Tuesday, December 30, 2008


I just saw an interesting typo in a another blog---it was a sign-off from a poster, and she wished the blogger, “Blessigns.”

I like that. We just oughta recognize more of those signs than we do, I think. It could be a color, or a breeze, or a beautiful sunrise, a line we read or hear, or even a rainy day that hinders something we meant to do, but what we do instead is ever so much more meaningful---and we usually don’t even know it. It might even be a person whom we don't even consider important or interesting or worth our time, but there could be a wonderful gift awaiting the taking.

I’m going to start really looking out for BLESSIGNS---they must be everywhere, if I’d just raise my eyes from the dishpan or the monitor or the little day-to-days that are waiting, same as always, day after day.

There’s a New Year a-comin’ and that’s going to be my #1 Resolution:

Keep a lookout for Blessigns.

They’re out there. And in here. I just have to be more aware and more interested and alert, and there they’ll be. I don’t think it was accidental that I saw that odd little word on this next-to-last day of this whole year, and I really shouldn’t wait for the New one to begin my search.

And on the brink of a WHOLE NEW YEAR, I wish BLESSIGNS to everyone. That’s a nice wish---I wish I’d thought of it before.

moire nother year,


Saturday, December 27, 2008


Three of the Grandchildren have been here all week, and we've had quite a rollicking, raucous good time, with what Chris calls our "Wonderful Pandemonium" going non-stop.

We've gone upstairs THREE TIMES to open a few gifts, with locals dropping in with theirs-to-us, which of course called for getting into the ours-to-them, with the babies and their big plastic toys and wagons, and all the bead-looms and painting sets and create-a-model's wardrobe spread on every available surface. All meals seem to be a jumble of when and where and how soon, a fluster of heat in the kitchen and every pan in use. Sitting down usually involved a higgledy-piggledy scatter of plates and chairs (miscounted twice, once by Chris, who had to scoot upstairs to get an extra, and once by ME, who insisted he GO upstairs for one more, when I'd gone over the numbers several times---I'd included Gracie, who was not here yet---I guess I will ALWAYS count her in my heart).

And somehow, the clunky old stainless salt-shaker that lives on the stove, with its big round handle and the dings of a thousand uses and the scratches of a million scrubbings incised in its skin, seemed to make its way right into the center of the table, passed around as neatly as if it were family sterling.

It WAS chaos, and it was pandemonium and it was wonderful all the same---the too-tired to admire a gift properly, the can't-take-another-step, can't-wash-another-dish---those overtook me time and again, but the wonderful won out. It always does.

It's been fun to watch the little ones, the young lady who has spent today creating fabulous paper-doll wardrobes with swatches of everything from vinyl to faux leopard, with sequins and ribbons and glitter and glue; that "kit" was a find---brand-new, virgin cellophane and untouched carry-case---at a yard sale far back in the hot days.

The littlest one who toddled about the room, avoiding dogs, feet, toys, a rocky-horse which is permanently in residence, with William Tell Overture tinkling out merrily at odd moments. There's a Radio Flyer wagon and an immense pink and green and white dollhouse with a whole commune of family and furniture to match---the wagon and house both from Santa and constructed on the dining table at midnight on Christmas Eve. This house has the daring innovation of having the bathroom on the flat roof of the garage, with the bright red toilet seat available to any open-air afficionado, as well as an inviting yellow slide perched on the attic precipice, ready to hurl the unwary slider into the flowerpots far below.

We walk around various gifts, chairs with piles of ready-to-fold laundry, the weighty old ammo-box serving as stile over the baby-gate at the stairs, its own primary-color decor seeming to advertise that it might contain LEGOS rather than its hundredweight of lethal contents, and all the other necessaries of life in a houseful. Our boy roamed from Grand to Grand to Grand to Grand, the second pair of whom drove a couple of hours for another visit today and also took us all to dinner. Any other day, I'd a just DIED if they'd seen my house looking like this.

The four-year-old whose voice seems to emanate from a fairy-throat tells the most interesting, intricately-plotted stories of horses and dinosaurs and cats and places known only to herself---along with one tiny SuperHero who flies alongside her keeping guard as she rides her horse through the Yukky Forest to visit GranFodder, who is a lady with even more cats and an unending supply of cookies and fudge and stories to tell.

The just-over-a-year young lady whose Mom surprised me with a framed picture of Daughter and Daddy, one of the snaps from the "maybe the Christmas Card" group made here on Thanksgiving---they're posed by chance in front of my son's own baby picture with those same curls, those clear green eyes. All conversation stopped, all rustling of paper ceased, to see me shedding tears over the dearness of the entire thing. I looked up to see WIDE eyes, astonished faces, as I wiped my own eyes and said something about silly old Grandmas.

And Chris, without whom I would never have known this group who have come to be my own, awaiting the births of each, holding them soon and warm, seeing them grow and turn to me as readily as to all the kin bound by blood. I'm every day re-enchanted by his eternal patience and quick wit and a kindness beyond measure.

I know I'll probably allow myself to finally collapse with weariness when they leave tomorrow, but it's been one of the nicest Christmases I can remember. I guess I didn't know on Thanksgiving just how thankful I AM.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


After days of waiting, and cleaning and cooking and planning, wrapping and waiting some more, we were delighted to see our Georgia Clan arrive very late last night.

We hugged and kissed babies and talked and hugged babies some more. Chris baked cookies at One A.m. and we ate them, warm and melty with chocolate, as we snugged shoulder and lap around the little round breakfast table. The little ones gazed with wide eyes at the unaccustomed deep-night party, then we tucked them into warm beds and fell into our own at four a.m..

That table has been a day-long art gallery, with immense sheets of paper and pages from a Tinkerbell coloring book, as I learned the names of Iridessa and Silvermist, coloring their dainty raiment in all the shades in the marker-box. Peanut butter sandwiches and sandwiches of still-warm ham off the grill were lunch, as we cleared the decks for plates and glasses, then went back to all our artistic afternoon.

There's the customary pot of bean soup on the stove, both washer and dishwasher are running, and we're settling in for a very simple Christmas Eve. We'll try to stretch this out over the several nights the children are here, and the mere household of it, the being together---that instinctive huddle of togetherness on a cold night---that's the original Gathering, and no amount of tinsel and paper could wrap that feeling in enough importance.

I wish you all a peaceful and wonderful Holiday Season.

Monday, December 22, 2008


I swear, Y'all---if you coulda seen my house before I went into this cleaning frenzy, you wouldn't eat my cooking. But it's all better now, with things in place and LOTS of things out of place, moved from their vulnerable, tempting spots (to two toddlers) to The Room downstairs---the one that you go in looking for a quart of mayo or the Scrabble set or your Winter hat, and you come out with a bag of Easter candy, year unknown, and the last quart of those pickles you'd lost track of.

And tomorrow will bring gift-wrapping---I love that part, and have been so wrapped up in getting everything that HAD to be done, done, before doing the really fun stuff---well, there sit the bags and sacks and boxes, naked and unadorned. But we have lots of pretty Christmas bags this year, since so many of us will be together. You can't mail in the things, and Heaven help the ones that have to go into the car for that long trip---they emerge tattered and wrinkled and sporting holes wherever a corner or edge could poke through. We get out of the car bearing gifts that look like we not only GOT them at a garage sale, we did it on the way over.

And now, I have a quiet moment. I've worked so hard, and now the house is quiet, all the mail opened and the Christmas cards lined up in the pass-through on a pretty damask cloth. Our silly breakfast table has a pink cotton underskirt, a red plastic overlay (stored from last year, when all the children ate at that table and painted and colored---it's just one of those flimsy 99c picnic things). That's centered with a huge white doily made by my OTHER Mammaw, then the big round glass from the wicker table (bottom basket-thing stored in the garage for the Winter). It's kinda funky, especially with the four cushy ORANGE burlappy chairs, but the gorgeous gingerbread basket, all cellophaned and curly-red-confettied and filled with all sorts of chocolate goodies, which arrived from our LA kids this p.m. just pulls everything together so beautifully.

And looking the length of this room, with the little buffet tree, all white and silver, reflected in the glass top of the dining table. It's magical, in the way that the bubble-lights on our family tree were when I was growing up. Caro got me a string of those several years ago, and I've enjoyed watching them SO much. There's something about the Kool-Aid colors of the liquid, and the beginning of the bubbles, and they even seem to give off the same scent that I remember, but that was probably just TREE---our living room always smelled of pine, from the paneling and the tree, and the always-closed-off dining room was VERY cold, with the scent of apples. Always.

So I'm awaiting Chris. He knows how much cooking I've done, so he suggested Taco Bell. He'll be bringing me some Nachos Bell Grande and a small chicken quesadilla. And I'll make the pink sauce---he's the only one I know who prefers homemade 1000 to salsa. I hope for an equally-quiet evening, with the warmth and scents of a freezing-outside Christmas night. I like to enjoy the quiet peace of things before company arrives, when all is ready and the unaccustomed order is a quieting thing in itself.

I felt myself being neater in the kitchen, somehow. today, as I made and stored the cornbread for Thursday's dressing, as I poured from kettle-to-pot for our tea, as I wiped counters and washed up the last few dishes by hand. I could be June Cleaver, I think, living in a really neat house with everything in its place, going about the days in a calm, orderly fashion as I kept everything just so.

Nah. Frayed denim shorts and a Clorox-spotted T---with pearls? I don't think so.

Friday, December 19, 2008


Chris just bought his annual Claxton's fruitcake---got this one at Sam's and it's three of the little square logs---quite a haul, as one stick is his usual supply, all the thick, candied-fruity-sweet richness that even HE can stand in one season. He hasn't yet brought home his one quart of eggnog. He doles it out in nightly doses, a shotglass for dessert, sipped slowly like good Scotch. And since I can tolerate neither the clammy cake nor the nutmeggy nog, he enjoys them both all to himself.

My favorite seasonal taste-memory is a Hostess fruitcake, in the pretty round lace-embellished gold tin, a weighty prize to be opened and savored. The three-pounder was our usual holiday buy, and the lifting of the lid revealed a fancy doily, with a pressed-flat bow of red ribbon atop a crinkle-cellophaned round cake. It had no soggy rum, no great clumps of neon fruit. The light, soft crumb of the cake was scented with vanilla, and lovely chunks of real pineapple and whole, almost-transparent glace' cherries were suspended in that spongy, wonderful cake. Whole pecans, crisp and toasted, provided a salty crunch in contrast to the tender cake and moist fruit.

The cake was doled out in small slices, as well, by my Mother's steady hand on the cakeknife, and despite frequent lid-liftings for a scented savor, never once did I contemplate swiping a slice.

That was a SERIOUS cake, for special, for occasions, and we treated it with the respect it was due. I'd love to find one again. We occasionally pass the Wonder Bread bakery, inhaling those homey odors of baking bread, with a little punctuation of cinnamon in the air---I Wonder if they still make those delicious cakes.

And a fond memory is of Papa, my children's Great-Grandfather, whose own Mother had always made great crocks of egg custard, thick and golden, but still pourable from a big crockery pitcher, to be sipped with whatever other rich dessert they were having. Papa still had the pitcher, and Grandmother would duplicate the recipe every year, keeping him a steady supply of the custard in the refrigerator.

He’d sit back in his recliner after supper, turn on the News, and say, as he always phrased a request to her, “Linny, if you’ll pour me a glass of that custard, I’ll drink it.”

Years ago, one of our distant relatives sent us one of those small cheese assortments every Christmas. It was usually perhaps six small wedges of different cheeses, a little round Edam or Gouda, and a maybe four-inch stick of sausage on each end, the whole nestled in a box of shredded yellow paper, with punctuations of those red-and-green-cellophaned strawberry candies. We'd make a big production of dinner one night during the season, with lovely cracker assortments, crisp wedges of apple and pear, and bunches of juicy red and green grapes, crusty baguettes, a little dish of sweet butter, and a big ole crock of wonderful Mississippi State Cheddar, ordered in September for Christmas delivery.

We'd set the table beautifully, with the cheeses all arranged on pretty trays with doilies or leaves from the magnolia tree. We'd pour apple juice into wineglasses, toast the holiday, and I'd cut each small cheese wedge into tiny slivers, making sure each person got a taste of each kind. Coins of sausage were sliced, the bread broken and buttered, crackers distributed, and servings of fruit and good dips into the cheddar crock were enjoyed.

It was partly like eating little Barbie-food, somewhat like a wine-and-cheese tasting, and perhaps a silly thing, a frivolous dining experience, with sometimes hats and dressup costumes and fans and boas, with the boys seating us ladies in their best gentlemanly fashion. That relative is long-gone from us, but not from the memories. The children still mention those cheesenibble dinners as a memorable, pleasant part of their growing-up.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


We have such rich, wonderful remembrances, and I'm so glad we can carry them on year after year. Tradition has another smile-inducing run-of-season, then again will go into the closet with all the decorations, to rest and wait another year for sharing old memories, old recipes, old tales and new, as traditions are honored, created, and carried on in family after family. We never fail, for example, to quote DS #1 at five, as he named off the characters in our tiny plastic manger scene---Mother loved to get him to say it, and she almost tired him out that Christmas with repetitions.

He’d been in Kindergarten since September, and the two maiden ladies, Miss Linna and Miss Cordy Woods, (whose parents surely didn’t look ahead to that nickname) held the classes in their home, had taught Mother as well, when she was in high school, and then my sister in Kindergarten. The two ladies were staunch Pentecostals, and the songs they taught the children were hymns---none of that Sesame Street stuff for them. The kids learned the good ole foot-patting shape-notes songs, straight out of the Broadman and the all-day-singin’ books---I’ll Meet You in the Morning, Rock of Ages, Bye and Bye. And they learned all the books of the Bible, and could recite them faster than they could count.

Long passages of Scripture took the place of Nursery Rhymes, and learning to read meant memorizing text and verse. They studied the Nativity Story from Luke, and all the pupils knew it by heart. Mother would point to a little figure, frozen in place beneath the made-in-Taiwan housetop with the odd-shaped angel. DS would dutifully say “That’s Joseph” or “That’s Baby Jesus,” right on cue. Then would come the finger-touch to the top of Mary’s head. “That’s Mary,” he’d say, and Mother, trying to stifle a bubble of laughter, would ask, “And what’s Mary’s LAST name?”

Broughtforth,” was always the earnest answer, and we’d all have to hide our giggles behind our hands.

Our tree went up right after Thanksgiving, the upstairs one, what we call my "Victorian Tree," a big round one to the top of the windows, pink gauzy angel on top, and all decorated in burgundy, silver, gold, pink, white, and many ornaments, old and new. Lots of the decorations have come from thrift shops, the crackly old boxes signaling long use and numerous holidays; the shine is gone in places, the paint a bit chipped, the lace on the doilies a bit careworn, but that tree SHINES.

Daughter Caro chose it year before last, one of the lights-on-already ones, and we decorate it together, with a cloth over the glass of the coffeetable for laying out the hundreds of ornaments, bows, angels, golden apples, swans, blown glass spheres and hearts and bells, the kugels and the ropes of pearl beading, all taking their places, with white silk roses and bunches of burgundy-something-flowers stuck into gaps and filling all the spaces around that top-to-bottom spiral of gold-edged satin ribbon.

And now as I type, the screen reflects the glimmer of the "downstairs" tree---a small version on the buffet, perhaps a yard tall, and totally covered with HUGE ornaments---silver, gold, white and clear. I would never have thought to put such large icicles and balls and bows on such a small tree, but the effect is magical. A white-robed Santa stands waiting beside, tiny satin-wrapped presents in each hand, and his icicles glistening in the lamplight. A silver-clad angel of unfathomable age smiles down on the diners.

And the foot-tall old yellow Santa stands atop the small china cabinet, as he has for the past five years or so, since we rescued him from the 25-cent bin at Goodwill. He stands grinning, his tightly-rounded little cheeks shining, one booted foot aloft in a pudgy Captain Morgan pose, as his entire being shows his years of being companion to a heavy smoker. His beard, hair, white fur trim---all have taken on the jaundiced tinge of an over-ripe banana; he's grimly, smilingly ugly, and we love him.

That's the way of the South, I suppose. Our oddities and our eccentricities, our crazy uncles, our drama-driven aunts, and our slapdash-mannered kin are not hidden away from prying eyes. We trot them right out, set them up in the parlor, and introduce them proudly to all callers.

And our own “Santa”---smiling, silver-bearded Chris---begins wearing his Santa hat a week or so before Christmas. Today was the first day, and he came home saying that he’d gotten a lot of smiles and greetings along his travels.

Books and magazines and television shows and whole symposia have long purveyed great treatises on “How to Choose the Right Mate,” and the criteria run from age to wealth to taste in wine. What those books oughta tell you is how to project what kind of Grandparent that guy would be---that one thing would give a complete view of his character, his sense of humor, his kindness, his patience, his staying the course---all requirements for being a good mate.

I DO love being married to a man who so KNOWS WHO HE IS that he will wear a silly hat all over town just because it makes children smile.

Monday, December 15, 2008


Pioneer Woman's post today is of pictures of her children's participation in their church's Christmas Pageant yesterday. She played upon the antics of her youngest son, in his un-self-conscious role of shepherd. These pageants are wondrous things, teaching children as they learn their lines or make their costumes or just stand there holding aloft that star-on-a-stick. They're participating, they're learning, they're gaining spiritual growth. There are touching moments and AWWWWW moments and sweet, innocent words and actions which convey a concept and a faith that no sermon can supply. There's no face sweeter than a wide-eyed angel in a long white robe, her hair shining in the candlelight, and her halo slightly askew.

But there's no other church service as apt to go awry, no rite as easily unhinged, no time at the altar as unintentionally zany, no gathering of the faithful so prone to erupt into hilarity or dismay or howls of anguish or actors who rush from the stage for a cuddle in Mama's lap, as the Yearly Christmas Pageant. And you have to stick Yearly on there, to distinguish from any other Christmas Pageant you might observe.

Being a survivor of quite a few of those yearly wonders myself, I was just recalling several which sorta stick in the memory.

There was the year that Aquanet and close proximity to the candelabra caused not one but two hairdos to combust, and the time that our lead soprano fainted amongst the flower arrangements---she hadn't told anyone she was allergic, and they went wild with the camellias. But trouper that she was, she waited till the very last high note was finished before collapsing behind the pulpit.

And one time the pianist turned too many pages, gave the intro for the finale much too soon, and the choir burst brightly and strongly into Joy to the World when they should have been back on It Came Upon a Midnight. . ., causing the director to have to resort to arm-waving and hand-flapping to stop them before they finished the whole program, leaving out five songs long-rehearsed and necessary to the story. The gestures, worthy of guiding in a plane onto an aircraft carrier, finally ground the joy to a halt as the choir silenced, one by one. The shuffle, shuffle of pages kinda drowned out the titters of the congregation, but not quite.

But I think the most memorable moment was the year that the Linebarger’s two-year-old walked up the steps and wandered amongst all the robe-dressed angels and shepherds, her Mama’s high-heeled feet no match for her gleeful escape.

There’s just something so awkward, so ungainly, about a short-skirted, stilettoed young woman, stepping fast and reaching desperately for an elusive child amongst a crowd, especially from an unbecoming bendover hindside angle.

Little Linda Kay grabbed up Baby Jesus, who was more the round, rosy putti type than a newborn whose parents have seen hard times---a big ole BUBBA of a doll, almost too unwieldy for the child to carry. And she certainly knew WHERE to find him, since her Mama had lugged her to every rehearsal, being none too sure of her four-year-old shepherd. Who, as it happened, was the picture of decorum, being paralyzed with stagefright and too short to see all the revelry of the chase.

Those twinkly Mary Janes tripped time and again over the long swaddling cloth as the little girl ran, like a puppy dragging a blanket, and she would have been caught, except her Mama ran afoul of a shepherd’s crook and a BIG poinsettia.

The tiny girl made her way over to the font, where she reached HIGH, paddled her spare hand a bit in the water, then managed to poke the doll’s head and part of the blanket into the water (not Holy Water, thank Goodness). She dipped/bathed/baptized the baby, then dragged her dripping train back down the steps like a disheveled bride, smiling all the way. I don’t think anything Santa could have brought her would have made her happier than that naked, wet doll in its soggy blanket.

Good times.


We had a tiny overnight guest Saturday, so her Mama and Daddy could go to the office Christmas party at a hotel downtown. For breakfast yesterday, Caro brought us donut holes from the bakery, fresh and cushiony, with a little slick of vanilla glaze gilding each small pillow.

Baby Girl pointed. “Cook-a,” she said to the box. And so she was set in her chair, her hands washed, her sippy cup of cold milk at the ready.

A few slices of bacon into the microwave, one golden scrambled egg for the little one, cut into tiny squares and laid warm onto the tray, each piece flashing out a brief aura of warm vapor to cloud the steel. “Hot,” she pronounced, thumb-and-fingering up a bite.

We sat with coffee, milk, tea---our beverage choices a gamut of tastes, eating the sweet, sweet bites in a kind of yeasty Communion on the Sunday morning.

Then Caro and I spent an hour or so cutting and arranging trays of fudge and dipped pretzels and cookies and rocky road, for a cookie-swap party in the afternoon.
Chris and our girl departed early, to deliver her home, and he to an early matinee of TDTESS.

We arranged with him to meet us at a wonderful Chinese restaurant after the party, thinking we were going to a have-a-cookie, sip-some-tea affair, but the hostess had a wonderful party table with chicken salad on rolls, hot artichoke dip, spinach balls (I’m getting the recipe), crudite and dip, the corned-beef-cheese-ball we brought, and a JELLO MOLD!!

It was pink and pineapple-y and in one of those seventies Tupperwares with the snap-off top and bottom which make it easy to unmold onto a plate. What a nice Christmas Memory!! (And a hilarious one, as when we cleared the table, she neatly turned the Jello plate so the mold would fit just so back into the container, then flipped it rightside up, standing with a puzzled look on her face as the mayo topping and some of the Jello ran into her palm---she’d forgotten to snap the little BOTTOM piece back on).

We’d seen her cut mercilessly into a fresh pineapple as well, taking off the head with one hack, quartering that thing from top to bottom like a practiced woodchopper. She made four “boats” of it, did the against-the-peel knife-slide all through, then sliced down dozens of times, making bite-sized pieces, still sitting neatly in their little rowboat.

I watched from the kitchen table as her husband, his glasses studiously tipped low upon his nose, measured out a tablespoon of DeKuyper Peach Brandy to sprinkle into each section, then a tall-rounded tablespoon of brown sugar to crumble down the tops.

Under foil, into the oven as we ate, then out and into the center of the table, where I, closest to the spoon, was asked to serve portions from the hothot pyrex; I didn’t know if it felt like Grandma serving the kids, or like pouring out at Windsor. It was SUBLIME, and I don’t even LIKE brandy. (Though I do keep a bottle of the exact Peach, for a warm fruit compote now and then, and for flaming crepes or a fruit topping).

We talked, ate, then all adjourned to the beautifully Christmassed living room, where we sat amongst the trees and lights and Santa-hatted deer and owls, with a great bank of shrubbery against the WIDE windows---perhaps six overlapping, decades-old Christmas cacti in all their rosy bloom. I stared fascinated at one of those fiberoptic trees like those flower-clocks of the eighties. As the tips glowed and diminished, I grew drowsy with the warmth and the unaccustomed midafternoon meal, whilst the young folks chatted.

We sampled bites from the huge table of cookies and candy and savories; we filled plates and bags and Glad-Boxes with all the goodies, each taking home lots to share with family and holiday visitors.

We were too satiated with all that party food to go out, so Chris had a quiet dinner alone, and WAY late during Survivor, Caro and I scavenged the fridge for some cold roast chicken and Paminna Cheese.

It was a wonderful afternoon, all cheery and warm and smelling of lovely spices and the woodsy bright scent of a fresh tree, with good food and good wishes shared among friends.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


I re-read books. I like the re-tellings and the “Why didn’t I SEE that the first time?” and the whole satisfying circle that they make, in that second-time-around. If it’s a mystery, I’ll notice little hints and snippets pointing to the culprit, and say “AHHHH.” My clue-vigilance relaxed somewhat, I’ll take in the entire smooth perfection of Poirot’s wardrobe, his little mannerisms, his eternal politeness. The details of a house, a meal, a library---all those emerge like the images on the paper in a photo-pan. If I liked the story or the characters or the plot, I’ll choose an old favorite from my shelves and have another delve into its charms. I used to read Dickens every Winter, and GWTW every other Summer---those seem like the proper seasons for those widely-disparate themes and locales.

And I lend. I’m delighted to share a favorite author or story or cookbook with someone who might like it. I wave an airy hand toward the walls of shelves; I offer freely and gladly, and I’m careful of the lending, but I like to share. And then years later, when I’m in the mood for Rumpole or V.I. or Kinsey Milhone or the Bennets---I try to remember whose hands carried the book from my home to theirs.

And I do mourn the loss of those volumes, the empty spaces in the collections, the niggling little want-to to read THAT particular story soon. And when they’re returned---that’s a good thing. As far back as schooldays, this cycle has run its course---the excitement of sharing a favorite with a friend, the months-later ping of wanting it back, and the acceptance of the loss when asking is not enough.

My books DID come home---a few of them, at least. My girlfriends in the 3rd-4th-5th grade loved coming to my house and borrowing from the great store of books given to me by my cousin, and of course, over the years, my supply became severely depleted with borrowings and not-returnings and passing on to someone else and carrying-off on vacation and leaving behind---that sort of thing.

I took a great number of them with me when we moved into the little house soon after our marriage, and we were fortunate to have the county bookmobile make bi-weekly visits to our little rural home. Miss Melba was a hefty woman, stepping down from that big white van step with a sigh that echoed the one of the vehicle's springs as she emerged; she had an uncanny way of timing her visits to our suppertime. We were always her last stop on Thursdays and she loved to eat with us. There were just the children and me by that time, and so we two ladies and the three little ones would sit down to our supper together.

But first, we'd all step up into the high van, making our way through the shelves of the magical books, and we'd each choose three or four. And one day, for some reason, Miss Melba came on a Wednesday; we were not expecting her, but scurried around, retrieving our books from shelves and bed-tables and couch-cushions. That day as we stepped in, we had to make our way around a big wide box sitting almost across the doorway. Miss Melba said to just never mind that; she'd picked up all those old books way out in the country on the other side of town, and since she had to miss the route next day to go to a doctor's appointment, she just drove on out our way so as not to get too far behind.

I glanced into the box, and saw the so-familiar blue covers, the familiar titles, the same bright-orange script and silhouette embossed on each---Nancy Drew's unmistakable imprint. There were more than a dozen, amongst quite a few books I did not recognize, and I picked up one, savoring the childhood scents of old paper, the feel of the crackly pages, the memory of Summer days high in a big old pecan tree, lost in the intrigues of River Heights or humming along in that snappy roadster.

And they were MINE, brought home by a happy happenstance, some confluence of events, the alignment of the planets---I don't know. It's just eerie that Miss Melba came to my house THAT DAY, the day that the Mom of my high-school friend asked her to take away all the unwanted leftovers from her long-moved-away daughter's bookshelves. It still gives me a pringle of excitement (yes---I use that word. I'd thought of it as a cross between prickle and tingle, that little neck-tickle, arm-hair quiver that bespeaks an unworldly moment---long before those round red cans marched their way into junk-food history).

My childish scrawl was on each and every flyleaf, with my name and phone number. She quite gladly gave me the whole box, and I still have them somewhere; quite a few are here on my "childhood shelves"---saved just for me, I suppose, for there's little chance that the three girls of our family will ever care to turn those weary pages, to keep them from falling apart in their hands as they turn them quick in anticipation.

They have the "modern" versions---the yellow and green with pictures on the covers, slick and new; I gave Gracie the first ten on her first birthday, to general hilarity, but her nine years accomplished have brought her to an intense love of reading, of the mystery and the puzzle and the fun.

I just heard she's reading Harry Potter now, and that's old for nine, but Magic knows no calendar. All her friends were reading them, so she had to start with #3, the only one left in the library. So the first six, in paperback, sit in their little cardboard pack upstairs, waiting to be wrapped for her Christmas visit.

So my books came home, where they'll live out their retirement in company with lots of dusty old friends. Sorta fitting somehow.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Our house when I was growing up always smelt of BOOKS. We had lots of new BOMC ones which I read much too young, all the ones from our school library, and the loads I lugged home from the little smoky-green board-and-batten library which dispensed books and a cookie now and then. And the old crumbly ones, whose pages would shatter at the corner if you didn't turn with your gentlest touch.

My own personal trove was a gift from a between-generations cousin, who was exactly ten years younger than my Mother and older than I. Lynnette was the Nellie Oleson of our time, an absolute terror, a hitter and pincher and tattle-tale whose parents owned one of the two little grocery stores in a neighboring town, and who had an enticing gallery of exquisitely-dressed dolls, ordered from "OFF" for her childhood Christmases and birthdays. She also had BOOKS.

“Bought” books of her own---whole series of Nancy Drew and Judy Bolton and the Maida series and the Hardy Boys and every Tarzan in print. I would look at the dolls (not allowed to touch), but I coveted those books with a grievous avarice, and when I was in third grade, we got the CALL: Come get something she was giving away.

She was putting away childish things, and my Mammaw's joy at the idea that I would be receiving all those gloriously-attired dolls was boundless. She had even discussed shelving with my carpenter Daddy, hoping to provide them with the perfect display area.

We arrived to find three huge boxes, all packed and taped, and so heavy that they required the dolly and the help of a couple of bystanders---they had BOOKS inside, and Mammaw was NOT happy. And I was absolutely mortified that my Dad was handling a big container with "KOTEX" emblazoned on the side, RIGHT THERE IN DAYLIGHT.

But the bubble of joy that displaced all the feeling in my stomach---that anticipation and pre-enjoyment is still a milestone in my life for sheer happiness. I spent the entire Summer immersed in places and lives outside my own realm; I was right there in the front seat of that roadster (in my own smart outfit and dashing hat) as Nancy sped toward the solution to the mystery.

I passed whole days up an enormous pecan tree, trekking the steaming jungles in pursuit of elephant burial grounds and wicked traders, joining in the Jane-rescue with an echoing yodel and a swift vineswing.

Lynnette gave the dolls to the younger sisters of her boyfriend, and I have no doubt that they were soon scattered around that tatty yard, all those satins and velvets, little feathered hats and tiny, intricate shoes, trampled and whisked away in the wind, but I can still close my eyes and be up that tree in the deep Summer heat, keeping watch for lascivious Jane-stalkers and angry tribesmen.

The scent of old paper, the Johnson's wax we used on the hardwood floors (my Saturday polishings were carried out to rocking music, as I put on Daddy's old socks and danced the floors shiny), the flowers which were always present, the faint scent of my Mother's Pall Mall's, the aura of Chanel and Joy and Estee Lauder wafting from her dressing area, the delicious odors from the kitchen, where we would all be chopping and cooking and baking, the Summer tang of vinegar simmering in the latest batch of pickles, plus the Coppertone richness of a hundred days in the sun---those are still the scent-memories of my life, and my own home replicates these in its own way.

We have no idea of the complexities of our own homes' personae---the scents are just one of the points which go into their makeup; a friend used to come to our house often, and several times she said, "This smells like rich folks' houses." It was just a little house on a little street in a VERY little Southern town...but she was WAY right about the rich part. Books and music and really good food and friends to visit. Wealth beyond wishes.

And what three things does YOUR house smell of, right now?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


The temperature down in the LOW corner as I type says 30 degrees---freezing outside. Would that the inner ice be so. Our little ice-maker, a sturdy little white box, quarter-size of the fridge, and my very favorite-appliance-of-my-life after any and all air conditioners I have known---is not well right now.

Huffs and huhhh!’s and shallowing of the deep drifts, down to clear and wet and sparse, then the last cubes were gone before Curtis-the-Iceman arrived this morning. Yesterday, I did the old Southern trick---boil the water, pour over the bags in the pot, then pour the steeped tea into the big plastic pitcher for snugging into the freezer until suppertime.

My usual practice is to fill the pitcher with more-ice-than-water, drift in a flurry of Sweet N Low, and then pour on the hothot tea. I seldom put cubes into my own glass; I love the great slooooosh of the pour as the cubes and tea cascade into the glass.

So Chris hovers, watching, learning, as Curtis repairs, explains, teaches while he works. Chris did the cleaning day-before-yesterday, but that did not do the trick; it seems that the what-cooks-would-call-a-guitar thingie that melts its screen-way through the sheet to make it into the neat cubes was not heating properly.

And soon it will be, Curtis promises. And the problem with the freezing was the need for heat. Who’d a thought. The guys have discussed computers, photography, whether Curtis has time to stay for grits-and-eggs when he’s finished. When I heard that Southern accent on the speakerphone as he called to say he was on his way---I KNEW he was a G.R.I.T.S. Guy. He has the slow warm courtesy of the young men of my youth, of countless friends-over-for-supper when my boys were growing up. It’s the Man-way of treating older ladies, the “Yes, Ma’am” and the “I’d be glad to have a coffee refill,” when a cup was offered.

And now he’s packing up to go, pouring and sugaring and getting ready to go to the rescue of other iceless beings. He’s from the South. He UNDERSTANDS.

Curtis the Iceman Goeth, and the world has clicked back into place, once again.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


We seem to be focusing on the sweet things of life lately, so I'll ask the age-old question:


And why?

Monday, December 8, 2008


I don't believe I've made my Mother's recipe for Apple Dumplings in exactly ten years. My memory of the date I cooked any given thing is not so keen as that would appear---I remember that it was the year after her death, and we had all gathered back at the family home for Thanksgiving. Daddy had called us all and said that he had sold the house, and he'd be back in town for a wedding that weekend, so if we wanted anything out of the house, we needed to get a truck and come on down.

And so we gathered, the ten of us, and packed and remembered, losing time and work in the reminiscences, and the stories attached to many of the things of our upbringings. My sister's son is a chef, so he and I cooked the Thanksgiving dinner, sort of long distance, with my bringing a lot of the ingredients and several dishes already made and in coolers, the five hundred miles down the Interstate. We stood at the same stove, on the same gold-patterned linoleum on which which I'd stood to bake and stir and fry all those years that I lived there.

This recipe is just as written down for me by DS #2, who has made this old standard for our Christmas Dinner for a long time, now; I had made it before, and had it memorized, but that’s faded and I wanted the exact measurements.

Way back then, in that old familiar kitchen, with its Brady-orange countertops and copper EVERYTHING, I dictated quickly to the young chef:

“Make a Simple---1/3 white, 1/3 brown. Melt stick of butter in pan. Peel, quarter, wrap, pour, 350, 35/45.” And his chef’s training took over. He made a lovely pan that we enjoyed one last time around that familiar table, all of us together under their roof for a final Thanksgiving before the house belonged to other people, other traditions.

Mother’s Recipe, written down for me by my son, who makes them for all our occasions:

Apple Dumplings

Granny Smith Apples---4
2 packs Pillsbury Rolls---Pack makes 8
Brown sugar 1/3 cup Sugar 1/3 cup
Stick of Butter
Water or Cider
Melt stick of butter in 9x13 Corning ware pan. Core and peel Granny Smiths in 1/4th. Wrap and pull rolls around ¼ of apple.
Place in pan. *Evenly Sprinkle brown sugar and reg. Sugar over top of Dumplings. Take a spoon and drizzle a little water over each one. Bake on 350 for 35 to 45 minutes until golden brown. You can pour about a cup of cider or apple juice into the bottom of the pan to make the syrup and it will thicken around the bottoms of the rolls.

I also found myself mangling a pack of the rolls a few days ago. I am accustomed to popping the can, peeling it off, then taking hold of the dough cylinder with both hands and giving it a little twist to separate the two rolls of four each, top and bottom.

But this one frayed and stuck, and little ends and twirls fell away; I had not noticed that they're now making a pack of SIX, and so they don't let go in the middle any more. I sorta patchworked them back together, and made cinnamon rolls for our breakfast. They didn't look so bad, under all that creamcheese icing.

I think I WILL try the dumplings with the six-packs---cutting the apples into thirds and wrapping should make for a nice-size serving, but I think I'd have to increase the baking time a bit.

They're easy for breakfast, for sliding into the oven as you sit down to dinner, or just for a nice interlude, maybe with a pot of tea or coffee, as you watch the snow fall.


I go barefoot most of the time at home, and shuck my shoes in most folks' houses, whether they ask or not. Socks or bare, I usually tuck my feet up crosslegged in my chair anyway. I don't care what they wear or don't at my house. Sometimes we "dress" for dinner, but that usually means breaking out a freaky old hat collection we've been adding to for years.

I cook. People come over. And I LIKE cleaning and preparing and all the prep stuff---it's all a part of the enjoyment for me. A leisurely cleanup after---that's another enjoyable adventure, discussing the evening, neatening the rooms, seeing each item clean and shining and back into its own place. Leftovers are NEVER a problem; I practically own STOCK in the Gladbox enterprise, and they go out of the house, laden with the guests' tomorrow lunches.

When we used to cater a lot of parties and weddings, some of our best and most memorable next-day meals consisted of party leftovers, a tart that didn't QUITE measure up, a quiche that didn't fulfill the expected golden glory of the others, a bowl of leftover fruit salad that found its calling in the blender, perhaps with a shot of rum; that extra container of chicken-salad sandwiches, cold and tender and perfect, and CAKE---all the level-off trimmings and the extra "just in case" layer, and all that leftover buttercream, extra delicious and creamy from two days in a Tupperware. Now when we have party nibbles, I STILL crave wedding cake on the plate.

And I LOVE lingering at the table through dessert, coffee, maybe liqueurs, more coffee, and enough stories and jokes and fun to leave us all gasping, or just quiet moments with a couple of friends, saying not much, saying all.

No time for cleanup before guests leave except grabbing a dozen or so go-boxes and dividing up the leftovers for whoever wants to tote 'em. I like doing the cleaning at my leisure anyway---usually to a Jane Austen or Agatha Christie or Sherlock Holmes on tape. Yesterday, stirring fudge, I flew along with Harry Potter, hustling Sirius up and away on Buckbeak to escape into the clouds. This is the first time ever I haven't had a "view" from the sink, so I let my ears do the entertaining.

And when Chris cooks, people from three townships away follow their noses and wind up in our backyard. Some of our best friends were once hungry strangers.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


In honor of all the cookie house and candy days of our past Decembers, we spent today making fudge. We have about twenty pounds cooling in various places---atop tuna cans on the glass-topped dining table, set on the cool of the kitchen counter, the first already firm and cool, resting on the glass in a 9x13 steel pan.

All the rest is in the small loaf pans, and those little things are HEAVY!! They should be about 1 1/4 pounds apiece, since the recipe usually yields five pounds, and we usually filled four with each making.

The wide pan is the original recipe, with about a pound of chocolate stirred in with the marshmallow creme; one set of loaf pans is Dark, with two pounds in the mix, and the Reese's, which took two makings (original and peanut butter) and two pours.

There's one loaf pan of solid PB Fudge, top scattered with big salted peanuts, for my DDIL, whose favorite candy it is.

And one loaf pan of the chocolate meant for the Reese's, but somehow we had more chocolate than PB. Or we poured it wrong. Who cares. Chris has one client who has been hinting and then downright ASKING, if it's about time for fudge. And we don't think he even takes it home, just keeps it at the office so he won't have to share.

Tomorrow will be pretzel-dip day, and Rocky-Road Day, and maybe haystacks and Cherry clusters and peanut clusters and maybe Chex mix.

But if I don't get upstairs and get those guest rooms ready, there'll be only half of us here to eat it. But making sweet stuff is ever so much more FUNNN.

And no matter how much I try, knowing the guest beds have soft, fluffy fresh white linens all tucked and smoothed just won't calm that midnight craving for CHOCOLATE.


Today’s the day---the First Sunday In December---forever to be known in our family as Cookie House Day. Not Gingerbread Houses---no baking involved, and the scope and variety of cookies and decorations knew only the bounds of the local Sunflower, Kroger, and Fred’s Dollar Store. We bought whatever took our fancy---salty or sweet, just so the shapes were interesting, or they LOOKED like part of a Witch’s Architecture. Or a Fairy's, perhaps even a Gnome's. We used candy corn for window-trim and pretzels for fences or tiny sugar-dusted shredded wheat pillows for thatching---anything goes in a child’s eyes, especially one armed with a big cup of sugar frosting. Imagination is ALL.

We'll have a very small version this year, at our breakfast table, with only one little girl and a pair of one-year-olds to participate. So we'll have safe candies and their kinds of cookies and a lot of help from Moms and Dads and us Grandparents. And probably baths in the pink TeleTubs for the two small ones.

The first year, we started out with about five little ones from our tiny church, who came over after Sunday Dinner, and we made up the rules as we went along. Pretty much, the rules were: You had to be five, or no older than twelve. Past participants were welcome to come and assist the little ones in their own creations.

I had cut little cardboard patterns, maybe 9x9x7 boxy shapes with two triangular peaks, duct-taped the forms together from the inside, then taped those to thick cardboard squares, a couple of inches bigger all around to make room for a little lawn or woodpile or some Christmas trees (or a moat---that's what I'd opt for).

Sorry---that outburst was surely caused by endless afternoons in close proximity to twenty or so seven-year-olds with unlimited access to sugar.

On the long bar, paper plates of all kinds of "bought" cookies and candies and pretzels, gumdrops and canes and crackers stood ready. I usually made a gallon of the butter/powdered sugar/flavoring frosting we used for birthday cakes, but for this one, I always used a drop or two of orange extract and a tiny sprinkle of salt, so all that finger-licking wouldn't be so overpoweringly sweet.

Each child got a paper plate or platter, to choose all the building materials and attach them to the roof first---it was a rectangle a bit wider and longer than the housetop; the hangover made neat eaves for applying icicles. A gentle score down the center, and the flat board bent in the middle to set neatly onto the house. The finished roof dried while the house was decorated.

Everyone also got a plastic punch cup filled with icing, and a small plastic spatula for spreading. You could smear it on the cardboard and attach stuff, or smear the backs of the cookies to attach, or however you could fulfil your dreamhouse. And when, at time for icicles and other decor, we handed each a filled pastry cone, eyes widened and faces lit up even brighter. Children just LOVE being trusted with pleasant grownup tasks, and this was not the TIME for "no, you can't do this; it's too messy." They strewed icing with merry abandon. Licking fingers and arms for stray icing, even an experimental squeeze into an open mouth---that's what the BIG bowl of homemade dill pickles and the bowl of salty pretzels and all those pitchers of ice water were for.

When all was finished, handfuls of the leftovers, the broken cookies, the unused candy, pretzels and other edibles, all were distributed into the houses, and the roofs were set on, the weight of icing and cookie-shingles keeping them in place. We made pictures, Mamas returned to carry the sticky carpenters home, and we cleaned the kitchen. And I never waxed my floors for the holidays until after the party.

After about the third time, several adults requested to come make a house for their dining tables or for an upcoming party in their home, or to relive or just LIVE some childhood moments once again. So several years, we had a wine-and-cheese party on Saturday night; everybody brought bags of goodies to decorate with, I made the icing and cardboard forms, and when it was over, they all helped clean up and set out the decorations for Sunday.

This got to be so popular over the years, we had people calling in October to reserve a place, and we finally had to move it to the Fellowship Hall of the Church. Several Moms in other churches around the county called for instructions; I gave out the icing recipe, drew them the pattern, and they started having parties of their own.

I haven’t been there for Christmas in years---I wonder if they still do. And I really hope some of the children remember.

Saturday, December 6, 2008


I really should be occupying this cold day with lots of cleaning and preparing and getting the upstairs rooms ready for the five Christmas Guests we're expecting. And I'm not. I'm just being right now, enjoying the scents from the kitchen, the music, the soft clatter and stir as Chris goes about his cookie-making. Tomorrow and Monday, we'll do the fudge.

My only claim to any kind of artistry is limited to cooked stuff, and the fudge-makings stand ready, mostly still in the big green cotton shopping bags they came home in. There will be two dark chocolate (one will be studded with dried cherries and cashews---a little Guccier version of the old store-bought Chunky bars---a lifelong favorite with Chris).

One pan will be peanut butter fudge, with a top or bottom layer of pale chocolate, like the creamiest, smoothest Reese's cup you ever tasted, topped with jumbo salted peanuts. The last will be Latte, with milk chocolate, and flavored before cooking with a good double-shot from the Espresso-syrup bottle. Chocolate coffee beans for snugging atop each piece, after cooling.

Caro bought the pretzels, chocolate, and all sorts of sprinkly, chippy, nutty, brickly things to coat the sticks with; those goodies are mostly for her group at work. She's famous for her beautifully-wrapped, specially-chosen gifts. She also brought in several packs of those tiny loaf-pans, suggesting we give some of the fudge still-panned, with a little plastic knife attached, as the candyshops do with their fudge-for-sale.

Chris picked up flour, sugar, brown sugar, lots of butter, white and dark chunks, pecans to toast and macadamias and dried cherries, ready to make his coveted cookies. He knows the recipe by heart, and does no cream-the-butter step. The dry stuff is mixed in a big bowl, including both sugars and the flour, the butter melted, the egg stirred in, the glug from the Watkins vanilla bottle, and all made into a big creamy lump to be rolled into logs in waxed paper, frozen and sliced for baking.

Sometimes over the years, when our catering clients did not order the cookies for a party, guests would come hopefully to the kitchen, anticipating that we MIGHT have just made some, anyway. So we started doing that, carrying a big flat basket with several dozen, as a bit of lagniappe for the host, and everybody was happy. Especially the guests who knew where the Ziplocs lived, so they could stash a bag to take home.

This time last year, I had a little family book all ready and on a CD, ready for the printer, in order to get the copies back in time to send to family members. This year I had intended to make a little cookbook---I've got quite a few pages of family memories from all sides of our far-flung clan---who made the best biscuits, Maw's caramel poundcake, Mammaw's every-Friday pineapple cake with 7-minute, Mother's chowchow and pepper relish, her "apple dumplings" made in a 9x13, out of Pillsbury crescents wrapped around Granny Smith quarters, nestled into the buttered pan, and doused with a brown-sugar, cider, butter concoction, to bake bubbly and tender, coated with the thickened sauce.

The children all want the recipe for Chris’ Famous Chocolate Chip Cookies; he’s making about four batches of the dough today, these to be rolled in parchment, bagged, and snugged away in the freezer for the week of Christmas, when five of the children will be here.

On a cold afternoon, unheeding of the nearness of getting dinner onto the table, or after the night's dishes are done, someone will mention cookies. We’ll stand looking down into the freezer and deliberate; we’ll take out a roll or two, with discussions and decisions of whether we want the White Chocolate/Dried Cherry/Macadamia or the Ghirardelli Chunk/Toasted Pecan ones. Or we'll decide to slice chunks off every roll in there, lining them up all over the cookie sheets, a sweet Smorgasbord on the Silpat.

The first-ever batch of “plain” dough will be rolled this year---the two littlest, each barely a year old, will have their own cookies, the pure-and-simple sweetness without any additions. Those come soon enough in Life.

I meant to do all that book-stuff. But, as usual, the time has flown past me, leaving the dream only that, and the pages still to be put together. I make no excuses, offer no real explanations; little everyday things, important in their unimportance, have hindered and crept in and taken the time and place allotted to the writing. And that is as it should be; I count all the little family happenings and chores and days as blessings, all on their own.


We're snowed in. Chris is making cookies.

Well, I was gonna leave it at that, round and complete as an apple on a palm, but he just walked up and held a small bite near my lips---I chewed, and savored, the breath of vanilla and the still-a-bit-crunchy sugar crystals and the rich crunch of toasted pecan---cookie dough!!!

Warm socks and Joe Cocker on the Bose.

No matter what else the world offers, this is enough, for this moment, for a memory, for a snowy day.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Thanksgiving---a Week After

I did not, as I promised, tell of our Thanksgiving. The days since we got home on Monday afternoon have been busy, with our own little personal whirlwind to keep us company.

We had a quiet Giving-of-Thanks, with just us of the household and that of our #2 Son---three in each. So we were six at table, five with the new painted burgundy plates and the Mammaw goblets and the quarter-apiece jewel-colored dessert plates. Our high-chair member had her own orange plastic plate, with her first use of the little sterling fork-and-spoon set.

Daughter Caro had done all the decorating downstairs, swagging the little chandelier with a great wreath of silken leaves and hanging grapes in that perfect muscadine bronze---apropos for all us Southern set. The breakfast table which usually serves as the buffet had an Autumn-printed cloth, with gourds and sheaves and pumpkins, and Caro scattered a handful of the leaves all across beneath the glass top; the effect was remarkably 3-D, like looking through a Fifties ViewMaster. People walking by would sometimes reach out a finger to see if a leaf would move.

We ate the old family favorites---Chris' grill-roasted turkey done several hours on the grill that morning; cornbread dressing with two gravies: Giblet, with several chicken livers sauteed in butter, then chopped and added to the thickened stock with the customary bits of soft-boiled egg. And a boat of the liver-less kind, for DDIL and me. A platter of broccoli and cauliflower, steamed, with lemon butter; a plate of devilled eggs and crisp celery hearts; home-canned green beans cooked down low with bacon and chunks of onion, then topped with tiny potatoes. Cranberry sauce---a lovely compote of fresh cranberries, simmered in orange juice with Splenda and a drop of vanilla, with the supremed orange stirred in cold. And of course, the Ocean Spray---though no longer do we cut out both ends of the can and serve it in neat slices---the bottom is ROUND, now, and so we just dig out great clops with a spoon and serve it in its own compote. Chris cannot enjoy Thanksgiving without Ocean Spray. Jellied, not the clumpy kind.

But when we DID serve the cranberry in slices, we used an old silver tomato-server which probably belonged to someone's nice Grandmother---I like to think so. I got it at Goodwill.
DS brought a buttery bowl of creamed corn, which he cut and put into the freezer in August.

We had coconut cream pie and lemon icebox pie and some lovely Danish butter cookies.

So that's the decor and the food. We held hands as Chris asked the blessing, our littlest one calmly holding on, beginning to smile up at him at his first words, and not stopping till we all said, "Amen!" Then she chuckled and nodded enthusiastically, kicking her feet. And we are all thankful; I leave everyone's own gratitude as their own.

Yesterday, I took down and packed away all the gold and yellow and brown and green into its own special box, to await the turning of another season. Last night, we wrestled a bit with the three pieces of the upstairs tree, noted that all lights seemed to be on strike save the very bottom row, decided to buy some strings tomorrow, and left Tree lying beside the sofa, where Kitty will probably make a nest before we get back to it. I had to run the skirt through the dryer on "AIR" three times last year---she just LOVED that thing, and when the packages covered it all over, she somehow shouldered a few out of the way, and would be snoozing away between the boxes.

Moire non,



Our Dear Mrs. G's essay upon Divinity, the Snow-White kind, kindled a Christmas longing unfelt in several years---we have pounds and pounds of chocolate, marshmallow creme, great sacks of sugar and flour and nuts, with frivolous little shaker-jars of sprinkles and finely-minced, almost-meal pecans, as well as Barbie-sized chocolate chips---you could make nickel-sized cookies for your dollhouse with those chips---for dipping the huge pretzel sticks. We've stocked up on cupcake papers, especially the little foil ones, and small loaf pans and storage tins and all manner of wrappings. And next weekend will be the time; the Voice of Chocolate will be heard in the Land.

But we have not put mixer to egg whites, nor spun a thread-stream of molten sugar into the billowy heaps, taking an infinity of time to make the divinity into its desired perfection. And I miss that---it was one of the two holiday traditions all the time my children were growing up. Their next-door Grandmother made the most delectable poufs of the stuff. Her sure hand with the heat and the timing and even the weather was uncanny, and never-but-once did I ever see her make a less-than-perfect batch.

SIL, then about thirteen, was always allowed to choose the colors, those good old McCormick drops which lent a special touch to the candy-stand of little clouds. My choice, then and now, was pink---not a dark pink, nor a rosy shade---venturing nowhere near Pepto Bismol or hot or what a coarse relative referred to as "boonbutt"---but a delicate, baby's blush shade, just enough to tint a hint of palest pastel.

Maw's customary choices were pale green and pale pink---quite a lovely arrangement on the dining table. And the year that SIL decided that if the two colors were good, a combination would be marvelous---well, let's say that the expected tray of divinity at the WMU party was notably missing, its dingy gray clumps dotted with brown pecan bits deemed quite unsuitable for such a fancy gathering.

I still return to this mention of divinity-making, that of a Southern girl transported for years to the lovely hillsides of France.


And my own reply on her memory-kindling blog:

I'm awaiting a sunny day for the making of a batch---it's been a long time since we've had a taste of those melty mouthfuls.

They'll be topped with toasted pecans from the old Homeplace in Mississippi, and whether I push each fat nutmeat into the cushion of billowy pink, or lounge one side-saddle against a Dairy Queen curl, I'll think each time of a sleepy baby, like the Dear One in the crib right behind me, snuggled into her pillow.

Divinity IS divine.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


Home again, minds filled with the haze of a thousand and more miles, books and bags and shoes and a full-to-bursting laundry bag lugged into the house in the sprinkle of a late afternoon. We'd been a long way, riding the highway, the loops and curls of the four-lanes, the rainslick shining off the pavement and glistening down the panes of the sheared-off rock walls of the mountains larded through with the veins of transit.

We'd carried a suit, a tie, a fresh-pressed burgundy shirt; my black crepe pants and cut-velvet jacket---my only concession to "dress-up" clothes except under duress. We sat in the Georgia church, unfamiliar of place and of music, of instrument, of the bright-screened Words of Praise. Our own were the raisings of the foot-patting old hymns, the What a Friend and the Rock of Ages; this Sunday morning was spent in midst of a long music-service, everybody standing and singing and swaying for a great long time to unfamiliar song after song, the words like Karoake on the big screen and coming through the speakers level with our eyes and unaccustomedly bright to our ears.

And our son was ordained this weekend---his own journey longer than we travelers could imagine, of school and work and meetings and study and language courses and schedules past keeping. His passport would do credit to an emissary, as he soon will be---as he prepares for his life in the Ministry. I did not birth this child, but I met him when he was very young; his Dad and I have been married for more than twenty years, and we are equally proud and awed by him and his accomplishments.

We had worship in his church, lunch in his Mother's home, and that was a journey in itself, a quiet, warm gathering to honor and to send out this far-reaching, amazing young man. I bear no credit for any of his accomplishments, save for Sunday School and Church on our weekends, with a lot of stay-at-home little projects and games and things-done-together. When he was a child, we built forts and racecourses and dioramas of battlefields; we picked pillowslips full of cotton from the outside-the-front-door fields---an oddly-enjoyed treat to these "town" children. Then we broke out the Elmer's, some square bits of plywood, and twigs, fashioning the cotton and its pointy boll-claws into a charming family of barn owls with toes grasping the limbs and cunning beaks peeping from beneath store-bought googly-eyes from the sewing box.

We talked about life and death and Heaven and shooting and Batman; we walked our fields for arrowheads and put out salt for the deer; we raked leaves, rolled in the piles, burned them way out in the field, inhaling that sure scent of Autumn, then cooked baked potatoes in the embers.

And he mentions these things---picking up pecans and walking the woods, and the nights we'd make Sloppy Joes and watch silly zombie videos. I've watched him grow up tall and strong, kind and so selfless in so many things that my breath shallows and slows. I'm very glad that Chris DID come with such a dowry---when my Dad, thinking of the relative swiftness of our courtship, asked, "Are you SURE?---what about all those CHILDREN?" I replied, "I'd take THEM even if Chris weren't part of the package."

We hugged Goodbyes, changed into comfy soft clothes for traveling, and headed North, riding long into the night, aiming for home, with the strange confluence of planets and moon forming a bright smile to beckon us home. I watched it for a long time, hanging so strangely in that sapphire sky---a cosmic HappyFace looking down on all those Thanksgiving-weary travelers.

I'm still smiling, myself, and I think the kvell of the weekend will last a long time.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


We did, indeed, do a little of both; we were seven in the booth, with a table socked in at the end to accommodate the out-three. Everybody got to the hotel around three, coming back from the shooting range, and others arriving from their own hours'-long journey.

I'd asked everyone to have an early lunch, for DS#4 had an important interview at seven p.m., and so we had to go to dinner at five. Nobody minded the early hour, and it cut down on the stand-and-wait, though it was Saturday night. And I was latest of all---Cousin Louise, who had driven up with Chris' Mom from the coast, wanted to run to one of the outlet stores out on the highway, just for a quick errand, so we were last to arrive at the restaurant.

When we were shown to our table, all I could see was Chris' shining silver hair in the corner; then I saw his feet perched up high on one of those tall chairs, to my momentary dismay---I'm not fond of perching like a toddler to eat dinner. But they were just at the drawn-up table, and the three guys were in those---our booth was elevated a bit, and so our feet were on our "floor" though our table was level with theirs.

His Mom was propped comfortably in the far corner, with her ubiquitous back-pillow featuring a tapestry of two deer drinking at twilight---we've left that thing from here to yonder, always fetching it back, and once, having it delivered to the house via UPS when we left it in Ohio. She's tiny and fragile, her little dandelion fluff of white hair like a halo, and her shining eyes and smile lighting up every gathering. I've been blessed with two absolute angels as Mothers-In-Law, and she calls all of us DIL's her Daughters-in-Love.

She'd come for the ribs, and ribs it was---she tucked her tiny self into that platter like a truck driver, nibbling and enjoying the meat and the sauce and the enormous baked potato, and loaded was the word. There was enough butter and sour cream and cheese and bacon on that thing to make a casserole for a good-sized Church Supper crowd.

Everybody else had steaks of one sort or the other, with the usual salads and potatoes (Chris always chooses the loaded SWEET---with cinnamony butter and a big puddle of crunchy-broiled marshmallows atop). And I, true to my childhood love affair with caffays and truck-stops and dairy bars and drive-in eateries---I had a cheeseburger. It was a really good one, thick and juicy, with a good slab of rich cheddar melting its corners down like a little tablecloth. The bun had been grill-toasted, and it had sliced sweet onion, lots of tomato and so much lettuce that I took off enough to finger-munch like chips. And, though I've gotten some rather strange comments on my taste---mustard---squiggles of good old French's yellow.

There were wonderful heavy steak-fries, golden-brown and crisp, with the tender center steamy and soft. Nobody wanted dessert, so we just had coffee as we sat talking and laughing way too loud---I love being in a crowd like this, with everyone glad to see each other, and having wonderful food, sitting full and comfortable in the moment, with people you care about. We're so far from most of our Dearies, it's lovely when it happens.

The music was twangy and fairly loud, but then so were we---probably both; we'd come from four states for this occasion, and though we'd all meet the next day for lunch, this was the fun time, the relaxing time, the catch-up time, if you could make yourself heard over all the voices trying to do the same. No real stompin' and no boot-scoot; no two-step, no yee-haw, no dancin' on the bar.

But it was our kind of fun. We coulda had the same time at home, at Hardee's, at our hotel. The memories will linger. It's one of my very favorite GATHERINGS.

Monday, December 1, 2008


I had a fun e-mail from my friend Lili, who tried the Paminna Cheese recipe for the first time. I opened the mail after Chris had gone to bed, and as I read, I started to laugh. I was giggling so loud by the time I got to the list of go-withs improvised by the work crew, Chris opened the door to see why I was making so much noise in the midnight hours of the silent house.

I hope Lili doesn't mind my sharing the fun---this letter and Paminna Cheese are both WORTH sharing.


Well, I must say, you've revolutionized a NJ household! On Saturday, as planned, I whipped up a batch of pamina cheese, and yes, I say it exactly that way. Maybe there's a soft t in there, somewhere, but I'm sure I'm close. After all, I do have about a hundred relatives from southern Georgia... I digress. So, I made it up, sort of around dinner prep, packed it into a container, and fridged it. We don't have any Durkee sauce here, I've never heard of it, but I looked it up online, and thought it might be like a tart mayonnaisey concoction, with sadness, I left it out. I tasted the cheese as I was making it, and thought "hmm, this is decent." I fed a blob on a cracker to the mister, and he had the same reaction. It sat in the fridge, and the next afternoon, in between leaf-clean ups, he hauled the tub out, and the three men ate it with celery, bread, pretzels, pickles, fingers, and anything not nailed down.

I saw some get spread on wheat toast, and popped into the toaster. I saw the concoction get eaten spread on a piece of ham. They finished my cheese. It was completely gone by Sunday night. Pamina Cheese is definitely more than a sum of its parts, and it definitely benefits from reposing in the fridge for the night. This is the perfect between-jobs heavy snack almost lunch, something that they can eat standing up, chow that they're looking for. Especially when they come in from working. I love it too, broiled on toast, or on cucumber slices, or multigrain crackers.

I had to take a few minutes out of this insane week, and thank you for the inspiration, thank you for this wonderful gift from the South, and for a new heavily requested addition to my repertoire.

Kinda reminds me of that episode of Gilmore Girls---the Thanksgiving night that Loralei, staggering from all the food she's had to eat at all the places whose dinner invitations she accepted so as not to hurt their feelings, finds Sukie sitting at a picnic table on the lawn, feeling no pain and quite buzzed from her umpteenth Margarita. Though Sukie is the best chef in the history of TV, her husband Jackson had the bright idea that HE would cook the turkey---he'd deep-fry it. On the front lawn. With a great big gaggle of bystanders---mostly guys with beer.

They got so carried away they raided the fridge to find other things to fry---bacon, I think, and onions and potatoes and maybe some pork chops. Then, their frying frenzy not sated, they went on to throw inanimate objects into the bubbling fryer---napkins, some of the shrubbery, a shoe.

I just love the listing of it.

Moire non re our own Thanksgiving,


Saturday, November 29, 2008


Yesterday was long and covered many, many miles. We drove down-down-down through Indiana of the early morning, stopping for a chicken-in-a-biscuit half an hour south of home. That was a first for me---that chunk of crispy, steamy-tender chicken inside crumbly biscuit---I'm a something-on-a-"croissant" kinda girl, liking the thin scrim of ham, the too-bright little blanket of egg, the small square of goldish cheese plopped down every-which-way by the hurrying hands of the early-person at McDonald's.

But this was nice; it was just the right amount---of meat, of biscuit, of salt, to complement the big mug of coffee-brought-from-home. We draped a sheet of two paper towels down our chests, behind the seatbelt, another across our knees, and I opened the sack, distributing the fat hot packets, opening his and crumpling the crisp paper just so to reveal the first bite. And the biscuit faces OUT---no biting it with the crust on top---oh, no. Your top teeth have to sink through the buttery top crust first---it's the LAW.

We settled in, two chilly diet Cokes in the console, my dwindling mug scrunched between thigh and door, bookbag and paper towels in easy reach in the back seat, and away we flew. Later, crumbs swept, paper gathered and crumpled back into the bag, we put in a Stuart Woods CD and became immersed in the story, letting that white line flow behind us like the wake of a boat. I reached out a big flat party cookbook, using it for a desktop to work several crosswords---I love the Cryptic Crosswords by Aeronaut.

Late lunch WAY down the road, in the place of the original, first-in-the-nation Cracker Barrel, though the store itself is way across the road---the new model is twice the size, though properly seasoned into a facade of age and rusticality to delight the heart of anybody who ever pulled up a chair to an oilcloth table.

And on to Atlanta; Chris and two of our sons have gone to the shootin' range, and I'm about to take an iron to our Sunday clothes, relegated to the wrinkling smush of the trunk for those many miles. Tomorrow will be a special day, and I'm also awaiting the coast-kin---Chris' Mom and our dear cousins who are her escorts and chauffeurs. We're taking everyone to one of those rompin-stompin' roadhouse places for dinner tonight, and we'll be heading home right after lunch tomorrow.

And so a Motel-Post; I'm enjoying the quiet, after the long, cooped-up day of travel, and another in the offing, with lots of talk and laughing and family stuff and hugs in between. Meanwhile, when the little bit of pressing is done, I have a bright, colorful big book of canapes and starters and lovely little tidbits in all their simple, complicated glory, nice for looking and anticipating and enjoying. The latest Ann Rule, with about eight true-life mysteries; another called "Deadly Divorces"---I swear, if folks could see what I read, they'd never let me near their families.

And Laurie Colwin's "Shine On, . . ." I have no patience with machines that just WON'T Obey!!! I've never used a laptop, and cannot get rid of the italics. And even at home, I've composed several posts lately that I lost completely into the ether before hitting "send" so I'm gonna close out this one.

Hope everyone has a lovely weekend!!!

Moire non,


Friday, November 28, 2008


Yesterday veered from too much rich Southern food, to a spirited Conga-Line around the tables to Joe Cocker's "It's All Right," to dressing up fancifully and making pictures for the Christmas Cards.

I hope your day was all you wanted it to be, all you needed it to be, and all you dreamed it to be.
And I hope today's even better.

And now, we're off to be the Wizard.

Moire non,


Thursday, November 27, 2008


Getting all this good food onto the table, with all the conveniences and ease that have come to be taken so lightly, I think of the past cooks whose lives and kitchens and cooking and hours were filled by the simplest of chores---the gathering and the finding and all the grim, hard FACTS of feeding a family before electricity, before stores, before stoves.

We went to the Feast of the Hunters’ Moon a couple of years ago, and were just enthralled by all the anachronistic costumes and weapons and the carved furniture, the carpets and various hand-made home and kitchen items. We strolled among the crude kitchens and firepits which were created by the participants, there for several days, and living in the manner of the past.

Great black pots of beans, of sauerkraut stew a bit the worse for wear, with its days’-old countenance and the primitive stirring stick in the cauldron. One sign advertised croquinoles and buffalo stew---the fried bread and the game medley of whatever they could shoot, trap or catch.

The stew was one that caught my eye, because of the little couple who purchased two flimsy white bowls of the stuff. They carried it and their swaddled baby over to a shady spot, sat down, and began to spoon up the steaming red stew. Perhaps it was the absolute authenticity of the event, in that there was no modern food-for-sale---no tacos, no hot dogs, no grill-immolated burgers, just beans and stew and fried bread.

The pair and their child sat and ate their supper, quietly speaking, taking turns holding the baby in their folded legs as they sat in the dirt. They wore rough clothes, and the wee one wore a long-tailed dress. Their demeanor was that of a subdued, hard-driven young couple, making their way along the trail to new horizons, not that of young folks out for a sunny afternoon of fun and games, who would toss off those hot clothes for shorts and tanks, and crank up a sizzling CD as soon as they hit the parking lot.

I noticed a dropped pink pacifier at my feet. I caught the mother’s eye, signaled to the lost passy, and she looked at it, at me, and back at it, with a puzzled look of one who gazes on an artifact unknown. With a little frisson of amazement, I had the absurd feeling that I was gazing at people of another age and time, lost in this strange place, finding others familiarly dressed and grubby, just having a meal and a rest before passing through.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


When we came home just now, the only scent that we descended into as we came downstairs was that of the "air machine"---that ozoney, heavy something that hits your breath immediately when you click the little remote to turn it on.

The air was oddly bereft of all the scents which usually accompany all that hectic Thanksgiving preparation---the steamy waft of chicken simmering for stock or gravy or sauce; the crisp greenth of the just-snapped beans, and the sizzle of bacon and onion in the pot that will receive them, cook them long and low with a bit of garlic, a spoon of sugar, and then later, the tiny pink pearls of baby potatoes, one-curl-peeled all round, the better to soak up that luscious bean liquor as they steam atop. Yesterday was the day for the beans---I snapped them at the breakfast table, holding the tray on my lap, as our littlest Granddaughter toddled up time after time, filling her wee hands with long green extra fingers---she took on the look of Edward Scissorhands, with all the projecting bits, and today when I ran the vacuum, I'm sure I accounted for an entire whirring, buzzing serving making its way through the beater-brush.

I "canned" the beans in the old way, fresh though they were---our family's beans have always been canned in a brine with the vaguest hint of vinegar and sugar, recipe courtesy of my first Mother-in-Law. The kitchen then filled with the scents of a Summer morning, just for half an hour or so, with all the ease of filling a grocery bag and none of the hoeing and picking in that hot sun. The two clear takeout quarts are chilling in the fridge, as well, to be cooked for a long time tomorrow.

The sage I picked this afternoon, surprisingly springy and green despite all the tens and 'teens of the thermometer of late, was overmatched by the big cushions of parsley, lying low in the leaves, still as fresh and springy as in May---the sage has yet to be rolled like a wee green cigar and chiffonaded into threads for the dressing, and so has not yet let free its menthol breath of a Mediterranean hillside. I washed and towel-wrapped and bagged a handful of sage and a great bouquet of parsley; there are but six of us, and so we're breaking tradition and NOT breaking out Mammaw's milk-glass devilled egg plate this year. The eggs and some crisp little pale yellow tenders from the very center of the celery will go onto a small platter, cushioned in parsley and bringing green for the eye to this carb-rich meal.

The sweet potatoes for the casserole were yesterday simmered in the skins, which pulled free like fat limp mittens from the golden velvet of the insides. Whisk-beaten warm with a glob of butter, a scatter of sugar like round crumbs of molasses, a glug from the Watkins vanilla bottle (with a tiny dab behind each ear, for Old Times' Sake), they wait in Tupperware in the fridge to be spread into the buttered Corning Ware and covered in a snow of plump baby marshmallows.

The cornbread DID perfume the whole downstairs this afternoon, with the deep note of crisping corn and tang of buttermilk. It, too, waits, snugged into a plastic bowl, for tomorrow it will be hand-crumbled, seasoned with the already-minced-and-bagged sweet onion and equally-small-cut celery, a few hearty grinds from the peppermill, the exotic scent of the sage, and sluices of the stock which is now thawing on the counter.

And no spices. Oddly no spices, save for an apple-potpourri airwick thing that copes with the ozone. No cinnamon, no cloves, no nutmeg---not in anything. No mulled cider, no ginger cookies, no nothing with a whiff of the caravan road or Christmas cheer. Not this time. And I don't know why, really; it seems an odd house this season, though we've chosen, as always, what we've always chosen--cornbread dressing and beans and corn and sweet potatoes---quite a few pretty close to the Original Feast, I would think, though our choices are more habit than commemoration.

There will be a platter of just-steamed broccoli and cauliflower, with the a point colors arrayed on the same orange-rimmed platter as in a dozen other years, a boat of yolk-rich blender Hollandaise alongside, and some of those easy-peasy crescent rolls, cause we have two guys who really like them. And the sound of cans popping was heard in the Land.

Maybe it was the AHEAD of the thing, as I made allowances for a shifted, then re-shifted time to accommodate DIL's family, who then decided to have theirs Saturday, anyway; then there was our night-worker, whose sleep needs to be all-at-once instead of broken for dinner, then sleep again. And two of us are leaving Friday at OH-Dark-Thirty for a 1400 mile round trip this weekend---so there was suit-pressing and packing and cooler-stocking and where IS that battery-charger for the camera, anyway?

The confluence of all these ways and means and things and circumstances has rendered our house oddly olfactorily-silent, as it were. Everything is ready; it will BE ready. But the preparation, the flush of cheek and damp of forehead, the Open That Window Before I FAINT In This Kitchen---those have been separated by a day it seems, and there's been no scent of the getting ready, not all those warm, salty, rich, smoky, tangy smells that you could inhale in Timbuktu with your eyes shut and sigh, "THANKSGIVING AT GRANDMA'S!"

Tomorrow, when the simmering beans are adding their note to the pre-scent of frying bacon and onions, when the corn/chicken/sage crisping of the dressing in the oven, the candyshop scent of the vanilla potatoes and the Summer campfire smell of toasting marshmallows fills the rooms---THEN will be the time. We won't miss out on any of the experience---the scents, the tastes, the silver clinking on the burgundy plates, the candlelight and the leaf-laden chandelier, and all the scents of HOME.

But it SURE smells strange tonight.

Monday, November 24, 2008


A post on a blog that I enjoy mentioned percolators, and that kindled a moment of Thankful, just for the pleasures of the scent of ours perking, the taste of that good strong brew every morning, and the memories which surround a life-long succession of the handy silvery appliances.

One of my Thankfuls is the scent of coffee perking as I emerge from our room or from the shower in the morning.DH insists on pouring my first cup, adding in the little wisp of S&L, pouring in the skim from the fat little red ball-jug, even to the extent of shouldering me gently aside to get to the percolator as I reach for it. I've learned, so I smilingly accept his gracious, loving little morning ritual.

There's something about that perky scent that's not the same as Mr. Coffee or any of the other brewers. It's the scent of my childhood, as my parents consumed the entire pot before starting their day; it's not the same as the throaty purr of the Senseo as she bends gracefully over the foamy cup, or the sussssssh of the Ibrik conjuring up that strong, proud stream.

When my Sis was just here, I set up two pots each night, to be plugged in by first-one-up in the morning---a regular eight-cup one for BIL, who cannot drink caffeine, and the 12-cup big guy for Sis and me. Family tradition, as we've never been without a percolator in either household.

Though I DID, last time we bought one, have to explain the term to the two young clerks at Sears, who were still speaking wonderingly of the concept in what-will-they-think-of-next voices as we left the aisle.

Small Thankfuls---this is just one of legion.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


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 'taint fittin', and they smile and eat it either 'cause they're on TV or they don't know better.

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.