Sunday, April 27, 2014


I used to “play for church.”   In all the eleven years of piano lessons and the laborious practicing which finally drove my parents to hire a man to come help Daddy move that huge old black Baldwin upright out of the living room and into my room with bed, dresser, chest-of-drawers, nightstand and desk, I managed only a passable rendition of a “recital piece” each Spring and Fall, plus about four, including STARDUST, for my Senior Recital.   And I could play the foot-patting old hymns, Broadman and Cokesbury from front to back.   There’s just something about that rhythm I could master, and so I was drafted, for many, many years.

We had a wonderful little choir, and we made good music.   But the Voice I Remember was not of our church, but a visitor who would come to services when she and her husband were back home to visit his parents.   She’d married the youngest Chisholm boy, and they lived down about Hattiesburg, coming back several times a year for family visits and other events.

Sometimes they’d get seated after I’d already sat and started the prelude, or maybe they’d come in while we were all still in the back getting ready.  Somehow I hardly ever knew Belinda was in the house, until that first hearty G chord of The Doxology, the great shuffle-to-their-feet of a hundred or so good people, and something magical would happen as they all sang the first “PRAISE GOD FROM WHOM . . .”  This divine golden sound would float above them from way in the back, singing the words a bit louder and more firmly than they, with the clear perfection of a priceless gift.

Glory Hallelujah, that girl could SING.  It was not operatic, in those great bursts of sound which seem barely reined in by the singer, with all the living power alive in the intricate runs and harmonics.

And it was way before all but maybe six female singers became so enamoured of that method called melisma---doesn’t that sound like some sort of disease, to be treated with sunbaths and raw egg cocktails and essential oils from the Age of Aquarius?  Indeed it IS a malaise of singers whose only volume is shout and who chew the mike and make agonized faces and run up and down twelve notes per syllable, dragging many a song around by its hair til it expires of embarrassment, disappearing from good society forever.

I cannot tell you how GOOD that voice was.   It was the purest, clearest sound I could imagine--- hitting every note like holding your hands in the air, then scribing a sphere to cup a cool, perfect rose.   Not a waver, not a tremor, as the notes sailed up pure and true, resounding through the tunnel of white rafters and seeming to echo gently from what would have been the back wall of the apse had we not been such “plain church,” with the baptistry carved in, and even its great drape of demure velvet failing to mute the purity.   

I want to tell it, and I don’t know how.   There was no strain in it, no reaching for notes beyond its range, nothing but pure and clear and since I was not looking in that direction, I could have sworn it had a colour to it---a vibrant, iridescent sort of liquescence, formed in the air and pouring over us.  You know how a June breeze feels, so sunny and warm and cool at the same time, blowing past your skin like water?   That’s what it felt like, that voice curled around our beings.  
I could almost hear the necks craning and the whispers amongst the pleasantly amazed congregation, as we sang on.   She took us higher and farther in song than I think any of us had ever been or have again.   I was once privileged to be invited to Miss Marguerite Piazza’s house, where we stood  gazing up the staircase at her as she led us in Christmas carols.   And this was equal to that, or better, for there were more of us, crowded into the companionable familiar place of our worship, and we knew all the words, singing our hearts out in the old hymns of our raising.
That remarkable voice took us off somewhere on another plane, to our best music and our best selves, I think. And it was another one of those occasions in life when there would be an intensity in the air, a hum that was not of voices, but was akin to standing beneath the engines of an airplane---a power not of ourselves, not harnessable, like the swinging, surging notes of that old piano to I'll Fly Away---gripping and carrying, so that all you could do was jump in and hang on til the tide rolled in and deposited you, breathless, on the damp sand.
I think of her often, especially now on Spring Sundays, and hope that she’s somewhere still sharing that enormous, magical gift.   What a marvel, and what a memory.      

Thursday, April 24, 2014


vintage photo etsy

Amongst our great collection of eccentrics and zanies and downright crazies the South seems to be assumed to have, our neighbor Mrs. P. was a mild, genteel version of a Character---a kinda beige presence in all that palette of Southern oddnesses---the bright reds and shrieky yellows, the frivolous, frantic chartreuses and hot pinks, the weepy silver-green-golds, and the moody, muddy browns.

She was a kind, generous-with-what-she-had woman, with a house made of two-boxcars side-by-side and covered with that fake sandy-brick siding.  

  She was never mean in her little stories of the doings about town, never spiteful in the repeating of local gossip, nor did she ever raise her voice that I remember, except when Mr. Shug got on Her Last Nerve by getting out of the Jeep too full of “alky” to get himself into the house. 

His progress across the yard was wavery in the best of times, for he had a little “inj’ry” somewhere down there, one that was not obvious save for his gait, but when he’d been off fishin’ with Hosie ‘n’em, well, the company he kept and the old Coleman cooler full of fish and Falstaff done him in.   He needed hep up the steps, as he’d shout toward Mrs. P., or her elderly Daddy-who-lived-with-them, or my Daddy, or even ME, were I the only one available. 

They were the parents of my dear much-older friend Hazel, who let me come in and watch her primp for a date, sitting on her bed in my dusty-butt shorts and bare feet, as she combed her shining perm and dotted a drop of Evening in Paris on my grubby wrist.

Her Daddy was just a little man, probably six inches shorter than his wife, and I was a sturdy little thing, round and strong-for-a-girl, fostered by my solitary-female status amongst about six blocks of elbows-and-shouts boys, whose lives were lived barefooted and up trees, in sword-fighting and galloping around on imaginary horses, being a cross amongst Robin Hood, Knights, and Gene Autry all at once. 

 And I did all that stuff, too, with my own bow-and-arrows and a thowin’-knife swiped from our kitchen along with a roll of black electrical wrappin’ tape from my Daddy’s workshop.   I wrapped that handle til it was balanced exactly right for the tip-held, flip-in-the-air true flight right into whatever I aimed at.   No tree, post, or clothesline pole escaped---every bit of wood in the neighbourhood looked as if it had been had at by a flock of woodpeckers.

And so, when I was the only prop available, I’d go support Mr. Shug up the back steps.   I’d try to hold my breath against the beery/fishy/sweaty smell of him as I held him upright sort of against my side, and my face turned WAY the other way, while one of us wrestled the screen-door past us. We’d do those little hobble-steps kinda like you’d do in a three-legged race, where the tied-together middle two of the legs were being dragged along by one person, and another leg by nobody at all.   I’d turn him loose at the kitchen sink and he’d hang onto the counter and make his way on in while I fled back out into the yard, gasping for fresh air.

But if Mrs. P. were the designated one, she’d grab him by the back of the belt with one sinewy arm, muscled as a farm-boy’s from all that yard work and wood-chopping and endless clothes-jooging and wringing in that big black pot. She’d hoist him like a puppet, as he sorta dandled his legs toward the steps, sagging and dragging.  Once, just once, I saw her really lose her temper, and I still remember the time-click of that moment, when she’d Just Had Enough.

One Saturday afternoon---I know it was Saturday, because she was sitting way back in the shade of her porch, and I on our back doorsteps, each with a fresh, just-delivered GRIT in our hands. I can still smell that fresh-print, faraway-vinegar tang of the newsprint, warm from the grimy bag shouldered by the GRIT Boy every Saturday, and delivered in exchange for the waiting dimes of the neighborhood.   Mr. Shug drove up and kind of swayed himself out the non-existent door of the Jeep onto the ground.   He hung on to things in the yard and made it over to the porch-post, then yelled out his usual hep-me-Ethel up-the-step.

I think I felt, more than heard or saw, the big sigh as she got up from the chair and came down to the ground to get him. 

Perhaps it WAS the smell of him or the repetition of the thing, like water wearing away a rock, or the heat and the day and her lot in life, all those young dreams vanished into THIS---I don’t know quite what---but she rolled up that GRIT longways and commenced to beating him about the head, while he began to dance drunkenly around the yard, fending off the swats.    I got so tickled by such a show from two adults I had to hide behind the dry flutter of my own GRIT---why, despite his boozy state, he was doing a pretty good Fred Astaire out there, and Ginger was getting in some really good smacks, herself. 

“You get yourself in that house RIGHT NOW,” she hissed, “’fore anybody SEEES You!!”    And she dragged him up and in, and out of sight of prying eyes. 

I suppose I didn’t count as anybody, having often been the dragger to his dragee, as it were, and part of the spectacle, myself, on occasion---a grubby little kid, sunburnt and barefooted in that tromped-down yard, trying to maneuver a drunk into the house for propriety’s sake. 

She was a good, plain cook, and I know that his fishing contributed a lot to their livelihood, for the few little crappie or perch that he brought in were their supper several days a week.   But he cleaned those fish out between our houses on a big old battered picnic table, and I know for sure that that malodorous old table, with the innards scraped off in a bucket and the scales skittered off into the grass with OUR hose, along with general scent of him as I held him up---I cannot abide any kind of fish or beer to this day.

Ah, the people, and the MOMENTS, that we remember.   And I never, EVER told my sweet, beautiful Hazel about any of it.

Vintage photo---ewillys

Tuesday, April 22, 2014



Our cucumber vines of past years.   I've been so enamored of the tee-ninecy baby English cukes at Sam's for munching, and the equally-lovely small Kirbys for quick pickles, our how-does-your-garden-grow? is mostly a thing of the past.

I just sliced four good-sized Kirbys into a small bowl for VERY quick pickles for Supper---it's just a splash of Champagne vinegar into the small flat Glad-Box, with about that much water, some salt, and a sprinkle of sugar to tame the vinegar a bit. Then crisp slices of cucumber in, with a couple of shakes upside-down during the afternoon to keep them all marinating as they chill.

We went to a family reunion last Spring, way up in the state, and it was not even our family---dear Cousins from Alabama stay with us for a few days on the way up and back as they travel to his old home town, and have asked Chris to photograph the festivities for the last couple of years. It's like stepping into the park pavilion at any reunion in any Southern state, despite the location's being up pert nigh to Michigan.

The ladies all did themselves proud with all sorts of homemade goodies, potato salads and Summer salads and many a Corning Ware of baked beans and of Corn Souffle---that new standby that calls for an artery-clogging ingredients list of canned cream corn, cornbread mix, a cup of sour cream, a stick of butter, eggs, an additonal can, drained, of Mexicorn or whole kernel, and whatever little extras are usual to the cook---jalapenos or green onions or pimiento.

But one lady---Bless her Heart in the BEST way. She came in bearing a gallon jug clutched to her bosom, and indeed I'd have hugged it, too. I almost did, when I saw that it was at least a peck of cucumbers, sliced into a golden brine. I like that stuff every way it's made, so I lined up---I don't care if it's straight vinegar and salt, or a sugar-vinegar concoction, or some and all of both, with additions of most anything that will complement---garlic or dill or zingy bits of hot pepper. These were most likely LAST YEAR'S cucumbers, because it seemed like a LOT to make for one lunch if they were "bought" cucumbers, and they were appreciably slumpy, though not limp. They were the sorta goldy-green of the long-in-the-brine kind, but perhaps the boiling brine caused the color.

These are not mine, but look much like the ones from the reunion dinner.

They still had a lot of crisp left in them, and had been peeled so that they all had eight or ten little flat edges, like pale octagonal cogs in the jug. I could just see my Mammaw and me, sitting in the shade of her front porch, dishpans in our laps, peeling and slicing those same flat-sided little slices. And that's a paring-knife slice, the old way, the old Southern housewife's way, before Food TV and a knife for every occasion---no laying the cucumber on the board for a neat, quick chef's flurry. These were sliced with the same knife that pared the cucumber so flat, holding a cucumber in one hand and cutting from side to side with the other, as the blade slid to a perilous stop a hairsbreadth short of the vulnerable thumb. The knife was always a paring knife or the long-blade, multi-purpose beauty that serves to cut the Easter ham, the cornbread, or a sweating, chilled watermelon ready to thunk open and yield its heart.

And the pickles were wonderful. We'd all been asked to bring a serving spoon for whatever we brought to the lunch, and her odd choice was a gray plastic, bulbously-unwieldy soup ladle, which made getting into the jug a breeze, but getting OUT with a scoopful of bounty difficult, without sloshing the accompanying ladle of juice---the red plastic tablecloth sported a tidy little moat all round the container, and fruitflies were happily spending their little life-spans drowning themselves in an ecstasy of brine.

  I'd brought little plastic bowls to set alongside the big banana pudding I made, and so I took the greedy approach: I scooped two ladles of the delicious stuff into a bowl, all the better to share with my tablemates, of course. They were the perfect counterpoint to all that rich, starch-is-all food. And you don't eat them by the bite, taking dainty nibbles from the edges; you open wide and encompass that whole cool slice, getting sugary vinegary watery juices all down your chin, but the resulting mouthful of crisp and sweet and tangy is just too much to eat dainty.

And now, the ones in the fridge are calling my name.

Monday, April 21, 2014



This is the Easter card my Daddy sent to Mother while he was still away in WWII.   Since he came home in 1945, I surmise that it was the one he sent in 1944, making it seventy years old this year.


I try to think of that big strong man, gluing down those dainty posies (perhaps having cut them from another card or picture, maybe even one she’d sent to him), and getting the delicate lace of the paper doily cut and trimmed and set in to fit.   The tiny metal bar with the star was from one of the medals he received, and when I framed the card, I saw how hard it must have been to handle that small piece, even with my much-smaller fingers.


Even at that young age, I know his hands were callused and scarred and bent a bit from all the farm work and mechanic work that he’d done all his life.   He “worked on” airplanes, keeping the pilots and crew safe and air-worthy, and the imagining of laying down those tremendous responsibilities and sitting down to such a personal and tender moment is a precious thing to me.   Just the great scrubbings with LAVA soap, trying to get his end-of-day fingers clean enough to handle such a delicate bit of work is a lovely thought.  
 All the imagination and time that went into that one sweet offering, sent “back home” with his love and thoughts---I smile when I think of that bright young man, so talented with machines and cars and with a genius eye and hand for working with wood.  He began life with very little except a keen mind and hands willing to work, and he built a home and family and many, many houses and rooms and magnificent pieces of furniture which still stand a testament to those talented hands which bent so willingly to craft the dainty message for his sweetheart.



Friday, April 18, 2014


R. I. P.  Gabriel Garcia Marquez



 “It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.”  

 Sus palabras son un fuego vivo.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


Miss Mavis Meeker was a flappy-clothes, tall lank lady who loved gossip, and she could insert her beanpole self into the tiniest niches---for hiding and overhearing, or for barging in and asking.  It seemed as if carrying around all those rumors kept her thin as jogging, for she was the one who “sold out” from the Fund-Raiser Tea before scones, to get home to the phone when she heard that old Mr. Halliburton got caught retrieving his hearing aid from the back seat of a married lady’s car. 

She had a need-to-know like no one else in Paxton, and her curiosity grew with each year of her inquiring life.   She’d drive out through the country roads, looking and scanning and taking note of who had nice yards and who’d just had a dish installed and if the Covingtons' children were visiting.   She’d go through an unfamiliar place, and would turn around and come back down the road to see if she could see a name on the other side of a mailbox, frowning and getting a grump on her face if she didn’t, for she simply MUST know who lived where, even if she didn’t KNOW the who.

She traded in “good works” in her information quest, walking an apronful of tomatoes from her garden down the street to the house where a strange car had been parked for several days, trying to peer around the door when it was opened, to see if the Boyette girl had left her husband again and come back to stay with her Mama 'n'em.   If ever a stranger or anyone in law enforcement knocked on a neighbor’s door, she’d make sure she was outside with some little chore so that she could hear or see whatever happened, or she’d grab up a few flowers and take them innocently over just for an excuse to hang around.

She was the first to take a dish by the home of the bereaved, and also took pains to be the first to view a corpse.  She’d been known to wait outside the funeral home in her car til they opened the doors.  She’d stand right by the casket, looking her eyes full, and then  would circle the room like a name-dropper at a cocktail party, pronouncing how the departed looked---from Natchrul to Peekid to They Did All They Could, with a sly peek at the listeners for their reactions.   Closed casket funerals put her off kilter for a week, not being able to assess the make-up, or if they were wasted away, and all.

Being first at the house after the news spread of the death was important, so she could see “how they took it.”  Folks in town swore that  she had four cakes, two casseroles and a banana puddin’ on hand at all times---no WAY she could whip up a dish that fast. 


If Evelyn Couch, inquiring after Ont Vesta in the nursing home, were as nosy as all get-out, and a tee-nincey bit on the obnoxious side, she’d have sounded like Mavis Meeker. 

Miss Mavis would approach a lady, dozing in her wheelchair in the hall---the fact of the lady’s being in Golden Years had, in Mavis’s mind, conferred an immediate mantle of senility upon check-in.   She thought of them all as having been “committed,” as one would have been to Whitfield, the moment they left their own abodes to live at “The Home.”
But she visited them just the same, thinking that if any geriatric mind-mishap might have dampened their filters, she could just ask anything about anybody, and they’d give her the answer.   If they remembered it.   Like where DID the Finch girl go that time when she left school to travel Europe with her Aunt, or who WAS it that Harliss McIntire was with up at Clarksdale that time Mac shot the tires out on her Cadillac? 

She’d arrive at Golden Years, look up and down the halls for a likely victim, and home in.   She wasn’t above going right in a door where someone was sleeping, making herself at home, and rustling about a bit to wake the unwary soul, and had no qualms about asking prying, pointed questions.  Until Miss Martha Bridger, that is, who had never had much of a filter to start with, and had taught sixth grade boys for enough years to inure her to any inquiry, expletive, observation, or gesture.   
“Miss Marthy!!” Mavis trumpeted, apparently also convinced that passing eighty rendered her victim deaf, “Do ye know who Aaah ayum?”

A long, testy no-nonsense teacher-look from Miss Martha, and a little complete-circle-like-clock-hands of her tight-pursed lips before she spoke.

“AA’ve known ye all yeh lahfe, Mavis, and ye habm’t improved.”

Monday, April 14, 2014



The TREE lost a great limb this week, with the weight of the ice and snow in the past months bending it past bearing.   One morning we woke to see the huge branch hanging from way up high, dangling implausibly from what looked to be a four-inch-wide strip of bark---tee-nincy faraway twig-tips just twirling against the garage roof far below.


And so we had to have the limb down, with several other roof-scrapers removed in the process, leaving a gap between limbs and house.   That should make the patio sunnier than usual for while, until all the green fills in.


I spend a while every day, looking up into that gigantic, magical tree, which was one of the reasons we bought the house.


There’s just something about Spring up here---in the South, I was accustomed to an EARLY Spring---even in February, leaves and flowers were showing their little efforts, gently coming into their own as the sun altered course and warmed them each day. The plants were rather meditative, I thought, with a way of taking their time, swelling and growing and just soaking up life from the ground and the sun.

A whole lush Summer of bloom and leaf stretched out, with a long-lasting Fall to keep their course, and the bearing season was full and rich and long.

Up here, things seem to KNOW that the time will be short, and they just sort of JUMP out of the ground, seeking the warmth and growing like mad. One day, a glance at our own small circumscribed horizon around the yard reveals drab, sere sticks with a far-view reaching through the angles.

Next day, the pale tint of green is a shadow on everything, and suddenly, leaves are shusshing and the little ears are budding out and it's all making a dash for its life, to absorb and swell and grow before the too-soon cold comes.

And I think the burst of this Indiana Spring can be seen almost in fast-motion---even more rewarding, as it's nearly like fluttering the pages of a picture-book, to see the images change color and form, with the little dog running through the gate and home.

And standing with my neck cricked far-far back, looking up into the universe of this great tree---that's like looking way far through a telescope into a world not traveled yet.


PS at 10:30 p.m.   Speaking of telescopes, we were hoping to watch the eclipse tonight, but the cloud cover is much too dense.    And then there’s that pesky SNOW.


Tuesday, April 8, 2014



A couple of years ago, when Beverly of PINK SATURDAY and I were having our “decade” birthdays, she suggested that I wear pink pedal pushers to my party, for old times’ sake.   I thought then of some ladies who wore those exact pants, when they were in fashion and I was in my teens.   They were a wonderful bunch of teachers, who lived "at Mrs. Woods'" when I was growing up.   I thought many thoughts over the years of how it might have been in that house of seven women, day after day---their gentle voices and small chores and comfortable friendship.  They're a continuing set of chapters in PAXTON PEOPLE, and are composites of many folks I've known, even if only in my imagination.


Each of the residents was accorded her place, her time to wake and contemplate and move into the day, as they came down in their dusters and hairnets, into the quiet calm of Saturday morning.   A few were already up and out, dressed in casual weekend pedal pushers and blouse or a culotte and cardigan, descending the stairs in a muted burst of energy and waft of Emeraude or Wind Song.   Reaching for a cup and slipping a quick piece of Wonder bread into the toaster, or choosing a piece of fruit from the ever-supplied wooden bowl in the pass-through, they made a hasty breakfast, and were off to the library, to Keene’s for nylons, to Breedlove’s for some engraved note-cards, or on any other errands proscribed by the clock during the school week.


Others took the morning as they found it, surrounding the breakfast table in the sunroom like colorful birds as they gathered in their kimonos and robes and caftans, gently rustling the paper and sharing bits of news over coffee and the teapot, and letting time move without them.   Miss Jones boiled an egg, Miss Omar made a ham-and-mustard sandwich, little Miss Hester ate her cornflakes with bananas on top. Arithmetic and verbs had no place here, and the demands of the classroom days slipped from them like shrugged-away coats.


Mornings were mostly for errands; afternoons, for little chores.   A neatly-typed schedule hung on the wall beside the washing machine, with a good leeway for two loads; everyone knew exactly when it was rightfully WHOSE, and there was scrupulous adherence to the buzzer, getting that load of clothes into the dryer or out so the next person could have her turn.  But the laundry and the hair shampooing times were flexible, with those who opted for a lazy morning at home getting a head start on one or the other, out of turn and who cared.


One of the two conveniently-ample water heaters served kitchen, laundry and Mrs. Woods’ downstairs bath, with the other three bathrooms supplied by the second.   And so several processes could be in progress at once, with everyone comfortably supplied as the day went on.   Such a scent of Halo and Conti and Luster-Crème filled the house on Saturdays, along with Duz and Tide and Faultless Starch, and rollers and pins and head-scarves were the dress of the day.  



Then there was all the hair-rolling, usually done each-in-her-own-room, with each one emerging in scarves or hairnets covering a skullcap of tiny white rosettes of cigarette paper secured by bobby pins, or a mosaic of small silver clips, and others resembling cloth helmets---the size depending on the diameter of the rollers-of-choice.


Miss Omar “did” her short bob daily---a quick shampoo and a finger-wave with several of the crocodile-clips to hold it while it dried.

  Shoe-polishing was done at any time, singly or in groups, at a  long, linoleum-covered table in the sunroom---a sort of gathering place for the little task, with everyone still in comfortable Saturday clothes, from slacks to Miss Hester’s little gardening coverall to the lazy comfort of a duster-worn-to-breakfast.



And in the hot days of Summer, Miss Wanamaker took advantage of the secluded, hedged back yard to wash her own long hair with the hose, wearing halter top and Bermudas, which not one of the ladies would have EVER worn out in public.   She’d sit in the sun, gently brushing the length of her shining mane, until it was just dry enough to roll the ends on curlers, for she quite often had a date on Saturday evenings for dinner or a movie or a party.  And the time young Mr. Harmon took Miss Wanamaker all the way to Memphis to the Peabody to go dancing at the Skyway---why, every lady in the house was as happy and a-flutter as if they were each being called for by a prince, with a line of carriages stretching out the gate.



There was a comfort in that house, a neatly kept, cushiony sort of feminine languor which napped the rooms like rich veloute, giving even the brightest and most energetic of the ladies an extra grace of movement and a restful air, with the slow confident ease of home and place and belonging.