Sunday, June 29, 2014


A couple in Kroger:  She in a red Polo, tucked into slim-legged dark blue jeans which touch her absolutely nowhere except at the waistband ---she’s “kept her figure,” but has never had any interest in showing it off.  She wears immaculate small shoes, the usual “wedding set” on her left hand, and a more elaborate “dinner ring” on the right.    She probably wore this outfit, maybe with little espadrilles, when they’d been married twenty years, instead of forty, and probably still wears Norell or Estee, though I didn’t get that close.    Her hair just touches the back of her neck, curled under gently, and swept back a little from her face, revealing tiny ruby studs in her ears.


Her purse is solidly hooked on her left arm, and her glasses ride pretty low on her nose, as she takes down boxes and cans, reading labels and ingredients, and looks up and over at the prices in the slide.   A wide neat wallet of coupons is clipped to the edge of the cart’s baby seat, arranged, of course, in order of their sequence in the store aisles, and as one is removed, it’s slid to the back into a slot.  She’s also one to remove a great sheaf of them from the little plastic hooks on the shelves, as long as the dates go pretty far out.   She stands tearing apart the pads of them gently, unsticking a few for right here, right now, collecting the right number of items, and sandwiching the little packet into its spot in the wallet before rolling on.


I could see her checking off items on a printed list, against a matching check-mark on the left---she apparently shops like my long-ago friend Betty, who typed up one master-list, Xeroxed it fifty times or so on her lunch hour, then stuck a whole bunch of them on her fridge.   She’d see she was getting low on bananas or Clorox or grits, and put a check to the left of that on the fridge list, with a corresponding check on the right when she picked up the item in the store.    


He walks ahead of himself, leading with his shoulders and bent just a bit, but not to that stage of older men who lean forward and paddle the air with both hands behind them---for balance or propulsion, I've never known.    His flat-butt jeans are a thick, long-worn denim, with that pale square wallet-print on one hip pocket like any man who owns two dawgs, a little bit of land and a really swell pickup.  He wears a red polo, as well, bought to match for a cruise, but the color of his is more intense, for hers gets worn and washed for everyday wear, and his is saved for more important events, like the monthly trip over to the big Kroger, or out to supper at Shoney’s with some friends passing through town.  His shirt is tucked in, of course---he’d no sooner wear an untucked shirt than he’d leave his HANES tag above the top of his Levis.   His slight paunch hovers gently over a big round belt-buckle, and his immense white New Balance shoes draw your gaze to the floor with every step, like those flashes-in-the-dark of a playing-card stuck into the bicycle spokes of a kid out past supper-time. 


He’s the reacher, the lifter, the get-down-on-the-bottom shelf grabber, and she list-keeper, the chooser and weigher and side-panel reader.


I surmise that he’s driving, though she may write out the check, and she’ll grab a couple of bags from the back seat when they get into the driveway, unlock the house and head in, already snugging things into fridge and cabinets before he’s got the first load out of the truck.  


They probably stopped for lunch at Bob Evans, after he mowed the lawn and she made two pies for Church Supper tonight, before heading to the store.
A totally satisfactory duo for an ordinary Saturday.  


Wednesday, June 25, 2014


After saving up this One Thousandth Post to say something, to reminisce, to go straight back to my Southern roots and tell a long-ago story, or to simply share a bit about our day-to-days, today there’s something that’s beyond price to talk about.


 A great part of the state spent yesterday in a tense thunder of wailing sirens, dire predictions, frowning skies and looming clouds, tornado touchdowns, wind and rain and tumbles of shingles, lawn furniture, whole rooftops flown away, with siding and gutters eerily speared clear through walls of adjoining houses.   One huge motor-home was lifted and thrown like a Lego onto and through roof and side of a neighbor’s home.


I woke Caro at two, sorry to disturb her rest before work, and she came down into the basement, where we watched angry red-and-green blotches cover the map like scourging flames, rolling along a swath that started at the state line, covering the city, angling along in a beeline of destruction, and continuing for hours.

Pale, bewildered, unable-to-take-it-in faces emerged and stood amongst strewn debris in their yards amongst downed trees and crushed cars and fences, confronted by raindrop-dotted lenses, asked endless how-do-you-feels by brisk reporters in bright vinyl coats.

 As the danger moved through, almost by magic, great hordes of strong young people appeared with tarps, hammers, lumber to plug and cover roofs and rooms, pounding in nails before the siren echoes died away.
And every voice said, “Thankful.”


And so say we all, for in all that great mass of fear and flying objects and homes in the path, there was not one single injury.

A story worth a thousand posts, if ever there was. 







Thursday, June 19, 2014


My droopy old hedge-rose, which this year has taken on the look of a boozy Rose-Parade triceratops, as if the float-decorators reveled late and reported to work, much the worse for wear, at four a.m..

We’ve been sort of on “Pause” of late, piecing together the days with bits and bobs of activity and conversation and home doings, with Chris back at work on Monday, feeling much better, but still moving a little more gently, healing and recovering.   We've immersed ourselves in GrandBaby pictures til they flash before our eyes as we close them to sleep, as we plan our visit to meet our NEWEST and to re-kindle such a fun time with his big brother, a scientist/electronics whiz/world explorer in the making, in North Carolina soon.   
And we’ve all been reading like we’re devouring the words.    For one of the rare times of my life, I’ve been reading in the DAYTIME---unheard of, as I’m a bedtime reader, heeding unconsciously the “reading's a waste of daylight,” instilled by my Mother, whose watchful eye was usually foiled by my perch up one of the huge old pecan trees around the yard. And the fleeting thought has come to me several times lately that I ought to be hovering fifteen feet above the ground on a big ole limb, soaking up the moist Mississippi heat, hidden and smothered by the great blankets of leaves in my sanctuary.


The last book I read up a tree was EMMA. I remember distinctly, for just as Miss Smith was consigning the sticking- plaster to the fire, a wasp dive-bombed my head and got caught in my hair. I can recall the frantic buzzing, sounding like some sort of model plane, so close was it to my ear, and I also remember dropping (hurling, most likely) the book. I have no recollection of making it down the twelve to twenty feet via the limbs I’d climbed---I may have even jumped part of the way, with no thought that broken bones might be a tad bit more painful and long-lasting than a sting. I DID have the presence of mind to snatch a big towel off the line, get a BIG handful of hair in it, and squeeze with all the might of both hands. I wrung that dry towel til it almost dripped; nothing short of an armadillo could have lived through the pressure of that panic-driven slay-ride.



Thus disabled, the little stinging critter was hors de combat, and though I had to comb some of his appendages out of my hair before getting right into the shower, no damage was done except to the wasp. I went back later and retrieved the book, none the worse for droppage, and I was certainly glad, for it belonged to the dear woman across the street---the blessed soul who had taught me to READ.


I’d no more have let anything happen to one of her books than I’d fly. No turned-down corners (I’d seen in third grade what happened to children who creased corners---Mrs. Nelson’s vise-grip on THAT BURTON BOY’s ear, and her menacing inquiry of, “Would you like for someone to do that to YOU?” probably did more good in the school than any number of cheery caveats stenciled on bright paper). No writing inside or out, no tearing out of pages, no underlining or margin-jotting or boyfriends’ names with little hearts dotting the I, though I love finding those, especially the old ones, with pencil flourishes or the careful ink of a first Fountain Pen, of the young lady’s name and little notations of life and events as was.

There’s just something---something special and significant and oddly charming, in a sort of peek-over-their-shoulder way, to find underlined words and phrases in a book I’m enjoying. Or thoughtful or odd or insightful little jottings in margins, or just inside the covers; I find those all to be an added little bit of lagniappe the author never intended---or perhaps DID.

Writing down something which can make  people think about words and ideas must be a marvelous feat; causing them to earmark the place with a highlighter or underlining means the writing has touched something in them, whether pleasant or touching or incisive or memory-kindling.


And the lovely thoughts and e-mails and prayers and comments you’ve all expressed during this scary, stressful time---they’ve all imprinted me, and are underlined indelibly in my heart, for taking out and savoring or remembering or simply smiling over, like flowers pressed in a book.

And the days and hours of enjoyment and companionship and sharing during these past Nine-Hundred-Ninety-Nine posts on Lawn Tea---those will endure for always.


Thank you ALL.

Monday, June 16, 2014



Agley.   That’s the proper word, I think, thank you Mr. Burns, for what happens to plans, sometimes.  And our plans of the past few weeks, for that long-awaited trip to the coast to join three dozen of our near-and-dear---well, there was enough agley ganging up on us that it stopped us literally in our tracks.


Almost the exact moment we stepped toward the first of perhaps ten bags and coolers, loaded with clothes, crafts, books, birthday presents, food, blender, Keurig, kitchen supplies, and Margarita makings, Chris was struck with a dire medical emergency which laid him low for a week, and still has him weak and shaky (and scared me absolutely witless, as well).  We dashed for the ER, he was at last admitted, and he spent the succeeding days hooked to beeping, prickly, shrieking machines, sleepless and scared and brave and miserable, and being firmly reassured that it was not as dire as it first seemed.


We’re home now, and he spent the weekend mostly resting, with our lovies in and out and Caro surpassing herself with a sublime Fathers’ Day Brunch. 


They’ll still be keeping a close eye on him, and more tests are in the near future, but he’s feeling much better, and there have been no further recurrences of the symptoms.   We’re just so grateful for the prayers and good wishes, the splendid care and his continuing recovery.


Sometimes, when I’m having a sleepless night of my own, I wander around amongst little bits and pieces I’ve jotted down, and last night, I stumbled on this---I know I wrote it, because they’re my phrasings and thoughts, but when and why---those are a mystery past my solving.     I think the angels knew that I needed something frivolous and comforting right now.

Tiny pink or purple dragons, warmly burping cookie-breath

When they’re sad, the burps are lickrish, when they’re wishful, berry pie.  Then the many shades of happy, and angry and forlorn and merry, swooping
through the green, trailing cinnamon and peppermint and lime. 


Cheery flits leave wakes of lemon, with vanilla overtones, and the swoops and swags of exuberance and joy spread strawberry fumes like clouds.


Chocolate means contentment, and black cherry is for drowse, with a little whiff of nutmeg for a nice Winter nap, snuggled into the covers.


Warm shortbread for an afternoon’s smooth course, peach muffins for a morning’s rise, tea and cappuccino’s brown notes for the first light in the sky.


Time for night-night for this nestling, with his trusty Passy-Fire.


Wednesday, June 4, 2014


We’ll be away for a few days, and since I’m inching up onto that 1000th post, instead of using up several spaces, I’m gonna just throw a big ole hunk of wood on the fire all at once, kind of fitting because I’m talkin’ about grilling and BARBECUE.

We’re wavering on the Cusp of Summer, inching up on it in leaps and bounds, and the Voice of the Turtle has nothing for harbinger on the scent of hickory smoke rising like praise to Heaven.

There’s grill-cooking, and the charcoal aroma can whet your tastebuds to a frenzy as you wait for that chicken to come off the grill:

Or the Ribs---these Country-Style cuts, like heavy pork chops:


But for the REAL THING, a ten-hour languish on a pit over hickory is the recipe.   Like music for contented cows, the clink of Budweiser cans and the rowdy talk and laughter of a buncha Good Ole boys hunkered down for the night to pit-watch brings out the best in everything.

Lay that gorgeous meat out on a board, take two forks, and pull apart those tender chunks and strands and nuggets---toss and tousle it around and get right into it.    Then pile a mound on a bun, top with a good ladle of sauce and a little mountain of slaw, and it’s Summer On A Plate.  (And all down your front if you’re not careful, but that’s one of the built-in joys).

This is such a long post, I feel as if I might need a “Chapter One:  I am born.” Or a “Call me Ishmael” to start things off, but the subject speaks for itself. 


Barbacue is the usual pronunciation, BBQ the abbreviation, and 'cue is a word I've seen only in novels and restaurant reviews by folks from OFF who are trying hard to adopt the local vernacular to impress OTHER folks from off with their new-found language skills. I've certainly never heard a real-live person call it that.

We spent a few days with the children and grandchildren in Georgia not long ago, and the evening we arrived, driving our oldest Granddaughter home, we three stopped and had dinner with DS#3. He recommended a place he liked, way out on the Interstate, and we had some really good ribs, some excellent potato salad, with ordinary beans and slaw, forty-weight sweet tea, and two bites of a ketchup-sauced, pulled-to-threads sandwich, which came pre-made, wrapped in that foil-backed paper so beloved of middle-school cafeterias. Opening that wrapper was nostalgia, déjà vu and flashback all in one.

DS had Brunswick and “Lion Ribs,” which looked just like the ones we were having---I have no idea what the difference is. I recounted our evening to an Internet friend, and she said she might as well have been opening the South China Post and trying to comprehend the cricket scores, as all the terms and dishes I spoke of.

And so I reassured her:

Any and everything I could clear up for you, I'll be glad to translate. Southern Barbecue is a thing unto itself, a long-cooked, Heaven-scented, fall-apart bit of Glory here on Earth. Any shape or size or amount of pork, parked on the rungs of a long-used pit, and given the time and attention of a master Pit-Man---that's entirely a food group on its own.

From the first rub, be it dry with salt and ground pepper and whatever other spices and dried herbs please the cook (and whose esoteric, exacting combination of special flavors has probably been in the family for a LONG time) or wet, with a rag-on-a-stick mop dipped into vinegar-oil-lemon-juice-garlic and any of myriad combinations (but never sauce---not 'til the end; tomato and/or sugar, the basic components of any Deep South sauce, will burn black from the get-go, giving even the smoke a tang of bitter regret at the travesty).

It makes me shudder to see even Miss Ina, champion cook that she is, douse raw chicken parts entirely in a whole bowl of red stuff, then slap it on the grill. It just t'aint fittin', and they smile and eat it, either 'cause they're on TV, they don't know better, or because, well, INA.

And the wood---that's a debate amongst barbecue lovers all over the world. Most swear by a bit of hickory, some by apple or mesquite---but always wood, for the best. We drove up to a much-touted barbecue place in Kentucky a couple of years ago, and got into a quite-considerable line a-waiting. I stepped around the corner toward the scent, and walked between four-foot walls made entirely of bags of Kingsford. Then I knew. It was OK---but it wasn't Barbecue.

With a REAL Pit-Man, the meat goes onto those pit-rungs with the care and placement of a ritual sacrifice, and I suppose it's as close as it comes in the modern scheme of things---meat sizzle and the perfume of good smoke rising to Heaven. The time, the covering and uncovering, the shovel-shuffling of the coals and the wood and the blaze into the proper proportions and temperature---all these go into making up a good batch of barbecue. You can be invited over to a neighbor's house for "a barbecue" and be served burgers straight off the charcoal, the unholy aura of starter-fluid tainting each mouthful---THAT'S not a Barbecue---that's a cookout, and a bad one, at that.

Real Barbecue comes from a real pit; night-long tending for a whole pig that will be served WAY up in the day to follow; conversation and sandwiches and beer and hoopcheese and crackers, beer and more beer, maybe some cans of Vy-eenies or sardines---those are proper sustenance for the pit-folk and their avid followers--age-old tastes for the REAL taste of home.

The meat is turned, turned again, moved to a better spot over the coals, with a sissssss of water through the rungs now and then when the coals rage too hot; a sussssshhh of the bellows to re-kindle the red when need be.

Ribs are either dry-rubbed to start, then sometimes rubbed again, the seasonings gilding onto the surfaces like brazen armor, or they are swabbed at the last, with the red sauce of choice, then left just long enough for the deep burgundy glaze to meld to the meat in a shiny shellac like the paint-job on a well-loved Camaro.

The butt-or-shoulder-meat comes from the pit naked as it went on, the only change the night-long tenderness and the perfection of that smoke-cloak all through. It can be shaken from the bone, which slips out like fingers from a glove. The great chunks of steaming fragrance are then pulled (my favorite---the long, tender strands separating with the grain, one of the few times true tenderness is achieved that way) or chopped, which means just what it says---sometimes two-handed cleaver-chopping worthy of a skilled Asian Master.

Meat is piled onto grilled or toasted buns, anointed with sauce, with a little haystack of good crisp, vinegary coleslaw shreds atop. Top on, little salute from greasy grill spatula, and a miracle is born.

Brunswick is Brunswick Stew---a conglomeration of lots of kinds of meat (originally mostly game, but could include terrapin, shrimp, beef, pork, or chicken), with too many finely-chopped vegetables to name. It's a hunting-camp dish, sometimes made over an open fire, the boiling mass in the big black pot stirred with a boat paddle. It was usually done well before the meat came off the grill, and bowls were passed around to the hungry bystanders to quell the uprising until the pork was done.

Slaw is just the Southern word for coleslaw, of which there are several camps, the main two being mayonnaise or vinegar. It's a shredded or chopped head of cabbage, with any additions customary to the locale---green onions or peppers or grated carrot; fancy-dancy folks have been known to add chopped apple or a little can of crushed pineapple or even sunflower seeds. I like both kinds of dressing, and I like my slaw "ON" which means a spoonful actually ON the sandwich, as well as some for fork-bites alongside.

Baked Beans are most usually started with a sizzle of onion and chopped bell pepper, then any amount of barbecue sauce and brown sugar that pleases the cook. Beans of choice where I'm from are cans of Showboat Pork 'n' Beans, drained of their extra liquid, and divested of that clammy little white waxy bit of "pork" which they sport in deference to their name. All this is stirred together in the skillet, then poured into a baking dish; top that with a nice lattice of bacon strips, stick it in a 350 oven for about 45 minutes, and you've got the perfect Southern Side for anything from burgers to barbecue to fried catfish. Nirvana is reached when some of the crispins and messy meat from the pulled or chopped pork are stirred in before baking.

Potato Salad---that's a hard subject to discuss, especially if there's more than one Southern cook in the conversation. Talk gets hot and heavy, always including, "Well, the way I make MYE Potato Salad. . ." and ranging on to pickles, dill or sweet; onion, yea or nay, and if Miracle Whip ever rears its ugly head, the WAR is on.

It's usually just nicely boiled small potatoes, skins on or off, cut up warm into a bowl, salted, and left to sit a few minutes while you chop a bit of sweet onion, some sweet pickles, a hard-boiled egg or two, and a bit of cold crisp bell pepper. A big clop of Duke's mayo, a squirt of French's mustard, a little handful of celery seeds, and serve when you want---right now, warm, or cover and chill.

And Sauce---I won't get into the sauce debate. Every section of the country has their own tradition, and I'm from the darrrrrrk-red, brown sugar section of the country, though I DID have some beef ribs in a place on the Riverwalk in San Antonio that still haunt---dry ribs though they were. They were at the perfect moment---rich, long-cooked meat which clung to the bone enough to rip apart, with small ragged ridges you could feel with your tongue before you greedily chewed that heavenly mouthful.

And I just now saw Bourdain watching a South Carolina pit-man take off the pork, break it apart with his hands, and pour on what looked like a pint of yellow mustard. My tongue is curling just thinking about it.

I was raised on Mississippi sauce, with delighted forays into the big-city refinements of Memphis pits like Leonard’s---remembered with an avaricious covetousness unknown since Midas' downfall. And Mississippi has been a RED state since LONG before CNN tacked up that map. We mostly like it deep burgundy/red, slightly sweet with the depth of brown sugar or molasses cooked thick as ready-to-set fudge.

And I have NO idea what "Lion Ribs" are---that was in Atlanta, two states removed from my raising, so I don't know what-all they do over there.

And I'd like to hear what sauce is the norm/favorite/old standby in other areas of the country. I've always been of the comforting thought that there's barbecue EVERYWHERE. There MUST BE.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


Scrolling down the “Notes” spot on my I-Phone, to little bits and bobs jotted with a clumsy finger as I wait outside school, for Chris at a store, at the oil-change place.   Typos and odd segues intact, with one little moment at the end which, by default, should be the last thought put down, but I can neither remember nor decipher it into sense.


Not that this graffiti would be of interest to anyone, including myself, here ‘tis, just because I must have had a reason---grocery lists, random bits for the blog, reminders which are past understanding now they’ve cooled.


Straw. Lemons  Gr. Toms   Little pasta  Romaine or butter lettuce Baby carrots  Eggs  White Cheese  Sesame oil  tahini


Barbara’s voice

Department stores with tubes in the ceiling, and the way they went POP when they were sealed and sent.  Salesladies born scowling, with identical layettes of black serge and gabardine and low-heeled Latin-teacher shoes laced tight as their corsets.
Lady-clerk school must have given courses in frown and disdain and dissatisfaction, and some of the black-garbed league had earned a Ph.D in that slow-measuring up-and-down lorgnette glance which deemed us all wanting. 


Those ladies all wore severe black, with chains on their glasses, which were perched on nosetips (the better to scorn you with, My Dear) or resting on their bosoms between moments of terse and abrupt.   That lot could have joined Jon Snow at THE WALL, wiping out the Wildlings with a glance.


Our mothers DRESSED to be worthy to shop there, and some of my friends were so frightened of the ladies that they just hated setting foot in the place, no matter the fancy dress or occasion. I never shopped there myself, but only held Mother’s purse while she tried things on.   But even then, the squinted looks and palpable “don’t you dare touch anything and I sincerely hope I don’t have to touch YOU” in the air would have been enough to send my Mary Janes scampering for the parking lot had it not been for embarrassing her.


She’d never have dreamt of putting me forward for one of their pricey offerings, both for the expense and for her shame at having those strict-opined stares leveled at me, those pursed lips, poised for disapproval, directed at us both---at me for my little tree-climbing, skint-knee chunky self, and her, for her part in owning such a graceless little hoyden.


But there was always the talented, non-judgmental Mrs. Barbee, of the rustly fabrics and the powdery presence, and who made all of us little girls feel pretty as princesses, if only for that one damp-hand piano recital or festive Easter morning.


Ironman putting on his greaves.


Unknown soldier remembered with soft stroll-steps and chin-stiff reverence.  The five-note larks which never change save for volume and enthusiasm.


The exciting cold of a Winter attic when a visiting friend sparks a
a hunt for a pattern or old bit of lace or that crinoline petticoat that went with the poodle-skirt.  The freezing echoes on a dusty wood floor and the lifted lids of trunks revealing forgotten snips of past days and lives as the frigid air lends its own shivers to the anticipation and recognition from within.  Stark cold spaces have their own way of making memories warm as those in teacups.
(At an Amish Inn)
Heel-of-the-bread toast sagging warmly as I ate it ruminatively off the flat of my hand, like a child with a slice fresh from the oven.  It folded itself in two as I ate, the last two bites a butter-and-strawberry jam sandwich.   All the butter and conglomeration of spices made their coffee cake taste like Grandpa’s barber shop.
And the last, cryptic entry:
Glaciers Indiana mini muffin shooterseric one to my little refect.
No wonder I can’t find my keys.