVE to save, out and about, and I’ll scramble for a pen, pad, a folded scrap of paper, a grocery list---just to get those words down before they’re gone like one of those dreams your slippery fingers just drop like vapors into the abyss as you struggle to hold on.

Later, some of them weren’t quite so earth-shaking or worth remembering as I’d thought, but usually, I’m glad I kept them.

There are several lately from Barbara Ueland, a wonderful writer of the past century, whose adventures have captivated generations. Her view on writing, itself, just makes me glad:

I learned that you should feel when writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountain top, but like child stringing beads in kindergarten---happy, absorbed and quietly putting one bead on after another.

And another of hers reminds me of the people in my life who make me laugh---notably Chris and Sis, whose wit and mere voicing of the laughter serve to make us all exponentially more witty and smart:

"Everyone knows how people who laugh easily create us by their laughter--making us think of funnier and funnier things."

She was a prolific and wonderful writer, and is well-remembered by legions of readers. My very favorite words of hers are a parting wish, a cheer before battle, a toast, and a prayer:


That one could stand us all in good stead, whether we’re girded for the fray, or just facing another Monday.

Then there’s one I grabbed from that fount of wisdom, TRUE BLOOD:

I never thought I was smart enough to get depressed, but . . . here I am.
Jason Stackhouse

And from another blogger, whose prose and photos never fail to captivate:

Generosity of spirit is the little red pill that gets you out of the Matrix. The epiphany that frees us. LUCY VANEL

And just a small comment, passing like a refreshing breeze:

Nice thing to do, blessing people. I think suffering some makes people good blessers.
Alison Veres on

One in a long line of comments-on-a-blog---the wistful, longing memory filled my nose with remembered scents of hard work and making-do:

I dreamed of retail store shopping. Money was tight, and we were smart enough not to ask for things. My mother shopped at Paddy's Market before it was fashionable to thrift shop...and the hand me downs were plentiful. To me poverty smells of washing powder, hot irons and the ubiquitous spray starch.


And from somewhere, I jotted this down, thinking of the arcane truth of the small four words:

Mythical as Maris Crane.

She was never seen, only spoken of, but in such tones of awe and sometimes fear, even by her own husband, that she carved her own invisible niche into a rich, hilarious, touching story with such smart, witty, sharply-characterized people that they kept us coming back for years.

And some of the most-often seen “quotes” appear as little quick reads as we pass other ships in the night or day, for they’re affixed to the bumpers of passing cars.

I think one of the cleverest I’ve ever seen was on the tiny vehicle belonging to the free-est spirit I’ve ever known personally---she travels the world at whim, trekking great chasms and air-cramped trails of Nepal, flying into tsunami-blasted areas to render aid, and is right now in Goa, I believe, just drinking Life to the proverbial lees.

Her sticker reads: MY KARMA RAN OVER YOUR DOGMA.

I’ve seen a few others over the years which come to mind, but my very favorite thing ever said in reference TO a bumper-sticker came from Chris, not long ago as we drove along behind a car which was covered in so many bright patches of words, it resembled a travelin’ quilt.

I asked if he’d ever thought of putting any bumper-sticker on OUR car---political or otherwise.. He didn’t even blink.

Well,” he said."Whatever you blast into the world on a bumper-sticker, you’re either Preachin” to the Choir or you’re Drawin’ Fire, and either way, why bother?”

Thursday, January 13, 2011


Not all Heroes fly with capes unfurled; some of them come and go without a whisper. They extend a hand to a stranger, comfort a friend, caress a pet, care for a loved one, stand up or stand FOR, then silently slip away unseen. The most Heroic moment in the history of movies comes when Charlie Allnut clenches his teeth in silent resignation, then slips off the African Queen back into that leech-filled water, because it's the only way to save his Rosie. It's the hand Life dealt him, and he plays it, in Spades.

And, like trees falling in a deserted forest, or flowers blushing unseen, many Heroic deeds and moments go unobserved, unwept, unsung. I once read of the principle that one of the most rewarding things in life is to do something really nice or good or kind, in secret, and then be found out by accident.

But just that little secret glow within, of the never-credited, known-only-to-you good deed, is a blessing.

Let's all find a Hero today. Or BE one.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Vernonne and Bryce Unger met when they were both at State. Their romance was conducted in a maroon haze, for their families were avid State fans---both sides, and
had been since the Twenties. They’d graduated and had a wedding (Maroon color scheme in JULY) within the same three months, settling right into their new house just in time to kick off the Football Season

They’d been given Season Tickets by her parents as a wedding gift, and have bought their own in all the succeeding years, driving down and staying Game Weekends in their apartment in Starkville. Ungers have had apartments in the same building for decades, used only for the Friday-to-Sunday of a State game. They are big on Tailgating, and load coolers, grill, tent, tables, chairs and portable bar into the immense vehicles necessary for transporting such an undertaking.Nonny spends all day Thursdays and part of Friday making enormous amounts of Things In Dishes, as they call them---big Tupperwares of Pasta Salads and Paminna Cheese and Crab Dip and marinated vegetables and beans-to-bake for the grill, as well as the sauce for the grilled Buffalo Wings. Her Hair Appointment is always at eleven on Friday, and she goes straight from dryer to highway, rolling on down toward Starkville to meet the rest of the group, who had loaded both her vehicle and theirs, and gone on ahead.
They park at “Their” spot on campus, set up the big maroon-and-white marquee tent and the tables and chairs and grill, and immediately, the weekend is ON. They are very popular amongst the Tailgate crowds, some of whom have been making the same trip for the same years; they are much like a Church Supper crowd, everybody knowing everyone else’s cooking and setup, with the families and friends moving back and forth amongst the tents and shelters with the ease of long-standing familiarity. Old Mr. Melrose, from overt Sidon ‘n’ Cruger way, usually walks up with his flimsy aluminum lawn chair, sets it down amongst the menfolks, and munches his way through most of a bowl of her Tunafish Salad with a whole sleeve of Premiums, between Lunch and Kickoff.
Their lifesize concrete “Bully” statue on the big brick front porch has a smaller twin which lives in the apartment. That one is carried to each and every game within reasonable distance---home and away---and parked with proper reverence in a prominent spot in the tent. He has his own little specially-painted Radio Flyer woodside wagon, loaded in and out of the vehicles and just rolled right in like a tee-ninecy parade float, and everybody who comes by has to give him a little head-rub or scratch behind the ears, for luck.

Their two children are named Molly Stewart Unger and Myron Sims Unger---a bit of fan fanaticism not lost on either their friends nor the two young folks.

Mrs. Unger’s Maiden name was Stewart, and she had definite ideas about girls’ names. Being limited to “M’s” by the cutesy factor of the thing, she discarded Mary as too obvious, being so well-used and common and all, and names like Melissa and Melinda felt to her like ruffles on a dress, blowin’ in the breeze. There was already one Margaret in the family, the only Mandy she knew was the Covington's maid, and Myra and Millie were SO old-fashioned---so Molly it was.

Grandma Stewart named the boy, for two famous people she admired: Myron Floren of the Lawrence Welk Show, and Lydel Sims of The Commercial Appeal, and neither of the honorees ever knew. It was probably just as well. . .

Monday, January 10, 2011


Grandmother was a small woman---no shorter than I, but extremely thin. Her wrists showed the knobs of her bones, and her watch and rings turned circles and would have fallen clean off if not for the wider bones of her hands, and the great knots arthritis had grown on her fingers. The lavaliere-which-had-been-her-Mama's hung across her bony clavicles no matter what the occasion and the dress, and the amethysts twinkled, even as we knelt and squatted in the bean rows in that hot Delta sun.

She had very few wrinkles for a woman of her age, with soft pink cheeks and the palest blue eyes behind her heavy glasses. She had only a small furrow or two to her brow, though she DID worry. She worried about her health, mainly, and could turn a conversation back to her ailments quicker than you could get in a word past AWWWW, though she DID love the Poor Dear part.

She loved her doctor visits, and dressed in the most beautiful clothes for such an important occasion. When going for even such quick, easy appointments as for her flu shot, she dressed in what she called “from the skin out,”---dainty lacy underthings and a pretty slip (forever called a petticoat, just as the panties were “step-ins”---both from her younger days, though she would probably have whispered the word “panties” just as she did “sex” or “pregnant,” even to her daughters).

I don’t know if her choice of the nice clothing hinged on her own fastidious nature, or the idea that she just MIGHT need to show him, as she held a hand dramatically on the spot, just where the latest pain was. I can remember once that we gave her a beautiful pink jersey jumpsuit for Christmas---it must have been a size ZERO. Her daughters considered it much too young for her tiny eightyish body, though her sons and my family thought she looked as cute as pie in her little tan Weejuns and that tee-ninecy outfit. I can just see her coming out to the car to go grocery-shopping with me. We girls just walked right into Safeway, as big as you please, tossing that Midol and Poli-Grip and our week's groceries into the buggy with the aplomb of ladies of leisure and great refinement.

Grandmother and Peepaw lived in a really small mobile home---the thing was a work of art, with its miniature everything, and the walls, floors, ceiling of beautiful blondish wood, polished to the slick sheen of a Last Supper clock. It was one of the last of a breed, I suppose, before the RedMans and the Fleetwoods turned from their “real house” decor in those long, slender quarters, to the newer constructions of thinner and flimsier materials, which grew bigger and bigger til some of them were banned from the highways. That little “trailer” was sound as a nut, and really beautiful, in a jewelbox/dollhouse sort of way.

The whole inside of the thing was wood, with three-shades-of-pink metal exterior, pink bathroom fixtures, and a wee pale teacup-size sink in the minuscule kitchen. The whole kitchen counter had the dimensions of a checkerboard, and the central wall of the living room, though pristine and smooth, had no pictures or other hangings, save for the shiny chrome handle up high, which served to let down the Murphy bed when there was company. I loved that place---it was like living in Barbie’s mansion, without all that wardrobe clutter and all those tiny shoes scattered about to catch your bare feet unaware.

Grandmother made divine pie, an absolutely scrumptious tomato soup, pale with milk and cream, and the most wonderful cornbread there was. She would fry several slices of bacon in the black skillet, and make up the bread batter with buttermilk and Martha White meal and flour and several deep-orange-yolked eggs, with the bacon grease stirred in at the last. She’d arrange the flat bacon slices neatly back into the skillet and carefully spoon on some of the batter, so that when it hit that sizzling hot skillet, it would seize up a bit and hold the slices in place whilst the rest was poured on.

Her hands got too fragile to lift the heavy skillet, so one of us would go sit and chat with her while she made up the batter and fried the bacon. She insisted on “doing all of it I can---til I can’t.” Then we’d lift the skillet into the oven, and, most important---take it out when the “dinger” went off. We’d put that big Corning-Ware platter over the golden-brown bread, flip the whole thing upside down, and turn out that gorgeous pan of crusty brown, latticed across with the delicious strips of bacon. I can smell that heavenly bready-bacon scent with the golden-toasted cornmeal right now. I haven’t made that in years, but I’ll bet I do, and soon.

She was a lovely, kind woman, and a great part of my life for many, many years; I remember her very fondly. She lived to be almost a hundred---due, I’m sure, to such vigilant watchfulness on her health.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


There are all sorts of little games and trivia questions going on between bloggers, and a lot of them are something like: Tell Seven Things People Don’t Know About You.

I would imagine there are umpteen things we don’t know about each other, my dear readers and members and commenters and visitors, and more than two-years-into-this-blog, in order to tell the following story, I will have to enlighten Y’all on one of those things: My age. I make no secret of it at all---in fact, I’m kinda proud of these gray hairs and what folks charitably call “smile lines.” But it will take only today’s post to guess.

Fifty-four years ago---September 26, 1956, my best friend Linnette got her Mama to drive us to the Tupelo Fair to see Elvis perform. We were not yet in High School, and like many a young’un of all eras, we got together on the phone the night before, to decide on what to wear. Sitting there in our September-night houses, with perhaps the fan going and the heat of the day subsiding, we threw all sense to the nonexistent winds and chose to wear our new black skirt-and-sweater sets, bought for the new school year---both sweaters were long-sleeved wool, pushed up to the elbow, and hers was angora. We got dressed the next morning and off we went, confident in our sophistication, the curl of our immaculate ponytails, and our stylish outfits, decades ahead of Fernando’s infamous “It’s better to look good than to feel good.”

It was HOTTTT, even early morning, even in the car. They had a BIG Oldsmobile, with the flip-forward front seats for getting into the back. It was dark green with white leather seats, and her whiny brother had to ride in the front because he got carsick---which was fine with us, because neither of us wanted to be stuck in the back seat with him, anyway.

We’d first hoped that Linnette’s Mama would go and visit with her sister, who lived there in town---but the even more fervent hope was that she wouldn’t go off and saddle US with Little Brother while we had mature lady-things to do. But he wanted to stay for the Fair, and so they both stayed. We had matinee tickets, because we had to try to get home before dark.

We carried a picnic lunch in a big carrier, and we had to take it in when we went through the gate, so we took turns carrying the thing, and baby-sitting it when the others would go on the rides. I don’t think she and I ate a bite, for the show started about 2 p.m., and we were just so nervous to go and get into a good spot. No reserved seats---no seats at all in a lot of places, and as we entered, Randy started to whimper and pull back, because of the crowd, surging and already screaming all around us, and Mrs. T. had to stay behind with him, as we went WAY forward. The stage was a big plank platform, and all these years I’ve remembered it as a flatbed truck, somehow---maybe there were wheels visible. It was all open in the sun, and I’m sure we were limp as dishrags by the time we got as far front as we could.

We were WAY early, and as we stood in that September sun, with the sweaty, nervous crowd pressing ever close and closer, I could just feel the fever in my clothes---that wooly outfit, so chic and so sophisticated, was just intolerable, and the sweat was running down our faces. We’d grabbed a few each of those awful brown NIBROC “towels” in the restroom---the ones like pinking-sheared grocery bags, and we were steadily trying to dab our foreheads and not let anyone see, as the Coty powder from our dollar compacts dissolved and our Tangee lips must have looked like teeny-bop Riddlers.

There was none of the fanfare of later years---no dramatic 2001/Zarathustra and strobing lights---they just announced him, and there he was---Elvis, beginning his first number. And we were vindicated: The King was wearing almost an exact duplicate of our own outfits (he was in pants, of course). Despite the darkness of his own clothes, he just shone, up there in the sun---his hair was closer to REAL hair at the time, hardly distinguishable from any haircut in our acquaintance, and he was SO beautiful.

His shirt looks black in the picture, but I swear it was a deep, sapphire-y blue, kind of glinting as he turned and moved, gleaming almost electric sometimes in the depths, like the changes when you blow onto a cat’s fur, with the light hitting the velvet just right. I heard later that his Mama had made that shirt, and it was no big deal at the time, but now, it’s a thing of rare grace to think of---that just-starting-out Most Enduringly Successful Show-Biz-Personality-of-All-Time, wearing a garment made by his beloved Mama on her old Singer. And he was proud to wear it.

We were two shy small-town girls, in every sense, and would never have intruded ourselves onto anything, but somehow we were RIGHT BENEATH HIS FEET, right up at the front of the stage, with fans who were screaming and crying and reaching fervently toward him, as if to Touch His Garment. Flashbulbs were popping and the music was blasting, and he was gyrating and we were literally burning to death inside those infernal wooly clothes, and it was like no other experience I can imagine.


About fifteen years ago, we stopped at a McDonald’s on the way to Chicago for the day. Chris went to the counter to order as I headed for the Ladies’ room, and as I came out, I made a little circuit of the walls to look at all the Rock ‘n’ Roll memorabilia. There were signed guitars and other instruments, and pictures---lots of pictures, mostly black-and-white.

As I approached one wide photo, I felt a little tingle of recognition, the tiny beginning of a sparkly moment of déjà vu, and then an absolute wham of I KNOW THIS, and an electrical spark of I WAS THERE!! as I scanned the picture more closely. I peered at it, getting out my glasses for a closer look---in the crowd, scanning, scanning, and THERE I WAS, just off to the side of Elvis’ outstretched hand, standing in that long-ago moment when we were both so young.

My face is small as my pinky-nail, down and to the right of the camera-flash and looking as if a phantom hand is plucking a hair out of my hairline. And why I’m not looking adoringly at HIM is a mystery past my solving---perhaps I was reflecting on my sins of attire, or about to faint, one.

Who the person of the Vulcan ears and brows right behind me was, I have no idea. But an even greater mystery, lost in the literal heat of the moment, is what on EARTH Linnette was standing on---she has the sorta ruffled-up bang, right between finger and thumb of that big hand, and she looks to be eight feet tall.

There had been none of that later dramatic buildup to the program, nor was there the memorable “Elvis has left the building”---too early in Time, and it would have been moot, anyway---left the platform just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

We DID run by to see Linnette's Aunt Dot after, and she gave us lots of ice water, cool bathrags, and two of her husband’s old cotton T-shirts to wear home, God Bless Her.

At school next day, we were the talk of the town---having played hooky (though we had NOTES from HOME) AND having been In The Presence. And whatever the discomfort, whatever the painful ordeal---they’re both lost in the mists of the past.

I saw him perform again, about 1975, I think, inside the Memphis Coliseum, with all the pomp and circumstance---jeweled jumpsuit, scarves, fanfare and all, but what could ever equal that Hell-hot afternoon, standing right there, not three feet away, as That Legend began the climb that neither he nor we could have imagined.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


My Mother made AWFUL cornbread. THERE. I’ve said it. Somehow, Southern folks are supposed to revere every crumb and teaspoon and mouthful of food which came from those esteemed, lovingly-remembered kitchens.

But SOME things---everybody has to have an Achilles’ heel---right? Our Mothers and Grandmothers just MUST have messed up something---maybe when they were first married, though in those days, a girl could go into marriage with less than half-a dozen pillowslips and two quilts in her Hope Chest, but she better be able to turn out biscuits, gravy, piecrust, and at least a passable fried chicken.

But Mother had been lured aside by Aunt Lou, whose instructions on making said gravy and cornbread and other kitchen items were colored by her own lifetime OUT of the kitchen. She was one of the few women in the family who WORKED. Of course, ALL of them worked. They made big gardens and kept house and flower beds and did all the laundry---no maids in our tree except for the faithful Mattie who “did for” Aunt Lou and Uncle Jake, “redding up” the house a bit every morning, though I doubt there was much to do for those two austere, spare folk who lived their waking lives in the store, besides emptying those over-run ashtrays and picking up last night’s Memphis Press Scimitar from beside Uncle’s big ole flocky-velvet platform rocker.

Mattie DID do a little procedure of “fannin’ out” the house every morning, Winter and Summer---she apparently could not function well in the hanging haze of smoke left by that pack-apiece of Chesterfields they smoked between supper and bedtime every night. She’d open both doors and a couple of windows, and stand in the living room doorway, swinging that big wooden door back and forth, from quarter-pie-wedge to within an inch of slamming on her thumb, with all the force of that big right arm, sucking in the fresh air, forcing out the stale.

Thus satisfied with the atmosphere, she’d get to her few little chores before starting their noon dinner. And they sent their laundry to the LAUNDRY. Mattie actually bundled up the sheets on their beds around all the clothing and towels, and set it out on the big white metal glider on the “house porch” ---a little screened-in affair just beside the wide planks of the store-porch---on Tuesdays to be picked up by Mr. Tolliver in the big black panel-van. It came back on Fridays, laundered and starched and folded, with all Aunt Lou’s dresses and Uncle’s pants and shirts cocooned beneath whisper-thin plastic on those funny hangers---they were not complete, but formed in a perfect hanger-shape, except for the bottom straight piece. That was made of a thin cardboard cylinder into which the two curved ends of the wire was stuck, and the roll was supposed to prevent creases in a gentleman’s trousers.

But the cornbread---a lifetime-til-I-could-cook was spent nibbling daintily on an edge of a wedge, not daring to NOT take a piece, for what was THERE was supper, and that was it. My Mother was a Kitchen-Proud woman, and would not countenance refusal of at least a small serving of everything on her table, no matter how much you “thought” you didn’t like it, or the fact that "you just don't know what's GOOD." (Of course, one time of my throwing-up-if-I-LOOKED-at-brains-and-eggs was sufficient to excuse me for life).

Aunt Lou’s positive abhorrence of Self-Rising ANYTHING imprinted on Mother for all her days, and the attempts to make that cornbread rise with a different combination of Clabber Girl Bakin’ Powder, Arm & Hammer Bakin’ Soda and salt accounted for a definite lack somedays, when she fell short on the leavening, and, as Mammaw said, “It squatted to rise and baked in the squat,” turning out a thin pone of hard, tasteless, all-crust crunch one day, and a really pretty, puffy, golden-brown pan the next, with one drawback---it tasted of too much salt or the teeth-gritting tang of way too much soda. I cannot remember many happy mediums.

The sacks plainly said PLAIN flour and meal, as opposed to the coveted Self-Rising. Oh, how I wished we could try the one in the jingle on the radio “Martha White Self-Rising Meal/Flour, with HOT RIZE PLUS!”
And every pan was turned out onto a dinner-plate, with one side lifted like tucking a sheet under a mattress, and a dinner knife (called a “case” knife by almost anyone in the family, though my thoughts of a case knife was a pocket-knife, folded in a case) inserted beneath the layer for that little bit of ventilation of the bottom, “so it won’t sweat and ruin.”

I think my own rather bland cornbread stems from swaying too far from the bitter/sour tang of those endless black-skillets-to-be-endured. I experimented in Mother’s kitchen (though I dared not bring in sacks of Martha White Self-Rising anything). I tried making it with milk instead of buttermilk, adding a little sugar, adding an extra egg, making it half flour and half meal---I just couldn’t get it quite right, either.

And I never measure---I’m just as likely to put half flour (self-rising, of course---my only all-purpose is just for recipes which SAY ‘all-purpose”) and half MW Cornmeal Mix, measured just by whatever scoops are in the big pantry jugs, with a dash of sugar, enough milk to make it the right soupy, two or three eggs, and a stick of butter, melted in the very-hot-oven-black-skillet, with about a quarter left behind in the skillet to make a good crisp crust.

Enough time---not measured either---to get it just brown enough, and there it is. If we’re in the mood for jalapeno, I’ll mince in a couple of de-seeded pickled ones or fresh, perhaps a can of Mexicorn, a big handful of sharp cheese, maybe a flurry of sliced green onions---any of the above.

And once in a GREAT while---very great---I’ll do Grandmother Cornbread, like my children’s great-grandmother, with four or five strips of bacon fried in the bottom of the skillet before the batter goes in. It comes out fragrant and bacon-y all through, and pretty on top where you’ve turned it out bacon-side up.

I remember Mother used to really like my cornbread, but she never asked about the difference between hers and mine. And I would never have offered what passed for my recipe---it just wouldn’t have been RIGHT somehow. I'd have just as soon said she'd look better with MY hairdo.

wiki photo

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


We’re still taking down the Christmas decorations.

Who all can say that? I claim busy, I claim a tee-ninecy helper whose little hands will handle oh-so-carefully, murmuring “careful, careful” as have the older Grands in their turn. I also claim lazy---the fact that I’ve sent up almost everything glittery and ribbony and tinsel-wise must surely absolve me of going up to remove all the upstairs swags and bows and wreaths and signs and trees---Oh, Heavens, the trees!

I finally counted EIGHT, in this little house, if you count the ficus littered with birds and coaster-sized lacy doilies AND the big huge vase filled with the same black gnarly limbs which held bats and pumpkin lights as short ago as Halloween. Those old limbs just went out the back door, tossed TOWARD a bit of lawn as I scrambled to get their grasping twiggy fingers loose from my clothes, hair, the shelf-curtain, and doorjamb, whilst holding open a forty-pound door and stepping ACROSS the dog bed, conveniently placed up there just now on the napkin-sized landing by Sweetpea, to give FuzzyPup advantage of the morning sunshine on his fur as he naps. Naps, I tell you---we should all have the advantage and faculty of falling asleep asprawl of wherever we are when our eyes close.

Those huge stiff old black twigs became a thing of beauty as they hung in the corner, with a dozen or so old-old kugels---the pale colors of the fragile bubbles, like pointy-ended ellipses, almost transparent with the wear-away of the silvery pinks and jades and teals of their long-ago inside-spray.

Pay no attention to the lax posture of this picture---I've tried rotating it in every direction, and it STILL lies right down and won't move, like a stubborn old dog. I've dealt with ONE of those this a.m. and not even my pride in doing a nice job here will entice me to coax an inanimate object more than once. So kinda tilt your head left and look, OK? I just wanted you to see the shape of those wonderful old ornaments, almost too ethereal to touch.

So far this morning, we’ve removed the stockings from all their heavy brass holders spelling P-E-A-C-E and N-O-E-L in the two sunniest windows, line danced a bit with Fifi and friends, “worked” the smallest Tinkerbell puzzle in the history of the Dollar Store, solved another problem regarding big rubber-soled shoes and the tight underpants inside a tutu, danced some more, gone out to feed the birds all the old dregs in the bottoms of cereal boxes, played Play Doh, stepped on quite a few Cootie legs and eyes, and had breakfast and a whole pot of coffee. Not necessarily in that order.

And so, the undecorating goes on. Slowly. And we always speak of the children's Aunt, who lived on the place near us---somewhere along between turkey and pie on Christmas Day, you could look out the window and see little drifting bits of silver---vagrant old foil icicles slipped their moorings on her tree, which she'd stripped of everything except those clingy little strands, and tossed out into the yard before she headed over for Christmas Dinner.

And while we bide our time to finish the packing away, we’ve unearthed a nice space for sitting with some new books.

Sounds just right to us. And YOU?
(Addendum five minutes after I posted---I went into the bathroom with Sweetpea before her nap, and noticed my hair in disarray. It was a goodly-sized two-pronged twig, which I suppose I've been wearing on my head like a little antler since the branch-tossing incident. There's nobody here but us chickens, but I DO feel a bit like Ignatius O'Reilly: "Have I been pushing this about?")
And I MUST have THAT TALK with Sweetpea---the one about "We ladies TELL each other things, like when our slip's showing or we have lipstick on our teeth."

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


Sis will be coming to visit sometime this month, we hope, and we're looking forward to having some of our good old chats and drink-two-pots mornings where we sit there in our jammies til the clock strikes Lunch.

She's done a wonderful research into our family's genealogy, even going to Salt Lake City to that biggest-trove-of-info-in-the-country for a week and barricading herself with files and wills and pictures and transcripts and TREES. We have boxes and boxes of pictures of our own, from both sides, though not nearly as many from Daddy's side. What there are of his go back only to those more recent Kodak moments of sepia or black-and-white, with folks squinting into the sun as a long shadow reaches from camera to their feet. Most of those little rectangles have a tiny black-and-white checkery border, and lots in the boxes attest their having been ripped from their life-in-scrapbooks, for many corners still bear the tiny pointed black ears of the wee stick-on brackets which affixed many a picture to a blotter-black page.

We're into doing a lot of picture-identifying, and I wish previous generations had done so. We've been writing names on the back of all the pics we can identify. I wish also that everybody with boxes and albums and framed pictures---I'm talkin' even that great huge family portrait from 1888 that's in the flaky old frame over the mantel, and might collapse in your hands if you take it apart---I WISH you'd write the names on the back of your pictures, or at least on a piece of paper adhered to the picture. Or even stuck in an envelope WITH the picture.

We marvel at the facial expressions, the clothes, the fading draperies and tattered flowers of the stage-set of the early photos, and also think that perhaps this might be the only picture of those people that there is. In this day when our Grands have developed a permanent flinch-and-blink when Ganner approaches with the camera, and our own archives of holidays and vacations and just plain Tuesday have reached thousands in number---it's sad that our forebears in their one fading black-and-white, struck still and motionless by the gravity and the luxury of the thing, are fading as people, as well, for after our generation---who will know their names?

We delight in our own Mammaw's family---they of the ten siblings and widowed Mother, whose little family band, in those days before the TVA reached their hills and hollers, would oblige with a good old twangy gospel number or version of Redwing or Wildwood Flower for whoever called up over the party line. And in one picture, our dear, rotund, ladylike Mammaw herself---who never owned a pair of trousers in her life, is perhaps twenty---tall and slim and mysterious with her equally-dark and soignee' sister, both attired in gentlemen's pin-stripe suits and peeking seductively from beneath tilted fedoras.

And we still laugh at each other on the phone---we came across one old photo two trips ago that was an old-timey postcard, with a couple pictured on the front, as they so often had pictures made in those days (90's--10's or so) The message on the back of the couple's picture (and I grant you they WERE very stiff and formal, but I DO think the writer meant for the demise to have happened long AFTER the photo session), read: "Mrs. Cordelia Martin and Mr. Luther Martin. Mr. Luther Martin is dead."

We just hee-haw at that one, and of course, the obvious comment is "Don't he look Nachrul!" which sends us off into further unseemly brays.

Y'all! Go write some names on some PITCHERS!!! Your descendants will thank you.

Monday, January 3, 2011


It's THE MONDAY. The one we've been expecting---the one which stretched far, far away into a nebulous future time after the decorating, after the cooking and the scent of sugar bubbling through the house, after the dinners and gatherings and presents and good times and moments of spiritual goodness and the coming back to the REAL of life.

And here it is. I was glad to see it, for Sweetpea is back after what seems like a month. She has tales to tell, of going to see Tangled and of visits all round to relatives and friends, of lunches out and parties and church, and we've been in non-stop chatter all morning. She and her Daddy and her Ganner gathered at the breakfast table for scrambled egg sandwiches and juice and coffee, and each sampled one of the cupcakes she and her Mommy made yesterday---neat little muffins with sprinkles-all-through and repeated all across the impossibly-green frosting. Delicious, and much praise to the cook.

And so, in this one moment that she's scampered upstairs to say "Good Morning," to Caro, I'm just chiming in to link a fun site you might enjoy. Those of you who like visiting here for the Southern stuff, the Mammaw stuff, the idioms and the strange words and the remembrances of the South---you'll LOVE this writer. She's a marvelous teller of tales, rememberer of things, and one of the best put-it-on-paper people I know, though I don't KNOW her, so to speak.

I've just admired from afar the wit and the turn of phrase and the silly and the absolute, and though she could be my daughter, I'd still like to be her when I grow up. Even her name (which may or may not be her own) bespeaks the convoluted Southern mannerism of bestowing the most endearing, strange names upon people, especially little girls. And I love her name---if it's hers, it's sublime, and if she chose it or made it up---she's spot on.

This one post is from last July, one I happened upon just doodling along the airwaves last night, and it's just so RIGHT and so REAL, of the childhood of a Southern child, especially one with TWO Mammaws, as we both had. The little naughty wit and the true-life observations make for a glorious read, and if you like my own piddly little observations on the Southern take on things, you won't be able to get enough of  Bellwether Vance
Like me, you'll want to take all the posts in great, greedy gulps, and after you've read them all, you won't be able to wait for the next. Go see. Consider it a gift.