Tuesday, January 31, 2012

CHAPTER II---AUNT MEGGIE'S FAMILY




Daddy’s next-in-line sister Aunt Meggie had a less fortunate life than the other two girls---her husband did not have such a prosperous occupation, and they moved often.    She was a pretty blonde woman, with the dark family brow and eyes, but faded young, with a hardening of her features with each succeeding year.  I remember her in drab white short-shorts and those sleeveless cotton blouses that button down the front, with an ever-present Kool grasped in her yellowing fingers.    Her nails showed an effort, but not upkeep, with chipped red  polish, and indeed, I don’t know how she found time to do any sort of grooming at all, with that great riot of five children always underfoot.  



Bonnie Gail was the oldest, perhaps three years older than me, and helped out with the four younger---all fists-and-elbows boys, barefoot and bursting through life in  great leaps and shouts.   She was blonde like her mother, and slender-strong, with wiry muscles like her brothers, and a great laugh.   I remember her and Aunt Meg, all three of us cross-legged on my bed, all doing our nails, (very odd for me, for I’ve never, ever been of that communal-grooming bent).   There was one other time when Bonnie Gail and I and all the Memphis girl cousins went out into Aunt Billie’s yard and stripped the head off nearly every aster and dahlia on the bushes in order for all of us to make great coronets around each others’ updos, with the boys going off into jibing hilarity at our unwieldy crowns, and offering to “water our heads” before the day was out.

  

  The family once moved from out-in-the-country into a tiny house---perhaps four rooms--- in a neighbor's back yard less than a block from us.   The place was of a type called a “servant-house” by several of the folks in town, whose maids and yard-men had lived on the place in memory, but the small dwellings were then mostly junk-houses for cast-off furniture and lawnmowers.


I can remember going over  to visit the kids on occasion, and as my Mammaw used to say---“they lived all OVER that house.”    What little furniture they had crowded the rooms, and with five children and both adults at home---I STILL can’t imagine how they moved around, let alone where they all slept.   Bonnie Gail offered to make fudge when I visited one afternoon, for they DID have sugar and cocoa and a can of Pet milk, and I ran home for a stick of Parkay. 


I know it was Wintertime, for we all crammed into the tiny kitchen as she lit the stove, and stood sniffing our hearts’ content of the enticing scents, as the mixture began to boil and send out the unequalled redolence of simmering sweet chocolate.   I washed my hands and greased the waiting platter with a tiny pat of the oleo, and since there was only cold water to the sink, I well remember the vain scrubbing as I held my hands back under the faucet, trying to scrub and scrape off that clinging grease, so as not to smear it off onto the only clean dishrag I could see.



The platter was an old white crockery one like everybody had, kind of oval, with slightly pointed ends, and we all held our breaths as Bonnie Gail dropped a little drip of the syrup into a cup of cold water.  That was  the test for READY, and we sighed as we watched the first two tries dissolve and float away like wispy dreams.   And when we saw the third try forming the requisite soft ball, I think we all cheered, as she poured that thick panful onto the tray.   The tiniest hairline of a yellow oleo moat  formed and edged the spreading pool, and somehow, the flow stopped magically just at the brimming rim of the plate.





I don’t know if anybody got burned by their impatience, for I fully remember Bonnie Gail holding back the boys' grabbing hands by shouldering them away---I can still hear the scruffle of her shoe soles across that kitchen floor as she evaded their pushing by pushing back---and I don’t think the stuff had time to cool and set up, for those grubby fingers barely waited til the knife made the first cuts.   They scooped up and pulled stretches and blew on their fingers, making  those indrawn sss-sss-sss cooling sounds as they gobbled up the candy.   I think it was one of my first exposures to a “grab what you can get” episode, and I can remember a little tingle of shock to see them almost fighting over the treat.

And I did get to taste a tiny crumb, after she loudly reminded them of their manners---it was sweet and rich and still warm, but already going to that wonderful old-fashioned sugary texture that happened about two times out of three with that old recipe.   I'm so glad that it WAS that way---the authentic kids-in-the-kitchen, slightly off-kilter goodness that's probably much better in memory than in actuality.    For that moment, it recalls as perfect.



I have no idea why this small time made such an impression on me---I was probably about ten, and had been making candy and cakes for a long time already.   It was just the interest and the avid waiting, and the impromptu delight of creating something so unexpected on a dull day, in a house without books or games or television, and where a great part of the entertainment was punching each other in the arm or wrestling across the floor.     I had such a great sympathy for Bonnie Gail, to have to live a girl’s life in that rowdy roil of boys---they weren’t BAD, but the suffocating energy and tide of preposterone in that little house were overwhelming---no wonder she married young and moved on.   





And all those boys---all of them grew up to be kind, hard-working men, dedicated husbands and fathers.  I hope they remember the sweetness most of all.


Saturday, January 28, 2012

OTHER SIDE OF THE FOREST, PART I

AUNT CILLA AND UNCLE JED


Daddy’s sister AUNT CILLA was a Classy, charming, good-natured woman---a true-life shorter version of Wallis Simpson  in appearance, with her smart clothes and center-parted, wing-turned black hair, like the lady in this picture.





(internet photos, to show the hairstyle that I remember)
 She smelled pleasantly of Chanel and Chesterfields, longer-than-Mother-and-Daddy’s Kools, which she cinched into a tiny white holder to keep her immaculately-manicured hands isolated from the dread yellow-finger which afflicted confirmed smokers.


Perhaps it’s all the sepia and black-and-white Kodak moments captured in the big black-paged scrapbooks, but I see
her always in Forties fashions---the twill skirts and neat peplumed jackets, the shoulder-pad dresses of expensive fabrics unsuited to our Southern climate, all purchased at Goldsmith’s and Lowenstein’s in Memphis, or at Marshall Field on one of their frequent trips to Chicago.


Whereas my Mother made most of her own dresses, in cottons and piques and one spectacular dark-brown dotted-Swiss, Aunt Cilla mostly wore suits---slim skirts or neatly-fitted trousers with pale silky blouses, with chunky, striking costume jewelry, and always with a pin or brooch on the jacket lapels.  Or sometimes, she'd perch a little jewelly bird or dragon or frog up on her shoulder, looking out at the world.  She was the only woman I’d ever known who came to breakfast in a hostessy-gown, with real little mules-with-feathers on her tiny feet.  We teased her and another aunt that they must shop in the children’s shoe departments, though all those smart little ankle-strap peeptoes and wedges belied that source. 

She was also the only woman I knew who put on stockings in the morning when she wasn’t going anywhere.    She’d straighten up, bend, lick her finger, reach for the seam, and give it a perfect tug into alignment several times during the day.   She’d bathe and dress in the morning---getting into an outfit we’d save for church or for going shopping in one of the stores you felt you had to DRESS for---just to hang out with all of us, helping cook the noon dinner, or whiling away the afternoon with crochet or crosswords, as we all enjoyed each others’ company for several days.

 She was such a sweet woman, small and dark, with a natural tan shade to her skin, black hair and deep brown eyes, like her grandmother, who was part Cherokee-on-her-Mama's side.  She had a way of saying “SHHHHHooot!” in a deprecating whisper at any compliment, blowing a wisp of smoke skyward and smiling a bit, when we spoke of her lovely clothes, her ever- shining, intricately coifed hair, her marvelous cooking.



Uncle Jed of the crisp-creased pants, center-parted wings of hair of his own, and slow smile had a shy, diffident air and great kindness to all the nieces and nephews.  He wore the same smooth kinds of clothing as made up most of Aunt Cilla’s wardrobe, just as neatly and with equal flair.

There was a certain gesture made by all men in those days, lost somewhere in the succeeding decades of jeans and bell-bottoms and double-knits, in which the gentleman backed up to the sofa or chair, made a small finger-and-thumb pinch of his front trouser crease with each hand just where the waist-pleats met the neat crease down the leg, and gave a gentle upward tug, which brought enough of the fabric up free so that the bend of the knee would not knee-spring the cloth.

  (from internet) 

They’d drive up in their tiny Studebaker Starlite---a vivid green one, as I remember, almost the exact color of the peridot ring they gave me for my eleventh birthday---alighting in the front drive with the √©lan of a jet-set couple beneath a Monaco marquee.  She'd step out of the car, casually tossing a stole or scarf around her shoulder with a gloved hand, take take hold of her bandbox and purse, and prance her way up that gravel drive in those tiny high-heeled shoes, like Marilyn sashaying through the train-steam.

Her luggage was beyond covet, for it was a glowing golden-brown leather, all matched, down to the round hatbox into which she circled her three-fox neckpiece around the matching hat in Wintertime.  And long before my Samsonite Train Case, her own makeup case emitted an enchanting scent of good perfume, lovely powders and the special soaps scented with lavender and lime, enclosed in elegant wrappers printed in French. 

That moment of their arrival created Fairyland for me---for many years, I was an only child, and they, my occasional playmates---they were the most marvelous conversationalists and would sit right down and color or draw or cut out endless paper-dolls (some free-hand, with clothes to color and fit).

Some afternoons, I’d get out my embroidery hoop, as she and Mother got their crochet, and we’d talk the afternoon away with Guiding Light or Helen Trent on the old Stromberg-Carlson.    

Their own home was like a magazine spread---perfection in everything from the slender, graceful Chippendale in the living room, to their own bedroom, with the first-I’d-ever-seen-in-person twin beds.   Lucy and Ricky and other movie couples might have such an odd arrangement, but no bedroom of a friend’s parents or any other married couple EVER had aught but the double bedroom SUIT, with dresser and chiffarobe to match.And her CLOSET!!   It had different levels, with things hanging in compartments just the right size, and dozens-upon-dozens of the padded hangers I’d only dreamt of---pale satins holding suits and dresses and a whole sheaf of “dinner dresses” and evening gowns.

We always ate in their dining room, trying out new recipes she’d found in Redbook or Woman’s Day---such things as pineapple salads with cottage cheese and a cherry on top like a sundae, instead of the clop-of-Blue-Plate, pinch-of-Hoop-Cheese we made at home,  or Arabian Pork Chops, with their savory tomato sauce, exotically flavored with bay leaves and served in a chafing dish, and the big combination salad served from a matching set: huge wooden bowl, fork and spoon, and a smaller bowl at each place.  It was elegant and gracious, and probably the genesis of my own love of setting a pretty table, though I can remember distributing acorn caps and matching twigs onto a plank of mud-pies long before.

I know I’ve dwelt somehow on the fabric of them, of remembered textures and scents and the atmosphere that they seemed to carry with them.  They were not OF our world, mostly, but of a lovely other place, in which ladies dressed for the day, and shopped and lunched before it was a verb.  And there,  gentlemen did not go out clad in drab khakis or come home sweaty and begrimed from their labors.   They lived the only enchanted lives I knew---in a beautiful place of cool green rooms and muted colors and magical music, of an entire windowed room filled with cages holding bright parakeets and lovebirds and canaries, of evenings of quiet conversation and gentle murmurs of content.  I loved their presence and their perfection, and remember them always as beautifully dressed, pleasant and eternally kind---they WERE the fabric of my life---or at least the one I longed to live.

Friday, January 27, 2012

CASSEROLES AND COMFORT

 

 A cold, rain-turning-to-ice night like last night called for something from the oven like THIS.   Just the scent of the bubbly sauce and those toasty chip-crumbs lent a warmth and homeyness to the house, and just taking it out of the oven, strolling over to the counter and adding little dabs of kidney bean salad and tiny peas to the plate was almost like being guests .


I'm sorry to resort to OLD posts so often lately, but my ideas to talk about are thin on the ground.   Anything Southern anybody would like to hear/ask/talk about---maybe a recipe I've forgotten to include?   I'd welcome any suggestions, cause it's mostly the thinking-up that stalls me.   You KNOW how I can get going once there's a subject to elaborate on.


Customs?   Idioms?   Old times/new ones---food---places---people?


Any responses welcome.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A BIGGER HAMMER


We received one of these Peppermint Piggies from a friend, several Christmases ago.   It came in a lovely red-velvet bag, complete with a tiny silver hammer.   The enclosed little tag said that it was an old Christmas tradition, and the idea was to pass the Pig around the table after Christmas Dinner, and each person should shatter off a little shard of peppermint, for a sweet ending to the day.

So we did, and I think that year four of the GRANDS were here, as well as their parents, so we had errants bits and chips flying wildly past the centerpiece and tea glasses, with eager little fingers capturing bits and crumbs from the tablecloth and our shirt-fronts and their sister's hair.

Later, we put the little hammer up on the "old stuff" shelf, with spy-glasses and cameras and bits of our and other people's pasts.    Then Chris took to carrying it in his big black leather Dr. bag, with all his other computer and printer-fixing tools.

He's caused many a grin at worksites, when he'd meet a recalcitrant machine and finally flourish Little Hammer, give the machine an infinitesimal tap, and warn, "Don't make me go get a BIGGER hammer."

And we've CERTAINLY needed a big hammer lately---something has been causing a great glitch in the COMMENTS section, with lots of us trying to comment on each other's blogs, but having much trouble trying to sign on, or having to sign on numerous times, or just getting a blank white page, with no recourse but to go away unwritten and unsung.

I've not been able to SEE any comments on here for a couple of weeks,without going WAY round-about through the whole dashboard thing,  for clicking on the usual spot would shimmer the comment on the screen for a micro-second, long enough to see a tantalizing word or two, then jerk it away like a schoolyard bully with a little boy's hat.

And now, there's LIGHT in this tunnel, and I think the problem's solved, courtesy of my friend at PAINTORDIG.    She posted a solution on her own blog today, and it's worked like a charm, so far, just yielding up those friendly words and brightening my day considerable.

If you're having trouble from either communication front, sending or receiving, DO have a look and give it a try.

And Hooray for a BIGGER HAMMER!




Friday, January 20, 2012

FROST FOR THE TEA CAKES



No LAWN TEA in the immediate future, unless you like REAL FROST-ing on your Tea Cakes!!

This is the view way out back to the poor, denuded arbor---with the only green a hardy yucca which catches you unaware in Summer when you head for the herbs around the corner.   That thing came with the house (along with one Hosta, seven tulips---still coming up these fifteen years later---but barely blooming, lots of trees and bushes, and the Luck-bush).

We're headed out to pick up Sweetpea at school, and then for a late lunch, thence back home to transfer Christmas Canary to his new smaller home, which will fit upstairs so he can have lots of sunshine.    (When).    (If).

Stay well and warm, my Dearies---we're off to be the Wizard!


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

DID YOU EVER. . .

. . . .wish you hadn't seen something?


You know, I always loved the Miss America pageant---those glowing young ladies seemed set apart, somehow, with all their talents and their shining, beautiful faces and the glimmer of their unattainable gowns---it was a special evening that we looked forward to with envy and delight---we grubby children of the hot, dusty South.

I’ve been going way back into my childhood and teens, relating little snippets of life-as-I-knew it, the small hometown goings-on, the lessons and the activities and some of the customs which made up interests and manners and daily life of a little Southern town, and I was recently reminded that one of the most anticipated events of a year to us smalltown girls---and indeed, to all our families, for watching such a looked-forward-to program, like some of the big sporting events must be today, was that September Saturday when we’d all gather around our black-and-white Motorolas, avidly watching from first moment to last, as the Miss America contestants brought their best and brightest smiles and talents and all the pageantry of another time and place.

We’d talk about it for days ahead (and after), even sometimes gathering at each other's houses to make paper crowns and tiaras, ironing long swags of leftover ribbon or butcher paper for our “state sashes” and making sure to pin-curl our Halo-and-Tame tresses early in the day, so they’d be dried and brushed out into shining ‘dos to befit the grandeur of the occasion. 

   We’d watch and cheer, calling out our “winners,” and applauding as our favorites were moved forward again and again toward the finale.   Even our parents got into the spirit of things, for every household we knew set aside that Saturday night for a special viewing of that annual bit of beautiful---the best and the brightest from each state, with their ideals and their ambitions and eager ideas of how they’d better the world.

We cheered and wept as our own Mary Ann swept away the crown, and then the very next year, our Lynda Lee graciously accepted the title, as well.    Two years in a ROW---wow.   State pride reached a new high, and even license plates and billboards proclaimed “State of Beautiful Women.”   That last one was a little boastful, but we accepted it---the highway department had put those signs all over the place, after  all.   Mississippi had several more winners through the years.

And Mr. Bert Parks---the epitome of gentleman and perfect emcee---smart and witty and gracious, and when that lucky girl went floating down the runway, laden with crown and flowers and nerves and tears, big old satin sash flapping in the flashbulbs, the first mellow notes of “There she IZZZZ. . .” would send us all into happy swoons and dreams of what it must be like walking on air of our own.

Miss Wisconsin won again this year, some forty years after this clip, but THIS is how it should be.

Bert was replaced somewhere in the seventies, I remember, with an incongruous twinkle-of-the-moment, and somehow, it’s been all downhill from there.   The quality of the talent and the aspirations and purposes of all those bright young women hasn’t changed a whit, but whosoever is in CHARGE---what have they been THINKING?

They’ve taken an American staple, an event as anticipated as our birthdays, and somehow transformed it into some sort of deteriorating reality/sideshow that is but a fleeting echo of what it’s all about.   The hopeful ladies are the same, but the succession of vacuous second-rate showbiz faces and voices and dull remarks holding microphones has absolutely driven this wonderful tradition into a boring, embarrassing spectacle in the worst meaning of the word. 

I happened upon the latest edition on Saturday night, finding it late in the second hour, and just seeing the words on the index, “Miss America Pageant, 2012” kindled a little lift of the heart, a smile of remembrance, and a quick click of the remote. 

Is anybody familiar with the Southern term “Goat-ropin’?”  That’s a kind of generic encompass-all for the sort of activities and entertainment you wouldn’t be caught DEAD at, or a brouhaha of such puny proportions and bad planning, execution and manners as to make your Mammaw blush in the telling---nice people might GO to such, but only under duress, and even then, they’d never let on.

This “pageant” was the most pathetic descent from greatness I can remember in quite some while.   The lighting was atrocious, the “questions” were absolutely inane, and the talent, vibrant and impressive, was buried in a rush between “jump up and run onstage breathless when your name is called,” and the crushing news that “the NEXT name I call WON’T be performing---she’s been EEE-LIMMM-i-Nated!!”

All this announced by two of the most wooden announcers in the history of TV---the woman WON Dancing With the Stars, so I KNOW her feet must move, but above the neck---not a muscle.   Her immobile lips just might have curved into something of a smile whenever she thrust the mike into the faces of the unfortunates, asking over and over, “And how did YOU feel when you found you were out/eliminated/voted off the island?”

And some Brain Trust must have gotten together to think, ‘Let’s make this REAL!’ for they set all those waiting to perform/be cast out on long low sofas, and must have told them to “do something,” for one was doing splits to warm up, a tiny ballerina was en-pointe-ing her heart out---I swear, when the camera panned past once, a young lady in red had her head flung back, and was putting drops in her eyes!  I expected the next frame to catch some unwary contestant shrugging into her pantyhose.

People, it was AWFUL.   And not because I’m old enough to remember the Glory Days, of anticipation and preparation and Atlantic City and live music and BERT PARKS and such a feeling in the air.   This farce would have made the Gong Show look like Cirque de Soleil.  

I know this is quite a departure from my usual don't say anything mean stance, but this was such a travesty of a precious memory that it brings out my Ouiser side, and I ain’t as SWEET as I useta be.

And they DID play that age-old recording of Bert singing the theme song, and that was an uplifting moment, when the memories flooded back and it could have been 1959 again.   But Y'all, I’m tellin’ you---dear Bert Parks could have done the whole thing better, hosting solo, straight from his repose at Forest Lawn.

Friday, January 13, 2012

THE GLITCHESS

I again seem to be the Glitchess of all things Internet, and there's now something going on with the "comments" page---it will flash one tantalizing little glimpse, then go white-page in a most irritating fashion.

I have read the two which managed to conquer the obstacle course,  but I can get to them only through a circuitous route behind the scenes into the archives, and then I cannot answer from there.

I'm so sorry, and I pray you all not to give up entirely.    Your patience has been wonderfully gratifying and comforting, and I thank you all for everything.     Please don't give up---we feel like family, and I've SO missed you..

rachel

Thursday, January 12, 2012

#800 CATCHING CHEER



Sweetpea ran out of the school-doors again yesterday, like that Santa-day in December, only this time, it was into very cool dribs of rain; we did splash in a few parking-lot puddles, just because, but it was hoods-up all the way, and into the car in a hurry.  We headed again for her favorite place and had a lovely lunch of warm, savory chicken sandwiches and waffle-fries and slaw.



We sat near the glass of the climbing-area, and since the place was late-day deserted, she went into the playground alone.     Later I went in to sit on the bench inside, my back to the restaurant, but in a moment, the corner of my eye caught the impact of a customer’s entry into the front doors.  

As I turned to look, he was laughing a big hearty head-back laugh, unheard in my cocoon, but with enough body language to telegraph the infectious fun of it---it must have ricocheted around that tiled space like a handful of thrown BBs.



I was mostly seeing him outlined in profile, against the rainy-day light of all the windows around, and he must have caught a glimpse of me against my own panes, for he lifted both hands high and waved and grinned again.   Caught up in the moment, I raised both hands and waggled them back, as he laughed again and went toward the counter, greeting people at tables, and talking to all the counter-folks.



He was a big raucous rufous man---like Paul Bunyan come to life---tall and muscular and striding through the door in big wet boots, with a huge tweedy coat like  Barney Fife’s dream of Heaven.     Bristly, curly hair was a reddish-brown, and I swear, his beard even had that little forward-tilt at the bottom, like leaning back-into-a-Nor’Easter.



I turned back to Sweetpea and her little doings, and when I came out for a moment to say something to Chris, the scent of that rich coffee brewing on a cold day called me to the counter, so I got a large cup, with French Vanilla cream.    Getting back to our own table, I sat and sipped, not noticing for a moment that the man was sitting at the diagonal booth, with two big sandwiches, two coffees, and a big pile of mustard and ketchup and sauce packets.   He seemed to have a big appetite for everything and a capacity to match.



And people kept coming over to talk to him---each greeted with a big smile as he munched heartily and talked with equal enthusiasm.   Between visitors, he was writing on a long yellow pad, and I was hoping he was writing down such a pleasant afternoon, for I was mentally making notes as I sipped my coffee, waved at Sweetpea, chatted with Chris.



It’s been a long cold Winter already---twenty-three days of it, and more-time-than-that of an absolutely dry spell of anything to write, and no energy or inclination to try.     But an hour in a warm setting, with the cold drizzle outside, with good food and happy companions and such an energetic and genial presence lighting up the place---that’s a cheerer-upper, for sure, and just what I needed.

 And late in the night, the thought came to me that Chris, who is usually so cordial and chatty and striking up conversations with folks at all tables around us, never did say a word to him or even acknowledge the 
presence of that guy so loaded with charisma and welcome.  



 And now I wonder if I might have imagined him.    Either way, whosoever sent good thoughts and prayers and good feelings my way, or if he was a figment of YOUR imagination floated across the miles on my behalf,  I’m really glad to have had the impetus of that rowdy Viking’s warm personality and infectious bonhomie to get me back on track. 



 It’s really good to know that CHEER is catching, like a cold---that puts a much better slant on things, don’t you think?