Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Peach was probably the precursor and progenitor of a plethora of present-day Purse Pups.  (Oh, My. Too much caffeine).

My Aunt Lo was a trend-setter---in more ways than a few.  In these days of purse-poodles and Chihuahuas riding around in handbags with the price tags of  SUVs, I think of her dog Peach when I see an inquisitive little face peeking out of a purse.


Some folks take it a bit far, with all the frills and furbelows and smugglings-in and those innocent  “What noise?” questions to airline stewards and hotel clerks.   The pup-jewelry alone would serve to deck chorus-lines the world over, and the jacket-and-beret sets in size 000 are the envy of Barbies far and wide.  I swear, some of the little fellas reflect their owners’  ennui, and it’s a certainty that  perfectly-cooked salmon and breast-of-chicken are sent back on their tiny Limoge, if Fido shows a sign of disdain.


Bruiser was a cutie, and Elle the perfect Cocker-Mom, and those dogs are being cared for better than they dared dream.   Why, my OWN Lady Mother carried around a fledgling Banty Rooster in her apron pocket every day for months, for fear he’d get under our feet and be harmed.  (My sister’s childhood pet, raised in the house---a long story told in a former post).


But Aunt Lo carried that pup around in a big ole purse until she walked crooked from so much weight on one side.  She’d come staggering up the porch steps, draggin’ the bag, her little pumps straining for the next step, while that sweet little golden face looked out enthusiastically.   And when Peach saw Mammaw, she’d do such energetic squirming that Aunt Lo would fairly have to drop purse, dog and all, to keep from sprawling on the floor. 



 Peach was a gorgeous little dog right from the start, with silky long champagne hair sweeping the floor from coat and tail by the time she was a few months old.   She eventually wore her ears atop her head, the long trailing hair caught up in barrettes, for she kept stepping on them and tripping herself.


Peach later graduated to a leash---but not just ANY leash.   Most of the leashes had a cover made-to-match Aunt Lo’s outfit.    She’d save a bit of the material from every good dress she made, cutting a long strip of the fabric and sewing it together lengthwise.  Then she’d take a huge safety pin and run it through to turn the tube inside out, then hem the ends.    Every time she washed and ironed her clothes or sent them to the dry cleaner, she included the matching strip, and when she hung the garments away, the strip went around the neck of the hanger to keep the matches together.   Once she even cut a big slice off the bottom of the jacket of a “bought” outfit, shortening it almost into bolero length, just to make that fancy cover.


Down over the leash went the cover-of-the-day, plumped out in little poufs like a pinafored chandelier chain, and the two ladies were ready to step out, even for a trip to the grocery store---which, in their case, meant spending the afternoon, for the only real store in town was Aunt Lou’s, and the three sisters had a visit in the little front heater-space every day except Sundays.


  Well, Aunt Lo and Mammaw did, for Aunt Lou was the dashabout, running to reach down this and get that and slice some steaks or a “nickel worfa bloney.”  Her visiting was limited to stopping long enough for two puffs off a Chesterfield as she vaguely tried to catch up with the conversation, then off she’d go, her quick steps responding to that little jingly-bell over the door.


And little Peach would sit at those two ladies’ feet or nearest the stove, receiving guests for the whole afternoon.   She lived a wonderful life as an only dog, pampered and petted and treated with more love and care than I believe ANY of her court-bred ancestors ever knew.  They might have sat on embroidered cushions, being carried around in ornate silky sleeves, but Peach traveled in STYLE.  



Thursday, September 20, 2012


There are dishes in the sink, scattered across counter, stove, ice-machine, and they've been in residence for several days.   This cool sunshine has just ebbed all my want-tos for housework---can you have Spring Fever on the cusp of Fall?

I've always said there was nothing I liked more than making a home, but I'm not doing a very good job of it lately.

AND, since Google has informed me that I've overflowed my Picture Quota for now, I'll just be content with words for a day or two.  (When have I ever been DISCONTENTED with them, you ask).
So, in honor of the homekeeping I'm NOT doing today, this is a little re-run of a former post, when I must have been in a dusting/sweeping/polishing mode.

I am the Keeper of a Nest. I just read that concept, in those four little words, on Dear Daisy Cottage, and it was just as if I saw our home and my role in it in a slightly different way. I’ve been pondering that new idea---an idea as old as old can be, from the first fur-huddled families coping with the dark and cold in whatever sheltering cave they could lay bloody claim to.

In the great ages since then, this nesting thing has grown and grown; wars have been fought, and territories seized; lives have been staked and lost; castles and hovels and sheds have all been refuges from the same dark and cold.

And we, the Keepers, have padded these nests with the comforts we could afford or find or make or, in earlier, bleaker times, wrest from weaker nesters. As long as the WE of us were taken care of, the driving, surviving force in us left others outside our own fold to fend for themselves. Cloth and feathers for easing our rest, and chink-mud to keep out the elements; a floor and walls and the thatching for the rain; pots to cook in, water to drink, water to bathe----everything encountered, I think, was looked at as a measure to improve the comfort and well-being of the family.


I try to think of the heart and mind of the first nester to pick a flower, take it into the abode, and place it in a vessel formerly used only for practical purposes. And when that first blossom went into that first humble cup, something in the world clicked into a different place. We saw that our hands could create and provide not only comfort and necessities, but something beautiful, no matter how small or hard-won. I think it's part of our nature to crave something pretty to enhance our worlds.

I think of my own forebears---especially those women of the Scottish Highlands. The centuries of deprivation and hunger and cold, the waiting for the men’s return from battle, the dread of loss, of starvation, of eking out that last scatter of oats or mutton-fat into a meager bowl for their families. That sharp, chilling wind and the sparse landscape, with nothing between it and their clan but their own courage and work. How they must have waited and wept, with hope fragile as life, and despair as their daily bread. And what WAS beautiful in their lives? Did they just stand looking at the sunrises and sunsets, or the hills with their fleeting purple haze?

We went to see; we rode and walked those hills of the Highlands, and the great spaces and crags and rust-hued rocky expanses are still there, looming and forbidding, their only claim to beauty the blush of purplish heather in the Spring, the enormous majesty of their scope, and perhaps the necklaces of the stone fences and crofts, laced upon the hillsides to mark their territory, like pearls strung on a map.


And I thought deeply of those Grand-Dams of mine, those centuries-back female ancestors, whose lives were grim and sere---I could see them woad-smeared and wielding weapons, as easily as I could imagine their tending their smoky fires and nursing babies too soon gone. I hope they had the solace and uplift of something pretty---a polished stone, a braid of grass, a bird egg hand-cradled miles home, just for its curve of glorious color---and I hope they felt the great accomplishment of adding to the life of their family, not just their survival. 

The other side of me came from other parts of the British isles, told in the “Nutmegs” post last year. And Heaven knows, when my ancestor came over/was transported BECAUSE of those nutmegs, the things back in Ireland and England weren’t much to write home about, either, for folks of our working class.

So I suppose that yearning for a home, for a comfortable place to live and raise children, is so ingrained in my genes that I love being home, putting little touches, finding little additions, prinking with a curtain, a bit of lace, an old brooch which would look nice on a totted-up lampshade---those are certainly not talents, but needs, I think.

I NEED to make a nest, to feather it well for me and mine, to add and subtract (the subtracting part becomes more difficult with the addition of each year) and to make it comfortable and warm and welcoming. And whether our nests are the neat rounds of redbirds, with smooth straw and feathers for warmth, or the mud-daubed hammock-roosts of swallows, or the thatchy, gewgaw-frantic piles of magpie gleanings, the lost pull-tabs and gum wrappers arranged into their own wee versions of tatty yards with an old Maytag and a rusting Ford sprawled about---they are OURS, with our mark upon them.

So, we choose our own nests, and we build them to fit the fabric and the taste and the tenor of our lives.


Friday, September 14, 2012


Mammaw WROTE to people.  She’d take out her big ole black Parker, fat as a cigar, grab one of her half-sized tablets off the dining room buffet, and sit right down to discourse as personal as over teacups.   There was always a “Dear . . .” as greeting, even in those to her constant correspondents, the Burpee and Park and Gurney seed companies, whose letter-headed replies were as warm and newsy as the small pages of her two-o’clock cursive.    She had her own little rustic 84 Charing Cross Road going on for years, with plants instead of books.


She might have been an Austen lady at her escritoire answering the Morning Post, as she sat at that old kitchen table (in early days before the “new house,” in close proximity to the spot where she’d just had her daily bath in the #2 galvanized tub brought in from the nail on the porch---water drawn from the one big spigot over the kitchen sink and heated in the same BIG tea-kittle which had just scalded the noon-day dinner dishes).

And despite the fact that we were on the same phone exchange and talked to each other daily, we WROTE.  Our letters criss-crossed for years, as my jottings of the night before, pen and paper laid aside just as I switched off the lamp, were mailed in the morning to be in her hands before suppertime. And her own to me, with descriptions of her garden from peas to petunias in colorful detail, with who stopped by and admired, who came to ask for some cuttings, whose daughter was getting married next month and had come by to speak for several dozen pink for bouquets and boutoneers.
She tended her roses like she tended the big rows of beans and tomatoes and all those wonderful, colorful peppers and hills of squash.   Her hoe was as much a part of her life as her glasses and The Commercial Appeal, I think---the hoe handle satined as her rolling pin, and the blade thinned from years of lap-whetting to less than the width of her butcher knife.   Her small push-plow received similar sharpening before and after every planting-time, and I can see her cleaving that thing through the soft earth like a boat through a lake, turning back furrows in that dirt so enriched by all those years of carefully-seasoned chicken manure (she called it maloster, and I’ve never heard the word before or since).  The rock-picking and Fall-cleaning and straw-strewing of her patch of ground were rituals as carefully tended as beloved pets.
A great part of her conversation was of her gardens, and thus her letters were filled with descriptions of everything from blossoms to bugs (the time she hung a big ole tomato worm up on the fence with a loop of Coats & Clarks as a lesson to other invaders is family legend).
What Mammaw called her p.m. letter was waiting for me in the morning, and my letter-of-the-night-before reached her in the three-o’clock mailsack.  Our two small towns were close, and hers being the smaller, they received their post through ours.   I’ve no doubt Miss Doris would have brought me a cake in the backseat of her dusty old Ford, had Mammaw handed it to her, and she frequently arrived with a sack of tomatoes or some just-shelled butterbeans, with her own bag of garden goodies for her trouble.
In Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory, he wrote of his Aunt Sook, whose Christmas fruitcakes seemed the culmination of her work year---she’d save up for the citron, hoard the flour and sugar, pick up her own pecans, and she sent the fragrant packages to people of note---for years, one reached the White House every Christmas, with a lovely note from Mrs. Roosevelt in return.
Mammaw’s own reaching-out to her far-away correspondents was limited to letters, and the occasional nice lagniappe of some special seeds or shoots or bulbs from one company or the other, and she spoke of them as of family.   “I got a nice letter from Park,” she’d mention.   “They said they’d be putting out the new pink floribunda this Spring.”  Burpee said my Mawve Dahlias were the biggest anybody’s ever sent in,” (she’d laid a dollar on the table for the picture to illustrate the size).
Mammaw always said she “lived by the clock and the calendar,” and I think Mail-Time punctuated her days as pleasantly as a gift.  There are a few of her letters in a drawer here behind me, the last of those long-ago days of putting down thoughts in our own hand.
And possibly, if I lifted an envelope or two and upended them gently over the tablecloth, a dusty thought of long-ago seeds might come drifting out.

Sunday, September 9, 2012


The immense storm which swept through on Friday absolutely soaked great parts of the battered old downstairs carpet and gave us a fun three hours or so of standing on our heads shop-vacuuming up the rivers and rivulets pouring through one old wall and dashing across the floor.   There are two little hummy vacs, little Teletubby NooNoos, just alike, and I manned the frenzy of vacuuming up the water as it flowed across the floor like nobody's business.  It didn't just soak in---it had a shine on top, with the surface tension meniscus heaped like the quiver on a spoon. Each tank filled in no time, and Chris was doing a hustle of his own, popping off tops, interchanging the hose to the next tank, emptying the contents, and hardly keeping up with the amount going in.
It was hot, sweaty work, backbreaking until he scooted a big chair behind my knees, and that helped for a long while.   And I must have looked a sight, in ratty old T and shorts, rubber clogs squishing inside and out, and I-can't-remember-when sweat running down my face.  I thought SURELY at my age, I must have graduated to GLOW by now.
Later, I caught on to sitting in the little desk swivel, pedaling backward like Grandpa Lapp in WITNESS, as the trail of "dry" incised the wet, then scooching forward to do another row.   Wow.    What a MESS!
About midnight (and forty gallons later), I consulted Caro:  We had company coming Tuesday for a few days, thus needed all the produce, and had lots of goodies for company---anything else would keep.   We hadn't even baked a cake yet, and if the outside was as soggy as inside, how would we ever set out those tables and chairs across the lawn AND, if it rained again, where would we GO inside?    So we called everyone yesterday a.m., postponing our little gathering for now.
And here I sit, with the blast of one big industrial fan and two regular, aimed at strategic spots on the floor, a gallon jug and spray bottle of disinfectant/good-smelling stuff at hand, and a brand new 16-gallon shop vac standing attention with the two small guys.
And WAY later, after it was "all over but the shoutin'," Chris turned to me and asked, "When I went upstairs for the other vacuum, did I REALLY run past Caro without my pants on?"
But we DID pick up the cakes.   THE CAKES.   With STRING even!!   How nostalgic is that?
Great anticipation, with a deep inhale of the vanilla perfume, then the treasure revealed:
 Perfection and delight and all those good things---I was in too much hurry to get out the doilies:

We may have been "done out" of our party for now, but as my Dear Mammaw used to say, "By Jingoes, there's CAKE!"

Thursday, September 6, 2012


An air of Preparation in the house---of just-washed china and glass all covered with a big flipped-on tablecloth, and that getting-down-to-the-wire sense of will there be enough time and where did I store the trifle bowl?

No time to write nor remain---much to do, so I'm doing a little re-run of one of my favorite things:  Individual Iced Cakes, which are the dessert I most wanted for this birthday.    And they're PINK,   so I'm linking them to Beverly's Pink Saturday.     Just saying the words is special: 

Oh, the anticipation as the tiny smitch of Scotch tape was slit from its small closing, the crackle of the fluted paper as the lid was lifted from the bakery box, unmistakable waft of the vanilla-something scent of faintly-cooked sugar fondant---that’s an unforgettable little ritual, bespeaking a really fancy occasion. I can almost feel the crackly folds of a scratchy party-dress---the only proper attire to befit such a regal dessert.

The bakery in the big-town-two-over was a wonderland of lovely scents and fairy-colors---the windowfull of wedding cakes with their swoops of pink swaggings and the perfectly-formed pale roses grew stiff and forlorn in that Delta sun, but the allure and the awe never ceased. And to call and order up “Three dozen individual iced cakes,”---well, that was the rallying-cry for nothing less than the very best tablecloth, the never-used smallest forks from the silverware chest, and the borrow of Aunt Ninna's four-piece epergne.

Just calling in the order was a thrill---I remember my First Time, giving the directions to the clerk for several dozen, the exact pink of the rosebuds atop, and a pickup-time down to the quarter-hour. I could just smell them over the phone.

Other shopping was got out of the way early, and the import of pulling into that parking spot in front of Stowe’s was akin to arriving on the red carpet. The width of the box itself was impressive, with just a little sag to the center from the weight of cake and fondant. Three books-brought-from-home aligned in the far-back dip of the backseat to balance the contents, and super-careful driving so as to need no quick braking, we made our way home. A birthday cake from there was a must, but these little jewelbox creations---they were the next-best-fairythings to those immense sugar Easter eggs with the peekhole to tiny tableaux which I coveted with every longing of a girly-girl’s heart.

The party itself---a shower, an afternoon tea, a visit from the Exalted Grand Matron to the far-flung flock---that was an Occasion. The silver-polishing, the punchcup-borrowing, the napkin-pressing---having been delegated those make-work tasks for several years, I think I could have taken a post at Windsor when I was twelve.

It was a special time that no other kind of gathering promised---you wore those nylon stiffnesses, those white gloves, the one-pink-flower straw hat, and it was lovely.

Chicken salad was de rigueur, either in tiny crustless sandwiches or puff shells. A silver chafing dish of Chicken a la King with a silver basket of teensy thumb-pressed piecrust patty-shells alongside, some daintily-cut cucumber somethings with the bread pillow-stitched around the outsides, some toasted pecans, a slender silver compote of Richardson’s Butter Mints for most occasions, or made-to-match from the bakery for REALLY SPECIAL, and one of the favored punches of the day in the big frosty bowl—those were expected and arranged with the pomp and solemnity of setting out the Lord’s Supper set on Fourth Sunday morning.

The silver cakestand or wide repousse' tray, doilied within an inch of its life, with the small rustly-papered dainty cakes set just so in precise ranks, as the newspaper reported time and time again, “completed the table appointments.”    I don’t know precisely what the allure of those things was---the small size, the how-did-they-do-that smooth shining fondant, the coveted pink frosting rosebud that tasted better than any candy in the Kingdom, the melty flavor of a vanilla fondant and tender white cake contrasted to the hearty yellow layers and homemade frostings of our own kitchen---there was just something about the magic of those small decorated rectangles that no macaron from Laduree’ nor even standing in the storybook realms of Pierre Herme’ could outshine in enchantment.

I didn't want to eat 'em. I didn't want anybody to eat 'em. It was enough that they just BE. They went beyond the ideal of cake and into sweet jewelry. I just wanted them to languish there in that box, available for an open-and-sigh, and didn't care that they would shrink into tiny patterns of themselves, like yellowed old ivory dominoes. They could have stayed forever, like Miss Havisham's wedding cake.

And it was years before they began to be called petits fours, and hostesses were quick to mention the appearance of Peddy-Fours on their party table. Even the French appellation, re-constructed into local dialect, did not do them justice. The sheer rarity of such august occasions as to warrant such frivolous fare, when you could make up a whole batch of cupcakes yourself---the luxury of the thing was a great part of the charm.

Those small bits of cake and frosting were so special that they defined the import of an occasion, like Black Tie on an invitation conjures élan. And they still do, in my memory. Right now, just thinking of them, or seeing a tray in a picture---I can just smell that enticing scent and feel that scratchy dress.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


R. I. P. Michael Clarke Duncan

If you'd never been anybody but John Coffey, that  would have been enough.