Monday, August 29, 2016

PAXTON PEOPLE---MISS DELOIS WALKER





Image result for dog in a hat


For those of you who have remarked that Paxton is such a pleasant place, and that the people all seem so NICE---there ARE warts, and there are prickles and stings, but we try hard to ignore them.

Miss Delois Walker was a Mrs. at one time in the past, but the Mister is no longer in the picture.  I don’t know if they divorced, or if they had a fallin’ out, or even if he just got tired of her bossy ways and slunk off in the night/with another woman/had a nervous breakdown and got committed, or any of a dozen ways to leave your impossible-to-love lover.   Her Mama said she cried and carried on for ever so long after he left, but only because of What People Would Think.   And her Mama also said that Miss Dee-Lawis got up on a High Horse when she was still in a High Chair, and never did come down off of it, no matter how they tried to please her.

She doesn’t laugh or anything at your misfortune, so I don’t think she’s just mean, but she certainly states her opinion of whatever folks do or don’t.   Miss Dee-lawis is not a happy woman.  She not only is not happy, she just goes about it in a lot of unpleasant ways.  She carries a cloud, she does, and mostly she IS one.  And she’s a past master of using derogatory dismissals:

“Well, you kin jes git GLAD in the same step-ins you got MAD in!”

“Well, if you’re gonna be THAT way about it.”

“Well, IIII wouldn’t, but just do what you want to.”  SNIFF

“It’s up to yew.”  SNIFF

“You’re not wearin’ THAT, are you?”

“Who on God’s Earth cut-chur hair?”

“Well, jes’ BE that way, then.” SNIFF


And she has a way of criticizing anything she considers high-toned or lofty or big-headed, without even opening her mouth---well not very wide, anyway.

She always wants to know where you’ve been, who you saw, what you bought, what you did there.  And if any of the trip or evening or day’s jaunt included any of the high-falutin’ things she doesn’t cotton to, she has an exasperating habit that would irritate the robe off a saint.

She makes her mouth into a little tight round like a Cheerio, tilts her head a little bit toward one shoulder, shakes her head a little bit with her eyebrows up and eyes closed, and makes the most obnoxious little inhaling whistle.   I just never saw the like---the moment she finds out you’ve enjoyed the Opera, or a dance recital, or bought a subscription to anything other than Woman’s Day or Redbook, she does that little head/eye/mouth-thing that must require a lot of co-ordination or practice, one.

I vote practice, because like Aint Ruby, who was JUBUS of things and folks,  Miss Dee-Lawis is critical, but mainly of things she is not a part of---the Bailey girls’ debuts at the Jackson Cotillion, for example.   That was Puttin on the Dawg, and givin’ it a hat, both.  She said that those girls’ Mama had just got WAY above her raisin’ and just because she married money, she had no call to go flauntin’ her checkbook like that.  The very idea.







She even put in to be the town correspondent for the County Paper one time, since she knew so much about every little thing that happened around the town.  She was gently declined in favor of Carlisle Emerson---Carlisle having a typewriter and a couple of years of college, and all.   And besides, Carlisle talked nice about people.


Miss Dee-Lawis will zero in on a  wedding in which the flowers were ordered from OFF, or a party with a TENT, and that time the Covingtons and Heafners went in together and had that truck of seafood brought up from the coast from Gollott’s for their kids’ graduation party---oh, my.   Why, that last one kept her in a ruckus for weeks.


And when she and Miss Mavis Meeker get together---the whole town glows from the burnin’ ears.  


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

UNSER BAUMEN

I could feel a hint of FALL coming down the stairs this morning---a fleeting coolth in the air, a little scent of something turning, turning, in all the green that swathes the outside of the house.

Our dear TREE had a “haircut” yesterday---a recent storm had dropped a bough gently onto the neighbor’s garage, with just the great bowers of leaves and branches touching, and the danger-half still hanging by a great sheaf of bark.   The nice young man went up there like those small island boys after coconuts, going higher and higher amongst those huge smooth limbs til I was quite dizzy from the watching.   He rigged ropes and pulleys and long poles in an intricate pattern, lifting and hauling, and shearing off the largest boughs, dropping them gently to his helpers on the ground.

Then he and his chainsaw made quick work of the broken limb, shearing it off back nearly to the tree in a cut neat as surgery.   That out of the way and safely on the ground, he went round and round the tree, higher and higher, taking down dead limbs and hanging bits, a bit of deadwood and some hints of moss, til she was left clean and shining in the afternoon sun, like a lady stepping out of a salon. 

Our TREE is a marvel---a hackberry of enormous size and presence, and one of the reasons we bought this house.   I know her roots will probably crack foundations and tumble up sidewalks, plus the berries make an infernal mess, coming into the  house pressed into the fanciful patterns of shoe-soles and lurking on the carpet for unwary bare feet, and we cannot keep up with the fall of the millions of leaves, onto patio and furniture even in Summer.   But TREE is a literal Breath of Fresh Air and we love her.

And speaking of GREEN, I’m late to a blog in which I’ve just found a marvelous celebration of the Summer almost past---this lady is not from the South that I’m from, not of a hot and muggy climate and tradition of “fighting the heat,” but her celebration of Summer is simply, joyously beautiful.   She’s in Germany, her name is Mascha, and I swear she’s a G.R.I.T.S. Girl in the making.  Go have a look---immerse yourself in the GREEN! 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

AUNT LENA'S KITCHEN




Despite their living in a much bigger town than the one I’m from, Aunt Lena and Uncle Ace were purentee Country-Folk, through and through.  They’d been raised way out in the hills, and later in life followed most of their children to “town” over in the Delta.   They were a lively, noisy brood, all  older than I and married by the time I can remember visiting.  The two daughters I looked up to so much and admired for their stylish ways and slim skirts and beautiful makeup, and thought of as almost my own age, were, as I just found to my shock in the 1940 census, 12 and 14 years older).

Aunt Lena was a soft round woman, in house-dresses and slipper-slide house shoes---a good-natured sweet woman with a big laugh and great love for her family.  I don’t know if I ever saw her without a big old useta-be-white bib apron, for her tiny house and even tinier kitchen were the hub of the family, and she turned out great platters of roasts and fried chicken, steaming casseroles and huge pots of several-vegetables-per-meal, as well as breads and rolls and three kinds of pie.   That place was a mad-house on Sundays, and we seldom visited then, for we’d go by on a weekday afternoon now and then, when we’d been to town to Safeway or an appointment.   Uncle Ace was Mammaw J’s brother, and we mostly visited during the three months a year that Mammaw was “ours,” as she lived a “quarter” with each of her four children in turn.  She’d stay a night or two with them, for their “spare room” seldom had a visitor with all the children living right there around town.  




And Sundays---I can attest to but few, and all those centered around that little hot kitchen and all that FOOD.   The girls were just beautiful, in their neat slacks and pretty blouses and jewelry, and had both married handsome young Italian guys.   They’d both learned a lot of their cooking from their mothers-in-law, and so we’d be invited now and then to a “Spaghetti Feed,” by Uncle Ace, as the girls had quite a way with such practically-unknown delicacies as Spaghetti and sausages, Ravioli, and Parmigianas, and they’d have the whole house perfumed with basil and oregano and garlic, as we all hustled to peel things and chop things and oh, boy, did I love to slice FRESH Mozzarella.  The oven and all four burners would be running full speed, and several platters of salads of already-grilled eggplant and herbs and tomatoes and artichoke hearts were sitting room-temperature awaiting the feast.  OH, to look into one of those ovens for a second---the blast of heat and the glimpse of that bubbling cheese atop the lasagna---what a tantalizing preview.



The kitchen was a little L-counter place, with an area at one end for a big yellow Formica table and chairs, pushed up against the wall for room to get around when they weren’t in use, and I still wonder now and then about that room.   They ate all their meals there, and it was such a strange, bizarre place to me that the memory has stuck.








The walls of kitchen and dining area were of a worn yellow beadboard, like so many kitchens of my grandparents’ generation, but that wall right over the table was like some Dali-dreamt bas-relief of decrepit farm tools and scythes and wrenches and hammers, one big old rusty saw that I remember vividly, and all sorts of awls and chisels and such.   This was not for some sort of “vintage chic” décor---these were REAL and rusty and hanging there right where they ate, til somebody needed one for a chore.  Maybe if it had been some kind of antique or vintage kitchen items---old black skillets are royalty, of course, and old molds and whisks possible in some forms of décor.  I rather like the new thing of having lace and pearls and a bit of something rustily-beautiful for a contrast, but this was junky old grungy stuff with dried mud on the blades and greasy handprints up and down the handles, just slung back on the wall right after use and left there.

Even the shapes of the things had faded into the paint, like outlines over the workbenches of those ultra-neat folks with everything on its peg with a neatly-drawn silhouette around.  It was WEIRD, and I’ve thought about it for years.  I  can’t remember a thing about the kitchen---not the counters or drawers or maybe there was a clock or calendar like my Mammaw had, or perhaps just a picture of something to look at while you worked.    Mostly I think about Aunt Lena---didn’t she ever think about wanting something pretty, or long for a smooth white expanse of wall just for the peace of it---the CLEAN of it?  

It boggles me that those folks who loved their Mama with every fierce  depth of their bones would leave that unsightly, dirty MESS in her kitchen to be the first thing she saw as she eased her heavy, swollen ankles in there every morning.  Didn’t they ever realize that she might long for flowers, or a pretty towel on a rack, or a shelf with something on it to enjoy?   

It was just THERE, and it was horrid, though Chris said at lunch that they could probably sell even the smallest piece of that junk for a hundred dollars today.   I hoped so much better for that dear, sweet woman every time I stepped in her door.   I know she had to want better, even if it was for somebody to take a hand for a couple of hours with a big rag and some Lysol.  

Isn't it silly the memories that can haunt you?  




Wednesday, August 17, 2016

PAXTON RECIPES CHOCOLATE CAKE

MISS DOVIE’S MAMA'S CHOCOLATE CAKE
        2 cups sugar
  1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  3/4 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa
  1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  1 teaspoon salt
  2 eggs
  1 cup milk
  1/2 cup vegetable oil or melted              lard
  2 teaspoons vanilla 
  1 cup boiling water

Grease and flour 3 8” pans.  Medium oven (350).
Sift dry into large bowl and make a well. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat hard 200 strokes until it forms a ribbon.  (medium speed of mixer 2 minutes). Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour into pans.
Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until broomstraw in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool before frosting.
Make up frosting while cake is baking.

½ cup of butter (1 stick)
2/3 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Melt butter, stir in cocoa and cook for about a half a minute to get the fudge taste. Beat in powdered sugar and milk in two parts each, beating til it’s spreadable.  Stir in vanilla.

(About here, I’d imagine she’d have added:  wash up dishes real quick and wipe down the kitchen.   Then go stand in the back door and swing it back and forth as hard as you can to get some of the heat out of the house.    Do the same with the front door, with all windows wide open.   Go to well and draw a bucket cold as you can get.   Wash your face and your arms up to the elbows, and put a wet rag on the back of your neck.   Wash your hair outside with the bucket you’ve had sitting in the sunshine since early morning, bind it up in a tight towel, go frost the cake, and then dry your hair out in the shade before THEY get home).   Sit in the swing with one of Nettie Frances’s magazines til you hear the buggy about to round the curve.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

PAXTON RECIPES


MARGARET’S TUNA-FISH CASSEROLE AT MRS. WOOD’S TEACHERAGE

Margaret has been Mrs. Wood's cook since her young-married days to Mr. Wood, and has remained steadfast in the big white kitchen over the years, turning out vast collations for parties, dainty teas for the Missionary Society and Bridge Club, and over the past twenty years, has cooked a steady two-meals-a-day for the six boarders, all long-time residents of the house.   All the women are teachers, as was Mrs. Wood, and they "take their breakfast" in the breakfast room with varying morning appetites, from Miss Jones' Two Boiled Eggs to little Miss Hester's  bowl of cornflakes.

Dinner is another matter, for most of the ladies gather in the big "front room" late in the afternoon, watching the news or reading the two papers or simply chatting about the affairs of the day, as the scents of Margaret's excellent dinners waft from the kitchen.    Except for perhaps grading papers after supper in their rooms, their duties are done for the day, and they simply relax and await the bell.

One of the stand-by Fall-and-Winter suppers is Margaret's Tuna Fish Casserole, served almost always with English Pea Salad and Brown 'n' Serve rolls.
MARGARET’S TUNA-FISH CASSEROLE AT MRS. WOOD’S TEACHERAGE

Put on pasta water to boil in large pot with palmful of salt.   Boil a pound box of linguine or fettucine pasta to jusssst done.   (al dente in modern parlance).

WHILE IT’S COOKING, MAKE WHITE SAUCE:

Drain liquid from three cans of plain water-pack Star-Kist (or White Albacore) into quart measuring cup,  pressing tuna a bit in the can with the lid.   Fill cup with milk to measure three cups.

3 T. Butter in medium skillet
3 T. flour stirred in and cooked for a few minutes, stirring constantly with a flat paddle.  Do not let it begin to show any golden brown.

Stir milk gently into bubbly butter-flour with whisk , then keep whisking over heat until thickened and smooth.

Whisk in:  2 good clops of Duke’s mayo
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. salt
Few grinds of the peppermill.
A cup or so of grated white cheese if you like it with tuna.

Flake the tuna into good-sized lumps and stir in gently, along with ½ a bag of frozen petite peas. 

Drain pasta and stir in gently.   Pour into buttered 9x13 and top with two cups of crushed potato chips.   Bake at 350 for 20 minutes, til bubbly and crisp on top.   Serve with Pea Salad.   Serves seven ladies generously for lunch or supper.

 That enticing scent of crisping chips and rich fish sauce coming from the kitchen, wafting out into the parlor of Mrs. Wood’s house as the seven ladies relax until the dinner bell---I’ve always wondered how it would be to be at my leisure at suppertime, just awaiting the call to a meal prepared by other hands (which would also clear and do the dishes). 

 MARGARET'S ENGLISH PEA SALAD

Open three cans of  LeSueur peas in the silver can.    Use lids to drain peas, leaving them in the cans.    Pour cheater-pickle juice over the peas and set in refrigerator overnight or while you cut up the vegetables for dressing

 Stir up in bottom of a medium bowl: 
One large tomato, cut small
Three boiled eggs, cut small,
½ cup or so Cheater pickles,* finely chopped
Thin-sliced tops of two green onions
Three good clops of  Duke’s mayo
Sprinkle of Lawry’s

  Drain peas in a colander, and pat them a little bit on top with Scotch towels; pat around under the colander so they won’t drip into bowl.  

Put peas on top of dressing and toss gently.   Keep in Tupperware to chill.   Toss a bit once more before putting into pretty serving bowl. 

(If you're serving something less rich than the Tuna Noodle Casserole, toss in several slices of crumbled, crisp bacon at the last minute). 

This filling Wintertime supper calls for a little bowl of pineapple sherbet or maybe just passing the fruit bowl for dessert.

*MARGARET'S DIRECTIONS FOR CHEATER PICKLES:
Buy you a gallon of store dills, whole ones or sliced. Cut your pickles if they’re whole and drain out all the juice. Start putting them back in the jug, with a big ladle of white sugar, a handful of cloves. Keep making layers like that til the jar is full. Turn it upside down once a day, then back up, to keep the sugar wet and absorbing. Three days and it’s ready t’eat.

Moire non of Paxton Cookin'





Saturday, August 13, 2016

PUNCHBOARDS


Joining in today with Beverly’s PINK SATURDAY.

One of my very favorite childhood memories is of Aunt Lou's store---the flappy-screen door with the faded Nehi sign, mistily visible after the thousands of hands opening and slamming to the tinkle of the tiny bell above. The foot-faded old green linoleum, the big shining glass cases of candy and notions and everything from #1.25 eyeglasses to single, unwrapped nipples with little side-flaps to fit onto a Coke bottle for those babies whose families' sparse income was doled out for flour and lard and beans, and Evenflo as dear as a Ford. 


The shelves ran all the way around the store, reaching to the ceiling, and there was no real “shopping” to the transactions---you named off your list, citing pounds of flour, lard, sugar, coffee, and they were weighed out and bagged with a neat fold taped down.   Meats and cloth goods were wrapped in the same paper from the huge roll and big blade, scritch-cut and flipped onto the counter like flipping a sheet onto a bed, and so on and on til your order was filled.   




You stood and waited to be “waited on,” in that store of many scents and as many delights as Scheherazade’s gardens, looking around at all the wonderful possibles hung and leaned and placed on the shelves.    And one of the most wonderful covets in the world was whatever prize stood beside the PUNCHBOARD.


There was always a bright slab of colour hanging enticingly on a nail, almost always at reach-height, awaiting our warm-fisted nickels.   The whole board was like an enormous flat domino to me, with hundreds of little dots to be punched out and unrolled.   A small metal punch like a sardine-key, but with a round end, not like a little screw-driver, hung on its length of  grimy string, ready for all hands to grab and take their chance. 


 The main prize was usually an enormous version of a candy bar or immense pole of peppermint, or my very favorite:  A pretty doll in a lacy dress and wee intricate shoes, or the absolute Pinnacle of the Prize World:   A KEW-PIE Doll.  Kew-Pie.   We’d only seen it written, and that’s what they were, those little impish, naked cherubs with the charming smiles and dimpled knees.   They even SMELLED  delicious, like the very first scent of a Christmas doll combined with maybe vanilla and the fragrance of Aunt Lo’s cosmetics drawer.  They looked like the huggiest creatures on this earth, and we all craved one. 





A long debate as to what-dot: corner or side, or one slap-dab in the middle, a hold-and-push, and a tiny round cylinder emerged from the back of the board, like a tee-ninecy section of one of Mr. Leon’s straws at the drugstore, but solid with the heft of rolled paper and the promise of the message within.  A big WINNER in red or blue or green meant you’d won fifteen cents or forty, or a pack of Camels or Kools or one of the small prizes hung like a nimbus around that shining Kewpie doll. 

Oh, the covet in my heart for one of those!  They were chubby and sweet and everything lovable about a doll, and only the sure thing of a new yellow Ticonderoga pencil, right there for sale and shining with all the words within, kept me from gambling away every spare nickel of my youth.


Friday, August 5, 2016

GRANDMOTHER'S BIRTHDAY


Today would be Grandmother’s 121st Birthday, just four months younger to the day, than my Mammaw.  They both had rural hill-raisin's, as they said---childhoods amongst the beautiful and mysterious hills of North Mississippi.   Both were strong country-women, with deep roots in the South from the generations of Scots and Irish and English ancestors who rooted a living from that unforgiving red dirt in Tallahatchie and Lee Counties in North Mississippi.

Grandmother was a small woman---no shorter than I, but extremely thin. Her wrists showed the knobs of her bones, and her watch and rings turned circles and would have fallen clean off if not for the wider bones of her hands, and the great knots arthritis had grown on her fingers. The lavaliere-which-had-been-her-Mama's hung across her bony clavicles no matter what the occasion and the dress, and the amethysts twinkled, even as we knelt and squatted in the bean rows in that hot Delta sun.


She had very few wrinkles for a woman of her age, with soft pink cheeks and the palest oyster-blue eyes behind her heavy glasses. She had only a small furrow or two to her brow, though she DID worry. She worried about her health, mainly, and could turn a conversation back to her ailments quicker than you could get in a word past AWWWW, though she DID love the Poor Dear part.

She loved her doctor visits, and dressed in the most beautiful clothes for such an important occasion. When going for even such quick, easy appointments as for her flu shot, she dressed in what she called “from the skin out,”---dainty lacy underthings and a pretty slip (forever called a petticoat, just as the panties were “step-ins”---both from her younger days, though she would probably have whispered the word “panties” just as she did “sex” or “pregnant,” even to her daughters).


I don’t know if her choice of the nice clothing hinged on her own fastidious nature, or the idea that she just MIGHT need to show him, as she held a hand dramatically on the spot, just where the latest pain was. I can remember once that we gave her a beautiful pink jersey jumpsuit for Christmas---it must have been a size ZERO. Her daughters considered it much too young for her tiny eightyish body, though her sons and my family thought she looked as cute as pie in her little tan Weejuns and that tee-ninecy outfit. I can just see her coming out to the car to go grocery-shopping with me. We girls just walked right into Safeway, as big as you please, tossing that Midol and Poli-Grip and our week's groceries into the buggy with the aplomb of ladies of leisure and great refinement strolling through Nordstrom.


Grandmother and Papa lived in a really small mobile home---the thing was a work of art, with its miniature everything, and the walls, floors, ceiling of beautiful blondish wood, polished to the slick sheen of a Last Supper clock. It was one of the last of a breed, I suppose, before the RedMans and the Fleetwoods turned from their “real house” decor in those long, slender quarters, to the newer constructions of thinner and flimsier materials, which grew bigger and bigger til some of them were banned from the highways. That little “trailer” was sound as a nut, and really beautiful, in a jewelbox/dollhouse sort of way.


The whole inside of the thing was wood, with pale Fifties-Turquoise  metal exterior, pink bathroom fixtures, stove, refrigerator, and  wee pale teacup-size corner sink in the minuscule kitchen. The whole kitchen counter had the dimensions of a checkerboard, and the central wall of the living room, though pristine and smooth, had no pictures or other hangings, save for the shiny chrome handle up high, which served to let down the Murphy bed when there was company. I loved that place---it was like living in Barbie’s mansion, without all that wardrobe clutter and all those tiny shoes scattered about to catch your bare feet unaware.
Grandmother made divine pie, an absolutely scrumptious tomato soup, pale with milk and cream, and her Christmas Custard was renowned in the family---a huge earthenware pitcher-crock of the creamiest, eggs-and-real-cream confection ever poured into a glass—-a boozeless edition of egg-nog which lifted the concoction to its best self.  It’s what you drank with a slice of banana-nut cake or pound cake, instead of tea or coffee, raising those, as well, to unseen heights.   I can still hear and quote Papa, “Lorena, if you’ll pour me glass of that custard, I’ll drink it.” 


 

And Grandmother’s cornbread was the best there was.  She would fry several slices of bacon in the black skillet, and make up the bread batter with buttermilk and Martha White meal and flour and several deep-orange-yolked eggs straight from the squawky-flap brood you’d threaded your way through to get into the house.  She'd stir the bacon grease in at the last, arrange the flat bacon slices neatly back into the skillet, and carefully spoon on some of the batter, so that when it hit that sizzling hot pan, it would seize up a bit and hold the pattern in place whilst the rest was poured on.




Her hands got too fragile to lift the heavy skillet, so one of us would go sit and chat with her while she made up the batter and fried the bacon. She insisted on “doing all of it I can---til I can’t.” Then we’d lift the skillet into the oven, and, most important---stay and take it out when the “dinger” went off, making for a good long chat---a bonus to the sublime bread.   We’d put that big Corning-Ware platter over the golden-brown bread, flip the whole thing upside down, and turn out that gorgeous pan of crusty brown, laced across with the delicious strips of bacon. I can smell that heavenly bready-bacon scent with the golden-toasted cornmeal right now. I haven’t made that in years, but I’ll bet I do, and soon.




She was a lovely, kind woman, and a great part of my life for many, many years; I remember her very fondly. She lived to be almost a hundred---due, I’m sure, to such vigilant watchfulness on her health.