Saturday, July 30, 2011

'MATER SANDWICHES

Well, at last.    ‘Tis the SEASON---the time of the singing of birds is come, and some big old ruby-juice tomatoes were hanging heavy on the vine.

Last night was another of the Don’t Heat The Kitchen nights, and a lovely supper it  was:   Tomato Sandwiches, Hoop Cheese from Alabama, and some of the pounds and pounds of green peanuts which Chris has  been simmering in the upstairs crock-pot and bagging for the freezer this week.

After a VERY active day on Friday, I put some bacon in the microwave and headed for the shower while Chris peeled and sliced the tomatoes.

I cut some Hoop Cheese into sticks (we treat this stuff like GOLD, for we can’t find this kind any nearer home).    The little dark coloration is just a shadow:



My sandwich was tomato and some English cucumber on 12-Grain bread---just the thing such a Southern Anglophile would crave:


Chris likes lots of tomato and a BIG slather of mayo (Dukes, from several quarts brought back from his trip).



His are true over-the-sink sandwiches:

His Plate:




 A little snacking-bowl of boiled peanuts:




The Perfect Southern Summer Supper---Tomato Sandwiches, Bacon, Hoop Cheese and Boiled Peanuts:


Thursday, July 28, 2011

THE LITTLE YELLOW HOUSE

And here is the story of The Little Yellow House, from my Dear Cousin Maggie, of the wonderful words, the sweet, sweet spirit, the exquisite garden, and the lovely, lovely life.

A rosemary bed interspersed with basil, lavender and multicolored zinnias lines the porch front.  We watch the sunrise and smell the scent of fresh baked scones bursting with blueberries to be painted with cream and sugar and eaten with cheese scribbled with honey, and some sun-kissed figs. We sit sipping coffee and telling our stories.

I will bike to the town square and open my little bookstore and knitting shop around midmorning. The sitting and chatting and loving each other is the first and most important part of our days.


The old worn stone pathway leads from the back door to the
kitchen garden where we gather hands full of herbs, baby field greens, yellow and orange tomatoes, tiny carrots, and pencil thin asparagus for shared meals.

The fresh laundered cloth gives off a faint lavender perfume as it is spread atop the farm table.   A vase of old garden roses sits amongst the just lit candles. The room is filled with the laughter of friends and kinfolk and little ones, and all will be blessed.  And all will be blessed.



We will sit on the porch in the evening and watch the rosy leavings of the sun. This pink-washed peace is for all of us. How I wish I could give away a piece of these days like loafs of warm bread.

As the day draws to a close, we kneel together and bow in adoration with thanksgiving, praying---O Lord, support us all the day long, until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed.   Then in Thy mercy, grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest.        Amen.

Always together at last light, we will hold hands and hug and grow young together in this place.





Wednesday, July 27, 2011

COUSIN MAGGIE




I had a lovely e-mail this past weekend, from my Dear Cousin Maggie:

Well, as my MewMaw used to say--"this is a fine howdy do".  I've been sitting over here daydreaming-- unable to concentrate much on work.  We've been back and forth to Jackson for several week-ends now helping one of my Treasures (Hubby Fernando’s aunt) move her things from her house in Jackson.  She's been living with the other aunt in Paxton for over a year now and has just recently sold her house in Jackson.

And so I've spent a few week-ends in Paxton staying with the older Treasure (90+ years young) while Hubby helped box and pack things in Jackson.  Paxton is the tiny town where he grew up; where folks still drop by for coffee and sit a spell, where sidewalks lead to the town square with art shops and antiques, a little book store, and a big old Courthouse; where folks still leave a basket of tomatoes on your back porch and bring over peach pies for sharing.   It seems rather like heaven to me---these sidewalks and big front porches---these visits and love shared.  I've never lived in a town that small where everybody knows your name.  I'm sure it must have its downfalls; but, in the meantime, I've dreamed up a life there.

I'm attaching a little daydream of mine---about a Yellow House.

Hope you like the little story.

Love you as many as the sands by the sea
Maggie

(And attached was a two-page, beautiful story about their life in the Yellow House.   I hope to publish it one day this week).
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
My reply:

Oh, Sweetpea!!!   That just takes my heart!!  I cannot tell you how sweet and inspiring this is!!!

I just love this story---it is magical and loving and romantic and would appeal to the cooks and the gardeners and anybody who loves a sweet moment in time.   I hope you'll let me print it as is, and let my friends see what a sweetie I'm KIN TO!!!   It's just what I need right now---it's just so hot and dry and ugly outside.

Do think about letting me print this on the blog!!

Love tall and wide,
rachel

****************************************************************************************************************
And in return, on Sunday:

Hi darlin,

So glad you liked my little yellow house story.  Living in the suburbs of a larger city where neighbors never come outside just makes me long for a different life.  I'm not sure I want to grow much older living without folks coming over for the first cup or dropping by a bag of tomatoes and sitting a spell.  It's just too lonesome--this life here.  Of course, Fernando is my very best friend and best I could ever dream or hope for but every time I go to Paxton, I want the sidewalk neighborhood where everybody knows your name.  How was living where you grew up?  Was it the dreams I dream of small town living?

I sent all the little pictures for the story over in separate e-mails.  I am just sooooo challenged when it comes to computer things and didn't know how to send all at the same time.  Well, you know me, I still like the old Underwood typewriter.

Have dough rising on the back porch for tomorrow's bread, and pickle juice boiling for puttin up sweet pickles.  Orange, yellow, and red tomatoes ripening on the back porch also.  It's that busy, busy time of year again.

So good, to hear from you, as always.  

 And, of course, you can use the story.  I'm delighted you liked it.

Do love you as sweet as the gallons of sugar I've put in these pickles.
Maggie
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

From me to Maggie on Monday:

I can just SMELL those pickles!!!   That was the sweetest letter (no pun intended), for I could smell the scents and feel the kitchen heat, and just the aura of a loaf rising out on the porch---I cannot imagine a better morning.

That was just the dearest story---I've read and re-read, and when Chris gets home tomorrow, I'll have him get all the pictures sized and put in my album so I can use them on the blog.   You think YOU'RE Underwood---I still have my slate and chalk!

It's 82 today, It's Eighty-Two to-DAY!!   Now you'll be singing the Howdy Doody song to yourself all day.

Sweetpea and her Mama and Daddy picked me up for lunch yesterday, and we went to The Jello Store---a nice cafeteria with long rows of shining, colorful cubes on the salad bar.  We both had RED---mine with peaches in it.   We came out to a spatter of rain---first since June, I think, and it really came down for a while---don't know, but I hope it rained all night.   Haven't been out yet.

I'm looking forward to using your sweet story---I love your writing style and your dear way with words---the love just shines through.    And parts of our e-mails would go beautifully in the post, as well, if you don't mind if I work them in.

much, much sweet love to you all, like bubbles in yeast,

r
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

And from Maggie, yesterday:

WHAT A DAY!!!  This has been just an awful day.  I fell asleep on the couch with the ballpoint pen in my head (just carry it around either in the back ponytail or behind the ear all day long) and woke up with the couch just covered in circles and circles of black ink.  And the worst thing is that I haven't had the couch very long.  Everyone said try hairspray and I sprayed and blotted and re-blotted for what seemed like an eternity and the ink just sat there.   

And the raccoon came in the screen porch sometime in the middle of the night and took bites out of my tomatoes sitting out there ripening. When Fernando came downstairs, I was standing at the kitchen sink weeping and told him about my big ole mess and he said it wasn't anything that important.  It was just a thing that could be replaced and please don't cry anymore.  I was still upset and said that so many things had gone wrong already this morning that if the bread on the back porch didn't rise, it would just be the life of me.

 He laughed and said----
"THE BREAD DIDN'T RISE.  HERE SHE LIES."  And that set me off to laughing so hard, the tears fell from sheer laughter.

And the Lord looked down and said, "Isn't it good.  Isn't it very good to be married to someone who acts so Christlike.  So full of grace?"  And I said, "Yes Lord, it is indeed very good."

Well the bread did rise and I'm still alive (ha).  But I do need me a whole day of lying around just reading before I do any more damage.

Do love you so
Maggie 

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

What an EPITAPH!!!   No wonder you "died" laughing!!

LOVE,
r
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

And so, when Chris has a moment to catch his breath from all the catching-up after five days away, will come the Story of the Yellow House, from my Dear, Dear Cousin Maggie.

Photo by finecooking

Monday, July 25, 2011

SOMETHING KEWL


  
Last Summer when we re-did Caro’s bathroom upstairs, I didn’t know until it was installed that she had picked a toilet seat with the spiffy little built-in child seat.     Sweetpea’s room is up there near the bathroom, and since she’s pretty well learned the niceties of personal things, this has been a really handy contraption.

If you click on the picture above a couple of times, you can see the neat folding spot where the lid lifts, and there’s another one just beneath, on the tiny child-seat.  Another click up, and there’s the regular one.
  It’s just so convenient and comfortable, so I thought I’d mention it to any Grandparents or Parents out there who have been contending with the little drop-in seats which take WAY more work and cleaning and time.   Since I so recently heard of this, I’d imagine there are others who might still be lifting Tinkerbell or Donald Duck from their spots over near the extra supply of toilet paper, waiting for the result, and giving them a thorough Sani-wiping before replacing them back down there next to the brush and plunger.   I know I’d be interested in such a new-fangled, neat, time-saving convenience.    It's nice to see a child just run off, tend to things, wash her hands and return happily to her play (even without the formerly-requisite round of applause from anyone else in the house).

 Besides, it’s SO darn cute.



Saturday, July 23, 2011

GOOD INTENTIONS

Chris is traveling for a few days to the coast; he will tesseract the heat waves from here to there, hardly knowing the oven of Alabama from this furnace called Home.     He’s all packed; various bags and grips and satchels holding equally-various things stand propped on edges of tables and lying on chairs and ottoman.   There are stacks of cool clothes, in the bags, with piled extras for the changing in the damp heat; there are toiletries and spares and medicines, machines and music and a Sunday outfit for church with his Mama.

This time, I made only a cake---all the usual Things in Dishes seem fated to a dismal droop in such heat, and not even Coleman and hourly-ice could keep them safe in this blasting, hovering  cone.  
These are the usuals, from a former trip: 



 Cake is safe and cool for now in its heavy baking pan, lid snapped tight over the pretty frosting, but it will have to be coddled with air-vents and covered for insulation during rest stops and meals on the road.

I’ll probably make some of my own Things in Dishes for such a lengthy just-me-time, but they will not remotely approach a stove, for there will be no egg salad, no potato salad, no fanciful pastas with all the crisp green vegetables.     There are two packs of extra-sharp Kraft---those tee-ninecy thread-shreds, as well as a bright jewelly jar of pimiento, a smooth-hipped little jar of Durkee’s, and some marvelous Worchester Pepper, which gives the tang and the nip, but not the brown color, to Paminna Cheese.



Right now, I’m just whiling away the morning, sitting in the almost dark of drawn curtains and lights turned off, but I hope to stash away a couple of cans of rinsed Pintos with salsa:

or black beans, with minced peppers and onions, corn, tomatoes, cilantro and lime: 





A bag of frozen whole-kernel, just thawed and not quite as watery as canned, to be mixed with minced red peppers, green onions, maybe a little homemade sweet pickle, in a Splenda-and-cider-vinegar marinade.


A big crisp apple, to put with pale thin clear pickles into the chopper-bowl, coming out fine and ready to be stirred with the finely-minced celery and several well-drained cans of Chicken of the Sea water-pack, with just a thought of powdered sugar in the Blue Plate.

A bowl of what my Mother always called TRASH, and is labeled Summer Salad up here---chopped cucumber, onion, various colored peppers, halved grape tomatoes, tossed in a simple vinegar-and-salt brine, and snugged in the fridge to mingle all the wonderful flavors, and to make a FABULOUS cup or so of juice, for the Last Serving.    That special bit and all the little bits of vegetables left in the bowl will be tossed with a few toasted croutons of heavy bread or even better:  cubes of  crispy cornbread edges, for a fantastic countrified version of panzanella---even allowing for the “bread” translation, I sometimes think of this as a “black-skilletzanella.”

Cornbread version---kinda smushed up like Chris likes it, with just a touch of Blue Plate:




There’s always bulgur for Tabbouleh, though the mowers scalped most of the mint.   A quick boil of the electric kettle, a pour over the little sandy shards of wheat, cover with a tight stretch of Saran til cool.   The tiny grains become plump and chewy, like small bits of al dente pasta, ready to absorb the lemon and olive oil, and the flavors from the tiny cool cubes of cucumber and onion, the shower of refreshing parsley and mint, into a  perfect Summer dish.  


You can lay on grilled or sautéed shrimp or chicken for a platter you could set down for royalty.   Sitting around a communal platter of such an age-old dish completes a history somehow, of the what-you-had and the basic, simple food of our Befores.   

I think every small town in our area of the South had several Mid-Eastern families, some of whom had restaurants, so we grew up on tabbouleh and kibbeh and dolmas and other good dishes which soon began to be included in the  BM/D Church Cookbooks. 

And Perhaps, just perhaps, when Caro’s gone to work and I can sneak upstairs into her kitchen with the good ceiling vent, I might brave the steam for a quick pot of pasta, for a delicious, long-keeping Asian noodle salad with soy, sesame oil, and garlic and Turbinado, and long carrots shredded to match:





AND, from a fond memory of  Dear Johnny Cash: whatever you Do Dah, DO DAH, I wish everybody in the world could spend July with THESE:    Cool in one tight, juicy, golden globe.   

This was written on Thursday, when the house was just still and quiet, and I had such vast intentions.

I didn't do any of that.    I made one good-sized dish of Tuna salad, and every now and then, I get out the pack of rice cakes, or the box of Premiums, or maybe make a sandwich with 12-grain bread.

I haven't touched a single closet, store-room, pantry shelf---I think my Good Intentions have all melted.  

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

COOLER TIMES


 I'm thinking back to cooler times, for I have NOT been cooking much lately.    Somewhere in the photo archives were these lunch pictures from about four years ago.   I'm not at all gifted at "Tablescapes" but sometimes my Pastel Phase of Life gets the better of me.

A cool, cool Spring salad with Lime Vinaigrette:
Chris' wonderful ham-just-off-the-grill, with the unaccustomed fancifying of score marks and a Praline Rub:


Steamed Asparagus with boiled eggs, lemon, and that great 1-2-3-Blender Hollandaise. 


Devilled eggs , Corn Confetti Salad and a dish of plums, oranges, grapes and strawberries---in background are Sweet Potato Casserole and Broccoli/ Cauliflower Salad.    That tee-ninecy glimpse up in the top right corner is a black skillet of baked field corn, cut and put in the freezer the previous Summer, and just baked to a crusty, creamy perfection. 

Chris' plate---he's very fond of that lemony Hollandaise:


Coconut Cake with jar-dyed pink coconut;   the huge sweet candied shreds are from an Asian Market and had the texture of gummi-worms.   (It's  how you LOOK that counts????)   
Strawberry Bombe, with vanilla ice cream center and the attentions of an almost-empty Redi-Whip can---like a lot of us, almost exhausted, but still game to try. 
That was then, this is now---if that lunch were today, there would have been no egg-boiling, no asparagus-steaming, no cake-or-casserole baking, none of that scrumptious baked corn.   We'd have had a nice salad plate with greens, Confetti Corn, and the ham off the grill.   Sounds good to me.

Hope you're all keeping cool as you can!!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

JUST COULDN'T READ THEM



This list is mostly a matter of taste,  but the books all either met with much acclaim and/or were from authors I've enjoyed and admired, and were certainly a let-down.   I think disappointed would mostly be more apt than dissatisfied.


Koontz, always a favorite, must oddly enough claim one of the threeWORST of all time ---Winter Moon.   Dull and contrived, Gross and YUKKY.   Tossed it and pushed the coffee grounds right down on top. 

Joseph Heller’s Something Happened---nothing did.   Blah-Blah-Blah, in every sense.   Tossed

The Lovely Bones   Alice Sebold       After months of hoopla and hurrah, I gave in and tried this one.    I simply could not get more than thirty pages into it, not all of which had to do with subject matter.   I skipped along a bit, encountered one of those “I know he killed someone; he might hear me, he might GET me, but I’m sneaking into his house alone, anyway,with nobody knowing where I AM” mentalities which have been done to down-the-dark-stairs-with-a-candle death.    I gave up and returned it to the libary as soon as possible.     Just couldn’t do it.   (Nor the movie).   

Mailer’s Ancient Evenings        Yawn, and EEEEW.   Almost tossed, but it was a huge hardback, so I gave it to the library.  Just not my taste. 


Any book by Ayn Rand---I can forgive and stick with Ponderous, but Pompous makes even ME throw books.   

Gone with the Wind falls on neither list.   It has scope and breadth, but surely Mrs. Mitchell didn’t mean to write such a sweeping, touching, grand novel about so many ninnies.   I cannot think why she’d portray chivalrous, valiant men and brave women as such simpering fools.    How did she expect them to find their shoes, let alone fight a WAR, with such expectations and mannerisms?   And on the MEN---those silly simperings and  rich folks' awww shucks, ma'am groveling-for-attention-from-Scarlett should have sent her scurrying her hoopskirts up the nearest tree.

Rhett, Melanie, Mammy, Belle Watling and Ellen O'Hara seemed to be the only sensible ones in the lot, most of the time, and the latter two rated so little page-time as to be mere glimpses.

If she patterned any of the characters on real people, I can only hope that it was but the upper-class, plantation-owning social set which could succumb to such affectations---No WAY did any of my Southern-for-two-and-a-half-centuries, callus-handed, hard-working, humble forebears ever simper, lady OR gentleman.    I promise.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

FAVORITE BOOKS

East  of Eden---the Old Testament according to Steinbeck---I think of this as The Great American Novel, for sheer scope.



Tied for
First Place
with  To Kill A Mockingbird, whose untouchable perfection, unforgettable story, and a Hero for all time, put it in a class by itself.    Kind of like East of Eden gets the biggest Blue Ribbon, and To Kill A Mockingbird, the Purple Rosette.



Fried Green Tomatoes---and not just because of the two perfectly-rounded, interlocking stories portrayed in the movie.   Between each chapter of the book is a little “newspaper column” for the local weekly, and the reporter, Dot Weems, is a perfect smalltown newshound, of the social/sensational/nondescript kind, with tiny snippets of news ranging from weddings and funerals, to “Idgie's getting up a carful to go to the picture show on Friday night, so call her if you want to go.”   I’ve known Dot  all my life, and she’s one of the most true-to-life characters ever written.    



A Woman of Substance    It was the first time I ever heard of Barbara Taylor Bradford, and the fat brown paperback was on the shelf at my library.   I wonder if I’d feel the same about it now, all these years later, for it was a rags-to-riches piece spanning a few decades (then continued in succeeding books, with the heroine as the Grandmother, but those just didn’t interest me, somehow---the rich young folks in impeccable clothes, designers mentioned prominently and often---smacked too much of the over-wardrobed folks on Soap operas, who lunch in Chanel, and wake up in lip gloss).    





The Rolling Years     From my high-school library---I re-read it every other year for decades.  It was also a follow-a-family of women down the years, and the people were sympathetic and of good character, with what I realize now were neatly-tied-up endings,  some bittersweet.



Winter’s Bone---Though a grim, desperate story, this is quite possibly the best putting-together-of-words in all my reading life. The craft and flow of the words is absolute genius, with gems of phrase on every page.    You can feel the cold and the pain and desperation of the questing; you walk the snow-path with bleeding feet, hear the begat line as if it were your own list of blood-kin.  You stand up to the fierce, pragmatic women doing the bidding of their implacable patriarch, smell the burnt gunpowder and the bitter-scent of squirrel guts as you hunt and clean your meager dinner, and come away with a smoky-shack, hard-life mountain twang to your inner voice.   

I have not the words for Woodrell’s words, and cannot tell you enough how impressed I am.   Who could ever forget Ree Dolly?




Watchers---Dean Koontz     THE shining star out of anything from the Koontz/King genres of the past decades.   Also the most appealing, absolutely BEST animal character EVER.   "Home is where the weenies are."


The Stand---we waited long and edgy for this one, and it delivered.   ( Though ONE character was taken---speech, life, and activities, straight out of Eudora Welty---I could just SEE Phoenix Jackson gathering that corn and baking those pies).


Understood Betsy and all the Maida Books.   Lovely little-girl books, with interesting adventures, kind friends, and loving families acquired along the way.  





The UN-favorites---perhaps another day.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

BORROWED WORDS





A few little jottings from my Journal of Kept Words:


Kelle Hampton, on a visit to relatives:

 . . . and slept five to a bed last night, with bodies of cousins overlapped like a nice lattice crust.
_________________________________________________

Chris, on a Senior Moment:
That’s what happens when your mind gets scattered.   (small
pause)   Scattered’s not so bad---it’s the covered and
smothered that gets you.     
______________________________________________
I’d tell you to go to Hell, but I work there, and I don’t
want to see you every day.   

A character in CROSS, by  James Patterson
__________________________________________________ 

The sweetest joy, the wildest woe is love. What the
world really needs is more love and less paperwork.  
Pearl Bailey    
_____________________________________
The Meaning of Life is to find your gift; the purpose of
Life is to give it away. 
Joy J. Golliver
____________________________________________

Me---I spend a lot of time pickin’ flowers up on
Choctaw Ridge
Ode to Billy Joe---Bobbie Gentry   
__________________________________________ 

Cary Tennis, on Blogging:
We are all pen pals.
We are all prisoners. We are all doing time. We are
all tapping on the walls late at night waiting for
answers from distant cells.
__________________________________________
And to all my fellow inmates of this lovely, bright,
multi-windowed place:  

Happy Weekend!

Friday, July 15, 2011

SAMSONITE

I know I’ve mentioned before that my Shopping Gene got left out at birth.   If not for a sale now and then in the Lane Bryant catalog, I wouldn’t have a rag to my name.    And a MALL---I wince when I write that word, for it affects me like it sounds---like PALL and MAUL and FALL and GALL---any of the rhymes which connote unpleasant things.

But last week, we took Sweetpea to a lovely little playground inside a m***.    It was huge, with a thick, rubber carpet, nice comfy benches all around, and several smooth, safe things to climb on and drive and slide down, with wonderful puzzles ranged all around the wall, just at child-height.

And sitting there in the cheerful small chaos of two dozen little ones, I caught a fleeting whiff of yesterday, something so unmistakably linked with other days, other travels, that I sucked in great gulps of the familiar scent, like I’d just emerged from an underwater swim.

That leather/plastic/powder/Woodhue/Coppertone scent was right THERE as I tried to soak it up, thinking I must be dozing off in the sunny comfort, the chatter of small voices, the after-lunch lethargy of a busy morning.    And in a few moments it was gone---perhaps wafted away down the hall in a mingling of perfumes, of the breaths of expensive stores, of ladies fresh from the Club and the Pool and the Spa.    It was all those things, and none, for it was a scent of ITSELF, from fifty years past.


It was the indescribable scent of the little square chunky SAMSONITE train case of my teens, with all the fresh shiny nylony lining in that perfect golden beige, and the pale buff mother-of-pearl outsides.    And, though my own train travels had been limited to riding from home to Memphis and back, just to shop for the day, “train case” it was---exotic and elegant and the Audrey Hepburn in my Jane Withers world. 

We had the whole set, and they were perfect for our family:   Mother and Daddy shared the BIG suitcase, I had the second size, Baby Sis’ little shorts and shirts and playsuits just fit in the smallest one.   




 Mother and I put all our toiletries, rollers, hairbrushes, suntan lotion, and any other small needs in the nice almost-cubical sturdy kit with the neat flip-up-lid-with-mirror.   


The arranging of the unyielding SQUARE rigidity of the luggage and the cases of canned goods always caused Daddy about a three-cuss packing of the trunk, along with the bags of groceries and toys and beach necessaries.   We always got a motel with a “kitchenette” in anticipation of getting enough crabs for a “boil,” for aside from the one big night that we went out for a seafood dinner, we ate almost all our meals in the motel.  

Then  the little train case and the games-and-colors-case for Sis in the backseat with us girls, most times with a case of Pride of Illinois corn beneath our feet, and off we went.


And I LOVED that little train case---I’d gently click the latches over and over, just to look in when it was filled, and sometimes I’d raise the lid just a fraction, just to lean down and smell that overwhelming scent of the extraordinary, the not everyday, the going-places.   There was a sweet aura of mystery to that clean, fresh, one-of-a-kind mingled scent which accumulated beneath that magical lid.  
 
Everything in its place, captured in the most cunning little shirred-garter things all around the sides, with the shining fabric clutching the long-ago fragrance of every item.


We pack now, in soft zippery bags which sling over a shoulder, contour to fit a trunk or beneath a plane seat, roll along neatly behind our quick airport strides, and it’s JUST NOT THE SAME.   They smell of poly-something, and nothing-in-particular, unless the Listerine got loose, or maybe the little purple flask of CROWN, with the accumulated odors of airport gates and passing strangers and stale coffee, and will never have the fleeting, scrumptious, faraway-place allure of that clunky, elegant old Samsonite.



Et Encore----tres chic, non?

Any elusive, illusive, evocatively  memorable scents which conjure, conjure?


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

PAXTON PEOPLE---THE MILAM SISTERS


Miss Eve and Miss Edna  Milam---whose invitations and most mail, unless an individually-addressed note, were addressed to The Misses Eve and Edna Milam---were two getting-there maiden ladies who kept cats.    They were the only people in Paxton with THE in front of their names, and the only nearby one was The Right Rev. at the Presbyterian in Expedia, the next-town-over.

The ladies and the myriad cats and one old lump of a dog lived over by the Methodist, in a small gray house with a little porch.   There were quite a few bird-feeders around their house for the amusement of the cats, and the ladies had had Havlon Bright in to bump all the windowsills a foot out into the room and stretch indoor/outdoor carpet on the boards, so that all their kitties would have ringside seats to all the activity out in the yard.   On any day of the year, a group of little faces were aimed at the bird-centers, and at twilight, the still silhouettes outlined against the lamplight of that tall thin house with the two little chimneys caused many of the town’s young folk to call it The Halloween House.

Miss Eve was tallish, a spare, lank woman in print  shirtwaist dresses cinched with a matching belt and nearly-always-matching shoes.   She’d always leant toward pretty wedge-heels, and had a pair of canvas ones in almost every color she could find.   She knew her looks were nothing to boast, but she was proud of her beautiful shoes.  On most other women, the bright canvas shoes would have connoted a snap of gum and big chunky plastic earrings, but shoes were her only vanity.


Though she had not a flirtatious bone in her body, she had a way of sliding her feet way forward under her big metal desk at the Mayor’s office, so that her peep-toes would, indeed, peep out just a little bit in their neat charm.  But lately, the sevens she’d always bought seemed a bit snug and tottery, and she was veering into unknown, frightening territory---squarish lower heels, size 8½. 

    Her iron-gray perm waved to the left, for she was left-handed, just as her sister’s stiff, lighter-gray shingle-bob waved off her face to the right, and both ladies’ oyster-blue eyes gazed gently out at the world through thick glasses framed in clear pink plastic.

 
School Secretary through four principals and more than three decades of pupils, Miss Edna was a shorter, stockier woman, with no apparent vanities at all---given to solid colors in dark jumpers and pinaforish garb, for her own job entailed dealing with countless small hands and notes-from-home and excuse-pads and mimeograph drums and handfuls of go-show-the-principal-what-you-brought-to-school-THIS-MINUTE, Young-Man!.   And her own shoes---she seemed to have gone straight from little hard-soled Buster Browns to the big-heeled lace-ups favored by nuns and nurses. 

 Miss Edna could be glimpsed out in the yard every day at 5:40 a.m. and almost the same time of the evening, standing patiently looking cloud-ward with her back discreetly to the street, her glasses smeared and her dress creased into a gentle wedgie, as  she waited for the chunky old dog to do her business.

The two ladies were ladies in the sense of decorum and modesty---they referred to “limbs” and “powder rooms” and “expecting,” even in their own conversations at home, and were equally modest in even their bedtime baths and robings.   They never sat in the living room in their night-attire, but changed into loose, comfortable smocks as soon as they got home from work, and wore them through Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy and on into the evening til the clock chimed nine.   

After nine, there were only the hour-long dramas, mostly unfit for good folks to watch, so that was it for the day.   (There WAS that year that the premiere of Rich Man, Poor Man came on for the first chapter at eight o’clock, and they were hooked.   The mere TIME of it made it watchable, and even with the shocking moments, they enjoyed it immensely.   They followed it to the end, and when the teenage Nick Nolte held his dying mother and murmured "I've got cha," they both fished in their pockets for their hankies and sobbed quietly.

 Miss Eve was the Town Clerk, sending out the Water Bills, balancing the books, and collecting the wadded dollars from the procession of folk filing through on the First and the Third, when their checks arrived.    Her modest salary and their modest needs coincided nicely, and Miss Edna’s School Check was equally sparing. Their small existence, with that houseful of cats and their little church activities their only outlets, was pitied by all but the Banker.

Only he knew of the bonds and the Savings and most of all, the Serena Chase Scholarships, named for their late Mother, and benefiting students anonymously for thirty-some years, and then the good-sized Trust left to continue when they’d both passed on.   Miss Edna's daily proximity to all the students gave her a deep knowledge of which were the most deserving candidates for their help.   Not the best grades, nor the most activities, which seemed to be the criteria for all other awards, but which of the young people, by character and behavior and promise, deserved the impetus and the boost offered by the assistance.

 The house, reeking of CAT, was eventually sanitized and sold, and the money put into the Trust, with the cats parceled out to anybody that would take them.

There are almost two generations of young folks whose educations were mightily encouraged and enabled by those two quiet, unobtrusive ladies, and not until that new young woman at the bank meddled where she shouldn’t be and let it slip at the beauty shop, did anyone learn of it.

I’ve read that it’s one of life’s niceties to do something good in secret, and be found out by accident.